Afghan Hounds, Hepatitis, and Community   2 comments

When I was twelve years old, my neighbors, the Kiters, were locally infamous for two things: having an Afghan Hound and having hepatitis.  It is difficult to say which was the most noteworthy distinction, but the dog was certainly the most visible. At nearly three feet high, Abbie was impressive. No one else in the neighborhood had such an exotic and pedigreed animal.  She was not a pampered show dog, however. Her coat was dirty and matted because the Kiters never washed or brushed her.  Nor did they walk or play with her.  She was such a solitary creature that she seemed more like a neglected zoo animal than a family pet.

Once, my brother and I threw some cheese over the fence for Abbie, thinking that she might be hungry. Almost instantly, from inside the Kiter’s darkened house came the sound of a quiet rapping on one of the window panes, a sound that became increasingly insistent and angry. We fled to the safety of our own yard and watched while the oldest Kiter boy shuffled outside to check on the dog.

It was the first time in weeks that we had seen any member of the Kiter family.

All that Spring, we had heard about how Mrs. Kiter and her sons, Kippy and David, were suffering from an illness called hepatitis.  Partly because the Kiter family had not lived on the street for long before they became sick, hepatitis became one of only two clues to the family’s identity:  a neglected dog and a troubling illness. Neither much helped their stature.

Not the most medically sophisticated people, folks in my neighborhood believed almost anything we heard about hepatitis, whether true or not.  Apparently, the illness turned the whites of the Kiters’s eyes yellow and caused them to become sensitive to even the dimmest lights. We learned that the Kiters could not leave their house for six months, that their stomachs were too swollen for them to wear clothes, that they slept all the time, that their skin itched constantly, that they might lose their livers.

The sickness, we knew, was so contagious that a person could get it from even minimal contact. Precautions were taken. The mailman stopped collecting the Kiter’s mail. The boys’ teachers did not assign or expect makeup work.  My brother and I were under strict orders to stay away from the Kiter’s house and even the boys’ abandoned school lockers.

Fortunately, however, not even irrational fear could stop the neighborhood old ladies from bringing over their customary offerings to the sick: good, simple, comforting food. Throughout the spring, about five ladies took turns bringing the Kiters basic and delicious soups — lima bean, chicken, split pea, vegetable, potato — along with homemade bread and old fashioned desserts like vanilla pudding, tapioca, and custard pies.  The ladies overcame fear and squeamishness and nursed these people along while the rest of us shrunk away and whispered.  And, these ladies did this for people they barely knew.

One really nice thing about living in a close-knit community is the way that neighbors take care of each other and express their concern with acts of kindness both small and large.  Mowing the lawn; watering plants; picking up a child from the bus stop: these are the kinds of gestures that make a neighborhood a community. Bringing over food for those in need is my favorite, one that suggests such profound care and concern.

I think about the Kiters sometimes when I consider my current neighborhood, which is not exactly a close-knit community.  We are divided in more ways than I can count. The family on the other side of our fence has proudly erected yard signs announcing their support for Ron Paul in the 2012 election; the people across the street routinely burn garbage in the front yard; the couple down the street have bumper stickers on their cars denouncing gay marriage,“Obamacare,” and, most bizarrely, recycling.

These are not my people.

And I can’t imagine feeling any kind of joy in cooking for them in their hours of need.  In fact, a small, dark little part of me might even feel some pleasure in withholding such kindness.

So, what to do when I learn that one of them has died, unexpectedly and tragically, leaving behind grieving family members that I can sense lurking behind drawn curtains when I go to get the mail?

Clearly, a three course meal is not in the cards, but perhaps I’ll make some soup.

Curried Split Pea Soup

This recipe can be made without the sausage for a vegan version.  And, it improves with age.

2 tbs. olive oil

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 large white onion, diced

1 large carrot, diced

2 ribs celery, diced

6 oz. sausage (anything works here: turkey,  pork, chicken, soy, hot, mild, etc.), diced and divided

1 tbs. sweet curry powder (or to taste)

1 pound of split peas, rinsed and picked over

About 4 cups of chicken stock, vegetable stock, or water


ground pepper

chopped cilantro

In a large dutch oven, saute over medium-high heat  the garlic, onion, carrot, celery, and half of the sausage (if using) in the olive oil until soft and fragrant (about 4 minutes).   Add the curry powder and continue sauteing (stirring constantly) for 1 additional minute.  Add the split peas and enough stock to cover the split peas by about 2 inches.  Simmer until peas break down completely and become soft, adding liquid as needed.  Add remaining sausage and cook until just warmed through.  Add salt and pepper to taste and additional curry power, if desired.  Sprinkle cilantro over soup in bowls. Serve with crusty French bread and salad.

Posted September 19, 2011 by Admin in Soup

After a Summer Hiatus — Htipiti   Leave a comment

I didn’t mean to take off nearly the entire summer. I meant to write frequent posts on the many and varied meals that I’d cooked using fresh produce from farmers markets across the land (a good swath of it anyway). I meant to improve my photography skills. To cook new and exciting dishes. To develop my recipe writing skills. To come to terms with the irrational squeamishness that I feel when confronted with soft-boiled eggs.

What did I do instead?

I traveled, read, cooked, ate, and indulged my desire — nay, my need — to spend long, lovely days with my daughter who starts school later this week. Mimi calls her new school the “working” preschool to distinguish it from the “playing” preschool where she spent three days a week during the spring. She’ll spend five morning a week at the working school, which means that our family will officially make the shift from toddler parenting to school-age parenting. With the shift comes more time for Jim and I, of course, but as any parent knows, it also marks another big step away from precious babyhood.

I thought about this step a lot this summer as Mimi and I ran on beaches, splashed in pools, and lounged about. I definitely thought about it when she danced with the seriousness of a professional at her end-of-camp ballet recital. I kept it in mind as we drove from one mid-Western city to the next, and I decided to enjoy these lovely days with my — for now — baby, knowing that I would have more time in the fall for blogging and other writing projects.

I did cook often this summer, mostly simple, laid-back, enjoyable meals. This is, of course, the best way to cook during the hot months. And, since we’ve returned home I’ve enjoyed cooking with the fabulous local produce, especially tomatoes, which we’ve eaten practically every day.

We’ve been eating a lot of a Greek food, specifically the tangy Macedonian spread called htipiti, which translates into “that which is beaten.” It’s made with feta, oregano, garlic, and lemon and is the easiest thing in the world to whip up (or “beat up,”  I guess) and slather over warm pita. Htipiti is perfect summer food — no fear of breaking a sweat — and makes a great addition to a mezze, a fabulous way of eating during these sultry Dog Days.


8 ounces of feta, crumbled

1-2 garlic cloves, minced

1/2 tsp. Aleppo pepper

1/4 tsp. salt

1/8 tsp. black pepper

1/2 tsp. dried oregano, preferably Greek or Turkish

The juice of about two lemons — you might not need it all

2 tbs. olive oil, preferably Greek

1 roasted red pepper, sliced into strips (optional)

In a large bowl. combine the first 6 ingredients and stir gently with a rubber spatula. Add the lemon juice, a splash at a time and stir until everything is just moistened.  Slowly drizzle over the olive oil while continuing to stir gently. Stop when the feta mixture is softened but not soggy. Refrigerate for about an hour to allow the flavors to meld. Adjust seasonings. Top with the slices of red pepper, if using, and serve with warm pita.

My most recent batch of htipiti did not photograph well. As you might guess, the spread is a little on the white side, one reason why the red peppers make such a nice addition. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any red peppers on hand so there was nothing to provide that much needed contrast. The photos were not fit to post. Sadly, I also immolated the pita — such a silly, rookie mistake — which didn’t help matters. No matter: we managed to polish off the entire batch of htipiti quite happily.

Posted August 17, 2010 by Admin in Children, Everyday recipes, Lemons, Mezze

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When Life Hands You Lemons …   Leave a comment

make lemonade popsicles.

Don’t hold me to this, but I think my desert island ingredient would be lemons. It would be more convenient if a lemon trees actually grew upon said island — then garlic would be my default ingredient. At any rate, I use lemons nearly every day.

I can’t image cooking without them. Often, when I think a dish needs salt, what it really needs is a good squeeze of lemon. This is especially true of stir fries, pesto, and many soups. Lemon also provides the much needed brightness in hummus, tapenade, and muhamarra and so many other tasty dips. How many cookies, pies, cakes, and tarts are improved by a squeeze of lemon, a bit of lemon zest, or a combination thereof? And, these days, I’ve been squeezing even more lemons than usual — lemonade popsicles are all the rage around here.

Any of these foods would be welcome on an island, deserted or not. Plus, they all stave off scurvy, which, as we all know, can be a bit of a problem for seafaring types.

Here’s a quick recipe for lemonade, whish is so ridiculously refreshing on a hot summer day. It comes from The Hot & Hot Fish Club Cookbook by Chris and Idie Hastings. For those of you who aren’t familiar with The Hot & Hot Fish Club, the venerable Birmingham, Alabama, restaurant, let me just say…”wow.” Its executive chef was nominated this year for a James Beard Award for best chef in the Southeast. He deserved the honor.

Last weekend, Jim, Mimi, and I enjoyed a meal there that was nothing short of spectacular (unfortunately, I forgot my camera, so no photos). The tomato salad I ordered was simple and perfect: dead ripe tomatoes — deep, dark, red and juicy as can be — layered between a kind of deconstructed succotash. The salad was surrounded by bits of fried okra, and topped with a piece of bacon. It’s a dish that could stand up next to any dish from any fine restaurant in the world. In fact, it could handily stare down any dish from any fine restaurant in the world. Assuming, of course, that plates of food can stare.

Akward metaphors aside, the food was fabulous. Jim got the wonderful quail as a very rich appetizer and then shrimp & grits, which just about knocked his socks off. The wild caught Gulf shrimp was sweet and succulent; the grits were creamy and flavorful. In addition to their justifiably famous tomato salad, I ordered the vegetable plate, which featured 5 different vegetable dishes, including a truly luscious corn salad as well as fried orka that Mimi ate like popcorn.

I was a little reluctant to share.

Like any restaurant worth its salt, H & H is interested in locally sourced ingredients and really pioneered farm to plate dining in Birmingham. I bought their cookbook back in January and have spent several pleasant hours pouring over its gorgeous pages, but the only recipe that I’ve used thus far is one for lemonade. There’s a reason for this. The recipes are organized by season, and I was so attracted to their Summer dishes that I’ve been waiting until the requisite produce was in season to try them out.

My day has come! Look for several recipes from the H&H cookbook this Summer. In the meantime, I offer the promised lemonade recipe, which is delicious both as a beverage and in frozen form. Enjoy!

The Hot & Hot Fish Club Lemonade (with very minor adjustments)

1 cup of freshly squeezed lemon juice

1/2 cup sugar

1 1/2 cup cold water

1/4 tsp. vanilla

pinch of salt

Combine the lemon juice, sugar, water, vanilla and salt. Stir until the sugar dissolves. Refrigerate immediately. Serve over crushed ice or freeze in popsicle molds until frozen solid.

Posted June 14, 2010 by Admin in Children, Drinks, Lemons, Uncategorized

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Summertime and the Living is …   Leave a comment

I’ve spent the morning catching up on some of the blogs that I enjoy and thinking about the direction of my own work. I haven’t been blogging consistently lately, which I attribute to a couple of factors. First, I’m not teaching this Summer, which, oddly enough, makes it harder for me to find time to write. Lacking a clear structure, I don’t make the time to sit down and get work done. And, of course, I’ve been busy spending time with Mimi, which is the whole point of my taking time off from work. Another factor, however, is caused by the tenor of the times in which we live.

The American economy continues to sputter. Contradictory economic indicators are released every week, and economists have no idea what to make of them. Perhaps the engine of the economy is revving back up? Oh, but maybe it’s really just grinding to a halt. So many people are out of work, with only the faintest hopes of future employment. Meanwhile, thousands of gallons of oil are spewing out into the Gulf, wreaking impossible havoc that we can only wait for and watch. No matter where you live, it all takes a psychic toll.

People are suffering; ways of life are coming to an end; delicate ecosystems are being destroyed. Tar balls — both real and metaphorical — just keep rolling in with the tides. There seems to be no stopping them.

These are difficult days, and sometimes it seems frivilous to write about food and cooking in the light of that fact. Besides, often I can’t muster up the jocular tone needed for this kind of writing.

Like today, for instance. I meant to write a piece about lemonade, the quintessential Summer drink, but then I was struck by how sad this Summer is turning out to be.

So, you know, no lemonade. Not today.

Today, I have no recipes to offer, no descriptions of food, no helpful hints, no insights, no wisdom, no photos even. Nothing but sour thoughts.

Which, of course, are not terribly productive.  So, here’s a little something to hum as the tar balls wash ashore.

Posted June 12, 2010 by Admin in Complaints

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Picnic Memories ~ Blueberry Scones   Leave a comment

Now that it’s more or less officially summertime, it seems appropriate to write something about picnics. I’ve always been a fan of eating outdoors. My mother tells me that when I was a child, I used to point out likely picnic spots as we sped down the roads of Florida, Virginia, and South Carolina — the states where I spent most of my early childhood. I had a rudimentary set of criteria for judgement; the best spots were shady and close to restrooms, with extra points awarded for proximity to water. However, I was not at all fond of picnicking in cemetaries, a common practice in the South. It didn’t seem right, somehow, to be eating on top of the dead. Besides, for some reason, cemetaries attract fire ants, the scourge of all picnics.

As an adult, I moved to Vail, Colorado, a place filled with perfect picnic spots. During the Summer months, I ate many enjoyable meals on the shores of Gore Creek or high above the Vail Valley at Big Pine Lake, sometimes with friends but just as often alone. I was a committed picnicker.

These days, I eat plenty of meals outside, mostly seated at the new dining table on my patio. As pleasant as this is, I can’t exactly call it “picnicking.” It’s more like dining al fresco. A little too refined to count. Still, I treasure the memories of picnics past.

One of these took place in Tunica Hills, Louisiana, right next door to Angola State Prison. Louisiana is a famously flat state, so the Tunica Hills are remarkably, umm, hilly. A bike trail runs through the hills with some commanding views of the Angola rodeo grounds through a tangle of concertina wire. And, in spite of its proximity to “The Farm,” the Tunica Hills are really quite peaceful, with several surprisingly large waterfalls interspersed throughout the steep hills and the deep dark woods.

I picnicked in Tunica about 10 years ago with my long, lost friend Sherry Castle. We drove there in the morning, biked all day, and came home late at night, thoroughly exhausted. It was a beautiful Spring day; the trails were a little slick from an overnight rain shower. The hills did not disappoint.

At lunchtime, we stopped near a waterfall for one of the best picnic meals I’ve ever had. Sherry brought homemade blueberry scones, which she used as the base for smoked turkey sandwiches. My more meager contributions included a jumbo-sized bag of blue corn chips and a thermos full of sweet tea, “the house wine of the South, according to Pat Conroy. The chips were good, but those sandwiches were little bits of heaven. The combination of flavors was unexpected and surprisingly satisfying: the slightly sweet scones, the smokey turkey, and the hint of spice from the Dijon mustard.

There we sat, Sherry and I, dangling our legs over the side of a rock face, tired, sweaty, and streaked with mud, eating scones — of all things — within shouting distance of one of the most notoriously bad prisons in the country. Another perfect combination of unexpected elements, also surprisingly satisfying.

The two of us consumed three sandwiches each, nearly the entire bag of chips, and all of the slightly warm and very sweet tea. Then we staggered onto our bikes and tried to remain erect for the mercifully downhill ride back to the car.

I’ve been thinking about Sherry and those sandwiches lately. With blueberry season upon us, it seems like a good time to post a recipe for something containing these magical berries. Perhaps it’s also time to dust off the picnic basket and take it out for a spin.

Blueberry Scones (adapted from

Scones are not difficult to make, but you must handle the dough VERY carefully to avoid building up the glutens in the flour. In fact, the less you handle it the better. I find it easiest to mix the dry ingredients in the food processor, but you can also use a fork to blend the butter into the flour and sugar.

2 cups all-purpose flour

3 tablespoons sugar

1 tablespoon baking powder

1 teaspoon lemon zest, finely grated

3/4 teaspoon salt

6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces

1 1/2 cups fresh blueberries, picked over and rinse

1/3 cup heavy cream, plus more for brushing tops

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

Turbinado sugar, for sprinkling on the tops

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees, with rack in center. Line baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.
2. In the bowl of a food processor, process flour, 3 tablespoons sugar, baking powder, zest and salt using small pulses. Add butter and pulse just until the largest pieces are the size of peas.
3. Transfer dry ingredients to a large mixing bowl. Add blueberries and gently stir until just combined. In a separate measuring cup, whisk together cream and eggs. Make a well in the center of dry ingredients, and pour in cream mixture. Stir very gently with a fork, just until the dough comes together. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead a few times to mix well.
4. Pat dough into a 6-inch square about 1 1/4 inches thick. Using a floured knife, cut into four 3-inch squares. Cut squares in half on the diagonal to form eight triangles. Transfer to prepared baking sheet. Brush tops with cream, and sprinkle with turbinado sugar. Bake until golden brown, 20 to 22 minutes. Transfer scones to wire racks to cool. Makes 8 scones.

A scone makes a delicious unadorned accompaniment to a well made cup of coffee. However, you can always gild the lily by topping them with butter, jam, lemon curd, or clotted cream. If you want to make sandwiches, split the scones in half and spread both sides with good quality Dijon mustard. Layer on thinly sliced or, better, shaved smoked turkey. Find a likely picnic spot using your own criteria for perfection. Enjoy.

NYC Recap   1 comment

A couple of you have asked about the trip to NYC to see Dan Zanes. Here’s a lovely recap written by my husband to his friend Jeff. I’ve stolen almost the entire email, but not out of laziness. As usual, Jim has perfectly captured the essential elements.

NYC was really great. The Zanes show was amazing. All the kids were up and dancing the entire time, right along the front edge of the stage, with their moms or dads sitting or kneeling next to them. After the show, Zanes stayed on stage until he talked personally to every single child or parent that wanted to talk to him. Very Bruce-esque in that way –open-hearted, accessible. We were literally the last people to leave the place — Mimi was the last person to say thanks to him before Zanes started to help with the load-out.

We ate two glorious breakfasts at the famous Sarabeth’s, including
Mother’s Day morning — this was just around the corner from the hotel on Amsterdam. Fri dinner at next-big-thing Lupa in the
Village, and Sat pizza at a new Brooklyn place that’s supposed to be the best pie-of-the-moment in NYC: Motorino. Wow. I can still taste it. Our visits to all these places orchestrated by Sharyn — all superbly
chosen, all child-friendly (especially Sarabeth’s).

Watched the boats in the Central Park lagoon and the pooches in the dog park on the Museum of Natural History grounds, climbed Belevedere Castle off Central Park West for the view of the park, had a magical couple of hours Sunday morning early at the Museum of Natural History looking at the dioramas and the huge looming dino-bone skeletons.

(They’ve expanded the museum to make it more “interactive” and
competitive with other kid-oriented museums of its ilk. Big mistake.
It’s much more spectacular, but much less magic. It’s lost its peace,
its contemplative quality. By definition in Catcher in the Rye, it was
beautiful because the dioramas were the only things that never changed in a world whose only constant otherwise *was* change. Now… it’s all changed. But they still have the grand central hall and adjoining corridors that are exactly as they were, when I was last there in, what, 82? It’s much more aquatic, with a huge and exquisitely designed post-Spacelab astral component as well. They just shouldn’t have fecked with the original museum footprint and contents. It should’ve become a museum museum within the larger museum. Basically, I hate renovation. I’m for reveteration. I’m an inveterate reveterate.)

Mimi had a ball, and was very good the entire time, save the moments mom and dad let her down by postponing snacks and rest.

It always strikes me how friendly New Yorkers are. We met like a dozen people in various random places, all courteous, polite, and interested, and actually had fairly long, genuine, and personal conversations with them. A young latino boy with shades and tattoos gave Mimi and Sharyn his seat on the subway. At the urging of his perspicacious on-the-case girlfriend. A hip young guy going through a divorce was moved to tears talking to Mimi on the subway down to Brooklyn, replacing his unnecessary subterranean shades. A doubtless extravagantly wealthy man wearing a “What I Really Want To Do Is Direct” t-shirt walking his dogs at 7:15 a.m. down the sidewalk of 79th St a block from the park stopped to let Mimi pet his gentle animals, chatting with her (and, indirectly, me) for a full 10 minutes.

That about covers it. I’ll post some photos soon.

Sorry about the strange spacing in this post. I’m not sure what happened, but I cannot seem to correct it.

Posted May 29, 2010 by Admin in NYC, Travel

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More Than Plenty   2 comments

Perhaps it’s a bit late in the season for a post on strawberries, but as a person who grew up in a town that used to bill itself as “The Strawberry Capital of the World,” I’m pretty much obligated to make note of their appearance. We’ve enjoyed plenty of strawberries at my house this year; one might say that we’ve enjoyed more than plenty. Between my frequent visits to The Market at Blooming Colors to purchase gallons at a time and the steady supply coming each week from our C.S.A., we’ve had strawberries in the refrigerator consistently since early May. I made a few small batches of jam, but mostly we’ve eaten them at out of hand.

Is there a better way, I wonder? Well … maybe.

Strawberry season in Ponchatoula has always a big deal. To accommodate the kids who lived on strawberry farms, my highschool’s spring break lasted for nearly a month, meaning that we attended classes well into June to make up for the lost days. This continued until 1985, the year I graduated, when a new school was built to accommodate the increasing numbers of students.

Less prosaically, William Faulkner refers to the town’s strawberries in The Wild Palms. Walker Percy, who lived for a time in nearby Covington, mentions it in one of his novels, but I can’t remember which one.

A flat of “Ponchatoula strawberries” used to be considered a delicacy, something truly special. Years ago, farmers used to truck their berries into New Orleans to sell flats on Canal Street for astronomical sums. To cheat the system, my grandmother made more frequent visits to our home during berry season on the pretense of “visiting her grandchildren.” She fooled no one; the back seat of her car sometimes contained as many as three flats of berries. One went to her boss, one she shared with her coworkers, the other she ate by herself, sometimes in the car on the way home.

Ponchatoula berries are still special, but there are far fewer of them these days. Many of the farms are residential subdivisions now; my mother lives in one of them. The city lost the right to proclaim itself the “Strawberry Capital of the World” when farmers on the West coast began growing strawberries on an industrial scale in the early-90s and priced Ponchatoula berries out of the market. These days, the town somehow makes do with “America’s Antique Capital.”

I miss the strawberries.

UPDATE:  My mother has insisted that I let everyone know that this year’s Strawberry Festival attracted a crowd of over 100,000 people.


On those rare occasions when you find yourself with plenty of strawberries — more than you can eat out of hand — this galette makes a delicious Summer dessert. It’s fancy enough for company, but won’t keep you in the hot kitchen for very long at all. Blackberries and blueberries make fine substitutes — just make sure to use the appropriate flavor of jam.

The dough is adapted from Cooking Light
Serves 8

13⁄4 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup granulated white sugar
1⁄4 cup coarse whole grain cornmeal
1⁄4 tsp salt
1⁄2 cup cold butter, cut into small pieces
1/3 cup buttermilk

1/3 cup strawberry jam
1⁄2 cup finely crumbled shortbread cookies
3 to 4 cups fresh strawberries
1 Tbs. granulated white sugar
1⁄4 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp grated lemon zest

For the top:
1 large egg white
1 Tbs. milk
1 Tbs. turbinado sugar

Dough: In a food processor, combine flour, sugar, cornmeal and salt; pulse 3-4 times. Add butter and pulse until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. While the processor is running, slowly drizzle buttermilk into the crumbs. Process until dough comes together to form a ball.
Remove dough from processor and form ball, incorporating any stray crumbs. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for about an hour.

Galette: Place rack in center of oven and preheat oven to 350°F. Line baking sheet with parchment paper.
Remove dough from refrigerator and place on parchment-lined baking sheet. Roll out dough into a 14 to 15-inch wide roundish circle. You can use a pot lot as a guide, but don’t worry too much about perfection.
Spread jam on top of the dough, leaving about a 11⁄2-inch border around the edges. Sprinkle cookie crumbs on top jam. Scatter berries on top of crumbs. You should have enough berries for two layers. Mix sugar, cinnamon and lemon zest together and lightly sprinkle this mixture over the berries.
Gently fold edges of dough back over the strawberries.
Whisk egg white and milk in a small bowl. Brush edges of dough with egg wash, and sprinkle with turbinado sugar.
Bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until crust is golden brown and filling is bubbly. Transfer baking sheet to a cooling rack for about 30 minutes. If you want to be fancy, serve the cooled galette with a spoonful of whipped cream or along side a bowl vanilla ice cream.

And, one more thing.

Love Tastes Like Strawberry ~ Miriam Makeba

Love is fast like fingers flying
Love is soft like years of crying
While the spices interlace
Love' s got a fresh strawberry taste

And when the peddler cries strawberries
That' s when my heart replies, strawberries
Love tastes like strawberries


Met my love in the market place
My heart stopped when I saw his face
The very man said won' t you try this
We looked, we bought, we stole a kiss


The berries are gone and spring has pass
But I know my love will always last
For rain has gone with a sudden haste
Love' s got a fresh strawberry taste

Posted May 22, 2010 by Admin in Strawberries

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Mimi Takes Manhattan   Leave a comment

Tomorrow morning we leave for a brief weekend visit to NYC. We’re taking Mimi to see the magnificent Dan Zanes perform at the Metropolitan Museum of Art — it’s her first concert! We’re also planning to eat dinners at Lupa in the Village and Mororino in Brooklyn. And, in accordance with family tradition, we’ll pay too much money for bagels at Zabar’s.

Everything except the bathroom breaks are scheduled on this trip.

Look for some post-trip reflections next week. Until then~

Posted May 6, 2010 by Admin in NYC, Travel, Uncategorized

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Meatless Monday ~ Feeding Our Beasts   Leave a comment

One of the great joys of my life thus far has been feeding my child. After a rocky start, I was able to nurse Mimi for the first year of her life. While there were many, many times when that process was painful, tedious, or inconvenient, it was nevertheless a miraculous experience, a period marked by a feeling of intense physical closeness to my child that I long for today. I can remember looking into her contented face as she nursed and being so often struck by a sense of real accomplishment and even power. Here was something I could do well for her — something nourishing and essential, something ancient and mysterious. (I was also often amazed by her tenacity and strength as she nursed, but that’s another story.)

When the time came for Mimi to eat solid food, I was excited to make simple pureés for her — mostly organic, usually seasonal. An early favorite was a combination of plain yogurt and fresh mango that we playfully called “mango-dango.” Throughout this next phase of eating, I spent many happy afternoons steaming and pureéing Asian pears, green peas, Pink Lady apples, even quince. I roasted and mashed eggplant and sweet potatoes. I smashed bananas, strawberries, and peaches as well as red beans, lentils, and boiled edamame. Later, when her pretty little teeth appeared, I steamed green beans, broccoli, and carrots, cut them up, and served them with hummus. I fed her salty bacon and smoked salmon, quinoa and couscous. I topped baked potatoes with pesto, a practice that eventually became mandatory. One happy memory is of my six-month old daughter, to the surprise and delight of my mother-in-law, greedily gobbling up a plateful of steamed asparagus at a favorite restaurant in Michigan. We ordered some extra and she polished that off as well. Even the waitress was impressed.

Mimi has always been a fairly adventurous eater. She will eat almost anything that she sees her parents eat. When she was tiny, the only foods that she refused outright were infant cereals, commercial baby food, and, well, avocados. We all have our culinary quirks.

But that quirkiness works both ways. She has long had a passion for kalamata olives. When she was just over a year old, she shared them for first time with our friend Laura at a dinner party, Laura biting off tiny pieces and feeding them to Mimi as if she were a baby bird. She’s loved them ever since. Even now, I have to hide the olive jar in the fridge or my child will insist upon having an “olive snack.”

Before Mimi was born, I resolved that she would not be a picky eater, as so many children are. I was keenly aware that the odds were against us. I’m not sure when this happened, but at some point in American history, someone decided that children don’t like to eat the same foods as their parents and, moreover, that “adult” food was not even really appropriate for kids. Of course, a whole new market opened up to accommodate this trend: children’s food. These foods are marked by uniformity and infantile product names — “Go-Gurt,” “Captain Crunch,” ”Snackables,” “Spaghetti-O’s.” None of it is any good.

This trend logically expanded into American restaurants. Just try to find one that does not have a separate set of dishes prepared for children. I’m not the first person to point out the fact that the phenomena known as the “Children’s Menu” reinforces the idea that kids need to eat their own special food. The problem is that this food is never particularly special. I suppose it makes some sense to offer smaller portions of food to children, who usually don’t eat very much anyway. However, most children’s menus dumb down food, providing only a handful of blandly predictable items: grilled cheese, hot dogs, pizza, macaroni & cheese, chicken fingers — sometimes a hamburger and always french fries. It’s generally impossible to determine what kind of restaurant you are in by surveying the children’s menu. In the US, I’ve been to Indian restaurants that serve hot-dogs; French restaurants that offer hamburgers; Italian restaurants that feature chicken fingers. (Isn’t it interesting that restaurants in India, France, and Italy seldom have children’s menus? Kids eat what their parents do, just less of it.)

Thus, tastes and habits are created. Presented with an array of “appropriate” foods, kids pick up their forks and they eat. But not adult food. No, thank you. Children always strive to meet our expectations — even when those expectations are impossibly low.

Interestingly, it is possible that food preferences become instilled even earlier than toddlerhood. Some researchers theorize that amniotic fluid — that watery substance that nurtures and protects the aquatic fetus during gestation — changes flavor depending upon what a mother eats. The flavor of breast milk varies similarly. Taste, then, might be developed prenatally, at least initially, and probably long before solid foods are introduced. If true, then children’s food manufacturers have already tailored the tastes of at least one generation of American eaters. It occurs to me that the menus of several major American food chains support this theory. How different are the adult and children’s menus at Applebee’s?

Back when I was pregnant and nursing, I was especially concerned with eating as many different things as I could so that Mimi’s palate would be as varied as possible. I liked to imagine Mimi, tucked away inside of me, wondering what new flavor experience would come next. I made sure to eat a lot of broccoli, hoping to raise a lover of that unfairly maligned vegetable. It seems to have worked. Mimi likes her little trees.

Now that she’s older, Mimi will often ask me what’s for dinner and then, when she finds out what we’re having, she asks a follow-up question: “Do I love that?” Usually, I’m able to assure her that she does love whatever it is that we’re having, but I’m not a fool. I’ll know that eventually, there will be some resistance. At some point, she’s likely to wonder why she eats foods that other kids do not. Worse, she’ll wonder why we never feed her the special foods for kids that so many of her friends get to eat. From a child’s point of view, if there are special foods and menus in stores and restaurants, there must also be special foods and menus at home.

And, usually, there are.

But not at our house, at least not preprocessed “special” foods. We’ve tried to protect Mimi from the tyranny of low expectations. In restaurants, she either shares with us or we request a small plate of something from the regular menu. Decent restaurants will usually cooperate. It’s easier at home. Except when she was very small, she has always eaten what we do. Even her baby meals bore a strong resemblance whatever Jim and I were eating for dinner — softer versions of the family meal. One of the first dishes that we all enjoyed together was Megadarra, a wonderful lentil and rice dish from the Middle East. Topped with yogurt, carmelized onions, and a small salad of cucumbers, tomato, and mint, the dish is complex without being confusing. It is meatless, healthy, delicious, and visually appealing. Minus the salad, it’s a perfect first “real” meal for a small child. There’s nothing to choke on and it can be rendered appropriately mushy with the addition of extra yogurt. The lentils are earthy and the basmati rice and onions, together with the cinnamon and allspice, provide a nice bit of sweetness. I served it to Mimi first without the salad and, later, with the salad on the side so she could gobble up the small pieces with her fingers. Now, she eats the dish exactly as we do and just as happily.

It’s an old standard at our house, one that satisfies both young and old alike.


2 white onions, thinly sliced

1 tbs. butter

3 tbs. olive oil, divided

1 white onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, finely minced

1 tsp. ground allspice

1 tsp. ground cinnamon

1 1/2 tsp. ground cumin

3/4 cup brown lentils

4 cups water

1/2 cup basmati rice

1 English cucumber, diced

2 tomatoes, seeded and diced

1 cup 2% Greek yogurt

1/2 cup mint leave, roughly chopped

salt & pepper

First, caramelize the onions. In a large frying pan, melt butter over medium-high heat. Add olive oil and onions and saute until the onions are soft and brown, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

In a large Dutch oven, heat remaining olive oil over medium-high heat. Add onions and saute until soft. Add garlic and continue to saute until fragrant. Add allspice, cinnamon, and cumin. Stir constantly for one minute. Add water and lentils. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes until the lentil begin to get soft, stirring occasionally. Add rice and more water (if necessary) to cover). Bring back to a boil and simmer, covered, for another 20 minutes, until the rice is soft and the water has evaporated. Stir only as needed.

Remove from heat. Season with salt and pepper, stirring very gently. Serve the lentils in bowl topped with onions, cucumber, tomato, mint, and yogurt.

Radish   Leave a comment

After a brief absence, here’s a small post in honor of Earth Day. My composition students gave presentations for extra credit today. The theme of the class is the Science and Technology of Green Living. All semester we’ve studied photo-voltaic panels, hydrogen fuel cells, horizon scanning, and LEED certification standards. For Earth Day, we decided to step away from science and technology and focus solely on “Green Living.” For a potential 5 points worth of credit (applied to the paper of their choice), they could perform one of the following activities and give a 5 minute presentation explaining the connection between their activity and one of the themes of the course. They could:

  • Cook and eat a “healthy” meal with friends
  • Give up meat for a month (I made the assignment one month ago so they had some time)
  • Grow an edible plant from seeds
  • Go on an environmentally responsible fishing trip
  • Raise livestock in their dorm

That last one was a joke, but someone took me seriously. I wonder how many week-old chickens have seen the inside of this building? Well, now, at least four. By the way, she didn’t literally raise livestock in her dorm; her family has a small farm.

Most of the students who participated cooked a “healthy” meal, although their idea of what is healthy is not exactly the same as mine. A couple of them used meat substitutes to make spaghetti or sloppy-joes. EEEKKK! One student gave up meat but doesn’t think that she will change her diet in the longterm, even though she learned that she could reduce her carbon consumption by 5 tons per year if she continues to go “meatless.”  Her friends think she’s crazy to go without meat for even a month.

When I gave the assignment, Jim worried that my students would present me with 5 tons of radishes since I made the mistake of telling them how easy they are to grow. Alas, that didn’t happen. Only one student succeeded in growing produce from seed. She did bring in some radishes, but only two (and seedlings at that). That’s okay — Mimi and I are growing radishes in our container garden and are looking forward to having a “radish party” when the crop comes in, sometime next month.

Of the students who participated, all will receive the full five points except for the young woman who went fishing, caught a fish, and then let the poor beast die without cleaning or cooking it. Talk about missing the point! I’m tempted to give her zero points, but I suppose I’ll throw one at her for the effort. I’d rather throw the fish.

For my part, I’ve joined a state-wide CSA and will receive my first box of produce on Tuesday. I’m very excited to see what GrowAlabama sends. I’ll cross my fingers for radishes.

Happy Earth Day!

Posted April 22, 2010 by Admin in Earth Day

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