Monthly Archives: July 2011

Farewell Austin

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Four years ago, Christian and I met in Madrid, Spain. We were both working for Putney Student Travel at that time. At first glance, sparks flew and birds chirped, and that was the end of our single lives. When we parted ways in the Madrid airport in August 2007, we had already made plans for my visit to Austin — then his hometown, and soon to be mine.

Upon arriving in Austin, the first thing that Christian did was whisk me away to historic Mt. Bonnell. We “climbed” to the top — it’s only 780 feet above sea level — and shared a picnic as we admired the gorgeous view of the Austin skyline on a warm October afternoon.

It seems fitting then that four years and one wedding later, Christian and I visited Mt. Bonnell on our last day in Austin. (As I type, we are driving to Richmond, VA, where we will teach Spanish at St. Christopher’s and St. Catherine’s schools.) This time we made the climb on a hot July afternoon without a picnic in tow. But the view was still as spectacular as ever. Farewell Austin, we will miss you.

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Filed under Austin, Hiking, Nostalgia

Moroccan Hot-Smoked Sockeye Salmon with Salsa Verde

It’s never too hot to grill (even in Texas). My husband and I recently tried our hand at smoking wild salmon, and I think it turned out pretty darn good…

Step 1 – If you’re going to be smoking fish at home, always start with a very fresh fillet. I used to work at a fish market, so I know how to finagle a fishmonger into giving me the freshest fillet in the market. Here’s how it works:

Monger: How may I help you today miss?
Savvy Customer: When did the sockeye arrive at the market?
M: Yesterday.
SC: Do you have any whole fish? (Some whole fish have a longer shelf life than fillets.)
M: No, I’m sorry we’re sold out.
SC: No problem. These fillets here, do you process them in-house?
M: No, they arrive already filleted.
SC: I like the look of these in the case, but do you have any in the back that might be fresher?
M: Yes, as a matter of fact we do have some cases that arrived this morning. Let me just go to the back and fetch one for you.
SC: (smiling politely) Why thank you!
M: Here you go. You can see the harvest date right here (points to the unopened case with his index finger, opens the case, and removes a glistening, sweet-smelling fillet). How about this one?
SC: Perfect! Thanks for all your help! (secretly to herself: Damn I’m good.)

Step 2 – Rub skin-on fillet with “smoky” rub of choice and season lightly with sea salt. I used a Moroccan spice blend that my sister Caitlin brought home from her trip to Morocco last January. There’s no other way to describe it other than divine. I think I detect hints of saffron and pimentón, if you’d like to try to recreate it.

Step 3 – Prepare charcoal grill; simultaneously soak planks or logs of your choosing (cedar, pecan, mesquite, maple, etc.). Spread the hot coals evenly over the grill, then top the soaked planks. Spray the skin-side of the fillet and the grill grate liberally with nonstick cooking spray. Place the fillet in the center of the grill and close the lid. Hot-smoke for approximately 15 min. Do not over cook!

Step 4 – Move fish from grill to serving platter and garnish with fresh cilantro.

Step 4 – Slice salmon and serve with salsa verde (preferrably homemade) and cool Greek yogurt to temper the heat.

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Filed under Dinner, Food, Recipes

Angel Food Cake with 7-Minute Icing and Summer Berries

Every Fourth of July my Grandma and I make an angel food cake (from a box) with 7-Minute Icing (from scratch). Fourth of July is probably the only hot holiday in Minnesota, so we take full advantage of the “summer heat” by preparing a suitable light dessert. Independence Day also happens to be my birthday, and aside from the usual “Born on the 4th of July!” comments that I get, a lot of people want to know why I want to make my own birthday cake. I think it’s less about the work (after all, I am using a cake mix) and more about the time I get to spend with my Grandma. We’ve been baking this cake since I was in high school, and it’s one of my favorite summer rituals.

Here I am a high schooler, with my traditional bday cake and my beautiful grandma Louise!

I won’t bore you with how to make a box angel food cake – the Betty Crocker package instructions are quite accurate! – but I will share a few tips we’ve learned along the way, as well as a recipe for making  7-minute icing.

The first thing you want to do when you take the cake out of the oven is to turn it upside down right away. They sell angel food cake pan “stands,” but a bottle of Tabasco hot sauce works just as well.

When the cake is fully cooled, use a knife or flat spatula to loosen the sides and remove it from the pan.

Gently remove any crumbs from the cake, as they can be a nuisance when frosting. Allow the cake to cool completely.

To make the frosting, create a double boiler out of a medium saucepan and a medium mixing bowl. Fill the saucepan with water until the level is just below the bottom of the mixing bowl (do not let the bowl sit in water). REMOVE the mixing bowl from the saucepan before you heat the water. Turn the burner on high until the water boils, then reduce to a simmer.

Meanwhile, whisk together 2 egg whites, 1/3 c. water, 1 c. plus 2 T. sugar, 1/4 tsp. cream of tartar, and a pinch of salt in the mixing bowl. Once combined, place bowl over simmering water and beat mixture on low speed for about 1 minute.

Gradually increase the speed of your mixer to high, until the frosting forms stiff peaks (about 5 minutes). Be sure to periodically lift the side of the mixing bowl slightly to allow some steam to escape. You don’t want to end up like my great-aunt and have 7-Minute Icing all over your kitchen walls!

Remove mixture from heat and beat for 2 minutes more.  Gently fold in 1 T. vanilla.

Frost the cake immediately. For best results, begin frosting the cake from the top (use more than you think you’ll need)…

…then spread the extra frosting over the sides. Use a flat spatula or knife to smooth the top and sides.

For Independence Day, we decorated our cake with blueberries and fresh strawberries from my uncle Jamie’s garden.

Happy (belated) Independence Day from Chef Louise and Sous-Chef Sarah!

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Filed under Birthdays, Family, Food, Grandmothers, Holidays, Nostalgia, Recipes, Traditions

Giving Thanks for Friends and Asylum

Christian volunteers for the Center for Survivors of Torture, and one of his mentees – and dear friend – Suresh Pokhrel was recently granted asylum by the United States Government. It was a long, difficult road from the mountains of Nepal to the courts of San Antonio, but Suresh and his wife Manju finally won their freedom after years of persecution and struggle. Suresh is a poet and a lawyer, who speaks Nepali, Hindi, English, German, and is learning Spanish and French. Recently, he earned his certification to translate between English and Nepali speakers here in the U.S. He and Manju currently manage a convenience store in North Austin. Within weeks, Suresh and Manju will be reunited with their children, who have been living in Nepal for six years without their parents. Suresh and Manju recently invited us to their home to celebrate this great victory for their family.

Suresh presents us with gifts - journals to record our moments together

Suresh and Manju in their home in North Austin

Christian signs the Pokhrel's guest book. They are collecting memories from all their friends in Austin.

Christian, Manju and Suresh

Suresh drove us (in his NEW CAR!) to an Indian restaurant that Manju’s friend had recommended.

Suresh in his new car (a gift from Manju)

We let Suresh do the ordering: Chicken Tikka (skewered chicken cooked in tandoor with spices and yogurt), Goat Biriyani (a savory mixture of basmati rice and goat meat), Masoor Dal (split red lentils, very spicy but very good), Naan (one of many Indian flat breads), Raita (a tangy sour yogurt mixture, perfect for cooling your tongue after spicy dal), and for dessert: Gulab Jamun (deep-friend dough balls in a sugar syrup), Ras Malai (sugary white paneer cheese soaked in cream spiced with cardamom), and Pistachio Kulfi (creamy pistachio-flavored ice cream).

Passing the goat biriyani, mmmmm so good!

Sharing a feast with friends

Thank you for a wonderful dinner Suresh and Manju! We are so blessed to count you as friends!

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Filed under Austin, Food, Friends

Wedding in Paradise

After a week in Zihuatanejo, we were ready for the grande finale: the wedding of our close friends, Sandra Sotelo-Miller and Tom Simmons. Sandra’s father’s family is from Zihuatanejo, so it was very special to celebrate their marriage in the village where she had her roots. The couple rehearsed their vows on Playa la Ropa in front of La Perla restaurant…

Los novios durante el ensayo

While the betrothed rehearsed, we found other ways of amusing ourselves…

Totem pole!

The rehearsal dinner food was excellent – tiritas de atún, guacamole, and parillada de mariscos y carnes – but the real topper was the 75-year old (Sandra, correct me if I’m off on this!) bottle of tequila brought by one of Sandra’s aunts. We sipped it during dinner and toasted the lovely couple with it. I’ll choose that over champagne any day!

Gustavo Sotelo, in his element

When we arrived at the wedding the following evening, we were greeted by the bride and groom. Judith (Tom’s brother-in-law’s mother) had painted colorful portraits of the gringo and the chilanga and set them by the entrance…

Portraits of the bride and groom hand-painted by Judith

Sandra and Tom had worked hard to plan a beach wedding, but sadly, the rain gods weren’t cooperating.

La lluvia amenaza

Luckily, they were able to have the ceremony under a palapa overlooking the beach, so we were still surrounding by the majestic views and soothing sounds of the ocean. But we were much more captivated by the beauty of the ceremony unfolding in front of us…

La ceremonia

The party decorations were colorful and vibrant, just like our favorite newlyweds!

Las flores flotando en la pileta

Each table was named for a place that Sandra and Tom had visited (they are avid travelers).

Table decorations at the reception (Tom's sister Shannon did all the stationary)

After a long day of getting dressed and worrying about the weather, followed by GETTING MARRIED, greeting all of their eager guests, and listening to toasts made by relatives, the couple seemed ecstatic to finally hit the dance floor.

La primera danza

A Simmons family gathering wouldn’t be complete without some kind of performance, and Patrick, Jason, Elisa, and Shannon delivered. They had prepared a song about Tom and Sandra’s future life together and sang it to the tune of the Black Eyed Peas “Tonight’s Gonna Be A Good Night.”

Los hermanos de Tom prepararon una canción especial para los novios

Then “tía Sandra” was honored by her two nieces, Ingrid and Galia, who had prepared dances for her…

Galia baila

And then the pool party ensued (led by the life-of-the-party bride and groom, of course!)…

Bridesmaids in the pool always makes for a good reception party

When the mariachis arrived around 3 a.m., we all climbed out and continued to dance the night away. It was the perfect ending to a perfect wedding. Congratulations to Sandra y Tom. Two of our favorite people in the world. We wish you well in your future life together. A huevo!!!

Los mariachis serenaron a los recién casados

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Filed under Friends, Travel