Life in a Small New England Town & Pumpkin-Sausage Ragù

A bunch of years ago, some friends were visiting from Switzerland. It was the Summer of the Gnus. I did what everyone else in town did with guests that summer. I took them on a walking tour of Main Street to see the colorful cows. It was a lovely day, warm and sunny. We parked at the top of the town green, stopped for coffee along the way and turned around at the farm. We chatted and admired and chatted some more.

About the time we turned around to head back to the car, Bob remarked, “At least a dozen people have greeted you by name.” I’m pretty sure he was exaggerating but he continued, “I could walk up and down the Rue du Rhone all day and not see anyone I knew.” Or maybe he mentioned the Rue de l’Hotel-de-Ville, it was a while ago. Anyway, there is nothing anonymous about living in a small town. No, not everyone knows your name but a good many do. And for those that don’t, there’s a pretty good chance they know someone in your family.

With or without houseguests, October is a wonderful time to meander up and down Main Street. Just about now, the foliage is at its peak. It’s cool enough to wear a sweater but you don’t need to pile on a parka and heavy boots. If you grew up in New England, a sweater has got to be your favorite piece of clothing. Southern girls can have their fluffy, flowery dresses, Californians – their bikinis and let those Midwest farm girls wear their jeans or overalls or whatever. Gimme a cozy sweater any day. Cotton, wool or cashmere, they’re all good.

Today, only a handful of gnus continue to strut their stuff on Main Street. The majority were adopted and are now hidden away in backyards. Luckily, October brings a brand new diversion – the invasion of the Pumpkin People. So please, you must take an hour to wander up and down Main Street. If you want; you can make a few stops along the way and support the local economy. Buy yet another sweater or sip a coffee in the sunshine. It’s all good.

If you’re feeling particularly energized, you can take it around the bend. There are a few more Pumpkin People on Newport Road. While nothing was up as I rushed to meet my deadline, the hospital can usually be counted on for a nice display. For anyone counting steps, the round trip from the top of the Town Green to the hospital and back is about three miles.

It’s more than worth the trip. The creativity of our merchants is impressive and you will be absolutely charmed by the Cub Scouts’ delightful display. From Dorothy and her three friends sashaying down the yellow brook road to Cookie Monster and Elmo, there something for everyone.

As important, you’ll see lots of smiling people. Real people that is, not the pumpkin head kind. There’s a very good chance that at least one real person will compliment your sweater. The combination of wonderful foliage, pumpkins and smiles will remind you of why small New England towns are so special.

Happy fall and bon appétit!

Pumpkin-Sausage Ragù

This cozy, country-style ragù is great with pasta on a chilly night. Enjoy!

Serves 8

  • 2 pounds eating pumpkin* or winter squash, seeded, peeled and cut in small dice (3-4 cups)
  • Olive oil
  • Balsamic vinegar
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 large onion, cut in small dice
  • 1 1/2-2 pounds Italian sausage – sweet or hot or a mix, casings removed and cut into small pieces
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh sage
  • 2 teaspoons fresh thyme
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 2 cups or more chicken broth
  • 1-2 tablespoons cognac
  • 1 cup or more half and half
  • 1 pound hearty short or long pasta, try rigatoni, fettucine or tortellini
  • Garnish: grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and/or Pecorino Romano cheese

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Put the pumpkin in a large skillet, drizzle with enough equal parts olive oil and vinegar to lightly coat, sprinkle with salt and pepper and toss to coat. Roast for 15 minutes.

Add the onion and sausage to pumpkin and toss to combine. Return to the oven for 15 minutes.

Add the garlic, herbs and nutmeg to the pan and toss to combine. Stir in the white wine, 1 cup chicken broth and the cognac and return to the oven.

After 15 minutes, give the ragù a stir, add more chicken broth if necessary and return to the oven. After another 15 minutes, stir in the half and half and return to the oven for a final 10-15 minutes.

Meanwhile cook the pasta according to package directions.

Reserving a little of the pasta water, drain the pasta and return it to the pot. Add the ragù and toss to combine. If the pasta seems dry, add a little of the pasta water or more chicken broth or cream. Cover and cook on low for 1-2 minutes.

Transfer the pasta to a deep platter or individual shallow bowls and serve with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and/or Pecorino Romano.

* The pumpkins you carve for Halloween are stringy and tasteless, not good for eating. Try a sugar, cheese or peek-a-boo pumpkin. Then again, you can’t go wrong with butternut squash.

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Turn on the Heat & Maple-Ginger Apple Crisp

The autumnal equinox assured one and all that fall was here. It’s only been a few weeks, but the weather has not been particularly fall-ish. Although there’s been a couple of frosty mornings and a few cool days, for the most part, it feels a lot like August. I tend to let my early walks gage the change of season. It is an annual cycle of shorts to leggings to double leggings then back to a single pair and shorts again. Except for a one-day blip, I’m still in shorts.

The shift to leggings is only one of a good many sign of the changing seasons. A few fall indicators, maybe more than a few, kick off before the equinox. I’m not sure if that’s quite right but who am I to judge. Anyway, there is a long list of clues to let you know it’s fall. For some, it’s the first flash of foliage. For others; it’s when Halloween candy hits supermarket shelves. Football fanatics loudly applaud the first game and, yes, preseason counts – ask any fan.

Then again, perhaps the first pumpkin spice drink is your harbinger of autumn. In case you are wondering, no, I don’t imbibe in pumpkin spice lattes or pumpkin spice martinis. Yes, I know they are wildly popular. But don’t look to me to embrace all things fall with a frou-frou drink in one hand and a pumpkin in the other. I need both hands for the pumpkin.

That’s not to say that I am without wicked indulgences. I bake a fabulous (if I do say so myself) pumpkin cheesecake every Thanksgiving. And yes, it’s packed with traditional pumpkin pie spices plus a tablespoon of cognac. If you don’t have cognac you can substitute rum.

Anyway, after a summer in shorts and T-shirts, most fall firsts are about cooler temperatures and getting cozy. While I stick to my basic skim-milk-no-foam latte, I do look forward to the first fire in the fireplace. I’m also happy to slide the first plump chicken into the oven to roast. Of course, I’m delighted to bring home the first local apples and bake up something wonderful. I’d be remiss if I didn’t include stirring up the first pots of soup and chili as well as marinara and/or Bolognese.

As much as I love cozy, there is one first I do my best to avoid for as long as possible. That’s the first time I put on socks. As for chilly evenings by the lake, well, I’ve been known to sport naked ankles while wearing a down parka.

Perhaps the toughest fall first decision is WHEN TO TURN ON THE HEAT. I avoid the inevitable acceptance that it is no longer summer or Indian summer or early fall for as long as possible. It was easier when I lived abroad in rented apartments. True or not, the rumor among expatriates was that the Swiss powers-that-be had decreed a standing date. Every October, it might have been the third Monday or the twentieth or sometime around then, the heat came on.

September could be record breaking cold or October unseasonably warm; it didn’t matter. The radiator began to clang right on schedule, never a day early and never a day late. Make the mistake of timidly asking for heat before the designated day and the landlord would simply tell you to put on a sweater. Too hot? Well, open the window.

Back in New Hampshire, I have no landlord to regulate the thermostat. My bank balance determines when I finally click the heat on. For now, I’m putting on a sweater.

Have a cozy fall and bon appétit!

Maple-Ginger Apple Crisp

Everyone loves apple crisp and (pardon me while I pat myself on the back) my latest version is incredible! Enjoy!

Serves 8

  • Crumble Topping, recipe follows
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 5-6arge, firm-tart apples – I like Granny Smith, peeled and chopped
  • 1 cup raisins
  • 1 (2-inch) piece fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/2-3/4 cup (more or less depending on your sweet tooth) maple syrup
  • 2 tablespoons calvados or apple jack or rum

Make the Crumble Topping. Refrigerate the topping while you prepare the fruit.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Generously butter a 2 quart baking dish.

Put the apples, raisins and ginger in a large bowl, sprinkle with the spices and toss to combine. Drizzle with maple syrup and calvados and toss again until well combined.

Transfer the apples to the prepared baking dish and sprinkle with Crumble Topping. Put the dish on a baking sheet to catch any drips and bake for 1 hour or until the top is brown and the apples are tender and bubbly. Serve warm with vanilla or ginger ice cream.

Crumble Topping

  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ginger
  • Pinch nutmeg
  • 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) cold, butter, cut into small pieces
  • 3/4 cup quick-cooking oatmeal

Put the flour, brown sugar, salt and spices in a food processor and pulse to combine. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse corn meal. Add the oatmeal and continue pulsing until the topping comes together in little lumps.

I like to make a triple or quadruple batch of Crumble Topping and freeze the extra. For a last minute dessert, I prep fruit and sprinkle with topping. It’s in the oven in minutes.

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Tell Your Story & Grilled Broccolini with Tahini Vinaigrette

I don’t know about you, but I missed Grandparents Day this year. It was a few Sundays back. Before you get your knickers in a twist, Grandparents Day isn’t just another excuse to send a card or flowers. Instead, it’s about connecting across generations. It’s about spending time, not cash.

I was extremely lucky to have all four of my grandparents around until I was well into my twenties. Even when I was little, most of my friends had one or maybe two grandparents. In addition to the fearsome foursome, we were blessed with a great-great aunt and a couple of my grandfather’s cousins. Knowing these amazing oldsters was a true gift.

If you are a grandparent, make the effort to share your story with your grandchildren. If you’re not, then share your story with nieces and nephews or the kid next door. Senior family members are important links between past and present and the world around us. Personal stories put historic events in human context and make them real.

Don’t be shy; sharing your personal stories can be surprisingly easy, especially when you have a willing ear. Write them down if you want. If not, take a walk with your favorite kids. As you mark the miles, tell them about your childhood, your school days, your first job … the list is more or less endless. Even if you think they aren’t interested, give it a try. They’ll probably surprise you.

And by the way, don’t worry about keeping everything in perfect chronological order. It’s okay to share a tale about your first day of college today and, then tomorrow, skip back in time to childhood games on the ice. Eventually, all the bits and pieces will come together. In spite of the jumbled time line, a pretty good picture of the various people, places and events in your life will shine through. Your loved ones will get a sense of how all these pieces came together to create you.

What to tell? If you remember a certain person or event; if the memory makes you smile or laugh or cry, it’s probably meaningful. Focus on information that can’t be found in the history books and, yes, details matter. Pertinent details will bring your story to life but be careful. Irrelevant details will bog down your story and might even make it tedious.

Where to start? Why not with your nearest and dearest. For example, my dad was very close to his grandfather and loves to tell stories about him. Born on the same day as Abraham Lincoln’s inauguration, my great-grandfather was a carpenter. As a teenager, he left home to learn his trade. Earning a pittance as an apprentice, he signed up for the night shift at the fire department to have a place to sleep. From that inauspicious start, he became the epitome of the American success story. He built a business and a good many double-deckers. A formidable patriarch, most of the family was afraid of him. Knowing full well that he put his socks on before his shoes, his daughter-in-law, my grandmother, refused to be intimidated. He loved her for it.

A few fun facts, Great-Grandpa Nye had two wives, a bunch of girlfriends, grew gladioli and drove big sedans. He adored my dad, his only grandson, and made a point of taking him along on his various adventures, wheelings and dealings. That’s the tiniest of mini-snapshots. Dad has the details so you’ll have to talk to him if you want more.

Bon appétit!

Grilled Broccolini with Tahini Vinaigrette

Broccolini makes a delicious first course as a substitute for a leafy green salad. It is just as good as a side dish. Enjoy!

Serves 8

  • About 2 pounds broccolini, trimmed
  • Olive oil
  • Apple cider vinegar
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Preheat the grill to medium-high heat.

Put the broccolini in a large bowl, drizzle with just enough equal parts olive oil and vinegar to lightly coat and toss. Season with salt and pepper and toss again.

Arrange the broccolini on the grill and cook for about 5 minutes. Turn and grill until tender and lightly charred, 2-3 minutes more.

Transfer to a serving platter or individual plates, drizzle with Tahini Vinaigrette and serve

Tahini Vinaigrette

Makes about 1 1/2 cups

  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1-inch chunk red onion
  • 1/2 teaspoon or to taste harissa
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • Juice and zest of 1/2 lime
  • 2-3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup tahini
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2-4 tablespoons water

Put the garlic, onion, spices, lime juice and zest and vinegar in a small food processor and pulse to combine and finely chop. Add the tahini and olive oil and process until smooth. A tablespoon at a time, add the water and process until smooth and creamy.

Let the vinaigrette sit at room temperature for at least 30 minutes or longer in the refrigerator to combine the flavors. Bring to room temperature and give it a good shake before serving.

Cover and store extra vinaigrette in the refrigerator.

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One Year Ago – Pesto alla Genovese
Two Years Ago – Pasta with Roasted Grape Tomatoes & Corn
Three Years Ago – Cardamom Plum Tort
Four Years Ago – Easy Microwave Popcorn
Five Years Ago – Bruschetta with Fresh Tomatoes, Goat Cheese & Pesto Oil
Six Years Ago – Lemon Pasta & Shrimp with Olives & Capers
Seven Years Ago – Roasted Sausages with Caramelized Onions, Broccoli Rabe & Polenta
Eight Years Ago – Lobster Mac & Cheese
Nine Years Ago – Sausage, Kale & Potato Soup
Ten Years Ago – Soupe au Pistou
Eleven Years Ago – Mulled Cider

Or Click Here! for a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog!

Do you have stories to tell? What’s holding you back? Feel free to share!

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. © Susan W. Nye, 2019

 

 

 

Stuff You Should Know & Lemon Roasted Chicken

As we grow older and hopefully wiser, there’s a whole heap of stuff we should know. Some of it’s practical, hands-on stuff like changing a tire. Then, there are the academic bits and bobs. For instance, it might be a useful to know how the three branches of government work and how to calculate a tip. Finally, there are any number of more philosophical ideas or life lessons that could come in handy. In no particular order …

It’s okay to go ahead and ask. Ask for the job, the promotion or the last piece of pie. Ask the family over for dinner; ask that secret crush to the movies; ask your neighbor for that fabulous recipe. After all, what’s the worst that can happen? The answer will be no. So maybe you’re disappointed. We’re all disappointed from time to time but you’ll have an answer and can move on. Then again, it could be yes. You’ll never know if you don’t ask.

A bonafide grownup should be able to roast a chicken. As important, maybe more, is having the grace and confidence to host a dinner party. Few, if any of us, are born unflappable. Dry chicken or obstreperous guest – think of it as a mini lesson in adversity. With each gaffe, we learn more, not just about the task at hand but how to handle unexpected complications, difficulties and embarrassments. Facing mishaps with a smile and grace puts life’s little catastrophes in perspective.

Everything in moderation, including moderation. That first part, don’t overdo it, well, it’s sounds sensible. But come on now, we all need to live a little. Not all the time but, heck it’s okay to let loose once in a while. Dance that extra dance. Laugh a little too loud. Eat the cupcake.

Whether the glass is half-empty or half-full isn’t important. It’s a glass; it’s refillable. Most of us have our gloom and doom moments but life is better for people who embrace optimism. As optimists, we understand that we can’t always predict or guarantee an outcome. However, we are confident that we can control our reactions and determine our next steps. Sure, it can take some time to regain our equilibrium. However, we know there’s almost always another glass in the cupboard.

Tomorrow is another day. While it might not always seem that way, opportunities exist. All you need to do is open your eyes and your heart. A new day offers the chance to review, regroup and take a different direction. Each sunrise reminds us that we have options – to explore a new path, to right a wrong and to make changes for the better.

It’s not all about you. We’ve all seen them – that little group whispering and laughing in the corner. No matter what they are saying; it’s not about you. It’s probably about their weekend plans or a movie we should all see. In the unlikely event they are talking about you; it doesn’t matter. Gossip isn’t about you – it’s about the gossipers. And if they’re admiring your shoes, well, it’s about the shoes. You already know you have excellent taste.

So too, the world does not revolve around you. The sun doesn’t wait until you are ready to stumble out of bed to rise. Your schedule, your preferences, your needs and wants are just that – yours. The rest of us, we’ve got our own lives and we’re doing our best to live them with you but not for you. Your whim is not our command.

That’s all for now and bon appétit!

Lemon Roasted Chicken

A beautifully roasted chicken would be perfect at your next dinner party. Enjoy!

Serves 6

  • 1 (about 6 pounds) roasting chicken
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2 lemons
  • 6 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1 medium onion, peeled, trimmed and quartered
  • 2 sprigs rosemary plus 1/2 teaspoon minced rosemary leaves
  • 2 sprigs thyme plus 1/2 teaspoon thyme leaves
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1/2-1 cup chicken stock or both
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons cold butter, cut in small pieces

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Remove the giblets from the chicken and reserve for another use.

Put the chicken on a rack in a roasting pan. Sprinkle the chicken’s cavity liberally with salt and pepper. Quarter 1 of the lemons and squeeze the juice over the chicken. Put the lemon pieces, onion, 5 garlic cloves and the rosemary and thyme sprigs into the bird’s cavity. Sprinkle the outside of the chicken liberally with salt and pepper.

Put 2 cups of water in the bottom of the roasting pan. Loosely cover the chicken with foil and slide it into the oven.

Roast the chicken for 15 minutes. Turn the heat down to 375 degrees and continue roasting for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and roast for an addition hour or until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh reads 165 degrees. If the water in the bottom of the pan evaporates before the chicken is done, add some more.

Transfer the chicken to a cutting board, lightly cover with foil and let it rest while you prepare the sauce.

Zest the remaining lemon and juice one half; reserve the other half for another use. Mince the remaining garlic clove.

Set the roasting pan on the stove top on medium-high. Add the wine and stock, whisk in the mustard, minced rosemary, thyme and garlic and lemon zest and season with salt and pepper. Continue whisking until the sauce comes to a simmer. Reduce the heat and simmer for 5-10 minutes. Whisking constantly, add the butter and simmer until the butter melts and the sauce starts to thicken. Whisk in the lemon juice.

To serve: carve the chicken and transfer to a serving platter or individual plates. Add any of the chicken’s juices to the sauce and transfer to a serving bowl.

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One Year Ago – Pasta with Grilled Zucchini, Tomatoes & Feta
Two Years Ago – Fried Green Tomatoes with Chipotle Crema
Three Years Ago – Pork & Black Bean Stew with Salsa Verde
Four Years Ago – Applesauce Scones
Five Years Ago – Homemade Bratwurst Bites with Horseradish Mustard
Six Years Ago – Fettuccine with Fresh Corn & Tomatoes
Seven Years Ago – Lemon Rice Cakes with Spinach & Manchego
Eight Years Ago – Apple Crumb Cake
Nine Years Ago – Ginger Scones
Ten Years Ago – Curried Eggplant Soup
Eleven Years Ago – Braised Beef Bourguignon

Or Click Here! for a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog!

What’s stuff do you think we all should know? Feel free to share!

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. © Susan W. Nye, 2019

Back to Basics & Traditional Marinara Sauce

A friend recently confessed that she doesn’t make her own tomato sauce. She buys it at the supermarket, all made and packed in a jar. Before I go any further, I guess I should add that this particular woman is Italian-American. While I can’t verify, I’ve got to assume that her nonna is turning in her grave.

I did my best version of tough love by simultaneously expressing outrage and sympathy. Although, I’m not quite sure why I should be sympathetic. Tomato sauce, marinara in Italy, is both easy to make and takes almost no time at all. Besides, there is just enough chopping in a single batch to calm you down at the end of a tough day. (If it’s been a really, really tough day, better keep the knife in the block and order take-out.)

An added bonus, marinara freezes beautifully. So, go ahead and stir up several quarts to enjoy throughout the fall and winter. It is the perfect way to spend a rainy fall afternoon. Turn on some music, sing along and dance around the kitchen surrounded by the warm and wonderful aroma of garlic, onion and herbs simmering in tomatoes and wine.

Now, if your roots are not in Italy, there are loads of variations on this theme. Tomato sauces are found around the world. Perhaps, you’ve heard of the five mother sauces of French cuisine. Yes, tomato is one of them. Where ever you may travel, if locals can grow them, you’ll probably find tomato sauce in one form or another. Or to-mah-to sauce, if you prefer.

Just as addition, subtraction, multiplication and division are the building blocks of mathematics, a handful of recipes are culinary basics. These basics are at the heart of many meals and the foundation for new invention. What are they? Well, you can find them on dozens of lists. You know what I’m talking about; these lists have names like Five (or Ten or Twenty or More) Essential Recipes Everyone Should Know. There are a bunch of them. I think maybe I should put a list together. Anyway, in case you haven’t noticed, tomato sauce is on all or at least most of them.

Tomato sauce is definitely one of the basics in Mediterranean cuisine. A quart of marinara is good for more than a quick and easy meatless Monday spaghetti supper. A lot more. It is perfect for braising chicken, beef or lamb. It is just as good in a fish soup. Add ground beef or turkey or pork or veal or some combination to your marinara and it becomes Bolognese, a hearty sauce for fettucine. Play around with the spices and that Bolognese is perfect for moussaka or pastitsio.

Some might ask, “Why bother?” Simple, your homecooked sauce will be better than anything you’ll find in a jar. It won’t be filled with preservatives and weird ingredients you can’t spell or pronounce. In addition, you’ll be rewarded with almost instant gratification. From start to finish, it takes about a half hour to make a quart of marinara for a delicious dinner to share with those you love. And by the way, for about twenty of those minutes the sauce is simmering. Except for an occasional stir, you are freed up to make a salad or do whatever needs doing – including relaxing with a glass of wine. With a little more time, you can use it as the base for a fabulous chicken cacciatore, an Italian beef stew, lasagna or whatever suits you tonight.

Happy cooking and bon appétit!

Traditional Marinara Sauce

If it’s been a while or never since you made homemade marinara, there is no time like the present. Enjoy!

Makes about 1 quart

  • Olive oil
  • About 1/3 large onion, chopped
  • 1/2-1 small carrot, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon Italian herbs
  • Pinch or to taste dried chili pepper flakes
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup dry red wine
  • 1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 tablespoons chopped, fresh basil

Heat a little olive oil in a heavy saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the onion and carrot and season with the herbs, pepper flakes, salt and pepper. Sauté until the onion is translucent. Add the garlic and sauté 1-2 minutes more.

Add the wine and simmer until reduced by half. Add the crushed tomatoes and bay leaf and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for 20 minutes. Stir in the basil and simmer for a minute or two more.

Use about 1/2 cup of sauce for each serving of pasta or include it in your favorite tomatoey casseroles, braises and soups.

Feel free to make a big batch; I usually make about 6 quarts at a time. The only things you don’t need to multiply by six are the carrot and bay leaf – 1-2 carrots and 1-2 bay leaves should do it.

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If They Can … You Can & Risotto with Fresh Corn & Grilled Tomatoes 

If NASA can put a man on the moon and bring him safely back to earth …

If Oprah can turn cauliflower into pizza …

If I can teach little kids to hit a baseball …

… you can more or less do whatever you set your mind to.

About the baseball thing, let me explain. When I was in the second grade my report card noted that, although I was a sweet little girl, I was a dismal failure at the bean bag toss. I’m sure the teacher didn’t use the words dismal or failure but you get the picture.

It was a family joke for years and still pops up from time to time. Quite simply, I was that kid. The one who couldn’t throw or catch a bean bag or ball, shoe, orange or whatever. Forget about connecting a ball to bat or ball to foot or racket or goal or anything else. Oh, sure, once in a blue moon I won a tennis game but never a match. I never hit a home run and tripped over more than one soccer ball. The whole eye-hand (or foot) coordination thing just didn’t work for me.

You can imagine my surprise when I was drafted to coach T-ball. Of course, the commissioner or whatever they call the guy who organizes the teams was desperate. I figure he ran out names to call when he stumbled across my number in his directory. Anyway, he must have caught me at a weak moment because I said yes.

Either that or I somehow realized that he wasn’t taking the light blue team seriously. Perhaps they were Geneva’s answer to the Bad New Bears. Yes, this all happened when I was living in Geneva and at least half of the team didn’t speak English. One little girl didn’t speak French either. Two American dads, they were the red team’s coaches, divided up the kids. They stacked the deck, filling their roster with Americans who knew at least a bit about baseball and spoke English.

However, while I knew practically nuttin’ about baseball, I knew a whole lot about concentration. In addition, I spoke more than enough French to communicate the few basics I was able to grasp. By teaching the kids to concentrate on the ball – to ignore their friend on second base and not to worry about the bat – I taught them how to hit. One on one, I whispered to each child. I assured them that as long as he or she kept their eye on the ball, they’d hit it every time. With all seriousness and no shame, I attributed this no-fail/eye-on-the-ball thing to magic. After all, who needs skill when you have magic on your side.

Anyway, it worked. The light blue team won every game – yes, EVERY game.

But it’s not just kids who need focus and inspiration. We all do. A healthy measure of confidence and a little magic never hurts either. From that first day of kindergarten, fall has always been a time for new beginnings. With New England’s beautiful foliage, it’s also a magical time. Whatever your goal is for the coming months, if you set your mind to it and focus; you might just hit a home run.

Here’s to hitting it out of the park and bon appétit!

Risotto with Fresh Corn & Grilled Tomatoes 

September is the perfect, maybe the only, time for this dish. Local corn is at its peak and temperatures are cooling down. Homey and comforting but far from ordinary, risotto is great on a chilly night. Enjoy!

Serves 6 as a main course and 12 as a side dish

  • About 1 1/2 pints cherry tomatoes
  • 1 clove garlic
  • Olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 1/2 cups Arborio rice
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • About 5 cups chicken stock
  • About 4 cups (4-6 ears) fresh corn kernels
  • Pinch nutmeg
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons heavy cream
  • 2 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated plus more to pass
  • 1/2 cup loosely packed fresh basil leaves cut in julienne

Preheat the grill to high.

Put the tomatoes and garlic in a bowl, drizzle with just enough olive oil to lightly coat, season with salt and pepper and toss to coat.

Put the tomatoes and garlic in a grill pan, place on the grill and, stirring from time to time, grill on high until lightly caramelized, 4-5 minutes. Return the tomatoes to the bowl and fish out the garlic. Finely mince the garlic, add it back to the tomatoes, drizzle with the balsamic vinegar and toss to combine. Set aside.

Heat the chicken stock to a simmer and then reduce the heat to low to keep warm.

Lightly coat a large, heavy saucepan with a little olive oil and heat over medium. Add the onion, season with salt and pepper and cook until it starts to turn translucent, about 2 minutes. Add the rice and cook, stirring for another 3 minutes.

Reduce the heat to medium low, add the wine and simmer until the rice absorbs the wine. Add 1 cup stock and, stirring frequently, simmer until the liquid is absorbed. Continue to add stock, 1 cup at a time, and stirring, until the rice is tender, about 20 minutes.

Add the corn and nutmeg and cook, stirring for 2-3 minutes. Add the butter, cream and the Parmigiano-Reggiano and stir until melted and combined. Stir in half the basil.

Spoon the risotto into shallow bowls, garnish with grilled tomatoes, sprinkle with the remaining basil and serve. Pass more grated Parmigiano-Reggiano for those that like a cheesier risotto.

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Home for Lunch Bunch & Greek Grilled Cheese Sandwiches

Last Tuesday, families were back at bus stops during my morning walk around the lake. It was the first day of school. Cell phones were in camera mode and working in overdrive. Most of the moms were wearing bigger and brighter smiles than the kids, much bigger and much brighter.

While my childhood was split between Massachusetts and New Hampshire, our Monday through Friday life was spent in suburbia. That’s where I went to school. It was a much different world from our northern New England paradise. For one thing, in square mileage, the town was half the size. However, the population was about fifteen, yes, fifteen, times greater.

In the spirit of the post-war building boom, houses were packed close together. Not reach out the window and shake your neighbor’s hand close but close enough. Instead of one regional elementary school serving a couple of towns, there were twelve neighborhood schools and no corner bus stops. From the first day of kindergarten until we finished the sixth grade, we walked to school.

These elementary schools were strategically located so that no child walked more than a mile. Or at least that was the theory. There were a few outliers. My friend Joy was one of them. Her street fell outside the one-mile radius of any school. Joy and kids like her had to tough it out, ride their bikes or hitch rides with their parents.

We actually walked to and from school twice a day. That’s right, we went home for lunch. As you might guess, that put quite a crimp in any parent’s day. But those schools were built in another time for another era. Most moms were stay at home; taking care of kids, house and husband. I’m sure there were a few exceptions but I never met any.

It didn’t seem to bother Mom much when my sister and I were little. She was always there when we bounced back and forth, to and from Fiske School. All the mothers in the neighborhood were on the same schedule. If they complained about it; we never heard. Then again, what seven-year-old pays attention to the hassles and inconveniences her mother might face?

Things changed a bit the year my brother started kindergarten. While the town had twelve neighborhood elementary schools, there was just one high school and one middle school. My sister was in her first year at the high school and I had just move up to the middle school. (We called it junior high back then.)

Anyway, our house fell within inches of the one-mile rule so, middle school or not, I still walked. My sister took the bus. But here’s the important part, neither of us went home for lunch. The school board figured that once you reached the ripe old age of twelve, you could handle a cafeteria.

On the other hand, my kindergartener brother was home every day at noon. It was about that time that my generally cheery mom started to talk about the home for lunch bunch. At twelve, I couldn’t help but notice the not-so-subtle note of irony in her voice. After all, this daily interruption and rush to be home had already been going on for ten years … and, there she was – looking at seven more.

Happy back to school and bon appétit! 

Greek Grilled Cheese Sandwiches

You don’t need to roll out the grill for this grown up version of a childhood favorite. Next time zucchini is on the menu, grill up some extra for tomorrow’s lunch. Enjoy!

Makes 4 sandwiches

  • About 1/2 red onion, cut in thin wedges
  • 1 clove garlic
  • Olive Oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • Dash or to taste hot sauce
  • 1-2 medium zucchini, trimmed and cut in half lengthwise
  • 8 slices sourdough bread
  • Butter
  • 4 ounces shredded mozzarella
  • 4 ounces crumbled feta
  • Black oil-cured or Kalamata olives, pitted and chopped

Preheat the grill to high.

Put the onion and garlic in a bowl, drizzle with enough olive oil to lightly coat, season with salt and pepper and toss to combine. Put the vegetables in a grill basket and, stirring from time to time, grill on high until tender crisp.

Return the vegetables to the bowl, fish out the garlic clove, add the hot sauce and toss to coat. Finely mince the garlic, add it back to the onion and toss again.

Meanwhile, brush the zucchini halves with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill the zucchini until nicely browned and tender, 3-5 minutes per side. Remove the zucchini from the grill and finely chop. Add the zucchini to the onion and toss to combine.

Lightly butter one side of each slice of bread. Set half the bread slices in a skillet – you’ll probably need to work in batches or use 2 skillets. Spread a dollop of grilled vegetables on each slice and sprinkle with mozzarella, feta and olives. Top with the remaining bread slices, butter side up. Cover the skillet and cook on medium low until the bread is golden brown, about 8 minutes. Flip the sandwiches and cook until the cheese has melted and the second side is golden, about 5 minutes.

Cut the sandwiches into wedges and serve.

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Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. © Susan W. Nye, 2019