Friday, February 23, 2018

Helpful Friends

soup made of roasted root vegetables

 There are people in my life whom I am lucky to know.  My friends are fun and energetic types, who have the same interests as I do, others are family members whom I love in spite of everything and still a few more that are friends but considered to be family.  My father has such a friend and by natural extension, he is a friend to all of us in the Harding clan from Old Meeting House Road.  We call him, "Buck" a shortened version of his last name.  He is as kind hearted as he is stubborn, a loyal curmudgeon.  He and my dad grew up in this small town on Cape Cod together and from their stories there was a lot of hell raising, very little parental supervision, mischief and lack of consequences as they were rarely caught.  These two have grown into grouchy yet loveable, salty old guys.  They go fishing together and throw back a few beers as the sun sets, then go to bed early.  They really don't care to know much about the latest tech gadgets, apps, social media or reality T.V.  But if you really need something important done or advice on anything from home repairs to fishing the tides and the best spot to go to the beach on any given day of the year, these two are the ones to call on.  
  Buck in particular is a handy and savvy builder with an eye for design and a New England practicality. So, when my upstairs bathroom ceiling became saturated and stained with water everytime there was a driving rain (which is often in these windy parts), Val suggested I call him.  It sounds like a no-brainer, that I should have thought to call Buck myself but navigating the conversation with such a hard headed fellow and the only one who would be able to demand that he NOT climb up onto my roof without back up would be my mother.  My pleas for his personal safety would only be met with a grunt from the other end of the phone line.
  On the day of the roof repair, my dad was enlisted to oversee safety on the job.  The two of them set up a ridiculously tall ladder and had the matter taken care of within minutes. When I heard the commotion on the roof, I looked out to see Buck's van in the driveway and my father keeping watch in the yard at the base of the ladder.  I wouldn't have know they were there, as they never announce themselves.  By the time I pulled out my cash stash for such occasions, they had already cleaned up and were climbing into the truck to leave.  I ran out the door to inquire about the bill.  As usual I got a grunt and a wave before Buck drove off.  Never acknowledging that he had done any work, at all.  This is also why I hesitate to call him. Not only does he come immediately when needed, he refuses to bill me or take any money for the necessary but little odd jobs that no other repairman/builder/carpenter would ever consider doing. It is completely exasperating and so very kind at the same time.
  The only way for me to deal with someone like this is to cook for him.  He will at least accept a homemade meal and a freshly baked pie or a pile of cookies.  However, in order to get him to do this, I  need to sneak it into his house and leave the food there when he is not home.  Thankfully, this grumbly, old fashioned guy still leaves his door unlocked.

  Here is a hearty vegetable soup that keeps well for a few days in the refrigerator and is easy to heat up for lunch or dinner.  I deliver it with some freshly made bread and a batch of chocolate chip cookies.  
Roasted Root Vegetable Soup 
(Serves 4)

Roast the vegetables:
2 sweet potatoes
4 large carrots
1 red onion
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
sea salt
black pepper

  Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Wash and peel sweet potatoes, carrots and onion.  Cut all vegetables into 1” to 2” chunks.  Scatter vegetables on a rimmed baking sheet.  Drizzle olive oil over the top of the vegetables and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Toss the vegetables to coat and place them in the oven.  Roast for 45 minutes to an hour until the vegetables are soft and browned on the edges.  Remove from oven and allow to cool to room temperature.  (This part of the recipe can be done up to 2 days in advance.  Cover vegetables and refrigerate until ready to make soup.)

Make the Soup:
roasted vegetables
5 cups chicken or vegetable stock
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
salt and pepper
Optional toppings, parsley, sour cream, greek yogurt

 Place vegetables in a large pot or bowl.  Add stock.  Puree soup using an immersion blender or regular blender (must do this in batches).  Add pureed soup to a large pot and warm over medium heat.  Add balsamic vinegar, Worcestershire sauce and Tabasco sauce.  Stir and taste.  Add salt and pepper only if needed.  Add toppings, if desired, before serving.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Flower Day

heart sugar cookies with pink frosting

  A version of this story appeared in the Falmouth Bulletin, February 2008

  The teenage years were the worst: full of unrequited love and hormonally charged crushes on fellows who did not even know of my existence let alone my name. A long tradition at Falmouth High School always magnified my feelings of lovelessness and teen angst.  The kind illustrated so well in all of those John Hughes movies of the 1980’s, like "Pretty in Pink" and "Sixteen Candles". I'm pretty sure it was called, “Flower Day”-the Honor Society raised money by selling flowers during the week before “Black Friday” as my friend Ted put it, so pained by this event that he actually remembers that it was on a Friday in 1986.  You could choose a red carnation for love, pink for like and yellow/white for friendship.  According to my sister Karyn, there was some unwritten rule that red was reserved for official boyfriends/girlfriends, but I don’t remember that. The flowers were distributed during home room on Valentines Day.  I was always among those who ended up in a cold sweat as the smug delivery geek called out the worthy people’s names in the front of the entire classroom. All the world would be a twitter as no one “knew” who sent the flowers until they got an opportunity between classes to visit the six foot table manned by the Honor Society and payed a dollar (double dipping??) to receive the message attached to the flower order.  Scandals were abundant, as they always are during the high school years.  My friend Debbie recalls a fight between two suitors who both sent her red carnations (ignoring Karyn’s rule mentioned above).  It ended in the much smaller of the two being thrown down the stairs into House B cafeteria.  Her boyfriend at the time, who did not send her any flowers and was not bothered by the suitors at all, seems to have won in the end as he is now her husband.
  If Flower Day caused stress, there was something at home that made it better.  My mother, Val chose funny cards that she placed at each of our chairs at the dinner table.  (At least my parents loved me during those awkward years!) She also made her traditional heart cookies.  She sent us to school during all of our elementary years with enough for our entire class of the yummy heart cut out sugar cookies covered in light pink frosting with a single red hot in the middle for extra flair.  As the years went on, she made two sizes of hearts, some small and some large to fit any appetite and left a few unfrosted for my father, Dick who never liked things to be too sweet. I could always count on those melt in your mouth cookies stored in the large square Tupperware on the kitchen counter to make me feel the world was still o.k. after a long day of teenage drama.
 Valentines day in 1987, my senior year of high school, was on a Saturday. (Don’t worry, Flower Day still happened on Friday the 13th!)  It was icy, cold and snowy as the month of February in New England can often be. Earlier that evening, I had been to a party with my best girlfriends: Jen and Jenny.  It was pretty uneventful. The only thing I recall about the soiree was the family dog.  It had 3 legs and we called him,“Tripod”. Around midnight I was home and standing in the kitchen with Val who was made sure she was awake to see that we arrived home safely and in the proper state.  As I talked about the night, the past week, whatever (it didn’t really matter), I savored those divine heart cookies out of the square tupperware and drank a large glass of cold milk while Val listened and enjoyed her usual: specially made hot cocoa with semi-sweet cocoa and milk. The comforts of home trump a wilted carnation any day.

Valentine's Day Heart Cookies
(Cut Out Sugar Cookies)
(makes about 48)

2 3/4 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla

  Combine flour, baking powder, and salt in a small bowl and set aside.  Using a stand mixer, beat butter and sugar, well.  Add eggs and vanilla and mix until light and fluffy.  Add flour mixture and mix until combined.  Shape dough into 2 disks.  Wrap disks in plastic wrap and refrigerate for about 1 hour.
  Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Roll out small portions of dough on a lightly floured board to 1/8" thick.  Cut cookie shapes using well floured cookie cutters and place on parchment or silicone mat lined baking sheets.  Bake for 8-10 minutes until edges of cookies just begin to turn golden.  Remove from pan onto wire racks to cool.  Repeat process with remaining dough.  Cool cookies completely before frosting.  

Frosting for Sugar Cookies
(makes enough to frost one batch)

2 tablespoons softened butter
2 cups confectioner's sugar
about 2 tablespoons milk, room temperature

optional: red food coloring, assorted sprinkles

  Combine butter and 1/2 cup sugar using a stand mixer.  Slowly, add 1-2 teaspoons milk and alternate with remaining sugar and milk until desired frosting consistency is achieved.  If it's too runny, add a little more sugar, too stiff, add a drop or two of milk.  Add a few drops of food coloring and mix well.  Frost cookies and add sprinkles on top immediately before frosting sets.  Allow frosting to harden overnight before storing cookies in an airtight container.