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Tuesday, July 26, 2016

My Cooking Roots

 I recently made macaroni and cheese for a crowd, and while I am a well regarded cook, I hesitated to make an iconic food for relative strangers.  My husband reminded me that by making macaroni and cheese for multiple occasions in my children's youth I had become known for it.  It really is nothing particularly special, but it is a dependable meal of comfort food that does not fail to satisfy.  I have been making macaroni and cheese from Anna Thomas' cookbook 'The Vegetarian Epicure' for literally 40 years now.  I should have it down.

  I went to college in the late 1970s and I had very close to no ability to cook.  My mother made a dozen apple pies each fall, and I peeled and cut the apples for that endeavor.  So I had reasonable knife skills and the chocolate chip cookie recipe on the the back of the Nestles chocolate chip bag, and off I went to school.  To make matters worse, I didn't eat meat and I really did not like the food in the mass prepared food environs of college food services.
I joined a housing coop my sophomore year in college, and it was absolutely the best thing for me as a cook.  I learned to cook there.  I made bread often.  I made ethnic food from places I had never been, or in some cases, places I had not eaten the food even in restaurants.  It was not all good, but a lot of it was very good, and in the meantime, I learned.  And I took chances.  Thankfully my housemates at the time were very forgiving, and I still make things for a crowd that I have never made before.  Occasionally the food is terrible, so bad that I sweep it off the table and into the trash.  But most of the time it is good to great, and I have added yet another thing to my repertoire.  And while I have dozens and dozens of cookbooks, I still return to these two from my youth.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Zucchini and Pasta Salad

Yes, I am still making new things with summer squash!  It has been a bumper summer for them, and I even put one in my coleslaw last week,  Every salad can use another zucchini.  This one is a variation on a Ottolenghi recipe, where I took out edamame (which we do not have a lot of) and added another zucchini.  I also used various summer squash, not just zucchini.


  • black pepper
  • cup sunflower oil
  •   3medium zucchini,  sliced thin
  • 1 ½ tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 2 cups basil leaves, shredded coarsely
  • ¼ cup parsley leaves
  • cup olive oil
  •  8 ounces pasta
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 ½ tablespoons capers
  • 7 ounces buffalo mozzarella, torn into chunks
  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. In a medium saucepan, heat sunflower oil over medium-high heat. Fry zucchini slices in batches (do not crowd them) for 3 minutes, or until golden brown on both sides. Transfer to a colander to drain. Tip zucchini slices into a bowl, pour vinegar on top and stir, then set aside.
  2. In the hot water, blanch edamame for 3 minutes; drain, refresh under running cold water and set aside to dry. Keep boiling water in pot.
  3. In a food processor, combine half the basil, all of the parsley and the olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and process until smooth.
  4. In boiling water, cook pasta until al dente; drain. Return pasta to pot. Pour zucchini slices and their juices over pasta. Add basil sauce, lemon zest, capers and mozzarella. Stir together gently, then taste and season with plenty of salt and pepper. Before serving, stir in remaining basil.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Trumbo (2015)

This is a movie set in the time of blacklisting of communists in the motion picture industry.  The contention as I understand it was that movies were powerful tools that could be used for subversive purposes, and so it was up to Congress to interrogate, ban, and jail those who had ties to the Communist Party.  Trumbo was one such man, and he refused to comply with them, and he went to jail.  When he finally got out of jail he was unable to write under his own name, and so he wrote first under the name of someone who sold the script as his, which was Roman Holiday.  He then wrote under an assumed name, and won another Academy Award for The Brave One.  He was finally awarded the Academy Awards in his name years later.  The thing that I really like about this adaptation of his life story is that he comes off as a good guy, and his wife as a faithful supporter who kept their family together and never encouraged his to cave to the prevailing talk of the time.  Others did not come off quite so well, and it is an enjoyable way to revisit that time in history.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

An Igbo Sense of Community

 My youngest son is taking and art history class called Arts of Africa this summer, and I am watching the lectures with him and taking notes (he has an accommodation for this).  It has been an incredibly wonderful experience to learn about so many different African cultures and their art.  I never took any art history myself in college, so while I very much love museums and the art of other cultures, what I know about it is astonishingly small and petite.  The course is taught by a professor who has boundless enthusiasm for his subject, which definitely helps, but in truth, what he has to say is so fascinating that I think he owes a lot to his subject matter.
The Igbo are an interesting people, because they love in a meritocracy.  You are what you do.  You are no better than what you accomplish in life.  They have beautiful masks and carved figures but the most interesting cultural phenomenon is the mbari.
Each family sends a member to participate in the building of this offering to the gods.  There are three professionals involved--a priest, an artist, and a diviner.  They decide upon the make up of the mbari, and then the rest build it.  The idea is that the offering is the building of the mbari, not the final result.  At that point, the spiritual aspect is completed, and the shrine itself can go to rack and ruin.  Such an interesting concept!

Friday, July 22, 2016

Pomegranate Glazed Salmon

Another recipe from the Zahav Cookbook, and it was a delicious way to have it.  It is very nice to have a number of different ways to cook salmon, especially when it is running in the Pacific Northwest.

1 clove garlic minced
1 Tbs. orange zest
1 1/2 Tsp. kosher salt
1 skin on salmon fillet
1/4 c. pomegranate molasses
ground pepper

Brush the fillet with pomegranate molasses, then garlic, salt, orange zest, and pepper.
Broil until done.  I served this with a roasted cauliflower dish, and a collard green dish.  The bitterness of the collards married nicely with the sweetness of the salmon.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

East Side Sushi (2014)

A fantastic Mexican cook finds work in a traditional Japanese restaurant and not only does she create her own fusion version of sushi, she gains the respect of the restaurant owner, who is a traditionalist (meaning that he does not like her because she is a woman and because she is not Asian).  This movie is a gentle reminder that prejudice, where ever you find it, is never a good thing.  Juana is held back from her dream of being a chef by both her gender and her ethnic background.  At one point in the movie she says that Latinos have been working in the back at restaurants for decades making the people in the front look good and getting neither credit nor adequate compensation for their considerable skills.
So there is that.  It is done in a light and entertaining manner.  The other component that I liked about this is that it is about food.  My youngest son likened it to 'Ramen Girl', which I also liked, and also revolved around traditional Japanese cuisine being created by a non-native.  The movie did make me want to hone some cooking skills, an added bonus.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Sewing My Way to Health

 When I was diagnosed with cancer this past fall one of the things that I wanted to do was to get back to making things.  The reasons are two fold.  I like to make things because it feels like a part of me.  When I give something I made to someone I am giving them something that reflects my own sensibilities.  I was just too sick while I was getting large amounts of chemotherapy to really do much, it turns out, but now that I am on a more manageable schedule, I have taken a couple of classes.

One was to make market bags out of oil cloth.  I bought some when I was in Oaxaca last year, and I hadn't really done anything with it.  I thought I might use them as tablecloths for outdoor eating, but hadn't done so.  I took a class at Home Ec in Iowa City, and discovered just how fun and easy it is to make these bags--and how good it feels to be back in front of a sewing machine!

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Red Lentil and Kale Soup

I usually make lentil soup with French lentils but i have been out of them, and so resorted to red lentils instead and have really been falling in love with them.  The kale is a wonderful addition to the basic soup.

  • 1  cup  red lentils
  • 6 cups  broth
  • 3  roma tomatoes diced
  • 1/2 organic onion diced
  • 4 cups  kale (chopped)
  • 1  teaspoon Tzardust seasoning from Penzy's
  • salt and pepper to taste

Prepare veggies: dice onions and tomatoes and chop kale into small pieces.
Put all ingredients except the kale into a medium-sized pot, stir well and bring to a boil.
Reduce heat to simmer (low/medium) and cover and cook for 30 minutes (or until the lentils are soft), stirring occasionally.
Remove from heat, add the chopped kale, stir well, adjust seasoning, and serve.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Brooklyn (2015)

The story is one about immigration and leaving your family and what is familiar behind you.  It is wrapped up in a love triangle, but that is in many ways a distraction.
The movie tells the story of Eilis Lacey, a young woman from a working family circa 1950. She’s bright, open and industrious, and there’s not much meaningful opportunity for her in her small Irish town. An Irish priest visiting from the United States sponsors Eilis for a job in the book’s title borough, and it is told beautifully.  The beginning meanders through  her uncomfortable Atlantic crossing, her loneliness and alienation in her new world, how she finds her own way and finds romance, and what happens after she’s called back to her old home—away from the place where she’s been working so hard to make good. The story is simple, and told in a quiet register.  It very eloquently describes why immigrants leave their home countries, how they build a multi-cultural life in America, and how the ties of home hug at you, almost seducing you back to a life that is less fulfilling and yet more comfortable and known.  Those who venture forth in the world are brave and strong and resourceful, and deserve our admiration--that is the message that underlies this gorgeously filmed movie.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Back from Bald

This is going to make me seen unintelligent, but here goes.  I never really thought about what happens after you are bald.  Really?  I could point out that I was worried about more life or death circumstances, and while that is very true, and I had a real brush with being desperately ill, that is not really what happened.
I just didn't really think it through, that if all my hair fell out that it would be a very long time indeed until it was long again.  Now that my hair is just barely beginning to grown back I have decided that it is time to cope with that.  Off with the hat, time to get used to being a little bit punk in my appearance.  After all, how short is too short?  It is going to be very short for a long time to come, and let's face it.  Summer is here and the time for wearing a cap all the time has passed from a comfort stand point.
I hate when I discover that I have not anticipated very obvious things that I am going to have to face, but there it is, it happened again.  Probably not the last time for that either.