Category Archives: cooking

In Praise of Decency and Hard Work

In the United States, this long weekend is Labor Day Weekend, a time to honor those who, well, labor. In the United States, many people work extremely hard, and hats off to them for all that they do to keep this country running—the teachers, doctors, nurses, social workers, librarians, shop workers, volunteers, those who work at home, the caregivers. I could go on and on and have left many out.  For those at the very top who sponge so much out of society, I hope they appreciate the hard work that keeps them in place. (Snarky, I know, but appropriate for this time of widening inequality in the United States.)

Labor Day weekend is also a time when we bid a bittersweet farewell to summer. Yes, autumn is lovely, and there is much to look forward to, but barbecues and patio time are coming to an end.

Accordingly, we invited our friends Judy and Paul over for a barbecue on Saturday. Judy is a pie maker extraordinaire, and she brought over a raspberry pie for dessert. I nearly jumped for joy when I saw the pie because although I’m keen on all kinds of berries, raspberries are my favorite. As my 60th birthday is coming right up, I immediately proclaimed that this pie was a birthday pie. What then could Judy do but leave the leftovers with us? However, as she told me that she had two peach pies at home, I figured I was, in fact, doing Judy a favor by keeping the leftover raspberry pie. Or so I tell myself.

For the main meal we had potato salad made with sour cream and turkey bacon; chicken breasts marinated in a lemon, garlic, olive-oil  mixture and brushed with a mustard sauce; and corn drizzled with brown butter. Farewell, farewell sweet summer.

Over dinner, one of the topics that came up was the devastation wrought by Hurricane Harvey in Houston, Texas. So many stories of brave, selfless people helping each other without regard for income, skin color, or ethnicity. Pets were rescued, too, which I found particularly cheering.

For the past week, I had been thinking about the heroism in Texas and about how people really do pull together during catastrophes. Now, if we could just do the same thing when there isn’t a catastrophe, in everyday life.

I mentioned this to Paul and Judy.

“Everyday life is hard,” Judy said.

So it is. Most of us can rise to the occasion and be our better selves during a flood or an ice storm or a tornado. But when things settle down, self interest, pettiness, and even greed too often kick in. While we all need to take care of ourselves and our families, it is very easy to cross the line to selfishness, begrudging others what we think we should have as a matter of course. In short, we have trouble being consistently decent to each other.

Decency, a humble concept, is hard work, something that must be continually applied not only to other people but also to how we treat animals, the earth, the water, the air.

Somehow, thinking about hard work and decency seems appropriate for Labor Day Weekend.

 

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Ten a Day: A Winter Bean and Vegetable Soup

Lately, Clif and I have been talking about improving our diet. We are, ahem, at that age when the body needs all the help it can get. It’s not that we don’t eat well—we eat a fair amount of fruit and vegetables—but our diet is definitely heavy on the carb side. So, we decided to ramp up the vegetables and replace white bread and wraps with whole wheat.

On the weekend, we’ll allow our selves some treats. After all, this is a marathon, not a sprint.

How appropriate, then, to come across this in the Guardian: “Forget five a day, eat 10 portions of fruit and veg to cut risk of early death.” Basically, the gist of the piece is that we need to dismiss the advice to eat five servings of fruit and vegetables per day. Instead, we should be eating ten. Lest this sound too daunting, three tablespoons of peas count as one serving, as well as two spears of broccoli, and one half grapefruit. There is a chart in the piece outlining what ten a day would look like. (Oh, if only there were a similar requirement for chocolate!)

This advice is based on “[t]he analysis in the International Journal of Epidemiology [that] pooled the results from 95 different studies involving a total of approximately 2 million people.”

The studies indicate that eating “up to 800g of fruit and vegetables – equivalent to 10 portions and double the recommended amount in the UK – was associated with a 24% reduced risk of heart disease, a 33% reduced risk of stroke, a 28% reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, a 13% reduced risk of total cancer, and a 31% reduction in premature deaths.”

As always, further studies are needed to confirm the results, but how can you go wrong eating more fruit and veggies?

And, to round out the coincidences, a day or two before I read the article, I made a vegetable and bean soup that includes carrots, celery, cabbage, tomatoes, and black beans. I’m not sure if a big bowl would tick off five servings of veggies—beans count, too—but it must come pretty darned close.

This soup has other benefits as well. It is not expensive to make, even if you use organic ingredients, and everything can be tossed into a slow-cooker, where the soup will simmer away, filling the whole house with a delightful smell. Best of all, as my Yankee husband put it, the soup is pretty darned good.

A word of warning about the following recipe: As is my habit, I did not make this soup following a particular recipe. I just added ingredients as I saw fit. Soup is very forgiving this way. Therefore, much of what I’m suggesting will be guidelines. Feel free to experiment with the ingredients and the spices.

In the end, you will have wonderful, nutritious soup, and you will be well on your way to fulfilling your ten-a-day requirement of fruit and veggies.

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Bean and Vegetable Soup
Serves 8

Ingredients

  • Five or six cups of chopped vegetables. (I used cabbage, carrots, and celery.)
  • 2 (16 oz) cans of black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 (28 oz) can of fire roasted crushed tomatoes. (I used Muir Glen.)
  • 1 (1/2)  cans of water—using the can from the fire roasted tomatoes. Add more water if you want a thinner soup.
  • 1 pound of ground turkey
  • 1 tablespoon of chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon of cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon of coriander
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • Salt to taste

Directions

  1. Cook and brown the ground turkey in a large skillet.
  2. Put the cooked turkey in a slow-cooker.
  3. Add the rest of the ingredients.
  4. Cook on low for nine or ten hours; high for five or six hours.
  5. Enjoy and feel virtuous.

 

After the Snow

Yesterday, we got about eight inches of snow, and more is expected on Sunday and then again next week. It’s shaping up to be quite the snowy winter. Thank goodness for Little Green. Once upon a time, Clif, the girls, and I shoveled it all by hand. Those days are gone, gone, gone, especially since it is just two of us here at the little house in the big woods.

Cleaning up after a storm is a lot of work, but the snow does leave our yard and home looking like a winter wonderland.

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Our cozy home tucked in the snow!

 

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Ariel, the flying pig, is about to be buried.

 

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A frosted arrangement on the deck.

Today, I’ll be making apple pie, and our friends Cheryl and Denny will be coming over for an afternoon tea.

Nothing like pie on a cold winter’s day. (The one below is from another time.)

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Oh, Artichoke Dip!

Being a foodie, I love cuisines from many cultures, but one of my favorites is Mediterranean food.  To my way of thinking, basil, olive oil, and garlic form a holy trinity, and in my little herb garden, I am happy to report that my  basil that is growing very well. I also love sage, oregano, rosemary, lemons, feta, olives, and artichoke hearts. I get positively dreamy over the thought of going to Italy or southern France or Greece and eating the glorious food.

Therefore, when my friend Jill told me she was bringing artichoke dip for our Fourth of July gathering, I could have jumped for joy, if my creaky knees had allowed me to do so. I have never met an artichoke dip I haven’t adored. With spinach, with cream cheese, with crab—it’s all good.

However, Jill’s artichoke dip, made from a recipe given to her by her mother, is one of the best of I’ve ever had—smooth, creamy,  a little garlicky, with bits of chopped artichoke hearts. I could have some right now, and I will be making this dip to bring to an upcoming appetizer night we’ve been invited to.

Jill has graciously allowed me to post the recipe.  It can be served with carrots or other raw vegetables, crackers, or toasted pita bread brushed with olive oil. And on a warm summer’s night, as you are drinking wine and eating this dip, you can pretend you are in the Mediterranean, where the sky and the sea are bright blue and the food is oh so good.

Jill’s luscious artichoke dip next to Alice's beautiful salad.
Jill’s luscious artichoke dip next to Alice’s beautiful salad.

 

Hot Artichoke Dip

Servings: 16 servings, 2 Tbsp. each

1 can (14 oz.) artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
2/3 cup mayonnaise
1/3 cup sour cream
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 clove garlic, minced
1 dash hot sauce

Heat oven to 350°F.
Mix ingredients until blended.
Spread onto bottom of 1 quart oven-safe serving dish.
Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until lightly browned.
Serve with rye bread, pita chips, or fresh vegetables.

National Donut Day, In which Clif, Alice, and I Make Donuts

Today, this first Friday in June, is National Donut Day. Earlier this week I said to Clif, “Let’s make donuts in honor of National Donut Day. And let’s invite Alice. She’s going to be in town this Friday.”

“All right,” Clif answered blithely, knowing as well I did that it had been a long, long time since we had made donuts and that we might be just a teensy weensy bit rusty. But one of the things I especially love about Clif is that he is always up for a cooking adventure, especially when it involves his deep fryer.

Alice accepted the invitation, and the game was on.

Alice is one of those friends that everyone should have. We are very good buddies, and I have known her long enough so that if there was a disaster with donuts, it would be all right.  We would just laugh about it.

Since Alice planned to come over around 11:30, I decided we should have a little lunch first, so I put together a platter of homemade chicken salad, which we gobbled up.

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Then, it was on to donuts, and while it wasn’t exactly a disaster, we did have a few difficulties, the first being that I didn’t read the directions thoroughly. I dumped all the flour in the bowl at once, and this made it difficult for my little hand mixer to mix the dough properly. But the biggest kerfuffle was that the dough was too sticky for the donut cutters, and the dough stuck stubbornly inside the cutters.

Okay, more flour. Still too sticky. A little more flour. The donuts came out with a thump, but they were a weird shape.

Alice said, “My mother used to shake them into her hand.”

I tried doing this, and success!

“What was your mother’s name?” I asked Alice.

“Dorothy, but she liked to be called Dottie.”

“Thank you, Dottie,” I said, smiling and looking upward.

With a firmer dough and Dottie’s method, we were finally in donut-making business, with me cutting the donuts, Clif frying them, and Alice rolling them in sugar and cinnamon.

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When we were done, we had two fine plates of donuts, and we settled around the dining room table with coffee and tea to go with the donuts.

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When warm, the donuts were delicious. However, as they cooled, they became a little too crusty for my taste. When I mentioned this to Clif, he said that the next time we made donuts, he would not fry them as long.

This just goes to show that even with something as seemingly simple as donuts, practice is required to get them just right.

Over the next year, we’ll be making half-batches of donuts so that they will come out exactly the way we want. That way, when National Donut Day rolls around in 2017, Clif and I won’t be such a bumbling team.

 

First Grilled Bread of the Season

Last Saturday, our friends Beth and John and their cute little dog Bernie came over for lunch. The day was splendid, but unfortunately, the blackflies were out in force, and I had to wear a cap sprayed with insect repellent. There is something in my body chemistry that calls to those biting  blighters. Clif wore a cap, too, but fortunately, the blackflies left Beth and John alone.

Never mind! We spent most of the afternoon outside on the patio. Beth and John brought cheese and crackers, salad, and for dessert, cream-cheese toffee bars. As if that weren’t enough, they also brought a bouquet of flowers. Wow! Such generous guests.

Clif made his legendary grilled bread, the first of the season, and we ate every bit of it. I also made a potato salad, again, the first of the season, and Clif grilled some chicken. By the end, we were completely stuffed.

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But not too stuffed to talk about books, politics, and poverty. Clif and I are watching, for the first time, the excellent HBO series The Wire, and while at first glance, rural Maine seems very different from the ghettos of Baltimore, there are indeed similarities. This is especially true for Beth and John, who live in a small town that is afflicted by extreme poverty, lack of hope, and drug addiction, just as parts of Baltimore are.

“The worst is the lack of hope,” John said. “Young people in my town have nothing to look forward to. Most everything has closed, from the factories to the businesses around town.”

“Do old timers remember a better time, when the factories were booming?” I asked.

“Oh, yeah,” John said. “The town was very different then.”

I could write a whole post about the two Maines, the prosperous coastal communities and the impoverished inland towns where factories once thrived. I could write about how Maine, like too many other states, let communities sink, and as a result, caused an exodus of young people. (Maine has one of the oldest populations in the nation.) And maybe someday I will write about these things because Maine’s tale is the tale of this country, which, in turn, is driving the tone and the rhetoric of this political season.

As we talked and ate, the birds came to the feeders, and Beth took some pictures. Both Liam and Bernie begged for bits of chicken, and I slid them a few pieces. Moving away from the issues of poverty, we talked about cameras and funny Maine sayings. John, who grew up not far from the coast, had a wealth of mermaid sayings, none of which I had ever heard. Then there is my fishy favorite: “Numb as a hake.”

“Why are hakes considered numb?” John asked.

None of us knew, and the two dogs didn’t care. They just wanted more chicken to come their way, although no doubt, they would have nibbled on hake, however numb it was.

 

How I Learned to Roll Pie Dough

Yesterday, as I was rolling the dough for our quiche, Clif said, “You sure do know how to roll pie dough.”

I laughed. “And no wonder. I’ve rolled out dough for hundreds of pies.”

Not because our family eats so much pie—although we like pie as well as the next family—but instead because when I was a young woman, I worked in the bakery in one of the dining halls at Colby College in Waterville. Everything was made from scratch, including the pies, and we would spend entire afternoons rolling dough.

Fran York was the head baker, and she was the nicest boss I have ever had. Soft spoken and cheerful, Fran set a calm but hard-working tone, and there was never an ounce of drama in her bakery. She had that elusive quality that so many bosses don’t have—-in her own quiet way, she made us want to work as hard as we possibly could. But she never badgered, harangued, or scolded us. We just wanted to do our best for Fran.

She came in early and worked until 3:00 p.m., leaving us, her assistants, to finish the work we had started. On one particular day, it was pies.

“We need one hundred and fifty” Fran said. “But if you do seventy-five, that will be fine. We can roll out the rest tomorrow morning.”

Then she left, and there were two of us, one of whom was Fran’s mother. Unfortunately, I can’t remember her name, but she was a lively woman, a southerner, an extrovert—unlike Fran—and oh so fun to work with. “Son a’gun!” was one of her favorite sayings when something surprised her. Like Fran, she was a hard worker.

“What do you say?” she asked after Fran had left. “Let’s see if we can roll out all those pies by the time we leave.”

And so we began. The flour flew, the rolling pins thumped against the big work table, and pie after pie was made. Five, ten, twenty-five, fifty.

Fran’s mother sang, “Can she make a cherry pie, Billy boy, Billy boy? Can she make a cherry pie, charming Billy?”

We were, of course, making cherry pies, and I grinned as Fran’s mother sang.

We reached one hundred. “We’re almost there!” Fran’s mother cried.

More flour flew, and the thumping of the rolling pins grew louder. “One hundred and fifty,” came the triumphant call. “With plenty of time to clean up.”

My apron was covered with flour, and my face had a fair share, too. But I felt triumphant. We had exceeded Fran’s expectations.

The next day when I came in, Fran said, “My, you two did a good job yesterday. Look at all those pies ready to bake.”

I felt as though I had been given a prize—praise from Fran.

“Oh, we worked right along, didn’t we, Laurie?” said Fran’s mother.

We certainly did.

And forty years later, how did my one little quiche turn out?

“Pretty darned good,” my Yankee husband said.

Addendum: About all those cherry pies: I forget to mention that the pie filling and the dough were made ahead of time for us. All we had to do was roll. And, it took us hours. We were working the late shift, and we rolled until the end.

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