Barefoot Contessa: A Great Recipe

Posted by admin on Thursday May 26, 2011 Under Uncategorized

Palace of the Blue Butterfly | Episode 10

Early spring on the ranch has come and gone. This year my Yellow Butterflies magnolia bloomed for the first time since I planted it three years ago, and of course, the tulips, the forsythia, the heavenly daphne rewarded all my hard work. It’s a charmed time of year. I can relax on the porch, coffee cup in hand, all the stooping and planting of last fall forgotten.



Here’s my favorite place, facing the morning sun, looking out for the first orioles, the hills still in shadow, the fountain gurgling. This is where I bring my notebooks to jot down everything from dreams to garden ideas to character biographies for my next books.

These flowers fade, and then the dogwood blooms along with the lilac by the fence, which, every time I pass it, reminds me of when Dave and I lived in New England. For a moment each time I go through the gate, I’m forty years younger.

What have I learned in those years? Wow! A lot! Most important thing? I wouldn’t have worried so much when I was younger, I think, if I’d known happiness could be had with a few bulbs, a lilac bush, hard work and a good book.





Oh and one more thing . . camping by a river— something like this when the wild azaleas bloom.


Now that the purple Chinese Houses and the yellow Madia are blooming along the roadside, I know it’s time to plant the garden. I made this soup with my summer vegetables in mind. It’s from Ina Garten—the Barefoot Contessa. You can go to her website , or you can get it here. One word: do cut the carrots into small pieces. Another thing—You can use vegetable broth if it’s homemade. Can’t stand the canned stuff myself.


Vegetable Soup Provencal

2TBS good olive oil
2 cups chopped onions
2 cups chopped leeks
3 cups 1/2 inch diced carrots
3 cups 1/2 diced boiling potatoes
1 1/2 TBS kosher salt (less if using canned broth)
1 tsp. fresh ground black pepper
3 quarts chicken stock
1 tsp. saffron threads
1/2 lb. haricot verts, ends removed, cut in half
4 ounces spaghetti, broken in pieces
1 cup Pistou ( recipe follows)
Freshly grated parmesan cheese

Directions: Heat olive oil, add onions and saute over LOW heat for 10 minutes, or until onions are translucent. Add leeks, potatoes, carrots, salt, pepper and saute over medium heat another 5 minutes. Add broth and saffron, bring to a boil and simmer uncovered for 30 minutes, or until vegetables are tender. Add haricots verts and spaghetti, bring to a boil, and cook for 15 more minutes.

While the soup simmers, make the Pistou.

4 large garlic cloves
1/4 cup tomato paste
24 large basil leaves
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
1/2 cup good olive oil

Process garlic, tomato paste, basil, cheese in a food processor. With motor running, add oil slowly through the tube to make a paste.

Finish soup:

Before serving, add a 1/4 cup of pistou to the soup and stir.

Serve soup with warm, crusty French bread, extra parmesan and pistou for those who want it. After dinner, relax with a glass of wine and listen to . . .

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Diana Kennedy

Posted by admin on Thursday May 19, 2011 Under Uncategorized

Palace of the Blue Butterfly | Episode 9

Today I’m going to show you a little You Tube video of the famous chef and — what can I call her? — the great food historian Diana Kennedy. You’ll be reading a lot about her. She was just given the James Beard Award for the best cookbook of the year for Oaxaca al Gusto.

The You Tube is in Spanish and is an interview for the, I guess, Mexican version of the AARP. It would be too tedious for you to read a whole word for word translation, so I’m just going to give you the gist.

I’m showing the Spanish language interview because the production values are the best. In it you can see Diana Kennedy in all her glorious 88 years at her home in Zitacuaro, Mexico. It is there that she gives cooking classes (or used to) and tends her organic garden, something she describes in the You Tube. She says that even though she has no children, she wants to preserve the earth for those generations that come after her. She uses no chemicals in her house, not even detergent for dishes or clothes, only soap made of paste. (Sorry, I don’t really know what she means by that, but I do know that Mexican detergents are very polluting! Maybe ours are, too. I only use Seventh Generation myself.)

Zitacuaro is home to the Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary high in the moutains of Michoacan at ten thousand feet. The story of these delicate creatures’ migration is worthy of its own post. I’ll just show this picture on the right to give you the idea of Diana Kennedy’s whereabouts.

Diana Kennedy Book: The Cuisines of MexicoAlas, Michoacan is pretty much ground zero for the drug wars. That’s the other reason I’m showing this particular You Tube video shot, I presume, this year. Mrs. Kennedy seems pretty much like she’s going on with her life, which is what my friends in Morelia, Michoacan tell me they are doing.

What Diana Kennedy is VERY worried about and what she talks about in this video and other videos, as well, is the loss of Mexico’s culinary traditions and local foodstuffs. Recently, the Mexican government has been allowing the importation of things like hibiscus flowers, used for agua de jamaica, from Yemen and chilis from China. This, Kennedy says, will have a disastrous effect on regions of Mexico. As UNESCO just named Mexico’s cuisine one the the world’s heritages, it’s incumbent upon all of us who travel to Mexico to support the local farmers there as we do here. “Mexico must protect this jewel of its culture,” Kennedy says.

But on to the You Tube translation.

“Mexico has taught me so much,” Diana Kennedy says at the beginning of the video. She is called the “Queen of Mexican Cuisine” and when young chefs in Mexico tell her they learned to cook from their grandmothers, she tells them, “Yes well, I was cooking with your grandmother when you were only this high.”

She goes on to talk about leaving England in 1953, of travelling to Haiti where she met her husband, Paul Kennedy, the New York Times correspondent in Mexico and Central America, about travelling throughout the region during the fifties with her husband under extreme conditions.

When Paul Kennedy died in the mid sixties, Craig Clairborne, encouraged Diana Kennedy to give cooking classes in New York City, which she did. She travelled in Mexico six months a year, gathering recipes, and those recipes were included in her first cookbook, The Cuisines of Mexico, an absolute classic.

The recent cookbook Oaxaca al Gusto took fourteen years to complete and was eventually published by a university press after the first publisher refused to cooperate with Diana Kennedy’s requirements. She insisted that the recipes include the stories of the people who gave them to her, that the history of the recipes be preserved. She is a force to be reckoned with, and the world is a better place for it.

Another woman who refuses to do what she’s told!! Hooray.

And tonight for dinner, I’m making a special mole amarillo or yellow mole from Oaxaca in honor of Diana Kennedy’s book. I’m using the chilhuacle chilis I grew in my garden last summer. I had to grow them, because you can’t find them in the markets in the states. To use them, dry them for several hours in the oven as chilhuacle chilis are only used dried.

It’s something Lili might be served when she dines at the restaurant on the above right with Gabi and Hanes, don’t you think?

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Romantic Suspense

Posted by admin on Thursday May 12, 2011 Under Uncategorized

Palace of the Blue Butterfly | Episode 8

Okay, so I’m a romantic. I admit it. Maybe because I’m from the South, but I love the Gothic. I love crumbling buildings draped with vines, overgrown gardens with a bit of wildness in them, anything scented and sultry and dark.

The hyacinths I wrote about are now gone, but the Lilac — OMG — planted right by the (antique, of course) gate smells divine. It makes even carrying groceries from the car a romantic experience. The lilacs will fade, and in their place, the old Bourbon rose, Madame Issac Perrier, will bloom. After that, I HAVE to have gardenias.

This summer I’m going to try growing the gardenias in containers on the porch. I’m even going to get a misting fan — one of those reproductions that looks like it could have been in Havana in the twenties — to give them the humidity they need. It will be worth it, though. The scent of white gardenias on a summer evening will transform hot, hot August into something well, romantic.

And because I’m southern and grew up with a lot of storytellers, I listened to many ghost stories out on the porch at night. I can still hear them in my head along with the moths batting against the screens and the frogs croaking in the creek. Well, put all that together, and, I guess, I’m a natural for Romantic Suspense.

As I was growing up, the south was modernizing fast, so by the time I got to Mexico, that country seemed more southern to me than the south, more gothic, more brooding and, yes, more romantic, like this hacienda on the left.

Doesn’t this ruin sort of remind you of what the setting might have looked like if Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca had been set in Mexico?

A confession. I’m working on a novel set in one of these crumbling old hennequin plantations in the Yucatan. Like Rebecca this as-yet-untitled-book has ALL the gothic elements of my kind of Romantic Suspense: the independent woman of little means, the brooding mansion, the secrets, the malevolent presence, the wounded hero. And the Yucatan? That, too. Just imagine the colonial ruins, the cenotes, the howler monkeys, a naive protagonist, a wealthy, jaded expat. Hey, I’m there!

You see, I envision writing a series of novels, each one set in a different location in Mexico. Bird of Paradise (my first novel) is set on the west coast of Mexico, and even though the drug lords roam the streets and highways, there’s still the feisty protagonist of little means, the secrets, the brooding… well you get the picture. Of course, Palace of the Blue Butterfly , set in Mexico City, has, as you know, all those things and more, and now . . . Well, you just have to click and listen to find out.

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Travel Advisory: Why Women’s Fiction Might Come in Handy

Posted by admin on Thursday May 5, 2011 Under Uncategorized

Palace of the Blue Butterfly | Episode 7

By now you may have heard that the US State Department has released its current Travel Advisories, and its not good news for traveling to Mexico.

I’m aware that Mexico is seen as a dangerous place. Don’t think I have my head in the sand, but I’ve been there three times this year and have felt completely safe. It’s true that I speak the language well enough, and I have friends there. Maybe that makes it easier for me.

Anyway, it’s a perfect time for some armchair traveling. You can let Lili face all the danger while you are safe at home reading in bed, well in this case, listening to Palace of the Blue Butterfly.

Why, you might ask, did I choose Mexico City as a setting in the first place? There are two answers to that, really.

One is personal. When I was seventeen, my mother and I took off for Mexico City in her huge Buick Elektra. It was a road trip moment, and we were getting out of Dodge! Anyway, I fell in love with Mexico. It’s that simple, early imprinting and all that.

The second reason? Well, that has to do with the craft of writing, with the essential element of conflict.

One of my favorite types of conflict involves a woman trying to negotiate a life in a foreign country, and one of my all time favorite first sentences is from Isak Dinesen’s memoir Out of Africa: “I had a farm in Africa at the foot of the Ngong Hills.

Once I had the setting for my book, I had the conflict. What was my character doing there? Whom would she meet? Where would she go? And I wanted to follow, to peer over the forbidding walls and get behind the high, iron gates, which is exactly what I did. People have been so helpful you can’t imagine.

If you’ve followed along this far, you know that Lili is invited to a residence in a super excusive part of Mexico City called San Angel. ( See photo left) Who wouldn’t want to be driven down this street in a Mercedes with smoke-colored glass, have the chauffeur hop out and ring the buzzer, and be allowed into a whole other world?

Well, click and listen and you can.


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Mexico Trilogy Graphic Link