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, November 27, 2011

A Word About Garlic, Linda's Gremolata and Grilled Rack of Lamb

by Linda

   A few weeks back one evening at work, we had a lecture scheduled for our customers and the speaker did not show. The topic for that night was called Making Your Kitchen Spice Cabinet Your Medicine Cabinet, and as the manager on duty, I was summoned to decide how to deal with the twenty or so people in our Wellness Center who were getting restless and would be very disappointed to be sent home sans lecture. Having studied herbal medicine for the past twenty years, and having had formal training... with the consent of the audience, I agreed to pinch hit for the scheduled speaker, who as it turns out, had a family emergency. As I have written previously, any culinary herb that I can think of has medicinal properties. This bold statement from me produced a few raised eyebrows from the group, but I challenged them to name a spice or herb, and I would tell them the healing properties. This led to a lively discussion in which we all participated in sharing stories about our favorite herbal allies, as like to call my plant friends.

   Among my very favorites in the group of herbal heavyweights is garlic. Much has been written about garlic. Garlic has a very long history of culinary use dating back to the building of the pyramids in Giza. Remnants of garlic have been found in cave dwellings that are over 10,000 years old. Egyptian tombs, dating back to 5,700 years ago, were found to contain sketches of garlic and clay sculptures of the bulb. Countries that consume the most garlic in their diets have the lowest incident rates of cancer, especially digestive-related cancers and cancer of the colon. Garlic is thought to be antiviral and is antibacterial and antifungal. Homemade garlic oil from fresh garlic is one of my favorite remedies for a bacterial ear infection for children or adults. It is inexpensive to make, and extremely effective. Michelle used garlic oil exclusively for my niece Maddie's occasional earaches when she was growing up, and consequently, has never needed to use the normally prescribed antibiotics.

   Fermented garlic, also known as Black Garlic, is new to the culinary scene here in the United States, but is a traditional component of Korean cooking. Kyolic garlic supplements are made from fermented/aged garlic and were created after World War II to combat radiation poisoning in Japan. Aged garlic has been shown to be effective at helping the body eliminate heavy metals and in maintaining a healthy cholesterol balance.

Testing has shown that fermented/aged garlic contains twice the antioxidant powers of raw garlic, and eliminates the issues that some individuals have with odor from eating raw garlic. However, consuming raw garlic is one of my favorite ways to combat the onset of a cold. Eating a significant portion of raw garlic is difficult, because it is so strong and can upset the stomach. I like to press the raw garlic clove through a garlic press and then mix with a little raw honey and butter. This mixture can be eaten on bread or crackers and consumed throughout the day, although be advised that the mixture will still burn in the mouth and nostrils and you will reek of garlic. This remedy is not meant for children! Raw garlic can also be made into a drink, which is the way my sons (when they were teenagers) always requested it. Again, press the garlic cloves and mix with honey, add warm water and fresh lemon juice. The powder from digestive enzyme capsules (you must pull them apart... a tedious process) can be added as well. In my experience, garlic can often knock out the bug before it has a chance to get established, and will keep infection from developing in the lungs. For all of these reasons, and because I think it is such a delicious part of countless recipes, garlic is one of the staple ingredients in my pantry. I am never with out it, and I keep my heads of garlic in a beautiful woven basket from Vietnam on my kitchen counter at all times.

Recently when Michelle came to visit, we had one of our favorite celebratory meals on the last night of her stay. I made a big batch of Gremolata (which is a mixture of garlic, fresh herbs and lemon peel) with my mortar and pestle. Then we slathered the paste on two racks of lamb while we went out to picnic at one of our favorite vineyards in the beautiful Alexander Valley.

Deep breath in and then out... for at least this day, "Yes, this is my beautiful life."

Cowgirl Creamery "Mount Tam" and Jimtown Store "Spicy Pepper Jam"
We left the lamb to marinate in the wet rub until we returned to prepare our celebration feast.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Recipe Boxes, Cookbooks and Linda's Orange Wheat and Nut Quick Bread

The Memory Keepers by Linda

It seems to me that our three basic needs, for food and security and love, are so mixed and mingled and intertwined, that we cannot straightly think of one without the others. So it happens that when I write of hunger, I am really writing about love and the hunger for it, and warmth and the love of it and the hunger for it; and then the warmth and richness and fine reality of hunger satisfied; and it is all one. ~ MFK Fisher, The Art of Eating
   There has been much discussion recently in print and on the internet about cookbooks becoming a thing of the past. The New York Times featured an article this past week in its Dining and Wine section written by Julia Moskin entitled, "Are Cookbooks Obsolete?" In the same vein, one of the food bloggers that I follow, David Lebovitz, had this to say in response to this topic in his post that arrived in my inbox a few days ago:

"It's interesting reading some of the talk regarding if the internet is ready to replace cookbooks. Sure, there are people furiously clicking around wherever they can for a chocolate cake recipe. And there are hundreds of thousands of chocolate cake recipes that you can find using a search engine. But to me, that's not enough. When I want to spend my precious time and funds making something to eat, I don't want to merely find a recipe. There's nothing compelling about a downloadable list of ingredients. It just leaves me cold. I want the author or writer to tell me about the recipe, what inspired them to create it, or how it came about."

   I couldn't agree more. As someone who has over 300 cookbooks at the ready (I am not kidding), my cookbooks feel like old friends that I wouldn't part with for the world. Lord knows that I have lugged them along on every move much to the dismay of the movers that I have hired to haul them to each new location where I have taken up residence in the last decade. Each cookbook represents a time in my past, the place and with whom I purchased it, or a particular interest of mine at the time. The book might also have been a cherished gift from someone that I love who knows my passion for food and cooking. The ones that I use often are scribbled with margin notes, and contain my changes or additions. It is my hope that my collection of cookbooks will be passed on to the next generation of our family of cooks who will smile and have a wistful moment when they run across a smudge of chocolate and read the notations made long ago in my less than elegant script. I experienced just such a moment just this morning. I shall explain...

   For our second Thanksgiving post we are sharing a recipe that came to us from our maternal grandmother, Maxine. Our Nana was born in Redlands, California in 1914, and did volunteer work for the Redland's Assistance League for over 30 years beginning in the 1950s. The history of the organization is that in 1931 a group of women came together with the common goal of wanting to improve the lives of those in need. A constitution was prepared and the name Assistance League of Redlands was adopted. As part of the active social service program, work was begun at the Community Thrift Shop. The organization is still serving the community today. Nana attended the Camellia Luncheons that were annual charity fundraisers for the group. Each year, the ladies that attended the luncheon where given a recipe card set from the menu. Each set of cards contained all of that year's featured recipes.

   These sets were printed in pink, on white cards that could be easily placed in each attendee's personal recipe box. My Orange Wheat and Nut bread evolved from one of the Camellia Luncheon recipes from the luncheon in 1979. It would seem that these once ubiquitous recipe boxes have also become, for the most part, a thing of the past. That said, I am not letting go of mine. Even in its present rather shabby state, it is a treasured possession. My recipe box is about 30 years old and contains recipes that I began copying by hand in my early twenties. In those years, Nana would often send me handwritten index cards with a new recipe that had captured her fancy, included in a letter along with a crisp twenty dollar bill. As a new bride married to a college student, I struggled from paycheck to meager paycheck which I earned by working at the university in the accounting office, to make ends meet. Those letters of love and generosity from my grandmother were such welcome gifts. Many years after her death, my recipe box still contains the old Camellia Luncheon cards tied at the corners with colorful bits of ribbon that she saved for me, and her own handwritten recipes signed off with her trademark version of a happy face topped with a hat and flower.

   This morning as I searched for the Camellia Luncheon cards to take a photo, I pulled out one of Nana's handwritten recipe cards. I ran my fingers across the faded ink, and then held it close to my heart for just a second. In a leap across time and space, I am standing by her side in her turquoise kitchen with large bay windows that overlook the Redlands that she loves... the very kitchen in which we made so many meals together when I was old enough, while we laughed and shared secrets as pots bubbled joyfully on the stove.
   Our Salvation Sisters' blog is our way of keeping those memories alive for ourselves and our children, and for the generations to come, who most likely will not have such a recipe box. This is our virtual recipe box, and we offer it to you with love. We have so much to be thankful for... from Michelle, Juliette and Linda... Happy Thanksgiving, Everyone!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Osmosis Day Spa and Linda's Detox Herbal Tea

My Traveling Tales by Linda

My order of red clover and calendula blossoms along with yarrow flowers, peppermint and
nettle leaves arrive from Pacific Botanicals in Oregon.
   After living in West Sonoma County for the last six years, I finally paid a visit to the renowned Osmosis Day Spa Sanctuary in Freestone, California. A few weeks ago, on a clear and sparkling October day that was unbelievably mild with just the right amount of warm, I traveled with five girlfriends to this beautiful location not far from my home, for an afternoon of pampering and relaxation.

   Upon our arrival we were greeted by Mercedes Jones, the Guest Services Manager. Mercedes who was born and raised in the area, first gave us a little bit of the spa's history. The founder of Osmosis is Michael Stusser who discovered the healing powers of the Cedar Enzyme Bath on a visit to Japan where he was studying traditional landscape gardening and Zen. He returned home to open the first Cedar Enzyme Bath in this country in 1985. He built a prototype 400-square-foot facility in a Sebastopol backyard out of recycled wood from a chicken coop. In 1987 the bath was featured in the Sunday section of the San Francisco Chronicle, and the Cedar Enzyme Bath quickly gained a following. Osmosis moved to its present location in Freestone in 1989. The spa and grounds have been a work in progress ever since. The most recent addition is a beautiful Meditation Garden which was a four-year project dedicated in June of 2003.

The beautiful and serene meditation garden at Osmosis.
   Once we had placed our personal belongings in a roomy locker, we were invited to change into kimono-style robes. Our first treatment of the day included a foot soak (which is really a leg soak) in the cedar enzyme chips. While the six of us perched on the sides of the bath with our legs buried up to the knees, we sipped tea and nibbled on lunch. The enzyme bath temperature is about 130 degrees, so your legs get very warm, and so does your whole body.

Our warm enzyme foot bath and lunch await us.
   Our amiable bath attendant continually refilled our waters and tea, and brought us cold washcloths for the face or neck. After we all became deliciously relaxed, it was time for the group to divide in half. I was in the group of three that chose to get a massage as my next treatment, and the other half of our group went to have facials.

    It was a blissfully relaxing experience that I find myself calling upon in the weeks after my visit in any stressful moment. I currently have the photo of the wide and comfortable hammocks situated in a private courtyard serving as my screensaver on my computer at work. The hammocks are equipped with the headsets that play soothing Hemi-Sync music (which is available for purchase in the alluring Osmosis gift shop). When feeling harried, I gaze at the hammocks on my screen and take a deep breath in, and then a deep breath out, remembering the profound sense of serenity that I experienced there that afternoon.

    Also for sale in the gift shop was the herbal tea that we sipped prior and during the enzyme foot bath. It was a delicious blend of herbs that included peppermint, red clover, nettles, and yarrow. I had forgotten how delicious and soothing herbal tea can be. The tea is made by Taylor Maid Farms, a local company based in Sebastopol, that makes a blend especially for Osmosis. I purchased a tin, and brought it home to try. Having had herbal training myself, it occurred to me that I should make a batch and share with my friends and family for the upcoming holiday season.

   I promptly placed an order with my favorite herb farm, Pacific Botanicals, near Grants Pass, Oregon, which I visited on my vacation this past August. I decided to customize my blend and add calendula flowers which will bring sunshine into one's life according to the Doctrine of Signatures during the cold and dark winter months that we are prone to in Northern California. The descriptions that follow are a very abbreviated summary of what the herbs in my blend do for the body.

Peppermint ~ An herb that is estimated to have been in use for over 10,000 years. Peppermint provides an invigorating essential oil that soothes the stomach and bowel.

Red Clover ~ An herb which also has a long history of use. The benefits of Red Clover tea is that it contains a high level of phytoestrogen that helps regulate the biochemistry in the female body. It is also thought to have cleansing properties.

Nettles ~ According to David Hoffmann, one of my teachers, "Nettles are one of the most widely applicable plants that we have. They strengthen and support the whole body. Throughout Europe they are used as a spring tonic and general detoxifying remedy."

Yarrow ~ Yarrow is thought to lower blood pressure and is traditionally administered for wound healing. In magical lore it acts as a shield of protection.

Calendula ~ Calendula flowers are anti-inflammatory, and help stimulate the production of bile. In other words, they are good for the gallbladder and digestion. There is some evidence that they fight cancer, and as mentioned previously are a great antibacterial. There is a long and very safe history of use.

   This past week, a large box was delivered from Oregon full of freshly dried herbs. When I picked up the box, I could not help but smile at the uplifting scent of peppermint that engulfed me. You can see for yourself the results of my tea-making endeavors. This one box of herbs will make tea for all of my family and friends, with enough left over to be able to prepare a very strong tea and add it to my hot baths this winter along with Himalayan bath salts. Just thinking about it I am feeling more relaxed already.

Linda's Detox Herbal Tea

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Cowtown Chocolate Cake with Ganache Icing

by Michelle

   I wish I knew how many times I have made this cake over the years. My mother-in-law introduced me to this special cake at a birthday party, and from the get go, I wanted this dessert's number. I knew, understood it in my heart of hearts, that this cake and I had a future. We have had quite the friendship over the years. Not once has this chocolate cake complained or failed me. It always seems to be the toast of the party. And, if you want to talk about icings, well... this ganache is a winner, no contest required to crown it queen of the pageant. 

Cowtown Chocolate Cake with Ganache Icing

   I have dressed this versatile cake in different guises, brushing the layers with liqueur, slathering fruit jams beneath the ganache and embelishing the top with decorations. You can have fun, but underneath it all, this cake is just as happy being plain and simple and yet simply delicious.
   The recipe hails from Maida Heatter's Book of Great American Desserts (Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., New York ©1985). In the cook book, Maida writes that this cake was famous at a now defunct coffee shop in Dallas. I made a few changes along the way, and this is my adapted recipe.
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