July 23, 2008

Herbal cooler

My friend Lorraine lives about an hour north of the city where I live so we don't get to see each other often enough. We met in design school and have been friends ever since. We have a lot in common, but some of our hobbies are quite disparate. For example, she's become a jock and I've become a blogger. In her spare time she trains for half marathons and triathlons and even organizes sporting events and competitions, and I tap at a keyboard. My idea of exercise is walking an hour a day. She's a wonderful artist and an fabulous cook and we both share an interest in vegan food. And resale shops. Our favorite thing to do together is to go shopping at second hand stores. We can shop and gab for hours, getting caught up on each others lives, finding unusual bargains and spending very little money! There's a great St. Vinnies (St. Vincent dePaul Society Resale Shop) about halfway between our houses where we like to meet on a Saturday, and while away the afternoon trying on funky clothes and seeking out glass jars for the pantry, and frames for artwork.

But last Sunday, after her 50-mile bike ride, Lorraine came to my house and I took her to the most amazing resale shop I've ever seen— The Pink Poodle. Ooh laa laa. It's mostly out of our price range (except for the stuff on sale) but everything is fantastic, including the ultra-funky decor. It's a visual feast that's hard to describe, filled with leopard print rugs (fake of course) and outrageous furniture. There are a dizzying number of rooms to explore, each stuffed with glorious fashions, jewelry, furniture and housewares. The unusual is the usual. The loot is really not priced so high considering its quality, but we're not used to paying $20 for a skirt when we usually pay about $4 in our usual haunts. (But I have bought stuff there.) Lorraine tried on the perfect skirt. It fit exquisitely and looked fabulous, but when she checked the tag, it was $49 and she most reluctantly left it behind. I tried on about 20 things but everything was either too big or too small, and I ended up with only a long, skinny black crocheted scarf that I love. And a wonderful deepest purple tablecloth with 12 matching napkins. Matching napkins—what a concept.

After our immersion in funky luxury, we continued on to a nearby (a block away but another universe) St. Vinnies where we felt distinctly let down. We recovered our balance quickly and found the requisite jars and frames, a rag rug and a couple of fetching tops. I tried on the most spectacular black lace dress that seemed to have been made for me, but couldn't think where to wear it, and left it behind. $10. Darn. Sometimes I am just too practical for my own good.

Anyway, after our exhausting afternoon of shopping and gabbing, we went to an open-house party at the new home of a mutual friend. It was a lovely house and yard and the table was spread with a wonderful assortment of FOOD WE COULD EAT. Sorry about the caps but I was so impressed. It was just the sort of food I love best—beautifully and simply prepared REAL food. There were assorted vegetables (new potatoes, roasted cauliflower, golden beets, steamed whole baby carrots with greens still attached, olive tapenade, etc.) These were accompanied by delicate sauces, delicious dips and spreads. I won't describe all the offerings—wish I'd had a camera—but will finally get to the subject of this post. I was offered an herbal tea that was so delicious and refreshing I couldn't stop drinking it. I asked for the recipe but was only given a general idea of what was in it, so I've tried to recreate it here. It had Red Zinger tea, cinnamon, ginger and white grape juice.

I recently discovered a new (to me) form of ginger at Penzey's, (which is near my house), and this seemed like the perfect opportunity to try it. It's dried slices. There's also a version called cracked ginger. I love the way the slices look and smell, but if I didn't have them, I would probably use grated or sliced fresh ginger and strain the tea. If I were feeling really ambitious, I might squeeze out the grated ginger and make ginger juice. But I was making a rather large quantity of tea, and I'm not all that ambitious.

Herbal cooler
  • three quarts of cool water
  • 12 bags of Red Zinger tea
  • six slices of dried ginger
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 quart white grape juice, chilled
  1. Place the tea bags into a gallon jar and add the water, ginger and cinnamon. Stir to dissolve the cinnamon. 
  2. Steep in the refrigerator for several hours or overnight. Remove the bags, squeezing them into the jar. 
  3. Remove the ginger with a long handled spoon. 
  4. Add the grape juice and stir. 
  5. Serve with ice. This looks very pretty served from a clear glass pitcher. I should have put it into one and taken some better pictures but I didn't have time!
note: This summer we've been keeping a gallon jar of iced tea in the refrigerator at all times. I used to make sun tea, until I read an article about how it was dangerous to leave tea brewing in the heat, and could result in the growth of bacteria leading to food poisoning. Well, I've been making sun tea for 20 years and never had a problem. But still, a person who has experienced food poisoning once, never wants to experience it again, so I followed the advice and now brew it in the refrigerator. We either put tea bags and water into the jar before work or before bed, and let the tea brew in the cold. We usually use just herbal tea and water — nothing fancy. Sometimes I add lemon balm or mint from the garden. Adding fresh or dried herbs and spices bumps it up a notch but isn't necessary for everyday tea.

July 11, 2008

Chickpea salad

It's been ages since I've posted. After my two weeks of vacationing at home with my kids and another week catching up at work, I'm finally feeling motivated to write something, even though I'm practically asleep as I type. Last night we had severe electrical storms that had me awake most of the night. There were three intense downpours with outrageous lightening and unbelievable thunder. The storms were bad, and experiencing them with our little dog made sleeping impossible. Buffy (She came from the Humane Society with this name. I wanted to rename her Fiona but the boys rebelled.) is 14, and ever since we got her when she was three, she's been terrified of thunder. I've tried all sorts of interventions to no avail. Normally she sleeps unobtrusively at the foot of our bed, but if there's a storm, she comes up to my head and tries to sleep on top of me. She pants loudly, walks all over me and shakes uncontrollably. It's kind of like being in a vibrating bed with an endless supply of quarters. Pour little girl. She can't be comforted though I try mightily. Of course, she's fine and lively today and I've been comatose and memory impaired. (More memory impaired than usual I should say.)

Anyway, I meant to post this last week but never got to it. After our big brunch, I had a bunch of cooked chick peas leftover because I had planned to use them at the party but changed my mind. The next day I decided to make them into a salad like the mock tuna salad Claire brought to the brunch, but the internet was down and I couldn't get the recipe. So, I threw together a salad based on ingredients at hand. I didn't measure anything, but this kind of salad is very flexible, so I'll give general measures of what I think I used. Here it is, more or less.

Chick pea salad ("mock" mock tuna salad)
  • 1/2 medium red onion, rinsed under cold water and chopped
  • 1 large stalk celery, chopped
  • 2 rounded tablespoons tofu cream cheese
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • about 8 wasabi toasted almonds (from Trader Joe's)
  • 2 cups firm cooked chick peas
  • large, peeled carrot, shredded
  1. Place first five ingredients in food processor and buzz a few times until evenly chopped. 
  2. Add chick peas and buzz a bit more. 
  3. Place in bowl and add shredded carrot. 
  4. Add salt and fresh ground pepper to taste. 
  5. Serve stuffed into pita with shredded lettuce and pickles. I had mine on a plate without the pita, with a green salad.
These directions work best with firm chick peas — the kind you cook yourself. However, it also works great with the softer ones that come in a can if you make one small change. Instead of adding the chick peas to the food processor, mash them by hand in a bowl with a fork or potato masher. You want this salad to have some texture — not turn into hummus!

July 01, 2008


We've had house guests since June 24 so I haven't had time to focus on the blog. One guest, my brother, has left, but the others will be here until July 5. My oldest son, daughter-in-law and granddaughter are here for nine days. How will I manage when they leave? On Sunday, we had about 40 guests at a brunch in their honor, and since I cooked food mainly from this blog and a couple of others, I thought I'd describe what we served.

Actually, my plan was to photograph the table just before the guests arrived. The camera was out and ready but somehow, people were here and socializing and eating and the whole thing was over before I remembered about the pictures. So I can only describe what we had - and how long it took to make it, and post a picture of the table AFTER the event was over. This is a blog about easy cooking, so it was kind of a test to see just how easy it was. You know that preparing food for a party takes time, and when you have house guests and one of them is four months old, it's not easy to cook for an additional 35 people! We used a combination of store-bought and homemade dishes, and three friends brought food, because I possess the gene that causes me to believe there won't be enough. Duh. (Of course there was way too much, but this meant we could take it easy and not have to cook much the next day.)

First, the purchased food. We ordered five varieties of bagels from Gotham Bagel, a real New York bagel shop here in the Midwest. They also make amazing tofu cream cheese in THREE varieties so we got that, too. I had a plate of cucumber and tomato slices and small bowls of olives, muffaletto, raw cashews, grape tomatoes, kumquats, wasabi roasted almonds and who knows what else. I assembled a large platter of hummus, tabouli, bean salad and dolmas from Trader Joe's, accompanied by raw carrots and cucumbers, a basket of mini-pita bread and two kinds of crackers. Judy brought sweet potato salad and strawberries and Claire brought a mock tuna salad made from soaked sunflower seeds and cashews.

The day before the party, we did some baking. I made lemon syrup soaked hazelnut cake (substituting Brazil nuts), carrot bread and ginger bars and my husband made oatmeal chocolate chip and chewy chocolate chocolate chip cookies. (The chocolate chocolates were the hit of the dessert table) My friend Ann brought brownies. I also made sweet and tart carrots and marinated them overnight. In the middle of all this baking, we went on a garden tour.

I hit the kitchen at 6 a.m. the day of the brunch and started cooking. I was very organized and had a list of what to do and a pile of recipes. The only slowdown was that the refrigerator was so packed I couldn't find any of the ingredients. What with one eggplant up here and another down there, I had to keep calling my husband to find the things he had stuffed in. First I made tourlou tourlou from Mama's Taverna. I made so much - nearly a double recipe in two enameled cast iron pans - that I thought we'd be eating it all week, but that didn't happen. It was so popular that most of it disappeared. I made it with half the oil from the recipe and it still turned out great. (When I make it again for just us, I'll probably reduce the oil by half again.) I also made yummy Greek cabbage salad from the same blog.

Next I made bread pudding from Veganomicon, substituting frozen blueberries for the chocolate chips. My daughter-in-law said it tasted like french toast only better. (The blueberry idea came from Diet Dessert and Dogs.) Then, I threw together a pot of Nava Atlas' amazing coconut corn soup. (I had also cooked a bunch of chick peas the day before with the intention of making Norman's chick pea snack, but when I saw how much food there was, I decided to save them for another day.) My husband put together a fresh fruit salad. By 9:30 a.m. I was finished cooking. By 10 a.m. I had assembled the middle-eastern platter, filled the various bowls and was ready to relax until the guests arrived at 11. Now I'll have to do it all again so I can photograph it! (insert smiley face here...)