Tag Archives: Herbs and Spices

Red Sorrel and Arugula Salad with Avocado and Orange

Red Veined Sorrel Salad

I live in an area that is perfect for growing just about anything all year long if one can forget the pesky dilemma of drought we’ve endured for the past many years.  I’ve been a reasonably capable gardener most of my life — thanks to my mother who most likely could grow a stick in the Sahara —  so I’ve always had plants that needed tending.  Whether they were house plants, everyday geraniums, or wildflowers I grew from seed scattered over moist soil, I’ve enjoyed the peace that has come from caring for them.

Fast forward about 10 years.

I no longer have any property to speak of to plant things in;  instead, I have what I’ll call an extended patio that wraps around one and a half sides of our house.  It all seemed so wonderful when we bought it, not to have to worry about fixing a leaky roof or painting it, and for the most part, I still agree.  But there are days when I long for a yard — or at least a yard that is more than eight feet wide.  On other days, I’m thankful that I don’t have to take care of that dream yard.  I used to have one and know that as much as it provides a sense of accomplishment and overall beauty to a home, it can be overwhelming to care for.

Last spring, I finally decided to purchase an herb box.  Of course, I’ll be the first to admit that an herb box (dimensions roughly 8″ x 36″) isn’t quite the replacement for a dream yard, but I can deal with the delusion when the Pacific is a short 10 minutes from my door.  My rosemary bushes grow like weeds in my planters, so they were the least of my concerns.  It was more the need to have parsley, or oregano, and maybe marjoram, or salad greens.  Now that would be a luxury!  A year has gone by, and I’ve been so busy I haven’t spent much time on my patio.  The herb box hasn’t gotten much attention.  Thyme has disappeared in more ways than one, and the purple basil never really flourished to begin with.  What I’m surprised to find is red sorrel bursting with life and all but wearing an advertisement for snails and worms to have lunch.  It never really died down over winter, and now, after our recent rainy weather, it’s flourishing along with the parsley and marjoram.  Granted, the level of soil in the box is about 50% of what it once was, but still.  Surprisingly, the arugula is sending out tender shoots as well.  Go figure.

I decided that it was the perfect reason to make a spring salad, even though the vernal equinox is still a week away.  Anything surviving the neglect my herb box has had to withstand deserves to be celebrated.  And I suppose it’s proof that one only needs a strip of space with bright light most of the day to lull her into the notion of being an urban gardener warrior.

Nice.

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Wordless Wednesday: Out of Garlic

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I’m never out of garlic, and yet yesterday when I wondered about what would go in the potato leek soup we made for dinner, I found I had only the shriveled remnants of my normally plump reserve.  There were no shallots, and I couldn’t find an onion, either.  Cooking just isn’t the same for me without these flavors.  I roast garlic and smear it on crostini, flavor oil with it to drizzle over roasted vegetables, saute it with almost everything, smash it and sprinkle on some sea salt to make a paste, mince it, cook whole heads in their papery skin, and wince when I find I’m out.

Have you had your garlic today?

Spicy Shrimp Salad

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I’d love to say it’s salad weather here, but if you are fortunate to be a resident of San Diego, then you know that not only have we been experiencing the typical overcast weather we lovingly refer to as May Grey, but are definitely headed into a serious June Gloom.  Although I am one who doesn’t need the sun shining each day, the marine layer is extremely thick right now, and temperatures have been in the low 60s.  It’s more like sweater weather and is quite gloomy.  In fact today, it’s been drizzling all morning, and I can’t help but wonder about the outcome of  outdoor plans made by those who expect our normally perfect weather, and are now disappointed.

We are salad lovers, and that means salad is a year round treat regardless of the weather.  Recently, my husband said he needed to lose a few pounds, so that usually translates to salad for dinner with no carbs on the side.  That doesn’t mean I make more salad than I normally would.  Instead, it means I’m able to try new combinations of flavor, adding more ingredients, and warming it up a bit with something cooked.

I’ve heard others mention they don’t care for warm salads, and far be it from me to criticize someone’s taste for salad — with the exception of the “canned pea-Velveeta cubes- smothered in Miracle Whip” concoction which leaves me nearly speechless.

This shrimp and spinach salad has more than one kind of “heat.”  If you’re not one for cooking your salad ingredients, then consider what chili heat can do for your taste buds.  It’s satisfying and healthy.

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Lamb Shanks Braised with Tomatoes and Herbs

Spices for Rub

Spring for many who crave slow roasted savory dishes can mean that it’s time for lamb — especially when there’s a special occasion to consider such as Easter.  For my family, however, this wasn’t the case.  Our tradition was far from a special dinner at home and a table set with my great grandmother’s china.  No, we were the more adventuresome type.

If my mother was successful in her relentless attempts to get my father out of bed, we’d try and make it to early service.  My mother was an amazing seamstress, so picture three perfectly dressed children (the girls in matching dresses, of course) with brand new shoes, Easter hats, and not a hair out of place, all waiting for the man of the house to get up so their day could begin. There was more than one reason to make that early service.  Father K. did the mass first on Sunday, and he was quite efficient, so rarely did the service last even an hour.  If we didn’t make the first service, then we would attend Father B’s mass which inevitably took much, much longer.  That service was always packed, too, so often we ended up sitting in the back or upstairs, and with no padded rails to kneel on.

First thing in the morning, we’d see the Easter baskets placed at the end of our beds full of candy and goodies, the best of which was usually a large chocolate foil wrapped bunny.  Each basket had exactly the same contents, because my little sister kept track and usually let my mother know it was a problem.  These baskets of goodies came in handy for what was usually a long drive after church, searching for the perfect spot to have our annual Easter picnic.  Every year the group was a bit different, but every year, we were on the road, picnic food wrapped and ready to eat sometime after the giant egg hunt.  We hunted real eggs — eggs that we’d colored ourselves, and then after finding them would end up as deviled eggs.

But lamb was nowhere to be found on the menu for that occasion.  So it wasn’t until well into adulthood that I finally tasted lamb.  Although I still don’t serve lamb as much as I do other meats, I am learning more about which cut to prepare, how to prepare it and with which flavors.

When I saw the meaty lamb shanks at our local Henry’s, I wasn’t looking for them, but had to have them knowing I’d put them to good use.  It didn’t take long to find the perfect recipe.  Absolutely perfect.

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Pasta with Chunky Fresh Tomato Sauce and Basil Oil

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Organic heirloom tomatoes have begun to show their lovely colorful faces around here, and when they do, I can’t resist them.  I love tomatoes regardless of their size or shape as long as they haven’t been sitting in a cold storage box somewhere, rendering them flavorless. When the odd looking heirlooms are available, I have to have them. Deciding what to make with them once they’re sitting on my kitchen counter is an afterthought most of the time unless the sun has been shining and warm weather food is on my mind.  Then I know what I’ll make.  In fact I’m somewhat wired to think about a particular recipe whenever I see tomatoes like this.

Because I have this tomato addiction, I’m going to try to grow my own this year.  Of course I’ve grown my own tomatoes before, but as as much as I can mention that the sun shines and shines here most of the year, the position of our house and the height of our neighbor’s trees provide me precious little sunlight to plant vegetables in.  The space I do have is covered with flagstones, so the tomatoes I plant will have to love growing in pots and climbing like vines.

I saw gorgeous fresh San Marzanos at open air markets when we were in Rome last summer and then packages of seeds in several Sorrento shops, but I was too skeptical to buy them and then lose them in customs on our way back home.  I promised myself I’d have some before this next summer had passed so I just bought the seeds here.  Hopefully they won’t mind sharing space with a few heirlooms.  Then I’ll have homemade tomato sauce and lots of pasta with fresh veggies.

This recipe has a no-cook chunky tomato sauce with fresh basil oil if you’re inclined to make your own.  It’s one of my favorite recipes.

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