Nightly Ritual

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we gather by the sea
awed by the splendor
voices hushed into silence
caught in the web of wonder
splash of waves
a seagull’s call
nature captivates and holds
for these brief moments
at the end of day

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New Hit in the Dip Department

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Hummus and veggies in a bright lemon vinaigrette. What’s not to love? Add some homemade pita chips, or wedges of soft fresh pita for serving. I was inspired by the gorgeous picture of a dish called “Israeli Vegetable Salad” in the latest Barefoot Contessa cookbook, Cook Like a Pro, but I opted for basil instead of mint and followed my own recipes for hummus and lemon vinaigrette. Check it out if you want Ina Garten’s actual recipe.

Method:

  1. Spread a thick layer of hummus on a tray, leaving the edges slightly higher. Lots of recipes for hummus are available, or you could even buy good quality hummus. Although, unless you have access to a Middle Eastern store, you’re better off making your own.
  2. Chop cherry tomatoes, thin-skinned hothouse cucumbers, sweet onions and yellow bell peppers (or a variation of the above) into a similar dice.
  3. Whisk together a simple vinaigrette of equal amounts of fresh lemon juice and olive oil seasoned with salt and pepper.
  4. Just before serving, toss the vegetables with the vinaigrette. Using a slotted spoon to eliminate excess dressing, scoop the vegetables over the hummus.
  5. Garnish with shredded basil. Serve with homemade pita chips, or fresh pita bread. Unless you find sturdy pita chips, your average store bought pita chips are generally too thin for scooping purposes.

This dish was a definite hit during the Fourth of July holiday. It has earned a place on the permanent rotation!

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It’s All About the Poaching Liquid

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I made a version of Cioppino yesterday. After doing a bit of research on the origin of the dish and scanning a number of recipes, I found lots of variation on the theme.  Cioppino is basically a thick seafood soup. The type of seafood can vary greatly. That makes sense when you understand that this dish originated as a way to make a meal out of leftovers from the day’s catch.

It seems to me that the most important part of this dish is the poaching liquid. It’s also important to add the seafood based on how long it takes to poach. I’m using the word “poach” deliberately. Gentle heat produces tender seafood.

Making the poaching liquid the morning, or even the day, ahead allows the flavors to meld. It also allows for short work in pulling the dish together right before dinner. I culled the following recipe from a number of sources and added my own variations, so I can’t credit one particular source. But I guess that’s true to the spirit of a dish made by families of fishermen from the catch of the day. There’s no one definitive recipe.
Ingredients for the Poaching Liquid

2-3 TBS olive oil
1 medium to large sweet onion, diced
2-3 stalks of celery, diced (including leaves)
1 red, yellow, or orange bell pepper, diced
3-4 cloves of garlic, minced
Kosher salt/ freshly ground pepper
About 2 TBS tomato paste
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 cup dry white wine ( Pinot Grigio)
28 oz. can of good quality whole tomatoes, including liquid. Crush the tomatoes by hand or chop them in a bowl to capture the juice.
About a tablespoon of fresh thyme leaves
Additional cup of water
1-2 TBS basil pesto
Fresh shredded basil for garnish

Seafood:

I used 2 pounds of large shrimp, 24 little neck clams, about a half pound of striped bass cut into two inch chunks. This served four people generously, with plenty left over for tonight as a sauce over pasta.
Any other combination of firm fleshed fish, scallops, mussels, crab, etc. would work equally well. Lots of recipes on line will give you an idea of how to time different kinds of seafood.

Method:

  1. Heat the olive oil in a deep, heavy bottom pan. Sauté the onion, celery, and bell pepper until softened. Season with salt and pepper. Add the garlic. Saute until fragrant.
  2. Add the tomato paste and red pepper flakes to the pan. Stir to combine with the vegetables.
  3. Add the wine. Stir with a wooden spoon to scrape up any bits from the pan, and cook down until the mixture thickens.
  4. Add the tomatoes, along with an additional cup of water. If the mixture seems too thick, add another half cup of water.
  5. Season with more salt and pepper. Stir in the fresh thyme leaves, and the pesto. You might want to add about a half teaspoon of sugar if your tomatoes lacked a touch of sweetness.
  6. Simmer uncovered for at least 15 minutes to allow the flavors to blend and the mixture to thicken somewhat. At this point, it would be good to let the mixture cool, and then refrigerate it until you’re ready to finish the dish.
  7. Re-heat the mixture. Taste for seasoning. Add the seafood. Little neck clams take the longest to open, so I chose to steam them separately and add them to the fish and shrimp before serving. More importantly, even though I scrubbed them, they seemed a bit sandy to me, and I didn’t want to take the risk of adding any sand to the dish.
  8. I put the chunks of striped bass into the hot poaching liquid first. After about five minutes of gentle poaching, I added the shrimp. In a covered pot, shrimp will be done in about four minutes. At this point, I added the clams that were steamed open separately. If you decide to let your clams open in the poaching liquid, just be aware that they take longer than the shrimp. Add the shrimp after the clams open.
  9. Serve with toasted slices of French bread for dipping into the broth.
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Why I’m Going Back on Facebook (Again!)

Okay, this is the thing. There are people I care about who I never, or all too rarely, see. We are living parallel lives in disparate places. And those lives are zipping by at breakneck speed. Having the ability to send a birthday greeting or smile at a photo, or celebrate an event or milestone with a friend has value.

That is not to say that my overall feelings about Facebook have changed. There was a post on Facebook during the holidays showing a dog standing over a shredded Elf on the Shelf. The dog destroyed the elf because he thought it was “creepy.” I feel like that dog. There are aspects about Facebook that I still find somewhat creepy, but I’ve decided to focus on the good.

In an ideal world, I would remember all of the birthdays and anniversaries. I would stay in touch without the need for social media. But that isn’t reality. So I’m going to give it another try.

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Points Friendly Salmon and Lentils

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The picture doesn’t do justice to this really delicious, points-friendly meal. I adapted the lentils and vegetables base for this dish from a Barefoot Contessa recipe. Serves two.

Ingredients:

1/2 cup dried lentils
1 TBS olive oil
2 cups diced onions
1 tsp. fresh thyme leaves (or 1/4 tsp. dried)
1 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper (scant)
3/4 cup diced celery
3/4 cup diced carrots
1 large clove garlic, minced
3/4 cup chicken stock (or vegetable stock)
2 TBS tomato paste
1 TBS red wine vinegar

Method:

1. Pour the lentils into a bowl. Cover with boiling water for at least 15 minutes. Drain and set aside.
2. Saute the onions, thyme, salt and pepper over medium heat until the onions are translucent. Add the garlic for the last couple of minutes.
3. Add the drained lentils, carrots, celery, stock, and tomato paste. Stir well.
4. Cover the sauté pan and simmer for about 20 minutes until the lentils and vegetables are tender.
5. Add the red wine vinegar. Check for seasoning.
6. Use as a side for grilled salmon.

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Summer Salsa

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Okay, it’s not really summer, but we did manage to have salsa and chips and a drink on the deck last night while the Big Guy manned the grill. The chilly breeze sent us back inside for dinner, but it was a start.

Maybe other people take out the chips and salsa all year long, but I associate it with summer and outside entertaining. Opening a jar of prepared salsa works, of course, but with a bit more effort, you can upgrade the contents of that jar to something special.

I like to start with a jar of Tostitos Medium Chunky Salsa. Adding corn kernels (fresh if it’s really summer, or defrosted frozen, if it’s May,) diced sweet onion, diced red, yellow, or orange bell peppers, and some chopped tomatoes turns that basic jar into something much more interesting.

We had grilled steak tips and vegetables on skewers last night, so prepping the peppers and onions to be threaded on the skewers provided the tops and trimmed ends that were tossed into the salsa.

That’s actually the trick with summer salsa. You get to use leftover corn, slices of tomato or sweet onion that didn’t make to to the hamburger, or the tops and bottoms of the peppers that were left when you cut even slices down the sides. Turning a little of this and a little of that into something good is always a bonus.

Now, all we need is summer weather!

 

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Dawn

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spring dawn breaks early
heady with the scent of lilacs
dewy with promise

 

 

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