Culinary Trends: 2021

Last January, I explored food trends 2020 with a light heart and sense of adventure. Since then, for many home cooks, these culinary adventures have turned laborious. With restaurants closing then re-opening then re-closing and individuals having to work from home while caring for small children and teens, also at home, and supervising their virtually learning of God-knows-what, some adults feel chained to the kitchen, preparing 3 meals a day.

In those early months, what fun we had with our sour dough starters, ordering meals from Blue Apron, canning and fermenting! However, 9 months later, the instant pot has lost some of its shine.

Researching 2021 food predictions by chefs, marketing companies, newspapers, and food critics, one finds the tone a bit somber, at least for the first half of the year. However, you can also hear the clinking of “glass half full” folks, such as marketer Andrew Freeman, who promises: “If we can ride the wave of what’s going to be a crappy winter, it’s going to be like the Roaring Twenties all over again.” That might be true, but only if we can hold on to our jobs and homes and electricity!

First, the dark side. Large chains, like McDonald’s and Domino’s, will be fine. Independent restaurants, on the other hand, will continue to struggle to survive. Food Delivery programs have hurt indies. Thus, supporting local restaurants, many of which are now offering take-out is key to their survival. Local restaurants need us, and we need them so they will be here once the pandemic ends.

On the positive side, restauranteurs are exploring new ways to serve their customers and communities. Chefs around the country are opening 2-day pop-ups and hosting virtual cooking classes. Others, like Chapel Hill’s Sheri Castle offer “Zoom Cook-Along” classes.

In 2021, fine dining restaurants will be adding comfort dishes to their menu. As the Wall Street Journal predicts: “tumultuous times will leave us craving simpler plating, product-driven cooking and old-school recipes, both at home and in restaurants.” Restaurant designer Anna Polonsky 
“sees tablecloths making a comeback—as in grandmothers’ linens, not ultra-high-end ones—along with rounder edges, cozy fabrics, handmade ceramics, comfortable seating and softer lighting. Her take: ‘In a chaotic world, all one wants is stability.’”

This past fall, I began doing just that by hosting a couple of Underground Supper Clubevents at the cabin. The most positive reviews, other than that the guests felt safe, had to do with the intimacy of the venue, the congeniality of the guests, and dining al fresco with a view of Farmer Lake.

In addition, I also ran two 4-week CSA Subscriptions for comforting soups (and will be offering another one in February–for more information, see below). One subscriber said they enjoyed not having to go into the kitchen on “Thursday Soup Night.” Another said they felt like Linus with his warm blanket.

2021 Food Trends for cooks and chefs might not sound exciting, but they are because most trends for the upcoming year are focusing on what is truly important: health and family. As an added bonus to the local economy, they also involve supporting area farmers and local food producers.

Most of the trend predictions suggest that veggies will be more popular than ever. Covid has awakened us to the importance of building up our immune systems for the next disaster on the horizon. Veggies play a key role in developing a healthy lifestyle, so start making friends with your local farmers, such as Open Door FarmHoney Bee HillsByrd Farm, and Cornerstone Garlic Farm. Although 2021 marks a shift away from a 20 oz porterhouse steak diet plan, plant-based meat (such as beef from CatbriarMilner, and Baldwin Farms will continue to flourish.

Other good news on the local front: Because we are restricted travel-wise, regional foods and locally made products will be the stars of 2021. Great news for our local farmers’ markets and restaurants, such as King Cropp in Danville that works with local farmers.

The common theme of these trends is clear: Food for 2021 is community- and family-focused. The Wall Street Journal reports that “families will eat—and cook-together more often.” This is a good thing since recent surveys conducted by the FMI (Food Industry Association) report that families who eat meals together are more likely to have better dietary habits and higher quality family functioning. WSJ also reports that “regionalism will heat up.” This means that we will be looking closer to home for your food sources. 2021 is looking pretty good.

Roasted Garbanzo Beans

According to Whole Foods Inc, in 2021 “garbanzo beans will be the new cauliflower.”

Here is a favorite recipe I often make to top salads and Buddha bowls. It begins with 1 15-ounce (425 g) of garbanzo beans, sometimes referred to as chickpeas. Be sure to rinse them well and then drain them. They need to be dry before you roast them.

Place your drained and dried garbanzo beans in a bowl. Using your hands, mix 1 tsp. cumin, ¼ tsp. cayenne pepper, ¾ tsp. chili powder, ¾ tsp. garlic powder, ¼ tsp. salt, ¼ tsp. pepper, ½ tsp. oregano, ½ tsp. smoky paprika with beans and spread out on sheet pan covered with foil.

Bake at 375 for 10 minutes. Stir. Continue baking 10 – 15 plus minutes, stirring occasionally, until chickpeas are roasted and crispy. Crispy is what you are looking for.

Fourth of July Pan Dowdy

Happy Fourth of July!

“You have to love a nation that celebrates its independence every July 4th, not with a parade of guns, tanks, and soldiers who file by the White House in a show of strength and muscle, but with family picnics where kids throw Frisbees, the potato salad gets iffy, and the flies die from happiness. You may think you have overeaten, but it is patriotism.” – Erma Bombeck

Most July 4th celebrations have been cancelled due to you-know-what. How then shall we celebrate Independence Day 2020? Some of us will attend that big BBQ sans masks, while others will migrate to the beach, while still others hunker down at home.

Whatever you decide to do, I wanted gift you a great (and simple to make) July 4th dessert to share with family and friends this weekend. Serve with some home-made ice cream.

Blueberry and Cherry Pan /Dowdy

I found a form of this dish on a charming site–Half Baked Harvest–a blog written by a very talented you cook living in Colorado. However, there were some elements that I wanted to change and add, so we will just say that this is “adapted” from the blog’s original recipe.

Ingredients

2 sheets frozen puff pastry, thawed
4 C fresh or frozen blueberries
4 C fresh or frozen sweet cherries, pitted
2 1/2 TB corn starch

1/4 C. honey
3 TB Brown sugar`
1/4 cup fruit liqueur (I used pineapple schnapps in the summer)
2 tsp. vanilla extract
zest of 1 lemon
1 TB lemon juice
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
1 large egg, beaten (for shellacking pastry)
Sugar topping (coarse sugar, if available)
1/2 cup heavy cream

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. On a lightly floured surface, roll the pastry sheets out. Cut out as many stars as you can with different size star cutters. Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Place in the fridge or freezer for 10 minutes. Note: I only used one sheet of puff pastry on this “practice” run, so you should have double the stars.

In a 10-11 inch cast iron skillet or large pie plate, combine the blueberries, cherries, and cornstarch, toss to evenly coat. Turn burner on low. Add honey, pineapple schnapps, vanilla, lemon zest, lemon juice, and salt. Gently stir until the sugar has dissolved. Remove from heat.

Position the stars over the berries, leaving a few gaps so you can see some of the berry mixture. Lightly brush the stars with egg wash. After brushing with the egg wash one more time, sprinkle the stars with coarse sugar.

Place the skillet on a baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes, then reduce the oven temp to 350. Continue baking for another 15-20 minutes, or until the sauce is bubbly. If it starts turning too brown, cover with foil to help prevent burning.

Spoon the heavy cream in the open spaces between the stars, then return the skillet to the oven for about 10 minutes.

Cool for a couple of minutes. Then serve with vanilla ice cream.

Herb Webinar Recipes

Seeding to Plating: The Herbs of Summer
Plough Girls Association
July 7, 2020
Summer Herb 
Recipes

Recipe:  Rosemary Shortbread Cookies.

Serve these buttery delights with a wine glass filled with locally-grown, sliced peaches macerated in brown sugar and Iron Gate’s Rustic Blooming wine.

In a medium bowl, cream together 3 sticks unsalted butter (at room temperature) and 2/3 cup finely granulated sugar until light and fluffy. Stir in 2 3/4 – 3 C flour, 1/4 tsp. salt and 1 – 2 TB finely chopped fresh rosemary until well blended. The dough will be somewhat soft. Form into 2 disks, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough out to 1/4-inch thickness. Using a small round or square cookie cutter (1 ½ – 2 inches), cut out cookies and place 1 inch apart on parchment-lined cookie sheets. If you like, sprinkle a little granulated sugar over the tops. (I don’t). Place in freezer or fridge for 5 minutes before placing in the oven.

Bake for 8 – 10 minutes or until golden at the edges. Cool on wire racks, and store in an airtight container at room temperature.

Recipe:  Basil Walnut Pesto

1-2 garlic cloves
1/2 tsp. salt
1/3 C walnuts
3 C. loosely packed basil leaves, stems removed, leaves washed and dried
1/2 C freshly grated Parmesan cheese (NOT KRAFT)
2 TB soft butter
1/2 C. extra virgin olive oil

In Food Processor. Process the garlic, salt, and nuts until fairly finely chopped.  Add the basil and olive oil.  When smooth, add cheese and butter and process just to combine.  Note:  If you do not have a processor, you can just finely chop everything together.

Recipe: Italian Herb-Chicken Soup


Heat a TB. of olive oil in a soup pot over medium-high heat. Sauté 1 large diced onion until softened, about 5-6 minutes. Add a few sliced carrots and sauté for another minute or two.  Follow with 3 cloves minced garlic and cook for 1 minute.

Add 6-7 C. of chicken broth and 1 can diced tomatoes (include juice). Bring soup to boil.  Add 1 lb. diced chicken.  Reduce to simmer and brew for 20 minutes.  Add a half cup of orzo pasta, 2 tsp. dried (or 3 TB freshly minced) oregano, 2 tsp. dried (or 3 TB freshly minced) basil, and, 1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes (or some minced jalapeno).  Continue to simmer for 15-20 minutes.

Add 2 C. (tightly packed) chopped fresh spinach and 1 can rinsed and drained cannellini beans, along with a large dollop of pesto. Simmer for a few minutes.  Taste and adjust seasonings.  Salt?  Pepper?

To serve, ladle soup into a bowl and top with freshly grated parmesan cheese and fresh herbs.
Make it your own:  If you like, add some cubed summer squash or zucchini to the soup when you add your beans and orzo pasta.  Replace the chicken with Italian sausage.

 Lucindy’s Boursin Cheese: Mix together one pound softened cream cheese, 1/3 C. mayonnaise, 4 TB. sour cream, 3-5 TB. fresh dill (or 2 tsp. dried) dill, 1 tsp. (or more) garlic powder (not garlic salt), 1/2 – 1 tsp. onion powder (not onion salt), and 1 tsp. (or more) Worcestershire sauce.  If you need to soften the spread for easier spreadability, pop it into the microwave 5-15 seconds.

Make it your own! Make this spread uniquely your own by experimenting with flavors and texture.  Add more sour cream or less mayo.  Add Italian seasoning or more garlic or mix your herbs.  Create your “signature” spread for spring and summer sandwiches to enjoy in the garden.  If you are planning on storing it for a while, go light on the garlic powder. since its flavors deepen with time.

Herbed Balsamic Vinaigrette.

This vinaigrette makes a great marinade for anything grilled—vegetables, chicken, or steaks.  In processor, combine:

1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
juice of 1 lemon
2 TB. combination of fresh basil, parsley, thyme or 1 TB. dried, 1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/2 tsp. salt (optional)
1 tsp. minced garlic.

Pulse to mix.  With processor running, slowly pour in 3/4 cup canola or safflower oil and 3/4 cup olive oil until emulsified.

For grilled vegetables, pour 1/2 cup of vinaigrette into a gallon size Ziploc bag. Add zucchini and yellow squash sliced lengthwise, sliced red onions and Portobello mushrooms.  Give it a shake and remove veggies from bag and grill.  Serve as a side or dice, add bowtie pasta, a little dressing and fresh herbs for a delicious pasta salad.

Grilled Salmon with Mustard and Herbs

Preheat grill to medium-high.  Place two 9-inch pieces of foil on top of each other and place on baking sheet. Arrange 2 lemons, sliced, in the center.  Spread 20 – 30 sprigs of mixed fresh herbs over the lemons.

In separate bowl, mix together:
2 cloves minced garlic
1/4 tsp. salt
1 TB Dijon or dusseldorf mustard
2 TB chopped herbs.

Spread mixture over both sides of 1 lb. center-cut salmon.  Place fish on top of herb sprigs.  Slide foil and salmon off baking sheet and onto grill.

Cover and cook until salmon is opaque in the center, around 15 minutes.  Discard lemon slices and herb sprigs, slice salmon into 3-4 portions and serve with lemon wedges.

 

Herb Flavor Profile

 

Seeding to Plating: The Herbs of Summer
Plough Girls Association
July 7, 2020

Herb Profiles & Food Pairings

Everyone and everything is a garden.  All have to be nurtured, be they of the forest or the sea.  If we are not gentle with life, the garden within us dies – Song of Waitaha (New Zealand)

Herbs, Seasonings & Spices. Season your food with little or no salt by using spices, herbs and non-salt mixtures such as Mrs. Dash, Lawry’s seasoned pepper, McCormick Italian seasoning and Club House Mixed Spice. Take note of the seasonings you use. Read ingredient lists on labels to see if salt or other sodium compounds are listed.

Add-a-spice to meats:
Beef: dry mustard, nutmeg, onion, sage, pepper, bay leaf, ginger, garlic
Lamb: garlic, curry, mint, rosemary
Veal: bay leaf, ginger, curry, paprika, oregano
Chicken: paprika, thyme, sage, parsley, curry, savory, ginger, garlic
Fish: dry mustard, paprika, curry, bay leaf, lemon juice, dill weed, tarragon, savory, basil
Eggs: pepper, dry mustard, paprika, tarragon
Pork: ginger, cinnamon, curry, onion, pepper, garlic

Add-a-spice to vegetables:
Asparagus: lemon juice, caraway seed
Green Beans: lemon juice, nutmeg, onion
Broccoli: lemon juice, oregano
Cabbage: mustard, caraway seed, vinegar
Carrots: allspice, ginger, cloves
Cauliflower: nutmeg, celery, seed
Peas: onion, mint
Potatoes: parsley, chives
Squash: ginger, basil, oregano
Tomatoes: basil, oregano, sage, thyme

Basil adds a distinctive, spicy flavor to Italian foods, tomato and egg dishes, pesto, soups, sauces, sausages and rich stews. Basil leaves (like all other herbs) should be added towards the end of the cooking process to prevent the development of a bitter taste.

Oregano
tastes of pepper and marigold. Use in tomato sauce, pizza, fish and anything that takes garlic. I prefer dried oregano to fresh.

Parsley
has a green grassy taste.  I prefer flat leaf parsley. Use it to enhance the flavors and decorate the dishes of soups, boiled potatoes, pasta, eggs, and salads. Try it on different dishes.

Dill
has a light lemony taste.  Use in sauces, on salmon, potato dishes, and mayonnaise based salads.

Rosemary.
Be careful using rosemary.  Like basil, it can be overpowering. It has a piney flavor which goes well with lamb, beans, poultry and pork.

Tarragon
is used in French cooking and goes well with chicken, fish, sea food and mayonnaise based salads.  It is my primary herb in making Yancey House crab cakes.

Thyme has an earthy taste that enhances any chicken dish, as well as soups, beans, and stuffing.

Cilantro
is used in Tex Mex and Vietnamese dishes, as well as Asian soups.

Chives
are unimposing members of the onion family. Use in eggs, salads, sauces.

Taco Tuesday (Coronavirus Style)

huevos rancheros

Taco Tuesday: Coronavirus Style

Alas, I can’t meet up with grandson Austin for Taco Tuesday since all the restaurants are closed for in-dining.  But that doesn’t mean I can’t celebrate Taco Tuesday at home!

Hoy, el mexicano menu incluye huevos rancheros y jalapeños asados ​​rellenos de tater tots, queso, y tocino
(Ranch Eggs and Jalapenos stuffed with Tater Tots, Cheese, and Bacon).

Huevos Rancheros. For the pico de gallo topping, begin by chopping up a ripe tomato with a bit of red onion, some cilantro (which wintered over in my garden!), a little lime juice and pinch of salt and a small splash of red wine vinegar.  Mix and set aside so that the flavors can meld.

Open a can of black beans, pour in a sieve, and rinse to remove that “tinny” taste.  Place in bowl.  Add a little dried cumin and as much chopped cilantro as you like.  Mix.  Set aside.

In a small skillet, heat up a TB of vegetable oil and fry a whole corn tortilla.  Remove, then fry an egg (sunny-side up, if you like).

Plating.  Position the corn tortilla on the plate, top with beans, add the egg.  Top with pico de gallo, sliced avocado, if you have it, and a sprig of cilantro.

Huevos Ranceros & Stuffed Jalapeños

Stuffed Jalapeno.  Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Place tater tots in oven until cooked, according to package directions.  Remove, cool, and crumble.

In a small bowl, mix together cream cheese, some grated cheese (whatever you have.  I used Monterrey Jack.), and some chopped leftover fried bacon.

Jalapeños stuffed with cheese, tater tots, and bacon

Cut jalapenos in half, seeded and halved lengthwise. Fill pepper halves with cream cheese.  In a skillet (that you cooked the egg in), add a bit of more oil and pan-fry the tater tots.  Drain.  Crush then into “tater tot crumbs.”  Sprinkle on top of the jalapenos.  Top with a bit more cheese and bake until the cheese has melted, about 7 minutes.  Serve right away.

Playlist

Here is a Tex-Mex-Cuban playlist for you to enjoy while dining on the deck.
It features my fave:  Raul Malo and the Mavericks

Damned If You Do / Damned If You Don’t / The Mavericks

Bailare (el merecumbe) / Raul Malo

Today / Raul Malo

“Dance in the Moonlight” / The Mavericks

Maverics – Ven Hacia Mi (Come unto Me)

 

New Year’s Revolution


Today, before each of us, an empty calendar lies open, a tabula rasae on which we compose our lives.  After a moment of reflection of the past 12 months, it is time to look forward to 2017 and perhaps set some personal goals.

Inspiration for my 2017 goals comes from Margaret Bolsterli,  an 85 year-old retired professor I met in October 2011 during my stay at the Writer’s Colony in Arkansas.

At the colony, each evening, the writers met for dinner.  Each night after the others had retired to their rooms, Margaret would tell me a story.  She knew nothing of my life and yet each tale went directly to the heart of things.  I became King Shahriar mesmerized by the tales of the Princess Sheherazade in Arabian Nights.

Margaret wove compelling tales. During my stay, I read Born in the Delta: Reflections on the Making of a Southern White Sensibility, in which she describes growing up in the Arkansas Delta during the 30s and 40s and how she unflinchingly confronted racial conflicts, violence, the Confederacy, and her own family secrets.

Margaret taught Women’s Studies at the University of Arkansas for 25 years, educating not just individuals but families.  A woman or man would take her class and send their sisters who would recommend the course to their aunt or mother.  Generations of students received inspiration from Professor Bolsterli.

One evening, she told me of her interview with 94 year-old Lily Peter, a tale quite appropriate for this time of year . . . of revolutions and resolutions. Margaret was 57 at the time.

In the interview, Lily described life at the turn of the century outside Marvell, Arkansas, of attending college and becoming a teacher.  She dreamt of leaving home but her father died and she remained at home and put her brother and sisters through college.

During the Depression, the siblings worked, pooling their monies to buy land and a cotton gin. For 30 years, Brother ginned cotton on the family’s two plantations while the sisters taught school.  Upon Brother’s death, however, Lily, now 60, discovered that the family was in serious financial trouble.  She again took the bull by the horn and announced to her sisters that she would devote the next 30 years to making the business solvent.

Would you like to hear, as Paul Harvey would say, “the rest of the story”?  At age of 94, Lily retired to devote herself to writing poetry and became Arkansas’ Poet Laureate.  At 98, she decided to get her Ph.D. and called Margaret.

Margaret arranged everything: a residence, a wheel-chair ramp, classes in one building.  Everything was set until Sara’s physician forbade her to go.  Shortly after, Sara died.

Margaret ruefully noted that “Lily, at 94, had the mind of a 35 year old.  She attributed her elasticity of mind to having changed her life completely three times–from teacher to planter to dedicated writer.  She said that every big life change forced her to learn new systems and so rejuvenated her.”

Margaret walked into her department and looked around. Here were the same people she had worked with for 25 years, the same walls, same office.

Like Lily, she decided a career change was in order:  “I think I’ll try my hand at cattle ranching.” She bought a farm.  Soon after, she retired, and began raising cattle and riding horses.  She did that for 20 years before moving on to her next adventure.

Are you considering a new adventure in 2017?  Perhaps taking a turn at farming, going back to school, learning a new sport, hiking and camping in the great outdoors,Learning about Spanish cuisine or how to grill, making Caswell County a better place to live?

No matter what your age, just do it.  Lily wouldn’t hesitate (and neither would Margaret).

Margaret Bolsterli

Margaret Bolsterli

School Days

school bus

School Days

My mother walked me into the classroom and introduced me to Miss Tidwell. I might have cried a little, but mom gave me a reassuring pat and said she would pick me up out front at the end of the school day. New crayons and fresh notepad in hand, I took my assigned seat.

At noon, students lined up single-file and followed Miss Tidwell out the door. While the other students turned right to go to the lunch room, I, believing school was over, turned left to meet mama. She wasn’t there. What to do?

At age 6, I decided to walk home. I managed to cross three streets and the railroad tracks before arriving at US Highway 59. As I stood there, daunted but determined to figure out how to maneuver through four lanes of busy traffic, Mrs. Bergman, who owned the Dairy 59 Drive-In, saw me through the pick-up window and rushed to my rescue. Somehow I retraced my steps and found my way back to class. First Grade . . . It’s not for Wimps!

It isn’t for wimpy parents either. I never wanted my children to attend school. I loved being with Allen and Ashley, but also feared the truant officer. When the time came for my youngest to attend school, I made an appointment with the principal and explained in no uncertain terms that I would be picking up Ashley at noon every day since she needed to rest. Mrs. Talbot chuckled knowingly but agreed. At the end of the first week, Ashley figured out she was missing playtime and insisted on staying. I was left to nap alone.

Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Howard Nemerov penned his memories of a similar morning: “My child and I hold hands on the way to school, / And when I leave him at the first-grade door / He cries a little but is brave; he does / Let go. My selfish tears remind me how / I cried before that door a life ago. / I may have had a hard time letting go.”

Although each fall I reluctantly sent my children back to school, I must admit there was (and still is) a certain excitement about it all. Most people think of January as a new beginning–a time to make resolutions in anticipation of the re-birth of spring.

In truth, the first day of school marks the true beginning for children, a chance to start anew. New crayons, new backpacks, new pencil boxes, new books, and new teachers. The world is full of possibilities: mastering the art of cursive writing, learning about heretofore unknown cultures and places, exploring the miracles of science and math—electricity, magnets, fractions, algebra–and being introduced to stories and authors that become a part of their lives forever. What an adventure.

So let me thank those patient and knowledgeable men and women (past and present) for making it their life’s mission to introduce our children to a land of limitless possibilities.

Raspberry Bars

Raspberry Bars

Raspberry Bars.  

I have no idea what school policies are, but most teachers appreciate good food. Perhaps something for the teacher’s lounge? You can’t do better than a plate of raspberry bars, a triple-decker comfort cookie with shortbread base, jam center, and streusel topping. This is my secret recipe, but your child’s teacher is worth it.

Preheat 375. Line 12 x 18 x 1 inch pan with buttered foil. In large mixing bowl combine 5 3/4 c. all-purpose flour, 1 1/3 C. granulated sugar, 1 tsp. salt for 5 seconds. With the mixture at low speed, add 4 sticks unsalted butter (cut into ½ inch pieces, softened) one piece at a time until mixture resembles damp sand. Set aside 2 ½ c. of mixture. Press the rest mixture evenly in bottom of prepared pan. Bake until edges brown, 14-18 minutes.

While crust bakes, blend 3/4 C. brown sugar, 1 1/3 C. old-fashioned (not instant) oatmeal, and 1 C. chopped pecans. Work in 8 TB. butter until incorporated. Set aside.

In saucepan over low heat, mix 2 jars raspberry preserves with 3 TB. lemon juice until heated through. Spread filling evenly over hot crust. Sprinkle streusel (the 2 ½ C of leftover mixture) on top. Bake 22-25 minutes until golden brown. Cool completely, 1-2 hours. Remove foil from pan and cut in squares.

 

Culinary Mantra

A few years ago, I was in Raleigh and dropped by Penzeys, a spice store offering seasonings from all over the world–Madagascar vanilla, Ceylon cinnamon, and spice blends (Sunny Paris is my favorite). At the check-out, the cashier gave me a bumper sticker with a yellow crayon-drawn heart, over which was written: “Love People. Cook them good food.” 

If you are reading this column, you probably know that cooking is about feeding the soul as well as filling the stomach. Food isn’t just food; it is interaction and connection.

When I recall the 12 dozen home-fried doughnuts my mother made each fall for my brother, me, and our friends, I know the experience was about much more than eating fried dough. My mother was showing her love for us in one of the few ways she knew how. 

Picnic tables were covered with newspapers. Small bowls of toppings and icings were set on the tables. Fifty years later, my good friend Carol still talks about those doughnuts. Imagine! 12 dozen doughnuts! Every topping imaginable! Self-serve! No one counting calories!

Think back to the food highlights of your childhood. The hamburgers your uncle grilled in late summer when the last of the tomatoes had just been picked. The caramel apples your mother made each fall while your father burned leaves on the back lot. The pot roast with gravy and mashed potatoes your grandmother served on Sunday after church.

Of course, you recall the images, aromas, and flavors–the lemon-powder sugar icing with fresh lemon zest on hot doughnuts, for example–but what your memory really stirs up is a warm nostalgic feeling that says “somebody loved me.”

“Cook with Love” has always been my mantra. In the restaurant, I asked the cooks to “see the face of God in every plate.” I took that line from Mother Teresa who might be rolling over in her grave to hear her phrase applied to a plate of food rather than the face of a leper.

These are hard times, which makes preparing food for our loved ones even more important. The time you spend brewing soup or cooking for family and friends is worth the effort. So is removing seeds from a watermelon or the membranes from oranges and grapefruit for winter ambrosia. It all says, “You are important.”

A few years ago, Ruth Reichl, famed food critic and former editor of Gourmet Magazine, posted a food entry on her blog. She received the following email: “What planet are you on? The one WITHOUT thousands dying from an earthquake??!?!?!” 

It seems that hours earlier, an earthquake had devestaqted Japan. Reichl responded that although she had been unaware of the disaster, she wondered if she would have posted something different: “There is no time, ever, in which a terrible disaster is not taking place somewhere on the planet. . . .”

“But in the face of ongoing disaster, it is our moral responsibility to appreciate what we have.  That is why cooking good food for the people that I love is so important to me; in a world filled with no, it is a big yes.”

Broccoli SoupBroccoli Cheese Soup. Sauté 3/4 C. diced onion in 1 TB. olive oil until translucent. Add 1 clove minced garlic, stir, then set aside. In small stock pot, make a blonde roux by adding 4 TB. flour to 4 TB. melted butter, whisk constantly for 4-5 minutes. Add 2 C. milk (or half and half). Whisk until smooth. Gradually pour in 4 C. chicken broth. Bring to boil, then reduce to simmer.

Add 16 oz. chopped fresh broccoli (and diced stems), onion, and garlic. Simmer 20 minutes. If you like, you can puree part or all of the soup using an immersion blender or processor. Return pot to stove with burner on medium low and add 8 oz. cubed sharp-cheddar cheese and 8 oz. cubed Velveeta cheese. Stir until melted. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Important note: Hot liquid in a blender/processor will explode so work with very small amounts at a time.

American Farmers

Back in 1978, I heard Paul Harvey present this ode to the American farmer on his radio broadcast:

“And on the 8th day, God looked down on his planned paradise and said, ‘I need a caretaker.’ So God made a farmer. “ Harvey then went on to enumerate challenges farmers face each day:
American Farmer

 “(And God said) . . . I need some who, during planting time and harvest season, will finish his forty-hour week by Tuesday noon, then, pain’n from ‘tractor back,’ put in another seventy-two hours.” . . . “I need a farmer who will plow deep and straight and not cut corners. Somebody to seed, weed, feed, breed and rake and disc and plow and plant . . . and strain the milk and replenish the self-feeder and finish a hard week’s work with a five-mile drive to church.”

Before moving to Caswell County 20 years ago, my idyllic, romanticized notions of farm life were informed by stories past and present: the biblical Garden of Eden, the poetry of Robert Frost, the writings of Henry David Thoreau, Elliot Coleman, and Wendell Berry.

It wasn’t until I met R.L. (Bob) Watlington and worked with local farmers at the restaurant that I realized that farming is both a precarious and complex occupation.

Although I plant in order to have veggies and herbs for my culinary classes (and for the joy of playing in the soil), there has been one additional unexpected development—the realization that recreational gardening and farming for a living are not the same thing.

Now, at the farmer’s market, when I see tomatoes marked at $2 a pound, I don’t balk. Growing tomatoes is an act fraught with hazards.

These were my thoughts this morning, as I mowed, weeded, and harvested vegetables and herbs. I glanced over at my grandson’s raised bed to see that the deer had eaten his pole beans and rabbits consumed most of his sungold tomatoes. Continue reading

Greens

kale saladLast week I visited the new Caswell Farmer’s Market in Semora. There, on the side of the road, in blessed shade, were ten vendors, ranging from Catbriar Farm, which was in business long before I moved to Caswell County, to a more recent addition, Open Door Farm.

I arrived with grocery totes and a mission—to purchase and prepare late spring greens. With that end in mind, I bought Swiss chard and kale from Sara Broadwell, as well as pea shoots and fennel from Open Door Farm.

The recipes I developed during the week were simple ones. My goal wasn’t to cover up the flavors of the produce but to showcase the fresh, clean flavor of the greens. Here are the results:

Kale Salad. After rinsing the kale and spinning it dry, I removed the large stems, sliced the leaves into thin strips, and then placed them into a bowl. Next, I added a small box of raisins, halved cherry tomatoes, crumbled feta cheese, and thin wedges of red onion. Before serving, I tossed the salad with vinaigrette and topped with boiled egg quarters.

Dressing for Kale Salad. In the food processor, combine 1/3 cup red wine vinegar, juice of 1 lemon, 2 TB. combination of fresh basil, parsley, oregano (or 1 TB. dried), 1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper, 1 tsp. lemon pepper, ½ tsp. salt (optional), and 1 tsp. minced garlic. Pulse to mix. With processor running, slowly pour in 1/2 cup canola or safflower oil and 3/4 cup olive oil until emulsified. Store in tight container in the fridge for up to 1 week.

Swiss Chard with Poached Egg. SWISS CHARD BOILED EGGHaving worked with the kale, the next day I turned to the Swiss Chard. My objective was to create a hearty breakfast dish loaded with iron. If you wish to replicate the dish I made, season chopped Swiss chard and sauté it with some minced shallots and a little garlic. Sauté for 3-4 minutes, remove from heat, and gently stir in a few quartered cherry tomatoes. Arrange chard mixture in a bowl, making a slight indention in the center for a poached egg. Garnish the entire dish with a few pea shoots.

Although poached eggs can be tricky, they are worth the effort. The result is velvety and creamy . . . I hesitate to call it an egg. It is so much more than that. Continue reading