Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Acini de pepe salad and oh, yeah, I'm back

Well, hello there!  It's been quite a while, hasn't it?  After a nice, long vacation I'm back and eager to start writing again.  I've thought a lot about this blog and what I've tried to do with it in the past (too much, in my opinion), and I've decided that I need to take a tip from its title and focus on food.  Because my life pretty much revolves around food: eating, of course, but also thinking about food I'd like to eat, clipping recipes, paging through cookbooks, growing a few fruits and vegetables at home, dining out, and so on.

Today I'm sharing one of Sean grandma's recipes.  Grandma was born in Germany in 1917 (I think) and emigrated to the U.S. in the late 1950s.  For many years she owned El Paseo Toys in Santa Barbara, CA, a beloved shop that sold all kinds of wonderful, old-fashioned toys from Europe.  If you wanted a Steiff stuffed animal, you couldn't find a better place to browse than El Paseo Toys.  She's retired now and living a quieter life, but she still enjoys cooking and baking now and then, and this recipe is one she used to make for big family get-togethers, especially in the summer.  It's one of Sean's favorites, and I asked her to write it down for me years ago.

I've always had a hard time making this dish sound appealing.  Calling it "a cross between a pasta salad and ambrosia" conjures up a queasy mix of antipasto and whipped cream, which is not at all what it is.  The pasta you use are acini de pepe, a tiny, round pasta whose name means " peppercorns."  They are smaller than peas when cooked and, in fact, look almost like tapioca when mixed in with these other ingredients, which include pineapple (in juice, chunk, and crushed form), mandarin oranges, Cool Whip, and marshmallows.  The pasta cut the sweetness of what could be a really cloying salad and turn it into something light and refreshing.  Once people taste it they seem to like it; it's getting them to take that first bite that can be the hard part.

Serves 10 - 12

1 1-lb box of acini de pepe
3/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 tsp flour

1 tsp salt
3 well-beaten eggs
1 1/2 cups pineapple juice
4 small or 2 large cans mandarin oranges
1 16-oz can pineapple chunks

1 16-oz can crushed pineapple
1 cup mini marshmallows
1 cup Cool Whip

Cook the pasta according to directions.  Drain in colander and rinse with cool water.  Place in large bowl.

While the pasta is cooking, cook the sugar, flour, salt and beaten eggs in a small pot over low heat, stirring constantly until it thickens.  Slowly pour in the pineapple juice, stirring to mix thoroughly; cook until it becomes thick.  (Grandma's charming instructions at this point read, "Give the pineapple juice slowling too.  Have it cook nice like a thick soup.")  Remove from heat and let it cool slightly.  Stir it into the pasta, mixing well, and refrigerate (overnight, if possible).

Open all the fruit cans, drain the juice, and mix into the pasta along with the marshmallows and Cool Whip.  Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Hey, wait a minute

"A Story for Everyone"? If everyone is special, then doesn't that mean . . . you aren't that special?

Wednesday, March 14, 2012


Literate illiterate your graphic designer is?

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Gratuitous tie-in of the week

The artwork above is not quite the same as the finished book; it's missing the line, "The lucky ones went down with the Titanic." Here's what it says on the back:

"It's Titanic meets 30 Days of Night in the most original novel for 100 years.

"When the lucky survivors of the world's most infamous maritime disaster were plucked out of the freezing ocean by the passenger steamship Carpathia, they thought their problems were over.

"But something is sleeping in the darkest recesses of their rescue ship. Something old. Something hungry."

Carpathia? As in Carpathian Mountains? Sigh. What is this, J. Bruce Ismay, Vampire Slayer? (P.S. Before anyone chides me, yes, I know that's the actual name of the ship that picked up the Titanic's survivors.)

Monday, February 06, 2012

Homemade breakfast

It's only February, but the current warm spell means I've been able to get out in my garden and do some early winter clean-up and prep for spring planting. A couple of weeks ago I gave into temptation and even planted a few things: chives, cilantro, and nasturtiums from seed, and some strawberry starts from the nursery. Yesterday I was able to pick my first few strawberries, big, dark red, luscious things, and chop them up and toss them in my granola.

I've been on a bit of a homemade kick the last few months, making all kinds of things from scratch. Things like beef jerky, apple butter, crackers, steak sauce, and breads of various kinds. My favorite homemade recipe has turned out to be granola. I'd been buying a tasty pumpkin seed/flax granola from Whole Foods, which I eat with chopped fruit and kefir, but I now prefer my homebrewed mixture. My starting point -- for it's really more a list of suggestions, or a technique, than a recipe -- is from the book D.I.Y. Delicious: Recipes and Ideas for Simple Food from Scratch by Vanessa Barrington. This attractive little book contains not only dozens of from-scratch recipes -- everything from homemade mustard and yogurt to tortillas and sauerkraut -- but also follow-up recipes that use your homemade creations to their best advantage. Most of the recipes are straightforward, but "Granola Your Way" takes a more touchy-feely approach, including a mix-and-match chart to help you combine your favorite ingredients into your ideal granola. Here's the recipe I came up with, and I gotta say, it's yummy:

makes about 12 1/2-cup servings

1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup real maple syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
4 cups Nature's Path Flax Plus Multigrain Flakes
a handful of flaked, sweetened coconut
2 handfuls of flax seeds
2 handfuls of raw, shelled pumpkin seeds
2 cups chopped walnuts
1 cup dried tart cherries

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, melt the butter and add the syrup, vanilla, and pumpkin pie spice. Remove from heat and let it cool a little bit.

In a large bowl, combine the cereal flakes, coconut, flax seeds, pumpkin seeds, and walnuts. Toss to mix. Pour the warmed butter mixture over and toss with a large spoon until evenly and lightly coated.

Transfer the mixture to a large baking sheet and spread out evenly in a thin layer. You may need to use two baking sheets. Bake until evenly browned, 20 to 25 minutes. Stop halfway through and stir the ingredients so that they brown evenly. Remove from the oven, add the dried cherries, and toss to combine. Let the granola cool completely on the baking sheet and store at room temperature in an airtight container. It will stay fresh for up to 3 weeks, stored properly.

I must add that there's no way this granola will last 3 weeks, because it will have been gobbled up long before then. Also, be prepared for your house to fill with the most delectable aroma EVER while the granola is baking. While you certainly don't need to add any fresh fruit to this concoction, I think fresh strawberries or blueberries are great companions to the dried cherries.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Retro provocation

I don't really want to read this book, but for some reason I like the idea of it sitting on my coffee table when guests arrive.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Fiddling around

I have a new-ish phone, and I've been having fun fiddling around with the camera. I found a free app called Vignette that adds cool distressing and light-intensifying effects to pictures.

This is the current view from one of my kitchen windows. The row of Buddha Beer bottles is actually kind of pretty in this light.

This is some kind of tree in Eagle Rock that is in bloom right now. Tiny white blossoms were drifting around it like a localized snowstorm, although you can't see any of them in this photo.
Here's a thunbergia (Black-eyed Susan vine) that was blooming outside my back door a few weeks ago. The pathetic sticks in the pot are actually a nutmeg plant that has sprung back to life after a brief winter dormancy and is now in bloom, too. I'll try to get a picture of its teensy pink flowers soon.