spaghetti & meatballs with a vegan (and gluten free!) twist: zucchini spaghetti and beanballs with fresh marinara + vegan ‘parmesan’ cheese

zucchini spaghetti and vegan beanballs

I came home the other week with a book called “Raw Food Detox Diet,” and I’d be lying if I said that James didn’t look just a wee bit petrified.

No, I am not on some fad diet (nor do I think the raw ‘movement’ is a fad, but I digress), but you may have noticed I’ve again been slightly scarce around here lately, and that’s because now that we are settled in to our new-ish house and hometown, we’ve been up to our usual hijinx of visitors, entertaining, eating, and drinking. We had visitors staying with us for a solid 4 weeks straight (not all the same ones, mind you), and when people arrive to your new spot the last thing you want to do is go to bed early and eat salad.

No. You’ll want to go wine tasting, and while we’re at it — toss in a cheese plate. You’ll have a hankering to make baby back ribs (3 separate times!), throw marinated flank steak, spatchcocked chicken, and lamb burgers on the grill, and whip up a ‘vodka bolognese’ (with beef and pancetta) as a birthday dinner for a dear friend. There will also be cake at said birthday dinner, and a morning spent mixing up fresh bloodies to enjoy poolside. There will be a lot of indulgences, and not much restraint. The Diem will be Carpe’d, every single day, to the absolute very fullest extent.

So after lots of meat, cheese, wine, beer, and bread (because I failed to mention the brick oven pizza place down the road we’ve been hitting up on the reg), I was left feeling a bit bleh. I, by all natural inclination, am not a huge meat eater, and after feeling like I consumed more animal products in a month than I have in some entire seasons passed, I began to feel a bit queasy.

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pot o’gold: fennel pollen dusted seared salmon with asparagus walnut pesto

fennel pollen crusted salmon with asparagus walnut pesto

I can be dismissive of recipes which demand I zig zag all over town hunting down exotic ingredients. Of course I understand that some Japanese dishes just aren’t the same without yuzu, and that tracking down some real kaffir lime leaves will elevate my curry to otherworldly levels, but back here on planet Earth…

fennel pollen crusted salmon with asparagus walnut pesto - pesto ingredients

Ain’t nobody got time for that.

So please hear me out before you decide not to read one letter further when I tell you that you must – MUST – find yourself a tidy little tin of fennel pollen in order to make this salmon.

fennel pollen crusted salmon with asparagus walnut pesto - seasoned with pollen

Yes. Fennel pollen.

A few years ago (well, five to be exact), James and I naughtily nipped across 8th Avenue (on more nights than I care to admit) to dine at our favorite restaurant, dell’anima. It wasn’t exactly an economic decision as we weren’t merely treating ourselves to a slice and a soda, but every single morsel on the menu was delectable, and we rationalized that one day we’d be happy we took advantage of having such a culinary gem tucked just feet from our doorstep. (Which, for the record, that has proven true.)

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and at it again: herb-jalapeno lamb patties in pitas with cucumber yogurt sauce, arugula, and baby tomatoes

lamb pitas with herb jalapeno lamb patties, cucumber yogurt sauce, arugula, and baby tomatoes

Apparently I am having a tough time deciding between tree hugger (KALE! QUINOA!) and burly carnivore, because nipping at the heels of a meat-ball-esque meal, I’m back extolling the virtues of another meat-in-ball-form dish.

lamb patties - perfectly sliced cukes

But I really somehow think you’re going to be OK with it. These bad boys are goo-o–o-ood!  Hear me out:

lamb patties - jalapeno!

Take lamb, add plenty of bright green jalapeno and fresh herbs, make patties and fry them till golden and crisped, then stuff them into warm and toasty pitas filled with creamy and cool cucumber sauce, peppery arugula, and sweet baby tomatoes. Some sliced red onion (because, duh) and a sidecar of vinegary hot sauce, and you’ve got yourself something really special in not a lot of time (and, I’ll add, with not all that much effort).

lamb patties - ground lamb

In non-ground form, lamb is generally prohibitively expensive for more than just the occasional meal; I don’t know about you, but my other/better half has mucha hambre after stomping around avocado groves all day, and seeing as he can put back a cool 7 or 8 lamb lollipops, we’re not exactly dishing those guys out on a random Tuesday.

lamb patties - fresh herbs ready to be chopped

But ground lamb is very affordable, and infinitely more forgiving when it comes to cooking temperatures (because really, is there anything more sad than a gorgeous lamb lolly that’s been cooked even a smidge past medium rare?), and as these pitas come together in less than a half hour, they’re just what the weeknight Dinner Doctor ordered.

lamb patties - herbs!

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you eat & relish, now meet celia west!

CW logo 684x215 jan 2014

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It’s been awhile since I’ve alluded to another project I was working on….in fact, a quick search of my archives confirms it was way back in October. Of last year. And here we are, a healthy five months later, and I am finally – FINALLY! – ready to share it with you!

cw site slide 3

(In my defense James and I have had a lot going on in these past five months, both personally and professionally, and as you well know by now we’re living in an entirely new town (hello, Santa Barbara! goodbye SF!) doing something that five months ago I would have thought was totally off the wall ((wearing overalls and farming avocados….or something like that)).  But I digress.)

marina on wood

I’ve started a jewelry line called Celia West, and I am delighted to (finally!) be able to share it with you. I’ve just launched my website at www.celiawest.com, and you can follow us on Instagram or like us on Facebook (and I’ll note doing both of these things would make me a very happy lady).  If you like jewelry, follow along! Otherwise, fear not – I’m still here cooking and baking and tinkering and making a general rumpus in the kitchen.

Thank you so much for your support, and for continuing to support me here on my little-ole-blog soapbox.  Your encouragement, kind words, and continual enthusiasm truly do mean the world to me!

a signoff

a farmer’s optimism: feta and herb meatballs with roasted red pepper and chard conchiglie (as seen my my iphone)

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“The farmer has to be an optimist, or he wouldn’t still be a farmer.”           – Will Rodgers

It’s absolutely bucketing outside – the kind of rain that recalls the old ‘cats and dogs’ idiom; the sort that keeps you from attending a yoga class you’d virtuously scheduled into your day for fear of getting ‘soaked to the bone’ while racing from car to studio, and the type that commands warm socks and your favorite hoodie as the only acceptable attire.

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For those of you that do not live in Southern California, and for me, previously, at various (well, most) points in my life, this kind of rain is usually a bummer.  Maybe it’s just that you tend to remember these sort of negative things, but in my memories, heavy rain – or any bad weather, really – has an unfortunate tendency of picking up just as a plane carrying your best friend touches down for a weekend visit, or on the very weekend that you were planning a backyard fete.  You know what I mean – inclement weather always seems to happen right at the wrong time.

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But this time, that couldn’t be further from the truth.  We’re settled into our new house in Santa Barbara, the last of the scuffed-up and tape-heavy corrugated boxes have been broken down and hauled away, and we’re having our inaugural rainfall.  Not just any old rainfall though – a rainfall that has been hoped, prayed, and danced for by anyone and everyone in the state of drier-than-bone-dry-California (and my Mother, way across the country on Cape Cod, who has been anxiously watching the storm crawl across the doppler for the better part of a week!)

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Here in unusually hot and sunny California – and particularly in South – we’ve managed to get ourselves in a real predicament as far as the water supply is concerned….or complete lack thereof, I should say. Upon the first fat drops hitting the roof you could hear a collective squeal of joy, and when you live on an avocado farm – one that has become increasingly sunburnt and parched under this ultra-sunny Winter sky – a few days of much needed soaking feels like hitting the jackpot.

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Of course a few days of rain will do anything but solve the drought – it’s a huge help, that’s no question – but we are doing everything in our power to conserve, conserve, conserve around here.  That means a 5 gallon bucket in the shower to catch the first few chilly minutes (which in turn gets dumped on the roses), being aware of and reducing the flow when washing dishes and brushing teeth, setting dishwashers and washing machines to their express settings (read: faster and still totally adequate), and recalling the old hippie mantra, “If it’s yellow….”

Crunchy stuff, right?

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total touchdown: kale caesar salad with olive oil tuna & toasted panko

kale caesar salad with olive oil tuna and toasted panko

Because it’s Friday, and because I love you, and because there is a certain sporting event that will take place on Sunday that mandates drinking beer and eating heathenly things like wings covered in butter with a dash of hot sauce and cheese-y/guacamole-y/sour cream-y/refried bean-y concoctions guaranteed to add 7 layers to – ahem – places other than just dips (hips?!), I present to you….

kale caesar with toasted panko and olive oil tuna - anchovies

The kale caesar salad.

kale caesar with toasted panko and olive oil tuna - kale leaves

Ok, ok I know…..kale is having a ‘moment’ of sorts; it was seemingly omnipresent in 2013, made into chips, liquified into juices, made into brownies….

kale caesar with toasted panko and olive oil tuna - sliced radish

I’m sorry but that’s just taking it too far.

kale caesar with toasted panko and olive oil tuna - dressing ingredients

I have to disagree with anyone (and, well, everyone) who is heralding kale as the veggie fad of 2013. Sure it did get lots of press last year, and I have to admit that even the most basic supermarkets seem to be stocking at least 3 varieties of the stuff, but if you’ve ever poked your head into a farmer’s market or have had a continuing love affair with people like Heidi, Sara, or Mollie, then you’re well aware that the leafy dark green is anything but a fad.

kale caesar with toasted panko and olive oil tuna - dressing

Inexpensive, filling, and much more satisfying than the watery crunch of a boring head of plain-old-lettuce, kale is a stalwart – not a fad. Plus, it’s dead easy to grow in your home garden, and perseveres (even thrives!) with just the tiniest bit of encouragement. A denizen of healthy cooks’ kitchens everywhere, sure; but all that positive press has thrust kale up onto a soapbox (not unlike quinoa), and I fear we are on the brink of kale overload.

kale caesar with toasted panko and olive oil tuna dressing made

kale caesar with toasted panko and olive oil tuna tuna can

But I digress. As it so happens – I think it’s really tasty. I’ve had a long standing love affair with Caesar salad, but as I’ve lamented before (and, wow, three years ago!) , I rarely ever order one, as in my experiences finding a great Caesar is about as easy as refraining from the snack table on Super Bowl Sunday.

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curried sweet potato and chicken soup with peas, pepitas, and yogurt

curred sweet potato and chicken soup with peas, pepitas, and yogurt

Earlier this week James and I came down with something fierce; a quick and dirty bug, most likely of the I-ate-something or 24-hour persuasion, that snuck in quickly and silently on Monday afternoon and had us sidelined feeling badly for ourselves for the better part of two days.

curred sweet potato and chicken soup - sweet taters

I’ll (of course) spare you the details, but as I am sure you well know, thinking about cooking or eating (or talking, walking, thinking, sitting, laying…simply existing….) is completely unbearable when one is in said sad state.

curred sweet potato and chicken soup - frozen peas!

And the remedy for nursing oneself back to health is something the experts call a BRAT diet; that is, a very slow and steady intake of bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast to appease angry stomachs and hopefully encourage what goes down to stay down.

curred sweet potato and chicken soup - curry powder

I happen to have a husband who is a complete and utter bananaphobic, and – I don’t know about you – but the thought of bland plain rice and dry toast isn’t really appealing to me, ever. I won’t even try and pretend that in my misery I hopped up spryly and rushed to the kitchen to make this soup for us (no…I was wimpering like a five year old while pouring myself a bowl of peanut butter Puffins after 36 hours of eating zilch), but I will tell you I wish I had someone around who would have made it for me.

And apparently Pugs cannot be trained to do so?

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