We are three sisters united in our search for the divine - in food, libation, literature, art, and nature. This blog will capture the true, sometimes decadent, at times humorous, and every so often transcendent adventures of the Salvation Sisters.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Linda's Creamy,Yummy and Paleo-Friendly Coconut Oil Hot Chocolate for Weight Loss (Vitamix Method) and Her Thoughts on Gluten-Free vs Paleo Diets

by Linda

'Tis a lesson you should heed:
Try, try, try again.
If at first you don't succeed,
Try, try, try again. ~ William Edward Hickson

My new and very much improved (properly emulsified) Coconut Oil Hot Chocolate.
Delicious by anyone's standards.
As anyone knows who has spent a good deal of time cooking, much of the process is about experimentation. The same is true for me with my diet.
   When I try a recipe for the first time—often the subsequent times that I make it, I will choose alterations to improve the results. Such is the case with my previous Sugar-Free Coconut Hot Chocolate recipe that we published a couple of years ago, and such is the case with my ever changing thoughts on nutrition and diet to help me fight the battle of the bulge and stay healthy.
   In January of 2012, armed with new knowledge and the moral support of my friend and co-worker at the time, Misty, of Healthy Transisitons, I embarked on a gluten-free Paleo template diet. In four months I had lost 50 pounds, and I wasn't even going to the gym.
That's the good news. Not only did I lose weight, but the life-long asthma that all of us sisters have struggled with since we were babies improved dramatically for me. In the fall of that year just a few months later, the Sistercation of 2012 occurred. This was when Juliette, Michelle and I met up here in Sonoma County for our annual sisters' get together. During the days we spent enjoying ourselves, we talked at length about diet and my going gluten-free while we weren't at the beach or having dance party and cocktail time in my backyard.

Dance party in my backyard during Sistercation of 2012.
   Juliette is an expert at making wild yeast and long fermentation sourdough. She owns the regionally-recognized bakery—Guadalupe Baking Company in Bisbee, Arizona. During our visit, Juliette argued that I should be able to include wild yeast sourdough in my diet because there is accumulating evidence that the long cold fermentation process literally eats up the gluten. I read a blog post on Cheeseslave that Juliette sent me that made me consider reintroducing this artisan product back into my diet. According to what I read, when tested, the gluten parts per million in wild yeast long ferment sourdough are below what the FDA requirement is to label a product gluten-free (however FDA regulations do not allow for anything containing wheat to be labeled "gluten-free"). Although I am not the master researcher that Michelle is, when I am on the track of new knowledge, I start digging into things. This is good and this is bad, because you can end up making yourself really confused, which I managed to do in this case.
   Since I was still really missing bread on my new diet, I was persuaded to give baking my own artisan sourdough a try if it meant I could have delicious bread back in my life. Juliette had brought her sourdough starter dehydrated powder with her from Arizona, and she got the starter rehydrated and going for me here in California in the week she was at my house on vacation. When the girls were gone—with my new starter bubbling away—I set out to learn to make real sourdough. Not one to cautiously approach a new project, I enthusiastically threw myself into my new creative endeavor. I invested in brotforms, cambros, clay baking cloches, cast iron bread bakers, baguette pans, a lame, a good digital scale and a whole slew of other bread baking equipment that is needed to transform water, flour and salt into beautiful loaves of artisan sourdough.
   Michelle got into the act, too, and it wasn't long before the two of us were turning out gorgeous and really delicious boules, baguettes, rolls, bagels and pizza dough under the tutelage of the expert, Juliette. There were many telephone calls and emails between the three of us that were devoted to the subject. Michelle even won a blue ribbon at her local state fair that spring for her heavenly Guava-Coconut-Orange-Walnut Stuffed Baguette. The following photos are examples of the bread and pizza that Michelle and I began making:


   But after about six months, not all was well for me in Sourdough Breadland.  The weight began to creep back on, and my asthma worsened, but I continued on baking bread in spite of these warning signs because not only do I really love eating bread, but now I really enjoyed the whole process of making and baking it as well. Bread is convenient (too busy to cook—you can always make a sandwich, right?), it is delicious, it is comforting, it is filling and it makes great gifts. I don't think anything smells quite as good as freshly baked bread just out of the oven. However, there is growing evidence to support that wheat isn't just addictive as in becoming habituated, but that it is actually an opiate that acts in our bodies to make us hungry.  William Davis, M.D., who is the author of Wheat Belly argues that:

"Wheat is addictive in the sense that it comes to dominate thoughts and behaviors. Wheat is addictive in the sense that, if you don’t have any for several hours, you start to get nervous, foggy, tremulous, and start desperately seeking out another “hit” of crackers, bagels, or bread, even if it’s the few stale 3-month old crackers at the bottom of the box. Wheat is addictive in the sense that there is a distinct withdrawal syndrome characterized by overwhelming fatigue, mental “fog,” inability to exercise, even depression that lasts several days, occasionally several weeks. Wheat is addictive in the sense that the withdrawal process can be provoked by administering an opiate-blocking drug such as naloxone or naltrexone. But the “high” of wheat is not like the high of heroine, morphine, or Oxycontin. This opiate, while it binds to the opiate receptors of the brain, doesn’t make us high. It makes us hungry."

 So it was with much sadness, lamentation and wailing on my part, I gave up wheat once more—fatter and wheezier—but much wiser. I have finally had to accept that I react to wheat, even if it is fermented, technically gluten-free and shaped with rice flour. In the following months I went back on a fairly strict gluten-free diet with only occasional indulgences, but I was still eating starch and sugar. I liked that gluten-free bun with my hamburger and my satisfying Duck Fat Oven Fries. There are some mighty tasty gluten-free cookies out there now in the marketplace. And guess what? The weight did not come off as it had before. Not even slowly. I found out that a gluten-free diet all by itself was not going to make the weight come off. Albeit that they are all gluten-free—sugar and gluten-free starch still make me fat.

Truly delicious—but my gluten-free Summer Pasta can't be part of my regular menu repertoire. I will be making it now now with Michelle's tasty and Paleo-friendly zucchini noodles.
   A month ago, I made the decision to return to the Paleo-template diet that Misty recommended to me in early 2012 when my excess weight dropped off rapidly. I am back to Misty's Coconut Milk, Whey Protein and Blueberry Smoothie for breakfast or my Coconut Oil Hot Chocolate, which I am now emulsifying properly in my Vitamix as a reader kindly pointed out that I should do in their comments about my previous post.
  Here is my slow to embrace realization—going gluten-free just doesn't cut it for weight loss for me. Going gluten-free is easy. In fact, I would go so far as to say that it's super easy. If one doesn't actually have Celiac Disease, there are an array of tasty gluten-free products in the present day marketplace to make the transition to a gluten-free diet a rather painless undertaking. Restaurants have caught on as well and are providing many gluten-free options. However, almost all of the "gluten-free" products replacing bread, pizza, cookies and desserts are loaded with starch and sugar which cause our blood sugar to elevate and we turn the excess calories into fat.
   I feel better in general on a gluten-free diet and my asthma is far less. I am able to take half the medication that I did previously, but I still remain overweight—so it's back to Paleo for me. Conversely, cutting out refined carbs—namely refined sugar and starches— at least for me, is very difficult. It requires real discipline and meal planning in my hectic life. I shouldn't complain being that I don't even have kids at home complaining about what I am putting in their lunch box or what I am preparing for dinner. I am back to making my Paleo breakfast, packing a Paleo lunch, and I have Nom Nom Paleo sitting out in my cookbook holder for inspiration for dinners. I had the great pleasure of meeting the authors of that book, Michelle Tam and Henry Fong, a few months back. They were on a summer book tour, and stopped in the Whole Foods Market® where I work to sign books and say hello. They were kind enough to share my blog post for my Honey Simple Syrup recipe on their Facebook page.

Henry Fong and Michelle Tam of Nom Nom Paleo at Whole Foods Market San Rafael.
   I am happy to report that although I am still craving starch and sugar, I have lost ten pounds in a month. I have noticed that the cravings are subsiding as the days pass, and my energy is increasing. I also notice that I am once again less hungry, but I do need to eat my meals on time because in general, I do not snack.
   We sisters are going to be having another Sistercation in the first week of December, and my goal is too have lost 25 pounds by then. I will most likely join in our holiday celebration by eating the delicious food that Michelle is already planning, and I will also most likely be eating some amazing sourdough bread—but only for a week. When I come home it will be back to strictly Paleo for me. And this time I have added insurance to get back on track quickly—this year I am already back at the gym lifting weights and doing some yoga, too.

Linda's Creamy, Yummy and Paleo-Friendly Coconut Oil Hot Chocolate for Weight Loss (Vitamix Method)

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Papel de China: Making A Variety of Paper Flowers

My Traveling Tales by Michelle

   "The artist is a receptacle for the emotions that come from all over the place; from the sky, from the earth, from a scrap of paper, from a passing shape, from a spider's web."
                                                                                                                  ~Pablo Picasso

My sister Juliette makes paper flowers in preparation to decorate
the community altar in celebration of El 
Día de los Muertos.
   A couple of weeks ago I headed to the tiny town of Bisbee, where my sister Juliette lives, to capture photographs of women in the community making crepe paper flowers over the course of an afternoon. I look forward to these types of gatherings, when people who don't necessarily know each other, and who are intuitively following their curiosity, come together with the cooperative intention to create, experiment, and above all, have fun.
   This time of year, during the month of October, many arts and crafts projects are steeped in Mexican tradition, that directly connect to remembering and celebrating our ancestors. We anticipate taking part in private and community revelry associated with November 1st, the Latin American holy day of El Día  los Muertos (The Day of the Dead). It is the day when we look at Death in the proverbial eye and laugh. We remember our loved ones that have passed, and we share our stories to keep them part of our conversations—to keep their memories alive.
   In past years, to celebrate and remember, my daughter Maddie made sugar skulls for a school project, and then we hosted a sugar skull decorating party at our house. Last year we made Calacas-shaped cookies. We've assembled altars to remember our friends and family that have passed. As George Eliot wrote, "Our dead are never dead to us, until we have forgotten them." Setting aside time every year to remember our departed loved ones, ensures that they will not be forgotten from one generation to the next.
   My sisters and I and our collective families take part in community celebrations in Tucson and Petaluma, including the annual All Souls Procession and Candlelight Procession. And, everywhere we go during this time of year, we will surely see profusions of colorful paper flowers decorating everything from up-do's ( à la Frido Kahlo), to decorative arrangements on dining room tables, to mechanical floats at the Processions, to personal and community altars.

   While I am an admirer of paper flowers, those bright profusion of blooms that please the eye, I had only learned to make tissue paper poppies once upon a time, and a very long time ago it was. I have always been an ardent devotee of the big free form crepe flowers that Juliette learned to make from a friend after moving to Bisbee nearly 25 years ago.
   While I was excited to see Juliette in action, Juliette in turn was enthused to learn how to make paper roses from Maria, the President of the Bisbee Woman's Club. Maria shared with me that paper flowers are not only for celebrating El Día de los Muertos, but for all celebrations of life that call for flowers, including quinceañeras, weddings and funerals.
   If the paper flowers will be displayed in the outdoors, Maria informed me that each flower can be dipped in melted parafin wax and hung upside down until dry, which will add a layer of protection against the elements. This is typically done if the flowers will be displayed at a grave or for an outdoor event.
Vanessa is a quick study and learns how to make florets on her first attempt.
A floret is surrounded by yellow petals to dramatic effect.
   When we gathered at Central School on that Sunday afternoon, the intention was for the group to produce flowers to decorate a community altar for Central School Project's El Día De Los Muertos Event commencing with an "Art and Alters" Juried Exhibition on November 1st. The show runs through November 14, 2014. For more information leading up to the event, join El Día de los Muertos, Bisbee on Facebook.
   As I photographed the process of making crepe flowers, I noticed how quickly the ladies learned from each other and riffed on each other's ideas. Once you have the basics down, which hardly takes any time at all, an endless variety of flowers can be made. The creation of the flowers is neither tedious or boring because each flower is open to interpretation whether it is made from a pattern or is a free form cut from layered crepe paper. As the volunteers made an abundance of flowers, chatter and laughter filled the air. Clearly everyone was enjoying herself as the hours melted away in a flowing stream of creativity.

A floret is surrounded by multiple layers of free form petals (no template required).
For multiple layers of petals, begin with the shorter petals and end with longer petals.
Unfurl the cut crepe paper and use a glue stick (as shown) before twirling
onto the floret and floral wire.
Secure the petals on the floral wire with the aid of green floral tape.
   Juliette started the event by asking Maria to teach us how to make a rose. As Maria's hands deftly worked through the process of creating the rose, she shared with us memories of making paper flowers as a young girl working side-by-side with her mother and grandmother. Maria's storytelling reminded me that I need to take a break from my harried professional life and schedule more artists' dates with my family and friends. We always remember the times when we come together to create something special, whether it is paper flowers for a community event or a birthday cake for a loved one.

Maria's captivating rose gives the newbies in the group something to aspire to.
Roses are made by using both a tear drop and heart shaped patterns.
Make several petals at once by tracing the pattern on to stacked layers of crepe paper.
The cut "petals" are curled along the top with the help of a pencil.
Then, using your fingers, pull gently to mold the crepe paper decoratively into a rounded shape.
Twist scrap pieces of crepe paper into an elongated shape, which will be the unfurled petals
in the middle of the rose. Secure with 18-gauge by 18-inch green floral wire.
Start shaping the roses by first adding the smaller tear-shaped petals,
and then followed by the larger heart-shaped petals.
Continue to use your fingers to shape the crepe paper as you add petals to the rose.
Twist the crepe paper onto the wire, as you work, to secure each petal.
To finish the rose, secure the crepe paper to the floral wire with green florest tape.
Maria prefers to thicken the stem by wrapping the wire first in green crepe paper and then securing with sticky green floral tape. Remember to keep all the scraps for making the center of the roses.
   While Maria continued to make gorgeous roses, and my sister Juliette created multi-colored chrysanthemum-inspired blooms, I saw Renata taking the basics of the free-form technique and pushing it into the land of exotica with tropical-inspired flower spikes.

Instead of using a floret, Renata shapes pipe brushes into stamen for a tropical-style flower.
Renata uses a glue stick on the petals to help hold the flower together and
then she finishes by using green floral tape for a professional look. 
The tropical flowers give a pleasing architectural dimension to the bouquet. 
   I will now take this opportunity for a "commercial break" to feature Renata's Dead Songbirds. She meticulously sews the birds by incorporating new and found objects, including fabrics, beads, metal and various embellishments. Through her meticulous handcraft, she is hoping to call attention to the high rates of death in the migratory bird populations. To learn more about the plight of birds, read this fact sheet issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Handmade dead birds with a heart by Renata González captured my fancy.
The birds will be available for purchase at El Día de los Muertos Art and 
Altarpiece Show Opening Celebration in Bisbee and at Pop-Cycle in Tucson.
   To add to the festive flair of the afternoon, my sister brought snacks for everyone to much on. Once you start eating locally-made spicy creamy goat cheese smeared on slices of wild yeast sourdough bread from Guadalupe Baking Company, it is hard to stop.

My sister Juliette keeps everything to make paper flowers stored neatly in an old suitcase.
   At the end of the day, when the fun is done, the clean-up begins. I agree with the observation of humorist Erma Bombeck, "My idea of housework is to sweep the room with a glance." On the happy side of chores, many hands make light work, and it didn't take long to do what we needed to do to put everything in order.
   Afterwards, Juliette and I had a quick and delicious dinner at High Desert Market before I headed back to Tucson. We ate on the quiet patio where we could feel the first touches of fall floating on the air. The on-going conversations that I have with my sisters keep me sane in a crazy world. On my way home, I felt refreshed and ready for a new work week ahead. Art and companionship do that for me. Add great food to the mix, and I'm about as happy as I can be.

It is critical to buy crepe paper and not tissue paper.
Tissue paper is flimsy, whereas crepe paper can be shaped, stretched and curled.
Papel de China: Making a Variety of Paper Flowers

List of Materials:
Crepe Paper in a variety of colors
18 Guage Wire
Pipe Cleaners in a variety of colors
Pinking Shears
wire cutter(s)
Glue stick(s)
Green Florist Tape
parafin, optional - visit the Bittersweet link below for more information on waxing the flowers for extended life

Additional Information:
History of crepe flowers, plus step-by-step instructions, including patterns... at Bittersweet
Super easy flowers, made fan style with tissue paper and ribbon, at Spanglish Baby
No crepe paper? No tissue paper? No problem! You just need construction paper and a stapler... at Latinaish

                      "Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life." ~Pablo Picasso

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Tumacácori, Santa Cruz Chili & Spice Company and Retro-Style Quick Chili

My Traveling Tales by Michelle

   "The priest asked Judge Barnes to recommend the services of a few good churchgoing men to help him in his quest. When he had assembled them, the priest led the company off to Tumacácori Mission, where one of the men produced a shovel and dug a hole at a certain distance from the ancient church's altar. The priest descended into a small hidden chamber, returning with several metal cases full of gold bullion." ~ from The Lost Gold of Tumacácori by Gregory McNamee

Mission San José de Tumacácori is located south of Tucson near the artist community of Tubac.
   Here's a little known fact about me—I practically swoon when I see or stumble upon a building that has unique architectural details. Because I grew up in the Southwest, it seems as if most commercial buildings are of newer construction. The high rises are typically elongated rectangles reaching for the sky, quickly erected by using construction materials of steel and tinted glass. Wedged into the urban landscape will be the occasional 18th or 19th century building, typically a church or a courthouse, that incorporates molded concrete columns, marble panels, granite, brick and iron scroll-work. Top the architectural wonder with a spire and I'm awe struck. Add a gargoyle and I'm practically giddy.

A dry fountain decorated with paper flowers. 
   The oldest structures that we have in the Southwest are Spanish Colonial mission churches. California has 21 mission sites, and in Arizona, the oldest missions reside south of Tucson in the Santa Cruz River Valley. I've written previously about Mission San Xavier del Bac, that is also known as The White Dove of the Desert. It is beautifully preserved and is a top tourist attraction in Southern Arizona. (Take a look at this map, for more information on planning a sightseeing trip by car along the Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail which begins in Southern Arizona and ends in Northern California, near where I used to live in San Jose.)
   Further south, by about 30 minutes, you can tour the dilapidated, yet welcoming, Mission San José de Tumacácori. The site was abandoned in the mid 1800s and began to fall to ruin. In 1908, President Theodore Roosevelt declared both the Mission and the Grand Canyon national monuments. In 1937, a museum was built near the mission and there is continuing effort by the national parks system to preserve the site for future generations.

I was so artistically enamored with the cross decorated with paper flowers that
I took about 150 photos of it from all angles.
   Due to human intervention, the 184-mile long Santa Cruz River sadly became a dry riverbed. With heavy rainfall, such as during the monsoon season from end of June to early September, the river flows once more. The Santa Cruz County fertile lands have been farmed for hundreds, if not thousands of years. First by the indigenous peoples, such as the Tohono O'odham, and then followed by the Spanish, then Mexicans, and then everyone else.
   Today the cities of Patagonia, Sonoita and Elgin are home to vineyards growing grapes to produce wines. The vineyards also extend well into Cochise County. The city of Willcox is becoming a wine tasting destination for the region. The grapes that grow well in the arid climate of Southern Arizona are Shiraz, Petite Sirah, Barbera, Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, Voignier and Pinot Grigio. As you can imagine, the area also produces a wonderful variety of chiles. And, believe it or not, the area is home to thousands of pecan trees, owned by The Green Valley Pecan Company.

Historical buildings in the Southwest were typically constructed of stone, or
thick adobe walls covered with lime plaster. The thermal mass help the
building to stay warm in the winter and cool in the summer.  
      I enjoy visiting Tumacácori in the late spring and early fall when temperatures are milder and the demonstration garden is thriving. I like seeing the pomegranate trees in bloom and bees collecting nectar from Hollyhock flowers. Across the grounds, the California poppy will voluntarily grow and the bright orange petals sway in the breeze. A bench or two positioned under tall mesquite trees give some areas of respite as shelter against the hot sun. I am tempted to visit as well for the Guadalupe Fiesta which falls every year during the first week of December. Folklorico and Mariachi performances are certainly a draw for me—especially in such a beautiful setting.
Wild and cultivated flowers dot the landscape on the grounds of Tumacácori.
   Unlike San Xavier del Bac, where you can sit in an old wooden pew and spend time in reflection while viewing the incredible murals and paintings, Tumacácori is a space to stand in and wonder what it looked like hundreds of years ago when it was freshly painted in decorative motifs and statues of saints stood in alcoves—carved eyes with fixed gazed looking adoringly towards heaven.

I wandered around the cemetery after exiting the church.
   After you finish touring the church and grounds, be sure not to leave Tumacácori without first visiting the Santa Cruz Chili and Spice Company. You can't miss it. There's only one main street and the gargantuan sign makes the retail shop, in a converted ranch house, easy to find. On my last visit, I purchased their famous mild chili powder along with some ground specialty chilis. The family-owned company also has an online store, and some of their products, such as the delicious Chili Paste is stocked at Whole Foods Market, at least in the Tucson area.

P.S.:  Please "like us" on Facebook where we post some of our favorite finds from our wanderings and from around the "internets".
   If you'd like to see more of our photos, join the party on instagram: #salvationsisterlinda and #salvationsistermichelle and #beaumontjuliette ('cause sister #2, or wenchy-pooh as I like to call her at this very moment, couldn't get with the salvationsisters' naming convention.)

Quick Chili Con Carne

   Are you familiar with The Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook? It was the most used cookbook in my mother's kitchen. It was also the first cookbook I purchased when I left home. I've been making this recipe for over 30 years. Because I like to tinker in the kitchen, I've made a few updates along the way swapping ranch-style pinto beans for kidney beans, chicken sausage for ground beef, fire roasted crushed tomatoes for plain tomato sauce and adding a smokey essence by choosing smoked salt and paprika as flavor boosters. Whatever you do, don't leave out the jalapeño. The little green chile is not typically too hot and it adds a lot of flavor. If you absolutely can't get your hands on a jalapeño, then sprinkle about one teaspoon of chili flakes over the onions while sautéing.
  This recipe is super easy and keeps well, gaining in flavor as it ages a day or two. You'll love it on Sonoran Hot Dogs or garnished with your favorite toppings. My favorite additions are sour cream, crumbled corn tortilla chips and shredded cheddar cheese.

The shelves of the Santa Cruz Chili and Spice Company are lined with salsas, condiments and
 a variety of prepared chili powders.
about 1 Tbsp bacon grease, preferred, or ghee
2 medium yellow onions, diced
1 or 2 jalapeño, ribs and seeds discarded, minced
2 green bell peppers, ribs and seeds discarded, diced
5 cloves garlic, minced
3 pounds chicken sausage, bulk or removed from casings
3 Tbsps Santa Cruz Chili and Spice Company Mild Chili Powder
3 Tbsps smoked mild or hot paprika, depending upon how hot you like your food
1-1/2 Tbsps ground cumin
1-1/2 Tbsps dried oregano
1 28-ounce can fire roasted crushed tomatoes (I use Muir Glen )
4 15-ounce cans Ranch-style beans
1 4-ounce can fire roasted diced green chiles
smoked salt, preferred, or sea salt, to taste

shredded cheddar cheese
crushed tortilla chips
sour cream

I like to garnish my bowl of chili with sour cream,
shredded cheddar and crushed tortilla chips.
1. In a large soup pot, melt the bacon grease or ghee over medium heat until melted. Add onions and a large pinch of smoked salt or sea salt. Sauté onions for about 5 minutes, then add diced bell pepper and minced jalapeños. Sauté for 5 minutes, then add bulk sausage, stirring to incorporate and using a spatula to break the sausage up into smaller pieces. Add the minced garlic and stir again. Set a lid slightly ajar on top of the pot to help build heat. Stir about every 5 minutes or so, continuing to crumble the sausage into bite size pieces.
2. Once the sausage is cooked through, about 25 to 30 minutes, add the spices and oregano and stir well. Add the undrained crushed tomatoes and beans, stir well. Gently bring to a boil over medium heat. I like to bring the pot of chili and the garnishes to the table so everyone can serve themselves.
   "As human beings, we are the only organisms that create for the sheer stupid pleasure of doing so. Whether it's layout out a garden, composing a new tune on the piano, writing a bit of poetry, manipulating a digital photo, redecorating a room, or inventing a new chili recipe—we are happiest when we are creating."  ~ Gary Hamel

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Linda's Sazerac Cocktail

Adventures in Herbalism by Linda

"When the poet's pain is soothed by a liquid jewel held in the sacred chalice, upon which rests the pierced spoon, the crystal sweetness, icy streams trickle down. The darkest forest melts into an open meadow. Waves of green seduce. Sanity surrendered, the soul spirals toward the murky depths, wherin lies the beautiful madness—absinthe." 
                                  ~From the poem, Rimbaud's Poison by Peggy Amond

   Seared is a local restaurant in Petaluma that I have discovered of late. Recently, their mixologist, Kevin, taught me how to make a proper Sazerac on my birthday this past July. I subsequently adjusted the ingredients to my taste and replaced the simple syrup in Kevin's cocktail with my honey simple syrup which allows this Sazerac to be considered to be Paleo—at least by me. I also made another change based on the recommendation of my work friends Greg and Hayden who are both young hipsters from the East Bay. Greg loves a good Sazerac, and he introduced me to the cocktail to begin with about a year ago. Hayden, who I work with now, recently recommended that I make the cocktail with High West Whiskey for Michelle's visit last week, which makes the drink extra smooth, but is more costly than a less expensive whiskey like Bulleit.  Not to worry if you don't want to spring for the premium whiskey, it will still taste great made with Bulleit Rye. Both Greg and Hayden recommend misting the cocktail glass with absinthe before pouring the final chilled liquid into it—a trick that they learned from a bar in Oakland.
   My learning to make a Sazerac at home that I was really happy with was a journey that enjoyably involved some imbibing along the way at a few of my local restaurants. Check out our first ever Salvation Sisters's video production shared below. In it, I will demonstrate the process for making a delicious Sazerac, and our iPhone video makes Michelle and I laugh every time we watch our very amateur premier production. It would seem that every new process involves a large learning curve—hope you find it instructive and funny, too, in spite of our blunders. And yes— it is my washing machine that you hear in the background (oops!)

Salvation Sisters Sazerac Cocktail from Linda Townsend on Vimeo.

A little history on the Sazerac from askmen:

   The Sazerac was invented by an apothecary named Antoine Amedee Peychaud in New Orleans in the 1830s as a remedy for a variety of his customers’ ailments. The original formula included a concoction called Peychaud’s Bitters, made mostly of brandy, sugar and water. Over the next two decades, the Sazerac grew in popularity and was officially branded, reportedly becoming the first cocktail invented in America.
   The cocktail was named after Sazerac-de-Forge et Fils, the imported cognac originally used for the cocktail. To accommodate American tastes and because of the difficulty of obtaining cognac, the recipe was later altered to replace the French brandy with American rye whisky, and a dash of absinthe was added. Until 2007, absinthe was illegal in the United States, and it’s still hard to find. An anise liqueur like Pernod will do the trick if you can’t find the real thing, but if you want to add polish to your Sazerac, go with the good stuff. Lucid and Kübler are two brands worth noting. A bottle might set you back $50 or $60, but a little goes a long way.

   Being an herbalist, I was very intrigued by the history of the Sazerac because it was invented by an apothecary, which in those days was largely an herbalist. Most medicines in those times were made from plants. The legendary absinthe, which is a spirit that is flavored by botanicals and culinary herbs, the most famous of these being Artemisia absinthium (a.k.a "grand wormwood"). Absinthe gained quite a reputation during the late 19th and early 20th century France—particularly among Parisians. The consumption of absinthe was opposed by social conservatives and prohibitionists, however the boho set at this time were advocates. Ernest Hemingway, Charles Baudelaire, Paul Verlaine, Arthur Rimbaud, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Amedeo Modigliani, Picasso, Vincent van Gogh, Oscar Wilde, Aleister Crowley, Erik Satie, Alfred Jarry and many others—so basically anyone who was ever cool—were all known to drink absinthe.

   Bitters are another herbalist's favorite. This herbal extraction is used in traditional herbalism to stimulate digestion by increasing the production of bile. I found an interesting link on one of my favorite websites about the history of bitters, why they are important to health, and how they improve digestion, besides adding flavor. For more on the subject click here. If you would like to try a hand at making your own bitters, Michelle and I are fans of a book called Bitters: A Spirited History of a Classic Cure-All, with Cocktails, Recipes and Formulas by Brad Thomas Parsons.
  As I mentioned earlier, Greg and Hayden frequent a bar in the East Bay of Northern California where they learned to use an atomizer to coat the cocktail glass with absinthe instead of pouring in absinthe into the ice of the traditional method. I have created my own process in the making of the cocktail (combining the two processes), and I would serve mine up against any. To be accurate, I haven't tried all that many, but I would say that I think it is good as those I have tried in outings to my local restaurants. In any case, if you haven't tried the Sazerac, we sisters think it's a perfect choice for your next cocktail hour.

Linda's "Paleo" Sazerac Cocktail

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Linda's Summer Pasta with Fresh Garlic, Tomatoes, Parsley, Basil and Olive Oil—For Garlic Lovers Only

by Linda

"There are five elements—earth, air, fire, water and garlic." ~ Louis Diat

   I should advise you up front that my version of this simple pasta dish is for garlic lovers only. Not all people are as fond of garlic as I am. I made this painful discovery during my catering days which, thankfully—are way, way behind me in the rear-view mirror of my life. For example, my former acquantaince Kirk Douglas, my ex-husband and many other people that I know, do not enjoy garlic at all, and therefore, do not eat it—ever. I, on the other hand, must have had a previous life in Southern Italy and can't seem to get enough of this powerful aromatic culinary herb. For more of my musings on the health benefits of garlic and another great garlicky recipe click here.

   I learned to make this garlic extravaganza after having had a similar dish for the first time in an Italian restaurant in Solvang, California more than 20 years ago. The restaurant, now defunct, was called Paoli's—and the owner, Carlo, was a middle-aged blond man with the accent of an East Coast mafioso. Carlo was dating the local newspaper heiress at the time. I still remember that he boldly marked one of the parking spaces in front of the restaurant with her name stenciled in bold black letters across the concrete tire barrier—proclaiming it to be reserved for her exclusive use. A rather cheesy yet grandiose romantic gesture that impressed and horrified me at the same time. Carlo's pasta recipe wasn't exacty like my present day dish—it was a classic Aglio E Olio, but his recipe did serve to push me into thinking quite differently about garlic.
   When we girls were growing up, my recollections are that in our family, we were very conservative consumers of garlic in those days. I remember the garlic additions to our family menu were usually in a dry form, and the dehydrated garlic was accompanied by a liberal dose of MSG contained in the seasoning mix. So it was that on a fateful afternoon in 1992, in the dimly lit interior of Paoli's, I discovered fresh garlic used with reckless abandon in a dish could make it a revelation—something that sets fire to your soul. Now, many years down the road, garlic and I are longtime lovers.
   I only make this pasta dish in the summer, just like my Eggplant Parmigiano, when the tomatoes are really juicy and ripe—fresh out of a sun-drenched field. I purchase them from Whole Foods Market or at my local farmer's market. I still enjoy the vivid memory of the first time that I tasted the pungent garlic pasta on that fateful afternoon in the Santa Ynez Valley—so long ago now. At the time it was a revelation to my senses, and it remains so—Linda and garlic—until death do us part.

Summer Pasta with Garlic, Fresh Tomatoes, Parsley, Basil and Olive Oil

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