Salad? ~ With a Side of Memory



Ahh, summertime. Ripe tomatoes.  I am always inspired by seasonal produce despite the fact that these days we often don’t really know what is in season what with cold storage and whatnot.  When in Europe it became clear to me that when you live where food doesn’t have to be transported thousands of miles, you get fresh and ripe produce.  In this country you have to work at it.  But here in Florida you can get ripe summer tomatoes.

My father loved gazpacho and so do I.  He gave me his recipe, on the back of a random piece of paper that I still have.  We talked more about food and recipes than about anything else.  If I could not remember whether you add the oil or the vinegar first in a vinaigrette, I could call him day or night.  So many things he made are in my recipe book whether I make them or not.  And my knives have never been sharpened so well since he passed.  But as usual, I digress.

I like my gazpacho “greener” than he did.  And traditional gazpacho has bread in it and I don’t add bread to mine, I find that with more green, it is bound enough and doesn’t need the bread.  And he added a very non-traditional secret ingredient that I definitely still add, later for the reveal.

So here goes.  For a medium batch I use a very large peeled ripe tomato, about half of a large english cucumber, peeled, half to whole green bell pepper, half a sweet onion, clove or more of garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, a little vinegar (you just have to taste and can experiment with what one you like) salt to make the chemistry happen (again, taste, taste, taste) and……. aha:  V-8 juice.  Not a lot just enough to bring it together.  Add a small bunch of fresh parsley.  I make the whole think in my food processor and just keep going until I like the taste and texture.  Rather than adding bread, I serve it with good crunchy croutons.  And voila, Pop’s gazpacho, my style.

This wonderful salad/soup has been many a summer’s dinner for me.  My family found it an acquired taste.  But I love it and it always brings to mind a memory of my father who loved to cook and loved to share cooking ideas and recipes.  Someday I hope to be as imaginative in his honor.

It’s As American As……..

I have said it before and I will say it again now, I am often troubled by the vituperative nature of the dialogue in America these days.  It feels as if people are fighting each other verbally for some idea they have of what is “American”.  It feels often as if people are saying “I am more American” than you and I am right.  And if you think I am not right, then you are not really American.  I say that what is American is the dialogue itself, and we have lost sight of that I think.  What is important about America is that we have always had the dialogue and respect for the dialogue and for those engaged in it.

It seems, currently, that it is futile to engage in talk, if I express a political opinion I am either wrong or silly or I am simply dismissed or ignored.  So I decided to take a different tack and talk about what is really and indisputably American; food.

Almost as much as sports, food is a matter of regional and ethnic pride in this country.  I was lunching on barbecue the other day and the restaurant offered a stunning array of sauces.  I knew, for example, that the golden mustard based barbecue sauce is a staple of the Carolinas, and the sweet generally associated with St. Louis.  And I am not a barbecue expert by any stretch.

I have lived in many regions of the country and have had the privilege of learning in each one.  Fresco in southern Cali, green chili in Nuevo Mexico, crab cakes in Maryland, maple syrup in New England and cornbread and fried green tomatoes in Florida.  And so much more.  As a result of living in New England I still make applesauce and can it every year.  As a result of living in New Mexico I still wrap lots of things in a warm flour tortilla.  Since I grew up in New York, I still love good rye bread, especially with pastrami.  And Florida strawberries make the best jam. And so much more.

Starting with politics and ending with food.  Maybe if we all just sat down to a meal and tempered our dialogue with shared food we would understand each other better.  Maybe if we broke cornbread together the dialogue would be tempered with respect.  A ridiculous idea I know, but this baker of apple pies can dream, because our food is as much a reflection of our diversity and the rich tapestry of our culture as our political points of view.

Friendship and Food ~ Why do it?

Having a dinner party, or in a more modern vernacular a dinner, even when the food isn’t perfect.

First, set a beautiful table – because it matters.  Looking at a table ready for guests is almost as good as a table full of happy guests.   Next, create a menu.  All my friends know that I like to try new recipes on them and despite not knowing the results they willingly accept the risks.  So far, I haven’t poisoned anyone that I am aware of and have only had to take my guests out to eat at a restaurant once; a particularly bad grilling experience. Be bold, be creative, try new things, maybe even a theme.

Next, remember why you have dinners and invite people you love, or people who are interesting, or people you want to get to know.  Think about the chemistry; do you want interesting smart conversation, or intimacy, or just a bellyful of laughs.  And by the way, I always tell my guests it is never about reciprocity.  I don’t care if I ever see the inside of their homes, I do this because I like to.  It is for me really, they are just the incidental beneficiaries of my joy.

Ok, so plan ahead how you will cook.  Is there anything you can do in advance?  Of course I am assuming you have already shopped.  And what is your timing?  Are there any pre meal rituals, add in the time.  Make coffee before dinner; in my age group more decaf than not.  And don’t get too ambitious, it is a recipe for failure.

So my last dinner definitely not go as planned.  Hoisin glazed baby back ribs took almost an hour longer than expected.  The rice was done but stayed warm.  The stir fried green beans, thankfully didn’t get started until it seemed reasonable, but they were nevertheless in danger of overlooking.  The pickled cucumber salad was cold and didn’t suffer.  But really, nobody cared.  A glass of wine, good friends, good conversation, a bowl of steamed edamame, it was all good.

Once again nobody poisoned, the food was okay and we laughed until we cried and thoroughly enjoyed each other’s company.

[tweetshare tweet=”So don’t worry too much if your house isn’t in perfect order, allow yourself the time and space to just sit and enjoy.  Don’t worry if the food isn’t perfect, your friends won’t care.” username=”TrienahM”]

This is why I do it – a table full of food, laughter and love.

Home Skillet

My son, somewhere around the age of ten, went through a phase of “naming” people after the fashion of hip hoppers.  This included random strangers and usually the names were pretty imaginative.  My personal favorite, although somewhat mortifying at the time, was as follows.  We were riding down the street in my car when my son spied a very large man walking down the street.  Without warning he whipped down the rear window, stuck out his head and yelled “YO, butter biscuit”.  Fortunately I don’t recall that the random stranger at whom this was aimed realized that it was directed at him.

It has always been my way to cook from scratch and when the above son was small, many things were homey things kids like; what you might call comfort food.  I often made things like applesauce, spaghetti sauce and chili with biscuits.  I recall when my son was presented with yellow jar applesauce at preschool and asked with astonishment what it was; it was the wrong color (cinnamon, you know)!

I don’t often make what I consider “comfort foods” nowadays as they aren’t all that healthy generally (I still make the chili, it is healthy).  But when my husband decided to work at his barbecue/smoking skills I thought about what should go with it.  As a result I stumbled on a fabulous recipe for Mac and cheese with mega cheese in it.  It was so good it was requested by a returning guest for another dinner.  And as you can see, I had to make double so my son could have it for breakfast and the guests could take some home.

So, I know you were wondering how the “naming” relates.  First, it was good to find my comfort food skills still intact and second, it was great to live up to the name my son gave me years ago…. Home Skillet.image




Slow Sunday – Good Gravy

file6711284893685So… Two unusual events this quiet Sunday.  One, I am not travelling for work tomorrow and two, we did not have company.  My son wanted one of his perennial favorites – sausage and peppers.  I took the opportunity to make  a Focaccia with a new recipe.  I seem to have misplaced my old favorite.  This new one was easy enough but a hit fluffy and light for a focaccia.  But good olive oil and fresh snipped and minced Rosemary from my little bitty herb plot made it aromatic and yummy, in fact we ate it all.

I also took advantage of the cloudy windy not too busy Sunday to do something I haven’t done in a long time – I made what New York Italian families call gravy; old fashioned long cooked meat sauce.  It is for Monday pasta; another thing we rarely do – eat pasta, it will be a treat.  I used a mix of ground pork and lean ground beef, lots of garlic and onions and sautéed a little organic tomato paste to deepen the flavor before adding all the tomato, parsley, salt, pepper, oregano, lots of minced fresh basil and just a pinch of sugar.  Tomorrow when reheating I will add a little crushed red pepper and simmer another hour or so.  Not anything most people haven’t made a million times, but familiar, comforting and rare these days unless you are in a restaurant.  So pasta Monday it will be.  No funny stories this week, just a quiet Sunday with fresh bread and a house full of the smell of garlic.

Next Sunday, a smoking barbecue bonanza. Sides not entirely determined, but I see some fried green tomatoes coming down the line.