Stop and Eat the Flowers

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Gourmet goodies!

Gourmet goodies!

I know what you’re thinking. That title should say “smell the roses.”  But we’re not talking about perfume or roses today. We’re going to talk about my herby/floral friend, lavender. I’ve previously covered lavender as a dessert ingredient here. This topic came up the other night and the highly intelligent convo went something like this:

Me: “I like lavender in food. You know, because I like French stuff.”

Other person: “I don’t like lavender. I don’t want my food to taste like perfume. Or soap. It can’t be the star player in the dish.”

I could probably recollect more of the conversation had we not indulged in so many cocktails, but I appreciate the perspective. Floral extracts (rosewater, orange blossom water, violet, jasmine and even my favorite St. Germain ingredient, elderflower) have the ability to become overwhelming if not balanced properly. And interestingly, the lavender-tinged herbes de Provence that I enjoy so much really didn’t become popular until the mid 1970s. In fact, I didn’t eat anything featuring lavender while visiting the south of France. I only found it in bunches or in soaps and other toiletries at the market.

So, while on holiday in Florida visiting Crazy Bob, his lady friend and I took a shopping jaunt over to Sanibel Island where we discovered the Sanibel Olive Oil Company in Periwinkle Place (online as Florida Olive Oil here). They had such a variety of unique oil and vinegar flavors that we thought our taste buds were going to explode. After several tastings, I purchased Lavender Balsamic and Key West Citrus Balsamic (I’ll be experimenting with the latter in the near future). She picked up the Habanero-Lime and Walberry (a combination of strawberry and walnut). Sadly, I’m not finding the lavender in their online store so I may call when I run out or try a different vendor. However, if you are in the Fort Myers/ Naples area, you could easily head over to Sanibel and visit the shop to sample yourself. The owner is quite the conversationalist and in addition to oil and vinegar, he also carries flavored salts, spices, sauces, and other “foodie” delights.

Among many other adventures, Crazy Bob and I managed to visit the Edison & Ford Winter Estates where I picked up some local saw palmetto honey in the gift shop. Both are used in the recipe below, but you could substitute with your own local honey and the balsamic vinegar of your choice if you aren’t partial to lavender.

Lady Sensory’s No Soap For You Lavender-Balsamic Glazed Chicken

Old-school mustard seed and spice-grinding

Old-school mustard seed and spice-grinding

1 – 1.5 lbs boneless chicken breasts (I picked up an organic pack of three medium-sized breasts)

2 tsp Herbes de Provence

2 tsp mustard seeds

1 tsp salt

1 tsp cracked black pepper

2 tsp olive oil

1 clove garlic, finely minced or pressedChicken

1/3 cup dry white wine

1/2 cup lavender balsamic vinegar

2 tsp honey (I used saw palmetto, but use what you have)

With a mortar and pestle or spice grinder, combine and grind the mustard seeds, herbes de Provence, salt and pepper together. Apply to the chicken breasts as a dry rub and pop them back in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes or while you get the rest of your ingredients ready. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Warm oil a large pan (that can transfer from stove to oven) on medium heat. Place garlic in and cook until slightly golden. Put the chicken breasts in the pan and brown on each side until you see the breasts just turning from pink to white (about 7-10 minutes, depending on thickness). Remove the breasts from the pan and place on a plate temporarily. Deglaze your pan with the white wine and vinegar and raise the heat to medium high. You are making a reduction so when the mixture comes to a slight boil,  stir in the honey, and turn off the stove top. Return the chicken to the pan and put in the oven for about 10-15 minutes, flipping once and keeping an eye the glaze to ensure it doesn’t burn. I served these with a side of roasted asparagus, but they would be equally tasty with Brussels sprouts, potatoes, or any side dish of your choice. You’ll find the lavender gives the chicken more of a lemon/herb flavor that is balanced by the sweetness of the balsamic vinegar and honey. Top the chicken and side dish with any remaining glaze and enjoy!

Lavender-balsamic glazed chicken and roasted asparagus

Lavender-balsamic glazed chicken and roasted asparagus

I Am What I Ham

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Meet "Spootch."

Meet “Spootch.”

Holiday Greetings from Florida. Over here to the left is my new friend, “Spootch,” that I found at the Coconut Point Art Festival (along with those nifty chopsticks made by the same artist). This was my favorite booth and purchase from the show and I’m super excited to put my Spootch to use in the home kitchen upon my return.

It’s New Year’s Eve and we’re about to head down to the beach so this will be a quick post.  I am not a big ham person but we had it for Christmas dinner. In fact, I couldn’t even tell you the last time I bought ham from the deli since it gets so slimy. However, I do enjoy a nice cooked ham, and particularly because I know what to do with the leftovers. In addition to making lovely breakfast sammies, you can totally make the best split pea soup ever. So I took over the kitchen to make this:

Lady Sensory’s Don’t Pea on My Leg and Tell Me It’s Raining Soup

See what I did there? I love me some quality Judge Judy quotes. You will need:

1 16 oz bag of dried split peas

7 cloves of garlic, minced or pressed (This is a lot of garlic, but it tastes delicious. So if you aren’t cool with that, reduce to your desired level.)

1 large Vidalia onion, finely chopped

About 6 ribs of celery, finely chopped

3/4 bag of baby carrots, chopped

1 ham bone (used the leftover Christmas ham, but you can get one from a butcher)

1 – 1 1/2 cups cooked ham, cut into bite size chunks (again, Christmas leftovers)

2 bay leaves

1 tbsp Herbes de Provence

1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes

Cracked black pepper, to taste*

6-8 cups of water

1-2 tbsp olive oil

*You can add salt if you like but there was more than enough in the ham and the bone so I did not add any.

Split Pea Soup

As I mentioned, this was a kitchen takeover. I think the pot I used was roughly 4-5 quarts (it’s similar in size to my 4.5 pot). So, warm the olive oil in a heavy stock pot or fancy pot over low heat.  Add the onion and cook until translucent (about 5 minutes), add the garlic and continue to cook until slightly golden (another 5 minutes). Add the celery and carrots and com for about 5 more minutes and then add all of your dried herbs: the bay leaves, crushed red pepper, black pepper and Herbes de Provence and cook for about a minute or two. Now add the ham bone and dried split peas (you don’t have to soak them) and cook for a minute or two. Raise the heat to high and begin to add the water, 1 cup at a time, until bone is submerged and water is about an inch and a half from the top of the pot (so it doesn’t overflow). Add the chopped ham and cook until boiling. Skim foam and fat off the top (this is a personal preference and it won’t compromise the flavor). Reduce the heat to low and cook for 1 hr – 1.5 hrs (until peas have softened and soup has thickened). Serve and enjoy with a nice crusty baguette or roll and some dry white wine. We enjoyed trying three different kinds while waiting for the soup to cook – an Italian dry white blend, a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and a Sancerre. Oops!

May your New Year’s Eve be fun, safe, and filled with similar wine indiscretions!

That Thing That Happened at the Matisse Museum

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Musee MatisseAfter being buried in vegetables from my Good Food Collective share today (which was extremely awesome, by the way) I’m writing and posting very late. Today’s Blog Every Day in November (#BEDN) post is supposed to be on “Yes Moments,” which are defined as “tiny moments when life has complete clarity, meaning or certainty.” I call these types of things “epiphanies.”

The most recent and major one that comes to mind occurred while traveling in France in the summer of 2012. I had reached the south after wandering around Paris for five days. I believe I’ve told you I’m kind of a museum nerd when I travel. I knew wanted to visit the Musee Matisse while in Nice. I asked around and determined I would need to take a bus from my hotel up to Cimiez Hill, which was not a big deal (only 10-15 minutes).

Henri Matisse has always been an influence of mine and has held a solid place in the top three of my list of favorite artists for many years due to his superb use of color. When I arrived I was confronted with a red building overlooking lemon trees and an olive grove that also serves as a park. If you are familiar with Matisse’s work, you’ll recall the lemon and olive trees make several appearances. After seeing the big museums in Paris I wasn’t expecting it to be earth-shattering, but I figured it would definitely have some interesting pieces and a decent gift shop.

I wandered the various rooms and read the descriptions of the pieces in the collection. The bonus of hitting the smaller museums is that there are usually fewer people in the way. I stared at these big tapestries and was struck with the realization that Matisse had spent time in Tahiti. I don’t know how I never knew that. Maybe I did and just forgot. I had always associated Paul Gauguin with Tahiti. Suddenly it occurred to me that most of the places I travel are somehow associated with artists or writers and that I’d basically bombed around the globe for the past few years searching for something that I wasn’t finding…because the answer was already in me.Matisse Postcard

So there I was: in the south of France, on a sunny day, in small museum with a security guard in every room and I start bawling my eyes out. No, I’m not kidding and no, I was not premenstrual.

Oh wait, it gets worse.

I went downstairs to find the restroom to freshen up because crying makes me look like garbage and I walked straight into a children’s exhibit of at least 70-80 pictures all done in Matisse’s style with varying compositions. We had the lemons, the portraits, the cut-outs. Yep. All there. Some of them were pretty incredible.

I pretty much wanted to vomit on myself at this point but thankfully, I didn’t. The room was sunlit so I threw on my shades and forced myself to look at every single kid’s picture in the exhibit. Then I went into the gift shop, found the postcard of the Polynesian tapestry, a book on the museum collection, and got the hell out of there.

Well, then it got even more interesting. I wandered through the olive grove to a cemetery behind a church. Um, yes, in addition to museums I also have a weird cemetery fetish when I travel. I meandered down some path and there, under an olive tree, was Henri Matisse’s grave.

Matisse graveThat was enough of a wakeup call for me, and I knew what I would eventually have to do. However, when I returned to the states and got bombarded with two major fundraisers and an annual report I quickly forgot about my little epiphany.

Until now.

So tomorrow on Thanksgiving while you are feeling grateful for all that you have and the loved ones and friends that surround you, make sure you are thankful for your talents and gifts that make you innately you.

You never know when you’re going to have to fall back on them.

The Waiting Place

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Oh The Places You'll Go! Book Cover

Oh The Places You’ll Go! book cover

“Out there things can happen and frequently do to people as brainy and footsy as you.”  ~ Dr. Seuss

Can we get a show of hands from those who received Dr. Seuss’s Oh, The Places You’ll Go! upon graduating from either high school or college? My aunt got me my copy. Now, when’s the last time you picked it up as an adult? If you haven’t, you should revisit it sometime. It’s pretty eye-opening. Today’s Blog Every Day in November (#BEDN) post is supposed to be on one of my favorite topics: travel.  As we get a little closer to the end of 2013, I realize this will be the first time in five years that I will not be acquiring a new stamp on my passport. Yep. Insert sad face here. But don’t cry for me, Argentina (note to self: add the land of Malbec to the ‘Travel Bucket List’). I’m very grateful that I have been fortunate enough to have visited several exotic locales over the past few years.  I know that there will be more amazing destinations to come when the timing and financial situation is right. In the meantime, I’m kind of stuck in “The Waiting Place.”

One of the recommended suggestions for this topic was to post about a funny travel story. I’m not sure I can top what I have already done here and here, so please amuse yourself with those tidbits while I present the best of what “The Waiting Place” has to offer at this time of year: New York apples. I’ve told you about how I’ve been participating in the Good Food Collective CSA share. Throughout the fall season, I’ve been getting a variety of about 6-10 apples per pick-up and the crisper drawer was starting to overflow with fruit. With a slight nod to the Barefoot Contessa’s recipe (Ina Garten), I decided to thin out the numbers by making a pot of homemade applesauce.

Apples

Lady Sensory’s Don’t Worry, Don’t Stew Homemade Applesauce

16 medium-sized apples, peeled, cored and sliced. Reserve the peel of two red apples.

Juice and zest of 2 oranges

Juice and zest of 2 small lemons or 1 large lemon (my lemons were the size of limes so I went with 2!)

4 tbsp butter

2 tbsp maple syrup

1 tbsp vanilla extract

1/2 cup brown sugar, packed

1 tbsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp freshly ground nutmeg

1/4 tsp ground cloves

1/4 tsp ground allspice

1/4 tsp ground ginger

1/4 tsp salt

ApplesauceJuice and zest the oranges and lemons, then put the juice and zest in a large cast iron fancy pot (6 – 7 qt) on the stove. Add the butter, maple syrup, brown sugar, vanilla, salt and dried spices to the mixture. Warm the pot on low until butter just melts and turn off the heat. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit while peeling, coring, and slicing the apples.  I used a mix of red, yellow, and green apples. Don’t ask me what they were because I honestly do not have a clue. All were great for snacking and/or baking so choose accordingly. Reserve the peel of two red apples if you can. Mine was a hodge-podge of red apples because I suck at making fruit peels. You’ll eventually discard them, so don’t worry if they aren’t pretty or perfect. Combine your apple slices in the fancy pot with the citrus/spice mixture, cover with the lid, and place in the oven. You will be baking this for about 1.5 – 2 hours, until the apples are very tender. I cooked it for about 1 hour and 20 minutes and then turned the oven off, leaving the pot to sit in the oven for another half hour. Remove the pot from the oven and carefully remove the lid (a lot of steam will be released). With a potato masher or whisk, mash and stir the apples until the desired consistency is reached. This makes about 8-10 servings. It’s very tasty warm but it will also keep in the fridge for a few days in an airtight container. The brown sugar, maple, and vanilla give it a caramel/pie filling flavor that you will really enjoy and the citrus keeps it bright.

I hadn’t made applesauce since I visited an apple-picking farm with my parents as a kid. If you’ve never made it, it’s actually very easy. As a bonus, cooking it elicits the most delicious and natural fall home fragrance you could ever ask for. So when in doubt in the kitchen (or anywhere for that matter), you safely can rely on Dr. Seuss to give you that extra boost of confidence you need: “And will you succeed? Yes! You will, indeed! (98 and 3/4 percent guaranteed.)” 

“List? It’s All Up Here.”

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Elizabeth Taylor in the Cleopatra trailer. Wikipedia Commons.

Elizabeth Taylor in the Cleopatra trailer. Wikipedia Commons.

Today for Blog Every Day in November (#BEDN) we’re supposed to make a list of 10 things. Any 10 things.  One of my friends could give you fifty lists. She loves lists. Me? I don’t make lists because (pointing to my head), “It’s all up here.”

I have a grocery list I could share with you but alas, it only has seven things on it so I’d have to come up with three more.  Once in a while I’ll be out drinking and will make a list of YouTube videos I need to watch when I get home. Right now that features two items on it and I’ve already watched them.

I had a bucket list of travel destinations once, but lost it two computer crashes ago. I could put that together again but that seems quite comical in light of the present lack of employment…and it had about 35 destinations on it. Don’t make me whittle that down to 10. That’s just going to depress me.

How about this? Here’s my list of 10 lists I’d make if I actually liked making lists:

1)  10 people who need to be subjected to Whatever Happened to Baby Jane in real life.

2) 10 wines in 10 days. That should be both easy to accomplish and read.

3) 10 reasons why toxic jobs are like toxic relationships. Yeah, not so easy.

4) 10 things I want but can’t buy right now.

5) 10 things I’m going to buy as soon as I get a regular paycheck (yeah, this is probably the same list as #4. Cut me some slack. I told you I don’t make lists).

6) 10 annoying Facebook statuses requiring me to “hide” or “limit posts.” Yes, Bitstrips, I’m talking about you.

7) 10 of the worst selfies I can find on the internet.

8) 10 things I love about Elizabeth Taylor.

9) 10 weird or poorly written LinkedIn messages from people I don’t know.

10) 10 reasons I could probably work for BuzzFeed, based on 60% of the aforementioned on this list.

We good?

Awesome.

En Plein Air

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One of my very favorite 'lights' ever - the leg lamp from A Christmas Story. You can get one here: http://www.redriderleglamps.com

One of my very favorite ‘lights’ ever – the leg lamp from A Christmas Story. You can get one here: http://www.redriderleglamps.com

Light is today’s topic for Blog Every Day in November (#BEDN) in recognition of Diwali, the five-day Hindu festival of lights.  I’m only slightly familiar with this festival through a few of my friends who hail from India. I wish I had an assortment of the beautiful Diwali paper lanterns to show you, but thankfully we can interpret the content of these post topics as we see fit.

When I think about ‘light’ the first thing that comes to mind is ‘en plein air,’ which refers to a style of painting typically used by the Impressionists and literally means ‘in open air.’  Most of the Impressionists worked in oil and created landscapes, schlepping their wet canvases around the French countryside.  During the course of my studies I only did artwork outdoors once and it was in a graduate-level drawing class.  We used chalk pastels, which actually lend themselves quite nicely to the plein air style.  Like watercolor, pastel requires you to use the white of your paper for the highlights and then you build on the darker and more colorful parts to create the shadows. Degas is probably the best known pastel Impressionist, although most of his pastels were figurative versus landscape. Here are a few I created in grad school:

This would be the East Avenue entrance to the Nazareth College campus in 1999.

This would be the East Avenue entrance to the Nazareth College campus in 1999.

"Into the Woods," which was basically wandering behind the Nazareth College Arts Center in search of interesting trees.

“Into the Woods,” which was basically wandering behind the Nazareth College Arts Center in search of interesting trees.

Light also makes me think about its importance in photography and in the same thread, I’ve never seen more beautiful light than in the French Mediterranean. It’s no wonder so many artists flocked there to create their masterpieces.  The arid climate and reflection of light off the water just makes everything sun-drenched and gorgeous. Here are a few shots I took while vacationing last summer in the south of France:

Gardens at the palace in Monaco - this looks like a painting

Gardens at the palace in Monaco – this looks like a painting

A shot of the narrow alleys in Old Town Nice.

A shot of the narrow alleys in Old Town Nice.

A 'Nice' shot of a tree.

A ‘Nice’ shot of a tree.

Le Château Fountain (it wasn't running, but it was still pretty)

Le Château Fountain (it wasn’t running, but it was still pretty)

More buildings in Old Town Nice

More buildings in Old Town Nice

And a 'Nice' sunset and rooftop view from the hotel

And a ‘Nice’ sunset and rooftop view from the hotel

So this has been my take on the topic of ‘light’ and I’m looking forward to other BEDN bloggers’ interpretations. Speaking of travel and Diwali, I really do hope to get to India someday and see the Golden Temple aglow.  For those who celebrate, Happy Diwali!

Porking All Day Long

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Ruins at Cobá - I climbed these!

Ruins at Cobá – I climbed these!

I’ll bet you think this is going to be a saucy post about Valentine’s Day.  Nope! However, you’re in for a treat because I’m going to share some Mexican vacay tidbits and different way to enjoy some pulled pork: Mayan-style!  While visiting Playa del Carmen, I took the opportunity to get the heck out of the resort “fortress” and experience some real culture.  One of the excursions I took was called Cobá Sunset and was a later afternoon jaunt to the ruins that combined a bike ride (yes, we discussed that portion previously), a climb to the top of the ruins, dinner at an authentic restaurant serving traditional Mayan cuisine, a Mayan show in a cave, and a choice of either zip-lining and swimming in a cenote or visiting a school to do traditional Mayan pottery. Since I’m accident prone and artsy-fartsy, I chose the latter.

I had visions of what the school would look like based on my previous elementary school art classes.  Wrong!  The school is actually off the back of a small retail shop.  The school’s Mayan name translates to ‘Ancient Roots’ and the instructor, Augustin Villalba, came from Argentina to teach this traditional style of ancient pottery to children in several small towns surrounding Cobá.  The purpose is to provide the children with the historical perspective and craftsmanship of pottery-making from their own culture, keep them connected to their villages, and the pieces are then sold to provide necessities (food, etc.) to the villages.  I was about to drop wad in a Mexican batik place down the road but all of that changed because I’m a sucker for charity and children.  He actually had the kids helping out in the class.  We made pinch pots and I decided to leave mine (no need for broken unfired greenware all over my luggage) but purchased several of the items made by the children.  If you ever head to the Mayan Riviera, I highly recommend this excursion.

And now, let’s talk about the food.  I was staying at an all-inclusive and despite that the restaurants were very good, I wanted some authentic (non-Americanized) Mexican food.  I got my wish on this excursion.  I tried a traditional slow-roasted Mayan pork known as cochinita pibil. I also tried the chicken prepared in the same way and made a mental note to somehow replicate this dish upon my return home. The following recipe is for the pork. Feel free to substitute chicken if you wish. To make this, you will need to procure a special ingredient – achiote paste, which is made from annatto seeds and several spices.  It can be hard to find if you don’t have Latino or ethnic food markets in your area. After visiting several locations, I wound up getting mine online through Amazon. One brand looks like this:

El Yucateco Achiote Paste made from annatto seeds. Damn, that chef looks happy with his pig roast.

El Yucateco Achiote Paste made from annatto seeds. Damn, that chef looks happy with his pig roast.

You will also need some banana leaves. You can find them in the market in the frozen section, usually where the frozen Goya items reside.  And, you’ll need some patience – the meat has to marinate overnight and it will slow roast for several hours. So, if you think, “Ain’t nobody got time fo’ that,” you may want to throw some chops on the grill. However, I think you’ll find this earthy, mellow, spiced rendition of pulled pork well worth the wait.  You’ll be serving it with pickled onions (recipe also included in this post).

Lady Sensory’s At Least I Can Say I Got Porked in Mexico Mayan-Style Pulled Pork (Cochinita Pibil)

You will need:

3-4 oz. achiote paste (made from annatto seeds – I used El Yucateco)

3 – 3.5 lbs. pork, cut into chunks with some of the fat trimmed (pork shoulder is the preferred cut but I used a combination of shoulder and tenderloin)

8-9 cloves of garlic, minced

Juice of 1 grapefruit, 2 limes and 3 oranges (to mimic the bitter orange flavor – if you can get your hands on bitter oranges, by all means, use those)

1 tsp oregano

1 tsp cumin (I increased this from 1/2 tsp because my Venezuelan friend told me it needed a little more cumin)

1/4 tsp ground Saigon cinnamon plus one cinnamon stick

2 bay leaves

1/2 cup apple cider vinegar

1/2 cup water

Salt and pepper to taste

Banana leaves, thawed by running under tepid water (you will need these the next day when it is time to cook)

Remove some of the fat from the pork (not all, the fat helps with the texture and flavor!).  Cut into chunks that are around 2″ and leave some meat on the bone. You will be including that as well.  In a 9 x 13″ glass dish (or any large dish that is non-reactive), mix all of the ingredients above until the paste is fully incorporated (excluding the banana leaves).  Don’t wear anything too precious while making this – annatto stains!  Place pork in the mixture – it will be a very bright orangey-red. Allow to marinate 12-24 hours. The next day, preheat the oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit and remove the pork from the mixture and place in the center of the banana leaves. I also included the cinnamon stick and bay leaves.  Wrap the banana leaves around the pork and place in a dutch oven (a.k.a. fancy pot) and cook in the oven for about 3.5 hours.  The banana leaves smell incredible while this cooks! In the meantime you will need to prepare your pickled onions, because they will pickle while the pork cooks. Once the onions are made and in the fridge you can clean up around the house or do some lazy retail therapy (online shopping) while you wait.

Lady Sensory’s Pick-a-Peck-of-Pickled-Onions

Juice of 1 lime and 3 small oranges

1/2 cup apple cider vinegar

1 jalapeño pepper

1 large red onion

1 tsp sugar

Salt and pepper, to taste

Finished product - Todo es bueno (everything is good)! Cochinita Pibil (Mayan pulled pork)

Finished product – Todo es bueno (everything is good)! Cochinita Pibil (Mayan pulled pork)

Slice the onion in half and cut into thin slices (semi-circles). Slice the jalapeño lengthwise, remove the seeds and cut into small semicircles. Place in an airtight container. In a separate bowl, whisk together the citrus juice, vinegar, sugar and salt and pepper. Cover the onions and pepper with the mixture. Cover the container with a lid, refrigerate and allow to marinate while the pork is cooking (a few hours).

When the pork is ready, remove the pot from the oven and open the banana leaves. Use a fork to shred the pork and pull it away from the bone. Serve with pickled onions and traditional beans, rice and warm tortillas. I would say this serves anywhere from 6-8 people. I do have to confess that I enjoyed it even more in sandwich form on a crusty roll with just the pickled onions, so I definitely encourage you to try that with your leftovers for a quick lunch!  Mmm. Crusty roll. How I miss thee.

For additional info on Ancient Roots, check out some other articles that mention the school herehere, and here.

Oh, and I definitely wouldn't mess with this guy's pork. He means business!

Oh, and I definitely wouldn’t mess with this guy’s pork. He means business!