Artichokes 2021

Back in April 2009, I wrote about making my Nonna’s stuffed artichoke recipe. It is a wonderful dish, but I’ve been feeling too lazy to go through all that, and with artichokes being plentiful and delicious this spring, I’ve gone back to our other favorite recipe: steamed artichokes dipped in melted butter with lemon, garlic, and dash of salt. O, are they heavenly!

I just finished eating two (yes two) gorgeous chokes — done the truly lazy woman way. I merely rinsed them, cut off the stem even to the bottom, and steamed them thoroughly for nearly an hour.  My memory tells me that both Nonna and my mother insisted they be steamed in glass or stainless steel lest they discolor, so I used my big stainless pot that has a steamer basket/pasta lifter thingie.  I did them a little too long, so the smallest one fell apart a bit.  Here’s the lazy part: I didn’t trim the artichoke at all. They were so tender the thorns were nothing, and the purple leaves in the center were tasty. The remainder of the choke pulled out easily with a fork, leaving the sweet and delightful heart to dip in the last of the butter sauce. Heaven on a paper plate….

Artichokes, April 2009

artichokes-globe

I’m about to make stuffed artichokes like my grandmother did. Take a couple of large, heavy artichokes, trim them and then steam them in an inch of water for about 45 minutes. After they cool enough to touch, dig out the choke and remove any ugly bits on the outside. Make a stuffing of breadcrumbs (Nonna used Progresso Italian Flavored, so that’s what I use), grated cheese, parsley, enough good olive oil to make a crumbly mixture.  Then push small spoonfuls of the breading down amongst the leaves and into the center of the choke.  Sprinkle with a little paprika for color. Then bake covered in the oven (on about 350º) for about 1/2 an hour. Remove covering and continue to bake until the top is slightly browned.

They are awesome!

Next Gen – Feline Edition

After my darling Lady Gray passed last August, it only took three weeks for kitten lust to overwhelm me.

I started browsing cat adoption sites until I found a pair of siblings who seemed perfect for me. So, without even seeing them in person, I applied online to Brother Wolf for the right to adopt Gummy and Smurf.

The next morning I received a call that I was accepted and asked if I could possibly come that day! So, against the advice of my son, I went.

I named them Luke and Leia: my pair of grey/brown tabbies with the most interesting markings. When I opened their travel box, they exploded out and with barely a look around dived under my bed. Where they stayed.

Luke came out after 3 days, suddenly climbing up the side of the bed to rub my hand. Within the hour he was snuggled on my chest, purring madly.

I first set eyes on Leia on day 8, when she followed her brother’s footsteps and joined us on the bed for cuddles. She’s the most affectionate of the two these days, but still a skittish, hide-’til-the-new-thing-goes-away kind of girl.

These lovely kits are now over a year-and-a-half old. My good intentions to keep them as indoor guys failed as soon as last spring lured them out every time I opened the door. Were they faster then me? you bet. So we opened the cat door to them, and I’ve endured the early hunting successes of Luke, and enjoyed the complete lack of success of Leia.

Luke it due a vet visit this week, he’s been licking off his hair for no apparent reason and is quite irritable, which is not his normal temperament. Otherwise they’ve been very healthy and loving, with the normal mix of trouble. I’m besotted, as usual, and enjoying every minute (well, except the squirrel in my bed and the chickadee head….).

Saga of a Squirrel

Dear Josh, I’m sure you’re thrilled to be hearing from me at 4:45 am. Luke caught a squirrel and left it for me on my bed while I was in it. (Stop laughing).

Actually he caught it this afternoon and lost it in the house. Apparently he found it and, please god, killed it. Otherwise it’s worse and I have an injured squirrel. I’m pretty sure it’s dead, it’s got that glassy-eyed look. I’m just rambling now. If I don’t find the balls to deal with it I’ll probably be in touch later. Love, your slightly crazed, somewhat neurotic mother.

(5:25) Hey, I was getting close to trying to get rid of it but it’s facing the other way now. I imagine Luke was just playing with it but I’m all freaked again.

(6:46) Josh, I do have a text in to Carolyn, but she’s not an early riser either.

(7:30) Yay! Carolyn is coming.

(8:15) Carolyn arrives, takes the squirrel off my bed by the tail and removes it to the far reaches of the yard. Comes back in to tell me I’ll need to clean the sheet or put a towel over it for the day because “there were some bodily fluids.” I assure her I can manage from there. We do away-facing air hugs and she goes back to her already packed day.

(8:30) I take a huge ratty bath towel and cover that part of the bed. At 9:45 am, I finally get into bed to attempt some sleep. Both cats help. We all, I think, dream squirrely dreams.

My Scottish Side – Comfort Cooking

While I had no idea as a child, I found out over the years that my mother brought two considerable influences to the kitchen: Her mother’s Scottish background and the Great Depression.  These forces collided in a few odd kitchen habits.  For instance, a much enjoyed treat was raw potato sliced thin and sprinkled with salt. Scottish/Irish poor people cuisine, that.  And a treat to Mary and me (and my mother).  A sweet treat, probably from the same depression era, was “bread, butter and sugar.” Merely a slice of bread, thinly spread with butter, and sprinkled with granulated or brown sugar.  My mother’s version of this was sparsely covered. Mary and I covered the bread thickly and then dumped–more than sprinkled–the sugar on. But you had to be quick or you’d get found out and have your slice slimmed back to meagerness again.

There were real recipes as well.  Chop Meat Stew and Lamb and Rice were two filling, keep you warm-and-satisfied meals.

Chopped Meat Stew

(served 4)

hearty-ground-beef-stew-21 pound ground beef (my mother preferred lean)
4 large Idaho potatoes (about 1 inch cubes)
4 Good sized carrots (1 inch slices, longer at shallow end)
Optional : a teaspoon of onion powder.  OR 1 onion, chopped.  This got omitted when I was there, as I had thing again cooked union.  I think my mom added an extra potato and carrot so the meal stretched as far.
2-3 Bay leaves
Salt and Pepper
about 3 cups of water

Instructions:  Break up the beef into the water, stirring so that it makes a thick soup. Bring tot a boil, then reduce, and cook covered on low, stirring occasionally, for about 30 minutes.  Add the salt and bay leaves, onion/onion powder if used, and simmer about 30 more minutes.  This time is well used scraping the potatoes and carrots and cutting them up.  Add the vegetables and simmer again for about 30-40 minutes until the vegetables are tender.  Ad salt and pepper to taste.   If the stew is too watery for your taste, a bit of flour or corn starch can be mixed with a bit of the liquid and stirred back in to thicken it up.

We usually had some sort of crusty rolls with butter, or just sliced bread and butter. I my childhood days, there was much more hamburger than carrots and potatoes, but in my young adult years, I reverted to the old fashion way of stretching the ground beef with lots of potatoes and carrots, and a slightly thicken sauce for body.

A friend came over one Saturday as I was matching a large batch for dinner and freezing leftovers.  She thought it smelled amazing, and I was a little embarrassed at how basic an(d working class the meal was going to be.  She came into the kitchen and gasped, “Mince and Tatties!!”  Which is how I found out it was from my Scottish forbears.  A classic  with dozens of versions. It echoed her childhood so strongly that her burr picked up intensity and for the first time in our acquaintance she talked freely of living in Scotland during the rather sparse post-WWII years.

 


Lamb and rice is another of my mother’s comfort food recipes. The rich aroma of lamb simmering in its broth had a soothing effect on me.  For years I never would try the dish, just enjoying the benign smells.  Eventually I helped my mother prepare it a couple of time and tried it. It’s now one of my go-to simple winter dishes.  My friend Carolyn, also with a Scottish background in her Western Appalachian family, always looks forward to it.  Again, a deceptively simple recipe.

Lamb and Rice

(Serves 4-6)

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2 Lamb Shanks approx 2 lbs each

cover in cold water with a sprinkle of salt

1 bay leaf

Bring to a boil, turn down , cover, and simmer until the meat pulls easily away from the bone (about 2-3 hours).

Strain the liquid into another pot, adding enough water to cook 2 cups of rice in the broth, leaving a soupy liquid for the cooked rice.

While the rice is cooking, clean the lamb shanks completely, getting every bit of clean meat from the shanks. Trim the meat so there are no unpleasant bits — this one should be able to be eaten blind-folded.lamb and rice

Add the meat back in, simmer a little to meld the flavors, adjust salt and pepper. Serve in bowls, with the requisite bread or rolls.

Sugar Ant Invasion

downloadI’ve always thought the little brown or reddish ants you’d spot at the edge of the counter now and then were pretty inoffensive.  What did I know?  Those were advance guards; now the regular infantry troops are marching through my bathroom, across the door jambs, into the kitchen, and spreading into a shock-and-awe sort of pattern around my sink and counters.

Except for some old fashion American insecticides (Raid! or Defcon!), everyone wants you to know your adversary.  I’m suspicious. I don’t want greater intimacy with something I plan to kill. But the arguments makes some sense.  Watch where they come from and where they go, then you can disrupt their scent trails… …and they’ll all go away?

So by now the river of ants is more of a morning rush hour on the interstate.  I mean, these beasties can move!  And they stick sideways and upside-down, with no lessening of speed or agility.   I’d like to take more time to research and develop military strategies for this battle, but they’re now spilling into the sink like orcs into whatever….

I cut short the development phase and slapped together a multi-purpose spray to confuse, discourage, and finally, even kill the marching hordes.

1 cup water
1 cup white vinegar
6 drops peppermint oil
6 drops eucalyptus oil
4 drops lemon oil
4 drops lavender oil
1 squirt of dish liquid
In a spray bottle.

With worries ranging from my failure to warn about coming ant apocalypse  Continue reading

5-Lentil Soup

I got chatting with a lovely woman in the therapy pool at physical therapy today, and wound up talking nonstop about food and recipes.  I talked about this soup, and only realized when I got home that I’ve never posted the recipe for my absolute favorite soup!

So here it is, in its current iteration:

5-Lentil Soup

List of Ingredients:  Brown, French, Beluga, White & Orange Lentils, Smoked Pork Necks, Ham Chunks, Diced Tomatoes (canned or fresh), Turnip, Parsnip, Celery, Carrots, Onion, Garlic, Bay Leaves, Zucchini, Chopped Spinach (fresh or frozen), Herbs & Spices.

Start by filling a soup kettle (I use a 12-quart one) halfway with cold water.  Add a package of smoked pork necks (I used about 4 pounds) and some chunks of ham, a large peeled onion, 3-4 cloves of peeled garlic, 4-5 ribs of celery with leaves if you have that, 2-3 carrots, and 2-5 bay leaves. Add a parsnip and turnip if available. This should pretty much fill the soup pot.  Bring to a boil, then lower heat, stirring occasionally.  Simmer this for a minimum of 3 hours. You want the veggies to be mush, and the meat bits falling off the bone.  Longer is better.

Let the stock cool enough to allow safe handling, and strain into another container (I usually use my 8-qt pot for this).  Remove the bones and bits of meat and save.  For a lower fat soup, chill overnight so the fat can be removed easily.  Reheat the stock to a boil and add the first round of lentils, and lower the heat to a gentle simmer.

I start with about a cup each of the five kinds of lentil. While they start simmering, chop 4-5 carrots, 2 inner stalks of celery, and 2 zucchini.  Adjust the amounts to your preferences and the size of your soup pot. When the lentils are tender, start adding additional lentils, so you’ll have them cooked to varying degrees of tenderness.  When these are back up to a simmer, add the carrots first, as they take longest to become tender. Let them simmer about 15 minutes and add the celery and zucchini. At this point, add a can of diced tomatoes (I use DelMonte Petite Diced with no added salt), and the chopped spinach (usually a block of frozen store brand). While all these ingredients are getting tender, clean the reserved meat off the bones, break up the ham chunks to bite size and add these to the soup.

At this point the soup broth will have started thicken a bit, so be sure to stir often so it doesn’t stick or scorch.  Next season the soup:  I add about a teaspoon of cumin, thyme, Italian seasoning, paprika about 3 Tablespoons of dried parsley or about half a bunch chopped of fresh. Add whatever other herbs and spices suit your tastes. Occasionally I’ll add a little smoked paprika or a shake of cayenne pepper.

I like to serve the lentil soup over any small-sized pasta (I use Barilla gluten-free elbow macaroni), and add a goodly amount of grated cheese at the table.  It’s also gorgeous with a good french bread for dipping.

This soup freezes very well too.  It will get thicker on sitting, so sometimes adding a bit of extra broth (any type) is needed for the leftovers.

Mangiamo!

Onion Tears

We have a family recipe book that I started about 30 years ago — with copies given as Christmas gifts that year. I got my Aunt to help me write-up my Nonna’s recipes, and added my mothers’ and my own.

But today I was trying to remember what kind of onions Nonna used to saute for sauce. And I realized there was no one left to ask. It brought my sister’s death to such poignancy it took my breath for a moment. I’m it now. Three generations of women consolidated in one tired, fairly worn-around-the-edges, nearly 66 year old woman.

And I still don’t know what kind of onions she used for sauce.

On the First Day of Summer

My sister Mary died on the Summer Solstice, June 21, 2018.  I’m not ready to write about it yet, but I came across a phrase in some Facebook post this morning that lead me directly here, with a need to start sharing the wealth and sorrows leading up to this summer that began in death.

Until I find my own words, I’d like to share some of Mary Oliver’s.  This is one of the poems read at her memorial service:

The Summer Day

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
—Mary Oliver

On the Other Hand….

This is the heart of all that is wrong with America, and until we allow a full and complete reckoning of how we got here, we won’t all have the same full rights promised in the Declaration. It’s not too late, but it’s damn close.

Frederick Douglass’ 1852 speech is (and should be) difficult to read as a white American. But that doesn’t make it any less true.

https://www.nbcnews.com/think/opinion/what-american-slave-your-4th-july-frederick-douglass-1852-speech-ncna888736

Traditions


Every summer I am again moved by the Declaration of Independence. As a flawed but brilliant statement of human rights, there is no other to compare to it. This fourth it is more pertinent than ever. The list of injustices and usurpations is astonishingly familiar right now.

NPR annually reads the declaration, deeply, clearly, and meaningfully. Here is the site for this year’s recitation:

https://www.npr.org/2018/07/04/623836154/a-july-4-tradition-npr-reads-the-declaration-of-independence?utm_source=facebook.com&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=npr&utm_term=nprnews&utm_content=20180704