Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Bland, low-fiber diet

I need advice and I need it soon.
Do I sound desperate? That's probably because I am. I'll spare you the gory details, but after spending most of yesterday in the emergency room, my diet has been restricted for the first time in my life. And the restrictions are pretty brutal: avoid whole grain food, whole fruits and vegetables, meats, seeds and nuts, fried and fatty foods, dairy, alcohol, and spicy foods until my symptoms go away. Are they serious? What is left? Oh, yeah. Here's that list: white rice, fruit and vegetable juices without pulp, tender meats.
I implore my foodie friends. What can I do to make these foods interesting? I am hoping that I can ditch the diet in less than a week (after all, our fig tree is still producing amazing fruit that is FULL of seeds), but in the meantime, what suggestions do you have?
Thanks for any recipes you can offer!

Friday, September 23, 2011

A Change of Seasons

On the way home from work yesterday, I noticed gold in the trees and sniffed autumn in the breeze. The page on the calendar magically turned to September 23. I might be holding on to summer for dear life, but fall is officially here.
At 6:30, the sky was almost dark, and not just from the rain. Instead of corn and melons at the market, there were root crops and apples. Pork tenderloin in the oven sounds better than salmon on the grill. Butternut squash puree was a welcome addition to the dinner table.
I'm lucky to live in Pennsylvania. Just as one season starts to weary my senses, the next brings change. Local strawberries taste all the more sweet because I know they only last for a few weeks, but they give way to the next crop and the next. And when the heat and the humidity get unbearable, I relish the laziness because I know fall will soon bring not just cooler air, but also falling leaves, macintosh apples, and giant pumpkins. Of course, the big family holidays, Thanksgiving and Christmas, are only a blink of an eye away. Then we get to share food and cheer with everyone we love.
So, I'm looking behind at summer, wishing for just one more watermelon, and looking ahead to Christmas, anticipating cookie baking, but in the meantime, I will enjoy the early fall and its bounty. I hope you will, too!

Here's a recipe for a great fall side dish. The most difficult part is peeling the squash, and if that task is too daunting, most markets sell already cleaned and cut squash (but at a premium!)

Pureed Butternut Squash

1 butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into about 2 inch cubes*
maple syrup, to taste
butter, to taste
cinnamon and nutmeg, optional
Put squash in a covered, microwave-safe dish and cook for 5 to 8 minutes, depending on the size of the squash. Make sure the squash is very soft. Do NOT add water to the dish; the squash will produce its own steaming liquid.
When the squash is soft, drain well and transfer it to the body of a food processor fitted with the stainless-steel blade. Process until smooth. Add 1/4 to 1/2 cup maple syrup, total, and about a teaspoon of butter for every cup of puree. Blend just to combine. Serve.
Don't worry if this recipe makes more than your family can eat in one setting. Leftovers are delicious!

*To peel this stubborn vegetable, use a chef's knife to remove both ends. Use a sharp potato peeler (I love the OXY peelers) to remove the skin. Cut in half between the bulbous bottom and the more slender top, then place flat side on the cutting board and slice into 2-inch slabs. Put the slabs on their sides to cut again, and then cut crosswise. With practice, you can peel and slice a squash in under five minutes.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

To market, to market

On the way home from school today, we stopped at the East Goshen Farmer's Market. It felt good to be back after missing it for two Thursdays in a row. The market continues to expand, but there are certain vendors that I have to visit. My first stop was to Frecon Farm for peaches, plums and sickle pears. While I was waiting in line, Gary visited Blueberry Hill Produce for corn, just to make sure that they didn't run out before I got there. A visit to the market would not be complete without the beets from Maysie's Farm, and Sam also had huge heads of escarole and gorgeous radishes to add to my market basket. I picked up a baguette from Wild Flower Bakery. Then I made another stop to Blueberry Hill for ingredients for gazpacho. The green beans were lined up like firewood in quart basket, so I couldn't resist them. Luckily for my waist and wallet, John and Kira (the chocolateers) were not there today, but I'm hoping they'll be back next week. Not only are their candies delicious, they come in adorable shapes. Who can resist caramels wrapped up in a honeybee chocolate casing or chocolate cherries that look like ladybugs? A dozen multi-hued eggs from Lindenhof and a bag of granola from Laura's Biscotti, and we were home again, home again, jiggity jig.

So what did we have for dinner? We went to Le Saigon so Tim could have their soft-shelled crabs before they went out of season. The corn will have to wait until tomorrow night.

When we got home, I handed off some peaches, plums, and pears to Tim (once again, I bought enough fruit for a small army), put the beets on to steam, harvested the heart from the escarole for salad later in the week and cooked up the tougher outside leaves for soup, nibbled on a few radishes before stashing the rest in the vegedor, and whipped up a batch of gazpacho. Now, all the purchases that need to be in the fridge can actually fit, and I have several meals started for the coming days.

And that's why I love going to the East Goshen Farmer's Market!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Coffee versus tea service

It happened again last weekend. I was sitting in one of my favorite breakfast places, savoring a cup of Bigelow's Raspberry Royale tea when a well-meaning waitress topped off my cup with--you guessed it--coffee. Now mind you, the tea service looks very different from the coffee service (there's a saucer, for one thing, with my used tea bag resting there in plain sight), and I didn't ask for a refill, yet there I was with a cup of coffee/tea. The waitress was quite apologetic, but since it was neither tea nor coffee, it was not palatable. And she didn't bring me another cup!

But at least my waitress noticed my cup was nearing empty. While coffee drinkers are offered refills ad nauseum, I have to beg to get more hot water. Heaven forbid if I ask for another tea bag as well. Instead, I hold out my cup a la Oliver Twist, pleading for more from a frowning waitress. I guess it's because tea service is more difficult than coffee service--there's the boiling water and the tea bag, a whole two part process versus the simple picking up of an already-brewed pot of Joe.

Tea drinkers are subject to other forms of torture, I might add. No one arbitrarily sticks a slice of lemon in a cup of coffee, yet waitresses insist on garnishing tea cups with lemon wedges. When I add a little cream to my tea, the residual juice ends up leaving curds in my cup. Yuck!

Tea needs really hot water to brew, yet often the water is barely tepid, forcing tea drinkers to drink a watery, barely warm beverage. Meanwhile, my coffee-drinking friends are complaining that their beverage is too hot to sip. That's when I start to boil myself!

Do you drink tea? Do you have any stories that you would like to share? Do you have any suggestions to improve tea service for all of us tea drinkers? Let me know!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The votes are in!

Corn-on-the-cob eaters are a creative bunch. They eat their corn across the cob, around the cob, and cut off the cob all together. They eat it plain. They eat it with butter, butter and salt, or barbecue sauce. They make succotash, corn casseroles, and corn chowder. They cook corn on the stove and on the grill. They husk it first or leave the husk on to protect the tender ears from the searing heat of the coals.

Out of the responses I received, nine people addressed the question of across or around the cob. Three people said they ate across the cob and two eat around. One of my favorite people eats her corn across and then around (I always knew she was creative!). Three people say they always eat their corn cut off the cob.

However you eat your corn on the cob, enjoy the last few weeks of what has been an exceptional corn summer. By this time next month, local corn will be a memory. That is, until next July when the corn is again as high as an elephant's eye!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Setting change

If you were trying to post a comment and unable to do so, please try again. When I looked at my settings, I discovered there is a new, improved, and recommended comment editor. Mind you, it could have been new two years ago. I haven't looked at the settings since I started posting. As students would say, my bad.

I apologize for any inconvenience, but I hope you will play the corn-on-the-cob game anyway!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Corn-on-the-cob survey

Here it is August already, and I have not posted a word about corn on the cob, the quintessential summer vegetable (remember, tomatoes are officially fruit). Both the Thursday and the Saturday farmers markets have been selling corn for well over a month, but I haven't paid tribute to those wonderful ears of sweetness.

Growing up, I remember helping my mother husk a couple of dozen ears of corn for our large family. The kitchen would grow even more hot and humid while the spaghetti pot simmered, waiting for us to plunge the ears into the deep water at precisely the right moment. Back then, we cooked corn for at least ten minutes, and we would only pull enough corn from the pot for one ear per person, letting the rest keep warm on the stove. We'd slather on butter and shake enough salt on top to induce an immediate heart attack, and then we would attack the corn, letting the toppings drip onto our plates. Messy? Yes. Delicious? Without a doubt.

A few years ago, I had oral surgery in late June. The doctor gave me a list of foods to avoid. Apples, not to hard to give up during stone-fruit season. Gum, not too hard for a teacher to resist. Caramels, a little harder. Salt-water taffy, a test of my will power. Corn on the cob, sheer torture. He said that I could cut the corn OFF the cob, but what is the point of that? I mean, seriously, if I were a political prisoner, that would violate the Geneva Conventions. I must confess that since I wasn't allowed to eat corn on the cob, I didn't buy corn on the cob, and I didn't cook corn on the cob. Call me cruel, but I could not face that temptation without succumbing.

This evening, I'm going to put about an inch of water in my wok, add a smidgen of sugar, and bring it to a boil while I husk the corn. As soon as the water hits a full boil, I'm going to drop the corn into the pot, put on the lid, and let it steam just until the kernels change color. In August, the corn is so sweet and so tender and so wonderful that it doesn't need butter or salt. But if you can't help yourself, go ahead. Indulge. After all, summer--at least corn on the cob--doesn't last very long.

My question for you: Do you eat your corn across or around the cob? Please let me know. I'll post the results the week of August 21.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Grandma's Garden

You might have noticed a theme to my July posts. Every one has something to do with summer gardens. You might think that I myself have cultivated a garden. I wish. However, I grew up with a great-grandmother and a mother with amazingly green thumbs.

Grandma Isabella stars in many of my garden memories. The back yard in Caln featured a grape arbor, vegetable garden, apple, peach and pear trees, and a chicken coop. Even though I was only five when she died, I can still picture her bent over with her hoe, weeding between the rows of her tomato and pepper plants. I can see her shaking out her apron, feeding table scraps to her chickens. I can still taste the warm egg she fed me straight from the shell (we didn't worry about salmonella when there were only a couple of chickens in the yard). We all looked forward to the fourth of July, the day she said we could pick the first tomatoes off the vine and eat them still warm from the summer sun. In August, she led us in preserving the garden bounty for the long winter ahead, and the pantry shelves heaved with jars of tomato sauce, green beans, and peaches.

Grandma had very little formal education, but she knew gardens. She planted peas on St. Joseph's Day, March 19, and we gobbled raw peas by the pound. She used fish bones as a natural fertilizer in the garden. She planted marigolds around the border to keep out pests. She moved the zucchini around the garden so squash borers never had a chance to establish. I only wish I could remember more of her garden lore. She believed that "stolen" plants performed better than gifted ones, so she would use her sharp nails to nip clippings when her friends weren't looking. Those snippets grew into beautiful plantings. Her Christmas cactus is still producing beautiful blooms in December, and while the clippings I stole from my own grandmother's Christmas cactus (with her blessing) bloom in February rather than December, they are further proof of her stolen-plant theory.

As the hot summer days gradually grow shorter, I hope that you take time to sit on a swing on a screened porch, sip a tall glass of iced tea, and remember the relatives with green thumbs and the gardens of years ago.

Breakfast Parfait

Summer fruit begs to come home with me. Quarts of blueberries, peaches, plums, raspberries, blackberries. Whole melons, cantaloupe or honeydew or water. Pounds of cherries, red and yellow. And, like big-eyed puppies, they follow me home. The problem? There are only two adults to eat this harvest. It's almost impossible for Gary and me to consume the quantity of irresistible sweet produce I buy, unless it's an integral part of our breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks.

My favorite sumer breakfast is a huge bowl of fresh fruit topped with Greek yogurt, a squirt of agave nectar, and a sprinkle of good granola. This week, local blueberries and Saturn peaches are featured in my breakfast bowl. A carton of baby banana Greek yogurt adds another layer of flavor. The best part about this breakfast is that I don't get hungry again for hours.

You, too, can enjoy an easy, delicious, healthful breakfast. Visit a good produce stand. Let yourself be seduced by the smells and textures and flavors. When you get your haul home, keep the peaches and plums at room temperature to preserve their flavors and textures. And remember that, despite its name, a breakfast parfait is good any time of day.


Thursday, July 21, 2011


It's summertime, and the tomatoes from the East Goshen Farmers Market this afternoon were at their prime. We've had salad caprese every other night for the past two weeks, and while I can't say I'm tired of perfectly ripe tomatoes layered with fresh mozzarella and basil, drizzled with artisan olive oil from A Taste of Olive, I needed a change. What better way to savor summer than a bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwich? Add a couple of ears of fresh corn as a side. YUM!

Friday, July 15, 2011

If you are in East Goshen on Thursday afternoon between 3 and 7, check out the new farmers market. In addition to fresh produce, eggs and locally-grown meat and poultry, you can find wonderful chocolates (packaged with ice to get them safely home even on the hottest of summer afternoons), cheeses, and popsicles.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Fat Tuesday leads to Ash Wednesday

I don't remember celebrating Fat Tuesday when I was growing up, but Ash Wednesday holds special memories. Of course, we went to church before school and stood in line for ashes. "Remember man that you are dust and into dust you shall return," the priest intoned over and over, smearing a rough cross of ashes from last year's palms on each person's forehead. The combination of an empty stomach, the pungent aroma, and the words themselves left me dizzy and not a little afraid of my own sins. All day long, the cross (and my navy blue jumper with the St. Cecilia School emblem) reminded me and others of my faith.
That first day of Lent, I felt especially holy denying myself anything pleasurable, all sweet and salty snacks especially. There was no eating between meals, and there was no meat during the week when I was growing up. For Ash Wednesday dinner, my grandmother would make, of course, a huge pot of vegetarian lentil soup. Even though we were not supposed to enjoy food during Lent, her lentil soup was a treat that I still can taste, and mine is never quite as good as I remember hers. That difference doesn't deter me, though. Even as I write, there is a pot of lentil soup simmering on the stove so tomorrow I'll be able to commemorate the first day of Lent and my grandmother.

Vegetarian Lentil Soup
This soup makes an easy if not instant vegetarian dinner. The most labor intensive part is chopping all the vegetables!
3 onions, finely chopped
1 cup chopped celery
1 cup chopped carrots
1 small potato in 1/2 inch dice
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 pound brown lentils, rinsed and checked for small pebbles
2 bay leafs
10 cups water
salt to taste
Put all ingredients except salt into large soup pot. Bring to a gentle boil, then lower heat to maintain a simmer. Cover, but tilt lid to allow some steam to escape. Cook for 60 to 90 minutes, until lentils are soft. Add salt to taste. Serve with crusty bread and a green salad.

Long time, no posts

Please forgive the delay between posts, but I forgot my login information—even my gmail login. So, take this word from the senile: keep a log of any accounts you use infrequently. It will save hours of trial and error! I hope that you’ll come back and read my blog.