Monday, November 29, 2010

Winter Makes Me Crave Noodles

Burmese Chicken Curry Noodles from Burma Superstar
I have emerged from Thanksgiving break almost fully recovered from a vicious cold that rendered me unwilling and somewhat unable to do much more than lie around for the past 9 days. My appetite was diminished by my illness, and I knew my health had finally taken a turn for the better when I found myself famished for Thai food again. (For me, a perpetual craving for Thai is a symptom of health and normality.) I devoured an entire plate of pad thai noodles with immense satisfaction.

Noodles are such a wonderful comfort food to be enjoyed in the cold winter months. Spurred on by my pad thai binge, I am planning a noodle extravaganza this week. Spicy coconut noodles, noodle soup, Korean Jap Choi Noodles, and vegetarian lasagna are on the way. I am even fantasizing about a sojourn to the Bay area for more Burmese noodles like those I tried at Burma Superstar. Immersed in a creamy, mild sauce with the depth of caramelized onions, it’s no wonder people develop cravings for the stuff and wait up to 4 hours to get a seat.

What's your favorite form of noodles?

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Gratitude Journal

Have you ever kept a gratitude journal? A good friend of mine, while suffering from depression, received counsel from a therapist to begin regularly keeping a gratitude journal. Every day, she was advised to turn to a blank page in a designated notebook, and write down at least 10 different items she was grateful for, without repetition.

Gratitude is indeed a natural antidote to depression. I have a vibrant green gratitude journal that energizes me every time I look at it. I haven’t written in this journal regularly for some time, for which I blame my husband for making my life too wonderful.

But this week, to honor Thanksgiving, I plan to write down as many things as I can each day that I have to be thankful for. My goal is to reach 100 items by Thanksgiving Day. I hope that this year's holiday will be my most grateful one to date!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Pear Cranberry Oat Crumble

Tonight's theme: Feeding friends at fall. I put my husband in charge of dinner, and volunteered to make dessert. I so wanted to make something from the lovely, seasonal Rustic Fruit Desserts, but was torn between two recipes. I ended up combining elements of both and coming up with my own creation: Pear Cranberry Oat Crumble.

The result is a layer of firm, honey-sweet pear balanced against a tart explosion of cranberry, underneath a crunchy oat-flaked topping. Topped with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream, it was a grand finale to a wonderful autumn evening.

Pear Cranberry Oat Crumble

2 c. rolled oats
1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1 1/3 c. packed brown sugar
1/2 tsp. fine sea salt
3/4 c. unsalted butter, melted

Fruit filling:
8 large pears, peeled, cored, and sliced 1/4 inch thick
2 c. cranberries, fresh or frozen
1 1/4 c. granulated sugar
2 T. cornstarch
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. cardamom


Preheat the oven to 375F. Grease a 3-quart baking dish.

To make the topping, mix all the topping ingredients through salt in a bowl. Stir in the butter, then press the topping together with your hands to form small clumps. Put the topping in the freezer while you assemble the filling.

To make the filling, toss the fruit, sugar and spices together in a large bowl. Transfer the filling to the prepared pan and spread it out, pressing the fruit down into the corners.

Press the oat crumble evenly over the fruit, then bake for 60-70 minutes, or until the crumble is lightly golden and the filling is bubbling up in the corners. Cool for 20 minutes or so to temper the heat before serving. Serve with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream.

Storage: This crumble is best if served the day it is made, but any leftovers can be wrapped in plastic wrap and kept at room temperature for 2-3 days. Reheat in a 300F oven for 10-15 minutes, until warm.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Stylish Blogger Award

I am deeply flattered to be awarded the Stylish Blogger award. I will do my best to live up to the expectations which accompany this honor. It's a fun way to connect with other talented bloggers!

Rules for accepting this award are:

1. Thank and link back to the person who awarded you this.

I am grateful to Michele of Cooking at Home not only for thinking of me for this award, but for her wonderful posts. A former Personal Chef living in New Jersey, Michele is passionate about sharing her delicious Italian-influenced food with her family and friends. I love to look at her fine photographs and imagine that I myself am a guest at her impromptu dinner parties.

2. Share seven things about yourself.

I usually keep my blogs fairly anonymous, so this is a bit intimidating... but I'll do my best!

I have studied French, Spanish and Cantonese, but they all get jumbled in my head now.
The Cantonese is still passable... I think! :-)

I have traveled to every continent except Australia and South America, but I hope to remedy these exceptions someday.

I was adopted as an infant, but now enjoy warm relationships with both of my biological parents as well as my adoptive family.

I love to read (a relic of my time spent studying literature in college), and especially enjoy the Russian and English classics.

Fitness is important to me, but I have a phobia of sports. Also, of hospitals and internal organs/blood/guts.

I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

I enjoy eating many diverse foods. Foods I do not like include cheap (quality) hot dogs, strong mustard, black sesame, and my most recent discovery, rutabagas.

3. Pass along this award to 15 stylish bloggers.

I'll be honest, I read a lot of immensely popular blogs that can assuredly do without the honor of my award. I think that David Lebovitz, Joy the Baker, smitten kitchen, Orangette, and Tea & Cookies will do just fine as they are. Also, 15 is a bit much. I'll knock it down to five of my favorites:

I enjoy A Simple Breath because it features a little bit of everything cozy, from beautiful music to crafts to nature to book reviews. Annette is also the master of list making!

Tiffany at Dancing Branflakes is a sweetheart, as well as a dancer, fashion-lover, foodie, and more. Her daily posts are always upbeat and cheery.

Kelly at Make Grow Gather always has great ideas for homemade crafts, and gorgeous pictures that make you feel a part of each post.

If you want to follow the process of writing a novel, check out Mark Noce Stories for insights into a writer's life. This Bay-area writer of historical fiction is a bit of a Renaissance man as well, so you never know what topic he'll write about next.

Speaking of Bay-area artists, I have to mention Chez Danisse. Denise has a unique ability to use her camera and craft her words so as to perfectly capture a moment. Her posts are always lovely and profound, and I constantly look forward to seeing what she will capture next.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Pie Making Class and Quiche!

My husband (also known as The Best Husband Ever) bought me a dream come true for our anniversary: A class on pie-making with local food celebrity Kira O'Donnell of Real Pies. She formerly worked at Chez Panisse in Berkeley and her pies are divine. I couldn't wait to see what she was like in real life and pick up some pointers on how to perfect my own pies. Pie is, after all, my favorite food in the world.

The class was held at a room adjoining the Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op:
While we waited for the class to start, we met new friends and snacked on olives, hummus, baba ganoush and crackers...
And checked out the set up, while trying to figure out which one was Kira herself.
Turns out she's the surprisingly down-to-earth, unpretentious and nice blond. We started by discussing how to make crust, the foundation of any pie.

Kira gave us some simple tips, such as cooking pie on a pre-heated pizza stone to achieve a flaky bottom crust; keeping everything cold, even if you have to dip your own hands in ice water; and letting the dough rest at least 1 hour before working with it, or even overnight. She uses an all-butter pastry herself but was surprisingly not picky about the type of pan, flour, recipe, etc.
Her sample dough was generously dotted with chunks of butter and very sturdy yet pliable.
She made a sample pie with strawberry rhubarb filling she had frozen in July. How gorgeous those colors were,
and then look how cute her stars are!
The best part was sampling 3 varieties of her pies, starting with a vegetarian quiche. I am serious about this quiche. It is deadly good. At first I was like, "Alright, let's get this quiche over with so we can get to the sweet stuff." The quiche turned out to be my favorite.
Apple Blackberry Galette - delicious and warm, flaky and cozy.
Chocolate Cream pie, not too sweet. The crust was made from homemade cookie crumbs. (Overachiever.) :-)
I don't want to give away all of Kira's secrets, but I will share her killer recipe for quiche. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

Vegetarian Quiche

Partially pre-baked pie shell (375 for 8-10 minutes until light brown)
1 c. grated cheese of your choice (Swiss, cheddar, Jack)
1/3 c. crumbled goat cheese (opt)
1/2 red bell pepper, julienned and sauteed until soft
1 bunch spinach, washed/chopped and sauteed until soft
1 head broccoli, separated into small clumps and blanched until just tender
1/2 small yellow onion, sauteed until soft
6-7 mushrooms, sliced and sauteed until soft
3 eggs
1 c. low-fat milk or soy milk
2 tsp. Dijon mustard
Pinch salt
Pinch herbs de Provence

Preheat the oven to 350.

Put the partially pre-baked pie shell on a sheet pan. Press grated cheese and goat cheese on bottom of shell. Add all cooked veggies on top of cheese, distributing evenly. In a bowl, whisk together eggs, milk, mustard, and spices. Pour the milk mixture carefully over the veggies, then place the quiche in the oven. Bake until the custard is completely firm. (Jiggle it slightly - if it seems liquidy in the center, it's not done yet!) It may take over an hour. Don't worry if the top browns. It will taste great! Serve 4 hungry people, with an accompaniment such as soup or salad.


I love a good French film. Certain things will be expected in this genre: unsexualized (even unattractive) nudity, blunt conversations, and a fascination with food and the countryside. The sound of the French language is a comfort to me after all the years I spent studying it in high school and college.

This weekend, I was treated to the award-wining film Séraphine, based on the true story of a lonely housekeeper who, at age 41 in 1905, begins painting beautiful floral art. Untrained and using paint her makes herself, she finds inspiration in nature and the stained glass of the cathedrals she regularly visits to sing religious hymns. One day shortly before WWI (around 1914), she is discovered by a German art critic and dealer who recognizes her untainted talent and encourages her to develop it. Below, see examples of her work:

The film portrays the fine line an artist walks between inspiration and madness, and made me long to create something beautiful. I generally consider food to be my main creative medium, but occasionally I feel sad that such beauty can only last as long as it takes one to consume it. Then, it becomes a part of our very bodies, unseen but perhaps still felt and remembered. Still, I feel envious of painters, who have the ability to create something beautiful and enduring. I also would like to return to the French countryside now more than ever. Its beauty could inspire art in anyone!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Porridge: Not Just for Goldilocks Anymore

I hope that, like Goldilocks, you will find a warm bowl of porridge just right for a cool morning. One bowl of whole grains, mixed with nuts, fruit and/or seeds, will keep you full for hours. It's also a good way to use up those leftover bits of whole grains that may be all lonesome in your pantry.

You may be wondering why you should mix all these grains together; why not just have oatmeal? Oatmeal is high in fiber, but using a mixture of grains gives a unique texture to your morning meal, and additional nutrition. For example, in my mixture, quinoa contributes protein and flax seed adds Omega-3s.

You may customize your special blend with whatever grains appeal to you (amaranth, millet, tricale, etc). When I made it, I mixed roughly equal parts of the following:

-Bulgar (cracked wheat)
-Steel-cut oats
-Brown rice
-Flax seed meal

Next, I divided the mixture into 1-cup portions.

To prepare:

Place 1 cup of whole grain mixture in slow cooker. Add 4 1/2 cups of cold water and a pinch of sea salt. Cook on low for 7-8 hours. Breakfast is served. Enjoy with brown sugar, milk, and dried fruit/nuts/seeds/whatever you like. Serves 4.

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Fattiest Foods in the States

What are the Fattiest Foods in America today? I read a fascinating article on which outlined a particularly unhealthy regional specialty from each of the United States.

My home state of California, known for its love of sustainable and healthy cuisine, met its match at the popular In'N'Out Burger.
Sure, the chain may be famous for the freshness of its ingredients and the cleanliness of its facilities. But the Double Double burger turns out to have twice the fat (40 grams) as a McDonalds Double Cheeseburger. Better stick with a single next time we're in the mood for a burger.

In reading the rest of the article, I was in awe of the diverse and surprising concoctions that some states call comfort food. There's Indiana, where a fried-brain sandwich may be on the menu; or North Carolina, where locals go hog-wild for livermush, "a dish with at least 30% pig liver and a mixture of pig head parts and cornmeal".

As far as senseless indulgence goes, my vote lies with Georgia. Only the South could produce the Luther Burger:
That's a "ground-beef patty, topped with cheese and bacon between two donuts instead of a bun". Paula Deen kicked it up a notch by adding a fried egg. Was this really necessary, Paula?

Check out the link to see where your state's weak spot lies!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Day Trip to Apple Hill

What would life be without traditions? One favorite fall tradition for our family (and many others in the greater Sacramento area) is going to Apple Hill, a chain of family orchards that host guests every fall. The first thing to do when you arrive?
Enjoy the scenery of the tall trees, hiking trails, streams and lakes. Breathe some fresh woodsy air and let go of your worries.

Next, you can pet an alpaca or billy goat at a petting zoo...
Or check out some crafts, like homemade spicy scented candles and local olive oils.

And then, of course, there's the apples.

Besides free samples of freshly pressed apple cider, nearly every ranch on the hill boasts a bakery with a myriad of irresistible offerings.
Be sure to try the Apple Cider Donuts at Rainbow Orchard, always made fresh and hot and covered with cinnamon sugar.

Apple pie is also a must. This year, we tried Apple Sour Cream Blackberry, a sure winner. Can't make up your mind? Buy a frozen pie to take home with you.
And at High Hill Ranch, the Apple Fritter is legendary. This huge, moist disk, laced with chunks of apple, cinnamon, and glazed with a sweet icing, is another must-have treat from Apple Hill.
I hope you get a chance to try Apple Hill, or go to a place that is synonymous with autumn where you live, whatever that may be!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Lunch - Sans Meat?

Hello, friends! Question for you: What do you eat for lunch on Meatless Monday? Got any good vegetarian recipes? I’ve been grappling with this question for a couple of months and here are some easy suggestions, geared towards people who have to eat at work (as opposed to stay home and whip up a piping hot meal).

- You could try a chilled salad like tabbouleh. Another good one I tried recently was a simple mixture of quinoa, pesto, sun-dried tomatoes, and feta cheese.

- You could make a sandwich with sprouts, cucumbers, tomatoes, mixed greens and hummus (here’s a recipe for homemade hummus).

- Another great sandwich: roasted bell pepper with cream cheese (or goat cheese), topped with arugula.

- I love soup in the winter - try vegetable, butternut squash or mushroom barley.

- Leftovers, leftovers, leftovers (assuming they’re meatless!). Vegetable curries work great re-heated in the microwave. Sometimes they flavors are even better the second day!

- And last, but certainly not least, peanut butter and jam sandwiches on whole grain bread. A childhood classic that still hits the spot.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Pumpkin Patch!

As Daylight Savings time approaches, I am already feeling nostalgic for that beautiful twilight lighting that I won't be seeing now that it will be pitch black by the time I leave work. For now, I'm just trying to enjoy the last days of fall. Here's my tribute to the ultimate fall activity, visiting a pumpkin patch.
Fresh fall produce

Real live hearse on display. Creepy!

Stray dog that approached us several times, then ran away.

Horseback rides

"Alas, Poor Yorick!"

Paul the Scarecrow

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Pumpkin Citrus Cake

What I love about this cake:
- The colors look gorgeous on a platter - bright orange mandarins and ruby red pomegranate seeds set against the orange-flecked white frosting!
- The flavors are perfect for fall - citrus, pumpkin, and pomegranate!
- The cream cheese frosting is totally low-maintenance, and you don’t have to frost the sides of this cake, just the bottom and top layer.
- It’s light! But you can substitute whole eggs and milk if that doesn’t matter to you!
Note: This cake is best eaten the day it’s made, and does not travel well. The layers tend to slide... So enjoy at home for best results!
Pumpkin Citrus Cake
Adapted from Cooking Light
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin
1/4 cup egg substitute
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 3/4 cups sifted cake flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 (12-ounce) can evaporated fat-free milk
Cooking spray
3 cups sifted powdered sugar, divided
3/4 cup (6 ounces) 1/3-less-fat cream cheese, softened
1 teaspoon grated orange rind
2 cups mandarin oranges in light syrup, drained
1 cup pomegranate seeds (about 2)
Preheat oven to 350F.
Place granulated sugar and butter in a large bowl, and beat with a mixer at medium speed until well blended. Add pumpkin; beat well. Add egg substitute and vanilla; beat until well blended.
Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flour and next 6 ingredients (through nutmeg), stirring with a whisk. Add flour mixture and milk alternately to butter mixture, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Pour batter into 2 (9-inch) round cake pans coated with cooking spray; sharply tap pans once on counter to remove air bubbles. Bake at 350F for 30 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pans 10 minutes on a wire rack; remove from pans. Cool completely on wire rack.
Place 1 cup powdered sugar and cream cheese in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed until well blended. Add remaining powdered sugar and rind; beat until fluffy.
Place 1 cake layer on a plate. Spread 2/3 cup cream cheese frosting evenly over top of cake. Top with remaining cake layer; spread remaining cream cheese frosting over top, but not sides, of cake. Arrange orange slices in a ring around outer edge of top cake layer. Sprinkle pomegranate seeds over center of top cake layer. Store cake loosely covered in refrigerator.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Raw Milk - Friend or Foe?

The Introduction:
When we were at the Portland Farmer’s Market, we tried samples at one booth selling fresh milk that had been pasteurized at an extremely low temperature, as opposed to the super high temperature pasteurization that kills everything good (such as good bacteria) and bad in the milk. This "raw" milk is also not homogenized (or whipped until the milk molecules become uniformly and evenly spaced).
Because it has not been processed heavily like most grocery store milk, it can usually be processed better by those who are lactose intolerant. The raw milk arrives in grocery stores within a few days of coming out of the cows, as opposed to high temperature pasteurized, homogenized milk, which may not reach store shelves for up to a month. (The processing increases its shelf life.) I found the taste of raw milk fresher and cleaner than processed milk, as well as easier to digest.

The Opposition:
I was impressed with the flavor and health benefits of this milk and soon looked for raw milk at my local grocery store. I found some, produced by Organic Pastures. I no sooner had picked up a bottle and began reading the label than a middle-aged overweight guy walking by exclaimed, "They sell raw milk here?! That’s dangerous!" He told me that he used to work for Crystal, which he claimed was "one of the cleanest dairies in the country, and it was still filthy!" 

I don’t doubt the truth of his statement. I would not think of trusting raw meat or dairy from a CAFO (confined animal farming operation). However, I think there’s a great deal of difference between cattle that are trapped in their own filth 24/7 and cows that are pastured on organic fields. My mom grew up on a dairy drinking raw milk, as people have done for centuries in the past. I think the problem may be more the poor treatment of animals in most farming institutions than the inherent danger of the substance itself.

The Result:
I used the raw milk to make homemade cheese (more on that interesting process later!). So far, so good. I’m not dead yet. The quality of this product is certainly superior, although so is the cost. I might just be on the way to becoming a raw milk proponent. For more information and to judge for yourself, see