About susannye

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

Life in the Time of COVID-19 & Lemony Linguine with Scallops, Olives & Capers

Living in rural New Hampshire, we are far from the COVID-19 hot spots. Distance doesn’t necessarily keep us safe so the governor has order us all to stay at home. We’re following those orders as much as possible. When out and about, we’re keeping our distance. Our knuckles are dry and cracked from hand washing. We’re coughing into our elbows and doing our best to keep our hands off our faces.

Still and all, rural life offers certain benefits. At least for me, the most important is the ability to get outside. I can’t image being cooped up all day. It is a relief to take a walk and spend an hour or two outside in the fresh air and sunshine. Although carefully keeping the proper distance, I’m not alone.

Throughout the day, a constant parade of walkers and a few runners make their way around Pleasant Lake. Most of the runners are on the younger side. I’m guessing they’re college students taking a break from online learning. There’ll be no track and cross-country meets this spring. Rivalries old and new are put on hold. Of the walkers, some are neighbors, others strangers. Parking lots as well as the driveways of my summer neighbors are filled with cars hailing from southern New England and beyond. All are welcome but please – bring your own toilet paper and self-quarantine for fourteen days.#NH

Dad, the dog and I are all doing fine. As a freelance writer, I’m used to working from home. I just finished up a handful of articles covering everything from a seafood feast to renovating a kitchen. There’s always a lull between jobs. Let’s hope this lull doesn’t extend indefinitely as businesses cut back. I’m well aware that not everyone can work from home. Reduced paychecks and unemployment have started to hit New Hampshire and the country. My heart goes out to all who are suffering.

While I am as busy as ever, Dad is bored as could be. The stay-at-home order is pure torture for him. One of those people who never met a stranger he didn’t like; Dad thrives on face-to-face contact. He’d like nothing more than to be in Florida playing golf three or four times a week with his buddies. Except that the situation with this virus is much worse in the sunshine state so he’s actually relieved to be here rather than there. He’s cleaning closets and looking for any excuse to take a break. Dad keeps insisting on running most of the errands. Anything to escape the closets. I insist he wear gloves, keep his distance and wash his hands as soon as he comes back in the door.

The dog is doing her best to provide emotional support. She is putting up with belly rubs and scratches behind the ears, not once or twice but throughout the day. She figures it’s a tough job but someone has to do it. She has also agreed to take Dad along on our afternoon walk. I’m not quite sure who is slower, Dad or dog. The dog has an excuse. Her legs are all of three inches long plus she’s 119 in human years.

Along with writing, I continue to find peace in the Zen of everyday activities. Along with scratching the dog’s ears, rubbing her belly, shoveling snow and walking, I’ve been cooking lots of pasta.

Best wishes to all for good health and a speedy return to a new normalcy. Bon appétit!

Lemony Linguine with Scallops, Olives & Capers
A quick dinner that’s sure to please any New Englander. If you can’t find fresh scallops, try the freezer section in a pinch. Enjoy!
Serves 6

  • 1 1/2 pounds sea scallops
  • Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
  • Olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • Pinch or to taste red pepper flakes
  • 1 tablespoon anchovy paste
  • Zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • About 1/2 cup Castelvetrano or your favorite green olives, pitted and quartered
  • 2 tablespoons drained capers
  • 12 ounces linguine

Season the scallops with salt and pepper. Set aside.

Put about 1/4 cup olive oil, the garlic and pepper flakes in a large skillet and heat on low until the garlic starts to change color. Stir in the anchovy paste and cook for 1-2 minutes. Whisk in the lemon juice and wine.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta in salted boiling water according to package directions. Drain the pasta, reserving a little pasta water.

Toss the pasta, with the garlic-anchovy oil, lemon juice and wine. If the pasta seems dry, add a little pasta water. Add the lemon zest, olives and capers and toss again. Cover and set on low heat while you sear the scallops.

Lightly coat a large skillet with a little olive oil to and heat over medium-high. Add the scallops and cook until opaque in the center, about 1 minute per side.

Toss the scallops with the pasta, transfer to a deep platter or individual shallow bowls and serve.

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

Life with Dad & Yankee Pot Roast

So, my ninety-three year old father moved in with me last week. Well, technically he moved in on January 2nd. However, he turned around and went to Florida on the 4th. It’s not our first rodeo. We lived in the same house for years when I was a kid. Mom, my brother and sister plus several dogs and a few turtles were in on it too.

More recently, we became roomies in 2012. That’s when all hell broke loose with my family’s Greatest Generation. Dad was in and out of hospitals, had several surgeries and was flat on his back for months. To complicate matters, my mother had Alzheimer’s and he was her caregiver. In a fast game of musical chairs, Mom moved into assisted care and I took care of Dad.

It took him almost two years to recover but, eventually, Dad was as good as new. Or as good as anyone ninety-something can get. Before long he got fed up with me and moved out. Until now. Now he’s back. He flew north on March 8th and was due to leave again on the 14th. Then, on a flight from New York to West Palm Beach, some wingnut got the news that he was COVID-19 positive.

Family and friends banded together to convince Dad to stay out of airplanes. My brother was a particularly enthusiastic campaigner and broke out his secret weapons – the girlies. Within minutes the girls were on the phone to their grandfather cajoling him into he staying put. Okay now, I admit it. While everyone was pushing hard for him to stay … I might have, maybe mentioned that I was kind of, sort of looking forward to having a few more weeks before he actually, truly moved back in. To which my brother shrugged and said, “That’s a first world problem.” Yah, sure, first world problem for him maybe.

Anyway, I’ve discovered a new game on Facebook. It helps you stay sane while working from home. Designed for parents with kids home from school, it also works if you have an old man and dog in the house. Did I mention Dad brought a seventeen year old West Highland Terrier with him? That’s one hundred and nineteen in human years. But back to the game. You post something, anything about your kids (or in my case, my ancient father and dog) but call them your co-workers.

Here’s a sample of some of my coworkers’ recent antics …

While I’m getting caught up with Morning Joe, my co-worker is reading his emails and the news feed on his phone. Yes, out loud. In case you need to know – down in Florida, his golf club has shuttered all services except take-out dining and kids are hanging out on sunny beaches. My co-worker insists I stop what I’m doing (making muffins) and look at his phone to see the hordes of kids ignoring social distancing.

My other co-worker watches the goings-on in the kitchen for a bit and gets bored. Or maybe she realizes that nothing else is going to fall on the floor for her to clean up. She moves to the conference room for a nap. She does that a lot.

My co-worker’s friend calls. I’m almost done with the muffins and still trying to half-watch/listen to the news. Assuming I’d like nothing more than to hear his half of the conversation, my co-worker speaks loudly into the phone. I tell him to take it in the conference room. My other co-worker sleeps through the banter.

Meanwhile, I continue to find peace in the Zen of everyday activities. The muffins are done and I start work on a pot roast for dinner.

Bon appétit!

Yankee Pot Roast

In times of stress, we need a bit of humor and some comfort food. Pot roast has always been a family favorite at my house. Enjoy!

Serves 8

  • 4 slices thick cut bacon, chopped
  • About 3 1/2 pounds chuck roast
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 large onion, peeled and chopped
    4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 4-6 carrots, peeled and sliced about 1/2 inch thick on the diagonal
  • 4-6 parsnips, peeled and sliced about 1/2 inch thick on the diagonal
  • 6 celery stalks, sliced about 1 inch thick on the diagonal
  • 2 teaspoons herbs de Provence
  • 1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1-2 cups dry red wine
  • 1-2 cups chicken broth
  • 1 cup crushed tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Heat a heavy casserole over medium. Add the bacon and cook, stirring frequently, until browned. Remove the bacon from the casserole, drain and reserve.

Drain the bacon fat from the pot, leaving just enough to lightly coat. Raise the heat to medium-high. Generously season the beef on all sides with salt and pepper, add the beef and brown each side for about 3 minutes. Remove from the pot and reserve.

Reduce the heat to medium, add the onion, sprinkle with the herbs and spices, season with salt and pepper and sauté until the onion is translucent. Add the garlic and sauté 2 minutes more.

Add the remaining vegetables and the bacon to the casserole and toss to combine. Add 1 cup each wine and chicken broth, the crushed tomatoes, mustard and bay leaf and stir to combine. Place the beef on top of the veggies. The liquid should come about 3/4 of the way up the sides of the pot roast. If necessary, add more wine and broth. Bring the liquid to a simmer over high heat, cover and transfer to the oven. Turning the roast midway, cook at 350 degrees for 90 minutes.

Put the sour cream in a small bowl. A few spoonfuls at time, add about 1 cup hot braising liquid to the sour cream, stirring after each addition. Add the sour cream to the pot and gently stir to combine. Add more wine or chicken broth if needed. Return the casserole to the oven and cook, uncovered, for 30-45 minutes or until the pot roast is very tender.

Remove the meat from the casserole, cut across the grain in thick slices and serve with generous spoonfuls of vegetables and sauce.

This dish can be made ahead of time – several hours or a day or two. Cool to room temperature and then refrigerate. Bring to a simmer on top of the stove and then transfer to a 350-degree oven to cook until the meat is warmed through.

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Everyone Is Irish on Saint Patrick’s Day & Potato Soup with Ale, Smoked Sausage & Greens

A lot has changed since the great Irish migration in the mid-1800s. Today, we all love the Irish, their melodic accent and gift for storytelling. Throughout the country and regardless of heritage, one and all will raise their glasses and sing the praises of the Emerald Isle on Saint Paddy’s Day.

In 1845, the Potato Blight launched a huge wave of Irish immigration to America. Potato crops were decimated and a devastating famine hit Ireland. Within five years, a million Irish were dead and boatloads had fled to America. As proud as many of us are of our melting pot heritage, near and past history shows that too many immigrants, including the Irish, received a far from warm welcome.

The plight of the Irish sticks out for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, there were a lot of them. In the 1840s, about fifty percent of all immigrants to the United States were Irish. And, of course, like all of us, they had accents … but theirs were different. Plus, they were farmers without a farm. Whole families arrived with little more than what they had on their backs. Once landed, they didn’t have the resources to move to the countryside and buy a homestead to farm. Instead, port cities like New York and Boston were suddenly teaming with countryfolk.

And then, let’s not forget, most of these new Irish immigrants were Catholic. Even though the United States was founded by people escaping religious prosecution, the well-established protestants did not see that as a reason to tolerate, let alone embrace, people of other faiths.

Finally, the Irish were destitute or close to it; otherwise, they’d have stayed home. Desperate to find housing and jobs, they did what they could to survive. They took any job available and accepted any roof to live under, leaky or not. Although generally forced to take the most menial work, they were accused of stealing jobs and driving down wages. Poverty forced them into unsanitary tenements and they were then ridiculed for poor hygiene.

Anti-Irish and anti-Catholic feelings ran high. In newspapers and shop windows, help wanted advertisements boldly told these new immigrants that “No Irish Need Apply” or specified only Protestants would be considered. This sentiment peaked in the 1850s and ever-so-slowly dissipated over several decades.

From Mother Jones to John Sweeney, Irish and Irish-Americans played a key role in the development of labor unions. Organized labor gave many working men and women the opportunity to earn a living wage with reasonable hours. The movement also brought safer conditions to workplaces and protected children from exploitation. In other words, Irish immigrants and their descendants played a key role in building a strong middle class in the United States.

Today there are laws in place that prohibit an employer or landlord from warning that the Irish or any other nationality need not apply. Unfortunately, these laws are not always foolproof. Too many immigrants continue to receive a less than warm welcome to melting pot America.

On Saint Patrick’s Day, we honor Irish contributions to our country and the world. We celebrate James Hoban – the designer of the White House and John F. Kennedy who served in it, actress Saoirse Ronan, writers Samuel Beckett and James Joyce, brewer Arthur Guinness, mathematician George Boole and many, many others. Perhaps it’s a good day to honor all immigrants.

Let’s lift our glasses together and embrace our melting pot nation. Bon appétit!

Potato Soup with Ale, Smoked Sausage & Greens
The potato famine drove the Irish out of Ireland. I’m not a corned beef fan so potato soup sounds like a deliciously hearty way to celebrate the Irish on Saint Patrick’s Day. Enjoy!
Makes 4-5 quarts

  • Olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 3 carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 3 celery stalks, chopped
  • 1 leek, white and light green parts only, cut in half lengthwise and thinly sliced
  • 1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
  • 1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1/4 teaspoon (or to taste) cayenne pepper
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 12 ounces ale or beer
  • 2 pounds red skinned potatoes, peeled and chopped
  • 8-10 cups chicken stock
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 pound your favorite smoked sausage, cut in quarters lengthwise and 1/2-inch thick
  • 12-16 ounces greens – Swiss chard, baby kale, spinach or escarole

Lightly coat a stockpot with olive oil and heat on medium. Add the onion, carrots, celery and leek, sprinkle with rosemary, thyme, paprika and cayenne, season with salt and pepper and cook for about 10 minutes or until the onion is translucent. Add the garlic and cook for 2 minutes more. Add the ale and simmer until reduced by half.

Add the potatoes, 8 cups chicken stock and the bay leaf, raise the heat to high and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for about 15 minutes or until the potatoes are tender.

For a thicker soup, remove the pot from the heat and gently crush some or all of the potatoes to with a masher. Don’t overdo it; you don’t want mashed potatoes.

Add the sausage to the pot and simmer until heated through, 5-10 minutes. If the soup is too thick for your liking, add more chicken stock.

If you have the time, remove from the heat, cool to room temperature and refrigerate for several hours or overnight.

Bring the soup to a boil, add the greens and stir to combine. Reduce the heat and simmer until the greens are wilted and tender.

Remove the bay leaf and serve hot in soup bowls or mugs.

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Do you have a favorite story about an Irish ancestor? Feel free to share!

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

Talk, Talk, Talk & Morning Glory Muffins

The first telephone call, as in the first ever, was made one hundred and forty-four years ago today. Alexander Graham Bell picked up the phone and gave us the immortal words, “Mr. Watson – come here – I want to see you.”  Things haven’t been the same since.

Now, my grandparents didn’t have telephones in their homes when they were little. They were all born on one side of 1900 or the other. At the turn of the last century, less than one percent of American’s could phone home.

Telephones were more commonplace during my parents’ childhoods. By the end of World War II, the ratio of phones to people was one to five. Dad is quite proud that he can still remember his first phone number, as well as his grandfather’s. Or is it Grandpa’s license plate number he remembers?

Growing up, everyone in our neighborhood had a phone. Very early on, they were black with rotary dials and sat on a special table in the front hall. Those tables had a shelf for the phonebook and a not-at-all comfortable seat to discourage long chats. Although I don’t know what you’d do with it, those tables still pop up at the occasional yard sale.

It didn’t take long for wall phones to take over. Telephones, in an array of coordinating colors, moved out of the hall and into the kitchen. I don’t know it for a fact but I suspect it was so mothers could monitor teenage calls. Telephone cords grew exponentially as kids tried to escape prying ears.

Maybe there’s a connection, maybe not, but at about the same time, push buttons replaced rotary dials. In addition, many families installed a second phone, often in the parental bedroom. Meant for urgent, middle of the night calls, my sister and I used ours to escape eavesdroppers.

A few, make that very few, of our more affluent friends had their own telephone. Or at least, they shared it with their brothers or sisters. Right there in the phonebook, you’d see their last name and Children’s Phone. At sixteen, every girl’s dream was to have her own, personal number and a pink princess phone. The only girl I knew who had one was Barbie and she wasn’t even a person.

At college, our dorms were not limited to a single pay phone in the basement. That was the generation before me. Each room had a phone. On Sundays, I called home collect and asked for Susie. She was never home. A few minutes later, Mom or Dad called back to hear the news of the week. Only the most homesick students called home more often and they dropped out by Christmas.

Moving to Switzerland was a telephone flash back. Although beige instead of black, the phone in my first apartment had a rotary dial and weighed a ton. I eventually donated it to a local theater group.

From clunker to cell phone, it wasn’t long before I found myself asking, “Can you hear me now?” My first cell phone was hugely expensive but, thankfully, the company paid for it. Battery life was short, there was no texting or internet connection and reception was spotty. It didn’t matter. Only the cool kids had company phones. Traveling one hundred and fifty days or more a year had its perks.

I now juggle a smart phone, a landline and an office number. As handy as they are, telephones are not high on my list of favorite things. How is that the phone always interrupts at the most inopportune times but refuses to ring when I’d like nothing better than a diversion?

Call someone you love this week just to say hello and bon appétit!

Morning Glory Muffins

Whether you invite friends over for a healthy brunch or brown bag your breakfast to the office, these muffins will be a great addition to your morning. Enjoy!

Makes about 2 dozen muffins

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup quick cook oatmeal
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon cloves
  • 2 cups grated carrots
  • 1 cup shredded coconut
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1 cup raisins
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter at room temperature
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup unsweetened applesauce, preferably homemade but store-bought is okay
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line muffin tins with paper liners.

Put the flour, oatmeal, baking soda and powder, salt and spices in a bowl and whisk to combine. Set aside.

Put the carrots, coconut, walnuts and raisins in a bowl and toss to combine. Set aside.

Put the sugar and butter in a large bowl and beat with an electric mixer on medium speed for 2 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat until well combined. Add the applesauce, sour cream and vanilla and beat until smooth.

Reduce the mixer speed to low and slowly add the dry ingredients. Mix until just combined.

Use a rubber spatula to fold in the carrots, coconut, walnuts and raisins.

Fill the muffin cups about 2/3 full and bake at 375 for about 20 minutes or until the top is golden and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

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If you could call anyone – living or dead – who would it be and what would you want to ask and/or tell them? Feel free to share!

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

 

Time for a Change & Oatmeal Whoopie Pies

Don’t forget to nudge your clocks ahead an hour before you go to bed this coming Saturday night. Yes, daylight savings time starts at two o’clock on Sunday morning. A whole lot of people are kicking up their heels in glee at this news. I’m not one of them. I think we should wait until at least the spring equinox. In case you’ve forgotten, that’s one of two times during the year when day and night are equal in length.

At this point, sunrise to sunset is about eleven and a half hours long. Mornings come early at my house so it is a relief to see the sun not too long after my alarm sounds. I can take my morning walk without tripping in a pothole or slipping on black ice in the dark.

That relief is short lived. Come Sunday, I’ll be sleepy-eyed as I fumble around getting ready for the day’s adventure. I suppose I should rejoice when the sun stays up into the early evening. Yes, I’m happy but I’d be happier with a little more light in the morning.

So, who’s happy? Well, golfers are happy because they can play after work. Unless, they live New Hampshire. The golf course down the road and around the corner is still covered with snow. The course will stay closed for several more weeks. Same goes for anyone looking forward to taking their tennis game outside. A thick layer of snow sits on the courts. As for afternoon hikers, bikers and walkers, I suppose they are happy even if their morning counterparts are not.

Farmers are definitely not happy. It seems their cows don’t know how to tell time and see no reason to change their schedules. Same goes for pets. Just because you have to get a move on and out the door to work doesn’t mean your puppy wants to leap out of bed in the dark.

Okay then, it’s only Tuesday so we have some time to plan our strategies to cope with the lost hour. Here’s a little advice from some of the experts –

Take it easy this week and catch up on sleep before the time change.

After the time change, keep to your regular schedule. Go to bed at your usual time

Grin and bear it and get up at your regular time; even if it’s dark outside.

Get outside as soon as it’s light. Sunlight works wonders at changing your internal clock.

Avoid naps in the late afternoon or early evening. It will make it that much harder to fall asleep at bedtime … and that much harder to wake in the morning.

And when that alarm goes off next Monday morning; don’t for a minute stop and think – but it’s really only five or four-thirty or whatever time it would be without daylight savings time. Just stagger out of bed, brush your teeth and get on with the day.

Oh, one more thing – be kind. Be kind to yourself, to your family and friends, be nice to your colleagues at work and lady at the checkout at the grocery store. Many of us are having a hard time with the change; some more than others. A little kindness will go a long way.

Happy almost spring and bon appétit!

Oatmeal Whoopie Pies

As a precaution only – you might want to bake a batch of whoopie pies to help you through the first few days of daylight savings time. Who knows – maybe they’ll make you forget about a nap? Enjoy!

Make about 3 dozen

  • 2 cups quick cooking oatmeal
  • 1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 3/4 cup (1 1/2 stick) butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup raisins
  • 3/4 cup chocolate chips
  • 3/4 cup roughly chopped walnuts

Set the rack in the middle of oven and preheat to 350 degrees.

Put the oatmeal, flour, baking powder and soda and spices, in a bowl and whisk to combine.

In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugars with an electric mixture until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at time, and beat until well combined. Add the sour cream and vanilla and beat until smooth.

Turn the mixer down to low, gradually add the dry ingredients and beat until just combined. Fold in raisins, chocolate chips and nuts.

Drop tablespoons of dough (a mini ice-cream scoop works great) about 3 inches apart onto cookie sheets lined with a silicon mat or parchment paper. With moistened fingers, flatten the cookies a little.

Turning the pan once for even baking and bake the cookies until they are lightly browned, about 15 minutes. Let the cookies set for a minute and then transfer to a rack to cool.

Spread a dollop of filling on the bottoms of half of the cookies, top with a second cookie and serve.

Can be made ahead, covered and refrigerated for 2-3 days. Serve at room temperature.

Cream Cheese Filling

  • 1-1 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 4 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup
  • 1 tablespoon rum

Sift 1 cup of confectioners’ sugar and spices together into a bowl. Set aside.

Put the cream cheese and butter in a bowl and beat with an electric mixer on medium speed until smooth. Add the maple syrup and rum and beat until smooth. With the mixer on low, gradually add the confectioners’ sugar and beat until incorporated. If the filling seems runny, add more confectioners’ sugar. Increase the mixer speed and continue beating until creamy.

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Do you have a tip for dealing with the time change? Feel free to share!

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

February Vacation & Baked Mac & Cheese with Spinach & Bacon

Now it’s New Hampshire’s turn. Last week, the ski slopes were filled with families from Massachusetts and further south. Finally, local kids and teachers are having a break from the daily grind. However, February vacation can present a bit of conundrum for parents. Do you take the week off and play in the snow … or wait and take the family south in April?

The Nye family always chose the ski slopes. I have, still to this day, never been to Disney World and it doesn’t bother me one little bit. Minutes after the school bell rang on Friday afternoon, we piled into the family station wagon and headed north. Mom spent the week with us in the little red house in the woods and Dad took a long weekend at either end. Mom-time was always a bit more relaxed than when Dad was around. He had this thing about maximizing our season passes. We had to be on the slopes at nine and stay out, no matter how cold it was, until the lift closed at four. Okay, we were allowed a short lunch break at noon.

Life with Mom was more fluid. After all, it was vacation. A ten o’clock start was fine. Make that ten-thirty if it was particularly cold. If it was snowing so hard you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face, Mom was happy to head home at lunchtime. If one of us wanted to stay, that was fine too as long as we could find a ride home.

Yes, my mother would leave one or all of her kids at King Ridge for hours at a time. In case you’ve forgotten, our upbringing was based on what we now fondly refer to as The Joe and Libby Nye School of Negligent Parenting. Love meant giving you space to grow, make mistakes and make amends. That said, it was a small mountain and there were lots of friends and neighbors around. The parents in my neighborhood stuck together. They didn’t mind telling any one of us to knock it off if we were skiing out of control or cutting in the lift line.

Back at the little red house in the woods, there was always something to do. If we hadn’t had enough of the ice and snow, there was a suicidal sledding hill across the road and a skating pond about a half mile away. If one or the other of us made the mistake of complaining about boredom, the culprit was handed a shovel and told to clear the deck. It wasn’t all that bad a chore. The distance from the deck to the ground was about eight feet, maybe ten. Jumping and somersaults off the deck was a favorite pastime once a nice pile of snow provided a soft landing.

When we had enough of the cold, there was a fire in the fireplace and as many books as we’d bothered to haul up from the suburbs. I always assumed it would be a two or three book week. The television was only good for one station and, except to check the weather forecast, was rarely on. A jigsaw puzzle was always in progress on an old card table. Mom and I were the puzzle fanatics and assembled at least a couple during February break. In addition, we might offer to bake something. There was usually a brownie mix in the cupboard and, as long as we promised to cleanup, Mom could be persuaded to pick up a bag of chocolate chips for cookies.

All in all, those vacations were just what we needed.

Here’s wishing one and all a wonderful winter break and bon appétit!

Baked Mac & Cheese with Spinach & Bacon

Who doesn’t likes Mac & Cheese, especially after a day outside in the cold? If your kids are of the age and inclination, maybe they’ll make dinner for you. Enjoy!

Serves 8

  • 5-6 tablespoons butter or a mix of olive oil and butter, divided
  • 8 ounces thick cut bacon, chopped
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 pound frozen spinach, thawed and well drained
  • 4 1/2 tablespoons flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 3 cups whole milk or half and half
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 8 ounces cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 2 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated
  • 1 pound your favorite short pasta – cavatappi, penne, macaroni …
  • 3/4 cup Panko bread crumbs

Lightly butter or oil a large casserole dish.

Heat a skillet over medium, add the bacon and cook, stirring frequently until lightly browned. Remove the bacon from the pan, drain and reserve.

Add the onion to the skillet, season with salt and pepper and sauté until translucent. Add the garlic and cook 2 minutes more. Remove from the heat, add back the bacon and stir in the spinach.

Melt 3 tablespoons butter in a heavy saucepan over medium. Add the flour, season with paprika, nutmeg, salt and pepper and cook, whisking, for 1-2 minutes. Whisking constantly, gradually add the milk and heat to steaming. Reduce the heat to low and cook, whisking, until the sauce thickens.

Put the sour cream and mustard in a bowl and whisk to combine. Gradually whisk in the warm sauce. Add the cheddar and half of the Parmigiano-Reggiano and stir to combine.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta according to package directions, less 1 minute. Drain the pasta, saving a little of the pasta water. Return the pasta to the pot, add the bacon mixture and toss to combine. Add the sauce and toss again. If the pasta seems dry, add a little pasta water. Transfer the pasta to the prepared baking dish.

Put the breadcrumbs in a bowl, season with salt and pepper, add 1-2 tablespoons melted butter or olive oil and toss to combine. Add the remaining the Parmigiano-Reggiano and toss again. Sprinkle the breadcrumbs on top of the mac & cheese.

You can make ahead to this point, cool to room temperature, cover and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature before baking.

Bake at 375 degrees for 30 minutes or until piping hot and golden.

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Happy Birthday George & Chocolate Cherry Nut Brownies

Monday was Presidents Day. There’s a little confusion out there. Does the day celebrate George Washington, Washington and Abraham Lincoln or all presidents? If you look up federal holidays on one of those official dot-gov sites, the third Monday in February is listed as George Washington’s Birthday. However, turn on the television for five minutes and the long weekend is loudly lauded as Presidents Day and famous for big discounts on mattresses and winter coats.

I admit I was a bit chagrined when this whole third Monday in February began. In Massachusetts, we celebrated both Abraham Lincoln’s and Washington’s birthday with a day off from school. Of course, one or the other inevitably fell during February vacation. However, there was always a five in seven chance that we’d enjoy another day off to ski or sleep late or whatever.

The Uniform Monday Holiday Act put an end to that. A handful of holidays were moved to Mondays so people could enjoy a nice, long weekend. That might have been all well and good except that Honest Abe’s commemoration got lost in the shuffle. While George might have been the first, our sixteenth president is more or less everyone’s favorite. As consolation, everybody, or at least everyone I knew, began calling the new Monday holiday – Presidents Day.

There is a certain logic to having these two great men share a Presidents Day. Check any survey; they’re always neck and neck, claiming the top spots for best president. In addition, the third Monday never falls on either birthday but somewhere between the two. In case you’ve forgotten, Washington was born on February 22 and Lincoln on February 12.

That’s right; Washington wasn’t born yesterday. His birthday isn’t until Saturday. So, you still have plenty of time to celebrate. If you’re tempted to bake a cherry pie, feel free to do so. However, in the off chance that you haven’t heard – the story about Washington and the cherry tree, well, sorry to be the one to tell you but it’s a myth.

While the cherry tree story never actually happened, Washington’s first presidential residence was at 1 Cherry Street in New York. How’s that for a funny coincident? That’s right Washington is the only president not to live in the White House. It is a big house and took quite a while to plan and build. It wasn’t ready until 1800. That’s when John Adams, the nation’s second president, and his wife Abigail took up residency on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Although Washington wasn’t a skier (or at least as far as anyone knows – he wasn’t), an après-ski party would be an excellent way to toast George on his actual birthday. A cozy supper with friends by the fire is a wonderful way to spend a cold, winter evening. If it was in George’s time, you might serve a steak and kidney pie or fish muddle. Modern Americans aren’t much for kidneys but a nice beef stew might do. As for the muddle, it’s a wonderful mix of shellfish and a delicious option for sure. Alternatively, you could stir up a chowder. Otherwise, a casserole of some sort or the other would be perfect after a day on the slopes.

So, raise your glasses to George and bon appétit!

Chocolate Cherry Nut Brownies

Instead of birthday cake, give these brownies a try. They are perfect for midmorning coffee, afternoon tea or dessert after a casual dinner. Enjoy!

Makes 24 brownies

  • Butter and flour for the pan
  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups semi-sweet or milk chocolate chips
  • 1 cup dried cherries
  • 1 cup chopped pecans or walnuts

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 9×13-inch baking pan.

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

With an electric mixer, beat the 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, cherries and nuts.

Spread the batter evenly in the prepared pan. Bake the brownies at 350 degrees until the edges begin to pull away from sides of the pan and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with just a few crumbs attached, about 20 minutes.

Cool in the pan, cut and serve.

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How will you celebrate George’s birthday? Feel free to share!

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