In what will probably be a regular post column, here’s a roundup of good things from this week.
Things that made me
…laugh out loud…
…feel less alone…
…feel more alive…
Whew! This semester is keeping me busy. I’m barely keeping up with email, much less Twitter and blog posts… How have you all been?
I’ve been busy redesigning websites (flaurena and laurenvasil) for my web design class, and creating art projects for my Photoshop and Illustrator classes. That Confucian wisdom Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life is how I feel right now. I can’t remember when I was busier, and yet there is something so wonderful about studying something I want to learn, whose homework I look forward to doing! There really is something to be said for going back to college in your 30s. (Sometimes I wish I’d waited, but then I might not have met Mr. F.)
Although I’ve always loved art I confess to never having studied its history in depth. I’ve long admired Gauguin, but never knew much about his personal life until this semester when I had to recreate a classical painting in Illustrator. I learned that he was a self-taught artist who painted from his imagination, and was amongst the first to experiment with vivid, almost unnatural colour, paving the way for the abstract art that came later on.
I also learned that his journey into the art world was unconventional: when he was 35 he gave up his career as a successful stockbroker and dedicated his life to art. He believed that Western culture was materialistic and found people to be detached from their emotions. He longed for a simpler life and immigrated to Tahiti to find it.
I have to say, when I read this it really struck a chord with me. Not only because I am switching careers at a similar age, but also because I am moving towards living more simply. I’m not sure when it began, but I do recall having a visceral reaction about a year ago when I walked into a grocery store. No sooner than the automatic sliding doors had closed behind me with their muffled zzzzzzzzip! than I was filled with disgust, struck by the dizzy array of processed food, excess packaging, and plastic-wrapped cuts of anonymous meat. My brain was bombarded by the smell of artificial cinnamon and the sight of gaudy advertising, a double dose of BUY! BUY! BUY!
I was appalled by what we have become, this mindless society of sanitised shopping convenience summed up by a single step into a supermarket. Then I felt guilty that I should have it so easy when others in the world have to walk for hours simply to get water, and all I have to do is turn on a tap.
Surely there must be a happy medium?
Ultimately, Gauguin found that the Polynesian culture he sought was being eroded by European influence; but from his disappointment come some of his loveliest work, painted from his imagination. They may not be the true depictions of French Polynesian culture but I love how colourful and free they are.
One year later, I am on my way to finding my happy medium. It looks a little like this:
Taking the time to appreciate a moment but not berating myself when I can’t.
Finding the time to read a book.
Trying to take pleasure in life’s mundane chores.
Being thankful that I have access to good food, much of which tastes fresher because it is grown locally.
Paying attention to what I buy and asking myself if I really need it.
Choosing what ingredients I put on my body, not just in it.
Finding the courage to try new things and being ok with the possibility that they won’t always work out.
Trying to recognise the opportunity in each disappointment.
Accepting that if I want an organic garden then I will have to deal with caterpillars and other creepy-crawlies.
And, of course, stopping to smell those sweet roses / medicinal tang of lavender / those vanilla-musk-scented California trees.
What about you?
On a recent trip to NYC I discovered burrata, that cream-filled cousin of mozzarella whose rubbery softness reminds me of a Japanese sweet bean cake. It’s pretty fan-!@#$ing-tastic when paired with peaches and chillies. Here’s the final installment of the Peaches and Chillies trilogy.
Peach & Mozzarella Tricolore Salad
2 ripe peaches
2 burrata eggs (substitute mozzarella if you can’t find burrata)
a few sprigs of basil
extra-virgin olive oil
black pepper (optional)
Begin by slicing your peaches in half and removing the pits. Cut the stalk end horizontally, so you end up with a flat surface to stabilise skinning the the peach. Gently skin the peaches and slice them into segments. Arrange on a plate.
Cut an X on the top side of the burrata and drool over its creamy ooziness. But, if using mozzarella, cut in half lengthways, then slice into segments, much the same way you did the peaches. Place in the middle of the plate, surrounded by the peaches.
Drizzle the olive oil all over the peaches and burrata. I like to pour the equivalent of a tablespoon into the palm of my greedy little hand and let it drip from my fingers. This ensures I am drizzling, not drowning, my peaches and burrata in olive oil
Season with salt. And pepper if you wish. Add the basil.
Of course, if you happen to have made that Peach, Habanero Chilli & Basil Jam I told you about, make sure you pick up a baguette or loaf of ciabatta. It’s the perfect summer lunch. I think I have eaten this for lunch sat least twice a week for the past few weeks. That explains why I am fast running out of jam.
When writing this post, I was toying with the idea of calling this a ‘tomato-free tricolore salad’ because usually this salad is made with tomatoes instead of peaches. As someone who is severely allergic to tomatoes, I prefer the peach substitute! Like so many people with a tomato allergy, it’s mainly raw tomatoes that are the problem. So, I have been thinking about starting a food blog; one that doesn’t feature raw or sun-dried tomatoes… Would you be interested? Would you miss recipes on Fizgiggery? Would you even care that it’s a tomato-free recipe blog? Have you even noticed that none of the food recipes on Fizgiggery call for raw tomatoes? Please share your thoughts below. Thanks!
Yesterday, I shared a Peach, Habanero Chilli & Basil Jam recipe with you in the first part of a trilogy of Peach and Chilli recipes. This is part two of the Peaches and Chillies trilogy!
I mentioned that while the jam was cooking, I made a Habanero simple syrup. In my quest for recipes involving some of the hottest chillies on earth, I turned to the folks over at Boozed & Confused. Is it possible, I asked, to infuse something boozy with Habaneros? I was advised to infuse a syrup, or else use sparingly if infusing the booze directly. A spicy simple syrup? What a good idea!
Habanero Simple Syrup
2 cups sugar (I like brown)
2 cups water
1-2 Habanero chillies, sliced down the sides, but left whole
Zest of a lemon or two (organic is better)
• Dissolve the sugar in the water over a medium heat.
• Throw in the chillies.
• Add the zest.
• Turn down the heat and let simmer for 30 minutes.
• Strain, and decant into a measuring jug or some other glass container
As I slaved away over a hot stove on a seemingly hotter summer day, I enjoyed a couple of spicy spritzers. Made by pouring a finger or two’s worth of syrup into a tall glass with ice cubes, and topping it up with sparkling water, they were so refreshing! By evening, the syrup found a more sultry match in bourbon…
Mr. Fizgig is known in our circle of friends for being able to shake a cocktail to please even the most particular of palates–including a dry martini to please my 87-year old grandmother. Personally, I prefer his ginger martini to the dry version, but the Mister is quite talented at being able to create a cocktail with few ingredients for anyone who asks. Especially me.
The night of the jam-making, he delighted me by muddling a peach in Bulleit bourbon and finishing it off with a generous splash of this syrup.
That’ll put hair on your womanly chest! says I.
Hey There, Hot Stuff!
A couple of years ago on an urban excursion for Indian food in Jackson Heights with Momsicle, I picked up a 1/4lb bag of ground chili — at only $3, this was the hot bargain of the year. Then I heard an incredulous voice behind me. You? You?! YOU whide girl eading dhis chili?! Not possible! I turned around to see an old man looking astonished that I should either have a helluva palate for spice or else not understand what I was buying. I laughed and told him I love me some hot chilli.
And I do! By now, many of you have heard me banging on about my home-grown Habanero chillies and what I should do with them. Finding delicious ways to use the 70-odd chillies that are slowly headed in my direction is a wonderful problem for a heat aficionado like me.
But drying chillies seems lazy, and giving them away feels like cheating. How then to balance the fruity spiciness of the Habanero with something sweet? Or sour? Jam seemed like a good idea… how about a lovely chilli jam paired with a goat’s cheese? And, OOH! Peaches are in season!
This is the first part in a trilogy of Peach and Habanero-inspired recipes.
Peach, Habanero Chilli & Basil Jam
I found the perfect chilli jam recipe on Life in Recipes, one of my new favourite cooking blogs.
In it Niki shares wonderful recipes that are brought to life through her personal anecdotes. Do check it out, it’s a wonderful and delicious blog!
In this recipe, the Habanero is tamed by the sweetness of the peaches and the pepperiness of basil to make a glorious jam. Doesn’t that sound wonderful? It tastes even better.
Here’s the recipe as originally seen on Life in Recipes:
prep time: 30 minutes
cook time: 2-3 hours
processing time: 25 minutes
* 5 cups peaches, peeled, halved and pitted
* 3 cups sugar
* 3 habanero peppers, stems removed and four slits cut into the sides (leave them whole)
* 1/4 cup lemon juice
* 3 large sprigs of purple basil
* 1 packet liquid fruit pectin
* 6 fluid ounce pouch. 1 oz = 2 Tbsp = 4 tsp powdered.
1. Combine peaches, sugar, peppers and lemon juice in a 4 quart (or larger) saucepan. Stir to mix, then let sit for 10 minutes or so to allow the peaches to release some of their juices.
2. Bring to a boil over medium heat, then reduce to low and allow to gently boil and reduce to a jam-like consistency. This could take as many as 2-3 hours. Do not rush it – that’s how I ruined the first batch. Stir occasionally to prevent sticking.
3. Once the mixture has reduced and thickened, stir in the basil and let it steep for a few minutes.
4. While the basil is steeping, prepare your jars (I used a mixture of pint and half-pint jars) – sterilize jars and rings in simmering water.
5. After the basil has steeped for a few minutes, add the pectin to the peach mixture and bring to a hard boil. Allow to boil hard for five minutes.
6. Remove from the heat, remove habanero peppers and basil sprigs from the mixture and discard; fill the hot sterilized jars, leaving 1/4 inch of head space.
7. Process the jars in a boiling water bath for 20-25 minutes (20 for half-pint, 25 for pint).
8. Remove from the water bath and allow to cool on the counter.
And so, a few weeks ago I started jamming early one Saturday morning. In went the sliced peaches and Habaneros. With about six hours to kill before the scary jar sterlisation (so you don’t poison yourself with botulism) ordeal began, I whipped up a quick batch of Habanero simple syrup and gulped down Chilli Spritzers — made by pouring a finger or two’s worth of syrup into a tall glass with ice cubes, and topping it up with sparkling water.
But, back to the jam-making. It basically took me all day. I think I overcooked it in my paranoia to absolutely ensure my jars were sterlised properly at 666 feet about sea level. But it still tasted wonderful. I have a couple of spoonfuls left and I am saving them for a tomato-free tricolore salad.
Call me a yuppy, but there’s something I love about Farmers’ Markets. In a world of pre-packaged convenience foods, that have been boiled, peeled, chopped, preserved, or made just plain FAST, I find myself drawn to Farmer’s Markets and the people who sell at them.
Where else might I spot something that I can only guess are squash blossoms?
Or have a conversation with the farmer who lovingly grew my lemongrass, cilantro, lavender, lemon thmye, and sage plants and how best to care for them? (Tip for growing cilantro, aka coriander: it hates warm roots, so if you live in a warm climate, cover the flower pot with aluminium foil to deflect the heat.)
And where else would you find tomatoes such as these? Too bad I’m allergic* to the wolf peach, but these were magnificently ugly. For all your tomato-lovers out there, I recently learned that most commercially grown tomatoes are injected with an extract of salmon (yes, the fish) to give them uniform colour — but that affects the flavour. Turns out you can either have a perfectly tomato-shaped but flavourless tomato, or one that is freakishly streaked and bulbous but delicious.
And at the Escondido Farmers’ Market I have also found some of the best Indian food I’ve had in the US! Masala Cottage is a food-truck-stall-without-the-food-truck kind of place, and they do a wicked samosa. So good, in fact, that the Mister and I tend to demolish them before I have a chance to take a picture! (Local tip: Masala Cottage is also at the Golden Hill Farmers’ Market on Sundays…)
And then there are giant bags of the sweetest, juiciest blood oranges to be had for only $5, so damn good I put some in my hand-luggage as a housewarming gift for Momsicle on my recent trip to Oregon… (Again, so good I forgot to take pictures… well, that’s mindful eating in its purest form!)
So, Farmers’ Markets. I double dog dare you (with a locally-grown cherry on top) to call me a yuppy or tell me you hate them!
Hey, SoCal peeps! San Diego doesn’t have a huge indoor market like many other cities do (I’m thinking of Borough and Spitalfields Markets in London) but we could we your help — there’s a KickStarter project going on right now, but all funds must be raised by the end of this month! Let’s do our bit to support the local economy AND treat ourselves to a massive, indoor farmers’ market!! Get the scoop here!
And if you are in the Washington, DC area, be sure to check out the Glover Park-Burleith Farmers Market which my friend, Lauren, started. They’re hoping to win “Best in DC” for the third year running. Please and visit if you are in the area!
*Allergic to tomatoes: yes I am! Speaking of which, do any of you have an allergy to tomatoes, cooked or raw? Or maybe you just hate them? I’m thinking of starting a food blog that will have only those recipe which don’t feature the Devil’s Apple! I’d love to know what you think in the comments below
If Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers, how many pecks of pickled peppers did Peter Piper pick?
I have no idea. But if he came to my garden it would be a helluva lot.
Since my post on gardening in which I introduced my plants by name, Lauri, my bountiful Habanero Chili Pepper, has decided that 30 chillies weren’t enough. She now has closer to 60 or 70 chillies in various stages of growth.
It’s tricky for an amateur photographer like me to capture all these lovely chillies, but every morning I spot one or two new bright red fruits and it fills me with wonder…
Wonder that a plant should flourish under my care, and wonder in the sense of how I can not let these plentiful chillies go to waste! Habaneros are about 10-20 times hotter than the average jalapeño, but having dozens of fiery chillies is a nice problem to have.
I’ve had a few recipes come my way — most notably from my Oklahoma friends from my favourite online / bricks and mortar bead store, The Hole Bead Shoppe — which I’m looking forward to trying.
But on a recent trip to New York, I tried jalapeño jelly (clear jam) with goats cheese and I’ve decided I’m going to make something similar. Peach Habanero Basil Jam, anyone? How about Habanero-infused vodka or tequila? The Mister wants to make hot sauce and spiced pistachios, like we found in Hatch, NM, self-proclaimed chili capital of the world. And we both want to dry chillies for a year round supply.
But still, that’s a lot of hot damn chili! San Diego friends, I hope you like chile-flavoured foodstuffs…
I have a new morning routine: when I let Banjo out first thing, I begin the short ritual of tending to my garden. It starts with my bending at the waist to pick up a new red plastic watering can shaped like a wingless origami crane, and deeply inhaling as I straighten up from the earth. My furry companion leans his quivering truffle nose towards the watering can as I fill it from the hose, and quietly watches me before curving away to begin his own morning routine of sniffing out the best bathroom spot.
Just before eight o’clock, the air is hazy with the promise of another hot day. Tiny birds chatter See you! See you! Banjo looks over and blinks at the bubbling roar of the hose filling the watering can. The splashing water moistens the air, and now the dessicated grass smells sweetly of hay. My plants, snug in their organic soil — soft dirt that is rich with worm casings, bat guano, and chicken manure — each greet me in their own olfactory language.
There’s Lorenzo the Basil, a “not for repotting” supermarket rescue. He isn’t quite strong enough to greet me, but he’s definitely perked up since being transferred to better soil. I have high hopes of him one day contributing to a glorious pesto.
Sophie the Sage, Rupinder the Rosemary, Clémence the Lemon Thyme, and Nancy Boy the French Lavender were all bought from a nice man at a fragrant stall at the Escondido Farmer’s Market — alongside what might be the best damn samosas this side of the Atlantic.
Tonight’s supper of red snapper had a little Clémence je ne sais quoi thrown in the mix — a floral perfume that hovered beautifully. Sophie, ever wise, wants in, and chants her mantra of pumpkin ravioli or anything butternut squash-related. Rupinder is a classy dame who will lend herself very nicely to all sorts of roasted Mediterranean delights, but she’s tough ole bird and will graciously wait to be plucked. Meanwhile Nancy Boy reminds me that s/he will be quite lovely blended with salt or coaxed into a simple syrup to liven up a bourbon.
Niña the Chocolate Mint was bought with the watering can from a ubiquitous retail warehouse, and has all sorts of aspirations. She begs me to rub her leaves between my fingers. I’m sure all sorts of lovely confections can be crafted with her help; but tonight’s treat will be an after-dinner tisane.
Spike the Aloe Vera and Mummy Penny the Jade also came from a rival retail warehouse where they helped advise me on the soil. Spike promises to soothe burnt fingers and any of Banjo’s rashes, whereas Mummy Penny promises to look good and, hopefully, bring a little wealth. They are both tiny — plants to hold in the palm of your hand and croon over.
And then there’s Pepper Lauri the Habanero Chili, the original plant. A present from new friends, she is blooming magnificent. I counted no fewer than 25 chillies the other day, and they swell and turn yellower by the day. I am all the more fond of her for having rescued her from the evil aphids that started a sap-sucking colony amidst her tender young leaves. Back off, aphids, those chillies are mine! (Here I should probably thank the trickle of ants for alerting me to this problem — thanks, ants!)
At this point, you might be thinking inhaling the cool, earthy scent of the soil has turned me bat shit crazy. Why else would I name my plants? I am an unapologetic anthropomorph, to be sure, but… plants? The answer is actually far more banal than you might imagine.
See, I have only ever known myself to be a lousy gardener. Despite protests and kind words of encouragement from my earth mama friends, Imu and Elle, who each gave me beautiful, specially chosen, easy-to-care-for, hell, abandon-them-and-they’ll-flourish-there’s-no-way-you-can-fail succulents / air plants to counter my horticultural bad luck, my black thumbs sprouted like a dirty-good-for-nothing weed of the most persistent variety.
But I am determined that good will prevail. I reckon we all might be in with a chance, thanks to the good California weather smiling on us. But why not improve the odds by caring for my plants as I would a pet? I will remember to water those that need regular feeding, and be more mindful of those who don’t.
I might stop short of giving each green friend a voice, but I reserve the right to talk to ‘em — it’s a scary world out there, filled with mould, fungi, creepy-crawlies, worm casings, guano and chicken shit, but as ye reap… I’ll let you know how we all get on.
P.S. I should mention that I am looking for recipes featuring chillies. At 100,000–350,000 on the Scoville scale, Habaneros are one of the hottest chillies in the world — twice as hot as a Thai Bird’s Eye; ten times hotter than a jalapeño. What the hell am I going to do with dozens of fiery chillies?