Saturday, December 31, 2011

Here's to the new.

happy new year!

We're in Florida right now
enjoying family
food
roller coasters
sunshine
Bloody Marys
and a new year.
Happy 2012!
to you and yours.
Looking forward
to what comes next.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Arroz caldo, and Merry Christmas!

I'm not usually one to make lists until my tasks start to get too overwhelming. There are grocery lists, of course, and there was the beast of a wedding checklist, but everyday chores, errands or goals never really make it to paper.

Lately, though, there have been weekend lists. It started when I kept bookmarking and printing out recipes to try, only to leave them untouched on the kitchen counter all weekend while I did other things (i.e., nothing). I put the recipes on the list. Then I had to make sure I got my oil changed and did the laundry. Then it was two weeks before Christmas, and there were gifts to make and to order. Now, Christmas weekend is here, and the remaining tasks on my list include: wrap presents, make more Heath bar cookies, buy tickets to Universal Studios (I'll be in Florida next week!), pack for said Florida trip, and make chocolate bourbon milkshakes. That last one has been making its way to the bottom of the list for weeks now. Don't worry, it'll happen. Just not today.

Here's something I did check off my list: arroz caldo.

chicken arroz caldo

I wanted to make sure I made this and shared it with you before Christmas, because it's a Filipino Christmas food. At least, it's what my parents said they'd eat on Christmas Eve in the Philippines. And when I told my mom I made it, she said, "Oh that's comfort food." Yes, it so is.

Arroz caldo doesn't look like much. In fact, I've written about it here before and compared it to gruel -- it's a thick, sludgy rice and chicken dish (literally  means "rice broth," and is the Filipino version of congee, or porridge) with no real color besides a sprinkle of green onions and fried garlic flakes. The rice is simmered in chicken broth with ginger, garlic and patis (fish sauce), until the rice thickens yet becomes silky, and soaked with flavor.

It's the type of warming food that you eat out of a big bowl or mug when you're waist-deep in holiday to-dos, and you just need to pause and slow down and be happy that it's the holidays and you made one of your favorite dishes and it tastes (almost!) as good as Mom and Dad's.

Merry Christmas, guys!

chicken arroz caldo


Chicken Arroz Caldo (adapted from Jun-blog and my mom's method)
My mom makes arroz caldo with bone-in chicken parts and water. I was too lazy to deal with chicken bones, so I used boneless chicken thighs and broth, instead -- per Jun's recipe. This stuff thickens a lot over time, so just add a bit of water before reheating. 

1 tablespoon canola oil
3 - 5 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
1 1-inch piece of ginger, peeled and finely chopped, about 1/2 tablespoon
1 small onion, chopped, about 1/3 cup
1 - 1.5 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs, sliced
1 cup short-grain rice
4 cups chicken broth
2 tablespoons fish sauce
green onions, thinly sliced for garnish
fried garlic flakes, recipe below

Heat canola oil in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the ginger, onion, and garlic and cook until the onion is translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the chicken and cook for about 5 minutes. Add the fish sauce and let simmer for a few minutes, then add rice and simmer a few minutes more, stirring often. Add the chicken broth and bring to a boil. Lower heat and let simmer, stirring frequently until the chicken and rice are cooked through, about 25 to 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the fried garlic flakes: Smash and mince 3 large garlic cloves. Heat a few tablespoons of canola oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and fry until a deep golden brown. Transfer the flakes to a paper towel and set aside.

Serve arroz caldo with fried garlic flakes and green onions sprinkled on top. Makes 6 servings.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Heath bar cookies, and holidays past.

heath bar cookies

About this time last year, I made my first batch of cookies. A year ago! They were chocolate chip, and there was snow on the ground, and I made them in my parents' kitchen while they were out of town and Murdo and I were catsitting, and I think we stopped at Leno's before that to pick up some delicious sub sandwiches.

That same day, or maybe the day before, I had met Shanna and my sister at Honey Cafe for lunch, and Jenny brought us sugar cookies, and they wished me luck when I told them I was setting off on my maiden cookie bake.

chopped heath

The week before that, I wrote about this soup, which I've been making at least once a month, every month, since then. Looking back at that post, I can't believe how white it was outside. The only snow we've gotten around these parts lately has been a light dusting, some flurries, frosty car windows in the morning. It's not looking like we'll have a white Christmas this year, and as much as I complain about the snow when it does arrive, it's always a little disappointing looking out the window on Christmas morning to drab gray instead of bright white.

Two years ago, there were these eggs, and thoughts of giving up on my blog altogether. I'm so glad I didn't. Every year, the holidays come and go, and we often look back and remember the presents we got, and where Christmas dinner was held, and the flight delays and the hustle and bustle and the stressed-out shopping sessions. Looking back through past blog posts, and I'm reminded of those little in-between moments. The ones that might not stick out as defining that year's holiday season, but still helped make it what it was. The new recipes, the first batch of cookies, the mini-breakdowns and the comfort foods that saved the day. I'm happy they're still alive, here.

heath bar cookies

Today, there are these Heath bar cookies. Next year, when I'm looking back at this post, I can remember that I made these on the same weekend of my mom's birthday, when we went to Bob Chinn's and feasted on crab legs and steak, and my sister's belly was round and very much pregnant with the first boy of the family, and Murdo and I saw one of our favorite bands twice that week as Christmas gifts to each other.

Next year, my nephew will be here. The kittens will be cats. There will be soups and stews and slow cooker meals, and wrapping paper on the table, and candy canes and fires. I wonder if there will be snow on the ground.

heath bar cookies

Heath Bar Cookies (from Simply Recipes)
The original recipe, below, makes 6 dozen cookies. I saw that and thought, My goodness that is a lot of cookies. So I halved the recipe. Big mistake, guys. Make them all, and have no regrets.

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups chopped Heath Bar pieces, or 8 (1.4 oz) bars

Combine flour, salt and baking soda in one bowl, and set aside. Beat together the butter and the sugar. Beat in eggs, one at a time, and then the vanilla. Add the flour mixture, a third at a time, to the butter sugar mixture until well blended. Mix in the chopped Heath bars. Chill dough for 30 minutes to an hour. 

(I used a hand mixer to beat the butter, sugar, eggs and vanilla, then mixed the rest of the ingredients by hand with a spatula.)

Preheat oven to 350. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper and spoon the cookie dough onto the sheets, in small 1-inch diameter balls about 3 inches apart. Bake for 10 - 15 minutes, checking often during last 5 minutes, until cookies begin browning at the edges. (Original recipes says 10 - 12 minutes; I baked mine for 15.)

Remove from oven and let cool for a few minutes, then transfer to wire rack to cool completely. Makes 6 dozen cookies!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Thoughts, and cake.







Is it too late to share some photos of Thanksgiving? Because guys, I'm not too sure what happened to November. It may have been the whiskey.

I started to write this post about Christmastime, but three paragraphs in, I decided I didn't feel like writing anymore. Delete.

That cake pictured above is a walnut coffee cake, made by my sister on Thanksgiving. You know those little crumb cakes with the sticky, sugary, crumbly toppings? Hostess, I think, or maybe Little Debbie. One of those. Anyway, that's this cake. Except better. Make it and eat it. You'll be happy.

I made this tonight. Over the weekend, there was split pea soup and sweet potato fries. A pork roast and mashed potatoes. Apple pie, gingerbread martinis.

When I got home from the gym today, the kittens had knocked over our only plant in the house, and Murdo was vacuuming up the dirt. Then the vacuum broke. The kittens are asleep on their chair now, in a pile. We'll worry about the broken vacuum tomorrow.

It's time for bed. Goodnight!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Head cold, Hot Toddy, November.

Oh, November.

So far you've brought dark skies at 5 p.m., a sore throat, a stuffy head, a horrible cough, a lingering curry smell in the kitchen, and a waterlogged, three-month-old laptop that no longer types the way it should. I suppose that last part is my fault, after leaving a cup with an inch of water left out on the table, next to said laptop, where kittens could break the rules and knock the cup over, just like that.

This month, I am thankful for whiskey.

I know a few months back, as Pimm's Cup season started growing legs and taking off, I told you all that whiskey does bad things to good people. And it does, sometimes. But turns out, not me. And after trying a swallow of bacon-infused bourbon just a week or two ago, I decided I needed more of it (by "it," I mean bourbon, but more bacon is always good, too) in my life, and two bottles and half a container of honey later, I'm happily on board.

hot toddy

Mostly, I've been drinking whiskey in the form of hot toddys (see above re: sore throat, stuffy head, horrible cough), which is where the honey comes in. I discovered the hot toddy when I saw this post, and then this post,  and combined the two recipes to create the perfect companion to a sore throat on a windy weeknight. Thing is, the first time I made it, I didn't actually have a sore throat, but after the first gulp I said, "This almost makes me wish I had a sore throat!" I retracted the statement immediately, telling Murdo I swear I didn't mean it, but he just shook his head in that "Be careful what you wish for" kind of way. Go figure.

There are a number of different recipes out there for hot toddys, the traditional involving simply hot water, lemon, honey and whiskey, but I took a cue from Tracy at Shutterbean and use ginger tea, instead. Here is how I make mine:

Hot Toddy
1 ginger tea bag
1.5 ounces bourbon
1 big lemon wedge
8 ounces hot water
1 tablespoon honey

Place tea bag in a mug. Add bourbon and lemon juice, and pour in hot water to fill the cup. Add honey and stir to combine. Let steep for a few minutes, then curl up on the couch with a book and enjoy.

Thanks for the whiskey, November. And while I'm at it, thank you for kittens, and peanut butter and honey sandwiches, and Saturday mornings in my fuzzy robe and new slippers, and for reminding me that it's not all broken laptops and head colds.

omar


Friday, October 28, 2011

Film Friday, and some inspiration.

All photos taken with a Canon A-1 with Fuji Pro 400H film

+ I recently discovered Ashley's blog, Not Without Salt, and especially liked her Film Fridays series. Not only because I love film, and because she shoots most of her film with a Canon A-1 (which I got my hands on months ago but only just started using, only to find out that there's something wrong with the circuits that drains the battery after just a roll and half of film, so I guess that's it for that), but also because her photography is just so beautiful. Take a look for yourself.

+ When I commented on Ashley's blog to gush and to ask for any tips, she responded with a link to Jonathan Canlas' work, including his e-book. I read it, and realized I know nothing about film or photography, and fell even more in love with film.

+ The photos above are from a photo walk I took at the Morton Arboretum with Maddie last Saturday. Maddie just recently moved (back) to Chicago and is getting (back) into film. Her blog makes me appreciate the little things that make a house or a condo or an apartment a home. It was great to meet her, and to talk with her about cameras and light meters and home and jobs and the Midwest and zombie TV shows and soup. And film.

+ Two weekends ago, I attended Shanna's wedding. I remember meeting Shanna for lunches when she still lived in Chicago, when I was planning my own wedding, and telling her all the little details that were both stressing me out and exciting me at the same time. When she got engaged, I was so thrilled for her, because I knew all the good stuff she was in for. Her wedding day was beautiful, and I still can't believe she managed to plan it all from a different state, in a matter of months, during which she also moved into a new home and redesigned her blog. A constant inspiration, and I wish her and Tim the best, best, best.

Happy Friday, all!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Dear Michigan.

. love these guys

I will miss your sunshine
and your sparkly waters.
I'll be back next year.
Until then,
I'm taking your good company back with me.
I need them
to get through the winter.
love, Jacqui.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

This change of seasons, and split pea soup.

It rained today*, leaving the trees bare and the sidewalks littered with orange and yellow and brown. I stopped outside the office and looked down to see my brown boots against the fallen colors, the leaves plastered to the ground, and thought about what a nice photo that would make. I kept walking, my camera in my purse, telling myself I would regret not taking a picture later. But the image is still in my head, and maybe it will stay there through the winter, when I look down to snow, instead.

By the time I got home, one side of the sky was a fading pink, while the other was dark. The days are getting shorter, and I've been digging through my recipe files to find our cold-weather favorites. There was a baked penne with ground beef, tomato sauce and cheese. You can't really go wrong with cheesy baked pasta.

I'm snuggled up in my robe now, and the window is open. I can still hear the crickets outside, but they'll be gone soon, too. I'm looking forward to cozy fires, but don't want to rush into them. It's not time yet. I've been switching off between flats and boots, but I'm dreading the day I have to put on my winter coat. I've been making soup, and thinking about soup, and eating soup.

This change of seasons. Even though it's the same bittersweet feeling every year, I can't help but stand still, amazed, right in the middle of it. It's as if each day is a page turning, and I'm reading every word very carefully to soak it all up. I'm not quite ready for this chapter to end.

*I wrote this blog post sometime last week for Just Write, which I learned about through this lovely post from Kate. Since then, I read a book curled up next to our first fire of the season, crunched leaves on what was probably one of my last runs outside until spring, and ate soup almost every single day. Stay tuned for more Just Write posts on Tuesdays, I hope.  


split pea soup


Split Pea Soup with Ham and Bacon (adapted from Gourmet)

4 slices bacon, chopped
1/2 onion, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
1 cup diced smoked ham
1/2 pound dried split peas (I used yellow)
2 cans (4 cups) chicken broth
1 cup water (plus 2-3 more, depending on desired thickness)
1 bay leaf
1-2 cups diced potatoes (Optional. I used 2 for a chunkier soup)
salt, to taste

In a large pot or dutch oven, cook bacon over medium-high heat, stirring, until crisp. Transfer to a paper towel lined plate to drain.

Discard all but 2 tablespoons bacon fat from pot. Add onions and carrots, stirring, until softened. Add diced ham and cook 1-2 minutes more. Add split peas, chicken broth, 1 cup of water and bay leaf and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally. Add potatoes after about an hour. (I added mine way too early and they ended up very soft, but I didn't mind). Let simmer for an hour longer, for a total of 2 hours, adding water if the soup becomes too thick (I ended up adding 3 more cups of water).

When soup is at desired thickness, add crumbled bacon and serve. Makes 4 servings.

Monday, October 10, 2011

fall.


Last week, I made soup with butternut squash 
and completely gave in to fall.
It gets tough living in denial
that summer is gone
when all around there are trees ablaze with color
against bright blue skies.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Happy one year, with fried rice.



A year ago today, my husband and I were married in Michigan. We danced in a big white tent that was set up in the backyard, on a hill, with a long staircase that led to a lake, where we said our vows before our family and friends. 

All week, I've been looking back at this past year, trying to wrap it all up in newlywed memories. But Murdo and I lived together for two years before we were married, so with the exception of a name change and wedding bands, our first year wasn't that much different than the ones before. 

And then I think about the future, and how different this first year will be from every year that follows. We'll look back and remember buying furniture for our tiny apartment, and the private rooftop terrace of our honeymoon suite. We survived a long, blizzard-y winter with cozy fires and breakfast for dinners. We adjusted to new work schedules, celebrated promotions, kept our fingers crossed and held our breaths. We said goodbye to a family member, and welcomed two more into our home. 

He taught me how to change a tire. I taught him how to cook white rice.

fried rice

The food of our first year of marriage has been, for the most part, fairly routine. I've tried a new recipe here and there, but only a handful have made it to the weekly rotation. We have our regulars, our trusted dishes, the ones that we eat over and over again, because they're quick and they're simple and we know what we like. When I was thinking of a recipe for our one year anniversary post, I couldn't think of anything new or exciting or special. All I could think about was fried rice.

We eat fried rice once a week here, nearly every week, always accompanied by a bag Trader Joe's frozen Mandarin orange chicken. It's nothing special, I know -- even borderline boring -- and that's the reason why I've been hesitant to even post a recipe for it. But it was the first dish I ever learned how to cook on my own, and it's the one that we can eat every week and never get sick of. 

fried rice

Murdo makes the white rice before I get home, and once I walk through the door and get settled and start cooking, I can have a meal on the table in 20 minutes. Twenty minutes! That is my kind of meal, and it's one that I know will follow us to our next home, and our first house, and one that we'll feed to our kids. It'll survive many more anniversaries to come, and every time I cook it, I hope I"ll remember this first year. 

Happy one year anniversary, Murdo. I can't wait for more.


Fried Rice
After you read this recipe, you might notice that it breaks all the rules when it comes to what other recipes might say about "real" fried rice. For example, you're supposed to use leftover cooked rice instead of hot, just-cooked rice, otherwise you'll end up with soggy results. But I never have leftover white rice, and I'm not going to cook rice a day ahead of time for a dish that's supposed to take just 20 minutes to put together. This is supposed to be quick and easy, after all -- a meal you can put together when you realize there is nothing else in the house to eat. 

So, I use fresh rice, and I don't think it gets soggy at all. I also use frozen vegetables, and I don't ever measure. I tried this time around, but completely forgot halfway through, so the soy sauce measurement is more of a guess. Like I mentioned before, this is the first dish I ever cooked on my own, and I didn't have a recipe then, either. The only thing I screwed up was the garlic, which I burned. By the second time I made fried rice, I was a pro. You will be, too.  

1 cup of uncooked jasmine rice, or 2-3 cups of leftover cooked rice
vegetable or canola oil
3 big garlic cloves, smashed and minced
2 cups of frozen mixed vegetables (I use the bag with green beans, carrots, peas and corn, but feel free to use whatever you have on hand, or even fresh veggies if you're feeling ambitious)
~1/4 cup of soy sauce, divided
2 eggs, beaten 

Optional Additions (I've cooked fried rice with most of these options, though nowadays, I'll only ever add sesame oil and green onions, and only when I have them on hand.)
shrimp
leftover cooked chicken, pork, ham or steak
sliced onions
sliced green onions
toasted sesame oil
oyster sauce
fish sauce
chopped kimchi

Cook rice according to package directions, or however you normally cook your rice. I rinse mine a few times and cook 1 cup of rice with 1 1/2 cups of water in a rice cooker. It usually takes about 20 minutes.

Heat oil over medium-high heat in a large, deep skillet. Add garlic and cook until sizzling and fragrant. (If you are cooking with meat, add now and cook until heated through or, if using shrimp, fully cooked, then remove and set aside.) Add veggies and cook a few minutes until just soft. Sprinkle with black pepper. (Here is where I would add a drizzle of toasted sesame oil, or oyster sauce, or fish sauce.) Add a few dashes of soy sauce, about 1/8 cup, and cook a few minutes more. 

When the veggies are done, add the cooked rice and combine well. Add the rest of the soy sauce and adjust to taste. Once you've got the perfect amount of soy sauce to rice, push the rice to one side of the skillet and pour the egg on the other side, stirring until cooked but still soft. Lightly chop the egg with your spoon and combine with the rice. You can up the heat a bit here, and fry your rice a few minutes more, so that it's browned and even crispy, depending on how you like it. (Add your meat back at the very end.) 

Serve with Trader Joe's orange chicken, or topped with a fried egg, for a perfect weeknight meal.

Wedding photos by Jen Lynne Photography

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Kamote leaves and tomatoes.

I should start with the tomatoes.

what summer tastes like.

I've been eating them all summer long, from the moment I could get my hands on them at the farmers market, usually reaching for one as soon as I get home from work, or while I'm supposed to be cooking dinner. I'll cut up a tomato into wedges on a paper plate, sprinkling each piece generously with salt before cramming it into my mouth, only to start salting away at the next. I eat them like there will be no tomatoes tomorrow. Because, well, there won't be. Which is why I am telling you about them today -- it's September! The heat has passed, the summer storms are gone, my window is open and a cool breeze blows through, and the tomatoes will soon be gone.

Besides a Caprese salad back in June, and a few roasted batches, I haven't really been preparing any dishes with the tomatoes. Like I said, they go from bowl on the counter to paper plate to my mouth, and pretty quickly. But when my parents came over on Sunday to watch football (another sign that summer is on its way out) and eat meatball sandwiches and play with kittens, they brought over a bag of kamote leaves and tomatoes, just picked from their garden. And while kamote leaves and tomatoes can hardly be considered a dish with an actual recipe, it's one I had to finally share with you.

kamote leaves

Kamote leaves, or kamote tops, are the young leaves of the kamote, a type of sweet potato. My parents grow them in their garden, harvesting the leaves every summer, but the ground eventually grows too cold for the sweet potatoes to actually grow. The leaves are widely used in Filipino dishes as a green to throw in soups and stews and salads, but I like them just lightly steamed, dressed with a dash of fish sauce, topped with summer ripe tomatoes, and often served with fried fish. Prepared this way, they are slightly salty, a hint of sour, with the freshness of the juicy tomatoes cutting through. While other kids grew up eating spinach, I was eating kamote leaves. They mean summer to me, which is why I asked my mom to bring them over on Sunday -- because I hadn't gotten my fill yet, and summer is almost over.

Luckily, there is still a bowl of tomatoes on the counter, and a Tupperware of steamed kamotes in the fridge. There are bags of fresh corn in the freezer, blanched and stripped off cobs picked straight from Murdo's family farms, ready for batches of winter chowder. I painted my toenails last night because I'm not quite done wearing flip flops. I can hear the crickets chirping outside. September is here, but I am still loving summer.

kamote leaves

Before I get to the recipe, a quick announcement: Gojee.com, a great recipe website that brings the tastiness and beauty of some of the best food blogs out there together in one amazing space, is now featuring a handful of Happy Jack Eats recipes. You can sign up (it's free, people), type in the ingredients you crave, or have, or like, or dislike, and browse through a ton of recipes accompanied by gorgeous photos that pretty much jump out of your screen. Here's my lumpia, just to give you a peek. I'm really excited to be among a long list of really talented food bloggers!

Kamote Leaves with Tomatoes
Here is the unfortunate thing about this recipe, and something I probably should have researched before sharing, but didn't: I don't know where you can get kamote leaves. I get mine from my parents' garden. If you don't have any, you might be able to try your local Asian grocery store, or find an awesome Filipino family that might be growing some in their backyard. I will look into this further and update when I get the chance.* Otherwise, you are welcome to try this recipe with any other green, including spinach, Swiss chard, mustard greens or even dandelion greens, and let me know how it works out!


Another thing: I often find the stems can be a little hardy, and can almost feel like eating thick blades of grass. Feel free to trim off the thick stems, although I just leave them all on and bite the leaves off the stems once cooked. 


*Update: The lovely commenter Kate let me know that she found kamote leaves at her local farmers market, where they are called sweet yam leaves. Thanks Kate!

A big bunch of kamote leaves or other green (I had a plastic grocery bag full, which was enough to fill my 5-quart Le Creuset to the brim twice)
Fish sauce
Fresh tomatoes, roughly chopped

Fill a clean sink with water and dump in the kamote leaves. Swish around and make sure all the dirt and grit is gone, draining and rinsing twice. Do not dry. Put a large pot over medium heat and fill with the wet leaves. Steam the leaves lightly, turning over with tongs to make sure the leaves on the bottom aren't overcooking. You want them just wilted. When done, transfer to a large dish and toss with a dash of fish sauce. Start with a tablespoon and adjust from there. Top with tomatoes.

Serve as a salad or alongside fish, steak or any meat.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Family photos, family dinners.

I shot seven rolls of film in California and more than 600 digital images. There were photos of sunsets and rocky cliffs, city skylines and bridges, murals, houses, street signs. We hiked through Muir woods, climbing until we were nearly among the tree tops, the sunlight peeking through walls of redwoods. We drove Highway 1, swerving to the side of the road every so often to breathe in the stunning views. We soaked in a hot tub on a balcony that overlooked the ocean, watching the sun go down. Every moment was an opportunity to capture a world of beauty, the kind that makes you realize just how small you are, and just how much there is to see in this one country alone.

And yet, as I browse through the folders on my computer, I find myself going back to the same photos.


The ones of small, simple moments. The quiet connections that become so much more when the whole family gets together only once or twice a year. I don't get enough of these.

The nice part about it, though, is that every time we have a family gathering, we're also taking a vacation. This time, we -- or should I say, Mom (thanks, Mom!) -- rented a house in Dillon Beach, a small town in Marin County that seemed to live in a cloud for the entire week we were there, but no one seemed to mind that much because we could still see the ocean from every room in the house.

My favorite was the dining room.

set.
at the table.

That long table was made for family meals, comfort foods, loud conversations. Our dinners weren't fancy or elaborate, but tried-and-true recipes that we could prepare while chatting and drinking wine: baked mac and cheese, garlic-lemon shrimp and chicken kebabs, lentil soup with sausage and chard, grilled steak, spaghetti. 

But when I look back on this vacation, and flip through the photos, it won't be the food that stands out. Instead, I'll remember my two-year-old niece and my husband playing with a cup of poker chips, and the way she first said our names ("Mo!" "Gack-ey!"). Pictionary around the fire, and puzzles in the morning. Absinthe. Ping pong, vinyl albums, A Song of Ice and Fire. Searching for mussels along the shore and getting soaked by the rising tide. Happy announcements. An early morning phone call about Tim getting sicker, and the ease with which my family changed their plans and went out of their way to help Murdo get on an earlier plane home. 

Simple moments that mean so much more.

mac + cheese + broccoli.

Grilled Chicken and Shrimp Kebabs with Lemon and Garlic (from Bon Appetit)

24 uncooked large shrimp, unpeeled, deveined (thawed if frozen) 
12 chicken tenders
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons finely grated lemon peel
 2 garlic cloves, minced
2/3 cup olive oil

Thread 4 shrimp on each of 6 metal skewers; place on rimmed baking sheet. Loosely thread 2 chicken tenders on each of 6 metal skewers; place on another rimmed baking sheet.

Whisk lemon juice, lemon peel, and garlic in medium bowl; slowly whisk in oil. Season marinade with salt and pepper. Pour marinade over skewers, dividing equally. Let sit for 30 minutes.

Prepare barbecue (medium-high heat). Grill chicken until cooked through, about 5 minutes per side. Grill shrimp until pink on outside and opaque in center, about 4 minutes per side. Remove kebabs from grill; serve immediately.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Kitties, California and oysters.

First: Thank you all so much for your warm-hearted comments on my last post. It has been nearly two weeks since we lost such a big part of our little family, and even more since I last held Tim in my arms. Moving on gets easier with each day. Writing that post helped.

The first few days without Tim in the apartment were brutal. We kept catching random items out of the corner of our eyes and mistaking them for him, perched in his favorite spots, waiting patiently for attention. We missed his greetings when we walked through the door and the warmth of his fur when he slept. By this past Saturday, we had visited four different animal shelters in the area, trying our best to be patient and find kittens who belonged in our family -- who could make our home complete again. We didn't want to rush into anything.

On Monday, we found them and brought them home.

kittens

So, without further ado, please meet Omar (left) and Marlo (right). They've only been around for a few days, and already I know that Marlo loves to eat (girl after my own heart) and Omar loves to fight (he's little but ferocious, ferocious but sweet). They're our babies, and we're so excited that we get to love them for the rest of their lives.

Second: California. With all the kitty business going around here lately, I haven't had time to tell you about our trip! This changes right now. Starting with the oysters.

the marshall store.

I haven't always been crazy about oysters. In fact, I still wouldn't consider myself crazy about them at all. But I like them a lot, and that's something I couldn't say after trying them raw just a couple of times before. Before now, I thought they were just OK. Good, but nothing special. But the way some people eat them like they're slurpy diamonds plucked from the sea -- my dad, for example, who, if offered to share a plate of a dozen raw oysters with his daughter, will eat almost all of them if she's not careful, and will likely not save the last one for her -- I really did want to love them.

the marshall store.

I don't know what made these different. Maybe it was because of where and how we ate them: At the Marshall Store in Tomales Bay, slurping them off the half shell over wooden counters looking over the blue skies and water, with pelicans flying not far overhead. We bought  fresh oysters from the Tomales Bay Oyster Company off Highway 1, and drove them back along the windy road to our rental beach house to eat them hot off the grill with beer, bread and cheese. I think these are the ways oysters are meant to be eaten.

the marshall store.
the marshall store.
the marshall store.

If you're not sure about oysters raw, then get them on the grill. And if you're going to grill them, be sure to add a generous douse of olive oil and garlic. That's the way my brother-in-law, Matt, got Murdo (who had tried the oysters raw at the Marshall Store and decided they weren't for him) to love oysters so much, he started counting the remaining shells on the grill to make sure he got his fair share.


Matt used this recipe from Simply Recipes, skipping the parsley and red chili flakes and adding extra garlic. He used an oven mitt and a knife to pry the shells off, just after they started to bubble and open on the grill. We spooned olive oil and garlic into the shells, then returned them to the grill to finish cooking.

And then we feasted. Because that's what makes oysters special, really -- the feast, and the surroundings, and the company you keep through it all. I get it now.