Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Dog Beach

My dog is my best friend. I love her in a crazy, borderline unhealthy, I wish I could take her everywhere, kind of way. Don't get me wrong, she doesn't sleep in my bed, she's not allowed on the furniture, she's totally trained and is never fed from the table. I don't spoil her, just with love. So, so much crazy love.

She's almost 11 now and her hips aren't what they used to be. Her thyroid isn't working like it used too and she has terrible arthritis. But here, on the beach, on any beach, you'd never know.
Here, she's a puppy...
...and a fetch machine...
..and a water beast...
...and a ball of salty, dirty boundless energy.
Here, she is the happiest. So here we come. As much as we can.
And it makes us happy too.
Because it's beautiful and she's beautiful and because we love her.
In that crazy, I want to take her everywhere, kind of way.

Sunday, January 2, 2011


I know it seems strange that I'm posting this now, what with all the dieting and New Year's resolutions upon us.
It's almost subversive of me isn't it? I mean how could I ruin your plans like this? I'll tell you how, because this is The Debauchery Auxiliary... and you wouldn't be here if you were looking for fitness advice. Plus, you need this recipe. Trust me, you do. If not for now, for later. Put it in your bag of tricks and bring it out when you need a sweet, nutty, crispy big gun. This is the greatest baklava recipe I've ever used. I grew up on this and can't eat any other kind without missing this a little. As a good Greek, I feel like everyone should be able to make the world's greatest baklava too. It's actually not that hard, it takes forever, but it's worth it. Happy Debaucherous New Year my friends. This is how much I love you...

Festival Baklava
Interpreted from The Greek Feast Santa Barbara Style published by Olympus Press

4 Cups Sugar
3 Cups Water
1/2 Cup Honey
2 Sticks Cinnamon
1 Medium Sized Orange Sliced
2 T Lemon Juice

1 1/2 Pounds Frozen Filo Dough (defrosted by leaving on counter in it's plastic over night)
1 1/2 Pounds of Melted Unsalted Butter (approximately, I often use less)
6 Cups of Chopped Walnuts
3 t Ground Cinnamon
1/8 t Ground Cloves
1/2 Cup Granulated Sugar
1/2 Cup Graham Cracker Crumbs

First prepare the syrup...
Add sugar, cinnamon sticks...
and water in a sauce pan.
When all the crystals are dissolved and the syrup is getting hot, add the orange slices.
Let the syrup come to a boil and get infused and viscus. If you have a candy thermometer it should read approximately 219 degrees. I don't use one, but I use the oranges as my gauge. When they appear candied and the syrup is somewhere between honey and maple syrup, it's done. Remove the oranges and let the syrup cool (I use the oranges and peels in other dishes). When the syrup is cool to the touch (warm is okay) add the lemon juice. Set aside and preheat the oven to 300 degrees.
Combine chopped walnuts, ground cinnamon, ground cloves, 1/2 cup sugar and graham cracker crumbs in a bowl.
Melt butter (I do it one stick at a time so I don't waste any).

Open defrosted filo dough and keep moist with a damp towel if needed. Set up your station by placing your filo dough, a large casserole dish, butter with a basting brush, and your nut mixture within reach.
Brush the bottom of the dish with butter. Layer one sheet of filo dough down (be careful it is delicate) brush butter the top of it. Repeat 7 times.
Cover the 7th buttered layer of filo with a layer of the nut mixture. Lay a sheet of filo on top brush with butter and repeat (7 layers of buttered filo, 1 layer of nuts) until the nut mixture is gone. I usually portion out about three or four nut layers in one dish of my baklava. Save 10 to 15 sheets of filo for the top. Work quickly and do not let the filo dry out.
When you are done, it will look like this. It's heavy.
Take a small, sharp, serrated knife and cut the baklava through in a diamond shape. Do this gingerly as the top layer of filo will try to pull up and away. Some recipes recommend that you don't cut through to the bottom but I always do. Spray or sprinkle the top of the filo with water to prevent burning.
Bake for about an hour and a half. You will know it is done because the top will be golden brown and the inside layers will be crispy, not soggy. It's not ready until the inside seems dry. Remove from oven and immediately pour half of the syrup on top of the hot pastry. It will slide into the cut marks, sizzle, bubble and smell amazing. Pour the rest on as you see fit. The filo will absorb most of the syrup but sometimes I put a little less on depending on my batch. I never let the syrup go over the top layer.
Let the baklava sit covered for 24 hours before serving.

Portion out baklava into cup cake papers as you use it, I often cut the diamonds in half, since the desert is so rich. This recipe makes about fifty servings and is perfect for big parties. Greeks serve this for every big occasion.
Here's to Debauchery!