Tuesday, May 31, 2011


Monday, with the battery freshly charged, I went to go fly. After all, if the problem is a slow leak to ground, then as long as the battery is charged enough to start, and the alternator is providing juice back into the system, the plane will fly fine - I just won't take her anywhere that shutting down for a while might lead to a problem.

That was the theory, anyway. The reality was that I pulled the starter, and I got the prop to turn over a little with an interesting grinding noise, before it stopped. This is not the battery - there's still plenty of juice in it. It's not a leak to ground, because that wouldn't keep the starter from going. I was wrong.

It's the starter. That horrid grinding sound before the prop stopped? Yeah, that's the gears not meshing. Thankfully, I didn't try long (about as long as it took to go Oh No That's Not Right). So today, tearing down the starter, and finding the problem starting from the engine back, while making sure the gears didn't leave any metal loose in the engine as they failed to mesh.

If it's the starter, which it likely is, I'm going to pull the engine, have the local engine shop modify it slightly to upgrade from 1941 technology to 1980's technology with a new Sky-Tec starter. They're smaller, much lighter, and far more reliable - so I won't have to deal with this again for many, many years.

And here's the part where I know God has an interesting sense of humor - modifying the engine, buying and installing the new starter, and reinstalling the engine on the airplane will cost... just a little more than the amount a friend just paid for my old radio, VOR head, and associated wiring. It'll be okay.

If you'll excuse me, I'll be out in the warm sunshine, working on my airplane, laughing about life and reminding myself that this happened before I was in the middle of nowhere over the Rockies, no one's shooting at me, and my husband loves me. All else can be handled easily.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Dead battery

Hopped in the airplane yesterday - well, climbed in after cleaning the windscreen, stop-drilling a crack in the cowl, applying NO STEP placards to the struts as a gentle reminder to any non-pilot passengers to come, checking the fuse seating, fueling, and zip-tying a loose bundle of wires back in place.

The battery had enough juice to try to crank, but after three blades, it ran out of power before the engine could catch. I didn't leave any switches on after the last flight. The ammeter has shown charging after every start-up, which means the newly rebuilt alternator is likely fine - the new battery should be good - so that leaves a leak to ground somewhere in the system.

I am not fond of electrical problems. V=ir , and after that it gets fuzzy. Well, I guess I get to learn now!

All full of frustration, unhappiness, rage at another setback, and despair, I had reached the point of laughing helplessly (rather than screaming) when I called my husband to let him know I'm just arbitrarily pushing the leave date back another two days, because I've never found electrical problems simple or easy to fix yet. My Calmer Half listened, then reminded me that he views this the same way I do - better now at the shop than in the dark, in the rain, with ten million moosquitos and no services. He calmly and firmly told me that he loves me, that I'm doing fine, that he looks forward to me coming home, but places no hurry-up on me getting there.

I adore that man beyond words. I know I'm highly strung; it's part of who I am - but he is so calming, so stable, so unstinting with his love and good humour, that he could make the worst day better. And, he's right, no one's shooting at me, so it's all a good day.

Funnily enough, my CFI is of a very similar mind - a few days ago, when contemplating a fuel tank that wasn't draining, he shrugged, and smiled broadly with nothing but genuine good humour. "It's not raining, it's warm, and there are no incoming mortars. Cheer up - it's a good day!"

It will be a good day. It is a good day. Instead of flying, I'll charge the battery today, and go on a motorcycle ride with a friend. The sun's out, no one's shooting at me, I have friends here who give me a nice bed to sleep in and a car to use, I'm in good health, and I'm going to go play!

Day is done

One of the first sights I remember is green grass under my feet, and a folding chair whose seat was roughly at my eye height. One of the first sounds I remember is the bugle, echoing through the graveyard, and the crack of the guns.

One of the standard beginner tunes for the trumpet is Taps, because it's all open C's, and teaches breathing and lip control to vary the notes. As soon as I played it, I knew I'd heard it before, knew that I should know this song, and that it wasn't quite right. My father would leave the house to not have to listen to me practice - and it drove me, haunted me, because I knew this song somehow to my bones, but didn't quite remember why.

Later, I learned all too well why I never could make it sound right on my trumpet, and why my father would leave the house, as the bugle and its echo came across another graveyard. I watched a folded flag be pressed gently into hands that had poured years of life into a son, only to have it poured out in defense of our land. Later, I'd learn the cost we pay in flesh and blood, in hopes and dreams, in fathers, daughters, sons, mothers, brothers, sisters, and friends.

To everyone who is serving and everyone who has served, you have my deep and grateful thanks.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Signed off

Today we did wheel landings at Palmer, which is a pretty reliable airport for crosswind. The wind was amusingly light, given we'd come just for that - but the windsock at the head of 16 didn't agree with the windsock at the tail end of 16. Combined with the bluff on downwind to base that fools a pilot into coming in high, and the inevitable burbles over the river and the treeline, it was a good thing that I had 6000 feet of runway available. Not that I used it all, but that I didn't feel much pressure or panic to either monkey with my landings or go around. So we worked on wheel landings, and when a wheel landing has gone too far wrong to be pulled off - but can still be converted into a 3-point landing.

In the middle of this practice, we stopped in at the FSS, and met the guy on duty. (They have flush toilets instead of running into the woods! The utter plush civilization of it all!) We tsill have local FAA employees at the Flight Service Stations in Alaska, and unlike the outsourced version in the lower 48, no matter what the patchy automated weather information may indicate, you can take the FSS briefer's weather predictions to the bank.

After we got back, my CFI signed my logbook with all due endorsements as safe to take off and fly this thing alone, anywhere and everywhere I want. I still scheduled another lesson with him, tomorrow at 1300, to polish the last few rough edges - I'm not happy with my wheel landings yet, and want a little more crosswind practice.

No pictures today - busy flying. Maybe tomorrow?

So I celebrated by scarfing down the last of the blueberries and yesterday's donuts, like any good airport scavenger, and then pitching in on power-washing the ramp. I've wanted to do that since the first time I knelt in the accumulated dirt and sand blown in from around the city - I may not be able to pull-start the motor, but I can run the hose for a while.

One of my favorite gunnies in the whole wide world stopped by, freshly retired and with the few day's worth of beard growth and ear-to-ear grin to prove it. Our planes were long-term projects together. It's awesome for us both to see each other's birds as finally flying, and congratulate each other. My big old brick of a radio, which I uninstalled months ago, will now find a new and happy home being used in his plane, making everyone happy in the deal. Yay!

Back in the Air

Sorted out the paperwork and finished some maintenance today, and got back up in the air. Went to Goose Bay, and worked on wheel landings. Note: I was not flying the plane at the time this picture was taken; I had the CFI set up and do a wheel landing first, so I could see the right sight picture to reference when I made my own landings.

There were a couple go-arounds; I default to going around after two bad bounces, and am also learning to feel the difference between skipping off the surface of an uneven gravel runway and an actual uncontrolled bounce from too little power or wrong control movement.

In general, life was good. I don't expect to get happy with my wheel landings in the next few hours, but I do expect to get functional and safe - finesse will come with practice.

In the meantime, for everyone who's ever whiled time away reading bumper stickers in traffic, here's yet more evidence that airplanes are viewed as trucks up here - meet one half of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang's cowl.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Stretching my wings

I had hoped and planned to go to a fly-in last weekend, but the test pilot's schedule filled up, the plane needed to go down for maintenance to tweak her rigging, and I didn't have enough time to feel comfortable and safe solo. So with heavy heart, I sent word that I wouldn't make it.

Then I found the new CFI, who had Sunday afternoon not only free, but free in a "my wife wants me out from underfoot" way that held no time constraints. So, he showed up as I was fueling the plane, and we went over the pre-arranged plan, the route, and the weight and balance with me. Off we went into the wild blue yonder...

It was great fun, with reindeer and moose sausages, potato chips, soda, and one awesome woman brought cookies and cupcakes. We even had the madatory kid and/or dog underfoot, in this case an eldery Chow who was pretty laid-back about the whole thing.

While the main goal of the flour bombing competition was to hit the tarp laid out on the gravel at the center of the run-up area before the runway proper, while the group gathered by a runway threshold panel with a drink cooler, the main rules we agreed on were
1.) Hit the surface of the earth.
2.) Don't hit the dog.
3.) Maintain at or above 150 AGL while dropping the flour bomb.

Note: this one was NOT mine.

We didn't win, (there are some guys who are really good at dropping things where they want it), and if my takeoff could have inspired a good round of ribbing for putting in more aileron than needed for the calm wind below the treeline, well, the good folks were kind enough to give me a pass. The long flight home was faster than we'd planned, as we picked up a tailwind, and we were having too much fun to be bored. A few rain showers impeded visibility - it may only have been 80 miles.

The airplane's down for a few days with paperwork, and mechanical problems - tweaking rigging, checking a rocker box cover that decided to leak oil, patching a few spots on the tailfeathers that may be old damage, or may be fresh damage from the gravel runways, converting temporary placards to permanent, and so on. It's been a good shake down.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Talk to me?

Went flying today in my own plane. Still need to work on adjusting the wash-out on the right wing and adjusting the brakes, but today I finally got the sight picture... mostly. Unfortunately, as we were on downwind at Lake Hood Strip, the radio (which we were having a little trouble with already, but I thought that was just me), decided to start giving all static and no transmission, then nothing at all.

What do you do when you can't talk to tower? First, you fly the airplane! Of all the things to fail on your airplane, the radio is the best, because you still have altitude, speed, and time. Don't panic just because you can't talk.

Second, stay predictable. If you were in a pattern, or headed somehwere, keep going. People who know where you were and what you were doing will know where you ought to be based on last report, and therefore try to avoid you based on what they expect you to do. So, we stayed on downwind, turned base, then turned final while trying to sort out the radio problem. However, if in the pattern at a towered airport, DO NOT LAND WITHOUT PERMISSION. Tower hadn't cleared us for landing or the option before the radio failed, so the intended wheel landing became a low pass, while the instructor checked the push to talk to see if the button was stuck.

Third, just because the radio failed doesn't mean we have to land immediately. We were at Lake Hood Strip, and the plane is based at Merrill. The instructor's truck was at Merrill. There's a radio shop within easy ambling distance of the tiedown - the best place to get the problem checked out and fixed. So we didn't seek permission to land - after the low pass, I climbed out. As we did, the CFI continued to work the problem. He changed frequency to ground, but couldn't raise them, or hear them. So we climbed above traffic pattern altitude, and headed for Merrill.

Now, while I do not encourage the use of cell phones in the air on a general principle - among other things, the FCC frowns on it, and more importantly, there is never a good time to be flying distracted, when the fecal material hits the rotating device, the pilot should use every available means of making the flight end safely. So as I climbed out, it would have been a great time for pilot not flying to get out the cell phone, if he had merrill tower's number, and call them. However, about the time we got the radio on an alternate power souce and verified it wasn't dead battery, the lower right panel of one of the tower's big windows lit up like a green LED flashlight pointed at you by a friend across the room. The controllers were on the ball, and on the light gun. Steady green means cleared to enter the pattern, and that was a warm and welcoming light.

We aggressively rocked the wings, flashing those big signal panels that the message was received and understood, and entered the pattern. On downwind, while I was still trying to trim this plane up and get her straight and level, my CFI was the first to spot a plane orbiting a nearby hospital, staying out of the pattern and waiting for us to land. As I turned base, I spotted another off my wing strut, casually circling the Muldoon overpass. And on final, we kept an eye on that tower, waiting. Would it be the red of wave-off, the flashing green of go around but keep trying, or the steady green of cleared to land?

Like a lit window of a friend's house after a long winter drive, the bright green light welcomed us home, and we rocked our wings like we'd spotted a friend waiting by baggage claim after a long flight. We landed carefully, gently, and pulled off the runway as we slowed down. Once the engine was back to idle, the instructor pulled out his cell phone, called tower, requested taxi clearance, and thanked them sincerely for their help.

Tomorrow: round three, with adjusted brakes, new radio, and a much better feel for the sight picture. I love my plane, and I'll learn to fly her well yet!

Test Flight

After the most thorough preflight I have ever seen, heard, or experienced, complete with a running commentary on what could go wrong with the airplane at that part, we went back to the break room, and combed carefully through the paperwork until every single item, every AD, every 337, every possible requirement and notice and notification and signature was double-checked and found satisfactory.

Among other things, this means my airplane has temporary (read: sharpie on tape) placards notinng the on-off positions of the auxilliary tanks, and no smoking allowed. It's not just dotting every i and crossing every t, it's dotting every j and crossing every f as well!

Six runs for parts & peices later, we called to taxi fourty feet and reposition for petrol. Not only must everything be done by the book, to the letter, it must encompass every possible interpretation of the book and the letter, and work to the most conservative definition, while watching for every possible way for it to go not-right or actively wrong.

I am completely at peace with this - an aircraft is most likely to have things go wrong, or discovered to be not-right, on her first flight. The more aware, thoughtful, and meticulous the test pilot is, the better.

On the other hand, trying to learn everything he was saying, doing, and thinking was like trying to drink from a firehose.

The brakes need work - not that Shinn brakes are good at the best of times, but these weren't good enough to hold the airplane from rolling forward at 1800 RPM runup. More adjustment needed. We took the longest runway, for enough room to abort a flight without brakes, or to abort if something else went wrong, or to have options if engine failed to develop full power, or failed on takeoff, or shortly after...

The engine purred. It was perfectly fine, and ran without a hitch. The right wing, though, was heavy - need to adjust the wash-out. He would not stall until we have the wings balanced, but otherwise I was busy writing numbers and observations as they rushed past. 14V at 2200 RPM, cylinder head temperatures, exact amount the ball was out of center on which side, angle of bank when corrected with rudder, degrees of travel, effectiveness of control...

When we came in on a long, gentle, slow landing, I realized that my little pre-WWII trainer is exactly like other pre-WWII aircraft, and some of the WWII aircraft she trained men to fly during the war... on taxi, takeoff, and especially on landing, you can't see over her nose. This may change with cushions, it may not - but it meant that he was on the ailerons, with me ghosting, I was on the rudders, and he was on the brakes while landing a tailwheel on a runway I couldn't see...

I was completely exhausted by only an hour's flight (and after-landing runup, and post-flying checks). Smoke was gently wafting off the charred and melted lump that used to be my brain - but the test pilot wasn't done yet. A quick drive across town, and he pulled up files with every checklist he has for my make of aircraft, modified to my particular aircraft, and printed them off. It's not the actual operating manual, or the operating limits, or weight and balance - it's far, far, far more detailed.

And now I need to go memorize it before we fly tomorrow morning.

Drinking from a firehose...

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Mulberry pie

I am sorry that I am leaving right as the mulberry trees are fruiting, the squash and tomatoes are blooming, and the potatoes are starting to put out new potatoes underground. Before I left, though, I did gather enough mulberries to make a pie.

Mulberry pie

1 batch Flaky Buttery Pie Crust


3-4 cups mulberries, rinsed & drained.
2/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup flour
1 teaspoon (tsp) lemon juice
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp cloves

For brushing the top of the pie:
1 Tablespoon milk
1 teaspoon sugar

First, make the pie dough. If you keep any butter stored in the freezer, it is even more awesome for making the dough, as it cuts in just right for really flaky crust. Divide it into two balls, roughly equal (it's fine to have a slightly larger peice, as the bottom crust is bigger than the top anyway), and keep in the fridge for at least half an hour. When you put the dough in the fridge, also put a cutting board in the freezer - glass and marble are best. The colder you keep though dough when working it, the better.

Preheat oven to 400 F
Pull glass cutting board out of freezer, dust with flour. Pull 1/2 dough recipe out of fridge. Dust rolling pin with flour, roll out dough.
Roll out pie's bottom crust - the first time it'll be hard to work with. Gather it back into a ball, then roll it out a second time for proper workability & flakiness. Yes, you can roll it thin enough to be translucent, and yes, it'll still be awesome.
Drape pie crust in pie pan, gently poke it to conform, and fold the edges to cover all the metal. If extra hangs over, great.
Mix filling ingredients in a bowl until all flour and sugar is wet and clinging to mulberries. Using spatula, pour & scrape into pie, then level off top of filling.
Roll out rest of pie dough. Drape over pie filling, pinch & crimp the edges with the bottom crust to seal.
Cut slits for venting steam in pie crust. If you're really creative and have leftover dough scraps, form them into decorative designs, and brush lightly with milk to glue onto the top crust.
Brush crust with milk, then sprinkle on sugar.
Bake for 40 minutes.
Turn off oven, pull pie out. let cool at least 10 minutes. (Sugar stays scalding hot a long time.)

Best served warm with ice cream.

Hopefully, with this motivation, the guys will pick and freeze some mulberries so I can make more pies when I get back. I want to experiment with mulberry-apple pie next!

Friday, May 13, 2011

When "Good Enough" Isn't.

I learned the hard way when rebuilding my plane that the perfect may be the enemy of the good, but "good enough for now" always meant I'd be going back and redoing the effort again later, to better standards.

I failed to apply this to my knee. I can walk, and I even climbed a relatively low and easy mountain twice, but I haven't really run. I don't play tennis, or go dancing, or scrambling to play keep-away with a dog or child. I haven't been climbing trees, or hiking regularly. And it shows - my hand-eye-foot coordination still isn't what it used to be.

I haven't done anything involving quick changes of speed and direction with my feet - no wonder they're not there on the rudder, and it took more time and practice to get them alive. If I want to have lively feet, I need to go ballroom dancing. Or at the least, go play tennis or basketball.

Also, for endurance in the plane, I need to go do more aerobics - and while I'm wheezing on the elliptical or treadmill, I need to be studying instead of zoned out to an MP3 player. This isn't for being in shape or so I know the material, but for practice on concentrating when exhausted - because no matter how tired I am, I am still responsible for being in control of the aircraft, and landing it safely.

You can coast in a lot of areas in life - but if you don't push to get that last 10% regularly, it's not going to be there when you need it. If a thing's worth doing, it's worth doing well, from exercise to flight planning to mopping a floor. So, even if I really feel like surfing the internet, I'm off to the gym with a copy of Stick and Rudder.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Density Altitude

My CFI delights in seeking out the roughest, hottest air with the most gusts and crosswind that I can just barely handle. The downside is that I don't feel I'm getting much better - the upside is that I actually am, because he's upping the conditions I must tackle with every flight. On the whole, I really like this approach, because I'd rather tackle these conditions in training than meet them for the first time on my own.

So, today was the midafternoon puffy-cloud thermal-rich lightly gusty afternoon heat day. I'm used to flying off an airport - Birchwood - where only a gun range separates it from an arm of the sea. Even the airport I'm at now, for all its distance from the ocean, is only 590 feet above the sea. However, let me introduce you to Mr. Heat and Mr. Humidity's third drinking buddy and partner in crime - Mr. Density Altitude. When the gang gets together, for a temperature of 91 degrees, a heat index of 105, and a density altitude of 2600 feet...

I drank a full bottle of water before the flight, and the amber overpressure light never lit. We left the window open to keep from being steamed alive in the cockpit, and the 80 knot wind in the pattern kept us feeling dry and almost comfortable until the instant we landed and the wind stopped. The airplane, underpowered to begin with, acted like she was overloaded and had failed to round up most of her engine's horses for power. Even when coming in to land, pulling power back as normal to the usual airspeed meant that she dropped like a stone, unable to sustain the usual lift in the thin, hot air.

After a handful of trips around the pattern, I ran another assessment of my status, and licked dry lips with a barely-moist tongue. "I think I only have one more landing left in me." The instructor agreed - but by the downwind leg I realized my mistake. The mental and physical fatigue from heat and dehydration does not increase at a linear rate - rather, it's the upswing of a quadratic equation. By final, I was fighting myself more than I was fighting the plane. I'm not proud of my last landing - it was great until I was one foot off the ground. Then, I reacted too slow, too late, to a wind gust, and ended up putting precisely the wrong control input in at the wrong time. The bounce, lo, it was mighty - fortunately, a last hit of adrenaline sped my reactions and I wrestled myself and the airplane safely back down to the runway.

When I walked into the FBO, Calmer Half took one look at me, another at my CFI, and like a blessing from heaven, pressed a cold can of soda upon each of us. After the first half of the can, I could think again - but I was not safe to drive home. We wearily debriefed, and scheduled for midafternoon tomorrow. Next up - wheel landings in this weather.

When I get to the Rockies, this I vow: morning and evening flights or not at all. Density altitude is bad enough starting close to sea level, and while my plane has more horsepower to weight than the Citabria, I have no desire to cook myself to insensibility while operating with less margin.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Citabria Training

If I hadn't learned how to be humble before, there's a Citabria 7ECA with MicroVG's that's teaching me now.

There's a world of difference between aiming a PA-12 with tundra tires, upgraded engine, powerflo exhaust, flaps, Atlee Dodge extended landing gear, and a whole bunch of other mods around the sky, and finessing an underpowered sleek little aerobatic aircraft onto and off the runway.

No matter how good I can make a Cessna look, or how I'm able to manage in a supercub, this airplane - if you're trimmed out and you lean forward, she'll descend. If you are the slightest bit fast, she'll float forever, and with the faintest breath of crosswind, she'll unstick her upwind wing. But she doesn't have the power to climb quickly away from those trees at the end of the strip - you have to keep her down in ground effect and build up speed.

Four hours in her, and I haven't managed a landing yet that I'm happy with. She's so responsive she seems twitchier than a squirrel on crack, and doesn't believe in being forgiving. Toes and fingertips, or I'm overcontrolling and she's darting about like a small tropical fish caught in a feeding frenzy. It's not the plane, it's me. She's a beauty, a fine thing, and as difficult and demanding as many a beautiful thing is - but if you want to maneuver in the sky like a swallow in an updraft, if you're pilot enough, she'll fly her heart out.

If I learn to fly this girl, my newly restored Taylorcraft (Should be doing the test flights this weekend!) ought to be a fine, easy, forgiving lady by comparison. (Except on speed. You give a T-crate an extra knot, and she'll show you just how much extra flying she can do in ground effect.)

You don't want to see any video of me in the Citabria - well, maybe you would, right there on "Pilot Bloopers! Best of youtube!" - but for anyone who's tried to master keeping the ball centered and the rudders alive, here's a short video of a guy getting into a T-6 for a flight. Be warned, as it contains guys teasing each other, there's fun made of his music choices and a few coarse words traded on the ground - but the in-cockpit video of the rudders, trim, gear, and instrument panel as he lands are awesome.

Terrible Texan: Think Toes & Fingertips

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Gone Flying

Can't come up with blogfodder better than recipes, as my brain is currently running between overfilled with info and exhausted. I'm trying to knock all the rust off from the last couple years of more building than flying, by learning to fly an acrobatic airplane.

In the sunny spaces between the bad weather, I'll be up in a Citabria, trying to relearn how to land safely and precisely every single time.

You all take care, now, y'hear?

Monday, May 2, 2011

Non-Fried Falafel

I didn't really plan for dinner to be meatless so much as I was trying to consolidate the chickpeas in one glass jar last night, and had too many to fit in. The obvious solution: put some in a bowl to soak overnight, and use 'em for dinner.

Baked Falafel

2 cups cooked garbanzo beans (chickpeas) - or one can, rinsed and drained
1/2 diced onion
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley, or 1-1/2 tablespoons dried parsley
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 Tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 egg, beaten
2 teaspoons olive oil

Cook soaked garbanzos and drain them(about an hour), or rinse and drain a can of 'em (about two minutes). Dump in food processor. Dice onion and garlic, saute with a little spray oil like Pam, or a little olive oil, then toss in food processor with the cumin, coriander, salt, and baking soda. Scrape into a bowl, add egg and flour, mix thoroughly.

Shape the mixture into patties, and let stand at least 5 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 400 degrees F, and line a cookie sheet with aluminum foil. Add a little olive oil to a pan - unless your patties and pan are big enough to all saute at once, ration the oil per batch. Heat on medium-high and saute the patties, about 2-3 minutes on a side. Put 'em on the cookie sheet, and when all are sauteed, stick the sheet in the oven for about 10 minutes, until the falafel is heated through.

Meanwhile, make the salad quickly. This is a template, not a precise direction, due to lack of cucumber and pitas for tzatziki and pita bread:

1/2 head lettuce, chopped or torn into bite sized pieces
2 carrots, sliced or shredded
6 green olives, sliced
1 rib celery, sliced
1 Tablespoon feta
1 teaspoon dill weed
1 teaspoon sesame seeds
3 Tablespoons plain yogurt

Mix in a bowl, serve with the piping hot falafel.

Serves 2-3, Takes about 20 minutes if using canned chickpeas. You might want to double the salad; we ran out.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Subtle Food

Nobody likes food that advertises itself as "nutritious", "low fat", "low carb", or "diet." Well, maybe with the exception of diet coke, but nobody who drinks that is fooled into actually thinking it's full of healthy goodness.

As the editors keep saying, Show, Don't Tell. So this one doesn't say anything about being healthy, and serves 3-4 people.

Moroccan Fish Tagine

1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
1 yellow onion, diced,
1 red bell pepper, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced (or diced)
2 tomatoes, diced
1-1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon paprika
3-4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 lb shrimp, or 1-1/4 lb white sea fish cut into 3/4 inch cubes
1 tin sliced mushrooms, drained
2 Tablespoons tahini (it does have other uses than hummus!)
1 Tablespoon lemon or orange zest
1 Tablespoon fresh-chopped parsley, or 1 teaspoon dried
1 Tablespoon fresh-chopped cilantro, or 1 teaspoon dried
1/2 teaspoon salt (if needed)

Serve with couscous or turmeric rice

Get out a large saucepan. I'm not kidding about large - look at all that stuff that's going to end up in the same pan, and pick your volume accordingly. Start dicing vegetables (and fish, if you're using that.) Contemplate your zest choices - if you only have dried parsley and cilantro, orange goes much better, but if you have fresh, then lemon complements the boldness of fresh-cut flavor better. Once you start cooking, this recipe takes about twenty minutes, so if you want rice, start the water before you start the main dish.

Anyway, that saucepan. Heat the olive oil, and saute the onion and bell pepper until soft but not browned, about 8 minutes on medium. Add the garlic and tomatoes and saute until the tomatoes are soft, about 3 minutes. Stir in the cumin and paprika, about another minute.

If you're serving with couscous, and you haven't already, now is the time to start the couscous.

Pour in the stock, and raise the heat to high. When it boils, add the meat and mushrooms. When it returns to a boil, turn the heat to low and simmer until the meat is thoroughly opaque. If you are using dried parsley and cilantro, add them while the meat cooks. Three-quarter inch cubes of fish should take about 3 minutes, shrimp about the same.

Stir in the tahini, zest, and fresh-cut parsley and cilantro. Take a quick taste test, and add the salt. (If you had low-sodium broth, you may need it. Regular broth is salty enough you probably won't.)

Grab bowls, add a cup of freshly cooked hot rice or couscous, and ladle in the tagine. Serve immediately.

With dried herbs, the flavors are all subtle; with fresh ones, they'll be a little brighter, but still subtle. And as you're is enjoying it, the fact that it's heart-healthy is so subtle it can be ignored entirely.