Tuesday, January 22, 2013


No one who cooks, cooks alone. Even at her most solitary, a cook in the kitchen is surrounded by generations of cooks past, the advice and menus of cooks present, the wisdom of cookbook writers. ~ Laurie Colwin

Humans learned the value of unity early on. It kept us safe from predators, helped us find and grow food, and learn from each other. Yet even today in the modern world, we still need unity. There have been studies done in which babies deprived of attention have not matured physically or mentally as fast as their counterparts with strong nurturing family units. Even as adults a strong support system or united front helps us cope with loss, celebrate benchmarks, or just get through the day. 

Some of the most unifying dishes are those that our families have passed down through generations. We may not have known our great grandmothers, but we know what her food tasted like. Or more basically, food unifies a group of people. After traveling abroad and eating exotic food for an extended period of time, there's nothing like a juicy hamburger. And when I was sick as a child, my grandma's mashed potatoes ans gravy hit the spot. 

These days the unity meal at our house is made by my husband. His family came from Italy between the World Wars with his father being the only child born stateside. They were very proud Americans with all five boys fighting in WWII. But they kept their ties to each other and the homeland with special meatballs from their hometown in Italy. Though my husband has three siblings and they can't always get together for the holidays, no matter where they are the meatballs are part of Christmas Eve dinner.
Foods of Interest
Among Pacific Islanders coconuts are believed to increase diversity and open people up to positive influences ie bringing groups together. Both green vegetable (especially green peas) and lychee are Chinese symbols of unity and family ties. While sticky rice--a special rice which can be rolled into balls and eaten with the hands is also a symbol of unity. Lemon verbena and sage are also known for their unity properties. For added effect add some white roses to a special meal to amplify unity.

Mike's Meatballs photo by Erika Celeste
Mike’s Meatballs

2 lbs ground pork
1 T minced garlic (about 4 cloves)
4 T finely diced onion
1 T Italian seasoning (preferably Graziano’s Brothers from Des Moines, Iowa)
1 T finely chopped sage
1 T finely chopped rose petals (make sure they're free of pesticides organic is best)
1 C fresh bread crumbs from day old Vienna bread
1 tube of Ritz crackers (to be more unifying try substituting rice crackers)
2 eggs lightly beaten
½ C marinara sauce

Mix all ingredients except meat together. When they are all combined add meat last for more tender meatballs. Form into small meatballs (size of quarters) for Pasta Achiena or large half dollar size for spaghetti and meatballs. Fry meatballs in olive oil in batches until lightly browned. Turn to cook evenly. Drain on paper towels or wire wrack.

Monday, January 14, 2013


When engaged in eating, the brain should be the servant of the stomach. ~ Agatha Christie

I've traveled all over the world from Peru to Hong Kong and zillions of points in between. I've interviewed famous movie stars, politicians, a man on death row, a shaman, homeless people, teachers, artists, farmers and many others. If there's one thing I've learned it's that there are many kinds of intelligence. Some people now how to make millions, others how to heal, while still others can entertain, invent, or teach. There's book learning, street smarts, and emotional intelligence. No matter what kind of intelligence you're striving for the fact that you're aware of it, means you're on the right path. The following foods are known for boosting intelligence.

Foods of Interest
Shellfish at the Main Market in Hong Kong. Photo E. Celeste
The Greek God, Apollo chewed banana leaves to gain insight. Eating blueberries not only removes free radicals from your body which can slow you down mentally and physically, they are said to embody the esoteric principal of peace so that you can think more clearly! Shellfish are known to boost brain activity. Romans burned cloves for clarity of mind. The Mayans and Aztecs believed cocoa was the key to mental acuity-something many people associate today with coffee and caffeine! Curry can also have similar properties. Fennel was sacred to the Greeks because it was thought to increase mental agility. Lentils are another intelligence food as are onions. And who could forget paprika? It's made from mild chili which is thought to ramp up creative energies.

French Onion Soup
Onion Soup photo by Erika Celeste
4 C chicken broth
4 C beef broth
1 C red wine (I prefer a cabernet or merlot)
6 large yellow onions
½ stick butter
1 bay leaf
salt and pepper
Day old bread
6 slices Swiss cheese
6 slices provolone

Directions: Slice onions into thin rings and separate.  Slice butter into several pieces and add to a heavy cooking pot on medium heat. Add onions. As the onions cook down and caramelize, add half the wine. Avoid most cooking wines. Wine you cook with should be good enough to drink, if it isn’t, it isn’t worth cooking with. Please avoid it. Some simple inexpensive wines that work nicely would be Barefoot or Yellow Tail. Cook down for about a half hour.

Add the broths, rest of the wine, and bay leaf. Cover and simmer for another half hour. This gives the flavors time to marry each other and enhances the flavor. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Turn oven on broil. Discard bay leaf. Ladle soup into six over safe soup bowls. Top soup with cubed pieces of day old bread. Place a slice of Swiss and a slice of provolone over the pieces of bread. Slide into broiler. For at least 5 minutes. Remove when cheese is browned and bubbling.

Lentil soup photo by Erika Celeste

Lentil Soup
1 lb lentils (or 12-16 oz bag)
1 medium sweet onion
1 lb salt pork
1 t paprika
1 t curry
1 bay leaf
1 quart beef broth
1 quart water

Wash and sort lentils. I usually do mine in a Crockpot, but you could do it on the stove on low as well. Pour cleaned lentils into the pot. Add beef broth, water, onion, and bay leaf. Cook on high (in Crockpot) for 2 hours.
Cut rind off salt pork. Cube the rest. Add all of it to the soup. Also add the paprika and curry.  Cook for at least another hour.

When you are ready to eat remove the rind and bay leaf. Please make sure to taste the soup before adding any salt as the pork and beef broth are quite enough. Add salt and pepper to taste if needed. This gets better the longer it cooks. Makes 6-8 servings.

Monday, January 7, 2013


One of my favorite things about dining outdoors in a warmer season is that it frees hands and bares skin. ... When we don't need to wear or carry heavy clothing, our bodies feel lighter and our hands are freed for other things. Like carrying bottles of rosé; bags of stone fruit, fish, and clams; and a simple kettle and a tiny grill for a quiet, all-day beach excursion. Then we can eat well. ~ Kirstin Jackson

Reinhold Niebuhr has a prayer that many readers may be familiar with called the Serenity Prayer (God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change...). But I see it as a testament to growth. In order to survive and thrive we must all grow. Sometimes those experiences are out of this world. We learn to ride a bike, win an award, or accomplish something we never knew we were capable of. Other times they're pretty lousy like not passing a test, not getting a job we want, or losing a long term relationship. It may sound cliche, but remember even those growing pains can lead to great things because they teach what to or not to do in the future or put us on a path to a better life that we may never have considered if we weren't pushed out by something else. For example, I would have never left Mississippi and I job I really didn't like if I hadn't been laid off. Now I do exactly what I love, found a wonderful husband, and have a great home.

Don't get me wrong that period of growth hurt like hell, but it got me to a much better place. Though I don't wish what I went through on anyone, take heart that growth is essential and will take you to new heights as long as you're open to seeing the positives in even the darkest situations.

Foods of Interest
Corn husking at Plimoth Plantation. Photo by Erika Celeste.
Artichokes are known for encouraging personal growth. They also protect eaters against negative energies.  Hina, the Polynesian Moon Goddess favors bamboo shoots as a growth food specifically where fertility issues are concerned. Corn is also symbolizes growth and eternal life. Specifically Hopi use blue corn to symbolize fertility and red corn to help with birth. What bigger kinds of growth could there be? Melons, especially cantaloupe were thought to encourage spiritual growth in the Middle Ages. So much so that they were originally developed by special monasteries for the Pope. Garlic is often used in homeopathic remedies not only for its antibacterial properties but also because it stimulates growth of the immune and circulatory systems.

Artichoke Bamboo Dip photo by Erika Celeste
Artichoke Bamboo Dip
1 small jar marinated artichoke hearts (they’re usually about 6-8 oz)
½ C bamboo shoots (some Asian Markets carry this fresh, but most grocery stores will commonly carry 8 oz cans)
1 C mayonnaise
½ C sour cream
1 C Parmesan Reggiano
pinch of lemon balm or lemon verbena
1 T garlic powder
cooking spray

Combine mayonnaise, sour cream, cheese, garlic powder, lemon balm/verbena in a bowl. Drain artichokes and bamboo shoots.  Separate artichoke heart layers. Chop bamboo shoots into small cubes. Toss vegetables with the mayonnaise mixture and stir well.

Spread the mixture in a small baking dish (no more than 9X9). Place in a preheated 350 degree oven for 10 minutes or until golden brown. 

This is typically served with crackers or toasted bread rounds, however for an extra growth spurt why not try it with tortilla chips?

Monday, December 31, 2012


Now, don't use the words 'good luck' -- this is blessed food. This is a heavenly dish. This is the real deal. ~ Judy Jones
We could all use a little luck from time to time, to land a new job, get a date, or win the lottery. It's no coincidence that one of the luckiest dishes I know also helped me land my husband!

 My family was first introduced to sukiyaki in the 1970s when my parents befriend a Japanese couple doing graduate work at Indiana University. Fumiko was known for making great feasts for our family in return for my mother working with her on her English. It remained one of my favorites so much so that when I met a man who liked to cook, I offered to make it for an upcoming gathering at his house. That turned out to be our first “date” and we are now married!

Foods of Interest
Try these foods to help amplify your luck. The Chinese eat abalone for good fortune which I think is another form of luck. But if you really want Chinese luck eat cabbage. It's said to bring 100 types of prosperity. Chicken is also considered very lucky in many Asian cultures. Add dumplings, bean curd (ie tofu) or glass noodles and you can't lose! For never-ending luck eat figs or grow a fig plant. Egyptian priests bit into a ripe fig at the end of important ceremonies to help bring luck to whatever they were sanctifying.


Sukiyaki photo by Erika Celeste
Thinly sliced chicken ½ lb per person
Green onion
Fresh sliced mushrooms
Broccoli (florets)
Cabbage shredded
White onion
Tofu (cubed)
Glass noodles (bean threads)
3 T Vegetable oil
2/3 C Soy sauce
1/3 C Sugar
¼ water  

This works best in an electric frying pan so that you can do it on the table in front of your guests. However, a wok or even large frying pan on the stove will work too. Make sure to cut all the vegetables to bite size pieces before you start. Once it gets going it is a quick process and should be served immediately following while everything is still hot.

Mix soy sauce, water, and sugar until the sugar is completely dissolved. It should have a sweet and salty taste. It will be quite thin and liquidy as it is somewhat of a steam-type dish.

Heat the electric frying pan to high. Add the 3 tablespoons of cooking oil. Brown the meat first. When it is browned pour a spoonful or two of the sauce over the meat. Make sure it is coated well and push the meat off to the side. Turn the heat down to medium. Add the vegetables two or three at a time. However, make sure to keep them in their own small piles. Pour sauce over them and let them steam, keeping them as separate as possible until all ingredients are cooked and in their own little corners. If there is any more sauce left over when everything is added, pour the rest into the electric skillet. The idea is a little bit like dim sum in that you’re taking little bits of different foods and sampling all the different flavors with the sukiyaki. Nothing should take very long to cook. Like Italian pasta you want the vegetables more dente.

Monday, December 17, 2012


You can tell a lot about a fellow's character by his way of eating jellybeans. ~ Ronald Reagan

Foods of Interest
By now you may have noticed that certain foods have been repeated more than once in my blog. That's because quite often herbs and various fruits, vegetables, and other sundries have more than one meaning. That's because over time food has migrated across the globe accruing various meanings and myths according to the belief systems of various cultures. We all see things in our own way. However, it's interesting to note how often times cultures separated by time and distance have assigned similar meanings to things.

Thai Basil photo by Erika Celeste
Basil as you may recall was so sacred to the Greeks that women weren't allowed to touch it. What a shame as it is one of my all time favorite herbs. It is prized for stimulating both the heart and sacral chakras. In other words love and creativity--both needed to gain wisdom. Cayenne Pepper is often noted for its zing which can certainly "wake" its users up. Metaphysically it is said to aid in separation and soothing the heart. As the old saying goes sometime it takes wisdom to know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em, know when to walk away, and know when to run. Hazelnuts are believed to stimulate the second chakra known as the third eye. This is the area through which some believe humans gain wisdom and insight. Beside promoting wisdom the nuts are also used to increase fertility. Ginko Biloba is also said to be an excellent channel for wisdom. Though we've already covered it before, it is interesting to note that it comes from a tree with no close relatives. You could say it's one of a kind. It's regarded as a living fossil because it dates back 270 million years--thus its shear age would seem to impart wisdom. Licorice has many medicinal qualities including elevating low blood pressure and helping smokers to kick the habit--healthy and wise alternatives to synthetic medications. Rosemary is thought to increase mental clarity and facilitate feelings of affection which often can lead to wise insight. It is also known for eliminating negativity. Sage was scared to both Zeus and Jupiter--some of the wisest of the gods. It has also been associated with the Virgin Mary. In the Middle Ages people believed that the best sage was picked during the first light of summer solstice. It was further believed that the most powerful sage should never be picked by the user but instead bought from a stranger. Like rosemary it has an array of uses including anti-bacterial and preservation properties, digestive aid, and is a natural blood sugar reducer. It is also thought to stimulate artists creative juices giving them creative wisdom.

Herb Rubbed Roast
Herb Rubbed Roast photo by Erika Celeste
Approx 3 lb beef roast (shoulders, and sirloins do well)
4 cloves garlic
1 small onion (chopped)
2 T flour
1 cup beef broth
1 T basil
½ T marjoram
1 T rosemary
1 T sage
½ T thyme
1 T Sea salt
2 T Olive oil

This works best with a pestle and mortar. Put salt in mortar add all herbs, pour oil over the top, mash with pestle. When the mixture has made a thick green paste, pour it into a bowl. Add flour and onion.

Slice each garlic clove into quarters. Make half-inch slits in the roast. Insert garlic pieces into the meat slits. Place roast in a baking dish. Cover the roast in the flour and herb paste. Pour beef broth in the baking dish around the roast. (You may add chopped vegetables such as potatoes, parsnips, turnips, or carrots if you wish. Be aware if you do so, it will slightly change the flavor.) Cover the roast with foil.

Bake at 350 degrees for at least 1 hour. Let roast rest for 15 minutes before eating.

Monday, December 10, 2012


I always knew when I got to the Brussel sprouts, I was on thin ice. ~ Aaron Brown

I must apologize. Since I was busy with an upcoming book, I worked ahead on the blog. There's this cool little feature that should have time released my postings like an alka seltzer. It worked great for a week or two but for whatever reason stopped. That will teach me to leave the magical kitchen on autopilot. I should count myself lucky that I didn't have an incident like the one with the Sourcer's Apprentice in Fantasia (think Mickey Mouse and the brooms). The good news is I have several releases all at once. Enjoy!

The one thing that can be said about stability is that we all need it. Whether we admit it or not, we all need a place to bring us back to center. Sometimes that's a frame of mind, other times it's a routine, or person. It can apply to our finances, relationships, or health.

Beside food, stability often comes from doing something specific. For me it's being out in nature and gardening. Though I do meditate, those early mornings in the garden when  the sun has just come up, the dew hasn't burned off the grass, and the world is still quiet, are every bit as important if not more so. In fact, I often think of it as active meditation, in which I can just be. The added advantage of having my four gardens by the lake allows me to see everything from blue heron to mink to rolling carp--freaky if you don't know what's happening. But that's another story.

We planted our stability food last summer and are still enjoying them through the winter. If you're interested in planting Brussel sprouts keep in mind that they take up a lot of space by the end. It was easier to  cut the leaves off first so that the stalks looked like weird spinal cords and then use garden clippers rather than break them off.

Foods of Interest 
Brussels sprouts from our garden. Photo by Erika Celeste
There's just one food known for stability, Brussel Sprouts!

So it may not be the first thing to come to mind but there you have it. The tiny ball-like vegetable has been cultivated since the 1200s and is said to encourage endurance and stability. It's one of those love 'em or hate 'em foods. I happen to love 'em. They come in over a hundred varieties including one that tastes like horseradish. So if you like a little extra kick in your meals this is the way to go.

They do have a reputation for being stinky and having a strong taste, but that only happens when they're over cooked. No one knows exactly where the sprouts first came from, though it can be assumed that Belgium played a key role! Back then it was common to identify new foods by their region. Kind of like Buffalo wings, Philly Cheese steaks, or Kentucky Bourbon. 

Brussels Sprouts Panzanella
Brussels Sprouts Panzanella. Photo by Erika Celeste
6 slices of bacon
2 C blanched brussels sprouts
½ loaf Italian bread
1 C pecorino romano (freshly shredded)
¼ C red wine
½ C olive oil
1 finely chopped shallot
1 t garlic powder
1 meyer lemon (these are sweet if you can’t find one use an orange)
1 large tomato
fresh basil
1 t fresh sage
1 t pink Himalayan salt

I was lucky enough to have a large brussels sprouts harvest from my garden this year. So I simply blanched them and bagged the cool vegetables in double handfuls in ziplocks. Then labeled and froze them for quick and easy access. If you don’t have your own or they’re not in season, please use frozen sprouts as opposed to canned. They will taste worlds better. In most cases these will already be blanched, but if for some strange reason they’re not, go ahead and blanch them.

Cut the loaf of day old bread into squares and toast in the oven at 200 degrees until hard (about 10 minutes). While the bread is toasting, fry bacon until crispy. Drain, crumble, and set aside. Chop tomato. Shred cheese.

Mix all ingredients mentioned thus far in a large bowl. Mix wine, olive oil, lemon juice, garlic powder, and shallot in a small bowl, then drizzle over the other ingredients in the large bowl. Mix everything with your hands. Add pink salt to taste.

This is best if it sits at room temperature for at least 15 minutes before it’s served. It does not keep well over night!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012


As I ate the oysters with their strong taste of the sea and their faint metallic taste that the cold white wine washed away, leaving only the sea taste and the succulent texture, and as I drank their cold liquid from each shell and washed it down with the crisp taste of the wine, I lost the empty feeling and began to be happy and to make plans. ~ Ernest Hemingway (A Moveable Feast)

Dictionary.com defines clarity as clearness or lucidity as to perception or understanding. However, in this case, I'm not just defining clarity as having an understanding of something, this type of clarity goes much deeper. This type of clarity pertains to knowing yourself or the things you want at a gut level. I'm talking about a knowing beyond knowing, a certainty like no other. Some people go their entire lives without experiencing such a thing. 

So how might one find this deep soulful knowing? Just like great basketball players or charismatic orators some people are just born with it. But most of us have to work at it. I have a friend who wanted to play football when he was in high school. The school allowed anyone who wanted to join the team, but most guys sat in the bench. My friend was one of the slowest guys when they ran drills. But then his coach shared something which has served him well throughout his life. He told his team that most people give up too easily. Whenever his guys got tired, he encouraged them to use it a cue to push on through and not give up. My friend took those words to heart. He got up early every morning and hit the track before school. He ran at lunch and after school too. Pretty soon he moved to the middle of the pack when running drills and then to the front, until he eventually made quarterback. My friend didn't stop there. He applied the simple philosophy to his schoolwork and went from a C student to an honor roll student. But the most incredible application of this came after he was hit by a drunk driver. My friend slipped into the deepest coma and wasn't expected to live. When he came out he'd not only suffered a traumatic brain injury, but broken both his legs and various other bones in multiple places. He was in extreme agonizing pain for months. Doctors told him he would never walk again. Today he not only walks, he runs marathons! The thing that gave him the clarity to know what must be done and vision to drive push on through was his simple philosophy to never get up just because he was tired.  

Meditation is also a great way to gain clarity. You don't have to sit in the lotus position with fingers ringed, invoking the perfect sound of Om. Sometimes sitting quietly is just effective. I like to lie down and count backwards from 10 to 1 taking a deep breath in and out with each number. Each time I relax a little more until I'm so mellow it wouldn't take much to fall asleep. (Be careful this can happen if you let it.) I focus my energy and somehow the world opens up and answers are found. But like my friend who never gave up, it does take a little practice!

Foods of Interest
Avocado is high in healthy fats which are said to promote clear, unclouded thoughts. The oil of avocado is also very healthy for the same reason and was used by ancient cultures to create clarity another sort through smooth clear skin. Buddha is often represented sitting under a banana tree to demonstrate the futility of life. That's because bananas don't fertilize through flowers like many plants. Instead they are sterile and simply send off another ground shoot which lives on after the original tree dies. For this reason the Chinese often leave bananas on their alters to ask for education or enlightenment at work. Blackberries are often used in Wiccan rituals to invoke the clarity of the Goddess. They are also thought to be good for healing, protection, and prosperity--all things one might need in order to have a clear mind. Sunflowers were sacred to several Greek gods including Apollo, Demeter, and Helios. Therefore their seeds were thought to carry great powers of their own bridging the distance between heaven and earth. One who ate them would certainly uncover great wisdom and clarity of mind. They were also thought to impart integrity and virtue to those who ate them. Peanut butter is often associated with masculine energy because of the phallic shape of peanut shells. Certainly they provide another super protein that aids in mental agility and clarity.  Finally red wine, the favorite drink of Dionysus is also thought to bring clarity to those who drink it. The Greeks thought it embodied the spiritual presence of their god. There's no denying wine had its place. After all it was much safer than water for a long time. And certainly those who drank too much had some unusual "moments of clarity" in which they did or tried things they never had before. Indeed such wonderful inventions as Buffalo Wings, Farrington B (those squared off numbers on your credit cards), quidditch (Harry Potter's favorite sport), Shark Week, The Marines (yes as in the armed forces), pet rocks, and Southwest Airlines were all created in bars more than a little under the influence. Isn't the world better off for them? That's true clarity!


Shitake Sesame is the best. Photo by Erika Celeste.
Hands down my favorite oil-based salad dressing is Annie’s Shitake Sesame. I could drink this stuff...well maybe not. But I just love the flavor. I’m the kind of person who is often still hungry after just a salad, but with this dressing I’m totally satisfied and don’t feel hungry. I’m sure it’s psychological but hey it works!

For those of you not familiar with the Annie’s brand, it is all natural and organic. It can be found in most health food stores, Whole Foods, and the health food sections of many regular groceries. When I couldn’t find it at my local health food store, I talked to the manager and she special ordered three bottles for me. Pretty soon my friend went in and asked for it too. Than another friend requested it as well. It took about a year of special ordering it whenever I was out. But recently the manager told me so many people request it these days that it’s easier to stock it! However, if there’s no Annie’s Shitake Sesame available or you want to make your own dressing the following works well too.

½ C Olive oil
½ C Red wine
1 t Basil
1 t Rosemary
1 t Thyme
½ t Powdered garlic

Mix olive oil and wine. Add herbs and garlic. Shake well. Immediately drizzle over salad.

Baby spinach
Sunflower seeds

Wash and tear spinach to bite sizes. Slice avocado in half. Peel. Cut avocado in lengthwise slices. Place on spinach. Cut strawberries in quarters. Add to salad. Sprinkle with sunflower seeds. Drizzle with dressing.

Peanut Butter Stuffed French Toast
Stuffed French Toast. Photo by Erika Celeste.
Peanut butter
1 T sugar
2 Eggs
1 t Vanilla
¼ C Milk

Spread thick layer of peanut butter on bread slices. Close the sandwich with a top layer of bread.

In a bowl mix egg, milk, and vanilla to make eggy batter. Melt butter in a large skillet. Dunk sandwiches in the egg mixture until coated on both sides. Put sandwich in the skillet and fry until golden brown on both sides.

Slice fruit into bite-sized pieces. If necessary, sprinkle a little sugar over the top. When the french toast is finished, top with the fruit.