Tuesday, June 5, 2012

I wanted noodles, so I made some.

Here is the noodle recipe that I started with.


  • 1 tablespoon dark sesame oil, divided
  • 1 tablespoon grated peeled fresh ginger
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 cups chopped roasted skinless, boneless chicken breasts
  • 1/2 cup chopped green onions
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 3 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons hoisin sauce
  • 2 teaspoons sambal oelek (ground fresh chile paste)
  • 1 (6.75-ounce) package thin rice sticks (rice-flour noodles)
  • 2 tablespoons chopped dry-roasted peanuts


1. Heat 2 teaspoons oil in a small skillet over medium-high heat. Add ginger and garlic to pan; cook 45 seconds, stirring constantly. Place in a large bowl. Stir in remaining 1 teaspoon oil, chicken, and next 6 ingredients (through sambal).
2. Cook noodles according to package directions. Drain and rinse under cold water; drain. Cut noodles into smaller pieces. Add noodles to bowl; toss well to coat. Sprinkle with peanuts.
Then I doubled (actually, probably tripled!) the ginger and garlic and added about a tablespoon of each in the chicken marinade which also had the sesame oil (the entire tablespoon), soy sauce, rice vinegar, hoisin sauce and garlic/chili paste which I used instead of the sambal oelek listed because that’s what we had and I didn’t want to go get something else to add to the pile of small jars in our refrigerator. Don’t worry about exact measurements, if you want it spicier, add an extra glop of the chili paste. 

Looking at the instructions on the recipe, I decided that they weren’t all that helpful. Here is what I did:
  • Soften the rice sticks following the package instructions (basically pour boiling water over them and let them sit for 8-10 minutes, drain and rinse them. Use kitchen shears to cut them up into smaller pieces, and then put them in a large bowl to wait for the good stuff. 
  • Cook the ginger and garlic (I ended up grating another couple of Tablespoons of ginger and chopping up a couple more big cloves of garlic besides what was in the marinade) in some more sesame oil.
  • Mix the cooked garlic in with the softened, drained, and rinsed noodles in their bowl, be sure to disperse all the clumps of flavor evenly throughout
  • Grab the chicken and marinade from the fridge and dump it ALL into the pan to cook.
  • The marinade makes a sauce which you need to coat the rice sticks, so keep a lid on the pan so it doesn’t thicken up too much if you need to let it sit. The sauce should come to a boil so you kill any raw chicken poison that is left hanging around after the marinating.
  • Once the chicken is cooked through, dump the chicken and all the sauce over the noodles and toss it around until all the noodles are coated with sauce.
The only thing I would have done differently is to add some sautéed vegetables – snap peas, peppers or maybe edamame – to make it a one bowl meal, the salad we ended up having with our bowl of noodles was kind of random.

Oh, I forgot this part.

I didn’t put the green onions or the cilantro into the sauce like the instructions said for obvious reasons. Well obvious to me, since I know that I like fresh tasting green onions, not slimy cooked ones and I could live quite happily without ever having to eat cilantro ever again. I did put eventually put the green onions in, but not until the last 30 seconds or so of cooking and I chopped up some cilantro and sprinkled it on top of other people’s servings. 

Everybody was happier. It was delicious. Also, I forgot to take a picture. Again.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Short Ribs

Most weekends, particularly when it's chilly and wet outside, we try to make something that we can have for dinner one night and enjoy the benefit of having leftovers for lunch and/or dinner a couple of times over the next week. This is usually inspired by something one of us has read about or seen recently, or an old favorite that hasn't had a showing for awhile. Sometimes we use a recipe, most of the time we just look at a bunch of different ones in our cookbooks and on websites to give us an idea of what we need to do if we are trying something new. Otherwise, the goal is to make something tasty that makes the house smell good. A couple of weeks ago we made some short ribs. Maybe next time we will think to take a picture of it before it gets devoured.

Here is the primary recipe that we looked at for guidance; I love Cook's Illustrated for all the things they try and report on and once I've read through their accounts I know exactly what NOT to do.

This recipe from Smitten Kitchen looks pretty delicious, and I like the final step of crisping the ribs up like they were carnitas, but so many pots and pans.

First a note about short ribs; these come cut two ways; English cut which is one longer whole rib bone cut parallel to the bone OR Flanken which is cut perpendicular across the ribs so you have several bones in the piece of meat. I like the Flanken cut better, it seems easier to work with, but that’s just me. I also like to use grass fed beef because it’s way leaner and you don’t have to skim the fat off the top of the braise if you are going to make a sauce out of the stuff you braise with which I rarely do because we usually throw things in the sauce to make the meat tasty, but the liquid is usually pretty pungent and not so great for making into a sauce, plus there is the whole matter of too many pots and pans being used for such a simple meal.

This is what we did last weekend:

A couple of pounds of short ribs (flanken cut)

Bacon fat (or a couple of pieces of bacon or pancetta cooked to get some bacon fat)

An onion or two if small, cut into loose wedges

A large carrot or two smaller ones, cut into pieces

A few stalks of celery, cut into pieces

A bunch of garlic cloves peeled, can be smashed if you want

¼ cup of flour

Small can of tomato paste

14 oz can of diced tomatoes

Delicious red wine – I usually use a Rhone or a Syrah, totally up to you but make sure it is something you would like to also drink.

Low salt Chicken Broth so you can salt to taste

Fresh Thyme

Fresh Rosemary

Bay leaf (ves)


Fresh Ground Pepper

Preheat your oven to 300 degrees.

Trim up the short ribs if they need them, season them with salt and fresh ground pepper – generously, it will feel like too much, but do it anyway. You can use kosher salt if you want it to taste less salty.

In a Dutch oven, Brown the short ribs on all sides in the bacon fat (Or you can use a little olive oil if you don't have any bacon on hand, but really, who doesn't have some bacon around?); remove from the pan onto a plate once they are seared on all sides.

Once the ribs are removed from the pot, toss in the onion, carrots, and celery cook until slightly wilted/browned, season with salt and pepper while they are cooking. Cook about 12-15 minutes on medium heat.

Add the garlic about 10 minutes into the onion/carrot/celery cooking time. Be sure to stir the veggies around occasionally so they don’t burn. You can add the bay leaf(ves) in now too if you want, or wait until you add the liquid, up to you.

Toss the flour in and stir with the veggies, let the flour cook a little bit until it starts to toast – this creates a kind of roux and helps to thicken the sauce if you think you are going to use it as such. I always add the flour even when I’m not making a sauce, not sure why, but it doesn’t hurt so why not.

Add the tomato paste into the pot once the veggies and stir to cook – the cooking of the tomato paste helps to caramelize the flavors. Be careful this can burn; so keep the heat down and stir.

Add the liquid, the diced tomatoes, the fresh herbs, and any other spices (more salt? Pepper, whatever) you want to – add the wine to broth in a 1:2 ratio – I used 2 cups of wine to 4 cups broth this last go round which leaves enough to have a big glass of what you are cooking with once you’ve got it in the oven! Make sure all the brown bits on the bottom of the pan are up by scraping/stirring once the liquid is in.

Put the meat back into the Dutch oven along with any liquid that has accumulated on the plate it was resting on. Push it down under the liquid; add more liquid to cover if you need to.

Bring the whole thing up to a boil. Watch it, you don’t want it to boil for a long time, you are just getting it up to that point before you put it in the oven.

Put the lid on – or if you have got this far and realized that your pot does not have a lid, cover it tightly and securely with foil, maybe put a cookie sheet on top to hold it tight, the point being that you don’t want the liquid to steam out while it’s cooking.

Put the covered pot in the oven – I usually like to have it cook longer and a little slower so at this point so I turn the oven down to 275 and let it cook for 4 hours. If you want it to cook a bit faster you can leave it at 300 and cook it in 2-3 hours.

Go read a magazine.

When the four hours is over, take the pot out, and let it sit while you prepare anything else you need to. Leave the pot covered so the contents stay warm.

If you are going to make a sauce with the braising liquid, now is the time to do so. Follow instructions on the recipes I’ve linked above. However, if I am making short ribs it is because I want to do something easy, not strain and dump and whatever else those recipes tell you to do. I usually just sauté up some mushrooms and serve them with the meat over either (a) mashed potatoes (b) noodles or (c) polenta (make with the same chicken broth) that I’ve made while the meat is resting.

To serve, either place the short ribs on a platter bone and all (most of them will be falling out by now) OR pull the meat off the bone and make plates with the starch (I really like polenta) and whatever else you are putting on it (sautéd mushrooms).

Other than that, if you didn't make sauce out of the braising liquid, you could use a Knorr mushroom gravy packet to make a gravy if so inclined. A salad can be a nice addition, or not.

Red wine is not optional.

Use leftover meat and mushrooms to make short rib+mushroom quesadillas the next day served with horseradish sour cream.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011


Last year about this time, I received an email. This was an unremarkable email as far as emails go; but the content inspired me to buy a pair of well-priced plane tickets. A few months later, I let my partner in crime in on my secret. The Monday before Thanksgiving we went to the international terminal at the airport, checked our bags, cleared security, and found a glass of wine near the departure gate. Before we boarded the flight, we sent messages to our family and friends letting them in on our surprise. The flight was uneventful; the drive from the airport exciting, and the hotel was exactly as it had been described. We squeezed our bags into the room, splashed our faces, and headed out into the twilight to explore. We found that the city was filled with lights.

After walking as long as we could after crossing so many time zones; we found something to eat and called it an evening. A great night of sleep reset the clock and we spent the rest of the week exploring things as they presented themselves. We had both been to this place before, there was no pressure to 'do' anything. We spent time at a park observing the locals.

Evenings sipping flutes of bubbly (some with raspberries)

And just enjoyed all the different expressions of the upcoming holiday that we came across as we explored the city.

Some of the locals were more approachable than others . . .

While we were there; our friends and family gathered together during the week for piles of turkey, potatoes, salad, and pie. We strolled down the street and ate at a cozy little place down the street from our residence. A particular animal was featured on the menu and prepared several ways. There was a selection of seasonal vegetables offered on the side, and a carafe of the house red served as the perfect match for the food on the plates. After the meal, we popped through another door where, when they saw us come in, bottles were pulled from the shelf, and digestives poured and at our table as we removed our wraps.

We gave thanks.

Our time together was a gift; a time to spend just being; with no deadlines, agendas, or commitments (well, other than a couple of dinner engagements). And in the end, we think we may have created our own tradition of thanks. We realized that we could go away, just the two of us, and give thanks wherever we were, even if it felt just like a regular Thursday in that place.

If you are looking to create your own thankful-just-a-regular-Thursday moment in this very special city, take a look at what Jordan Ferney at Oh Happy Day! is offering to do for one lucky reader. Jordan is living the dream many of us have of picking up and moving to a foreign country with her family, you can follow her escapades and enjoy her party and decorating ideas even if you don't end up entering her contest to win a trip to PARIS!

(shhh, maybe you want to keep your trip a secret too)

Friday, May 13, 2011

My Life as Illustrated by Johannes Brahms

I grew up in a house full of music. My parents were both accomplished musicians. My siblings and I all played a variety of musical instruments. There was a steady stream of students sitting at our living room piano or in a studio somewhere nearby plinking or quacking away on their instrument of choice with one or another parent giving patient instruction. When we were not subject to anybody practicing, teaching, or performing there was usually music coming from the ‘Hi-Fi’ in the living room. The station of choice was one of the local NPR stations that played tunes of the Classical persuasion most of the day, with brief breaks for news. When we were bored, we would make up stories to go along with the music that we were listening to; there was the one about the pageantry of a king giving a speech to a crowd of his loyal subjects; the one about brushing your teeth with rhythmic precision, and several more that I will not go into here, as that is a story for another day.

Earlier this week I received word from my Masters advisor that my thesis was complete and that I could print the final document. As I was reading those words, the horn call that introduces the second movement of the Brahms 4th Symphony began to play in my head. As I have been rehearsing this particular piece of music for a performance this weekend I was not surprised that it came to mind, but I was surprised at the feelings the combination of news and the music stirred up. I realized that this music perfectly illustrated what I had been doing the past months.

The first movement of the Brahms 4th is beautifully complex with an intertwining melody that returns repeatedly; kind of like the writing and rewriting I did. The music slides smoothly in and out and from one place to another and before you know it; you are back at the melody again. The final bars of the movement are triumphant, finishing so strongly that it feels as if that is the end – ah, the joy of submitting that final draft! Writing, re-writing, submitting and re-submitting my final project was intertwined in all aspects of my life for the better part of the past year; obviously, there was much joy when the final draft was submitted.

The second movement is dreamlike in nature - a very passionate and emotional dream. The horn call that starts the movement quickly succumbs to a smooth woodwind and string melody that takes you from a highly excited state to a place of relaxation. This illustrates the roller coaster of emotions I felt once I received word that I was finished. Could this really be true? Was it really done? Was I really going to graduate? Perhaps I should just take a nap. Just about the time that you think you have had enough dreaming; the third movement snaps you back to reality! The lively, dancing rhythms take you to a party where crowds of people are trying out new dance steps, swishing about in fancy clothes, and celebrating something really great that has just happened. Just listen to the laughter and happiness in this music and rejoice in the fact that everyone gets a chance to play. This lilting tune was exactly what I was feeling when I realized that yes! The project is complete!

Now what.

The fourth and final movement goes to a more serious place. For me (having not quite made it there yet) I am imagining the pomp and circumstance of my final academic ceremony; complete with regalia, faculty members on the dais, an audience filled with proud friends and family, a group of graduates, presentations, awards, and a realization of the years of work that went into accomplishing this goal. The form of the final movement is a chaconne or passacaglia, which is more simply known as a theme and variations. I think that is a perfect illustration of an academic ceremony – each person may have the same degree being conferred, but the emphasis and path to that degree are different for every individual. Theme = degree | Variation = path each person took to get there.

As I wrap up both my time in graduate school and the season with my orchestra I realized this particular week has held a mixture of joy and exhaustion; the same barrage of emotions that I feel at the end of the Brahms. With all the changes going on around here; perhaps a dose of Brahms was exactly what I needed.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


Last week I went up to Sonoma, CA to check out the Tuesday evening market.

Every single person I spoke with in the Valley about my Master’s program final research project said that I needed to come to a Tuesday market if I really wanted to know what Sonoma was all about. The market is ending in a couple of weeks for the season, so time was of the essence and the weather forecast said I should go this week while it was still nice out.

The Tuesday market is a market for the locals, I sat and watched groups of people wander onto the plaza, greet another group, only to then split apart and greet others as they arrived. The standard items to carry included a chair, a cooler or basket, and of course, a wine glass. People found a spot to set up on the grass in the plaza, said hi to those around them, spent some time wandering through the market to pick up items not brought from home, and settled in to listen to the live music and catch up with friends.

The requisite groups of small girls in swirly dresses were dancing, twirling, and tumbling in the center of the lawn under the watchful eyes of the performers and members of the community gathered there. The packs of children running freely through the plaza, playing and screeching with delight provided a colorful counterpoint to the chit chatting adults. Groups of teenagers were scattered throughout the plaza; some with skateboards, some trying to look like the latest magazine page, some with brightly colored hair, and all in packs. The only difference from when I was in one of those packs was that now they have cell phones. The calls from mom asking what you are up to are harder to avoid now.

Happily, most of the people I talked to at least appeared to be interested in why I was there. Only one gentleman suggested that I come back on the weekend to see the town really hoppin’ or maybe I would like to go to a place off the plaza where tourists usually go. I tried not to take it personally. Having been to a weekend event in the same plaza, I could feel the difference in ‘vibe’. Both had music, wine, food, artwork, and plenty of people hanging out, but this one felt more relaxed, like people were coming out of hiding in order to enjoy what they liked best about living in that small town.

If you go: this market is held on Tuesdays in April through October starting around 5:00pm until dark on the central plaza in front of City Hall. Expect an assortment of fresh produce, as well as some gift/personal items and things to eat; if it is an election year, you might see a politician or two wandering about, shaking hands. Look for Sonoma, CA on the vendor's sign to be sure you are 'eating local'. Bring a chair and something to drink with your purchases. Sit and listen to the live music and soak in the atmosphere of the place.


Friday, September 24, 2010

Starting over…

Fall is not the season that is associated with re-births or fresh starts; that award usually goes to Spring with its new leaf buds and baby animals all over the place.

By the time the vernal equinox happens, the sweetest corn has been eaten, stone fruits and berries are waning, sunflowers have begun to bow down, baseball is feverishly racing toward a pennant before the first snow of the season, and leaves are beginning to turn and lose their tenuous hold on branches. Strangely I never have the feeling that things are coming to an end; but that things are just starting. Rather than feeling as if something is ending, I always feel like Fall is the beginning of something exciting! The first day of school; the fashion seems to be the ‘most important’ and drives the biggest magazine advertising (September issues!) of the entire year; apples appear at the farmers markets; and the weather finally cools off enough so that I have the energy to finish the projects that have been languishing during the last hot weeks of the summer months. For me, Fall is the time that I take things on that I have wanted to do and when I recommit to projects that I have set aside for whatever reason. This has been a year of change and new beginnings for me; things that have not changed have somehow become stronger; and still other things have shifted just enough to feel like they are new again.

As I write this, I think of all the things that I put aside while I was considering where to go next and wondering which ones I will choose to pick up again. There are some loose ends to tie up, but overall, I will be moving forward and enjoying this new life as it presents itself.

Chahut de nouveauté!

Monday, March 29, 2010

Fear of walking

About six months ago, NPR broadcast a short piece about how difficult it was to walk in some communities. I know that I like to walk as much as I can instead of driving and look forward to the time change in the Spring because it means the street I usually walk home on won't be dark by the time I get off the train. I have used this platform to encourage you to bring your own bags to the market, now I would like to encourage you to try walking to a destination once in awhile. This is the perfect time of the year to try it since it is not too warm and we could all use a little fresh air after being cooped up inside most of the winter. True, it might take you a little longer, but you might be surprised. I found that it takes as long to drive my car, park and walk to the train platform as it does to walk there, and as a bonus, I get some exercise that I would not have if I had driven. Same with going to the drugstore or the market for a couple of things, grab your reusable bag (or backpack) and stroll with a purpose. Your heart, lungs, kids, and grandkids will thank you for doing your part to reduce greenhouse gasses.