Just Peachy!

Yesterday I had a food flashback.  I was transported to  2000 when Steve and I lived in our tiny shoebox apartment– I swear our entire place could easily fit into my classroom.  But it was cute.  The kitchen had light green tile with a dark green tile border, and there was light yellow tile in the shower.  It had some built-in bookcases and a funky knick-knack rack that divided the kitchen from the living room and ad hoc dining room.  The real dining area was used as Steve’s office. The place also came with guys who sniffed paint in the alley, a resident who let the local prostitute “Octavia” into our laundry room to do her business (no pun intended), a halfway house next door that housed a man who constantly commented on my groceries, and a completely bat-____ crazy neighbor upstairs who blocked my car in with hers when I parked in “her” spot.  It was cute, nonetheless.  It wasn’t until the flying termites made their exodus out of our woodwork that we decided to move (I never imagined that I would use Raid and a vacuum cleaner at the same time).

Now let me flashback to my flashback: One night I made Cooking Light’s Roasted Chicken, Red Onions, and Peaches.  It was really good.  For some reason I have not made it in the last 12 years until I remembered it yesterday.  I still have the recipe and it became tonight’s dinner.  It is delicious and healthy.

Just add chicken.

Step One: Peaches

4 large peaches

1 tbsp. sugar

X marks the spot.

Cut an “X” on the bottom of each peach, carefully cutting just through the skin.  Fill a large Dutch oven (or any large pot) with water and bring it to a boil.  Immerse the peaches into the boiling water for 20 seconds; remove with slotted spoon and plunge into ice water.

This is a great way to get that peach facial you’ve always wanted.
Fortunately, peaches don’t shrink. ; )

Let them hang out in the ice water for a couple of minutes.  This will really loosen the skin and make it easier for it to come off.  Slip skins off of peaches using a paring knife.  Cut in half; remove pits.

This is the difference waiting a couple of minutes can make. I had to scrape the skin off of my first peach (on left), but the skin just slid off my last one.

Place peaches in a large bowl; cover and chill.

Step Two: The Chicken and Onions

Preheat oven to 425 degrees fahrenheit.

8 chicken thighs (about 2 pounds), skinned (I used boneless, so I reduced most of the cooking times by half, except for the last 10 minutes that include the peaches)

2 large red onions, each cut into 8 wedges (wearing swim goggles does wonders in preventing onion-eye-burn)

1/2 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. black pepper

1 tsp. vegetable oil

Round One.

2 tbsp. balsamic vinegar

2 tbsp. molasses (also good drizzled over hot popcorn)

1 tsp. dried thyme (make sure you have thyme!)

1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper

Combine chicken and onions in a 13×9 baking dish; sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Drizzle with oil; toss chicken gently to coat.  Bake at 425 for 30 minutes (I did 15 for boneless).

Round Two.

Combine the rest of the ingredients; drizzle over chicken, turning to coat.  Bake chicken for an additional 20 minutes (I did 10).  Add peaches to chicken mixture in dish, basting with cooking liquid.  Bake an additional 10 minutes or until chicken is done.  (I kept it in there for 10 to cook the peaches.  The chicken was done, but it’s pretty hard to mess up thighs.)

Round Three.

I served this with Israeli couscous and green beans (Green Giant Steamers).  Israeli couscous is much bigger than regular couscous and just more fun to eat.

I heated a couple of teaspoons of olive oil in a non-stick pot and added one cup of couscous.  Stir it around until it gets toasty.  Add 1 1/2 cups of water and bring to a boil.  Cover and simmer for 8-12 minutes.  After 8 minutes you may want to give it a gentle stir to bring up the couscous on the bottom– it will stick to the pan.  I drizzled some fresh lemon juice into it, gave it a stir, and voila!

The next time I make it, I may use chicken broth instead of water to give it a deeper flavor and add dried thyme, but the addition of lemon worked well.

Steve contributed a Solitude chardonnay to accompany dinner and ice cream sandwiches for dessert.  Can’t beat that!

Dinner is served!

You can find the recipe at Cooking Light: Annual Recipes 2000. Oxmoor House: Birmingham, AL, 1999. Print.

Lazy Bakes

Do you think they’ll still let me in even though I didn’t like the book?

Tonight is my Artful Readers book club meeting and we’re discussing Ellis Avery’s The Last Nude, the book I disparaged yesterday.  My not liking the book will not keep me from going to our meeting, nor did it stop me from baking some goodies.  Book club is fun not only for reading (typically) good books and having conversation with intelligent adults, but also because it challenges me to bake something that connects to the book.  Instead of baking a goody I don’t like (which connects to my feelings about the book), I thought connecting to the setting, Paris, would be a tastier option.  The other challenge I faced was my summer break laziness: how could I bake without really baking?

Grabbing my iPad that lay next to me on the couch, I did what every lazy baker does. I googled recipes.  My very first click (I felt lucky) lead me to Cinnamon Palmiers made with puff pastry.  I did not have to get out my Kitchen-Aid mixer (it’s Sonoma Blue if you’re wondering), nor did I have to get out an excess of measuring cups.  Perfect!  Then the realization that it only used one sheet of puff pastry struck me.  Imagining the other sheet residing by its lonely self in the freezer until 2016 haunted me.  What else could I make?  Hmm…  I saw Ina Garten on the Barefoot Contessa make apple tarts using puff pastry.  All I had to do was slice some apples, dab some butter, and sprinkle some sugar.  Sounded lazy enough for me.  Both recipes turned out really good and were pretty easy.

The. Best. Thing. Ever.

Amy and Ina’s French-Italian Apple Tartlets

1 sheet of puff pastry

2 Granny Smith apples, cored and sliced into 1/4 inch slices

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup unsalted butter

1/2 cup apricot jam

2 tbsp. of calvados (an apple liqueur), rum, or if you are like me and don’t have either, Tuaca, an Italian liqueur also good in Chip Shots (recipe follows).  You can also use water, but why?

1.Preheat oven to 400 degrees fahrenheit.  Line baking pan with parchment paper (you’ll hate life if you don’t).

2.I cut out thawed puff pastry into nine squares and then rolled each square out a bit.

3. Layer the apple slices on the pastry in a pretty design. (I only needed one and part of another apple, so eat the excess apple slices. It’s good for you and will make you feel better when you eat these tarts.  You can rationalize to yourself, “Well, I did eat part of an apple today.”)

4. Sprinkle sugar on top.  I didn’t use the entire amount; it seemed like a lot.

5. Cut up butter and dab on top.

6.  Bake 14-16 minutes until pastry is puffy and golden.

7.  Before the tarts come out of the oven, heat up apricot jam with liqueur of your choice.  When tarts come out of the oven, brush with apricot glaze.

A smurf is three apples high. So there you go. You don’t have to thank me right away for that nugget.
On their way to yummy goodness.
Tuaca helps bring the yummy to the tummy.
Toby sleeps as the tarts bake. Wait a minute. He slept through the whole process! No tart for Toby!
This is why you want to use parchment paper. Easy-clean!

Cinnamon Palmiers

Palmiers are a typical French cookie that looks like a heart.  Since I don’t like hearts, I now declare them ears, because really, which would you rather nibble on?

Heat oven to 400 degrees, line baking sheet with parchment.

1. On a floured surface, roll out puff pastry sheet to about 15×12 inches.  Make sure there is enough (not too much) flour underneath.  Puff pastry will stick, and for this recipe, you do not want it to stick.

2. Brush top liberally with melted butter.

3.  Sprinkle entire surface with a mix of 1/3 cup sugar and 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon.  It will look more like a deluge than a sprinkle, but it’s cinnamon sugar.  It’s all good.

4.  Taking the long end, roll it loosely to the center.  Repeat on other side.

5. Slice into 1/4 inch slices and place on baking sheet.  I folded up the “scrolls” to create the ear shape.

6.  Bake for 10-12 minutes.  Cool on cookie rack.

Don’t you love the smell of cinnamon sugar? Reminds me of childhood.
Rollin’, rollin’, rollin’.
As snug as a bug.
Cute, huh?
What?! Molly’s no help either! What kind of lazies am I raising?
They kind of look like rams from this angle.

Chip Shot

I have been drinking this warm, toasty drink every winter since I was 17 (?).  My “surrogate parents” next door often made this, and luckily for me, I could stumble home.  What did my parents think of this?  My dad likes this drink, too.

Here’s the magic:

3 parts coffee

2 parts Bailey’s

1 part Tuaca

Mix.  Heat up a bit in microwave.  Top with whipped cream.  Enjoy.

Closing Down Lord Fletcher’s: That’s How We Roll

In my favorite Rolling Stones song, they sing, “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometime, you get what you need.”  This seems to be a universal truth that plays out in surprising ways.  Such as on Thursday night when Steve and I went to eat at Lord Fletcher’s in Rancho Mirage.  We had eaten there before and liked the place.  It has faux-English pub decor and portraits of Winston Churchill and the Queen greet you when you walk in.  The ceilings are lined with dark beams and British paraphernalia covers the walls; it reminded me of the pubs I frequented in the Cotswolds, and the fact that it was one of Sinatra’s haunts just added to its charm.  Steve loved the fact that they served his favorite meal: prime rib, creamed spinach, and Yorkshire pudding.  This time, though, was different.  We were stressed out and upset after dealing with an elderly parent who is in denial about the seriousness of her condition, and what we really wanted at that moment was a nice, quiet evening.

Image via city-data.com

Alas, it would not be so.  After ordering my Pimm’s Cup, a gin-based British drink with 7-Up and dressed with cucumber, apple, and orange slices, and Steve’s Manhattan, we sat there trying to have a good time as we struggled for something positive to say.  Soon another couple sat next to us at the bar. It was apparent they were regulars since Sir Andrew, the bartender, prepared their drinks and peanuts in advance.  The couple, whose names are Tom and Minda as we would find out shortly, had goals that countered ours.  Tom immediately drew Steve into conversation asking him all sorts of questions about his work, childhood, and mother.  I watched on trying to figure out Tom’s intent for so many questions.  Was he trying to start trouble?  Would this lead into a heated political debate?  Or my biggest worry, would this make Steve more agitated than he already was?  I sat sizing up the situation until Tom mentioned a fact that earned my seal of approval: they are originally from Chicago.  Like Sinatra, Chicago is my kind of town, and I spent many good times there with my Gramps and step-grandma Ninna.  Anybody from Chicago is a friend of mine.

Sir Andrew: The Nicest and Most Capable Bartender
My Pimm’s Cup. Very refreshing on a hot day!
Steve’s Manhattan.

The ice broken, the four of us and Sir Andrew entered a lively discussion about our lives, jobs, and how we ended up in Palm Springs.  We learned that not only were the four of us lucky to be served by Andy, Anthony Bourdain was, too. Bourdain featured Lord Fletcher’s in an episode of No Reservations, and Andy made him a dirty martini and had a spot on the show.  Hearing that I am a teacher, Andy shared his teacher joke:

A group of kindergartners were told by their teacher that they would use  no baby talk.  “You need to use big people’ words,” she’d tell them.

She asked Mary what she had done over the weekend. “I went to visit my Nana,” she said.

“No, you went to visit your GRANDMOTHER. Use big people words!”

She then asked Billy what he had done. “I took a ride on a choo-choo,” he replied.

She said, “No, you took a ride on a TRAIN. Use big people words.”

She then asked little Johnny what he had done. “I read a book,” he replied.

“That’s wonderful!” the teacher said. “What book did you read?”

Johnny replied, “Winnie the Shit.”

Tom decided to buy us our next round of drinks, and before I could say Frank Sinatra, Anthony Bourdain, or Winnie the Shit, Andy had prepared another Pimm’s Cup and Manhattan.  Then Steve and I received the sad news that our table was ready.  We thanked Tom and Minda for the drinks, shook hands, and then went back to our nice, quiet evening.  Once we were settled in, Steve voiced my thoughts: “I wish we could have dinner with them.”  It didn’t take much incentive for me to pop back up and ask them.

Tom and Minda when we said “goodbye” the first time.

So we ditched our table and our nice, quiet evening to have dinner with them. Steve ordered his favorite, and the prime rib was medium-rare and a sizable portion.  I ordered the chicken and dumpling: dark and white meat dressed in a cream sauce with peas and carrots served with a massive dumpling.  The dumpling was tender and soft, but also held up to the sauce well.  It did not become one big, gooey mess.  Tom ordered the Thursday special: roast chicken with red potatoes.  He asked for creamed spinach instead of the vegetables it was served with, and they brought him out three bowls of it.  Minda ordered the shrimp salad.  Everything looked fresh and the shrimp succulent.  Everyone from the owners, Andy, our server Christine, to the bussers made us feel at home, and before we knew it we had closed down the place.  Meeting and visiting with Tom and Minda was the highlight of our evening.  Steve and I are still amazed at how much we had in common– from our political views to our love of New York and jazz.  They have given us two new reasons to visit Palm Springs.

While we had wanted a nice, quiet evening, sharing laughter and good times with Tom, Minda, and Andy was what we really needed.

The four of us before our second “goodbye”.

Fast, Cheap, And Easy

Contrary to your assumptions, I am not talking about myself.  I’m talking about my enchiladas!  *Ahem* No, not those enchiladas (which should be more aptly called Tostitos, thank you very much).  Please, dear reader, get your mind out of the gutter.  I’m trying to create a respectable food blog here!

As I was saying, my enchiladas.  This chicken and bean enchilada recipe is easy and perfect for the nights you do not want to cook.  It is so easy that if you have kids who can reach the counter and like to mash, smear and roll things up, they could make it, and you, on the other hand, can sit down, relax, and write your next post.  Since I don’t have kids and my cats prefer to hold the couch in place, I have to make them myself.  Fortunately, mashing and smearing are a couple of my talents, as is using the can opener.

Your BFF for this recipe.

Preheat your oven to 350.

Into a bowl, dump one 16 oz. can of refried beans, one 10 oz. can cooked white chicken (drained), and one 4 oz. can diced green chiles.

The star ingredients.

Mash together.

Good and mashed.

Smear 1/3 cup of the mixture down the center of an 8″ flour tortilla, roll up and place into a 9×13 baking dish.


Repeat 7 times.

All lined up!

Pour one 10 oz. can of enchilada sauce over the top and sprinkle 1/2 cup of reduced fat shredded cheddar cheese down the center.

I like cheese… more than likely that’s a generous 1/2 cup.

Place in oven, uncovered, for 30 minutes.  Blog.

Take out of oven and let rest before serving.

Ready to eat! My oven is running a little hot, I should have taken them out 5 minutes sooner.

It serves 8.  I have made Spanish rice to serve along side this and have also used corn and melon as sides, too.  You can also top them with sour cream and guacamole if you’re a topping kind of person.  These cost a little less than $10.00 to make, so it’s a great way to feed a lot of people without starving your wallet.

Hokey cover, but good recipes.

This recipe comes from Zonya Foco’s book Lickety-Split Meals. It’s a great resource of health and fitness tips, and for each recipe Foco suggests side dishes and includes them in the planning for the main recipe.  This way everything is done at the same time.  I’ve tried many recipes out of this book, and they all have turned out well.  Plus, she has sections for 1, 5, 15, 30 minute meals (and they hold to that time, unlike Rachael Ray’s recipes which require 30 minutes to gather all of the ingredients), pizza, stir-fry, longer recipes, salads, and desserts.

Bon Appetit!

Barbecues And Fresh Corn Salad

Is this book on your shelf? It should be.

Memorial Day Weekend is not just for the “save the sales tax” sales, it’s also the beginning of the barbecue season.  Our friends Erin and Patrick threw one tonight, and I had the delight of going through my cookbooks to determine what I would take.  My cookbooks are like old friends to me.  I remember when I first got them and connect the dishes made with certain events.  I will often sit and read a cookbook like a novel, and I especially like the blurbs about the history of the dish and its significance to the author.  Some books are near and dear to my heart.  My Moosewood Cookbook was the very first one I purchased right before moving to Arcata. Another Moosewood book has the recipe for Sweet Potato and Black Bean Burritos, the very first dish I made for Steve (see, it is possible to woo a carnivore with just vegetables).  My Sylvia’s Soul Food Cookbook was purchased at her restaurant in Harlem during our honeymoon.  Sylvia happened to be in that day, and she came out to chat with us for a bit and sign our book. Then there’s The Barefoot Contessa.

During graduate school I happened to get lucky enough to be hired at Williams-Sonoma, a high-end kitchenware store.  Besides teaching, that was my favorite job.  I worked among intelligent, creative, funny, and kind people.  The merchandise was of a superior quality, and I learned so much about food and cooking.  We often held cooking classes and well-known chefs from our community and the nation would come in to lead the lesson.  I learned from the customers as much as they learned from me.  We all brought in goodies, and the goodies we loved most came out of Ina Garten’s The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook.  A good day was made great when someone brought in Garten’s Outrageous Brownies, Coconut Cupcakes, Pecan Squares, or Lemon Bars (which burst of bright lemon flavor).  Her recipes are simple, call for ingredients normally on hand, and are fool-proof.  If I had a customer who needed a last minute wedding gift idea, I placed a copy of this cookbook in her hand and said, “This is it.”

A summery salad needs a summery bowl.

For tonight I decided to make Garten’s Fresh Corn Salad.  It hits the main points in what I look for in a recipe: easy, elegant, and cheap.  I hope you all try it; it is very good.

5 ears corn, shucked

1/2 cup small-diced red onion

3 tablespoons cider vinegar

3 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/2 cup chiffonade fresh basil leaves (stack basil leaves on top of each other, roll up like a cigar, and slice to create ribbons of basil)

In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the corn for 3 minutes to remove starchiness.  Drain and immerse it in ice water to stop the cooking and to set the color.  When the corn in cool, cut the kernels off the cob, cutting close to the cob.

Toss the kernels in a large bowl with the red onion, vinegar, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Just before serving, toss in the fresh basil.  Taste for seasonings and serve cold or at room temperature.  Do not, do not, do not use frozen or canned corn– this dish relies on texture, and they just don’t have it.

The barbecue turned out quite well even though the May weather wasn’t ready to let go of the chill.  Erin and Patrick supplied pork loin and chicken sausages, Coryn brought strawberry salad (and taught me the benefits of adding sea salt to salad greens– I sat there eating lettuce like it was potato chips), and Katie brought fruit kabobs.  Lest you think that we are totally health conscious, there were cookies and cupcakes and plenty of beer and Mike’s Margaritas.  There was great discussion, lots of laughter, and it was the perfect way to start off summer.

Me and my gals.

Jazz In The City

Yesterday’s plan for our excursion to San Francisco originally included spending all day in the city and browsing City Lights bookstore, having a cappuccino in North Beach, strolling around the shops, drinking an afternoon cocktail, eating a nice dinner, and listening to the Brad Mehldau Trio at the Yerba Buena Performing Arts Center. Both of us needed to get away, and I thought it would be fun to put my little pink camera to use taking shots of the city.  The plan was altered as Steve had to go into work to complete some more of a proposal that he and his co-workers had been working on all week well into the week nights.

We didn’t leave until around 3:30.  The drive over prompted the type of discussions that only a road trip can bring about.  We talked about our frustrations with work, where we live, and where we are in our lives.  I imagine this conversation is happening among people all across the country as there are many people like us who are underwater on their mortgage (we bought our condo in 2005 literally the day before the housing market collapsed– at least that what it felt like), busting their butts at their jobs because they’re “lucky to have one in this economy,” and basically living a life that they didn’t quite imagine for themselves.  I, for instance, have taken pay cuts and have a 40 mile commute each way and do not want to get a teaching job closer to home in fear of giving up my seniority (I have already been pink-slipped three times, laid off once, but managed to get called back) and because my local school district lays off teachers every year.  I remind myself how lucky we are that we both have jobs, can afford our mortgage, have health care, and can go on trips.  It is still hard though to see homes for sale and not imagine myself parking my car in that garage, having a drink on the patio, and planting a garden in the front.  We could get a dog.  In the end, however, everything will work out and someday I will have that.

Our trip to San Francisco didn’t pan out as we expected, and we arrived with only enough time for dinner and the show.  We hadn’t preselected a restaurant and as we walked down Market Street we scoped around for places to eat.  I wasn’t in the mood for nouveau, New American, cute little stacks of delicacies on a large white plate cuisine.  I wanted FOOD.  Preferably with a drink.  I spotted the orange neon lights of John’s Grill.  It looked old school San Francisco and the lights also blinked the word “Steaks”, and I knew that would lure Steve in.  We decided to give it a go.

Good food. Good drinks. Good music.

The restaurant was crammed full of tables and the maitre d’s station was so close to the door, it was a challenge to get in.  We were lead to the second of three stories and given a table for two at the end of a long row of tables for two.  It was already doing brisk business and more people filed in.  This was a real restaurant without pretension.  As I scanned the menu and the walls, I learned that John’s Grill is one of the oldest establishments in the city and the building was used as the setting for Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon.  All around us were pictures from the filming of the movie with Humphrey Bogart, and in the corner was the Maltese Falcon used in the film.  Leave it to me to randomly choose a place of literary significance.  To add to the ambience was a jazz guitarist who performed right in front of us as I sipped my Vesper (gin and lemon and something else).  Using his 35 year old Fender, he entertained us with “Take the ‘A’ Train”, “Wonderful World”, “New York, New York”, “Girl From Ipanema”, and some Kenny Burrell covers.  The diners, Steve especially, listened appreciatively.

The Maltese Falcon.
Meet Vesper, my new BFF.

If it was food I wanted, then it was food I got.  Steve got his steak and I ordered the red snapper with shrimp, crab, and mushrooms in a lemon cream sauce.  My fish covered half of my plate and was accompanied by fresh steamed zucchini, snap peas, and carrots and a baked potato.  It was all very good, but too much for my little stomach.  This, however, did not stop me from me from contemplating dessert.  As Steve said, “You want dessert.  You’re going to get a sweet tooth if you don’t.”  Hmm… yes, I should stop it before it starts.  Alas, we looked at the time and had to scoot over to the show.  Dessert would have to wait.

We walked over to the Yerba Buena Performing Arts Center and arrived a couple of minutes prior to the bell that alerts us to find our seats.  The auditorium was small, with a few rows of seats on the floor and about twenty row of stadium seating.  The decor was spare and modern and the stage was raised off the floor about four feet.  Blue and green lights shined on the instruments.   Our tickets had our seat numbers for the stadium seating, but they had oversold the show and it was a free for all and there were no seats left in that section.  Steve muttered how we should have arrived sooner and didn’t the SF Jazz Society KNOW who Brad Mehldau was?  Didn’t they know he’d be popular?  The problem was solved as the ushers ushered us and others into the seats on the floor. Inadvertently, we had been upgraded with seats facing the drummer.  This thrilled Steve to pieces as he is a drummer and loves watching other drummers’ techniques.

Waiting for the show to start.

The trio came out and began performing.  Mehldau’s body seemed to lack joints as he grooved to each piano note.  The same could be said for Larry Grenadier, the bassist, whose arm muscles strained as he plucked the strings.  Jeff Ballard, the drummer, dug his chin into his left shoulder as he bit his tongue and swept the brushes across the cymbals.  All three played with their eyes closed and all three looked like they were having a spiritual experience.  Being as musically inclined as a toothpick, I wondered how they heard the notes and processed the chords.  What did the world look and sound like from their perspective? Everyone in the audience gave them their rapt attention.  I, on the other hand, did what I normally do when made to sit still in a dark room around my bed-time with nothing to read or actively engage my mind (I’m a visual person and need words):  I dozed off.  I tried to shake off the sleepies and pay attention. Mehldau’s tunes have a bit of the lullaby to them, so it was a challenge.  It was a great show, and each of them gave great performances and were consummate professionals.

Steve and I.

As we made our way home we reflected on how much of a good time we had.  It wasn’t the day we had planned, but we made the most of the time we had and things had ended up working out for the better.  It all worked out in the end, especially once Steve stopped at a mini-mart and got some Peanut M&M’s to share and assuage my sweet tooth.

Yummy Pineapple Cookies And A Whole Lot More

Frank Lloyd Wright. He was a complex man who liked simple food.

I don’t know about you, but I cannot pass up a cookie. The problem with baking cookies when there’s only two people in the household is that you eat all of them.  This is why I wait for my book club meetings to bake some: I get some cookies and then other people eat the rest.  Then there’s my cookie challenge: how can I connect the cookie to an idea or theme in the book discussed?   Sometimes it’s easy and the book will mention a food item and that inspires me.  For example, in The Women, a novel about Frank Lloyd Wright, it mentioned that he loved to eat oatmeal and apples, so I made Oatmeal Apple Scones.  However, the other novel about FLW, Loving Frank, wasn’t so helpful.  Since he made Prairie houses, on a whim I googled prairie cake to see if there was such a thing, and it exists.  It’s a great bundt cake with 7-Up in it.  Granted, neither of things are cookies, but sometimes you just got to go with what exists and looks best.

Last October the Artful Readers book club read Miles Harvey’s Painter in a Savage Land: The Strange Saga of the First European Artist in North America about Jaques Le Moyne de Morgues and a group of French Protestants who tried to settle Florida in 1564.  Le Moyne tagged along in a Lewis and Clark role of recording and painting all of the flora and fauna and Native American life he encountered.  Unlike the Spanish settlers who came for wealth or the English settlers who strived to create a beacon on a hill and tame the wilderness, the French were actually interested in learning about this unexplored continent, wilderness and all.  It provides a fascinating look at America prior to the Puritans landing on Plymouth Rock and claiming the colonizing glory; it also mentioned a fruit: the pineapple.  This delectable fruit was one of the first things the French settlers tried and it was love at first bite.  Using this little tidbit, I set off on my own voyage to find my cookie.

Pineapple: great for scurvy, pina coladas, and cookies.

The first cookbook I explored, The Fannie Farmer Baking Book, provided the motherlode: an easy and economical pineapple cookie.  I was a little skeptical, but as the aroma of pineapple and ginger permeated my kitchen as they baked, my worries were assuaged.  I glazed them and waited for them to be just cool enough before popping one in my mouth.  They look like they might have the texture of a hockey puck, but they are so light and moist.  They are a perfect cookie: slightly sweet and satisfying.  I took them to the book club meeting and everyone devoured them.  Then I made some to take down to my parents; my dad kept opening the bag and eating “just one more”.  On Monday my Eagle Readers book club at school is having an end of the year potluck, and I have been put in charge of the cookies.  One of my Eagle Readers has the horrible fate of being allergic to chocolate.  For our last potluck he begged me to puh-lease make him some white chocolate macadamia nut cookies.  I agreed and bought macadamia nuts, which are really expensive ($9.00! and the whole amount went into the cookies) and white chocolate chips, which is the biggest misnomer ever.  Their name implies that you are going to get some gooey chocolate goodness, but they’re vanilla.  Who wants vanilla?  So I brought them to our potluck, and he arrived to state that he couldn’t stay, barely noticed the cookies, finally took one, and left.  Because the other members are as crazy about white chocolate as I am, I had leftovers.  He has again requested those cookies, and I put the kibosh on that idea.  We’re having pineapple cookies instead.

Here’s the recipe:

Preheat oven to 350 and grease some cookie sheets (or use parchment paper or a Silpat).

Cream together 1/2 cup of vegetable shortening with 1 cup brown sugar.

Add one egg and 1 teaspoon vanilla and beat until light and fluffy.

Beat in 1 cup canned crushed pineapple, undrained.

Stir and toss together 2 cups flour, 1 teaspoon baking soda, 1 teaspoon powdered ginger, and 1/4 teaspoon salt.  Add to pineapple mixture and beat until thoroughly blended.

Stir in 1/2 cup chopped pistachios or other nut  (I used walnuts instead, it’s what I had handy).

Drop dough by generous rounded teaspoonfuls onto prepared cookie sheets, placing them about 2 inches apart. Bake 10 minutes or until lightly browned. Brush hot cookies with Basic Clear Glaze, and transfer them to a rack to cool.

I found that they are better if you use an actual measuring teaspoon to do this.

Basic Clear Glaze:

Combine 1 cup confectioner’s sugar with 2 tablespoons of water until all of the lumps are dissolved. Use a small bowl.

Bon Appetit!  And a good book to go with Painter in a Savage Land is Tony Horwitz’s book A Voyage Long and Strange.  It’s part travelogue and part history as he researches the exploration of the Americas pre-Puritans.  I will tell you those Spaniards were one crazy bunch.

Find out what happened between Columbus’ discovery of the new world and the arrival of the Puritans. Those guys back then were nuts!

The Thrill Of The Hunt

The thing was, I didn’t know if I’d get over it.  I told myself the usual platitude that I’m a grown up, and really, how many grown ups hunt for Easter eggs?  By themselves?  My lower lip quivered as I whined to myself, “I do!  I hunt Easter eggs.”  And the Easter Bunny didn’t show up.  Actually, the Easter Bunny informed me the night before that he had forgotten it was Easter– how that’s possible when all of the stores are decked out in plastic grass and pastels, I’ll never know– and he followed it up with, “I’m such a bad husband!” Like that’s supposed to console me.  Now there’s no Easter AND I have a bad husband.

On Easter morning I put out his card and Reese’s Reester Bunny that I remembered to purchase, and he groaned when he saw them. “I woke remembering that I didn’t get you any Cadbury mini-eggs.  I’m such a bad husband.”  I think we covered that base thoroughly now, thank you.  It was becoming increasingly difficult not to pout; how was it that I had to console HIM, when I was the one deprived of my annual hunt?  He apologized and asked if there was anything he could do to make up for this.  Attempting to wrap my mind around the fact that in the scheme of wars, famine, and API scores, this was really No. Big. Deal.  “No. Everything’s fine. I’m fine.”  Then trying not to mope, but failing, I grabbed my walking poles and left for my four mile walk.

As I walked I tried to snap out of it by working out my aggression by thwacking my poles on the asphalt.  Sure, I was disappointed; people do occasionally forget holidays.  Who those people are, I don’t know, but I’ve heard of it happening. Apparently, my husband was now one those minions.  Thwack!  My annoyance escalated as people drove by craning their necks to ogle my poles.  Obviously, one has to be a skier or blind to use them.  Yesterday two different people informed me that there was not any snow on the ground.  I had answered with my usual cheerfulness, but today… Oh today, they would feel the wrath of my poles.  Thwack!  A teenager walking to his car stared at my poles incredulously as he tried to equate them with the balmy sixty degree weather. Glaring at him from behind my sunglasses, I sent him a telepathic rebuttal: “If it’s so warm, then why are you wearing a ski cap?”  Thwack!  A mile later I walked by a man cheerfully hiding eggs in his front yard.  There’s a hunt happening at his house.  Thwack! Thwack! Thwack!

I knew I was being silly and petulant.  I knew that it was just a bunch of eggs with candy inside– the very same candy that my parents sent me a bag of and that I could also buy for 75% off the following day, so it wasn’t like I was deprived.  I knew that I am married to a man who can look at any menu and know exactly what I would order.  Who leaves articles about Downton Abbey out for me to read.  Who brings home chicken soup, Saltines, and 7-Up when I’m sick.  Who makes me a special dinner every weekend.  Who… you get the picture.  I knew that a real grown-up would stop being a spoiled brat and just get over it.

I returned home, still disappointed, but less so.  But, I really wasn’t looking forward to a day consoling the “man who forgot Easter.”  I slunk into the house and put my poles away.  “Did you put those poles away correctly?” he asked.  Wondering why he cared about them, I opened the door to reveal upright poles and shut the door.  Again, he questioned my pole-storage technique.  Restraining from declaring that I know how to put my own poles away, I humored him and opened the door again.  “See?” he pointed out, “Are the handles supposed to look like that?”  I glanced the handles and on the shelf above them peeked a bright green plastic egg.  My heart soared as I opened it greedily to reveal my Cadbury mini-eggs.  I gave my beloved Easter Bunny a hug as I reverted to being a kid again to enjoy the thrill of the hunt.

Photos: en.wikifur.com and masterorganizing.net

Full of Mini-Eggs!

It’s A Pretty Simple Question: Is There Any Meat In That Sauce?

For those of you like me who do not eat red meat, you know life gets a little complicated.  Last night the menu for dinner said “Spaghetti and Meatballs”, but an inspection of one chafing dish revealed noodles swimming in sauce sans meatballs and the other had noodles and meatballs swimming happily together.  Just to be safe, I asked the attendant if one was meatless before piling it onto my plate.  It’s a pretty simple question: Is there any meat in that sauce?  The answer, I thought, was clear: yes or no. The attendant, however, assured me that there was no meat in the sauce– it was tomato-based.  I again surveyed the chafing dish, my suspicions not assuaged– had someone possibly scooped out all of the meatballs?  I put on my Sherlock Holmes cap and queried him further, noticing he was obviously a man who categorized his thinking, “Are there any meatballs in that sauce?”  “Oh, yes, ma’am.  There are meatballs in that sauce.”  “Both dishes have meatballs?”  “Yes, ma’am.”  I sighed. I would have to find dinner elsewhere.  His face brightened as he offered, “I can get you a plate with no meatballs!”  I thanked him as he disappeared into kitchen. He came back baring a plate of bare-naked spaghetti noodles.  No meat.  No sauce.  He proffered the plate to me and I’m pretty sure I stared at him in open-mouthed wonder.  “Did you want sauce?” he asked.  I nodded my head, and he ran back to the kitchen.  Finally, I had a plate of spaghetti with sauce and no meatballs.

I didn’t choose to not eat red meat so I could become high-maintenance, but apparently I am.  Nothing puts people on edge more than a person who does not eat the status quo.  There seems to be something suspicious about those who don’t eat beef.  To clarify my preferences, I state that I don’t eat anything with four legs or fur.  This elicits such questions as, “Do you eat chicken? Do you eat eggs?  Cheese?  Fish?” If I say I don’t eat pork or beef, I still get these questions with the inclusion of rabbit, venison, and bison.  If I say I don’t eat red meat, I become the unwilling participant in the game of “Gotcha!” about how pork is the other white meat and how salmon is red.  I have been called the vegetarian who eats chicken and fish (once on a double date, I ordered fish and the other gal, amazed at my selection of a piece of meat that did not ooze blood all over the plate, asked, “Like, are you, like, you know, a vegetarian?”).

One night to appease my husband’s steak hankering, we went to the Buggy Whip steak house where I ordered fish.  I didn’t know every meal was served with a bowl of minestrone with big chunks of ground beef floating in it (their only selection) until it was plopped in front of me. I didn’t fling it in the waitress’s face and sneer, “How dare you serve me dead cow!”  I just didn’t eat it.  She came back to sternly inquire why I wasn’t eating the soup, and I apologized that I didn’t eat beef.  She stared at me while determining if she should send for security to escort my obviously vegetarian-granola-eating-communist-pinko butt out.  She took away my soup stonily and directed all of her attention to my “real” meat loving husband. I am sure there is now a picture of me behind the maitre d’s podium labeled “Suspect”.

Some people lovingly try to accommodate my choices.  One student was disappointed when I didn’t eat any of the lumpia (yummy Filipino eggroll) she brought for class because it contained pork.  The next time she made it she brought me a special pork-less plate.  I ate a piece, but noticed tiny bits of brown flecks that did not look like vegetables.  I complimented her on her lumpia, and she exclaimed, “I’m so glad you like it!  My mom and I spent a long time picking out all of the pork!”

When I first stopped eating red meat my dad was rather flabbergasted and probably wondered if I was really his daughter.  Over time he has grown to accept my choice, but recently we ate dinner at a family style Chinese restaurant, and my aunt and uncle planned on ordering broccoli with beef. My dad put a kibosh on that plan by interjecting, “Amy doesn’t eat beef!”.  It was the first time I’ve ever heard him advocate for me regarding no red meat; I don’t think he knows how much that meant to me (even though I didn’t care if they if ordered beef, I just wouldn’t eat any).

My choice to not eat animals with four legs and fur is my choice only.  It’s not a criticism of what others eat or the choices they make, but I do want to know: “Is there meat in that sauce?”

Of Meat and Men

I stopped eating beef because of a magnet. It’s true. We we’re having a Sunday dinner of tri-tip when I happened to glance at my cow magnet that said, “Eat Chicken.” The magnet had been a facetious purchase of mine since our household was made up of enthusiastic meat eaters (if you’ve ever heard my dad wax poetic about the steak he had in 1988, you’d know what I mean). So it was a shock to everyone that this magnet wielded its mystical bovine power and caused me to spit out the piece of partially chewed dead flesh and decry eating beef. Then it was pork, and in college I became a full on vegetarian.

Vegetarianism didn’t do much for me health-wise, but it really helped in illuminating the characteristics of a good man. In college I had two serious relationships: one with Richard, one with Steve. Both love a good steak, both had a very different reaction to my choices. Richard accepted non-meat eating and healthy habits in general, but somewhere along the line my vegetables, tofu, barks, and twigs began to brew resentment in him. This was weird, since I didn’t care one way or the other if he ate animals. Just because I was a vegetarian didn’t mean that he had to be. I was a bit taken aback to receive phone calls with him gloating, “I’m eating a steak. With eggs.” And, “Do you know what I ate for dinner last night? A steak.” It was as if he were taunting me, testing me to see what I was going to do about it. What I did about it was say, “Good for you!” before dissolving into confusion. Really? What had I done exactly to deserve this? Did anyone deserve this? This behavior combined with others led to me saying that ubiquitous line, “Let’s just be friends. No, how about acquaintances?”

If the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, then Steve understood that the way to a woman’s heart is to enjoy the food she places before him. The very first meal I made for him was Sweet Potato and Black Bean Burritos and homemade Pineapple Buttermilk sorbet for dessert. He enjoyed it (and I have made it since). Not a dead cow or a bowl of au jus in sight. He also ate a less successful meal of lentils and artichokes over pasta, and also any medley of vegetables, legumes and pasta I put in front of him. When calling to make dinner reservations, he would ask if there were vegetarian entrees available, and if not, could the chef make something? He supported my healthy habits by making sure he always had orange juice on hand. Once I gave up on vegetarianism for my tendency to be anemic and added poultry and seafood to my personal food pyramid, he learned to cook chicken in a variety of ways. What did I do about it? I married him.

Readers, what horror/sweet stories do you have about dating and food?