A THIS AND THAT KIND OF QUICHE

mise en placeYesterday, I decided to take a break from brooding about the past elections to check my refrigerator and see what food needed to be used before going bad. Among other things—we have a very big refrigerator—I found milk that was near its fresh date; a hunk of feta from Pineland Farms in New Gloucester, Maine; and a piece of organic cheddar. I also had broccoli, eggs, and tomato. Quite naturally, smooth, cheesy quiche came to mind, and if real men don’t eat quiche, then what fools these men be!

As a guideline, I used Craig Claiborne’s Quiche Lorraine recipe from an old New York Times cookbook, and this is what I did. I very lightly steamed 1 cup of broccoli and then chopped it. I also chopped one tomato, complete with skins and seeds, which my husband, Clif, and I don’t mind one bit. I crumbled ½ cup of feta, grated ½ cup of cheddar as well as ¼ cup of Parmesan. Finally, I minced one clove of garlic. I put all these ingredients into little bowls and lined them up so that I could feel mise en place.

Then, in a little mixing bowl I beat 1 egg, and blended it, along with 1/8 teaspoon of white pepper, into 1 cup of milk.

Next came the crust, which I whipped together. (While I was doing this, I preheated the oven to 450° F.) I rolled out the crust, put it into a 9-inch pie pan, and using a fork, I poked holes all around the raw crust. Into the oven it went for 5 minutes.

Add Egg mixtureAfter it came out, I put the chopped broccoli and tomato onto the slightly-baked crust. I sprinkled the chopped garlic on top of the vegetables. Next came the cheeses. And finally the egg mixture. Very, very carefully, I put the full pie pan into the oven and baked it at 450° F for 15 minutes. I turned down the oven to 350° F and baked it for another 25 minutes or so, until the top was nicely browned and the whole thing was set. A knife inserted half way between the center and the edge should come out fairly clean.

QuicheAnd what were the results of “a this and that kind of quiche”? Success, mostly. I must admit that the garlic tasted sharp and that Clif and I, in turn, tasted it all night. So here are some possibilities.

The garlic could be sautéed in a bit of oil, and the tomatoes and broccoli tossed in at the end so that they are all mixed up. This might take the edge off the garlic. It also might add more oil than necessary to the quiche, so only a small, small amount of oil should be used.

The clove of garlic could be dry roasted in a fry pan. To do this, take a small fry pan and heat over a medium heat. When the pan has warmed, put in a clove of garlic with the skin on. Then, watching constantly and shaking frequently, fry the garlic until a few brown spots appear on the skin. But watch carefully. The line between brown and burnt is very fine indeed. This process takes some of the “bite” out of garlic and gives it a more mellow taste. Once the clove has cooled, it can be minced.

Or, finally, and easiest, leave out the garlic. Between the broccoli and the feta (and the cheddar) there are plenty of strong tastes, and I plan on trying this quiche without garlic next time. Then maybe I’ll try it with the pan-fried garlic. Because despite the sharp taste of garlic, this was a quiche definitely worth making again. On purpose, even.

Ingredients recap:

For the pie dough:

1 cups of flour
1/2 teaspoon of salt
6 tablespoons of shortening
1/4 cup of cold water

Combine the flour with the salt. Cut in the shortening until the mixture is crumbly. Add the cold water and stir until the ingredients form a ball. Do not over mix or the dough will be tough.

For the quiche:

1 cup of broccoli, lightly steamed and chopped
1 tomato, chopped
½ cup of feta, crumbled
½ cup of grated cheddar
¼ cup of grated Parmesan
1 clove garlic, minced. (This could be optional. Or, if  you like things really strong, try a bit of onion.)
1 egg, slightly beaten
1 cup of milk (I used whole milk)
1/8 teaspoon of white pepper
Pastry for one-crust nine-inch pie

Using the methods described above, make and bake the quiche. Crusty French bread, a green salad, and some white wine would make a nice accompaniment. Hell, with enough white wine, the sting of the past election might not feel quite so bad.

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TAKING STOCK: PART TWO—OPENING THE HAND, OR THE LET THEM EAT BREAD PROJECT

BreadIn my last post, I wrote about the recent elections and how discouraged I felt by the results. The Far Right and the Tea Partiers made real inroads, especially in Maine, and this is a worry for progressives who believe that individual responsibility must be combined with societal responsibility. The two are twined, and to my way of thinking, it is impossible to have a decent society if they are separated. Yes, individuals should work hard and be thrifty and resourceful. But there are some things that are too much for individuals—roads, trains, schools, and health care come immediately to mind, but there are other items as well, which are for the common good and should be overseen by the government. (Other things, such as the sale of chocolate, shoes, and books should be left to businesses.)

Unfortunately, the common good doesn’t seem to be first and foremost in the minds of the Far Right/Tea Partiers. In the New York Review of Books, I read a piece about Rush Limbaugh, the Far Right’s de facto leader, and the piece clarified some of the motivations behind that group. There is no other way to put this—Limbaugh et al. seem to be older, affluent white people who are at the top and who want to stay there. They don’t want to share, and they see their authority and status threatened by uppity minorities and poor people. If society is too equal, then who will serve Limbaugh and Company? So they sneer and tear down and bully the public, making enough converts to influence opinion and elections.

What to do? As a member of society, I will, of course, continue to vote, supporting candidates whose views match mine. However, I know very well that as a “hobbit,” as someone who lacks power and money, my influence is small. This is not to downplay the importance of voting but rather to be realistic about my role in shaping politics.

Yet I need to do something to lift myself out of the doldrums the past election has put me in, and here is what I have decided to do: I will make bread, and I will give it away. I have even come up with a title—the Let Them Eat Bread project. (This is, of course, a twist on “Let them eat cake,” which Marie Antoinette supposedly said to her starving subjects. True or not, it represented the indifference those at the top felt for those at the bottom, and it seems to me we have a similar situation right now with the Far Right.)

This project has been brewing for quite a while. It’s taken me about a year to learn how to make decent bread, and one of the reasons I started making bread was so that occasionally I could give it away. But now it’s time to get serious, to give bread away on a more regular basis.

With bread being “the staff of life,” I am very much aware that giving it away is a symbolic act. However, we are a symbolic species, and this action of mine is meant both as a way to share with others and as a way to rebuke those who are not inclined to share. Opening the hand, so to speak, rather than clenching the fist. (And if we are going to survive as a species, we’d better damned well open our hands.)

Every project needs some guidelines, and keeping simplicity and flexibility in mind, here is what I have come up with:

  1. Starting on January 1, 2011, I will give at least one loaf of bread away every week. (I want to wait until radiation treatment stops.)
  2. If possible, I will give away more bread—2 maybe even 3 loaves a week. Since my mixer will only make enough dough for 2 loaves at a time, this is more time consuming than it sounds.
  3. It counts to give bread to family and friends.
  4. It counts to give bread as a thank you.
  5. However, I will never take money for the bread.
  6. As I get more into the habit of giving bread, I will branch out to acquaintances. In fact, I will try to branch out to conservatives. Just as with the Buddhist loving/kindness meditation, it will be good spiritual practice to include those who are not “kindred spirits.” They might not like my politics, but they’ll probably like my bread. (Who knows? Perhaps one day I’ll even be able to bring myself to give a loaf to Paul Lepage, our new “Tea Party” governor.)

And that’s it! It would be fun to come up with some kind of label to stick on the bags of bread. I’m not graphically inclined, but Clif is, and I’ll ask for his help.

Anyway, come the first of the year, let them eat bread!

TAKING STOCK: PART ONE—CLENCHING THE FIST

Stock Pot on stoveWhat a day Tuesday, November 2nd was! For progressive liberals (yes, that is what I am) it was very depressing, and there is no way to put a good spin on it. Nationwide, Democrats were trounced, and while they are far from perfect, the alternative is much worse.

Maine, unfortunately, followed the nation, and the new year will bring us a tea party-backed governor who, with a Republican controlled House and Senate, will be able to cause plenty of mischief. (Perhaps misery would be a better word.) For example, these are the same Republicans who decided, in their recent platform, that health care is not a right. It seems that only those lucky enough to afford insurance have the right to health care. And what about those who can’t afford it? Too bad for them. Better luck in the next life.

Now, I know this is supposed to be a blog about food and eating. Be patient. In the next post I’ll be getting around to food, and this post is relevent to what will follow. 

Since I’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer, health care is very much on my mind. The bill for the lumpectomy I had last month came to $15,000. That’s right. Fifteen thousand dollars for a relatively simple operation where I was in and out of the hospital in the same day. This charge doesn’t include any of my pre-op or post-op visits. It doesn’t include visits to the oncologist or the radiologist. It doesn’t include treatment. It was just for the operation.

I am one of the fortunate ones. My husband’s work provides excellent health insurance, and our out-of-pocket expenses have been minimal. Also, my husband’s contribution to this policy is affordable, much different from when he was self-employed, and we had to buy our own insurance directly from an insurance company. With that policy, the monthly premiums cost as much as our monthly mortgage payments, there was a high deductible, and only catastrophic illnesses were covered. Still, it was better than nothing. If my cancer had come then, even though we would have been in debt, we wouldn’t have lost our house paying for my treatment.

However, my thoughts keep coming back to those who aren’t covered through their work and who can’t afford to spend the equivalent of a monthly mortgage payment on health insurance. People have a right to health care, even if they are poor, and no Republican rhetoric can convince me otherwise. As far as I’m concerned, every human being on this planet has the right to health care as well as the right to have enough food, decent housing, clean water, and an education.

But here lies the problem: There are a lot of us, and our numbers keep growing. Unfortunately, Earth’s resources stay the same, and the more there are of us, the less there is to go around. With globalization thrown into the mix, jobs have become as scarce as resources.

I suspect many people haven’t really put the pieces together—that we live on a crowded, heated-up, polluted planet where corporations can easily move to countries with cheap labor. That the era of inexpensive oil has come to an end and thus a way of life that—let’s be honest—has been sweet. (At least for those living in rich countries.)

But I also suspect that deep down, most Americans know something is wrong, that the cost of living keeps going up, and there simply aren’t enough good jobs to go around. They might not be able to articulate exactly why this is so, but they know it all right, and it makes them feel insecure. And with this insecurity come fear and anger. (Author Sharon Astyk has written quite a lot about this.)

To put it bluntly, when people are afraid and angry, they often clench their hands into fists, both in their personal and political lives, and make bad decisions. Thus we get tea party candidates who win. In a way, I understand. When I think of the future, I am often afraid and angry. What in the world is going to happen to our species? Are we ever going to wise up and stop consuming so much, wasting so much, polluting so much?

So what can one middle-aged, non-affluent woman do in the face of widespread fear and anger amoung voters? The discouraging answer, aside from voting, is not much. But I have an idea, a scheme. It’s more than a bit gimmicky, but just thinking about doing it makes me feel better.

Stay tuned for Part II, where I outline my scheme.

BUYING CARROTS FROM DIG DEEP FARM: RECIPE FOR CREAMY CARROT SOUP WITH TARRAGON AND CUMIN

Dalziel Lewis of Dig Deep Farm

Last Saturday, my daughter Shannon and I were out and about. We went to a craft fair at Halldale High School, and after the fair we decided to have lunch at the snappy A1 Diner in Gardiner. We parked the car on the main street, and as we headed for the diner, we noticed a young woman had set up a farm stand on the sidewalk.

Naturally, Shannon and I stopped. We chatted with the young woman—Dalziel Lewis—and found out she was leasing land, growing vegetables, and selling them. She has called her enterprise Dig Deep Farm, and offers a CSA program.

“How are you doing?” I asked.

“Not too bad,” she answered. “But I have to have a part-time job.”

Yes, it is hard for local farmers to make ends meet. In the course of the conversation, I found out that Lewis doesn’t have health insurance, but she hastened to add she was thinking of purchasing some.

That would take care of any profits she might make from farming. Yet again I reflected what a help it would be for local farmers, for all small businesses, if this country had universal health care. While I personally am in favor of a single-payer system like Canada’s, there are other ways of providing universal health care, and, at this, point, any of them would be so much better than what we have now. (I am hoping that Obama’s plan will make a real difference when it finally kicks in.)

However, the day was too fine, and Lewis was too perky for us to brood long about health care. I bought five pounds of carrots—a mixture of yellow and orange—and I’ll soon be making a creamy carrot soup with tarragon and cumin.

Then, it was on to A1 Diner, where I had a BLT on wheat bread—thick and chewy—and a side order of hand-cut fries, crisp on the outside with the perfect amount of give on the inside. The best fries in the area, I think. (Sorry, Bolley’s!)

But best of all is the feeling of community at the diner—the friendliness of the staff, the friendliness of the customers, the view of the street from the booth. This diner not only has good food but a sense of place. Gardiner, like most of central Maine, might not be quaint, but it is certainly alive—a place where a young farmer can sell her vegetables and a place where a diner can eat and watch the comings and goings on the street.

Carrots

Creamy Carrot Soup with Tarragon and Cumin
Serves four

Oil
4 cups of chopped carrots (about six large carrots). Use a food processor, if you have one.
2 potatoes, diced
2 large cloves of garlic, chopped
I medium onion, chopped
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
1 teaspoon dried tarragon
1 teaspoon cumin
3 cups of water
Salt and pepper to taste

In a large soup pot, heat enough oil to barely cover the bottom. Add onion and garlic and cook for a couple of minutes, stirring pretty much constantly. Add the carrots and the potatoes and cook for three minutes, stirring frequently.  Add the water and spices, and simmer the vegetables until they are tender, about twenty to thirty minutes. Puree the soup in either a blender or a food processor. An immersion blender works well, too. With 3 cups of water, this is a very thick soup. If you prefer a thinner soup, then simply add more water. Season with salt and more pepper, if you wish.

A CHILI DREAM COME TRUE

ChiliAs some readers know, in August I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I had surgery in September, and my outlook is good—right now I am undergoing radiation treatment, but I will not need to have chemotherapy.

But for all of August and most of September, I was not what you would call “a good eater.” Not surprisingly, I was very nervous during that time, and it affected my appetite. All I wanted was bland food—plain chicken, plain fish, poached eggs on toast. Even the thought of anything spicy made me a little queasy.

The end of August, when I had an MRI, was my nadir. While the test is not painful, for someone like me, who is claustrophobic, it is a misery. For an hour or so after the test, I felt dizzy and disoriented, and I was shaken for the rest of the day. It just so happened that around the time of my MRI, I was reading Man & Time by J. B. Priestly, which is, as the title suggests, a book about the human concept of time. The night after my MRI, I read the section about precognition and dreams, and when I went to bed, I wondered what in the world I would dream about. Cancer? Death? Loved ones who have passed?

No, instead I dreamt I was making chili for my friends. Nice spicy chili in a rich tomato sauce. When I woke up, I felt refreshed and hopeful. It seemed that my unconscious was telling me something, that soon I’d be back to spicy eating, that maybe, even, I’d be all right. Right then and there I decided that after my surgery I would invite some of my friends over in the fall for a chili party. It would be a dream come true, so to speak.

Last Saturday was the day of the chili party, and what a day it was! My husband, Clif, and I each made a batch of chili. He likes it hot, and he made his using four Jalapeño peppers from Farmer Kev’s garden. I like mine not so hot and used hot pepper flakes instead. Both batches had sausage and ground beef as well as lots of black beans and kidney beans. In addition to cooking we cleaned, we moved furniture, and we brought out spare chairs.

talking at the partyOver twenty people came to the chili party in our little house in the big woods. And of course everyone brought something—more chili, salads, wine, desserts, corn bread, garlic bread, apples, pies, and cider. A real feast and a real celebration for me. I even made a little speech, recounting my dream and thanking everyone for coming to share this special day with me. And readers, I ate chili. My friend Kate Johnson’s chili—smooth, smoky, and full of white beans.

But one of the best parts of the day was the surprise concocted by my daughters Dee and Shannon. Dee lives in New York, and together the sisters conspired for Dee to come home, unbeknownst to me, for the chili party.

On the day of the party, Shannon called around noon and said, “We’re in Winthrop, just up the road from the house. You and Dad go into the kitchen. I have a surprise for you.”

“How mysterious!” I said, but naturally we did as she asked.

As Clif and I waited in the kitchen, Shannon and Mike came into the dining room followed by—ta da!—Dee.

“Wow!” I exclaimed, and Shannon later recounted how gratifying my reaction was.

cookies and pieIt truly was a surprise and a wonderful day. Chili with family and friends. A return to spicy eating. And a feeling of hope as I go forward with my treatment.

STOCKING UP

Lots of VegiesSince we live in a little house in the big woods, I can’t really have a proper vegetable garden. We bought this house many years before I got the urge to grow vegetables, and the time just hasn’t been right for us to move. (If we ever do move, then a house with a large sunny yard for gardening will be a priority.)

Thank goodness for vegetable stands, farmers’ markets, and orchards. Because of them, from July to December, I am able to buy a lot of local food. This year, before Stevenson’s Vegetable Stand on Route 202 in Winthrop closes on October 24th, I decided to stock up on crops that wouldn’t spoil quickly—squash, carrots, and potatoes. I also purchased a few things that I would need to use in the upcoming week, and also some sweet red peppers, which can be frozen if it looks as though they are starting to go.

Vegies and more VegiesWhen I got the vegetables home, I was struck by their beauty. My husband, Clif, and I arrayed them on a wicker chest in the spare bedroom, which also serves as a cold storage room if we keep the door closed.

As for next year, we are planning to buy a CSA share from Farmer Kev. We can’t decide whether we should start with a small share or go all out with a large one. But small or large, next summer much of what we eat will be coming from Farmer Kev’s garden.

In the meantime we’ll have carrot soup, and squash soup, muffins, and pies. Recipes will follow.

FROM THE CHEAP THRILLS DEPARTMENT: USING WHAT YOU HAVE

Soup BowlA day or two ago, my husband, Clif, and I were heating some soup for lunch, and we discovered that the cracker jar was pretty much empty. Clif is of the opinion that soup without crackers is not worth eating, but we had some choices. We could drive to Hannaford, which admittedly is only a couple of miles away, and we could buy a box of crackers. We could also bike to the grocery store. Or we could rummage through our cupboards and take stock of what we already had. We chose the last option and found a half stack of stale saltines as well as some stale oyster crackers.

Clif said, “Let’s do what my parents always did with stale crackers. Spread them on a cookie sheet and bake them in a 350 oven until the crackers are brown.”

This we did, and the crackers were pretty tasty. In fact, I liked them better that way. Baked and browned, they were very crispy and had a toasted flavor. So, chalk one up for Clif’s Yankee parents, a frugal couple who didn’t believe in wasting things.

My Franco-American parents were that way, too. I suppose it had something to do with growing up poor in Maine. From an early age, they learned to take good care of the things they had and to use what was on hand whenever possible. (They were also very generous, thus proving that frugality and generosity are not mutually exclusive.) My father was also a scrounge extraordinaire, and he passed on his love of scrounging to me.

Regrettably, I did not inherit my father’s knack for being handy. I am about as handy as our dog, Liam, and if we were both stranded on a desert isle, I don’t know how long we would last. Luckily, I married a man who is handy, but he has the unfortunate habit of whining whenever I come up with an idea for a project.

Pin HolderOn the same day that we roasted the crackers, I told him that the time had come for him to make me a new container for the clothespins. The old bag was so torn that it wouldn’t be long before it would rip from its hanger and spill the clothespins on the ground. I had tried patching the bag with duct tape, a Mainer’s first line of defense when things fall apart, but that bag had defied duct tape and had continued to rip. We needed to proceed to Plan B.

I spied an empty laundry detergent jug and said to Clif, “If the top were cut off, two little holes could be punched in the side, and we could recycle the metal hanger from the old clothespin bag. Then, voilà, we would have a new clothespin container made from things we have on hand.” I handed him the jug and the old clothespin bag.

“Why does it always have to be me?” he whined, true to form.

“Here’s how it works,” I briskly reminded him. “I’m the idea person. You’re the handy one. You should be proud that you have these skills. You would not die if you were stranded on a desert isle.”

“Right,” he muttered, but he took the jug and the old clothespin hanger and made me a new container. Total time for this project? Ten minutes, max.

To say that I was thrilled with the results is an understatement. I was so pleased with the way the container turned out that I had Clif take a picture of it hanging on our line. Now, even though we are family with a modest income, we could have sprung for a new clothespin bag, just as we could have driven to Hannaford for another box of crackers.

But that was not the point. With both the crackers and the clothespin container, we used what we had on hand, and it gave me a great feeling to have done so. No new resources were required, yet we had what we needed in the end.

And the colorful afghan hanging next to our nifty new clothespin container? Made for me by my grandmother many years ago, when I was a teenager. Over and over, it has been washed and used, but this sturdy afghan looks nearly as good as it did when my grandmother gave it to me. My kind of afghan.

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