Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Tea for the Soul

Sometimes I watch myself slide into an old self, a too intense writer who feels driven to produce prose she will judge as worthy or valuable. My joy in writing simply evaporates as I succumb to her “shoulds.”

When that happens I've learned to take a break. My favorite way to do that is to brew myself a cup of Tippy Golden Darjeeling Earl Grey.

Ted and I found this exquisite blend at lunch one afternoon in Berlin at the Hotel Adlon Kempinski. We were so taken with the delicate flower flavor of Darjeeling blended with rare oil of bergamot orange that we ordered four more pots. We simply couldn't get enough of it.

Our waiter, thinking we may never leave our window table looking out on the Brandenberg Gate, brought us a handwritten address of a tea store where we could buy a supply to take home with us. He even made sure we had a taxi waiting. (Fortunately, I've since found an infinite supply on the Internet.)

After filling my favorite teacup, twice the size of a normal teacup, I set it next to my cozy reading chair. Always within reach are dog-eared copies of favorite books on living a life of beauty and grace. Thumbing through marked passages of these women writers, my mentors, I am reminded to allow myself to be drawn into writing what my soul longs to express.

Take a break and invite your soul to enjoy a cup of tea. It will flood with gratitude and you will once again feel steeped in the Divine.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Why I catered only once

Today I am at a beautifully catered luncheon on the patio of a private home. Yellow rose and chrysanthemum centerpieces and pristine linens and glassware on round tables of six.

Peggy Dark of The Kitchen in Pasadena and co-author of Fabulous Parties: Food and Flowers for Elegant Entertaining has created this three-course menu for 100 members of the Angels of the Arts, the support group for our Orange County Performing Arts Center.

My thoughts flow back to a day, years and years ago, when my late husband Paul and I had our cooking school, the Von Welanetz Cooking Workshop on the Sunset Strip in West Hollywood, where many of today’s superstar chefs such as Wolfgang Puck and Michel Richard taught their earliest classes. I was fearless then about picking up the phone and inviting the most interesting chefs and authors I could think of to be guest teachers, so we had long waiting lists of Hollywood celebrities and their cooks who wished to learn the latest trends in food and entertaining.

Paul and I were invited to cater an English style buffet luncheon for 100 at a boutique opening on Sunset Boulevard at which a well-known British actress would be the guest of honor. Well, why not? we thought, thinking it would be a great adventure, and named our price. That it was instantly accepted might have been a clue.

We did most of the cooking ahead of time, a gorgeous British buffet of two kinds of curry, rice, homemade chutneys and condiments. Trays of pineapple and strawberries and coconut-coated bananas, everything cut small so it could be served on small plates and eaten with a fork.

All the behind-the-scenes crises are too numerous to remember. The only sink in the boutique was a 10-inch oval in the powder room. The only place to heat food was on tables we set up in the alley/parking lot behind the building where the butane burner I was using to reheat the curry fizzled and took its final gasps. Paul quickly made a run to buy a can of the campfire standby, Sterno, for me to use instead, but it produced powdery black soot that smeared my hands and apron as I was stirring. All this while smiling (let’s be honest--grimacing!) for a photographer and being interviewed for a newspaper. Yet Paul and I were familiar with the challenges of party production and surrendered to the chaos.

So it wasn't the many logistical challenges that put a damper on our moods that day, that made us vow to refuse all future offers.

We had invited three friends to wear embroidered English aprons and help us serve. As they were passing appetizers and Champagne, I noticed one looking slightly more flushed than usual. When I asked, she confided she was shocked at the arrogance and rudeness of the guests. I began to watch and listen. "Take this away." "I told you, I drink only Perrier!" "Really! Isn't there some caviar?" It was a rude awakening! Can it be that servers are treated as the lowest of the low? Have we been guilty of such thoughtlessness?

The party went smoothly on the surface. Our team pulled it off with panache and seemingly effortless grace. The boutique owners were delighted with how it all seemed on the surface.

Dead-tired, droop-shouldered and demoralized described all of us though. Because of a sudden stop on our way home a large water supply we’d brought for rinsing dishes crashed and splashed. Squish, Squish said our shoes as we unloaded the rented van at our home in Pacific Palisades.

On an impulse, or perhaps an intuition, I went to check our phone message machine. At first I couldn’t absorb the stunning news—Paul and I had won The French Tastemaker award for Cookbook of the Year in the category of entertaining for our first book, The Pleasure of Your Company (Atheneum).

We were instantly revitalized by the huge career boost the award would bring. We broke out a bottle of chilled Champagne and some appetizers from the van for an instant celebration with the friends who'd assisted us.

Today, as I sit relaxed at our perfectly presented tables, I feel deep pleasure at being a guest, so beautifully cared for. I realize now that emotional roller-coaster experience was my wake up call—I decided that day to make eye contact with and appreciate anyone serving me.

It is a long and winding journey from field to fork.

Appreciate every hand that helps to fill your plate.


The first course today is this spring combination of baby lettuces, paper thin slices of radish and fresh pea sprouts garnished with bright, edible nasturtium flowers.

So easy to prepare from farmers market greens. Below is a photo of the nasturtiums I planted a few weeks ago to garnish my summer salads.

Today will be a good day to harvest these.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Cooking with the Divine Mother

I am blessed to be in the gentle presence of Shree Maa of Kamakhya, one of India's most beloved and respected saints.

Worshipped by millions as the living incarnation of the Divine Mother, she lives on twenty wooded acres in the wine country of Northern California. Through her kitchen window we watch peacocks roam the grounds surrounding the Devi Mandir temple.

A willowy, delicate woman, her name means “respected holy mother.” In India, where saints are so much cooler than film stars, crowds of thousands swarm to greet Shree Maa when she returns to visit.

So how is it that a cookbook author and her husband came to be considered family members in the kitchen of the Mother of the Universe?

Ted and I met her over ten years ago through mutual friends. On that most memorable day she cooked and served us a delicious welcoming meal. I was impressed not only with the exquisite flavors but with her reverence while serving us.

Now we’ve been guests in her kitchen many times and have studied how Shree Maa follows sacred rules of worship while cooking. She teaches that food holds the vibration of the cook and the environment in which it is prepared, and that all who partake will be affected by those vibrations.

Maa's sense for seasoning seems magical as she stirs blessings into whatever is bubbling or braising, yet she won’t taste until the food is offered on the altar to the Supreme Divinity then served to her devotees. In this way, all dishes are actually prepared with the intention that our Higher Power will partake first, and those who receive the food afterwards receive it as prasad, blessed food.

When Maa cooks, she sings. Her voice is pure and lyrical as she sings the Gayatri Mantra, the most sacred Hindu mantra, while she cooks:

(Through the coming, going, and the balance of life
The light of Wisdom is the essence of nature that illuminates existence.
May all perceive the brilliance of enlightenment through that divine radiance.)

I love to sing this blessing while cooking in my own kitchen. Thank you, Shree Maa, for your delicious recipes and your beautiful example of women as keepers of the heart and hearth!

Adding soulfulness to every recipe
makes cooking a holy art.

Today, I am making one of the basics in Shree Maa’s kitchen--ghee, the clear golden, slightly toasty-tasting clarified butter used in Indian cooking. Because all milk solids are removed, ghee won’t burn when frying, so I use it instead of oil to sauté eggs, meats and vegetables. Ghee won’t spoil like fresh butter, so it may be stored, covered, at room temperature.


Melt one pound of unsalted (sweet) butter in a heavy, medium-size saucepan over very low heat. Some of the milk solids will rise to the surface.

Simmer, uncovered, over the lowest possible heat, letting the butter foam and sputter, stirring once in a while, until all the water is dissipated and any remaining milk solids have turned a pale brown and cling to the sides or have fallen to the bottom of the pan. This will take 10 to 20 minutes, depending on the amount of water the butter contains.

Line a strainer with several layers of white paper towels and pour the clear golden liquid through to remove all milk solids. To prevent contamination, be sure to use a clean spoon each time to remove ghee from the jar.

TO PREPARE IN ADVANCE: Store at room temperature or in the refrigerator indefinitely.

Please visit Shree Maa's website

You may click on this title: Shree Maa's Favorite Recipes to order a little cookbook I edited for her.

Monday, June 1, 2009

My favorite dessert--at last!

I am reinventing myself once again!  And I am eager to tell you all about it at an upcoming event, "Breakthrough to a New You!" at the balboa Bay Club.  It is being hosted by Les Dames D'Escoffier, a warm and caring organization of women who have spent their careers in food and hospitality.  Please click on the link for your invitation, and I am truly wishing you will be there!

In their honor I am reposting this favorite blog about Les Dames, its members, and what is still my favorite dessert.

For almost a year I’ve been dreaming about my favorite dessert—a steamy raspberry soufflé oozing pools of molten bittersweet chocolate. I’ve only tasted it once, and have never made it myself, but today’s the day because perfect fresh raspberries are on display at Costco for an irresistible price—6 boxes for $8.99. These little heart-shaped beauties are some of the best berries I’ve ever tasted. Ted, my chocoholic husband and official taste tester, feels a little glum from five days in a row of no sun—our annual June Gloom. He will love it, so here I go!

Sherry Yard (left), the dessert chef at Spago Beverly Hills, prepared this dessert one evening last year for an event for forty members of Les Dames D'Escoffier. Few women could appreciate it more than members of this worldwide philanthropic society who have spent their careers in the fields of food and hospitality. These women love food and are generous in sharing all their resources, experience and their recipes.
That evening Sherry wowed us by adding something new to her already published recipe--chunks of bittersweet chocolate that melted within the steaming soufflés as they rose in the oven, elevating this dessert to the top of my crave list.
Sherry begins by making a quick, not-too-sweet raspberry jam that she uses in two ways. She spoons it as a ruby-colored sauce into the bottom of each sugar coated soufflé dish with a few fresh berries, and then she folds beaten egg whites into it to make the bright pink soufflé itself. I’m finding I love this jam so much I will double the recipe next time (cooking it longer to the right thickness, of course) and spread the extra on our morning English muffins.
Such a beautiful dessert! Cooking is clearly the most elegant art, and the quickest to be appreciated.
I'd been wondering why took so long to try a recipe I’ve been dreaming about. Today, when just the right raspberries showed up at the right price, and just the right gloomy June weather has turned my kitchen into the coziest room in the house, I realize this is the right time.
Some things simply can't be rushed.


For 4 servings
This is my version of the soufflé from Sherry Yard’s inspiring book, Desserts by the Yard You will need 8-ounce soufflé dishes (ramekins) to make this. Because there are no yolks or flour in this souffle it is surprisingly light and low in calories. It is also gluten free!

An electric mixer with a whisk attachment is ideal for beating egg whites, but you can use a hand mixer.

Soufflés demand immediate consumption, so make sure your guests are waiting at the table for the soufflé and not the other way around.

1 pint (2 cups) fresh raspberries
1/2 cup sugar (divided), plus 1 tablespoon for dusting the soufflé dishes
1 tablespoon Chambord (French black raspberry liqueur)
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon soft butter, for the soufflé dishes
4 large egg whites, at room temperature
Pinch of cream of tartar or ½ teaspoon lemon juice, to lend acidity and volume to the whites
1 ounce bittersweet chocolate, in about 12 chunks
In a medium saucepan combine 1-3/4 cups of raspberries, 1/4 cup sugar, Chambord, lemon juice and balsamic. Bring to a boil over medium heat and cook, stirring often, for about 5 minutes until thickened. Set aside to cool to room temperature. This will yield about 1-1/3 cups of raspberry sauce.
Place 1/2 cup of the sauce in a large mixing bowl in which you will fold beaten egg whites. Reserve the rest.
Preheat your oven to 375 degrees and place the rack in the lowest position. Butter the insides of your 4 soufflé dishes and coat them evenly with the tablespoon of sugar and position them on a baking sheet for easy handling. Place 3 or 4 of the remaining raspberries in each dish and divide the remaining 1/4 cup or so of jam between the dishes—this will turn into the most delicious tangy sauce imaginable.
Make sure the bowl of your electric mixer and its whisk attachment is squeaky clean—any oil will prevent egg whites from whipping up properly. Beat the whites slowly with the cream of tartar or lemon juice until they are foamy. Then beat the whites at high speed, pouring in the remaining 1/4 cup sugar in a steady stream. Continue beating until the whites show very stiff peaks when you stop the machine and lift the beater.
Using a large spoon or rubber spatula, fold a third of the whites thoroughly into the 1/2 cup raspberry sauce. Fold in the remaining whites lightly. Spoon the mixture high, "like cotton candy," as Sherry says, in the prepared dishes.
Bake for 15 minutes or so until puffed and slightly browned, taking care to carefully open and close the oven door when you check on them. (Glass oven doors must have been invented for soufflés!)
Serve immediately, inviting your guests to dig all the way down to the sauce on the bottom to enjoy with each bite.
To prepare in advance: An added beauty of this surprisingly easy dessert is that you can serve it all year long if you freeze the easy raspberry sauce used as the base. Then all you need do is thaw the base and fold in beaten egg whites.