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, July 26, 2014

The Health Benefits of Honey and How to Make Honey Simple Syrup: Paleo Beverages 101

by Linda

"More than 30 years ago, there was a big push by the doctors and the government to get people to eat less fat. That was to help lower the rate of heart disease. Low fat they said means heart healthy. So, out went the fat, but in many foods, to keep them tasting food, in went more sugar. And so, here we are today, as you've heard me say over and over again, we as a nation are more  unhealthy than ever. Not to mention fatter. You've heard a lot of theories as to why, but one in particular is getting a much closer look. It's about sugar. Everybody knows too much is bad, but I have been surprised to see just how bad." ~ Dr. Sanjay Gupta

Good things to look for on a honey label: Organic, Raw and Unfiltered.
   A few months ago I was perusing through my feed on Facebook, and I ran across a post featuring a Paleo Margarita by Danielle Walker of Against All Grain. She was sharing a recipe from her brother, Joel, who has a blog called Worthybar. For Danielle's post click here. The information was exciting for me, because I am trying to keep refined sugar out of my diet. If you are one of the few who hasn't heard just how bad white sugar or HFCS is for you, here is some food for thought from a 60 Minutes segment from 2012. Sugar is known to be a toxin in the scientific/medical community, and studies link is not only to diabetes, but heart disease, cancer and other serious illnesses. Enter honey stage right ...
I focus on growing pollinator attracting plants in my garden each year, and lately bees have 
become a favorite subject of mine to photograph. Not as easy as you might think! 
There is a reason people say "busy as a bee".  Indeed, as I have discovered by 
following them around, they rarely stop moving.
   The good news to this sweet conundrum, is that raw honey, a product made from bees which is whole and unadulterated—not refined in any way—can be eaten safely. New research is proving what ancient wisdom has always known—raw honey from bees, consumed in moderation, is not only delicious, but good for you, too.
   Honey is alchemy of the highest order. Merriam-Webster defines alchemy in this way: a power or process of transforming something common into something special.
   Honey from our friend the bee is transformed from pollen, as we all know, and in a magical process, is converted into a sweet, thick and heavenly ambrosia. I can't think anything more mysterious, delicious or just bursting with the power of nature than honey.

   Michelle recently shared a great recipe for Curry Chicken Salad which is made with honey. In that post she linked to an article entitled, Does It Matter If a Sweetner Is Natural?, which I had shared with her from one of my favorite health professionals, Chris Kresser, L.Ac. In my opinion, which is based on 20 plus years of studying nutrition and herbal medicine, Chris Kresser's web page if full of the most cutting-edge and non-faddist information about nutrition and diet. I am definitely an advocate. Chris has this to say about honey (the link to the full article is highlighted above):

   "...honey has long been an important food in the human diet. Its fructose to glucose ratio is similar to that of high fructose corn syrup, with about 38% fructose and 31% glucose (the rest being primarily water). Honey also contains enzymes and other proteins, trace minerals, flavonoids and other polyphenols.
   Although honey is “Paleo” even in the strictest sense, it can be easy to think of it as just another source of sugar; better than table sugar, perhaps, but still an indulgence that should be kept to an absolute minimum. Sugar is sugar, right? On the contrary, increasing evidence indicates that honey is a functional food with uniquely beneficial physiological effects.
   For example, two human studies found that supplementing with 3-5 tbsp of honey per day (depending on body weight) increases serum antioxidant levels, including vitamin C and glutathione reductase. In another study, the same dose of honey lowered plasma prostaglandin levels by 48-63% after 15 days, signaling a reduction in inflammation.
   In overweight and obese patients, consumption of about 3.5 tbsp honey per day for a month resulted in lower LDL cholesterol, triglycerides, and C-reactive protein (particularly in people with elevated values), and higher HDL cholesterol. In another study, honey also reduced levels of homocysteine and blood glucose.

   Honey also has antibacterial activity, and can shorten the duration of acute bacterial diarrhea in children. Honey might even be an effective treatment in some cases of h. pylori infection. Other potential benefits of honey include antiviral, anti-tumor, and anti-mutagenic effects, and reduction of IBD-associated inflammation, but these have yet to be tested on humans. So it would appear that honey has many benefits that outweigh the potential downsides of consuming a concentrated sweetener. I recommend using raw honey, which will have the most enzymes and nutrients when destructive heat has not been used."
This bee in my backyard garden is gathering nectar from a marjoram flower. If you want to attract bees, plant culinary herbs! Not only can you cook with them, but they have beautiful blooms and bees love all of them. This year my garden is planted with: oregano, marjoram, dill, several kinds of basil, many sages (salvias), cilantro, mint, rosemary, and lavender. Bees abound!
   So armed with this information and the realization that, "Wow, honey isn't just a more natural form of sugar—it actually promotes health and weight loss!", I resolved a few months back to make a more concerted effort to use honey in my diet and eliminate refined sugars as much as I possibly can. Stevia is another valid choice for a natural sweetener, but it has a bitter after taste for me, and regrettably, I am not a fan.
   The problem with honey though, is that I have found it to be inconvenient to use. It is gloppy, messy, and sticky and is hard to measure accurately. It also doesn't combine well into cold drinks. In addition, it crystallizes if is sits in your cupboard for too long, and high heat destroys its beneficial properties. What changed all that for me, however, was learning how to make simple syrup from honey, prompted by the Worthybar Paleo Margarita recipe. This little asterisked comment at the very bottom of the post caused a light bulb to turn on in my head:

* Honey syrup can be made by simply combining equal parts honey and filtered hot water (not boiling!), then stirring to incorporate the two. I suggest using a lighter honey, such as raw clover honey, as you don't want the flavor of the honey to overpower the drink. You can make 8 to 16+ ounces at a time and store in a sealed bottle or container in the fridge for up to a month.

A nose dive into a coriander, aka cilantro, bloom.
    Thus began my experimentation with simple syrup made from honey, and since then I have found it has solved all of the issuers that plagued me in the past with using honey straight from the jar. It makes measuring a breeze, adding it to cold drinks is no problem, and I now keep a container of it in the fridge at all times. I have discovered so many uses for it, that I think you will love it, too. Here's how to make your own:

Check out my visit to Heidrun Meadery and more information about bees and Colony Collapse Disorder.

Honey Simple Syrup

   I have found a multitude of uses for honey simple syrup since I began making it. I keep a jar in the fridge at all times. I use it when make my day off Mocha on Saturday morning. On this hot summer afternoon while I am writing this post, I am using it to sweeten my iced Chai. It is also great for cocktails (simply replace equal parts of simple syrup with honey simple syrup). It can also be used for  smoothies, vinaigrettes or anything else that would benefit from a touch of sweetness.

I have found that the squeeze bottle purchased at my local restaurant supply has been
a very handy dispenser for the honey simple syrup.
Raw unprocessed honey (light honey will produce a more neutral flavor)
Filtered water

Use one part honey to one filtered water. In the simple syrup I am making in the photo, I scooped the honey from the one pound jar into the empty two pound jar. I then pour hot water (not boiling) in the just emptied small jar to the top. Stir the hot water in the jar to incorporate all the remaining honey, and then pour it over the honey which is now in the large jar. Do not stir. Place lid on jar and allow to sit for about 30 minutes. This will allow the hot water to slowly soften the honey, and it will become easy to mix. It also helps keep the honey cool, preserving all of the health benefits. When honey is softened, stir until the water is well mixed in, and then I usually finish off my simple syrup by giving it a good shake to make sure that all the honey is dissolved. Transfer honey simple syrup into a covered container and store in the refrigerator. It will last at least a month—most likely longer since honey is naturally antibacterial.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

The All So Wonderful and Versatile Zucchini Noodles and Spiralizer Magic

by Michelle

   "Last night we had three small zucchini for dinner that were grown within fifty feet of our back door. I estimate they cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $371.49 each." ~ Andy Rooney

   In my circle of friends, I am the self-proclaimed Queen of the Kitchen Gadgets. If she lived closer, my only rival would be my sister, Linda. We each own espresso makers, waffle makers, pasta machines, mandolines, KitchenAids, food processors, electric water kettles, rice cookers, pressure cookers, LaCloches and Vitamixes. I have the electric panini press, while she is the proud owner of a large fermentation crock (which I don't have yet, but will own at some point in the future). Just when I think I don't need one more gadget, except the fermentation crock (of course), I stumble across a spiral vegetable slicer, and think, "How cool is that?"
   According to the promotional materials, "the little machine that could", which is what I'm now fondly calling it, will produce curly fries, vegetable noodles, shoe strings, as well as, vegetable ribbons and garlands. The crafty corporate marketer had me at curly fries. For anyone living by the tenants of a gluten-free, vegan, vegetarian or paleo lifestyle—a Spiralizer is certainly a necessity.
   As an appliance discovery, I'm a little late to the game, even if I do call myself the Gadet Queen. Some casual surfing on the internet unveiled a blogger, Ali Mafucchi with a site dedicated entirely to the glory of the spiral vegetable slicer. Ali appropriately has a marketing friendly name, a little play on words, called Inspiralized. My compadre in blogging, who is doing her best to whip up an Inspiralized Movement, also has a pending cookbook and a corporate sponsor.
   Ali estimates that she spiralizes 3 to 5 times a day to make mealtimes more fun and healthful. While I'm nowhere near Ali's frequency rate, I have found that I'm spiralizing several times a week and that the gadget has found a home on my kitchen counter. I recently began adding curly carrot and cucumber noodles as refreshing and crunchy garnishes for Asian entrees such as Sweet and Tangy Chicken, Chicken Teriyaki and Kung Pao Chicken.

Sauté brined shrimp until just cooked, remove from pan and set aside.
Sauté cherry tomatoes for a minute until hot, but not blistering, add to reserved shrimp.
Lightly sauté the noodles in the pan for 3 to 4 minutes, then toss with basil pesto to evenly distribute the sauce. With a light hand, carefully mix in shrimp and tomatoes and serve.
Garnish with shredded Parmesan and chopped toasted walnuts, if you like.
   After I submitted my order for the machine on-line, I giddily shared the news with Linda. It wasn't long before she bought one, too. Linda even beat me to the punch, making zucchini noodles and curly fries before I even had the chance to open the box that sat ever so patiently on a dining room chair, waiting to rock my world.
   I will report with confidence that this little machine generates lots of fun in the kitchen. I kid you not, it will have you thinking about preparing vegetables and meals in a whole new way. The Spiralizer really shines with the following fruits and vegetables: apples, beets, broccoli, butternut squash, cabbage, carrots, celeriac, chayote, Daikon radish, eggplant, English cucumbers, jicama, kohlrabi, onions, plantains, potatoes, and yams. While your creative juices percolate, the following is a recipe that will help get you on your way to eating fruits and vegetables in new and interesting ways.

Zucchini Noodles

   Remember the salad spinners of days of yore? I still have one and it is perfect for storing the zucchini noodles, if you have room in your fridge, because the noodles can continue to drain as they rest. The prepared noodles can sit in the refrigerator for up to 4 days, which is great for make-ahead recipe planning.

6 medium zucchini equals approximately 1-1/2 pounds prepared noodles
sea salt

Special Equipment:
Paderno Spiralizer

1. Press the suction base of the spiralizer to secure the unit to the work surface. The Spiralizer ships with three blades:

A) The Shredder Blade, the one with the smaller holes produces thin spaghetti-like strands
B) The Chipper Blade (no Fargo jokes, please), for medium-thick continuous cuts
C) The Straight Blade, for ribbon-like cuts

1. I prefer to use the Chipper Blade to make thicker strands of zucchini noodles. Slice off the ends of the zucchini. Push one end of a zucchini against the prongs and push the slider plate forward until the vegetable is flush with the blade. Turn the crank, while steadily pushing the vegetable forward, to make fresh green noodles.
2. The Spiralizer will produce rather long strands of noodles, and while I can appreciate that long noodles represent long life in the far east, I find them too difficult to work with in a saute pan. I clip the noodles about every 12 inches as they come out of the Spiralizer's blades into the colander.
3. Once all the zucchinis are processed, voila, you are done. You can use the noodles as is. However, vegetables have very high water content and zucchini are no exception. Once you add zucchini noodles to a hot sauce, be aware that the noodles will seep water and dilute the sauce. Sometimes this is fine, if you are adding the noodles to soup; no big deal. If you're adding raw noodles to a marinara sauce, the result might not be so great. If you want the noodles to lose the water ahead of cooking, take the extra time to dehydrate the noodles.

To dehydrate the noodles, sprinkle sea salt and toss the noodles to evenly distribute.
4. To dehydrate the noodles: Sprinkle the noodles in the colander with about 2 teaspoons of salt and toss well with your fingers. Be sure to have a rimmed plate or bowl underneath the colander because the noodles will release about a cup of water. I let the noodles sit for about 30 to 60 minutes, depending upon what else is capturing my attention. Toss the noodles every once in awhile. Rinse the noodles thoroughly to wash away the salt and shake vigorously to expel as much water as possible. You can dry the noodles with a towel, if you like, but I didn't find the extra step necessary.

Let the noodles sit at room temperature for about 30 to 45 minutes, then rinse thoroughly.
4. At this point, you can proceed with the final preparation of your desired salad or entree, or you can cover the noodles and store in the refrigerator for up to four days.

Six medium zucchini produced 1-1/2 pounds of prepared noodles.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Vanilla and Chocolate Pudding with Berries and Whipped Cream

by Michelle

"Stressed spelled backwards is desserts. Coincidence? I think not." Author Unknown

   Once upon a time, a friend confided in me that in her younger years she had made a big bowl of chocolate pudding with the intention of getting crazy in bed with the luscious dessert and her husband. Henceforth, I have not been able to remove the image I conjured in my mind of the intertwined couple, messily covered in smears of chocolate, doing whatever people do, when they decide to do that kind of thing. No judgment here, but I would certainly prefer to consume my serving of pudding with a dish and spoon—thank you very much. Just as I cannot unsee this image in my mind, now you can't unread it. It's the gift that keeps giving. I found out later, my friend who shall remain unnamed (and is assuredly not me), was determinedly trying to fortify her rocky marriage by being The Total Woman protégé, but alas, this marriage could not be saved. Maybe she should have tried Saran wrap and The Total Woman Creamy Rice Pudding.
  Thankfully, my pudding memories don't begin and end with my friend's sexcapades. When I look back upon my childhood to consider my favorite desserts, two immediately jump to mind—silky smooth pudding and our family's Lemon Ice Cream. While Lemon Ice Cream was always made from scratch and churned in an electric mixer with rock salt and ice, the puddings were made from boxes and patiently stirred in an enameled iron pot over medium heat on the stove top until thick and bubbly. I can't recall making just vanilla or chocolate. We always made both flavors and served the two together. So, in my mind, you can't have one without the other. Chocolate and vanilla are "besties". Where you find one, you can often find the other.
   Lately, I've been working on making my life less complicated. It's a noble goal that sounds as if it should be easy, but in reality it is not. It takes concerted effort to stay focused and stay on task because life seemingly wants to pull me in a hundred different directions. My sister has a saying that she repeats often: "Juliette plans and the universe laughs." I can relate.
   One of my pet projects in recent months is to make meals ahead of time. To me it seems like a gargantuan undertaking because it takes more advance preparation than just flying by the seat of my pants, and it is a lot more difficult than just succumbing to going out for a fast-casual restaurant meal. Sometimes I'm planning ahead in support of a busy work week, when I'm calling on accounts across a large swath of Arizona territory and spending hours upon hours behind the windshield of my car. At other times, I am simplifying entertaining which affords me more time to relax with my family and friends. I was able to accomplish my "simple" entertaining goal for Mother's day, when I made Chicken Cacciatore for the main course and chocolate and vanilla puddings for dessert. The core of the meal was prepared on a Saturday and all that was left for me to do on Sunday was to reheat the sauce, boil the pasta, assemble a salad and make whipped cream, which was easy to do with my sister, two nieces and my daughter with me in the kitchen. We had a wonderful time. And so can you.

Hot pudding is transferred from the saucepan to a bowl to cool.
   When I decided upon making vanilla and chocolate puddings for a family dinner, I new I wasn't going to rely on pouring the ingredients out of a box, like we used to do when I was a kid. I wanted to make really superior puddings from scratch. Fortunately for me during my research, I quickly stumbled upon Susan Bradley's blog The Luna Cafe. Susan was adamant in both her posts, for the chocolate pudding and the vanilla pudding, that the recipes presented were hands down "the best". With her enthusiasm for the subject and numerous tips, I felt that I had found the right place to lead me to pudding heaven. My instincts were right. I took her recipe and observations and moved forward with confidence, which yielded excellent results. Everyone at the table oohed and aahed over the exquisite flavor and texture. Following is a composite of Susan's two recipes. I highly recommend you read both her pudding posts to gain additional knowledge from her compilation of tips and tricks.
   We just have one tip to add, our sister Maria thought it would be a-okay to use sour milk in pudding (the milk in our fridge had gone bad). In fact she stubbornly insisted that the pudding would be delicious in spite of our many protestations. The final pudding was, as you might expect, disgusting. Maria ate a bowl of it anyway just to prove us wrong.

Vanilla and Chocolate Pudding with Berries and Whipped Cream

Saturday, June 21, 2014

A Gift of Fava Beans and a Garden Reverie

by Linda

"I grow plants for many reasons: to please my eye or to please my soul, to challenge the elements or to challenge my patience, for novelty or nostalgia, but mostly for the joy in seeing them grow." ~ David Hobson

   Few memories of the last twenty years stand out as brightly for me as the spring and summer months that I dedicated myself to a garden. As we draw toward the longest day—the summer solstice—I was given a gift of fava beans that plunged me headlong into my recollections of a plot of land that became mine to plant and tend for a single season. When my friend Jennie handed me a heavy bag of fava beans this past week, picked just an hour before, I opened it to take a look at the bounty from her garden. Not only did the vibrant green bounce off my retinas and fill my eyes with the verdant hue, but in Marcel Proust fashion, my nose took in the delicious scent of the just picked beans, and in the fraction of a second that it took the fragrance to travel from my nose to my cerebral cortex—I was instantly transported to the center of a garden that I planted fifteen years ago.
   I am a gardener now, and will always be, but in that singular year I had just moved in the fall into a small treehouse-style studio cottage that happened to be adjacent to a very large undeveloped lot in a residential area. It was sitting there, this lot, quite empty—with nothing on it but a weedy cover crop of malva and thistles. In that time of my life, it just happened that my work duties were lighter and more flexible than they have been before or since, and as I gazed at the weed-covered earth over the winter months, the piece of ground began calling to me. With my mind's eye, I could imagine the abundant and green space that it could become if I was allowed to work it. When spring approached, I asked my landlords for permission to plant a garden in the spot, and happily for me, they agreed.

   When we were four young girls growing up on a small farm in Lompoc, California, my dad and mom grew a large vegetable garden on part of our five acres that was very close to our house. The space of fecund land (because dad built that soil with aged animal manure that he would pick up from other farms in the trailer that he built) was located on the other side of a retaining wall that bordered our circular driveway which looped a path all the way around our house. On the edge of that garden space near the wall grew a short and bushy lemon tree that was mature and seemed to produce fruit year round—a marvel that I took for granted in my childhood. Dad was the chief designer of our garden plot, and the space was planted each spring with a variety of lettuces, several kinds of summer squash including his favorite—green scalloped squash and yellow crookneck. Green beans twined on twisty vines, and corn grew tall and played host to worms that we farm girls would squish between our bare fingers when shucking the succulent yellow ears in the summer. Dad also planted strawberry and asparagus beds, outward signs of his intention to commit to this garden plot, because it would be several years before those beds would produce significant crops. Our flock of chickens had the run of this garden patch and could be seen on a daily basis pecking and scratching contentedly among the beds and rows. At the entrance to the large garden, dad knowingly gave each of us girls our own little garden space to plant. In those days one of my favorite novels was Little Women, and I imagined then that we were just like the four sisters in the famous book who each had their own proprietary space in which Marmee allowed the girls to choose the plants in their own individual gardens:
Meg’s had roses and heliotrope, myrtle, and a little orange tree in it. Jo’s bed was never alike two seasons, for she was always trying experiments. This year it was to be a plantation of sun flowers, the seeds of which cheerful land aspiring plants were to feed Aunt Cockle-top and her family of chicks. Beth had old-fashioned fragrant flowers in her garden, sweet peas and mignonette, larkspur, pinks, pansies, and southernwood, with chickweed for the birds and catnip for the pussies. Amy had a bower in hers, rather small and earwiggy, but very pretty to look at, with honeysuckle and morning-glories hanging their colored horns and bells in graceful wreaths all over it, tall white lilies, delicate ferns, and as many brilliant, picturesque plants as would consent to blossom there.
   To be sure, our own dad was no Marmee—so there were no exotic choices for our garden plots like heliotrope or larkspur to choose from, but we were each given free reign to pick from the family seed collection for that year of what we would plant in our own little plots. Even Michelle who was only about four at the time we began gardening, wanted her own space, and I can remember helping her poke seeds into the damp soil with her stubby little fingers. I now know that this is where my life-long passion for plants and gardening was born—even though I didn't realize it at the time. What I understand now, that my dad already knew then, is that we would each take more of an interest in the garden space that was our very own. Such is our human nature.

      So, many years later, when I approached this large and square piece of land on which I would plant a garden (I imagine that it was about a third of an acre), I began with the foundation of the knowledge acquired from my childhood. First things first. I commenced with the essential and primary step I learned from dad—one needs to build the soil. Since it is a living organism and must be healthy and rich to support a garden it needs to be enriched with compost. I began with aged manure. Once I had my big pile of fertilizer, which I was able to obtain for free from a local horse ranch, I was ready to start. Armed with only a pick, shovel, hoe, sturdy leather gloves, a wide-brimmed woven hat and my passion—I set out to create the vegetable and flower garden of my dreams.
   To begin, I devoted a large rectangle to planting what I referred to as the meadow, in hopes of attracting a variety of birds. Even though this lot was residential, the surrounding houses were mostly hidden from view. Down a slope and to the back of my future garden, there was a thick line of very tall and dense pines that bordered the back of one neighbor's property. To my delight, I discovered when gardening at dusk, that white barn owls roosted in these trees. They would fly in and out of the branches—screeching the shrill cries that they are known for, while they began searching for that evening's meal. The house to the back on the other side was shaded with a large sycamore and was screened from view by dense shrubs, so my garden space felt protected and private at the top of the little plateau. I worked the soil in earnest—hacking out all the stubborn weeds with my sharp hoe—who knew that malva roots grow so deep? Then I began the process of working the manure into the compacted soil with my pick and shovel. After that was accomplished, I scattered a wild bird seed mix on the freshly tilled soil in my meadow that would turn out to be mostly purple amaranth when the plants matured. Next I planted sunflowers seeds of different varieties around the border of the rest of the far side of the space, and then I began work on creating the big mounds in which I would plant seeds of zucchini, yellow crookneck and green scalloped squashes. I followed this with the planting of butternut and banana squash seeds, and I simply had to grow pumpkins. I am enamored of pumpkins. By that time in my life I had discovered what I call Cinderella pumpkins—the French variety known as Rouge Vif d'Etampes, and those seeds were deposited in the freshly created mounds of soil along with seeds which would grow into small sugar pumpkins—perfect for baking.

   The formation of the rows began next. I rose early each morning, trying to beat the heat, and began with the ritual of braiding my waist-length hair. I would then don a clean V-necked white men's T-shirt (choosing to forego wearing a bra) and pulled on a pair of jeans. Then placing my straw hat on my head, I slipped my feet into my gardening loafers, and headed out into the evolving landscape. Each morning, I attacked the ground anew, forming it to my creative will. I planted whatever my heart desired. Rows of corn backed up to the sunflower border. I planted several kinds of lettuce, daikon radishes, Chiogga beets, rainbow carrots, Kentucky Wonder bush beans, eggplants, bell peppers, cucumbers, melons and several kinds of tomatoes. During those thankless days of manure spreading, weed pulling and seed planting, I kept a vision in my mind of what this barren piece of ground would become during the proceeding months as my seeds sprouted and the plants grew—maintaing my faith that they would all germinate and grow into an appealing riot of color, shapes and textures, as well as become host to pollinators and other fauna. After that I would entertain myself by imagining what delicious dishes that I would be creating with all of that fresh produce. And just because I wanted flowers, I planted a row of cosmos in addition to the sunflower border and added a row of jewel-toned nasturtiums which I thought I might add to my salads. One of the last things that I planted as I worked my way from the back to the front of the lot was a small row of fava beans at the entrance to the garden. I didn't know what to expect from this plant, because I hadn't grown them before, and this was at least a full five years before I would be routinely doing research on the internet.

   And just as I had envisioned—my garden did grow. I tended it carefully each day, steadfastly watering and weeding. I staked if necessary and even became skilled at  trapping the wily and voracious gophers who decided that my garden was indeed a mecca of deliciousness. I unceremoniously relocated hungry caterpillars, encouraged lady bugs and reveled among the burgeoning plants that attracted swarms of dancing butterflies and determined bees. My hard work paid off with bumper crops of just about everything.
   When the garden was approaching its zenith, I celebrated the bounty of the season by throwing an outdoor party on the first of July. By that time there was summer squash, and the tomatoes and cucumbers were coming on strong. There were green pumpkins on the ground, and even a few small watermelons were nearing ripeness. The corn stalks were tall and full of ears from which corn silk protruded out and glistened in the sun—browning slightly on the ends. The giant sunflower heads were drooping and heavy with seeds, and there were purple eggplants and beautiful green peppers.  I was able to borrow a couple of large picnic tables that I placed at the entrance to the garden. I covered them with bright tablecloths and set vases of cosmos cut from the garden on them. I made piles of food that included grilled chili-rubbed chicken with a freshly prepared barbecue sauce, homemade onion rings, cucumber and tomato salad in a tangy vinaigrette with a chiffonade of fresh basil sprinkled on top, our family's potato salad, grilled corn on the cob from the garden, summer squash gratin and garlic bread. For dessert, I baked my famous chocolate chip cookies, and made a fresh nectarine cobbler that we devoured with our family's homemade lemon ice cream. When my friends arrived, they were able to walk through the garden before the meal. Then we ate—all of us thankful for the abundance of summer. We partied on into the evening when we finally lit the lanterns and continued talking, laughing and drinking the wine that my friends brought with them on into the candlelit night with the stars shining over our heads.

    So the memory of my garden from long ago instantly formed in my mind as I looked at and sniffed the pile of fava beans that Jennie had placed in my hands. They glowed with a soft luster within the interior of the bag reminding me of the delight and bounty of just such a summer. I thought of those fava bean bushes in my garden which I planted all those years ago during that magical season. The ones that I had tended for no special reason, other than to see them grow. Fava bean bushes as it turns out are beautiful. Not only does this legume fix the soil with much needed nitrogen, but the plant itself is most satisfactory. The ones that I grew were about three feet tall, bushy with round leaves, and the cream-colored flowers with dark centers that form the beans are really lovely, which was something I didn't expect when I planted them.
   So thank you Jennie for my gift of fava beans. As Mark and I removed the beans from the long and thick pods that evening before dinner to prepare them for a quick blanch in salted boiling water, I shared the story of my special garden from years past. After we blanched the beans, and rinsed them in cold water, the beans still require that you peel off the tough outer skin which, once accomplished, will reveal the tender and brilliant green inner bean. Quite a bit of effort, but well worth doing—just like growing a garden.

"A garden requires patient labor and attention. Plants do not grow merely to satisfy ambitions or to fulfill good intentions. They thrive because someone expended effort on them." 
                                                                                                                      ~ Liberty Hyde Bailey

For a simple and delicious recipe for fresh fava beans click here. One of Michelle favorite
week night dishes includes fava beans, and that link is available by clicking here.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Take Me To The Beach and Provençal Potato Salad

The Memory Keepers by Michelle

"The sea does not reward those who are too anxious, too greedy, or too impatient. To dig for treasures shows not only impatience and greed, but lack of faith. Patience, patience, patience, is what the sea teaches. Patience and faith. One should lie empty, open, choiceless as a beach—waiting for a gift from the sea.”  ~Anne Morrow Lindbergh

This photo is so very 1940s fabulous. Check out our Papa (in the back row) in his sexy Panama 
hat. President Theodore Roosevelt wore one on his visit to the Panama Canal in 1906 and 
made them famous. In the foreground is our great-grandfather Rhea Igo with our great-grandmother, Nanny Igo reclining behind him. My mother's cousin, Susie, is on his lap. 
Nanny Igo's sister, Maybelle, is behind her with her arm on her shoulder. Our mother, Dianne, 
is in the last row on the left, next to her brother Pat. On the other side of Papa is our grandmother's sister, Dodie, and husband, Cecil. Our Nana is sitting on the left in front of Papa in his Panama hat.
   It's that time of year again—the downhill slide into summer. Here in Arizona the thermometer is routinely registering in the triple digits. The barrage of heat will continue to flog we desert dwellers until late October. It seems as if, every year, just in time for Halloween, the heat will break and we finally get the relief we've been dreaming about since June. Once the heat kicks in with the onset of summer I automatically begin jonsing for a beach vacation. By pedigree, and in my heart, I am and will always be a California girl. Gaviota State Park was the closest beach to our house, about a 20 minute drive. As a family, we'd visit the pervasively windswept Surf and Jalama beaches. Once I was sixteen and driving, the state parks I'd visit most were Refugio or El Capitán, where I'd sport a bikini and flirt with surfers. Now, when I'm in the area, I love to walk the stretch of Hendry's Beach in Santa Barbara and lunch at the Boathouse, which sits conveniently on the oceanfront.

This photo proves that even a windy, cold day at the beach, it is better than no beach day at all. 
We are at Surf beach in Lompoc, California circa 1968. No swimming is allowed at this 
part of the beach. There is very heavy surf (hence the name) and a very strong rip tide. Linda 
is in the foreground, with our mother Dianne on the left behind her. Michelle is in diapers 
and our grandmother, Nana is in front of the umbrella/wind screen (with her Yorkie named 
Dolly) and appears to have a fashionable 60s turban on her head that is protecting her "do". 
Our great-grandmother, Nanny Bandy is huddled next the her. Our grandfather, 
Papa, is doing something in the background involving a cup, and isn't bundled up like 
the rest of us. Maybe he is having a wee sip of Wild Turkey to try to stay warm.
From left to right: Juliette, Linda, Michelle and Maria
 at Jalama Beach in California; the year is 1969.
Michelle and Juliette at Surf Beach circa 1978.

   For all the years I have lived in Arizona, my husband and I have failed to provide my daughter the seemingly obligatory San Diego summer vacation experience, which includes touring the world famous zoo, watching a Padres game, wandering around Balboa Park and lounging at the beach, perhaps Mission or Coronado. Pretty much everyone I know in Tucson and Phoenix heads to San Diego annually for the requisite beach vacation. San Diegans disparagingly refer to Arizona visitors as "Zonies"—those annoying desert rats that invade San Diego during the summer months, whereby we temporarily inflate the population, clog the highways, send hotel rates soaring, and make it nearly impossible to secure a restaurant reservation in the Gaslamp Quarter.
   I will make note that Arizonan's experience this same migration phenomenon during the winter months when our state is infiltrated by gray-haired retirees, whom we contrarily call snowbirds. These part-time residents flee their homes in cold weather states during the snow-laden months to enjoy the optimal desert weather that we all count on between November and April. When I start adding up the costs of a summer beach vacation in Southern California, my mind wanders over to consider my Nana's mother, a woman that died before I was born. And even though I never met her, I actually think of Maude quite often because of the stories that have been passed on to me about her life.

"Nanny", our great-grandmother, owned a house on California's Balboa Peninsula, a few
steps away from the beach. Our mother clearly bears a strong resemblance to her grandmother.
   Our maternal great-grandmother, after she was widowed, pulled up stakes and moved from her beloved Redlands, where her daughters lived, to the beach. Nanny, as my Mother calls her, purchased a large two-story house on the Bay side of the Balboa Peninsula in Newport Beach, California. My mother fondly recalls that one of the bedrooms in the house was large enough to hold four double beds. Mom spent glorious summers at the beach, and since we all know that girls just want to have fun, she often invited friends to stay with her. The teenagers played at the beach and visited the Fun Zone, a small amusement park at the ferry terminal that featured a merry-go-round, Ferris Wheel, fun shops and eateries. In those days, the drive from Redlands to Balboa took about 90 minutes. About the half way mark, they'd stop for double-decker hamburgers and hand-dipped milkshakes served in frosty metal cups at the famous Bob's Big Boy. Later, our newlywed parents, who were long on love and short on money, spent their honeymoon at Nanny's house.

Linda's twin boys Jordan and Joshua.
Papa, Linda and Nana look forward to the day ahead at the beach at Laguna circa 1985.
Jordan and Joshua at the beach. Photo by Ron Levy.
Our Nana Maxine and Jordan and Joshua at Laguna Beach circa 1981. 
A little girl named Amy decided to hang out with us for the day.
   Every summer I partake in a fantasy that our family held on to the house instead of selling it in the late 1950s. I entertain this daydream because I have a friend whose family kept "Grandma's house"— an enviable getaway destination in the Diamond Point area of North Lake Tahoe. The two story house sits directly across from the lake. The family and visitors enjoy an unencumbered view of the pristine blue water and surrounding pines. If the view wasn't enough, the cherry on top was the very short walk to the private beach area. In the summer we'd enjoy cocktails on the second story wooden balcony and in the winter we'd light a fire in the living room's fireplace and watch through the floor to ceiling windows to see how high the snow pack would rise on the balcony's flat ledge. On the 4th of July we'd put on our bathing suits and splash in the lake's frigid water and at night, we'd sit on the neighborhood's pier, bundled up in long pants and hoodies to watch a patriotic firework display.

Hendry's Beach in Santa Barbara, California in 2009.
Our family spent an afternoon at the beach in contemplation during
the days leading up to Josh's funeral
   Even though San Diego is ridiculously expensive during the month of July, it is the ideal time for our family to visit due to our collective work and school commitments. Unfortunately I have champagne taste on a beer budget, so the thought of staying out in the burbs and commuting to downtown puts a frown on my face. What also made my smile go upside down is that I am 3,000 points shy of a two-night free stay at the posh Manchester Grand Hyatt San Diego. In an effort to glean tips from like-minded California dreamin' vacationers, I hit the message boards to uncover alternate ideas from the coupon clipping set. One of the posters suggested avoiding crowded San Diego all together in favor of vacationing further north, in the Central Coast area of Pismo Beach in San Luis Obispo County, near where I grew up. Also, in the same general area is Morro Bay, which Linda wrote about last year.
   We did that very thing back in 2003, when Linda, Maddie and I stayed in Cayucos, a small little beach town about 30 minutes north of Pismo Beach and 20 minutes south of Cambria—a picture perfect seaside village. Our family friend, Richard lived in an apartment overlooking the ocean, and was situated a couple of blocks from the beach. Like our ancestors, Linda and I bundled ourselves up in hats and sweaters, and fortified ourselves with red wine, while Maddie ran around the beach in a bathing suit building sandcastles with Richard.

Linda and her son, Joshua at Cayucos… the last time they would be together in this life.
Linda dressed up at the beach (left) and what she normally looks like during an outing.
Maddie, Michelle and Linda—from left to right—at Cayucos beach in 2003. Linda thinks
she looks like President Franklin Roosevelt in the top photo (Maddie agrees). Family friend, Richard, plays with Maddie while Michelle and Linda try to sip some wine. It was so windy that sand kept blowing into our glasses. We eventually gave up and went back to Richard's beach apartment 

to eat our picnic.
   One leisurely afternoon, while Maddie napped, we lounged on the couch watching an episode of Ina Garten's The Barefoot Contessa on the Food Network. Linda and I became instantly inspired to make the exact same meal for dinner that night. Off we charged to the market to purchase everything needed to make seared Ahi with Provençal Potato Salad for dinner and Vanilla Armagnac Ice Cream Sandwiches for dessert. Linda and I busied ourselves in the kitchen working seamlessly together like we always do. Dinner was marvelous. We were all satiated and happy until we made the critical error of eating dessert. The ultra rich ice cream along with the cookies sat uncomfortably in our stomachs, defiantly wrestling against the digestion process. As my husband likes to say, "If you want to ruin a good meal, just have dessert." We should have followed his advice, even though we would want to scramble over the table Julia Roberts-style (in the film August: Osage County) when he says it. Every once in awhile you'll hear Linda or me sarcastically ask, "WWJD (what would Jay do)?" and we'll reluctantly choose to pass on dessert. Enough time has passed that Linda and I can now laugh about the horrible indigestion experience. We have never made those ice cream sandwiches again, although Provençal Potato Salad made the grade and is in steady recipe rotation during the summer months.

Goat Rock Beach in Sonoma County, California. 
   In the last few years, I obtain my beach fix by visiting Linda. She lives close to the world famous Highway 1, and there are a myriad of walking beaches located up and down the coast. I'm happy to sink my toes into the sand, hear the shrill cries of swooping seagulls and watch the white-capped and gray-green waves crash on the shore. Maddie and I usually fly to Linda's a couple of days after school lets out for the summer, but alas it was not to be so for this year.  

   Our sister, Juliette made the trip with me for our "Sistercation" in October of 2012. I love the photos of us cavorting on the beach—just happy to be together. Perhaps if you are raised near the ocean, you always long for the ocean. Juliette was telling me recently that she needs to get herself to the beach. She has plans to visit Puerto Peñasco, also known as Rocky Point, in Sonora, Mexico this summer. It seems that we'll all be headed in different directions this year, but one way or another, we'll all find our way to the sandy shore, with the ocean breeze swirling our hair, and salt water rushing to touch our toes. We'll be grateful for our limited time spent at the beach, even if we cannot be together this year.

If you are among those who are freaked out by feet—don't look!

Provençal Potato Salad

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...