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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Artichoke Hearts

My wonderful wife, Cheryl, made these artichoke hearts earlier in the week (you can see a picture of it HERE, as well as find the recipe. I tried to link the image but ran into insurrmountable problems... ) We thought that we had panko flakes on hand for the recipe but discovered that what we had available was tempura batter, which still worked. It's a great, easy to make treat as an appetizer; we had it as a side with chicken. Plus, you bake them rather than deep frying them, so it's a bit more of a guilt free & healthy snack. Give it a try - I think you will love them, too!

Here is the recipe from the page where she found them, but you Really must go and look at the picture first, so that you will get the full anticipatory effect - and don't forget the Panko crumbs.Ciao!

Artichoke Hearts

Open bag of frozen artichoke hearts and add the juice of half a lemon (if it's juicy, a whole one if it's not).

In a bowl, beat one egg with a tbs of water

In a large zip bag mix
1/2 c of flour
1/2 c of breadcrubs (I used panko)
1/4 c of shredded (not grated) parmesan or romano cheese
1 tbs of dried oregano
S&P to taste

Coat hearts in egg mixture then drop in bag of breading and shake to coat.

Pour out in a single layer on baking pan, drizzle with plenty of olive oil and bake at 450 for about 20 mins or until golden brown, turning halfway through.

I serve with a dipping sauce of 1/4 c of unflavored greek style yogurt and about
2 tsp of sriracha or similar hot sauce.

Korma Chameleon

I've been trying to perfect a recipe derived from one for Korma Curry from The Home Book of Indian Cookery by Sipra Das Gupta. I realize that this probably sounds counterintuitive to most people, since a recipe is supposed to be a fairly reliable blueprint for making a great, if not perfect, meal. I like to experiment, so for me, a recipe is more of a template, making the results to be less predictable than most people would prefer. leaving you open to either a delightful Happy Accident or a quick bail out from the local fast food restaurant.

I've had this book for at least ten years, ever since I found it and several others at Shalimar of India in Cambridge, MA. - a favorite place of mine that has great take out & is fun to go to just to explore the sundries available -and I use the book mainly as a reference guide. I tried making Korma with Chicken and Cashews twice in the past week with mixed results, but for your sake I'll post the version of the recipe that worked best.

Here is the original recipe:

Korma Curry

2 lb. leg of lamb
4 onions, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons grated ginger
3 cloves garlic, grated
1 teaspoon turmeric powder
1 teaspoon chili powder
2 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons salt
4 tablespoons ghee
4 tablespoons oil
5 tablespoons yogurt
1/2 cup peas
2 small turnips
1 1/2 cups water

I made many changes and substitutions here. Remember - to me it is just a template to draw from. First, while the recipe called for two pounds of lamb, I substituted chicken, and used only 1/2 to 1 pound of it. You could easily substitute that with vegetables, Second, no turnips. Never been very big on turnips and this was no place to begin trying. I also didn't use peas, not because I don't like them, we just didn't have any on hand. Third, since I don't keep ghee around for cooking, I used butter. It just so happens that we got a pound of Irish butter over the holidays, so I used that. The other substitutions are listed in the recipe. I scaled back the amounts to make up a half portion or smaller & ended up with this:

Korma Chicken with Cashews

1 lb. chicken (I used thighs)
1/2 cup cashews, toasted & chopped
1 - 2 onions, chopped
1 teaspoon powdered ginger (use fresh grated if you have it)
3 cloves garlic, diced
2 - 3 teaspoons Tandoori Spice Blend
1 teaspoon turmeric powder
1 teaspoon fenugreek powder
2 teaspoons sugar
4 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1/2 cup water
a pinch of aleppo pepper
salt and pepper to taste

I mixed the ingredients and put it in a small Pyrex baking dish with the chicken on top, covered it with foil and baked it, starting on 400 for about 10 minutes and then turning it down to between 250 to 350 while I prepared side dishes, which in this case were rice and spinach. You don't want to leave it on a high temperature for too long - only to get it hot and raise the internal temperature of the meat. Likewise, once it has heated up, you want to cook it at a standard temperature for 15 to 20 minutes, ensuring that it has cooked thoroughly and isn't too pink or under cooked inside. Baking will allow you to do something else in the meantime. Once the meat has cooked, it should be tender enough to cut with a fork.

At the risk of possibly repeating myself, here is a very simple recipe for rice that I like to use:

1 cup of jasmine rice
1 can of vegetable stock or chicken broth
1/4 to 2 cups of water
1 tablespoon of butter or olive oil
a pinch of salt

Stock/ broth cans often come in anywhere between 14 to 15 oz sizes, just shy of the two cup measure of liquid that is standard for most rice recipes. Who knows why. It's another mystery that ranks up with the 12 to a pack hot dogs vs the 8 to a pack hot dog buns, or why there is always a portion of three pieces of sushi among an array of sets of two, four or six.

Follow the usual procedure of bringing the liquid to a boil, adding the rice, stir, lower the heat to medium low and cover, cooking until the liquid has evaporated and you have - rice!

You can add other stuff such as chopped onions, diced garlic or sliced mushrooms. Go crazy - it's your dinner, after all!

For the spinach, I usually just steam it until it has just begun to wilt.

Bon Appétit!

Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas Poem by G.K. Chesterton

 Christmas Poem by G.K. Chesterton
There fared a mother driven forth
Out of an inn to roam;
In the place where she was homeless
All men are at home.
The crazy stable close at hand,
With shaking timber and shifting sand,
Grew a stronger thing to abide and stand
Than the square stones of Rome.

For men are homesick in their homes,
And strangers under the sun,
And they lay their heads in a foreign land
Whenever the day is done.

Here we have battle and blazing eyes,
And chance and honour and high surprise,
But our homes are under miraculous skies
Where the yule tale was begun.

A child in a foul stable,
Where the beasts feed and foam;
Only where He was homeless
Are you and I at home;
We have hands that fashion and heads that know,
But our hearts we lost—how long ago!
In a place no chart nor ship can show
Under the sky’s dome.

This world is wild as an old wife’s tale,
And strange the plain things are,
The earth is enough and the air is enough
For our wonder and our war;
But our rest is as far as the fire-drake swings
And our peace is put in impossible things
Where clashed and thundered unthinkable wings
Round an incredible star.

To an open house in the evening
Home shall all men come,
To an older place than Eden
And a taller town than Rome.
To the end of the way of the wandering star,
To the things that cannot be and that are,
To the place where God was homeless
And all men are at home.

Fra Giovanni's Salutation

Fra Giovanni's Salutation
I salute you.

There is nothing I can give you which you have not,
but there is much that while I cannot give,
you can take.

No heaven can come to us unless our hearts find rest in it today.
Take heaven.

No peace lies in the future which is not hidden in this present instant.
Take peace.

The gloom of the world is but a shadow. Behind it, yet within our reach, is joy.
Take joy.

And so at this Christmastime,
I greet you, with the prayer that for you,
now and forever, the day breaks
and the shadows flee away.

~ Fra Giovanni, 1513

Christ Climbed Down by Lawrence Ferlinghetti

Christ Climbed Down by Lawrence Ferlinghetti

Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and ran away to where
there were no rootless Christmas trees
hung with candycanes and breakable stars

Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and ran away to where
there were no gilded Christmas trees
and no tinsel Christmas trees
and no tinfoil Christmas trees
and not pink plastic Christmas trees
and no gold Christmas trees
and no black Christmas trees
and no powderblue Christmas trees
hung with electric candles
and encircled by tin electric trains
and clever cornball relatives

Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and ran away to where
no intrepid Bible salesmen
covered the territory
in two-tone cadillacs
and where no Sears Roebuck creches
complete with plastic babe in manger
arrived by parcel post
the babe by special delivery
and where no televised Wise Men
praised the Lord Calvert Whiskey

Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and ran away to where
no fat handshaking stranger
in a red flannel suit
and a fake white beard
went around passing himself off
as some sort of North Pole saint
crossing the desert to Bethlehem
in a Volkswagon sled
drawn by rollicking Adirondack reindeer
with German names
and bearing sacks of Humble Gifts
from Saks Fifth Avenue
for everybody's imagined Christ child

Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and ran away to where
no Bing Crosby carollers
groaned of a tight Christmas
and where no Radio City angels
iceskated wingless
thru a winter wonderland
into a jinglebell heaven
daily at 8:30
with Midnight Mass matinees

Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and softly stole away into
some anonymous Mary's womb again
where in the darkest night
of everybody's anonymous soul
He awaits again
an unimaginable
and impossibly
Immaculate Reconception
the very craziest
of Second Comings

Friday, December 4, 2009

Put some seasoning into your ears

Looking to beef up your Christmas song list with some eclectic, unusual, traditional & non-traditional music? Check out some of these mp3 offerings:'s 25 days of free - build up that Advent anticipation with a free mp3 each day

More Christmas music from - free and cheap classics and originals

A Familyre Christmas Vol. I&II - 30 classic Christmas mp3s by some outstanding artists from the Sounds Familyre Record label
Vol II:

Making Spirits Bright: Ways We Can Renew the Christmas Season.

This is a piece I wrote around Christmas several years ago for our church magazine, "The Gregarious Monk". The mag is now defunct (as is the church), but I feel that with the recent interest in refocusing our perspective on Advent, Christmas and beyond, the message expressed in the writing is still relevant today - perhaps even more so this season - as it ever has been.

I nearly blew it last Christmas. Locked away and tucked tight in my velvet canopied bed, futilely trying to sleep through the spiritual affliction of holiday pickled herring and organic egg nogg, I was barraged by a parade of ominous specters. The past was easy enough to ignore and I tried to feign indifference toward the present as I rallied for another round of sleeplessness. 3 A.M. arrived way too soon, and with it came the ghost of Christmas future, decked out as Martha Stewart from a production of “Beach Blanket Babylon”. (How they found their way to South Hadley I’m still at a loss about, but I am curious how their receipts fared. But I digress.) The spirit plied me with port cheese, savory crackers and crème de menthe aperitifs as she spoke frankly of my industrious shortcomings in seasonal cheer. Despite my protests and attempt to return to sleep, she gave me some pointers for the coming year and commanded me to share them with the rest of the world.

“Think shiny!” she bubbled effluviously. I rolled my eyes and she repeated the word. “Shiny! And stop being such a grump. It’s Christmas, after all.” And with that she departed in a flurry of tinsel and synthetic snow.

I pass on to you here some suggestions, in no particular order, how we all can make help to renew the Christmas Spirit and make it a little bit brighter.

Initiate a New Celebration Ritual

Whether it is returning to the richness of traditional observances or beginning a new spin off of it yourself, the Christmas season is made much more meaningful by rituals. Perhaps we need a new perspective to help bring some freshness to the holiday. Simple things, like trying a new recipe in place of an old standard, attending a Christmas mass or service, attending a play or choral performance, or just prolonging the day instead of rushing through it can make it a richer experience. I grew up in the Southern California desert, which is surprisingly free of familiar Currier and Ives images of New England Christmas. No chimney stoked clapboard houses with chestnuts roasting on the hearth, no horse drawn carriages crossing frozen rivers by the safety of a quaint covered bridge. No snow. But we did have customs from Mexico like enactments of the “Pidiendo Posada” by local residents and eating tamales for Christmas breakfast.

Years ago, while I was shopping downtown, I heard some interesting traditional Christmas music being played and went to inquire about it. It was from an annual theatre production called the Christmas Revels ( Rich in tradition and ritual, each year Revels features material from a different country and is set somewhere in the 1880’s. They perform hymns and carols accompanied by dancing, stories, games and a traditional mummer’s play, and the community of participants are warm, inclusive and inspiring. I grew up without such history but was quick to make the Revels part of my Christmas seasonal celebration.

Procrastinate a Little

I’m usually busy through the Christmas season. In the past I was working on the Christmas Revels show in Cambridge, which has eighteen performances (plus rehearsals) spread out over the four weeks of December, and I often worked a full time job during the day. I had very little time to go shopping before Christmas and it always worked out in my favor. I would go shopping immediately after the 25th, when all of the stores resemble ghost towns and the bulk of their merchandise suddenly drops in price. I could get twice as much for my spending dollar after the holiday than I could before, and I didn’t have to fence with flanks of surly sales clerks and battalions of disgruntled masses yearning to be free. There were no long lines at the post office either. Just imagine the drop in your holiday stress level. I became enlightened to an obvious fact of the Christmas observance: the birth and celebration of Jesus doesn’t end on the 25th; it is only just beginning. Who cares if you are a few days late in your giving to others? I have learned to trust that my lateness may serve as a blessing and a reminder of what the celebration is all about.

Buy Local

One of the fun things about New England living is the availability of arts and crafts we have. I know many of you are already aware of this, but it bears retelling as a reminder to others and advice to even more that we have options beyond what is flickered statically before us on television and thrust at us from store windows. Check out some of the many local, independent artists who work at their craft with love and dedication. Support their art and share it with others. Be inspired to try your hand at it as well.

Buy Eclectic

Every year there are scores of craft fairs where independent artists have gathered to sell their creations. They present a great way to find something unusual or particular for those hard to shop for people, and you can find a unique gift that you will be certain they won’t receive a duplicate of. Seek out traditional cultural gifts as well. Most areas have their own ethnic communities with gifts for sale.

Do it Yourself

Nothing says how much you care better than a gift made especially for another with your own time and hands, and there are a variety of ways to express your appreciation of others. Baked goods are always a popular annual treat. Spend some of your Christmas budget on materials to make cards for the people on your list. Offer gifts of your painting, knitting, needlecraft or bookmaking- whatever your talent is. You have a particular gift to share that others may not even know about.

Let it Go

I realize that Christmas is an important time for most people, and the pressure to buy each and every person a gift is great and costly, especially in these economic times. But what if it didn’t happen?

Many years ago I was working at an extremely low paying job which gave me room and board in return for my services, and I had no income to even pay for local bus fare let alone the cost of shipping for a card. I direly prayed for an unexpected wind fall or at least a better paying position. That never happened, and I was left feeling sad and shameful that I couldn’t afford presents that year – not for my mom, my sisters, my children, friends, not even for myself. After some time spent wallowing and grieving over my poverty, it occurred to me that it really didn’t make any sense. After all, I wasn’t obligated to spend money on Christmas presents for others, and in this situation it was completely out of my hands to do so. There was a sense of freedom and release from what I thought was expected of me and how I felt others would view me. It was such a startling realization that I don’t think I’ve ever felt pressured to perform for Christmas since then. Maybe just letting the shopping go once in a while will help us see beyond the commercialization and into the deeper yet simpler spiritual truths that it offers to us – the gift of life and joy, of stillness and reflection, of close friends and family love and the freedom that is implicit in the gift of Christmas.

Be Startlingly Generous and Kind

Last year while I was out shopping I crossed paths with a rather ornery sales clerk. I had a fresh cup of coffee with me and he abruptly yet playfully implied that it would make his day much better if he were also caffeinated. Several times during the eight minutes it took for our transaction. I went out to the nearby Starbucks and got him and his co-worker a cup of coffee, and he was stunned at the kindness of the gesture.

We are all aware of how much the simple things in life matter, and how easy it is to shrug them off as insignificant. I like to believe that such a small gesture was great enough to change his day, his attitude and his outlook on Christmas.

We all encounter those who are up front about their need while we are out shopping, and they should be given our consideration as well, but take time to look for the person who is going to be surprised and blessed by unexpected generosity.

Reconnect with Friends and Relatives

Christmas is all about getting together with family and friends and making our community and lives stronger. We might also think about those who have been separate from us over the past years. Take time to give them a call, send them a card or even better write them a letter telling them how much you miss their presence and wish you could see them. Invite them out to stay sometime and catch up on lost time.

Spend This One with the Family

My family has never been very close. Not only are we separated by miles, we are also distant in heart, soul and spirit, and we have suffered from it. Holidays are symbolic times of the year set aside for bonding with one another and with God as well as with our chosen community.

While Christmas of 2003 wasn’t an easy one for me, it will always be one of the most memorable and significant. I hadn’t spent a holiday with my family in fifteen years and returned home to be with my mother who was dying. We did the traditional stuff like exchanging gifts and having Christmas dinner, but we also did simple things together. My mother loved Tim Allen and we watched “The Santa Clause” movies, and we went to a local gallery of Thomas Kincaid, her favorite painter. Mostly we sat and visited while watching television. Her strength prevented her from doing much else. It was the last Christmas we had and I’m thankful we had the time to be together.

Spend Your Day Where You Would Least Expect To Be

It has often been said that if Jesus were to return today he wouldn’t be found in the church preaching to the choir. That might suggest that he’d be found among non-Christians eating at the only Chinese restaurant open on Christmas day. Lest we forget that he still lives among us, he also takes special care of the weakest, the least and the disenfranchised of our community. Soup kitchens will be busy, full of the hungry and needy, the lost and forgotten, and while it takes some planning ahead of time to beat the volunteer rush it is a very renewing gesture. Check into the local retirement homes and communities to see if they could use some help. Offer some of your best loved baked goods or brush up on your musical and art talents to share with others.

I read about a Jewish man who once offered to work on Christmas day for a colleague so that he could spend the celebration with his family. It was such a gratifying experience for him that he continued to do it every year for a different person.

Be Mysterious

Sometimes anonymity is the best way to go, and it’s also fun! Who doesn’t like or need to be surprised by God’s love? We encounter so many people in our day to day travels, and notice those who are feeling lonely, left out and lost. Offer them a word of encouragement and smile. Pray with them. Send them a card with words of appreciation. Go to the phone book or internet and do a random search for addresses and send the person or people you find a card for Christmas.

Remember that you are a gift to others

We trust that this will be done in humility and deference to others. You were given to this world as a gift from God to others, and you carry within yourself the greatest gift of all- God’s love, Spirit and Presence. Share it warmly and generously by being with others. Woody Allen has said that 90 percent of life is simply showing up for it. Get out there and make it happen.

© emburke/ emberarts 2006

Thursday, October 8, 2009

The Gleaning of Autumn's Harvest

It's warm here in our patch of New England. Despite the blustery campaign of the wind outside and some clouds in the distance threatening to quash all prospects of fair weather, it's warm enough to open the windows, put on shorts and dally with dreams of one final sumptuous barbeque. Weather here comes with a moderate warning at all times. As Mark Twain is reputed to have said, and as we New Englander's live by as a sort of unofficial motto, "If you don't like the weather, wait a minute".

We had rain the night before, with the blustery-verging-on-storm type of wind rattling the vinyl siding and the window panes that are in dire need of re-caulking, which made the entire cottage sound like a sub-bass kazoo. Just as the warm weather is inviting, encouraging us to take one more bike ride or foothill hike, the mild rain storms are equally comforting, calling us to set still and read or reflect and write in journals. There is a sense of rightness about the world and our lives lingering in both. After the rain I went out to the garden to seek out tomatoes and tomatillos for dinner plans. The plants had taken on a low leaning crookedness to their once tall and vigorous stature, looking like undisciplined bonsai plants. Although we're at the end of harvest season for tomatoes and tomatillos, they either haven't gotten the memo or are ignoring it altogether. The tomatillos still have several dozen husks in differing stages of development, and every other day I come back with a container of fruit.

We are preparing for the winter by stocking up with containers of tomatoes and tomatillos, which have taken up a good portion of the freezer. Both are high on our list of favorite food staples. That's good. We'll be having plenty of it, and frequently. It gives you a little more insight into why there are so many variations of the same thing in Italian and Mexican food.

This past week Cheryl made a Sweet Potato Quesadilla from a recipe she found in Barbara Kingsolver's book "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle". The recipe is pretty simple, and I'll include it here, but we recommend that you get the book as well. It is a great resource for anyone interested in living simply by using what you grow or what is available locally and in season. Cheryl followed the recipe as written, except she substituted Saint-André cheese for the brie. The results were a delicious version of the traditional quesadilla which we'll be having again.

Here is the recipe, which I borrowed from "A Foodie's Guide to Getting Through the Year":

Sweet Potato Quesadillas


2 medium sweet potatoes
4 flour tortillas
1/2 onion
4 oz Brie or other medium soft cheese
1 clove garlic
2-3 leaves Swiss chard (or other greens)
1 Tbsp oregano
1 Tbsp basil
1 tsp cumin
Chile powder to taste
Olive oil for saute

  1. Cut sweet potatoes into chunks, cook in steamer basket or microwave until soft, then mash.
  2. Chop and saute garlic and onion in a large skillet. Add spices and sweet potato and mix well, adding a little water if it's too sticky. Turn burner very low to keep warm without burning.
  3. Preheat oven to 400.
  4. Oil a large baking sheet, spread tortillas on it to lightly oil one side, then spread filling on half of each.
  5. Top with slices of Brie and shredded chard, then fold tortillas to close (oiled side out). Bake until browned and crisp (about 15 minutes); cute into wedges for serving.

I highly recommend using my recipe for Roasted Tomatillo Salsa with the quesadillas. Especially if you happen to have more tomatillos than you know what to do with.

Be sure to share some with a friend.

Bon Appétit!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Tamale, Tamale,

I love you, Tamale -
you're only a day away...

C'mon - do you think it is easy to come up with a witty headline every time I write? After all, I'm not Barbara Mikkelson of, who seems to have an endless inspiration for nifty one line zingers.

I've been meaning to post a step by step illustration of tamale making for some time now, but these things just tend to slip away so easily. This is actually a repeat post from good golly tamales, but laid out in picture book fashion for those of us who don't like reading. So, without further, ahem, a-dough, here we go...

You'll need approximately 2-3 corn husks for each tamale.

Soak the Corn Husks over night in water, then drain in a colander. Leave them moist so that they remain pliable to fold.

Using a clean flat surface - a counter top in your kitchen is perfect, but make sure it is at a comfortable height for you - lay out two or three good sized corn husks:

Layer them one half way over the other, making sure there is enough room to spread out approximately 1/4 cup of dough into a 4" x 7" (approximate) rectangle.

Place 1/4 cup of dough and spread it with a spatula, a fork, your fingers - whatever you have handy - until it makes a 4" x 7" rectangle with the dough.

Place 1/2 to 2 Tbs. of filling lengthwise in the center, leaving a border of dough around it.

Gently fold the sides of the corn husks up so that the dough covers the filling.

I found that it worked best to turn the sides up first to form the shape of the tamale, then wrap one side of the corn husk over first, then the other side:

Next fold the ends over and then lay the tamale down upon the folded sides.

You can leave them that way if you prefer - the weight of the tamale should be enough to hold it closed in place while you cook them - but the traditional way is to tie them like a package using string or thin strips of corn husk.

Repeat each step four to eighty four times as needed.

Don't worry if you have problems folding them into a rectangular package shape. The dough should mold to the form of the corn husk as you fold it into place. If they come out on the small side, that's OK also - you'll just have to serve extra.

Be sure to share some with a friend.

Bon Appétit!

Things we like

of which there are very many, but Mukhwas Sada Bahar, which you will find at the entrance of any Indian restaurant, is among those at the top of our list. Intended to be an after dinner digestive and breath freshener they are, quite simply, sugar coated fennel seed and they are delicious. I recently had to make a run to my local ethnic supermarkets for ingredients to make spices with and I made sure we bought a bag of it, and its a bargain at $1.89 for seven ounces. We disregard the traditional protocol and eat them in small amounts. May our breathes always be fresh and our digestions always on tract...