End of the Line

Ha!  I’ll bet you thought we were announcing the end of our blog – now that we’ve succeeded at blogging for two years.  No way, José!

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Emily the engine from Thomas & Friends “can be fussy and compulsive at times.”  Mmmmm.  I’ll bet Sir Topham Hatt can be fussy and compulsive too.

Andy has been heavily into Thomas the Tank Engine research for today’s Andy’s Corner, so it’s obvious as to why I’ve been watching the video of  “End of the Line” by the Traveling Wilburys – rather compulsively, I admit (an aside: as I’ve mentioned before – how did we ever live without Sonos and Spotify and YouTube? I can spend hours making playlists, listening to 50 different versions of the same song and watching old music videos – all the time marveling at what amazing things technology has done to make our lives more fun, even while acknowledging the dark side to some of those same technologies.).

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Upon hearing my current song obsession, our son got a little concerned that I was….what should I say…maybe dwelling on THE end too much?  In fact, I’m thinking about beginnings.  Isn’t the end of a train track also the beginning of the track?  And I was also thinking about how much I’d love to be going to the end of the line in that train car with George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Jeff Lynne, and Tom Petty as my mates!  That YouTube video is a must-watch; I’ve probably already watched it 50 times :).  Now I just need to get a guitar and begin my guitar lessons.

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I never took a course in philosophy and am sure I couldn’t have passed it if I had.  My eyes glaze over and a fake snore comes out whenever Andy the Sociologist mentions anything remotely philosophical.  But I do like to think of an ending as just the beginning of something else.  That’s the reason we were going to name our gardening business ReBloom.com – that is, until someone offered to buy that domain name from us and we happily switched to MiniBlooms.com!  And that’s why I avoid planting annuals but love perennials.

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Pretty perennials in our yard: ‘Berry Smoothie’ heuchera, backed by a geum ‘Fire Storm’ and a stipa arundinacea (grass).

Our grandson Silas is graduating from San Francisco’s Mission High School in a few weeks and will be starting Berkeley (Cal to those of you who grew up in the Bay area) in August.  An ending. A beginning.

“You only grow by coming to the end of something and by beginning something else.”
― John Irving, The World According to Garp.

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Mission High School in San Francisco

Here’s Silas’s favorite dish that I’ve fixed for him over the years.  Maybe he’ll begin fixing it for himself and his UCB mates next year.

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Butter Chicken – for Silas

Indian Butter Chicken

 

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large saucepan over medium high heat. Sauté onion until soft and translucent. Stir in butter, lemon juice, garlic, ginger, 1 teaspoon garam masala, cumin, turmeric, and chili powder. Cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add tomato sauce, and cook for 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Stir in half-and-half and yogurt. Reduce heat to low, and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Season with salt pepper. Remove from heat and set aside.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large heavy skillet over medium heat. Cook chicken until lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Reduce heat, and season with 1 teaspoon garam masala and cayenne. Stir in a few spoonfuls of sauce, and simmer until liquid has reduced, and chicken is no longer pink. Stir cooked chicken into sauce.  Simmer for about 5 minutes longer.  

Serve over rice.

Recipe brought to you by BigLittleMeals.com and Andy and Ann.

 

Lagniappe: Shakshuka for Mother’s Day

“I’m probably just as good a mother as the next repressed, obsessive-compulsive paranoiac” (from Operating Instructions by Anne Lamott).

Two days ago we announced the Raggedy Awards – our favorite blogs and recipes from the last year.  Well, this is my current favorite recipe, hands down.  I’ll have it for breakfast, brunch, lunch, or a light dinner.  And I’d like it for Mother’s Day, Andy – and thanks for your role in my celebrating Mother’s Day.

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Shakshuka

Shakshuka, according to one of my favorite cookbook authors, Yotam Ottolenghi, probably originated in Tunisia but is also popular all over Israel.  I love the harissa paste and the red pepper in this version, but there are lots of ways you can vary the recipe, according to your taste.  Ottolenghi says that potatoes and eggplant can be used, but I haven’t tried that yet.

Shakshuka

Double the recipe for serving 6-8.  When we make this recipe for just the two of us, we use 2 eggs, dish up about only about half of the sauce when serving and then a few days later reheat the leftover – and refrigerated – sauce, add 2 eggs, cook 7 minutes, and we’ve got another quick and easy meal.

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 onion, chopped
  • 1/2 tsp harissa paste (optional – but adds great flavor.  Sriracha is a good substitute)
  • 1 tsp tomato paste (optional)
  • 1/2 large red bell pepper, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp sweet paprika
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 14 oz can crushed tomatoes (about 1 1/2 c)
  • 1 c spinach, chopped (optional); you can also use baby arugula
  • 2-4 eggs
  • pinch of additional salt and pepper for the eggs
  • 1/4 c Greek yogurt – for topping (optional)
  • Toasted rustic bread to sop up the yummy sauce and egg yolks

Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan over medium heat and add the onion, harissa, tomato paste, bell pepper, garlic, cumin, paprika, and salt. Stir and cook over low heat for about 5 minutes to allow the peppers and onion to soften. Add the tomatoes, bring to a simmer, and cook, uncovered, for about 10 minutes longer – until the sauce thickens slightly and the flavors blend.  Then add the chopped spinach, stir well, and cook and stir until the spinach is wilted – just a few minutes.  Taste for seasoning.

Make 4 little indentations in the sauce. Gently break the eggs into the indentations.  Sprinkle the eggs with a pinch of salt and pepper. Cover the pan and simmer gently for about 7-9 minutes – or until the egg whites are set but the yolks are still runny. Remove from the heat, let sit for a couple of minutes and then spoon into individual bowls and serve with the yogurt and the toast.

Recipe brought to you by BigLittleMeals.com and Andy and Ann.

 

Raggedy Awards – Year Two

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Maybe 5% of the time?

How time flies when you’re having fun!  And we are (at least 95% of the time 🙂 )  Lots of our readers ask us how much time we devote to this blog, and all I can say is “you don’t want to know and we’re not about to tell you!”

The good, the bad, and the ugly: the least fun part is definitely figuring out recipes that work well – and then entering them onto the blog, which is labor intensive.  We’re not recipe writers at heart.  And I’ve definitely figured out I don’t like developing recipes.  But we both like to cook; we really enjoy good home-cooked food; and we love sharing our enthusiasm for dining in with others.

What we’ve discovered over the past two years is that we have just as much fun sharing stories about our dogs, cats, family, plants, and escapades as we do writing about food.  As our daughter, Sara, says, “It’s all so random!”

And now to the Awards Ceremony:

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The Raggedy for THE BEST ANDY’S CORNER goes toWhat If Fortuna Is More Than Just a Clever Name for a Cat?

Fortuna was a Roman goddess who controlled fortune and capriciousness in human affairs.  She must have had a hand in the sequence of events leading up to Andy’s induction into the army in 1967.

The Runner up for THE BEST ANDY’S CORNER goes to: In the Beginning Was Raggedy

So, we named our first cat “Raggedy.”  Does that make us  pretentious, attention-grabbing posers?

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The Raggedy for Ann’s BEST BLOG goes to: On our Journey to Ithaca

A lot of heart and soul went into that blog – about our move to Baton Rouge and our Baton Rouge neighbor Katie and about her childhood in Franklin Parish, Louisiana.  The recipes are unique and delicious.

The Runner up for Ann’s BEST BLOG is What If?

“Mayor Pete” Buttigieg just suggested a year of universal service; does he know that I already recommended it way back in January?  But what region’s food would he pick as best?  The Midwest’s???!

The Raggedy for BEST RECIPE (according to Andy) goes to: Jook Chicken

This has become one of my go-to “comfort” dishes.  And, it is just as delicious warmed up a few days later.  Just be sure to add the garnishes.

The Raggedy for BEST RECIPE (according to Ann) goes to: Carrot and Beet Slaw

I’m addicted to this fabulous, different, and healthy slaw.  I love its unique color and its YUM factor; better yet, it keeps in the fridge beautifully for 3 to 4 days.

The Runners-up for BEST RECIPE goes to: how can we possibly choose?  We love them all!  But Japanese Cheesecake and Plattar – Little Swedish Pancakes are clearly family favorites.

The Raggedy for FOOD FOR THOUGHT goes to: Out of the Kitchen, Onto the Couch  

Michael Pollan, our favorite food journalist, hits the nail on the head for why we are doing our BigLittleMeals blog.  His entertaining and insightful NY Times article explains why home cooking is on the wain and urges us to get back into the kitchen.

 The Raggedy for the BEST VIDEO DOCUMENTARY goes to: A Tale of Two Kitties

Ann wrote about our sociopathic cat.  Here is cinematographic verification.

The Raggedy for OUR FAVORITE FOOD ITEM OF THE YEAR goes to: Miso

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I don’t think we ever bought miso until the last year or so.  Now we routinely have both white miso (sometimes called sweet) and red (sometimes called brown) miso in our refrigerator (where it will keep almost forever).  The darker the miso the more intense the flavor.

Bon Appetit’s write-up will give you a great overview of how miso is made, why it’s unique, and how to use it.  Remember – it’s umami rich!  Plus, it’s good for the gut (as long as it’s not boiled – so be sure to add it at the last minute to soups, etc.). Continue reading

Cooking with Cat

Re this blog’s title: we are talking about a cat beside us, not a cat in the cooking pot, so don’t get huffy.

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Because of the incredible popularity of our blog about our cat Ono and because we just discovered the YouTube Series “Cooking with Dog” (only 11 years after it premiered), Andy and I are seriously considering introducing a YouTube series, affectionately named “Cooking with Cat.”  The cat, obviously, is Ono.  Andy always hopes something we do or say or write will go viral.  This may be it.

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I discovered “Cooking with Dog” when we were researching recipes for our Deseran Dining In Dinner – It’s “Big in Japan” (thanks, Tom Waits!). If you haven’t ever seen Cooking with Dog, give it a watch – at least one episode…and way more if you have an interest in developing your Japanese cooking skills.   The episode on preparing “Japanese Souffle Cheesecake” is a definite go-to if you want to bake our grandson Moss’s Japanese Cheesecake.   Though Moss’s recipe isn’t quite the same, the technique needed is.  And that cheesecake is amazing.  So delicious.

The unnamed Chef in the video is impressive.  The New Yorker did a nice write up on the show back in 2017, as well as providing a link to the very funny introduction.  Chef and her dog still produce the videos every month or so.  Unfortunately, Francis, the poodle, who stars as the narrator of the series, has passed away.  All that remains today is a fluffy stuffed toy replica.  And Chef is clearly aging (don’t we all).  But the show must go on.

I have one comment: GET ANOTHER – live – DOG, CHEF!

As for me and Ono and YouTube, it ain’t gonna happen.  I was just kiddin’.  Ono has no interest in being a YouTube star (though I still aspire to do a Madhur Jaffrey-type rap).

Should you be interested in more thoughts on dogs and cats, I highly recommend this article on pet ownership and happiness. It’s a good thing we have Oakley, our dog, to even out having our two cats, Ono and Choco.  Those who only have cats are pretty unhappy folks! 🙂

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Choco, Oakley, and Ono – in a rare appearance together

And as for our Japanese-themed “Dining In” – in our minds it was great.  However, Andy (in Andy’s Corner) has been researching military Dining Ins, since that’s where we got the idea.  And it’s pretty clear we’re not living up to the expectations.  Toasts were non-existent.  There was no diagram explaining where to sit.  Foul language?  Mmmmm, let me think.  Even military aside, we didn’t do so well according to these two recent NYTimes articles on dinner parties:

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Definitely NOT at our Dining In: homemade parting gifts of thyme-infused olive oil and bundles of fresh herbs with palo santo wood

But even if we didn’t send each guest home with “homemade parting gifts of thyme-infused olive oil and bundles of fresh herbs with palo santo wood,” and we didn’t have a chef, and I didn’t forage the neighborhood to find beautiful branches or use fresh herbs for the table setting, we’re really enjoying these “not pot”-luck, get-to-know-new-folks and try-new-recipe evenings.  We learned about cute baby skunks found in chicken nests, how to rehabilitate vintage cast iron pans, how to properly pronounce “okonomiyaki” and about our families’ immigration to America.  Everybody pitched in with the cooking (who needs a chef?!) – and here’s what we ate:

Continue reading

Commonality

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If Jeff Bezos can use the word “complexifier,” can I use the word “commonality?”  Can Andy in Andy’s Corner talk about the lack of commonality in our memories?

Harking back to my teaching days, I have a foodie test question for you:  What commonality do carrots, beets, asparagus, and chiles share?

Ahhhh, I just know you’d get it right – especially if you weren’t overthinking and looking for a real scientific-based explanation.  My answer?  They all can make your body react in a strange way.

Actually, the scientific explanations are worth a read.  It’s all about Capsaicins, CarotenoidsAsparagusic acid, and Betalains.  Don’t you love the “asparagusic acid” label?  Even I could have thought up that one.  You can find out even more from this L.A. Times article.

Since basically you don’t really need to worry about the impact carrots, beets, and asparagus have on your body (as long as you don’t ridiculously overdo carrot-eating or have a heart attack that moment in the bathroom when you forgot you just ate beets), I want to talk a little about chiles.  Or about the time we were visiting our son, Travis, who was living in the Pilsen district of Chicago – and we visited the fabulous Mexican/Black/Jewish farmers’ market, Maxwell Street.  And I rubbed my eyes after eating tacos served with some some fresh chiles.  And about the misery I experienced for the remainder of our Chicago trip.

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We were at Chicago’s Maxwell Street Market – but don’t know whether Rubi’s existed then.  Apparently their tacos are amazing.  Just watch out for chiles!

What’s an eater/cook to do to help herself when touched by the evil capsaicin? It’s all about milk.  Definitely not water.  Of course, washing your hands over and over with soap and water after handling chiles is a given.  But if you forgot and your eyes are stinging, a paper towel soaked in a little milk and gently rubbed around your eye might help.  If your mouth is on fire, try drinking a little milk.  Again, not water.  Leave it to the American Chemical Society to provide a fun little essay on the topic of capsaicin.

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When we helped our daughter, Sara, with the Tacolicious cookbook, we had lots of discussions about how to prepare chiles for recipes.  Do you remove the seeds?  Yes, most definitely, unless you like unbearably hot.  Do you remove the membrane too?  Ahhh, there’s the rub (but don’t rub your eyes! :).  According to various reports (here’s one), we have been misled when we believe all the spice is in the seeds.  In fact, much of the heat is in the membrane, which, consequently, should definitely also be removed.

And one last note.  The heat of fresh chiles is incredibly and disturbingly inconsistent.  Whenever you’re using them in a recipe start with a little, then taste, and then add more  – gradually.  Don’t ruin an entire dish by dumping in the recipe’s given amount, when the recipe may call for far too much, given the heat of that specific pepper.

We’ve previously posted some great recipes making good use of these four body-changing ingredients.   And we’ve got several more recipes to add to the mix.  Since spring has sprung and asparagus is just hitting the markets, we suggest you roast a bunch or two (we’ve posted the recipe – so easy and so delicious) and then use the leftovers in a simple salad – recipe provided below – from Madhur Jaffrey, who is 85-years-young and just got written up in the NYTimes because she did a rap on YouTube.  I want to be her.

And as for chiles, we’ve got another winner – this time from the Chef-of-the-Moment, Samin Nosrat.  The recipe follows these “favs:”

 

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Lovely little piece of art by Melinda Hall of Santa Fe.  Helps remind us that Anchos are simply dried Poblanos.

Nosrat maintains this is the most versatile recipe in her very popular cookbook SaltFatAcidHeat. Continue reading

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