Thursday, December 31, 2009


This final week of the year (the decade!), when festivities slow,

is a time of homecoming.

Rainy weather, warm fire, and a stack of enchanting new books beckon me to cozy into my favorite reading chair. The delicious aroma of Ted’s favorite comfort food (a simple turkey meatloaf) wafts from our oven, the cat is curled up on the couch next to me and I can barely remember such bliss.

Reflecting on 2009, on the shock of having a heart attack and surgery, on the amazing grace of such a rapid recovery that I got to trek through the ancient city of Ephesus in Turkey only three weeks later, I am filled with wonder and appreciation for what was a challenging year.

Ted and I have been home from that life-altering trip for two months now, and we haven’t yet turned on the TV. The sacred quality of Ephesus left us with such silence that we can’t bear to listen to the media’s view of life. We traded all that noise for the quiet pleasures of reading and following the threads of our passion wherever they lead. All striving has fallen away.

Through Kim Rosen’s exquisite, profound new book Saved by a Poem (Hay House, 2009) I rediscovered poetry, and, specifically, some lines that have always touched me , but that I now understand more deeply.

The poem Love After Love by Derek Wolcott, begins:

The time will come

When, with elation,

You will greet yourself arriving

At your own door, in your own mirror,

And each will smile at the other’s welcome,

And say, sit here, Eat.

I am basking in the joy of taking this time to come home to myself. In this new decade I will be drawn by what my heart wants, and not driven by any old ideas of who I am and any old shoulds.

I will learning by heart all the poems that truly speak to me as a meditative practice. Though I had pushed my passion for poetry to the back burner, it has become my priority. Discerning that my soul is longing to commit to something new in this new decade, I know I will be sharing my deep passion through developing poetry programs to take into schools.

But for today, in this quiet time between future and past, join me in the sheer joy of communing with your own heart.

“Peel your image from the mirror.

Sit. Feast on your life.”


For at least 6 servings

This is my version of a recipe from The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook. So simple to make and fantastic to have on hand for meatloaf sandwiches afterwards.

1 medium large onion, minced

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 teaspoons kosher salt

½ teaspoon ground black pepper

½ teaspoon dried thyme leaves (or 2 teaspoons fresh, chopped)

½ teaspoon dried sage (or 2 teaspoons fresh, chopped)

3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

1/3 cup water

2 teaspoons tomato paste (from a tube)

2-1/2 pounds ground turkey

¾ cup matzo meal or plain dry breadcrumbs

2 large eggs, beaten

Tomato ketchup for topping and serving

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

In a skillet, sauté the onions, olive oil, salt, pepper, thyme and sage over medium heat until the onions are soft, but not browned. Add the Worcestershire sauce, water and tomato paste and mix well. Place in a large bowl and let cool for a few minutes.

Add the ground turkey, matzo meal and eggs to the onion mixture in the bowl and mix until very well combined. Form into a rectangular loaf on a baking sheet. Spread ketchup over the top.

Place in center of oven, with a pan of hot water on the rack below to prevent the loaf from cracking.

Bake for 1 hour, or until the internal temperature is 160 degrees. Serve hot with mashed potatoes and peas, or cold in a sandwich.

To prepare in advance: The cooked meatloaf, wrapped in foil, will last at least 4 or 5 days in the refrigerator.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Joy vs. Pleasure

A sense of “enjoyment” this holiday season is operating like a self-recharging battery.

Is it because my health wake-up-call this year changed me deeply? (Don’t worry! I’m good as new!) Or is it a coincidence that really old friends from years past who knew nothing about it are calling and visiting and reconnecting? Whatever it is, there is an air of sweetness and hope and festivity in the air.

I find the answer for myself in the very word enjoyment. There are always all kinds of treats to indulge in during the holidays. All sorts of pleasure to pursue. But doesn’t the simple pursuit of pleasure lead eventually to decadence and over-indulgence—and beyond that, to guilt for having over-indulged?

But joy is a different feeling entirely. The word itself, from the Old French enjoier, means “give joy to.”

My very best teacher on the distinction between pleasure and enjoyment is my beautiful stepdaughter Kathy. She is kind and sensitive and wise, always making decisions on how people will be affected. Her wedding some years ago, for instance, was a deeply cherished experience for everyone who attended. Unlike so many brides who focus on a wedding in order to be the center of attention, Kathy and her then-future husband Court both paid enormous attention to the feelings of their guests and how to provide treasured memories for everyone present.

Kathy and I began a new tradition today--sharing a festive holiday lunch together. I brought up the subject of how much I love my Kindle electronic book. She said, “Caitlin [age 8] wants one for Christmas, but I’ve been thinking that I really want her to enjoy the tactile experience of loving real books at her age.” That makes such good sense to me.

A few nights ago, Ted and I were invited to her family tree-trimming, and because of that I noticed how my particular enjoyment this year is cooking party foods and food gifts. (Yes, I avoid the rush and shopping for friends and family because it is so satisfying and easy and efficient to make them in my kitchen.) Chocolate fudge is a staple, of course. And the Cranberry Pepper Jelly in my most recent blog--(I’ve had many emails and messages raving about that one)--but the star recipe of this holiday season is something new and surprising--the recipe below for Wild Mushroom and Goat Cheese Quesadillas with Cranberry Pecan Relish. I made it for Kathy's party, and I was filled with joy at how it created delight among the tasters. It was so popular we almost skipped the main course. I hope you make it.

May true enjoyment be our gift to others this holiday season!



For 4 to 6 main-course servings or 24 appetizers

This outstanding recipe from The Pastry Queen Chrstmas: Big Hearted Holiday Entertaining Texas Style by Rebecca Rather has been the star of this year’s recipe repertoire at our house. We have taken it as an appetizer to parties and watched it be devoured to rave reviews!


½ cup whole pecans

3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/3 cup sugar

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

Grated zest and juice of 1 orange

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

2 cups fresh or thawed frozen cranberries

1 shallot, sliced

1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced (optional)

½ cup (1 stick) butter

1 yellow onion, coarsely chopped

1 ½ pounds mixed wild and commercial mushrooms, such as chanterelles, shiitakes, or oysters, sliced (shiitakes should be stemmed as well)

1 pound button or cremini mushrooms, sliced

4 cloves garlic, minced

1teaspoon kosher salt

2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

2/3 cup dry white wine

½ teaspoon ground white pepper

Eight 8-inch flour tortillas

2 cups (8 ounces) shredded Monterey jack cheese

3 cups (15 ounces) crumbled fresh goat cheese

To make the salsa: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees R. Arrange the pecans on a rimmed baking sheet in a single layer and toast them in the oven for about 7 minutes, until deeper brown and aromatic. Transfer to a bowl, let cool, and break them into pieces.

In a food processor, combine the vinegar, olive oil, sugar, mustard, orange zest, orange juice, salt and pepper. Process until thoroughly combined, about 30 seconds. [Lacking a food processor, use a blender for this.]

Make sure you combine this vinaigrette before adding the fruit because the mixture becomes cloudy if you processes all the ingredients at once. Then again, if you don’t, it will still taste as good.

Add the cranberries, shallot and jalapeno and pulse until the cranberries are coarsely chopped. Pour the salsa into a medium bowl, cover, and refrigerate until ready to serve. Stir in the pecans just prior to serving.

In a large sauté pan, melt the butter over medium-high heat, add the onion and sauté for about 4 minutes, until translucent. Add the mushrooms, garlic, salt and Worcestershire and sauté for about 5 minutes. Add the white wine and pepper and cook the mushrooms until the liquid is absorbed, at least 5 minutes.

While the mushrooms cook, coat a griddle or large skillet with cooking spray and heat over high heat, then reduce the heat to medium. Lay 2 tortillas on the griddle or in the skillet and cover each with ¼ cup of the Monterey jack. Evenly spread about 1/3 cup of the mushroom mixture on one half o f each tortilla and cover the mushroom mixture evenly with a thin layer of crumbled goat cheese4. Use a metal spatula to fold each tortilla in half and cook until lightly brown and crisp on the bottom. Flip and cook until brown on the other side. Transfer to a plate in a warm oven. Repeat with the remaining tortillas.

Cut each folded tortilla into 3 wedges and serve warm at room temperature, with the salsa alongside.

To prepare in advance: Cook the quesadillas a few hours before your party. Wrap individually in foil, then reheat in a low oven before cutting into wedges. The salsa will keep up to three weeks in the refrigerator and is delicious with all kinds of holiday fare.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Pomegranate Season

Fullness, juiciness, life's abundance.
The pomegranate is a symbol of the sacred in every world religion.

Some scholars of Judaism claim it was a pomegranate that tempted Eve and not an apple. And, a single fruit is said to have 613 seeds representing the 613 commandments of the Torah, the first of which is to “be fruitful and multiply.”
In Islam, the Gardens of Paradise contain pomegranates. And, it is said that the Prophet Mohammed encouraged eating the fruit to eliminate envy and hatred.
In Hinduism, the pomegranate is a symbol of fertility and prosperity. It is often depicted in the hands of the deities, especially Durga, the invincible and supremely radiant goddess.
And, of all the gifts Buddha received in his lifetime he was most delighted by the gift of a pomegranate.
The recently published dual memoir Traveling with Pomegranates by Sue Monk Kidd (author of The Secret Life of Bees) and her daughter Ann Kidd Taylor, is full of lore on the symbolism of pomegranates in the ancient Greek and Roman cultures and also in the Christian faith. The book tells of their travels together to Greece and Turkey and of their individual quests for meaning as women in separate times of life.
I recently read this deeply inspiring book while on a voyage to the ruins of the ancient city of Ephesus in Turkey. Once one of the three largest trading centers of the Roman Empire, it was the home of the vast Temple of Artemis, one of the wonders of the ancient world.

Ephesus is a thriving harbor city with a population of over a million, Ephesus has the best-preserved ruins of those times. Its stand-out sites are a two-story library and a theater that held 25,000.
A statue in the extraordinary Ephesus Museum depicts the goddess Artemis with pomegranate-like breasts representing the fruitfulness of Mother Nature.
Emerging from the museum we saw a stand heaped with fresh pomegranates.

Ted and I loved the tart flavor of the dark red fresh-squeezed juice. The vendor showed me how the top of the fruit has rising points that look like a crown, making the fruit a symbol of the beauty and divinity of the Virgin Mary who lived nearby. [img 0685]

You see, Ephesus is also where the apostle John is said to have taken the Virgin Mary after the crucifixion. High atop a hill, from the Basilica of St. John, one looks down on a road that leads a short distance into the hills to the House of the Virgin Mary, where she is said to have spent her final years. Many modern-day Popes have visited the site, and though there remains controversy as to its authenticity, we were touched by the feeling of reverence there.

Below the house is a flowing spring where visitors drink and fill flasks with water said to have healing properties.
Now that I am home, still filled with memories of so many sacred sites, I sense how pomegranates celebrate in so many meaningful ways the fullness and pure lusciousness of being a woman.
May the blessings of your holiday season be as
bountiful as the seeds of a pomegranate.
Holiday Salad with Pomegranate seeds
I am looking for ways to use pomegranates during the holidays. Last week, I added some seeds to my cranberry orange relish for Thanksgiving, and today I am sprinkling them on a spectacular salad of baby spinach, Gorgonzola cheese, spicy pecans from Trader Joes, and shredded rotisserie chicken from Costco.
Are you familiar with the Costco chickens? They are large, brined, and bursting with flavor! Only $4.99, I buy one every week and remove the skin as soon as I get home. Then I slice the breast meat into thin slices for sandwiches or to serve with rice or mashed potatoes, and shred the dark meat to use in salads or a seasonal stew I devised to serve as a buffet dish:
For about 16 servings
2 cans (7ounces each) whole green chiles, rinsed, seeded, and cut into thin strips
½ cup (1 stick) butter
2 large white onions,minced
4 garlic cloves, minced
¼ cup chili powder
Pinch of ground cloves
½ cup all purpose flour
4 cups strong chicken or turkey broth
1 ¼ cups white wine, or 1 cup dry Vermouth
4 cups shredded cooked turkey breast or chicken
2 cups sour cream
To garnish and serve:
1 ripe avocado, peeled, pitted, ad cut in thin wedges
½ cup chopped cilantro (fresh coriander), optional
Seeds from ½ a ripe pomegranate
Note: If the broth you use is not richly seasoned, flavor the finished Stroganoff to taste with chicken stock base or bouillon cubes dissolved in hot water.
Melt butter in a heavy pot of at least 6-quart capacity over medium-high heat. Sauté the onions and garlic for about 5 minutes until the onion is transparent. Stir in the chli powder and cloves and stir for a minute or so to toast them, then add the flour. Cook over low heat for about 3 minutes to toast the flour lightly and remove any raw taste. Gradually add the chicken or turkey broth, then the wine or vermouth and chiles. Bring to a simmer and stir until thickened. Lower the heat and simmer for ten minutes.
Add the shredded chicken or turkey and simmer slowly just to heat it through.
Just before serving, stir sour cream into the hot mixture, taking care not to boil it, which might curdle the sour cream.
Transfer to a warm serving dish or chafing dish. Garnish the top of the Stroganoff with slices of avocado, cilantro and pomegranate seeds. Serve with rice or noodles.
To prepare in advance: The dish may be made ahead up to the point where you have added the chicken or turkey. Store in the refrigerator for 3 days or in the freezer for a month or more. Thaw if frozen and reheat in a heavy saucepan or crock-pot, stirring in the sour cream within a few minutes of serving. Reheat any leftover Stroganoff in a double boiler over barely simmering water.

And, here are some imaginative uses of pomegranates I've found in my holiday rounds. The first is a platter of lamb chops catered by The Kitchen in Pasadena.

The second, a spectacular salad I enjoyed on our twentieth anniversary at the Restaurant at Getty Museum.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

The Trim-the-Tree Vision Party

How does one encourage guests to bypass small talk and truly connect with each other?

The most heart-warming party I remember is the perfect model for a holiday gathering.

My late husband Paul von Welanetz and I invited 60 or so guests to a holiday tree-trimming party. We asked each to bring an ornament that had special meaning or represented their heart's desire and be prepared to tell us all about it.

The afternoon of the party, we decorated the tree with only sparkling white lights. Because we didn't have enough seating space for such a crowd, we set out dishes of finger food--dips, bite -sized appetizers and sandwich makings. Our daughter Lexi put plates of nuts and cookies around the house so people would have reason to move about and mingle. Drinks were self-serve on our patio from an ice tub. We made an early version of the recipe below, pouring the whole six cups of pepper jelly into a wreath mold. Unmolded, in the center of a platter it inserted a container of whipped cream cheese in the center and surrounded it with Wheat Thins and spreaders for serving.

Once our guests arrived and had a chance to mingle for awhile, we gathered them in a large circle around the living room and began the tree-trimming. Choosing one of our more extroverted guests to begin, we asked him to "show and tell." He had us all laughing about the quirky ornament he'd made out of paper money, representing his goal of being more playful with money. A man then showed a miniature frame holding a picture of his mother who had recently been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. He was planning to take the next few months off to care for her himself, and to write a little about the experience to share with others.

Jack Canfield, who went on to become co-author of the Chicken Soup for the Soul book series, brought a white crystalline spider on a web ornament that represented his desire to reach out and create a wider and deeper web of relationships. "I've been focusing too much on my work and not enough on family and friends," he said.

Storytelling continued around the room. Some people made or purchased ornaments that represented their goals, dreams and wishes for the next year, ranging from miniature bestsellers to a man and woman holding hands. Several brought ornaments they'd found in their travels to Asia, the Middle East and Latin America. I especially remember a star made of olive wood from Bethlehem.

A woman held a tiny child in a cradle, symbolizing her yearning to have a baby the following year. One perfect crystal heart represented a desire to be more open and transparent. We didn't anticipate how revealing the process would be, or the depth of vulnerability that would be revealed. Moving from laughter to tears over and over again, we celebrated our diversity only to become filled with our oneness.

After waving goodbye to our guests, Paul and I turned out the lights, set another log on the fire and sat next to the twinkling tree. The ornaments were still bunched together in the middle branches.

We left them nestled just as they were and never finished the tree with our traditional ornaments that year because we knew we had been visited by the true Spirit of Christmas.

For about 6 cups

Bright red jelly speckled with slivers of candied orange and dried cranberries is my favorite easy appetizer when served with Cheddar cheese spread or whipped cream cheese and crackers. Use any extra as a lively accompaniment to grilled poultry or meats, or for hostess gifts. The recipe takes only about 15 minutes to make!

Wear gloves when handling chiles in case your hands are sensitive!

1 large red bell pepper, seeded and chopped coarsely
2-3 large jalapeno peppers, seeded
1-1/4 cups apple cider vinegar
6 cups sugar
1/2 cup dried cranberries
2 to 3 tablespoons thinly sliced candied orange rind
1 envelope Certo liquid pectin

Place the red peppers and jalapenos in the container of an electric blender with 1/2 cup the vinegar and blend until smooth. pour the mixture into a 4-quart (or larger) saucepan. Rinse the blender container with the remaining vinegar and add it to the peppers. Stir in the sugar, the cranberries and orange rind. Bring the mixture just to a hard boil that you cannot stir down. Remove from the heat and let stand for 5 minutes. skim the foam carefully off the top, leaving as many cranberries and orange slivers on the surface as possible.
Stir in the Certo until thoroughly blended.

Beautiful, isn't it?
Pour into ramekins or souffle dishes for serving, or into canning jars for gift giving.

To prepare in advance: If you are making the jelly for your own use, it is easiest to pour it into serving dishes, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. It will keep several months in the refrigerator, but will probably disappear long before that! If sealed in canning jars according to manufacturer's directions it will keep for months without refrigeration.