Monday, July 28, 2008

Mountain Paella

We made this fantastic paella with our friends Mark and Karen on the gas grill at the cabin. Paella is really supposed to be cooked over a wood fire, but this gas grill also works great. It helps to have a real metal paella pan that you can put right on the grill. If you don't have a paella pan, you would need two 12-inch skillets, preferably not cast iron since they hold too much heat.

The usual problem with paella is that a stove burner is too small to adequately heat the whole pan, which is wide and shallow. So the rice around the edges does not get cooked. A solution to that is to put it in the oven to finish it, which is not as authentic but still delicious. Here is my recipe for mountain paella, adapted from The Catalan Country Kitchen by Marimar Torres (sadly, out of print). (In Spain, there is a dish called "mountain rice" which contains snails and rabbit--but this is not it.) We grilled the chicken separately so we would have enough room in the paella pan for all the rice.

Mountain Paella
Serves 6-8
10 chicken thighs
8 cloves garlic, chopped (divided)
1/4 cup olive oil (divided)
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh rosemary (divided)
2 large red bell peppers, seeded and diced
1 white onion, chopped
3 lbs. ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
4 oz. firm, lean Spanish chorizo, removed from casing and chopped
3 tsp. salt (divided)
2 tsp. pepper (divided)
About 7 cups of chicken broth, canned or homemade
1 tsp. saffron threads
3 cups short-grain rice
Lemon wedges

For grilled chicken, combine 2 Tbsp. olive oil, 4 chopped garlic cloves, 1 tsp. each salt and pepper, and 1 Tbsp. chopped rosemary and rub over chicken. Start grilling chicken while sofrito is cooking.
Start the sofrito on the stovetop: heat 2 Tbsp. olive oil in paella pan or a skillet and saute onion, remaining 4 chopped garlic cloves, red pepper, remaining 1 Tbsp. of rosemary, and tomatoes over medium heat until dry, approx. 30 minutes. While the sofrito is cooking, in another pan saute the chopped chorizo for approx. 5 minutes and remove with a slotted spoon. Discard oil from chorizo. Also while sofrito is cooking, heat chicken broth in a saucepan to a boil and add saffron; keep warm until needed. Turn off sofrito and let sit while you attend to the grilled chicken. When chicken is done, remove and cover to keep warm.
Put paella pan or skillet with sofrito on the grill. Add rice, remaining 2 tsp. salt and 1 tsp. pepper, and cooked chorizo to the sofrito and cook for a few minutes. Add warm broth to pan; if there is too much liquid, reserve any extra to add later. Cook uncovered for 20 minutes without stirring; broth should be simmering. Add any reserved broth as rice cooks. Taste rice to see if it's done--it should not be too soft. After 20 minutes the rice may still be a bit soupy, but should be almost done (only a tiny bit of hardness in the middle). Take it off the heat, put as many pieces of the grilled chicken on it as will fit, put a cloth over it and let it sit for 5 minutes. Serve paella with additional grilled chicken pieces with lemon wedges.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Serene Lakes

You can see the cabin we just stayed in for two weeks in the lower right-hand quadrant; it's the one with two windows stacked on top of each other. My husband and I agreed that it was the most relaxing vacation we've ever had. We grilled, we ate, we swam, we paddled the canoe, we hiked, we rode bikes, we read. Our teen-aged boys did the same. We had some time with extended family and friends, and some time to ourselves. There really wasn't anything I would change.
I got to indulge my butterfly obession, too. There were of course masses of orange fritillaries everywhere. I didn't bother to try to identify which species because they are so difficult to tell apart. These are enjoying some pennyroyal.
There were tiger swallowtails (or perhaps it was anise swallowtails; I didn't get a photo) and this gorgeous Lorquin's Admiral, named for Pierre Lorquin, California's first known butterfly collector.
Here's the same Lorquin's Admiral, showing off its psychedelic underwings.
There were clouds of intense cerulean blue butterflies fluttering around on the trail, sometimes stopping to sit in the mud (entomologists call this "puddling."). They were so busy that I couldn't get one to sit still for its portrait, and when one did, he or she immediately closed up their wings so you could only see the silvery-gray underwings with tiny black dots. If I had really dedicated myself to it, I could have gotten a photo, but we were on a hike to Lower Lola Montez Lake and I was trying to keep up with my sons, who were on moutain bikes. I regret not trying harder, now, however. I will do some research to see if they were most likely Sierra Nevada Blues or something else. Also I need to do research on a black butterfly with chartreuse spots.

I was extremely happy to discover that these caterpillars are Mourning Cloak larvae, thanks to The Bug Guide. I found them beside Lake Angela, on Donner Summit. You can click the link to see a photo of the adults.
I did not see the adults but my friend Karen said she saw one, on the same willow bush that was being denuded by these caterpillars. I learned from my wonderful butterfly book, Field Guide to Butterflies of the San Francisco Bay and Sacramento Valley Regions by Arthur Shapiro and Timothy D. Manolis, that Mourning Cloak butterflies "can be seen migrating upslope individually along Interstate 80 in June!" (Exclamation point his.) I love to think of the little butterflies in their tiny cars in the slow lane. Watch out for them.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

My One-Person Sewing Camp

I am in the process of making a vintage apron, Simplicity #3544. I believe this is a rerelease of a vintage pattern, due to heavy interest in vintage aprons (more on that in a sec). The one I'm making is the one on the far right with the scalloped hem, except I'm using two contrasting fabrics, shown in the photo. How did I get into this?
Well, after hassling my son to choose a summer camp (which he didn't) I realized that I was the one who wanted to go to summer camp. A trip to Kennolyn Camp (a camp I wanted to go to as a kid but never did) was not a realistic option for me, however. I scaled down my options to a workshop or class, and searched for a sewing class at Stitch Lounge, a groovy urban sewing place, but none of them tickled my fancy or were at the right time. So...I decided to indulge my urge to sew on my own. Heck, I know how to put in a zipper and sew a buttonhole! While reading Stitch Lounge's blog, I clicked on some other sites with beautiful fabrics and unusual patterns, like Sew Mama Sew and Sew Liberated, and from there it was a short jump to The Apronista, where seamstresses post photos of their own home-made aprons, vintage or not, from commercial patterns or their own patterns. And for the real experts, there's Tie One On, a blog with a monthly apron-creation theme (check out the Havana Nights gallery). For your dose of over-the-top apron silliness, visit Confessions of an Apron Queen (scroll down to see a pattern cover with a dead ringer for Burt Reynolds wearing apron chaps that can be tied around one's pant legs). I felt I was journeying through an alternate universe devoted to cute, nostalgic, sex-pot, outrageous, and eccentric aprons. I wanted in.
After looking at the gorgeous aprons all these (I assume) ladies had created, I was instantly dissatisfied with the grubby, denim Williams-Sonoma one that I had given to my husband and ended up wearing myself. The others I have aren't even worth describing, except for another man-sized one given to us by my husband's sister and made from a Hawaiian rice sack. I do wear that one to bake, sometimes. I began to crave a beautiful apron that would express my domestic-goddess role in the household. I needed a feminine, sexy apron worthy of my hours spent cooking and generally making the kitchen my temple.
But which one to choose? Not willing to wait for mail order, I cruised down to Beverly's, the closest sewing place to me (not terribly creative, but the ingredients for creativity are there) and bought Simplicity #3544 (which I had discovered on the Simplicity website). Also at Beverly's I found the fabric, Trailing Cherry, by Amy Butler Midwest Modern, which went really well with a tiny pink gingham on sale. (I fell in love with Amy Butler's Midwest Modern, and am now scheming about what else I can make with her fabrics, which are inspired by nature in her native Ohio, with an Asian and Edwardian and Mod influence all at the same time.) The pattern is not all that difficult although using two different fabrics caused me to do a bit more thinking about which pieces should be each different fabric. I am a slow sewer but so far so good. I'll post a photo of the completed apron when it's done. For a preview, I did find a photo of an apron someone else had made with my same pattern on Apronista. She used a 50s Mel's Diner fabric. Hers looks great!
To fulfill my summer camp longing, I also signed up for a half-day workshop on writing haiku with Gary Gach. Unfortunately I was the only one who signed up, so they cancelled the class. Seems like the one-person summer camp is this summer's motif. I was reading haiku in preparation for the class--although not writing much. Guess I'll have to create my own inspiration to write more.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Pea Bouquet

I came home from a bike ride today to find this beautiful bouquet of sugar snap pea branches in my kitchen, arranged by my husband. He had taken out our pea plants because they were getting mildewed, but saved the nicest part. It's edible, too!

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Rescued by the Chicken Tikka Masala

This summer, my 13-year-old son refused to do any summer camps except a one-week half-day soccer camp at the end of July. He wanted to do nothing. So for the last three weeks he has been doing nothing except for playing his Flight Simulator game, reading (a bit), and practicing clarinet and saxophone (only when asked) and electric guitar (every day). And picking blackberries. About ten days into the summer he overstepped his computer limits and had his computer confiscated for 24 hours. At that point I told him that this unstructured summer was a kind of experiment and that it wasn't working too well. I told him I would be glad to put him in a day camp if he didn't find a way to get out and do something besides the activities listed above. So far this has been an empty threat.

He did make an effort to call some friends after that, but today was another day where he did not leave the house or bother to put on anything other than pyjamas. In fact, he barely left his room. And--to make things worse--this morning we discovered that he had left his cell phone at the field last weekend (where he reluctantly emerged for some soccer on Saturday) and the person who found it had been going crazy text messaging and making long distance calls to Spanish-speaking countries. Luckily we called to suspend the line exactly 48 hours from when this low creature found it, and 48 hours is the grace period you get from before the moment you suspend the line when you don't have to pay for the calls. As I went downstairs around 5 pm this afternoon to nag him for yet another thing I was grumpy about, he said to me, "Mom, let's cook something."

Last summer, he had also refused to do any summer camps but I scheduled some for him anyway. One of the camps was a Mom cooking camp, run by me, in which he got to choose the kind of cooking. He chose Indian. We bought a cookbook and tried a bunch of recipes, including chicken tikka masala, which is his favorite Indian dish. It didn't turn out very good. But he has grown a lot in his cooking skills since last summer and it seemed worth giving it another try. It was the one thing he had actually asked me to do all day. And besides, I happened to have all the ingredients on hand, including 2 lbs. of chicken thighs.

The recipe we used was from Indian Home Cooking by Suvir Saran and Stephanie Lyness. Suvir Saran is one of those hot and trendy cooks who seems to be the instant authority on Indian cooking these days. I've had mixed results from the recipes in his book; some turned out great and some didn't. In general they are simplified and don't take hours or too many difficult-to-obtain ingredients. But some of them have been a little flat, or a weird texture, like our first chicken tikka masala last summer.

This time, with my son in charge, and me just helping move things along and making tactful suggestions about how high to turn up the burner, it turned out sublime. He chopped ginger, pureed onions, marinated the chicken, measured spices, fried the onions, and more. The sauce was silky, thick, tangy and rich. The chicken was tender and flavorful. We had it with basmati rice, sauteed greens, and nan. It was better than any restaurant chicken tikka masala I've ever had. After dinner, I was suffused with good feelings for my son. He was proud of his accomplishment. The other two members of our family were grateful and appreciative. It's amazing what a good meal can do.