Sunday, December 20, 2020
Tuesday, October 13, 2020
There was a period of time, at least a few months and maybe even an entire year during the four years I spent at Falmouth High School, when I ate a peanut butter sandwich on whole wheat bread and drank a carton of chocolate milk every day at lunch. I wanted nothing to do with the daily offerings from the public-school lunch menu. In the 1980's, items such as the greasy Steak-umm with melted orange American cheese on a sesame seeded sub roll, made ahead and wrapped in foil and saucy/soggy meatball subs were teenage favorites. And let's not forget the square slice of pizza served every Friday that never delivered on taste although out of the three items, I thought it looked half way decent enough until the day one of my table mates placed a stack of flimsy paper napkins on top of his slice to absorb all the oil before he shoveled it down and got up to buy another. No, there would not be any school lunch purchases made by me for the entire four years of my high school "career".
Thursday, September 10, 2020
At the beginning of August, I am dying for some garden tomatoes. They seem to come in at a snail's pace, one maybe two, here and there. Slowly ripening, so slow. As the first fruits ripen in Val's garden, I covet them. Then when she begins to give me a few at a time, I hoard them and hide them from the rest of my family. Eating them when no one else is home to ask me what I am having for lunch.
September sneaks up on us just before Labor Day and tomatoes are everywhere. Val drops them off at my house bags at a time, when I am not home. So, I can't object by protesting that I already have way too many to eat.They soften so fast in the big bowl on my kitchen table. Displayed as the centerpiece instead of a vase full of flowers.
Getting creative is the only way to trudge through the abundance of tomato season. I roast them with olive oil, a pinch each of salt and sugar, maybe some balsamic vinegar, rosemary or thyme. There is always the easy side dish, Caprese Salad: slices of tomatoes and mozzarella with basil leaves layered in between. But neither of these options make up a rounded out meal requiring extra thought in these last lazy days of summer leading into the school year.
If September was a sandwich, it would most definitely be a B.L.T. Piled ridiculously high with sliced red, ripe Beefsteak tomatoes rendering it nearly impossible to eat and making the tomato it's star. It should be called, T.B.L. (Tomato, bacon and lettuce sandwich). Sturdy white bread is a must. I prefer thinly sliced sourdough or pain de mie from the local French bakery. A smear of Hellman's mayonnaise is a lovely addition in most cases and necessary as this sandwich needs something to bring the crunchy green lettuce and salty bacon together with the show stopping acidity of the tomatoes. But I prefer a sandwich spread with a little more personality. It's actually Hellman's, lemon juice and another summer favorite: basil. So simple, it can be thrown together in a flash in a food processor. Make a larger batch than what you need and you can use it for a vegetable dip or put it on any sandwich to add character and zip.
If you aren't totally sick of tomatoes by the end of September, then you haven't had your fill. I suggest you take a trip to your local farm stand or farmers' market, STAT. Fill a bag with all the colors of the heirlooms: yellow, orange, red and pink. Pick up a loaf of freshly baked bread. Eat this for B.L.D. (breakfast, lunch and dinner) for the rest of the week. Only then will you be ready for fall to arrive and finally become tired of tomato season.
B.L.T. (Bacon, Lettuce and Tomato Sandwich)
(Serves about 4)
1-2 large Beefsteak or or other locally grown tomatoes, sliced
6 leaves of Green Leaf or other locally grown lettuce
sliced sourdough or other favorite white sandwich style bread
cooked bacon slices
Lemon Basil Mayonnaise (see recipe)
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with tinfoil, long enough to reach over each edge. Spread out bacon in an even layer over the tinfoil. Place bacon in oven.
While the bacon is cooking, slice the tomatoes. Wash and thoroughly dry the lettuce. Place bread slices in a dish (up to eight for four sandwiches). Make the Lemon Basil Mayonnaise.
Frequently check the bacon. After about 10 minutes, move bacon around sheet with tongs if some pieces are baking faster than others. Flip slices if undersides need browning. The bacon should only take about 15 minutes to cook and can go from slightly browned to burned in a matter of minutes. Once desired browning is achieved, gently remove from oven as not to splatter bacon grease. Remove each bacon slice to a plate lined with paper towel to absorb excess grease.
Once the bacon has cooled to room temperature, place slices on a clean plate. Serve all components of sandwich: tomatoes, lettuce, bread, bacon, Lemon Basil Mayonnaise, salt and pepper so that everyone can make their own.
Lemon Basil Mayonnaise
(makes about 1 cup)
3/4 cup Hellman's Mayonnaise
1/4 cup sour cream
juice from 1/2 lemon
1 handful of fresh basil leaves
2 shakes hot sauce (I use Tabasco)
Place mayonnaise, sour cream and lemon juice in a food processor. Roughly chop the basil leaves and add to mayonnaise, etc. Add the Tabasco and blend until the basil turns into tiny specks. Taste and add salt and pepper. Blend again. Refrigerate Lemon Basil Mayonnaise until ready to use and up to one week.
Sunday, August 16, 2020
This August, instead of moving cones, directing runners, folding t-shirts, greeting VIP’s and generally running around putting out fires, I will be a participant in the Falmouth Road Race. This is not at all what I expected the end of the summer 2020 to look like for me. I am sure that most people are saying the same thing, our lives having been upended by COVID-19 and all the changes that we have been forced to make. In fact, back in February, I was asked before being offered my new job if I ran the Falmouth Road Race? To which I replied, “I have but I am never running that race again!” I immediately regretted blurting out my true feelings until I was told that my answer was pretty much what they were looking for as race organizers have no time to even think about participating in the Falmouth Road Race during the madness of race weekend.
I pride myself in handling crazy, busy situations from working in retail during the height of Christmas season and at a more recent job, corralling customers at the Street Fair held on Main Street in July so, I was actually looking forward to an insane week of working the Expo, the race and the aftermath and of course, lots of t-shirt folding. When Falmouth Road Race made the decision to move to a virtual event that would invite runners to participate “At-Home” instead of organizing the logistics of getting 12,800 runners to the starting line in Woods Hole on the second Sunday in August, everyone on the team decided that we could "run" this year and wouldn’t it be fun to actually be a part of it? Yes, that idea was “fun” in April. Training or should I say, dragging my body through barely four miles, hoping I will eventually be able to do the required seven in the August heat is a special type of torture. Now, I remember why I said to my future boss, “I am never running that race, again!” I should have known those words would come back to haunt me.
When one of the cooks who worked with me started spouting off about running the race, I casually mentioned that I had a number and was thinking about doing it, as well. He was so glib and cocky that I ended up being swept up into the kitchen banter that night and somehow agreed to a bet to see who would run the race faster. What was I thinking? Since I had never run the route before or even ran seven miles together at one time, I really don’t know what possessed me to say anything about it.
My boss pulled me aside between orders and yelled into my ear to be heard over the hood fan sucking all the smoke and hot air out of the kitchen.
“You better kick his ass” she hissed in my ear. "And you have to wear one of our t-shirts."
There would be no backing out now.
I was nervous that morning, afraid I wouldn’t make it to the finish line, forget beating that arrogant cook in the race. But I had a few aces in my pocket: I was only seventeen, just home from a week of field hockey camp where we sprinted and ran miles every day, all day from 8:00 am-8:00 pm and I didn’t drink lots of beer after working a fifteen hour shift like the older, college age cooks in the kitchen.
We ran slowly at the start, jockeying between bodies trying to find some space to open up a longer stride. Then, once we neared the lighthouse, he turned to me and said, “Don’t try and keep up with me!” and sprinted ahead into the crowd of runners. I was stunned. I guess I thought he would run with me for a while, the bet only a joke, a way to pass the time at work.
So, I ran and took in the scenery, trying to figure out how far and long I had to go. I was a little scared but comforted myself with the idea that there were so many people running and cheering on the sidelines that it would all work out. Then, into about the second mile, I saw him up ahead. I began to feel good, even strong. I knew in that moment I could take him and beat him to the finish line. Especially since he chose to wear work boots to run seven miles. As I came up behind him, I yelled, “Don’t try to keep up with ME!” and sprinted ahead so that I was no longer near him.
The story of my first race ends with a crazy busy summer night in the kitchen back at work that evening. (No, we could not get the entire day off.) And me collecting on the bet I didn’t think I could possibly win. For my prize, he bought me a handle of vodka and the biggest bottle of Peach Schnapps they had on the shelves at the Woods Hole Liquor store. Fuzzy Navels and Sex on the Beach drinks were all the rage but I had never had one back then. Just as well, my best friend’s older sister and her friends commandeered the booze for an after work party before I was forced to figure out what to do with it.
The weather was typical for a Sunday in mid-August that year: hot, humid and sunny. But on occasion there have been some tough conditions. Fortunately, I didn't personally have to deal with them. My friends and I became huge fans of the party scene on Road Race Sunday and it certainly helped that one of my closest pals lived just behind the ball field at the finish line. That was my experience of Road Race until the year that I agreed to run with my then fiancé and soon to be husband. In 1999 it rained like crazy on Saturday night into Sunday morning. But the race was still on in spite of the deluge. My father’s truck tires splashed water over the windshield from the enormous puddles that had formed all night as he drove us to our impending doom at the crack of dawn on race day. When we arrived at the starting line and we hopped out of the truck to join the thousands of already drenched runners, I stupidly declined the black trash bag he offered to keep me dry.
Of course I did it, I’m not one to give up but I really didn’t want to run. I knew within minutes waiting in the coral at the start that I would soon be soaking wet and miserable. I don’t even like to run through a hose held from a ladder, showering runners as they go by on the sunniest and hottest race day. About 3.5 miles in, half the race through, along Surf Drive Beach, I just wanted to stop. The water had flooded this stretch of road so it felt like trudging through knee deep water in the ocean located just feet away. But if you’ve ever run Falmouth before, you know if you made it that far, you might as well keep going. There was no sense in throwing it away at that point regardless of the horrible circumstances.
The rest of the 7 miles was as cold and miserable as anyone can imagine. Rivers of water pooled in the streets. Soaking wet spectators cheered us on as it continued to rain throughout the morning. When I heard my father in his orange rain gear and my mother under her yellow striped umbrella yelling our names as we rounded the bend at Scranton Ave. and Robbins Rd. (behind the 7-11), I knew I didn’t have far to go and all I could think about was a hot shower and dry clothes. Finally we climbed the last hill and crossed the finish line. I don’t even think we tried to wait under the tent on the ball field to grab a hot dog before we made a beeline for our car parked conveniently at our faithful friend’s house on North Grand Ave. where the party had already begun before the starting gun went off in Woods Hole.
I got my shower and warm clothes then cruised on back to the party which I should have left early but I know I didn’t. (I always took the following Monday off from work ;)) But I vowed, and I have kept it until this year, to never ever run that race again!
When DeKuyper Peach Schnapps became all the rage in the 1980's, Fuzzy Navel, Sex on the Beach and the Woo-Woo were popular drinks served at the huge post race parties held at the Wharf overlooking the Heights beach at the Falmouth Road Race finish line. These cocktails are various combinations of vodka, peach schnapps and fruit juice (orange or cranberry) and way too sweet for me. They will also give you a killer hangover! Here is an updated version of the Woo-Woo which was served as a shot. The addition of lime juice makes it less sweet and creates the perfect post race celebration cocktail!
2 oz. vodka
½ oz. peach schnapps
2 oz. cranberry juice
¼ oz. lime juice
lime wedge (for garnish)
Fill a shaker with ice. Add vodka, peach schnapps, cranberry juice and lime juice. Shake well, until chilled. Pour into chilled martini glass and garnish with lime. Sip and enjoy!
Sunday, August 2, 2020
A contest is held every year at the Barnstable County Fair to see who can grow the largest zucchini. A first prize ribbon is bestowed upon the grandest of the green fruit. There are no other awards, no second place. You are either the biggest and the best or you are out of luck.
There are a lot of people on facebook showing off their zucchini harvest. The squash piled high, photographed on a kitchen counter, bad lighting and poor composition. The text imploring fb friends to send along their favorite recipes. I have a few recipes. But I don't have any zucchini.
I planted seeds early, in April. They did well in their flats and I transferred them to my small garden plot on the back side of my house where the sun shines all day. The plants seem to be thriving, covered in bright orange blossoms sheltered by massive green, fan shaped leaves. Where is the zucchini? I have yet to reap the benefits of babying these plants. Maybe not babying them, but watering them and shooing the dog away. That and keeping a vigilant eye for any pests who may invade. I once had a battle with a zucchini worm. I don't like to talk about it. Not only was it devastating but it was so gross, it makes me want to gag just thinking about it. So, I look under those big leaves everyday, searching for signs of hope but I haven't seen anything promising, yet.
Val has a good crop of zucchini this year but it's not yielding an overabundance. She gave me a pretty big zucchini which I promptly used in one of my favorite summertime recipes: Chocolate Zucchini Cake. Served warm and topped with vanilla ice cream or cut into small squares for my beach cooler, it really is one of the best chocolate cakes, ever. And it's one way to get my fourteen year old carnivore to eat some vegetables.
A tart made with a crisp biscuit dough filled with ricotta and Parmesan cheeses and topped with a layer or zucchini and/or yellow summer squash seems to please everyone and looks pretty impressive, especially if you are bringing it to a party. I've made other versions of this zucchini tart idea based on a classic one from Ina Garten. Crust, cheese and just a little vegetable, how can you go wrong?
Of course, there are methods of cooking zucchini that can go terribly wrong, in my opinion. Zucchini was a tough sell back in the 1980's when every restaurant on the Cape offered it as the classic summer vegetable side to accompany dinnertime entrees. Cooked ahead of time in large hotel pans, steamed with summer squash, carrots and sliced onions. "Summer Vegetable Medley" was scooped and served in white monkey dishes alongside expensive grilled swordfish steaks and filet mignon. Soggy and lackluster, I'll pass, thanks.
But by far the best recipe and one that is not often considered because of the work involved is Zucchini Relish. The recipe comes to us by way of Norma, my grandfather's second wife and her cousin Elmira from Lubec, ME. These women knew how to put up vegetables and in spite of the heat from the canning pot and the amount of chopping and salting, they managed to preserve just about anything that came out of a summer garden. I must admit that I didn't really like this relish until recent years. I was not a fan of the sweeter pickled taste. Maybe it's the bright yellow/green color or the appreciation of the effort, there is truly nothing better than smothering a grilled hot dog with this magical concoction of zucchini and spices.
I'm impatiently waiting and inspecting every morning with my coffee in hand. Hoping for enough zucchini for a batch of Zucchini Relish. There are a lot of buds that have yet to open hiding under those big leaves. Who knows, maybe I'll get enough from my harvest, when it finally comes, for two batches of relish this year.
(makes about eight 8 oz. jars)
10 cups cubed zucchini (smaller than 1/8" cubes)*
4 cups finely chopped onion
5 tablespoons salt
1 tablespoon cornstarch
2 teaspoons celery seed
1 red pepper, diced (smaller than 1/8" cubes)
1 green pepper, diced (smaller than 1/8" cubes)
5 cups sugar
1 teaspoon black pepper**
1 tablespoon turmeric
2 1/4 cups vinegar
Combine zucchini, onion and salt in a large bowl. Set aside for 3 hours.
Drain thoroughly in a strainer by pushing water out with hands. Combine drained zucchini and onions with all other ingredients: cornstarch-vinegar in a large stockpot. Bring mixture to a boil then turn down heat to simmer for 30 minutes. Ladle zucchini mixture into prepared sterilized jars. Wipe rims and threads with a clean, damp towel. Place sterilized lids and rings on jars. Process in boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Remove processed relish jars to rest on clean towels on counter top overnight. The next day, test seals. If seals are tight, store in a cool dry place for up to one year.
*The original recipe notes suggest a choice of cubed or shredded zucchini
**1 teaspoon black pepper "2 if you like!" noted on original recipe card
Val usually doubles this recipe as it is a lot of work and everyone likes to receive a jar for Christmas!
-Use new canning jars and lids. Re-using rings is fine.
-Sterilize all by running through a dishwasher cycle or placing washed jars, lids and rings in boiling water for 10 minutes.
-After placing filled jars in canning pot, bring water to a full boil, then time for 10 minutes. Be sure the water covers all jars with at least 1 inch of water during the process.
-Gently remove processed jars after water has stopped boiling (wait 5 minutes) then place on clean, dry towels on counter top.
-Do not disturb jars for at least 8 hours.
-To check seals, remove ring, lift up gently on edges of lid. If lid stays secure, it is sealed properly and can be stored in a cool, dry place for up to one year. If lid pops off, refrigerate jar and use within one week.
Sunday, June 21, 2020
"The most underrated ice cream treat is the ice cream sandwich. They are soooo good!" -Ava Norris
I agree. I love a soft chocolate wafer cookie with creamy, melty ice cream. I love that as I smoosh the two cookie layers together, the ice cream, if melted to the right consistency, pushes itself out along the edges so that I can lick it off until finally, there is no ice cream left between the two cookies. At that point, the cookie layers have become soft, they are thin enough to be pliable and as they are sticking to my fingers, I try to slowly savor the chocolaty goodness before the cookies completely disintegrate in my hands.
It just so happens Food and Wine magazine this month has a feature recipe recreating this favorite frozen treat. This version includes the recipe for a cookie that is both crisp enough and has the ability to become perfectly softened as the ice cream melts between the layers. And to top it off, it does not require that I churn my own gourmet ice cream. In fact, the ice cream component listed in the ingredients is none other than one of my absolute favorites, Cherry Garcia.
Way back during my first two years in the early fall weeks at the University of New Hampshire, my friend Holly and I would abandon the institutional food at the dining hall for two heaping scoops of Ben & Jerry's ice cream doled out from a single freezer case by some upper class man who knew Holly's older sister. Perhaps he had a crush on Holly or was trying to impress her sister, those small plastic cups could barely hold the portions he jammed into them. This ice cream paradise was a hidden gem, located in a small convenience store on the outskirts of campus. But Holly could always find the ice cream as if she had an internal GPS tracking for the icy sweet goodness.
My choice of Cherry Garcia and Chocolate Fudge Brownie and Holly's: Cherry Garcia and Peanut Butter Cup was a splurge for us. We had to scrounge loose dollar bills and change. I think the portions cost $4.00 each which back then equaled four loads of laundry, running at four quarters a load. Wearing old t-shirts and not wearing socks for a week was a small price to pay. I loved escaping the structure of classes, studying and schedules for a few hours of freedom. Our friendship growing through our appreciation of really good ice cream.
We pulled our ratty sweatshirt sleeves over our hands to protect our fingers that were becoming red with cold and walked faster as we gossiped and ate, making a big loop around campus taking us past Frat Row, up by the clock tower of Thompson Hall, the dorms farthest out, (I don't recall the names) and finally back to our rooms at Hitchcock Hall. Our hall mates asking why we missed dinner and where we had been until it became a normal occurrence for me and Holly to disappear for a couple of hours every week. Ice cream hasn't tasted so rebellious, secret and special for a long, long time.
My new partner in crime is nearing the age I was during those clandestine ice cream adventures. Ava knows really good ice cream, small batch, made in gourmet shops and scooped to order. But she won't turn up her nose at a treat from the ice cream man. Even if it is artificially died cream substitute wrapped in paper and served on a stick. Nothing goes better with salt, sand and sea with the sun beating down, melting it all over your hands and arms. In the summertime, Ava scoops ice cream in a small shop down the street. At the end of her shift, she gets to choose some for herself. I admire her flavor experiments: Red Razz Truffle and Cookie Dough, Chocolate Peanut Butter and Black Raspberry. Fruity and creamy with candy and crunch. I couldn't have chosen better myself.
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon instant coffee
1 large egg
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 quart of your favorite ice cream
Stir together flour, cocoa, salt and baking powder in a medium bowl; set aside. Beat butter, sugar, instant coffee in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. With mixer running, add egg, beating until well combined, about 30 seconds. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and chill until firm, at least 2 hours or up to 3 days.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Roll dough out sandwiched between two large pieces of parchment paper. Use a small amount of flour, if needed to prevent sticking. Trim to a 13"x 10" rectangle (bake scraps on another cookie sheet and devour later). Slide trimmed rectangle with parchment underneath onto a cookie sheet and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Remove dough rectangle from refrigerator. Using the blunt end of a wooden skewer, prick holes all over dough about 1/4 inch apart. Bake in preheated oven until set but still soft, about 9-11 minutes. Transfer baking sheet to a wire rack and let cookie cool completely, about 30 minutes.
Cut cookie crosswise into 2 rectangles. Invert one cookie half onto a large sheet of tinfoil. Top with ice cream, spreading evenly to edges. Place remaining cookie half (do not invert) on top of ice cream. Wrap the whole thing in foil and freeze for 8 hours.
Remove frozen sandwich from foil. Cut into 12 bars. Serve immediately or wrap individual bars in wax paper and store in freezer for as long as you can keep them a secret or up to one month.
Sunday, May 10, 2020
Sunday, March 22, 2020
Although there are times when I don't feel like coming up with something to make, once I get myself into the kitchen and begin working, I suddenly feel that I have regained some sense of control over my life again. Even when I feel like there is no hope of finding a job, of making things work, at least I have the confidence that I can produce a good meal, that is enjoyable not only to me but to the people I'm cooking it for as well.
That's exactly how I felt last Friday after a long week of trying to figure out my life. The kids were home on school vacation so between refereeing their fights and getting them out the door to the library, public skating, to a friend's house to play, and finishing Ava's science project, it wasn't really an ideal time to come up with a new fabulous career idea. I was frustrated with myself and at the end of my rope with the kids. I took a break and watched some mindless t.v. before getting out of my pajamas and getting on the with day.
"Slow Cooker" week on Rachael Ray....whoo-hoo! as I lay on my bed, half looking out the window at the dreary weather, half watching the show, the creative wheels in my head began to creak into motion. I came up with the brilliant idea to use the Crock-Pot to make a hearty stew. At least this was a mission I could motivate myself to get behind. Some good basic ingredients plus heat almost always yield the results I want, something delicious to eat and share with others.
It's funny I never realized that the kitchen has been my place of comfort for so many years. In college, after my dearest friend died, I cooked chili and bread from scratch every week and ate all of the meals that I prepared for myself at the tiny kitchen table by the window in our basement apartment that I shared with two other girls. Later, while living in Boston on a (frayed) shoe string budget, most nights I made it home from working in the mall after 8:00pm but I always managed to whip up some eggs with salsa and cheddar cheese, my own version of comfort food in a neat little omelet. Now especially when I feel I have no control over what life has to offer, I turn to the stove. Baking chocolate chip cookies, kneading bread, chopping vegetables, these are things that restore my sense of stability and help me to relax. When nothing appears to be going my way, at least the oven still works, the sugar tastes sweet and a hot meal reminds me that tomorrow is another day.
Saturday, March 14, 2020
Most of the time, our relationship takes the shape of a typical mother-son dynamic. I am aware that I shouldn't go in for a hug in public. When I am driving him and a friend home from school, he talks with a sarcastic edge: just cool and distant enough to show the outside world that he is tough and grown-up. But when he puts on those fleece pj bottoms with the Celtics logos printed all over the fabric, the ones that have suddenly become three inches too short, along with his fuzzy socks and says in his recently deepened voice, "Mom, Gilmore Girls?", I know he is still my little boy.
Even though next year he may say he doesn't want me to make cupcakes, I am still going to bake them and frost them and decorate them with orange sprinkles (his favorite color). I will not stop baking cupcakes on his birthday and I hope he never wants to stop watching bad t.v. in his pajamas on the couch with me.
This chocolate cake and frosting recipe is a combination of a few found on the internet and the cake on the back of the Hershey's Cocoa can. It makes one large cake or 24 cupcakes. (Fill lined cups 2/3 full with batter.)