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

My mom, the awful cook

*Last week the Henderson Dispatch had some serious production issues and my column did not run in the paper.  Since they are running it this week, there will be no new Henderson piece.

Please enjoy this classic column from 2011:

This is the Tree Frog cabin in Linville, NC.  One of my favorite spots on earth.

A dream vacation for me would be weeks in a quiet mountain cabin, or an isolated beach cottage. I’d do tons of cooking with local produce and ingredients.

For my mother, that would be a punishment. She belongs in a bed and breakfast near shopping, and in the center of mild happenings, dining out every meal.

Sooo much more my mom’s speed.

With the same deliberate, reverse pride I have in my lack of algebraic aptitude, Mom will declare her lack of skill and interest in the culinary. “I’m not a good cook, and only do it to eat!”

This is no passive-aggressive bid for flattery. She honestly thinks she can’t cook.

She’s wrong.

You could fill an elementary school auditorium with the people who have eaten her spaghetti sauce once, and forever after jockeyed for repeat invitations to her table with the naked shamelessness of a reality star at 14 3/4 minutes.

Her macaroni and cheese is terrific. Best eaten cold, late at night, and in semi-private. My faithful companion: my eight-year-old self, in a flannel nightgown and bare feet, armed with a Superman fork in one hand, a salt shaker in the other, and a defiant grin. It is comfort food of mythic proportions.

Ask The Kid about Gramma’s chicken-fried steak. Last visit Gramma was implored to not only make it, but to give a chicken fried class.

She’ll occasionally cop to minor skill in baking and deserts. She’s a trained cake decorator (in the 1970s-no-fondant-lots-of-star-tip style). Despite buying the crust, her pies do just what pies should, taste yummy and make you feel loved (a la mode or not).

Each year at a holiday soiree, she feeds everyone lunch, and we ice hundreds of sugar cookies. Not only do we feast, we aren’t allowed to leave without dozens of her deceptively simple but crazy delicious Christmas cookies.

She’s a self-taught wizard of producing sweet treats with very little on-hand, while dodging three loud, hungry kids and all their friends.

NO.RECIPE.

She can make eclairs without fear or recipe. Who does that?

Here are two of my mother’s classics:

The first, wacky cake, is from her mother. I think it was originally a recipe to cope with shortages during the depression and rationing during WWII.
I don’t think there was frosting on the original (Heresy!). But Mom covers hers in a thick warm layer of milk chocolate, fudgy goodness.

Wacky Cake

wacky cake
1 1/2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
3 tablespoons cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon vinegar
3/8 cup?! (I know, weird; sorry.) vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup cold water

Preheat oven to 350. In a lightly greased 9 inch cake pan put in dry ingredients. Make a small well in the center of the dry and pour in wet ingredients. Mix together and bake for 30-35 minutes or until toothpick comes out moist with just a couple of crumbs clinging to it. Cool, then cover with warm fudge topping.

Fudgy Milk Chocolate Icing

fudge icing
Melt three tablespoons of butter in saucepan. Whisk in 2 tablespoons cocoa powder. When dissolved, add 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar, 3 tablespoons whole milk, and 1 teaspoon vanilla. It will look like you’ve made a mistake, but keep whisking and it will turn to a glossy yummy glaze. Also good on marble brownies.

The other is a recipe picked up at a horse show potluck in Puerto Rico, and named for a trendy playdoh-type toy we all had then.

Slime

slimePrepare large box lime Jello according to package directions. When cooled, but not set, pour into 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) made according to directions. Let set for at least four hours before eating.

Don’t ask me why, but we all had to have this stuff.

Thanks for your time, my father’s sweet tooth, and Mom’s bake sale fantasies.