Cooking

A Soup for Any Occasion

Soup is a universal food; it takes various ingredients, spices, and water and marries them together. I asked a few friends for their favorite soup recipes and I share their recipes with you. My favorite soup memory is a pot of many vegetables, various beans, tomatoes and spices, simmering on top of a wood stove, in the dead of winter. The embers burned slowly within the stove to create a low, even heat. The soup cooked from morning to evening and just before it was done I added a little apple cider vinegar and served it with freshly baked bread and home-churned butter. Eating this warming and satisfying meal, I quietly watched the snow swirl outside a bay window. Now,…

Japanese Cooking

New Year’s Eve is traditionally the time for new beginnings. Ideally, we should begin every moment of our life anew, experiencing each moment as a fresh start. While moving from 2000 (The Year of the Dragon) to 2001 (The Year of the Snake), we spent the day preparing a traditional Japanese New Year’s feast. Three very special Japanese friends, Sachiko, Tomiko and June, came together to cook the dishes that their mothers and grandmothers had prepared throughout their childhood. I, along with a few close friends, were gathered into this traditional, Japanese festive occasion. It began the previous day with a visit to the local Japanese market. Here, we purchased several important traditional items such as burdock and lotus root,…

A Day in the Life of Tofu

I have a real fascination for tofu, it is a great, versatile food. For a brief (and I stress brief) moment, I even thought of preparing it from scratch, then it would be available whenever I needed it. I don’t know when I first discovered tofu. It was probably many years ago, floating free in a humble bowl of miso soup. But since our first acquaintance, we have been growing together, year by year. Tofu is definitely a daily staple in our home. Even my daughter, when she was young could literally eat bean and cheese burritos for all three meals, tolerated tofu in its simplest form, pan-fried with a little olive oil and soy sauce. Now as a grown…

Veggie Burgers

The painter, Maurice de Vlaminck, once remarked, “Good painting is like good cooking; it can be tasted, but not explained.” In the same way, when cooking, rather than following a recipe to the letter, by letting it be a guide it can transform itself in its own unique way. I love to simply read recipes; often I never make them, but sometimes—a fragrance or subtle touch of spice—bookmarks itself and is recalled in the most unexpected moment. Since cooking and life are inextricably intertwined, it is fascinating to observe the play of life in action as we stir the dancing rice grains before turning down the heat, or cut through a fresh basil leaf only to be blasted into the…

The Simplicity of a Weekday Party

The mah jongg girls were coming over . . . I hadn’t played mah jongg since I was twelve . . . and then I was invited to join the Wednesday mah jongg girls. I realized it had been a long time since I had actually played a game; my natural inclination was to decline, so without spending time analyzing it, I said, “yes.” The universe was getting far too serious and I was ready to play again. After all these years, I discovered mah jongg is a visionary game. It makes one use one’s mind in a way we often forget to do—to see through the surface to the vast possibilities. So, when the girls announced they were coming…

Summer Tomatoes

“It’s difficult to think anything but pleasant thoughts while eating a homegrown tomato.” —Lewis Grizzard Our summer gardens have transformed themselves throughout the years of my life, going from acres of land to a single, humble tomato plant. Whatever is growing at the moment is a joy to behold, whether it is a tiny seed or a vegetable or herb plant. I must say I enjoy observing the simple miracle of a plant growing, leaf-by-leaf. One particular tomato plant holds a special place in my heart. It was in 1985; we had just returned from India and were setting up a house from scratch. It was late spring, and the season was fading into the warm, heady days of summer….

Stuffing the Pita

During the summer of 1970, I found myself working on a Kibbutz in Southern Israel, about five kilometers from the Gaza Strip. After a grueling day (that began at 5:00 a.m.) of weeding acres of green pepper and hauling bails of hay, I often spent the evenings sitting alone on a mound of sand staring out into the desert dusk. As the sunset colors splashed across the wide horizon, the sound of shepherds and stillness filled the air. The intense work and fresh air brought with it an amazingly large appetite, something I will probably never again experience in quite the same way. Since this particular Kibbutz had a rather large group of vegetarians, it offered two completely separate menus….

Spring Lightness

One winter I had an interesting experience. I fractured my ankle and spent two months healing. Each afternoon I needed to rest and would sit on the couch looking out into the garden, as light streamed in through the back windows a small blackbird with a long tapered tail came by to visit—he came out the same time every day and sat on a post. Once in a while his mate sat nearby, but mostly it was me and the blackbird, sitting and watching the fading afternoon light. Those silent, slow afternoons were when I felt the real healing taking place. When spring arrived the blackbird didn’t returned, and there was no time or need for me to sit and…

Spice Mixture

Spices represent the heart of the kitchen, giving life to the blank canvas that begins each new recipe. Spices also play an important role in maintaining health. For example, ginger and cumin aid digestion; turmeric acts as one of nature’s most powerful cleansers. I have often made my own spices by simply dry-roasting cumin seeds and pounding them in my well-worn stone mortar-and-pestle until it becomes fragrant cumin powder. I fondly remember watching the early morning masala being made in the Indian households I visited. The mixture of spices was an aromatic blend: fresh ginger, whole turmeric root, seeds of both cumin and coriander, green chilies, a bit of water—all deftly pounded into a potent paste. The aroma, even now,…

South Indian Thali

There are a few special businesses in India that have become institutions. The South Indian restaurant and hotel chain Dasaprakash is one of them. During many excursions to the South Indian port city of Chenni (Madras), we often heard about this special restaurant, but never made it there. After many years, on a trip to the Southern Los Angeles area of “little India,” we finally arrived. After a few initial visits where we sampled authentic South Indian vegetarian cuisine, we approached the owner—the youngest son of the founder, Madhu—who agreed to share recipes and stories with us. So one afternoon, my husband and I arrived at Dasaprakash with camera, recorder, and a hearty appetite. The story of Dasaprakash is the…

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