Monday, October 17, 2005

Time for monarchs -- and yummy pumpkin flan

Well, cooler weather is here... we just spent the weekend out at Guadalupe River State Park, wading in the river with the kids (note to self: buy water shoes to avoid rock bruises) and enjoying chilly nights huddled around the campfire. There's nothing better than hot coffee at a campsite first thing in the morning, followed by pancakes and sausage or bacon and eggs... particularly if your spouse is the one slaving over the stove while you're drowsing by the fire, watching the sun creep up in the sky! (I *do* wash the dishes, at least.)

Our timing was good this year; I happened to look up in the sky late Friday afternoon and see a huge influx of monarch butterflies! I've spotted one or two from time to time, but I've never seen anything like this. At any one moment, I could spot ten to fifteen of them, all at various heights, soaring or fluttering southward. I looked it up on Monarch watch when I got home. It turns out some of them travel 1500 miles to their overwintering spot in Mexico, and they can migrate fifty miles a day! Wow. These little orange guys came to the Guadalupe all the way from Canada. In past years, I've seen them on the frostweed (a big plant with white umbels of flowers), but the flowers are already past their peak this year. I wonder what kind of fuel they're using instead? It's certainly cheaper than what I put in the minivan.

I also made a fabulous pumpkin flan this week: I think Natalie may have to cook this up for her guests in the Gray Whale Inn one morning, but in the meantime, you can try it at home...

Pumpkin Flan

1 cup plus 3 T milk
1 cup brown sugar
1/3 t grated orange peel
1/4 t ground ginger
scant 1/2 t ground cinnamon
scant 1/2 t salt
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup plus 3 T pureed cooked pumpkin (I used canned)
6 T brown sugar (optional)

Preheat oven to 350. Combine milk, brown sugar, orange peel, ginger, cinnamon and salt in a large bowl. Stir thoroughly, then add the lightly beaten eggs and the pureed pumpkin. Beat vigorously with a spoon until the mixture is smooth. Spray ramekins with cooking spray (see below for 'caramel sauce' option) and fill with pumpkin mixture. Place the ramekins in a large pan in the middle of the oven; pour enough hot water into the pan to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Bake for approximately 40 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the center of the pudding comes out clean.

NOTE: For proper 'flan' with caramel sauce, press 1T brown sugar into the bottom of each ramekin before filling.

This is good with Blue Bell Homemade Vanilla ice cream or whipped cream with a touch of vanilla added.

Yum. I think I'll go whip up another batch...

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Armchair Travel (my guilty pleasure)

I wish sometimes that TV had never been invented, so more of us would experience the luxury of reclining on a couch with a great book, turning off the phone, fixing a cup of tea and falling into another world. Armchair travel is one of my favorite pastimes. Last year, in rainy January, I spent hours in the travel aisle of the local bookstore, sipping lattes and reading and dreaming about Paris, then going home and cooking recipes out of French Farmhouse Cooking, or going to Boggy Creek Farm to fill a basket with wonderful winter greens, returning to my kitchen to cook them up with pasta, lemon juice, goat cheese and yummy green garlic.

I admit it. I'm a travel book junkie.

One of my favorite travel books is about Greenland, of all places -- Seven Seasons in a Cold Land, I think it was, by the fabulous writer Gretel Ehrlich. I read it one December, with the pale winter sun leaching through the blue curtains, my newborn son curled up in the crook of my arm, and while we lay in a cocoon of white comforter, I was at the same time slicing through glaciers behind a team of dogs, feeling the sharp spray of snow on my face, surrounded by glaciers and heartbreaking beauty.

Of course, if you like warmer climes, Frances Mayes' Under the Tuscan Sun is great for a luxurious at-home Tuscan vacation (the book, NOT the movie), and of course Peter Mayle for Provence, although he doesn't have the sensuousness of Mayes. The truth is, I'm a dreamer, and as much as I love my life here, I often fantasize about starting over in a foreign country, a new language thick on my tongue, the foods tantalizing, exotic... I did go to Paris last year, and remember being struck by how different the cooking smells are in the streets. Here, it's garlic, or the tantalizing smoke from a distant barbecue... there, it was earthier somehow, with hints of truffle and wine. I'm always looking for more good travel lit... in fact, I spent twenty minutes at the bookstore today looking at Carol Drinkwater's book about France. I may yet pick it up one day....