Passover has Passed Over!

Huevos haminados - photo credit http://www.thekitchn.com

Oops! It looks like I fell off the blagon (that’s blog-wagon. I tried to make a new word. Yeah, anyway…)  I’m kind of notorious for that, by the way. Dropping off the page for a bit and then trying to cram in updates later on.

March is over and we’re in to the middle of April already. Yowza!  The last week was occupied with Passover, or as I like to call it: my Annual Gluten Detox since I do my best to avoid as much matzo as I can.  This year we made a good faith effort to actually be more observant where our son was concerned. He’s four and starting to understand more of why some of the things we do as Jews are different than his classmates (who are pretty much not Jewish) in preschool do things.

This presents a particular challenge for school lunches. Snacks are provided by the preschool and we have a wonderful staff member who is very conscious of Passover and won’t serve chametz for snacks. It’s nothing we ever asked for, but it’s nice to be considered.  He’s pretty accustomed to one kind of lunch: PB&J, cheese cubes, fruit, and maybe some Pirate’s Booty.  Observing Passover makes it hard to have sandwiches and PB&J on matzo is pretty unappealing.

Luckily, in my opinion, we observe Sephardic food traditions during Passover which means we’ll eat certain foods during the week that are forbidden to Ashkenazi Jews (the predominant Jewish ethnic group in the U.S. and who most of the non-Jewish public thinks of when they think about being Jewish in America).  We’ll eat corn and rice and legumes. A bean and cheese quesadilla on corn tortillas is usually a winner in Ben’s lunchbox. However, these foods are in a class called kitnyot and Ashkenazi Jews are forbidden to consume them during the week.  I have to say that being a Sephardic Jew lends itself well to enjoying a wider range of culinary variety during Passover. My Ashkenazi husband has been all too happy to take on the ethnic observances of his wife!

I’ve also found that the Easter/Passover crossover is harder to explain than the Christmas/Hannukah dilemma. In an effort to help my son understand the similarities and differences between being a Jew during Passover and his friends celebrating Easter, I decided to focus on the similarities. The thing he notices most are Easter eggs. We did participate in some egg hunts this year but they got me thinking about lesser known Jewish traditions and how eggs my feature in those customs. It seems we have a Ladino custom of something called huevos haminados (pictured above).

I didn’t discover these until late in the week when a rabbi friend of mine had mentioned them, but I think they’ll be a great, fun activity (and delicious treat) for next year!

Huevos Haminados – Recipe and photo from www.thekitchn.com

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Implacable Sweetness of Sound

"Abstract Fruit" by Laurie Salmela

You thought I was going to talk about food, didn’t you? Gotcha!  I’m going to talk about music instead.

Music is like… well it’s like a… well, hell, I’m not sure how to put into words what music is like for me. I was prompted to write about it because I was shuffling through my iTunes library and I came across a little gem I forgot about. There is a woman in my home town named Datri. Datri Bean to be specific.  She is a musician. A singer. A song writer. A band leader. A fabulous gal.

I have a sort of round about way of knowing her, though in truth, I don’t know her at all. She’s the wife of the man who is the best friend of my brother-in-law, my sister’s husband. I’m sure you get that.

This song I have on loop right now is called “I Saw A Sign”.  It pulses in a delightful way with her slightly twangy voice undulating with the lyrics.  It tastes…sweet. Sweet like a peach, but also a little creamy, almost buttery.

Weird, huh?  That a song tastes like something to me.  Music has always tasted like something when I hear it. It emits a certain fragrance or odor, depending on how it makes me feel.  Ever since I can remember, and more so when I became a musician, I would have these feelings.

It’s not really all that strange if you believe that the phenomenon of synesthesia is legit.  There are people who see color in sounds. They associate color with certain letters or numbers. Sometimes they feel differently when they experience things like dates. Maybe 1920 just feels so much further away than 1990.  The brain is a complicated organ. It can do fascinating things.

For me, I taste and smell sound. In another one of Datri’s songs, “Foolish”, I taste lemons and mint, but I also feel the humid nights of early September. I feel warm and silken.

As I mentioned, I am…was…no, am a musician. A violinist to be specific, so it’s no surprise that orchestral music is particularly enticing. For example, baroque music is warm almost too hot to play. It leaves me breathless. It tastes like clove. Vivaldi. Corelli. Telemann. Clove and a little cinnamon, but just a hint.  Bach tastes like an orange and feels like an ocean wave washing on top of me.  Sibelius? Crisp temperatures. The taste of ice. And Copeland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man” just feels like I’m pressing my face against the cold, smooth surface of stainless steel. It tastes like salt, but that’s because it always brings me to tears.

There isn’t a kind of music that doesn’t elicit such vivid sensations. They’re not all pleasant, but most of the time it’s an exhilarating experience.

Dinner from the Garden: Chard with Garbanzos and Tomatoes

I'm still trying to get the hang of photographing food, but I have to say that this picture is looks almost as delicious as it tasted.

I’ll be completely honest with you: this is a meal of supreme laziness.  Closing in on dinner time and I realized that the chicken dish I wanted to make wasn’t going to happen. Still had frozen chicken. I blame the Supreme Court. I spent a ridiculous amount of time trolling the interwebz for news about the hearing regarding the health care reform act. I digress.

I was headed out to check on my garden bed and see if those m-effer fire ants had finally beat it (oh yeah… didn’t tell you. I have flucking fire ants in my bed. Arrr!!!) I noticed that my chard was out of control and just begging to be harvested.  So I did. I managed to get about a pound and a half of leaves from my three plants.

So now I have this bunch of chard and no idea what to make for dinner, then brilliance strikes. Thank goodness for a well stocked pantry. One can of garbanzos and one can of organic diced tomatoes, a bit of this and that from the fridge and the spice cabinet and viola: chard with garbanzos and tomatoes.

This is a perfect spring time, meatless 20 minute meal.

Chard with Garbanzos and Tomatoes

Ingredients:
1 shallot (or 1/2 a medium onion), chopped small
2 gloves of garlic
1 to 2 lbs of chard, rinsed and chopped
16 oz can of garbanzos, drained and rinsed
14.5 oz can of diced tomatoes, mostly drained
1/2 tsp dried thyme (or 1 tsp fresh if you have it on hand)
1/2 tsp dried oregano (or 1 tsp fresh if you have it on hand)
olive oil
salt & pepper

Directions:
1. In a large saute pan, heat oil on medium high heat. Add shallots and saute until translucent but not brown. Add garlic and saute a little longer until fragrant.

2. Add chard, garbanzos, tomatoes, thyme, oregano, salt, and pepper. Stir a bit to incorporate shallots and garlic. The moisture from the beans and the tomatoes will help wilt the chard. Continue on medium to medium-low heat until chard is wilted and flavors meld. Serve hot and enjoy!

We didn’t have any on hand (remember, this was a what-do-I-have-that-I-can-feed-the-hubs), but a slice of sourdough with a bit of butter would go perfectly with this dish!

Let’s Talk Jam: Preface

The kids and I went out to a great little place called Sweet Berry Farm. It’s a pick-your-own kind of place and right now strawberries are ripe. We had a great time and picked nearly five pounds!  After we got home and we ate our fill, I thought it might be fun to make and can some strawberry jam.  I have the berries already, so how hard can this be?  I picked up some pectin, a canning accessories kit (you know, a jar picker-uppper thingie, a something-or-other stick, some other do-dads that I’m not sure about), and a dozen 4 ounce glass jars with lids and rings.

Since I’ve never canned anything or tried to preserve any kind of food, I did a little search online, and wouldn’t you know it, there is a National Center for Home Food Preservation!  I was very excited about this website and I suspected it would supply me with everything I needed to know about canning. It didn’t let me down. The website first said that if I was new to canning, I needed to read the USDA’s Principles of Home Canning.

So I read it.

I AM NOT CANNING ANYTHING!

Holy Moses, that document has me convinced that I will grow Clostridium botulinum and everyone who eats my jam will get botulism and die a horrible death.

I’m also thinking that making and canning jam at 10 PM might be overly ambitious, so maybe I’ll try it this weekend.

In the meantime, I have some cute berry farm photos. (There are also goats on this farm, but sadly they’re not part of the pick-you-own scheme.)

Enter the Wildflowers

Wildflower season in central Texas is spectacular. Three years ago, we had one of the most beautiful bluebonnet blooming seasons I had ever seen.  I remember driving out to Inks Lake State Park and through Park Hwy 1 (I think that’s what it’s called.)  The roadsides were a sea of blue. It was really spectacular. The last couple of years have been less so. We’ve been hit by serious drought, but Mother Nature sure knows how to make a come back. I snapped these photos this morning after I dropped the kids off at preschool and before I headed out to an advocacy workshop.  Hope you enjoy them!

Spring Has Sprung!

Austin ushered in spring last night with a terrific storm. Lots of thunder and lightning and a ton of rain, which was very much needed. The hubs and I covered the raised bed for the night, hoping to keep the winds from knocking around the taller plants.  This morning when I uncovered the garden, I found these guys.  Happy spring, y’all!

Clever food: Picadillo Empanadas

I am a huge fan of fun food. I love things that can be carried and snacked on. Empanadas are a perfect example of clever food. A pastry hand pie (for lack of a better descriptions) that is filled with all kinds of delicious sweet treats like pineapple, pumpkin, sweet potato, apple, nuts and raisins.  My favorite flavors for empanadas, however, are savory combinations.

Picadillo, a savory-sweet meat dish, is a perfect filling for empanadas.  There are many traditions of picadillo all through Latin America and Spain. Each region has its own favorite meat, spices, and complimentary ingredients.  My dad first introduced me to picadillo when I was a kid. He is the family chef and from whom I’ve learned most of my cooking skills. He would use ground beef, add chili powder, cumin, garlic, onions, tiny diced potatoes, and other good stuff. This is the picadillo that I know best.

Surprisingly, it is not my favorite. I actually enjoy the savory-sweet combination of a more Caribbean picadillo from Cuba or Puerto Rico. The recipe below is my version on that.  I use spices like cumin, coriander, and oregano as well as sweeter tastes like cinnamon and golden raisins.  Keep in mind that in the recipe below, I have purposefully made this filling drier than a picadillo that you might serve as a main dish. To make it as a main dish, increase your liquid by not draining the diced tomatoes before crushing them in the food processor or blender. Serve with rice.

Now let’s get started on picadillo empanadas!

Picadillo filling

Ingredients:
1lb ground beef, about 93% lean (too lean and the meat is less flavorful. Too fatty and you lose a lot of the bulk.)
1 small onion, diced small
2 gloves of garlic, minced
1 can of diced tomatoes, drained and pulsed smooth in a food processor or blender
1/4 to 1/3 cup of sofrito*
3/4 to 1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp dried thyme, crushed fine
1 tsp dried oregano, crushed fine
1 tsp of sugar
1 cup of golden raisins
1/2 cup of chopped green olives
salt & pepper
Olive oil

*A word about sofrito. Sofrito is a wonderful mixture of various aromatics such as tomatoes, onion, garlic, sweet peppers, and other flavors. It adds a richness to any Latin dish.  In this recipe I did not plan on making my own sofrito and used a store bought product by Goya.

1. In a large skillet, heat oil on medium-high and add onions. Saute on medium heat until translucent but not brown. Add garlic and saute about 1 minute more. You want the garlic to release its flavor and aroma but not brown or burn.
2. Add beef and cook until browned.
3. Once beef is browned, add tomatoes, sofrito, spices, sugar, raisins, and olives. Allow to simmer slowly on low until flavors begin to meld; about 20 minutes. You want to stir it frequently so that it doesn’t scorch. Be sure to taste the mixture for any needed seasoning. I find that with the olives, very little additional salt is needed.
4. Allow mixture to cool completely and then refrigerate until ready to fill the empanadas.

Empanada dough

Ingredients:
3 cups of flour
1/2 tsp of salt
1 1/2 sticks of cold unsalted butter, cut in to several pieces
1 egg
6-8 tablespoons of cold water

1. In a food processor, pulse mix the flour and the salt for a few seconds then add the butter.
2. Process the butter and flour until you have pea sized pieces. Add egg.
3. While mixing the flour and butter and egg, slowly add the cold water until the dough forms a ball.
4. Remove the ball from the processor, cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Assembling your empanadas

What you will need:
Picadillo filling
Emapanada dough
1 egg, slightly beaten
A pastry brush
A small fork
Rolling pin
Round cookie cutter for cutting circles, abut 4″ to 6″ in diameter (I just use a small cookie tin lid.)

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2. On a clean surface, liberally flour your rolling pin and counter. Begin rolling out the dough.
3. Roll to about 1/8″ thick and then begin cutting your circles. This dough is similar to biscuit dough and can become tough if over worked. You want to be careful not to over handle the dough.
4. When you have cut out your circles, place 3 to 4 Tbs (eyeball the dollops. You don’t have to be precise) of filling on one half of the dough and about 1/2″ from the edge of the circle. Using your finger or a pastry brush, dab a bit of cold water on the free edge, fold the remaining dough over and press firmly.  With your fork, press along the edge of the dough to seal it.
5. Repeat step 4 for the remaining empanadas.
6. Arrange empanadas on a large cookie sheet. With your pastry brush, brush a light coating of slightly beaten egg across the top and along the pressed edge. This will give your empanadas a beautiful golden color and help seal the edges.
7. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until golden.

I hope you’ll try this recipe and even play around with the various ways one can make picadillo. If raisins aren’t your thing, try diced mango or currants. If you want a spicier, more savory dish, leave out the fruit and add chili powder or diced fresh chilies or even a couple of chipotle peppers.  Try your hand at making sweet fillings for your empanadas. Experiment with various fruits and even fruit and nut combinations.

Buen provecho!

*Conversations with Ben – 3.18.12

*Conversations with Ben was something that I had started doing on previous versions of my blog experience. The wit and wisdom of a preschooler just can’t be beat.

On our way home from breakfast with my family, celebrating my uncle’s birthday. We had eating at a local favorite Mexican food restaurant and I had deviated from my usual breakfast for something richer and much more delicious, but with less than great results.  Ben’s comment:

“You know mommy, when you eat karmic masalad it makes your tummy hurt. I think you need to go home and go to bed.”

My friends, karmic masalad is also known in Spanish as carne guisada. And lo, there was much chuckling in the car on the way home.

Six Degrees of SXSW

It’s over!  The annual onslaught from Hipster Nation has ended.  I’m saying that gleefully but if I’m being honest, I’m a little sad that it’s come to an end.  I didn’t even get to any shows or films or events. I never do, actually.  That’s not because I don’t like the festival. It’s usually because I also seem to have something else going on at the same time.  When I was working (thus having my older kiddo in day care), I would take off a few days during the music portion and work some industry events as an event manager, but those days are gone.

Now I live vicariously through the experiences of my friends thanks to the miracle-curse that is Facebook.  It was a blast to see people post their stories about who they ran in to, hung out with, gawked at from 50 feet. Here’s a little run down in my own SXSW version of the Kevin Bacon game (incidentally, no one saw him at the festival.)

  • 2 degrees — Anthony Bourdain!  Say what?!  He is by far my biggest celebrity crush. He was in town and a mom-friend of mine who has a record production company ran in to him while she was out with one of her bands. Group hug pic and everything!
  • 2-3 degrees — Matthew McConaughey and Gerard Butler — Honestly, it’s not hard to run in to Matthew around here. He is a local and loves to blend in with the other greasy hipsters. It’s also not hard to run in to the Wilson brothers (as in Owen and Luke) either, but I wouldn’t be upset if I did.  Now Gerard Butler? That’s definitely a fun brush with celebrity!
  • 1 degree (maybe 1.5) — Mumford & Sons — This one was the best SXSW story I read, by far.  A little background: my brother in law is a pedicab builder and rider. He has a business partner, K (also a friend) who is a very cool, likable guy. SXSW is a huge week for them and their riders, so they busted tail all week working hard and giving rides.  The reward (besides bringing home some serious dough)? Mumford and Sons!  Here’s how the story goes: The partner, K, was hanging at the main shop and M&S rolls up to the bay around 4:30 am looking for a ride. K was not aware at the time it was M&S and just had a laid back time with a few drinks, a nice chat, and a stroll through the city. At their final stop, M&S tipped him well and then invited K as their guest to their Saturday show!  I thought it was a pretty sweet story.

My other favorite part about SXSW is the trade show (I am a former event manager after all). I don’t attend as it’s for badge holders only. My husband’s best friend from college is on staff with SXSW and for the last few years as asked him to consult on some things involving the interactive portion of the festival. For his expertise, the hubs gets a badge for Interactive & Film.  He’ll generally hit up the trade show and bring me all kinds of fun swag. This year is looks like buttons are in as are magnets. Cards with links and promo codes to free downloads were also a big hit. I’m just a sucker for a nice tote bag!

My Veggies Have Bugs

I was out this morning after I came home from my Saturday errands to take a look at the garden. I noticed that the radish patch is both overcrowded and buggy.  I don’t exactly know what’s going on there, but I hate to say it squicked me out.   I know bugs and gardens go together like peas and carrots (see what I did there? That was a pun. Ha!)

My problem is that I don’t know what to do about my problem.  I tried to photograph the offending buggers, but they’re too fast.  They look like teeny flies. I also saw a fat caterpillar enjoying elevensies and he was quickly relocated.

So gardeners, what do I have and how do I evict them?

– little flying flies or gnats
– holes in my radish leaves

 

Here is a better-ish picture of the assault on my radish leaves.  It’s a little tricky to see, but there are the little buggies and the holes (which I’m pretty sure are due to the Fat Cat-erpillar and, presumably, his buddies.)