Archive for January, 2016

First Prize Onion Casserole

IMG_9691

After my mom died there were so many questions – was I all right? Was my sister all right? Had we eaten? Did we need anything? Did I know where my mom had kept this or that? Months later when we cleaned out her house the questions were still there but had changed – What were we going to do in our lives? Where were we going to go? Could someone have this or that of our moms? And the BIG question – Do you have your mom’s recipe for – her chocolate mousse, her lasagna, her macaroni and cheese, her chocolate chip cookies, her chicken curry, her rice casserole?

I loved the questions about her recipes, her food always showed her boundless love to people, and the fact that specific items had resonated made her love feel received, recognized, and appreciated. I wrote here about finding her chicken curry recipe years after she passed, and finding her kugel recipe. In the last few months I had a similar discovery when looking for her friend’s banana bread recipe I came upon a recipe cut out from the SF Chronicle that looked familiar but instead of being called rice casserole it celebrated the onion. I sent the recipe to some of our family early on a Saturday morning and before too long my phone was ringing with calls and text messages “you found it! That’s her rice casserole recipe! I know what I am making for dinner for the family tonight.”

IMG_9690

It’s a very simple recipe but the first moment the onions hit the butter it smelled like my mom’s kitchen and Monday night dinners. Lately I have been having some tough emotions about my mom, I of course love her so much, unconditionally, forever, but as her daughter I saw more of her layers like an onion. She could bring people to tears in good and bad ways like an onion. To so many she was their rock, their best friend, the wisest woman they knew, the kindest and most fun. But like any deep relationship once you peel the layers of the onion and the day to day as her child at times felt harder – the buttons we pushed in each other, the complicated relationship she had with her family that was inadvertently transferred to me, the ways she could pour out everything for humanity but then be too tired and would take to her bed for days leaving me to take care of myself and at times my sister. Like an onion our relationship could be sweet or have a strong bite to it. But beyond everything she is my mother and just because you lose a parent doesn’t mean that your relationship with them ends or that the complicated feelings become condensed into only the good ones.

IMG_9695

But this casserole is only the sweet memories of comfort and care. The onions have a good relationship with a lot of butter that leave them only tasting sweet and caramelized. My sister and I joke if anything of our moms tasted good it was – butter, sour cream, or half and half – and this recipe doesn’t let down. I served it the way my mom always served it with a big green salad and as much love as I possibly could.

Love All-ways,

Ra

IMG_0319

First Prize Onion Casserole from Marion Cunningham and the SF Chronicle

Ingredients:

5 cups of water

1 teaspoon salt + more to taste

½ cup long grain rice

4 tablespoons butter

4 large yellow onions, cut into ½ inch dice

6 ounces Swiss cheese, grated (1 ½ cups)

2/3 cup half and half (or milk)

IMG_9693

  • Preheat the oven to 325°. Have ready a 9x13x2 inch baking dish.
  • Combine the water and 1 teaspoon of salt in a saucepan. Bring to a boil. Slowly add the rice. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for just 5 minutes; drain well. Transfer rice to mixing bowl.
  • Melt the butter in a large sauté pan. Add the onins and cook over medium heat, stirring until they are shiny and soft, about 5 to 6 minutes. Add to the rice.
  • Add the grated cheese and the half-and-half. Stir until well mixed. Taste. Salt and pepper to your liking (it will need it).
  • Spread the mixture in the baking dish. Place in the over and bake for 1 hour, until golden on top.

Serves 6

IMG_9700

29

01 2016

Mexico for the Holidays

IMG_9550

It’s freezing cold in New York and Sunday night we had our first dusting of snow this winter. But my mind is still somewhere far away on a white sand beach with palm trees gently swaying in the tropical breeze and a double rainbow after a brief late afternoon shower. To say the least I wish I were still in Mexico as I remember all of the wonderful moments my sister and I shared together over the holidays this year.

IMG_9645

IMG_20151224_100553913_HDR

IMG_9639

We split our time in Mexico in half with the first part in Mexico City, the vibrant city at the country’s center. My sister had spent 5 weeks in Mexico this summer so she was my guide and translator (and she did an excellent job). We stayed centrally right off the Zócalo in the historic heart of the city. I arrived half a day before my sister and with my first afternoon I strolled the crowded central streets with vendors selling their goods, food being cooked on small carts by the side of the road and people everywhere eating, walking, shopping. The colorful streets made all the more colorful with the piñatas for Christmas strung everywhere you looked.

IMG_9436

IMG_9411

IMG_20151224_111451237

One of my favorite parts of Mexico City was the layers, the ages built on top of one another all still visible in places. The Aztec ruins, the colonial churches, and the modern buildings all living and gently sloping and sinking together in a city that is so alive today you can feel the echoes of its history but also the pounding of its modern heart. I visited the Templo Mayor the incredible ruins built by the Aztecs in the 14th and 15th centuries.

IMG_9427

IMG_20151224_140757495

IMG_9612

IMG_9511

One of the main reasons I have always wanted to visit Mexico City was the Frida Kahlo museum. My sister had visited La Casa Azul this summer and had said we had to come together. At the fist look the vibrant colors of the walls and the sanctuary of the garden you feel transported back to the days when Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera lived here entertaining Trotsky and painting. The rooms and views out to the garden, especially where Frida painted and her bedroom with the bed from which she was confined and worked often in her life, feel like you are guests in the most intimate way. Her clothes, especially the braces she wore make her words “Feet, what do I need you for when I have wings to fly?” come to life in ways I never could have imagined.

IMG_9440

IMG_9443

IMG_20151224_095900986

IMG_9450

IMG_9457

IMG_9455

We visited Diego Rivera’s awe inspiring murals at the Palacio Nacional depicting Mexico’s history; I am still amazed at the size and scope of these works. We went to Christmas mass at Catedral Metropolitana.

IMG_9493

IMG_9495

IMG_20151224_124539629

We strolled the streets and squares of Coyoacán and the Historic Center. We had unbelievable dinners in restaurants from 1912 and desserts at a sweet store from 1874, and on Christmas we had the best churros and hot chocolate of my life at Churreria El Moro that has been in business since 1935.

IMG_9532

IMG_2787

IMG_2785

IMG_2789

I discovered that my friend Jenni was in Mexico City at the same time as us and we were lucky enough to meet up for one of the highlights of the trip and one of the most special and magical Christmas gifts. We spent Christmas night with Jenni walking and looking at the lights of the Zócalo. Watching an amazing light and projection show on the side of the cathedral; searching for Tequila, eating tacos and cerveza; talking about our dreams, our disappointments, our departed parents and life in the biggest and best ways!

IMG_2795

IMG_2796

Our last day in Mexico City my sister and I took the subway and a small train out to Xochimilco and the canals and semi floating gardens and the colorful trajineras (gondolas). Slowly we were punted along the network of canals with gardens and the occasional house along the shores. Other trajineras would glide past us with an occasional mariachi or vendor selling flowers or preparing and selling food. Time was slow and peaceful. It was a perfect close to our Mexico City experience.

IMG_9610

IMG_9600

IMG_20151226_111612249

IMG_20151226_114214506

IMG_20151226_115843357

The second half of our trip was spent on a small island in the Caribbean called Isla Mujeres. Our hotel was on a rocky beach but with perfect ocean views and morning sunrises. It even included free yoga twice a week (which I promptly took advantage of). The center of town was a short cab ride away, or golf cart by way of hitch hiking (yep we hitch hiked a golf cart!) It had one main pedestrian street lined with restaurants and stores. The houses were colorful and the ocean air was everywhere.

IMG_9634

IMG_9629

At the north end of the island is one of the most beautiful white sand beaches with perfect warm turquoise waters. We swam as pelicans dived for fish and landed feet away from us. We floated and soaked. We dug our feet into the soft white sand as the palm trees gently swayed.

IMG_20151230_090514268

IMG_2804

We took an exhilarating and hot bike ride to an ancient hacienda one day. My sister was very patient with me as a yelled and cursed a good portion of the way. The parts of the Island where I was not almost being hit by taxis, motorbikes, or the very present golf cart, there were moments with beautiful beach and tropical forest views. I almost ran over an iguana but all wildlife (including myself) lived to tell the tale.

IMG_9635

IMG_9551

We read our books and played cards. Ate countless fish tacos and margaritas. We went to a beach bar with swings and let our feet stay in the sand. We had double rainbows and a beautiful last sunset.

IMG_2808

IMG_20151230_162147075

It felt like a perfect vacation to me! With someone I love, relaxed, eating, drinking, talking, swimming, seeing art, trying new things, returning to things deeply beloved. A perfect combination of adventure and rest all topped off with what I had hoped for some of the best meals I could ever imagine!

IMG_9548

IMG_9617

Having grown up in a neighborhood heavily influenced by Mexican culture and people I felt instantaneously at home everywhere we went. But more then anything I felt a deeper respect, understanding, and admiration for things I have taken for granted my entire life. Everything in Mexico felt more rooted and grounded but reminiscent of my childhood. I left feeling more love both for where I was raised and for the deeper connection and roots that it has back to a country that is far richer more vibrant more diverse then I had ever known.

IMG_2812

Our favorite places to eat on this trip:

Cafe Popular in Mexico City – lived up to its name and was very popular on our trip.

Cafe Tacuba in Mexico City – with the best enchiladas!

Sanborns de los Azulejos in Mexico City

Churreria El Moro in Mexico City – for churros and hot chocolate that will blow you away!

La Torta Brava in Mexico City – had great tacos al pastor

Dulceria de Celaya in Mexico City – amazing sweets

Compadres on Isla Mujeres – this was our favorite place on Isla Mujeres! Great Fish Tacos

Gelateria FraSe on Isla Mujeres – our favorite dessert on Isla and for the record my sister wanted this more then the fish tacos!

Gracias y besos

Ramona y Camila

IMG_20151230_170341753

Photo credits: Ramona Collier & Camila Martin

21

01 2016

Tartine’s Chocolate Oatmeal Walnut Cookies

IMG_9400

I’ve just returned from the most beautiful and brilliant trip to Mexico with my sister! But I have also already returned to work and a project has me going full time for the next 10 days. So stories of white sand beaches, and turquoise waters, of swaying palm trees, and rainbows, of sinking cathedrals, Aztec ruins, butterflies, flowered boats, and unexpected reunions with friends will have to wait a short bit. But I do not come empty handed because I have cookies! Chocolate chip, oatmeal, walnut cookies that is!

IMG_9390

I made these cookies from my cookbook book club’s new fore that we are cooking from Tartine Cookbook. I baked these for friends a few weeks before my trip and my friends and I loved them. They are soft and chewy from the oatmeal and have the chocolate that makes life so much sweeter and more enjoyable (at least to me) and studded with small chunks of walnuts. They have that wonderful cookie feeling of being new but feeling like you have eaten these your whole life and would like to continue eating them your whole life (I in fact will continue to bake these my whole life!)

IMG_9392

Tartine’s Chocolate Oatmeal Walnut Cookies from Tartine Cookbook

Ingredients:

6 ounces bittersweet chocolate coarsely chopped into 1/4″ pieces or I used chocolate chips

1 cups all purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 cups old fashioned rolled oats

1/2 cup (1 sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature

¾ cups sugar

2 tablespoons molasses or blackstrap

1 large eggs

1 tablespoons milk

1/2 tablespoon vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped (I left these out of some of the cookies for a friends kids and they were just as good)

IMG_9388

  • Heat oven to 350°F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper or silpat liners.
  • Sift together the flour, baking powder, and baking soda, and then stir oats into this mixture and set aside.
  •  Beat the butter on medium-high until light and creamy. Slowly add the sugar and mix on medium speed until light in color and fluffy. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add the molasses and beat until well combined. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the milk, vanilla, and salt.
  • Add the flour mixture into the butter mixture and beat on low speed until well incorporated. Fold in the chocolate and walnuts.
  • Scoop the dough onto the prepared baking sheets, the cookbook calls for these to be 3 ounce scoops but I stayed with a tablespoon scoop and still loved them. 
  • Bake until the cookies edges are lightly brown but the centers remain pale, 10-12 minutes. Rotate your pans part way through if cooking 2 pans at a time.
  • Transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool. I have been told they will keep in an airtight container at room temperature up to a week – 10 days but my friends and I didn’t have them long enough to test this.

Makes approximately 24 – 30 cookies

IMG_9395

05

01 2016