Puttin’ up…or not

July 11, 2018

Pickles. Got to have pickles.

Here it is the middle of July and I haven’t been putting up much.

By this time last year, I’d frozen peas and corn and peaches, canned pickles, kraut, blackberry jam, blueberry sauce, and was starting to put up tomatoes.

This year, I’ve done no corn, only two or three packages of peas, and no kraut, jams or jellies. I’ve made pickles, and I’m drying tomatoes, and so far, that’s about it.

Truth be told, I overdid it last year. I still have tomatoes (I will can some, but not nearly as many as I did last year). I have plenty of jams and jellies, and I’ll be adding to that stash this fall when scuppernongs ripen and when pears come in. I still have corn, and I still have peas; again, I may put up a little, but not as much as last year. And I’ll freeze some peaches. I’d like to make a big batch of blue-Q blueberry barbecue sauce and can that.  And we’ll call it done.

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Dinner the way dinner should be — fresh.

Good Lord. Has it been almost a month?

It has. I haven’t been cooking a great deal — it’s been too damn hot, I’ve been gone, work has been nuts, all the usual mea culpas.  And I’m about to be gone for another week — the fam, or at least most of it, is headed south to the beach for a week, where I will eat many shrimps and drink much beer. Reports on that when I get back, because I am NOT taking the laptop.

There has been some cooking. It’s prime veggie time, so there has been corn, okra, peas, green beans, tomatoes, and all the other bounty of summer. There’s been pickle-making, and as the tomatoes are starting to come in, there have been tomatoes dehydrated and stowed in bags in the freezer. I’m going to try my hand at canning some dried tomatoes in oil, if the Romas will ever come in in enough quantity. There have been capreses and BLTs.

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Tonight’s dinner brought to you by what I had on hand.

I kept myself from going to the Farmers’ Market this morning — and it was hard! — because I had not yet worked up the blackberries and peaches I got last week, nor had I touched the yellow squash and zucchini, and I still had tomatoes. More importantly, I’m headed out of town for the first half of the week tomorrow afternoon.

Nope. don’t need to go to the Farmers’ Market. Need to use up what I’ve got.

Well, I used some of it.

Tonight is the last meal off the chicken salad I bought a week ago. It’s still very good. I just don’t think it’ll last much longer. I scooped it out over thick slices of tomato, doused in a good olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt and cracked pepper.  And a marinated veggie salad, because I could make that and it will hold until I get back, because it’s a vinegar and oil-based dressing. And blackberry cobbler for dessert, with vanilla ice cream.  And there’s another blackberry cobbler in the freezer.

And I still haven’t touched the zucchini, the yellow squash and the peaches. Sigh. Will HAVE to work up the peaches tonight before I go to bed. May make some peach muffins for church tomorrow.

This salad, though. I’ve made some variant of it for years. A lot of times I just use cucumbers, onions, carrots, sugar snap peas, cut up some tomatoes in there at the last minute. This time I went a different route. I had mushrooms that needed to be used, so I sauteed them until they gave up their water and tossed them in a bowl. Added sauteed asparagus, because the Aldi had packages of MASSIVE asparagus spears (things were bigger than my thumb!) for $1.79, and I could NOT turn them down. I cut the asparagus in half-inch lengths, left the tips whole, sauteed the whole thing, added it to the mushrooms. Added some black olives. Drained a jar of artichoke hearts, chopped them roughly, added those. Drained a jar of sliced/diced pimiento peppers, threw those in. Nuked some fresh corn on the cob, cut the kernels off, added those as well.

Dressing was a half a cup of olive oil; about 1/4 cup of a mixture of golden balsamic vinegar and white wine vinegar. Couple of tablespoons of honey. Thyme and oregano (I just used dried, too damn hot to go out and get fresh out of the herb garden. Added a little black pepper.

Whisked it all up, nuked it just to get it good and warm, whisked it again, poured it over the veggies, and stirred it up. It helps to have at least some of the veggies warm, and the dressing warm, because it seems to soak in to the veggies better.

This is possibly the most versatile thing you can make. I thought about putting some frozen green peas in it, but I couldn’t find the two packages I got at the grocery t’other day. I would have put some raw sugar snaps, cut up, into it, but they had been in the fridge too long and had gone south. Chopped up a few green onions. I had carrots out to put in it, and just didn’t; the bowl was getting full, and I like to parboil carrots just a little bit until they’re starting to get tender, and quite honestly, I just couldn’t trouble myself to do it. The orange would’ve looked pretty though.

You can also, if you want to make a big honking bowl of salad to take to a potluck or some such, make this and cook a pound of pasta, double the dressing, and make a marvelous pasta salad. You can add diced up salami or proscuitto, or both, and some grated cheese, or can throw in shredded chicken if you want to make it a main course. You can add diced, roasted new potatoes(I believe if I were using potatoes, I’d forego the pasta). Hardboiled eggs. Chopped ham. Leftover pulled pork. Truth be told, you can add whatever you have in the fridge or on the counter. If you’re going to add a watery veggie like squash or cucumbers, I’d recommend chopping it, salting it, and letting it drain a little first.

And then you can eat off of it for days. Because it’s that good. If you have another dressing you like better, use it. This balsamic (the reason it had white wine vinegar in it was I ran out of golden balsamic, so that’s on the grocery list, so I finished out with white and increased the honey a tad) is my personal go-to. YMMV.

But you ‘n y’mama ‘n ’em try it. I just about guarantee you’ll love it. And it’ll make a good start on cleaning out your fridge.



The food of my people

June 15, 2018

I am attempting to recreate the food of my people. God help ’em, but I think they were maybe culinarily challenged.

There are no photos because it ain’t pretty, either.

How it was, was, like this. I did this DNA test to find out all about where I came from. Specifically, I was hoping for a thread to chase to a great-grandfather whose identity I don’t have a clue about, as his partner bore twin sons out of wedlock in the early 1900s and died soon afterward.

So, among the predictable results I’d already expected (60 percent Welsh/Scots/Irish, 26 percent northern European, 11 percent Balkans/Greece), there was a ringer: 1.5 percent Nigerian.

No shit? Well, that’s cool. It’s pretty neat to have something other than the white-bread, what-I-expected stuff in my background.

So I did what I always do when I find out a new part of the world my people are from. I checked out the cuisine. That’s how I learned to cook German, and do so moderately well, if I do say so myownself. Ditto French, particularly from two provinces: Brittany and Alsace-Lorraine. And the Low Countries, which gave me carbonnades a la flamande, for which I’ll be eternally grateful, and Italy for all wonderful things Italian.

So, let’s see what Nigerian cuisine looks like.

Well…It looks like a lot of rice, beans, yams, beef and chicken. They cook, bless their hearts, most everything with healthy servings of bell pepper (are you people SURE you’re kin to me?) and cayenne. Now, I like me some cayenne, but they measure their cayenne in tablespoons. TABLESPOONS. I’d be breathing flames for a week. They use ginger and curry powder. OK, I can go with those.

But everything appears to be cooked/seasoned/taste alike. Well, OK. I understand being a poor culture and being limited to indigenous choices. I did, after all, grow up that way. I ain’t gonna cook greens for anybody, not even my Nigerian ancestors, but I can go some sweet potatoes, beans and beef in a soup/stew, OK?

Eh. Like I said. I guess they were culinarily challenged.

This stuff leaves some to be desired. It’s not that it’s not good, it’s just….not very good.

Bless y’all’s hearts. I’m proud that, at least, you brought peanuts and okra over here when my ancestors were so obnoxious as to buy you at the port and bring you over here as part of the slave trade.

Because, you see, that’s what I wound up figuring out. If you go back to your five-times-great-grandparents, which is a spot where you have 64 direct ancestors, that would put each one of them at about, guess what? 1.5 percent of your ancestry. And it would also put you in the very early years of the 19th century, if your generations fall like mine do.

Here’s what I’m guessing happened. I had lots of ancestors, back about that time, in the Tidewater regions of Virginia and North Carolina. Many of them were slave-owning plantation owners. I suspect that somewhere, someone had a slave quarters liaison, and it produced a child who was light-complected enough to pass for white, and that child emigrated west and did exactly that, and he or she is one of those 64 ancestors of mine at that level of kinship.

I wish I knew who it was. I’d love to know more about his or her life.

You ‘n y’mama ‘n ’em will forgive me, I hope, if I give up on learning any more about their cuisine.


Summer bounty. Lord, I love it.

June and July are my favorite months of the year. Because they’re when local fruits and veggies are at their peak.

After July, when we get into the dog days of August, gardens around here tend to burn up, unless they’re in a spot where they have plenty of moisture and partial shade. Stuff just quits. Except for okra and cucumbers and zucchini. That’s when you get monster zucchini and the Attack of the Cucumbers. I don’t think you can get too hot and dry for zucchini and cucumbers. They suck the water from the aquifers, or something, I dunno.

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Kissing the cook

June 9, 2018

You don’t have to kiss the cook. You do need to give her your credit card.

It is generally, if you are on close terms with the cook, a Good Thing to Kiss the Cook. Particularly if he/she turns you out a pretty wonderful meal.

I did not, in this case, kiss the cook,not being that closely acquainted with the lady. But I was certainly happy to hand her (or, more to the point, one of her employees) my credit card yesterday afternoon and let her ring up not just what I would eat for dinner last night, but quite likely for most of the rest of the weekend (save tonight, which is Another Story).

Above is: A healthy serving of The Best Pasta Salad I Ever Ate In My Life, as detailed a couple of days ago; a healthy serving of fruit salad with an impossibly delicate poppy seed dressing; and some of the Best Chicken Salad I Ever Ate In My Life, but for what Andrea used to make at the Little Sweet Shop in Marion, and what Mrs. Margaret Fogleman used to make for Rotary Club occasionally, also in Marion, back in the day.

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Feeding the beast

June 8, 2018

The Beast has breakfast.

People. Have you ever taken steroids?

I guess I have, but I don’t remember them ever having had the impact they’ve had on me this week. Amongst the host of drugs I’ve been taking for varied and assorted ailments this week, the doctor put me on a four-day course of high-dose Prednisone.

I could tell no discernable impact. Until the day after I stopped taking them. No “bitch mode” I’d been warned about, no gargantuan appetite, no failure to sleep.

Then, about Tuesday, the day after I wound them up, the bottom fell out. I, who had not had an appetite worth a flip for three months, since a bout with the stomach flu, suddenly wanted to eat everything in the house, the house itself, and whatever I could find next door. And the dogs were looking nervous.

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