Monday, April 27, 2009

My Family's DNA

Ahhh, Florida.  We are having a wonderful time.  Friday when we arrived we went to dinner at Shrimpers and ate under a thatched roof beside the water.  Laughing and talking with my wonderful Mom and Dad as we basked in the glow of their company.  Saturday my dear cousin and her great husband came for a family dinner party.  Her sweet mom, my aunt, died recently and as you might guess we had much to catch up on.   We celebrated her Mom and her wonderful Dad in reminiscing about fun, family facts - we all have them.  Dad and Mom clearly loved bringing us together for a special time.  We talked about life and teased my Mom and Dad endlessly.  My mother worries about what might appear in the blog.  To tease her I say, "I think I'll post this in the blog." which prompts an "If you do I'll disinherit you!"  Truly what some think are secrets are things that to others are just too good not to be shared.  

The high spot of the night was my Dad recounting a video he saw online.  Apparently a young bull entered a grocery store and terrorized the shoppers.  One man used a grocery cart to defend himself against the bull.  For my Dad the part that caused him to literally laugh so hard tears rolled down his cheeks was the sight of one man running down the aisle of the store being chased by the bull.  Dad loves these vignettes where people are confounded by a situation and they react in a primal way.  He shared that he watched the video many times with the same result.  Seeing Dad laugh so deeply and with his whole self was wonderful for us.  It was a happy time.

Last night we had an impromptu cocktail party with the children of Mom and Dad's friends.  They've taken over the condo and were spending a few days enjoying Florida.  They are great company and share Mom and Dad's passion for OSU and things football.  Today we started the formal process of their departure from Florida.  They are packing some things to be shipped and sorting the things we'll transport back in their car.  Dad and I made an Alaskan King Crab dinner with prosecco and spinach salad we enjoyed on the porch overlooking the St. Lucie river.  Happy times are cooking with my family - Dad and I discussing earnestly what we need to do and Mom darting in to offer her own pearl of wisdom or ask a question that prompts a look from my Dad.  Lee loves to sit in a chair with a drink and gaze out at the water.  My Mom says Lee is waiting for her captain to return.  We're planning an eco tour by boat for tomorrow.  The captain called while we were eating dinner last night so that started more levity.  Lee's captain didn't return but at least there was a call!

Dad couldn't make it this past weekend to the opening of his trout club.  My sisters and their respective partners were there in Mom and Dad's stead.  Dad was obviously missed as he received several calls and emails from folks who care deeply for Mom and Dad to let him know they were thinking about him and wishing he could join them.  This is the first time he's missed an opening in decades and I know he would have liked to have been there.  Mom and Dad have committed themselves to making sure our family and friends have opportunities to create memories in wonderful places.  There is the trout club, the Florida condo, our family vacation in the summer and wherever Mom and Da are living at the time.  

In very Mom and Dad fashion they offer these places to people they hold dear.  This weekend there were several calls to my sisters  to check on things.  Mom and Dad relished hearing from my sister and her husband about the great time they had, the state of fishing there, the evening card games and who all was there.  They'll be checking with my other sister when the return home, too.  Mom and Dad are overjoyed when family and friends enjoy themselves in a place they hold dear.

All of this is ever a reminder of the importance of family and friends, memories and events and the rituals we hold dear that form the glue of our lives and our hearts.  All of this will form the core of conversations and generate numerous recountings of stories and activities that will fill us with laughter and memories in the years to come.  Seeing how much all of us love and feel connection to these places and the time shared together is almost is so grounding and to me so much the story of my family.  This shared DNA surrounds us and connects us as a web which is spun from love and joy, generosity and selfless enjoyment of the pleasure of others that feels as good as our own and the appreciation of what it means to be a part of this wonderful network of people.  Thank you Mom and Dad for one of life's best gifts - you!  

Our dessert tonight was Palm Beach brownies.   I made it the easy way - not from scratch.  For the purists I will redo the recipe with the scratch ingredients at a later date.  This is vacation!  In an example of my parents' thoughtfulness of others my Mom told me several times I had to make these for my brother-in-law Tom who is a chocolate maven.

Palm Beach Brownies

1 package dark chocolate brownie mix (9x9 pan size)
prepare batter according to package directions but DO NOT BAKE.
1 19 ounce bag of York peppermint patties
1 small canister fudge frosting

Spray a 9X9 pan with Pam.  Spoon half the batter into the pan and spread evenly.  Unwrap the patties and place a single layer of them on the brownie batter.  Because they don't fit perfectly cut some of the patties in halves or quarters to cover the brownie batter.  (You will have some patties left over to enjoy while the brownies bake.)  Carefully spoon the other half of the batter over the patties and spread to cover.  Bake about 40 minutes in a 350 degree oven.  Cool the brownies and spread with half of the frosting.  Eat the rest of the frosting if you are Lee, waiting until you can consume a brownie.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

I had communion at Max and Erma;s

We are in Florida with my parents enjoying their company relaxing, seeing family and just having fun.  I woke early and went for a walk and listened to my ipod.  For some reason when I walk I love to listen to gospel music.  Today it was Ben Harper and the Blind Boys of Alabama.  Awesome and so comforting.  As I walked I realized that whenever I am with family I feel like all is right with the world.  The talking and laughing and sometimes being very serious about life and its challenges brings me back to the very sweet spot in my life.  I feel whole once again.  

Friday we were in the airport in Northern Kentucky and had lunch.  I had a reuben and Lee had a club sandwich.  Of course these are our respective faves and for me the subject of one of my blogs.  Our waitress was so friendly and she asked us if we were enjoying our food.  Being a foodie I had a deep discussion with her about the merits of Lee's club sandwich and the reuben.  She loves the reubens there too and I of course had to tell her about my decades long reuben phobia and my eventual return to the bosom of reubens courtesy of my mom.  She looked at me with a deep wistfulness in her eyes and said when she was young her Mom grew rhubarb and made delectable rhubarb pies.  She left home at a very young age and didn't have opportunities to visit with her family.  The last time she saw her Mom was five years ago and she now has a daughter approaching adulthood who hadn't had much time with her grandparents let alone time to enjoy a pie that was the family holy grail.  I was so taken aback and a rush of sadness washed over me.  She clearly understood and experienced that sense of time that can never be regained.  Somewhat haltingly she told me she didn't know what family meant when she was younger.  It was apparent that as a parent she now saw clearly both sides of the coin of youth and connection.  There were some long moments when we just looked at each other and shared that deeper knowing.  I think we were both teary eyed - not the usual fare for lunch at Max and Erma's.  

Just when I thought all was lost for her she perked up and said, "but now my Mom is coming to live with me."  I was so excited.  She explained that her Mom lived in North Dakota and had just had it with the winters and was coming to stay.  Her Dad had five more years to work until retirement and her parents were willing to be separated to deal with weather and the lack of family in their lives.  Her Dad had come out for her daughter's high school graduation and brought boxes of her mother's things.  She told me how excited she was just looking at the boxes carefully labelled in her mother's writing.  I told her she needed to get some rhubarb and freeze it to finally have wonderful pie to make up for the long years of sacrifice.  A big smile arced across her face as she blurted out  "Mom is digging up her rhubarb roots and all and bringing it with her!"  I was thrilled to think that she would soon have pie from those same wonderful plants that fed her in childhood.  Better than rhubarb pie would be the time she would share with her Mom.

It was certainly a humble meal in most respects.  However it became communion over a reuben and a club sandwich.  It was a wonderful reminder of the precious times with those we love over good food and talk that becomes a celebration of communion and love in the face of life's challenges. Amen.

Rhubarb Compote

This is good warm or cold and especially a treat with ice cream or angel food cake.

10 stalks of rhubarb cleaned and trimmed.  Cut each stalk in 1/3 inch pieces.
1/2 to 3/4 C. sugar
1 1/2 C. orange juice

Place the pieces of rhubarb in a pot and cover with water.  Bring to a simmer and simmer gently until just tender.  Drain the water and add 1/2 C. sugar and orange juice.  Bring to a simmer and cook gently until the rhubarb begins to fall apart.  Stir frequently.  Check to make sure the rhubarb is sweet to taste.  If it is too tart add a little more sugar and cook to dissolve the sugar.  Cool and serve warm or place in the refrigerator to chill.

I like it all by itself.  You can also substitute unsweetened apple juice for the orange juice.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Tex-Mex Dinner with Sue and Tom

One of the couples I cannot get enough of is my sister Sue and her husband Tom. As I've written before Tom is a sincere appreciator of my cooking and like Sue always up for a good time. They love to participate in the cooking process especially if we are entering uncharted territory - we are pioneers! They love to have fun, food and family. Sue and Tom recently did a beautiful redo of their kitchen. It is gorgeous with beautiful cabinets and floors, lighting and upscale appliances. It is wonderful to cook there. An island with chairs assures seating for people who just want to watch the action.

My kitchen in comparison is much more pedestrian. It has several special features - there is a futon for the three dogs, a separate pantry in the laundry room because I couldn't store everything in the cabinets and a big cabinet in the garage to store all of the appliances and baking equipment that doesn't fit into the kitchen. The piece de resistance is a bookcase devoted to my never ending stash of cookbooks. This kitchen will never be on a cooking show but we can create some pretty good chow. (I am lobbying for a cork floor and new countertops. We'll see.)

Many years ago as a new employee of the state social services I attended a two week orientation in Columbus. My colleagues and I were eating on the cheap and we tried some out of the way ethnic places. My fave was a little taqueira. We ate there 4 times over two weeks and I loved their crispy tacos. As a curious cook I talked to the owner about the taco process and those particular crispy tacos. The secret was a metal spring utensil that shaped the corn tortilla into a V-shape while it was deep fried. When I went home I made crispy tacos. I searched our small Ohio town for masa harina the corn flour used to make the tortillas. Luckily the town was a temporary home to the migrant workers who came every summer to harvest the local crops. So 40 years ago I began my relationship with homemade tortillas.

Sue always plans a great meal and I wanted to treat her and Tom to something fun and casual. We are dogsitting so we had 4 dogs for the night so no formality allowed. I adore Tex-Mex and Lee is a committed Texan so... I planned guacamole, cheese enchiladas with chili gravy and queso fresco. fruit plate, carne guisada, puffy tacos and Texas sheet cake. Carne guisado is cubes of beef stewed with tomatoes, chiles, spices and Mexican beer - Negro Moledo. After 5 hours of simmering the meat is tender and is spooned into the puffy tacos. Puffy tacos are a Tex-Mex tradition and are part of San Antonio cuisine where they are fabled to start. Other towns argue about the Texas gnsis of puffy tacos but I think San Antonio wins. Of course Austin - the sit of all things Texas cool thinks they were first but that is Austin for you. We had Mexican beer and Sue made some white sangria. My only complaint about the evening was that we weren't sharing the meal and the fun with Mimi, Bobo, Rebecca, David, Cammy, Jon, Josh, Jen, Eli, Gabe, Becky, Matt and Halle and anticipating a game of cornhole and Slip A$%. Oh and the rest of the people we love.

There are two ways to make puffy tacos. They can be fried and shaped into a V or they can be fried flat and after frying, drained and a slit cut into the puff to stuff with filling and topped with traditional toppings of lettuce, salsa, onion, tomato and cheese. Awesome. It was so fun to make the puffy tacos because I am the proud owner of a tortilla press and we had such fun rolling the dough into balls and pressing each ball into a fresh tortilla with the press. Tom being an engineer quickly got the hang of it. Sue fried the tacos and I supervised. Lee observed and laughed at our antics.

Puffy Tacos

The tacos need to be served fresh and hot. Have the filling prepared and ready to serve along with the toppings before you make the tacos. This is the very last thing to do before you serve.

2 C masa harina
1 1/4 - 1 1/2 C water
1/4 T. salt

Start with a cup of water and add water to the masa and salt to make a ball that comes together and stays easily. If it is dry add more water until it can be formed into a ball. You can make it ahead and refrigerate it in a plastic bag until you are ready to make the tacos just before serving. Heat 2 inches of oil to hot in a deep pan. Have the oven on warm to keep the tacos at the correct temperature until they are filled and served.

Divide the dough into 12 balls. Take a heavy plastic baggie and trim the sides off but not the bottom. Place a ball in the middle of the plastic and press it with a tortilla press or roll it into a thin disc. Take the disc and place it in the hot oil. Spoon oil over the top to encourage the puff process. You can leave it flat and fry until golden or you can take the end of a spatula and make an indentation across the disc and fold to make a V. Fry on both sides until golden. Drain the taco shell on paper towels and place on a plate in the oven until you finish cooking the tacos. Stuff if a V-shape or make a slit in the top of the flat disc and fill. Serve allowing happy eaters to adorn the puffy tacos.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Gospel Brunch and a Peep Diorama

Today is a beautiful spring day and I am ready to celebrate the change of seasons to warmer weather. Being enthused about the warmer weather I decided to celebrate with a simple brunch. I invited two dear friends who we hadn't seen for a while. They love to laugh and tease and it is always special to share some time with them. He is Mr. MW and she is his sweet dear one who always has a joke and a laugh.

Brunch is a fun meal to share. Lots of preparation can be done ahead and it's easy to put together. I wanted to do a brunch cassserole, fruit, sausage and a sweet. Lee adores Mexican fruit cup so I made the fruit plate with lime, salt and chili powder and cayenne if you're Lee. For the sausage I bought some turkey sausage links. I consulted Ina Garten's cookbooks and made her easy sticky buns using puff pastry. Brunch is pretty healthy so far and I opted for a vegetable strata. I adapted an Elie Krieger recipe using asparagus, sun dried tomatoes, thyme, cheese and cubes of multigrain bread. It was really delicious and the kind of meal that you sat and talked and ate and talked and ate.

Because we love to laugh and are a bit prone to the outrageous I decided to do a peeps diorama for the table. Annually I go to the Washington Post website to see the finalists and winner of the peep diorama contest. The entries are odes to popular culture with peeps as the stars. I determined the theme "give peeps a chance" would be great. I found a large plastic chicken that could be wound up and laid colored bubble gum eggs as she stalked across the table. In her path I placed bunny peeps and chicks who were demolished by Chickzilla. Facing her was a tank with two bunnies with licorice guns sticking out from the front of the tank. Beside the tank were two phalanxes of bunnies armed with tortilla chip shields and freeze dried green bean rifles. Peep protestors held signs that said "make love not war" and "all we are saying is give peeps a chance". It was my ode to the Beatles and the creature movies that were so popular in the 60's.

Having attended the Sweet Honey in the Rock concert with this great couple I had Sweet Honey playing in the background. I made Easter baskets for all. For the mister I had something very special. Given his love of MW I placed a small jar of the wonderful stuff in the center of the basket. I was ready to tease him and see his amazement when he saw his basket. At the appointed time, the doorbell rang and they entered bearing a tissue wrapped gift with grape hyacinth peeking out of the top. Tissue paper and flowers hid a large jar of MW!! I took them to the table to see the baskets. We laughed hilariously at our tricks. Too, too funny.

Vegetable Strata adapted from Elie Krieger

4 tsp. olive oil
1 larg onion chopped
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
10 oz. sliced mushrooms
12 oz. asparagus steamed until crisp tender and cut into fourths
1/2 C. sundried tomatoes cut in narrow strips (plumped in hot water)
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
2 C. fat free half and half
8 eggs
8 egg whites
1 1/2 tsp. dijon mustard
5 cups multigrain bread cut into 3/4 inch cubes
1/3 C. parmigiano freshly grated
6 oz. vermont white cheddar grated
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. gr. pepper

In a skillet warm 2 tsp. olive oil and sute onions until tender. Remove to a large bowl. Add 2 more tsp oil to the pan and saute the mushrooms. Add those to the bowl. In a large casserole 9 x 13 spray the pan with PAM. Strew the bread over the bottom of the cassrole, evenly. On top of that layer the onions, mushrooms, asparagus and sun dried tomato. Place the cheeses on top of the vegetables. In the bowl used for the mushrooms combine thoroughly the eggs, mustard, half and half, thyme and salt and pepper. Pour the egg mixture evenly over the layered casserole. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 8 hours of over night.

Preheat the oven to 350. Remove the plastic wrap and bake the casserole for 60-70 min. or until browned and bubbly. Serve.

Friday, April 10, 2009

How Judy Garland torpedoed my life

Sunday is Easter. It's not a favorite holiday for me, but not for the food and the company. In my childhood Easter was dinner after church at my mom's mom and dad. Traditionally the meal was ham with a condiment of horseradish stirred into unsweetened whipped cream, grandma's chili sauce, cottage potatoes, vegetable and dessert. It was wonderful. Grandma and grandpa didn't have a long dining room table that could seat everyone so there was often a children's table. The children in question were me and my two younger sisters. The table was set as nicely as the adult designated table but we had the distinct impression that dining with us wasn't a high point of dinner. We were just us, typical kids with pranks, bickering and laughter. Our conversation was pretty mundane and childish. However, as in fairy tales a knight came to our aid. Invariably Dad or Grandpa would opt to sit with us and we had a very fun time.

Holidays in the 50's were always painful in one respect. We had to dress up. My youngest sister and I were the biggest protestors over this ritual. Our middle sister came to this naturally and actually seemed to enjoy wearing a scratchy ruffly, big slip, a fluffy dress with short sleeves, tight waist, a big skirt and of course it tied in the back. The ties were perfect targets for people to pull an end and untie the bow and we were rendered rumpled. Add to that the slippery bottomed shoes with anklets that creeped down your ankles and bunched at your heel so you could stop and pull them up after every 15 steps. It wasn't quite like foot binding but it was torture none the less.

The worst was the obligatory Easter hat that sat on your head with little clamps on the side to hold it in place. The last bit of accessorizing was the pair of gloves and a tiny purse. We have Judy Garland to thank for doing her part to continue this indignity. In one of her many musicals she sang a song called The Easter Parade. Singing about her &%^$*^ bonnet and prancing along, she touted the joys of Easter finery and that hat. I am not a hat person. I hate hats. The closest thing I will wear to a hat is a ball cap. A classic family photo captures the three Henry sisters on the front steps of our home. We are posed with our new dresses, shoes, gloves, shrugs - that's another story - and our hats. Of the three of us the only one with her hat on straight is my middle sister. My youngest sister had her hat tipped to the side of her head, her shrug off kilter and her purse clutched at her naval. I was a 50's approximation of Mamie Eisenhower with a hat with a slight brim clamped on the top of my head. I even had Mamie Eisenhower bangs! Dad trimmed our bangs and his method included holding down the bangs with the flat of his palm while he trimmed the bangs. When he removed the hand securing the bangs the hair popped back in a slight curl under further shortening them. Mamie Eisenhower in the flesh.

Please do not read into this that my parents and extended family were anything less than wonderful to us. This experience was a product of the culture of those times and culture and time before then. Lee who hales from the state of Texas recounts her own trials with dresses. Pictures of her in dresses have been carefully locked away never to see the light of day, lest her seeing the picture trigger an unfortunate incident. I know in my DNA that parents have dressed their children for special events since the beginning of clothing and it continues to today.

I wouldn't be honest if I failed to confess my own motherly sins in this regard. Yes, I have dressed my children in holiday finery. Jen really suffered as a preschooler and can recount her scars today about a kelly green smock dress with loud contrasting fabric pockets and huge collar. To make matters even worse (is that possible?)the dress came with a pair of knit tights with multicolored horizontal stripes. Like generations of moms before me I thought she looked precious in an outfit I found to be truly unique. I broke the mold in one respect. Jen was saved after the baby bonnet stage from wearing frilly hats. Jen is now expecting and will meet her new daughter in May. And so time marches on and a new mother-daughter takes her place in the line of mother daughter trials. I'll be wearing my jeans or a pair of khakis and watching this continuing saga unfold.

Horseradish Sauce

1/2 pint whipping cream
prepared horseradish

Whip the cream in a cold mixing bowl until stiff peaks form. As you lift the beaters from the cream the peaks will hold their shape.Gently fold in horseradish. The zest and sharp tone of the sauce is yours to determine. If you really love horseradish, drain the horseradish to remove excess moisture. Too much liquid added will render the sauce to the consistency of a batter rather than something that when spooned on a plate would hold its shape.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Life is just a bowl of chicken......

This weekend I vowed not to work. Immediately I broke my vow Saturday morning. I sorted, I made ready for the week. I organized, I emailed. I am clearly challenged in my abilities to walk away and do something not related to work. The great thing about being a remote worker and having a home office is that you can work anytime! A little insomnia - check email. Report needing to be completed - you can work on it sitting in your chair with your ipod. Planning and strategizing is so much nicer at a time when the phone won't ring and no email notice to disturb your reverie at midnight. The sad thing is there is a group of night and off hour workers who see the emails and chuckle and tease but it is a group none the less and I think it's growing. I sinned again on Sunday.

To further my organizational skills I am reading books on managing GenX workers because I am truly blessed to have several! They are smart, enthusiastic, go-getters with very different skills but equally passionate and committed to our work. They are sublime.I so enjoy their vision and approach to work. We have lots to learn from each other so we're scheduling those opportunities.The first is a Siebel work period. Siebel is the database we use to document everything we do. It's a trail of contacts, committees, accounts, volunteers, programs and opportunities. With the amount of work done to achieve our goals regular opportunities to document are critical. It's a great opportunity to work together and strategize work.

I decided I would indulge myself and pack my lunch. Usually days are so filled with meetings and travel and calls there is no time or place to enjoy a homemade treat. So tomorrow is my day. While I multi-tasked making dinner and granola I made chicken salad. This is a beloved recipe. When I visited Lee in Texas we would travel the state seeing the sites or visiting her family and friends. We enjoy picnics - especially if I make the food. For one trip to see her Mom we drove the route from Corpus Christi to Burkburnett. It's a long drive and it was fun to have a picnic. We had chicken salad, fruit, some veggies and Lee's favorite cookies chocolate chip with pecans, apricots, pecans and dried cherries. When we arrived at Lee's Mom's house she wanted to try the chicken salad. She loved it. I was then required to make another batch so she could have more tomorrow and share some with friends. It's made with chicken breast poached in water with peppercorns and salt. When cooled the chicken is cubed and combined with celery, grapes, green onions and pecans. I add some spices and mayonnaise or Miracle Whip. Yes, there are choices. I hate to even bring it up but a certain someone who rants about MW is on his way to Cleveland and I might not be trounced for a couple of days. It is a very crunchy salad which I adore. As the mood strikes me I'll add some dried cranberries or cherries for a hint of tart on my tongue.

Chicken Salad

3 boneless chicken breasts (these were really big today!not min the chicken's)poached,cooled and cubed
4 stalks of celery, trimmed and diced
6 green onions, chopped
1 1/2 C. green or red grapes halved
1 C. chopped toasted pecans
1/2 C. dried cherries or cranberries
3/4 tsp. poultry seasoning
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper
1/8 C. chopped parsley
3/4 cup of mayonnaise or the miraculous

Toss everything except the white stuff in a bowl Start with 1/2 C of the white stuff and stir to coat. Add more until the salad is dressed to your taste. This is great as is, used as the stuffing for a big tomato or between 2 slices of 15 grain bread.

I am so looking forward to lunch at work tomorrow!