A Recipe to Share

Recipes

Larisa texted a couple of us about an event she was going to at her church. “I have to bring two quiches,” she wrote. “I’m using Pam’s pie crust recipe.”

It struck me, seeing that written out. I had shared the recipe with Larisa. It is a recipe I had sought out, long ago, for less than altruistic reasons, and one I use regularly. But I’ve never thought of it as MY recipe.

Way back when, back in my husband’s murky past, there was an accomplished pie-baker. We’ll call her Lulu. Newly married, I was determined that MY pies would surpass hers, surpass them by so much that those pies o’ mine would wipe out any nostalgic memory. There would be no reason for folks at family gatherings to sigh and say, “Remember Lulu? Remember her strawberry rhubarb pies?”

So I mastered pie fillings: that was fun. But the crust part was a little harder to handle.

My mother was unabashedly, unashamedly, no help.

“My crusts are awful,” she said, calmly and with no regret. And it was kind of true. Her pie shells were containers to showcase wonderful fruits and puddings, but the crusts themselves were tough and sometimes sodden. She dealt with it, secure in the knowledge that legions of children, grown and growing, adored and devoured her vast repertoire of cookies.

So I turned to cookbooks for pie crust magic,–turned to them with varying results. “Don’t overhandle the dough!” they all admonished, but how could one get the mixture smooth without pummeling it? I bought a special rolling pin that I would fill with icy water, insuring the crust, in the rolling, flattening phase, did not get too warm. I put the shortening in the freezer. A couple of times, I substituted butter.

Sometimes my pie crusts were good and sometimes they were chewy, and I could not pinpoint any definitively good reason for the difference.

And then one day, Mark and I went to dinner with old friends, Gretchen and Jim. Gretchen served a blueberry pie with a sugar crusted, flaky crust. It was so good. It was good enough that just eating a big piece of the crust would have been an amazing dessert; to have it filled with fresh-picked blueberries, sweetened and coaxed into giving up their syrupy secrets, just put us all beyond the bend.

“I wish I could make a pie crust like this,” I moaned as I slipped into a sugar coma.

Before I faded completely, I heard Gretchen whisper, “Have I got a recipe for you…”

And she did. I know to look for it under G in my cookbook; it is labelled ‘Gretchen’s Pie Crust Recipe.’ I use it so often, now, that the book flips open to the page of its own accord. It is a recipe that makes enough dough for five crusts. It calls for an egg and a little bit of vinegar, and the result is always, always, fine and flaky. Every month, I make up a batch, and I constantly have three or four lumps of dough in the freezer—ready to use up chunks of ham and the ends of cheddar cheese bars in a quiche-y, last-minute dinner; ready to support a robust filling of apples sliced thin and tossed with sugar and nutmeg and cinnamon and cooked until they ooze up their own thick sauce.

Hallelujah: thanks to Gretchen, pie crust mastered.

Once, years after she shared that recipe, we got together again with Gretchen and Jim and other friends for a picnic. We portioned out the dishes to pass, and dessert fell to Mark and me. My friend Sandee had made a swing through town, and when I came home from teaching, I found, on the side porch, four gleaming baskets of raspberries from the bushes she and her husband Don nurtured for years. I made a Friendship Pie—Sandee’s berries, Gretchen’s crust—and toted it proudly along to share.

When I mentioned to Gretchen I’d used her crust recipe, she laughed. “I got that recipe from Karen,” she said, nodding at one of the other friends at the picnic.

Gretchen lists that recipe as ‘Karen’s Pie Crust’ in her cookbook. In Karen’s files, it’s ‘Grandma’s pie crust recipe.’

And who knows where Karen’s grandma got the recipe. I imagine young women, Depression-era maybe, meeting while the men are at work, sharing recipes and methods. I see a recipe card changing hands. It’s index card-sized, and ‘From the Kitchen of _______________’ is printed in the upper left-hand corner. “Millie” is written in the blank space, written in flowing Palmer-method script, written in spiky fountain-pen ink.

The recipe card has seen hard use, sitting on a counter, soaking up the grease and flour of dough preparation. There is a translucent half-moon on the bottom edge. There is a tiny plunket of hardened dough stuck on to the ingredient list. The woman who borrows the recipe absently picks that little plunket away; she shoots it into space between her work-hardened index finger and thumb. Then she smooths it out carefully and picks up her pen. In flowing script that belies the toughness of her hands, she fills in the title at the top of her pristine recipe card: ‘Millie’s Pie Crust Recipe.’

Someday, maybe, she muses, her granddaughter will copy that recipe into her own cookbook. And then, she, too, will share.

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I remember the first office potluck after Terry came to work. She brought a big plateful of delicious cookies, chewy, oatmeal-y, studded with chocolate. There was a crowd around those cookies; people elbowed in and shoved each other away.

And when the lovely sweet treats had been reduced to crumbs…which one forlorn cookie-lover swiped up with a finger and scraped into his mouth…we asked Terry for the recipe. Ah, she said. Those are Kevin Weaver’s Mother’s Cookies, and she told us a story about a little boy at the school where she’d once worked. He was a mischievous, freckle-faced boy, if I remember Terry’s story well, loveable in himself, but he would have been forgiven many things even if not. The cookies Kevin Weaver brought to events and parties made the angels and the teachers sing.

And Kevin’s mother, who must have been kind-hearted and full of humor, gladly shared the recipe.

Terry shared it, too, and we knew something then about her expansive spirit. She was the kind of person who loved to bake cookies that people swooned for. She was the kind of person who shared the instructions so YOU could bake them, too.

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Not every person is the recipe-sharing type.  Once I knew a woman who made a super delicious cheesecake, a double-batchy homemade delectation of a confection with a smooth and luscious sour cream topping. She was the mother of a friend; she held that recipe tight to her chest. I would beg for those instructions, and she would smile, a little smugly, and say something vague.

“When I have time,” she’d murmur, or, “Let me see what I can do.”

She never had time; she never saw what she could do. And oh, I wanted that recipe.

One day, at the supermarket that helped me work my way through college, I lamented the lack of that recipe and Marie, a good-hearted produce manager known to be an amazing cook, took umbrage.

The next day she handed me the exact cheesecake recipe. It was handwritten in red ink on a pretty recipe card adorned with a teapot. “From the Kitchen of Marie!” it read, and it was encased in a plastic, protective sleeve.

“Good cooks SHARE,” she said.

At the end of the recipe, she’d written, “Eat hearty!!!!”

I use that recipe every Easter I use it because I love the cheesecake, and I use it in honor of big-hearted Marie.

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There are some people who don’t share because, maybe, that recipe is part of a kingdom they rule with a close and jealous hand, and there are some people who don’t share because they are not the recipe-following type.  My Aunt Annie, my mother’s sister, was that kind of cook, the kind who used a recipe the first time through, maybe, but who then took those instructions as simple guidelines. Why not, that kind of cook might think, try chicken broth instead of heavy cream? Why not use half Swiss and half Monterey Jack instead of a full cup of grated cheddar?

My mother would tell stories about Aunt Annie’s mac and cheese—how people would angle for dinner invitations just to taste it, how mac and cheese nights were always call for celebration and extra beaming faces at the table. And my mother would ask for the recipe, always, and Aunt Annie, always, would say, “Well, I start with a white sauce. I usually boil a full box of elbows, but sometimes I use ziti…”

She’d go on, saying you COULD do this, or she might add that, and my mother would, finally, slap down the loose-leaf sheet on which she’d been trying to capture that recipe. She’d click her pen shut and mutter, “Never mind,” and later, she’d bemoan the lack of that wonderful recipe. She would scour magazines for macaroni and cheese methods; she would experiment with different cheeses, half and half, heavy cream. Never did her efforts meet her hopes: in Mom’s eyes, her mac and cheese never came up to the Aunt Annie standard.

So I kind of inherited a mac and cheese quest, but again, someone gave me a recipe. My niece Margaret moved to Charleston, and one Christmas, she sent up a fat cookbook by a couple of skinny Charleston lads called the Lee Brothers. Despite their extreme slenderness, those boys whipped up southern recipes that bloomed with bacon and lard and whole milk. We found our favorite collard greens recipe in their pages, and we adopted their Hoppin’ John technique for our New Year’s Day fare.

And we discovered, to our great joy—and to what I imagine would have been my mother’s great joy, too—Lee Brothers Macaroni and Cheese. We make it for company, and for a side when we roast up a Flintstone-sized slab of barbecued ribs. It is one of Mark’s go-to dishes when he has to bring a dish to pass; he mixes up a batch of Lee Brothers in the crockpot and takes it to work. He puts the crockpot on the break room counter and plugs it in and lets the smell of bubbling cheese sauce marinate his morning.

People ask him for the recipe. He shares.

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Because recipes are meant to be shared. When we share them, we weave a kind of connection net, whether we are passing on handwritten delights on aging index cards, or printing off, say, a copy of the Beef-Barley Stoup recipe that Jodi so kindly offered up on her blog. It is not the first recipe of Jodi’s to become part of family food lore; it is, Mark says, the best beef soup—or, umm, stew—err, stoup—he’s ever eaten. And even though Jodi and I have never yet met, she’s woven into our family culinary repertoire, along with Gretchen and her pie crust, and Terry, and Kevin Weaver, and Kevin Weaver’s mom.

Those recipes weave our experience together, weave us tight across time and distance, tromp over barriers, and melt away cold towers of isolation. The sharing reminds us that people are good and open and generous—that people enjoy good things at special times, and that they want others—they want everyone—to do the same.

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Some Principles of Broth

Antique dealers may respond hopefully to dusty bits in attics, but true cooks palpitate over more curious odds and ends: mushroom stems and tomato skins, poultry carcasses, celery leaves, fish heads, and knucklebones.

 —The Joy of Cooking

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Broth

I clip the leash on the dog and we march out into a balmy January day. Over the river, the sun is rising, a beautiful band of liquid gold poured gently onto the horizon. It is almost sixty degrees out, and my jacket swings, jauntily unzipped, as Greta and I head out for a long sniffing walk. We wander past Sandy’s house; we meander up the drive by the Helen Purcell Home. The snow has melted, and the old dog, blissfully energized, chortles up wonderful scents.

But there’s an undercurrent to the breeze, and clouds begin to gather as we wander, and by the time we are back in the driveway, drops are falling. It will rain all day, the weather app tells me, and, along about four o’clock or so, the rain will turn to snow, and the streets will freeze, and travel will not be a smart or easy thing.

I think that it’s a day to make broth, and, after tending to the little dog’s need for treats, I turn the oven on to warm. I hunker down, refrigerator door open, searching.

I pull out the carcass from the turkey we roasted this week. In the crisper, half an onion waits in a baggie, nestled next to celery and carrots and the end of a bag of salad. I pull all these out, swivel them up to the corner and turn back to search through shelves.

I uncover a little container with a scant serving of green beans. I find a little bit of broccoli, and, behind the milk and the plastic jug of orange juice, I discover the end of a bag of spinach.

I gather these things and stand up, stretching, and I lay everything on the counter and survey.

Then I pull the old black roasting pan, its bottom raised and indented to form its own built-in roasting rack, from the top of the cupboard. I rinse and dry it, and then I begin.

First, of course, the turkey bones, which I crush slightly. I cut up the onion, and three celery stalks and two fat carrots, and I put them, too, into the pan. I scrape the leftover veggies into the mix and consider. Then I cut up another small onion and add it to the mess, and I throw in three peeled garlic bulbs. I drizzle it all with olive oil and sprinkle on a generous helping of dried herbs—herbs that Terri sent me, herbs that were grown and harvested and dried and blended on the farm of her dear friend. I believe, I really do, that all that care and attention comes out in a delicate, decided flavor.

I throw in a bay leaf, a teaspoon of pepper, enough coarse salt to make a one-inch pile in the palm of my hand. I toss it all together, and I slide the pan into the warming oven.

Rain, now, is lashing the windows. The scent of the roasting veggies and bones begins to rise almost immediately.

Jim stomps down the stairs, still sleep-stippled. “What’s cooking?” he asks. After I tell him what’s in the oven, he says, “It smells GOOD. People should bake that up when they’re trying to sell their house.”

He’s right; the roasting bones and veggies smell like warm and homely comfort. I wait fifteen minutes before I pull them out and stir.

The veggies begin to caramelize; the shards of meat and the bones turn a beautiful brown. In an hour, I pull the pan from the oven and take it to the sink. I let the water run steadily until the pan is almost full, and then I stagger beneath its weight back to the stove. I set it down in the center of the stovetop and turn the middle burner on. I adjust seasonings and walk away, letting the alchemy begin.

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I can’t remember when I discovered that I didn’t have to buy broth to make soups and stews and gravies: I could use the homeliest, most neglected of orts and bits to make a wonderfully tasty stock. I pored through cookbooks, gathered recipes, sought advice. I tried and I erred, and I learned, finally, how to concoct a workable, tasty, effective broth.

The process pinged with me. I learned that many neglected items—veggies and bits of bony meat—scorned as leftovers or snacks, are welcome ingredients in a pot of broth. I learned too, that broth is not a place for the moldy or the spoiled, for things I wouldn’t serve to others or eat myself in the condition in which they now existed. Broth is a place to bring together misfits and healthy outcasts, but not a place to hide the flavors of unhealthy companions.

Broth is a living representation that sometimes, the resulting whole is bigger and better and more robust than the sum of its parts.

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There are principles to making broth, I think as I settle back in my reading chair, letting the contents of that burgeoning pot warm and evolve and grow hot enough to simmer.

Like, “Don’t overlook anything, no matter how tiny or inconsequential.” Those little bits of green bean, that lonely clove of garlic—they don’t look like much, for sure. In fact, you might pass them right by, be inclined to discard them. But the broth would not be quite the same without their contribution—each player, no matter its size, adds something—zing or zest or depth or freshness.

Like, “Sometimes the things that seem obnoxious on their own are perfect and essential in combination.” I mean, onions, really—who wants to take a big bite of a raw onion? Who really likes to chop them, tears streaming, fingers getting pungent and tangy? An onion is not always a refined dinner pal. But we need onions in our broth; we need their pungent, earthy flavor. Overpowering when solo, onions rock in company.

Like, “It’s not going to happen in 15 minutes. Patience is a necessary ingredient.” I like to make the time for the roasting step, although it’s not absolutely essential. The caramelization, the roasty brown bits: these add deep rich color, and deep rich flavor, to the broth. And the long simmer is the learning process, where the flavors leave their own little spaces and merge, blending, extending, exploring, accepting. This cannot be rushed.

Like, “You must have some common denominators, but every batch of broth will be different in some way.” The bones, of course. The onion, a given. But I’m not always going to have the same stuff in my refrigerator. What goes in the pot will depend on season and feastings, appetites and energies. Every broth I make will be the same in some ways, and it will be different in others. The complexity makes each meal exciting.

Like, “Use the end result adventurously.” This broth, with chopped kale and orzo and tiny meatballs, could give me Italian wedding soup. It could also be the base for chicken tortilla soup, or build a roux for a pot pie. A few tablespoons of that tasty broth could flavor the next batch of homemade hash, and the rest could go into the white sauce for Alfredo pasta. Broth is a base, a beginning. And the end results can be excitingly varied.

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I was naïve; I thought the process was nothing more than putting leftovers in a pot, heating them with stock or water, and—voila, soup! Eventually I realized that it’s necessary to learn some simple techniques for maximizing flavor: how to make a good broth; how to begin a soup with a base of softened vegetables and herbs; and how to add either a single vegetable, for a pure and simple soup, or a combination of many vegetables (as well as pasta, meat, or fish) for a more complicated soup. The variation is endless.

 —Alice Waters, The Art of Simple Food

 

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My son James loves to watch shows—Friends, How I Met Your Mother, The Big Bang Theory, even The West Wing—in which oddly fitting individuals come together, perhaps against great odds, to form a wonderfully cohesive whole. So the stunning blonde former cheerleader adds life and humor to a group of introverted physicists. The popular girl winds up, years later, with the geeky archaeology doc. Jocks and intellectuals, extroverts and shy guys, wealthy types and penny-pinching strugglers, all contribute to the wonderful whole they create. Quite often, the loss of a character, even a seemingly minor one, will change the show’s whole flavor.

Maybe some of those brothy principles apply to the congregation of people, too.

*****************

My cell phone bounces,  jangling. It is my partner in crime, Becky, calling to sadly say she thinks we ought to cancel our first class meeting tonight. I check the weather. The temp is down to 34 degrees; there’s a brazen red banner across the weather website. All this rain is going to freeze. And then the snow will come.

I can hear it happening already. The rain drops that were gentle, then lashing, are pecking now, crashing against the bay window in metallic waves.

Becky and I divide up the list of participants, and we each make calls.

The news channel tells me local schools all dismissed early. Mark pops in from work at 2:55, sent home by his boss. I drag the reluctant dog outside to take care of business before ice glazes her pathways. She sticks her snout skyward, blinking,…wondering, I bet, what happened to our balmy morning weather.

And inside, the whole house is broth-perfumed. Jim is right: all other things being equal, the wonderful scent might sell a house.

****************

The light wanes and the temperature dives and we start the fire. The dog curls up, snoring, in one arm of the couch. We light lamps and pull out books and settle in. I think that a family has some things in common with a broth, disparate characters coming together, creating an unexpected, essential whole. The principles, above, apply.

The rain is morphing. First comes the sleet, and the world is glazed. In the neighborhood, the cars are pulled into the driveways; the lights are on. No traffic sullies the quiet.

And then, abruptly, the sleet becomes snow; the icy world turns white and silent. And inside, the fire snaps; a dog and a boyo snore, cozy in their perches. And on the stove, a deep, rich broth simmers.

 

A Little Summer Heat

 

We unpack the weekly basket from Randy’s farm. Mark moves the kale aside (it is particularly unpopular now, since its fibrous stems clogged up the garbage disposal last week, requiring dismal hours of plumbing labor) and examines the broad flat leaves of collards.

“I’d be interested in trying collards,” he says. We have been binge-watching seasons of Guy Fieri’s Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives; he often indulges in collard greens, long and slow-simmered, especially at some of his southern stops. And Fieri, whose genius is to make you crave the foods he favors, loudly loves cooked greens.

I am not so sure. They look a little…swampy to me, but the next day, James and I do some research. We find a recipe called ‘Sunday Collards’ in the Lee Brothers cookbook–Jim’s good suggestion: he figured southern cooks like the Lees would have a recipe for collard greens. We make a shopping list; I am doubtful about finding something like smoked hog jowl. But my supermarket surprises. There, in the cold case with the hams and bacon, are several shrink-wrapped packages of interesting smoked hog parts. I don’t find jowl, but I do put a package with three hefty pieces of smoked hog neck into my basket.

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At home, I pull out the cookbook and begin. First, I create a pot liquor by searing a chunk of the pork (I freeze the rest, in case we want to try this again) in hot oil , and then boiling it with a generous helping of red pepper flakes. The Lees instruct me in how to prepare the greens after giving them a good washing–removing tough stems and rolling the leaves up like cigars, then slicing them into half-inch coils.

Once the pot liquor is bubbling and the tastes have melded, I throw the sliced collards into the pot, cook them down, add more. When all the sliced leaves are immersed in the liquor, we let it simmer for an hour.

Finished, the dish DOES look swampy. But the taste is a revelation.

“This is GOOD,” says Mark, going for seconds.

“It’s good,” I agree, “but hot.”

Mark, who likes hot food, grins. “I,” he says proudly, dipping his noggin so I can see the dew on its noble crown, “have a sweaty head.”

“Sweaty head?” says Jim, coming in to get more Alfredo. “Is that a beer?”

It’s not, we explain, but I think maybe it should be. Sweaty Head: the beer you drink with collard greens.

*************
Inspired by that hot and smoky success, I start thinking about the kohlrabi waiting on the counter. I clip a recipe from a supermarket flyer for an Asian slaw. This will require another trip to the store for ingredients we’ve never stocked regularly on the home shelves: things like toasted sesame seed and sesame oil. And Chinese chili paste.

*************

 

I cut the shoots away from the kohlrabi bulbs and peel away the tough outer skin, then cut them into chunks I can shoop into the food processor. I stir the resulting shards into slaw mix, adding sesame seeds. I whisk up the dressing, with its sesame oil and soy sauce and generous, generous helping of chili paste.

I chop up an unlikely topping: honey roasted peanuts.

Just before dinner, I mix the two together, tangy sauce and chilled slaw, and sprinkle the chopped peanuts on top.

Again, we like it. Again, it is HOT.

**************

It’s promising to be a summer of heat-stoked cooking adventures.

*********

Neither of us grew up in households where spicy food was served. Mark remembers his dad dressing field greens with oil and vinegar, but never with red pepper. My dad loved oil and vinegar, too, and other things we thought weirdly decisive in flavor, like limburger cheese and braunschweiger, but he was not a hot food kind of guy. And my mother cooked solid, substantial meals–meat and potatoes, a gentle chili, an innocuous spaghetti sauce. She was a good cook, but her offerings were geared to her audience. Red pepper flakes did not enter the discussion.

And then–college in the early seventies, in western New York, in the first flush of the chicken wing era, and all spicy hell broke loose. I ran with a crowd that liked food hot–as hot as you could stand it, and then, maybe, add a little more Tabasco. We devoured umpteen tumbled plates of crazy-hot wings, dowsing the fire with ice-cold beer, learning, to our rue, never to rub an itchy eye after handling a steamy, saucy drumette. We sampled the offerings of many fine establishments and settled on a favorite wing place–a hole-in-the-wall bar with a kitchen attached to the back.

We made pilgrimages to the Anchor Bar in Buffalo, where wings, legend told us, originated.

The story we heard, back then, was that Teressa Bellissimo, co-proprietor with husband Frank (they opened the Anchor Bar in 1939), invented the wing recipe for her son Dominic. He brought a bunch of friends to the bar and said, “Ma! Fix us something good to eat!”

She looked at the hungry crew, and she looked in her cooler, and all she could find was some chicken wings. To many, back in the day, chicken wings were throwaways–useless parts. Others put them in soup, and there were bars that would bake the bony things and give them away as free bar food. But that night, Teressa was inspired to cut the wings up and deep fry them, then toss them with hot sauce.

[I wonder now, if that’s the true story, so I look it up. Thousands of sites purport to offer the true history of the Buffalo chicken wing. I choose, because it darned well should be reliable, the Smithsonian’s site (http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/a-brief-history-of-the-buffalo-chicken-wing-10260772/).

That tells me the legend we heard may well be true. But then some of the Bellissimo family maintain there’s a little bit different reality–that the butcher who should have delivered a batch of meaty chicken necks–which the family used in their red sauce–delivered wings instead, and Frank said to Teressa, “Find something to do with these things!”

Whatever–in 1964, Teressa served up deep-fried wings, glazed with Frank’s Red Hot Sauce, and the city went nuts. By the time I hit college ten years later, wings were an international sensation, and it was a mark of honor to eat them with as tangy a saucing as one could stand.

(Do note, though, that there are other versions of the wing legend, and others who claim they invented the treat.)]

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But college days–despite an extra year or two of study for some of us–inevitably wane, and domesticity takes the edge off hot food cravings. Tender children don’t like crazy-hot wings.  And people on the autism spectrum, with their especially sensitive palates, often can’t tolerate the zip and tang of hot sauces. We moderated our menus to meet Jim’s needs. Our wild indulgences morphed into medium-hot sauce for our tacos.

We ate well. We just didn’t do ultra-spicy.

And life went on, taking us on unexpected adventures, veering us down uncharted roadways, and, finally, bringing us here. I’m teetering now on the career fence, sticking one foot out, ready to step off, joyfully, into retirement. A weekly basket brings us food we’ve never eaten or prepared. We’re ready to try something different, to add a little zip.

So we buy three different kinds of hot sauce. We experiment with chili paste. Mark and Jim, exploring an exotic market, stock up on cayenne and hot mustard and red pepper flakes.

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Is it, maybe, time of life, a new era beginning? Maybe we need to celebrate the segue into our sixties with zip and zing.

Or maybe it’s aging taste buds, and we need to slather our food with ever-hotter spices in order to detect the tang.

Could it just be opportunity? We have new foods and a little more leisure, so a buried sense of adventure is rearing its feisty head?

Whatever. We’re looking forward, in more ways than one, to a little summer heat.

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(I found a great blog that discusses the history of hot and spicy foods, if you’re interested in learning about origins: http://sxxz.blogspot.com/2005/06/spicy-foods-chemistry-is-history.html)

Talkin’ Trash in the Kitchen

Finished Trash.jpg

Ah the sun is full out: Sunday morning.
I am fresh back from taking my walk.
My coupons are stashed
and my dishes are washed
and I’ve already pottied the dog.

The boys have a task set before them,
A mission that took them to Lowe’s.
The outdoor faucet is beat;
Plants need juice in this heat:
So the boys will re-able the hose.

But I’m pounding chips in the kitchen
The remnants from several sacks;
Pretzels come next;
Yes, I’ll see them compressed.
I am trying a recipe called Trash.

Bags

It’s a recipe Mark saw on Facebook;
We decided to give it a try.
So I’m making Trash in the kitchen.
I’m not sure that I could say why.

********
The butter melts quick in the big pot.
But the marshmallows stick to the sack.
They’re all glommed up and tricky,
Yuck–my fingers are sticky.
I’m too entrenched, though, to take that mess back.

I stir and I stir and I stir them;
They finally consent to melt down.
Not a cuss word I utter;
Just stir in peanut butter,
swirl together sweet white and nut brown.

And then it is time for the salty.
I mash in the pretzels and chips.
The mess is released
to a pan that is greased
(Only tiny, wee tastes pass my lips.)

And the boys struggle on in the basement;
Here an oath, there a triumphant cry.
While I’m spreading Trash in the kitchen.
I’m not sure that I could say why.

Faucet fixing

************
Well, the thing comes together in last steps,
So I sprinkle on M and M candy.
I press on one quarter cup.
Having MORE than enough,
I devour the remains (which is handy.)

Sprinkled Trash.jpg

And then I fill a bowl full of chocolate,
and microwave-melt it to drizzle.
Ah–sweet melty slop!
I adorn the treat’s top.
(Can I cut these? I might need a chisel.)

So the treats are congealing and chilling,
As the boys labor over their chore.
I wash out the pot;
I might like these a lot.
And I surely will make them some more.

And the drill grinds away, then is silent,
To be followed by a joint victory cry
And I’m writing Trash in the kitchen.
I’m not sure that I could say why.

*********************

Trash Treats

(from Delish.com…)

3 tbsp. butter
1-16 oz. bag marshmallows
2 tbsp. peanut butter
4 c. potato chips, crushed
2 c. pretzels, crushed
¼ c. M and M candy
½ c. chocolate chips, melted

Grease a 9 x 11 inch pan.  A small cookie sheet would do well, too.

Melt the butter over low heat in a large pot.

Add the marshmallows; stir until melted and smooth.

Add the peanut butter; stir to combine.

Turn off the heat, and quickly stir in the chips and pretzels.

Press mixture into greased pan. (I find that wetting my fingers, and shaking off the excess before pressing, helps in the pressing process.) Sprinkle with M and M’s; press the candy into the surface of the treat.

Drizzle the bars with the melted chocolate.

Let harden before serving, about thirty minutes.

Vegetable Healing: A Loolie Tale

Special wishes for healing to Lulu, whose wonderful blog is at http://luluopolis.com/2015/06/06/a-surprise-part-6-good-news-good-pathology/

Beautiful glossy green leaves of spinach; buttery baby romaine; white and red onions, the mud from their earthy erstwhile home still clinging to their hair-like roots.  I gentle them out of their bags and put them on the counter next to rugged, curly-leafed kale, some broccoli, and a burgeoning bunch of red, red radishes.

They make a beautiful still life, the veggies I brought home from the CSA I signed up for this year.  And they challenge me:  what will I do with this bounty?

I am pulling my copy of Alice Waters’ The Art of Simple Food off the bookshelf when I get a strong sense of deja vu.  This reminds me, I think, of the time Loolie got herself roped into cooking for Thom.

We were staying at the lake for a couple of weeks that year; some friends back home had called and offered us their cottage if we were free when it was vacant. It was the summer after Mark finished law school; we were both exhilarated by his accomplishment and exhausted by the marathon that had led to it.  We were happy to say yes.

The cottage was a charming rickety place on a dirt lane that led to a gravel lane that led to the beach.  The three bedrooms were separated by partitions; the walls didn’t even reach the ceilings.  The wood floors were smooth and blond from years of bare feet and flip flops scrubbing sand into them.  The living room had old saggy furniture with canvas slip covers.  There was an oval 1950’s table, metal with a formica top, in the kitchen, and four chairs with cracking vinyl seats. There was a turquoise apartment-style electric range, an old round-topped refrigerator, a big old sink with runners built into the porcelain. There was no dishwasher and no air conditioning.

But there was an indoor shower and an outdoor shower.   The window screens let beautiful lake breezes flow through the house, and at night the shooshing of the waves lulled everyone off to sleep.  The first full day there, a Saturday, it poured, and I discovered just how pleasant reading on a screened-in porch, rain lashing all around me, could be.

On Sunday morning, at just about ten o’clock, Loolie and Kerri pulled up in their van.  We were lounging at the picnic table; I had been down to the beach for a walk, and the boyos were grilling steak and scrambling a cast-iron panful of  eggs on the charcoal-fired barbecue. The day was fresh-washed after the rain; the sun shone, and the air was cool and sweet.

Loolie hopped out and carefully lifted a brown paper bag from the passenger seat.  The back door slid open, and Kerri lowered herself down on the lift.  She deftly wheeled her chair across the bumpy lawn to where we were gathered, and Loolie followed more slowly.

“What’s in the bag?”  asked Mark, and Loolie grinned.

“What’s on the grill?”  she countered.

I went inside to grab a couple more settings.

We divvied up the steak and eggs and ate every morsel, and then Loolie pulled her offering out of the bag.  It was a strawberry rhubarb pie, and the rich, fruity smell wafted.

“Oh, my,” I said.  “That’s still warm from the oven.”

Mark was already in the cottage, rummaging for dessert plates and a serving spoon.  He came out with those and a half gallon of vanilla ice cream, a little soft from the ancient freezer.  We cut the pie; the juices oozed, the crust exploded flakily, and the ice cream, dolloped on each serving, melted into puddles.  It’s amazing what fresh air can do for one’s appetite–and one’s capacity. We ate, the five of us, the whole darned pie and all the ice cream.

I brought out an old plastic dish rack and piled all the dishes in it, and Jim took them over to the side of the house and hosed the whole lot down.  Loolie looked at me in surprise.

“I’ll wash them later,” I said, “but this way, they’re not so sticky.”

“Were those fresh berries?” Mark asked, and Kerri said they were.  She and her mom, she told him, had signed a Community-Supported Agriculture agreement with a family at the farmers’ market. It was like buying a share in the farm.  Every week, the family brought them a basket with a portion of whatever was ripe.  They had, Kerri said, been trying a lot of new things.

Jim, never one to indulge in veggie talk, slipped inside to find his laptop, and Loolie launched into a paean about the joys of her CSA and the creative challenge the interesting offerings presented.  And just at that moment, another car pulled up, a sparkling black SUV; the door opened and a fashionably shod leg appeared.

“Oh, lord,” muttered Loolie.

It was Weedy,–elegant, tailored Weedy.

She hadn’t always been so put together, our Weedy.  In fact, the etymology of her nickname came from her propensity for a certain substance, slightly illegal, during the aptly shrouded days of our high school careers.  But then she and her sweetheart, Tommie, had gone off to college together, and when they came back, the scruff was gone.  It was replaced by the gleam of ambition.

Tommie became Thom, and Weedy, who could not shed her nickname, began to insist it was derived from a younger sibling’s cute mispronunciation of her given name, Louisa.  Thom was a CPA with political aspirations; he was a city council member, and it was no secret he was biding his time for a mayoral run.  Weedy ran a local foundation and rode herd on their two children.  Nobody ever suggested Thom and Weedy’s son or daughter strayed over the line of legality; they were beautiful young teens, held rigidly in line.

That Sunday morning, Weedy emerged from her sleek machine with a bulging grocery sack and a woeful face.

“I am SO glad to see you girls!” she wailed.  “I need help!”

She came over and air-kissed everyone; after his obligatory buss, Mark decamped,  muttering about dishes and a walk on the beach.  He grabbed the dish rack and scarpered, chinking and clunking.

Weedy sighed and heaved her shoulders, and then she heaved her paper sack onto the picnic table.

“Look at THIS,” she said.

Out tumbled beautiful veggies, onions and spinach, broccoli and kale, tender leaves of lettuce. The greens and reds and pearly whites gleamed in the morning sun. It was beautiful.

We looked at the veggies, then we all turned to Weedy, not seeing the problem.

“My sister’s on vacation,” said Weedy, “and she had me pick up her weekly farm goods; she’s got one of those CSA things. And not only do I not know what to DO with this stuff, but I know Thom won’t eat a bite of it.” She put her hands on her hips; a bracelet jangled.  Her expensive linen shorts suit–what the well dressed matron wears to visit friends at the beach–was charmingly rumpled.

“I guess,” said Weedy, “I’ll just throw it all away.

Loolie choked.  “Throw it OUT!” she said.  “Those beautiful things!  Why, you can make wonderful meals with this.”

“Oh, I don’t think so, Lools,” said Weedy, sadly.  “I don’t have the culinary imagination that you have. And Thom calls all this field greens.  He says he’ll eat the cow but not the cow’s food.”

“I’ll tell you WHAT,” said Loolie, hotly. “I could make a meal out of this that THom would be glad to eat.  He’d eat it and ask for more, Weedy!”

Loolie started pronouncing the ‘h’ in Tommie’s name about the time he, as a young, eager school board member, opposed Loolie’s request for adaptive equipment on the school playground.  He’d made, Loolie’d told me, a pompous speech about understanding her request but having to be a wise steward on behalf of ALL the children.  Before things got too ugly, Weedy stepped in with a foundation grant, and the playground equipment was purchased. But Loolie had never forgiven Thom.

Weedy looked at her now, woebegone.  “I just don’t think you could, Loolie. There is no way Thom would ever eat a meal with these ingredients.”

“MOM,” said Kerri, warningly. But it didn’t help. Within moments, Weedy had left, the veggies had stayed, and Loolie had a commitment to cook a meal for Weedy, Thom, and their kids the next night–a meal, I should add, that would take place in the carport of our borrowed cottage.

It had all happened so fast. Kerri and I looked at each other, and then at the seductive veggies on the table; we avoided looking at Loolie.

A moment passed, and then there was a heavy sigh.

“Played me!” snorted Loolie.  “She played me like a cheap plywood violin!”

I studied my winter white toes, which peeped forlornly from my summer sandals.

“Oh, well,” said Loolie, finally.  “I can still make my point.”

Kerri and I looked up at the same time, met eyes, and grinned.

“I’ll be in charge of decorations, Mom,” said Kerri.  “We’ll wow ’em with food AND ambiance.”

Loolie made me get a pad and pen from the house, and we started making our plan.

*****

The challenge of the project kicked in; by Monday evening, we were ready.  Loolie had organized us, organized the menu, organized the work.  We had shopped and prepped; we had scrubbed and swept; and we had floated like hungry cartoons on the amazing smells emanating from pot and pan and casserole.

At 6:30 precisely, the black SUV smoothed to a stop in the cottage’s driveway, and Weedy and Thom and their children, Lisa and Todd, emerged.  Kerri ushered everyone into the carport. Its walls were draped artistically with drop cloths; an old, dumpster-dove chandelier was wrapped with fairy lights and suspended from the ceiling.  Two banquet tables were draped with old white sheets, and mason jars full of wild flowers served as centerpieces.

“Oh, it’s beautiful,” whispered Lisa, and I saw Loolie rigid jaw soften.

“THIS,” she said, “is all Kerri.”

Her daughter bowed her head, graciously.

Then Jim and Mark emerged with trays of appetizers, spinach and cheese in puff pastry triangles, a tray of raw veggies and a hot spinach dip, some cheese and crackers.  People grabbed drinks from the old tin wash tub we’d found in the tall grass; it was scrubbed within an inch of its metallic life and filled with ice.  The sounds of chooching screw tops and fwapping tabs was heard, and people organized themselves into seats.

And the dinner began.  Loolie started us with a salad beautifully presented in her gleaming wooden salad bowl; spinach and kale and tender young lettuce, drenched in a  sweet and sour sauce, augmented with bacon and slices of hard-boiled egg. Thom cleared his plate, scrapingly, and asked for seconds.  Weedy raised an eyebrow at Loolie.

Round two was a savory French onion soup, bubbling cheese covering crusty chunks of baguette from the local bakery.  The fresh, sweet onions all but melted into the homemade broth.  Thom scraped the last of the cheese with his spoon, and picked up the bowl to down every last bit of broth.

And then came the lasagna, layers of kale and spinach sandwiched with mozzarella, ricotta, and fresh Italian sausage and tender pasta, the red sauce made with tomatoes Loolie had canned herself.  Silence descended as people ate. And ate. And ate. The huge casserole emptied in stop-watch motion, and everyone sat back and groaned.

The silence lengthened just a little, and then Thom said, “Loolie.  All of you. THAT was amazing.”

As if at a signal, people started moving and talking.  Weedy grabbed Loolie and asked about recipes.  Todd and Lisa went inside with Jim to play video games. Thom pulled up a chair next to Kerri’s and soon they were deep in conversation, heads bent close together.  Mark and I looked at each other, sighed, and began to gather up the dishes. We needed to move.

We filled a couple of basins with the dirty dishes, gave them the hose routine, and lugged them in the house, filling and refilling the old sink with soapy water.  He washed; I dried. We listened to the kids, who were having a good time; their voices rose and eddied into a kind of happy melody.

We watched the four outside, nervously.

“Everyone seems to be being very civil,” said Mark hopefully.

We stacked the last cleaned dish on the drainer and loaded up the tray with dessert plates.  There was a basket of flaky homemade biscuits, a big bowl of fresh strawberries swimming in their own sugary syrup, and a dish of snowy whipped cream sitting on ice.  We called the kids. They groaned a little, but they saved their game and gamely followed us out.

Loolie and Weedy had joined Thom and Kerri at the table.  They looked up as we emerged.

THom,” said Loolie, “has just invited Kerri to be part of the city’s playground planning committee. He wants to be sure the plans work for kids in wheelchairs.”

“Do you think,” Thom said, quietly, “we could go back to Tommie, Lools?  And you could maybe forget that I was a horse’s ass all those years ago?”

There was a tiny moment where sentiment threatened; I could hear the music begin to swell.  Then Mark said, “STRAWBERRY SHORTCAKE!” and slammed his tray down on the table, and serving spoons appeared, and people who claimed they couldn’t eat one more bite not thirty minutes ago were heaping their plates.

The men built a fire; the kids headed down to the beach, Kerri’s wheels crunching on the gravel. Weedy and Thom insisted on taking care of dessert dishes.  And then we sat around the fire, completely replete, and we talked and laughed without any stiffness or reservation.  It was lovely, and Tommie and Weedy stayed until after midnight, when they dragged their sleepy kids home.

Jim excused himself to head to bed, and Mark and Loolie and Kerri and I sat around the fire, sweatshirts on against the cool lake breezes, watching the embers sigh and open, neon against the smoky ash. Oh, it was quiet.  I thought about friendship and rifts and what it takes for healing to take place.

“That was something, wasn’t it?” I said thoughtfully.

“Yeah,” said Loolie. “It really was, wasn’t it?” I saw her grin in the glow of the dying fire.

“Yep,” she said. “He ate every bit of the cow food I served him.  I told Weedy. I told her.”

Kerri grinned and started humming, channeling Marvin Gaye.  Then her sweet voice soared into the night:

When I get that FEELing I need VEGETABLE healing.  Vegetable: whooaah Oh! It’s been GOOD for ME!

Loolie picked it up, and I joined in, too. We three women harmonized, Mark beating rhythm on the washtub, until we heard a nearby window scrape open and a neighbor’s irritated cough.

*****

Healing powers, indeed, I think now. The memories make me grin. And they send me to my recipe notebook, to pull out the ‘Farmer’s Lasagna’ recipe written in Loolie’s bold scrawl. I’m humming as I work, and I bet you can guess the tune.

We will eat well tonight.