“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
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
sea salt, freshly ground pepper
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.
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
2 tablespoons coconut aminos (soy sauce replacement)
12 cherry tomatoes
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
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
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.
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
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 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
freshly ground pepper
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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