Category Archives: Cooking

Traditions

My dad
My dad

Growing up during the ’50s and ’60s my family was comfortable.  We lived in a suburb of NYC and my dad got on the bus or the train every morning at 7:20 and went to The City, to return home each night at 7:30, and as a CPA he did a lot of traveling over the winter months.

But on the weekends, we always had some of my dad’s extended Italian family gathering either at our house, or at cousins’ houses in Brooklyn.  I know my dad really valued his family, and I always knew it was the highlight of his week when he could cook up a big meal with one of his sisters or his younger brother on a Saturday night, and then after dinner he and the uncles would play cards and smoke.  All us kids would be off somewhere else, playing or doing puzzles (or hiding on the dark staircase outside the dining room and listening to the adults talk while we giggled).  Being an only child, I looked forward to these weekends as well.

Breaded veal cutlets
Breaded veal cutlets

And that is where I began to learn to cook.  From the aunts and my dad, I learned a lot and have continued to try and re-create many of the things we ate back then.  At the time, many of the ingredients had to be brought to the suburbs with whichever aunt or uncle was coming out our way, because there were not a lot of local stores in post-war suburban NJ that carried imported Italian products and really fresh meat and fish (if we had lived nearer to Hoboken or towns right on the Hudson, I am sure we would have had no problem, but the town I lived in was very WASP).

Marsala sauce
Marsala sauce

One of the traditions in our family was that whoever was having a birthday got to choose the dinner meal for that night.  To this day, I prefer staying home and cooking my own favorite birthday dinner of breaded veal cutlets with Marsala sauce, scalloped or oven roasted potatoes, and kale, rather than going out.  Having a February birthday always meant that kale was available, and it has been my favorite vegetable since I was a little kid.

Scalloped potatoes
Scalloped potatoes

My mom was a competent cook, but she never attempted most of the wonderful Italian meals we had on the weekends.  She did, however, learn to make breaded veal cutlets, and so even if my birthday was on a weekday, I still got my choice of birthday dinner.  And yesterday, it was exactly the same.  We had a lovely dinner here at home for my 63rd, and of course, it involved veal cutlets, potatoes and kale.

I do not want to get into the veal question here.  I have always been happy with ‘rose’ veal, and every summer I sock some in the freezer that is locally grown and very delicious.  As a kid, I knew nothing about the veal industry, and as an adult I am so very glad that we live in a place where there are many small farms raising happy, pasture-based beef critters.  And so I can continue to indulge in veal cutlets on my birthday.  (As a teenager I did a 6 year stint as a vegetarian after learning about the meat industry.  I do not remember what I had for those birthdays, but it was probably eggplant parm, my second favorite thing in the world!).

On the goat front, still no babies!  We are awaiting the Big Blizzard to roll in this afternoon.  Got the greenhouses cleaned off in readiness for the predicted 14-20 inches.  Mama mia, I love winter, but that much snow is just on or over the edge of crazy!

 

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Happy Thanksgiving 2016

My sage has not died back yet, and the turkey was happy to invite it along
My sage has not died back yet, and the turkey was happy to invite it along

A little late, I know, but I hope everyone out there had a wonderful day with family, friends, or just on their own.  (One of my most interesting Thanksgivings was when I was a junior in high school and my parents had gone to Portugal or Spain with my uncle Morty, supposedly for 4 days, the weekend before Thanksgiving.  I think it was to look at what eventually became known as ‘time shares’ and they were offered another free three days, which they took advantage of, but which also meant that they couldn’t make it back for the holiday.  My dog Jason, the sweet Bedlington terrier and I, had a vegetarian Thanksgiving all by ourselves. Well, he ate meat, I did not.  I think I had broccoli and stuffing.  It was a very instructive and insightful holiday!).

Tesser the 14 and a half year old Chihuahua
Tesser the 14 and a half year old Chihuahua, in front of the wood stove, of course!

Anyhow, not being a vegetarian any more, we had a lovely, if very low-key day yesterday with a 22 pound turkey.  Just the three of us and Tesser the Chihuahua.  Of course I make the same amount of food no matter who is coming, because it’s all about the leftovers for me!  The only thing I did not do was hors d’oeuvres, because without real company, it didn’t seem all that important.  We had a toast to our lovely neighbor who passed away this past August, as she (and previously her husband Jim) had been a fixture here every Thanksgiving since we moved in 13 years ago.  And then we took our time eating our lovely dinner, all of us in something other than holiday garb, and closer to the PJ side of things.  A most relaxing day.  (The goaties got to celebrate with some celery and romaine leaves).

Pumpkin/cheesecake pie, mostly taken from the Smitten Kitchen recipe. Delicious!
Pumpkin/cheesecake pie, mostly taken from the Smitten Kitchen recipe. Delicious!

And so it goes.  It’s a very grey and rawly damp November day here today.  I had a morning visit with a good friend, and then came home to sit by the woodstove and perhaps do a little knitting or spinning.  I slept in until a shocking 7 am this morning and have absolutely no reason to be tired, but a quick nap on a day like this could be just the ticket.  I love Thanksgiving :*)

A Tasty mess

Grating beets is a total mess!
Grating beets is a total mess!

I have been hoarding a bag of really beautiful beets from a friend’s garden.  My plan right along has been to make a nice pot of winter borscht.  I have not made summer or winter borscht in a few years.

When I make borscht in the summer it is a very simple recipe:  mostly just beets, some veggie stock or chicken stock, some onions and it’s pretty much done.  Eat it cold with sour cream or yogurt, and it’s just perfect.

After the chopped cabbage goes in
After the chopped cabbage goes in

My winter recipe, however, is something that I rarely make because it is quite the time consuming affair – have to start it early in the day.  And so I just have to mention it again!  Retirement has offered me the opportunity to make a recipe like this on a weekday.  What fun :*)

There are hundreds of variations on borscht, and no one agrees on much when it comes to a definitive recipe.  My mother always used beef stock in her winter borscht, but no actual meat in the soup, and she never added chopped cabbage.  I have used meat in it for the last 30 years because my husband can’t stand to eat a meal without meat tucked in somewhere.  (If you want to make it a kosher meal, obviously you would not add sour cream to it at the end).  I have begun shredding the beets instead of dicing them up more recently…  I saw it in someone’s recipe, perhaps one from Joan Nathan, as I like her stuff.

Looking pretty good!
Looking pretty good!

Anyhow, I started the whole process about 7:30 this morning, and it’s still simmering away.  The cleanup continues, although there is no help for my beety red hands!  Even though I am looking forward to this for dinner tonight, it’s definitely better the next day.  My one poor bit of planning is that I didn’t set up bread yesterday for baking up today.  Poor us!  Maybe biscuits will have to do for tonight.  Such problems!

Sunday, fun day

Jingle and the boys
Jingle and the boys

Another absolutely fantastic day on the coast of Maine!  It was definitely a good one.  The weather was perfect, even to the point of not much wind.  I was beginning to prep for a big cleanup day (today), but I also had some eggplant that needed to be turned into parmigiana.

Red sauce
Red sauce

While I was having my morning coffee, I began the red sauce.  (At this time of year that means that it’s 3 cans of Italian tomatoes, plus all the garlic, onions, carrots and celery – plus the little end of sauce pork I had stashed in the freezer).  I got that puppy going and then we went out to get some things done with the goats.

Bucks eating near each other
Bucks eating near each other

I have been wanting to separate Reddog the Guernsey buck from the large group of does.  I didn’t want to do it in the really cold weather in case Jingle doesn’t allow him into the shelter while she is getting to know him.  So yesterday we thought it would be just about time.  We got him in with Oreo and Jingle, and there was some jousting.  He got into Jingle’s face right off, and was paid back with a swift kick to the head (but Jingle made contact with Reddog’s horns).  Oreo confronted Reddog, and they got into it a little, but it wasn’t as bad as I thought it might be.

eparmWe were watching them through the day today, and there was a little sparring by the two bucks, but so far it looks okay.  Today was a mudroom-clean-out-day.  And a dentist appointment.  Exhausting!  But we still have some eggplant parmigiana leftover.   It’s soft enough for me to eat tonight :*)

Saturday again

Blue sky day
Blue sky day

And so it goes.  Weeks are flying by, and as we head into Spring we come to a screeching halt with some really frigid temperatures arriving on Sunday night.  These things happen, but after it warms up later on in the week, I really think I need to uncover my garlic!

Baby Betsy's favorite place
Baby Betsy’s favorite place

Saffron continues to improve, and she was even doing a little dance this morning.  Betsy the Bruiser will be 3 weeks old tomorrow, and she is romping and running up a storm.  Battie can’t keep up with her!

Battie and her girl
Battie and her girl

None of the other goats are due until early May, so we are watching carefully and making sure they are eating well and getting some good exercise.  Rain this afternoon and evening, so I started a batch of Ken Forkish’s bread recipe for a Biga starter last night (from the book Flour Water Salt Yeast).  It’s looking promising so far!

Winter quiet

Usual view of the big birch tree
Usual view of the big birch tree

It is definitely more of a storm than we expected earlier in the week. Luckily, the prediction that it would be heavy, wet stuff, was incorrect. It’s light and fluffy and I was able to just kick my way through it to get up the driveway and do chores.

Very peaceful out there this evening. Winter quiet. Snow quiet. Holidays are over quiet.

I love the winter. Tourist season is over for us on the Maine coast, the sidewalks roll up pretty early in town, and we have some time to relax and enjoy some laid-back visits with friends. Last night a few ladies came over and we shared some wine and wonderful food. (Caponata, a lovely blood orange and greens salad, a mushroom/marsala/pasta bake, and chocolate mousse with raspberries! Quintuple yum!).

Time to put some beans in to soak overnight and get some meats out of the freezers so I can throw together a mess of chili in the morning. It’s that kind of weekend. Lovely, relaxing.

 

Holiday chaos

Woodstove tile pad
Woodstove tile pad, ready and waiting

Mostly it’s in a good way! We have spent the last two weeks very close to home, with lots of good friends and family. Alongside the holidays, we had our grandson for a few overnights so we could have some fun time together. (We are reading Paddington the Bear to get ready for the movie when it comes out in 2 weeks). We also did lots of cooking and baking together which was fun.

Disruption and disorder.
Disruption and disorder.

In the midst of getting ready for the holidays and then celebrating them, we have also been getting ready for the installation of a wood stove in the living room. Which meant that everything in the living room and dining room was pushed around, and the whole thing has had me off-kilter for weeks. I think I have finally gotten things moved around a bit so I don’t feel like I am tripping over myself, and it needed to be done, really, anyway!

Stove top with no drawers underneath
Stove top with no drawers underneath

The icing on the mess cake, however, was that John was also trying to fix the drawers under our range top that hold all our pots and pans (the whole cabinet has spread at the back, so the drawers were falling off their tracks). As a result, the 2 large drawers were standing empty in the corner of the living room (yes, more stuff in the living room), and the pots, pans, etc., were stacked in every corner of the kitchen, most of them on the floor. There may have been a little more wine imbibed than usual while we were celebrating and fixing, everywhere. Ugh.

And they are finally fixed!
And they are finally fixed!

As of yesterday, the drawers are now happily back in their slots, full of clean pots and pans. The tree is gone, the living room is mostly re-organized, and the floors are vacuumed and washed. The tile pad is finished and waiting for the wood stove, and I am trying very hard to enjoy the last gasp of vacation. I have been spoiled, this was an extra long one, a whole two weeks. Absolutely fabulous :*)

August is flying already

Sheep art
Sheep art

The first full week of August and the pressure is on.  Back to school gets closer all the time.  I have been busy this week and yesterday, luckily, was chock full of fun things.  Well, the doctor visit and a shot in my bursitis hip wasn’t exactly fun, but it sure beats the pain!

Crazy chicken art!
Crazy chicken art!

After the doc, I made my way (slowly due to all the traffic) out of town and went to meet my friend Chris at Halcyon Yarn in Bath.  Outside of a wonderful shop in itself, they were hosting a small crafts show on their upper two floors.  A good friend of ours, Heather Kerner of Spiralworks Felt, was participating.  Since she and her family live at least an hour + away, it was an opportunity to have a little visit with them. And the fair was wonderful!  Lots of lovely finished items were available, from knitting books, to sheep and chicken art, to woven, felted, netted and sewn items.

Lavender sachet pillow
Lavender sachet pillow

I was good and restrained myself… the only thing I bought is a lovely lavender sachet cleverly sewn from antique linens.

Salt Bay Treadlers first Wednesday meeting
Salt Bay Treadlers first Wednesday meeting

After I got home and did chores early, I rushed back to town for our first Wednesday spinning night!  It was full of great conversation, wonderful food, and lots of fiber.  I thought I would remember to take more photos, but alas, I only snapped one.  Needless to say, it was a fun evening.  Wish we weren’t all so busy that we couldn’t do more of them!

Today I am home and doing some cooler weather cooking, braised lamb shanks.  I had to look for a new recipe since recently my husband is having trouble digesting cooked tomato things.  :*(  I love my other recipes, but hopefully this one will be a winner.  It has lots of red wine in it, so how bad could it be!

Needhams

The first efforts, the Ugly Needhams!
The first efforts, the Ugly Needhams!

Are a very traditional Maine confection.  They are delicious!  A wonderful chocolate-covered coconut candy.  The first time I had them we had not been living here for very long, and I was totally shocked at the secret ingredient in them.  They are close in flavor to a Mounds candy bar, but better.

I always try and send my inlaws something for the holidays that is typical to New England, and particularly to Maine.  So this year I decided that I would make some Needhams for them.  One of my work colleagues offered me her family recipe, which I thought was extremely generous.  So last weekend I went to work, and figured that it would be a fun afternoon.  I used to make candy when we lived in NJ, so I figured it would be a snap.  Wrong!!!  I think the secret ingredient makes it more possible to have a mess when dipping into the chocolate… and I certainly made a mess!

It got better as I went, and when I chilled the filling a little more and then dipped it, it began to look a little more acceptable.  But the first efforts were not very pretty!  Needless to say, I did not send the ugly Needhams to New Jersey.  The prettier ones took that trip.  And the secret ingredient is:  mashed potato!

Hanukkah party 2012

New twinkle lights are up!
New twinkle lights are up!

And it was a great party.  Lots of wonderful food and laughter.  We get so stuck in our usual ruts that it’s difficult for me to switch gears and pull it together enough to have people over in a group.  (Read here, I am not a very dedicated housekeeper!).  So it’s really nice when we do take the time to spiff things up a little and make the effort.  I don’t usually stay up that late, and I woke up at the usual time, a little after 4, so I am dragging today.  I went back to bed for a little while, but I am thinking that I should sleep quite well tonight!

Leg of lamb hit the spot
Leg of lamb hit the spot

I roasted a leg of lamb and instead of making potato latkes, made scalloped potatoes (latkes are messy and they are much better if made and eaten immediately).  Other folks brought some lovely squash and lentils, homegrown kale, meatloaf, baked carrots, and we had goat cheese and John’s delicious semolina bread.  And a bit of wine!

Hand-turned dreidl next to a felted pin cushion our friend Kris made
Hand-turned dreidl next to a felted pin cushion our friend Kris made

Jim of Hatchtown Farm brought a gift as well.  He makes beautiful hand-turned hand spindles and other wooden tools for spinners and he made a gorgeous dreidl.  We did not engage in a game of dreidl, but we had some fun spinning it across the table.

Lamb stock pot
Lamb stock pot

Today I did a leisurely clean-up and took the opportunity to make some lamb stock with the gigantor lamb bone and some good greens and onions.  There weren’t a lot of pan dripping from the roast and I would really like to make some shepherd’s pie soon, so the stock will come in handy.

P1000274I forgot to take a photo of the menorah last night, so I took one this afternoon for day #2!  Happy Hanukkah!