Shakin’ my fattoush-y

3 Aug

Rambling

Confession: A lot of my cooking is mistake-based. In the case of this food flub, it was because of stale bread. I was trying to make this simple recipe, Meatballs with Cucumber Sauce on Flatbreads, from the August 2012 issue of Better Homes & Gardens. But when it came time to serve, my flatbreads, well, fell flat. Crumbled, more like. I had purchased this lovely looking garlic naan…

…but fear it must have gone stale. Or perhaps I was too impatient in neglecting to warm it. Because when I tried to gently fold it to make a sandwich pocket–gyro-like–for the meatballs and yogurt sauce, it broke apart…

It was pretty futile to think the rest of the recipe could be salvaged, so I forged ahead with the fumble, and made my own version of this dish. It ended up being sort of like panzanella. With a Persian flare. Persian panzanella. Which I guess can also be considered fattoush. Yeah, that’s the ticket. Fattoush…ish.

Roast

Fattoush with Meatballs

Adapted from a recipe published online and in August 2012 Better Homes & Gardens

Break apart two large pieces of garlic naan or similar bread (such as pita), and toast in oven until lightly browned, about 3 minutes on broil…

In a medium bowl, combine 1/2 of a thinly sliced cucumber, 1/2 of a diced and seeded tomato, 12-16 oz. fully cooked meatballs, halved (available in the meat section…I used veal, but in future might make my own ahead of time using ground lamb and Greek seasoning), and 1/2 of a thinly sliced red onion

For cucumber dressing: Coarsely grate the other 1/2 of the cucumber, and combine with 5-6 oz. plain Greek yogurt, snipped fresh mint, and Greek seasoningsea salt, and freshly ground pepper to taste. A pinch of cumin and squeeze or zest of lemon work nicely, too…

Pour yogurt dressing over the other ingredients (including the toasted naan pieces), tossing lightly to coat all evenly…

Garnish with mint. And then be sure to actually eat the mint…This salad is yummy, but pungent onions pack a punch!

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Simple Sunday: Avocado-Tomato-Gorgonzola French Bread Pizza

29 Jul

Rambling

It’s Sunday. It’s summer. It’s lazy. No words. No work. Just an easy recipe. For mid-day summer munchies.

Roast

Avocado-Tomato-Gorgonzola French Bread Pizza

The simple ingredients:

  • Mash one ripe avocado with a pinch of sea salt and crushed red pepper flakes.
  • Lightly brush the cut sides of a halved section of baguette with olive oil.
  • Grill or broil for a few minutes until lightly toasted.
  • Spread mashed avocado evenly onto two baguette sections.
  • Top with tomato slices (thinly sliced, and then halved).
  • Sprinkle with Gorgonzola.
  • Broil until cheese is bubbly and begins to brown.
  • Let cool slightly, then enjoy…washed down with a spicy Bloody Mary!

Yummy summer blues: Blueberry-cranberry chutney

27 Jul

A taste of summer: Blueberry-cranberry chutney with Brie on crusty bread
 

Rambling

“Summertime, and the livin’ is easy.” This I croon, along with Lena Horne on the car radio, as I make my way through the winding hills and farm fields of Washington County on this sultry summer Sunday. Where the air is heady with the smell of hay, earth, and cow dung. (Am I the only one who revels in the pungent scent of cow paddy?) En route to My Rural Mecca: Gardenworks at MacClan Farms in Salem, New York. It’s blueberry season, and my mission this day is to pick enough of the superfood berries to last the summer, to avoid the $3.99-per-pint weekly charges at the local grocery by harvesting the fruits of my own labor (well, not really) for half the cost. In the sunshine, in the fertile Black Creek Valley of eastern New York, an hour from home, a hundred years back in time, in a magical corner of the state where cows outnumber people (and milk trucks therefore outnumber cars)…

Gardenworks is more than a farm stand, or nursery, or greenhouse. It is a compound of creativity, and all that is idyllic about an agrarian existence. It is a collection of pristine hundred-year-old barns, in a verdant valley on the border of Vermont, specializing in local produce, meats, books, artwork, jewelry, and (my favorite) cheese. There are wreath-making classes, and cheese talks, and art exhibits, and cooking seminars.

Every season at Gardenworks holds a different wonder: a bounty of berries and plentiful perennials in summer; prolific pumpkins and mums ad finitum in autumn; Christmas trees, wreaths, and handcrafted decorations in winter. For the past few Christmases, I have created gift baskets for friends and family, purely from Gardenworks wares: soups, syrups, dip mixes, cheeses, ornaments, textiles. Most, if not all, created within a 20-mile radius, or right at Gardenworks. 

But today, it’s all about the blues. 

I grab a red pick-your-own pail from the Radio Flyer wagon out front, and nearly skip into the adjacent fields to start my harvest. I pretend that these fields, this land, these beautiful barns, are mine, all mine. 

I am alone, almost. And I am glad for this solitude. Because I suddenly realize that I don’t know what a blueberry bush looks like. I walk among low-growing rows of green shrubs, scanning them for signs of blueberries, and pretend that I know where I am going, and what I am doing (I don’t). I keep walking with false confidence. Just in case someone is watching this pseudo-city slicker/country gal wannabe. I realize that the last time I picked blueberries was with my mom, as a preteen girl in my hometown of Clifton Park, in a farm field that has long since surrendered to subdivision development. A loooong time ago. 

Then finally, there they are. Tall, scraggly bushes, at the far end of the field. Heavy with my blue heaven.

One for the bucket, one for my belly. One for the bucket, two for my belly. That’s pretty much the way it goes for the better part of an hour. Until my red pail is about a third full, and my belly is fuller. 

I head back to the main barn. I pick up a few varieties of locally made cheese, a sweet onion, some smoked sausage for supper. My blueberry haul weighs in at just under two pounds, or about $5. Enough for the next few weeks, or until I get the urge to make my Gardenworks pilgrimage again. With my receipt, the clerk hands me a delightful bouquet, gratis. No doubt culled from the nursery’s winning homegrown selection of zinnias, snapdragons, and dahlias. “(Owners) Meg and Rob (Southerland) thank you for shopping Gardenworks. These were leftover from a party they hosted last night. Enjoy!”

Bonus: With my Gardenworks receipt, I can enjoy 10% off ice cream at Battenkill Valley Creamery, just down the road. Old-school dairy, milk in glass jugs, hand-churned ice cream, farm fresh eggs, cheese curds. How to turn down a dish of my favorite mint chocolate chunk…

…fresh from this cow, right across the road?

But now, for the blueberries. What to create with my blueberries? Sure, there are all sorts of sweet possibilities–buckle, crumble, jelly, scones, muffins–but I seek the savory. How about a blueberry chutney? A tart, chunky relish, slathered on a slice of crusty bread, with a bloomy Brie-like cheese, perhaps?

Roast

Blueberry-Cranberry Chutney

In a medium saucepan, combine 2 cups washed, picked-over fresh blueberries

…with (1) chopped sweet onion, a handful of dried cranberries, 1-2 tablespoons brown sugar, pinch sea salt, sprinkle of cinnamon (yes, friend Sarah, that kind you love!), and enough apple cider vinegar to almost cover the saucepan’s contents.

Simmer, covered, over medium-low heat, until it looks really messy like this, about 20 minutes…

Dissolve a tablespoon of cornstarch in some water, and add to the simmering mixture, stirring until slightly thickened…

…then cool and transfer to a comely white bowl like this to serve…

Or store in the fridge in an airtight container for up to a few weeks, but it won’t last that long, because you’ll enjoy it sooner. I highly recommend pairing it with an earthy cheese and crusty bread. While at Gardenworks, I picked up some White Lily, a scrumptious goat cheese produced in neighboring Argyle, NY, at Sweet Spring Farm (also available at our nearby Saratoga Farmers’ Market). Unwrap, let it come to room temperature, until spreadable but still a tad crumbly…

Spread cheese onto crusty artisan bread, top with chutney, and garnish with lemon thyme. Enjoy the bounty of summer blueberries in this delicious, savory, sweet-tart spread!

How should I use the rest of my blueberries? Share your recipe suggestions!

Under the table and dreaming of Dave

7 Jun

Under the Table and Dreaming, v. 2.0 | Myrtle Beach SC, May 2012

Hailing the real Boys of Summer: Welcome back, Dave Matthews Band
 

Rambling

Summer belongs to Dave Matthews. The season of lazy days and languid nights just wouldn’t be the same without Dave Matthews Band. Last year, when Dave and company decided not to tour fully (Caravan, schmaravan), summer downright sucked. For the better part of the last 20 years (holy shit), I and legions of other fans and followers have taken for granted that DMB would be there for us. Like clockwork. In these parts, serving as the official kickoff to summer. With two nights of extended jams, familiar standbys (heard dozens of times before but still sounding fresh), and a smattering of new tunes every few years. Echoing through the woods of the Saratoga Spa State Park, from our storied SPAC. But last year, silence. No DMB. And for me, no summer.

This weekend, the DMB drought ends. And summer officially begins. The past few nights have brought me vivid dreams, with Dave on the brain. The new DMB album hasn’t dropped yet, but that’s okay. I’ll dance with Dave Feet to new versions of the old favorites, and sing my made-up words to the lyrics I can’t understand, and wax nostalgic about the arc of my DMB fanhood…

I credit my brother Vik with introducing me to this eclectic “college band” in the early 1990s. As the more responsible (read, geekier) older sister, I was only marginally aware of the crazy and quasi-illegal hoops Vik jumped through to see DMB concerts as a teen (a “sleepover” at a friend’s house that masked a secret New Year’s Eve overnight road trip to a Virginia Beach concert, for instance). Vik was (and is) bad ass, so my dorky self felt privileged to share a first live DMB concert experience with this Original Fan in 1995. It was an auspicious introduction. It was in a college gym. A cheap general admission ticket got us into the campus rec center at the State University of New York at Albany on a weeknight in September. Vik and I had been working together in Albany at the time, so camped out after work until the venue doors opened, and then rushed the stage area with hundreds of others to claim a spot on the gym floor. My first DMB show, and we were front and center! Pushed up against the gym mats padding the platform that was pretending to be a stage.

Meshell Ndegeocello (remember her?) was the opener. No one wanted to listen to her. The crowd was rude and unruly. She was booed off stage. It was appalling. After what seemed an eternity, Dave and friends finally appeared. And so did chaos. The moshing began. The pushing, the shoving, the bodies, the crushing, the feet to the face. Who the hell was this band? Who were these fecking rabid fans? I had never been so terrified. At 6’3″, my “little” brother embraced the crazy crowd vibe, literally head and shoulders above the rest. At 5’5″ (okay, maybe closer to 5’4″), I was dodging death by student stampede. Ultimately, I retreated from the front-and-center stronghold, and tried to enjoy the rest of the show from the gym’s nosebleed-equivalent seats.

Thanks to the interweb, I relive that concert, and my time as a petrified DMB virgin, and invite you to join me for a sampling of that show. Note the silhouettes of people walking across the stage? Crowd-surfers–or potential crush victims–who made it to the front, invading “Dave’s House”, before being escorted offstage by security in a steady stream. Sigh. At least I can claim to have had a front row “seat” at a DMB show. Even if for just a few precious minutes.

A few years later, I would see DMB again, and again in a gym (well, indoor tennis stadium). This time, north of the border, in Montreal. It couldn’t have been a more different experience. It was May 1998. DMB was enjoying widespread mainstream popularity stateside. But in Canada? If there were more than a thousand people at this performance, I’d be surprised. It was intimate, informal (standing only), beer served on the sidelines, Canadian cordial crowd. And the band was having a jolly rollick. It felt more like a practice session. For a teenage garage band. I couldn’t find any videos online, but did find this entertaining collection of fan reviews. Memorable in its own right. Every year since, Hubby and I have searched for a repeat of this mellow Montreal gig. No luck.

A few months after Montreal, I was in for another “crushing” concert experience. It was July 1998. (My now) Hubby and I were front-and-center at our nearby “neighborhood” concert venue, the Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC). Kid brother Vik insists that SPAC is among DMB’s favorite places to play. That the performances and set lists are never better than when the band is at SPAC. For Hubby and me, this was our first “non-lawn” DMB SPAC show, and we were lucky enough to have scored fourth row orchestra pit seats (my boss at the time was a big-time SPAC supporter and member, and got dibs on The Fancy Seats for all the shows). We smugly took our places in The Highly Civilized Section at the very front of the amphitheatre, alongside the Muffy/Buffy/Skip/Chip monied set and privileged teenagers (none of whom were True Fans like us). Behind us, in the regular seats and on the lawn, sat The Lowly Rabble. But not for long. In a flashback repeat of my inaugural DMB concert experience, the stage was rushed. Our temporary folding chairs crumbled. Our bodies were crushed. We retreated. Once again watching a DMB concert from a safe distance. Bruised and disappointed. But no less awed by the music. After that show, all sorts of security measures were put into place (wrist bands, limited pit audience, beefy bouncer types instead of old lady volunteer ushers). Epic.

Fast forward to 2000. A truly memorable millennial. Summer saw me between graduate school and jobs, and working for the season as a front desk clerk at The Gideon Putnam. Situated in the Saratoga Spa State Park, and adjacent to SPAC, this hotel saw its share of celebrities, especially during the summer months. In my brief front desk stint over several summers, I had met the likes of Bobby Flay, Ralph Wilson, Frank McCourt, Tara Lipinski, Dr. Ruth, and Celeste Holm.

And in August 2000, Dave Matthews. And the gang. We front desk clerks didn’t know for sure if the band would be staying with us until the very last minute, when pseudonyms on the original reservations were changed, to Dave, and Boyd, and Leroi, and Carter, and Stefan. But I had brought my disposable Kodak to work, just in case.

I remember it clearly. There was a conference of school administrators and teachers meeting in the hotel that day. During a late afternoon meeting break, a group of harpy women swarmed the front desk, chirping orders for photocopies, replacement room keys, faxes, more water in the conference rooms.

Behind them, standing alone, patiently, quietly, no airs, duffel bag slung over his shoulder, lips puckered in a sort of whistle…Dave.

Above the melee, we made eye contact. I motioned for Dave to meet me at the side door to the front desk area. Ignoring the pecking shrews, I stepped away from the desk, and ushered Dave into the private area behind the front desk mailboxes (old school hotel). He was much taller than I had expected. And he smelled fresh and clean, like fabric softener. The small talk was a blur–I think I congratulated him on his recent marriage, and he told me he had a head cold; I mentioned my kid brother who had met him before a recent Albany show, and he said something like, “Oh yeah, tall Indian kid, I remember”–as I fumbled with his keys and told him how to get to his room. And in a move that surely should have gotten me fired, I whipped out the camera. “Would you mind terribly? I would love to get a picture.”

A silken, baritone “well, sure.” One photo left in the Kodak disposable. One Charmin squeeze for the ages.

I’d had my seminal Dave moment. One that can never be matched nor topped. It was followed close behind by helping to check in a very ripple-y Boyd, a surprisingly petite Stefan, an impish Carter (who later had a problem with bees in his hotel room), and a sunglasses-less Leroi (whose credit card signature I photocopied after he checked out…man, I should have been fired. You just don’t do those sorts of things as a front desk clerk, especially at the buttoned-up Gideon Putnam).

Now it’s nearly Summer 2012, and I am looking forward to this weekend’s performances as eagerly as ever, 15+ years on. My brother–still a diehard DMB fan, but now living in southwest Florida, and bereft of his regular Dave fix–counts down, and sends me regular emails with concert stats, links to DMB articles, schedules, set lists, album release information. Nagging, really. To make sure that we don’t miss the performance (“Guys, PLEASE go to Saturday night’s show…It was the fastest sell out of the entire tour.”), and everything that it represents.

While I still look forward to DMB concerts as the true harbinger of summer, I have come to appreciate Dave and friends more from afar. Just outside the SPAC gates. Away from the noisy throngs. With the other “grownups”, who are content to spread out on the park lawn, sipping our shrouded beers–or perhaps now some Dreaming Tree wine–and reliving happy memories of concerts past. This is how we roll now…but don’t tell anyone our secret.

(I am also tickled to find “work appropriate” versions of DMB on Spotify, for the soundtrack of my professional day. DMB in lullaby, yoga-fied, classical piano, even bluegrass.)

The other day, I ran into my old boss from the Gideon Putnam Hotel. He had been a DMB fan, too. He’d even given me a live cassette recording of that 1998 SPAC show. We hadn’t seen each other in over a decade. Still, he remembered that Dave day.

“You know, I still have a copy of that picture you had taken with Dave Matthews. I don’t think I have ever seen anyone so happy about anything, then or since.”

Rock on. Welcome back, boys. And hello-o-o-o-o, Summer.

Have a favorite DMB concert moment or memory? Share it!
 

I think I cayenne, I think I cayenne

30 Apr

Cayenne peppers | Photo credit: Princes Milady

Rambling

I spent part of the weekend trying on bathing suits. Clarification: Trying to squeeze into bathing suits. As I quickly round the corner to 40, and fight a nearly inactive lifestyle alongside my comatose metabolism (yeah, that’s the ticket, it’s my metabolism), I acknowledge that, at least for this upcoming swimsuit season, I must wear the more figure-flattering swimdress. Or, as a last resort if I am trying to pull off the “athletic look”, swim shorts with tank top. Ee-gads. How did it come to this?

I am not going to pretend that I have tried to keep the weight off. I don’t do sweat-inducing exercise regularly, I don’t count calories, I don’t not watch TV while eating. All of the things you are supposed to do to fight middle-age weight gain…I don’t do. Except read a lot about what I am supposed to be doing. One of the things I am supposed to be doing is eating spicy foods. Apparently, anything spicy–especially food kicked up with cayenne pepper–is supposed to heat up your body (literally), increasing your metabolism and thereby helping to burn more calories and “blast fat”. Fantastic!

So, I have started putting cayenne on and in everything I consume. I have been carrying around a mini jar of the powdered red pepper in my purse, and whip it out for added seasoning when dining out or eating/drinking at work. Cayenne has wiggled its way into just about everything I ingest, including tea and coffee. (Seriously. Try it.) Any day now, the fat should just start falling off my hips. If “you are what you eat”, then I will soon be a red-hot, pinky-thin, stringbean-looking gal. Or least be able to lose the swimdress. Sa-weet.

Roast

I don’t (yet) have any recipes specific to including cayenne or other hot peppers, but do plan to incorporate hot pepper varieties in our backyard garden this summer. So I turn to my friends in Bloglandia for ideas. Fellow food fans, can you help a girl out? Please tell me how you use cayenne (or other hot peppers or “fat-blasting” spices) in cooking, or if you have specific pepper-centered recipes!

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