Monday, August 11, 2014

What Not to Say

Bubble Apron StringsLast August, preparing to send The Girl off to college for her first year, I found myself caught up in ridiculous conversations every time I bumped into someone who knows our family.  Everyone I encountered, it seemed, had the exact same things to say. None of those things were very helpful.  Many of them, in fact, were pretty hurtful.  And while I knew in my heart that no one meant to be anything other than supportive of me and the Foodie family, that didn’t change the fact that I often felt insulted for daring to have an honest response to the fact of my daughter’s departure.

So I thought I’d share some of the more common Things People Say at this moment, explain why I found those things unhelpful, and offer some alternatives.  If you have friends who are preparing to send a kid off to college, they’ll appreciate hearing anything other than:

 

It’s time to cut the apron strings!

First of all, although I do cook, I rarely wear an apron.   And I have the stains to prove it.

Second: the practice of tying a kid to one’s apron strings was a method of keeping small children close by while a mother was occupied with cooking, which was a time- and labor-intensive activity for many years.  Having small children underfoot didn’t make that process easier, I’m sure, which means a mother would simply not attach a child to herself in the first place if she believed that child was old enough to roam free.  A rebellious child, not a mother, would be the one taking the scissors to the strings.

So before you think about saying this to a mom (because, let’s face it, no one says this to a dad), remind yourself that it makes no sense and think again.

 

Aren’t you proud she’s going to college?

I assume that no one really believed my answer to this question would be “No, actually, I’m not proud at all.  I’m really pissed off.  How dare she leave home and get an education?  What does she think she’s doing, preparing for the future or something?”

The fact that I missed my daughter had nothing whatsoever to do with whether or not I was pleased and proud that she had earned herself a terrific scholarship at an excellent university where she’s getting a top-notch education.  I was, and am, incredibly proud of her.  But if your best friend gets a terrific job offer in a different city, it’s possible to miss your friend terribly while wishing her well, right?  In the same respect, it’s possible for parents to miss seeing their child every day while still taking great pride in their accomplishments.

 

Eventually, you have to let them go.

Let’s be clear about something: the process of “letting go” begins when a child is born, when you have to trust that child to breathe with her own two lungs all night long and then wake up in the morning.  (Believe me when I say that it’s really hard to trust this will happen when you’re the post-partum first-time mother of a newborn.)  That process continues the first time you let your child climb a ladder and go down a slide by him or herself, and when you leave your child with a babysitter, a day care provider, a kindergarten teacher, etc., etc., etc.

By the time your kid is old enough to go to the movies with a group of friends, but without an adult chaperon—around the age of twelve or so—you have long since let go of the idea that you will be holding on to your child forever.  Their entire lives are devoted to becoming independent of you.  As a parent, your job is to stand there and watch it happen.  That’s a painful process, and it did not begin when my kid left home for college.  It began on the day she was born.

 

Everybody goes through this at some point.

This one is just not true.  I’m the only mother of my particular child.  She is my only daughter. She is my only oldest child.  I will go through sending my first child off to college exactly one time.  Other people from other families will be sending off their children as well, and I’m sure there are common elements in our experience—but they are not me, and I am not them.  Our families are different.  Our children are different.  I am the only mom who knows how it feels to lose this particular member of my home team.

Also: please keep in mind that some parents aren’t lucky enough to have their children long enough to send them off to college.  Some parents lose their kids too young.  Some kids run away from home before they graduate from high school.  Some kids simply don’t finish high school, for one reason or another.  Some parents encourage their kids to live at home while going to college, to save on the cost of university housing.  Everybody goes through this?  What an insensitive thing to say.

 

On the flip side, here are some things you might say to express your support of the parents and their college-bound kid:

 

Is s/he excited?

This is a great question because 1.) it allows the parent to focus on the departing kid, which is all the parent really wants to talk about, and 2.) it allows that parent to be honest—to talk about both the hopes and fears involved with making a big transition.  It’s perfectly okay to answer this questions by saying “Yes and no.”

 

This is such an exciting time—there are so many adventures ahead!

It is!  There are!  That’s what keeps this from being a total sobfest.

 

You’re starting a whole new chapter of your life.

We are. All of us.  And even though this beginning part is a little sad, we’re very excited to find out what’s next.

 

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Thursday, August 7, 2014

Cherry-Nectarine Cobbler

I’m not sure how it’s possible that this summer is nearly over.  The Girl heads back to her college campus this weekend, for RA training in advance of her residents’ gradual return.  The Boy has gone through Prep Day at his high school, which means he’s all set for his senior year.  And The Hubs and I have already been called back to our respective campuses for meetings; classes start in just few weeks.  All signs point to the fact that The Summer of Travel is coming to a close.

It’s enough to make a Foodie eat her feelings.

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It’s fortunate that I had both cherries and nectarines on hand when I found myself overcome by the urge to make something sweet and comforting.  I love fruit-based desserts–cobbler, crisp, crumble, pie. Whatever you have, I’ll eat it.  With a scoop of vanilla ice cream, thanks.  I love both cherries and nectarines on their own, but combining them leads to something very special, a sweet-tart taste sensation that’s perfect for the bittersweet end of summer.

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Start the cobbler-making process by tossing together fruit, sugar, and your choice of thickener.  I usually prefer tapioca to corn starch or flour–you can see the tapioca pearls in the photos above–because I think it gives the filling a less pasty texture.  As you can also see, I used two types of nectarines (white and yellow) because that’s what I had on hand.  Then I tossed in two cups of pitted cherries.  If you have peaches instead of nectarines, or more cherries and fewer nectarines, that’s fine.  Cobbler is a very forgiving dessert.  (Just be sure to peel your peaches before you cut them up–one of the reasons I prefer nectarines to peaches is that you can eat them skin and all.)  You’ll need about 5 cups of chopped fruit, in whatever combination you come up with.

The topping created by this recipe is a little more custardy than what you’ll find in most cobblers.  As I’ve mentioned before, there are many opinions about what a cobbler topping should be.  This is most definitely a Group 3 cobbler, but the cakey topping is very, very soft.  In fact, I think it’s closer to bread pudding than cake.  I really love that texture in this cobbler, as does the rest of the Foodie family, but if it’s not your cup of tea, there’s no law against combining these fruits with something a little more firm–for instance, the topping I use when I make Blackberry Cobbler.  I used a gluten-free flour blend (Namaste Foods’ Perfect Flour Blend) which includes xanthan gum, but regular AP wheat flour will work just as well.  If you use a gluten-free blend without xanthan gum, add half a teaspoon to the dry ingredients listed below.

Give this cobbler 10 or 15 minutes to cool once you take it out of the oven, because the fruit filling will be way too hot to eat anytime sooner–and it will melt the vanilla ice cream that is, as far as I’m concerned, a required part of the cobbler experience.

Print

Cherry-Nectarine Cobbler

Ingredients:

3 cups nectarines, sliced or chopped
2 cups cherries, pitted
1/2 cup sugar
3 T. minute tapioca
1 tsp. almond extract
1/2 cup gluten-free flour blend (or AP wheat flour)
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
4 T. (half a stick) butter, in small pieces
1 egg, beaten

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly coat a 9-inch deep dish pie pan (or a 9-inch square pan) with non-stick spray and set aside.

In a large bowl, combine the nectarines, cherries, sugar, tapioca, and almond extract. Toss to coat the fruit with sugar and tapioca. Let this mixture sit at room temperature for about 10 minutes, so the tapioca has time to soften.

While the tapioca softens, measure the flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder into a medium bowl. Stir to combine the dry ingredients. Add the butter and toss to coat the pieces with flour. Then use a pastry cutter (or two sharp knives) to cut the butter into the dry ingredients, until the butter is in pea-size crumbs and the mixture looks sandy. Gently stir in the egg, just until the dry ingredients are moist.

Turn the fruit into the prepared baking dish. Use a spoon to distribute dollops of cake batter over the fruit. If you like, sprinkle the top of the batter with sugar, to create a crunchy surface as it bakes. It's always a good idea to set your baking dish on top of a cookie sheet, when you're making fruit-based desserts, to catch any drips of fruit filling that might make it over the edge and burn on the bottom of the oven.

Bake the cobbler for 50 minutes, until the topping is golden brown and the fruit is bubbling.

 

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Sunday, July 6, 2014

Home Again, Home Again

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Well, I’m back from the first round of this summer’s travels–a trip to England, followed by a trip to Idaho (which is, trust me, almost as exotic a locale.)  It’s taken me awhile to readjust my internal clock and get to the point where I can sleep when I’m supposed to and stay awake when I want to,  but for the moment everything seems to be in balance.  Until the next round of travels, that is.

I spent the first three days of my visit to English in a small town called Grantham, about an hour north of London, exploring the mysteries of the old manor house pictured above.  Harlaxton Manor is the home of Harlaxton College, with which my university is a partner–that’s how I ended up making the trip.  If you click through that link, you’ll see some lovely photos of the manor.   I didn’t take as many foodie photos as I’d hoped to on this trip, mostly because all my meals happened within the context of meetings with host colleagues–so styling my food or whipping out my camera just never felt like the right thing to do.   I can, however, point you to some recipes for the delicious things I ate:

Poached Salmon

Sea Bass in Oyster Sauce

Summer Pudding

Lemon Panna Cotta with Raspberry Sauce

By far, my favorite item on that list was the lemon panna cotta, which was nicely tart without being too sour.  That’s a precarious balance to maintain, and it requires a lot of taste-testing while you’re making anything with lemons.

Once I got back to London, after the conference, I spent a day and a half sightseeing and exploring parts of the city that I hadn’t seen before.  That included a visit to the south bank of the Thames River, where I wandered through the Borough Market and enjoyed this for lunch:

Grilled Cheese London

This is reputedly the best toasted cheese sandwich in London, and I would not be surprised if it were found to be the best grilled cheese in the world.  I got it at the Kappacasein Dairy booth, where I waited patiently in line with half of the other people at the market.  The people at Kappacasein also sell a dish called Raclette, which involves scraping melted Ogleshield cheese right from the block over a plate of roasted potatoes, and if that line hadn’t been twice as long I might have tried it out–although this sandwich was, I have to say, unbelievably good.  I had no idea grilled cheese could be this tasty.  The sandwich includes a mixture of Montgomery cheddar, Ogleshield and Comte cheeses, along with five types of onions, all sandwiched between two slices of buttered sourdough bread.  (I should probably mention that I gave myself a break from strict adherence to my gluten-free diet while I was in London, but only when I saw something I really wanted to try.  Otherwise I tried to stay on the wagon, knowing I’d be sorry later if I didn’t.)

As if that weren’t enough gluteny gluttony, I also enjoyed the best muffin of my life in London. I have yet to find a recipe that’s anything like it, so I’ll have to come up with my own gluten-free version at some point.  Called an Orange and Lemon muffin, it featured candied orange peel and a sticky orange glaze on top, a moist and citrusy muffin below–and then, as if that weren’t enough, lemon curd in the middle.  I was very happy with my muffin purchase even before I made that discovery, but when I bit into a zingy bite of lemon curd, I was absolutely in heaven.

So, in a nutshell, that was London.  A few days later, The Hubs and I headed out for Boise, my hometown, where we spent some time with my mom–she’s recently moved into assisted living and put her home up for sale,which has been a difficult process. Cleaning out the house where she and my father lived for 45 years was a difficult project for my siblings, to say the least, but the house sold quickly once that was done.  Still, it was important to my mom that we pick the last of my dad’s raspberries before the new owners took possession of the house, so that’s what we did one morning.  We picked raspberries.  Lots and lots of raspberries.

Raspberries

We could have picked twice as many, but after a few hours of work, we figured we had all anyone was going to use or eat.  (As my dad liked to say, you have to leave some for the birds.)  I was sad to see that his rhubarb had finished for the season, and sadder still to see that the garden was so overrun with weeds.  The new owners are very excited about having a large garden space, though, as well as a big yard for their young daughters to play in, and it makes my mom happy to know they’ll take good care of the house we called our home for so many years.

No trip to Boise is complete without a visit to my favorite drive-in restaurant, Fanci Freez.  It’s just a few blocks from my old high school, and it’s one of my favorite places to feel like a kid again–the crazy selection of shake and sundae flavors still makes me feel a little giddy, even though I have my favorites and rarely deviate from them.  The Hubs and I met a friend there (oddly enough, a friend from graduate school in Kansas who now lives in my hometown–go figure) and enjoyed Boston shakes.

Fanci Freez Boston Shakes

A Boston shake is a regular milkshake, with one exception:  it’s topped with a sundae.  That’s right, you get both a shake and a sundae in one cup, and you can mix and match your flavors.  In the days of my youth, the Boston came in only one size–ginormous–so it was the sort of thing you ate only rarely.  Now, Fanci Freez makes it available to everyone, every day, by offering it in sizes mini through large.  I had a mini coconut shake with a marshmallow sundae on top; The Hubs had a small white chocolate shake with a huckleberry sundae on top.  Just enough ice cream to give us a nice sugar buzz.

I’ll be wriing another post about my mom’s china, which was part of the load we drove back from Boise, as well as a couple of kitchen implements I snagged from storage.  Even though our visit to Boise was only a few days long, it was good to bring back some pieces of my family’s legacy and think about how to make them part of a new generation.

 

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Sunday, June 15, 2014

When the Foodie Hits the Road . . .

Photo credit: Mark Spokes

Foodie faithful, this summer will be filled with adventures the likes of which we haven’t seen in this corner of the blogosphere:  tomorrow afternoon, I’m headed for England.  I haven’t been to Europe in over 20 years, and the last time I went as half of a very young married couple excited to see the world.  This time, I’m going as a professor with work to do–and some time to myself when the work is done.  I promise to post pictures of all the interesting things I’m eating (and perhaps a few photos of more general interest as well.)

But I might not do that until after my second trip, which will begin just a few days after I return from England.  That’s right, The Hubs and I are boarding another plane just days after I end my solo trip abroad.  We’re flying to Idaho, both to visit my mom and to pick up some items of sentimental value, now that she’s moved into assisted living and is in the process of selling her house.  Those items include a set of China she purchased while my dad was stationed in France–again, I promise, pictures are forthcoming–as well as a handful of old kitchen implements I remember fondly from my childhood.  We’ll see how useful they are; in case, I’ll be happy to give them a second life in my own home.

And, because we’ll be loaded down, The Hubs and I are driving back to Texas from Idaho.  Three days of road food and the occasional roadside oddity, that’s what you have to look forward to.  The Hubs and I haven’t taken a road trip together in a very long time, not since before the Foodie children were born (unless you count our move to Texas, which I do not–that was no one’s idea of a vacation), so I’m pretty excited about it.

When we return to Texas, I’m fairly sure I won’t know what day it is, what time of day it is, or even what zip code I’m in.  But I’m also sure to have lots of interesting stories to tell!

Mark Spokes’ photo appears courtesy of a Creative Commons license.

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Monday, May 19, 2014

Refrigerator Garlic Dill Pickles

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When we first moved to Texas, one of the things I noticed right away is that Texans are very serious about their pickles.  Go to any street fair and you’ll find a pickle vendor, usually surrounded by a group of people chomping away on garlic dills.  Go to the movies and you’ll see dill pickles offered as an option alongside the popcorn and Milk Duds.

Don’t get me wrong: I like dill pickles.  But I tend to think of them as a side dish, an accompaniment to a sandwich or a plate of barbecued brisket, not a treat unto themselves.

When I saw pickling cucumbers at my local grocery store, though, it occurred to me that pickles were one thing I’d never tried to make at home.  I’m not sure why; my mom made pickles while I was growing up, so it’s not as if I wasn’t aware of the fact that pickles can be made at home.  Of course, my mom made sweet pickles (which, as far as I’m concerned, come straight from the devil)–so perhaps that’s why the idea of making my own had flown right out of the realm of possibility.

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A little bit of research made it clear that small-batch refrigerator dills are easy enough to make: add the seasoning to your jars, pack in the cucumber spears, pour the hot brine over everything, and let them pickle away in your refrigerator for the next few days.  What surprised me, when I tried them, was how much homemade dill pickles taste like fresh cucumbers–a flavor that really gets lost in store-bought pickle spears.  If you like cucumbers, you’re going to love these pickles.

A few things I discovered in the process of making two batches of these pickles:  wide-mouth pint jars work best.  Regular jars are fine, but wide-mouth jars are easier to pack.  It’s important to pack the cucumbers tightly into the jars, to keep them from floating up out of the brine–I made pickle spears, which are easy to pack, but you could just as easily slice the cucumbers into rounds.  Just make sure to pack the jars tightly, no matter what shape you choose, and cut your spears to fit the jars.  (You’ll see in the photo below that one of my spears was too long–I wound up using a paring knife to slice off the end before I poured in the brine.)

I made my first batch of pickles with only garlic and dill as seasoning, because I tend to be a purist–I like things to have clear, simple flavors, rather than a complex muddle of tastes.  I discovered, after the second batch, that these pickles really benefit from the addition of peppercorns.  Some recipes call for the addition of red pepper, but I wasn’t interested in spicy pickles, so I left it out.  If you like your pickles with a little heat, start with half a teaspoon of red pepper and work up from there to suit your own taste.  You can also add more garlic, if you’re looking for a very strong flavor.

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It’s possible I will be eating only homemade pickles from here on out, now that I know how much better the homemade variety tastes.  The Hubs agreed that these pickles were way better than anything he’d had from the store.  The Foodie children are not pickle people, in spite of the fact that they grew up in Texas among pickle-eating peers, but that just left more for the grownups.  And that, my friends, was just fine with me.

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Refrigerator Garlic Dill Pickles

Yield: Makes about 4 pints of pickles

Ingredients:

2 lbs. pickling cucumbers

For the brine:
2 cups water
1 cup cider vinegar
1 T. pickling salt

For each pint jar:
1 or 2 whole cloves of garlic, peeled and slightly smashed
4 sprigs of fresh dill
1 tsp. peppercorns

Directions:

Before you start pickling, sterilize your jars and lids. Running them through the dishwasher will take care of that, or you can wash them in hot, soapy water and let them air dry. After your jars are clean, drop garlic, dill sprigs and peppercorns into each. (For the garlic, lightly smash each clove with the flat end of a large knife. Peel off the papery covering, then drop the cloves into the jars.)

Wash and slice the ends off your cucumbers, then slice them into spears or rounds. For spears, cut the cucumbers in half lengthwise, then cut the halves lengthwise again, for a total of four spears per cucumber. Pack them tightly into the jars to keep them from floating out of the brine.

Pour the water and vinegar into a saucepan. Add the salt. Bring the brine to a boil, then pour the boiling mixture over the prepared jars. Screw the lids on tightly, taking care with the hot jars. Let the pickles cool to room temperature before transferring them to the refrigerator.

Let the pickles cure for at least 48 hours before eating them. They'll keep in the refrigerator for about two weeks.

 

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