Friday, January 31, 2014

Happy Chinese New Year!

Happy Chinese New Year—it's the year of the horse!
The Chinese zodiac follows the lunar cycle 
so the new year begins in the new moon today.

Red Horse (top), and
Two Horses in My Village (bottom)
by Russian artist Yuri Gorbachev,
who is the nephew of  Mikhail Gorbachev,
and now lives in New York.
He is known as the Russian Rousseau.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Asian pear and cabbage salad

A neighbor gave me a few Asian pears recently, from a box given to him by one of his students. You may have seen these pears at the markets—they not the usual pear shape but nested round like an apple, and taste much different than those buttery European pears that I am more used to. They are super firm and crispy, much like a jicama, and can last for months in the fridge.

So how to honor this special pear? I sliced it up and made a colorful salad using them, along with shredded red cabbage, scallions, roasted walnuts, and a pomegranate vinaigrette. After a few bites I also added a few plops of goat cheese which was the creamy element that was missing from this photo. Delicious! Thanks Mark, for sharing!

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Color inspiration—winter whites

This sweet little plaster cherub is tucked away—almost surreptitiously—in the folds of a white linen curtain in one corner of my bathroom. I was surprised how much these beige and pink colors came out in this photograph because really, it's quite white, but the white curtains gain a rosy glow with reflections from the orange walls in the room.

To see more colors, click on the "color inspiration" label below.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Impressionists on the water

Water, water everywhere… to quote Samuel Taylor Coleridge. I finally saw the Impressions on the Water show at the Peabody Essex Museum last week. The small but stellar exhibit features impressionist paintings from throughout France that have water elements in them—lakes, rivers, inland waterways, or the sea—by renowned artists such as Monet, Renoir, Sisley, Signac and Caillebotte, as well as etching and model ships.

Of course I was utterly mesmerized by every Monet painting in the show, and in order to see every brush stroke I studied each of his paintings up close—as close as the museum guards would let me stand to them! It's always nice to learn from the masters and one cannot see those details in images from a book or on the web. The colors and brushstrokes in the painting below were sublime! One of my favorite paintings is the one you see above, the glorious yellow and orange colored “Saint-Tropez, the Red Buoy,” painted by Paul Signac.

One element of the exhibit that was particularly interesting to me was a recreation of Claude Monet's floating boat studio—complete with paint box, easel, a magnificent scenic view, and a series of computer generated paintings that were being created before my very eyes. Cool concept, and well executed. There are also beautiful boat models that were designed by Caillebotte. Boston Globe writer Sebastian Smee wrote an excellent article about the show—and really, all of his art reviews are excellent—and he raved about these boat models. You can read his article by clicking here.

So although the show wasn't huge, to me it was still worth the visit. Aren't we lucky to have these beautiful exhibits at such an esteemed, local museum? This is in our own back yard! "Impressions" runs to February 17, 2014 so you only have a few more weeks to see it. Anchors aweigh!

Sunday, January 26, 2014

The color periwinkle

Inspired by... the color periwinkle.

To see more colors, click on the "color blocks" label below.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Of bagpipes and haggis

All over the world—but most especially in Scotland—the 25th of January is Robbie Burns nightJust imagine a supper with bagpipes, poetry, haggis and scotch—and really, how bad can that be?  Surely the bard who put Scotland on the cultural map deserves this quirky annual homage, and seeing that I have a bit of Scottish blood in me, I'm all for reciting some Robert Burns poetry and swilling a wee dram of scotch whiskey—all whilst wearing a touch of tartan and cranking some bagpipe music. Click here to see the BBC Burns Night supper itinerary.

And seriously, if I could find a haggis here in the Boston area, I would try it—really I would. But just one little bite, and only if I had a chaser of something nearby... like chocolate. Scottish chocolate, of course. Ok, I'd settle for Scottish shortbread. Click here for some of Robbie Burns greatest works to read, and meanwhile, enjoy a bit of his Address to a Haggis poem.

Address To A Haggis
By Robert Burns
(First and last stanzas only)

Fair fa' your honest, sonsie face, 
Great chieftain o the puddin'-race!
Aboon them a' ye tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye worthy o' a grace
As lang's my arm.

Ye Pow'rs, wha mak mankind your care,
And dish them out their bill o fare,
Auld Scotland wants nae skinking ware
That jaups in luggies:
But, if ye wish her gratefu prayer,
Gie her a Haggis

Translation to modern English...

Fair and full is your honest, jolly face,
Great chieftain of the sausage race!
Above them all you take your place,
Stomach, tripe, or intestines:
Well are you worthy of a grace
As long as my arm.

You powers, who make mankind your care,
And dish them out their bill of fare,
Old Scotland wants no watery stuff,
That splashes in small wooden dishes;
But if you wish her grateful prayer, 
Give her [Scotland] a Haggis!

And speaking of Haggis, I actually own this darling little book called The Haggis written by the wonderful Clarissa Dickson Wright. What can I say?… it was a stocking stuffer one year from Santa! You may know Clarissa as one of the two motorcycle-riding babes on the BBC's Two Fat Ladies show. Clarissa is very knowledgeable about the history of Brisish Isles cookery, and this little gem of a book is filled with all sorts of riveting information about the history of the haggis. 

Friday, January 24, 2014

Bowl of red

Cold temps call for a bowl of hot chili! In New Mexico you order your chili by the color, by asking for either 'a bowl of red' or 'a bowl of green.' The former is more spicy, and the latter is more mild, or at least less spicy. Shown above is the start of my turkey chili, and to confuse matters more, actually has both red and green chili peppers in it. And it has three dark ingredients—dark chocolate, dark kidney beans, and dark Mexican beer. My recipe also has a dash of cinnamon, which along with the chocolate and beer, helps to give it interesting and complex flavors. You don't actually think, "hmmm… this tastes chocolaty or cinnamony," but the flavors are there and tease your tastebuds a bit. For my full recipe, click here. Click here to read more about Hatch green chile peppers. See yesterday's post or click here for a tutorial on how to roast green chili peppers.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Roasting poblano chili peppers

This exquisite emerald melange is a bowl of freshly roasted poblano chili peppers. Poblanos are roasted to remove their tough skins, and in the process you also gain a sublime, smokey charred flavor that you just can't get from a store bought can of them. It's a bit of a chore to do, so I usually roast the peppers in huge batches and keep them in small zip-lock baggies in the freezer. Then I add them to meals such as my vegetarian three bean chili, turkey chilior green chili stew with chicken. they are a mild pepper (meaning not too spicy) so I even add them to scrambled eggs—a holdover from my Taos, New Mexico ski-bum days. If I am going to stuff them I only roast a few at a time, then slice down the middle to remove the seeds before stuffing them with black beans, veggies and cheese. A few years ago I wrote a post about the otherworldly aroma of these peppers roasting on the roadsides  in Taos. Read that and see my stuffed chili pepper recipe by clicking here. You can find poblano chili peppers at most grocery stores to roast them yourselves. Read below to see how I do it.

In the summer I'll do this over the grill, or sometimes I'll roast them over the gas flames on my stove. I just happened to have around 20 peppers the day I roasted these, so it was much quicker to roast in the oven. Place your chili peppers on a sheet pan and place under the broiler. Keep turning the peppers with a pair of long tongs to make sure each side is black and blistered. The roasting process takes around 10-15 minutes. As each pepper looks sufficiently charred all sides, remove them and place in a paper bag or container with a cover to steam them for about 5 minutes, which will help you remove the tough skins. They look all puffed up with steam when you first take them out of the oven but they will deflate as they cool off. At this point I slit them down the middle to further cool them, because trust me, the steam is hot and you'll burn your hands. On that note, it's a good idea to put on your rubber gloves now, before you proceed to the next step.

The outside is blacked and the seeds are on the inside.

Scrape the skin off the outside by pulling off with your hands and scraping the stubborn bits with a knife. I don't mind leaving some blackened bits here and there to show that they've been lovingly blackened. Then cut off the stem and the seeds, and scrape out any visible seeds. 

After scraping the outside and the inside this is what you have left (above), a tender roasted poblano chili, and a beautiful triangle of green. This is the most time-consuming and messiest part of the job, but to me it's fun because I like to get my hands dirty. Have a compost bucket nearby to toss all the scraps into. 

Once this is done you will have a pile of whole, green chili peppers. At this point, I chop the peppers up into half inch chunks, then put into individual zip-lock baggies and toss in the freezer for a later use. Yes, it's a labor of love, but so much greener and fresher tasting than anything you'll get from a can. 

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Color inspiration—fifty shades of gray

You know how much I love color, and although the color gray may seem dull and somber to many, I think it's very beautiful. Just look at all the hue and value variations in this one photo of antique spoons! 

By the way, gray vs grey?
The Americans spell it gray
The English spell it grey

To see more colors, click on the "color inspiration" label below.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Mango tango

This tropical fruit medley has a bit of Hawaiian punch in it! It's got diced mango, pineapple, papaya, and is dressed with a spicy sweet mango, ginger and habanero sauce. I also added toasted coconuts and macadamia nuts. The spicy sauce I used is a store-bought grilling and glazing sauce that I sometimes use sometimes for grilling chicken, shrimp, or fish with in the summer.

Sunday, January 19, 2014


If you've never had this ancient Chinese tea you are in for a treat. Chinese Lapsang Souchong tea (pronounced läp-säng sü-chong) gets its intensely smoky flavor because the older, large leaves of the tea plant are dried over a smoldering pine fire. The process dates back to the Qing dynasty when workers attempted to speed up the drying process, resulting in the distinct smokey flavor. It was all an accident (!), which makes me wonder... Was this the first crack at molecular gastronomy? The tea is dark and rich, and probably not for anyone with timid tastebuds, but if you're adventurous and like bold flavors, give this tea a try. I call it barbecued tea.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

A magical menagerie

Hamilton artist Juliana Boyd has an exhibit at the Hamilton Library, showcasing her amazingly intricate, two-dimensional textile works of art. 

In a former life Juliana was an apparel designer, but more recently this Irish lass has gone to the wild side! She uses a combination of appliqué (using upholstery fabric) and a centuries-old process of needle felting (using un-spun wool in myriad hues) to create wool “paintings” of  all manner of happy critters—both domestic and wild. The artist has felted a magical fauna menagerie of foxes, field mice, hedgehogs, birds, backyard bunnies, and my person favorite... chipmunks! And there's flora too—several beautiful flowers! In one example of a spectacular blue colored morning glory, you clearly see the skill of Juliana's craft with all the lovely shading gradations she achieves by felting. 

The artist also takes on commissions, in case you've ever considered timelessly immortalizing your family pet. The animals are usually perched in regal wing back chairs, or on fluffy, tufted cushions. In the show there's a darling little terrier perched on a blue and white toile covered chair! The show runs to February 1, so don't miss it. (the show has been extended until the end of February!), You won't believe these works are made of wool and fabric, and you'll leave feeling warm and—sorry, can't resist—fuzzy! And when you go, make sure to look closely at the eyes... they really twinkle with life. 

I admire Juliana's skill, her love of nature, and her imagination — which was inspired at a young age by stories of Growler and Renard, a wolf and a fox respectively, that her father told to her and her siblings. Read more about Juliana and her enchanting artwork by clicking here!

Charmingly worded 
in her press release, Juliana writes:

In these quiet January days it might be nice to
re-visit the woolly world of Growler and Renard 
at the Hamilton Wenham Library. The woodland 
creatures have taken up residence among the 
bookstacks, and flowers are peeking out 
to remind us of spring days ahead.

Friday, January 17, 2014


Winter Morning, Appleton Farms  12 x 12 

There's something so bewitching and inviting to me about a tree lined road. This new work of an allée of trees in Appleton Farms in Ipswich is one that I've painted in several different seasons, but it's particularly beautiful in the winter when the branches have no leaves, and show their lovely filagree lacy textures.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Flounder with satsuma hollandaise sauce

Citrus season inspired this fish dish—in particular, the Satsuma oranges that I brought home from the market last week. A humble flounder fillet was transformed into something sexy with a sultry satsuma hollandaise sauce. The recipe is from New Orleans Chef John Besh, who used the sauce on crab cakes and poached eggs, which sounds phenomenal for a brunch along with a Bloody Mary, doesn't it? Satsumas, from Japan, are cute little oranges that are about the size of clementines, and their juices are sweeter and more red than a usual orange. If you can't find them you can use any sort of orange in this recipe, although the name is half the fun! The flounder, which you could also swap for sole, was simply sautéed in a little grapeseed oil

I cut this recipe in half, but here is the full recipe. Any leftover sauce can be refrigerated for another use. If the sauce breaks, you can always resurrect it with some warm water, a wire whisk and some elbow grease.

Satsuma Hollandaise

1/2 cup satsuma or orange juice
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1 one-inch piece of ginger, peeled and crushed
1 shallot, minced
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
Leaves from 1 sprig fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
Juice of 1/2 lemon
4 egg yolks
1 cup hot clarified butter (between 135° and 145°)
1 pinch cayenne pepper

Combine the satsuma juice, vinegar, ginger, shallots, peppercorns, coriander, thyme, and bay leaf in a small saucepan over medium heat and boil until the liquid is reduced by half. Strain the reduction into a small bowl (discard the solids), whisk in the lemon juice, and let cool.

Pour the satsuma reduction over the egg yolks in a bowl and whisk well. Whisk in 1 tablespoon water. Place the bowl over a pot of simmering water, to make an improvised double boiler. Continue whisking the eggs over the hot water until they thicken and coat the back of a spoon, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat.

Whisk the yolks while adding a slow, steady stream of hot clarified butter. When all the butter has been added, season with cayenne, salt, and Tabasco, and keep the sauce in a warm place near the stove.

The sauce is very pretty, with bright oranges, 
yellows and specs of blacks and greens. 

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Winter soliloquy

I walk trough the muffled landscape of my back yard, brilliant with its winter blanket—all embroidered with millions of sparkling diamonds. The only sound I hear on this frigid January morning is of birds calling their mates. The sun is low and the shadows are long. I smell the woody smoke of logs in a fireplace. The garden is napping peacefully, and all is well. I say to those who incessantly complain about not liking our New England winters to open their eyes and enjoy these beautiful gifts that Mother Nature has given us!

Monday, January 13, 2014

Za'atar roasted carrot salad

Even without roasting them to bring our their inherent sweetness, carrots were always my favorite veggie growing up. And the thing is, when carrots they get all charred and caramelized I think they taste as sweet as a marshmallow—and maybe even better. This za'atar roasted carrot salad is super tasty because the sweetness of the carrots and onions is tamed by a zingy meyer lemon dressing. Add to that the creaminess of the avocado and yogurt, and the crunchiness from the pistachio nuts and you can see how my taste buds were in bliss mode. Zingy and zesty… creamy and smooth… and then pow… a little crunch. The salad is a riff on Brit chef Jamie Oliver's roasted carrot and avocado salad.  see also the Moroccan roasted carrot salad I made last spring, which was inspired by him.

Here's how I made the salad. I massaged peeled Italian cipollini onions and peeled and halved carrots with some olive oil, sprinkled with za'atar spice, then roasted them on a sheet pan in a 400°oven for 35 minutes or so. Then I tossed the carrots with a dressing made from meyer lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper, and mixed that with some filagreed frisee lettuce. I plopped a dollop of nonfat Greek yogurt on plate, made a well in it with the back of a spoon, and added a spoonful more of more dressing into it. Then I cut a 1/4 of a peeled avocado and placed it on the plate, and sprinkled on more za'atar spice and sesame seeds on everything. You know how the best part of a salad is the last few bites? That was especially true of this salad. By the time these ingredients all got to know one another it was a creamy mélaaaaange

Za'atar is a Middle-Eastern spice blend 
that includes dried sumac, thyme, oregano 
sesame seeds, salt, and another other spices.

Click to see the roasted carrot salad I made 
last spring using pearl onions, avocado, pepitas, 
feta cheese, and a zesty citrus dressing.