Posts Tagged ‘ salt ’

Death (Valley) on the Day of my Birth

Friday, January 4th, 2013

I turned forty-whexianoehna (that’s a giant sneeze sound for “something”) over the holiday. Phil and I have a tradition of going to a museum on my birthday. One year, to gain perspective on how little I mattered in the scheme of the universe, we went to the Natural History Museum. We were living in New York and it was a time that I was questioning my purpose in life (pre-kids, clearly).  Just walking through all those exhibits documenting civilizations past really did help pound home the idea that I’m just a blip. We all are. Depressing? Maybe. Or just a good way to stop taking yourself so seriously.

This year we were immensely enjoying our first “staycation.” We kept toying with the idea of going to San Diego for a night with the kids, or to Palm Desert. We couldn’t make a decision/commitment, so we just left everything loose (which resulted in the best week we’ve had in years).

Phil kept asking what I wanted to do for my birthday, but I remained noncommittal. I was having too much fun just “winging” it. On my birthday it was raining. Here’s how the day shaped up:

Me: “Hmm…what should we do today? It’s raining.”

Phil: “It’s not raining in Death Valley.”

An hour later we had packed up the kids and were heading off on a 5-hour road trip to one of the most extreme places on earth. We had booked the last hotel room at basically the only hotel in Death Valley: Furnace Creek.  (They have a sister property down the road as well).

In case you didn’t know, Death Valley holds the record for the hottest place on earth (134-degrees back in July 1913). This time of year though, it’s chilly. As in 54-degrees or so. The week between Christmas and New Year’s is also their busiest. But by busy, that only means one hotel in a huge swath of desert.  The hotel isn’t even that big. We didn’t fight RV’s for road space or gobs of tourists at the 3 restaurants. It was the perfect time to go.

A friend of mine asked, “How did you entertain kids in that place?”

For us, it was easy. We told Fia we were going on an adventure. We’ve done it before to other stranger places, like the Saltan Sea. Someday when she’s a teenager, she’ll probably roll her eyes and beg to stay home. But at this age, she is totally game and gets as excited as we do (though she doesn’t know over what). And Emmett, well, he is the easiest, most chill baby in the world. So we were golden.

 

On the way up we stopped in two ghost towns and explored.

By the time we arrived at the hotel it was dark and their restaurant was sold out. So we just plopped down at a table near the lobby-bar and enjoyed a lovely birthday dinner. With wine of course. (I know this is starting to sound like a book report, but I am a bit rusty from taking so much time off.)

The next morning we began our adventure. We started off at the Sand Dunes (where George Lucas shot some of the scenes from Star Wars…remember when C3PO and R2D2 crash in the escape pod?). We said to Fia, “Look at this!! This is like the biggest sandbox ever!”

 She screamed in delight and took off running. We played hide and seek. We played chase. Emmett giggled on my back as I ran after her and Phil. It was a blast.

 

An hour later, we headed to the lowest point in the U.S.: Badwater Basin. It’s basically a lake of hardened salt, 282 feet below sea level. There, we played catch with rocks of salt. We even licked some. We ran all over, feeling it crunch under our feet.

From there, we pulled over spontaneously at what’s called Devil’s Cornfield. It was an even more extreme feel of crunching land. I honestly could have stayed in that field and crunched all day.

On the way back home, we stopped at the famous Amargosa Opera House in the ghost town of Amargosa. By famous I mean you probably have never heard of it. Fia and Emmett were both sleeping, so Phil and I took turns getting out of the car and checking things out.

We got home at 9 pm, thus concluding our 2-day, 1-night, whirlwind tour of Death Valley. And another year where I got tremendous perspective on the day of my birth: I am the luckiest woman in the world.

More Pics:

Above: Em standing on sand. Below: Fia being tossed (I was more gentle than it looks) down a hill of sand. By choice.

 

 

 

 

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Easy Cooking Tips You Want To Know

Monday, September 19th, 2011

Last week I was doing an event in Central Park that was all about tips for Italian cooking. The Barilla Pasta Company sponsored it. I learned some really simple, but key things I didn’t know about cooking pasta, sautéing garlic and using olive oil. Wanted to share them with you guys.

The Pasta Experts

PASTA:

Always boil enough water for your pasta: one gallon of water to one pound of pasta.

Don’t add oil to your water. It does nothing. If you don’t want it to stick, the key is to add enough water and to occasionally stir it.

Add enough salt so that your water tastes like broth. For those who add a pinch of salt (like I always have)—try a few tablespoons instead. Unless you have dietary restrictions, your water should taste like a broth/saltwater. The salt will stick to the pasta and help give it flavor. I kid you not; this made a HUGE difference in the way the dishes tasted.

Don’t EVER rinse your pasta (something I always did until now). You want the starch on it to bind to your sauce.

Don’t overcook your pasta. How do you know? Follow the directions on the box. Every pasta shape is different, so you must read the directions. If it says boil for 9 minutes, test it at 8. The chefs would often drain it a minute early and add it to the sauce they were making. That way it would finish cooking in the saucepan. If you overcook pasta, you lose the essence of it. Plus, it is harder to digest. You definitely want al dente, which is usually what the directions specify on the box.

GARLIC AND OLIVE OIL:

Use a good olive oil. Look for bottles/brands that have a “best if used by” date on them. Olive Oil is best used 18 months-2 years from the time the olives were harvested. So if you’ve had a bottle sitting on your counter for a decade, toss it.

Buy olive oil that is in a tinted bottle. It shouldn’t be exposed to light. Or heat. Keep in cool, dry place, but not in the refrigerator.

They all used Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Seemed to be the general consensus.

When using olive oil to sauté garlic, heat the oil at medium (in other words, be patient. Don’t just put it on high to get it hot faster). Then add your garlic.

There is really no need to have a garlic press or to finely chop it. If you just put a clove in (without the skin, obviously), or cut a clove in half, that is enough to infuse the flavor into the olive oil. In fact, these guys, who were from Italy, often let the garlic infuse, then they would take the clove out and throw it away or use it for bread.

Don’t burn your garlic. Apparently we Americans are notorious for overcooking both our pasta and our garlic. The garlic should just be turning color when you either remove the cloves or add the rest of your ingredients. By adding other items, the cooking process naturally slows down and your garlic won’t burn. You can also add some water from your pasta pot (remember: properly salted) to slow down the garlic from burning. Also by adding water that the pasta is boiling in, you can make your sauce creamier, as it has some starch in it from cooking the noodles.

For as many years as I’ve stood with chefs in kitchens from my Food Network job, The Best Of I was surprised that I didn’t know some of these very basics.

One more personal tip I did bring to the table: to get the garlic smell off your hands, rub your fingers on stainless steel. I often use the sides of my kitchen sink. It neutralizes the odor.

Any other tips you have to share? Or questions? I feel like an expert now!

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