Monday, January 4, 2016

Country French Cabbage Soup

A friend we were staying with in Southern France treated us to a wonderful family style, road side restaurant near his home. When I say roadside, I don't mean it was anywhere equivalent to a roadside restaurant in the US. While situated on a dark road somewhere in the rustic French countryside with a large statue of a cow on the roof, this was a place of incredible, high end country style food.
This is the kind of place you find only if someone knows where it is or you have got lost on that road.
Inside it was warm, cozy and loud. Large, heavy wooden tables full of food and families enjoying the food and company. The large stone fireplace that was behind the counter, big enough for a person could walk into, not only warmed the room but also served as the grill that the meat was cooked on. Their specialties were goose and steaks cooked (very rare! ) in that fire. With the meal came a huge crock of cabbage soup. Even Violet, who can be very particular about food and wasn't even feeling that well that day loved that soup and requested I figure out how to make it. This is a wonderful, nourishing, comforting and EASY soup to make. I make it on cold, rainy days and eating it instantly takes us back to that wonderful. stormy night in France. I always make it in my crockpot but you could easily make it on the stove and just let it simmer an hour or so to blend the flavors.

8 cups of chicken broth ( I prefer using turkey broth when I have it. I always make my own broth whenever I roast a chicken or turkey so my pantry inventory changes a bit.  My guess is the restaurant uses goose. So you can really make do with what you have and decide what you like best. )
This serves 4

1 cup white wine
4 large potatoes, cubed
1/2 cup of finely chopped leeks
2 garlic cloves minced
1/2 head of chopped green cabbage
salt and white pepper to taste
small fresh rosemary sprig

Toss everything but the cabbage in a crockpot and cook on low for at least 8 hours. Throw in cabbage and cook on high about 20 minutes. This will cook your cabbage enough to soften but still leave it a little crisper. You can cook it longer if you prefer it softer.
This is really an accommodating dish. We usually prefer it simple like this because it seems really close to the one we had in France but I have certainly played with it and it always comes out delicious. Onions when I didn't have leeks, carrots just because, different herbs.......Make it your own.

Serve it with fresh, crusty bread, cheese, and of course, a bottle of wine.

Bon Apetit!




Friday, January 1, 2016

Portugese Turkey

This isn't actually a  recipe that I discovered travelling but it was quoted as being a traditional Portuguese recipe in the food section of the Chicago Times. However, once you use this recipe there is no going back. I have served this for to chefs, foodies, and friends who just hate turkey for decades and it has never failed to get RAVE reviews.
Since we always have a non-traditional feast for Thanksgiving I usually make this for Christmas Eve.  I put it in the oven early in the day and we eat it all day long. If we are in town we like to open up our home to anyone who would like to stop by for good food, wine and games. We have discovered that popping slices of the turkey back in the oven, along with the stuffing layers, and heating it up until there is a slight crisp is just as amazing as when it first comes out of the oven. The plates empty fast! So here it is......

10-11 lbs turkey (this is from the original recipe, I actually usually use a turkey somewhere between 12-14 and have gone up to 16 and just cooked it about a half hour longer. I wouldn't recommend going any bigger because it won't cook through but a 12-14 is perfect with the stated cook time)
2 lbs of salt (OK, I know that is a lot of salt! I use a box of course, sea salt and don't really use that much. I don't even measure it. I just pour it in the brine water and then really rub it into the turkey skin and pour it directly in to the cavity. )
1/2 cup butter
3 Tbs of olive oil
3 1/2 C chicken stock
2 lg garlic cloves
1 lg onion
1 lb of French bread
1/2 T salt and pepper
2 lg eggs yolk ( I have completely spaced using the egg yolk in the stuffing and it turns out fine. So if you don't eat eggs or don't happen to have them feel free to leave them out. )

1. Remove giblets. Fill neck and cavity with salt. Then rub skin well. Place turkey and rest of salt in kettle. Add cold water to just cover.  I use my roasting pan and simply turn my turkey a couple of times while it is soaking if the water doesn't cover it completely. The original recipe says to soak for  3 to 4 hours. I usually do it at least overnight and sometimes will let it brine for a couple of days and just change to fresh salt water after a day.

2. Put butter and oil in kettle over med. heat. Add chopped garlic and onion. Cook 3-5 minutes until onion is limp. Tear bread into small chunks. Stir bread, salt and pepper into garlic mix, toss well. Pour into stock and beat hard until paste like, reduce heat to lowest point, cover and cook 15-20 mins until all the liquid is absorbed. Add yolks and beat until smooth. Set aside off the heat. I often make this a day ahead and let it set in the fridge. It makes it a little easier to stuff when it's cold.

3. Preheat oven to 400 F. Drain Turkey and rinse well. Loose skin from breast to create a pocket between the meat and the skin. Push stuffing far down under the skin. Pack lightly, about 1" thick. Stuffing the paste-like stuffing is messy but so worth it! Put remaining stuffing in the neck cavity. Skewer neck skin shut if you want. I never do this. I'm totally OK with the stuffing spilling out when it cooks.

4. Roast for  2 1/2 hours. Yes, I promise you this is long enough! You are cooking this at a higher heat and using a smaller size turkey then the average "Thanksgiving" Turkey. Again, I have never had a problem with it cooking through with up to a 14lb turkey. This higher heat creates a wonderful, crispy potato chip like skin. Let rest uncovered 20 mins. Sprinkle with fresh parsley if desired.

Over the years I have tried different variations on this recipe. I have done different brines with oranges and lemons, different spices, wine, etc.... but I have never found them worth the effort. It tends to muddy the flavors. The one thing I do do, because part of the wonderful part of this recipe is the crispy crust with the stuffing layer, is to assure that it is as crispy and flavorful as possible. So I rub the skin with a light coating of olive oil and then sprinkle some seasonings on top of the skin. You could use any of your favorite rubs or combos. I stay pretty simple with salt, black pepper and paprika.


Aproveite!



Monday, May 19, 2014

Forget the kitchen sink, pack the clothesline


“Remember to pack the clothesline!” I told Greg as we started filling our packs for a 67 day road trip in Europe. He looked at me like I was insane. “What are you talking about? We’ll do our clothes at a Laundromat. We don’t need a clothesline.” However, no matter where I have traveled, even in the US, I have always found I end up using my clothesline. Obviously humoring me, he got the nylon cord and stuffed it into a side pocket of a pack, along with a small bag of clothes pins.

Week 2, we arrived in Madrid with nothing clean. We were staying in an apartment we had booked specifically because it listed having both a washer and dryer. We tossed our clothes in the tiny washer in the bathroom and started searching for the dryer. When we couldn’t find one we thought maybe the washer was actually a washer/dryer combination but since the settings we all in Spanish we were missing something on how to operate it. We called our host, “yes, yes, the dryer, you can reach it from the hallway.” That was when we learned that dryer in Spanish was clothesline. We hung out what we could on the line from the hallway but there were three of us who had a week of really stinky clothes. It couldn’t hold all of them. The clothesline from the side pocket came out.

In the next couple of weeks we were fortunate enough to stay in places that had washers but when asked about a dryer the reply always came with someone pointing to a clothesline. We were in a hostel in Portugal when my husband started asking around for a Laundromat. We got sent to a laundry service but the cost was more than a nice hotel room for a night.  So we loaded it all up and went back to the hostel. They let us wash it there for $5 a load. A bargain in comparison to the service.  Their “dryer” was in the backyard but since it was pouring down rain we carted the clothes back to our room and got out our line.

In the next town we had got a great deal on a nice business hotel. Greg was done with having his jeans air- dried and stiff as cardboard. He wanted his jeans dried in a real dryer. The hotel’s laundry service was way out of our budget.  “There has to be a Laundromat in town” he insisted. It took a bit to explain to the desk clerk what we were looking for but when she got it she grinned and said, “Oh yes, I have seen those in movies! But we don’t really have them in Portugal. Maybe in Lisboa…..?” Greg went and bought more clothespins.

A few days later we arrived in a small coastal village on the Algarve coast. The owner of the studio we were staying in was an expat and one of the luxuries he had provided himself with was a dryer! I think Greg might have actually teared up a little when he pulled his jeans out of the hot dryer, soft and flexible. “We should open up a Laundromat here, we could make a fortune!” he said.

A few weeks ago we were going to Rabat, Morocco. It was a business trip and we were staying in a 5 star hotel. I still packed the clothesline. Greg didn’t say a word. Did I need to use it? Without a doubt!

Thursday, May 15, 2014

May Day


 As a pagan mom we love to do small things (and not so small) to honor the original seasonal holidays. May Day wasn’t originally my favorite holiday but I have always reveled in the first days of warmth and return of color from blooming flowers.  Even now that I live in a warm and sunny climate I still love the sense of spring. When my daughter was 4 yrs. old  May Day landed on a Saturday so we decided to celebrate by throwing a May Day party. An all ages party where everyone could party!

I wanted it to reflect May Days origins from small village festivals.  So first, we decided we wanted to be able to invite lots of people.  People we work with, people we rarely see, people we have lost touch with, people who are by our sides every day, people we want to get to know better, their friends, because isn’t it great to meet new people!  The first thing that came up was food.  If half the people showed up there was going to be no way to provide enough for everyone. Now I cringe when I see the word “potluck” but this seemed like the only route to go. I still refuse to use that word though, instead I just ask everyone to bring a dish or beverage to share. Yes, it’s a “potluck” but I still can’t use that word. I did decide not to tell anyone what to bring. Instead we tell them to bring whatever works best for them. A bag of chips to frog legs, it’s all good.

That ended up working better than I ever dreamed. Over the years we have had people bring the most wonderful foods that I would never have thought of. The table is never empty and often you will hear people sharing recipes. It's a mystery but it always works out.

Next, it’s May Day, so there needs to be a May Pole, right? The pole was easy; we made it out of a bamboo stalk from our yard. The ribbons, another story. Buying fabric long enough for a 10’ foot pole was going to be expensive. In the end, I scavenged thrift stores for cotton sheets.  Bingo! I found pale pink floral ones.  My daughter and I spent the day tearing them into strips and dyeing them rainbow colors. A fabric flower chain from a craft store glued on top.  Presto!  A beautiful May Pole for less than $10.

My next consideration was that there would be a lot of kids who didn’t know each other. I wanted to eliminate the awkwardness and shuffling feet.  This was solved by putting out a craft table where they could start doing something when they arrived. Quickly, kids of all ages were laughing, playing and thinking up new games to play. The first year I had vines and flowers to make floral wreaths.  They were beautiful but needless to say they boys were not quite as in to it. The second year, no one really wanted to make one. Everyone was much more into making sand paintings with the colored sand I had put out. Now come up with a new craft every year. I know it’s a good when the adults are doing it too.

My original vision of our May Day was of children and adults, with beautiful flower wreaths on their heads, dancing gracefully around the Maypole. However, most of our friends hadn’t even seen a May pole before, nevertheless know how to dance around it. Plus, trying to explain to young kids how to weave in out before their attention span is roving back to the treehouse, also, isn’t happening. So we let go and everyone just goes for it.! It’s pure chaos, but in that chaos, it’s also pure fun! The swirling and getting tangled up with each other creates lots of laughter. Maybe someday it will look like my original vision but it doesn’t matter if it does. Each year is perfect in itself.

This year was our 4th May Day celebration. It has become a favorite tradition, not only of our family, but many of our friends. Our yard is full of laughter, old friends and new, all day and then settles into night around the fire pit, until the clock passes into another day, kids asleep on laps.

I remember how good it felt one day when I overheard some friends talking, “ Are you going to May Day?”
 “Absolutely!”

 
Do you have a May Day tradition to share?

 

Friday, April 25, 2014

How to pay for it?


 How I've managed to get enough money to travel has changed over the years. When I was in college I was the master of odd “jobs.”I gave blood as many times a week as I was allowed, which paid for my trips to New York.  I sold vintage clothes that I would find in thrift shops to vintage stores to make yearly vigils to New Orleans.  I mowed yards, drew portraits, sewed custom dresses, I even had a short stint doing phone sex because it was really easy get my  homework done or clean my apartment at the same time.

The truth is I have never been someone who lives beyond my means. I never pay my bills late and never carry a due amount on my credit cards over to the next month. I have a good grasp of what I spend and I also don’t really need much. I cut my own hair, love thrift store clothes over designer, love to cook, drive a used car and furnish my home with things I fall in love with on my travels. My expenses are low. Even when I was a starving theater artist, making below the US definition of poverty level, I still could save money and, in my opinion, still lived well. In the way the New York Times once described as the “luxuried poor.”

However, when I did decide to backpack through Europe the first time, the $3,000 I had to go was all I had. I couldn’t afford to pay for my apartment and utilities back in Chicago while I was gone. So I gave up my apartment and put my stuff in storage. At that point in my life I didn’t really have that much so my storage space was a closet and I didn’t have a car. I had talked to several of my friends ,who all said I was welcome to live with them as long as I wanted when I got back while I looked for a new place to live. A BIG Thank You to all my friends who gave me that gift! Not knowing if I had a place to stay when I came back could have been one of the things that might have stopped me. Maybe…

Now I own a house and a car but still live pretty simply in comparison to many people’s standards. I prefer spending money more on experiences then I do “stuff”. “Stuff” just gives me more things to clean and put away.  Taking more time out of my day to live it makes me happy. Now when I leave, I turn off all the utilities and I have a house to come back to. My formula for saving, though, is the same it’s been for 30 years. I simply take 10% of everything I make, even if it’s just a few dollars and I put it in a separate account as soon as I get it. I never count it as part of my living expenses, so I live according to what I have in my main account.  I never even miss what I have put away. When I get enough to pay for whatever adventure I am wanting to go on then I start putting into action a plan to go. This has worked when I was lucky if I made $11,000 in a year to making $60,000.
If I can find a job that has travel involved with it, well, then it's Win-Win!

 
I'm actually at work in this photo.

Favorite days at home

 
While we love to travel, it is also wonderful to live someplace that people love to travel to. Travelers come from all over to visit Venice Beach but many never get past the jumble of street performers on the boardwalk.  However, our favorite day in Venice starts at the Venice canals.

There you can put in a small boat to row through the shallow canals that are lined by million dollar mansions, intermixed with the canals original 1920’s bungalows. You will be joined by the thriving duck population and the many visiting herons and other species of birds that come from the nearby Ballona wetlands. When you are ready for a break from rowing, moor your boat at Washington Blvd., then walk a couple of blocks towards the beach for breakfast at Hinanos.

Hinanos is one of the last old school bars left in Venice. A small, dark bar filled with tiki decorations that have been there for over twenty years with sawdust on the floor. It is busy serving beers and flipping “the best burgers in LA” to the locals from the moment the doors open at 6am. There are other items on the chalkboard menu but get the burger.

Hinanos can be hard to leave but eventually you might want to wander out in to the bright sunlight to the beach. You will be at the south end of the boardwalk at Venice pier. From here, you can walk down the pier, rent bicycles, rollerblades or various other modes of transportation to cruise the boardwalk. Or you can just go by foot to stroll along the strip of shops, unique street performances and street vendors. Old and new street artists line the boardwalk daily but if you like something, buy it then. The boardwalk spots operate on a lottery system so there is no guarantee the same artist will be back another day. Take time to walk down to the ocean, build a sand sculpture, join in a volleyball game, try a little surfing, watch the skateboarders practice in the new skateboard park, or just enjoy the rhythm of the waves.

 At the opposite end of the boardwalk there are a variety of cafes, wine bars and a couple of old beach bars. Stop at the Waterfront at the very end. You can enjoy local musicians playing in front of the oceanfront patio or enjoy the beer garden in the back if you want to get off the strip for a beat. The Waterfront has a large European clientele so you can order up German lagers and foods like Andalusian style gazpacho and Swiss fondues that you won’t find at the other beach places for a reasonable price.

 If you are like me, by now the sun is already getting low. If it’s a weekend, listen for the sound of drumming and follow it to the drum circle. There you can join in this sunset celebration that has been going on for over twenty years. Find something to drum, even a water bottle will work, or just dance, sharing the joy, until the sun disappears below the horizon.




The walk as you head back to Washington will be quieter,
stiller. The stretches of umbrellas and blankets are gone with only casual strollers enjoying the sunset to disturb the sand. When you arrive back up to Washington the previously overflowing restaurants will now have seats where you can get a drink to watch and enjoy the sound of the waves. 





                               Don't forget your boat!




 

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Not everyone runs a hospitality business

 
The Barcelona Cozy Rooms. They can be found lurking on every booking site from airbnb, hostels, guesthouses, and booking.com. These rooms might have been mentally survivable if they had been under $20 a night and the people who ran it had been remotely pleasant or helpful in any way. Neither was the case.

The airbnb host we were going to stay with cancelled on us the day we were going to arrive. In a pinch, we used booking.com in to find a place quick. The descriptions and pictures made it appear like a charming guesthouse. It was more than we had paid anywhere else in Europe but we decided to splurge a little.

From the moment we found the street it was a disaster. First, we drove around endlessly trying to find the building which was completely surrounded by construction. So much for a view unless you like gazing at cranes.

We entered into a dark, dingy stairwell to find that the “ground floor” room was actually on the fourth floor. The timed light was on just long enough for us to get to up one flight, leaving us stumbling up three more in the pitch dark, dragging our bags while trying to carry and calm our 8 year old, who is scared of the dark.

When we managed to get ourselves into the apartment we were shocked. Guest house? This was a  bad hostel at best; flop house was really a better term. The only common area was the kitchen (or was it a hallway?).  The tray table and 3 stools made it instantly overcrowded. There was no heat in the bathroom or kitchen and minimal in our room. Flys and their splatted remains were all over the walls. It seemed odd for late December. Then we looked out the window and saw the moldy, rotting piles of fallen laundry on the rooftops. Now it made more sense.

We emailed management immediately, which was the only contact method we had. We asked to be released from the other nights we had booked because it was so uncomfortable for our family. Their reply? We were welcome to leave but they would not refund us a dime. Since we had already splurged for this room, we certainly couldn’t afford to pay for another too. We were stuck. Nor did they do anything to try to make us more comfortable. We asked if they could at least bring in a heater and they ignored us completely. They didn’t even offer to send an extra blanket.

The bed was a futon on a rickety loft that creaked and shook whenever you moved. Not that we could sleep anyway since the walls were so thin that you could hear everything going on in the building. I never got to meet Nate but I really hope he can get his grades up and work out his dating problems!

 I can’t say that it was because of the room conditions that my daughter came down with a 103 fever the last night we were there but I certainly believe that the cold and lack of sleep definitely contributed.  I can’t describe the relief when we were able to take our daughter to a clean, comfortable place to get well!

For Note: Reports were filed with Consumer Affairs and BBB. This is the only time I have ever asked to leave a place early or felt that they should be reported for their business practices.
A room with a view