Welcome to my world...

Let me begin by telling you I’m not a nutritionist, dietician, or Cordon Bleu Chef. I’ve never even worked in a restaurant. What I am is a wife of over 30 years, a mother, and a grandmother who loves to cook. I have, at times, needed to use all “101 Ways to Cook Hamburger”, made tuna casserole and split pea soup until my husband begged for mercy…and had fun doing it.

As times and finances improved, so did my repertoire. I had the freedom to try more exotic fare, like pork chops. By the time the kids were in high school, I had progressed as far as shrimp and crab. Now the kids are all grown up, it’s just the two of us, and I’ve had to re-learn to cook yet again. Of course, trying new foods and new recipes is part of the fun. My motto is “I’ve never met a recipe I didn’t change.”

That’s what this blog is about, sharing recipes, stories and memories. So, enjoy your food, enjoy your life. And most importantly, don’t forget to have fun, playing with your food.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Garlic Lentil Soup - Czech Penicillin

            Eastern European peasant food, this lentil soup was a staple when I was growing up. Definitely a comfort food, the smells evoke a feeling of nostalgia to this day. It was one of my Czech mother's signature dishes, and a favorite of my dad's. During the winter, there was almost always a pot simmering on the back of the stove. 
            Traditionally used as an appetizer, it was said to ward off chills and colds. My grandmother, mother, and aunts swore by the healing powers of the garlic, and would use copious amounts. I'm more partial to the soothing aroma of the sweet marjoram, the essential spice in this dish. (Don't be afraid to use a lot. The flavor is mild, and the fragrance is heavenly.) Either way, it's good for body and soul.
            Easy to make, and relatively fast, I make it for dinner. My husband and kids love it, which is a bonus. Early on, it became part of the rotation for "Soup & Bread Night." I like to serve it with a good, toasted potato bread, or a light rye. Just don't do garlic bread it's overkill, I found.
Babi's Lentil Garlic Soup       Flavorful, Satisfying, and Meatless
About 4 - 6 servings
1 cup diced celery, with leaves             
1 cup diced onion
2 tbsp. olive oil                                    
2 cloves garlic, or more, to taste - minced
6 cups vegetable broth                         
1/2 lb. dried lentils 
1 tsp. or more dried marjoram leaves               
Salt and pepper
In large, heavy soup pot, saute celery and onion in oil until tender soft. Add half of the garlic cloves, lentils and broth. Be aware of the heat of your garlic and use accordingly. If you like lots of garlic, use more. The cooking time reduces the bite. Season to taste with salt, pepper and marjoram.

Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until lentils are tender, 20-25 minutes, stirring occasionally. The longer you simmer, the thicker the soup will be. Add the other clove(s) of garlic just before serving. Serve with hearty whole grain bread. 

Sunday, November 23, 2014

A Tiny Christmas Tree

There is a place on Orcas Island, where a giant Douglas fir once stood. About six feet in diameter, it must have been massive, stretching its top high into the sky. Many years ago, a windstorm toppled the tree, leaving the trunk splintered and broken about ten feet above ground level. Along a quiet country road, the stump was in no one's way, so it was left alone. Years passed, and nature being what it is, from the inside of the shattered wound a new seedling grew.

The first time I noticed the sapling, it was about two feet tall. I had passed that way twice daily for several months, but it never caught my eye until that afternoon...the tiny tree was decorated.

I slowed to get a better look. A strand of red and gold tinsel wound neatly through the branches, twinkling in the rustling breeze. I smiled. How cool that last night's wind had blown it just that way. The tinsel stayed on all through the holidays until one night in early January, the tinsel was gone.

I gave it no more thought until the following winter. Then one night, the little fir was again dressed for the holidays. This time it had red bows tied on the branches, and a gold star on top. Okay, the wind didn't do that. Again, the finery disappeared after the New Year. I was delighted. Every year since, and probably for many before, the little tree has been decorated. I never found out who decorates the tree. Actually, I never asked. The fantasy of Christmas magic is just too much fun.

Each year at this time, I would begin watching, waiting for my sure sign of the Christmas season. One year, there was nothing. Thanksgiving weekend came and went, and the first weekend in December. Nothing. It had never gone as late as the 10th before. I was beginning to worry.

Then, one morning, I thought I caught a glint of tinsel in my headlights as I came down the hill. Too dark to really see, I hoped I was correct. Sure enough, in the light of day the small tree was covered with glass balls, red bows and silver tinsel. It brought a smile to my face, and brightness to an otherwise dreary, rainy day.

I hope the tradition continues for many years to come.


Here are two hot appetizers, nice on a cold winter night. Fresh seafood makes these just heavenly. Both can be done in the toaster oven.
Angels on Horseback

Pre-heat the broiler to 450°
1 dozen fresh oysters, shucked   or  1 jar small fresh oysters
1 lb. thin sliced lean bacon
Cut the oysters into bite size pieces. Cut each bacon strip into thirds.
Roll the bacon strips around the oyster pieces and secure with wooden picks.
Place on an ungreased broiler pan or baking sheet. Grill under broiler until browned. Turn over and broil the other side. Watch carefully as it will cook fast and may burn .When bacon is done, drain on paper towels. 
Transfer to serving plate. Serve warm with cocktail sauce for dipping.
Crab Stuffed Mushrooms 

Use extra large mushrooms
Heat oven to 325°
20 fresh Crimini mushrooms (or white button)
¾ cup Dungeness crabmeat (or 1 - 6oz. can)
3 tbsp. red onion, diced fine
Dash of cayenne
1 tbsp. olive oil
2 tbsp. butter
1 - 3oz. brick of softened cream cheese
2 tbsp. Italian seasoned bread crumbs
½ tsp. dill
½ cup sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
Fresh parsley for garnish
Wipe mushrooms with paper towel to remove dust. Do not rinse with water. Pop out stem, leaving cap intact. Hollow out cap slightly, if needed.
Lay caps hollow side down in a baking dish. Bake at 325° for about 15 minutes until mushrooms are cooked but still firm. (Alternately: Line a microwave safe dish with paper towels. Arrange caps, hollow side down, on paper towels. Microwave on high, covered loosely, 30 seconds at a time until mushrooms are no longer raw, about 1½ to 2 minutes total. Do not over cook or the mushrooms will start to shrivel.) Allow to drain on paper towels for a few minutes.
Chop stems finely. Coarsely dice the crabmeat. Heat the butter and olive oil in a small skillet. Saute the onions until golden. Add the chopped stems, the crab and the cayenne. Continue to cook until most of the liquid evaporates. Remove from heat. Stir in the cream cheese, the dill and the breadcrumbs. The mixture should cling together when molded, so adjust the crumbs accordingly.
 Fill each cap generously with stuffing. There should be enough to have a good mound in each. Place back in the same baking dish. Top each with a nice bit of cheese.
Heat at 325° for about 5 minutes or until the cheese melts. Sprinkle with parsley and serve hot. (You can re-heat in the microwave - about 30 seconds for 6.)

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Pumpkin Cheesecake Pie

Last year for Thanksgiving we made our first "from scratch" pumpkin pie. It was a fun experience. We purchased a special "pie" pumpkin. With no clue how to proceed, we just quartered the pumpkin, cleaned out the seeds and other "pumpkin guts" (to quote Connor) placed cut side down on a cookie sheet, and baked until soft. Once cooked, I scraped the meat into the food processor bowl and pureed until smooth. Not happy with the not-orange-enough color of the puree, I added a cooked carrot to the mixture. It didn't change the flavor, but made the color more appetizing. I actually ended up with more than I needed, so I froze the remained to use in future pies or pumpkin bread.

My plan was to use the puree in place of canned pumpkin in my favorite pie recipe, but thought it deserved a homemade crust. Since I rely on frozen pie crust, I called on my son James, the chef, to make the pastry. He made a rustic, French style crust, rich with butter and sugar. It was delicious. We will definitely be doing this again.

This is my old "go to" recipe. Adjust accordingly if you bake your own pumpkin.

Pumpkin Cheesecake Pie
Heat oven to 425°

2 Crusts for 9" deep dish pie
16 oz. cream cheese, softened
1 ½  cup firmly packed brown sugar
4 eggs
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
¼ tsp. ground nutmeg
1 can pumpkin (29oz.)
Whipped cream for garnish
Beat cream cheese and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, one at a time.

Stir in cinnamon, nutmeg and pumpkin until smooth. Pour mixture into prepared crust. Place on cookie sheet in preheated, hot oven.
Immediately lower temperature to 350°.
Bake 35 - 45 minutes or until center is almost set
Cool completely on wire rack. Serve topped with whipped cream

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Holiday Traditions

           With Thanksgiving less than two weeks away, I need to get out my old recipe file. It's a whicker basket, a mother's day gift from years ago. The cards inside are tattered, stained, and treasured. Each year, I have to look them up, to help me write my grocery list, and again to reference as I cook. These are recipes I only make for Thanksgiving and Christmas, even though they are family favorites.
            The kids used to ask me why we ate some foods only at holiday time. My answer was usually "that way it stays special, and we don't get tired of it."
            That being true, up to a point, the real reason is much more practical. Most of those dishes were a lot of work, or expensive to make. This fruit salad falls into the first category. It takes time and prep work, but it's worth the effort. It's been in the family forever, and is one of my few "don't cheat" recipes. Normally, I'm all for labor saving shortcuts, but not here. If you use fruit cocktail and cool-whip, for instance, it just isn't the same.
            Great-Grandma swore you had to use full size marshmallows, and cut them into quarters with kitchen shears. (Note: It's easier if the marshmallows and shears are both chilled.) According to her, that way they could soak up the dressing. Grandma too, was obstinate about it, and to this day, I haven't dared change anything. That would feel like cheating. So, I've passed the superstition, I mean tradition, on to a fourth generation. Now it's Laura's turn.
             I did have a friend once, though, whose mother made it with colored miniature marshmallows...and the world didn't end.
            Known regionally as 24-Hour Salad, Overnight Salad, or "that salad with the little marshmallows", this is one of my husband's favorites:
2 cups Royal Ann cherries, halved
2 cups pineapple tidbits
2 cups mandarin oranges
2 cups quartered marshmallows
1 egg
1 ½ tbsp. sugar
¼ cup lemon juice
½ cup orange juice
1 cup heavy cream, whipped
Combine well-drained fruit and marshmallows.
Beat egg until lemon colored. Gradually add sugar, lemon juice and orange juice. Mix well. Cook in double boiler until smooth and thick, stirring constantly.
Allow to cool completely. Stir in whipped cream.
Pour over fruit and fold in. Chill 24 hours before serving. Do not freeze.

           Going from the labor intensive, to the beautifully easy, I still only make it a couple of times a year. It's a way to dress up your cranberry sauce. You still need to plan ahead a little, but the prep time is minimal. It's a jell-o salad that even cranberry-shy kids like, and the shape is a departure from the classic "can mold" of my youth.
            I've used various size and shape molds, but my favorite is a 3-cup copper ring. This makes two of those, or one 6-cup Tupperware mold.
Cranberry-Orange Wreath
1 - 6oz. box red jell-o, raspberry, cran-raspberry, or cranberry
2 cans whole-berry cranberry sauce
2 small cans mandarin oranges, drained well
¼ tsp. each, cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice
Dissolve jell-o in hot water, per box directions. Add spices. Stir in cranberry sauce in place of cold water. Chill for and hour until partially set. Gently fold in mandarin oranges, and pour into 6-cup mold. Allow to set at least 6 hours, preferably overnight.
To make un-molding easier, dip mold to the rim in very hot tap water for 10 seconds. Immediately flip onto serving plate and re-refrigerate until ready to serve.
Garnish with whipped topping just before serving, if desired

Monday, July 14, 2014

Keeping Summer

        It was a beautiful day, glowing in the brightness that only September can bring. The red
 and orange dahlias and golden marigolds held their tousled
 heads high, in defiance of the cool evenings. The
afternoon sun brought the lingering heat of summer's
last gasp. Soon it  would be giving way to autumn. 
         Entering the dimly lit barn of the farmer's market, my senses were immediately engulfed by the earthy aroma of produce: garlic, dill, apples, and pumpkins. I inhaled deeply to fully absorb the atmosphere, instantly transported to the days of my youth.
            My earliest recollection of harvest time is my mother canning Royal Anne Cherries on the Fourth of July.  I must have been 3 or 4.
            "We need to put these by," Mama would say, explaining why she wasn't going to the carnival. "Then we'll have our fruit in the winter."
            Later, when I grew older, I worked with other neighborhood kids, picking strawberries at the farm down the road. I can still remember the cool crispness of the June mornings, bicycling my way to the farm, and the wetness of the dew on the berries. We started work at 7 am, and finished around noon. Pick a few, eat a few. The berries warmed as the sun rose higher, thawing our chilled fingers. It was my first real job. At 9, I made enough money to buy a pair of black "leather" cowboy boots. They cost around $8.
            July and August would bring the haying. The rhythmic clang of tractors, cutters and balers permeated the air for days. All the farmers would pray for no rain until all the alfalfa was stowed safely under cover. One wet day could ruin a crop.
            My friends and I were always on hand to help. Bucking bales was hot, dusty work, assigned to the teenage boys. The sweat would run rivers down their bare backs, chaff hanging in their hair. We girls, being smaller and younger, were given lighter tasks. My job was to drive the flatbed around the fields. There was no question of a license. I was only 12, but I could reach the pedals, and turn the manual steering wheel. My value was assured.
            The days prior to Labor Day and the beginning of school, were frenzied: picking and pickling, freezing beans and corn, making blackberry jam. My help was appreciated, and mandatory. The kitchen would be hot, and supper would be sandwiches. The pantry shelves would gradually fill with canned goods. Braids of onions and garlic, and bunches of herbs hung from the rafters. Bins of potatoes and squash were tucked into the corners.
            The culmination of it all was the annual Grange Fair, held the second Saturday in September. Kids showed ponies, dogs, chickens and rabbits. Women displayed their baking, canning and gardening skills, while men gathered to discuss crops and cattle. Local musicians entertained. It was a celebration of food, friendship, community, and a summer's work well done.
            As I left the farm that September day, my basket filled with treasures, I couldn't help feeling nostalgic. The art of "putting by" has been largely lost. We can buy ripe tomatoes in January, and pickles off the market shelf. And who wants to stand in a sweltering kitchen, stirring jam? When there is no need, there is little desire.
Fortunately, there are still those who keep the traditions alive, and available to the rest of us. So, if you can't grow a little garden of your own, visit a local farmers' market and just enjoy the goodness of the earth.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Mother's Day Wishes

            Years ago, my greatest mother’s day wish was to have a day to myself. A day off. At that time, the kids were in their “tweens”. Our weekends were filled with little league, dance team, home projects, and my husband’s band. Weekdays, there was work and school. Free time was nearly non-existent. So, when they asked me what I wanted as a gift, I told them. “Don’t spend any money. What I would really like is to spend the afternoon doing nothing…no laundry, no phone calls, no cooking.”
            Of course, doing nothing doesn’t mean literally doing nothing. I read the best parts of the Sunday Oregonian. After that, I filled planters with annuals and arranged them on the patio. Then I planted marigolds around the mailbox. When I was done, I sat on the deck and admired my work. All of this without anyone yelling “mom!” even once. By late afternoon, I felt refreshed, and as rested as if I’d spent the day at a spa.
            Pat and the kids took me to dinner at Giovanni’s for the best lasagna in town. I was an awesome day. Looking back, it’s hard to believe that I essentially said, “Leave me alone!”… It’s even harder to believe that they actually did.
           This year, my son James and son-in-law Jimmy were in charge of dinner. A roasted garlic and mushroom risotto topped with crispy pancetta accompanied grilled pork tenderloin and Caesar salad. A made-from-scratch blueberry pie was for dessert. It's awesome having great cooks in the family. 
           The following is a recipe James taught me. It's a variation of the pate served at Papa Hayden's  Restaurant, where he used to work. It takes some work and advance planning, but it's definitely worth it. For this you will need a heavy skillet, a food processor and a fine mesh strainer.

Chicken Liver Paté
1 lb. raw chicken liver
1 medium tart apple
1 small onion
½ cup dry white wine
1 cube butter
Kosher salt
Black pepper

Rinse and trim the livers, cutting into even pieces. Peel, core and dice the apple. Chop the onion coarsely.
Heat a heavy skillet (well-seasoned cast iron works nicely) to medium high. You can spray with a bit of olive oil, but leave it mostly dry. Caramelize the apple and onion chunks. When they are soft and starting to brown, add the liver and sear until cooked (about 3 minutes).
Remove everything to the food processor bowl. Cover to keep warm.

Deglaze with the white wine, scraping the pan and boiling to evaporate the alcohol. Pour the mixture into the food processor. Tighten the lid and puree while adding the cold butter in a piece at a time. Continue to process until butter is incorporated and all is smooth and creamy with no chunks. 
Force the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer. This will make your pate silky smooth. After straining, transfer to a serving size bowl (or buttered mold). Chill for several hours or overnight. 

Saturday, May 3, 2014

A Kitten for Kelly

           Kelly lived with her parents and older brother in a little house overlooking the ocean.  The house sat on the side of a granite hill surrounded by forest. Some of the little girl's best friends were the animals that lived in those woods. Every morning before school, she went outside to top-up the bird feeders, making sure they were full of seed. In the afternoon, Kelly checked the old stump that held peanuts and sunflower seeds for the squirrels. She had given names to many of the bushy-tailed neighbors. On weekends, she would walk down to the beach and sit on the pier, watching the sea lions lazing on the rocks, or the sea-otters playing in the surf.
            Kelly loved the wild critters, but she had always wanted a cat. Her teenage brother, Mark, had a dog named Skipper. He was a black and tan  mostly-German-Shepherd, and followed the boy everywhere. Mark had found him by the road one day, scraggly and skinny, and brought him home. He had bathed and groomed him and fattened him up. Now he was a part of the family. He was friendly and sweet, but he was really Mark's dog. Kelly was very envious.
            "Mama," she would say, "Don't you think I could have a kitten?"
            Mama would reply with a smile, "You be patient, sweetie, the time will come."
            So Kelly tried to be patient, and made do with her wild friends.
            Spring came to the forest and everything seemed to be growing. The leaves sprouted on the alders and the hummingbirds returned from their winter hide-away. The does appeared with tiny, white spotted fawns. They were so used to people that even Skipper did not bother them. Kelly's dad had built a fence to keep the friendly deer out of his wife's garden.
            This garden was one of the little girl's favorite places, with sweet peas and roses and strawberry bushes. She would stretch out on the grass under the apple tree and daydream, sure that fairies lived in the branches above. Sometimes she would set up her little farm with all its plastic cows, sheep and horses and play for hours. One day, just after lunch, Kelly was out in the garden when a huge, calico cat, appeared at the edge of the fence. Girl and cat stared at each other for a minute. The cat stretched lazily, and began washing her face with a forepaw. Kelly giggled. She reached out her hand. "Here kitty, kitty," she said softly.
            The cat raised her head and looked, then casually turned and left the garden. Kelly was curious. She got up to follow. By the time she got through the gate, the cat was gone.
            After that, Kelly saw the cat regularly. Sometimes it was in the garden, and sometimes sunning on a rock or crossing the drive, going toward the beach. Try as she might, she was never able to get near enough to touch it. Soon she started leaving a dish of food near the garden fence. Each morning the dish would be empty, but she was never sure if it was the cat, or some raccoons that were enjoying the feast.
            Kelly decided to try again, "Daddy, could I have a kitten for my birthday? I'll be eight this year. Isn't that old enough?"
            Her father tried to look gruff, "An animal is a lot of responsibility. Do you think you could remember to feed and take care of it?"
            "Of course I could!" Kelly stated, indignantly. "I'd take the best care of it!"
            "Well," he gave in, smiling. "We'll see what we can do. But you better be extra good!"
            Kelly was beaming. Surely she would have her very own kitten soon.
            Spring wore on. The daffodils opened, wild all over the woods, and the tulips behind the fence raised their colorful heads. The herbs in mother's garden had soft new growth and a lovely fragrance. The bushes were alive with birds of all kinds. And the calico cat kept visiting the little girl.
            The day of Kelly's birthday was sunny, warm for late May. It was a perfect day for a party. Her mother had set up cake and games on the front deck, and several friends were expected that afternoon. It was a wonderful birthday. The girls played pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey and broke a piñata. After cake and ice cream, they played hide-and-seek in the woods. Kelly had a great time.
            That evening after supper, the family gathered for their own little celebration. The hearth was stacked with birthday gifts. There was a big box from her father. She decided to save it for last. Some muffled noises seemed to be coming from it. There were the  clothes from her mother, as usual, and a game from Mark. Finally she tore the wrapping from the big box. Inside was a cage containing a small black and white rabbit. For just a moment, Kelly was disappointed. Then she reached in pulled the bunny into her arms. The soft ears and twitching nose won her over instantly. "Thank you, Daddy! I promise I'll take good care of him!"
            "I know that you will," her father grinned. "I'm sorry that it's not a kitten, but no one in the whole county had kittens yet. I guess it's too early in the year."
            "That's ok," she grinned back. "This bunny is just perfect."
            Kelly named the rabbit Hoppy, and played with him every day out in the yard. Sometimes the calico cat would watch them, probably hoping for a rabbit dinner, but she never came very close. The girl made sure Hoppy was safely tucked into his cage before she went in for the evening. She loved her bunny, but she dreamed of having a kitten curled up in her lap when she did her homework. Of course, she never told her parents. They had tried the best they could.
            Spring turned into summer and school let out. The long lazy days stretched out in front of her. Hours spent playing in the woods and in the garden, going to the beach and fishing off the pier. She noticed that she hadn't seen the big cat in quite a while.
            One Saturday in early July, Kelly went to town to shop with her mother. They went to the mall and had lunch at a coffee shop. In late afternoon they drove back home, tired and happy. As they turned up the drive, Kelly spotted Mark on the front porch, grinning from ear to ear, waiting for them. What's he up to? She wondered.
            Mark came out to help unload the car. "Hurry up," He urged, "Dad has something to show you."
            In the family room, Dad was stretched out in his favorite recliner. He put his fingers to his lips as he saw them come in.  Lying on his chest, wrapped in a dish towel, was a tiny kitten. It raised sleepy eyes and uttered a tiny meow. Kelly gasped in awe, "Where did it come from?"
            "It was the darndest thing," Mark piped up, "I heard Skipper barking by the garden fence, and he wouldn't stop. So I went to see what was going on, and there was this little kitty, lying in the herb garden under the apple tree."
            "All by itself?"
            "Uh huh, all alone. And look, it can hardly walk, it's so little."
            Kelly took the kitten from her Dad. He could hold it in the palm of one hand. It was black, with a white bib, white whiskers and white hind paws. Its eyes were still blue, only having been open a few days, at most. She held it up to her face. It smelled of lavender and sunshine.
            "How did it get there?"
            "All I can figure," her father answered, "is that she got separated from her mother. They'll leave them sometimes, the littlest ones. But I haven't seen any stray cats around here."
            "I have," Kelly said, entranced, "A big black and orange one."
            "I've seen that one too," Mark nodded. "Maybe that's the mom."
            "What are you going to do with it?" the girl was almost afraid to ask.
            Her Dad smiled. "As I recall, I did promise someone a kitten."
            "Really?" she cried, throwing her arms around him. "I can keep it? It's so cute! Is it a boy or a girl?"
            "Pretty sure it's a girl. But we'll have the vet check her all out anyway." Dad said, "I'll bet she was born right around the time of your birthday."
             Skipper came into the room. The tiny kitten arched her back and hissed at the huge dog. Skipper gave her a sniff, then with a slurp licked her from head to toe. Everyone laughed. "Well, I guess it's official," Mom said, "That little thing is part of the family now."
          Kelly went to bed happy that night, a basket full of kitten purring by her side. She was sure the old garden cat had not abandoned her baby, but had left the kitten just for her. Why else would she have been in just that spot in the garden, under the magic apple tree?

Friday, April 11, 2014

Happy Easter Brunch

        Easter, to me has always been about coloring eggs and springtime…a new dress, Sears-photo-studio pictures for Grandma…and of course, good food.
        As a child, we went to church, (one of the three times we went each year). Afterwards, we would go out to neat, usually at a place like North’s Chuck Wagon. My first taste of fresh asparagus with hollandaise sauce was at an Easter buffet. So was my first shrimp omelet. I remember much more about the food than the church service.
        My husband and I have always celebrated Easter with our family and friends. A backyard egg hunt, followed by a lovely dinner, was an annual ritual until the kids outgrew Easter baskets. The dinners continued, but I missed the hunts. Now that we have young grandchildren, we’re hiding eggs again.
       I love to have an Easter brunch, but I don't want to spend the whole morning in the kitchen. The following is essentially a savory bread pudding that can be
assembled the night before. Make a fresh fruit salad and muffins ahead of time, brew a pot of coffee, and let the entrée bake while the kids hunt for eggs.
Shrimp “Soufflé”
Serves 6-8
1 lb. cooked salad shrimp
1 - 8oz. package cream cheese
6-8 medium Crimini mushrooms, thinly sliced
6 slices English muffin bread, cut into cubes
2 tbsp. butter
6 eggs
½ - cup milk
½ tsp. dill
¼ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. white pepper
2 ripe Roma tomatoes, seeded and thinly sliced
1 cup prepared hollandaise sauce

Heat oven to 325°. Beat the eggs, milk, dill, salt and pepper until well blended. Fold the bread cubes into the egg mixture. Cover and refrigerate 15 - 30 minutes until the bread is quite moist. 

Melt the butter in a small skillet and sauté mushrooms over medium heat until softened. Butter or spray a two- quart oblong casserole dish. Repeat layers of bread mixture, cream cheese slices, shrimp and mushrooms, finishing with a bread layer (5 total).  Arrange the tomato slices on top.

Cover and bake at 325° for 1 hour or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.
Serve topped with hollandaise sauce.
Jordan & Connor, Easter 2012


Thursday, April 3, 2014

Feeding the Bear

(A Sequel to Waiting for Cheese - Oct. 2011)
            There have been feral cats in the San Juan Islands for as long as there have been people. They have adapted, become as much part of the environment as the squirrels. The population remains quite stable, and the cats are amazingly healthy. Most likely, that's because so many people feed them. There is still a healthy population of juncos, finches and stellar jays. I've had to refill birdfeeders daily in the winter. During parts of spring and summer, hummingbirds invade the deck like swarms of bees. It's hard to keep three bottles full of nectar. The cats don't seem to bother the birds. As an added bonus, we don't have a rodent problem, either.
My husband and I refer to these felines as free-range. It seems so much kinder than feral. We had been told the old black-and-white Tom that "came with" our farmhouse was one of the founding fathers. He was long gone, but many of the cats that crossed our property bore his tuxedo markings. Not being cat people, we never paid much attention to them. Then one summer, our son found a tiny kitten, abandoned in my herb garden. He brought her inside, and Smokey became part of our family. She has not set a paw outdoors since.            
Two years later, we were adopted by two of Smokey's siblings. There was dark grey JR, who looked like Smokey, but with long hair, and golden Brownie. Both were friendly, with lots of personality. They had been living in our garden rockery since they were tiny, first with their mother, then on their own. We grew quite attached to them. As autumn approached, my husband built a shelter for them on our porch, and I started feeding them regularly. The young cats were sleek and fat. However, they were anything but tame.
That was the problem. When we decided to relocate, we didn't know what to do about JR and Brownie. We discussed and considered every option, from taking them to the local rescue shelter (where they would surely find homes), to taking them with us to our new location. Either way would involve actually catching the cats. 
As moving day approached, I began putting their dinner in the laundry room, with the door open. Cautiously, the shy critters came in to eat, as long as no one was in there. My plan was to get them accustomed to being inside, gradually closing the door, until they would let me pick them up. After a couple of weeks, it became obvious that being tame housecats was not in these guy's plans. They would purr, and rub our legs, but would scurry away at any motion to touch them. We decided then that finding them a "new home" would do more harm than good. They had been born in the woods, had come from parents many generations free-range. My husband compared them to young raccoons.
We made the rather painful decision to leave the boys at the farm. I spoke to the new tenants, (who were happy to have resident rat-catchers), provided ten pounds of kibble to get them started, and waved a reluctant good-bye to JR and Brownie.
Smokey had lived exclusively indoors since she was four weeks old. The old house had been her whole universe. After watching her adjust to her new surroundings, I felt better about the choice we had made. She might as well have been on Mars. Fearfully, she stayed under our bed for hours at a time. At least the boys were in their familiar territory. They only "needed" us at feeding time.
I ran into the new people several times in the first month. Each time, I was told that the "little gray cat with the white boots" hung around the woodshed. They had been putting food out for him, trying to make friends. However, there had been no sign of Brownie. I toyed with the idea of making a poster to put down at the little store, just to see if there had been any sightings, but discarded the notion as rather silly. My husband and I were both certain he was alive. About 18 months old, he was sturdy and muscular. Brownie knew how to take care of himself.
Several more weeks went by, and life got back to normal. It had taken a few days for Smokey to discover the joys of wall-to-wall carpeting. After that, she was quite comfortable and happy. We were still on acreage, surrounded by forest. A herd of deer made daily foraging trips across our yard, and a flock of wild pigeons roosted in a large hawthorn tree. One afternoon, eleven of the neighbor's sheep found a break in the fence, and came over to visit us. Every so often, we would see cats near the edge of the meadow, hunting. One was a huge animal that could have passed for a bobcat, except for its distinctly domestic face.
On a sunny April morning, I was on my way to work when I saw a flash of ginger fur, just outside the door. The animal disappeared before I could get a good look at it.  Over the next few days, we saw the orange cat several times, but always from a distance. Then there he was, close enough to see the little scar on the pink nose, the kink in the tail, Brownie had found us!
Speaking softly and moving slowly, I approached the little cat. He backed off, but didn't run. His fur looked somewhat ragged and he had lost weight. I got a dish of cat food, set it on the step, and walked away, careful not to make eye contact. Brownie waited until I was in my car, then he attacked the food ravenously.   
I drove to work with a smile on my face. I had really missed the little cat. Excited, I called my husband. Our new place was about a mile up the road by pavement, much less, as the cat scampers. In his cat-ly wanderings, he must have recognized our vehicles or the scents on them. It's very unlikely that Brownie had been looking for us, but I like to think he was glad, anyway. He was gone when I got home that night, and we didn't see him again for several days. Each evening I stood on the porch and called his name. I was nearly ready to give up, when one night I heard a soft meow in response. "Hey Brownie-boy," I coaxed. "Welcome home buddy. Come get some dinner."
Setting a dish of table scraps on the porch, I stepped back inside. Cautiously, the cat approached, his whiskers twitching, smelling the food. "It's ok, good fella," I crooned softly, "Come on, Brown-bear, that's for you."
Hunger finally won out over his fear. Nervously he stretched forward, grabbed a bite and darted away. I went inside, and slowly, Brownie came back to the dish to finish his meal. The shyer of the two kittens, he had always been very quiet, rarely making a sound.  As I watched through the open window, I could hear him purring, the loudest purr I had ever heard.
It went on like this for several days. Every evening, Brownie would come a little closer. The day he actually started eating, before I backed away from the dish, it felt like a small victory. I had finally won a smidgen of his trust. I watched him, contentedly eating. The young cat was obviously thinner. He had been hunting mice, and eating garbage, and was probably infested with parasites. A dose of worm medicine, and some flea drops between his shoulder blades would take care of that problem.
Being on his own, away from JR, Brownie's personality began to shine through. Talkative and friendly, he was happy to rub his body on our legs, while purring and meowing softly. As spring turned to summer, he stayed near the house, sunning on the warm gravel, or curled up on the steps beside the door. He gained weight and filled out, growing into a compact cat, stocky and strong. He started to look like a little brown bear.
Over time, Brownie became quite approachable, by his standards. A good ear-scratching or back rub would earn much purring, as long as we didn't try to pick him up. We folded an old quilt into a thick pad, and placed it in the mud room, near his dish. That night at dinnertime, my husband and I watched through the window. After finishing his cat food, Brownie gave the blanket a cautious sniff, and lay down tentatively. From then on, he was very comfortable, eating and sleeping inside, as long as the door was ajar.
The first truly cold evening of autumn, I let Brownie in and shut the door. Distracted by the dishing-up of dinner, he didn't notice at first. I set his bowl down, saw him start eating, and went into the house, leaving him alone in the mud room. Good, I thought, he doesn't mind. He'll be safe and warm, with a soft place to sleep.
"How's Brownie doing out there?" my husband asked an hour or so later.
I said I didn't know, and let's go check. Peering into the dim room, we fully expected to see the cat curled up, asleep. Instead, we didn't see him anywhere. Flipping on the light, I stepped into the mud room and called his name. Instantly, I heard a low growl. Following my ear, I saw Brownie, crouched in the corner behind a stack of flowerpots, looking terrified.
"It's okay, fella," I said, feeling terrible, "I'm so sorry, boy, I didn't mean for you to be scared." Quickly, I crossed the room and opened the outside door. Brownie was through it in a flash of ginger fur. No amount of coaxing would bring him back in, that night.
By the next day, however, all was well again. We made sure the door remained open a bit. My husband stretched a mini-bungee from door-knob to door-frame, held in place by a coffee can doorstop. Brownie had made his wishes abundantly clear. No matter how much he trusts us, confinement is not his cup of tea. So, we do what we can by providing some food and shelter, and he does his part by keeping the rodents away.
The Brown Bear was born a free-range cat, and free-range he has chosen to remain, but he still enjoys his blanket.