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Our life can be marked by our losses, which often can be more defining than the days that take our breath away. A loss in life is like running smack into a brick wall, after which you shake off the tweeting birds floating around your head and look around at what’s landed in your path. There is no more going forward as you have been; it’s time to look to either side and determine which is the next best step, choosing your new direction, heading off into the unknown. But sometimes those brick walls of life stop us cold. We had no idea it was coming and it’s frozen us in time, unable to shift our direction and find the new normal. We sit in front of it and stare, uncomprehending this change that we don’t want, and didn’t ask for.

I’ve had times like that. Bad times that have stopped me senseless. I lost my sister in 1991, my Mom in 1994. Both times it was so numbing that I simply sat down, right where I was, and hardly budged. I got stuck a lot in those days, and held big-time pity parties for myself complete with isolation, junk food binges, too much alcohol, or worse, something stronger. I lost a lot of time that I’ll never get back.


This loss was much different, as I had seen it coming for some time. But it didn’t hurt any less. Even with Mike and Griffin right there with me in the Vet’s office, as I held Harmon and felt him slip into an eternal sleep, it was the loneliest feeling I think I have ever known. The past 17 years flashed through my head; every little thing about him that endeared him to me, from the first glimpse of his face to his final day. He was such a part of me that I can’t even imagine how long it will take to stop looking around the house for him. Seventeen years is a very long time. Griffin has never known his life without this big orange cat. I can’t remember much about mine before he came along.

But we move on. We have no choice. And in the days following our loss, I was overcome with urges to eat foods I hadn’t touched in years. The need to cover the pain became very real, and yet none of my old coping mechanisms were still in place and I had to just let the pain seep out of me. It gripped me so hard that it left me physically gasping for air. I had no appetite, but ate mechanically. Nothing had any taste. I wept often, and uncontrollably. I craved fried foods, greasy burgers, heavy pizza, drinks with funny names, being prone under a pile of blankets and more isolation than is humanly wise. I was staring at yet another brick wall and the only thing I knew how to do with pain like this was collapse and disappear from life again.

This is now, however, the kinder and gentler Kate, and after the first acute and tenderly painful days, I realized that I did want food, and was pleased that I wanted good food. And the first dish that I took out and set before my grief was my most favorite Lentils and Farro with Caramelized Leeks. The attention to slowly caramelizing the leeks seemed to almost take my mind off the fact that there was no eager golden-hued face at my feet, weaving in and out of my legs as I stood at the stove. Then copious amounts of this white bean and roasted garlic spread not only had me set for life against vampires, but provided heady aromatic and tasty relief (that photo above should give you some clue as to how critical roasted garlic is in my kitchen). There were more roasted vegetables, despite the warm end to March in Minnesota, a succulent grilled pork tenderloin that I buried under a thick mustard glaze, salads crunchy enough to fill the echo within my heart.


And I baked, because what could soothe one more than homemade scones? Lacking fresh fruit for a Sunday morning treat before a necessary and pleasantly grueling 3.5 mile hike, I gently blended thick fruit preserves with the liquid in my favorite scone recipe, and came up with a delightfully light and flavorful round, studded with chopped pecans and warmly comforting to my tummy. Another batch of Orange-Cardamom Scones sent me skyrocketing into sheer happiness, lush with the crisp citrus scent. The secret to these, I am 100% certain, is the citrus-infused turbinado sugar that filled the interior and decked out the tops. With the crunchy sugar and fresh zest, really, can it go wrong?

And Brownies. Let’s just say that in everyone’s coping arsenal should be a good solid recipe for a Brownie that will calm even the worst of one’s inner storms. Fudgey or cakey, I’m OK with either because where good chocolate therapy is concerned, I’m always a willing participant.

There was also Spring Break with my Teen that included him getting contacts, and or course, the golden sunshine that tickled and warmed our faces as March bid us farewell. I busied myself cleaning up last year’s detritus in the garden, and marveled that I was sweating on the last day of a typically snowy and cold month. I took a very long bike ride. And I cooked more soothing foods. I’m exploring some terrific options for the weeks ahead, in April, the month where Spring explodes over our part of the Earth. I don’t want to miss out on that, or anything else coming my way these days. There’s no more hiding. Not for this girl.

And Easter Sunday I feel, is an appropriate time for a new beginning, wouldn’t you agree??

Orange Cardamom Scones
adapted heavily from Tyler Florence’s Real Kitchen

2-1/2 c. AP flour
1 T. baking powder
1/2 t. sea salt
2 T. sugar
1 T. orange zest
1/2 t. ground cardamon
5 T. cold unsalted butter, cut into chunks
1/2 c. fresh squeezed orange juice
1/2 c. buttermilk

Preheat oven to 400°. Line a baking tray with parchment.

Combine flour, baking powder, sugar, cardamom and salt. Blend together juice, zest and buttermilk, add to dry ingredients and mix gently with a fork until all flour is incorporated. Careful not to overmix.

Gently scoop individual portions onto cookie sheet. You should get about 8 scones. Bake until slightly browned on top, about 15-18 minutes.

For the Citrus Sugar that I sprinkled on top- Zest one orange and mix the zest with half a cup of turbinado sugar. Place in blender and mix until fully combined. Scrape into container and keep refrigerated. Use regular sugar if you have no turbinado. Sprinkle over tops of scones before baking.

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Whew….that one’s out of the way. I didn’t sweat this Thanksgiving, I just did a traditional take on an age-old meal. And I loved the smiles all around the table, the deep sighs of contentment, the numerous trips back to the bowls of food. Like I told my sibs…” I didn’t make a lot of different food, I just made a lot of food.” Even with them toting home care packages with glistening pieces of turkey and perfect wedges of pumpkin pie, my fridge is still loaded. That makes me ultra-happy. Today, I can relish the quiet and not think about meal planning. It’s a perfect day for my post-Thanksgiving indulgence.

That’s right. I make a mountain of stuffing with the sole purpose of having plenty on hand to eat cold, straight from the bowl. Tell me I am not the lone oddity about this. Another delicious and gratifying treat with leftovers? Good bread, toasted and topped with slices of brie, a smear of cranberry relish and some pecans. Warm or cold, it’s delightful.

And speaking of cold…..

We’ve had snow already in Minnesota, thick on the gold leaves of early October and wholly unwelcome at the beginning of our beautiful Autumn. To wake up to this dusting was not such a surprise, but it seemed far more acceptable running after the heels of Thanksgiving, pushing November off the calendar. Even a light snowfall looks far more natural when viewed among the bare and spidery (almost) December landscape.

What else can be accomplished on a post Thanksgiving Sunday? Griffin will be certain to plop on the sofa with the NFL. I may be powerless to join him in my lethargy. A good cardio pumping hike might be best though, before succumbing to a languid Sunday afternoon. I’ll be thinking of leftover magic too. What are some of your favorite ‘second meal’ options when faced with the remains of your turkey, stuffing and potatoes? I like to make potato cakes. Form a handful of cold mashed potato into a cake and dredge them in seasoned flour. Heat butter in a small skillet and cook the potato cake until a brown crunchy crust has formed on one side, then carefully flip it over and brown the other side. It’s so not healthy but it fills your tummy in a comforting and warm way, kind of like I feel when my big brother embraces me. With a poached egg on top, it’s a breakfast of late November, and like a brotherly familial greeting, perfect in every way. I like chopped turkey and apples together, the sweet crunch against the mellow meat, maybe a bit of dijon mustard mixed in with some nuts for a good salty crunch. We’ve already established that I can pick handfuls of stuffing out of the bowl until I sigh deeply in my satiety. There likely will be soup, probably tomorrow. And even though I saw plenty of second helpings for my perfectly roasted carrots, I did notice there was a small container of those remaining as well. The bread box is stuffed too. I am a happy, albeit tired gal.

Now we can gaze down the month of December, with the flip of the calendar page and look ahead to Christmas. There’s a cookie exchange looming ever closer -a week!!!- and I have yet to even make up my mind about my offering, much less bake 8 dozen pieces to pass out. There’s the requisite party or two. With wine. A tree must be hunted down, brought home and lovingly adorned with a lifetime of memories. Then I’ll have to sit by it and deeply inhale it’s piney, Christmas-making scent, in the dark with the lights twinkling. The cats will be intrigued and probably knock a few ornaments off of it. We’ll see more and more houses lit up in the spirit of the season. I’ll have to plan another meal with my family. With both families. I’ll miss my mom like crazy and play the Christmas CD that often makes me cry. I’ll send out a Christmas card. And like every year, I’ll be glad when it’s over and life can settle down to some pattern of normalcy, whatever that may be. There’ll be lots of paths to explore.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I hear a bowl of stuffing calling my name.

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I’m finding more and more, and sometimes quite rapidly, that what brings me the most pleasure in life is really quite simple.

Whether it’s a shock of color discovered on my daily walk, or the foods that pass through my life, I’ve learned, with some astonishing insight, that often the greatest pleasures we can embrace are found in the tiniest of places and means.

There’s a lot of fodder in the blog world, at least in the North American contingent, regarding preparations for Thanksgiving. I’ve been skipping a lot of these posts, and not because I’m not interested, but mostly because it seems that there is a huge amount of anxiety involved in putting this meal together and making it perfect and I just can’t read about it. Where has all that come from?Somehow, some standard has been ridiculously raised and everyone is straining to jump to new heights, to take a day set aside for gratitude and thanks and make it perfect, flawless and exacting. Mark Bittman even talks about it, and gives a timely and very wise message to cooks everywhere. ‘Just Chill’ he says. He nails this one.

I used to be that way, that awful anxious and stressed person, endlessly making lists, sweating through details and cringing if foods came out less than perfect, and I am really thankful that it’s quietly slipped out of my life. Making my way through life is often all I need for producing an inordinate amount of anxiety, and when I step in my kitchen, I don’t want to be in a position to add anything to that. My kitchen should relax me and strip the rest of the world away. It’s in there that love should surpass most anything else.

These days I’m pretty thankful for that love, in any form it takes. There’s my family, a terrific husband and a pretty amazing teenager, and I’ve got my sibs who provide yet another constant. There are my amazing friends who can both hold a mirror up to me with exceptional grace and then catch me when I see what’s in it. And there’s my huge extended family on Mike’s side that fills me to overflowing. When I think about all of that, I could be reduced to tears from the gratitude I feel.

And my family, well all they really want is to come together and dwell in that love. They aren’t here on Thanksgiving for a feast beyond all belief. They don’t want to be “WOW”ed by the food, in fact, they react often with disappointment when I wander off the playing field and start tossing experimental ideas in the air. The playbook of their holidays is tattered at the edges from overuse. But it has a worn and familiar feel that they need. When they walk into my house, it’s more about who stares back at them from across the flickering candles. It’s about returning to better times in our lives when we had no idea what it was like to be a grown-up. Now I can take those tastes, the ones that stem from years of tradition, and I can make them better and more modern and they look to me for that. But they also just want their mashed potatoes, their gravy with some lumps and a pan of stuffing that they can attack and conquer. They know that I can make it all delicious, so all they really have to think about is whether or not they should refill their wine glass, which game comes out next, or the remembrance of some far distant holiday memory that still brings peals of laughter even when told for the hundredth, no, thousandth time. What’s on their plates is important, but it never has to be perfect. The setting, the faces and the laughter is perfect enough.

And I’m so very thankful for that. This past year has been challenging in so many ways, and the one comfort I’ve derived through this madness that is my life is what happens when the stove comes on and my hands become busy. I pour it all into my food, so my food can give it all back to me; the comfort, the solace and the firm realization of good that I find in my meals. But the simple truth is, I could share a takeout pizza with my guys at home on any given night and as long as I’m staring at their faces, what’s on my plate is irrelevant. Mike’s serious back injury this past May was a huge perspective shift. And Mike and Griffin, my whole world, were both in the car when it was totaled in July. Then, in September, my beloved Harmon was diagnosed with cancer. Holidays always bring about emotions that rise and fall every year: I lost a sister almost 18 years ago. My mother died unexpectedly 15 years back. The holes in my family portrait are acute and tender, and that is never going away. Between now and the end of the year, I feel those losses deeply. And it makes me that much more thankful for everyone who still sits down at my table, who asks for pumpkin pie, who loves the crunchy edges of the stuffing almost as much as I do, who cares little for something extraneous or unusual. Perfection is impossible, and family is forever. I know which one is so much more important.

My hope for everyone is that somewhere in the chaos of your family traditions and meals that you stop to embrace what you have, the faces that smile at you and take the time to appreciate them deeply. Be very thankful for the food on your table, whatever form it takes,  as we celebrate through some very tough times. Please remember that not everyone is as fortunate as you may be. Show gratitude. Speak tenderly. And have a wonderful, feast-ful, delicious and tantalizing Thanksgiving, from my house to yours.

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julia child book

I was more than thrilled to be contacted by Penguin Publishers asking if I wished to receive a copy of Laura Shapiro’s bio of Julia Child to review. I love the perks of food blogging!

Just a caveat: I am probably one of the minority of the food blogging world who hasn’t jumped all over Julie and Julia: The Movie. Every review I read about the movie labeled it as mediocre, and only half worth seeing. Truthfully? I hated the book, finding Julie Powell to be a foul-mouthed, whiny and mean-spirited woman who didn’t really seem to learn all that much about her year of cooking MtAoFC except that there’s a small group of people who enjoy reading profanity laced blog posts. And it just about kills me that this caustic woman has been so readily associated with a woman of Julia Child’s standing. Reading Laura’s book makes me even more chapped about that.

The book is a quick but absorbing read. It’s barely 200 pages even with a prologue and index, and every page leaps with vivid description of the larger than life persona of Julia Child. It takes the reader through her privileged upbringing of a charmed youth, her foray into service for WWII and the subsequent meeting and courtship of Julia and Paul Child. Julia’s spirit shines in every page. Here was a woman who struggled most of her life with defining herself and making life purposeful, yet she never once backed down on her positive and bubbly outlook regardless of the situation. Julia encountered a great deal of backlash in her lifetime, and it never brought her down, never caused her to retaliate and never made her feel like giving up and settling. She strove forward in her quest to introduce real French cuisine to America, a culture that was steeped at the time in foods that often horrified her. The book tallies the enormous task of writing Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and the exhaustive means to which Julia prepared, tested and re-tested every recipe in the book. She fought against the conventions of French cooking, which was mostly done by men and remained firm in her belief that anyone could understand the techniques and methods that many people felt were so steeped in tradition and culture that they remained undefinable. Julia’s sense of cooking was nothing more than understanding the love behind each meal. It was never about showing off or glorifying what was going on in the kitchen; Julia wanted people to know, inherently, what real cooking was all about. It wasn’t just putting a list of ingredients together. It was about knowing what the process was behind the list, the means to bring these items together to make an incredible taste. It was science, technique and above all else, it was love.

The book also fully chronicles the love story between Julia and Paul. Paul Child, the book reiterates, was actually quite unimpressed with Julia when they first met, but as the story progresses, through snippets of letters between Paul and his brother, you see the transformation of a man from indifferent and aloof, to one who falls spellbound in love with her spirit and personality. Theirs is a true partnership and classic romance. He was the solid and dependable force behind The French Chef programs as they aired on television, helping her to create, plan and execute them to the best of her abilities. He tirelessly supported her, held her up and accompanied her through her rise to fame and stardom and was her biggest and most prominent fan, always by her side for media visits, book signings and press tours.

I love a book that leaves me feeling like I’ve just sat down and taken in a long and intimate conversation with someone. I finished the book almost in tears as it discusses first Paul’s failing health and Julia’s anguish at placing him in a nursing home, and then finally, Julia’s physical denouement, the strokes, surgeries and ill health that finally took down the indomitable spirit that was Julia Child. I found particularly touching the passage about Julia’s recovery from knee replacement surgery, and how she was finding it extremely difficult to manage the energy to get to her feet for the required therapy. Her longtime assistant instructed the therapists to bring her into a kitchen and ask her to slice some onions. Once the knife was in Julia’s hand, and the counter in front of her, she rose to her feet and began, in earnest to cut up the onions placed before her, finding the encouragement in her most beloved task to take on the difficult and painful exercises. It’s a rare book that makes me feel lonely when I finish, wanting more of the person so well defined within it’s pages.

For all of her fans, this is an easy and enjoyable read, full of insight to a much beloved culinary icon. I fully related to the sentence that claims there are two kinds of cooks in the world; those who wish to impress and those who just want to feed people. Julia loved feeding people, and cared nothing for impressing anyone. Her ego needed no stroking and she didn’t care much if no one liked what she did. All she wanted was to make them sigh in contentment over the dishes in front of them, and given her legacy, it’s clear that her life was a mission accomplished.

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I always love the free product offers that come my way due to this food blog, but the fact is, I turn down way more of them than I actually accept, mostly because the product offered just isn’t one that I would use.

This cookie dough from Pillsbury, however, is one of those that had me firmly on the fence. I decided that it would be worth a least a respectable glance, and you certainly can’t argue with ‘Free’.

Pillsbury Simply cookie dough 001

I grew up with scratch cookies that my Mom made. We never ate anything store-bought, and even now I rarely, if ever, buy store cookies. In keeping the right kinds of ingredients on hand, I can have a batch of warm cookies in about a half hour, and I know I don’t even have to tell you a thing about the superior flavor of a home-baked cookie. But this product did intrigue me because it claimed to be nothing more than your basic cookie dough- no additives, preservatives or funny chemicals that you can taste even through the glass of milk that you drink to wash down your warm cookie.

And Pillsbury delivers on that. The ingredient list reads like any recipe should- flour, butter, eggs, baking soda, salt….your basic mix. The cookies come in two flavors- Peanut Butter and Chocolate Chip and I was sent two free vouchers, plus some really nice, sturdy canvas bags and a full informative press kit. My local grocer had the cookie dough on sale as well- two packages for $5.00, with each package containing 12 pucks. I bought four, essentially getting half for free.

I baked a package of each cookie right away. The day was a bit warm and the dough sat out on the counter for maybe 10 minutes before I placed the pucks on sheets and they had become quite soft.  The cookies were pretty flavorful but I detected an off flavor in the chocolate chip version, owing to what I think is an inferior chip. They aren’t bad, but when you’re used to Guittard or Ghiradhelli chips in your cookies, anything else can seem pretty bland. I did, however, really like the peanut butter cookie. I’ve always enjoyed a good peanut butter cookie but tend to be put off by the usual grainy or chalky texture they tend to have; this one had none of that, just good clean peanut butter taste.

I wouldn’t buy these for home use, but they would be a really good option for us to have on hand at our lake home for a quick treat. They’re simple to use and bake, and keep in the freezer for up to 60 days.  Price-wise, even at $2.50 per package I think it’s too expensive, coming out to be $0.21 per cookie. You can make them from scratch for pennies. The product is geared towards your everyday ‘Busy Mom’ who wants to offer home-baked taste without a fuss. As fas as pre-made products go, these are a very good option that you can feel good about serving, really the nicest and most flavorful of any pre-made cookie dough I’ve had and that’s fine if it’s your thing, but it isn’t mine. I’m happy to tell others about it though!

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If I had any say in the matter, I would wish to line the road to Heaven with wild summer raspberry bushes.

summer raspberries 013

There is nothing more rewarding and satisfying on a warm morning in late July to find the narrow country road upon which you’re walking lined with loaded wild raspberry patches. I was back-tracking on the road, having first traversed it’s dusty and worn tire tracks to the end where it meets the noisy highway, weaving along behind the properties that dot the lakeshore around our cabin when I suddenly lifted my nose to the wind and thought to myself  ‘I smell raspberries!’

I should have had a clue from the mass of deer tracks in the mud by the road that something was amiss in that area, but upon closer inspection, I saw the red orbs hiding deep within their brambly branches. The deer, and the delightful scent had led my eyes to the right spot. The ditch dipped away from under my feet, a steep incline on both sides that was littered with thick slabs of sharp shale, partially covered with tall grass,  and dangerous underfoot. I couldn’t reach to the farthest those branches spread, and gazed longingly at the dark red fruit hanging just out of reach. With a gentle hand drawing back the thorns, I pulled free what I could, and then moved on.

Barely 50 yards further down the road, with the sun high, another broad patch of berries caught my eye. This one was more accessible, hovering slightly under a stand of wild apple trees, the ditch was flatter and more easily stepped through without fear of slipping. And it was full of fruit. My bare legs bore the brunt of careless foraging among the thorns, but my mouth was leading the way. The fruit, at once warm and tart where the sun played on it all day long to sweet and cool underneath the canopy of trees, was abundant, deep shades of dark reddish purple and perfectly ripe. Just lifting the branches caused many of the berries to simply let go, falling to the undergrowth, and the ones that I could cup my fingers around fell easily into my hand. Their sweet flavor burst over my tongue, the purest taste of raspberry that one can get, with a memorable hint from the humid touch of our lake and the very grasses in which they grew present in almost every bite. In many spots the berries were as big as the end of my thumb; others they were miniscule, hardly more than that half a dozen tiny spores, but swollen with summer goodness and thick with the essence of late July. I walked among the bushes, plucking, lifting, slurping and sweating, brushing aimlessly at the lazy buzzing flies, my eyes riveted on the bushes for the next spot to pounce upon.

Among the Bee Balm, Crown Vetch, Indian Paintbrush, Black-Eyed Susan and thick woodland ferns, the bounty rose undisturbed under my feet, save for the lucky birds and a trio of Does and their Fawns that I startled out of their morning snack. The Does gazed at me, indignation apparent in their faces as I plundered their stash; the Fawns, with their huge startled eyes and flashing puffy white tails glanced about nervously, eyes darting from their mothers to me as if to say ‘Aren’t we supposed to run or something??’ I quietly slipped away from them, hoping they would just return to the same enjoyment that I was having, and since I didn’t hear the thunderous crash of their hooves through the woods, I imagine they did. Why wouldn’t they?

Wouldn’t you?
summer raspberries 010

Along the whole length of road, I wove back and forth, my eyes trained on the ditches in order to not miss one stand of bush. With each handful passed to my mouth, my thirst sated with their endless juice and the sunshine pouring down on my head, I almost felt like I was drunk with my bounty, filled to bursting with the very flavor of summer. When I finally emerged onto the paved road that led to our cabin, stuffed with fruit and drenched in sweat, I had to heave a huge sigh of contentment. The wind had picked up, some thick puffy clouds were dragging themselves lazily across the abundance of blue sky overhead, and across the road from our place, a field of amber wheat waved carelessly, paths rippling across the top of the grain sheaths in endless and hypnotic patterns. I longed to just drop into the tall grass with a sigh and take it all in, the parade of summer that passes far too quickly. Instead I retired to our screen porch to watch the lake pulse and dance from the touch of the wind, with a happy raspberry filled tummy.

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So this is how I am, hmm? Wax philosophic about blogging for three years and then vamoose for parts unknown? Some ‘reach out and touch someone’ blogger I am. In my absence I have been astonished, overwhelmed and sometimes moved to tears by your comments and I hope I adequately thanked you individually for your support, your love and your unimaginable kindness. You, dear readers, are the ‘raison d’etre’ that keeps me chug-chug- chugging along.

But I’ll tell you, I needed escape in a big way. I went to our lake home, a mere hour’s drive from where I reside in real time but eons of light years away in terms of the ultimate escape, proving that you don’t need to go far to leave it all behind.  Remember Mike’s broken back? The huge perspective shift? It’s been six weeks and he’s doing pretty well, but the constant vigil that I have laid down in order to help him has drained away a large portion of the ‘Me’ that makes me who I am. And in the empathy that I feel for him, I sense every wince of pain, every ache and twinge and see the frustration in his eyes in dealing with his limitations and it wears on me. It’s love, plain and simple; nothing he hasn’t done for me in spades, but still,  I needed to recharge my batteries.

After a few days of feeding all of our souls (again) with this beautiful face,

ninacollage

I took my leave…..

kate time 004

And Loveless Lake, in Western Wisconsin was just the place I needed. It’s been at the heart of my life with Mike in so many ways; we shared our first kiss there, I fell in love with him (and his family) there and we announced to everyone that we were getting married on the beloved screen porch to shouts of riotous cheer. It’s in my blood, my very bones. And this summer, with Mike’s back injury and the often rotten weather, I just haven’t been there as much as I need to- and I need to;  my heart has missed its solace, the sunsets and the ripple of the water, lulling the harshness of life out of me and replacing it with a steadier pulse. A glass of wine is often more indulgent on the deck at sunset, and coffee just never tastes so good as it does on the screen porch as the new day unfolds over the backyard and the first ripples touch the glass surface of the water. The smell of the lake, the call of the Oriole in the evergreens…..I need it like oxygen. And food.

And I need time away to just cook a few simple and favorite things- food for me, for my restoration. It always changes when I go, depending on the time of year and my current tastes. I craved fresh fruit and more greens- rabbit that I am- but I also wanted meats, like a good steak and some bacon. And I shamelessly wanted to be selfish. The steak, generously rubbed with a spicy jalapeno and garlic rub, was sputtering and so delightfully charred and burnished as it came off the grill that I couldn’t manage a photo before my knife and fork tackled it forcefully. It was  more rare than I ever imagine myself eating, still I contemplatively devoured each bite, delighting in the flavor, and the solitude as a gentle rain shower left it’s fragrance outside the open patio door. My bacon served it’s purpose across many meals, most notably atop a crispy slice of ciabatta, toasted on the grill and smeared with natural grainy peanut butter for a delicious and decadent breakfast treat.

What else did I do? Well, I watched the resident eagle fish for it’s breakfast; the great blue heron survey the water as the eager English Spaniel several doors down kept vigil over it from the dock. I spied hummingbirds on the lakeshore plantings. I stared at the leaping flames of an aromatic fire for a very very long time with nary a muscle twitch, nodding off in my chair outside and awoke, most likely just a few minutes later to a heavy splash in the water behind me, the flames still crackling, barely a few feet from where I was dozing.

kate time 007

Seriously!? I fell asleep outside by the campfire. Honestly, if I could have I would wrap up in blankets and sleep under the stars. I indulged too, in that simplest of campfire offerings.

kate time 015

I listened to the chipmunks chatter and chase each other around the yard, and I walked. I walked in casual pace along a gravel road, the peace of a Tuesday morning held tight around me, touched by cool breezes in the refreshing morning air. I listened to the wind, sipped another cup of coffee and napped if I felt like it. I absorbed ‘Treasure Island’, losing myself in Jim Hawkins’ narrative, cursing the fickle Long John Silver, cheering the bravery.  By all accounts, I disappeared; and I’ve never wanted it so much. Some people crave chocolate, or ice cream; I wanted uninterrupted time to just be me.

But I’m trying to refocus now on another round of blogging; I’m scheming, making plans and thinking about summer’s bounty. After a delightful holiday weekend, most likely back at Loveless, life will resume some semblance of normal, hopefully, and the blog will be back on it’s sumptuous feet. Thanks for your patience.

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Today marks the 3rd anniversary of this blog. Am I happy about it? That depends on the day, but usually yes. And sometimes, more often than not these days, I would say no.

I admit that I’ve toyed a lot lately – a lot!-  with quitting this past time of mine. Part of me feels if I hit the ‘Delete’ button that there wouldn’t be many people who would notice. You see, the thing is, everyone is writing a blog these days; it’s the thing to do- it’s cool, trendy etc etc. And the sheer number of food blogs out there is astonishing beyond imagination. It seems like anyone who’s ever been told ‘Hey, this is GOOD!’ has decided to write a food blog. Some of them are amazing, and they humble me greatly. Others? Feh. A can of soup poured over a microwaved potato somehow doesn’t strike me as being fodder for a blog, but hey, who am I to ask what other people want? After three years it has become apparent to me that I still haven’t got a clue, and that maybe I never will. This has become OK with me, in a hard-fought and harsh sort of way.

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I’ve had some recent face-palm moments of anxiety though, there’s been ranting and grousing; Facebook conversations with treasured blog buddies and true friends have been able to talk me me down off the ledge which is why I am here to write this anniversary post. These moments of extreme instability have thankfully had a purpose. I have at least come to understand the most important reason why I continue to do this even when it often makes me crazy; I would rather have half a dozen genuine and honest comments about what I post that come right from a readers heart lush with praise than a hundred fickle and shallow ones that only say ‘Yum!’. Because it’s important for me to touch someone through this giant web we live in, to touch a part of them that matters. Our lives are too informal and detached. We type messages to one another instead of speaking face to face, fall into television shows and disappear, plug in our earbuds and tune out the rest of the world. If this is how life has turned, I can jump aboard with the rest and I certainly have. You all know, if you’ve been here long enough, how much I love Facebook and how it keeps me connected with so many, over thousands of miles, the past and the present colliding all in one crazy spot, and this blog is yet another way that I can reach out across the spaces in between and give everyone a part of who I am. That is what’s important to me. I want it to feel like coming home to an old and trusted friend. My reward is in your words, and I want you to know I appreciate them immensely.

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The rest of it is certainly still evolving and no one is more surprised than I am about how this blog has pushed me to stretch and re-define my food tastes and more thoroughly examine both what I do and how I eat, and in keeping with the way I choose to nourish myself and my family, the food will remain real and honest. My hope each time I post a recipe is that you find something in it that lights a spark. That you read the recipe and say not only “I can do that!” but “I WANT to do that!” Because I don’t find it at all coincidental that as we strive towards that always elusive brass ring, surrounding ourselves with technology and silencing the voices of those around us in favor of an array of electronics, that the urge and need to feed our stomachs AND our souls grows ever louder and more persistent. We congregate where there is nourishment for every aspect of our lives and our hunger isn’t always for food; it’s for something to touch us, to touch our lives and give us a reason to smile, a means for being connected – really connected and not just with a power cord-  and I hope that you’ll find a small part of that here.

This blog- this three years in the making blog of mine, it’s not about mass appeal and I hope someone smacks me a good one if I even think to post an ad on it. It isn’t about my stats, or readership. I don’t feel I need to roam the USA going to blog conferences and schmoozing (I hate schmoozing for schmooze sake….I just like to hang out and talk to people). I’m not big on posting recipes that have worn out a welcome, I don’t jump on food trends, I’m not a locavore and I dislike labels. I love to cook and I’m really darn good at it. That’s all I want to share.

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And I did promise you something food related as you put up with me in my last post going on about learning life lessons in the garden and talking about my darling shaved cat, so I won’t disappoint but this is something pretty simple. Almost too simple. That’s what makes it so good though.

It’s a wrap.
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Nothing superbly special, right?

But I’ll tell you, start with this creamy Avocado White Bean Spread and any wrap you make will be just a titch better. Grill some chicken, beef strips or shrimp, get some good crab meat or top quality tuna and add whatever vegetables you prefer. Grate some good cheese into it. Wrap it in a nice flavorful tortilla and pour some ice tea. The weather has been HOT here, and this cool and quick dinner was just the ticket. We were picking at the crumbs and sighing in contentment at each other. A few fresh cherries rounded out a perfect summer meal.


Creamy Avocado and White Bean Spread

From Eating Well magazine (and adapted slightly by Kate)

1 15-oz can Great Northern beans, drained and rinsed
1 ripe avocado
1/2 c. grape tomatoes (my addition)
1-2 T. finely minced red onion (or use some good onion powder like Penzeys)
Fresh ground black pepper and coarse salt to taste

In the bowl of a food processor, combine all ingredients and process until slightly chunky. Scrape sides. Pulse once or twice more to fully combine and scrape into a clean bowl. Season to taste.

Spread about nice layer of this on a tortilla and top with your choice of fillings. Roll up tightly and enjoy. It’s also delicious as a chip and raw vegetable dip (but it does NOT photograph well! Sorry!)

Would you like something equally delicious and appealing with little fuss? How about a nice Mexican Rice?

Kate’s Mexican Rice

1 15-oz can diced or whole tomato
1 medium onion
1 jalapeno (seeded if you wish)
1 4-oz can green chilies
1 1/2 c. white rice

Fresh lime wedges and oil for cooking.

In the bowl of a food processor, place tomato, onion (cut into fourths) jalapeno and green chilies. Blend until mixture is finely chopped, almost to the point of being like a thin salsa. Pour into a measuring cup. It should be about 3-4 cups.

In a deep skillet over medium high flame, heat about 2 T. of cooking oil until very hot. Pour in the rice and stir to coat with oil. Turn heat down to medium and continue to cook, stirring regularly until the rice is turning browned and becoming very fragrant, about 5-8 minutes. The pan should be smoking hot by now. Carefully pour in the tomato mixture- careful of the steam!- and quickly stir to combine it with the toasted rice. Allow to come to a simmer and then cover, reduce heat and cook until liquid is absorbed. Turn off heat and allow pan to stand, covered, for about 10-15 minutes. Fluff with a fork and serve, squirting some fresh lime juice over the top.

NOTES FOR THE RICE:
You can stir in another chopped jalapeno before serving the cooked rice. It adds another level of heat to the dish. Other good additions are canned black beans (rinsed), frozen corn, sauteed zucchini or roasted peppers. Or all of it. For varied flavors, try using fire roasted tomatoes. If you wish to use fresh tomato, the equivalent would be about three medium sized ones and it’s a good idea if you peel them before using. This is excellent as a rice to use with burritos and tastes fabulous topped with cold chunks of avocado.

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45yrs

It was, overall, one of the best birthdays I’ve had in a long time.

And I’m really not one to blow my own horn much; attention focused solely on me makes me uncomfortable, and I’m glad no one videotaped the singing of ‘Happy Birthday’ because I turned my head away for most of it.

Still, I did ‘blow out the candles’ that we forgot to place on the cake.

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And made a wish and overall, I really enjoyed having a house full of people who came to help me celebrate- friends and family alike- and at the end of it when I collapsed nearly catatonic in bed and grimaced through my aching legs and feet and the pounding in my head from so much laughter and talking and children running amok shrieking in delight- which is such an amazing sound!- I lay there thinking how lucky and blessed and fortunate I am to have turned 45 with such  aplomb.

Those amazing birthday cakes were made courtesy of my cousin Lora who has a little cake decorating business going. If you’re local and in need of a delicious and lovely cake, contact me and I’ll pass along her information.

One was a Marble cake with Bavarian cream filling…

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The other was lemon cake with lemon curd filling….

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Both were moist, tender and wonderful!! And if you notice the size of them looking rather substantial, let me tell you….there wasn’t much left when the night ended. Our families and friends LOVE cake.

The food was all good- a few standards like meatballs and sausages were nothing to write home about, but the other dishes were pretty tasty.

From the next day, here’s a superb plate of goodness.

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Starting at the top and working clockwise, we have a nice Bulgar Pilaf, courtesy of my favorite Eating Well magazine….

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Mike’s favorite Hummus, which earned rave reviews from many party-goers.

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The irrepressible Roasted Vegetable Spread which is fast becoming a go-to menu item in our house

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And a Spinach and Orzo Greek style salad that was equally enjoyed and appreciated.

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It was an exhausting day, I’ll tell you, but totally worth it. The next day, which was my actual birthday, I didn’t even get out of my pj’s until mid-afternoon and that was only because I had in my hot little hand a coupon for a free birthday drink from my favorite coffee shop and it was either go there and sip a latte, or fall face first onto my sofa and head back into Dreamland. I love me some good caffeine, and it saved the day.

Now onward and upward into fully enjoying being 45.

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You would think that having a national holiday involving ice cream might be a great idea in, say July or some other typically hot month, but no…..it’s November 11th, and along with Veteran’s Day, today is National Ice Cream Sundae Day.

It’s surprising what you come across when you research food holidays, like the official website of the Ice Cream Sundae; an entire page of quotes regarding the time-honored dessert and not one, but two books.

And who knew there was such blazing controversy over the origin and official ‘first served’  status of the ice cream sundae? Despite the arguments and vitriole surrounding it, the hands-down site of the first ever ice cream sundae created is known to be Ithaca, New York. From the website:

“The year was 1892. Ithaca, New York, was dotted with local drug stores, where many a nickel was spent for a dish of ice cream. After Sunday services at the Unitarian Church, Reverend John M. Scott visited the Platt & Colt Pharmacy in downtown Ithaca, New York, for his usual dish of vanilla ice cream — but on one fateful day, history was altered forever. That day, instead of plain vanilla for the Reverend, Chester Platt dipped his scoop of ice cream into a champagne saucer, poured cherry syrup over the top, and dressed it with a candied cherry. As the two men pondered over what to call the delightful new concoction, Scott proposed that it be named after the day on which it was invented: Cherry Sunday”

The controversy stems from Two Rivers, Wisconsin and it’s claim to have served a ‘soda-less’ ice cream treat, that is, ice cream without the fizzy water, and throughout the ensuing years there became quite the rivalry over this; there was an entire segment on the CBS Evening News in 2006 about the ongoing dispute and furor from the Two Rivers town manager at the time who adamantly claimed his town’s right to fame. It didn’t seem to matter to him that a copy of a newspaper in Ithaca, dated April 5, 1892 advertised the now-famous concoction at the now legendary soda fountain, Platt and Colt. Two Rivers has no such documentation, and apparently they aren’t willing to go down without a fight. Can you believe the things some people will argue about?

The best part about examining these holidays is doing the research at home.

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As we sat down on a chilly November evening to indulge in ice cream, chocolate, nuts and cookies, we ended up in a friendly familial discussion over what constitutes a Tin Roof Sundae and a Turtle Sundae. Mike thought the Tin Roof was a Turtle with nuts, and Griffin insisted- because he’s 14 and knows everything- that a Turtle was with chocolate, caramel and pecans and a Tin Roof had peanuts. I looked at them both, spooning my ice cream into my mouth and wondered why they wouldn’t just stop debating and eat, for pete’s sake!

It turned out, surprisingly, that Griffin was right.

But a sundae, no matter what you put on it, is the most popular and recognizable of ice cream treats anywhere, I would wager even more so than the ice cream malt. And if you’re ever in a position to fully indulge yourself in a decadent dessert, head to Serendipity 3 Restaurant in New York City for their $1,000 ice cream sundae, composed of the following:

” The Serendipity Golden Opulence Sundae, sold by Serendipity 3 restaurant is a dessert that consists of five scoops of Tahitian vanilla bean ice cream infused with Madagascar vanilla, covered in 23-carat edible gold leaf, rare Amedei Porceleana and Chuao chocolate, American Golden caviar, passion fruit, orange and Armagnac candied fruits from Paris, marzipan cherries, and decorated with real gold dragees. The sundae is served in a baccarat Harcourt crystal goblet with an 18-karat gold spoon “

Or just get some Edy’s, Breyers, or Kemps and make your own delightful creation. Got a favorite combination??? Do share!! I love mint chip ice cream, chocolate sauce and crushed cookies. If you must add whip cream to mine, make it the real stuff!!

“It may be said that ice cream is the best drug available for both mind and body. It is spiritually uplifting, nutritious and wholesome. According to many nutritionists, the calcium in ice cream has a calming effect. A number of psychiatrists, instead of prescribing tranquilizing medication, advise their patients to have some ice cream.”
- Prof. Ralph Slovenko, Journal of Psychiatry & Law


Now that’s MY kind of diagnosis!


nablopomo21


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