Friday, March 25, 2011

An Embarrassement of Mangoes

As I mentioned a few months ago I decided to join two online book groups, one I have posted about the last few months but the other, Cook the Books, I had not gotten a chance to do until now.  Of course, I am still posting on the very last day possible, but I enjoyed the chosen book “An Embarrassment of Mangoes” so much that I wanted to make sure to get one in this time.  Enjoy. To check out everyone else’s reviews and recipes click here.
Besides the fact that I stuffed my life, cat and husband into the car to move across the country with no actual plan set up I am not normally an overly adventurous person.  I like security and plans.  So, the fact that Ann Vanderhoof’s memoir “An Embarrassment of Mangoes”, seriously had me contemplating the merits of learning how to sail just so Rob and I could go live on a sailboat all over the Caribbean is a pretty good testament to how inspired I was by this book.  If I had not already made my move, this probably would have pushed me over the edge.    

Ann and her husband Steve made the major decision to leave behind their lives and successful careers in Toronto to spend two years sailing from Canada through the Caribbean.  Early in their plan making you get the feeling that this is more a push by Steve than Ann, Ann seeming to be the more schedule/plan oriented of the two.  But, once the wheels start turning they never stop and seven years after they first throw the idea out there they are sailing away from their jobs, friends and families towards a complete unknown that will leave them forever changed.   The woman that you meet at the beginning of this book is not the same woman that you leave as you close the last page, and every moment of her transformation will leave you wanting to make one of your own.

You will quickly get wrapped up in their adventures as they learn the ins and outs of what it means to truly live on a boat.  The space constraints and scary night sails are balanced by the fresh caught fish for dinner and the incredible community of fellow boaters that quickly takes them in.  Vanderhoof has a great ability to fully engage you in her life and you find yourself just as entranced by what they are eating for breakfast as their first experience at Carnival. 

Ann’s appreciation of food and her ability to cook under any circumstances (I can only imagine the size of her “kitchen” on the boat) make every edible moment of this book an adventure of it’s own.  Thankfully, from my point of view, there are lots and lots of edible moments here.  Each chapter is followed by a recipe, and each recipe will have you wondering which of the ingredients you can find where you live, so that you can try them out.

I changed what I would be making many times as I read this book and in the end I am trying a bunch of the recipes.  As I wandered through the market earlier this week my eyes caught on a Papaya, and immediately my memory was dancing through the pages of Ann’s book, papaya salsa, papaya banana muffins!  The fact that I have never even cut into a Papaya was thrown to the wayside as I thought about the amount of new foods that Ann and Steve tried on their adventure, if they could do it on their boat I could do it in my apartment.

Luperon Papaya Salsa
(recipe page 101)Which we served over swordfish alongside Bahamian Peas 'n' Rice (recipe page 64) and Steve's 'Ti Punch (Recipe page 149)

 1/2 Large Ripe Papaya, diced (about 2 cups)
1/2 Cucumber, peeled, seeded, and diced
1/2 small red onion, thinly slice, cut into rings and halved
3 Tablespoons finely chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 small red hot pepper
1 lime, juiced
3 Tablespoons fruity olive
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Combine the Papaya, Cucumber, Onion, Cilantro, and Red Pepper.  Set Aside
2. Whisk together the olive oil and half the Lime juice.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Toss with Papaya mixture.
3.  Taste and add lime juice accordingly.

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Monday, March 21, 2011

Awaiting The Flavor Of Spring

The amount of things that I found to worry about before actually making the move to California was irrational.  Now that I have accomplished the move I can look back and say that most of my worries were silly, or have been proven unnecessary.  One of my big worries was the loss of Spring in New York.  I had this same worry about Fall, and though you only caught me at the end of it (if you have been reading the blog from the beginning that is) I can confidently say that I have not missed out by moving to California.  Spring is a different issue, it is by far my favorite season, the one that I look forward to the rest of the year, and the one that I daydream about when I am struggling through hard winters.  Can a California Spring really compare?

If you have never lived through a bad East Coast winter I don’t think you could understand the ridiculously giddy elation that comes with the first hints of Spring.  You act differently, you find yourself with ADD like symptoms.  This is when people skip class or call out from work, find themselves driving past their home exit just because the sky is blue and there is a good song on the radio.  I am getting a jittery feeling in my belly just trying to describe the feeling to you.  In short, it is incredible, or at least it was for me.  This is also a pretty good indication of just how much I hated winter.  Here lies my dilemma, was my love of Spring tied to my hatred of Winter or can I still experience Spring in the same manner here in mild California?

I will admit that the intensity of my emotions as Spring arrives is not at the height that it would hit in New York, but my emotions are also not swinging so wildly from one extreme to the other.  Sacramento’s winter never dragged me so far from my Spring bliss, so, though I find myself thrilled by the season, it is not the same overwhelming experience as I am used to.  I can’t say I am disappointed by this. 

There are a few foods that I associate strictly with Spring, and I look forward to them all year.  Artichokes and asparagus are at the very tippy top of that list, the first time I would see asparagus at the market in New York would be the first time I could breath properly.  Here it is a little different, my two favorite veggies snuck up on me, I was not even ready for them.  The official first day of Spring had not even arrived yet, and in New York forecasters are still droning on about yet more snow, and yet here in Sacramento there they are, the trumpeters of Spring.  I can now add Strawberries to my list as well, apparently here in Sacramento they are one of the first signs of the change to the season as well and I am happy to welcome them.

So, Happy Spring everyone, I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.  For my readers in New York, I know that the official (calendar) first day of Spring is a complete joke to you, but you and I both know how incredible it will be when it does actually get here.  Know that you earned every minute of it.  I will say that when Bon Iver came on the radio today and I had an incredible blue sky stretched out in front of me I had that urge to just keep on going.

Roasted Baby Artichokes

I leave this recipe pretty vague intentionally, you can do a lot of tweeking with this and have great results, so enjoy!

After following this very handy tutorial for trimming baby Artichokes from Saveur

Toss your baby chokes with some salt and olive oil and chopped garlic and roast in a 400 degree oven until tender (covering with foil part way through if they start getting too brown)

I recommend tossing in a few cloves of unpeeled garlic, the experience of breaking open a roasted garlic clove with your teeth is one that should not be missed, the creaminess and flavor of the garlic is incomparable.

Eat these as a side as we did, or toss them with some pasta, either way they are great!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Simplicity: Tender at the Bone

It is no secret. I love, love, love Ruth Reichl’s books!  If you remember my very first blog post, I mentioned that I became comfortable with my decision to move here when I found, Comfort Me With Apples, at the thrift store near my house.  I have read each of her books, though out of order, at least twice, and I have enjoyed each reading greatly.  It is not lost on me that she has spent a chunk of her life in both New York and California and has very strong feelings for both states.  This month the book group I am in decided to read, Tender at the Bone, Reichl’s first memoir of her childhood and early adulthood. 

As with all of her memoirs food is interwoven with every event of her life, sometimes shaping and other times accenting the tumbles and tribulations of her story.  Though always told with a hint of humor we quickly come to understand the difficulty of being raised in a household with her manic depressive mother, and see that cooking became a means of survival for Reichl.  A young Ruth took it upon herself to be the protector of the guests as her mother would consistently serve them food unfit to eat.  She explains her mother as “taste blind and unafraid of rot”, someone who refused to waste food, even if others would consider it spoiled.  Though the stories are always entertaining I found myself continually feeling bad for this young girl, it was not till later that her mother was labeled “manic depressive” and even with the title I doubt it helps the daughter any.

We get to travel with a young Reichl as she visits France for the first time, to Montreal where she is randomly banished to a boarding school, her college years in Michigan, and as she eventually finds home in Berkeley California living in a commune.  For me, reading Reichl gives me the push I sometimes need to try that next thing that comes along, she makes you ask yourself, why not?  Though things always seem to work out nicely, nothing ever seems handed to her, and you can tell that it is her adventurous spirit that draws the many good things into her life. 

If you are like me and read her books out of order, you have still missed nothing.  Towards the end of, Tender at the Bone, Reichl starts her path as a restaurant critic, a life choice that both her other books, Comfort Me With Apples, and Garlic and Sapphires, focus around.  As you learn about her life growing up, and her many food adventures the woman that she is now (or at least the one she represents herself as in her books) starts to form and make sense.  The adventurous eater, and descriptive writer all start to take shape as you read on through this tale of “growing up at the table”.  Because, Comfort Me With Apples, was not only the first of her books that I read, but also the first foodie book I ever read, (sending me on quite a journey as you can see) I will always have the softest spot for that title of hers, but so far all of her books have been well worth the read.  I am eagerly anticipating her next book, rumors have it that it will be focusing on her time as editor of Gourmet!

Now for the recipe:

I married a very simple man.  I mean that in only the most positive way.  Rob finds happiness in many places and it really does not take much to please him, the simplest things can make his whole week.  I envy him this trait and am continuously trying to learn it from him.  As I read through this month’s book I was trying to decide what I would be making from it, until I reached the very end, where the last recipe was for deviled eggs.  It is the most uninteresting and unexciting recipe in the whole book, and I knew without a doubt that it would make Rob’s day if he came home and I had made deviled eggs.  To him deviled eggs are for special occasions, parties, picnics, and gatherings.  They are not something that you get on a regular old workday Monday.  I could not resist.  So, sometime soon I will probably flip back through the pages of this book to make the "Oleron Berry Tart" or "Claritha’s Fried Chicken", but tonight it shall be Deviled Eggs.  Here’s to the simple things.  Enjoy.

A Happy Rob and a curious Kitty
To read what the other members of the book group had to say about this months pick check them out here.

Marion’s Deviled Eggs

Reichl talks about her friend Marion saying she “had reinvented herself in middle age and did not seem to think there was anything remarkable about it”

4 hard boiled eggs
¼ cup mayonnaise
1teaspoon cider vinegar
1 teaspoon ballpark mustard
salt and pepper to taste

Shell eggs, cut carefully in half lengthwise, and put yolks into a bowl.  Mash the yolks with a fork until they are smooth
Add remaining ingredients and mix well.  The mixture should be thick and creamy.Fill each egg white half with the yolk mixture.  Grate a bit of pepper on top.  Refrigerate until needed.
Makes 8 deviled eggs, or about 6 servings.

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