Posted by: Rachel | October 11, 2015

walk with me

I went to visit my cousins in New York last weekend. We were all kinds of ready for Joachim, but New York got lucky this time. My heart goes out to those folks who got hit, though – having been in New York for Sandy, well…

We did get some good rain and winds, but that didn’t stop us from going out and splashing around. I think this gives you an idea of how New Yorkers prepare for a hurricane:

sandwich board listing hurricane essentials: pastries etc

works for me!

I love all the little sandwich boards outside the restaurants and cafés. Some are funny:


Some more passionate:


One thing is certain: New York is never boring! The sights may be familiar:



or totally unfamiliar:


Either way, it is a great city and I had a blast! You just never know what to expect:

Really? Hmmmm...

Really? Hmmmm…


Again, really? Wish they'd been open...

Again, really? Wish they’d been open…

It was a wonderful weekend. Walked my feet off and loved every minute of it! I could go on and on but if a picture is really worth a thousand words, this post is far too long already. So, until next time,


Posted by: Rachel | September 13, 2015

stupid easy chia “pudding”

Honestly, this is so easy that I’m embarrassed to tell you about it. The upside, of course, is that is it also “customizable”, so you can do pretty much anything you like with it.

All you need is a bit of time. Oh, and chia seeds.

Yup, those seeds that were once relegated to being spread on unglazed ceramics and sprouted as “pets” have now been rediscovered as a new “superfood”. Good and good for you, they are sprouting up (forgive me) in salads, as a yogurt topping, in smoothies, in breads and muffins, and most anywhere else you can imagine.

I like them as a “pudding”.

It couldn’t be simpler. There are lots of “fancy” chia seed pudding recipes out there, but all you need is this:

stupid easy chia pudding
1/3 cup chia seeds
1-1/4 cup milk*
(sweetener if desired)

Combine in a tightly sealed container, shake to mix. Refrigerate for an hour or so, shake again. Chill for at least 4 hours, stir well and enjoy.

I mean, honestly, could it be any easier?

Oh, that asterisk above? Well, I like to make mine with chocolate milk (hence no need for additional sweetener). You can use soy or coconut milk, almond milk, rice milk, or good old-fashioned cow’s milk; whatever floats your boat really.

You can add spices, chopped dried fruit (apricots are good with chocolate I think, or raisins or currents with white milk). Or maybe add shredded coconut, or even tiny chocolate chips. Have fun with your food!

You could certainly add almost any flavored extract you like; a teaspoon of good vanilla makes chocolate taste more like chocolate! Mmmm…

I will warn you that it is a bit mucilaginous. I don’t mind this, but some of you might. I like that the seeds retain a crunch at their hearts, and the overall texture is just fine my me. It isn’t like tapioca (which I also like) but if you are not a pudding fan, well go ahead and put ’em in your salad!

This is almost too easy to qualify as a “fun to do with kids” recipe, but deciding about additions or just shaking the container could certainly be a “shared activity”.

That’s about it. If you try it let us know what you made and added… I think I’ll go have some right now! Mmmmm…

Posted by: Rachel | August 16, 2015

cobbled together

I had this at a friend’s house and begged the recipe. It is about the easiest thing you can imagine, versatile, and really yummy. You can even pretend it is good for you – it is mostly fruit after all!

I have so far only made a blueberry and a blueberry/banana version. I don’t see any reason not to make peach, or mixed berry version, or to add a few chopped nuts, or… I’m not sure about an apple or pear version, but I’m willing (just for the sake of research, you understand) to try.

This is a good “make-ahead”, makes fine left-overs (fat chance of *that*), is dandy warm or cold, can be served with ice cream or whipped cream (or clotted cream if you are in Devon…), travels well, and (in my opinion anyway) is a fine breakfast too. Mmmm….

The trick, if there even is one, is that you put the butter in the baking dish then put the dish in the oven while you preheat it. This melts the butter and preheats the pan sort of like the popover theory. Are you still with me?

Oh, and I made a very passable gluten-free version using a prepackaged gluten-free biscuit mix. I cut back on the sugar and the baking powder for that version as it was already in the mix, and I think it worked quite nicely!

Anyway, here’s the original as it was given to me with my (you know I can rarely let anything alone, right?) tweaks following. Let us know what *you* do with it, ok? Mmmmm… endless possibilities!

A Very Berry Cobbler

can't wait...

can’t wait…

1/2 cup (one stick) butter

1 cup flour
1 cup sugar
1 Tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt

1 cup milk

4 cups berries

1/2 cup brown sugar

Heat oven to 350F.

Put 1/2 C (1 stick) butter in a large 9×13 glass pan and put in the oven to melt.

Mix the flour, white sugar, baking powder and salt. Add the milk and stir until smooth. Pour this into the melted butter but do *not* stir in.

Lay the fruit on top. Sprinkle with the brown sugar.

Bake for 45 minutes. It is done when the top is brown and the fruit is bubbly.

worth the wait!

worth the wait!

I cut the sugar to 3/4 cup for my version (1/2 cup for the GF version as the mix was slightly sweet already). I also added about 1 Tbsp of finely ground “mulling” spices (cinnamon, cloves, dried orange rind, allspice…) to wake everything up a bit. Other than that I left well enough alone. If I get peaches next spring like I did this year I know what I’m doing with the ones I don’t just eat over the sink! Mmmmm…

Again, let us know if you try it and what fruit combos you enjoy! Ciao!

Posted by: Rachel | July 19, 2015

the tree is still there…

I don’t think it is cheating to publish a piece I wrote for my writer’s group, do you? Especially if it is “food-relevant”. So, here is what I wrote for this month. Our prompt (we take turns coming up with them) was “The tree. The tree is still there.”

I had an idea, but as I researched I discovered some information that upset me. I incorporated it in this story, and have no idea why I didn’t know about this earlier! Oh good heavens…
The tree. The tree is still there.

Ladies and gentlemen of the planning commission, thank you for your time. I am here to ask, no, to beg your attention.

My great-great-grandfather Vincenzo, whose name I carry, planted the trees in question. At that time our family owned a few hectares of soil, poor as it was and riddled with limestone. Family history says he chose the spot because the view of the sea. My great-great-grandmother came from north of here. She had blue eyes, blue as the sea, and he loved her and loved the sea, or so the story goes.

Even though he knew he’d not live to see any yield from them, in addition to fig trees, he planted the flatter part of his land, my land, in olive saplings and of course planted grape vines on the slopes. Always had an eye to the future, he did.

If we were nobles, our family motto would certainly be “Oggi Fichi, Olive Domani”. That was my great-great-grandfather. “Figs for today, olives for tomorrow”, and he somehow kept the family’s land safe and added a few more hectares when he could. No one knows just how he got the money for the land, but sometimes it is better not to ask too many questions, si?

He lived there happily and he and my great-great-grandmother raised the 9 children that survived childbirth and infancy. They had a few goats, and they fished just off the point below the small round white stone “trullo” house that my great-great-grandfather built of stacked stones. They gathered whelks and sea urchins at low tide, and by all accounts they were happy.

trullo house

trullo turned masseria

My great-grandfather was their eldest son, and the land went to him.

My great-grandfather lived quietly, married a local girl, and, as family history tells us, started building the farm house that stands on the land today. Of course, he kept the smaller round “trullo” house as well, and salvaged a few of the stones from it for the great fireplace in the kitchen of the new masseria.

It was backbreaking work, pulling stones from the fields to build the house and walls, but he had a lot of determination and all those trees to protect, and he had his 6 boys and 2 girls to help him.

That was well over a hundred years ago. As you can imagine, the remaining trees and vines have seen some changes to the land around here. The trees that are still standing have survived freezes, torrential rains, and two great wars. I know that you may think that the Great War was fought far north of here in the mountains above the Veneto, but my family survived the British blockade and we managed to stay even when there was seemingly nothing to eat because of the sea.

The Second War ravaged parts of our countryside, but the sea provided for us again, and the trees stood.

This land has seen changes in government, the great unification, and most recently our entry into the EU. What was once a quiet farm and olive grove outside a simple village is now being reinvented as a hotel; now it is a masseria for tourists. If my trees could talk…

healthy happy harvest 2013

healthy happy harvest 2013

But my point is this: we are currently faced with the greatest danger to our countryside that we have faced so far. No one wants to talk about it for fear of bringing it here perhaps, but we must arm ourselves as far as possible against this scourge.

It may not look like much, but the trees just south of here are quietly dying from this pestilential plague. It is an outbreak, carried by some tiny insects that chew the leaves and poison the trees. The government seems faintly interested, but we must act locally to stop this at our border. Never mind unification, we must act independently since no one will help us.

This bacteria, for I understand that is what it is, chokes the trees of water and kills them. Irrigation does nothing; this bacteria simply robs the trees of life. The government’s idea at the moment seems to be to try to create a line of demarkation between our trees and those to the south, but I don’t trust the government.

I trust you, Guiseppe, and you, Paulo, and you, Cesare and the rest of you because I know you. Our families have all lived here for generations, we are all members of the same olio cooperativo, and we all rely on our trees for both our livelihood and for the shade and beauty.

Let us work together with the local agriturismo folks and the big brains up at the University to find either a cure or at least a way to stop this plague. For now, the trees stand, but for how much longer? Thank you.

You can read a New York Times article here,
an article from the Daily Mail here.

So, friends, there you have it. It hurts my heart and I cannot believe I am so late in coming to hear of this. If I hear more I will update you, and if you know any more than I do about this please, please, share with us, OK? Until next time, then…

Posted by: Rachel | June 24, 2015

a verdant season

I haven’t been blogging recently because:
I needed to work in my yard
I needed to mow the lawn (again)
It was too rainy
It was too hot
I was busy with friends/family/work

Well, I guess I’m out of excuses.

Honestly, I’ve just not been in the mood. When friends ask what I’ve been doing I answer “mostly not blogging”. I really have been busy, though, and my “yard work” excuses are certainly true! I don’t remember ever being this close to July and seeing such a green, lush, world here in central Texas.

We’ve had rain.

That’s a bit of an understatement, actually. We’ve had Texas style all-or-nuthin’ downpours that caused some serious flooding in the area. I came through fine, others were not so lucky.

But I’m not here to talk about weather-related chaos and destruction, I’m here to give us a taste of some of what I’ve been eating and enjoying these past few weeks. Yes, *us* – I’m hoping to get myself geared up and excited about blogging again as well. So.

The big news is that I discovered that Austin has a Burmese grocery. Yup! When I was in California a few months ago my friends took me out for Burmese. Mmm… “Order whatever you like”, they told me, “we are having tea salad”. Really?

Oh yes. Tea salad, a mixture of greens, tomatoes, crunchy bits including fried garlic slices, peanuts, and sesame seeds, and a dollop of what looks like slightly oxidized pesto. That’s the “tea” part. Oh mmmmmmm!

This “dressing” tastes a bit like a mild spinach pesto with a slightly tannic aftertaste of black tea. I can’t really describe it any better than that but it sure is good! I have been reading up on it and several sites claim that you can make your own if you don’t have a Burmese grocery or restaurant to hand. I haven’t tried this yet, but I promise I will and I’ll report my findings. In the mean time, I’m buying mine here:

Burmese grocery

9010 N IH-35 and worth the drive!

It comes in two sizes. I bought the smaller (well, several of them actually) as I wasn’t sure how it would keep once open. And happily each container comes with a small bag of the crunchy bits as well. Here’s all it takes:

Homestyle Tea Salad
(for 3 or 4)

several leaves of Romaine or other sturdy lettuce
a few nice flavorful tomatoes
a small bunch of fresh herbs (cilantro and mint is nice)
a dollop of “tea salad dressing”
a bit of the crunchy bits

Mix all, add a bit more of the crunchy bits on top, and enjoy.

salad with dressing on side


finished salad

see the little “crunchy bits”?


Now here’s that part I bet they didn’t intend. I mean, it is a salad dressing, right? Well, yes it is, but I also have been putting a spoonful in my lunch-time smoothies. The dressing by itself it slight salty, sort of green-tasting, and I think it is a lovely compliment to a fruit and veg smoothie. And, (of course, this might be just my imagination) it seems to give me a bit of a mid-afternoon boost. Caffeine? Maybe…

In any event, eat it, drink it, enjoy it! I will try making my own “dressing” and I’ll let you know if I can get close! Meantime, I hope to see y’all sooner rather than later. I will try to stay in touch better, I promise! Hope you are all having a fine start to summer… until next!

Posted by: Rachel | May 22, 2015


Remember these?

small unripe peaches

peachy keen!

This year I got lucky despite the birds and the critters, and they became these!

beautiful ripe peaches

juicy and delicious

Which then became this:

peaches cooking

pot full o’ peaches!

And finally is now in the freezer in small containers to enjoy much, much later. Mmmmm…

Peach “Sauce”

1 tbsp butter
5-8 pounds of fresh, ripe, rain-kissed peaches
juice of one large lemon
brown sugar
Armenian 7-spice

Put the butter in a deep heavy Dutch oven. Set over low heat. Cut the peaches off the stone. No need to peel. Cut away any nasty bits (hey, we don’t spray!). Add to the pot. Add the lemon juice. Add a few tbsp of brown sugar and a few tbsp of Armenian 7-spice (or a mixture of cinnamon, cloves, cumin, coriander, and nutmeg, with a smaller bit of black pepper and cardamon, all finely ground and well-mixed). Keep the heat low and let the peaches sort of melt into a sauce. Mmmmm… Barely simmer for a half hour, add more brown sugar if desired. Chill or freeze if you have enough.
You can put this on ice cream, in smoothies, over biscuits, in oatmeal, or pretty much just eat it as is! Mmmm… tastes like summer! And oh, did my house smell wonderful! Enjoy…

Posted by: Rachel | April 26, 2015

how does your garden grow?

How about a quick walk around my yard with me this morning? We’ve had some rain (still not enough, but we’ll take it!), and while I can barely keep up with the mowing, I love this time of year. Green makes me happy, especially since I know by now that in a few months all this will be brown and crunchy…

Here’s some of what I saw this morning.

I love this water iris. I think it is elegant and beautiful, and it smells lovely if faint. No idea of the variety – anyone know?

water iris blooming in washtub pond

happy water iris

I’m amazed that the cedar waxwings, those handsome feathered robbers, left me any mulberries. There was quite a flock in a neighboring tree a few days ago and I figured the whole mulberry tree would be stripped, but lookee here! Mmmm!


mmm – mulberries!

Never got a peach last year – some critter stripped the tree a few days before I thought the peaches were going to be ripe enough to pick. Maybe this year will be different… toujours optimiste!

small unripe peaches

peachy keen!

My pomegranate “tree” decided to lay down during a huge storm a few years ago. It didn’t uproot or break, it just sort of sighed and yielded. Last year was sort of a “rebuilding” year, but this year there are lots of blossoms. We’ll see!

pomegranate flowers

patience, patience…

If you know me then you know that much of my “garden” was planted for me by the birds. That includes these loquat trees. The fruit will be ripe in a just a few days. The fruits are soft, sweet, juicy, and the birds and I love ’em. They get the high ones and I take the low ones – it all works out. And yes, I know this is not a native plant, I’m not a native here either – shhhh ;-)

loquat tree with fruit

not just for the birds!

I’m looking forward to the possibility of figs, I’ve planted a few more herbs, my nasturtiums are up, and, for the moment, my rain barrels are full. Life is good!

How is your garden this season? Let us know, ok? I have to go dream of peach cobbler now… it could happen!

Posted by: Rachel | April 8, 2015

halve your cake and eat it, too

Yes, that’s what I mean.

At a recent gathering, a friend showed up with this beauty of a cake presented on a stunning cake stand. It was (almost, mind you) too pretty to eat. I begged the recipe, and although I haven’t actually baked it myself (we’re still eating it!) I had to share. Mmmm…

I know she made hers with a GF flour mix. She said she used an AP GF mix and substituted it exactly measure for measure. The finished product was moist, tender, and tasty. Put me in mind of a well-spiced pear Tatin. I say again, mmmm…

This makes a large cake with a beautiful presentation. I mean, this makes a very large cake. We were seven and still had more than half of it left, not for lack of trying to finish it! I’m here to tell you it was just dandy the next morning with coffee. Mmm…

Here’s the recipe as it was given to me. If you want to make a GF version, substitute as above. Invite friends over and enjoy – and if they are good friends and you are a generous person, share the leftovers as well! Mmm…

Pear Upside-Down Spice Cake

finished cake

finished cake – good enough to eat!

Makes one 10-inch round cake, about 12 servings

For the topping:
4 tbsp (½ stick; 2 oz) unsalted butter
½ cup packed light brown sugar
¼ cup honey
2 to 3 large ripe but firm Bosc pears, peeled, cored, and sliced vertically into 1/2-inch thick slices
1 cup walnut halves and pieces, lightly toasted

For the cake:
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 ½ tsp ground cardamom
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
½ cup sour cream, at room temperature
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
8 tbsp (1 stick; 4 oz) unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup honey
2 large eggs, at room temperature

Make the topping:
Center the oven rack and preheat the oven to 350F before you start making the topping.

In a well seasoned 10-inch cast iron skillet, melt the butter over moderate heat. Swirl the skillet to coat the bottom and the sides with melted butter. Add the brown sugar and honey and simmer, stirring, until most of the sugar is melted, about 2 minutes. Take off the heat. Arrange the pear slices decoratively in concentric circles over the melted sugar. Sprinkle the walnuts between and over the pear slices. Set aside while making the cake batter.

Make the cake:
Whisk the flour, cardamom, baking soda, and salt in a bowl. Set aside.

In another bowl whisk to combine the sour cream and vanilla extract. Set aside.

In a large bowl, beat the butter with an electric mixer for a few seconds, until creamy. Gradually add the sugar and beat until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Beat in the honey and continue mixing for another 2 or 3 minutes. With the mixer on medium speed, add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Reduce the speed to low and add the dry ingredients in three additions alternating with the sour cream, starting and ending with the dry ingredients. Scrape the bowl as necessary, and beat only enough to incorporate the ingredients after each addition.

Spoon the batter in dollops over the pear slices in the skillet. Spread the batter evenly without disturbing the pears, and bake the cake until nicely browned and a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean, for about 40 to 45 minutes. Cool the cake in the skillet on a rack for 15 minutes.

Run a thin knife or offset spatula around the edge of the skillet and invert a large serving plate over the skillet. Wearing the oven mittens and keeping the plate and skillet firmly pressed together, invert the cake onto the plate. Carefully remove the skillet and let the cake cool on the plate on the rack. Serve the cake warm or at room temperature with whipped cream or ice cream.

Lots of work, but well worth it – especially since, in this instance, you can halve your cake and eat it too!

Posted by: Rachel | March 22, 2015

just add water!

Today, March 22, is World Water Day. A seemingly innocuous holiday, but water, well, water (and lack thereof) as a concept is mind boggling.

I turn on my tap and, while I try not to waste it, I assume I will get fresh clean safe potable water. I mean, here in central Texas the “cold” water is pretty tepid towards the end of summer and sometimes it does taste a tad muddy, but I trust it. Why wouldn’t I?

I use it for bathing, cooking, drinking, watering my plants (which I then wash in it and eat, again trusting) and I (even though I am cognizant of our current drought situation) don’t give it much thought. Good heavens!

I try to drink a good amount every day, I keep a fresh bottle (refillable, not store-bought, thank you) in my car, I take it kayaking (never mind the water I’m kayaking *on*!); here in Texas I joke (sort of) about not going out to see if the mail has come without a water bottle!

And of course I replenish my fish tanks…

It is the base for many of my soups, I must have it to make bread, we simply cannot exist without drinkable water. OK, you know all this, as do I but how often do you think about it? This isn’t a rant of any sort, I just want to say thanks for our water and I will try to pay even more attention now.

To fete the day, here’s an easy yummy healthy water-based soup for you. Remember that smoked turkey wing I used a few posts ago? I got another one this week and here’s what I did. Mmmmm and slurp:

Turkeylicious Kale and White Bean Soup

olive oil
1 medium onion, peeled and chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
1 smoked turkey wing
1 good bunch of kale, rough chopped
2 cans white beans, drained and rinsed
salt and pepper

Add olive oil to a deep heavy Dutch oven. Sauté the onion and garlic over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until soft but not browned. Add the turkey wing, kale and beans. Add water about half-way up (the kale will wilt down). Once the kale has wilted add more water to barely cover if needed. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, cover and simmer for about 2 hours. Remove the turkey wing, cool and remove all the meat from the bones. Return the meat to the pot and stir well to mix everything. Salt and pepper to taste but remember, this will be more flavorful (and saltier) tomorrow. Mmmm…

before adding water

from this

finished soup

to this!

Just add water…!

Posted by: Rachel | March 4, 2015

well, that was fun!

There is a company here in town that offers cooking classes. Oh yawn, you may say, but wait! They are offering classes in French, Spanish, and Chinese cooking, but taught in French, Spanish, and Chinese! Yup! They focus on the food and the culture of the countries represented and I think it is a great idea!

They have been around for 4 years or so, and how I missed them until now I cannot tell you. However, I got a coupon deal for a class and went last night. What fun!

There were six students, our “prof/chef”, and one other person from Cooking Up Cultures. It was a two-hour class and we managed to make all the components of a croquembouche! I’ve seen them do this on TV, and was amazed and delighted with how we were whisked (no pun intended) through the various steps involved.

I’m not going to try to tell you everything we did. And I very much doubt that I will ever undertake making one of these at home, but I had a blast. It takes quite a bit of planning and work. Basically you make a pâte à choux (puff pastry) which you bake as tiny balls, a crème pâtissière (pastry cream) for the filling, and then caramel for the “glue”. Whew! Mmmmmmmm!

Granted, our final product looked more like a Soviet housing block than an elegant representational Christmas tree… but it sure was tasty and no one was harmed by flying caramel, so I think the evening was a great success!

My friends and I had no trouble following the flow of French directions, but then I went with two good friends who are both fine French-speakers and seasoned (so to speak) cooks in their own rights. I hope to get to take another class through this group. Now if I only spoke Chinese… hmmm…

Here’s what some of the activity looked like.

madly making the pâte à choux

madly making the pâte à choux

whipping the pastry cream

whip that cream

pastry balls in the oven


filling the balls with pastry cream

stuff ’em

stacking and "glueing" the balls

stack ’em

Have you taken any cooking classes? What did you make? How did you enjoy it? I always learn something new, and last night was no exception!

Until next time, a bientôt et bon appetit!

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