Sunday, July 31, 2011

Good Times

Nothing beats a good burger. Or good friends. We’ve spent this week in the Adirondacks with friends from long ago. We met them through a couple who were mutual friends back when they first moved to California in 1986. I was instrumental in connecting  her with her California job, so we were off to a good start.

The six of us spent a lot of time together over the next three years before they headed back to the East Coast for career reasons. They moved around while the rest of us stayed put, but we always stayed in touch and sometimes vacationed together. Thirteen years ago, she and I discovered the lifeless body of our beloved friend who had introduced us. She had lost her battle with breast cancer.

The sudden death was traumatic to us all. We all huddled with our friend's husband and family for the next week, stunned and distraught, grieving together. We never talk about that week now. But we remember the good times.

It’s hard to believe it’s been nine years since we’ve seen such dear friends. We have certainly aged and three more of us have battled cancer. So far we are winning. This week we have enjoyed hiking in the forest, swimming in the icy waters of Lake Champlain and watching the ever-changing character of the lake from our porch. We have laughed at each other’s jokes (both good and bad), caught up on our stories and languished in comfortable silence.

For our final dinner together, they chose their favorite vacation burger joint. I chuckle to think they were worried we would not find the Bay View Diner fancy enough. We’re the ones who eat street food in third world countries. In Peru we dined on dried potatoes tossed on a blanket in the dirt when offered by an indigenous tribe in the highlands. A burger joint is pretty high class in comparison. And the burgers were top notch; served with Adirondack fries – sort of like warm potato chips. But nothing beats sharing the burgers with the people you love.  

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Summer Substitute Salad

Heirloom tomatoes symbolize summer. But this year, like all the other summer produce in Northern California, the tomatoes are late. We’ve had none of our usual Sunday lunches composed of at least six varieties of tomatoes. But on our last trip to the farmers’ market we purchased one large Purple Cherokee tomato at an exorbitant price. I just couldn’t resist.

To make up for the lack of tomatoes, I substituted our other summer favorite, Brentwood corn, and tried this recipe from the San Jose Mercury News, “Corn Ceviche.” I thought you needed fish to have ceviche, but in spite of the misnomer, it looked like a good summer vegetable dish. It doesn’t get much easier or tastier.

Corn Ceviche with Heirloom Tomatoes
(2 servings)
Adapted from Robert Sapirman, executive chef, Citrus

1 lime
2 ears corn, grilled, kernels removed from cob  
½ small red onion, minced
1 Thai bird chile, minced, including ribs and seeds
¼ cup cilantro leaves, chopped
1 Tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper
Large heirloom tomato, sliced

Grate the zest of the lime then juice the lime. Mix the lime zest and juice with the grilled corn kernels, onion, chile, cilantro and oil. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve the corn over slices of the heirloom tomato.

We are currently resting our minds and bodies lounging by Lake Champlain in the Adirondacks with dear friends. Yesterday I spent the afternoon watching the leaves dance in the wind over the water. This is a much needed break before I return to civilization to visit family, then back to begin maintenance immunotherapy and wrap up my last weeks of work.   

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Distractions Abound

Although we continue to cook and eat, I’ve been unable to focus on writing lately. The accumulation of almost 18 years of papers, emails and files need to be sorted and dispositioned as I prepare to leave my job (and maybe my career). I’m contemplating what I might do next. I have been concerned with illness and tragedy in the lives of my family and friends. And I’m faced with preparing for a whirlwind vacation from West to East where we’ll visit both family and friends, staying 8 different places in 17 days. I’m tired just thinking about it.

Last night we entertained friends for dinner. The meal was a resounding success, even though every item on the menu but one was a first time recipe. I’ll start with the dessert since that’s the only photo I took. I wanted something light for a summer evening, but decided on gelato too late to make it ourselves. We purchased limoncello gelato, but I did make these shortbread cookies. I served the gelato with a splash of Kim of Liv Life’s homemade limoncello on top, along with the cookies. One guest requested a cup of tea after the gelato and polished off most of the rest of the cookies. Need I say they were good???!!! And really easy to make, too.

Lemon-Lime Basil Shortbread Cookies
(from Bon Appetit Magazine)

1 c all-purpose flour
½ c powdered sugar, plus more for pressing cookies 
1 stick unsalted butter, chilled, cut into ½” cubes
2 Tbsp fresh basil leaves, sliced
1 tsp lemon zest, finely grated
1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
½ tsp lime zest, finely grated
¼ tsp kosher salt

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place ingredients in food processor and pulse until large, moist clumps form. Measure tablespoonfuls of dough and roll between your palms to form balls. Place on a large baking sheet, 2 inches apart. Lightly dust the bottom of a flat measuring cup with powdered sugar and press dough balls into flat 2 inch rounds. Bake until edges are brown, about 20 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool.

It was fun planning a menu for people who don't like salmon, cheese, spicy food, and can't eat nuts or fruit. These are the staples or our regular cuisine. For appetizers we had garlic shrimp, steamed artichokes and La Brea rosemary bread with a garlic wine dipping sauce accompanied by La Honda Sauvignon Blanc. The main course was skewers of grilled chicken with mint and red onions, Greek salad of tomatoes, cucumbers and Feta cheese (on the side) with tzatziki and fresh pita bread. A second bottle of sauvignon blanc was consumed; this time we chose Kendall Jackson. 

Maybe soon, life will become more normal.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Party Nibbles

Gina of SPCookieQueen invited us to her macaron-making party on Saturday. It was a LONG trek to her house, on a sweltering hot day, but well worth the trip. We had a wonderful afternoon cooking in Gina’s beautiful and spacious kitchen and she’s an excellent teacher. It was fun to meet some other local bloggers as well.

There will be more party stories later, but for now, I’ll share one of the appetizers we prepared to provide sustenance for the busy students as we tackled the macarons. This was a last minute idea after seeing a recipe in a Bon Appetit magazine. The original recipe called for a log of goat cheese, but I discovered we only had about a third of a log. We had one of our favorite cheeses on hand, Redwood Hill Farms raw goat’s milk feta, so that was grated and mixed with the original cheese. The recipe called for adding lemon peel and olive oil on top after forming the ball of cheese, but Larry wasn’t paying attention and put them into the cheese mixture. 

So instead of a firm cheese ball, it was quite soft, more like a spread. But it actually worked out quite well. We liked it so much, we made it again for our dinner guests yesterday, reducing the oil so that it would form a firmer ball, but still adding the lemon to the mixture. Both ways were a hit. So here’s our version for the spread from Saturday:

Larry’s New Lemony Cheese Spread 
Adapted from Bon Appetit Magazine

½ log soft goat cheese
Equal amount Redwood Hill Farms raw goat’s milk feta, grated
1 tsp lemon peel, finely grated
3 Tbsp  high quality extra virgin olive oil
½ tsp fresh thyme, chopped
½ tsp pink peppercorns, ground or crushed
Meyer lemon oil or syrup

Mix first four ingredients well and shape into a ball or put into a small bowl. Chill. Before serving, drizzle with Meyer lemon oil and sprinkle with thyme and peppercorns. Serve with crackers or baguette slices.

I’ve been struggling to keep up lately and have gotten behind in both reading and posting. I’m winding down my job where I’ve been for over 17 years and will be departing at the end of the summer. I need to find a new job, but I have no idea what I want to do. Maybe a complete career change. My recent post-treatment tests showed good results and I’ll now go into a phase of two years of maintenance immunotherapy – that’s good news, by the way, compared to the alternatives. Life is unsettled; change is in the air.