Mimi’s Reserve Red Wine Vinegar

In the recent past, I have had food fantasies.  These fantasies revolve around a certain self-reliance that I don’t feel I know in reality.  There have been times in my life where I have grown food but it has never been on a scale that could sustain me.  I currently grow herbs in pots.  I grow a Meyer Lemon Tree.  These things I grow add spice to my food but they cannot sustain me.  I dream of raising animals who in turn feed me milk and eggs; I dream of sowing the seeds of many kinds of grains and fruits and vegetables; I dream of harvesting these things that I have nurtured to make into the food that will sustain me.  But I am soft.  I am weak.  I grew up in a suburban neighborhood eating from plastic bags and glass jars.  But, I still yearn for alchemy and so for now there is vinegar.


As you can mix water and flour and capture tiny creatures to leaven bread, you can leave fruit based alcoholic beverages out in a crock wide enough to provide contact with air to capture tiny creatures to make vinegar.  A bacterium called acetobactor digests alcohol turning it into vinegar.  Some people prefer to purchase an established colony of acetobactor called a “mother”.  It you have time and patience, wine will eventually sour.  I don’t often take the easy path so I decided to add wine to a jar and let it sit.  After a couple of weeks, I could see a film form on the surface of the wine.  This was the formation of a mother.  I added fresh wine each week to “feed” the vinegar.  Some wine was good stuff that we didn’t finish very quickly and so the flavors diminished.  Some wine was not very tasty to begin with and ended up reserved for cooking or feeding this beast.  Just don’t use wine that is “corked”.  The path to good vinegar is drinkable wine not spoiled wine. 


Although the mother never formed a thick clot, there was enough bacterial action that the wine soured into something delicious.  Each time I fed the vinegar, I could see the liquid bubble and froth.  It took roughly six months to become a wonderful elixir.  I filtered and decanted a small bottle to use now and I left half a jar to continue to evolve.  I’ll keep feeding this sour, smelly beast because the rewards for my care and nurturing are great.  I feel a little more self-reliant knowing that I can care for something wild and create something that will sustain me, even if it is just in an emotional rather than physical way.



On my way back to normal

Carrot Cake Pancakes

Over the past few weeks, this has been anything but a food blog and my diet has been anything but healthy.  During the weeks I was away, my Mom and I ate a lot of restaurant/fast food and hospital food.  The stress made us too tired to take care of ourselves properly and there was really no time to take care of the day-to-day chores like grocery shopping and cooking.  My Dad is back at home now and getting stronger every day.  I called him a couple of days ago and asked him how he was.  He boisterously replied “TERRIFIC!!!”  Which is his standard answer to that standard question.  I instantly knew things were now normal.  Things will be o.k.


I have been cooking a few things since I have gotten back but we have gotten into a bad restaurant habit again.  Work has been stressful since I have been back so I have been easing my personal life slowly back to that place called normal. 


Today was the first day I really felt home.  It was the first day that I really got excited about getting back into the kitchen.  I woke up and wanted to make pancakes.  If you have been browsing around this blog, you know that Saturday mornings mean breakfast at my home.  Saturdays are all about sleeping in late and then settling into a yummy plate of something sweet or savory and very filling, a glass of fresh squeezed orange juice and a mug of something hot, bitter and steamy.


I wanted pancakes and after brushing off the remnants of a strange dream where I was traveling somewhere on a Greyhound bus and my Mother was loading an unending supply of plastic bags of groceries onto the bus for me, my mind was ready to use the energy from that dream state and come up with something beautiful in the real world.  For some reason, I began to think of carrot cake and how wonderful pancakes would be if they were carrot cake instead.  I found a small bunch of thin, sweet carrots in the vegetable drawer of our fridge.  They were too small to peel, so I scrubbed them well and shredded them.  Using a favorite recipe for sweet potato pancakes as a general roadmap, I came up with some fragrant dried fruit and vegetable pancakes that take getting your first serving of vegetables for the day to another plain of experience altogether.


Carrot Cake Pancakes


2 cups of shredded carrots


2 tsp. finely grated orange peel


2 large eggs, beaten


2 cups milk


1 cup currants


4 tbsp olive oil


1 tbsp dark honey


2 cups whole-wheat pastry flour


4 tsp baking powder


1 tsp salt


2 tsp cinnamon


¼ tsp nutmeg


¼ tsp ginger powder


½ tsp allspice


Butter for frying


Maple-cinnamon yogurt (recipe follows)


Toasted Walnuts


In a large bowl, combine shredded carrots, orange peel, eggs, milk, currants, olive oil and honey.  In another bowl, combine flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and allspice.  Mix dry ingredients into wet ingredients.  Let the batter stand for at least ten minutes.  (This will result in a fluffier pancake with softer currants).  If using an electric griddle, preheat the griddle to 350 degrees F.  Melt butter onto griddle surface.  Ladle batter onto griddle.  Cook pancakes until bubbles form and the edges begin to dry out about 3-4 minutes.  Turn pancakes.  Cook second side until lightly browned, about 1-2 minutes more.


This recipe makes a lot of pancakes, even with a large electric griddle you will need to make two batches.  Keep the first batch warm in a covered dish or a preheated 200 degree F. oven  Serve these with Maple Cinnamon Yogurt, Maple Syrup and toasted walnuts to get the full effect of carrot cake for breakfast.


Maple-Cinnamon Yogurt

Maple-cinnamon yogurt

1 cup of plain nonfat yogurt


1 tsp ground cinnamon


1 tsp maple syrup


 Combine yogurt, cinnamon and maple syrup with a whisk until smooth.

Winter fruit on my breakfast

Maple roasted apples

After months of unusually hot weather, we are finally beginning to get the kind of winter chill that makes me think of Christmastime even though the sky is still clear and blue and the air is dry.  That’s California for you.  No change of season when you think about it.  It’s either dry and hot or dry and cold.


Our local farmer’s market also reflects the season.  We have persimmons, oranges and apples and that’s about it.  Some enterprising farmers dried their summer and fall bounty so plenty of dried fruit is also available.  With that in mind, I wanted fruit on my pancakes but the kitchen was looking pretty sparse.  We have plenty of Fuji apples in the fridge so playing off of a recipe for maple roasted yams that I love, I decided to maple roast some Fuji’s to top our pancakes with.  This was an impromptu effort on my part so the following recipe is just an approximation.  I don’t think it would be easy to mess these up even with my “pinch of this, pinch of that” instructions.  These apples were fabulous on our favorite cornmeal pancakes with yogurt and toasted walnuts.  I think they would also make an excellent side dish for pork chops as well.

 Apple topped pancakes

Maple roasted apples

4-5 Fuji apples, peeled, cored and sliced


Lemon zest from ½ a lemon, approx. 1 tsp


1-2 tsp lemon juice


A generous amount of cinnamon


A miserly amount of nutmeg


Ginger to taste


A generous handful of raisons


2-3 tbsp grade B maple syrup


Preheat oven to 450 degrees.


Toss the apple slices with lemon juice and zest.  Combine apple mixture with raisons and cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and maple syrup to coat.  Roast the apples in the middle of the oven for 20 minutes or until the raisons are plump and the apples are caramelized and soft and lightly browned.

A once secret hot sauce


Today let’s time travel back to 1998.  I was trapped in a job that did not make me happy.  I answered phones for the cable company.  I am still at this company.  I love the company I work for, don’t get me wrong but answering phones for any company can be a trying experience.  At one point, I loved answering the phones.  When I first joined my employer we were very focused on customer service.  I loved customer service.  Back then I was a sweet and kind person, not yet coarsened by years of abuse by strangers who don’t care how they treat the disembodied voice on the phone.  After a couple of years, my company went from being a privately held company to a publicly held company.  We went from a pure customer service focus to a heavy sales focus.  I am in no ways a sales person.  I have a hard time getting into the mind set that making someone spend money on something they did not ask me for is in their best interest.  All good sales people need to believe they are doing what is right for the customer.  I couldn’t do that.  Once the focus of the job changed, I became miserable and wanted to find a way out.  A friend and coworker took computer classes and managed to escape into our Information Technology department.  She was very happy there.  I decided it was time for training.


I have always thought of myself as having a creative bent.  When I was young, I wanted to be an actress and my first attempt at college took me to drama school.  I went back to school in 1997 to take computer classes and discovered that our junior college was starting to heavily get into multi media.  Computers and art!  Sign me up!  Alas, I found out that at the time, fledgling webmasters were a dime a dozen and they were getting paid less than I could make answering phones.  I live in an expensive resort community so I had to buckle down and take the less exciting sorts of computer classes that would help me get an information technology job, which I did.  I moved to a department were the work is still stressful but much more rewarding.  I am happier now.


In 1998, before I became practical, I took a web design class.  The web was still getting off the ground at that point.  Some people were still putting together websites by hand with HTML code.  I put together a chili pepper website for the class that I was very proud of.  The site is no longer live on the web but it still lives on my hard drive.  Here is the home page.  Recognize the chili banner?  I drew that.  I still like it so much I used it on my blog. 


Here is the fancy part.  I have java script that causes the links to glow a fiery red when you mouse over them.  I was very, very proud of that. 😀




At the time, I was looking everywhere for content to put on my web page.  I was talking to my Mom one day and I told her about my project for school.  My Mom suddenly starts telling me how to make a jalapeno hot sauce.  I sit there a little stunned while I quickly try to write it down.  My Mom is from Guatemala but the whole time I am growing up she rarely cooked Hispanic food.  We ate like any other American family on our block:  Spaghetti, soup, grilled cheese sandwiches, roast chicken, steak, hamburgers, etc.  She would also make plenty of non-kid friendly food that my New Yorker dad who grew up between the 30’s and 50’s would like such as grilled liver and onions and baked trout


 Needless to say, on those days I would hover over at my best friend’s house like a homeless waif at dinnertime until someone would take pity on me and invite me to stay.  Sure we would sometimes eat beans and tortillas if money was tight and I can remember her making chili rellenos and chilaquiles.  Avocados and salsa were not strangers.  But she never made these things on a daily basis like most Hispanic moms would.  When she rattled off this hot sauce recipe, all I could think was, “she never made this for us!  How does she have this memorized?”  My Mom cooks without recipes.  Her food is good but not fancy.  I wish I could do that.  I am getting better, but I can’t dictate a recipe to you off of the top of my head.  Anyway, I was a little skeptical about how this salsa would turn out.  I went ahead and made it and it was really good!  It is especially nice on scrambled eggs nestled in a warm tortilla.  I went ahead and published my website online in order to pass my class (the teacher wanted our final projects to be live) and my Mom’s hot sauce was good enough to share with the world.


I hadn’t made it in years but every fall when the Jalapenos are red, I mean to make it.  Last week at he farmer’s market, one of my favorite farmers had red jalapenos for one dollar a pound.  I scooped up a pound of them.  He was shocked; most people buy a couple of pennies worth of jalapenos at a time.  He wondered what I would make.  I declared:  “Hot sauce!”   I amused him, I could tell.  This hot sauce is worth the work. 


If you decide to make this hot sauce there are rules.  Please do not break the rules.  They are for your own good.

  1. Make sure to run the fan above your stove and open a window or two.  Fumes from the chilies and the vinegar will make you sneeze, cough,  and may give you watery eyes.
  2. Evacuate anything or anyone you love from the area.  Significant others, children, pets, Herbert.  The fumes and smells will cause complaints
  3. Wear gloves when working with chilies.
  4. Whether you believe me or not about #3.  (#3 is the rule I always break.  I have also been known to use caustic household chemicals without gloves.  Do as I say, not as I do).  Do not touch your eyes, nose or mouth with your gloves or your naked hands if you refuse to listen.  I repeat, do not allow jalapeno juice near any mucus membranes!
  5. This sauce will splatter, be careful not to get burned.
  6. Don’t be scared. Make this hot sauce.

 Carmen’s jalapeno hot sauce

1 lb ripe (red) jalapeno chilies, seeds removed and coarsely chopped


1 cup apple cider vinegar


1 cup water


5 whole garlic cloves


1 small onion, roughly chopped


2 bay leaves


4 sprigs fresh thyme or 1 tsp dried thyme


1 – 2 tbsp fresh oregano or 1 tsp dried oregano


½ tsp salt


1 tbsp olive oil


Place all of the ingredients except for the oil in a medium sized saucepan and simmer until soft, 18 to 20 minutes.  Cool slightly.  Remove the bay leaves and carefully, transfer the jalapeno mixture to a food processor.  Puree until smooth.  Wash and dry your saucepan.  Heat the oil in the saucepan over medium heat and then carefully add the puree.  The sauce may splatter when it hits the hot oil.  Stir.  Heat the sauce over medium heat to a strong simmer and then reduce to a low simmer.  Simmer for up to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, to thicken the sauce.  During this time the sauce may splatter.  I use a splatter guard but it really doesn’t help.  Try to cook this on the lowest simmer you can while still having the liquid evaporate and the sauce thicken while minimizing the mess and chance of getting burned.  Cool the sauce at room temperature and then store the sauce in an airtight container in the fridge.