Friday, July 31, 2009

watermelon and feta salad

okay so variations of this salad are quite en vogue right now, which is great because for the longest time when i'd tell people that the combination of watermelon and feta together was really sensational, they'd look at me like i was nuts or something. which they already do because i have a tendency to blurt out nonsensical things sometimes, as well as the occasional burp, so i get strange looks pretty frequently.

i came across this recipe while watching one of Nigella Lawson's shows when they used to air on the Style Network, eons ago it seems like. during the summer we always have watermelon on hand, as well as a lifetime supply of feta for hippie tacos, which are on our regular menu rotation. this is definitely a summer salad, to be eaten during one of those ridiculously muggy days like we've been having lately. it's a rather light salad, but the combination of the cool watermelon with the salty feta and briny olives doesn't make me feel like i'm missing out on anything. i totally urge you to try this.

if making this for one, you could supplement this with some grilled fish on the side and be totally sated.

watermelon, feta, and black olive salad for one

adapted from Forever Summer by Nigella Lawson

1/8 of a small red onion, cut into thin slivers
1 to 2 limes
1.5 cups of watermelon cubes
2 tablespoons of crumbled feta or one bit hunk of it broken into pieces
a couple of tablespoons of chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons of chopped fresh mint
1 tablespoon or so of olive oil
1/4 cup kalamata olives or other black olives (you can use pitted; i grabbed mine unpitted from the olive bar at the grocery store)

1. put the red onion slivers in a bowl. juice 1 or 2 limes over it and let steep for a while (i would say at least a good half hour before assembling the rest of the salad).

2. place watermelon cubes, feta, parsley, mint, and olives on a plate or in a bowl. dump the limey onions over the top. gently toss with a spoon or your IMPECCABLY CLEAN hands, drizzle on the olive oil (as much as you want). sprinkle on some black pepper and eat.

if you're going to pack this to go, as i did this morning, gently stack all the ingredients (minus the onions, lime juice, and olive oil) in your container, with the watermelon on the bottom. as it was pouring down rain outside, i didnt feel like going to snip some parsley from the yard in my pajamas and slippers, so i swapped the parsley for some baby lettuce. put the onions, lime juice, and olive oil in a separate smaller container and dress the salad when you're ready to eat.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

curried chicken salad

The weather here in the good ol’ South has gotten ridiculously hot, so I’m taking great pains to not run the oven or hover over the stove. I spent a good chunk of yesterday afternoon swapping salad recipes with my friend Caprice. Her kitchen in Baltimore is, from what I understand, tiny and unbearably hot in the summer to the point where she can't stand in there doing anything without sweating buckets; so she’s always on the lookout for filling salads that transport well in a lunch bag.

I’m really weird about mayonnaise-based chicken salads. It’s one of those things that I never ate growing up. We ate tuna salad sandwiches at home, but never branched out to chicken salad. This might have had to do with the cost factor, as cans of tuna are relatively cheap and can be stretched a long way. As an adult, I’m still not terribly fond of mayo-based salads, as they can tend to be too gloopy and soggy. It’s just not something I order when out at a restaurant.

Back in 2001, the boy and I moved in with his sister and her husband, and she used to make a variation of this curried chicken salad that I grew fond of, primarily because of the addition of curry to the dressing. It makes it interesting enough for me to like, and if dressed properly (as in, dressed lightly), can be really delightful. The boy has tweaked this recipe over the years, and now we have it to our liking.

The recipe below is a guideline; add however amounts of the fruit you want.

the boy's curried chicken salad


½ to ¾ cup mayo
1 tablespoon curry powder (we use hot Madras curry powder)
Juice of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon honey
Salt & pepper


2 or 3 boneless skinless chicken breasts
1 cup seedless grapes, cut in half
½ of a green apple, diced
1/3 cup golden raisins
1/3 cup dried apricots, diced
1 celery stalk, diced
1 big shallot, diced

lettuce leaves
large sandwich-sized croissants, or your favorite bread

1. Cook the chicken breasts however you want, whichever way is easier for you. you can even use leftover roasted chicken if you have that available. For this recipe, i usually poach the chicken in a mixture of half chicken stock and half water that I’ve brought to a simmer before adding in the chicken. you need enough liquid to cover the breasts. Let simmer for 8 – 10 minutes. Haul one of the chicken breasts out and cut it in half; if it’s still pink and raw on the inside, toss it back in for another minute or two. When poached, haul out all the chicken breasts and let them cool on a cutting board. When cool enough to handle, dice chicken and add to a large mixing bowl.

2. Prep all the vedge and fruit by dicing it however large or small you’d like. I prefer dicing it as small as possible, like a brunoise. It’s a pain in the ass to accomplish if you’re not handy with a knife, which is why I get the boy to do it most of the time; but it’ll sure get your knife skills up and running if you practice them on something like this. When the boy was in culinary school, we had a ton of vegetable stock going on at all times because he’d come home and practice his knife skills by cutting vegetables up. If you’re intrigued and want to know more, go to YouTube and do a search for “brunoise” – a ton of videos will come up. Anyhoo – when you’re done cutting up all the vedge, toss it into the bowl that is already hosting the chicken.

3. Add to a small bowl the mayo, the curry powder, about ½ of the lemon juice, the honey, a couple of pinches of salt, a dash of pepper. Mix well together. At this point, taste it and see if it needs more lemon juice or mayo or honey. The dressing should be fluid but not too liquidy. Add some of it to the large bowl (by God, don’t dump it all in at once), and mix gently. It’s best to use your IMPECCABLY CLEAN hands for this, but a big spoon will do. If you need more dressing, add it a tablespoon at a time. You don’t want to overdress any salad, or coleslaw for that matter. Making your dressing separately and then adding it a little at a time until you’ve got it to your liking will prevent any salad from drowning and being too unappealing to eat. I’ve cringed while watching people dump in the whole of their dressing into a salad, only to have it be a runny inedible mess.

4. At this point taste the salad for seasoning (salt and pepper – it should be curried enough), and then spoon onto a nice toasted buttery croissant or slices your favorite bread. Toasted bread tends to hold up better to loose salads than non-toasted, but that’s a matter of preference. Add some crisp lettuce leaves and eat.

This recipe makes 4 to 6 healthy sandwiches, depending on how many chicken breasts you use and on how thick you want your sandwich.

Friday, July 17, 2009

funny, the things that you remember when you want to.

when you're a kid you assume that things will always be there, that people will stick around, that homes and neighborhoods will remain the same, and that's comforting.

i remember each and every time i would visit my American grandmother, who lived in the same house since the end of WWII in the last town on the US mainland before you hit the Florida Keys. my grandfather was a fruit packing manager. he would uproot the family every few months and they'd go live in New Jersey, or Mississippi, or Alabama, following whatever produce was in season; and he finally settled the family in Florida City, mere blocks from a tomato packing plant. My grandfather ran the plant and my Grandma worked part time as the secretary (a job she held until the early 1980s when she finally retired). My dad owned the coca cola machine at the plant, and put himself through college with the money he got by recycling the glass bottles (back in the day when you could do that sort of thing).

The tomato packing plant is still there, although it's now called something different and owned by someone else. My grandfather died in the 1950s from an aneurysm in his sleep, and a month later one of my dad's younger brothers was killed when he got hit by a train a couple of blocks from home while on a motorcycle with a buddy, out collecting money for their paper route. My Grandma stayed and raised her four other kids in that house up until her death, slept in the same room in the same bed that her husband died in, that she eventually died in. the house is still there - untouched by Hurricane Andrew, which reeked havoc through the neighborhood and tore down all the adjoining houses, the two enormous mango trees in the back yard, and the Key lime tree that my grandfather had planted when they first moved into the house which stood next to the old barn right out the back door.

when i think of that house, the one thing i remember with the most fondness is sitting on the swinging bench on the back porch drinking a limeaid. if i wanted a limeaid, Grandma would send me out back to pick a couple of Key limes off the tree, then i'd squeeze the juice into a plastic Solo cup, add some simple syrup that she had in a squeeze bottle which she kept on the kitchen table, some water, and some ice. it's nothing fancy, but it quenched the thirst properly. no matter what time of year it was when i went to visit, it was always hot in South Florida; the temperature never seemed to change there, and that drink helped me keep cool. nowadays when i make a fancier version of my Grandma's limeaid, adding a shot of white port and swapping the plain tap water with tonic, the flavor is reminiscent of those long ago limeaids.

as a kid, i assumed that the Key lime tree would always be there, ready to give me a lime whenever i needed one. it would never have occurred to me to go to a store and pay an astronomical fee for one.

i haven't been to Florida City in 20 years. it's a mere cesspool now; an extension of Miami urban stripmall sprawl, not the safest neighborhood, nothing like it used to be in the days when my grandfather moved his family there, a town with a promising future. i don't think my travels will ever take me back there again, even though i have extended family in the area. i think i'd rather remember it the way it was when i was a kid. but i'll always wonder if that Key lime tree ever grew back again.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

joyeux quatorze juillet!

ok so i totally forgot that today was Bastille Day until sometime over dinner last night, it dawned on me and i said to the boy, "Hey! tomorrow is Bastille Day!" and he said, "Oh... really?". i dont have any French friends here in Atlanta, so i keep forgetting about French national holidays, which is kind of a shame. my mom once said that i'm losing my French identity; as much as i hate to admit that she's right, well, she's right. LE SIGH.

i'm not doing anything French today to celebrate it, as i'd already made plans to go to a local taqueria with some friends of mine. my work schedule has ramped up to where i have to work 5 nights a week now on top of the regular work days, so when i have an evening off i have to make the most of it. tonight i'm catching up with some buddies and one of our Grand Topics of Discussion will be to plan our next Duel, which is slated for this coming Saturday (even though there is no NASCAR race this weekend). except this time it's not really a "duel", as more than two people will participate, so i'm not sure what we're going to call it. i've a feeling that our brains, once fueled with tequila, will come up with something nonsensical. tequila tends to make one feel rather invincible, yet the hangovers... well. we'll leave it at that. here's to tomorrow being rough.

here are a couple of photos i took in 1998 when France was hosting the soccer World Cup, (otherwise known as La Coupe du Monde de Foot). Inflatable giants were paraded all around Paris, i think to represent the different races of man. i'm pretty sure this was Anglo-Saxon man. he's more orange than he ought to be, however in these days of self-tanner, he's not that far off from Lindsay Lohan's skin tone. the reason that first photo is so fuzzy is because i was in a moving vehicle, my uncle Guy at the helm driving like a madman around Paris. one needs to drive like a madman to survive Paris roads. i know this firsthand because my Dad taught me how to drive a stick while on these very roads, and patiently told me to ignore the nuts honking their horns behind me when i stalled. i gestured obscenely at them when i thought my Dad wasn't looking.

one of my fondest memories of that summer was one of the days when Scotland was playing against i dont even remember which country. while walking to the Porte Maillot metro station to get to work that day, i passed by a sidewalk cafe packed like sardines with scottish men in kilts. i kind of have a thing for men in kilts. they make me giddy. so here i was, walking by about a hundred guys in kilts drinking beer at 10 am, one of them wearing a tshirt that read, "One Tequila, Two Tequila, Three Tequila, Floor", and i blushed violently. one of the kilted men turned to his buddy and said, "French women sure are good looking"; i burst out laughing, and kept walking. why oh why didnt i stop and have a beer with them? one of the few regrets i have in life. LE SIGH.

Friday, July 3, 2009

lordy lordy, look who's.........

I’m running in the Peachtree Road Race tomorrow. I could sit here and tell you I’ve been focusing on my diet** in order to prepare for said race, but that’d be a big fat lie. That’s not to say that I’ve been eating a lot of crap food, but I haven’t exactly been 100% focused on my diet of late. For example, I ate a ton of deep dish pepperoni pizza last night (and it was soo good!). I know, this is terrible, as my start time tomorrow morning is 8:22 am, and I’m beginning to panic that I haven’t trained adequately (because I know I haven’t). but I’m going to put that out of my head today, eat pasta tonight, and do something to take my mind off of the race, like get a pedicure or scrub the stains out of the living room carpet or something.

So this has been a big week for me, as it was a milestone birthday. I turned 40 on Wednesday. Tuesday night I held a pity party for myself, and wallowed around the house moaning about not being ready for 40 (I do this before every birthday). My life is far from bad, in fact it’s pretty damn good; but I can’t help but think that I’ve not accomplished what I wanted to do by the age of 40. Fortunately, the boy wasn’t home at the time, so I was able to fester in my own pool of Glass-Half-Empty all by my miserable little self. I started flipping channels and ended up watching the Band of Brothers marathon on tv, and let me tell ya, 10 minutes of that was enough to kick my ass and bring me back to reality. Had the boy been home, he wouldn’t have tolerated my attitude and would have kicked my ass anyway, but I’d like to thank Easy Company for bringing me back to the real world.

I ended up having a pretty great birthday. I share my birthday with my friend MA (as well as Debbie Harry, Pamela Anderson, Princess Diana, the country of Canada, to name a few), so we spent the day together. MA and I, not Debbie, Pammy, Di, or Canada. A leisurely afternoon by MA’s neighborhood pool, followed by a gorgeous meal at Milton’s. Chef Boyd is a good friend, as the boy used to work for him at the now-defunct Rainwater, and his food is delicious. I had the shrimp and grits, as I always do, and then we split four desserts, trying to determine which was the best one. Ken (MA’s husband) and I decided the peach cobbler was the best, although the other three were very close contenders (key lime pie – the best I’ve ever had; flourless chocolate cake – not remotely dense, and served with a scoop of ice cream; and Chef’s signature warm carrot cake, which is normally my favorite). The boy voted for the carrot cake, and MA voted for the chocolate cake (at least I think she did – by that point I was so full I couldn’t see straight).

It was a great way to turn 40, and the start of what will be a really amazing summer. After the race tomorrow, we are headed to Ken’s parents’ house. They live on a lake an hour and a half or so away, and I plan to cannonball straight into the lake, still wearing my sweaty running clothes. Because, why not? I physically don’t feel old, so why not pretend for one day that I’m still a kid? After all, they say 40 is the new 30.

** I am using the word “diet” here not to say that I’ve been starving myself, because that is something I would never do, but just keeping an eye on what is going into my body. Generally speaking, I loathe the word “diet”, as it is normally used to convey a negative image.