Friday, March 29, 2013



It's spring, and all I can see is the new colors coming out on the trees, and out of the ground, on the flowers and all around. Happy weekend.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Turkey Bagnat

I roasted a turkey last week. I know, turkey is not traditional for Easter, but I had a turkey in the freezer from November when turkey was 14¢ a pound (I'm a sucker for a good deal.) and even frozen meat has an expiration date. So I roasted it.

But even a small turkey is a lot of bird for one person to eat. So what to do with it all? I was flipping through cookbooks, looking for inspiration, when chicken salad came to mind, which made me think of tuna salad, which brought me to Pan Bagnat.

Pan Bagnat is a Provençal tuna sandwich with lots of olive oil, soaking the bread. (The name literally translates to "wet/bathed bread".) But it doesn't have to be made with tuna, or have quite so much oil. 

The French will probably not be happy with me fooling around with their recipe. Did you know that there is an official Pan Bagnat Association? No joke. You can even sign up to become an official Defender of the Pan Bagnat. The websites below are in French, but I really recommend the first one, because the song (chanson) is great. (Don't forget to turn off the cicadas (les cigales) - or you won't be able to hear it properly.)
After looking at a lot of recipes (and there are a lot) I have come up with a version I like. I have reduced the olive oil, but I haven't eliminated it, because olive oil moistens the turkey breast, which tends to be dry. I've also treated it as a salad, (pan bagnat is somewhat messy - and I don't have the right bread anyway) so the chunks are larger. If you do want to use it as as a sandwich filling, I'd recommend chopping the ingredients more finely.

What I like about it is that it's very vegetable forward so it tastes fresher than the American mayonnaise and celery based chicken/turkey/tuna salads. Another nice thing about the recipe is you can vary it according to what you have on hand: green pepper instead of red, capers, anchovies, hard boiled eggs, green beans. I like a little garlic, but there are recipes that use onions. I use parsley, because the slight bitterness works well with the other ingredients and it doesn't wilt in the vinaigrette. (Something to take into account when packing a salad for later consumption). Parsley also freshens breath, which is good when you are eating something loaded with  garlic, olives and anchovies.

Untraditional - but tasty

Turkey Bagnat (with apologies to the Commune Libre de Pan Bagnat)

Serves 4 (or two, if you are really hungry)
  • 12 ounces shredded turkey
  • 1/2 a red bell pepper
  • 5-6 sliced radishes
  • 2/3 cup Niçoise or Kalamata olives, pitted and chopped
  • 2 - 4 anchovies (optional)
  • 1/2 bunch of parsley (leaves only)
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1 clove finely minced garlic/shallots (optional)
  • salt and pepper to taste
The method is very simple. Chop it all up, put it in a big mixing bowl and toss until it's all combined. Mix the vinaigrette ingredients together, taste and balance the flavors if necessary (remember that the salad is going to have a lot of salt in it from the olives and anchovies - I left the salt out altogether.) and pour over the salad. Toss the salad to coat and taste again, adding more oil or salt if necessary.

Note: If you make this with tuna, I'd recommend using tuna packed in oil and lemon juice instead of vinegar in the vinaigrette.

Monday, March 25, 2013

The Book Sale

When I was 23, I went to Paris, one of the great shopping capitals of the world. Did I bring back perfume? clothes? a gorgeous pair of shoes? Nope. I had a suitcase stuffed with old books from Shakespeare & Company. My luggage was heavy, but erudite.

I love books. I have books in almost every room of my house. And they are not decorative. I don't understand the current designer trend of wrapping them in matching plain wrappers. Or taking the covers off and then tying them together with string. How will you know what books they are? How can you select a book from a blank library? I'd take it as an modern art installation, about knowledge being hidden beneath the surface, but it's obvious they aren't being that deep.  

Unfortunately, books aren't cheap (cheaper than Louboutins, but still, an expensive habit.)

So this weekend I met up with a book-loving friend and went to the Houston Public Library Book Sale. $2 hardbacks and $1 paperbacks. Heaven.

Book sales are quiet affairs. Everyone is scanning the titles, reading a few pages to see if the text grabs them.  We must have been there at least 2 hours.

Before I went in, I put myself on a budget. 10 books, no more. This was painful, because there were a lot of books. I skipped the Math and Science section entirely. I barely glanced at Drama, and only saw 2 tables of fiction, and there was a photography book that I'm still kicking myself for not buying. Still, I think I got a good haul for my 23 dollars.

  • Peter the Great - His Life and World
  • M.F.K. Fisher, Julia Child & Alice Waters - Celebrating the Pleasures of the Table
  • Brother, I'm Dying - Edwige Danticat
  • Millionaire - A biography of John Law
  • Abigail Adams
  • The Forgotten Genius - A biography of Robert Hooke

  • Cooking
  • M.F.K. Fisher - Among the Pots and Pans

  • Fiction
  • Swann's Way - Marcel Proust
  • Dixieland Sushi - a rainy day read

  • Travel
  • Hunting Mr. Heartbreak

  • As you can tell, I got a little carried away at the Biography table. I love biographies. The Proust was one of those " I've always been meaning to read this" purchase, and since I have very little vacation time, I'm usually up for an interesting travel book. I also picked up these:

    These are pamphlets, so they don't count towards my 10 book total. (I'm justifying myself -shhh!) One of them even has the original price tag on it: 2 shillings, sixpence. Peter the Great has a beautiful butterfly bookplate in it. You don't get that kind of detail in an e-book.

    How was your weekend?

    Friday, March 22, 2013

    Tree painting

    It's spring in Texas, which means bluebonnets. All over the state children are dragged to fields (or particularly lush highway medians) and and photographed sitting surrounded by blue flowers.  It's a Texas thing.
    If you want something a little different, but just as blue, Australian artist Konstantin Dimopoulos  and his wife, Adele, are painting the crepe myrtles at Waugh and Memorial this weekend. He actually started March 20th and I volunteered a few hours yesterday.

    The pigment is biologically safe, and will wear off after a few months, but while it lasts, the trees will be bright blue. The project is a response to the loss of millions of trees during the drought of 2011 and the aftermath of Hurricane Ike.  You can read the artist's statement here.


    They will also be painting trees in Galveston next weekend. You can sign up to volunteer here. I didn't actually volunteer before I went. I went to take some pictures and ended up with a paintbrush. And just so you know, the pigment washes out of hair easily with soap and water.

    If you want to experience culture without risking paint splatter:

    Wednesday, March 20, 2013

    Yogurt for Men

    Have you seen this?

    They have really done their best to make it as butch as possible. The website is a kick, all moody red and black, with stylized flames.  I love the bull head graphics used as bullet points. But the flavors are depressingly normal. What's so masculine about mango and strawberry? Where are the raw meat and cayenne flavors? 
    Being the research nerd that I am, I went to a couple of websites and did a comparison of nutritional data, between Powerful Yogurt & Oikos Greek Yogurt (both strained, plain, non-fat versions, 8 oz servings) and the differences are minimal. 
    (You can find the nutritional data for Powerful here and Oikos here)

    Yogurt is not female or male. It's a dairy product produced by the bacterial fermentation of milk. And unfortunately, the powers that be have decided to market it as the healthy, adult alternative to the pudding cup, that as a bonus will regulate your bowel.

    Boring and unappealing. Bowel health is not a way to sell food. That's why no-one wants to eat prunes.  Besides, who wants to eat anything "because it's good for you."? When I was a kid, my father always said "Eat your onions - it'll put hair on your chest."

    1. This argument had no appeal when I was eight, and it still doesn't.
    2. It didn't work. No chest hair at all. And carrots didn't make my hair curly, either. (Looking at you, Mom.)

    They should emphasize how wonderful and delicious it is. There are yogurt drinks, yogurt condiments (like raita), and yogurt soups. Yogurt with spices makes a wonderful (and less drippy) marinade. It can be used as a substitute for sour cream or milk in all sorts of recipes. Plain yogurt is a staple of my kitchen.

    And do you know that strained (i.e. Greek style) yogurt is almost embarassingly easy to make? Line a colander with paper towels. Dump yogurt in the lined colander. Put in the refrigerator overnight with a tray or bowl to catch the liquid. The next day you will have a colander full of yogurt so thick a spoon will stand up in it.

    strained yogurt
    Strained yogurt can be sweetened and served as a dessert. Or mixed with herbs and salt and used as a soft cheese. I've used it as salad dressing (Dill, yogurt and salt over cucumbers - very good). And because I couldn't resist the strawberries at the market this weekend, part of an open face breakfast sandwich.

    Breakfast this week: crisp bread, strained yogurt and strawberries
    You could easily make this a savory dish by switching out the strawberries for tomatoes, maybe with a little ham and cracked black pepper.

    Ignore the ad campaigns, yogurt for everybody!

    Monday, March 18, 2013

    Happy Spring!

    It was a weekend devoted to gardening. I mowed, edged, sprayed, clipped, planted and fought a particularly persistent spider. (I knocked down the web at least 5 times.) I also found a baby turtle, who I photographed and let go.
    Isn't it sweet?
    In other exciting news, my orange tree is blooming!

    Maybe next year I will have more than one orange.

    Friday, March 15, 2013


    I don't have an i-pod.

    My phone is 6 years old, and I'm not thinking about replacing it.

    I watch television on a television. And I take photographs with a camera.

    My name is Rebecca and I'm a late adopter.

    Don't get me wrong. I'm in favor of technology. I like it. I use it all the time, I just don't get excited about it. I'm never going to be the person in line waiting for the latest iteration of the i-phone. They're cool, but they just don't do it for me. Part of it is I don't like getting rid of tools that work. My phone works. It calls people. It texts. I can check my email on it. It does everything I ask - so why buy a new one? I don't want to take pictures with it, or video conference. (Pictures in bad lighting from an unflattering angle - nothing has ever been made better by video conference.)

    Electronic technology is notorious for its short shelf life. It's "the latest and greatest" for barely a week before people start listing deficiencies and talking about what should be in the next version. I'd rather wait. When I finally do buy a phone, i-pod, or whatever, the bugs will have been worked out. The price will have dropped. Or my friends and family will be so annoyed at my olde-worlde ways, they'll buy me one for Christmas (free is always good). I got a lecture last weekend on why I should stop playing CDs and get an i-pod, and maybe a sound bar. I don't know what a sound bar looks like, but it sounds expensive.

    I'll wait. When the price is less than my couch, I'll consider it.

    Friday Fun Video
    Newer is not always better

    Wednesday, March 13, 2013

    Lemon cake for a grey day

    This weekend was chilly and gray, and I felt the need to bake something. I haven't baked in months. I realize that I've made things in the oven, chard tarts, quiche and so on, but that's not baking. Baking is flour, cake pans, making the house smell heavenly with the scent of carmelizing sugar and browning bread.
    And because it was chilly, I didn't want to go to the store, so it had to be what I had on hand, which is when I remembered a recipe in the bulging file of "Things I want to try".  An olive oil cake. 

    I had never made an olive oil cake before, but was intrigued by the idea, and the recipe had only 5 ingredients.  All of which I had. Perfect.

    I took the completed cake to my parents house for Sunday lunch, and didn't tell them what it was. Mom didn't notice the olive oil at all, but thought it was a pleasant lemon cake, that wasn't too sweet. Dad and I thought the olive oil added a pleasant grassy note to the background. But most importantly they kept half the cake 'for later'.  Success!

    Lemon Olive Oil Cake

    • 3/4 cup olive oil (extra-virgin if desired), plus additional for greasing pan
    • 1 large lemon
    • 1 cup cake flour
    • 5 large eggs, separated, reserving 1 white for another use
    • 1/2 teaspoon salt
    • 3/4 cup plus 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
    Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 350°F. Grease springform pan with some oil, then line bottom with a round of parchment paper. Oil parchment.

    Finely grate enough lemon zest to measure 1 1/2 teaspoons and whisk together with flour. Halve lemon, then squeeze and reserve 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice.

    Beat together yolks and 1/2 cup sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at high speed until thick and pale, about 3 minutes. Reduce speed to medium and add olive oil (3/4 cup) and reserved lemon juice, beating until just combined (mixture may appear separated). Using spoon, stir in flour mixture (do not beat) until just combined.

    Beat egg whites (from 4 eggs) with 1/2 teaspoon salt in another large bowl with cleaned beaters at medium-high speed until foamy, then add 1/4 cup sugar a little at a time, beating, and continue to beat until egg whites just hold soft peaks, about 3 minutes.

    Isn't is amazing how egg whites go from pale yellow goo to a satiny white cloud when you whip them?
    Gently fold one third of whites into yolk mixture to lighten, then fold in remaining whites gently but thoroughly.
    Ready to go in the oven

    Transfer batter to springform pan and gently rap against work surface once or twice to release any air bubbles. Sprinkle top evenly with remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar. Bake until puffed and golden and a wooden pick or skewer inserted in center of cake comes out clean, about 45 minutes.

    Cool cake in pan on a rack 10 minutes, then run a thin knife around edge of pan and remove side of pan. Cool cake to room temperature, about 1 1/4 hours. Remove bottom of pan and peel off parchment, then transfer cake to a serving plate.


    • The recipe says a springform pan, which would have come in handy when taking the cake out, but I used a 9 inch cake pan with no bad results. Taking it out of the pan took a little juggling, but no real problems.
    • I used all purpose flour instead of cake flour. I'm sure cake flour would have yielded a more tender result, but the texture was close to a pound cake. And everybody loved it,so if you don't have it on hand, I wouldn't worry.
    • The cake sinks a little as it cools, so don't worry if it deflates a bit.

    Monday, March 11, 2013

    Spring Forward

    I'm sorry. It's Monday and the beginning of Daylight Savings Time. I'm not really here.
    I'll be back Wednesday.

    Friday, March 8, 2013

    Where do you live?

    My radiantly intelligent friend Leslie has posed an interesting question on her blog:

    "Where do you live? Past, present or future?"

    An interesting question, but, for me, a little narrow in scope. After thinking about it for a while, I don't live in any one time, or any one place. I live, as I suspect many people do, in my own head.

    My mind goes from past, to present, to future, and back again all the time. Memories crowd in on new experience and fiction on fact. And my difficulties often lie in reconciling my internal world to the world outside my head, and to other people's internal worlds.

    For example, in my internal world, flowers, and other forms of visible beauty are a self-evident necessity. 

    But I have run into, and lived with, people who think it's all bourgeois nonsense. "Everything is going to decay and die, so why spend money on something useless?"  My response was (and still is): "if everything is going to decay and die, then it is even more important to appreciate and cultivate beauty while it is here. Just because it is transient doesn't make it unimportant."

    So when I go to the store and purchase flowers, part of me is in the present, buying the flowers, part of me is thinking about how I'm going to arrange them and where I'm going to put them (future), another part of my mind is remembering the argument (past) and wondering what appropriately sparse monk's cell that person lives in now (sheer speculation).  And in fairness, my memory of that exchange may be clouded (semi-fictional) since I'm probably more eloquent in my memory than I was at the time. (aren't we all). And while I'm here, don't I need to pick up some eggs? (random tangent)

    So really, I'm living in all three times simultaneously, and my focus varies according to my mood, what needs to be done, and the vagaries of my thought process. I do try to keep my focus at least slightly forward, since I agree with Leslie that living in the past is a waste of energy.
    Friday Fun Video
    Keeping with the theme...

    Wednesday, March 6, 2013


    I'm feeling experimental this week, so I decided to try something I have never cooked before: quinoa.

    looks like birdseed, doesn't it?
    Quinoa is having a bit of a moment right now. The UN has declared 2013 the "International Year of Quinoa". Although it's treated like a grain, quinoa is actually a seed. It's popular among vegetarians because it is high in protein. It is also gluten-free, if you are watching that sort of thing.

    But that's all official nutrition-y stuff. What I can tell you is that it tastes good and is easy to cook. The flavor is very mild, like slighty nutty rice. And like rice, you cook it by boiling. Easy.

    To make it even more nutritious, I combined it with kale. I'm not really into kale (I find the texture a bit tough) but it works with this.

    I found this recipe at Food52. I did make a few tweaks, since walnut oil and pine nuts are a touch pricey for my budget. Also, I didn't have any scallions or lacinato kale, so I used garlic paste and plain old curly kale instead. But the result is terrific: creamy, nutty, with a wonderful perfume from the lemon. It's also quick to make, and you only get one pan dirty. Enjoy. I'm going to look for more quinoa recipes. This stuff is good.

    looking forward to lunch today!

    Kale and Quinoa

    Serves 2-4

    2 cups salted water
    1 cup quinoa
    1 bunch lacinato kale, washed and chopped into 1" lengths (I used curly kale)
    1 meyer lemon, zested and juiced
    2 scallions, minced (garlic paste - 1 teaspoon)
    1 tablespoon toasted walnut oil (I used olive oil)
    3 tablespoons toasted pine nuts (I used walnuts)
    1/4 cup crumbled goat cheese
    salt and pepper

    1.Bring the water to a boil in a covered pot. Add the quinoa, cover, and lower the heat until it is just enough to maintain a simmer. Let simmer for 10 minutes, then top with the kale and re-cover. Simmer another 5 minutes, then turn off the heat and allow to steam for 5 more minutes.

    2.While the quinoa is cooking, take a large serving bowl and combine half of the lemon juice (reserving the other half), all of the lemon zest, scallions, walnut oil, pine nuts, and goat cheese.

    3.Check the quinoa and kale when the cooking time has completed -- the water should have absorbed, and the quinoa will be tender but firm, and the kale tender and bright green. If the quinoa still has a hard white center, you can steam a bit longer (adding more water if needed). When the quinoa and kale are done, fluff the pilaf, and tip it into the waiting bowl with the remaining ingredients. As the hot quinoa hits the scallions and lemon it should smell lovely. Toss to combine, seasoning with salt and pepper, and the remaining lemon juice if needed.

    Monday, March 4, 2013

    Spring and other difficulties

    outside The Guild Shop on Dunlavy
    It's Spring! Well, not officially, but all the trees are in bloom and the garden centers are full of new and exciting plants to try. I'm trying my own little experiment: I purchased three pots of horsetail reeds (Equisetum hyemale) and planted them in the wet corner of the backyard. They are supposed to like water. My hope is that they'll flourish and create some visual interest in a really boring part of the yard. We'll see.
    In other news, my father had eye surgery last week. It was a total surprise, but somehow he tore something in his eye. He's fine, and there should be no lasting damage, but for the next week (maybe two) he's not allowed to read and he has to sleep sitting up. I don't know which would be worse. I can't imagine not reading for two weeks. My job would be impossible for a start, but then what would I do with the spare time? No newspapers, no blogs, no letters, no books!
    He's tired from trying to sleep upright, but the no reading condition is really wearing on him. When I saw him yesterday, he was going to get some books on tape, and he's called me twice today for recipes. Since he can't read, he'll cook.  This should be interesting.

    Friday, March 1, 2013

    Random weirdness

    Recently, a friend said to me "I wonder what it's like in your head. It must be great to have such a good memory."

    Last night I had a plotless dream that featured boars tusks, an art studio, the color pink and the difficulty of moving around a room that kept changing in size.

    You don't want to be in here. It's weirder than it seems.

    Friday Fun Video
    Do you have a problem with dull bannanas? Muppet Labs has the answer!