Hello Friends, I am sorry I have been out of touch the past (gasp) five months.
The sale of our house was a speed of light event this spring that left us in an odd spot. With the home we’re building not ready until late fall, and a rental market not friendly to short term leases, Bill and I were looking at being nomads. Where would we land in the interim?
While on one of their early morning hikes, Bill was lamenting our housing situation–or lack thereof–to his longtime friend Kyle. Loping the trail, Kyle didn’t miss a beat.
“You can stay with me.”
It was a generous offer from a man newly widowed. Abby, his wife of forty-four years, had grappled with cancer the last five, and succumbed in January. That left Kyle alone for the first time in the house they’d bought in 1975. It had been many years since I’d been inside the suburban ranch, but Bill assured me it could accommodate us. It had a guest bedroom and bath off the kitchen, separated from the remainder of the house.
Grateful for a place to live, we accepted.
Preparing for our gypsy time, we adopted the same attitude we did in selling and giving away our belongings to downsize for the next home. What was essential? Other than my basics— clothing, toiletries, and laptop—what would I take with me? I chose my knife set, a favorite cast-iron skillet, and my fig colored Le Creuset Dutch oven.
Of course it never plays out that simply. There were boxes of canned and dry goods from my pantry. Files from my desk. Our bicycles. Clothes and hats and shoes covering two seasons for two adults that filled two large bins. Even when you’re trying to go lean for the long haul, it still mounts up. Our stuff.
When we arrived at our new residence and began unpacking, our host became agitated. “Too much stuff,” Kyle declared.
“Don’t put that there,” he admonished Bill, who was looking for a spot to set a container of his clothes. “You’re covering an outlet.”
“Where’s all that going to go?” he bristled as I tried to unpack a bin of pantry items.
“Nancy’s going to be cooking for us,” Bill called out.
“Not for me,” Kyle responded.
Ouch. What had we done? It was as if he imagined us showing up with a pair of suitcases, like weekend guests. We were both shaken. How was this arrangement going to play out?
In the whirlwind of dissembling our home, and wrapped up in our own jumble of feelings, we hadn’t considered the impact of this move on him. It had taken a lot for Kyle to invite us into his home. Long before his wife’s death, he’d become hermetic. Sure, we would see him several times a week, meeting up for hour-long hikes in the wooded park. But that’s a far cry from meeting a person on his private, grief-filled ground.
I walked through the still house, a snapshot in time. Both living and dining rooms were museumlike, and beckoned no one. A stack of magazines, calendars, and Abby’s reading glasses laid on a side table in the den, as if awaiting her return to the easy chair beside it. In the kitchen, near-empty glass canisters of flour, sugar, and rice lined the back counter like sentinels, bearing witness to the silence. A strand of dried chilis long ago tacked over a window hung sun-bleached and coated in dust.
Into this place we entered, bringing in our energy, a clash that left me stumped: What had prompted Kyle’s invitation? Maybe there was a part of him that wanted us to be there.
I set my skillet on the stove top, my block of knives on the counter and decided that, despite his pronouncements, I would cook for him.
It began fitfully. The cooktop, an old Gaggenau with two gas burners and two electric, was cantankerous–both gas burners wouldn’t function at the same time. Click Click Click Click the automatic pilot wouldn’t fire and the sound vexed Kyle. And then I couldn’t tell if I turned on the correct electric burner—the knob positions didn’t make sense— unless I tested the hot plate with my fingertips. Nevertheless, I pushed through. I pan-seared steaks, fried potatoes with onions, and served them with a big salad, proud to use spuds and greens harvested from our vegetable garden. Score one for the Clean Plate Club! Kyle seemed to relish every bite. Maybe he’d warm to the idea that someone would be cooking him a delicious meal.
Still, it was bumpy. Some things Bill and I couldn’t do right. Latch the gate. Load the dishwasher. Leave the sponge here not there. We did too much laundry and put too many things in the refrigerator. Some days I’d wait until Kyle went out, and I’d scour the fridge or pantry for “scary foods,” items long-expired that I pitched into the trash. Any extra cooking–like roasting my garden tomatoes—I’d do during those times too.
For the first awkward weeks, the only place where I felt grounded was our garden, a sunny patch flourishing in the backyard of my brother’s office. Tending the tomato plants laden with plump fruit, scrutinizing the squash plants for hidden zucchinis: these acts felt familiar and comforting, and had no direct bearing to where I was or was not living.
In time, I found grounding in Abby’s kitchen.
A kitchen is personal and I was unsure of how I, a trespasser, would be received. Even though she’d left this earthly plane, this room was her domain. In her health, Abby loved to cook. Her shelves, jammed with cookbooks spanning decades, told a story of home and family, travels and interests. Tucked among the classics Joy of Cooking and The Silver Palate, were funny dated ones like Someone’s in the Kitchen with Dinah. (Dinah Shore!) Several ring-bound regional collections spoke to her heritage: Talk About Good! from the Junior League of Lafayette. Abby had been born in Texas and raised in Louisiana.
She also had every drawer and cabinet filled with cooking equipment: pots, pans, baking tins, casserole dishes, gadgets, utensils, measuring tools…you name it, Abby had it. Each mealtime included my stealth process of discovery, depending on what I needed at the moment.
What I came to appreciate was the age and quality of her things. Her first generation food processor still functioned well. While it had no pulsing mechanism, its steel blade, a heavier gauge than current models, worked its magic on my pestos and purees.
A cache of vintage Pyrex bowls and storage containers tucked in the back of a cabinet charmed me with their turquoise imprint of a farm couple, corn stalks and roosters. I used them whenever I could. A set of stainless steel cooking tools with melamine handles in a harvest pattern became another go-to; they felt right in my hand. The prize was this Hamilton Beach stand mixer, a relic beauty complete with beaters and thick milk glass bowls, which I found just in time to make my dad’s birthday cake.
Through July and August, I lined her windowsills over the sink with my ripening tomatoes. I found a large basket to hold our bounty of yellow squash and peppers, which I kept on the counter by Abby’s canisters. I didn’t take over her kitchen; I wouldn’t dream of it. But I was reanimating it.
Sometimes, while snapping beans or sauteing onions, I would think about Abby and what she would have been cooking. I wondered if she liked this spatula or that strainer as much as I did. I wondered if she would mind another woman in her kitchen, using her pots, standing over her stove. In a house steeped in sadness, here I tapped into her overriding spirit of generosity.
One evening, I was cooking boneless chicken breasts in fresh lemon and garlic; the heady aromatics filled the kitchen, and soon, the rest of the house. From the den, Kyle called out, his voice brimming with the excitement and urgency of a child on Christmas morning,
And then, he was in the kitchen; his flat grey eyes sparkled. A simple dish became an awakening. And triggered a flood.
He talked about garlic, how much he liked it, how Abby would cook with scads of it. How he’d grown up eating plain country food—he was just a meat-and-potatoes boy—and how Abby introduced him to the wonders of garlic and lemon and hot peppers and dirty rice. She knew how to season, kick up the heat. Pride swelled in his voice: Abby was a very good cook.
It had gotten difficult the last years, though. Pain meds had left her addled; she couldn’t remember all the elements of, say, her gumbo or chili. Food didn’t taste the same, either. She relied on Kyle to sample and advise. More thyme? Or cumin? More often than not, he’d say,
“A dash more cayenne.”
I listened, and thought about my garden, with two plants covered in red and green chilis, little electric-hot Christmas trees. I’d cook with more fire and spice.
LOUISIANA CAYENNE PEPPER SAUCE
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium onion, minced
1 teaspoon salt
50-60 cayenne peppers, destemmed
2 cups water
1 cup white vinegar
Note: be sure that you are working/cooking in a well-ventilated place.
Use a 2 quart saucepan placed on medium heat. Add vegetable oil.
Add garlic and onion. Saute for 2 minutes. Add salt, then stir in peppers and saute for another minute.
Pour in water, stir well and cover. Cook for 30 minutes.
Uncover and simmer for another 15 minutes—water will reduce and the peppers will become tender. Pour in the vinegar. Simmer for 10 minutes.
Remove from heat and allow to cool.
Use an immersion blender, or food processor fitted with a steel blade. Puree.
Pour through a strainer, discarding solids/seeds, then your sauce is ready to bottle.
Keeps, refrigerated, for 3-4 months. Makes 1 1/2 pints.
Creamy peanut butter, spread to the bread’s edges, a layer of blackberry jelly, capped with another slice of wheatberry bread. A quick double-cut into triangles, then a wrap and tuck into the lunchbox. Anything else? A nice piece of fruit. A cup of yogurt. Every now and then, a cookie.
But always a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
That was my morning routine, for many years, getting my daughter ready for school. I couldn’t count how many PB &Js I’d assembled of the course of her school career. But I do remember how miffed I got, when I learned that she had been making them for herself whenever she stayed with her dad. Until she said,
“But Momma, you make the best peanut butter and jelly sandwiches!”
I softened, of course. And I thought about the love that went into that simple lunch. Financially, we’d experienced some lean years, for sure. But, unlike many in America and around the world, I never had to worry about Not being able to provide her nourishment.
I thought about those many mornings packing lunches when I was learning about the important work of The Lunchbox Fund.
I recently learned about this organization through Nichole Gulotta of The Giving Table. In food education and activism, I place my focus locally, for the most part. But it is important to open the lens wider. Last year, mobilized by Nichole, we raised awareness about hunger and food insecurity in America, a call to action aligned with the release of the documentary, A Place at the Table.
Today, through Nichole’s initiative, our team of 100 bloggers is shining the light on childhood hunger in South Africa, where over 12 million children live in poverty. The South African government does have programs that feed 8 million of them. But that leaves 4 million with nothing. Founded in 2005, The Lunchbox Fund is dedicated to bridging that gap, providing school feeding programs for these kids who have been left out entirely. The work they are doing is changing lives. And, through our network of bloggers participating in this outreach, we can help.
Our goal, throughout this week, is to raise awareness, and raise $5000.
That money will stretch far, and provide a daily meal for 100 South African children for a year. That’s impressive bang for the buck. If you feel moved to donate, as little as $5 or $10 would make a big difference.
Do good deeds wherever you can. We are all in this together, on this beautiful planet.
Sometimes we extend our hands out into our immediate community. Other times it is our community-at-large, wide, wondrous and ever connected.
THREE HEALTHY DELICIOUS SANDWICHES TO TUCK INTO YOUR LUNCHBOX:
I ‘ve included some easy, affordable recipes, right for any lunch: Fresh Dill-Tuna Salad, Gala Apple-Golden Raisin-Peanut Butter Wrap, and Herbed Quinoa-White Cheddar-Vegetable Wrap. I encourage you to check out Cooking Light’s Ideas for the Lunch Box Brigade for other healthy and tasty ideas for packing.
FRESH DILL TUNA SALAD SANDWICH
4 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
1 heaping teaspoon fresh dill
1/4 teaspoon garlic
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 rib celery, diced
2 tablespoons diced red onion
1 6 ounce can of tuna, drained well
1 tablespoon toasted sliced almonds (optional)
handful lettuce leaves, cleaned and dried
whole wheat bread
In a small bowl, mix the mayonnaise, Dijon, lemon juice, fresh dill, garlic, black pepper and salt.
Stir in the diced celery and red onion. Add the tuna and toss gently until well combined.
Place the lettuces on a slice of bread. Scoop on the tuna. Top with another slice. Cut and serve.
Makes 2-3 sandwiches
GALA APPLE-GOLDEN RAISIN-PEANUT BUTTER WRAP
2 tablespoons peanut butter
2 tablespoons golden raisins
1/2 gala apple, thinly sliced
soft flour tortillas
Slather the tortilla with your favorite peanut butter. Place thinly sliced apples in the center. Sprinkle with golden raisins or currants.
Roll it up. Slice in half, at an angle. Wrap it and tuck it in a lunchbox.
WHITE CHEDDAR-HERBED QUINOA-VEGETABLE WRAP
1/4 cup finely diced red onion
3 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons chopped flat leaf parsley
6 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 cup cooked quinoa
1 carrot, julienned
1/2 cucumber, julienned
1/4 red bell pepper, julienned
handful of fresh spinach leaves
1 ounce white cheddar, shredded
2 tablespoons coarse grain mustard
whole wheat tortillas
Place red onion into a small bowl. Add vinegar, parsley, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Stir well.
Fold in the cooked quinoa.
Spread some coarse grain mustard over the tortilla. In the center, spoon on a mound of quinoa. Place the julienned vegetables on either side of the quinoa, followed by a layer of spinach leaves. Sprinkle on the white cheddar. Roll tightly and wrap in plastic
Makes 2 generous sandwich wraps.
Stories and recipes: what better way to learn about the culture of a people who live in a distant land?
In The Honey Thief Najaf Mazari spins a series of tales, taken from the centuries-long oral tradition of his tribe, the Hazara. A native of Afghanistan ( he escaped the Taliban in 2000, and lives in Australia) , he partnered with writer and friend Robert Hillman to give a permanent voice to the spoken lore of the war-torn nation’s third largest ethnic group.
Centered on characters, some ancient, some modern day: Among the cast, you’ll be introduced to a musician with extraordinary levitating talents, a wise and patient beekeeper, a revered Master Poisoner, and a boy with an uncanny gift for attracting riches. The stories are unusual and beguiling, have elements of magic and wonder. There are struggles, heartaches, and triumphs. There is laughter. There is hope.
The stories speak, too, of the Hazara love of their land, of its natural beauty.
“I could take you places in the north close to the Oxus river that would steal your breath away; places that you would not believe could exist as I lead you through an arid landscape of broken rock and red sand and stunted bushes. Then you would suddenly find yourself gazing down from a mountain pass on the river shining under a blue sky and a green carpet climbing up the slopes. And you would think, ‘Ah! This is Paradise!”
And, while I would encourage you to take delight in exploring this world through these tales, I think you’ll also be drawn in by Mazari’s discussion of the cooking of the Hazara. He devotes a couple of chapters to his people’s diet, their pantry of staples, and some favored dishes.
What I especially enjoyed about delving into these food chapters is that Mazari’s voice is so clear and present in the narrative. Ingredients and specialty dishes are described in a humorous and engaging manner. It’s like he is right there with you in the kitchen, talking you through the recipe.
Take, for example, his Lamb with Spinach, which I chose to make. It is a dish of celebrations, always served at weddings.
“With this dish,” he writes, “your jaws and teeth get a holiday. The lamb has to melt in your mouth and just the pressure of your palate will bring out all the flavour that the meat has absorbed from the spices and herbs. So, good lamb, no excuses, cut from the leg, one-and-a-half kilos.”
I’ve transcribed his recipe in a more traditional American way,
but it is faithful to his instructions. He calls for “pinches” of seasonings, for instance–for which I have given teaspoon measurements. In this regard, he says, “You judge.”
Lamb is prepared in a gentle saute, its delectable taste enhanced in a steady building of flavors and spice. You don’t want these to obscure the flavor of the lamb, or overwhelm it. Onions are critical in Afghan cooking and impart earthy sweetness. Garlic is important too, added with more restraint.
One-by-one, fragrant spices–turmeric, cinnamon, cardamom, and nutmeg– are stirred into the stew. Stock, tomatoes, and their juices give the meat a medium in which to bathe and tenderize.
After a turn in the oven, the lamb is ready for its final touches–spinach, lemon zest, and a “proper” yogurt (NOT that foolish kind with strawberries and bananas, Mazari cajoles!)
What emerges is a rich lamb stew, complex in spicing, melt-away in texture. Because I like heat, I added some cayenne, (not too much, Mazari cautions) which elevates all of the taste layers.
How fine to dine in an Afghan tradition. Sabzi Gosht is indeed Feast-worthy!
SABZI GOSHT (LAMB WITH SPINACH) adapted from The Honey Thief by Najaf Mazari and Robert Hillman
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 lbs. lamb, cut from the leg into 1″ cubes
2 large yellow onions, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cardamom
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne (optional)
1 cup beef stock
5 large ripe tomatoes, or 1 28 oz. can plum tomatoes
1 bunch fresh baby spoon spinach
1 cup plain yogurt
zest from 1 lemon
1/3 cup toasted pine nuts
Warm olive oil on medium heat in a heavy-duty pot–best if the pot can go from stovetop to oven. You’ll begin by sauteing in stages.
Add lamb and begin to brown the meat–don’t crowd the pieces.
Stir in the diced onion and continue sauteing for a few minutes. Stir in the garlic.
One by one, stir in the spices—turmeric, cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom—and then stir in the black pepper and salt.
Add the tomatoes and cook for another 3-4 minutes.
Pour in stock. Stir well.
Cover and place in the oven, preheated to 300 degrees.
Allow the lamb to cook for for 1 1/2-2 hours.
Remove from oven and stir in the spinach. The heat will collapse and cook the leaves.
Fold in plain yogurt and lemon zest.
Taste for salt and seasonings.
Let the stew “settle” for about 15 minutes–allow the flavors to marry.
Serve over basmati rice and garnish with toasted pine nuts.
Makes 6 servings.
What would you eat, if you only had a budget of $4.00 a day?
It’s not an easy question to answer. Now, figure in these other complicated overlays:
There are no grocery stores within a 3 mile radius of your home.
You have no car.
Your kitchen is outfitted with an apartment sized refrigerator, a hot plate, and a small microwave.
The possibilities become even narrower, don’t they?
For 50 million Americans, that question, with or without those other complications, is an everyday reality.
Out of our population of 300 million, that means 1 in 6 of us faces the challenges of inadequate food access on a daily basis.
And, 17 million are children.
Together, we are shining the light on the grim facts to spread the awareness that hunger is your neighbor.
After I sold my catering company in 2005, I turned my attention to food activism. What does that mean?
We look at our food system in these areas: how to make good food accessible and affordable, how to support our local farmers and producers, and how to effectively solve the problems of hunger and food insecurity.
I volunteer at our food bank, teach healthy cooking classes; I worked at community gardens and farmers markets. Over time, I have seen a dramatic shift in the collective consciousness:
People want to know and support local farmers. They want to know where their food comes from.
People recognize a crisis of obesity in our nation. Poverty, processed foods, and obesity are all interlocked.
People understand the need to eradicate “food deserts.”
People believe that having access to basic good healthy food is a fundamental human right.
No one wants anyone to go hungry.
And yet, the numbers of those who suffer from hunger and food insecurity have Not dwindled. Sadly, the opposite is true. Why?
Directors Kristi Jacobson and Lori Silverbush tackle the complex problem with clarity in the documentary, A Place at the Table. The film follows three families who come from diverse backgrounds and live in different parts of the country–in rural and urban settings.
What they share is a struggle to put food on the table everyday.
The film examines the many contributing factors of our ever-widening food gap: a stagnant economy, huge government subsidies of Corn, Wheat, and Soy (which have made Processed Foods very cheap-a core piece of the poverty-obesity epidemic) while ignoring fresh vegetables and fruits, and a shift away from government assistance to private charities.
Since 1980, food banks across our nation have grown from 40 to 40,000. Without question, they help, but what they do is not enough. Jacobson and Silverbush make the case that while the food system is broken, the hunger issue is solvable. We have solved it before. It takes the will of the people.
Below you’ll find links to more information.
Meanwhile: Consider what would you eat if you had only $4.00 a day?
I gave it a lot of thought. Here are three healthy recipes that are inexpensive to make.
When I was shopping for this post, I kept in mind that if I were in the shoes of 50 million of my fellow citizens, I might have a limited pantry. I might not have olive oil, or a wealth of herbs and spices. I might not have a freezer to store food in bulk, which is cheaper. I might not have access to fresh produce. So, I shopped lean. All three dishes could be made “better” with more and costlier ingredients, such as cheese. Or meat.
But, as they are, they are tasty and nutritious.
SWEET POTATOES RANCHERO
1-2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 large sweet potato, cubed–2 cups sweet potatoes
1 can tomatoes with chilis (Ro-tel brand makes several–get the spice level you like)
1 handful fresh greens (collards or mustards, kale or chard), finely chopped
1/2 cup rice
4 corn tortillas
2 green onions, chopped
salt and pepper
Toss cubed sweet potatoes in oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and spread out on a baking sheet. Roast in a hot (400 degree) oven for 15 minutes, until cubes have crisp brown edges and cooked interiors.
Simmer chopped greens of choice with diced tomato-chili blend.
Cook rice. (1/2 cup rice with 1 cup lightly salted water: bring to boil, then simmer, covered for 12 minutes.
Warm tortillas in the oven.
Fry two eggs.
Assemble the Ranchero:
Place 2 tortillas on each plate. Spoon rice over tortillas. Spoon wilted spiced greens-tomatoes over rice.
Place sweet potato cubes over the spiced greens layer.
Top each with a fried egg.
Serves 2 generously.
Cost of the entire dish: $3.45 ($1.73 each)
RED LENTIL-COCONUT MILK SOUP
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/4 cup diced onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 carrots, finely chopped
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon curry powder ( or make own blend of cumin, coriander, turmeric, ginger)
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 cup red lentils, rinsed
1- 14 oz can coconut milk
Place a large pot on medium heat. Add vegetable oil (or olive oil.) Stir in onions, garlic, and carrots and saute for 2-3 minutes. Add curry powder (or 1 teaspoon cumin, 1 teaspoon ground coriander, 1 teaspoon turmeric, 1 teaspoon ginger) Allow spices to bloom in the heat of the mixture.
Add lentils and 3 cups of water. Simmer, covered, for 15 minutes.
Stir in coconut milk. Cover and simmer for another 10 minutes.
Makes 1 1/2 quarts (6- 1 cup servings)
cost of the entire dish approx. $3.00 $.50 per serving
BASIC PASTA E FAGIOLI
1 tablespoon vegetable or olive oil
2 cloves garlic, slivered
1/2 cup diced onion
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 cup dried white beans, soaked overnight, or 1 15 oz. can cannellini beans
1 15 oz. can diced tomatoes (I found “Italian style” which already had some herbed seasoning—otherwise, season with your own
blend of dried herbs—oregano, basil, thyme
1/2 cup ditalini pasta
Place a large saucepan on medium heat. Add oil, then garlic and onions. Stir in salt and red pepper flakes. When onions are translucent, stir in beans. If using dried beans, add 3 cups of water and simmer, uncovered for 2 hours, stirring occasionally.
When beans are cooked (they will be firm, with soft interiors) add the canned diced tomatoes and juice. Fill the can with water and pour into the pot.
If using canned beans, drain and rinse the beans and add to the garlic-onion saute. Simmer for 10 minutes, then add the canned diced tomatoes and juice. Fill the can with water and pour into the pot. Stir, and continue simmering.
In a separate pot, bring lightly salted water to boil and cook the pasta according to package directions. Drain, reserving 1/2 cup of pasta water. Stir cooked pasta and pasta water into bean-tomato mix. Taste and adjust for seasonings.
cost of entire dish approx. $2.75 ($. 71 per serving)
WHAT CAN WE DO?
Education and Advocacy: sharing recipes and knowledge, spreading awareness, contacting your elected representatives on local, state, and national levels are all ways to get involved to promote change and help end hunger.
HEALTHY AFFORDABLE RECIPE ROUND-UP:
Share your ideas and recipes in your comments to this blog below, or post them on The Giving Table’s Facebook page. To see the other food blogger’s contributions, go to The Giving Table’s Pinterest Board: Food Bloggers Against Hunger
SEE THE FILM/REQUEST A SCREENING
Those who see A Place at the Table cannot help but be moved by the stories.
If you haven’t seen the documentary, look for it at your local theater. You can request through iTunes, or On Demand. Here’s a preview.
If you live in the Nashville area:
On Monday, April 29th, at 6:00 pm there will be a special screening of A Place at the Table at the
Downtown Presbyterian Church, 154 5th Avenue North hosted by Nashville Food Bloggers
There will be a healthy affordable meal prepared by local chefs, and the opportunity for Q&A with leaders from the Community Food Advocates.
CALL TO ACTION
I encourage you, my readers who live in the U.S., to follow this link to advocate for change. We want to flood Congress with thousands of messages that we the people have the will to solve the problem of hunger and food insecurity in the United States. Now, they must show the political will. Cutting SNAP benefits to those in need is a criminal act. In our own state: linking those benefits with children’s good grades puts a family responsibility on the backs of children. It is not only wrong and counterproductive, it is diabolical.
We want to make a place for everyone at the table.
These cool September mornings have me thinking about transitions. Soon, the fall harvests, and bushels of apples picked from area orchards will be arriving at the markets. Red and Golden Delicious, Pink Ladys and Granny Smiths, Winesaps and Arkansas Blacks. Beautiful varieties, each with a distinct taste and culinary use.
I welcome this time of year. It ushers in another wave of foods and festivities that bring people together.
From my office perch looking out into the backyard, I see signs of a season in shift. Leaves getting tinged with yellow. Persimmons ripening on the rugged tree by the alley. Hummingbirds gorging on nectar before making their migration further south. I’ve lived in middle Tennessee for a long time, lived out many long hot summers. Autumn always invigorates me with its crisp clear air and blaze of color. I relish the changes of the seasons. Although anything can happen, I feel like I am exactly where I am supposed to be.
A sense of place. That gets entwined with many things, especially in a transient society. Where we were born, where we grew up, where we went to school, where we work, all play a part in grounding us, informing that deepest part of us about where we belong. We all have the right place to be.
It’s a potent and poignant theme that Luisa Weiss explores in her food memoir, My Berlin Kitchen. Known to many as The Wednesday Chef, Luisa tells her story of finding that sense of place. A confluence of cultures is at the heart of her journey.
In 1977, she was born to an Italian mother and an American father in West Berlin. At age three, her parents divorced and she moved to Boston with her father. She grew up, traveling back and forth, straddling two homes, two worlds. Her divided life, in a way, paralleled Berlin of the Cold War.
As a young adult living in New York, Luisa worked as a cookbook editor. A touchstone to memory, an anchor for comfort, food and cooking became central in her life. In 2005, she launched her blog, initially as a way to plow through the scads of recipes she’d clipped and saved. The Wednesday Chef became more than a food blog; readers worldwide followed her journal as she came to grips with the feeling that her life in New York, ideal as it appeared with a terrific job, fiance, and circle of friends, was not where she belonged.
My Berlin Kitchen chronicles that larger arc of self-discovery, and courage to make bold change. It is a love story, sprinkled with delectable recipes, gleaned from her world travels. Many have an intriguing, decidedly Berliner bent. Roast goose, braised red cabbage, poppyseed whirligig buns, white asparagus salad, spiced plum butter…
I enjoyed reading her story, and found real inspiration in her recipes. Today, I made her Apple Tart.
I call it a Perfect Apple Tart, for it truly honors the apple, in all its crisp sweet-tart glory. In Luisa’s words, ” This tart is about the pure, clear taste of apples, sugar, and a little bit of butter. There are no spices to muddle the flavors.”
And, its crust—the crust could be reason alone to make the tart: thin and golden, immeasurably buttery and flaky.
She credits her recipe to four culinary luminaries: Jacques Pepin, who originally conceived it; Alice Waters, who has kept it a constant offering at Chez Panisse; Deb Perelman, who brought it out into the wide world through her blog, Smitten Kitchen; and Melissa Clark, whose New York Times pastry-making video showed that leaving the butter in larger, lima bean (rather than pea) sized pieces in the dough insured a richer, flakier crust.
Of course, your tart will only be as wonderful as your apples. Select firm ones. Luisa recommends Golden Delicious. I chose Ginger Golds, an early harvest variety with a spicy-tart finish. They are good to eat out of hand, and bake into pies or cakes.
As we come into apple season, you’ll no doubt find other varieties that will appeal to you.
Here’s the tart’s magic. You peel and core the apples before slicing them. Then, you immerse those trimmings in water with sugar, and cook them down. After straining, you reduce the apple-infused liquid to a marvelous syrupy glaze.
After baking and cooling, you brush the tart–apples and crust– with apple syrup. Oh, my!
Apple-Apple-Apple! The tart is all about the apples, not-too-sweet, baked tender in a butter-crisp rustic crust:
From Jacques Pepin to Alice Waters, Deb Perelman to Melissa Clarke, from Luisa Weiss to me, and now to you.
Wishing you contentment wherever you are, Nancy
A PERFECT APPLE TART from My Berlin Kitchen by Luisa Weiss
1 cup All-Purpose Flour, plus more for dusting
1/2 teaspoon Sugar
1/8 teaspoon Salt
6 tablespoons well-chilled unsalted Butter, cut into 1″ pieces
3 1/2 tablespoons icy water
food processor fitted with pastry cutter
Place flour, sugar, and salt into the bowl of a food processor. Add the butter. Pulse until the butter is broken down into lima bean shaped pieces. Pulse in water, a spoonful at a time, until dough comes together.
Dump out onto lightly floured work surface and gather it together, flattening into 4″ wide disc. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate the dough for a minimum of 30 minutes. (or up to 3 days)
The Apple Filling
2 lbs. crisp firm Apples (I used Ginger Gold) peeled, cored. and thinly sliced–Save the peels and cores
2 tablespoons unsalted Butter, melted
3-5 tablespoons Sugar (I used 4 tablespoons)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees (375 degrees, if using a convection oven).
Remove pastry dough from the refrigerator. Unwrap and roll out onto a flour-dusted work counter.
Rolling and rotating the dough, dust with more flour to prevent sticking. Continue rolling until you’ve made a 14″-16″ thin round.
Line a baking sheet with parchment and place the rolled dough round on it.
Place the apple slices in overlapping circles on the dough, leaving a 2″ border. Crowd as many apple slices as possible.
They will cook down in the oven.
Fold the edges of the crust over the tart, creating a rustic look, leaving the center of the tart exposed.
Brush melted butter over the apples and onto the crust. Sprinkle the sugar over the crust and apples as well.
Bake in the center of the oven for 45 minutes, rotating the tart after 20-22 minutes.
The crust will become golden brown, as will the edges of the apples.
While the tart bakes, make the apple syrup. (recipe below)
Remove the baked tart and let it cool for 15 minutes before brushing the apples and crust with apple syrup.
Serve warm or room temperature. Makes 8 servings.
The Apple Syrup
Reserved Apple Cores and Peels
1/2 cup Sugar
Put cores and peels into a saucepan along with sugar. Pour in water–enough to cover.
Bring to a boil, them simmer for 30 minutes.
Strain the liquid; discard the apple trimmings, and return liquid to saucepan.
Reduce on low heat for another 10-15 minutes, until it becomes thickened and syrupy.
A recipe can be deceiving. We’ve all experienced a seemingly daunting one with scrolls of ingredients, only to find that we can whip it up with panache. Conversely, there’s that recipe with, say, three ingredients that you’d think would be a breeze. And yet, it’s those simple ones that can be trickiest–and require practice. Like making pillowy-light gnocchi, or fluffy biscuits. Or creamy ricotta cheese.
I’d been wanting to make ricotta for a long time. Maggie and I researched and learned that it is, essentially, Whole Milk-Salt-Acid. Sometimes the milk is enriched with cream. The acid can be lemon juice, white vinegar or buttermilk, which is added to the milk-salt mixture after it is simmered to 180 degrees.
For our first foray into cheesemaking, we chose vinegar, as it is the most neutral in taste. We purchased a gallon of whole milk at our local Hatcher Dairy Farm.
Low and slow, the milk came up to a froth at 180 degrees. We added the vinegar, and almost immediately, the curds formed in big clumps, separating from the whey. I scooped them out and let them drain in Maggie’s floursack-lined colander.
The yield: 4 cups of cheese and 3 quarts of whey! (We saved the whey, which Maggie has since used in her breadbaking–with astonishing results. The flavors are enhanced Tenfold.)
Shortly thereafter, we spread the cheese onto toast topped with slices of Maggie’s garden tomatoes. The ricotta was a bit firmer than I had expected, but delicious nonetheless. It reminded us more of Paneer, that Indian cheese.
However, it became almost rubbery in texture, as it cooled. Had we overcooked it somehow?
I decided to experiment again, this time–a smaller batch, with added cream, and lemon juice as the acidifier.
As luck would have it, I had been asked to review a cookbook scheduled for release next month, JAM ON The Craft of Canning Fruit by Laena McCarthy. McCarthy is the founder of Anarchy in a Jar, making delectable, creative, and wildly popular artisanal jams, jellies, marmalades and preserves.
It’s a beautiful book. The photographs are stunning. Moreover, it is clear in guidance for novice and seasoned canners, and replete with fruit recipes in gorgeous combinations.
Tucked among her recipes for Grapefruit and Smoked Salt Marmalade, and Rhubarb Hibiscus Jam, I found her recipe for Homemade Ricotta. It was just as I had imagined: a small batch, made with whole milk and cream, salt, lemon juice. A-Ha!
I followed her recipe, and to my surprise, the result was almost the opposite of our previous trial. Curds were slower to form, tiny in size. McCarthy writes that this can occur with organic milk that has been ultra-homogenized. (I didn’t use my local milk this time, but Organic Valley brand.)
I let my cooked-and-curdled pot sit and cool to allow the curds to better separate. Then, I poured into my cheesecloth lined strainer. It would take some time–about a half hour—for the whey to drain off.
But what remained was lush ricotta cheese.
I cannot overstate the wonder of its texture and taste–like no other ricotta I have ever had. Rich and smooth, spreadable yet scoopable, as you can see on the spiced peach salad plate.
HOMEMADE RICOTTA from JAM ON by Laena McCarthy
3 cups Whole Milk
1 cup Heavy Cream
1/2 t. Sea Salt
3 T. fresh squeezed Lemon Juice (about 1 1/2 lemons)
non-reactive pan, candy thermometer
cheesecloth or floursack cloth, strainer or colander
In your non-reactive pan set on medium heat, bring milk, cream, and salt to a slow simmer. Stir so that the milk does not scorch or cook on the bottom. The temperature reading should be about 180 degrees F. Stir in lemon juice and reduce heat. Stir for about two minutes while cooking. Remove from heat and allow to cool.
When the mixture is cooled, you’ll notice a thickening. Pour into cheesecloth-lined strainer set over a bowl to catch the whey. Let this drain for about an hour. Place ricotta into a clean container and refrigerate. Makes about one pint. Use within a few days.
There will be about 2 cups of whey, (much better ratio of cheese to whey than our first trial!) which some people discard. But it is terrific in breadbaking and soup making.
SIMPLE SPICED PEACHES
1 c. Cider Vinegar
1 c. Turbinado Sugar
1 inch length Cinnamon Stick
Strip of fresh Ginger
2-3 whole Allspice
3-4 whole Cloves
1/2 t. Kosher Salt
3 or more Fresh, Ripe but Firm Peaches–cut in half, pit removed
Bowl of Ice Water
Place all ingredients into a nonreactive saucepan set on medium heat. Stir well to dissolve sugar. Bring to a simmer.
Place peaches into mixture and allow to poach for about 4 minutes.
Remove peaches and plunge into ice water. The skins will come off very easily.
Drain peaches and refrigerate.
Continue cooking spiced vinegar solution until reduced by almost half. It will be syrupy.
Pour into a bowl and cool.
Place peach halves into syrup. Over the next several hours, refrigerated, they will absorb more of the sweet-sour taste. If you can wait, and let them soak overnight, they will taste even better!
(You could also make this in large quantities, put spiced peaches and syrup into mason jars and process in a hot water bath to preserve them.)
SPICED PEACH-RICOTTA SALAD (makes 4 individual salads)
4 oz. Fresh Arugula
4 oz. (or more!) fresh Ricotta
4 Spiced Peach Halves and syrup
handful of Marcona Almonds
Fresh Ground Black Pepper
Mound arugula on plates.
Scoop ricotta and place onto plates.
Slice each peach halve and arrange on plate, encircling the ricotta.
Drizzle syrup over the peaches, greens, and ricotta.
Scatter almonds over the salad
Season with black pepper.
Serve with a sliced of toasted crusty bread, if you like.
Today’s post is a bit of a departure. It is not focused on food or drink. There’s no stunning roast or plate of pasta. No cooling beverage. No beguiling dessert.
And yet, there is a recipe.
An easy one, too, using four items found in most pantries:
Apple Cider Vinegar,
plus some water.
And, so quick to put together, so beneficial,
I had to share it with you. Pronto!
Combined, I learned from Maggie, that quartet of pantry ingredients creates a potent remedy to some of the ails of winter: Sore throat, hacking cough, tight congestion.
Combined, they turn into a curious orange syrup that can cut through the croup.
And, the taste is really good!
Like you, we’ve been trying to duck the dreaded cold germs: wash our hands, eat well, get enough sleep, stay warm. Sometimes even the most valiant efforts get foiled.
I first mixed up a batch for Bill over the holidays, when he caught a cold accompanied by a strangling cough. The Remedy went right to work, acting as both a calming agent and expectorant.
So, last month, when I felt run down, tight with a tickle in the throat, I shook up a little Remedy. A spoonful or two seemed to break its hold, suppress the devilish tickle.
Just last night, Bill came home after a long workday. His voice was spent, and he had that dull, woozy feeling you get when the onset of a cold is trying to make its way into your head. He snatched up the little bottle, gave it a vigorous shake, and poured a tablespoonful. “Ahhhh. This is the Good Stuff,” he said.
I’m not saying it’s a cure-all, or some homeopathic miracle drug. But it did a mighty fine job taking the place of store-bought cough suppressants, expectorants, decongestants…
Wouldn’t you rather have a dose of spicy honey-cider syrup from a little jar mixed up in the kitchen than any of those bottles lurking in the medicine cabinet?
I thought so.
Stay warm. Stay healthy.
Take good care. And, if need be, take your remedy.
MAGGIE’S COUGH REMEDY
¼ teaspoon Cayenne
¼ teaspoon Ginger
1 Tablespoon Cider Vinegar (an organic one, like Bragg’s, is preferred.)
2 Tablespoon Water
1 Tablespoon Honey (use a locally produced raw honey, if possible.)
Dissolve cayenne and ginger in cider vinegar and water. Add honey and shake well. Take 1 Tablespoon as needed for cough. Hoo-wee.
Note: This is potent albeit watery syrup. It also doesn’t dissolve perfectly. Always shake well before using.
If you make this in small batches as the recipe is written, there is no need to refrigerate.
If you prefer, you may refrigerate this. It keeps as long as you need it. I like to make small batches (it is so easy to mix up.) and use it up in a just a few days.
IMPORTANT MESSAGE: This remedy and dosage are for adults. I have no personal experience giving this to children, and cannot recommend it for children. Many have reported on this site (see comments) that they have had great success administering the remedy in smaller doses to their kids. This is those parents personal choice, which I respect. If the remedy has helped their family, I am grateful. But it is not my recommendation.
Honey should NEVER be given in any form to children under the age of one year, due to the risk of infant botulism–hence the remedy should never, under any circumstances , be given to an infant.
All best wishes for good health and speedy recoveries,
Blooming Daffodil, photographed Sunday, February 5, 2012. Beautiful, and the earliest I have ever had this flower bloom in my yard.
gifts of odd fruit, from Martine, left on our table in Uvita, Costa Rica
As a food blogger, I’ve not been one to participate in different games or give-aways. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Those are fun methods to further connections via the ‘net.
After a little consideration, I decided to jump in and play. Good Food Matters has been around for about 2 1/2 years, and that’s added up to a heap of recipes, stories, pictures, commentary. Sometimes it is worthwhile to cast a glance back over a body of work, see where you’ve been.
And then it’s time to move forward. I’m getting some beautiful melons tomorrow from Fresh Harvest Co-op, sure inspiration for a late summer recipe and story.
In the meantime, enjoy. Maybe one of the links will take you somewhere you haven’t visited before. Or take you back for another welcome look. Or maybe there’s a different post I should have put on the list? I invite your input.
And thank you, as always, for reading.
1. Most Popular Post
Ray’s Green Beans with bacon, corn, buttermilk, and dill
What I did with my “annual allotment” from neighbor Ray this past June resonated far and wide.
2.Most Beautiful Post
Mango-Tango, mango-filled white butter cake
I’m not sure that it’s my most beautiful post, but it is my most beautiful cake.
3.Most Helpful Post
Yes We Can Can
My step-by-step tutorial on canning tomatoes is one that even I keep revisiting!
4.Most Controversial Post
My tale about a 1971 high school trip to Florida garnered one cautionary comment about over-fishing. The post was not intended for any controversy. I just really like this story.
5.The Post that surprised me by the amount of attention it received
Green Tomato Madness
Maggie and I played one afternoon last fall with a bucket of green tomatoes, with whacky, mixed results.
6. The Post that I felt deserved more attention
Hard call. But this was indeed a pretty post about a favored fruit, not much seen–
7. The post of which I am most proud
Swirling Brownies Forever
Maybe because these brownies were key to the launch of my culinary career—maybe because I’ve made them more times than I can count—-I have to honor my fabulous marbled cream cheese brownies. They are my cooking legacy!
The game continues. I invite these food bloggers to join in, and I invite you all to read their marvelous blogs.
I live in an older neighborhood in midtown Nashville. Mature trees and jungle-like overgrowth create a shady enclave in my backyard, and the postage stamp front “anti-lawn” has a sunny plot devoted to growing a few herbs and vegetables.
A true urban dweller, I do glean pleasure from the natural world in small ways:
From keeping up with the flurry of bright yellow and house finches at my backyard feeder,
to babying the first tomato (!) in my garden patch out front.
These interactions not only pull me out of kitchen world, or off my home office desk chair. They help keep me grounded in the day-to-day, keep my heart open.
But, when I make rare trips to the country, I experience a larger sense of place.
Quite simply, I am awed by the dedicated–and gritty–work of small family farmers. Theirs is not a life I could lead, but a life I admire. They are heroes, integral to the workings of a healthy planet.
On a recent road trip, I visited InTown Organics in Monteagle, Tennessee. (It is “in town” for Monteagle, but nonetheless a rural setting on the South Cumberland Plateau.)
There, the Wilson family–Jess, Nate, Eli, and Stella–have created a sustainable working farm, with abundant vegetables, herbs, and salad greens. Livestock too! We saw chickens, ducks, and turkeys; some goats (and a companion dog who thinks he’s a goat) and oh-so-prolific rabbits. What they don’t need for the family they sell at the Cumberland Farmers Market, or to area restaurants.
Following are few images I want to share with you from my visit, glimpses of life on the Wilson’s farm that may bring a heart-opening moment to your day too.
Meet Stella. Yes, she’s a little shy, but she does have this young bunny to look after.
She’s Jess and Nate’s three-year-old daughter, and Eli’s sister. While Eli is in school, and Nate teaches at the University, Jess and Stella keep things moving on the farm.
Like any child, Stella loves to play. But she also helps her mom in the garden. Impressive, particularly for one so young, Stella knows chard from kale from beets from carrots…and how to hold a carrot-loving bunny, with care.
This is Stella and Eli’s special garden. Stella was quick to point out which plants were hers, and which belonged to her brother.
You couldn’t miss this boisterous fellow. Tom Turkey paraded about the barnyard, tail-fanning and holler-gobbling at any creature in his purview. Jess laughed, “He always has a lot to say. All day long!”
Perhaps it was because his mate, this demure young hen, was nearby nesting, in long and patient wait until her eggs hatch.
Can’t forget the chickens! While it’s impossible to know what this hen was considering, but she had an assured (cocksure!) look in her eye. (No doubt, unaware of the workshop on chicken slaughter that Jess would soon be conducting.)
Those who raise chickens tell me that they are far more interesting to watch than television. Indeed, there is something endlessly fascinating about the movements of these birds.
This baby rabbit came as a double surprise. Part of an unexpected litter, (apparently the doe bred almost immediately after giving birth. It’s true what they say about rabbits!) he is the only black one. Stella especially loves him.
With thanks to Jess for a giving us a warm farm welcome and to our Sewanee guide Sherri for leading the way.
Casa Moonvine Front Porch
From the back terrace window
Guavas and large hibiscus bloom from the “yard”
Costa Rica’s National Flower
Brilliant flowers picked from the grounds
Good Morning Friends, from Costa Rica !
I had a moment, on this astonishing holiday,
to check in and say hey, Buenos Dias Amigos, and tell you a bit about this journey.
I am in a little wi-fi friendly bar in Uvita, drinking an Agua Mineral while Bill is several kilometers down the coastal highway taking his second (!) surfing lesson.
We are on the Pacific, staying in a spectacular home up a steep (as in sometimes straight up) and tortuous (as in crazy hairpin turns) dirt road that overlooks Punta Uvita–a large and curious whale-tail shaped sandbar that juts far out into the water. At high tide, waves lap over the tail and all but cover it up.
The house is in the midst of what is called Secondary Rainforest. It is jungle. We are surrounded by dense and radiant vegetation: mango, guava, and banana trees, brilliant flowering hibiscus, birds of paradise, lantana, heliconia, Jamaica, orchids: large and beautiful flora that we have enjoyed in our homes during the summer months, but flourish year round in this, their natural habitat.
Toucans abound, in seeming impossible flight with those startling, top heavy bills. Butterflies of varieties I have never before seen—some are rust orange, neon blue—appear, and then vanish. They say that monkeys live here too, but they have been shy, so far.
We arrived in this tropical paradise a few days ago, and shall remain until mid-March. It isn’t easy to blog on my tiny net book here–but I hope to write more later, connectivity permitting. But know that I will catch up with you all soon. In Costa Rica, the sign-off is “PURA VIDA” pure life, an acknowledgement of the wonder of life here in all its beauty and blessings.