The Saffron Girl » A Paleo-Primal food & travel blog from Spain

Florida vs London

The rain was coming down in torrential buckets after the stifling heat of the day, enticing my curiosity to go outside and observe nature in the tropics. In Florida the rain is different to that in London, where moments before I had been transported by the prologue of the book I’ve just started, Capital. Here at this latitude, it is almost always accompanied by a fanfare of thunder and cracking that makes one realise the heavens can be quite ferocious and nature has no friends (as we say in Spain).

Rain in Florida is crude and raw. And sometimes finicky. It can vary from a permanent sheet of water that lasts for hours to intermittent vicious downpours that last minutes and then open up the skies to a brilliant, intense sun the next moment.

In London, the rain is more elegant, refined. The skies are more considerate and less noisey, almost as if apologising for being English, ‘I’m sorry, but you know it’s just me again’. It happens often with no discrimination of season. But rarely will it put you out on a grand scale.

London is selective even with its show of creatures. There’s the urban red fox who has unwillingly been pushed into the city (because humans have taken over their natural habitat) and the surprisingly enchanting sight of the exotic green parrots who have made the banks of the Thames their home, possibly defying Mr. Darwin himself at that latitude.

In contrast, Florida’s creatures lurk in crevices, are in constant motion that makes one’s vision continuously do double-takes. The ubiquitous lizard that comes in a variety of sizes and shades of green and brown (as if one size fits all is not enough variation for this little critter) is harmless but nonetheless never seizes to startle me. There are snakes that slither in front of you popping up out of nowhere. There are huge cockroaches that appear in the most inconvenient moments. There are teeny, tiny frogs that show up inside your house unannounced…and dead. (Leaving one to wonder just how did it get inside in the first place when all the doors are shut? And why is it lifeless? Did something else bigger and scarier bring it in?) And of course, there are those monstrous demons called alligators croaking in the swamps, patiently waiting for their prey. Their guttural sounds warn of their presence on Kiko and my daily walks, making our excursions a little uneasy.

Heat Wave in November

There once was a year that I spent Christmas and New Years in the Rivera Maya, Mexico. I remember posing for a picture in front of a huge gaudily, but joyously decorated Christmas tree in a central plaza in Merida, dressed in shorts and sandals and revelling at the marvel of summer at Christmastime. For someone from Spain like myself, there is something uncanny about this, kind of like observing a Dalí painting, where your mind has trouble wrapping itself around reality and surrealism.

Back then I lived in NYC and escaping to the sun-drenched, immaculately white beaches weighed more heavily with me than snuggling up to a warm fireplace surrounded by my loving family and traditional holiday fare. The exotic won.

Fast forward about ten years and once again I find myself at a similar latitude in the tropics and in a similar season. However, this time around I’m longing for the mundane, as we are experiencing temperatures in the mid 30s Celsius (90s Fahrenheit) with a humidity that makes taking a step outside unbearable. Plus, at this point, I’m slightly perturbed that I can’t wear my Ugg boots or the snood I made for myself last Spring.

Time for Cuchareo

At more reasonable latitudes in the northern hemisphereit’s that time of year when the mornings are brisk and the evenings even more so. And the days are chilly too, maybe even down right properly cold. It’s time for scarves, jackets and coats, and dusting off the boots. It’s a time of year that generally gives us a reprise from the long, hot summer days and brings us shorter ones with the promise of winter and holidays.

I am a person who easily bores, and therefore the seasonal switch suits me perfectly. Contrary to many, I welcome most change enthusiastically and excitedly. I take delight in new experiences and new things. As for seasonal changes, I love the variation of temperature, I enjoy the new gifts with which nature surprises us, and I dive wholeheartedly into the opportunity to change my wardrobe and in definitely being able to wear some footwear a little more restricting and warmer than a flip-flop.

They say be careful what you wish for. Last winter in Connecticut with record snow storms, I was wishing for sun and heat. I got the perfect combination this summer in my beloved Andalusia. But now, residing in Florida, I find myself longing for some chill in the air, for an excuse to wear my comfy winter robe and slippers, to snuggle up with a cup of hot cocoa whilst reading a good book, and to allow myself to be mesmerised by the glittery sparks of a fireplace. Yet, I’m rather ‘forced’ instead to enjoy the incredibly high temperatures (and humidity) that we are experiencing and live with what seems like eternal air conditioning.

I don’t mean to complain, after all not many in the northern hemisphere can relate to enjoying a swim in the pool or going to the beach in early November! Nonetheless, as I don’t foresee being granted my wishes any time soon, I’ve turned to creating a bit of autumn in the kitchen instead. Food is such a comforting lifesaver in all situations. Isn’t it?

Growing up in Spain, one of my favourite dishes was anything to be eaten with a spoon, which translates to pottages, stews, soups … colloquially we call it cuchareo from the word cuchara which means spoon. Typically the season of cuchareo starts when the first chill can be felt in the air, which should be just about now …

This potaje de calabaza is hearty, delicious, very easy to make and a meal in itself. Without the fish, it could be a starter. And if you cook the pumpkin in advance, you can make the soup in just under an hour.

Potaje de Calabaza con Col Rizada, Dorado y Beicón
(Pumpkin Pottage with Kale, MahiMahi and Bacon)

Serves: 4-6
Prep Time: 10 min
Cook Time: 45 min


2 1/2 – 3 cups cooked pumpkin pulp
5-6 handfuls of chopped, cleaned kale
1 cup lima beans (optional if strict Paleo)
1 large filet of MahiMahi (or another thick, white fish)
6-8 cups of filtered water
1/4 cup white cooking wine
2 stalks celery, thinly sliced
1 large yellow onion, chopped
4-6 slices of bacon
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon curcumin/turmeric
sea salt and pepper to taste


In a large pot, cook the bacon slices. Once done, remove the bacon from the pot and place on a paper towel. Add the butter to the bacon fat and melt over medium heat. Once the butter is melted, add the celery and onion. Cook until the onion is translucent, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes.

Pour the white wine over the celery and onion and reduce, about 3-4 minutes. Add 6 cups of water, the pumpkin pulp and spices, excluding the sea salt and pepper*. Stir well. Add the kale and lima beans and cook covered over medium heat for 30 minutes or until the kale and beans are tender, adding more water if necessary. Stir occasionally.

For the fish: I prefer to slightly sauté with some butter or olive oil it in a pan before adding to the pottage, just a few minutes on each side. This makes for a flakier fish. Using your hands, tear chunks apart and add to the pottage. Cook another 1-2 minutes longer.

(You can also cook the fish directly in the pottage. Cut it into chunks and add to the soup, cooking about 4 minutes until done.)

*Season the pottage to taste with sea salt and freshly ground pepper and give it a stir.

Pour into soup bowls and sprinkle some torn up bacon bits over each bowl. Serve immediately. (Another nice touch is to add some grated hard Manchego just before serving.)

Scullery notes

(1) If you’re using frozen fish, make sure to thoroughly thaw out before cooking to avoid excess water and ensure it cooks through properly.

(2) I used frozen lima beans (I hadn’t eaten them in years and I’m thrilled with the buttery texture!). I didn’t thaw them out as it’s not necessary. If you’re lucky to procure some fresh ones, all the better!

(3) Depending on the size of your butternut squash, you could have enough for two recipes. For freezing, I like to bake the squash and mash the pulp into a bowl, the same in which I later freeze it. To use frozen pulp in the pottage or a soup, simply thaw out thoroughly prior to using.

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  • Ceri JonesNovember 6, 2015 - 09:03

    A lovely recipe and a collection of photos to bring your descriptions to life. Being that warm this time of year is I’m sure bit confusing for those more used to the far northern of the northern hemisphere! Great to see you putting your camera and cooking skills into action.ReplyCancel

    • The Saffron GirlNovember 6, 2015 - 18:31

      Thank you Ceri! It was fun taking some time ‘off’ to explore and take photos. It’s a pretty area and it deserved a mention on the blog, although yes, it’s hard to get used to warm weather all the time. 😉ReplyCancel

  • Becky Winkler (A Calculated Whisk)December 18, 2015 - 12:44

    This cuchareo looks delicious, and I love your gorgeous photos of Florida! I just went for the first time ever in August for the wedding of one of my best friends, and am hoping to visit again soon since she and her husband just moved to Aventura.

    I am a constant seeker of warmer and warmer weather, but there is something nice about having a few cooler days in fall and winter. Maybe cranking up the AC for a bit before making something like this would do it? 😉ReplyCancel

    • The Saffron GirlDecember 18, 2015 - 14:02

      Hi Becky!

      Yes, I guess that could work to generate some chill in the air and be forced to put on a sweater! 😉 For now, I’m enjoying the heat at what is an unnatural timing for me. Sometimes it’s soothing to the soul to have these incongruences… I hope you get to visit again soon.
      Debra xxReplyCancel

  • SabineDecember 25, 2015 - 14:51

    I so enjoyed reading through this post and be transported to autumnal Florida straight away from my beloved Paris on a grey Christmas holiday. Merci!ReplyCancel

    • The Saffron GirlDecember 26, 2015 - 21:43

      Thank you Sabine. Merci a toi pour lire mon blog! Debra xxReplyCancel

  • […] bet you’ve never had pumpkin, mahi-mahi, and bacon at the same time. You […]ReplyCancel

  • […] bet you’ve never had pumpkin, mahi-mahi, and bacon at the same time. You […]ReplyCancel

  • […] Autumn in Florida Pumpkin Pottage with Kale Mahi Mahi & Bacon, via Saffron Girl […]ReplyCancel

Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.

~ Nelson Mandela

It’s very hard to “walk in another man’s shoes”, to truly understand what it feels to grow up in poverty, without access to many things people in other countries take for granted, such as having food on the table for every meal, having shoes to wear or having more than one pair, having access to healthcare, modern infrastructure, the opportunity to go to school, the possibility to have real chances to change your life for the better…

I remember growing up in Spain during a time when ETA, the Basque terrorist group, was in its full apogee and bomb scares were happening almost every week at our school. Every time we were told that classes were postponed for later in the day or cancelled, I always felt a pang in my heart and remember thinking that I much preferred to have to go to school every single day of the year than getting time off because of bomb threats. I also remember many kids being ecstatic about not having to go to classes; in fact, some of these kids who are obviously now adults, have admitted to calling in many of the threats that resulted to be fake.

Yet all of us were fortunate to live in middle to upper-middle class families and have access to an excellent education and all those things that many, many children around the world can only dream of or not even envision because it seems too unreal to them.

I would bet that the majority of these children would never even consider calling in a fake bomb threat because for them the access to education carries a great weight: the fate of their future, that of their families, and of their countries is at stake. Education for them is not a burden or a waste of time.

And because I believe in helping others and enabling them to achieve better lives, I have partnered with Fair Trade USA for Fair Trade month.


What is Fair Trade you ask?

Fair Trade is a global trade model and certification [that] allows shoppers to quickly identify products that were produced in an ethical manner. For consumers, Fair Trade offers a powerful way to reduce poverty through their everyday shopping. For farmers and workers in developing countries, Fair Trade offers better prices, improved terms of trade, and the business skills necessary to produce high-quality products that can compete in the global marketplace. Through vibrant trade, farmers and workers can improve their lives and plan for their futures. Today, Fair Trade benefits more than 1.2 million farming families in 70 developing countries across Africa, Asia and Latin America.

Fair Trade principles include:

  • Fair prices and credit: Democratically organized farming groups receive a guaranteed minimum floor price (or the market price if it’s higher) and an additional premium for certified organic products. Farming organizations are also eligible for pre-harvest credit.
  • Fair labor conditions: Workers on Fair Trade farms enjoy freedom of association, safe working conditions and sustainable wages. Forced child and slave labor are strictly prohibited.
  • Direct trade: With Fair Trade, importers purchase from Fair Trade producer groups as directly as possible to eliminate unnecessary middlemen and empower farmers to develop the business capacity necessary to compete in the global marketplace.
  • Democratic and transparent organizations: Fair Trade farmers and workers decide democratically how to invest Fair Trade premiums, which are funds for community development.
  • Community development: Fair Trade farmers and farm workers invest Fair Trade premiums in social and business development projects like scholarships, schools, quality improvement and leadership training, and organic certification.
  • Environmental sustainability: Harmful agrochemicals and GMOs are strictly prohibited in favor of environmentally sustainable farming methods that protect farmers’ health and preserve valuable ecosystems for future generations.

How does Fair Trade differ from Free Trade?

According to Fair Trade USA’s founder, President and CEO Paul Rice, “Fair Trade makes free trade work for the world’s poor.”

Free trade is the economic theory that the market should be allowed to flow without government intervention. Purists want to get rid of all trade tariffs, subsidies, and protectionist economic policies. However, it is these very regulations which stop commodity prices from fluctuating uncontrollably. This laissez-faire theory aims to reach market equilibrium – where supply meets each demand. What free trade supporters fail to consider is the fact that, sometimes, the means to get that supply is not all that fair.

Historically, free trade has left small-scale producers behind as large subsidized companies start to take over their industries. While large contracted farms can afford to sell commodities at lower prices, local farmers, who have traditionally supplied these products, are driven into debt. The only way these farmers can compete with subsidized farms is to lower their product prices to the point where labor is free and quality of life is unsustainable.

In the case of coffee growers, these producers lack information on the real market value of their commodity, which easily makes them victims to unfair market deals that take advantage of their inexperience. Additionally, these farmers often lack access to credit and are forced to take quick cash from buyers who offer to pay a fraction of what their crop is worth.

Fair Trade helps level the playing field by equipping the farmers with tools—information and training—they need to receive fair prices for their products. The Fair Trade system aims to provide greater market access to farmers, which gives them a larger say in how much their product is worth.We say that Fair Trade is “market-based” because it relies on socially-conscious consumers support the movement by purchasing Fair Trade products. Through their conscious purchases, consumers tell companies that they care about the farmers and workers who produce their products. Fair Trade aims to address the underlying inequities caused by poverty and lack of access to market information that free trade ignores.

What is the impact of Fair Trade on communities?

All around the globe, the fair prices and opportunities connected with Fair Trade are keeping kids in school. In many countries, impoverished farmers and workers often need their children to work in order to make enough to support the whole family. Fair Trade helps provide farming families with the income and stability they need to keep their children in school, instead of in the fields and factories.

Ghana: Kuapa Kokoo, a cocoa cooperative, has been Fair Trade Certified for 14 years and in that time has used the special Fair Trade social premium to build four schools and two daycare centers for the children.

Paraguay: Children of the Arroyense Cooperative are being trained in word processing, typing, and Excel on computers purchased with money from sales of Fair Trade sugar. Students of all ages are given books and school uniforms to support their education from pre-school through high school graduation.

India: The local elementary school received craft supplies and math materials to teach young children of tea estate workers. Nilgiri Estate cooperative members voted to use Fair Trade social premium development funds to buy school buses so that the students who live far away can get to classes. Community Fair Trade funds are also used to pay for a hostel for students who live even farther.

In what other areas does Fair Trade have an impact?

One of the most important aspects of Fair Trade is this: funds are specifically designated for social, economic and environmental development projects. However, we don’t pretend to know what’s best for each community. That’s why we’ve enabled a democratic system where each community determines how their funds are used.

Some examples of how developing communities all over the wold have used the funds from Fair Trade to improve their quality of life are:

  • Farmers learn and implement environmentally sustainable practices.
  • Workers are empowered to demand fair wages and treatment.
  • Women are guaranteed health care, rights and freedom from harassment.
  • Revenues are set aside to build schools and help maintain enrollment.
  • Farmers are given market-based tools to lift themselves out of poverty.
  • Workers and their families gain access to doctors, medicine and proper nutrition.

Every purchase matters.

Quality Products. Improving Lives. Protecting the Environment.

It’s a Win-Win for All of Us!

How can you help you ask? Easy.

1. Look for the Label:
Fair Trade is a market-based approach to fighting poverty. That means that it only works when you actually buy the stuff. So please hold up your end of the bargain and look for the Fair Trade Certified label every time you shop.
2. Get Involved!
As they say: Think globally, act locally. Fair Trade Campaigns is a powerful grassroots movement focused on growing awareness, availability, and commitment to Fair Trade to improve impoverished communities around the world.
3. Spread the Word!
Believe it or not, YOU have the power to improve the world. It all starts with a simple act of sharing. Speak up. Be bold. Tell your family and friends why you support Fair Trade.

What do we all get out of this?

Buying Fair Trade ensures that you’re getting quality products and the people who grow, sew and craft them get a fair deal for their hard work. In fact, your everyday purchases can help farmers and factory workers in 70 countries work in safe conditions, earn extra money to invest in their communities and improve the lives of their families.

*Quality Products
*Products You Can Trust
*Organic Certified
*No GMOs!
*Ecosystem Preservation + Sustainable Farming Methods
*Water Conservation
*Waste Management
*No Child Labour
*Direct Investment in Communities: Schools, Hospitals, Homes, Roads, Wells for Clean Water
*Market Access and More Money to Farmers

Rogelia, Luis Ángel, and their son William Alexander.

Please allow me to introduce you to Rogelia Serna Cruz, Luis Ángel Juarez Morales and their son William Alexander Juarez Serna.

Rogelia and Luis Ángel are Fair Trade farmers working for Grupo Alta, a Fair Trade Certified company in Sonora, Mexico. William Alexander (center), 13, holds a scholarship certificate as he stands next to his mother and father during a scholarship award ceremony.

William Alexander is a junior high school Fair Trade-scholarship recipient as the child of an employee. The scholarship program provides a stipend for children of employees who study elementary or junior high school and maintain at least a B+ average. The funds for the scholarships come directly from surplus earnings made through the sale of Fair Trade products.

His father Luis Angel, originally from Tapachula, Chiapas, started as a migrant worker, has been working with Grupo Alta for 19 years and is now a foreman and permanent resident of Hermosillo. His mother Rogelia has been working with Grupo Alta for 19 years as well.

Without fair treatment, empowerment and fair salaries, and scholarships like this one, the parents of William Alexander would not have been able to provide a better life for William or send him to school. Fair Trade makes his education possible, as well as improves his prospects in life.

October is Fair Trade Month and I’ve Partnered with Them!

As I’ve said before, since I believe in helping others and enabling them to take steps in achieving a better life, I’ve partnered with Fair Trade USA to spread the word about what they do and how we as consumers can help as well by purchasing Fair Trade Certified products. It’s a win-win situation for all of us and every little effort counts!

Fair Trade USA and a number of their certified companies have graciously sent me a package with “Paleo/Primal” goodies to try and use.  I want to thank each and every one of these companies for their generosity and healthy products and for being part of #BeFair.

  1. SunSpire Organic Baking Bar 100% Chocolate
  2. Eating Evolved Coconut Cups
  3. Runa Tea Leaves
  4. Lake Champlain Organic Unsweetened Cocoa
  5. Nutiva Organic Coconut Oil
  6. Frontier Co-Op Whole Black Peppercorns
  7. Arrowhead Mills Organic Coconut Flour

The Cake.

Both of my nieces are sybarites. They are very fortunate to be growing up in an environment which allows them to grow a healthy mind and body and have access to an excellent education. And because of this, they both read a lot of books (and magazines) and have cultivated a sophisticated palate as well.

One of them especially is very selective when it comes to food magazines and her favourite is Bon Appétit (my favourite as well). For a couple of years now, she’s been raving about this “absolutely invigoratingly delicious” chocolate cake. So, I finally decided to give it a go.

It’s a recipe called ‘Fallen Chocolate Cake’ in the Bon Appétit magazine. But it turns out that the recipe was originally shared by Richard Sax, a chef and prolific cooking writer who co-authored a monthly column with Bon Appétit for many years. Richard’s recipe is made with refined sugar and a delicate sugared meringue, which creates a ‘cracked’ texture once the cake is baked, sort of like a French macaron.

However, I’ve created a more Paleo-friendly version using raw honey; and therefore the cake unfortunately doesn’t possess the same elegance and sensuality as Richard’s, instead is more of a sponge version, albeit it does crack just a bit. The texture and flavour are divine though!

In honour of my Mexican farmer family with whom I’ve been paired by Fair Trade, I’ve added a bit of pizzaz to the flavour with a touch of ground pepper. This is totally optional.

Here are the Bon Appétit adapted version and Richard Sax’s original Chocolate Cloud Cake recipe.

Flourless Chocolate ‘Sponge’ Cracked Cake, With a Peppery Twist (and Crème Anglaise)

Ingredients, for one 9-inch round mould

8 ounces (226g) chocolate* (please see my notes below)
1/2 cup (113g) butter, and a little extra for greasing the mould
5 egg whites, from large eggs (at room temperature)
4 egg yolks, from large eggs (at room temperature)
1 cup (340g) raw honey
1 tablespoon water
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar (or fresh lemon juice)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon ground black peppercorns


Preheat oven to 350F (170C). Grease with some butter a 9-inch round cake mould and set aside.

Prepare a small saucepan that will fit into another pan to be filled with water. Place the pan filled with water on the stove over medium heat, allowing the water to heat up as you chop the chocolate (to save you time). You will be cooking the chocolate au bain-marie. Finely chop the chocolate with a sharp knife. Place the chocolate into the saucepan and place this into the pan with water. Stirring frequently, melt the chocolate. Immediately turn the heat off and add the butter. Stir together until the butter is completely melted and the mixture is smooth. Remove the saucepan from the other pan, dry the outside with a cloth, and set aside.

Leave the pan with water on the stove, and add more water if necessary. Now, with another saucepan that will fit inside, we’ll make the honey syrup for the Italian meringue, which will allow the cake to crack just a bit. Place 1/2 cup of the honey plus 1 tablespoon water in a small saucepan, place this inside the pan over medium heat. Stirring frequently, allow the honey and water to heat through until it’s a liquid syrup. Remove from heat to cool.

In the meantime:

Separate your eggs, placing 5 egg whites in one large clean bowl and 4 egg yolks in another large clean bowl. (If you’re making the Crème Anglaise below, save the extra yolk for the sauce.)

Add the remaining 1/2 cup raw honey, vanilla and pepper to the egg yolks, and beat vigorously until well blended. Now, carefully add the melted chocolate mixture into the egg mixture, whisking with a fork or hand whisk until well blended. (If you fancy a bit more of a piquant flavour, feel free to add some more pepper at this point.) Set aside.

With an electric mixer or your very strong arm (my case), whisk the egg whites until foamy. Add the cream of tartar and continue beating until soft mounds form. Do not over beat to stiff peaks. By now the honey syrup should be ready and slightly cooled as well. Whilst beating the egg whites with the whisk with one hand, drizzle the syrup into the whites with the other. Continue stirring until the syrup is well blended into the egg whites. Now whisk until soft, silky peaks form.

With a spatula, fold in 1/4 of the egg whites into the chocolate mixture. We are doing this to add some air to the chocolate mixture. Then gently fold in the rest of the egg whites just until well blended (no white is showing).

Pour into the cake mould and bake for 30-40 minutes until the top is puffed and the center is no longer wobbly. It’s very important to not overbake the cake, or it will come out dry and dense. Use a sharp knife to test if the center is done. I put the oven timer on for 25 minutes and check every 5 minutes thereafter. In my oven, 40 minutes was the perfect result. It’s always better to err on the side of undercooked than overcooked, as you can always add minutes in the oven if necessary. As soon as at the cake is done, remove immediately from the oven and allow to cool at room temperature. The cake will sink nicely but still be spongy. Remove from the springform before serving.

Garnish with powdered cocoa or oven-roasted grapes for a unique flavour combination. Or you can serve over a delicate warm crème anglaise (recipe below).

Scullery notes:

(1) I used two types of chocolate, 4 ounces of 100% unsweetened baking bar from Fair Trade Sun Spire; and 4 ounces of 60% semi sweet chocolate bar. Depending on the type of chocolate you use, you may have to adjust the amount of raw honey. The original recipe calls for 1 cup of sugar.

(2) For the pepper, I used Frontier Co-Op Organic, Fair Trade Whole Black Peppercorns, which I ground in a coffee grinder and then measured. These peppercorns are strong and flavourful! So, I only used 1/4 teaspoon. However, depending on what you use or how piquant you prefer the cake, you could add a bit more for a spicier touch.

(3) As I stated, this is a Paleo-friendly version not using refined sugar. I’ve made the cake three times, once with the egg whites with cream of tartar alone (very dense results) and twice with the Italian meringue method. And in my estimation, I find that if you want to achieve the desired cracked effect which makes Richard Sax’s cake so famous, you need to use refined sugar. The only thing I didn’t try was adding all the raw honey as a syrup to the meringue instead of dividing it. That could make for a slightly less heavy wet ingredients part.

Crème Anglaise

Ingredients, makes a little over 1 cup

2 eggs yolks
1/4 scant cup raw honey
1 cup of milk of preference (I used coconut milk)
1/2 vanilla pod or 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract


In a small bowl, whisk the egg yolks and raw honey until well blended. If you’re using vanilla extract instead of the vanilla pod, you can add the extract to the egg-honey mixture now. Set aside.

In a medium saucepan, over medium heat, warm the milk with the vanilla pod, stirring frequently. Allow to cook and infuse for 3-4 minutes, but do not bring to a boil. Remove from heat. Take the vanilla pod out, cut lengthwise and scrape the vanilla seeds into the milk, and give it a stir. (The remaining pod can be used for creating vanilla extract, so don’t throw it away!)

Pour some of the warm milk into the egg mixture and whisk, mixing well. Then pour the rest of the milk in and blend well. Pour everything back into the saucepan and over low to medium heat, cook until the sauce thickens into a smooth texture and coats the back of a spoon. Stir constantly.

If you have any clumps in the sauce, pass it through a sieve before serving.

Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly at room temperature. The sauce can be served warm or completely cooled. Keep refrigerated for later use.

Disclaimer: Although I received a goodie package from Fair Trade USA, I was under no obligation. All of the text above is my own, except the italised, highlighted sections which I’ve copied directly from the site.

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I’ve been in a no-cooking rut lately … in all fairness life has been topsy turvy for over a year and especially this summer, where I have been travelling in Europe, and unfortunately it wasn’t for leisure.  During this time I have been playing musical kitchens (and musical countries), and at some points have had no kitchen at all … I’m so eager to be reunited with my kitchen appliances, gadgets and having the freedom to experiment again … but in the meantime, and to use the popular vernacular, I’ve fallen off of the Paleo bandwagon so many times, I have lost count…and probably have a few bruises as proof (for example, my hair has seen much healthier days).


I’ve eaten bread. Because eating a sandwich has never been my thing but convenience got the better of me. Mea Culpa. Over the summer, I’ve eaten wheat-flour-coated fried seafood in Spain. I actually didn’t have a beer in Germany, but ate a breaded schnitzel. (But these are lesser evils as I was travelling. And that’s a valid excuse.) Mea Culpa. Returning to the US though has thrown me overboard: I’ve engaged in the art of rummaging through kitchen drawers seeking the perfect takeout menu. And worst of all, I’ve ordered and eaten the stuff. And not just once. A few times. Yes. And I had a kitchen, so there was no excuse. Except that takeout is so easy. So convenient … I’ve had pizza, filled with gluten and possibly a myriad of other things I generally avoid. I’ve eaten Chinese takeout (it’s better not to even go there). And Sushi takeout. Yes, I confess with remorse. But like I said, it was easy. It was convenient. And I couldn’t resist. Mea Culpa. I could keep ‘fessing up… but the important thing to take from the lesson that I have learned is that my stomach and digestive system can no longer take all the “junk”, no matter how irresistible the food may be or how lazy I am feeling or how convenient it may seem. I will regret for hours the few moments of pleasure these foods (and experiences) bring me.

Therefore, I must renounce the temptation of convenience in the name of trying to fuel my creative juices to encourage my return to a stable Paleo lifestyle and improved health. The problem is the juices are not really flowing and with a small kitchen, no appliances beyond a coffee maker and a toaster, I’ve been totally uninspired until this past week. The culprit source of inspiration is none other than takeout food!

carnitasWhat? How can this be? …

A couple of weeks ago, Russ Crandall offered his new cookbook Paleo Takeout: Restaurant Favorites Without the Junk for review and I jumped on the opportunity. I wasn’t quite sure what I was getting into, but I did have a feeling that disappointed I would not be … what I didn’t know was how pleasantly surprised I would be and just what a great inspiration this book truly is! The creative juices are back and with a vengeance!

I have followed Russ, aka The Domestic Man, on Instagram for a couple of years now. I’m not sure how I discovered him, probably through one of the other Paleo/Primal big names, such as Bill and Hayley Staley from Primal Palate or maybe the Paleo Parents or Nom Nom Paleo…the point is that I have always found Russ’ approach to Paleo intriguing – Russ eats white rice; and I believe you will not find a single recipe for a dessert on his blog and definitely there are none in this cookbook! That to me is pretty awesome. (Ironically, I have not been following his blog regularly; something that now I’ve already changed by subscribing to the email list.) Russ is a doyen in his own right and a wealth of information and ideas! He is also what I would call a “common sense eater”.


I have been Paleo/Primal since the end of 2012; and since then, I’ve learned, altered my template, and have seen a number of changes in the dogma (for example, white potatoes were still vilified when I started and are now widely accepted as a whole food and safe starch). What I love about Russ’ perspective is that it is not pigeonholed in strict theories. It’s an approach personally adapted to fit his health and lifestyle needs and those of his family; and it’s constantly evolving as he’s learning. Russ brings together in his “common sense” approach all of these concepts: Paleo/Primal, The Perfect Health Diet, Weston A. Price Foundation principles, A Whole Foods Approach and JERF – Just Eat Real Foods. As I mentioned, he and his family regularly eat white rice for example and include healthy dairy products. You can learn more about Russ and his philosophy here.


He goes a step further with a formula he has created called “The Four Corners Plate”. This is described on his website and in Paleo Takeout and is a useful template for those starting off in this healthy and nutritious diet/lifestyle.

Paleo Takeout is Russ’ second cookbook (the first is Ancestral Table) and with which he just made the New York Times Bestseller list! (Congratulations Russ!) Russ’ story is amazing, having suffered a stroke at age 24, and fully recovering and then finding a healing path for his autoimmune condition through the Paleo diet. His blog is full of delicious recipes and health tips, presented in an elegant, no-nonsense fashion with an historical and international approach which makes reading it a pleasure and a learning experience.

And Paleo Takeout: Restaurant Favorites Without the Junk is a cookbook you will want to get now and keep forever! It’s a cookbook every respectable home cook must have. I kid you not. I’m not using a marketing gimmick. I truly and really mean it. It doesn’t matter if you are Paleo or not. This book is amazing. You’re going to want to make every single recipe out of it, and on top of that you’re going to want to experiment with your own ideas (kind of like I did below in the picture).


Paleo Takeout is like a condensed and very easy to understand cooking course in Asian dishes and other extras. Included are tutorials on how to wrap Asian rolls, how to bread meats and use different batters for frying (all healthy and Paleo-friendly), how to make crispy fried chicken, and how to make Asian meatballs (beef, chicken, pork and fish too!). Essential techniques such as stir-frying, grilling and thickening sauces with starch slurry are explained and demystified. And there are recipes for pizza dough, flatbread and hamburger buns!

Most of the ingredients are readily available in most larger-metropolis supermarkets; and the harder to find ones (such as possibly the Chinese cooking wine, mirin or rice vinegar) can always be ordered on Amazon or via Thrive Market if you’re a member; or if you have access to a local Asian market, I’m sure you can find them there. Once you stock up on the basics, you will not be able to put this book down. Maybe even before stocking up, you’ll experiment with the things you do have on hand inspired by Russ’ scrumptious recipes, like I did last week when I opened the book to page 59 and saw the picture of Chow Mein. I had completely different vegetables in the fridge, but was so determined to eat Chow Mein that night (just like takeout), that I adapted it as you can see on my Instagram feed.


All the recipes have easy to follow instructions, many of which are accompanied by suggestions for experimenting with more vegetables and different ingredients, encouraging the home chef to expand his/her knowledge and explore away, taking home cooking of our favourite and traditional takeout staples to another level!

And if you’re thinking you’re going to be stuck in the kitchen for hours prepping and cooking, think again! What makes Paleo Takeout even more amazing and a must-have cookbook is that the majority of the recipes can be made in record time! Forty-one (41) of the recipes can be enjoyed “Fridge to Face” in 30 minutes! Another 30+ recipes take between 30-60 minutes to throw together. The marinated dishes, although recommended to plan ahead for more intense flavours, can actually be enjoyed in less time. And lastly, there are about 40 recipes which you can make in batches, freeze and then quickly reheat for instant and very convenient satisfaction! You can’t beat that. Not even with real takeout! And remember, you’ll be cooking with wholesome ingredients, “giving you all the gratification and none of the regret”!


At the back of the cookbook is the pictorial recipe index, which is captivating and reads like a Asian/American takeout menu that has me salivating for all of the dishes since I opened the book. It is here, in the index, where I am incited to discover the essence of this cookbook and where I find myself …

… transported to Chinatown in NYC about to order a bowl of Singapore Noodles. Or should I first start with a bowl of Hot & Sour Soup? I’m always intrigued by how the flavours are such a contrast between the slightly sour notes and the spiciness. And I rather would like something warm. There’s Egg Drop Soup. Egg Foo Young. General Tso’s Chicken. An American favourite. Moo Goo Gai Pan. Moo Shu Pork …

I flip to the next pages. OMG! Wait. Could it be that I’m back in Hanoi about to eat Pho and bite into a fresh and fragrantly sultry Summer Roll? My eyes are starting to get bigger than my stomach…make that pho, summer rolls and an exotic Green Papaya Salad. Yes, definitely. I’ve even made that one at home after my trip to Vietnam a few years ago. I know that will not disappoint.

Pad Thai. That’s it. I’m having that. I love pad thai. Can you tell I have a penchant for sweet, salty and sour tang?


My eyes are quick though. I am back in Barnes (my neighbourhood of London) and about to order Chicken Tikka Masala from the little Indian restaurant down the street from my flat.  Or maybe I’ll have the Lamb Vindaloo. There’s Kare Kare too.

No… stop, there’s Pancit and Lumpia! I haven’t had those in ages! I used to eat them regularly when I was growing up in Spain and had what seemed like a gazillion Filipino friends. I remember learning how to wrap the rolls and selling the lumpia for our senior year fundraisers.

Alas! The takeout menu pages continue. Aren’t all takeout menus like being presented with a bunch of snippets of your favourite novels? There are more mouth-watering dishes. I can’t decide if I want to be American tonight. A bunch of crispy and juicy Fried Chicken in a Basket would be so delicious right now. Or maybe I could go for a pizza with extra garlic and a bunch of cool toppings like we get in Mystic… with this pizza I know I wouldn’t have a stomach ache afterward. Maybe I’ll have a Burger Party for two instead. And indulge in some Tzatziki Sauce to go with my burgers.


No that’s for another occasion. I’m doing Mexican tonight. The succulent cilantro-topped Pork Carnitas with a flatbread that looks just like soft corn tortilla shells look divine. Ummm…but I think I saw something a couple of pages back that was more irresistible.

I flip backwards because that’s what I always do with a menu, especially a takeout one. I read through it once and then I go back through it again. I must make sure that I get the best meal. There’s so much from which to choose… and I’m not sure what tickles my fancy today, right now, because takeout is like that: I can have whatever I want. And tomorrow I can pick and choose something new, exotic and different. And I’m losing patience with myself as I’m getting hungry. And everything is enticing.

Paleo Takeout is like no other takeout though. What makes it unique is that you know the ingredients of this takeout are not going to upset your tummy. You won’t have heartburn. You can eat gluten-, chemical- and guilt-free. And your health will thank you for it….

I’ve never been to Japan or Korea. Sure, I eat sushi all the time. I’ve made kimchi. But there are more intriguing dishes on this menu in this cookbook. The Haemul Pajeon or Korean Seafood Scallion Pancake looks beautiful. The ingredients sound fascinating together. There’s Dashi too. Ramen and Miso. Gyudon and something called Okonomiyaki! Yes, let’s grab the chopsticks Russ the publishing house so graciously included and take a bite … but I have to go back to the first page again. There was something there that is calling me …


I just landed on Gerrard Street and the neighbouring blocks. London’s Chinatown is boisterous and crowded, yet elegant and much cleaner than its NYC counterpart. Here one can find a range of very authentic Chinese, Korean and Thai food. I see myself walking toward the red arches and then my eyes stop at some crispy Spring Rolls. I love spring rolls. And there’s the Chow Mein that inspired my dinner last week. And there’s Vegetables in White Sauce. Honey Sesame Chicken. Szechuan Beef and Bam Bam Shrimp. Love that name. Oh my! There’s more…

Shrimp with Lobster Sauce. Now that I have never tried. “They say” it’s a Chinese-American dish and a takeout favourite. Lobster sauce. Are there lobster pieces in that? Or maybe some sort of lobster seasoning? Chinese soups and sauces are mysterious to me. How can there possibly be such sophisticated combinations of flavours in those sauces that are almost translucent yet so precisely thickened? … I’m having that. I could never replicate that at home, right? That makes it more tantalising.

But wait! I’m not on Gerrard Street. And I’m actually privy to the secret behind the sauce enigma. Shhh… you can be too… and you can make it tonight instead of having takeout! And you can’t beat the timing on this one. Twenty minutes from fridge to fork (and no lobster required)!


Russ is letting me share with you a taste of what you can find in this amazing cookbook. Below you can find the recipe for Shrimp with Lobster sauce, which we’ve enjoyed now a couple of times and I’m sure you will too.

But wait, it gets better. You can be the proud owner of your own Paleo Takeout: Restaurant Favorites Without the Junk by entering my very first giveaway. However as there will only be one lucky winner, I would urge you to buy this cookbook as it will become a reference in your kitchen and you will never, ever want to rummage through your drawers again in search for a takeout menu, much less order from one!

Shrimp with Lobster Sauce

“To be honest, I had never heard of this dish until my family moved to the East Coast in 2008. I first ordered it out of curiosity; what the heck is lobster sauce, and why are they selling it for so cheap? … Turns out that lobster is a Cantonese-inspired dish made with broth and eggs, similar to other sauces that are poured over lobster dishes (there’s the connection!).”

~ Russ Crandall, The Domestic Man

Ingredients, for 4. Preparation Time: 10 minutes. Cooking Time: 10 minutes.

For the Slurry:

  • 3 tablespoons arrowroot starch (tapioca starch can also work)
  • 2 tablespoons cold water

For the Sauce:

  • 3 cups chicken broth
  • 1/4 cup Chinese cooking wine
  • 2 teaspoons tamari
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon white pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 2 pounds (c. 1 kilo) raw shrimp, peeled and cut in half
  • 1/2 cup chopped carrots
  • 1/2 cup frozen peas, rinsed in cool water and drained
  • 3 shiitake mushrooms, stems removed, thinly sliced
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 2 green onions, sliced


Stir together the arrowroot starch and cold water to create a slurry, then set aside.

In a stockpot, combine the sauce ingredients and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Once the sauce is simmering, add half of the arrowroot starch slurry and stir until thickened, about 1 minute, adding more slurry if needed. Add the shrimp, carrots, peas and mushrooms, return to a simmer, and simmer until the shrimp are just pink, about 1 minute.

Slowly pour the eggs though a fork into the sauce. Whisk gently with a fork to prevent the eggs from clumping, then allow to cook through, about 30 seconds. Stir in the green onions and serve.

Note: Dried shiitake mushrooms can be used in this dish; just soak them in warm water for 30 minutes before slicing.

Note from The Saffron Girl: I don’t like peas and I didn’t have shiitake mushrooms available. Instead, I used some leftover fresh cabbage that I had, slicing it julienne style and thinly sliced some brown button mushrooms. Because the cabbage is a bit tougher than the peas, I first allowed it to cook in the sauce’s liquid ingredients until almost tender (about 7 minutes). I then added the slurry and continued with Russ’ instructions. Also, I didn’t have Chinese cooking wine, and instead used half the amount stated in the recipe of regular (light) red cooking wine; hence the slightly darker colour. To compensate for the change of flavours, I added a bit more tamari than Russ calls for. 

This dish is really tasty and versatile. I used the leftovers as a sauce over some pork chops, as you can see in one of the pictures above. Delicious!



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A winner will be chosen randomly through Rafflecopter. I will announce the lucky winner on Monday, 21 September. The winner will have 48 hours to contact me with his/her full name, complete postal address and phone number (please include the country code). Please make sure to check your spam folder in case the email should go there. The email will be coming from thesaffrongirl [at] Should the winner not respond within this timeframe, a new winner will be chosen at random. The winner’s contact information will be forwarded to Victory Belt Publishing to send out the prize. The Saffron Girl is not responsible for lost, stolen or misplaced prize.

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“This is the first time I’ve known what time it was…” Bree was ignoring both Mrs. Bug’s raptures and the [astrolobe] in her hands. I saw her meet Roger’s eyes, and smile – and after a moment, his own lopsided smile in return. How long had it been for him?

Everyone was squinting up at the setting sun, waving clouds of gnats from their eyes and discussing when they had last known the time. How very odd, I thought, with some amusement. Why this preoccupation with measuring time? And yet, I had it, too.

I laid my hand on [Jamie’s], where it rested on the box [of the astrolobe]. His skin was warm with work and the heat of the day, and he smelt of clean sweat. The hairs on his forearm shone red and gold in the sun, and I understood very well just then, why it is that men measure time. 

They wish to fix a moment, in the vain hope that so doing will keep it from departing.” ~ From The Fiery Cross by Diana Gabaldon

Time is a precious, ephemeral thing. When you’re in the midst of something, it seems like it will last forever, you have time to say things, do things, and leave things for tomorrow, mañana, mañana…. But when time goes by, you see how quickly it evaporated before your eyes, as if it never existed. It never was.

When we arrived in Connecticut last June, the days were still warm and the evenings long, boat rides were still possible and enjoying the kaleidoscope of purples, reds, oranges, and blues of the setting sun brought memories of our times shared in the past when we all lived here. We had the whole world ahead of us, many dreams and hopes (and possibly some apprehensions). Slowly, but surely Fall inched upon us with its foliage exploding in all possible hues of reds, yellows, oranges and greens. A sight to behold with one’s eyes at least once in life, as nature surpasses all conceivable dreams.

Autumn gave way to the bareness of Winter, that would this year prove to be a long and bitter one, literally and metaphorically. Branches now serving as the framework to nature’s delicate and perfect snow and ice sculptures…Winter seemed endless this year. It was the coldest the North East has experienced in over 30 years. That last winter that all the natives over a certain age can recall and tell you about. They describe in detail how they used to walk across the Mystic River and how cold and raw it was.

And then as the snow reluctantly melted away and we approached the equinox of Spring, time fell silent and still. But only for a moment. A fleeting moment. But a definitive moment it was. Soon we could see patches of grass again, the daffodils timidly peeked up through the ground, the deer finally ventured out on the marshes, and a fox or two skirted by our front porch… everything was coming back to life. Nature’s annual renewal.

The bright yellow flowers of the forsythia came and went so quickly it seemed like a reverie, and the pink blossoms of the magnolias exploded one day and then all of a sudden the ground was covered in a blanket of pink. We are now coming back full circle to azure skies, calm seas, lazy afternoons and welcomed breezes… Summer is almost upon us. But as I write this, time is flying by. It’s slipping away…Where has the past year gone? Have I really spent almost twelve months in Connecticut?

All things must come to an end, and soon I will be departing for Europe to resolve my divorce and soon my father will return home as well. We won’t be leaving as we came. And my family staying here won’t remain as they were. We’ve changed forever, although nature will remind us with the seasons that change is inevitable. Only time will tell us what the future holds for us all. It’s been a tough year behind us, filled with a great, irreparable loss whose emptiness will last until the end of time, and yet we have also been afforded the time to be together as a family again, my father, my late mother, my brother, my sister-in-law, and my two lovely nieces and me. To enjoy each other’s company. Share tears, smiles and laughter. To give each other warm hugs that melt the heart. To cook and eat together. To be one.

It may be a long time before we have the chance to be one again. We will see each other separately I know. And technology will keep us connected even in the distance, even as many things will never be as they were. New times are ahead of us. And with hope and new illusions and a prospect of happiness or at least of peace, we go forward, holding on to time.

All the years I was living in Germany and later the two years in London, we travelled to Spain by car and traversed France from corner to corner, sometimes zigzagging, more often than not though in a straight line. I kept insisting we stop, take detours to see the historical towns and castles, but only a couple of times did we have the time. We were mostly on a schedule to get there quickly, squeese out as much time as possible being in the warm sun of Southern Spain, and then make our way back.

We did however, always make time to eat. And yet, with all those lunches and dinners (breakfasts don’t count for this dish), not once did I try calves liver à la Bordelais. Not once! That’s a very strange occurrence for me because whenever I’m travelling or in a new place, one of my first goal is to eat as much of the local cuisine as possible. My other goal is to see and experience as much as I can fit in within the limited time. I tend to exhaust every minute. My motto is that I never know when I’ll be back, and under such a premise, I cannot and will not waste time.

I discovered this recipe in Mimi Thorrison’s A Kitchen in France, A Year of Cooking in My Farmhouse. Although I marked a number of recipes and read the book front to back in one evening, I’ve only made this dish, as I’ve not made the time to concentrate on others. I’ve made it now a number of times, changing things here and there and finally adapting it my way. My beautiful mom loved it the first time I made it for her; and my father and I have enjoyed it in the various adaptations I’ve experimented with. This last one, we both find the best. It’s less buttery and lighter.

It’s hard to source a good quality calves liver where we have been living. I find that essential and would suggest procuring organic, pasture-raised from your local butcher to get the full benefits of eating offal. And the type of butter is also important. I love Kerrygold salted (I could eat it with a spoon!).

The avocado-radish salad I put together on a whim because the radishes were so pretty and the avocado perfectly ripe. Add whatever toppings you like. I only used olive oil, lemon juice and salt and some pepper on the plate, as my father likes to keep things simple.

I hope you enjoy! Salud!

Calves Liver à la Bordelais

Ingredients, serves 2

2 filets of calves liver
4 shallots
2 garlic cloves
3 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons extra virgen olive oil, plus some extra
2-4 slices of prosciutto
1/2 cup white wine
coarse sea salt and freshly ground pepper
arrowroot flower for dusting


Rinse the calves liver filets and pat dry with a paper towel. Salt and pepper on one side and set aside.

Peel and julienne the shallots and the garlic. In a medium sized skillet, add 2 tablespoons of butter and the olive oil. Over medium heat, melt the butter and add the shallots and garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally, about 8-10 minutes until the shallots are golden and tender. Add the white wine and reduce, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat and add 1 tablespoon of butter and stir well. Set aside, covered to keep warm.

In another skillet, add a drizzle of olive oil and heat over medium heat. Add the prosciutto slices and cook, about 1 minute, turning over once. Remove from skillet and place on a plate.

Dust the calves liver filets with some arrowroot powder. And in the same skillet used for the prosciutto, add another drizzle of olive oil. Place the liver filets in the skillet and cook, about 3 minutes on each side.

To serve: place the liver filet on the plate, spoon some of the shallot sauce over each filet, and top with a slice or two of prosciutto. Garnish with parsley if desired.

Avocado + Radish Salad

Ingredients, serves 2

1 ripe avocado
1 radish
sea salt, freshly ground pepper
lemon juice
extra virgen olive oil


Peel and slice the avocado. With a mandolin, slice the radish very thinly. Place the avocado on the serving plate and top with the radish. Drizzle some olive oil and lemon juice over top. Sprinkle with coarse sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Serve.

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Years ago, I was bitten by a flounder. It’s one of those stories that one can retell with a certain amount of humour and romanticise about, like we do with most of our myopic views of past events. I was working in the Education Department at the Mystic Aquarium and was asked to cover for one of the instructors on vacation. Part of the duties included feeding the fish and various other animals.

In the main education room, which was also used for birthday parties and special catered events, we had a large “touch and feel” tank with various crustaceans, some bivalves and a flounder or two, if I remember correctly.

Anyhow, I was feeding Mr. Flounder a plump and juicy shrimp placed on the tip of a long stainless steel stick whose purpose was to afford me a distance from Mr. Flounder’s teeth. Piece of cake I thought. What could possibly go wrong? Well, a lot it would seem. Don’t ever be fooled by an innocent and funny-looking fish I tell you, particularly one with two eyes on top. Mr. Flounder decided to forego the shrimp, jump out of the water and lunge himself towards me, taking with him a piece of the skin of my hand in the process. Needless to say, I was quite startled. Once I recovered my composure and Mr. Flounder had safely plopped back in the tank, I realised my ego was also slightly bruised. Who manages to get bitten by a fish, in an aquarium no less? My hand did sting a little and because it was a work-related incident, I had to report it and required a tetanus shot. But it’s a tale that got me a bunch of auntie-brownie points with my nieces back then – they thought their tita was just the coolest thing. Nowadays, they prefer to make fun of the incident and I get teased about it every now and then.

My nieces, one of them has already graduated university and the other is out of school for the Summer, work during the boating season, which runs from some weeks ago to sometime in the early Fall. They are extremely busy and finding time to get together and do things is not easy. But a week or so ago, my eldest niece called me and we spontaneously went out for lunch. I think unplanned outings are always the best. It was a miserable windy day with rain drizzling since the early morning and a thick fog that creeped in rather quickly and lingered way into the evening. But we still thought that venturing downtown Mystic was warranted instead of staying home. Mystic has a healthy population all year round, but it is in the Spring and Summer when it flourishes overflows with tourists and New Yorkers who own Summer homes in the area.

Yet the day we went out was still rather early in the season, so we were a little surprised to see that our first choice was closed for a private event and that the other choice nearby had a line of people waiting to get in. Not wanting to walk too far in the inclement conditions, we ended up at Anthony J’s. It’s a cosy little restaurant in a pretty wooden building parallel to the Mystic River. I had been there before, years ago and always liked the atmosphere. I’m not sure if it’s the same owner or not, but the food the other day was just as delicious as I remember. So in the end, as spontaneous things usually go, the end result exceeded our expectations.

We were seated at the far end of the restaurant, along the large stone wall, from where I could see part of the kitchen and the chef (who by the way was dressed in a rather unique outfit comprised of a white chef shirt and tomato-print trousers complemented by a tomato-print bandana). The warm ambience, the friendly waitstaff, and the elegant, yet simple dishes made with fresh, seasonal food reminded me of many places one finds in Ireland. New England is like that. Sometimes I don’t even feel like I’m in the United States. The buildings are old, some from the 1600s, 1700s and 1800s, mostly made of stone and wood with a quaint charm. And it also has similar weather and lots of lush verdant fields to match.

Anyhow, we enjoyed a lovely time together, a decent conversation although we were both tired and a delectable meal. I had a halibut filet with a Thai-style sauce over mashed potatoes and we shared a fennel, prosciutto and parmesan salad.

The following day when I was thinking about what to make for lunch (ironically I had put out the halibut to defrost the day we went out), I basically replicated my lunch with the ingredients I had on hand instead.

Halibut is a meaty, white fish. It’s the largest flatfish and the flesh is juicy and needs very little condiment to taste beautifully. I generally don’t like to put too much seasoning on fish, as I prefer to let the flavours work on their own. The orange-coconut amino sauce with scallions and tomatoes is full of taste yet is delicate and not over-bearing. And the mashed potatoes with a hint of fennel add a nice contrast to the fish. As I endeavour to always include more than one vegetable in a meal, I served the halibut and mashed potatoes with some steamed rainbow chard. And finally, the fennel salad with the roasted pine nuts is just simply the perfect accompaniment, light, crispy and crunchy all in one. A perfect meal for a Spring day (or any day)!

Halibut en Papillote with Orange-Scallion Sauce

Ingredients, serves 2

2 halibut filets (with skin)
juice of one orange
orange zest/rind
2 tablespoons coconut aminos (soy sauce replacement)
12 cherry tomatoes
3 scallions
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
parchment paper


Preheat the oven to 375F (190C). On a cookie sheet or another flat ovenproof metal dish, place a piece of parchment paper and fold the edges. Rinse the fish and pat dry. Place on the parchment paper. Salt and pepper lightly. Cut the orange in half, and squeese the juice over the fish. Don’t worry if you get some pulp on the fish. Pour the coconut aminos over each filet and sprinkle some orange rind/zest over each as well.

Clean and cut the scallion diagonally. Cut 8 of the cherry tomatoes in half and leave the remaining 4 whole. Place the scallions and tomatoes over and around the fish.

Place another sheet of parchment paper over the fish and folding the edges into the bottom sheet, make a sack. Bake for 15 minutes or until fish is done.

Fennel Mashed Potatoes

Ingredients, serves 2

4 medium red potatoes, peeled and cut into quarters
1/4 fennel bulb, chopped
1 tablespoon butter
fine sea salt


Put the potatoes and fennel in a medium pot. Cover with water and an inch or so more. Place on medium heat and bring to a roiling boil, and cook until tender, about 25 minutes. Remove from heat and drain.

Place the tablespoon or so of butter in the pot and allow to melt with the heat of the vegetables. Add a couple of tablespoons of milk (your preference) and smash with a potato masher to your desired consistency. Add some sea salt to taste.

Serve the halibut filets on top of the mashed potatoes.

Fennel Salad with Roasted Pine Nuts and Mustard-Oil Dressing

Ingredients, serves 2-4

1 fennel bulb
mixed salad greens: arugula (wild rocket), spinach, other greens
hard, cured cheese
handful of pine nuts
olive oil
wholegrain mustard
lemon juice


Cut off the stems and the outer hard part of the fennel. Use the hard part of the fennel for the mashed potatoes. (See above recipe.) Slice the fennel crosswise very thinly.

In a pretty salad bowl, place the amount of mixed salad greens that you desire. Place the sliced fennel over top and mix it a little with your hands. Shave some hard, cured cheese over top. I used Dubliner cheese that we forgot about and left to harden. (It’s delicious like this.)

In a small skillet, heat some olive oil and pour in the handful of pine nuts. Fry until golden brown, stirring frequently, just a minute or so. Immediately remove from heat and spoon over the salad without the oil.

For the dressing: I used 3 parts extra virgen olive oil to 1 part wholegrain mustard and the juice of 1/2 lemon. Mix well and allow for each person to pour over their own salad.

If you have leftover salad, since the dressing is not on it, it will last a couple of days in the fridge.

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  • Patricia PamplonaJuly 23, 2015 - 14:55

    I will be making these. They both sound delicious and it’s my type of food!
    Btw, Debbie, I THOROUGHLY enjoy reading you, I love the way you narrate things. <3!!!!ReplyCancel

    • The Saffron GirlJuly 23, 2015 - 17:43

      Hola guapa! I’m so happy you’re finally reading and liking it and trying out the recipes too!! woo hoo!!! tqmReplyCancel