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.