Tuesday, May 31, 2011

San Angelo Eat Local Challenge

I once had a very interesting conversation with a young lady about bread. I asked her if she knew where bread came from. Her quick quip: the bread aisle in my grocery store? Yes, she was being funny, but she'd also never made bread.Never selected the flour, never seen yeast bubble, never let her hands play with a ball of dough.

Unfortunately I've had too many conversations like that with too many young people. And I started wondering, why? Circumstances.

Growing up in Bangladesh, I was very lucky to have a baker for a mother. I grew up swooning on the smell of fresh baked bread. The house I grew up in was surrounded by a huge garden filled with fruit trees -- mango, papaya, jackfruit, and guava. We grew spinach, potatoes and gourds.

As an adult, I'm very lucky to have married into a West Texas farming family. For generations, the Cowboy and his family have been raising their own food and raising crops to sell.

Most of the meat in my freezer comes from freshly butchered animals from the one of the family farms or 4-H projects, and deer hunted by hunters in the family.

When building a house together, the Cowboy and I chose a 1-acre lot just so we could garden. We've grown eggplants, peas, potatoes, acorn squash and tomatoes. Every year, we try something new. What we don't have we get from the gardens of family and friends, or we supplement by shopping at the Concho Valley Farmer's Market.

The bread conversation, and others like it, has made me emphasize local food, gardens, farmers, and cooking to my own kids. I want them to know food, enjoy it, celebrate what it take to bring to the table.

Then I found out about the NOLA LOCAVORES and their first annual New Orleans Eat Local Challenge. I was awed, impressed and inspired. What a great idea.

This led me to embark on my own Eat Local Challenge, create a facebook page and led me to write an article to rally other West Texans. So from June 1-30, I'll be doing my best to Eat Local. Want to join us?

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Chef Dave Cruz of Ad Hoc on Vacations

Recently I had the good fortune to chat with Chef Dave Cruz, the Chef de Cuisine of Ad-Hoc, considered one of the “Top 100 Bay Area Restaurants” by the San Francisco Chronicle and part of the Thomas Keller group of restaurants. He happened to be visiting family in West Texas.

Naturally, our conversation turned to vacations.

Now my idea of a perfect vacation would include eating my way through exotic lands like Greece, Italy, France, Singapore and…the list goes on. Sometimes, it's running off to a deserted island all by myself with a good book.

For Chef Cruz there are two types of vacations:

1. Checking out restaurants and eating.
“So much of what you do as a chef relies on our food memories,” he said. “You taste something, and you know it.”

2. Coming home to his family. For more on that, check out my article.

I don’t know about you all, but it’s not that often I get to lunch with a famous chef. So for once I zipped up and let a man order for me. Every time he tried to ask for my opinion, I just shook my head and said, “Order the way you would if I wasn’t here.”

“When I go to a restaurant, I order a lot of food so I can taste across the menu,” he said.

My response: “Go for it!”

We ended up sharing a ceviche, a salad of crab cakes and field greens, and Mahi-Mahi tacos with a mango salsa. But the best part, for me, was about three hours of conversation about food: cooking, ingredients, philosophies.

Of course, I came home totally inspired. So after I worked on my article for a bit I tried out a recipe from Ad Hoc At Home, a cookbook featuring family style recipes and a project Chef Cruz collaborated on with Chef Thomas Keller.

Sautéed Lamb Loin Chops

12 1 ¼-inch-thick lamb chops (about 4 ounces each)
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Canola oil
4 thyme sprigs
4 garlic cloves, slightly crushed, skin left on


1. Remove the lamb chops from the refrigerator and let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes.
2. Preheat the oven at 350 degrees. Set a cooling wire rack over a baking sheet.
3. Season the lamb chop generously with salt and pepper.
4. Heat some canola oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat until hot but not smoking.
5. Add 6 of the lamb chops to the pan and cook until well-browned on one side, about 3 to 4 minutes.
6. Turn the chops and add half the thyme and garlic, and cook, basting the meat with its own fat, until browned on the second side.
7. Transfer to the cooling rack, along with the thyme and garlic. Repeat with the remaining chops, thyme and garlic.
8. Transfer the chops to the oven and cook for 7 to 8 minutes, or until the internal temperature of the meat is 128 degrees to 130 degrees. Remove from the oven and let the meat rest in a warm spot for 15 minutes for medium-rare.

Excerpted from AD HOC AT HOME COOKBOOK by Thomas Keller (Artisan Books).
Copyright 2OO9. Deborah Jones photographer.

The recipe wonderfully showcases the flavor of lamb, with the garlic adding a nice flair. Frying the garlic creates bits of golden crust on the outside, but the later roasting makes the inside sweet and buttery soft. I loved the garlic so much, next time I’m going add more cloves.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Romance Magicians: Why your fiction should transcend life? Author Jod...

I managed to garner a great guest post on the craft of writing for the Romance Magicians. Check it out!

Romance Magicians: Why your fiction should transcend life? Author Jod...: "I 'met' author Jody Hedlund on Twitter where she posts writing tips and links to posts full of common sense, quiet encouragement and insight..."

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Get Figgy With It! Banana Bread w/ Figs & Caraway

The Cowboy recently had a birthday and requested banana bread for his cake. Seriously. I mean I like banana bread. It's a classic because it's good, but it's so...no-frills. That would be the same as me asking for a vacuum cleaner for our anniversary. Not in a million years. Totally anti-climatic. But the man had made up his mind and he wanted Banana Bread.

Fine he'd get his banana bread, but it'd be one heck of a special banana bread. I had some dried figs on hand that I'd been trying to figure out uses for, and figs to me are rare and luxurious ingredient. So threw in some figs.

And, I'd recently attended an amazing #Spicechat on twitter and was totally inspired about Caraway Seeds, and especially about using them in a seed cake. While Caraway seeds have an unassuming appearance, one bite can knock your sock off with robust flavor reminiscent of liquorice, citrus and peppermint. Just the kind of zing to push it out of the realm of ordinary.

To enhance the citrusy taste and add some color, in went the zest of an orange. I reserved the juice of half the orange, and ate the other half (see, I told you this Banana Bread was good for you).

Once baked and sliced, it revealed it's inner deliciousness. A surprise of color, aroma and flavor.

And yes, birthday boy did enjoy every bite...almost as much as I enjoyed making the cake. :)

Get Figgy With It Banana Bread

2 cups flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 teaspoons Caraway seeds
zest of one orange, juice half of the fruit and reserve for later
1/2 cup baking Splenda (or you can use 1 cup sugar)
1/4 cup butter softened
2 large eggs
3 ripe bananas, mashed
1/3 cup sour cream
1/2 cup dried chopped figs

1. Preaheat oven at 350 degrees
2. Coat the inside of a 8 1/2 X 4 1/2-inch loaf pan with a cooking spray
3. In a large bowl, combine flour, baking soda, salt, caraway and orange zest
4. Cream together the butter and sugar in the bowl of your mixer at medium speed
5. Add the eggs one at a time, beating to blend after each.
6. Add in the banana and sour cream, beat to blend.
7. Spoon in the flour mix, a little at a time, until a moist batter is formed.
8. Add the figs and gently fold into the batter.
9. Pour the batter into the loaf pan and bake for about an hour, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out dry.
10. Using the same toothpick, poke tiny holes at regular intervals on top of the hot cake.
11. Drizzle with the reserved orange juice (Use just enough to moisten, but not flood)
12. Cool and serve.

Here's another post on Caraway by a #SpiceChat friend.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

An Ode to Peas, Part Deux with Recipes

My last blog post on peas, inspired my this week's article in the San Angelo Standard-Times. It's amazing how the human mind works and connects. Writing a blog post about peas for my friend with cancer, thinking of Spring, sent me out into my garden, down memory lane, to my mom and then back to my kids.
The article meanders through my thoughts.

It also has the recipe for this:

Raviolis with peas, spinach & prosciutto. Yum!

And I know it's not April anymore, so National Poetry Month is over...but I love poems, so here's a lovely pea poem :)

A-Shelling Peas by Harry Breaker Morant

Now, all the world is green and bright
Outside the latticed pane;
The fields are decked with gold and white,
And Spring has come again.
But though the world be fair without,
With flow'rs and waving trees,
'Tis pleasanter to be about
Where Nell's a-shelling peas.

Her eyes are blue as cloudless skies,
And dimples deck her cheeks;
Whilst soft lights loiter in her eyes
Whene'er she smiles or speaks.
So all the sunlit morning-tide
I dally at mine ease,
To loaf at slender Nelly's side
When Nell's a-shelling peas.

This bard, who sits a-watching Nell,
With fingers white and slim,
Owns up that, as she breaks each shell,
She also "breaks up" him;
And could devoutly drop upon
Submissive, bended knees
To worship Nell with apron on -
A saint a-shelling peas.

The tucked-up muslin sleeves disclose
Her round arms white and bare -
'Tis only "shelling peas" that shows
Those dainty dimples there.
Old earth owns many sights to see
That captivate and please; -
The most bewitching sight for me
Is Nell a-shelling peas.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Spring Pea & Mint Soup for Health & Hope

Spring, with its new leaves of bright green and show of flowers –from the fuzzy caterpillar-like Mesquite blossoms to the riot of wildflowers, is a time of hope for me.  I breathe in the cool spring air and it makes it possible for me to endure the earth-cracking, oven-dry heat of a long West Texas summer.

So when our #LetsLunch twitter group decided to host a liquid lunch to commiserate with fellow member Karen, who is restricted to a liquid diet because of cancer surgery, I wanted to wish her all the goodness of the season.

Nothing says “Spring” to me like peas growing in the garden. The soft tendrils, pretty flowers and delicious pods hiding tiny gifts packed with sweet flavor and nutrition.

Peas are a good source of Vitamin A, Vitamin C, B1, folate, iron and phosphorus.  They are low in fat and sodium, but rich in proteins, carbs and fiber.

Because this lunch is liquid, I wanted to make soup. Is there anything more comforting than a good bowl of soup when you’re not feeling 100 percent? (Hmm, maybe the Cowboy…but only if he comes with soup in hand.) 

I chose a recipe out of “If it makes you healthy,” the new cookbook by singer Sheryl Crow, another cancer heroine, and her chef Chuck White. I’m loving this cookbook because it’s focused on seasonal eating, quality over quantity and a healthy diet. The recipes are interesting and creative. And I love the glimpses from Ms. Crow’s life, kitchen philosophy from the chef and, the occasional, nutrition notes from dietician Rachel Beller, MS, RD.

Without further ado, I present you:

Spring Pea & Mint Soup

The brilliant color, minty aroma and refreshing taste make this lovely. It tastes good warm or cold from the refrigerator. According to Rachel, the mint not only refreshes your senses, but also helps stimulate digestion. I put a dollop of Shrimp Salsa in my soup, but you don't have to.

1 ½ teaspoons olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
3 cups vegetable broth
1 pound frozen or fresh shelled peas
1/3 cup chopped mint leaves
2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 ½ teaspoon sugar
1 ½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
1 ½ cups packed fresh spinach leaves
1.       In a medium saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat.
2.       When hot, add onion and sauté until softened, about 3 to 4 minutes.
3.       Add the vegetable broth and bring to boil.
4.       Add peas and mint, cook 4 to 5 minutes.
5.       Turn the heat low and add lemon juice, sugar, salt and pepper. Whisk the soup to mix all the ingredients, and then remove from heat. Let the soup cool for about 10 minutes.
6.       Add in the raw spinach.
7.       I used my immersion blender to blend the soup right in the pot. However, you can use a blender. Just work in two batches. If using blender, you could divide the raw spinach and add it to each batch in the blender.
8.       Return soup to pot. Taste and adjust seasoning, then heat gently until warm.
9.       Serves 4 to 6. (I served it with a shrimp salsa and chips on the side).

Wishing Karen and others happy eating and good health!
Other #LetsLunch posts up include:

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Of Picnics & Expotitions

"Oh! Piglet," said Pooh excitedly, "we're going on a Expotition, all of us, with things to eat. To discover something." -- Winnie the Pooh

My son adores Winnie-The-Pooh. In fact, his constant companion is this soft, well-loved Pooh that's got his stuffing totally redistributed and flattened. We've tried to tempt him with newer, shinier versions. His answer is to clutch that old Pooh tighter. As it should be.

The first time my son called me "Mom" was when I baked him a Pooh cake for his second birthday. Actually, what he called me was: "Mommy Cake Maker." Made me feel like the best mom on earth that day. :)

We, as a family, are partial to picnics and explorations Pooh-Style. As long as the weather is favorable, we're ready for an impromptu picnic. The only must-have at a picnic: Fun.

So this Mother's Day, why not go on a family picnic? My column in this week's Standard-Times shares 10 Tips for a Successful Picnic.

An early Happy Mother's Day to all the moms who happen to read this!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Lifethread: A Book about Life and Friendship

In my sacred writing space office, I have a special shelf for Keepers. These are books I read over and over again, by authors I admire. Most of these authors are people I've never met (and if I do, I'll probably be too tongue-tied to say more than "HiOMGiLuvYourWrItinG!"

Then there are books by mentors, amazing industry professionals I've had the good fortune to meet and learn from. There are also books from writing friends, with personal messages scribbled inside. In other words, the Keeper Shelf is home to books that've meant something to me.

Joining this treasure trove is a new book: LIFETHREAD written by my wonderful Critique Partner Lucie J. Charles.

Lucie and I met on a crit loop and I fell in love with her stories. Her characters and words are amazing. I'd happily kiss her adult heroes and bake apple pies or go man-hunting in the swamps of Louisiana with her heroines. Her way with words not only leaves me wanting to read more of her stories, it's helped me grow as a writer.

Now I've been one of the people fortunate enough to see Lifethread evolve --from rough draft to finished. And I've enjoyed every minute of it. What's not to enjoy? The book has demons, the Fates, a hunk and three spunky heroines. It's about life and death, and most importantly friendship.

Here's the backcover blurb:

Stuck in her senior year of high school until she earns her humanity, McKenna Fin is responsible for cutting the lifethread of demons, and protecting teens from being possessed. To celebrate her fiftieth year of apprenticeship to the Fate Atropos, McKenna is given a new responsibility, and possibly a quick way to earn her humanity—severing the lifethread of deserving humans. Her first assignment: Nathan Quinn.
When Nathan becomes a primary demon target and gets sucked into Tartania, McKenna’s duty as a Fated priestess demands she follow. McKenna can rescue him, no problem, but then she’d have to cut his lifethread. And he’s the one and only guy she’s been attracted to since forever.
 The demons consider Nathan one of their own and fight to keep him. The time limit on Nathan's life is about to run out, and McKenna has to make the decision: sever his lifethread, or battle demons, defy the Fates, and keep him for her own.
Lucie recently ventured into the brave arena of self-publishing and I applaud her for being confident enough to go after her dream. Sometimes the wait takes forever and dreams taste sweeter when achieved during one's lifetime. So help support a wonderful author by checking out
Lucie's FREE short story, Lifethread: Mistake, now available at onKindle.  
You can learn more about Lifethread here.