Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Pad Thai

This time, there was no Tar-Baby to be melted before making my pad Thai. But it did take a little bit of trouble to find a couple of the ingredients.

Fish sauce-- Korean grocery in Oak Grove on the Blvd.
Tamarind Juice -- Mexican grocery... where they only take cash, speak Spanish and only sell a large jug of juice concentrate that amounts to several gallons of juice.

But it was worth it. Joe and Matt thought it was "Delicious"

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Pizza Planet

Popular dish has many interpretations

(Kentucky New Era food column for June 28)
I arrived in Taipei as a newlywed and new to the kitchen. Sadly, my training in Chinese cooking never progressed very far because I was too busy sampling local fare to prepare it myself.

My husband Joe and I prided ourselves on trying new and usual things. Like durian—a pale yellow fruit that tastes like custard and smells like dung. Or the less-than-sanitary night markets where we discovered squid stew, oyster omelets and tofu in every form imaginable. We ate and enjoyed it all.
Ironically, the foods I couldn’t stomach were the Taiwanese versions of American classics. The first time I saw a pizza crust smothered in an alien array of toppings — like seafood, peas, corn, carrots and diced ham, drizzled with mayonnaise — I was appalled. I was disoriented. I was a long way from home.To fill that small but intense culinary void, I needed to cook my own home-style foods. One time, my co-workers invited us over to make personal pizzas in their toaster oven. They provided pre-made crusts, cheese and warm chocolate chip cookies from Subway (which, incidentally, did not suffer any cultural translation). Joe and I splurged on imported sauce, canned olives, artichokes, capers and other un-Asian veggies. Ten minutes of preparation and presto: we were transported back to American junk-food heaven.
I never acquired a taste for Taiwan specialties like "Seafood Jungle Pizza," but seeing the country’s distinct cultural twist on a non-native dish made me wonder how much American-style pizza has strayed from its Italian ancestor.
The first Neapolitan pizza is said to have had only four toppings — real mozzarella (made from water buffalo milk), sliced tomatoes, fresh basil and oil. Today Italy accepts this and two slight variants as authentic pizza.
Fifteen minutes of Internet research taught me Taiwan is not the only country to violate Napoli’s rules for pizza toppings. In fact, pizza might be the most globally adopted and adapted dish around. In England, tuna and sweet corn adorn one of Domino’s specialty pizzas. Greece adds its national personality to a pepperoni pizza with olives, feta and oregano. In Mexico, pizza with frijoles and chorizo is common. In India, they get topped with lamb and pickled ginger.
But it gets weirder. Many countries seem to use pizza as a base for other ethnic flavors. A recent visit to Taiwan’s Pizza Hut site revealed Korean Kim Chi (aged, spicy pickled cabbage) pizza and German sausage-crust pizza. According to Domino’s Web site, the Netherlands like "Shwarma" flavored pizza. Shwarma is not Dutch invention, but rather Middle Eastern marinated lamb. In Switzerland, people have embraced Tex-Mex pizza spiked with jalepeno peppers.
Though I’ve been back in the states for two years, and what I once believed to be "normal" pizza is readily available, I still prefer to make my own. Lately I’ve been making use of summer’s bounty. I see plenteous topping possibilities—for sale at local farm stands, ripening in backyard vegetable patches and sprouting in my patio herb garden. So don’t be shy ... add the ingredients from your favorite meal to a pizza, or pick toppings that reflect your ethnic background. Or if you’re up for a real challenge, try to create something that’s never been done before. Good luck.

Sunday, June 25, 2006


We get a lot of wrong numbers--probably one a day. Well, Saturday's wrong number rang at 6:00 a.m. This is a good time to go to the farmer's market, my co-worker Jenn told me last week. So I did. And I thought I was so clever when I remembered to bring cash with me. But not smart enough to bring something smaller than a 10 dollar bill. So when I decided to buy some summer squash, the poor man wasn't able to give me more than 5 dollars change. No problem, I say, just give me 5 dollars worth of squash.
OK, he says. That's 5 lbs of squash.
That's a lot of squash, I think to myself.

So I made a very large and very labor-intensive squarsherole. Fun to eat as it is to say ;-)
Here's the 'mess-ipe':
5 lbs summer squash, chopped and sauteed in olive oil, and then mashed
Several shakes salt, pepper and dried basil.
A small scoop brown sugar
4 or maybe 5 toasted bread heels, crumbled
2 beaten eggs
Pine nuts and baby squash sprinkled with brown sugar and basil, and brushed with olive oil for a garnish. With my friend Sharon in mind, I made an elaborate design. She is the master at making food beautiful
I thought it came out rather pretty. Oh, bake for 30 minutes at 350, then broil for just a minute or two to brown the top. I had to watch it.

Weekend warriors

It didn't rain this weekend. Several weeks ago we scouted out a camp site on a little grassy penninsula with four different paths to the lake. We arrived around 6 on Saturday night and just barely had time to gather firewood, make our dinner and pitch the backpacker's tent that we haven't used since our honeymoon in the Appalachians in '01. We were both pretty exhausted ... and my hands were too sticky from s'mores to take photos that evening. Our peaceful plot was actually quite noisey. The frogs in LBL are not normal ribbiting frogs. They sound more like hogs with megaphones. Anyway, they're also very long winded. I didn't sleep much, but I was still happy when our tent was surrounded by sunbeams and birdsong. Even if it was only 5:00. We managed to get into the tent without more than 2 insects inside with us. But when we woke up, we could hear the buzzing swarms just outside. So we stayed in and ate some muffins.

They look like blueberry. But they're plum-peach with strawberry jam surprise middles.

Finally, I left Joe to snooze longer, and ventured to see what all the buzzy chirpyness was about. And I found dozens of fuzzy bumblebees having their breakfast too.

Then I spent some time appreciating the lake views and getting my toes wet in the dewy grass.

When I finished, there were some other visitors to the tent. But for some reason, blogger isn't letting me post the pics. So they will remain a mystery until I get a chance to edit this.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Mariachis and deep fried banana

I didn't have my camera while we were eating... and it's really too bad. Those of you who don't live here will just have to imagine what's inside El Bracero, one of the happier places in Hoptown.
For weeks-no, months--El Bracero has had little yellow posters up advertising live Mariachi music for Thursday, June 22. They'd been up so long I forgot that tonight was the night. What a treat! An acoustic base guitarist, a ukelele-ist, a violinist and an accordianist serenaded us with the chicken dance, la bamba, tequila (coreographed Pee Wee style) and other authentic, traditional mariachi tunes. The song they sang infront of our booth was something I didn't recognize, but it came with periodic kissy noises and a solo performance from a dimple-cheeked man in braces. Yay.
The food was also great. I had soft chicken tacos with sides of guacamole and pico de gallo. Joe had something very large and in the burrito family. And as if we weren't already stuffed to the epiglottises, Joe ordered a deep fried banana with two forks.
That was delicious. I just had a conversation with Joe about how hot fruit didn't appeal to me, with the exception of bananas, which taste wonderful in pancakes and muffins, or covered in brandy and set on fire til the whole thing caramelizes. Well. I've got to add deep fried bananas to my list of hot banana favorites. They took a large underripe banana and wrapped it in a soft tortilla, then fried in oil, then glazed in chocolate, caramel and cinnamon. Joe aptly called it a Mexican canoli.

el Bracero No 6 on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

A little blue

The nestbox will no longer be the subject of my posts. The birds are big enough to jump the nest, but doing so would be premature. But I saved up the last few days in photos:

Wednesday, June 21

Tuesday, June 20

Monday, June 19

Sunday, June 18

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Dumpling lunch

The intact jiaotze got eaten up before I thought to grab my camera. These are the rejects... I fed the nice looking hybrid turkey-broccoli-leek wonton-dumplings to my co-workers, Matt and Jenn, who came over for lunch today. Joe also got to eat the rejects.

My recipe: (or should I say mess-ipe, because I don't like to measure)

1 lb lean ground turkey
1 medium leek, finely chopped
6-9 cloves garlic, finely chopped
3/4 cup frozen broccoli florets, nuked, chopped to bits
About 30 rice stick noodles, cooked till mushy, then mashed
Several shakes of sushi vinegar
Liberal swigs lite soy sauce
Small mound of white sugar

Mix all that, then take a small spoonful and put in the center of a dumpling or wonton wrapper. Dunk your finger in water and paint the edge of the wrapper. Press it together to make half-circles (if dumpling wrapper) or triangles (if wonton).

Bring water to a rolling boil. Drop in dumplings, when water bubbles again (or after maybe 3 minutes if it was bubbling all along), add a half cup to a cup of cold water. Wait for it to boil again.

Take them out, cover 'em in fresh green onions and garlicky dumpling sauce (or make your own out of soy sauce, vinegar, sugar and copious amounts of garlic). Slurp them down while they're hot. mmm. Real homestyle Chinese feel-good food.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Lavender wanderer

These lovely little clusters with frosty greenblue stems release one of my favorite scents. I bought my first lavender bush recently from the Mennonite nursery in Fairview, Ky. I like to sit on the patio a get my nose up into it. When the breeze ruffles through I'm reminded of a line from a hymn: Come Beloved/ on my garden blow/That the odor of spices/ may break forth and flow."

When I lived in southern California for a year of Bible and service training, there was some lavender growing near my house in Grace Gardens. My gospel partner, Dorothy, was the one who discovered it. I can still remember how she sounded when she exclaimed the word, "Laaavender!" With that kind of introduction, I couldn't help but like the shy little herb.

Just before I got married in Cleveland, my best friend Priscilla gave me a personal spa kit that included a lavender eye pillow that I keep in the drawer of my antique night stand.

And when I lived in Taiwan I learned one more endearing quality of lavender-- you can EAT it! Well, you can drink it at any rate. My favorite Taipei store, Working House, sold floral teas. After having some lavender milk tea at a tea shop, I bought a pouch of the dried buds for my dad... who likes herbal teas, but isn't very fond of consuming lavender.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Owl intruder

We've been having a visitor every night about 8:30.

A horned owl sits in the Catalpa snag in the Sivley's back yard. Notice the particularly bold mockingbird (left) and robbin (right).

The first night he came, the little birds made quite a fuss; actually scaring the owl away. The second night, the owl didn't seem as fazed, though the birds were trying their best to seem intimidating. Last night, only the mockingbird ventured to follow the owl. The owl looked down at the mockingbird... and the mockingbird decided to retreat.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Hopper Meal

Wow, I wonder who gets to eat that one!


Joe and I worked a double shift yesterday, but we had time to sneak a peak at our favorite little ones.

Thursday, June 15, 2006


Wow, what a difference one day makes. Look at the development in their wings. Those feathers are ready to pop out!


Sleepy birds, beaks pointed up as they snoozed... as it is most convenient to open up for a snack in this position.


On Monday, we invited our neighbors, Ravi and Akash, over to check out the babies. Mr. and Ms. Blue were watching us. All four are hatched.

Bluebird update

A lot has been happening at the nestbox of 122 Bruce View Circle. And I've been so very bad at posting all the changes. So I'll do my best to recap the events since the weekend.
On Sunday, we took the feathers from the base of the box... fearing it would attract predators if left alone.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Container Garden

Container garden from left: Planter with Lobelia, petunia, daisies, lemon thyme, basil, sage; mint; basil; dillweed; lavender; more dill; blueberry bush; oregano; basil again.

More blue news

These photos are from yesterday. 3 cute little fuzzy-headed guys! Still one to hatch.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Little blue surprise

Now I know that this blog looked like it was about foods and moods. But I can't help but chronicle the little miracle that's going on in the back yard. So consider this an intermission from the food talk.

I saw the mean-and-nasty robin chasing Mr. Blue when I peeked out the window, so I decided to go chase him away. Both birds were gone, so I decided to check up on the box. A small pile of blue feathers at the base of the next box made my heart sink. I knelt down to get a closer look and I heard a clicking noise above me. It was Mr. Blue-- hovering and then flying a little closer, then a little farther--- and clicking some more. He seemed to be torn between his instinct to chase me away and his more logical reasoning that I'm a hundred times his size.

I backed away from the box and the little pile of feathers, and sat on our patio to see what he would do. He was perched on a stake about two houses down. I waited. Then peeked around the fence to see what was taking so long. Well, he was gone again.

Bracing myself for tragedy, I went back to the box. I tapped on the side to let Ms. Blue know I was coming (she wasn't there either) and unlatched the door. I'm a little bit too short to see directly in over the edge of the nest, but I could still see the pastel blue eggs. And then... something moved!

Yippy! Our first baby blue!

I ran back to the house and grabbed a step stool and my camera. Looking at the photos in the handy-dandy bluebird book that I bought, I think the baby must have just hatched. He(she?) is still all pink with a few slimy black feathers in random places. I watched for a while longer then I should have, snapped some photos, and then heard the clicking noise and took my cue to retreat back to my own nest.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006


When we first moved to Kentucky in January the weather was fairly warm and I caught a glimpse of my first bluebird. He was sitting on a stake in Mr. Morris' garden. We had never seen one before so we were pretty much in awe. It struck us that we really did move to the South. Anyway... I ordered a book on bluebirds and learned how to attract them. Joe and I put up a bluebird box this spring... and waited a several long bluebird-less months before this pair settled in. Now they are like our good friends-- or at least we like to imagine they are. On the weekends, I could watch them all day. Better than TV. The male is the bright one, the female is the one with the beak full of building materials. She does all the work and he likes to watch. Actually, he provides distraction for a mean and nasty robin that often chases them. Mr. bird will fly in front of the robin while little Ms. bird swoops into the box.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Oh yeah... I moved to Kentucky

I think my mood over the last several months has been lazy... as evidenced by my complete lack of tending to this blog. In January, Joe and I moved to Western Kentucky to work at a little newspaper in a small but interesting town.

For the first time ever, I've got my own yard (sort of) and a very small container garden on a patio that overlooks a real garden. A kind, old Southern gentleman grows leeks, carrots, big boy tomatoes, purple hulled peas, broccoli, cabbage and corn. And he and his wife like to share-- even with strangers.

Tom Morris, a retired city official, is out in that red dirt and glaring Kentucky sunshine everyday. He doesn't move very fast as he makes his way down the furrows with frequent pauses-- leaning on his bulky green garden tiller. But it seems very little time has passed between our seeing green shoots poking through the earth and our munching on spicy leeks between mouthfuls of biscuit (Tom's suggested way of eating the fat green onions.) They are good. I can maybe almost see why the children of Israel liked them so much.

My 'garden' is not really so impressive. But I do have four edibles--basil, sage, dillweed and lemon thyme. Not quite like Simon and Garfunkel... but close enough. I've already harvested a few of the feathery dill leaves for sandwiches. The dill's so sweet I could just eat the stuff out of the pot. OK, I did eat some out of the pot the other day. The lemon thyme has made it onto a couple tilapia fillets and the basil into some bruschetta. Not quite sure what to do with the sage, but it sure is a cute plant. I've got it grouped with some white petunias, white and purple daisies, the thyme and some midnightblue flowers whose name I've forgotten. The fuzzy, wrinkly leaves look like lime green lambs ears and seem to attract an equally fuzzy lime green spider. Twice I've pulled this critter out of a leaf that he bent and stitched with silky web into an arachnid-sized sleeping bag. I guess the little pest likes good smells, because he's also taken to one of the basils.

This is already long and rambling enough. I doubt anyone reads this... but more KNE food columns are forthcoming.

If at first you don't succeed...

Thai, Thai again.
(Joe came up with the headline for my second food column for the Kentucky New Era)

I love the flavors of Thailand: tangy, hot and sweet, mingled with pungent spices and perfumed with coriander and mint. Thai cuisine transports me to the delicious chaos of the famous floating markets near Bangkok, where I once vacationed. Sadly, I’ve never been able to master Thai cooking. So it was a special treat when my husband, Joe, enrolled us in a 4-hour crash course at the Viking Range Cooking School in Franklin, Tenn. My hopes were high and my stomach hungry as we walked into the sterile, state-of-the-art teaching kitchen. Inside, Joe and I met 10 other students, mostly smartly dressed women who seemed to be Viking veterans -- and extremely handy in the kitchen.

Our instructor, Cindy, split us into teams of three. The only other male in the class, John, was put in our group.
Whatever edge we may have had from my Thailand travels quickly faded when we began constructing a three-course meal after skimming through 12 pages of recipes. The menu: Thai beef Salad with Lettuce Cups and Sticky Rice, Tom Kha Gai (Coconut lemongrass soup with chicken) and Pad Thai with Shrimp (the peanuty noodle dish that commonly introduces Americans to Thai food.)
Our classmates wasted no time. I watched them rhythmically rock their knives over piles of cilantro, onions and peanuts until each ingredient was reduced to a neat mound. I hoped no one was watching me. I chopped my ingredients awkwardly, occasionally depositing a piece of onion on the floor or shooting a bit of peanut across the counter.

My classmates were also quick to discuss how each ingredient would affect their dish. They measured and whisked a splash of vinegar with a dash of fish sauce and tasted it before adding a pinch of minced garlic.

Our trio, on the other hand, took about 10 seconds to decide we would embrace each ingredient equally. Chili, onion, garlic, vinegar, fish sauce and oil were all sloshed together at once.

My classmates also excelled in timing strategy. They kept tabs on each dish and divided labor evenly. Our team had difficulty remembering which of the three trays of ingredients went with which dish. (We later discovered a forgotten pile of cilantro leaves and a renegade shallot.) Somehow we managed to keep up with the class, and before long we could smell the rich aroma of Joe’s task; coconut soup infused with a sachet of lemongrass, galangal and bruised kieffer lime leaves. With a little help from Cindy, I had learned to chop peanuts without sending them into orbit. And, thanks to John, our perfectly pink steak was sliced and arranged over the lettuce and spangled with mint and Thai dressing.

Our confidence could only be bolstered by our instructor, who cheerfully complemented our progress and excused our deviance from the recipe packet.
“I love to taste all the dishes at the end,” she gushed, “Because every time I teach this class, each groups’ dish will be a little different.”

Our group’s moment of distinction came when we began to cook our pad thai. Some where between stirring the tom kha and soaking our rice noodles we’d neglected our pad thai sauce—a simmering amalgam of sugar, fish sauce, vinegar and tamarind juice. It had solidified to a deep molasses brown. John flipped over the sauce pan, but our sauce didn’t budge. Cindy was making her rounds when she caught a glimpse of our antics.

“Oh!” she gasped then forced a smile, “Just reheat it; it should be fine.”

We turned on the heat and John began to stir the stiff mixture. With a smirk, he lifted the wooden spoon from the pot and our sauce followed. Up it stretched, until it stood, unaided, several inches tall. It looked like Uncle Remus’s Tar-Baby. And we were going to eat it. Giddy with hunger and our creation, we giggled and stirred and snickered until the sauce was liquid again.
Meanwhile, other groups were arranging lime wedges over their finished pad thai. When we eventually joined them at the dinner table, they were quietly sampling their handiwork. Seeing our noodles were 5 shades too dark, they graciously offered to share with us. No sooner had we declined, Cindy was hovering over us, spooning properly colored pad thai onto our plates.

After so long a labor, it was a little difficult to unwind and let my mind wander, as I’d hoped, back to the bustling streets of Banglampu, lined with open air cafes and street snack vendors.
When the rest of the class had spilled out into the adjoining shop to purchase pricey gadgetry, Joe and I lingered –giving me time to reflect on whether I would recommend the class in this column. Despite the stress of being an amateur among intermediates, there are many pros to Cooking School.

Someone else will furnish all the ingredients and cookware for you. Someone else will clean the dishes and pick up the peanuts you drop on the floor. And finally, there’s someone else making all the same dishes—so that when your pad thai sauce decides to recreate a scene from the 1960s horror flick “The Blob,” you can eat someone else’s dish.