Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Egg Lemon Soup

I've been cooking some old favorites today. One of them is Egg Lemon Soup. I got my recipe from a Greek cookbook decades ago, so I stick by it, though I've seen other methods and ingredients for making this soup. I'm sure every Greek lady has her own version, as well.

Greek Egg Lemon (Avgolemono) Soup

1 1/2 quarts chicken stock
juice of 1-2 lemons (I always use 2)

1/4 teaspoon summer savory (If you don't have this, use oregano. I think the savory is a relative of oregano). I used dried, but fresh would be lovely and leave you something to garnish with.

4 eggs, beaten

1 cup cooked rice
(If you don't have this, cook 1/2 cup raw rice in the stock until tender, and then the rice will just be there from the beginning.)

Heat the stock to almost boiling, with the herb. Beat the eggs and quickly whisk in the lemon juice. You can add some of the zest if you want. While beating briskly, add a cup or two of the broth to the egg mixture. Then add it back into the pot, along with the rice. Keep it from boiling, or it may curdle. Serve.

A bit of fresh chopped parsley would be perfect for scattering on top of this soup, but I couldn't find one leaf of it in the garden.

So...it's too cool a climate here to be able to eat outdoors very often, but the flip side of that is, we get to eat soup all summer long!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

A Saint, A Party, A Hot Day

The most important thing, today, is that it is the day when we commemorate Saint Joanna, wife of Herod's steward and follower of Christ, one of the women who came to the tomb to anoint His body, only to find that He was not there, because our Lord had risen from the dead.

I took the name of Joanna as my Orthodox, baptismal name when I converted, so "her day" is my day, and thoughts of her and her example, our communion in Christ, our prayers for each other, overshadowed the day with a sweetness. This evening, I was able to go to Vespers, always a blessed beginning of The Lord's Day.

But I also went to a tea party given by a young friend. It was hot today, and we ate out of doors under an awning. The colors were refreshing, including the tea: green or passion fruit. It was iced tea, served in teacups.

My friends' garden is always full of flowers, of few of which were happy to float in plenty of water, and in the shade, on such a day.

Salad was the perfect main course, followed by ice cream. I had no time to photograph the ice cream as I was too busy eating it before it melted.

When I came home, B. let me know that as the forecast is for more heat tomorrow, he invited some other young friends to come and swim after church tomorrow. I immediately thought of how hungry kids get after swimming, and remembered that I had some cookie dough in the freezer. I can't remember if I made the dough for Christmas or for a tea party, but no matter, it baked up into nice Cardamom Butter Squares tonight. Even on hot days, in our area, the nights are usually cool. If one has baking to do, it is best to do it in the evening so that all that oven heat dissipates before the next day. This is one way we manage without air conditioning.

In the background of the cookies, you can see some crayons and paper, tools for a very preliminary step toward designing a baby quilt I hope to make this summer. One step at a time..."inch by inch, it's a cinch."

It was a full and rich day, on many levels. As I drove home from Vespers, I even saw "my" goslings in the park!

Friday, June 26, 2009

Make Way for Goslings

It was a foggy morning, but warm weather was expected to assault my newly-planted beds and pots at church, so I made a quick and early trip over to make sure everything was moist. Not as quick as expected because as I drove past the lakeside park between my house and the church, the waterfowl were making one of their frequent expeditions into the street, and I noticed--goslings!

Normally this is the scene. It's amazing how many different directions all these creatures can point in at once, when I am trying to take their picture.

We also have Canada Geese, but you have to see this picture I got off the Web of a gander from somewhere else, because ours were segregated this morning, way down at the other end of the park.

Mom and aunties had decided it was time for nine goslings to learn how to cross the street. There is a small grassy area and shrubbery on the other side, too, and at any time of day, commute traffic or no, any number of the flock may meander across.

"Come on, kids!"

"But, Mom!"

Some of the relatives are on their way back to the park. Discipline is starting to break down.

It appears that the children are getting an earful of scolding.

"Look, Mom, in this gutter! There is something wonderful! Why don't we hang out here for a while?" Evidently that is just what they did, because when I drove back by an hour later, they were in this exact position!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Sit Down Quietly

Happiness is a butterfly, which, when pursued, is always just beyond your grasp, but which, if you sit down quietly, may alight upon you.

--Nathaniel Hawthorne

You won't find butterflies in this photo...it's just that the sunlight shining through the lemon balm made me happy. Also yesterday's gardening work at church made me happy, all six hours of it, re-planting containers and flowerbeds. I even took a few photos, but they only convey the chaos stage of a work-in-progress. Not to mention that my camera got dirty hanging out in the pocket of my gardening apron, and the great picture I thought I was getting of a giant snail wasn't great, because the lens cover didn't open. It was the middle of the day, so the sun was too bright.

I never sat down quietly, but the gardening happiness came to me anyway. In a few weeks, when the plants have filled out and my work of art is more ready for viewing, I'll sit down earlier in the day and from a different vantage point take my pictures and joy.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Orchid Longevity

I bought this orchid in bloom at Costco a year and a half ago, to beautify the house for Christmas. Normally I don't have houseplants, but this was a lovely thing, and I decided to give it a try. It hung like angels over the crèche for a while, and after I put away Christmas it kept blooming. I don't know when it stopped, but I cut the stem down and fed and watered it less than I was told to.

This year it didn't bloom at Christmas, but a little later, maybe in January. These photos I took last week. It has looked like this for all those months! I would go out and buy more of these amazing plants if I had more tables or shelves to put them on. I'm pretty sure this is the first orchid I've owned, and it was a great investment.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Back to Being Behind

I'm so glad to feel better today. Cleaned the car, cleaned my gardening tote, cleaned out the refrigerator, went grocery shopping with dear husband, and got ready for tomorrow, when I am going to teach a young friend to make sticky rice, the Laotian kind.

But today, I continued trying to use things up. Some professional food bloggers are doing that this week, too, so they aren't even shopping today. They call it Eating Down the Fridge Week, which I find a much more appealing title than a similar idea I've heard, C.O.R.N., for Clean Out Refrigerator Night. I tried telling B., once or twice, that it was CORN night, but that was way confusing and evidently annoying.

One of these food writers confessed that she had four refrigerators out of which to Eat Down! (I trust she has a lot of people to feed.) That's in addition to the freezer and the pantry which are to be one's resources, as well. I'm all for it, but today...well, the emphasis was not on cooking, as I've told you. But I definitely used up some things: old frozen pineapple, and frozen ripe banana, and some rice protein, ice and almond milk... that vanilla paste that I never use: I put all those in the blender and made it my lunch. The thermometer got up to 80° today, maybe higher, and after working out in that sun, a healthy smoothie was quite welcome. So what if it wasn't the best; it was very satisfying to Eat Down the Fridge.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Low-Lying Days

The last few days have found one or both of us down with the flu. I resisted until yesterday, after I returned from an early-morning gardening session at church, where I had accidentally broken off a rosebud. This morning it greeted me thus. I'm very thankful for it, a little present to cheer me up as I am missing a wedding and the chance to visit with friends and family from out of town.

Last evening was my worst sickly period, and the thought of cooking dinner made me cry. So I sat on the patio and read The Folding Cliffs. What strange interaction followed, and gave me creative energy to go into the kitchen and make dinner, I can't really understand, and I won't try to go into it here--but I managed to make another meal with what was on hand, and this time it was burritos with scrambled egg filling, spiced with chili and cumin, onions and garlic and sweet red pepper and cilantro. Cheese, too. And love and thankfulness and peace. That was the miracle that came from On High, via a fellow human using the written word with care.

And some fresh roundish fruits we called tomatoes, one each left in produce bags from two shopping expeditions. I had bought one, B. the other. One from Mexico--not surprising--and the other from....Canada! What? The information on the sticker was so alarming to me, my mind ran away and I forgot to take a picture for proof that the world had turned upside-down, not least geographically.

I didn't add chile-type "heat" to the filling I made, so we added it at the table in the form of sauce from a bottle. And this is the perfect time to display photos I took some time ago and have been waiting for a chance to use.

Whether or not something requiring spicing-up is going to be on the table that night, when B. and I are in a particular local market, we like to peruse these shelves full of a library of hot sauces, right next to bags of hot chiles, in case you want to make your own, perhaps.

But we rarely have any of these playfully fiery brews around to use on our own Tex-Mex food, as we long ago developed a taste for Crystal Louisiana Hot Sauce, when as head cook I didn't always distinguish one culinary region from another. And Crystal is cheap.

At the end of our meal, there were a few chunks of the reddish fruit left in their blue bowl. B. asked what to do with them, and I said, "Throw them out. I don't ever want to buy a tomato out of season again." You see, I had also been reading about M.F.K. Fisher and realizing that these sorry, pale things with nary a drop of flavor or juice do not express me. Ha ha.

I'd like to return my kitchen to the days memorialized in this photo, when we had our fill of dead ripe tomatoes in the summer and fall, and the rest of the year made do with canned or dried or frozen.

In the coming months I'll write more about tomatoes-- growing, picking, buying, cooking. As to eating them fresh, I think it's best, for now, merely to anticipate.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Spicy and Colorful Stew

I'm trying to use up some things in the cupboard and freezer. So this afternoon I started defrosting a gallon bag of cooked garbanzo beans, which had been prepared that far and stashed away some months ago as the first step in using up a big bag of the legumes that had been acquired "way back."
There are usually a few boxes of frozen spinach around, so I set one of those out, and sat down at the computer to search online for recipes that would use both items. The first recipe I found was a Spanish stew with North African influence, but I scrolled on down the search results to an Indian dish, which I noted would also use up the lime I've had around for a couple of weeks.

Coriander and cumin were sautéed in oil along with onion and garlic.

Lucky me, I had just bought the tomatoes this week. Of course, the dish could be made with canned garbanzos, fresh tomatoes, etc. I don't know about canned spinach, though....it sounds nasty. Frozen spinach, by the way, has been found to retain more nutrients than bunches of fresh spinach, as it is processed so quickly in our modern world, while fresh spinach often sits around for days losing vitamins. If you are going to cook it anyway, you might as well use the frozen and convenient product.

One recipe said to use lime OR tamarind juice. I don't know anything about tamarinds.

You can see that the spinach also was not completely defrosted when I added it along with the tomatoes, after the onion and garlic had browned.

As soon as I put those two items in, it came back to me that cast iron + greens + tomatoes can have a color-deadening chemical effect, so I quickly spooned the mix into a stainless steel kettle. After about 10 minutes of simmering I added the garbanzos and remaining seasonings, and simmered the lot until the beans were soft and had absorbed some flavor. (Canned garbanzos would likely have already been more salty than my frozen ones were.)

Spicy Indian Chickpea and Spinach Stew

About 10 cups of cooked garbanzo beans
1 large yellow onion, chopped
10 oz. frozen chopped spinach
3 cloves garlic, diced
About 1/4 cup oil
1 large can diced tomatoes
2 tablespoons lime juice
2 teaspoons mild chili powder
2 teaspoons cumin
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons salt, or to taste
2 teaspoons sugar

This recipe made about 3 quarts of stew, plenty to freeze and some to eat later in the week. I can see it being the basis for elaborations and extensions into pots of soup as well. One could add lamb or chicken, more tomatoes or spinach, other vegetables, etc., and perhaps purée a portion to add back in.

Lucky again, I had some fresh coriander, a.k.a. cilantro, in the fridge, to pretty things up, as the spinach, of course, was no longer bright. This is a vegan dish that fits right in with this season of the church, The Apostles Fast, when we abstain from animal products generally. The flavor was a nicely complex balance of the various spices with just the slightest heat. A bowlful of this dish would be good with some chewy bread for dipping--but that was something not to be found in the house!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

A Few June Days

It's been a busy week so far, too busy to philosophize about and too busy for much picture-taking. A couple of the days were primarily taken up with not being busy, actually.
This June has been cool, so far. But it was warm enough to go to the beach with a friend for her birthday on Monday. First we went down this steep switchbacked trail...

...then settled against a log and drank some hot cocoa, ate our snacks, and shed layers of clothing as the sun got higher and broke through the mist. Lack of wind makes for a relaxing time on the sand.

A Japanese family was so photogenic, I tried to sneak photos of the children. This is the best I could do.

When I got home from the beach, B. was reading on the patio and being struck by the miniature roses in a pot nearby. He grabbed the camera and took this photo, which I am humbly posting black spot and all.

The next day was my turn to help make Communion bread at church. In the Orthodox Church it is called prosphora, which means offering, from the ancient tradition of the people bringing bread to offer for the service.

I'd like to write and show more photos sometime about the different breads we make, but for now I'll just show you this one I accomplished, called a Lamb.

When the bread was done, just outside there were garden plots to be weeded and watered, and flowers to be deadheaded. Always something new is blooming or changed from my last visit, and I have to take a picture or two.

This morning I made it over to visit a bookworm friend who's always giving or lending me books. This stack shows:
1) on top, the video we watched together, of poet Richard Wilbur reading some poems and being interviewed at University of Southern California in 1990,
2) Proust was a Neuroscientist by Jonah Lehrer; D. said that when she read it she thought of me.
3) Three books by or about M.F.K. Fisher, which D. is lending me. Friend K. has been wanting me to read Fisher for some time, but I never dreamed the books could be small paperbacks I might read in bed!
4) A Gentle Madness, a book about book lovers and collectors, which I ordered online, not dreaming how big it is, and
5) The Outline of Sanity, a Life of G.K. Chesterton, also bought online recently.

I know it looks a bit ambitious, considering the other stacks of books around here. But I'm hopeful of having more reading time soon, while recuperating from foot surgery and in the car on several trips we have planned.

But I'm ending with one more picture from church, of hollyhocks and a gladiolus, because I couldn't get the photo to go into the right spot above!

Oh! Addendum: Just before the close of this third blessed day of this week, Dear Daughter sent me this howling link for any of you/us who don't just love to shop.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Pie Amusement

I think I must create a new tag and category just for pies. I love making them, and I'm sure readers could learn something if they looked at all the pie posts at once. Like, how NOT to make pies. The unfortunate thing is, you can't taste the pies from where you are. Even the Buttermilk Pie that was too sweet had a tasty crust. But for the purpose of laughter, my latest experiment takes the cake--I mean pie. The flavor was WONDERFUL. But its looks were, well...interesting.

You can't tell how interesting from this picture of my first ever Lemon Meringue Pie. It is the most flattering I could manage. I wanted to start you off with the best, so you don't get discouraged.

The flour, sugar, salt and butter are being coarsely blended together with my favorite pastry blender. The recipe for this pie dough is here.

When I first started making pies, I used a pastry mat and a rolling pin cover to keep the dough from sticking and tearing. After I found this lovely marble rolling pin at a garage sale I stopped needing those helps. Maybe it was a coincidence, and it was just that I had by then developed a feel for pie dough. It is pure pleasure to use it.

I knew I was going to need all that flour on my dough "pancake" because I had added a few too many drops of water, making this lump a bit moister than ideal.

See that rift developing on the lower right? It can be fixed.

You carefully tear off a piece that happens to be sticking out somewhere else, and it becomes a repair patch.

After "gluing" with a little water, dusting with some flour, I patted the patch on,

and then rolled it smooth.

With the empty pie plate nearby, I roll the dough part way back on to the rolling pin and then lay it back gently on to the pie pan, draping it over the edges and making sure that it is snug but relaxed into the corners of the bottom.

Trim off the excess and ragged edges of dough. How much is excess? When you look at the pictures below you'll realize that I don't really know the answer to that.

When I was learning from a book, the author didn't explain how to make the edge of the crust neat. It took a veteran pie-maker showing me, to learn that after trimming, you fold the rough edge under to make a rolled edge. Perhaps my sloppy rolling this time contributed to the later problems.

I'm sorry I couldn't show you how I flute the edge. B. was on a ladder outside and the dough wouldn't wait for him to take my picture, so I proceeded without documentation. It involves a sort of pinching with the thumb and forefinger of both hands, twisting in opposite directions.

The pie shell was ready to bake at this point, and after pricking it with a fork, I laid some rice on to wax paper in the bottom of the shell, to keep it from puffing up while baking. In the past I have used beans or another, smaller pie plate.

While the shell was baking I started the filling. If you want a lot of lemon flavor, be sure to add plenty of lemon zest. I used a tablespoonful. For years I struggled to get the precious peel off of my lemons with an old and dull grater. Eureka! The microplane, now one of my most beloved tools. See how it can take off the finest shreds of peel, without any of the bitter white part. And it does it without any strain to the old elbows.

The filling recipe I used came out perfect, not runny at all. I followed the advice of several people to use a full 6 tablespoons of cornstarch, and my recipe used 5 large egg yolks and one cup of sugar. I'm not giving you the whole recipe for this pie, because most recipes are similar, and some aspects of mine were obviously not the best. Instructions were for a deep-dish 9" pie plate, but I think a shallow pan might have worked better.

This is the most revealing picture, showing the homeliness of my poor pie shell. I wonder if my repair job made that section of crust too soft so that it melted outward? But why did some parts shrink down into the pie plate? Was it the extra moisture requiring extra flour? There is probably a pie troubleshooter somewhere that I haven't bothered to consult.

The filling is now poured into the shell, and you can see the oddly shaped crust from a different vantage point.

My beloved pot. I really never thought about how thankful for it I am until today. I have had my set of stainless steel cookware with its copper layer sandwiched in since we got married 37 years ago. This 3-qt. pot has probably been used every day at least once in that time. The brand was Seal-O-Matic, "waterless" cookware, and they aren't in business under that name anymore.

Now I have dumped the first load of meringue on top. I can't imagine how this is going to work; the meringue seems too stiff to spread without pushing the filling all out of level. But if it isn't stiff, how will it stay in those lovely swirls I expect to make?

The shrunken-in edges of crust make it very hard to follow the directions to spread the meringue right down to the crust, sealing in the filling. But I end up with a mountain of meringue, sculpted out of about 2/3 of what was in the mixer bowl. I noticed that the recipes vary in the number of eggs used, from 3-5, and they always use all the yolks in the filling and all the whites for the meringue. I would prefer a pie with only a 3-white meringue; it's
that fluff that put me off so long from being interested in this kind of pie. But it was delightful work, swishing the soft and shiny stuff around.

What to do with the leftover meringue? There was no time to read ideas or think much, so I made a snap decision to use the leftover pie dough to make cookie platforms...

I folded some almond meal and cinnamon into the meringue and put little dollops of that on the rounds of dough, and baked them. They were cooked at various temperatures, kind of "on the back burner" because I didn't have time for them, really. And after I assembled them I thought, Oh, dear, meringue-type cookies want a slow oven, and pie crust cookies a fast oven. So these will be terrible.

But they were fine.

Now I'll show you a less becoming photo of the finished pie. The meringue looks great, but there are handles....They might be useful if you were trying to eat a slice of pie out-of-hand. I hope you don't do that!

This picture shows how 1) the filling did in fact get pushed out of shape when I swirled all that meringue around, 2) the meringue topping is way out of proportion to the filling, which should be the main event, and 3) the crust soaked up a lot of moisture from the filling. Is that supposed to happen? Won't it naturally go through the holes pricked in the dough? The crust was very good nonetheless, not soggy at all, but the pie was sitting in a pool of lemony liquid. So maybe that is the runnyness that people talk about trying to avoid.

I hope you can tell also that the crust is nice and flaky. It's buttery and yummy.

I'm ending this account with my other fairly flattering photo of a cut piece. And I hope my adventures make you want to bake your own pies. Even the failures are usually good to eat.