The fear of death follows from the fear of life.  A man who lives fully is prepared to die at anytime.
~Mark Twain

Just seems there should be little demand to visit venues in Santa Barbara or even Southern Cal, as a whole, where the in crowds frequent. You know, where people say “like” repetitively and thoughtlessly as if the word is a linguistic filler.

So many glorious campsites with scenery that is flat breathtaking, serenely overlooking the Big Blue where the plethora of marine mammals exist — pastoral stuff. There is a campus of radiantly hued tents, and above that are the parked RV’s usually hooked to electricity inlets/outlets (none of which can be seen from the cloth huts).

Almost each foggy or overcast morning, before she departed to the “glamping” joint across the way, we crawled out of our tent and after morning ablutions, promptly began the fire and heating the tortillas so the meal completo could be packed inside. Donned in aprons (I likely looked absurd) we grilled each tortilla feast on state-provided, round, grated, dug-in, barbeque pits after just barely scrambling the eggs and cooking the meat aside ever so assiduously on a pan. Rosemary sprigs from nearby plants were plucked and dropped into the fire when ready. Then, there were exquisite avocados plucked by friends from close sprawling ranches and, of course, tomatillo sauce, salsa verde, salsa rojo, queso fresco, crema, cilantro, radishes and rekindling the goods...with several cups of joe. Our grub for the day.

The skies cleared, it warmed as the sun shone through in mid-morning just slightly toasting the eucalypti leaves so their scents diffused, then she disappeared for work, and I tried to heal thyself (often by watching dolphins graze).

This post may prove trivial to some, but it was the boon of our existence every morning.

EGGS, BACON & AVOCADO TORTILLAS

3-4 T unsalted butter
3 T cream cheese
6 fresh, local, free range eggs
1 T whipping cream or creme fraiche
1/8 T sea salt
1/4 T freshly ground pepper

Small pinch of cayenne pepper
Small amount of herbes de provence and/or thyme

Melt the butter and cream cheese in a heavy nonstick skillet or a iron cast pan. Combine the eggs, salt, pepper, cayenne pepper, white pepper, herbes de provence and/or thyme and a dollop of cream or creme fraiche in a glass bowl and whisk briskly.

Pour egg mixture into the skillet, with the heat on medium low. With a flat, wooden spatula, gently stir the eggs, lifting it up and over from the bottom as they thicken. Stir away from the sides and bottom of the pan toward the middle. Continue to stir until the desired texture (a mass of soft curds) is achieved. They thicken, dry out and toughen very quickly toward the end, so if you like them soft, fluffy and moist, remove them from the heat a little before they reach the desired texture — the eggs will continue to cook after being removed from the heat.

(As an alternative, try fried eggs covered in the skillet top cooked in a smearing of olive oil with salt and pepper only).

Gently cooked guanciale, pancetta, bacon, serrano or proscuitto

Avocado slices, alluringly fresh

Salsa verde and/or salsa rojo
Queso fresco and/or fine goat cheese
Crema

Radishes, sliced
Cilantro leaves, chopped

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Open Faced Mia Bella

February 9, 2016

The need of the immaterial is the most deeply rooted of all needs. One must have bread; but before bread, one must have the ideal. 
~Victor Hugo

In some senses, one can concur with Hugo’s immaterial ideals, but what about an artisan’s bread, eggs, Italian cheese and salted and cured ham together?  They tend to belong en masse and are fetchingly archetypal.  And before bread, paradigms? Doubtful.

Sleep — humans spend some 35%-38% of each day slumbering.  It just does not seem congruent, or even affable, to have so few studies over the years that delve into the subconscious or sleep habits with some 50-70 Americans having been affected by disorders of some type. Some 80% of workers suffer from some form of sleep deprivation, likely not taking into account sometimes falsely alleged criminals, prisoners or spies.  The first thing that is wrested from someone by the “correctional and rehabilitation” institution is sleep.  Then, with sleeplessness a person often confesses, whether the act was committed or not.

These are not merely dormant times of our daily, passive lives spent too frequently as consensual slaves at cubicles and/or before screens and shift work, often relationless and without any conception of life. Instead, these are somnolent times that rend habits which can profoundly alter our physical, physiological, electrical and mental health.

Now, some studies have been published in the journal Science by the Nedergaard lab which proposed that the daily waste produced by the brain (which uses about 20% of the body’s energy) was cleansed and recycled toxic byproducts by sleep alone.  The noxious trash, the junk is cleared of our so-called “glymphatic” systems of our brains by merely reaching deep sleep.  The brain, it seems, clears itself of neurological waste while we slumber.  It seems the interstitial spaces, the fluid area between tissue cells, are mainly dedicated to removing our neural rubbish accumulated when awake, while we naturally sleep — uninterrupted.  (Interstitial derives from the Latin interstitium meaning “interstice” or “an intervening space.”) Without good sleeping tendencies, these toxins remain in the brain, and one logically posits will produce significant cerebral damage in the future.

So, let your body unwind, release tension with latent exercise toes to head focusing upon relaxation, darken the bedroom, keep bed mates or others informed, manage caffeine and alcohol intake, adjust temperatures to a cooler level, and simply cultivate good sleeping habits.

Sleep well and tight.

A Simple Egg Sandwich

2 ciabatta slices, about 1 1/2″ thick, with, after smearing with softened butter, the top side is also slathered in guanciale or pancetta juice

2-3 T unsalted butter, softened

Guanciale or pancetta sliced somewhat thin, but not paper thin, and barely cooked in a skillet to cover bread.

4 local eggs, poached or fried, so the yolk runs
Tallegio cheese, thinly sliced, to cover bread

Fresh basil leaves, chiffonaded, to complete

Cut the fresh ciabatta and cook on both sides in the broiler, one buttered on the top side (to melt) after cooking the bottom.  Later, slather the slices on the top side in guanciale (preferably) or pancetta juices after cooking one of the two in another heavy skillet.  Then, place the gently cooked guanciale or pancetta on the ciabatta bread because they will be broiled in the next step.

Poach or fry the eggs, softly, then drain them, while you arrange the tallegio cheese atop the meat and bread and broil briefly until just melted.  Put the eggs on, and finally finish with fresh chiffonaded (thin ribbons) basil leaves.

So, to review the arrangement:  1) toast ciabatta –> 2) melt butter atop –> 3) guanciale juices –> 4) guanciale slices to cover –> 5) tallegio to cover –> 6) eggs –> and 7) basil ribbons.

Pourboire:   You may also consider using 4 thinner slices of ciabatta and create a panini with the same or similar ingredients without the toasting and buttering steps and with full basil leaves (not chiffonaded) or arugula leaves.  Then, olive oil and cook on a sandwich press or grill pan.

Memory is the diary we all carry about with us.
~Oscar Wilde

Another long held food hypothesis thankfully proven lab sound: memory influences eating and food choices. Researchers at the University of Bristol explored the nexus between satiety and memory, and their findings were published in a recent issue of the journal PLoS (Public Library of Science). They isolated the extent to which memory for a recently consumed meal influences hunger and fullness over a 3 hour period — by covertly refilling or drawing soup from bowls while participants dined. A scientific trompe-l’œil of sorts.

The study noted that those who engage in distracting tasks (e.g., watching television or playing a computer game) while eating suffer memory impairment not only for that meal but also experience increased hunger in the interim and then enhanced consumption at their subsequent meal. They are not making memories of their food, and may be setting themselves up for munchies later. Distraction likely influences eating rate, mood, and level of stress, all known to moderate appetite and food intake. Ever see a svelte driver hurriedly munching on a midday burger while talking on an earpiece and anxiously navigating traffic between meetings?

While stopping short of drawing a cause-and-effect relationship between hunger and memory, the Bristol team’s research was consistent with emerging literature on “memory for recent eating” and opened avenues to further studies. Their observations did provide evidence that hippocampal memories often mobilize behavioral responses to food.

Seems like even more than a starter. Just try that terrifying act of shutting off the gadgets and sitting down to really savor your meal, not just once but more than…

FARFALLE, PANCETTA & BRUSSELS SPROUTS

Sea salt
8 ozs farfalle pasta

2 T extra virgin olive oil
3 ozs pancetta, cut into lardons
1 thyme sprig
1 rosemary sprig
6 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
Freshly ground black pepper

1+ C brussels sprouts, thinly sliced on a mandoline
Sea salt and freshly ground red and black peppers
Chicken stock
1 T unsalted butter
Dollop of heavy whipping cream

Parmigiano-reggiano cheese, freshly grated
Extra virgin olive oil
Thyme sprigs

Heat large, heavy sauté pan over high heat and add the olive oil. When oil is hot and shimmering, add the pancetta thyme and rosemary, and sauté until the fat on the pancetta starts to turn translucent and just lightly brown, about 1 minute. Add the garlic and freshly ground black pepper to taste, and sauté until garlic and pancetta turn richly brown, about 3 minutes. Remove and discard garlic, thyme and rosemary.

Add the brussels sprouts, a large pinch of salt, peppers and a splash of stock to pan, and sauté until sprouts just start to soften, about 2 minutes. Spread sprouts mixture in pan and press down to flatten. Let it sear for a minute, then stir and repeat to lightly brown. Add the butter and cream, and sauté for about another couple of minutes or so.

Meanwhile, bring large pot generously salted water to a boil. Add the farfalle and cook until pasta is just al dente, about 10-11 minutes.

Drain fafalle and add to pan with brussels sprouts mixture. Cook briefly, tossing, until all is nicely admixed. Spoon into pasta bowls and top with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkling of parmigiano-reggiano and thyme sprigs.

There are very few monsters who warrant the fear we have of them.
~André Gide

How and why does this unfounded fear of brussels sprouts persist among our youth? These crisp green orbs are ever welcome denizens in our kitchen, stashed in corners of the fridge awaiting dress rehearsal. Sometimes overlooked, but never forgotten. And once served, always revered.

This dish is a regional amalgam of sorts and makes for a textural plate date…a good feel in the mouth. The cool northern brussels sprouts meld well with the balmy southern hints of pancetta, pine nuts and parmigiano-reggiano. Seems a natural. Although less than empirical, haven’t some studies suggested that blue eyed, fair skinned northern europeans are often attracted to dark, swarthy mediterranean types and vice versa? Diversity bodes well in the kitchen, too.

SHREDDED BRUSSELS SPROUTS WITH PANCETTA & PINE NUTS

2 lbs brussels sprouts, root ends trimmed off

2 T extra virgin olive oil
1/2 lb. pancetta, diced

1 T extra virgin olive oil
3 T unsalted butter
2 large, plump garlic cloves, peeled and minced

3/4 C chicken stock
2 T Dijon mustard
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 C pine nuts, toasted

Fresh grated parmigiano-reggiano, for serving

Using a very sharp knife, a hand slicer, or a food processor fitted with a slicer, slice brussels sprouts into thin shreds—much like cabbage is thinly sliced for cole slaw.

Heat oil over medium heat in a heavy large skillet. Add the pancetta and cook until golden brown and crisp. Remove the pancetta and set aside on a plate lined with paper towels to drain. Wipe out pan for next step.

Melt butter and olive oil in the skillet over medium high heat. Add garlic and sauté, stirring, for about 1 minute. Do not brown. Stir in broth and mustard. Add brussels sprouts and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring just occasionally with a wooden spatula, until tender yet still bright green and somewhat firm, about 4-6 minutes. During the last minute or so, add the cooked pancetta and pine nuts.

Serve with a light fresh grating of parmigiano-reggiano.

QSR: Linguini Frittata

July 1, 2010

Teach your children well,
Their father’s hell did slowly go by,
And feed them on your dreams
The one they picked, the one you’ll know by.

~Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young

Admittedly, this creature comfort food could well be born of the sophomoric culinary loins of Rachel Ray or Sandra Lee, but it does bind some basics—linguini, cheeses, bacon, and eggs.

As an aside, did you see the ever color coordinated, semi-homemade SL’s lasagne recipe replete with Campbell’s condensed canned tomato soup, pre-minced garlic, dried oregano, cottage cheese and a pkg of already shredded mozzarella? Not only a Roman nightmare, but a heinous breach of food ethics. Even her lover’s mama and soon to be in-law, Matilda Cuomo, was pointedly disparaging. “That’s not how you make a lasagna,” she bluntly offered.

Linguini frittata is a fast food alternative to those calorie laden, sodium packed, fat fraught cardboard boxes of hazmat mac & powdered cheese served your offspring all the while meticulously regulating your fad diet to maintain that anorexic, x-ray figure…still openly professing your selfless love for them.

Express kidling or adult après quoi-woi-woi-woi eats.

LINGUINI FRITTATA WITH PANCETTA

1 lb dried linguini
Sea salt

4 thick slices imported pancetta or high quality slab bacon, cut into 1″ pieces for lardons

8 farm fresh large eggs
A dollop of heavy whipping cream
Fresh thyme leaves, stemmed and finely chopped
1 C parmigiano reggiano, grated

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

3 T extra virgin olive oil
3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and smashed

1/4 C gruyère, shredded

Preheat broiler to high.

Cook the pasta in liberally salted boiling water until close to al dente. Drain well and empty into a large mixing bowl. Set aside and allow to cool to room temperature.

Meanwhile, cook the pancetta or bacon lardons in a large, heavy skillet until rendered and beginning to crisp. Remove to paper towels and drain.

Whisk the eggs and cream, add them to the cooled pasta, and mix carefully yet thoroughly. Stir in the grated parmigiano reggiano, pancetta, salt, pepper and thyme to taste. Pepper liberally as you would carbonara.

Heat a heavy large ovenproof non-stick skillet over medium high heat, and add the olive oil and smashed garlic. Before the garlic turns too brown, remove and discard. With the olive oil still hot, pour in the linguini mixture and spread it evenly in the hot skillet, shaking the pan so it settles. Cook until the underside is golden brown, about 5-8 minutes or so. Strew some gruyère evenly over the top of the linguini mixture. Place the skillet under the broiler about 5″-6″ from the element and cook until slightly golden and the eggs are set, about 3-5 minutes.

Remove from oven and slide the frittata onto a large platter cutting board and allow to cool some. Slice into wedges and serve warm, room temp or chilled.

Pourboire: as an alternative, consider using orzo as the pasta in this recipe.

Yes, life has many onions.
~Skip Coryell

While tartes aux oignons are considered a specialty of the formerly embattled northeast border region of Alsace, they are found throughout the country — so it is a recipe that bodes well in any département.

Passed back and forth between tribes, royalty, governments and churches over centuries, Alsace-Lorraine (Ger: Elsass-Lothringen) eventually evolved into a region shaped by both French and German cultures. Space does not permit me to adequately recount its strife-ridden, treaty-rent past. Suffice it to say despite its beauty Alsace-Lorraine was partially born of a dolorous recipe with unsavory ingredients: men, liberally seasoned with lands, boundaries, intolerance, suppression and religion. Sound familiar?

Even an aperçu of modern times reflects these geo-political vacillations. Following the Franco-Prussian War, the area was annexed by the German Empire in 1871 via the Treaty of Frankfurt and became a Reichsland. At the conclusion of World War I, the province reverted to France under the terms of the Treaty of Versailles of 1919. Nazi Germany then again occupied the territory during World War II, beginning in 1940, but the end of the war placed Alsace-Lorraine back in French hands where it has remained since.  With each war, inhabitants of this fair land were made to overhaul their allegiances, citizenship, language, and the like to appease the conquering forces.

In more recent history, efforts have been made to embrace Alsace-Lorraine’s duel Gaullic and Germanic personalities. The cuisine of both cultures have retained their individual identities yet have also remained intertwined — bäeckeofe, foie gras, sauerkraut (choucroute), quiche lorraine, sausages, smoked pork, and so on, all cohabitate peacefully.

ONION TART (TARTE AUX OIGNONS)

1 recipe pâte brisée*

3 slices bacon or pancetta
2 C yellow onions, peeled and very thinly sliced
1/4 C chives, chopped
Pinch of dried thyme

3 large organic, free range eggs
2-3 C heavy cream
Sea salt
Freshly ground pepper
Grated nutmeg

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Roll out the pâte brisée on a floured board, and line a 9” removable-bottom tart shell with it. Flute the edge of the pastry. Cover with plastic wrap, and chill in the refrigerator while making the filling.

Cut the bacon into lardons and fry in a heavy skillet until crispy brown. Set aside and drain on paper towels.

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat, and sauté the onions, stirring regularly, until they are tender and just beginning to caramelize. Stir in the bacon, chives and thyme until well mixed. Remove the skillet from the heat.

In a small bowl, beat the egg and cream together. Add a pinch or two of salt and pepper and a pinch of nutmeg. Add this to the onions, stirring to combine.

Pour the onion and egg mixture into the pastry shell. Bake tart for about 40 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown and the custard is firm. Let rest 5 to 10 minutes before serving. Serve warm or room temperature.

*Pâte Brisée

1 1/4 C all-purpose flour
6 T unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
2 T lard or shortening
1/4 teaspoon salt

3 T ice water

Place all the ingredients except the water, in a large bowl. Add the water mash and work with your hands and fingers so that is assembled into a solid, smooth ball. If it is crumbly, add more ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

Makes for rich but delicate fare when paired with a simple green salad, a crusty baguette, and a crisp Alsatian white or Provençal rosé

When you make his sandwiches, put a sexy or loving note in his lunch box.
~Anne Rice

PANINI

Maybe with the current economic woes and ever expanding disparities in this country’s burgeoning two class chasm, it may be timely to discuss just a simple two ply sandwich…or even a panino. They share an affinity.

Before my panini palaver persists, I have to preface. Even though they are often dissed as nothing more than a portable meal, making a really damn good sandwich or panini demands every bit the same nurturing that many other fine dishes deserve. Unless you fail to thoughtfully coddle them, sandwiches do not merit that “lunch bucket–not cuisine label,” something to be gobbled hurriedly at your desk or in the car. Au contraire! Rather, choice sandwiches are memorable art forms, both inside and out…

A panino is a sandwich made from a small loaf of rustic bread which is cut horizontally on the bias and customarily filled with cured meat, cheeses and greens. The literal translation of panino is “roll” or “stuffed bread,” with the plural being panini.

As with much of food history or gastronomic anthropology (as those phrases are loosely used here and elsewhere), the story of the sandwich is muddled. Such an abundance of cultural variance, criss crossing civilizations, endless definitional nuances, and often bewildering oral traditions…humanity’s comings and goings. The concept of bread as a focal point to the eating experience has been present for eons, so historical precision is elusive (see Pizza & Calzone Dough).

The first recorded sandwich was purportedly assembled by the scholarly rabbi, Hillel the Elder, circa 100 B.C. He introduced the Passover custom of sandwiching a mixture of chopped nuts, apples, spices, and wine between matzohs eaten with bitter herbs…a sandwich which is the fond of the Seder and bears his name.

During the Middle Ages, thick slices of coarse stale bread called trenchers were used instead of plates. Derived from the French verb trancher, which means “to slice or cut,” meats and other victuals were piled on these bread platters, eaten with fingers and sometimes with knives as forks had yet to find prevalence. The thick trenchers absorbed the juices, the greases, and rather primitive sauces, and afterwards the soaked breads were thrown to the dogs or offered as alms to the poor. With the advent of the fork, finger food became impolite which rendered the trencher outmoded.

The first Italian recipe that vaguely resembled a panino was that for panunto (greased bread) described by Domenico Ramoli at the end of the 16th century—he even got nicknamed by his dish.

While references to “bread and meat” or “bread and cheese” are found throughout English drama from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, a delay in the evolution of the sandwich ensued. Thankfully, the concept was finally revived in the 18th century by John Montague, the Fourth Earl of Sandwich, who was First Lord of the Admiralty and patron to Capt. James Cook who explored New Zealand, Australia, Hawaii, and Polynesia; he even designated the Hawaiian Islands as the Sandwich Islands. Rumor holds that Montague was so addicted to gambling that he steadfastly refused to pause for meals and instead ordered his valet to bring him meat tucked between two pieces of bread. While legends vary, it remains beyond quarrel that the word “sandwich” bears the name of John Montague, the Earl of Sandwich.

The sandwich was introduced to the states by the English import Elizabeth Leslie in the 19th century. In her cookbook, Directions for Cookery, she authored a recipe for ham sandwiches, which have evolved into an American tradition in many sizes, shapes and forms.

With the demand for haste emerging in the last century, sandwiches—from simple to elegant–have risen to become a staple of western civilization, for both rich and poor. Panini have slowly evolved from being basic worker’s fare to become trendy morsels on the food scene.

On panini preparation: brush the outside of the panini with extra virgin olive oil and fill it with whatever whets your palate—cheeses, cured meats, herbs, etc. As with pizzas and pasta, do not overload the sandwiches as the bread should be allowed a place at the table too. Proportions = “perfection.”

Should you own a panini grill, by all means use it. If not, use a ridged grill pan and place another surface, such as a small cutting board or another pan on top of the panini as they cook. Place a weight on the board or pan to press down the panini, causing those signature ridges and thinning the sandwiches overall. Turn and repeat. The panini should be cooked to golden brown with grill marks and the innards pressed narrowly…usually slightly oozing with luscious cheese.

Recipes will follow on a subsequent entry, as I may have already overstayed my welcome with these ramblings. In the meantime, consider:

pesto, arugula, watercress, roasted peppers, sun dried tomatoes, garlic, tapenade, mozzarella, brie, gruyere, talleggio, fontina, pecorino, goat cheese, proscuitto, serrano, coppa, soppresatta, and pancetta, arugula, chard, basil, radicchio, baby spinach, extra virgin olive oil, truffle oil or salt, garlic oil, ciabatta, pain au levain, or baguette artisanal breads.

P.S. Use your imagination, as the possibilities prove endless.