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Lemon Honey-Mustard Chicken Thighs

Inspiration can come from anything. Anything at all.

I’m such a reluctant planner, and oftentimes I have hardly any patience in the kitchen. I want to get in and out as quickly as possible. Sort of contradictory, as I love to cook and it relaxes me and makes me lose myself in creative thought.

But lately, with everything that we have going on, including an imminent move, it’s hard to concentrate for too long. Plus, I’m trying to prove to my father that he too can make all these dishes I’m making for us. They really are that easy and simple to make. We’ll see if I am actually successful in my endeavours and he’ll cook for himself…

So the other day, I made this chicken dish which couldn’t be easier to put together and make. I had leftover dressing from a salad (which I’ll share soon) and decided that was the going to be the flavour of the day! Instant inspiration! It includes a slight modification from the salad dressing with the addition of butter and honey to add a little bit of depth. And it uses ingredients that probably most of you regularly have on hand.

Simple. Easy. Quick. Delicious. Father Approved! No planning required. Keeper!

Lemon Honey-Mustard Chicken Thighs

Ingredients, serves 2 or 3

6 organic chicken thighs
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1 tablespoon wholegrain mustard
juice of 1/4 lemon
coarse sea salt
raw honey
2 scallions

Method

Preheat to 380F (190C).

Rinse the chicken thighs and place in an ovenproof dish. Sprinkle with coarse sea salt.

In a bowl, with a spoon mix the olive oil, melted butter, lemon juice and mustard. Pour over the thighs. Peel and cut the scallion diagonally and place over the chicken. Drizzle with some raw honey.

Bake for approximately 50 minutes, turning over twice. Towards about 5 minutes before removing from the oven, slice another scallion diagonally and place over the top of the chicken things.

Serve with your favourite sides.

Sweet Potato Savoury Tart

Sweet potatoes are something I’ve grown to like more since I started with the Paleo lifestyle. I used to equate them with one of my grandmother’s sweet treats. She was a Type II diabetic developing the disease sometime in her late 40s, and attributed acquiring the disease from all the raw honey and sweets she consumed when she lived in Portugal.

She was rail thin, ate like food was going out of style (my father thinks the same of my appetite), and was relatively quite healthy otherwise. She died at the young age of 90. Bless her soul, she was the funniest person I’ve known and had a huge influence on my life… but that’s a story for another day.

Back then, between school and friends and going out, I didn’t pay attention to learning more about how diet affected her illness. I thought it was incurable, one more malady that called for medical treatment. She wasn’t overly strict and only required one small pill of insulin a day to maintain her status quo. But I do recall that she avoided refined sugar, some fruits were off limits such as bananas and the plump, juicy oranges from our orchard, white potatoes were an infrequent side dish for her, and she also limited her intake of bread, picos and regañada (all three which she loved – picos are round breadsticks and regañada is a form of flat bread used to accompany tapas and meals in Spain).

Fortunately for my grandmother, my mother was an excellent home cook, who made sure we ate a traditional Mediterranean diet, which for the most part is very healthy. If my grandmother were alive today, I would be advocating the Paleo lifestyle to her, of course.

I was really into baking as a teenager growing up in Spain, so I used to make desserts without sugar for her. And as she would say, her eyes would go after all the delicious foods she wasn’t supposed to eat. One of her favourite treats was baked sweet potatoes, boniatos, with a drizzle of raw honey and a sprinkle of ground cinnamon. I wasn’t particularly fond of this dessert as I found it too rich. Too everything really (my youngest niece seems to share this predilection – she hates sweet potatoes).

Fast forward many years… and they are a staple in my kitchen. Funny how that happens with a lot of foodstuff, no? Nonetheless, I don’t use them that often as I still find them too sweet. But I do see the benefits of consuming them every once in a while.  The other day, I saw a recipe for a sweet potato and apple pie and loved the concept of the dough being made with this vegetable (and no refined sugar), especially since I had three sweet potatoes kind of just hanging around waiting to be used. And we’re clearing out the kitchen since we have to move soon.

So, I created a savoury tart instead with which to better appease my palate. I hope you enjoy! Que aproveches!

Sweet Potato Savoury Tart 

Ingredients, for a large 9×11 tart

1 3/4 cups cooked and mashed sweet potato (about 2 medium)
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cup almond flour
1 tablespoon thyme
1 teaspoon fine sea salt (optional)
1 large onion, chopped
2 small leeks, sliced
1 tablespoon butter
1/4 cup extra virgen olive oil
prosciutto
tomato slices
freshly ground pepper

Method

Heat oven to 375F (190C). Pierce the sweet potatoes with a fork and place on a sheet of parchment. Bake for about one hour or until done. (Check with a fork for tenderness.)

Place another sheet of parchment inside the ovenproof 9×11 tart pan/baking dish.

While the sweet potatoes are baking: In a medium skillet, over medium heat, melt the butter in the olive oil. Add the onions and leeks and poach until they are translucent. Set aside.

Once the sweet potatoes are baked, scoop out the pulp and mash. Spoon into a food processor. Add the eggs, almond flour, thyme and sea salt. Blend well. The mixture will be thick. Spoon onto the parchment inside the tart pan and spread evenly.

Top the sweet potato base with the onions and leeks. Then add some prosciutto and tomato slices. Sprinkle with freshly ground pepper and an additional generous pinch of thyme. Bake at 375F (190C) for approximately an hour or until done. (Check with a toothpick; if it comes out clean, it’s ready.)

Makes a delicious side dish for lamb, veal or poultry. We ate ours with lamb steaks.

Coconut Milk or Basic Flan Recipe

There are times that one forgets how the simple things in life are the best. Flan is one of the easiest desserts to make and always tastes good and looks impressive on a plate.

We were invited to lunch by my parent’s friends the other day and my father accustomed to my mother’s cooking and social habits, suggested that I make a flan. A custard as our English friend told us. In the US, whenever we had parties or social gatherings, my mother was known for her delicious flan, paella and other traditional Spanish dishes. My sister-in-law’s is also renown for her culinary talents amongst our friends. And oftentimes, flan is her star dish.

So, I acquiesced and indulged my father with a flan, albeit dairy-free, which didn’t make him too happy. (He much prefers regular milk flan.) Our friends enjoyed it too and because I was feeling guilty, I made it again yesterday, this time with cow’s milk just for him.

Whenever a recipe calls for just a few ingredients, you know that what is important is the quality of such ingredients. Pasture-raised, organic eggs and the best quality milk and honey make this dessert a special treat that is not only delicious, but also very healthy.

I personally love the flavour of coconut flan, but for a more neutral flan, I would suggest using cow’s milk. I’ve tried using almond milk in the past, and find the texture too granular, granted it was homemade. Also, you can be creative and add some fruit or other flavourings and come up with your own special recipe! Like I did here.

This is the basic recipe for flan; and it can be made with any type of milk you prefer, although remember it should always be full-fat for better results and taste.

Coconut Milk Flan

Ingredients

6 large eggs
750ml coconut milk (preferably canned)
1/2 cup raw honey
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup raw honey
1 tablespoon water

Method

You’ll need a large ovenproof dish in which you can place another ovenproof dish or bowl or individual molds for baking the flan au bain marie.

Preheat the oven to 350F (180C).

On the stovetop, in a medium pan, bring to a boil over medium-high heat the 1/3 cup raw honey and 1 tablespoon water. Cook, stirring constantly until caramelised but still liquid, about 4 minutes. The mixture will bubble up quite a bit and also turn brown as you cook. Do not over cook, however, or you’ll end up with hard caramel in the pan. Pour into the flan mold/s and coat the bottom. Set aside. Place the pot immediately in the sink and fill with warm water. I do this to make it easier to clean later.

In a mixing bowl, whisk the eggs and raw honey. Once they are well blended, add the coconut milk and vanilla extract and mix well. Pour into the mold/s. Place the mold inside the ovenproof dish, large enough to hold the flan mold and be filled with water. Fill the outside glass dish to about 1/2 of the side of the flan mold. Do not over-fill, or the water can boil over inside the egg mixture and ruin the flan.

For a large mold (one flan), bake for 55 minutes or until an inserted sharp knife comes out clean. For individual molds adjust the baking time (less).

Remove from the oven and allow to cool at room temperature until the mold/s are cool enough to place in the fridge. Cool completely in the fridge before serving. When ready to serve, with a sharp knife cut away the edges of the flan from the mold. Place the serving plate on top and quickly turn over, giving it a jiggle if necessary. The flan should come out easily and look pretty on the plate.

Top with fruit, mint or edible flowers if desired.

 *****

Flan de Leche de Coco

Ingredientes

6 huevos grandes
750ml leche de coco (preferiblemente de lata)
125 ml miel cruda
1 cucharadita de las de te de extracto de vanilla
80ml miel cruda
1 cucharada grande (de las de sopa) de agua

Metódo

Nos hará falta un recipiente para el horno lo suficientemente grande para poder poner otro dentro o varios moldes/flaneras dentro al baño maria.

Precalentamos el horno a 180 grados.

Sobre la hornilla a fuego medio-alto, calentamos en una cazuela medianita 80ml de miel cruda y la cucharada de agua para hacer el caramelo líquido. Removiendo continuamente tarderemos unos 4 minutos en conseguir la textura y color deseados. Vertimos el caramelo dentro del molde/flaneras que vayamos a usar. Ponemos la cazuela dentro del fregadero y la llenamos de agua tibia para que luego nos sea mas fácil de limpiar.

En un bol, batimos los huevos y la miel. Cuando estén bien incorporados, agregamos la leche y batimos otra vez. Vertimos todo dentro del molde/flanera. Echamos agua dentro del recipiente grande, siempre teniendo en cuenta que queremos que sobre unos dedos sin agua para que cuando este en el horno no rebose al molde o la flanera estropeando el flan. Para un flan grande, horneamos unos 55 minutos o hasta que este hecho. Yo lo compruebo con un cuchillo afilado en el centro del flan.

Sacamos del  horno y del baño maria y dejamos que el flan se enfrie a temperatura ambiente hasta que podamos ponerlo en la nevera para enfriar del todo. Para servir, utilizamos un cuchillo afilado para desprender los filos del flan del molde. Le ponemos un plato por encima y le damos rapidamente la vuelta.

Se puede servir con fruta fresca, menta o incluso flores comestibles si deseamos.

Revivals… {Pan-Seared Scallops with Nectarines and Balsamic-Honey-Mustard Reduction + Broccoli Rabe with Golden Garlic}

I drove into town the other day specifically to buy more yarn for the snood I‘m making just finished for myself. The woman at the yarn store said I would have enough with one skein, but well obviously I didn’t quite follow her instructions….

I’ve become completely obsessed enamored with the beautifully produced television series Outlander and its costume design. The Starz original (I sound like an advert) is very truthful to the books – I’ve read five of the eight already – and quite possibly better! While the executive producer Ron Moore is fastidious about keeping all the details from Diana Gabaldon’s novels, he’s also very astute and perceptive by incorporating the personality of the actors and making small modifications, as he did in one of the last episodes where Caitriona Balfe does a singing and dance performance to the tune of Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy, which was a very popular 1940s song. Apparently Cait does a lot of humming and singing when off the set and Ron thought it was a perfect way to include her own personality to enhance the drama. In the books, one knows what Claire is thinking because she’s narrating most of the story. But in the television series, there’s a lot less of that. So, by adding these scenes, we get to experience what it feels like for Claire to be caught between her two worlds, post WWII and the mid-18th century. In my opinion, the result is an improvement on this seductive and mystical story.

I won’t get into the storyline to not spoil the suspense for those of you who are watching the show and haven’t read the books, although I believe they were written something like twenty years ago. So, it’s really a revival. In fact, I read somewhere on the internet that when the story was originally going to be taken to Hollywood, they were thinking of casting Liam Neesen as Jamie. I’m so glad they waited… I have nothing against Mr. Neesen,  he’s a fantastic actor. But Sam Heughan is Jamie. He’s captivating, elegant, regal, yet rugged. And so beautiful to look at. And his acting is impeccable. Can you imagine that Diana Gabaldon thought he was grotesque when she first saw him? That’s simply scandalous. A sacrilege. And my nieces will find that tidbit of Hollywood gossip rather upsetting. They are completely obsessed smitten with Sam (and Jamie). In fact, they are rooting for Sam and Cait to get together!

Anyway, back to what I was saying. My snood. Claire’s wardrobe is fetching, even the every day outfits. And she wears a number of knitted pieces which are so in to-day. I have to say that the costume design is magnificent!

According to the Outlander customer designer, Terry Dresbach, the costumes for the series are as authentic as possible, including what’s underneath. “No Velcro, no zippers, not a lot of shoes, and kilts are worn as kilts are supposed to be worn – with absolutely nothing underneath. These are true Scots! What’s not authentic are the effects of war and journeying through the highlands. To achieve the look of well-worn clothing, the costumes are attacked with cheese graters, burned with blow torches, and aged by tying them up with string and baking them.”

We have a saying in Spain: el habito no hace al monje, which means that the habit doesn’t make the monk. Nonetheless, I do think that what we wear greatly influences how we are perceived, and more importantly how it makes us feel and act in a certain manner befitting of our ensemble. Think about it: You most certainly act and feel differently in a long, ballroom gown versus a pair of jeans or a mini skirt. There’s something magical about wearing a long dress. It’s grand. Feminine. Sensual.

To digress again a little, growing up in Spain, we used to go to an annual pilgrimage called El Rocío. Most of the two-week long event takes place outdoors, in nature, as pilgrims from all over Spain make the journey on foot, on horseback, in carretas, and aboard horse carriages or in 4×4’s, traversing the countryside and marshlands of Western Andalucía. We sleep out in the open, sometimes inside carriolas, sometimes in tents or sometimes on a blanket under a tree. Very Outlander-like. It’s like going back in time with no need of crossing any ancient stones! And as it’s a traditional Andalusian festivity, women wear flamenca dresses, which are typically long and more flowy than the style worn during ferias. Wearing a bata rociera or a flamenca dress transforms you. It makes one feel special, all women become extra pretty with their colourful dresses and flowers in their hair. And it also connects one with traditions and a simplicity otherwise unattainable in today’s frantic urban world. Preparing meals and eating out in the open nature is also transforming. One must keep things simple and organise dishes in advance, so that they can be quickly and easily prepared and cooked during one of the stops or at night for the evening meal. We rely on blocks of ice to keep things cool and we cook on charcoal, wood or gas stoves. There’s a camaraderie that develops from sharing one’s food with others, as happens every day during the Rocío. And although the hardships are different than in past times (civilisation if necessary is really only a car ride away in most cases), the experience of being outdoors surrounded by nature with none of the modern comforts is invigorating, relaxing, healing and restorative to the soul. It’s also a lot of fun!

So, back to Claire. And the snood. Inspired by the series’ costumes, I’ve already made myself a snood with the leftover yarns from a sweater my mother almost finished for me. It’s a special piece because the yarn will always remind me of my mother. But something happened as I was making it: I was reminded of how fulfilling it is to create something with one’s hands like people did in the old days, albeit then out of necessity. Knitting is making a come-back, even in unexpected circles. I’ve seen quite a few posh fashionistas sporting snoods on social media and encouraging their friends to knit. I think influences such as the Outlander series and a return to nature are the culprits of this revival of sorts. I learned to knit when I was a teenager in Spain. My mother taught me and throughout the years, I’ve made sweaters and scarves for myself, for family members and friends. So picking it up again feels natural, like coming home. And that’s therapeutic.

Revivals are a funny thing. We pick up something long forgotten and usually do so with more enthusiasm and sometimes more knowledge as well.

Home cooking is also making a comeback and with a vengeance I think. And so is healthy eating, something I’m very passionate about. I’ve recently discovered a number of websites and magazines that are dedicated to inspiring and encouraging readers to become home cooks and to realise that home cooking is not a daunting task, but something that brings us closer to our food and to nature. And that can be very fulfilling.

In the Outlander novels, I have a number of pages whose corners I’ve turned marking recipes or interesting pieces of information. Diana Gabaldon’s imagination is impressive, and so is her accuracy for details. One is truly transported into the 1700s especially with such things as food, food preparation and small tidbits about health and medicinal practices. We’ve come a long way from the 18th century, and now it seems like we are trying to recapture what we left behind and the forgotten positive aspects of life in the past.

Many are going back to learning how to grow our own fruits and vegetables and rearing chickens for pasture-raised eggs. We are learning to respect the environment and sustainable farming and fishing. And with all that, we have come to appreciate that it all ties together with home cooking. For me, that’s the definition of Paleo, sourcing and preparing one’s food. And nothing can be more satisfying than going to the market to buy seasonal produce and come home to invent a dish or create something traditional that is nutritious, healthy and pleasurable.

A couple of days ago when I bought the first skein of yarn for my new snood, I also picked up some seafood at our local fishmonger, Seawell on Mason’s Island. We’ve been patronising them since my brother recommended that we should. And it’s always an exciting experience. I love that they are trustworthy, one knows what they sell is the freshest of the fresh (we have insider information of course as the owner is a good friend of my brother’s), and I like that they label everything letting one know whether the seafood is wild caught, farmed (rarely, mostly the salmon when it’s out of season), and where it’s from. I also love to be surprised with what is in season and available on the day I visit. For those of you familiar with TJ Maxx (my favourite store), the surprise element is not disimilar. You know you’ll get something, but exactly what one will come home with is an exciting mystery to be uncovered only on the day of purchase. Farmer’s markets are also like that.

I only buy wild caught and try to stick to local as much as possible. On my last visit, I got some fresh Stonington mussels, which I made immediately, following a version of this recipe, as you can see on  my Instagram feed, halibut filets with skin, some wild-caught Gulf shrimp (the woman before me was lucky to buy the last of the Stonington red shrimp), and some beautiful sea scallops.

Scallops are lovely on their own. But today I wanted to enliven them a bit. I did so with some nectarines, whose season is just commencing. And I served them with broccoli rabe, a favourite of my mother’s and mine. I hope you enjoy! For other scallop recipes, please see here, here and here.

Pan-Seared Scallops + Nectarines with Balsamic-Honey-Mustard Reduction

Ingredients, serves 2-4

1 lb (approx. 500g) sea scallops
2 nectarines
1 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup raw honey
1 heaping tablespoon wholegrain mustard (I use Moutarde à l’Ancienne from Delouis fils, which doesn’t include sugar)
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
olive oil

Method

Prepare the reduction first. Pour the balsamic vinegar, raw honey and mustard into a small pan. Over medium heat, bring to a bubble. Lower heat and cook until reduced to about half, stirring frequently.

In the meantime, rinse the scallops and pat dry with a paper towel. Salt and pepper on both sides. Set aside.

Rinse the nectarines and cut into 16 slices. Sprinkle with some freshly ground pepper. In an iron skillet, over high heat, add a drizzle of olive oil. Once the oil is hot, sauté the nectarines, stirring only to turn a couple of times, about 2 minutes. Remove the nectarines from the skillet and place on a serving dish. (If you have a BBQ, they are also delicious made that way.)

Now to cook the scallops. Make sure the skillet is clean. If needed, allow to cool, wash and dry (unless you have another iron skillet to use). Drizzle a little bit of olive oil into the skillet and heat over high heat. Once the oil is hot, add the scallops, cooking about 1-1 1/2 minutes on each side. I like my scallops almost raw inside. If you cook them too long, they will become dry and tough.

To plate: Place scallops over nectarines and drizzle with the balsamic reduction. Garnish with fresh parsley if desired. We ate them as lunch with broccoli rabe.

Broccoli Rabe with Golden Garlic

Ingredients, serves 4

1 bunch broccoli rabe (enough for 4)
8 cloves garlic, sliced
olive oil
sea salt

Method

Cut the ends off the broccoli rabe and rinse in cold water.

Pour water and a couple of pinches of sea salt into a large pot and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Place the broccoli rabe into the water and cook for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and drain.

While the vegetable is cooking, in an iron skillet or pan heat a drizzle of olive oil. Put the garlic slices into the pan and cook until golden, stirring constantly. Remove immediately from the skillet so as to not burn. (Burnt garlic turns sour and is not very palatable.)

To plate: Simply place the broccoli rabe on a serving plate, drizzle with olive oil and place the garlic over top.

*****

*Note: The images of Jamie and Claire of Outlander I have downloaded from the blog of Terry Dresbach. The images of El Rocío, I have taken off the internet. 

Courgetti {Zucchini Noodles} Without the Need of a Spiraliser

Courgetti! What a cool sounding term. One of those neologisms that simply clicks from the moment one hears it. Paleo (and the culinary world) has a lot of them, since many recipes have been adapted or paleolised (that being a newly invented word in itself).

I first heard the expression coined by my friend Ceri, who is a natural chef and the author of the Natural Kitchen Adventures blog and I just couldn’t get over how easily it rolled off the tongue. Why hadn’t I thought of it? I kept calling them courgette noodles or zucchini spaghetti. How dull and uninventive. Coincidently, Ceri just celebrated her fourth year of blogging by sharing a courgetti recipe!

I’ve been meaning to share this recipe for some time now, but every time I’ve made it I’ve not been able to photograph the dish. My mother requested it often; and I love how easy and simple it is. It can be whipped up in literally less than ten minutes from start to finish. And it always comes out perfect; so it’s a great side dish or something really quick to make in the mornings for breakfast with eggs!

My mother loved vegetables to the point that she could’ve almost been a vegetarian had she also not had an intense passion for all edible sea creatures. There’s a funny story my grandmother used to tell us about how my mother developed this taste for all seafood… something I shared with her and took a step further, having tried whale meat in Iceland. Granted that’s a mammal. I found it to be delicious by the way, a deep dark red meat, with an intense, yet well-balanced flavour of the sea, and a watery-like texture, resembling raw liver. One has a hard time discerning whether one’s eating fish or meat. But either way, it’s a delectable dish. Iceland’s relationship with whales is a long, historical and complex one, where whaling was once a small part of a sustainable fishing industry that helped maintain the population in this harsh land. Today, however and unfortunately, Iceland’s whaling industry is commercialised with many nations partaking, even though there’s a moratorium on whale fishing since 1986. When I tried whale meat in 2004 on my first trip to Iceland, I was not as conscientious (or informed) as I am today about achieving and maintaining a sustainable food industry both on land and from the sea. Therefore, I hope to not offend any sensibilities with the telling of my experience. (Although, I think I may have wounded more than just sensibilities with my parallelism of whale meat to raw liver. I may have grossed out enough of you so much so that we need not worry about moratoriums or sustainable fishing practices regarding whales…)

And on that note, I’ll simply dive into my grandmother’s funny anecdote about how my mother developed her appetite for all things seafood.

As the tale goes, my grandmother ate cat meat when she was pregnant with my mother. It was during the years preceding the Spanish Civil War and the economic situation in Spain was rather dismal with few resources available to the general population. Many people engaged in estraperlo (illegal commercial activities) and oftentimes certain things that one would normally not consume ended up in bars and restaurants and in one’s kitchen. Cats are one example. My grandmother was a seamstress, and a very good one I may add, having trained in the confection of menswear (where the money was according to her mom – my great-grandmother not being a great futurist as you, I’m sure, have guessed) and she had little interest in anything related to cooking. To make matters worse, she was an extremely picky eater as well and anything that remotely sounded like a mortar and pestle had been used made her stop in her tracks and turn around, going back to her workshop without lunch. (Traditional Spanish guisos – stews and “spoon dishes” like lentils, garbanzos, and pottages – generally use some form of ground up spices or garlic in a mortar. And although my grandmother liked spices and garlic, she detested stews. She was very un-Spanish-like in her tastes and actually one could argue a precursor to Paleo!)

However, all of her sisters – she had three of them and two brothers – were great home cooks and one sister in particular was renowned for her hand in the kitchen. It was this sister, the eldest, who set up a little tapas bar in Huelva, that had great acceptance, and which my grandmother used to frequent with full confidence in the cook of course. On a number of these occasions, she ate a variety of conejo dishes, or rather what she thought was conejo… but instead was really cat. Those in the know say that cat meat  has a similar taste and texture to rabbit (conejo). I’ve never tried it and don’t think I ever will, at least not with full consciousness, but I do know that rabbit is exquisite and can just imagine how much my grandmother enjoyed these dishes. During her pregnancy, she ate cat meat quite often unbeknownst to her and when she eventually found out, stopped immediately. In fact, she got violently sick when she discovered what she had been consuming. I’m surprised she didn’t have a miscarriage. On the contrary and notwithstanding the revulsion she experienced, it appears that all that cat meat had some interesting effects on the baby, my mom, whose love for seafood is unsurpassed in our family except for maybe by my brother, who is a fisherman in his spare time (spare translating to any time he can muster up an excuse to go fishing).

Throughout the past year during my mother’s illness, I’ve been the cook at home both for her (when she was still with us) and my father. And when she was in hospital, I got up every day very early to make whatever meals she had requested the day before. She was not happy eating hospital food and I wanted to bring some joy to her daily routine. Amongst all the seafood and vegetables she wanted more often were these courgetti. She really liked them. She loved all things novel and apparently this intrigued her as well as delighted her palate. She was not a picky eater like her mom, but definitely a sybarite in her preferences, liking simple yet delicious and well-made meals.

The way I make these zucchini noodles (or courgetti) is very simple, and anyone can make them at home even if you don’t have one of those fancy vegetable spiralisers. I’ve been keen on getting one to be honest, but the price puts me off since courgette is the only vegetable from which I make spirals. So, instead, I’ve been rather resourceful, a quality I express often in the kitchen and even more frequently in life. I first started making spirals with a little rudimentary, yet very practical, contraption that was gifted to me in Vietnam. And in the winter rental where we are staying, I’ve resorted to using a potato peeler. The courgetti don’t come out as pretty and thin as with the Vietnamese tool (or a spiraliser) with which I’ve made a number of recipes here, here and here.  But for those of you wanting a different look and texture, or if you’re like me and won’t invest in another kitchen tool that will be used infrequently and only take up storage space (plus have the added advantage of less cleaning to do), then this is great method to use – and the dish is quite tasty too! I hope you enjoy!

Stir-Fried Courgetti

Ingredients, for 4

4 medium organic* courgettes (for a side dish, I use one per person)
3-4 garlic cloves, sliced
2 tablespoons extra virgen olive oil
coconut aminos, about 2-3 tablespoons (coconut aminos are a soy replacement)
optional additions: mushrooms, peppers, chopped nuts

Method

Rinse the courgettes and cut off the ends and any ugly markings. Using a potato peeler, create flat zucchini pasta. Set aside on a plate. In a large saucepan or wok, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the sliced garlic, stirring constantly.  Just as they are starting to get golden, add the courgetti and stir fry for 2-3 minutes, stirring almost constantly until the courgetti starts to soften, but is still very much al-dente. If you’re using mushrooms like I did, add them at the same time as the courgetti.

Immediately drizzle with coconut aminos enough to coat all of the courgetti and reduce the heat to low. Simmer covered for 2-3 minutes, stirring frequently until the courgetti reach the tenderness you desire. I like them soft but still crunchy. (I never measure the coconut aminos, instead sprinkling directly from the bottle. So use an amount that you find palatable. Coconut aminos are not salty, but instead slightly sweet. So feel free to add sea salt should you desire. Also the courgette – and mushrooms – will release some water when cooking. This combined with the olive oil and the aminos creates a nice sauce.)

*Note: There are certain produce on the dirty dozen list and one of them is zucchini. When consuming this vegetable, I stick to organic to ensure I’m not eating any GMOs.

*****

Para hacer pasta de calabacín no hace falta un artilugio especial. Con un pelador de patatas también podemos conseguir una pasta que nos da unos resultados muy agradables con una textura diferente. 

Courgetti (Pasta de Calabacines) Salteados

Ingredientes, para 4

4 calabacines medianos orgánicos* (para hacer como guarnición, yo uso un calabacín por persona)
3-4 dientes de ajos, en láminas
2 cucharadas soperas de aceite de oliva extra virgen
2-3 cucharadas soperas de aminos de coco (sustituto de la salsa de soja)
opcional: champiñones, pimientos o frutos secos

Método

Enjuagamos los calabacines y les cortamos las puntas y les quitamos cualquier imperfección que nos resulte fea. Con un pelador de patatas, creamos pasta plana de los calabacines. Ponemos la pasta sobre un plato o recipiente y lo dejamos de lado mientras calentamos el aceite.

En un wok o sartén onda, calentamos el aceite de oliva a fuego medio-alto. Añadimos los ajos y removemos continuamente hasta que se empiecen a dorar. Agregamos inmediatamente los calabacines y salteamos unos 2 a 3 minutos moviendo constantemente hasta que estén blandos pero aún al-dentes. Si vamos a usar champiñones también como hice yo, pues se incorporan al mismo tiempo que los calabacines.

Inmediatamente, le echamos por encima los aminos de coco y bajamos el fuego a lento. Tapamos el wok o la sartén y cocinamos la pasta, moviendo frecuentemente, unos 2 a 3 minutos hasta conseguir la textura deseada. A mi me gusta que estén tiernos pero aun crujientes. (Yo no mido la cantidad exacta de aminos, sino lo calculo a ojo. Echo una cantidad para que la pasta quede bien cubierta. Pero hay que tener en cuenta que el amino de coco es mas bien dulce, no salado. Así que quizás os haga falta agregar un poco de sal marina, dependiendo de vuestros gustos. También hay que tener en cuenta que tanto el calabacín como el champiñón – si se utiliza – sueltan agua al cocerlos. Este agua combinado con los aminos y el aceite de oliva resulta en una salsa muy agradable.)

*Nota: Yo suelo utilizar calabacín orgánico solamente pues esta verdura esta en la lista de los “dirty dozen” transgénicos. 

Spring with Kiko {Chicken a l’Orange + Patatas a lo Pobre}

“Hi little guy. Are you walking your mistress?” asked our friendly neighbour who was raking leaves and preparing his garden for the summer season ahead. Kiko and I were walking by, with the little guy rather dragging me down the hill behind him. (By the way being called mistress was fairly enchanting especially since I’ve been reading the Outlander series, whose story takes place in the 18th century.)

Kiko is my parent’s mini schnauzer. He’s a very affable little thing, although quite prone to being fearful of people. On the other hand, he loves other dogs. Being rather small doesn’t stop him from wanting to greet, sniff and play with all the hounds we encounter on our walks, no matter how large they are. And while he’s generally fun and loving, he is also stubborn. When he digs in his hind legs, there’s no budging him until he gets what he wants, which in most cases is just a stop for him to bury his nose in the ground and mark his territory. Marking his territory takes place what seems like every two seconds though.

One would think our walks are bonding; and maybe on some level they are, as he does look forward to going out and shows his enthusiasm by putting on a jumping performance, which seems to be a characteristic trait of mini schnauzers. He can jump very high for a dog that stands only about a foot off the ground. In fact, he can jump about two times his height. It’s really quite impressive, and may I add amusing to watch.

We take different routes almost every day, with me deciding the way… most of the time. If there’s a big bad monster (aka rubbish bin) lurking on our side of the road, Kiko makes a beeline for the other side, and consequently pulls me with him. Our walks are peaceful and invigorating. While he sniffs, stops, pulls and jovially prances ahead of me, I get to admire the pretty summer cottages (some are actually mansions), attractive gardens, eclectic architecture and the stunning water-views of where we are temporarily living.

Spring is definitely here, although the wind is still chilling, especially along the shore, and my hands feel like icicles on many days, by the time we arrive home. Daffodils are popping up everywhere even along the marsh where they have not been planted. I’m guessing it’s the result of birds dropping their seeds (or the winds blowing them over), just like the number of mussels and clams in their shells that we encounter scattered and broken along the path around the lagoon. The seagulls must be carrying them and dropping them on the ground.

The tulips are slightly more recalcitrant to come out yet, with only a few resilient ones actually in bloom. The magnolias are budding with the promise of their pink and white delicate blossoms coming soon. And the forsythia bushes are alive again with their bright yellow flowers. Everywhere one turns, there are signs of new life. I’m in awe of Spring; and I think I’ve never admired this season as much as I am doing this year.

I haven’t stopped to reflect why this is so, although my mind does a lot of wandering, soul searching, and de-stressing while we enjoy the outdoors. I sometimes think about food too. And how I want to develop the blog and bring a more enriching experience to my readers.

But since mom died, becoming enthusiastic about almost anything is terribly hard and finding motivation to cook has been full of obstacles and excuses. Fortunately for my father and me, I cannot fathom eating processed or junk foods. Therefore, I force myself to prepare healthy meals, even if rather rushed and haphazardly.

Making something quick, easy and effortlessly has become an obsession on most days. As Kiko and I were wandering around the other day, the bright sun and pretty flowers everywhere inspired me to make something that would echo this feeling of life, and I settled on chicken a l’orange (what says sunshine more than an orange?). In my native Spain, orange trees are now just starting to blossom, and the sweet fragrance of azahar will be permeating the streets with the intoxicating aroma. Having grown up on a farm with an orange orchard, we were lucky to have a number of varieties, affording us the benefit of having oranges almost all year round. Here in the US and almost everywhere now, oranges are available year round thanks to more tropical climates in such places like Florida.

To accompany the chicken, I made a traditional (and super easy) potato side dish, which my father loves and my mother used to make. Patatas a lo Pobre is something you’ll find in most family restaurants or ventas (roadside restaurants with home-cooked meals) in Spain. It’s an inexpensive dish, which requires only three or four ingredients and is very easy and quick to make. The traditionalists add green peppers, but as I don’t like this vegetable too much (or rather it doesn’t agree with me), I only use potatoes and onions, and sometimes garlic. And of course, olive oil. I also like to brown the potatoes a bit, which makes parts of them crunchy, adding to the texture of the dish.

Chicken a l’Orange

Ingredients, for 3 or 4

6 organic chicken legs
1 large onion, peeled and chopped
2 large carrots, peeled and sliced
1 large leek, rinsed and sliced (discard the green parts)
2 garlic cloves, sliced
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
cumin powder
1 teaspoon coriander seeds, crushed
1 cup freshly squeesed orange juice
1 1/2 cups chicken or beef stock, extra if needed
sea salt and pepper, to taste
fresh parsley, finely chopped

Method

Preheat the oven to 400F (200C)*. Rinse and pat dry the chicken pieces. Sprinkle the chicken with freshly ground sea salt and pepper on both sides. Lightly dust chicken on both sides with cumin powder. Place the chicken legs in an ovenproof dish and drizzle some olive oil over all of them. Bake for about 40 minutes or until chicken is done, turning a few times, so the chicken browns on both sides. (This temperature works for my oven. You may need to adjust for yours.)

In the meantime, squeese the oranges and set the juice aside. In a deep saucepan over medium-low heat, heat the olive oil. Add the onions and carrots and poach, stirring frequently about 10 minutes. Add the leek, garlic, coriander seeds and continue to poach, stirring frequently, another 10-15 minutes until all the vegetables are tender to an inserted fork. Reduce heat to low and add the orange juice and stock. Simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Once cool, pour into a food processor (you may have to do this in two batches) and purée. Return to the pot and simmer. If the sauce is too thick, add more stock. Keep warm while the chicken finishes baking.

You can insert the chicken pieces into the sauce if desired or pour the sauce over the chicken once it is plated. Serve with patatas a lo pobre.

Patatas a lo Pobre

Ingredients, for 2

3 large/4 medium potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
1 large onion, thinly sliced
coarse sea salt, to taste
1/2 cup olive oil
fresh parsley, finely chopped

Method

In a deep and wide saucepan, pour the olive oil and add the potatoes and onions. Sprinkle with coarse sea salt (I used about three or four turns of the grinder, but a couple of pinches will also do). Over medium-low heat, allow to cook slowly, turning occasionally with a spatula, making sure you don’t break the potatoes in the process. I allow the potatoes to brown a bit before turning. Browning the potatoes is the trick to this dish, creating a combination of both crunchy and soft textures. Once they are tender, they are ready to be served. Sprinkle with fresh parsley on the plate.

*****

Muslos de Pollo a la Naranja

Ingredientes, para 3 o 4

6 muslos de pollo
1 cebolla grande, pelada y picada
2 zanahorias grandes, peladas y cortadas a rodajas
1 puerro grande, quitándole lo verde, se enjuaga bien y se corta a rodajas finas
2 dientes de ajo, en laminas
80ml aceite de oliva extra virgen
comino en polvo
1 cucharadita (de te) de semillas de cilantro, machacadas
250ml de zumo de naranja, recién exprimido
350ml de caldo de pollo
sal marina y pimienta fresca a gusto
perejil

Método

Precalentamos el horno a 200C. Enjugamos los muslos y los secamos con toallitas de papel. Salpimentamos por ambos lados y también espolvoreamos con comino en polvo por ambos lados. Ponemos los muslos en una fuente para el horno y le echamos un chorreón de aceite por encima. Horneamos unos 40 minutos o hasta que la carne este hecha, dandole la vuelta unas cuantas veces, para que se doren los muslos por ambos lados.

Mientras se hace el pollo, exprimimos varias naranjas hasta obtener 250ml de zumo. En una olla sobre fuego medio-lento, calentamos el aceite de oliva. Añadimos las cebollas y las zanahorias y pochamos durante unos 10 minutos, removiendo frecuentemente. A continuación agregamos el puerro, los ajos, las semillas de cilantro y seguimos pochando unos 10 o 15 minutos adicionales hasta que las verduras estén tiernas cuando se pinchan con un tenedor. Reducimos el fuego a lento y echamos el zumo de naranja y el caldo de pollo. Removemos bien y dejamos cocer unos 10 minutos, sin que llegue a la ebullición. Retiramos del fuego y dejamos enfriar. Echamos todo en la batidora y lo hacemos puré. También se puede hacer con la mini-pimer. Lo vertimos otra vez a la olla y lo ponemos a fuego muy suave para mantenerlo caliente mientras se termina de hacer el pollo.

Cuando los muslos estén hechos, se pueden poner dentro de la salsa de naranja o se le puede echar la salsa por encima una vez en el plato. Se pueden servir con patatas a lo pobre u otra guarnición a gusto.

Patatas a lo Pobre

Ingredientes, para 2 

3 patatas grandes o 4 medianas, peladas y cortadas a rodajas finas
1 cebolla grande, pelada y cortada a rodajas
sal marina gorda
120ml aceite de oliva extra virgen
perejil fresco, picado

Método

En una sartén amplia y onda sobre fuego suave a mediano, echamos el aceite de oliva, las patatas y la cebolla. Le echamos un poco de sal a gusto. Dejamos que se vayan haciendo las patatas poco a poco, dándoles la vuelta con cuidado para que no se rompan. El truco de estas patatas esta en que queden entre fritas y cocidas, ligeramente doradas (o mas si os gusta) y que su textura sea que se deshagan en la boca. Se sirven con perejil picado.

A Day of Fennel

At the risk of publicly seeming a bit unstable and disorganised, I’ve decided to split the post about my mother in two separate entries. For the inconvenience, I apologise.

I was feeling a heaviness and a certain weight about including recipes with a post about my mom, but this is a food blog and I didn’t want to separate the two, especially since my mother has been my greatest influence in my life and in my cooking.

But she deserves her own space. I struggled with myself about sharing everything I did, yet not writing about her, not sharing with all of you such a huge part of my life, was in many ways not acknowledging her and her life. We are living a fragile time… there are days it’s unfathomable to believe and understand cognitively that she’s gone. And then there are those brief moments when I question myself how could she exist and not be here now.

I don’t recall going through this pensiveness when my grandmothers passed away. It was painful then and I still miss both of them and think of them often. But trying to grasp a little bit of them was different, and maybe because I still had my mother as my biggest support. And she had me.

Now, the stark loss is distinct, unlike anything we’ve ever experienced before. Thankfully, my father and I have each other and my brother and the rest of the family. And life must go on…will go on…

And in continuation of my last post, here are the two recipes that I share with you:

To fuel my passions and inspire myself, sometime after arriving in the US, I purchased a subscription to Bon Appetit. I’ve only opened up one magazine. The rest are patiently waiting that I peel away the pages and explore them… but in that one issue, I found a recipe that I’ve done over and over again, and have changed a few times. My mom loved it. In fact, she requested it several times, when she had her appetite back.

As I’ve tinkered with it, it has evolved into something that my father praises and we both enjoy (and is now quite different from the original). He loved everything my mother used to make and usually likes everything I make too. But he doesn’t like experiments. And now, this soup recipe is ready to be shared, as is the special ingredient.

Fennel is something that I grew up seeing in Spain but have rarely eaten. Snails like to feed on fennel and those in the know say that they acquire a special flavour from the vegetable. And that was my main association with this intoxicatingly fragrant flowering plant, who’s bulb is not the only part that can be savoured and used in cooking.

As I’ve rediscovered fennel here in the US, I’m enamoured with it and buy it almost every week. Cutting up a fennel bulb is a feast for the olfactory senses. The burst of anise is fresh and inviting. And I could hold the bulb and the leaves up to my nose all day long….It was one of my mother’s favourite scents (she loved anise candies and would buy them on every trip to Spain). The leaves are delicate and the perfect whimsical garnish (and they can also be eaten). And the flowers, with which the bulbs are not sold in the market, are pretty and edible as well. And then of course, there are the seeds.

In addition to the delicate and delicious soup, today I’ve made a quiche as well. I hope you try and enjoy both!

The soup is made with the bulb only. But don’t throw away the leaves yet.. they are part of the soup too. Read on and find out how I’ve incorporated them.

Besitos,

Debra xx

PS: Please excuse my photo format. My computer went kaputt about a month ago; and I had to reinstall the operating system and lost all of my programs and files (therefore, Photoshop for the moment is gone, as is any attempt at graphic design). I hope to be reunited with them soon, as I do have an external hard drive waiting for me somewhere in Europe. Also, I’ve made this soup twice specifically to photograph (so we may be getting slightly tired of fennel). The first time, I used bacon bits, which my father and I concur is the best accompaniment, but I only took pictures with my iPhone and in the sun and on a bench! The second time, I roasted some diced carrot but ate them all at breakfast. 😉

Fennel & Potato Soup

Ingredients, for 6 servings:

  • 1 large fennel bulb and leaves
  • 1 large red onion
  • 3 medium russet potatoes, peeled and cut into medium chunks
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 6 cups of water
  • sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 1 teaspoon lime juice
  • garnish and accompaniment ideas: bacon pieces, fennel leaves and edible flowers

Method:

Cut the leaves off the bulb and set aside. Rinse the bulb and julienne. Peel and julienne the onion. In a medium pot, over medium heat, melt the butter in the olive oil. Add the fennel and onion.  Stirring occasionally, poach the vegetables for about 20 minutes until tender.

In the meantime, place the fennel leaves in another pot and add 6 cups of water. Bring to a boil and then simmer for 20 minutes, covered.

Once the fennel and onion are tender, add the wine and reduce for 3-4 minutes. Add the potatoes and 4 cups of the fennel-infused water. Reduce heat to low, cover and cook for 30 minutes until the potatoes are tender to an inserted fork.

Remove from heat and allow to cool. Once cool, puree with an immersion blender (or food processor). Add sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Stir and heat up. Add the lime juice and serve.

Garnish with some bacon pieces, fennel leaves and edible flowers, and a drizzle of olive oil, if desired.

Fennel and Onion Quiche (Strictly speaking, it’s Primal, as it has feta cheese)

Ingredients, for one 8-in pie pan

  • 1 large fennel bulb, no leaves
  • 1 large medium red onion
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, and some more if needed
  • 3/4 cup feta cheese, diced
  • 5 large eggs
  • sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 1 tablespoon dried dill leaves or fresh if you have them

Method:

Rinse and julienne the fennel. Peel and julienne the onion. In a large saucepan, melt the butter and olive oil over medium heat. Reduce heat and add the fennel and onion and poach for about 20 minutes until tender, stirring frequently so the vegetables do not burn, but brown slightly. Add more olive oil during cooking if necessary.

Preheat the oven to 365F (185C).

In a bowl, beat the eggs well and add the feta cheese and dill and mix well. Set aside. When the vegetables are done, remove from heat and allow to cool, about 10 minutes. Add the cooked vegetables to the egg mixture and stir well. Taste for salt and if needed add some sea salt, to taste. Also add some freshly ground pepper to taste. Pour into an 8-inch pie pan, spreading evenly.

Bake for 25 minutes and allow to slightly cool before cutting and serving.

Hoy os traigo dos recetas con hinojo, algo que he re-descubierto aquí en EEUU.

Sopa de Hinojo y Patatas

Ingredientes, para 6:

  • 1 bulbo de hinojo con hojas
  • 1 cebolla roja mediana
  • 3 patatas medianas, rojas, cortadas a gajos medianos
  • 60 ml vino blanco, seco
  • 60ml aceite de oliva
  • 2 cucharadas “soperas” de mantequilla
  • 1,5 litros de agua
  • sal marina y pimienta fresca
  • 1 cucharadita de zumo de lima
  • como guarnición: taquitos de jamón serrano, taquitos de beicón frito, zanahoria al horno cortada a taquitos, flores comestibles y un chorreón de aceite de oliva, si se desea

Como hacer la sopa:

Cortamos las hojas del hinojo y las apartamos. Enjuagamos el bulbo y lo cortamos en juliana. Pelamos la cebolla y la cortamos tambien en juliana. En una olla mediana, sobre fuego mediano, derretimos la mantequilla con el aceite de oliva. Agregamos el hinojo y la cebolla. Pochamos las verduras, removiendo ocasionalmente, hasta que estén tiernas, unos 20 minutos.

Mientras tanto, ponemos las hojas del hinojo con 1,5 litros de agua a hervir en otra olla. Cuando rompa el hervor, reducimos el fuego a bajo y cocemos unos 20 minutos, tapando la olla. (Esto lo llamaremos “agua de hinojo”.)

Una vez que las verduras estén tiernas, le agregamos el vino y reducimos unos 3 o 4 minutos. Agregamos las patatas y 1 litro del agua de hinojo. Reducimos el fuego a lento, tapamos la olla y cocemos unos 30 minutos hasta que las patatas estén tiernas al pincharlas con un tenedor.

Retiramos del fuego y dejamos que se enfrie. Después, hacemos un pure con la mini-pimer. Salpimentamos a gusto. Ponemos la olla otra vez sobre fuego medio y calentamos la sopa. Le echamos la cucharadita de zumo de lima, removemos bien y servimos.

Se puede acompañar con trocitos de jamón serrano, beicón, zanahoria cortada a dados y horneada, flores comestibles y un chorreoncito de aceite de oliva, si se desea.

Quiche de Hinojo y Cebolla (Tecnicamente hablando es mas bien Primal, que Paleo, porque lleva queso)

Ingredientes para un “pie” de 20cm de diametro:

  • 1 bulbo grande de hinojo, sin hojas
  • 1 cebolla mediana, roja
  • 2 cucharadas “soperas” de mantequilla
  • 2 cucharadas “soperas” de aceite de oliva, y algo mas si hace falta
  • 3/4 taza queso feta, cortado a daditos
  • 5 huevos, grandes
  • sal marina y pimienta fresca
  • 1 cucharada “sopera” de hojas de eneldo secas (o frescas si las tenéis a mano)

Como hacer el quiche:

Enjuagamos y cortamos en juliana el bulbo de hinojo y la cebolla. En una sartén onda, derretimos la mantequilla con el aceite de oliva sobre fuego medio. Bajos la lumbre y añadimos el hinojo y la cebolla y pochamos unos 20 minutos hasta que esten las verduras tiernas, removiendo frecuentemente sin dejar que se quemen las verduras, solo que se doren. Agregamos algo mas de aceite de oliva si hiciera falta.

Precalentamos el horno a 185C.

En un bol, batimos los huevos y le agregamos el queso feta, ya cortado a daditos, y la cucharada de hojas de eneldo secas. Cuando las verduras estén pochadas, apartamos la sartén y dejamos enfriar unos 10 minutos. Incorporamos las verduras a la mezcla de huevo y salpimentamos a gusto, removiendo bien. Echamos la mezcla dentro de un plato para pies de un diametro de 20cm, asegurandonos de que este todo bien distribuido.

Horneamos durante 25 minutos. Y dejamos que se enfrie un poco antes de cortar y servir.

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My breakfast, where the carrots ended up with the quiche!

My Precious Mom

My mother and I a couple of Christmases ago.

Have you ever been lost? I mean really, really lost?

The kind of lost that every direction you look at seems foreign and scary?

There are shadows in the dark looming. Your heart is fluttering. Actually it skips a few beats and comes rushing into your throat. You know you need to take a step forward. To make a decision. But. You. Just. Can’t.

And I don’t mean the kind of lost where you whip out your GPS and ask Lucy how to get out of this mess kind of lost.

I mean your soul is gone. Passions have no colour. They have no texture. You can’t touch or feel them. You know they exist, somewhere deep down inside because they are part of you… they are who you are. But you don’t have the key with which to open that door again. But you really, really want to…

It’s been a while. In fact, too long. I stopped blogging on a regular basis since the end of 2013. And therefore, I’ve broken a number of rules of blogging. Like creating regular posts. Like amazing readers with mouth-watering photography (that, I haven’t mastered yet).

And the most important rule that I’ve broken is called {lack of} enthusiasm. My passion vanished…like petals of a dandelion dispersed in the wind.

I used to literally dream about food and go to bed with a plan of what I was going to make the next day or tackle on the weekend. Going to the market, reading a book, seeing a new flower in the spring, picking blackberries on my walks along the Thames, and talking with my mother and father every day were all inspirations.

But life outside the kitchen came rushing in and took center stage in December 2013. I’ve tried producing some bits and pieces, tried to keep my artistic and culinary side flowing and my readers engaged…. but it’s been tough. First, I found myself leaving London and moving back to Sevilla and filing for divorce. That was in March last year. And second, and most importantly, I came to the US to accompany and help my parents with my mother’s impending open-heart surgery scheduled in June 2014. When I arrived, Mom was her usual self, hugging me to bits and not being able to give me enough kisses all at once. And course, she wanted to share everything and wanted me to share everything, even if she had already heard it a few times before.

We hadn’t seen each other in person since Christmas, although we Skyped every single day and sometimes for hours. My parents helped me through the initial months of moving back to Spain. I finally shared with them many truths they had not fully been aware of. And we were finally all happy with the prospects of my new life.

The surgery was scheduled for June 12th. And my mother in her usual fashion was courageous and strong, although she was nervous and scared. She read all the pamphlets that the hospital gave us to prepare. And so did I. She was worried about her old scars from her breast cancer and how her sternum would be cut… but even so, we enjoyed about a week of beautiful weather and reconnecting with each other and the rest of the family before heading off to NYC on June 11th.

She and my father had these great plans to move back to Spain, her homeland, after her recovery and my parents put their house up for sale in anticipation. We all had great plans to be together. We were finally going home! But the universe conspired differently…

A month after the surgery, she almost died of complications… and from there on, over hill and trough, lots of hope and some joys and many disappointing moments, we lived one day at a time. She was a trooper even though she had to re-learn how to walk, she had edema on her legs and one arm, and was always very tired. But she maintained her enthusiasm. She gave us courage. She almost never lost her spunk, giving me pointers in the kitchen, eagerly helping me cut vegetables (albeit sitting or leaning on a chair), and even gave me recipes while in ICU when she was intubated and couldn’t speak. She never gave up… and took everything in stride and without complaining.

On December 4th, 2014, she was admitted into Yale-New Haven for a sternal wound infection and malnutrition (the infection had been eating away her protein and nourishment). She got better, then had four more surgeries, almost died during one of them, went through rounds and rounds of antibiotics and other medications, and seemed to be getting better, yet at the same time, wasn’t. She was transferred at the end of February to our local hospital in New London, where she was supposed to start rehabilitation. But the doctors told us she needed to regain some strength before going that route. However, their faces and body language were telling us something we didn’t want to see or hear.

And a couple of weeks later, we were asked a dreadful question, whether or not to put her on palliative care or prolong her life, knowing that her organs were going to continue failing, that her wound wasn’t healing and that all the nutrition she was getting was actually killing her instead of curing her.

It was a tough decision. But when there’s no hope and you see your loved one suffering so much and for so long, you know it’s the right one. We never told mom. We don’t know if she knew she was dying. Although she had always been a very intuitive and wise woman. Her eyes said a million things that she never voiced to us. And a couple of times when she was not fully awake, we gave her permission to leave. We told her we would be ok and try to be happy and to not worry about us.

Mom died on March 11th, not quite a week after palliative care started. We had just left the hospital an hour before receiving the phone call, and we were all eating dinner together, as we told her we would do, planning to see her the next day as we had been doing every single day since June 11th, 2014.

For the first week after her passing, we had a family friend visiting (who arrived just in time to see my mother alive for the last time) and we held mom’s funeral mass. I continued cooking. Our family friend, who is from my hometown in Spain, made some delicious Spanish meals. It was comforting to have her with us and we were sort of walking in a cloud. The second week came around, our friend left, and the next day I woke up with a fever and splitting headache. I was sick; and I hadn’t been sick in over three years… I had no energy to move, much less to get into the kitchen and all food was nauseating.  I resorted to eating bread and salted crackers to be able to keep something down. Two weeks later, I started to feel better, but still struggled with mustering any sort of enthusiasm regarding food. I was beginning to wonder if I would ever eat properly again, write a recipe and take a picture.

Eventually, I had no choice but to start preparing meals if my father and I wanted to have some sort of nourishment. He’s a BBQ man. That’s his territory. He knows how to cook to perfection salmon steaks or other large fish and meat on the grill. And he would do the cleaning up of the kitchen at home. But my mother, she, as a traditional Spanish wife, was the chef at home. And she was an excellent and intuitive one, who loved to share her kitchen and her dishes. Most of what I’ve learned has been from her. She inspired me to write this blog and to share traditional Spanish and Andalusian dishes, and dishes from my childhood, the ones I grew up on and she loved to make for all of us. She was my most ardent supporter and critic. And she wasn’t shy about giving me tips all the time, even teaching me how to use knives properly. She was a perfectionist, as a typical Virgo like me, and wanted me to be the best I could be. She had a wonderful (and very perceptive) eye for food styling, something I’ve yet to learn. She also couldn’t help herself and was always telling me to dress myself better, to wear makeup, to wear jewellry… in essence to always be arreglada (to be orderly and well presented at all times). It was her pet-peeve with me and my nieces. You wouldn’t ever catch her at home, and much less outside, in a frumpy state.

Mom and Dad in June 2014, a week before surgery.

Mom was elegant Luisa, as one American friend used to call her.  But for me, mom was my first love, my best friend, my compass and my pillar. She inspired us to appreciate art and culture, she fueled our passions, encouraged our dreams and taught us the most important lessons of all: to love, to love others, be forgiving and selfless, and to be empathetic and caring. And she embarked us on a journey, just as her’s before us had been, how to eat healthy whole foods, establishing a pattern for later in life, for which I’m very grateful. She was an extraordinary human being, beautiful inside and out. In fact, even more lovely on the inside than on the outside, and that’s already saying a lot because she was a very pretty lady to look at, even at 82.

And now, I’m lost without her. We all are.

There’s only silence instead of her loving voice. I long to hear her saying, “Debbie, bonita, como estas?” (Her usual way of greeting me or leaving me messages on the phone.)

There’s no one telling me, “arreglate, que no sabes quien te va a ver”.

There’s no laughter. Her witty and spunky humour is only a memory.

I have to think really hard to visualise her face. Her bright, wide eyes that sparkled with interest in and curiosity about everything. Her beautiful and sweet smile with those cute dimples, which she rarely showed in pictures as she hated posing. Her pretty hair, almost always coiffed to perfection.

Her smell.

Her touch. Her hands.

And her hugs. And her kisses. Oh, those kisses.

Her compassion and understanding. Her endless patience with all of us.

Her open mind and open heart that loved to listen to everything we wanted to share most of the times setting her needs aside.

All that is gone. Forever.

And being lost hurts. It breaks my heart.

My beautiful mom.

Te quiero mama, ahora y por siempre.

In my mother’s memory and honour, I dedicate this post to my greatest love.

A Frog in Boiling Water & Lamb Shanks

2014: My Annus Horribilis

I will never forget this year. From the beginning to the end, there has been little respite from health and personal issues. But all in all, I’m grateful that my mom is still with us, improving, albeit slowly, and things are moving forward (although currently she’s still in hospital and still in ICU once again). I’ve had the opportunity to spend more time with my parents than I have in the last 10 years, for which I’m grateful. Yes, unfortunately it’s been under a very stressful, painful and heartbreaking situation, but still I’m thankful to be able to be by their side and be able to help them every day.

This year has also marked the end of my 10-year relationship with an abusive husband. I am somewhat apprehensive and embarrassed to share this because there’s always the stigma attached to these type of relationships, where not only do I blame myself but I believe others think I’ve been blind, stupid and at fault as well. When I finally made the decision and shared my story with family and friends, a number of friends surprised me and told me about their same stories. I’ve come to realise that it was never my fault and that domestic violence doesn’t distinguish between levels of intelligence, education, social-economic status, backgrounds, nationalities, “races” if you will… it can happen to any one of us alike. And we all have one thing in common: we cover it up because it’s viewed in society as something shameful. We may not all be as lucky as Nigella Lawson to have the money with which to get out and reinvent ourselves quickly, but even in her case it would appear her decision also took time. And she’s an intelligent, beautiful, successful woman.

I compare the story of all of us who have endured this scourge of society with the tale of the Frog in Boiling Water. If you place a frog in boiling water, it will instinctively jump out. Naturally, it senses the danger. But if you place a frog in cold water and turn up the heat gradually, by the time the water is boiling, it will be too late for the frog to realise the deadly predicament it is in and it will be unable to jump out. Victims of domestic violence become trapped into these relationships in a complex array of psychological, emotional, and oftentimes financial abuse. The less fortunate also endure physical abuse. I was lucky. He never hit me although he threatened it often…

But that’s history now. I look forward to a new year and a new life, one where I will succeed Deo Volente because I am determined to so do. And this past experience both with my relationship and with my mother’s health situation has only made me stronger, more resilient. I’ve learned that I have a fortitude that I never thought existed or was possible. And I’m going to take advantage of that realisation to keep going forward.

My HERO

Since June, when my mother had her open-heart surgery to replace two valves and repair two arteries, we have been in and out of hospitals in NYC and Connecticut. My mother has endured multiple complications from a near death episode right after her first discharge to pleural effusions to mistakes made with medications to a sternal wound infection, which is now being treated. Throughout the whole thing, she’s been a trouper, showing all of us that her strength is admirable even to the doctors and nurses who care for her. They are constantly telling us this.

My mom was already my hero before this year. She is the most wonderful person I know. Yes, I am biased like most of you are with your parents and children. But my mother is the most selfless, kind, compassionate, empathetic, loving, understanding and honest person I know. (My father comes in a close second ;)). She has endured other hardships in life which could have made her a bitter person, yet she focused that energy in being a good person and ensuring my brother and I grew up in a loving environment never burdened by her previous suffering. For that I am grateful and for that she has my utmost admiration. And for that, she is my hero and always will be.

2015

I welcome this new year with open arms and am hopeful the tides will change for the positive in health and in happiness. I know we are not the only ones suffering for our loved ones. I have a number of friends battling cancer and other problems. I pray for them and for us so that the new year brings us all good health. 

I want to THANK YOU all for being here, for accompanying me on my journey through a Paleo lifestyle, and for not giving up on me when I’ve not been able to interact with you on a regular basis in the past year.

I wish you all a very healthy, happy, prosperous and love-filled New Year 2015!

With love,

Debra xx

PS: I was able to go on one walk in the past months. I now share with you some images of where we are staying in Connecticut and of my parents little buddy, Kiko, who cheers us up every day when we come home from hospital.

*****

In the last few months, I’ve “gone back to basics” in a lot of my cooking because that’s what my parents mostly enjoy. I share with you now a dish that they both love and have asked me to make a number of times.

It couldn’t be easier and simpler to make. It’s takes a little bit of planning to ensure you have 2 to 2 1/2 hours for cooking the meat, but other than that, there’s little else to it. (I’ve actually gotten up early to make this before leaving for the hospital.)

The natural flavours of the lamb, enhanced by the wine and a little bit of rosemary, don’t require more than some sea salt to come out. And the resulting sauce which is turned into a rich gravy is the cherry on the pie. You can swap the vegetables for others that you may like or that are in season.

Roasted Lamb Shanks with Vegetables

Ingredients (for 2-3):

  • 2 lamb shanks
  • 2 medium onions, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 6-7 garlic cloves, unpeeled
  • 3 medium carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 60ml (1/4 cup) olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons grassfed butter or ghee
  • 250ml (1 cup) red wine
  • 1 tablespoon rosemary or 3-4 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • 1 liter (4 cups) filtered water
  • 3 medium potatoes, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 4-5 medium mushrooms, cut in halves, or 10-12 small button mushrooms whole
  • 1-2 tablespoons tapioca flour/arrowroot powder
  • sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Method:

Rinse the lamb shanks and season on both sides with sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Set aside while you prepare the vegetables.

Preheat the oven to 200C (390F).

In a large pot that is ovenproof, place the olive oil, butter/ghee, onions, garlic, carrots, and lamb shanks. Over medium heat, cook stirring frequently until the shanks are golden brown. Make sure to turn them the shanks over a few times. I like to use a spatula-like wooden spoon, so I can scoop from the bottom and not break the vegetables in the process.

Once the shanks are browned, add the red wine and simmer for 2-3 minutes to reduce. Add the rosemary, water and potatoes and give it all a good stir. Place the ovenproof pot in the preheated oven. Roast for 2-2 1/2 hours, checking every once in a while and turning the shanks over a couple of times.

Remove from oven and take the shanks and vegetables out of the pot. Set them aside on serving plates and cover, to retain the heat.

For the Gravy:

Place the pot over medium heat and bring to a bubble. Scoop out a few tablespoons of the juices into a glass and add the tapioca/arrowroot flour. Mix well so the flour is completely dissolved. Pour this mixture into the pot and stir well. Add the mushrooms. Cook, stirring constantly until the sauce is thickened and a gravy is formed, about 5-7 minutes. (I used 1 1/2 tablespoons of tapioca flour for a medium thick gravy. Adjust to your liking.) Season with sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste.

Uncover the shanks and the vegetables. Pour some of the gravy with the mushrooms over the lamb shanks and the remaining into a gravy bowl. Garnish with some sprigs of thyme if desired. Serve the shanks and vegetables immediately.

*****

Jarretes de Cordero al Horno con Verduras

Ingredientes (para 2-3):

  • 2 jarretes de cordero
  • 2 cebollas medianas, peladas y cortadas a trozos medianos
  • 6-7 dientes de ajo, enteros sin pelar
  • 3 zanahorias medianas, peladas y cortadas a trozos medianos
  • 60ml aceite de oliva
  • 2 cucharadas (soperas) de mantequilla de vaca o ghee
  • 250ml de vino rojo
  • unas espigas de romero fresco o 1 cucharada (sopera) de romero seco
  • 1 litro de agua
  • 3 patatas medianas, peladas y cortadas a trozos medianos
  • 4-5 champiñones grandecitos, limpios y cortados a cuartos, dejad aparte; o 10-12 champiñones pequeños enteros
  • 1-2 cucharadas (soperas) de harina de tapioca o harina de arrurruz
  • sal marina y pimienta fresca, a gusto

Como hacer los jarretes al horno:

Enjuagamos los jarretes y salpimentamos por ambos lados. Dejamos los jarretes apartados mientras preparamos las verduras.

Precalentamos el horno a 200C.

En una olla grande que se pueda meter al horno (como un Le Creuset por ejemplo), echamos el aceite, la mantequilla o ghee, las cebollas, los ajos, zanahorias y los jarretes. Sobre fuego mediano, salteamos moviendo frecuentemente hasta que los jarretes estén bien dorados.

Un vez que los jarretes estén dorados, agregamos el vino rojo y hervimos a fuego lento unos 2-3 minutos para que se reduzca. Añadimos el romero, el agua y las patatas y removemos bien. Ponemos la olla dentro del horno y asamos todo unas 2 a 2 1/2 horas, dandole la vuelta a los jarretes un par de veces.

Sacamos todo del horno y sacamos los jarretes y las verduras de la olla. Ponemos el jarrete en un plato para servir y las verduras en otro plato. Cubrimos los dos platos para que no se nos enfrie nada.

Para el Gravy/Salsa:

Ahora ponemos la olla sobre la hornilla a fuego mediano hasta que empiece a hervir. Sacamos un poco del jugo y lo echamos en un vaso. Le agregamos la harina de tapioca y removemos hasta que la harina este bien disuelta. Echamos esta mezcla dento de la olla y movemos todo bien. Agregamos los champiñones. Cocemos, removiendo continuamente, hasta que obtengamos una salsa espesa, como gravy. (Yo use 1 1/2 cucharadas-soperas-de harina de tapioca para un gravy de espesor mediano. Ajustad a vuestro gusto.) Salpimentar a gusto.

Destapamos los jarretes y las verduras. Echamos un poco del gravy con los champiñones sobre los jarretes y el restante gravy lo ponemos en una salsera. Decoramos con unas espigas de tomillo fresco, si lo deseamos. Servimos los jarretes y las verduras inmediatamente.

Only Count the Happy Hours & Rustic Tomato Soup w/ Seared Scallops

A Particularly Nonfacetious Summer with Musical Houses

Summer has come and gone, and I’ve barely noticed. First, “just the beginning” of the scorching summer heat came upon us in Sevilla from one day to the next. Once that happens, it’s generally hot (by hot I mean 40s and 40+ Celsius) for the rest of the season until the end of September. But I left in June, so I guess that I was lucky to escape the torture. Then, the humid air, fetid odours and exciting rapid lifestyle of NYC I had forgotten about enveloped me on my daily journeys to New York Presbyterian Hospital, all of June and July. And lastly, the serene and peaceful breeze of the Southeastern Connecticut shore, where we have been graced with some gorgeous Indian Summer days in the past few weeks, has finally brought the summer of 2014 to an end.

Although we’ve had an intense season, not necessarily delightful and recharging as we all would’ve hoped, time has also flown by and I barely noticed the weather most of the time, or better said, I didn’t have the opportunity to enjoy it much. As summers go, mine has been chilly and basically without sunshine. In fact, I’ve been wearing sweaters most of the summer since I was indoors at the hospital taking care of and accompanying my mother, who had open heart surgery in June. After numerous complications, an almost near-death episode, transport in helicopter from New London to Yale, New Haven and then back to NYC, rehab a number of times, and another stint in the hospital in August, she’s finally home in Connecticut with us and doing much better. She’s still convalescing and there are still issues, but she’s thankfully getting stronger with each day.

Connecticut has welcomed us again. It’s like a second home for me, as I’ve spent the most time here after Spain, and my brother and his family live here. And after some house-hopping (truly it’s felt like musical houses) since March for me and since June for my parents who have been living in Florida until now, we are finally in a house which will be their home until next June. They are renting a place on Groton Long Point, where winter rentals come furnished and one can can have the beach to oneself, a luxury which I love since my days growing up in Chipiona, Spain. The seashore in Connecticut is highly sought-after in the summer months and rentals can go for as much as $20,000 a month. Thankfully, in the winter the prices are much more reasonable. This is our third time renting on GLP. The first time we were here, we had just arrived from Spain when my father retired. I decided to join them and look into graduate schools, as well as help my mother get over the sorrow of losing my grandmother. Spanish families are very tight-knit, and in my case, my parents are probably my best friends; and although I’m not an only child, the age difference between my brother and me is big enough to make me feel like one oftentimes. And maybe because I’m the “baby”, I’m also closer to my parents. So, it felt rather natural to accompany them.

I was still living with my parents when they decided to get a bespoke house in Mystic made and once again, we rented during the winter months in GLP while the house was being built. It was on that occasion that I recall witnessing the crazy tradition of the New Year’s dip in the frigid waters of the North Atlantic. I discovered that it’s not only the Dutch and Scandinavians who do this, but that there are also brave souls in America who enjoy an icy dip to welcome the new year.

I’m hoping the third time on this peninsula is a charm and brings us all good luck, which we need. I won’t be staying with them the whole time, but for now I’m still here helping my mother recuperate from the operation. She’s finally walking with more confidence, although still with the walker. And she’s also less depressed. This house has a good vibe, with lots of light and open spaces, which afford her the room to exercise.

Rainy Days, Scallops, & Happy Hours 

After the gorgeous Indian Summer, which the locals were cautiously praising, the rains finally arrived.  The day we moved into this house, it was pouring and my mother and I had to wait in the car until it was less intense to be able to maneuver the stairs.  Such ordinary things as a step or stairs are huge obstacles for someone who needs to learn how to walk again. We never thought that the aftermath of the surgery would be so difficult for her and us.

A few days ago on one of our medical outings, we made a small detour and visited Sea Well near Mason’s Island. Mason’s Island is an island on the Mystic River and part of the town of Mystic. It’s an exclusive community, maybe not quite as private as Groton Long Point, but also very beautiful. It’s here that Meryl Streep’s parents had their retirement home. And it wasn’t unusual to see the actress around town, although I never had the pleasure. Mystic is very popular with the NY crowd and one can sometimes spot a famous or well-known person camouflaged amongst the locals. I remember one day walking on Main Street and bumping into the talented Mexican soap opera star Nailea Norvind at one of the shops. She was with her mother, who I learned that day lived in NYC back then, and the two were speaking in English. So in an unusual gesture for me, I approached her to let her know I admired her acting skills.

Sea Well is a local fish and seafood shop. They have two stores, one in Mystic on Mason’s Island Road, and one in Pawcatuck. The seafood is delivered fresh daily from the Stonington docks and the last commercial fishing fleet in Connecticut. My brother and his family are patrons of Sea Well and sometimes even suppliers. My brother’s passion and main hobby is fishing. And he goes out often during the warm months and usually comes back with tons of tuna, some of which in turn he sells to the owners of Sea Well.

So, when my sister-in-law and nieces recommended buying seafood there, I didn’t hesitate. And naturally, we went for local scallops. I could only purchase three quarters of a pound, as that’s all that was left on Wednesday afternoon. And if I hadn’t arrived just in time, the lady who followed me in would’ve snatched them up. She seemed as disappointed as I would’ve been when the shopkeeper told her there were none left, that I had just taken the last bunch. I love scallops. And my parents do too. (By the way, Sea Well has delicious smoked bluefish and salmon that they prepare and smoke themselves. I highly recommend both.)

It has been an ordeal to get my mother enthusiastic about food. She’s been eating only for nourishment and she’s been forcing herself at best. The only food she has requested has been sushi! We’ve therefore had take out from some local restaurants a number of times… the rest of us savouring it as much as she has.

She simply has not been enjoying any of her meals. But with the move to this house, things have started to change in a positive direction and not only with food. The house as I’ve mentioned gives off a good vibe. It’s clean, with lots of white, blue and green furniture in a coastal decor, and tons of light. There are windows everywhere. In fact, at night I’m sure our neighbours are checking us out from their homes, until I remember to put the shades down. The owners have a number of watercolour paintings from local artists and many little wooden signs in pastel colours. Some are rather cute, like the one in the bathroom that says, “If you’re not barefoot, you’re overdressed.” The entrance of the house has a lovely sunroom, surrounded by windows on all three walls, again with the blue, green and white decor, and a bunch of rustic wooden signs, a few stating that life’s better at the beach, another welcomes the visitor and let’s us know we are on the porch, yet another says there’s no vacancy. And then there’s the one over the front door that reads, “Only Count the Happy Hours.” I like that, especially after the rough year we are having. I can’t wait to meet the owners as I already like them from how the house has influenced my mother’s mood.

My mother is walking on her own (albeit with the walker) and is more engaged in her rehab exercises. She’s talking more. And she’s been helping me peel and cut things in the kitchen. She’s a keen and excellent cook from whom I’ve learned most of what I know; and she keeps wondering out loud when she’ll be able to make meals for my father and herself again.  Thus her voluntary (and enthusiastic) involvement with the preparation of our meals is a good sign in her continued recovery.

She is also finally taking pleasure in eating and she’s cleaning off her plates! We had the scallops we bought at Sea Well yesterday. I dry-pan seared them and served them with oven-roasted rosemary and garlic potatoes (I must share the recipe when I make them again) and some broccoli. And today, I used up the remaining scallops with a light, tomato soup which was very appropriate for the wet and chilly day. My mother cleaned off her bowl and kept saying how delicious it was, which very pleasantly surprised my father and me. We are taking one day at a time, or maybe even one hour at a time, and counting only the happy ones…and relishing in each other’s company, sharing healthy and delicious meals and sobremesa (after-meal) conversations.

*A few days after writing this post, my mother had to go back to the hospital due to complications with her medications. Thankfully, after only a week this time, she’s back home and much stronger.

*****

With all the attention my mother needs and all the stress I’m going through right now, I cannot concentrate on one of my dearest hobbies, reading books, and I have a few new ones patiently waiting for me to pick them up and immerse myself in their stories. Instead, I’ve been able to muster just enough patience to read food magazines. This recipe is inspired by one in the August 2014 issue of Bon Appétit. My sister-in-law and nieces swear by this magazine and the owners of the house had a copy laying around. So, I am putting it to good use.

I like roasting vegetables and fruits, as the flavour is intensified and it gives any dish a rustic feel. For the recipe today, I roasted tomatoes, which I especially love to do for soups and sauces. When one adds roasted garlic, it becomes even more delectable. And if my mother wanted seconds, I think you will too…

This soup is very easy to make and can even be made ahead of time. It’s light enough for a starter yet filling enough for a main course, depending on how many scallops (or fish) you want to add.

RUSTIC ROASTED TOMATO SOUP & PAN-SEARED SCALLOPS

Ingredients:

(serves 4)

16 small scallops (4 pp, or more or less according to your preference)
4 medium organic tomatoes, cut in quarters
8-10 garlic cloves, unpeeled
4-6 fresh basil leaves for roasting, plus 4-5 additional for the soup and garnishing if desired
1/2 tablespoon dried basil
sea salt & pepper, to taste
1 ñora (or other dried, sweet pepper), soaked in water for about 20 minutes
olive oil, about 3-4 tablespoons, plus more for drizzle
2 cups water
raw milk goat’s cheese, crumbled

Method:

For the soup:

Preheat the oven to 400F (200C).

Place the tomatoes, drained ñora, and garlic cloves on an ovenproof dish. Sprinkle with dried basil and add 4-6  fresh basil leaves, season with salt and pepper, and pour olive oil over top. Mix with hands so everything is well coated. Bake for 30-35 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Remove from oven and discard the ñora. Separate the garlic cloves and peel; this is easily done by holding down one end and with a fork pushing the clove out of the peel. Transfer the peeled garlic cloves and the remaining ingredients including the juices into a pot. Add two cups of water. With a potato masher, mash to crush the tomatoes and cloves a bit further but not too much. Add additional 4-5 fresh basil leaves. Over medium heat, bring to a slight bubble, then reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Taste and season with further salt and pepper, if necessary.

For the scallops:

Rinse the scallops and pat dry them with a paper towel. Sprinkle some sea salt and freshly ground pepper over the scallops.

While the soup cooks, heat over medium-high heat an iron pan. Grease the bottom with olive oil and a paper towel, and sear the scallops briefly on each side, about 1-2 minutes. Set aside. The scallops can also be made in advance.

To assemble:

Pour the soup into four bowls. Add 4 scallops to each bowl and sprinkle with crumbled goat’s cheese. Garnish with a drizzle of olive oil and some freshly ground pepper. Serve immediately.

*****

SOPA RUSTICA DE TOMATES HORNEADOS CON VIEIRAS A LA SARTEN

Ingredientes:

(para 4)

16 vieiras pequeñas (4 por persona, o mas o menos según guste)
4 tomates orgánicos, cortados a cuartos
8-10 dientes de ajo, sin pelar
4-6 hojas de albahaca fresca para hornear, mas unas cuantas adicionales para la sopa
1/2 cucharada sopera de albahaca seca
sal marina & pimienta fresca, a gusto
1 ñora, puesta en remojo unos 20 minutos
aceite de oliva, unas 3-4 cucharadas soperas, y un poco mas para rociar la sopa
500ml de agua
un poco de queso de cabra, desmoronado

Metodo:

Para la sopa:

Precalentamos el horno a 200C.

Ponemos los tomates, la ñora, los dientes de ajo, y las hojas de albahaca en un recipiente para el horno. Espolvoreamos con la albahaca seca, salpimentamos y echamos el aceite de oliva por encima. Removemos con las manos para que todo quede bien cubierto. Horneamos unos 30-35 minutos, removiendo unas cuantas veces.

Cuando saquemos la bandeja del horno, nos deshacemos de la ñora y pelamos los dientes de ajos. Pasamos los ajos pelados y los demás ingredientes, incluyendo el jugo, a una olla. Agregamos el agua y con un machacador de patatas, machacamos para deshacer un poco mas los tomatoes y los ajos. Agregamos unas hojas de albahaca fresca. Sobre fuego medio, llegamos a una ebullición, bajamos la lumbre y cocinamos unos 5 minutos a fuego lento. Probamos el caldo y salpimentamos de nuevo si fuera necesario.

Para las vieiras:

Enjuagamos las vieiras y las secamos con un papel de cocina. Salpimentamos.

Ponemos una sartén de hierro a calentar sobre fuego medio-alto. Cuando este bien caliente, engrasamos el fondo con un papel de cocina y un poco de aceite de oliva. Doramos las vieiras, 1-2 minutos por cada lado. Apartamos las vieiras y las conservamos en un plato, sin tapar, hasta servir con la sopa.

Para presentar:

Dividimos la sopa en cuatro porciones. Colocamos 4 vieiras por persona en cada plato sopero, y espolvoreamos con los trozos  del queso de cabra. Rociamos cada plato con un poco de aceite de oliva, y echamos un poquito de pimienta fresca a cada plato. Servimos la sopa inmediatamente.

Lust for Life Reclaimed & Honey-Roasted Rosemary Pork Chops

A few months ago, I started reading Paradise Reclaimed, an Icelandic novel by Halldór Laxness.  I have yet to finish it…but today, made me think of the moral behind the tale in Laxness’ novel.

I was thinking about how sometimes we must take a long journey to get us where we want or should be and to give us that depth of palette, that we would not have achieved otherwise and with which we paint our canvas of life.  At times for some of us, the road can be tumultuous, full of bumps, twists and turns, and paths that maybe we wished we had not taken but from which we cannot turn around. And then other routes appear that we are afraid or unable to take; and yet, when we actually take the leap and grab the proverbial “bull by the horns”, we are lead down a path to magical places…places we have longed for…places that provide wings for our souls to soar…

I haven’t written on the blog since 14 February. Since then and some time towards the end of 2013, I have lived through some intense experiences and mixed emotions, which finally propelled me to take a decision that I should have taken long ago. But as we say in Spain, “agua pasada no mueve molinos” (water past does not move the mill), so regretting the past will lead me nowhere useful.

Today, I write from my lovely Seville, the city where my mother grew up, where many of my aunts, uncles and cousins live, where I am rekindling old friendships, and rediscovering wonderful treasures.  I have been here since the beginning of March, when my cousins went to London to bring me home to ensure I would be in a safe and protected environment.

At first, I experienced some culture shock. Yes! Truly! It’s a strange sensation feeling like an ex-pat in the country that saw me grow up. Plus my mind and body were fighting the idea of being forced into a situation that I had not planned. But slowly, just like the heat of the sun has warmed up my skin, the comfort and warmth of my family and friends have let the light shine in my soul anew. And I have fallen in love with life all over again. I’ve found the lust for life, which long ago dissipated and slipped through my hands, slowly, like the melting snow in the Spring sun.

I’m getting divorced.

I cannot and will not go into why now. Maybe one day I will be able to; and when that day comes, I know that I will be able to assist other women who are in similar situations to the one I have endured. In fact, I am thinking of setting up a foundation.

But for now, all I can say is that the path in front of me, although filled with uncertainties and a few more foreseeable twists and turns, as well as bumps, is also filled with enchanting and magical surprises and a lot of life’s little pleasures.

And maybe it’s very possible that Sevilla has been the perfect medicine for me! I guess things do happen for a reason…

And speaking of Sevilla, I am trying my utmost best to don the glasses of a tourist here. It may seem like an easy task.. but it’s actually a daunting one for me. And maybe it’s my state of mind and emotions. Or maybe it’s simply the fact that it’s hard to incorporate a freshness to my view that is only really attainable when something is new and untapped. Either way… I’m on a mission to rediscover old places and discover those I’ve yet to experience.

One of my new discoveries is El Mercado de los Jueves, on Calle Feria. It’s not a new market. In fact, it’s the oldest running market in Sevilla, dating from the 1400s. My mother was very excited when I shared with her that I intended to go. She used to work as a teenager on Calle Correduria and made a point every Thursday after work to head that way and explore the market. But I had never been. And now, I’ve been twice. And I’m beginning to feel an addiction…

And quite possibly, I don’t exaggerate (exaggeration is a very typical Andalusian trait by the way). As the fact is that I plan on going back again. The market is full of interesting, and oftentimes valuable, antiques, handmade crafts, books, old flamenca dresses, collectible items, and embroidered linens. There’s also a spattering of quite a bit of junk from the 1980s and 1990s. But if you skip over that (unless that’s your thing), there are some good finds to be had.

On my second visit, I went with two friends from high school who are revisiting Spain after many years. So, we toured the market together and even bought some antique goblets and a primitive coal iron (for only 8 euros!) from a sleek but rather nice gypsy and some pan de oro mirrors (although these I think were just painted instead of made with gold leaf as we kept being told) from two artisan brothers who were arguing that they couldn’t offer us a deal on three mirrors because each brother sells his own wares, although they display them together. Sometimes Spaniards are as square-minded as Germans are known to be! 😉

We also saw quite impressive Meissen plates (the dealer said they dated from the late 1800s, but unless you’re an expert, who knows?), antique pieces from church altarpieces, old wooden picture frames, silver and alpaca ware…and the vendors are just as colourful as what they sell. There are gypsies, Portuguese art collectors, some hippies, a few pijos, and a lot of bohemians…you may even get a whiff of some hashish around a few of the stands! Overall, it’s a really fun and interesting way to spend a Thursday morning in the city.

From there, we ventured off into the Mercado de la Calle Feria, the street’s namesake food market, where one can purchase fresh, daily local produce, meats, seafood from Huelva and Cádiz, and specialty items.

As we exited the market through the back entrance, we were greeted by the beautiful mudéjar (Moorish) casa-palacio from the Marquess of La Algaba. The entrance is free, so we ventured in.

It was constructed during the XV and XVI centuries and although it’s gone through various owners and some periods of decadence, it is now fully restored to its original splendor and houses the Center for Mudéjar Art. As with all moorish palaces, the sensation of peace and tranquility, as well as exquisite quality of life, transpire through the pores of the ancient stone walls and sun-drenched interior gardens, offering a magical oasis to the visitor.

In Andalucía, the influence of Islamic and posterior Mudéjar and Mozarabe art, architecture, and culture still permeate today in our way of life, our food and even our language…. it creates that allure, the enchantment, and the duende that we all have a hard time describing, but which captures us all upon our first experiences. And it has recaptured me now and given me back that lust for life long gone.

Of course, my family and friends have been a huge catapult and essential part for reclaiming that joie de vivre too.

And anyway, today I wanted to share with you the reason why I have been absent, the current course of my life and to let you know that Inshallah – God willing, Ganesha willing, Santa Angela & San Nicholas willing ;), I’m here (whether that is London or Sevilla or another location only time will tell) to stay and will soon be sharing more Paleo recipes with all of you…

…the black cloud lingering over my head is not entirely gone yet, although the winds of change have started to blow it away and allow some rays of light to shine on me.

I’m going through a metamorphosis, which I hope and pray will allow me to come alive again with more strength, new ideas and above all, a much happier and healthier state of mind and body that will all positively influence my work and the things I share with all of you.

In the meantime, please bare with me, have a little patience, and don’t give up on The Saffron Girl… 😉

Love, Debra

PS: The following recipe is inspired by my Andalucía, and it’s equally good or even better made with lamb.

HONEY ROASTED ROSEMARY PORK CHOPS WITH OVEN BAKED POTATOES, A 30-MINUTE MEAL

Ingredients, for 2:

4 pork chops or more, if using lamb chops instead
3-4 medium potatoes, peeled and roughly sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
olive oil, about 1/2 tablespoon
rosemary, about 1 1/2 teaspoons
raw honey, about 1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons
coarse sea salt, to taste

Method:

Preheat oven to 180C (350F). In an oven proof dish, place the rinsed pork chops.

With your hands, add a few dollops of raw honey to each pork chop. Sprinkle with rosemary, the minced garlic and sea salt. Add the potatoes to the dish and drizzle olive oil over everything. Add some additional sea salt over the potatoes, as well as a sprinkling of additional rosemary.

Bake for 25-30 minutes. Serve with another vegetable if desired.

*****

CHULETAS DE CERDO, AL HORNO CON MIEL Y ROMERO, Y PATATAS, UN PLATO HECHO EN 30 MINUTOS

Ingredientes, para 2:

4 chuletas de cerdo
3-4 patatas medianas, peladas y cortadas a gajos
2 dientes de ajos, picados
aceite de oliva, como 1/2 cucharada grande
romero, como 1 cucharadita y media
miel cruda, como 1 cucharadita y media a 2 cucharaditas
sal marina, a gusto

Como hacer las chuletas al horno:

Precalentamos el horno a 180C. En un recipiente para el horno, ponemos las chuletas, ya enjuagadas. Con las manos, le echamos unas gotitas de miel cruda por encima de cada chuleta. Espolvoreamos con un poco de romero, le echamos un poco de sal y los dientes de ajos, previamente picados.

Agregamos las patatas al recipiente y echamos un chorreón de aceite de oliva por encima de las patatas y las chuletas. Espolvoreamos con un poco mas de romero y sal por encima de las patatas.

Horneamos unos 25 a 30 minutos. Se puede servir con otra verdura, si lo deseamos.

Cream of Pumpkin Soup aux Herbes de Provence

The butternut squash had been laying on the counter for a couple of weeks and I kept moving it closer to the preparation area near the sink as a reminder to myself to do something with it. I love pumpkin almost anything, but I really wanted to avoid making another soup.

As I’ve not been too inspired lately or have been blogging frequently enough, I wanted to create something special… but I ended up surprising myself with soup. Sometimes the quick and easy wins over; and as it was so tasty, I decided it’s worthy of sharing.

Hope you enjoy!

CREAM OF PUMPKIN SOUP AUX HERBES DE PROVENCE

Ingredients, for 4:

1/2 large butternut squash (the whole squash was about 750g), roasted
3 cloves garlic, sliced
3 stalks celery, sliced
3 medium tomatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
1 medium onion, julienned
1/4 cup butter (I used Kerrygold)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup coconut milk
2 cups filtered water
1 tablespoons herbes de Provence
sea salt, to taste
freshly ground pepper, to taste if desired

Method:

I roasted the pumpkin split in half, shell side facing up, for almost 50 minutes at 180C (350F). You can do this in advance to have ready for the soup or other recipes. With the shell facing upwards, you avoid browning the flesh and have better tasting pumpkin meat.

Place the butter and olive oil in a large pot and melt over low heat. Add the garlic, onion, and celery and poach for about 8-10 minutes until tender. Add the tomatoes and cook an additional 3 minutes so the flavours blend. Add the meat of 1/2 pumpkin and give it a good stir to blend well.

Add the coconut milk and stir well. Remove from heat and with an immersion blender, puree all the ingredients. You can do this directly in the pot. Return the pot to the stove and add the filtered water.  Add the herbes de Provence and sea salt and pepper to taste. Stir well and allow to warm through on low heat.

If desired you can serve with pieces of hard-boiled egg, sautéed shrimp or other seafood.

*****

SOPA DE CALABAZA A LAS HIERBAS DE LA PROVENZA

Ingredientes, para 4:

1/2 calabaza (tipo butternut squash de unos 750g entera), horneada
3 dientes de ajo, cortados
3 pencas de apio, cortadas finamente
3 tomates medianos, pelados y cortados a cuartos
1 cebolla mediana, cortada en juliana
1/4 de la taza de mantequilla (como unos 30g, yo use de la marca Kerrygold)
2 cucharadas soperas, o un poquito mas, de aceite de oliva
250ml de leche de coco
500ml de agua
sal y pimienta a gusto

Como hacer la sopa:

Hornea la calabaza a 180C unos 50 minutos. Yo la puse en la fuente con el lado de la piel hacia arriba, así se hornea sin quemar la pulpa y tiene mejor sabor.

En un olla onda, ponemos la mantequilla y el aceite de oliva a derretir sobre fuego lento. Agregamos los ajos, el apio y la cebolla y pochamos unos 8-10 minutos hasta que esten tiernos. Añadimos los tomatoes y pochamos unos 3 minutos mas para que se mezclen los sabores.

A continuación, echamos la pulpa o carne de la media calabaza dentro de la olla. Le damos una vuelta con una cuchara de madera para mezclar bien. Añadimos la leche de coco y volvemos a mover bien.

Retiramos del fuego y con una mini-pimer hacemos un puré. Esto se puede hacer dentro de la misma olla. Volvemos a poner sobre fuego lento y agregamos el agua, la hierbas de la Provenza, y salpimentamos a gusto. Dejamos que se caliente bien para servir.

Podemos acompañar la sopa con algo de guarnición, como un huevo duro picado, unas gambas salteadas o algún otro marisco.

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