Thursday, March 25, 2010


A word regarding dried cuttlefish....
WTH? in a grocery store in Guangzhou
Oh yeah - nasty. That's the word I was looking for. What do they use this for? At long last, I am updating this blog. I have been to China and back, gained a new nephew, endured the longest day of my life, and... I've hardly cooked a thing! I hear right now that there is a sandstorm going on in China. In fact, it's affecting the entire country, with the northern part getting the worst of it. Looking at pictures of Tiananmen Square on the internet, with the buildings and people mere shadows in the yellow, blowing sand, all I can think to myself is... “I was just there! And I bought a watch!” Yes, I bought a very cool Chairman Mao watch from a vendor at Tiananmen Square. His hand is supposed to wave as the seconds tick by, but, um... he's already stopped waving, and the seconds don't tick by quite the way they're supposed to. Do you think I was gypped? Beijing is a city of 22 million people, and, for a few days, Meg, Russ, Caleb and I were numbers 22 million one, two, three and four. While there, we visited the Great Wall, the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square (as previously mentioned). It was amazing to be at the Wall and realize that I was actually seeing one of the seven wonders of the world! (I know there are actually more than seven wonders in the world – in fact, there are billions and billions of us... Awwww.)

Several wonders of the world....

Despite some frigidly cold temperatures, especially the day we visited the Forbidden City, Beijing was an exciting and fabulous place to visit!

Yes, it is forbidden, but they let us in anyway
Watch out if you're a pedestrian, though. According to Chinese traffic laws.... well, it doesn't really matter what they say, because nobody follows them anyway. Pedestrians pretty much never seem to have the right of way; actually, I don't know who has the right of way, but everyone pretty much assumes that they do. Pedestrians don't usually win out in that contest.

A random SWAT team, after helping us push our broken down bus Beijing was also a haven of street food. And I saw a lot of it, but I didn't get any pictures! The night we were planning to go out and actually photograph street vendors, we were so ridiculously chilled from being out during the day that we couldn't bring ourselves to leave the hotel. But I saw lots of things on skewers – squid, octopus, snakes, scorpions and beetles. We were advised not to try any of it, and even though I decided the last day that I was going to go out and at least get some candied fruit on a stick (stalls for these skewers were all over the place), that was the night that we were too cold to move. So our last night in Beijing was kind of a bust, but flying down to the tropical paradise of Guangzhou definitely made up for it.

Guangzhou has about 12 million people and traffic that is just as bad, if not worse than Beijing. We stayed on Shamian Island, which is a colonial British historical area in the Pearl River. After the cold temps of Beijing, it really did feel like paradise. I don't know if I've ever felt so happy as I did the day we arrived, took off our winter coats and walked around in 83 degree weather, admiring the palm trees, the river, and the colonial architecture. (Oh man, I sooo wish I was still there!)

Ah.... greenness!!
The Pearl River in the morning
We spent the majority of our trip in Guangzhou, figured out the subway, managed to not get lost downtown and sampled some delicious restaurants. My favorite was the Cantonese restaurant that Meg and I went to the last night I was there. The lobby of the place was lined with tanks and aquariums – you know, kind of like Red Lobster, right? But Red Lobster didn't hold a candle to this place. Yes, they did have lobsters, and they also had eels, flat fish, shrimp, snakes, water beetles, clams and silkworm larvae, all of which were available on the menu! I decided to play it safe with a pigeon fried rice dish, and Meg opted for fried fish with sugar snap peas (which was divine!). We also got some egg tarts, which I had heard of but never tried. They are going on the list of things I will be trying to make at home! Delicious!

Silkworm larvae at a restaurant....

...and an assortment of creatures on the sidewalk

By the time I was on my way to Hong Kong by myself, I was feeling a lot more at ease and confident of managing all of my travel plans. I mean, Hong Kong only has seven million people! Big deal! And really, the downtown at least was much like any other large city. I even saw an Outback Steakhouse as I was wandering around. My best moment there was standing still for awhile, just watching the traffic and the people, and thinking to myself, 'It's Thursday night, and I'm standing in the middle of downtown Hong Kong.' I don't think I will ever forget that moment.

My best picture of Hong Kong - from the airport

So, after the longest day of traveling I've ever experienced – actually, the longest day of my life, literally – I made it home. Thirty hours of traveling can take a toll on a person. Just the fifteen hour flight from Hong Kong to Newark was what I imagine hell to be like. I really think I would rather be burned alive. It would be quicker, at least. And the biggest news is that Meg and Russ came home with my new nephew, Asher! Here are a couple of pictures:

The happy family

He's still up in the air about all of it

Well, thanks for reading my quick and dirty synopsis of the China trip. I will get back to food in my next post.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Did you say...... SOUP....???

Well, it's been a busy week and the Parsley Thyme kitchen has been nearly bereft of cooking goodies, vegetable or otherwise. I did make a cake for my sister's birthday – a buttermilk pound cake that I added lime and tangelo juice to, then frosted it with a cream cheese/tangelo glaze and added cute little lime segments to the top. But guess what? I forgot the baking powder! That's what you get when you talk on the phone while trying to make a cake. Whooo boy, that cake was very moist, but it was also very dense and, well, inedible. Baking powder is important stuff, folks.
So. The literary world has lost two giants. J. D. Salinger and Howard Zinn died last week. I never even really liked The Catcher in the Rye (Salinger), but I had a dream the other night that I was looking through all of these pictures of various cover art for the novel, and I was thinking, 'I remember that one.... and that one....' They ranged from the carousel-horse-looking cover (which is a real one) to a picture of J. D. Salinger himself, to a winter forest scene, to one of some caricatures of old people that looked more like it belonged on a Dickens cover.
And Howard Zinn? You can call him a leftwing radical if you want, but he was a genius, no matter what wing he was on. If you doubt me, read A People's History of the United States.
The plans for China are nearly set, and, although they were 'best laid', we have encountered some snags, of course. Mainly it was a misunderstanding on my part about how long we were going to be gone, so I will be traveling home by myself before the rest of the crew. I have flown internationally by myself before, but that was to Denmark, which seems much less, well, crazy, than China. At any rate, we will all be leaving on February 24th, and I will be returning (fingers crossed) on March 6th. I'm thinking the worst part will be navigating my way from Guangzho to the Hong Kong airport. I'll just pretend like I'm on the Amazing Race. It'll be cool.
I was treated to some piano playing by my four-year-old niece the other day while I was babysitting her and baby Axton (just for a couple of hours! I'm not good with tiny babies!). Most of it involved a combination of key mashing and clobbering, but I got to hear loud and stirring renditions of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, If You're Happy and You Know It, and part of Jingle Bells, the arrangement of which was too difficult for her to continue, obviously. (When she pulled out that amazing rendition of Tiny Dancer as the finale, though, I was floored!) She also had a special song for me, which sounded something like this: *loud pounding of keys throughout.... “martha martha martha I love you I love you I love you.... martha martha martha I love you I love you I love yoooooooouuuuuuu!” The kid's got talent. What can I say?
One of the few things I made this week was some veggie soup to use up the leftover roasted cauliflower and kale. Is it cheating to write a blog about veggie soup? Heck no! Veggie soup is very important. Because what do you do with all those leftover veggies?
Well, soup is one of my favorite things to make and eat. In fact, I consider myself a pretty dynamite soup maker. Ironically, the thing I'm worst at is baking. And that's my job. I have had more flubbed up baking masterpieces than anything else, probably because I'm just not a very precise person. And that's why I love soup! Because, for the most part, anything goes!
I used my leftover veggies, quinoa and bacon, then I added green pepper, white beans and tomatoes. Since I didn't talk about quinoa last time, let's talk about it now, shall we? Quinoa is a grain. An ancient grain. (I mean, it's been around a long time. The stuff you buy at the store shouldn't be that antiquated.) The Incans were the first to harvest it (dubbing it the 'mother of all grains'), and then it made a comeback thousands of years later with health food gurus. It's not as cheap as rice, but it offers far more bang for your buck than rice does. Quinoa, strangely enough, is the only grain that is a complete protein, containing all the essential amino acids. So it's great for vegetarians and vegans. It's also great for people with celiac disease (like my dad) because it doesn't contain gluten.
The most important lesson with quinoa is to either make sure you buy pre-rinsed quinoa, or, if not, to rinse it yourself before cooking. The grains are naturally coated with saponins, which are bitter. That's all I know about saponins, okay? So don't ask me any more. They keep animals and other creepy-crawlies from eating the quinoa while it's growing. This is a smart plant!
But back to soup. It's so easy. There are soooo many different kinds of soup that almost any leftovers in your fridge will work. Leftover rice? Pasta? Beans? Veggies? Some cream that's about ready to expire? Even a couple of pears or apples that have seen better days can go into the soup pot. Just think about what you would eat together at a meal – Would pears with chicken be okay? Yes? Okay then, throw them both in! Curried beef and a side of green beans? Okay, give it a go! About the only things that don't belong in a soup pot are jello and mayonnaise. Depending on how adventurous you are, dill pickles can work, olives can be a nice complement, dried fruits, leftover stuffing, a creamy dip you made for a work party, the last few tablespoons of sour cream.... You get the picture. Just experiment a little, and you may come up with your signature soup!
For the base of my soup, I used chicken broth, water, and the juice from my tomatoes. Pretty easy! Then I just threw everything else in and let it simmer for awhile. Added some salt and pepper, a little dried thyme, and suddenly I had soup!
Don't even get me started on how healthy soup can be. Simmering (or essentially poaching) everything in a liquid requires no oil or other fat, and you don't need to add any meat or cheese if you don't want to. (If you're used to Campbell's Chunky Bacon-Chicken Chowder, however, you may have a problem with this.) I did add bacon to my soup, I have to admit. I also added the rind of a parmesan cheese chunk that I had sitting in my fridge. (Don't throw it away! Just add it to the soup and remove it later – you'll thank yourself!) I think, however, that all the other healthy ingredients in my soup probably canceled out my sparing use of bacon and parmesan. I mean, come on - quinoa AND beans in one dish? Get outta here! (No seriously, get out. My apartment's a mess!)

In the pot...

In the bowl...

In the belly!
So there's my soup shpeal. If you've got a family, I highly recommend saving any uneaten leftovers and then having soup night once a week. (I do this anyway, but I have to take the soup to work to get it all eaten up.) The food won't go to waste, and you just might come up with something delicious! Cheers and beers....

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Cauliflower and dead cows

Guten tag. First, news: I don't really want to talk about Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin. I don't think I even have it in me right now. If you don't know to what I'm referring, just google 'aborigine russian figure skaters'. You will soon find out.
More news: “Local farmers buried the cows outside the barn Friday. They would not discuss Pierson or what had happened, but one of the men said these are hard times to be a farmer.” This is taken from an article I read this morning. I guess a farmer in upstate New York shot fifty-one of his dairy cows before turning the gun on himself. The story makes me very sad, partly because it's true: it is tough being a farmer in this day and age, when you are being overtaken by factory farms who receive government payouts and think nothing of crushing their tiny local competitors to death. Literally. It's capitalism, right? It's also the fact that people are just starting to care about local farmers again, after fifty-odd years of singing the praises of factory beef, eggs, chicken and milk. The other part of the story that really makes me sad is that I happen to really like cows. I grew up with them. They're benign. They're also dumb. No, I'm not an animal rights activist or even a vegetarian, but I can only imagine the terror and blind panic that occurred in that barn. Animals shouldn't be shot because their owner can't deal with life anymore. What a waste.
Still more news: I have found out that I will be headed for China either February 24th or March 5th. I don't even know if I mentioned in my last blog that I've been planning on going to China. I am actually traveling with my sister and brother-in-law, who are adopting for the second time. Caleb (their first son) is coming with us to get Asher (their new son), who will be about a year and a half by the time we're there. I can't wait! The Wall and fried donkey. Those are my two main concerns. (Oh yeah – and Asher. :) ) I also really want to visit a fish market. We will be spending our time in Beijing, Guangzhou and Hong Kong. Woo hoo! Rest assured I will take a lot of pictures and share as many as I can when I return.
Now that I've dispensed with all the pressing news, let's move on to the food portion of today's show. I've still been vegging out (literally and figuratively). Remember that head of red cabbage that I had a couple of weeks ago? Well, at the beginning of this week, it was still hanging around my fridge! (Darn the loitering veggies... ) What is a single person supposed to do with a whole head of cabbage? That's one of the conundrums of my life. I decided to make it into a slaw, which turned out to be pretty tasty! It's also very easy – just about as easy as boiling cabbage. But who wants nasty boiled cabbage? (Unless you have an unnatural desire to be the poor char girl in a Dickens novel, or relive Roger Waters' youth. [I always imagine that they ate boiled cabbage at that terrible school. “Hey! Teacher! Leave them kids alone! And stop feeding them boiled cabbage!”])
Here is the recipe:
1 c halved cranberries (you know you've still got some in your freezer)
¼ c sugar
4-5 c shredded red cabbage
¼ c sliced green onions
¼ c red wine vinegar
½ c white vinegar
½ c sugar
1 t celery seed
1 t salt
½ c vegetable/canola oil
Toss the halved cranberries with the ¼ cup of sugar and let them sit for a few minutes. Combine the dressing ingredients (both vinegars, ½ cup of sugar, celery seed, salt and oil), then toss with the cabbage, green onions, and cranberries. I also threw in some broccoli stalks that I had shredded, because those were still in the fridge too. In fact, you can use whatever you want. Instead of red cabbage, you could opt for regular green, but in that case I would suggest using white wine vinegar instead of red wine.

Simply red....

The best advice with any type of coleslaw is to make it the day before you plan to eat it, so the veggies can get softened up in the dressing, and the flavors can mingle. (Ah... mingling.... I used to do that sometimes....)
Today I made myself a super healthy lunch of roasted cauliflower, kale and garlic on top of quinoa. I don't want this to be too long, so I'm not going to get on to the subject of quinoa right now. Let's just say that it's very healthy.
I had never roasted cauliflower or kale before, so this was a new enterprise for me. And the results were great! I roasted the cauliflower florets with several cloves of garlic for about thirty minutes (until the cauliflower is starting to brown, and the garlic cloves are getting soft). Then I added my washed kale leaves and continued roasting for about fifteen minutes more. All of the veggies were tossed with olive oil, salt and pepper before hand. The kale gets a little crispy on the edges, but that's okay – kind of a pleasant texture distinction, actually.
While the veggies were roasting, I cooked up some bacon to crumble over the top. The smell of roasting garlic is probably one of the best you'll ever come upon (smells, that is). The combined smell of roasted garlic and frying bacon? Heaven.
I also made a warm vinaigrette of white wine, white wine vinegar, saffron, mustard, and a bit of sugar. It was definitely a nice bright contrast to the heavier flavors of the roasted veggies.
All in all, a pretty decent meal. I'm not sure if I need to make it again, but it certainly gave me a good dose of veggies and was not boring. And here are some pics:

White on white

Oooo... saucy!

Washed kale

The finished product

One last thing: I apologize for some of the awkward paragraph spacing in these posts. I can't figure out how to remedy it. And you have no idea how much it grieves me. Until next time....

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Polish dumplings and what I learned about baking soda!

What started out with looking for a good homemade drain cleaner yesterday ended up with me trying to dye my hair with coffee. Why? I don't know. As I told my boss the other day, “You are a person who asks 'Why?'; I am a person that asks, 'Why not?'”
I did find a good drain cleaner. It's amazing what some baking soda, white vinegar and a wire coat hanger can do. I also learned that baking soda can be a decent hair cleaner (not technically a shampoo), so I tried that out too. The measurements are one tablespoon of baking soda to one cup of water. After dousing your wet head with this and scrubbing for a bit, follow up the rinse
with one tablespoon of cider vinegar plus one cup of water for conditioning.
Guess what? My hair was definitely clean, very soft and quite poofier than normal. Unfortunately for me, I don't like poofy hair. I need those heavy, unwanted additives in regular shampoo so my hair will remain un-poofy and somewhat sleek. Then of course I use some volumizer to put the exact amount of poofiness that I want back in. Yeah, it's silly, but I really think that all human beings are silly, and we're simply trying to prove most of the time that we're not silly. It usually doesn't work, so I just go with it.
The coffee dying thing didn't work as well. I believe that my coffee simply wasn't strong enough, and if I try it again, I'll probably make a triple strength pot. All you really need to do is rinse your hair with coffee over the sink, then let it sit for about 20 minutes, or longer. Supposedly it stains your hair and will wash out gradually over a couple of weeks, sort of like henna. That's good news for me, since I hate the maintenance that is required with hair dying. It's simply too much for me to keep up with.
What has been on the menu this week? Well, I made a frittata with my leftover spaghetti squash and some more broccoli. Frittatas are very easy – just put your veggies/meat in a pan, then pour an egg mixture over. I used eggs, milk, sour cream and some shredded cheddar. Then I topped it with some crushed cracker crumbs and melted butter and baked it all for about 45 minutes. Super easy and yummy!
My sister and I also made pierogies this week. A pierogi is a Polish stuffed dumpling of sorts, sort of like a Chinese dumpling. I believe there are similar Russian dumplings called piroshki. The dough for the pierogies (or is 'pierogi' the plural form?) is like a basic pastry dough, but it is more rich and less crumbly, due to the addition of one whole egg and one egg yolk. By the way, are you making pastry dough in your food processor? If not, you should be! I learned this about a year ago, and it has changed my LIFE. Sooo much easier and faster than doing it by hand!
Anyhoo, after kneading the dough into a ball and letting it rest for about fifteen minutes, roll it out!

Rollin' like a river!

Then, cut the pastry into circles, and fill each with about a teaspoon of filling. I don't have a pic of this, but we used a potato and cheese filling that included cooked potato, cheddar cheese and ricotta. Once you have the filling in place, fold over one side of the circle and seal it with a fork.

Fork off!

Finally, the perfect pierogi

When all the pierogies are ready, you boil them as you would a Chinese dumpling, then saute them in butter to finish them off.

The butter makes it shiny!

Thanks to Meg and her fabulous camera for the awesome photos!

We had a lot of fun doing this, and Owen the beagle behaved himself enough that no pierogies were snarfed (except by us!). Serve the pierogies with sour cream and/or caramelized onions.

Any other news or views this week? The earthquake in Haiti. Apparently they made a pact with the devil. Somewhere, hidden in a deep, dark cave near Port au Prince, is a very large document that is not only signed by every resident of Haiti, but also by Satan himself! Did you know that?

Enough snarky sarcasm. It is a terrible tragedy, and I urge everyone to do what you can to help. If I weren't already planning on taking a trip to China in the next couple of months, I would be tempted to hie myself down to the Caribbean. However, I hear that they've already stopped planes from coming in because it's too congested.

Well, enjoy the fabulous weather and thanks for reading....

Saturday, January 9, 2010

A new birth and extreme veggies

Hello and welcome! A new year – a new blog! With the completion of this post, I will already have fulfilled one of my New Year's resolutions! (The next one is actually updating this on a regular basis.)
First, some scary news: Apparently, over twelve hundred pounds of dead octopuses (octopi? octopodes?) have washed up recently on a specific beach in Portugal – big and little, young and old. And no one knows why. Disease? A tainted food source? Mass suicide? It's not clear why they're all dying in that one particular area, but authorities are advising the locals to keep their hands off the dead beasts, as octopus happens to be a popular dish in Portugal.
And here's some less scary news: I am an aunt for the third time! My sister gave birth to a boy on Tuesday, and baby, mama and the big sis are all doing well despite sub zero temps. The poor little guy – to be born into this January of all Januaries... Which is reason enough for a memoir when he's twenty-five, plus, of course a film adaptation of said memoir. (Now, just imagine Cate Blanchett's voice over, ala Lord of the Rings): “Axton Grey was born during the coldest winter that the world had known for over one thousand years. Dirty snow piles languished at the sides of ice packed streets for weeks on end. Frozen auto exhaust hung in the air at intersections. And the people of the land donned Snuggies and fur trapper hats to ward off the unforgiving chill.”
Here are a couple of pics:

Big sister Maesa with Axton

Already pissed about the weather
But let's talk food, which is why I'm really here. Tonight I made a special version of veggie lo mein, which can be called Extreme Veggie Lo Mein, or alternately, Faux Mein.
Another one of my New Year's resolutions is to eat more vegetables. Last year it was fruit, and that was a smashing success, so this year my focus is on the other half. I've actually always liked vegetables, probably thanks to my mom the dietitian, but I feel like I've been lapsing in my consumption. In fact, for the last couple of months, I think the only vegetables I've purchased have been potatoes, celery, carrots, and maybe a random pepper here or there. Not exactly a colorful and healthy diet.
So, along with being the Year of the Tiger, 2010 will also be the Year of the Vegetable. (I've been thinking about getting a vegetable tattoo for the last couple of years; maybe after this year I will feel justified enough to do so.)
The good thing about vegetables is that usually the ones that are in season are also the cheapest. Some good winter veggies to try out include broccoli, Brussels sprouts (one of my faves!), cabbage, kale, sweet potatoes, winter squash, and rutabagas (still haven't given these a go, but we will see....). There are literally millions of recipes on the internet for tasty vegetable dishes, but they're also easy to experiment with on your own, and ruining them will not leave you in the poor house (unlike, say, overcooking a prime rib). They take to almost any seasoning and pair well with pasta and rice, or on their own with a creamy sauce or a vinaigrette. In short, vegetables are extremely versatile, cheap and healthy, and hopefully I can share with you some tasty ways to take full advantage of them.
So on to the Faux Mein. I picked up a spaghetti squash the last time I was at the store, since I think it's probably been almost a year since I've had one. And you know what? Spaghetti squash is pretty darn fun. I know it's a popular item among people on low carb diets, since it can be a stand in for pasta. Is it a good stand in for pasta? No, of course not, and if they tell you it tastes just like pasta, they're lying. There is no good stand in for pasta, because it's just that yummy.
As long as you realize this ahead of time (that your veggies will, indeed, taste like veggies, and not like anything else), you shouldn't have too tough of a time getting this dish down your gullet.
I'm sure you can prepare spaghetti squash in a microwave, but, if you're already busy doing other things anyway, you might as well pop it in the oven for awhile. Simply split it down the middle, scrape out the seeds and stringy, mushy stuff, then place both halves cut side down in a baking dish. Add a little water to the bottom, then cover the whole thing with foil. I roasted mine at 350 degrees for a little over an hour, and it was just about perfect. The object with spaghetti squash in particular is not to overcook it, since you want to make sure the flesh stays in strands. (Aha! So that's why it's called spaghetti squash!)
Once you have your squash strands, you can either use it right away, or chill it for later use.

Squash strands awaiting the frying pan

I don't know the ins and outs of real lo mein – I usually just saute my veggies (not an actual stir fry, but I guess it'll work), then add anything I feel like that seems to fit: soy sauce, teriyaki or hoisin, or another sort of stir fry sauce that you happen to have on hand; sesame oil; and of course garlic and fresh ginger if you have it. You could also probably throw in some peanut butter, hot mustard or chile paste, or you could get wild and add orange or lemon juice. As I said, veggies pair with just about anything, so as long as your sauce components go well together, it will probably taste good.
Once the veggies are sauteed/stir fried to your liking, add the spaghetti squash strands and heat the whole mixture through. I used broccoli and celery for my veggies, then threw some red cabbage shreds in at the last minute, so they would stay crunchy and not color the whole thing purple. I also topped mine with some toasted chopped almonds, because I like different textures. Voila! Pretty and super good for you:
Pretty delish!
The other nice thing about spaghetti squash, or any winter squash for that matter, is that you can also toast the seeds for a delicious snack. The hardest part is washing the muck off of them, but once you've got that done, just pat them dry, then stick them in the oven until they're crunchy and just a teeny bit browned. I spread mine out in a single layer in a baking pan, then went for thirteen minutes at 350 degrees. Sprinkle them with salt while they're still hot, and have a handful while you're preparing dinner.
Well, that's it for me today. Join me next time for more vegetable surprises, and I may even tell some funny stories from the internet dating world (but probably not – they may be too graphic for some viewers).