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Archive for July, 2010

I need to get quicker at this blogging thing.  Every time I want to post, I don’t have the time to actually do it.  Hence the delay in posting about a really lovely annual event here in Boston that I finally checked out.

Each year, Forest Hills Cemetery hosts the Lantern Festival.  It is based on the Buddhist Bon Festival, which is meant to honor the dead, particularly one’s ancestors.  At Forest Hills, the festival includes performers and setting memorial lanterns afloat at dusk.

I’ve been to Forest Hills a couple times.  Like Mount Auburn Cemetery, it is a beautiful, peaceful place to wander, full of pretty trees and plants, along with an eclectic assortment of tombs and monuments.  I’d never been to the Lantern Festival before, though.  My brother, D, and friend, M, agreed to go with me, so we met up after work on the night of the festival.

If you are trying to read the characters, this is a view from the back of the banner, so they should be reversed.

This drummer was powerful and graceful, incorporating what looked like martial arts moves into his drumming.

We arrived in time to see and hear some excellent drumming by students of Grand Master Tsuji.  The drumming seemed to be choreographed, not just played, and it was very impressive.

Again, this is a view from behind the banners

After watching and listening a bit, we moved on to make our lanterns.  You can purchase the materials for a lantern, which you can decorate and assemble to float on the lake later.  Calligraphers are available to put Japanese or Chinese characters on the lanterns, but M and I decided to decorate our own.

M with her completed lantern

My decorated lantern

M chose to adorn her lantern with an assortment of smiley faces.  I had in mind a couple of my patients who have died and a dear mentor/friend of mine who passed away not long before the festival, so I created a sort of illuminated monogram of each person I was remembering.  I had one face of my lantern left, so I added a butterfly.  A bit cliched perhaps, but it worked for me.

set afloat

At dusk, volunteers help light the candles in each lantern, and people set them afloat on the lake in the cemetery.  As I set mine on the water, I thought of how the people it was created to honor had touched me and vowed to keep them in my memory.  It was very therapeutic, and I think I will try to attend every year to remember any patients and loved ones I have lost.

The wind moved the lanterns across the water, which, combined with the low light, made it hard to get clear photos, but this one seemed more appropriately ghostly than just blurry.

There were hundreds of people at the cemetery, and it was both beautiful and moving to see all the lanterns floating on the water as darkness fell.

lights in the darkness

lanterns and reflected twilight

myriad lanterns

I’d highly recommend checking out the festival.  I believe it happens every year on July 15th.

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Last week’s CSA veggies have been used for spring rolls (napa cabbage, carrots, beet, radishes), salad with seared tuna (lettuce, radish), creamy white beans and escarole (escarole, garlic scapes), and an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink soba noodle dish (kohlrabi, turnip, napa cabbage, summer squash, garlic scapes, and scallions all stir fried and tossed with the noodles in a soy, ginger, sesame sauce.)  I also wanted to make a dish for a cookout I attended on the 4th of July.  I knew the folks hosting the cookout would have the meat arena totally under control, and it was too hot to bake (though I had picked up some gorgeous rhubarb at the store, in hopes of making rhubarb bars), so a side dish it would be.  Once I recalled that I had Israeli couscous in the pantry and rainbow chard from the farm share, I came up with the idea of a couscous salad.

The dish definitely evolved.  I regularly make experimental recipes, or even make up recipes, for company or to bring to parties.   I know that’s a no-no, but it’s one of my few rebellious ways, I guess.  While not all my attempts result in scrumptious foodstuffs, I very rarely actually fail, so this habit persists. 🙂  This couscous salad was an invented recipe, and it had some issues along the way, but it turned out pretty well, I think.  A couple people at the cookout asked for the recipe, at least.

Anyway, enough preface.  Here’s how the salad came together.  Apologies for the amateur photography.

the inspiration for the salad

Look at the gorgeous colors of the chard!

First, I did a lot of washing and chopping.  I cut the leaves of the chard from the stems, since I knew the stems would take longer to cook.  I cut the leaves crosswise into ribbons and chopped up the stunning, eponymous rainbow stems.  I still can’t really get over the shades of pink and yellow and white and green of these “greens”.  They are all from one variety of chard!

all chopped up and ready to go

I also minced 2 cloves of garlic, chopped half a large shallot, and zested a lemon.  I threw the stems, garlic, and shallots into a pan with some olive oil.

I let that saute until the stems were getting tender, then added a can of veggie broth, a can of water (about 4 cups of liquid total), and about 1/3 of the lemon zest.

Once that mixture came to a boil, I added the chopped chard leaves and 2 cups of Israeli couscous.

If you aren’t familiar with Israeli couscous, it is just a bigger type of couscous.  I love it in salad, because it is a little more toothsome, and less likely to get mushy, but it is just as quick and easy as regular couscous.  It just steeps in boiling liquid for a few minutes, until tender.

My 2:1 liquid to couscous ratio ended up being a bit wet, so once the couscous was cooked through, I drained the excess liquid.  While things were still warm, I drizzled on a little more olive oil, for flavor and to keep the couscous from clumping, and also added in the rest of the lemon zest, along with the juice of the lemon.

you can see here how much the chard wilted down and the couscous plumped up

It was starting to come together, but needed a little tweaking, so I added a splash of champagne vinegar (red wine vinegar would’ve been fine, too.), a little salt, and a sprinkle of crushed red pepper.  Already it was looking heavy on the couscous and light on the veggies, but I decided to let it sit in the fridge for the night and revisit it in the morning.

The next day the flavors tasted good to me: mostly lemon with hints of the garlic and shallots and just a subtle taste of the greens.  Visually, though, it needed something, and when I pulled open the vegetable bin in the fridge, my eye was caught by the last couple of carrots from the farm haul for the week.  I wasn’t entirely sure how the sweet carrot would play with the chard and lemon, but I was confident the color and texture would be great in the salad.  So, I grated/shredded the carrots (using the second smallest side of my box grater) and tossed them in.

Sure enough, it looked beautiful, but it also tasted good, so I felt a lot better about bringing it with me to the cookout.

Not quite as I envisioned it, but still tasty (and nutritious!)

Not the best photo, sadly.  There were a few unsuccessful elements of this dish.  I misjudged the balance of chard and couscous, but that was fixed by adding in the carrots.  I overestimated the liquid I needed to cook the couscous, but that was easy enough to fix by draining.  The one mistake, though relatively minor, that couldn’t be fixed was the decision to cut the chard leaves into long ribbons.  Once cooked with the couscous, anytime I stirred the salad, the strands of chard would tangle together and clump around the spoon!

Turns out that cutting the chard leaves into ribbons was a little problematic.

Not good at all for evenly distributing the greens through the salad.  I ultimately used my hands to pull apart the chard and try to toss the salad more evenly, which sort of worked.  If I make this or a similar preparation again, I would chop the chard into smaller pieces.

I don’t mention these mistakes and mid-preparation fixes to be self-deprecating.  Rather, I want anyone else who is inspired by the dish to be able to avoid my mistakes but also recognize that I am an imperfect cook.  I read a bunch of food blogs, and I really like it when a blogger admits messing up or even making something that just doesn’t work.  With all the yummy recipes and gorgeous photos, it’s easy to forget that the people behind the blogs are human, too.  So, I wan to firmly establish myself as a flawed blogger cook.  🙂  Not to mention show that with a little creativity and persistence, a dish that seems to be headed in the wrong direction can turn out pretty darn well.

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