Friday, June 25, 2010

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Summer. And strawberries.

Oh, alright. After someone (Murdo) left a comment demanding I "stop resting on [my] Mexico trip laurels," I figured it's about time I stop dreaming about my past in paradise and get right back to the present. Because have you heard the good news? It's summer around these parts, and I mean officially. The solstice has come and gone, the grills have been fired up, and the thunder storms are in full force. (I'm still recovering from my crazy drive home through this evening's storm, which left light posts and split trees strewn about the streets, and ended with a rainbow and a yellow sky and a cool breeze, just like that.)



My parents' garden is one of my favorite parts of summer, because every time I visit them, there is a new surprise around every corner, sprouting straight from the earth. I can't wait for the vegetables to arrive -- tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, bell peppers, long beans -- to hopefully jolt me out of this cooking rut I've been stuck in and back in the game. But first, of course, there are strawberries.


Strawberries! They're like jewels, growing right in their backyard, ready for the pickin' and the eatin'. Oh summer. I love you.

We ate them in the form of a tart, after Jenny realized she didn't buy enough strawberries at the store, and then we remembered that oh hey, we can just walk right outside and grab a few from the garden. My dream is to one day live out this exact scenario again, except with lemons. One day, with lemons. Maybe.

I should note that upon tasting the tart's filling with the glaze, my sister Jenny actually squealed and did a jumping dance for about three seconds. It's good stuff, all of it -- the squealing, the strawberries, the tart, the garden, summer. I'm glad Murdo gave me that big poke in the ribs I needed to sit down at the computer and share it with you. Sometimes, that's really all you need. That, and strawberries.

Strawberry-Almond Cream Tart (from Cooking Light)
Jenny made this tart for Father's Day with a few adjustments: She used 8 oz of cream cheese instead of 5, slightly reduced the sugar, and halved the glaze. It was yummy.

36 honey graham crackers (9 sheets)
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons butter, melted
4 teaspoons water
Cooking spray

2/3 cup (about 5 ounces) 1/3-less-fat cream cheese
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract

6 cups small fresh strawberries, hulled and divided
2/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons sliced almonds, toasted

Preheat oven to 350°.

To prepare crust, place crackers in a food processor; process until crumbly. Add 2 tablespoons sugar, butter, and 4 teaspoons water; pulse just until moist. Place cracker mixture in a 9-inch round removable-bottom tart pan lightly coated with cooking spray, pressing into bottom and up sides of pan to 3/4 inch. Bake at 350° for 10 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool completely on a wire rack.

To prepare filling, combine cream cheese, 1/4 cup sugar, and extracts in a medium bowl; stir until smooth. Spread cream cheese mixture evenly over bottom of tart shell.

To prepare topping, place 2 cups strawberries in food processor, and process until smooth. Combine strawberry puree, 2/3 cup sugar, and cornstarch in a small saucepan over medium heat; stir with a whisk. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Reduce heat to low; cook 1 minute. Remove glaze from heat. Cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally.

Combine the remaining 4 cups strawberries and juice; toss to coat. Arrange berries, bottoms up, in a circular pattern over filling. Spoon half of glaze evenly over berries (reserve remaining glaze for another use). Sprinkle nuts around edge. Cover and chill 3 hours.

Makes 10 servings.
Calories per serving: 235

Monday, June 7, 2010

Italian and Indonesian in Mexico.

About that vacation in Mexico...Let's just dive right into the food, shall we?


So you might have already guessed that I took a lot of pictures on the trip. But even with all that beautiful beach and blue sky and palm trees and smiling faces and iguanas, I found myself enjoying snapping shots at the dinner table the most. After a long day of sun and water and drinks, we'd get all cleaned up and refreshed and find each other at one of the many restaurants at the resort. It was like a dinner party every night with the people you love the most, in a beautiful setting with all the food you could ask for. People, this was my kind of vacation.

You know, as opposed to the kind of vacation with lots of sight seeing and cultural activities and exploring, which I also love, don't get me wrong. But this was more of a relaxing trip, when everything is taken care of and there are no prices on the menus and the only decision you have to make is whether to eat Mexican food or sushi? Steak or seafood? Indonesian or Italian? Yes, this resort had all of these restaurants and more, and I ate at all of them. And more.

Pictured above: Italian. There was Caprese salad, antipasti, risotto, beef carpaccio, and seafood pasta. Pictured below: Indonesian, with lumpia, samosas, pad thai, and sweet and sour duck.

One night, when we couldn't make a decision, we ate one dinner early and a second dinner later. We even got overly ambitious and planned on ordering late-night room service before bed, but we ended up passing out in a food coma. Such is life when on vacation in Mexico.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Welcome to Mexico.

Whew. I hope you're ready for a whole lot of Mexico, because that's where I've been for the past eight days and seven nights, and we've got a ton of catching up to do. Are you ready?


Eight days and seven nights. It's funny how vacations work, especially long ones, which I haven't been on in quite a while. Three day weekends are just enough for a good rest and refuel, but a whole week? That's settling into a whole new way of life, and when that new way of life is in Mexico, it's pretty hard to go back to the old way. I'm still adjusting. This morning I realized that there is no breakfast buffet in my kitchen, and my shoulders slumped just a bit. Tonight, I buried my face in the sarong I had been wearing all week, and I smelled beach and pool and salt water and sun in a single deep breath, and I exhaled a sigh of longing. I miss Mexico.

And yesterday, at the airport, I thought of all the cooking I would have to do when I got home, and the meal planning and the grocery shopping and the recipe searching, and I won't lie to you: I scrunched my face a little and declared I was not looking forward to it. Not when I had been fed like this all week long.

I suppose I should tell you where we were, and why. My entire family was at the Valentin Imperial Maya All-Inclusive Resort just outside of Playa del Carmen in Mexico. We watched my sister get married on the beach to the man she has loved for the last 10 years, and we celebrated all week long.

So I hope you don't mind, but the next several posts (and perhaps the next several after) will be dedicated to Mexico. There will be food, faces, and ocean. Meanwhile, I'll be transitioning back to reality, and eventually I'll remember that being served and pampered in a different country is all fine and good, but I really do belong here, creating and living.

You can see my Mexico photo collection, in progress, at Flickr.