Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Popsicle Adventures.

Shameless refreshment.
I love ice cream.  I love cake. But when it comes to hot weather, there's only one thing I want: a popsicle.  And while I have great love and respect for popsicles of the ice cream truck variety, or even the store-bought kind that you pull apart, that's not the kind of popsicle I truly crave on a hot summer day.  What I want is something homemade, and full of fresh, fruity flavor.  Matt doesn't like popsicles.  But I think that's because he's never had mine. :)

Raspberry, Lime & White Wine Popsicle for Mommy
In Mexico, Paletas are commonly sold in every neighborhood.  They are made from fresh fruit purees mixed with either water or cream.  I prefer the ones mixed with water and my favorite flavor is lime (though I have been known to dabble in the pineapple realm on occasion).  They are perfect on a hot day, but also hit the spot after a long walk or a day at the pool.  They are brightly colored, healthy and truly delish. 

Blueberries & Sliced Strawberries
So, what is the closest thing to paletas here in Maine? I came upon this blog entry and felt it was the perfect way to use the bountiful springtime berries of Maine and combine them with a Mexican Agua de Limon (click link for my recipe) for a fresher, wholer version of a Paleta.  It was an awesome success.  And as a special treat to myself, I also mixed some white wine into my popsicle. :)

My favorite part of this is that it is a super easy "cooking" project to do with a 3-year-old.  I set three containers of berries in front of Roman - raspberries, blueberries and sliced strawberries and let him pick which ones he wanted to put into each popsicle mold.  Then we poured the limeade in together and let the freezer do the rest.  Some were all blueberry.  Some were a combination.  But they were all yummy and very pretty to look at.  And they kept the Strawberry Monster happy, which is priceless.
Today after a long walk around Back Cove after school - during which Roman decided he was too tired to continue and threatened to mutiny - we were both so thankful those little guys were in the freezer waiting for us!  They were the reason Roman kept walking.  And once we'd kicked off our shoes and sat on the porch, everyone was all-smiles once again.  The giant bites of berry are SO much more delicious than any store-bought popsicle I've ever had.  

And the great thing is, the flavor combinations are endless.  Just chop up some fruit and make an agua fresca (method & recipe here) to go with it and you've got yourself the perfect hot-weather treat.  Here are some flavor combos I'd like to try, just to get your creative fresh-fruit-juices flowing:

Brenda's Future Fresh Fruit Popsicle Adventures
Hey, a girl can dream.

* Sliced Kiwi, Blueberry and Pineapple with Mango Agua Fresca *
* Watermelon chunks in Watermelon Agua Fresca *
* Melon balls in Melon Agua Fresca *
* Sliced Strawberries in Pineapple Agua Fresca *
* Blackberries in Lime Agua Fresca *
* Sliced Cherries in Lemonade *
* Pomegranate Seeds in Pomegranate-Strawberry Agua Fresca *
* Raspberries and Strawberries in Lime Margarita *
 * White Sangria Popsicles *

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Monday, May 21, 2012

A Verdant Delish: Ceviche Verde & Spring in Maine

Ceviche Verde
This weekend.  I can only sigh.  This weekend made up for the past three months of wishy-washy-almost-springtime weather here in Maine.  It was warm enough to sit outside all afternoon (and get a small sunburn), but yet mild enough to sit outside all afternoon.  We grilled.  We anti-pasto'd.  We drank shameless amounts of margaritas and chilled white wine.  We smoked hookahs.  And Marcus and Becky came over (and camped in a tent in our backyard (!) ) with their two dogs, so the company was good and Roman had a field-day with "his" new pets.  There was even strawberry shortcake with homemade whipped cream thrown into the mix.  It was nothing short of glorious.

Add to that the fact that Maine was in full springtime splendor.  At this time last year we were basking in the beauty of Munjoy Hill and the Eastern Promenade so we never got to see our yard at this time of year; we moved in at the end of June.  And while a part of me misses that lovely neighborhood still, I have loved watching all the plants re-grow and blossom in our yard.  The back of our house faces onto woods which in the winter are bare and show all the houses and roads on either side of us, but in the spring and summer the woods are lush and green and beautiful, making our yard almost entirely private on one side.  The grass, which is probably the bane of Matt's existence, is beautifully riddled with wild dandelions and clovers (much more to my taste than a cookie-cutter lawn) that grow back almost within hours of being mowed.  And there are all sorts of interesting flowers and leaves and little creatures displaying their plumage at each and every corner of our beautiful little piece of Portland.  The whole thing is very idyllic, really.

Anyway, among the many wonderful things we ate this weekend, there was one dish that was left out.  It was left out simply because we ran out of time and stomach, not because I didn't desperately want to make it.  So, having a couple of perfectly ripe avocados left over, I decided to make it today - another beautiful late-spring day: Ceviche Verde.  Green Ceviche.  It represents Spring in many ways - its freshness, its acidity, its green-ness.  It's a recipe I found on by accident and I must admit I had my doubts about it, but I am a full convert now.  It will make the perfect easy, light, and delicious dinner I began dreaming of after my walk around Back Cove today.

But first, here are the top five pictures from this weekend, in pictorial list form.

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Top Five Springtime Moments and Memories
from this past weekend :)

The Crazy Antipasto Lunch
Bubbles with Daddy

Pretty flowers in the garden

Bubbles with Uncle Marcus


Roman & Orzo

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 Green Spring Ceviche: Ceviche Verde
Serves 2 as a Main
Serves 4 as an Appetizer

This couldn't be easier to make.  I changed the original recipe linked above (from La Gloria in San Antonio, TX) by using bay scallops instead of halibut.  I also used a Serrano instead of a jalapeno but you can use whichever you prefer, keeping in mind that Serrano chiles are definitely hotter.  I increased the amount of lime juice because I found 3 tbsps to be an absurdly small amount of lime for 1 lb of fish meat.  Definitely a keeper, this one.

1 pound bay scallops
1 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
3-4 limes, juiced
1-2 ripe avocados, peeled,  pitted & diced
3/4 cup green olives, quartered
1/2 cup tomatillos, washed & diced
1/4 cup red onion, finely sliced
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
1 serrano chile, stemmed and minced (optional)
2 tablespoons olive oil

*Tostadas or tortilla chips for serving

1. Place bay scallops in medium bowl. Add salt; toss to coat. Add lime juice; toss to coat. Marinate until the edges of the cubes begin to turn opaque, tossing occasionally, at least 1-2 hours.

2. Add avocados to bowl along with green olives, tomatillos, onion, cilantro, and the serrano if you like some heat. Add olive oil and season to taste with salt.

Serve over tostadas or with tortilla chips for dipping.
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Friday, May 11, 2012

The Art of Mothering and Salsa Verde: Tomatillos Milperos & Enchiladas Suizas

Enchiladas Suizas & Salsa Verde in the background.

Amicable Alimentations: A series of posts with no predictable order or timing dedicated to a delicious food and the friend who most reminds me of it or inspired me to love it.  Here's the link to posts number one and number two from waaaay too long ago, and this, of course, is post number three in the series.
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Today I was going through my blog photography archives looking for inspiration.  Sure enough, I came across some photos of tomatillos I had taken almost a year ago.  Their presence began to nag at me, reminding me I still hadn't posted two recipes I've been dying to share ever since I first started my blog, two recipes that remind me of my mother and her mother (and her sisters).  All of this, coincidentally, on the week of Mother's Day. It was meant to be!

My mom sword fighting with Roman.
Sorry mom but this is you in a nutshell :)
Happy Mother's Day to my wonderful mom, her wonderful mom, my godmother (who is also a great mom and brought me my first-ever tomates milperos!), my sister, my mother-in-law and all my mother-friends!  It's nice to have a day of indulgent recognition, but it's also nice to have a day to remember the special maternal figures in our lives and what they have done to enrich our existence.  Wish I were in Texas! 
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Growing up, there were a few recipes we could count on my mom making on any given week: picadillo, chicken soup, guisito de chipotle con papas, tortitas de atun, milanesas, and, my favorite, flautas and/or enchiladas suizas.  The last two were and continue to be my professed favorites.  Maybe it's because my mom has small cigar-rolling fingers, or maybe it's just that special touch that all mom-made food tends to have, but I swear her flautas are the best out there!  And her enchiladas suizas are not too far behind.  Maybe because they are a combination of both of my favorite recipes into one.

Granted, I will eat enchiladas any day, anywhere, anyhow.  Red, green, mole, whatever and with any filling (maybe except cheese-only-enchiladas which I am not a fan of).  I always get excited when I see them on a menu, but more times than not I leave restaurants disappointed and disgusted at the strange, flour-tortilla-with-marinara-sauce concoction I am served up.  I can't help but compare them to those my grandmothers and mother make. Crunchy, but deliciously slathered in green sauce, sometimes mixed with the cream, sometimes not.  Always delicious.

 Please Just Kick Old El Paso to the Curb Already.

The trick to a good enchilada is a good salsa, and as luck would have it, a good salsa is just not that hard to make.  It does sadden me that I cannot spread the word quick enough to avoid people continuing to buy those horrible looking jars (or worse yet, cans) of red "enchilada sauce" sold at the supermarket.  It's not so much that the fact that they are in a jar or can that bothers me (though it kind of does, as salsa is meant to be fresh in my mind) as much as it is just that the flavors are so boring and wrong.  Old El Paso enchilada sauce is like eating a spoon full of tomato sauce and a spoon full of cumin at the same time.   Mexican salsas are not only more complex in flavor, they are comprised of the infinitely simple, fresh, delicious ingredients vital to Mexican cuisine: onion, garlic, cilantro and chile.

Salsa Verde of the Real Persuasion.
My favorite salsas of all are green salsas, made with Mexican green tomatoes.  You can buy these tomatoes in their normal size, or, in Latin American markets you can also find them in a diminutive version that my Tia Ita brought me when she came to visit Maine a month or so ago.  She called these mini-tomatillos "Tomatillos Milperos" and after doing some research I found that their namesake comes from the word "milpa" in Spanish which refers to corn fields.  Apparently these small tomatoes are commonly found in between rows of corn in cornfields and are also called "miltomates."  The delicious tomatillo, which comes in delicate, paper-like husks, is called a few different things in Mexico.  Here's a quick explanation I found online:
"[In Spanish] 'miltomates' and their bigger cousins (what most call "tomatillos") are just 'tomates.'  And regular RED tomatoes are 'jitomates.' This nomenclature is pretty standard all over the interior and south of Mexico."
I generally make a simple green salsa with my tomates, which can be eaten raw or cooked.  You can also blend avocado with a raw green salsa for a wonderful dip.
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My Mom's Enchiladas Suizas
Serves 4 

I needed more sauce on mine, but they were still awesome.
Enchiladas Suizas are a traditional Mexican dish.  The name, translated "Swiss Enchiladas," refers to the white cream and cheese sauce that covers the top of the enchiladas, and also harkens the Swiss immigrants who established dairies to produce cream and cheese in Mexico.  Basically, instead of just topping the enchiladas with the salsa, you make them, top them with salsa and cream, then cheese and then bake them in the oven.  The flavors meld beautifully and the cheese is soft and melty.  I also like to fry the tacos until crispy like flautas whereas traditional enchiladas are more soggy - it's a personal preference!

In Mexico people would use "crema" in this recipe,  but since I can't get that in Maine I just use plain yoghurt or sour cream (if I'm feeling decadent).  It's easy enough to make at home - just a combination of heavy cream and sour cream, but I don't usually want the calories. :)

As for the cheese, I've seen people use Manchego, Monterrey Jack, Oaxaca, or, in my case, plain old mozzarella, but pretty much any mild white cheese would work well.

Also, in terms of technique I must admit that my mother and I take a couple of liberties to suit our needs: in Mexico enchiladas are made by frying the tortilla in oil, rolling the chicken in it, and then topping it.  My mother taught me to heat the tortillas in a microwave thereby foregoing the extra oil - it's healthier and far less messy but not very authentic :)
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Salsa Verde
- 12-18 tomatillos (green tomatoes, peeled of their shell, washed and halved)
*use double the amount if using miltomates / tomatillos milperos
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1 medium onion, chopped into quarters
- cilantro (probably 10-12 stems-worth)
- 1-2 Serrano chiles or more (optional & to-taste)
- salt, pepper to taste
For the Enchiladas / Flautas:
2-3 chicken breasts (if you use bone-in and skin-on you'll get an awesome broth out of the deal with which to make chicken soup to go with the meal, which is what I generally do)
1/2 onion
2 cloves garlic, whole & unpeeled
10ish stems cilantro
5 or 6 peppercorns
20-25 corn tortillas
corn or canola oil (about 1 cup)
salt, pepper
1 cup or more of plain yoghurt or sour cream
1 cup or more of grated cheese of choice (I use mozzarella)
- 1 large rectangular casserole dish

1. Cook the chicken breasts in simmering water along with the onion, garlic, cilantro, peppercorns and a pinch or two of salt until tender (45 minutes).

2. Meanwhile, make the salsa: take all the ingredients and put in a blender.  Blend until smooth and adjust seasoning.  Set aside.

3. Remove the chicken from the pot and shred it by hand, discarding skin and bones if necessary.  Also, discard the onions, peppercorns and cilantro if you want to save the chicken broth for soup.

4. Pour the salsa into a pan with about 1 tsp of corn oil.  Allow it to come to a boil and simmer for 5-10 minutes, not allowing it to reduce too much.  If the sauce gets too thick, add a little more water.  Adjust the seasoning with salt or chicken bouillon.  Turn heat off.
Optional: At this point you can mix the cream into the salsa or leave it to be put separately on top of the salsa.  Traditionally they are combined.

5. Making the enchiladas:
Easy (and less oily) route: Wrap the tortillas in a paper towel or two and microwave for 1 1/2 or 2 minutes, until tender, then make the tacos by placing a small amount of chicken on the edge of the tortilla and wrapping tightly.  Meanwhile, heat oil in a pan on medium-high heat (make sure it's not so hot that it will burn the tacos though).  Gently place the tacos into the pan one by one, tightly so they don't unroll and fry until golden on all sides (salt while hot).  Place on a plate with paper towels on it to drain the excess oil.
More traditional route: Heat the oil in a pan.  One by one place the tortillas in the oil until softened, then lay in a pile on a plate.  Once all the tortillas are cooked, make the enchiladas just as above by rolling a small amount of chicken in each one.

**I pack the rolled tacos into a casserole dish while I'm waiting to fry them.**

Note: If your tortillas are not cooked enough they will break like cardboard.  You will know they are ready if they roll up easily and tightly - the tighter the better. 
6. Once the tacos are ready, transfer them back to the rectangular casserole dish arranging them into just one layer.  Pour the salsa-cream mixture on top, covering them entirely, then sprinkle with the grated cheese. Bake at 400F for 15 minutes or until the cheese is golden and melted. and the sauce is bubbling.

I usually serve rice and refried beans with this meal as well. :)  Provecho!

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Sunday, May 6, 2012

May Day! May Day! Roman is 3!

Two little frogs.
With another May Day comes another similar, and ever-so-tangentially-connected-with-the-ancient-Romans, celebration of life: Roman's birthday.  Three-years-old and ever-growing.

This year we had a week-long celebration, it seemed.  My mom and step-dad were in town so presents flowed freely - not to mention the packages that kept coming from friends and family all over - and then at the end of the week, on Sunday, we had Roman's birthday party at a local gymnasium where the kids jumped in a bouncy castle, flung themselves into a giant foam-pool, and dazzled us with their giant parachute skills.  

Roman & his Pablo
It was a wonderful way to start a new year and new phase in Roman's life - enjoying more special moments with his best school friends and making more memories of Portland, the first city he is fully conscious of living in (and which he told me he "want[s] to stay FOREVER" in), before we move in June.

Roman's first three years have been a mix and mingling of many cultures, many impressions and many experiences.  While I am kind of resigned to the fact that he will only ever think he remembers most of those (for example, he claims he can remember all his friends and his house in London - you know, back when he was six months old!), I am also so glad that we have been able to document those moments and have them for him so he can know what an exciting and interesting and open life he has had the chance to lead so far.  But as he grows and becomes more independent and thoughtful, I face having to leave all those experiences and choices more and more up to him.  Sometimes he doesn't want to go to or do the things we want for him, and I suppose as a parent that struggle will probably continue forever and anon. Guidance and hope in equal measures are the tools of a good parent.

To that effect, I was struck by a quote I saw the other day, which encapsulates not only a theme but an aspiration I've held dear in my life and which I hope my son will one day ponder and find meaning in for himself:
"I always wonder why birds stay in the same place when they can fly anywhere on the earth. Then I ask myself the same question." Harun Yahya
Two weeks ago I was talking to a fellow parent about how wild these past several years of our lives have been: from University to New York City to Londontown to Abu Dhabi to Portland, ME (!) and now heading to our next (and hopefully long-term) adventure in Denver.  I think a lot of people think we're crazy for moving around so much - they certainly show shock and semi-hidden disapproval when I tell them we're moving again! - especially with a young child.  But I was telling him that because we have every intention of staying in Denver  long-term, I feel no qualms about having moved once every year of Roman's life up until now.  Because while others might see instability and constant change, I see opportunity within the comfortable confines of a stable family unit. Aside from the stability we will provide in his life as a family unit, what I want most for my son is the ability to be flexible, open, and adventurous in his life.  To allow life to come at him and be fearless in trying the things others might find too difficult or inconvenient or out of the norm.  I want to model a life for him that screams out "Go get your dreams!  Even if you don't know what they are, go out, don't be afraid - go find your life!"

Blowing out his candle at his party the other day.
This child of mine who some might think has been pulled to-and-fro at the whim of his parents "obsessed with moving" (can't tell you how many times I've heard that one put into euphemisms), with seeing the world, has seen, done and been exposed to so much beauty, culture, adventure and so many different mind-sets and beliefs.  We have always tried to show him that different is normal, that uniqueness can be a privilege, not a burden, and that to truly be happy, you must, somewhere deep inside, plant and grow the seeds of true acceptance, true curiosity and true love of world and mankind.  

Eating ice cream at Smiling Hills Farm in Maine
Before he was born, Roman had already swum in the Aegean, ridden mopeds all over the Greek Islands and traipsed about on the Tube all over London. 

Before he was one he had ridden through the Chunnel, traveled cross-Atlantic a handful of times, and had more stamps in his passport than I had until I was nearly twenty.  He played in English gardens, eating British strawberries and having clotted cream. 

Before he was two, he had played with camels in the world's largest expanse of desert, had friends from New Zealand, England, Syria, the UAE and Australia, and
had Dairy Queen ice cream in Muscat, Oman.  He loved to eat dates, Labne for breakfast, and watched cartoons in Arabic every morning. 

Cape Elizabeth
 And in his third year, his first ever lived within the confines of his own home-country, he has become a lover of beaches, an eater of Lobster, an explorer, a runner, a cape-wearer, a puddle-jumper and player.  He has caught frogs and tadpoles, he has ridden through the snowy, Maine wilderness in a personal sleigh (being pulled by his father no-less), frolicked on the beaches of Ogonquit and Kettle Cove, screeched on his own race-track (the sidewalks of our neighborhood), and he has had the opportunity to become close to his grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousin.

Cavenders in Dallas, TX with Ava
And yet, most days, he will sit in the living room and thumb through our picture album books, reminiscing about his "Abu Dhabi friend" Olivia and her brother Munch, or about his "London house" which he is insistent we go back and visit, or about the time we went to the desert and saw camels or about his "old school."  Those memories which he may or may not even know he had, are now there in his mind and heart as reality.  And much to my amazement and joy, he feels proud!  Proud of the crazy-back-and-forth life we have shared for these past three wonderful years.
And inevitably he will continue to ask: "Mommy can you read me the Abu Dhabi book again?"

I am so proud of him and who he is becoming.  He still mostly refuses to speak Spanish, but he will eat lobster, parmiggiano and fiddlehead ferns so I guess I can give him a break on the language thing.  :)  What an interesting little person Roman has turned out to be - I feel so lucky to be his mother and I can't wait to see what this fourth year has in store for us.

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