If Once You Have Slept on an Island

Author: Kirsti Kay, Dinner, Food, Food & Drink, Inspiration, Recipes, Savories, Travel

If once you have slept on an island
You’ll never be quite the same;
You may look as you looked the day before
And go by the same old name,
You may bustle about in street and shop
You may sit at home and sew,
But you’ll see blue water and wheeling gulls
Wherever your feet may go.
You may chat with the neighbors of this and that
And close to your fire keep,
But you’ll hear ship whistle and lighthouse bell
And tides beat through your sleep.
Oh! you won’t know why and you can’t say how
Such a change upon you came,
But once you have slept on an island,
You’ll never be quite the same.
— Rachel Lyman Field

Eagle Island 1

The first time I stepped foot on Eagle Island, it was so foggy I could only see a few steps in front of me. My boyfriend (now husband) Aaron had been telling me about this island since we met—his most special place, his Disneyland, his Paris. We had traveled by plane, car and boat to get there. I couldn’t see more than a few feet in front of me, but the moment I stepped foot onto the shore, I understood that I was in a rare and magical place.

Eagle Island 2Eagle Island is only about a mile-and-a-half long by half-a-mile wide, but there are so many self-contained universes. There is a farmhouse in the middle of a big meadow, which is the hub of the island; a forest that has mysterious fairy bowers hidden throughout the trees, which no one lays claim to; an old schoolhouse from the 1800s that has not been touched inside for more than half a century; a small, but beautiful, cemetery; a lighthouse; a tiny post office; and a handful of gasp-inducing beaches so cinematic that they make you want to spontaneously burst into a rousing sea shanty.

Eagle Island 3The quiet splendor of this island rivals any great city I’ve ever been to, but what makes Eagle Island so special is that you feel like it belongs to you. You have to try hard to come in contact with other people here, so you can have the rare experience of not battling crowds, not angling for a better view or a perfect spot on the beach. You can just be still. You can listen to the sounds of insects buzzing. You can smell the ocean and feel the breeze on your skin. It’s not often we can be truly alone in beauty, and the island is restorative in ways other places can never be. The island belongs to you and you belong to it, and it’s a relationship you don’t take lightly. You want to nestle into her and whisper, “Your song is heard. Your people are dear to me, too. I will keep your secrets.”

Eagle Island 4Only a handful of people own cottages on the island, but there are many cottages of all different sizes that are available for rent. There is the Doll House, which is adorably tiny, all the way up to the Hill House, which has six bedrooms. The cottages have a cozy, vintage vibe that you usually only see in magazines meticulously curated by a dozen city people who may never have even been to an island. Treena and Krista are your island hostesses, and their bohemian loveliness is sprinkled over everything.

Eagle Island 5Aaron and I were able to spend a week on Eagle in August and we had, as always, the most wonderful time. The first several days were foggy, but warm, and the mist gave the island a dreamy New England feel. Then the weather changed and everything was sun-dappled and beautiful with seagulls singing in the sky and sailboats gliding through the sea. It’s hard to believe, but on an island with so few people, we had a very active social calendar. We had friends over for dinner, ate fresh lobster caught that day, and ended the evening with a sing-along. On another night, we went to Krista’s cabin for dinner and watched one of the best sunsets I have ever seen. Another night was a surprise cocktail party for Aaron’s moms’ anniversary. We were also invited to a lovely brunch, took long walks followed by long naps, had an impromptu lunch at the farmhouse where Krista whipped up the most delicious pasta with kale picked from the garden, read, and even made a short horror movie. We did everything and nothing and every second was grand.

Eagle Island 6

Several years ago, after visiting the island for more than 25 years, Aaron’s moms built a cottage on the island. Actually, they call it a cabbage—part cabin, part cottage. It’s warm and inviting and filled with laughter and music and has the most glorious view of the ocean. I love to sit out on the deck with the family, talking, drinking wine and watching the sunset. Even as we chat about this or that, we are each in the moment, recognizing the specialness of where we are, knowing how lucky we are to be able to sleep on an island—Eagle Island—and aware that none of us will ever be the same.

Eagle Island 7
KRISTA’S EAGLE ISLAND KALE PASTA

INGREDIENTS
I lb. penne pasta
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil (plus more for drizzling)
2 bunches kale, cut from the ribs and roughly chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
½ cup cherry tomatoes, cut in half
¼ cup salty, pitted green olives
2 Tbsp. capers, drained
¼ tsp. red pepper flakes (optional)
4 Tbsp. (or to taste) Bragg’s Liquid Aminos (you can substitute soy sauce)
2 Tbsp. fresh basil, torn
salt and pepper, to taste
grated Parmesan

INSTRUCTIONS
Heat olive oil in large saucepan over medium low heat. Add kale and garlic and sauté until kale is soft, making sure not to brown garlic, about 7-10 minutes. Turn heat up to medium, add cherry tomatoes, olives, capers, red pepper flakes (if using) and Bragg’s Aminos and sauté 5 more minutes, until tomatoes are soft and heated through. Stir in basil and remove from heat.

Meanwhile, cook penne in lots of boiling, salted water until al dente. Drain pasta and return to pot. Add kale mixture and stir to combine. Add salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle with the grated Parmesan and serve. Makes 6 servings.

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Eagle Island

 

If you’d like to rent a cabin on beautiful Eagle Island, please contact Treena and Krista at Eagle Island Rentals.

 

That’s My Jam!

Author: Kirsten K., Dessert, Food, Food & Drink, Recipes, Savories, Snacks, Starters, Sweets

That's My Jam 1I have a problem with condiments. It’s not the taste (although, don’t get me started on relish), it’s the loitering. As a single person, a bottle of ketchup can sit on the door of my refrigerator for months. And yellow mustard? That’s once or twice a year, tops. Spying the partially used bottles every time I look in the fridge is almost as upsetting as watching the contents wash down the drain when I finally decide to dump them.

Jams and jellies tend to go faster, but they can still overstay their welcome—with one notable exception. Jimmie’s Chipotle Pepper Jam is so delicious that I have trouble keeping it on the shelf. It is, quite possibly, the most swoon-worthy thing I have written about on this blog to date.

That's My Jam 2My good friend Mika, a pastry chef and foodie extraordinaire, turned me on to this sweet and spicy spread several years ago when she discovered it at a local farmer’s market. While the label recommends serving the jam as a condiment or glaze for meats, we at The Swoon Society like to spoon it atop baguette slices that have been heaped with Saint-André triple-crème cheese. If you serve this as an appetizer, be prepared for guests who are too full to do more than pick at the main course.

Not content to take a supporting role, the fiery, smoky flavor of Jimmie’s Chipotle Pepper Jam shines when paired with simple foods. For an unexpected treat, heat a little of the jam and pour it over vanilla ice cream. The casein protein in dairy products helps to neutralize the spiciness of the chipotle pepper, while the cold ice cream cools the fire. (Vegans can enjoy Jimmie’s on non-dairy cream cheese and coconut milk ice cream, but these foods do little to soothe the burn.)

That's My Jam 3Uncle Berch’s Foods only sells Jimmie’s Chipotle Pepper Jam in packs of three, four, or five jars, but don’t let that discourage you from trying it. You will tear through those jars and find yourself ordering more to give away to friends, family members, co-workers, and neighbors alike. Keep some on hand to use as host/hostess gifts, but make sure to always hold back a jar or two for yourself, or you’ll inevitably dip into your stash.

I’m not sure who this Jimmie is (or Uncle Berch either, for that matter), but he knows his way around a pepper. In addition to the original, he makes three other Chipotle varieties, as well as versions with Red Fresno Chili, Habañero and Ghost Pepper. The label quotes Jimmie as saying, “It’s easy to make things hot. It’s hard to make it taste good.” You can’t exactly set it to music, but his flavors completely rock. Jam on!

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Jimmie’s Chipotle Pepper Jam

 

Saint-André triple-crème cheese can be found at Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, and many gourmet cheese shops.

Bliss and Vinegar

Author: Kirsten K., Food, Food & Drink, Recipes, Savories, Snacks, Starters, Sweets
Bliss and Vinegar 1

Traditional Style Aged Balsamic Vinegar from Sutter Buttes Olive Oil Co.

As the saying goes, you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar, but a friend recently introduced me to one brand of vinegar that might just lure the flies away from the honey pot. Mika is a true foodie, so when she tells me she’s discovered a culinary treasure, I pay attention. On a trip to Northern California, she visited Sutter Buttes Olive Oil Co. and, though they are known for their olive oil (natch), Mika fell hard for their Traditional Style Aged Balsamic Vinegar. Having lived in Italy twice, she knows a swoon-worthy balsamic when she tastes one.

Bliss and Vinegar 2Balsamic vinegar (which contains no balsam and is not, strictly speaking, vinegar) has been produced in Italy for centuries, but it’s become so ubiquitous in recent years that many people don’t realize they are actually consuming a cheap imitation. That bargain bottle you scored at the market is probably inexpensive wine vinegar tarted up to look like the real thing. True balsamic vinegar comes only from Modena or Reggio Emilia in Italy, is aged anywhere from 12-100 years, and can be valued at hundreds of dollars a bottle.

Bliss and Vinegar 3Fortunately, you don’t have to break the bank to enjoy a true Italian balsamic vinegar. Sutter Buttes imports theirs from Modena and it is thick, sweet, and delicious. Barrel-aged up to 18 years, it has the glossy color and silky texture of a balsamic reduction, with just enough tang and acidity to complement savory dishes. In addition to the classic combo of olive oil and vinegar as a dip for bread, it can be used in salad dressings, drizzled over fruit and cheese, or—my personal favorite—spooned over vanilla ice cream.

Sutter Buttes sells a variety of flavored balsamic vinegars, from Peach and Fig to Espresso and Vanilla, but I’m a purist. I favor the singular personality of their Traditional version. Whatever your preference, with such a diversity of choices at an exceptional price, you’ll soon be full of bliss and vinegar. Buon appetito!

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Sutter Buttes Traditional Style Aged Balsamic Vinegar

 

It’s Crunch Time

Author: Kirsten K., Food, Food & Drink, Savories, Snacks

Crunch Time 1A co-worker turned me on to Have’a Corn Chips close to 15 years ago, and I’m still not sure if I want to thank him or smack him. These chips are so delicious and addictive that I usually end up eating the entire bag in one sitting, followed by the obligatory guilt trip. I would be hesitant to write about them on this blog were it not for the fact that, before the recriminations begin…swoooon.

Crunch Time 2The formula is deceptively simple: corn, soybean oil, soy sauce and a dash of lime. Diabolical! It’s a potent combination of crunchy/salty with a dose of umami that mere mortals are helpless to resist. And I’m convinced that the company hired psychologists to design the packaging. At 4 oz., the bag is less than half the size of a standard bag of tortilla chips, but double the size of a large single serving bag of Doritos. After you eat half the bag, you think, “Well, there’s only a single serving left. Might as well just eat that too.” Have’a Chips should really change their name to Have’a Bag.

Crunch Time 3

The coveted dark chips.

Then there’s the mystery. I have been told by more than one person over the years that Have’a Chips are made by Hare Krishna monks (a myth, according to this article), and the company does not have a website or any social media presence that I can find (the Have’a Corn Chips Facebook page was created by a fan and hasn’t been updated since 2013). Their operation is as murky as their bag is clear, but since I love a good mystery as much as I love a good chip, I’m content to remain in the dark.

Speaking of which, I’ve been known to take every bag of Have’a Chips off the shelf at the market to scrutinize them for the one with the darkest chips (dark = soy sauce). A Have’a Chips addict has no shame! Except when it comes to punctuation. The apostrophe in the name of these chips is enough to drive a grammarian crackers, but it remains as much a mystery as the company itself.

If a co-worker (or anyone else) offers to share his Have’a Chips, be warned: one bite of this savory snack and you’ll find yourself saying, “Thank you, sir, may I have’another?”

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Have’a Corn Chips

 

Have’a Chips are available at Whole Foods, Sprouts, and many natural foods store. They can also be purchased online at Amazon.

 

Margie’s Quinoa – This Recipe Will Change Your Life!

Author: Kirsti Kay, Dinner, Food, Food & Drink, Recipes, Savories, Wellness

Margie's Quinoa 1I’ve never been a huge quinoa fan. Let’s just get that out on the table now. I don’t hate it, but I don’t crave it, I don’t order it, and I don’t cook with it. I like lots of other healthy grains like farro, lentils, and bulgur, but quinoa has a funky texture and, like tofu (which I am also not a big fan of), you need to add a lot of flavor to make it taste good. So when my friend Margie told me that she and her husband ate quinoa every week, Monday through Thursday, I was shocked. But also fascinated (and a little obsessed).

I know this is a blog about stuff to swoon over—don’t be fooled, this story has a fairytale ending—but before quinoa had me in her thrall, I was a disbeliever.

When Margie first told me about her quinoa regimen, I thought she made a different recipe every week. I even started sending her quinoa recipes I came across, but she makes the same one. Every week. Being the kind of person who loves variety so much I don’t even like leftovers, I was curious about why she and her husband Michael committed to this way of eating. I interviewed Margie exclusively for The Swoon Society:

What made you decide to be so structured with your weekday eating?
We structured our weekly meals mainly because my husband had gained 20+ lbs from our cooking and wine drinking every night of the week. He decided the way to combat this problem was to rely on the Catholic method of living…sin and repent!

He thought if he could eat moderately during the week, he could indulge himself on the weekends, and it should all balance out. He also gave up drinking alcohol Mon-Thurs. Once I saw how much easier it was to eat the same thing every night and not have to worry about what I was going to make for dinner every night or make daily trips to the market, I got on board with the process.

Do you ever get sick of eating the same thing 4 days a week?
We eat this dish Mon-Thurs, and have been doing so for several years. Of course we get tired of eating it sometimes. We take a break if our schedule is such that we won’t be home to eat the dish at least three days during the week. When we go on vacation, we don’t watch what we eat. By the end of every trip, we always say we can’t wait to get back to eating quinoa! We never feel overly full when we eat it or go to bed on a full stomach.

Do you ever vary the recipe?
The recipe has evolved over the years, mostly in terms of which vegetables we use. We switch off between the three Trader Joe’s simmer sauces from time to time.

Do you think it has had an impact on weight loss?
For my husband, who has a tendency to overeat, it has been very impactful to structure our diet this way. It’s very easy to see where you are overeating or where to cut calories when your diet is so structured. This method of eating also has a huge impact on time. It’s shocking how much time you have for yourself when you don’t have to cook dinner and clean up afterwards. Evenings become a time to relax or a productive time doing other things. It might even get you to bed earlier, which will have a positive impact on how much sleep you get. Nothing bad comes to those who eat the same thing for dinner every night!

Where did you get the recipe?
The original dish was a brown rice and black bean base. Once quinoa started to become popular, I switched to it and began messing around with the recipe. My goal was to keep it as simple as possible and to have all the ingredients come from Trader Joe’s. Their pre-cut veggie options are convenient and plentiful. But, of course, you can use any veggies you like.

I started telling other friends about Margie’s diet and, invariably, they would become intrigued and ask for the recipe. I thought all the reasons Margie ate this way were valid and, if I was going to write about it for the blog, I should try it myself. My husband was game. I went to Trader Joe’s with my list and made my first batch.

Margie's Quinoa 2There are many great things about this recipe. One is that everything IS available from Trader Joe’s. I’m used to going to about three different stores to get ingredients I need for the week, so already I was pretty excited. The second great thing is that it’s very quick and easy to prepare. I don’t have a Crock-Pot, so I just put everything in a big pot and cooked it until the veggies were done. The third, and most remarkable thing about this dish, is that it is delicious! My husband and I were both surprised. It does not feel like we are compromising, especially with the addition of avocado, a splash of Tabasco, and occasionally some light sour cream. I actually look forward to eating it each night. And, it has practically no fat! Of course, the avocado adds fat, but as we know, it’s the GOOD fat, so it doesn’t count. This, on top of no cooking and no clean up, makes Margie’s recipe something to definitely swoon over!

We have tried this for two weeks and are going into our third. We talked about adding some grilled shrimp this week. Also, I added garbanzo beans and fresh corn to the mix – it’s wonderfully customizable to what’s fresh at the farmer’s market or easily available at good old Trader Joe’s. Last week I was in Vegas for a convention and I’ll be damned if I wasn’t looking forward to getting back on the quinoa wagon.

I might not give up wine, but I’m definitely incorporating this way of eating into my life on the regular. Both my husband and I feel better and maybe we will also lose some weight. As far as having all that extra time…perfect for blog writing.


MARGIE’S QUINOA

Add ingredients into the Crock-Pot in this order (or put into a big pot):
1 cup rinsed quinoa, any color of your choice
2 cups of the broth of your choice
1 28 oz. can organic diced tomatoes, no salt added (I fill the can about half way full with water to rinse it and add that to the pot)
1/2 jar Trader Joe’s Curry Simmer Sauce (refrigerate and save the other half for next week – Trader Joe’s has 2 other flavors of simmer sauce you can try as well.)
1 bag cut butternut squash (I cut the larger pieces in half or quarters so they will cook through)
2 – 3 zucchini squash, slice the long way, then cut in 1/2” slices
1 bag sliced cremini mushrooms
2 handfuls of any leafy green (I like spinach)
1 generous handful of shredded carrots

Cover pot and cook on high for 3.5 hours. You can stir once towards the end, but you don’t have to. (If you are using a regular pot, simmer, covered, until the veggies are cooked through – about 45 minutes.)

When it is finished, add 1 can of drained black beans and a cup of frozen peas for color.

This will feed 2 people, 4 meals. We add a small amount of protein like cooked ground turkey or roasted chicken, sour cream or hummus on top, and avocado.

 

La Brie en Rose

Author: Kirsti Kay, Entertaining, Food, Food & Drink, Recipes, Savories, Snacks, Starters, Sweets

There are some universally acknowledged foods that go together: chocolate and peanut butter, strawberries and champagne, French fries and ketchup, brie and rose petal jam. Haven’t tried brie and rose petal jam, you say? Well, ma chère, let me school you, because this taste sensation is going to change your life.

P1000872.JPG

Homemade rose cupcake

If you haven’t noticed yet, I am partial to anything rose flavored. I had my first encounter many years ago at the famous Hollywood ice cream shop Mashti Malone’s. The moment I tasted their rosewater ice cream, I was forever hooked on anything rose. I bought some rose extract and started adding it to frosting, cocktails, ice cream…my husband wasn’t thrilled, but I was! Rose, rose, rose! And more rose!

One day, I stepped into a local Armenian market in my neighborhood. I love finding treasures in tiny ethnic markets; you always find something delicious that you never heard of. La Brie En Rose 2When I saw the rose petal jam on the shelf, I honestly did swoon with delight. There were a few different types. Some were very light-colored with nearly transparent petals that floated inside the jar like clouds. Some were bright pink and thick. And others were somewhere in the middle. I bought one of each.

Once I got the jars of jam home, I wasn’t sure what to do with them. I tried some on toast, but it was way too sweet and, even though the rose flavor was balanced and floral, toast was not the right foil. I tried making rose macarons, and used the rose petal jam as the filling. They tasted amazing, but the jam oozed out of them, making a rose-flavored mess.

La Brie En Rose 3Around this time, fig jam and quince paste was all the rage on a cheese platter. One day, as I was preparing my same old platter, the brainstorm hit. The moment I had my first cracker, brie, and jam bite, I knew I had found appetizer nirvana. The sweetness of the jam complemented the creamy richness of the cheese perfectly. Add the crunch of a cracker to that and, mon Dieu, you will be hearing angels singing Edith Piaf and your mouth with will be swirling with a bouquet of delicate and buttery flavors. You will have no other choice but to repeat this process again and again until all the jam and cheese are gone.

Rose petal jam is now a frequent guest on my cheese platters. I would put it on every platter, but I feel bad for my poor husband, who wishes I were obsessed with peanut butter or hot sauce instead. It also makes a great hostess gift. I prefer the darker jams, as they seem to have a more intense rose flavor, but you really can’t go wrong.

Give your heart and soul to me, o’ rose petal jam, and life will always be la vie en rose.

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Rose Petal Jam

 

You can find many different brands of rose petal jam at Amazon.

 

Fig Hash or The Proper Way To Eat An Appetizer, In Society

Author: Kirsti Kay, Entertaining, Food, Food & Drink, Recipes, Savories, Snacks, Starters, Sweets

Fig Hash 1The proper way to eat a fig, in society,
Is to split it in four, holding it by the stump,
And open it, so that there is a glittering, rosy, moist, honied, heavy-petalled, four-petalled flower.

Then you throw away the skin
Which is just like a four-sepalled calyx,
After you have taken off the blossom with your lips.

But the vulgar way
Is just to put your mouth on the crack, and take out the flesh in one bite.

(From Figs by D.H. Lawrence)

Figs are mysterious. A black teardrop with a dirty secret. Little orbs with a musty aroma and a strange but lovely flavor. They are the sex bomb of the fruit world. They also happen to be my secret weapon when I have a summer party.

We used to live in a house with a big fig tree. Our first year there, I was so excited to see the little green nubs appear early in the spring and watch them grow for many months until, around the end of July, the tree exploded with black, heavy, ripe fruit. In the span of a few days I had dozens of figs in the kitchen and I wasn’t sure what to do with them. Even though I loved cooking and baking, I had never eaten a raw fig. I was intimidated, but excited to
fig-ure it out. (See what I did there?)

Fig Hash 2One day, Kirsten and a few other friends were coming over for a late afternoon hang out. I was going to cut up a few figs and put them on a cheese platter, but there were so many of them. I ended up quartering a bunch of those little beauties, putting them on a plate, crumbling blue cheese on top, drizzling honey over and topping them with some chopped pistachios. Fig hash was born! It was a huge hit. People would invite me over and then sheepishly ask if I could bring fig hash. Or, when I had friends over and the fig hash came out they would say, “Ohhh, we were hoping you were making that!” When we moved, we passed the recipe on to the new owners as sort of a legacy.

Fig Hash 3A platter of fig hash is not a dainty plate of crudité. It’s more like a gorgeous, sexy mess of sticky deliciousness. You could pass appetizer plates and forks and dish it up, but we normally open a bottle of rosé or sauvignon blanc, sit outside and dig in with our hands like savages.

When we moved into our new house a year ago, one of the first things we did was plant a fig tree. Just a few days ago, we got our first ripe fig. I could eat it in the proper way, splitting it in four, delicately tasting its glittering, rosy honey. But I think I will put my mouth on the crack and take out the flesh in one bite, the vulgar way.


FIG HASH

2 baskets of fresh figs (green or black, about 12-15 figs)
3 oz. blue cheese, crumbled
Honey (about 2 TBSP)
2 TBSP roasted unsalted pistachios, chopped

Quarter the figs and put them on a platter. Sprinkle the blue cheese over the figs, drizzle with honey and top with the pistachios. Eat properly or vulgarly – your choice.