All I Can Do

It is those last, edgy days of the school year.  Please don’t equate that with a sentiment like hated.  They are just so difficult, physically and emotionally, and the weather is sure to turn hot, and it is difficult to trudge through.  Rereading those last two sentences, I can see that I have been massively influenced by the Jane Eyre audio book I have been listening to, that is scaffolding me through the week.

Tomorrow is Happy Trails day for us.  When we moved to Tunisia, we brought with us a tradition of singing a remixed version of Gene Autry’s “Happy Trails to You” to everyone who is departing from our community on the final day.  Here’s how we do it:

Happy trails to you

Until we meet again.

Happy trails to you

Keep smilin’ until then.

Happy trails to you

Till we meet again.

 

It’s time to say

Goodbye to our school.

Remember us

‘Cause we’ll remember you.

Au revoir,

Inshallah,

We will meet again someday.

We got this from our great friend, Kathy Shrestha, who worked with us at the Lincoln School in Kathmandu.  She gave everyone there a stuffed heart necklace to remember Lincoln School by.  We give everyone a hand-painted antique key to recall our mission:  Opening doors, hearts, and minds.

It has been an emotionally strange week.  I can feel certain people trying to draw me closer.  I have always noticed when I have been leaving a place that there are people who think we should have been better friends all along and try to take our relationship to the next level right before I or they get on a plane.  On the other hand, there are people who are lashing out, expressing deeply held resentments.    I am just trying to pace through these landmines, gracefully.  I am trying to be honest, and kind, and honoring.  I am not mourning, however.  I did that in December.  I cried my eyes out for the human loss at our school.  Then I focused on a season of presence while we all remained.  Now, I am trying to help everyone pass through the formalities of their departures, but I said goodbye a long time ago.

After an energetic middle school day, today, I was craving my garden and cooking over charcoal.  I made up Simit Kebap. a recipe that intrigued me and one which I had been stashing away the components to make.  Exactly the cure for today was to prep food, mix it, all the while listening to more of Jane Eyre, then grill it in the garden.  It was only as I was assembling the final components that I noticed a quarter-sized hunk missing from the spatula I had been using to push the puree down into the blender.  There were no noticeable pieces of plastic in the puree so I knew it had been well-incorporated.  The whole batch went into the compost bin where the feral neighborhood cats will eat the meat.  My husband went and fetched pizzas and I peeled and cut a cantaloupe, something I am capable of doing tonight.

I shall return to Simit Kebap, a wonderful Turkish kebab, whether here on when I get to Lummi Island next week.  I am going to tuck the recipe here so I can find it when the time is right.

Simit Kebap (ground lamb, bulgur, and pistachio kebabs)

Serves 6-8

  • 1/2 cup shelled pistachios
  • 1/4 cup roughly chopped parsley
  • 1/4 cup roughly chopped mint
  • 1 tsp. crushed red chile flakes
  • 1/2 tsp. ground allspice
  • 6 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 2 scallions, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 small, yellow onion, roughly chopped
  • 1 red Holland chile, stemmed, seeded, and roughly chopped
  • 1 lb ground lamb
  • 1/4 cup fine bulgur, soaked in warm water for 10 minutes and drained
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 9 metal skewers
  • 2 tbsp.  olive oil
  • 1 tsp sumac
  • Yogurt and hot sauce, for serving

1.  Puree pistachios and 1/4 cup water in a food processor until very smooth.  Add parsley, mint, chile flakes, allspice, garlic, scallions, onions, and chilies; pulse until almost smooth.  Transfer to a bowl.  Add lamb, bulgur, salt, and pepper;  using hands, mix until combined. Form about 1/3 cup mixture around the end of each skewer; refrigerate until meat is firm, about 1 hour.

2.  Heat a charcoal grill or set a gas grill to high;  bank coals or turn off burner on one side.  Grill kebabs on hottest part of grill, turning as needed, until slightly charred and cooked through, 12-15 minutes.  Transfer kebabs to a platter;  drizzle with oil and sprinkle with sumac.  Serve with yogurt and hot sauce.

What We Carry, What We Keep, What We Give Away

My friend Gwen is moving to Venezuela.  I don’t usually mention people by name in my blog, but I feel like writing a little ‘ode to Gwen’.  Gwen has been a safe and supportive friend to me for three years and she is really funny, which I think is the most attractive thing a person can be.  Gwen had a bunch of us to her place one last time last night under the pretense of drinking all of the rest of her booze, of which she had a classy collection.  It was actually an entirely restrained and enjoyable party with lots of homemade food and the right number of people in the room so that you could connect with every one of them.

Gwen packed up her house last weekend, so what she had left was all stuff she isn’t taking along with her.  As I have done myself when I have been moving, she had a table set out with things to give away.  These are usually odds and ends that have some use to someone, but don’t have enough value to warrant putting a price on them to try and sell, as moving expats commonly do.  I spotted this unopened package of cedar grilling planks and knew that was for me.

Cedar Grilling Planks

Now, it’s not that I don’t already have cedar grilling planks.  I also brought some back to Tunis last summer or even possibly the summer before, and seeing that Gwen hadn’t used her planks either got me thinking about the things that expats horde away and why.

I don’t really think I had any intention of cooking on the grilling planks when I bought them.  I am certain that I bought them at Costco during one of our final shopping trips to buy stuff to take back with us.  At that point, usually during the last week of July, we are saying a premature goodbye to summer in the Northwest.  We have finally gotten our farm back to a state of harmonious functioning, and we have had a few weeks of living large on the island: crabbing, and cooking over wood fires, staying up late with the extended daylight hours, and visiting with lots and lots of friends.  We are drenched in the scent of smoke and salt and fish, a life brine that numbs us with contentedness.  In that mixed state of bliss and resignation that the end was near, I spotted cedar grilling planks, and they held all of those sensory ideas:  the wood, the fish, the fire.  Also, they didn’t weigh much and they were unbreakable.  These were a no-brainer purchase; these would make me happy.  I never used them because then I wouldn’t have them anymore.  Ironically, I also don’t get them out and smell them very often because they make me unbearably homesick and I try to live in the present when I’m overseas, not spend my days on the Mediterranean pining for the Northwest.   I know that beautiful life is still there and that I will, hopefully, have my days there again, just not quite yet.

The giveaway.  Moving on to another location slaps one in the face  to the little shrines you have created for various emotional reasons.  You had ideas about how you were going to live your life in this place and maybe that is how you lived and maybe it isn’t.  The fantasy you created was for here, not for the next place.  You are already creating a new mental plan for that life.  Little items that held some joy, that represented an idea you had say of hosting some little party where you grilled Mediterranean fish on cedar planks and treated your friends to a Northwest experience, have vanished.  These little dream-holders become worthless and you can suddenly, easily give them away and are glad to see them go.

I am probably way over signifying Gwen’s grilling planks.  That was all about me there, not necessarily Gwen, but she gave me a little freebie to use them and still not use my own.  I can have my planks and grill on them, too.    When I do,  I am going to think about Gwen and her hopes for Tunis and her continuing ability to hope nice moments for her life ahead and share them with her new friends.

If you are also hording grilling planks in your kitchen, you could break them out and cook this fish dish, pretty much the world around.

Asian-Style Grilled Whole Red Snapper with Radish Salad

Adapted from Food and Wine, June 2013

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon jarred pickled ginger, chopped, plus 2 teaspoons brine from the jar
  • 1 teaspoon brown miso paste
  • 1 teaspoon sherry vinegar
  • 9 radishes- 8 thinly sliced, 1 chopped
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • Two 2 1/2-pound whole red snappers, cleaned and scaled
  • 1 poblano chile, quartered lengthwise and seeded
  • 20 thyme sprigs
  • 1 lemon, thinly sliced crosswise
  • 1 cup lightly packed radish sprouts

4-12 hours ahead, soak planks in warm water, and weigh them down with with heavy objects.  This will keep them from burning during grilling.  For added flavor, add wine or herbs to the soaking liquid.

Planks

In a blender, combine the soy sauce, red wine vinegar, pickled ginger and brine, miso paste, sherry vinegar and chopped radish and puree until smooth.  With the blender on, drizzle in the 1/4 cup of olive oil.  Season the vinaigrette with salt and pepper and transfer to a small bowl.

Sauce

Light a grill or start charcoal or wood.  Season the snapper cavities with salt and pepper and fill with the poblano, thyme sprigs and lemon slices.  Tie the fish with kitchen string at 2-inch intervals.  Generously brush the fish with olive oil and season lightly with salt and pepper.  Alternatively, use filets, and layer the vinaigrette, chili, thyme, and lemon.  If cooking filets, you will not need to flip the fish.

Set the fish on the plank and cook until the flesh just flakes with a fork, about 20 minutes.  If flames flare up, spray them with water.  Pull the fish before it is entirely done and let it rest on the planks for a few minutes before serving, where it will continue to cook.    The planks will warp and char a little or a lot.  That is OK, but keep an eye on what’s happening to the fish.

Smoke

Burned

In a medium bowl, toss the sliced radishes with the sprouts and 2 tablespoons of the vinaigrette.  Top the fish fillets with the radishes.  Drizzle a little of the remaining vinaigrette around the fish and serve.

Improvise!  Radishes were not readily accessible to me, but I had mustard greens in the garden and mustard and arugula flowers to use instead of radish sprouts.

Flowers

Grilled Caesar Salad

            You know that January night when you come home from work and say, “Wait a minute, isn’t the sun usually down by now?”  There is some lingering daylight hanging over the backyard and the long-shrouded barbecue is giving you a nod.  We’re a month past solstice and at a minute per day, it amounts to something.
            I wanted so much to make this grilled Caesar salad last summer, but in Tunisia, Romaine lettuce is a winter crop, not summer.  It is perfect and abundant now so tonight, we have a great opportunity to bring some summer into our winter work week.
            I use non-stick aluminum foil on the grill.  With some planning, I can cycle through the entire meal with one set of foil.  I started with leeks wrapped in pancetta and drizzled with excellent olive oil.   Wrapping vegetables in pancetta and grilling them is one of my go-to food preparations.  I do an entire bundle of vegetables at once and then put them in scrambled eggs for breakfast during the rest of the week.
            Next, I toasted bread, tossed in the leeky, salty olive oil.  This is basically Texas Toast.  Funny thing, my dad is from Texas and everything great in our house, when I was growing up, was from Texas.  I actually thought that Texas Toast was my dad’s invention until about 3 months ago when I heard my Canadian friend, Paul, mention Texas Toast to his sons in the context of not having a toaster yet because their shipment hadn’t yet arrived.
            Finally, you put the Romaine lettuce on the grill and leave it only until it develops grill marks.  Grilling it in whole heads is extra beautiful, but mine came apart on its own.
Dressing:
2 flat anchovy fillets, drained and chopped
2 small garlic cloves, chopped
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 large egg
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, or to taste
Artisinal salt (I used Himalayan pink salt)
Freshly ground pepper
Blend all ingredients until emulsified.  Adjust amounts to taste.
           We bought these eggs, individually, yesterday in the Tunisian countryside.  I carried them home in a plastic bag.  I felt like I was playing a party game on the way home, trying not to break the eggs.  I won!
           Toss the greens with the dressing, to taste.  Coursely chop the leeks and pancetta and place on top.   Dust with freshly grated Parmesan and pepper.

It doesn’t just taste like a summer salad.  It’s a little bit roasted, a little bit wilted.  It suits winter.

Winter Preserves Pork Ribs

There is a reason why humans invented the preservation methods of drying, candying, smoking, freezing, and keeping foods in airtight jars.  Of course, we all know it was to extend the life of foods a little beyond the growing season and to prevent starvation during the dormant months. The other motivation was to keep foods so they could be transported from an entirely foreign climate which would allow people to enjoy pineapples, and cloves, and even herring when they had no way of harvesting those foods themselves.

            When I travel, I am always picking up interesting dried herbs and spices, dried fruit, potted meats, and fruit preserves.  It is a luxurious feeling to know I have exotic hard spices or a glistening jar of preserves in the pantry, but sometimes, those “special” items get passed over when I am cooking because they require a little bit of imagination or preparation such as toasting and grinding.  Also, it is true that people just don’t eat so many jams and jellies as they used to even though we still love the idea of them.  Rather than waiting for the odd piece of receptive toast, this type of recipe is a great way to use those gems.
            My intent today was to use a good quantity of my pantry items with pork ribs as the vehicle. The recipe is then easily adaptable to your own pantry.  If you think of your basic barbecue sauce you usually take a base like tomatoes, contrast it with mustard and vinegar, and then add a few spices for flavor.  With that formula in mind, I made ribs that were akin to the sticky Chinese style, without replicating that icon.
Spice Mix
2 tsp. fresh ginger, minced
5 cloves garlic, minced
2 shallots, minced or 1 tbsp. dried
Artisinal salt to taste
Grind the following in a spice grinder:
½  tsp. each of cardamom, cloves, dried peppers, cinnamon, Sichuan pepper, yellow mustard seeds,  black mustard seeds, and star anise (I also added a Tunisian specialty of dried bitter orange blossoms.  If you want the extra orange essence, you can add some orange zest.)
Mix all spice ingredients together.
Marinade
½ cup black sesame paste
½ cup orange or lemon marmelade
1/3 cup tomato vinegar or ketchup
1/3 cup soy sauce
Stir spice mix into marinade ingredients.
Dice 1 large onion.  In a deep baking dish, layer chopped onions and rib sections that have been covered on both sides with the marinade mixture.  Intersperse so the onions touch all sides of the pork.  Pour 1 cup water around the side of the meat.  Cover dish tightly with aluminum foil and bake at 300 degrees for two to three hours or until the meat is completely tender.  Uncover for the last 30 minutes to reduce the liquid and caramelize the meat.  If the cooking liquid is still watery, remove the meat and reduce the liquid in a saucepan on the stovetop until it thickens.
In a small foil pan or open topped foil packet (approx.. 6” square), combine ½ cup black or green tea, ½ cup dry rice, and ¼ cup brown sugar.  Place in the bottom of a barbecue with a lid.  Heat barbecue to medium heat.  When tea mixture begins to smoke, add ribs for approximately 15 minutes or until they have taken on a subtle smoky flavor.  Remove ribs to a platter.    When cool, discard tea packet.
 Spicy, bright, sweet, smoky.  Very nice for a winter Sunday supper.  What’s in your pantry?