July 27, 2012

mango pancakes with ginger-maple syrup

Maybe I should re-name "the musician, who cooks," at least temporarily, to "the musician, who cooks...with cardamom." I've been in a cardamom groove for awhile now, but it's a good place to be since I love the perfume and taste it adds. It's the end of July, and it's my birthweek (it takes longer to celebrate so many years), and these fragrant, sweet pancakes with a spicy, warming ginger-maple syrup made for a very fine birthday breakfast.

Besides the mango, there are four things that really make this recipe work. Whole, fresh ginger root is available in most grocery stores; dried ground ginger won't give you the same flavor and you can't strain it once it's mixed into the syrup. Grade B pure maple syrup, darker and deeper than the more refined grade A, is a perfect compliment to the spicier ginger. For better taste and nutrition, avoid any pseudo-maple syrups (i.e. not from a maple tree). Freshly ground cardamom is worth the extra effort too, but if you're buying previously ground cardamom, check the expiration date on the bottle so you aren't getting old stuff. Pure extra-virgin coconut oil is excellent for baking, cooking and beyond, such as making your own body cream. It's also better to avoid refined versions which don't have the same rich flavor, aroma and health benefits as the unrefined extra-virgin oil.

The weekend is here and it's a good time to try these pancakes if you like, so I won't keep you any longer than to share the recipe below, and to simply say that these pancakes are worthy of a little celebration, birthday or not.

July 20, 2012

fig jam

Often on our walks, Hiro and I pass by a large fig tree in a neighbor's backyard that overhangs the high brick wall facing the sidewalk on which we travel. I first noticed the tree when the weather began to turn warmer and the branches became full with the familiar round-lobed leaves. The fig tree's leaves and fruit look just like our smaller potted fig trees at home; even though this tree is much taller and fuller, the figs are very much the same size. This year our two fig trees have produced some of the plumpest figs I've seen from them in the nearly six years we've taken care of them, and those figs are the inspiration for this sweet jam.

July 13, 2012

summer cucumber salad

If for some unforeseen reason I were to become a vegan (a person who doesn't eat any animal products, including honey), then David Lebovitz's chocolate sorbet would be my saving grace. I'd also add my friend Jervaun's cucumber salad to that list, because it's that good, and I'm not even that crazy about cucumbers. The salad is a perfect choice during the heat wave of summer, eaten on its own, or maybe paired with something grilled, like chicken or fish.

For uniformity when slicing the vegetables, I pulled out my mandolin slicer and set the slice thickness in-between the 1/8-inch and 1/4-inch setting. I sliced both the cucumbers and the onions the same thickness, which created a nice presentation for the salad. In her recipe, Jervaun suggests that you can add a squeeze of either lemon, lime or orange juice. Since I love lime juice so much I could wear it as perfume, I added a very generous squeeze. For me, the combination of lime juice with the freshly grated ginger is money. The citrus-ginger combination is what gives this refreshing salad its addictive flavor. It's the kind of salad that keeps you light on your feet, which in turn might lead you to cha cha cha. Or become a vegan, at least for the summer.

July 6, 2012

defending the garden

It seems lately that my job as caretaker of the garden is not only one of tending it, but also one of defending it. The first invader I discovered was a small rabbit that likes green beans. One morning as I peered through the blinds, I saw a leaf on one of the green bean plants shaking, but not from the wind; it was that little rabbit chewing away on one of the plants. Thanks to our little uninvited guest, Hiro, our dog, has been on perpetual patrol whenever he's let out in the backyard.

Next came a small plague of large yellow grasshoppers that seemed to blow in with the heat, arriving late one afternoon. As I opened the door to let Hiro out, a big, alien-esque grasshopper flew onto the outside brick wall beside the door. Uh-oh, I thought, and I walked outside; there they were, all over the netting on our fig trees. In the case of these invaders, Hiro isn't much help; although he likes to catch the grasshoppers and carry them around, he doesn't always kill them. Unfortunately, it's up to me to dispatch them whenever and wherever I find them.