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, February 28, 2015

The Whole30 Challenge: Michelle's Paleo Journal—Days 1 and 2

by Michelle

"It is what it is.
You are what you it.
There are no mistakes."
~ Tom Robbins and Juliette

Me holding a boule of my homemade sourdough bread which I am preparing
to give up for at least the next 30 days. I will miss bread.
   Linda's Note—In January of 2012 I decided I should finally, once and for all, take control of my health. That January, I did a personal inventory and sadly found myself in my 50s, overweight, and plagued by allergies and asthma which all of we sisters have had since infancy. I had also recently developed heartburn, and I was having trouble digesting my meals. Me of the iron clad stomach had finally succumbed to poor digestion in middle age in spite of taking digestive enzymes by the handful. Gas was another issue that I thought was just part and parcel of my slogging forward into my advancing years—to be rigorously truthful though, this condition had always been a vexation for me.  I should point out that by January of 2012, I had been well-immersed in the study of nutrition, vitamin supplements and herbal medicine for more than 20 years. What changed my perspective on my learning up until then, was that the year before, I was introduced to Misty Humphrey, who was hired to be the "Healthy Eating Specialist" at the Whole Foods Market in which I worked at the time in Santa Rosa, California (I am now working for WFM in its Marin locations). It took some months of my getting to know Misty and talking to her about diet and nutrition before I became convinced that grains—even whole grains—could possibly play a major factor in my present state of feeling not so great. She recommended books for me to read such as "Wheat Belly" by Dr. William Davis and redirected me back to a book which I already had in my library—Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon. Misty gently convinced me with her substantial knowledge of the subject of nutrition and her own personal story, that going "gluten-free" —a concept that seemed so ridiculously trivial to me previously, could be the key better health. Miraculously, in a short four month period after changing nothing but my diet, I had shed fifty pounds. Not only that, but as Michelle is fond of saying, "I forgot that I even had a digestive tract." Acid reflux disappeared as did the gas. I was able to reduce the medication that I was taking for asthma in half! I became (and still am) positively evangelical about my new discovery. Thus the rest of my poor family had to hear ad nauseum about my gluten-free diet and the miracle of giving up wheat. Eventually Michelle joined me on the gluten-free diet, but she did not lose weight. What she did discover though, that in spite of the not rapid weight loss, is that she also felt much better in general on the diet—and so began our sisters' journey into gluten-free eating and then finally transitioning to a Paleo template diet. This past January, Michelle decidedly kicked my ass by choosing to participate with her husband, Jay, in the Whole30 Challenge for an entire month—far surpassing my own diet resolutions for the New Year. So here we are, sisters who love to cook and eat. One is a baker of artisinal sourdough even! We have our traditional family recipes that we love, so eliminating gluten is one thing, but beans? What… you can't even eat a frigging bean? Please join us for Michelle's account of her attempting the Whole30 Challenge and our continuing quest of eating well for health.

Herbs are our friends. Use them liberally to make everything taste better.
   Today is Monday, January 5th, my first work day of the New Year. I wish I could say I charged out of bed, ready to take on the world. I groaned when the alarm sounded and then I proceeded to hit the snooze button twice. I silently chided myself. My desire, I tell myself, is to rise early and pay myself first. I'm doing this for me, so get up for goodness sake. My desire is to produce more writing. Learn Photoshop. Maintain a consistent exercise routine. Work on personal projects in the small hours of the morning before I begin my official work day for my employer. In other words, be a true American: do more, be more, accomplish more. How will I rise up to meet my goal? According to the Whole30 folks, it all starts with food. The question becomes am I fueling my body properly to sustain myself so that I may go the distance every day of this seemingly non-stop life?
   I tossed and turned all night thinking about how I'm going to fit everything in on a daily basis and still get eight hours of sleep a night. I practically had two weeks off over the holidays and I slept the sleep of sleeps. I experienced no stress dreams. I went to bed at midnight and slept in until 9 a.m. on most days. Bliss. Pure bliss. Now it's back to bed at 9 and rise at 5. I despise going to bed at 9, but that's what I need to do if I'm going to serve myself first. This is the advice in just about every self help book that I have read as of late. I know it to be true from prior experience. It just takes discipline.
   To help me along the way, I have decided losing weight is in order. The pounds have creeped back on over the last six years although my weight has stayed steady for the last couple of years. I'm in the perpetual lose 5 pounds, then put it back on. I allowed myself to eat whatever I wanted over the holidays and now I am ready to take the Whole30 Challenge. At least I think that I am ready and then I notice I have a grimace on my face as a result of typing the last sentence. Completely ready or not, I have talked about omitting refined carbs and sugar from my diet for awhile. Now it's time to do it. No excuses. Just discipline.

Creamy and Delicious Broccoli-Kale Soup meets the Whole30 challenge.
   I've been living mostly gluten-free for a couple of years. The lifestyle was difficult in the beginning and then became second nature over time. Although I am not celiac, I noticed that I felt better eating gluten-free. I saw a dramatic change in my skin. I slept better. I practically forgot I had a digestion system.
   For all the trepidation I had over going gluten-free, I suspect, for me, a Paleo eating plan will be more difficult. Simply because more dishes will need to be prepared. If I want pasta on a Wednesday night, it is no longer quickly opening up a bag of  gluten-free pasta. Now I'll have the additional step of cleaning zucchini, deciding to peel or not to peel, cranking the zucchini through a Spiralizer, tossing the strands with salt and letting the mix sit for a half hour to remove excess water, then blanching the noodles in boiling water for a few minutes before tossing the "zoodles" with a sauce and shouting "DINNER" towards the upstairs where my daughter is finishing homework in her bedroom and my husband is conducting research in his office for his next day's work. There are very few shortcuts by choosing to go Paleo. It's a commitment on multiple levels from spending more time in the kitchen and being reduced to selecting one or two items on a typical restaurant menu. Let's see... do I want to eat this salad or that salad or choose the $40.00 steak dinner? Salad it is! Even though I have been pretty good about cutting refined sugar, I know plenty of it still sneaks into my diet. For example, the extra hot grande vanilla latte that I love so much. Must. Give. It. Up.
   Moving forward for the next thirty days, my commitment is to give up grains, legumes, refined sugar, and alcohol for 30 days. I will miss dairy and wine most of all. I could probably live without a French fry for the rest of my life, but shun a great cheese paired with a wine until the end of time? No, thank you.

Fresh fruit is part of the Paleo eating plan and this gorgeous rain kissed orange 
is maturing at its own pace in our backyard. My husband dotes on our many citrus trees.
   I will chronicle the 30 days and record my progress (may they be many) and my failures (may they be few to none). Let's see what the Whole30 challenge is like and hopefully I won't be dreaming of candy bars as I go through carb withdrawl. Here's my basic blueprint for Whole30 success: soups made with bone broths for breakfast, salads for lunch, protein and vegetables for dinner. Snacks-wise, I suppose I'll go the fruit route, and beef jerky and nuts, such as macadamia or marcona almonds. I'll try to be creative as I can be but on a time budget. I don't want to spend too much time in the kitchen, but I don't like to repetitively eat the same food items day after day. I commit to shake things up. My body as a science experiment for health's sake. Time to get started.

Cream of Chicken Soup made with homemade bone broth. The Perfect Health Diet by 
Paul Jaminet Ph.D. and Shou-Ching Jaminet Ph.D. includes eating some rice, butter and 
heavy cream. Now that's a Paleo plan that I can abide by, but is not the Whole30 program.
Day 1:
Breakfast: Homemade Chicken Soup (including the bone broth)
Lunch: Mixed Greens and Vegetable Salad with Chicken and Dijon Vinaigrette
Dinner: Beef Meatballs and Marinara over Spaghetti Squash

   I mustered my courage today and stepped on the scale. After doing some quick math in my head I determine I have 35 pounds to lose. I picture lifting the 26 pound turkey from Thanksgiving, which was really heavy and not easy to move around. Crimany! Part of the Whole30 program is to commit to not weighing myself again until the end of 30 days. The focus is on gaining health, not losing weight, although it sounds as if shedding pounds will be a byproduct of a strict regime.
   I make my 16-ounce extra-strong coffee the typical way with 2 packets of Truvia, 2 teaspoons of unrefined honey and 1/3 cup half and half. I know I'm supposed to use heavy cream in lieu of half and half, but I don't like how heavy cream tastes in coffee. I consider giving coffee up for awhile or switching to tea as I sip the steaming cup of sweet, creamy, deliciousness that is my ritual start to every day.
   For breakfast I reheat homemade chicken soup. Unfortunately, it does have brown and wild rice in it, but I will not be throwing good food away. Besides, more than anything else, I'm following in the footsteps of Paul and Sou-Ching Jaminet, the Ph.D. couple that researched and wrote Perfect Health Diet to optimize nutrition and be well nourished. Paul was also intent on overcoming a chronic illness. Although a small portion of rice is included in his Paleo plan, the Whole30 authors ask that participants abstain from rice for 30 days. I figure this is like food boot camp. Give it up for a month and see how I feel. How difficult can that be? I am missing rice already as I take in spoonful by spoonful of comforting brown and wild rice-laden soup. I console myself it is only for 30 days and then I can gradually add rice back into my diet.
  For lunch I discover my husband put his absolute favorite Sweet and Tangy Four Bean Salad as an abundant topping on my green salad. Bummer. Kidney beans are especially toxic but they sure do look pretty in the mix and they sure do taste good in the sweet vinegar sauce made with refined granulated sugar.
   For dinner, I am trying my hand making Paleo meatballs. My go to meatball recipe includes sourdough crumbs and grated parmesan. I follow Nom Nom Paleo's lead and substitute mashed cauliflower to lighten the meat mixture. I sneak in basil pesto. Then I remember after the fact that there is parmesan in my pesto. Urgh. It's a small amount, but still... I'm breaking the rules again. Any new program has its false starts. I guess I'll be tacking on one more day to the program to compensate for my initial failures.
   Observations: I was not hungry between meals and did not desire a snack. Jay cracked it was because there was a half a pound of butter in the soup this morning. Not true (it's a quarter pound—hee, hee), and fat is filling. Hubby is fat phobic. Jay will have the hardest time adding good fats to his diet. I will freely admit that after dinner I do not feel tired and ready to crash in front of the TV. I finish making paleo breakfast bars, just in case I need a snack during my visit tomorrow to the copper mine. Many miners don't break for lunch and I'm not sure when the training course will end. I think the reason I'm not feeling fatigued is twofold: no alcohol and no pasta. My daughter Maddie reminded me that alcohol is a depressant, which of course I already know, but wasn't aware that she did. I do not feel overly full, nor do I feel my meal rumbling around in my stomach. I may have enough energy to read Olive Kitteridge in bed for awhile before I drift off to sleep, which will hopefully be much more restful than last night. I need to rise early. My ride is picking me up tomorrow at 6:30 a.m. I need to take H2S training and Molybdenum plant training. Working at the mine is all about safety first.

Beef bone broth simmers on the stove.
Beef Bone Broth Soup with Sausage, Mushrooms and a scoop of  Mashed Faux-Tatoes.
Yes, that's a heavy sprinkle of Parmesan. I love it so.
Day 2
Breakfast: Cup of Coffee and a bowl of Cream of Chicken and Rice Soup
Lunch: Chicken Caesar Salad with No Croutons
Dinner: Beef Bone Broth Soup with Sausage, Mushrooms and a Scoop of Mashed Faux-Tatoes

   I worked over eleven hours today. I was a little concerned about what to eat since I would be at the mine most of the day with no break for lunch while on-site. Fortunately, the Cream of Chicken Soup kept me full until we were able to eat a late lunch. My colleague asked if we could go to Chili's since it is one of the few non fast food choices in that area on the outskirts of town. I kept flipping back and forth through the menu trying to find something acceptable to eat. I knew the Caesar Salad is likely made with icky canola oil in the dressing. But, oh well. I did the best I could with the choices available.
   Since I worked a long day, I just wanted to get dinner out of the way, especially since I have to get up early and drive to Phoenix to pick up a bid bond and return to Tucson in time to submit a quote to Pima County by 2:00 p.m.  So much for rising early and paying myself first. I'll be up again at 4:30 a.m. and out the door by 6:00 a.m. for my employer. I won't be serving myself first this morning.
   After dinner, I work myself into a frenzy reading the "rules" for the first 30 days of the Whole30 plan. I find myself getting crabbier and crabbier by the second. The folks over at the Whole30 program established a pretty limited eating scope for the first 30 days. The readers take it pretty seriously, too, to the tiniest detail. Stupid questions abound, and the patient editors respond nicely even to the silliest questions. Read a label, people. Understand the basics of nutrition, such as knowing the difference between a carbohydrate, protein and fat.
   The readers' comments reminds me of the time my sister Linda sent me a link to 101 Cookbooks for a Kale Rice Bowl recipe. The blog is written by San Francisco hipster Heidi Swanson. She has produced a couple of award winning cookbooks on the subject of vegetarian cooking. She's immensely popular being one of the first pioneers, or successful, at least, at the game of food blogging. After reading the kale post and scrolling through the reader's comments, I was inspired to respond to Linda with a composite of all the comments that I had read through. Of course I didn't leave my errant musings as a comment on Heidi's blog, it was enough to send it to Linda. People rarely, if ever, recognize sarcasm in the written word, but Linda totally got it:

   "Oh my God, Heidi... this looks so awesome. Love your recipes. I wish I could brush your hair. San Francisco is awesome. Kale, yum... my favorite. Love your countertops. Marble is my favorite. Your (sic!) my favorite. Can you publish more photos of India? I want to know more about your new projects. This recipe only took 5 minutes to prepare? Really, 5 minutes? You're a GENIUS. I don't shower, either. I thought I was the only one that had to set a Google alert to shower. OMG, that's so awesome. Thanks for posting. I'm going to make this super-dilish sounding recipe tonight. I mean it. I have kale in my refrigerator. Like, right now. Although now that I think about it for like a nano second, can I substitute black beans? If I don't have capers, can I use cannellini beans instead? Will they crisp if I fry them in butter? I'm on a bean kick and kale makes me poop orange. Is that a problem, Heidi? Should I be concerned, or is that just part of detoxing? It's not like neon orange, but more of like a burnt orange shade. IDK, but LMK, OK? OMG, we're so alike. You're busy and I'm busy too. Can we meet the next time I'm in San Francisco? Where do you live, what part of town? Can I come over? You're such an inspiration. Seriously. A true inspiration. Keep your creative ideas coming. I can't wait for your next post. Did I already say that? If I did sorry, but it's the truth. I absolutely can't wait. BTW, I have a question about cabbage soup. Should it really taste as awful as it tasted? You recommended za'atar, but I used curry instead. I think za'atar makes my poop the color purple. Have you ever had that happen, Heidi? Thanks for this kale recipe idea, and pleasepleaseplease post more recipes using za'atar! Unless you think it is, you know, related to the purple poop, in which case, stop blogging recipes with za'atar. Hope you respond. P.S. Will you be my Valentine? I hope so, because I lovelovelove U!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

   Meanwhile, back at the ranch, I was irritated to read that most bacon is cured with sugar, so no bacon for 30 days unless I go on a Herculean hunt that will likely leave me tired and angry and wanting for sugarless bacon. Truthfully, back in my low-fat diet days, I went years without consuming bacon. Doing without for a month shouldn't leave me distraught. Still, I've grown accustomed to eating it within the last year and don't want to give it up. Life is better with bacon. I'm not the only one who holds this to be true. Surveys show that 9 out of 10 people like bacon. Researchers suspect the 10th person is lying. I can't take credit for that joke, but I always think it is funny.
   Products that include wine and alcohol are prohibited. Dijon mustard is therefore a no-no because it is made with wine. Same with vanilla extract because the vanilla beans are extracted with some type of alcohol. So, people out there are buying vanilla powder (at $18.00 a bag) to avoid the minuscule amount of alcohol that might be consumed in a teaspoon of extract. Same thing with Dijon. How much wine is actually in a jar of mustard? How much is added to a vinaigrette? A teaspoon or two? I dare say people are not gulping down vanilla extract and Dijon by the cupfuls. Seems pretty ridiculous to completely restrict these ingredients, so I will have to consider if I will adhere to the fine print of the program. I'm only writing about this normally now, in a measured manner, because Linda already talked me off the cliff. She may need to do it again before the thirty days is over.

   Please follow the rest of my journal which will be published during the month of March.

Preparing to dehydrate plum tomatoes in the oven to concentrate the flavors.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Mark's Moscow Mule Cocktail and the Wild Birds of my Winter

by Linda

"My heart is like a singing bird." ~ Christina Rossetti

   The Moscow Mule is a cocktail that I didn't learn about until Oprah and her best friend, Gayle, visited Yosemite National Park a few years ago, and Oprah made drinks for all of her camp neighbors of drinking age. To check out the video of their very funny attempt at creating cocktail hour in the out-of-doors, click here. I especially love it when Oprah juices the limes with her teeth.

   Today, the last day of January in 2015, it was exactly the kind of January day that I am very familiar with having lived in California almost all my life. While the East Coast is dealing with storms of epic proportions, it was 75 degrees here today, and the sun shone brightly. I remember many such days in January or February, when a string of a few warm days will lull you into thinking that spring is here. You dream of planting a few pots of herbs, and bask in the warm evening air. I know all too well that in a few days, it will be back to winter again. Hopefully we will have more rain soon—but on this perfect day, it was time to enjoy the company of the wild birds that Mark and I feed, and to savor a special cocktail in the late afternoon with my new presents the Michelle, Jay and Maddie gave me for Christmas this past December.

Six robins and a definitely outsized and outnumbered finch enjoy the bird bath in our backyard.
   On Christmas Day, I opened a package from the Owens family and found a gleaming hammered-copper pitcher and four matching copper mugs with brass handles. Michelle had remembered me mentioning that I would like to have the traditional mugs that are used in the making of this cocktail that has become a favorite of mine since Mark had a great recipe, and I vowed I would put them to use in the near future.

   Like Oprah, I am not much of a camper. I think I was traumatized early on by some truly dreadful camping trips that our family took that involved rain (wet sleeping bags), hiking with feet numbed from the extreme cold, mosquito bites and very long stretches between showers. Simply put—it's not my thing. I have tried camping again off and on during my adult life—the last time being when I was forced to go on a miserable trip with my herb school class a few years ago, and suffice it to say, I would much rather be at home or take day trips. Little Miss Homebody can often be found in a state of bliss, stalking the wild birds of her very own backyard. Mark and I are able to attract a nice variety with different feeders and feed. Today's bonanza was a veritable flock of American robins and cedar wax wings along with the everyday population of finches and chickadees.

   So this afternoon in celebration of our amazing weather, we decided to make Moscow Mules and while Mark made drinks, I kicked my feet up and placed my camera donned with a telephoto lens in my lap. We sipped while the birds sipped—pure joy.

Mark's Moscow Mule

   Mark was a bartender in his twenties at a busy bar in Newport Beach, California called the Bouzy Rouge, which is now defunct. From Mark's stories of the place, it was the hipster hangout in the late 80s and early 90s. I asked him one day to make me a cocktail of his choosing, because I am usually the cocktail maker of the family. He surprised me by making Moscow Mules, which I had been wanting to try since seeing Oprah make them for all of the campers during her visit to Yosemite. The cocktail was an instant hit with me, and we were finally glad to be able to find an all natural ginger beer which we prefer to use. Unfortunately, the best tasting alcoholic ginger beers usually have nasty additives.

A copper pitcher and mugs are traditional for this cocktail:
1 pitcher
2 mugs

1 working jar full of ice cubes
2 ounces of fresh lime juice
5 ounces of good quality vodka
3 Fever-Tree Ginger Beer (6.8 ounces each)
Fresh lime wedges

Combine ice cubes, lime juice, vodka and ginger beer into your pitcher. Stir vigoursly and divide the mixture in two two copper mugs (do not strain out the ice cubes). Squeeze a lime wedge into each mug and then drop it in. Enjoy!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Cantonese Spicy Chicken Salad and Happy Chinese New Year!

by Michelle

"May your life be free of worry and fear
Instead, may you have happiness,
Good health and success all year!"

   Living in San Jose, California was a boon for a girl who loved food but had lived a pretty sheltered food lifestyle. When I transferred from Phoenix to San Jose in 1995 with my employer at the time, a multi-billion dollar global distributor of electronic components, I did not know that the big tech boom was about to be a tidal wave. I surfed that Big Kahuna until the market crashed in early 2001.

   To illustrate how quickly the joy ride came to an end, based upon my sales performance for the prior year, I won a coveted all-expense-paid trip for my husband and me. We vacationed in Lanahi, Hawaii, at the very same secluded hotel where Bill and Melinda Gates were married. The trip took place in mid-March. Linda, newly relocated to San Jose from the Santa Ynez Valley, stayed with our daughter, Maddie, for a few days, while Jay and I took a luxury trip of a lifetime to Maui.

Linda and Maddie playing around in 2001.
   A few short weeks after that, the market fell so fast and so hard that I was part of a second round lay-off three months after the rewards trip. Major companies in the Silicon Valley followed suit and it seemed as if more people were out of jobs than there were working. The people that stayed employed, I was to find out later, often wished that they had been laid-off early on because they were working horrendous hours and were under constant pressure to perform even better.

   After a long summer of contemplating our options and hoping that the market would recover and the people of the Silicon Valley would get back to work, the next blow was devastating and would alter the course of lives. On September 11th, my husband awoke me in the morning. Through my waking haze, I heard him say that something was happening in New York, probably a terrorist attack. I recall putting my robe on over my nightgown and sleepily walking down the hall and into the living room where I proceeded to watch the TV for the rest of the day, intermittently weeping and trying to wrap my head around the fact that in those hours of the twin towers falling—life as we knew it, was no more. Not regular churchgoers, I still remember that Jay and I, along with Linda and Maddie went to a local chapel to pray that evening.
   Everything about my life shifted and changed. No one needed a crystal ball to foresee that there would be no tech recovery in the short term. The blinding reality is that my husband and I were carrying too much debt and too many monthly expenses, including a mortgage, car payments, private pre-school tuition and a nanny we could no longer afford. Thankfully, about a month later—by the hair on our chiny-chin-chins—we sold our four bedroom ranch-style house with the big grassy yard, two apricot trees and a gigantic cherry tree. We returned to Arizona, albeit not Phoenix, but Tucson, which made all our Bay Area friends scratch their heads in confusion and wonder what we were thinking. When you live in Silicon Valley, one develops flat world thinking. To even consider leaving is to believe you'll fall off the edge of the world if you drive too far east, south or north. I might as well have said we were moving to Tijuana. It would have elicited the same reaction most likely.

   In the end we ditched the mortgage, a car payment, and private school, but kept Barbara, our nanny, because we loved her and she helped keep our environment stable for my daughter during the transition from one state to another. Barbara is from Germany and she was in the United States for a one year stint as an au pair. (Barbara is a reader of this blog, so if you are reading this right now, my dear, know that our family holds you in our hearts, and we will continue to love you for evermore). Linda opted to stay on in San Jose and try to make a go of her new and promising career at Whole Foods Market.
   Upon arriving in Tucson, I took my time settling in to our temporary home that we rented for one year. Four months passed before I found a new job in software sales. We located a Montessori school for our daughter and discovered that a charter school is free, as in no charge. My husband and I felt like we hit the lottery. The private Montessori school in California was nearly $800 a month for preschoo-aged children! Our Arizona rent was a quarter of our California mortgage. Honestly, everything is cheaper in Arizona, including groceries, gasoline, and entertainment. We slashed our expenses and started over. We learned to appreciate the beauty of the desert once again, in more ways than one, beyond the aesthetics of the land.

   However, living in Northern California, had opened my palate to a world of food. In the melting pot of the diverse region, I could dine on any type of global cuisine within a ten minute drive of home. And I did. I still recall that when I made the transition initially from Arizona to California in 1995, I went from an office of 35 people, to a huge building with hundreds of people. There were multiple sales teams and I happened to report to a woman, the only female manager. The rest of my team were all men. On the first day I arrived at the office, the guys offered to take me to lunch. We drove a quick couple of minutes down the street and parked in front of a dingy white shack of a building. A rickety screen door was the gateway into a smokey dining room with faux wood tables and cheap chairs that didn't look so new anymore. A lone ceiling fan was slowly spinning to keep the air moving in a room absent of air conditioning. Surely, I am being hazed, I thought to myself. Ever the good sport, I gamely sat down on the minimally padded chair at a round table that featured a lazy Susan to help a party to eat family-style. I calmly waited for the guys to laugh and say, "Just kidding". But, alas, they weren't joking. Menus were produced and the guys started excitedly talking about what to order. It slowly occurred to me that we were staying, and I dumbly scanned the menu. My co-worker Rob turned to me and with a big smile plastered on his face asked me to trust him. Sure, why not, I thought. I've known you for about an hour. Game on. The food is awesome, he said. This place will be one of your favorite places to eat, the others chimed in. The team collectively ordered for the table. When the plates and steaming bowls of food began to arrive, I started by timidly tasting the various dishes and then quickly transitioned into full on pleasure eating, gulping down the tamarind noodles, vegetable curry with fried tofu and chicken satay. In the span of about five minutes, I became a true believer. Sure enough, the guys told me no lies, eating at Chez Sovan was a regular destination, and we'd arrive early before the daily crowds descended upon the place to devour the restaurant's Cambodian specialties.

   Not long after the experience at Chez Sovan, I was introduced to sushi. I felt like a country bumpkin eating raw fish for the first time and having the guys gauge my expressions to see how well I was liking the unfamiliar fare. It took awhile to get the hang of chop sticks and learn the menus. Practice makes perfect though. I probably ate sushi once, if not twice, a week. Spicy tuna rolls went down the hatch just fine and there are times when I crave wasabi ever since. On a particularly cold day, it was collectively decided by the group that soup was in order, which would typically mean Vietnamese Phở at a no frills bustling place in Fremont. Instead, I was introduced to Komatsu, where we ordered Udon soup that featured a poached egg nestled in with the vegetables, protein and noodles. I was utterly surprised and delighted by the egg and began dropping an egg into my servings of soup at home. 

   We also ate at Indian buffets for lunch where I'd scoop up extra helpings of the mint sauce. When in Sunnyvale, we'd head to Tao Tao Cafe to order the famous Chicken Salad tossed in a Chinese hot mustard vinaigrette. In the early evening, if we met at Tao Tao's for happy hour, we'd order the rather stiff Mai Tais that are served in a wide-mouth rocks glass with a whole wedge of pineapple and a speared slice of orange topped with a maraschino cherry. I've fashioned my own Mai Tais after their more traditional recipe which doesn't even remotely compare to the awfulness created when purchasing a store bought mix. I consumed Cuban, Mediterranean, German, and Thai along the familiar cuisines of Italian, Mexican and French. There is so much I miss about living in the Bay Area—especially all the varied restaurants for differentiated eating experiences.

   I retain a fair amount of nostalgia for my Silicon Valley days. As much as I love Arizona, there are times I would love to pack up and move back to Northern California where I could be close to my sister and the ocean and also be within an easy driving distance of San Francisco. Almost every time I visit Linda, who ended up staying in the North Bay, but just moving even farther north to Sonoma County—we visit Chinatown whether the sun is shining or the sky is pouring down rain, or we are feeling rich or poor. And even though many of the shops carry similar merchandise and tourists clog the main artery of Grant Avenue, we always manage to have a great time and find unique items that fit our budgets. And while I can't replicate the Chinatown experience at home, I can whip up some of my favorite Chinese food using pans and utensils that I purchased at my favorite kitchen store, The Wok Shop and carried home, one way or another. While I can no longer call California home, at least I am always welcome to visit my sister. She is the thread that pulls me back. When we are together we remember the good old days wandering the old familiar places while making new happy memories.

Cantonese Spicy Chicken Salad

Tao Tao menu description:
Shredded chicken
green onion
crushed almonds
cashew nuts
shredded lettuce
fried rice vermicelli

   My husband could not recall ever dining at Tao Tao Cafe, so he had no preconceived ideas on how the salad should taste. And, my how the time does slip by—when I did the math in my head—I realized 14 years have passed since I last ate at Tao Tao Cafe. Undoubtedly, I remember taking bites of delicious, salad while intermittently sipping a kick ass Mai Tai made from good rums and freshly squeezed tropical fruit juices. When I asked Jay what he thought about my interpretation of the salad, his feedback was that he'd like a sweet component thrown in, such as chunks of pineapple or mango. (Or, a Mai Tai on the side for me, I thought.)
   If you are strictly Paleo, you'll want to substitute the rice noodles with something crunchy. Thinly sliced almonds would probably do the trick. Otherwise, if you are gluten-free, or anyone else, frying the rice noodles is worth the time and effort. It's nice having that bit of subtle texture in every bite.

2 cups coconut oil
2 ounces rice stick noodles, such as vermicelli or celophane

1 whole roasted chicken, shredded

Mustard Vinaigrette:
2 Tbsp dry Chinese mustard
3 Tbsps water
2 Tbsps coconut aminos (Paleo), or Tamari (Gluten-Free), or soy sauce
2 Tbsps rice vinegar
2 Tbsps roasted sesame oil
1/2 cup olive oil or avocado oil
1 to 2 tsps honey syrup, or to taste
a few grinds of black pepper
sea salt, to taste (I only needed 1/4 tsp when combined with coconut aminos)

6 cups shredded napa cabbage, or iceberg lettuce, or romaine, or a combination
4 scallions, white and green
1 bunch fresh cilantro leaves (stems removed and discarded) or Italian Parsley leaves
2 Tbsps toasted sesame seeds, white or black
1 cup roasted cashews, added at last minute

1. Prepare the greens and toss in a bowl. Refrigerate until needed.
2. In a wok, heat coconut oil to 375°F. Separate noodles so that you can work with small batches. I had to use a serrated bread knife to cut the slab of noodles into fourths. Add the noodles to the hot oil. I didn't want to play the guessing game so I used my instant thermometer to verify the temperature. If you do not have a thermometer, you can gauge the heat through a little trial and error- the noodles will puff within a few seconds, if not, the oil needs to be hotter. Flip the noodles over an lightly fry. This procedure takes no longer than 60 seconds, or less, for each 1/2 ounce of noodles. Drain the noodles on paper towels. Repeat with remaining noodles. Crumble noodles with your fingers.

Add 2 cups coconut oil to a wok and heat to 375°F.
The noodles cook very quickly; only about 30 seconds per "side".
3. Blend together the dry mustard and water. Add the tamari or coconut aminos, rice vinegar and toasted sesame oil. Whisk in the olive oil or avocado oil. Sweeten to taste with honey syrup. Grind some black pepper over the dressing and whisk again. Taste. Add a little sea salt, if needed.
4. Toss together the chicken and half the vinaigrette.
5. Just before serving, toss the chicken together with the salad greens,scallions, herbs, and sesame seeds. Lightly mix in the fried rice stick noodles. Garnish with cashews.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Linda's Pink Ginger Minx Cocktail and Curing the Winter Blahs

by Linda

"In the midst of winter, she found a perfect summer in sipping ginger vodka, Cointreau, citrus fruits and the magical elixir that we call honey." Linda T.

   It happens every year in spite of my most fortified optimism. Does a girl from California have the right to bitch about winter? The answer to that is a resounding "NO!" from the rest of the country except for Hawaii and Arizona, but nevertheless—long about February—I am tired of bare branches and the fear of frost ravaging my succulents and citrus. Snicker away if you must...

   So here I am on my Monday off—another reason to be glum, since I will be pricking my fingers and shedding my own blood this coming Saturday, which we all know is Valentine's Day—wrapping dozen upon dozens of roses and adorning them with a ribbon for other's people's Valentine's Day tokens of love. To perk me up and fortify me for the long week ahead, I decided to find a recipe for a cocktail worthy of opening the bottle of locally made and organic ginger vodka that I have had in my cupboard for some months now—meanwhile kicking myself that I never infused my own organic ginger in vodka when the ginger looked amazing this past summer.

Linda's Pink Ginger Minx Cocktail

My Internet search yielded a recipe from an Adam Wilson of Beretta in San Francisco (Hello, Homie!), and I just happened to have all of the ingredients on hand to give it a stir, including my perfect "Don Draper Vintage Glasses", which I purchased at my favorite vintage store in downtown Petaluma—Vintage Style.  With the addition of pink grapefruit juice and the addition of Peychaud bitters (good to have another cocktail to use these in than just the Sazerac, right?) the delicious cocktail is a lovely pale pink, and it definitely made my cocktail hour more minxy and spring seem less far away. Cheers!

Makes one large cocktail
4 ounces Hanson of Sonoma Organic Ginger Vodka
1.5 ounces Cointreau
2 ounces fresh lime juice
1 ounce fresh pink grapefruit juice
1 ounce honey simple syrup
2 dashes Peychaud bitters

Place all ingredients in a cocktail shaker or a small pitcher. Stir and serve over ice. Garnish as desired and sip while fantasizing of a tropical island or favorite getaway spot.

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