Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Oignons Glacés à Brun

I have lots of ideas for blog posts I'd love to share with you this Thanksgiving. There's still a lot left to do in my kitchen and I may be a tad overzealous in thinking I can get it all done and write about it, so no promises. We'll see how it goes (but I'm feeling pretty optimistic)!

Personally, I think side dishes are the best part of Thanksgiving dinner. Turkey's great, don't get me wrong, but when I go back for seconds (and thirds), I'm loading up my plate with sides. This year I'm making, among other things, pearl onions glazed in butter and sugar to create a deep brown color and a rich, caramelized flavor. It's called oignons glacés à brun. They're super easy to make and offer a big wow factor to enjoy.

Peeling pearl onions can either be the most annoying process known to man or it can turn into a meditative experience that comes from choosing a relaxed approach. When you focus on a repetitive process with the intention to let everything else go (in yoga, it's called japa), your parasympathetic nervous system steps in to help back you away from the cliff of stress. And who doesn't need a little calm, especially in the face of cooking Thanksgiving dinner?! Here's a trick: put the onions in a pot of boiling water for a minute, which will make the skins a lot easier to peel off. Leave most of the root in tact so the onions keep their shape (just shave off a sliver of the bottom with your paring knife to neaten them up).

Lay out your peeled pearl onions in a single layer in a sauté pan. Add a tablespoon of (unsalted) butter, a generous pinch of salt, and about a teaspoon of sugar. Fill the pan with enough water to come only half way up the sides of the onions.

You'll need to make a fancy contraption called a cartouche, or a parchment paper lid. The cartouche pushes the steam back into the onions, cooking them quickly and trapping in moisture. I swear we used a cartouche in every single class at the French Culinary Institute. It's an awesome little invention and I'll be sure to share other ways you can use it in your kitchen.

Fold a piece of parchment paper into quarters. Think of it like a little book and keep the "binding" to the left. The folded seams stay at the top. Fold the paper in half from the bottom to the top, and then repeat that fold two more times until you have what looks like a paper airplane.

Measure the circumference of your pan by placing the tip of your cartouche in the middle and then cutting the parchment where it touches the rim. Unfold your paper airplane et voilà, your very own cartouche! Très bien!

Snuggle your cartouche right on top of the onions and turn on your heat to medium-high. Allow the water to simmer down to almost nothing. The timing really depends on the size of your pan, but plan on checking in after about 10 minutes. If it's your first time, don't go too far. Stay on top of the situation. Stab an onion with the tip of your paring knife to make sure it's tender (and if it's not, just add a little more water and let it simmer a bit longer). 

Once you have about a tablespoon of water left, remove the cartouche.

As the water evaporates, the sugar will begin to caramelize and coat your pan in a lovely shade of brown. Get those onions to roll around in there so they don't stick. When things start getting really brown, add a little bit of water to the pan (like a teaspoon), give the pan a good shake, and you'll see the onions start to take on all of that delicious brown color. You can repeat this process—adding water, shaking the pan, coating the onions—until you get the color you're looking for. Any shade of brun tastes good, folks, so it's really up to you.

You can makes these in advance, store them in the fridge, and then just warm them through before dinner. This would be a great side dish to bring to someone's house. You could add some lardons in there for a salty kick to compliment the sweetness of the onions. I mean, lardons make everything taste ridiculous. Just have fun with the process; it's a great one to add to your cooking repertoire.

Ok, I'm off to make a pumpkin pie, set my Thanksgiving table, and hopefully share it all with you. If you don't hear from me it's because I got caught up in the moment. Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Love in the Aftermath

Jersey City waterfront preparing for Hurricane Sandy. 

In the wake of hurricane sandy, I find myself feeling simultaneously grateful and guilty for how lucky I was to have survived unscathed. Besides some flooding in our basement and 48 hours without electricity, the only victims in my life were the containers of stock and soup and other frozen memories from cooking school that I had to heave because of the power outage. During our brief stint in the dark I was able to shower at my sisters' place in Brooklyn, where my brother-in-law made us a hot spaghetti dinner. Our power came back on just in time for my birthday and I celebrated (both momentous events) by baking a brownie pudding and an apple tart.

Just three blocks away, the sidewalks are littered with the contents of peoples' homes—furniture, clothes, and personal effects—and the owners are wrapped up in coats and scarfs to try and stay warm in their beds at night. Hoboken suffered considerable water damage. The Jersey Shore was completely destroyed; Seaside Heights, Atlantic City, and on and on are on their knees. Staten Island is a war zone. Thousands of people are now homeless and my heart hurts so much I don't know what to do. As I write this post from the comforts of my home, with the Food Network buzzing in the background and a warm meal in my belly, I feel completely removed from the magnitude of this collective pain.

My street.

My yoga practice reminds me that distance is an illusion; we are all connected because we share in this experience of being human and in the painful truth that pain is part of life. Hiding from pain (dvesha) is an obstacle (klesha) because it prevents us from experiencing the totality of our existence. Like the current gas shortage, perhaps there is a fear that if we get too close to the suffering of others we risk losing our precious (and perceived) commodity of happiness. To roll up one's sleeves and voluntarily wade through the flood waters of someone else's life takes courage, plain and simple. Inaction feels like the safer option, but it only perpetuates separateness.

Aftermath at Liberty Landing Marina. They've made an amazing recovery in the past few days.

The yoga of action/service (karma yoga) asks us to open our hearts to those who are experiencing the kind of loss that many of us may never know but, through acts of love, can hope to understand. The easiest way to help is to reach out to your friends, family, and community. For those of us in the hard hit areas, we need only to step outside and ask neighbors "What can I do?" Paulus Hook has been an inspiring place to call home: restaurants are offering free food, coffee, and internet; friends are cooking meals and hosting impromptu block parties; folks are stopping one another in the street to offer a hot shower or a warm bed. (Check out ways you can help Jersey City or Hoboken.) On the other side of the Hudson, fellow NYC YogaWorks' teachers Jeanmarie Paolillo and Paula Liberis are leading a huge donation effort at the Upper Westside studio to deliver necessities to devastated areas. Their actions are so inspiring to me and I'm very proud to be their friend. "Whatever a great man does ordinary people will do; whatever standard he sets everyone will follow" (Bhagavad Gita). One of my girlfriends asked me to donate clothes/home goods/anything to someone she knows in NYC who lost all of her belongings when her apartment flooded. And that's just a tiny snapshot of my own personal network.

Those of you who are farther away, get in touch with those you know who live in Sandy's path to find out how you can make a difference. Financial donations do help. For everyone, near and far, here are just a few options and resources I've found to help you get started.

Occupy Sandy Relief - This is a fantastic online resource of relief/volunteer information in our area. You can sign up for texts or emails to stay informed. There's also a volunteer update page that tells you what's happening on the ground and how you can help. - An online community that allows neighborhoods to efficiently come together to help those in need. There are pages for Red Hook, Astoria, the Lower East Side, and Staten Island.

Red Cross - You can text REDCROSS to 90999 and instantly donate $10 to Disaster Relief. Or you can donate online. For other ways to make a financial donation, click here.

NYC Service - An amazing resource for up-to-date opportunities to help.

The Salvation Army - To make a monetary donation. There are also separate websites specific for NY and NJ.

The Humane Society - It's totally inconceivable to me that many people were rescued from their homes but were not allowed to take their pets. You can make a donation to help the Humane Society's efforts in recovering animals after the storm.

Benefit Yoga Classes - Many of the NYC/NJ studios are offering benefit classes to support relief efforts. Check your local studio.

"God is attained by all those who see God in every action." - Bhagavad Gita

Ellie, doing her part to help clean up.

I find this metta (loving kindness) meditation to be helpful during painful times when I feel powerless. Repeating this mantra, with my whole heart at the wheel, helps me connect to myself and others in a positive way.

May I be filled with loving kindness.
May I be well.
May I be peaceful and at ease.
May I be content.

May (________) be filled with loving kindness.
May (________) be well.
May (________) be peaceful and at ease.
May (________) be content.

For those of you feeling the effects of anxiety, hopelessness, and fear, here are some yoga practices that can help.

Prone Savasana - Lie down on your abdomen, place a rolled blanket or bolster under your ankles. Turn your head to one side (switching half-way though) and cover yourself with a blanket.

Restorative Yoga - Supporting your body with props allows your nervous system to relax. Sand bags/eye pillows are extremely helpful in easing anxiety.

Exhale-based Breathing - Lengthening your exhalations has a calming effect on your entire system.

Forward Bends - These postures are cooling and calming. Seated forward bends can be held with the help of bolsters and chairs (or, in my case, with the help of a golden retriever).

Restorative Upavistha Konasana.

This experience is giving us the opportunity to practice yoga when it matters most. Taking action to help others is a powerful form of yoga and one we can practice in both little and big ways, everyday. As we come together—neighbors and strangers—to seek solace and support in our respective communities, I hope we can all remember the power of union. May we all be flooded with gratitude, compassion, and love in the worst and best of times.