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, 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

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Chicken Curry Salad

by Michelle

   Located at Tanque Verde High School in Tucson, there is a special antique fair which takes place on the first Sunday of every month—rain or shine. Over 100 vendors set up across the concrete corridors and patios of the institution. They line up in neat rows on the grassy soccer field, and also cram inside the auditorium leaving just enough room for shoppers to pass each other with a little bit of a squeeze and a purse tuck. I was a devoted attendee of this fair for many years, patiently searching through the "junk", as my husband refers to it, to find a future prized possession. My much loved routine began with a friend and our two daughters. We would head east early on the Sunday morning of the fair to begin our treasure hunt—much to the chagrin of our spouses.
   There among the flea market fare and dusty items, a seeker of collectibles can delight in the hunt for all things bric-à-brac, as well as Mexican retablos, Italian trays, Asian artifacts, Tiffany vases, carved statues, vintage tools, kitchen wares, patio furniture, rocking chairs, copper molds, new and old jewelry, 1950s Christmas ornaments, knives, belt buckles, chandeliers, garden knickknacks, leather purses, cowboy boots, vintage cast iron and velvet skirts. There are thousands of disparate items offered for sale, which are displayed on tables, on the ground and in the back of pick-up trucks. Some vendors merchandise quite beautifully, but most do not. It is the type of venue where one might find a framed Renoir sold for ten dollars just because the seller thought it was a copy, but the buyer had an inkling that it might be something more than just a pretty painting in a crappy frame.

These are the spices in our homemade curry powder.
     Usually by late morning we were reveling in our "finds" and thinking ahead to our next stop—lunch. Nine times out of ten we'd head to AJ's Fine Foods, a specialty grocery chain with a location at La Encantada, an outdoor mall nestled in the foothills, that is optimally situated to afford visitors fine views of the city and the dazzling Catalina mountains. The market offers a variety of foods, including a bakery counter, sushi bar, pizzeria, and extensive delicatessen with both hot entrées, cold salads, and sandwiches made to order.
  On weekends, the market fires up an outdoor grill and offers a simple menu that includes hamburgers, hot dogs, and chicken sandwiches with a toppings bar. Our girls would line up for pizza or order hamburgers outside, while we ladies more often than not ordered the chicken curry salad. After we paid at the register, we'd carry all the food to the huge patio and snag an empty table where we leisurely ate our meal outdoors—happy to sit a spell and enjoy the view of the city of Tucson. In the winter, in addition to the cityscape, a leaping gas fire blazed in the imposing stone fireplace.
   Refreshed after our busy morning, we would make the rounds to the shops, which include a variety of brand name kitchen stores and designer apparel shops. Our favorite shopping experience, for adults and kids alike, is the unparalleled dream-like world of Anthropologie. This whimsically-themed store features unique displays carefully crafted to capture our imaginations. The thematic experience also includes hip music for our listening pleasure, and gorgeous clothes to swoon over. And even though the kids would grumble, we always stopped by J. Jill, which bored them to distraction and sometimes even to tears. If we were having the same outings today, we could send our teenagers next door to the Apple Store to be captivated by technology.

My husband prefers an open faced sandwich. I choose to forgo the bread.
   Occasionally, in an idle moment after the antique fair outing, I would mentally deconstruct AJ's chicken curry salad to consider how I would approach replicating the dish at home. I determined the salad must be fairly straightforward to make. The reasoning is simple. Delis generate profits by churning out easy to prepare recipes day in, day out. I challenged myself not to overthink it. Then, one fine morning, I opened the food section of the Arizona Republic and there, in response to a reader's request, was AJ's recipe printed in black and white. Sure enough, the dressing is simply a combination of mayonnaise, honey, curry powder, salt and pepper. What stopped me in my tracks was the honey. It seemed obvious in retrospect that I should have caught that ingredient on my own without reading about it first. And, since I mentioned honey, I'd like to refer you to an excellent article I recently read about the benefits of honey, "Does It Matter If A Sweetner Is Natural?".
   Only the curry powder left a question in my mind. Commercial preparations can vary widely in quality and taste, and the recipe did not specify a brand. I solved this variable by making my own high-quality curry powder, which is easy and fun to do. If you go with purchasing curry powder, make sure it is mild (not spicy), and that tumeric is not the first ingredient listed.
   In the cookbook, A New Way To Cook (Artison, ©2001), author Sally Schneider writes, "When I do stumble across a decent commercial curry powder, usually at an Indian food market or from a fine spice store like Penzey's, I note that invariably, the list of spices on the label begins with either coriander or cumin seeds. I have found that turmeric is usually the main ingredient in inferior curry powders. This inexpensive, rather one-dimensional spice with an appealing yellow color is often used to extend more expensive ones."
   The recipe calls for baked, roasted or poached chicken. Normally, poached chicken is the accepted standard for salad preparations involving a mayonnaise-based dressing. Poaching keeps the chicken tender and moist. Although I am a dark meat fan, for Chicken Curry Salad I prefer white meat. In the last year, my husband, Jay began grilling boneless chicken breasts over indirect heat, which retains moisture in the meat. As an added benefit, grilling keeps the heat and clean-up out of my kitchen, making this a perfect dish for a casual summer meal.

Chicken Curry Salad

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