Thursday, March 31, 2011

Persian New Year

Persian New Year
The Persian New Year begins the first day of Spring and continues for thirteen days. Each day is celebrated with a different custom. During the celebration a "Khoresh" which is the Farsi word for stew is served. The showstopper of the feast is not the khoresh, but the accompanying rice, chelow. For centuries young Persian brides were judged by their mother-in-laws on the success of their chelow. The crust - the tah dig - is the prized currency and is given to the prized guest.
Our daughter Anne invited us to dinner and we were served this menu. The meal was more than just "wonderful". Anne executed the meal to perfection. I will share the recipes Anne used.
Persian Eggplant And Lamb Stew
3 red onions, peeled and thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
6 large lamb shanks
1/2 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon ground saffron dissolved in 1/4 cup warm water
2 cups organic tomato juice, as needed
4 tablespoons lemon juice
9 small Italian eggplants or 3 standard eggplants
1 teaspoon advich (recipe follows)
Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
Dry meat with paper towels and sprinkle with salt.
In a Dutch oven, brown meat in 3 tablespoons of the oil until it caramelizes on all sides. Remove and set aside. Add onions and cook until translucent, then add garlic and cook, stirring a minute or two more. Pour off excess oil. Return lamb to pot and add salt, pepper, turmeric, saffron water, tomato juice, stock and lemon juice. Bring to a simmer, turn the heat down to its lowest setting and cook, covered for three hours.
Meanwhile, peel eggplant and slice lengthwise into three pieces if using Italian eggplant and five if using standard ones. Lay pieces side by side on paper towel. Sprinkle eggplant with salt and let set for thirty minutes. This will remove any bitterness. Rinse eggplant and thoroughly pat each slice dry.
In a large skillet, heat 3 tablespoons of the oil and saute the eggplant, shaking the pan to toss until the eggplant turns a rich gold. (This takes a bit longer than you might expect, as it will need to be done in batches.) Set aside.
Stir advich spice mix into khoresch and season to taste. Then add eggplant, stirring gently to combine. Cover and bake for thirty minutes. Uncover and bake an additional 15 minutes. (You may reduce heat to 200 degrees and continue to bake, uncovered, until your guests are ready, for up to 30 minutes more.
Advieh (Persian Spice Mix)
2 tablespoons ground dried rose petals
2 tablespoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon freshly ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 teaspoon ground angelica
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander seeds
1 teaspoon dried Persian lime powder
Thoroughly mix the spices together. Store what you don't use in an airtight container away from direct sunlight. Note: these spices are available from
Yogurt and Cucumber Accompaniment
1 long seedless cucumber, peeled and diced
1/2 cup raisins
3 cups plain yougurt, preferably full fat
2 tablespoons chopped scallions, the white part only
2 tablespoons fresh mint, chopped
3 tablespoos fresh dill, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons chopped walnuts
1 teaspoon salt, freshly ground pepper, the petals from a few dried rosebuds for garnish (optional)
Mix all ingredients together, except for the rosebuds. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour and up to 1 day. Garnish just before serving.
Chelow (Gold Crusted Basmati)
4 cups long grain basmati rice
8 cups water
2 tablespoons salt
2 tablespoons plain, full fat yogurt
1 teaspoon ground saffron, dissolved in 1/4 cup hot water
1 cup butter, vegetable oil, or ghee
Rinse rice five times in lukewarm water.
Parboil rice in the water and salt for 6 to 10 minutes, just until soft to the bite. Rinse under cold water for a minute or two.
In a small bowl, mix yogurt, 3/4 cup of the butter or oil, 1/2 cup water and about 1 cup parboiled rice. Spread mixture over the bottom of a non-stick Dutch oven and pack it down. This will be the golden crust once the rice is cooked.
Mound remaining parboiled rice into a pyramid shape in the pot. Cover and cook for 10-15 minutes on medium-heat to form a golden crust.
Dissolve remaining butter in 1 cup hot water and pour over rice pyramid. Do same with saffron water. Place a clean dish towel over the pot and cover firmly with a lid. Cook over medium-low heat for 50 more minutes.
Remove pot from heat. Allow it to cool on a damp surface for 5 minutes without uncovering. Then holding a serving platter tightly over the uncovered pot, invert the two together, unmolding the rice onto a platter.
The rice will emerge as a golden crusted cake. If this does not happen, break the crust into pieces and serve it on the side. It will be every bit as good.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Hsi Lai Temple, Continued

Worshiper Preparing The Incense Used Incense Are Snuffed In Sand Inside The Structure
Worshipers light an incense stick prior to entering the Temple. With the lighted incense they pause prior to entering the Temple and bow three times. Hands are clasped with palms to palms. "Kneelers" in the temple appear more as a footstool. Bowing is done in a series of three. Kneeling on the velvet covered kneelers they bow with their forehead making contact with the kneeler.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Hsi Lai Temple, Continued

Memorial Pagoda
The Memorial Pagoda sits atop the crest of the hill on the fifteen acre site of the Temple grounds. I did not learn its specific purpose but think it may be the temple used for monastic services.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Hsi Lai Temple, Continued

Drum and Bell
Chanting or Sutras as they are called is a daily part of the worship service of a Buddhist. These Dharma instruments are played by monastics during chanting services. The temple is located in a residential area. After six years of struggles and hearings to get permits approved for the buildings, the Temple members try to be good neighbors with noise control. These instruments are not incorporated daily.
The Temple has many special celebrations throughout the year. In January representatives from different faiths are invited to a Prayer For World Peace Ceremony, followed by a Neighborhood Party for the community in celebration of the Chinese New Year. Sakyamuni Buddha's birthday is celebrated in May, during which thousands gather for a "Bathing the Bussha Ceremony," cultural performances and food fair. In July Sangha Day is celebrated with a re-enactment of food offerings and alms rounds reminiscent of the Buddha's time. Dharma Day is celebrated in December / January when the temple treats its followers and visitors with the traditional "laba" congee.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Hsi Lai Temple, Continued

click on photo to enlarge details
Meditation Garden ~ Courtyard
The Meditataion Garden ~ Courtyard is used for walking meditation during retreats as well as many outdoor events. It is also named the "Way to Buddhahood." The geometric rectangles symbolize rice paddies with weeds growing around the edges. If we plant good seeds and rid our minds of all of the defilements (weeds) through the practice of Buddhism, eventually we will reap merits and attain Buddhahood. There is a lion in each corner of the courtyard. According to Buddhist teachings, the lion's roar symbolizes strength and courage, awakening us from ignorance.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Hsi Lai Temple, Continued

Avalokitesvara Garden
Avalokitesvara (Guanyin) Bodhisattva is seated on a giant rock with her attendants, Shancai and Longnu, standing beside her. Surrounding the pond are the four Deva Kings: Virudhaka of the Southern Kingdom (holding a sword), Virupaksa of the Western Kingdom (Holding a gragon), Dhanada of the Northern Kingdom (holding an umbrella) and Dhrtarastra of the Eastern Kingdom, (holding a star). They are also revered as guardians who protect devout sentient beings from being harmed by unwholesome elements. Standing around the guardians are the four Dragon Kings of the Four Seas, venerating the the Bodhisattva. The flowing water is symbolic of the Dharma water flowing everywhere to purify people's minds.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Hsi Lai Temple, Continued

click on photo to enlarge detail.
Arhat Garden
Seated in this garden are the eighteen Arhats. They have realized the truth of no-self, and that all is a composite of the five aggregates dependent on other phenomena, originally empty and subject to impermanence. Having eradicated all passions, desires, and attachments to worldly matters, each is foremost in his discipline. The Arhats have overcome the defilements of greed, anger, and ignorance. Their unique ways of bodhisattvahood have been inspirational for many Buddhist followers since the time of Sakyamuni Buddha.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Hsi Lai Temple, Continued

Hsi Lai Temple, Continued
Our bus discharged the passengers and was met by the Honorable Ven. Chen, cloaked in the gold garment. She was accompanied by our very informative tour guide. Later in our tour, I asked the significance of the shaved head since the monastic was a woman. I was asked how many times a day I comb my hair and how much effort do I put into styles, and etc. Buddhism practices simplifying life and ridding themselves of worry and stress. The efforts of these monastics are spent promoting Buddhism through education, cultural activities, and edify the populace through Buddhist practices. The working motto of its members is to give others confidence, hope, joy, and convenience.

Because of the steep steps I was unable to get a good photo of the front of the gate. This is a photo of the back of the gate which is seen as one leaves the grounds. The four symbols list the four universal vows of Buddhists which are: to save all sentinient beings, to eradicate all worries, to study the boundless Dharma, and to attain supreme Buddhahood. Making vows is integral to Buddhism because it provides people the strength to fulfill their practice.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Trip To Hacienda Heights, CA

The Hsi Lai Temple
click on photos to enlarge
The Main Body Of The Temple The Left Section Of The Temple With 
An Equal Structure On The Right The Animals Adorn Roof Edge. The Number Of Animals Designate The Importance Of The Structure The Importance Of Being In Balance with Earth, Wind, Fire And Water Is Shown Here. The Water Drains Down The Tile Roof and Trickles Down The Lotus Tile And Into A Grated Drain Trough And Into The Earth The Colors Allowed To Be Used In The Temple Are Dictated From China. Gold Can Only Be Used If The Temple Has A Level Of Distinction. Much Like A Cathedral.
Crimson Is The Traditional Color Used. 
Hsi Lai Buddhist Temple
I accompanied a group of forty to Hacienda Hts., CA touring the Hsi Lai Buddhist Temple. Dedicated in 1988, the temple is built with 102, 493 square feet and the complex covers fifteen acres. We had a very knowledgeable guide who spent the first half of the tour describing the architecture and many symbols and colors incorporated. I will take several days to describe the photos that I post.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Breakfast Smoothie

Breakfast Smoothie
Call it Vitamin Infusion, Fiber Optimum, or just plain delicious. We spent the weekend at Palm Dessert with our son. On the menu was a smoothie for the price of $6.50. Add tax and tip and rounded out it costs about$8.50. Buy yourself a Vita-mix blender and for the price of a little kale, spinach, banana, apple, strawberry, orange, kiwi, bell pepper, celery, carrot, and fruit juice whirled in the Vita-mix, you have your daily requirements of five vegetables and five fruits.
There is no set formula or recipe for a smoothie. It can be made more or less with what you have on hand. For years I made a fruit smoothie with yogurt, banana, orange juice and a frozen combination of strawberries, raspberries and blueberries.
The benefit of healthy eating is usually returned with the years of good health. Try a breakfast smoothie tomorrow.
Our daughter Barbara sent the photos of her smoothie combination to share. Thank you Barbara.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Marine Layer

9 o'clock Marine Layer Noon Sunshine
If you know about coastal weather patterns, you are familiar with marine layer. Some may think it is fog as most Midwesterners experience. It is almost a fine mist.
A marine layer is a mass of air which forms over a large body of water such as an ocean or lake in the presence of a temperature inversion. Being within a "short" distance of the ocean, marine layers are a common occurrence. At this time of the year the sun will burn off the marine layer before noon or earlier.
Our coastal weather experiences what is dubbed June Gloom when the marine layer is present much of the time blocking the sunlight for most of the days of the month.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

There And Here

1940 ~ 2004 2004~2011
There and Here
This morning I opened the e-paper from my hometown. It was a flashback to my years of tolerance. My hometown has had such a winter to remember. If Punxutawney Phil is correct Spring should arrive in Norwalk Ohio next Wednesday March 16. Phil might be banished if his theory doesn't prove true.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

YEAH "Phil The Thrill"

Yeah Phil (center)
"Phil The Thrill"
Our grandson is the driving source of his basketball team. Phillip can usually be counted on for almost half of the total team points. Last weekend his team won the league championship for the second consecutive year. Congratulations Phil and to the team!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Shrove Tuesday or Fat Tuesday

Fat Tuesday Or Shrove Tuesday
Lent begins this week on Ash Wednesday with the preparation for the Easter season. When the population was an agricultural society, many cooks cleaned out their pantries of cooking fat preparing for the season of fasting and usually abstaining of a certain food item as an act of penance. With this practice, the fat was used to deep fry foods that were eaten the day before Ash Wednesday which gave the day the name "Fat Tuesday".
My husband had a wonderful great-aunt, Martha Brown. She was an outstanding cook. Actually Aunt Martha was the bookkeeper for her husband's plumbing business. After the death of her husband, her sons took over the business. She continued as the secretary and bookkeeper. Each day the two sons came for breakfast and at that time the three sat down to discuss the calls for the day. This is a recipe of Aunt Martha and was a tradition at her home for "Fat Tuesday". The word Fastnacht is German and is the term meaning the celebration of Carnival which is in Italy or Shrove Tuesday which is a term in the Christian church.
2 pkgs. yeast
2 cups scalded milk
3/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons salt
2 eggs, well beaten
1/4 cup shortening, melted and cooled
7 - 7 1/2 cups flour
Scald milk and cool to lukewarm. Dissolve yeast in milk, add a pinch of sugar. Sift flour. Start with 3 cups flour, add liquid ingredients, salt, and melted and cooled shortening. Beat with mixer on medium speed for 5 minutes. By hand add remaining flour till dough is elastic.
Grease bowl, cover dough and let rise till double. Punch down. Roll dough on board. Cut in rectangles and let rise. Deep fry. When cool shake in a bag with granulated or powdered sugar.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Chicken Baked In A Salt Crust

The French Crust Style Of Roasting Chicken
Chicken In A Bread Crust The Edible Portion Of Bread Crust Removed
Chicken In A Salt Crust
Our son-in-law prepared fish baked in a salt crust for us during a visit two years ago. It was a very memorable meal. The fish was so moist and delicious. I remember the sound of breaking the crust. Then I recently learned that the French have a method of mixing flour and water to make a dough which they place around the top of the pot or a Dutch Oven which seals the lid. Creating a seal, it bakes the juices in the pot producing a very moist meat. Today I read an article about chicken baked in a bread crust. The top of the bread crust is reserved to be served with the chicken. Later I plan to buy a chicken and decide which method I will use. I am leaning toward the bread crust. That will be a future posting.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Green Beans With Red Onions And Pine Nuts

Green Beans With Red Onions
And Pine Nuts
This is the last recipe from the cooking class "Wine Country Cooking". This is such a tasty way to serve green beans which I am sure you will agree.
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 lbs. red onions, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon aged balsamic vinegar
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 lb slender green beans, trimmed
3 tablespoons toasted pine nuts
Heat oil in heavy large skillet over medium high heat. Add nions; saute until deep brown, about 20 minutes. Stir in balsamic vinegar and thyme; season with salt and pepper.
Cook beans in medium pot of boiling water until just crisp-tender, about 4 minutes. Drain; rinse under cold water until cool, drain again.
When ready to serve, reheat onions and toss in green beans until warmed through, about 8 minutes. Serve sprinkled with pine nuts.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Arugula Salad With Red Grapes, Fennel, Parmesan, and Pecans With Apricot Dressing

Arugula Salad With Red Grapes, Fennel,
Parmesan And Pecans With Apricot Dressing.
This is another recipe from the class I took, "Wine Country Cooking". Serves 4 to 6
teaspoons apricot jam
1/4 cup white vinegar
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon minced shallots
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 small fennel bulb cored,
trimmed of stalks, and sliced
very thin (about 1 cup)plus
1/4 cup chopped fennel fronds
1-5oz. bag arugula
1 cup red seedless grapes, halved lengthwise
3/4 cup Parmesan curls, made with peeler
1/2 cup toasted pecans
Dressing: Whisk jam, vinegar, oil, shallots, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in a large bowl. Toss thinly sliced fennel with dressing and let stand 15 minutes.
When ready to serve, add arugula, chopped fennel fronds, and grapes to dressing bowl and adjust seasongs with salt and pepper. Divide salad among serving plates and top with parmesan curls and pecans.
Note: A good white vinegar is never white or clear in color but golden or yellow.