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Archive for the ‘Food’ Category

rootstotheearth_final-275x363Wendell Berry’s words have shown up on several of my favorite blogs recently, and I have, on loan from our Katy, his novel, “Jayber Crow”. It is one of several books that I am currently halfway through.

Does this ever happen to you; this juggling act of two or more books at one time, born out of an insatiable appetite for the written word?

There I was, at the Indian Prairie Library, looking for “One Souffle at a Time” by Anne Willan, when this Wendell Berry gem, “Roots to the Earth”, appeared in the new books section. I was drawn first to Wesley Bates’ woodcarving on the cover, then pleased to see more wood engravings accompany several of Berry’s poems and a short story, The Branch Way of Doing.

From Wendell Berry’s poem, The Current – ‘

Having once put his hand into the ground,

seeding there what he hopes will outlast him,

a man has made a marriage with his place,

and if he leaves it his flesh will ache to go back.

“Roots to the Earth” is such a lovely book. While it has the outward look and feel of a children’s book, it is a really a more mature book and an homage to the earth and soil.

I read “Roots to the Earth” this afternoon, in the company of a few tasty gingerbread men and a steamy cup of coffee.

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Attendees to the Naperville Garden Club’s annual Christmas house walk, tea, and market, A Cup of Cheer, receive a cup and saucer to take home. Each year, for over 50 years, the cups and saucers have a new design. I think this year’s are particularly beautiful.
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Ever-so-slowly

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Turkey Lurkey is roasting, ever-so-slowly, tantalizing aromas wafting through the rooms of this old homestead. Bread stuffing, mashed potatoes, roasted sweet potatoes all wait in refrigerated abeyance to be warmed when Mr. Lurkey comes out of the oven and rests after the long hours of roasting. Cranberry relish has been mellowing for several days. The plastic wrap looks to have been rearranged. Antler Man thinks he can fool me and that I won’t notice he’s been sneaking tastes. I’m onto him, though, especially now that I have ditched the walking boot and can maneuver around with more speed. Vegetables, fruit and cheese will whet our appetites before the meal, once family arrives and we gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing, chat, catch up on news, and enjoy the company of two young lads who are growing up fast, two of our grand-nephews.

Thanksgiving.

It is my favorite of holidays. The menu is pretty well set, with regional, cultural and ethnic and other additions. It is a uniquely American holiday, and one I think we need more than anything this year.

I think I’ve touched upon Thanksgiving often in all the years I’ve written, here on the Cutoff. I’ve shared memories of the cranberry relish that graces our table each Thanksgiving. It is a common recipe, but, it came to me from a dear woman, Mary, who sadly passed on a few years ago. I’ve written about family gatherings, my Greek grandmother’s chestnut and meat stuffing, and of the memorable car ride in which a frozen twenty pound turkey hurled toward me at 35 miles per hour and my split second interception at a local turkey bowl.

Thanksgiving.

It remains a favorite holiday of mine, even as I remain mindful of those who are hungry, cold, without hope, and those who are grieving,  lonely, disenfranchised, ill, far away from home . . .  I think of them and I pray for them, and for you on this Thanksgiving Day.

The buzzer went off. It is time to baste Turkey Lurkey, put the finishing touches on the table, and check for platters and serving pieces.

For those of you celebrating Thanksgiving today, I wish you a happy one. For all of you, please accept my gratitude for your friendship, good and kind words, and visiting me here on the Cutoff.

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img_1410-version-2We trudged upstream against a tide of chattering youngsters who were carrying treats and projects in their hands, rushing toward their parents with a mild and sunny Sunday afternoon awaiting them. Jennifer and I were headed in the opposite direction, indoors, to partake in a local endeavor to raise funds to fight hunger.

We purchased our meal tickets inside Congregation Etz Chaim in Lombard and entered a room filled with welcoming warmth and graciousness. Volunteers generously ladled hearty soup into disposable bowls, inviting us to take some bread and directing us to where we could help ourselves to drinks. We balanced our food – along with our chosen ceramic bowls – as we searched for empty seats, taking in the tantalizing aroma of hot soup amid the din of conversation.

My soup choice, minestrone, was flavorful and filling. Jennifer and I chatted, as mothers and daughters do, and we shared casual conversations with good folks around us who were participating in this worthy fundraiser whose mission is to fight hunger in Du Page County.

The ceramic bowls were hand crafted by local artisans and children of the temple. I believe they were made at Congregation Etz Chaim then taken to be fired in a kiln elsewhere. Every bowl was unique and personal to the craftsperson who made it. I imagined experienced potters and young students trying their hand at pottery for the first time. Our ticket purchase allowed each of us to select a bowl from a colorfully unique array of choices.

The green bowl was my choice. Actually, I think I was the bowl’s choice. It seemed to call to me to pick it up, run my hand along the rim, and take it as my own. I know I will cherish it and that it will remain a tactile, visual, useful reminder that there are those among us who suffer with hunger – and those among us who strive to eradicate it. It will remind me of the blessings that are the hearts that conceived this fundraiser, of the hands that prepared the meal, of the hosts and hostesses who welcomed diners to Congregation Etz Chaim and of the supporting local organizations that have a hand in shepherding this project. It will also be a reminder of my own blessings and of the urgent need to feed all God’s children.

The Garry Gardner Memorial Bowls for Hunger Project is an “Empty Bowls Project”. The “Empty Bowls Project” is an international grassroots effort to raise both money and awareness in the fight to end hunger. The mission is to create positive and lasting change through the arts, education, and projects that build. community. *

*From Congregation Etz Chaim’s website which can be found here.

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Meanwhile, grate the rind from the lemon into a bowl. Squeeze the naked lemon and add the juice to the rind”.  Ruth Reichl.

“My Kitchen Year”, page 97

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In between a long morning event and an early evening obligation that meant Tom and I each being on our own for dinner, I had a sudden craving for Avgolemono (Greek Lemon Soup). I had just dropped some mail off at the post office when the craving hit; that urge that is felt for something sweet or something cold or, well, for something comforting and reminiscent of one’s own history. The fact that I had taken a few moments that afternoon to indulge in a few pages of Ruth Reichl’s memoir/cookbook, “My Kitchen Year” may have been the ticket to this urge. It was the passage in which she describes snow falling her feelings after the sudden end of Gourmet Magazine, then notices a lemon on the counter – and begins making Greek Lemon Soup!

With about 30 minutes “to kill” and the realization that a small, local. La Grange restaurant, The Grapevine, was just a few blocks away, I parked the car and walked over to the restaurant, stepped up to the counter and ordered one bowl of Avgolemono soup!

The Grapevine’s Avgolemono is as close to my grandmother’s soup as I have ever eaten. It tastes like lemon, and chicken, and rice and it brings me back into her nourishing embrace. While I make, rather well, many of my Yia Yia’s meals, this soup is one I do not make, so, I appreciate having a good source  nearby.

I found a small table, poured a glass of water, settled myself and soon detected the unique aroma of toasted sesame seed. A basket of warmed Greek bread was set before me, followed by a steaming bowl of my favorite soup. I stirred it slowly, in part to cool it off, in part to see the pieces of chicken and rice floating in the lemony broth, and in part to appreciate the enticing dance of steam spiraling upward. I added a few dashes of pepper and stirred it in, recalling the time my sister went to add pepper to her lemon soup, unaware that the lid was not secure, dumping most of the pepper into her soup. Yia Yia was upset, for she had filled the shaker and had not secured it well rendering the bowl of soup was no longer edible. Things like that mattered in our house. Food was not to be wasted.

Odd, sometimes, is it not, what memories come to us over a bowl of steaming soup?

Equally interesting how words on a page can stir our emotions and lead us to do something unplanned, like ordering a bowl of soup.img_0548

“I stood for the longest time simply staring down at the bright yellow ball, reveling in the color, allowing the oil to perfume my fingers. Then, almost unconsciously, I began grating the zest, concentrating on the scent, stopping every few seconds to inhale the aroma.” page 96

I took my time eating my soup, enjoying the bread, savoring the flavors and textures, before heading out to my next engagement, and I thought of the words that wended their way into my thoughts and looked forward to reading more of Ruth Reichl’s book, filled with the “136 recipes that saved”  her life in the year after Gourmet Magazine ceased.

Have words on a page ever led you to making or eating a favorite dish? or a new one?

Have you read “My Kitchen Year” or any of Ruth Reichl’s other books?

Were you a fan of Gourmet Magazine?

 

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I came across “The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid” while looking for Bill Bryson’s “In a Sunburned Country”. I was hoping to find the audio of the latter book, which we will be discussing at our September book discussion, and hoped that it would keep me company on my recent trek Up North. Instead of the prescribed book, I took home the audio of “The Glass Kitchen”  by Linda Francis Lee and the Bryson audio, which I finished before my trip.  “. . . The Thunderbolt Kid” had me so engaged that I found myself inventing reasons to get in the car to listen to it. (I only listen to audio books in the car.)

So, let me begin . . .

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I was laughing so hard that at one point I needed to pull the car over, flashers on, as I played a passage again. It was a chapter in which Mr. Bryson explained learning to read from the Dick, Jane, and Sally books. Chances are, if you grew up in the 1950’s, lived in the midwest, and attended public schools, you learned to read with Dick, Jane, and Sally. Once you learned to read, you practiced how to avoid an atomic bomb by hiding under your desk. You went to Saturday matinée, with double features, at the local movie theater, and, if you were Bill Bryson, you learned how get the candy out of the vending machine, with hilarious consequences.  If you grew up in the ’50s, you experienced an explosion of changes in the United States (and in other countries as well), including television, packaged dinners, white bread, the advent of super highways and freedom to roam the neighborhood from dawn until dusk.

Bryson’s parents were both journalists of some renown in Des Moines, Iowa. Bill often went with his father, who covered sports, especially baseball.  His parents were both a bit of a character, though loving and kind and fair. Although I grew up a “public” while Tom grew up a “private”, we both enjoyed these stories as I shared the finished discs with him. I will warn you that we both had trouble talking about the various chapters for all the laughing that gushed forth.

” . . . The Thunderbolt Kid” is not all about humor, however. It is about the middle of the 20th century, with all its promise and all its fears, atomic bomb testing and food additives, DDT and doctors that made house calls. It is about the heyday of comic books, super heroes, refrigerators, medicine and advancements, both good and bad

It is also about the demise of small towns and a simpler way of life.

It is, in a large part, our own stories of the 1950’s.

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As I had already finished ” . . . The Thunderbolt Kid”, I took the audio of “The Glass Kitchen” along for the ride instead. I’ll admit, I was drawn to the cover and the word “kitchen”.

This book made for pleasant company as I navigated my route. It was an “easy read” about Portia,  raised by her grandmother who runs a restaurant in Texas called The Glass Kitchen. Portia and her sisters are as different as sisters often are. It is Portia who has the gift of “the knowing” . Recipes and meals come to her, as they did to her grandmother, that portend both good and bad occurrences.

When her grandmother dies, Portia, the youngest of the three sisters, moves to New York City where her siblings now live and where they were willed a three-story apartment by their beloved great-aunt. Portia, broke and uncertain of what to do next after her husband, a Texas politician, divorces her for a woman who carries his child, moves into the bottom flat. Her sisters have sold their own apartments.

This is a love story and a bit of mystery. Gabrielle, the owner of the other two apartments, which Portia’s sisters sold, is raising his teenaged daughters in the two flats he has remodeled. Their mother, his wife, has died in a car accident. Portia becomes their cook – and more – as the story grows. Some of it is predictable, some a bit of a surprise. There is a nasty grandmother and wicked uncle, secrets and turmoil – and it is also a story of food, the book’s chapters framed around meal courses.

I enjoyed listening to this book as I drove the otherwise lonely miles.

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J. Ryan Stradal’s book, “Kitchens of the Great Midwest”, was a Christmas gift from Tom. It was languishing since the holidays on my never-ending pile of books  – until it suddenly jumped into my hands, where it stayed for just a few day while as I devoured its pages.

This is the story of Eva Thorvald, told in chapters by various people in her life; her father, Lars, an excellent cook who loves her, her mother, Cynthia, a sommalier, who abandons her and Lars. Her aunt and uncle, who raise her as their own. We meet a high school boy who yearns for her and a cousin who has no time for her and a cast of many more. Eva, and food, are the main characters in the quirky book that made me laugh aloud and made me sigh.

I must admit, there were a few times I almost put “Kitchens of the Great Midwest” down, but, instead, I kept turning the pages, for just another piece of this morsel of the great Midwest, for it is the people and the palate of Midwesterners that hold this story together. From lutefisk to church competitions for the best bar cookies, and the modern farm-to-table movement, this book is a moveable feast of family and friends and survival.

Food, more food, and the 1950’s.

What has been on your reading plate lately?

 

Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal from here .

Image of “The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid” from here.

Image of “The Glass Kitchen” from here.

 

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Guess where I’ve been?

Tundra

Need another hint?

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It was heartwarming to spend time with these two youngsters, our grandest of grandchildren, while I was Up North this past week. I was lending a small hand as our son-in-law, Tom, began his recovery from surgery after an already challenging summer from an injury. I wish I could be there, still, but responsibilities on the home front necessitated my homecoming. Hopefully, enough leftovers will make up for my leaving, and some cheerful memories will linger for Kezzie and Ezra.

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The darling dog is Tundra, a Goldendoodle. She is the newest resident of the Up North limb of our family tree. Tundra is very sweet, becoming very big, and learning the rules of the manor – when she isn’t being silly out back, that is.

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The first night I was there, after dinner at Pieology (where I chose and enjoyed a pesto sauced pizza) we stopped at the library to return and check out more books. We left with two bags filled with books (can you imagine how much this warms my heart?) and Keziah showed me around their newly opened library. I was more than impressed by the children’s section, with books at child level, a welcoming atmosphere, and interactive manipulatives that stimulate budding imaginations.

I appreciate and admire communities that value libraries and libraries that have the foresight to evolve with changing times – daring to keeping libraries relevant and friendly places for young people while maintaining the community service of lending out books.

Speaking of books, I would like to recommend one to those of you who enjoying cooking with children. The Forest Feast for Kids is by Erin Gleeson*. Actually, I would like to recommend it to all of you. It is a fun, well illustrated, photographed, and detailed book full of vegetarian recipes for children to prepare. We gave it to Keziah for her birthday and were pleased to learn that 61qJKe+MLDL._SX366_BO1,204,203,200_she has been enjoying it. She pulled it out on the last day I was there. We snuggled and explored the book together, talking about the different recipes, like melon cake (watermelon, cantaloupe, and honeydew), cut and stacked to make a three-layered “cake” with yogurt in the middle. We discussed what we could make for lunch. While we were missing one or two ingredients for most of the recipes, the cookbook inspired and led us to ideas of our own of what else we could make with the ingredients at hand. Kezzie decided to make “cracker sandwiches” – and here she is with her creation.

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Earlier on the same day, Ezra was intently “forking” peanut butter cookie dough. He proved to be a very good sous chef.

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I always find it fun to be in the kitchen with children – and these two sweetie pies make food preparation extra special.

I am home, now, and I miss them already, but, it is what it is, and so goes life here on the Cutoff.

*Erin Gleeson is also the author of The Forest Floor, her earlier cookbook.

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Roadside stands, farmers markets, seasonal enterprises – they are the heart and soul of summer in the Midwest – and probably in your neck of the  woods as well.

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I didn’t buy the Speciality Basil Bouquet (top photo), but, I couldn’t resist taking a picture. The arrangements look, and smell, of summer. I grow my own basil along with thyme, oregano, and sage in a whiskey barrel on our deck. I love to step outside and snip fresh herbs for our dinner, and I love slipping herbs into bouquets – or just in a jar of water for color and ease on my countertop.

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The bouquet of zinnias, above was from The Farm, a roadside market not far from our house. They grow their produce on two farms nearby and have a large plot in back of the barn/store where they grow flowers that they sell from the stand. The bouquets are picked and arranged each day and last for most of a week. This bouquet has strawflowers and Billy Buttons, which should also dry well for Fall arrangements.

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Last week, onions, new potatoes, zucchini and string beans were available. One glance and I knew what i would be making for dinner that night and leftovers thereafter – Greek string beans and potatoes! I used some freshly picked mint leaves from another pot on the deck and it was, I must confess, unabashedly, THE BEST Briami  I have ever made!

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Sweet corn is abundant now. I prefer to get corn from Farmers Markets and stands, where I know they are as locally grown and as fresh as possible, but, there are also berries, and fruit, much of which is coming in from Michigan. These yellow plums are quite sweet and juicy.

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What are seasonal delights are you enjoying now?

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Juliet Batten

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