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.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Brussels Sprout and Bacon Hash Served Over Grits With a Poached Egg — Breakfast at Topsy's Kitchen and a Walking Tour of Petaluma, California

by Linda

"Breakfast is for cowards." — Jordan T.

   Although my son, Jordan, may not have a high regard for breakfast—I most emphatically do! One of my favorite things to do on a day off from work is to walk downtown from my historic neighborhood in Petaluma, California to have breakfast at Topsy's Kitchen. On the menu at this cute café you will find a breakfast option that has become "the thing" that I choose just about every time I go there. Please check out my video below that I created so that I would be able to share with you my experiences of living in Petaluma for the last three years—walking around the town with camera in hand. I knew when I moved to Petaluma three years ago, that I wanted to live on the west side of town, where going out to eat, going to the movies, or even seeing a concert is all just a short walk from home.

   Mark and I went to Topsy's Kitchen for the first time almost two years ago. On that day we wanted to have breakfast out for our birthday week in July. Since we share birthdays that are just three days apart, we have turned the occasion in to an extended celebration. Topsy greeted and seated us, and we confided that we were celebrating both of our birthdays. Not knowing at that time that we prefer to eat gluten-free, Topsy returned to our table with one of the café's delicious fresh apple fritters still warm from the fryer to celebrate our birthdays. She had thoughtfully topped it with a glowing birthday candle. Needless to say, we devoured it, gluten and all.

 Owner, Estelle "Topsy" Rand, and the owner/chef, Annie Simmons.
Chef Annie poses for me at one of the tables on the patio.
   Topsy has had long career in the San Francisco restaurant scene, and before opening Topsy's Kitchen, among other previous ventures, she ran the front of the house for my very favorite fine dining restaurant in Petaluma, Central Market. Annie graduated with honors from the New England Culinary Institute and has worked and traveled in Japan and Europe. When she moved to California she founded A Splendid Table Catering with Topsy.

   Mark and I have become what is known in the biz as "regulars". On chilly winter days we sit inside the cozy café interior, and during the summer months we love to dine al fresco on the patio with its yellow umbrellas, cheery yellow-checked table cloths and golden linen napkins. The service is always impeccable, and we are treated with real hospitality, which sadly seems to be a lost art in many food establishments these days. Wow—that makes me sound like a cranky old granny, but unfortunately it is true. We both highly recommend the establishment and our favorite Breakfast Bowl.

My favorite latté is served with a tiny pitcher of simple syrup.
Topsy and her staff make final preparations before the café opens for the day.

Brussels Sprout and Bacon Hash Served Over 
Grits With a Poached Egg

   This is the recipe that Mark and I came up with when we want to make the dish at home, which is not very often, because we really like walking the half mile downtown from our house and ordering it at Topsy's. The aforementioned service is always great, and I have a latté set before me quickly, which I enjoy sipping while I wait for my breakfast bowl to arrive. To be clear, the recipe below was not given to me by Topsy or Annie, however, Mark and I both think it is pretty darn close to the one made in the kitchen there. On occasion we like to make the hash with green cabbage instead of the Brussels sprouts. The bowl at Topsy's Kitchen is also offered with quinoa instead of the grits, but we both enjoy the base of grits much more.

good quality eggs
coarse corn grits—I use Bob's Red Mill
yellow or white onion
fresh parsley
fresh thyme
Brussels sprouts/or green cabbage
bacon drippings
sea salt
black pepper
Your favorite hot sauce

   The only difficulty in making this breakfast is the timing of all the components. If you use our oven fried bacon recipe, it makes cooking the bacon a snap, and it can be made ahead (even a couple of days in advance). The grits can softly simmer on the stop while you prepare the hash. When the bacon hash is finished, keep it warm until your eggs are cooked, and then assemble quickly. Mark is not so fond of poached eggs as I am, and he has his over easy.

Corn Grits
1 cup coarse grits,
3 cups of filtered water
1 tsp sea salt
2 Tbsp of butter

This is a basic recipe for corn grits. The grits can be made more rich with the addition of cream or half and half if you wish.

Sprinkle the grits into lightly boiling and salted water. Stir the mixture until thickened and the grits are tender and have the consistency that you desire. More water or cream can be added if needed. Stir in the butter at the end and season with salt to taste. I like to simmer mine very slowly and to keep adding a little extra liquid if needed when I stir them every few minutes.

Brussels Sprout or Cabbage and Bacon Hash
1 small yellow onion—diced
2 cloves of fresh garlic—minced
1/2 cup chopped parsley (save a small amount for garnish)
1 Tbsp fresh thyme
1/2 pound Brussels sprouts or 1/2 head of green cabbage
3 Tbsp bacon drippings
5 strips cooked bacon chopped
Salt and pepper to taste

In a 380 degree oven cook bacon. For our easy method for oven fried bacon click here. When the bacon is done set aside. Begin heating water for the poached eggs.

While cooking the bacon, heat a large skillet to med-high, and add 1 Tbsp of the bacon drippings. Add onions and sauté until starting to be translucent. Add garlic and continue to sauté, then add parsley and thyme. When garlic releases its aroma, add the sliced Brussels sprouts or cabbage, pinch of salt and fresh ground pepper and cover. When cabbage is soft, remove lid and add 2 Tbsps bacon drippings and fry until the cabbage begins browning. Add bacon, and finish sautéing for another 2-3 minutes. Add fresh pepper, and adjust salt if needed.

Place a scoop of grits in a shallow bowl. Top with a scoop of the bacon hash and then place the egg on the hash. Garnish with the remaining parsley. Add hot sauce if desired along with a grind of black pepper and sea salt.

Mark patiently waits for me to finish with photos before he tucks into his breakfast.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Carnitas — Pulled Pork Mexican-Style

by Michelle

"Life without Mexican food is like no life at all."
                                                                                                  — Unknown

Toppings Bar de Casa: shredded cabbage, shredded cheddar, 
salsa, guacamoleMexican crème fraîche and sliced olives.
What's missing? Mango salsa... the best accompaniment with carnitas!
   Mexican food is my go-to menu for serving a large crowd. The cuisine incorporates the best flavor combinations of spicy, sweet and sour. It's budget friendly, too. Recipes can easily be tripled and quadrupled. Prepared pork and beef dishes such as carnitas and machaca keep well in crock pots for hours without overcooking or becoming dry. Even tamales are happy for extended periods of time when steamed (just make sure to continue to add water to the pot— if the water boils completely away, the pot will be very angry and scorch). 
  What's also great about Mexican food is that it can accommodate everyone's preferred diets from Paleo, to gluten-free, to vegetarian and vegan. What I like to do is make all the side dishes vegetarian and the meat dishes gluten-free. For example, one simple ingredient change in this carnitas recipe makes it edible for gluten-free folk, and that's substituting wheat-free Tamari for soy sauce. Same thing for the Machaca, make your own enchilada sauce, or carefully read the label on the can to verify that no weird wheat-based thickening agents were used in the commercial preparation.

Chunks of pork butt get seared on the grill.
   My other rule of thumb for Mexican-inspired parties is to never underestimate how much carnivores and vegetarians alike love green corn tamales. For Maddie's graduation party I steamed two dozen tamales from Tucson Tamale Company and at the end of the night there was only one tamal left (any Highlander fans out there?). The next morning, I cut up the lone tamaleven though "there can only be one"and added it to scrambled eggs along with crumbled corn chips and shredded cheddar (with salsa on the side) for an impromptu chilaquiles breakfast for the fam-damily. Delish! Juliette enjoyed leftover Horchata as her beverage of choice with the morning meal.
   For the party, Maddie asked if I could make Mexican rice. Much to her disappointment I said no. Yeah, that's right, I put the kibosh on rice. I'm such a party pooper. In my own defense, a woman has got to know her limitations (that's right, I'm looking at you Clint Eastwood). I didn't want to be in the middle of making rice during the party and have guests arriving at the same time. As a consolation prize, because I'm not such a bad mother after-all, rice was ultimately added to the menu as a salad.
   In the weeks leading up to the main event, I telephoned Linda to have a brainstorming session. Let's be honest, most prepared rice salads are bland and unexciting. It was Linda who came up with the idea to dress the rice salad with the frickin' fantastic chimichurri dressing from The Old Stone Church restaurant in Castle Rock, Colorado. We sisters also agreed that the choice of rice for this type of salad is a key consideration. We both came to the same conclusion that parboiled rice would be the best choice because when cooked, each grain maintains its own individual identity, and the overall texture is fluffy, not mushy. #nosuckyricesalads

Top: Rice Salad tossed with Chimichurri Dressing
Bottom: Super Special Spicy Pickled Shrimp, Creamy Pinto Beans and Mango Salsa
Left: We made Linda's Not Too Girly Strawberry Margaritas and returned the prepared
 beverage to the tequila bottles for easy pouring. Right: Watermelon Agua Fresca
   Even though Maddie and I worked cohesively in the kitchen a day ahead of the party preparing most of the meal in advance, I was still scrambling the next day to finish the mango salsa and the rice salad and a few other items. Thankfully, this is the type of menu that guests will feel comfortable jumping in and assisting with the slicing and dicing of fruits and vegetables. A rotating group of jovial friends and family with varying levels of kitchen skills participated in completing the meal. Many hands made light work. And, my dear friend, Sara jumped in and washed dishes all throughout the party. When I protested, Sara assured me that she finds washing dishes relaxing. I wish I had a similar feeling about washing dishes, it would make clean-up time meaningful for me. As the Southern saying goes, "Bless her heart." May everyone be blessed with good friends and good cheer.

Carnitas: Pulled Pork Mexican Style

Friday, June 12, 2015

DeGrazia Gallery and Mission In The Sun — Michelle's Creamy Pinto Beans

My Traveling Tales by Linda
Photos by Michelle and Linda

"Religion is within yourself and you don't have to go to church and you don't have to be one of those people who goes every Sunday." — Ted DeGrazia

   On a beautiful and very sunny afternoon in the first week of December this past year, Michelle and I along with my son, Jordan, set out for a trip to the edge of the Santa Catalina Mountains to visit the DeGrazia Gallery and Mission in the Sun. Michelle had been to the location before to see the talented dancers of the Ballet Folklórico Tapatío perform on the grounds, and she had wanted to show me the beautiful gallery and mission ever since. Jordan and I arrived in Tuscon in the last few days of November to celebrate a belated Thanksgiving, and Maddie's and Jordan's conjoined birthdays in the first week of December.

   I always forget in between trips to Arizona, just how warm it is most of the time. As usual I packed far too many winter clothes in my suitcase. It is December after all, I told myself stubbornly when I was selecting what I would bring with me. I remembered there being some cold days now and then when I lived there some years back. As it turned out, the sun shone brightly, and it was in the high seventies for most of the ten days that we spent in Arizona. My Northern California wardrobe was mostly too warm to wear, and I dragged it to Arizona and then back again for the most part unworn. This is exactly how our sister, Juliette, has made a business of purchasing the castoff woolen coats and sweaters from all the folks who move to Phoenix or Tuscon to retire from far colder climes, and suddenly realize that they may never need a coat again. Clearly, having lived in this city in Arizona before, I should have known better.

   We didn't arrive at the gallery until mid-afternoon, and I a little was disappointed that we didn't arrive during a time that is optimum for taking good photos. Internally chiding myself, I had to remind myself that we were on vacation, and I certainly had enjoyed my lunch out with my sister and my son with the accompanying margarita, which was suddenly making me feel like I might need a nap on a bench in the shade of the desert flora of the Cactus Corral. The sun was shining hard down upon us as we entered the grounds. Fortunately, the gallery is cool inside because of the thick adobe walls which naturally maintain a comfortable ambient temperature.

Etorre "Ted" DeGrazia—self-portrait.
   Etorre "Ted" DeGrazia is an interesting and inspiring individual in Arizona history and lore. He was the son of Italian immigrants and his father was a miner. DeGrazia lived and painted in the cities where my sisters currently reside—Bisbee and Tuscon. He once served an internship with the great painter Diego Rivera who was the husband of Frida Kahlo (while they lived, he was the better-known artist—to my personal delight—now she is).
   The gallery which was built by DeGrazia himself is housed in a beautiful adobe building designed to look like a mission. It is on North Swan Road in Tucson nestled at the foothills of the Santa Catalina mountains that rise up behind the property. DeGrazia was early to embrace and pay homage to life in the desert, and to paint the magic that he found there.

His images are well-known around the world, but particularly in Arizona, where there are prints and cards that feature his colorful, often whimsical and impressionistic-style paintings everywhere you turn. They abound in gift shops and malls across the state.

   The lethargic-feeling me perked up considerably once inside the gallery. The building is large and is worth seeing on its own. Although Ted's style of painting is not my personal favorite, I enjoyed the textures and bright colors of the collection of paintings and the sentiments expressed. I hadn't realized before my visit that he also made jewelry. Some of the pieces that he created are in the photos below—including a stunning bracelet set with turquoise cabs in a gold setting that DeGrazia himself wore. As a collector of turquoise jewelry it was an eye-poppingly amazing piece just fit for a king or queen.

   DeGrazia built a small chapel nearby that is dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe who is the patron saint of Mexico and who is beloved in the households of we sisters. We each have our own altars dedicated to Guadalupe. This tiny chapel has a beautiful feel to it, and it was a lovely and serene way to end the afternoon by spending time in this sacred space.

Michelle pauses for a photo in the Mission in the Sun.

   Over the years I have discovered that most people I encounter living in California generally do not understand the magic of the desert or the incredible variation in geography and wildlife contained within the borders of the state of Arizona. Unless they have spent time in the actual desert and other locations in Arizona (and I do not mean having visited a resort for a weekend in Phoenix or Tucson), they fail to have a full comprehension of the majesty and inherent drama contained within the natural landscape. Once Arizona gets in your blood, though, you will always return. You will be drawn back to the long and vibrant sunsets, wide open vistas, jagged mountains, monsoons with lightning illuminating the horizon, towering cumulonimbus clouds and the barren yet fecund majesty of the desert. Truly, Arizona does get deep into your blood, and I could feel this love of place exuding through the works of Ted DeGrazia. I understand that love, and I was deeply moved by it.
   We sisters all have artistic pursuits, or at least we try to maintain creative endeavors while we trudge through our daily lives making a living and put dinner on the table just like everyone else. Ted DeGrazia's spirit lives on through what he built and the art he created. Though he died in 1982, his soul is very much alive in this place, which is a very inspirational thing for a creative spirit to see and feel. It was time well-spent to contemplate artistic passions, and see how much lasting beauty can be created in a life that is committed to self-expression.

This is a painting of Michelle's favorite church in Tucson, San Xavier del Bac.

Michelle's Creamy Pinto Beans
by Michelle

The cooked pinto beans become creamy by lightly mashing a portion of the beans.
   This is my go-to bean dish that I make to accompany a Mexican fiesta menu. I made up a big batch of these beans for Maddie's recent graduation party. They are just as delicious, yet much easier to make than refried beans.
   The key to making soft beans is to avoid adding salt or any type of acidic flavoring, including citrus juices until the beans are fully cooked. It's also really important to soak the beans in filtered water overnight.
   To pick over and clean the pinto beans, grab a handful or two of beans directly from the bag and drop into a shallow bowl. Swirl the bowl which helps to detect a small rock or debris hidden among the beans. Once you are satisfied the beans in the bowl are clear of foreign matter, transfer the beans to a large colander and repeat the process until the entire bag of beans has been sorted. Then, give the beans a good rinse under cold running water. Place the washed beans in a soup pot and add enough fresh, filtered water to cover the pintos by a good two to three inches. The beans will soak up the water and expand considerably overnight.
   For a larger party, I like to make a double batch of beans and prepare a day ahead of time. Like most soups and stews, the flavor of the beans only gets better with a rest in the refrigerator. Simply reheat the beans over medium heat on the stove top.

Soak Overnight:
1 pound pinto beans, picked over to remove tiny stones
enough filtered water to cover beans by 2 to 3 inches

ghee, olive oil, good quality lard or bacon fat
1 medium yellow onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
jalapeño, minced (I discard the seeds because I don't want the beans to be spicy)
1/4 tsp chili flakes

1 Tbsp fine sea salt

large soup pot
hand masher or immersion blender

The beans were soaked overnight and are now ready to be cooked.
1. Clean and then soak the beans overnight as described in the introduction.
2. Drain the beans in a large colander and discard soaking water.
3. Place a large soup pot over medium heat. Drizzle the bottom with olive oil, ghee, bacon fat or fat of your choice. Sauté the yellow onions for five minutes. Add the jalapeño, cook for two minutes, then add the minced garlic and the chili flakes, cooking for another two minutes.
4. Add the soaked and drained beans to the pot. Add enough cold, filtered water to cover beans by 1/2-inch. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to maintain a simmer. Stir the beans every half hour or so. Adjust the heat, as needed, to maintain a simmer. The beans should be soft in about 2 hours. The beans need to remain covered with water throughout the cooking process. Add additional water, if needed. Towards the end of cooking, pull a bean out of the pot and eat it. If it's soft, the beans are ready. If there is still resistance in the bean to your bite, continue to simmer the beans until tender.
5. Once the beans are soft, add 1 tablespoon of fine sea salt. Stir well.
6. For creamy beans, remove any excess cooking water until the liquid is just even with the top layer of beans. (Reserve the cooking water in case you need to thin the beans.) Use a hand masher and mash the beans until the desired consistency is reached. You can also use an immersion blender for this job, just make sure you don't over blend. A third option is to remove a cup of beans and whirl in a blender and then return the puréed beans to the pot. If the beans rewarm on the stove top for a significant amount of time, you may need to thin with a little of the cooking liquid or water, depending upon what you have on hand.

Jordan soaks up some desert sun. It has been a long winter in
Northern California where he makes his home.
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