Saturday, February 28, 2009

A cozy family lunch

Today was such fun. Sister Sue, Lee, Aunt Dorr and I had a wonderful family lunch in Cincinnati. Sue started a tradition of taking Aunt Dorr and me to lunch every year as a Christmas treat. Sue graciously included Lee who loves spending time with our family. Lee's family is in Texas and her Mom passed away last summer. Most opportunities for her to get a fix of being with family come through mine. She's found similarities to her own parents in Mimi and Bobo. She and my Mimi are two chatterboxes when they get together. Lee loves to talk about family issues with Mom and thinks its critical to share important news with her as well. Lee also is very fond of my sisters and my aunt so getting together is fun for everyone. The bonus was we were able to see Tom, Sue's husband and my very favorite brother-in-law. It was too cold to golf so Tom was home making chicken divan and planning to work out.

The lunch at Parker's was delicious and fun. It's an old house with fireplaces and cozy seating. Aunt Dorr returned from a 3 week trip to Petra, Egypt and other haunts last month so we needed to hear about the trip. Pretty amazing for a woman in her mid-eighties to travel half-way around the world. She had a great time. She and another woman friend arranged to travel through a group. She did lots of sight seeing, a cruise on the Red Sea and lots of shopping. Aunt Dorr is well known for her awesome shopping and bargains. I have to digress to tell an Aunt Dorr shopping story. When my children were about 4 and 2 one of the things we loved to do was to go to Cincinnati to visit the Christmas display at the Krohn Conservatory. Aunt Dorr's been a volunteer there for many years and knows just what to see. Outside the conservatory was a nativity display with live animals. We were gathered in front of the display when Jon yelled and said "Aunt Dorr, the sheep are on sale!". All of the sheep had tags on their ears and Jon was convinced there was a markdown and that this was a real buy. Needless to say it's been a great story that touts the fact that Aunt Dorr's found some very interesting bargains.

Time together today included some reminiscing about her Mom and Dad - Grandma and Grandpa Oechsler. Aunt Dorr recounted that Grandma was very social. She had bridge club and garden club, civic duties and her work as secretary for her national music sorority Mu Phi Epsilon. She usually arrived home from these activities about 30 minutes before Grandpa returned from work. Aunt Dorr told us that often there were written instructions for Aunt Dorr and Mom about getting dinner started. After these duties, Mom and Aunt Dorr went up the block to stay with Mrs. Randall until their parents returned home. Grandma was very organized. She was the manager for the team of secretaries in a Toledo law practice when she met Grandpa who was a cashier at the Toledo Trust bank. They dated before Grandpa went off to WWI. They corresponded through the war and married after he returned. She carried her organizational skills through to her home.

She loved us deeply and was very proud of all of her family. She was affectionate and warm but she really believed in holding fast and firm to society's rules. She had definite ideas about women's roles and what little girls should do and not do. Granma called my Mom every day to offer lots of guidance to my Mom about how to run her home and her family. Grandma was convinced that Mom was very lucky to have married my Dad. My grandparents loved music and in particular loved classical music and music from the theatre. She and Grandpa were also avid gardeners. Their backyard was incredible and when they moved to a smaller home after retirement they lavished attention and hard work on the new garden. They loved fresh vegetables and would drive to the country to purchase vegetables from their favorite farmers. It was wonderful to go with them and see the array of vegetables and some choices that were unique back then. Some of the best was patty pan squash and eggplant. At our house eggplant was fried and Dad loves it with maple syrup. Grandma made a wonderful scalloped eggplant baked an served in the shell that is still a favorite with me. Here's Grandma's recipe for scalloped eggplant. It's great as a dinner sid and wonderful for lunch with a salad.

Scalloped Eggplant

1 large firm eggplant
3 T. olive oil
3/4 C. onion chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 C. chopped celery
1 C. chopped raw mushrooms
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1/2 C. milk or half and half
1 C. crushed cracker crumbs (Ritz)
3 T. melted butter
1/2 C. grated parmesan cheese
salt and pepper to taste

Grease a baking dish and set aside. Preheat oven to 350.
Cut the eggplant in half lengthwise. Carefully remove the eggplant from the shell leaving a 3/4 inch shell. Cut the eggplant pieces in small cubes.

In a large skillet, heat the oil to medium high. Saute the onion, mushrooms and celery for 7 minutes then add the garlic. Add the chopped eggplant and saute until lightly cooked. Transfer to a large bowl. To the contents of the bowl add mushroom soup and milk. Check for seasoning and add salt and pepper to taste. Mix well and spoon the eggplant into the shells.

In a small bowl mix together the crumbs, cheese and melted butter. Sprinkle the crumbs over the eggplant. Place the eggplant in the baking dish and bake for about 40 minutes. It should be bubbly and brown. If you'd rather not use eggplant shells you can place the eggplant mixture in a greased baking dish, cover with crumbs and bake.

This is one of my quintessential Grandma Oechsler recipe memories. Thanks again Sue for a wonderful lunch and an opportunity to make more family memories!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

New Orleans and the Family

New Orleans is a favorite haunt for members of my family. My Dad became friends with members of the McIlhenny Tobasco clan and spent a weekend at the plantation enjoying a wenderful weekend with the family. It is one of his fond memories that I love to hear. He and my Mom have been there to enjoy good food and music and happy times. My parents gave me and my husband a honeymoon trip to New Orleans that was so fun. We ate at Court of the Two Sisters and had Breakfast at Brennans. We listened to jazz and had Hurricane's at Pat O'Brien's. We had beignet at Morning Call and toured the Jax brewery and the Pontalba mansion on Jackson Square. We even had informal portraits in chalk done by a sidewalk artist - one of many who had booths around the square. The St. Louis church at the top of the square across from the water is amazing. I could spend days Jackson Square and the shops on surrounding blocks. We had an evening at Pete Fountain's bar that was just too fun. Years later I returned for business trips that included jazz, muffalettas and alligator sausage at Chez Paul.

As a young bride and fledgling cook I subscribed to the Time Life Cookbook series. It was a wonderful set of books. One would arrive each month. The book would be dedicated to a specific cuisine and was accompanied by a spiral cookbook. The books were wonderful education about culture and cuisine. I made many of the recipes and would return often to reread the books and the writing. That series really informed me about the diversity of American and world cultures, food, cooking and started me on a relentless journey. One of my aboslute favorites in the series was the cookbook devoted to Acadian and New Orleans culture and cuisine. I cooked many times from the recipes. Not a bad one in the bunch! One of the stories recounted was an evening at Corinne Dunbar's.

On one of Mom and Dad's trips to New Orleans they had dinner at Corinne Dunbar's in the Garden District. Corinne Dunbar was a Creole woman and much loved hostess who opened her home for a unique dining experience that was a beloved tradition for New Orleans residents and tourists who were fortunate enough to Know about Corinne Dunbar's. You either knew or did not know. It was pretty exclusive to New Orleans culture and if you were a tourist you were not likely to know about this tradition. Corinne Dunbar's home was a beautiful traditional 1840'2 New Orleans home and the exprience was like being a guest in a home for a dinner party. Her home was furnished with period antiques and you dined using china and silver pieces from the home's collection. You would make a reservation and arrive at the appointed time. The home was originally on St. Charles street and you only knew it as Corinne Dunbar's because there was a small brass plate on the wall near the entrance. A butler would answer the door and seat you in the parlor for drinks and hors d'oeuvres with the other guests - no more than 12 total. After this course you were invited to come to the table in the dining room. A wonderful New Orleans meal was served. There was no menu. You enjoyed the preset menu created for the evening. It was a meal of many courses of wonderful southern foods. One of the signature dishes most loved was a dish called Oysters Dunbar that included oysters and artichokes. After dinner, the guests were invited back to the parlor for coffee and a goute'. A goute' is what is referred to as a sweet taste. Just a little something served with coffee. I remember my father's amazement as he described this. We expect dessert after such a wonderful meal. It would be a dessert as cake or pie or some elegant creation. It would fit with the home wouldn't it. He recounted his surprise as he was served coffee and small squares of peanut butter fudge! Now it was peanut butter fudge but it was creamy, delicious peanut butter fudge. So New Orleans where confections are an integral part of the cuisine and culture. Corinne Dunbar's was sold in 1956 and was moved from St. Charles street to another location where it continued for a time until it was sold again and the business closed. Those who loved Corinne Dunbar's said it was never the same after it was sold for the second time. Thank fully the happy times live on in memories that still are cherished and taste wonderful though the place is gone.

Another Party

Christmas Eve traditions is a previous blog but I would be remiss if I didn't tell you about a wonderful dish we enjoyed for years thanks to Uncle Ralph. Uncle Ralph and Aunt Lill and their family are not blood relatives. But they are related in the best way - by choice, time and genuine love. The Henry's and the Jones have been friends for about 50 years. Mimi and Bobo met Aunt Lill and Uncle Ralph, quickly bonded and our families merged through fun, shared vacations, canoe trips and time. Uncle Ralph took me for my first drive in his convertible when I had my 16th birthday and a learner's permit. Uncle Ralph's affectionate nickname is the Tennessee Cannonball. It exclaims his love of life and fun and willingness to get on board for a good time. He and Aunt Lill are nothing if not spontaneous, joyful and incredibly loving people. Their friendship has meant so much to our family and is cherished to this day.

One Christmas Eve, Uncle Ralph called and offered a treat for the whole family. It was Oysters Rockefeller to be served with our charcuterie, turkey and lettuce leaves and champagne. He asked how many of us there would be -12. A short while later he came to the door with 12 tin pans filled with rock salt beds with oysters in half shells. The oysters were napped in a beautiful green sauce topped with Parmesan cheese. The oysters were broiled until the sauce and oysters were cooked and the cheese was a lovely brown. The briny oysters, the herby sauce, the taste of anise from Pernod and the slight bitterness of the cheese were incredible. I cannot eat Oysters Rockefeller without thinking of Uncle Ralph and his wonderful spirit.

Oysters Rockefeller were created in 1899 by Jules Alciatore of Antoine's Restaurant's. Antoine's is a New Orleans landmark that opened in 1840 and lives on as a mecca for people who want to eat New Orleans elegant cuisine. Culinary legend has it that Jules created the dish when the taste for snails was waning among customers and snails became increasingly hard to obtain. The recipe for Oysters Rockefeller is a closely guarded secret and even former staff refuse to disclose the recipe. People who have developed their take on the dish have substituted spinach to achieve the green color of the sauce. Antoine's does say there is no spinach in their recipe. The spinach version is delicious as I will testify readily to that. It does make sense though that the sauce would be created from ingredients that were "at hand" in a New Orleans restaurant kitchen - herbs, green onions, celery leaves perhaps. The herbs and greens are an integral part of another much loved dish Gumbo Z'herbes. So it seems that one recipe could be closely aligned with the other.

Oysters Rockefeller

Two dozen fresh oysters on the half shell, oyster liquor reserved
4 sprigs flat-leaf Italian parsley
4 green onions (including the green part)
A handful of fresh celery leaves
At least 6 fresh tarragon leaves
At least 6 fresh chervil leaves
1/2 cup dried fresh French bread crumbs (not out of a can)
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Tabasco or Crystal hot sauce, to taste
2 tablespoons Herbsaint or Pernod
Parmigiano Reggiano grated finely
Rock salt or kosher salt

Mince together the parsley, green onions, celery leaves, tarragon and chervil as finely as you possibly can. Take as much time as you need. Mince them more finely than anything you've ever minced in your life. Mix this together with the bread crumbs and the softened butter into a mortar and mix the whole thing together into a smooth paste, but do leave a little texture to it. Season to taste with salt and pepper, Tabasco or Crystal and the Pernod.

Preheat your broiler. Lower the top rack to the middle of the oven. Spread the rock salt (preferable) or kosher salt over a large baking sheet; this will keep the oysters level under the broiler, so that they won't tip over. Moisten the salt very slightly. Plant the shells in the salt, making sure they're level. Place one oyster in each shell, plus a little bit of oyster liquor. Spoon an equal amount of the prepared herb/butter mixture over each oyster. Dust with a little Parmesan cheese

Place the baking sheet on the middle rack and broil until the edges of the oysters have curled and the herb butter is bubbling, about five minutes. Watch carefully to make sure you don't overdo it. Serve immediately.

You can also put the salt in tin pie pans and divide the oysters to serve four or six depending on the appetites of your guests and other dishes being served.

Six servings of four oysters each (regular people-sized serving), or four servings of six oysters each (New Orleanian-sized serving)

Saturday, February 21, 2009

A Special Request

My dear friend Stephen asked me to write about my party days and wanted to see something about N'Awlins. The crazy parties were always college, immediate post college days, and celebrations at a watering hole. The parties I've hosted are primarily family occasions or a food themed event. We have fun, we laugh, we play games and it is all about good food and good times with people you really care about. I have never been an "invite the masses" person.

My family vacation has it all down for parties. We have a team of confirmed fun addicts that so enjoy each other's company, being a part of each other's lives and celebrating milestones. My sister Sue will confer with me and Rebecca (Aunt Buck) to determine the celebration. Sue will create a host of games based on the theme or honoree. She starts in April and is ready to send out teasers about the games starting weeks before vacation. I do the food and menu. I'll ponder and strategize and research and come up with a menu for the family. It is all about the taste to the max. It is incredible fun. Everyone pitches in to help which makes it even more fun. All four generations participate in some way though the youngest generation just throws themselves into the participation and the fun with looks of a little bit of shock and awe until they decide we're safe to be with and it's all good. My niece Cammy who is now 17 is the youngest of generation three. As a toddler she saw all of this craziness and merriment with a little bit of concern. Her Mom, Aunt Buck was tucking her in bed one night after a particularly vibrant evening. Cam asked Buck, "Who are those crazy people?". Buck laughed and said "Cammy, they are your family.". I hope she didn't have nightmares.

To get back to the N'Awlins theme I'll tell you about a family event that was so fun. It was Christmas time and Mimi and Bobo were staying with Sue and Tom. I invited them all up for dinner. We would be serving 14 people plus some hangers on. I decided to make a New Orleans shrimp recipe that was over the top. It was a very spicy shrimp cooked in butter and I do mean butter! We had very healthy eaters so I purchased close to 14 pounds of large shrimp. I served it with wine, salad, very crusty bread and a great dessert.

My wonderful brother-in-law Tom has always been one of my devoted fans. He is awesome in so many ways and he came into our family as an only child of a more reserved family than ours. He's been through thick and thin and he is still standing. He has a dry sense of humor and I think it's been a help through the years. Tom came to dinner and he was under the weather. Despite that he ate a little shrimp and I sent him home with shrimp to enjoy when he felt better. He loved that shrimp and I think he ate more that night. The next day everyone returned for brunch. One of the dishes was piles of hash browns - totally homemade. As people started to leave we looked for Tom and found him at the kitchen table eating ends and pieces of hash browns out of the pan. His appetite was resurrected!

Acadian Peppered Shrimp adapted from Mary Ann Firth

this recipe serves 8

3 C. butter
1/2 C. freshly ground pepper
1/2 C. freshly squeezed lemon juice
5 medium garlic cloves, minced
4 bay leaves, crumbled
4 tsp. minced fresh rosemary
1 T. Hungarian sweet paprika
1 T. minced fresh basil
1 T. minced fresh oregano
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground red pepper cayenne
6 lbs medium to large shrimp with shell on and head removed

Melt butter in a large heavy skillet. Add everything except the shrimp. Cook, stirring for about 20 minutes. Add shrimp and cook until just pink. Do not over cook!

I've been making this for over 20 years and it's a keeper. Okay Stephen, are you ready to cook?

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

3 A.M. is muy loca

I have had sleep issues for years. When I was five, I woke up earlier than everyone else and rambled through the house. One morning I earned my Mom's frustration when I climbed up on a counter and opened every jar of baby food in the cupboard. I repeated that act the next day.

A few years later I woke up very early to "read" the paper and make doughnuts. These doughnuts were not from scratch but were in a refrigerated tube like biscuits. You remove the label, press the tip of a spoon on the seam and pop, the tube unfolds and you can separate the doughnuts and the holes. I found the cast iron skillet and filled it with oil and turned the burner to high. I strolled into the living room to read said paper. A few minutes later I looked up and saw a huge cloud of gray smoke coming down from the ceiling. I jumped up and ran into the kitchen. There the skillet was generating enough heat and smoke to resemble a locomotive. The only thing I could think to do was to carry the skillet to the sink and pour it down the drain. As I lifted the skillet, the oil burst into flames. I set the pan down on the time floor, flames getting higher and higher. Just in time my Dad came racing into the kitchen and lifted the pan from the floor and carried outside where he extinguished the flames.

He came back in and looked at me and asked if I was hurt. I said no. He said, "Do not do that again.". Miraculously there were only 4 tiles that needed to be replaced and no one was hurt. I expected to be grounded for life, chastised to the nth degree and permanently lose cooking privileges and frustrate any cooking aspirations I might have. Sometimes in life luck and gratitude can help a bad situation or maybe my parents just saw a desire that couldn't be stopped. They continued to be supportive and pretty much left me to my own devices in the kitchen. That generated more adventures, missteps and hilarity. I guess they could say, "I knew her when!".

Last night I went to bed at 9:00 and lived to regret it. After waking about 4 times, Doris jumped up on my bed and wanted me to get up. I resisted but she wasn't going to stop. By that time I was awake so I went out to the family room to hang out with my Law and Order shows I had DVR'd and the computer. Fifteen minutes later Dude ran through the room exiting to the back yard through the doggy door barking furiously. Doris ran out and started barking. I went to the door and called. Doris came in but Dude wouldn't stop. I went outside to get the little b^$(&Od. He was under a birdhouse Lee installed on a tall post. At the top of the birdhouse clinging to the roof of the birdhouse was a fat raccoon. The last thing I wanted was to have to tangle with the raccoon or to have Dude tangle with him. I tried to catch Dude. I would go one way he would go the way and vice versa on and on. I am in my t-shirt and flannels with barefoot chasing the nasty little dog. At one point I looked up trying to make sure the raccoon wasn't going to lunge and he had a look that said, "Jeez these two are so nuts. They call us wildlife?.". Finally, I captured the dog and carried him back in.

One hour into my day and things didn't look very promising at all. It's times like these I think back to doughnuts. Hot, fried and so good. You can't buy the tube but I could make something else that says comfort - potato pancakes. So calm, so normal, so comforting.

Potato Pancakes

2 large potatoes
1 medium onion
1 large egg
1/3 C. flour
1 T. dried parsley

In the food processor, place chunks of potato and onion. With the steel blade, process until the mixture is pretty smooth with no large pieces of potato. Add the rest of the ingredients and process quickly just to mix.

In a large skillet add vegetable oil to about 1/2 " from the bottom of the pan. Heat the oil on medium high until it is hot. Carefully place about 1/2 cup of the potato mixture around the pan and spread into a circle. Leave enough room between the pancakes so the oil can brown them nicely. When they are brown on one side, turn over. When they are brown on the second side remove them from the pan to a stack of paper towels to absorb the oil. Complete the process until all of the batter is gone. You can keep the first pancakes hot in a warm oven. These are good with a little butter and salt and pepper on the top. Of course sour cream or applesauce is traditional as are strips of crisp bacon.

Thankfully no fires or more dog raccoon battles Anne 1 Animals 0.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

A Return to Civility

After months of eating at our trays in front of the television we surrendered. As the proud owners of three dogs and erstwhile canine visitors eating is a little bit of a challenge. At the trays, the dogs sit patiently watching every forkful transferred from plate to mouth. If a drop slips from the fork they lunge under the tray seeking the taste on the floor. Doris is particularly a pain as she stares at you intently and cries sotto voce. Enough!

So we have been dining in what else the dining room. It is lovely. The dogs are barred from the room with baby gates. We sit, we chat, we taste. Dinner time has doubled. It is so pleasant.

Last night we had a great dinner in our dining room. I gave Lee a choice between roast chicken and butternut squash or a Greek dish called pastitsio. Lee I always opts for pasta. Much like lasagne pastitsio has multiple layers. A layer of perciatelli miked with egg white and cheese topped by a red meat sauce with wine and rosemary, another layer of pasta and finally a lovely bechamel enriched with egg yolks and seasoned with nutmeg. Baked, the top is brown and lovely hiding layers of sauce and pasta. A salad with kalamata olives, tomato and pignoli with a plain vinaigrette and crusty bread completed the main part of the meal.

For dessert, I made a citrus tart with raspberry, creme anglaise and moro orange sections. You can make this tart so many ways. You can put chocolate on the bottom, use any fruit butter or jam and change the fruit topping. For the truly time pressed, you can use commercially made pudding. I would use canned rather than instant because of the smooth, creaminess. Be sure to add a zest or flavoring to make it more home made in taste.

Citrus tart

1 sheet puff pastry
egg, beaten with a T. water
seedless raspberry fruit butter
creme anglaise (recipe to follow)
1 moro orange, cut into sections

I used a rectangular tart pan with a removable bottom. After thawing the puff pastry, unfold the sheet of puff pastry. Cut the pastry to fit the bottom of the tart pan and place it in the pan. Using a fork press the tines in the pastry every 1/3 inch in rows and columns to cover the pastry. Take thin strips of pastry and place along the edges of the pastry to build a crust. Discard remaining pastry. Brush the edges with the egg wash. Bake in a 400 degree oven until the pastry is cooked through, about 20 minutes.

Remove the pan from the oven and let the crust cool. When cool, spoon fruit butter over the bottom coating to the edges. On top of the fruit butter spoon the creme anglaise. Place the orange sections along the top of the creme anglaise. Chill until served.

Creme Anglaise

3 egg yolks
1/2 C. sugar
1 tsp. orange zest
2 C. half and half
1 tsp. lemon flavoring
1 T. butter

In a bowl mix the sugar and yolks together. Heat the half and half in a pan until it is hot. Pour it into the egg mixture, combine thoroughly. Pour it back into the pot and heat, stirring constantly until thickened. Remove from heat and stir in butter and flavorings. Whisk for about 3 minutes. Let cool.

Friday, February 13, 2009

I Live With a Pirate - Arrrrrr

This is a week Lee has long awaited. She had her first cataract surgery yesterday. I must share that she is a little strange about surgery. She had to give up riding her bike so she wanted another hobby. She chose surgery not performing surgery, having surgery. She's had 5 hip surgeries, two hip dislocations, surgery on her chest combine with one of her hip surgeries. You ca see she is really pursuing her hobby most diligently. Her sight has really worsened over the last couple of years, but her opthamologist wanted her to wait until the cataracts were "ripe". She's seen him every six months and always expected to be told it was time. Finally, he said the magic words, "You need surgery." She has been very excited and spent the days leading up to surgery telling me how many more hours until she could see again. It's been moments right out of Helen Keller. I am no Annie Sullivan.

We arrived at the surgical center early and observed all of the pre-op rituals at this point we are pros. They walked her back to the OR and told me she would return in 15 minutes. Right on schedule she arrived back in the room. Shortly after we were out the door. She hadn't been able to eat before surgery so she was anxious to break the fast. We went to her favorite breakfast spot Bob Evans.

After being seated across the table from each other I got a good look at her. She had a patch over her eye with a metal mesh cup taped in place over gauze. Most attractive. After ordering, she looked at me and said, "Arrrrr". "Arrrr"?, I said. Thinking quickly I said, "Oh you're being a pirate.". Nodding, she said, "Arrrr, do you have any balloons?". She can be so strange. "Arrrr," I said back. "Do you mean doubloons?" Ever the quick one, she stopped and pondered and laughed aloud and said "Er, yes, doubloons." Quite the sharp pirate that one. I think she is half pirate half clown.

Today, she's a pirate no more. This morning we went back to the doc for the post surgical check. All is good and she sees well and her sight will continue to improve in the days ahead. So I took the former pirate home a very happy traveler of the seven seas of surgery. One to go. In honor of the pirate I made a dish from the seas for dinner - Shrimp, artichokes and spaghetti.

Shrimp, artichokes and spaghetti

1 lb. Trader Joe's 25-30 count shrimp from Argentina (They taste like lobster)
1/2 med. onion, peeled and diced small
2 cloves crushed garlic
1 10 ounce box of frozen artichoke hearts
8 ounces sliced mushrooms
2 T. butter
8 ounces spaghetti , Barilla Plus preferred
1 T. capers, rinsed
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper, freshly ground
parmigiano reggiano cheese
1/2 C. dry white wine

In a large pot boil water for spaghetti. When it starts to boil add some salt and put the pasta in the pot to cook. When the pasta is almost done add the shrimp to cook. The shrimp just needs to cook and be heated through.

While the water comes to a boil, melt the butter in a large skillet. When the butter has melted saute the onions until transparent and add the garlic and mushrooms to cook. Sprinkle with the salt and pepper. Add the wine to simmer for a few minutes.

When the pasta and shrimp are cooked, drain thoroughly and add to the skillet with the capers. Check for seasoning. If you are a pirate from Texas you may want to add red pepper flakes at this point. Toss well and serve on plates that have been warmed. Grate fresh cheese on top of the spaghetti and shrimp. Enjoy!

The pirate is very anxious to get the next surgery on the schedule. Arrrrr!

Sunday, February 8, 2009


I am powerless over my addiction. It renders me senseless. I stay up to the wee hours. Get up early. Help me cast this demon off - but I don't want to....

It starts with someone close to you. You sit quietly, ask what have you been doing. It starts as they tell you about what they did, what they know, how they got to know that. They speak of a joy of knowing more than they did before, a broader sense of what it means to be them....I am hooked.

The people who do this to you are people you trust. They come in the guise of mothers, fathers and friends of longstanding. They show you the pictures of their adventures, who they met and what they know now. Then they offer to let you in, to help you. It is so sinister in the most delicious way. A new way to be connected to all of life to know you are part of a bigger family. It is genealogy.

This Christmas, Rebecca and I gave my Dad a consultation with a genealogist to help him solve questions about his family. To make this happen, I gave the genealogist a summary of the family history. The gift was given. I have also talked to my college room mate who is a genealogist of long standing who has been sending me pictures of census, birth and death certificates and other things she finds about my family. She even started a family tree for me on Of course I have added to it. I now have 156 of my nearest and dearest listed. I have several generations left to list....My Mom gave me the Swisher book that has many generations. The Oechslers are a mystery that will require further sleuthing. Then there is the entire Henry side. Dad's been working dilligently with his cousin Meta to track down our relatives. The genealogy consultation given at Christmas was meant to help him solve some mysteries and break down a wall. I love to sleuth and solve mysteries so this pursuit is pretty captivating.

Committed genealogists visit the lands of their forebears, track down gravesites, email strangers (soon to be named family) to track down information, and make visits to the historical society, libraries, family research centers and any other places you can think of to track down the persons in question. When you have success you can feel joy and rest on your laurels. That is until you determine the next quest. There is a cycle to this addiction.

One of the many interesting people in my family history is George A. Blair. He is one of the great great grand children of John and Mary Magdalene Swisher from the 1780's. I must confess I've known of him for a long-time because of his special place in our family lore. His nickname is "Banana George". He is known as a barefoot water skier, certainly an unusal skill he practiced well into his later years. He is said to have been the only man to have performed barefoot, water skiing on all of the continents, including Antartica. He is now approaching 95! His official website

At this point, you no doubt are wondering what could be the recipe that would fit with all of this. I'll give you a clue: nuts - every family has them. Personally I am a pecan. I've decided to reach across the generations and families to share something new to me. As you know I collect family recipes. My Mom wrote Dad's cousin Meta (who is named after my grandmother Meta Amelia Collins Henry) to ask her for some family recipes. She was kind enought send me recipes from my grandmother's sister Esme taken from a cookbook when Esme was in the 7th grade. It is a recipe for nut bread. I know you'll enjoy it and think about this recipe and ones of your own passed down to share history in a bite or byte if you are a blogger geek like me.

Great Aunt Esme's Nut Bread

1/2 C. sugar
1 egg, beaten
1 tsp. salt
1 C. milk
1 C. nut meats
3 C. flour
3 tsp. baking powder

The directions didn't state an oven temperature. Similar recipes call for a slow oven which to me means 325. Just keep an eye on it and make sure it isn't over baked.

In a bowl combine the flour, salt and baking powder. In a larger bowl mix well the sugar and egg. To the egg and sugar add the flour and milk alternating and beginning and ending with the flour. Mix well, gently and don't over mix. Stir in the nut meats.

Pour into a greased loaf pan. Let raise for 30 minutes. Bake for 40-45 minutes checking for doneness with a toothpick inserted into the middle of the loaf. The tooth pick should come out clean - no raw batter clinging to the toothpick.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

A family reunion

This weekend we are having a family reunion. No we're not crazy. We will not be picnicing outside. We'll be by a warm cozy fire at my sister Sue's home near Cincinnati. We have much to celebrate.

Last May Dad phoned me to let me know he was in the hospital in E. Lansing due to atrial fibrillation. The plan was to do some tests and a cardioversion to jump start his heart back to its normal rhythm. It worked he went home and two weeks later he was back in a-fib. More attempts were made medically to correct his heartbeat which were not successful. Plans were started to go to the Cleveland Clinic for some testing, evaluation and a recommendation about what to do. Before this started Dad suffered some pulmonary complications and was started on prednisone. He had some nasty side effects with prednisone but being the trooper he is he persevered. The visit to the Clinic was scheduled for August. Before that we had a wonderful family vacation together near Traverse City. At the end of the vacation Dad had a significant episode of shortness of breath so he hiked it back to E. Lansing to consult with his docs and avoid an admission to a very small local hospital up north that wouldn't be able to help him. He ended up in the Lansing hospital and missed the trip to the Cleveland Clinic. You can imagine our disappointment.

After a prolonged recovery and some improvement, Dad was able to go to the clinic. Initially they planned medical management but the results of his tests showed some significant issues with valves and regurgitation that needed to be addressed. Dad and Mom returned to the clinic for more testing. Testing indicated that the only help would be a valve repair and a maze procedure. The family moved into motion to plan the trip to the clinic and support for Dad and Mom for the surgery and recovery in Cleveland. Dad had his surgery the two weeks before Thanksgiving and was able to be discharged to share Thanksgiving with family in Michigan.

Despite a very successful surgery, his recovery was quite protracted due to some really pesky complications that were really troubling. It was back in the hospital where they did some more tests and basically confirmed that the surgery did a great job for his heart but his issues were more pulmonary. He went home and was able to get off some of his medications and off the day-time oxygen. We were all stewing about them spending the winter in Michigan and the picture wasn't pretty. Mom and Dad worked hard on their end to make the trip to Florida happen. Finally, the stars and the docs aligned and Mom and Dad could plan a trip. Today the diocs confirmed they could go. So Saturday they are on their way.

Saturday they'll stop and spend the night at Sue and Tom's. Lee and I will have dinner with them along with Mom's sister and Tom's parents. The group will not be as large as a traditional family reunion but it will be equal in spirit and joy at being together. Rebecca, Cammy and David will have wished them well and happy trails from the start in Lansing. Generation 3 and generation 4 will be far away but they will share our excitement and send wishes for the reunion and the road trip.

Sue's planned a celebratory meal. I of course must share in the efforts so I'm contributing a simple appetizer and a fun dessert. I'll be making Lady Bird Johnson's Mexican Chocolate sheet cake. I made it for the Texas barbecue we had in August and I took the cake to Mom and Dad's when we had a mini Texas barbecue in E. Lansing. Dad loves chocolate. Mom loves it too so it's a winner for everyone. I found the recipe at

Mexican Chocolate Sheet Cake

Preheat oven to 350. Grease a 9 x 13 pan.

Combine and heat until melted:
1/4 C. vegetable oil
1/4 C. margarine (no butter!)
1 ounce square unsweetened chocolate or 2 T. cocoa
1/2 C. water

Sift together:
1 C. flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 C. sugar
1/2 tsp. cinnamon

In a bowl stir together:
1/4 C. sour milk
1 beaten egg
1/2 tsp. vanilla

Combine the three mixtures well. Pour into the prepared pan. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until done.

While the cake bakes make the icing.


In a large saucepan combine
1/4 C. margarine
2 T. cocoa
3 T. milk

Heat until bubbles form around the edge of the saucepan. Remove from heat.

8 ounces of confectioner's sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1/4 C. chopped pecans

Beat until smooth.

When the cake comes out of the oven let it cool for 10 minutes. Pour the icing over the top and spread to cover.

This is so good!.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

A Life Changing Recipe

My wonderful mother is incredible. She met my Dad when she was 18 and new at OSU. (Ohio not Oklahoma) Lore has it that he was supposed to have a blind date with my Aunt Dorr but Dorr was busy. So the date went to Mom and the rest is history. They married when she was 19 and he was 23 and I was born a few months before she turned 21. Mom left her academic career and became the wife and mother keeping house and making life great for her family of 3 daughters and her busy pediatrician husband. After dad finished medical school, he set up a general practice in Berlin Heights, OH. This was not his heart so he pursued a specialty in pediatrics. To do this he went to Detroit and we stayed in Toledo seeing Dad when he was off. When Dad was gone, every night Mom pushed the dining room hutch in front of the door to keep intruders out. I don't know what she did with the back door. This is so dear because it so depicts Mom and Dad's partnership in his career and in their relationship. The sacrifices they made together is what makes them strong today!

Mom sewed dresses and Halloween costumes, helped with school projects, kept pets, kept a sparkling home and ran everyone to appointments and meetings and activities. She also volunteered in the community doing mobile meals with one of her best friends and volunteering at the art museum. She is amazing. She had 3 children under the age of five by the time she was 25. Whew! She also did the laundry for Dad's office.

Mom made meals that were very good and she worked hard to please the tastes of young children and her husband. Mom and Dad's commitment was to have dinner with us every night as a family. Dad would come home after the office and have dinner and leave to go to a meeting or see more patients. Meals were of the meat, starch, vegetable variety of the 50's. Mom 's chief complaint was that she would spend hours making dinner and it would be done in 5 minutes. Though she made great meals, she was not passionate about cooking. She often would enjoy something new at a friend's home or at dinner out and would make the dish for us.

When we were in high school Dad's practice now included two other physicians and there was some more time for a social life. In true form Mom and Dad made sure we had dinner before they went out. Saturday dinner was more casual and did not have to closely adhere to the meat plus formula. One weekend Mom had a great new recipe. Reuben sandwiches. She made the first sandwich and served it with Tater Tots - those frozen logs you bake until crispy. The sandwich was delicious and we liked it very much. One thing about Mom when she finds a formula it becomes a keeper. We had reubens and tater tots every Saturday forever. I ate so many reubens and tater tots I reached the point I could not eat another reuben sandwich or tater tot to save my life. I couldn't even consider a reuben ingredient. I vowed off reubens and tater tots forever.

Decades went by and about 10 years ago I was having lunch with some friends. On the menu was my nemesis. For some reason - absence makes the heart grow fonder - I ordered a Reuben - no Tater Tots. It was delicious. The crusty bread, melted swiss cheese with the tart sauerkraut and the tang of the thousand island dressing. WoW! It was the first Saturday night all over again. My sisters and me at the kitchen table laughing at something very silly. Dad dressed up laughing with us and teasing and Mom walking through the kitchen, her high heels clicking on the tile, perfume wafting through the air. OMG! I had been saved through a reuben resurrection!

Needless to say I've continued to enjoy those reubens,

Reuben sandwiches

artisan rye bread very seedy with a salty crust
thousand island dressing - homemade
sauerkraut, rinsed and pressed with a paper towel - no excess water
sliced corned beef
Jarlsberg cheese or Emmentaler, sliced


On a slice of bread, spread the dressing
lay several slices of corned beef
place some sauerkraut on top of the corned beef
on top of that place the cheese
on all of this a slice of bread

Melt a little butter and oil in a skillet. Add the sandwiches and toast on each side. The heat should be medium. Your goal is to toast the bread, heat the sandwich contents and melt the cheese.

Serve with chips, french fries, anything but those dam#@d Tater Tots.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Superbowl Snafu

Like those poor Steelers whose first touchdown was rejected by the refs - my Superbowl menu is in jeopardy.

Know this:

I have conferred with Miss Lee daily about the Superbowl menu
We've discussed the merits of a healthy menu - she agreed
I described the lovely panini and crunchy slaw with the OH Henry bars - she said "Great!"


She had asked earlier in the week about chicken wings and we agreed on the menu. Today she wanted to have wings for lunch. We're having chicken on the panini or the sandwiches and cole slaw as she called them. I knew I was in trouble. We had Chinese for lunch. On the drive home she began reviewing this week's evening schedule. She quickly noted that if I had a meeting tomorrow she would have Jose Ole Mexican mini tacos 42 to a box and queso (cheese dip). A beloved treat for her. Then she said, "I should make the cheese dip today. Oh I can have cheese dip and tortilla chips." I once again offered the notion of a healthy meal. At this point she shared her opinion on Super Bowl food. According to Miss Lee you are never supposed to eat healthy food for the Super Bowl. Wings, loaded skins, queso, KFC, fritos, fried cheese stix, lots of beer need I go on? That is the ideal menu. Oh you can have celery sticks with the bleu cheese dressing for the wings. I guess it is a very healthy meal...sigh...

I lost the game before Jennifer Hudson sang and the teams even played the first down.

Queso Dip

1 can Rotel - hot, or medium if you are not a Texan
1 lb. velveeta cheese food cut into cubes

Combine the Rotel and the Velveeta in a medium bowl. Melt the cheese in the microwave a minute at a time. Stir after each heating cycle.

I have nothing more to say on this topic other than we will be eating the panini and the brocolli slaw with Asian dressing and we will LOVE it.