Saturday, December 21, 2013

The Venn Diagram of Christmas Traditions

This graphic is from: The Reason Stick: The Venn Diagram of Christmas Traditions.  You can see the original here. I love to celebrate Christmas. When I first started practicing Buddhism, I thought my Christmas celebrations were over. That made me sad. But then I met this nice Nyingmapa who was a Christmas Tree ornament saleswoman. She told me that some of her congregation had berated her for her job, and she told them, "Consider it a Shambhala Bush and get over it!" After that I celebrated with great glee! So Merry Christmas, everyone! And may all suffering CEASE!

Friday, December 13, 2013

Alertos Mexican

How much do I miss eating good Mexican food? You will never know. So there I was, in Anaheim, in a sea of PF Changs and IHoPs and California Pizza Kitchens, and Jack-in- Boxes. So boring. Can you blame me for having Cheerios and milk in my room while watching "Say Yes to  the Dress." Tragic. But then, as I was strolling around the block, I caught sight of Alerto's. It was tucked into a nondescript strip mall. Clean but un-distinguished.

But oh my.

Chile rellanos, refritos, creamy and with the lovely taste --- could it be lard? And handmade four tortillas. It was heaven! If you are ever there, you should definitely check it out. 

Sunday, December 8, 2013

More Gifts for Foodies

You know how it is with foodies - because we have everything, or have tasted everything, we are darn hard to buy for! I've got a couple of suggestions for the foodie in your life. This time, it's some of my favorite seasonings and flavorings. Hopefully, some or all of these will be new to you.

Gullah Luv seasoning is my go-to seasoning salt. According to the Gullah Luv website (you can visit here), the Gullah are, "African Americans who live in the lowcountry region of South Carolina and Georgia, which includes both the coastal plain and the Sea Islands. Historically, the Gullah region once extended north to the Cape Fear area on the coast of North Carolina and south to the vicinity of Jacksonville on the coast of Florida. Today the Gullah area is confined to the South Carolina and Georgia lowcountry. The Gullah people are also called Geechee, after the Ogeechee River near Savannah, Georgia. The Gullah are known for preserving more of their African linguistic and cultural heritage than any other African American community in the United States." So, I feel like I'm helping to preserve a little of our ethnic diversity when I buy my $9.95 bottle of yummy Gullah Luv Seasoning salt. It really is a "win-win" kind of a thing.

Black truffles are one of my favorite flavors, but are they expensive! I find that I can add a little of that wonderful earthy flavor to mushroom omelets, pasta dishes, and even just grilled baguette using black truffle salt. But because black truffle is such an expensive and rare commodity, there are a lot of substandard products out there. I've had great success with Fusion Black Truffle salt. You can find it here.

Speaking of black truffles, I'm also a huge fan of black truffle honey. This is honey that has a slice of truffle in it. You may think this is a weird combo, and I guess it is. But take a really strong cheese and add a stripe of truffle honey, and my oh my! You've really got something special. Here is one I have bought on Amazon that you might want to try. Yes, it is pricey, but a little goes a very long way and I'm talking about $15, not $150. So think of it as a rather pricey stocking stuffer.

Your favorite foodie probably knows about Penzey's Spices, but likely hasn't tried them all. I love "Tsardust Memories", a spicy mix of salt, garlic, cinnamon, pepper, nutmeg and marjoram. I really love this in butternut squash soup, meatballs, and grilled meats. You can snag a bottle here.  

So, there you go - some stocking stuffer ideas. Next time, I'll share my favorite cookbooks with you. Happy shopping!

Friday, November 29, 2013

St Petersburg Museum Day

We have been enjoying a lovely Thanksgiving holiday with my daughter, Nicole, and her fiance John and his parents. It has been a real bonding of families, and I've never laughed so much in my life!

Today we visited the Salvador Dali museum  where we saw the absolutely stunning work called Santiago El Grande. I'm including a picture of it from the internet, but believe me when I say that this doesn't even come close. For one thing, the real painting must be 12 feet tall. If you ever have the opportunity, you should by all means go see it. It was intensely spiritual and very beautiful.

After the Dali museum, we checked out a Chihuly exhibit at the Morean Arts Center . We could take pictures in there, so of course I took the opportunity for a few selfies, which I will spare you!. We have seen Chilhuly in Tuscon and of course, there is the beautiful light fixture at the Eastman School in our home town of Rochester NY.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

My Shrine

I'm a Tibetan Buddhist and I keep a modest shrine. Today I decided it needed to completely cleaned and reset - something a do 3 or 4 times a year.

A Buddhist shrine is all about offerings. The bottom level, from left to right is water for drinking, water for washing, flowers, incense, candles, perfume, food, and song. One can use bowls of water and simply visualize the offerings, or have representations of the offerings. I think it is good to have as nice a shrine as you can muster - "nice" being what you think is nice. Because it's your offering, after all!

 Here's a meditation I wrote some time ago about the offerings. It isn't very orthodox - but I'm not a very orthodox person, I guess!

Offering Bowls

The first offering is drinking water. I think about how dry my throat felt when I worked on a limestone parking lot when I was 17 in Central Texas and then Mr. Teague brought me a drink of water. Water coming out of a cold well. The water pitcher in my mother's refridge. The sound of the ice cubes when the are half melted and the condensation is dribbling down the side of the glass. My daughter taking the cup for the first time. Ice chips on my tongue when I was in the hospital. Holding my grandmother in my arms and offering her a cool drink on the hot July day when she died. I offer all these to the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas.

The second offering is washing water. I think about my shower this morning. Bathing my daughter the first time. The wonderful feeling of a shower after a long camping trip. The cold shower on our retreat land, the feel of the pine boards under my feet, the shivering cold wet plastic that brushes against me as I go out. The different feelings of ocean water and lake water. The amniotic fluid rushing out of me as they ruptured my membranes. I offer all these to the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas.

The third offering is flowers. I think about the strong smell of lilies in my lily garden. The flowers in my bridal bouquet. The thousands of small bunches of iris my ex  gave me. The flowers in the wreath for my daughter's First Holy Communion. The wreath of wild flowers Eva wove for Garchen Rinpoche and how delighted he was and how wonderfully silly he looked. I offer all these to the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas.

The fourth offering is incense. I think about the incense in my childhood church, which was a wonderful maple syrup smell. I think about the sensor clanging against the metal chain, the smoke rising. I think about the smoke of hundreds of campfires, as a child and as an adult. I think about fireplace fires. I think about the strange smells of the incense that the monks used on retreat last summer. I offer all these to the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas.

The fifth offering is light. I think about the light of my kitchen window when I drive home on a snowy night. I think about my bathroom night-light, the flashlight I dropped down the "unflushable" at camp, of lying on the ground and watching the zillion stars in a summer Texas sky, not being able to sleep because of the unbearable beauty of it, total eclipses and sunburns, the meteor shower. I think about the Advent wreath, Christmas tree, and a romantic candlelit table. I offer all these to the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas.

The sixth offering is perfumed water. I think about my mother's perfume (Channel #5), I think about the smell of my daughter when she was a baby, the smells of cinnamon rolls, sauteed onions, fresh mown grass, the smell of rain, the smell of gin and tonic and lime. I offer all these to the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas.

The seventh offering is food. I think about what I had for breakfast. I think of the tastes of Altoids, of thanksgiving turkey and dressing, of chocolate cake, of Popsicle. I remember my favorite meal and offer that. I offer all these to the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas.

The eight and last offering is sound. I think of the chirping of crickets, of the sound of birds at dawn, my daughter's first words, of church bells, the no sound when Grandma died, the sound of my Vajra brothers and sisters singing long life prayers, the rattle of my gau, the sounds of lovemaking, the sound of the Chod trumpet. The sound of my own voice. I offer all these to the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas.

By the merit of these offerings, by the merit of samsara and nirvana, may all beings be free from suffering and the causes of suffering.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Gift Ideas for the Foodie in your Life - Part One

Are you looking for a holiday gift for that foodie in your life, but really don't know where to start? In my next few posts, I'll share some of the things that have made my heart sing. And good news: most of them are very inexpensive!

First up: a magnetic knife rack. I never trusted those knife blocks. What's in there? At the very least the dust of the ages. The whole thing just makes me feel ooky. So when my better half surprised me with this magnetic knife rack, I was thrilled! As you can see, I have a nice little collection of knives, but if I had some extra room, I'd add my church key (that's "bottle opener" to you!) and my potato peeler. This thing is a champ. And you can get one for your favorite cook for under $11 for 12" of magnetic goodness. Trust me on this one: everyone who comes in my kitchen and lays eyes on this wants one of their very own.

My second suggestion is this flat, mesh skimmer. I originally got it to help fish out poached eggs. I hate it when my toast gets soggy from the cooking water, don't you? This does the trick. But it is good for a lot of jobs. For example, when I pop corn (in my wok!) I can use this to stir the corn while I spray butter on it. It's fabulous. It's good for fishing solids out of broth. I have had this for about 15 years and I bet I've used it 3 times a week every week since I bought it. I got mine at Williams Sonoma, but you might want to check out Amazon where I saw a nice one in the $8 neighborhood. Don't spend too much for this. You shouldn't have to!

Now, haven't you always wanted to own something by Ronco? Well, here is your chance! Let me introduce you to a little piece of heaven on earth - the Ronco ST3001SSGEN Showtime Compact Rotisserie. Yes, this is a little more expensive than the other two items in today's post, but at $80 it's still quite a bargain. This gem makes the juiciest, most delish chicken you have ever tasted, I promise you!. It takes a little effort to truss up a chicken and get it balanced on the rotisserie, but after you've done it a few times, you will be a pro. It takes about 15 minutes a pound to cook a chicken, and the drippings make a luscious gravy. I'm not a fan of those mega chickens they seem to have in the grocery stores these days. A chicken is not supposed to be 5 pounds! I find then to be rather tough. But not when they are cooked on this beauty - I guarantee they will be tender and juicy. My experience with small birds (cornish game hens, for example, that come in at a pound - pound and a half range) are not as good because they just don't take long enough to cook. But the smaller 3 pound organic free range chickens are wonderful Cleanup isn't hard because all the main parts break down and will go in the fridge. I think we use this about every other week when the outdoor cooking season comes to an end.

So, there you go: three ideas for some kick-ass presents! Next time we will talk about a noodle maker, a really nice frying pan, and mixing bowls.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Spring Pasta with Blistered Cherry Tomatoes

Vegetarian pasta dishes are usually really dull. It was the cop out of chefs made to appease the vegetarians when when they couldn't be bothered to do anything more clever. But then I saw this recipe in Food and Wine and it is really yummy! It is really is a Spring Pasta, and the flavors are wonderful.  I've probably made it 3 times this month and tomorrow will be #4. I made a few modifications to the original.
  • Greens - spinach or swiss chard
  • 1 garlic clove, sliced
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Flaky sea salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 pounds grapes tomatoes
  • 6 scallions, white and tender green parts only, cut into 1-inch lengths
  • 1 bunch asparagus, cut into 1 1/2-inch lengths
  • 1 pound mafaldine or other curly, wide noodles
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup chopped flat leaf parsley
  • About 1/2 cup shaved ricotta salata cheese, for garnish
  1. Preheat the oven to 425°. In a bowl, toss the tomatoes with  2 tablespoons of olive oil, 1/2 tablespoon of sea salt and 1 teaspoon of pepper and spread on a rimmed baking sheet. Roast the vegetables for about 25 minutes, until the tomatoes are very juicy but not broken down.
  2. Meanwhile, in a large pot of salted boiling water, cook the scallions until just softened, 1 minute. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the scallions to a bowl. Add the asparagus to the pot and cook until just crisp-tender, about 2 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the asparagus to the bowl. 
  3. Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook until just al dente. Drain, reserving 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water.
  4. Return the pasta to the pot. Add the greens and cook only a few minutes. Add the scallions, asparagus, butter,  and half of the parsley .Add the reserved pasta water and cook until the pasta is al dente. Gently fold in the roasted tomatoes and any juices and season with sea salt and pepper. Garnish with the shaved cheese and the remaining parsley and serve right away.

Pruning Class

Earlier this week, our friend Julie tipped us off that one of the garden centers was offering a class on pruning. J signed us up, and tonight we went.

Pruning is in the category of Great Mysteries for me, along picking locks, wearing makeup, and playing bridge. Our instructor was a very non-threatening person and she went over the basics.
J and Julie watch a demonstration

It seems to boil down to  a few simple rules. Use a sharp, appropriately sized clippers. That makes sense. You don't want to want to use clippers that are too small to do the job, or ones that just crush the stems. Another thing is to use alcohol to clean them between plants. I never thought of this before tonight, but of course you can spread diseases from one plant to another with your clippers.

She talked about when to prune, and how to know where the new growth would come. It was interesting and useful. And it made me think about one of my bucket list items - becoming a Master Gardener. Maybe it's time to get serious about making that happen.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Saying Prayers for Winter

My Shrine, cleaned for Losar and for Chenrezig practice for Winter
Today I'm taking a day off of work so I can stay home and do practice for my friend Winter. We believe that, on average, a person is in the intermediate state between births for 49 days. When a person is in the intermediate state, known as the Bardo, she doesn't have to deal with the baggage that a physical body contributes to the mix. So it is a good time to become enlightened. I'm praying that Winter achieve enlightenment, or at the very least, a good rebirth. May all suffering cease!

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Dinner Party Menu

J and I were in Cali at the holidays, so we weren't around for our annual dinner party for our family of choice, known collectively as "The G's". So next Saturday we will have everyone over for the big blowout. Here's the menu as it stands now.

First course (Everyone let's me know their choice)
Shrimp cocktail. I have some strong fans of the classic. And I have some dishes I don't use for anything but this. Gotta use those, right?
Fisherman's Stew ala Felgerts: cod, mussels, crab, lobster in a saffron broth. We love this dish. I start by baking a potato, then letting it get cold, cutting it into cubes and frying in in a little bacon grease until it is golden. Then I take those out of the pan, and brown up some codfish. Then I add chopped onion, celery, and green bell peppers. When they are soft, I pour in clam juice, and some saffron. Once the broth comes to just under the boil, I add the other sea food and put a tight lid on the pan. About 3-5 minutes, the soup is finished. I put the browned potatoes in a wide soup bowl, and add the fishes and veggies, and pour the hot broth over the whole mess. It is incredible.
Mushroom ravioli in Truffle Sauce. I wanted to have a vegetarian option. This is actually not home-made. (Don't tell anyone!) This is from the frozen foods counter at Trader Joe's and it is really yummy.
Salad (Pick one)
Roasted beets and warm goat cheese with bitter greens served with an aged balsamic (20 year old) vinegarette
Cesar Salad with garlic toasts and Romano curls
Iceberg Wedge with blue cheese dressing

Main course
Prime Rib
Twice Baked Potatoes
Roasted winter squash with cranberries and pecans
Roasted Brussels sprouts
Cheese course
Probably will have some hard cheese, a mild brie, a Gorgonzola, and something really strong plus apples

Cookies and coffee
Thinking about hazelnut shortbreads, ginger cookies, and these sinfully good chocolate chip with salted caramel bars.