Thursday, December 29, 2011

Two Days Off, Two New Recipes from the Tee- Tiny Kitchen.

Day Off Number One found me contemplating a box of Knox gelatin. Once ,congealed salads and fruit molds filled the "Salad" sections of the venerable old Southern Junior League cookbooks such as "Southern Sideboards", "Charleston Receipts",and the "Memphis Cookbook". Jello was one of the four food groups back then. Ladies who lunched because they did not have to work ate "Avocado Mousse" at their favorite tearoom. If they lived in Jackson, Mississippi, a friend's cook might have served them "Ginger Ale Salad", composed of canned mandarin oranges, pears, peaches, grapes, and the ever useful crushed canned pineapple.

Here is an example of flavored gelatin in individual molds, waiting for 3 hours of set time in the refrigerator.

And here it appears ready to be composed-

Then, with the help of cold roasted beets flavored with Creole seasoning, pimento stuffed olives. marinated artichokes, a few greens, and the ritual dollop of Duke's mayonnaise, it appears on the table-

A luncheon fit for a debutante.

My molds were not made with Jello mix, but with gelatin powder, pomegranate juice, Ribena Black Currant syrup, and water. If I had had pomegranate seeds I would have added them.

For anyone interested:

1 cup of pomegranate juice and 1/2 cup of Ribena. If you cannot find Ribena use 1/2 cup more of pomegranate juice.

1/2 cup of cold water.

2 small envelopes of Knox gelatin.

Put the juice and the Ribena in a sauce pan and bring them to a boil. Mix the gelatin powder well into the cold water then add the mix to the hot juice and whisk well. Pour into individual molds (Mine were 3 inches), then allow to set in the fridge for two to three hours. Remove them from the metal molds by running a knife around the edge. Holding the mold upside down, run some very warm water over the bottom so that the gelatin mold will drop into your palm. When you serve it surround it with whatever you like, but do not omit the mayonnaise in the middle.

Day Number Two lunch was for a different demographic, and probably not Southern. Clearly not for any ladies trying to keep their figures. Here is food for the potluck, for the fire hall and the logging camp. Food out of the galley on a barge headed from New Orleans to St Louis. A meal that makes the best of 3 yellow potatoes, a small head of cabbage, 4 cloves of garlic, 1 1/2 cups of shredded cheese, and a package of smoked sausage I bought for half-price as a Manager's Special at Kroger.

To cook this-

1 small cabbage, shredded in a food processor grater blade.

3 Gold potatoes peeled and shredded, as above.

4 garlic cloves.

Salt, or sea salt to taste.

1 pound of smoked sausage, cut into 1/4 inch rounds.

1 1/2 cups shredded cheese. Monterrey Jack, Gruyere, Swiss. Any one of them. I used Gruyere. I will bet a milder cheddar might be good.

1 cup of water with a chicken broth cube dissolved in it.

Use two big skillets. Saute the potatoes in several tablespoons of olive oil and in 1/2 stick of melted butter. Toss to coat, add more oil if needed, then salt to taste, but not too heavily. Remove the skillet from the heat when the potatoes are soft and tasty.

Saute the cabbage in the other skillet in 1/2 of a stick of butter and several tablespoons of olive oil. Add salt to taste, then the garlic cloves, diced or crushed in a press. Toss to coat, then add 1 cup of water flavored with the broth cube. Cook on medium heat until the cabbage is cooked through and the broth has been reduced.

Layer half the cabbage on the bottom of a 9 inch casserole or glsss pie plate. Then add 1/3 of the smoked sausage rounds. Sprinkle 1/2 cup of the shredded cheese next, then top with all the cooked potatoes. Layer in 1/2 of the remaining sausage rounds, cover with the last of the shredded cabbage, and cover with the cheese. Bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes.

This should serve 4 large men.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

What would Jesse Do?

These are Southern breakfast biscuits, and they are the real thing.

And Jesse Willis Lewis, a legendary cook of Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, showed me his way to make them. Jesse was the family cook for Marshall Ballard, editor of the" New Orleans Item". Edith Ballard Watts, Mr Ballard's daughter, wrote a book about Jesse and his recipes and dinners, which she says dazzled opera tenors, Catholic bishops, Henry Luce, and H.L. Mencken, (the last no fan of the South, which he called "The Sahara of the Bozart"). The book is"Jesse's Book of Creole and Deep South Recipes".

Anyone who hates lard should click away now, for lard these biscuits have in abundance. On the other hand ,you might want to take a chance on something delicious that arguably might take ten minutes off your life in the distant future. The chances are that your doctor and Big Pharma may get you first when they prescribe you the Next Big Drug that just happens to have leukemia as an "adverse reaction". I would rather take my chances with the biscuits.

Jesse's recipe is very forgiving. I know this because it forgave me. I have the bad habit of looking at the ingredients and ignoring the directions. Regular cooking may overlook this but baking will smote you down every time. Just not with this recipe. I added the milk before I cut the lard into the flour. This created a doughy mess I had to cure by adding more flour. What was the worst that could happen I wondered? I can always give the biscuits, or whatever comes out of the oven in their place, to the beagle and the possums. And then I did something worse- I worked the lard into the dough with my fingers. For an eternity. I knew this would be fatal. Rigor mortis would set in after 5 minutes at 500 degrees. A Yankee kills another batch of biscuits-

But I didn't. Butter. Strawberry jam made from Portland, Tennessee strawberries. Lard heaven! I ate four biscuits, 2 Jimmy Dean sausages, and a fried egg. Then I drank a glass of pomegranate juice, which is supposed to be some kind of life preservative. Maybe breakfast would only shorten my life by five minutes, if the juice kicked in.

Jesse's Old Fashioned Hot Biscuits

2 cups of non-self -rising flour.

1 tsp salt.

1 teaspoon of sugar.

2 teaspoons of baking powder.

6 level tablespoons of lard.

1 cup sweet milk.

Sift the dry ingredients into a bowl.Then add the lard and cut it into the dough with the edge of a spoon until it is the size of peas. Then stir in the milk. Put flour on a board, put the dough on it, then roll the dough out till it is 1/2 inch thick. Cut out biscuits with a glass or a biscuit cutter. Place on a greased baking sheet and bake 10 t0 15 minutes at 500 degrees.

Makes 12 to 15 biscuits.

And remember- I did this backwards. And it still worked.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Miss Betsy's Carrot Vichyssoise

I intended to make conventional Vichyssoise today, but added garlic cloves and carrots to give the soup a new twist. And not only is this soup lovely to look at, it is lovely to eat. It is a winter soup, rich and filling. Not to mention simple to make. You need-

3 leeks (White portion of stalk), cut into small pieces.

4 Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and diced.

3 medium carrots, peeled and diced.

2 15 oz cans chicken broth.

1 cup of water.

Sea salt, to taste.

1/4 cup of heavy cream.

1/3 stick of butter.

1/4 teaspoon Herbs de Provence.

3 peeled garlic cloves.

Put the broth and water in a large sauce pan. Add the vegetables, the butter, and the herbs. Cover and heat over low medium until all the vegetables are tender. Then strain the vegetables through a colander, puree them in a food processor and then add them back into the broth. Add the heavy cream and stir well. Taste, and salt as needed.

This should serve at least six.

Monday, December 26, 2011

"All the World's a Stage". Facebook and the Detritus of Drama.

People live now who think their lives deserve to be broadcast daily to anyone riding a mouse around the World Wide Web. That their readers might be DEA agents, background checkers, prospective employers, current employers, police detectives, ex-wives, wronged wives , girlfriends, co-workers, the Department of Homeland Security, and serial killers does not seem to occur to them. Like stained underwear on a clothes line, their embarrassments are out in the world for all to see. Their privacy, one of life's true Good Things, is gone. Squandered and abused. These people would rather be a character than possess character. No more is a veil drawn, no more is there the dignity of reticence.

What is more banal than an office affair? Its only originality the new ways it can make the innocent suffer. It is always the same story. Yet since Hell has no fury, the disdained wife now seeks a Cyber Jury and her husband's name, his girl friend's name, rocket at light speed out over the planet where every "friend" they claim can weigh in in Facebook's on-line Colosseum.

No drama too trivial.No incident too small. No lapse in judgement forgotten. Who needs the priest behind a screen when one can seek absolution and understanding from dozens of strangers?

Time for a Cyber Stoning! Off with his Reputation! Thumbs up and let her live! Thumbs down ,and let him die.

Oh- the things one overhears standing in line or sitting in the break room. There is only one decent reply to all of this.


Sunday, December 25, 2011

The Annals of Nursing- Senior Year. A Prologue.

I read an article on line today that reports that a recent Gallup Poll of the public found nurses the most trusted professionals, and ten points ahead of doctors!

This is good news, if it is accurate, and nurses are in need of good news. For I, and every nurse my age that I know, are close to despair about the future of our profession. Across the country employers, stung by falling and failing government money, are declaring war on nurses' salaries and benefits. Nurses in California are striking hospitals that are threatening to eliminate paid sick leave and to take away the shift differentials that mitigate the miseries of working nights and weekends and holidays. Employers have grown bold, seeing the numbers of unemployed new graduate nurses, and they are not afraid to demand give backs from people they feel should be happy they have a job at all- I can remember one of my former nurse managers telling me that "hospitals can't afford us any more".

And soon, the situation will get worse. Hospitals stand to lose up to thirty percent of government reimbursement if the patients in those hospitals are not" satisfied" with their care. And they will lose even more if discharged patients end up coming right back to the hospital.

Not every patient can be satisfied. Not every patient can be fixed.

In some hospitals nurses must now wear phones so patients can call them directly. What happens when the nurse cannot answer the phone because she is doing a dressing change or giving insulin or talking to another one of her patients? The patient, or their family, is not satisfied. They call the supervisor to complain.

People with heart failure go home from the hospital, but cannot afford the medicine they need to keep them out of the hospital. Back in they will come, and the hospital and the people that work there will take the blame.

Discouraged, and without one idea how to fix this predicament, I look back now to 1971, and to what must have been a golden age for hospitals and health care. An age when squads of diploma nursing students staffed their hospitals for free. And who worked for $3.00 an hour when they became RNs. Who worked three out of four weekends and ten eight hour night shifts in a row. New nurses who needed no expensive orientation to wards they knew intimately. Nurses who had time to give patients back rubs because those nurses did not have to spend hours bar coding each medicine they gave and filling out eight pages of "documentation" on every patient they cared for. Nor had we yet entered the heart of The Tube Age, when nurses became jailers whose mantra was "Thou shall not pull out thy tubes." And oh how many tubes would be in our future, and they would get more care than the patients they were inserted in-

So let us return now to the antique days of September 1971. And I will leave you with the first sentence of the final chapter of my story of the old Mary Hitchcock Memorial Hospital School of Nursing.

In the fall of 1971 I entered my third and final year of nursing school-

To be continued.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Maple Hominy Custard

The American Heritage Cookbook has a recipe for an antique Yankee dessert called "Indian Pudding". It is yellow cornmeal flavored with molasses ,and without frills. I remember eating it once, but who fed it to me and where, I cannot remember. I have never made it myself, for it did not taste as good to me as it must have tasted to snowbound settlers of early New England who lived on farms along the Connecticut River ,and who kept forts such as the Old Fort Number 4 in Charlestown, New Hampshire to protect themselves from the Abnaki Indians. It is a" make do" recipe of pragmatic Yankee housewives.

Never the less, seeing the recipe set me to inventing the other afternoon. Why not, I thought, use hominy instead of cornmeal? Why not use a sweet flavoring more elegant and precious than plain molasses? Why not use maple syrup, the best sweet the North Country can provide-

I do not know how to make molasses. Nor could I refine sugar. But I do know how to make maple syrup, and I made several pints of it for my family in the winter of my twelfth year. My father had moved us to an old farmhouse in North Charlestown, New Hampshire. It had been our summer house, but my restless father had made it our all year home. It had a barn that had stanchions for a handful of cows, and a tiny patch of pasturage behind the house. The rest of our land was steep, wooded hillsides with granite cliffs that dropped to the Little Sugar River. There were no dairy cows anymore, but if there had been a market for porcupines, we would have been rich for they tunneled into our rocks to make their dens.

We had eight old maple trees along the Unity Road on the hill behind our house. I pounded in three taps to a tree and hung my sap buckets. Cold March nights and warmer days made the sap run, and every evening after I came home from school, I collected my sap and pored it into a big rectangular metal pan I heated over an open fire I kept down near the back side of our barn. I remember sitting there watching the distant red sunset across the Connecticut River and over the hills of Vermont. Gallons of sap boiled away to make a few cups of maple syrup. If we had fresh, clean snow we would toss the syrup on it where it congealed to "Sugar on Snow". Sometimes I finished the reduced sap on the stove in the house, and one night I boiled it too hard and ruined a batch-

But I digress, and need to get back to my recipe. I decided to make an egg custard with hominy and maple syrup. I wanted it to be simple and good and requiring nothing more than home made whipped cream on top- and someone happy to eat it.

It turned out well, and I plan on taking it to our Christmas night potluck at work.

Maple Hominy Custard.

29 oz white hominy, drained very well.

3/4 cup maple syrup

3 eggs

1/2 cup heavy cream

1/4 stick butter, melted.

Ground cardamon

Ground cinnamon

Puree the hominy in a food processor. Add the cream, the butter, and the maple syrup and mix well. Add the eggs and process for a minute or two. Pour the mixture into a nine inch tart or pie pan. Sprinkle on some ground cinnamon and ground cardamon. Bake at 350 degrees for 50 minutes. Top with whipped cream. This should serve six or more after a winter weekend or holiday dinner.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Curried Sweet Potatoes with Coconut and Honey

I cooked this last evening with Japanese sweet potatoes I bought at K&S world Market. I could have as easily used regular sweet potatoes. I glazed them with a mixture of honey, ghee (Feel free to use butter instead), and red curry paste. Then, before wrapping them in foil and baking them at 350 degrees for an hour, I sprinkled a few teaspoons of very finely shredded coconut over them.
Very tasty. This makes enough for four.

3 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and diced

1-2 teaspoons red curry paste, depending how spicy you want the glaze.

1/3 cup honey

1/3 -1/2 stick of butter or four or five tablespoons of ghee.

A couple tablespoons of finely shredded coconut.

Salt, to taste.

Melt the honey, the butter, and the curry paste in the microwave. Put the sweet potatoes in a bowl and pour the glaze over them. Toss well to coat. Sprinkle a little salt over them, and then the coconut. Bake in a baking dish with the potatoes sealed in foil.

What would go with this? Ham? Pork loin? Roast Chicken, or turkey? I think any one of them-

Friday, December 16, 2011

From the American Heritage Cookbook

Here are a sample of some of the illustrations in the American Heritage Cookbook I bought yesterday at McKay. Americana at its best-

* A note on the first picture and the quote "what angels eat." Mark Twain said this. He was talking about watermelon.

A Lucky Day at McKay's Books

Today, at McKay's Used Books ,I found a collectible copy of the Bible of Puerto Rican cooking. It is "Puerto Rican Cookery" by Carmen Aboy Valldejui, published in 1977. I paid $4.00 for it. I also found "Cross Creek Kitchens", a cookbook written by Sally Morrison, a park ranger and once curator of the Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings home in Cross Creek ,Florida. I paid $3.00 for it.

Bargains both, and just the sort of vintage cookery books I look for at McKay's. Books from old libraries, old estates- books sold for a fraction of their worth. Of course one can find plenty of Emeril and Jamie Oliver and Paula Deen at McKay's but I will leave those to others. Give me the "America Heritage Cookbook" in its two volumes. One devoted to an illustrated history of American foodways, the other filled with recipes and menus. It was published in 1964. I paid three dollars for the set this morning.

Three dollars. Happy the city that has a McKay's!

* For those unfamiliar with McKay's- it is a book store where people bring their unwanted or superfluous books for sale or trade. McKay's has no idea what books it has ,or where they are shelved. Luck plays a big part in shopping there.

Luck was with me today.

My Side Of the Mountain- Today's Old Movie Mention

I regret that movies such as "My Side of the Mountain" never show on cable. I would have loved to have watched it last evening. Alas, to see it I would have had to re-join Netflix- something I am not about to do.

It is the story of a brave and adventurous Canadian boy named Sam, who, like his hero Henry David Thoreau, goes to live in the woods. Sam travels to the Laurentian Mountains, tames a raccoon and a falcon, and makes camp inside an old, hollow tree. He plans to live there undisturbed, entertained by his animal friends and his algae experiments. Yet because he is a young boy alone, the world still keeps track of him in the persons of a local lady librarian and an itinerant song writer played by Theodore Bikel.

These days, boys like as Sam would be punished, drugged, labelled, or locked away for pursuing adventures. Their spirit and imagination would be thwarted. No longer are boys allowed to be boys. (Or girls allowed to be tomboys either).

Amazon sells this DVD. I am certain Netflix would mail it to you as well. A fine movie for the intelligent child who is not yet spoiled or jaded.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Evolution of "Toad-in-the-Hole".

I own one book on English cooking, and this recipe came from it, though I found it borrowed by Richard Olney and his compilers in his "Pork" volume in "The Good Cook" series Time-Life published in the late seventies. Jane Grigson collected this recipe in her "British Cookery".

One can imagine "Toad-in-the-Hole" appearing on a Dickensian dinner table. Or at breakfast in "The Secret Garden". It looks English. Simple, a little stodgy, just meat and bread pudding
without any French or Continental airs. I am not sure its inventor-whoever she was- meant it to include Jimmy Dean sausages, but I do live in Tennessee. Jane Grigson proposes partridges,steak, and kidneys as alternatives to the sausages. She even mentions that some have imprisoned lamb chops in the batter, but adds" This I do not care for quite so much".

1 pound of pork link sausages

3 tbsp lard or oil

1 cup of flour


2 eggs

1 1/4 cups of milk

Sift the flour into a bowl. Add a pinch of salt. Slowly whisk in the eggs and the milk, eggs first. (I encountered lumps at this point- persistent ones- so I pushed the batter through a sieve, and rubbed out the lumps.)

Put the lard or oil in the center of a 9 inch baking dish and heat it briefly in a 425 degree oven. Meanwhile, simmer the sausages, which you have pricked with fork tines, in very warm water for 5 minutes. Now place a layer of batter over the bottom of your baking dish. It should set a bit so one can embed the sausages in it. Pour the rest of the batter over the sausages and bake at 425 degrees for 30-40 minutes until the batter is golden brown. I confess I skipped the embedding part because I neglected to read every sentence of the instructions. This led to the toads trying to escape, and I had to push them back down into the batter. No matter. It still tasted good.

I think this would be great fun to cook with a child watching, or even helping. Just the name alone should pique interest.

This would be good on Christmas Eve for supper, or on Christmas morning for breakfast.

* A word to new or young cooks. You could do worse than to collect the Time-Life series "The Good Cook." It is timeless, and Richard Olney was chief consultant.

* Irma Rombauer has a version of this in her "Joy of Cooking".

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

I Hear America Picking.

Perennially late to the party, I met Mike and Frank a week ago on a Monday night when I had been up for over thirty six hours and was looking for something to keep me up till nine. I had given up on watching anything on TV after that, and had almost given up on making it until eight-

Until television's Great Roulette Wheel spun one last time, and I landed on the History Channel.

And there they were. The Kerouac and Cassady of Junkdom. "The American Pickers". Out on the back roads of Flyover Country in their white van, free of drugs but flush with cash, guided on their cellphone by their trusty tattooed human wire haired pointer Danielle, who back at their store, collected leads on farms and outbuildings and sheds full of stuff no one could bear to throw away. Buildings full of "Made in America" from the era when things were last made in America. (The occasional Vespa and preserved Rolls-Royce the only exceptions). Penny arcade games, wind up record players, old ESSO gas station signs, antique mouse traps. A Duck-billed dinosaur bone. It is all out there, through the parting of the grassy weeds, right up to a door of the about-to collapse barn guarded by a geezer who seems to not want to sell anything. In go Mike and Frank picking and digging, picking and digging. Thirty feet under a mound of trash they find a miniature trombone, or an antique paint can-it does not matter. They want it.

"I can't sell that", says Geezer, "It was my Daddy's. He thought the world of it". Our boys make him an offer. Geezer looks pensive. Geezer is thinking, or what passes for it on camera. "Okay", he says, "I got to get at least a hundred". Mike and Frank look dubious. "Fifty", says Mike.

"Sixty", says Geezer, and he and Mike shake hands.

And away the Pickers go in their the white van, miniature trombone in hand, on this road trip that never ends, looking for "Man-tiques". Danielle, tied to the store, smells adventure. She wants to go picking with them. Just once. She tells them so.

Oh no. Mike and Frank want no part of it.( I don't blame or judge them. They don't want a woman in the van. I don't want a man in the house. We would get on well together.)

Diogenes looked for an honest man. I look for a happy man. Or two, in this case. And in Frank and Mike- I have found them. Men to envy, whose avocation is their vocation. Men who like what they do for a living, jumping out of their van with the enthusiasm of puppies as soon as they see that tell tale rusted metal in a farm field with an old garage surrounded by school buses. How many of us could dare to say the same, here in this country where every employer now sneaks through e-mail or data mines Facebook looking for excuses to replace the disgruntled with the timorous and obedient.

Every day, every ride for Mike and Frank is a trip down a metaphysical Route 66, a Camino Real, for those fortunate enough to get out and drive it. Junk is only an excuse. Like Kerouac's Dharma Bums, Mike and Frank are out smelling the midnight mint.

It smells like freedom to me.

My Favorite Winter Ragu

I work tonight, and this ragu, on fettuccine, will be my lunch. No need to spend $3.50 I could use for a gallon of gasoline on an overpriced half-baked pizza slice at The Big Hospital across Church Street Cafetorium. No need for a JJ BLT from Jimmy John's. No need for tortillas from Los Palmas. I can eat better than that, and cheaper.

A winter ragu needs to be heartier than the light sauce of summer. It needs to look north toward Bologna with its cream and butter and diced carrots. I eat this on pasta and on toasted Italian bread. I eat it for breakfast, for after all I work night shift when breakfast,lunch, and dinner
lose their moorings and drift into other parts of the day.

Winter Ragu

1 pound sweet Italian sausage

1 medium yellow onion, diced

3 garlic cloves- diced or crushed in a press.

Olive oil

Sea salt- to sweat the onions, and then to taste

Italian seasoning

1 1/2 tablespoons of Balsamic or red wine vinegar

15 ounces diced tomatoes- I use Fire Roasted Muir Glen canned tomatoes.

1/3 cup heavy cream

1/3 stick of unsalted butter.

Put 3 or 4 tablespoons of olive oil in a large, deep saute pan or deep skillet. When it is hot add the diced onions and saute them till they are golden. Add some sea salt to sweat them. Next add the garlic and the crumbled sausage and 1 teaspoon of Italian seasoning. Saute the sausage for a few minutes (no need to brown it), then add the tomatoes, the vinegar, and the diced carrots. Saute, covered, on low medium for 45 minutes to an hour or until the carrots are tender. Then add the butter and the cream and keep on low heat another ten minutes.

Serve on any pasta. Very good with spinach pasta. This amount of ragu should feed at least 4-6 people.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Gingerbread Coffee Cake

Being a nobody, homebody cook with no professional pride to get in the way, I find myself free to use conveniences that might embarrass someone more serious. I am not too good to open a can or twist off a top. I will use a mix if I want to. I used a box of Betty Crocker Gingerbread mix to make this.

I work 12 hour night shifts in a difficult profession. I wake up tired, and go to work tired. On my days off- I cook, for it is my hobby, but there is no way for me to manufacture time. Last night I wanted to make a coffee cake, but having had only 8 hours sleep in 3 days, my ambitions were low. I pulled down a box of gingerbread mix, added 3 eggs instead of 1, 1 1/4 cups of water, added 1/4 cup of ginger preserves, and the juice of one half orange, mixed it well, and baked it. I glazed it with the juice from the other half of the orange mixed with more ginger preserves.

This cake is like a gingerbread brownie pudding cake. It is dense, but moist, with little nuggets of ginger. I poured heavy cream over my first slice, but whipped cream would be good too.

I baked this in a 9 inch nonstick cake pan. 350 degrees. 35 minutes.

A Contrarian's Christmas

There were enough merry Christmases in my youth to compensate for my indifference to that holiday in later life. I now refuse to celebrate spending money. To me, the greatest holiday of the year is that day in early April when barn swallows return to Tennessee skies. The only winter holiday I mark is New Year's, and my tradition that day is to re-read Charles Lamb's essay "New Year's Eve".

"Every man has two birthdays", wrote Lamb,who counted the first day of the year as one of them .And he wrote as well -"No one ever regarded the First of January with indifference. It is that from which all date their time, and count upon what is left. It is the nativity of our common Adam".

Old women look back, and semi-old women look back more clearly, which is why I am writing this vignette about my father's family. I will leave my mother's family in Heaven, where they belong. Especially my grandmother Clara Robertson Palmer, a lover of Longfellow and Whittier and Bonnie Prince Charlie. It was she who once told me about my "great, great grandfather James Robertson, who went down through the Cumberland Gap-". (She was an honest and good woman, and I've no reason to doubt her).

My other grandmother was cut from different cloth. She was the mother of many, all of whom spent their adult years moving farther and farther away to get away from her. Just a rumor that she was relocating to be closer was enough to start the calls to United Van Lines. In her life, nothing had made her happy, and this she wanted to share. Her husband, Hubert S., tried to ignore her by smoking and working. He worked at New Departure, and was selectively forgetful. He never learned the names of any his twenty plus grandchildren. I was the only one he acknowledged, for I was the oldest. He called me "Brooklyn", because I was born there. Once, he left his family sitting in a downtown diner in Bristol while he went to park the car. He did not come back, and one of his sisters found him hours later, home asleep on the couch. In later years Grandmother S. exacted spotty revenges. I remember a family dinner when she pointed to her husband and told the table "When Hubert here finally dies, I'm going to Florida and live like a queen".

Her family complained that she would not cook for them, but after a while I am sure they realized that this was a blessing. She once served me chicken soup with the chicken heart bobbing around in it, right in my bowl. I had just turned thirty. She had not seen me in a few years, and her greeting was " Well, I see you haven't gotten fat yet".

Her children were resourceful. They had to be, and my Uncle Donnie told me he once had to shoot a chicken out of the tree himself, just so they could eat dinner.

Oh, Uncle Donnie- time has come between us. You were my favorite.

I remember sitting on the porch of the great multi-roomed house on top of a hill off the main highway. Playing a game with Donnie, guessing what color car and what make would go by next. I ran away from my Aunt Philly, who was always trying to brush my hair and turn me into a girl. I would hide with Uncle Donnie, who was as much an uncle as a teenage boy could be. He played "Green Door, What's that secret you're Keeping?" for me over and over on his record player."They got a big piano, and they play it hot behind the green door!', I would howl.

The other song he taught me, and I share it with you now ,was the saga of the two brothers Herman and Sherman.

"Little Herman and brother Sherman

Had an aversion

To washing their ears

Grandma washed them

With some Lysol

And they haven't heard a word in years".

How strange are the things we remember, yet I would not forget them for the world.

Stupid songs. Counting cars. A stubby, scowling materfamilias, waiting in a diner for her husband, who has been gone 3 hours. I never heard what she said.

But I can imagine.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Hominy, Bacon, Cheese, and Chiles Casserole

I brought this casserole to a going away potluck Thursday night. Not one bite came home with me. Just the empty dish. Several people at this potluck told me they had never heard of hominy. This surprised me, for it shows how far away some are from their roots in the South. These people, who have never heard of hominy, were the descendants of slaves who became free men and women. Who farmed and raised their own sorghum, their own sweet potatoes, who celebrated at hog-killing time. Edna Lewis, in "The Taste of Country Cooking", describes how her Aunt Jennie Hailstalk turned dried corn to hominy with fire, lye, and ashes. Dorie Sanders, in "Country Cooking" writes " Hominy was long the backbone of rural cooking in the South".

Here is my recipe-

2 15 ounce cans of white or yellow hominy.

1/4 cup sour cream

1/2 to 1 cup of grated cheese, depending on how cheesy you want the casserole. I used a combination of Mexican Farmers' cheese and Jarlsberg, because I had them on hand. Monterrey Jack or cheddar would have worked. (But not, I think, any strong European cheese such as Parmesan.)

6 strips of crispy bacon, diced up.

1 4 ounce can of diced mild green chilis.

Salt, a little to taste

A shake or two of Adobo seasoning- optional

A 10 inch Pyrex pie dish or a 9 inch square casserole dish

Drain the 30 ounces of hominy well. Spread half the hominy in the dish, then add a layer of half the cheese, the chiles, and the bacon. Dot sour cream around on top of the layer. Lightly salt, if desired or flavor with a few shakes of Adobo. Then add the rest of the hominy and top with the remaining ingredients.

Bake at 350 degrees for 15-20 minutes -just long enough to heat through and melt the cheese.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

A Winter Dawn In Nashville

Tonight at work we are having a carry-in for someone moving on to a new job. Today I will be cooking. A pork loin glazed with pineapple-mustard bourbon sauce. Salsa Shrimp. Coconut Curry Shrimp. A Hominy Casserole with chiles, cheese, bacon, and sour cream. Carrots and sweet potatoes glazed with honey and Creole Spices.

There will be photos! And recipes. But not today-

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Two Carrots, a Fennel Bulb, and Half a Red Cabbage

Orphan vegetables, forgotten in the crisper, need a happy ending. I had leftover cabbage and a lone fennel bulb, and I rescued them with the help of heavy cream, Gruyere cheese, and four eggs.

This is a crust less quiche. I could have provided a pie shell, but I was too tired and wanted something quick. I baked this at 375 degrees for 35 minutes on the advice of Julia Child, though this combination of vegetables was my own. And how good it tastes! How useful for a brunch.

1/2 small head of red cabbage.

1 fennel bulb

2 carrots

4 eggs

Sea salt to taste

1/4 cup heavy cream

1/2 stick butter

1 teaspoon Herbs de Provence

2-3 tablespoons olive oil

6-8 ounces Gruyere cheese

4 cloves of garlic

1/4 cup water

Shred the peeled carrots, the fennel, and the cabbage through the shredder disc of your food processor.

Melt half a stick of butter in a skillet, then add the vegetables and the diced garlic. Add the olive oil, then toss the vegetables to coat them. Now is the time to flavor with the salt to taste. Add the water, cover the skillet, and cook over medium heat for 20-30 minutes until the vegetables are tender. Add the Herbs de Provence and any more salt you think you need. Now add the cream and the grated cheese. Mix well and take the mixture off the heat. Let it cool down a bit so it will not prematurely set the eggs. When it has cooled add the eggs and beat them in . Then pour the mixture into a 12 inch tart dish or a casserole dish. Bake at 375 for 35 minutes. If you have a skewer you can test the quiche by poking it into the center to make sure it comes out clean, which insures the quiche is ready.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Green Lentil Stew with Unexpected Flavors- From Miss Betsy's Experimental Kitchen

The inspiration for this recipe came from "The Sultan"s Kitchen", a cookbook by Ozcan Ozan. The kitchen is not the palace kitchen of a Turkish Sultan. It is a Boston restaurant. I saw the recipe for Green Lentil Salad-"Mercimek Piyazi"-,, and though I lacked several ingredients of this recipe, I added some of my own. I cooked the lentils in water flavored with chicken bouillon.. When they were al dente I added fire roasted diced tomatoes, garlic, red onion and shallots, olive oil, cider vinegar, pomegranate molasses, and orange juice. And lots of cumin. I stirred and the warm lentils mixed with the cold tomatoes and the raw onions. This is great cold or warm. It is sweet, sour, salty, and crunchy.I think bread would enjoy being dipped in it.

1 1/2 cup dried green lentils.

2 1/2 cups of water flavored with 2 chicken bouillon cubes.

Bring the lentils and the broth to a boil, then cover , and simmer for 25 minutes.

When the lentils are done they will have absorbed most of the broth.

Then add:

1 1/2 cup of fire roasted diced tomatoes

4 garlic cloves sent through a press or finely diced.

1/4 of a red onion- chopped.

2 shallots, chopped.

1/2 teaspoon of ground red pepper.

1/4 cup of olive oil.

2 teaspoons (at least!) of cumin

2 teaspoons of cider vinegar.

2 teaspoons of pomegranate molasses.

The juice from half an orange.

Sea salt to taste.

Let the stew cool and treat this like gazpacho, or eat it warm.

A Rainy Day in Nashville

A tough commute home this morning. There was much traffic, and all of it was wet. I do not love city driving, and I dread it in snow and rain. There was also a great clot of cars stuck behind a school bus out here in Bellevue. We sat behind the bus for ten minutes as stragglers from the apartment these children lived in raced down the hill and stood in line in the rain. By the time the bus turned off its red warning lights, at least two dozen kids were on board. From one bank of hillside apartments.

I remember when children lived in houses with yards. I did. My father had his vegetable garden, as did our neighbors, whose Polish grandmother grew corn and squash. My neighborhood gang roamed the woods and the swamps. There were children everywhere, the girls competing to see who had the most colorful tights, and everyone playing with their Hula Hoops. This was the Fifties, a happy time to be a child. In my bedroom in our old salt box house someone had stenciled stars and moons on the ceiling. I kept turtles in a pen in our back yard.

How sad to see all these children with no back yard. Where did their houses go? Back to the bank? Or perhaps they never have lived in a house. They get to play in the apartment parking lot while their father tries to find a new job. Their mother works as a waitress at the Cracker Barrel. I do not see the optimism of the Fifties. We are all living on fiscal ice only an inch thick.

And lest anyone think this was just one apartment , I drove past another as I turned onto my street. And there they were again. More kids, their mothers with umbrellas, the kids with their backpacks.

The kids without a yard.

Sunday, December 4, 2011


I have been thinking about writing, and about the people who sit in their rooms alone, putting pen to paper or finger to keyboard. We are a solitary lot, and for every flamboyant Hemingway or Mailer, there are hundreds of quiet and unobtrusive people who spend their hours watching. Observing. No one notices us. Perhaps we were the plainest girl in the room. Perhaps we live to tell stories at the expense of living life itself. We sit in the corner and try to be a person" on whom nothing is lost".

Many years ago I worked in a U.S. Veterans Hospital. I cared for a man who was a low level wiseguy. He liked me, and he told me that if anyone ever bothered me he could make them pay. "I can get you anything short of murder", he said. I worked with a nurse practitioner who served in Vietnam. She told me of caring for soldiers left for dead in a ditch who saw their comrades dragged away by tigers. When we nurses had a meeting one night at her home, we backed over her cannabis patch, trying to park.

Writers pay attention. No detail is missed. Others ask us how we can remember. We know it is because we cannot forget.

The Salt Cod Experiment

George Mallory said he climbed Everest because "It was there". I could say the same thing, albeit on a smaller and fishy scale, about why I spent fourteen dollars on a box of salt cod. I could not resist it after seeing Mario Batali extol it on "Molto Mario". Perhaps it has the appeal of a grandmother's beloved dish, but to open its wooden box leads to dismay. Even after soaking it for two days, and changing the water five times, a smell persisted that I can only compare to an unwashed body. Once baked as fish cakes, the smell diminished. They were edible. But the question remains, now that we have refrigerators, why we would eat fish that has to sit in a bowl of water for 48 hours. I remember the wonderful scene in "Babette's Feast" when the elderly sister shows Babette how to prepare dried fish. "Babette can cook" Auguste Pepin ,the famous singer ,tells the sisters in a letter asking them to give asylum to this great French chef. But Babette, cooking her feast for her benefactors ,did not serve salt cod.

Perhaps it is an acquired taste, and my apologies to any one who considers it sacred. And the expiration date was 2013, so it was not spoiled.

Saturday, December 3, 2011


Shakespeare pleased the crowds. So did Dickens. He serialized his tales, and people waited. Nothing is so pleasing as a good story.

But we live now in a visual world. Our stories are on a screen, for as much as we would like to pretend that we read Virginia Woolf every day, we do not. We wait for Wednesday night, hoping not for a rerun, but to discover what the Japanese gentleman will do to save Emily Thorne on "Revenge". Betrayal, revenge, retribution. There is no Dickens today. No "Bleak House". I talk to people who say they do not watch TV. I think they lie. Nothing captivates like a good story.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Newt Gingrich- To the Women of the World

He told his wife he was leaving her when she was in the hospital being treated for cancer. What more needs to be said. I try to avoid politics but in this case I cannot refrain.