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 hoards.

1 cup water
1 cut 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 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

George’s Creek

I started this post 3 years ago. Lovely people have been living there, and in the house they built “downstream” from the first. The creek is practically gone. The clash of values in me and others remains. How to balance the need of people to have homes and gardens, backyards and driveways, versus the birds, fish, snails, and turtles who rely on the remaining bits of nature in the suburbs.

a pensive George

My beloved cat George, who passed away a year ago, regularly brought me fish from the creek across the street. He loved that creek, and often came home wet and muddy up to his belly.

For the first time, I’m glad George is gone, because they are killing his creek. Today they are clearing trees off the lot right opposite my drive, George’s spot for fishing, and the man working there told me they would be putting in culvert — closing up the creek into concrete pipe. Does anyone think fish like living in a concrete pipe rather than an open creek with light and growing things and silt to burrow in?

I’m so sad. Development, progress, whatever you call it, shouldn’t have to harm the small beauties and little lives.

Stracciatella

stracciatella-6While homemade broth was simmering yesterday, I suddenly remembered a favorite quick lunch my Nonna made when I visited. Her homemade chicken broth, tiny noodles (pastina, flakes, or tiny circles) with an egg-grated cheese mixture drizzled in as it boiled. Quick, easy, nutritious, and easy to digest.

Some recent and persistent stomach issues are making me dig deep for comfort foods! By the way, it was delicious!

Stracchiatella

  • About 2 cups chicken broth (of course homemade is best) per person
  • small pasta shapes cooked right in the broth
  • Beat 1 egg per person with about 1/4 cup grated parmesan or romano (I use a combo)
  • When pasta is al dente, pour the egg mixture slowly into the simmering soup, stirring quickly with a fork.
  • Some variations: add fresh chopped parsley, grated carrots, or chopped spinach.

Voilà!