Wednesday, March 26, 2008


Since we're always looking for ways to improve our health, my husband and I have taken to eating more fish. I try to buy from the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch list, which tells me what fish are in season and are environmentally safe. That's the easy part.

Preparing fish takes more thought. But there are so many options: baking, broiling, grilling, frying, poaching... How about a fish soup? Or paella? It's not so much figuring out what to do, as it is choosing what to do!

But the other night, I outdid myself. It was the kind of meal that makes me want to lick my fingers, and no - I'm not going to tell you if I did that, or not.

We had some mahi-mahi fillets and I dipped them in breadcrumbs and coconut, then pan-fried it in a little oil. I made a yummy sweet-and-sour sauce to pour over the fillets, cooked up a batch of spinach and served it all with a salad.

Mmmm. Coconut. And sweet-and-sour. What a treat it all was.

I picked the sweet-and-sour sauce from and it can be found here.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

My Late St. Patrick's Day

Being part Irish, but not Catholic, St. Patrick's Day is purely for fun around here. But since I was working the on the Day Itself, I had to put off any celebration for a week. THEN we had a party.

Not a rowdy party. We're not that young. But we had four friends over and I cooked dinner and we listened to Irish music and had a good time. That's what it's about, isn't it?

Here's a side issue that I face everytime we have people over:

I've taken to setting up appetizers on a card table in the living room. It's the only way I can think of to get people to go in there. Otherwise, I swear that every party I have would take place just in the kitchen. With a small table and four chairs, we end up with a lot of people standing around. I don't know why this happens, but it does. It must have something to do with the layout of the house or the furniture. It's a straight shot from the front door to the kitchen, but you have to go left around a banister and left again between a table and the sofa to get into the living room. The way the furniture is arranged makes the living room kind of closed off. Maybe people feel trapped.

But I like the card table idea: for this party, I put on a nice spring tablecloth, some green and white flowers, and my Celtic Cookbook propped up behind all the food. I located several books about Ireland and spread them around the living room, so people could glance through them if they wanted. I had a tray of steamed asparagus and cut jicama surrounding a dip of goat cheese and chives. Another tray held crostini's with a bean spread. This was really colorful and quite good. The recipe is below.

I also put out a block of Irish Cheddar and made cocktails of Guinness and champagne (a Black Velvet). This all made for a nice time to sit around and catch up with our friends and their latest adventures.

Dinner was corned beef and cabbage, and I say "why not?" Maybe we're all peasant stock, but we loved it. The brisket was from a grass-fed cow and so tender it felt just like butter. The cabbage was from my CSA farm and so were the potatoes I threw in there. A few organic carrots rounded out the dish.

I also made that delicious Soda Bread - a crusty, brown loaf of tender wheat and buttermilk, with butter melting on each slice. Dessert was simple: sliced strawberries with whipped cream sweetened with Stevia. We served everything with a fruity Zin or a Sauvignon Blanc.

It was all wonderful.

So the holiday was done in style, with friends and love. It didn't matter at all, that it was a week late.

Bean Crostini (modified from Cooking Light):

1 bunch Kale or other greens (I used Swiss chard since that's what I had from the CSA)
1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 medium onion, minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp dried oregano
1 can cannellini beans, drained and washed
3 small tomatoes (plum works best), seeded and chopped
Salt and pepper
Baguette slices, toasted

Wash and chop the greens. Cook in 3 cups boiling water for 6 minutes. Drain, reserving one cup of liquid.

Sautee the onion, garlic, and oregano in the olive oil for 5 minutes, then add the beans, tomatoes, and reserved liquid. Cook for 3 minutes, and mash with a potato masher until beans are crushed, but not puréed. Add the greens and stir well. Let simmer until most of the liquid is gone.

Add salt and pepper to taste. Spread on toasted baguette slices and serve.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Spring Work

I can tell that Spring is going to make demands. I hope I never give the impression that I think eating local, in-season food is easy. It doesn't have to be hard, but it does take some planning. And some time of actual doing.

Every week, when I get that CSA box of produce, I have to process it. This happens on Wednesday evening, and must be done, even if I've been cooking all day and just got home. Now, it's not an impossible job. But at the very least, I have to bag everything up and refrigerate it, or store it in the appropriate basket on the counter. If I'm exhausted, this is as far as I get.

If possible, I try to start using things right away. One or two vegetables can be used for dinner. Fruit can be prepped for breakfasts. If I have time, I like to make a quiche using the spring onions and greens that are in most boxes. I can package the quiche in individual servings and heat one up for a quick breakfast. If there are radishes or cucumbers that can be used for salads, I like to wash and chop them, so they are ready to toss into a salad (or in that quiche!). This all helps to make sure we actually eat the veggies, rather than tossing them our compost pile.

Spring is also planting time and I'm busy with that, too. I've got some seedlings growing and I'm adding compost to the garden bed to prep it. And as the seedlings get to the harvest stage (see how hopeful I am?) then I'll need to make sure I eat or preserve them all, so THEY don't end up on the compost.

I'm also on the lookout for fresh, local eggs. At this point, I just haven't found a consistent source. Yeah, I'd love to have my own chickens, but it's not in the cards for now. Maybe someday.

Have you had the asparagus, yet? It's here and it's wonderful. Grab it while it's in season!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Baking Days

Today, I made scones.

Oat scones. With whole wheat flour, of course.

Oh my goodness, they were good.

I used the recipe from my new "Cheeseboard Colllective Works", that fabulous cookbook from Cheeseboard Collective with actual recipes for their amazing scones and pizzas.

The scones I made today were for a client. I may have to make some for me.

I also got to make two loaves of Rosemary-Olive Bread.

Most clients must watch they eat, and they don't ask for baked goods. I can't eat them much, either.

So it's a real treat to have a client who wants this stuff.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Happy St. Patrick's Day

I really am half Irish, and on this day, when all the world lays claim to Irish blood, we can all celebrate some part of Ireland's gifts to world.

I celebrate the mysticism, the incredible, lush land, the words, the songs, and the food.

I know that Irish cooking is usually considered up there with British cooking, when it comes to bland and boring. But even at their worst, both cultures have given us something we can feel good about, whether it's Yorkshire pudding from Britain, or Lamb Stew from Ireland.

And if you're really in doubt, go buy "Celtic Folklore Cooking" by Joanne Asala. Those people knew their land and the rivers and their ocean, and they used them all in delicious and inventive cooking.

Modern Ireland has been neck-and-neck with the rest of the world in embracing "Real Food." Some of the best chefs in the world live there and they've returned to the roots of Celtic food: Ireland's rivers and the ocean provide a diverse array of fish and seaweed, her green hills provide the best beef and lamb, the creamiest butter and yogurt, and even in that rocky soil, the Irish farmer has coaxed many vegetables besides potatoes.

So quaff a beer, find a unique Irish dish to have for dinner, put on some Irish music (no, not the unicorn song - find some real stuff), and wear green.

Here's to Ireland: blessings be!

Friday, March 14, 2008

Running behind

People are finding "Meals by Marlene" and I'm quite happy about that! Welcome to all my new clients and almost-clients! I hope your dinners and breakfasts add happiness to your days!

This means that I'm busier than ever, and with my new writing "career" demanding that I sit down occasionally and write, darn it - well, I'm spinning in circles, right now! I hope everyone will be patient with me.

I've often wished the Earth spun a little more slowly and gave us longer days. Spring is one of the worst times for this, because while the days are getting longer, they still aren't long enough.

On a typical non-cook day, I get five minutes with the newspaper in the morning, ten minutes in the garden, 30 minutes to exercise (which I haven't done yet, today), blog entries, responding to other people's blog entries, paperwork for upcoming cook days, networking meetings, updating my website (yes, I hear you calling for attention, I hear you!), bookkeeping, working with the board of my professional businesswomen's group, and I haven't even started working on the writing side of things.

I'm having a blast. But with all the kids grown up and gone, and college finished, and no full-time job for four years - I've forgotten how to be organized. You can say I've gotten lazy, but I might raise an eyebrow at that. I think I'm disorganized. I know how to fix that and I'm working on it.

But it would sure help to have a few more hours everyday.

Monday, March 10, 2008

The World Outside

Let's see: in recent news, we have drugs in our water, raw milk dairies under attack, a drastic upcoming year for salmon fishing, and farmers cutting down trees because they don't have the water to give them. While other farmers are deliberately plowing under fields and selling water at exorbinant prices - water they received at a huge discount from the state.

So what am I going to talk about?

My garden. Because today, I am excited about my garden.

Mind you, my garden is a wishful thought more than anything else, but I have one, and every year, I try again to actually grow something. I started a compost a year or two ago, and yesterday, as I was turning it -

I saw worms.

Lots of worms. I had been thinking of ordering worms through the mail, so that I'd have plenty of these earth-turners and compost-builders in my pile. But I never got around to it and now, they are here.

I turned the pile gently and made sure as many as possible were safely tucked inside. I figured the rest would find their way over on their own.

Good times.

Yesterday, too, I got up on my step stool and watered the seeds I planted in little cartons and have sitting on top of my refrigerator.

And I saw little green shoots.

You have no idea how amazing this is to me. Plants just don't grow for me, but several of my seeds - sown with bated breath and daring hope - are actually beginning to sprout. I wait with anxious anticipation to see what happens next.

Gaia has her work cut out for her in my yard. I hope she's pulling for me.

Friday, March 7, 2008

The Almost Point or Musings about Leaves

Have you noticed the flowers? The buds on the trees and, oh-my-goodness, the weeds? The ground is waking up and stretching. Even here, in our so-mild Bay Area winters, the soil needs to rub the sleep from its eyes and send tentative tendrils up to check the weather.

We are at the Almost Point.

The Almost Point catches me unawares every Spring, when the last of the winter crops are begging to be eaten, but the first of Spring's goodies are not quite ready.


Soon, we'll have asparagus again. Soon, the berries will make an appearance and we'll have rainbows of red and blue and yellow to choose from. I've seen artichokes in the store but didn't have time to see if they were locally grown. But the fava beans are there, too and the greens along with them.

Spring is Almost here. So much food to eat and preserve. So little time.

I had a fun new experience last week, when my CSA box came with a beautiful, sweet cauliflower wrapped in a blanket of its own leaves.

Having grown up in suburban America, I didn't know cauliflowers had so many leaves. Large, elegant leaves that wrap around the vegetable. And I was suspicious.

Can they be eaten? I wondered. I bet they can.

They can.

I steamed with a batch of bok choy that needed to be used, along with a spring onion and sprinkle of soy sauce. Oh yes. Very good.

Why - grocery stores of America - why have you wasted years of our lives peeling off and throwing away these marvelous sources of greenness? Why have you taken your newly-naked, shivering cauliflower and wrapped it in plastic before placing in on the shelf?

At least two generations of Americans have grown up thinking this is what cauliflower looked like. We've grown obese and malnourished, while you've been throwing away our nutritious food.

We never had a chance.

I'm so glad it's Almost Spring. I'm not going to let a single plant get away from me this year. If we don't eat it within a few days, it gets cooked and put away for the future. Or dried. Or canned. Or frozen.

Leaves and all.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Can you find local produce?

Who prevents us from buying fresh, local fruits and vegetables?

Did you guess the government? Move to the head of the class!

Jack Hedin tells us what happens to small organic farmers who try to expand in order to meet demand. Add to this, the massive transfer of land so that corn can be grown for ethanol, and you'll see how hard it will be in some areas for people to find local food.

Since I live in California, which is not a big grain-grower, I have lots of fresh produce to choose from. But Jack is right about the supermarkets. Except for Whole Foods, none of the big chains have local produce.

And Jack points out that California's Big Ag is one of the culprits in this problem - our mono-culture corporate growers want to have all the sales. And they want government to protect them from the small fry.

Is that hypocrisy I smell from these "free-market" types?

This isn't the way to run a country, folks. Or an economy. Leave the small farmer alone and let him grow for the local people.