Going on vacation next week....details at the end of the post. See you in September!
When I was a younger woman, I had no time for breakfast. Of course I choked down all the coffee I could manage and then, on high throttle, ran to catch the bus for work or jumped in the car to run kids to school. By lunch I was Starved with a capital “S” and surely ate more than I needed. I particularly remember drinking chocolate milk with my noon meal every day for one year of my short teaching career. (I also had to buy new and larger pants that year. It only takes one constant change, you see.) It wasn’t that I hadn’t been raised to eat a good morning meal; I had. Thanks, Dad. Somehow that daily oatmeal had gotten lost in the shuffle along the way, perhaps at college, much to my detriment. One fateful fall, however, weight having finally gotten the best of me, I joined Weight Watchers (WW). The doctor also called me on my caffeine habit; sigh. (I drink half-caff now so I can still have a humongous mugful.) If you know anything about WW and particularly old school WW –before points–you’ll know you must eat breakfast. You’ll fall flat on your face if you don’t. While I’m still a faithful member of the WW tribe (I’d be even larger if I weren’t), I also have become even more attached to the idea of a filling, substantial breakfast so I don’t lean into snacking or want two lunches. Plus I simply love breakfast!
Aside: Why have I done WW for so long? It keeps me honest. Can’t forget that ice cream bar if you’re tracking everything you eat.
I thought it was time for a new pasta salad for summer not because I needed one but because Sylvie did. Sylvie’s graduating from high school, you see, and of course she’s having a graduation party. Since Sylvie, a stellar singer and dancer, has cooked and baked with me since she was a wee girl, I’m thrilled to work out something fun and luscious to go with her dad’s great pulled pork tacos and bring it along to fete one of my favorite students and people.
A few weeks back, while doing my monthly Trader Joe’s run, I scored a package of fresh chicken Italian sausage. Upon returning home, I stuck it in the garage freezer and promptly forgot all about it. Ok; it’s my MO. Finding myself with most of a pot of polenta leftover from Friday night’s bœuf bourguignon dinner and wondering what to do with it (there are myriad uses–no worries), I remembered that sausage and easily pictured it with a simple tomato sauce along with a cascade of sautéed mushrooms. A little garlic, of course–but not a lot. How about some fresh asparagus, I thought? It is asparagus season, after all. (Here in Colorado Springs –and I know this because of a longtime faithful reader, thanks–, we have wild asparagus that should just about be coming on. Take a peek around.) While it did dirty a few pans (hello wonderful DACOR dishwasher– ours was made by Asko, the Swedish company–and is still running perfectly without mishap after 9 years/knock on wood), within 45 minutes we had an easy-scrumptious dinner on hand with which to watch a couple of episodes of Netflix’ addictive new series “Transatlantic.”
This time of year, there are pumpkin spice jokes ad nauseam and while I don’t particularly love the idea of pumpkin spices unless they’re in a pumpkin pie or pumpkin bread, I do, do, do love me some pumpkin. From one year to the next, one shelf in my garage storage pantry is smack full of pumpkin. I’m not afraid there’ll be a shortfall, though that almost happened in recent memory, I just know year-old pumpkin in the can tastes better than this year’s pumpkin — especially for pie, but really for anything. This often repeated tidbit is one of many my father-in-law Gene Morgan (longtime Jewel-Eisner grocery merchandiser) passed on to me early in my marriage. (There’s also that I might want a loaf or two of pumpkin bread mid-July when a can of pumpkin might be a tad difficult to locate at the store. Just look next year and see if I’m not right.) When Gene, not a big talker per se, gives you a little grocery tip, you’d best file it away and not forget it. At 19, for instance, I learned to rinse off the top of any can I was about to cook with or drink out of. His graphic description of certain sorts of insects running across the floors of grocery warehouses wasn’t something easily forgotten. And why hadn’t my mother told me this? (She might’ve and I might not have heard her, too.) Thank goodness Gene filled me in and kept us from whatever diseases roaches impart. By the way, they include things like listeriosis, plague, and dysentery, to name but a few. Ewwww.
The beauty of a vegetable soup is manifold. It’s mouthwatering, colorful, done in a snap, affordable, versatile, full of vitamins and fiber, accessible, easily vegan/gluten-free, and pantry-friendly. Wow! The beauty of a vegetable soup with legumes, or in this case both lentils and chickpeas, is even greater as there’s the addition of plant-based protein (and lots more fiber) which makes the soup increasingly healthful — to say nothing of filling. Now all those things are true, real, and make me feel happy about putting a pot of this goodness on the table anytime. But I mostly want to make vegetable soup because I like to eat it (especially right after Super Bowl and Valentine’s Day!) and before that, I like to smell it cooking in my house. Is there anything better?
One day last week I went out to the garage refrigerator for carrots. It’s a common occurrence at our house as I typically buy and store a 5-pound bag of carrots in the produce bin of that fridge. While it sounds like a lot of carrots, they’re cheap in that quantity ($2.99 for 5 pounds–what else is less than 60 cents a pound?) and they last a long time. Even better, I’m never out of them for soup, stew, or just for a vegetable. It’s also not terribly unusual for me to make carrot soup as it’s lovely, healthy, fast, and can be made in several different flavor profiles. I didn’t start out with carrot soup in mind on said day, but I certainly got there pretty fast as my carrots were growing white hair— sprouting, getting ready for planting! I peeled and used the carrot I needed, but knew carrot soup, cake, bread, soufflé, salad, or gratin was in the offing. Because I wasn’t throwing away 8 or 9 carrots no matter how little they cost.
I’m reminded of a simple meme that says volumes. It goes something like, “A single carrot doesn’t seem too awfully important. Unless it took you 3 months to grow it.” And, by the way, if you’re lucky enough to get carrots with all the green frills on top, the green part is edible, too. A little carrot top pesto might be good for the soul. VEGETABLES ARE AMAZING!
Every year about this time, there’s a flurry of interest in fresh and easy meals — which translates to, “Let’s just have a salad.” (It happens on January 2, too!) I’m all for that, but I’d skip the word, “just,” and shout out, “SALAD!” Out of all the cooking classes I’ve taught over the last 12 years, there are the most questions about salads: what goes in them, how to make a vinaigrette, what kind of oil to buy, the sort of salt I like, and how to make salad a meal. In fact, I taught a two-hour class about making salad a couple of years ago and the fun we had together still resonates whenever I think about it. Folks want a great salad; they want easy and fresh, healthful meals, but they’re often a bit stuck in their I-buy-this-every-week greens and goodies. This summer, I decided it’s time to organize an online lesson on salad savvy and give you the skinny on how to bring it all together. As the information I wanted to sharewas entirely too much for one blog post, I’ve divided it into three (simultaneously published) posts so that you can read them all in a row if you like–or not– and then it’s off to the farmer’s market, the deck, the store, or backyard garden for you to get started! Click on the red links below and come chopping with me to make your newest stellar salad!
SUBSTANCE — Part 1 (This post–all about ingredients.)
Those of us raised by southern mothers might have grown up with Green Beans and Potatoes on the table come hot, dripping summertime evenings. Add a plate of heavy sliced tomatoes (well-salted, thank you) and a pan of cornbread with lots of butter, please, and that was dinner. Who needed meat? For the past few years, warm weather brings on the need to re-create that dish with my own twists and turns. Those often include tossing in whatever other vegetables I have on hand, turning it all into a salad, and whipping up a frisky vinaigrette I doubt my mom would ever have added. She might have thrown in a piece of chopped bacon or a tablespoon or two of bacon grease into the pot for flavor, though, now that I think about it. Oh, and that bacon grease never saw the inside of a refrigerator either. (We all lived.)
I don’t remember eating lentils as a kid. Even lentil soup — on many tables this week as it’s such a pantry-friendly meal — came to me in adulthood, albeit from a much-loved friend and oddly enough during a hot week at the beach on the Outer Banks. If I ate it earlier, I have no memory of the meal and more’s the pity. The “Lentil” I knew was the Lentil of Caldecott Award- winning author Robert McCloskey (MAKE WAY FOR DUCKLINGS) fame since I’m a lifelong avid reader and also trained and worked as a school librarian at one time in my life.