Monday, October 31

Stealing Lavender

This morning I find myself in Phoenix, thinking of happier times.  The warm temperatures here and the sunshine remind me of summertime, and the scent of flowers still blooming on this early November morning brings me back to summers spent picking wildflowers.

When I was a little girl, I remember there was a house a short way down the road that had a large patch of purple flowers growing in front of a small rock wall.  It was not a garden and it was never tended.  The flowers grew wildly, like weeds, and their intoxicating aroma drifted my way on the breeze.  My friends and I would often sneak over there, bottles and bowls in hand, crouching low so as to not be seen over the short rock wall.  We'd fill our bowls and jars with the little purple buds.  Fending off bees and wasps, we'd scrape the small flowers from the stems with our fingernails until our hands were grey-green and the tips of our fingers were raw and stung.  Then we would run, ever so stealthily, back to my house.  The heady fragrance emanated from our clothes, skin, and hair, and I'm sure my mother knew exactly where we had been.

We would then head to the sink to concoct our "perfume."  It was simply the purple buds mixed with water in old spice jars and perfume bottles which my mother had given me to play with.  I made batches and batches of this perfume - the flowers never ran out - and the scent of it covered my dolls and toys for many childhood summers to come.

I'd forgotten about this time until I visited a new spice shop that recently opened down the street from my son's school.  There I found a jar of Lavender from France for a  VERY reasonable price.  Of course I had to have it, and when I got home and opened the jar I was immediately back in that Lavender patch of my childhood, and the memories came flooding back.  We had no idea that what we were picking was Lavender, and back then Lavender didn't hold the mystique that it does today.  It was simply a garden filler.  Something that would grow where nothing else would.  What we did know - even as children -  was that there was something special about this plant; a magnificent and mesmerizing aroma which kept us coming back for more.

I think lavender is good in just about anything.  And, to be honest, I'd much rather eat it than rub it on my skin, but that's beside the point.  I use it in soups and under the skin of roasted chicken.  And I add a good, healthy dose to my Pot Roast Provencal, which I'll post later.  Last week I made Lavender Shortbread Cookies.  The original shortbread recipe was Ina Garten's, and I added Lavender in the hopes of re-creating a Lavender biscuit which I came across in Italy.  The results were divine.

Lavender Shortbread Cookies

3 sticks of butter (please don't have a heart attack yet - this makes a lot!)
1 cup of sugar
1 tsp pure vanilla extract (the good stuff)
3 1/4 cups flour
1 heaping tsp dried lavender (more or less depending on your taste)
1/4 tsp salt

Cream the butter and sugar.  Add the vanilla.  In a separate bowl mix the flour, Lavender, and salt.  Gradually add this to the butter and mix until well blended.  Divide the dough in half and shape each half into a disk.  Wrap disks separately in plastic and refrigerate for 30-45 minutes.  In the meantime, preheat your oven to 350.

Flour your work surface and roll the dough to 1/4 inch thickness.  Cut with a pretty cookie cutter and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment.  Sprinkle the tops with a little extra sugar and bake for about 20 minutes until the edges are just slightly golden.  Cool to room temperature.  This makes about 4 dozen cookies and they freeze well.  Just wrap in a double layer of foil and put into a freezer bag.

Wednesday, October 12

The Land of Enchantment

. . . that's what they call New Mexico.  The Land of Enchantment, a land of contradictions, of fire and flood, of rich and poor, of life and death, of strife, of struggle, of smoke and sand.  It's a harsh land; parched and hot in the summer, intensely frigid in the winter.  Never have I been so cold as I was one winter evening sailing down the Pecos in southern New Mexico.  Life fights for its survival here - culture thrives.


 There is an ancient energy that hovers over this land.  A remnant of past civilizations.  Native American chants still beat steadily through every rock, tree, and flower that finds life in the red clay soil.

Here you are a little closer to the spirit world.

If ever there is a place the truly defines rugged beauty, this is it.  No wonder they call it the Land of Enchantment.

I spent my childhood summers here; playing at the roots of Pinon trees, amongst the sagebrush and cholla cactus.  We collected iron filings from the damp clay after summer rainstorms had washed the desert into a thousand snaking rivulets.  We hiked, in search of pottery shards, on ancient trails carved out gently over hundreds of years by soft, moccasined feet through the rough terrain.

The essence of pinon smoke and the colors of the Sangre de Cristos at sunset are woven deep into my soul.  I always feel at home when I come here.

Among many other things, New Mexico is known for their famous Hatch green chiles.  I recently traveled to my beloved New Mexico and returned with a bag of these wonderful chiles.  And I was inspired to write this recipe for green chile stew.  Be prepared for more New Mexican treats . . .  I also returned with a new cookbook: circa 1951 "Authentic Indian-Mexican Recipes," which I can't wait to dive into.

Taos Green Chile and Chicken Stew

2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs and/or breasts
3 cups chicken stock
1 tsp cumin
1-2 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
1/4 tsp salt
dash of pepper
1-2 large roasted Hatch green chiles, chopped

2 cans cannellini or pinto beans
1/4 cup long grain brown rice
splash of white wine vinegar
1 Tbsp agave nectar or honey

Mix the first 8 ingredients in your slow cooker or crock pot.  Cook on low for 4-5 hours.  Two hours before serving stir in the beans and rice, and break the chicken into chunks with your spoon.  Cook 2 hours longer.  Taste for seasonings and add more salt and pepper if needed.  Finish with the agave nectar and a splash of vinegar to balance out the flavors (no more than a tablespoon).  Garnish with shredded cheddar cheese and chopped avocado.