Go With The Flow

There are many advantages to growing up an Army brat, like Petey, or a Coastie kid, like me.

It fostered an appreciation of the commitment and sacrifices that men and women are willing to give to this nation.  It’s humbling. 

It allowed us to see many different cultures around the country and world.  Seeing the various ways in which people live as a child means there is almost no judgement.  Kids are still learning how the world works, so don’t come from a position of cultural superiority.  It’s not better or worse, just endlessly fascinating.

We always knew that there was a huge population that had a vested interest in us and had our backs.  At times, it could be a little uncomfortable, when the entire United States Armed Forces and the Coast Guard are acting as in loco parentis.  But when the chips are down, and you need them, they’re right there. 

But, probably the best gift Petey and I received from our upbringings was the gift of resilience. 

Every few years, usually at the end of the summer, we’d pack up and move our entire lives to a whole new world.  But, by the time Halloween was on the horizon, we’d be home.  What was once strange and new became both familiar and comfortable.

And this week’s recipe is a culinary example of resilience.  The vegetables are the only constant.  The seasoning and the dressing itself are incredibly malleable. 

Za’atar  

Za’atar is a middle Eastern spice which contains thyme, toasted sesame seeds, and sumac.  It can be found in Asian and Middle Eastern markets.  Sumac is a dried ground flower.  It has a bright, lemony flavor.  

Although not one of the most common spices in the kitchen, you can buy sumac in most grocery stores.

But.

If you would like the flavor of za’atar for the dressing, you can make something very close by mixing one 1 teaspoon lemon zest, and ½ teaspoon each, toasted sesame seeds and dried thyme.

Roasted Cauliflower Summer Salad

6 slices thick cut bacon

On a parchment-covered, rimmed baking sheet, cook the bacon at 350 degrees until completely browned and crispy (18-24 minutes), turning once.  Remove bacon to paper towel covered plate, reserving rendered bacon fat.

1 head cauliflower, cut into bite-sized pieces

1 cup white corn kernels, either from frozen, or roasted fresh

2 scallions, sliced very thinly on the bias

1 small head of Boston bib or butter lettuce

Turn oven up to 450.  Once the bacon is removed from the pan, replace with the cauliflower on one single layer and drizzle on two tablespoons of bacon grease and season with salt and pepper.  Roast the veg for 20 minutes, stirring once.  When cooked, remove from sheet pan and set aside.

Dressing #1:

¾ cup mayonnaise

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon za’atar or 2 teaspoons of homemade za’atar

2 tablespoons bacon grease

Salt and pepper

Whisk together all ingredients and refrigerate for at least one hour.

Dressing #2:

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

Juice of 1 lemon

2 tablespoons bacon grease

1 teaspoon za’atar or 2 teaspoons of homemade za’atar

Salt and pepper

Whisk together ingredients and refrigerate for at least one hour.

Assembly:

Place cauliflower, corn, and green onions in bowl.  Fold in dressing of your choice, a bit of a time until lightly coated—don’t overdress.  Serve on a bed of torn, bite-sized pieces of lettuce, and top with shards of crispy bacon.

This salad works as a side dish at Sunday dinner, a cookout, or for a unique addition to a bagged lunch.  Like the recipe itself, it’s infinitely adaptable.

Thanks for your time.

The Key to Flavor City

Maxie was mortified.

I’ve been friends with Maxie for forty years.  We met when we started tenth grade at Northeastern High School, in Elizabeth City.  I was a loud fat girl, and he was a very quiet, studious young man, and one of the kindest, gentlest people I’ve ever known.  A few years after graduating, we moved separately to the Triangle.  Unfortunately, after a few more years, we lost touch.

During a class reunion, we reconnected.  I wasn’t fat, but I’m still loud, and Maxie, although remaining quiet and sweet, had turned into a hunk.  This time though, we didn’t lose touch and since then try to see other for lunch every month or so and are as close as we’ve ever been.

A couple years ago, I was honored and thrilled to be a part of his wedding.  Maxie married Mark, whose heart is as big as his booming voice, and who is happy to take charge, make a fuss, or order another round, whatever’s needed at the moment.  He’s also a darn good cook who loves to experiment and try new things in the kitchen.  We bonded over our mutual love of tacos and astonishment at Maxie’s almost total taco indifference.  

The last Tuesday of every month, their church has a potluck/community dinner.  Everyone’s welcome for a meal, regardless of church membership and ability to bring a dish.  It’s a pretty awesome tradition. 

For June’s dinner, Mark had organized a dessert competition.  They invited me to join Maxie as a celebrity judge, using the very loosest definition of the word, “celebrity”.

I made up a batch of my horseradish potato salad with peas and carrots, and Petey and I went to a potluck. 

Petey was ecstatic, because there was fried chicken.  I was pretty happy to find I had to sample ten desserts.  There was a gluten-free peach cobbler, a brownie pie, two sweet potato pies (including the best sweet potato pie I’ve ever eaten—working on the recipe for it), along with some other treats, some great, some…interesting.

The winner was a light, citrusy, very unusual key lime pie Bundt cake.

Mark’s Key Lime Pie Bundt Cake

(originally from the website, Chef-in-training.com)

Ingredients

1 white cake mix, dry not prepared

1 small box instant vanilla pudding, dry not prepared

4 eggs

½ cup sour cream

½ cup sugar

¾ cup oil

¾ cup key lime juice

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 drops green food color if desired

CREAM CHEESE FROSTING

12 ounces cream cheese, softened

4 cups powdered sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

¼ teaspoon salt

Zest of key limes for garnish

*Debbie here: to up the whole key lime pie vibe, add 2-3 crushed graham crackers to lime zest for garnish (optional)

Instructions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Grease and flour a Bundt pan and set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, combine cake mix, pudding, eggs, sour cream, sugar, oil, key lime juice and vanilla. Beat for three minutes. Add green food color if you desire.

Pour into a Bundt pan that has been greased and floured.

Bake at 350 degrees F for 35 to 45 minutes.

Cool in pan on a rack for 5 minutes. Then remove from pan and cool completely.

CREAM CHEESE FROSTING

Combine all ingredients in a mixing bowl and beat on high until smooth. Spoon frosting into a piping bag and pipe the frosting over the top.

Sprinkle top with lime zest and graham cracker crumbs if desired.

So, why was Maxie mortified?

Because Mark made the winning cake.

And even though Maxie hadn’t been home when Mark baked the cake, and it was a blind taste test, my friend was convinced that people would think that the fix was in.  

But nobody questioned Mark’s win.  Because it’s a ridiculously delicious cake.

Thanks for your time.

OMG You Guys! I Love Chili!

old school photogI had a plan.  I was going to get really pretty pictures of this brand-new pasta salad I’d invented.  Petey had shown me a few camera tricks and I was going to wow the world with this gorgeous summer dish.

There was only one problem.

I forgot.amnesiaI’ve had a life-long culinary handicap.  I’ve talked about it many times, and in various ways: baby tongue, delicate palate, wimpy mouth.  No matter the moniker, they all mean the same thing.  I have a very low tolerance for heat/spice.

My upper limit is in the poblano neighborhood.  This pecadillo isn’t a choice, I’d love to be able to order willy-nilly, from any Mexican menu, or eat Thai or Indian food, or order a Chinese dish that has a red pepper symbol on the menu without begging the proprietor to leave off the spice, and worry until I take the first bite that they’ve either ignored me or forgotten.too spicyIt literally causes me pain (and definitely not in a good way), and I can’t eat it.  But, it would be a perfect weight loss strategy—if I didn’t have a problem with wasting any food, fiery or not.

I have discovered that I can eat a pretty intense level of horseradish.  It’s a different type of heat, more nasal and “less mouth scorching-ly why God why?”  Eating it makes me feel like a big girl.

k&k

Can I take your order?

But a couple years ago I discovered chili and lime.  It’s a combination made in flavor heaven.  It’s the savory equivalent of Holmes and Watson, or Kenan and Kell.

The Kid and I love to shop at Trader Joes.  One reason is that they’re constantly coming up with products that are so good they make one wonder, why weren’t these always a thing?  Just in the spice aisle alone, the have an umami seasoning, and a jar of everything bagel sprinkle which my child adores.chili limeBut my new favorite is the chili-lime seasoning.  It’s perfectly balanced and goes great on meat, avocados, and fruit.  The other day I made pasta salad, and got crazy with it.

And that’s the dish that we devoured before I remembered to take a photo.  So, here’s the recipe:

Summer Red & Green Pasta Saladmex pasta salad½ lb. rotelle or other small extruded pasta, like shells or cavatappi, cooked according to directions and drained

 ½ rotisserie chicken, skinned, pulled, and cut into bite-size pieces

1 cup mixed grape tomatoes, sliced in half

1 cup thawed frozen peas

Place all salad components into large bowl and toss.

Dressingmex dressing1 cup mayonnaise

juice from 1 lime

1 teaspoon chili lime seasoning (more or less according to taste)

salt & pepper

1/4 green onions, sliced thinly

smoked salt (optional)

gel from the bottom of the rotisserie container (optional)

Whisk together dressing ingredients and add enough very hot tap water to get it to the consistency of thick pancake batter.

Garnishmex garnishbaby spinach

chopped avocado, seasoned and dressed with a tablespoon of lime juice

Gently fold in enough dressing to make the salad a little wetter than you want the finished product, as some will absorb into the pasta.  Cover and let sit at room temp for thirty minutes.

When ready to serve, lay a pile of spinach, spoon on some salad, and top with avocado.mex saladServes 6-8.

This salad would be perfect for a barbecue.  But, it’s also a terrific cold dinner all by itself.  Or, if you’ve got company, serve it with some crusty bread, and some Mexican street corn, elote (roasted corn on the cob painted with mayo and dusted with chili lime and the crumbly Mexican cheese cotija).

And since I’m a big, grown-up, chili-eating girl, I’m having mine with Sangria.sangriaThanks for your time.

Surprising Foods that are Always in My Pantry

dentistI was visiting my dentist the other day.  As in almost any situation I’m in, we were talking about food.

Jan, the dental assistant, knows I write a food column and asked me if I was a chef.  She’s not the first person to ask me that question.

Christmas from the Matthews

My slightly odd Kid.

Nope.  I’m an endlessly curious home cook with very generous teachers; friends, family, food folk I meet in the course of my writing, kind strangers, and of course, my culinary school-educated child, The Kid.

I thought for a long time that culinary school and working in a professional kitchen was the road for me.  But it’s crazy hard work—and I’m old.

line cooks

The Kid says this is like being chased for eight hours by someone holding a knife that’s on fire…it’s a fair description.

So, I am less wannabe and more dilletante.  But an extremely grateful dilletante.

One great thing about not being a chef, is that I have nothing to prove and no one to impress with the contents of my pantry.  Some of those items might be embarrassing. And some are a little out of the norm.pantry game

Here’s a tiny glimpse.  And no matter what, I have no shame in my pantry game.

goober grapeGoober Grape.  It’s that striped peanut butter and jelly product from kindergarten.  I don’t think I’ve ever had it on bread.  It is my martini, my cigarette, and my valium.  A spoon of this stuff is just what I need after a bad day.  The first scoop from a brand-new unsullied jar probably brings me way more joy than it should.porridge sesame seedsToasted sesame seeds.  I buy them at the Asian market where they’re cheaper, and because of high turnover, much fresher.  I put it in tuna, sprinkle it on my oatmeal, add it to breading.  It adds flavor, texture, vitamins and minerals.chix and starsCampbell’s chicken and stars soup.  I haven’t bought or used a can of cream soup since the (First) Bush administration.  But when you have a cold and sore throat, or are just feeling sorry for yourself, nothing goes down easier, or makes you feel so loved.  But there’s so much sodium in it, the next day I blow up like a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade float.

tomato paste

Most grocers carry them these days; at all kinds of price points.

A tube of tomato paste.  Many dishes I make need tomato paste.  But almost none need an entire can of it.  With a tube I can use a squidge, cap it, and next time I need some, I won’t have a dried out, furry part of a can.  It’ll be fresh and ready to go.ka espresso powderEspresso powder.  I use a bit of this whenever I cook with chocolate.  A little just enhances the cocoa flavor.  Some more gives you a mocha taste.  And there’s nothing wrong with coffee with a slight choco-kick.  You can also stir it into things like peanut butter, mascarpone, and whipped cream.  The espresso is ground super fine so there’s no grit.kraft macAnd for the last item: Kraft macaroni and cheese.  In thirty-five years of marriage I have never not had this in my pantry.  The are many nights that without Kraft dinner, as the Canadians call it, I may not have made it to morning (Honestly, it has gotten me through some very tough, very dark places).  But I use cream instead of milk; it’s comfort food, Gentle Reader, you might as well go all in.mac in a bowlIf there are any foods in my pantry you’ve never tried, give it a whirl.

But my bigger point is to celebrate what makes you and your pantry unique.  If you have a jar of pig’s feet pickled in Kool-aid, or ranch dressing soda, or even Pop Tarts, you do you.pop tartsHoney, you let that food-stained freak flag fly.freak flagThanks for your time.

 

Giving Dad the Fingers

Gentle Readers of the female persuasion with children, I’ve got two questions for you.fa's dayI spent the last couple of weeks prodding The Kid to purchase a Father’s Day gift for paterfamilias Petey.

How about you?mo's dayIn the entire twenty-seven years that our offspring’s been on the planet, I’m guessing my spouse has spent a grand total of three to five minutes doing the same for Mother’s Day

How about you?

Ladies, you probably know where I’m going here.celebrationGuys are lucky.  They’re lucky we make a fuss for them, and they’re lucky that we, sadly, expect and accept much less fuss in return.

But I digress.  My point here was gifts for Father’s Day.  The Kid and I both got Petey gifts to fancy up his jeep.  He loved them.  To be honest, he never buys anything for himself, while I shower myself with unnecessaries quite often.  But, I’d still enjoy the occasional minor fuss.

Mobile family

I always thought my dad (in the yellow shirt), looks like Rock Hudson.  Big brother Homer’s on the far left, my mom is the blond va-va-voom, little brother Bud in green, and me.  

Like my husband, my dad is a man of simple wants and needs, so is very difficult to buy for.  This year, in addition to a visit from the entire Matthews family band (sans dog), The Kid got Grampa a special new shirt, and I made him a batch of homemade shortbread.

brown pecans

The pecans should be as deep and dark as these.

But this was very special shortbread, made with flavors that my dad especially likes.  I used brown butter and deeply toasted vanilla-tossed pecans.  On top I drizzled a novel take on white chocolate—I caramelized it.  Sounds weird, but it’s less sweet, nutty tasting, and makes the whole house smell like caramel-scented heaven.

Toasted Pecan Shortbread Fingerspecan shortbread1 cup toasted pecan halves with ½ teaspoon vanilla extract stirred in while still warm from toasting

1 cup all-purpose flour

3/4 cup confectioners’ sugar

½ cup cold butter, browned, re-hardened in the fridge overnight, and cut into pieces

DIRECTIONS

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line 8-inch square baking pan with aluminum foil, leaving an overhang on all sides.

In food processor, pulse pecans until finely chopped. Transfer to bowl; set aside. In processor, blend flour, sugar, and butter just until moist clumps form. Add reserved pecans; pulse just to incorporate.  Don’t overwork dough.pecan shortbread doughPress it evenly into bottom of prepared pan. With straight edge cut down into dough for eight lines in one direction, and three on the other, making 24 shortbread bars. With floured fork, prick each finger length-wise down the center of each bar. Bake until lightly golden, 30-35 minutes.freshly baked pecan shortbreadCool 5 minutes in pan. Use foil to lift shortbread from pan onto cutting board. With serrated knife, carefully separate warm shortbread into the 24 pieces. Remove from foil; cool bars completely before drizzling.

Caramelized White Chocolatecaramelized white chocolate4 ounces white chocolate with at least 31% cocoa butter

1-2 teaspoons vegetable oil

Flaky sea salt (optional)creamy caramelized white chocolatePreheat oven to 250.  Place white chocolate in small, shallow oven-proof dish.  Cook 10 minutes, then remove and stir.  Continue cooking, stirring every ten minutes, until chocolate has turned the color of peanut butter (50-60 minutes).  If it gets stiff as it roasts, pour in a little oil, then stir some more.  Keep adding oil, a few drops at a time and stirring until it becomes silky smooth.  When chocolate is browned and smooth drizzle over the shortbread and let set before serving.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIf desired, sprinkle a tiny pinch of the sea salt right after drizzling.  Keep covered in a cool place for up to one week or freeze for up to a month.

So, yes, guys can be frustrating.  But I’m keeping mine—he lets me warm my feet on his, and he’s really good at opening stuck jars.jar openerThanks for your time.

Twisted Citrus

gossipGentle Reader, this week there’s no time to chat because I have two big lemon recipes.

First is a pasta recipe adapted from a Barefoot Contessa dish.  It will look kind of unappetizing at the beginning but cooks into a gorgeous, silky sauce.  Also, it will splatter as it cooks, so use a screen.

Creamy Twisted Lemon Pastalemon cavatappiYield: 4 servings

Ingredients

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 or 3 cloves minced garlic

2 cups heavy cream

2 lemons

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

1 bunch broccoli

1-pound dried cavatappi pasta

½-pound baby spinach

1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan

1-pint multi-colored small tomatoes, halved

Directions:garlic sauteHeat olive oil in medium saucepan on medium, add garlic, and cook for 60 seconds. Add cream, zest and juice from lemons, 2 teaspoons of salt, and 1 teaspoon of pepper. Bring to boil, then lower heat and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, until it starts to thicken.

Meanwhile, cut broccoli in florets and discard stem. Cook florets in a pot of heavily salted boiling water for 3 to 5 minutes, until tender but still firm. Drain broccoli and run under cold water to stop cooking. Set aside.blanced broccoliCook pasta according to package directions in heavily salted water. When done, take out a cup of pasta water and set aside, then drain pasta and place it back into the pot. Immediately add cooked cream mixture and stir together over medium-low heat for 3 minutes, until most of the sauce has been absorbed into pasta. Stir in 1/2-3/4 cup of reserved pasta water to help sauce cling to the pasta and give it a silky mouth feel.  Add spinach, Parmesan, tomatoes, and cooked broccoli and gently toss. Pour into large serving vessel, season to taste, and serve hot.pasta listThe next one is my take on a lemon icebox pie.  It has a vanilla wafer crust with lemon zest, and an unexpected, creamy topping.  It’s the perfect dessert to eat on the porch on a hot summer evening.porchTwisted Lemon Icebox Pie

Preheat oven to 325.

Crust:vanilla wafer crust50 vanilla wafers

3 tablespoons packed brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

zest from 2 lemons

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/3 cup brown butter (melt butter then continue cooking, watching closely until the solids are caramel-brown and the butter smells nutty)

Put cookies, sugar, salt and zest into food processor or blender.  Run until the cookies are small uniform crumbs.  While the machine’s running, pour in butter and vanilla extract.

Place the crumbs into 9-inch springform pan and cover bottom and 2/3 of the way up sides.  Use a straight-sided glass to press it into even layer.

Filling:icebox pie2-14-ounce cans sweetened condensed milk

1 & 1/4 cups strained lemon juice (from the 2 zested lemons and 4-6 more)

8 large egg yolks

1 teaspoon salt

Whisk filling ingredients until fully mixed and lightened in color, about 1 minute.  Pour into crust, place pan on cookie sheet and place in oven.  Cook for 25 minutes or until filling is mostly set and center is still a little jiggly.

Let pie cool on counter for 1 hour and then in fridge or freezer for at least 6 hours or overnight before removing from pan.  To de-pan, run knife around edge, then open pan slowly in case of stickage. 

Topping:sour cream1 & 1/2 cups sour cream

3 tablespoons packed brown sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

3/4 teaspoon salt

Whisk together and refrigerate for at least a couple of hours.lemon icebox pieTo serve:

Run serrated knife under very hot water before slicing.  Drizzle on a spoonful of topping.

Try to stay cool, and I’ll see you next week for a longer visit.ladies who lunch

Thanks for your time.

Morpheus Is Cooking!

pajama partySo, despite slumber parties being an endangered species, you’ve lost what was left of your self-protective candy coating, and your cotton-picking mind, and agreed to host a horde of ravenous tween Mongols.

Or, maybe the grand-offspring are coming to stay the night without parents, and you’re eagerly looking forward to tearing up the parents’ list of dos and don’ts in regard to their care and feeding and partying with the progeny.grparentsBut the result is the same: it’s a low-level special occasion, and you need to feed kids.

When The Kid turned sixteen, we rented a really cool venue and threw a bash.  Petey and I wanted to make it special, so I investigated catering.  I discovered that for our budget, it was prohibitively expensive—like bare bones basic ran about $40-50 a head (and this was eleven years ago).caterSo, we decided to self-cater.  I spent months searching for and auditioning recipes.  I finally decided on about six items that were interesting but not too complicated, light and fresh, and could be made ahead and finished on-site.

We also had tubs full of soda and juice on ice, big bowls of different chips, two different desserts, and beach buckets (like the kind kids use to make sand castles) full of various candy bars.candy storeThe kids devoured the soda, chips and candy.  The rest of the food was barely touched.  We gave away as much of the carefully prepared food as we could, but there was still a ton of waste.

After that fiasco my policy for feeding kids in social situations was stacks of pizza with sides of junk food.many pizzasBut I do have a few refinements.

Make your own pizza and personalize it.  By the time you let every kid decide what kind of pizza they want to order they’ll be in graduate school.  Make it at home and have a topping bar.

First check each guest’s dietary restrictions.  You don’t want the little buggers to swell up like a Macy’s parade float.  pizza barFor pizza: buy pre-made dough from a pizza joint, including whole wheat and gluten-free, if necessary.  Have a couple different cheeses, pepperoni, sausage, and some veg.  Don’t have more than three or four choices so they don’t become paralyzed by indecision.  Let them make their own and just bake or grill them.taco barFor tacos, make a visit to your local tortilleria (tortilla factory, they’re everywhere these days, just google them); they’re fresh and cheaper than the grocery store.  Get corn tortillas for tacos and larger flour tortillas if you want quesadillas on the menu.  Get a modest selection of toppings and let the kids create their own.jiffy popYou must have munchies, but don’t get carried away.  Jiffy Pop popcorn is fun, and a lot of kids have never seen it.  I like a 50/50 spread: 50% chips and such, and 50% fruit, nuts, and veggies and dip.  Popcorn falls somewhere in the middle.  You can also make things like rice crispy treats, granola bars, and tiny little pb&j’s.sundae barFor sweets, have a Sundae bar with no more than three flavors of ice cream and a small selection of toppings.  Just have plenty of cans of aerosol whipped cream.  Small fry adore them—I know The Kid and Petey sure do.pancake barFor breakfast serve a make-ahead potato casserole, bacon, juice, and pancakes with plenty of drop in choices like nuts, chocolate chips, and fruit.

I hope this helps.  Just remember, don’t get too fancy or complicated.  They could eat cold cereal out of the box, and because it’s with a bunch of friends at a party, they’d be thrilled.pj partyThanks for your time.

Cool, and Light, and Best of All, Pre-Made

summertimeWith all due respect to the Gershwin Brothers and DuBose Heyward, they must have been high when they wrote, “Summertime, and the living is easy.”

‘Cause it ain’t.summernicEven when people lived very close to the land, in previous centuries, summer was no golden hazed, idealized dream world of fried catfish, starry nights, and summer breezes.

If you laid around in the summer instead of working your non-air-conditioned fingers to the sweaty bone come winter time you and your family would likely starve.  The summer is time for tending the fields, harvesting and canning, and killing, butchering, and smoking.

vacay traffic

A vacation traffic jam III Painting by Hilde Goossens

Nowadays we bustle around taking the kids to camp or intersession care.  At work we’re either filling in for vacationing co-workers or getting ahead for and/or catching up from our own vacation.  It’s hot, the traffic’s a mess, and tempers are short.  We’re horrifying ourselves shopping for a bathing suit, aggravating ourselves by returning said bathing suit, or giving up and getting no bathing suit at all.hot flashI am not even joking a little bit when I say I am over the summer already and impatiently awaiting the State Fair and sweater weather (the feelings may be exacerbated slightly by these hellish, fury-provoking flashes of heat I’ve been experiencing lately).

This week’s newly revamped summer recipe can be eaten for breakfast, as a snack, or dessert.  It contains seasonal fruit, and it’s vegetarian, but can be made vegan, gluten-free, keto or paleo.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt’s chia pudding.  Chia seeds are small pips which swell and soften when mixed with liquid.  It’s similar to tapioca pudding but is so much quicker, easier, and healthier.

I’ll give you a quick basic recipe, then break down ingredients so you can make substitutions and create something that is uniquely yours, tailored to the tastes of you and your family.

Summer Chia Seed Puddingchia pudding recipe

1 ½ cups milk

2/3 cup whole chia seeds

3 tablespoons liquid sweetener

½ teaspoon extract or flavoring of your choice

pinch of kosher salt

1 cup berries

Garnish and topping

Directions

Place berries in bowl and mash almost completely with potato masher.

Put milk, chia seeds, sweetener, flavoring and salt into bowl with berries.  Stir ingredients together.  You’ll feel the seeds start to absorb the liquid and swell. 

Cover and refrigerate for three hours or overnight, until seeds have swollen and softened to the consistency of tapioca. 4 servings.perfect chia puudingMilk-use anything from whole milk to fat-free; white, buttermilk, chocolate, or strawberry.  Don’t use anything thicker than whole because it will become greasy cement.  You can also use nut milk, coconut water, or fruit juice—cook’s choice.

Chia seeds-you can find them everywhere.  Buy black or white ones, organic or conventionally grown, it doesn’t make any difference.syrupsLiquid sweetener-Honey, maple syrup, agave, corn syrup.  If it’s sweet and you can pour it from bottle, you can use it.

Berries-they’re needed here because they add extra liquid to the pudding.  But another very juicy fruit works such as very ripe peaches, citrus fruits, or even tomatoes.juicy fruitsMix-ins and toppings-I love toasted pecans and dried cherries.  But what about salted peanuts and dried banana?  Or chocolate chips and biscotti pieces?  Or pomegranate seeds and pistachios?

Service-Ladle it into jars and sprinkle on toppings.  Then grab and go from the fridge or stick them in a cooler for road trips.  Or layer it (unset) into parfait glasses with cookies or pound cake for a dessert trifle.chia trifleThe whole idea of this chia pudding is that it’s stress-free and open to a multitude of interpretations.

And while summer may be anything but easy, this cool creamy treat truly is.

summer village

Not an actual depiction of an actual summer.

Thanks for your time.

Do This In The Memory of the Day

So, my neighbor is a calendar.pool partyEvery year, the week before Memorial Day, she has a couple different crews come out.  One is to spruce up the landscaping, and make sure the yard is clean and the bushes and trees are trimmed and neat.  Another bunch wash and paint the outdoor furniture.  And, a third team does maintenance on, and fills the pool.

Then on that last Monday in May, the traditional start of the summer, she throws a pool party.neighborUnfortunately, the neighbor and I only have a wave hello, comment on the weather kind of relationship, so I’ve never actually been invited to one of these Memorial Day pool parties.  But I’ve thought about them, and in my mind, they’re potlucks.

So, of course, I’ve thought about what I’d bring.  I decided on two dishes; one sweet, and one savory.  Shockingly, there is neither cake, nor potato salad on my list.slime photoThe sweet is a cool, creamy lime/pear jello recipe that has been a family favorite for literally, decades.  It’s named after that seventies toy/curiosity, Slime.  The savory is a new pasta salad based on one from a new local grocery store, Sprouts.  It has no mayo, so it’s perfect for an outdoor dining (Look Ma, no salmonella!).

Slime

slimePrepare a large box of lime Jello according to package directions. When cooled, but not set, pour into a blender along with one 15 oz can of pears, drained, and one 8 oz block of cream cheese, softened. Blend until completely smooth. Pour into mixing bowl and fold in one packet of Dream Whip (Whipped topping mix found in the baking aisle. Can substitute thawed, 8 oz tub of Cool Whip) which you’ve made according to directions. Let set for at least four hours before eating.  I consider it a dessert, but there are folks who call it salad.  So…

apple snickers salad

An honest to God Apple Snicker Salad-America is doomed.

You can use any type of noodle for this salad that you like—the pasta police will not break down your door with a side dish subpoena.  But, I first had it with a broken capellini (angel hair).  I like the way the sauce coats these noodles produce a silky mouth feel.  And, it’s a departure from the norm.fideoYou can use angel hair or spaghetti, then break it into approximately 2-inch pieces.  Or, in the Latin food section of your grocer is something called fideo; it’s short pieces of angel hair pasta.  And, it runs between 33 and 50 cents a bag.

The dressing can, and frankly should, be made well in advance.  The garlic will kind of cook in the lemon’s acid, and thus will make it less sharp and biting, and more mellow and round, almost sweet.

Lemon ‘Sghetti Salad

Dressing:lemon sghetti salad dressingJuice and zest of 1 large lemon (about ¼ cup)

½ cup olive oil

Pinch of sugar

Salt and pepper to taste

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 medium sized tomato cut into ¼ inch cubes or 1-pint grape tomatoes, halved

2 heaping tablespoons capers in brine, drainedsghetti dressingWhisk together lemon juice and zest, oil, sugar, salt and pepper.  Taste for seasoning, and re-season, if necessary.  Fold in tomato, garlic, and capers.  Cover and refrigerate for 6-24 hours before using.boiled fideoA couple hours before service cook one 7.05-ounce or 200-gram bag of fideo in heavily salted wateruntil al dente (around 6-8 minutes).  Strain and cool completely.

Mix pasta and sauce and let sit at room temp for at least 45 minutes.  Cover leftovers and refrigerate up to three days.

Optional-Stir in 3 big handsful of leafy greens like spinach, arugula, or mixed herb greens.lemon cappellini salad

Thanks for your time.

If you have an invitation for a pool party potluck or any invitations at all really, contact debbie.

pool party invite

I Hope That Something Better Comes Along*

But you know, sometimes it doesn’t.road map‘Tis the season for road trips.  I enjoy traveling to new and interesting places or well-loved homes away from home.  But I really hate flying these days; it’s unpleasant in a multitude of ways.  And, I’m not great sitting in cars for long stretches, but I’m working on that.

Being there is much better than getting there.travel troubleBut, for me, being there makes my body anxious and cranky.  Unfamiliar water makes my skin break out.  It’s almost impossible to get a good night’s sleep.  And, after a few days, my body starts to rebel if I’m not eating right.

A lot of times traveling means eating on the fly—sometimes literally.  But one should keep some semblance of healthfulness.  Being logy and having an upset tummy will take the fun right out of a vacation.touronsMy goal is to have a balance of carbs for energy, protein to keep me feeling full longer, and healthy fats, with fruits, veggies, and whole grains to keep my engine from seizing up.  I want as flavorful and nutritious bang for my caloric buck as possible.

Of course, the best way to do this is to prepare your own food.  I’m a huge fan of dried fruit/toasted nut mixes—just watch the portion sizes; it’s very easy to inhale a whole fruit bowl that when dried appears to be only a handful or two.  140 healthy calories can turn into a ruinous 2000 if you’re not mindful.travel snacksThose pre-packed snack boxes have the right idea, but usually are full of sugars, sodium, unnecessary fats, and chemicals.  When it’s packed at home, it can be tailored to your own tastes.  Mix something like semi-hard cheese, whole grain crackers, a hard-cooked egg, some grape tomatoes, and dried blueberries.

Sadly, packing your own is not always an option.  Sometimes the only way you’re going to eat is to get some version of fast food.  Luckily, these days it’s not impossible to find healthier choices.macoatmealAt Mickey D’s, breakfast is now served all day.  The oatmeal is around 300 calories if you get it made without dairy; which is often just a container of their coffee creamer dumped in.  There are whole grains, fresh apples, and dried fruit.  The yogurt parfait is also a not horrible bite.  It’s only 210 calories and has fresh berries and low-fat granola.

If you order one of their salads, get one without fried meat.  The Southwest grilled chicken salad is 350 calories and has fresh fruit and veg.  The grilled chicken ranch is 320 calories.sheetzSheetz, with their War and Peace-sized, fully customizable menu can also be an option.  Their breads include whole-grain options, the meat can be grilled, and they have crispy greens to dress them.  I made a tasty loaded rice and bean bowl with vegetables and guacamole for only 300 calories. You can build a salad for yourself—just ask for the dressing on the side.panera spinachPanera’s showing up along many highways, and they have a commitment to providing clean healthy food.  Their green passion smoothie is 200 calories and full of fresh fruit and greens.  They’ve introduced a new spinach salad full of good stuff that is very similar to their old spinach salad which I loved and have sorely missed.

But hey, you’re on vacation, so don’t deprive yourself totally.  Splurge occasionally.  Stop at that ice cream stand and have a cone.  And maybe at Sheetz, buy an order of their decadent, delicious tater tots, but share them with your companions.muppet*The title is a song from that classic road trip film, The Muppet Movie.

Thanks for your time.