Sugar, Salt and Everything Nice

Saturday mornings and Wednesday afternoons from the cool crisp mornings of May to the hot, humid days of October, or until the corn dries up, the bays at the Hopkins County Farmers Market fill with farmers eager to sell and Kentucky residents happy to buy.

On a cemetery-grey sky kind of Saturday, just after 7 a.m. in mid-August, I drove 2 miles to HCFM to talk with Jeanne Marcum. Jeanne sells a line of natural skin care and culinary products called Park Bench Naturals.

Jeanne Marcum/Park Bench Naturals

Jeanne Marcum/Park Bench Naturals

A few weeks prior, I bought a tin of Chipotle Lime Salt from her. I sprinkled it on scrambled eggs, baked salmon, fresh sliced tomatoes, boiled sweet corn, roasted chicken and rubbed it on pork butt. The smoky, dusty flavor complemented everything! Prior to buying the salt from Jeanne I thought of her as “granola girl,” an endearing term I apply to women who wear hippy clothes, no makeup and sell handmade soaps and lotions.

TMO organic tomatoes

Since Jeanne hadn’t arrived to the market yet, I wandered through the pavillion. Red, pink, yellow and green tomatoes were lined up like soldiers, or piled and sorted by flavors like Rutgers, black cherry, brandywine and green zebra. Cranberry beans, lima beans and crowder peas were sorted in baskets to be sold by the mess. Sweet corn, yellow corn and silver queen corn were piled high on the backs of truck lift gates. White pattypan squash, small globes of candy onions and baggies of fresh basil tempted sleepy-eyed customers. The air smelled sweet and light from citrusy French Orange Cantaloupes, fresh-shucked Peaches and Cream sweet corn, and the threat of a morning rainstorm.

Twin Maples Organic farmer Chris Devoto at HCFM

Twin Maples Organic farmer Chris Devoto at HCFM

I bought a twenty-pound box of tomatoes for $.50 a pound from George and Rita, middle-aged farmers as sweet as peach pie. I chatted with my favorite farmers, Chris Devoto and Elizabeth Ewing of Twin Maples Organics to see what they planted new this year (celery root and leeks). TMO is the only CSA certified organic farmer within two hundred miles of my home. Chris and Elizabeth are tall thirty-something energetic farmers with sun kissed skin and infectious easygoing smiles. They stage their heirloom tomatoes on blackboard-chalked tables. Oversized baskets showcase clumps of organic beets, jars of honey, purple and white stripped Sicilian eggplants, and mason jars of preserves and relishes.

zinnias

Fresh cut zinnias and sunflowers were pimped out in tall tin vases. I bought  a bag of basil and a few pounds of distressed Brandywine tomatoes for $1.50 per pound, normally $2.50 per pound, to bake a few Galettes later that day.

tomato and eggplant galettes

Scott Wells of Hanson Berry Farms, also a CSA farmer, was in the bay next to TMO. Scott sat quietly on the gate of his Ford pick-up. A squat white freezer was behind him, filled with two-pound packages of frozen mild and hot ground sausage from his own pigs I learned. His spit cup was within reach next to his hip. I peppered him with questions about his feed, ingredients, and how could I get on the bacon list. He talked and chewed while he answered my questions. His legs swung back and forth with a relaxed gait like a man with nothing but time on his side. Scott asked for my card and then asked me to be patient about the bacon. I bought a two-pound tube of hot sausage, a bargain to have local pork I reasoned despite the GMO feed. I turned to leave and saw Jeanne backing up in her gold Jeep Wrangler.

***

Jeanne has sold PBN products since 2012.

Jeanie Marcum PBN

Jeanie Marcum

Prior to that time she “gave away” products, a common tactic for small startups. One this Saturday morning, Jeanne sported a tie-dye dress and batik print hair band. She is the type of woman when you look at her you might think hippy chick. With her freckled skin, blond hair, bright white smile, and sea blue eyes, she could sell PBN at the Straw Market in Nassau, or any number of markets in Florida or around the country.

Park Bench Naturals

Jeanne has embodied the natural, chemical free, holistic, medicinal lifestyle since the 1980s. Armed with a Bachelor of Arts in Corporate Exercise and Nutrition, she decided to develop products “made naturally 4 U” in her words when she moved to western Kentucky.

jeanie marcum

Jeanne’s lifestyle mirrors her products. She lives with her family in Manitou, KY where she grows chemical free and GMO free produce, raises grass-fed cattle and free range chickens and mills her own flour. She forages in her woods and pastures for herbs and plants to enhance her PBN product line. She researches extensively for base ingredients like solar dried flake sea salt and organic turbinado sugar for her gourmet finishing salts and sugars like Kentucky King of the Red, a merlot wine-based finishing salt, and Bourbon Vanilla Bean sugar, a local favorite.

Park Bench Naturals salt

Bourbon Vanilla sugar

Jeanne creates blends of loose leaf red and black herbal teas too. In addition to the artisanal salts and sugars, she sells herb-scented hand crafted soaps, 17 natural pure essential oils, mud scrubs and rubs, tooth powders and body lotions.

Park Bench naturals soap

Park Bench Naturals

She develops all of her products on her 130-acres ranch-style homestead. The forward thinking marketing side of Jeanne coined her business Park Bench Naturals as a homage to the upcoming city park in Madisonville.

When I asked her for three uses for her sugars and salts, she beamed and said, “For sugar-coffee, chai tea and crème brule. For my finishing salt-farm fresh eggs,” (think deviled eggs with chipotle lime finishing salt–emphasis mine), “rub for pork, beef and chicken.” She nodded to a passerby and then added, “Oh, and my motto on the tin Keep a Tin on the Table.”

I chatted with a few of Jeanne’s customers, who seemed timid to buy from her diverse selection of salts and sugars, but eager to talk about cooking–the perfect reason to go to any farmers market. One fellow and his wife talked nonstop about a Bourbon-infused smoked Paprika they bought in Louisville. Apparently they sprinkle it on everything. “A little goes a long way,” the fellow leaned in to tell me.

Before I left the market, I stopped to buy a peck of white peaches from Miss Linda at Brumfield Farm Market. Chipotle Lime Salt seasoned salmon topped with a fresh peach salsa was on my mind.

When I got home, I realized I hadn’t bought a tin of Bourbon Vanilla Bean Sugar for my morning coffee. Then I remembered-Wednesday market is just a few days away.

***

Jeanie Marcum Park Bench Naturals

Want to know more about Jeanne Marcum’s “Made for 4 U” Park Bench Naturals products?

Find Jeanne at the HCFM May through October. When she’s not at the market, her products can be found at the following Hopkins County, Kentucky locations: Brumfield Farm Market, Big City Coffee & Market, Barbie Hunts Studio, and most recently in the newly opened The Hub, an artisanal craft store and coffee shop in Hanson, KY.

Find Park Bench Naturals products at Guthrie Pantry in Guthrie, KY. “Like’ Park Bench Naturals on Facebook and find out about its full product list, shipping information and more. Park Bench Naturals is a registered Kentucky Proud product.

3 Easy Quinoa Recipe Ideas

I may be late to the party, but I always bring something to the table.

Vegan Quinoa Sushi

Vegan Quinoa Sushi

This is the only way I can describe cooking and eating quinoa. Despite the history (5,000 years), culture (South America) and nutrition (can you say superfood?) of quinoa, up until a few months ago, I was a quinoa cooking virgin. Since that time, things changed ’round here.

Enter Three Easy Quinoa Recipe Ideas.

Do you eat quinoa?

I bought my firrst bag of white quinoa and then decided to toss a box of red quinoa in the cart too because, frankly, I didn’t know the difference. I did know quinoa would be a hard sell to Elvis. He is, by far, the fussiest eater I know. That said, I am happy to write he was eager to eat (and yes! he liked) my Vegan Quinoa Sushi. Since that recipe I have only glanced at the partial bag and unopened box of red quinoa in my pantry.

Do you make quinoa for a party or event?

Until a few weeks ago that is.

I needed a quick, easy, lunch entrée for my writers guild.

Enter Farmers Market Quinoa.

Farmers Market Quinoa

Farmers Market Quinoa

By adding fresh corn, tomatoes, peppers, spinach, cucumbers, cilantro, basil, parsley and mint to the nutty tasting quinoa, I made a refreshing, light salad. I served the chilled salad with buttermilk dressing and bacon bits on the side for those who really can’t do without bacon. Ever. I also offered champagne vinaigrette for a crisp, clean flavor for those who prefer a lighter flavor profile. You can make the FM quinoa up to a day ahead, but don’t add the fresh herbs or dressing until just before serving. Chamomile Agave iced tea is the perfect beverage to serve with quinoa recipe idea.

Do you cook quinoa for one?

I do. Wow. I made a whole cup of quinoa which yields, well, a lot of little grains of quinoa. I didn’t think to reduce the amount. Silly. Yes. Spacey. Yes. So unless you want to eat quinoa for a few days, just make ½ cup. Or make a whole cup and go with one of my other quinoa recipe ideas below.

I knew I wanted to try a warm quinoa dish for dinner. There is just something about hot food isn’t there? Even on a sweltering August night. Here’s how Mediterranean Quinoa recipe idea went down.

While the quinoa simmered, I raided the refrigerator for a Mediterranean-style dish. Once the quinoa finished cooking (fifteen minutes), I plopped a few healthy spoonfuls of warm quinoa in a bowl then added a few teaspoons of pesto, a few quartered marinated artichokes, some chopped tomatoes, a smattering of canned chickpeas, one diced medjool date, tossed some shaved parmesan reggiano cheese on top, then chopped a couple of fresh basil leaves, added a dash of salt, pepper and lastly, a splash of olive oil. Yep. That’s it.

Stir and serve baby. (Sorry, I didn’t take a photo of this dish-I was hungry.) Kick up your feet and eat out of the bowl while you watch Dallas, True Blood, Modern Family or, whatever you do when you eat dinner for one.

What do you do with leftovers?

The next day, I saw that bowl of leftover quinoa in the refrigerator and noticed a ready-to-eat peach on the counter. Enter the next quinoa recipe idea.

Peach and Cucumber Quinoa Salad

Quinoa Peach Cucumber Salad

Quinoa Peach Cucumber Salad

Plop a few spoonfuls of cold quinoa in a medium sized bowl. Chop a medium sized peach and a quarter of a medium cucumber into bite-sized pieces. Quarter a red onion and using a mandolin or a sharp knife, slice a few slivers of onion. A little goes a long way. Chop a quarter of a tomato. Chop fresh chopped parsley or mint. Add all to the bowl. Squeeze a cut lemon over the salad. Drizzle white wine vinegar and olive oil over the salad. Stir and taste. Season with salt and pepper if desired. Serve immediately, or cover and refrigerate for later.

That’s it. Simple right?

What have you made with quinoa lately? Got a photo to share? Let me know in the comments or on FB. I’ll add your quinoa recipe photo to my Pinterest Food board.

Hungry for more recipe ideas? While you’re here, why not sign up to have my posts delivered to your inbox? I do not sell or spam your email. Pinky promise.

Tomato Herb Sourdough Bread

You know it’s summertime when riots and looting are a result of an innocent killing in Missouri, but you want to talk about your Husky Gold tomatoes.

Tomato Herb Sourdough Bread

You know it’s summertime when flash floods fill the streets of New York, but you want to talk about your Baby Roma tomatoes.

Organic Baby Roma tomatoes

You know it’s summertime when POTUS sends a “humanitarian mission” to Iraq with the disclaimer “they will defend themselves if necessary,” but you want to brag about how many jars of tomatoes you canned.

Canned Tomatoes

Not many other subjects pervade summertime conversations like tomatoes. Except perhaps corn (which is fodder for another post). Whether you grow your tomatoes on a rooftop, in a hydroponic garden, in the ground, or buy them at the farmers market, you gotta admit, tomatoes are the quintessential summer fruit. Worth bragging about. I mean do you really want to talk about Putin’s ego and ISIS?

Kentucky organic tomatoes

Red, pink, yellow, green. Round, oval, as big as a grapefruit or as small as a nickel. Sweet, juicy, drip down your chin, tomatoes need very little to taste great. A kiss of sea salt, a drizzle of olive oil, or ranch dressing (hey remember I’m from Pittsburgh), or simply plopped in your mouth after you snipped that Rutgers from its stem and wiped off the skin with a bit of spit and polish on your tee-shirt.

Tomatoes scream summertime.

The Creative Cooking Crew challenge for August and September is yep, tomatoes.

Did I mention I bought a twenty-pound case of Better Boy tomatoes?

Roasted Eggplant Galette

After a few tomato and roasted eggplant galette’s, several canning operations, a batch of garlic chili tomato salsa, I stood in my kitchen and stared at those tomatoes. Since I think best with a full belly, I sliced a thick slab of bread, put it in the toaster and while I held my butter knife, I began to think how I would love a thick, chunky tomato jam to slather all over my toasted sourdough bread. For the record, I could live on tomatoes, corn, and homemade bread all summer long.

Never one to attempt a recipe without doing a Google search first, I found several recipes for tomato jam as you might imagine. Most require all the same ingredients. Tomatoes, lemons, sugar, pectin, cloves, ginger, cinnamon and a lot of time. I had everything on the list except time. I crunched on my toast and realized I was overthinking this CCC challenge.

Enter Tomato Herb Sourdough Bread.

Tomato Herb Sourdough Bread

Before you click away, this is not one of those “starter” breads like my Oscar that takes two days and special bread flour. This is bread from a box. Yep, worth repeating. Bread from a box. It is good. Trust me. Especially since it is packed with fresh sun-kissed summer tomatoes.

Here is what you knead need for Tomato Herb Sourdough Bread

  • 2 large fresh tomatoes (you pick the variety), or several small ones
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
  • A box of Krusteaz sourdough bread. (This is not a promotional/paid post btw). But if someone from Krusteaz is reading and you want me to work for you, I’m all in. Call or email works.
  • Flour for dusting.
  • 1 hour

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Remove the skin from the tomatoes. You know the drill-cross hatch the bottom, submerge in boiling water for a minute, dump in an ice bath, then peel.

Once peeled, cut in half and remove the seeds. Work over the sink. This is messy.

Chop the tomatoes and begin to pat dry with paper towels to remove the excess water. You can add a little kosher salt to help the weeping process, but don’t use much. How much? A dash.

When dry (about ten minutes), chop the halves into a coarse bite-sized pieces.

Chop your herbs.

Now here comes the really hard part (NOT). Prepare the bread according to the box directions. You want the “artisanal” recipe toward the bottom, the one that takes an hour. You will mix the bread mix, the yeast (included in the box), warm water, tomatoes and herbs until you have a sticky, blob of bread.

Place your bread blob (awful word, but accurate) on a parchment-lined baking sheet and form it into a round loaf. Or you can split it for smaller loaves if you want. It’s your bread.

Set the timer for thirty minutes and walk away.

After thirty minutes, dust the top of the bread with flour. Use a serrated knife and slice a few hatch marks (about ½”) into the top of the bread. Bake for thirty to thirty-five minutes. The box reads thirty, but with the extra liquid and heft from the tomatoes, you might need a few more minutes.

Cool bread on rack before slicing. Slather with butter, tomato jam or a cheese spread like the one in the photo.Tomato Cheese Spread

OCD Cheese Spread

  • 2 ounces cream cheese
  • 2 ounces feta cheese
  • Lemon zest and juice
  • Fresh basil olive oil
  • Salt and pepper

Bring cheeses to room temperature in a medium bowl. Add a squirt of lemon juice. Zest a little lemon, careful not to zest the white pith. Chop several basil leaves and drizzle a little olive oil if you don’t have any basil olive oil made up. Add a dash of kosher salt and a few cranks of black pepper. Stir. Spread on Tomato Herb Sourdough Bread, grilled chicken, baked salmon, or crumble on sliced summer tomatoes and add a splash of balsamic vinegar.

Appetite required.

Creative Cooking Crew
While you’re munching, head over to the Creative Cooking Crew’s Pinterest board to see all the other fabulous tomato recipes from the oh-so-talented CCC. Here is the completed August CCC Challenge round-up. Thanks as always to Joan and Laz. or come back for the complete round-up of photos Aug 29.
While you’re here go ahead and sign up for my posts to be delivered to your inbox. I will not spam or sell your email address. I promise.

Rain Rant

Farmers may have always worried about rain, or lack of, but this summer seems like a particularly fertile time to write about it.

Silver Queen and Peaches and Cream Corn

Silver Queen and Peaches and Cream Corn

Wonky weather patterns have threatened the entire US this year, not just here in the middle of the country. Flash floods in Nevada and California, abnormally dry weather across the southwest, Hurricanes en route to Hawaii, severe storms in Florida.

Evidence of lack of rain surrounds us here in Western Kentucky where the red clay soil is stubborn as a growing medium as it is, not like the lush, silky black soil just east and north in the central part of the state. Grass is brown and crunchy. Tulip trees and dogwoods shed leaves as if it is October, not August. Crops are smaller, less abundant. Farmers at the market who rely on Mother Nature for water, not industrial machines, say in sad, sorry tones, “We had a small crop,” or “If only it would rain,” and worse, “We’re going to need to doing something else,” as if the aberrant weather patterns are their fault.

butterfly

We’d all like rain, not just the farmers. Any form of rain will do. Jet-black cloud thunderstorm, a soft, slow patter, a steady soaking or a five minute downpour. Days of rain would be optimal, but wishing for it won’t bring rain. Prayers work for most everything, but I wonder about the nature of asking God for rain. It’s not as if we aren’t already praying to Him, asking for His help.

Mainstream media uses terms for the weather patterns, cough (climate change or global warming). It’s not rocket science-our current climate is in a rebellious streak. I liken our weather issues to an adolescent with a newly minted driver’s license who has also recently discovered swearing, smoking, cheap wine and raging hormones. Bent on doing what she is not supposed to do, whipping about like a tornado, intent on destroying everything in her path.

Summer rain does more than nourish the plants and clear the air. On a simple scale, rain makes summer feel like summer.

tomatoes in bowl

Organic Tomatoes in Bowl 2013

Nothing says summertime like fresh-shucked sweet corn, juicy, plump tomatoes, a page-turning book, a tall, cool beverage and a porch with a comfy chair. But rain is the essential element that makes this iconic summer pastime a reality.

Sitting on a bone dry, hot porch, or worse a sticky humid porch swatting flies doesn’t conjure up the sweet feel of getting lost in a story, sipping sweet tea and drifting into a nap on a long summer afternoon.

During the wait for rain here in Kentucky, we do with less sweet corn, smaller squash, wilting grass and fewer flowers. We read indoors, or under a shade tree, a fly swatter nearby. We have stronger respect for our local farmers and are grateful for what the land produces, even if it means less canned lima beans this winter.

Maybe praying for our farmers is the solution. After all, the rain will come when it’s good and ready.

On Stress and Cooking

What do you do to get out of a funk?

Exercise, pray, cook, do laundry, meditate, hike, bike, or surf? Maybe you paint. Everyone’s got something.

My get-out-of-a-funk activities involve sneakers and my kitchen.

After a weeklong staycation with my sister and bro-in-law, ( actually they were only here for three days, but it took me four to get the house ready), I found myself not all that interested to get back to work. Usually I’m more than ready to type, cook, photograph and edit.

Grapes at Eddy Grove Vineyards

Grapes at Eddy Grove Vineyards

But not this week.

This week I’m anxious. Waiting for “the letter” from Storey Publishing about the “Salmon” manuscript. And I have every right to feel this way. In a world fraught with rejection, not matter how excited and interested I thought the agent sounded in her email, I am afraid to hear those dreaded words. It’s good, but not good enough.

I confessed my fears to Elvis, who said the best damn thing a husband could say ever! “You’re going to get the letter and she’ll say yes,” or something along those lines, I felt better. Clear. I knew what would ease my mind.

Homemade chicken stock.

Chicken stock only needs a few ingredients and a bit of time. Making stock is a task that would whisk me from my current state of mind-freaking out and unfocused-to a steady, calm and focused-on-the-day mindset, instead of worrying about the outcome of that book proposal!

A stock is by far, the easiest thing to make. Sure, you can get fancy making stock, but that’s not the point of a making stock. Save your creativity for a roasted eggplant galette. See recipe idea below. Simmered on low for several hours, a well-made stock takes care of itself. And has multiple uses. Like replacing stock for water when cooking vegetables or rice. A cup added to a Bolognese sauce or to your favorite red sauce. Soup obviously. Risotto.

I opened the refrigerator. Two chicken carcasses, a quarter of a candy onion, two carrots, a bunch of celery hearts, three ears of cooked corn on the cob, and a handful of hericot verts would get me started. I used my 9-inch chef’s knife, a vegetable scrubber, a cutting board, an 8-quart stock pot. A few chopped red bliss potatoes, a teaspoon of dried thyme and a shake of dried cayenne pepper later, I filled the stockpot with water and placed it on the stovetop on medium high heat. By the time I filled the stockpot with water, my issues began to circle the drain.

I went back to the cutting board and turned my attention to the yellow watermelon (yes, yellow) and the two lovely Sicilian organic eggplants.

sicilian eggplant

I thought to make a watermelon sorbet or a granita. Since the latter requires a bit more fuss, (all that scraping with the fork every few hours), I opted for the former. I had plenty of simple syrup in the fridge, plus a few lemons and a ruby-red grapefruit.

Have you ever made a melon-related dessert?

Let me tell you, once you commit, you won’t have to worry about thinking about any book proposal or anything else. There is so much prep work involved; you will be thinking how crazy you were to start something like this. First you cut the melon into cubes (about 6 pounds worth). Then you pulse in a blender or food processor. Then puree. Then strain. See where this is going? Then stir in the other ingredients. Then cover and refrigerate for several hours. This all before you put it in the ice cream maker. And of course, just as I pour my Natural Geographic yellow melon liquid into the machine (from a large bowl with a spout mind you), the spill Gods must have taken a smoke break, or an early happy hour. So in addition to this labor-intensive recipe, the sticky cleanup is the insurance that you (read me) will probably never make this dessert again. In retrospect, the granita seems like the easier of the two.

yellow watermelon sorbet

Back to the eggplant. I confess. I am not an eggplant fan. Neither is Elvis. But I couldn’t resist the farmer who was insistent about growing them this year. Their farm didn’t produce them last year and she had an entire crate. Surely I could figure out something?

She offered a simple recipe idea-roasted eggplant-then said “Eggplant is my favorite.” She looked at them like they were her babies.

So of course I wanted to make something fabulous and then tell her about it on the next visit. I adore the organic farmers here. They’re my hero’s. Just as I’m sure you have your favorite farmers too.

Enter Roasted Eggplant & Heirloom Tomato Galette.

While you may use puff pastry for your galettes, I use pie crust. I’m obsessed with making the best damn pie crust ever! Yes, I use this expression often (a cheeseburger story for another post). I whisked flour, sugar and salt. Cubed butter. Dribbled ice water into the dough. Then formed a disk, wrapped it in plastic and placed the dough disk in the refrigerator. Fyi, I found the perfect pie crust recipe in The Beekman 1802 Heirloom Cookbook.

Roasted Eggplant Galette

I sliced the eggplant (about 3/8 inch), coated it in olive oil, sprinkled the slices with sea salt, garlic powder (don’t judge) and fresh oregano, then roasted on a baking sheet (no parchment paper or foil, just a little spray oil), flipped once, for 25 minutes in a 425 degree oven. The eggplant looked tan to caramel in color and tasted like melt-in-your-mouth heaven. After I put the extra sliced, roasted eggplant in the food processor, I smeared a spoonful on a crusty sourdough bread, added a little diced heirloom tomato. Yup. Delicious.

Roasted Eggplant Bruschetta

Tip: roast eggplant a day ahead. Just cover and refrigerate. Which is what I did because I got it in my mind that if I didn’t like the way the eggplant turned out (which I did) or didn’t want to make hummus (my original thought), then I should have something sweet, salty and crunchy to eat. Because what good is a day in the kitchen without something to nibble on?

Maldon Salted Chocolate Pretzels anyone?

Chocolate covered pretzels with Maldon salt

Yep. While the eggplant roasted, I melted a handful of Ghirardelli chocolate wafers over a double boiler, then plopped in several handfuls of mini pretzels. Within minutes I sprinkled my perfect creation with Maldon salt to make the best damn late afternoon snack ever! See what I mean about that saying?

But by the time I finished the dishes the stock was done six hours later. I was tired. Imagine. I will have an assistant one day!

I strained, portioned and froze the stock. Satisfied with my day in the kitchen, I poured a glass of cab sav then headed to the porch to sip and listen to the tanagers, hummers and robins.

Tanager in Kentucky

The galette could wait. Tomorrow’s fretting would come fast enough.

What’s your favorite go-to stress-buster? Please share your ideas. I suspect there is more waiting-to-hear-from-the-agent stress in my future.

Roasted Garlic

Most mornings I wake up jazzed and ready to write. Whether I rewrite an article on conservation, start a new blog post, create a recipe, or craft a silly day in the life of tale like this one about making lists and roasting garlic, most mornings I have a plan. And a list.
Since I quit my day job (almost a month ago today), I am busy rewriting, editing and compiling a “Chef Inspired” section for my ebook, “Salmon.” These days I feel like I am on an endless zip-line, cascading high above the canopy of trees through the clouds, dizzy with energy, ideas and unlimited potential.
Today, I woke feeling as though I was transported back to the 1950s. A vapid feeling followed me around like Linus and his blanket. Housewife is the term that comes to mind.


Roasted Garlic MCB

5:30 a.m. I wander through the house like a robot to the laundry room. I turn the knob on the dryer to “refresh” and then walk back to the kitchen to unload the dishwasher. I think of the braid of garlic in the pantry to roast later and the fresh fruit I need to buy for the salmon recipes. I place knives in the drawer, lining them up side-by-side. Midway through the unloading, I write a shopping list-dog medicine, bread flour, butter, dried instant potatoes, a birthday card for Sarah. Then I pour a cup of black coffee and saunter to the back patio. The dishes can wait.

I sit still and watch hummingbirds whiz in and out to sip from the feeder. Robins and blue jays swoosh across the manicured lawn low to the ground. I have a brief thought about this, but it amounts to pure conjecture. I chalk up the low-level flying as a territorial thing. A woodpecker, hidden in the dense foliage, pecks on a pine tree. Tap, tap, tap-tap. The air is damp, wet in a pre-dawn spring shower way, just enough to make the seat cushions damp and my hair frizzy.

In a few hours, I will drive forty miles north to shell out over one hundred dollars to have my hair cut and processed. Money I don’t like to spend, but don’t know of any other solution, since I can’t bring myself to buy boxed product from the drugstore and screw up my hair and my only spa-like luxury. It’s enough I do my own manicures and pedicures. I digress.

While I like my hairdresser Emily, I wish I were going to see Michael Jon, my Florida hairdresser of thirteen years. Michael Jon understood me the I don’t want to work but I sure do like the extra money dilemma of my current life. Emily is a pleasantly plump (see, just there I wrote as if this was a 50s script) thirty-something, not prying, but eager to converse, I’m happy to talk about whatever you want and take your money kind of hairdresser. She is also an educator and shareholder of the salon. So while she lifts, brushes and cuts my locks, she instructs other stylists, “Use number 35 on Mrs. Rimmerson,” or “see if you can sell Judy a treatment.” The latter out of the side of her mouth; one eye on my thinning curly blond hair, the other on a hairdresser mixing color to her left, a slender gay dude who wears black on black and a throat beard.

I never feel fully comfortable with what the outlook of my hundred-dollar plus haircut might look like. Emily doesn’t disappoint most times. Although two times ago, she gave me a tad too many low-lights. But I’m willing to stick it out. This will be my sixth time going to her and I’ve been to four hairdressers since I moved here two and a half years ago. My track record sucks.

It’s only as I type this it occurs to me I need clarity. It’s the same feeling I get when I try to tweet something clever, but all that comes out is a Mrs. Middle aged rural voice who used to write for the weekly rag and watches birds in the mornings while she sips coffee.

“How are you handling not working?” asked Emily. She’s parting my hair as if she’s inspecting my skull for bed buds.

“I’m a little anxious,” I say. I hear my voice crack. Then to overcompensate, I launch into my what I did on my California vacation tale. I regal her with snippets of my good fortune and how I’m expecting 60 pounds of salmon in the mail tomorrow to recreate and photograph “celebrity chef” recipes. My voice is smooth and confident. I finish with, “I think I’ll go back to work in the fall at the library.”

“Won’t that be exciting?” she asks. When I look back to see if she meant it, (the voice always betrays) she was watching the other salon partner measure the distance from the wall to a chair with a retractable ruler. Apparently, the salon is expanding.

*

3:30 p.m. Back from the hairdresser and the grocery store, I scrimmage through my purse for the list I made earlier.

I didn’t buy one thing on the list.

I do have a bitching haircut and color I can live with for the next six weeks-a not too warm, not too ashy kind of blond. A bought a new hairbrush, a Mack Daddy can of hairspray, a $7 cotton teal-colored sweater that would be perfect for sailing, except we don’t live anywhere near a large body of water, nor do we own a sailboat. I bought a tube of mascara and a three-pack of a shaping, smoothing buffing manicure tool that for a reason I can’t fathom, I cannot find in Walmart, Walgreens or any other store in my little country town. I bought wine, croissants, sardines, organic chicken, smoked salmon, and a monster bag of produce.

I turn on the oven to 400 degrees to roast the garlic and beets, and to write my second list of the day. One that I will use to develop recipes for “Salmon”, the project that is costing me more in time, money, and mistakes than I’ll ever make on the sale of said book.

Pineapple, pears, peaches, raspberries (sense a theme?) for fresh fruit salsa. Rosemary and basil to season said salsa, champagne and balsamic vinegar to finish. Asparagus, beets and garlic to roast. Spinach to wilt. Green onions for a springy pop of flavor and color. Goat cheese, Parmesan Reggiano and Feta cheese because whoever said seafood and cheese don’t mix has never eaten any of my salmon dishes.

Just as I smell the pungent, sweet, caramel scent of roasted garlic, the kitchen timer chimes.

Thanks for reading.

Roasted Garlic Spread MCB

Roasted garlic recipe ideas: Smear roasted garlic on sourdough bread. Serve with mission figs, cheese, fruit, and a beverage of your choosing. Use roasted garlic in mashed potatoes, cauliflower puree, in scrambled eggs and, what else? Baked salmon of course.

Appetite required.

Are you a list-maker? What’s on your list? If you aren’t, what tactic do you use to remember the this is what I need to do today kind of stuff?

Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream

Mintchocolatology

Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream lovers are overly confident and driven. They serve up their sarcasm with a dash of the ridiculous They are realists, overly organized and need a plan to move forward to feel secure. They are full of pride, ambition, and courage. They have few friends, but fierce loyalty to those closest to them. Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream lovers are most compatible with other Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream lovers.


 

Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream

5,830,000 search results popped up on Google for “mint chocolate chip ice cream.”

How much do you want to bet during summer, the number rises exponentially?

In fact, since July is National Ice Cream Month, I’m betting the chances are good.

This past Memorial Day weekend, I made Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream. Not the simmer the milk and mint in the saucepan kind of ice cream like my friend Katie at katiescucina.com makes, but rather the clip some mint from the garden, chop some Ghirardelli melting chocolate from the pantry and whisk up a batch of Williams – Sonoma vanilla ice cream starter mix kind of Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream.

Making ice cream in my home is not common. My last memory of making ice cream was during Thanksgiving 2011. I made butternut squash ice cream. I served said ice cream with a slice of chocolate graham cracker pumpkin cheesecake. Reactions were more of a “Mmm, wow this is different,” instead of “This is the best damn ice cream ever!” which if you didn’t know, is the reaction you should get when you make homemade ice cream.

I digress.

While the ice cream machine whirled for 30 minutes, I thought to Google “ice cream” again for a few fun ice cream facts. ‘Cause I know – you can’t live without this list.

Here are ten fun ice cream facts in no particular order sourced from servingicecream.com, icecream.com and icecreamfreaks.com. (Italics mine):

  1. The average American consumes 48 pints of ice cream per person, per year. How much do you eat?
  2. Sunday is the day most ice cream is bought. Hmm, after all the praying, we take penance in fat and cream?
  3. Kids 2 ̶ 12 and adults over 45 eat the most ice cream. Duh, they’re not looking to get hitched (usually).
  4. It takes about 50 licks to finish off an ice cream cone. You know you want to go buy an ice cream cone and count.
  5. More men (13 percent) admit to licking their ice cream bowl clean than women (8 percent). Do women not want to confess or is there a deeper meaning?
  6. It takes 12 pounds of milk to make 1 gallon of ice cream. Makes me think this is where the campaign “Got milk?” started.
  7. An average dairy cow can produce enough milk in her lifetime to make a little over 9,000 gallons of ice cream. Makes you want to own a cow, doesn’t it? Maybe just a little?
  8. July is National Ice Cream Month! This is where I get to say, “I told you so.”
  9. The third Sunday in July is National Ice Cream Day! Buy stock now!
  10. Vanilla, chocolate, butter pecan, strawberry and mint chocolate chip are the most popular ice cream flavors. Hello!
Beyond the top ten list, all this means is that there are whole lot of people that like to eat ice cream.
What’s your favorite flavor? Let me know in the comments or on Facebook.
Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream

Lima Beans

This past summer, with a pair of kitchen shears, a bowl, a plastic bag, an ice-cold Corona and several pounds of fresh in shell organic lima beans, I walked on to the back porch.

Sunshine beamed through the forest, casting long shadows on the back lawn. Birds chirped and cooed. I might have had the radio on.

Organic lima beans MCB

Not that I was bird watching that afternoon. I was grumbling actually. Perhaps whining is a better word.

I waited to shell that bag of beans until I couldn’t wait any more. I would pick up another basket of produce from the CSA farmer the next day which would contain, yep, more lima beans.

Those lima beans had to be shelled.

I never shelled lima beans in my fifty-two years and despite the quick tutorial from my CSA farmer, Eloïse, or Ebie, for short, who at eighty-five and as spry as I hope to be at that age, showed me with her tiny, arthritic, hands, and said, “It’s so easy dear.”

Well, I still needed the shears. It was not that easy.

The summer of 2013 was my first summer with a weekly share at the local organic farm seven miles down the road, and I was tired. (I had a share with a different farmer in 2012, and I don’t recall the same amount of work, but I think because the food I received in my 2012 share was more sweet corn and tomatoes.)

I was tired of preserving, blanching, portioning and freezing. The weekly basket of fresh produce, at the time, seemed to be too much for Elvis and me. And during late summer when harvest was at its peak, it was too much.

Twin Maples Farm Spring 2013 042 (528x800) Twin Maples Farm Spring 2013 017 (528x800)

Those weeks I shared with my neighbors, or plowed on with the process, one that takes on a life of its own I discovered.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not whining about the CSA, but the lima beans.

I love the benefits of a local, organic farming community, where I meet great people and volunteer when I can. Basil picking therapy I call it.

After one intensely sweltering hot morning pulling weeds from rows of strawberries and kale, I received my first sourdough bread starter from Ebie. She christened “Oscar” when she passed the bubbling beige mass in the mason jar to me, along with a water stained photocopy, her recipe and instructions.

Ebie at Twin Maples Organic

That morning I felt blessed.

But that late summer afternoon on my back porch, my thumbs were sore and green.

Fast forward to a week ago, a few days after the 2014 winter ice storm, and subzero temperatures for longer than I can remember having endured, I woke craving those baby organic lima beans.

Strange thought I recalled as I threw off the sheet, cotton blanket, down cover and duvet. The coffee pot gurgled and beckoned from the kitchen and the burnt scent of Starbuck’s coffee wafted back to the bedroom, luring me forward.

I poured my coffee then headed to the garage freezer where I stashed my summer harvest.

lima beans buttered mcb

That evening for dinner, I baked a chicken breast, roasted broccoli florets and lastly, simmered my lima beans in a little water for a few minutes, tossed in a pat of butter, and sprinkled them (just an air kiss really) with kosher salt.

I believe either you have vivid dreams or none at all.

Elvis does not remember any of his dreams.

Some of my dreams I’d like to forget, others I consult the dream books, but it’s rare I dream of a specific food, like the lima beans tucked in baggies in the outside freezer.

Maybe I needed those lima beans that frigid winter day.

Maybe my subconscious was telling me what I needed, reminding me of those long, hot summer days when the air is sweet, fresh and clean, like the lima beans.

Vinaigrette

Sunday afternoons during the cold winter Kentucky months are ripe for lazy, day-long activities: I simmer soup, bake bread, read magazines, watch movies and take naps.

That was before I started my current full-time day job away from home.

Now Sunday’s are more about chilling than ever.

And the rest of the week is all about fast, light, easy mid-week meals.

Fast and easy are the operative words here.

Which leads me to this blog, my writing, recipe development and book writing.

There is only so much time in a week. (And I refuse to get out of bed before five am to do anything unless it involves the bathroom. Funny how I don’t mind getting out of bed at five-oh-five though.)

Everyone has his or her limits. Maybe you’ll  share one of yours in the comment section.

But despite my early bird syndrome, I am still working out the kinks in my back-to-work schedule after just a few weeks.

Not to segue too far away from my vinaigrette story, I want to mention how I’d like to get back to this blog, and also want to mention why I haven’t posted on a regular basis.

I read something the other day on a FB friends blog, Laz Cooks, and wondered how in the world he got inside my head.

In Laz’s post, he pondered the whole blogging thing and why he almost stopped blogging.

This is something most bloggers can relate to-this blogger-burn-out thing.

Of course if your blog is your business, then you’re on a different level.

My blog, A Cook Writes, is all about the journey. Yes, it’s about t the business of writing too. But I don’t make money on my blog. I don’t sell ads. Hell, I barely get commenter’s. I don’t know my stats and I don’t really care. I stopped caring what people think about me a long time ago. Unless it has to do with my family-then look out.

A Cook Writes is about just what it says..

I cook and I write.

I don’t write about every meal, although I think I should mention an exceptionally delicious meal I whipped up the other day-seared scallops with steamed broccoli, jasmine rice and honey-chile-ponzu orange sections.

Seafood Lady: your source for sustainable seafood recipes and news

The point is, there are too many meals. I don’t post all on this blog and I don’t write every recipe down.

Who does?

You?

Okay, I let a little jealousy slip in there for a nano second. Bravo for you. I mean that.

Anyway, the other stuff of blogging-the recipe developing, writing, waiting for the perfect light, waiting for the comments (or not), replying to those comments. Following other blogs, crafting clever titles, (although notice I took the kindergarten approach with this blog-ahem-single subject titles). Hee hee.

There’s the maintenance-factor, too. Updating plugins, and widgets. Editing photos-Lord, I spend a lot of time with my photos.

And this is why lately, I spend less time here at A Cook Writes.

Not because I don’t want to.

It’s a combination of things.

I certainly don’t plan to stop cooking or writing.

***

Last night I made a Pear & Lobster Salad with Pear & Tarragon Champagne Vinaigrette.

I committed the cardinal sin of food blogging-I didn’t take a single photo. Not even with my iPhone.

But that’s what I’m talking about. I don’t always remember to photograph the food, or update my blog.

(Is it middle-age, this not remembering? Or is it just me trying to figure out how to manage my time?)

As mid-week meals go these days, this meal was prepared in stages.

I prepped the salad the night before. Tore red leaf lettuce, microwaved broccoli florets for one minute, then blanched them in ice water, cut carrots sticks, de-podded (is that a word?) the steamed edamame I made the day before. Chopped a green onion, covered it all with wet paper towels (to keep it moist), then plastic wrap and put the bowl of salad in the refrigerator.

The next morning I steamed the lobster tails at 5:30 a.m. (yep, it’s true, just after the first sip of hot, steaming black coffee baby.)

Elvis, said, “I’ll have mine with two eggs over medium,” as he walked out the door with Reagan for the morning constitution around the cul-de-sac.

Fat chance that one.

After a seven-minute steam and a five-minute ice bath, my lobster tails were done, wrapped in plastic, and placed in the fridge next to the salad.

That same evening, I wrote the recipe for the Pear & Tarragon Champagne Vinaigrette on my iPad as I whisked the ingredients into a smooth, delightful dressing.

After I poured a glass of Chateau St. Michelle Cab Sav.

Um, yes, red wine and lobster go together.

I removed the lobster meat from their shells (and saved the shells in my zip-lock freezer bag to make fish stock for another day) and then microwaved the meat for a minute (to remove the chill). Then I chopped the meat into chunks. I melted a tablespoon of butter to drizzle on the meat.

Next up, a fresh pear cut into chunks, then tossed on the salad.

I drizzled the Pear & Tarragon Champagne Vinaigrette over the greens.

Chopped lobster plopped on top.

Fast and easy.

Cause Sunday is right around the corner.

Check back for a storyline here and a recipe there.

I’m busy, but not gone.

Psst…if you love to eat seafood and want more easy-to-prepare recipe ideas, head over to Seafood Lady and don’t forget to leave a note to let me know you were there.

Pear & Tarragon Champagne Vinaigrette

Cook notes: To save more time, make the vinaigrette ahead, but don’t add the oil until you’re ready to serve. Dress the salad with the vinaigrette before you top the greens with the lobster meat.

  • 4 tablespoons of pear simple syrup, or juice from a can of pear
  • 1 tablespoon of champagne vinegar
  • 1/4 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried tarragon
  • Dash Kosher salt
  • Dash black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil + or – for taste
  • A handful of chopped toasted pecans (optional)

Whisk all ingredients except the oil and nuts.

Just before serving, drizzle the oil in as you whisk to create a smooth emulsion.

Add the nuts to the vinaigrette and stir to coat.

Spoon nuts and vinaigrette over salad . Top with lobster, (or chicken, salmon or shrimp).

Serve immediately.

Appetite required.

Potatoes

After I wrote my recipe for Potato, White Bean & Rosemary Soup, I thought about writing an enticing, clever lede.

I realized quickly this was not an easy task.

Potato & White Bean SoupI mean, what could I say about potatoes that hasn’t been said before? And what do I really know about potatoes? Other than the fact that I love to eat them, whether French-fried, baked, mashed, roasted, baked in casseroles and simmered in soups, a potato is satisfying and versatile.

One thing I know: eating potatoes equals comfort.

Usually the potato is not the star of the plate, but rather the sideshow. Even in my recipe, I added white beans and rosemary, not content to let the spud shine.

To see if I could uncover a few potato facts worth a lede, I explored the history of the potato. I turned to Alan Davidson’s The Penguin Companion to Food (an encyclopedia of sorts).

The entry for “potato” filled three plus pages.

No worries-I won’t bore you will all the deets, but instead will share a few cool facts.

Like cheese, fats and oils, fish, maize, noodles, onions, pig, and other staples, potatoes are an important core food in most parts of the world. No surprise there, right?

But according the Davidson’s Companion, the wild potato has its roots in Chile around 11,000 BC and the cultivated potato around 5,000 BC, not Ireland.

Um. Insert eye roll and hot, creeping heat to my cheeks and ears. I always associated my relationship to potatoes as somewhat of a romantic notion being of Irish descent and all. Potatoes were like a birthright of sorts. So I thought potatoes originated in Ireland. More eye roll. And I call myself a food writer? Please.

I digress.

  • Ireland established it roots with the potato during the 16th century . Of course who doesn’t know about the Great Potato Famine of 1845 when one-third of Ireland’s population relied exclusively on the potato for its sustenance?
  • The more I uncover, the more I can’t stop digging. Is that geeky or what?
  • The layer under the skin of the potato, only millimeters thick, has the most nutrition and flavor. I knew that.
  • There are  over 4,000 varieties of potatoes, according to Wikipedia, and John Roach in “Saving The Potato in its Andean Roots,” National Geographic, 2002.
  • White, orange, red, yellow, blue, coin-sized, fingerlings, round, gnarly, or smooth, each potato is unique.
  • Digging a little deeper (I couldn’t resist) each variety has its own particular culinary attribute. Now we’re getting somewhere.
  • The most important distinction about a potato for a cook is to know is if the potato is waxy, starchy (floury), or all-purpose.

Here are a few know-your-potato tips (paraphrased from food writer Megan J. Headly):

  • Use waxy types (red-skinned and fingerlings) for soups, salads, roasted, gallates, pizza, or scalloped potatoes.
  • Use floury, or starchy potatoes (russets and sweets) for mashed dishes-but not too much or they’ll turn gluey, baking or frying.
  • Use all-purpose (the work horse and default potato-Yukon Gold, blue and purple,) for all other purposes.

The chemical composition of the potato determines it suitability to certain cooking techniques. But no worries, I won’t get into that here.

Before we explore more, yes, there is more cool potato stuff to discuss! Here is a great one-minute video about buying and storing potatoes from Potatoes…Goodness Unearthed.

M. F. K. Fisher, American writer of food, travel and memoir, wrote about the how, what, and why of the potato.

  • What do you smell for instance when potatoes are baking?
  • What’s happening in the kitchen? Is It chaotic, or do you watch I Love Lucy re-runs while you’re mashing your spuds?
  • Why are you making scalloped potatoes? (a labor of love if I ever knew one) For Easter brunch or your twenty-year wedding anniversary?

Growing up, we ate diced, peeled potatoes boiled with cabbage and a ham bone for flavor. In the 70s-a time of boxed-food and much leaner times for my family, we ate dehydrated potatoes reconstructed with skim milk and water, then topped with spicy chili. And McDonald’s French fries were my absolute favorite teenage snack.

Other things to consider according to Fischer. How are your potatoes grown? Under duress, in organic soil, a vertical cage, in your backyard or a cultivated farm?

Potatoes need room to grow, this much I know. I watched sweet potatoes takeover a  4’ x 12’ garden plot and the surrounding area of a community garden in Orlando, Florida a few years ago. (Not mine, btw.)

You probably have your own memories of potatoes, the how, when and why you eat them.

Maybe you’re vegetarian and the potato gets the leading part on your plate.

Nutritionally speaking, potatoes are high in Vitamins C and B-6, low in fat, cholesterol, and are a good source of protein, potassium, and iron.

What’s not to love?

On another note, we can’t forget Mr. Potato Head, the Hasbro 50s toy, whose official birthday is May 1, 1952 for you toy history geeks. Here’s a site dedicated to Mr. Potato Head history, humor and more.

I haven’t met anyone who doesn’t like to eat potatoes. I will go as far to say I don’t know anybody who doesn’t like to eat potato soup. I’m not considering the cold variety-vichyssoise, just the hot, slurp-to-the-last-drop variety. Potato soup is one of those foods that screams comfort, history, memories, family, warmth and every-day-happiness.

In my Potato, White Bean & Rosemary Soup recipe, I added white beans and rosemary to create a I-feel like-I’m-on-vacation potato soup. Cause you know how food always tastes better when you’re on vacation?

That’s how I liken this soup-for those days when you want just a dash more texture, flavor, and pizzazz whether you’re at the beach, skiing the Andes, or hanging with your family and friends in the ‘hood.

Appetite required.

Vacation optional.

Potato & White Bean SoupPotato, White Bean & Rosemary Soup

Ingredients
  • 2 slices bacon, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 1 can white northern white beans, rinsed and drained
  • 3 cups chicken stock
  • 5 large Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • ½ cup cream, plus several tablespoons
  • 1 tablespoon chopped rosemary
  • ½ teaspoon Kosher salt, plus more to taste
  • 1/8 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
Directions
  • In a medium pot, add potatoes and fill with water to cover an inch over the top. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat to medium with a vented lid and cook, about ten to twelve minutes, or until for tender.
  • While the potatoes are cooking, in a large stock pot, brown bacon over medium heat, about five minutes.
  • Add olive oil and onion. Stir and cook about five minutes, careful not to brown onion, reduce heat to medium low if necessary.
  • Add chicken stock and white beans. Stir.
  • Remove half of the potatoes with a spider strainer and place in the soup pot. Reduce heat to medium low.
  • Drain the remaining potatoes.
  • In the same pot, add the cream, using an immersion blender, (or transfer to a food processor), whip potatoes and cream on high to purée to a smooth silky texture. (Thank you April Bloomfield for this technique.)
  • Add the creamed potatoes to the soup. Stir.
  • Add chopped rosemary, ¼ teaspoon salt and black pepper.
  • Stir and remove from heat.
  • Taste and adjust with salt if desired.
  • Serve immediately.
  • Cover and refrigerate any unused soup for up to one week.

Thanks for stopping by,

Maureen

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