Monday, November 7, 2011

Recap of the Day

For all of my adoring fans out there I know you have been barely surviving in the absence of my posts.  So here is a quick recap of my day:

On the downside, I lost my favorite scarf without leaving the confines my cubicle.

On the upside, I did not smash a soft-boiled egg in my purse.

At meditation tonight we talked about embracing the joy of the presence. Not smashing or spilling anything in my bag is a joyful moment I will take!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Panzanella-my new summer comfort food

You know it isn't going to be a good day, when it starts with metro offloading your car in the morning commute because the train is too hot, forcing everyone to cram into the next car, making you late for work. I try to count my blessings, which I have so many of and am reminded of as I pass homeless men in tatters. But sometimes you just feel knocked down.

My beloved cat Kasmir broke my heart while he had a grand adventure missing for two months in Georgia and healed it when he miraculously returned full of snuggles. Today I took him to the vet because he, who loves food as much or maybe more than I do, stopped eating. $400 later his only solid diagnosis is a fever. Feline Leukimia and Feline HIV test came back negative but the vet kept putting forward cancer as a possibility. A word, illness, prognosis I can hardly stomach. In meditation we try to open ourselves up to the fact that we all get sick, we all die, and nothing including everything we hold dear is permanent. But to have the big C or even just the possibility of it keep attacking your loved ones is very painful.

So as usual I retreat to find comfort in a phone call to my mom and food. When it is too hot to ride metro much less cook, panzanella is perfection. And when you get hit hard with unexpected vet bills it is even better. A salad invented to use old bread, it is inexpensive to make. I toasted slices of a mini whole grain loaf, brushed with olive oil and garlic. Cube the toasted bread and toss with the freshest of summer tomatoes bursting with ripeness and acidic juices. I was lucky to get a bag full for a $1 a pound at Sunday's market closing time. The vendors calling out,  "it's you or the hogs." I guess the city gleaners haven't made it to Eastern Market yet.

Toss this in a bowl with herbs, basil, chives, parsley, plucked fresh from the soil and the sun; olive oil;  vinegar- red wine is preferable but other kinds from rice wine to balsamic seem to work just fine; salt and capers or crushed anchovies if you have them. And just like that supper is done, summer flavors bursting with brightness rounded out by the comfort of toasted bread commingling into something that is the opposite of the soggy mess you might think it would become.

Freeing you up to tend to summer evening pleasures or coaxing kitty to please eat a bite of kitty food.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Reasons I love DC # 2 My morning commute

My morning commute: Coffee and paper in hand I am greeted with smiles and “Have a nice Day” by metro workers and the people who hand out the free Express paper. The office workers like me provide a fashion show of style choices. There are women in sparkling saris, girls in expensive dresses and flip-flops, colorful hijab. There are babies laughing, babies crying, people getting in that last snooze button rest, lost tourists counting the number of stops again and again searching for the Smithsonian exit staring in wonderment and clogging the escalators. There are chefs and Hill staffers, security guards, baby mamas with hair styles like art braids twisted into an array of sculpture. 

I exit up out of the tunnel into the bright day and am pushed forward by the energy of the pulse of the city. People in cars and honking taxis, buses offloading commuters from other states, cyclists speeding by and homeless people waking up a with a stretch that reminds me to let go of my pre-coffee grumpiness. I pause in admiration at the girls who can bike among traffic in skirts and heels, a talent I have not yet mastered.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Tonight I dined on beet green risotto with bacon

Tonight I dined on beet green risotto with bacon, not a traditional risotto that I am aware, but an honorable way to use the last of spring’s produce as the lettuce bolts from the rising temperatures. A day that begins with news of a women shouting that the metro train of morning commuters is going to blow-up, the transit system I take to and from work; a day filled with answering the same questions on how to fill out government forms, and disgruntled emails and phone calls; a day with the news that private funds which could have saved the program that employs me, saves our shared history and unique character of American towns, creates jobs and local pride was turned down..or at least that’s the rumor.  A day in which, I mistakenly picked up a paper for the ride home with incoherent articles slamming environmental protection for killing jobs.  And while I was greeted by the greatest cat in the world I was also greeted with continued atrocities in Sudan, cholera outbreaks, mudslides, wildfires, our own local political corruption on the evening news. 

This day needs crispy bacon, and rice cooked so slowly that it submits to the creaminess that is its destiny, coaxed out with a touch of vermouth and butter, enriched with freshly grated cheese and home grown beets, sprinkled with just a touch of basil plucked in the twilight just for the sole purpose of ending this day.
It may not solve the world’s problems but it does make facing tomorrow easier.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Reasons Why I love DC

Reason 1.

Because my walk home after yoga loks like this:

And I can pour my soul into the heady essence of roses and peonies while the wind whispers its secrets to the trees.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011


On a recent Saturday morning, I was lying in bed thinking about French toast, thinking that the only bread I likely had was a few slices of multi-grain packaged bread. This type of bread is fine for the occasional piece of toast or a quick, cheap lunch of peanut butter and jelly but it wasn’t really living up to my morning dream of rich, satisfying French toast.  I don’t eat a lot of bread as it’s been stigmatized as a bad carb. I’ll never give up pasta and still favor white rice over brown, especially aromatic grains like jasmine or basmati, but I can pass on bread. I was raised eating white bread before it was deemed the “most evil” of all. I still think it makes the best pimento cheese sandwiches.

French toast cooking

French toast with marmalade

I suddenly remembered the three loaves of bread I just brought home from a bread making demonstration: gorgeous artisanal ciabatta, a baguette, and an asiago boule. The class held in the Pyramid Atlantic art space in Silver Spring was excellent. The class was scheduled for 6:30; it was a quick walk from the metro so I could still get there after leaving work downtown at six. Seated right in the gallery with eye-catching art hanging all around the creative energy was palatable. We faced tables piled high with different types of bread.

Our instructor Rod Teel of Crest Hill Bakery, lead us through a thorough yet fast-paced lesson in the proper technique of making good artisanal bread. He comforted us all with reassurances that learning to make really good bread is a slow process that requires practice, so if you don’t get it right the first time, just keep trying.  The ultimate in Slow Food, he starts at least the day before so that the poolish has adequate time to rest. 
Baker Teel
Poolish is made from equal parts flour, water, and a little yeast. The recipe from the class calls for 8 oz of water, 8 oz of flour, and 1/8 teaspoon instant yeast. As with all baking it is better to weigh the dry ingredients than measure them. Cover and rest for 12 to 24 hours.

I discovered my own bread making struggles come from two sources.  One is insisting on trying to use temperamental traditional yeast when invariably my water is a degree too hot or too cold for the yeast to bloom. Two is what I think most people struggle with, and that is a tendency to over work the dough. We have these images of a short, barrel shaped granny in a flowered apron working out her domestic aggression in kneading the dough. This could not be more wrong.  You must be gentle with the dough, fold it like tucking in a baby for a nap.
If you are waiting on dough, it is important to have lots of snacks.

When you are ready to make the dough, loose the polish from the bowl by pouring water around the edge of the bowl, about 1 cup. Add a pound of flour, 2 ¼ teaspoon kosher salt, and 1 teaspoon instant yeast.
Cover and let it ferment for 45 minutes.

Turn the dough by folding it into thirds, rotate 90° and fold into thirds again. This is when it is helpful to see a professional baker in action. Preheat the oven to 475° with a baking stone inside. He recommends including a cast iron skillet filled with lava rocks on a lower rack. This gives you a mechanism to create the stem needed to form a perfect crust encasing soft airy pleasure on the inside.

Cover and let ferment for 45 minutes again. If the dough was mixed by hand, “turn” the dough again and let it rest for another 45 minutes. Divide the dough into the shapes you desire. Bench resting in between each action.

Slide bread directly onto oven stone. Pour a cup of boiling water into the skillet with utmost CARE!! Steam burns occur quickly and are very nasty. Use oven mitts and hold your face back. Adjust oven temperature to 425°F. Close the oven door and don’t open it for at least 10 minutes.

Bread is done when the desired color is achieved, and internal temperature is 205°F.

So now through the generosity of Baker Teel, I am enjoying proper French toast for breakfast and I will pack sandwiches of jamon, the first freshly picked lettuces from the back, and a thin spread of grain mustard and tomato mayo to take to the azalea gardens. I will not begrudge one bite of these wonderful carbs just as I will always appreciate a good pimento cheese sandwich on white bread.

Jamon sandwiches in the making
Homegrown lettuces

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

A bit of advice

If you decide to make strawberry orange muffins because you have had a bad day, it is a good idea to wait until you finish roasting garlic and eggplant. The aromas just don't mix well and the garlic will possibly seep into your muffins. If I am going to have a bad day I like to go full on....
Scratch that the muffins are just fine and the melted buttery flavor of strawberries baked inside a golden crust muffin does help ease the stress of jury duty.