GARDENING, COOKING AND CANNING IN THE EMPTY NEST

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More than any other marker, starting the garden last weekend made us realize that it has been over a year since we started the blog.  While having a garden is fun, we are not gardeners.  We don’t love the feel of our hands in the dirt nor do we find weeding relaxing and peaceful. interimgarden We love thinking about what we’re going to plant.  We enjoy preparing the garden and planting the plants.  But what we want is the produce.  Pure and simple.   We do the work required.  We till.  We spread “moonure”.  We put the little plants in the ground.  We feed them.  We water them.  We then expect them to hold up their part of the bargain. fennel2 And they’d better produce that produce- there is no spot in the garden next year for the ingrates.  That’s the kind of gardeners we are.

that's as big as it ever got

that’s as big as it ever got

In the last four years, we have cooked Sunday dinner together almost every Sunday.  Over time, we have become good cooks.  But we will never cross over and become great cooks.   We know this because we both have great cooks in our families.  Sandy is one of six-the other five are exceptional cooks.  Denise’s brother, too, is an exceptional cook.  Every one of them can move around the kitchen with ease, have a conversation, drink a glass of wine and voila, dinner looks like a pictorial essay from the cookbooks on our shelves.  We still stutter step through every recipe. img_0056_0016 We move well in the kitchen, but we are always moving back to the recipe. “How many tablespoons?” “How much oil?” “What does that recipe say?”   We are not discouraged by this.  Almost everything we’ve made is good-some dishes and desserts have been exceptional.  But if something goes wrong, we find another recipe.  We have no interest in trying it again.  We’ve also come to realize that we will always cook at a pace reminiscent of cooking dinner, under the gun, on school nights. gardensalad We’ve learned to move slower, but we still seem to exhale when we sit down to eat and not a minute before.  We have no intention of quitting Sunday dinners.  We love them, especially now that we are stepping it up a notch with the Ad Hoc cookbook.  There is no doubt that two good cooks will someday become two really good cooks, but exceptional we will never be.

chicken potpie

chicken potpie

On our way to Trader Joes last Sunday, we started talking about how different canning has been for us than cooking Sunday dinner or planting the garden.  Neither of us remember when we first started thinking about it.   Canning has become what we do.  When we can, we move around the kitchen with ease.  We have conversations.  We don’t drink wine, too many sharp knives and boiling water.  Our hands pucker from cutting 10 pounds of lemons. IMG_0682 They turn red from blanching and chopping 25 pounds of tomatoes.  We have blisters from from small mishaps with boiling water.  sandyspic14 024We tweak with confidence and instinctively know how something will taste if we add this spice instead of the one called for in the recipe.  This we love.  This is hard work and effortless at the same time. IMG_0530 We get better every time we can.  If something goes wrong, we don’t look for another recipe or pick a new plant, we try again.  And we keep trying until we succeed.   We’re good at this and, we know, we will get better.   That feels really good.

winter canning, jars ready for summer canning

winter canning, jars ready for summer canning

As the nests emptied, we knew we needed to find something to propel us forward.  We loved the new relationships we were forging with our children.  But you do miss having your children in the house and it’s heavy sometimes.  Moving on, moving forward, who knows what to call it.  It seemed as if we had not prepared ourselves as well as we had prepared them.  Perhaps empty nest is one of those life experiences for which there is no preparation.  But for us, it may just be that the search for peace and purpose in the empty nest ends in a big black graniteware canning pot.

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THE MENU:  BURGERS ON THE GRILL – WE’RE MAKING STRAWBERRY PRESERVES

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We picked 32 pounds of strawberries Saturday. IMG_1221 It was muddy, ankle deep muddy but once we remember how much fun walking through mud is when you’re little, we stepped right in.  IMG_1232 Sunday we canned 28 jars of preserves and jam.  These were new recipes and we won’t know until tomorrow if we have jam, syrup, or cement so we won’t share the recipes until we open the jars.

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looks like a little chicken

looks like a little chicken

strawberry shortcake for dessert

strawberry shortcake for dessert

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MOTHERS DAY IN THE EMPTY NEST

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It’s Mothers Day.

Thank you for every word you’ve spoken, email you’ve written, and gift you’ve given that shows us that you understand that empty nest is real and that you are cheering for us.  The gardening books, the cast iron pans, the measuring cups, the cookbooks, the wine glasses, the plants in the backyard, each one signifying a family member, these are remarkable gifts.  As you left the nest, you too realized the truth in the words of AA Milne when he wrote:  “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”   That the excitement of the unknown and the possibilities and promises it holds, trumps the sadness of farewell is no small lesson.   It may be a lesson that we taught each other at the same time.

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Thank you for being so generous in sharing with us your interests, experiences and your dreams.  Your curiosity and courage has rekindled ours.

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You are, each and every one of you, smart, funny, creative, compassionate and kind.  We may have played a small part in nurturing those qualities, but you are who you are because of you.

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We love you.

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We aren’t cooking today.  Denise’s daughter Erin is making us a Mother’s Day dinner.  Thanks Erin!

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NINA, GEORGE AND WANDA (FORMERLY KNOW AS SANDY)

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My sister is on a last chance list.  When a shelter has a dog that will be euthanized, they send out the alarm to the no kill shelters who in turn, if they don’t have room, start calling people on the last chance list.  My sister has three last chance dogs.  Her soft spot is pit bulls and they are all part pit.

george and nina

george and nina

Nina has three legs.  She was thrown out of a window.  I don’t know Nina very well but I’ve been told she has figured out how to get down on her belly to stalk the squirrels in the backyard.

george

george

George was a stray for over a year.  He is part pit and part something enormous, mastiff perhaps.  He had only been in Carrie’s house for a few days, when she was invaded by out of state family-six of us.  The next day there was a blizzard, trapping us all in the house.  George went from living outside on his own, to the chaos of sharing space with ten people, ten strangers.  Not for one moment, was he skittish or uneasy.  He found a spot under the kitchen table and there he stayed.  Once in awhile, we’d hear a sigh of contentment.  George was home and he knew it.

nina and sandy before she becomes wanda

nina and sandy before she becomes wanda

A few weeks ago, she got another call.  A 7 month old puppy found abandoned in the Bronx, named Sandy.  She had kennel cough and mange when she arrived at the shelter in Connecticut.  When Carrie was finally able to pick her up and bring her home, she sent me a picture of her in the car, sitting up, looking out the window.  I will let this picture speak for itself. IMG_0772 It is haunting.  This is a puppy who has known not a minute of kindness.  It is quite possible she was born to an already abandoned mother.  She looks old.  She looks bewildered.  She looks stoic and resigned to whatever the fates have in store for her.  She does not yet know that she is a very lucky puppy, but then she never had the chance to be a puppy.  It has not been the easiest of adjustments.  Both she and George were strays so meal time has to be in separate rooms.  Food is survival and that memory must die hard.  They have re-named her Wanda. IMG_0770 It’s a good name-sturdy and secure.  Sandy’s past is filled with hunger, pain and terror.  Wanda’s future is filled with love, companionship, a food bowl of her very own, and a spot on the bed.

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God bless the people who work the phones in these shelters and those who transport these dogs to shelters that can take them, and, most of all, God bless the people who answer those last chance phone calls.

wanda finally looking like the puppy she is

wanda finally looking like the puppy she is

THE MENU:  HOT DOGS ON THE GRILL, SALAD, LEEK BREAD PUDDING, S’MORES

Leek Bread Pudding adapted from the Ad Hoc Cookbook

  • 2 cups 1/2″ thick slices leeks – green & white green parts only
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 12 cups 1″ cubes crustless brioche or french bread
  • 1 teaspoon thyme leaves
  • 1 teaspoon finely chopped chives
  • 3 large eggs
  • 3 cups whole milk
  • 3 cups heavy cream
  • 1 cup shredded Comte’ or Emmentaler cheese

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Put leeks in a large bowl of tepid water and swish so any dirt falls to the bottom of the bowl.  Lift leeks from the water and place in a medium saute’ pan over medium high heat.  Season with salt to taste and cook, stirring often for about five minutes until soft. IMG_1104 Lower the heat to medium low, stir in the butter to emulsify and add fresh ground pepper to taste.  Cover with a parchment lid (a piece of parchment paper cut to the size of  your pan with a hole to vent steam in the middle).  Cook, stirring every 10 minutes until leeks are very soft – about 30 minutes.  

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Spread the bread cubes on a cookie sheet and toast in a 350 degree preheated oven for about 20 minutes, until dry and golden.  Transfer to a large bowl.  Add the leeks and toss with the bread cubes.  Add the thyme and chives.  Leave the oven on.

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Whisk the eggs in another bowl.  Whisk in the milk, cream and a pinch of salt and pepper.

Sprinkle 1/4 cup of cheese in the bottom of a 9 x 13 baking dish.  Spread half the leeks and croutons on top.  Sprinkle with another 1/4 cup of cheese.  Spread remaining leeks and croutons over the top and top with another 1/4 cup cheese.  Pour enough of the egg, cream and milk mixture over the top to cover the leeks and croutons.  Let soak for 15 minutes.  Add the remaining liquid and top with the last 1/4 cup of cheese.

Bake for 90 minutes until the custard is set and the top is brown and bubbling.

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THE ORANGE BOWL IN THE EMPTY NEST

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Almost everyone has a set of Pyrex mixing bowls.  At one time, they were the mandatory shower gift.  They nested and came in colors:  red, orange, yellow, green and blue.  I have only one left from my set- the orange one.  It’s the second to the largest – the “go to bowl”.  Louisa and I were baking a few years ago when she said “I always know I’m home when the orange bowl is on the table.  Someday I want that bowl.”  Her words took me by surprise.  It’s an old bowl.  It’s scratched and faded and I don’t particularly like the color orange.  But when I thought about it, it is as filled with memories as any other part of the house.  It has been home to pasta, salads, pasta salad, batters for cakes and cookies.  In it I baked one of their favorite desserts:  hot fudge pudding cake.  A little miracle of science.  It may be one of the single most unappetizing things I’ve ever put in an oven:  a batter covered with dry ingredients and hot water.  But somehow, when it’s done, there is a layer of cake covering a layer of dark chocolate pudding.  Topped with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream, it’s a little bit of heaven.  It was, and, when we’re together, still is, our favorite treat for movie nights.

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Not surprising, the bowl also has a connection to Denise.  When I first moved here, I invited her little ones over to make a birthday cake for her.  They were toddlers at the time.  Denise ran a tight ship in those days.  She made this noise I can’t quite describe when they were about to trespass in to germ country.  They’d hear that noise, stop dead, hold up those little hands, wait for them to be wiped clean, then off they’d go.  It was like watching a game of freeze tag.  That day, I had them each standing on a chair while we made the batter in the orange bowl.  I poured it in to the pan, leaving enough for some fun licking the bowl.  I gave them each a spoon and turned to put some things in the sink.  Remember the scene in ET when Drew Barrymore finds ET in the closet?  She screams.  He screams.  She screams some more.  That’s what I turned around to.  These two sweet, beautiful faces, mouths open wide, screaming and holding up their hands because they were covered with batter.  Telling them to lick their fingers only met with louder screams.  I tried not to laugh while I wiped off those sticky little hands.  I couldn’t send them home traumatized by making a birthday cake, so I took over, scooping a little batter onto the spoons and handing it off to them.  That worked much better.  They were proud and happy when they gave Denise her cake.

The orange bowl as home.  Had Louisa never made that remark, I would have never entertained the thought.  But she was right.  After a day of school and work, that bowl almost always found its way to the counter, if not the table.  It is the one tangible object that has been a constant since they were born.  I look at the orange bowl through different eyes now.  It is the only bowl I use when I make bread or bake something new.  I don’t nest it with the other bowls, just in case it might get chipped.  When I take it out of the cupboard,  I can feel the memories that it has absorbed over the years.  I hear little voices filled with excitement at the prospect of a favorite dish and those same little voices saying “I’m not eating that!”.   It has been a receptacle of it’s own triumphs and failures and will continue to be so-an orange microcosm of our family life.  And it makes me happy that my friend and her children are a part of those memories.  The orange bowl as home.  Thanks, Louisa.

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THE MENU: BARBEQUED CHICKEN, BUTTERY FARRO, ARUGULA BLOOD ORANGE SALAD, THOMAS KELLER’S BROWNIES FROM THE AD HOC COOKBOOK

Gaining more confidence with each recipe we’ve tried, we made the brownies.  We usually make one bowl brownies-this is a three bowl brownie and would be worth making if it was a ten bowl brownie.  While our presentation doesn’t come close, the brownies are nothing short of spectacular and, of course, were mixed in the orange bowl.

  • 3/4 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 cup good quality unsweetened cocoa powder (the recipe calls for alkalized but we used Ghiradelli and it worked fine)
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3/4 pound (3 sticks) unsalted butter, cut in to one tablespoon pieces
  • 1 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla paste or vanilla extract
  • 6 ounces 61 to 64% chocolate cut in to chip sized pieces
  • powdered sugar for dusting

Preheat the oven to 350.  Butter and flour a 9″ square baking dish.  Sift together the dry ingredients in a small bowl.  Set aside.  

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Melt half the butter in a small sauce pan over medium heat.  Put the remaining butter in a bowl.  Pour the melted butter over the bowl of butter and stir.  The butter should be creamy, with small bits of butter remaining and at room temperature.  Set aside.

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In a large bowl, beat the sugar and eggs, on medium speed, for about three minutes until thick and pale.  Mix in the vanilla.  On low speed, add about one third of the dry ingredients, then add one third of the butter, and continue alternating the remaining flour and butter.  Stir in the chocolate pieces.

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Spread the batter evenly in the pan and bake 40-50 minutes until center is firm and toothpick comes out with just a few moist crumbs on it.  Ours took the full 50 minutes.  Cool on a rack until just about room temperature. IMG_1040 Run a knife around the edeges and invert on to a plate.  Cool completely.  Cut into squares or rectangles.  Dust with powdered sugar just before serving.

Thomas Keller's presentation

Thomas Keller’s presentation

Empty Nest's presentation (needs work)

Empty Nest’s presentation (needs work)

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WHEN THE GOING GETS TOUGH…

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We all have different coping mechanisms for dealing with stress.  Denise cleans.  Sandy watches movies.  Sometimes though, the tried and true methods don’t work.  Your mind still wanders when you want it to be still.

We were sitting at the kitchen table on a Tuesday night, slicing Meyer lemons for our last batch of marmalade.  We had been canning throughout the winter trying to perfect the pear butter and the marmalade, testing different kinds of vegetables for the giardiniera and trying our hand at aigre doux.  Denise remarked that she was glad we were doing a Tuesday night canning project because she’d had a stressful week.  Canning as stress reducer?  We hadn’t explored that thought before, but it seemed to be true.  The discipline of chopping and slicing, the preparation of the jars and the canner, heating water in the little pan for the lids and screw bands, making a brine, cooking down the marmalade, filling the jars, measuring headspace, wiping the jars, timing the process, removing the jars without scalding ourselves, and waiting for that popping noise that means the jars have sealed.  All this takes concentration.  In the beginning, the concentration was mixed with a little worry and uncertainty because we didn’t want to make a mistake that could be fatal to the recipients of our new found craft.

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Now that we’re comfortable canners, the concentration is calming.  As we talked that night, we realized on bad weeks, we were canning twice.  With so much to do, we don’t dwell on the source of our stress, we work.  That work, coupled with the sight of the newest jars lined up in our pantries, doesn’t make the cause of the stress go away, but it does put the stress where it belongs, in our mental pantries, so to speak, leaving us with clearer heads.

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Perhaps it was better said by Thomas Edison:   “As a cure for worrying, work is better than whiskey.”

Even more fitting for us though, might be D.H. Lawrence:  “I got the blues thinking of the future, so I left off and made some marmalade.  It’s amazing how it cheers one up to shred oranges and scrub the floor.”

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A BRIEF HISTORY OF CANNING AND CONCRETE SHIPS

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Napoleon is credited with saying: “An Army marches on its stomach.”  In 1795 Napoleon offered a Food Preservation Prize of 12,000 francs to anyone who could improve upon the food preservation methods of the time.  Military campaigns were often limited to the months of summer and fall because of the limited availability of food to feed large armies.

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Nicholas Appert, a French confectioner and brewer, reasoned that if wine could be preserved in glass bottles, any type of food could be preserved in glass jars, as long as the seals did not leak.  He spent more than a decade perfecting his process.  Appert preserved meats, vegetables, even milk, by cooking it first, placing it in thick glass jars-leaving air space, sealing the jars with corks, wax and wire and wrapping them in canvas to guard against breakage.  He would then process the jars  in boiling water for to 12-18 hours.  Reading this, we can safely say, we would have not been canners in the late 1700’s.  He sent two dozen varieties of his preserved food to the French Navy-whole chickens, roasts, stews, vegetables, eggs.  The Navy’s response:  while the sauce in the beef was “a little weak”, nothing spoiled and all was flavorful. He once preserved an entire sheep.  It must have been quite a jar.  What makes Appert so remarkable is that he had no knowledge of bacteria or the role it played in causing food to spoil.  It would be more than 50 years before Louis Pasteur would discover that foods spoiled because of bacteria.  He was awarded the prize and started the first successful canning factory.  He also published the first cookbook on food preservation, L’Art de conserver les substances animales et végétales (or The Art of Preserving Animal and Vegetable Substances).  Even with that title, it was a bestseller of its time.

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In the early 1800’s food was first preserved in tin cans (hence the term canning ) by a British inventor, Peter Durand.  Food preserved in tin cans was not mass produced until the beginning of the 20th century, for a reason that took both of us by surprise-the can opener.  Prior to the invention, in 1855, of the can opener, tins of canned food were opened using a hammer and chisel.   We would have starved.

THE CONCRETE SHIPS OF KIPTOPEAKE

The McCloskey concrete ships from WWII

The McCloskey concrete ships from WWII

We took a field trip to the Eastern Shore to have lunch, do a little shopping and to see the concrete ships.  We live in a city that is home to the largest naval base in the world, the home of NATO, and one of the biggest ports on the East Coast.  We see big ships all the time.  But a ship made of concrete that floats is more than we can wrap our minds around.  Concrete that floats.  It baffles.  There are 9 concrete ships forming a barrier reef off the coast of Cape Charles in Kiptopeake.  No matter how long we stared at them, no matter how many times someone said “ships of steel float, why not concrete?”, we just keep thinking, “it’s concrete, cement mixed with steel, ferrocement-it shouldn’t float”.  But they do.  And they have been since the late 1800’s when ferrocement was first used to build barges.

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The nine ships of Kiptopeake were built during WWII by McCloskey & Company as part of a fleet of 24 ships commissioned by the United States Maritime Commission in 1942. The ships were built in Tampa, Florida at the incredible rate of one per month.  Each ship bears the name of a pioneer in the science and development of these concrete ships.  Two were sunk as blockships for the invasion of Normandy.  The others were used as supply ships until the end of the war.  These nine were declared surplus and towed to Kiptopeake to serve as a breakwater.  Judging from aerial views of the shore line, they have served with honor just as they did during the war.

You can learn more at www.concreteships.org

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THE MENU:  CHEESEBURGERS ON THE GRILL, GRILLED ASPARAGUS, MIXED GRAIN SALAD WITH DRIED CHERRIES AND ARUGULA, CHEESECAKE WITH LEMON CURD (FROM THE RELISH MAGAZINE)

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FIFTY TWO POSTS FROM THE EMPTY NEST

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52 posts.  All we really knew when we contemplated writing a blog was that we needed to find a new direction for our energies.  We weren’t morose in the empty nest.   Nostalgic and sad sometimes, happy and laughing others.  But we knew the train had left the station and we were still standing on the platform, waving, and bewildered.

52 posts ago, we signed up for WordPress.  It was Lucy and Ethel at their best.  You would have thought the keyboard was crawling with poisonous spiders.  “What do you think will happen if we push this button?” While we have come a long way,  most of the mechanics of WordPress, and computers in general, remain a mystery.  And we’re okay with that.

52 posts ago, we bought a notebook to write down ideas for blogs.  The fact that there are places on our computers and our phones for “notes” didn’t occur to us until blog 51.

52 posts ago, in an effort to improve our photographs, we bought white plates for pictures of Sunday dinners even as the words “Oh no, we forgot to take the pictures!” resonated through the kitchen.

52 posts ago, we moved the cursor to “publish” for the first time.  What did we think would happen?  Fame and fortune?  Maybe for about five seconds.

52 posts ago, we saw our first comment.  Our reaction: startled surprise.  It was from Grown and Flown.  They are gifted writers, wonderful mothers, and women we’d like to count as friends.  They have continued to encourage and inspire us and we are grateful to them for that.

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52 posts later, we still aren’t sure what we thought would happen, but what has happened is this:

52 posts later, we have proved to ourselves that we are committed to writing this blog, whether anyone reads it or not.  It’s something we do for ourselves-a journal of this journey we’re on now that the kids are starting journeys of their own.  The writing leads to field trips and projects and those field trips and projects, lead back to the writing.  Would we have started canning without the blog?  Probably not.

52 posts later, we find we are not very good at expanding our connections in the blogosphere.  A big part of that is time.  We both work full time.  When we’re tired, we’re book and movie people.  Sometimes sitting at the computer seems more like work or being at work.  52 posts later, we still haven’t made friends with the “buttons”.   People tell us we’ll get “there”.  Our goal is to get in the vicinity of “there”.

52 posts later, we have come to treasure the people we have connected with.  Reading their blogs every week is like a phone call to a friend.  Lisa and Mary of Grown and Flown make us feel a little less alone in the empty nest.  Lillian has become the daughter we’ll never meet.  TBM has taken us to places we’ll never see in stories and pictures.  Maryanne is a kindred spirit.  Cynthia’s pictures have the power to bring us joy and we’re cheering Lou on in her search for bliss.   When they like something we’ve written or done, it makes us happy.  We would miss them if they went away.

52 posts later, we have come to realize that writing about the empty nest has dissipated the sadness and the pain.  We still miss those years of motherhood and long sometimes for a “do over”, but 52 posts later, it has eased.  We have claimed something for ourselves that is, in its own way, independent of motherhood just as our children are beginning to claim something for themselves that is independent of us.  That they have responded  with so much support and encouragement took us a little by surprise.  It shouldn’t have.  It is the echo of the same support and encouragement that we have given them and it has touched us deeply.  That alone is reason enough to write 52 more.

The McCloskey concrete ships from WWII

The McCloskey concrete ships from WWII

THE MENU:  BAKED HAM, BAKED PINEAPPLE, GLAZED SWEET POTATOES, CHOCOLATE CAKE WITH RASPBERRY BALSAMIC VINEGAR AND MARSCAPONE:

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GLAZED SWEET POTATO WEDGES – (Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc):

  • 3 lbs large sweet potatoes
  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter cut in to 12 pieces, softened
  • kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar, in a shallow bowl.

Wash potatoes thoroughly and peel them.  Cut off the ends.  Cut each potato in half and then cut each half in to 1″ wedges.  Place in a large baking dish in a single layer.  Spread the softened butter over the sweet potatoes.  Sprinkle with salt.  Cover the pan tightly with foil and bake at 450 for about 35 minutes until tender.  Remove from the oven and cool.  Preheat the broiler.  One at a time, brush the cut sides with the melted butter in the pan, then dip in to the brown sugar.  Return to baking dish and sprinkle with salt.  Right before serving, broil the potatoes until caramelized and heated through.

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CUCUMBER MELON VINAIGRETTE:

  • 1/4 cup organic cucumber melon infused balsamic vinegar (available at Drizzles)
  • 1/4 cup Meyer lemon juice
  • 3/4 cup canola oil
  • 1 tsp. minced shallots
  • 2 tsp. minced chives

Whisk together vinegar and lemon juice.  Slowly whisk in the canola oil.  Stir in chives and shallots.  

CHOCOLATE RASPBERRY BALSAMIC CAKE WITH WHIPPED CREAM FROSTING AND RASPBERRY COULIS:

Using your favorite chocolate cake recipe, bake in two 9” round cake pans.

Cool for about 15 minutes. While still warm, remove one cake from its pan, place on a large plate and drizzle with raspberry infused balsamic vinegar.  Set aside and allow layers to cool completely.

Raspberry Coulis:  Place one cup raspberries, 1/8th cup raspberry balsamic vinegar and one tablespoon sugar in small saucepan.  Bring to a low boil, reduce heat and cook for  10 minutes.  Pour through a fine sieve, to remove seeds and set aside.

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Whipped Cream Frosting:  Beat together one pint heavy cream, 3 tablespoons marscapone and 3 tablespoons sugar until desired consistency.  The marscapone will keep the whipped cream from weeping.

Assemble Cake:  Cover bottom layer with frosting.  Place second layer on top.  Cover with remaining icing and top with a few whole raspberries.  When serving, spread the coulis on the plate around the cake.

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WORDS FROM A.A. MILNE FOR OUR CHILDREN AND A VISIT FROM AND OLD FRIEND

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“IF EVER THERE IS A TOMORROW WHEN WE’RE NOT TOGETHER…THERE IS SOMETHING YOU MUST ALWAYS REMEMBER.  YOU ARE BRAVER THAN YOU BELIEVE, STRONGER THAN YOU SEEM, AND SMARTER THAN YOU THINK.  BUT THE MOST IMPORTANT THING IS, EVEN IF WE’RE APART…I’LL ALWAYS BE WITH YOU.”

A.A. MILNE

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MANDARIN AIGRE DOUX and ANOTHER GIARDINIERA IN THE EMPTY NEST

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This week we made mandarin aigre doux and another giardiniera.  It was a good week for us because we learned a lot about canning and cooking.  Three pounds of mandarins does not seem like much in the colander.  But once you peel the first one and see all the pith, you realize you’re going to have to take every little piece of pith off of every little segment without piercing them. IMG_0775 You also realize, as you are removing the pith, one piece at a time, those little threads stick to your fingers.  You’re putting as much back on the segments as you’re removing.  It takes a long time.

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Aigre-doux is a condiment so we decided to make a pan roasted cod and use the aigre-doux two ways.  We emulsified some with olive oil to make a sauce.  Then we removed the fruit from the jar, reduced the liquid by half over medium high heat and returned the mandarins to the reduced liquid.  The sauce was perfect over the cod and would also be delicious as a salad dressing over arugula, olives and sweet red onions.  The whole segments were also delicious with the cod but we thought it might be even better with a meatier fish or roasted chicken.  IMG_0833 We served the cod with buttered farro using the recipe from the Ad Hoc cookbook.  We have made farro before:  simmer in stock and serve.  This recipe called for sauteeing onions in canola oil, then toasting the farro before you add the stock.  Simmering until firm but tender, draining the stock, reserving a bit, returning the reserved stock to the pot with the farro and adding butter, chives and parsley.  Something quite magical happens with the addition of the butter at end.  It brings out the nutty flavor of the favor but it’s creamy like a risotto. Once again, thank you, Thomas Keller.   There were leftover haricot verts and chunks of celery root from the giardiniera.  Using a lesson learned from Sandy’s future son-in-law, the chef, we parboiled the celery root while the giardiniera was in the canner put it in a container to use later.  This might seem like a smart, simple and obvious step in preparation, but it hadn’t occurred to us before and what a difference it makes when you’re ready to cook.  It saves time and allows you to cook at a much leisurely pace.  We sauteed the celery root and haricot verts in canola oil, until the beans were crisp tender and the celery root was browned.  We seasoned it with Braggs Liquid Aminos. IMG_0848 Something we learned at our Farmers Market.  It was probably the best meal we’ve made so far.

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We also canned another giardiniera using root vegetables- celery root, turnip, rutabaga, radishes, and carrots.  For color we added haricot verts and tiny, little zucchini that we found at Trader Joe’s.  IMG_0823

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THE MENU:  PAN ROASTED COD WITH MANDARIN AIGRE-DOUX, BUTTERED FARRO (from the Ad Hoc Cookbook), SAUTEED HARICOT VERTS & CELERY ROOT, HOT FUDGE SUNDAES.

 

MANDARIN ORANGE AIGRE DOUX:

Prepare a hot water canner with 5 pint jars

  • 5 tsps. black peppercorns
  • 9 cups peeled mandarin segments
  • 1 750 ML bottle Beaujolais (all Gamay)
  • 3/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt

In a non-reactive pot bring wine, wine vinegar, salt and sugar to a boil.  Keep hot.

Remove hot jars from canner.  Fill with mandarin sections, add 1 tsp. peppercorns to each jar.  Pour brine into jars, leaving 1/2 inch headspace in each jar.  Check for air bubbles.  Wipe the rim of each jar.  Top with lids and screw bands.  Return to canner.  Bring water back to a boil and process for 15 minute

IMG_0794HOT FUDGE SAUCE:  (ADAPTED FROM THE DAVID LEBOVITZ RECIPE)

  • 3/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 cup light corn syrup
  • 6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • 1 tblsp. salted butter
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

Mix the cream, brown sugar, cocoa powder and corn syrup in a large sauce pan.  Bring to a boil over medium high heat, cook, stirring frequently, for 30 seconds. Remove from heat.  Add chocolate and butter, stirring until melted and smooth.  Add vanilla.  Serve warm over ice cream. (It will seem thin but as it cools, it thickens)

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FRESHMAN YEAR

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Much has been written about taking the kids to college.  The goodbyes, the empty nest, the homesickness.  We have cried.  They have cried.  We have cried some more.

Empty "nest"

Empty “nest” (Photo credit: mgstanton)

Now what?  They are freshmen.  We expect them to make new friends, adjust to the dorm, learn to be tidy, do their own laundry, get up for breakfast, go to bed at a reasonable hour, study, study, study, not to fall in love too hard and not to drink too much beer.

English: Harvard Yard. Photo taken by Dudeslee...

Academically, freshman year in many colleges and universities is one more year of high school, grade 13.   It’s probably not what they thought it would be.  While, skipping school in high school was a feat of daring, sleeping through that 9AM class, is just that, sleeping through that 9AM class.  It is easily done and the consequences are not apparent to them at the moment.  They are still at an age where immediacy is the rule more often than not.

A dorm room at the Harvard Law School.

The first semester grades come in-they’re good.  Back they go, confident that they have this college thing nailed.  Second semester ends, we look at the grades.  Maybe they didn’t nail it after all-maybe it nailed them.  But, taking the first semester into account, it is still cause for celebration.  Take them out to dinner, buy them something they’ve been aching for.  They made it through the first year.  That is not a small accomplishment.  Unspoken, of course, in that celebration, is that this is a one time deal.  It was a lot to adjust to and the fact that they did, is to be applauded, but adjustment time is over.  You know and they know that if there is a next time, there will be no celebration, but there will be some serious conversation.  The kind of conversation they think they’re too old to have.  When they go back in the fall, some of their friends will be missing.  Friends who’s parents did not celebrate.  Friends who’s parents pulled their financial support.  Your understanding of the big picture will strike a chord in them.  When they are juniors and sick of school and thinking there might be something better out there (there isn’t), they will remember that you didn’t say a disparaging word-that you trusted them and had faith in them and knew they’d do better.  

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Remember the first time you let them cross the street by themselves?  That trust was built on weeks of walking them across the street, hand in hand, standing on the sidewalk, saying “look both ways”.  Standing on the sidewalk, saying nothing to see if they looked both ways.  Watching from the window, again, to see if they looked both ways.  Yelling out the window: “You didn’t look both ways!”   They learned that the consequence of not looking both ways was being hauled back across the street and a cancellation of the playdate.

You’re still in this together-you’ve only been through Empty Nest Part I.  College is like preschool for life-one more street to cross.  You have to trust yourself to know when to yell:  Car is coming” and to trust them enough, that they know, on their own, when to step back up onto the curb.  You’ve been doing it for years-dances, driving, dates.  Trust them to look both ways and have faith that they know when it’s safe to cross.

Uh-oh!

THE MENU:  We’re not cooking today.  We’re canning another batch of giardiniera.  We have been trying to make vinegar.  Not to use in canning – for salad dressing.  Our first attempt has not gone so well-it has gone in to the trash.  We’re not discouraged.

PINEAPPLE VINEGAR:

  • the peels of an organic pineapple, roughly chopped
  • 1 quart water
  • 1/4 cup organic sugar

Mix sugar and water until sugar is disolved.  Put peels in a small crock and pour sugar water in to crock.  Cover with a piece of cheese cloth.  Place crock out of direct sunlight.  Once liquid has turned brown, one to two weeks, strain out the peels.  This is the first ferment.  You may see the liquid bubble as the sugar is turned to alcohol.  Strain out peels, cover crock with cheesecloth.  You will see globules of  a white gelatinous substance.  That is the the “mother” (like the starter for sourdough bread-it is a living thing).  The liquid may start to smell a little funky during the second ferment.  Don’t worry.  It is moving through the fermentation process from alcohol to vinegar.  As time goes on, it will start to smell like vinegar.  Ours did for a couple of weeks but still had the funky smell.  Then the mother disintegrated, sank to the bottom and it had no smell at all.  We think it failed because we had it in a bad spot (too much temperature fluctuation) and the fact that we used a glass jar that didn’t protect it from the light.  We have an apple cider vinegar fermenting now.  It’s starting to get the funky smell but it looks good and has a hint of vinegar and apples as well.  

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Once it smells only of vinegar, taste it.  If you think it’s ready, strain through cheese cloth several times, and store in a class or food grade plastic container.  Do not use metal lids as it will react with the vinegar and spoil it.   Hopefully, in a few weeks, we’ll be enjoying a salad made with our homemade apple cider vinegar.  

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NOTE:  The easiest vinegar to make is wine vinegar.  Wine has already gone through the first fermentation.  Just put the dregs of an opened bottle in a crock, cover with cheesecloth and wait.  We never seem to try the easy way first.

English: A bottle of wine: Cadillac

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