Breaking Bread…Breaking Down Walls


“A loaf of bread, a jug of wine, and thou.” —Omar Khayyam


With our crazy St. Thomas schedule over the past few years, our travels to see our family have seemed rushed and few and far between. However, that period has now come to an end, and we have been enjoying the opportunity to visit with our family in a relaxed setting for a longer time period. Hmmm…perhaps ‘relaxed’ isn’t the most accurate word, but it is certainly a welcome time to reconnect after too much time apart.

Whenever we gather it seems we spend much of our time around the kitchen table. It is the place we come together to cook and eat and talk [and play on the computer and Facebook…]. I suppose this is why I enjoy cooking and food so much. It has been our families’ way to reconnect with us when we return home, and it has also been our way to keep connected with our boys over the years when they return to our house. They may have fought sitting at the kitchen table during their early years, but I do believe they appreciate it now. Perhaps they even look forward to it. I’d like to think they do…

I remember having a conversation with a group of women back when all of our kids were still in school. They were discussing soccer teams and whose child was on which team and all that went with it. At one point in the conversation one mom burst out with, “Can you believe XXX-MOM withdrew her child from XYZ-team because practice interfered with their dinner time?!?” The other moms gasped in disbelief and wondered aloud why that was a factor and how could she DO such a thing? I piped up to say it made sense to me, that our family usually ate together, and furthermore, that I felt it was important to stay connected with our kids. I further offered that if this was what worked for that XXX-family, then kudos to them. I admired XXX-Mom for standing up for their family values.

You’d have thought I said the most blasphemous thing ever. Everyone turned to stare at me; the other moms voiced their disapproval. I’m sure they would have ‘tsk-tsk-tsked’ me if they had thought of it…And then I was – for lack of a better word – dismissed. They disagreed with me, and then they acted as if I was no longer there. I did not expect everyone to agree with me, but to be so vehemently dismissed made me question who I was hanging out with. How did our values go so far astray? And beyond that, how did we learn to be so dismissive of other’s values? There was a disrespect in the way I was dismissed which I found deeply unsettling.

I don’t mind differences of opinion. I actually rather prefer to be around others whose opinions challenge my own. I like when discussion arises from these differences. It often expands my mind. Sometimes my own opinion shifts. Other times I feel my own stance is strengthened from such discussions. And every so often I am even able to be convincing enough to sway others to my point of view. This only happens when you have two or more minds willing to agree to disagree in the end, who respect one another enough to allow that there may be, and often is, more than one right answer.


“A conversation is a dialogue, not a monologue. That’s why there are so few good conversations: due to scarcity, two intelligent talkers seldom meet.” ~ Truman Capote


I would like to see more of that in this world: Less hatred, more conversation; more listening. Less dismissal, more inclusion. I wonder, does it begin with time around the kitchen table? I think it’s the perfect place to begin. Perhaps if we spent more time breaking bread together we would learn to accept one another more readily, to embrace how others see the world, even if it is not the same way we see it. I have said it before, and I hold to it: I believe that when we break bread we break down walls.

I’ll go get the bread ready…

 

VINAIGRETTE: Because a Well-Dressed Salad is a Beautiful Thing!

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A basic salad dressing is so easy to make and costs so much less than store-bought versions. You get the added benefit of knowing what went into it.

This is less a recipe and more a technique. I really don’t have a set in stone recipe for my salad dressings. My base ingredients are a good olive oil, red wine vinegar, mustard, garlic and herbs. I play with proportions, but I would say I use generally 2-3 parts oil to 1 part vinegar. I do the rest by taste…


It takes four men to dress a salad: a wise man for the salt, a madman for the pepper, a miser for the vinegar, and a spendthrift for the oil.
anonymous


THE BASICS: OIL AND VINEGAR

There are many ways you can alter the dressing to pair it with your food. You keep it as simple as oil, vinegar, salt and pepper. I usually begin with a good olive oil. You can use other oils as well. Walnut oil, avocado oil, and sunflower oils are a few examples. I like walnut oil when I am making a beet salad.

The vinegar adds its own flavor profile: you can use a basic red wine vinegar, sherry vinegar or even a champagne vinegar. Balsamic adds a touch of sweetness. I have a Cherry Balsamic that I recently bought and plan to use with a mixture of walnut and perhaps olive oils. Lemon juice, while not a vinegar, is another acidic option and can be used in place of (or in addition to) the vinegar.


I found this Walnut mustard in recent trip to an Italian market (which is odd since the mustard is from France!!)  It gives depth to walnut-vinaigrettes. Tasty!
I found this Walnut mustard in recent trip to an Italian market (which is odd since the mustard is from France!!) It gives depth to walnut-vinaigrettes. Tasty!

MUSTARD

Mustard can be added to thicken the dressing and emulsify the ingredients so they don’t separate. Using different flavors of mustard also help the dressing take on its own personality.

Salt and pepper are other basics. You don’t have to add pepper, but usually salt is necessary. Here you can add a basic sea salt or kosher salt, or you can go with any number of flavored specialty salts in the market these days. You can check out my recent post on this subject.


HERBS/OTHER CHOICES

I love to add herbs and other seasonings to my dressings. I finely mince anything to be added to extract as much flavor as possible. Some of my favorites are:

  • thyme
  • rosemary
  • parsley
  • oregano
  • tarragon
  • garlic
  • shallot
  • onion
  • capers
  • anchovy

“Pierre mixed the salad. The romaine and cress he doused with walnut oil chilled to an emulsion, turning it with wooden forks so that the bruises showed on the green in dark lines. He poured on the souring of wine vinegar and the juice of young grapes, seasoned with shallots, pepper and salt, a squeeze of anchovy, and a pinch of mustard. At the Faison d’Or the salad was in wedlock with the roast.” ~Idwal Jones, High Bonnet: A Novel of Epicurean Adventures


FINAL TIP: Don’t throw out those mainly empty mustard jars. You know the ones, they have bits of that yellowy goodness sticking to the side of the container…not enough to use on your next sandwich, but it sure seems a waste to throw it out.

Next time you make your salad dressing, add the ingredients to the jar and shake it all together to mix. It uses up the last of it so you don’t waste anything, and it at the same time adds flavor to your salad.

 

 

Keep Your Garlic on Hand…But Not ON Your Hands

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I am keeping today’s post short and sweet. Or rather garlicky (but still short). I use a lot of garlic. I love it. I love the smell in my kitchen after I have been cooking with it, and the aroma left behind at the end of a meal. It is beautiful. And as an added benefit, I have yet to see one vampire anywhere near my house. 😉

But as much as I love the aroma wafting through my kitchen, I don’t always enjoy the scent it leaves behind on my hands. So today I offer up a tip on how to get rid of the scent that remains after you have been mincing and dicing and chopping garlic. Because soap just doesn’t cut it.

“A nickel gets you on the subway, but garlic gets you a seat” ~ old New York saying

The best way to dispel the ‘eau de garlic’ is to rub your hands on stainless steel under running water. I have a stainless steel sink in my kitchen, so I use that. I have been places that did not, so in a pinch I will use a stainless steel fork or spoon (or whatever else is handy that is stainless steel). I don’t necessarily recommend a knife for obvious reasons.  There are stainless steel bars – shaped like a bar of soap – which you can buy, but why spend the money if you have access to something in your kitchen already which will handle the job? By the way, this works on onions and other members of the allium family, too.

From my kitchen to yours, there is my tip of the day!

Peaches and Plums and Nectarines – Oh My!! It’s Stone Fruit Season…

Golden Nectarine Cake (with plums and blackberries added)
Nectarine Golden Cake (with plums and blackberries added)

We are smack dab in the middle of the peak season for peaches, nectarines and other stone fruits. Even if I did not know this to be true, one stroll past the beautiful displays at my local grocer or farmers market sends my senses reeling. The aromas alone are enough to draw me in…

The Nectarine Golden Cake [pictured above] is a tasty way to use up excess fruit. It goes together quickly and is always a crowd pleaser. It is my go-to summer dessert. The recipe calls for nectarines, but I have successfully made it using plums, peaches, and non stone fruits such as berries and cherries. Or a combination of several fruits. It is a forgiving recipe, and I have even added more fruit than what the recipe calls for and had it turn out like a charm. Don’t forget the nutmeg…it puts it over the top!

In yesterday’s post you will find another wonderful way to use up excess stone fruit: daiquiris. Ripe peaches and nectarines are so juicy and sweet you almost don’t need added sugar. The addition of rum makes it a perfect adult summer beverage…or leave out the alcohol for a virgin version.

Sliced peaches tossed with a hint of chipotle powder, drizzled with local honey and sprinkled with goat cheese (and sometime pecans). A chiffonade of fresh mint adds the finishing touch!
Sliced peaches tossed with a hint of chipotle powder, drizzled with local honey and sprinkled with goat cheese (and sometime pecans). A chiffonade of fresh mint adds the finishing touch!

One of my favorite, and simplest, ways to eat a perfectly ripe peach is shown above. There is something about the blend of sweet, juicy peaches and spicy chipotle powder…mixed in with a touch of honey and some creamy goat cheese crumbled over it all. I sometimes add chopped pecans which adds some texture and crunch. I know, I know…it sounds a tad odd. Trust me. Try it.

Of course, the absolute simplest way to enjoy a perfectly ripe peach, nectarine, plum or other stone fruit is right out of your hand!

Five ways to use a Rotisserie Chicken…My Version of Fast Food

Rotisserie chicken served over gemelli pasta with pesto sauce and tomatoes
Rotisserie chicken served over gemelli pasta with pesto sauce and tomatoes

Do you have a go-to food when time is tight or you just do not feel like cooking? Something you know everyone loves and is easy to throw together? Mine is store-bought rotisserie chicken.

“But my favorite remained the basic roast chicken. What a deceptively simple dish. I had come to believe that one can judge the quality of a cook by his or her roast chicken. Above all, it should taste like chicken: it should be so good that even a perfectly simple, buttery roast should be a delight.”
Julia Child, My Life in France

It’s been a busy, and quite frankly a tiring, week back here at home. We have an ongoing backyard project, we’ve been unpacking and reintegrating our belongings from St. Thomas back into our house, and of course there is the blogging and NaNoWri commitments. Let’s just say I have not been preparing any gourmet meals this week. I’ve been looking for quick and easy…and healthy. This is where a nice rotisserie chicken comes into play.

I can whip up any of several nutritious meals with a chicken. It is especially great in the summer because it is so darned hot outside already. No need to introduce even more heat by actually cooking when I don’t feel like it.

Some of my favorite ways to serve it:

  • Make your own tortillas: I set out tortillas, some of the chicken (which I shred), cheese, and various cut up veggies like onions, peppers, and avocados. Sometimes it is just as simple as cheese and chicken and salsa. Just depends on how I feel and what is available. I may make some rice and black beans to go with it. Maybe a salad.
  • Sliced off of the bone: Serve with mashed potatoes and green beans and/or a green salad.
  • Chicken Salad: I take the chicken off of the bone, cube it and add celery, pecans, and grapes. I dress it with a mixture of mayonnaise and sour cream with dill added in (or tarragon). Serve on top of a green salad or make into a sandwich.
  • Chicken Stock: Don’t let that carcass go to waste!! Add it to a stock pot with some garlic, celery, carrots, herbs/spices, salt and water. Let it cook down for about an hour and you end up with a wonderfully healthy and delicious stock. If you can’t make it right away it is easy enough to store the carcass in the freezer for a day when you do have time. I like to freeze the stock for soups or braises or gravy later.
  • With Pasta: Cook some pasta, add some tomato sauce or pesto while it’s hot, then sprinkle some grated cheese and tomatoes over it. Mix in some rotisserie chicken chucks for a meal that comes together fast.

Tonight I am slicing some leftover rotisserie chicken and serving it over a green salad. My salad is already made so dinner tonight will go together in minutes. All I need to do is make a salad dressing (yes, I make my own…so easy!).

I’d love to know your fast fix for dinner when you aren’t in the mood for cooking…