Posts Tagged ‘great Mediterranean recipes’

Photo by Susie Nelson

Photo by Susie Nelson

According to the news the milleniums, (those of us 18-34) as a group are more likely to call in sick when they are not then the generations preceding them. Whether it is a sign of the generation and things to come is still up in the air, but it does beg the question do Americans work to hard?

Personally I like France’s approach to work. Thirty-five hours a week, 25%-50% for any time over and above, and vacations totaling in the months rather than a week or two doled out here in the States. Not only are we provided far less vacation time but many employees either afraid of losing their position at work, or totally immersed in the work itself, choose not to take the time they are given.

At my last corporate job, a technology start-up, sixty hour work weeks were the norm. You showed up before the rooster crowed and often headed home when others had long ago hit the pillows. Face time, or basically showing up at your desk at an unscheduled work time to impress your superiors with your dedication and work ethic, was a must at my office if you were to continue up the corporate ladder. I did a lot of it. Saturday’s when my friends were packing lunches for the beach or mowing their lawns our group of success chasers were nose to the grindstone over our computers seeking those start-up bonus bucks when the company went public.  I can remember resisting the urge to toss my cell phone out the window when the familiar ring tone associated with my supervisor came in as I drove home after a 10-12 hour day.

Perks were certainly part of the package working there. The powers that be instituted a high end working environment suitable for generating an air of success to investors and a nice place to hang your purse in the morning and spend a good portion of your life. Precisely at 7:00 p.m. dinner was catered in the state-of-the-art kitchen from a variety of local restaurants. At any given time snacks such as egg rolls or English muffins, varieties of cheeses, and lunch meats were available in the banks of freezers and refrigerators. If cooking your own food was your choice, you had an industrial sized oven at your disposal or you could zap in in the microwave. Orders of fresh fruit and vegetables arrived each morning, and blenders attached to counter units could be used to make smoothies for those preferring healthier choices. If a break was what you needed you could hit the rec room for a quick game of pool or ping pong, throw a few darts, or simply relax in the bean bags strewn about the room. Lunch, if you got one, could be used to catch up on the news on one of several television sets available, or you could call down for a masseuse to work the kinks out. Exercise your bag? On the bottom floor your key card gained you entrance to a fully equipped gym where you could sweat out your frustrations on the tread mill or participate in the hourly floor classes.

I was paid well for my time there, but salary naturally. Salaried employees can literally be worked to a fine point because whether you occupy a seat 8 hours a day or 16 your paycheck won’t reflect the difference. Looking back there were many nights where the clock struck midnight while I was staring at my computer screen while the VP’s I worked for were still pumping out changes needing my finesse to implement. Driving home I would fall into bed to hear the dreaded alarm go off before my tired mind ever had a chance to formulate a dream.

At the end of three years of grinding work it was determined although the highly secreted technology the start-up was based on worked beautifully in practice, it was more expensive to build then what they could competitively market the product for. Once the pink slips were handed out, I tucked mine in the drawer and cut up my precious shares for kindling. So much for my upcoming episode on Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.

Don’t misunderstand me I’m all for a good work ethic. Most of us, unless born with a silver spoon protruding from our mouths, have to work for what we want out of life. However, I am a firm believer in “all work and no play, makes Jack a dull boy”. Personally I enjoy the satisfaction of working hard to achieve something but I guarantee I never missed my vacation and had I been due more, those hours would have been logged as well.

We need time to regenerate and recharge out batteries. Relaxation is becoming obsolete, and I for one still like to lean back in the hammock and watch the clouds float by overhead. Read a good book, shoot some hoops with your kids, life is short.

This probably will be my last soup for awhile, other than lighter summer soups. It’s a Northern African dish and absolutely wonderful.

Slow Cooker Harira (Chickpea and Coriander Soup)

2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 lb. ground lamb
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 onion, diced
1 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
2 tsp. hot paprika
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
2 bay leaves
3 Tbsp. tomato paste
4 cups beef stock
2 14 oz. cans chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1 14 1/2 oz. can white beans, rinsed and drained
2 14 1/2 oz. cans diced tomatoes
1/2 cup chopped coriander
Sliced black olives
1 1/2 cups cooked rice

Brown lamb, garlic, and onion in olive oil in large deep skillet over medium heat until meat is cooked thoroughly. Add spices, bay leaves, and tomato paste. Continue cooking for 5 mins. Add beef stock and bring to boil. Remove from heat.

Spray 6 quart slow cooker with cooking spray. Pour meat mixture into slow cooker. Add chickpeas, white beans, tomatoes, and coriander. Mix well. Cook for 9 hours on low.

Divide rice between 6 soup bowls. Spoon soup over top. Garnish with sliced olives.

Serves 6.

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Photos by Susie Nelson

Photos by Susie Nelson

My birthday is coming up the first of November. Rick has been the recipient of some helpful emails of late from the birthday fairy pointing him in the direction of a couple of items which may have caught my eye. Birthdays aren’t my favorite, mine I mean. They should be, I suppose. Celebrating the passing of another year with the prospect of a glorious new year unfolding before you. A slate not written on with all the pitfalls and possibilities yet to be revealed. On the other side of the coin, you’re another year older. Sigh. Is it just me or do the years seem to accelerate as you log more of them on the calendar?? This year went by so quickly it hardly seems possible I’m eying the boxes marked “xmas” in the garage and trying to figure out how to drag them down from the rafters.

As I kid I always got a box with new pajamas included in my birthday goodies. Not necessarily the highlight of my day.  At Christmas it was new underwear and socks. Perhaps that’s why I lean toward the practical gifts, if asked for suggestions.  There’s nothing much I need, to be honest. Buckingham Palace’s invite to the Queen’s latest gala event obviously has gotten lost in the mail, and I don’t believe my name is included in the guest list for the Obama’s next function so no urgent need to go shopping for a lavish gown. I’ve owned some lovely clothes over the years, but nothing I’d ever deem “lavish” as I remember.  Once I had a gorgeous red dress, rather pricey, for a memorable New Year’s Eve. In the end it was the company and the evening itself which proved memorable, and the dress only the icing on the cake. I have wondered a time or two what it might be like to warm a front row seat on the runway of a Paris clothing designer’s season premier. When I look at some of those clothes, however, I feel I’d look more like I was planning an upcoming trip to Jupiter than attending an elite party. Not to mention, I can’t fathom placing a check mark next to an outfit costing more than an average family’s annual income.  Even if I had such a dress where would I wear it? Standing in the “pick up” line at the pharmacy with my box of chardonnay and ear wax removal kit wearing a $40,000 courtier gown, might be perceived by some as odd, and by others at the very least a bit showy.  What about shoes?  You can’t wear a $40,000 gown with shoes you bought on sale at Nordstrom’s Rack.  And the accessories!  The closest I’ve ever come to Tiffany’s was peering in the window on my one and only visit to New York City.

Gowns for special occasions in general are getting pricier.  Recently I read the cost of sending your junior or senior to the prom could run parents upwards of $1,000.  What?  I went to two proms.  Guaranteed if I’d suggested to my parents I needed $1,000 for one dress I wouldn’t have attended either.  Every dress I bought, the clerk always assured my mother I could wear again.  Right.  That’s happening.  Where exactly does one wear a sequined peacock blue dress and dyed to match shoes once the band has packed up their instruments and and the glittered cardboard stars returned to their boxes?  Once married, I donated all my dresses from high school dances to a local charity.  Soon afterwards I started amassing an array of bridesmaids dresses to fill the hole left in the closet.  Do designers purposely make these dresses as hideous as possible in order to keep all the focus on the bride?  There was perhaps one out of the ten I’d consider wearing again and that only if there was a gun pressed against my temple.

I paid $500 for my wedding dress. This for my first, the only formal affair of the four ceremonies.  I saved for this gown out of my paycheck from my first job.  It was a lovely dress but designers didn’t run out to make knock offs after my picture appeared in the paper.  Once put into action, it was packed in a box by a local dry cleaner. Eventually, after surviving the first half of the thirty seven moves I’ve made over my lifetime, it threw up the white flag. Sustaining irreparable flood damage in a storage unit in Alabama my lovely dress ended up with the leftovers from Sunday’s dinner in the back of a truck on the way to the local landfill.  Ah well.

Couples now spend thousands, sometimes hundreds of thousands on their big day.  Going to extravagant extremes to make their day the most unique. Doves released on cue, ice fountains spewing expensive champagne. It’s gone crazy.  If done correctly you hire a wedding planner.  A venue is researched and chosen, a date set, and a deposit made.  Choosing a cake can take days, requiring numerous visits to all the best bakeries to sample red velvet, chocolate decadence, sinful strawberry and vanilla bean. A cake selected, it’s on to the fillings. Will it be butter cream, pastry cream, berry, citrus, genache, mocha or cream cheese?  The choices are dizzying .  Cakes are larger and far more grand, some bearing lifelike images of the happy couple, their dogs, or their hobbies.  Great creativity and time goes into making some of this edible art, and the cost can be prohibitive.  Flowers are another large draw on the pocketbook.  Each attendant, usher, flower girl, significant family member as well as the bride and groom needs to be florally accessorized.  The altar in the church requires opulent bouquets. If outside, the arbor will be resplendent with blooms, as well as the ends of each aisle.  All this, before you tie the knot and head to the reception which is an entirely different area of revenue reduction.

Once the I do’s are behind you, it’s on to the big party.  Having owned a restaurant I understand first hand how expensive catering can be.  Unless you’re planning on serving PB&J’s and Pringles, appetizers alone can run to $30-$70 a person and a sit down dinner can start the ball rolling at $125.  There is a room fee often, and a gratuity naturally. Do you want an open bar? If so, you’d better do a tequila shot and take note an open bar for 100 people will run around $3,500. Unless you’re willing to settle for Uncle Milo’s stirring rendition of The Power of Love on his spoons, entertainment will tag on another healthy chunk of change on the bill. All this before you step into the limo as man and wife and head off to Fiji or another exotic port of call for an extravagant honeymoon, your newly acquired trousseau in tow.  When you consider 49% of all marriages end in divorce, you’d better be pretty darned sure about the whole thing before you pull that ring case out of your pocket, another item potentially running into the thousands.

Looking back, I think I’d rather take that money and put a down payment on a house, perhaps a family car, or even a vacation home, and choose instead an intimate family wedding on the beach in bare feet with gulls flying overhead rather than doves.  From what I understand gulls don’t have handlers and are literally willing to work for peanuts.

I love the spices in this recipe, and lamb makes it perfectly delicious.

Mediterranean Lamb Cabbage Rolls

1 large cabbage
1 1/2 cups Jasmine rice
1 lb. ground lamb
1 onion, chopped
1 egg, beaten
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp. ground allspice
1/2 tsp. dried mint
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
Sauce (recipe below)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Place rice in mixing bowl and cover with water. Allow to sit for 1/2 hour. Rinse and drain.

Bring a large deep pot of water to boil. Take a knife and cut around the core of the cabbage. Drop with tongs into boiling water. As leaves begin to release pull them off with a pair of tongs and place on a flat surface for use later. When you get to smaller center leaves remove head from water and reserve. When cooled, take a sharp knife and shave the large vein on the back of each leaf to make it easier to handle.

Tomato Sauce

1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
2 6 oz. cans tomato sauce
2 Tbsp. brown sugar
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
1/2 Tsp. Worcestershire sauce

Mix together all ingredients and set aside.

In large mixing bowl mix together lamb, rice, egg, onion, and spices.


Spray 9 x 13″ pan with cooking spray. Chop 1/2 cup of cabbage off reserved head. Ladle one spoonful of sauce on bottom of pan and sprinkle with chopped cabbage.


In center of each leaf place 1/3 cup of meat and rice mixture. Tuck in ends and roll leaf around meat. Place on top of sauce in pan lining rolls up in single layer.


Cover with remaining sauce. Seal tightly with tin foil and bake in preheated oven for 1 hour.


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