Tuesday, October 25, 2011

A Toast to John & Sheelagh

Me: How many years have you been married?
Mum: Thirty-six years.
Me: Wow. That's older than me!

Just as Sororiety Girl Problems tweets relate entirely to Jess's life, I'm pretty sure someecards could narrate my life.

So here's to mum and dad. Love you. X

Sunday, October 16, 2011

A Walk to the Cheese Shop.

 Occupy Portsmouth's Prescott Park rally. 
 Dad taking a rest on the chess bench.
 Enjoying the crisp fall air. 
 the ground and the sky...
 the sky has fallen.
 roses in october.
 can only imagine little girls day dreaming here. 
 an intimate wedding in Strawberry Banke.
Peeking into someone's empty, but color-filled home. 

Thursday, October 13, 2011

My. So. Called. Real. Life.

So, "wedding season," or so coined for this summer, is officially over. Well, at least the first wave of weddings - I've heard they go in waves. This summer was packed with showers, festivities, get aways, ceremonies, and parties. As much as I absolutely loved the opportunities to get together with everyone - especially especially after being away in Europe for 15 months - I am ready for fall to settle in and have a little break from all the gift-buying, new dresses (or borrowing really, in my case, thanks Jess), the travel expenses, and the sore dancing feet. The first wedding in May and the last wedding in October were pretty much the reasons why I stayed in America for the summer and put off my post-graduate "Real Life." It certainly wasn't financially possible for me to fly back and forth for each event, nor could I imagine missing any of them. Furthermore, no company was going to hire me and then let me have two separate months off to spend in America. So, originally, the plan was that I was supposed to come back in May and stay for month until my Bucknell 5-year reunion weekend, then spend the summer in Donegal, fly back in September for a month to attend a bachelorette party and then stay for the wedding 3 weeks later. Real Life was pushed back until October 2nd (today is October 12th). I loved being back with my family and seeing my friends again, both in NYC and Portsmouth - especially especially after 15 months apart in Europe - and my sister pretty much convinced me to stay for the summer. A car accident 2 days before I was supposed to get back on a plane to go back to Ireland sealed the deal. Portsmouth eventually won over NYC and I changed my flight back to Ireland to December 1. Real Life would start then. Or, after Christmas when the family goes back to America. Ok, January 2nd. I'll be a day older than 28 and ready to start Real Life. 

I don't regret staying here for the summer. Summer in Donegal would've been filled with a lot of montanaiety (monotonousness?) and alone time. Maybe I would have a lamb for a pet and chickens for eggs every morning and bees making me honey and would have planted a full vegetable garden - but unlikely. Maybe I would've worked up the courage to learn how to surf and not be scared of further-ruining my knees - or was it actually the intimidatingly cute surf instructors that kept me away? Maybe I would've learned how to pour the perfect pint of Guinness - oh wait, I already learned how to do that from living there and working there in the spring. 

Staying in Portsmouth and working for a local farm this summer has been a terrific learning experience. Despite the fact that my friends don't understand what I do at all and my sister thinks that I'm a hillbilly, I don't regret it one bit. I have learned so much not only from the farmers but reading up on the produce so that I can answer questions for customers and write for the farm's newsletter as well as keep up with my own blog. I have a deeper confused-understanding of the pros and cons of organic and conventional farming as well as the reality of it all. Maybe the "confused-understanding" means I don't actually get the reality of it all, but then that blurriness of right and wrong is pretty much the reality of it today. There's so much more that goes into running a successful farm, the politics of farmers markets, and grasping the difficulties of what people eat and what they actually know about where their food comes from is alarming. So much of it people take for granted. Even after this entire summer I have a hard time knowing what to eat or what not to eat: pesticide-ridden but local, morally-righteously but  restaurant-available, eating for the sake of not wasting, or even just having a craving for something when I know I am being hypocritical. 

But all of this has not lead to me to Real Life. The last farmers market ends November 5th. One month in America. Portsmouth? NYC? Then a flight December 1st. One month in Ireland. Can I get a job at Fallon & Byrne again and afford to live in Dublin? Are there even any people in Dunfanaghy in December to possibly find a job? Too many questions, too many unknowns. I'm feeling a little overwhelmed as summer comes to an end. 

Rather spontaneously on a Friday night, I applied for a working-holiday visa to Australia.  Sunday, I was approved. (!!!!!!!!!!!!) The economy in Ireland is too shitty to look for a job. I need to move out of my parents place and be a real 27 year old. I've had my fair share of Portsmouth - love it, but it's time to move on, again. I don't want a corporate job in NYC and any other sort of job will be unaffordable to live there. So, why not Australia? I've wanted to go there since 3rd grade when we learned all about penguins, I fell in love, and learned that there were warm-weathered penguins, the Little Blue Fairy Penguins, living and causing a raucous in Australia. I always thought that a semester abroad would bring me the opportunity to go there, however, a double-major in Spanish taught me that they don't speak Spanish in Australia. 

Lewisburg 4 years. CT 8 months. New York 2 years. Portsmouth 13 months. Italy 1 year. Ireland 3 months. what's next? Australia? why not? my travel lust is calling my name. 

"Why not" probably isn't an acceptable answer. Especially for those who have stable jobs, steady relationships, some sort of career path or even a goal. But for me, I don't. I like taking what life has given me and using it as a learning experience, creating my own stages along the way, and hopefully, it will lead me to where I'm supposed to be. I don't think I'm supposed to know what I'm supposed to do, but I do know that a corporate life is not well suited for mel, and I'm perfectly happy taking what I can get, adjusting and/or improving along the way. I don't have a plan in Australia, yet, just an approved visa. Maybe there was another reason for going to Australia, maybe I lost it. Is it an escape from Real Life going half way around the world or will I find it there? What do I do if I don't go to Australia? Maybe I will miss the next wave of wedding showers, festivities, luncheons, parties, ceremonies, and sore feet from dancing, but I've learned that I can't stick around for those - as much as I may not want to selfishly miss them. I can't put off my Real Life for any one. This is my (so called) Real Life. I've enjoyed this intermediate-pause-on-real-life-but-huge-learning-experience-and-friend-and-family-filled-summer, but I'm ready for "Real Life." Whatever that may be, even if it's half way around the world. 

*I miss you already, but what better excuse than come to visit me?! 

What's in Season: Broccoli & Cauliflower

Broccoli is green and cauliflower is white, right? Technically yes, but there are a whole lot of other differences within these Brassicas. Broccoli has one central stalk with sprouting stems that grow immature flower buds. Think of it as bunch of flowers! Cauliflower has a short central stem and many flower buds which are often described as "aborted" as less than 10% will actually ever flower. There's broccoli bianco in Italy, broccolini and brocoletti and purple sprouting broccoli. There's purple and chedder colored cauliflowers. Then there's a cross in between the two, a broccoflower that is a Romanesco.


Buying: The immature flower buds should be tight and unclosed. Discard any that have yellow flowers. If buying organic broccoli, make sure to soak it in cold salted water for about 5 minutes to get any dirt or criters out from inbetween the buds. 

Storing: Broccoli spoils rather quickly so it is best to use it as soon as possible – best if it is used the day of buying it. Broccoli should be treated delicately like lettuce – store it losely wrapped and kept in the crisper drawer of the refrigerator. It still needs room to breathe. Broccoli can be kept in the fridge for up to 5 days and can be frozen if soaked in salted water for 15 minutes, then blanched for 3-4 minutes, drained, cooled and wrapped in a plastic bag.

Medical: high in Vit C, folic acid and iron.

Cooking: Broccoli should be cooked quickly so that it will retain it’s bright green color, it’s agressively green flavor and crisp texture. If broccoli is not used right away and looks a bit tired, soak it in a bowl of ice cold water for 30 minutes to refresh it’s vibrant crispiness. The stalks can also be used, but cook them separately from the head because it is tougher and the cooking times vary. Peel the woody parts of the stalks and cut into slices.  Cut off any leaves and wash before cooking. Nutrtionally-wise, it is best blanched or steamed. It pairs very well with good quality extra-virgin olive oil and a squeeze of lemon. Sautee it with minced garlic, red pepper, capers, and anchovy. If the oil is absorbed too quickly, instead of water, try adding a splash of white wine.


Buying: Cauliflowers leaves should naturally wrap around the head, protecting its creamy white color. Disregard any with large darkened spots or just cut off. The sun spots are generally a sign of sun expoxure. 

Storing: Cauliflower spoils easily. Wrap it tightly and keep it in the drawer of the refrigerator, using it as soon as possible to when you bought it. Cauliflower can be frozen if blanched for 3 minutes in boiling water with a squeeze of lemon in it.

Medical: good source of Vitamin C, good for colon and stomach cancer reduction risks.
Cooking: Cauliflower has a subtle, nutty flavor that intensifies when cooked. The longer the cauliflower is cooked, the more the mustardy compounds will come out so don't cook it for too long or it will become unpleasantly sulphorous. It can be boiled, but steaming is better as it doesn't lose any flavor into the water. The stem can be eaten as well, but since it is not as large as a broccoli stem it is not usually used. Break the florets into pieces.


Broccoli sauteed in wine and garlic
6 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
4 cloves of garlic, sliced
3 lbs broccoli, cut into spears; stalks peeled and cut into strips
1 cup dry white wine (used to love making it with Malvasia when I was living in Emilia-Romagna)
1 tbsp hot red pepper flakes (optional)
zest of lemon and orange
Heat the olive oil in a large saute pan over medium-high heat and add the garlic. When it sizzles, add the broccoli stems for 2 minutes then the broccoli heads, tossing frequently and gradually add the wine to keep the garlic from browning and the stalks are tender, about 8-10 minutes. Add the red pepper flakes and zest, tossing well and serve immediately.

Alternatively, I love roasting broccoli (or cauliflower) in the oven with lots of whole garlic cloves, drizzled with extra-virgin olive oil until the broccoli is crispy. Try broccoli with soy sauce and ginger and cauliflower with cumin, coriander and almonds. Great with lemon juice. Yogurt. 

Cauliflower and Cheese Sauce
Me: Do you have that recipe for cauliflower and cheese you used to always make us?
Mum: Yeah. You cook the cauliflower, boil it or steam it. Until it's cooked. Then you make the cheese sauce. Pour it over the cauliflower and broil it until it's all golden and bubbly. 
Me:........I can't write that as a recipe! 

after looking for such recipe that mum could cook without thinking as we grew up eating and loving, she exclaimed that no such recipe existed. 

Joy of Cooking's Cheese Sauce:
Melt 3 tbsp butter in a saucepan. Stir in 3 tbsp flour until blended and then slowly stir in 1 1/2 cups milk. When the sauce is smooth and hot, reduce heat and add 1 cup of mild grated cheese (real cheese?) and season with 1/2 tsp salt, 1/8 tsp paprika, a dash of cayene and 1/2 tsp dry mustard. Stir until all is blended and melted. 

Cream of Cauliflower Soup
2 heads cauliflower (about 4-5 lbs)
4 tbsp unsalted butter
3/4 cup chopped onion
3/4 cup chopped leeks (white and light green parts only)
1/4 tsp curry powder
2 cups milk
2 cups heavy cream
2 cups water

Remove the leaves from the cauliflower and cut out the core. Trim stems, but reserve. Trim 2 cups florests for the garnish and set aside. 
Corasely chop remianing cauliflower and stems into 1 inch pieces so they cook evenly. (need about 8 cups). Melt 3 tbsp butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion, leeks, curry, and cauliflower with 2 tsp salt then cover and stir occassionally until the vegetables are tender, about 20 minutes. Pour in the milk, cream, water and increase the heat to med-high and bring to a simmer for about 30 minutes, skimming off foam from time to time. Then, puree the mixture until smooth and velvety (either in batches in a food processor or with a hand-held immersion blender). Taste for seasoning and adjust accordingly. 
Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and add the vinegar and reserved cauliflower, blanch until tender about 4-6 minutes. The vinegar keeps the cauliflower white. Drain. 
Melt the remaining butter in a pan over med-high heat until gold brown and add the florets, sauteeing until golden brown. Set aside. 
Heat up the soup to serve, adding some water if the consistency seems too thick. Pour the soup into bowls and top off with the cauliflower florets. Drizzle with a little good-quality extra-virgin olive oil and the cauliflower florets. 

Broccoli &Gorgonola Pie
....I'm making this tomorrow
1 lb puff pastry
1-2 heads of broccoli, cut into florets
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
3 leeks, trimmed, thinly sliced
2/3 cup skim milk
1/3 cup water
1/3 cup tarragon/thyme/oregano, chopped
3 tbsp grainy mustard
1 tsp salt
black pepper
 7 oz Gorgonzola, cut into chunks
1 egg, beaten

Preheat the oven to 400F. Roll out 2/3 puff pastry into a circle, 1/8 thick and enough to cover a 10-inch tart pan. Trim off excess pastry. Roll the remaining pastry into a thinner disc, large enough to cover the surface of the pie and lay it on a plate. Lay both shell and lid in the freezer for 10 minutes. Then, line the pastry in the tart pan with parchment paper and fill with baking beans. Bake for about 15-20 minutes until lightly browned. Remove the paper and beans and cook for another 5 minutes, until golden. Leave to cool. 
Meanwhile, cook the broccoli in a large pan in boiling water for 2 minutes, until tender but firm. Drain and rinse well with cold water. Leave to dry. 
Melt the butter in a pan and fry the leeks for about 10-15 minutes until soft but not colored. Add the cream, water, herbs, mustard, s&p. Stir well then remove from heat. 
To assemble, spread the leek mixture over the bottom of the pastry in the tart pan.
 Scatter broccoli on top and press into the leek mixture gently.
 Scatter the Gorgonzola. 
 Brush the rim of the tart with the beaten egg and place the rolled-out pastry lid over the filling. Press around the edges to attach the lid. Trim any excess. Blaze the lid with the beaten egg and bake for about 30 minutes, until golden brown.
 Allow to cool a little bit before serving.  

"Everybody has a secret world inside of them. All of the people of the world, I mean everybody. No matter how dull and boring they are on the outside, inside them they’ve all got unimaginable, magnificent, wonderful, stupid, amazing worlds. Not just one world. Hundreds of them. Thousands maybe." A Game of You, Neil Gaiman

Fall approaching means I wake up and go to work when it's still dark out and come home as the sun is setting. Sweaters are a wardrobe necessity, my glasses no longer fog up when I walk out of the cold walk-in cooler out into the hot summer air, and I no longer close the blinds when I go to bed because it'll still be dark when I wake up. Luckily though, it means I get to witness some beautiful sunrises and sunsets. Luckily, we have one of the best views in Portsmouth to see these. Luckily for you, I got to capture them.
early morning view from the deck. I gasped at the colors of the sky, suddenly slowing down as I rushed out before work. 
early morning farm scene. 

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

What's in Season: Asian Pears

Buying: Asian pears are more crispy than melt-in-your-mouth pears. It can be eaten straight from the tree, with hints of honey and spice. Even though they feel hard will not become as soft as other pears, Asian pears do bruise easily. The skins should be smooth and yellowy-bronze, not green. 

Asian Pears should be refrigerated.

Asian pears do not need to be peeled, although they have a tougher skin than most pears. If peeled, rub the flesh with lemon to avoid it from turning brown. They would be delicious in salads with cheese and walnuts.

Asian Pear and Grilled Gouda Cheese Sandwich
*From Chow.com
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened
2 slices light rye bread
2 ounces thinly sliced young Gouda cheese (aged 1 to 6 months)
5  slices (1/8-inch-thick) Asian pear
Heat a large frying pan over medium-low heat. Meanwhile, spread half of the butter on one side of each slice of bread.Once the pan is warm, add 1 slice of bread, buttered side down, then top with half of the cheese, all of the pear slices, and top with the remaining cheese. Close with the second slice of bread, buttered side up. Cook until the bread is toasted and golden and the cheese is melted, about 6 minutes per side.

Corn Silk Tea

Not sure what to do with those pesky strands of corn silk? Make tea! I came across this recipe in the NYC's Union Square Greenmarket the other weekend. It reminded me of an article posted on gilttaste.com and alas, this recipe too was written by the writers of Gourmet. I made it the other day when fall was suddenly postponed and we had a couple of 80 degree days, and despite it being the end of the corn season, it was a pleasant reminder of the taste of summer as autumn slowly falls upon us. 

hairy corn silks in the sink. everywhere.

2 ears corn
1/5 cups water
silk of 2 corns

Cut off the dark corn silk bits at the top of the corn (this is just a sign that the corn is ready to be picked). Carefully remove the husks. Pull of the corn silks – there is one silk for every kernel and each silk is the way that the kernel receives its nutrients from the sun. Put in a small pot and cover with enough water to cover the silks – about a cup and a half to two cups of water for the silks from 2 ears of corn. Bring to a boil and them simmer for about 10 minutes – depending on the flavor you desire. Strain the mixture into a cup to discard the silks. It may look like pale water but it will taste like summer in a cup! It is apparently very good for urinary discomfort and infections, cleaning out the bladder, kidney stones in the gallblader and detoxing the liver.