Living Simply

I had to take a long break from Cabinet Stew recently to attend to my mother who was ill and recently passed away. I have returned from this sad hiatus with a renewed respect for my time left on this earth and an appreciation for living more simply.

My mother was a 40 year vegetarian and a general health enthusiast. She never felt the need to “clutter” her plate with complicated ingredients, bold spices or fancy preparations. She felt nature was best left untouched as much as possible. At the same time she never passed up the chance to try something new, leading us as a family, to one “off the beaten path” bakery to another. By ten years of age I already knew where to get the best spanakopita (greek spinach pie) in my hometown.

My father in contrast was a man who appreciated a sausage as another might appreciate a vintage car or rare wine. He was a connassuier of hot dog carts, hash browns and strangely, fresh radishes. (which he ate like candy from a bowl in front of the TV)

Having observed both of them my whole life, I shaped my own eating habits around a combination of them. I love bold flavors and never pass up a good hot dog. I think nostalgically of my father when I eat radishes. However I don’t think twice about having a meal that doesn’t contain meat – in fact I don’t even recognize it as a “vegetarian” meal – its just simply a meal. I never met a vegetable or fruit I don’t like. And of course I have to seek out the most obscure local joints to try something new.

Today I salute my mother and her simple tastes.

simple-breakfast

Toast spread with Ricotta di Pecora (raw sheep milk ricotta) – topped with maple syrup and Honey Dew melon.

 

 

 

 

Potluck With A Southern Spin

I had the pleasure of attending a potluck surprise 50th anniversary party recently. It was held outdoors at a beautiful location called “Muster Field Farms.” The day was perfect, the couple was surprised and the food was delicious. Although many had come from all around the country to attend – this was in no-way a “southern” event. It was in fact a quintessential “New England” event. Taking place in central-west New Hampshire on a working farm and historical homestead from the late 1700s.

I brought 2 items: a southern spin on a 3-bean salad. Using green beans, corn and black-eyed peas. Fresh parsley and a light, bright sweet/sour dressing made this perfect to sit on the table on a hot day. (no mayo means no concerns)

My second item was dessert – a  “grape salad.”  This did require some all important refrigerator space until it was time to bring out the dessert including the anniversary cake! This salad was an adaptation of Trisha Yearwood’s recipe and it was a hit! Thanks Trisha!

grape salad 2

This is from a second batch I made for the photo shoot – sauce wasn’t as thick due to not measuring properly – but still delicious!

My adaptations included substituting Vanilla yogurt for the sour cream called for in the recipe. (I had forgotten to buy the sour cream!) I also used 12 ounces of cream cheese instead of the 8 ounces called for just to make sure the mix stayed thick!

Make sure you wash and DRY the grapes before you mix in the yummy stuff. This way it will stick to the fruit, coating it nicely.

Also be sure to add the topping (brown sugar and chopped pecans) just before serving otherwise the sugar will melt into the salad and lose its crunch!

Summer: 23 Days Away (And My Favorite Comfort Food Comes In-Season)

But who’s counting anyway. Ok maybe I am.

After this last winter here in the Boston area, summer can’t come fast enough! However we have had some pretty decent spring weather (maybe a little too hot for me, but then again a true ‘New Englander’ is really never satisfied with the current weather!)

As spring/summer comes so does my favorite comfort food…. Watermelon!

Yep Watermelon. I mean I love carb-loading on stews, mac-n-cheese, and warm bread from the oven as much as the next person. But truly watermelon is a comfort food for me. Growing up my mother would always serve this to us if we were feeling bad. “Easy to digest” she would say.  Admittedly it was the perfect first food after a bout with a stomach flu, a tooth pulling or even a fight with my brother. Somehow its refreshing sweet flesh always made everything better.

My father and I would sneakily compete to see who could get to the much-desired ‘heart’ of the watermelon first. The ‘heart’ is the best part – sweet and seed free. He would wander out to the fridge at night looking for the perfect TV snack only to discover that I had already carved out the best part!

To this day, my late night snack of choice is some watermelon!

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Fruit Cubes

When I have extra fruit that I might not get to in time I like to puree it and freeze it for later use.  You can just simply puree the washed, clean fruit and freeze it or add some honey or sugar to it before freezing for instant drink mixes!

Certainly I didn’t invent this great idea but I do like to inspire and remind folks that it is a perfect way to have fruit on hand for blending smoothies, flavoring ice teas or my favorite adult beverage… “boat drinks!”

I use small 2-3 ounce containers so each one is just a portion size.

I use small 2-3 ounce containers so each one is just a portion size. (Make sure to leave a little room at the top for expansion!)

Dad’s Pear Tree

There is a pear tree in my parent’s yard. It has been there forever. I don’t know if my dad planted it or if it was there when they bought the property and built the house over 40 years ago. It’s just always been there.

It has seen some history: I wiped out on my bicycle on the driveway below it and I am sure I had some near misses with it as a new car driver. I know my dad bit into a pear every year only to be disappointed in its impossibly tough and sometimes wormy interior. He would complain and ponder why such a promising fruit tree never amounted too much.

Then my dad passed away in early spring 2011 and that very year and this year too it made the most wonderful pears. Large and unblemished. He would have loved them.

So when my mother brought down a whole bag full on recent visit to my house, I decided to bake with them.

There is nothing easier than pulling open the freezer and grabbing a package of pre-made dough rounds, otherwise know as “discos.” So I mixed up the diced pears with a little brown sugar, ground ginger, dash of ground nutmeg, dash of salt , bit of cornstarch and a pat of butter for each little pear turnover.

Brush them with a little melted butter and sprinkle a little sugar on, bake them at 400 degrees until done. Don’t burn your mouth on the hot filling!

He would have loved these!

We Interupt Our Reguarly Scheduled Programming…

…to announce the arrival of the “annual peach!”

(Cue heavenly angel music)

You can read about this annual event here.

In the meantime I will be taking a few minutes out to savor my peaches.

(Shhh I took two this year because it is my last year!)

Annual Peach

Normally I eat one good peach a year.

The man whose name appears first at the law firm where I work by day, usually buys a case each summer and puts them out in the kitchen for everyone in the office to share. He is originally from South Carolina and he likes to treat us with some of his  “local” fruit. The firm is in Boston. As soon as the “silent alarm” rings the office descends like seagulls for our peach. (Maybe 2 if no one else is looking!)

I like to admire my annual peach for a while before I eat it. Really study its perfection. There is not one blemish. These are picked and packed by hand, shipped and packaged with care in individual little foam nests. I shutter to think of the environmental impact and the carbon footprint.

BUT IT IS THE BEST PEACH I HAVE EVER EATEN.

I savor each slice,  eating it slowly, so it’s juicy perfection will take me through till the next annual shipment.

I can hear you asking…If I love peaches so much why don’t I just buy them at the store? Good question. Here is the answer. After a peach like that you can’t fool around with those hard, mealy things from the grocery store. Nope, none can compare with the annual peach. So why bother. I will just enjoy my one perfect peach. Annually.

Until this weekend!

My mother discovered a wonderful PYO orchard close to her and picked like 25 lbs! I became the recipient of a huge bag – probably 25 of the most beautiful, ripe, tangy, juicy peaches.

I wouldn’t have to wait until next year for my annual peach.

I brought them home and admired them. I took their picture. I day dreamed about the possibilities.

(I mean possibilities other than eating them fresh all in one sitting.)

My thoughts turned to baking. Could I make a peach pie? It was risky since I am not much of a baker. You have to be able to follow directions/recipes exactly for baking and I am not so good at that. Gambling on a peach pie seemed scary.

I decided to be brave and consult a few experts – Martha and Marion.

Martha’s recipe called for a very fancy “Pate Brisee” pie crust – I decided to go with a reliable rolled dough from the refrigerator section of the store – it has never failed me yet. Martha called for simplicity like a little lemon juice, sugar, butter and flour to thicken the juices. Why not add a little cinnamon, allspice and nutmeg? I couldn’t resist – it always works with the apple pie.

And Marion..well honestly I really can’t follow that crazy recipe format that was so revolutionary back in 1931. But she did have a suggestion for a streusel topping which I prefer on pie. Hers called for melted butter, cinnamon and fine, dry cake crumbs. I didn’t have any cake crumbs but I had plenty of stale “scala” bread from the local bakery. Scala – called “scali” by the locals is a light airy Italian loaf with sesame seeds on the crust. Why not grind that up and use it? Maybe add some brown sugar? Now we’re talking streusel!

A pie made in the true cabinet stew style – use what you have!

Here it is assembled and ready for the oven.

Here it is baked and cooling. (Maybe I could have put the foil on top a little sooner.)

It was delicious! And no I didn’t write the recipe down –  but I did remember to take a couple of pictures. But now that I have another source for delicious, juicy, perfect, farm-fresh AND local peaches; there could be more pie in my future. And more fresh peaches than once a year. Maybe some more next weekend. Mom?