Friday, July 24, 2009

You must make bread salad!

I hadn't planned to do this tonight, but once again, I surprised myself.

We made panzanella, otherwise known as Italian Bread Salad tonight for a light dinner. I should have made more. The photo is skimpy because I didn't realize until I had eaten almost all of my bowl that I was going to have to write about it tonight, and I thought I should catch a picture before I finished the whole thing. Trust me, this is summer goodness, and you will make it at least once a week.

There are no real measurements, you'll have to eyeball and adjust to your own taste:

Tear apart some day old bread (French works best, a decently dense one and tearing is so much better than cubing) and toss with some olive oil, kosher salt and pepper. Spread on a baking sheet and toast in a 375F oven for about 10 minutes. While the bread toasts, cut approximately 4 garlic cloves in half or large slivers and place in medium/large bowl (you'll toss the whole salad in this bowl). When bread is ready, toss hot bread shards into bowl with garlic and mix well. Add Heirloom tomatoes cut into large 1" dice, balsamic vinegar and olive oil (I started with 3 tablespoons balsamic and about 1/4 c. olive oil, then later added more balsamic to taste). Mix well, and let sit about 10 minutes, until bread is soft but still has a little crunch. Don't be scared, it might look a little muddy due to the balsamic (okay, you can use red wine vinegar if you prefer, but I do not). While it sits, cut some seedless cucumber into 1/2" chunks (Japanese or those little pickling cukes are good for crunch) and very thinly slice a little red onion. Toss into the bowl along with a little basil chiffonade, then season to taste with salt, pepper and additional vinegar if desired. Remove and discard the raw garlic (unless you like it). I threw in a few Kalamata olives I had leftover from a Nicoise last night, and there you have it, Heirloom Tomato Bread Salad.

In the summer, don't bother to make it unless you have the Heirlooms. You can get them at Whole Foods right now for $2.99/lb (CHEAP!) or from your local farmers market.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

New Bug Photos and Other Stuff

So much to do today! How is it that even with my husband at home this week, I still feel like I have so much to do and am not getting any of it done?!?!

So quickly, I wanted to post a few new photos of Caleb. He's almost two months old and I feel like he looks slightly different everyday. Last Saturday we dipped him in the pool for the first time, which seemed to confuse him since it wasn't a warm bath.

We have also begun to get clear (well, clearER) communication from this little person. He is giving us genuine smiles (not just gas or sleep smiles) and trying in earnest to mimic us, opening his mouth wide and attempting to vocalize. Every time he opens his mouth and strains up, I feel like I should drop a worm in there. His noises now include groaning and the "half-ass cry", the one designed to get your attention and see what you will do next.

He is definitely daddy's boy. There is no place he is more comfortable than nestled in the crook of dad's arm and that is where he drops off the fastest. I don't know what I'm going to do when Dad goes back to work....

One last note for mom's with babies out there - I highly encourage you to check out G Diapers at They are a hybrid diaper and environmentally friendly. You can flush them or toss them in the trash, even compost them (not the poopy ones) since they bio-degrade in 50-150 days. Disposable diapers - godsend though they are - sit in landfills for up to 500 years. I don't know about you, but that's disturbing to me, considering we change Caleb's diaper over 10 times a day, at least for now. I don't use them exclusively, but we use both the disposable Pampers and the gDiapers, and I'm happy with the G's. They're great for wet diapers and when you flush them, they break up better than your standard toilet paper in the bowl. One note: if your baby's BM's are runny, there is a greater chance of leakage with the gDiaper. This is why we still use the disposables (well, that and the gDiapers seem to confuse my husband) but I say if you can cut back a little on the disposables, why not? Every little bit counts. More info and video demos at

Monday, July 20, 2009

Rant for the day: mobiles & animal rescues

Let's start with the yummy part of today. Its too damn hot; dinner is Chicken Pasta Salad with a Citrus Dressing.

Moving on to the milder of today's peeves: mobiles. Not the trailer park type, but the cutesy type that hangs over one corner of your baby's crib, that you wind and that spins and plays Rock-a-Bye Baby. Ours is dark brown and lime green, with four elephants. The one that hangs over the pack 'n play has brown bears. My son loves the mobile. He is fascinated, his big blue gray eyes riveted, his mouth slightly slack in awe and turned up in the corners. He can't take his eyes off it. He stops struggling against his swaddle, rapturously held by the slow turning of the elephants.

So riddle me this Batman - why do neither one of these things play/turn for more than a minute?!?! They are clearly designed by childless people. What contraption that soothes your child requires you to return to it every 90 seconds to wind it again? You tiptoe back into the room, only to find your child, eyes half open, still struggling to stare at the mobile, willing it to move again. Your baby is almost to the Land of Nod and you quietly begin to wind the mobile, only to startle him awake with the click-click-clicking as you wind it. Are we not technologically advanced enough to eliminate the clicking?!?! Awake now, you finish winding the damn thing and gently stroke your sons forehead, willing him to drop off so you can take a shower/wash some dishes/brush your teeth/eat something before your pass out/just sit down without something in your arms, and just as his eyes begin to droop.... the f-ing mobile stops. I'd like to know who designs these things and what corporate entity has decided it costs too much to make them parent-friendly.

Today's big peeve however, is pet rescues. Wil had a conversation with another shelter today about a dog we saw on line. This is the THIRD rescue we have contacted and three strikes and we are out.

Last September we lost our beloved Blu. He had been with us, a long time, and it was torturous and heartbreaking to have to let him go, tempered only by the fact that two days after we did, we found out we were pregnant. About 5 months ago, Wil was casually checking out rescue dogs on Eric had recently gotten Oscar from the Boxer Rescue and we were really keen on rescuing a dog if we were going to get one (we were still in discussions, considering the pregnancy). We were interested in Wiley and saw that he would be at a pet store on Saturday in Hollywood. Wil filled out the application online and we went to check him out.

While Wil took him for a short-lived walk down the block (as he discovered, Wiley was not the dog for us), the woman running the adoptions sat me down and reviewed our application on her iphone. While she was kind in a back-handed bitch kind of way, she asked how far along I was and when the baby was due. Then she asked how we were going to handle a baby and a dog if my husband was working 15 hours a day as a grip. I explained that I was taking the rest of the year off and that since Wil is a rigger, he doesn't work 15 hour days and our schedules worked out so that he was home by the mid afternoon. And did I mention that I was taking the next 6 months off? Or that we have been responsible dog owners for, oh, I don't know, OUR WHOLE LIVES? Then she told me in a patronizing tone that we shouldn't get a dog now, because I would not be able to handle a baby and a dog, honey, she should know, she did it. I should wait at least two years and then see how I felt about it. Then she blew me off.

We wouldn't have taken the dog just because of her and the way she represented the adoption shelter. This was our second rescue experience. The first was an English Bulldog named Nora we drove to Covina to see. This woman volunteered for the shelter; she actually owned 3 English bulldogs and was fostering two others (I'm glad we didn't smell the inside of her house). We loved Nora, but this woman never called us back after promising to arrange a home visit. She never called us back, even after I called Bulldog Rescue to complain and see what could be done. Then Bulldog Rescue never returned any of my calls after promising to look into the status of our application and find out why the woman had never contacted us again.

Today, when Wil called about Cleo (a pitbull/English bulldog mix) he was told that they had received our online application but that there was "a great deal of interest" around this particular dog, and right now, they were taking appointments to see Cleo starting "on or around August 5th." Are you kidding me? We're not trying to get in to see the governor. I'm not trying to get a donor kidney, or make a reservation at the French Laundry. I need to line up to see a dog two weeks from now, so I can primp and prance for YOU and PROVE how much I DESERVE this dog? Are you f-ing kidding me? Does this animal need rescued right now or not?!?!

So sad to say, but it seems the major obstacle in our rescuing a dog is the rescue itself. There are thousands of dogs in need of good homes, but we don't feel the need to jump through 20 hoops to prove to someone that we deserve to rescue a dog when we could walk into a pet store or call a breeder and purchase the dog of our choosing. We were trying to choose something else. The obnoxious, holier-than-thou attitude we get from these rescues is enough to turn us off to the entire prospect, which is a lose-lose situation all around. But really, I have a roof over my head and food on my table and a lot of love to give. Who loses more here?

Friday, July 17, 2009

Kaffir Lime Leaves & Lemongrass

Last night, I made a soup so good, I had to write about it.

I have made this soup before. Its Tom Kah Gai - Thai Coconut Soup with Chicken - and it is my husband's favorite, so we actually make it quite often. The ingredients are all simple and fairly readily at hand, with the exception of fresh lemon grass, and maybe the Thai red chile paste, depending on where you are.

Yesterday the lemon grass was the problem. The Ralph's at the bottom of our hill is the only place nearby that I know always carries it, and yesterday they had non. Jayson and Brook were coming for dinner so I had stopped at the Korean grocery store in Glendale (HK Market on Pacific) for pre-marinated Kalbi. They had lemongrass, but as seems to be more prevalent in the Asian grocery stores these days, it was pre-packaged in plastic. Which meant that while I only needed a stalk or two, I would have to spend $2.99 on a package of roughly 14. Not that its not worth it to spend the $3.00, but I have a thing about waste and couldn't bring myself to buy it.

Wil wanted me to simply leave the lemongrass out, but it is such an integral part of the soup, I decided to try another resource. I belong to a fabulous co-op in my neighborhood. We are a group of gardeners, foodies, locavores, and eco-minded, modern modified hippies who exchange excess produce from our gardens, along with ideas, resources, recipes, and general advice. I posted a notice that I was looking for fresh lemongrass and within minutes, got several responses (you guys are so fabulous!). Gail in Arcadia not only had lemongrass, but also kaffir lime leaves, limes and oregano. I drove to her house where she had left me the lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves in a bag on her porch, and left a pot of drunken fig jam in trade.

I'm embarrassed to admit, as big a foodie as I am, I had never used kaffir lime leaves before. I know what they are, but it's another one of those ingredients that I wouldn't use on a daily or regular basis, and I had yet to find a recipe tempting enough to make me go out of my way to find it. The recipe didn't call for it, but since I had it, I broke a few leaves into the soup towards the end, and was astounded at the results. The final soup was more fragrant and flavorful than any other time I had made it. It was smoother, and somehow this time, I had gotten the heat just right. Even my husband said it was better than usual.

Since I feel compelled to share, here is the recipe. A few notes: Kaffir lime leaves and lemongrass stalks can be found at most Asian markets and some specialty food stores. For those who have never worked with either, both lend incredible flavor that can't be substituted, but both are also inedible; you'll want to pull them out of your bowl. You really want to try to find Thai Red Curry Paste. No hot sauce (i.e. garlic sauce, Sirracha) will substitute. Strangely enough, I have always been able to find it at Cost Plus World Market in their grocery section. We like to add a scoop of rice to our soup, making it a little porridge-like. Add a salad of mixed greens tossed with a little miso dressing and you have a complete and balanced meal.

While this recipe contains my changes and modifications, the original base recipe came from "Soups & Stews" from the editors of Cook's Illustrated magazine (one of my favorite mags).

Serves 4
Leftovers can be refrigerated for a few days, but the coconut milk will separate. Reheat slowly, not boiling the liquid, to prevent the milk from curdling. If you're having rice with this, refrigerate the rice in a separate container.

1 teaspoon canola oil
1 stalk lemon grass, outer sheath removed, bottom 3 inches trimmed and quartered lengthwise into julienne strips
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
1 large garlic clove, minced
2 teaspoons Thai red curry paste
3 cups chicken stock or canned low-sodium broth
1/2 cup water
1 1/2 tablespoons fish sauce
1/2 tablespoon sugar
1 (14-ounce) can unsweetened coconut milk
8 oz boneless, skinless chicken breast cut into 1 by 1/4-inch strips
1/2 (15-oz) can straw mushrooms, drained and rinsed
2 tablespoons lime juice
6 kaffir lime leaves
1/4 cup loosely packed whole fresh cilantro leaves
1 scallion, greens only, sliced thin on an angle (optional)

Heat the oil in a large stockpot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the lemon grass, ginger and garlic and cook, stirring constantly until aromatic, about 30 to 60 seconds. Add the curry paste and cook, stirring, for 30 seconds.

Add 1/2 cup chicken stock to the pot and stir to dissolve the curry paste. Add the remaining stock, fish sauce, and sugar and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat, partially cover and simmer to blend flavors, about 20 minutes.

Stir in the coconut milk, chicken, mushrooms and lime juice. Break/bend kaffir lime leaves in half to release oils and add to the pot (they are prettier added whole, but I like to release their essence). Bring back to a simmer and cook until the stock is hot and chicken is no longer pink, about 5 minutes. Taste for seasoning and add salt as desired. Serve, garnishing with cilantro leaves and scallions.

To make Tom Kah Shrimp, substitute 1/2 small shrimp for the chicken, and use vegetable broth instead of chicken broth.