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.


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!

Bali Bound

There is a pending southeast asia trip on the horizon. I have been diligently working to convince C to join me on the adventure and to take a few extra days to go somewhere really exotic. This was not in the plans for 2010 and C only follows what is planned. He is very calculated and meticulous in all that he does. Oh and thank God….because I’d be a mess without him. I am not nearly as good at planning and am NOT disciplined at all at saving. So we have this house renovation going on and he is so afraid that we will blow the budget. Every penny is counted and no extra is being spent.

Besides me….there is nothing C loves more than a tropical vaca and a beach bar with cold beer and good tunes (. So, on my quest to convince him that we need to take this little adventure, I have been doing research on where we can go and how much it will cost. Bali. Ah Bali….this seems to be my ticket to adventure. Great beaches, good snorking, a Hilton property (Conrad) and CHEAP. The hardest part of this is getting him to Asia…once there, it’s a no brainer.

So if I have learned one thing in my short 4 years of marriage…there is one way to build the case…through his stomach. C is out of town so I thought it would be a good opportunity to try my hand at cooking up a little Asian/Malaysian/Indonesian dish. I am not really sure how all of the different cuisines are categorized. They seem to run together. I spent the afternoon searching for the perfect recipe. The challenge I found was that most ingredients from the true ethnic sites couldn’t be found in Gville without serious work. But I managed to find a great menu for evening. I invited my friend T over to try it out with me. She doesn’t really cook, so I knew I couldn’t rely on her for guidance, but I knew she would keep me entertained with some good girl talk while I navigated the recipes.

I prepared a Malaysian lime-coconut mahi and coconut rice with mangoes and pistachios. YUMMY – says T! The fish was broiled with the lime coconut sauce- coconut milk, cilantro, lemon grass, fish sauce, brown sugar, lime juice, Thai chili paste, shallots and of course garlic. The sauce was sweet and spicy all al the same time, but when I make it for C I will lessen the fish sauce portion. It was a bit too strong. Quite easy to make. Just combine all of the ingredients in a food processor, pour over the fish, broil and presto- an exotic, light summer dish. The rice was outstanding. I used salt and pepper pistachios (the kind they sell at Costco). They were a perfect juxtaposition to the sweet coconut rice and mango.  To add a little color to the plate, I accompanied the fare with sliced fresh tomatoes and avocado. WOWsers. I felt like a little piece of Bali made its way to my kitchen. Oh and I almost forgot the best accutrement…a fantastic bottle of prosecco. Nothing says vaca better than a little bubbly.

Cheers to a fun night with a great friend!

The She She Shopping Devil Strikes Again

Sometimes it’s just a little thing that can perk up your day and add a little skip to your step. Right? It was only a four day work week for me…but by friday, I was about to die. I guess it comes from the pain of catching up after taking a week off. So Friday morning rolled around and I stared into my closet feeling as though I had nothing to wear. Of course there were plenty of things to wear. You know my closet rolleth over.

photo from oldnavy.com

While on vaca, I ran into Old Navy. I told myself weeks before as I hauled all of those bags of perfectly fine clothes to Goodwill that I would not buy any more clothes…especially cheap one season Old Navy goods. But there I was tempted beyond control. The devil on my shoulder saying, “AG- It’s only $24 just buy it…you are on vaca and it’s cute.” Overcome by the little she she shopping devil, I bought a bathing suit, two scarves and a dress (total $64). It’s not like I was breaking the bank. That was a great deal for all of those goods. It’s more of a principal thing. Why of why was I purchasing things that would need to go to Good Will in a year (or 6 months)?

After trying on the pieces in the comfort of my own home and mirror (well my in laws home…but you know what I mean), I decided to regain my strength and return all but the $4 scarf which was needed to wear with a dress to a wedding to cover my shoulders in the church (all good southern girls know to cover their shoulders in church). Back in the bag they went- the cute little dress, the fab mint green scarg with crochet detailing and the chic little black bikini.

But alas…the bag sat for a week and the she she shopping devil kept telling me to just keep everything that it wasn’t worth it to return. And on Friday, in my exhausted state, I gave in. I pulled the cute little oxford shirt dress out of the bag, carefully pressed it and put it on. Afterall, I did “need” a little pick me up to make it through this dreadful work week. No remorse. I paired it with a pair of cute red cork wedge heels and some pearls and I was off for another day in the working world. And yes, I felt special. Just a cheap little dress made me feel like I had a new perspective on the day- a little spring in my step.

No regrets here. I’ll skip lunch out a couple of days and the dress will be paid for. And first thing Friday morning, I received a few complements. Mission accomplished. Let me just say, that this little dress is so cute and comfortable. Its light weight, loose fit with cute little ruffle cap sleeves are a perfect combo for the summer heat. Sometimes a little something new can change your whole perspective. But please, oh please, make that little she she shopping devil go away.

Fast Food Nation

Fast food is the dark side of America. I liken it to the fat cousin on your husband’s side of the family- the gross obnoxious one. Americans are gross. Obese.One third of all Americans are obese (www.cdc.gov). We are grossly ignorant to the beauty of fresh food. It’s tragic.

But…who doesn’t love a good ol’ McDonald’s cheeseburger. I admit it. I do. It’s true…a happy meal does indeed make you happy! But only once or twice a year. Fast food really is vulgar and disgusting.

But today…after a night with my new drink of choice, vodka soda, we had a four hour drive back to Gville and had to stop for a quick lunch on the road. Our choice…Bojangles. I tried to be as healthy as possible and tried the new Cajun, roasted chicken bites. They were really spicy and too too salty. The meat was kind of rubbery as well but what did I expect? I can’t find the nutritional value so I have no idea how bad for me these little bites were. I’d probably get them again if they were a healthy alternative…but if not…I’ll go for a good ol cajun fried chicken breast.

Bojangles has the BEST Cajun fries…but unfortunately I couldn’t partake. Ya see, I only eat french fries once a month – on the 14th of every month. And it was only the 11th.

Alas…I did steal one from C. Everything in moderation my friends.

Peppadew from Limpopo

Have you ever heard of a peppadew? Say it out loud. It’s kinda fun…like the word commingle. So what is a peppadew you say? It’s a little red pepper about the size of a cherry tomato. It has a spicy sweet taste…kinda like the southern delicatessan green pepper jelly. Interestingly enough it was first discovered in 1993 and is grown in the Limpopo Region of South Africa (K- think Digby could send us a few?). I’m not sure I came acorss these when I was there in 1997…too bust sampling the beer and wine.

Where am I going with this…today we enjoyed a leisure lunch over a bottle of proseco at Litchfield Beach at one of my favorite spots- Perrone’s (http://perronesmarket.com/). They have an interesting deli selection and some great art work. I love to see what new things they have. On my quest to try something new, I discovered a goat cheese with  spread. I spoke with the chef to learn a little about the little peppadew. She graciously shared a peppadew with me and my friends. It was fantastic. I must find these little darlings. I can envision using them on kabobs, in salads, on pizza…they are delicious and very attractive. The goat cheese spread was good…though we all agreed that it would have been better with more peppadews.

Singapore Here We Come

Have you ever thought about what your perfect day would look like? For me, a leisure morning with the Today show followed by a hot yoga class. Then a nice lunch at the club and a little afternoon shopping including a trip to Barnes and Noble. And this was my day today.

Just a few weeks ago, I couldn’t have even begun to tell you about Singapore. I shouldn’t admit it, but I probably couldn’t show you where it was on a map…other than pointing to Asia. But….C. and I are headed to Singapore in October so today I purchased a NEW book on Singapore to learn about our destination. Looks like a culinary dream…a melting pot of cultures. And as an aside, I was so surprised to learn that english is the primary language spoken and is the language used in schools. Also…it is NOT illegal to chew gum as many claim, but is illegal to bring it into the country and sell it.

Segways in the City

Life is definitely about perspective. Yesterday I reflected on how different Washington, DC seemed based on my own life perspective- as a teen, as a young adult and as a 30ish career girl. So to continue with this basic theme, I decided to take a look at the city from yet another perspective…from the wheels of a segway!

After several days of conference seminars, it was time to hit the city. I found a willing partner in crime and we headed out for a tour of the city. We had a great instructor who showed us the basics. Pink helmet on my head…looking very sporty, I must admit I felt a little intimidated by the two wheels vehicle. I heard all of the bad stuff that could happen if we leaned the wrong way or went too fast…Yikes. But I reminded that I had seen many many old folks touring around cities on these vehicles.

Do you remember when segways were unveiled? I remember the announcement being made on the today’s show (2001). Matt Lauer announcing to the world that these new vehicles would revolutionize the way we Americans and the world traverse to and from work, around cities, etc.  Guess that prediction was wrong. You may see a few tourists and a policeman or two cruising around on these things, but that’s about as far as this revolutionizing phenomenon goes.

Back to my adventure…I hopped on the segway and began circling our little area. Not bad. Not too hard. Actually the hardest part was getting on and off. My new friend, a Scottish gent, and I scooted all over the city, visiting all of the major monuments.  We had a BLAST. The segway tour is a MUST for any big city.

We visited the WW II memorial and the Roosevelt memorial- a first for me. When I lived in DC, the WW II memorial was quite a controversy. Many were vehmently opposed to the location, fearing it would interfere with the view from the Lincoln Memorial to the Washington Monument. I have to admit, it does interrupt the veranda…but in a fabulous way. I think the memorial is a beautiful tribute to those who served our country.

A fun adventure with a new friend. I highly recommend the segway tour!