Be Nice

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Nice kids from SF’s Mission H.S., eating at T-lish

Tacolicious, our kids’ restaurant, has a new company mission statement – which has been enhanced in a way that only Joe, our son-in-law, could do it.  But I can restate it simply – and family-friendly – as “Be Nice.”

“Nice” is such a plain word.  I’m sure my CC English professors would have winced if we’d used it in our writing.  But I’m thinking that simple – or plain – or basic – is sometimes all we need.   For example, “You can do it!”  Those were words of encouragement shouted to the bicyclists at the beginning of Andy’s famous Tour de Friends bicycle ride.  Even better for this blog, one of the cyclists reminded everyone to “Be nice” (see today’s Andy’s Corner for more).

One simple line that gets me teary every time I read it is the dedication in our daughter Sara’s first cookbook,  Asian Vegetables.

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“to Mom, of course”

Or maybe it’s ending each phone conversation with “love you.”  Our grandsons routinely say it as they hang up (obviously from their cell phones), and I love it.  I’ve read that the Scandinavians are famous for being uneffusive, so that may explain why my Swedish mother was not known for lots of “I love you’s,” though those were the final words we exchanged when I visited her the last time at the Fort Collins hospital.

“Peace” is another beautiful word, considerably more eloquent in its monosyllable-ism than “nice.”  Go in peace, my friend.

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But back to “nice.”   When Andy and I are eating out,  we’re total suckers if the waitstaff is attentive, happy, polite, kind, considerate – i.e. nice (NICE!).  Even if the food is just good, we’re still happy campers.

Want to have a nice dinner party?  Of course you’ll be nice to your guests, so I want to focus on how you can entertain – and be nice to yourself.  Sure you can bring food in, but guests really love home-cooking (it’s so “yesterday!”)

Give up the notion that you have to always prepare an appetizer and a salad and a vegetable and a main dish and a dessert, if company’s coming.  And by all means, avoid picking a menu which requires you to do a lot of stuff at the last minute.  Most of us will be so worn out at the mere thought of all that work that we’ll forgo entertaining altogether – or be too frazzled to enjoy the occasion.

Here’s what I recommend for a height-of-the-summer super simple dinner party:

#1: buy good cheese – and delicious crackers.  That’s your appetizer.

#2: make the main dish a one-dish stand and something that can be done hours ahead of time.

#3: bake a really simple summery dessert (recipe follows) and buy the most wonderful gelato or ice cream you can find to go with it (here in Sonoma County I’d pick Fiorello’s).  It’s all so do-able – and so so SO nice.  Have a good one.

My quick and easy summer meal for 4:

Appetizer – Simple Feta Cheese: about a 7 oz block of feta cheese (enough for 4-6) cut into bite-size cubes, drizzled with lemon juice, then olive oil and sprinkled with a bit of dried oregano and a pinch of red chile flakes – if you like spice.  Serve it with lentil or pita chips – and maybe some Greek olives along side.  This simply-marinated feta will improve in flavor if it sits for a while before serving; what more could you want – and easy peasy!

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Feta cheese appetizer

 

One-dish main dish – Easy Lamb and Lentils with Pita Bread

Dessert – Marion Cunningham’s Fruit Crisp – with ice cream or gelato, optional but delicious

(another meal idea could be something retro and fun – and very very easy:  Triscuits with Yellow Cheddar Cheese,  Sloppy Joes served with iceberg lettuce topped with Blue Cheese Dressing  and Katharine Hepburn Brownies – and ice cream – for dessert.)

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Lagniappe: Lawn Mowing and WC Breakfasts

A follow-up to the World of 1950’s grilling and lawn mowing – as mentioned in last week’s blog –  and to World Cup soccer:  a picture is worth a thousand words and an addendum to our World Cup Soccer predictions!

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Raise your hand if you used to get the Saturday Evening Post.  How we women and girls were duped by an ad like this!  Circa 1955.

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My first lawnmower.  My dad convinced me it would be fun to drive this Craftsman around.  Right.

And now about the World Cup: I was all ready to recommend favorite brunch recipes for a Belgium vs England final.   I would have said fix a Belgian gaufre de liège Waffle (a recipe from Smitten Kitchen’s blog – one of my most favorites) and a “stress free” recipe from the BBC for a full English breakfast.

Now we’re dealing with France vs Croatia, and I’ll be damned if I can think of a fun brunch recipe from Croatia.  I still recommend Chouquettes and French Toast, if you’re rooting for France.  If Croatia is your team, how about grilled oysters?  When Andy did research at LSU he studied the oyster harvesters in South Louisiana – and many were Croatian.  He laughed because someone said that if a fisherman’s name ended with the sound “itch” they were Croatian.  This was expected to be the starting line-up for Croatia vs England.  Lots and lots of “ic’s” (pronounced like itch):

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But for heaven’s sake don’t serve juice with your brunch!  Be sure to read the article – as well as some of the interesting comments – on why many experts say we should avoid that standard breakfast offering.  We recommend fresh fruit and yogurt instead.

And one final soccer-related note.  After we all breathed a universal sigh of relief that the young Thai soccer team had been successfully rescued from the cave, I read an article about the boys which said that what they really craved was spicy basil pork and rice.  Sounds delicious to me too – and here’s a quick and easy Thai recipe for that from a great blog – the Woks of Life.

You Go Girl. Grill.

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Grandma D going on a walk, apparently leaving their Schnauzer, Rocky, behind.  Love those bell bottom pants.

Seeing this photo has Andy thinking about dogs – and 1950s radio programs.  The photo makes me think of Andy’s mom.

“You go girl!”  I heard that often from my mother-in-law, Grandma D.  In addition to be about as kind and gentle as anyone could be, Grandma D was in there rooting for her girls when we needed it.   Adjusting to motherhood?  “You go girl!” Starting a new job?  “You go girl!”  Preparing for the empty nest?  “You go girl!” Tackling a complex recipe?  “You go girl!”  I’m sort of smug in thinking there wasn’t a comparable expression she used for the guys in the family.

I need her little push right now.  Grilling has always been, is, and probably forever more shall be the province of the man in this household, Andy.  But I consider myself a feminist and think that I should be able to do most anything.  So I decided to see what it’s like to grill, rather than bake or roast or saute.

Of course, first I had to try to figure out WHY Andy and I clearly agreed on this division of labor – years ago.  An article from Forbes offered up some plausible theories.  Especially interesting is the idea that 1950s suburbanization caused it: all of a sudden, after a move to the suburbs, men had to figure out what to do with their spare time and in their backyards.  So they started to mow the lawns and grill.  Mind you, I don’t believe my dad, a father in the 1950s, ever grilled, but we didn’t live in suburbia either; plus he was more than happy to have me mow our enormous lawn.

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According to Michael Pollan, in a 2009 NYTimes article, the only kind of cooking that is on the rise in the U.S. is grilling, and it’s being treated as a weekend sport, not as something that puts home-cooked food on our tables every day.  And, as weekend sport, it still tends to be men who grill, though the invention of the gas grill has apparently encouraged more women to find grilling approachable.    Mmmmmm.  Sounds chauvinistic to me.  My I-can-do-anything side makes me want to go build a big hunky wood fire and grill a huge bloody slab of meat, defying any stereotype.

But I’m scaling back (or chickening out?? :).  Andy showed me how to turn on our relatively-new petite gas grill.  And he showed me how to turn it off.  And how to hold my hand over the grill to see if it is hot enough (which, I might add,  I already knew!).  I’m not interested in learning how to clean it.  Or how to do a huge bloody slab of meat on it.  But I am willing to try some simple little grilled appetizers.

You go girl.  Grill. Continue reading

Guest Blog – Lazy Man Cooks

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Today’s Guest Blogger is MountainWestBob!

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We couldn’t agree more with the “Old’s Cool!”

Andy’s Introduction to Bob:

Ann and I met Bob and his wife Gayle when I was in grad school back in the dark ages,  i.e., when research was done with Fortran and punch cards.  Our connection actually goes beyond being grad school buddies. It turns out that Gayle was the OB nurse on duty at Poudre Valley Hospital when our daughter Sara was born; Gayle introduced Ann to the world of newborn babies… something we really needed at that time.   Bob left grad school for Pinkerton, and because stage coach robberies were only in movies by then, his work was largely in industrial security.   The great stories he shared with me about uncovering employee theft in various industries provided wonderful examples over the years for my deviant behavior and criminology courses.  So after all of these years it was very special that Bob agreed to be a guest blogger  (following some arm twisting I must admit).

Now here’s Bob’s Introduction:

We’ve just marked 15 years of retirement. Some know more of the details, such as how we met 52 winters ago because we’d both cut the same class at the U of MN due to extreme cold (minus 30 or more) on a Monday, and how 6 weeks later, on a Saturday afternoon, I observed that “Since we do this so well together, we should get married” and Gayle responded, “OK.”

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Bob & Gayle – still together more than 50 years after that bitter cold Minnesota day

I failed in grad school due to an acquired inability to understand articles in sociology journals. Joined the old Pinkerton’s, Inc. folks and made a career out of industrial security. Everything from the home and offices of a Cabinet official, corporate headquarters, and colleges, to major slaughterhouses received the benefit of my steely gaze and wisdom.

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Allan Pinkerton’s steely gaze circa 1850.

New Mexico is our 7th state since marriage. Gayle followed along as school and work took me on a trek from Minnesota to Colorado, Nebraska, Indiana, Illinois, and New Jersey. That made the retirement location hers to determine. We bought a motor home and visited (or at least drove through) 40 states before discovering the moderate climate, captivating culture, and enchanting geology of New Mexico; living in a minority Anglo state is good! And, good for us.

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The New Mexico flag salutation: “I salute….the Zia symbol of perfect friendship among united cultures.”

Gayle is mostly-retired as a critical care nurse, having first earned a nursing diploma, and later her BSN and MA degrees.

We’ve traveled during these years, volunteered a bunch, and use the local Y to good effect.

[We asked Bob to tell us a little about how and why he got into cooking]

What drives my cooking, besides thinking that often it’s the only way I’m going to get fed?

In my natal family, we each had to learn how to do everything. Laundry, sewing to repair clothes (darning socks, securing rips and tears, replacing buttons), cleaning house, and… cooking. Plus, of course, house repair, some plumbing, electrical repairs, construction, and basic gardening. It was a broad “domestic education.”

waffle iron

By second grade, I was coming home to an empty house at lunch time and had to fend for myself. My most dramatic lunch involved a decision to make waffles… I found the waffle-iron and plugged it in, got the recipe book and ingredients out and was ready. Except that I had a question. So, I dialed 411 for information, explained my predicament to the operator and asked whether I was to use a teaspoon or a tablespoon of one ingredient. She responded by explaining that if the instruction used a capital letter “T” it required a tablespoon. I thanked her, made excellent waffles, cleaned everything up and returned to school on time! We had little money, and – if memory serves – I made a batch of mapleine syrup (from a powder, mixed with water and heated on the stove – Log Cabin was a sometime-luxury.)

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By the time I was 14 or 15 my parents had moved us to another house and we were renting the first place out to students. Girls. I was often there doing chores, and heard the girls kvetching about their poor cooking skills and resulting lackluster dinners. I offered to make them something nice. They accepted, and we chose a day. I prepared a nice baked chicken dish similar to a cacciatore, except it was baked with milk and or cream, probably half-and-half – my memory is a bit faded. The five girls were delighted.

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Bob back when he met Gayle

Gayle and I share nearly all chores, though we each have specialties (I do any necessary trimming and spraying outdoors, she does everything connected with potted plants). We share cooking and cleaning up. Both of us have a plate-full of volunteer, exercise, and reading activities, and neither one of us wants to make the kitchen a focus of our energies. Here, too, we share, but with specialties. I do very nearly everything concerning the grill (almost all meat and many veggies are grilled), and Gayle does the same regarding our functional salads*. We focus on the goal of tasty and nutritious dishes, with easy preparation and clean-up.

*A functional salad involves real veggies and little lettuce (Editor’s note: see our blog about holding back on lettuce here).  Spinach, onion, sweet peppers, zucchini, and tomatoes combine with others as may be available, and often obviate any “need” for a separate cooked veggie on the plate. Throw chunks of grilled chicken atop one of these salads and a healthy and hearty one-dish meal is created. Continue reading

Catering to the World Cup

 

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Each year we plan a visit to Brooklyn to see our son, Travis.  When we suggested that this year June was a good time for us, we got a most definitive, unwavering response: “well, you really can’t come after June 14, because that’s when The World Cup begins and I’ll be too busy watching it.”

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Guess what team we’ll be rooting for

Travis has been to several World Cups – Brazil in 2014, Germany in 2006, the U.S. in 1994.  In 1990 he watched the World Cup on television in Germany, as they defeated Argentina in Italy.  Travis and Andy were in Amsterdam in 2010 to watch the World Cup being hosted in South Africa (clearly, that’s a long story – which Andy addresses in today’s Andy’s Corner).  However, not surprisingly, the lure of a trip to Russia to watch the 2018 World Cup was not great, especially since the U.S. – for the first time in 32 years – will not be a part of the competition.

Soccer (football, if you’re British, fútbol, if you’re from Mexico) has always been high on our family’s “to-do” list.  I even played one game of soccer once with a bunch of slightly-older women and think I could have been a high school star had soccer been a sport either girls or guys played back in my Fort Collins High School days.

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Sara got to play soccer, even if I didn’t.  Andy’s selection of the “Sparklers” team name has been referenced in the Deseran family history under “Bad Choices We Have Made!”

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Travis and the Baton Rouge Tigers soccer team – circa 1979; intimidating-looking group, no?

We never want to be political on this blog (HA!  Of course, we WANT to be political, but we try not to be).  Even though our DNA says we should be supporting Sweden (me) and England (Andy), we’ll be rooting for Mexico all the way.  But the odds are against them.  Soccerbot – whatever that is – says that Germany is predicted to win, with Brazil and France being strong contenders.

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The first WC game we’ll be (anxiously) watching is a big one: Germany vs Mexico, June 17, at 8 am our time.  The final game of this year’s World Cup will be played in Moscow on Sunday, July 15, also at 8 am Pacific time, 11 am in Brooklyn.  Since those of us in the U.S. will have to watch these games during breakfast – or brunch, we’re offering up suggestions for your Breakfast of Champions World Cup/Copa Mundial Get-together.

We’ve got celebratory recipes to cover all possibilities:  Mexico, Germany, Brazil, France….unless, of course, it’s a total upset.

Beverages

France: Kir (a glass of chilled sparkling wine with 2 tsp of chilled Creme de Cassis mixed in)

Mexico: Michelada (see recipe below)  and Jugo Verde

Brazil: Peets “Brazil Minas Naturais” Coffee

Germany – Sierra Nevada Kellerweis Hefeweizen beer

Little Bites

France: Chouquettes (pastry puffs) – see recipe below

Brazil:  Pão de Queijo (cheese bread) – see recipe below

Main Breakfast Dishes

Germany: Apfelpfannkuchen – German Apple Pancakes  (make the batter ahead of the game – even the evening before and then refrigerate – omit the apples, if you wish,  and pop it in the hot oven about 1/2 hour before you want to eat)

Mexico: Super Simple Molletes  – Mexican Toasted Cheese Sandwich with Lazy Day Salsa (make the salsa a day ahead; have the molletes all put together before the game – and then toast them when you’re ready to eat)

Fruit

A World Cup Fruit Combo: apples to honor Germany, strawberries for France, pineapple for Brazil and jicama for Mexico.  A dab of sweetened yogurt on top, preferably Noosa “Honey” yogurt, made in Fort Collins, Colorado!   Cut up the fruit the day before the game and add a squeeze of lime juice.

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