Sunday, October 30, 2011

Pumpkin Stuffed with Everything Good


            Do you think it’s fun having a Halloween birthday or are childhood birthday memories overshadowed by memories of tummy aches from birthday cake and then too much Halloween candy? And is your birthday party always dress-up?
            Today is our friend Paula’s birthday.  Yes, there will be cake, but we’re also having lots of good adult food featuring a stuffed, baked pumpkin, recipe by Dorie Greenspan.  The title of this piece is actually the title Dorie gave to the recipe.  Let’s see if you agree with the “everything good” list: 

Good quality French bread
2-3 types of good cheese
Crispy bacon
Fresh chives and thyme 

Any quibbles? 
                If you make this, and you should, you should have a friend who’s handy in the kitchen help you.  I had my Mr. What’s Next at my right hand or it would have taken me much longer to assemble this.  The thing that really slowed me down was hand-cubing at least 12 cups of fairly tough crusted bread without cutting a finger… again.
The skin is green, but the flesh is electric orange.

           The other part that is always a little physical is cutting into a whole, large pumpkin without severing an appendage.  Allan did that part.  Feared medical emergencies aside, this is a really nice comfort dish, perfect for today as it has been raining torrentially since about midnight last night.  And that would be the great part about having a Halloween birthday. Atmosphere.
            By the way, KS is planning to serve this at her Thanksgiving feast this year so if you are lucky enough to get one of those golden tickets, act surprised.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

New Favorite Thing

          Here is something I picked up when I was in the US as basically a novelty item.  To be totally truthful, I really liked the jar and I assumed whatever tomato vinegar was could be replaced with many other mixtures if I didn't like it. 
          Continuing with my process of eating our way through the refrigerator/freezer, I began with a package of ground beef whose celophane wrap had been punctured.  Mmmm, salivating already?  The vegetable bin produced some nice brown onions, limp spring onions, garlic, and some green/yellowing cilantro.  Undaunted, I composted the spring onions, browned the meat, sauteed the onions and garlic and put it back together.  Plain.  I then added a couple of teaspoons of smoky paprika chipotle seasoning I had brought over on a previous trip.  Now we were getting somewhere, but it was a little heavy.  Try a few shakes of this new tomato vinegar and wow, we've got zip!  It's got the kick of ketchup without the sugar and goo.  We then had a Friday night dinner that was worthy of two each of the white corn tortillas I had smuggled back in my suitcase.  And the cilantro stood up just fine, too. 
          But I don't know how to get any more or how to make it myself (she whined).

Friday, October 28, 2011

Tex-Med Stew

            This is a really fabulous stew recipe found in the pages of Sunset magazine, October 2011.  It has the comforting base of a delicious chicken soup with Latin spicing, but then takes a surprising twist with the addition of briny olives and a little citrus.  Since I am spoiled for choice of olives here in Tunisia, I chose our tiniest black olives that have been cured with red chilies and chunks of preserved lemon.  The lemony, salty, heat this blend contributed made the soup, in my opinion.  The recipe calls for pimiento-stuffed green olives and some orange zest and that would be good too, but not as good.  Sorry.
            This soup was in a section of the magazine featuring beer pairings.  For my friend P, they suggested Gordon Biersch Blonde Bock with this soup.  Anything you can get your hands on in Prague?
            If you’re within driving distance of my house in Tunis and want me to spot you ½ cup of quinoa, just let me know.  I’ve got lots.

Chicken, Quinoa, and Green-Olive Stew

4 cups homemade chicken stock
2 lbs. boned, skinned chicken thighs
2 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
1 large white onion, finely chopped
½ tsp. salt
1 tsp. each:  ground cumin, ground coriander, and dried oregano (preferably Mexican)
3 garlic cloves, minced
½ tsp. each:  ancho chile powder and cayenne
1 cup chopped ripe plum tomatoes (about 2 large) or fire-roasted diced canned tomatoes
2 tsp. orange zest
½ cup quinoa
1 cup cooked chickpeas (garbanzos), rinsed if canned
1 cup pimiento-stuffed small green olives

1.     Bring broth to a simmer in a large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat.  Add chicken and lower heat to a simmer.  Cook chicken, covered, 15-20 minutes or until cooked through; transfer to a plate.  Pour broth into a large bowl and set aside.  Wipe out pot.
2.     Add oil, onion, and salt to pot and cook over medium heat until onion softens and is starting to brown, about 10 minutes.
3.     Stir in cumin, coriander, oregano, and garlic; cook 2 minutes.  Add ancho chile powder, cayenne, chopped tomatoes, reserved broth, orange zest, and quinoa.  Reduce heat and simmer, covered, until a white ring appears around each quinoa seed, 10-15 minutes.  Meanwhile, shred chicken.
4.     Add shredded chicken, chickpeas, and olives and heat through.

Serves 4-6

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Homecoming Muffins

I’m home in Tunis and happy to be here.  I’m happy to be anywhere really that’s not an airplane, but really happy that it’s here.  I’m so, so blessed to have two homes that I love. 
Settling back in, I begin with an inventory of the kitchen.  Our fridge broke the day before I left for the US and poor Allan had his hands full with transferring everything into a much less capacious model.  He got everything generally in the right place, but efficiency wise, it is not a workable chilled pantry yet.
          It seemed like a good idea to me that rather than spend a bunch of time organizing the food we should just use up a lot of the food and then reorganize as we restock.  I wanted to make some ultra healthy muffins anyway, like a meal in a paper cup, so here was was my opportunity. I like this recipe because it allows me to use up 2 cups of shredded vegetables (4 because I doubled it) and also some muesli we needed to finish.   
Makes about 12 muffins

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole-wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 1/2  teaspoons crystallized ginger, finely chopped
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup muesli
2 large eggs
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup oil (safflower, canola, or olive)
2 cups (firmly packed) grated vegetables (zucchini, carrots, or beets)--use largest holes on box grater
1/2 cup raisins (optional)  
Preheat the oven to 350°. 
In a small bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, spices, and muesli. Whisk well to blend. 
In a mixing bowl beat the eggs, sugar and oil for 2 to 3 minutes or until very smooth. Add the grated vegetables and beat just until smooth. Add the dry ingredients and optional raisins and beat until completely moistened.
Scrape the batter into greased and floured (or paper cup-lined) muffin tins, filling each cup 3/4 full. Bake 20-25 minutes, until cake tester inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in the pan on a rack for 5 minutes. Unmold onto the rack. Cool completely and wrap airtight.


Monday, October 24, 2011

Mr. Ho's/ Hoe’s Buns

            Several times I have been up at night, jet-lagged as the rest of my family sleeps, and I have thought how nice it would be to make a pan of cinnamon rolls for them to wake up to.  But I’ve never had a trustworthy recipe at hand or the where-with-all to do any research and the moment passed. 
I have some really happy memories related to cinnamon rolls.  When I was a girl, my mom used to buy some packaged cinnamon rolls, the kind you whack on the counter to open.  You just had to pull the preformed dough from the package, bake them off in a pan, and then drizzle the hot rolls with the provided frosting packet.  Even a girl of 8 or 9 could successfully make these.  I can picture one summer afternoon thunderstorm that drove my dad in from the field.  We all sat in front of the enormous picture window in our kitchen, watching the storm, and eating the warm buns while my parents had coffee. 
I also, more recently, remember a disgusting cinnamon roll that I bought at a Cinnabon in the Abu Dhabi airport at about 1:00 AM.  It wasn’t even food, it was just a lump of every form of caloric trickery man has yet discovered.  I ate some of it and then truly thought I was going to throw up.  What had I expected?  Mother’s love, I guess, but it didn’t exist at Cinnabon.
A recent edition of the Singapore American School’s alumni magazine, SAS Journeys, printed a recipe for a cinnamon bun that does bring me happy associations.  The American school had an excellent cafeteria run by the famous Ho/Hoe brothers (I think that one of them may spell his name Ho and the other Hoe so take your pick).  They made many delicious short order Asian dishes and a few expat favorites like roast turkey and cinnamon rolls.  I remember eating these, on occasion, on a super thin paper plate with a rickety plastic fork that could hardly take on these chewy, gooey masses.  They were good, though, and when I examined the recipe, I thought, Good on you, Mr. Ho/Hoe.  They’re actually pretty healthy, if you were going to eat a cinnamon roll anyway. 
I’ll print the recipe as it came and then I will make some comments.


3 cups flour
½ cup whoemeal flour
1 ½ cups water
1 Tbs yeast
¼ cup olive oil
½ cup sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. salt

Cinnamon Sugar
5 Tbs sugar
2 tsp. cinnamon

4 Tbs butter
2 cups powdered sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
¼ cup milk

1.     Combine half the flour, whole meal flour, water, and yeast in a mixer and stir into dough for 5 minutes.  Let the dough rest for 30 minutes.
2.     Add the remaining dough ingredients (olive oil, sugar, eggs, and salt) into the dough mixture.  Stir about 10 minutes or until dough is smooth.
3.     Knead the dough and form into a ball.  Cover with a cloth and let dough rise for 45 minutes.
4.     On a lightly floured surface, roll dough into a 2.5 inch thick rectangle.  Sprinkle with cinnamon sugar.
5.     Cut dough into 1.5 inch wide strips.  Roll each strip into 3-inch circles and place in baking pan with space between buns.
6.     Let buns rise for 45 minutes.
7.     Bake at 375 degrees F for 15 minutes.  Remove cinnamon buns from oven and cool completely.
8.     Whip frosting ingredients together until smooth, adding small amounts of extra milk as necessary to make a spreadable consistency.  Frost cooled cinnamon buns.

Yield:  Makes about 20 buns

Step 2:  I needed to add significantly more flour than this to form a ball.  I was careful to maintain the stickiest dough I thought I could still work with.
Step 3:  You want to create dough that is as soft as a baby’s bottom.  Rather than leave it to rise on a countertop covered by a towel, I oiled a bowl with olive oil, rolled the dough around in the oil and let it rise, covered by plastic wrap, in a warm place.
Step 4:  I think the 2.5 inch thick rectangle is a misprint.  Roll the dough, as evenly as possible, into a 12” x 14” rectangle.  Notice there is no butter bath slathered onto the dough before sprinkling the cinnamon/sugar mixture.  You could add it here if you want to, but the absence of the butter makes these rolls distinctive.
Step 5:  This is an interesting way to go about forming the rolls.  I used my usual method of rolling the dough and filling into a consistently thick log and then cut it at 1.5 inch intervals.  I gently pressed each roll in the pan and they were touching slightly at this point.  By the way, butter the pan first!
Step 7:  The chewy texture of this dough trades on two things:  the ultra-soft olive oil dough and slight under-baking.  Start with the recommended 15-minute bake.  Take the pan out of the oven and pry one roll out.  If the dough is still gooey, you’ve got to give them another five minutes and then try it again.  The color will only have a hue of brown.

Yield:  My batch made 12-15 rolls

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Birthday Brunch and Mummified Turkey

          Glorious, sunny day on Lummi Island.  Our dearest friends, Dan and Sue, along with their son, Jordan, came over on the ferry for brunch at the Beach Store Cafe.  We're making plans for when Jordan comes to Tunis with Gabe and Anton in December and we all go to Europe for a couple of weeks.  I think we decided on a pretty good trip concept today.  Danny is turning 50 this week and what a great treat to be here to give him a huge hug in person.
          Gabe really wanted to make an early Thanksgiving meal together.  He and Anton are technically dual Canadian/American citizens so we can say we're splitting the difference between the Canadian/American Thanksgivings.  Actually, we don't even need an excuse.
         We tried a process from the November Martha Stewart.  It was a totally new way to cook a turkey for me, but I think it was an excellent method and kind of fun and creepy wrapping the turkey in a shroud.  Here's how it went:
1.  Melt two sticks of butter in a bowl and mix with 2 cups dry white wine.
2.  Wash turkey inside and out.  Remove giblets and pat dry.
3.  Rub bird with 4 tablespoons softened butter and generously salt and pepper inside and out.
4.  Soak a sheet of cheesecloth in the butter/wine mixture.  Remove, squeezing gently into bowl; reserve butter mixture.

5.  Wrap soaked cheesecloth around the turkey, breast side up.

6.  Roast for 30 minutes at 425 degrees.

7.  Reduce heat to 350 degrees and baste every 30 minutes with more butter/wine mixture.
8.  When butter/wine mixture is finished, remove cheesecloth and discard.  Continue roasting until juices run clear and internal temperature reaches 180 degrees F.

9.  Remove from oven and tent with foil to allow juices to settle in the bird before serving.

More on Pumpkin Beer

          My friend, Patrick, wanted to know more about the pumpkin beer I mentioned in my last post.  This is brewed by Buffalo Bill's Brewery.  The label says it is bottled and brewed by Independent Brewers United in Seattle, Portland, and Berkeley for Buffalo Bill's Brewery in Hayward CA.  So what would you call that, a 2/3 Northwest micro-brew?  Have a look at Patrick's blog to see what he has been sipping in Prague and Munich this month.  

Friday, October 21, 2011

Pumpkins Are a Girl Thing?

           Whatcom County could not have put on a more welcoming face for me to return to last week.  Bright, crisp, autumn days, brilliantly colored tree leaves, townspeople living intentional, artful days, and everywhere, everywhere piles of pumpkins.  No longer are there just the huge orange carving pumpkins, but now there are choices of artisanal whites and crimson oranges. 

            My plane landed one week ago at midnight and on the way home, my sons and I stopped in at our local Haggen store, open 24 hours, to pick up some kind of snack.  Turned out to be the remnants of that day’s sushi operation, which was just fine.  A cursory sweep through the store brought me to the check-out stand, arms loaded with the sushi, a six-pack of pumpkin microbrew beer, a pumpkin scented candle, and a Martha Stewart magazine that was screaming pumpkin everything.  I felt incredibly happy. 
            The week has been nonstop familiarity bliss.  I do love this city and I haven’t been here in the fall for over 15 years.  That must explain why all of my sensory memories are around me and my two darling preschoolers enjoying walks and other rambling outings, seasonal cooking projects, and fall gardening.  I am magnetically attracted to the garden shops this week, longing to spend a Saturday cleaning the beds for winter and planting a few new edibles: fruit or nut trees or perhaps some grapes, and definitely some bulbs.  I resisted, but it was difficult.
            Gabe and I were at Starbucks yesterday morning, early, and heard the woman behind us blurt out this order, “I’ll have a nonfat, decaf, pumpkin latte (I think there were several more directives, but I can’t even think what they would be) and a pumpkin scone.”  As we walked out of the store I commented that her order was just basically pumpkin vehicles.  She didn’t even want the caffeine in the coffee.  Gabe then unloaded the observation he had previously kept to himself which was that women are crazy about pumpkins.  He claims that from the first day that October hits, every woman he sees oozes with pumpkin loving mania, stringing up little jack-o-lantern lights in her work space, keeping a constant pumpkin drink at hand, making cute orange cookies and cupcakes.  He felt almost suffocated by it and later in the day his brother agreed.
            Now I know that there are men who also love pumpkins, particularly if they grow them or especially if the carving of them involves the use of power tools.  But to take a little goo out of this autumnal blog there will be no gratuitous pictures of pumpkins, just the beginnings of some blustery weather on a Lummi Island afternoon.  But I'm wondering, is it possible to die of pumpkin candle asphyxiation in a poorly ventilated room?

Sunday, October 9, 2011

What Do I Want to Say?

            I teach writing to children and I tell them that one of the ways we get new learning in life is through writing.  I know that to be true for myself.  It’s challenging for me to explain to 5th graders how they will learn as they write because we always think of writing as an output and not an intake.  But I know as they write more they will start to experience it.  Often, you learn what it is you want to say by writing about it. 
            What do I want to say today?  I’m going home to Washington State in a week, which makes my mind and emotions race a little.  If you don’t know me yet, I live and work in Tunis, Tunisia and if you have read my postings, you may have noticed that I write about my present or my far past, my beautiful childhood on a farm in Southern Colorado, but I only write about life on our farm on Lummi Island in Washington State when I’m there.  It’s because I need to have a temporary block on that attachment when I’m in Tunisia.  My sweet friend S and I talked about that this past week.  She is able to keep the Northwest world active in her life when she is overseas, checking newspapers, magazines, and blogs.  Not me.  I read about other things, but that is all too tender for me.  Now, I’m suddenly going at a time out of sequence (not an official holiday) and I’m letting myself imagine exquisite things like autumn:  waking up in a chilly house and making a fire in the fireplace, some windy, rainy, soggy-leaf-blowing weather.  I’m relishing running errands in our dear town of Bellingham that I know every corner of.  Mostly though, I’m thinking of going to meet with my doctor, which is why I’m going: for a little procedure.  This doctor’s office has hand sanitizer pumps every five feet and sometimes the receptionist will slip and call me “Hon” even though she's maybe 20 years younger than me.  Maybe best of all is that he speaks English and I can have an in-depth conversation with him about my health and what we are going to do and I think I can trust him to handle it.  That sense of assurance and sterility are things I really want right now.
            I won’t have time to take in my larger family or American attachments.  If I could, I would go down to Colorado and have a few great days visiting with my parents who in their early 80s are still having adventures and definitely keeping a sense of humor.  I really miss them.  I didn’t get enough time with them last summer and I’m carrying that loss throughout this year.  I wish I could also see all of my siblings.  After we suddenly lost our brother over a year ago, I see more clearly the place we’ve had in each other’s lives and I think we may become closer and not more distant as we age.  My mom and dad are down working on our farm, getting it ready to plant according to the direction of the federal government in a farm subsidy plan.  I know that some of it will be in alfalfa and some will be in wild flowers, which I hope is an attempt to help rejuvenate the honeybee population in the world.  My brothers who live in Colorado have been coming down on their weekends to work beside my dad and I am envious.  I wish I could go, too.  My brother Erik took this picture last weekend.   

 This could have been a picture of my dad 50 years ago.  He loves to do challenging work, still, and I think he might believe that this program could just be the way that he and my mom can keep the farm for our family.  It would be wonderful if it happens that way, but we all want them to get what they need from it. 
            Did I figure out what I want to say?  I guess I’m not brave enough to actually point out some of my fears about how much longer these people and places will be there for me to see.  By the time I have a lifestyle where I can have some choices about my time, they might be gone.  I know I will have regrets and I don’t know what to do about that.  But again, I can’t go right now and I just hope everything can stay in place until I can get back there the next time.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

An Outing to Douga

            We really needed to get out of our routine this weekend, get into the countryside, feel some earth and rocks.  Douga was the perfect destination.  Theoretically less than 2 hours southwest of Tunis, Douga is a significant ancient archaeological site.  I say theoretically because we can never seem to find our way out of Tunis to the A-3 highway that leads straight to this ruin.  We even called two friends before leaving, one a life-long resident of Tunis, and both of them were sketchy about the directions.  So once again, we inched our way along the map, trying to decide if the phonetic Arabic names on signs might be the Engish spelled names on the map.  It was all good, however.  We had a tank full of gas and a wonderful picnic lunch and it didn’t exactly matter if we ever actually got there or not.

            Did you catch the “once again”?  Ya, this isn’t our first attempt at Douga.  We tried it a little over a year ago when our sons were visiting from the US.  We had the day off of school because of the Aid holiday and decided to make the daytrip to Douga.  It never crossed our minds that the site would be closed for the holiday, which it was, but after the many hours of backroad sidewinding it took us to get there, we weren’t leaving without at least a little peek.  The four of us scaled a sandstone hillside and had about 30 seconds of a view of the remarkably well-preserved theater when a guard blew a whistle at us and began chase.  We ran like middle-schoolers back down the hillside to our car and screeched away.  And that was our memory of Douga.  

            It’s a good thing we didn’t see the entirety of this site during that preliminary glimpse or we would have been too depressed.  This is a large ruin with many intriguing carvings, sculptures, and mosaics.  The most impressive part, however, are the soaring pillars framing the spectacular Tunisian farmlands.  All day, our breath was taken away by the rich soiled fields in various states of cultivation all over the countryside.  “The breadbasket of the Roman civilization” is not hyperbole.  Tunisia is blessed with ongoing plots of farmland and they know well how to sustain it and get perfect yields from it.   

            So it was a healing day.  We got reconnected with our host country, with the land that grows our healthy food, and enjoyed some warm fall sunshine.  After seven hours of driving… do the math… we were finally getting back into town when Kaye Syrah called to spontaneously invite us to a home cooked dinner.  Great life, right?

The Blessed Event

     We were rushing out our front gate Saturday morning when our gardener caught us and exclaimed, in his way, petite tortoise!  Whaaa??  Remember my posting Tortoise Ranch where I speculated what might come of our indigenous gramps tortoise meeting the cute, younger girl we introduced?  Well, babies have appeared.  We don't know exactly how many we have yet.  We think they have just emerged from their egg sacs, still bearing the evidence of their embryonic relationship to that nutritious capsule.

They are so tiny.

Allan can't stop poking through the mature aloa plant where they have made their habitat trying to assess how many we have.  So far, we have seen only two at any one time and we can't know yet if we're seeing the same two or different combinations.  I am hoping it is two.  Two sounds like a responsible number.  Allan is hoping for more like ten.  I'm not sure why.  So here they are:  our first tortoise family photo.

Don't they look happy?