A Few Of My Favorite Things In 2016 & What’s Next?

Reflecting can be a good thing…so here is a brief pictorial journey of the things that inspired me in 2016, along with a hint as to my direction for 2017.  Food, tea, family, literature, gardening…all these things inspired me this past year.  Our #1 food experience….drum roll please…Providence, L.A. where acclaimed, Chef M. Ciurisky, WOWS every time in an unassuming fashion!

Providence – Chef M. Ciurisky’s fabulous L.A. restaurant. My #1 dining experience 2016…by far…

Each and every dish is simply spectacular in it’s conception, flavor, and presentation…starting with their delectable handmade oyster cracker filled with sumptuous salmon and a lovely little foamy soup…tasting of the sea.

Providence handmade oyster crackers filled with salmon…served with a foamy sip of soup…

 

First course…handmade oyster cracker filled with salmon and a scrumptious foamy taste of soup…yes we wanted more 🙂

Continuing to be our top vacationing experience…the Napa Valley … and it’s not just about the wine (well, it is, but….) the gardens are spectacular.

Winter mustard cover crop at Frog’s Leap…so gorgeous.

My birthday dinner was a surprise visit to the acclaimed Restaurant at Meadowood

Just loved the road leading to Coppola’s stunning Inglenook Winery on a cloudy, drizzly day

The French Laundry gardeners kindly post their seasonal garden schematic..here is fall 2016

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our other top vacationing experience…Southern California beaches…surf camp with our grandsons, family week (a tradition), & now sister time too…and awesome seafood.

Carlsbad California sunset from our vacation spot

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reading great writing…with a cup of tea of course…my fete this year was re-enjoying War & Peace as a Lenten goal…1,287 unabridged pages in 40 days…still my favorite book of all time.

My Lenten commitment – 2016 was to read War and Peace (unabridged)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dealing with life changes and dietary changes yet coming up with fabulous and satisfying alternatives … My niece Samantha’s unctuous and decadent petite creme brûlées and her apple crostatas.  Her 4 ounce brûlée is a perfect dessert for me…and doesn’t raise my glucose levels at all (yay!!!)

Sammy cakes Pumpkin Brûlée…I had mine without the “carmelized sugar” and no sugar spike later …hurray…

 

 

 

 

Sammy cakes apple crostata … just a rustic thing of beauty and flavor.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our vegetable and fruit gardens this year were the best ever…all organic and unique veggies grown from seeds.  My husband’s favorite…watermelon radishes..also several heirloom cucumbers (including the lemon cuke which looks like a lemon but fully tastes like a cucumber).  Gorgeous tomatoes and basils and beets and herbs … it was a good year and good yield, along with figs and pomegranates and Fuji apples…odd looking nectarines that tasted rich and delicious.

Our 2016 backyard harvest …

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Food and teatime will always be a focal point of joy, inspiration and excitement in my life…and will be experienced in Eat Be Tea; however, I am excited to embark on a year of literary exploration this next week…beginning with two ventures; 1) Exploring the classics through the writings of the immortals in the Harvard Classics and 2) enjoying a year-long book club all about author Jane Austen.  You will hear more about this focus next week and my hope is that you will follow along, and maybe get into the literature yourself.  Happy New Year!  and remember…

Drink Tea … It’s good for you … and even better with a good book.

 

 

Tomatoes, Tomatoes, Tomatoes…

Valerie's heirloom tomato + awesome Di Stefano Burrata...is there anything better? Well yes, when slathered onto a crusty piece of ciabatta bread

Valerie’s heirloom tomatoes with awesome Di Stefano Burrata, calamata olives and EVOO…is there anything better? Well yes, when all this is slathered onto a crusty piece of ciabatta bread

A few years ago, I discovered that when it’s tomato season, eat them!  Particularly heirlooms in August and September.   I am a little bit picky about eating a fruit or vegetable that is marred in any way.  I’ve actually spent most of my life steering away from fresh tomatoes as, often, I found them to be mealy or tasteless, unless cooked down into my Mom’s fabulous pasta sauce (the best mmm)  or slow roasted in a low oven.  My father did not enjoy fresh tomatoes…he preferred them cooked…(and here we are from an Italian household :-).  But that’s because we did not have accessibility to the gorgeous varieties now found at our farmer’s markets, healthy food stores, and from discerning restauranteurs ….

I just love quality ingredients and foods that burst with flavor without being manipulated too much.  I haven’t posted much lately because I have been struggling with figuring out just what is o.k. for me to eat (needing to identify ingredients that won’t make my glucose levels spike up). It’s been a frustrating time for me working through which foods work and which don’t for me …and being a professed foodaholic, I’ve been a little down about some necessary restrictions (but more about that on another post)…in the meantime, I have been ordering and preparing fresh, heirloom and dry farmed (from Whole Foods) tomato salads … often…almost daily.

Below are a few photos of my favorites.

Beautiful tomato, fresh mozzarella bruschetta with fresh basil from a Napa Restaurant

Beautiful tomato, fresh mozzarella bruschetta with fresh basil from a Napa Restaurant…

 

Caprese Salad with fresh bur rata, heirloom tomatoes topped with Caviar from Bottega... Chef Michael Chiarello's fine restaurant in Yountville (Napa Valley)... I just love the drizzle of basil oil

Caprese Salad with fresh burrata, heirloom tomatoes topped with Caviar from Bottega… Chef Michael Chiarello’s fine restaurant in Yountville (Napa Valley)… I just love the drizzle of basil oil

 

Most satisfying and healthy heirloom tomatoes, fresh arugula, interesting beans I can't remember the name of, a bit of ricotta salada cheese and aged balsamic from Chef David Pratt at Brick Pizzeria in San Clemente, Ca... I go there at least once a week to order this until the season is over...a meal by itself and all farm fresh, organic ingredients...delightful!

Most satisfying and healthy heirloom tomatoes, fresh arugula, interesting beans I can’t remember the name of, a bit of ricotta salada cheese and aged balsamic from Chef David Pratt at Brick Pizzeria in San Clemente, Ca… I go there at least once a week to order this until the season is over…a meal by itself and all farm fresh, organic ingredients…delightful!

 

Truly refreshing...tomato gazpacho with Maine lobster from Market in Del Mar, Ca... perfect with a glass of Sancerre

Truly refreshing…tomato, cucumber, and radish gazpacho with Maine lobster from Market in Del Mar, Ca… perfect with a glass of Sancerre

 

Thus far, these have been my favorite tomato dishes of this season (although I’ve made a few of my own at home that rival them…

One thing I did notice this week in checking my glucose levels after consuming huge slices of heirloom tomatoes on a slice of artisan bread I got from the farmer’s market…my numbers did jump up a good bit…guess I need to remember that “tomatoes ARE a fruit” and higher in sugars that other veggies…oh well, they are still good for me…moderation may be in order going forward though. I’ll wash them down with a lovely cup of whole leaf oolong…which is very good for me anytime 🙂

Drink tea…it’s good for you!

This Morning’s Harvest…The Perfect Season to Be on a Plant-Based Diet

TFL morning harvest Stunning squash blossoms, ramps, and more

TFL morning harvest
Stunning squash blossoms, ramps, and more

 

Radishes, peppers, baby paddy pan squash, and more deliciousness

Radishes, peppers, baby paddy pan squash, and more deliciousness

IMG_6301Four weeks ago I moved to a plant-based only diet (aka vegan; however, it seems the word “vegan” has gone out of fashion for some).   “Whatever”, I say … because even though a bit of grated parmesan has topped a few of my salad plates the last few weeks, and I consumed my last bit of organic, whole milk with my morning cup of black tea (didn’t want to waste it :-).  I feel better…  and I have lost 5 pounds in a month (a big deal to my 5’2″ frame), and my arthritis has calmed down immensely…and I love the food I am cooking and discovering when eating out.  The big test will be what my numbers are in three weeks when I get my lab work done to see if I reversed my diabetes back into being GONE  gone gone…(keep your fingers crossed).

Here’s the neat thing too… I don’t weigh, measure, or count much of anything I choose to consume …as long as it is plant-based, usually a whole food (except for a bit of bread and crackers)…this has been easy and flavorful and fun to figure out what to make for each meal and what to order out…oh, and I have been considerate of reducing even the good fats.  I had a tendency to go a bit crazy with the EVOO, nuts, and avocados before this sojourn into veganism.

I don’t do shakes or soy protein, or texturized this or that which mocks a meat product either.  Quinoa has become my friend.  Seriously!  I must say going veggie, fruit and grain based in the summer was just a stunning idea.  The plethora of outstanding produce is the perfect platform from which to launch this effort… a recipe for success I’d say.  Go plant-based in the summer months.

O.K…. I will confess that the photos above are NOT from my puny little garden…we sprinted up to Napa and our favorite little town of Yountville a couple weeks ago to celebrate my darling husband’s birthday, just the two of us…and this stunning produce is from Thomas Keller’s gardens, across from The French Laundry and down the street from his Bouchon and Ad Hoc restaurants.  We got to enjoy some of his produce at Bouchon…the best tomato and compressed melon salad EVER…with a fresh basil puree (I had them hold the slice of Spanish ham (darn) …still AWESOME though… the photo doesn’t do it justice but here it is anyway.

Bouchon...Heirloom tomato, compressed melon, teeny onions, basil puree...awesome"ness" on a board...so much flavor

Bouchon…Heirloom tomato, compressed melon, teeny onions, basil puree…awesome”ness” on a board…so much flavor….o.k. see, there is just a teeny bit of grated parmesan on top (it’s o.k….it was from a good source 🙂

Will update you soon on my progress… below are photos of MY morning harvest, not quite so plush as Thomas Keller’s garden produce, but full of flavor and I know the source too 🙂   Local and trustworthy 🙂

My morning harvest...Japanese eggplant, heirloom tomatoes (tiny but truly full of flavor) nectarines (from our new tree, just juicy and delicious)...not the TFL but still good.

My morning harvest…Japanese eggplant, heirloom tomatoes (tiny but truly full of flavor) nectarines (from our new tree, just juicy and delicious)…not the TFL but still good.

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How Does Your Garden Grow? Our Hits & Misses…

new for us this season...tomatillos.  My husband loves salsa...these will go well with our jalapeños and tomatoes in a couple months...the interesting looking "paper like" exterior of this tomato like plant is gorgeous

New for us this season…tomatillos. My husband loves salsa…these will go well with our jalapeños and tomatoes in a couple months…the interesting looking “paper like” exterior of this plant is gorgeous

We’ve been working hard in the yard!!  This season’s garden has been particularly satisfying to get in and watch develop.  Our garden was on the San Juan Capistrano Garden Club tour in late April…thus we put a LOT of extra effort into sprucing up every nook and cranny of our backyard; planting more vegetables and new fruit trees…filling every blank corner with organic, beautiful, and hopefully bountiful crops.  The birds, bees, lizards, and butterflies seem thrilled with the plantings.  With our California drought condition, we updated our irrigation to ensure complete efficiency in water usage…this resulted in our achieving an award from our local water district (a little bonus, yay).  It’s been truly fulfilling to watch the literal “fruits” of our labor bloom….and thanks to my husband (who is in charge of the fruit trees (his favorite), and my sister and great friend (A.), we got everything installed in time for the tour.  Now, I’m ready to host a few tea lunches on the deck and enjoy the results …the “hits” early in the season are…Japanese eggplants (gorgeous leaves), heirloom tiger tomatoes, and from The French Laundry seeds I purchased on our last trip to Napa Valley (over a year ago), D’Avignon radishes, Chiogga beets, Nantes carrots.. all looking just gorgeous…my husband and I watch them grow, fawning over them like proud parents 🙂

2015 veggie crop...new this year, heirloom lemon cucumbers, from the French Laundry seeds - nantes carrots, chiogga beets, d'artangan radishes and our fave heirloom tiger striped tomatoes...and Japanese eggplants (which have the most beautiful leaves

2015 veggie crop…new this year, heirloom lemon cucumbers, from the French Laundry seeds – nantes carrots, chiogga beets, d’avignon radishes and our fave heirloom tiger striped tomatoes…and Japanese eggplants (which have the most beautiful leaves

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Our fruits trees are seemingly ecstatic with the new irrigation and deep mulch…fuji apples, nectarines, prolific pomegranate tree and our black mission fig and black jack fig trees are bursting with fruit

Fuji apples, Pomegranate fruit and blooms, and new for us, nectarines coming in

Fuji apples, Pomegranate fruit and blooms, and new for us, nectarines coming in

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Oops, and then there are the “misses”…hmmm, wonder what is gnawing on this nectarine…off to get some netting…and for me, a whole new allergy alleviation regime as my doctor said all my gardening was making me sick…next time, I’ll remember to wear a mask to minimize breathing in all that lovely organic matter 🙂

Whose been gnawing on my fruit .... ugh  This is where I start to get crazy...I don't mind sharing, but please wait until it gets a little ripe

Whose been gnawing on my fruit …. ugh
This is where I start to get crazy…I don’t mind sharing, but please wait until it gets a little ripe

Our Prolific Pomegranates…Fall is here!!!

Pomegranates are good for you!  The juice from the seeds have high levels of powerful antioxidants (similar to what you get from a whole leaf tea)!  I didn’t enjoy them much as a child, as they were usually too tart for my delicate palate; however, they’ve grown on me since using them as an ingredient versus eating them straight.  The tree is a beautiful sight.  We planted one about 20 years ago.   This year we have an incredibly large harvest of huge fruit.

 

Our prolific pomegranate tree...this year we have giant fruit and plenty of it...

Our prolific pomegranate tree…this year we have giant fruit and plenty of it…

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Our tree was planted more for it's ornamental value as a centerpiece for our other fruit trees...we have come to love the fruit for more than just harvest table decorations...

Our tree was planted more for it’s ornamental value as a centerpiece for our other fruit trees…we have come to love the fruit for more than just harvest table decorations…

We picked a basketful of poms. last week, along with some of my husband’s favorite Fuji apples (which he will not share with anyone), and a couple Fuyu persimmons, most are not quite ripe yet.

The morning harvest...plenty of giant pomegranates, some fuji apples and a couple fuyu persimmons...then the last remnants of our summer garden cucumbers and jalapeños

The morning harvest…plenty of giant pomegranates, some fuji apples and a couple fuyu persimmons…then the last remnants of our summer garden cucumbers and jalapeños

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Pomegranates are excellent as toppings for salads…adding a nice crunch and acidic flavor.  They also make an excellent juice … straight … or with a bit of sugar.  My husband has figured out an excellent way to get the seeds from the fruit without turning everything pink…he breaks open the fruit in a deep bowl of water, pull the seeds out by knocking the back of the opened fruit with a spoon (or with your hands).  It works well.  Remove the seeds from the water and juice them or use whole seeds.IMG_4105 IMG_4020

 

My favorite is sprinkled into a super chilled glass of bubbly.  Pomegranate infused teas are also available from many quality purveyors.  Harney and Sons has a delightful pomegranate oolong.  Peet’s teas has a pomegranate cooler.

 

One of my favorite ways to use pomegranate seeds...with the bubbly

One of my favorite ways to use pomegranate seeds…with the bubbly

Spring Gardening Leads To DIY Gifts

Betty's Garden Statue graciously and steadfastly adorns our herb & vegetable garden…this time with "volunteer" flowers popping up

Betty’s Garden Statue graciously and steadfastly adorns our herb & vegetable garden…”volunteer” flowers are popping up – newly planted heirloom tomatoes are in the back bed…red onions, blueberries, Italian parsley and a new petite Myer Lemon Tree are planted in the bed behind our lady with vessel statue.

The whole family comes to our yard for Easter…it’s been happening here for over 25 years.  Usually there is an egg hunt, then our traditional Easter dinner, starting and ending with family favorite Italian dishes.  Two to four weeks out, I begin getting the yard in shape for the onslaught of guests and egg hunters.  I lucked out with the weather last week and not only got my heirloom tomatoes (seven varieties) and herbs in, but also trimmed back several small trees, bushes, and generally spruced up the lily garden etc etc etc…I just love this time of year.  Below is a photo journal of my two days working in the backyard.

This weekend's herb planting...

This weekend’s herb planting…three French lavenders and a little Italian oregano and parsley to fill in as the lavender grows in pots on our courtyard patio…the fragrance is light and lovely  – Below are the beds with tomatoes and three basil plants…sweet basil, Italian basil, and a new one called blue basil (looks a lot like a small Thai basil leaf )…these various tomatoes and basils are staged for some incredible summer caprese salads…along w/ my gorgeous chives and thyme.

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As I was whacking away at my bay laurel tree (inherited from my Mom’s backyard over 13 years ago), I felt badly about throwing the cut branches into the refuse bin…there were a lot of wonderful bay leaves going to waste…so I decided to dry some and bottle them as gifts for family and friends…the kids may get candy; however, the adults will go home with dried laurel bay leaves 🙂    Excellent in flavoring your sauces, soups, and many braised dishes.

Pruned Bay Laurel Tree…hmmm, what to do with all the leaves and cut branches…clean them, dry them, and bottle them… (disclosure:  the correct wording should be "Bay Laurel (not Laurel Bay as I have on this one label)…My sister caught the error on the first one but I am a bit lazy today and didn't reshoot the photo… :-(  ) These will be gifts for our Easter guests as I had lots of leaves…I even got to use this raffia that my good friend Panini Girl gave me…thank you Panini Girl :-)

Pruned Bay Laurel Tree…hmmm, “what to do with all the leaves and cut branches”… I decided to clean them, dry them, and bottle them… (disclosure: the correct wording should be “Bay Laurel (not Laurel Bay as I have on this one label)…My sister caught the error on the first one but I am a bit lazy today and didn’t reshoot the photo… 🙁 )
These will be gifts for our Easter guests as I had lots of leaves…I used raffia that my good friend Panini Girl gave me…thank you Panini Girl 🙂

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This morning, I enjoyed my cup of tea while perusing the overnight plant growth.  I was dismayed to see a bit of chewed up leaves on my basil, the good news is that I planted plenty of basil…oh well, I don’t mind sharing a little bit.