Libra Lentil Salad

I realized last October that I have a bevy of Libra friends.From late September until late October, it is a birthday bonanza and I only celebrate about half of them. I mean really...as hard as I try, I can only fit so many parties into one month. This year, I decided to honor a whole group of my Libra friends with a Libra Luncheon. I narrowed it down to only women, and only those who live near me. And we still had lots of lovely Libra's in attendance. What is it with me and Libra's? I just love them!

Garden Fig Jam for party favors!

I organized a beach walk party followed by a buffet lunch of salads. Since I have a few vegetarian friends, my first thought when planning was a lentil salad that can be made the night before and served room temperature. I got the idea for combining a spicy sauce with lentils from a dish that my friend Maili made for me a few years ago called Lentils with Tofu and Chimichurri Sauce. I love the spice and parsley with the heartiness of the black lentils. I made it a few times after Maili gave me the recipe and everyone loved it. And then I got lazy. And I threw together some similar things to create my lazy-girl lentil salad.

It's definitely not the same so be sure to try Maili's lentils too because they are truly delicious and honestly also super easy to prepare. But the Libra gals seemed pretty happy with their lentil salad and I promised them the recipe so here goes. This is what I did for the Libra Luncheon.

Please take note that this is a very forgiving dish. You can add more or less of most things. You can leave some things out. (I've made it with just onions, lentils, hot sauce and dry parsley.) You can throw in other things you like. (I've added shrimp.) It is really hard to screw it up. And if you ask me to bring it to your next party, it will likely be different. It is the kind of recipe I love.

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“Celebrate true friends. They are a part of you that always sparkles.” ― Amy Leigh Mercree

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Libra Lentil Salad

2 T Olive OIl 1/2 cup chopped yellow onion 1 tsp salt 1 package Trader Joe's steamed black lentils (or 2-3 cups cooked lentils) 1/2 cup fresh parsley, finely chopped (or 1/4 cup dry parsley if you are really desperate) 1 cup fresh arrugula or spinach, optional 3-5 T Frank's original hot sauce or similar red hot sauce 2 tsp lemon juice, optional 1 tsp agave nectar, optional fresh feta cheese to serve

Heat oil in a large pan over medium heat and sauté onions until soft, about 5 minutes. Stir in salt, lentils and parsley and combine well. If using packaged lentils, be sure to break up all the clumps to separate the lentils. Stir in arrugula and add 3 T hot sauce.  Taste and add more hot sauce if desired. Stir in lemon juice and agave. Cool, stir well and refrigerate overnight. I like to serve it warm or at room temperature with crumbled feta on top.

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Julia's Scalloped Potatoes

I read an article in the Wall Street Journal last month that got my blood boiling.I've tried to let it go but it keeps coming back to my mind so I have decided to speak that mind. The author was spouting off about Julia Child's complicated recipes and his dinners with her, specifically one dinner, when she marched into his house and dumped out his effort at one of her recipes so she could start again and make it properly herself.

Seriously? I suppose everyone has their own memory of events, God only knows I often differ with Mom about things I remember from my childhood.  But this story seems like rubbish to me. The thing is, Julia isn't here to comment on said incident so we will never know her side of the story.  I have some ideas on words she may have chosen to describe it (and him). Since I can't ask Julia for her version of this so-called tipping out of the soup, I have no ability to refute the author's memory. I would, however, like to represent her side by telling MY story about preparing a recipe of Julia's for Julia.

You have heard from me before how I don't often think things through before jumping in with both feet.  When I first cooked for Julia Child, I didn't think it through at all, and fortunately it all ended up fine.  It always ended up fine, just some times more fine than others.  Cooking Scalloped Potatoes Baked in Cream for Julia was one of my less-than-fine moments.

I had cooked the recipe before.  It was so decadent, so over-the-top deliciously creamy and rich, it reminded me of Julia with every bite.  I knew she loved it because of her description in The Way To Cook and her statement there reading "I, for one, would far rather swoon over a small spoonful of this ambrosia than a large ladleful of instant mashed made with skim milk!"

Why I thought that I should serve it to her at a dinner party I don't know. I'm going to say I must have been tired.  I did have three young children to raise so I must have been tired, right?  For whatever reason, I decided that serving Julia one of her own favorite recipes was going to be great and I never had a second thought about it.

I love this recipe because it serves a crowd (I always double it) and can be completely prepared hours ahead of time.  The final baking takes about 20 minutes, making it a great side dish for a party.   So the day of my dinner party, when I must have been very tired, I prepared the potatoes ahead and had them ready to go into the oven well before the guests arrived.  The party was going great, all the food was ready on time and looked delicious. I served it up and sat down to eat.  I was so proud of my potatoes and just knew everyone would love them as they always did and I could tell them that it was Julia's recipe.

I took a bite of the potatoes expecting the ambrosia that Julia described.  Instead, I got  a bite of not-quite-cooked potato in a lovely creamy sauce.  I instantly realized that I had not cooked the potatoes enough during the preliminary cooking.  I had taken them out WAAAY too early.  They were not cooked completely!  They were crunchy. This was not good. No amount of explaining could rationalize why I had thought the potatoes were done when they weren't. Didn't I test them? It was such an amateur mistake.  A mistake that Julia would never had made.

I looked around and no one said a word.  People were eating and laughing and talking.  No one had spit out the potatoes or exclaimed that they weren't cooked.  Maybe I was just being overly critical of my own food? I tried them again.  Nope.  Still not good.  No one was raving over them like they had in past dinners, but also no one pointed out that they didn't exactly taste good.  Having learned a lot from Julia, I knew that she did not condone apologizing for the food you serve.  So I didn't.  I didn't say a word.  And neither did anyone else.  Including Julia.

She didn't finish the potatoes on her plate but that was to be expected.  As I got to know Julia better, I noticed that was her usual response when she didn't care much for a dish, mine or someone else's.  She took a few cursory bites and didn't finish it.  She liked food so much, it seemed to rarely happen.  She left the bottoms of the thick stalks of my unpeeled asparagus one time and I read somewhere after that she found it essential to peel asparagus stalks so they would be tender. She left the arrugula salad under her pork one time and I found out another day that she didn't care for the spicy bitter flavor of arugula.  What I never heard her say at any meal anywhere was that someone's food was bad.  Julia was one of the most gracious, complimentary and easy-going dinner guests ever to sit at my table and I'm sure most of her true friends would agree with that statement.

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“You should never apologize at the table. People will think, ‘Yes, it’s really not so good.'" -Julia Child

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 Julia's Scalloped Potatoes Rewritten from The Way To Cook by Julia Child

1-1/2 to 2 cups heavy cream 1-1/2 to 2 cups half-and-half 1 large clove garlic, pureed (I use a garlic press) salt and freshly ground white pepper 1 imported bay leaf 2 to 2-1/2 pounds "boiling" potatoes (6-7 cups sliced) 3 to 4 T grated swiss cheese butter for baking dish

Pour 1-1/2 cups each of cream and half-and-half into a heavy-bottomed 3-quart saucepan with a lid. Stir in garlic, 1/2 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp white pepper and bay leaf. Slice the potatoes evenly 1/8" thick and drop into the cream as sliced. When all are in, add ore cream if necessary to cover the potatoes by 1/2". Bring the potatoes to below the simmer for an hour or more until the potatoes are perfectly tender.  Check frequently to be sure they are not bubbling or sticking or scorching in the bottom of the pan. When tender, add salt and pepper if necessary and turn into a buttered baking dish.  Spread the grated cheese on top. At this point, the potatoes can be cooled, covered and refrigerated until ready to bake. Final baking takes about 20 minutes at 425 degrees. Set the baking dish in the upper middle level of the preheated oven and bake uncovered until bubbling hot and lightly browned on top.

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Paleo Carrot Banana Muffins

Some recipes just work.Maybe it's because you are comfortable with the ingredients, or the results satisfy your taste buds in some kind of a primal way that is rarely achieved, or maybe you were in a good mood the first time you tried it.  Whatever the reason or reasons, some recipes strike the right chord and become instant favorites.

This is one of those recipes. You don't have to be paleo to love these gems. Non-paleo friends love them and gluten-free friends really love them, maybe because so many baked goods labeled gluten-free taste similar to what cardboard or sawdust would taste like so people are wary of the term. Baby Girl found the recipe on Paleo Plan but when I went to access the link, I saw they were actually from Elana's Pantry, and when I went to her site, Elena says she was inspired by Heidi at another site.  I'm sure the inspiration goes on.  I wasn't inspired to change them at all.  I thought they were just right.

The muffins entered our kitchen because our new paleo eaters wanted something different for breakfast. They are sweet, but not too sweet, and contain no refined sugar.  They feel hearty but not in the way that a bran muffin leaves you feeling like you ate a brick. When Baby Girl found the recipe, she took to it with a passion.  She made the muffins over and over and over.  She made them to take on road trips.  She took them to the beach.  And, of course, she kept a stash in the freezer for whenever she needed a quick breakfast.  They never lasted long when she made them, so she made them a lot.

Then Baby Girl went back to school and I had no one to make my muffins for me. Can you picture my sad face? They are easy to make so that is no reason to complain.  I just miss my Baby Girl so I allow myself time to wallow in self-pity while making the muffins. I give that to myself. I want her to be here making her muffins.

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I enjoyed a little wallow-fest recently when I made the muffins for my book club.  I served them as the "bread" part of the main course which was a chile rellano.  The slight sweetness of the muffin worked well with the spicy food.  My book clubbers loved them and multiple people asked for the recipe so in the spirit of sharing, I give this to all of you.  Go forth and bake paleo muffins.  Feel free to wallow in sadness over those you miss while you bake.  They don't take long, so wallow quickly.

"Parents rarely let go of their children, so children let go of them." -Paulo Coelho

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Paleo Plan Carrot Banana Muffins

This recipe makes about 12 muffins, but leftovers can be frozen for quick use at another time. 

2 cups almond flour 2 tsp baking soda 1 tsp sea salt 1 Tbs cinnamon 1 cup dates, pitted 3 ripe bananas 3 eggs 1 tsp apple cider vinegar 1/4 cup coconut oil, melted 1 ½ cups carrots, shredded (about 2 medium carrots) ¾ cup walnuts (or nuts of choice),  finely chopped

Preheat oven to 350℉. In a large bowl, combine flour, baking soda, salt and cinnamon. In a food processor, combine dates, bananas, eggs, vinegar and oil. Puree well. Add mixture from food processor to dry mixture in the large bowl and combine thoroughly. Fold in carrots and nuts. Spoon mixture into paper lined muffin tins. Bake at 350° for 25-30 minutes.

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