Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Chewy cinnamon oatmeal cookies and musings

We have been blessed by a beautiful September. The sun has been shining almost every day and the kids have been spending the warm afternoons in the square by their school with their friends. They play ball and Chinese jump rope, they climb up the school fence and draw on the pavement with colored chalk. In the mornings and evenings, however, the air is undeniably chillier and on my way to work I have started noticing fallen leaves and open chestnut burrs on the bike lane.
Fall is in the air and as I start pulling out our duvets from their summer hiding places and sorting through the kids' winter clothers, I can't help but feel drawn towards the kitchen. I am craving all things autumn: warm oatmeal, cinnamon, apple pies and pumpkin soup.
Over the week end I baked my first batch of cookies in a while, and I have been bringing them to my kids as a snack everyday after school.
As I was mixing the ingredients I thought about some things I had heard over the week. Stories that once again made reminded me that there are extraordinary women and men everywhere, not just on the cover stories of magazines.
Perhaps I should rephrase that. There are ordinary people everywhere doing extraordinary things. Mothers and fathers who work, who lead hectic lives, yet still manage to make a difference; people who are quietly fighting demons, yet do their thing better and with more passion and energy than I have most of the time.
Like my friend who has two kids of her own and a job and will be welcoming a child from the highly contaminated areas around Chernobyl into her home for five weeks in October. These yearly visits help lower the radioactive levels in the childrens' bodies and the healthy and uncontaminated food they eat helps further boost their immune systems. The families participating in this project are lending a helping hand whilst offering their own children a unique opportunity of intercultural exchange.
Or the two families in my child's class who recently adopted siblings at an age when the large majority of couples would not take in a child, let alone two or three.
Or this other woman I know (but apparently less than I thought I did) who has a job, a husband who travels and a gaggle of noisy, cute children. I always marvel at her appearance, not because she is dressed up to the nines or perfectly coiffed and accessorized, but because she always smiles and is surrounded by a positive aura. If she feels tired or frustrated like I often do with my two kids, you certainly can't tell. Other moms are constantly asking her how she does it all and I have often wondered how long it would take for her to stop smiling and tell them to shut up. Then I found out (not from her, might I add) that she has been fighting harder battles than getting her toddler to wear the shirt she put out for him, which is probably why her smile is of the most genuine kind, because she appreciates life in its every nuance. Or maybe that is just the way she is, maybe she just has a solar personality. Who knows?
What do we really know about the many people we come across every day, in our ordinary dealings? Not much really. It is so easy to wait by the school entrance with a bunch of moms and dads and just make assumptions about them and their lives. Maybe a sentence you overheard out of context or something as silly as a pair of shoes or a necklace creates an image in your mind of a person or family you really know nothing about. What do we know about their true story?

But this is a whole new topic. Forgive me for taking you for a ride down my stream of consciousness. My point is, when we take the time to get to know people better, we not only become better people ourselves, we also learn that the extraordinary exists in the most ordinary places. So look around and let yourself be inspired daily. I know I am.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Japanese curry

When you think curry, the first place that comes to mind is probably India followed by the UK and finally South East Asia with its multicolored variations.

What many of you might not know is that curry can be considered one of Japan's national dishes due to its popularity. It is served with rice, noodles or even as a soup and can be made with an incredible range of ingredients. This extremely widespread dish was introduced by the British back in the 19th century (the British Navy used to add curry powder to their otherwise traditional stews) and has become a more Westernized version of Indian curry as a result. Curry rice is probably the most popular kind (so much so that it is commonly just called curry) and is usually made with beef, pork or chicken and vegetables like carrots, potatoes and onions (but peas and mushrooms are popular too). Although it was originally cooked by preparing a roux with flour, oil and curry powder, nowadays adding instant roux - sold in blocks or powder - to the meat and vegetable stew is the most common way to make it. The blocks look like chocolate bars and come in varying degrees of spiciness: mild, medium hot and very hot.
The first time I had Japanese curry was in the early Nineties. My flatmate had sublet her room for the summer, I was still finishing my last exams at university before summer vacation, and so for a few weeks I crossed paths with a sweet, shy Japanese girl called Keiko. She was in Milan for the summer to study fashion design and one evening she said she would make us dinner. Those were the days when there were two, maybe three Japanese restaurants in town. The Japanese food trend had not caught on yet and the strange ingredients (raw fish! seaweed!) and high prices were eyed suspiciously by my friends. When a craving for sushi hit I usually went out to dinner with an English friend but it was not something we could do that often on a student budget. Naturally, I was over the moon at the thought of eating authentic Japanese food right in my very own kitchen.
A more liquid version you could eat with noodles
The last thing I expected upon entering the apartment, however, was the smell of curry. Keiko smiled at my surprised expression and explained it was one of her family's favorite meals. I dug in enthusiastically and loved it from the first bite.
Since then it has become a favorite of mine too. Back in the day I had to go to the only Japanese food store around to buy it and it was quite pricey. Now I can pretty much buy it in any Asian grocery (which have sprung up like mushrooms alongside the many Japanese restaurants in the city - there are at least 6 of them in a 5 minute walking radius from our apartment now) for under 5 euro and can whip up an authentic Japanese meal in under an hour!
It is one of those perfect pantry items to always have handy: it is simple to make, it is a crowd pleaser and an inexpensive and easy option to feed a large group. If you are not a meat lover, you can make a vegetarian/pescatarian version with shrimp or your favorite vegetables.


Monday, September 16, 2013

Plum galette with ginger ricotta filling


Plums may have been one of the first fruits to be domesticated by humans. Remains have been found dating from the Neolithic age. They were mentioned in writing by Confucius (also, in Chinese mythology, plums are associated with age and wisdom), the Greeks and the Romans.
They are the most cultivated fruit in the world after apples and they come in many colors, sizes and shapes. Plums are used in both sweet and savory preparations. They can be dried, pickled and are used to make alcoholic beverages in several countries.

Blah, blah, blah...
I know. You didn't come here for this. I mean, these facts may have been interesting and even amusing (in a nerdy-foodie kinda way), but this? This is just boring. Stuff you already know, and if you don't, maybe it is because you don't particularly care to know it.
Am I right?

I did want to tell you something... it's just that...
... my mind is a total blank...
For the life of me, I cannot come up with one single amusing or entertaining thing to write today.
But I have a dessert for you that I am just dying to share. I want to tell you about it even if I don't have a cutesy preamble for you. After all, this is a food blog, is it not?
So I am going to cut right to the chase and give you the recipe for a delightful, very seasonal, rustic yet elegant galette to make with your overabundance of plums.
Hope you enjoy it as much as I did.


Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Smoked salmon and scallion cream cheese pinwheels

I know that for a lot of people who love to cook being on vacation means lots of time to prepare food for family and friends. They like to spend long mornings at local markets sourcing for ingredients they cannot find as good, as cheap - or at all in many cases - back home. They never leave home without their knives or some other favorite kitchen tool or essential ingredient. They relax firing up the barbecue or mixing large carafes of frozen cocktails.
I often entertain such Martha Stewart fantasies about moving at ease around a kitchen in Provence, French windows open on a garden where the children quietly play hide and seek behind the bushes and trees, a light flowing skirt swirling just above my tanned bare feet. A pinch of tarragon here, a drizzle of dry white wine there...
The reality, however is very different: I rarely cook consistently on vacation, especially summer vacation.
When we visit my husband's side of the family, there is no doubt about who reigns in the kitchen. I humbly hand over my scepter wooden spoon to my mother in law and busy myself with other things.
If we travel to the States every day is a whirlwind of friends and family to catch up with. We eat out up to twice a day sometimes and when we are home I spend a lot of time trying to contain my jet lagged, overexcited and overtired kids while my stepmother cooks up a delicious meal. Or we do what so many other fellow countrymen do: order in.
When visiting my mother, things are pretty much the same, minus the jet lag. Although, come to think of it, given Spanish hours, perhaps we should put jet lag back into the equation. There are lots of meals in restaurants and even more at family/friends' houses since the kids. When we do eat in, my mom takes care of the food while I, like the Cat in the Hat, save a vase with my left hand and a silver ashtray with my right while shouting at the kids for the umpteenth time to leave the dead snails and those piles of almonds, carobs and overripe figs outside of the front door please, not inside.
When we are on our own, by the time we get our tired, salty, sandy selves back from a long day at the beach, the most I can get myself to do is open a cold cerveza for my marido and myself and put some jamon, sobrasada and manchego out on the table for the niños, perhaps accompanied with some anchovy-filled olives and a glass or bowl of gazpacho.
This means that by the time I get back I am dying to get my hands chopping and slicing again and simultaneously a little rusty.
If you are feeling a little out of practice too, here is a really simple starter you can make in a matter of minutes. This is the perfect appetizer if you are on a no-carb mission after overeating during the holidays. Or, like us, you sometimes just miss a good NY sesame bagel with Nova and scallion cream cheese.
I made this following a mish-mash of different recipes online. Most of them said to refrigerate the roll for about an hour before cutting. That wasn't enough for me, so I stuck it into the freezer for another half hour and that made the process a lot less messy.

Monday, September 2, 2013

I'm back

Back to real life again. While I find my bearings, here are some snapshots (all with my phone, almost all without filters thanks to the beautiful Mallorcan light) from our lovely vacation (if you haven't already seen them on Instagram or Facebook - see sidebar to follow me on either or both).