Sunday, December 21, 2014

Happy Winter Solstice! Music for Sunday

Ever since the days began getting shorter with the fall equinox, I have been looking forward to this day -- December 21st -- because this day marks the start of the sun's return back toward us.

While I enjoy any winter activity on a sunny day or bright, moonlight night, I don't like the darker days of winter. Like this morning, for example. I woke to the same gray skies that the darkness of last night had folded into. But with today's solstice date, I know that the march out of winter has begun.

Enjoy today's Sunday Solstice music and beautiful pictures. Happy Solstice, everyone! And don't forget to keep your eyes on the lights in your life.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

A New Way to Pesto

The diminishing quality of pine nuts on the market over the last couple of years has brought disappointment to many-a-pesto-lover in the kitchen, given the high cost of these special nuts.

Many reviews and comments about pine nuts referenced a lingering bitter taste in the mouth that became known as "pine mouth," which was especially troublesome since it was impossible to know by look or smell if the nut you had on hand was good or bad. Even the FDA got involved, read here.

Making pesto can be costly enough, if you have to purchase all the ingredients from the store -- olive oil, fresh basil, Parmesan cheese, and nuts. Thus, I for one, wasn't thrilled about dropping cash on nuts that may ruin a whole batch, let alone leave me clawing at my tongue for weeks to get rid of that awful taste.

Thus, I searched for an alternative, and low and behold, I found one. Garbanzo beans.

However, if you want to avoid making glorified humus, preparation of the pesto requires a couple tricks.

First, you have to bake the beans in the oven at 225 degrees for about 40 minutes. Second, you MUST be sure to add lemon juice. This ingredient is essential, and I will warn you that many recipes floating out there on the web for this garbanzo bean alternative to pesto have omitted it. Unfortunately, those who don't know any better will be highly disappointed, and likely voicing my own son's remarks after tasting the first trial batch, which were, "That's not good." (Note: remarks have been modified to protect reputations of all parties involved.)

Fortunately, I didn't throw out the batch, and after a fair amount of reflection over what I'd done, I realized what was missing, and the pesto was easily saved. (Note: it always helps to refer back to your own original recipes.)

Pesto can be prepared for a variety of uses. I tend to use mine for cracker and sandwich spreads, so it has a thicker consistency than what may be drizzled over pasta.  Whatever your fancy, you can modify the recipe to suit your needs. Pesto is highly forgiving that way. Want a pasta dressing? Then add more oil, and back off a bit on the beans.

Enjoy your own experiments, and have fun welcoming pesto back into your kitchen (with a better budget, too!)

Pesto with Garbanzo Beans

1 can garbanzos
2 cups fresh basil, packed
1 cup Parmesan cheese
4 cloves garlic
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 tsp salt
1 cup olive oil
1/4 cup lemon juice

(optional: add 2 medium, seeded, roma tomatoes)

Mix all together in a food processor.

Serve what you need, and Freeze the rest in smaller tuperwares for up to 6 months.

I've posted a lot about pesto before. For the original tomato pesto recipe, go here.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Hello, Winter Sunday Sunshine and Music

Winter has settled in our valley with an unlikely companion this season - sunshine.

Usually our valley air gets hammered by inversions, where the cold air becomes trapped near the valley floor under a thick layer of impenetrable clouds, leading us to go through day after day without a sign of sun. Usually our valley gets highlighted in the news during these episodes as one of the worst places in the US for air quality.  Usually I spend my free time figuring out how and when I can leave this valley for brighter days. But not this year. So far, I've awoke on the weekends to glorious blue skies, leading me to make plans that actually take me outside -- here in the valley, of all places -- rather than elsewhere. I can only hope our good weather lasts, and take advantage of it while I can.

Here is a somewhat relevant photo that I found to share my experience with winter, thus far. (Since dropping my camera in orange juice a while back, it's been hard to get decent pictures, because the "new" camera I got, which was supposed to be identical to the first, basically stinks big-time. The quality of Canon's internal parts has obviously taken a nose-dive, unbeknownst to me when I thought replacing my camera would be simple, so long as I got the same model. And as far as the camera-in-orange-juice story goes, don't ask. It's complicated - but true to the luck I tend to run with.)

It's been a while since I posted Sunday music recommendations. This morning the view of the sun glinting off the snow-covered mountain peaks inspired me to search out some winter piano. Martin Herzberg's composition fit the bill.  Enjoy! I know I shall. It's filling my writing space and inspiring my muse quite nicely.