six happy things on a tuesday

1. Amiable houseguest: our great-nephew Charlie, surely the sweetest, most adorable munchkin in the land, was here over the weekend. To his credit: good looking in PJs, can pronounce my name correctly, puts trash in the bin, likes my bread pudding, eats his veggies, good napper, smiles 99% of the time, likes washing machine buttons. We are presently negotiating his employment here as a duster.
 

          
          Charlie with his dad, Brad. Want one of those monkey bibs.

2. Made an egg custard pie after being inspired by Candice Ransom’s guest post about her mom’s great baking prowess. Sprinkled extra nutmeg on top just like Candice likes it. Can you say smooth and velvety?

3. Fox sightings! Fuzzy the Fox has a brand new family — a wife and two kits. One afternoon I spotted one of the babies out and about by himself while everyone else was asleep. Finally captured the rascal playing near the den, which is quite a comfy compound with 3 mounded entrances and an impressive series of underground tunnels. The babies’ names: Kit and Kaboodle, of course!


4. Finally got a Kindle. First book I’m reading is Robin Brande’s YA novel, Doggirl. Loving it. Think I might subscribe to a few magazines to cut down on the clutter around here.

        

5. Baby bird: Every year, we have a bird’s nest in the same corner of our porch roof. The mama bird sat for days on end and finally, little beaks appeared! In a tragic turn of events, one of the nestlings fell out of the nest, but its sibling survived. This jumbo fledgling likely needed more room. Hope Mama makes the nest a little larger next year.

6. More pie! Recently went to Hill High Country Store and scored a divine cherry pie. Bar none, these are some of the best pies around, with crusts so light and flaky your eyes roll back in your head. Definitely worth the hour’s drive. Gonna try their peach next time. ☺

Happy Tuesday, All! Whatever’s on your agenda, have fun and remember to smile at the next person you see. And eat some pie. One can never have too much pie. Did I mention I like pie?

Copyright © 2011 Jama Rattigan of jama rattigan’s alphabet soup. All rights reserved.

toying with tofu


Solo/flickr

Do you tofu?

Last week, there was a “Hell’s Kitchen”/Gordon Ramsay segment on “American Idol,” where the five finalists were asked to make an omelet. Gordon deemed Lauren’s the best, with Jacob’s in second place. In the final face-off between Lauren and Jacob, they were blindfolded and asked to identify three different foods: steak, tofu and hot dogs. When it came to the tofu, both Lauren and Jacob gagged. 

I’m guessing the texture is what turned them off, because tofu by itself is basically bland. I wonder how I would react if I hadn’t grown up with it, seen it floating in steamy bowls of miso soup, stir fried in dozens of dishes, pan fried with a spicy chili sauce, pulverized in fruit smoothies, baked into cheesecakes and pies, tossed into salads, or simply sliced into little cubes and dipped in a shoyu dressing. Tofu is a given in Hawai’i, a staple of Asian cuisine, an unassertive player who is happy to absorb the flavors of other ingredients. There are few foods so versatile and nutritious. Still, when all is said and done, it comes down to taste.

This being Asian Pacific American Heritage Month and all, I thought it the perfect time to tout the terrificness of tofu with a couple of cool recipes. Both are from my half-sister Sylvia, former caterer and uber talented chef to the stars. If you suffer from tofu phobia, hopefully one of these dishes will win you over. Enjoy!

WESTLAKE SOUP
(4 servings as part of a Chinese meal)

 

4 cups chicken broth
3 slices fresh ginger
1/4 lb. beef, minced
1 tsp cornstarch
1/4 tsp pepper
pinch sugar
2 tsp soy sauce
1 pkg. medium firm tofu, cut into 1/2″ cubes
1-1/2 T cornstarch
1 bunch cilantro, washed and coarsely chopped
3 green onions, chopped
1/2 tsp pepper
salt to taste

In a medium saucepan, bring broth and ginger to a boil. Simmer for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine beef, cornstarch, sugar and soy in a small bowl. Let marinade until broth is ready.

Carefully drop minced beef into broth, breaking up any lumps. Add tofu. Turn heat up and bring to a boil.

Meanwhile, combine 1-1/2 T cornstarch with 1/3 cup water. Add to soup, stir well and bring to a boil until soup is thick. Just before serving, add cilantro and green onions. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

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TOFU STIR FRY WITH BLACK MUSHROOMS AND BROCCOLI



1 block firm, organic tofu, cut into good sized cubes
7 or 8 dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked overnight, or a similar amount of fresh ones, cut into halves
Broccoli that has been trimmed and cut into bite sized pieces

Seasonings:

3 or 4 cloves garlic, minced
a small finger of fresh ginger root, peeled and minced

Sauce:

1/3 cup bottled oyster sauce
1/4 cup rice wine (not vinegar)
1/3 cup sesame oil
4-5 T sugar (should be sweet, so add more if needed)

To cook:

Heat cooking oil in wok or frying pan. Brown the tofu cubes and set aside.

Stir fry the broccoli until crisp tender, set aside.

If you need to add a little more oil to the pan, do so, and sizzle the garlic and ginger. Add the mushrooms, if dry, cook until tender and juicy (keep splashing a little broth or water in the pan if it dries out).

Add broccoli and cover and coat all with the sauce. If it is thick, thin a little with broth or water. If you need more sauce, add in the ingredients proportionally.

NOTE: Dried mushrooms add so much depth and richness to this dish that I actually prefer them. You just need to be sure that when stir frying, you cook them until tender and keep adding a bit of water or chicken broth as the mushrooms tend to dry out.

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Copyright © 2011 Jama Rattigan of jama rattigan’s alphabet soup. All rights reserved.

first garden: the white house garden and how it grew by robbin gourley

“Cultivators of the earth are the most valuable citizens. They are the most vigorous, the most independent, the most virtuous, and they are tied to their country and wedded to its liberty and interests by the most lasting bonds.” ~ Thomas Jefferson

This brand new picture book about Michelle Obama’s world-famous White House kitchen garden is the perfect way to celebrate the growing season. Grab your trowels and dig it!

I’ve been a Robbin Gourley fan ever since I read and reviewed her first picture book, Bring Me Some Apples and I’ll Make You a Pie (Clarion, 2009), a story about Virginia chef Edna Lewis. Gourley has also published two self-illustrated cookbooks and is a proponent of the field-to-table philosophy of healthy eating. In First Garden, she describes how Mrs. Obama, the White House kitchen staff, and students from a local elementary school turned an 1100-square-foot plot of land on the South Lawn into a flourishing garden which provides fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs for the First Family and staff, White House guests, and even homeless men and women at a D.C. shelter.

We see how in March 2009 they prepared the soil, planted seedlings (some of the seeds came from plants first grown two hundred years ago in Jefferson’s Monticello garden), implemented pest control, watered, nurtured and finally harvested the produce. A beehive was also installed, the first in White House history. In August, Mrs. Obama hosted a harvest party, where the student gardeners, along with White House Executive Chef Cris Comerford, Pastry Chef Bill Yosses, and Assistant Chef Sam Kass, cut lettuces, picked peas and berries, prepared a salad, decorated cupcakes and enjoyed a scrumptious picnic table feast.

 

Over the summer, the First Garden produced more than a thousand pounds of food, and the bees produced one hundred and thirty-four pounds of honey — roughly eleven gallons.

But of course, no beets, as per President Obama’s request. ☺

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a marriage, a meeting, a menu and a little may madness

"I stuck my head out the window this morning and Spring kissed me bang in the face." ~ Langston Hughes


majlee/flickr


Ah, May! The merriest of months is here.

Mmmm, mmmm! But you do get better looking as the days go by. What’s your secret? Have you been bathing in dew drops again? Whatever you’re doing, let me just say it’s really working for you. ☺

The view outside my office window couldn’t be more perfect: sun shining through the trees, soft breezes tickling newly opened pale green leaves. We have a bird’s nest on our front porch again; after looking through my field guide, I’m guessing it’s a catbird. She’s a very devoted mother, sitting on those eggs through high winds and rainstorms.


 
All our favorite yard pets are busy with their spring activities: cardinals, bluejays, robins, nuthatches, woodpeckers, sparrows, chickadees, and bluebirds chirping the latest news, happily singing and flitting about; Fuzzy the fox tending to her kits, squirrels up to their usual mischief, deer grooming each other in the back yard, Boxcar the land tortoise wandering onto the street (don’t worry, Len rescued him).

Our dogwood trees look especially beautiful this year. The blossoms seem bigger, fuller, whiter . . .

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SOUP’S ON: Anna Alter in the Kitchen Interview and Book Giveaway!

Many of you know my penchant passion obsession with books featuring food, bears, and the alphabet. Just so happens that our special guest today, children’s author/illustrator, Anna Alter, has all these bases covered.

Yes, I drooled right through her first picture book, Estelle and Lucy (raspberry biscuits), loved her adorable Three Little Kittens (mitten and pie endpapers!), eyed up the bowl of porridge in Priscilla and the Hollyhocks, and fell in love with her recycling activity book that just came out in March, What Can You Do with an Old Red Shoe (charming bears, cats and bunnies).

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