Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Guess I'll Go Eat Worms

Admittedly, with all the festivity going on lately, my last few posts have been rather boozy. We’ve celebrated the Super Bowl, Valentine’s Day, Chinese New Year, Winter Olympics, local PGA Golf and Mavericks Surfing tournaments and Fat Tuesday. Oi vey! Today is Ash Wednesday, time to bring it back down to earth and remember where we all come from.

Feeling the need for balance, I acquired a worm bin. Every experienced gardener knows that the lowly worm is a key player in the ecosystem drama of the garden. Good food starts with good ingredients and good ingredients start with good soil. Worms and their castings (another word for poop) not only dramatically increase the fertility of soil, but ward off pests and keep diseases at a minimum. Regular feedings with worm castings and worm casting tea (yum) will cut down on the need for expensive amendments, fertilizers, insecticides and fungicides. The cultivation of worms is called Vermiculture, and a worm bin is a little worm farm contained in a system of trays providing a composting system that converts ordinary kitchen waste and paper into nutrient rich black gold. It reduces the amount of garbage otherwise destined for landfills and is 100% organic.

Once I got my worm bin, I needed to get the worms. After some research, and determined to keep it local, I placed a “Worms Wanted” ad on Craig’s List. Later on in the day, while Googling my way into live stream programming to watch my surfer heroes compete, a worm wriggled its way into my computer. Suddenly my screen froze up with warnings that a worm had invaded my system. Yikes, a virtual can of worms, not exactly what I had in mind!

My sweetie spent a good part of Valentine’s Day morning eradicating the virus that had wormed its way into my computer. It was oddly romantic in a chivalrous sort of way, my protector out there on the front lines of cyberspace securing me from invaders.

In the end I dug up a bag of juicy red compost worms from a fellow gardener, and am well on my way to bigger and better veggies. Lesson learned: Be careful what you ask for.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Flaming Chocolate

Valentine’s Day approaches and chocolate is in the air. Cupid’s been hovering, torching up the bow, readying to fire out some sizzling arrows of hot burning cocoa love.

This year my sweetie and I are having Valentine’s Day Dinner with our Santa Cruz Mountains Gourmet Dinner Club. Once a month we have Sunday dinner with 4 other club members who are often complete strangers, in the homes of people who are often complete strangers. Sitting down together and sharing good food and wine breaks down a lot of social barriers, one step closer to world peace. Oops, I digress…so when I learned it was our turn to bring dessert to Dinner Club my taste buds bee lined for chocolate.

I am not a chocoholic by any means. My sweet tooth runs on moderation. But when it comes to celebrating romance I’m a complete sucker and chocolate takes the cake. Trolling through my chocolate repertoire, a flaming chocolate mousse recipe rises to the top of the list. Fortunately for all you loyal readers out there, it comes with a story.

A family food tradition was conceived when my second son, Reflection, turned 5. His dad had just returned from a successful hunting trip near Mount Rainier. We ate pretty close to the bone and snagging an elk meant winter meat for our family. In a grand gesture, dad presented the filet mignon to his son for birthday dinner. To complement the occasion I quipped, “If you make elk, I’ll make mousse.” So we whipped up some cream and instead of lighting candles flambĂ©ed a shot of 151 rum and sang Happy Birthday. (It was only for effect, the alcohol burns off.)

From that year on, Reflection never had a birthday cake but a flaming chocolate mousse in its place. As he got older he and his teenage buddies surmised how to blow the flame out asap for maximum alcohol content, but the tradition endured. Years later, in lieu of a cake at his wedding, Reflection and his beautiful bride torched off a flaming chocolate mousse to serve their guests.

Here’s an adaptation of the original recipe, with a little rum added for adults only, to spice up the romance. It’s smooth, rich and quickly confected. Let the sparks fly. If pyrotechnics isn’t your thing, chill it in sherbet glasses and ignite your inner fire.

P.S. Be careful.

¼ cup sugar
2-4 tablespoons rum
¼ lb. semisweet or sweet chocolate
2-3 tablespoons whipping cream
2 cups whipped cream
2 stiffly beaten egg whites

In a small saucepan combine the rum and sugar. Cook over very low heat until dissolved but not brown in color. Set aside. Melt the chocolate in a double boiler. When the chocolate is melted, stir in 2-3 tablespoons whipping cream. Add the sugar syrup to the melted chocolate and stir until smooth. When it cools, fold in the beaten egg whites, and then gently fold this into the whipped cream. Chill in a pie pan for at least 2 hours. To serve, pour a shot of 151 rum over the top, and let the sparks fly.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

What To Do When Life Gives You Lemons and Chanterelles

Make mushroom lemonade?

There are days when food just shows up in your pantry. It comes from abundance somewhere.

Food for thought: Food the great metaphor for life. Things come out of nowhere, like random things that can hit you during the day. Things that make you want to keep on pushing to the positive side. Thoughts like why is self worth so tied up with making money or how to stay focused enough to let go of thoughts.
Keep on pushin'.

So I think I’ll squeeze and zest a few lemons and keep perfecting my fruit sorbets, and for the mushrooms? Sautee them in butter, garlic and wine. Keep it simple. Works for me.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Holy Guacamole

Food fantasies often occur to me in the most unlikely moments, like yesterday in yoga class. I was in shoulder stand when my monkey mind started chattering about guacamole. At the moment I let it go, but it came back after class when I went grocery shopping. There was quite the buzz going on in the produce section around the avocados. They have been getting a lot of attention lately because they have become standard fare for that Hallowed American Holiday,Super Bowl Sunday.

Now football isn’t exactly my thing and I don’t pay much attention except at the pinnacle of the season. Then it’s not so much about the game, it’s about the people at the party, the commercials and the FOOD! (Well watching those tight ends in spandex is rather entertaining.)

Somehow, guacamole, mashed avocado dip, has made its way to the forefront of snackage on the day of the big game. How ironic this typico Mexican dish sets the bar for the rest of the menu. Its lineage can be traced all the way back to the Aztecs, who regarded it as an aphrodisiac. There’s a multitude of recipes out there mixing it up with chopped onions, tomatoes, chilies, cilantro, lime and an assortment of other options.

So there I was, hanging out upside down, with sweating bodies all around me, when the idea of throwing a little TEQUILA! into my guacamole mix got the ball rolling. Why not combine this duo of south of the border flavors into one easy dip? So I’m going to give it a shot (or two) today and suggest you do the same. Enjoy your day everyone.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Arugula! Arugula!

Back in the mid eighties, when my family of organic farmers began schlepping our goods to Seattle’s Pike Place Market, we were somewhat of a novelty. There were only two vendors carrying the new varieties of greens that were being introduced to the American palate. The organic movement had sprouted but the general public was not paying much attention. We painstakingly displayed and labeled our wares. One of the mustard greens had me stumped. It took me weeks to remember how to pronounce “arugula” much less spell it. In those days we called it “rocket”
The peppery taste of this rocket stuff intrigued me. I couldn’t get enough of it. It became my snacking indulgence grazing in the garden. I even munched the flowers. Then I became pregnant with my third son and lost my taste for it, just looking at it made me woozy.
Fortunately my enthusiasm returned and I eventually learned how to spell it. Today arugula is the signature of an upscale cook. Foodies put it on their burgers. You see it all over menus and in good grocery stores. The French call in roquette and the Italians call it rochetta. These midwinter days I call it my ace in the hole.
Last October I was contacted by a chef looking for a local grower. She is the culinary artist in residence at a nearby arts center. Her duties include making dinner 5 nights a week for her fellow artists. Her vision is to nourish with fresh local food. We met, and though it was late in the season, set of a system for weekly delivery.
As the weeks went on and winter set in I found the arugula patch to be my most consistent provider. Chef raved about it and wanted as much as I could pick. Her “fellows” had converted to the zesty taste. As winter progressed, the pickins got slimmer, but the plants kept putting out new growth and volunteer seedlings started popping up all over. Aha! Methinks we have a keeper here, a popular year round green, high in protein and vitamins, resilient to pests and easy to grow.
Now my arugula production is expanding, not only for chef but for other patrons as well. Small CSA’s (Community Supported Agriculture) are emerging everywhere to meet the demands of locavores. At any given time I have a succession of crops: seedlings sprouting indoors and out, transplants yielding small harvestable leaves, mature plants yielding bigger leaves, and others starting to bolt and flower. Left alone, the flowers will form a seed pod, dry out and drop seeds, which in turn will sprout anew. The gardener facilitates this process by collecting and drying the pods, then planting the seeds. The tattered leaves left on the older plants still carry some intense flavor. Voila! Make arugula pesto! What remains is pulled and layered into the compost pile.
Ah, the circle of life, a perfect model for sustainability.

Remember friends, these are just guidelines. Let your inner cook be your guide and the dressing will pull it all together. A winter arugula salad is a balance of taste and texture. Citrus is my pick for fruit because it is seasonal and pairs so well with the spice of arugula. Apples and pears work too. Cheese should be something with a little bite, like feta or pecorino. For nuts I prefer toasted sunflower seeds because my sweetie has teeth issues. Try almonds or even dry roasted Edamame. Play!

4 cups arugula, washed and chopped
1 cup fruit, sliced
¼ cup cheese, crumbled
¼ cup nuts

2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
3 tbsp. red wine vinegar
1 tsp. honey
¼ cup good olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Combine lemon juice, vinegar and honey in small bowl. Whisk until the honey dissolves. Add the olive oil, salt and pepper and mix vigorously. Taste the dressing. Add more vinegar if it’s too sweet, more honey if it’s too sour. Place in the refrigerator to let the flavors mix. Dress salad right before serving.