Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Everyday Eats: Cilantro and Tomato Braised Collard Greens with Sunny-Side-Up Egg

A medical diagnosis proves to be a blessing in disguise as it forced me to make healthier choices


When I found life becoming overwhelming, I used to feed it, literally, with comfort food. My spirit craved that fleeting high that came from carbohydrate laden breads and sweets. It “calmed” me. It made me forget, just for a little while, the stress of the day. It was easier to temporarily numb myself with fast food, with diet soda after diet soda, with potato tacos and pasta heavy meals than to find the strength within me to change – either my circumstances or my choices.

I knew I was unhappy both emotionally and physically. I spent most of the first half of 2014 feeling sick with headaches, chest pains, upset stomach and unbelievable fatigue. All. The. Time. I felt myself drowning. And the noise in my head that berated my choices – or lack thereof – was drowning out God, making me feel all the more alone in my struggles.

Of course, it’s human nature to dwell on the things we fail at, on the things we don’t have, on the things we can’t have, on the empty spaces left behind by people that used to fill them. I fall victim to it, rattling off a litany of complaints more often than I suspect is ultimately healthy for me.

But I know there is a different way to be, and I daresay, a better way to be: living with gratitude for what is. Recognizing the blessings amongst the hardship might not always be easy but there is peace and grace that comes in the ability to do so. Changing a mind set on seeing the negative to seeing the positive can be difficult, especially when you feel overwhelmed. It takes work and it can test faith. I know this because I’ve been living it.

I’m succeeding more than failing these days at being grateful for the blessings in my life. I’m learning that just like a photograph, empty spaces provide a counterbalance to the rest of the composition. So I am practicing seeing the empty spaces as opportunities to breathe, to re-access, to nurture a part of me that I’ve been neglecting and, most importantly, to let myself feel that emptiness and to be okay with it. Not filling the emptiness with bad choices has been a real test but it’s been an important part of my journey over the summer.


Up until late June, I would experience pains in my chest so severe that they would keep me up at night praying that I would be okay. My mind jumped from thought to thought: heart attack? Panic attack? Tumor? I fell asleep nearly every night in fear that I might not wake up. It had been going on for months and the stress of fitful sleep coupled with fatigue that was beyond mere sleep deprivation made it more and more difficult to go to work. Despite limbs that felt ten times heavier than they were and headaches that made me want to curl up in a fetal position and not move, I would drag my battered body out of bed and head to work never having called in sick because I was too tired to move. I willed myself to move.

The sheer amount of fatigue kept me from cooking healthful meals during the week when time was at it’s most precious. I would gravitate towards the closest burger or taco shop drive-thru on the way to work or on the way home from work. Sometimes both. Blogging projects on the weekends were hit and miss on the health-o-meter but at least I was making and eating real food and not eating processed, convenient food.

Still, the aches and pains were growing in numbers. I have, for as long as I can remember, suffered from severe iron-deficiency anemia. My body doesn’t produce the enzyme needed to properly utilize iron ingested either by pill or by food. So the anemia gets worse and worse until finally, it is so debilitating that I find myself at the doctor’s office.

In my early 30’s, my doctor sent me to a hematologist who determined that the best course of treatment would be iron infusions. At the time, the treatment course would be 6 hours at a time, sitting or laying in a recliner, with rust colored liquid hanging off an I.V. pole, a needle that had taken a minimum of two attempts to insert piercing my hand or arm, three days a week for up to three weeks every 12- 14 months. It was brutal. Once I hit my 40s, medicine had improved and I found myself going three times total per treatment course and the time between courses was increasing to 18-24 months.

The last time I had an infusion was 2011. Blood tests in 2012 and early 2013 showed a lowering of ferritin in my blood but still within normal range. All but my thyroid and a severe vitamins D and B12 deficiencies, were normal.


My fatigue and chest pains grew so all-consuming that they finally got me to the doctor early this past summer - June 19, to be exact. On June 20, my doctor called me to tell me that blood test results were in. My thyroid was completely out of whack, my vitamin D so low that she had never seen someone with a number as low as mine, my B12 was nearly depleted and my anemia so bad she was surprised that I was still able to work. These numbers weren’t a surprise. No, the devastating news she saved for last: I had developed diabetes. I sat in silence for a few minutes. “Pre-diabetes, right?” I asked. No. My A1C was 6.6. Pre-diabetes was 5.7 to 6.4 with 6.5 and above being diabetes.

There was a part of me that knew I’d been playing Russian roulette with how my eating choices where affecting my health. Nonetheless, I was in shock, then anger, then depression. Depression that lasted the entire weekend. That weekend, I was making my final churro recipe to shoot for this blog. How ironic that I would be making such a treat this very weekend of my diagnosis. I’d been teasing to it for weeks on my social media sites. It was a good recipe. I didn’t want to not post it. There are people out there with a normal working pancreas who could still partake of my creation and enjoy it, I rationalized. So I pushed forward. I ate one and sent most of the batch over to a relatives house to remove the temptation that my depression might not be able to withstand.

By Sunday evening, my depression turned to determination. When my doctor asked me if I were okay and if I had any questions she could answer immediately, I asked only one thing: “Is it reversible?”

“Where you are, yes,” she said. "But it will take hard work.”


So that evening I got onto the internet and Googled understanding A1C and new diabetes diagnosis. I reached several sites that spoke to living with the disease and managing the disease. I spent some time on those sites and grew increasingly frustrated. Finally, I typed in ‘reversing diabetes’ and I got a ton of hits for paleo bloggers and a few ‘miracle’ supplements, etc. But one site caught my attention, “The Blood Sugar Solution” and as I read through the site, I grew hopeful that yes, indeed, I would have a chance to correct some of the damage I’d put my body through.

First change to happen in my diet? On June 23 I gave up white food: everything made with all purpose flour, no potatoes, no white rice, no white sugar. If you read this blog regularly, you know I love to bake sweets with granulated sugar. You know I love potatoes and Mexican rice. And that morning, I decided to say goodbye to them. By end of day on that Monday, I’d expanded that no-eat list to include more of my ‘go-to’ vegetables: peas, corn, carrots. I also decided no more, albeit diet and artificially sweetened, sugary drinks. Only water, decaf coffee, the occasional nonfat milk in my latte, and tea. And no more boxed and packaged foods that contained more than five ingredients or ingredients that I can't pronounce.


So what am eating now? Well, I’ve been posting more and more of my new eating choices already, some more involved than others, but this braised collard greens dish I’m sharing today is typical of the new food I’m eating daily. That’s why I’m launching this new feature, Everyday Eats, to share with you my more nutritious eating choices that you, too, can adopt. They’re going to be relatively quick meals that you can have on the table in anywhere between 30 minutes to an hour.

Shortly after my diagnosis, I was over at my parent’s house to celebrate my sister’s birthday. I joyfully chimed in the chorus of happy birthday as she prepared to blow out her candles but passed on cake and ice cream. The shame I felt having the disease, had prompted me to keep it a secret. Only a small handful of people knew of my illness. So when my father, who also has the disease, asked why I wasn't having cake, I said I was on a diet and that I had already lost 15 pounds. He asked how I lost the weight and I rattled off what I wasn’t eating. “Then what’s left to eat?” he asked. Plenty, I remember saying. I told him 70 percent of my diet now is cruciferous veggies like collard greens, kale, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, arugula, chard, cauliflower and broccoli. The rest is lean meat, tofu, healthy fats, healthy whole grains. He made a face and said, “Don’t you get bored eating that stuff?”

I suppose I might have thought that same thing just six months ago. But I don’t now. I find it challenging to come up with ideas and recipes that support my new outlook on eating. I am not bored. I don’t dwell on what I can’t have. Instead, I see the blessings: I live in a part of the country that has access to fresh, affordable produce year-round. In truth, there is still so much I can have. It’s a matter of how you look at it and I choose to not see the empty spaces left by my old favorite foods and instead see the abundance of healthful choices before me.


As I write this, I’m down 40 pounds in just over three months time. I was "forced" to go clothes shopping this past weekend and wound up with pants three sizes smaller than what has been hanging off of me all summer. I'm scheduled for my last infusion in this round of treatment this Saturday. I'm feeling more energized. I don’t feel deprived. On the contrary, I’m excited about dreaming up new dishes that reflect my new journey and sharing them here with you. Plus, I’m slowly working on converting my favorite foods and baked treats into healthier versions of themselves. Last week, I also added an exercise component to this new lifestyle as I and a good friend have started spending our lunch hour supporting each other in treadmill workouts in our company’s onsite gym. That’s been a much needed stress reliever right smack in the middle of the day.

It hasn’t been easy, but I’m working hard at trying to forgive myself for my failures and instead to celebrate my successes. When you are used to being your own toughest critic, it takes real effort to be kind to yourself. This journey is mostly about that.

Why did I decide to share my experience and situation here, so publicly? Because being a food blogger and NOT sharing has felt so disingenuous. Food, as detrimental as it can sometimes be, it can also heal. Coming clean here is helping me to more fully face this disease and in doing so, perhaps my story will encourage you to take a healthier path sooner rather than later.

So, here’s to a better, longer, healthier, life!

Until next time, my friends, be kind to yourselves.
XO, Ani


CILANTRO & TOMATO BRAISED COLLARD GREENS WITH A SUNNY-SIDE-UP EGG 
This is a great basic recipe that I eat as an entree. Feel free to swap in kale (leave out the fibrous stem) or chard (mmm, good, tender stem) for the collard greens. This makes a fantastic Meatless Monday meal. You can, however, leave out the beans and add leftover chicken. The egg is optional but I have to say, the yolk makes for a lovely, rich ‘sauce.’ 

Makes 4 servings as a main dish 

INGREDIENTS 
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1 bunch collard greens (about 5-6 cups chopped) 
2 tablespoons olive oil 
½ large onion, sliced with the grain in half moons 
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced 
⅓ cup diced mild green chiles (I like Ortega brand) 
15 ounce can stewed or diced tomatoes 
1 tablespoon tomato paste (I prefer the tube concentrate) 
15 ounce can cannellini beans, or your favorite white bean, drained and rinsed well 
1 bunch cilantro, thicker stems removed, roughly chopped 
½ teaspoon sea salt, or to taste 
¼ teaspoon black pepper, or to taste 

2 tablespoons olive oil 
4 large eggs (organic free-range, if possible) 


DIRECTIONS 
_______________________ 

1. Cut bottom ⅓ of the collard green stem off. Finely chop remaining stem. Slice collard green leaf into thirds lengthwise, stack, then chop into 1-inch pieces. Place in a large bowl. Continue with remaining leaves. Fill bowl with water to cover. Swoosh water to rinse greens. Set aside to soak and allow dirt to settle to the bottom of the bowl. 
2. Drizzle the olive oil into a large sauté pan and place on medium-low heat. When oil is shimmering but not smoking, add onions and sauté until translucent and just starting to color. Add garlic, stirring frequently to keep from burning. Cook for 1 minute then add the green chiles. Cook 1 minute longer, stirring often. 
3. Carefully remove collard green leaves to a strainer using tongs or your hands. The heavier stems will have sunk to the bottom of the bowl. Without disturbing the water, fish out the stems and add them to the onion mixture in the pan. Sauté for 3 to 4 minutes then add the rest of the greens. Stir to wilt by half in volume. Add the tomatoes (and the juices from the can), breaking up the stewed tomatoes with your hands if using. Add the tomato paste; stir well to combine. Add the beans, cilantro, salt and pepper. Stir well. Adjust seasoning to taste. Cover, reduce heat to low and allow to braise while you make the eggs.
4. Place a small frying pan on medium-low heat. Add the olive oil and heat until shimmering. Carefully break an egg into a small cup or bowl, then slide the egg into the pan. Allow egg to cook, undisturbed, for at least two full minutes. This allows for the whites to run off the yolks, thus preventing a white film to cover the gorgeous yellow. After two minutes, carefully spoon the hot oil over the whites to until they set up to desired doneness (I like mine just set). You can also spoon some over the yolks if you like though I often skip it. Carefully remove egg to a plate and repeat with remaining eggs. Season eggs with salt and pepper to taste. 
5. To serve, divide the greens between four bowls and top each serving with an egg. 




Monday, September 22, 2014

Get cooking! with San Diego's Art Institute of California's GetCreative! classes + Blueberry Buckle { recipe }

 The Art Institute of California in San Diego is now offering classes to the public in a new program called GetCreative! I sat in on the launch of the program a few weekends ago, taking a class in my area of interest: Culinary Arts.

Chef Shawn Matijevich demonstrating sifting over a piece of parchment which makes adding the dry ingredients 
to a stand mixer much easier.

I’m not one to be up on hipster vernacular (80s girl here still stuck on “duh,” “stoked,” and “awesome”), but let me just say this: red velvet cake has been my jam since I first tasted my mother’s Christmastime red cake when I was a wee child (I think I've been watching too much of the Starz series, "Outlander" as I'm thinking with a Scottish accent these days!). The cake is seriously yum and it was a tradition we all looked forward to every year. And, uh, no cream cheese, if you please, it was topped with a fluffy whipped frosting (known as "ermine frosting") which mom's recipe book called "snowdrift" frosting. I love my mother’s red velvet cake to this day. It’s a tender, tangy, stunning, dramatic cake that I’ve written about before. Nonetheless, I’m always looking to see how other people make red velvet just in case there’s a tidbit I can take from their version to make our family’s better.

Clean, large, beautiful professional kitchen at the International Culinary School at the Art Institute of California San Diego

Learning, growing, experimenting is what life is all about. No matter our area of expertise, the moment you feel you have nothing left to learn is the moment your work starts to suffer. Closed off from the universal creative well, you get stuck in a rut, rehashing what you already know and the work becomes stagnant. It’s why I love to spend time in the kitchen cooking with family and friends (like here, here and here), why I love to collaborate with other photographers both on set and running workshops, dissecting how other photographer’s tackle similar projects, why I am always reading other food and design blogs, looking at other artists work, reading how other writers structure their words, and when time and finances allow, taking workshops from seasoned professionals just as committed to sharing and learning as I am.

Three culinary students (two of them shown here, center) volunteered to give up their Saturday to assist so that we taking the class didn't have to spend time washing and cleaning up after ourselves. They were super helpful in answering questions and demonstrating, too, when chef was busy helping another table.

At the start of the month, I was invited to take a GetCreative! Culinary Class at the San Diego campus of the Art Institute of California. I was beyond stoked to get the invitation. Looking over the course schedule and comparing it to my availability, it just so happened that the day I could attend was the very first GetCreative! course on campus: Red Velvet Cupcakes and More!

My sister takes her turn sifting.

Early in the week of the Saturday workshop, I was contacted again and told that I could bring a guest. I immediately thought of my youngest sister since baking is her thing and I honestly could see her going to culinary school and becoming a pastry chef. She was as excited – if not more so – to check out the class as I was.

Chef demonstrating how to fill a pastry bag and how to control flow to fill cupcake liners. Then it was our turn. Look at that gorgeous red!

Dressed in long pants, long sleeves and closed toe shoes as instructed, we showed up bright and early and waited in the lobby until the rest of the attendees arrived. Once we were all assembled, we were led upstairs to the culinary wing of the main building and entered what would be our classroom for the day: a beautiful, restaurant-sized professional kitchen with 6 workstations and a demo table.

The culinary arts students prepped all the ingredients for the four desserts that we'd be hands-on learning, labeled and separated by lines drawn on the parchment liners. Each workstation had a complete tray.

We were introduced to Chef Shawn Matijevich, Chef Instructor at the Culinary School for a year now having previously been a Culinary Arts instructor with Grossmont Unified School District as well as a private chef and a Culinary Specialist in the U.S. Navy. Chef Shawn was a good instructor. I liked him a lot. I found him to be really energetic, knowledgeable and genuinely happy to be teaching this class.

And away we go! Our team cooking marathon begins. First up: Arborio Rice Pudding.
Mom makes a pretty killer rice pudding. We call it arroz con leche. It has tons of cinnamon, no vanilla bean, lots of white sugar and uses evaporated milk. It's sinfully delicious. This version, using the arborio rice – the same rice used for Italian risotto – was super creamy. A result of having to sit and stir and babysit it the entire time the rice was cooking. I was on that task. Yuppers. Fine. Seriously, this was good rice pudding. Much less sweet than what I'm used to. I think I still prefer mom's cinnamony version but on those days I want the creamy goodness with less guilt, this will definitely fit that bill. 

"A lot of the instructors are excited about teaching these one-off workshops (which take place in the evenings and on weekends and are in addition to their normal classes) because they can teach without having to worry about grading," said John Sexton, GetCreative! Program Coordinator on the SD campus.


Attendees were divided into groups of 4 to a workstation and after introducing ourselves and taking a brief look at the day's agenda, Chef Shawn jumped right into demonstrating how to make a red velvet batter, the importance of properly sifting, how to use a pastry bag, and shared some history (did you know that red velvet cake went nationwide during the Great Depression when an extract company was trying to push its red food coloring?). From there, students got hands-on time mastering the pastry bag method of filling cupcake molds.

I didn't get a chance to try the peach cobbler and since I was busy babysitting the rice pudding, I also didn't get to see most of the prep. I thought it came out pretty in these cute little cast iron skillets. I gave the cobbler I brought home to my grandmother who said it was scrumptious – in Spanish of course. Oh! Yeah, there's also a ton of goodies to take home to share with family and friends. I forgot our containers for takeaway. So did most of the class. Luckily, some takeout boxes were located so we had plenty of containers to take home lots of goodies.

Teams would each have four recipes to produce: a peach cobbler, a blueberry quick bread, sweet rice pudding and Chef's take on a banana bread pudding with caramel. It was left up to the teams whether to tackle each recipe as a group or assign a recipe to each team member. Our team, as did most of the others, opted for the team approach much to the disappointment of both my sister and I. Having grown up in a family were gatherings are always food-centric, we are both so particular about how to do things and are very comfortable in the kitchen. Our other two team members were not so we took one for the team.

Learning the difference between French and Italian meringue.

We also had demonstrations on making meringue frosting, meringue for a flourless chocolate cake, pastry cream, filling cupcakes with said cream and cupcake decorating (two additional types of cupcakes were made prior to the start of class due to time constraints so as to give us as more decorating experience during the four hour workshop).

The white cupcakes were made by the culinary students and chef prior to our arrival for class so that we'd have plenty of time 
to practice our piping skills.

As our creations came out of the oven and we finished the decorating, chef brought out display platters and pedestals to place our creations on and marched us out to The Palette, the student run cafe that apparently is closed on the weekends.

He lined the platters up on the counter and gave us his closing thoughts. He wanted us to see the fruits of our collective labor in an Instagram-friendly environment.

I thought that was a great way to end our day's adventure.

Instagram-ready!

Five takeaways from the class

  1. Cake flour creates a more tender crumb.
  2. To help combat dry cakes, use vegetable oil instead of butter.
  3. Don't over-mix cake batter. Doing so will develop the gluten and make cakes tough.
  4. If you need a more stable meringue, use an Italian meringue which cooks the sugar as a simple syrup. While slowly adding the cooled simple syrup to the egg whites while whipping, the egg whites are gently cooked and over-whipping is nearly impossible. (Over-whipping French meringue will cause the whipped eggs to break).
  5. Don't get hung up on time when it comes to baking. Learn to rely on your sense of smell and touch: you should first be able to smell the cake and second, a cake that springs back when gently touched is ready to be removed from the oven.

Learn more about the GetCreative! classes

Sexton, the program coordinator, told me that for years, people having been asking if the Art Institute offered classes or workshops to non-institute students. They realized that there was a demand for classes that would feed community interests. Currently, Philadelphia and San Diego are the campuses testing out the GetCreative! program to see how it goes over in the communities they serve. San Diego is the first to get the program underway.

Course areas of interests are:

  • Art Foundations
  • The Business of Art
  • Creative Writing
  • Culinary Arts
  • Design
  • Photography
  • Recording Arts
  • Software for Designers
  • Textiles, Fashion & Jewelry
Special: Classes are 50% off if you enroll by October 31. 
(I have my eye on a Wordpress class that this discount will make fit into my budget.)


See the San Diego campus course schedule here.

The Art Institute of California in San Diego
7650 Mission Valley Road
San Diego, CA 92108




BLUEBERRY BUCKLE
Chef Shawn recommends weighing ingredients rather than measuring volume for more accurate and predictable results. "Digital scales in the kitchen are a must," he emphasized.  That said, this recipe is measured in weight, not volume.

Serves 10-12 


INGREDIENTS 

___________________

DRY INGREDIENTS: 
9 ounces cake flour 
1 teaspoon baking powder 
½ teaspoon salt 
½ teaspoon ground ginger 


WET INGREDIENTS 
2 ounces butter, room temperature, plus more for buttering the pan 
5 ¼ ounces sugar 
1 large egg, room temperature 
½ cup whole milk 

1 pound fresh blueberries 

TOPPING: 
3 ½ ounces sugar 
1 ½ ounces cake flour 
½ teaspoon nutmeg 
2 ounces very cold butter, cubed 

DIRECTIONS 

___________________

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter a 9x12 cake (or lasagna) pan. 
2. Sift together the dry ingredients. Set aside. 
3. Cream together the butter and sugar. Add the egg, mix until incorporated. 
4. Add a third of the dry ingredients to the butter mixture. Mix until incorporated then add ⅓ of the milk and mix well. Continue alternating and mixing after each addition until all the flour and milk is incorporated. 
5. Fold in the blueberries. 
6. To make the topping, sift together the sugar, flour and nutmeg. Cut the butter into the dry ingredients using a pastry cutter, two knives or your fingers (if using your hands, work quickly so as to not soften the butter). The end result should be crumbly and sandy not like a dough. 
7. Place the cake batter in the pan, sprinkle with topping and bake for 35 minutes or until topping is golden. 

Recipe courtesy of Chef Shawn Matijevich, International Culinary School at the Art Institute of California San Diego. Reprinted with permission.

Until next time friends! Happy baking.
xo, Ani

Disclosure: I was contacted by the International Culinary School at the Art Institute of California San Diego and invited to take a culinary class of my choosing. I was not asked to do a post or compensated other than the comp'd class for myself and my sister for this editorial write-up. As always, all opinions are my own.


Monday, September 15, 2014

Hey! SoCal! Beat the heat with easy Margarita Shrimp Tacos with Avocado Salsa Cruda


Summer may be over in most parts of the country but Southern California’s annual sun storm is just getting started. We’re dealing with triple digit numbers here and to make it worse, we are in the midst of one of the most severe droughts in recent California history. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could skip the heatwave for the next two months and head straight into the slightly cooler breezes of November? One can dream, right?

Anyhow …

If you’re like me, this heat is keeping you out of the kitchen and has you opting for more grilling (or crockpot) recipes. I think this recipe today is one you are going to love. It’s easy and dinner is on the table quickly! The marinade for this recipe is a simplified version of the marinade for my Tequila-Lime Shrimp and instead of serving the shrimp whole on skewers, we’re giving them a quick chop and serving them up in fresh corn tortillas.


Shrimp has a fairly neutral flavor so it’s the perfect canvas to highlight different spices from around the world. The tequila and lime in this preparation always makes me feel like I’m chillaxin' in Baja, enjoying sweet ocean breezes, sipping margaritas and taking in the local color. These babies are super easy to prepare and cook quickly on the grill so you don’t have to bear the heat too long. Plus, you can take advantage of the last month of California’s avocado season with my simple and refreshing Avocado Salsa Cruda. This salsa is so versatile. I love it on steaks, on chicken, even on cauliflower or portobello “steaks”!

This recipe is also a good one for casual, low-fuss weekend gatherings. Along with Avocado Salsa Cruda, serve the tacos buffet style with an assortment of optional toppings like hot sauce, Mexican sour cream, sliced jalapeños or shredded red cabbage as to encourage your guests to personalize their tacos. Accentuate the lime-goodness by pairing them with frozen margaritas. It’s casual entertaining, California style!



MARGARITA SHRIMP TACOS 
WITH AVOCADO SALSA CRUDA
If you live near a Mexican grocer with an in-house tortilleria, it’s definitely worth it to buy your corn tortillas there. There is a huge difference in quality, taste and texture between freshly made authentic corn tortillas and the mass produced and packaged commercial variety available at large supermarkets. A Mexican market will also carry the chile powder and fresh chiles, however, most supermarkets (Ralph’s, Vons, for example) carry California chile powder and Mexican oregano near the Mexican food aisle. Pasilla peppers are often mislabeled as poblanos so use whichever is available at your grocers. 

Serves 4

INGREDIENTS
_____________________

1 pound raw shrimp, peeled and deveined

For the marinade:
1 shot of tequila (about 1 ½ ounces)
juice and zest of 2 limes
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons California chili powder (or 1 teaspoon — or to taste — cayenne)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon Mexican oregano, crushed between palms

wooden bamboo skewers, soaked in water for at least 30 minutes

For salsa:
2 large rip avocados, peeled and diced
¼ cup frozen corn, thawed
¼ cup frozed peas, thawed
2 tablespoons finely chopped red onions
2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro leaves
2 tablespoons finely minced fresh pasilla chili pepper (or seeded jalepeño if you like more heat)
1 teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or to taste
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

8 to 12 Corn tortillas

DIRECTIONS
_____________________

1. Place shrimp in a large ziplock bag. Set aside.
2. For the shrimp: Add the tequila, lime juice and zest, oil, cilantro, chile and cumin to a small bowl. Place the oregano in the palm of your hand and rub your hands together over the bowl to crush leaves and flower buds (this releases the essential oils from the oregano). Use a whisk to combine well. Add to shrimp. Refrigerate for 30 minutes. 
3. For the salsa: Toss all the ingredients for the salsa in a bowl being careful not to mash the avocado. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve tacos.
4. Lightly oil your grill grates. Heat the grill to hot (450˚F).

5. Curling up the shrimp so it makes the shape of the letter “c”, carefully thread the skewer close to the head and through the shrimp. Take a second skewer and thread it through the tail end. Continue until you have four shrimp on each pair of skewers. Threading the shrimp onto two skewers prevents the shrimp from spinning on you when you flip the skewers. 
6. Place skewered shrimp on grill and cook for 3 to 4 minutes with lid open. Carefully flip shrimp using tongs. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes on the flip side or until shrimp is bright pink and opaque. Remove and let cool for a few minutes before removing from skewers.
7. When cooled enough to handle, chop shrimp into bite sized pieces, place in a bowl and serve in a fresh corn tortilla with a spoonful of the salsa. Recipe can easily be doubled.

Until next time friends! Take care and if you’re in SoCal, keep hydrated, stay cool and be safe. Fire season is here.

xo, Ani

Monday, September 8, 2014

What do you get when you pair an organic farm with a luxury tequila? Farm to Shaker {Photos}

Two weeks ago, I was invited to discover the roots of Tequila Don Julio and explore Suzie's Farm to get a firsthand account of their organic farming practices. {Sponsored post}

What a beautiful day for a farm tour!

Located in the Tijuana River Valley at Border Fields State Park just 13 miles south of Downtown San Diego, Suzie’s Farm is a 140-acre USDA-certified organic farm. Growing more than 100 varieties of seasonal vegetables, herbs, flowers, and fruits year-round as well as having 300 egg-laying pasture hens, Suzie’s is the only such farm in the City of San Diego.

It’s a place I’ve wanted to visit for quite some time so I was super excited to be contacted by the folks over at Tequila Don Julio about a Farm to Shaker Excursion they were hosting. It was billed as an opportunity to learn more about Don Julio's history and get a private tour of Suzie's Farm. Normally, I have to say no to mid-week events because of the day job at the news mill, however, this time I was free to say yes because the event was taking place the first day of my “staycation.”

An iPhone shot I uploaded to Instagram of the yummy "morning coffee." It's called a Shakerato. Recipe at the end of this post.

I knew it was going to be a blast of a day when I pulled into the parking lot on the south end of Petco Park. I could see a big black tour bus and a check-in table right next to it. I got out of my car and headed towards the table and was greeted by fresh donuts and handed a mason jar of iced cold brew coffee, spiked, of course, with Tequila Don Julio Resposado and an ancho chili liqueur. It wasn’t quite 10:00 a.m. yet and I remembered thinking, "Oh yes! Now this is how to start vacation off with a bang!”

The sweet looking Airstream Speakeasy: a custom mobile bar. You can watch a video about it here

I was one of a small handful of bloggers. The other tour participants were mostly bartenders and distributors. These guys know their cocktails and alcohol! Yowza! Anyway, once we disembarked the tour bus and stepped through the gates at Suzie’s we were greeted by more cocktails and goodie bags. As we milled about the entrance, some folks were checking out the contents of our goodie bags, others were oohing and ahhhhing over the gorgeous Don Julio Airstream Speakeasy, a custom mobile bar.


These are grapevine "teepees" that we were encouraged to enter so we might feel what it was like to be enveloped by vegetation. The grapevines were already on the property when the land was purchased and instead of pulling them out, they fashioned them into these fun shapes.


Lauren, our tour guide, was super enthusiastic, which was great to see. When people love and believe in the work that they do, their passion shines through, and that positivity rubs off on others around.


We learned that Suzie’s is named for a dog that once roamed the land before the owners, Robin Taylor and Lucila De Alejandro, bought it. Suzie passed on but there are three dogs that I could see who acted as greeters and tour guides during our visit. This is Homer


Since the majority of the tour attendees where bartenders, they were encouraged to pick any herbs they wanted to use to create their own cocktails back on the Airstream after lunch. This is a patch of thyme.


Now we're walking through lemon verbena.


Boy! Did it smell fantastic when we brushed by them.


This is called an Indigo Blue Tomato and they go from red to purple almost black as they ripen. They don't get much bigger than this.


I'd never heard of them before. They were nearing the end of their growing season and we were encouraged to pick them right off the vine and give them a taste. They were deliciously sweetened by the earth and warmed by the summer sun. Wished I could have taken home a dozen or so!


Suzie's grows a lot of flowers along with the vegetables and herbs. The flowers help bring bees into the fields which in turn helps with pollination.


These gorgeous orange and red plants are amaranth. Though billed as a "grain" it's actually a seed, much like quinoa is. It was a staple in the Aztec diet. You can read more about it here.


These English Breakfast Radishes (also known as French Breakfast Radishes) were delicious right out of the ground.


This is an Armenian cucumber that Lauren is holding up. She passed a few around for each of us to break a piece off and give it a whirl. It was delicious. It's a cross between a seedless cucumber and a melon. Really tasty! I've never heard or seen them before and now I am definitely going to keep my eyes open for them next season.


There are 300 hens and chicks in the hen house. No roosters so the eggs aren't fertilized. The chickens, as Lauren described, are free to be chickens, coming and going from the hen house as they please during the day. Once a crop is finished, the chickens are moved into the cleared acre, protected by a chicken wire fence, and encouraged to eat the remains of the vegetation and any insects and pests, providing the chickens with a varied diet. The color of the egg shells vary widely as do the colors of the yolks depending on what part of the farm the chickens are allowed to roam and eat from. Lauren said that the eggs are more nutrient dense, more naturally good for you since the chickens are clean, not crowded in their hen house, pasture-raised, and free of added hormones. The eggs, apparently, don't even need refrigeration. You do, however, pay for all this humane chicken raising and nutrient dense product: a dozen eggs is $10. I'm planning on buying some soon to give them a taste.


By the time we got to lunch, I was famished having only had the donut and cocktail on the bus at the start of the day. So famished was I that I took only two photos during the meal and both were of salads – made from the gorgeous baby lettuces and herbs grown at the farm, of course! It was delicious meal. During the meal, we got to hear a presentation by the Don Julio folks about Don Julio and his passion and commitment to making a top quality tequila. Shots of tequila were placed at every setting. Personally, I'm not a shots kinda gal. I much prefer my alcohol tempered with other ingredients made into a yummy cocktail. I gave it a sip so that I could say I had tried this top shelf luxury tequila, then I passed it onto my neighbor who thoroughly enjoyed having two shots.


After lunch, the bartenders took turns making drinks with the herbs they had picked. I watched in amusement as most of them tried to "one-up" each other.

About Suzie's Farm
Suzie's is owned by Robin Taylor and his wife, Lucila De Alejandra. Established in 2004, Robin and Lucila are passionate about feeding the local community and encourage all of their customers to tour the farm and join in on seasonal events.

Suzie's acquires the seeds and a team of employees hand plants, hand transplants, and mostly hand harvests everything grown on the the 140-acre farm – no heavy machinery here, just a dedication to being a family run, organic farm. One of the really cool things about having Suzie's "feeding the community" is the fact that once harvested, produce is available next day at market. Some times, it's even harvested and immediately at market the day of. Lucila says, in an interview on UTTV, that while most commercial farmers plant seeds engineered to travel well, disregarding taste, Suzie's Farm plants organic seeds that taste good and don't travel well at all as everything is vine ripened.

CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) is the cornerstone of their business. Produce subscriptions are available in 6, 13, 26, and 52 box quantities starting at $25 a box for small (6-10 items) and $30 for a large (11-15 items). You can find out more and sign up here.


Suzie's Farm
2570 Sunset Avenue
San Diego, CA 92154

Farm stand open every Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Additionally, you can find them at a variety of farmers markets around the county and at Whole Foods. See their website for specific farmers markets.

About Don Julio Tequila



The tequilas:


For more information, visit their website.


Shakerato

Created by Marshall Altier

Ideal serving vessel: Mason Jar

INGREDIENTS
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1 1/2 ounces Tequila Don Julio Reposado
1/4 ounce Ancho Chili Liqueur
1 1/2 ounces Cold Brew Coffee
1/2 ounce Agave Nectar


PREPARATION
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1. Combine Tequila Don Julio Reposado, ancho chili liqueur, cold brew coffee and agave nectar into a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake well.
2. Strain contents into a mason jar over ice. 

Recipe courtesy of Tequila Don Julio. Reprinted with permission.

The Farm to Shaker event was sponsored by Don Julio Tequila and Suzie's Farm. I was provided with transportation, cocktail samplings, lunch, fresh herb plants, a cocktail cookbook and a few other random items while participating in this event for editorial consideration. No other compensation was provided. Links within this post are not sponsored and I receive no compensation for click-throughs. I'm providing them for my reader's edification. As always, opinions remain my own. 

Until next time, friends! 
xo, Ani