avec gas, si vous plait

Oui. Avec gas. I think it took weeks in France to figure out exactly what the waiter meant when they blurted out something about gas. But once I figured out what he meant…there was no turning back. Today, I only drink water with gas when dining out. For some reason those little bubbles just make everything taste better. Perhaps it is a memory association with my glory days in southern France.

Anyway- I don’t usually like fruit flavored water. But, of course in my quest to try something new, I found myself staring at a variety of Perrier waters. I chose the most outrageous flavor possible- pamplemousse rose also known as pink grapefruit. And actually the flavor was quite refreshing. A bit of a tangy kick and a mild citrus whim.

chaneling my inner zen

There are some days that ya just gotta force your inner zen to come out. Not everyday is naturally peaceful. Heck…most days are down right stressful and crazy. And I will be the first to tell you that there is nothing zen-like about I-85.

I seem to be making this stressful trip more and more frequently. So today, I decided to connect with my inner zen. I normally listen to shows like the Gayle King Show and Broad Minded, but today I tuned in to Spa radio and cruised along, channeling my inner peace. It was really hard not to get stuck on my work thoughts….which really creates stress. These thoughts tend to snowball and next thing ya know…its heart palpitations and frustration to be spending time driving rather than getting the to-do list done.

But on this trip, I guided my thoughts to a peaceful place and took the time to reflect and relax into the moment. AHMMMMMM AHMMMMM yogi breathing. Try it some time. It’s a challenge- but the reward is worth it.

Are you connected?

Do you remember your first cell phone? When I turned 16 I was given my Dad’s old bag phone. It was huge and I could only use it for emergencies. Which sometimes consisted of calling my boyfriend while driving home from school. Emergency is relative when you are 16. And I can remember upgrading to a HUGE handheld…then my first flip…then my first cute little red nokia….on to a blackberry…the one with the wheel on the side. Ah progress. Or is it progress?

Is it progress to be married to your job via a cell phone? Is it progress to be constantly in communication?  Is it progress to ALWAYS be checking your in-box? To check it just before bed and first thing in the morning. I guess “progress” is as relative as “emergency”.

I entered the working world in 1998. Email was used…but a fax machine was used more. Cell phone were still cell phones and not lifelines. I wasn’t required to have a cell phone for my job and quite frankly when I walked out of the office, my day was done…finished….complete…until I arrived back at the office the next day. No emails, no texts, no internet at home. WOW. I can’t even imagine, just a short 12 years later, not being completely connected 24-7.

There are days that I love the connection and of course days when I would like to throw my pink crackberry out of the window. I’m preparing for my upcoming trip to Singapore and of course need to stay connected. My current crackberry won’t work internationally so today I got a new one. Not a fancy iPhone…not a hip Droid….a boring, but reliable crackberry. I think I’ll call him Tom.

a culinary journey close to home

I have reconciled that I don’t think the Bali trip will be happening in 2010. But that doesn’t mean I can’t have a taste of Bali right here in Gville! Today I bought a new Bali cookbook. It has over 100 recipes by one of Bali’s most famous chefs. It’s kind of like a travel guide with recipes…good thing I have an imagination….I can pretend to be sitting on a white sand beach, sipping a fruity drink, eating on a banana leaf. How about some snails in spicy broth or pork belly barbecued in banana leaves. The recipes are full of exotic ingredients from unique spices to cooking techniques, I am not sure I will be able to replicate. But I can give it a shot. In the mean time, I’ll dream of a vaca in an exotic land.

watermelon

When the weather heats up, what better way to cool off than to enjoy a little cool, sweet watermelon. I can’t imagine summer without the luscious flavor of watermelon. The dog days of summer are here. It’s terribly hot outside. Too hot to do much of anything outside …a perfect time to stretch my culinary knowledge.

Here’s the skinny on watermelon- a delish summer treat: 92% water, mild diuretic, great source of vitamin C. Entire melon is edible, though most Americans only eat the pretty pink part…except in the south where we sometimes pickle the rind (perhaps I’ll try this one day). Have you ever noticed how we southerners will pickle anything? I digress. In Asia, they use the rind in stir-frys . Also notable, the green fleshy part between the skin and the pink is very high in nutrients, though we usually don’t eat this part because of the strange flavor.

I bought a huge watermelon at the market today and  needed to find a fantastic recipe that would highlight this summer treat. Bingo- Watermelon Pork Tacos in Lettuce Wraps. The ingredient list was long and full of asian delights that I have never cooked with: oyster sauce, toasted sesame oil and rice vinegar. A perfect way to stretch my culinary vocabulary.

The prep time was a bit lengthy…chopping, dicing and peeling, but pair the prep with a summer cocktail and some fun toons and the work seems quite minimal. In addition to the toasted sesame oil and the oyster sauce (yes this is a sauce made by an oyster reduction- very rich), the pork marinade had garlic, ginger, serrano chiles, onion powder, red pepper flakes, and soy sauce. The result was a fantastic asian flavor. The salsa included watermelon, cucumbers, an avocado, olive oil, soy sauce, rice vinegar and toasted sesame oil. TASTY. Tangy and sweet.

Though the prep was a bit lengthy, the actual cook time was quite quick. The pork was sliced into medallions and quickly grilled. After grilling, I diced the pork and created a do it yourself buffet to fill the lettuce wraps with this delish combination of pork and watermelon. I can’t even believe how much the wraps tasted like PF Changs….but more fresh and actually much better. A wonderful way to combine Asian, Mexican and American flavors and a nice, light summer dish to be enjoyed in a casual setting with a good beer and great friends.

Just add a little ginger

Though I love the flavor of ginger, I have never cooked with fresh ginger. In my attempts to encourage C to join me on my asian adventure, I am trying to cook a few asian dishes. Tonight, Ina Gartner’s Indonesian Ginger Chicken. The recipe called for 1/2 cup of shredded ginger. Off to the grocery store I go. C’s been traveling for over a week so I have big plans to welcome him home with a fab dinner.

Of course I know what ginger root looks like…sort of like a flat potato with arms and legs. I pick out a rather small piece with about 6 small arms and legs. I didn’t want to purchase too much. Ginger is rather expensive. So I got home and  began attempting to peel the little root. In all of the cooking that I have done and all of the reading I have done…no one ever told me to avoid ginger roots with arms and legs. So I am here today to tell you- avoid the arms and legs. They are a waste. They can’t be peeled and they break off easily. So I was down to the body and barely had a quarter cup. So I halved the recipe…which was fine because I was only cooking 1/2 the amount of chicken.

I forgot to add, I was preparing this the night before so we could just pop in the oven and presto dinner for two! Because I wouldn’t get home until late, I sent C EXPLICIT directions on how to cook this. It did involve changing the oven temperature and REMOVING the tinfoil covering. So when I got home, he said it would be ready in about 20 minutes. Perfect.

The photos on the website looked like chicken with a rich, thick sauce. Tangy from the soy sauce, sweet from the honey and a bit of zing from the ginger. The reviewers on the website RAVED about this delicious easy chicken. I just knew this would be a home run- a new go to recipe for busy nights. So you can imagine my surprise when out of the oven comes shriveled up chicken in a watery sauce. This was not what I expected. I even bought free range chicken for the occasion. I realized as C. was removing the tinfoil….a mistake had been made. He assured me he followed my instructions…but I knew something was amiss. This was not what the Barefoot Contessa would ever serve to Paul.

You’ve figured out the mistake I am sure….C was so happy to be home…he forgot to remove the tinfoil. So…. although  the Indonesian flavor was exoctic, it lacked that thick, rich sauce that was supposed to make it WOW.

I’ll try this one again. On a day when I can control the oven.

feel the rhythm

Sometimes I close my eyes and can feel the African air and see the beautiful African skies from my 1996 visit. You’ve never seen the stars shine so brightly as they do in the African sky. No bright city lights for miles to dilute the glittering stars.

Of course I would be remiss not to tell you about the African”shopping”- no it’s not an oxymoron. With $100 cash in hand, I was a millionaire at the African markets. These artisans would work for months to carve a giraffe statue or beautiful drum. They felt like millionaires as well when the American girl would purchase their goods for a year’s worth of money. Even the highest paid of the villagers made as little as a $1 a day. They followed us around from artisan to artisan trying to get us to buy their goods. Not quite the same treatment I get here in the states!

I am still not sure how I managed to get all of the STUFF back here to the states. I consider the purchase of a beautiful carved impression of Rodin’s The Thinker my first purchase of original art. I also managed to drag home a couple of African drums. I know I gave one to a friend who enjoyed African drums while living in Paris and I think I may have lost the other.

Recently I noticed a sign promoting an African Drum Circle at my yoga studio. A taste of my beloved Africa right here in Gville. The only problem…I am not very rhythmic! But what the hey…why not give it a shot. I showed up wearing a cute little pink skirt and a red shirt that said “love”. Love- perfect theme for an African Drum Circle. The drum circles are all about equality and community. Typically, people gather to drum in drum “circles” with others from the surrounding community. The drum circle offers equality because there is no hierarchy. It includes people of all ages. Grateful Dead drummer, Mickey Hart described the circle, “The main objective is to share rhythm and get in tune with each other and themselves. To form a group consciousness. To entrain and resonate. By entrainment, I mean that a new voice, a collective voice, emerges from the group as they drum together.”

This drum circle was made of a very diverse group of folks, young and old- some who have played for years and some who were newbies like me. I don’t know what I expected…but it was defintely not the group I expected. Billy the teacher was full of energy and clearly quite passionate. He told us that as we learn the rhythm, we’ll find that rather than us playing the drum, the drum would play us. Interesting. I definitely didn’t get to that point. 1-2-3-4, 1-2-3-4, I’ve got rhythm! I counted the whole time trying to keep up. I really wanted to watch the others in the class but every time I looked away from my drum, I totally lost the rhythm. The first 30 minutes were super fun. Then the beats got a little harder and my brain began to fatigue. It takes incredible concentration. By the end, I think I was just banging at will rather than following the group. But I loved the feeling of the rhythm and the vibe of the music.

I think it would be so much fun to know the beats. But I am not sure I have the energy or ability to go that far (note- my childhood piano teacher told my mom that she was wasting money bc I have NO musical talent!). I can definitely see how the drum would play you- like becoming one with the rhythm. I’ll spare C the experience of having to endure my drum practice!