Treats from my Sweet(s)

Andy returned late Saturday evening from Barcelona bearing gifts.
6 bottles of Spanish wine
A quarter wheel of Manchego cheese, and
A Chorizo sausage the size of toddler. That may be an exaggeration. It was pretty darn big though.

What does one do when faced with all these treasures? Call friends over to share in the goodness that's what.  Actually, it was really late, so we put everything away in the pantry and refrigerator and went to sleep, but then we did make a phone call the next morning.

When I was at the market there happened to be a new crop of quince that had come in.  I picked up a few of them planning to make a chutney or roast them with some pork, but what I really wanted was quince paste to go along with the Manchego.  The pairing is classic in Spanish cuisine and I was anxious to give it a whirl.  I have had quince paste paired with other cheeses at a gorgeous wine shop and deli in Singapore, The Cellar Door, and on a fabulous sandwich of Jambon, Brie, quince paste and arugula, but not with it's Spanish sweetie, Manchego.

If you've never eaten or cooked with quince, they are an interesting food.  I do mean that in a good way, not like how you might say that brussel sprouts are interesting, or fermented fish paste is interesting. They look funny, sort of like the love child of an apple and a pear that was sat on. They are highly tannic so you do not want to eat them raw, they are however lovely poached or roasted or turned into jelly....I find that they have an intoxicating floral fragrance and turn a rosy pink when cooked. Be warned however they are difficult to peel and to chop (Okay, that might just be my problem as I am working with really dodgy knives right now as we await our shipment).

Recipes abound on the Internet for quince paste or membrillo as it is called in Spain.  It is little more than poached quince, sugar, a little acid for balance and patience. After cooking the fruit and pureeing it, you cook it again for about an hour and a half. Thus the patience.

I followed the recipe posted at Simply Recipes The blog is great, the quince paste is also.

In between stints at stirring the bubbly puree I walked around the yard with our gardener. He comes every other week to help tidy things up and lecture me on something. I call him the "Garden Nazi".  He only speaks French so I only pick up about 1/2 of what he is telling me.  This was the week to lecture me about cleaning something, and pulling something when something bloomed. But I also found out that we have 4 quince trees growing in our yard, a bay laurel, rosemary that had been hiding under a giant geranium, and I think an olive tree. Or something. 

A quince growing on one of the trees in our backyard

Have I shown you my backyard?  This is the view of my house from our backyard.

The Bay tree

Rosemary hiding under the geranium

Oh, before I forget, I should show you how the quince paste turned out. There it is, sticky, sweet, faintly floral and it matches perfectly with the cheese.


What more could you ask for?

I'm sitting in my kitchen listening to the sounds of the wind rustle the trees in my backyard and the waves crash onto the beach. Today was a really good day.

Andy was home from his trip to Barcelona and it was a great experience.  The girls were finishing homework and chatting and laughing together. We had great conversations over dinner with a good friend. Oh, and the Tunisian people got a chance to say what they want their future to look like.

That's a big sentence to write, to determine your future.....For some people it was the first time that they have EVER had the chance to vote. I'm not talking about young adults, these are people in the 50's and 60's casting their ballot, letting their voice be heard for the first time.

Inked stained fingers of some of our staff who voted

Coming from the West I have very little understanding of the literal blood, sweat, and tears that went into today.  I take for granted that there will be a fairly peaceful process leading up to our election day. I take for granted that there will be a peaceful change over of administrations. I don't fear for violent protests or military crack downs when we vote in a new president.

Today was a really good day.  I reflected on how fortunate I was to grow up where I did, to have the freedoms that I have, to be able to set the course for my own future. And I also marveled at the Tunisian people, how proud they are, how deeply they understand that the world is watching them, the responsibility  they bear for the region as they pave the way.

We have heard over and over again from the beginning of the Arab Spring, that if any country can bring about democracy in the Arab world, Tunisia can.

The days and weeks to come are the real test, how will the people react to the party that is declared the "winner", today we have just reached the starting line, tomorrow begins the hard work.

Some of the staff at ACST showing off that they voted!

If today is any indication as to how things will proceed, I'm pretty sure that Tunisia will pull this off.


Politics and Applesauce

This has been a strange sort of week. Even Tunisia feels moody. The Mediterranean which is usually a turquoise bathtub of calm has even had it's moments of stormy waves and blue-grey waters.

My heart is feeling a little heavy. My friend flew back to the states for a medical procedure, my sister in law lost her brother very suddenly, my husband is traveling for work, my elderly Aunt had a heart attack, and the elections are being held this weekend here in Tunisia.

All through out the day my emotions flip flop over what to fret about, what to pray about, what to be grateful for and what to just let go. And then I got home, the sun was out and I could hear the waves gently lapping on the beach. I sat and watched a few sets of waves roll in. Ahhh, peace.

My friend will be just fine, she is young, (yes, J you are) and healthy, and she is in good hands. My sister in law and her family are grieving and lost in that surreal fog that envelopes you when you so recently lose someone. My Aunt had surgery and is recuperating nicely. When something happens to family, being on the other side of the world is so very, very hard. My husband will only be gone a few days and he'll be bringing back goodies from Barcelona.  I guess that leaves us with the unknown of the elections here in Tunisia.

The lead up to this weekend has put me on edge at times.  We've been told to stock up on water and groceries, but then the government started rationing how much water and milk you can purchase.  Stores are routinely out of stock of both items, although strangely enough there was ample supply of bublegum flavored milk. We're fine, we have plenty of food, water, milk, and even chocolate chips.

Everything points to the election being a peaceful event.  It's afterward, when the announcement is made about who wins that makes me a little edgy. That's when there is potential for friction, protesting, violence. But instead of focusing on that, I'm choosing to believe in the Tunisian people who have worked so hard and have come so far for this moment.

If you're interested in following along here are a few sites you can read.
Tunisia Live News and events.
Tunisia Security Update  this is a blog written by the security director at our school.
Out of the Box My friend Paula's blog. She wrote a nice post on recent events.
You can also get info on the BBC or the International Herald Tribune.

If you're looking for a recipe, I shall not disappoint. To go along with a pork roast we had the other night I made an applesauce scented with honey and rosemary. I think it turned out nicely, the kids gave it their seal of approval and it makes for an easy side dish.

Applesauce with Honey and Rosemary
5 medium apples peeled, quartered and cored
½ water
3 tablespoons honey
Rosemary to your taste, chopped fine

Thinly slice the apples and place them in a large saucepan.  Pour over the water and honey, add the rosemary. I used 2 teaspoons.
Bring to a simmer and let cook covered for 15-20 minutes or until the apples are very soft and can be smashed with the back of a spoon.
Mash the apples with a potato masher or puree with an immersion blender depending on the consistency you want.  Reduce the heat to medium low and let the apples cook uncovered another 8-10 minutes or until all the liquid evaporates and the applesauce thickens.
Cool and refrigerate. 


I thought that I would post about a few things that I love and that give me inspiration right about now.

(I was going to post a cheesy picture of sun beams shining down from the heavens but thought that might be pushing it)

At Apartment Therapy The Kitchen One Pot Pasta e Fagioli I think this may need to make an appearance on our dinner table very soon.

THE final word on Mac and Cheese as far as I'm concerned at Hungry Cravings. My family nearly licked the pot clean. This was totally worth sacrificing a block of english cheddar that I smuggled back here from our family holiday in London.  (And I should mention a precious quart of milk given that there is now rationing of how much milk you can buy here in Tunisia.

One Green Bee for greeting cards and general adorableness.

Precious Metal Clay and Fused Glass jewelry at Eternally Optimistic unique materials, unique design, great lady.

Preserved Lemon recipe at The Splendid Table can't wait to try this out.

Janne Ritskes the audacious and indefatigable founder of Tabitha and her new project the Nokor Tep Women's Hospital in Cambodia. I dare you, no double dog dare you, to not be moved by this woman.

Day of Honey by Annia Ciezadlo and A Tiger in the Kitchen by Cheryl Lu Lien Tan two books I can't put down right now.

Complete and total bakery crush....Baked  I have 2 of their cookbooks coming in our shipment and I can't wait to get my hands on them again!

(As a disclaimer I must say that my family takes top billing in the inspiration department and I didn't mention them because duh, they're a given)!

So tell me, what is giving you inspiration and joy this week?

To Market, To Market

Every Saturday morning Andy and I head out early to the market in La Marsa.  It never ceases to provide me with inspiration. This week we began to see in earnest the changes of the season. Gone were the peaches and nectarines, the tomatoes and potatoes are dwindling, quince only made a very brief appearance and I am kicking myself for not grabbing a kilo or two when I saw them.

I did buy this really bushy, floppy bouquet of basil for pennies.

I have a growing collection of pesto in my freezer.  Funnily enough I couldn't touch the stuff for 14 years. We were traveling in Italy while I was contending with morning sickness (which at the time I was convinced was food poisoning) and just couldn't bear to touch it again. Glad I've recovered from that!

I bought cranberry beans that are so ridiculously beautiful.

I will feature them in a cranberry bean ragout with pancetta and rosemary.

Fennel made it's first appearance. I'm roasting the bulb and topping it with a little Grana Padana and the fronds are going to be used the next time I roast a chicken or some fish.  I'm going to freeze them, I'll let you know how that turns out.

I also scooped up some carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, butternut squash, snowy heads of cauliflower, dill, mint, flat leaf parsley, a few tomatoes, and this rosy garlic.

I loved the carrots, they are so deeply orange and even red and purple in places. 

While the market had inspired me I just wasn't sure where to start.  My friend Lauren made a carrot and ginger soup a few weeks ago and I thought it might be something my family would enjoy. I decided to roast the carrots and while I was at it I might as well roast a bit of the pumpkin and a couple of sweet potatoes. After prowling around in the pantry I came up with some spices that would complement the sweetness and earthiness of the vegetables nicely and Voila!

Moroccan Spiced Autumn Soup

1 pound of fresh pumpkin, peeled and chopped into 2 inch pieces
12 medium carrots, peeled and chopped into 2 inch pieces
2 large sweet potatoes, scrubbed and left whole
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic smashed
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
6 cups vegetable or chicken stock
1/2 cup heavy cream or Creme Fraiche
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
Harissa and Creme Fraiche for serving

Preheat the oven to 400 F. Place the pumpkin, carrots, and sweet potato on a parchment lined baking sheet evenly spread out.  You may need to roast the vegetables in batches.  Roast them for 30-45 minutes or until they are very soft and slightly caramelized.

When the vegetables have finished cooking set them aside.  In a large saucepan heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium high heat.  Add the onion and saute for 5 minutes or until soft and beginning to brown.  Add the garlic and saute another 2 minutes. Next add the cayenne, cumin and ginger and stir until fragrant, about 1-2 minutes.  Add the stock, the vegetables and reduce the heat. Simmer for 10 minutes.  

Remove the soup from the heat and *puree until very smooth. Return the soup to the saucepan and add the heavy cream.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  If the soup is too thick you can thin it with additional stock or water.

Serve with Harissa and Creme Fraiche.

* I use an immersion blender. If you are using a blender or food processor, puree the soup in batches.


There is a harmony in autumn, and a luster in its sky, which through the summer is not heard or seen.....
Percy Bysshe Shelley

Since we lived for 8 years on the equator we didn't get to experience seasons. Well unless you call the monsoon a season.

Seasons are one of the things I have most looked forward to here in Tunisia. I think that we are on the brink of autumn. I have longed for autumn for many years now.  Once a friend mailed me a big box of maple leaves she had collected from her yard one October. I still remember the color of the leaves. I haven't seen such yellows and reds and oranges since then. They made my heart sing.

I do believe that autumn is my favorite season.  The mornings are crisp, the afternoons bright with sun, the evenings perfect for a walk and we can do what was unheard of while living in the tropics. Wear a sweater and hold hands. I know, so fun!

It has been many years since we have experienced autumn.  Not that what we have now would be considered autumn by most people. But it works for me. 

When the seasons change you find yourself changing how you dress, your activities and what you eat.  There is something about autumn and a big pot of something simmering on the stove that just seems right.

Black Beans and Rice
1 cup dried black beans rinsed

6 slices of bacon chopped
1 large onion diced
2 cloves of garlic peeled and left whole
2 bay leaves
6 cups of chicken broth
2 red bell peppers, roasted, seeded and chopped. From a jar is fine
1, 15 oz. can of chopped tomatoes drained well
¼ teaspoon of cayenne pepper
Salt and pepper to taste
Chopped cilantro for garnish
Rice for serving

Place the black beans in a large bowl and cover with 2-3 inches of cold water.  Soak the beans overnight.

Drain the beans and rinse them well. In a large saucepan place the beans, garlic cloves, bay leaves, and 4 cups of chicken broth. When cooking black beans a ratio of 3 cups liquid to 1 cup beans is typically used. I find however that I like to use more liquid, usually 4-6 cups depending on the consistency I want in the finished product. Bring the beans and broth to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for one hour or until very tender.  Add more broth as needed to your liking.

Meanwhile, sauté the bacon over medium high heat until the fat renders and the bacon begins to brown.  Pour off most of the fat. Add the onion and sauté until the onion is softened and the bacon is crisp. Add the roasted peppers and the tomatoes.  Sauté for another 5 minutes. Add the bacon mixture and cayenne pepper to the beans and simmer for 15 minutes.

Adjust seasoning, remove garlic cloves and bay leaves. Serve over rice garnished with cilantro.

PIzza Night

I've been craving pizza for a while. Specifically pepperoni pizza. That's not what I made for dinner though.  I guess that I have been craving pizza for such a long time that it really didn't matter if it was pepperoni, as long as it was pizza.
I was home with my daughter who was sick today, so I had some time on my hands to plot this pizza. I have been consciously trying to make sure that we use all of the produce that we are buying at the market, trying not to let it languish in the fridge until it becomes a science experiment, or until I lose interest. So when I came across a rather large bag of greens from the market I figured I had better use them.  

Disclaimer:  I do not know what kind of greens they were. 
Me to market guy: "Qu'est que c'est".
Market guy: "Sort of spinach".
That concludes the French speaking portion of the show.

So, what to do with sort of spinach/bitter greens and a pizza craving. Why hit up google of course.

This pizza really has a lot going for it. Salty, bitter, chewy, crisp....didn't miss the pepperoni at all.
Really, I didn't.

Pizza of Bitter Greens, Prosciutto, and Feta
Pizza crust, see recipe below or use your favorite
16 ounces of greens, spinach, arugula, escarole or broccoli rabe, roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic thinly sliced
olive oil
salt and pepper
1 cup fresh ricotta cheese
1 cup grated mozzarella cheese
1 cup crumbled feta cheese
4 slices of Prosciutto torn into thin strips

In a large pan heat olive oil over medium high heat.  Add the sliced garlic and sauté for one minute. Add the greens and sauté until very soft and wilted.  Transfer the greens to a colander or sieve and allow to drain well. Press on them to release all their liquid. Set aside to cool while making the pizza crust.
Follow the directions below for making the dough and shaping the pizza. Bake the pizza crust on the lower oven rack till it looks and feels set on top, is just beginning to brown around the edges, and is still pale on top. This will take 8-12 minutes depending on the thickness of the crust.  Remove the partially baked crust as directed below and spread the ricotta cheese evenly over the crust. Top with the mozzarella cheese, the sautéed spinach, the prosciutto and the feta. Liberally top pizza with fresh ground black pepper.
Return the pizza to the oven and cook an additional 10-15 minutes or until the crust is browned and the cheese is melted.
Pour a small amount of olive oil over the pizza before serving. Cut each pizza into 8 slices.

Pizza Crust
adapted from King Arthur Flour
Makes enough dough for 2 pizzas
2 teaspoons instant yeast
3/4 to1cup lukewarm water
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 cups  All-Purpose Flour
1 1/4 teaspoons salt

Combine all the ingredients including the yeast in a large mixing bowl. (The amount of water you use is dependent on your environment. Use less water if you live in a humid environment; use the greater amount of water in a dry climate. The same holds true for seasons. Use more water in winter and less in summer)
Mix and knead everything together until you have a soft, smooth, elastic, dough. If you're kneading in a stand mixer, it should take 4 to 5 minutes, and the dough should slightly clean the sides of the bowl.
Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl, cover and allow it to rise until doubled in volume. This will take about an hour, to 90 minutes.
Divide the dough in half, for two pizzas; or leave it whole for one pizza.
Shape the dough into roughly the same shape and size as the pan you are baking the pizza in. Don't pat it flat; just coax it into shape. Allow the dough to rest covered for 15 minutes.
Lightly grease the baking pan and then drizzle olive oil into the bottom of the pan. Place the dough in the pan. Press it over the bottom of the pan, stretching it towards the edges. You'll probably get about two-thirds of the way there before the dough starts shrinking back; allow the dough to relax again covered, for 15 minutes.
After the dough rests you should be able to pat it closer to the corners of the pan.
Allow the dough to rise, covered, till it's noticeably puffy, about 90 minutes. Towards the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 450°F. Bake the pizza on the lowest oven rack till it looks and feels set on top, and is just beginning to brown around the edge of the crust, but is still pale on top. This will take about 8 minutes for thinner crust pizza; about 10 to 12 minutes for a thicker crust.
Remove the pizza crust from the oven, and arrange the toppings evenly on top. Return to the oven, and bake on the upper oven rack for an additional 10 to 15 minutes, the crust should be nicely browned, both top and bottom, and the cheese melted. Check it midway through, and move it to the bottom rack if the top is browning too much, or the bottom not enough.
Remove the pizza from the oven, and transfer it from the pan to a rack to cool slightly before serving.
*If you are only planning to make one pizza follow the directions until the crust is partially baked.  Cool the crust completely, wrap with plastic wrap and either store at room temp for 2 days or freeze.