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.

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.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Rushing Spring

         Seeing the newly opened, seasonal, garden center at the local Thriftway made me think of our early years on Orcas.
         Coming from here in the Willamette Valley, and eager for Spring, I really didn’t appreciate the differences in climate. According to all the gardening books, the San Juans were still a solid “Zone 8”, just like Portland. Tax day was the last frost date I was used to, and often it was safe to plant hardy annuals even sooner. With that in mind, I started my first island garden.
         It was late February, the weekend of the annual salmon derby. Pat was out on the water with his fishing buddies, and I was left with a beautiful faux-spring day ahead of me. With visions of bluebells and petunias, I drove to the nursery in town. Instead of the row upon row of bedding plants that I expected to see, there were bare-root shrubs and not much else. I spoke to the lady in charge, and she patiently explained that there were no less than 18(!) separate microclimates on Orcas, and she didn’t stock annuals until the first week of May…but I was welcome to order anything I wanted.
         Undeterred, I went to the hardware store. They’re part of a chain, so they carry what the mainland suppliers send them. I bought a flat of primroses and one of violas. Turns out it was too early for petunias even by Ace Hardware standards. I rushed home to prep my flowerbeds. By the time the fishermen came home, I had everything planted, and protected from the deer. It really looked like spring had come early.
         Unfortunately, the beautiful day was followed by a night with a clear sky. As the sun went down, so did the temperature. In the morning, I was reminded that Violas are also known as “pansies”. Every one had succumbed to the frost. The primroses were wilted, but recovered as the day warmed up. Fair enough. I waited until May to buy more bedding plants.
         You would think that taught me a lesson, but no. The following year, I managed to hold out until the middle of March. Then a string of unseasonably warm days got the better of me. I’d been reading about cool weather crops, and decided it was time to set out the cabbage and broccoli. I had started these from seed, (too early) and they were already getting to big for their pots. The plants had been growing in the unheated utility room, so I didn’t think the temperature shock would be too great. After a day of hardening off, I planted my little treasures. They did beautifully…for eight days. Then on the day of the Vernal Equinox...laughingly known as the first day of spring…it froze hard, then it snowed. So much for cool weather crops.
         The late April night I found myself shivering in the dark garden, covering my tomato cages with plastic bags, I admitted defeat. I realized that spring in the islands just couldn’t be rushed.

         Now, back in the valley, I'm still in a hurry for spring, but it's not so hard to wait until mid-April. At least I'm relatively certain that it won't snow. 
 
 *****

        I like to make this recipe when the garden is in full production, but there’s really no reason to wait. You can use pretty much any vegetables, as long as you get varied textures and colors. It’s the salsa that’s important. The smokiness of the peppers is what makes this dish. I served these to my teenage sons, and neither noticed the absence of meat.

Chipotle Veggie Wraps         A vegetarian entrée

8 Whole wheat Tortillas
2 tbs. corn oil
1 ea. red, yellow & green bell pepper, sliced
1 med. onion, cut into thin wedges
Other veggies (mushrooms, zucchini, etc.) to equal 2 cups
1 lb. pkg. tofu, cut into strips
½ tsp. each cumin and chili powder
1½ cups Chipotle salsa
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
Shredded lettuce
Sour cream for garnish

Heat oil to medium high in heavy skillet. Add peppers and onions. Cook until tender.
Add remaining vegetables and cook to desired tenderness.

Reduce heat to medium. Season tofu with chili powder and cumin. Add to skillet along with the salsa. Simmer until heated through.

Wrap in warmed tortillas and top with lettuce, cheese and sour cream.


 

Friday, February 21, 2014

Taking the Easy Way...

      As much as I love to cook, I still like to find shortcuts to make a recipe easier, or faster to create. When the family was growing, I made most everything from scratch. It was far more cost effective, and peeling potatoes or dicing carrots can be therapeutic. But, I just don't feel like doing all that after a long day at work. Now, I get a lot of "kits" and add my own variations.   
      Idahoan makes an instant mashed potato that tastes homemade, especially if used as a crust for shepherd's pie.
      A Totino's frozen pizza (or {"peetzee") as we like to call it) can serve as the base for all kinds of great toppings, when we don't want to get a "real" pizza.
      A bag of frozen mixed vegetables is a staple in my freezer. I use them in soups, stews, and casseroles, anything that needs those kinds of veggies.
      A perfect example of "fast and easy" is this simple sauce. I use an envelope of Knorr white sauce mix, and serve it over Ramen noodles. Allow about 2 packs of noodles for every 3 servings. Cook the noodles per package directions, but use half as much of the seasonings. (I use shrimp flavor with this dish.) Drain off the broth. The noodles will absorb some of the flavor without overpowering the clams.

White Clam Sauce
Serves 4 to 6

2 - 6.5 oz. cans of chopped clams
3 cups basic white sauce, homemade or packaged
2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp. butter
3 tbsp. finely diced sweet onion
4 medium button mushrooms, sliced (or 1 can sliced mushrooms, drained)
1 tsp. minced parsley
½ tsp. garlic powder

Drain clams, reserving liquid. Make white sauce, using the clam nectar for a portion of the liquid, adding milk or half-and-half to make 3 cups. Set aside and keep warm.

In a heavy saucepan, heat oil and butter over medium heat. Add onion. Cook slowly, stirring frequently until translucent. Add mushrooms and reduce heat to low. Add parsley and garlic powder. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally until mushrooms are tender, about 10 minutes. Stir in the white sauce, followed by the clams.

Simmer on low, 15 to 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Serve over your choice of pasta, garnished with parmesan if desired.


Sunday, January 26, 2014

Seahawks Super Bowl Party

Unless you are somewhere completely without communication,(in which case you probably wouldn't be reading this blog) you know that next Sunday is Super Bowl. The Seattle Seahawks will be facing the Denver Broncos. The last time the Seahawks played in the big game was in 2005, when they lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers. The night before, there was a huge wind storm in northern Washington, leaving much of Seattle without electricity. The venues with generators did record business that day.

This year, we will be watching the game with our family and friends, cheering and enjoying awesome food. Pizza and wings are expected. We are not, however, talking about take-out wings or delivery pizza. Nope, these are to be homemade, from scratch. I used to make pizza as a way to kill time during the game. Now-a-days, though, I'm as much a fan as my husband and kids. I make my pizza before kick-off, put it in the oven just before halftime, and it's ready by the third quarter. The wings require a bit more attention, but I just set and carry a small kitchen timer in my pocket.

When I started making wings, I didn’t care at all about being authentic. I’ve never been to Buffalo, and I like my wings a bit less fiery, with no dip required. So, after many trials, this is what I came up with. We prefer our wings well done, so I slow roast them for about 2 hours. The chicken comes out falling-off-the-bones tender. I included brand names in my recipe, but I've had good results with McCormick's dry rub and Sweet Baby Ray's barbeque sauce. I think the key is to use both Hickory and Mesquite in some combination.

Sweet & Spicy Chicken Wings
Heat oven to 350°

2½ lb. bag Foster Farms Party Wings
2 tbsp. (or so) Lysander’s Hickory Dry Seasoning
1 cup Stubb’s Smokey Mesquite Barbeque Sauce
1 tbsp. Stubb’s Wicked Chicken Wing Sauce or other hot sauce (optional)
 
Combine 1 cup barbeque sauce with 1 tablespoon wing sauce. Stir well and set aside.
 
Make sure the wings are completely thawed. Place in a single layer, skin sides down, in a large baking dish. Sprinkle generously with Lysander’s, enough to make a visible layer. Bake for 30 minutes. Drain if necessary. (I use a turkey baster.)
 
Turn the wings over and season the skin side generously. Bake an additional 30 minutes. Turn the wings again. Brush well with the sauce. Bake another 20-30 minutes. Turn skin-side-up and sauce that side generously. Return to the oven for 15-20 minutes, until the glaze is set. Serve hot or cold.
 
***
 
A good crust is the foundation of any pizza. There are plenty of good refrigerated pizza crusts, and even boxed mixes, that work very well. I even used biscuit mix once, when I was out of yeast. But a good, basic yeast dough is still the best way to go. If you have a bread machine with a pizza setting, use it. Just follow their directions.
 
Super Bowl Pizza  
Makes one 14” medium crust pizza

1 packet active dry yeast, quick rising
1 cup warm water (105° to 115° F)
½ tsp. salt
2 tsp. olive oil
2½ to 3½ cups all purpose flour

OR
1 - 12” to 14” ready made pizza crust

In a large bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water. Add salt, olive oil and 2½ cups flour. Mix well. Turn onto floured board. Knead, adding remaining flour until dough feels elastic. Place in greased bowl, turning to grease top. Cover; let rise in warm place until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour. Punch down. Let rest about 10 minutes. Brush pizza pan with olive oil and sprinkle with cornmeal. Press dough across bottom of pan, forming a collar around edge to hold the toppings.
 
Toppings:
1 - 14 oz. can pizza sauce
1½ cup shredded mozzarella
¼ lb. pepperoni
¼ lb. salami
¼ lb. Canadian bacon
½ lb. Italian sausage, hot or mild
¼ cup diced onion
¼ cup diced bell pepper
½ lb. sliced mushrooms
1 - 3oz. can sliced olives

Brown sausage and drain well. Sauté onion and pepper in a little olive oil until soft. Spread sauce across crust. Layer all topping ingredients, finishing with cheese on top. This can be done a couple of hours ahead. (Your crust may continue to rise if it’s made ahead and not refrigerated.)

Bake at 450° for 15 to 20 minutes. Let rest 5 minutes before slicing.



Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Dungeness Crab Delight

             When I was a freshman in high school, my best friend, Julie and I spent spring break at her mother's cabin near Mt. Hood. It was our first excursion without adults, although we learned later that the neighbors had been keeping a discreet eye on us. At fifteen, we considered ourselves quite self sufficient, and we really did pretty well. We hiked, shot pellet rifles, and rode our bicycles into the town of Rhododendron for breakfast one morning.
            One unseasonably warm afternoon, the temperatures topped 70. We decided that it would be fun to go swimming. We dressed in some of Julie's old cut-off shorts and t-shirts and headed for the creek. By the time we walked the mile or so, mostly uphill, to the swimming hole, we were really hot. The deep water of Still Creek looked inviting. After checking for submerged hazards by poking aroung with a long stick, Julie ran to the bank and jumped in. I was right behind her.
            The cold shot through my body like an electric shock. My hands and feet were instanly numb. It had not occurred to us that it was only mid-March, and the creek was full of snow melt. (We were on the ascending slope of Mt. Hood, after all.) Our "swim" lasted approximately 15 seconds. Just long enough to get back out of the water. It had also not occurred to either of us to bring towels. Shivering, and on the verge of hypothermia, we made our way back through the very shady woods. Back at the cabin,  Julie stoked the woodstove, the only source of heat. We were very glad that cooking required fire, and we had built one that morning to make coffee. Soon we were in warm, dry clothes and the pot was bubbling. Life was good again.
            Julie and I, even as teenagers, enjoyed good food. Her mother was a gourmet cook, happy to cook for us, and teach us anything we wanted to know. My first taste of caviar was in her kitchen. We were both learning to cook, and found the woodstove at the cabin a lot of fun. Being true Oregon tomboys, we grew up with the lore of the pioneers, and wanted to learn all the skills. The week at the cabin was as close as we could come in the 70's. And much of it revolved around food. We roasted a rabbit (that we brought from the butcher shop) on a spit in the fireplace, and baked potatoes in the coals.  It took about five hours, and countless burnt fingers, but it was a delicious meal.
            Coffee was in a stove top perculator, and not very good. We either used too much coffee, or let it perk too long. The pancakes we made on the cast iron stove top were another matter, and wonderful. Likewise the pepper-cured honey bacon that we found at the market in Rhododendron.
            We lost touch after high school, but have re-established contact. Our lives have taken us to, quite literally, opposite ends of the country. Mine to the San Juan Islands of Washington State, hers to northern Maine. No surprise that we both live in the woods. We still both love the outdoors, and fantasize about pioneer living, although on a tamer scale. And we both still love to eat, and cook
            Here in the Pacific Northwest, it's the season for fresh Dungeness crab, in my mind, far tastier than any lobster. Julie's mother passed away a few years ago, but I asked if she would share her special crab soup recipe. I remembered it as her entry in one of the James Beard contests. I believe it won an award, but neither Julie or I can recollect the details. The original recipe was for twelve main course servings, and called for a total of four pounds of crab.This adaptation calls for quantities of a more managable size, and the results are scrumptious.
 
Dungeness Crab Delight             
Serves 2 as a main course, 4 as an appetizer
 
1/2 lb. cooked crab meat
1/2 lb. cooked crab legs
1 to ½ quart half & half
¼ lb. butter
¼ cup flour
1 tbsp. onion, grated
2 drops hot pepper sauce or ¼ tsp. cayenne pepper
½ cup heavy cream
1 tbsp. Scotch or Bourbon Whiskey (optional)
Salt, Pepper, Chopped parsley, Paprika
 
Melt butter in double boiler. Add Flour and onion and cook at least 20 minutes up to two hours (the longer, the better). Slowly add most of the half & half, stirring at low heat to keep from lumping. If too thick, add more half & half. Add a sprinkle of black pepper and the Tabasco Sauce. (Up to this point can be made ahead of time and allowed to cool).
 
An hour before serving, heat slowly to a simmer. Stir in whiskey and add the crab meat and legs, being careful not to break it up too much. Check for seasoning and add salt if needed (often, the crab is salty enough on its own).

To serve, pour the heavy cream into serving bowls and pour the soup over it. Sprinkle with finely chopped parsley and plenty of paprika.
 

Friday, January 3, 2014

A Cure for the Common Cold?

             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 family loves 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 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 remaining clove(s) of garlic just before serving. Serve with hearty whole grain bread.