2012 is here, a new year, a chance to see new things, try new foods, meet new people be open to adventures. Happy New Year.
It’s already mid-January and my last post was Christmas Cookies. Christmas was a fun time with the family and suffice it to say I’m a bit behind in posting.
The week after flew by and I was caught up in getting the house ready to close up and packing for my trip south. Last week I arrived in the Dominican Republic where we’ve rented an apartment for the next few weeks.
Max had come the first of December to stay in a town on the Samana Peninsula directly north of the major city of Santo Domingo. He met me in Santo Domingo for a few days of sightseeing before heading to our stay in Las Terrenas.
It has the slightest resemblance to Ferragudo in Portugal’s Algarve region where we spent last winter. It has beautiful beaches and fishermen who come in daily selling fresh fish right off the boats. There are small shops where we can buy groceries but there the resemblance ends. Ferragudo was definitely very European, this is very Latin.
The streets are filled with activity, people walking or just hanging out, women washing clothes on their doorsteps and hanging them to dry on fences or bushes, children playing marbles in the middle of the road, dogs wandering about. Tiny shops and restaurants line the main street. Motor scooters, ATVs, trucks, cars, music issuing from shops and homes and the occasional pickup truck with a loudspeaker bringing messages in Spanish all add to the cacophony.
The spectacular beaches, pristine waters, and perfect climate make it a draw for tourists. For the adventurous there is snorkeling, horseback riding, and many other activities. The main street is lined with shops selling crafts, tee shirts, postcards and other things ubiquitous in tourist areas. It is not as highly developed as some of the big resort areas however, so it still feels like a small town.
We’ve been interested to discover a large French community here, apparently ex-pats. We’ve eaten in several excellent French restaurants and often have coffee at a small French boulangerie.
One of the best things about travel is being immersed in a new culture. We are enjoying getting to know this one a bit.

The beach at Las Terrenas

One of the Christmas traditions that I enjoy is making Christmas cookies. When the children were in elementary school I spent weeks making cookies and freezing them. The last day of school before the holidays an array of a dozen different kinds of cookies were arranged on trays and taken to their teachers. The year after Aaron, our youngest, moved on to Junior High, I met one of his elementary school teachers who bemoaned the fact that there would be no more cookie trays from the Russell children.
Another event that became a tradition during those years were cookie parties. Each child could invite four or five of his or her friends to decorate cookies. The parties were scheduled an hour apart and lasted an hour so that an any one time there were no more than six present. The week before the party I made endless batches of cookie dough, rolled it and cut out Christmas trees, stars, bells, reindeer, Santa’s and angels. A few gingerbread men too.
On the day of the party I beat up batches of icing, tinted it different colors and set them out with bowls of different kinds of sprinkles and and small candies. Each child decorated a dozen or so cookies and went home with a plateful of his/her creations.
I tried many different cookies over the years but a few became special favorites. Pecan Sandies and Angel Bars from Joy of Cooking and Raspberry Strip Cookies from a long ago cookbook were always included.

Raspberry Strip Cookies

1 cup soft butter (2 sticks)
½ cup sugar
3 cups flour
Raspberry jam

Glaze:
1 cup powdered sugar
¼ cup water

Beat the butter and sugar together in a large mixing bowl until light and fluffy. Gradually beat flour into the butter mixture. The mixture will be crumbly, use your hands to form into a smooth dough. This will happen with the warmth of your hands.
Roll the dough into logs about ½ inch in diameter and the length of the baking sheet. Place on a baking sheet a little distance apart. With your little finger or knife handle make a groove the the length of the logs. Bake in 375 degree oven for ten minutes. Remove and fill the groove with raspberry jam. Return to the oven and bake another ten minutes until the dough is set and light golden.
While the cookies are baking stir the powdered sugar and water together.
As soon as the cookies come out of the oven brush them with the glaze. Cut the warm logs diagonally into cookies about 1 inch wide. Cool on cookie sheet set on a wire rack.

Black Friday, Cyber Monday, catalogs and fliers in every mail delivery exhorting us to buy, buy, buy. I know it’s good for the economy but just where does this fit with Christmas? You know, peace on earth, goodwill to men. I understand that Christmas sales can make the difference between success or failure for retail businesses but would people really not buy the same things if they waited to shop on Friday morning?
Stores opening at 4AM used to seem crazy to me but opening on Thanksgiving evening somehow made me sad. Thanksgiving is one holiday that can be enjoyed by people of all faiths, or none. It is a time when families gather to enjoy, or not, each other’s company. To end a day like that with a shopping trip seems to negate the holiday in some way. That doesn’t even take into account all the people who have to end their holiday by going to work.
I know that for many people shopping is entertainment. That’s fine if that’s what they enjoy but it’s hard for me to understand why it has to be done on Thanksgiving Day.
I stopped at Northshore Mall last week for something I hadn’t been able to find locally. Counters were piled high with clothing, sporting equipment, notions, jewelry, every imaginable item that could be a gift. There were long lines of people with arms full of items waiting to be checked out. I’m sure that the shoppers want to find a gift that will please the recipient but I wonder how many of those same items will be in line for return or exchange the week after Christmas.
I admit that I’ve become increasingly cynical. Like many older people, I remember when Christmas was a very different celebration. As long as I’m having this little rant, Christmas decorations going up right after Halloween and Christmas music being played in every store until it becomes meaningless background noise are two more of the things that seem to make Christmas season less enjoyable over the years. Anticipation is part of the pleasure and shouldn’t be spread over months.

Birthday Party

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Birthdays are special occasions and in our family most of them seem to come in a relatively short period of time. From August 25 to November 30 we have thirteen birthdays to celebrate. This year the celebrant’s ages ranged from 75 to 10. Wednesday was the last birthday until January.
Cecelia is ten. The occasion was marked by a gathering of six grandparents, an uncle and an aunt, along with her mom and dad and brother. Before dinner she approached each of us to say that at dinner she would be making an announcement and hoped we would all be quiet (we can be a noisy bunch) and listen.
When we were seated she stood and requested our attention. She reached into a bag at her side and pulled out a script that she had prepared earlier. “First, I want to thank Daddy for making me chocolate chip pancakes in the shape of a C this morning”. She gave him a painting that she’d made. “Thank you Mommy for not getting mad when I got up so early and being so nice to me.” Mommy received a wrapped handmade gift. Referring to her list she thanked each person at the table for something she valued about them and gave them an original drawing or painting. My gift was a snowflake intricately cut from white paper and encased in it’s own Cecelia-made envelope. “I want to thank Grammy for the cake that she baked for me, at least I think that she baked one for me.”
Is it little wonder that being a grandparent is such a joy?

Thanksgiving Day

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The pies are cooling on the counter and we’ll leave soon to join our Andover family for a day of feasting and fun. It has been years since I’ve gotten up at dawn to stuff the turkey and get it in the oven. One of the benefits of having the next generation host dinner.
I stopped making Thanksgiving dinner in 1980. It was our second year on the farm and the first year that we sold pies. After baking pies all night we just wanted to go to bed. It has become the custom for different family members to spend the holiday with their partner’s families. The Russells gather enfamille on Christmas Eve.
For many years we have joined our son Matt’s family for Thanksgiving. Two other families join us as well as our daughter Laura. This year we are happy to have granddaughter Leah with us for the first time in eight years and her husband William for the first time ever.
Dinner is a communal project. Susan prepares the traditional turkey and stuffing. Others bring their special dishes. After dinner we are joined by another family or two and hold a Yankee Swap with silly gifts. It is a lot of fun with much hilarity. Dessert comes after the swap and we end the day sitting in front of the fire enjoying each other’s company. A perfect holiday.
We have so much to be thankful for.

November

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After the frantic pace of September and October, I always think that November will be quiet. When it finally rolls around and I turn the page of my calendar, I see that it is not going to be such a laid back month after all.
There was the Wine and Apple Festival the first weekend, three grandchildren have birthdays coming up, and then there’s Thanksgiving. I also start planning for December, making lists of gifts to buy, cards to send, baking to do.
Thanksgiving dinner when I was growing up always meant Cranberry Relish. My mother’s Cranberry Relish usually was part of a day long orgy of preparation and cooking the day before Thanksgiving. I was often the one turning the crank on the old food grinder. It screwed onto the edge of the kitchen table; a bowl placed on the floor under it to catch the juice dripping down as the fruit was ground. It was an easy recipe but really messy. A package of cranberries, two oranges, rind and all, and two unpeeled apples. It all went through the grinder and then was mixed with a cup of sugar.
The food grinder is long gone but my grandson David still makes it every year in the food processor.
Years ago I found a recipe for Cranberry Apricot Chutney. It now joins David’s relish on the Thanksgiving table. It’s especially good on a turkey and stuffing sandwich. I made it yesterday, we’ll have to sample it a few times before the holiday. I like it with chicken or pork as well as turkey. It is simple to make and keeps well in the refrigerator. It also can be frozen.

Cranberry and Apricot Chutney
12 ounce package of whole cranberries
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
3/4 cup snipped dried apricots
1/4 cup minced ginger root (I love ginger, you can add less if you prefer)
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1/4 cup cider vinegar

In a 3 quart heavy saucepan combine sugar and water. Cook and stir over medium-high heat until sugar is dissolved. Bring to boil without stirring.
Stir in cranberries, apricots, vinegar, brown sugar and ginger. Reduce heat. Simmer, uncovered, for 15 or 20 minutes or until berries have popped and mixture starts to thicken, stirring occasionally.
Remove from heat and allow to cool. Refrigerate but bring to room temperature 30 minutes before serving. Makes 3 ½ cups.

It can also be frozen.

Last night I had the pleasure of attending a fund raiser for the Essex Art Center in Lawrence. The EAC’s focus is to empower children by enabling them to explore their own creative resources, allowing them to recognize their self worth. Lawrence’s schools are consistently rated among the lowest in the state. The EACs after school and summer programs are the only opportunity for many of the students to be introduced to art in it’s many forms. There they are encouraged to express themselves through various creative methods.
I started thinking about the constant appeals for money, goods, and/or time that besiege us continually. Every day the mailbox and email bring pleas from a charity/worthy cause. Food pantries, homeless shelters, medical research, school groups, all sorts of needs close to home. Earthquakes, floods, famine, war, further from us but with us daily in news and TV. Somalia, Haiti, India, Afghanistan, the suffering in the world seems endless.
Altruism is a part of our culture and I believe that Americans are a generous people. I grew up in a family that tithed, giving 10% of before tax income to our church and often nearly that much to other charities. In my father’s old age I helped him with his check book and was surprised at all the $5 checks that went to a long list of charities out of his small social security check and tiny pension.
I’d like to help all those people but I have to choose carefully. I’ve spent time on Charity Navigator and Charity Watch and decided that I will no longer send money to large charities that pay their CEOs huge sums of money and whose fund raising eats up a large amount of the budget. Most of my mail now goes into the recycle bin unopened. I can’t fix all the hunger, disease, and misery in the world and reading about it makes me feel helpless and sad.
I now give whatever money is available to organizations with missions that I feel passionately about and know will use the money wisely.

Lists

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Lists. My life has been ruled by lists.
Years ago there was the grocery list that I made up every Thursday when the newspaper arrived with the weeks supermarket specials. There were three markets in town and the menu for the next week depended on these specials. The shopping list was divided by market and what to buy where. Next, the list on the refrigerator was consulted. It showed what we had run out of in the past week. That got added depending on which market had the cheapest item. Thursday night, Max put the children to bed while a friend and I shopped. Our big night out for the week.
Also on the refrigerator was the list of chores for each of the five children for the week. This list got rotated weekly. Dish washing one week, emptying the dishwasher the next, setting the table, dusting, you get the picture. There was another list of chores that could be done for cash.
Late in the summer there were lists of each child and what clothes they would need for school. These lists were usually made up on our yearly tenting trip in the Maine woods. That was after I’d made sure that everything we needed for two weeks was checked off the camping list.
On my desk was the list of members in the baby sitting club, and the list of mothers of children in the present child’s pre-school class. Also of course, a list of emergency telephone numbers.
At tax time, the checkbook register for the previous year was scrutinized closely for the lists of deductions. Charitable contributions, interest, taxes, medical expenses, all listed by category. While I was at it, lists of what I had spent on each child’s clothing for the year as well as mine and my husband’s.
Oh yes, I kept lists of dinner parties. The menu, the shopping list for the dinner, and who attended. I couldn’t serve the same thing twice to the same person.
Holidays were major list times. Although I’d given up sending Christmas cards after the fifth baby in seven years, I kept lists of who sent them to us (a good way to track who really cares). The gift lists needed major thought. Each child got an age appropriate book, an item of clothing, the all important “special” gift, and a stocking stuffed with small toys and fun things. Besides the children, there were gifts for assorted other family members.
The cookie list was a big deal. I baked fifteen kinds of Christmas cookies, always the favorites and every year a few new recipes. Following the cookie list was the list of necessary ingredients and then the list of teachers and neighbors who would receive trays of them.
Another important Christmas list was the list of recipients of the Scandinavian Coffee Cakes that I baked for our close friends each year. The cakes were delivered on Christmas Eve day intended to be part of Christmas morning breakfast. That required a baking orgy the day before Christmas Eve to ensure absolute freshness.
My life has progressed, the lists have changed but there seem to be more every year. There are the lists of every book I’ve read since 1986 and every movie I’ve seen since 1988 and the list of books yet to read and films yet to see. There’s the master packing list for travel and the list of all the people that I send postcards to while I’m away.
In the linen drawer is a list of the sixty-plus white linen napkins that I inherited from my mother and grandmother, all categorized by pattern and number. At the rate I now give dinner parties, it should be years before they need to be ironed again.
There are the lists of the Highlights and Lowlights for the year, traditionally done on New Year’s Day. There are no lists of resolutions, it was too discouraging to look back on them.
My computer has more lists than I can ever use, all those bookmarks lists, each with lists of lists. No more notebooks for me, now to bring myself to part with them. Do I really need to know what I served the Gardners in 1973? (Tostadas de Harinas, Duckling with Almond, Amaretto and Apricot Sauce, Rice, Green beans, Grapefruit marinated with Honey, Cardamom, and Brandy, Chocolate Mousse).
Lest you think that lists control my life, I am known at times to be spontaneous. And, one of my five children is able to function well without lists. How does he do it?
A few years ago I found the ultimate in list making. A book titled List Your Self: Listmaking as the Way to Self-Discovery. It has pages and pages of questions like “list the ways the government lies to you,” and “list all the things you can prove are true,” and “what do you like to do after sex”. Given my ability to make lists on my own, one might wonder if I shouldn’t already have reached Self-Discovery!

Pumpkin Time

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Outside the window of my office are the bright orange, rotund vegetables that have become synonymus with Fall. Pumpkins, rows and rows and bins and piles. Pumpkins everywhere and where there are pumpkins, there are children. I can see the delight on the children’s faces when they spy them and watch while loving family members aim cameras at them begging, “smile”.
This year Miranda had a “photo op” area created with corn stalks surrounding bales of hay and pumpkins. I picture thirty years from now, those photos being enjoyed by the children of the little ones happily sitting on a hay bale or among a sea of pumpkins.
I imagine that the pumpkins outside my window will be carved into jack-o-lantern faces, scary or happy or unusual, or be combined with autumn leaves and other symbols of fall to decorate someone’s front porch or dinner table.
Thirty years ago when I started making pies for the orchard those pumpkins presented a huge task for me. First baking them until soft, cutting them open and scooping out the seeds, scraping out the flesh and then pressing it through a sieve until it was finally in a form that could go into a pie. Huge pots of pumpkin puree finally made, I added pumpkin to the list of pies that I could offer for Thanksgiving.
Pumpkins are also good for soup or other desserts. This is a recipe that my granddaughter, Crystal Russell Galvin gave me. It came from her husband’s grandmother, Marie Galvin. Crystal tries to keep one in her freezer for whenever she needs to come up with a yummy dessert.

PUMPKIN ROLL (Marie Galvin version)
Cake :
3 eggs
2/3 cup pumpkin puree (1/3 of a can of pumpkin)
1 cup sugar
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¾ cup flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup chopped nuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Line 10″x15″ cookie sheet with parchment paper. Mix all ingredients together except nuts. Pour in pan and cover with nuts if you want them. Bake for 15 minutes (my oven is for 12 min so adjust to your oven) immediately turn it over onto a clean tea towel sprinkled with sugar, remove the parchment paper, and roll into a Jelly Roll with towel. Let this cool completely in this position then carefully unroll and spread with filling.

Filling:
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
8 ounces softened cream cheese
1 cup powdered sugar.
Beat all together and spread on the cooled pumpkin cake. Roll into a jelly roll and refrigerate for several hours. Slice and serve. It also freezes beautifully for last minute serving.

Photo by Elizabeth Thomsen, via Flickr

Birthday Cake

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Hunton’s twelfth birthday was Sunday. Ten year old Cecelia and I were entrusted with baking his birthday cake. As is the custom in our family, the birthday honoree chooses the menu and the cake for the celebration.
Hunton requested a three layer cake. He wanted the bottom layer to be a banana pecan cake, like his dad’s last birthday cake. The next layer was to be chocolate, like his cake last year, and finally a coconut layer. I’m not sure where that idea came from but a search of the Internet finally came up with one that wasn’t just a cake mix with a coconut icing.
Promptly at ten Cecelia arrived and we set about baking. In less than three hours, we had three, two layer cakes cooling.
Hunton’s icing choice was whipped cream, as a lover of whipped cream, it was the perfect choice in my opinion.
Cecelia decorated it with pecan halves and a tasteful scattering of sprinkles. It was very well received. I now have the exact same cake in the freezer and can produce another three layer cake if anyone is interested.

The banana cake recipe came from an old cookbook and has been a family favorite since the early 60s. I’ve tried several others but they don’t compare to the lovely moist, banana flavor of this one.

Banana Nut Layer Cake

2 ½ cups cake flour, sifted before measuring
1 ½ teaspoon baking soda
1 cup mashed well-ripened bananas
1 teaspoon lemon juice
¾ cup buttermilk
¾ cup butter
2 cups sugar
3 eggs
1 ½ teaspoon vanilla
1 cup chopped pecans

Sift flour and soda together. Set aside. Crush bananas to a fine paste, add lemon juice and stir in milk. Set aside. Cream shortening, add sugar gradually and cream well with shortening. Add eggs, one at a time, stir in vanilla.

Add dry ingredients alternately with banana mixture in 3 or 4 portions beginning and ending with flour.

Pour into greased and floured 9 inch baking pans. Bake 28-30 minutes, test with toothpick for doneness. Cool pans on rack 8-10 minutes and then turn cake onto racks.

For as long as I can remember food has been a big focus of my daily life. I think about the next meal or the one I’ve recently eaten or one I’d like in the future. I love thumbing through cookbooks and still check/cook my old favorites frequently. I also look up recipes online, reading all the reviews and often trying something new.
In elementary school, I looked forward to going home for lunch each day, anticipating the leftover stew or chop suey or pickle and bologna sandwich that awaited me. As a young mother I looked forward to Thursday night when Max would stay with the children while I did a week’s shopping. Much of Thursday was spent planning menus for the next week and making up the shopping list based on the weekly supermarket sales.
Today I still start the morning looking forward to the meals of the day. If I’m lucky there will be leftovers for lunch and maybe a new recipe to try for dinner.
Food related articles in magazines and newspapers always get my attention. Recently I read a blog by Tara Parker-Pope in the NY Times called From Farm to Fridge to Garbage Can. http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/11/01/from-farm-to-fridge-to-garbage-can/ She quoted some studies that were mind-boggling. When a survey asked people why they didn’t cook at home they got a variety of answers, time, as expected, was a big factor but 28% of the respondents said they didn’t know how to cook. I’ll go back to that another time.
Another interesting bit of information was the relatively small part of our income that goes to food in the United States. We spend roughly 10% today, down from 25% in 1930 but really striking when compared to countries like Ethiopia where food accounts for 70% of income.
Our food is incredibly inexpensive compared to the rest of the world and yet we waste more than 40% of it according to Jonathan Bloom, author of American Wasteland : How America Throws Away Nearly Half of Its Food. A link took me to a blog he wrote in the Wall Street Journal, Help the Planet : Stop Wasting Food. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703440004575548391291973152.html?
There’s something disturbing about the fact that nearly half of our population is overweight, we throw away nearly half of our food and in other parts of the world, people are starving. There isn’t much I can do to remedy the world’s food inequalties but I can redouble my efforts to make sure that I don’t buy food that we aren’t likely to eat, I can make sure that there isn’t a pepper or a cucumber turning to mush in the back of the fridge or a container of yogurt or piece of cheese growing green stuff. And of course I will compost the scraps that don’t get eaten.

I’ve just had a milestone birthday. I would have been happy not to notice it but after being feted and fussed over, it’s not such a bad thing. It’s absolutely amazing how quickly the years pass, every year seems shorter than the year before.

My birthday greetings came in many forms: in person, handmade, whimsical, sentimental, comical, and via snail mail, Internet, email, and Facebook. Last Sunday I was delighted to be one of the honorees of a joint birthday dinner. My daughter Laura and grandson David both have birthdays a few days before mine. Extra special birthday gifts for me those years.

Mid-week I arrived at my daughter-in-law Susan’s for our occasional game of Bridge to find friends waiting with a tiara crowned with cards, a scrumptious cake, and a cake made of flowers that Mary Pritchard had created. It was stunning.

Cake at 9AM may seem inappropriate but it was very healthy. Nuts and fruit and egg whites, lots of protein and vitamins. There was of course the whipped cream that topped it but that shouldn’t count for too much. I’m sure a nutritionist would agree.

CELEBRATION CAKE
Meringue
2 cups nuts, almonds are good, any kind will work
8 egg whites
Pinch of salt
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 teaspoon distilled white vinegar

1. Butter two 9 inch springform pans (regular cake pans are not deep enough) and line the bottoms with parchment paper cut to fit. Butter the papers and dust them with flour.
2. Set the oven to 325 degrees.
3. Grind the nuts in a food processor.
4. Beat the egg whites and salt with an electric mixer until they hold stiff peaks. Add the sugar 2 tablespoons at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the vanilla and vinegar, then remove the beaters from the bowl.
5. Fold in the ground nuts. Divide the mixture between the prepared pans, smoothing the tops. Bake the cakes for 40 minutes. Carefully remove the sides of the pans and continue baking for another 10 minutes until they are crisp on the outside. (The centers will be soft because of the addition of vinegar to the meringue.)
6. Transfer the cake pans to racks to cool. Slide the cakes off the bottoms of the pans, lift off the parchment papers, and leave the cakes to cool completely.

Filling
2 cups heavy cream
2 cups sliced bananas
Whip 2 cups heavy cream, lightly sweeten (2 tablespoons sugar is enough). Spread one layer with a thin coat of whipped cream, slice bananas over the cream, and cover with another layer of cream. Place the other layer on top and spread with remaining whipped cream.

Chicago Visit

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I took a break from baking and cooking last week and spent several days in Chicago with friends from Boston, London, and Cologne, Germany. I fell in love with the city and its wonderful museums, Lake Michigan, beautiful parks, elegant shops, ethnic neighborhoods bursting with energy and vitality, and so much more. It has all the things that make a great city.

One night we joined 15,000 people at a concert, Stars of the Lyric Opera, at the magnificent Pritzker Pavilion. We picnicked on the grass, listened to the glorious music, and watched a full moon rise over the city. What traveler could ask for more. Another highlight was an architecture tour to the home and studio of Frank Lloyd Wright in Oak Park. I only had time to see a bit of what the city has to offer, I’m eager to go back for a longer time.

I wish that I could say that the food was also outstanding. We didn’t hit any of the restaurants of the top tier chefs but I’d hoped for something a bit above average. The Chicago deep dish pizza from a place recommended in all of our guide books was a big disappointment. The sauce was bland and the toppings sparse. Not worth the $31 that we paid for it. The famous Chicago hot dog lived up to it’s hype though. A beef dog, dipped in barbecue sauce, grilled over a charcoal fire until dark (the way I like them) and served on a toasted roll with sauteed onions and spicy mustard was one of the bright meals of my visit.

Travel has been one of my passions since getting my first passport at the age of 52. Since then I’ve had the good fortune to be able to visit 43 countries. Early on I started making photo albums of each trip. I’ve posted a bit about markets in Japan and Thailand. Looking through some of the albums this week I found eight that I had put together after a solo, six month, round the world trip nearly twenty years ago.

England was my first stop. I was introduced to pub food, steak and kidney pie and Ploughman’s lunches (crusty bread and butter, strong cheeses, pickled onions, and chutney) all accompanied by a “half” of bitter. Chips (french fries to us) and peas were served with most meals and coffee was served sitting down in a shop with a real china cup and saucer. A request for a coffee-to-go was met with puzzled looks.

Customs were different too. In a pub one ordered at the bar, payed and then food was brought to wherever one was sitting. In restaurants one just chose a table and sat, no waiting to be seated. The more upscale restaurants didn’t open until 7:00 or later and pubs stopped serving lunch at 2:30. I soon learned that if my full English breakfast wasn’t going to hold me until the pubs opened again at 5:30, I’d better be prepared to eat before 2:30.

Tipping was a matter of rounding up a few pence to the next pound. I learned to “mind the gap” when traveling on the London tube (subway), and look both ways multiple times before crossing the street, watching for cars driving on the left side of the street was disorienting.

The next stop was Brussels, my first visit to a non-English speaking country. There I discovered Belgian waffles sold from street-side kiosks, warm, crispy with a sugar coating, and eaten in the hand. The most striking thing about the food there was the way it was displayed in front of the restaurants. I had never seen anything like the street lined with restaurants, each with an elaborate array of foods artistically arranged in the windows or on carts in front of the building.

I don’t know how it suddenly became mid-August. Soon the berries will be gone and we’ll be deep in apples. Last week I realized that I hadn’t made any strawberry or raspberry jam, our favorites, and now it’s too late. For many years I made the freezer version from recipes supplied by Sure Jell or Certo The fruit is simply mixed with sugar and the pectin. No cooking means that it retains the fresh fruit flavor.

The strawberries and raspberries are done but blueberries and blackberries are still fairly plentiful. The blackberry seeds are a bit much so I decided to make jelly. I crushed the berries and then put them in a bag made from layers of cheese cloth. I hung it on a hook and let it drip overnight. The next morning I made the jelly following the Sure Jell recipe for cooked jelly. It turned out well so I thought I’d try some others but that was all the pectin I had bought.

On the Internet I found several recipes for Apricot Preserves and Jam. They all seemed pretty simple. Just fruit and sugar cooked down until it thickens. Off to the orchard where I got the very last apricots in the store. Home again I weighed the fruit. It wasn’t exactly the amount in the recipes so I just used all I had, added some sugar, the juice of a lemon, and a little water and simmered it in a big pot, stirring occasionally, more often as it thickened. I ladled it into jars and did a 10 minute water bath. It turned out beautifully, a little thicker than I might have wished, but good.

Two successes and I was getting into it. I’ve had a recipe for Ginger-Peach Marmalade for years. I’d never made it but I happened to have an orange, a lemon, and some ginger root in the fridge. Back to the orchard for peaches. Everything went into the pot with sugar and soon it was bubbling away. It was a huge success. The different fruits along with the ginger gave it complexity that was especially appealing. I cooked it a little less long and it turned out perfectly.

While this was cooking I chopped up a couple of cups of mint, simmered it in four cups of water and set it aside to steep. I planned to make mint jelly. When I drained the water off, it had turned brown and unattractive. I dumped it all. When I told a friend about the failure. She said I should have added some green food coloring and it would have been fine.

I had been thinking of making some Peach-Blueberry Jam and maybe some Blackberry-Rhubarb (there’s still rhubarb in the freezer) but suddenly, I decided that I’d lost interest in jam.

Until next year!

In past years we struggled to keep berries and veggies fresh in the heat of July. Some of our customers remember when, in desperation, we had fans blowing over ice to keep things cool. Every night anything remaining had to be transported to the cooled basement of the barn, then brought up the morning. This year we are thrilled with our new, brightly lit, chilled room.
The baskets and shelves hold a colorful array of good things to eat. Reds berries, currants, and tomatoes, yellow tomatoes and summer squash, green beans and zucchini, blueberries, black berries and now purple beans.
Purple beans are new to me so I had to try them. I put them in the pot, covered it and cooked them for about five minutes. Surprise, when I uncovered the pot, the beans had turned green. They tasted just like green beans—actually, they had become green beans. Something to do with chemistry and chlorophyll I imagine.
Marini’s wonderful sweet corn is now available in the barn store too. Every year I think that I will freeze some but when I cut the corn off a few ears, it is so messy, I give it up. This year I bought the niftiest gadget that cleanly strips the corn from the cob, and contains it in an attached plastic cup. It’s called a OXO Good Grips Corn Stripper and I got it at Amazon.com.
I pulled out a recipe I’d found some time ago called Cod and Corn Cakes. I followed the recipe until I got to the bread crumbs. In the fridge I had some bread crumbs mixed with freshly grated Parmesan left over from another recipe. The resulting cakes were yummy and I think the cheese gave it just the right extra touch. The recipe can be found at leitesculinaria.com, and searching for Cod and Corn Cakes.

The abundance of fruit and the July heat is doing me in. I can’t keep up with all the recipes I had sworn to try this summer. I bought a freezer a few months ago and have been trying to freeze some of the bounty since it’s too hot for baking. I’m looking forward to extending the taste of summer through the winter.
One of our favorite summer pies is Blueberry Glaze Pie. It calls for a quart of fresh berries, some to be mashed and cooked with sugar, water and cornstarch until thickened, then poured over the remaining fresh berries in a baked pastry shell. I posted the recipe here in July 2009.
Last week, I only had a pint of berries, not enough to make that pie but I did have a seven inch pie shell in the freezer. What to do? Improvise as my mother taught me too many years ago. I found a bit of currant jelly in the back of the fridge, and a little more apricot preserves. Together they made about ½ cup.
I baked the pie shell (only fifteen minutes in the oven), melted the jelly and preserves together in a saucepan on the stove, stirring well. I gently mixed the blueberries into the melted mixture and poured the mix into the shell. It chilled three hours and turned out to be delicious and without a doubt, the easiest pie I ever made.

It’s the season of Farmer’s Markets and roadside stands brimming with fresh fruit and vegetables. At the orchard we are in the midst of our mid-summer abundance and I should be making jam and freezing berries but it’s too hot.
I started thinking about markets that I’ve visited in other countries. One of my favorite pass-times when traveling is to check out the local markets. Some of the most memorable were in Thailand. In every city or village I found fascinating markets.
In Bankok I visited an enormous, high-ceilinged warehouse filled with individual stalls heaped with every imaginable variety of vegetable and fruit. Huge baskets and bags of chilies—red, yellow, green, all sizes. I was told that the tiny green ones are the hottest but I didn’t try them.
I did sample a few new things, two kinds of tamarind, one sort of sweet and sticky, tasting something like a prune and another that was crunchier and not sweet with little flavor. They are both encased in pods looking like fat beans. Another food that I sampled and won’t need to try again was hard boiled egg yolks soaked in a sugar syrup. They were teeth hurting sweet and I’m not a big fan of hard boiled eggs anyway.
One interesting fruit that I tried is the Durian. It is a large fruit with a spiky outer husk and a strong odor. Some have likened it to rotten onions or gym socks. Many hotels and much public transportation in Thailand have banned it. It is native to parts of Southeast Asia. The flesh, once past the odor is surprisingly tasty. It is like a rich custard with a sort of almondy flavor.

Chilies

A market in the city of Chaing Mai, in addition to fruits and vegetables had displays of pig’s snouts, chickens with heads and feet, dried fish, live fish, dead fish, and smoked fish. There were mountains of food.

Chaing Mai Market

Vendors in Chaing Mai Market

In one market a man was preparing “jumping shrimp”, tiny live shrimp mixed with chopped chilies, cilantro, and other herbs. They are scooped up with the fingers and eaten live. Another taste treat that I didn’t try.

The fruit is ripening faster than I can keep up with it. Sweet and sour cherries will be done soon but now the blueberries are ripe. I’ve spent the morning pitting sour cherries. I have several recipes to try and time is short if I want to use fresh cherries.
My first attempt, a Cherry Custard Pie, wasn’t very successful. The recipe calls for baking the cherries in an unbaked pie shell for twenty minutes and then adding a mixture of eggs and heavy cream. Sounds great but one little problem, the amount of cherries called for didn’t fill the pan. The oven heat caused the pastry to slide down the slope of the pie pan so that when I tried to add the custard, there was no crust to put it in. I added it anyway. Now I’m waiting for it to cool to see what turned out. There’s another pie in the oven, hopefully it will turn out right.
After all the years I’ve been cooking it is always a surprise when a recipe that looks like it would be so good ends up not that great. Even failures are usually edible but I want the recipes to be more than just edible.
One of the strawberry recipes looked spectacular and tasted good but wasn’t worth the work. First a cake batter in the bottom of the pan, then a meringue spread over that. It was baked at 350 for twenty minutes. Meringue is usually baked in a low oven for an hour to make it crispy. This one turned out like sponge and pretty tasteless. The cake, berries and cream saved the dessert but another time I’d make separate meringues to layer with the cake and berries.
Pretty impressive looking though.

Strawberry Chantilly Cake

Pavlova

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All Spring we anticipate the first strawberries. The season is so short that we feel like we need to eat them daily. This year, we had our first taste the day before we left for Maine. That meant we missed a week of the very short season.
Once home I was determined to try all of the recipes I’ve gathered over the years. I’m a strawberry snob so I wouldn’t think of buying California or Florida berries. That means a race to see how many recipes I can make in three weeks. Not that we can eat them all. That’s where having lots of family nearby comes in handy.
A strawberry pie made with heavy cream, egg yolks, and gelatin was not bad but not great either (and strawberry pie should be great). Too much gelatin for the rest of the ingredients. A strawberry chiffon pie turned out much better.
Suddenly, while there are still some strawberries (smaller but sweeter) the raspberries and cherries are ripe. Eleven year old Hunton brought us Raspberry Mousse with the very first pint he picked. Since then, he’s made a raspberry pie, raspberry roll-up, and a cherry pie. I helped him with the pastry for the first pie, since then he’s gotten it down pat.
One pretty fail-safe recipe that is usually served with strawberries but is also delicious with raspberries, blueberries, or peaches is pavlova. I’ve always thought that it originated in Australia, Wikipedia says that it was named for the Russian dancer Anna Pavlova. Both Australia and New Zealand claim to have originated it after her performances there. The first time I had it was forty years or so ago in a small shop in Central Square, Cambridge where it was a specialty. Since then I’ve eaten it many times in England and Australia. Little wonder that it is common there, it is one of the easiest desserts ever.

PAVLOVA
3 egg whites
1 teaspoon vinegar
¾ cup sugar
2 teaspoons cornstarch

1-1/4 cup heavy cream
¼ cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 pint berries

1.On parchment paper draw a nine inch circle and place on baking sheet.
2.Place egg whites and vinegar in mixing bowl and beat until frothy and starting to hold shape. Beat in ½ cup sugar, one tablespoon at a time. Beat until glossy and holding shape.
3.Mix cornstarch with remaining ¼ cup sugar and gently fold into egg white mixture.
4.Spread the mixture on the parchment paper circle, making the edges higher to form a sort of hollow in the center.
5.Bake at 300 degrees for 1 hour. Turn oven off and leave in oven for another thirty minutes.
6.Cool on rack.
7.Beat cream together with 1 teaspoon vanilla and ¼ cup sugar until it holds a soft shape. Spread over Pavlova shell.
8.Top with fruit and serve. Yummy!

Last week I was honored to be invited to a Brownie Bridging Ceremony. Kristen asked me, as a stand in for her real grandmother who lives in Nebraska, to come and see her move from Brownie to Girl Scout. The ceremony was held at the home of her group leader, a beautiful setting overlooking the marsh. There were brightly decorated signs with the Girl Scout Oath and a rainbow signifying the bridge from the little girls group to the older group.
The girls joined for the Pledge of Allegiance, then crossed a wooden bridge, (built by a dad) where they received the badges for their achievements. Their mothers, all once Girl Scouts themselves pinned the new Girl Scout pins to their shirts. The ceremony ended with the girls and mothers joining hands to sing a closing song, while proud fathers and the honorary grammy looked on. It was very sweet. Then all adjourned for a cookout.
I felt very privileged to be invited. It brought back memories of my own move from Brownies to Girl Scouts. It was called a Fly-up then. I remember few of the details from so long ago but I do know that it was held in the Masonic Temple, a rather grand name for a small two story frame structure with one big room below and another upstairs. I know that my mother attended but after that, the memory is gone. I don’t remember ever actually being girl scout so I guess that was the final event for me.

We just returned from a week on Monhegan Island. I’d always wanted to visit the island so when Max joined a week’s painting workshop, it seemed like the ideal time. We had three days of rain and fog before the sun finally appeared. Once sun came out we could appreciate the wild flowers. They were everywhere in full bloom, and spectacular.
We stayed in a charming rustic inn with no electricity in our room (oil lamp lighting, no heat) but terrific food. Many artists make the island their summer headquarters and it’s easy to see why. There doesn’t seem to be anything but picturesque views in every direction no matter where one is on the island. Most of the island is protected land, wild and criss-crossed with trails. Some meander through tall trees with pine needle carpets, others are more rugged and require a bit of effort to get to the magnificent rock cliffs on the south shore.ab
Our rhubarb season has passed but it was growing in huge clumps on Monhegan. I’ve never seen rhubarb looking quite so abundant. Before our crop was finished, I managed to snag about twenty pounds of it. Enough to make a bunch of recipes as well as put some in the freezer. I’m attaching a recipe for the absolutely best Rhubarb Pie.
RHUBARB PIE
4 cups rhubarb cut into ½ inch slices
½ cup brown sugar
½ cup white sugar
Grated rind of one orange
4 tablespoons tapioca
Pastry for 9 inch two crust pie

Preheat oven to 425 degrees

In a large bowl, toss together the rhubarb, sugars, ginger, orange zest and tapioca. Allow to stand while preparing the pastry.

Line a 9 inch pie pan with pastry. Pour filling into the pastry and cover with the top crust. Crimp edges and slash top crust. Glaze if desired, with milk, cream, or orange juice. Bake at 425 degrees for 15 minutes. Lower the temperature to 350 degrees and continue baking for 35 minutes. Serve at room temperature.

Notes: I prefer instant tapioca to thicken fruit pies but you can use 3 or 4 tablespoons of flour instead.
If using frozen rhubarb it will need to bake longer.

I went to a garden shop today, the third day in a row that the sun has been out and the temperature over 70 degrees, after weeks of rain, fog, and cold weather. A woman there was complaining about the “unbearable heat”. Perhaps we New Englanders can never be satisfied with the weather but after weeks, months, of snow, more snow, and cold, I don’t mind it being too hot. This cold, gray, foggy May was a real downer. After three days of sun and warm weather, I’m reminded once again of the reason I consider myself one of the luckiest people alive to live in this corner of the country..
New England in the Spring is worth all the snow and cold. The trees leaf out in a riot of color, every imaginable shade of green, some dark reds here and there and then the glorious colors of Spring flowering trees. The magnolias with their huge white, pink tinged blossoms followed by the ornamental plums, the forsythia, the flowering crabs and other trees and shrubs., so much beauty in such a short time. Suddenly the azaleas and rhododendrons are in bloom and Spring has arrived.
Here in the orchard we anxiously hoped for a bit of sun. Bees are necessary for pollinating the crops and full bloom occurred during the most dismal weather. We can only hope that the sun came soon enough to get the bees working.
Happily the asparagus comes up despite the weather and some of the greens like the cool days.
We’re keeping our fingers crossed that the strawberry blossoms will turn into luscious red berries and things will be normal again.
In the meantime, I’m testing rhubarb recipes.

The winter has sped by. I managed to escape the apparently endless snow during my time in Portugal. I had mixed feelings about that, I like snow but I don’t like the cold gray days so Portugal was a great place to spend the winter months. Three months is a long time though and it’s good to be home.
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We will open on April 30th. There has been a lot of activity here getting things organized, you’ll see some changes that we hope will keep our veggies fresher and enable us to expand our garden.
The greenhouse is full of blossoming tomato plants, baby lettuce, herbs, and chard. Last night I tried a new recipe for Swiss Chard. It was adapted from one of Martha Shulman’s in the New York Times. We loved the blend of flavors and the crunch.

Swiss Chard and Red Peppers

1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 tablespoons marsala or ginger wine
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 clove garlic, minced or through press
2 tablespoons minced ginger root
1 pound Swiss Chard
1 red bell pepper, cut in chunks
½ cup diced sweet onion
¼ cup chopped peanuts (optional but good)
¼ cup chopped cilantro (optional but good)
1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1.Mix soy, wine, and oil together.
2.Cut stems of chard into ½ inch pieces.
3.Cut chard leaves into ½ inch strips, keep separate
4.Heat a large skillet, stir in the garlic and gingerroot for a few seconds, then add the chard stems, red pepper, and onion. Stir a couple of minutes until beginning to soften, then add chard leaves and soy mixture.
5.Stir until the chard leaves are tender, another couple of minutes. Add peanuts and cilantro.

To my delight, Boise, one of our Jamaican workers brought us a gift of ginger wine. It is sweet and gingery and I love to have it over ice cream or splash a little into a sauce.

Bicycle Race

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We had some excitement today to interrupt our usual quiet day. In the morning we started hearing sirens and horns outside our apartment. Later as we went out for our walk to the village we saw that all traffic was being stopped at the corner of our street where the main road passes.
It turns out that today is day five of a major bicycle race through the Algarve. For several hours bicyclists and their accompanying cars and motorcycles roared through town. All traffic through town was stopped and people lined the streets to watch. From our seat in a restaurant in the village square we could see the riders barrel around the corner into town and begin the climb up the hill toward Portimão. This apparently is the Portuguese version of the Tour de France.

It’s Sunday here in Ferragudo. We’ve just returned from a 3km walk to the nearby city of Portimão. It is still cool but sunny and clear with fluffy white clouds. During the week many restaurants are open only in the evening but Sundays are different. Sunday is when the shops close and families get together. Restaurants are filled with children, parents, and grandparents all sharing lengthy meals.
As we walked across the bridge into Portimão we could see on a street under the bridge, an open air kitchen where fresh fish was being gutted (sorry for the graphic description), rinsed, doused with olive oil and a handful of salt, and then placed on a charcoal grill. We decided we had to go there.
The restaurant was crowded but we found a place at a long table. Max asked for Sea Bass, the waitress explained that they were very big and charged for by the kilo. 44 euros per kilo in fact. He chose a Silver Bream instead. I thought I’d try the fried prawns, not the best choice as it turned out.
It is customary at the beginning of every meal to be served a group of dishes. There is always bread and butter along with small containers of sardine paste, much like our little containers of jam. Olives are usual along with marinated carrot slices. Today there was also a dish of chick peas with onions, garlic, and tuna. These are appetisers and charged for unless one sends them back.
We were brought a bowl of salad. Chopped tomatoes, onions, cucumbers, and roasted peppers dressed with olive oil, vinegar, and sea salt.
Max’s fish was perfectly grilled and exceptional but my prawns were less successful. They arrived, fully intact, rosy-red in a pan with oil and garlic. There is no way to eat a whole prawn except with fingers, and then not easily. The head has to be pulled off and then the legs and shell peeled away. With all that work one gets a little meat.
At the table next to us a Portuguese couple were sharing a big pan of a sort of stew, chunks of smoked meat with tiny clams in a savory sauce. After asking them about it, I was urged to share a bit. It was delicious. That began a pleasant meal of conversation and laughter, trying to make ourselves understood. The man spoke a little English from working on cruise ships twenty years ago, his wife had only a few words but we managed to communicate. Our meal ended with them giving us a recipe for his favorite dessert, Arroz Doce (Sweet Rice) or, as we know it, Rice Pudding.
All in all, it’s been a perfectly delightful day.

After all the rather smug emails I’ve sent home to New England, buried under snow, it has turned cold and cloudy here. Yesterday we kept warm with a roaring fire in the fireplace. We had just gotten around to getting some wood.
This morning we decided a brisk walk would be a good way to warm up. We walked through a cemetery, just up the hill from us. It is not at all like cemeteries in the US. The graves are partially raised on marble or concrete. Most have a large vase of artificial flowers and a marble “book” inscribed with the name and dates of the individual buried there. Many also have photos.

Tombstones

One section of the cemetery is lined with small “houses” each containing the remains of a family. Looking through a little window we can see caskets on either side, like bunk beds. The caskets are not as deep as the ones we see in the US. They are covered with ornate cloths, some lace, others fringed. In some there was a chair between the two tiers of caskets.

Family tombs


Another section of the cemetery holds a long wall of stacked glass doors, behind each a space just large enough for a single casket, again covered by a cloth.

Space saver tombs

The separate family tombs reminded me of the Recoleta Cemetery in Buenos Aires. It contains a whole village of family tombs.

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Argentina

I’ve been fascinated with cemeteries since childhood. Perhaps it is the result of being the granddaughter of a funeral director but Smith Hill Cemetery, in Otisville, Michigan was a place I visited often growing up. Generations of my family were buried there and visiting the graves from time to time was expected. In addition, my father sometimes helped to dig graves and my grandfather was the overseer. In my travels around the world, I’ve discovered incredibly diverse ways to honor the dead. In Thailand, Vietnam, France, Belgium, Kenya, and Romania all have been different and meaningful in that culture.

Imagine spending months in a country where the only television programs come from another country many countries and languages away. Here in Ferragudo, on the southern coast of Portugal, we are living in a complex that seems to be mostly owned by British and rented by British. We are unable to get any Portuguese TV channels and hence, no sports.
The only programs that we get are reruns of old British drama and sitcoms. The better ones we’ve seen before on PBS, sans commercials. We also get British CNN and Sky News but everything is interrupted frequently for commercial breaks. Max had looked forward to coming to Europe so that he would be able to watch world football, the kind we know as soccer. What frustration! We looked into subscribing to a local channel or a British channel that carries sports but it seems that a satellite dish is needed and they aren’t allowed in our complex.
There is a good side to not having television sports though, I don’t have to listen to it.
We have are enjoying Heartbeat, a series that ran for 18 years, from 1992 to 2010 but takes place in the 60s. It has some great music as well as a charming cast of characters and situations. It is on nightly after our early dinner.
Not much excitement here but we certainly can’t fault the beautiful weather and village.

Fish

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Ferragudo is a fishing village. Early in the morning the main street, which runs along the water, is filled with small fishing boats bringing in their catch. Chefs from the restaurants come to get the freshest fish for the day along with housewives. The market is bustling for a few hours. Later in the day we pass it and see the steel tables and floor being hosed down until the next day’s fish arrive.
Restaurants all offer a variety of grilled fish, most popular are Sea Bass and Sea Bream. It is a bit disconcerting to sit down in a restaurant, as we did yesterday, and have a big basket of fish brought to the table for us to choose which ones we’d like. A short time later they arrived back at our table grilled to perfection with the head and tail intact. Then the task of boning them began. Max seems to be better at it than I am. I manage to get a bone or two in every mouthful. They are delicious however with crispy skin rubbed with oil and coarse salt.
In a more posh restaurant we were served fish, boned at our table. It was carried out with a flair by a waiter in a white apron over his black trousers and white shirt. Using a fish knife, a fork, and a big spoon, he deftly removed the flesh from the bones. The only time I haven’t gotten a bone for each bite.

We’ve had to get used to the shop schedules here. Open at 8 or 9 AM, close from 1300 to 1500 or 1600 (1 to 3 or 4PM) We go for our walks either in the morning or late afternoon. Today is Saturday. Most of the shops closed at 1300 for the day, or weren’t open at all.
There are lots of small cafes and snack bars that are open all day but most restaurants don’t open until 1800 (6PM) or later, except on Sunday when they open for lunch. That makes it difficult for an old man who like to eat at 5PM!
I like to walk to town down the hill from our apartment and then walk home along the beach. It’s only one short hill to climb that way. I’m getting better at the hills though.

Main Street of Ferragudo from across the canal


Today there were lots of people out strolling or sipping espresso at tables in the main square. We saw a couple of fishermen mending nets and dogs roam freely without seeming to bother anyone. It does mean watching where we walk.

The next three months Max and I will be living in the village of Ferragudo in the Algarve region of Portugal. We have rented a two bedroom apartment overlooking the beach and a castle, it is very picturesque. The center of town is a five minute walk to the bottom of the hill.
The streets leading down to the shops and the water front are steep, narrow, and cobbled. Everywhere we look we find little alleys branching off from the streets. Some include stairs and all lead down into the village. Houses are entered from these paths and seem to have no order, they are close together and on many levels.
Yesterday we shopped. At the butcher’s we bought a small chicken which he skinned and chopped into four sections. We stopped at the bakery for some fresh rolls and then on to the little grocery where we bought some vegetables and wine. Walking back up the hill we glanced into a tiny shop and saw fish. It was late in the day but a few still lay on a bed of ice. We bought one for dinner.
I have no idea what kind of fish we had but it was delicious. I put garlic, sliced onion, salt and pepper, and sliced lemon in the cavity, then rubbed it with olive oil and baked it with the head and tail intact. My first attempt at Portuguese cooking was a success.

The view from our balcony

I seldom make pies anymore. I’m only cooking for two and if I have guests there are such wonderful pies available at the orchard bakery that it doesn’t make sense. Just before Thanksgiving I suddenly had the urge. I made cousin Marlene’s pastry recipe instead of my usual. It makes enough for seven crusts. I decided to make 8 inch pies for the freezer. I made several apple pies but thought that a pecan pie might be good for my contribution to Thanksgiving dinner.
The mixture I usually use calls for dark corn syrup, something I try to avoid since reading Michael Pollan’s book The Omnivore’s Dilemma. I bought the corn syrup and then happened to run across a pecan pie recipe that doesn’t use it. It turned out to be a huge success. Unlike the corn syrup recipe, the pecans remained dispersed throughout the pie, rather than rising to the top. It also seemed less sweet, like it didn’t make my teeth hurt.
The recipe makes a ten inch pie, a deep 9 inch, or two eight inch pies .

Pecan Pie

1/3 cup white sugar
1-1/2 cups brown sugar
½ cup melted butter
3 eggs
2 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1-1/2 cups coarsely chopped pecans

Beat eggs until well mixed then beat in the sugars and flour. Add the melted butter, mix well and finally add the milk, vanilla and nuts.

Pour into an unbaked pie shell and place in a 400 degree oven. Bake 10 minutes and then lower the heat to 300 degrees and bake an additional 50 minutes or until done. (Oven temperatures vary so timing is approximate. The pie is done when the center appears firm when shaken lightly)

A Night Out

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The shorter days and cold weather seem to take away some of my energy. I don’t look forward to getting out in the evening as I do the rest of the year. I start the day thinking that I’ll go to a movie in the evening, or perhaps get tickets to a play but by evening I only want to have dinner and read or watch a DVD.
Last night, I broke out of the lassitude and had a fun evening at one of Newburyport’s Invitation Nights. My granddaughter Crystal asked Auntie Laura and me to go with her. We found Newburyport teeming with cheerful people enjoying the festive atmosphere.
Shops were brightly lit and decorated, wine and other goodies were offered wherever we went and carolers strolled in the street. At the corner of Merrimack and State street different musical groups performed to the delight of onlookers.
There were lots families with young children and many had the family dog in tow. In one shop a little boy poked his head in to ask if dogs were welcome. “Of course,” was the cheery reply of the owner. I remembered how impressed I had been when visiting the city in the summer and finding bowls of water outside shop doors, placed there for passing pooches,.
Laura and I thought back thirty years when we moved to the north shore. Newburyport was a depressed, dreary city with little to recommend it, other than it’s illustrious history. Today it is a vibrant, fun place to visit and last night proved it.
It was an evening of warmth and camaraderie. One of the things that small towns do so well.

This year has passed in a flash, it seems like we were just starting to pick strawberries and now the apples are all off the trees and we begin our final week at the orchard store. It is a big week for the bakery. Watching Pam and her pie crew prepare for the Thanksgiving pies makes me think of the first few years in the bakery.
The store in 1980 occupied just the small room with the fireplace. The main barn held the apple sorting tables and storage. A small tack room from a much earlier era had been transformed into a kitchen.
It was exciting to have our pies become so popular and we were happy when the orders came in but to have them all fresh and on schedule for pick-up was a challenge. We had managed to buy an oven that would hold 16 pies at a time and 16 was about the number of apple pies that we could make in an hour.
My mother had been famous for her pies and I learned how to make them at her side from the time I was a little girl. I was determined that the pies from the bakery would be as good as those that I would serve at our own table.
Thanksgiving meant apple, pumpkin, mince, and pecan pies.
In addition to the apples, peeled by hand, we had grown pumpkins that year so, no canned pumpkin. I baked up dozens of pumpkins, scraped out the flesh and pureed them in the food processor. Mince meat was also a challenge. I made it also using a recipe from an ancient cookbook. The preparation to be ready to actually make the pies was daunting and labor intensive.
Customers started picking up their pies on Tuesday, Wednesday was a busier day but Thursday morning we had the crush. The ovens were going around the clock for days. By the time we closed at noon on Thanksgiving Day, all we wanted to do was fall into bed.
Thirty years later, we’ve discovered that canned pumpkin actually makes a better pie, an automated peeler peels the apples, and there is a “pie crew” that can turn out dozens of pies in a few hours. The Thanksgiving pie baking has become organized an efficient.

Celebrity Chef

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Last weekend was the annual Apple and Wine Festival at the orchard with lots of special activities in addition to the wine tasting. I was asked to be one of the “celebrity chefs” and give a cooking demonstration. I chose to make miniature crepes filled with caramelized apples. They were fun to do and a big success.
The apples and batter I had prepared ahead of time and then cooked the crepes on an electric griddle while people watched. Crepes are basically thin pancakes and incredibly easy to make. The batter is fool proof and can be made a day or two ahead. They make great breakfast foods, equally good desserts, and can also be filled with something savory for a main course.
I still had five small crepes left when the apple filling was gone. I sprinkled cinnamon sugar on them to the approval of the five people who finished them off.

I folded these little ones into pockets to make them easier as finger food but the filling is usually put across the center of the crepe and then it is rolled.


Crepes with Caramelized Apples

1 cup all-purpose flour
2 eggs
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup water
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons butter, melted
A blender makes short work of these and the batter will keep well in the refrigerator. If no blender, whisk in a large bowl.
1.Blend eggs and milk/water together with salt and sugar. Add flour and then melted butter. Blend or whisk until smooth.
2.Ladle batter onto a hot griddle or frying pan, smooth into a thin layer with the back of the ladle or swirl by tipping the pan. When the surface is set, turn and cook the other side. Remove to a plate. Crepes may be stacked and filled later, or filled and served immediately.

Caramelized Apples

4-5 tart apples
2 tablespoons sugar, white or brown
2 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup cider

Peel, core, and coarsely chop apples. Melt butter in a 12 inch skillet. Add apples and cook over high heat until bottoms starts to brown and carmelize. Stir frequently with a wooden spoon. Add cider and cook down until thickened. Cinnamon or vanilla can be added with the cider.

Fresh strawberries with a little ice cream or whipped cream makes crepes a great dessert. Spread them with jam and a sliced banana or try any other fruits that you like.
Leave the sugar out of the crepe batter and fill the pancakes with a meat or vegetable filling and they’re good for a main course. I’ve made them with a mixture of scallops, crab, and shrimp in a Bechamel sauce with a bit of sherry added, or chicken and mushrooms. Arranged in a baking pan, a light layer of the sauce on top and then sprinkled with a bit of cheese, they can be made ahead and popped into the oven just long enough to heat them through.
I’m always surprised that people are impressed by something so easy to make.

Perhaps there weren’t really a million people there, but it seemed like it. I’m in our nation’s capital savoring the experience of having joined a wonderful event.
The morning after Jon Stewart announced his Rally to Restore Sanity I received an email from Dixie, my political junky friend from Tennessee. She had just booked three rooms in DC for the rally, did I want to join her. Yes, definitely.
On Saturday my daughter Laura, daughter-in-law Susan, and granddaughter Claire joined 100,000 (or maybe 200,000) people from all over the country to laugh and cheer and enjoy the camaraderie of the day.
The rally was due to start at noon, by the time we arrived at 9:30 the mall was already rapidly filling. Everywhere we turned were buttons, stickers, plastic megaphones, and even towels being handed out.
Dixie had arrived even earlier and staked out a place for all of us. Unfortunately, I made the mistake of leaving the others to explore a bit and was never able to get back to them. The tightly packed crowd made navigation nearly impossible but still, just being part of the event was fun.
We met people from all over the country who had traveled from Maine and California and Michigan and Iowa and every other state to be a part of the rally and show their support for reason and sanity in this period of political craziness.
The rally was perceived as a response to the Glenn Beck rally a few weeks earlier. Chatting with a bartender last evening I was told that the restaurant had had diners waiting in line for as much as two hours after the rally. The Glenn Beck rally had been only a bit busier than usual, no lines.
Here’s a link to the Washington Post article covering the rally.
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/story/2010/10/25/ST2010102500055.html?sid=ST2010102500055

One of the most striking and memorable things about the food in Japan was the presentation. Restaurant windows show plates with tasteful displays of the available meals. On more than one occasion I ordered in a restaurant by taking the waitperson outside to show them in the window what I wanted.
Everything looks good enough to eat.
Bento boxes, common takeout lunches are also tastefully arrange with attention to color, form, and texture. I had never heard of them until my trip to Japan but now I see the boxes for sale and recipes to fill them on websites. I wonder if I just never noticed, or if they are a recent discovery for other Americans.
Maybe a Bento box?
My Japanese friends seemed disappointed when a few times I opted for a sandwich at lunch, not typically Japanese I was told. I sometimes got hungry for something familiar but the sandwiches were not what we would find at the corner deli. Slice after slice of different breads were layed with a variety of fillings,maybe tuna, egg salad, super thinly sliced meat, and vegetables mixed with some sort of spread. These stacks were then sliced through all the layers to form tall slim sandwiches.

Whether in the shop windows or street stalls or restaurants, every kind of food seemed to be a work of art. Vegetables and fish and meat that look too good to eat, one might spoil the arrangement.
Where to begin?

My recent post about the Haggis I didn’t eat has made me think of the foods that I have eaten around the world.
I had the good fortune to be a guest in several Japanese homes. I had carefully read up on Japanese customs, not wanting to offend anyone with a thoughtless action or remark. One caution was not to completely clean ones plate unless you want it to be replenished immediately. My appetite is small so I was careful to eat most but not all of a meal. It didn’t matter, my plate continually piled high with food.
I had also read about the fabulous fish market in Tokyo and begged my friend Shizuko to take me there. She thought I was crazy. Finally she took me to a whole street of fish markets, not the big one that I had read about, but lots of smaller ones.
She bought some eel for our dinner. It looked like a small filleted fish and I expected it to taste like fish. The flavor was good but the consistency was soft and mushy, a unpleasant sensation in my mouth. Miso soup and octupus were also new foods for me. I can’t say that I came home planning menus including either, but I enjoyed trying new flavors and textures.
One food that was a winner is a dish called Okonomiyaki. My hostess called it a Japanese pizza. It’s round and has a variety of foods piled on top but I’d say that’s the only resemblance. It is a sort of crepe or pancake cooked on a griddle along with a mound of cabbage and assorted other vegetables and meat. When all is cooked, the pancake is slathered with the dark, thick, sweet and pungent Okonomiyaki sauce. Then the meat (or fish) and vegetables are placed on top and it is served. I liked it so much that I carried a quart of the sauce home with me but have never opened it.
Fish Market

Last month we traveled in Scotland. It is part of my commitment to travel that I try the local food. I had set off with the intention of trying the Scottish national dish of Haggis. My intentions were the best but when faced with reality, I fell through.
I know that it must be edible. It was on every menu. Haggis, Neeps, and Tatties, it sounds like something from Harry Potter books. Now that I think of it, I believe J. K. Rowling is a Scot or at least she lived there.
I figured it was a sort of sausage, and I guess it is but I made the mistake of looking it up. According to Wikopedia, Haggis is made of,

sheep’s ‘pluck’ (heart, liver, and lungs) chopped together with onion, oatmeal, suet (that’s fat) spices, and salt. It’s mixed with stock, and traditionally simmered in the animal’s stomach for three hours.

A little too much information.
Neeps are turnips and tatties, as one might guess, are potatoes. Both foods that I like. Most menus also offered Chicken Breast stuffed with Haggis. I skipped that too but did have some excellent lamb and fish.
Now that I’m home and didn’t take the opportunity to try Haggis, I’m thinking of all the sausages I did eat there. Bangers and Mash (sausages and mashed potatoes) are something I always eat in the UK as well as all those Traditional Scottish (artery clogging) breakfasts with sausages, eggs, bacon, fried bread, and for health, half of a grilled tomato. I’m guessing that if I saw the list of ingredients in those sausages, I’d not relish them so much either.
Oh well, Haggis is something to look forward to if I’m ever in Scotland again.

A friend, planning a visit to Ipswich, asked if there was a good place to eat in Ipswich. As I started naming my favorite restaurants I began to think of the size of Ipswich in relation to the number of eateries.
We have a population of roughly 13000 residents and 25 actual restaurants with five additional locations where prepared meals can be purchased for take-away. That doesn’t count the two donut shops, and three ice cream shops. I figure that makes one food establishment for every 433 people, children included. I’m amazed.
It started me wondering who supports all these places? I wonder if people come from all around the area just to eat in Ipswich. Or do lots of people eat all their meals out? This is a puzzle.
Another thing that I think is extraordinary, there are three high-end restaurants where a meal for two with wine can easily exceed $100. These seem like special occasion places but do Ipswichites have that many special occasions?
Last weekend we celebrated a special occasion with a fabulous dinner at Zabaglione Restaurant. It was the 55th anniversary of our marriage. We haven’t actually been married all that time of course. There was the twenty year hiatus.
Zabaglione and Ithaki are our choices for special occasions, we like Choate Bridge Pub and Stone Soup for casual meals. That means we haven’t actually had a chance to try the other 21 places. Maybe it’s time to start making the rounds.

It’s been a hectic and lovely summer (if we don’t count the heat and humidity). Between our granddaughter Leah’s wedding, house guests, two trips to Europe and a big project, there hasn’t been much time for writing.
I mentioned in my last post that we would be traveling to Whitby in North Yorkshire, England for another wedding party. Whitby is a charming town on the sea. We enjoyed sightseeing and visiting with our new grandson-in-law’s family but the highlight of the visit was the party.
About a hundred guests met at the Whitby Museum where we mingled and viewed Whitby historical artifacts. We had champagne, cake, and toasts there.

Seaside Wedding Cake

Top tier

The cake was a sensation, an original masterpiece depicting the seaside where Whitby is located. It was baked by a local bakery and just one of the surprises of the evening.

Leah and William outside the Whitby Museum

Exiting the museum we were awed by the view from the museum hilltop, across the harbor to the 15th century ruins of St Hilda’s Abbey, founded in 657!

Charabanc

1931 Steam Bus


An unusual antique Steam Bus and a Charabanc provided transportation to the party in the hall of a nearby village. There we had a dinner of typical English foods; whole salmon resting on a bed of greens, sausages, meat pies, fish cakes, scones, and much more. Following the dinner were more toasts and then the tables and chairs were cleared away for a Ceilidh, a dance of Irish or Scottish tradition, akin to our square dances. Guests from eight to eighty were soon promenading, spinning and bowing amidst much laughter and gaiety.

The Minter family were wonderful hosts and the party a smashing success. It was a fun way to end the wedding festivities.

Long Pause

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I’m tired of looking at Green Beans every time I log onto the orchard website but I’ve been focusing on another project. We have been celebrating the marriage of my granddaughter, Leah Russell to a lovely young man from Great Britain. There has been a whirlwind of activities on this side of the Pond and today, I’m leaving for the UK for more wedding festivities.
Leah and her new husband, William Minter live in Brighton where they both teach Chinese but William’s parents live in Whitby. It is a seaside town on the Northeast coast, we are looking forward to seeing that area and attending another party for the newlyweds.
As long as we are there, Max and I will spend some time in Scotland the homeland of my Great-Grandfather. I’m looking forward to trying all sorts of new food, maybe some Haggis or Treacle Pudding.

This hot weather has made cooking a challenge. Last night we celebrated our son Aaron’s birthday with dinner on the terrace. Steaks on the grill were no problem but I wanted to have everything else ready.
The pea pods seem to be finished but there were some beautiful green beans from the vegetable garden, what to do with them? It was too hot in the kitchen to be cooking late in the afternoon. I’d made potato salad and torn greens for a garden salad but didn’t want to be doing the green beans when I could be with everyone else outside.
Googling Green Bean Recipes turned up hundreds, many with sauces or baked with other ingredients. I wanted something simple that could be made ahead and served at room temperature. There wasn’t any single recipe that was just what I wanted but I ended up with an idea. The beans were a success.

Green Beans for a Summer Evening
1/2 pound fresh green beans (I had about 10 ounces)
2 tablespoons chopped, toasted walnuts
2 tablespoons chopped scallions
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 teaspoon vinegar (I used Purple Basil from the orchard)
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon honey

1.Cut stem ends from beans and drop into boiling water for about 4 minutes, until tender crisp.
2.Drain and cool quickly in cold water. Drain.
3.Toast walnuts in a wide pan on high heat for about two minutes. Remove from pan immediately to cool and prevent scorching.
4.Whisk oil, vinegar, mustard and honey together and toss with cooled beans.
5.Top with walnuts, scallions and mint just before serving.
(Serves four)
If made far ahead they can be refrigerated but they should be brought to room temperature for serving. These would be good served hot too.

Green beans are one of our favorite vegetables but I usually just boil to tender-crisp, in salted water, drain and serve. Now I’m inspired to try some different combinations, maybe sesame oil and sesame seeds or melted butter and fresh thyme.

I don’t know where sugar snap peas have been all my life but now discovered I can’t get enough of them. I know that I’ve eaten them occasionally in Chinese food but had never cooked them. I’ve mentioned before the paucity of vegetables in my early life. Nearly every vegetable we ate came from a can. In the summer my grandfather had a vegetable garden but everything was allowed to get too big and then boiled to tastelessness. When we started our own garden in Andover we never even thought of growing sugar snap peas. We did grow peas but the task of shelling a mountain of pea pods and ending up with a little bowl full for our family of seven was too much work.
On Wednesday when I returned from my trip I was eager to get to the orchard and see if there were still strawberries. There were not only beautiful strawberries but baskets of sweet cherries, raspberries, and blueberries. And, right next to all the bounteous fruit were boxes of sugar snap peas.
I brought a box home and started checking cookbooks. My cookbooks have been around for a lot of years and I didn’t find many recipes but when I looked on-line, there were dozens. For the last three nights I’ve prepared them in three different ways. The sweet flavor and crunchy texture go perfectly with almost anything.
One night I sautéed them briefly with olive oil and fresh thyme, the next night with julienned carrots in a little sesame oil and a drizzle of honey, last night I used a bit of bacon fat and basil. Delicious in every case.
Tonight I think I’ll use butter and a bit of chopped fresh mint over them. I’m also thinking of other combinations. Maybe cumin seeds and then there are all the different herbs that abound in the summer.
They’re easy to prepare, I remove the stem end and in the bigger peas, I pull off the string along the back. I’ve been boiling them for exactly three minutes and then chilling them quickly with cold water. They’re ready then to be quickly reheated in a little butter or oil or orange juice or stock with herbs, maybe a bit of grated ginger would be good too. So many possibilities.

I arrived in Helsinki, Finland ten days ago to find the lilacs and lily of the valley in full bloom, but strawberries no where near ready. That was the only disappointment though. The time has been filled with new friends, new experiences, new foods, and history lessons of this part of the world.
With two Massachusetts friends I’m traveling with an English friend and a German friend as we explore common interests and learn together about ancient cultures very different from ours.
An Internet cafe isn’t a very good place to reflect on the trip but I hope to write something about it when I get home. In the meantime, enjoy strawberries.

Strawberries here at the orchard usually start ripening about the 10th of June with good picking beginning about the 15th. I’ve mentioned here before my “strawberry rule”; no strawberries that aren’t local or in season. That means that I eagerly await mid-June.
Last Sunday Hunton arrived with a basket of berries that he had just picked, it was May 23rd! Nearly three weeks early. They were fabulous, still warm from the sun, with the sweet, intense strawberry flavor that only the first of the season seem to have.
We will soon have an abundance of berries and I’ll be trying out new recipes and enjoying the old favorites. I just started to use the remaining jar of last summer’s strawberry jam from the freezer. It is so good on toast or mixed with some plain yogurt.
The weather this spring has been unusual. For the first time in the thirty years we’ve had the orchard, the trees blossomed three weeks early. It’s a bit disconcerting and worrisome, a late frost can do major damage to a crop. We can only keep our fingers crossed.
Here’s one of our favorite recipes, especially for these early berries. I like it covered with lightly sweetened whipped cream.

STRAWBERRY GLACE PIE

1 quart fresh strawberries
1 12 ounce package frozen, sliced strawberries
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
2 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 9 inch baked pie shell
Make glaze by placing thawed, frozen strawberries in a saucepan with sugar and water which has been mixed with the cornstarch. Cook over low heat until thickened and clear. Cool for 20 minutes.

Arrange whole fresh berries in the pie shell, pointed end up. Pour glaze over fresh berries and chill for at least 3 hours before serving. Makes 6 servings.

The Orchard store opened for the season last Saturday. There have been a lot of changes over the winter with Doug and Miranda updating and trying new things. One thing that hasn’t changed is the donut recipe.
Yesterday as I sampled my first donut of the season I thought back to 1980 when Max had the brilliant idea (he was great for ideas) of making donuts to sell. Donuts were one of my grandmother’s specialties and I remembered them fondly. When our children were growing up I had occasionally made them myself.
Making them to sell sounded like a good idea . We bought packaged donut mix from a commercial food distributer, used cider as the liquid and called them cider donuts. I bought a plunger affair from a restaurant supply house. It operated manually, dropping batter into hot oil in ring shapes.
Since this was something untried we bought a small commerical fryolator. It held nine donuts at a time. We set up a donut station in a corner of the barn, near the fireplace (that room was the entire store in those days) and proceeded to fry donuts. One by one I pushed the soft dough through the plunger. Each donut took three minutes to cook, 90 seconds on one side and then another 90 seconds on the other side. I used the handle of a wooden spoon to turn them.
To my dismay, the donuts were an instant hit. Soon people were waiting patiently in line for hot donuts. I dreaded the people who wanted a half dozen, or worse, a dozen donuts. We needed a better system.
In visits to orchards in Michigan we had seen automatic donut makers. We had also tasted rich, dark, spicy donuts. They made ours seem pale and tasteless. I had always hated the idea of using a mix. Mixes were simply flour, sugar, baking powder and some kind of shortening with a lot of chemicals to make them shelf stable. I could do that myself without the chemicals.
I got out my Joy of Cooking and the recipe that I had always used. It called for flour, sugar, baking powder, eggs, shortening and milk. The batter had to be soft enough to make a cakelike donut but firm enough to roll out and cut with a donut cutter. I started the task of adapting it to the taste that we were looking for.
Substituting cider for the milk was just the beginning. Molasses added flavor and color. It also helped make the batter softer. Spices were the other key to the kind of donut we wanted. I increased them dramatically. Once the flavor was right, the ingredients had to be adjusted for quantity. It wasn’t just a matter of quadrupling ingredients, the consistency had to be right for the plunger and for the cooking time.
The donut machine frys them in a specific amount of time. If the consistency is not right the donuts will be over cooked or under cooked. A lot of too crisp or raw in the center donuts went into the trash before we got the recipe right.
It occurs to me as I write this that in the past thirty years we have sold millions of donuts. I could never have guessed, when I turned nine donuts at a time in a little fryolator that it would lead to these amazing numbers.

Eating well and good nutrition have been a major focus for most of my life. Well, maybe I should amend that, eating well has been my focus and I’ve tried for good nutrition. Once upon a time, if it tasted good, it was okay. Over the years, as we are reminded continually by the media, our the population has grown more sedentary and fatter. Much of the responsibility falls to the mega food industry. Additives to tantilize the taste buds have addicted us to sugar, salt and fat. Restaurants have up-sized portions and the ease of just opening a package instead of cooking completes the cycle.

I’ve learned to shop the sides of the supermarket for dairy, meat, fresh fruits and vegetables. The aisles get a fast run through for baking supplies, paper products, and a few other staples like olive oil, vinegar, and canned tomatoes. Otherwise, I try not to buy prepared foods.

All this is a preface to telling about our scrumptious pot roast last week. It was sooo good, a recipe that I used frequently when feeding a family of seven but seems almost decadent today. It was an inexpensive beef pot roast. I put it in a heavy dutch oven and sprinkled it with a packet of onion soup mix then covered all with a can of cream of mushroom soup. I added some more chopped onion and some leftover canned tomatoes just because I had them. Covered tightly and baked at 325 degrees for three hours the smells soon coming from the oven were divine.

When I opened the pot, it was a thing of beauty. Meat so tender it was falling apart nestled in rich, brown, delicious gravy. Have I mentioned before that I love gravy? Served over mashed potatoes with fresh asparagus and salad, it was pure bliss.

There were leftovers and I’m not even going to think about all the salt, MSG, and other unspellable ingredients while I enjoy them.

Asparagus

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We had the first asparagus of the season last night. I’m afraid I broke my “strawberry” rule and didn’t wait until it came from our own garden. It was still delicious.
Before moving to Massachusetts in 1960 the only asparagus I had ever eaten had come from a can.  A mush green unpleasant vegetable.  My grandfather always had a garden but never planted asparagus and I don’t remember ever seeing fresh asparagus in a store.
It wasn’t until I received Julia Child’s first book, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, as a Christmas gift in 1961 that I discovered this wonderful veggie. We promptly planted it in our home garden and ever since it has been the much awaited first vegetable of the season.
In Mastering the Art, Julia said that she had tested every asparagus method that she’d heard of and the French method was the best. The asparagus was partially peeled, tied into bundles and placed in a kettle of salted, boiling water until it is just tender, but not limp, then drained and served immediately.
It doesn’t matter whether the stalks are thin or thick but the thick ones are easier to peel. The stalks should be crisp and moist on the end. If it isn’t used immediately, it should be stored upright in a glass with a little water. Peeling is the key to having it perfect every time. I’m frustrated when served asparagus that looks beautiful but has woody ends that turn into stiff strings when chewed.
This is my own variation of Julia’s method. It eliminates the tying but otherwise follows her directions. I agree that it retains its color, texture and flavor best cooked this way.
Fresh Asparagus
6 to 10 spears per person, more if they are very thin
10 or 12 inch frying pan of salted boiling water (I like the wide
flat pan for vegetables)
1. Cut any very woody ends off and then, holding with the butt end up,
use a small, very sharp knife or vegetable peeler to peel the outer skin off the lower part of the stalk leaving the tender center. The upper part of the stalk doesn’t need it.
2. Wash the peeled asparagus quickly in cold water.
3. Drop into boiling water and cook until a fork pierces the butt
end easily. Do not allow to get limp, the stalks should be tender
crisp when served.
4. Drain and serve, either plain or with melted butter, lemon juice or
other sauce.
The stalks can be peeled a few hours in advance and kept refrigerated
wrapped in a damp towel.

Our wonderful trip to Mexico is a nice memory but life goes on and the latest adventure was a week in Southern California with my granddaughter Claire. I was delighted that she wanted to spend Spring Break with me.
We spent four days in Hollywood. Standing in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theater we noticed a stir. An excited family had corraled a young man, a boy really, and were having their pictures taken with him. In answer to their questions he told them that his career is doing well and he’s appeared in three films. He was smiling and gracious and very good looking but neither Claire nor I had any idea who he was. A few days later, Claire saw his picture in People Magazine, his name is Sterling Knight.
Home again, when I was telling the family about seeing him, nine year old Kristen knew him immediately! He’s on the Disney channel apparently.
Claire and I also toured Warner Brother’s Studio. We enjoyed the tour and seeing the sound stages and inner workings of film making. A number of TV shows are filmed there as well as movies. The guide pointed out where different shows were filmed and whose houses we were passing but Claire and I discovered that neither of us knew any of the shows and few of the actors.
One night we had dinner at a restaurant called “uWink”. It was a new concept for us. There are touch screens at every table and at the bar. The menu is displayed there and food and drinks are ordered via the screen. Then there are dozens of games to play singly or against another person. The food wasn’t terrific but we enjoyed playing Geography Trivia for a couple of hours.

Lunch in Santa Monica

Lunch in Santa Monica

Warner Brother's Studio, set of Central Perk

Warner Brother's Studio, set of Central Perk

Warner Brother's Studio, car used in Harry Potter film

Warner Brother's Studio, car used in Harry Potter film

At the top of the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway with Cousin Norma

At the top of the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway with Cousin Norma