Puerto Rican Bread

Standard

On Easter Sunday, right about dinner time, I realized we had no dinner rolls so since it was the only store open, I sent my son to Wal-Mart to pick up a bread. I said something like an Italian bread, or a French baguette, whatever he wanted to choose.

He went and came back quickly with this:

image

It looked very similar to Italian bread, but it was very different. For one thing, while it looks like it’s one large loaf, it is really two. They’re attached by being baked too close together I imagine, but it seemed thatw this type of bread comes in twos.

t was also a soft, squishy bread, the kind that I like to slather with butter. When I tasted it, I think it was the best bread I’ve ever eaten. It was the perfect texture, inside and out, and it was airy which surprised me.

All cultures and countries have their own types of breads. We are very lucky in the US that we have the opportunity to try them from bagels to naan, from tortillas to biscuits.

I had never heard of Puerto Rican bread specifically before so I put out a call to my Facebook friends to see if anyone knew what it was that made it so special, and I was sent this video:

This video called it Puerto Rican water bread, and another one on the page called it Puerto Rican sweet bread. Either way, it looks easy enough to make, and my plan is to head back over to Wal-Mart for another loaf (or two since that’s how they’re packaged).

My husband’s theme for 2016 is TSN or Try Something New. I thought I’d share this new thing with you.

50-4 – Kitchen Zest

Standard

In recent months and recenter days my monthly writing workshop has given prompts that refer to the kitchen. Well, let me correct that. The November prompt was about the kitchen and how it was different and/or similar to the one we had growing up. The March prompt was zest, which I took to mean the kitchen item, so for me the two prompts were about the kitchen. By way of this introduction, I hope that I succeed in blending the two into a competent essay (is there another word for essay – that sounds very middle school-y. Also article makes it sound dull and informative. Everything around me speaks to my writing, my words and the use of them. Including this whatever it is about kitchens.)

My kitchen growing up was already pretty modern albeit with the avocado and mustard colors of the seventies. I. understand that these are coming back in a retro look. One word: why? Lord, please no. Not that my current black and white cow kitchen is all that special, but seriously, just no.

In our house, we complained constantly about loading and emptying the dishwasher. We don’t have a dishwasher. I would love a dishwasher even if my husband does do most of the dishes.

My parents always had a coffee maker. My Dad drank coffee every day, throughout the day. He would often make a full pot as if company were coming and still go out to the local deli for a Styrofoam cup there too. In my house now, we only recently got a coffee maker because my son asked for it as a Christmas present for his father with the half wink that he wouldn’t mind using it as well. I know for a fact that if I was a coffee drinker we’d have one of those machines that does everything from grinding the beans to foaming the milk. I’m a tea drinker. The most complicated device for making my tea is the loose tea strainer that must be emptied and rinsed. It is the only thing I wash immediately upon finishing its use.

In my parents’ house, we had a clear glass pot. It must have had a lid at some point, but I never remember it. We never had a kettle. This was the pot we’d boil water in for tea or hot chocolate. More often than not, I’d boil eggs for my father for him to enjoy hard-boiled eggs. Ironically that along with not drinking coffee, hard-boiled eggs repulse me. My grandmother had one of those metal percolators. To me that will always be the three-dimensional puzzle that I played with on her kitchen floor. Fitting all the pieces together in the right way was how I spent much of my toddlerhood and preschool life.

Our kitchen looks modern with an electric stove and a microwave that is twenty-one years old, but doesn’t look a day over ten. Our counters are Formica or some other kind of plastic, very similar to my family’s old kitchen table. The sink leaks although we’ve changed out the faucet and now it’s much better. The fridge is a testament to American craftsmanship, and hopefully will continue on until we have the money to replace it, millions of years in the future.

The one thing my kitchen has that my house didn’t is a window over the sink that looks out over the backyard. I actually enjoy doing the dishes if I can look out of a window to the world outside. Depression killed that small pleasure.

My mother had a toaster and a toaster oven. We have both in one appliance. It was a gift from my brother and it is probably the most useful thing that we have in our kitchen. Also the most used.

I have about a thousand spices more than my mother’s kitchen. She had four – black pepper, garlic powder, paprika, and onion powder. Salt didn’t count as a spice but she had that as well. Morton’s, of course. When I was married and moved into my first apartment, my mother gave us a container of Morton’s salt (it’s a Jewish tradition to give bread and salt for a new house, although I’m sure it’s not limited to only that culture). We had that same original container of salt when we moved, had our first child and moved again.  My spices come from Penzeys or the Spanish section in my local supermarket. My friend also sent me spice samples from California – one month Indian, one Asian, one Hispanic, and soon I was hooked into playing around in the kitchen with a variety of tastes and flavors, mixing cultures and flavors and loving it.

My mother was not much of a cook. She had one or two things that she did and she did them really well. The smell of meatloaf baking or a roast beef just come out of the oven take me back to the couple of the things my family actually cooked. My mother made roasts all the time – regular roast beef from an eye round or top round, and pot roast in a Ziploc oven bag from a bottom round. I was the meatball and meatloaf maker and mixer. My Dad loved it and so it was my job to make it every couple of weeks. My kids finally like the meatloaf, so it will become a staple in our kitchen again. Instead of ketchup, try it with some HP Sauce. Check the international aisle – it’s from Great Britain and it’s fantastic.

For a long time during my childhood, my grandmother (or her sister, my aunt) lived with us, practically the whole time, so she did all the cooking since my parents both worked. Nothing really stands out which is sad. I’m sure she must have made some good meals. What’s really sad is that I would probably remember them more if they were terrible. After she went into a nursing home, it fell to my parents. I was often asked by my father to make those meatballs or a meatloaf or even to boil the eggs for him. We never ate chicken unless it was fried chicken from a take-out place. Best. Fried. Chicken. Ever. My mother had a real aversion to raw chicken.

When I got married and started cooking real food, I cooked everything. I called it “from scratch” but I didn’t bake bread or mix my own icing or anything like that. I’d buy the boneless chicken, put a sauce on it, bake it and make the rice and some kind of frozen vegetable boiled on the stove top. At least I stopped eating canned except for green bean casserole or what cans we get generously from the church. I actually never used my microwave except as a timer that first year and probably not even until after my son was born. As I mentioned above, we still use that same microwave today. Popcorn, leftovers, frozen burritos.

The reason I’m reminded of this is that simple word, the prompt – zest. I had no idea what it was, what it meant. There was a soap called Zest; somewhat reminiscent or similar to Irish Spring, but putting that in an ingredient for cake didn’t make much sense at all. Even to a novice in the kitchen like me.

Having quite the Tupperware collection, I definitely had a zester; it was one of those freebies you got for attending a party or playing a game. I still didn’t know what it did.

Was the zest the same as the rind? What was the rind anyway? Do you mean the skin off the lemon? Orange? Limes? People use limes?Why? Do they mean the part that gets peeled off and thrown away? The garbage? You want to put the garbage in the cake or the pie or the syrup? I just don’t understand.

And I wouldn’t for many years. If it called for zest or rind, I left it out or added a tiny bit more extra juice – same thing, right?

Finally, a close friend took pity on me. He taught me how to bake bread over the phone. Caramel, too. And how to zest an orange. Or a lemon. It’s pretty much universal, I think. He is why I have a small jar of dried orange peels in my refrigerator at this very moment.

I still don’t understand what difference it makes.

All I know is that my children will never know this intellectual emptiness of wondering and being embarrassed with their lack of zesty intelligentsia. Fortunately for them, when I’m cooking or baking or experimenting in the kitchen I have my trusty tablet, one screen opened to my cookbook, one opened to the Google home page for any questions that might arise. like that loaf of fresh bread under the tea towel. Why they’re called tea towels is another mystery to my pre-cooking self; one that will undoubtedly be rehashed here in future days.

Tea for Tuesday

Standard

image

A belated birthday gift from my bestie! Fandom blends from Adagio Teas. My first choice for this morning is The Walking Dead’s Daryl blend.

The blend consists of Mambo, Honeybush Vanilla, Mocha Nut Mate, Cocoa Nibs, and Cloves.

I use about a teaspoon and pour the boiling water over my strainer. I give it a taste and almost always add sugar, two teaspoons. With the mocha and cocoa, I think it would be very nice with a bit of milk, but our house is short of milk at the moment.

What I love most about these teas is that they almost always taste like their description on the tin.

This blend is smooth, enough caffeine to perk me up when I didn’t really want to be perked up, but morning has come, so… The cloves, vanilla, and cocoa give it a hint of the holidays, but not out of place in the cold of January.

Despite being really strong flavors – cloves, vanilla, and cocoa – they are very subtle in this blend, and no aftertaste that I sometimes get with flavored tea. This is also a black tea base, which is my personal preference.

Reviews from at least four more fandom blends to come including The Avengers, Supernatural, Doctor Who, and Harry Potter.

Can’t wait to try them all!

Fandom Photos

Standard

These are not in any kind of order, but I will caption them so they can illustrate some of my fandom activity and this is just the tip of the fandom iceberg that so many of us participate in.

As you can see, these are some of the more elaborate activities that we’ve participated in over the last few years. Posting these have brought a smile to my face in that nostalgic way that reminds me of the fun, and is excited for the next adventure in fandom!

phone lock screen

This is my phone lock screen in honor of season 10.

2014-08-23 19.44.03-1

Our Doctor Who premiere dinner. Scottish food for the Scottish Doctor (and actor Peter Capaldi). Series 8, Fall, 2014

 

2014-08-22 19.51.04-1

My drawing symbolizing all of the Reboot Doctors (Nine, Ten, Eleven and Twelve)

2014-08-14 20.23.16

Fangirls Night Out at the local comic store

2014-08-08 13.45.10

GISHWHES participation, 2014. Item # 147

tumblr_mhtve2LOUB1r86qtto1_500[1] (500x280)

My desktop wallpaper on my computer. Supernatural, season 9. Men of Letters Bat Cave

DSCN4030

Cake on fire

DSCN3992

Zombie Crawl, Denver, 2011 (or when fannish people get together). The baby is not ours. Mom wanted our picture.

1020112145

British (Welsh) tea “service” brought to me in bed

1020112017

Bison pie while watching Sweeney Todd

JB shrine

Create a shrine to a CW actor. John Barrowman of Arrow. GISHWHES, 2013. Item # 73

2013-08-14 14.19.48

Sock Monkey. Synonymous with Misha Collins and GISHWHES

2013-05-08 18.23.36-1

Buying Jiffy Pop because the preview of the episode shows a character eating it.

2012-08-24 10.42.09

Owning (receiving as gifts) ridiculous amounts of stuff. This is a sonic screwdriver from Doctor Who. This belonged to Nine and Ten. I carry it everywhere. It’s a flashlight, and during blackouts we have this and our Green Lantern power battery to help out.

random acts logo

Participating in an actor’s personal charity. This one does Random acts of kindness and promotes kindness and creativity.

DSCN6169

Supernatural, season 8 finale party. All-American food on a Devil’s Trap tablecloth with Classic Rock music of course!

DSCN6176

Traveling to Williamsburg, VA (twice) for the season 8 finale and the season 9 premiere parties of Supernatural.

2013-10-04 09.36.30

My costume for the LARP (live-action role play) prior to the season 9 premiere party of Supernatural.

pep talk 2

LARP – some of us in costume.

premiere 2  - clear version

After the LARP watching the premiere

table 1

Formal dinner set up for the Men of Letters, 1958 – Supernatural LARP

2013-10-29 17.22.56

Party Favor for the LARP. Salt, angel feather, key to the MOL headquarters and leather engraved symbol in a diner salt shaker. Really perfect. My friend, J. made these. They were beautiful.

Tea

Standard

“Tea is not just a beverage; it is a way of leaving your life.”

This was written by a friend of mine during a tea drinking project we both participated in, and it stayed with me. I found it to be so profound, and yet so simple because tea is many things, not just to me but to many, many people.

The entire British culture revolves around tea. I’ve even heard that there is a power surge at tea time as everyone fires up their electric kettles.

Two years ago, I was visiting a friend who comes from Wales, and every time he asked me if I wanted a cup of tea I always said yes. Not because I was thirsty, mind you, but because tea is life. Sometimes, he didn’t ask. I’d roll over in the bed and find a steaming cup, perfectly brewed with just the right amount of milk and sugar already added, waiting for me on the bedside table.

I didn’t know I wanted it until it was right there in front of me.

As it is known to tea drinkers around the world: tea cures all ills, and if it doesn’t, drink more tea.

While on this visit, two things happened that cemented the idea that tea and tea preparation and tea drinking is innate in the British soul. Both occurred while my friend was sleeping. Ed, my friend went to bed before several of the rest of us. It was a long day and he was tired. We stayed up talking. After a few minutes of quiet discussion, we heard a familiar sound coming from the kitchen. Before retiring, Ed had put the kettle on. We called out to him, asking him about it and he came bounding out of the bedroom, pajama clad and began setting out the cups and the milk and asking who wanted a cuppa.

Of course, we said yes. I mean he’d gotten out of bed from a dead sleep for this.

The second time Ed had again gone to bed. Three of us were still sitting in the living room talking when one friend offered to make us tea. He put the kettle on and we went back to talking. The whistle blew and as we were in the middle of a thought we ignored it, just for a moment. Ed came out of his room, went straight into the kitchen without saying a word and began to prepare the tea. We asked what he was doing, and he told us – preparing the tea. We asked if he realized that he hadn’t actually put the kettle on, that we had, and his reply was, “well, I’m here now, who wants a cuppa?”

He is the quintessential Brit, but not proper, not stuffy, long haired and bearded, hard drinking and foul mouthed but it somehow sounds like poetry with the accent and of course, he is also Tea Connoisseur Extraordinaire.

His tea of choice is PG Tips. Proper British tea to make a proper cup of tea. Milk on the bottom. It didn’t even matter what kind of milk. At this time, the household was on a Vegan diet, so it was soy milk, but I’ve had almond milk, low-fat milk, full fat milk, real cream, but milk on the bottom.

For me, tea is many things. It is utilitarian. I don’t drink coffee, so for many mornings it is my get up and go ritual. Black, green, white, oolong sometimes with citrus or ginger or nothing at all except always the milk and sugar. My rituals for morning tea are always the same and I have no idea where they came from. Tea bag (or strainer) in the cup, boiled water poured over it, let it sit while I make the rest of my breakfast, then milk to the top and two small spoons of sugar. I take a sip, take two steps to leave the kitchen, but don’t actually leave, then two more sips, and then I am free to go as if the bindings holding me in place have been magically released. I don’t know why I do this, but I have always done it since we moved into the house.

Cold hands wrapped around a paper cup with a paper sleeve and tea is warmth filling every sense as it travels from my fingertips up along my arms filling the rest of my body with comfort. The Tazo Awake at Starbucks, a black caffeinated variety with a pump of cinnamon and a pump of toffee nut added usually fits this to a tee. (Pun absolutely intended.)

Often, teas are soothing. Chamomile and green tea with jasmine are two that I find very soothing. When all else fails, have a cup of tea, and I really believe it is the slowing down to sip the heat, the steam roiling into your face that has an almost hypnotic effect on a person. The pause in the moment of stress or tension as each sip lets you see more clearly the problem. It doesn’t always solve the problem or relieve the anxiety, but it does give you a moment or two to breathe and line things up into perspective. Once that happens, I can take another sip and plan out what the possibilities are.

And with tea, there are so many possibilities. Even taking the tea leaves out, you are left with other drinks – tisanes. I still call them teas, as many people do, but I’m learning the intricacies of tea history and tea lore. These tisanes are herbals and blended fruits with spices or simply just the spices steeped.

My best friend always sends me tea. He finds teas and he shares them with me, and I do the same with him. He has hundreds of varieties of teas and he knows me so well, there is none that he’s sent that I do not at least tolerate, but often I enjoy them immensely and list my favorites and requests for More, Please.

When I try these teas, I read their names that he’s so carefully written on the Ziploc bag. I imagine the culture, the different geography, the different way of taking tea, and I enjoy it all the more for the new knowledge that comes simply from a name on a bag. Lady Londonderry and French blend; Moroccan Mint and Russian Carravan; Mexican Chocolate, literally the only one I’ve found for him that got an ooh, likey very much reaction.

Last year, he sent me five teas. This is the project I mentioned earlier. In 2011, our friend was murdered (and he was injured, but that’s a different part of a different story). She was washing the kettle out for tea.  In recent months they had attended a tea tasting in San Francisco’s Chinatown and they had placed a large order for different varieties from a tea shop. After her murder, there was that horrible period of shock and denial and sadness and now what and how do we go on and should we ignore the fact that we had a friend or do we think of her every day and cry every day for the rest of ever.

About a year later, around the time of the first anniversary of her murder, he ordered the teas she never got and, he asked people if they wanted to share some of her favorite teas. He would send us the tea, just enough for one cup of five varieties and the only request he had was that we sit and drink, think and journal. Nothing else. No television, no homework, no kids running around; just drink the tea and then to please write about it. Whether it was about our friend or the taste of the tea or whatever came to mind as we sipped Brittany’s favorite teas. Drink tea and write.

This is what I do.

Each cup of her tea brought me closer to Brittany in a way that was missing in our lives together. She and I had our differences in life and we had just come out of that to find a new place, to start on a new path together and then in the blink of an eye our second chance was over. How can life work that way?

Some teas were bagged and simply steeped (PG Tips, Mango Black tea). Some were loose (Real Chai and Imperial Dragon Pearls). One was her special blend, a tisane of chamomile, grapefruit and licorice root. The Real Chai was one you had to cook in a saucepan with half and half and jaggery, a spicy sugar from India, and the swirls it made looked like her unruly hair. And I wrote. I wrote about the tea and about my feelings for the tea and I wrote about Brittany and my own life and regrets, and it brought me to places that I never thought were available to me.

It is a train ride through a strange place. However, most strange places are only strange for a short while. Eventually it becomes familiar or it reminds us of other places in our lives. We begin to incorporate the new with the memory and it becomes something new, and that is tea.

Tea is old, older almost than time or at least it seems that way, and yet tea is new as new feelings emerge, new essences and aromas are tried and experienced, and new techniques for brewing are undertaken while new flavors are sampled.

That first sip is an introduction and as the tea cools to a wonderful tepid that you can drink a bit faster, taking larger gulps, and when you get near the end of the cup you slow down again, and that last sip leaves you wanting more. Just one more sip.

I don’t want to make another whole cup; I won’t drink the whole thing, but one more sip, that’s all I want.

Tea is a familiar friend who travels with you and lets you explore new things, and in the end, it brings you home.

DSCN6262

Jiffy Pop

Standard

2013-05-08 20.45.17

I have this wonderful childhood memory of Jiffy Pop. I know that it wasn’t my kitchen, but I can’t remember which friend it belonged to. I think the stove was aqua and it was next to the back door which was left open. It was a comfortable day. The sun was shining but it was not too hot. I think it was in fact, cool.

The kitchen was a very small square room. Not that my kitchen at home was any bigger, but mine was long like a galley, narrow enough that I could put one hand on the counter and one on the stove and swing like a gymnast. I think that cost me a ride to the emergency room and five stitches in my head.

But back to the popcorn.

I still picture the metal foil rising into a balloon and the loud crackling and popping until the popcorn couldn’t fit anymore. It was wondrous. There was no such thing as microwaves at least not in our homes and so certainly no microwave popcorn. This was easy. It was fast. Jiffy, in fact. It was buttery delicious and perfect. At least, that’s how I remembered it.

Two weeks ago, my favorite show (Supernatural) had a reunion of sorts and in the promo pictures next to the rescued man watching a reel-to-reel film was a Jiffy Pop package that he was eating popcorn out of. He took them and ate them one at a time. I noticed because who takes them one at a time?

Before the show I ran to the supermarket and bought myself some Jiffy Pop. I would eat it with the characters because fandom is weird like that. I couldn’t wait to get into my kitchen and make a memory come alive.

I read the directions carefully.

Hmm, I don’t remember shaking the pan when I was a kid. I don’t remember moving it in circles against the element. No flames on this electric stove, but the directions said it was fine. I didn’t remember the smoke I think was caused from the friction of rubbing the bottom of the Jiffy Pop package on the range top. Constant smoke rising; I had to turn the fan on. It smelled awful and it was taking forever. I hadn’t even heard popping yet. How long had I been standing over this stove? An hour? Two? More likely less than five minutes, maybe six.

It was taking forever!

Finally, the popping began. Still I shook the pan and made the circles and listened to the pop pop popping. The foil made a balloon and eventually, maybe five minutes more I gave up.

I cleared the smoke.

I tore open the foil with a fork and ate a piece.

Hmm, not very good. Not at all like I remembered.

I’ll wait for the show to start and try it again.

It didn’t get much better. I ate about half and then was grateful when my teenager asked for a handful.

“Take the rest,” I said sadly.

Some things should be left as memories.

Curry Chicken Salad

Standard

Curry Chicken Salad

This is my own recipe based on The Fresh Market’s list of ingredients:

Ingredients:

1 cup Mayo,

1 TB + 1 tsp. Sweet Curry Powder,

Scallions, 1-2 stalks,

1 small box Golden Raisins, about 1/4cup,

2 TB Mango Chutney,

2 1/2tsp. Chopped Pecans,

Fresh ground pepper (I did five turns with a pepper mill),

Chicken, cooked, cut into cubes (in the picture that goes with this, the chicken is cut much smaller than I would have liked) – about 2 cups is what I used; with cubed it may come out to more if you’re actually measuring it,

Water chestnuts, drained – about 1/8-1/4cup (I just grabbed a handful and diced them).

Mix 1 cup of Mayonnaise and 1 TB + 1 tsp. Sweet Curry Powder and set aside.

Most of the rest is to taste.

Cut up chicken and put into a separate bowl.

Add diced scallions, chopped water chestnuts, a handful of golden raisins, 2 TB of mango chutney, about 1 tsp. of pepper (put in however much you like for your own tastes), 2 1/2tsp. pecans.

Mix with a fork.

Add in the mayo mixture and mix again, then add more until you have the desired consistency. If it’s too wet, add more chicken or solids like the scallions and water chestnuts, etc. If it’s too dry, add more of the mayo mixture (you should have a little left over.)