Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Summer Salads

King crab salad for dinner tonight! The corn on the cob is still very fresh in the markets and we've put a cob's worth of kernels in with the crab. An avocado, of course, some red onion and a chopped mango are the supporting actors. A dressing of blood orange juice, white balsamic vinegar and lemon flavored olive oil added enough additional flavors to layer the dish and make the flavor complex; drunk with a bottle of cheap leibraumilch which is icy cold and perfect on a hot and muggy summer evening.

Salads satisfy so many yearnings when you're hot and sticky. The textures of crisp lettuce crunch lightly in the mouth; a fruit, juicy and cold, adds sweetness and body; a bit of protein satisfies our minimized urge for protein when the temperatures soar. I like the dressing to be fruity atop a sweet/sour base to brighten the flavors and help keep the palate clean as you are eating.

This is the only time of year we use the ice maker in the refrigerator.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Laid Off

Brunch at Mimi's with a friend today. I haven't seen her in a very long time and enjoyed the pleasure of her company and Mimi's new item, Pototas . Well, the potato dish sounded much better than was delivered. It was a scoop of seasoned potato dropped in a french fryer. The outside of the potato was crispy but then they poured a rather thin salsa over the top and some cheese. The salsa sogged up the crisp potatos and there was far too much sauce.

All of this was secondary to my friends news of her husband. At the age of 54 years and a month, he was told that after 22 years working for his company, his job was being eliminated. 11 months more and he would have received full retirement benefits. They arranged something for him to carry him over until age 55 but it's a horrible job and he will be both exhausted and sleepwalking his way through it. The experience was a big shock to them both and they feel as if the rug has been pulled out from underneath them.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Into Thin Air

Our book club read The Time Traveler's Wife this month. The fictitious time traveler vanishes into thin air every 10 or 12 pages. When considering what food to bring, it struck me that something with a foam would be appropriate, foams having a propensity to vanish into thin air. I decided to baptize my ISI whipper and made the mango espuma from the recipe in the booklet in the package; it's also posted on the ISI website. As a host food, I made a panna cotta from blood oranges from our backyard trees, with heavy cream and sugar.

The foam was a bust! No air at all. The flavor of the mango sauce was good, but it just dribbled out of the nozzle like the trickly remains of water left in a turned-off hose. Obviously I need more practice with the device OR the recipe requires some improving. The process could certainly be simplified as it took too many pots and pans for the end result. First there was the mango peeling and chopping and the orange squeezing. Then these two had to be boiled together with the sugar. Next, pureeing the mixture and then pushing it through a sieve. Finally adding the gelatin, cooling, hand whipping and then filling the whipper followed by refrigeration for several hours. You could probably start with a mango juice of some kind, adding sufficient gelatin to achieve the right consistency and then blast it out. I'll try that next.

My fellow book club members were sympathetic and enjoyed the panna cotta even though the foam flopped. We recalled our various bad experiences giving demonstrations and the difficulty of handling a lot of equipment plus managing the on-camera requirements at the same time - following a multitude of directions, looking directly at the camera and still concentrating on the main task. I told them about doing egg demos for the egg commission when I got tangled up in mike cords; walked off stage dragging pans behind me and did other stupid things. The sisters told me about doing craft demos on camera - one of them had practised her schtick over and over but when she arrived at the studio, they told her she was going to have to do everything upside down on camera. Quelle Horreur. Somehow she managed but even though it was years ago, they have never looked at the video. At about the same time they hired a young woman to do some of the crafting on camera and she ended up just staring wide-eyed into the camera for the whole thing - like a deer caught in the head lights.

We all agreed that on-camera work is more difficult than it looks and that the most masterful people make it
look incredibly easy.

Next day report: after sitting in the refrigerator overnight, the mango espuma, espumed when dispensed. No audience. It was actually very good - light and airy - perfect for my lunch today over a nectarine.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Memories of an Asado

Could chimichurri cause insomnia? Dinner of skirt steak with the chimichurri - grilled peppers, parsely, onions and sliced tomatoes seems to have had a bad result. Chimichurri is a kind of Argentine salsa used primarily on steaks and it's characterized by an abundance of parsley. The other ingredients add to the flavor profile but it is overwhelmingly green in nature. I think it is somewhat of an aquired taste.

In Buenos Airies with our Argentinian friends we've enjoyed a couple of at-home barbecues or asados but I don't remember the classic chimichurri on the table. Ahh..the barbecues were wonderful events, with long tables set under the shade of a tree for 20 or 30 people. Huge platters of freshly barbecued meats, bife de chirozo - top loin or bife ancho - like ribeye, emerging from the parrilla one after the other. Bottles of wine, platters of vegetables and good bread. Most of what we will always remember is the conviviality. At one of these barbecues, our host was a dedicated Argentine patriot and should have worked for the Chamber of Commerce. He loved his country and enjoyed talking about all its splendor. At one point during dinner, he got out a map book of Argentina and used it to point out to us particular places of interest. Because of this lively, impromptu lecture, our next trip included Salta, a wonderful place.

At restaurants in Argentina we've ordered a picada or starter plate instead of lunch. This "plate" would typically consist of salami, ham, cheese, olives, potato chips and maybe bread. In Argentina, when it comes to food, nothing exceeds like excess, so the plates usually contained enough for a group of six and we regretably had to leave much of it behind after stuffing ourselves.

Still lurking in our refrigerator is a huge container of dulce de leche given to us by Lizzie iin BA. We had a wonderful dessert there made of thin layers of cake separated by layers of dulce de leche. It was absolutely decadent. More quickly disposed of, was a bottle of home-made limoncello hand crafted by Jose and made from a particularly special lemon he gets from some monks who live in isolation on an island near Argentina. To say it is delicious would be such an understatement. Ambrosia would be more fitting. My own home-made limoncello fares poorly by comparison. Perhaps my Meyer lemon tree could use a heavenly touch to improve the flavor.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Goodbye Sambuca

Last night I drank the last tiny bit out of the Romano Sambuca bottle. It was rather a nostalgic moment as I remember buying that bottle in Olympia Washington for a CEC project. The bottle and I have been together for well over a decade - small sips together two or three times a year. Frequently I'd turn to the Sambuca when a sore throat was bothering me, or a cold. The strong, harsh alcoholic liquoricy liquid was somehow soothing to the throat and to my psyche. Interesting that the drink is sometimes served aflame (photo from the web answers.com).

I was introduced to Sambuca by my good friend Bob Pierre, who was President of the egg commission for many years. From time to time after a business dinner, he'd order a sambuca with a coffee bean. After I tried it once, I agreed that it makes a splendid end to a good meal.

Over the years, I've sprinkled it over a rotisserie chicken (with anise in the cavity); used it in an omelet fillling; drizzled it over berries and poured it into coffee. If you like licorice, you will find it enhances everything. The basis of the enhancement is glyzzherin, a component of licorice which is a proven, effective flavor enhancer. It is a powerful sweetener, 30–50 times as potent as sucrose (table sugar). Chemically, glycyrrhizin is a triterpenoid glycosidic saponin with the systematic name (3-beta,20-beta)-20-carboxy-11-oxo-30-norolean-12-en-3-yl 2-O-beta-D-glucopyranuronosyl-alpha-D-glucopyranosiduronic acid. Whew!! The acid form is not particularly water-soluble, but its ammonium salt is soluble in water at pH greater than 4.5. Although sweet, the taste of glycyrrhizin is different from that of sugar. The sweetness of glycyrrhizin has a slower onset than sugar, and lingers in the mouth for some time.

In Japan, where concern over the safety of artificial sweeteners during the 1970s led to a shift towards plant-derived sugar substitutes, glycyrrhizin is a commonly used sweetener, often used in combination with another plant-based sweetener, stevia. However, glycyrrhizin appears to have some pharmacological side effects, and the Japanese government has asked its citizens to limit their consumption to 200 milligrams per day.

Sambuca Definition: Generic for a very sweet-yet-piquant clear Italian liqueur flavored with anise, licorice root and an infusion with elderberry in a neutral spirit base. Sambuca is similar to Anisette but with a higher alcohol content. The term Sambuca usually refers to the transparent version, although other versions exist such as black sambuca. The liqueur is prepared by the steam distillation of star aniseeds. The resulting fragrant essential oil is infused with neutral spirits, witch elder berries and licorice. Other natural flavors and sweetening are added. The origin of the name Sambuca is believed to be Arabian, likely an Italian version of Zammut, - the anise-based drink that first came to the Italian harbors on ships coming from the Far East centuries ago. Residents of Civitavecchia, a port city near Rome, already produced the anise-based liqueur and perhaps renamed it "Sambuca" for trading convenience; Civitavecchians still produce it in large quantities today. While popular in mixed drinks, the common and traditional manner of comsumption is straight, with coffee beans -- two or more depending on the locale. There are a number of respected sambuca brands on the Italian market. These include Sambuca Borghetti and Sambuca Ramazzotti. With 87% global market share, Sambuca Molinari is the overall market leader, though Sambuca Romano is the most popular in the United States.

Some of the cocktails that incorporate Sambuca and a link to
on-line recipes: http://www.drinksmixer.com/cat/2443/

Genoa Cocktail
Matinee Cocktail
Sambuca Coffee Frappe
Via Veneto Cocktail

Off to the market to buy a new bottle.....

Friday, August 03, 2007

Bourne Ultimatum

With our bellies full of one-half a delicious Chinese meal at the Peking Wok, we joined the throngs at the Bourne Ultimatum. The theatre was almost sold out for the 5:45 show and the audience was rapt for 90 minutes. You could have heard a pin drop in the theatre were it not for the incessant car crashing, chases and fights. The film is non-stop action and Richard loved it. I was less enthusiastic and gave it a 65. When I told Richard it was too unbelievable he reminded me that it is light summer entertainment and should not be expected to be anything near realistic.

At the Chinese restaurant we had pot stickers, piping hot and full of fragrant filling. The wrappers were just right, steamed on one side with a slightly crisp bottom where they "stuck" to the pot. Braised sweet and hot shrimp were perfect and served almost sizzling - shrimp just cooked and the delicious tomato, ginger, onion sauce clinging to every morsel. Our waiter was fast and efficient and we got out of the restaurant and over to the movie just in time. During the film, Richard munched on his fortune cookie. When we got home, there was just enough shrimp and fried rice left for the other half meal.

No food was consumed in the Bourne Ultimatum. Spies and bad CIA guys don't eat - they live on cheap thrills and adrenaline. There was plenty of blood shed - Jason bleeds in every second scene. I certainly hope he takes plenty of iron supplements before Bourne number 4.

We are so pleased to have a good Chinese restaurant in the neighborhood. So apparently is everyone else because the place is nicely crowded whenever we've gone. We wish them much success.

Hawk on the windowsill

A loud thump in the dining room got my attention quickly. I ran in to see what had fallen off the wall. Nothing. But there was a hawk sitting on the outside window ledge, beating his wings against the window, totally disoriented and squeaking in pain? Cconfusion? I could hear an answering squeak coming from a nearby palm. Could that be a mate or is the hawk on the windowsill a youngster learning to fly? It looks small so perhaps it could be just a baby gone astray.

Hawks hang out on my roof regularly. The roof corner is perched on the edge of a slope which falls off into the arroyo, dark and leafy, home to many critters. The slope houses many rabbit holes, gophers and other small potential meals for a hunting bird. The hawk(s) wait patiently on the roof, spot their target and swoop down past the window, past my computer and drop down the slope, over the arroyo, sometimes into the neighboring grove and I lose sight of them. It's very dramatic and quite a show. I get to see this almost everyday. Sometimes I'm on the phone when this happens and I gasp to my callers surprise. I try to explain the drama but words usually fall short.

Baci RIP

Baci - the greatest cat.

Baci has left us. He was last seen on Sunday morning, looking good and acting normal. He didn't return for dinner and for Baci, that's serious. After much tromping through the grove, looking and calling we have to assume that he has died.

Baci was a great cat right from the beginning. Nancy and Richard bought him from a cattery back east and they fell in love with him immediately. They trained him well and he turned into a great, people loving, wonderful pet. Nancy trained Baci to come to the dinner bell and it worked well. He'd hear that bell and come running.

I only knew Baci for a few years, but I loved him. What a guy!! Richard would bring him over in the car to spend the evening with the girls. Ha. Baci hated Lulu and Squeakie but quickly surveyed the situation and figured he could assume alpha position easily. After one or two tentative visits while he was still sniffing things out, he formulated his strategy and on visit three, he roared in the back door making a great hissing noise aimed at nothing in particular. He'd rush up the stairs and the girl cats, totally amazed, got immediately out of his way. In short order, the routine was established...Lulu and Squeakie were shivering in the closet and Baci reigned supreme. He didn't sleep in the bedroom..sort of left it to the girls but he had the rest of the house as his own.

He was incredibly smart. I had a fence rigged up on the patio where I let Lulu out to take the air. She never tried to wriggle under the fence or climb over it. We tried Baci out there. Put him down behind the fence; he took a look around and immediately leaped over the fence. Lulu was watching him in amazement and you could almost hear her little brain saying, "Could I have done that?". I'd estimate he had at least twice the brain of the girls combined.

A very good hunter, he proudly carried many trophies home...a rabbit, snakes, gophers. He was athletic and a pleasure to watch on the stalk. We bought a little red light from a pet store and he enjoyed chasing that around the house. We liked to watch him track the light across the floor and up the wall, then across the ceiling, getting his feet in place and calculating for his pounce.

I called Richard the "cat whisperer" because he seemed able to do impossible things with Baci. He acted more like a dog with Richard than a cat. They worked together; Richard would load up the truck with his tools, call Baci to jump in and they'd go off to do chores. Richard kept the radio going in the car and Baci would either sit nearby and watch him or busy himself sniffing around, jumping up in the trees or hunting something down. For lunch, Richard would find an avocado and the two of them would crouch down like hairy cavemen and tear into the fruit..a bite for Baci and a bite for Richard. They loved to ride together on the bike, hair streaming behind them, Baci clinging to Richard for dear life. Up and down the slopes they'd speed around the grove.

A human could do just about anything to Baci - he was very cooperative about grooming. Richard could clip his nails - Baci sat quietly and let him do it. When he was combed with the fine flea comb, he purred. Any kind of touch or scratch would elicit a purr.

A walk in the grove with people was a big treat and whenever we were at the rancho he'd be ready to go! We'd get down about a hundred feet and he'd launch off to do his business; we'd hear him scratching out a spot in the leaf litter. Then he'd usually rush up a tree, feeling light on his feet and happy.

Above all things, Baci loved to eat! At dinner time, he'd be standing anxiously by his bowl waiting for the food. You could hardly get it out of the can and he'd be butting your hand away to get to the meat! If we were cooking anything at all, he'd be in the kitchen waiting for a crumb to fall or a tasty morsel as a treat. I've never seen a cat with such a lusty appetite. When Richard lived alone, he'd have Ahi once in a while and Baci loved the scraps from that meal. He also loved Richard's twirled chicken.

For his final two years, he had the dubious company of an unwanted sibling when Brini joined the household. They each found their place and seemed to have a truce established, if not a friendship.

Richard and Baci shared a special kind of masculine bond. Baci would show his affection with a head butt as in the picture above. Richard treated him not roughly but rather energetically and Baci loved it. Richard for instance would throw him up onto a branch of one of the avocado trees and Baci would catch on to the branch and looked like he loved it. He would ride around perched on Richards shoulders, ears pitched forward and that beautiful tail hanging down. They made a good looking pair together!

He will be eternally missed and we hope he rests in peace in kitty heaven.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Heat, Humidity and a dazzling smile

Arrggggh. The high humidity of Arkansas combined with the 90+ temperatures made it absolutely stifling. I arrived late Tuesday night and at 10:00 the air was sticky and thick. As I left my suitcase behind, I had to make a trip to the Rogers, Arkansas Wal Mart a new superstore, where I picked up grooming essentials and a few other items for flavor school. The store is very bright with nice wide aisles and good signage atop the aisles. At that time of night, there were still quite a few shoppers! My room at Embassy Suites was more than nice - a large living room with a flat screen TV - same in the spacious, comfortable bedroom. In the morning the shower was a treat with gobs of good hot water and a perfect hair dryer. Breakfast buffet is outstanding with plenty of choices of hot and cold foods, fruit and coffee. No complaints - but nor should there be for almost $250 a night in the middle of nowhere.

The Unilever offices at this location have grown from 15 or 20 people 7 years ago (last time I was there) to over 125 people. Everyone appears to be under 40 and I feel like a bit of a dinosaur among them. Young people treat me either with great respect and as irrelevant. The charming young man who is the team leader there couldn't have been nicer.

I would say the school was a success and the participants both learned a few things and enjoyed themselves - my goal. The Unilever people were happy that they had a chance to present the big blue U and interact with the decision makers in a slightly different environment than the usual buyer's meeting. I believe they will benefit greatly from the presentation. But is it worth it for me to do these things? It takes several days to pull everything together and then at least two days of my time for the travel and execution.

Incredibly, this time I left my suitcase behind. Pulled out of the garage and simply left it sitting by the car. I had gotten into the car and was distracted looking for the keys. Found them and pulled out without going back out to load the suitcase. I realized what I had done about three quarters of the way to the airport. Past the point of no return, I called Richard and caught him just as he was leaving the house. He rushed back and took my suitcase to Brian who taped it up and got it on UPS for early morning delivery. Thank God. It would be so embarrassing to have not been able to execute the school properly. I now will develop a list and a back-up plan in case. For instance I am going to mail everything ahead from now on. Then I will bring along a copy of the most crucial things in case the mail screws up.

At the Unilever offices they were having "semester" reviews...all these young sales and marketing people get to pretend they are still in college I guess. They were huddled in offices going over number after number and many of them confessed to me that they had pulled an "all nighter" getting ready. On these occasions, food is ordered in and yesterday it came from Chic-Fil-A which the Arkansasans love...it's a home-grown concept. So, for lunch I had
fried nuggets, fruit salad, veggie salad and gallons of iced tea which they provide. The nuggets were actually pretty good - not as salty as most and crisp enough to hold up for a couple of hours. For dinner at the North West Regional Airport, I had one of the really terrible eating experiences we all suffer through on the run. A piece of luke-warm limp pizza, cheese plasticized on the surface, nuggets of brown ground meat (which they called shaushage) and one paper-thin slice of pepperoni. About as bad as it gets, but it did keep me from expiring of hunger. Keeping my eyes open on the ride home was difficult.

Exiting the Ontario airport into the cool California night felt like being wrapped up in a familiar blanket and I appreciated with every bone in my body the walk across the airport to my car, without streams of sweat running down my sides and hair clumped up at the back of my neck. A young man in the ticket booth where you exit the airport gave me a dazzling smile which I thanked him for. As he turned around in the booth to run my credit card through, I noticed he only had one hand and the other arm ended in a stump about half way down. During the minute long exchange he told me he liked people, was always happy and grateful for life.

And I worry about leaving my suitcase behind.