Saturday, October 31, 2009

Uphill Climb to Organic Lifestyle

Butternut Squash and Sweet Potato Soup with Caramelized Shallots
Eggs Josephine ( Poached Egg over Crabcakes and Spinach with Rosemary Potatoes

View of Los Angeles from Runyon Canyon Park in West Hollywood
Runners and Walkers going Uphill to Runyon Canyon

I started at the bottom of Runyon Canyon and already, my heart was pumping fast. It is such a steep climb that by the time I got to the entrance of the park, I felt my chest about to burst. Not giving up, I walked up some more, with sweat running down my forehead. The climb uphill to the first bench and a few feet beyond got me going and my heart got used to it.

I just had to stop a number of times to soak in the view of Los Angeles. I am posting the photos so you can have a sense of that day.

Yes, it is beautiful day in Los Angeles! The dogs were unleashed and they were running up the canyon. Some of the hikers are so fit, they took the more steep climb uphill. As for me, I just modestly walked up the first part of the canyon, inching my way up to the top. But, today, did not quite make it. I was too tired to go on and started my walk downhill.

By the time I got down, Activate folks were giving away their berry, orange, fruit punch and lemon lime drinks. It is kinda a cool drink, with liquid vitamins stored on the cap and several twists to the right releases the vitamins into the drink. So, it felt like you were interacting a bit more with your drink before gulping down the liquid. As to their vitamin claims, I leave that up to you, the consumer, to make sure they are substantiated to be true. At any rate, a free drink at the base of the canyon after a vigorous climb is so so welcome!

With hungry tummies, La Maison became our breakfast stop. Surprisingly, when I ordered La Maison breakfast, Rio surprised me with a new entree, Eggs Josephine: poached egg, crabcake and sandwiched in between is sauteed spinach, with a side entree of rosemary potatoes. It was so so good that my hubby remarked " a sexy entree " and all I could say was fabulous! It was so worth every bite and every dollar we paid for both. On Saturday, cheese roll was available and I grabbed my half dozen. While waiting for breakfast, Sienna came with Cayden and their mom, Bettina and it became such a reunion of neighbors. Bettina even split up a pecan tart with me, so yummy!

After a fruitful day of exercise, a good breakfast and a reunion with good neighbors at the bakery, I got home and wrote some more. Tonight, I am blogging for I felt like experimenting with fall harvest: sweet potato, butternut squash and shallots. The inspiration came from seeing our First Lady Michelle Obama become first farmer in harvesting sweet potatoes with middle school children. A wheelbarrow full of sweet potatoes, some 700 pounds of produce were harvested from about $150 worth of treating the soil, seeds and plants. A great bargain when you think of it, aside from being good to Mother Earth.

When we are good to Mother Nature, as the folks in Gaviotas did in Colombia, after planting 6 million trees, they turned a desert into a rainforest with a thriving economy from rainwater processed into bottled water, with plastic packaging like legos, that are used as toys later; and paint thinner, and other cosmetic raw materials harvested from the barks of the trees.

We may not have to harvest from the barks of our trees, but in our back yard, we can plant, just like the First Farmer/First Lady, and then, from that harvest, experiment with making soups, which I did tonight.

It is called Butternut Squash and Sweet Potato Soup. Okay, do you want to know how I did it, it is so simple...

2 Shallots, sliced thinly ( slice them thinly to caramelize them and use them as garnish when serving the soup. )
2 Sweet Potatoes ( peel and slice into cubes )
1 Small Butternut Squash ( peel and slice into cubes )
Fresh Ginger ( slice thinly a few pieces )
Ground Ginger ( one tablespoon )
6 cups of water or chicken stock

Heat up your pot. Add olive oil and few tablespoons of butter. When the oil is heated, add sliced shallots until they turn brown. Set aside some as garnishes. Add ginger and when the oil is infused with ginger ( smell the waft of ginger from the oil ), remove the ginger. Add the sweet potato and butternut squash. When browned, add ground ginger and salt. Add 6 cups of water. Boil until the vegetables are soft. Use the lowest flame and do slow cooking. As you cook the vegetables, a sweet organic aroma fills up your house. Then, you know fall is here.

Before serving, use a potato masher to blend in all the vegetables, or a processor or a hand blender. I prefer to use no electricity and to only use the masher, as if I am cooking in the countryside. It also helps to conserve energies so as not to add to global warming.

Serve with cheese bread. Two bowls of soup and we were done!


It was a great day of walking up the canyon with my hubby. And a nice quote from him as well " Appreciation comes from knowledge of contrasts. " EBD.

Indeed a knowledge of contrasts allows me to appreciate an active lifestyle. I know what it was like when I was sick, bed-ridden in a university infirmary, fighting for my life when asthma, influenza and allergies all converged to weaken my immune system. And my only prayer to God is what gave me strength, the antibiotics and even the oxygen tank took three days to work on my weakened body. The good care and companionship of my new friends in Visayas State University kept me sane and whole, even if with a weakened body. And my hubby had to walk, take the jeepney several times to purchase my medications. On the third day, I was released, but only after meditating for my vitals to be normal. At 6am, when the nurse checked me, my vitals were abnormal and I was not going to be released. Three hours later, after prayers, meditation and journaling, my vitals normalized that I was released.

Since then, it took two years of juicing every day for my immune system to be stronger, thanks to the experimentation that my hubby did to find a formula that works for both of us. By the way, I do have the power juice recipe in this blog if you want to try it.

No claims will be made though, just to share that I found myself getting stronger with juicing, exercising, and eating organically! Of course, that comes with a good night' s sleep and lots of laughter, courtesy of my friends, Josephine and Carmen at La Maison du Pain, and if Bettina walks in, she would get into the rhythm of our conversations for the day, and all four of us would be laughing.

Beginning Sundays, until Dec. 31, visit La Maison du Pain, they will be serving hot chocolate, sweet crepes and Eggs Josephine. I cannot wait for tomorrow to be! Are you coming to have breakfast with me? C'mon now, mix and mingle!! I sent out invitations to folks in Facebook, and let us come in droves and make this a happy neighborhood!

So, going up the canyon, walking in the sun, even if my chest feels like giving up, and as long as I can still breathe, even with a bit of discomfort, I prefer being active. And I nurture that wellness by eating organic, or less preservatives, less chemicals, and more of Mother Nature's harvests!

And while I use more of Mother Nature's harvests, I invent, I create, and I find that just listening to my instincts, I can actually come up with recipes, my own form of culinary arts!

It helps that I buy these organic produce from the farmers each Sunday. And sometimes, they too get to taste my banana bread that I bake when Maura visits me.

So, from Mother Earth to the farmer who tends the soil and the harvest, and from my table to yours, bon appetit is what I greet you today. It is indeed a good day and night this last day of October 2009, Halloween!!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Creating Pasta without pasta, instead spinach!

Concealed and Revealed I Painting by Benedicto Cabrera

Yes, you guessed it, I am at it again. I am feeling brave, more like taking good natured risks in my cooking. Why? Well, after viewing Ben Cab's exhibit and falling in love with his painting called Concealed & Revealed I, which I am posting the image here, it got my inner child going. I consider my inner child the source of my artistic instincts. We all have them, as being creative is what gives our spirit life and it keeps us connected to our Higher Source. Some folks do it with palette of paint colors, some do it with music bars, some do it with written words, I happen to do it with organic harvests from the earth.

My philosopher hubby is so funny, he said if he ate anymore organic, he will be reduced to the soils of the earth. I laugh so hard. Why, because our refrigerator is literally filled with vegetables and fruits, and then on our table, more fruits, and around this time of the year, the colors are so vibrant: red from pomegranates, orange from persimmons, green from limes, and of course yellow-orange green kabocha squash.

Do you see how BenCab's art resembles the colors of nature during the fall season? Hmm, it is so breathtaking, there is a certain drama about his painting, it invites you to inquire some more and see what the painting's soul is about. Do you get the feeling?

Even the flowers get the feeling that I am talking about. Flowers this time of the year are bursting in red, pink and burgundy colors. It reminds you that Christmas is just around the corner. Or Valentine's in another few more months...

Okay, here is what I did...

I used spinach to replace pasta ( steam over double boiler ). Do not overcook, and as soon as the leaves get wilted, take them out and place on a platter.

Of course, the meat sauce has to be prepared first. I did decide to post it last as it requires me to share more instructions. Just the same, we had our carbs by having toasted cheese bread from La Maison du Pain, buttered of course.

Meat Sauce:

hamburger ( 1 and 1/2 pounds )
leeks ( two bunches, only the white part, use the green part for soups )
heirloom tomatoes ( three whole ones )
Goya adobo seasoning
Rufina patis
plenty of crushed garlic cloves

Heat the pan. Place olive oil in the pan. Add garlic and leeks. After the garlic smell is released, add the hamburger meat. Brown the meat, add Rufina patis, goya adobo seasoning. After the meat is well browned, add goya adobo seasoning and the heirloom tomatoes. Use slow heat and cover the pan. After a few minutes and when the tomatoes are getting cooked, turn off the flame, keep the pot covered and allow the residual heat to further the cooking. Serve on the platter with the steamed spinach and toasted cheese bread.

Well, the verdict, for me, I wiped out my plate clean. My hubby, he opted for a lighter meal but kept me company just the same. Those are moments I am grateful for, good company during dinner time or any meal of the day! There are not enough years to squander as I am part of the aging generation of baby boomers and we are all approaching more than half a century.., yes, more than five decades, and with platinum highlights, we are getting up there. And getting up there means that one cherishes what life is: joy, love, art and good food!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Julia Child Remembered one Los Angeles Morning!

The rains have passed. The grounds are drying up. The bougainvilla plant bloomed with purple flowers. You can hear the birds chirping in the background, as if a constant orchestra accompanying you for the morning. The sun is mild in its rays, safe for a morning run for my hubby and daughter. The plumeria plants are rich with white and pink flowers. Even the calamansi tree is bursting with green and orange ripe fruits. The persimmon tree is full of fruits, I had to give some away and kept some for juicing. Life is good!

Several friends have left the house beaming with smiles as they carried their bags filled with persimmons, pears, apples, kalamansi and sweet potato leaves. Tonette joyfully called it " her farmers' organic loot. " I call it God's blessings shared with friends.

Today, I decided to prepare breakfast early to fit the busy schedules of my hubby who teaches and my daughter who goes to law school fulltime.

This is what I call Delilah Breakfast on the Run! ( Named after my daughter's beautiful dog, who also goes on her morning run with them. When she got to the house, she was so thirsty, she drank from our indoor fountain until we found her and stopped her. In a few days, she gets her grooming and I get a special visit from her coming home from her dog salon. Oh what a joy to see her as she struts her body filled with pride. Do dogs have pride or am I projecting my emotions on him? )

Okay, back to Delilah Breakfast on the Run!!

Cheese bread ( from my favorite bakery La Maison Du Pain ), slice them thick into servings ( I am preparing four for 4 folks )
Shredded Parmesan Cheese
Basil Leaves, sliced like ribbons
Sliced Heirloom Tomatoes ( I chose Yellow to match the sunny weather. I even bought a pot of yellow mums to match, it is getting me to smile more. )
Olive oil

In a separate pan, over boiling water, break open jumbo eggs and poach them, ala Julia Child taught us. Use fresh eggs and wait until done, not too well, just when the white of the egg is softly done and the yolk is over easy. Gently scoop out each egg and season with pepper and a bit of salt.

In a cookie sheet, lay out the four slices of cheese bread, sprinkle some olive oil, add a sliced heirloom tomato, add basil and grated parmesan cheese. Bake at a preheated oven of 400 F for 5 minutes or until slightly brown. Scoop the poached egg on top, sprinkle more fresh basil and add shredded parmesan cheese. Serve with three thin slices of ripe avocado..and of course plating is as important.

It is such a great breakfast, but one serving is enough and it is balanced, you have your carbs, good fats, dairy, protein and vegetables. You just need some fruits, and ours was in our power juice. Then my naughty hubby read something in the Los Angeles Times and read it loudly to me, we both laughed, it is a private joke so I can not share this one. It is so funny we said we would revisit it. He left, my daughter left and now, I am blogging and keeping the public in suspense over that LA Times article. Find that interesting one and read it to your special someone and you will know all is right about the world today!!

Good morning Los Angeles, as we remember Julia Child this morning. But, I am not Julie by any means, I want to create my own recipes and this one was inspired by what Carmen shared in preparing breakfast for her family. Take care one and all and till the next one, I will blog about Chilaquiles with Maura!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Two Step Chilaquiles

I created this recipe when I got frustrated in not getting my usual chilaquiles at a local farmer's market. The vendor got married that Sunday and I went home empty handed. It has been a ritual for me to have chilaquiles, it felt like a good start for the entire week and it was a good breakfast/lunch which lasted for four hours, sometimes longer.

I like cooking and lately, the inventions have kept me going back to my stove more often. Of course, the cooking tires me out physically but somehow, after the creative dish is plated, well how presumptous of myself to label it creative, but it truly is for me, as I do it without recipe.

Here goes..

Green Onions
Adobo Seasoning ( only the Goya type, others are poor imitations, trust me on this as I have tried them before I discarded the other brands. Goya is a winner and I get no royalties or fees for truthfully sharing this. )

First: prepare the shallots, dice them. Set aside. Slice thinly the green onions and leeks. Cube fresh tomatoes and one zucchini. If the zucchini is a large one, use only half.

Heat up the cast iron pan. Add olive oil and add shallots, leeks, and green onions, sliced rib eye steak or ground meat. Brown the meat completely. When shallots are partially glazed, add zucchini and tomatoes. As soon as they all change colors, add goya seasoning ( mixture of garlic, oregano and salt ), a bit wilted ( definitely not brown ), add goya seasoning and cilantro. Keep it under heat for another ten seconds. Plate it and set it aside.

Clean up the pan and add olive oil. Add a handful of tortilla chips, add Pace Picante Salsa, Mild or Medium, be generous to coat most of the chips. Add shredded mozarella and after semi-melted, turn off the heat, add more green onions, if desired. Plate them.

Now, you are ready to serve both plates. Keep the salsa handy just in case folks want more salsa. I like to keep the chips a bit crunchy so as soon as the sauce coats the chips and cheese partially melted, I plate the chilaquiles and serve with the precooked zucchini with tomatoes. I then sprinkle the cilantro as garnish. Serve with sliced or cubed avocado. Happy eating!!

PS: I like making this dish as it only takes me at the most ten minutes...

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Our Organic Entertaining Style: Artisan Cooking with Friends as Sous Chefs and Special TasteMakers.....

Artists are considered trend setters and tastemakers. Chefs are the same. They invent using food as their paint palletes and the seasonings as their hues varied. The more I involved my friends are with my cooking, the less tired I become and more able to enjoy their company.

It used to be that I did it all: menu planning, marketing, cutting, slicing, dicing, cooking, plating, and hosting. Well, those were the days, when I was barely twenty or thirty with twice or thrice the energy reserves that I have.

I recently found a way of balancing my love for entertaining friends with teaching culinary arts to others, as well as learning from other skilled artisan, organic cooks. Of course, since I am hosting, I like the idea that I am coordinating the efforts of many artisan chefs, and I am in charge of menu planning.

For tonight, as always, since my friends are gaining in wisdom, and gaining in platinum highlights ( my polite way that we are all graying baby boomers ), I want to indulge in vegetables.

So our menu consisted of:

a. Garden mix of vegetables, a fusion of opposites: the theme of the salad was a fusion of opposites: circles with cubes, and an array of colors and a mix of red leaf lettuce and dandelion leaves. Red leaf lettuce has a neutral, bland taste, so I decided to blend it purple green dandelion leaves that are a bit bitter, almost like arugula, except a heightened version.

Two of my friends came early to be my sous chef. Since they own an organic rice farm, I thought they would enjoy harvesting what we will use today. So, we harvested our pears, our apples, the calamansi fruit, and persimmons. Manny asked me for a knife. He started to eat the fruits that were partially eaten by the birds. Of course, I immediately remarked, " My husband does the same, he takes out the parts eaten by the birds, and then, partakes of the uneaten parts. This way, I am assured it is the best fruit on the tree, he would emphasize. " Imagine that, taking our cues from Mother Earth.

So, I assigned them to cut the following, of course that included me: I cut the persian cucumbers in 1/2 inch circles, Angge peeled the jicama and sliced them into cubes. Then, we carefully arranged them in a tupperware: cucumbers ( green ) in one side, jicama ( white ) in another side, cherry tomatoes ( red and yellow ), grapes ( blue gray ).

We prepared the dressing. I like to experiment when there is company, it is like a performing stage artist on theater, who improvises what they do and varies the lines each night. I do the same, I am inspired by the presence of folks surrounding me. So, tonight, without any inkling as to how it will turn out, I decided to trust my instincts.

Yes, instincts, as i have been cooking since age six, and after five decades, I kinda know the general principles. So, combining acids is a lesson and an artsy way of flavoring dressings, without making them piquant or too acidic. So, what did we combine: a tablespoon of freshly squeezed Calaman-C juice ( harvested from our backyard ), a tablespoon of gourmet, seasoned rice vinegar, a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar flavored with raisin syrup. We macerated two cloves of garlic, added a pinch of salt, the three tablespoons of acids, and twelve tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil.

Plating is as important as the flavors inside the bowl. I decided to use my handcrafted wooden bowl that my college classmate, Reme B. bought for me, made by artisans from the Benguet Mountain. It carried a special significance for me, as you could feel the bowl had a life of its own, the multiple hours of labor of someone etching the curves on the piece of wood, until it became a bowl. I carefully laid a bed of red leaf lettuce mixed with dandelion leaves and now carefully laid on opposite sides of the bowl: the jicama, cucumber, cherry tomatoes, the persimmons in the middle, slices of heirloom tomatoes, slices of avocados, blue gray grapes.

The theme of the garden mix of salad: fusion of soft and hard textures, a fusion of circles and cubes, a trio of citruses, and a palette of colors. I have always believed, as others that one feasts with one's eyes first, then, taste follows and of course, the mouth has to crunch a lot to feel satisfied. And it was a success, folks came back for seconds of the salads..

b. Filet mignons - marinated in crushed garlic, lemon zest, juice of one lemon, Kimlan soy sauce. I marinated the filet mignons in a container, and kept them marinated for the whole day inside the fridge. When the guests arrived, I heated up the cast iron pan. I added olive oil, seared the filets on each side until well browned. The key to testing it if well browned, if the meat is no longer sticking, it is time to turn it over. Then, the rest of the cooking was done inside a pre-heated oven at 350 F for 5 minutes.

The result: folks raved about how tender the meat was, with juice still oozing and medium rare but well flavored.

c. Side entrees were brought in: steamed asparagus with shredded parmesan cheese, Piave cheese brought by Lucita and Giorgio, which blended so well with La Maison du Pain's cheese bread that I bought of course from my favorite bakery. The bread was well-heated and kept warm by a well heated pizza stone. The cheese was simply the best but nothing like pairing it with good cheese bread from La Maison du Pain.

d. Dessert was carefully planned. It was sauteed apples, sauteed pears with a side serving of chocolate rice risotto. Hmm...I think I will leave the dessert part kinda a surprise to tease the readers so they would leave me comments, if they want the recipe. And the combination of the two surprised me as well for it was a hit. The sauteed apples and pears were used the next day as topping for Greek Style plain yogurt.

e. Drinks were mojitos with Beringer Red Wine brought in by Tonette and Nick. Hmm, simply the best tasting drinks to go with the dinner.

f. Mung bean and ube hopia, directly from the Philippines, courtesy of Tess and Fred, which were heated in a toaster oven, with cups of organic coffee....

After dinner, we sat around the oblong table in the library and it became an impromptu sharing. Len started with sharing a piece she wrote at a writing workshop with 80 year old Jewish young artists, who shared their lives with candor: some with discreet love affairs, still while married, some divorced, some in very happy, unmarried relationships. She shared about the exercise: to write about their First Kiss.

Len decided to write about her Last Kiss, as she is about to be divorced. She shared the piece and we all could feel the intensity of that last encounter. Strangely, what I remember is the crush, crush, crush of the plates that were broken that night. I cannot even excerpt the story here as it is still under embargo until Len decides she is ready to share it with the world. We encouraged her that this is her path, to conduct writing workshops with folks and publish their works.

It turns out she recently edited and had published a scrapbook, actually a book of essays about Fr. Abe, a Jesuit priest who died and left such an imprint on other folks lives, including his valiant attempt to survive Stage 4 colon cancer, using his own alternative treatments of meditation, raw foods, massage, and managed to outlive another family friend with a similar ailment who undertook surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, by three more quality years with lucidity and sharpness of mind.

The lessons we had for the night: fellowship from friends and family overtakes all, love always conquers all. Love precedes, love transcends, and love will be eternal.

And for my readers, here is my offering of photos for the was truly a night to remember, like all nights when there is good food, wholesome fun, friends and genuine friendship!!

By the way, for the evening, we were joined in by 93 year - old Felisa, my husband's mother, who shared her love for God through a prayer before the meals and it was so touching and endearing....and she set the tone for our togetherness for the evening, we are all God's children and may the loving hands who prepared this food, partake of it that they may become not just nourishment for our body but for our spirits!!

And a special rendition of live violin music by my very own Mozart in residence, who played music from Constancio de Guzman. The evening was so perfect: food, wine, good violin music and authentic stories written by three artists/writers. Amen!!