About susannye

A corporate dropout, I left IT sales & marketing for the fun, flexibilty & fear of self-employment & freelance writing.

Vive la France on Bastille Day & Salade Niçoise

Bonne fête nationale! Joyeux quatorze juillet! Happy Bastille Day! In case you’ve forgotten, today marks the beginning of the end of the French monarchy back in 1789. Except for a few odd royalists, all of France will celebrate the birth of the first French republic tonight. (Yes, there have been more than one but we’ll leave those stories for another day.)

In a normal year, both the French and Francophiles around the world celebrate Quatorze Juillet with parades, picnics and the pop of champagne corks. Fireworks, more champagne, and maybe a little dancing top off the evening. But then 2020 is not a normal year, far from it. The French continue to climb out of the throws of the pandemic. They are flattening their curve by hunkering down with their nearest and dearest, practicing social distancing and wearing masks.

Pandemic or not, you can still give a shout out to Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité (liberty, equality and fraternity.) An elegant picnic with your nearest and dearest sounds like a good idea. Whether that’s a romantic party of two or a festive group of six, we could all benefit from a little elegance and fun.

Remember this is a French picnic, so, in spite of the call for fraternité, we’re not suggesting a party reminiscent of your college days. Forget the paper plates and cheap beer or even fancy craft beer; think pastoral, casual elegance. Start by lugging a table out onto the deck, the screen porch or under a favorite old tree. Next, bring out a festive tablecloth, cloth napkins and fresh flowers. No, you don’t need to unearth our grandmother’s china (but you can if you like.) It’s a picnic, your everyday dishes, glasses and cutlery will be fine. Add some twinkle lights or candles or both for when the sun goes down and don’t forget the champagne.

From start to finish you’ll want a simple but decidedly French menu. If you don’t mind turning the oven on (I know I do), begin with a Pissaladière Niçoise. Otherwise, some fresh vegetables and crackers with a dab of tapenade or pâté will be just fine, maybe even perfect.

Even if one or the other is your signature dish, it’s definitely too hot these days for a very French Boeuf Bourguignon or Coq au Vin. Instead, turn your sights to the south of France for a beautiful Salade Niçoise. A salad is the perfect one-dish dinner on a hot night. You can gather, prep and refrigerate everything you’ll need in morning. When dinnertime comes, instead of bustling around a hot grill, you can relax, enjoy some French music and a glass of champagne. When you’re ready, dinner will come together in just a few minutes.

As for dessert, as long as local strawberries are in season, they are nothing short of amazing. Serve them with a splash of heavy cream or red wine. Alternatively, they make a delicious garnish for a lovely chocolate or lemon mousse. Clichéd or not, mousse, particularly chocolate, is everyone’s favorite French dessert. (Except for those of us who love a good crème brûlée but … see above … I’m certainly not turning on the oven in this heat.)

No need for fireworks. The New Hampshire sky is filled with bright stars and, maybe, a firefly or two. Think positive thoughts for a clear night and spend a long lazy evening, watching the sun set and moon rise.

Bonne fête nationale and bon appétit!

Salade Niçoise with Grilled Tuna or Swordfish

This colorful salad will make a beautiful and delicious addition to your summer repertoire. Enjoy!

Serves 6

  • 1 pound new potatoes, cut in bite size pieces
  • Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • Vinaigrette Niçoise (recipe follows)
  • 1 pound green beans, trimmed
  • 1 pound assorted cherry and grape tomatoes, cut in half
  • 1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 yellow bell pepper, seeded and chopped
  • 1/2 European cucumber, peeled, seeded and chopped
  • 1 1/2 pounds fresh tuna or swordfish steaks
  • About 1/2 head lettuce, torn into bite-sized pieces
  • 1/2 cup dry-pack, oil-cured black olives, pitted and roughly chopped
  • 2 tablespoons capers, drained
  • Fresh, chopped parsley

Put the potatoes in a pot of cold, salted water, set over high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer until the potatoes are tender, about 5 minutes. Drain the potatoes well and transfer to a bowl. Add enough vinaigrette to generously coat the potatoes and toss to combine. Cool to room temperature, toss again, cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Meanwhile, bring a pot of salted water to a rapid boil, add the beans and cook for 2-3 minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking. Drain again and put the beans in a bowl with enough vinaigrette to lightly coat and toss. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Put the tomatoes, cucumber, onion and pepper in a bowl, cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Heat the grill to high. Brush the fish with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Place the fish on the grill and cook for, more or less depending on the thickness, about 2 minutes per side for rare tuna, about 5 minutes per side for tuna cooked through or about 6 minutes per side for swordfish. Remove from the grill and let rest for 5-10 minutes before cutting into thick slices.

If you like, you can grill the fish in advance and refrigerate. Remove the fish from the refrigerator 20-30 minutes before serving. Slice right before serving.

When you are ready to serve, put the lettuce in a bowl and toss with a little vinaigrette. Drizzle the tomatoes, cucumber, onion and pepper with a little vinaigrette and toss to coat.

Arrange the lettuce on a platter or individual plates. Artfully arrange the vegetables and tuna on top of the lettuce, sprinkle with chopped olives, capers and parsley and serve.

Vinaigrette Niçoise

  • Zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 3-4 cloves garlic
  • 1-inch chunk red onion
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
  • 1 teaspoon anchovy paste
  • Dash hot sauce
  • Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup or to taste extra-virgin olive oil

Put the lemon juice and zest, vinegar, mustard, garlic, onion, thyme, anchovy paste and hot sauce in a blender or small food processor, season with salt and pepper and pulse to combine and chop the garlic and onion. With the machine running, slowly add the olive oil and process until incorporated.

Store extra vinaigrette in the refrigerator.

Print-friendly version of my recipe for Salade Niçoise with Grilled Tuna or Swordfish.

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

Are you a Francophile? What’s your favorite thing about France and the French? Feel free to share!

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. © Susan W. Nye, 2020

Summer Nostalgia & Strawberry Frozen Yogurt

You might be feeling like there’s going to be a whole lot missing from your summer this year. While many attractions for kids or grandkids will be opening at some point, new rules may take some of the fun out of the day. Perhaps this is the summer to stay off the roller coasters and water slides. Instead of juggling prepaid tickets and reservations, how about some old-fashioned fun?

If it’s been a while since you’ve been hiking, give it a shot. If New Hampshire’s forty-eight 4,000 footers are somewhere on your bucket list, this might be your summer to make a dent. Unless, you’d like to go for a something a little less epic, like a walk in the woods you enjoyed as a kid. Retrace your steps to that icy cold brook. You know, the one where that kid from around the corner, the piano prodigy, lost half his finger. High peaks or nostalgic rambles, either or both will help you get back in shape and lose that covid-19 – pounds that is.

Pick up a paddle and go. For peace and serenity there is nothing like a scull, canoe, kayak or paddle board. Early risers are particularly lucky. The lake is usually flat, the air is fresh and you can often hear the loons from one end of Pleasant Lake to the other.

Nothing beats social distancing like water skiing. Skiers bob along at the end of a seventy foot rope. Of course, you need a boat, one with a motor, but you must know someone who knows someone with a good ski boat.

Beaches are open and the water is fine. Cool off in a clear, clean lake, do a few laps and then relax in the shade with a good book. While you are at it, get the children off their devices. Social distancing or not, kids can still build sandcastles.

Speaking of building sandcastles, don’t stop there. Is there anything more nostalgic than a tree fort? Sounds like a great project for Dad and/or Grandpa and the kids. And if Dad and Gramps don’t know a hammer from a wrench, well, chances are good that an aunty, mom or grandma will have a pretty good idea. If a tree fort seems a tad too ambitious, you can always build bird houses.

Now is the season to pick strawberries. Yes, you have to wear a mask but go early while it’s still cool. Afterwards, gather the children in the kitchen and make or bake everything from ice cream and cake to pie and jam. I have many found memories of summer mornings in my grandmother’s tiny kitchen.

And when the sun goes down or it’s raining, put together a puzzle or play Scrabble or Monopoly or Clue. When I was in middle school, my mother and I shared a puzzle addiction. It was our thing. No one else really cared to join in. We had a big stack and our favorites where fine paintings. I preferred Bruegel the Elder’s Children’s Games while Mom was partial to Monet’s Water Lilies.

So, yes, it’s a weird summer. It isn’t the first and it won’t be the last. At some time or another, people – including some of our current family members and ancestors – have coped with war and depression, another pandemic and a year without summer. It will only be the worst summer ever if you let it.

Stay safe, stay well and be kind. Have fun and bon appétit!

Strawberry Frozen Yogurt

Nothing’s more nostalgic than making your own ice cream – even if it is frozen yogurt. Enjoy!

Make about 1 1/2 quarts

  • 1 quart nonfat plain yogurt
  • 1 quart strawberries, hulled and roughly chopped
  • 1/2 – 3/4 cup (to taste) sugar
  • Grated zest of 1 orange
  • 1 tablespoon Grand Marnier
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup half & half

Put the yogurt in a colander or sieve lined with a clean dishtowel or coffee filter and let it drain for several hours or overnight. You should end up with about 2 cups of yogurt cheese.

Put the strawberries, sugar, orange zest, Grand Marnier, cinnamon and salt in a food processor and pulse to finely chop. Transfer the strawberries to a bowl and let them sit for about 30 minutes.

Put the drained yogurt in the food processor and slowly add the half & half while processing until light and well combined. Add the strawberries and pulse to combine.

Following the manufacturer’s instructions, transfer the mixture to an ice cream machine and freeze. Transfer the frozen yogurt to plastic containers and store in the freezer for up to one month.

If the frozen yogurt comes out of the freezer rock hard, put it in the refrigerator for 30-45 minutes. It will soften a little and be easier to scoop. Garnish with fresh berries and serve.

Print-friendly version of my recipe for Strawberry Frozen Yogurt.

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

Do you have any special plans for the summer? Feel free to share!

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. © Susan W. Nye, 2020

Happy Fourth & Chocolate Walnut Brownie Tart

My mother loved a good holiday as much as she loved a good party. And so, Independence Day was one of her favorites. After all, regardless of what day the Fourth falls on, the celebrations last for at least a long weekend and more often a week. The days and nights are filled with festivities, among them flares, fireworks, parades, cookouts, local strawberries and hand-cranked ice cream. And, like the swallows of Capistrano, Mom could generally count on all, or at least most, of her family coming home to Pleasant Lake for the star spangled holiday.

There were a few givens for the Nye family’s Fourth of July. The first, of course, was that we’d show up. No matter where we lived, all roads led to New Hampshire that first weekend in July. For those times when you were hard pressed to make a trip to the lake, it made planning easy. You always knew you could meet up with all or most of family on the Fourth of July. Besides, it never rained on the Fourth – or at least, that was my mother’s story and she stuck to it for decades.

A lot of red, white and blue T-shirts were worn. Some even were emblazoned with flags. That’s one of the joys of living in rural New England. Before and after the awful tween and teen years, you don’t need to worry too much about the latest fashion trends. I like to think of it as wearing the classics. If you’re never in the height of fashion, no one will notice if you stray over the line to kitsch and show up wearing way too much red, white and blue. At least, that’s my theory.

There was always a cookout, sometimes at the beach and sometimes at the house. The presence of young children generally dictated a beach picnic. Most of the kids in our family are part fish. Once in the water, it’s almost impossible to get them out. The presence of young children, or not, also helped determine what to cook. A big pile of hamburgers and hotdogs were on the menu if lots of excited kids were running around. Once the little ones were grown, sometimes but not always, something only slightly more sophisticated than burgers and dogs came off the grill. Oh, and there were always brownies.

Dad always bought a bunch of flares. Mostly because Bud Lauridsen was fire chief and came to house. If Dad hesitated to dig into his pocket, Bud threated to ignore the call if our house was on fire. It was a pretty effective sales pitch.

Mom bought sparklers. She bought them at the pharmacy, under no pressure and on her own volition. They were a lot more fun than the flares since we could dance around with them. Some kid or another always burned their foot stepping on a hot sparkler. No good celebration is ever completely free of danger.

No one over the age of four or five missed the fireworks. While all the crowd was delighted, Mom was by far the most enthusiastic in her appreciation. And, no matter the year, we held a steadfast belief that the thunderous balls of fire had never been so numerous and bright and the display had never lasted so long. Throughout the extravaganza, the tiniest children were hugged tight and constantly reassured that they were having lots of fun.

Wishing one and all a red hot Fourth of July. Have fun and be safe. Bon appétit!

Chocolate Walnut Brownie Tart

If you have hungry teenagers in the house, you might need to bake two of these brownie-like tarts. Otherwise, it can easily serve twelve, even sixteen. It’s very rich. Enjoy!

Serves 8–16

  • 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) butter
  • 3 cups (about 18 ounces) semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1 tablespoon instant espresso or coffee
  • 3 extra-large eggs
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 cup (4 ounces) chopped walnuts
  • Garnish: whipped cream or ice cream

Grease and flour a 9-inch springform or tart pan with removable sides. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Melt the butter in a heavy sauce pan. Add 2 cups of chocolate chips and the espresso powder, remove from the heat, and stir until the chocolate melts. Set aside to cool.

Beat the eggs, sugar and vanilla with an electric mixer on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. With the mixer on low, slowly add the cooled chocolate. Gradually increase the mixer speed and beat until well combined.

Put the flour, cinnamon, salt, baking powder, walnuts and remaining chocolate chips in a bowl and whisk to combine.

A bit at a time, add the dry ingredients to the batter and beat on low until just combined. Pour into the pan and bake for 35-40 minutes, until the center is puffed (the top may crack). The inside will still be very soft. Cool to room temperature before removing the sides of the pan.

Cut into wedges and serve with a dollop of whipped cream or ice cream.

Print-friendly version of my recipe for Chocolate Walnut Brownie Tart.

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

What are your favorite Fourth of July traditions? Feel free to share!

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. © Susan W. Nye, 2020

 

 

Covid Babies & Ginger-Lime Rhubarb Syrup

Pandemic or not, babies keep coming. At least a handful of newborns and soon-to-be-borns are joining my little corner of the universe. I’m sure that you too have welcomed or are about to welcome a baby or two into your family or circle of friends.

The other day, it occurred to me that, in the not too distant future, these covid babies will become small children. In the midst of a long afternoon, they will climb into a parent’s or grandparent’s lap and ask for a particular story. As many kids do, they’ll want to know about the day they were born.

And so, these curious, little children will learn about a time when everyone wore masks and washed their hands incessantly. Perhaps it will help explain why their favorite – or least favorite – holiday is Halloween. They’ll hear about whole afternoons spent putting jigsaw puzzles together and families taking long walks. Sourdough bread, a toilet paper shortage and family dinners will be part of many stories about life with the coronavirus.

As the tale draws to a close, there will hugs and reassurances that the very best part of the pandemic was bringing a new baby home. At story’s end, those children will climb out of those laps knowing that, then and forever, they are loved.

Babies born in the last pandemic, the Spanish Influenza are now somewhere between 100 and 102. The few that are still around aren’t much help. After all, they were newborns when it happened. And so, we grapple with this catastrophic event as best we can. Time tends to bring perspective; something we could all use right about now. In the middle of it, we’ve made our first discoveries, like …

… the courage of health care workers, not just doctors and nurses but everyone in the hospital.

… teachers aren’t just underappreciated and underpaid; they are really, really amazing.

… a new understanding of what’s essential and what’s not.

… an appreciation of those that provide essential goods and services.

… new phrases like social distancing, community spread and flatten the curve.

… cooking every night, night after night after night after night can get a little tiresome.

… more than we’d ever really want to know about the dynamics of the toilet paper supply chain.

… that my mask protects you and your mask protects me.

… non-wearers seem to have decided that masks are some kind of political statement.

… anyone can Zoom, even nonagenarians – some people just need a little more help than others.

But back to those covid babies, they will grow up and have children, grandchildren and even great grandchildren. They will have the advantage of perspective when, at some time or another, some or all of their little progenies ask, “What was it like when you were little?” And so, they will tell them about being born in the middle of a pandemic and share all sorts of stories. Years from now, even decades, I wonder tales will be told about this spring and summer and whatever comes next.

Be well, be safe and be kind to yourself and to others. Bon appétit!

Ginger-Lime Rhubarb Syrup

A friend just gifted me several pounds of beautiful rhubarb. This sweet and tart syrup will make a delicious mocktail or cocktail to brighten your end of day. Enjoy!

  • 1 pound fresh rhubarb, roughly chopped
  • 1 cup orange juice
  • 1 cup or to taste sugar
  • 1 (2-inch) piece fresh ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup fresh lime juice

Put the rhubarb, orange juice, sugar, ginger and cinnamon in heavy saucepan, stir to combine and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Lower the heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the rhubarb is soft and mushy, 20-30 minutes.

Cool to room temperature and strain through a fine-mesh sieve, pressing on the solids to release the syrup. Stir the lime juice into the syrup, transfer to clean glass jars or bottles and refrigerate until cold.

Transfer the jam-y smashed rhubarb to clean glass jars and refrigerate.

For Ginger-Lime Rhubarb Cocktails and Mocktails:

Add syrup to taste to sparkling water or wine.

Or make a rhubarb quarantini by combining syrup to taste with an ounce of rum or vodka and lots of ice in a cocktail shaker. Give it a good shake, strain into a glass, add a splash of seltzer water and wedge of lime.

For Ginger Rhubarb Jam:

Try the jam-y rhubarb in yogurt or on your morning toast.

Print-friendly version of my recipe for Ginger-Lime Rhubarb Syrup.

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

What discoveries have you made during the pandemic? Feel free to share!

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. © Susan W. Nye, 2020

 

Minimizing & Cold Sesame Noodles with Asparagus

All I can say is holy smokes. I don’t know about you; but my brain is in overdrive a good deal of the time. Overstimulated, that’s my mom used to call it when one or all of her kids were wound up tighter than a tick. She’d talk us through it or send us to our rooms or some other quiet place to get over it. Usually, one or the other – a chat or some alone time – worked. If it were only so easy.

The pandemic continues to chug along. Businesses are slowing opening back up. Lots of cars with out-of-state license plates are circling Pleasant Lake. It might be my imagination but their numbers seem to have grown exponentially. Don’t get me wrong. Our seasonal neighbors and visitors are more than welcome as long as they don’t bring the coronavirus with them. (Or buy up all the toilet paper.)

In addition, demonstrations rock our sense of complacency and remind us of the ongoing, systemic racism within our country. After a few awful nights of violence, the protests are now mostly peaceful. Individual officers and some organizations are reaching out to demonstrators in solidarity for equality and justice. Even our little town has seen a student-led vigil and march. Facing harsh truths and change are not easy but essential.

So, what’s next? Alien invasion? Killer hornets? Oh wait, they’re already here. How about a zombie apocalypse? Too much? Anyway, one of my worst fears was realized last week. That’s right, a trip to the emergency room with Dad, two actually, plus an overnight stay in the hospital. Throughout this pandemic, several friends have told me how difficult it has been to be cut off from older loved ones. With assisted living and nursing homes under strict lockdown, no one has been unable to visit their parents, grandparents, aunties, uncles or in-laws for months.

I felt lucky to have my nonagenarian father safe at home. Sure, he was bored. Ever the gregarious extrovert, he complained about the stay-at-home order. The dog and I continue to do our best but Dad does not do well in limited company. Knowing he was safe and well made it easy to ignore his grumblings.

Unfortunately, many of our parts start to wear out once we pass eighty-five, maybe even eighty. While Dad’s visits seem to come in waves, if the emergency room gave out frequent flyer cards, we’d be platinum members. Anyway, our last visit was back in March – a day before COVID-19 led the hospital to ban visitors, including family, from the ER and patient rooms. I was able to be at his side to help answer questions and fill in any gaps. But that was then. Last week, Dad was on his own in the ER and afterwards when he was admitted into the hospital.

Now, Dad is, as they say, a grown man with all his faculties. Except, as I t

old the nurse who wheeled him away; he lies. Without hesitation and a straight face, he will tell you that he has no idea why he’s in the emergency room. If pressed, he might admit he’s not feeling all that well. But again, he’ll insist he has no idea why his daughter brought him up.

So, thanks to this most recent trip to the ER, I have learned a new medical term for patients such as my father. He minimizes. What’s a minimizer? Well, how about an example? Imagine some guy, standing in the ER waiting room, holding his severed finger in a baggie full of ice and telling the staff that he thinks he might need a few stiches. That could be my dad. Well, not exactly, he no longer plays with chainsaws but you get the general picture.

Take care of yourself. Take care of your family and friends. Happy Father’s Day and bon appétit!

Cold Sesame Noodles with Asparagus

Take advantage of local asparagus while you can. Topped with grilled shrimp or delicious all by itself, a flavorful noodle salad is perfect for a backyard picnic. Enjoy!

Serves 4

  • 8 ounces thin rice noodles
  • Sesame Vinaigrette (recipe follows)
  • About 1 pound asparagus, cut in bite-sized pieces
  • 2 scallions, thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint leaves
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro leaves
  • 2 tablespoons sesame seeds, toasted

Prepare the noodles according to package directions. Drain, rinse under cold water and drain well. Transfer the noodles to a bowl, drizzle with enough Sesame Vinaigrette to generously coat and toss.

Can be made ahead to this point, covered and refrigerated for several hours.

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the asparagus and cook for 1 minute. Drain and immediately plunge into a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking, drain and pat dry.

Transfer the asparagus to a bowl, add the white and light green scallion slices, drizzle with a little Sesame Vinaigrette and toss to coat.

Sprinkle half the herbs, dark green scallion slices and sesame seeds over the noodles and toss to combine.

Transfer the noodles to a deep platter or individual plates, top with the asparagus and scallion mix, sprinkle with the remaining herbs, dark green scallion slices and sesame seeds and serve.

Sesame Vinaigrette

Makes about 1 cup

  • 1/4 cup peanut or canola oil
  • 3 tablespoons sesame oil
  • 3 tablespoons unseasoned rice vinegar
  • Zest and juice of 1 lime
  • 1 tablespoon or to taste Sriracha
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon fish sauce
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and minced
  • 1 teaspoon brown sugar

Put all of the ingredients in a glass jar or and shake or whisk vigorously to combine. Let sit for at least 30 minutes to combine the flavors. Give the vinaigrette a good shake or whisk before using.

Cover and store extra vinaigrette in the refrigerator.

Print-friendly version of my recipe for Cold Sesame Noodles with Asparagus.

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

Do you have a Dad story? Feel free to share!

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. © Susan W. Nye, 2020

 

Unrest & Lemony Cod with Olives & Capers

Unrest. It’s a funny word. Not funny ha-ha but funny strange.
After all, unsleep is not a word; unrelax is not a word. There’s something terribly polite about this word unrest. Maybe it was invented by Miss Manners or Emily Post. Unrest – sounds like it’s nothing more than a simple case of insomnia, a little tossing and turning – caused by, well maybe, a tiff with the boss or a bit of indigestion. But the death of yet another African American man by a police officer is not a tiff or a sour stomach.

Since I am of a certain age, I remember the unrest, otherwise known as demonstrations and riots, in 1968. That unrest continued into the early 1970s. I was just kid in middle school but I remember. Reported every evening on the news, you couldn’t miss it. Stories about protests and riots mingled with reports on the Vietnam war, the assignations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy, the Prague spring, the USS Pueblo and a presidential campaign.

Today’s demonstrations are not just another story on the evening news. They are reported and filmed live throughout the day and night, an integral part of the always-on, 24×7 news cycle. Social media is flooded with recaps, links and opinions. Our society already tense with a medical emergency and economic crisis, is plunged into overdrive. Some call it a mash up of 1918, the 1930’s and 1968.

I’m much too young to have lived through 1918 or the ‘30’s but several events in the late ‘60’s and early ‘70’s have left an indelible mark. Like the time my sister took me with her to see Abbie Hoffman on the Boston Common. I don’t know if she thought I needed educating. Maybe it was a ruse to convince my mother that it was all innocent. After all, you don’t bring your middle school sister, the one with braces on her teeth, to some wild party.

It was a beautiful spring day. The park was filled with lots of kids as well as youngish adults, some with babies and small children, and a few aging hippies. Abbie Hoffman was the main attraction and gave a riveting speech filled with words my mother didn’t let me use. In case you’ve forgotten him, Abbie Hoffman was an antiwar and counterculture activist; some might call him an icon. The author of Steal this Book, his words were colorful and impassioned. It was an education, a wonderful afternoon.

Not wanting to get in trouble, we hopped the subway home in time for dinner. Or at least, I didn’t want to get in trouble. My sister might have had another motive like more trips to more rallies. I’m sure our dinner conversation was filled with lively stories if not expletive-deleteds.

Always the good girl, after helping with the dishes, I headed to my room to do my homework. Whether it was the late start or a particularly heavy homework night, it took a while. Around eleven, I put my pencil down and went to kiss my parents goodnight. The evening news had just started. The lead story was a riot in Boston. The peaceful afternoon rally had turned nasty with rocks thrown, teargas and police batons.

I was stunned that a wonderful afternoon, a call for peace, could end in disaster. I was a kid. What did I know? All these years later, it’s happening again. Peaceful afternoon rallies calling for equality turn angry, ugly and filled with fear after dark. How many middle schoolers will put down their pencils to kiss their parents goodnight and see mayhem on the television screen? Hundreds of years cannot be undone in an instant. Change takes time but we need to start. We can start now by listening, acknowledging and learning. We can do better. We are better than this.

Be well, be safe and be kind. Bon appétit!

Lemony Cod with Olives & Capers

Looking for a quick and easy supper. I’ve been cooking one or another variation of baked fish at least once, usually two or three times, a week since the coronavirus lock down started. This is one of my favorites. Enjoy!

Serves 4

  • Olive oil
  • About 1 1/2 pounds cod fillets
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
  • Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 8-12 green olives, pitted and quartered
  • 1 tablespoon capers
  • 1 lemon, thinly sliced

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Oil a baking dish large enough to hold the fish in a single layer.

Place the fish in the baking dish, sprinkle with thyme, season with salt and pepper and scatter the olives and capers on and around the fish.

Put the lemon slices in a bowl, drizzle with just enough olive oil to lightly coat and toss to coat. Arrange the lemon slices on top of the fish. It’s fine if the slices overlap.

Bake at 375 degrees until the fish has cooked through, about 15 minutes.

Transfer the fish to a platter or individual plates, top with olives, capers and lemon slices and serve.

Print-friendly version of this recipe.

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

What simple things and everyday moments fill you with joy and gratitude? Feel free to share!

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. © Susan W. Nye, 2020

New Normal & Grilled Sweet Potatoes with Cilantro-Mint Aioli

I may be way off base here but I’m guessing that no one or almost no one likes being in transition. And, of course, that’s where we are right now, in transition. Not one or a few of us but everyone is betwixt and between. Whether you live in a coronavirus hot spot or are relatively free of risk, the entire world is facing a health crisis. Surrounded by uncertainty, we are between life as we knew it and our new normal. Now, I’ve heard a few say (generally with a note of disgust), “What are you talking about – a new normal? There’s nothing normal about this.”

I get that nothing feels right about our current situation. From empty roads and insurance kick-backs to social distancing and facemasks, we live in a strange new world. Some changes hit harder than others. After our typically endless winter, including snow in May, an early heatwave is proof positive that summer will come. However, town beaches are closed and blocked off with temporary barriers. Bright orange, plastic fencing is definitely out of whack with life in rural New Hampshire.

So, here’s the pep talk. We’ll get through this. Yes, it will be easier for some than others. The suddenly unemployed, parents with young children, people with an underlying illness and anyone with aging parents, they have a rough road ahead. In the end, it’s a good bet that everyone will know someone who died in the pandemic and many will lose loved ones.

While our experiences are different, we are in this pandemic at the same time. It’s not a single neighborhood, one town, state or even country. It is that rare occurrence – a global event. The stress and strife may not be felt equally but it is felt globally. Together we share a universal sadness and sense of loss.

It doesn’t matter where you live; it doesn’t matter where you work or used to work. Unlike a game of dodgeball or kick-the-can, there are no sides to pick. Across the globe, most people are donning masks and keeping a respectful distance. One and all are looking for ways to cope. Perhaps most of all, we are anxiously looking for a light at the end of the tunnel.

We’d like to think that the life we left behind in February or March is that light. It’s not. As we wind our way through each day, fond remembrances pop into our heads. We can imagine ourselves easing back into our old life before this crisis. We can even wax nostalgic and laugh at the good old days when kids draped toilet paper over that crabby neighbor’s yard. Our dreams are filled with scenes of extended family dinners and outings with friends. We remember what it felt like to see our favorite band in concert and watch the home team win another game.

I don’t always succeed but here’s what I try and tell myself – DON’T. Don’t guess; don’t speculate. And for heaven sakes, don’t give it a timeline. Don’t assume that nothing will change. Change is inevitable. I don’t bother with the change is good cliché. I’ve been around the block a few times. Some change is good and some, well, not so much.

Ever the walker, I do my best to put one foot in front of the other. I type one word and then another. I’ll cook dinner tonight and again tomorrow. I’ll finally put my turtlenecks and wool sweaters away and unpack shorts and t-shirts. A few times each day, the dog will pace back and forth at the bottom of the stairs and wait for me to come down to scratch her ears, take her for a walk or fix her supper. As for our new normal, we may need to wait a bit. It will come but at its own pace and in its own time. In the meantime, I will continue to find joy and peace by embracing the Zen of everyday life.

Some of our best days are yet to come. Be well, be safe and be kind. Bon appétit!

Grilled Sweet Potatoes with Cilantro-Mint Aioli

If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen … roll out the grill and keep cooking. Enjoy!

Serves 6

  • Cilantro-Mint Aioli (recipe follows)
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon or to taste your favorite chili powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 3 large sweet potatoes
  • Olive oil

Make the Cilantro-Mint Aioli. Preheat a grill to medium.

Put the spices and herbs in a bowl or cup and whisk to combine.

Peel the sweet potatoes, cut in half lengthwise and slice on the diagonal about 3/4 inch thick.

Put the potato slices in a shallow dish, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with the spice mix and toss to coat.

Place the potatoes on the grill and cook for 3-5 minutes. Flip the potatoes, reduce the heat or move to a cool part of the grill and continue grilling until cooked through, another 3-5 minutes.

Transfer to a platter or individual plates and serve with Cilantro-Mint Aioli.

Cilantro-Mint Aioli

  • 2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
  • Zest and juice of 1 lime
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 scallions, sliced
  • About 1 1/2 cups fresh cilantro leaves
  • About 1 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
  • About 1/2 cup fresh mint leaves
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1/2 cup or to taste mayonnaise

Put the vinegar and lime juice in a small food processor, add the lime zest, scallions, garlic and herbs, season with salt and pepper and pulse to chop and combine. Add the mayonnaise and process until smooth.

Let the aioli sit for about 30 minutes before serving. Can be made ahead, covered and stored in the refrigerator for 1-2 days. Serve at room temperature.

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Practice Joy & Rhubarb Mousse

On top of the pandemic, a wind whipped through the neighborhood last week. It took down trees and knocked the power out for about twenty-four hours. My first thought was, what’s next? I might have suggested locust but the black flies were already swarming. Alright now, take a moment, take a deep breath. Everything will be fine in the end and we certainly are not without our good days.

Yes, even in a pandemic, most days are good and some are fabulous. Good, bad or fabulous, it has a lot to do with attitude and luck. So, what makes for a good day? I’ll cast my vote for simple things. Sunshine along with time with people you care about, who care about you – that sounds like a a pretty good day to me.

Outside activities are now the best way to see if not touch friends and family. Thank goodness, longer days and warmer weather are making it easier to be out and about. Fresh air and connecting with the people who matter will raise your spirits. Embrace the joy of a beautiful day, the pleasure of conversation, the happiness of movement and exercise.

At my house, we’re doing our best to make the most of the good weather. Dad is back on the links at the local golf course. In spite of a bunch of new rules for golfing during the pandemic, he is delighted. Six feet apart is just fine. After a dreary stay-at-home spring, he’s happy to be out with his buddies. Low score or high, he’s relieved to be back out hitting little white balls up and down the fairway.

By the way, in case you’ve forgotten or maybe didn’t realize, my dad is ninety-three. He doesn’t look it but he is; just ask his knees. Dad now takes a cart and plays nine holes instead of eighteen. Arthritic joints and a pandemic may slow him down but they can’t stop him. 

For all that, I am grateful. Not only is he out of my hair for a few hours; he’s having fun with his friends and exercising. An added benefit, since he plays Monday, Wednesday and Friday, we finally have a better hold on what the heck day it is.

A solitary walk is easy. Or at least, it’s easy for me. I look at my schedule and check the weather forecast to find a good time and, well, just do it. A walk with a friend is more complicated. Along with the weather, two, often conflicting, schedules are in play. It took a few months but the stars, or at least schedules, have finally align for a Wednesday walk date. With two too busy lives, only perseverance could make it happen. Only luck can ensure perfect weather.

For good company and sunshine, I am grateful. These conversation-filled Wednesday walks provide a much-needed break from the humdrum of life with the coronavirus. They are wonderful opportunities to share and build friendship.

A walk, a game of golf, interesting conversations and sunshine, these are simple pleasures. Now more than ever, we need to open ourselves up to the joy of simple things. Each day is filled with opportunities to practice joy. Spotting a blue heron perched on a raft or hearing the call of the loons, these are fleeting moments to embrace with a smile. Bright red and yellow tulips in a garden, the sound of a child’s giggle or the happy wag of a dog’s tail, let’s embrace these moments of everyday life and be grateful for the joy they bring us.

Be well, be safe and be kind. Bon appétit!

Rhubarb Mousse

Rhubarb is the first of the local fruits and vegetables. Take advantage of this early crop with a sweet-tart dessert. Enjoy!

Serves 6-8

  • 1 tablespoon unflavored gelatin
  • 1 pound rhubarb, chopped
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Zest and juice of 1 lime
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 2 cups very cold heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, cold, cut into pieces
  • 1 tablespoon Grand Marnier
  • 2 cups very cold heavy cream
  • Garnish: fresh, sliced strawberries

Prepare an ice bath in a large, shallow bowl and set aside.

Place the rhubarb in a heavy saucepan with 2 tablespoons water, the lime juice and 1/4 cup sugar. Bring to a simmer over medium heat and cook, stirring often, until the rhubarb breaks down, about 15 minutes.

While the rhubarb cooks, place 2 tablespoons water in a cup, sprinkle with the gelatin and let stand to soften for 15 minutes. Remove the rhubarb from the heat and stir in the gelatin.

Let the rhubarb cool for about 10 minutes, transfer to a blender and process until smooth.

Put the egg yolks, 1/2 cup sugar and the salt in a heavy saucepan and beat with an electric mixer on high until pale yellow. Reduce the mixer speed, slowly add 3/4 cup cream and beat until smooth. Stir in the lime zest and rosemary and cook, stirring constantly, over very low heat until the custard reaches 165 degrees on a candy thermometer.

Remove the pan from heat. Add the butter, 1 piece at a time, and whisk until fully incorporated. Pass through a fine mesh sieve into a bowl. Add the rhubarb purée and Grand Marnier and whisk to combine. Set the bowl in the ice bath and stir frequently until cooled to room temperature. Cover and chill the custard in the refrigerator for 1 hour.

Whip the remaining cream until medium-stiff peaks form. Gently fold the whipped cream into the custard. Divide the mousse among 6 or 8 dessert or wine glasses, cover and refrigerate for at least 3 hours.

Serve garnished with fresh strawberries.

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What Keeps You Awake at Night? & Peanut Chicken

Uncertainty; it’s that thing that takes hold of my overactive imagination and refuses to let go. In the early days of the stay-at-home order, I admit, I was somewhat nonchalant. Not only was I plenty busy but, ever the optimist, I figured it couldn’t last long. Surely, this would be nothing more than a short interruption from the everyday. It would be over in a month, maybe two. After all, wasn’t it some new strain of flu? It was already March, the tail end of flu season – so, no worries.

Not so fast there, back up that bus Buttercup. Sure, both the flu and COVID-19 are respiratory illness causes by a virus. However, it turns out there are viruses and, then, there are super viruses. Like your great-grandma’s and grandpa’s influenza back in 1918, this particular coronavirus falls into the super, duper category.

Having listened to (what is probably) too many newscasts, I’m now experiencing periodic OH-NO-WHAT-IF moments. Out of nowhere, a new worry pops into my head. Tossing and turning in the middle of the night, I realize freelance gigs could dry up. Plus, there is the gnawing reality that our once plentiful toilet paper supply is dwindling. (Hey, what can I say, we were lucky. I had a coupon and stocked up way before this thing reared its ugly head.)

TP aside, summer is one giant what-if. Hip and trendy cynics might disparage our peaceful New Hampshire summers. Some may call them quaint or out of touch with the twenty-first century. Well, we like them just fine, thank you. Our summer days are filled with trips to the beach and hikes in the hills. Kids take time off from the all-important task of catching frogs to take swimming and tennis lessons. We celebrate Independence Day with fireworks, picnics and parades. We raise money for worthy causes at fairs, 5K runs and community breakfasts. We gather at farmers’ markets and bandstand concerts. Now, many of those simple pleasures have been cancelled or are up for a virtual re-design. Summer, as we know it, is not going to happen.

Each directive from the governor, each cancelled event, each lost job and each test result, positive or negative, provides an answer. Regardless of the answer, there is usually a moment of relief. The worry of not knowing is gone. Unfortunately, that relief is almost always short lived. All too soon, the inevitable ramifications, the intended and unintended consequences are realized along with a whole new set of problems.

Take what may seem like a small thing – the fireworks are cancelled. All right, you’re not happy but now you know. Except, hold on, wait a minute. That’s right, if Fourth of July celebrations are cancelled … well, when will the family gather and celebrate summer? Will this be the summer without cousins, without Meme and Gramps, old friends and new neighbors? The socially distant summer? And what the heck will that be like, feel like? The unimaginable is suddenly reality.

I think I may have already conceded to a home alone summer. Well, almost alone. My senior citizen housemates, Dad and the dog, are still with me. But what about beyond summer? The other day, out of nowhere, my brain fast forwarded to Thanksgiving. In a moment of despair, I was confounded by the thought of the fourth Thursday in November as what? Just another day?

Uncertainty. If we let it; it can have amazing power. For now, I’m doing my best to acknowledge my what-ifs and, then, put them aside with a simple – I don’t know. A table filled with friends and family or a Zoom turkey? I don’t know. While it’s not really okay, it will have to do for now.

Be well, be safe and be kind. Bon appétit!

 Peanut Chicken

I love the versatility of braised chicken thighs. This time, I combine peanuts with a little spice for a take on a West African classic. Serve with rice or polenta. Enjoy!

Serves 6

  • 6 skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 3 carrots, chopped
  • 4 stalks celery, chopped
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon or to taste Ancho or your favorite chili powder
  • 2 teaspoons cumin
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
  • 1 tablespoon minced jalapeno pepper
  • 1/2 cup peanut butter
  • 1/2 cup crushed tomatoes
  • 1 1/2 cups or more chicken stock or broth
  • 1/2 cup or more dry white wine
  • 1 bay leaf
  • About 12 ounces baby spinach
  • Zest and juice of 1 lime
  • About 1/4 cup chopped peanuts, toasted
  • Fresh cilantro leaves

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Heat a large, deep cast iron or ovenproof nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Starting skin-side down, cook the chicken for 3 minutes on each side. Remove the chicken from the pan and reserve.

Add the carrot, celery, onion and red pepper to the skillet, sprinkle with the spices and thyme, season with salt and pepper and sauté until the onion is translucent. Add the garlic, ginger and jalapeno and sauté 2-3 minutes more.

Put the peanut butter in a bowl, add the crushed tomatoes and whisk to combine. Whisk in the chicken stock and wine.

Return the chicken to the skillet, add the bay leaf, pour the liquid ingredients around the chicken and bring to a simmer. Transfer the chicken to the oven and cook at 375 degrees for about 1 hour. Check the oven after about 45 minutes and add more chicken stock if necessary.

Remove the chicken from the skillet, add the spinach and toss and stir until wilted and well combined. Stir in the lime zest and juice.

Transfer the chicken and vegetables to a large platter or individual plates, sprinkle with cilantro and peanuts and serve with a spoonful of rice or polenta.

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You’ve Got This & Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

These are uncertain times. As New Hampshire begins coronavirus stay-at-home 2.0, many of us are feeling daunted by concerns about our health, safety and economic wellbeing. Uncertainty will do that. In spite of whatever questions and doubts, you’ve got this. Don’t let anyone tell you different. Whether the coronavirus is causing you huge problems and complications or is simply an annoying inconvenience, you can do it. You can get to the other side of this pandemic. After all, you’ve proven your moxie hundreds, maybe even thousands, of times. Need a few reminders of your strength and resilience; here goes …

The moms in the neighborhood weren’t sure you could get up and out in time to make it to kindergarten. You did. Moreover, you graduated not only from kindergarten but from every other course of study, internship or apprenticeship you set your mind to.

Remember that time when you went toe-to-toe with the class bully to defend your best friend. How old were you? Maybe ten? You may have been shaking in your sneakers but you stood up for your friend and yourself.

.

Don’t forget the move you made to a new job in a new city. All by yourself, you didn’t know a soul but you did it. You found an apartment. You tackled your new responsibilities with aplomb. You roamed the town, exploring each and every neighborhood. Before long, you knew your favorite streets, parks and places to eat, shop and be entertained. You made friends; indeed, you made a life.

You didn’t only meet and survive a weekend with your future mother-in-law; you charmed her. Now, no one is sure who she loves best – you or your spouse? You won her over.

You try to forget it, but there was that time when you were laid off. We’ve all been laid off; or at least most of us have. Some of us have even been fired. You figured it out and went on to something better.

You have coped with the unmitigated fear of seeing a loved one fall ill. You have coped with the utter sadness of losing a loved one. Fear and loss have made you more human, a deeper, kinder person.

In classrooms, on playgrounds and at home, in workplaces, hospitals and maybe even a courtroom and/or police station, time and time again, you have stood your ground or lent a hand or made what many would consider a miracle happen.

You are stronger than you think. Take a deep breath and let it out. Try a few more, in and out. It’s okay to let your friends and family know what you’re feeling. It’s okay to voice your concerns out loud, to share your fears and anger. Chances are pretty good that the people who love you, will offer some sense of reassurance or share a different perspective. They’ll give you a hug or, maybe, a kick in the pants. And if they can’t be with you, well, they’ll give you a virtual hug or kick.

It may not always feel like it but you’ve got this. Don’t let anyone tell you different. After all, you’ve run marathons, climbed mountains and cooked dinner for one hundred. If not literally, then figuratively. In the words of Oscar Wilde, “Everything is going to be fine in the end. If it’s not fine it’s not the end.”

Be well, be safe and be kind. Bon appétit!

 Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

You’ve got this but when in doubt – have a cookie. If you can’t find them so be it but mini chocolate chips work best with this recipe. Enjoy!

Makes 48 cookies

  • 2 1/4 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup peanut butter
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 eggs
  • 12 ounces mini semi-sweet or milk chocolate chips

Set the rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with a silicon mat or parchment paper.

Put the flour, baking soda and salt in a bowl and whisk to combine.

With an electric mixer, beat the peanut butter, butter and sugar on medium-high speed until creamy. Add the eggs and vanilla and beat until smooth.

Reduce the mixer speed to low, slowly add the dry ingredients and mix until just combined. Fold in the chocolate chips.

Drop tablespoons of dough (a mini ice-cream scoop works great) about 1-inch apart onto the prepared baking sheet. Turning the baking sheet at the midpoint, bake the cookies at 350 degrees until golden, about 20 minutes.

Cool slightly and eat the first cookie while it is still warm.

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Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. © Susan W. Nye, 2020