When I heard that Emily had started a new food blog event to help raise awareness for the importance of early detection of breast cancer during the month of October, National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I felt it was vital for me to participate. Her event, called In the Pink, named after the color of the ribbons worn to show support for victims of this disease, encourages food bloggers to cook or bake something pink.
I felt inspired to go all out last night and attempted to create an entire meal of pink foods to help raise awareness for this cause. True, some of the dishes came out more purple than pink, but I like to think of magenta and fuchsia as shades of pink.
Here's my menu:
French breakfast radishes with butter, coarse sea salt and a baguette (ideally I would've used Hawaiian pink 'Alaea sea salt if I could have found it, and bright pink watermelon radishes would have been lovely too).
Salad of baby gem lettuces, pink Chioggia beets, Pt. Reyes blue cheese and toasted hazelnuts
Wine Harvester's Chicken: legs and thighs braised in red wine with Concord grapes and pink pickled onions served with polenta and spinach
Strawberry and rose gelato with chocolate cookies (I made the gelato from Marcella Hazan's simple recipe in her Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, reducing the sugar to my taste and adding a ¼ teaspoon of rose water, more or less, depending on the strength of the rose water and personal preferences).
What motivated me to go to such lengths was the story of my dear friend S.
S works with my wife, N, at a school in San Francisco. She is one of the school's unbelievably talented trio of music teachers.
A little over a year ago, S complained to deaf ears at Kaiser, the school's HMO, of all sorts of maladies. The doctors at Kaiser had come close to labeling poor S a hypochondriac, refused to run any tests, and told her to take several over-the-counter drugs.
Over the summer, S went home to Spain, where they have universal health care (you know, the kind of health care system the Bushies warn us won't work). Once in Madrid, S visited the doctor and discovered she had a fairly advanced case of breast cancer which had spread to other parts of her body, causing the various digestive and other pains she had experienced.
When we learned of her condition, I impulsively gave notice and then left my new job as sous chef of a recently opened restaurant of a prominent chef and travelled to Spain with N. We spent some time with S to comfort her during the beginning of her chemotherapy.
We also consider ourselves to have been blessed by discovering and falling in love with the beauty, joy and alegría of the Spanish people, culture and cuisine on our later travels to Sevilla, Córdoba, Granada and Barcelona.
After months of treatments, S is back in San Francisco doing what she loves best, sharing her passion for music through teaching children. Her cancer is under control for now and she returns over holidays to Spain for treatment. Her unbelievable strength and courage is an inspiration to us all.
Although I'm aware that S's frightening story sends a chill up the spine of every American who has been frustrated by our lousy health care bureaucracy, I still want to encourage everyone to visit your doctor regularly. Get your annual physical examination, including a mammogram.
As I see it, the lesson for us is twofold. First, vote the current administration of bastards out of office. Bye-bye Bush-Cheney-Schwarzenegger. Support candidates who will improve the quality and spiraling-out-of-control costs of our health care.
Second, confronted with doctors more concerned about cutting costs than curing cancer, yell a little louder. Be your own advocate. Don't take no for an answer.
Or, the third alternative is clear. Get out while you still can and move to a country, like Canada or Spain or just about any other sensibly enlightened industrialized nation in the free world, where there is better health care.
Until then, enjoy the recipe for the scrumptious chicken dish I made last night, sort of a Moorish coq au vin.
Wine Harvester's Chicken: Legs and Thighs Braised in Red Wine with Concord Grapes and Pickled Onions and Ginger
4 whole chicken legs (leg and thigh together)
2 T olive oil
1 red onion, cut into ½-inch pieces
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 c red wine, such as zinfandel or cabernet sauvignon
1½ c chicken stock
¼ c red wine vinegar
few sprigs thyme
2 broad strips orange peel
1 bay leaf
4 allspice berries
½ t black peppercorns
½ t coriander seeds
½ t Aleppo pepper (optional)
one small bunch Concord grapes
pickled red onions (recipe follows)
pickled ginger (recipe follows)
salt to taste
Season chicken legs generously with salt. Wrap and let sit in refrigerator overnight to cure, which will ensure a juicier and more flavorful final result.
The next day, preheat oven to 450˚F. Unwrap chicken legs and place skin-side down in a shallow casserole with 2-inch high sides that fits them snugly.
In a pan over medium-low heat, heat the olive oil in a pan and "sweat" the onions and garlic, meaning to cook the onions until translucent without adding color. Pour wine into pan, turn up heat and reduce down to 1½ cups of liquid. Add the chicken stock and vinegar and bring to a boil.
Pour hot stock over chicken legs to come up about half to three-quarters up the sides. Add the thyme, orange peel, bay leaf, allspice, peppercorns, coriander and Aleppo pepper to the casserole (I halved the recipe and my 2 chicken legs looked like this before going in the oven). Cover tightly with foil or lid and place in oven.
Cook in oven for 20 minutes, until liquid comes to a simmer. When bubbling like champagne, reduce heat to 325˚F and continue to cook for 40 minutes.
Remove lid or foil and turn legs skin-side up, at which point it will look like this. Cook uncovered for 15-20 more minutes until skin is crisp and golden brown.
Carefully remove legs from the braising juices. Pour the jus through a strainer into a small sauce pan (pot). Skim off the fat and reduce to a sauce consistency. Taste sauce for salt and acidity.
When ready to serve the chicken, add the grapes and the pickled red onions and ginger slices to the sauce and heat through. Taste sauce once again for acidity, adding more vinegar if necessary to balance the sweetness of the grapes.
Serve over polenta, cous-cous or rice with the sauce spooned over the chicken legs.
10-12 small cippolini red onions
½ c red wine vinegar
1½ c water
1-inch ginger, thinly sliced into rounds
5 allspice berries
10 black peppercorns
½ t coriander seeds
1 bay leaf
3 T sugar
1 T salt
Peel cippolini onions. Add to small pot with the rest of the ingredients. Bring to a simmer and simmer until crisp-tender, about 15 minutes. Allow to cool in the cooking liquid. When ready to serve, pull the small onions out of the liquid and quarter them. Pull the slices of ginger out, too.