March 24, 2011

To Bloom Again

Before I met My Baby, I had never known anyone who could bring an orchid to blossom a second or third time after the initial bloom.
My Grandma was great with African violets, and always had lush pots of the frilly pink and purple blooms on her windowsill. But that’s not quite the same as an orchid.
My Baby just has a way. His secrets seem to be along the lines of doing not much more than enjoying the presence of the plants. He doesn’t incessantly pick and pinch away at dead or droopy leaves, or force-feed and water them. He just delights in them. For him, it seems to be more about letting the blooms emerge, rather than making them emerge.
It’s pretty hard to resist a man who has a window ledge designated to the sick, the frail and the straggly, giving those plants that I’d be tempted to toss one last chance in the best sun the house has to offer.  

Just try to resist a man who will gather up all the discounted stragglers at the florist and bring them home. They bloom again and again. Who wouldn’t? And if they don’t? He appreciates their grand effort even if it doesn’t amount to anything showy. 
It was three years ago last week that I met this treasure of a man and entered into the presence of his healing and nurturing environment.

And I bloom. Again.
Vanilla beans come from orchids, and have quite the romantic story as well. In the orchid family the vanilla orchid genus produces about 110 species. The pretty white, green or greenish-yellow vanilla flowers open only once. The fully formed bloom opens in the morning, and closes at mid-afternoon never to open again. If pollination hasn't occurred in that short window of time, the flower will soon wither and fall away. Most commercially produced vanilla, therefore, is hand pollinated.
What we call the bean is actually a fruit which takes 8 or 9 months to fully ripen, nearly as long as it takes a human baby to develop. All this time and effort makes me know that the dollar or so I spend on one fragrant and flavorful bean (fruit) is quite a bargain.

Dorie Greenspan writes a lovely piece on the coveted vanilla bean that you'll enjoy reading here. I've found several online sources for vanilla beans that are quite reasonably priced and by virtue of their affordability encourage their use, rather than hoarding the costly lone bean in purchased in a vial from the spice section at the local market until it is a dried out, lifeless stick. My old favorite source is apparently no longer in business, so until I find a source to whose reliability I can attest, I encourage you to do an internet search and give one or two a try. 

March 17, 2011

Just Breathe

Chana Masala and Indian-Style Mustard Greens

“Is there anything specific anyone would like to work on today? Mary? Stacey? Pam?”, my yoga teacher inquired at the beginning of a recent practice.

Up went my hand and out popped the words, “Yes, my shoulders.” I’d noticed my shoulders riding higher than usual, and a sort-of-but-not-quite pain radiating from the center of my back and shoulder blades through my neck and up to nearly my crown for several days.

As soon as the words left my lips, I became aware that it really wasn’t my shoulders that needed the work (though they did get it… I’d asked for it,) but that I simply needed to breathe. I had allowed the high-stress time I had been experiencing for several weeks at work to make me tense. I’d been so focused on the tasks at hand, I’d forgotten the most simple of self-care basics… to simply breathe fully and properly. Diaphramatically. Yogically. 
Me, Susan and David, In Side Angle Pose
The pressure at work hasn’t completely gone away, and I don’t anticipate that it will; we’re busier than ever with no end in sight. But I now have a greater awareness that to just take a moment for myself to breathe, on and off the mat. To remember the simple when everything seems so complex can make a big difference.

This meal is a shout out to my dear friend Alli Aruna, who happened to be my first yoga instructor before she became my dearly beloved friend. 

Flexy-Bendy Pays Off 
(I was moving and Alli needed a ride)
Yogis and yoginis tend to be people who are thoughtful about their food, and Alli Aruna certainly is. She is constantly learning and adapting her diet to her needs and knowledge. While she is currently a thoughtful omnivore, there have been times when she's a devout vegetarian. We've spilled our souls over a few really nice Indian meals together, and I thought of her when I made this vegetarian meal at home. Since India is the home of yoga, and my dear Alli made her pilgrimage there returning to us as Aruna, I would love to make this for her!
Fresh, Crisp Mustard Greens
The recipes for Chickpeas in Spicy Tomato Gravy (I personally resist the term "gravy" and would prefer to call this by the name I order it at the restaurant, Chana Masala) and Indian-Style Mustard Greens by chef Sanjeev Kapoor are once again from the March 2011 issue of Food and Wine magazine. I've been cooking from Food and Wine a lot lately, and am so pleased with their week-night friendly, delicious and interesting suggestions. 
Chopped Jalepeno, Ginger and Garlic
The only thing I did differently was to toast and grind my own cumin and coriander for the chickpeas instead of using the ground spices as suggested. It's an easy thing to do for such a big, authentic flavor payoff.

My Baby chose Hillcrest Vineyard's 2008 Riesling "Bone Dry" from Oregon's Umpqua Valley, which served this meal delightfully well. Made from Oregon's very first vineyard planting of Reisling, winemaker Dyson Demara makes this in the dry German style. 

I know, I know. It's tradition to pair Indian food with Gewurztraminer and Gewurztraminer alone. There is a terrific article in the San Francisco Chronicle about wine and Indian food pairing. It's quite complex (with a nod that perhaps beer is the easiest way to go), but a fascinating article that could send me on a month-long Indian food experiment just to internalize the nuances. All that to say, the Hillcrest Reisling was a pretty big hit.
Om, shanti, shanti, shanti.

March 7, 2011

Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow

Simplest Chicken and Leek Stew

If it's true, as the fashion designer Givenchy once said, that hair style is the final tip-off as to whether a woman really knows herself, them I'm one mixed up lady. Though, if my confused and confusing hair style is due to the work of a stylist, am I to be held responsible for my lack of self-awareness?

Ever since my pigtails got chopped off when was five years old, I've had short hair. I was a gangly girl with a honey blond pixie back in the mid 1960s, and in the 1970's eschewed the flowing hippie tresses of the day for hair more like the Bee Gees brother Barry in the Jive Talking disco heyday. Ever since then, I've opted for hair that could be described as sharp, professional, stylish. Long and silky? Never.

A year ago, when My Baby and I decided to have an autumn wedding, I got the wild notion that I'd wear my hair in a romantic French twist for the occasion. Awkward grow-out be damned; I achieved my goal.

In the months that have followed, I've continue to let my hair grow. It was a completely new me I was coming to know, the me who enjoys feeling pretty rather than precise. Throwing it back into twists or tossled updos was fun for my farm life days, a few curls put into it worked well for my city life days. And it did feel like me.

And I felt like this...

Until Saturday. All I wanted was a little shaping and the ends refreshed for spring. I walked out with short layers everywhere on what had become my shoulder-length 'do. It'll be months before it's back to where it was. Uuuugh.

Hair being the crowning glory of a woman and all, I was pretty bummed. But you know, now that I'm a little more mature, a bad haircut really can be overcome with a great meal and bottle of great wine.

This recipe comes from Food and Wine magazine, which is a terrific source for delicious, interesting meals, many of which are quick and easy. Jamie Oliver's Simplest Chicken and Leek Stew is a good example. This quick stew has a slightly creamy, mustardy, thyme-scented sauce that drapes lightly over meaty mushrooms, lilting leeks and chunks of white chicken.

Food and Wine recommended pairing the Chicken-Leek Stew with a big, buttery California Chardonnay. We carried it in that direction, but instead used a barrel-aged Pinot Gris from one of our favorite local Oregon wineries.

Sarver Winery makes so many delightful wines, but I've grown really attached to their Pinot Gris line-up, especially their 2009 Estate Grown Barrel-aged Pinot Gris. The acidic, fruity Pinot Gris grape, when made in the Chardonnay style (aged in oak), adds up to a lovely balance of texture and flavor, and was just a joy with this dish.

With my chin up, my hair in a state of flux, my belly full and my heart warmed, I leave you with this final quote:

Life is an endless struggle full of frustrations and challenges, but eventually you find a hair stylist you like. ~ Author Unknown

March 4, 2011

Dear Mr. Jobs: A Foodie Wants More From the iPad

Dear Mr. Jobs,
It was good to see you at this week's unveiling of the newest iPad2. Those little devices are amazing, and I can see it fitting in nicely with my life. If only your iPad could make and receive phone calls via a bluetooth-ish device, you and I could have a deal.

I know this may sound like a step backward in terms of size, but have you seen my handbag? I schlep. That is what I do.

I understand that an iPad/telephone may not fit into the back pants pocket of my male counterparts. The men in my sphere don't seem to carry a handbag, or have not caught on to the hip manbag, like Terrance Howard,
Mathew McConaughey,

or Seal,

but all of my female friends do. Your iPad is only about a pound heavier than your iPhone. Trust me: We women can handle it. We frequently carry our phones, our computers, and our handbags. Make life easier for me, Mr. Jobs, and I'm in.

Your iPad would, among other things, hold apps for my grocery list for the week,

...and the recipes I plan to cook.

How cool is that? I like the idea of taking a backlit iPad into the kitchen and cooking from it. The screen on my iPhone just isn't big enough from my aging eyes to tell teaspoons from tablespoons in the kitchen. Your iPad, on the other hand, is the perfect size.

Your iPad would eliminate my need for a book reader from one of your competitors for cookbooks. Quite frankly, I've been reserving judgement on this reader idea, but a I see my cookbook shelves filling up, it seems it make more and more sense. By having your Apple reader, you also loop me in to being a forever iTunes customer. That sounds good for us both, doesn't it, Mr. Jobs?
You have all kinds of slick covers, but I'm particularly fond of this bamboo one, which somehow de-technifies and softens such a high-tech gadget. I see this working aesthetically and technologically.

In summary, Mr. Jobs, when your iPad3 can also serve as my telephone, I'll be a devoted customer. If, kind sir, you could make this happen before next Christmas, I can almost guarantee a big uptick in your sales, myself included.

Thank you for listening.

My best,
Pam @ Sticks Forks Fingers

March 2, 2011

Laissez Les Bon Temps Roulez: Bananas Foster

A Flaming Bananas Foster in New Orleans

Letting the good times roll is a way of life in New Orleans, even if you're attending a serious work conference. My Baby and I recently had the delightful experience of mixing work and pleasure when my organization sent me off to toil in The Big Easy.

Ready to Start Cooking

We happened to be there at the beginning of the Mardi Gras season, missing the first parade by a half-day. Purple, green and gold were flying all around, with Mardi Gras decorations and King Cakes everywhere. As always, the streets were alive and vibrant with revelers and street performers throughout the French Quarter.

Just Beginning to Caramelize

Other than a Hurricane Katrina museum exhibition, which My Baby visited while I was conferencing, there were no visible signs of the disaster. I'd been there before in 2000, and it is so very much the same spirited city now as it was then.

Bubbling, and Beginning to Flambé

It was my first trip to New Orleans when I fell in love with Bananas Foster, and was lucky enough to have a waiter there teach me how to recreate it at home. It has become a complete hit stand-by dessert, as welcome for party guests as it is for a solo late night jammie-clad indulgence. A once-every-couple-of-years purchase of banana liqueur and dark rum round out ingredients that are usually around the house, making this easy to make on a moments notice.

Sarah, Our Server at Brennan's, at the Foster Station

The big whoosh of flame can entertain a crowd for several moments, but I can attest that it is just as dramatic and endearing when done just for yourself. Which brings up a good point... Bananas Foster can just as easily be tailored to serve one person as eight. Don't let the flambé aspect intimidate you. It is as easy as lighting a match.

Bananas Foster Always Turns Heads

Bananas foster was first created in 1951 at the acclaimed Brennan's Restaurant in the French Quarter, to which a New Orleans visit just isn't complete without. Rather than write out the recipe, here's a link to Brennan's original Bananas Foster recipe, which they are kind enough to publish. My only note to add is that it is the rum vapors that ignite so beautifully, not the rum itself. Pour it on, wait just a minute for the vapors to develop, then light the whole mess up. Be prepared for applause, and don't miss the opportunity to take a bow.

Bananas Foster doesn't Look Like Much; Don't Let Looks Deceive

Here are some other charms the city held for us:

Pimm's Cup and Napoleon House

Full Moon Over the Mississippi with Riverboat, Our Dinner View

So Far Away From Home, Yet So Close:
One of Our Favorite Local Pinot Noir's on a Menu!!!

Street Performers Everywhere

This Man Stood Absolutely Still, In This Position, for Over an Hour

So Much Talent in So Few Blocks

Taking a Break From the Group to Learn Something New

Me Sporting a New Hat, Thanks to My Baby!

Quick Linker