"No matter what happens in the kitchen, never apologize." - Julia Child

Friday, October 29, 2010


So for the past week or so, I'd been thinking of participating in NaNoWriMo. For those who mistakenly think I just spasmed while typing, rest assured: I'm convulsion free; this is just an abbreviation of National Novel Writing Month. I didn't have terribly long to decide, because NaNoWriMo starts in November, which somehow, inexplicably, is just 3 days away. Seriously, how is it almost November? How is 2010 almost over? Anyway.

You have 30 days to write a novel that is at least 50,000 words long. Obviously most people just use this as an exercise in getting themselves into the practice of writing regularly (a very commendable thing), but some people really do take it seriously and I'm sure many folks actually get a good bulk of usable material out of it.

Why would I subject myself to the insanity (because let's face it, that's what it is) of trying to write 50,000 cohesive words in 30 days? Partly it's because I've sort of always wanted to try NaNoWriMo. Partly it's because November is my birthday month and that makes me excited. But for the most part, because I've been doing NO writing for myself, other than this blog (and even that petered out for a few months there), for the past FIVE YEARS. It's pretty sad, but I've just not made time for myself and my writing projects, even though I love writing and have wanted to write a book since I was 5 years old. I'm one of those people who has a half-finished novel languishing in a drawer somewhere, except that it's not even close to being half finished and it's not in a drawer, just on my hard drive. So I have to do SOMETHING. Honestly, what do I have to lose? Even if I fail to meet the word count, the time I spend writing won't be a waste because it'll be time I used to write, getting my brain and body used to the feeling of putting words down.

This is why I have just signed up to participate. I suppose I am certifiably insane. Or as certifiably insane as the thousands of other people who have signed up for this.

But this is a year that seems particularly significant to me. I've started a job doing what I really love, I'm feeling comfortable about myself emotionally and physically, I'm turning 30. I'm finally starting to feel like I get it. Like things are falling into place somehow. It's tough for me to describe (which must mean something, since I'm a writer and descriptions are my job), but I just have this feeling that is saying, yes, go ahead and do this crazy thing! So I've gone ahead and done it. Hopefully I will be feeling sane enough to actually post regular updates on here about how I'm doing with this.

If you want to join in the insanity, click on the link in the first paragraph and join in the wackiness. Insanity loves company, right? At least when it's the insanity related to writing a novel in a month.

Now I just have to figure out what to write about...

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Chai spice bread

I love spices of all kinds, so it's no surprise I love chai tea. Lately I've been on a quick bread kick, always keeping a loaf on hand for breakfast or a nice afternoon snack with a cup of tea, so I was delighted when I found the recipe for this chai spice loaf. It combines the best of both worlds: bread that is almost cake, and the warm spice chai tea. It's the perfect treat for fall, when everyone craves dishes full of autumnal spices.

A prevalent spice in chai (and a lot of Indian cooking, which I adore) is cardamom, and this bread tastes strongly of it. It's not terribly sweet, but it's moist and and dense and wonderfully spicy. The recipe linked above recommends making a sweet glaze for it, but I left mine sans glaze and it was still awesome. I found that adding a schmear of pumpkin cream cheese from Trader Joe's was the perfect complement--again, not too sweet, and with its own level of spiciness that worked with the flavor already in the bread. You can use any kind of black tea that you like (I used some decaf chai I had on hand); just brew a cup and then let it cool while you get your ingredients ready.

I shared this with some lady friends in addition to the usual taste-tester of Jeremy and they all agreed it was delicious. Not bad for a first-time effort. (I usually like to taste-test things before sharing them with friends, in case they're dreadful, but this time I got lucky!)

Chai Spice Quick Bread
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter at room temperature
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup prepared black tea, cooled to room temperature
  • 1/3 cup milk (I used 2%)
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

Heat oven to 350. Grease just the bottom of a loaf pan with butter or cooking spray.

In a large bowl, cream the sugar and butter with the mixer on medium speed until fluffy. Add the eggs, tea, milk, and vanilla at low speed until the ingredients are combined. The mixture will look curdled--that's okay!

Combine the flour, baking powder, salt, and spices in a separate bowl and whisk to blend well. Using a rubber spatula, stir the dry ingredients into the wet ones until just moistened. Pour into prepared pan and spread evenly with spatula.

Bake for 50 to 60 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Cool the bread in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes, then remove the bread from the pan and cool on the wire rack completely. If you choose to glaze the bread, let it cool just 30 minutes before glazing.

 Artsy shot, by Jeremy, of me making chai bread

Monday, October 25, 2010

Roasted Acorn Squash with Red Quinoa Stuffing

One of the things I love most about fall is the abundance of squash. The mix of colors and shapes adds some variety to a season where everything is gradually starting to brown, and I feel like the insides of squash are pretty darn delicious too. You can do a lot with a squash. I never met a squash I disliked.

Last week I popped into the supermarket for a quick something-or-other and spotted a beautiful, pine green acorn squash. I couldn't resist, and for a week I admired its perfect green ridges gracing my kitchen counter. This weekend I decided it was time to stop admiring the squash and get it into my belly.

I also happened to have a package of red quinoa I'd bought at Trader Joe's on a whim. I'd never before eaten quinoa (pronounced KEEN-wah), but I do know that it's a healthy grain that can be used in place of rice. It's got a nutty flavor, a slightly toothsome texture, and it's high in protein, so it makes a good stand-in for meat. I decided to make a variation on my traditional Thanksgiving acorn squash with chorizo stuffing. I left out the meat and made a slightly simpler version that turned out just as delicious. You should try it if you're looking for a veggie alternative that's still hearty and filling. This recipe does take some prep time but most of it is just waiting around for things to finish cooking, so it's pretty simple to prepare. You can put the squash in and then make the quinoa and prep the rest of the ingredients while the squash roasts.

Raquel's Roasted Acorn Squash with Red Quinoa Stuffing For Two (or one with leftovers)
  • 1 acorn squash, washed and dried
  • olive oil
  • 1 cup dry red quinoa, well rinsed and drained
  • 2 cups cold water
  • 1/2 sweet yellow onion, diced
  • 1 scant tsp dried sage
  • salt, to taste
  • 1/4 cup coarsely chopped dried cranberries (I used orange flavored ones that were awesome)
  • maple syrup for drizzling
Preheat the oven to 375. Line a baking sheet with foil. You will need to stand the squash up on the non-stem end, so you may need to trim off the bottom to provide a flat surface. Make sure you have a big, well-sharpened knife. Carefully cut the squash in half lengthwise. (Or get your bulging bicep'ed boyfriend to do it for you with such skill that he even cuts the stem in half so artfully.) Use an ice cream scoop to scoop out the pulp and seeds. Set the pulp aside; you'll want to take the seeds out to roast for awesome snackings. 

Generously brush the squash inside and out with olive oil. Place the squash cut side down on the foil-lined baking sheet and bake for about 35 minutes, until the insides are tender.

Meanwhile, rinse the quinoa well under cold running water and drain. Place the quinoa in a pot with 2 cups of cold water and a sprinkling of salt and turn the heat up to high. Once the water starts boiling, turn it down to a simmer and cover the pot. Cook over low heat for 20 minutes or until all the water is absorbed. (It's okay if the quinoa still looks moist, but there shouldn't be any standing water left in the pot.) Remove the quinoa from the heat and give it a good stir, then leave it in the pot.

Once the squash are done roasting, remove from the oven and lower the temperature to 325. Using tongs, carefully turn the squash halves over to allow the steam to escape. Let the squash cool for a few minutes until you can scoop out the pulp without burning yourself.

While the squash cools, heat up some olive oil in a small saute or frying pan over medium-high heat. (Use enough oil to just thinly coat the bottom of the pan.) Once the oil is hot, add the diced onion and stir occasionally, cooking until translucent and softened. Add the sage and stir well to combine. Cook for another minute or two to allow the flavors to combine, then remove from the heat.

Using a spoon, carefully scoop out the squash pulp into a bowl so that the edges of each half are about 1/4 to 1/8 inch thick. Squoosh up the pulp to break up any big chunks, then add the squash to the pot of quinoa. Stir in the onions and dried cranberries. Season with salt to taste. (Seriously, treat yourself to a big spoonful of this now to taste it. It'll taste only better after you cook it.) Adjust seasoning, and add a little chopped fresh parsley if you have it.

Arrange the two squash halves back on the baking sheet. Mound the stuffing into each squash half. It's okay if you can't fit all of it; that just means LEFTOVER STUFFING for tomorrow's lunch! After filling each half, drizzle with maple syrup and put them back in the 325 oven for about 20 to 25 minutes.

Perfection! They are sweet, savory, and creamy. The quinoa gets nice and soft and the nutty flavor works well with the squash. Here's hoping you enjoy them. They are a real taste of fall. Dig into the season.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Pumpkin brownies

What's better than a brownie?

A brownie made of PUMPKIN.

Don't get me wrong, I can eat chocolate any day, any time. But pumpkin I only really eat during the fall. (Yes, I know that thanks to the glories of canning and freezing I could, theoretically, eat pumpkin any time of year, but it feels more special keeping it associated with the fall. Chocolate is in its own category though. It doesn't need to be associated with anything other than my belly.)

Chocolate and pumpkin actually tends to be a pretty decent combination, but the thing I love most about these brownies is that they just completely leave out the chocolate and are made just with pumpkin, so that the pumpkin is the moist, scrumptious star of the show. I supposed a chocolateless brownie is technically a blondie, but I've always hated the term "blondie" and so I will forever after refer to these delights as pumpkin brownies.

I got the recipe from the Baking Bites site, which to a sweet-toothed lady like me is like a baked goods porn-o-rama. They are denser than a pumpkin bread, but a bit creamier than a pumpkin cake.

I basically followed the recipe except that I whisk together all my dry ingredients before incorporating them with the moist ingredients. Also, I've found that while these are delightful with nuts and etc. mixed in, they're also positively fantastic and totally divine devoid of chunky additions. These are simple to make and I highly recommend them!

Pumpkin Brownies with Pecans
  • 1/2 cup butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp ground allspice
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 cup pumpkin puree
  • 3/4 cup all purpose flour
  • 2/3 cup chopped pecans (optional)
Preheat oven to 350F. Lightly grease an 8×8-inch baking dish.

In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg and the pumpkin puree. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, spices, and salt and stir this into the moist ingredients, mixing until just combined. Add in pecans (if using) and stir to evenly distribute.

Pour batter into prepared baking dish and spread into an even layer with a spatula.

Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the brownies are just just lightly browned at the edges and the center is set (it may look moist, but will not be sticky when lightly pressed). Cool in the pan before slicing.
Cut them into bars or whatever shape strikes your fancy and store in an airtight container. These will keep nice and moist for several days, or several hours, really, because they're just that good.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Rolf and Roll

After years of curiosity and wanting to try it, I've finally been Rolfed.

Before you go thinking that I'm engaging in some weird binge/purge behavior, know that Rolfing has nothing to do with vomiting. It is an unfortunately named technique--named so after the woman who invented it, Dr. Ida Rolf. It's a structural integration technique wherein the practitioners manipulate your fascia tissue.


Okay, I admit when I first hear what it was, I was perplexed. Fascia is the connective tissue that helps your muscles work. Over time, repetitive movement, injuries, and gravity bind up your fascia so that your body isn't moving the way it should be. For instance, I've got an old ankle injury that flares up and hurts, and it makes me walk somewhat differently by redistributing my weight and balance. Also, I've been a chronic sloucher for most of my life. I couldn't help it. Standing or sitting up straight was a real effort for me, and if I wasn't consciously thinking about straightening my body, it would slouch down, slumping on top of itself like a bag of wet sand. I felt heavy and clumsy and generally blorpy. What a Rolfer does is apply pressure to parts of your body to sort of move the tangled up, misaligned fascia back to where it should be. This lets your muscles move the way they should and realigns your body. As my Rolfer explained it to, it's helping your body to work with gravity again, instead of against it.

This might sound very mumbo-jumbo to you. It might also sound like massage. It's not. Rolfers don't work on your muscles, they work on the tissue over it. If you look at those drawings of anatomically correct skeletons that have muscles on them, it's the white stuff. From the Rolf Institute website: "Essentially, the Rolfing process enables the body to regain the natural integrity of its form, thus enhancing postural efficiency and your freedom of movement."

To learn more about Rolfing, go to the Rolfing Institute site. 

My cousin had Rolfing done years ago and raved about it, and I wanted to try it out myself to help with my own issues, but I'd not really had the money until now (even now it takes some budgeting, but I think my well-being is worth it). Rolfing is expensive and usually not covered by insurance, but it's also really effective. Unlike massage or chiropractic work, once you go through the series on your whole body, you're usually good to go. My Rolfer told me that sometimes people come in a year or so later for a "tune-up" but the effects tend to last a good long while.

This morning I had my first session, which lasted about an hour and 15 minutes. You work in your underwear, which I was a little nerve-racked about because OMG who wants to stand about in their underwear. I feel so exposed. But I went out and got some cute little girl boy briefs, which make me feel a little more covered and a little less exposed, and that was fine. Also, this woman clearly sees all types of people in their underwear because it's her job, and knowing that what she'd be doing would help me got me over my inhibitions mighty fast. What's a little cellulite exposure if it means you'll feel better?

My Rolfer's name is Daphne and she works at the Cambridge Health Associates. She's great. Very nice and friendly and effortlessly sets you at ease. First she asks a series of questions about your general health and any injuries or concerns you have about your body. Then you strip to your skivvies and she has you stand facing her and turn in different directions so she can see you from different angles. Then you walk across the room a few times so she can see your gait.

Most of the work is done lying on a table in various positions, though I did do some work where I sat up and hunched over my knees. It is a different feeling. Some of it feels like pressure, like a pressure point massage or a reflexology type of press on you. Some of it is a more intense digging pressure that almost feels like a knot is being untangled under your skin--a "hurts so good" type of feeling that people have with deep tissue massages. And some of it is honestly unpleasant. She did some work on my chest and along my spine that felt like a really intense, uncomfortable Indian burn. That wasn't fun, but it also wasn't unbearable. And as soon as she stops doing the work, the feeling goes a way. I am right now a little tender and sore in those areas, and around my neck, but it's not all that noticeable.

Today she was doing some realignment on my arms and hamstrings, loosening my hips, and working on opening my chest. Amazingly, she knew that I was right-handed just by looking at me, and by touching my neck and skull, she was able to deduce that I get headaches. She did some work there that should help reduce those.

Deep breathing helped me get through the more unpleasant periods. Daphne is also lovely and we had some fun chit chat initially, which helped me relax. But there were some periods where I felt semi-meditative. While she worked on my hips, especially, I felt my mind clear a bit, and even though there was some pressure, I felt almost relaxed. It was interesting. The whole experience isn't passive, though; you do have to move about in certain ways to help the Rolfer work. 

So after being poked and prodded what happened? It's not like I was suddenly transformed and completely fixed, but I have already noticed that I DO NOT SLOUCH. I've stopped slumping over. My shoulders are straight. My chest feels open. I look a little taller. Even sitting in my chair now typing, I am sitting up straight effortlessly. I'm not even thinking about it. My body doesn't WANT to slump over the keyboard. I don't want to hunch in my chair. It feels just a tad easier to breathe. And one lovely thing that appeals to my vanity about this new posture is that because I'm not folding in on myself, it puts my bosoms on a bit more of a display.

I'm sort of amazed at this. Obviously I know I have a lot longer to go in terms of getting my whole body aligned and feeling good, but I really didn't think that after just one session my posture would be better.

I'm looking forward to continuing this process (I go back November 5) and will continue my missives reflecting on the process. It should continue to be interesting, though, and I am looking forward to it.

This is the Rolfing logo. It might seem a bit exaggerated, but seriously, my initial posture was not that unlike the fellow on the left. Yeah. It was THAT bad.

Monday, October 18, 2010

My platter of figs

It's fall. It's gloriously, gorgeously fall. I love early fall weather. It gets pretty perfect in October. The sunshine seems somehow more intensely sunny, the wind has a crispness to it, and you have to wear just enough layers that you feel cozy without feeling bulky. (That comes with winter. I always feel slightly bound and stuffed and bumbly and near suffocating in winter. But in fall, you can still move freely.)

This weekend was a textbook example of perfect fall weather, and while I was out and about, I happened to find a container of lovely green figs at the supermarket. I'd wandered in to get a bottle of iced tea as I was running errands, and my eyes just happened to fall on the container.

There they were, each nestled into its own little cup, just waiting to be taken home and devoured. Yes, they were pricey ($4 for eight), but once I saw them, I had to have them. It was a small price to pay for such a satisfying indulgence.  

It was thrilling. It's not every day you find fresh figs, or at least it's not every day that a lady like me living in Boston, on the opposite end of the country from where figs are grown, finds fresh figs. Yes, they are becoming more commonplace, but you're still more likely to find dried figs than fresh ones at your supermarket. At any rate, this wasn't my usual local supermarket, but one that I don't really go to because it's quite out of the way. So it was like a doubly special treat to find them. The fates had aligned and the universe had conspired to get me into that supermarket and down that aisle to the figs. How could I say no to the universe?

I picked up a package and instinctively went right for the cheese section. Figs are delicious with certain cheeses, and initially I was going to get blue cheese, but then I found some nice crumbled goat cheese. It has a lighter, more subtle flavor and a wonderful creaminess that I think balances the delicate figginess of a perfectly ripe green fig. Green figs taste a little more fresh and a bit less intensely figgy than their dark purple (mission fig) counterparts.

Eat ripe figs as soon as possible. They are quite soft (though not mushy) when ripe, so be gentle when you wash and dry them. No peeling necessary; you can eat them as is. They're also lovely, as I mentioned, with blue cheese and some balsamic vinegar. Walnuts are a good companion too.

I sliced my figs in half lengthwise and sprinkled each with some goat cheese. Then I drizzled each with a bit of honey.

These were lovely, light and soft and tasting of the last lingering bits of summer. The delicate fig flavor wasn't overpowered by goat cheese or honey. I thought they made a nice nibble for a fall evening. And honestly, figs are just beautiful. I love the way they look when they are sliced in half. That pretty burst of bright pink when you cut into them is just awesome. You feel like you are connecting to something very ancient and almost sacred, in a way, when you eat a fresh fig. I'm not sure I'm explaining this properly, and I'm not even really sure that I can. All I know is that figs are amazing.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Raquel Likes Food is moving!

Hello friends!

Yes, I know it's been 5 months since I last posted in here. What a hiatus!

What have I been doing during that time? A lot of things. Among them, I've started a new job and moved to a new apartment. And there were some other things in there as well that I don't necessarily want to discuss, but let's just say that I did a lot of changing and thinking.

While I still love writing about food, I've found that having a blog devoted solely to writing about food isn't doing it for me. There are a lot of other things I want to write about: books, work, helpful household hints, adorable bargains I just scored that I can't wait to wear. It seems odd to write about those things in a food blog, and because I found that I wanted to talk about other things, I stopped writing here for a while. But now I'm finding myself really missing having a regular outlet to share my thoughts, so I've decided to change this blog into a blog that incorporates all of the things I love. Food will still be a big focus, of course, because I love food and can't really give up writing about it and experimenting with it. But I'll also dish on other things I'm passionate about as well.

So I wanted to tell you all that in just a few days, I'll be migrating this blog to a completely new URL: www.raqueldishes.blogspot.com

All the same content that's on this blog will appear on the new blog, but it will be expanded to include new content. 

So update those Google Readers, folks! And stay tuned for more good stuff, brought to you on a regular basis.