CLOCKWISE FROM BOTTOM LEFT CORNER: Kalamata olives, hummus, potato chips, tortilla chips, sliced cucumbers, Triscuit Thin Crisps, sweet cherries, Green Chile-Pimento cheese, baby carrots, cherry tomatoes, guacamole, and onion dip.
Americans, in the heavy heat of summer, are known for flocking to cold-cold air-conditioned restaurants for dinner–and staying a while. Maybe a long while. (Like until it cools off at home.) I mean, who’s going to turn that stove on when it’s that warm? Even if you have AC (and a lot of Americans do), it makes no sense to make that blessed machine work any harder now, does it? In Covid-Time, though, quite a few of us are still not going to restaurants–at least not to sit inside. We may do drive-throughs or pick-ups, but restaurant dining rooms are still kinda high up on the scale of risk factors. In some places, they’re closed again. Let’s face it, I’m thinking it almost sounds as if it’s not quite worth it, despite my desperately wanting to support my fave local eateries. And even if we do go, we can’t stay there; that’s only fair. There are fewer tables and, in restaurant parlance, “They need to turn.” In other words, you need to eat and git. Drink and run. Maybe, until a few more things move around, it’s still better to spend most dinnertimes at home. Yeah. As in the past four months.
Wait, though. If we have to keep eating at home, let’s think fun food once in a while. Party fare. Or in my Russian-German cousin Nona’s words, “Nick-nacks.” As in SNACKS. Cold stuff. Cheeses. Dips. A few chips. Of course, crackers– whole grain only! We all need salt in warm weather, ok? Fresh veggies sound good even to folks who normally eschew anything verging on green. They’re crisp. They don’t need cooking. They’re not fattening. They’re even
cheap inexpensive. And that’s sounding good across the board. We all need to save the proverbial penny right now. (God.)
As an old food blogger, I’ve done no-cook dinners before. And before that, too. All pleasing little throw-it-on-the-table numbers–or nearly:
Some have been $$$ fancy-schmancy, as my old and dear friend Sandy used to say. (See above) Others have been simple. Cool. Comforting. Old School Fast. As in TUNA-STUFFED PEPPERS. (See below)
Last Saturday, we were planning a dinner and our guest, daughter Emily, was ill and couldn’t come. Since we hadn’t seen her since February due to Covid, we were heartbroken. I had fixed apps for afternoon munching and had planned a simple, but tasty dinner so I could concentrate on Emi. With no guest on the way, I had my Green Chile-Pimento Cheese and my riff on Jacques Pépin’s hummus waiting sadly in the fridge. Why not have it for a no-cook lunch? There’s nothing Dave likes better than appetizers and it didn’t take long to throw together the platter of snacks, pop open a couple of icy beers, and head out to the deck at noon with Pandora blasting. I even added a few sweet cherries for dessert. While we missed our daughter awfully, soon we were noshing away outdoors in the breeze enjoying the day, the food and the brews. Sorry, Em. Next time!
I’ve documented a lot of what I’ve cooked over the last few months and this is no exception. My good camera was in the house, but I snapped a few frames with my iPhone and that’s what you’re seeing here…albeit a bit cleaned up with iPhoto on my iMac. Whether or not you have company coming and maybe especially if you don’t, a cold toss-it-together meal is perfect for these hot days and nights. There’s a bit of chopping, whirring and stirring involved, but no turning on the stove or oven. I’ll give you a recipe or two if you want to make the hummus and the Green Chile-Pimento cheese, but there’s the store down the road if you’d rather buy them just as I did with the French Onion Dip and the Guacamole. For giggles, I’ll include my own Guacamole recipe, Alyce’s Killer Guac, though I’m a little shy about trying to order avocados for grocery pick up and instead have simply bought the pre-made version lately. One of the beautiful attributes of most dippy and spready sorts of recipes is they keep. Tomorrow, they taste just as good as today, if not better–with the notable exception of guacamole, which is mostly best fresh. So you could eat this twice or more, right?! Try this:
TOO HOT TO COOK PLATTER:
PLATTER INGREDIENTS: Kalamata olives, hummus, potato chips, tortilla chips, sliced cucumbers, Triscuit Thin Crisps, sweet cherries, Green Chile-Pimento cheese, baby carrots, cherry tomatoes, guacamole, and onion dip. See photo of platter at top for styling or do as you please. (Did you get a great platter yet?)
TIP for making it look beautiful: keep all of each ingredient together instead of spreading individual items around the platter. Try to use several different brightly colored foods for contrast. Tomatoes or broccoli will set off brown crackers; cucumbers are great next to radishes, and so on. Take an extra couple of minutes and look objectively at your arrangement. Switch stuff around if needed. We eat first with our eyes, which is why, “That looks so good!” is such a complimentary phrase in today’s visual food world. Eating the rainbow is healthy, too!
Stuff to buy: kalamata olives, potato chips, tortilla chips, Triscuit Thin Crisps, English cucumber, sweet cherries, cherry tomatoes, baby carrots, French Onion Dip, Guacamole (?)
Stuff to make: Green Chile Pimento Cheese, Hummus, Guacamole (?) Recipes below.
GREEN CHILE PIMENTO CHEESE-my More Time recipe in link. I’ve actually never heard of another recipe for it, though it’s a fun riff off the famous Lee Bros Pimento Cheese. Have any leftover? Put it on a grilled chicken patty melt or into an omelet. Of course grandma would have made a sandwich on white bread with it and you can, too.
STORAGE: Keeps for a week in the fridge, tightly covered, or in the freezer for two months.
HUMMUS: I’ve made several versions and bought a few, too. Homemade is sooooooo much better and I love, love Jacque Pépin’s recipe with a couple of small additions. (He is one of my heroes.) I include a link (below) to his facebook page, which lately contains a series of fun short daily videos that quickly show you how to make a Curly Dog, A Lemon Pig, a great salmon dish, this hummus, and lots of other delicious simple recipes. I did search, attempting to find the written recipe by the chef, but I couldn’t find it. I hope I remember this right, but you can always watch the video. You should do it and commit the recipe to memory as it’s so uncomplicated and straightforward. You’ll be glad you did and, mais oui, you can make it your own with individual additions or changes. For instance, this is werewolf-repellant garlicky. Don’t say I didn’t tell ya. Ingredients are italicized. Here it is:
In a food processor fitted with the steel blade, pulse until well-blended a 15-ounce can of drained chickpeas (save the drained liquid) plus a good drizzle of the liquid from the chickpeas–a couple of tablespoons, perhaps, depending on the texture you desire. Add 3-4 chopped garlic cloves, a good generous pinch of salt, juice of half a lemon, 2 tablespoons of peanut butter (yes, peanut butter) and process, pulsing, until smooth. Leaving the machine running, drizzle in about 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil until well-blended. Taste and adjust seasonings. Using a rubber spatula, turn out hummus into a shallow serving dish. Sprinkle with paprika and some crumbled feta. Garnish with a little chopped roasted red pepper.
My teeny additions are these: a few shakes of hot sauce into the chickpea mixture and several grinds of black pepper on top in the dish for garnish. (I had no feta that day, but it’s on my list for next time.)
STORAGE: Hummus keeps 4-7 days in the fridge according to still tasty.com (I toss it at 5) and 3-4 months in the freezer.
TIP: I keep a Sharpie in my kitchen and date such things as this with the day they need to be eaten or pitched. Really useful for boxes of broth, for instance. Don’t trust your stomach health to your memory. I had a Twin Cities friend who was (is) a family practice doctor. While she rarely talked shop as we were in a prayer group together, I’ll never forget this comment, “Most tummy troubles are food-borne illnesses.” Ah! I’m pretty careful about using food while it’s still healthy for me rather than making me sick. You might do the same. Saving a buck just ain’t worth the trots.
No food processor? Use a blender or mortar and pestle or even a fork.
Jacques Pépin’s Cannellini Bean Dip–quite similar, though not exactly the same, of course.
ALYCE’S KILLER GUAC–originally on my now-completed and pretty dated blog, dinnerplace.blogspot.com. (It does contain a slew of recipes I love.) I imported this small photo, but see I need a new one! Why this was named “killer,” I don’t remember. Maybe it’s the addition of bacon, which you don’t have to have anyway. It’s kind of an embarrassment now, but the name has stuck, so…
Alyce’s Killer Guac
PICO DE GALLO:
- 2 medium tomatoes-chopped finely
- 1/4 cup red onion-chopped finely (add a little more if you're a real onion lover)
- 1 jalapeno-deveined, seeded, and minced
- 1/2 cup chopped cilantro
- Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
- 4 ripe avocados-peeled, chopped, and mashed, if you like*
- 2 slices bacon-cooked crisply and chopped finely, optional
- 4-6 drops Tabasco–or to taste
- Juice of a whole lime
- Juice of half a lemon
MAKE THE PICO DE GALLO: In a large bowl, mix the vegetables and cilantro. Season lightly with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.
ADD AVOCADO MIXTURE: Add avocado through lemon to the vegetable mixture (pico de gallo) and stir well. Season with a good pinch each salt and pepper. Taste and adjust seasonings. Serve immediately or, if holding 1-2 hours, place a piece of plastic wrap right up against the dip and refrigerate until serving. Serve with tortilla chips, fresh vegetables, or as a burger topping.
STORAGE: Guac should be eaten as soon as it’s made, if not sooner. Refrigerate it maybe for a day, covered with plastic wrap you’ve pressed right down into the guac. Some folks cover it with a layer of lemon juice. The best thing is to make and eat it fresh.
IF YOU LIKED THIS, YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE MY…DEVILED EGG DIP
LIFE GOES ON…but not like always
One day last week, I began to write a list of all the things missing (or that might be missing) during Covid-Time. I’ve been thinking about it all for a while. Just like everyone else, I guess. It began with birthday parties, moved on to hugging kids and grandkids, and then included things like school, church, dinner parties, funerals, baseball, visits to the hair stylist, holidays with friends and relatives….and went on for a long time. I’ll skip the rest because you get it. You have your own list.
We’ve been pretty conservative about our going out and about; I realize that. Other folks have been much more active–even during lockdown. Some people are even going on vacation now. Not us. I do have the opportunity to go out a bit, but sometimes still choose to stay home while Dave runs errands. A woman needs to breathe. Lately, I’ve even gone to physical therapy a couple of times a week, driven by a painful back and left leg from a pinched nerve in my back. On the mend now!!
The other list, naturally, is the one detailing what’s new, changed, or better during Covid-Time. Sometimes it’s hard to see as so many experiences are missing or might be missing come fall and the news is so horrifying daily. I even gave up my favorite morning tv and, for months, even the nightly news as I couldn’t handle the barrage of sad scenes over and over. (We have gone back to seeing one tv newscast per day.) Poor me; I know. Breathing out roughly here because no matter what, we must first be grateful for our health. And we are.
Early on, I found myself thinking about my parents’, grandparents’, and great-grandparents’ lives; I think this was common and I heard others mentioning it. My mind turned to my own childhood. You might have grown up during a time when going out to a restaurant was a rare occasion; it was in my house–at least during my young childhood. A cone at the Dairy Queen was a special event. Dinner out? Wow. Almost never. Even wedding receptions were in the backyard with the neighborhood women doing all the cooking and the cousins tending bar in the garage. There was the yearly meal at a drugstore lunch counter during a Christmas shopping trip to downtown Chicago. Hamburger and a 6-ounce coke. My Dad took his lunches to work without exception. The more I considered the whole deal, the more even I remembered being pretty much at home all the time growing up–unless it was time for school or church. My parents grocery shopped once a week. We lived outdoors in the summer. Think about how differently we live today. If I go back another generation, our families were on the farm or really rural. A lot of the items on the list above, the stuff we’re soooo missing, didn’t exist for most of America. (We’ve gotten spoiled or…) A trip to town was a rarity. Being at home (no tv, no pizza or PRIME deliveries) was the norm. There was no big freezer full of food in the garage. No long, hot showers. No running to the grocery for whipping cream. No phones or AC. (Argh.) Folks sat outside and “visited” for entertainment. What was “vacation?” Books were scarce, as was money or opportunity to buy them. Social occasions were mostly limited to church suppers, sing alongs, or sewing circles. Now, as then, there’s a similarly quiet quality of life I’m beginning to get used to. A luxury of elastic, soft time I almost have no memory of, but I’m slowly cottoning to. You must admit this: I’m not growing all my food, washing dishes and clothes by hand, or sewing all my own clothes — my days would look differently if I had to do all of those chores and lots more besides. But still…. Rather than spending 3 hours a week shopping at 3 different grocery stores, I drive in to one place, they load up my bags in the back, and I drive home. If it’s not on amazon or at King Sooper’s (our Kroger), I don’t have it. We’re still eating just fine, but things have changed. (We did drive out to a ranch for meat a couple of weeks ago. That was our longest drive in 4 months.)
Instead of spending 4 hours going to church and brunch, we eat first and worship via youtube whenever we feel like it.
There’s no question about whether we’re eating at home or going to a restaurant; we’re eating at home. For years I used up 6 hours a month having my hair and nails done–including driving time. My hair is now mostly its natural color and longer (I had no idea what it looked like.) and my nails are my own (I hardly remembered them.) Can that be right? I didn’t know what parts of me looked like? I do now. It feels important.
I’m ok with it all and I have more money. I have time to let my hair dry these days. There’s that, but it’s pretty weird to not be in a hurry. I mean, where am I going? We have several trips still on the books, but we don’t think we’ll be traveling anytime soon.
I play the piano a lot now. Read more than ever. Play Scrabble. I go outside several times a day. Pay intimate attention to my flowers. To the sky. To the moon and stars. The clouds. Weeds. Trees. Birds. Bears.
We have two new wild animals this summer: lurky turkeys and chatty-cathy chipmunks. Or had I just missed them the last 15 years in this house? What else did I miss?
The beginnings of these realizations have, over time, made me feel as if we’re living life more like it was lived for eons–or, at least, something nearer to that. Dave and I have long, rambling talks about the world, dinner, music, books, or our kids or parents over a wee dram at night. We don’t worry about sitting on our cans for a second episode of a favorite series; we just do it.
There are minutes on end to watch the rain…
..and I can bake biscuits any day… (and am going to make Dorie Greenspan’s scones from last Sunday’s NYTimes’ Magazine, too!!)
…I have 10 minutes to edit a photo just for a fb post — and for fun. Remember fun?
In the pre-Covid life, how much did we miss because we were always running? What didn’t we appreciate or have the presence of mind to grow to love? Was there a long catalog of things we took for granted? People we assumed would always be there? (We’ve lost several friends and relatives during these months.) Letters we no longer wrote? Moments we didn’t treasure because we lived an unaware existence? An unexamined life? “If I only knew then what I know now.” The opportunity continues. If we let it. My heart is open to furthering the spiritual journey we’re on. I’m trying not to want to go back to, “I’m just too busy to… … …”