Monday, May 31, 2010

Long Weekend

Memorial Day Weekend  has long been the unofficial beginning of summer, and our weekend was the perfect juxtaposition of activity and relaxation.  The true sign of summer for me is the first time I brew a pitcher of iced tea.  Perfect.

Friday night ushered in the weekend like many before it. T and J were coming for dinner. But this time it took some convincing as it was T's birthday, and she was determined not to acknowledge it.  I had to promise not to. Right before they arrived the sky cleared so we sat outside to enjoy some bruschetta.  I cut some slices from a baguette on the diagonal, brushed them will olive oil and placed them on the grill. Hot off the grill I rubbed them with a clove of garlic and piled them high with some ripe grape tomatoes, shreds of basil and salt then anointed them with a bit of extra virgin olive oil. Perfect.

So it was pizza and politics as usual.

The only nod toward the occasion was dessert -- affogato.  A scoop of ice cream, in our case caramel macchiato flavor, doused with a bit of liqueur, here Patron XO Cafe, and drowned in a shot of espresso. T approved.  

Saturday was lovely and we spent it relaxing, reading and enjoying the symphony of birds that visit our birdbath. Between the visits to the bird bath each day by our pair of mourning doves, Fred and Ethel, the rabbits chomping on the lawn, and the deer, well eating our plants, sometimes it's hard to remember that we live only ten miles outside of New York City.

When I checked my small garden, I was thrilled to see that the arugula I had planted just a few days before had germinated.

And as usual, the mint is on its way to taking over.  I guess there are Mojitos in our immediate future.

Last weekend was spent mostly doing work in the yard. We weeded and mulched and spruced up as we planned to enjoy it all this weekend. Saturday morning was our first al fresco breakfast overlooking John's newly mulched garden path to nowhere. 

Sunday's weather was beautiful, and we continued to putter around at a very leisurely pace.  J and L called on their way home from the wine shop. Can they come over and bring some wine? Sure--you've got to love them.  So it was bruschetta again, this time with slices of ciabatta grilled, topped with some fresh ricotta, chopped tomatoes and basil. I made a salad and grilled some hot sausages as we drank a lovely zinfandel.

The very best thing about Sunday was knowing  that we had one more day of the weekend ahead of us.

Friday, May 21, 2010



Lunch at the office



Flowers from the garden


Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Dinner Tonight

It was approaching 5 pm and I still didn't know what I was going to make for dinner.  I must have been channeling Tracy at Amuse-Bouche for Two when I texted John and asked if he had any ideas for dinner.

"Do you have any beef barley soup in the freezer?"  No.
"How about any tomato soup in the freezer?"  No.

I could see where this was headed as it is a miserable, cold, and rainy day.  Ok, I'll survey the fridge and see what I can come up with. Celery, carrots, and an onion. Canned (boxed, actually) tomatoes, a bag of lentils, and some low sodium chicken broth. Good.

I pour some olive oil into the soup pot, add a knob of butter and saute the chopped vegetables until soft. If you happen to have some pancetta--I didn't--now would be the time to add it. Add a pinch of salt then one cup of tomatoes, cut up. Season and simmer for a bit.

Add 1 1/2 cups lentils, stir, then add 4 cups broth or half broth and half water. Season to taste.  Cover and simmer approximately 45 minutes or until lentils are tender--adding more water if lentils absorb too much liquid.  Off heat finish with a tablespoon or so of butter and correct seasoning. Serve dusted with grated cheese. We used Pecorino. Add a green salad, a whole wheat roll, and a glass of wine. Done.

Master Chef

I stopped at the Asian market on my way home yesterday. You see I've been yearning to make an Asian-style turkey burger ever since I saw this recipe at Serious Eats, and I needed sriracha sauce for the dressing.

Sriracha is a blend of hot chiles, salt, sugar and vinegar. It can be used to liven up just about anything, and is quite good blended with some mayo as a sauce for the burger.  I have, in the past, used these same Asian ingredients that appear in this recipe with great success blended with freshly chopped salmon to form burgers.

I was first introduced to the wonders of the Asian marketplace in the late 1970's  by my Chinese cooking guru, Eileen Yin-Fei Lo.  Eileen is quite the authority on Chinese cooking and has authored eleven cookbooks on Chinese cuisine and many articles for major magazines.  But I knew her as Eileen Ferretti and took cooking lessons from her in her New Jersey kitchen.

Those were the days before anyone had ever heard of a celebrity chef, and people were still allowing strangers through their doors to teach them to cook.  Imagine that!  Eileen did, and still does, cook food that is traditional to her native land. I worked and ate my way through Eileen's classes all the way up through "super advanced".

An Asian grocery store could be overwhelming to a Westerner; but before classes would begin, Eileen would take us to Chinatown in New York City to make sure we would have all the proper woks and utensils and ingredients to continue our education at our own stoves at home. I did become quite proficient at it, too--even going so far as hanging a Peking duck from a hook on our screened-in porch, fan blowing to dry it out, before roasting it in a hot oven. That was before our kitchen had an exhaust fan, and I don't know how the Fire Department didn't show up!

Eileen Yin-Fei Lo is a 4'9" dynamo who was born in the village of Sun-Tak in Canton and learned to cook at an early age from her beloved grandmother. During the Chinese Revolution Yin fled to Hong Kong to be with her father and continued her cooking education with her Number 6 Aunt.  She met her husband of fifty years,  journalist Fred Ferretti, in 1958 when this American G.I. walked into the tailor shop that she managed. They married the following year, she added Eileen to her name, and moved to the United States to begin a family.

Eileen believes that Chinese cooking is Chinese culture. One must have respect for the tradition of Chinese cooking and be authentic in technique and in life. Her latest book,  Mastering the Art of Chinese Cooking, will serve to keep her beliefs and traditional recipes alive forever.

I see Eileen from time to time around town. We always stop to talk. We ask about each others families, the projects we are working on, and about her grandchild.  Now Eileen can pass on her treasured culture to her granddaughter Siu-Siu, as her grandmother did to her.  And I think of Eileen every time I make Lemon Chicken from Number 6 Aunt!

Click here to see Eileen at home in her kitchen.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

A Weekend At Home

I am planning a weekend at home. John is working and I expect to catch up on many neglected tasks.  The weekend started well with a quiet dinner for two on Friday night of a nice broccoli and ricotta pizza on a whole wheat crust.

 I got up early today and paid the bills, both home and office--but the filing will have to wait.  The day is gorgeous for a change so my mind is racing--should I run out and buy some plants for the deck? Sure! I get to the garden center when it opens, buy some large baskets of New Guinea impatiens, some lettuces and more basil plants. When can I plant these? What else do I need? Should I buy seeds and start a pot of lettuce? No. We've decided to join a CSA and we'll probably have more lettuce than we will know what to do with.

Back home there seems to be unfinished projects everywhere.  Focus. I fire up the espresso maker.

Did that coffee help, or did it make me crazier?

I cook for my 94-year old mother, and her freezer needs to be filled.  As she is not an adventurous eater and a creature of habit,  I prepare the same food for her over and over. A no-brainer, really. So I put a podcast on my ipod and try to get into the zone as I did during my days as a personal chef. I begin with baked ziti, a dish I may add, I never make for us.

Next comes beef barley soup.

Now cool, portion, package and freeze.  The remainder of the food will have to wait. You probably can tell that I am having an ADD kind of day. Breathe, just breathe.

The serenity I felt on vacation is gone, and the only thing left from it is the photo on my screen saver!

If you've stuck with me for this long, thanks for letting me rant!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Ready to Roll?

Back from vacation and up at dawn. Pour coffee, empty dishwasher, check e-mails, jump on the treadmill--both literally and figuratively--drawing up to-do list in my head.

After a beautiful and restful week with our friends at the beach eating and drinking with total abandon, it's time to get back to more prudent habits.  I roasted a plump chicken for dinner last night. Sprinkled the cavity with salt and pepper and filled it with a lemon pierced in spots, some rosemary springs and garlic gloves.  After loosening the skin over the breast I massaged it with some softened butter and more salt and pepper. I worked some more butter into the skin, s & p, then I trussed it closed and put it to roast in a hot oven.

There is nothing like the smell of a chicken roasting. I added a green salad, some olives and one glass of red wine.  Off to a good start.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010


My friends S and A are at the gym, and John is already at the beach. Good for them, but I have declared a no exercise zone for myself.  I'm on vacation, you see, and at home I work out at least five days a week.

At home I eat yogurt and fruit for breakfast. Here in St. Thomas I eat goat cheese and smoked salmon.  At home I race from task to task. Here I sit in a lounge chair overlooking the turquoise sea. At home I drink my morning coffee while I check my e-mails. Here John pours our coffee, and brings it back to bed as we part the curtains to allow the sun to stream in.  At home I grab a solitary lunch usually standing up. Here I prepare lunch with friends, set the table on the balcony overlooking the beach, pour some wine and enjoy.

At home some days it is difficult to finish reading the newspaper.  Here I have brought with me my favorite literary friends.  There is Nic Costa, the dark and emotionally damaged Roman detective with a penchant for Caravaggio. Alex Delaware, a psychologist who consults with the LAPD on interesting crimes.  Alexandra Cooper, NYC assistant DA who is smart, tough, and majored in English Lit. Jack Reacher, lone wolf, ex-military cop whom trouble seems to follow. Yep. Murder and mayhem.

We have been coming to this lush tropical island with S and A for over twenty-five years. It allows us to pause the rush and chaos of everyday life.  For that I am grateful.