Resurrecting the Kitchen Table

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Our vintage oak kitchen table and 4 matching chairs – all in great shape – are for sale on CraigsList.  The set has been up on that site for weeks.  It’s not expensive – yet no one seems to want it.

Our table is just the right size for a family of four.  If you want an intimate little dinner party, you can add the two leaves and comfortably seat eight.

The fact that no one seems to want the set makes me a little sad – or maybe nostalgic.  Nostalgic for by-gone times when families would need that table to all sit down for dinner and maybe even for breakfast.  And the family would talk and the family would listen.  And they would enjoy home-cooked food.  And I get nostalgic remembering casual little dinner parties while acknowledging how infrequent they are now.

Andy too gets nostalgic when he thinks back to his childhood days around his family’s kitchen table, but his nostalgia isn’t always about the food.

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Joy Harjo, Poet Laureate of the U.S.

The current Poet Laureate of the United States, Joy Harjo, the first Native American to hold that position, wrote a poem about kitchen tables back in 1994.  I wonder if she would write the same thoughts today.

Joy Harjo Poem Box

I hope Harjo’s lovely poem inspires you to sit longer at the table.

P.S:  At the same time as I was writing this blog, the table finally sold.  The new owners have 5-year-old twins.  We so hope the table will be a spot where they learn “what it means to be human,” that it will be “a house in the rain,” and that they enjoy “the gifts of earth” at it.

And here’s a simple family-pleasing home-cooked meal for 4-8 at that special spot.  It will give the cooks ample time and energy to enjoy their food –  and to visit.

Baked Penne and Maybe Sausage Pasta

Add some spinach to it, as suggested in the recipe notes.  Substitute mushrooms and zucchini for the sausage if you want to go meatless.  Both elders and young’uns will love it.

Greek (or Maybe Italian) Chopped Salad

You can make this super-quick by omitting a couple of ingredients.  No red bell pepper? Too lazy to dice celery?  Don’t like parsley?  Omit them all – and it will still be a great salad.

Super Simple Shortbread

Instead of serving the shortbread with fresh fruit – if there’s no great fruit to be had, try this Orange Curd recipe from my Baton Rouge friend Katie.  It’s SOoooooo good.

 

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Orange Curd – aka Orange Butter Filling – used as a filling and frosting for a cake

Orange Curd

This comes from an old Softasilk recipe – and was called Orange Butter Filling – after all, “curd” isn’t a real appealing word.  So don’t hesitate to fill and frost a layer cake with it, as well as use it as a sauce for shortbread and/or with strawberries.

  • 1 c sugar
  • 4 1/2 T cornstarch
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 c freshly-squeezed orange juice
  • 1/2 c water
  • 4 beaten egg yolks
  • 1/2 c butter
  • 1 T grated orange rind

Mix the sugar, cornstarch and salt in a saucepan.  Stir in the orange juice and water.  Bring to a boil over low heat, stirring constantly.  Remove from heat.   Very (very) gradually stir half of the hot mixture into the beaten egg yolks.  Then add the remaining hot mixture.   Boil everything 1 minute, stirring constantly.  Remove from the heat and whisk in the butter and orange rind.  Cool.

Stored in the refrigerator, the curd will keep for at least a week.

Recipe brought to you by BigLittleMeals.com and Andy and Ann.

 

Chewy

When I see the name Mary Roach, I have trouble not confusing her with Terre (pronounced Terry) Roche of the Roche Sisters.  In the ’80’s in Baton Rouge we’d sing along to “We are Maggie and Terre and Suzzy” as that song from their album “The Roches” blasted from our Vietnam-era g-normous speakers.  Our kids are still mortified about the lip-sync we encouraged them to perform to “The Death of Suzzy Roach” at a church function. Unitarians are such open-minded people! 🙂

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But today I’m more interested in Mary Roach.

Amongst Roach’s always-fascinating book titles (Stiff, Bonk, Spook) is Gulp, written in 2013 about human’s gastrointestinal tracts – or – as Roach refers to it – the alimentary canal.  An excerpt from the book published in the NYTimes talks – colorfully – about the specifics of chewing and swallowing.

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Elsewhere in her book Roach describes the (quirky? quacky?) beliefs of Horace Fletcher, aka The Great Masticator.  Fletcher, who died in 1919, preached that chewing…and chewing…and chewing was necessary for good health.  He believed that his mastication system (chewing at least 100 times before swallowing) could cure alcoholism, anemia, appendicitis, colitis, and insanity.  He also had some interesting thoughts on excrement, but we won’t go there. Look it up yourself 🙂

“Nature will castigate those who don’t masticate” is a Fletcher quote.

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Mmmmm.  How to become young at 60 sounds like a must-read to me…though it’s post-facto.

Even if Fletcher’s chewing notions seem a bit much, there is clear evidence that chewing has many positives.

In this WebMD article – Chewing your Way to Healthier Eating – the author writes:

Believe it or not, the simple act of chewing can reduce your calorie intake. It works by increasing the satisfaction you get from meals, thus helping to tide you over between meals.

Having to chew a lot may also indicate you’re not eating an ultra-processed food, and that’s clearly something to avoid.  According to an NPR report – People ate much faster — both in terms of grams per minute and calories per minute — on the ultra-processed diet. Hall says it might be that, because the ultra-processed foods tended to be softer and easier to chew, people devoured them more quickly, so they didn’t give their gastrointestinal tracts enough time to signal to their brains that they were full and ended up overeating.

Which all brings me to yesterday’s lunch at Friedman’s Home Improvement Store in Sonoma.  I had a hot dog.  It’s the first hot dog I’ve had in probably 3 years.  It was so incredibly soft.  Soft squishy white bun; soft, borderline-mushy hot dog;  juicy, soft, plastic-packaged cooked relish.

I didn’t exactly savor it – but I ate it quickly – and Andy and I were off to do our plant-shopping in Friedman’s nursery.

(An aside:  in Gulp, Mary Roach says hot dogs make the top 3 in the list of “killer foods” – those most often associated with choking to death.  I definitely would have chewed longer and harder had I known that yesterday.)

(Another aside: in Andy’s Corner Andy explains why he can’t see a hotdog without thinking of Ignatius Riley from A Confederacy of Dunces.)

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Mary Roach warns us

In the same way that a dark, silent room will eventually drive you to hallucinate, the mind rebels against bland, single-texture foods, edibles that do not engage the oral device.

But – thanks to my neighbor and Bestie, Deb, I’ve got a wonderfully crunchy, chewy granola recipe to share.  It’s not too sweet – as so many store-bought granolas are.   And it will most definitely engage your oral device.

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Deb’s Granola (ready to serve with plain Greek yogurt and fresh peaches.  Yum!)

Deb's Granola

I adapted this ever-so-slightly from my neighbor Deb.

  • 5 c rolled oats (not instant)
  • 4 c chopped nuts and seeds (suggested: sunflower seeds, pecans, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, slivered almonds, flax seeds, cashews)
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 3/4 c honey, warmed
  • 1/4 c vegetable oil
  • 1 c raisins (optional)
  • 1/2 c unsweetened flaked coconut

Mix the oats, nuts and seeds, and salt in a large bowl. Add the honey and oil and mix well.

Spread the mixture on ungreased cookie sheets and bake at 325 degrees for 30-40 minutes, stirring occasionally – until the entire batch is golden brown.

Allow the mixture to cool, stirring from time to time.  When it is almost cool, add the raisins and unsweetened coconut and mix well.

The granola keeps well stored in an airtight container in a cool place and may also be frozen.

Recipe brought to you by Deb and BigLittleMeals.com and Andy and Ann.

 

Dissecting: a Poem and the Blog

While Andy has been busy this week thinking about being a blogger (see Andy’s Corner), my thoughts have been more focused on the poetic side of things.

Do English professors still ask you to “explicate” poems?  That term strikes terror in my heart, even 50+ years after the fact.  A quick internet search reveals that “dissect” is often used in today’s poetry line-by-line analysis – in which usually-yawning students are forced to participate.

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There’s lots of advice out there about better ways of inspiring students (or maybe even us adults?) to read and write poetry.  On Poets.org there are some especially quirky examples of approaches:

  • post poems in faculty bathroom stalls.
  • create an elegy based upon a NYTimes obituary.
  • at residential facilities for juvenile offenders have a guest poet read a poem in the morning and “at bedtime each night.”
  • gather poems to dedicate to a special person “with personal comments about that poem directed to that person.” (my mind is going crazy thinking of all the possibilities! 🙂
  • go around the community and hand out business cards with poems typed on them.
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What poems might faculty members write here?

What got me started on all of this?  Well, I wanted to blog about tomatoes and I wanted a poem to include.  A quick search of the internet came up with a Louise Gluck poem.  For those of you who don’t focus on the poetry scene, an article in The Los Angeles Review of Books had this to say about Louise Gluck, who is in her 70’s – about my age,

Glück is as important and influential a poet as we have in America, a tagline whose strangeness deepens the more one reads her. She has won every major award; she served as Poet Laureate (how incongruous to think of this bleak, private poet in such a smiling, public role). Her work is an occasion for something like rapture among her admirers. 

I think Gluck’s poem about tomatoes may be brilliant, but I’m not sure.  No matter how hard I try, I’m not certain I understand the last few lines – as I “explicate” the poem in my I’m-no-English-professor manner.  Why does she talk about “the red leaves of the maple falling” when it’s a poem about tomatoes? Are the “vines” she mentions tomato vines?  Or is that another aside, like the maple reference?  Is she saying that the Divine doesn’t have a heart (which actually is kind of interesting to contemplate)?

“Louise Glück: The Ardent Understatement of Postconfessional Classicism” is a must-read for those of you who want to delve more deeply into explication.  It’s a chapter in this U of Missouri Press book.

But first read Gluck’s tomato poem “Vespers”:

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A Black Krim tomato plant in our garden

 

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A tomato hornworm which WAS in our garden.  Someone said that if you fry them they taste like fried green tomatoes.  Want to give it a try and report back?  Be sure to wash them first.

If your tomatoes haven’t been destroyed by the tomato hornworm or succumbed to a fungus with black spot or blight or whatever the heck is wrong with our Black Krim, here are a couple of great recipes, using tomatoes fresh off the vine.

Continue reading

Revisiting Jerusalem

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We’re revisiting Jerusalem – the cookbook – today; and we’ve got a little glimpse of the city.  Andy in Andy’s Corner is revisiting Jerusalem crickets.

I’d been struggling to know what direction I wanted to go with this blog.  Should I focus on Jerusalem, the Cookbook, which I blogged about almost 2 years ago and which was the source of the recipes we all enjoyed at our last Dining In?  Or should I write about Jerusalem, the city?  I’ve never been there so I could hardly give any insight or perspective into such a complex, fascinating place.

But then I found an online site (do we love Google or not? 🙂 and the blog came together in a nano-second.  In a recent blog I wrote about friendships among women of different generations.  And Jerusalem could/should be all about friendships among people of different faiths and ethnicities.  Just a year ago around 800 people gathered at midnight in Jerusalem to sing Bob Marley’s “One Love” in English, Hebrew, and Arabic.   That occasion and Marley’s lyrics are so perfect for today’s world.

One love, one heart
Let’s get together and feel all right

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The cheat sheet for the participants in the Jerusalem song fest.

As I mentioned earlier, Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi, who are the authors of Jerusalem, a Cookbook, both grew up in Jerusalem, Ottolenghi in the Jewish west and Tamimi in the Muslim east.  They believe food may be the only thing that can bring the city together.  I’d suggest food – and song (and maybe divine intervention).

Here’s our menu based on Jerusalem, a Cookbook.  Why don’t you invite a diverse bunch of friends for dinner and have everyone bring a dish to share.  Then crank up the volume on your speakers, put on Marley’s “One Love.”  You could follow that up with Simon and Garfunkle’s 1964 hit “Last Night I had the Strangest Dream” and John Lennon’s “Imagine.”   Or take a different approach: for our dinner party I had a playlist of songs with familiar artists, selected because all of the songs had Jerusalem in the title.

Some of what we heard included…

(An aside:  one of the greatest things about doing this blog is that it’s forcing us to learn or re-learn “stuff.”   I just sat down and paid more attention to the lyrics of “Jerusalem” as written and sung by Steve Earle.  The song fits this blog theme and this day and time so beautifully and poignantly.  In an interview Earle stated, “I believe that our future, our existence as a species, will be determined in Jerusalem.”  Interesting to contemplate.)

Should you have a Sonos system and would like the complete Jerusalem playlist, just let me know! 🙂

Who were those diverse guests at our dinner?  Former competitive speedskaters, New Jersey to California transplants, and wildlife rescue experts.

And what did we dine on?  Here’s the menu and the recipes follow:

  • Hummus  served with pita chips and veggies
  • Zucchini and Turkey Mini Meatballs
  • Conchiglie with Yogurt and Peas and Chile
  • Beet and Carrot Slaw
  • Spiced Chickpeas and Summer Veggie Salad
  • Orange and Almond Syrup Cake

“Let’s get together and feel all right!” Continue reading

The Fleabag Dinner Party

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Phoebe Waller-Bridge as Fleabag

I’ll admit it.  I’m a little uncomfortable in proclaiming that I think the British series Fleabag – with the amazing writer/actress, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, is the best thing since sliced white bread.  Andy, on the other hand, may prefer sliced bread.  🙂  (I’m kidding, of course; he prefers his bread whole grain and not sliced.  See this 2017 Andy’s Corner blog.)

Why am I uncomfortable?  Well, if you haven’t seen it – and you watch the first scene of Series 1, Episode 1 – and you’re anywhere near my age, you’ll immediately understand.

Why is Fleabag the best thing since sliced white bread?  It’s so damn clever; it makes you laugh and cry and hurry through dinner to watch more.

And that dinner scene that begins Series 2.  Since we’ve been pushing dinner get-togethers for the past year on BigLittleMeals, I think this is the perfect scene to watch to counter-balance our enthusiasm!  The dinner party from hell.  IndieWire.com has a whole article about that dinner.  Nasty brother-in-law, spacey father, evil step-mother-to-be, morose sister.  But then there’s the priest.  Sigh. 🙂

Andy and I also loved Series 1 of “Killing Eve,” written by Waller-Bridge.  That’s also a little embarrassing to admit, since the violence is almost un-watchable.  But wow, the actress Jodie Comer is something else.

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Jodie Comer as Villanelle in Killing Eve

It’s sad to think there will be no more seasons of Fleabag (or is it “TeaBag?” See today’s revealing Andy’s Corner), but I’m impressed that Waller-Bridge seems to know when a good thing should end – rather than drag on and on like so many TV series seem to do.

And now for today’s recipe, because we always try to remember that we started this as a food blog!

If you’ve already watched Fleabag, you may remember Fleabag’s grim sister and the “sauce” scene at the dinner party.  She scowls and announces to the family that the sauce she’s been served is “disgusting” but then turns to the overly-enthusiastic waitress and, smiling, proclaims “it’s delicious!”

We have a recipe for a quirky (not unlike Fleabag) sauce that you won’t find disgusting.  It’s absolutely delicious – and easy and versatile.  Use it on a green salad as a dressing or as a dip with chips or add a little miso and use it as a sauce for grilled fish.  Think up your own other ways.  Be as creative as Phoebe Waller-Bridge!

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Quirky Carrot-Ginger Sauce/Dip/Dressing

 

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Santa Rosa Farmers’ Market carrots – perfect for this dippy sauce

 

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Carrot Ginger Dressing on a green salad

Here are a few others of our favorite quirky, go-many-ways saucy dips for all you saucy folks:

Carrot-Ginger Sauce/Dip/Dressing

I’ve never been to a Japanese-American Steakhouse.  But if YOU have, you may have encountered this type of carrot dressing.  That’s where it apparently originated; this is slightly adapted from an old Gourmet recipe.  We recommend using the best carrots you can find – and most definitely NOT the little peeled ones that come in plastic bags!

  • 1/2 lb carrots, peeled and cut into 2″ pieces
  • 1 1/2 tsp grated ginger
  • 1/4 c chopped shallots
  • 1/4 c seasoned rice vinegar
  • 1 T soy sauce
  • 1 T toasted sesame oil
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/2 c vegetable oil (I use peanut oil)
  • up to 1/4 c water – to get desired consistency

Pulse the carrots in a food processor until finely ground.  Add the ginger, shallots, rice vinegar, soy sauce, sesame oil, and salt and pulse until everything is minced.  Add the vegetable oil in a slow stream and process until the sauce is almost smooth. If you have a fancy blender, you can use it to get the sauce even smoother than the processor will do.

Recipe brought to you by BigLittleMeals.com and Andy and Ann.

 

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