Archive for May, 2011

Departing For Kenya

“A journey of a thousand miles must being with a single step.” – Lao Tzu

Preparing to depart for Kenya–where does one begin? A list for a world I cannot imagine or have any perception of what will come. And so I do the basic necessities–purchase prescriptions, toilet paper to carry with me to yet more squat toilets, read up on the four different places I might be placed as a volunteer (yes my placement has changed that many times in less than 10 days). But more than anything I have basked in the company of my fantastic friends!

After being out West for two months, the easiest way to fly to Kenya was to come back to New York first and I decided to stay a few days to soak up the Big Apple vibe and see the friends I missed. It has been nothing less than glorious, as trips to New York are apt to be in spring. The weather for at least a week stopped what was reported as endless Noah’s Ark like rains, which was just long enough for me to truly get the richness of my favorite season! Spring on the East Coast may be one of the most basic and transcendent of yearly markers. I always sat through winter waiting with anticipation for the moment I could shed and drop my winter coat and adorn myself instead with a simple and light cardigan and sit outside breathing deeply the green smell of fresh growing leaves and newly mowed grass, ahhhh! I arrived to such a prefect week and then to spend it with only the finest of company is yet another moment to sigh with the deepest of appreciation.

I found no trouble spending my week thinking only a slight bit of Kenya and the upcoming journey, I was happy to be more squarely in the present place I was and in the perfect moments that continued to unfold. Meals, meals, and more meals with friends. Walks in parks – Prospect Park, Bryant Park, stunning walks along piers in Brooklyn, with views of the twinkling Manhattan Skyline across the East River. Spending time in gardens. The week could be best summed up with a few photos found on Bari’s blog–could a week get any better than in the company of such a fine little gentleman?!

Between all of these visits and my visits with loved ones in San Francisco, I had the chance to see two remarkable movies. One film in fact about Kenya! And I couldn’t leave without sharing them here.

My father has been fawning, and I do mean fawning over the film IN A BETTER WORLD for months now. The winner of Best Foreign Language Oscar this year, IN A BETTER WORLD is a dark and yet somehow redemptive film about violence, human pain, and empathy. With some of the most deeply felt dialogue in a film I have seen in a long time, I could not help but be equally impacted by this strong and resounding picture.

In a Better World

The second film I saw was in anticipation for the next step along the RAvolution, my time in Kenya. THE FIRST GRADER is the real life story about Kimani Maruge, the Guinness World Record holder for the oldest person to start primary school. In 2004 at the age of 84, Maruge walked miles each day to attend school and learn to read. As part of the resistance in Kenya, Maruge had fought for the country’s independence and then had to fight equally as hard for what he felt was his right to a promised free education. The film is a wonderful introduction and transportation to Kenya. But more than anything, the story is both a tribute and true testament to the resounding power of education and a heart-lifting account of how one is never too old to learn and to continue to grow.

The First Grader

I am more than excited for what I am about to experience. I leave and begin this journey with an open heart and even more open eyes. I feel reinvigorated by the tremendous people I have in my life. And I can’t wait to share the stories with everyone.

So once again I am off on another voyage carrying all of you ever close in my heart, and sneaking you into my luggage next to crayons I am bringing to children, a mosquito net for myself, and an ever expanding appetite for adventure!

Kwaheri,

Ramona

PS – Biggest of thanks to Bari, Matthew, and Asher for sharing their home, life, and time with me. Kisses!

 

30

05 2011

Positively Perfect For Pen Pals

“This is my letter to the world,

That never wrote to me,–

The simple news that Nature told,

With tender majesty.

Her message is committed

To hands I cannot see;

For love of her, sweet countrymen,

Judge tenderly of me!”

Emily Dickinson

I love corresponding; I’m probably better at the old school format than I am at the new cyber related ways to reach out. I take after my mother and grandmother who used to joke about who could send a speedier “Thank You” note. My mother used to think a card was in the mail from my grandmother before we had arrived home from a visit. I LOVE sending and receiving postcards which attests to the pretty gargantuan list of approximately 40 I send from some of my trips. Everyone I met along the road in Southeast Asia teased me about my full page list of cards to send. In the current world of e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, (and I totally get that you are reading this on a blog); there is nothing like receiving a piece of old fashioned mail in your mailbox to offset the countless pieces of junk and bills that crowd our postal service these days. Nothing can make me more excited about arriving home than finding a nicely addressed and stamped letter or postcard waiting for me.

I am always looking for cards; I collect postcards to send out for years after a trip, and from time to time I even make cards myself. On a recent trip to visit my sister and godmother in Oregon, I ran across this environmentally conscious and responsible card company and just loved them.

Positively Green Cards

The cards are smart and sweet, beautiful to look at, and best of all they are environmentally responsible including a “green tip” on the back of the card. The next time you want to send a message of thanks, love, birthday wishes, or just a note to say hi, think twice about hitting the send button and reach instead for a pen and one of these poignant cards. Can there be anything better than finding a note in your mailbox? Why yes, especially if that note says the person who sent it cares as much about the environment as they care about the person receiving the card.

Cordially Corresssponding,

Ramona

23

05 2011

Chocolate Zucchini Cookies

Yes I know there are eyebrows raising and heads being scratched – chocolate cookie of course, but ZUCCHINI?! I am not sure about that. Well yes, they are both chocolate and zucchini but I promise you they are well worth the eyebrows being raised and the heads being scratched in confusion. I first encountered this recipe a few years ago in a copy of Vegetarian Times Magazine. I tried a batch a bit quizzically and confused and my sister and I fell in love with these moist, sweet, and decidedly a bit feel good treats, I mean they do have a serving of vegetable in them.

 

I made a batch of these cookies a few weeks ago and they won everyone over as much as they won my sister and I over with the first baking. They are more soft than a traditional cookie, thanks to the starring but understated zucchini, and thus take on more of a brownie consistency. Once finished off with a light chocolate ganache, these are truly some tremendous desserts.

Blended with a bit of coco powder and frosted with sweet chocolate this is a wonderful and ingenious way to both use the best of the zucchini harvest when tables are heavy with loads of summer vegetables, and a great way to sneak in an extra serving of vegetables we too often miss. Children will love them, picky eaters will devour them, and even the hesitant of heart will have to change their tune once they have tried a chocolate zucchini cookie for themselves.

Happy Baking and Healthy(ish) Eating,

Ramona

Chocolate Zucchini Cookies – from Vegetarian Times

2 cups flour

1/2 cup cocoa powder

1 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. salt

1 cup sugar (I use slightly less, like ¾ of a cup)

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter softened

1 large egg

1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

2 cups finely grated zucchini or yellow squash (1 3/4 cups)

Chocolate Glaze

1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips

2 Tbs. butter

1 Tbs. light corn syrup or agave nectar ( I don’t use this)

1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350°F, and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. To make Cookie Dough: Combine flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt in large bowl. Set aside.

Beat sugar and butter in bowl with electric mixer until light and fluffy. Beat in egg and vanilla extract until smooth. Beat in zucchini until well combined. Add flour mixture, and beat until smooth.

Roll Cookie Dough into 2-inch balls, and place 1 1/2 inches apart on prepared baking sheets. Bake 12 to 15 minutes, or until tops of cookies look dry. Cool 1 minute in pan, then transfer to wire rack to cool completely. Repeat with remaining Cookie Dough. Cool cookies completely.

To make Chocolate Glaze: Melt chocolate chips, butter, and corn syrup in bowl in microwave 30 seconds to 1 minute, stirring occasionally. Stir until smooth, and add vanilla extract. Spread on cookies, and cool 10 to 20 minutes, or until glaze is set.

 

21

05 2011

Ra’s Springtime Salad

As we had expected and jokingly discussed before I arrived, my time in Salinas was going to be filled with good food. Anne is an amazing cook and an even more extraordinary baker; I think she was my mother’s soul sister of the cookie dough, both cut from the same recipe or ingredients. Beth is a world-class griller. With the backdrop of the Salinas Valley, home to more than just John Steinbeck and Earthbound Farms; Salinas is the very place most of the finest produce is grown in the United States. Set just a few miles from the Pacific Ocean and the vast bounty of the sea, we had pretty spectacular ingredients to start with. We cooked and shared recipes and approaches often. Some meals one of us cooked, others two, and yet others each of us would contribute.

Inspired by one of our weekly visits to the Monterey Farmers Market I threw this salad together for dinner. Beth loved it so much she requested I make it again, and then again, she also dubbed it Ra’s Springtime Salad!

It is the perfect nod to the season and to local ingredients. It might just be one of the most splendid combinations of flavors with the sweet roasted beets, the toothy and substantial edamame, and the smooth and buttery finish of avocado. The dressing is also simple and takes a similar nod towards the combination of ingredients to the salad; a basic balsamic vinaigrette with a sweet note to reflect the beets.

We had many fine meals and all of them made that much finer for the company that surrounded them. Over the next few days/week I am going to share some of our favorite experiments in the kitchen. But I thought there was no better way to start my recipe retrospective on spring in Salinas then with this salad.

I wish you all the very best of the bountiful springtime season, I wish you warm stoves, full stomachs, and happy taste buds. And to Anne and Beth (and Dog Dude Dusty), the very largest of thanks for letting me play in your kitchen these past two months and for the fantastic meals we shared.

Love,

Ra

Ra’s Springtime Salad

1 pound Beets (red or golden will work in this recipe, though we did prefer the golden)

1 Avocado

10 oz shelled edamame fresh or frozen

Dressing:

¼ cup of olive oil

¼ cup of balsamic vinegar

1 teaspoon of lemon juice

1 teaspoon of maple syrup (or agave or honey)

Salt & Fresh Ground Black Pepper to Taste

Wash and roast beets. Depending on size I sometimes had to cut them to do this, other times I could just roast them in a baking dish with water. Roast beets until tender and skin can easily peel off. Let beets cool not completely but until they can be handled. Peel beets and cut into 1/4 inch chunks.

If using frozen edamame boil in salted water until they are cooked but still a bit firm to the tooth. Drain and set aside.

To make the dressing, combine all of the ingredients and whisk. Add the beets and edamame. It is best if the beets and edamame are still just slightly warm because they will soak up more of the dressing this way.

Cut the Avocado into ¼ inch pieces about the same size as the beet. Add the avocado to the salad and then taste for salt and pepper.

Enjoy! This salad is wonderful fresh and still slightly warm or cold the next day.

 

17

05 2011

April – A Month Of Milestones Met

“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.”

– T.S. Eliot

April was a milestone month for me and for the RAvolution! The idea of the RAvolution as my friend Astrid put it was, “a wonderful lesson in moving forward”. To me the idea of the RAvolution was to give myself space and time and to finally learn some basic life skills I was very late to come to. But late is better than never, and in April I was finally able to put those goals behind me in the rearview mirror of the car I was legally driving!

I had tried to learn to ride a bike oh, maybe once, but at the time, as a very prim young girl who refused to wear anything but dresses, declared “this isn’t for me, I can’t wear my dress and I might fall and hurt myself”. So there on Bryant Street in the Mission District of San Francisco, a very short-lived bike career ended on the same or next day and street as it had started.

I made a few more valiant attempts at driving than biking, but just barely more focused. I got my permit twice – promptly at 16 when I could officially get it, only to find out that our family only had stick shift cars and coupled with the steep hills of San Francisco my trepidation and a wee bit of laziness got the best of me. Then when I was in my early 20s I tried again, alas, very half heartedly I think I might have practiced a whopping 4 hours on that permit, and we wonder how it took so long for me to finally get to the day I would sidle up to the DMV and actually pass the test!

With all obstacles removed and the time dedicated to the goals at hand, we started April with a bang. We wasted no time to get to the DMV and get me started on a daily driving regimen. Now with years of life experience, if not driving experience, I knew that what was needed was merely practice and the intention to overcome insecurities and trepidations. Armed with fantastic teachers in Anne and Beth, we spent countless hours, miles, and detours to master my skills. We took leisurely drives, sped on freeways, got dizzy on winding country roads, worked in abandoned lots to refine my motor skills with created obstacle courses; we did three point turns, and practiced parking for days.

And then it all paid off. After more practice driving into and out of parking lots and around towns and cities, one fine morning on the coast of California, I was officially handed a new means of ID – MY VERY FIRST DRIVERS LICENSE!!!!

I had started my month in Salinas with the hope that in 5 -6 weeks I could learn to drive, get my drivers license, and I kept saying in a hopeful way to people if I was very lucky and worked hard I would like to learn to ride a bike! My mother used to tell me “Ra have high hopes but low expectations. Hope for the moon and the best and expect nothing, then when life happens no matter what it is, it will not disappoint you.” This was a hard lesson to learn, and to be honest I am still learning and struggling with it. But I put this philosophy to practice here in Salinas and to my surprise, enjoyment, and pride I not only learned to ride a bike but I learned to love it! I started with taking small bike rides and grew to around 10 mile jaunts, including small hills. I love the feeling of the wind and sun on my face and arms. And I love even more hoping and wishing for something but holding no expectation or attachment to it, and finding in the realizing of process that I can do whatever I put my mind and heart to.

April surpassed my every wish and hope. The lessons and life skills learned. The conversations had. The movies we saw (Water for Elephants, The Conspirator, Jane Eyre, Of Gods And Men). The life that met me and opened the door to a new me. When there are life skills that are somehow taken for granted by others – driving, riding a bike, swimming (yes, I know how to do this one) the day that you no longer have to with a blush of shame admit that you cannot do something, it is a great readjustment to how one perceives themselves.

I am so happy with my new skills and find that I love my time on a bike or spent behind the wheel of a car so much it is hard for me to imagine it took me so long to come to this place.

My endless gratitude to those who helped me along the way. To my teachers, to my cheerleaders, to my guides into this new wondrous world of wheels!

Love,

Ra

PS – My little friend, Asher, on a visit to California tried to beat me to get a Driver’s License.

 

12

05 2011

Scones For Royalty

From the Royal Palace in Laos to Buckingham Palace in London, what do you serve or eat in the presence of royalty–past or present? The answer to that is easy, scones. Light, buttery, savory or sweet, nothing is better when passing a palace on foot or watching a royal wedding on TV.

My recent love affair with scones began at JoMa Bakery in Laos where I tried their delicious and delicate cheddar scallion scones; they were so good I had to go back a few days later to have another one. Indeed they were so good they were the first thing I baked or cooked myself upon returning home! I have tried a few other recipes inspired by my travels since returning home, but none that turned out as good as these scones, and none that heralded a repeat baking.

I tried to recreate these small Thai rice cake cookies; they were not too sweet combined with sesame seeds and a single cashew on top. While in Thailand I even asked how to make them, and while I should have known at the explanation that there might be some room for recipe change in America it didn’t hit me until I was home how much I would have to create these from memory. The recipe started in Thailand with “…Separate the rice from the husk, then dry the rice in the sun, before puffing the rice…” My response was to ask if I could buy “Rice Crispies”. Well let’s just say I am not going to share that recipe here and if anyone does know how these delicious morsels are made I would love any recommendations.

Second I tried to make in honor of Cambodian New Year, the popular dish Amok. I had Amok of every variety on my travels – chicken, shrimp, and tofu and loved each one more than the last. I loved it so much I purchased the spice mix to bring home with me. Amok is a relative of a mild curry, flavored with lemon grass, turmeric, kaffir lime leaf; simmered with coconut milk it is one of the most comforting dishes I could imagine. But again my reinterpretation with American ingredients only hinted at the magnificence of eating a bowl of this vivid yellow delight while under a thatch roof overlooking a white sandy beach.

However, when it came to the scones I found myself closing my eyes and breathing in deeply and feeling the way I did outside the Royal Palace in Luang Prabang. When we tasted them the first night I made them I knew there had to be a repeat baking for the Royal Wedding. Despite the early hour in California, the wedding itself was at 3AM, I baked and we watched the festivities while toasting to tea and savoring delightful baked goods.

So whether it is to entertain royalty or to offer to friends, these scones are not to be passed up or missed. We tried both a savory and sweet rendition on the wedding morning and we baked them in smaller sizes. Enjoy the baking, but I guarantee you will enjoy the eating more.

Happy Tea Time,

Her Regal ness Ramona

Scones Fit For A Royal, In The Savory And Sweet Rendition

2 cups all-purpose flour


1 Tablespoon baking powder


1 teaspoon salt


8 Tablespoons (1 stick or 4 ounces) cold butter, diced


2/3 cup half and half


3 eggs, divided


For Cranberry Walnut Scones:

¼ cup dried cranberries

¼ cup walnuts finely diced

1 Tablespoon turbinado sugar

For Cheddar Scallion Scones:

1/3 cup Cheddar cheese, diced


3 scallions thinly sliced

Preheat oven to 400°F. Place filling (cheddar cheese/scallion, or cranberries/walnut depending on sweet or savory scone) in a small bowl and coat them with one tablespoon of the flour and set aside. Combine the remaining flour with the baking powder and salt. Cut in the butter with a pastry blender, fork or two knives, until it forms pea-sized morsels.

Lightly whip two of the eggs and half and half and add to the flour-butter mixture. Using a wooden spoon, fold mixture until it begins to come together. Add the filling mixture to the dough and mix until everything is incorporated.

I have trouble rolling out scone dough so I prefer to do the simple spoon drop method, of taking a spoonful of the batter and placing it on a prepared baking sheet. Make an egg wash by beating the remaining egg with a teaspoon of water. Brush the scones with egg wash and for sweet (cranberry/walnut scones) I sprinkled with a little turbinado sugar. Bake for 25 minutes or until golden brown.

Scones are always best when fresh from the oven. Recipe yields 8 large or 24 small scones.

Photo 3 By Beth

Photo 5 and Photo 7 By Anne

 

03

05 2011