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Archive for January, 2011

Most of us have memories of particular foods that, when eaten again, take us back to a specific moment or time in our lives. Being transported to a memory, good or bad, by a single taste is what French novelist Marcel Proust wrote about in Remembrance of Things Past. For him it was a madeleine, a sponge cake baked in a shell-shaped mold, that brought his past to the present. A “foodie” like me has many food memory “triggers,” but in honor of Chinese New Year, let me share some of my Chinese cookie memories.

Little pig-shaped cookies are my “madeleines.” Eating these hard-baked, dry cookies, sold only during fall harvest, always reminds me of my childhood. Although I have not eaten one of these cookies in a very long time, just the thought of them makes me happy and transports me back to the streets of Chinatown. If I was lucky, my parents would buy me one of these cookies while I tagged along with them on their Chinese grocery shopping trips. Sometimes I would get the large Buddha-shaped cookie that had colored sprinkles scattered across his belly, but my favorite one was always the little pig-shaped cookie sold in a little plastic basket. Breaking off small bits and savoring each little bite until it was gone was the only way I could eat it.

Another cookie that transports me to my past is the Chinese Almond Cookie. I remember friends of my parents would come to visit and bring large boxes of these. They made a crumbly mess when eaten, but boy were they good! Sometimes I would pick off the almond and eat it first, so that it would not interfere with the enjoyment of the best part – the crunchy, almond-flavored cookie!

Here’s a recipe for Chinese Almond Cookies that are thin and light; they’re crisp on the outside and slightly chewy on the inside and have a wonderful almond flavor.

Chinese Almond Cookies
from the Sweet Spot Cookbook by Pichet Ong

Ingredients:
1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1-1/4 cups almond flour
1 cup unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes and chilled
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 large egg
1 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 cup slivered almonds
1 large egg white, beaten

Directions:
1. Sift together the flour, sugar, and baking soda and set aside.

2. Put the almond flour, butter, and salt into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat on medium speed until the mixture resembles cornmeal, about 3 minutes. With the machine running, add the egg and almond extract and mix until well incorporated. Turn the speed to low and add the flour mixture. Mix just until no traces of flour remain.

3. Transfer the dough to a large sheet of plastic wrap, flatten into a 1-inch-thick disk, and wrap tightly in the plastic. Refrigerate until hard, at least 30 minutes or up to 3 days.

4. When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

5. Form the dough into 1/2-inch balls and put 1 inch apart on the baking sheets. Use the palm of your hand to press balls into 1-inch circles. Press 4 slivered almonds into each cookie arranging them decoratively to form an X. Brush the tops of the cookies with the egg white.

6. Bake the cookies until golden and crisp around the edges, about 15 minutes. Cool completely on the baking sheets on a cooling rack. The cookies can be stored in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

Makes 3 dozen cookies.

Linnell’s Notes:
1. Almond flour can usually be found either in the baking aisle or the health food section of your grocery store.

2. In step 5 it helps to wet your palms with a little bit of water first before pressing down on the dough balls. The water prevents the buttery dough from sticking to your hands. Also, the 1-inch circles were too small to press four pieces of slivered almonds into an X-formation. I only used two pieces per cookie, but if you like your cookies to be nuttier, use more!

3. For me this recipe made way more than the three dozen it specified. I counted 88 cookies in my batch! Double 8 – how lucky!

Gung Hay Fat Choy!

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“Enough birds,” my mom says. “What?” I confusedly reply. “Enough birds,” she reiterates. “Okay,” I say as her meaning sinks in. My mom thinks I’ve posted too many photos of birds in my blog recently. Admittedly, I have become a bit bird crazy. Today’s photo of a Black-chinned Hummingbird is one that took great patience and a little luck to capture, so I have to share it! But I’ll try to give the little creatures a rest and aim my camera elsewhere for a little while . . . .

#1 -A Giving Challenge
“Give one thing away each day for 29 days. Share your stories about how it impacts your life to focus on giving. Join the 29-Day Giving Challenge today. Why? Because to see our world change, we have to do something to change our world. Plus, the best way to attract abundance into your life is to be in a perpetual state of giving and gratitude. Be an important part of the global giving movement that inspires more generosity on our planet.” These are the words on the 29-Day Giving Challenge: Changing Lives One Gift at a Time website that I learned about at a workshop I attended last weekend. Take on the challenge and see if your life doesn’t change!

#2 – Great Quotes and Great Images
Many of my favorite inspirational quotes have been paired up with some great photo images or artwork on the Present Outlook site. Check them out and print some up.

#3 – Get Organized!
According to the National Association of Professional Organizers, January is the official Get Organized Month.

As I sit here in my office, I am surrounded by piles of junk. I impulsively decided to clean my study yesterday. Cleaning and organizing are my favorite forms of procrastination! After spending half a day pulling everything off the bookshelves to sort and dust, I now have a bigger mess than I had before. What to do? Well, right now I’m procrastinating by writing this post instead of choosing to clean up my newly-created mess. It’s a vicious cycle, isn’t it?

If mail clutter seems to be taking over your living quarters, then here’s a tip from a book I found yesterday while cleaning. Sheree Bykofsky author of 500 Terrific Ideas for Organizing Everything says, “Never let your mail sit around. Read your mail as soon as it arrives and sort each envelope into the following categories: pay, answer, file, dump. Then do it. Be selective about what you choose to file; think about whether you’ll ever need to locate that paper again, and if you do, will you really be able to find it? Your time is too valuable to spend constantly filing; and your home shouldn’t resemble the archives of the Library of Congress.”

#4 – Got Lemons?
Got lemons? Do what I do when I’ve got lots of lemons. I freeze some of them, so I can enjoy their flavor throughout the year. One way I like to freeze them is in round slices. After washing the lemons, I slice them with a sharp knife into thin rounds. Then I place the slices in a single layer on a parchment paper-covered cookie sheet and put them in the freezer. After the slices are frozen solid, I transfer them to a freezer-safe container, alternating layers of wax paper and lemon slices. When I have company over and want to serve them a refreshing pitcher of water, I just reach into my freezer and grab a couple of frozen lemon slices and toss them into the water. I also keep lime slices, quartered orange slices, cucumber slices, and melon chunks in my freezer just for that purpose, too!

# 5 – How Do You Say Thank You?
How do you say “thank you” for sunshine or health . . . for clear days or gentle rains . . . for happiness, joy or love? You say it by sharing what you have. You say it by making the world a better place in which to live.
~Thomas D. Willhite~

May you experience joy this weekend!

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With Dungeness crab season peaking this month and with two Meyer lemon bushes heavy with fruit in my yard, I simply could not resist making Cracked Crab With Meyer Lemon Vinaigrette for a dinner with friends this past weekend. The fresh and fragrant flavors of lemon, garlic and Italian parsley complemented the delicate and slightly sweet flavor of the Dungeness crabmeat to perfection. Rounding out the meal was a loaf of fresh artisan bread, a colorful green salad, a bowl of hot tagliarelle with truffle butter (recipe to be posted at a later date), and a bottle (or two) of unoaked Chardonnay. There’s nothing like a night of great food and great friends!

Cracked Crab With Meyer Lemon Vinaigrette
from Williams-Sonoma’s San Francisco Cookbook

INGREDIENTS

For the Court Bouillon:
2 yellow onions, halved and thinly sliced
2 celery stalks, cut into 1-inch chunks
1 carrot, cut into 1-inch chunks
1 bay leaf
12 peppercorns
1/2 cup fine sea salt
1 bottle (24 oz/750 ml) dry white wine

For the Marinade:
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup fresh Meyer lemon juice
3 tablespoons minced fresh flat leaf (Italian) parsley
1 large clove garlic, very finely minced
Fine sea salt

2 large live Dungeness crabs, about 2 lb each

DIRECTIONS

1. To make the court bouillon, combine the onions, celery, carrot, bay leaf, peppercorns, salt, wine, and 8 qt. water in a large pot. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce the heat to maintain a steady simmer, and cook, uncovered, for 20 minutes.

2. While the court bouillon is simmering, make the marinade: In a large bowl, whisk together the olive oil, lemon juice, parsley, and garlic. Season to taste with salt.

3. Return the court bouillon to a boil over high heat. Add the crabs, cover, and cook for 20 minutes (less if your crabs are smaller than 2 lb) after the liquid returns to a boil. Lift them out of the boiling liquid and set aside to cool.

4. Twist off the crab claws and legs and set them aside. Holding each crab from underneath, lift off and discard the hard top shell. Turn the crab over; lift off and discard the triangular tail flap. Pull off and discard the grayish feathery gills along both sides.

5. With a heavy knife or a cleaver, quarter the body. If necessary, rinse the body pieces very quickly to remove the yellowish “butter.” Gently crack the claws and legs with a nutcracker or mallet and put them in the marinade along with the quartered body. Stir well with a spatula and let marinate at room temperature for 1 hour, stirring occasionally.

6. Alternatively, cover and refrigerate the crab for up to 8 hours, stirring occasionally.

7. Serve the crab at room temperature or, if it has been refrigerated, serve chilled. Provide a nutcracker for each diner and a bowl for the shells.

Serves 4.

Cookbook Notes:
Meyer lemons give the marinade a particularly compelling fragrance, but you can substitute familiar Eureka lemons. The latter are more tart, so you will need less juice.

Linnell’s Notes:
Purchasing live crab is not a necessity, but certainly the fresher the crab the better the outcome. My husband purchased live crab from an Asian seafood market. If using precooked whole crab, skip down to step four.

For any of you who are not familiar with what court bouillon is, here is Wikipedia’s take on it: “Court-bouillon or court bouillon is a flavored liquid for poaching or quick-cooking foods. Traditional uses include poaching fish and seafood, but it is also used for poaching vegetables, eggs, sweetbreads, cockscombs, and delicate meats. Court bouillon loosely translates as ‘briefly boiled liquid’ (French court) or “short broth” because the cooking time is brief in comparison with a rich and complex stock, and generally is not served as part of the finished dish. Since delicate foods do not cook for very long, it is prepared before the foods are added.”

Enjoy!!

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Like Midas, the sun transformed everything it touched into gold as the bride and groom exchanged their wedding vows. “No gifts please,” the invitation read. But what about the beautiful gift they gave to their guests?  Was not the sharing of this glorious golden sunset on their wedding day a gift to others?

#1 – Live Your Life To the Fullest
I found another great list filled with food for thought. It’s from the Personal Excellence Blog and it’s called 101 Ways To Live Your Life to The Fullest. The article starts with this quote from Steve Jobs:

“Your time is limited, don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma, which is living the result of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinion drown your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition, they somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

This list may seem daunting to some of you, but even if only one or two of the author’s suggestions appeal to you, you are still ahead of the game and closer to living your life to the fullest.

#2 – Reuse It!
If you have a wool sweater that you or someone in your family no longer wears, try making a cute handbag/tote out of it. I’ve not tried making one yet, but I’m definitely going to do it. The whole process seems simple enough. I may even attempt to add lining to my handbag! If you don’t have any old sweaters, search a thrift store for one. Click the link for the 30 Minutes to a Recycled Sweater Bag instructions.

#3 – Recycling Is An Art
This is a fun site to explore and inspire. Browse through the pages of RECYCLART to view ways to reuse and recycle “stuff” in a fun and artistic way. This site proves that with imagination anything can be reused!

#4 – Give Yourself a Time Out!
After I saw this gorgeous photo, I had to share it with you! Give yourself a time out to enjoy it. I guarantee you’ll feel much more relaxed after looking at this incredible sunset. Click on the link, then take a deep breath and simply gaze at the photo. Study the silhouette of the canoe and its solitary passenger. Is it a man or woman? Admire the vibrant colors – did you know that blue and orange are complementary colors? Have your eyes find the horizon and then let yourself sink deep into the warmth of its image. See how the clouds are smaller and fainter at the horizon then at the top and bottom of the photo? Notice the movement of the clouds and appreciate the beauty of their reflected image on the shimmering water. Feel better now?

#5 – Point of View
Clouds come floating into my life, no longer to carry rain or usher storm, but to add color to my sunset sky.
Rabindranath Tagore

Enjoy your weekend!
And a Happy Birthday to my niece Stephanie!

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The boy is not yet five-years-old, but he is already developing a terrible and serious affliction. That it’s a life-altering affliction is sad, but that his family is most likely passing it on to him is frightening. His symptoms? Displaying a hardening of the categories. The diagnosis? Developing prejudice. The prognosis? Due to the early onset of symptoms, intervention is critical. Only time will tell the true severity of his affliction.

The back-story: A few days after Christmas my son was in a sporting goods store trying on ski goggles. Looking down while adjusting the fit, he heard a child’s voice address him with these words, “I HATE Asians!” Without even looking at my son’s face and without losing a step in his stride, this child stopped my adult son in his tracks with those ugly words. My son wondered how someone so young could already hate an entire group of people and how this little boy had the nerve to walk up to a stranger and spew hatred. There’s no doubt that this little boy did not develop a hatred of Asians, and who knows what else, all by himself. Like the lyrics from the Rogers and Hammerstein song “You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught” point out, this child had to be taught to hate. The words from this song seem more pertinent than ever:

You’ve got to be taught
To hate and fear,
You’ve got to be taught
From year to year,
It’s got to be drummed
In your dear little ear
You’ve got to be carefully taught.

You’ve got to be taught to be afraid
Of people whose eyes are oddly made,
And people whose skin is a diff’rent shade,
You’ve got to be carefully taught.

You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late,
Before you are six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate,
You’ve got to be carefully taught!

After hearing my son tell me of his experience in the store, I remembered a scolding I once received from my dad when I was a child. I must have said something in passing to my parents about hating something, because I distinctly recall my dad gently pulling me aside and telling me to be very careful about using the word “hate.” He explained to me that hate was a very powerful emotion and that the word “hate” should never be used casually. “You can dislike someone or something, but don’t ever hate,” he said. I’m proud that my dad, an immigrant, and my parents, both of an ethnic minority, rose above the hurt of prejudice in their lives to teach their children to be more accepting and tolerant of the differences in people.

We need to be more aware of our behavior as we go about our everyday lives. The result of our insignificant actions may have great impact. Often times generalizations are made as a result of a single encounter. In particular, as adults we need to be more careful of what we say or do in front of children and young adults. Soon the future of our world will be in their hands. Prejudice is adopted by children like a bad habit and this cycle needs to be broken.  If we have any hope for world peace, we need to teach by example, on a daily basis, the power of acceptance and tolerance. Let us not define ourselves or others by color, race, age, religion, political beliefs, gender, disability, social class, ethnicity, etc. Let our legacy be based in the hearts and thoughts that bind us together and not in the classifications that we let divide us.

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A guessing game: I rarely leave home without it. It’s always in my back pocket. It’s loaded with information that I check during the day. What is it? No, it’s not my cell phone. It’s my pedometer! Thanks to a friend and neighbor, I walk over 10,000 steps almost every day. If not for her, I would be a slug. I used to hate waking up early and walking in the cold or in the rain, but now I actually enjoy it! Everything is always more enjoyable when you can share it with someone!

#1 – 100 Weight Loss Tips
Already blown one of your New Year’s resolutions? All is not lost. Every day of our lives, we have the opportunity to start over. If losing weight is something you’d like to accomplish, then read Dr. Oz’s 100 Weight Loss Tips and start implementing some of his tips today. His list is more helpful than most and I think you’ll agree that it’s never too late to start taking better care of yourself!

#2 – Yarn Bombs
This isn’t earth-shattering news, but I thought it was interesting. I recently read an article in my local newspaper about a yarn bombing that occurred at a newly renovated art museum in town. The museum directors weren’t upset and thought the ruffled strips of yarn wrapped around a pole were rather interesting. It seems some people are going to great lengths (sorry, I couldn’t help myself!) to leave their mark in the world. Yarn bombing is akin to graffiti. People sneak out at night and tag public objects, but in the case of yarn bombing, they leave their mark with knitted or crocheted yarn. Click here to see a few examples of it. Wikipedia states, “While other forms of graffiti may be expressive, decorative, territorial, socio-political commentary, advertising or vandalism, yarn bombing is almost exclusively about reclaiming and personalizing sterile or cold public places.”

#3 – Wax On, Wax Off
Over the holidays, the charming snowmen candles on my kitchen table fell out of favor when they dripped wax on my red tablecloth. With minimal fuss, my tablecloth is as good as new now. Here’s how I removed the wax:

A. Used ice to solidify wax.
B. Scraped off as much wax as possible using a dull knife.
C. Sandwiched wax spots between paper bags – one bag under and one bag over the spots.
D. Ironed spots on medium-high while periodically shifting to fresh areas on bags.
E. After melting off as much wax as possible with the iron, I pretreated the areas with a stain remover and sent it through a warm wash.

#4 – My 50 List
I read in an article that people live for an average of 28,616 days. I don’t have a “bucket list,” but after roughly calculating that I’ve used over 20,000 of my days already, I think it’s about time that I set some additional goals for myself. On the site my50 (Things to do in a lifetime) you are invited to create a list of things you’d like to do during your lifetime. You can add descriptions, pictures, deadlines, and achievements to your list. You can make your list public, to help inspire others, or you can keep it private. Thinking of my life in terms of days versus years, is a perspective that reminds me not to squander any of my time on this earth!

#5 – Recognizing Miracles
“People usually consider walking on water or in thin air a miracle. But I think the real miracle is not to walk either on water or in thin air, but to walk on earth. Every day we are engaged in a miracle which we don’t even recognize: a blue sky, white clouds, green leaves, the black, curious eyes of a child — our own two eyes. All is a miracle.”
Thich Nhat Hanh

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Every now and then it’s nice to go out for a good dinner. A couple of weeks ago I was served a flavorful and juicy rack of pork smothered with sweet, caramelized, maple onions. It was cooked to perfection – just a little pink in the center. The name of the restaurant? Well, truthfully, this delicious dish was served to me at my son’s home. He and his girlfriend treated me and my husband to a wonderful home-cooked meal. I love that all my children enjoy cooking and that for a change I can ask them for a recipe! My husband and I purchased an eight-rib rack of pork, which is a relatively inexpensive cut of meat, at Costco and doubled the recipe. We were delighted that the results were just as tasty as the one our son and his girlfriend prepared for us. The moral of the story: Teach your kids to cook!

Rack of Pork with Caramelized Onions
Recipe by Wolfgang Puck

Ingredients:
1 (2-pound) pork rack with 4 bones attached
Salt and pepper
2 ounces olive oil
3 yellow onions, sliced
1-inch fresh ginger, crushed
1/2 stick cinnamon
1 star anise
3 tablespoons sweet butter
4 tablespoons maple sugar
3-1/3 cups apple cider

Directions:
Season both sides of rack with salt and pepper 20 minutes before cooking. Sear in heavy saute pan with olive oil until rack is well caramelized. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In same pan, add sliced onions, ginger, cinnamon, star anise and butter. Slowly cook until onions are well caramelized. Add maple sugar and cook for 2 minutes.

Deglaze with cider, adjust salt and pepper to taste and reduce until glaze forms. Completely cover rack with half of onion compote. Transfer to roasting pan and place in oven. Cook at 20 minutes per pound or until internal temperature is 150 degrees F. Halfway through cooking time, pour over remaining half of onion compote. Remove from oven and let rest for 10 minutes before slicing. Discard the cinnamon stick and star anise.

Serves 4.

Linnell’s Notes:
1. I didn’t have maple sugar, so I used maple syrup instead.
2. Make sure you don’t overcook the pork, unless you like the texture of shoe leather! Is it safe to eat pork that is slightly pink in the middle? According to Wisconsin River Meats: Yes. The bacteria trichina is destroyed at 137 F. Pork cooked to a temperature of 150 F to 155 F will often have a slightly pink middle.

Enjoy!

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