Monday, December 28, 2009

Nisqually Delta and Snake Lake

George and I drove down to the Nisqually Wildlife Sanctuary on Sunday, to hike and explore. I walked quite briskly as it was cold outside, and George took photographs.

The Nisqually is a favorite of ours throughout the year. At this time, some of the major walking areas are off limits due to wintering birds, so we walked along a boardwalk through the woods. Helpful information along the way. (More photos here.)

It was quite cold on Saturday at Snake Lake - water ripples froze at the base of shrubs lining the shore. We took a brisk walk through the forest - a great jogging trail about a 25 minute walk from the house.

Here, Matt and Ruhiyyih are enjoying the light in the forest.

I hope to walk over to Snake Lake at least once a week to vary my walking routine and enjoy the solitude within the forest. I've walked these trails alone before, and simply forgot just how beautiful it can be, especially in the early spring.
(More photos here).

Zucchini Stir-fry with Fried Eggs


I made zucchini stir-fry for breakfast on Saturday morning, adding some Asian greens (I don't even know their name); George cooked the same meal again on Sunday, using a different rice blend, spinach, and scrambled eggs. Guess all of us liked it!

Friday, December 25, 2009

Turkish Coffee and Chocolate Mocha Cookies

For a taste thrill on Christmas day I served Turkish Coffee and Chocolate Mocha Cookies. It was just George and I, since Matt and Ruhiyyih were gadding about visiting their friends and family.

I've been experimenting with Turkish coffee, and have found the process so interesting. It is an acquired skill, and one must pay attention to the temperature during the foaming process in order to get it right.










I know that milk is not part of Turkish coffee, but I love to make espresso foam, and have a little foam throughout the coffee. It cuts the sharp flavor.

One must wait a few minutes to let the grounds settle, then slurp the top off the brew, little by little.
Drunk this way, I can enjoy a miniature cup of espresso over many hours, chasing it with decaffeinated green tea throughout the day. One benefit is that it caused me to cut down on sugar - now I consume only one teaspoon of sugar a day, in my afternoon Turkish coffee.

Brewing the coffee is best done in a cezve (Turkish) or ibrik (Greek), a special small copper pot that is designed to diffuse the heat. I ordered one online; they come in different sizes depending on how many cups are made at one time. Mine is from Anatolya, Turkey, and makes two cups. All of the ornamentation is hand-done.

I also purchased two coffee cups for special occasions - these have an inner porcelain cup inside that can be removed for washing. The little cap on top keeps the coffee warm. I can just imagine someone out on the desert using covered cups, to keep sand out of the brew as it is being carried. In Turkey, the coffee pot can be served over a small bed of hot coals. The attendant brings the coffee almost to a boil for the guest, then pours it into cups. The guests linger and chat in the coffee house for hours, sipping the coffee all the while.

Greek coffee is
made in a similar way, but doesn't call for the cardamon, which I enjoy. Sugar is always optional, and milk is never used...again, I cheat, and use a little.

Cookies From Kim

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Injera-inspired Ethiopian Crepe

I wanted to experiment with an unusual crepe for the holidays, and noticed that injera,the Ethiopian flatbread made with teff, would be fun to try. I read the recipe and decided to do a few modifications because I didn't have any teff. A recipe online mentioned using a cup of regular buttermilk pancake mix and buckwheat mix in equal proportion with water to thin it out. I didn't have the buckwheat flour, so I substituted with almond flour.

The process of making Injera requires fermentation, about three days, and I didn't have that either, so I made the batter immediately, hoping for the best! The challenge of making injera is thinning out the batter so it will bubble all over, stopping the frying midway and putting the crepe in the oven to finish cooking - about 1 minute - so that the crepe becomes spongey, not fried. I changed that too, deciding to broil the top for a minute instead.

My boys came over, so they ate these without any filling - just gobbled them down. But, I saved one and filled it with sliced beef from the deli, and some vegetables - with Turkish Shawarma seasoning. Shawarma is a middle-eastern sandwich, like a gyro, and anything can go in them. So, that is ultimately what I got, an injera-inspired Ethiopian Crepe with Turkish spices.

This is how it looked, for lunch.

I'll go to Marlene's for teff and buckwheat flour, so I can pull all of this off more authentically. But, for now, I'll include the proceedures here, because when I get time this will be my next experiment. (The cooking process here is a little different):

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups ground teff
  • 2 cups water
  • salt, to taste
  • vegetable oil, for the skillet

Directions

  1. Mix ground teff with the water and let stand in a bowl covered with a dish towel at room temperature until it bubbles and has turned sour; This may take as long as 3 days, although I had success with an overnight fermentation; The fermenting mixture should be the consistency of a very thin pancake batter.
  2. Stir in the salt, a little at a time, until you can barely detect its taste.
  3. Lightly oil an 8 or 9 inch skillet (or a larger one if you like); Heat over medium heat.
  4. Pour in enough batter to cover the bottom of the skillet; About 1/4 cup will make a thin pancake covering the surface of an 8 inch skillet if you spread the batter around immediately by turning and rotating the skillet in the air; This is the classic French method for very thin crepes; Injera is not supposed to be paper thin so you should use a bit more batter than you would for crepes, but less than you would for a flapjack pancakes.
  5. Cook briefly, until holes form in the injera and the edges lift from the pan; Do not let it brown, and don't flip it over as it is only supposed to be cooked on one side.
  6. Remove and let cool. Place plastic wrap or foil between successive pieces so they don't stick together.
  7. To serve, lay one injera on a plate and ladle your chosen dishes on top (e.g., a lovely doro wat or alicha). Serve additional injera on the side. Guests can be instructed to eat their meal without utensils, instead using the injera to scoop up their food.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Of Greek Coffee, Couscous and Octopi

Earlier in the week my three sons came over, spending part of their afternoon peeking in the refrigerator and pushing things around in the pantry. They were hungry. They ate the rest of my Almond Biscotti and other cookies.

I made English muffins and orange marmalade earlier in the morning, so I fed them this. The marmalade, about 2 pints, is great on top of yogurt, with a few banana slices. Oranges were on sale - buy one bag, get another free, so I thought marmalade!

Then I made Asian Soup - a Thai base with vegetables, noodles, bite-size octopi, and other fish. George packed this soup in his lunch.
While the soup was cooking I pulled out left-over Moroccan Tagine - Kesksou Tfaia - couscous with meat - that had simmered for hours the day before. It results in a reduction sauce that is wonderful, and the aroma from all the spices is heavenly. Coriander, cinnamon, ginger, cumin, and currants. However, I didn't photograph it, it was eaten and packed in lunches, and gone before I could think to photograph it. (Note to self: Bulk whole coriander is sold at the Hong Kong market.)

My next project: Greek Coffee. I want to order the coffee and the briki online, and experiment. I tried it with a latte pitcher and Turkish coffee, and the foam was beautiful but short-lived. With a little sugar, it was intense and strong. In Greece it is sipped, or slurped, and served with a glass of water. In the 18th century, it was customary for young men, seeking a girl’s hand in marriage, to be served a cup of coffee by her family. This was not simply a symbol of the host’s hospitality - if the coffee was sweet, the suitor had every reason to be pleased; if bitter, the young man would rise politely, say thank you for the conversation, and never be seen again. (Flickr Photo: Ελληνικό καφενείο στα Βουρλά - Greek coffee at Urla-Minor Asia by AntonisP)

Good News ~ A Diagnosis and Treatment

I saw the optho-neurologist yesterday. For over four years my vision has been a real issue, with excessive eye-strain, light sensitivity, and double vision. All of the symptoms fluctuate, with no predictable pattern. It has been quite disabling and exhausting. I've seen an opthomologist, several neurologists, and finally was given a referral to see an opthoneurologist.

After a lengthy exam the doctor concluded that I have a congenital vision defect - have had it all my life - which splits my vision and distorts what I see. When I was a child I noticed that my vision would split, and I just thought it was a consequence of daydreaming. I'd 'pull it back together' by jolting my head and correcting it. However, as I age my brain cannot self-correct the image. Contributing factors are fatigue or exertion, excessive light, noise and intensity.

It has become increasingly troublesome now, as the splitting (double images) is not only double vertically, but also angles sideways. It is all askew, patterns superimposed on each other, in such a garbled image that it is exhausting. The fatigue that results impacts not only on my life, but on my brain.

Too much light, even with sunglasses, has caused blurred vision. It improved immediately when I put pinhole glasses on - glasses that block most of the light coming through. What I need is not dim light, but a small amount of really good light. When the image is crisp, the brain processes more efficiently.

The good news is that all of this can be corrected. The light sensitivity is due to cataract surgery and implants, but the disordered vision can be corrected by prism lenses and eye exercises to help strengthen the muscles. If that doesn't work successfully within a year, a simple surgery can be done on the muscles affecting both eyes which would restore the correct muscle tone. This surgery is routinely done on infants who have muscle problems affecting their eyes at birth.

The optho-neurologist also reviewed my brain scan, moving my skull images all around, from every angle. It was fascinating! He said my brain, eyes, and blood vessels are all healthy.

I'll be wondering what I'll look like - will I be wearing pinhole glasses and prisims? One way or another, I'll be wearing something, as my current vision needs an upgrade, even with my interoccular lens implants. And, I'll keep wearing my visor, even in the house, to cut the glare!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Torta Soffice de Mele ~ Light Apple Cake

When I was reading 'Tuscany The Beautiful Cookbook' by Lorenza de Medici I noticed a photograph of a beautiful cake covered with thin apple slices. I knew I wanted to make it, if for no better reason than to photograph the ripples the apples make when they are baked. They reminded me of the many beautiful wave patterns we've seen underwater when paddling upstream!

The cake is very simple to make, however I adapted ingredients to make it a little more moist and flavorful (yes, just reading ingredients, I could tell that my recipe was going to be more of a cake than a dry tort.) I'll post my recipe here, as this is a cake that I'll definitely make again because it is so exquisite.

Mix the following ingredients together in a blender or food processor, adding flour just 1/3 of a cup at a time, to keep the batter smooth and creamy:

2 cups flour
2/3 cup sugar
3 eggs
2/3 cup melted butter
grated zest of one lemon

1 tsp fresh-grated nutmeg
1 tsp baking powder

1/3 cup half'n'half


Butter and flour a 9 inch springform pan, and smooth the batter out to sides.
Add one can of Solo Apricot Filling over the top, spreading thin and to the edges.
Place exceedingly thin slices of peeled apple on top of the apricot paste, making a pattern. I used two apples, extra crisp and sweet. I sprayed the top with olive oil and a sprinkling of raw sugar.

Bake at 350 for about an hour. Place the cake under the broiler to highlight the light brown edges of the apples. Let cool, and push the cake out of the pan very carefully.


This cake is best served warm right out of the oven - the apple and apricot aroma is strongest then, and the flavor of the butter and cream are enhanced.

I served very small portions of this cake with some home-made yogurt at our Devotional Meeting. Nice, with a cup of decaf green tea.

Apple Pie With Phyllo Topping


A miniature pie for two, butter crust, an apple filling that is cinnamony and sweet, with phyllo and powdered sugar.

Experimenting With Gnocchi

We had a few potatoes left over from the holidays (russet), so I decided to experiment with gnocchi. Depending on how large they are and how you shape them, they can be a little dumpling with many possibilities. I decided to leave my dumplings round, with a home-made spaghetti sauce as flavoring.

Roasted vegetables accompany this meal, cauliflower, sweet-potato, carrots and yellow peppers, zucchini and mushrooms, onion and garlic - whatever I had on hand. They are tossed with olive oil, pepper, Italian herbs and roasted for a half hour.

Inspired by a Sardinian recipe for wild boar called Topini al Cinghiale, I braised a chunk of beef with carrots, celery and onion, added 'Better Than Bullion', Braggs liquid aminos, red wine, and simmered all of it until I had a nice reduction sauce that could be poured over the gnocchi. Also served with this meal: Stewed tomatoes and corn, and buckwheat groats...a very substantial wintertime meal.

One note of caution: Regardless of the variety of sauces used, whether tomato, pesto, chicken alfredo, or a hearty wild boar sauce, it is important to serve the meal right away if the gnocchi are in a sauce. They will soften if left to rest in the oven for a couple of hours - this happened to my 'wild boar' experiment. George called at the last minute, and said he'd be a few hours late for dinner! Fortunately, I reserved most of the gnocchi rather than hold them in the sauce, and they were perfect the next day.


Our weather here has been downright cold, but with brilliant sunshine. I've enjoyed the warmth of the kitchen, and have spent hours reorganizing my cookbooks and reading. I'm currently reading several novels by Sardinian writer Grazia Deledda, who received the Nobel Prize in literature in 1929. Our library has only two of her books, 'La Madre' and 'Reeds in the Wind', and one of them had to be pulled from ancient stacks down in the basement. These novels have been so interesting, with their rich atmospheric settings, the rough and spare Sardinian village life, and the effect of weather in the story telling. I could understand why the recipes fit the landscapes, the weather. I could just imagine the comfort a solitary sheep herder would feel coming home to 'Topini al Cinghiale'.

I've also enjoyed some e-mails from family living through this cold spell. Ruhiyyih mentioned driving to work out in the countryside of eastern Washington. Hoar frost covered everything, and it was like a fairyland. My sister described the deer coming into her meadow, to nibble apples she'd shaken from the tree, and little birds huddled under snowy tree limbs. She put suet and seed out for them, and the deer came by and licked up the crumbs left in the snow.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Preparing For The Worst Case Scenario

No, it is not about walking the trail alone, as pictured here. It is about being prepared when you walk that trail!

Let me explain.
George and I wanted to go for a winter hike - it was cold out, about 35 degrees. He wanted spooky deep forest; I wanted sunlight and warmth with a little crusty snow underfoot.

Where to find the snowfall, the deep forest and the sunlight? The Pack Forest near Mt Rainier.


George wanted to stop at McDonald's for a quick breakfast first; but I suggested a more wholesome meal at home, and hastily prepared both breakfast and lunch at the same time.


I made a corn bisque for lunch, poured it into two thermoses, and made farmer's cheese on naan to go with it. This bisque is hearty, with white kidney beans, home-made pasta, and meat as flavoring.

That done, I made breakfast: Stir-fried cabbage, onion and kale; freshly made Malloreddus pasta with spaghe
tti sauce; whole-grain bread and farmer's cheese; plain yogurt with plum syrup and wild huckleberries. It was a perfect nutritious breakfast for cold weather and hiking, and all of it home-made.

Now, where to hike... George did the research, and I packed accordingly - he packs light, hoping for no mishap, and I pack quite a few items imagining the worst case scenario! (See how different we are?) This hike I packed a large metal cup that could be used to boil water if we got stranded or lost, a thermal reflective survival bag, and extra water for tea if we got cold.

In the past, when we have had some issues, it is always my emergency provisions that have come to the rescue. George has needed more water, more clothing; he forgets trailmix, sunscreen...he's even forgotten his backpack and hiking boots.

I started out with snowpants over my jeans, and six upper layers - a short-sleeve tee shirt, a long-sleeve tee shirt, a sweater with a turtle neck, a wool sweater over that, a lightweight men's wind-breaker and then a fleece men's jacket.

Three reasons to go extra-large on jackets: Better air circulation provides better warmth; if George needs a coat, he'll fit into one that I'm wearing; they are roomy enough to fit over backpacks and fanny packs, keeping you warm and your gear dry.

I've learned that one big backpack is too hard on my shoulders, so I carry all my essentials in a fanny pack and food in a backpack. That way, the weight of the shoulder pack sits on the top of my fanny pack, putting the weight on my hips rather than on my shoulders.

I've also learned that essentials, like knife, fire-start
ing materials, phone, etc. should always be strapped to the body, never taken off. If they are stashed in a jacket and that item is accidently left behind at camp, then one compromises their safety.

It was only a matter of about 20 minutes, hiking uphill, that I began peeling off layers, first the coat, then the wind-breaker, then the wool sweater. George just laughed. As I'd get cool, suddenly we'd be in the deep shadows again, going downhill. I'd have to put all that back on. Then, everything came off again in the sunlight.

Problem was, I had to carry it, first in front under my coat, then under my arm, then finally on a stick like a hobo. Everything I brought I wore, however, at one time or another.

And, the lunch? Ahhhhh, it was filling...... more photos here, in our Flickr account.