Soups On!

Today I am having trouble sitting here and writing. It is beautiful outside and the weather is calling me. I have had a cold for a couple of days so I am trying to take it easy and give myself a chance to recuperate. I haven’t had a head cold in years and this is really annoying! I have been on a roll, eating healthy, and exercising. Yoga everyday which is definitely helping the mobility in my shoulder. As I said before, I have been taking back some control in my life and getting on with it! I was really feeling wonderful and then this…a head cold! Runny nose, watery eyes, headache, sneezing, sniffling, whining. Yes whining! Why now when I have so much to do? Funny. Is there ever really a good time to have a cold?  All I can say is this needs to hurry up and get on outta here so I can get back to my plans!

This is the time of year for soup. I love soup. It is so warm and comforting. I am going to make a huge pot of French onion soup, one of my favorites. And everyone knows a good hot bowl of soup is good for what ails ya! I just found a recipe that uses five different kinds of onions, scallions, shallots, yellow, red, and leeks. I make my soup with a beef broth and a little pinch of cloves. I remember one time, when I had a cold, I made this soup and when I was chopping all the onions my eyes started watering, my nose started running, loosening up all the congestion in my head. Not a pretty sight but afterwards my cold was gone! Onions have many healing properties. I am hoping this works again! Ta ta for now I have to go get chopping!

Recipe

1 lb mixed onions

¼ cup butter

2 pints beef stock

2 twigs of fennel

1 clove

salt and pepper

1 tsp sugar

provolone for topping

splash of brandy

Slice onions, cook in butter in a large cast iron pan until transparent. Bring stock to boil and pour over the onions. Add fennel, clove and seasoning. Lower heat and simmer 30 minutes. Carmelize sugar in a long handled spoon by holding it over heat until it melts and turns a lovely golden brown, stir into soup. Remove soup from heat. Add brandy. Serve with a nice toasty french bread. If you have oven safe crocks, put the toasted slice of bread in the bowl, ladle in soup, then put a slice of provolone cheese on top. Put the bowls on a cookie sheet and place under the broiler for just a few minutes until the cheese is bubbly and golden brown. To your good health, enjoy!!!

 

Just Wandering

Today Scott and I are on our own, Jerry has to work. We have no car so we wander around checking things out withinin walking distance. We are looking for a nearby beach. We find a beautiful little marina, we find a little park. Remember I still have a lot of weakness in my legs so we can’t walk too far. The sky is looking ominous. We better head back, never find the beach.

We head back to the Metro and play some penny slots at the casino. I was playing with a $10 voucher the hotel gave me. At one point I was up $16! Then I quickly lost it all. I don’t think I’m cut out for gambling! It’s lunch time now so we head back to the Metro. We found our friend Linda there. She talks us into trying the croquetas, delicious little ham filled pastries(not really a pastry) more of a doughy fried treat. I have mofongo de pollo with mushroom sauce, it is like mashed plantains and cassava stuffed with chicken, very good indeed. Scott had the can can pork, this is a huge pork chop, the fat is left on and cooked to a crispy deliciousness! This food is very good but I am surprised that with all the abundant vegetation here, the cuisine is not bursting full of fresh tropical fruits and vegetables. Linda orders spaghetti, what!? Why would you order spaghetti in Puerto Rico? Interestingly enough Linda travels quite a bit and explains how she likes to order spaghetti in different places because you can get it just about anywhere and it always has a local twist and flavor to it. Turns out she was right, her spaghetti came with a light brown sauce and it had potatoes in it. More like a stew on pasta than the traditional Spaghetti and meatballs I grew up with. In the future I might have to try this. As for now I enjoy finding Puerto Rican foods that I am unfamiliar with.

We are still pretty tired so we spend the rest of the day hanging out by the pool, swimming and relaxing. The next few days are jam packed with adventure. So we better rest up!

Finally!

More waiting! Our flight keeps getting delayed. The 10:30pm flight turns into an almost midnight flight. If that would have happened this morning we wouldn’t have missed our first plane! There’s nothing we can do but wait. We board the plane and off we go!

We started Wednesday, it is now Thursday. It’s almost 3:00 am when we finally get to our hotel. We have been awake for almost 24 hours. I am beyond tired. The hotel is beautiful, clean, comfortable, a Hyatt House Hotel in San Juan. I notice lots of tropical vegetation and hear the little Ko-Kee frogs singing as we walk to the hotel, they sound like birds. I hit the bed and pass out. When we finally wake up we realize…we are finally here, we are in Puerto Rico! I am still really tired. We go hang out by the pool for a while. I do a little swimming, it feels good. I decide to try and swim every day while I am here to try and help work out the pain that I have been dealing with in my shoulder. I think it’s a damaged nerve. I dry off and soak up a little sun for awhile, it feels so comforting. Nothing to do but pamper myself!

We take a little walk and soak in some of the Puerto Rican flavor. Everyone is so friendly and eager to offer directions or advice. I am amazed that almost everyone here speaks english easily and fluently. They can switch back and forth from spanish to english effortlessly. We head to the Metro and have some amazing local cuisine. I had the Montuno Cubano, which has diced pork which is boiled then fried and sautéed in onions, a tamale, congri rice, and casava. Scott had a wonderful dish, Lomillo A Caballo,  beef steak and eggs. It was delicious and there was so much, we took some home for later.

Late afternoon we drove to La Torre, a cool little town, where we got to watch some filming of the movie that Jerry has been working on. A colorful patchwork of little buildings and restaurants lined the streets. All the sights and sounds were intoxicating. Pigs on spits, pallets for firewood, fried foods, hanging coconuts and plantains. Stray dogs, cats, and wandering chickens everywhere! We went to the Waterfront restaurant to pick up some food for the actors, it was on the Loiza boardwalk. The ocean was beautiful!

We had dinner with the filming crew. The caterers were set up in the middle of a field under a tent. The food was delicious. I was still kinda full from our late lunch, so I ate light. Scott had what he thought was a pile of mashed potatoes, turns out it was mashed plantains and they were delicious, way better than potatoes! We met some interesting people and had some good conversations. As night fell we started to get bitten by no see ums, it was time to go. We were still pretty tired.

Today was a day to relax, unwind, and depressurize from the last few weeks. I am amazed, we are finally here, in Puerto Rico!

Are You What You Eat?

IMG_0725As long as I can remember I have always been a “health nut” call it what you like, but I have always been health conscience. I think its because I grew up with a very sick Mom, she was always in and out of the hospital, she had 36 major operations. I have seen her in ICU, I have heard how she died on the operating table for 3 minutes, I have seen her hooked up to all those machines, pretty scary stuff for a little kid! As I got older I witnessed many mistakes and wrong doings at the hospitals, even misdiagnosis of major things. I do think it was the doctors that finally did her in, but all that is for another story. However I believe it really influenced my health choices. One of my favorite memories of my Mom is going to the health food store with her. Now back in the day these were always little cozy places tucked away from the mainstream with strange smells and all kinds of interesting bottles and potions. Delicious things like honey and bee pollen, ginseng tea, granola, herbs and spices from far away places.The people there always seemed a bit different, very friendly and wise. It was like no where else I had ever been. A tiny place that you could wander around in for hours and not see everything! Now remember there where no Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s back then, so this was a special place! After we bought our vitamins and some new exotic spices I was always allowed to get something, usually a honey filled bit of candy. Very fond memories!

And so it began… my life long goal of taking care of myself, treating my body with some respect, and trying to make good food choices, since before it was mainstream and cool. My Mom was a wonderful cook, you could find her at the grocery store on her way home from a hospital stay, preparing for the next delish thing she was going to feed us! Don’t get me wrong, I am not a strict fanatic. I enjoy a good burger just like the next guy, but I think it’s really important to eat good food, made with love. It’s what I was raised on!

Yikes!

Wow it has been so long since I posted, not good, I know! I have been so crazy busy! I love blogging I feel so peaceful when I am writing. I have created this blog as a journal of my crazy wonderful life. And I have so much to share! So I am going to try a new approach. Maybe, just maybe I will write a “little bit”more often. Sounds less daunting.

I don’t think there has ever been a time in my life that I have been bored, never. I always have things I don’t seem to have enough time to do! I am passionate about so many things! And I don’t like to do things halfway. So…I know there are people out there that are way busier than me, but…I have a ten acre farm which requires constant care, fixing fences, dragging fields, feeding animals, cleaning animals, watering plants, planting and tending new plants, picking up sticks, working horses, and on and on and on! Oh I do enjoy these things but it takes time and commitment, EVERYDAY, it’s not something you do part time! Brushing and washing dogs, grooming horses, collecting eggs, playing with the rabbit, filling the bird feeders, cleaning cat bowls, changing the water in the fish tank, cleaning water troughs. Wow this is beginning to sound crazy! Not really! Like I said, I do love it. But on top of all this, I am an artist, a chef, a wife, a mother, a riding instructor, and an adventurer! Last week I created and, with some help from the guys, made some Christmas decorations for the farm entrance. Oh! And the week before that I designed and created a new name and sign for the farm! New name, new sign, new beginning!

Sometimes it gets tricky juggling all of this at once! My daughter is grown, so I don’t have children in the house any more and I have cut way back on riding lessons since the liability insurance has gotten so high. But lately I have been traveling a lot, which I adore! Something I always dreamed of doing but never thought I would actually have the opportunity to do. It is for work, but we do get to play also! As a private chef I am always learning and trying new things in the kitchen. Cooking, for me, is also a creative endeavor! Traveling has given me the ability to search out wonderful restaurants and new food experiences! Traveling has also inspired my artwork, which is a major focus for me right now. I feel I am maturing as an artist, moving in some new directions with my paintings, feeling alive!

Never one to sit still for very long, last week we went hiking on Paynes Prairie and found some amazing places to eat! Now I am not a huge BBQ fan, but we had the best BBQ at a little place called Pearls, a tiny restaurant tucked inside a Marathon gas station in Micanopy, Fl. And a wonderful little place called Mosswood Farm Store, where you can get handmade soaps and candles and what nots, organic coffee and some of the best bread and brownies I’ve had in a long time! Then we spent the rest of the weekend cleaning out the loft above the garage for more studio space, for bigger and better things to come!

Peeps!

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Chicks!

Chicks!

Wow these little egg shaped critters are so cute! I am learning all about raising them. Right now they are in my tub under a heat lamp. Not too hot not too cold! Messy messy messy! There is a lot to know, I am surprised. But I think they will make a wonderful addition to the garden.  They eat bugs, aireate the soil with their scratching, they will provide compost, and help clean up the kitchen scraps. Not to mention the eggs! Fresh eggs are the absolute best! Naturally raised, free range chickens produce eggs with dark yellow yolks the darker color means more vitamins, which come from the healthy variety of foods they eat.  Eggs are an excellent and inexpensive form of protein. They contain complete protien with all 9 essential amino acids that humans cannot produce themselves. They also contain vitamin D, which promotes strong bones and reduces inflammation.

The chickens I got are supposed to lay colored eggs, I can’t wait! There are so many ways to eat eggs. Hardboiled, scrambled, poached, in omelets, in almost everything you bake! But I really enjoy the classic dessert Creme Brûlée this is a recipe that I baked over the holidays and it was fabulous!

This is a wonderful recipe from Williams-Sonoma.com

A classic dessert, vanilla crème brûlée should be experienced in its purest form before embellishing it with additional ingredients. You might try steeping lemon or orange peel with the vanilla bean, or adding a pinch of cinnamon, nutmeg or cardamom. Either way, this simple recipe will produce a smooth, velvety custard with a delicate caramel topping.
Ingredients:
1/2 vanilla bean
2 cups heavy cream
3 egg yolks
Pinch of salt
1/4 cup plus 4 Tbs. sugar
Directions:
Preheat an oven to 300°F. Have a pot of boiling water ready. Line a baking pan that is 2 to 3 inches deep with a small kitchen towel.

Using a paring knife, split the vanilla bean lengthwise down the middle and scrape the seeds into a 2-quart saucepan. Add the cream, stir to mix and set the pan over medium-low heat. Warm the cream until bubbles form around the edges of the pan and steam begins to rise from the surface. Remove from the heat and set aside to steep, about 15 minutes.

In a large bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, salt and the 1/4 cup sugar until smooth and blended. Gradually add the cream to the egg mixture, whisking until blended. Pour the custard through a fine-mesh sieve set over a bowl. Divide the custard among four 5- or 6-oz. ramekins and place the ramekins in the prepared baking pan. Add boiling water to fill the pan halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Cover the pan loosely with aluminum foil and bake until the custard is just set around the edges, 35 to 40 minutes.

Transfer the ramekins to a wire rack and let cool to room temperature. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or up to 3 days.

Just before serving, sprinkle 1 Tbs. of the sugar evenly over each custard. Using a kitchen torch, melt the sugar according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Serve immediately.
Serves 4.
Williams-Sonoma Kitchen.

March Mischief!

Before

Before

March and it’s madness is in the air! We have pollen everywhere! Just when the weather is awesome and you want to be outside biking, hiking, gardening, etc. perfect temps and everything greening up and blossoming out! Overnight the oak pollen and caterpillars seem to have taken over. Yikes they are everywhere! On door knobs and gates on bikes and lawn chairs. Be careful what you touch and where you sit! March is usually dry for us and unusually windy which only makes matters worse! Doesn’t matter what color car you have this month it will be coated in a lovely yellowish green powder! Not to mention everything and anything else you might leave outside!

So I thought it might be a good idea to spend a little time inside. I decided to cook up a batch of corned beef and cabbage and bake a lovely cake to bring to my daughters house later on in the evening. I had just picked up the latest BHG and found a recipe I wanted to try by Beth Kirby, it was a dark chocolate cake with fresh strawberry buttercream. Strawberries are in season and so yummy right now, and chocolate…well that’s always in season! So, I spent the afternoon whipping up this wonderful cake. Now I am not a huge cake fan, I normally prefer to just lick the spoon, but this cake was really delicious, the moistest chocolate cake and I just loved the fresh strawberry buttercream! It took some time but I would definitely make this cake again!

So we are getting ready to head out and I set the cake down on the kitchen table, it was pretty heavy so I was gonna get one of the guys to carry it to the car. I went outside to put a few other things in the car. I wasn’t outside 5 minutes. I came back in to get it and, my dog and long time kitchen helper, MacKenzie had very delicately helped herself to a small portion of it! Oh noooo! She has never ever done anything like this before! All I can do is laugh! Apparently she has a sweet tooth and knows a good cake when she sees (smells)one!

As I mentioned earlier, it seems that March has a mischievousness about it inside and out!

Chocolate is not good for dogs but she seems to be fine, except now she has a new nickname…Cake Eater! I will just have to be more careful in the future of where I put things.

After

After

My kitchen helper and cake eater, MacKenzie!

My kitchen helper and cake eater, MacKenzie!

Magical Mix or Mysterious Goo- Sourdough Starter

Magical mix or mysterious goo?

Magical mix or mysterious goo?

There seems to always be some mystery around sourdough starter. I remember the sweet sour smell coming from a bubbling crock in a quiet corner of my Moms kitchen counter. Her measuring and caring for it like a little creature. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t. Very strange but very delicious! My Mom’s sourdough bread was wonderful, crusty and browned perfectly on the outside and warm and light on the inside! It had complex flavors mildly sour and yeasty with just a little sweetness. My mouth waters just thinking about it.

So what is this crazy concoction all about? Sourdough starter is a treasured part of many bakers’ kitchens, sometimes passed down through generations. Sourdough baking is as much art as science. What makes this bread so special? The breads seem to take on the essence of were they originate.

Well basically it’s pretty simple, flour, water, and time. There are many recipes online but I wanted to keep it simple. With so few ingredients it is essential to use the highest quality you can find. I use filtered water and unbleached all purpose flour. The wild fermentation of flour and water will usually yield beautiful results in about 5 days.

So here is what I did.

Mix 2 ½ cups of filtered water room temperature with

2 cups unbleached all purpose flour

and I added 1 tbsps. Sugar

I mixed this all together with a wooden spoon in a ceramic bowl and took it out on my deck, I sat with it for about a 20 minutes, letting it gather wild yeast from the air, myth or not I wanted to do it.  Then I brought it in, covered it loosely and let it sit in a warm, quiet corner overnight.

Right away it started with little bubbles coming to the surface, so exciting! It is a living thing that you must take care of, you must discard some and add some to keep it healthy. You are cultivating yeast and lactobacillus which must be fed if you want to keep it active. If you take proper care of it, it should be ready to use in 5 days.

Mystery or goo? I hope to be baking a loaf sometime next week. I will keep you posted!

Get Fresh!

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I am totally in love with the movement towards eating healthfully, locally, and sustainably. I enjoy using fresh locally grown fruits and vegetables. You can transform everyday meals into seasonal celebrations! Cooking, for me, is a creative adventure! I grow some of my own fruits and vegetables and I have quiet an extensive herb garden. But making great finds as you forage at farmers markets, supermarkets, and roadside stands is all part of the adventure. The amazing colors and textures, tastes, and smells engage all of your senses! It is like a scavenger hunt as you search for purple heirloom tomatoes or the perfectly ripe avocado. You can even receive weekly boxes of handpicked produce from your local Community Supported Agricultural Programs or Co-op which is so much fun because you never know what kind of wonderful new things you will find to expand your culinary sense of adventure!

My cooking is produce based, so I start my meal planning around what fabulous, flavorful foods I can find. I am very fortunate in that within a few miles of my kitchen I can pick my own strawberries, blackberries, and blueberries. Right across the street is a wonderful little farm, Delightful Acres, that sells free roam chicken and duck eggs, raw jersey cow and goat milk, and they make amazing farmers cheese, delish!  About a mile down is an organic produce farm, Fernandos, where you can find all things produce, he even grows wheat grass. Fernando actually picks and washes the lettuce as you buy it. Can’t get any fresher than that! A little further up the road is Pasture Prime and they offer grass fed Wagyu beef and grass fed pork. These things may cost a little more, bu t if you have never tasted a grape picked right off the vine or a farm fresh egg where the yolks are huge and a beautiful bright orange, you are missing out! I am so grateful for these little treasures!

I am passionate about making a positive social and environmental impact while creating and eating deliciously healthy foods!

Squeeze your Avocados!

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I know…I know…so much hype about avocados! Never really liked them much, never really ate them much. Guacamole eh! But then one day I was working at the deli and our produce guy cut one up, mashed it, gave it a squirt of lime and some salt and pepper, awesomeness! It was so fresh and so clean tasting! This is by far my favorite way to eat them.

They are actually a fruit that comes from Mexico and is related to cinnamon, camphor, and bay laurel. They have tons of good for you stuff in em, can lower bad cholesterol and help your body absorb the carotenoids and fat soluble vitamins E and K which they also have a lot of. They are high in healthy fats and fiber which can keep you feeling full longer so you aren’t as tempted to overeat.

You must squeeze your avocados to tell if they are ripe, color is not the best indicator, they should give just a little when they are ripe, not too mushy, not too firm. An avocado tree can produce 200 avocados a year.

Recently they have become very popular. And are used in everything from sandwiches and salads to smoothies. I think that right now even McDonalds has them on a burger! However I find some people are still scared of them. I am always looking for ways to incorporate healthy foods into the meals I prepare. Wasn’t so sure about this recipe but I thought I would give it a try. Chocomole Pudding…

16 Medjool dates pitted and chopped and soaked in hot water for 5 minutes then drain, 3 ripe avocados peeled & pitted, 1 cup almond milk, 1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, ¼ cup agave nectar, 1tblsp. Coconut oil, 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract, pinch of sea salt. Basically put all this into a food processor and blend until smooth. Chill 3 hours and garnish with berries, if desired. It is so good that my friend that wouldn’t touch guacamole loved it! Just sayin!!!

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