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I haven’t been cooking much for myself lately. It’s been all work recipes all the time and then scraping something together from the leftovers. I’ve been laying low, depressed and dismayed at where we are as a country with a low simmering, building anger. If one more white CIS males tells me it will be ok, I will punch him. It’s not OK. It just isn’t. I keep thinking back to 2018 when someone dismissed my concern over his presidential choice and lectured me that everything will be fine, there are checks and balances, blah blah blah. I expressed my doubts then, was summarily shot down and lo and behold, I was proven right. My concerns were real and justified. It was a classic deflection to avoid a difficult discussion, a be-quiet-little-lady response meant to make me feel small and ill informed. Except I am neither small nor ill informed. Because here we are. In the last weeks, I’ve lost autonomy of my own body, our country is veering into extreme religious rule, our courts are now politicized and there was a mass shooting 30 minutes from my house. Another one. We can’t go to school, we can’t go to church, go to a concert, watch a parade or grocery shop or go to a movie without a lingering fear we might die. We’ve become numb to it all and I don’t like it one bit.

In the meantime, I write postcards for pro-choice and sensible gun control candidates, I volunteer escort at a women’s clinic when I can and I try to get through the days. And I guess I have to eat. Yes, I am steering this difficult topic to food because as much time as I spend thinking, talking and writing about food, it hasn’t been providing the usual levels of comfort. That’s concerning. I don’t feel like cooking and I don’t feel like eating.

My savior? Much to my great great surprise … bagged salads. And that’s what I choose to talk about today. Bagged salads. Weird topic, definitely, but I it’s about all I can handle right now. In general, I don’t care for lettuce (what’s the point?) and I really don’t care for pre-bagged salads. They always look sad and droopy and the flavor combinations are surprisingly boring. However … I have noticed that Trader Joe’s bucks this trend and carries some really interesting and delicious mixes – not just in the greens but the dressings and crunchy add ins too. There’s texture AND flavor. Bravo TJ’s. It’s about all I can handle these days – bagged salads and frozen appetizers. 

These combinations gave me a rare moment of inspiration as I mustered up the energy to make something refreshing and crunchy, with a minimal amount of cooking. Just a lot of chopping. Something about wielding that big knife felt really good. It’s sort of Vietnamese and maybe a little Thai, with a coconut milk based dressing spiked with lime juice, ginger and my favorite, makrut lime. That last one may be tough to find – try a Thai leaning market. I bought a little plant this winter and have been happy to have a supply of fresh leaves nearby but I have a stash in the freezer too just in case. I’ve been eating a lot of shrimp because they defrost and cook quickly and I don’t have the brain space to plan too far out. The vegetables are bright and crunchy and hold up pretty well and sure, it veers into slaw territory, but I really enjoy that crunch. And right now, the goal is just to breathe and get something on the plate. This works.

STRESS THERAPY BAKING FACTOR. BREATHE AND FIGHT LIKE HELL. Maybe chop up a bunch of vegetables – wielding a big knife is therapeutic and makes you feel like a boss. Or just buy an interesting bag of salad but don’t be complacent about what is happening in our world. Don’t. At one point, America was the great experiment. No longer. Get involved. Write for Postcards to Voters. Pay attention. READ. Get your news from trusted news services and read it, don’t watch it. TV News is entertainment – don’t forget that. Read in depth coverage from publications that adhere to ethical standards of reporting and the classic elements of journalism in America. If they’ve won a few Pulitzers, you’re on the right track. And for crissakes VOTE. 25% of the population is holding us hostage by counting on our laziness and disinterest. Don’t stand for it. 

thirteen years ago: Peanut Butter Whoopie Pies

twelve years ago: Big American Flag CakeSour Cherry Cobbler

eleven years ago: Strawberry ShortcakeSweet & Spicy Beer MustardLife in Southwest France

ten years ago: Spanish Sunday Lunch – Patatas AioliStrawberry Hibiscus PopsiclesFarro Tabbouleh

nine years ago: Passionfruit Chiffon CakeBBQ Baked BeansHush PuppiesTin Roof SundaeWatermelon Aqua FrescaRhubarb Beer Jam

eight years ago: Guinness Crème Anglaise

seven years ago: Onion Rye Berry BreadRadish ButterSlow Roasted Spiced Pineapple  

six years ago:  Sedano e Pomodori (Braised Celery and Tomato)Pina Colada SherbetOrange Julius with Strawberry and Pineapple variations)Chicken Shawarma Pocket SandwichRoasted Cherry Vanilla Frozen Yogurt

five years ago: Michelada Style ClamsGrand AioliSalmon Rilettes

four years ago: Greek Salad Piadini Sandwiches

three years ago: Strawberry Mascarpone Galette

two years ago: Raspberry Rhubarb Streusel TartGinger Mint Lemonade Base

last year: Mexican Seafood CocktailSorrel (Hibiscus Drink)

GRILLED SHRIMP SALAD WITH COCONUT DRESSING

Serves 4

When grilling shrimp, I always skewer them. Makes it easy to flip quickly and avoid overcooking. Chasing loose shrimp around the grill is no fun. If you don’t have makrut lime leaf, skip it. Nothing else quite duplicates that flavor and the dressing is still pretty good without it.

for the dressing:

1 cup full fat coconut milk

1 teaspoon honey

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger

1 large makrut lime leaf, finely diced

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 teaspoon Vietnamese fish sauce

1-2 small fresh red chilies, finely diced or ¼ teaspoon crushed red chili flakes

for the salad:

1 pound large raw shrimp, peeled & deveined (21-25 count)

½ head napa cabbage, thinly sliced crosswise, about 4 cups

½ medium English cucumber, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced 

½ medium red bell pepper, cored, seeded, and thinly sliced, about ½ cup

1 medium carrot, shredded or sliced into thin batons, about 1 cup

¼ small red onion, thinly sliced, about ½ cup

¼ cup roasted salted cashews or peanuts, roughly chopped

2 Tablespoons torn Thai basil leaves

2 Tablespoons torn mint leaves

  1. The night before: In a medium jar, add the dressing ingredients and shake to combine. Taste and adjust seasoning if needed. Refrigerate overnight to allow the flavors to meld. Shake before using.
  2. Pour about ½ cup of the dressing into heavy Ziploc bag. Add the shrimp; turn to coat and refrigerate for 30 minutes. 
  3. Thread the marinated shrimp onto metal or wooden skewers and preheat a grill to medium high. 
  4. Grill the shrimp until opaque and just cooked through, a few minutes on each side. Alternatively, use a stovetop grill pan or sauté over medium high. If sautéing, add a bit of oil to the hot pan first.
  5. In a large bowl, combine all the vegetables, nuts and most of the basil and mint. Toss with the about ½ cup dressing, just enough to lightly coat, reserving a tablespoon or two to drizzle on top.
  6. Add the grilled shrimp on top, drizzle with the reserved dressing and garnish with some additional basil and mint.

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Ten down, two left and the third of four in the olive oil group. Whew. Crackers, crackers and more crackers! Like the last post that featured za’atar, I’m bringing another unusual spice into the mix, one near and dear to my heart. Piment d’Esplette. As za’atar is the cornerstone of Levantine cuisine, piment d’esplette is the cornerstone of Basque cuisine. It is a variety of not too hot chile pepper that is cultivated in the northern territory of the French Basque, that magnificent southwest corner of France that is a little French, and entirely Basque.

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What’s a holiday party with a thumbprint cookie of some sort? Jewel like jam in the center of a buttery cookie? Ok, hold that thought. Turn it around, add some crunchy cornmeal to that buttery dough and fill the center with some sort of savory jam. Say, a cranberry or mango chutney or a tomato or fig jam. Before you know it, you have a delightful cocktail snack. I can attest that these are delicious with an ice cold martini. Oh my.

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I do love a cookie with raspberry jam. The first year there were thumbprints, last year were linzers, and this year jam tarts. The best. It’s funny – the basic dough and the raspberry jam is the same in all the recipes but a few different ingredients in each batch yields completely different cookies. That’s the cool trick about this whole thing. Maybe you should think about doing nothing but raspberry jam cookies this year. I’d be good with that. So, given my fondness of raspberry jam, I threw another one in this round, one that was more raspberry focused and with almonds, because that is the best combination. Today for Day 4, we have Almond Raspberry Strips.   (more…)

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… apologies

I messed up yesterday and for that I sincerely apologize. I offended many of you with a term for an exploration of the foods of recently maligned countries and that certainly wasn’t my intent. At all. But I hear you. My intent is irrelevant. As someone wisely pointed out, I can’t take ownership of this blatantly racist term regardless of my intentions. Got it. After much thought, I have deleted that post as I don’t want to continue to offend. I never ever meant to denigrate El Salvador nor it’s foods. Never.

As for the recipe, dang. I made some crap pupasas. That was made very clear. Honestly, I can appreciate your passionate replies and united hatred of my attempt. As much as it stung, it made me smile a little too. Familial recipes, especially those deeply rooted in our cultures, are intensly personal. Know that I heard you loud and clear. My pupasas were crap. I need to go back and work on these a bit more. I started with what I thought was a solid recipe source but I guess pupasas weren’t their strong point either. Maybe I’ll take another public crack at this one if I can get it right. I might have to track down someone to teach me first.

We all make mistakes. I’ll take ownership for mine. I most definitely did not mean to offend so if I did, I hope you can accept my apology. I’ve heard you.

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I’ve often wondered about Brown Bread Ice Cream. What was it? Who puts bread in ice cream? In my mind, it was a major disconnect. Bread + Ice Cream = Huh? During my research into Irish recipes, this one came up several times yet I’ve never tasted, much less made it. Why would you do such a thing? Cookies yes, but bread? Brown wheat bread? But you know I was intrigued. My friend Meg once made an amazing ice cream with popcorn so how different could this be? I recalled a post David Lebovitz, the ice cream king, did a few years ago so I thought I’d start there. And you know what? It was really good and what better time than around St. Patrick’s Day to try this one out?

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It took me three years to get this one right.  Every August, when the apricots are absolutely perfect, sweet and juicy, I’d pull this recipe out and try it again.  But only for those few weeks.  Beautiful seasonal fruit is fleeting in these parts and this just isn’t as good with mediocre apricots.  I’d make it once, but probably two or three times, and make cursory notes that never made sense a year later. I’d stare at the computer screen wondering what the hell I meant by “too poufy” or “iffy meh” and what I was supposed to do about it.  I have trouble remembering what I was thinking 12 minutes ago, much less 12 months. All my attempts were good yet I always felt it could be better.  And then just as quickly as they came, the apricots were gone and the weather started to cool.  Next year, maybe next year.

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Bastille Day is this Saturday – but you knew that right?  The French national holiday commemorates the 1790 Fête de la Fédération that was held on the first anniversary of the storming of the Bastille on July 14th the year prior.  It’s a day that is celebrated with parades, picnics, fireworks and great shows of nationalism, not unlike our 4th of July.  Last year at this time, I was deep in the Gascon countryside, celebrating a truly unique US-French Bastille Day BBQ courtesy of my friend Kate and a whole crew of mostly American friends at her lovely home, Camont.  It was a fantastic day.

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As I pop my head up from the holiday chaos, I realize it’s been a while since I posted.  And I was on such a roll there for a minute.  Such is life.  Hope everyone had a lovely holiday and is ready for the New Year.

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Chinese Lunar New Year was yesterday – did you know it’s the Year of the Tiger?  How about that?!  Doesn’t it sound like we’re up for an awesomely fierce year?  I wish I had some of that energy to celebrate.  I adore Chinese food and most especially a good dim sum spread but unfortunately I worked instead and it sucked the life right out of me.  Let me tell you, working in a restaurant on Valentine’s Day stinks.  I think I can say with total confidence that most folks in the restaurant industry despise Valentine’s Day.  Probably more than we dread New Year’s Eve.  It’s amateur night for asinine special requests, bad tippers and clueless people who are outraged they can’t get a same day reservation.  I have to say, I’m glad it’s over.  Whew!

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