Hurricane Season & Grilled Ratatouille

It’s been all over the news. Hurricane season is up and running fast in the Atlantic. From the Caribbean over to Texas and up to Maine, we are all ears when it comes to storm warnings. Last week, Florence unleashed her fury on the southern Atlantic coast. One of the early forecast models suggested she might hug the coast and head north. Lucky for us, she decided to go inland. I’m sure Ohio is lovely this time of year.

Spared for now, let’s not forget that somewhere out there in the Atlantic, Helene (not Helen), Isaac and Joyce are swirling around. In spite of our northern location, New England is not immune to hurricanes. Although, they are admittedly few and far between. Most blow themselves out before they can reach us.

Not so the Great New England Hurricane of 1938; my dad still talks about that one. He even has a book about it somewhere. With 140 mile per hour wind gusts, it unleashed its wrath on every state in New England. Hundreds died, thousands were injured and damages were in the hundreds of millions. More recently, Irene wreaked havoc in New England, most particularly Vermont. Sandy did a number on New York and gave us a bit of rain and wind as well. Lucky for us, last year’s deadly trio of Harvey, Irma and Maria stayed to the south.

I admit as a small child, hurricanes seemed terribly exciting. In those days, we spent August on Cape Cod. While I can’t verify, I suspect that my sister Brenda and I labeled any downpour with the least bit of wind a hurricane. After all, rain is boring but a hurricane – that’s something to talk about.

One rainy August afternoon, Brenda and I were encamped on the porch with paper dolls and sticker books. It didn’t take long for boredom to set in. The air was hot and muggy so we talked Mom into letting go outside. It wasn’t that difficult a negotiation. Stuck in a ramshackle cottage with two bored little girls – of course, she said yes. I suppose she would have turned us down if we’d tried to go out in the Great New England Hurricane. However, we hadn’t been born yet. Heck, my parents hadn’t even met, let alone finished elementary school in 1938.

Anyway, Brenda and I gleefully threw on our swimsuits, ran outside and danced around. I believe loud and joyous singing was involved but I don’t remember the tune. I cannot speak for Brenda but I, for one, felt wonderfully adventurous. While the street was more or less empty, most of the porches were filled with bored vacationers.

They sat and watched two silly little girls giggle, dance and sing. I’m sure they were jealous. While they huddled with their paperbacks and puzzles, we were the only ones brave enough to defy the hurricane. It didn’t matter that, at most, it was the last vestiges of some minor tropical storm. It didn’t matter then and it still doesn’t. As far as I’m concerned, my sister and I splashed, danced and sang in the street during a hurricane. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Here’s a toast to sunny days and clear nights. Bon appétit!

Grilled Ratatouille
A delicious end of summer dish. You can even make it if the power goes out. Enjoy!
Serves 8

1-2 red bell peppers, seeds and ribs removed and roughly chopped
1 large red onion, roughly chopped
Olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound cherry tomatoes
2 eggplants (about 2 pounds), sliced about 3/4-inch thick
3-4 zucchini (about 1 1/2 pounds), trimmed and cut in half lengthwise
2-3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2-3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
1/4 cup roughly chopped fresh basil
1/4 cup roughly chopped fresh parsley

Preheat the grill to high.

Put the peppers and onion in a bowl, drizzle with a little olive oil, season with salt and pepper and toss to coat. Working in batches if necessary, put the vegetables in a grill basket and grill for 6-8 minutes, stirring from time to time.

Remove the vegetables from the grill basket and return them to the bowl. Add the garlic to the warm vegetables and toss to combine.

Put the tomatoes in a bowl, drizzle with a little olive oil, season with salt and pepper and toss to coat. Working in batches if necessary, put the tomatoes in a grill basket and grill for 4-6 minutes, stirring from time to time. Add the tomatoes to the peppers and onion.

Brush the eggplant and zucchini slices with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill the eggplant and zucchini for 4 to 6 minutes per side or until nicely browned and tender.

Remove the vegetables from the grill. As soon as they are cool enough to handle, chop the veggies in bite-size pieces. Add them to the tomatoes, peppers and onion. Drizzle with balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil, sprinkle with herbs and toss to combine.

Serve warm or at room temperature.

Can be prepared in advance, covered and refrigerated. Bring to room temperature before serving

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One Year Ago – Cod, Corn & White Bean Soup
Two Years Ago – Applesauce Cake with Brown Butter Icing
Three Years Ago – Applesauce Scones
Four Years Ago – Roasted Beet Tatin with Goat Cheese & Walnuts
Five Years Ago – Fettuccine with Fresh Corn & Tomatoes
Six Years Ago – Chicken Parmagiana with Spaghetti Marinara
Seven Years Ago – Lemon Roasted Salmon with Beurre Blanc
Eight Years Ago – Wild Mushroom Soup
Nine Years Ago – Rustic Apple Tart
Ten Years Ago – Brie & Sundried Tomato Omelette

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

How do you keep fit? Feel free to share!

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. © Susan W. Nye, 2018

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Stuck in the Middle & Almost Nana Nye’s Blueberry Cake

There are all kinds of silly holidays spread throughout the year. Emma M. Nutt Day is coming up on the first of September. Why do we celebrate Emma? Why not – after all, she was the first woman telephone operator in America. Don’t forget Mad Hatter Day on October 6. No, it’s not a day devoted to finding the perfect hat. Forget shopping and enjoy a topsy-turvy day filled with Through the Looking Glass riddles and contradictions.

Anyway, along with the list of excuses to eat pie and fly kites, is one holiday I can get behind. Yes, Middle Child Day and it’s this coming Sunday, August 12. In case you missed it, I am one of those poor, pitiful, stuck in the middle children. (By the way, you don’t need the calendar to tell you to eat pie or fly a kite. You can do either or both on most any day you like.)

So, what’s up with middle children and our ridiculous attachment to Middle Child Syndrome? First of all, let be clear: all sorts of child experts and psychologists confirm that MCS is real. I don’t know if they call it MCS or not but I just did and here’s how it works:

First borns are anxiously awaited and then celebrated with the greatest joy. At least for a year or three, she has her doting parents all to herself. She enjoys the riches of unfettered attention, new toys and never-before-worn onesies. Youngest children aren’t so much celebrated as coddled. Ask any older sibling, the baby of the family is not only spoiled; he gets away with everything. Middle borns are just that – stuck in the middle.

Unlike the first born, a middle child is not heaped with praise at every turn. Take for instance, the first time she ties her shoe or rides a bike. Mom and Dad don’t immediately jump on phone with grandparents, post videos for all the world to see or suggest a parade down Main Street. They’ve seen it all before. Besides, the baby is crying and demanding to be fed or changed. In case you’ve forgotten, that crying baby – he’s the one who stole that poor middle child’s bedroom.

The experts tell us that,although surrounded by siblings, middle children tend to be the most independent. Crowded on all sides, sometimes the best, the only, thing to do is get out. That could mean joining your neighborhood pals at the swings or finding some peace and quiet in the basement. As a child, I did both with regular frequency. When I hit my twenties, I did more than wander out into the neighborhood. I moved half way around the world.

Along with independence, middle children are known for being agreeable and diplomatic. We are the great compromisers. We just want everyone to be happy and get along. That said; I did inherit a bit of a stubborn streak from my mother. She was an only child. Some might disagree but I tend to think that I have an inordinately long fuse. I comply and compromise again and again until, BAM, that’s IT. I’ve had enough. As of right now, I’m no longer listening, no longer negotiating. I want my way … otherwise; I’m taking marbles and going home.

If you are a middle child, be sure to indulge yourself this coming Sunday. If you have a middle sibling or are the parent with a middle child, feel free to shower that her with a little extra attention and unmitigated praise.

Have fun and bon appétit!

Almost Nana Nye’s Blueberry Cake
Although I’ve made a few changes (that’s the cook’s prerogative isn’t it?), this cake comes from my grandmother’s recipe box. Since we have many summer birthdays in our family, our blueberry cakes are generally slathered with cream cheese frosting, decorated with blueberries and topped with candles. Enjoy!

2 1/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons flour, divided plus more for the pan
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
Grated zest of 1 lemon
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, at room temperature plus more for the pan
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3/4 cup sour cream
1 overflowing cup fresh blueberries plus more for garnish

Butter and flour 2 (8-inch) cake pans or a 9×13-inch pan. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Put 2 1/4 cups flour, the baking powder, spices and salt in a bowl and whisk to combine. Add the lemon zest and whisk again. Set aside.

Put the butter and sugars in a bowl and, using an electric mixer, beat on medium high until light and fluffy. Add the eggs and vanilla, reduce the mixer speed to medium and beat until smooth. Add the sour cream and beat again until smooth.

With mixer on low, slowly add the dry ingredients and continue beating until just combined.

Toss the blueberries with the remaining flour and, using a rubber spatula, fold the blueberries into batter. Spread the batter in the prepared pan(s) and bake at 350 degrees until golden and a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean or with just a few crumbs attached, about 35 minutes.

Cool the cake completely. If you like, slather with Cream Cheese Frosting and decorate with more blueberries.

Cream Cheese Frosting
8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1/4 cup butter, at room temperature
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 pound confectioners’ sugar

Put the cream cheese and butter in a large bowl and beat with an electric mixer on medium speed until smooth. Add the vanilla and beat until well combined.

With the mixer on low, slowly add the confectioners’ sugar and mix until well combined. Increase mixer speed and continue beating until the frosting is light and fluffy, 2-3 minutes.

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One Year Ago – Blueberry-Ginger Cobbler
Two Years Ago – Grilled Filets Mignons with Salsa Verde
Three Years Ago – Corncakes
Foure Years Ago – Grilled Corn, Black Bean & Cheese Quesadillas with Fresh Tomato Salsa
Five Years Ago – Summer Salad with Green Beans, Blueberries & Goat Cheese
Six Years Ago – Shrimp Salad Niçoise
Seven Years Ago – Insalata Caprese
Eight Years Ago – Mojito Melons
Nine Years Ago – Grilled Antipasto
Ten Years Ago – Nana Nye’s Fish Chowder

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

Are you a first born, middle child or baby of the family? Feel free to share!

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. © Susan W. Nye, 2018

Free-Range Rambling & Roasted Tomato-Chipotle Ketchup

Summer is a special time in New England. Long days and warm weather invite children to explore the world or at least the patch outside their backdoor … and out into the neighborhood. Unencumbered by jackets and boots, children are free to ride bikes, climb trees and ramble through the woods.

There’s a good bet that more than one child will bring home a nasty case of poison ivy and another will slip and slide into the frog pond. There will be scraped knees and possibly a broken bone or two. It’s all part of growing up in the country. Now, if you are concerned about these bumps, and scrapes; don’t be. Yes, there will be tears but they never last long. Besides, each scar will be a wonderful reminder of a fabulous adventure. They are badges of fun, bravery and honor. My generation continues to wear those scars with pride; this generation of kids will too.

In today’s lingo, children who wander about, seeking and finding their own entertainment are called free-range kids. It’s how I grew up. You probably grew up the same way. In our day, we were just called kids. Now, perhaps you’ve wondered, where can these free-range kids roam? If they live in my neighborhood, there is plenty to explore. A hike in the woods will lead them to the remnants of old stone walls, massive boulders and ancient orchards. Every child needs a favorite rock or tree to climb, a special perch to contemplate the world and all its ambiguities.

Most children are collectors. If they weren’t, tiny cars, cuddly stuffed animals, dolls and action figures would not fill toy baskets or get lost at the beach. Rambling young collectors will find a multitude of treasures to fill their pockets. Pinecones, sticks, bits of bark, stones, wild flowers, ferns and what not – there are loads of interesting finds.

But don’t worry. All that flotsam and jetsam will not clutter up the house. Those bits and twigs won’t join the already overflowing baskets of toys. They won’t even cross the threshold. Children know better than anyone that nature’s collectibles are exactly what’s needed to build fairy houses.

Least you think otherwise, free-range kids aren’t constantly on the move. Every child seeks a quiet corner from time to time. Everyone is different: some children need a lot of alone space while others are good with just a little. Even the most enthusiastic ramblers want a break now and then – to read, draw or take a nap. One of the many delights of summer is the freedom to enjoy a book that’s not on the reading list or write your own stories. Without a tightly regimented schedule, kids can explore new music, color and line, arts and crafts. Perhaps they’ll invent a new game or create a new dance.

Now, this practice of raising free-range children is not particularly well appreciated in some circles. I find this both astounding and sad. Why would anyone deny their children the fun and freedom they themselves enjoyed as kids?

So … Mommas and Poppas, do let your children go out and play cowboys. Let them be pirates, ballerinas and such. Let them ramble and wander and gaze at the stars. Encourage them to read, sing and draw. Most of all inspire them to dream. Summer may be short but childhood is even shorter; embrace the freedom to make the most of both.

Have fun and bon appétit!

Roasted Tomato-Chipotle Ketchup
Summertime is burger time; make yours special with spicy homemade ketchup. Enjoy!
Makes about 2 cups

1 pound cherry tomatoes
1/2 sweet onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon or to taste pureed chipotle in adobo*
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
1-2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 tablespoon or to taste brown sugar
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
Juice of 1/2-1 lime

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Put the tomatoes, onion, garlic and chipotle purée in a large ovenproof skillet or roasting pan, drizzle with olive oil and vinegar and toss to combine. Sprinkle with brown sugar, cumin and paprika, season with salt and pepper and toss again.

Roast for about 30 minutes or until the vegetables are soft and caramelized. Remove from the oven and cool in the pan for 15-20 minutes. Transfer the vegetables to a small food processor or blender, add the lime juice and process until very smooth.

* Take a can of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce and toss them, sauce and all, in a small food processor. Process until smooth and transfer to a clean glass jar. Store the chipotle purée in the refrigerator and use as needed.

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One Year Ago – Grilled Zucchini & Feta Salad with Lemony Vinaigrette
Two Years Ago – Fresh Tomato Crostini
Three Years Ago – Spicy Cucumber & Radish Salad
Four Years Ago – Watermelon Sorbet
Five Years Ago – Caramel Sundaes with Sweet & Salty Pecans
Six Years Ago – Gazpacho
Seven Years Ago – Mousse au Citron
Eight Years Ago– Thai Salad
Nine Years Ago – Sweet Dream Bars
Ten Years Ago – Lobster Salad

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

Were you a free-range kid? What was your favorite place to roam? Feel free to share!

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. © Susan W. Nye, 2018

You’ll Never Eat Lunch in this Town Again & Shrimp & Cucumber Bites

The school bell rang for the last time on Friday, not forever but for this school year. By now, many families have packed the car, locked the backdoor and headed off for a favorite place or parts unknown. The rest? Well, they realize they already live in a favorite place so they’re relaxing at the town beach or climbing Mount Kearsarge.

My mother was one of the car packers. With Independence Day approaching, she loaded up the trunk, tossed us in the back with the dog and headed to Cape Cod. Now mind you, as families go, we weren’t very good on long car trips. By long, I mean anything more than a half hour was a problem. When I was very little, our starting point was Connecticut and that trip took forever. I don’t know why. It’s not like we took side trips to see giant balls of twine or stopped for selfies with dinosaurs.

For some reason, my grandmother traveled with us. It’s not terribly clear why. We were in Connecticut and my grandparents lived just outside of Boston. As best I can figure, Grandpa drove Nana down, spent the weekend and then went back to work. Nana stayed and hung out with us. I’m sure she applauded my sister’s end of kindergarten extravaganza. She probably babysat while Mom ran last minute errands. However, I believe her key role was to provide moral support on the long drive to the Cape. I can’t be absolutely certain about that; I was only two or three years old at the time.

Finally, the car was packed and a few toys were tossed in the backseat. Everyone made one last trip to the bathroom and we were off. Without air conditioning, we tootled along with the windows open wide. A paper doll or stuffed animal frequently caught the breeze and took flight. Tears and wails ensued but there was no turning back. The Connecticut Turnpike was littered with the flotsam and jetsam of countless children.

Except when it rained, then the windows were rolled up to all but an inch or two. It was miserably muggy. Instead of bereft over a lost toy, we were hot and fussy in the steamy car. Of course, the dog would fart not once but a few times because that’s what dogs do. It was more than enough to make a little girl queasy.

That was just the beginning. It was before the age of enlightenment and Mom smoked cigarette after cigarette. I guess I can’t blame her. Rain was pelting, the dog was smelly and my sister and I were whiny. Nana was not all that good at the moral support thing. (Don’t get me wrong. I loved my grandmother dearly. However, she was not the first person you’d choose in an emergency. Nana was loving and lovely but … resourceful, well, not so much.) Anyway, the cigarettes only made matters worse, sending me into full-blown carsick mode.

Eventually, a combination of cranky kids and hunger compelled Mom to think about stopping for lunch. Ben and Mildred’s Chicken House, a beacon of cheer with greasy food and friendly waitresses was on the way. Alas, Mom could think about it but could not act. Ben and Mildred along with a dozen hot dog stands, burger joints and diners were looking for hungry travelers but not for us. Their culinary delights were all off limits to the Nyes. It seems that a small, curly-headed child had an uncanny habit of throwing up as soon as the family sat down.

Have a happy, healthy summer and bon appétit!

p.s. In case you are worried or wondering, while dogs still fart, Mom eventually quit smoking and, like most kids, the curly-headed child outgrew motion sickness.

Shrimp & Cucumber Bites
Just in time for summer, an easy but elegant hors d’oeuvre to pass at your next cookout. Enjoy!
Makes 40-50 bite sized hors d’oeuvres

Sun-dried Tomato Dip (recipe follows)
1 pound medium (40-50 pieces) shrimp
1-2 English cucumbers

Make the Sun-dried Tomato Dip.

Peel the cucumbers and cut them into about 1/4-inch thick rounds.

Dab a little Sun-dried Tomato Dip on each cucumber slice and top with a shrimp.

Arrange the Shrimp & Cucumber Bites on a platter and pass.

Sun-dried Tomato Dip
Makes about 1 cup

6-8 halves oil packed sun-dried tomatoes, drained and chopped
2-3 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon or basil
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
Pinch cayenne pepper
About 1/3 cup mayonnaise
About 1/3 cup sour cream
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Combine the sun-dried tomatoes, garlic, vinegar, herbs and cayenne in a small food processor and process until the tomatoes and garlic are chopped fine and well combined.

Add the mayonnaise and sour cream and process until smooth. Let the dip sit for 30 minutes or more to combine the flavors.

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One Year Ago – Creamy Yogurt Tart with Fresh Strawberries
Two Years Ago – Berry Flag Cake
Three Years Ago – A Hint of Asia Barbecue Chicken or Pork
Four Years Ago – Potato Salad Niçoise
Five Years Ago – Grilled Scallop & Asparagus Salad
Six Years Ago – Watermelon & Feta Salad
Seven Years Ago – Grilled Salmon with Lemon-Basil Aioli
Eight Years Ago – Mediterranean Shrimp
Nine Years Ago – Grilled Hoisin Pork

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

What’s your summer travel story? Feel free to share!

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. © Susan W. Nye, 2018

Graduating Advice & Strawberries in Cointreau

It’s graduation season. Politicians, celebrities and the wisest among us take to podiums and blather on about one thing or another. In most cases, they offer some kind of advice. These important people extol the virtues of goal setting and hard work. They like to use phrases like dream big, dare to fail and never give up. They hope to inspire the next generation to climb mountains, reach for the stars and seek the truth … or some such thing.

My advice is simpler, much simpler. Learn to cook. In an age of fast food and microwave dinners, it’s tempting to give the kitchen a pass. Don’t. Cooking is both creative and calming. As you gain knowledge and confidence, you will delight in combining ingredients in new and different ways. Plus, the rhythmic stirring and chopping will calm you after a busy day. Knowing how to cook will feed your stomach and your soul. (It will also help you save money to pay off those student loans.)

When I look at life and work, cooking stands out for one particular reason. It can bring almost instant gratification. For so much of what we do, progress is not measured in hours but in weeks, months or years. A book can take years to write, rewrite and write again. A teacher will work for months hoping for a breakthrough with reluctant students. Complicated business projects take weeks or months to complete. As for raising kids, tending a garden, building and maintain strong and happy relationships – these are never-ending works in progress.

But cooking – even Thanksgiving, the biggest of all holiday feasts is prepped, cooked and served in a couple of days. With a little planning, a weekend dinner party can be tossed together in an afternoon and an any-day-of-the-week meal is done in an hour. As for the reward – you will taste it immediately. Better yet, you will see it in the smiles and hear it in the animated chatter and laughter around the table. A good meal with people you love will make your heart sing.

Which brings me to my next point – invite friends and family to eat with you. Food is more than sustenance; eating is a communal rite. A meal is meant to be shared. Food tastes better when served with a side of stimulating conversation, harmless banter and silly jokes.

Perhaps a dinner party, even the idea, scares the bejeebers out of you. Don’t let it. In the words of Julia Child, “No matter what happens in the kitchen, never apologize,” So what if the soup is a little spicy or the dog steals the turkey? If anyone remembers, it will be another great story to tell and retell. Sure, you’ll look back at some of your mishaps with a grimace but, more important, you’ll also look back with a giggle.

To close, I have two utterly practical suggestions. First, get a big bowl. Only the most timid of cooks can make do with one of those nesting sets of three. You won’t use that giant bowl every day but you’ll be happy to have it. I have a couple, a big one at eight quarts and a really big one at fourteen. Cooking requires a lot of tossing and mixing – give yourself plenty of room to do it with gusto.

Second, start every party with an empty dishwasher. Like it or not, even the loveliest of evenings do come to an end. Eventually, you must clear the table. Cleanup is faster and easier if you can immediately stack all those dishes in the dishwasher. Oh, and yes, I know many first (even second) apartments don’t have dishwashers. This rule also applies to the sink. It should be empty of dirty dishes when your guests arrive.

Have a wonderful life filled with happy friends around table. Bon appétit!

Strawberries in Cointreau
Sometimes the simplest of desserts can be the most delicious – especially when local strawberries are coming into season. Enjoy!
Serves 8

2 pounds strawberries, hulled and quartered or halved, depending on size
About 2 ounces Cointreau
Zest of 1 orange
Brown sugar to taste
Whipped cream or vanilla ice cream (optional)

Place the strawberries in a bowl large enough for tossing. Drizzle with Cointreau, sprinkle with orange zest and gently toss. If necessary, add a little brown sugar and toss again.

Let the strawberries sit for about 10 minutes while you put the dinner dishes in the sink to soak or fill the dishwasher.

Toss again and serve the strawberries with a spoonful of whipped cream or ice cream.

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One Year Ago – Southwest Turkey Burgers
Two Years Ago – Cherry Cobbler
Three Years Ago – Heirloom Tomatoes with Balsamic Reduction
Four Years Ago – Strawberry Shortcakes with Cardamom Cream
Five Years Ago – Strawberries with Yogurt Cream
Six Years Ago – Chocolate-Chocolate Sorbet
Seven Years Ago – Caesar Salad with Parmesan Croutons
Eight Years Ago – The Best Grilled Cheese Sandwich in the History of my Kitchen
Nine Years Ago – Asian Slaw

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

What advice would you give to this year’s new graduates? Feel free to share!

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. © Susan W. Nye, 2018

Fifty Years Later & Grilled Salmon & Asparagus Salad

Sometimes an event can change you. Sometimes it takes more, a season or even an entire year. You might not notice it at first. It’s only later that you realize that your path diverged. That nice predictable route everyone fully expected you to travel, well, you didn’t.

For me, it’s happened twice. The first time was fifty years ago. It was 1968 and I’m sure I am not alone. I turned thirteen in March. My mother always said the two worst times in a woman’s life was when she was thirteen and when her daughter was thirteen. With two girls, Mom had an extra dose. Anyway, with the first of many pimples sprouting on my forehead and hormones ricocheting, I guess I was primed to be something of a mess.

It would be an understatement to say that 1968 was a tumultuous year. Seismic might still be too tame a label. Between the war in Vietnam and the civil rights movement, the US was a powder keg in search of a match. The first match flared in January when North Korea seized the USS Pueblo. Next came the Tet Offensive and event after horrible event just kept piling on. In February, police opened fire on students protesting segregation in South Carolina. Three were killed, twenty-seven were wounded. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in April. Throughout the spring and summer, students protested racism and the war. There were strikes and young men burned their draft cards. Some demonstrations were peaceful, too many were not.

On top of everything, it was an election year. As a seventh grader, I was far from riveted by the various campaigns. Who were these old men? They seemed powerless, or maybe just disinterested, to end the war and the multitude of problems that plagued the country. That all changed when Robert Kennedy got into the race. He brought just enough hope to penetrate the psyche of a self-absorbed thirteen year old.

I still remember where I was and how I felt when I learned that Robert Kennedy had been shot. It was 6:00 in the morning. Like most school days, I was the first one up – not by choice but necessity. Stumbling into the bathroom, I flipped on the little radio that kept me company every morning while brushing my teeth and washing my face. Kennedy was ahead in the polls when I was sent to bed the night before. Winning California would most likely make him the democratic nominee for president. Knowing full well that, “It ain’t over till it’s over,” my ears were tuned for a confirmation.

The shooting was not the opening news story on the radio. It was the only story. I’m not even sure if the WRKO played any music that morning. (For anyone too young to remember, RKO, as we called it, was not always a home for conservative talk radio. In the sixties and seventies, it played top forty hits and was the station of choice for many teenagers.)

The news that another Kennedy had been shot was mind numbing. In spite of the already humid heat on that early June morning, the horror of another senselessness shooting left me feeling cold and empty. To make matters worse, the year was only half over and it didn’t get any better. Fifty years later, I only rarely get a pimple. However, morning, afternoon or evening, early June, September or February, senseless violence and prejudice continue to leave me feeling hollow … but now, I can and do vote.

Be sure to vote in the mid-term elections and bon appétit!

Grilled Salmon & Asparagus Salad
A perfect meal for one of those hot and humid June evenings. Enjoy!
Serves 8

2 1/2-3 pounds salmon fillet, skin-on
Olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Juice of 1/2-1 lemon
1 1/2-2 pounds asparagus, trimmed
About 8 ounces mixed baby greens
1 pint cherry tomatoes – in a mix of colors if available
1/3-1/2 European cucumber, peeled, seed and chopped
2-3 scallions, thinly sliced
Vinaigrette Niçoise (recipes follows)
3-4 tablespoons capers, drained

Preheat the grill to high. Drizzle the salmon with a little olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Drizzle the asparagus with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper and toss to coat.

Place the salmon, skin side up, on the grill. Depending on the thickness of the fish, grill for 5-6 minutes. Carefully turn the salmon with a wide spatula and grill for 3-5 minutes more or until cooked through but not dry.

Arrange the asparagus on the grill and, depending on thickness, cook for 1-3 minutes. Do not overcook, the asparagus should be tender-crisp.

Transfer the fish and asparagus to a cutting board and drizzle with lemon juice. Let the fish rest for about 5 minutes before cutting into thick slices. If you like, chop the asparagus.

To serve: put the greens, tomatoes, cucumber and scallions in a bowl, add enough Vinaigrette Niçoise to lightly coat and toss to combine. Arrange the salad on a large platter or individual plates, top with salmon and asparagus and sprinkle with capers.

Vinaigrette Niçoise
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1-2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
3 cloves garlic
1-inch chunk red onion
1 teaspoon anchovy paste
Dash hot sauce
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
3/4 cup or to taste extra-virgin olive oil

Put the vinegar, lemon juice, mayonnaise, mustard, garlic, onion, 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 smooth.

Store extra vinaigrette in the refrigerator.

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One Year Ago – Strawberry Tort
Two Years Ago – Grilled Potato Salad
Three Years Ago – Grilled Salmon with Lemon-Herb Quinoa Salad
Four Years Ago – Chocolate-Peanut Butter Tart
Five Years Ago – Salsa Verde
Six Years Ago – Blueberry Crumb Cake
Seven Years Ago – Peanut-Sesame Dipping Sauce
Eight Years Ago – Strawberry Gelato
Nine Years Ago – Asparagus Soup

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

How do you beat the heat in the early days of summer? Feel free to share!

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. © Susan W. Nye, 2018

The Costumes We Keep & Savory Smashed Sweet Potatoes

I love a good costume. Maybe that’s why I love Halloween so much. However, you don’t have to wait until Halloween to have fun with dress ups. If you keep your eyes open, there are costumes everywhere. Unfortunately you are most likely to see the under-six set wearing them. Think little girls in fluffy pink, tutus-like skirts and boys in Batman t-shirts.

When he was a little boy, my brother John dressed in costume almost every day. His favorite was Superman. Due to some miscommunication, both grandmothers gave him a Superman suit for his birthday. Not a problem, Johnny was just fine with that. If one was in the wash, he could still suit up.

Along with the man of steel, at least once a week he would appear at breakfast in full Daniel Boone or cowboy regalia. Sporting a coonskin cap or cowboy hat, fringed shirt and jeans, he would swagger into the kitchen. Although it was clearly never first or even second choice, when there were no other options, Batman graced our presence.

Then there was that dreadful day. I’m glad I’d already left for school and didn’t witness the trauma. Whether the story is nothing more than family legend or true, I’ll never know. Anyway, John showed up at his friend Richard’s house in jeans and t-shirt. Since she’d rarely, maybe never, seen him in civilian clothes, Richard’s mom asked him, “Where’s Superman today?” Without missing a beat, Johnny replied, “Both my Superman suits are in the wash. My mother told me I had to be Clark Kent today.”

When he started kindergarten or maybe it was nursery school, John gave up his costumes. There was no particular drama. After hundreds of wearings and washings, I’m guessing they fell apart. Maybe the dog ate his coonskin cap or he lost his cowboy hat at the playground. Then again, he might have simply outgrown them – physically or metaphorically or both. These things happen. While I hope not, it’s possible some school administrator put the kybosh on super heroes in the classroom. Although they later reneged, I can confirm that those very same administrators outlawed miniskirts at the high school.

Maybe we never actually give up costumes. Instead, we change the characters we play. Could it be that a hungry dog or bureaucrat does nothing more than nudge us into the inevitable next rendition of ourselves? Wonder Woman changes into bookish nerd or cool bohemian and then morphs again into corporate lawyer. Batman becomes an athlete and prom king, transforms into a Peace Corp volunteer and changes once more into an engineer.

Whether you’re a teenager in a ratty t-shirt or a Wall Street type in an Armani suit, your clothing sends a message. Admit it; you could just as easily don a pair of jeans as yoga pants, a button-down shirt as a mock turtleneck. Whether it’s true or not, yoga pants tell the world you are sporty and fit – or just so busy you don’t have time to change your clothes after class. The mock turtleneck? It’s your proclamation that you will indeed be the next Steve Jobs.

With Thanksgiving just around the corner and my kitchen all but done, it’s time for me to put on my red apron. What does that say about me?

Happy cooking and bon appétit!

Savory Smashed Sweet Potatoes
It’s not too early to start thinking about Thanksgiving. I’ve never been a fan of sweet potatoes with marshmallows. If you are of the same mind, add this savory dish to your Thanksgiving menu. Enjoy!
Serves 8

4 tablespoons butter, cut in small pieces plus more for the pan
About 3 pounds sweet potatoes, scrubbed
4 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature and cut in small pieces
1/4 cup sour cream
4 ounces cheddar cheese, grated
2 ounces parmesan cheese, grated
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Put the rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or foil. Generously butter a 2-quart shallow baking dish.

Prick each potato several times with a knife, place them on the baking sheet and in the oven. Reduce the heat and bake at 375 degrees until soft, 1-1 1/2 hours. Remove from the oven and set aside.

When cool enough to handle but still warm, halve potatoes and scoop the flesh into a bowl. Add 3 tablespoons butter, the cream cheese and sour cream, sprinkle with the cheeses and season with salt and pepper. Use a masher to smash the potatoes and combine the ingredients. Spread the sweet potatoes in the prepared baking dish and dot with the remaining butter.

Can be made ahead to this point, cooled to room temperature, covered and refrigerated. Bring the potatoes to room temperature before baking.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Bake the sweet potatoes at 350 degrees until piping hot, about 30 minutes.

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One Year Ago – Creamy Polenta with Mushroom & Kale Ragù
Two Years Ago – Butternut Squash Crostini with Goat Cheese & Balsamic Reduction
Three Years Ago – Moroccan Spiced Vegetables & Chickpeas with Couscous
Four Years Ago – Smashed or Mashed Potatoes
Five Years Ago – Apple Muffins
Six Years Ago – Mixed Greens with Warm Roasted Squash
Seven Years Ago – Spinach Ricotta Pie
Eight Years Ago – Seared Scallops with Lentils
Ninet Years Ago – Tomato, Olive & Feta Tart

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

My current costume is the monochromatic look, black in cold weather and white/beige/khaki in warm. What about you? Feel free to share!

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. © Susan W. Nye, 2017