Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Sandwich!

Once upon a time, in another life, I worked outside of Chicago. A new job as customer service manager for a small air freight forwarder down the road from United Airlines' headquarters was a bit scary. The proximity to United wasn't at all frightening. In fact, it came in handy at times. I was getting a divorce. That was scary. A new job, a new life, a young daughter, and a 32-pound cat to care for jangled my nerves. As often is the case, fear was not truth. The job was wonderful. My daughter was wonderful. I lived through the divorce. The cat was 32 pounds of wonderful.

I had an hour for lunch. I usually took it. Sometimes I didn't. An emergency shipment or a customer in need occasionally ate my lunch hour. Time came for our beloved dispatcher, also called JB, retired. I had been his back up so his job became mine. It just seemed like a little more time on the radio. Then the operations manager quit. I got his job too. Drivers would call me and ask what I wanted for lunch. Sometimes I would go to lunch and come back to drivers 90 miles from their normal territory. The drivers all knew of my love for a good Italian beef sandwich. I got variations of the ultimate Chicago sandwich (that didn’t start with a hot dog) from all around the city and suburbs. I started staying in for lunch.

Then one day the owner and president went grocery shopping. They came back with about two pounds of sliced deli ham, a loaf of rye bread, and a jar of peanut butter.

“Wait until you taste this!” said Sid, the president.

“It’s almost as good as sex,” said the owner of the company. If you knew him, you'd expect that comment.

The three of us made sandwiches. Just peanut butter and ham on rye. They were good. They weren’t quite an Italian beef. And they certainly were not almost as good as sex. They were missing something.

There was plenty of ham left after lunch and almost half a loaf of rye bread. I’d fix it for tomorrow.

The next day I put a little plastic bear out on the lunch table. The guys looked at me as if I had put out drain cleaner for lunch. Coming back from the refrigerator, I opened the loaf of bread and the package of ham. Then I assembled my sandwich. The men watched. They didn’t touch anything. Before even taking a bite, I cut the sandwich in half then in half again. I gave each of the men a quarter of a sandwich. They looked at it from several angles. They sniffed it. Then they bit, just a small bite. The rest of each quarter was devoured as if in one bite.

We each made sandwiches together. A little peanut butter, then a little ham, then a drizzle of honey. The peanut butter and ham on rye was made with honey forever more. It wasn’t missing anything now.

We made sandwiches at least once or twice a month. In between I got my Italian beef, an occasional pizza, and every once in a while a hot dog.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Garden District Green Beans and Pork

It’s sticky here! It wasn’t the kind of day anyone wanted to spend in the kitchen. But I did. The boneless pork ribs I found at the grocery store were whittled planks of pork picnic between four and five inches long. Now, if you know anything about where your meat comes from, other than the grocery store, you’ll know that pork picnic comes from the shoulder of the pig. Pigs aren’t built like chickens. They aren’t built that much like cows either. But I don’t know any animal that has ribs in its shoulder. I wasn’t upset. I like pork picnic. I used to buy whole picnics when there was more to feed than me and the dog. I’d render the lard sometimes. Never cooked the rind, the skin but wish I had friends who would eat it if I did. I knew the pork needed some time to cook or it would be tough. I seasoned up the “ribs” and seared them in a bit of olive oil for a start. I put a 12-ounce steamer bag of green beans in the microwave and set it for five minutes on high. The directions called for 4 ½ to 6 minutes. My microwave has a lot of muscle and the beans were going to cook a little more. While the beans cooked, I transferred the “ribs” to a baking dish, covered it with foil and put it in a 350 degree oven. Then I dumped a can of stewed tomatoes in the same pan I seared the pork. Maybe there was a little bit of pepper and thyme still in there. I didn’t mind. I added a little garlic powder to the tomatoes and a little oregano. I cooked them on low heat just to get the flavors starting to mingle. Then I went and watched TV for a little bit. I went back to the kitchen and added the beans to the tomatoes and stirred them together. The pork was smelling good in the oven but still had a little while to cook. Back to the TV I went. When I got back to the kitchen this time, the beans and tomatoes were starting to get a little dry. I added some water and stirred them again. Good thing it wasn’t time to take the pork out of the oven. I checked outside to find the garbage men still hadn’t emptied my garbage. I let Izzy out the back door to walk Rover. By the time Izzy was ready to come inside, the pork was ready. Normally the tomatoes and green beans would be covered in slivered onion slices and covered. There were two problems with that. The frying pan I used didn’t have a cover and Izzy can’t have onions. So dinner was done. I forgot to sprinkle Parmesan cheese on top. Please don’t tell Izzy. We call it magic powder and put it on her food when she needs medicine hidden there. She loves Parmesan cheese! After I ate, I put the beans and tomatoes on top of the remaining “ribs.” Tomorrow I’ll remember the Parmesan!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Memories of Breakfasts Past

The other day a Facebook friend posted a photo of a breakfast long gone, remembered in a photograph and in his mind. Of course, that brought my thoughts to breakfasts of years ago. Peter’s memorable breakfast was eaten in Italy. Mine, both of them, were in the USA.

The first breakfast was on the road, Iowa I believe, on the way from Chicago to that farm in South Dakota chronicled here in “Revenge!” Yes, it was the same farm and I think it was the same year. Dad brought Mom and me in his car. Joe, my father’s boss, brought his wife in his car. (In case anyone wonders, gas was ridiculously cheap and the men wanted two trunks to stuff with dead birds. It was a hunting trip, after all.)

I’ll be nice when I talk about my elders. Joe and Josephine were large people. Saying it any other way would make it hard to be nice. They liked to eat. Today they might look sort of average. In 1948, they were large.

After a night in a motel, the five of us stopped for breakfast. The adults got menus and I don’t remember getting anything. Joe was hungry so everyone else let him order first. “I’ll have a cup of coffee,” started Joe.

“Icky!” I said.

“And a glass of milk.” Joe looked at me before he continued.

“Me too,” I said.

“A glass of orange juice, three eggs sunny-side up, hash browns, bacon, sausage, pancakes, and some toast.” Joe finished his order and sat back for the next person to order. Everyone expected Josephine to go next. She had to wait.

I piped up once again with “Me too.”

After the table stopped giggling, the waitress asked my mother if I really meant it. Should she bring this huge breakfast to this little girl? “Make it one egg, scrambled. What she doesn’t finish, she’ll share with us.”

That earned me a nickname. Joe and Josephine would always know me as “Me too!” after that.

I must admit that I don’t quite remember the meal. I’ll never forget the story, though, since my parents must have repeated it dozens of times. So did Joe. I must have done a number on that breakfast because we had an early lunch that day. The milk had little ice cubes in it. Icky! There was ice in the orange juice too but that wasn’t as hard to take. I don’t remember if the sausage was link or patty but I’m sure it was good. The pig it and the bacon came from probably lived in the neighborhood.

That may have been my most memorable breakfast, probably because I heard the story for years afterward. There were other breakfasts not to forget. Since I won’t forget them, I’ll talk about them later.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

I’ve Got WHAT?

It’s been too hot to cook at my home in Florida lately. Temperatures have been in the mid-90s, almost cool compared to most of the rest of the country. Are there air-conditioned spaces where people can go to avoid the heat? I’ve been going grocery shopping but when I get home, where the air conditioner stopped working at the exact time I could not afford to get a new one, it’s just too hot to cook. Maybe one of these days I’ll take a bus to the mall and stay a while. Then again, maybe I won’t.

My kitchen needs a make-over. Barring that, it does need a good cleaning and reorganization. Can’t do the clean-up all at one time. It’s a good all-summer project. Hopefully, I’ll be finished by the time the weather cools – whenever that may be.

I decided to start with one drawer. No, not the junk drawer! I opened the double drawer where the silverware sleeps. Knives, forks, and spoons sleep in one divider of the drawer. Cooking tools - well, some of them – are resting in another divider on the other half. Looked like a fun drawer to start with.

I found that I have four corkscrews. There may be more. When I helped set up wine tastings at a now defunct liquor store, I always carried one, along with a cheese knife. That one is a sommelier knife, also known as a waiter’s friend. Sort of looks like a pocket knife. There are three of those, all different. Then there’s the wing corkscrew like the one my father used to use. Mine’s red, white, and silver and big enough I can always find it.

There are two ice cream scoops in that drawer. One is metal. The other is plastic. I’m afraid to use the plastic one unless the ice cream is melted. They’re both dippers. The metal one has worked great for years. No need to use anything else. Of course, I’d like to have about half a dozen dishers. Probably wouldn’t use them much for ice cream, though.

I’ve been working around, over, and next to what’s probably the most expensive thing in the drawer. Besides getting in the way, it only does one job. It pounds stuff, meat in particular. It’s Italian. I paid probably too much for it in a gourmet store about 15 years ago. Don’t even want to think what they’d want for it now. (Another reason to stay out of the mall.)

There’s a pie server that’s covering up two nutcrackers. I used to make pies because Ernie loved them. The nutcrackers were used most often as other tools. The nutcrackers used to belong to my father. That one little section is my memories and may stay there forever.

Behind the Italian meat pounder the plastic dry measure cups hide thermometers. All anolog. One huge, slow oven-type that used to get a workout in the oven and the gas grill. Now it just sits in the drawer. I used to have five instant-reads. All but one of them were stuck in the air-conditioning vents of various vehicles. Now there are only two. Uh-oh! It’s 84 degrees in the drawer!

Think I'll quit for a while and finish this drawer if it ever cools down at night.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

National Fortune Cookie Day

Izzy gave me the week off (almost) last week. Thank you, Baby Girl, for taking care of the blog and for your great work on Bon Voyage Atlantis salad.

I wasn’t quite sure what to write about this week. Then I remembered a note I had written to myself. July 20, 2011 is National Fortune Cookie Day. Who doesn’t like fortune cookies? Of the millions of people who love fortune cookies, how many have no idea how those little pieces of wisdom get inside? Stick around and I’ll share the secret.

I used to have a perfect recipe for fortune cookies but I lost it. That’s when happens when you don’t compile your recipes in a book or a box before computers became household tools. It doesn’t make things any easier when you move eight times or more. (I lost count.) Since the loss of the perfect fortune cookie recipe, I’ve been looking for one that’s close.

1 egg, separated
1/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons corn oil
2 tablespoons water
1/4 cup cornstarch

Get the fortunes ready to insert in the cookies.

Beat the egg white, stiff but not too stiff. Set aside.

Beat the sugar into the egg yolk. Fold in the corn oil. Mix about 1/3 of the egg yolk mixture into the cornstarch. Add the rest of the egg yolk mixture and stir until thouroughly mixed. Fold in egg white until smooth.

Heat an electric skillet to 350. Test with a drizzle of water. When droplets of water “dance,” the pan is hot enough. Pour batter from a loaded teaspoon or not-so-loaded soup spoon. Spread into a 3 to 4 inch cookie, about 1/8 inch thick, with the back of the spoon. Cook about 5 minutes until light golden brown and easily lifted from the pan. Turn and cook until second side is light golden brown. Quickly put one fortune across the center of the cookie. Fold in half. Take both sides of the half-circle and fold into the familiar fortune cookie shape. (You may want to use the edge of a plate or bowl to help the last fold.) Place in a muffin pan or cup and let cool.

WARNING! I haven’t made these cookies yet. Try them if you dare. The proportions in the recipe looked so familiar that I just changed the directions a bit. I felt like I was making the cookies during the writing of the recipe. I can almost taste them! The cookies cool quickly so you don’t want to make more than three or four at a time. If the heat of the cookies makes the folding process painful, a pair of clean white gloves might help.

Once you’ve mastered making fortune cookies, you’ll probably learn as I have that the hardest thing about making fortune cookies is writing the fortunes.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Macaroni & Green Bean Salad

Friday was all about Atlantis. The last space shuttle took flight. Late morning was exciting. There were storms in the air. Would she fly or wouldn’t she? I knew but I wasn’t telling anybody.

I relaxed on the floor in front of the TV and watched the show. Parts of it seemed a little boring to me so I looked at the jar of peanuts that was blocking one corner of the picture. Guess nobody ever watched TV from this spot before.

We usually run to the back door on launch day to see if we can see anything from the other side of the state. We stood our ground in the living room this time. Clouds between here and there would have separated us from the view. It seemed sad to miss the orange-yellow trail of Atlantis but it was more relaxing than most of the launches lately.

Friday afternoon a small pot of water waited on the stove for small shell macaroni. Frozen shrimp unfroze quickly in the 88-degree temperature at the counter. A steamer bag of green beans steamed in the microwave. Bon Voyage Atlantis salad was being born.

Once the beans were cooked, they came out to cool. Once the macaroni was cooked, it went into a colander. Both were mixed together in a bowl with some parsley and tarragon. The shrimp finished thawing in the colander and was rinsed there as well. Mayonnaise, about a quarter of a cup, got mixed into the macaroni and bean concoction. Once it was all mixed up, in went the shrimp. Then it went into the refrigerator to cool and the parts to become a whole thing but not before we both had a taste.

I hope you can understand how this was made. This is my first time explaining how things get cooked from my point of view. You see, this is Izzy. I need Mommy’s thumbs to get things done.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Fourth of July, 2011

It’s time again to celebrate the birthday of our country. On July 2, 1776, John Adams said that date would mark the most memorable time in our history. That was the day the colonies declared themselves free from Great Britain. We moved faster in those days without an Internet. Only two days later the Declaration of Independence was adopted.

We didn’t move with lightning speed getting the news out. Philadelphia had a party, complete with a parade, on July 8, 1776. George Washington heard the news on July 9. It took until 1781 for Massachusetts, the first state to do so, to recognize July 4 as a date worth celebrating. It took ten more years for the rest of the young nation to follow.

One of my neighbors told me he didn’t have any idea what they were eating this Fourth of July but he would offer me some of whatever there was. Actually, that’s kind of scary. I haven’t seen the neighbor on the other side for a couple of days. Now, they’re the ones I’d rather party with. But, they have friends and relatives. They might not even be home for the holiday.

I’ve taken out a package of hot dogs from the freezer. Izzy and I have been eating Izzy steaks (hamburgers without a bun) a lot lately. It’s been about a year and a half since we’ve had hot dogs. I also plan to make angel potatoes. Maybe a bit of macaroni salad might go well. This Fourth of July I will attempt a real-time description of what I cook and how I cook it.

We’ll start out with the angel potatoes. First trick: clean and boil six red potatoes, skins intact. A fork goes into the potatoes fairly easily. Luckily, the fork comes out fairly easily too. Cool off the potatoes until you can handle them – with impeccably clean hands. Cut the potatoes in half. If necessary, pare each half so they’ll stand up on their own. Using a spoon or a melon baller, scoop out the center of each potato half. Reserve the scooped-out potato in a small mixing bowl.

Mash the potato innards with the back of a fork. Add about 3 or 4 tablespoons of mayonnaise, about 1 teaspoon of yellow mustard, and a dash of garlic powder. Stir it all up. Add a small dash of hot sauce. Stir it up again and spoon it into the potato cups. Refrigerate until serving time.

I used Sriracha. If you use another hot sauce, you may want to add a bit of salt and pepper. Izzy really likes Sriracha. That surprised me. Think maybe she’s trying to tell me how strong she is? She likes it on her nachos, her quesadillas, and now her potato angels.

Now we’re having a couple of hot dogs. It’s really true that mustard lasts forever. Don’t think ketchup does, though. Izzy wants a bite nearly every time I have one. She’s getting more bun than dog but it’s making her happy.

I’m saving the angel potatoes for later. We’ll wait four or five hours to see if there are signs of life on either side of us. If there is, we’ve got enough for everybody to have one. The smaller the neighborhood gang, the more we get. Izzy wants to keep the doors closed and me to take a nap. Sometimes I like the way she thinks.

I cooked a little, ate two hot dogs in around a half an hour (no match for the Nathan’s contest), and fell asleep. Missed everything that happened after dark. The four or five hours of waiting with the angel potatoes finally ended around 3 A.M. when I reached into the refrigerator to try the first one.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

I Miss You

Last Sunday was Father’s Day. My own father died in 1989. I miss him. He was only 81 when he left us. His father was 82. Guess that gives me an idea how long I’ll last.

Daddy used to love to eat. He loved some of the strange things my mother made. He loved what I made too. I remember long ago when he suggested I add more rye flour to the first two loaves of rye bread I made. I made them immediately. (The first two were being eaten fast.) I was only twelve years old. I was a good girl. I did what Daddy told me. We ended up with two loaves of what could have been very nice door stops.

Dad loved my chili and my pizza. Mom loved a night off from cooking. Of course, I never stopped making bread. I had my master recipe back then. It was good for pizza, bread sticks, onion bread, and Taos Indian bread. Izzy has gotten some of that master recipe too. Bread isn’t as easy to bake in Florida as it was in Illinois. But we still try. Chili worked well in Illinois, Arizona, and Florida. Glad enchiladas worked when I took them to Brooklyn!

For Father’s Day Izzy and I had pork chops. Ever since the iced tea experiments the beginning of June, I wanted to braise the chops in green tea infused with five-spice powder. I did it and I was glad. Daddy would have liked it. I can hear his voice now. “You made this up? It’s good. Not too spicy. Can I have more?”

Sure, Dad. You can have more. Save some for Tom and some for Ernie. There’s plenty for all my men who are no longer with me. All the men I miss . . . .

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Not Your Famous Southern Sweet Tea

June in America is, among other things, National Iced Tea Month. June 10, 2011, also happened to be National Iced Tea Day. With temperatures hitting the mid-90s every day, the timing seemed perfect to experiment with iced tea.

A check of the cabinet found Russian black loose tea and dozens of boxed-up teabags. Yerba Mate, orange pekoe, peach, raspberry, white, green, and rose offered plenty of base ingredients. Since June 10 was also National Herb & Spice Day, that’s the direction I went.

I started off with orange pekoe collected from Chinese take-out meals. Nearly out of coffee, a day of iced tea seemed to go well with 95 degree temperatures on a sunny afternoon. About six years ago I bought a spoon-shaped tea infuser on the clearance rack of my favorite grocery store. I put some dried rosemary in the infuser, closed it up, and put it in the cup to steep with the teabag. My bargain infuser wasn’t worth the promises. It was, however, worth the dollar I paid. Curled up dry rosemary leaked from the edges of the infuser leaving evidence of the flavor floating in the tea and hugging the sides of the cup. It was worth picking rosemary from my morning drink.

The next test was simple: Green tea with ground ginger. It was good. Izzy and I liked it better than the first tea. My preference, I must admit, was influenced by no need to pick hard, stem-like things out of my cup. I think Izzy preferred it because she got more of it. I think it may have worked better with candied ginger rather than powdered.

My favorite of all the teas came on Saturday. Green tea with five-spice powder was a winner! I love cooking with five-spice. Never thought I’d want to drink it. I drank three cups. I remembered my five-spice chicken with orange marmalade, five-spice pork chops with cherry jam, and five-spice chicken with cocoa and hot chile. They were all done in a sauté pan. Most ended up overcooked. With the heat that should stick around past Thanksgiving this year, I think I’ll play with my five-spice tea and the slow cooker.

Think I might carry this tea experiment past the end of June. Hot or cold, sweetened or not, flavored teas are a pleasant change from the plain unflavored water I drink by the pint (at least 10 cups a day!) and slow down the need for coffee.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Revenge Part Deux

In REVENGE! you learned why I feel no guilt eating pork and chicken. But what about beef? What about the bovine made “Gotta have my cow!’’ a motto of mine for years? No, it had nothing to do with shipping bovine seminal vesicles (otherwise known as bull balls) to England for years. I have no idea what they did with them but I feel responsible for thousands of steers during that time.

Let’s start with the Cook County Fair. I think the year was 1960. Mom got to drive the Budweiser team around the race track at Arlington Park. I got to meet Elsie the Cow. Elsie threw up on me. She ruined my day.

I was an exhibitor at the Illinois State Fair two years later. That’s a whole story in itself. A local florist in Palatine, Illinois was glad I was invited. I bought my flowers there. My flower arrangements brought me to the fair. We drove to Springfield in a station wagon that smelled like a funeral home. Checking out the livestock exhibits was the quickest way to wash all that sweet from my nose.

Somewhere between getting there and going home I cuddled sheep, pet rabbits, and got stomped on by a huge Black Angus steer. He must have broken a couple of toes but after my mother’s bout with the medics at the fair, I wasn’t about to let them look at my foot. Some tape from the first-aid kit and a new pair of socks and I was good to go. And go I did. I must have walked about a hundred miles. Think I had a hamburger as my next meal.

Geese are safe but ducks are not. I had a girlfriend who lived on a farm with “watch geese.” The first time I went there, a dozen geese circled the car. I hopped out and my friend yelled, “Get back in the car!” I didn’t listen. Instead I held out my hand and ran it over the head of one goose. Before I knew it, six geese were nuzzling me. The other six were chasing the other three people who had gotten out of the car. My friend, also named Judy, told us the geese had never been friendly with strangers. They watched the farm better than trained dogs.

And ducks? My brother and I got baby “chicks” on Easter that grew into ducks. Dad built an enclosure for them behind the garage. Whenever I went out to feed them, they bit my hands. I’ve been lucky enough to bite back as often as I can find the right chef. The expense? I chalk that up to the price of bandages for the farmers who raised the ducks.

One night during a rain storm the ducks demolished their pen made of chicken wire and lumber poked into the now muddy ground. It was late and Mom and Dad took off hunting our ducks, armed only with flashlights. Our parents returned without our ducks. My brother was heartbroken. I started thinking about planting onions where the duck pen had stood. I didn’t care if they ever brought them home. My I think my brother roamed the neighborhood for the rest of the week searching for his duck, Coca-Cola, and mine, Ducky-Lucky. I sensed the truth the Sunday following the great duck escape. Mom said it was pheasant. I knew better. My only question was which duck we were eating.

I do feel guilty eating some animal protein. I grew up eating lamb. It was always a special dinner for me. Then I met some sheep. They were warm and soft and cuddly. The lanolin in their fur made my hands feel so good. Best of all, they were friendly. I think my diet went lambless for five years after spending Fourth of July in a livestock trailer with a timid little lamb. (No, its fleece was not white as snow. Sort of gray actually.)

How do I justify the Thanksgiving turkey? Don’t think I’ll be doing that for a while. When I did, it was simple. If imagining a turkey, nude and roasted, as a giant evil chicken doesn’t work; listing examples of turkey intelligence should do it. Have you ever heard that turkeys drown during rain storms because they run through the rain staring at the sky? Don’t believe it. They suffocate themselves by huddling together so tight they can’t breathe. If an animal ever earned the right to be dinner, it’s Ben Franklin’s favorite fowl, the turkey.

While we’re talking meat, have you ever tried alligator? You should. It’s delicious. Besides, it’s scary, ugly, and could kill you. No need to feel any guilt. Besides, you could make luggage with some of what’s left.

Tofu burgers, anyone?


Revenge is a dish best served cold, it has been said. The only way I like revenge served cold is maybe on a sandwich. Yes, I’ve been known to eat revenge.

It all started when I was a little over two years old. Dad and his boss went hunting, for pheasants I think, and brought the families with. One family consisted of Joe, his wife Josephine, and their black Lab named Prince. The other was Mom, Dad, and me. I wasn’t expected to be as helpful as the retriever.

I got to feed the chickens on the farm the first morning we were there. The chickens were much more interested in pecking my ankles through my socks than they were in the corn I threw from the bucket I carried. After my legs were cleaned up and my bloody socks changed, I went back outside, steering clear of the chickens. I headed over to the pigpen to check out a sow and her new litter. The sow was a very protective mother and tried to tear down the wall of the pen to scare me away. I had just climbed up for a better look when the world shook and the sow snorted as if to say, “Leave my babies alone!” I got the message and spent the rest of the day in the kitchen with Mom, Josephine, and Mrs. K to keep me safe.

That night, after dinner, I went to bed in an upstairs bedroom. I like to think I slept with Prince but think it was more likely I did not. He probably slept in the barn.

The next day the men took the women with them in my father’s Nash sedan when they went hunting. Of course I went with. I was afraid to be left at the farmhouse with animals trying to get me. Daddy’s car had always been a safe place.

The men grabbed their guns and Prince and headed out to hunt birds. They hoped to get enough to take home for themselves and to feed the farmhouse for dinner. Soon enough they were nowhere to be seen.

The women talked women talk. I looked out the window and ate apples and oranges from a paper bag. Mom and Josephine ate apples and oranges too. They threw the apple cores and orange peels out the car windows. So did I. That was not allowed on the streets of Chicago but seemed perfectly natural in a farmer’s field in South Dakota.

Belly full, I took a nap until I heard a commotion from the front seat. Mom and Josephine were very upset. I think it was the first, and maybe the last, time I saw my mother afraid of anything. Josephine tried her best to keep from screaming. She failed. Mom wished out loud the men had left her a gun. I looked out the windows of the car and saw the ground had changed. Gone was green flecked with wildflowers, apple cores, and orange peels. Now all we saw were the backs of giant animals surrounding the car. Maybe it was instinct that sent me balancing on the back of the driver’s seat and reaching for the car horn. Mom helped me with the car horn. She was bigger than I was, closer to the steering wheel, and much more successful at making a racket our hunting men were sure to hear.

Hear it they did. The first evidence of their return were gunshots into the air, of course. It wouldn’t do to kill a bunch of Farmer K’s hogs. Prince tried carefully to herd the hogs away from the car. Dad and Joe yelled at the hogs, shooting in the air each time the giant pigs halted. Soon we were all together. Daddy heard the story of the hogs surrounding us. Then he heard how I was the hero with the car horn. On the way back to the farmhouse, birds collected and put in the trunk, Prince sitting next to me in the back seat, my father suggested I think of those hogs the next time he cooked bacon for breakfast. It was his way of making any fear disappear. I took it one step more, pretending the pheasant I would eat that night was really one of those chickens from the morning before.

Can anybody really blame me for enjoying pork and chicken? Yes, friends, revenge is sweet, especially with a good barbeque sauce.

Monday, May 30, 2011


Memorial Day means many things. It’s the calendar-challenged beginning of the summer season. (Summer is always calendar challenged in Florida. It usually lasts from nine to eleven months.) It’s an anchor date for family reunions. Some just see it as a three-day weekend. It can be the first serious grilling day of the year. Hopefully most of us realize it’s the one day we’re given to honor those who have served our country.

I won’t be grilling this year. That’s because I haven’t grilled in years. I cook in my kitchen. I use the stovetop, oven, and microwave. So this year I’ll be in the kitchen. It may be hot. It may feel crowded. I’ll be making pork meatballs and thinking about my parents. They were both in the Army during World War II. Both confined to the U.S. My father was a sole surviving son back when that meant something and became a mechanic in the Army Air Corps. My mother was an orientation officer. That meant she taught women how to be WACs. She said she taught grown women how to use indoor plumbing, a pretty rough job for a girl from Chicago. Neither saw battle. Neither saw war. But they helped those who did.

My parents both had their Army stories. They were never stationed together. That guaranteed twice the amount of stories. Dad fried eggs on airplane wings in Tucson, Arizona. When he was stationed in Riverside, California, he made films with a couple of guys named John: Forsyth and Wayne. He also got to meet Doolittle on the way to Tokyo. Mom’s stories weren’t as celebrity-filled but she had food stories. Considered underweight by the Army, she got extra rations. She couldn’t eat all the food the Army gave her so she shared it with the women under her command. Mom’s little driver, minimum height and weight by Army standards, who cleared a jack-knifed semi tying up traffic by using her experience of getting through spots too small for even her, ate well for weeks.

I’ve often wondered whatever happened to my mother’s Purple Heart. She only had the ribbon, not the medal, because it wasn’t official. Someone she was stationed with the week the war ended had earned a real Purple Heart and given her the ribbon to honor her for a burn suffered cooking breakfast for my father after she married him.

That is tied to the story from Dad about being called on the carpet by his CO for getting married without his permission. Dad told the Colonial he was under orders from his wife and his wife out-ranked him. The war may have been over but the Army was still too busy for the Colonial to check to see the Sergeant on the other side of his desk had married a Lieutenant. Dad didn’t lie. The way he phrased it was correct. Mom outranked Dad. And that’s the way it went.

Whenever I think about my parents, I think about food. They fed me, of course, and helped form my opinions of what good food is. My father helped me plant my first garden when I was six or seven. My mother let me help cook our first harvest. Meals were a family affair.

Mother was famous for her spaghetti, cooked for what seemed like all day. It started with a recipe given to her from Gene Sage (of Sages Sage’s in Chicago) and continued on to suggestions from family and friends until it was perfect. We ate a lot of spaghetti dinners before Mom’s spaghetti sauce was perfected. It was never bad. And I’ve never been able to duplicate it.

Dad made breakfast every Sunday morning. Even on Father’s Day – unless I insisted on making French toast or pancakes. Every Sunday we had Dad’s stovetop frittatas. No need to light the oven with a tight-fitting lid for the frying pan. He called them open-faced omelets. He would make them using anything in the refrigerator. Sometimes that was just a stick of salami. Leftovers made it interesting. Tacos, chop suey, steaks, roasts, anything that wasn’t enough to make another meal. We loved our Sunday surprise breakfasts even when they were no surprise.

I miss my Army heroes, my parents. I see them every day in my mirror and hope to bring them with me throughout my life. Though Dad’s daily weapon may have been a wrench and Mom’s a chicken drumstick, they were my heroes as much as soldiers flying Dad’s planes and nurses who shared Mom’s meals. This day I thank all who served my country in any and every way they could.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Imaginary Food

I just spent a few days writing about quesadillas for the appetizer chapter for “A Table for One or Two.” The odd part was there were no tortillas in the house. Not even a tortilla chip! Everything was done from memory, including the tastes.

Today we’ll be inventing imaginary deviled eggs. Again we’ll be relying on memory and imagination. The eggs in the refrigerator, all five of them, are starting to get old. It may be time to make French macarons in the middle of the night if we have a middle of the night cool enough and dry enough.

Rain had been predicted for a couple of days this week but has now been stricken from the forecast. My poor garden may wilt into oblivion. So much for cooking fresh veggies from the yard. The rain forecast disappeared but now has resurfaced for Memorial Day weekend. Happy grilling, neighbors!

Izzy has been making requests lately. Guess I could call it a dogsend. Sometimes planning meals alone gets to be a chore. It’s nice to have help. Her latest request is that we make pasta from a heap of flour on the counter. I know she loves pasta. We both do. Secretly I think she will enjoy watching me clean the kitchen a little too much. Don’t tell the dog but I’ve wanted to do homemade pasta for decades.

With limited imagination and limited foodstuffs, I’ve been “cooking” frozen and canned foods a lot lately – way too much to satisfy the cook in me. While the neighbors are trying to grill between raindrops this weekend, Izzy and I will be making pork meatballs. We’ll also be inventing a tomato-based vegetable sauce from the freezer and pantry. I’d better get to the store next week or I’ll be making Beneful stew. Maybe I should save a can of tomatoes.

Lest anyone worry that I don’t eat enough these days, rest easy. I’ve gained one pound eating imaginary food in the last week. It may melt off next week. By that time, I’m afraid, I’ll be assembling – and eating – real food.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Saga of The Tomato Soup Cake

Last week someone on TV mentioned tomato soup cake. (I can see her face but can’t think of her name.) I became fascinated. Google brought me over 2 million results in 0.12 seconds. I haven’t read them all. About the middle of page 2 of search results I picked one recipe found on page 1. (It’s true that placement counts on search engines.)

I made a few very minor changes to the chosen recipe before even starting to assemble the ingredients. The more I cook, the more I can taste the recipe just by reading it. I often get sidetracked while getting ready to cook. I look at the spices that must be moved to grab the ones I want and think about things to make. I walk back to the laptop to check something in the recipe and start another web search in a quest for something utterly unrelated. (By the way, the woman responsible for my tomato soup cake obsession is Elizabeth Falkner.) I digress . . . and digress again.

First, I assembled tools. Three bowls, measuring cups and spoons, whisk, rubber spatula, big bamboo spoon, and regular dinner fork (just in case). The room on my small counter almost exhausted, I wedged a stick of unsalted butter (the only kind I ever buy) between the can of tomato soup and the bowl waiting for wet ingredients. Went and played on Facebook for a bit while the butter came close to room temperature. It was also time to turn on the oven to 350 F. to preheat.

It was now time to do everything at once so I measured out dry ingredients first. Everything went straight into the biggest bowl. In went two cups of all purpose flour. The flour looked a little lonely so I added ¼ teaspoon of salt. White stuff in a gray bowl looked boring so I added a teaspoon of ground cinnamon. The recipe called for another teaspoon of ground cloves and another of ground nutmeg. I eyeballed about half a teaspoon of each with the one-teaspoon measure. Just for kicks, I added about half a teaspoon of ground ginger. That may have been a mistake. On the other hand, it may have been a good idea. I haven’t decided yet and Izzy likes it just the way it is. I added a teaspoon of baking powder and combined everything with the whisk. One bowl finished!

I put the butter into the next biggest (or next smallest, depending on how you look at it) and added a half cup of sugar then creamed them together with the big bamboo spoon. It’s the first time I used it instead of a wooden spoon. I love my bamboo tools!

Then came the really cool part. I dumped one can of tomato soup into the smallest bowl (about a quart) and added one teaspoon baking soda. I stirred that in with the dinner fork and just watched. It’s kitchen magic. The red soup turns an orange-pink color. The acid from the tomatoes in the soup mixes with the soda. The whole thing swells a little and bubbles a bit. It’s fun to watch!

Mixing ¼ cup of water added to the soup can to get as much soup as possible into the cake can be a little anti-climactic but it does add a little more fizziness.

Time to get mixing! Add the foamy soup mixture to the butter and sugar. I stirred it with the dinner fork. (No need to clean it. You’re stirring in the stuff that’s already on the fork.) You can use a mixer, stand or hand. Then mix in the dry ingredients in two or three additions.

Once mixed, pour into well-greased and floured cake pans. These cakes are pretty forgiving. I used a Bundt pan but any cake pans or even a loaf pan will work. The directions said to bake the cake for an hour. Ever read the back of a cake mix? Time and temperature differ for different sizes and different types of pans. My suggestion is to keep a close eye on it after about half an hour. Make sure a skewer or toothpick comes out clean before you take the cake out to cool.

Cool cake about half an hour in the pan and turn it out to a cake plate to finish cooling. You can frost it (cream cheese frosting or some variation thereof is recommended), glaze it, or dust it with powdered sugar.

The batter is thick enough to use the waffle iron. That should make Marc happy. I could probably make Napoleons with tomato soup cake waffles layered with macaroni and cheese without even changing the recipe. That should make Kathy happy. Playing with all this should make me happy. Of course, can’t forget Izzy. She’ll be happy because I always share with her.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

What Day is It?

I promised myself I’d post to this blog every Monday to atone for missing the last three months of my life. Monday became Tuesday rather quickly. And now what day is it? I’m almost a week late!

Izzy has noticed something about me lately. I’ve been sleeping through the night every night even when she tries to wake me. When we both need to run to go potty in the morning, I let her out first, usually doing a little dance before running to the bathroom. When I come back to let her in, I see she’s out of water. She’s used to me getting up every three or four hours. Seven or eight hours without checking her water is totally unacceptable, Izzy told me.

Maybe it’s the heat. It’s too hot to do much in the yard. That and housework have been the bulk of my exercise. It’s too hot to cook. If it can’t be thrown in the microwave, I’m not eating it. That makes it pretty hard to write a cookbook. The weather is supposed to let up a bit next week. I’m hoping to finish the appetizer chapter then. From the looks of things, it won’t happen. The appetizers chapter is turning into a book all on its own.

Maybe it’s the humidity. Florida is famous for its humidity. I wash dishes by hand and sometimes even a little laundry. Is it any wonder that my hands often feel like they’ve been in the pool too long? Makes me hate to think what this wet air might do to baking.

Speaking of baking, I read somewhere lately of putting cake batter in a waffle iron. That sounded interesting. Not interesting enough to get me on the floor reaching into a dark cabinet to dig out the waffle iron. It would just be another thing to clean.

My mind is going back to the microwave. A catering friend of mine once suggested I cook pasta in the microwave. May try it the next time I make my quick mac-n-cheese. That would mean a quick, cheap lunch or side dish for Izzy and me and a steam bath for the microwave. Better do it soon. My lunch just blew up, shooting the paper towel covering to one side of the box and two pinto beans to the other. Mac-n-cheese with something green – should it be broccoli, green beans or peas? – for dinner tonight.

The quick mac-n-cheese (admit it, you’re curious) is made without milk. No sauce to break. The whole thing takes less than 20 minutes and now I can make it in one bowl! Boil a cup and a half of water in the microwave. That takes about 2 ½ minutes. I used a one-quart glass bowl. Don’t forget to add salt! Put a generous 2 ounces of pasta into the water. (I used shells this time but Izzy prefers elbows.) Microwave for 10 to 12 minutes, stirring at least once. If the water starts to boil over in the bowl, lower the cooking power to no less than 50%. (Or you could have started with a 1 ½ quart bowl.) Drain the pasta. Return to bowl and add a little bit too much butter, a couple of tablespoons if you can stop there. Stir until the butter melts all over (and inside) the pasta. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Stir. Add your favorite grated cheese. Stir that all around your pasta. Return to the microwave and cook on high for about 15 to 30 seconds to melt some of the cheese (but not all). It’s a little grainy but it’s so easy and fast that you can overlook that.

By the way, I added peas to make mine dinner. And the microwave is pretty clean!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Menu Planning

The menu for May 5 is usually planned at my house before April is gone. I love Mexican food and can cook for Cinco de Mayo all month. I used to take a break from Mexican food for the sake of my family and Derby Day was a perfect break. Mother’s Day was always by request of whatever mother was closest. My mother, and father for that matter, used to request my scratch-made pizza whenever she didn’t reserve cooking duties for herself. My daughter, born in Phoenix, requests my enchiladas.

This year I’m saddled with no car and infrequent shopping trips. I try to load two or three weeks of provisions into two reusable bags. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t. Last Thursday’s trip found ground pork for nearly two dollars a pound less than ground beef. Pork it was – for chili and an experiment I bought some cheese and canned diced tomatoes. Unfortunately, I forgot tortillas. Also missing is fresh produce. No tortillas and no tortilla chips means no nachos, one of Izzy’s favorite dishes, and no quesadillas, one of her other favorites.

Fire-roasted tomatoes are making their first appearance in my chili this year. I’ll be cooking the chili for a couple of days. The weather’s too hot to cook it all at once. I’m hunting for desserts. Maybe I’ll make two, one with chocolate and one to share with Miss Iz. Maybe I’ll make something that goes well with ice cream.

Somehow it’s hard to plan anything but Cinco de Mayo these days. Wonder how long I’ll feel that way. There’s a good chance of Mexican food in the forecast longer than drought and high temperatures. If and when the summer squash bear fruit, the kitchen may have to learn Italian. There are still canned tomatoes in the pantry.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Life Goes On

I’m always amazed how long I can live out of the pantry, refrigerator, and freezer. It proves that even though I buy only what’s on my grocery list and usually only what is on sale, I still buy more food than I realize. We all probably do.

Can you tell I never made it to the grocery store last week? It was too hot to take a bus, too expensive to take a cab, and I felt too much of an imposition to pester anyone for a ride. We’re running out of cookies (mine and Izzy’s) and I’m low on coffee but we’ve eaten our fill every day and even had dessert once in a while. The surprising thing is that I was able to make two holiday-type meals out of the freezer and pantry and none of them looked like offerings from an episode of “Chopped.”

If I were reading this blog, I’d wonder about Easter. I’m writing this blog and I wondered about Easter too. I did until I figured it out. There were two pork chops in the freezer. They had bones. It was as close to ham as I could get. (Of course, my mother never made Easter ham. She made Easter lamb, the leg of course.) There were a few new potatoes left on the counter. There were hard-boiled eggs in the refrigerator. There were peas in the freezer. My Easter eating would consist of what was at hand.

The appetizer round was, naturally, deviled eggs. I don’t remember ever having made deviled eggs before. I sliced the eggs in half lengthwise and emptied the yolks into a small bowl. While crushing the yolks with a fork I contemplated additions to the creamy stuffing. I knew there would be mayonnaise. Did I want to add a drop of sriracha? Not if Izzy was having any. (She likes it with nachos but it’s a little much for Easter.) How about a little pickle relish? Not if it’s going in the egg salad I’ll make Tuesday. No, just mayo in the egg yolks. (I would have added a little mustard but who knew prepared mustard could go bad?) The stuffed egg whites looked good. To make them look even better, I dusted them with a little paprika. Does that sound like deviled eggs to you?

The entree round was planned to take two burners on the stove and the microwave. The potatoes started in a small saucepan of salted water. After a few minutes, I started browning both pork chops in a pan large enough to hold them both without crowding. A little kosher salt and pepper I checked the potatoes - quite ready. My attention turned back to the pork chops. They were ready to play. I added a little Key lime juice to the pan, a tablespoon or two. I almost always use Key lime juice instead of regular lime or lemon juice because there’s always some in the fridge. Then I added about a quarter cup white wine. That was in the fridge too. I let the pork chops and liquids get acquainted then turned the chops and put the cover on the pan, lowering the heat a little. Just before the chops smelled just right, after adding a little more lime juice and wine, I added about two teaspoon of capers. Izzy and I ate like princesses.

A trip to the store is in order today only for dog biscuits and coffee. I’ll be taking the bus and the quarter mile from the corner gets very long with a reusable bag full of heavy food. When I finally make it to the grocery store my list will include fixings for Cinco de Mayo food and Derby Day. Pretty good eatin’ comin’ up!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Another New Start

Spring is time for new starts. Luckily it’s not the only time. Since moving to Florida, new starts have jumped into my life in the winter, not necessarily by choice. Around Chicago, the only starts I expected in winter were from my old Chevy.

Izzy, my canine sister, has been trying to speak to me. She has code motions and sounds that may not be words but convey her meanings nonetheless. Ask any dog owner. They understand. Wednesday night I started planning dinner out loud. Since Izzy and I were alone she assumed I was talking to her. She told me no when I mentioned cooking the chicken breast with a sauce. We then went on to discuss the entire meal – chicken, baby portabellas, and red potatoes. When a dog suggests everything in the dish be sliced and sautéed, you can forgive her. She eats straight from a dog bowl, not on a plate with a knife and fork.

We’re having leftovers tonight. That doesn’t mean we won’t consider future dinners but right now I’m thinking about lunch. That’s almost hard to do since I want to go work in the yard. We got our first zucchini blossom today and the new squash I planted have sprung out of the ground. Went out this morning to water the little plots of plants and noticed the amazing growth since the morning before. Tried to work on readying the pepper patch but the bugs were vicious. I tried a little later before it got too hot out. Impossible plan. It got too hot in about five minutes and the bugs never gave me a break.

I must make a short shopping list for tomorrow since I need coffee and Izzy needs cookies. I’ll be hoofing it almost a quarter of the trip. A bus will take care of the long and boring trek. It will also save me from the verge of heat exhaustion that necessitated a cab ride last week. This week I’ll wear a hat. Hopefully, next week I can bum a ride from a kind neighbor who drives a hybrid. If I’m lucky, at least one of the busses I ride will be a hybrid. (They have ramps instead of steps. Double plus.) I miss having a car - even with the gas prices going sky high. I miss having a job. I miss having Ernie around. There’s time to get everything back if I’m lucky, everything except Ernie.

Two zucchini blossoms have dropped so far. I’ve read that’s no cause for alarm. Male flowers do that since they have no future. They live to pollinate and then die. Sounds like a guy thing to me. Suffering through blossom drop with my pepper plants two years ago toughened me to blossom drop of all kinds. Nothing has toughened me to ready this year’s pepper patch in the heat and swarms of biting insects. Think I’ll start working on next year’s garden this winter. Only the sun will stunt my yard work then. Sure, the days will be shorter but they’ll be cooler too.

I’m rambling. I noticed that and am sure you did too. Time to make dinner. This time it will be a surprise to Izzy. She’s just a dog and planning recipes shouldn’t be part of her job description. Sometimes I appreciate her input, though.

Monday, April 11, 2011

I Might Be Back

Inactivity is one of the greatest sins of blogdom and I have committed it big time. I’m guilty of ignoring this part of my writing life and therefore my internet friends.

I could offer you excuses. They probably wouldn’t hold up. I could offer promises. Would you believe me? Truth be told, my interest in the blog waned when comments ended. It isn’t fun talking to yourself, at least not for me. I spend most of the day talking to Izzy. She’s trying to talk back to me but she’s a dog and not really built for verbal communication.

I played with blogspot to see if I could fix the problem for months. Time to give it a try again. Trying to talk to Google about the problem has been as successful as trying to learn now to fly. I haven’t been alone. There are plenty of blogs with the same comments problem. Several bloggers have posted solutions. I’ll try fixes until I find one that works. I’ll need your help to see if the comments start working since the owner of the blog can always post a comment.

Meanwhile, the actual manuscript of A Table For One or Two is slowly taking shape. There are times I wish diced tomatoes came in 8-ounce cans. (The way food packaging is shrinking, that would be a 7-ounce can soon.) I wish vegetables planted from seed grew faster almost every day now. I will be staggering plantings to have a fresh, new crop until winter arrives. Gardening is taking more of my time than cooking or writing lately. That’s no way to write cookbooks but it’s a great way to get fresh, organic produce.

I’ve been trying to figure out how to return to my blog and continue writing it with love. The answer appeared as if by magic. My grandson has a link to my blog on his website. Actually, my daughter put it there. Garrison is only 6. (Sorry, G-man, six and a half.)

Writing on the blog will now be communicating with my family. As long as you’re reading it, you can be family too. Since we’re all family, I might ask you to chop onions or help with the dishes but you’re all invited for dinner or lunch or maybe even just dessert.

It’s time for me to do some cooking and thinking about the next post. I’d like to plan at least one new post every week. We’ll see how that goes. In a perfect world, we will be able to talk with each other. If that doesn’t work, I’ll continue the monologues.