25 September 2010

Another New School Year

As we officially enter the autumn season I wanted to write a brief summary of my summer. The most remarkable thing about summer this year in California is that it pretty much never happened! We kept waiting for the warm, sunny days that we deem our right, but they never came. Everyday, the radio would come on at 6:00 AM and the weatherman would say the exact same thing: The coast will be socked in with fog and the temperatures will be mild. Unbelievable. We endured grey days with only a few hours of sunshine day after day after day. Let me tell you, it GOT OLD!
Once school started in late August, summer suddenly made an appearance. Not in a passionate, let-me-make-up-for-all-that-fog-way, mind you. But in a pleasant way nevertheless.

What was particularly disappointing about the lack of warm days, was that this year I planted a whole lot of vegetables in our raised beds. We managed to get a really decent lettuce crop, and a fair amount of summer squashes. But the tomatoes and basil were pretty sad. Oh well!

Daryl and I had been so busy during last academic year that we decided to have a low key summer. No traveling - just staying home and getting caught up with projects. Apart from a week in New York and a week in the Sierras, we stayed at home. I really enjoyed having time to do the kinds of things I enjoyed. My typical day started with a swim at my gym. Then at home I worked on a writing project, which is one of my hardest yet. Having the time to concentrate helped with some quality chapters that I felt pleased with. When I'm into my writing I read a huge number of books. That aspect is pretty satisfying too. It really was a shame to stop working on my project right when things were going so well. But, my baby is now viable and in need of some nurturing and feeding!

A trip to the Sierras was a great way to bookend my vacation. The mountains, fresh air, stunning scenery, and some vigorous hikes were quite stimulating.

23 July 2010

Book Club

I spent the last few weeks in the company of Philip Carey, the affable, conflicted, introspective protagonist  of W. Somerset Maugham's Of Human Bondage. What an incredible time I had with him. I journeyed with him as he past from boyhood to teenager to young man. He took me to Heidelberg, Paris, the Norfolk coast, and London. I had a great time and when 600 pages later I had say good-bye I felt sad. Philip had become a dear friend and parting from him left a void in my life. I miss him.

Last night I met up with my book group and we discussed Of Human Bondage, among other things (get a group of like-minded women together and you know what happens ..!!). We met at Jen's place where she served us refreshing margaritas made with tequila, cointreau, and lemon juice, blended with ice. For dinner we had superb Mexican - freshly made tortillas (from a neighborhood restaurant), beans, an assortment of chopped, fresh greens, and an excellent salsa. We were all in high spirits, and bursting with enthusiasm for our book. Everyone, except Jen, found the book a most satisfying read. I've always been a great fan of Maughm, and never could understand why the literary critics had given him short shrift. Reading the book with a writer's eye now, I could see the weaknesses.

Maugham is a fantastic storyteller and his protagonists are compelling, complex, and very likeable. What I find most endearing about his protagonists is their humanness, their fallibilities, and the constant internal conflict they go through. I immediately identify with them. Last night we all shared how we were like Phillip Carey in Of Human Bondage. 

I enjoyed seeing London in the late 19th century through Philip's experiences. What I found striking was the state of poverty in which the majority of Londoners lived.

The major weakness of the book is that it is overwritten. It needed some good editing, and that would've pared the book down to about 400 pages. Maugham didn't have the finesse with words that other highly respected English writers had like Thomas Hardy and DH Lawrence. His sentences don't have a lyrical or poetic quality. He tends to both show and tell - and he does an awful lot of telling. Philip was constantly telling us how he was feeling - sad, happy, nervous, shy, you name it. And one other weakness I found was when he went into detail about something that did nothing for the plot. For example when he took art classes in Paris he went into great detail describing the classes. He did the same when he was in medical school. Not necessary!!

But, these weaknesses are minor. They didn't bother me or take away from my enjoyment. I am so glad we chose this book which I had to get out of a dusty old shelf. The pages were yellow and smelled musty. I want to reread Cakes and Ale now.

21 July 2010

Picnic Dinner

Picnic dinners on warm summer evenings. The main venue for the Music Academy of the West's events is Hahn Hall, a Spanish Colonial building set in exquisitely landscaped grounds in Montecito. We've been attending their outstanding concerts - opera highlights on Monday night - and we usually take along a picnic dinner which allows us to enjoy the gardens in the early evening. So, I've been preparing fare worthy of the classy venue and classy events. Our summer garden has been my main inspiration for meals this summer.
Growing in mindboggling abundance right now are summer squashes. I have become quite the expert on zuchini dishes! Our picnic menu on Monday night was the following: aubergine caviar, homemade bread rolls, heirloom tomatoes and basil, and zucchini fritters. For dessert we had apricot cobbler. A Santa Ynez Pinot Noir went beautifully with this sumptuous meal.

At the farmer's market I couldn't resist the young, bright purple, firm eggplants. To  make the caviar I roasted the eggplants (while the bread rolls were baking). When they were soft I scooped out the pulp into a bowl and added the following ingredients: some olive oil, yogurt, a large clove of garlic, lemon juice, some chopped flat leaf Italian parsley and some fresh basil. I blended these with a hand blender and added salt and freshly ground pepper. This spread on still warm bread rolls is extremely satisfying.
The zucchini fritters accompanied by sweet, juicy tomatoes and basil made for one heck of a main course. I'll post the recipe one of these fine days.

16 July 2010

Need to rant ...

On May 2 I was rear-ended on the LA freeway. Mine was the middle car in a 5 car collision. Traffic had come to a standstill and some idiot wasn't paying attention, etc., etc. The car that hit me was a BMW and it pushed me into a BMW in front of me. Thus began a chain of events that have caused us no end of frustration, anger, and bitterness. Fortunately nobody was injured. I was also fortunate that my car's engine seemed fine and I was able to get home safely, despite my state of shock. The back was all banged up and it was so disheartening to see our beautiful black Honda Civic in that state.

So ... the first step was to contact the insurance company of the driver who caused the accident (AAA). They asked us to take the car to a car body shop (they specified the place) and get a quote. After several phone calls AAA sent us a check for the amount quoted ($5,100) about two weeks later. That could have been the end of the saga, but in fact it was the beginning. When the shop started work on the car they realized the damage was worse than they had thought. They contacted AAA and told them the bill was going to be an additional $1,500! AAA called us (Daryl, since he is the legal owner) and informed us that since the car's value was less than the bill from the shop they were going to write off the car. Daryl was seized by a paroxysm of fits. He informed the agent that this Honda Civic was an HX, a model that couldn't be replaced, and assigning a value was ridiculous. Anyway, it was all out of our hands at that point. We had to make a decision. Either kiss our beloved car goodbye and get a new one, or fork out the extra money to get it repaired. I wanted to look into getting a new car. I felt bitter about paying $1500 to get our car back to the state it was before an accident caused by an idiot. Daryl managed to persuade me that we should get the car repaired and so we asked the shop to complete the work. While this was happening we received a packet of stuff from AAA. Turned out that once they wrote the car off we were no longer the owners of the car. We had to "buy" back the car from AAA for $750. We had to send the license plates and registration to DMV. We had to then register the car at DMV as if we were new owners. But before we could do that we had to take the car for a brakes and light inspection which cost $100. Can you believe this outrage???

The car is back. It looks beautiful again and drives very smoothly. It's a pretty unique car with a gas mileage about the same as hybrids. Daryl didn't think it was ecologically responsible to scrap a car which has more "green" features than just about any other car out there. But, OMG, doing the right thing can be a gigantic challenge!

14 July 2010


Yesterday was a sizzler. Even sitting in the garden late in the day chugging iced cold Island Brew Pale Ale did little to cool us down. Only meaningless conversation was possible (the end of the World Cup adding to the challenge). In fact the only sensible thing I did was to make a smaaklike (I turn to foreign languages when I can't think of a creative adjective) gazpacho. The tomatoes in my garden are turning red and tend to be the basis for my dishes now. Here's how I made the gazpacho: I used a cucumber, 3 perfect tomatoes (still warm from the sun), a bunch of parsely (from my garden), 2 garlic cloves, a small red onion, some basil leaves, some olive oil, juice of a lemon, salt and black peppper. These ingredients went into the food processor and were blended until smooth. I added vegetable juice to get the sort of medium consistency of a soup. At serving time I dribbled more olive oil over the soup. A crusty bread (the Tuscan type) is a perfect accompaniment. On a warm evening, this soup is an absolute delight to the tastebuds. I swear!

Btw, I cannot prepare meals without music. I always create a playlist that sort of goes with my mood and the type of dish. Beethoven's String Quartet Opus 18 in B Flat Major worked really well for this recipe!

I'll sign off in Julia Child fashion (even though she is not my hero!). Bon Appetit!

13 July 2010

I Love Apricot Tart

In Santa Barbara, grey and socked in by fog most of this summer, the sun shines generously today. What a delight to awaken to a clear blue sky and start the day at the pool. A swim, a soak in the bubbling jacuzzi, and then a drenching sweat in the steam room. I feel so lucky that I can do this for about two summer months. I haven't thought much about teaching and the state of education ever since I said goodbye to my third graders on June 3. Mainly because I immediately got on a plane and did New York. The city in early summer was at its best - perfect temperatures and full of energy. It instantly cleansed my mind of the rather challenging year I had just completed.

Last school year I was so unhappy with all the pressures we teachers had to deal with that I seriously wondered if I wanted to continue in this profession. I had sweet students and I miss them. If I had the freedom to be creative and to spend more time engaging the kids in learning rather than in testing, testing, testing, draining their creativity, it would have been an altogether different experience. I am so tired of the obsession with test scores and the pressure to teach to the tests. It's agony.

Anyway, it's summer vacation, and I love having all this free time. The school year had been so intense and I felt like I was constantly on the go. And now I just want to do fun stuff.
One fun thing Daryl and I did last week was the Music Academy of the West's Friday picnic concert. We met up with our friends, Stephen and Jaqueline Simons. I made calzones and a salad. They brought a superb smooth red wine and apricot tart, or rather tarte aux abricot (Jacqueline is French). The gardens around Hahn Hall in Montecito are gorgeous - a perfect setting for our feast. When I told the Simons Apricot Tart was my favorite dessert they invited me to raid their bountiful apricot tree the next day.

After our dinner we were treated to another feast. A delightful selection of pieces - Chopin and Liszt - by very talented young people made for a perfect evening.

The next day I went to the Simons' place and picked apricots. Back home I got to work making tarts. Here is my recipe, which I guarantee, you'll love.

You'll need about 4 cups of apricots, shortcrust pastry, frangipane, and a glaze made from peach preserve.

First you make a shortcrust pastry. Rub a stick of butter into 1 1/2 cups flour and a pinch of salt. When you have something that looks like breadcrumbs add a little water and make into a soft dough.
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

Next make the frangipane. Blend a cup of almonds, an egg, 4 tablespoons butter and 1/2 cup sugar. You will end up with a paste that looks like marzipan.

Stone and slice the apricots. Sprinkle a tablespoon of flour and toss.

Divide the dough in half, and roll out two circles for the crust. Place each crust on a greased pie pan. Bake blind for 10 minutes in preheated oven (425 degrees).

When dough comes out, let if cool. Lower oven temp to 350 degrees. Spread frangipane over crusts. Arrange apricot slices over this. Bake for about 25 minutes.
The last thing to do is make a glaze by heating preserve. When tarts are out of oven, pour glaze over the apricots.

Serve at room temperature or cold.

06 July 2010

I say cilantro, you say coriander!

Waves of relief cascade through me. I just scanned the Mail and Guardian headlines, and phew (!), nothing horrible has happened in South Africa as the World Cup goes into its final week. After three weeks of tension and obsessively visiting the M&G website, I think I can relax now. When those millions of tourists return to their homes, instead of badmouthing SA, they are going to rave about the "gawe mense" and the lekker braais and amazing service and the stunning beauty, etc., etc. Ja-nee, for a month South Africans get to experience how it could be if they didn't have to design their lives around crime prevention.

Btw the funniest story I read in the M&G was about the convoy of Dutch supporters who had driven all the way from Holland, through the African continent to South Africa to support their team, but because they hadn't expected the Netherlands to reach the finals, they scheduled an early departure. They have left already!!!

I'm loving my carefree days at home. I go to the pool every morning for a swim, and then I relax in the jacuzzi, chitchatting with strangers, and wishing summer would never end. It's so wonderful to have time to read the paper and have lunch with friends and to work in the garden and to make lovely meals.

As you know, I like cooking with the seasons. In winter lentils and dried legumes feature prominently in my dishes, which are mainly complex stews, curries, and soups. But in summer, I go crazy at the farmer's markets and my refrigerator always has way too many vegetables. My repertoire isn't exactly huge, I have to say. Mainly because there are some things I am extremely fond of and can have them again and again. Basil pesto, heirloom tomatoes, grilled asparagus, tender green beans - steamed and tossed in butter, mustard, and toasted almond flakes.

Last week I broke from my tradition and made a rice dish that Daryl loved. This dish materialized because my refrigerator was unusually empty. All I could see were a bunch of cilantro (fresh coriander), a big carrot, and a couple broccoli heads. I opened the freezer and found a box of soy chicken strips. My brain went to work trying to figure out how to put this all together into a yummy dish. This is what I came up with:

I boiled 2 cups of brown rice.
Then I made a cilantro pesto. I got out my food processor and put in the following ingredients: the bunch of cilantro, 2 green chilis (from my garden), 2 cloves garlic, 1/4 cup walnuts, juice of a lemon, 1/2 cup canola oil, some salt. Blend until you get a paste.

I peeled and cubed the carrot and steamed it. The broccoli went into the steamer after a bit. I sauteed the soy chicken strips. When the rice was ready I stirred in the pesto and added the veggies, which were still a little crunchy, and soy chicken.
And that's it! A simple, healthy, but delicious dish, which is also vegan.

29 June 2010

Berries Galore - Have some summer pudding!

Where do the best desserts come from? My answer: England! No, Daryl isn't standing behind me with a dangerous weapon. And no, nobody is paying me for my answer. I mean it. The English really do take their puddings seriously. The best pudding place ever is an unpretentious pub in Exeter that Jason and Marie used to frequent back when they lived there. Unfortunately, I don't remember the name of the pub, but oh. My. God. We had the best Banoffee pie there. We also had an unforgettable trifle there. My favorite English dessert is Summer Berry Pudding, which I make every year at this time of the year. The first one I ever had was from Sainsbury, an Englsih grocery chain, about fifteen years ago. Served with fresh double cream it is to die for. It took me about a decade to realize that I didn't have to wait to go to England to have Summer Berry Pudding. The bloody Internet was sure to have recipes! After experimenting with various recipes I have found the following to work the best:

You'll need: 8 cups of a selection of fresh seasonal berries such as strawberries, boysenberries, raspberries, blueberries, etc.; 10 oz berry preserve (jam); 3 tablespoons sugar, and half a loaf of soft, white bread with crusts removed and cut into thin slices.

Prepare fruit and toss it all in a saucepan. Add the preserve and simmer on medium heat for about 5 minutes. Use a 2 quart bowl to assemble the pudding. First pour about a cup of berry mixture into bottom of bowl. Lay bread over it in a single layer. Pour fruit mixture over this and continue with the layering. Make sure that the fruit juices soak into the bread. The top layer should be berries. Cover with plastic wrap and press down with a heavy plate. Cool in refrigerator for a few hours, or overnight. And that's it! It's so easy.
Serve this with fresh cream, or custard, or yogurt if you want to be healthy!

Let me know if you make it and like it!

28 June 2010

Summer Cooking

What middle class lives we have, my husband often remarks. This past weekend, on account of all our social activities (we cannot be accused of being boring!), he repeated this a few times. Hard to tell if he's pleased, ashamed, amazed, or disgusted. On Friday evening we went to the Ensemble Theater in Santa Barbara and saw an excellent play called LOOT. It didn't have much of a plot, but had interesting characters, and lots of witty lines a la Oscar Wilde. Then on Saturday we started the day by going to the farmer's market where we stocked up on organic fruit and veggies. We went to Wholefoods for their superb multigrain bread - crusty and still warm - and wine. In the evening we went to a classical concert, part of an annual summer program performed by the Music Academy of the West. Because we usually travel in the summer we'd never attended these concerts before. So as newbies, we were invited to a preconcert champagne reception. Well, that was a bit la-di-dah. All the other people at the reception were the bigwigs of the Music Academy of the West. Thankfully, we were smartly dressed and looked sufficiently like high society folks. The champagne was great. We've got tickets to a few more concerts this summer.

In the early evenings we like sitting in the garden with a glass of chilled wine. I love our summer garden. It provides us with gifts everyday. The lettuce this year - romaine- has been phenomenal. Huge heads of bright green, crispy, tasty leaves. Summer squashes, green beans, and now tomatoes, basil, and parsley - just waiting to be picked. The fruit trees are also going gangbusters - juicy, purple Santa Rosa plums, peaches, and even a fig or two. Not bad. Very rewarding indeed.

During the last few weeks I've made an assortment of desserts using the fruit in season. A favorite among my friends is apricot tart. Here's how I make it:

First make a shortcrust pastry, roll it out and blind bake it in a 9" pan at 425 degrees. Next make some frangipane. In a blender I put in a cup of almonds, an egg, 3 tablespoons butter and a quarter cup sugar. Blend until you get a smooth paste. Spread this over the cooled crust. The final step is to prepare the apricots. Remove stones and quarter each apricot. Use as many as you like to cover the surface. Arrange apricot slices over frangipane and bake for about 30 minutes in a moderate oven. Heat up about half a cup of jam/preserve - and when it turns to liquid pour over the apricots. I enjoy this tart best at room temperature.

I've also made a few summer berry puddings. I'll post the recipe for this tomorrow.

22 June 2010


We celebrated the solstice in style last night. We went to a Bollywood party hosted by our newest Indian restaurant in town. They tried really hard to make it a great party, which was very well attended. We were dressed in Indian clothes and so were most of the people at the party. They served a wide selection of very tasty dishes, buffet style. Live Indian classical music created a party like atmosphere. Afterwards we were entertained by six young lady dancers dressed in bright, beautiful silk saris. They did some Bollywood dances which were delightful to watch. Who would've thought - an Indian evening right here in Santa Barbara!

This morning I awoke to the news that Bafana Bafana were playing France and had already scored two goals. I'm not into sports at all and have not watched any of the FIFA games. But, seeing as how the country of my birth is hosting the games, I've been following the highlights in some sort of oblique fashion. Mostly, I worry about what's going to go wrong. I should mention that my love for South Africa varies from hot to cold depending on Zapiro's cartoons and what I'm drinking! Regardless, I'm holding my breath this entire month. I obsessively check out the Mail and Guardian (of South Africa) website for reassurance. So far so good, though not perfect by a long shot. The weather, for example. I believe that the French team hightailed it back to France as soon as they left the field. In yesterday's news some French guy complained about the Highveld's bitter cold. Can't say I blame them for wanting to escape to warm, sunny France. You're frowning, wondering if I know the real juice on them and their obnoxious behavior in South Africa. As I said, I have been following the news obliquely!! Bafana Bafana is out, but thankfully, not in a humiliating way. Thank you, Coach Parreira!

So, I'm on my summer vacation. Spending it at home this year. No traveling for the next two months. Planning to take advantage of our local offerings. A big summer event here in Santa Barbara is a series of concerts performed by very talented musicians of the Music Academy of the West. We'll be going to two operas (Don Giovanni and a medley of opera favorites), a couple of chamber concerts and a picnic concert. That should keep us cultured for a bit!

That's it for now. Gotta do some writing, and then some reading - REGENERATION - for book group.

Happy Solstice!

15 June 2010

Wow! It's summer!

Judging from my last post, the last 3 months of my life have been pretty bloody full. I mean, not even a few minutes to spare to scribble down the exciting things that I do on in my life. And what about that food blog I intended to keep! All those spring veggies that appeared - asparagus, fava beans, zucchini flowers, I made some divine dishes with them. You would've loved the recipes. Tsk! Tsk! Tsk! I swear. Where does the time go?

Well, so summer vacation has started. It hasn't sunk in yet. Spring was such a busy time that I didn't notice it go past. And before I even realized that the May page had been ripped off the calendar, my students were saying good-bye to me. I don't think they even realized that the school year was really over. On the last week of school they seemed perpetually perplexed at their desks getting emptied out and their books disappearing.
Oh well, that was one fast train zipping through the months and then screeching to a sudden halt. And then I had to get off! And start my vacation.

I actually had to race out of that "train" so as not to miss a plane that whisked me to New York City for week I of vacation. I jetted across America on a sunny Friday afternoon and srrived in NY at 11:00 at night. I felt a bit apprehensive being alone in the big city late at night. But a yellow taxi deposited me safely at an airport hotel. The cabbie, a young man with a thick Indian accent, seized the opportunity to rip me off. He didn't turn on the meter and then insisted the 3 mile ride was $15. Oh well!

The week in NY was terrific. Everything worked out so beautifully. My London cousin, Angie, joined me on Saturday, and we planned out our week. We stayed in a very comfortable studio apartment on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. I hadn't realized how lucky we were to get this place until I heard that very basic hotel rooms cost around $250. We were paying $120 a night - for something that was spotless, spacious, cute, and convenient to all the major sites. Isn't the Internet an amazing resource?

Here's a list of my NY highlights:

1. The art museums. Loved the Metropolitan. There was a special Picasso exhibition and it was so cool to see so many of his famous paintings - ranging from the young Picasso in Barcelona, through his blue and rose periods, to the cubist works. Also enjoyed seeing Georgia O'Keefe paintings. There were quite a few Van Goghs too, which I relished. The Guggenheim was quite an experience with its unique design and architecture. I loved the Thannhauser collection with its great collection of works by Cezanne, Gauguin, and the Impressionists. And MOMA didn't disappoint either. The 4th and 5th floors contained a vast collection of early 20th art. What a feast for the senses! More Picasso and Van Gogh. The Mexican artists - Orozco, Siqueiros, Rivera, and Frida Kahlo - were well represented and very enjoyable. The exhibitions of contemporary art didn't appeal to me.

2. Spending an afternoon with my friend Lucy and later having dinner with her and Lee, her husband. Lee and Lucy live near City Hall and the Brooklyn Bridge. Lucy took us on a walking tour around her neighborhood. We walked across the Brooklyn Bridge and enjoyed views of Manhattan and of Brooklyn. Then we turned around and walked to Battery Park, around the waterfront, into the Financial District, saw Wall Street and the Stock Exchange, went into the winter garden from where we saw the sight of the World Trade Center. Then we strolled through Tribeca. For dinner we had excellent dim sum in nearby Chinatown.

3. Central Park. Everyday we walked through different parts of the park. What an amazing park, with so many activities going on in all its different parts - free Shakespeare, ballroom dancing, live music, remote controlled boats, to name just a few!

4. The food. So many different types of cuisine to choose from. The first night we had Burmese, which seemed like a fusion of different Asian foods. I had a vegetable mango curry in a coconut sauce. It was delicately spiced and full of flavor. On other nights we had Indian (Little India on Lexington between 29th and 30th), Chinese (dim sum), Vietnamese, Vegetarian Asian, and Malaysian.

5. The bagels. We all know that NY has the best bagels, don't we?

6. Exploring Greenwich Village, discovering interesting vegetarian restaurants there, and atmospheric bars.

6. The views of Manhattan from the East and Hudson Rivers while on a 2 hour cruise.

New York is such an interesting city and there's so much to see and do. I found it exhausting too - noise, people, traffic, and all those huge buildings.

Anyway, now that I'm on vacation, I'm hoping to blog more frequently. So stay tuned.

18 April 2010

Holas Amigos - Mexico City - Part 3 (or is it 3?)

I began to panic on my third day in Mexico City. I hadn't yet been to the Zocalo - the main square in the city center; nor had I seen the Diego Rivera murals and Frida Khalo's Casa Azul. Holy shit! I told my cousin, Angie, that we had to be disciplined and pack in as much as we could in the next two days. So off we left early Thursday morning, on our own. Metro-ed straight to the Zocalo. It was a scorcher and the square was crowded. We trekked around to take in the great monuments - the Cathedral, the Palacio National (presidential palace), and offices of the federal government. This square is huge. Numerous vendors had colorful crafts diplayed, and there was quite a festive atmosphere (it was the day before Good Friday).
This square was the heart of the Aztec village of Tenochtitlan. And even though it looks impressive today, with elaborate Colonial architecture, I couldn't help feeling bitter about the fact that the Spanish just mercilessly destroyed what the Aztecs had painstakingly built.

(Beside the Cathedral is the Templo Mayor - a recent excavation site with well preserved Aztec artifacts - which we visited the next day.)

We went into the Palacio National (the first palace on this spot was built by Moctezuma II in the 16th century!) to see the famous murals by Diego Rivera. The enormous one on the second floor traces Rivera's view of the history of the Mexican people and depicts preColumbian people in one section. It spans the period from the arrived of the serpent plumed god, Quetzalcoatl, to the 1910 revolution. I believe the Aztec bit was greeted with a lot of controversy.

After drinking in as much as we could of the murals here we made a dash for the Diego Rivera Museum. This meant walking through the very charming and crowded Centro Historico past the ornate Belles Artes and Post Office building, through beautiful Alameda Central Park. This park has gorgeous fountains and sculpture. All sorts of vendors - selling food and crafts were all over the park. Color, vibrancy, festivity filled the air. I was getting hunger pangs so I bought mango sliced and served in a cup. I love the way it is served - with a squeeze of lime juice and a sprinkling of chilli powder. Wow, it was yummy - the sweetness enhanced by the condiments. Adriana had warned us against buying street food, but heck, I couldn't resist this!

Anyway, with my renewed supply of energy we dashed to the museum. I was surprised at the grey, cement, nondescript building. Then, I realized Rivera was a communist - a man after my heart. I adored the simplicity and straightforwardness of a structure built for the sole purpose of displaying the mural called DREAM OF A SUNDAY AFTERNOON IN THE ALAMEDA. The mural was actually made for a fancy hotel which got destroyed in an earthquake. The mural, however survived. Chairs inside the museum are arranged theatre style in front of the enormous painting which depicts many well known people engaged in leisurely activities in the park that we had just walked through. It was pretty cool to see the park as it would have been about 60 years ago with all those big wigs doing their big wig activities in it.

Well, at this point we were ravenous. And we were determined to eat gourmet Mexican food. We consulted my guide book and we found a rave recommendation - El Cardenal. We were determined to eat there regardless of how many metro rides would be needed. Turned out the darned place was just a block from us - at the Hotel Sheraton. Boy, were we thrilled!

When we got to the restaurant there was a long line of people ahead of us waiting to be seated. After a forty five minute wait we finally were seated and scrutinizing the amazing menu. Angie got the mole poblano and I ordered chili relleno. Cold margaritas went very nicely with these extremely well prepared and expertly seasoned dishes. Angie and I were like, we've got to come back here, there are so many more things we have to try out!!

Over lunch we decided we wanted to go to the place that had the mural Rivera painted for Rockefellers. We learned from our guidebook it was at the Belles Artes, so that's where we headed after lunch. But to our great disappointment there was an unending line waiting to enter. so we had to abort that plan. We needed a walk (due to full bellies) so we returned to the Zocalo, weaving our way through thick crowds, and took in more of the atmosphere. The heat and the crowds made us feel quite exhausted so we decided we'd had enough for the day.

The next day we started out bright and early again. Our first stop was the Belles Artes in Alameda Central. This stunning building, made of white marble, is the venue for the fine arts, and it houses some outstanding works of art. Because we were early, we were able to get in without having to wait in line. The interior - modern art decor - was just as gorgeous as the exterior. We went straight to the second floor to see Rivera's MAN, CONTROLLER OF THE UNIVERSE. This painting has such a lekker story - which I'm sure you know. Rockefeller had commissioned Rivera to do a mural but because Rivera included Lenin in the painting and refused to remove him, the mural was destroyed. Rivera recreated the mural and added Marx and Engels to the painting. He also put Rockefeller in one corner of the painting, surrounded by prostitutes and flies circling his head!! Needless to say, the mural is quite stunning. It depicts capitalism and its evils and socialism and its merits.

Also in this building were breathtaking works by Tamayo, Siquiero, and Orozco - all of making strong socio-political statements. This is the stuff I love - everyone of these works telling stories that make you think and examine your life.

Before leaving the building we noticed there was a special Magritte exhibition - so we quickly looked at them. I enjoyed seeing them - mostly surreal - very reminiscent of Salvador Dali.

From teh Belles Artes we metro-ed to the Zocalo and went to the Templo Mayor. Again, we didn't have to wait too long before getting our tickets. The sun beat down brutally on us. We weren't allowed to take water, so we drained our bottles and stepped bravely onto the site. Back when Tenochtitlan still existed this was the site of the most sacred temple. While building tunnels for the metro system the ruins of the temple were uncovered and now it's reconstructed. A well laid out path takes you through the ruins. A museum on the site houses sculptures and other stuff that was excavated. Archeologists have been piecing together all these findings and now a whole lot more is known about the Aztecs and their civilization.

Two big museums down. Now for Casa Azul. We hopped on the metro and headed south to Coyocan. Took a taxi to the Frida Khalo museum and eagerly joined the line of people waiting to buy their tickets. The blueness of the house would be shocking except that it is exactly what you are expecting to see. Only an artist could get away with such a bright color for the whole entire exterior of a huge house! An attendant came out and informed us that there was a power outage. Angies's face fell. "Oh no, not again! When I was last here with Fergus, the place was closed for renovation. Please don't tell me I'm out of luck again."
Secretly, I was relieved. I wanted to eat - my tummy was rumbling like an angry tornado. And a power outage didn't alarm me. I felt sure we'd be fine later in the afternoon.

We decided to go to the Trotsky Museum which was in the neighborhood and then seek out lunch. We trudged up six blocks in the blistering heat, only to find that the Trotsky Museum was closed! Obviously life isn't perfect! Btw Trotsky lived in Mexico City for a few years when Stalin came into power. He befriended Diego Rivera and Frida and lived with them for a short time. Then, when Frida and Trotsky became lovers, he moved out (his wife was with him the whole time).

We were now two hot, hungry, and tired souls. We headed into the central Coyocan area and found it to be crowded (it was Good Friday). All the good restaurants recommended in the guide were closed. We ended up at an Italian place (uber-disappointing) and I scrutinized the menu for something Mexican and vegetarian (a mega challenge). The waiter could see my desperation and prepared me some cheese enchiladas. Angie and I were delighted to be seated in a cool place and when our icy cold beer (Corona) arrived our spirits soared. Fromt eh restaurant we had a view of the festivities down on the streets - vendors, crowds, food, etc.
The enchiladas were quite bad - but my energy was up again.
After lunch we walked up the cobbled road back to Casa Azul. Power was back and we got in quite easily. The first thing you see is the beautiful garden and courtyard. What a peaceful place. And all around there is such a lot of color. The spirit of Frida Khalo feels very present. We spent about two hours here wandering through the rooms in which Frida and Diego made history.

Around 6:00 Angie and I decided we were done! We returned to the metro station and made our way back to Satelite. We wanted to spend a laid back evening - sipping cold beer and eating homemade Mexican food. Adriana took us to the grocery store (huge and so much like the ones we have in Calif.) where we bought beer, wine, tortillas, beans, salsa, avocadoes, cilantro, mangoes and papaya.

Back home I made California style quesadillas - with cheese, tomatoes, cilantro and beans. Everyone was fascinated - which of course, fascinated me. "This is our idea of Mexican food," I told them. They politely raved about it!
We had slices of mango and papaya for dessert.
It was my last evening and what a great time we had sitting around the table and chatting and eating.

12 April 2010

Mexico City - Take 2!

In my last blog I listed a hasty summary of my highlights. Today, another rushed version, but hopefully with a few more details. First, let me give you my overall impressions. Before landing in Mexico City I had no idea what to expect. I knew it was crowded and polluted and so I thought it might be a bit like a major Indian City. But to my surprise I found Mexico City to be quite elegant and clean and much wealthier than I expected. On the roads the cars looked new and on the streets people were well dressed and appeared pretty middle class. I stayed with friends in a suburb called Satelite, which looked quite wealthy. Beautiful houses and gardens and quiet, well maintained roads. I never felt unsafe in my five days in Mexico City. The metro system was quite impressive - clean, efficient, safe, and got you wherever you wanted to go. What I loved the most about the city was the art. This was the birthplace of the muralist movement and there were many museums displaying gorgeous murals by Diego Rivera, Orozco, and Siqueiros. Tamayo was another great artist and although I was fortunate enough to see some of his stuff at the Belle Artes, unfotunately I didn't make it to the Tamayo Museum. There are so many terrific museums in this city, but because I had only 5 days I had to narrow down my options a lot.

All over Mexico City I was surprised to see American chains - Sears, Walmart, Burger King, Dominoes. The big supermarkets look just like American supermarkets. I guess NAFTA has resulted in all of North America looking identical as far as businesses go. C'est dommage! My heart sinks way down when I see America in foreign places.

On my first day I spent most of the day in the Museo Nacional De Antropologia E Historia. It was enormous, with room after room after indigenous Mexican Indian archeological exhibits. I loved the Mayan room best of all. This museum is in the area called Chapultepec where there is a lovely, leafy park with a lake where you can rent boats.
After the museum we went in search of food in the area called the Zona Rosa. We found a place specializing in vegetarian food! The food was excellent, but sadly not Mexican! Afterwards we strolled through the Zona Rosa, a lively place full of restaurants and shops. We got to the Centro Historico and went into The Tile House for margaritas. This building is covered with gorgeous tiles on the outside and the inside is beautiful too. A singer sang sulty Spanish songs, strumming his guitar while Adriana, Angie, and I sipped our margaritas.

On my second day we went to Teotihuacan to see the famous pyramids - third largest in the world. A metro ride and a 45 minute minute bus ride through the outskirts of Mexico City got us to the pyramids. From the bus we could see the shacks which were the homes of many poor Mexicans. So yes, even though Mexico City can give the impression of being wealthy, you don't have to look hard to see that most of the people struggle to survive.

The pyramids were amazing. For me it felt sacred - walking through the ruins of a village built by an ancient civilization. I have to say, though, when I found out that the fossils uncovered revealed human sacrifice, I was extremely disappointed. I so wanted to believe that the preAztec people who lived there were great, extraordinary, and would have laughed off the conquistadors. Oh well!

Climbing up the pyramids in the heat was quite an ordeal. Hundred of people were doing it. We all made it to the top of the Sun Pyramid and we felt proud of our accomplishment. Congratulations Angie! Woohoo!!
On my way back from the pyramids I bought a blanket with designs of the pyramids and the village. Poor guys selling this stuff in the punishing heat to make a living! My heart goes out to tghem. When I showed the blanket to Daryl back home in Santa Barbara, he said I hope you didn't bargain with the vendor!

After the pyramids we had a long, leisurely lunch. I finally got to have real Mexican food - quesadillas, washed down with ice cold Indio beer.
Later in the day when we were back in the city, Adriana suggested going to Plaza Garibaldi to listen to the mariachis. I looked this up in my guide book and found out that while the square itslef was safe, the streets around the square were dicey. Well, we decided to check it out and had a very adventurous walk from the metro to the square. We saw the other side of Mexico City - the part that makes you tense and pray you'll be home safe in bed when it was night time. We made it to the square safely and saw groups of mariachis in their colorful sombreros belting out lively music that puts a smile on your face. We hung out a bit then as the light faded we knew we should get away to safer parts. A brisk half hour walk got us to a most romantic place. A quaint bar with low tables and low chairs (they looked homemade with tree logs), candlelight, and a handsome young man singing Latin songs. We ordered beer and absorbed the wonderful atmosphere. What a great way to end the day.

Well, this was the first two days. I'll do the rest tomorrow. Stay tuned!

05 April 2010

Mexico City

I went to Mexico City for my spring break which was last week. This came about because my sousin from London is traveling in Mexico and invited me to join her. She has friends scattered in various parts of the country so I got to stay with friends of hers whilst there. Here are some highlights of my trip:
1. Getting to know Adriana, Fernanda, Jorge, and Aldo. I stayed at their lovely home in the very middle class suburb of Satelite. They made me feel like a part of their family. It was so wonderful to be in a foreign country and have warm, friendly souls open up their home to you.

2. Practicing my Spanish, which I admit is appalling, but I did enjoy being able to speak it and be understood.

3. Diego Rivera's murals - oh, what a treat, what a sensational experience - to stand in front of the enormous murals - MAN, CONTROLLER OF THE UNIVERSE - and the other famous ones - and to try to absorb them. Also enjoyed seeing Orozco's and Siquiero's murals.

4. The pyramids in Teotihuacan and being able to climb to the top!

5. The Templo Mayor and the Anthropological Museum - where I learned about the Aztecs and Mayans.

6. Frido Kahlo's Casa Azul - that was almost a spiritual experience.

7. The hospitality and friendliness of the Mexican people.

I'll blog more about my trip when I have a little more time!!

28 February 2010

Red Lentil Soup

It's such a wonderful time of year in Santa Barbara. Because of a whole lotta rain this year, the landscape is a lush green. The mountain slopes look gorgeous and the wild flowers are bountiful - especially the lupines. You see purple carpets of these delightful flowers all over the place. In our garden all the deciduous trees are blossoming, the heady scent of flowering jasmin surrounds the house, and the fragrant wisteria is flowering. We've been sipping wine in the jacuzzi late in the day and enjoying the calm early spring evenings. We've also done some beach walks to watch the sun set into the Pacific. At this time of the year I always feel a great appreciation for living where I do.

There've been quite a few food events recently to write about. Because of the terrific rain in our area, the chanterelle mushrooms have been plentiful. If only I knew where to go foraging for them! However, we can get then for under $10 a pound right now. I bought 5 pounds of these yellow beauties last week and have been enjoying heavenly meals everyday - chanterelles in fresh pasta, chanterelles in rissoto, pan roasted chanterelles added to a stew of pinto beans and potatoes with Indian spices, and just plain sauteed chanterelles on crusty bread. Wow! What a feast!

My book group met at my place last week. We had read Anthony Bourdain's A CHEF'S TOUR. It was a book about Bourdain's search for the perfect meal in the whole world. He traveled far and wide - to famous, well trammeled cities and to remote back of beyond hamlets. His adventurous nature and appreciation of the world's diverse people led him to trying out some pretty wild dishes. I won't go into that! The book was a reasonably good read. More of a cultural journey than a book about food. He concluded that there was no such thing as the perfect meal!!

For our meeting I served a red lentil soup (for which there was wild enthusiasm), a leek tart, and salad. For dessert we had spicy apple cake. Everyone wanted the recipe for the soup, so here it is:

You need: a cup of red lentils, a medium sized yam (or sweet potato), half a red onion, a tablespoon of fresh ginger and garlic (ground), a teaspoon each of cumin and coriander, half a teaspoon cayenne, half a teaspoon tumeric, and salt.
I used my pressure cooker to make this and it took less than half an hour!

Sautee onion in a saucepan, add cubed yams, and all the rest of the ingredients. Add 4 cups of water (or stock), and let this all cook together for about 20 minutes (8 minutes in a pressure cooker). When the yams are soft, use a hand blender to blend the soup mixture. Taste for seasoning. Add canola oil (or butter) into the soup. When serving top with some plain white yogurt and chopped cilantro (fresh coriander). This soup serves 5 - 6 people for a first course. It's a great one for the winter months.

I'm beginning to think about our spring garden. Hard to believe that it's already March.

15 February 2010

Glimpses of spring in Feb

It's a beautiful day - warm, sunny, cloudless sky, and a hint of a breeze. A perfect spring day in mid February to reassure us in Southern Cal that winter is on its way out. Yesterday, Valentine's Day, Daryl, his sister Glynis visiting from England, and I drove down to Los Angeles. Daryl and I have decided that the idea of "someone" telling us that we should be romantic on February 14 is ludicrous. So we spent the day enjoying Venice Beach and Santa Monica instead. Most of LA was out and about and there was a very summerlike atmosphere around. The highlight of the day was going to India Sweets and Spices to stock up on Indian groceries.
So, here's the funny thing. I've always been an adventurous cook, but steered away from Indian cuisine. Even though I love Indian food and was raised on it, I favored an Italian kitchen. Then something changed a few years ago. I met my wonderful, wonderful friend Premi. She is passionate about cooking and actually ran a restaurant for a few years. She, like me, is Asian Indian and grew up in South Africa, where Indians developed their own special cuisine from local ingredients. Premi has inspired me to reach out to my Indian roots and now most of the food I make is stuff I've learned from her.

I'm going to share in this blog one of my favorite recipes from her. It's for a rich, flavorful bread called Dokla which originated in the Indian state of Gujerath.
You'll need the following ingredients:
1 cup semolina, 1 cup plain yogurt, a bunch of chopped cilantro, a green serrano chilli, chopped, 2 crushed garlic cloves, half an onion, half cup frozen sweet corn, one teaspoon baking powder, half a teaspoon each of tumeric, cumin, coriander, and salt. All of these should be mixed together.

Spread mixture in a pan and bake in a preheated oven - 350 degrees F - for half an hour.
Sautee a teaspoon of black mustard seeds and cumin seeds in grapeseed oil and spread over the bread after it is baked. This bread can be served with a mint sauce.

A couple days ago - Saturday - we went to the beach to watch the sunset. Premi, Sri, Daryl, Glynis, and I carried a picnic and crisp sparkling wine out to the Ellwood Bluffs. Oh, PK, Sri's dog, came along too! We found a splendid spot right at the edge of a cliff to lay out our picnic and watch the sun sinking into the water. The view in front of us - an endless stretch of rolling waves, golden sand, an orange horizon, an elegant leggy egret at the water's edge, and the sun, a glowing ball hovering over the water, then beginning its disappearance. Wow, it was quite special.
Premi made methi roti (fenugreek leaves stuffed into flat bread and cooked on a griddle) and a mint dip for our picnic. It was really special and seemed a perfect match for our wine. Glynis tried to capture the moment by clicking her camera over and over again. But, I don't think photos could do justice to how special it was.

07 February 2010


I was on top of the world all week because of the many current news items on No Child Left Behind. Sounds like there are going to be some major changes. Arne Duncan, the Secretary of Education, is being interviewed by everyone and he seems to have some grand ideas. Now, I don't agree with all he's saying - that stuff about linking teacher quality to test performance, and raising standards so that every child graduates from high school being college ready, etc - hmmm(!) - but, I'm glad education and the NCLB Act is on the table for discussion. I'm such an optimist that any hint of change cheers me up.

Well, I needed to say that before getting to the main topic with food as the focus.

I've been going a bit mushroom crazy in the last couple weeks. Because of the terrific rain we've been having, the chanterrelles - my favorite mushroom - this year are plentiful. Glynis, my sister-in-law visiting from England, and I have been going to the Saturday morning farmer's market downtown where I load up on chanterrelles. The great thing about these extremely flavorful 'shrooms is that they are so easy to prepare. Sauteed in grapeseed oil, and seasoned with thyme, salt, and black pepper, they are superb. I've also been getting other mushrooms - oysters, shitake, and portabellas - about once a week. These I prepare with Indian spices - masala, cumin, and freshly ground coriander. They make a great stuffing for roti wraps.

Last night we had some friends over for dinner. I served up an elaborate vegetable biryani and dhal. Great comfort food on a chilly, wintry evening. You can make biryani by simply adding the special spices to vegetables and rice and stirring it all together in a pan, or you could go the route that requires many steps. I sometimes yearn for the food my mum cooked so I thought I would try for her style of biryani. Before embarking on this ambitious feat you need to make sure your playlist includes your favorite music. I listen to opera - Puccini, never Wagner - when making biryani. I ought to be listening to Ravi Shankar, I guess, but - oh well ....

The basic ingredients are a selection of vegetables, Basmati rice, French green lentils, spices, and yogurt. The spices include cloves, cinnamon, bay leaves, cardamom, cumin, coriander, and fennel seeds. These have to be roasted, then ground fine. For veggies I used carrots, cauliflower, peas, and a few types of mushrooms. I lightly sauteed the mushrooms and steamed the carrots and tossed these in a big bowl. The cauliflower had to be in small pieces and added to the bowl. Then came the following: a big scoop of plain yogurt, chopped garlic, grated ginger, chopped fresh green chili, chopped cilantro (fresh coriander), juice from a couple lemons, some tumeric, the mixture of roasted, ground spices, and salt. Toss everything in the bowl together. (I'm now in instructor mode). Next, boil the rice, but only until it is nearly fully cooked. Boil the lentils. Now it's time to layer the dish. I used a large, ceramic roasting pan to assemble the ingredients. Put a third of the rice at the bottom, add a third of the lentils. Toss half the vegetable mixture over this. Add the rest of the rice and lentils to the bowl of vegetables. Pour in some Canola oil to the mixture, then add it to the big roasting pan. Sautee an onion in a skillet until it is golden brown. Layer this over the rice mixture. Cover with a sheet of foil and put in a moderately preheated oven for an hour.
I served this biryani with dhal. I boiled yellow split peas in my pressure cook for 15 minutes. To give it it's distinctive 'dhal' flavor you do the following:
Sautee half an onion in hot oil. Add mustards seeds, cumin seeds, and red chili flakes. Stir this mixture into the boiled split peas (which should be mushy). Add veg broth to get the right consistency. Let this simmer for a few minutes. Add some crushed garlic and few lumps of butter or ghee or something of that ilk (I'm refering to noncholesterol, healthy stuff - not lard, or margarine, or nasty chemicals that look like butter!).

Well, needless to say, everyone was quite complimentary. Personally, I felt I hadn't added enough spices and the mixture should have been more moist. But, I certainly enjoyed my day.

It's Sunday evening and the work week looms ahead.

24 January 2010

Cuisine from South Africa

Yesterday I bought a pressure cooker - quite impulsively. Well, I mean it's shocking that I hadn't owned one before, I know, with the type of healthy cooking I do, etc., but somehow I've always been intimidated by something that could blow your head off. Yesterday, after 5 days of heavy downpours, the sun shone brightly in the sky and I was blipping around doing Saturday morning chores and feeling generally good about things. I didn't read the newspapers much this week, you see, so the Supreme Court decision about campaign financing, and the disaster in Haiti and in Massachusetts, and the Health Care bill, etc. - none of that made it to my consciousness. So I was in a good mood. Lots of rain in January usually has that effect on me. So I popped into Bed, Bath, and Beyond for some linen and noticed the pressure cooker. I eyeballed the options - aluminium, stainless steel, 6 qt, 8, qt - and settled for the 6qt stainless steel. It cost $69.99. I don't usually buy anything that's over $50 if it isn't on sale, but I just felt a sudden urgency to possess a pressure cooker, so I bought it.

We were having guests over for dinner. I decided to make a South African dish - samp. Samp is made from dried up corn kernels whch are cracked into smaller pieces. You boil it and then try to do something exciting with it to make it edible. This dish is a staple among the Xhosa and Zulu people of South Africa, but is very much enjoyed by everyone. In the US you can find hominy which is made from the same basic ingredient - dried corn kernels.
A quick Internet search for samp brought up some fairly bland recipes. Basically beans, samp, onions, oil, and salt. So, I thought, why not make it like a chili? So this is what I did:

I used my new pressure cooker to boil the samp (purchased last week by my friend, Premi, from a South African store in LA) and some red beans. I chopped up an onion and using a big saucepan, sauteed it in sunflower oil ( high smoking point). Next I added carrots, and a few minutes later, some portabella mushrooms, and chopped garlic. The seasonings were added at this point - cumin, coriander, and cayenne. After a few minutes I threw in some tomatoes. In summer I would choose fresh tomatoes and chop them in a medium sized cuisinart. Since it's winter I used canned tomatoes, finely chopped up. When the samp and beans were done - half an hour later - I added them to the sauce I'd made and let all of this simmer together for a few minutes. Then I added salt and freshly grated ginger. The dish was very close to being ready. At this point I threw in broccoli to brighten things up. It was time to look at the consistency. For this I opened up a box of Trader Joe's vegetable broth and poured it into the pan. Just before serving time I added chopped green onions and cilantro and green chilis that were minced together. I did the taste test and found I needed more salt. The very last last thing I did was to drizzle canola oil over the dish. I have to say, this hearty meal was thoroughly enjoyed!!

18 January 2010

Food For Thought

Since I'm not traveling, or writing, or doing anything stupendously exciting at this point in my life, keeping my blog entertaining isn't easy. So at midnight on Dec 31 I made my new year's resolution. My blogs will now have a new focus: FOOD. Heck, recently it's just about the only topic on which I can make intelligent comments. As you all know by now I was in Australia over Christmas holidays. You probably also know that every second while I was there I was stuffing myself with something par excellence - both in liquid and solid form. My brother, Max, loves the fine things in life. In fact, back when we were in our teens I remember him saying, "When I start working I want to be able to buy whatever I want without looking at the price tag." Suffice it to say our family was very working class. Max has always had expensive taste - way before he actually possessed a wallet (that's another story!). Anyway, now that Max is this bigwig financial advisor with posh offices on Oxford Street in Paddington and lives in this stunning apartment near Darling Harbor with expansive views from every window, he is more or less living his dream.
In preparation for the Moodley diaspora over the holidays (the whole family from various parts of the globe descended upon him) he stocked up his liquor cabinet with the finest Australian wines, French champagne, single malts, vintage port, etc., etc. Every evening Max opened up a full bodied smooth red and poured it into an elegant crystal decanter, regailing us with the virtues of that particular wine. Sipping fine wine on the terrace with its amazing views made for an altogether special experience. With water all around us you could easily imagine you were on a huge boat.

Max isn't skilled in the art of cooking, nor is his gorgeous and gracious partner, Julia. So, meal prep fell upon my mum, my sister, and myself. We all love good food and with all the great produce available, we were quite happy to be in charge of feeding everyone. So, as I've decided that the primary focus of my blogs for now will be food, I'll cut out the backstory and get to my real topic.

For the big Christmas lunch, consumed on a blistering hot midsummer day in Sydney, I made the dessert. We had originally planned to have pavlova, but because of a lack of enthusiasm for this idea, we agreed on trifle. Now, everyone who has grown up in an English speaking country, is very familiar with this dessert and its evolution from humble beginnings into the oh so trendy kinds we find on dessert menus in posh restaurants. Americans, however, have no clue. So when I describe how I made my very special Christmas trifle, the full implication is completely lost on them, poor souls, Oh well, I'll leave it at that.

So, here's how I made the trifle that wowed the socks out of every frickin person who had it:

First I went to Paddy's market in Sydney and bought a whole lot of fruit. A big part of a good, modern day trifle is a fresh fruit salad. I got mangoes, bananas, papaya, passion fruit, kiwi, and peaches. Back home, I prepared the fruit - cutting them into little chunks and tossed them together in a bowl.
Using the biggest bowl I could find I got to work on the layering. First, a sponge cake (pound cake, for my American followers) from a gourmet bakery. In other words sugar was not the first ingredient listed. Pure ingredients: butter, sugar, free range eggs, and unbleached flour - that's important. If I'd had time I would have made my own sponge cake.
I cut the cake into little squares and arranged them in a layer. Then I poured some port over the cake to moisten it. You could use fruit juice for this if you don't like alcohol. I would have preferred to use sherry or brandy, but Max hadn't had any, so I had to use his vintage port. Next, I arranged half the fruit salad over the cake. Next came a layer of custard (best if it's homemade with eggs and cream). Apart from the US, you can buy ready made pouring custard from a grocery store in the milk section. Do read the labels. I was shocked at how hard it was to find pure custard without preservatives. In England M&S have the best custard. The final layer is thick, fresh cream. Double cream is best - that's what I used.
Repeat the layers, ending with cream on the top. I crumbled up a Cadbury's flake and sprinkled it over the cream at the insistence of my mum. The trifle had to be made on Christmas Eve so that it could set overnight.
The next day - Christmas Day - I was shocked to see the enormous trifle dwindling and then disappearing in front of my very eyes! I swear to god. Doesn't anyone care about cholesterol any more?

Since my decision to focus on food I have encountered so many writable food stories. So, I am sure my next blog will be appearing really soon.