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.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Very Moist Blueberry Cake Muffins (Gluten-Free and Traditional)

by Michelle

A bird which eats berries can be caught, but not a bird that eats wood.
~Maori Proverb

   The muffin or the muffin cup, which came first? For this particular post the answer is the muffin cup. I found adorable "Spring Cupcake Papers" at a local kitchen shop and became insistently inspired to bake sweet treats. My moment of inspiration led to a longer period of contemplation when I had to choose between making cupcakes or muffins and what flavor. Ultimately I decided to riff upon a recent success story: Rose-Scented Raspberry Teacake.
   I particularly like this batter because it works equally well when made in a traditional preparation with all-purpose flour or when the ingredients are exchanged to create a gluten-free recipe. The almond flour adds weight to the batter and thwarts a high, puffed dome. Make no mistake though, these cake-style muffins are moist and delicious and are perfectly happy on the breakfast table, tucked into a lunch box, or enjoyed with afternoon tea. Try them and I think you'll agree.

My daughter Maddie captures me sprinkling on the streusel.

Very Moist Blueberry Cake Muffins (Gluten-Free and Traditional)

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Walking in Memphis and Spring Vegetable Medley with Lemon Sauce and Herbed Chicken or Salmon

My Traveling Tales by Michelle

Put on my blue suede shoes and
I boarded the plane
Touched down in the land of the Delta Blues
In the middle of the pouring rain
Then I'm walking in Memphis
I was walking with my feet ten feet off of Beale...

~From Walking in Memphis by Mark Cohn

   I have a penchant for capturing photos of neon signs, especially at night when the pulsating signs, dancing to their own silent electronic beat, illuminate the night sky with vibrant hues, beckoning customers to enter through the establishment's doors, into loud rooms jammed with people, ordering beer and cocktails in plastic cups, and listening to the sounds of a blues guitar reverberate across the dingy walls. The spell is broken when the sloppy, drunken, staggering college-age tourist next to me yells, at the highest decibels his vocal cords will allow, bellowing to know one in particular, "Sing da blues, Brotha." The cramped crowd largely ignores him, but Drunk Guy thinks he's delivered the funniest line ever, and laughs gregariously at his self-perceived cleverness—as a wave of his beer slops over the rim of his cup onto the concrete floor. 
    My co-worker Adel and I scan the room for an open table. A place to sit will offer us some protection from the stumbling, swilling, shouting clientele. Plus we can order food to avoid becoming drunken fools ourselves. As our eyes scan the multitude of tables, I spot a couple just beginning to rise from their chairs. As my sister Linda likes to say about me, "Everything works out for you, Michelle." Adel and I quickly zig and zag across the room, like we are contestants on Dancing with the Stars, while I try to avoid clipping seated diners in the back of the head with my purse and camera bag. Success is ours, and we snag the table as my butt swerves into the chair to officially claim the seat. Possession is nine-tenths of the law—back away other table seekers! We won the game fair and square. Adel and I order a beer and vodka tonic respectively, and because we're in the South, a basket of fried pickles, mushrooms and green beans served with ranch dressing for dipping the crispy snacks. As the blues guitar wails in lament, I contain myself and try to refrain from shouting, "Sing da blues, Brotha." 

If there's a line out the door, let alone a crowd, chances are it's a great place to eat. 
Such is the case at Blues City Café.

   The first time I visited Memphis I had the pleasure of staying at the famous Peabody Hotel. As hotels go, you might call it a Grand Dame. I adored my room with the walls pained robin's egg blue. I have a secret yearning to stay in one of their exquisite Romeo and Juliet suites, featuring a fireplace and a spiral staircase that leads to a loft bedroom. I am presently swooning over the mere thought of such a romantic getaway. Aside from the lovely accommodations and abundant Southern hospitality, what the Peabody is most famous for are the trained ducks that swim in the lobby's fountain by day and sleep in a luxurious aviary located on the roof by night. The aviary, coined the Royal Duck Palace, is worth just about the same amount of money as my house. What's really unusual, is that the ducks ride the elevator twice a day to get where they need to go, under the watchful eye of the Duck Master. I very much enjoyed witnessing the elevator doors opening and out waddle the ducks, crossing the lobby, and jumping into the fountain where they swim and play all day. 

   One of my favorite memories of Memphis really has nothing to do with Memphis at all, at least not in a sightseeing kind of way. It's just where I happened to be when the story unfolded. In the mid-nineties, I was fortunate to be selected for a special advanced technical sales training course. At the time, I worked for a global company, and the participants for the training were selected from branch offices across the USA, about 30 people per class. The training took place one week at a time in three cities, which turned out to be Memphis, Denver, and Phoenix. The training sessions were intense and each student had to pass a difficult test to be allowed to attend the next training, so there was absolute pressure to perform. There would be much shame associated with not passing the tests. Thankfully each training week was separated by three month intervals so we could mentally recover between sessions. I was with the same students from city to city, so we all bonded quickly and looked forward to seeing each other on a quarterly basis.
   On the first day of training, the attendees all met for the first time in the conference room—our home away from home for the next week. The draped tables in the long rectangular room were put together in a large U-shape, so we could all see each other without having to turn or crane our necks. As one of the first orders of business on the agenda, we each had to write our names on over-sized place cards, and place them in front of us so everyone could read our names. Next, each student had to briefly provide a quick self-introduction to the group. One of the first people to introduce himself was Dan Owens. We share the same last name. I could tell just from reading his face that Dan would be a fun person to hang out with. Dan seemed to have an easy smile and a quick wit by the way he presented himself. It was finally my turn to speak. I said the "normal" bland overview type information about myself, but at the closing of my statement—I truly don't know what possessed me—I finished by saying, "And for those of you who don't know us, Dan and I are married." I wish I had his reaction on video. In response, his eyes opened wide like a cartoon figure and he looked at me with shock written all over his face, but he recovered quickly. To my immense pleasure, he smiled and replied, "That's right... we're newlyweds." Then no one in the class knew what to think. They made big googly eyes at us. We just smiled and the instructor carried on from there.
   At the coffee break I sidled up to him while he was pouring coffee into a mug and said, "Hi, Honey, do you want cream in your coffee?" His retort, "Sweetie, I think by now you'd know how I like it." We laughed and became instant friends. We studied for the arduous tests together and after passing, celebrated by visiting Graceland together, where we had the time of our lives touring the exhibits, mansion and grounds.

   Speaking of Graceland, during my visit I learned that Elvis's tagline was "Taking Care of Business in a Flash." He made this statement a logo by combining the capital letters TCB with a lightening bolt. Unbeknownst to me, Elvis named his band Taking Care of Business. The logo is seeming everywhere in Elvis's sphere of influence, and it's trademarked, by golly. Elvis's daughter, Lisa Marie is happily making residual income from sales of items such as hats, baseball caps, and key chains printed with the logo. Some of my favorite sightings of the symbol: it's engraved on the hilt of a pistol and emblazoned on the tail of his jet. (The same jet with a 24-karat gold plated toilet seat and matching washbasin and faucet.) Elvis also had the logo fashioned into gold jewelry, including a ring and a necklace, that he wore with his bedazzled jumpsuits. I especially love the matching capes. You just can't make this stuff up. 
   At the time, I was feeling broke, and I stupidly passed on purchasing a big rubber stamp of the logo. I've always been sorry I didn't buy it. I can't tell you how many times—tongue firmly planted in cheek—I've wanted to stamp a document in red ink with the Taking Care of Business in a Flash logo. Hey, we all get our jollies in different ways, and there are situations where the use of that stamp would be particularly humorous. At least Dan Owens and I would think so, based upon our non-stop giggles throughout the Graceland tour, which didn't go over well with the faithful fans making a pilgrimage to pay their respects to The King. Unfortunately, in that instance, I was something akin to the Drunk Guy at Rum Boogie Cafe yelling, "Sing da blues, Brotha." We all get frowned upon at some point in our lives. Some of us more than others. For some folks, visiting Graceland is serious business, which wasn't so much in the case of me—even though I am an Elvis fan.
   As a lesson learned, whenever I travel now and want to buy a souvenir, I go ahead and give myself permission to splurge. Not too long ago, while visiting San Francisco with my sister, Linda—we purchased tickets to a Renaissance painting exhibition at the de Young Museum. At the gift shoppe, the museum featured Renaissance inspired jewelry and I fell in love with a pair of gold-filled filigree earrings that are decorated with semi-precious stones. After some hesitant contemplation over the downside of spending money, and then recalling that damn TCB stamp, I pulled out the debit card and bought the gorgeous earrings. Every time I wear the earrings, which is quite often, I fondly remember that special day in San Francisco spent with my sister—I don't regret the purchase one bit.

   As you likely know, Memphis is famous for its barbecue. There are barbecue joints all over the city. One of the most famous spots is Rendezvous, located near Beale Street. I think part of the appeal of the place is that the restaurant's entrance is in an alleyway giving the place an air of mystery. The basement location could just as well be a speakeasy as a restaurant. All the space would need is a change in decor. The local folks I spoke to recommended and argued over the merits of less famous barbecue establishments, such as The Commissary and Corky's. The Commisary's website declares, "Barbecue and ribs is so good y'ull slap yo' mama." Whereas, Corky's counters that the people who try their BBQ say, "It's simply the best." It appears that The Commissary is up for having a bit more fun (sorry Mom).

Singing the blues on the stage at Silky O'Sullivan's.
   To my surprise, one of the better dinners I experienced in Memphis was at Bluefin. My co-workers and I caught sight of the well-lit restaurant while riding past in a horse drawn carriage traveling from the Marriott Hotel to Beale Street. After dinner at the ever popular Blues City Cafe, we rode the historic trolley back to our hotel, seeing the modern restaurant once again on our return trip. (When I can, I will always opt for alternative transportation in a city, such as riding the cycle cab in Salt Lake City—it's so much more fun making an adventure out of getting from "here" to "there".)
  It doesn't seem to matter where we are visiting, my colleagues, to my dismay, always want to eat sushi. It's not that I don't like sushi, because I do. However, eating raw fish on a business trip always seems like tempting fate to me, therefore sushi is usually the last thing I want to eat while on the road. When it comes to food poisoning, I'm always the first person to fall and the last one to recover. It's a curse. So, one evening, against my better judgement, instead of driving across town to The Commissary or taking a taxi to Corky's or marching the distance to Rendezvous, our team leisurely walked a couple of blocks to eat seafood at Bluefin.
   Whaddya know—I liked it. I more than liked it—I loved it! Our waiter at Bluefin was fantastic and he expertly helped guide our choices. Everything we ate was perfectly prepared and absolutely delicious. I ordered cooked salmon—a big beautiful steak—served over fresh spring vegetables tossed with a lemon sauce. The guys raved about the sushi. I vowed to make the salmon entrée at home. The lemon-flavored vegetables also work well with herb-coated boneless chicken breasts. "This chicken so good y'ull slap yo' mama." And, even though it doesn't seem quite right, you can indeed put a little South in your mouth with this dish. Oh dear, I suppose at this point I should stop riffing on questionable restaurant slogans and proceed with this week's recipe. Time for me to channel my inner Southern belle by acting like a lady, and for extra good measure, sharing a favored recipe. Y'all come back now, ya hear?

Herb coated and grilled chicken over a spring vegetable medley cooked in lemon sauce. 
Spring Vegetable Medley with Lemon Sauce (and Herbed Chicken)

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Growing Up With Goats, Redwood Hill Farm and Creamery, and a Recipe for Goat's Milk Infant Formula

My Traveling Tales by Linda

"Goats are always testing you," said Debbie. " They're like Zen masters. They can tell instantly if you're faking your feelings. So they play games with you to keep you true. People should go to goats instead of psychiatrists." ~ from Even Cowgirls Get The Blues by Tom Robbins

Ruth is enamored of the kids at Redwood Hill Farm and Creamery.
   Blessed is she who lives in Sonoma County, California. As Michelle is fond of saying, "Linda lives in Sonoma County—where the animals in the pastures are happy and all the good stuff grows."   Indeed, I do feel extremely fortunate to have lived in the county for the past eight years. Being a lover and seller of food (I have mixed feelings about the descriptor "foodie"), I have certainly been able to indulge in my passion for being able to visit and talk with many producers of the products that this part of California is famous for. It is a remarkable experience for me to converse with and spend time with these brave souls who make our food, and I do not say that lightly. Let me clarify—they produce real food.

   This post is actually the final post in a series of three. I shared previously, that last October, I went on a Team Build with my Team Leaders at Whole Foods Market San Rafael. Our three-day adventure, included visits to local producers in the area. The first of three visits was to Redwood Hill Farm. We paid subsequent visits to Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company and to Pozzi Ranch. I saved writing about Redwood Hill Farm for last, because I wanted to make a second trip to the farm in the spring, when there would be many kids being born, and because it is the story that is nearest and dearest to my heart. I hope that I won't do an injustice to Redwood Hill Farm's story, if I take a moment to zigzag back in time, and share a piece of our sisters' history. It seems like the perfect time to reveal the reasons why it is that I am so darned fond of goats.

Once upon a time there were four sisters (three of whom milked goats):
Juliette, Michelle, Maria and Linda (left to right) at our LaSalle Canyon farm. 

Snow was our German Shepherd who is on the far left. We are sitting on our 
"bridge" that spanned the small creek that ran through the property.
      Once upon a time there were four sisters who lived on a micro-farm in Lompoc, California in the early 1970s. I still find it incredulous that my parents (99 percent our Dad), desired back in the late 1960s while living on the outskirts of Los Angeles, to be able to live a self-sufficient life on a small piece of acreage. Mind you, there were no latent-hippie leanings in this man. Our dad most definitely was a precursor to the modern day survivalist. He was of the opinion that the future that we were headed into was definitely dystopian in nature, and he was an individual who plotted to have a plan for surviving, what he believed would be, the imminent apocalypse.

Happy faces all around.
   Picture this if you will—as a young girl I find myself going to the first day of school, mid-year through the first grade in a different city. I wake up one day and try and navigate an elementary school with an asphalt playground and a much different routine than that to which I was accustomed at a more rural elementary school. Every person I encounter is a stranger.
   Our family moved to Canoga Park from Yucaipa, California when I was just six, and Michelle, my youngest sister, was still a few years from being born. Then—just when I think I am getting the hang of city life and my new baby sister—our family uproots and moves to the Central Coast in 1968. We rent a house in Lompoc for a somewhat luxurious year for me, where I actually have my own bedroom with a fireplace and city view—until Mom and Dad purchase my father's utopia: a five-acre parcel with a two-bedroom house, and a large downstairs garage (which became a bedroom for the three oldest sisters). The property has its own well and a year-round creek running through it. There is a big red barn encircled with livestock pens, and a portion of the long and rectangular property is planted with something called "permanent pasture" on which we will raise beef cattle, which we will later eat. There are also eight very long rows of thorny boysenberries, which we girls came to despise. The harvesting of those boysenberries became the most hated of our summer jobs, in addition to all of our regular chores. So, faster than you can say farm girl , I am attending a new junior high (once again all strangers) where the kids have known each other since kindergarten, and I live ten miles out of town. On weekends, we work on the farm instead of hanging out with friends and having fun. Time to transform again.

   The reason that this saga winds back to Redwood Hill Farm is this—one of the chores that I am referring to was the milking of the goats that our parents purchased soon after we moved out to the farm. Our dad was given goat's milk in his infancy which ended up saving his life.
   We three oldest girls each were given a doe that we were responsible for milking before school, and then again after school. I have such vivid memories of donning my hooded winter jacket (which hung on a peg by the back door, and I am wearing in the photo below) over my flannel nightgown on many a chilly morning. After zipping into my jacket, I would slip on my cowboy boots while my sisters, Juliette and Maria did the same. Then we would head quickly out the back door, and down to the barn, with flashlights and clean pails for the morning milking in hand—nightdress-ruffled-skirts kicking up in back of us.

Maria, Juliette, Michelle and Linda with our goats Chrissy and Tina (left to right) circa 1970.   
The four of us in the horse corral on our family farm. 
   When I described this morning routine to Scott Bice, the farm manager at Redwood Hill Farm, he chuckled, and said that sounded like the same experience of his sister Jennifer, and his other older siblings who at about the same time were milking goats morning and night at a dairy in Sonoma County that their parents purchased in 1968—the same year our parents decided to leave the Los Angeles area.
   Scott is the youngest of ten children, and by the time he came along, as he told it to me, the family had moved. He was raised in Hawaii—far away from Sonoma County and the goats that his sister Jennifer had come to love. This was the same with our family. Farms require absolute day in and day out devotion. Six years later, our mother was having health issues, the farm being on the foggy edge of the Pacific, turns out, was not good for her lungs. Our family doctor recommended that our family move to a more dry climate. As I went off to my first year of college, mom and dad decided to sell the farm, and along with it, the goats and my dad's dream to live the self-sufficient life.

Char, a long-time family friend of Redwood Hill, was our tour guide for the day.
Our team gathers to hear about the history of Redwood Hill Farm. 
What could be more quintessential at a farm than kitties in the window?
   So it was with a great deal of nostalgia for me, as you might imagine, and a good bit of déjà vu thrown in for good measure, that I presented myself and our group on a fall morning last year at Redwood Hill Farm and Creamery which is a goat dairy (and yes—it even has a red barn). Jennifer Lynn Bice assumed ownership of the original family farm in 1978, and has built the present day dairy into a thriving business that makes award-winning goat milk products and produces champion dairy goats. My team was there to learn about the operation of the goat dairy and taste the delicious products that are made from all that goat milk. Our tour was guided by Char, who is a long-time family friend. After giving us a short history of the dairy, Char let us tour the barn and meet some of the goats before we gathered under the oaks to taste delicious cheese.

This is an adult male goat. Does and kid goats are super friendly and docile. 
Billy goats, true to their reputation, grow up to be cantankerous and really smelly.
Most of my Team on the tour that day had not really interacted with
goats before. Most seemed surprised at just how friendly and curious
the goats turned out to be. They crowded close to be petted.
Goats love to nibble on everything. Scott had cut branches that morning for the 
goats to chew on during the day. Our dad used to cut willow saplings from the creek 
which our goats ate like they were the finest delicacy.
   After getting to know the goats a bit, tour the milking parlor and interact with the does in the barn—it was time to taste cheese. It always surprises me when people say they don't like goat cheese. Good goat's milk is made into some of the finest cheese in the world. And in case you didn't know it, goat's milk is easier to digest than cow's milk. People who think that they are lactose intolerant can often eat goat products (especially fermented ones) with no ill effects. Jennifer Lynn Bice went on to create a line of lactose-free products called Green Valley Organics.
   Our dad came close to dying as an infant when he was a low birth weight baby and then contracted pertussis—otherwise known as whooping cough. According to our Grandma Elsie, our dad's young life was saved by goat's milk. It was suggested by a neighbor who raised goats in the 1930s in Yucaipa, California. The goat's milk turned out to be the only thing that he could keep down. After being fed small amounts of goat's milk over the next tenuous weeks, his health slowly continued to improve, and he went on to drink goat's milk thereafter. This was the reason he wanted to have goats on our farm. He thought that goat's milk would be a healthier choice for us to drink than cow's milk.

Redwood Hill Cheese: Bucheret, Cameo and Fresh Chèvre in a cup. So good!
Our Team tucks in to taste several varieties of cheese. What a beautiful setting!
Our picnic spot in March when I made a second visit. Sonoma County thankfully
just got enough rain in February to make the grass green.
   So having had a great time hanging out with the goats and tasting cheeses at Redwood Hill—ruminating (hee hee) about my childhood with goats that warm October day—I wished that I could return in the spring when all the new baby goats arrive. In fact, I did call back, and set a date with a very busy Scott to return just a couple of weeks ago, because I don't think there is anything more adorable than a group of baby goats when they are hopping about and feeling frisky.

On the morning that I visited Redwood Hill again, this champion La Mancha doe named, 
Avena, was about to give birth. Her discomfort was palpable.
   Jennifer and her family have built an amazing enterprise here in Sonoma County. Quality and sustainability have always been, and remain her guiding principals at the dairy. She has gone on to become one of the most influential people in the goat dairy/cheese making business. Not only does the dairy produce products renowned for their quality and flavor, but the award-winning herd produces breeding stock for other goat dairies across the nation. In addition, I was most impressed to see that the dairy and farm run entirely off of solar panels. A truly impressive achievement. I would genuinely like to thank the Bice family for being so hospitable and spending time with me at such a busy time of the year (not that there is ever a slow time).
   If you would like to pay a visit to the farm, there will be open house weekends for the public coming up in May and June. Check out their Facebook page to rsvp.

Scott Bice holds a baby buck that had been born a few hours earlier. This little guy will be sent to be breeding stock at a new farm as soon as he gets his land legs (which is very soon with kids!).
Baby goats do not nurse from their mothers at the dairy—they are fed by means 
of this clever invention.  They are not fed plain milk, they grow healthy on kefir.
The green paint in the ears helps keep "who's who in the zoo" straight with
all the new little ones arriving daily.

Goat's Milk Infant Formula—A Recipe for Humans

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