Tag Archives: foodie

meatless albondigas (i.e. vegetable soup)


Meatless Albondigas

It’s nothing against the meatballs, I just don’t tend to buy or cook meat. But I wanted to pursue the taste, sort of, of albondigas.

Another note – I didn’t put amounts as it depends on how much you’d like to make. I used 1 onion, carrot, celery, garlic clove, tomato, half a pepper, quarter cabbage, and one packet of tomato sauce with a half cup of rice. 

This is what I wound up creating: 


  • oil
  • white or brown onion
  • carrot
  • celery
  • garlic
  • oregano (Mexican, if you’ve got it)
  • salt
  • tomato
  • pepper
  • cabbage
  • green pepper
  • rice
  • tomato sauce


  1. Slice or chop all vegetable ingredients to the size you’d like. 
  2. Sauté onions in the oil until slightly browned. Add carrots, celery, garlic. Make sure it doesn’t burn. If you need to, add a bit of water. 
  3. Add salt, pepper, oregano
  4. Add tomato, pepper, cabbage
  5. Add water to almost cover veggies. 
  6. Add tomato sauce
  7. Add rice
  8. Bring to a boil, then simmer until rice is cooked (about 20 minutes). 
  9. Serve with a slice of lime. 

*If you like spicy, add a jalapeño or other chili when you are sautéing the vegetables. 

la finca altozano – a delight to the senses

TI0A6167One might think that, having grown up in a place that place would be known in all its intricacies, in all its nooks and crannies. One would be wrong. Though I grew up in Baja California, Mexico, as well as Southern California’s Orange County I am only just beginning to get to know this place that was planted in me at such an early age. And though I grew up traveling back and forth to my grandmother’s home in the small village of La Mision, now that her casa has become mi casa, I’ve decided its time to get to know this place whose accent is on my tongue, whose sights, smells, tastes and sounds instilled themselves within me at such a young age, but have lain dormant these decades since. It’s time to get to know this place I call home.


Not even an hour away from my spot at KM 62.5 along what is called the ‘free road’ or the ‘old road,’ depending on the age of the one you ask and whether or not they have been around long enough to remember the construction of the new (toll) road, is hidden gem that is beginning to gain widespread recognition – Baja’s Guadalupe Wine Valley. Some are comparing it to Napa or even Tuscany – and though it does not yet have the following of either of those two famous destinations, it most definitely has the creds, with over 50 wineries (up tenfold in just the past five years) and a number of boutique  B&B’s, organic farms, and gourmet restaurants where food is often served fresh from the garden surrounding it.


Yesterday’s adventure took me to the ‘pop-up restaurant’ (though it has since become a permanent, though seasonal fixture in the southeast corner of the valley not far from the newly opened Wine Museum and the well-known Laja Organic restaurant) known as Finca Altozano – one of the growing number of ‘campestre’ (literally means ‘country’ our ‘out in the country’) dining experiences making themselves known in the region.

There is only one way to describe this campestre experience – it was a delight to the senses.


Finca Altozano is about a mile off Mexico highway 3, down a dirt road, and with no signage off the main highway – a place for those who know what they are looking for, or who happen upon it as they meander down the valley’s many dusty back roads. It sits upon a small knoll (or hillock, as the word ‘altozano’ means), above the fields of grapes and of springtime weeds. As you enter under the archway of what looks like reclaimed urban decay and find a place in the grassy field that serves as parking lot, the expansive vista of the Guadalupe valley unfolds toward the east.

The dining area is open air, looking out on the valley, with a dozen or so sturdy wooden tables – some with long benches, others with chairs in the rustico style and still others – like ours which was clearly overflow for a larger than expected Sunday evening crowd – collapsible topped with a red and white checked tablecloth.

The kitchen is outdoor – thus the campestre – with an ‘asador’ (grill) alongside. Locally brewed beer (we tried the Guerra Coquetona – the flirty blond) is served in mason jars and wine (also, of course, local from the valley) comes by the bottle.

© erin dunigan 2013


The menu changes based on what is available and what is fresh. Chef Javier Plascencia who also owns Tijuana’s well-known Mission 19 made his way from the grill to the tables to greet guests and share in a bit of conversation.

Our group of 7 decided to order a number of items  and share – morrones asados en lena de olivo (grilled red peppers in olive oil with arugula and garlic), pulpo del pacifico a la brasa (octupus with soy, ginger, peanut and cilantro), tostados de ahi, chorizo y chistorra, and grilled Brussels sprouts that were to die for.


We shared a bottle of the local tempranillo Norte 32 made within miles of where we enjoyed its smokey notes – which may have been enhanced by the smoke of the asador as it grilled our entrees.

Though it is still early in the season – traditionally (meaning, the past year, as the campestre dining experience in the valley is not much older than that) visitors find their way to the valley in the warmer summer temperatures – the dining patio was at capacity even with the extra tables that had clearly been set up to accommodate these unexpected numbers.


As the music strolled through a variety of selections including Johnny Cash and more traditional mariachi music the light of the setting sun turned golden and then began to wane. The delicate wine glasses held only the remnants of that valley tempranillo. The subtle intensity of the fresh flavors lingered. The conversation between friends – newly made and long connected – rested gently. After a beautiful evening, it was time to wind back along the dirt road, nigh sky brilliant for lack of ambient light competing with the stars, and head back to La Mision.TI0A6208

all images  © erin dunigan 2013

recipe: bread soup


Last night, after watching what was another beautiful sunset (but no green flash, that I could see at least) I began to ponder, and ponder was what it was, what I might make for dinner. I happen to have a fridge full of interesting veggies at the moment – Brussels sprouts, leeks, fennel, cauliflower and eggplant, among them. I’m trying to use those things first that need to be eaten before they go bad, so I was sort of focusing on the eggplant and the fennel.

So, as I do when pondering what to make for dinner, and having a few ingredients in mind, I began to peruse my cookbooks. I recently got two new cookbooks from the River Cottage genre and came upon a nice one for a fennel rocket (arugula) pasta.

Having settled upon this, I began to get up, when another of my new favorite books about food (it is, sort of, a cookbook. But it is really more accurately a book celebrating the splendor of food) caught my eye. An Everlasting Meal by Tamar E Adler. It is a glorious celebration of food – and reads more like a memoir of meals than a cookbook. I recalled that in it she has a wonderful section on what to do with old bread (not what you typically expect of the average cookbook) and that I happened to have a Mexican/French baguette on the counter which I had been allowing to ‘age’ for just such a purpose.

So the fennel rocket pasta got moved to the back burner (metaphorically speaking) and the stale bread came to the forefront. Bread soup, that is.

So, here is my slightly modified recipe for ‘bread soup’ with a significant nod in the direction of An Everlasting Meal:

Easy, Frugal, and Delicious Bread Soup

1/4 cup olive oil
1 cup any combination of leeks, onions, celery, garlic (I used them all)
1/2 cup of parsley and rosemary
1/2 cup beer
1/2 cup white wine
1/2 cup dried mushrooms, rehydrated in boiling water (reserve water for use in broth)
4 cups (more or less) of stale breadBroth or other cooking liquid

Heat olive oil in a heavy bottomed pot. Add leeks, onions, garlic and celery. Saute until soft. Adler suggests adding salt to keep them from browning, which I did.

Meanwhile, rehydrate dried mushrooms – I had a variety, but use something flavorful – in a small bowl with boiling water.

Back to the soup. Add parsley  and rosemary. Stir, let wilt a bit. If anything begins to stick, pour in a bit of beer (I used Victoria, as that’s what I had) or wine.

Add stale bread. Adler says to remove the crusts. I didn’t, since on my Mexican/French baguette, removing the crusts would have removed much of the bread. Stir to coat the bread with the olive oil, onion, herby mixture.

Let it cook just a bit, then add your broth or other cooking liquid. Adler recommends saving pasta water, water that you use to boil veggies, or other ‘cooking liquid’ that one might, unthinkingly, throw out. I happened to have some pasta water which I used, as well as the re-hydrated mushroom water, and then some beer, white wine, and a bit more water (since I had no stock thawed) to make it so the liquid just covered over the bread mixture.

Let it simmer, covered, for 20-30 minutes. Serve, garnished with grated Parmesan cheese.


Recipe: glorious (but simple) sautéed mushrooms

I was given some mushrooms that we’re about to go ‘off’ so I decided to sauté them.

Normally I would use white onion, but happened to have a bunch of diced red onion (from vegetarian pozole two nights ago – recipe soon) so decoded to try that. Also normally would use beer, but had an (old) open bottle of white wine. Finally, I decided to try adding turmeric and cumin instead of my customary garlic. So, here you go:

Sliced white mushrooms
White wine (I used Sauvignon blanc)
Red onion, diced

Melt butter (to taste – I used about 1T for an almost full small tub of mushrooms.
Add sliced mushrooms.
Add diced red onion – about 1-2T
Once the butter begins to cook down, add a glug or two of wine.
Add spices – about two shakes of each, and a bit of salt.
Continue to sauté until the mushrooms soften.



noodle shop

There was something about the symmetry of this that caught my eye – I loved the lines and the colors. And the food was not bad either!

noodle shop
, Taipei
© 2012 erin dunigan

jabulani: pap and sheba

Are you around? I’ve made some traditional Zulu food and you’ve got to try it. 

It’s not exactly the kind of message you expect to get, living in Baja.

But with South African, Thai, and Spanish neighbors, in addition to the plentiful Mexicans and Americans, even in this small town it is not entirely out of the realm of the possible.

Turns out the ‘Zulu food’ is called Pap and Sheba. It’s ‘traditional’ food in South Africa–never something you’d go to a restaurant for, but something you’d eat at home, according to my host and impromptu cooking jefe, Ron.

He made it because his first foray into home gardening has gifted him with an abundance of tomatoes–tomatoes that were delicious in the sauce of the dish, called ‘Sheba.’

Pap, the ‘starch’ of the dish, is a corn meal substance, like a polenta, over which the Sheba–saucy with tomatoes, onions, garlic and spices to taste–is poured.

It was delicious.

So delicious, in fact, that I had to go home and try to make it myself. That same night. After eating an entire bowl full.

I too, have been gifted with a garden full of tomatoes, many of which I’ve sun-dried on the dashboard of my car (that will have to be another post) but with the cooler temps that have come in, sautéing them seemed to be a good option.

Though my attempt was not nearly as tasty as the real deal (taught to Ron by a lovely African woman named Violet) it is good enough to keep the leftovers and marks my first entrance into adding a South African flair to the cooking repertoire.

jubulani! (which, I learned, is a zulu word for ‘rejoice’)

t.v. dinner

I don’t have a tv. Sometimes that comes as a shock to people, or at least a surprise.

I do have a computer, but since I live in Mexico, things like abc.com or hulu or even Netflix are either severely restricted or not available without technological work arounds (such as a proxy server, to prove to the geeky reader that I do know that is an option).

I didn’t throw out the tv in some fit of anti-consumerist righteousness—in my grandmother’s house, where I live, there never was a tv. Granted, there was never electricity, or a phone, or wifi, and I’ve managed to adjust to the addition of those things quite easily, thank you.

Don’t get me wrong—I enjoy watching a tv show or two or four when visiting friends who do have one of those new fangled modern inventions. But what I realized, in a conversation not long ago, is that I don’t really miss it. In fact, the limited Netflix subscription that I am able to get here in Baja? I never use it. Never. I think I have watched one movie in the more than six months since I reactivated the subscription (one might ask why, then, do I keep the subscription and it would be an appropriate question, which, for now, I’m ignoring).

Not only do I not miss it, but I’m not sure how I would have time for it. Seriously.

Because what I also realized is that, when I post food photos of what I have made or am eating for dinner, I think that many people have the same reaction to that as I did to the tv—how in the world would I ever have time for that?

So, what I then realized, brilliant ponderer of life that I am, is that for me dinner is my tv. Like a tv dinner, but backwards.

Because, pretty much, from about 5 or 6 pm when I come inside from working out in the yard or doing whatever I have been doing for the afternoon, I begin the process of dinner that will basically take me the rest of the evening. This is most definitely not ‘fast food’ in any sense of the word, though it is not always complicated or even time consuming. Most often it is quite enjoyable.

By that point in the day I don’t feel like getting in the car (which I tend to only drive every few days in my Baja life) so I am left to figure out something for dinner with the ingredients that I happen to have on hand. When those ingredients do not immediately present themselves as a menu, I go searching in my many (hard copy) cookbooks based on a particular ingredient I might decide to use that night, such as a sweet potato, broccoli, swiss chard, lentils, etc. Sooner or later something presents itself, either from the cookbooks or from my good friend google, and I set about the dinner prep process.

Often, during this process, I listen to a podcast from On Being with Krista Tippett (amazing, and highly recommended) or an audio book by Richard Rohr, Rob Bell or some other current day theologian (I know, that is probably not going to compete head to head with Desperate Housewives) or I listen to the live stream of news from my Al Jazeera iPhone app—I especially love the weather report and the ‘sporting report’ which are more like lessons in geography and geopolitics than simply weather or sport. Occasionally I put on music. Sometimes, I go the entire evening, with no ‘sound’ at all, other than me talking to myself (should I admit that?) or the onions sizzling in the pan.  Some might consider that to be cavernously hollow. I find it peaceful.

More often than not,  I wind up actually sitting down to eat dinner somewhere around 7pm. I do, of course, have to photograph my food—sometimes I actually let it get cold while I am getting just the right shot of it. And yes, even if I don’t photograph it, I still need to ‘plate’ it in an aesthetically pleasing way—why not make it look beautiful, even if it is just for me?

What is perhaps ironic is that the actual process of eating, since I am a rather fast eater, takes only moments, after sometimes an hour of prep, and then, when the plate is empty, after dinner clean-up.

When I was a little girl and my grandmother was still alive, living in the house, I made the mistake of asking her, “Mama (pronounced Maam-ma, not momma), you don’t have a dishwasher—how do you do the dishes?” Let’s just say I found out. And I’m sure she continues to chuckle as, each night after dinner, I find out yet again, with  no machine to wash the dishes for me.  (The good news is that the water from the sink drains out into the yard, and is what keeps the bougainvillea and the volunteer cherry tomato climbing up it both in fairly vibrant bloom.)

By the time the dishes are done, and usually left out to dry—drying dishes seems like such a ‘make work’ task when they can dry perfectly fine on their own—it is somewhere around 8pm. Now, I realize, that for many people that might be ideal time to sit down and begin watching tv, especially since shows (that are not recorded on the dvr) are often starting then. However, by the time I am done with a day working on the computer, then working in the yard, then making dinner, by about 8pm, if I am honest, it is pretty much transition toward going to bed time. Granted, I don’t actually go to bed at 8—but there is absolutely no shame in 9.

What I am realizing is that for me, the process of selecting ingredients, cooking, eating, and cleaning is a form of ‘entertainment’ if you will. I love to consider what I might make with the ingredients I have available to me, fresh from the garden or from the monday market. It does not seem like an annoyance—it is more of an adventure. I love to think up ways to use everything, so that (ideally) nothing goes to waste. It is a challenge, not a chore. And it matters to me to display that meal in a beautiful way, that celebrates the food—it is not simply fuel to keep my body going, but, I hope, a delight to the senses—or at least good.

Okay, here’s the part where I’m going to get a bit self-righteous…be warned. I’m sorry. I don’t really like being self-righteous. Even though I am an ordained evangelist. Next thing you know I will be on the corner with a megaphone and a sign saying “cook dinner or burn forever!” Anyway, I digress….back to the self-righteous point…

My question is this….does it strike anyone else as interesting, odd or a bit of an issue that we, in our culture today, so often do not have the ‘time’ for eating real food? Food that’s actually made at home, not food that we have to buy as fast food or pre-made  ‘food’?

It seems that we make time for what we value, don’t we? It also seems to me that food is something to value, beyond simply filling ourselves up.

What if we were to see ‘food’ and its enjoyment as entertainment, or even as a way to relax and unwind from a busy day? What if cooking together or washing dishes together became a family activity (as my good friend Jen recently wrote about) instead of or at least alongside watching tv together?

I wonder, instead of having tv for dinner, what about having dinner for tv?