30 November 2008

Thanksgiving Leftovers

One should never be afraid of the unknown. Especially in the kitchen.
~ M. D’Eigh

mmmm. Thanksgiving weekend. A very homemade time of year in the food department. At least it should be. I am always amazed at the amount of fear that people exhibit when it comes to cooking. Dearest readers, the turkey will not suddenly sprout fangs and jump out of the oven at you! And if you keep him covered with aluminum foil and give him a nice bath now and then, he will not wither and dry out either. ;-)

Most of my friends have anointed me a kitchen goddess because of the culinary creations I conjure up. Contrary to popular belief, however, I did not arrive in the world with a Calphalon pot in one hand and a KitchenAid mixer in the other. Shall I let you in on a secret? Great chefs are born not made. And they are born from hard work and multiple burnt dishes and colossal casserole failures. I have come to believe that in order to be a good cook one must have a healthy dash of humility and an enormous capacity to laugh at oneself. I have a lot of the latter and am still working on the former. ;-)

There is a story told in our family of the time my mother asked me to help her fix dinner. Her instructions were simple enough: fill the pot three-quarters full, let it come to a boil and then drop the spaghetti in. Simple enough indeed. I proceeded to put three-quarters of a cup of water in the pot. Ah yes, dear readers, well may you laugh! My family still tells this story. So all my readers who ever ran screaming from raw chicken, take heart! You too can learn to boil the correct amount of water and serve a brilliant pasta dish!

This is all to introduce a new take on a Thanksgiving classic: stuffing. I arrived back in Arlington late last night and was so intent on making it back before collapsing from blocked sinuses, that I forgot to take leftovers along. And of course, there is nothing like comfort food to help cure an Advent cold. So I whipped up more stuffing. But alas! No celery or onions or chicken stock could I find! Well, a stuffing isn’t stuffing without something green in it ~ at least in my humble opinion. As I think I have mentioned here before, I am a very big proponent of using what you have in your pantry before wasting gas or money to get “must haves” for a recipe. You can always find an acceptable substitute. Being a Southerner, there is one vegetable I manage to have copious amounts of in the freezer: okra!

Into the pan, along with about three tablespoons (eh, give or take) of butter and two cloves of garlic, chopped, went the okra. Once that had sautéed for a couple of minutes, I added a little beef stock and heavy cream. In a bowl, I cracked two eggs. Well, one actually, but it had two yolks ~ jackpot! I had some leftover cooked, shredded chicken and I added that to the eggs. I took a sheet of bread crusts out of the oven, which I had broken up and seasoned and baked for roughly fifteen minutes at 350 degrees. I added them to the bowl with the whisked eggs and poured the butter broth on top and mixed it up with a fork. Once the mixture was coated and had soaked up a good portion of the liquid, I placed it in a buttered pie plate and baked it at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes. Ahhh ~ comfort heaven! And salt-free by the way. Even better!

So you see, you should fear the kitchen no longer. Cooking is an art, yes, but one that is at the same time an act of love and adventure. Enter it with abandon!

I hope y’all had a blessed Thanksgiving surrounded by loved ones.

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela

24 November 2008

The Fifth Annual St. Cecilia's Arts Festival

Without culture, and the relative freedom it implies, society, even when perfect, is but a jungle. This is why any authentic creation is a gift to the future.
~ Albert Camus

As some of my readers may know, I host a little soiree in honor of St. Cecilia every November on the Saturday closest to her feast day. This year, the little soiree grew to 144 registered guests and I partnered with Miss Erin Mac to bring it to St. Mary’s Lyceum in Old Towne Alexandria. The evening went beautifully with only a few slight hitches and I think that the audience enjoyed themselves immensely.

The program was diverse and entertaining: Sullivan and Sarah DeCorla-Souza read their original works and Lauren Proshek read a poem by John Donne and another by Tolkien. Two skits were performed: The Hollowmen’s Train Noir skit (performed by Sullivan and J. DeLo) and Monty Python’s The Argument Clinic (the latter performed by Sullivan and yours truly). All these were interspersed by some incredible musical talent, including a piano solo by up and coming Mexican pianist Sergio Neverez, a folk-rock guitar solo by local artist Acoustic Stew, soothing Gregorian chant by J. Kascir and Anthony Smitha, a rollicking improvisational piece by the Very Slightly Off quartet, and a couple of solos by yours truly.

The highlight of the evening was a performance by the Off the String cello quartet who played everything from Brahms to Metallica and Apocalyptica. They also played a piece called Revival which was composed by a member of the group, Mr. Loren Westbrook-Fritts. More than one guest commented on their performance and we are looking forward to their debut album. More to come on that!

All of this was emceed with great wit by Christendom’s own Dr. William H. Marshner, to whom I am also indebted.

And the food? Well, my dears, you know I cannot write about an event I host without mentioning the edibles! ;-) I confess I went slightly off the deep end this year and lost a bit of what little sanity I have in the process. Ten, yes, ten different hors d'oeuvres were served, at about 140 pieces each ~ give or take. Stuffed Mushrooms, Sausage Bites, Cheese Rounds, Pecan-Rosemary Shortbread, Raspberry-White Chocolate Trifle, Kentucky Bourbon Pecan Pie & Chocolate Turtle Cake (courtesy Mrs. Leslie K.), Curried Chicken in Won Ton Wrappers, Rum Chocolate Truffles, Grand Marnier White Chocolate Truffles, Red Pepper Roll Ups, Pecan and Ham Tea Sandwiches, Bacon-Wrapped Stuffed Dates, Miniature Pumpkin Pies (courtesy Sullivan), Miniature Quiches, Hummus and Homemade Pita Triangles, Artichoke-Parmesan Crostini, and gallons of Cranberry Punch, Hot Mead Toddy and wine. Most of these recipes can be found on either Epicurious or MyRecipes.

Now you can see why I am still recovering on Monday! Of course, I would be lying if I wiped my brow and moaned about how difficult it all was. In truth, it was hard work. But I had a group of friends who willingly and lovingly jumped in and saved me on the battlefield of the kitchen. And what a troupe they were! I am in the process of thanking each one of the individually. I owe them so much ~ this event would not have gone so smoothly if not for them.

Be sure to mark 21 November 2009 for The Sixth Annual St. Cecilia’s Arts Festival! Seats are already being reserved!

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela

12 November 2008

The Power of Love

The person who tries to live alone will not succeed as a human being. His heart withers if it does not answer another heart. His mind shrinks away if he hears only the echoes of his own thoughts and finds no other inspiration.
~ Pearl S. Buck

Recently, a discussion came up between Benedict Ambrose, Seraphic and myself on the subject of whether one should become completely healed of past wounds before entering into a relationship or whether the new relationship itself can be a source of healing. I promised a post on the subject and here it is.
Just because you love someone doesn't mean you have to be involved with them.
Love is not a bandage to cover wounds.
~ Hugh Elliott, Standing Room Only
A relationship with another person, whether it be eros or filios, is never a panacea for loneliness. That is, a person is never to be used, never made into an object. Entering into a relationship simply because one cannot bear to be alone is a recipe for disaster ~ not to mention it makes things exceedingly tiresome and boring for the other person. If you had a troubled relationship with your father or mother, trying to compensate for what you should have received as a child with your Beloved will not take away the pain and neither will it make the need to face that loss go away.

Nor, as Benedict mentioned, will the love of another person, probably as broken and wounded as you are, be enough to “save” you. Especially from yourself. John and Staci Eldredge call this taking your question to Eve (Gentlemen) or to Adam (Ladies) and it only leads to more heartache and disillusionment. Working through past wounds is highly recommended for two reasons: one, the aforementioned inability of any one mortal human being to “fix” you or "fill" you. Two, if your father always promised he would do X, Y or Z for you but it never happened because something (be it good or bad) got in the way, you may have a tendency to expect all men to promise but not deliver. If your mother was manipulative and domineering, you may have the tendency to view your girlfriend’s ability to handle herself well and take charge of a situation with distrust or you may simply retreat when faced with taking responsibility. Meaning: if you do not take the time to overcome those wounds, you will keep attracting the same type of hurtful people into your life.
Bottom line: human beings are not a rag to mop up your need with.
Love is our true destiny. We do not find the meaning of life by ourselves
alone ~ we find it with another. ~ Thomas Merton
That being said, I do believe that “perfect love drives out all fear.” (1 John 4:18) What do I mean by that? If you have experienced love in an unhealthy way, experiencing it in a healthy, integrated way can only help your healing. And this I do know, having discussed this type of healing with a couple of friends who are counselors and psychologists.
Another way to look at it is this: if I have been lied to and emotionally used in past relationships, if the pattern continues, it becomes much more difficult to heal from the past wounds because the bandage keeps getting ripped off. But if I continue to work on my healing and I become involved with someone who is a Good Man (and not a Middling Man – see Seraphic’s great post on this!) then the healing process is sped up. Sort of like antibiotics cure the flu (grace, therapy) but eating well, taking in fluids and getting rest (healthy relationship) speed up the recovery.
We were not created to be alone, to work out our problems in isolation. We are social beings, made for self-gift and with an incredible capacity to love and forgive and grow. Pride says you do not need anyone or anything to help you heal. That is not love ~ that is, well, Hell, quite frankly! But neither are we meant to be lay-abouts expecting things to just magically get better without putting forth any effort at all and letting our spouses, children, friends, confessors, shrinks do it all for us.
No, the answer lies somewhere in between. Working out your issues in the shelter of the arms of a Good Man (or a Good Woman, gentlemen).

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela

11 November 2008

Culinary Sincerity: An Organic Dinner for Four

To cook is not just to prepare food for someone or to cook for yourself;
it is to express your sincerity.
~ Shunryu Suzuki

“Are you a chef in a restaurant?”

Such words are music to the ears of an amateur gourmet such as myself. It is one of the highest compliments you can pay me. It means that I have achieved a great level of culinary magic, one that creates the illusion that I actually know what I am doing in the kitchen! And Saturday night, I practiced my secret kitchen arts and fooled not one guest, but four.

After spending almost six months searching for a mutually agreeable date and time, I finally hosted the Organic Dinner for Four I donated to the 2007 Tepeyac Family Center Gala. I hope the guests in question found it worth the wait as well as the $6,000 they donated! Certainly Mrs. R’s question seems to say that it was. Planning, shopping and executing this dinner was both a labor of love and an exercise in insanity.

One of the causes I support is the effort to buy fresh and local. Today more than ever, the local economy is in need of our support. And nowhere is this truer and more effective than in the realm of gastronomy. All the stories coming out about poisoned Chinese food products only confirms my earlier decision to buy as little from large chain grocery stores and as much from local farmers and butchers as I possibly can. Food is about relationship and authenticity. Now be honest: does your grocery chain cashier, meat manager or produce guy know you by name and ask after your family and talk about theirs? Even if they do (which is rare around here) can they tell you which farm the food comes from and how clean it is?

Aside from the meat (from Texas so still uber American at least and organic)and the seafood (fresh off the boat and a plane from the New England coast), and one red bell pepper (oddly enough only green bell peppers at the farmers’ market), every course I served was fresh, organic and locally grown and purchased. So I not only succeeded in putting my money back into the local community but using such fresh ingredients ensured better taste in the finished meal. Ah yes, so what was on the menu? Voila:
Fresh Sea Scallops from the Coast of New England – served on a pillow of spinach pesto
Autumn Spinach Salad – with Walnuts, Apples and Cranberries sprinkled
with a Balsamic Vinaigrette
Pumpkin-Butternut Squash Bisque with Cider Cream
Grass Fed Filet Mignon with Port Glazed Cranberries and Gorgonzola Cheese – served with Bacon and Red Bell Pepper Green Beans and Orzo
Flourless Chocolate Cake with Raspberry Coulis

There was only one slight hiccup ~ again, it would not be worth the telling without something going wrong! The original menu consisted of a potato-turnip puree for the starch portion of the main course. The recipe I used and which I will not be using again, turned my beautiful red potatoes and turnip into glue. I kid you not ~ I seriously could have hung wallpaper with it. I grabbed a wine cooler, almost fainted and then quickly substituted an orzo dish and chucked the potato glue into the oven to finish off the monstrous recipe. And there it turned to soup and was acclaimed by all the kitchen staff! Will wonders never cease!

I served four different wines with dinner: two bottles of 2006 Viognier from Horton Vineyards and one bottle of 2007 Chardonnay from Rappahannock Cellars with the first three courses; a beautifully plumy bottle of North Mountain Vineyard’s Cabernet Franc Reserve 2006 with the main course and a Raspberry Merlot with dessert, also from North Mountain Vineyards. All the wines were from local Virginia wineries and all were quite good. I must however, give special mention to the North Mountain wines ~ and not just because I met them at the Farmers’ Market on Saturday and they were super friendly and nice to me! ;-)

I had never tasted a Franc Reserve before and after one sip, I knew I had to serve it with the filet. I was not able to taste the Raspberry Merlot on the spot, but I figured that with dessert, it would be fine. Alas! If only I had been able to taste it there, I would have bought a whole case of it! It was definitely the hit of the evening! And not just among the guests, but my friends who were playing kitchen and wait staff for the night. Thank goodness no one was there to see me swig down the last few drops after everyone had toddled home or off to bed. It was decidedly barbaric of me! But oh so worth it!!

Which sums up the whole evening, actually. Exhausting, overwhelming, insane, with some hysterically funny moments thrown in. And totally worth it.

I can’t wait to do this again. ;-)

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela

Special Thanks goes to the lovely and talented: Annie F., Jeannette P. & Marlena L. for chopping, smashing and arranging things so beautifully; Tika, the baker extraordinaire who donated the flourless chocolate cake. Also to Roshan, our tireless waiter in training; Sergio, whose haunting piano music was the icing on the cake and my long suffering housemates who helped turn our home into a peaceful café for the evening. I could not have done it without any of you!