Lemons- For Main Dishes, Desserts, Sauces

Lemon (Citrus limon

It’s lemon season here in southwest Florida and our Myers lemon tree has produced two dozen lemons the size of small grapefruit.  Talk about inspiration! These lemons are juicy and especially good with cooked chicken.

The beautiful lemon…its skin when grated,  referred to as lemon zest, has been preserved and candied, grated into cakes, dried for teas and prized for its oil. Citrus seems to  be sunlight compressed into a colorful skin, just as a sweet orange, grapefruit, lemon or lime any time of year.

Lemons, lovely lemons.

It is said that historically the lemon was originally a native of Southeast Asia and brought to China, then to North Africa and traded by Arab cultures throughout the Mediterranean to find its way into the cuisines of Greece and Spain. Citrus became extremely important to the crews of sailing ships at sea for months at a time to prevent scurvy, as it is a source of vitamin C.

Explorers and traders brought the lemon to the West Indies in the 1500’s and only a generation later, lemon orchards were thriving in South America.Continue reading

Santa Cruz Chili & Spice Company

 

The products at the heart of Santa Cruz Chili & Spice Company, family owned and run since the 1940s, are sundried Anaheim chilies ground into a gorgeous red powder or made into luscious and versatile chili pastes used by chefs all over the United States.

The people at the heart of the chili company today are Jean England Neubauer, her husband, Dr. Bill Neubauer and the extended cadre of multi-generations of employees, some more like family, who have assisted with the labor intensive process of producing high quality chili products for two generations. When I spoke with Jean recently she explained that one year of inventory is harvested in just four days. With fall in the air, those intense harvesting days are nearly here.

Jean, who left the corporate world to carry on the work of her parents, keeps the authentic spirit of their ingenuity thriving while exploring all that the modern world of planting, harvesting and processing can throw at her.  Her father, Gene England, started the business on the ranch he acquired in the early 1930’s when he put up his airplane and pearl-handled pistols as collateral. Her mother, Juliet Kibbey England was the daughter of a prominent Mexican ranching family.

Located in the Sonoran desert south of Tucson, AZ this is a land of extreme temperatures and little rain. A visit to the spice company feels like a trip back to the Santa Cruz valley in its early years when tall cottonwood trees dominated the entire valley of the Santa Cruz River. Turning off the main highway in the small town of Tumacacori, and crossing the frontage road, enjoyed by bicyclists and cattle alike, the road winds south to the Spice Company.
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A Quick Easy, Spicy Beef Stew

Warm Those Bones! Great for guests around the holidays or any time…this is comfort food!

Best Beef Stew in under an hour. Serves 3-4 people.

Slice one medium onion and two cloves garlic and add to a hot iron skillet with Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Cook on medium heat until fragrant and starting to brown. Add 1 to  1 1/2 pound grass fed stew beef in small chunks and stir to brown while adding the following ingredients: 1/2 tsp dried ginger, 1/4 tsp. tumeric, 1/2- 1 tsp cumin,  1/2 tsp salt and four bay leaves (remove these before serving). Stir and add 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes, 3 T low sodium soy sauce (optional), 1 c. filtered water, 4 peeled and cut carrots and 4 small and cleaned red or yukon potatoes and 1/2 cup catsup or tomato paste. Add greens as you like such of 1-2 cups cleaned and chopped chard or kale. Allow to cook on medium heat for 30 – 40  minutes, stirring occasionally and adding more water as needed. Add salt and pepper to taste. Optional:  also add 1/2- 3/4 cup  red wine.Reduce to low, stirring often and check a cube of meat and spoonful of cooled stew for taste.

Serve over wide egg noodles or other similar pasta, with a salad and crunchy bread and preferably a very good glass of wine…and enjoy a warming and comforting meal!

 

Olive Oil- Loved Throughout History for Its Many Benefits

Olive Oil Quality

It is easy to understand why olives have been cultivated for their oil over thousands of years. Traded by the amphora in the ancient world and buried with Kings, Tut among them, olive oil has been revered for its properties in cooking, personal health and beauty, and as lamp fuel, illuminating homes for centuries. In Constantine’s Rome, olive oil was a key crop and economic staple with over 2000 oil dealers in Rome alone. Even Aristotle proposed the death penalty for anyone felling an olive tree as it was considered sacred. Later, the oil of the olive became the basis for the fine soaps of France where Greeks planted the trees over 20 centuries ago. From tiny white flower to green drupe, the oil content of the olive is affected by many factors. Among
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Easy Apple Cake

apple basket

Apple Cake -Easy and Delicious

Baking favorite family recipes are a great tribute to our relatives who have passed on. Here’s one of my mother’s easiest, tastiest recipes that I’ve had the habit of baking when there’s a chill in the air. It’s quick, easy and moist. Super as a comfort food and especially delightful when cooking… it’s that cinnamon and sugar sweetness with the clean taste of baked apple that makes it irresistible.

2-3 chopped apples    1 tsp. cinnamon or dash more to taste

1 cup sugar                 1 tsp. baking soda

2/3 cup oil                   1/2 tsp. salt

1 egg slightly beaten    1 1/2 cup flour (unsifted)

1/2 cup walnuts, chopped (optional)

Mix the apples, sugar, oil and egg together by hand. Separately, mix the dry ingredients together in a separate bowl and then mix into the apple mixture. Pour into an oiled 8″ x 8 baking dish. If the recipe is doubled (recommended ’cause it is so good), use a 9″ x 13″ baking dish. Bake at 350 ° F approx. 45 -50 minutes.

 

Rediscover Lentils

Dancer007

Lentils are not just for soup anymore! 

Lentils can be cooked up in 20-30 minutes and are a source of protein.

Lentils can be cooked up in 20-30 minutes and are a source of protein.

Lentils are my go- to food source and it’s easy to make a batch and refrigerate for a few days to have on salads, as a side dish or as a main dish, hot or cold. These little power packs of protein along with some vitamins and minerals have been a staple in Mediterranean and southwest Asian cuisine for thousands of years.From India to Egypt to Greece and Rome, the lentil has a legacy of being versatile and taking on the flavor of the spice combinations added to it.

Green lentils, also known as French lentils are slightly firmer than their cousins. Lentils come in many colors, brown, yellow, green and red. Lentils have a mild taste and I enjoy them with curry, a little extra cumin and salt. Others prefer to flavor them with thyme and oregano. Fresh garlic and onion are welcome additions. In salads with a mild cheese,or as a main dish with rice and naan (Indian flatbread), you can add carrots, celery, spinach or kale and increase the vitamins and protein of this basic dish enormously. Of course lentils can be added to soups and stews.

I did a little shopping around; I’m always looking for food with the highest nutritional value at the least expense. A one-pound bag of dried green or brown lentils at a typical grocery store costs around $1.00 and makes six cups. And, lentils don’t have to be soaked overnight like beans do. They cook up in 20-30 minutes, about the same amount of time it takes to cook brown rice (more vitamins than white) . With rice, a protein complement, lentils are a great meat alternative. In India and Nepal, lentils are often served as dahl, a main dish or a side dish. And, a delicious dish!

Curious About Cuisine’s Curried Lentils Dried lentils should first be cleaned in a strainer by running water over them. Canned lentils are a convenient alternative but I prefer cooking up a batch from scratch to have for several days in the refrigerator. The taste is fresher and more palatable. In a skillet add two tablespoons of olive oil ,or more if needed, and add  1-2 teaspoons of curry and 1/4-1/2  teaspoon cumin. Reserve more delicate spices like oregano to flavor towards the middle to end of the cooking. Stir the curry and oil together and then add the lentils and water. Using a ratio of 2:1, two cups water to one cup dried lentils, simmer over low to medium heat for 20-30 minutes, or a little longer if needed until the lentil is tender but not mushy. Add salt and additional spice to suit your taste.

All About Coffee

So what is the authenticity of coffee? Let’s look at its history.

Coffee, (Coffea arabica) the java bean starts as a reddish berry growing on a shrub or tree that when harvested, is peeled for the “bean” inside.

Coffee beans before harvest

Coffee beans before harvest

The coffee bean is then roasted to bring out the oils of the bean which determines its flavor (it addition to the environment it was grown in).

Coffee has been brewed as a beverage for over 1000 years originally in the Arab world where coffee houses were first established. First grown and harvested in Yemen and Ethiopia and traded nearly wherever ports and merchants came together, coffee is enjoyed worldwide to the tune of more than 2 billion cups per day.

In addition to the Arab world, coffee houses became popular throughout Europe starting in Venice in th 1400s , a port known for the spice trade. Coffee houses were attractive then as now as they were places where people could socialize and discuss everything from music to politics especially in Britain and France where they became clubs or cafes. In the American colonies, coffee was the preferred drink over tea after the historic protest of the Boston Tea Party when tea was thrown into the harbor by Revolutionaries who opposed the English tea tax.Continue reading

Pears – Tasty in Crepes All Year Long

Pears are showing up here in southwest Florida with ready to eat (in just one-two days) taste and texture. I’m finding organic pears in local markets!  Pears can be added to almost any dish and is  equated with  comfort food in the fruit world, adding a bit of specific delicate taste that seems to enhance other flavors. Recently we experienced a meal (in a local Italian restaurant ) of ravioli with pear in a red pepper sauce/marinara. It was delicate and delicious!

Pears, cultivated by the Romans, were brought to North America from Europe but they are native to the Middle East. Different varieties of pear, of which there are 5,000,  are harvested throughout the year. In the past, pears were often turned into cider like the apple is today. Common varieties like the Barlett is a summer pear while the Anjou is a winter pear. Try the recipes below anytime of the year when pears are luscious!Continue reading

Neonicotinoids – Killing Bees? Ask your retailer to stop carrying these now.

There’s good news for gardeners and pollinators. One big box store- Home Depot – changed it’s policy recently and has reduced its inventory of flowering plants with neonicotinoids by 80%. See the announcement.

‘Neonics’ as they are commonly referred to,are systemic insecticides that recent studies link to colony collapse and the shocking reduction of bee and butterfly (and other pollinators) populations.

REJECT plants that have the labels below and ask your nurseries for plants without these pesticides.Home Depot plant tags

I initially found the Home Depot announcement on this site, Common Dreams a news site from Friends of the Earth which started in 1969.

According to an article in Reuters (4/19/2015), Lowes will stop selling neonicotinoid pesticides but not until 2019. How can that be acceptable to start to change in four years? By then I hope we even have bees and butterflies.

When it comes to learning about pollinators, butterfly gardens and planting organic milkweed to help sustain monarch populations,  another great online resource visit The Xerces Society, a 40 -year old organization that has been advocating for pollinators and invertebrates – the key to our food supply by the way- and has a report on neonicotinoids.

 

 

Pagosa Brewing Co. – Love and Ingenuity Make the Brew

Pagosa Brewery

One thing about loving to travel and hike, is finding places like Pagosa Brewing Company in southern Colorado. This is  a place that is worth driving, flying or biking to. And with a new building open, it’s gotten even better. Brewer Tony Simmons has won 87 medals in 11 years and with good reason- his knowledge and  creativity are top notch!  I returned several times with my husband for the Chili Verde Cerveza a winner of state and national gold medals. Click ‘Guests in the Kitchen‘ to read an interview with Tony Simmons.

chile verde cerveza

While dining outside in the beer garden under the pines in warmer weather or inside in cooler weather try the brew pub chili with grass fed beef  or a Build Your Own burger and an award winning beer –  just the right way to dine at the end of a hike up to the continental divide or after skiing. I had my burger with cheddar and green chilies to match the beer I can’t stop talking about!
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Chocolate – The Dark Story

chocolate-4

Purchase Ethical Chocolate – Not Produced by Slave Labor

Local natural foods markets tend to have a rich variety of chocolate bars now. Recently, I was delighted to find Equal Exchange chocolate nearby. Equal Exchange uses fairly traded chocolate, vanilla and sugar in their products. (They also sell coffee and olive oil.) Read on in this blog to learn why purchasing ethical chocolate is so important since most of the world’s chocolate is grown, harvested and prepared by child slave labor.

Unwrap the outer wrapper carefully to learn about the one of the worker-owned co-ops with a map featuring where all the ingredients were grown. I chose the Organic Dark Chocolate Orange with 65% cacao, and on the inside of the wrapper found a picture of a farmer, his products and a map of sourced products – brilliant! This chocolate is a Curious About Cuisine Five Star Pick. See their website.5 Star Dancer

The size of a small football, cacao or cocoa pods are harvested for their nibs.

The size of a small football, cacao pods are harvested for their nibs.

Chocolate is the end result of growing and harvesting the large melon-like pods of the Cacao tree and smashing the pods to harvest the nib or bean inside. The cacao beans are then fermented, dried, roasted and ground, and mixed into a paste. Why cocoa and not cacao? Legend has it that cacao was misspelled to cocoa and that is the term we know such as in hot cocoa.Continue reading

Sausage Posole Verde

Tangy Pork Stew

Easy and delicious – an  all in one- pot for fall.This dish makes a delicious Sunday evening supper and Monday lunch or Tuesday “leftovers” ,especially when served with a crispy, light fresh salad and crusty warm bread. The star ingredient is the  the mild tangy green chili salsa with tomatillos (salsa verde) making this is a perfect fall pork stew ala New Mexico.

Sausage Posole

 

With all the hoopla surrounding Whole Foods, I’ve been delighted to return to my local WF store for specialty groceries and find highly personal service in both the butchery which inspired this dish, and the bakery where I discovered a dark muesli loaf that is amazing toasted with butter or coconut oil.Using the excellent high quality pork sausage made on location at Whole Foods (and I’m usually not a sausage eater).

Note: For the sausages, check with the butcher at Whole Foods. To prepare for the posole, it’s recommended to parboil the sausages, and then grill them (on low heat) for about ten – fifteen minutes for until cooked through and flavorful.

In a deep skillet, add 3 T extra virgin olive oil, 1/2 one sliced yellow onion, sliced and brown in the olive oil  with 1 clove fresh garlic or 1/4 tsp garlic powder

Add to onions,  2-3 small, sliced summer or zucchini squash (or a mixture of the two) and cook while stirring until cooked, but still sturdy

Add salt and pepper to taste and simmer with 1/2 – 1 jar of Salsa Verde, Trader Joe’s or similar*

Add 3/4 c. water or more as needed

and 1-2 bok choy, sliced

Cook together and stir as needed until the flavors meld and serve with couscous or rice. Enjoy!

*Trader Joe’s Salsa Verde with no preservatives or thickening agents is a Curious About Cuisine      5-star pick!!

Provence’s Cuisine

 

Lavender at Le Lavandin

Provence, France  C’est magnifique!

I have much to report on the brilliance of the dappled light and lush breezes of Provence, but it is the distinctive cuisine with its Mediterranean influences that I found so exquisitely authentic.  Think: honey, olive oil, wine, figs, cherries, cheeses and lavender as in lavender honey and my favorite treat, lavender ice cream.

 

Provence It was June, right around the time of the summer solstice when fields of lavender were in full glory and I joined a group of women for a retreat celebrating and cultivating creativity with Sigrid Olsen. Sigrid offers Creative Well Being retreats in a variety of locations each year .

We met at the beautiful Bed & Breakfast, Le Lavandin,  and were hosted by the proprietress, a sparkling woman, Georgia Perrin Ball, whose taste and décor is impeccable – see her website linked in green above to view the rooms of the guest house along with the grounds of gardens, lavender, a pool and even its own labyrinth.

Provence

Provence

The timing was right. Exhausted by a hectic work life, I arrived from Boston via Paris needing a personal reset and I found it in the sheer beauty of the place and the comfort and conversation of the people.

Our schedule was well paced. Each morning we met in the summer kitchen for tea or coffee and then convened for yoga on the terrace with our instructor, Martha, followed by breakfast and several hours of art on the patio. Meals served as a balancing point during the retreat .

Breakfast included  a great variety of choices including yogurt and fresh fruit, croissants and pastries of the day from the village patisserie, crisp pain de beurre with pear or fig confit, made from the trees  just outside the door, fresh juices and coffee, and more.

Following breakfast, we’d gather on the patio under enormous umbrellas for three hours of art with Sigrid. It was a joy to watch her carve stamps to print, while we carved our own. Her
distinctive style and artistry is lively and light, and always, fresh.

From my seat at the art table, I could enjoy pomegranate trees with their bright orange flowers ready to pop and a lavender field as a backdrop. The herb garden was plentiful and I enjoyed sketching the intricacies of lacy yellow dill flowers. Sigrid focused on passion flowers resulting in a new set of stylized block prints.

One of my most memorable meals included a simple presentation at breakfast of cantaloupe slices with nasturtium flowers in the center. The vision of bold color and delicate nasturtium flowers distinctly reflected our surroundings.  While many meals were served outdoors on the patio, luncheons were served in the dining room, doors open to the air and so as to leave our art work undisturbed.

Be sure to visit this link for a fabulous trip to the vineyard!

Breakfast in Provence

Breakfast in Provence

 

Blue Zones – Longevity and Quality of Life

Places around the world where people live long, healthy lives.

Is it a fantasy to think that we can live to be 100 and enjoy a healthy, happy lifestyle? 

Living Long and Living Well

Living Long and Living Well

Actually such places exist around the globe and are called Blue Zones. As written about in his book,  Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who’ve Lived the Longest author, Dan Buettner teamed up with  National Geographic to research and study the lifestyle and eating habits of residents in five zones: Ikaria, Greece; Okinawa, Japan; Loma Linda, California; Sardinia, Italy and Nicoya, Costa Rica. The island of Ikaria, a mountainous Greek island in the northern Aegean Sea is also the ancestral island, of my friend, Leia Madden. Lucky for her she has the genetic makeup of the Ikarians and is a frequent visitor to the island that Dan Buettner described as the “Island Where People Forget to Die.”

Leia introduced the concept of Blue Zones to me and gathered information from the local residents of the island after spending several months there in 2014 visiting family and friends.The lifestyle of  Ikarians is a recipe that differs about 180 degrees from the average fast-paced and fast-food American lifestyle. Details follow below.Continue reading