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.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

A Southwest Tradition: Tamales for Christmas

by Michelle

   About this time every year I go into full holiday planning mode. I'm usually on the hook to host multiple family dinners at my home between Winter Solstice through New Year's Eve. In recent yearsafter a string of increasingly stressful holiday dinners, an unjoyful attitude (just call me #grinchy) and trying to overcome nightly aching, throbbing feetI decided to simplify my life as much as possible by creating menus where a key part of each meal can be made ahead and frozen.  
   Not to be too cliché, but I do fall into planning menus that are influenced by countries that I have visited and whose cuisines I enjoy the most, such as France, Italy and Mexico. Go ahead, I dare you: try advising my family that (surprise!) we're having Scandinavian or Moroccan for Christmas dinner this year and see the range of "ew" faces develop like Polaroid pictures in front of your eyes. Just like a Thanksgiving meal, a Christmas Eve or Christmas dinner is no time to break new culinary ground. Save that for the doldrums of January.
   A couple of years ago after finally reading Julia Child's first groundbreaking cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, I opted to prepare a triple recipe of crowd pleasing Beef Bourguignon in November. I let the hearty stew with the fancy name sit in the refrigerator to rest for 24 hours. Then, the next day, I divided the big batch of goodness into portions that would serve about 6 people. Into the freezer went the portioned packages, and I gratefully checked one more item off my to-do list.
   I collect a final headcount for each holiday dinner about a week in advance. Two days before the special dinner, I transfer the number of frozen packages to the refrigerator to defrost. All that I need to do to finish dinner is to whip up some mashed potatoes, make a friendly veg (#nobrusselsprouts), gently reheat the Beef Bourguignon and open a couple of bottles of wine. I produce a rustic, but elegant dinner with hardly any fuss on the day of the gathering.

From Left to Right: Beef Bourguignon, Pasta Bolognese, Joan's Leafy Green Salad and Carnitas.
   The same strategy applies to Pasta Bolognese, which only needs to be paired with shaved parmesan (Parmigiano-Reggiano, if you're feeling extravagant) and an excellent salad of leafy greens. If you want to make just about everyone extra happy, broil a loaf or two of crusty garlic bread and serve hot from the oven. If anyone is Paleo in your group, it's really easy to serve the Bolognese over zoodles or spaghetti squash. For more traditional eaters, the Bolognese sauce also pairs well with regular or gluten-free pasta. My go to brand for gluten-free pasta, which is available in a variety of shapes, is Bionatureæ®
   My other most requested holiday menu hails from south of the Arizona border: Carnitas and an assortment of Tamales from Mexico. To round out the menu, I prepare homemade pinto beans and Mexican Rice. Garnishes include GuacamoleMexican Crème Fraîche, shredded cheese, shredded lettuce and diced tomatoes. Normally I make the carnitas ahead (and freeze), and buy the tamales from a local purveyor. But last year my sister Juliette proposed that we gather a group of family and friends to make the tamales together down in her home turf of Bisbee. If you aren't familiar with the tiny historical town of Bisbee, you can read all about it's eccentricities here and here.

A view of downtown Bisbee, Arizona from the second floor of Roka, the best restaurant in town.
After the tamale making session, Maddie and I took a quick tour around Bisbee to take photos.
   We had so much fun making the tamales last year that we are going to do it all over again this year. Our group talked and laughed and got caught up with each other while assembling tamale after tamale. We listened to music and sipped a variety of beverages. The team made a ton of tamales over the course of an afternoon. For contributing their labor, everyone took tamales home with them to eat that night or freeze for a future, very delicious, make-ahead meal.
   The really great thing about preparing your own tamales is that you have control over the ingredients and you are only limited by your imagination. You can successfully make vegetarian tamales by simply swapping the lard for corn oil or your oil of choice. I personally prefer lard. I have found good sources for lard at my local farmers' markets. We weren't planning on breaking any new ground flavor-wise, it is the holidays after all, so we prepared three fillings: shredded pork, shredded turkey, and vegetable with black beans.

Everybody had her job to do. Juliette tied the tamales with her nimble fingers.
   An unlikely discovery that we have made over the years is that the meat inside a tamale tastes very similar regardless of whether it is filled with pork, turkey and beef. Strange, I know, but true. So when choosing a filling, it really comes down to your eating preferences. You don't need to make multiple fillings unless you feel compelled to. Even then, it can be difficult to tell which tamale your selecting from the steamer pot unless the tamales are marked in some way, such as a different wrapping style, or tying with different colored strings to indicate the various flavors.

Sonora quickly gets the hang of wrapping tamales. Making tamales can be a messy venture.
Green olives and
smoked Gouda.
   Traditional tamales will often have one green olive tucked in the filling. Eating these tamales can be kind of dicey, a variation of Russian roulette, because often the green olive will contain a seed. We really appreciate green olives so we tend to add three to the filling, but we use pitted green olives to avoid the risk of losing a tooth while trying to enjoy a holiday dinner in a darkened dining room lit by candles. We're never quite sure what's in any particular bite. Not naming names, but one sister would lament if there was only one green olive in her tamale while another sister, who also randomly selected a tamale from the steamer pot, would gloat that she chose a tamale that had three green olives. My husband thinks we're ridiculous for creating such a stir over green olives, but he should know by now it is what we do.
   An additional discovery is that adding a thick strip of smoked mozzarella to each tamale was a huge hit. Everyone dug it, the young and old alike. Finally, everyone agreed that adding strips of potato and jalapeño to each tamale was also the way to go. At least we can all agree on something. (And here I have to remark that once again this year for Thanksgiving my family had to stubbornly debate whether to stuff or not stuff the turkey. I chose against stuffing the turkey this year and it almost started a riot before dinner time between we three sisters and our mother.)
   Place tamales, grouped by filling, into freezer safe Ziplock bags. Freeze the tamales. The tamales can be steamed directly from the frozen state. Easy! Be forewarned that frozen tamales take about two hours to cook, so plan appropriately. Be careful that the simmering water does not completely boil off or your pan will be scorched. Continue to add water to the steamer to maintain the water level, if needed.

On one of two assembly lines, Avalon, Maddie and Sonora make tamales together.
   By the way, if you find that you've steamed a couple of extra tamales and you have leftovers, we have found that tamales are great in scrambled eggs. Simply dice a tamale into bite size pieces. Pan fry the pieces in a bit of butter for a few minutes, then add scrambled eggs along with some salt and pepper. Add some shredded cheese if you like. Serve with salsa.

Foreground: tamales wrapped in corn husks. Background: tamales wrapped in banana leaves.
Jump in to my belly.

Tamales: Pork, Turkey or Vegetarian

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Bahama Mama in Atlantis — Paradise Island

My Traveling Tales by Michelle

"Happiness is a day at the beach." ~ Unknown

"Certain springs are tapped only when we are alone. Women need solitude in order to 
find again the true essence of themselves; that firm strand which will be the indispensable 
center of a whole web of human relationships." ~ Anne Morrow Lindbergh

   Recently I traveled solo to Paradise Island in the Bahamas to exhibit at an accounting conference. Tough duty, I know. But someone's got to do it, so it might as well be me. All kidding aside, it has been a difficult year full of trials and tribulations, and if you follow our sisters' blog, you will have noticed the abrupt change in blogging status since January.
   A one week getaway is exactly what I needed even though my time away from home would not technically be a vacation. I had one ticket to paradise and I would surely make the most of my non-working hours. And so it was, just as I had hoped, that after a week of embracing 'island time', and letting the stress flow away from my body, I was ready to get back to my 'real' life. I committed to myself that I would try to hang on to island time for as long as possible after my return.

The Royal Towers features the Bridge Suite, one the world's most expensive guest rooms at $25,000.00 a night. I particularly liked the the sea horses as architectural accents.
   On a Friday morning in Tucson I rose at 3:00 a.m. to start my travel day. Fourteen hours passed before I reached my final destination. It seemed as if everyone on the final leg, the flight from Atlanta to Nassau was headed to the conference. I had a nice chat with the accountant sitting next to me, Pete from Northern California, a quiet, professional elderly gentleman was looking forward to the days ahead partaking of educational courses and networking with peers and exhibitors. The next time I bumped into Pete it was at a vendor sponsored party at the resort's nightclub, Aura. Free booze flowed like a river for three hours. In a room full of accountants, there was much speculation over the sum of the bar tab. The three co-hosts surely gained a lot of American Express points that night.

The DJ shoots fog over the dance floor. As Austin Powers would giddily say, "Yeah, baby, yeah!."
My friend Kaydee hooping at the confrence's after-hours party hosted at the nightclub, Aura.
   The time was approaching ten o'clock, and the party had been raging for two hours. Pete's gray hair was disheveled, his shirt untucked, and he was three sheets to the wind. Amazingly, he was still on his feet, walking nonetheless, and had a silly grin on his face. When he saw me slowly passing him, his unfocused eyes suddenly zeroed in on my face in recognition. Pete stopped walking, which stopped the flow of human traffic behind him. I nodded my head at him, as if to say without words, "Hey there!" Pete grabbed my shoulders to stop my forward motion. He then proceeded to plant a big kiss on my cheek. I was thankful that his lips were dry. He staggered. I grabbed his waist, steadying him. As a potential future customer, I gamely smiled, patted his shoulder once I was sure he was once again somewhat balanced on his feet. Mom-style I advised him to be careful, wiped my cheek for good measure, then continued weaving through the maze of people who were idly popping some moves while gazing down upon the gyrating bodies that were getting their groove on the sunken dance floor. The blaring dance beats bounced off the walls and ricocheted across the night club. The laser lights zigged, then zagged. The strobe lights flashed. I was instantly twenty-two again when the DJ spun a set of 80's music. We whooped, we hollered, we danced, we had fun. I didn't see Pete again.

Weddings are held in the beach-side cabana that overlooks the aquamarine waters of the ocean. 
I learned from a friendly marine biologist that was seated next to me on my return trip home that the Bahamas is home to the second largest barrier reef in the Northern Hemisphere.
   While checking-in I learned begrudgingly that I was assigned a garden view room. That would simply not do. C'mon, I'm on an island. I live in the desert. I want to gaze at the beautiful turquoise ocean as much as possible, even if it is for a limited time everyday. Upon my not-so-subtle prompting, the registration representative noticed that I was staying an entire week. A view of the ocean was definitely in order, we both agreed. The friendly Bahamanian pulled some strings to help a mama out. After a ten minute walk from the registration desk in the Coral Tower lobby to my Beach Tower room, I stood poised to slip my card key into the lock when I heard the air conditioning vent bellowing like a freight train on the other side of the closed door. I knew I wouldn't be able to sleep with that racket. As I opened the door, the light from the hallway illuminated the darkened room in a dim glow, I could see that even in the low light that the room was unkempt and obviously needed maid service. The bed had been slept in, the covers were thrown back, the top sheet looked like a crashing wave tumbling over the shore of the wrinkled comforter. A quick glance at the bathroom yielded a view of  used towels piled on the bathroom floor. Because it was 9:30 at night, I thought the perhaps the room might be occupied. Regardless of the state of the room, I went to the window and pulled back the closed curtain and sure enough, there was indeed an angled view of the ocean from the deck.

The Queen of Atlantis holds court. 
   Back downstairs I went, thankful that I wasn't dragging my overstuffed luggage behind me. God bless bellmen. I politely informed the lone employee who stood behind the concierge desk about the state of the room and the bellowing of the air conditioning vent. The young woman, who seemed to be on a word fast, tipped her braided head to peer at a computer screen and began tap-tap-tapping on a keyboard, clearly with the intention of assigning me a new room. Once again I felt trepidation over being on the receiving end of a garden view room. Hesitant to interrupt, but doing so anyway, I kindly shared my desire for an ocean view with the stoic woman. Without making eye contact, the concierge simply nodded her head and continued to stare at the computer screen without saying a word. I did my best to be patient. I'm sure she's tired of hearing the same tired request over and over again. Oh well, I thought, hope for the best and see how the situation unfolds. I learned later during the week that my experience was not unique. Many attendees that I spoke with at the tradeshow had changed rooms not once, but twice due to varying problems with the air conditioning and plumbing.

The incredible view from my room in the Beach Tower, which I was grateful for everyday.
   For the second time that night, I entered a darkened room in the Beach Tower. The first thing I noticed was that air vent whispered cold air into the room. Silence is golden. I flicked on the lights. The beds were precisely made, the closet was empty and the white towels in the bathroom hung appropriately in place. The washcloths looked like splayed peacock feathers and were placed decoratively inside carefully folded hand towels. Once again I pulled back the closed curtain that covered the sliding glass door. To my delight, through the glass I could see by the moonlight that the view from this room was better than the room before. Before me was a magnificent view of a pool and beyond the pool and unencumbered view of expansive ocean. I opened the glass door and heard the waves rolling over the sand.
   In the end, for a little hassle, and a nice concierge that didn't seem so nice while she was reassigning my room, I wound up with exactly what I desired. The room itself was fine, nothing to write home about, overall the hotel looked a little tired, but at least is was clean and had an amazing view. I called to ask the bellman to deliver my bags and then I had just enough time to grab a slice of pizza topped with jerk chicken and sliced banana peppers before the take out joint closed at eleven o'clock.

I learned it's not so easy capturing photos of the active sea life in the lagoons and aquariums. 
   To illustrate the size of Atlantis, the water park alone is built on 143 acres. Between the three towers—Beach, Coral and Royal—and the condo-hotel, The Cove, there are over 3,000 rooms. In addition to the pools, slides, and both fresh water and salt water lagoons, there is a two mile stretch of beautiful beach, the sand soft and white. The shallow ocean water is luminous clear green before mutating into dark blue in the deeper depths. I could clearly see the interplay of colors from my vantage point of my ocean view room. My friend, Monica, said that staying at Atlantis is like staying on a docked cruise ship. The experience is much the same. Atlantis is all there is on Paradise Island. You can take an excursion into town, but the round-trip shuttle ride just seems like a big pain in the neck.

A view of Paradise Lagoon. The Beach Towers are in the center and the Coral Towers on the right.
My favorite outdoor bar on the property sits under the cover of the seashell covered roof.
A favorite water attraction is tubing along the mile-long lazy river. 
   I enjoyed my time in the Bahamas. Mainly, I think, because I was by myself. Kate, a colleague from New Zealand was my booth buddy for the tradeshow. Kate had her own room and we maintained our own schedules unless we were working, or meeting in the late afternoons or early evenings for cocktails and then dinner. That was ideal. I could rise in the mornings, put a hat on my head and walk the seven minutes to the Coral Tower to order coffee and a croissant at Starbucks. I'd bring breakfast back to my room and sit on the deck, looking out over the pool and ocean like a Queen surveying her kingdom while sipping a venti latté and slipping flaky bites of croissant into my mouth. While I enjoyed my morning respite, the staff below worked at a steady, unencumbered pace while cleaning the pools, arranging deck chairs and feeding the sea life in the surrounding lagoons.

A stairway leading to the Predator tunnel is located below the Lagoon Bar & Grill.  
The Lagoon Bar and Grill is surrounded by a lagoon filled with sharks.
I noticed some sharks at the bar, too. 
   I overheard plenty of couples quarreling in paradise over the course of the week. I thought, more than a handful of times, I'm glad that's not me. I have no one here to stress me out. No one I have to consider but myself and, of course, Kate. I did as I pleased. I ordered a Bahama Mama cocktail the size of my head and drank it down without guilt. I joyfully ate a croissant every day. I ate nachos slathered in pulled pork and doused with melted cheese. In between working hours, I wore sleeveless, flowing tank tops and didn't care if my arms looked fat. I did what I wanted, ate what I wanted, slept when I wanted. I came home to Tucson feeling relaxed. The question that loomed was how long the feeling would last. When I finally worked up the nerve to stand on the scale (I just couldn't help myself), I discovered that I lost nearly two pounds. That couldn't be right, I thought to myself. I weighed myself again, but the scale was consistent. I was consistently surprised. Twice over.

The departing view of the Bahamas from my seat at approximately 20,000 feet.
   On the way back home, I shopped the duty free shop at the Nassau airport. I looked at the prices listed for the various rums, whiskeys and scotchs and frankly the prices at my local Costco seemed better. I was about to exit the shop when I spotted a bottle of Nassau Royal Liqueur, which is a key ingredient in a Bahama Mama. I suspected that this particular liqueur would be difficult to source in Tucson, so I bought it and stuffed it with some difficulty into my computer bag. It felt like the weight of the roller bag doubled. Although I felt like a pack-mule, dragging that bag around, I'm glad I brought the bottle home.
   In the days following my return home, just as I could feel island time slipping away from me, I thought what better way to pretend we're in paradise, then to make a signature drink from the Bahamas. I gamely whipped up a gallon of Bahama Mamas for a family dinner over Memorial Day and they were a hit. By the end of the evening, there was nary a teaspoon left in the bottom of the pitcher. The fruity libation perfectly complemented Fallin' Off the Bone Baby Back Ribs and spicy chicken wings. Slurp down a Bahama Mama and you'll surely feel yourself slip into island time, too. No plane ticket required.

   Nassau Royal Liqueur tastes of vanilla and spice. Without the liqueur the cocktail would taste like a fruity kid's punch. The more complex flavor profile with the addition of vanilla and spice is especially nice. The Liqueur can be purchased on-line.

After a hard day's work, it's happy hour for Kate and me. Kate ordered a Piña Colada. 
My sister, Linda remarked that the Bahama Mama is as big as my head.
   "It turns out that the Bahama Mama is not just one-of-many monikers slapped onto overly sweet Caribbean crap drinks, but it actually is a concoction that, while varying from source to source, is a drink unto itself and will usually contain dark rum, coconut rum, orange juice, pineapple juice and grenadine." ~DJ Hawaiianshirt of Spirited Remix

   Even at Atlantis, where I ordered Bahama Mamas at two locations, the ingredients list varied slightly. This drink is on the sweet side, so you could very well choose to add a portion of Malibu rum, if you like the flavor of coconut. Recipes that added banana liqueur I shied away from because I don't particularly care for the taste of banana liqueur, and it wasn't included in the Bahama Mama's that I ordered at Atlantis.

Bahama Mamas for a Party

Yields 1 Gallon (16 8-oz drinks):

1-1/4 cups (10 fluid ounces) Myers's Dark Rum
1-1/4 cups (10 fluid ounces) Bacardi Dark Label
1 cup (8 fluid ounces) Kahlua Liqueur
1 cup (8 fluid ounces) Nassau Royal Liqueur
4-2/3 cups (38 fluid ounces) unsweetened orange juice
4-2/3 cups (38 fluid ounces) unsweetened pineapple juice
1-2/3 cups (12 fluid ounces) bottle Grenadine Syrup

1. Mix all the ingredients together in a large container (I used a Cambro). Cover and chill. Serve individual portions over ice.

Single Serving Bahama Mama

1-1/2 ounces Meyers's Dark Rum or Bacardi Dark Label
1/2 ounce Kahlua Liqueur
1/2 ounce Nassau Royal Liqueur
2 to 2-1/2 ounces unsweetened orange juice
2 to 2-1/2 ounces unsweetened pineapple juice
1 ounce Grenadine Syrup

1. Put all the ingredients in a shaker. Shake well and pour into a glass filled with ice. Garnish with an orange slice and a maraschino cherry, if you please.

I made sure to visit the various aquariums located across the property on a daily basis. 

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Paleo-Friendly Tangy Four Bean Salad

by Michelle
When life is sweet, say thank you and celebrate
When life is sour, say thank you and grow.
                         —Shauna Niequist

Bean salad gains its unique flavor from lounging in a sweet and sour marinade.
   When I gamely agreed to adhere to a stringent Whole30 Challenge last January, I was forced to adapt favorite family recipes to fit within the rules of the program. I'm constantly tinkering in the kitchen so I looked at the requirement of adapting long-loved recipes as more of an adventure than a pain in the neck. Modifying recipes to be gluten-free or Paleo compliant has introduced me to a variety of new ingredients that I now include as standards in my already overstocked pantry. These items primarily include coconut-based items such as: Coconut Aminos, Vivapura Coconut Flour, Coconut Sugar, and Coconut Oil. I also particularly like Wellbee's Super Fine Almond Flour, Red Boat 40°N Grade Fish Sauce and Avocado Oil. I have also successfully swapped honey and homemade honey syrup for refined sugar in a number of recipes including salad dressings, marinades and beverages.
   This year for my "Going Clean in 2016" campaign that I kicked off the second week of January, I have further reduced the amount of unrefined sugar in my diet. I no longer add honey to my coffee, or any beverage for that matter, and I am consciously doing my best to identify and eliminate excess sugar from my diet whether it is refined or unrefined. I've been juicing vegetables everyday for a nutritional boost and I've started exercising daily. No matter what program my husband and I follow for improved health, one thing is for sure. He will not forsake Four Bean Salad. He loves it so. I documented his love for Four Bean Salad in this post with a recipe calling for granulated sugar.
   What makes Four Bean Salad so delicious is the sweet and sour marinade. Honey is actually sweeter than granulated sugar, so it should not be swapped one-for-one in a recipe. For a non-baking recipe, to replace one cup sugar, you can reduce the same amount of honey by two to four tablespoons, depending upon your desired final outcome. We like the marinade to be on the sweeter side, so I reduced the amount of honey by 1/4 cup instead of 1/2 cup.

Red bell peppers take the place of kidney beans in a paleo-friendly bean salad.
   To be clear, this recipe is not Whole 30 compliant. It is loosely Paleo-friendly, if the garbanzo beans and kidney beans are omitted. I say "loosely" because a Paleo lifestyle completely eliminates refined sugar and only small amounts of honey are allowed. Granted, this recipe has a lot of honey, but my husband and I use a slotted spoon to scoop up portions of the bean salad as a quick and tasty topping for green salads and we let the marinade drain back into the bowl. From my unscientific estimates, once the beans are drained, most of the marinade is left behind. After I finished being stringently Paleo, garbanzo beans were added back to the mix. Why? Because we love them so. Especially in this super smooth hummus recipe. Divine!
   I tried to strictly eat Paleo through the last months of winter and in to early spring of 2015 and found the kitchen prep too labor intensive. And this revelation is coming from me, a person who cooks regularly from scratch with whole foods and lots of organic vegetables. I really tried to stay true day after day, but on hectic evenings when I just needed to whip out a dinner, I did what I needed to do (without guilt, I might add).

   I also went on a bit of a gluten bender this summer, especially with my trips to Denver, New Orleans, and Northern California. Life is short—I wasn't going to pass up trying a Po' Boy and Beignets in the Big Easy or Dim Sum in San Francisco or cup after cup of Linda's Aged Holiday Egg nog. (Seriously, that boozy eggnog is bomb.) I paid for it though around my mid section.
   Much to my chagrin, I finally stepped on the scale on New Year's Day. After squinting to read the digits with my near-sighted eyes, I made a very sad frowny face, and then stepped off the scale. I may have even blurted, in an exasperated tone, a bad word or two. I didn't need a crystal ball with me in the bathroom to foresee my immediate future. I'd be joining the other millions of people who resolved to embark on a bright and shiny new year by undertaking a new eating and exercising campaign.
   I have once again locked down my eating and exercising routine. Unfortunately, this is not my first weight-loss rodeo. It's back to careful eating, with a splurge here and there (I am human after all), and it's definitely back to the gym. Channeling Nike's slogan, I just need to do it. At least I can still have this Four Bean Salad as part of my forthcoming eating regimen. Hallelujah for small graces in the kitchen.

Paleo-Friendly Tangy Four Bean Salad

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