Bee-bopping the Christmas Bread

It’s raisin bread day. And I’m hopping around the kitchen with Pentatonix “Carol of the Bells” on repeat, trying to nail my part. The KitchenAid mixer is thumping bread dough in time to the music. Maywood Man joins in with the tenor part.

Oh how they pound, raising the sound.

Who knows what the bees are doing out in the yard. Inside we’re a-buzz–humming and oooing and ding-donging away.
Pretty much everyone I know would laugh to watch us. Not that we’re singing…but that we’re bopping.

I hope the bread turns out. Distracted baking results in disasters, like that time I accidentally hit the broil knob on the oven during the last ten minutes of baking and burnt a whole day’s worth of bread making.
My “MERRY CHRISTMAS! THERE’S YOUR BREAKFAST!” has gone down in family history as the best angry outburst I’ve ever terrorized the family with.

This time, though, I actually am trying to pay attention. Ding-donging aside, I’m noting all the little things that make for good bread…the little things that are not on the PDF of my handwritten recipe that I emailed my daughter. The little things that I’ve learned in the 40–gack!–years I’ve been using my grandmother’s recipe. The little things that my daughter might not know to do and will doom her entire Christmas morning to an epic fail.

I did tell her that perfect dough is warm and soft like a baby’s butt.
I did say to add the raisins before all the flour…they blend better that way.
I did say that the bread is done when you thump the bottom and it resounds like a drum and not like a thunking blob.

Pa-rum-pum-pum-pum. (Now it’s Little Drummer Boy on repeat.)

I didn’t tell her that the perfect temperature for dissolving yeast is when the water is just hot enough for her finger to stand it without burning.
I didn’t tell her how to knead it. Or to be sure to take her diamond ring off before doing so.

I told her the perfect place for the bread to rise was in an oven preheated to “warm.”
Did I tell her to turn the oven off?

For my sake, I hope her bread turns out lest I get blamed for failing to transmit the full recipe. As insurance though, I have an extra loaf rising just for her.
Merry, Merry, Merry, Merry Christmas!

post scriptum…insurance loaf to be delivered due to a case of 24 hour Bah-humbug attacking the 3 year old and preventing Mommy from attempting the bread.

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The Ghosts of Vegetables Past

Giant Mutant Pumpkins.  The larger one still reigns on the front porch.  The smaller one has deflated.

Giant Mutant Pumpkins in their  glory.

Deceased mutant pumpkin.

Deceased mutant pumpkin.

This is not a refrigerator story.  It’s a tribute to the dead mutant pumpkin on our  front porch …

…and a reflection on why white blobs embalmed in red liquid creep me out.pickled turnipsThe dead mutant is one of three giant pumpkins produced in the garden this year, grown from giant pumpkin seeds.  One of them–a white pumpkin– cracked and had to be cooked immediately.  As a result, I have many little bags of white pumpkin puree in the freezer. The dead mutant is number two, not quite making it until Halloween and definitely not making it into any pies.  The fate of the  third and Greatest Mutant Pumpkin is yet to be determined.

Now, as for the white blobs embalmed in red liquid…they are pickled turnips.  This is so completely not on my list of anything I have aspired to eat.  When Pioneer Man laid out his fall garden to include rows of turnips, I rolled my eyes.  I do not eat turnips.  I have never bought turnips. But God, with His Ultimate Sense of Humor, blessed the turnips above all other plants in the garden.  We have a bumper crop of turnips.

Pioneer Man is thrilled.

I am trying to overcome my childhood aversion to turnips.

I wasn’t traumatized by turnips, per se.  It’s just that my exposure to turnips came when a well-meaning adult—probably my paternal grandmother because I don’t recall my mother ever buying turnips– would hide them in a meal with the potatoes.  Cooked turnips, mashed, can hide with the potatoes, but they don’t taste like potatoes.  It’s a nasty trick.  The innocent child-mouth anticipates the creamy buttery goodness of mashed potatoes but is assaulted instead with the zippy tang of turnip.  It’s like telling your mouth you’re eating ice cream but tasting yogurt instead.

Now, as an adult, I can appreciate the flavor of a turnip.  I have to.  Pioneer Man keeps cooking them.  And they are tasty.  They have a zing reminiscent of radish and horse-radish.  I love radish and horseradish.  Tell my mouth to prepare for that zip and I’m all with you. But my childhood memory is still crying, “gack!”

Pickled turnips present their own problems.  They are pickled with a beet.  The beet turns the brine red.  When the red brine turns the white turnip red, the pickling is complete. Yeah, see, it’s the pickled beet thing.  And I am going to blame my mother for this one.

My mother was pregnant most of my childhood and she had her food cravings like any pregnant woman.  To this day, I’m not sure if my memories of what she ate back then reflected actual food preferences or pregnancy cravings.  At any rate, I have distinct memories of pickled beets and cottage cheese.  And the beet juice running around the plate dyeing the cottage cheese a  bloody red.  Who, besides my mother, wants to eat bloody cottage cheese?

I finally discovered the pleasure of fresh beets through a food co-op.  I never realized how wonderfully sweet beets are.  Ok, ok, I know they are sugar beets, but I didn’t believe it.  There is so little correlation in my mind between sugar beet and the thing on the plate with the bloody cottage cheese.

So now my husband is offering Wife I Am pickled turnips in beet brine.

I will not  eat them from that jar,

I will not eat them near or far,

I will not eat them here or there,

I will not eat them anywhere!

With trepidation, I taste one.

And, just like Sam I Am, I discover that they are good!  They would be a tasty appetizer with the oysters and sausages at Thanksgiving!  And I can see how fresh turnips would provide a nice zip to mashed potatoes…

But I promise–traditional mashed potatoes for Thanksgiving.

Here’s how Pioneer Man pickled his turnips, based on how old buddy Sam Wahbe’s mother used to make hers:

Pickled Turnips

  • Fill 4 quart jars with peeled, sliced raw turnips
  • Add a couple of whole jalepenos to each jar…pierced with a fork
  • Add 1/4 of a raw beet to each jar
  • Fill each jar with brine.  Pioneer Man used 3.5 cups water, 1.25 cups apple cider vinegar, 1 T. sea salt.
  • Put lids on jars and let sit until the white turnips turn red, a couple of days.
  • Then enjoy and try to convince another family member to try them, too.

pickled turnip 1

Not to the Store Blackberry Sauce

Not a picture of blackberry sauce

Not a picture of blackberry sauce

I almost went to the store yesterday.
There is nothing unusual in almost going to the store. Many days I almost go to the store. Many more days I refuse to go to the store. I hate going to the store.
Yesterday, however, I had an urge to go to the grocery store. But I fought it.

It’s like that old adage about what to do when you feel like exercising? Lie down until the feeling passes.
So I did.

What’s my big deal about going to the store?
I’ve been trying to see what I can make with what I have on hand. But I got into recipe hunting and then enthused by recipes for cucumbers and for blackberries and thought, “Oh, I must go get these ingredients.”

Or not.

So, lying on my porch glider with Ipad perched on my belly, I continued to wander around cyberspace.

One of the wonders of the internet is the ability to plug in search terms for anything you could possibly want to find.
One of the skills of researching is to narrow the search to what you actually need to find.

Googling blackberry recipes yielded plenty of wonderful stuff. But I had two salmon steaks in the freezer. Does blackberry work with salmon? And this is where everyone in Washington State salmon country with overloaded blackberry bushes screamed, “Yes!”

I found a blackberry sauce to go on grilled salmon…and I had all the ingredients in the house!  I reworked the dinner menu: grilled salmon with wild Maywood blackberry sauce; Greek salad starring Maywood cucumber, tomato, and oregano; sliced polenta. The farm-to-table queen rules!

The recipe is from tasteofhome.com. It was for a cedar plank salmon with blackberry sauce. I don’t care for cedar plank grilling, so we skipped that part. I only had one cup of berries and it was just for the two of us, so I halved the sauce. We had plenty of sauce to pour lavishly over two pieces of fish, so I’m guessing we could have drizzled it over four pieces.

It was seriously delicious. I would show you a picture but we were too busy eating it.

Wild Blackberry Sauce
(Yields about one cup)

Mix the following in a food processor:

1 cup blackberries
1 tablespoon white wine (I donated some from my glass)
1/2 tablespoon brown sugar
3/4 teaspoon honey (Maywood honey, of course)
3/4 teaspoon hot pepper sauce (I used Tabasco because it’s what was in the house)
pinch of salt and pepper

Strain the mixture through a sieve to get the blackberry seeds out. To the strained mixture add:

2 tablespoons chopped onion or shallot (I used red onion because I was out of shallot and the sauce is red anyway)
1/4 teaspoon minced garlic

That’s it. Just pour over hot grilled salmon.

And just so you know, I did go to the store today. I had to stock up at Wegman’s for an upcoming grandkid weekend and nearby Coldwater Creek, my favorite clothing store, was having a 90% off going out of business sale and it was my last chance to shop there ever.
Sigh. Now I really won’t want to go shopping because I have to find a new favorite store with clothes that fit. But I found some nice things real cheap, so I’ll have a few new things to pull out from now until long after the blackberries are gone.

In summer we gather, but we don’t gather chocolate

Cucumber Pear Gazpacho with Mint

Cucumber Pear Gazpacho with Mint

My daughter asked her two year old for dinner ideas because she was, yes, that desperate for help.
“Emily, what would you like for dinner?”
“Chocolate!”
If it were the middle of the hectic teaching year instead of the middle of summer, my daughter might have gone along with it.

Ah, but it is summer.

What I am loving about food planning right now is that it is based on what is growing at Maywood. (Or hereabouts!)  Instead of pondering all the choices of all the foods from all over the world that are all on display at Wegman’s, I start with the mound of produce on the counter and in the fridge.

It’s so much easier! Give me three little choices. I can handle that. Even a two year old can handle that.
“Emily, what would you like for dinner: zucchini, pickles, or roasted beets?”
And her answer will be, “Chocolate!”
(Ok, I made that up. Emily would totally eat any of the above, but we discovered Emily’s fixation with chocolate when she spied a closed box of fudge at our house.  She can’t read.  There were no pictures of candy on the box.  “Is that chocolate,” she asked.  “I looooove chocolate!”)

Emily looooves chocolate.

Emily looooves chocolate.

Admittedly, I will not be so optimistic about meal planning when my choices are limited to butternut squash, acorn squash, or pumpkin, and I may be tempted to add chocolate to all of them, but for the moment we are eating really well.
Last night’s meal was as good a meal as one we experienced at an upscale farm-to-table restaurant on vacation recently. In fact, the search for gazpacho recipes came from a delightful Cucumber Pear Gazpacho that was served at the Ebbitt Room in Cape May.  The one I made is not their recipe and I would love to have it!  In the meantime, I will search and tweak.

Here’s what we ate last night:

First Course:

Cucumber Pear Gazpacho with Mint

Entree:

Grilled Pork Tenderloin

 Roasted Beet Salad with Feta,

Corn sautéed with White Wine, Dill and Lime.

Dessert:

 Fresh Blackberry Tart

The cucumbers and mint came from the garden. The pork was already in the freezer. The corn was leftover from a grandkid cook-out/bonfire the night before. And the beets (already roasted!) were from my daughter’s garden. I picked the blackberries in the back yard. My grocery run for that meal was for Greek yogurt and almonds, and I’m thinking I could have used the non-Greek yogurt I had on hand and maybe eliminated the almonds.

Summertime at Maywood brings out the little pioneer woman in me. John hunts and plants while I gather. I gather berries and gourds and then gather recipes online. Instead of scouring the limitless possibilities of “what should we eat?” I ponder “what do we have?” and “how should we eat it?” It’s so much fun to see the abundance of what we already have and make something of it.

And I delight in the time to do it. Once the hectic school year starts, if I do not have summer stored in a jar or a freezer bag, I am likely to join little Emily in eating chocolate for dinner.

Here’s the recipe for Cucumber Pear Gazpacho from Cookthink.com.

Ingredients:

1 cup blanched, unsalted almonds, chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 cup water
3 medium cucumbers, chopped
1 cup Greek yogurt (preferably 2%)
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
10 mint leaves, sliced
1 Bartlett pear, diced

In a food processor (or blender), pulse the almonds, garlic and salt until finely ground.  Then add the water, cucumbers, yogurt, lemon juice, mint, and all but 2 tablespoons of the pear.  Pulse until combined.  Top each bowl with diced pear. 

The gazpacho really needs to be served COLD. The leftovers I had the following day for lunch had the benefit of a good chill and blended flavors. So, even though it is quick to make, it is best not made at the last minute.
I bought non-fat plain Greek yogurt but had whole milk regular yogurt on hand. I might try that next time. The recipe called for almonds chopped in the blender. They chopped into a nice fine powder but still gave a gritty feel to the soup. I didn’t care for that, so I wonder about eliminating the almonds altogether or maybe substituting almond milk for the almonds and the water.
Who wants to experiment and get back to me on that?

I’m Gonna Get Squashed

On a fishing pier Saturday with my mom, watching the waves roll to shore beneath us, I said, “Pretend it’s a tsunami and you have to outrun it.”  Right. The great-grandmother to my grandkids had already walked close to twenty miles with me during our week at the beach. Running was not going to happen.

The garden tsunami beginsReturning home I encountered the first wave of our garden tsunami. Cucumbers. And yellow squash. And zucchini. With blossoms on the patty pans, acorn squash, butternut, watermelon and pumpkins.  My farmboy (oh, fahmboy!) husband loves to say, “As you wish” to his Princess Bride, but the profusion of squash plants in our garden is most definitely his wish.  His 100 x 100 foot fenced garden is about half filled with squash plants, including seeds from a ginormous pumpkin that promised to produce more ginormous pumpkins.

In addition to blueberries, the wild blackberries,  brambles, and raspberries are ripening.

In addition to blueberries, the wild blackberries, brambles, and raspberries are ripening.

When the blueberries ripened, I was pleased with the pacing of the harvest…just enough every day for us to eat. As the blueberries waned, the wild raspberries ripened. What a God treat to have the berries coming in delicate succession like that, like little waves lapping at our ankles.

Ah, but the squash. How to keep ahead of the tsunami of squash.  To be precise, what we have is a tsunami of cucurbits, or gourds.  Cucumbers and melons and summer squash and winter squash and pumpkins belong to the family of  cucurbits.  And here’s a little etymological tidbit to ponder while scooping the innards and adding fillings, dips, and soups: the word came into Middle English by way (of course!) of the Old French cucurbite which came from the Latin cucurbita, meaning gourd or cup.

So cucumbers are not squash.  They are cucurbits.

We picked four pickle cukes the day before vacation and immediately made two jars of pickles. One jar was gobbled on vacation and the other when we got home. But we came home to eight cukes plus about four that my in-laws saved for us with our mail. (That does not include the ones they ate while we were gone.)

Monday I began running to beat the tsunami.

The paletas are cucumber lime ginger popsicles.  They are amazingly good and just as amazingly simple to make. Daughter, grandboy and grandgirl joined me in sampling them.  There is enough ginger to provide grown-ups with a pleasant gustatory zip, but not so much to turn away a three year old and his one year old teething sister.  Follow the link above to the easy recipe at Bon Appetit.

The pickle recipe began with a refrigerator pickle recipe from Allrecipes.com, but after comparing a few recipes with ingredients I had on hand, I ended up with this. I share it here so that I will not lose it!

Refrigerator Pickles

The measurements for the brine make enough to cover 4 cups of pickles.  Adjust quantities according to the amount of cucumber you have.

  • 4 cups pickles, sliced in rounds or in spears, whatever you like
  • 3 1/2 cups water
  • 1 1/4 cups white vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon sea salt

Bring water, vinegar, sugar, and salt to a boil.  Let cool completely. (Pouring hot brine on the cucumbers will soften them a  bit.  We want crisp cucumbers!)

Fill quart size mason jars with cucumbers.  To each jar add:

  • 1 tablespoon dill seed
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • sprinkle of dried dill weed or sprigs of fresh dill (for effect!)

Pour cooled brine into each jar to cover cucumbers.  Put lids on.  Store in fridge 3 days  before eating.  Pickles keep 6 weeks in the fridge…if you don’t eat them first.20140723-143512.jpg

So, I have used up all the cucumbers… for the moment. Now to outrun the zucchini…

 

 

 

Snow Bees and Honey Butter

He deserves some pumpkin bread and honey butter.  And maybe even a backrub.

He deserves some pumpkin bread and honey butter. And maybe even a backrub.

There’s a break in the weather.  After a foot and a half of snow, Mr. Beekeeper trudges out to the tractor to plow  before the next batch of snow comes in this evening.  The “break” means that it is merely raining.  “Merely raining” means that the foot and a half of snow is  getting packed down.  He will be out on the tractor for hours.  And then it will snow some more.  It might be nice to do some cooking for him.  I’m thinking pumpkin bread with his homegrown pumpkin and some honey butter using our Maywood honey.

But first, a trip to the bee yard.

One of the advantages of cleaning out a closet is finding things.  Often it is useless stuff the girls left behind when they moved out, but today I have found snow pants.  And they fit! So, even though it is lightly raining, I don snowpants and boots for a trek through the snow.  I can’t access the yard from the driveway because John has plowed a wall of snow there (which I will back into with the car until it melts), so I exit the house from the screen porch and wade through knee deep snow to get to the bees.

The bee yard during the Winter Storm Pax.  Who names a winter storm "Peace?"

The bee yard during the Winter Storm Pax. Who names a winter storm “Peace?”

I’m feeling bad for all the hard work John is doing plowing, but it is no easy hike to the bees today.  I have marked my walking stick in six inch increments.  Even packed down with rain, the snow still measures 18 inches with every step I take.

Hive B

Hive B

Down at the bees, the hives are putting off enough heat to keep a slim gap between the snow and the hive.  I only look at Hives B, C, and D.  Beekeeper Man determined recently that Hive A is kaput.  Probable diagnosis: dysentery.  (My last bee post commented on signs of dysentery on the hive.  With all the cold weather preventing more frequent cleansing flights, they succumbed.)  However, three hives are still hanging in  there.

Trudging back up to the house, I am tempted to swoosh snow from the garden bench and take a breather.  In the drizzling rain.  Visiting the bees seemed like a good idea when I was heading down to the bees.  Well, I’ve gotten my heart rate up and had a little workout, so even if I haven’t worked as hard as John, I won’t feel guilty having some pumpkin bread with honey butter.

It was easier walking down to the bees, than coming back up!

It was easier walking down to the bees, than coming back up!

***********************************************************************************

Here’s my ratio for honey butter:

  • 1 stick of butter
  • 1/2 cup Maywood honey

I blended the two with my immersion blender.  This is because I couldn’t find 2 matching beaters for the hand mixer, but the immersion blender worked better anyway.  So creamy!  The honey we have on hand right now (from the hives we lost last year) is really dark and loaded with pollen.  John spun it from the brood frames after losing the bees.

************************************************************************************

And here’s the recipe for the pumpkin bread:

  • 3  1/4 cups flour
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1  1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 2 cups fresh, not canned pumpkin (mine was frozen, then thawed in microwave)
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 4 eggs (I used jumbo sized)
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Put all dry ingredients into large bowl and mix together with spoon.  Add all wet ingredients and the nuts.  Mix until combined.

Pour into 3 greased bread pans.  Bake at 350 degrees for an hour.  Test with toothpick for doneness.  My loaves took an extra 10 minutes or so.

(I found this on Allrecipes.com.  The recipe originated from the mother of V. Monte, who used canned pumpkin and added 2/3 cup water.  Reviewers suggested eliminating the water, especially if using fresh pumpkin.  Even without the water, this is a yummy moist pumpkin bread!)

Pumpkin bread with Maywood honey butter

Pumpkin bread with Maywood honey butter

Whole Milk

“You’d yell at me if I did that.”

So true.  My offense this time was to bring home a gallon of whole milk.  My husband has been scolded in the past for bringing home 2%.  But whole milk?  That’s positively decadent–like pouring half-and-half on cereal.

The photo of Wilson Dairy predates me by a long time.

The photo of Wilson Dairy predates me by a long time.

The irony of this situation is that I grew up a product of the Wilson Dairy Company in Atlantic City, New Jersey.  Literally.  It was the family dairy.  And I grew up on Wilson milk.  Whole milk.  Unlimited quantities of whole milk.  I don’t think 2% passed my lips until I was a teenager.  By 1970, Wilson Dairy was no more and, with the seven Wilson teenagers in my family still drinking unlimited quantities of milk, I’m guessing my mother cut the fat to save a couple of cents a gallon. (She also cut out the milk delivery which resulted in the milkman–desperate not to lose the business of our large family– bribing her with a case of Cap’n Crunch cereal.  We went through a lot of milk eating up that cereal.  It did not turn out to be an effective strategy on his part.)

At any rate, 2% became the new norm with 1% appearing by the time my own girls were teens.  Skim milk had a short lived run with a Weight Watchers Points Calculator–and protests from the family, including my own dairy-girl conscience. Almond milk even showed up in the fridge when our middle daughter was on her high health kick and not constrained by an actual budget.

Sometimes, however, you just have to have whole milk.

Saturday, I decided to make some of my grandmother’s Cornstarch Pudding.  My motivation was my mother, whose tummy was not feeling well. In a weak, pathetic voice, she had said, “I need a mother.”  Well, nothing comforts a sad little tummy like Cornstarch Pudding.

The original recipe called for “milk.”  For my grandmother, that was, of course, whole milk.  By the time I last made it, I was using 1%.  Now, this recipe has always made a thin pudding.  Whipped egg whites are folded in to fluff it up.  But over the years I was finding that the pudding was too thin and I needed much more cornstarch than the original recipe called for.

Saturday, I chose to use whole milk in the pudding.  First of all, Mom needed a yummy treat.  And secondly, I had a sinister plan to fatten her up.  She hasn’t eaten well in a couple of weeks, she’s “hiding” in her cute little sweat suit, and she hasn’t given me a weight report.  That says to me that she has lost weight.  Whole milk was my plan to keep her from  blowing away.

Well, this was the best batch of cornstarch pudding I have made in years.  The consistency was perfect.  Not thick.  Creamy.  Oh duh…this cook who has been making turkey gravy for years and knows all about the ratio of fat to flour in a good gravy completely forgot that the same principle applies to puddings.

So, a double batch of pudding used half a gallon of milk.  What about the other half?  Some went into creamy mashed potatoes.  Some will surely soothe me with a bedtime hot cocoa.  My morning coffee is going to taste great this week.  The rest is for my hubby to chug.

But don’t get any grand ideas, John.  Next gallon, we’re back to low-fat.  Or you’ll get yelled at.

Here’s the recipe…I recommend using whole milk!

Dooda’s Cornstarch Pudding

  • 1 qt. milk, divided
  • 2 eggs, separated
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch
  • pinch of salt
  • vanilla to taste (1 teaspoon)

In double boiler, heat 3 cups of the milk until scalded (steaming hot, but not boiling).

In another bowl, mix 2 egg yolks, beaten.  Then add sugar, cornstarch, salt, 1 cup cold milk.  Mix well and stir into hot milk.  Stir constantly, about 15 minutes, until pudding has thickened.  Add vanilla.

Save egg whites for meringue.  (When pudding has cooled, whip egg whites with 1/4 cup sugar til stiff.  Fold into pudding.)

Taming the beast: A tale of customer service

CIMG7799A very sweet student confessed last week, “Sometimes I wish I had a good reason to punch someone in the face.  I think it would be really fun.”  After an initial double-take on my part, we went on to discuss how we love those scenes in movies where the girl hauls off and slugs someone who really deserves it, often a big clueless guy who never sees the swing coming.  The best scenes are when the gal has accidentally slugged the wrong person–or smashed a vase on his head– and then has to repair the relational damage.

I  am no advocate of punching people in the face, but my sister and I have been known…ahem…to verbally explode, sometimes in public places.  I was going to credit/blame this trait on our father’s choleric temperament, but upon reflection, Mom has done this a couple of times herself and we have cheered her on. Dad’s explosions were like a constant barrage of fireworks.  Ours are more like the explosion that results from a very long slow steady gas leak.  And the person holding the match gets blown to smithereens, usually with a pithy quote.

Some of our classic “punch” lines:

  • “I’m not just buying a toaster oven from you people!” (This was me in the appliance section of Montgomery Ward over the delivery of a houseful of major appliances.)
  • “I am appalled!!!” (Me again, at a restaurant in Cape May.  This is my mom’s favorite.  She’s been quoting it back to me for twenty-five years.)
  • “Don’t ever buy a vacuum cleaner from this store!” (My sister to everyone in Best Buy.)

And the latest (by phone): “I don’t expect you to fix it.  All you can do is listen to me yell at you!”

I’m also not an advocate of yelling at people in lieu of punching them.  Arrogant people who bully others to booster their feelings of self-importance are really annoying.  After all, a person’s a person no matter how small…or stupid…or incompetent.  And who’s to say who has had a worse day…the customer or the employee?  But sometimes explosions happen.

Here’s a tale from Friday. It has a happy ending.

It’s the end of a five-day week that felt twice that long.  I drive to the new Harris Teeter grocery store across the street from school.  My mission: to buy kid-sized Adirondack chairs for my granddaughter.  While there, I pick up some things for dinner.  Three weeks away from total hip replacement surgery, I keep swearing off shopping, but I still find myself in the grocery store.

I  get in the checkout line behind a woman with a large order.  I am really feeling the pain, but have the cart to lean on.  An employee says she can assist me through the self-checkout.  Now, I don’t like self-checkout.  I want a person to check the items, put them in bags and, in an ideal world, put them into the cart for me.  Harris Teeter’s checkout lanes are uniquely designed to facilitate this ideal world.

But I follow the helpful employee to the self-checkout lane.  I do not yet have a Harris Teeter “VIC” card.  The employee says she will scan my items while I go to customer service for a VIC card.  Fine.  Step by tortured step, I hobble over to the service desk and get a VIC card.

Would they have been so friendly if I weren't a Very Important Customer?

Would they have been so friendly if I weren’t a Very Important Customer?

Meanwhile, back at self-checkout, my items are scanned and bagged, but not loaded into my cart.  Furthermore, the helpful employee has gone off to be helpful somewhere else.  A different person handles my payment.  I begin to leave but realize that only the kiddie chairs are in the cart.  I grab my two bags from the bagging shelf and head home.

Thirty miles and forty-five minutes later, I peel myself out of the car, stretch out my locked-in-position hips and drag my body up the three steps into the house.  I plop two bags onto the counter.  Finally, I’m home.

“You can light the grill!” I call to my husband.

“What did you get?”

“Steaks!”

This water bottle apparently couldn't share a bag with a steak.

This water bottle apparently couldn’t share a bag with a steak.

I go through the bags.  The first bag contains one item– a water bottle.  Really.  From the other bag I  pull out cheese, a baguette, olives, and tomatoes.  There’s no steak.

There’s no steak.

I have driven thirty miles and there’s no steak.   I’m not driving back.

I had grabbed two bags at the store.  Why would you need three bags for an order that small???  If Helpful Employee #1 had stayed on task, she would have said, “Excuse me, ma’am, here’s a third bag.”  Helpful Employee #2 didn’t know there were three bags because she arrived at the end of the transaction.  I didn’t know there were three bags because I was off getting a VIC card instead of supervising Helpful Employee #1.

This is a classic example of multi-tasking gone awry.  Can we please, as a society, learn to carry one simple task to completion?

So now I’m tired, in pain, and angry.  John heads off to our local grocery, just five minutes away, to pick up a steak.  I call the Harris Teeter store and speak with the manager, who just happens to be Helpful Employee #2.

“We want to do whatever we can to make this up to you,  ” she said.

That’s when I tell her the only thing she can do at this point is listen to me yell at her.

Then she says, “We will drive the steaks over to your house.”

It’s thirty miles the back way to my house.  The normal way–the Beltway–is thirty-five miles and it’s a Friday evening.  It could easily take an hour and a half to get from Ellicott City to Hereford.  I tell the manager that it is a ridiculous idea.

“No, really, we will do it.”

“Ok.  I accept your offer.”  I feel guilty for about a nano-second for the employee who is going to have to sit in rush hour traffic for an eternity and a day.  But I accept the offer because waiting until Monday to go back into the store for a refund will keep me annoyed until at least Monday and even then I will probably be hesitant to ever again stop in at Harris Teeter on my way home.  And I want to stop at Harris Teeter on my way home.

(Those of you who are wondering why I can’t just stop at the store five minutes from my house do not understand the effects of a long commute on the body.  By the time I am five minutes from home, I want to be home.)

So, Helpful Employee #2, a.k.a. Manager, says that hopefully the steaks will arrive by the time the grill is hot.  My husband and I know better.  Sure, enough, when the car comes rolling down the driveway, we are finishing our meal.

I was 90% satisfied when the manager offered to deliver the steak.  It was such an outrageous offer.  With the arrival of the assistant store manager I am more than 100% satisfied.  And then she goes completely over the top.  Instead of one steak, there are two–for my aggravation.  And a rotisserie chicken, because someone realized that dinner was going to be really late.  And a cake, to sweeten things up.  And flowers, to make me happy.

And it worked.  When I look at the flowers I think, “How lovely!”  When my in-laws got a gift of some steak they thought, “How thoughtful!”  When we eat the rotisserie chicken I think, “How helpful!”  Next week, when I pull the cake from the freezer to celebrate my daughter’s new house we’ll think, “How sweet!”

Will I go back to Harris Teeter?  Absolutely.  Will I check to see that I have everything when I leave the store? Darn tootin’ I will.  Will I let the manager send someone all the way to my house again?  No.  They’ve already proven that they go the extra mile.

As for me, maybe I should wear a count-down to surgery button, just to warn people in my path.  Or maybe my husband should do the world a favor and let me avoid grocery stores for the next couple of months.

Charcuterie:an alternate way to spend time–and money– on the links

Breakfast sausage with Fresh Ginger and Sage

The aroma of freshly grated ginger, minced sage and garlic has my mouth watering for the sausage that John is preparing.  The man-cave, where John works his culinary magic while watching Rise of the Planet of the Apes, smells amazing.  This is serious aroma therapy.  This can waft through the house any time.  As for the apes, well, that is what a man-cave is for.  And they usually waft in after a few hours hunting from a deer stand.

“The organ donors are here!” With that pronouncement, a hunter hands me a plastic bag containing a fresh deer heart and liver.  Delighted with the gift, I immediately put it into the man-cave fridge.  The hunters used to toss out the heart and liver, but now that John is into charcuterie, the organ meat is a special treat.

John launched his interest in charcuterie with his (in)famous venison liverwurst.  Then he wowed us with his pepperoni-like jalapeno venison sausage.  Now he masters non-venison sausage.  Last week we had turkey-dried cherry sausage.  It was amazing for dinner with some roasted potatoes and sautéed brussel sprouts.

LEM sausage stuffer with the breakfast link attachment

With the success of the ginger-sage pork sausage, we are now hooked on these little breakfast links.  I’ll use them in the Thanksgiving Day stuffing.  They will be featured at the Christmas morning brunch menu.  What’s left from this batch will be gobbled up by Harper for breakfasts.

My husband can spend time on the links whenever he wants.  Sausage links, that is.  (He doesn’t play  golf–ever.) He’s gotten really quite good at making sausage and we really enjoy the quality and taste of his homemade charcuterie.  However, like anyone addicted to links, his hobby requires the necessary toys…  I mean, equipment.

Heavy duty Waring Pro meat grinder–no plastic parts on this baby.

First he needed a meat grinder.  A good one.  So he got one for Christmas.  Then he needed a smoker.   Well, those are a bit pricey, so he made his own with a few inexpensive items bought at Home Depot.  Yeah, it’s pretty red-necky but I think that’s part of the charm.  Plus, it works.  The meat grinder came with a sausage attachment, but it was annoying to use.  So…next came a sausage stuffer.  And then an attachment for doing the breakfast links.  Now he’s talking about converting a fridge into a humidifier to replicate cool Italian  caves for making  dry-cured sausages.  You see where this is going.  Oh, he’ll get his fridge, but I’m insisting that it be the old fridge and that I get a new one for the kitchen.

The right equipment helps produce good product.  That doesn’t rule out an occasional sub-par performance, from which John has learned some things:

1. There is such a thing as too much fat in sausage.

2.  Not everything tastes better smoked.  This was a hard lesson to learn.  Ten pounds of meat went into a smoked liverwurst that was so bad we didn’t even offer it to my sister’s dog.  To make the loss even worse, John stood over the smoker in the rain protecting it with an umbrella to finish it.  He not only couldn’t eat it, he got cold and wet in the process.

Charcuterie

3.  A good cookbook is invaluable.  Recipes for Breakfast Sausage with Fresh Ginger and Sage, Turkey Sausage with Dried Tart Cherries, and Summer Sausage all  came from Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn (W.W. Norton, 2005).  The book gives excellent instructions on the basics of sausage making and the recipes produce delicious sausages you just can’t buy, as well as sauces and relishes and such to go with them.

If you come over one day and find a new fridge in my kitchen, you’ll know John has gotten his “Italian cave.”  But it will  be a win-win-win situation–I’ll have a new fridge, John will have a new “toy” and there will be more sausage curing in the man-cave for us all to eat.

Sure beats golf.

Arrrrrrrrrrrr is for Oysters

Indian Summer has finally given way to crisp chill of oyster weather.  It’s November, the third month from September through April containing an “R,” and we are well into oyster season, but it took a monster late season hurrricane/nor’easter/winter weather event to usher in the appropriate chill.  Which raises some questions:  how do oysters fare during such an extreme weather event?  Are they safely snuggled in their oysters beds while a storm rages overhead? Or are they, too, in need of disaster relief?  Will there be Blue Points for Thanksgiving?  And if not, will it be because of a lack of oysters or because the oystermen are are still pumping out their homes?

This calls for some research.  Hmm…high winds, heavy rains, and storm surge all cause problems for oyster beds.  Pounding waves can physically damage their beds; storm surge can bring damaging sedimentation; and heavy rains or ocean surge can bring about extreme changes in salinity.  Ocean surge can dramatically increase the salinity of bay oysters; storm run-off can dilute the salinity of ocean bivalves.  This does not bode well for the Blue Points this year.  Or the incredibly tasty Cape May Salts.  The Chincoteagues were spared the violent brunt of the storm, but it remains to be seen if the huge rainfall and storm water run-off impacted them.  The Susquehanna watershed is pretty big.

I partook of my first oysters of this season last month in Cape May.  The local Cape May Salts are a good briny oyster, and I thoroughly enjoyed slurping the tender, slippery, seasalty bivalves.  A couple of weeks ago we were dining in Old Town Alexandria, Virginia, and enjoyed some salty Chincoteagues.  Now our mouths are primed for oysters, and we’re pining for more, especially the Blue Points that we traditionally have on Turkey Day.

Friday night, John stopped at Gibby’s to buy oysters on his way home from work.  Being way too tired to want to shuck them himself, he bought them in a plastic container.  Normally, we prefer to eat the oyster from its own shell, but pre-shucked oysters are better than no oysters at all.  I’ve even figured out how to serve them—on deviled egg plates.  Seriously, how often do I make deviled eggs?  Once a year on Easter.  But those egg plates, shaped not-unlike an oyster shell, have twelve little scoopy spots that are just perfect for serving shell-less oysters.  I plop twelve oysters into each of the two plates and serve one to John and one to me, ideally topped with my mignonette or a bit of cocktail sauce.  Ta dah.  It sure looks nicer than a little bowl of gray oyster loogies.

(Personal note to this year’s Thanksgiving oyster initiate:  you did not just hear me compare oysters to loogies.  If you can eat tough, chewy clams, you most certainly can eat delicate oysters.)

Friday night’s oysters were fine, but they weren’t salty.  Alas, the seafood store could not attest to their origin.  They did not shuck those oysters themselves; they just accepted delivery of oyster-filled containers.  For all we know they came from the Gulf of Mexico.  They would have tasted better with a good mignonette, but I was too worn out by my Hurricane Sandy induced one-day work week to chop up the ingredients.  Anyway, by Saturday night they were destined for oyster stew, a worthy culinary fate.

John’s Oyster Stew

Here’s the recipe for John’s Oyster Stew.  The one he made Saturday was perhaps the best ever, so, even if don’t rave over a raw oyster, that does not mean I won’t rave over it in a stew.

John’s Oyster Stew

  • 1 quart shucked oysters, strained with  1 cup oyster liquid saved
  • 4 cups milk
  • 2/3  of a half-pint of heavy cream (Yeah, it’s  a weird amount but that’s what he used. I think I’d dump the whole container in, but, hey, it’s not my recipe.)
  • 6 tablespoons butter, divided
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • worcestershire to taste
  • tabasco to taste
  • fresh parsley for garnish
  • oyster crackers

Saute the strained oysters in large soup pot with the 4 T of butter until oyster edges curl and liquid has started to boil.  Add the milk, 1 cup oyster liquids (the “liquor”), and the cream.  Add the remaining butter.  Heat the stew until hot–the butter should melt, the soup should be steamy but must not boil.  Add salt, pepper, worcestershire, and tabasco to taste.  When steamy hot, remove from heat.  Serve garnished with fresh parsley and oyster crackers.

I like my stew to have a little zip to it.  John does not want to actually taste the worcestershire or the tabasco.  He wants the oyster flavor to shine, but the worcestershire and tabasco are still necessary to add interest and complexity to the milk based broth.

So support the oyster industry–go buy some (preferably local) oysters.  Or, if you really can’t swallow an oyster, show your solidarity by drinking a Flying Dog “Pearl Necklace” Oyster Stout.  I don’t know how they make beer with oysters, but this is a nice one.  Really.  And it doesn’t taste like oysters at all.  Here’s hoping–and praying– that the East Coast oystermen and their oysters make a speedy recovery from Hurricane Sandy.

Yeah, it’s made with oysters. And proceeds benefit Chesapeake Bay Oyster Restoration.