Eggs and Veg

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This started out with a future as an omelette, but there were so many things hanging out in the fridge that it turned into more of an “egg pizza” type thing, since folding it was impossible. It made a rather nice picture (and lunch), so I thought I’d share.

 

Ingredients

  • 3 eggs
  • handful of fresh parsley, chopped
  • 2 slices ham lunch meat
  • 2 baby portabella mushrooms, chopped
  • peas
  • 1 scallion, cut in half slices
  • cheddar cheese
  • ketchup
  • salt and pepper to taste
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Pukka Blackcurrent Beauty Tea

While in England several years ago, Mom picked up a box of PG Tips herbal blackcurrent tea (it was deep and delicious), and since then we have been trying different blackcurrent teas. This year, she got me a box of Pukka Blackcurrent Beauty. Their boxes are very pretty, and after seeing what was in it, I couldn’t wait to try this tea–and review it (Pinkybag has such great tea reviews and has inspired me a lot lately when it comes to trying new teas).

Tea Info

Packaging: The box and individual bags are very purple, which greatly pleases me. I do love purple. The text is white and a silvery gray, another color I like very much,

Description: “Deliciously deep purple organic fruits to help you glow inside and out.” A bit markety, but it does tell me what they’re going for.

Tea Mix: Rosehip, hibiscus flower, licorice root, sweet fennel seed, orange peel, beetroot, blackcurrent fruit, natural blackcurrent flavor, orange essential oil flavor.

Making Tea

Unlike a lot of people, not only do I drink iced tea, I’m known to add tea bags to my glass of water. It is my main drink, and sometimes I get tired of it and want some extra flavor. Some teas are great (or even better!) cold, and some aren’t, so I’m going to review both cold and hot versions. A tip with doing this is using a few ice cubes when you first put the bag in, they will hold it under the water so that it steeps better.

Opening the Bag: This is a tea you can smell before even opening the box. It smells like licorice, and a bit sweet. The packets also smell like licorice before being opened.

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Cold Tea: It only took a few minutes for my cold water to turn purple, and it went through several hues very quickly before settling more or less on the color shown here (I didn’t use ice on this one).

Hot Tea: Unfortunately, this tea produced an unusual tingling sensation, often connected with allergies, so I won’t be drinking more of it (I’m fine, just don’t want to take chances). Do hot cups were had. It’s a shame, since it’s good.

Writing Spaces

As a writer, I often have the feeling that many non-writers fantasize about being inspired to write a book one day, and often romanticize both the work and process of writing (or really, editing, as some would put it). This includes the romantic notion of having a well-appointed “writing space.” This may be true of writers who were wealthy before writing, or who could later afford that dream space for their writing. This story makes a good illustration.

Most of us, though, carve out mental space instead. According to this Reader’s Digest list, many famous authors have written in places far from a cozy cottage writing desk or a well-appointed room tucked away in the east wing of the family’s mansion. Both are places I often think of when imagining the ideal writing space. What we do, instead, is adapt the places we already have, the time that is already there, and learn to develop the focus needed to suit our environment.

Like some of the writers listed in the earlier link, I write during my commute on the train, and in bed. The train requires intense focus from distraction; the bed requires intense focus from the wondering mind. Of course, I can write elsewhere, but those are the places I’ve carved out of my life for it.

There is no magic place that can make someone a great writer. What there are is times and places already in life that we can harness for writing. It is time, practice, and development that do the “magic” that many uninitiated people are looking for in their romantic notions of someday writing that book. And those things are a space that must be cultivated in the self.

Flower Tutorial: Flowers & Produce

While looking for interesting ideas for Easter arrangements this year, I saw quite a few ideas involving either fruit or vegetables. That quickly became the theme, and I’m rather pleased with how it turned out. Here, we’ll discuss several types of arrangements involving fruits and vegetables.

Around the Arrangement

One of the easiest ways to incorporate produce is to cover the outside or inside of the vase with produce. If you’re going for inside, whole or sliced citrus fruits are quite striking.

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If you’re going for the outside, a long, thin vegetable such as pea pods or scallions can be lined around the outside of the vase and tied with string, such as this vase of tulips lined around the outside with scallions.

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In the Arrangement

There are many ways to include produce in the arrangement itself. Branches of fruit can be inserted in foam or placed in vase arrangements, while many fruits or vegetables can be picked and placed in foam arrangements.

 

 

The arrangement on the left is based on foam, and the fruit is also supported by the compote dish used. On the right, carrots and scallions have been placed in a vase, and the carnations are supported by a bunch of parsley.

Things like apples, citrus, and artichokes can be picked. This is done by inserting a floral pick (often wood) into the piece and securing the other end into the foam. Using a floral glue such as Oasis Floral Adhesive or Flora Bond around the entry site into the fruit can be used as an extra measure for both security and the leakage of juices from the produce.

 

As the Container

By far, the most showy way to use fruit is often as the “vase” or container itself. Examples include lettuces, melons, squashes, or pineapples. For our Easter display, I chose a purple cabbage, and a small watermelon. Although both worked out, getting them ready for use was quite different.

 

 

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The cabbage was much more difficult, requiring a sharp knife and fork once I got down to the brain-like layers. The watermelon was incredibly easy. Once hallowed out, I cut floral foam to fit, soaked it, and lined it with plastic wrap to keep any bacteria from getting into it. Because the spaces were a bit small, especially for the cabbage, I left a fair amount of foam above the top so that there was room to work with.

At this point, I designed as normal, although being extra careful not to pull anything out and replace it was important due to the space available.

 

 

If you’re looking to something smaller, or rather diminutive, arranging some flowers in citrus fruits is a good choice. For this, I used water tubes cut down to size as a water source for the flowers. While I have seen images of flowers simply stuck into the flesh of the fruit, I haven’t tested it to see if it will kill the flower due to the high acidity levels.

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Here, I used oranges, lemons, and limes. It was very helpful to cut a flat surface on the bottom side of each fruit for stability. Most of the flowers were large enough to cover the tube ending, and these worked very well.

 

Overall, citrus and watermelon are the easiest things to use, although the citrus is probably the most versatile thing I’ve worked with. However, all create stunning arrangements that encourage comment.

Stories for Foodies

I want to take a moment to talk about stories with strong elements of food–both print and film. You know, the kind of stories or movies that make you drool and go “This is making me so hungry, I can’t finish this without eating something.” Hopefully, as a person who eats, this is interesting to you. Please do comment with stories and movies you’d include on your own list.

 

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: While this wasn’t originally on my list, I enjoyed both movies, and the book. Roald Dahl’s quirky characters and invitation to imagination shouldn’t be missed.

Chocolat: Anyone who loves chocolate should give this movie or book a try. The life of a small town in France is turned upside down when a stranger comes to town and opens a chocolate shop.

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (book): I loved this book as a child (and still do). It was great fun to read and imagine how great it would be to have your food just come to you like that. It was whimsical and exciting, and great to share with the kids in your life.

Julie and Julia: I’ve not read the book, so this is about the movie. The Julia Child half is by far the strongest, and there’s plenty of edible eye candy in this movie.

Marie Antoinette: Visually, this is a stunningly beautiful movie by Sophia Coppola, based on a book (which I likewise haven’t read). It is filmed in Versailles, and has Versailles-worthy food in so. many. scenes. From stunning gelatin, to display fish, to confections, this is worth a watch if you’re into food.

Miriam’s Kitchen: This non-fiction book is the memoir of a Jewish woman who is learning to be Jewish, and focuses on her family and food. It’s a fascinating look at modern Judaism in America and the journey of their food and how it was changed by the Holocaust.

My Life in France: I’m only partway into this autobiographical book by Julia Child, and it’s already something I know I’ll finish no matter how long it takes. Not only is it witty, quirky, and interesting in itself, but for the food.

The Ramen Girl: This little-known film starring Brittany Murphy is about an American girl who becomes the apprentice of a stubborn old ramen chef while living in Tokyo. This story is about the healing power of a good bowl of ramen (the Japanese equivalent to the Western world’s chicken soup).

Ratatouille: Even if you think animated movies are for kids, check out this movie about a rat who helps a clueless young man in a restaurant kitchen.

The Redwall Series: Readers of this series about anthropomorphic animals fighting will know what I’m talking about when I say the feasts are drool-inducing. Yes, you should totally check one out.

The School of Essential Ingredients: This best-selling novel book-club style book features a group of strangers taking a cooking class, and how it changes their lives. It’s engrossing and work the read.

Yakitate!! Japan: This is a Japanese manga and anime series about a boy who wants to be a professional baker and create a national bread for Japan. The series combines baking science with fantastical “taste reactions” for a very fun and pleasing story.

 

 

Semi-Homemade

Semi-homemade is a type of cooking that makes use of premade, canned, or mixed foods as “shortcuts” in cooking. For instance, using store-made cookies or dough to make cookie-ice cream scream sandwiches, instead of making the cookies from scratch. Another common occurrence is adding ingredients to cake mixes.

This is an idea that can be quite controversial for some people–especially professional chefs, such as Anthony Bourdain. However, as a normal person without the time or training to make everything from scratch, I am usually a fan of semi-homemade food…within reason. For instance, I don’t bother with adding things to pre-packaged cake mixes; when adding milk, butter, and eggs, one may as well just make the cake from scratch. Households where cooking is a regular occurrence usually have all the ingredients on hand, and you’re still going to use the mixer.

I also want my semi-homemade items to taste good. If it tastes like it came out of a can, and that’s unappealing, that’s not something I’m interested in making. Overall, semi-homemade is a great way to cook while also working and being busy. It can also be useful when you need to substitute ingredients. Earlier this week, I substituted a box of mac n cheese and the packets for a box of regular pasta and shredded cheese. Our dinner was still yummy.

Or take puff pastry. How many people really have the time and patience to roll out the layers of dough and butter every few hours rather than buying it at the store? Hubby threw Nutella in off-brand crescent rolls last week and it was delicious.

Some chefs do embrace this idea, most notably Sandra Lee, who describes her cooking as “using 70 percent pre-packaged products and 30 percent fresh items” and was star of Food Network’s Semi-Homemade. While I wouldn’t make everything her way, she has perfected this art as part of her brand.

Do you have a strong opinion on throwing together premade items vs. all from scratch meals? Comment for discussion.

 

Teriyaki Miso Ramen with Nori and Bonito

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Ingredients

  • 3/4 quart ham stock
  • 1 1/2 quart water
  • 2 carrots, peeled and sliced
  • 1/2 large onion, diced
  • 1 1/2 cups broccoli
  • 3 instant ramen bricks, with bullion packets
  • 1/8 cup teriyaki sauce
  • 1/4 cup miso paste
  • 1 nori sheet, torn into pieces
  • 1 handful bonito flakes

 

Method

Combine stock, water, and bullion packets in a large pot. Add teriyaki and salt and pepper. Next, add the vegetables. When everything is heated and softened to your liking, add the noodles. When ready, stir in miso paste by putting it in a ladle and slowly mixing it with the broth.

Serve into large bowls, and top with nori pieces and bonito flakes.

 

Notes

Ever since discovering how easy it is to make ramen at home with pre-made noodles, it’s become a great treat whenever we do have it, whatever we choose to put in it that day. One of the most important flavor components, however, is not relying on the bullion/flavoring packets that come with instant noodles. If you can start with about a quart of stock, it will be so much better. The reason for including at least a few of the packets is so that it tastes nice.

I especially liked the addition of bonito flakes, which I have seen on other types of Japanese dishes and decided to give it a try. The great thing? When you put these on something hot, they move around and curl up. It’s really rather cool. They also have a nice deep flavor which I enjoyed.

As with our last bowl of home-made ramen, I find I really enjoy adding a soy-based sauce. Whatever I have on hand is what I tend to use, and it’s usually tasty. This is a method I use with fried rice, as well.

Fish Pie

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This doesn’t look like much–not much color variation–but this was too delicious not to share. After talking about savory pies with internet friends yesterday, and mentioning fish pie, I was craving it. By some miracle, we had all the ingredients pretty much ready to go, so I made it for dinner.

What is fish pie? you may ask. While there are some versions with pastry, it is usually a fish version of shepard’s (lamb) or cottage (beef or pork) pie. The meat is mixed with vegetables and gravy, topped with mashed potatoes, and baked in the oven. Fish pie is made instead with fish and white sauce.

It’s something I first came across years ago when we were first married. Catfish was dirt cheap at the time, and so naturally I was looking for more ways to use it. We both love seafood and mashed potatoes, I’m a huge fan of white sauce, so why not give it a try? I’ve made it occasionally since then, and don’t use a recipe anymore. However, I’ll post one below for those who’d like to try it.

 

Ingredients

  • 1 pack imitation crab meat, chopped
  • about 20 shrimp (pre-cooked), cut in pieces
  • 1/2 bag frozen peas
  • 1 small or 1/2 large onion, diced
  • 1 Tbsp oil
  • 2 cups mashed potatoes
  • salt, pepper, and herbs to taste
  • milk
  • 2 large spoonfuls butter
  • 2 heaping spoonfuls flour

 

Method

  1. Heat a sauce pan with the oil and brown the onions.
  2. Add peas and enough milk to come to the top of the peas. Cook until no longer frozen.
  3. Add imitation crab, and again enough milk to just come to the top.
  4. Once peas are completely thawed and hot, add the shrimp and enough milk to just come to the top. Add seasonings to taste.
  5. Cook for just a few minutes, and then strain the milk into a bowl.
  6. Put fish and pea mixture into a mixing bowl. Set aside.
  7. Melt butter in sauce pan and add flour. Once combined, slowly mix the reserved milk in to make the white sauce. Season to taste.
  8. Once white sauce thickens, add to mixing bowl and combine with the seafood mixture. Pour evenly into a pie plate or baking dish.
  9. Spread mashed potatoes over the fish mixture in an even layer.
  10. Bake at 350F for 20 minutes, and then 400F for 10 minutes. Place on a baking sheet to catch any sauce that comes over the sides of the baking dish.
  11. Cool slightly before serving.

 

Notes

  • Any seafood can be used in this dish; I generally use what I have on hand. Just ensure it isn’t spoiled and is properly cooked before going in the oven. The best I’ve done so far had scallops in it.
  • It’s easier to use pre-cooked or instant mashed potatoes, such as on a week night like I did here, but you can make your own if you desire or have more time.
  • Usually, I use lemon pepper in both the fish mixture and sauce, as it goes well with fish, but what herbs and spices you use are up to you.
  • The secret to the great taste of this sauce is the reserved milk from the fish. It is absolutely worth it to strain the milk for this one.
  • The potatoes I used were frozen Oprah ones from the store–great sale price. I normally don’t go for that kind of branding, but I have to say they were delicious. Would definitely buy again if significantly on sale. The package indicated it also contained cauliflower.
  • Like most of my non-baking recipes, don’t worry too much about the measurements here. Use whatever size dish your ingredients turn out to fit well in.

The Landing at the Bottom of the Stairs

I have been working on a later part of Eiry‘s story lately, and got to a point where the characters were heading out the door. Their apartment is above a shop, and getting out involves 2 doors with a set of stairs between. When it got to them leaving, despite it being to an important event, I felt the story pausing there. Sure, it’s been used in other parts of the story, but it got me wondering how much.

In the building layout, the bottom of the stairs is a way-point between several areas: the shop, up the stairs to the apartment, and out into the alley. Thus, it takes on the functions of a foyer or, since we’re in Japan, a genki. There is space here for shoes, coats, umbrellas and such, so pausing here on the way in or out is natural. I suppose this is what leads to some scenes taking place here–the lover who lingers before leaving, in particular.

I’m not exactly sure that what I’m currently working on will stay in this location–it’s been decades but I’m not sure if/where they may have moved or “upgraded” to at the moment. So for now, it’s where this scene is taking place. And with the inclination for an intimate moment, I wondered how much had already happened there.

For instance:

  • The first kiss
  • Their last talk before the first mating season, sitting at the bottom of the stairs
  • Random freaky baby drop-off point (2013)

While not a ton going on over a lifetime, several important things have happened here, most notably as the place where Eiry’s adopted daughter first appears out of the blue. Scary for her, but quite fun to write!

Anyway, this made me think about what various unassuming places we tell our stories in, and where they may unexpectedly pause.

Fennel and Onions

A side dish I make every month or two now is fennel and onions, cooked into submission over a few hours on low heat. I tend to eat it with mac n cheese or meat, and pack some for a friend who also particularly likes this dish. Most of the ingredients are substitutable by type and I use what I have on hand. My most recent batch included tarragon, which was a good addition.

 

Ingredients

  • 2 fennel bulbs, thinly sliced
  • 1 or 2 large onions as you prefer, thinly sliced
  • 2 Tbsp oil or butter
  • ~1 cup stock
  • ~1/3 cup white wine
  • At least 1 fresh herb, chopped fine, to taste. 2 are better.
  • Dried savory, to taste
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

 

Method

  1. Heat oil or butter in a large pan with deep sides. Add fennel and onions and cook until soft, stirring occasionally.
  2. When reduced and softer, add herbs and seasonings. Continue on low heat.
  3. Once more liquid is needed to keep vegetable from darkening, alternately add enough stock or wine to just cover the bottom of the pan each time more liquid is needed.
  4. Cook down to desired consistency; I find the flavors meld better when extremely limp and it takes up only a fraction of the space it did at the beginning.
  5. Serve or store.

 

Notes

Wine isn’t necessary if you don’t drink. I prefer using Arbor Mist wines in this dish as it gives a lovely fruity flavor.

Originally I made this dish with more butter rather than stock, but this version is healthier. If not using wine, a bit more butter would help for flavor.

I do use different amounts of onion depending on the flavor balance I want, or how many I have.

Measurements are estimated. It’s really not a problem for this particular recipe. If you try it and make adjustments, let me know how it turns out.