Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Meanwhile, back at The Ranch...

Before we go all holly jolly, I thought I'd share a little more about my visit to The Ranch for a week of cleansing, hiking, and general transforming.

Here's what a typical day at the ranch entailed: 

{many of these photos were taken on my iphone, so please excuse the quality}.

Each morning we woke around 5:30 to the clinging sound of these chimes, the call to sunrise yoga.


In the glass walled yoga studio we would do gentle stretches, sun salutations and varying levels of yoga as the sun rose over the Santa Monica mountains. Following yoga we'd climb the steep hill to the ranch house {I think this hill, which led to the main food source, was deliberately built to ensure we got a little more exercise in each day}. After filling our camelbacks with water and loading our backpacks in the van we gathered for our choice of herbal teas and breakfast.

One of our favorite breakfast treats was the ranch granola, usually served with fresh almond milk {stay tuned for recipes}.



It was also sprinkled upon this avocado, kale, pineapple smoothie we sipped one morning. Yes, kale, after a a few spins in the vitamix, can become a super{food}star in a delicious smoothie.


Each day we'd hike an average of 12 miles. Our trails took us up and down the expanses of the Santa Monica mountains, the views of the canyons and the Pacific Ocean were amazing.



Mid-hike we were treated to a much anticipated, and talked about, snack.



On this day it was 6 almonds and a pinch {or two} of brown Hawaiian salt.


 The next day, we had an apple {the most delicious apple ever} and pinches of pink Himalayan salt. On our final day, we were positively ecstatic to have an 1/8 of an apple smeared with almond and sunflower butter for snack{can you believe how many times I have used the word "snack" in this one post??}.


After the hike everyone was more than ready for lunch. On a couple days, the trail ended at a beach where we were greeted with glasses of cold coconut water and picnic tables covered with thick swaths of rough linen and cutlery rolled in pressed white napkins.



After lunch we had about an hour of free time until the afternoon exercises began. During this time most people napped and/or soaked in the hot tub. The afternoon strengthening exercises were a variety methods, focused on common problem areas, core, arms, and posture, always posture.  

At the ranch, the goal is for guests to relinquish responsibility so we can focus on our bodies and ourselves and to live in the present. To help us adjust, there were no printed schedules; they recommend we take off our watches, and live "off the grid", meaning no wi~fi and limited telephone and computer access. Details, in regards to the schedule, were more than vague, we knew the general schedule, and were filled in on an as~needed basis. Each guest carried a walkie~talkie, when we were apart, this was our life~line; our way of being in touch; our method of communicating if we needed something and our way of knowing, exactly, when the next activity was beginning.

I found it amazing {and humorous} that "relinquishing responsibility" {aka loosing almost all control} tended to turn a group of mature, accomplished women into children again. The guides were constantly pelted with questions such as "When is snack? How much further? How long until breakfast/ lunch/ /dinner? How long is the drive? and May I have more?". If you can believe it, some campers even resorted to distracting the guides so they could sneak an extra snack or two!

The most frequently asked question was definitely "When is my massage?". Yes, massage. Each day we were treated to a thorough massage to help keep our bodies moving and grooving for our fabulously intense boot-camp excursions. Massages occurred during rest time and afternoon exercises, we were informed about 10 minutes before it was our glorious turn to head to the massage huts.

After exercise, we'd gather in the yoga hut for a final yoga session. By the time we were finished, the sun had set, and we would hike up the hill again for a satisfying dinner. Following dinner we'd each retire to our cabins to sleep and prepare for another day in the hills.


Coming up....  the decor of the ranch, the food {including recipes}, a photo shoot on the beach, the terrain, my insights, take aways and some notions you may find to be helpful through the holidays...

Sunday, November 27, 2011

It's beginning to look a little like...

One of my favorite traditions during the stormy, dark and wet winters in Seattle are the fleets of Christmas ships that bring light to lake front beaches all around the city. On the nights when they don't come to a beach near you, you'll oftentimes see them travelling to their scheduled destinations.

Once the schedule is published everyone marks their calendars for the evening when the ships come to a nearby beach. Traditionally, a bon fire is built on the beach and hot cocoa is served. Gradually, the beaches fill with kids and adults, and then the boats arrive.


From beaches and docks, people enjoy the music from local choral groups singing on board the boats, their bright, clear voices match the crisp winter air. Last night was the first night of the boat tours. As the season develops, an entourage of private boats, fully decorated, start to follow along and add color to this spectacular, melodic and reflective light show on the water.


I'm not quite ready to go "full throttle" into the holidays. 

Next week, what do you think about going back to the ranch? I hoping you'll enjoy an insider's perspective; and maybe you'll take away some things to help you to navigate the holidays feeling healthier and happier.


Friday, November 25, 2011

luscious leftovers...


Have you ever wondered what makes Phad Thai taste so good? My kids always order it from our local Thai restaurant, and, I must admit, I love indulging in a couple of slurps of their noodles. I thought they tasted so delicious just because they were just fabulous noodles {and maybe because I tend to maintain a carb deprived diet}. Then, I came across this recipe and realized that Phad Thai taste so good because of the very complex sauce the noodles have absorbed before being served.

These days, I try to keep this sauce on hand, so I can toss anything in it, or drizzle it upon whatever I find to be "in need". 


Even if I don't manage to make up the sauce, I love having the 3 primary ingredients of the sauce at the ready, they have become staples in my kitchen. When I taste a dish that is "missing something" a part of this flavorful trio usually hits the spot. Fish sauce provides an earthy, yeasty, slightly salty taste; tamarind paste offers Tangy {with a capital T} twang, with a ripe fruit element; and chili~garlic sauce? It wakes up anything it meets!

 Leftovers, for me, can be a bonus or a curse...sometimes they result in some of the best tasting dishes ever, oftentimes they feel like a guilt laden burden.

I must say, Thanksgiving leftovers this year have been on the bonus side. My mother, sister and her son joined us for the feast. After dinner, mom made a tasty stock with the turkey carcass, remains of the crudite and plenty of fresh sage and thyme.  In the morning we stirred some wild and basmati rice, chopped vegetables, cubed turkey and plenty of fresh parsley into the strained broth. The soup was tasty and satisfying for our lake cruise on this bright and chilly afternoon.

After the family departed, I was craving something with a little more spunk. The Phad Thai sauce started calling out to me. It dawned on me that brussel sprouts could fill in for bean sprouts and that the roasted turkey could take the place of marinated chicken breasts...it was time to enjoy that flavorful sauce again.

So, here is the path I took to absolute deliciousness. It is the day after Thanksgiving, so I hope you don't mind if I share my method in a more relaxed, stream-of-consciousness fashion......just the way great leftover cooking should happen. For more precision, refer to the original, enlightening recipe here.

To start, I soaked 14 oz. of rice noodles in cold water. The noodles need to be soaked until they are soft but still a little crunchy inside {30 minutes to an hour will do}.


To make the sauce I dropped 1&1/2 tablespoons of tamarind paste into 1/2 cup of boiled water and stirred until it was dissolved. To that I added 4 tablespoons of fish sauce; then 5 tablespoons of chili garlic sauce; finally I added 5 tablespoons of maple syrup {the recipe calls for brown sugar, but I prefer the earthier, richer, less~sweet flavor of pure maple syrup}. I know that sounds like a lot of "sweetness" but it is needed to balance the tang of the tamarind paste.

Then I got to chopping, 6 scallions. 6 cloves of garlic, 1/2 a red onion and 1/2 a bunch of fresh cilantro.


Into my wok I poured a few tablespoons of oil, in which I sauteed the chopped red onion and half of the chopped garlic, then I tossed in the softened noodles. When things got a little sticky, I splashed some chicken broth and rice wine vinegar in the pan to loosen the noodles.

To the noodles I added 2 cups of chopped, cooked turkey breast....and about 3 cups of brussel sprouts I had roasted with olive oil, salt and pepper the night before. 

Next, I tossed the chopped herbs and vegetables into the wok and all of the sauce, and continued tumbling everything together. When it all looked well mixed, it was time for dinner. A pile of lime wedges were all we needed to perfect this dish.

The Turkey Phad Thai was amazing, such great flavor and textures.  I urge you to try this sauce on whatever comes to mind for you, it really is very versatile and will compliment most anything.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

It's raining, it's pouring, Happy Thanksgiving...

It is raining and pouring here in Seattle, but that hasn't dampened the buzz of excitement as we prepare for our visitors and Thanksgiving dinner. Amongst many other things, I am thankful for the beautiful flowers I found at my local Trader Joe's {at incredible prices, I must add!}. I am also thankful for the many shortcuts my sous chef, TJ has provided: his peeled and cubed sweet potatoes, shredded cabbage, stuffing starter {finely chopped fresh celery, onions and herbs}, and prepared pomegranate jewels are saving me HOURS of prep time!

I like to arrange the flowers early, so I can enjoy their fragrance and beauty while I buzz about the kitchen, here's a quicky on how I made my bouquets:

If there is time, I like to trim the stems of store bought flowers and give them a nice long drink, free of plastic and rubberbands, before arranging.


I don't usually use oasis, but I was trying to replicate these bouquets I saw at a party last year, and knew I'd need that foundation in these shallow containers. I soak the oasis in water for as long as possible before piercing it with the flower stems.


To start things out, I used herbs and flowers to establish the shape and size I wanted. So, looking at the photo below, the deep red mums facing to the rear, the coral colored rose to the left, the orange and yellow mums facing forward and the sage sprig facing right established the approximate perimeter for this bouquet.


I was intrigued by a bouquet I saw on Eddie Ross and thought it would be fun to put some fruit into the mix, as he had. A wooden skewer, cut to the correct length was the perfect support for these petite golden pears.


Once I had my "frame" built, I began filling in the gaps with more flowers, hiding all of the oasis and creating a very full, complex appearance. 


Sprigs of rosemary and some fallen leaves provided a neutral accent to all of the bright colored flowers.


Freesia and Stock always offer a fresh, peppery fragrance.


 Like good friends, lilies and roses tend to open up, relax and release their lovely fragrance more and more each day.


Sage was my green of choice, especially since it's such a traditional herb in the Thanksgiving menu.


Each guest will have a different view of these complex pots during dinner tomorrow evening.


Are you a guest tomorrow? For a great host or hostess gift, you could bring a garnish kit of herbs and citrus, and offer to garnish platters for your chef. For more details, click on gorgeous garnishes.

Happy Thanksgiving Splendid Readers, I am thankful for each and every one of you and for all of your visits and comments! 

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Thanksgiving Help Desk....


Are you cooking this Thanksgiving, or will you be a guest? I am cooking, for a close family group and over the past few weeks ideas for a menu, game plan, flowers, etc. have been swirling around in my head. Then, last night, I was reading The New York Times dining section, and suddenly, everything became perfectly clear. The "Thanksgiving Help Desk", was one of the most informative, helpful bits of culinary reading I've enjoyed in a long time.

The section is in a Q and A format and the people on the "A" side were right on, as far as I am concerned. To begin with, I related to Melissa Clarks answer to the question "What can I prepare before Thanksgiving? Usually, I make everything the same day and it is exhausting?" I have SO been there and done that a bajillion times! She provides a sensible 7 day plan to make the Thanksgiving day cooking easier and more enjoyable for the chef. Don't worry, you are not too far behind, dear readers, to catch up all you have to do is order your turkey and cut up bread to prepare it for stuffing.  To read the complete plan click on I am so prepared.

Special note, for  my Seattle readers: being the lazy lady I am, I hopped onto Amazon fresh and reserved a Wednesday morning delivery time, they had everything I need including pre-cut crudite and fresh organic turkeys! I can keep adding to my list up until Tuesday night and will receive my delivery with plenty of time to prep it all. I'm sure there are still delivery slots for you.



In regards to the actual menu, I will still make mashed potatoes and gravy, as well as sweet potatoes with marshmallows, because the kids love them....but I have to admit, personally, these are not my favorites {this is the first time that I have been happy for the fact that my children do not read my blog, ever}. I was fixated by the response to the question "Thanksgiving vegetables can be starchy and bland. Can you suggest some not-too-complicated side dishes that will break up the monotony a little bit?  by David Tanis. He inspired me to expand my repertoire of simple sides and add a little zing to the Thanksgiving buffet.  I was nearly drooling over each of his recipes, I hope to try them all in the near future, click on splendid sides to read them. 



Here's one I will absolutely make for Thanksgiving:

Cabbage With Apples, Onions and Caraway


Salt and pepper
2 pounds green cabbage, cored and cut in 1-inch strips
4 tablespoons butter
3 onions, sliced 1/4-inch thick
3 large tart apples, peeled, cored and sliced 1/4-inch thick
2 or 3 celery stalks, thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon caraway seed
6 scallions, thinly sliced.
1. Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil. Add the cabbage and cook for about 30 seconds, until barely wilted. Drain in a colander under cold running water until cool, and pat dry.
2. In a wide, heavy-bottomed pot, melt butter over medium heat. Add onions, season well with salt and pepper, and cook until softened, about 5 minutes.
3. Turn up the heat and add apples. Continue to cook, stirring constantly, allowing onions and apples to brown a bit, until apples are cooked through, 5 to 8 minutes. Stir in celery and caraway, then transfer to a large mixing bowl.
4. Add cabbage and toss gently. Adjust seasoning and transfer to an oven-proof serving dish. If not serving immediately, keep at room temperature for 2 to 3 hours, or refrigerate and bring to room temperature, before heating in a 400-degree oven for 10 minutes. To serve, sprinkle with the scallions.
Yield: 8 to 10 servings.

Then there is always the beverages: 

We are definitely serving wine with dinner {I am thinking of a newly discovered Chablis and a Beaujolais}, along with a Knudsen dry sparkling cider {non-alcoholic} I found on Amazonfresh {I promise, I do not get kick-backs from Jeff, I just keep mentioning it because it is the best time saver I have ever known!}.

Eric Asimov provided some interesting options to answer the question "Every year you answer the same questions about wines to drink with the feast. Well, I don't want to drink wine, what else can I serve with the meal?" In addition to water {or as we like to pronounce it, dramatically, "whater"} he offers a recipe for Fish House Punch and and a very interesting night cap made with rye whiskey and Italian amaro. To read his complete response click on The Reaminator.



So, what are your thanksgiving plans? Do you have any great tips to share with the other Splendid Market readers? We'd love to hear them.






Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Philip Treacy, London

We couldn't resist popping into Phillip Treacy when we happened upon their modest sized store on Elizabeth Street near Sloane Square.


All of the hats were just as outlandishly beautiful as I had imagined they would be.


I loved this beautiful lime green topper.


It is easy to see why so many royals choose these designs to go with their most fabulous frocks.



While most of the hats are custom made, they do sell some at the store. When purchased, he hats are carefully packed,


in these subtle little hatboxes....;)


Monday, November 14, 2011

Naan..

Aren't you dying to pinch off a bit of this dough and taste it right now? This is where the process of making the naan at Tayyabs restaruant begins. One worker pulls off clumps of dough and rolls it into small balls.

  The balls are then flattened out and sprinkled with fresh parsley and garlic.


The raw dough is laid over a very thick hot pad,


and then pressed up against the inside of the fiery "pot" of a stove.


The dough poofs up and blisters from the heat.


When they are finished, the fellow lifts them off the side with the long poker you see lying on the table below,


And piles them up on the counter to be plated and 


served


to cute little customers like this:


If you find yourself in London, I highly recommend to make the effort to go to Tayyabs, to avoid the wait here is how you can reach them to make a reservation:


Saturday, November 12, 2011

Tayyabs restaurant, London...

Have you ever pursued a recommended restaurant, arrived and then found it to be a little less wonderful than you expected? I was wondering if that would be the case as we took a turn down a very dodgey looking street in London in search of the restaurant Tayyabs. But I was wrong.


Bustling Brick Lane is filled with outdoor food courts and restaurants with greeters out front barking out offers to entice you "free drinks for the ladies", "children eat free tonight". We walked for blocks along this action packed street, looking for Filedate street, but it wasn't in this busy section. We continued the pursuit and with each turn we took, the streets seemed quieter and more isolated than the one before. We asked someone on the street, who encouraged us to keep going. Then we saw the crowd, and knew we had arrived. 


People wait for hours to dine at this Pakastani restaurant {though we later learned that they do take reservations}. Inside a line of seats snakes through the restaurant where a representative from each group waits. Outside it is a fun party scene, people arriving by car or on foot. Many were large parties coming for special occasions. There was an air of excited anticipation in the crowd, as people visited, sipping the beverages they'd brought for dinner {the restaurant doesn't sell alcohol}.


While we were waiting, I couldn't help but to explore. The busy restaurant is quite large with a couple hundred seats.

I was impressed with the constant flow of trays heading out to the diners, and curious as to what type of kitchen could crank out so much food.


I made my way to the kitchen to take a peak at the actions and to capture a few shots, but everything was moving so quickly.

 

The supervisor yelled something at me, I thought he was trying to tell me to scoot ~ but he motioned me to hop into the heat of the kitchen.

The air was smoky, it was stifling hot, and rich with the fragrant mix of spices and seasonings. This little L shaped room operated like a well~oiled machine. At the very back {the short wall} workers were prepping the food, primarily loading marinated meat onto skewers to be grilled and preparing the naan {worthy of it's very own post}.

As I moved along the long wall, heavy iron grills over roaring fires were loaded with skewers filled with beef, chicken and lamb.




Thickly marinated lamb chops were cooking on another grill.


The small space was loud and busy. The workers were cheerful, talking and laughing in their native language, each repeating their single step in the process over and over.


As soon as the meat was cooked it was pulled from the grill, plated and rushed out to the tables.


Spicy sauces were on each of the tables.


Once we were seated, aside from the mixed grill I'd seen rush by me so many times, I wasn't familiar with any of the dishes on the menu.


We ordered a variety of dishes, I can't really tell you exactly what we had, but the mixed grill and everything else were absolutely delicious. All of the food arrived quickly and it was sizzling hot. The meats were tender and the marinades and sauces were unique, perfectly balanced and spiked with marvelous flavors of herbs and spices. 


and everything came with the wonderful puffy, garickly naan {more on that in the next post}.