Easter at Nana’s & Lemon Pound Cake

My grandmother was happy for any excuse to see her family. Thanksgiving, Independence Day, you name it. At her house or ours, in the dining room or backyard, she loved seeing her clan all together. So, after Mom and Dad built the little brown house in the New Hampshire woods, an early Easter became the bane of Nana’s existence. A March Easter increased the likelihood that we would be skiing instead of headed to Nana’s for baked ham, scalloped potatoes and green beans.

As much as we loved her and we truly did, Nana and her Easter ham could not entice us off the slopes. We’d be more than delighted to indulge in her scalloped potatoes and green beans once the snow was gone. For her part, although she liked to have her family around her table, Nana wasn’t fussy. She’d have come up to our house in the suburbs without hesitation. Why, she would have been more than pleased to bring the scalloped potatoes or a lemon cake or both. (New Hampshire was another matter. She preferred to visit the little house in the woods during the summer.)

When it came to cooking, Nana was old school and a true New Englander. She baked at least once a week or at least she did when her grandchildren were around. I can’t remember ever being at her house when there were not homemade cookies in the jar. My grandfather’s favorites were Hermit Bars and Molasses Cookies. She baked lots of pies, especially blueberry, as well as the occasional cake and pan of brownies.

Her kitchen was tiny, just large enough to hold the stove, refrigerator and the sink with flanking counters. Cheery, calico curtains hid the treasures inside the lower cabinets. The uppers were open and held mysteries not found in my mother’s kitchen. No, these shelves were not filled with exotic spices. After all, Nana was a classic New England cook. However, she had a glass jar of cream of tartar. It was not creamy and was nothing like the tartar sauce that came with our fried clams at the local fish shack. There was also a canister of cornmeal and jars of nuts and raisins, ground ginger, baking powder and a bottle of molasses. Not a single one of these obscurities could be found in my mother’s kitchen.

Apart from the countertops on either side of the sink, her only work space was a small table. My sister Brenda and I would sit at that table and ask her countless questions while she bustled about. My grandmother was a bustle-er. We were more than curious as to why she didn’t bake her cakes from a mix or buy her cookies ready-to-eat and lined up in a plastic tray. After all, that’s what our mother did.

Now, this was not the kitchen my dad grew up with, that one might have been larger but maybe not. The kitchen I connect with my grandmother was in their cozy retirement house on Buzzards Bay. Infrequent or not, it continues to amaze me that Nana prepared family dinners for eight, twelve or more in that tiny kitchen.

Although it might have happened at least once, maybe twice, I never saw even a hint of chaos when Nana cooked. When we arrived for dinner, Easter or otherwise, everything was under control and close to ready. The ham was roasting and the potatoes were bubbling in the oven. The beans were trimmed, snapped and ready for steaming. A lemony cake was sitting on the kitchen table and strawberries were ready in the refrigerator.

… and if Easter was early, well, there was always Mother’s Day. Bon appétit!

Lemon Pound Cake
Lemony cake with fresh berries is a bright and sunny dessert for Easter or any spring feast. Enjoy!
Serves 12

1 cup (2 sticks) butter, at room temperature, plus more for the pans
3 cups all-purpose flour plus more for the pans
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
Grated zest of 2 lemons
2 1/4 cups sugar
Juice of 3 lemons
6 large eggs
3/4 cup sour cream
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
Strawberries, hulled and halved or quartered
Whipped Mascarpone & Cream (recipe follows)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour two 8×4 1/2-inch (6-cup) loaf pans.

Put the dry ingredients in a bowl and whisk to combine. Add the lemon zest and whisk again.

Put the butter and sugar in a bowl and beat with an electric mixer on high until fluffy. With the mixer running on medium-low, add the eggs one at a time and beat until combined. Add the lemon juice and beat until smooth. Add the sour cream and vanilla and beat again.

With the mixer on low, slowly add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients. Increase the mixer speed and beat until just smooth.

Pour the batter into the prepared pans, smooth the top and bake for 45-60 minutes or until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean or with just a few crumbs attached. Cool to room temperature and serve with a spoonful of fresh strawberries and a dollop of Whipped Mascarpone & Cream

Whipped Mascarpone & Cream
4 ounces mascarpone cheese
Grated zest of 1 lemon
3 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup heavy cream

Put the mascarpone, zest, sugar and vanilla in a bowl and beat until fluffy. With the mixer running, slowly add the cream and beat until well combined. Increase the mixer speed and continue beating until soft peaks form.

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One Year Ago – Lavender Scones
Two Years Ago – Calzones with Marinara Sauce
Three Years Ago – Chocolate-Espresso Cheesecake
Four Years Ago – Runners’ Chicken with Pasta
Five Years Ago – Steamed Artichokes with Bagna Cauda or Warm Lemon-Garlic Sauce
Six Years Ago – Death by Chocolate Cake
Seven Years Ago – Filet de Perche Meunière
Eight Years Ago – Chicken Provençal

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

What about you? How will you celebrate Easter this year? Feel free to share!

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

Home Is Where the Heart Is at Thanksgiving & Roasted Mushrooms, Leeks, Shallots & Pearl Onions

Nana_W_Bess_Nana_NThere is only one place to be on Thanksgiving – home. My home, your home, anybody’s home; it doesn’t matter as long as it’s not a restaurant. Unfortunately, I have celebrated Thanksgiving in a restaurant three times. Never again!

It started when Nana Westland broke her hip. My grandmothers took turns hosting Thanksgiving and Easter. It was the Westland’s year to give thanks and dinner to the family. With Nana on a walker, Grandpa invited us all out. Although she hated to cook, I don’t think Nana broke her hip to get out of hosting the family feast. Grandpa was a golfer and his club put on a big Thanksgiving dinner. We put on our Sunday best and headed over to Braeburn Country Club. It was noisy and the food so-so.

The reasons are hazy but the next year, Nana Nye, who liked to cook, followed suit. Pop Nye didn’t play golf and didn’t belong to a country club so we all met up at the Red Coach Grill. The restaurant increased their capacity, maybe even doubled it, by renting extra tables and chairs from the local bingo parlor. It was bedlam with too many people and too much noise.

When talk began of another (overcrowded) restaurant meal, my mother put her foot down. Sometime around Halloween, Mom announced that she was cooking Thanksgiving dinner and we were all welcome to join her. If there were any protests from the Nanas, they were ignored. Mom continued to cook Thanksgiving dinner until the early nineties when the next generation took over.

Meanwhile, I was in Switzerland and cooking for friends and holiday orphans . When I finally returned to the US, it was to California. While it was still far from my New England home, it was the perfect opportunity to celebrate and give thanks with my niece Gillian and her family. It was such a good idea that my parents flew out to spend the holiday with us. Everything went off without a hitch. Mom and Dad flew in on the weekend. Gillian and the boys drove down on Wednesday. The weather was fine, dinner was delicious and we had a wonderful time.

So wonderful, we decided to do it again the next year. Only this time, I’d drive Mom and Dad to up to Gillian’s and she’d cook. Everything was on track until Wednesday morning when Gillian called. Her boys had a nasty flu. Unhappily, we all agreed it was best to stay clear.

With Thanksgiving a mere twenty-four hours away, we went on a turkey hunt. After checking every supermarket for miles, the smallest bird we could muster was a hefty twenty-five pounds. It was a bit large for three and a little late to rustle up another twenty or so dinner guests. Admitting defeat, Dad scanned the newspaper ads while I pouted and then called around for reservations. The food was pretty good but the restaurant was quiet and subdued. Instead of noisy families jammed together, the dining room was half-filled with twosomes and threesomes. We did our best to be jolly and thankful.

As we drove home, just as my mother had pronounced thirty or forty years before, I declared never again. Six months later, I moved to New Hampshire to ensure that there would always be lots of family around and a few extra friends to fill the table.

That’s not to say it has always been smooth sailing. Over the past ten years, we’ve had our share of family emergencies and changes of plans and venues. In spite of it all, we’ve managed to celebrate at home. And for that, I am thankful.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving with family and friends. Bon appétit!

Roasted Mushrooms, Leeks, Shallots & Pearl Onions
Pearl onions were a Thanksgiving tradition at our house. Mom combined her go-to ingredients (cream of mushroom soup, sour cream, dry sherry and grated parmesan cheese in the shiny green canister) with frozen pearl onions and baked them until brown and bubbly. My updated version uses fresh mushrooms instead of mushroom soup, adds shallots and leeks and roasts them in olive oil and sherry vinegar. Enjoy!
Serves 12roasted_mushrooms_leeks_shallots_pearl_onions_06

2 pounds whole mushrooms, trimmed
1 pound frozen pearl onions
6 shallots, peeled, trimmed and quartered
Olive oil
Sherry vinegar
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 leeks, dark green tops removed, trimmed and cut in half lengthwise and then crosswise*
1-2 cups chicken stock
2 cloves garlic, minced
2-3 tablespoons butter, cut into small pieces (optional)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Put the mushrooms in a roasting pan, lightly coat with equal parts olive oil and vinegar, sprinkle with thyme, salt and pepper and toss to combine. Roast the mushrooms at 400 degrees, cup side up, for 15 minutes. Turn the caps and roast for an additional 10 minutes or until nicely browned.

Set aside until the mushrooms are cool enough to handle. Depending on the size, leave the mushrooms whole, halve or quarter.

Meanwhile, put the onions and shallots in a roasting pan, lightly coat with equal parts olive oil and vinegar, sprinkle with thyme, salt and pepper and toss to combine.

Add the leeks, drizzle with equal parts olive oil and vinegar and sprinkle with thyme, salt and pepper.

Add 1 cup chicken stock to the pan and place in the oven. Roast the vegetables at 400 degrees for 15-20 minutes, turn the leeks, add the garlic and toss with the onions and shallots. Add the mushrooms and more broth if necessary and return to the oven. Continue roasting until browned and tender, 10-15 minutes more. Add the butter and toss to combine.

Transfer the vegetables to a platter and serve immediately.

* Leeks are often pretty dirty. When you trim the ends, leave the root ball intact so the leaves stay together. Cut in half lengthwise, gently rinse the leeks under cool, running water and pat dry with a clean dishtowel before cutting crosswise.

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One Year Ago – Turkey Noodle Soup with Spinach
Two Years Ago – Curried Thai Soup with Turkey, Vegetables & Noodles
Three Year Ago – Roast Turkey with Mom’s Stuffing & Giblet Gravy
Four Years Ago – Penne Gratin with Leftover Turkey
Five Years Ago – Leftover Turkey Stir-fry
Or Click Here! for a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog!

How do you survive the grey days of November? Feel free to share. Let’s get a conversation going.

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook as well as a day in the life photoblog! In addition, I hope that you will take a minute to learn about my philanthropic project Eat Well-Do Good. © Susan W. Nye, 2013

Celebrate International Women’s Day! & Scallops and Roasted Pepper Sauce

Perhaps you haven’t heard or barely heard but March is Women’s History Month and the 8th is International Women’s Day . I first stumbled upon International Women’s Day during one of my many trips to Russia. In a former life, I was an international sales and marketing maven and Russia was part of my territory. IWD is celebrated with great enthusiasm in Russia and much of Eastern Europe. I don’t know if Hallmark has a store in Moscow but it’s a big day for cards and flowers. A cross between Mothers’ Day and Labor Day, it celebrates the contributions of famous and not so famous women.

When it comes to heroes, ordinary or otherwise, my great grandmother comes pretty high on my list. I never met her and only know her from my mother’s stories. From what Mom’s told me, it is clear that Nana Grant was a remarkable woman. One of eight or nine children, my great grandmother grew up on a farm in Nova Scotia. Living with the harsh climate and rocky terrain of eastern Canada, Elizabeth Hailey learned the virtues of hard work and thrift early in life. She also developed a healthy respect for education and the opportunities it can bring.

After she married John Grant, they moved to Boston to build a new life in the land of opportunity. After only a few short years, Mr. Grant died of pneumonia. A single mother with a three year old daughter, many, maybe most, women would have hightailed it back Canada and the family farm. But Nana figured that there would be more and better opportunities for her daughter in New England than New Scotland.

That said there were not a lot of options for women like Nana Grant. With only a few years of elementary school, teaching or nursing was not an option. Factories were hiring but the pay was pitifully low and conditions abysmal. In 1900, women did not start their own businesses but that didn’t deter Nana. Necessity was the mother of her entrepreneurship.

Nana opened a notions shop. In the age of Walmart, there is a least a generation of people who have never been to, let alone heard of, a notions shop. Her tiny store sold bits and bobs, thread, pins and needles and penny candy. Her courage, hard work and drive were the keys to her success. She didn’t build an empire; her success cannot be measured in hundreds or thousands of stores across the country. Quite simply, she made a living, loved and raised her daughter and gave her a university education and all the opportunities that go with it. She also adored my mother but that’s a story for another day.

International Women’s Day is a good time to celebrate and reflect on the courage, achievements and determination of remarkable women. Maybe you’ll raise your glass to someone famous, a noted and notable senator, favorite author, brilliant CEO or award-winning actor. Then again, maybe you will honor someone closer to home, your mother or grandmother, your daughter, granddaughter or niece. Take a few minutes to think about the women who have helped you become you. Offer a toast to that special teacher, an old boss or wise friend … even a great grandmother you never met but whose life and courage inspired you.

Bon appétit!

Scallops and Roasted Pepper Sauce
Nova Scotia is famous for its seafood. This scallop dish is perfect for a cozy celebration. Enjoy!
Serves 4

About 1 1/2 pounds sea scallops
1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
Olive oil
1/2 cup dry white wine
Roasted Pepper Sauce (recipe follows)
1-2tablespoon cold butter, cut in small pieces
Chopped fresh flat leaf parsley

Pat the scallops dry and season with paprika, salt and pepper. Heat a little olive oil in a heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Put the scallops in the skillet and cook until opaque in center, about 1 minute per side. Remove from the skillet and keep warm.

Add the wine to the skillet, deglaze the pan and reduce by 1/3. Add about 3/4 cup of Roasted Pepper Sauce and simmer for 2-3 minutes. Add the butter and whisk until smooth.

To serve: Arrange the scallops on a platter or individual plates, drizzle with sauce and sprinkle with parsley.

Roasted Pepper Sauce
Makes about 1 1/2 cups

2 large red bell pepper, seeded and roughly chopped
1 medium onion, roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic
1/2 (or to taste) Thai pepper, seeds and veins removed and finely chopped
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
Olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh oregano
1/2 cup chicken broth

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Put the bell pepper, onion, garlic and Thai pepper in an ovenproof skillet, add the vinegar and just enough olive oil to lightly coat, season with salt and pepper and toss to combine. Roast at 375 degrees until the vegetables are soft and caramelized, about 30 minutes. Let cool for 10 minutes.

Transfer the pepper mixture to a blender or food processor. Add the oregano and chicken broth and process until smooth.

Cover and store extra sauce in the refrigerator or freezer. It’s a great sauce for chicken and pasta.

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One Year Ago – Creole Shrimp & Cheesy Grits
Two Year Ago – White Bean Dip
Three Years Ago – Warm Chocolate Pudding
Or
Click Here! for a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog!

How will you spend International Women’s Day? I’d love to hear from you! Let’s get a conversation going. To make a comment, just click on Comments below. I’d be delighted to add you to the growing list of blog subscribers. To subscribe: just scroll back up, fill in your email address and click on the Sign Me Up button. You’ll get an email asking you to confirm your subscription … confirm and you will automatically receive a new story and recipe every week.

Want more? Click here for lots more to read, see & cook! In addition, I hope that you will take a minute to learn about my philanthropic project Eat Well-Do Good. ©Susan W. Nye, 2012

Christmas Presents Past & Pecan Pie

What was the best Christmas present you ever received, could ever receive? Maybe it was “an official Red Ryder carbine-action 200-shot range model air rifle with a compass in the stock and this thing which tells time.” Hopefully you didn’t shoot your eye out. Or it could be the Teddy that slept with you until you went to college. (Maybe you smuggled him into the dorm and kept him handy to help you through bouts of homesickness, midterm jitters and other important emergencies.) Then again, it could be any or all of the 101 boxes of Legos that came your way or the train set that took over your bedroom floor.

Perhaps a baby doll won you over. Some were beautiful, others bizarre. There was that one that bore a striking and disconcerting resemblance to a head of cabbage. But maybe it was Barbie who stole your heart. Were you one of those kids with a legion of the leggy beauties, enough to field several soccer teams or invade a small country?

Looking back, my memories of Santa’s generosity are a bit hazy. I vaguely remember lots of dolls and many party dresses. However, two Christmases stand out for very different reasons.

I was seven or eight the year I received the pink plastic office with the pink telephones. The office was at the top of my list to Santa. Looking back, I’m not sure what possessed me. I suspect the pink telephones got me. They worked like a cheap and cheerful intercom system. I think I somehow or other I envisioned having the world at my beck and call at the other end of the phone. Still, what seven year old wants to play office? If you know one, quickly send her out to play in the snow. Hopefully the cold air will distract her and bring her to her senses. There’s plenty of time for paperwork later.

My cousins from Buffalo spent Christmas with us that year. We were too many to fit in the dining room so a kids’ table was set up in the kitchen. Our parents and grandparents were just on the other side of the wall but I insisted we stay connected with my new, pink phones. We called them not once, not twice but incessantly throughout the meal. And God love him, Grandpa Westland answered not once, not twice but every single time we called the grownups’ table. He patiently answered our calls, each time using a different, silly voice.

Grandpa kept me giggling throughout the entire feast. Christmas dinner was probably the first, last and only time I played with the pink telephones. Still, they were one of the best presents ever.

When I was eleven or twelve, my parents gave me a blue, three-speed bicycle. I’m sure it was a Schwinn. It was my first brand new, not ridden by someone else, bicycle. To this day I have no idea how or why it appeared under the tree. On the other hand, my parents continue to insist that I campaigned diligently for that bike. Sure, at one point I dreamed of having my very own, not second hand, bike. But that was all in the past, I’d moved on to other things. I was right in the middle of that icky ‘tween stage. None of my friends rode bicycles anymore. What did I want with a bike? Especially in the middle of winter?

The bike gathered dust in the garage for five or six years. Finally, bikes became cool again during high school. For two years, I rode that bike to school and all over town. I took it to college and rode it all over campus. It moved to the Berkshires with me where I taught school. It regularly coasted down into Connecticut and traveled north as far as Lenox. It was, eventually, one of the best presents ever.

What was the best Christmas present you ever received, could ever receive? Have a wonderful holiday with family and friends! Bon appétit!

Aunt Anna’s Pecan Pie
My Nana Westland hated to cook. As far as I know, she never baked, even at Christmas. Her dear friend Anna Foss was famous for her pecan pie and passed the recipe on to my mother. For many, many years, Mom made Aunt Anna’s Pecan Pie at Christmas. Enjoy!
Serves 8

1 cup brown sugar
1 cup light Karo syrup
3 eggs
1 cup nuts, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon vanilla
Flakey pastry – recipe follows
For garish: 1 cup heavy cream, whipped with 1 teaspoon vanilla

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2. In a large bowl beat the eggs until light and frothy. Add the brown sugar, Karo syrup, vanilla, salt and flour; whisk to combine. Stir in the pecans.
3. Pour into the chilled pie crust. Bake in the center of the oven at 400 degrees for 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 300 degrees and continue baking for 30 minutes or until firm.
4. Cool completely and serve with whipped cream.

Flakey Pastry
Aunt Anna did not pass on her pastry recipe but I use this one with great success. It is light and flakey, just delicious. Enjoy!
Enough for 1 crust

1 cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) chilled butter, cut into small pieces
3 tablespoons cold vegetable shortening, cut into small pieces
2-4 tablespoons ice water

1. Blend the flour, sugar and salt a food processor. Add the butter and shortening; and process until the mixture resembles coarse meal.
2. Sprinkle with ice water, 1-2 tablespoons at a time, and pulse until the dough comes together in a ball. Remove the dough from the food processor and flatten into disk. Wrap the dough in plastic and chill for at least 30 minutes.
3. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the dough into a round about 11 inches in diameter. Drape the pastry over the rolling pin and ease it into a 9 inch pie plate, pressing it into the bottom and sides. Trim and crimp the edges. Freeze for 30 minutes.

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What was the best Christmas present you ever received, could ever receive? I’d love to hear from you! Let’s get a conversation going. To make a comment, just click on Comments below. I’d be delighted to add you to the growing list of blog subscribers. To subscribe: just scroll back up, fill in your email address and click on the Sign Me Up button. You’ll get an email asking you to confirm your subscription … confirm and you will automatically receive a new story and recipe every week.

Feel free to visit my photoblog, Susan Nye 365 or my cleverly named other blog, Susan Nye’s Other Blog, or website www.susannye.com. You can find more than 200 recipes, links to magazine articles and lots more. I hope that you will take a minute to learn about my philanthropic project Eat Well-Do Good. ©Susan W. Nye, 2010

A Trip to Memory Lane & Greek Green Beans

When was the last time you returned to your old neighborhood? The one you left when you were eight or nine or ten. Unless it’s all been torn down, I’m guessing that the houses and the yards have miraculously shrunk since the last time you visited. Hopefully it’s not gotten shabbier.

Last summer I took a quick one day trip to Cape Cod with my Mom and Dad. They met on the Cape and sent the first ten or twelve summers of their married-with-children life back in the old neighborhood. Even though it was a long day, we took a little time to do the Memory Lane thing before heading back north.

First we drove through the little town, past the bandstand, past the snack bar with the salt water taffy and the fish market with the lobster tank. I loved going to the fish market when I was little. I was always the brave kid in the bunch. I’d plunge my whole arm right into the tank and pull out my lobster and anyone else’s. I suppose that’s not allowed any more, probably breaks a health code.

Next we drove over to Mom’s old beach cottage. I couldn’t believe how narrow the roads had become. They were no wider than a goat trail. I don’t know how my grandfather navigated his big old Lincoln through those little lanes. Nana and Grandpa’s yard was definitely a lot sunnier when I was eight and Nana’s big, bright blue hydrangea has disappeared.

The yard I remembered was not just sunnier, it was a lot bigger. I’m sure there’d been plenty of room for the Lincoln, the hydrangea and games of tag and hide-and-go-seek. Now there is barely enough room for the pile of bicycles jumbled up on the lawn. The house has shrunk as well and must have been moved. It was never so close to the road. Finally, the front porch has disappeared and the house is no longer white but these changes probably have nothing to do with my capricious memory.

After the slow drive by the Westland’s, we snaked through the narrow roads to get to Dad’s old house. This house has always had a special place in our hearts. The Westland’s house was their summer vacation home. It had a certain charm but it was just a house when compared to the gem that Pop Nye build down the street and around the corner. My grandfather was a master carpenter and the little red cottage on Bayberry Road was a masterpiece. On the outside it was a lovely little cape. On the inside it was filled with wonderful details and woodwork.

It was Nana and Pop’s retirement home, built for two with an occasional visitor. Even when we were little we knew it was compact. Now it’s positively dwarfed by the neighboring house. An oversized McMansion now swamps the tiny, postage stamp-sized lot next door. Thank goodness Nana is gone because this new house blocks her view of the water. Nana always kept her binoculars handy in the living room to watch the ships in the canal andapproaching storms.

We were sad to see that Pop’s pristinely kept house and garden were no longer pristinely kept. The house was still red but everything looked a little shabby and Pop’s roses were gone. In the evening, he used to pick Japanese beetles off the roses and drop them into a jar of kerosene. Always the brave one, I helped him do it. Looking at the slightly ratty-tatty house we knew it was time to go, and quickly, before any of these new sites replaced our fond old memories.

Enjoy your summer and fill it up with lots of special memories with family and friends!

Bon appétit!

Photos:
Top from left to right – me, my cousin Wally and sister Brenda
Bottom: Mom & Dad with Nana Nye in front of the little red house

Greek Green Beans
Enjoy this delicious alternative to plain old steamed green beans at your next family cookout.
Serves 12

3 pounds green beans, trimmed
2 medium red onions, cut into thin wedges
2 pints grape tomatoes
Olive oil
Juice of 1 lemon
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1 cup Niçoise, Kalamata or oil cured Greek olives
2 tablespoons fresh oregano, minced
4 ounces feta cheese

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Put the beans, tomatoes and onions on a couple of rimmed baking sheets, drizzle with olive oil and lemon juice, sprinkle with salt and pepper and toss to coat. Distribute in an even layer. Roast for 10 minutes. Stir and toss the vegetables. Cook for 10-15 minutes longer. Beans will be dark golden brown in spots and slightly shriveled.

While the beans are roasting, pit the olives and quarter lengthwise.

Remove the beans from the oven, sprinkle with oregano and toss. Top with the olives and crumbled feta and serve.

Serve hot or at room temperature. If serving at room temperature, this dish can be made in advance and refrigerated until ready to serve. About a half hour before serving, remove from refrigerator.

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One Year Ago –  Blueberry Pie
Two Years Ago – Grilled Lamb

Have you been back to your old neighborhood? What did you find? I’d love to hear from you! Let’s get a conversation going. To make a comment, just click on Comments below.

To join my growing list of blog subscribers. : just scroll back up, fill in your email address and click on the Sign Me Up button. You’ll get an email asking you to confirm your subscription … confirm and you will automatically receive a new story and recipe every week.

Feel free to visit my photoblog, my other, cleverly named blog, Susan Nye’s Other Blog, or website www.susannye.com. You can find more than 200 recipes, links to magazine articles and lots more. I hope that you will take a minute to learn about my philanthropic project Eat Well-Do Good. ©Susan W. Nye, 2010

Specialty of the House & Mediterranean Shrimp

It’s a question I get asked from time to time, “What’s your specialty?” I’m never sure if they’re expecting me to name a specific dish or a style of cooking. In any case I normally answer with something vague like Mediterranean cuisine. Which is true but I’m not sure it answers the question. Sometime I think they want me to bounce back with a proud and definitive answer like the world’s best linguine with clam sauce or roast duck with plums or even that New England standby, pot roast. From my Chicken Provencal to a wonderful Couscous Salad with citrus and mint and my oft-requested Death by Chocolate Cake and Peanut Butter Brownies. I have too many favorites (and my friends and family have too many favorites) to name just one. With so many interesting recipes, I can’t imagine narrowing it down to a single dish.

There are cooks who have a claim to fame, a specialty which makes them renown with family, friends and acquaintances. Well maybe not renowned, but at least everyone knows what they will bring to the next potluck. My grandmothers were like that.

My Father’s mother was a traditional New England cook. She lived on Cape Cod so she cooked a lot of fish. She steamed clams, broiled scallops and cooked haddock in milk topped with buttery cracker crumbs. She won a prize for her fish chowder. At least once a week, she baked hermit bars or molasses cookies, usually by the gross. She baked blueberry pies in the summer and apple in the fall. In winter, she made Indian pudding. I haven’t had it in years but it was very tasty in an old fashioned, New England-y sort of way. If I had to pick Nana’s specialty, it’d be a tie between her chowder and her hermit bars.

My Mother’s mother hated to cook. If she absolutely had to make something, Nana Westland made little individual Jell-O molds. She always used lemon Jell-O. She added bottled orange and grapefruit slices as well as canned black cherries which she bought at S.S. Pierce’s. Nana used a muffin tin to make her little molds and the Jell-O always got stuck. Sometimes she lined the muffin tins with wax paper which didn’t help much. Mostly, she avoided the kitchen and had my grandfather stop at Hazel’s Bakery for chocolate chip cookies or Captain Marden’s for shrimp.

My Mother did not hate to cook, or at least not as much as her own mother, but she was never a culinary enthusiast. She was a young wife and mother when Julia Child became the first celebrity chef but Mom was never a fan. She had no interest in mastering the art of French cooking so when Julia wrestled chickens on PBS, Mom found something else to watch or something else to do.

Mom’s specialty was doctoring things. In the summer, she doctored potato salad and coleslaw from the deli counter at Cricenti’s. When company was expected she doctored Duncan Hines cake mixes with Jell-O pudding and chocolate chips. I don’t know how long it’s been since she made it, but Mom’s signature dish has got to be the chicken that she doctored with cream of mushroom soup, sour cream, sherry and pearl onions.

Now that summer is here, families and friends will be spending lots of time together. There’ll be family cookouts and neighborhood block parties. There’ll be fun and festive picnics on the beach and burgers on backyard grills. Casual is the key to summer entertaining. Let everyone lend a hand and bring their favorite summer dish. My Mom no longer cooks so she’ll bring herself and I’ll bring the Couscous Salad!

Enjoy and bon appétit!

Mediterranean Shrimp
These shrimp are very popular at cocktail parties, so much so that guests ask for them, whether they are on the menu or not. Could it be a trademark dish in the making??? Enjoy!
About 36 pieces, enough for 8-12 people

2-3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup dry white wine
Juice of 1/2 lemon
4 cloves garlic, minced
Pinch red pepper flakes or to taste
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 1/2 pounds large shrimp, shelled and deveined
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh oregano
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves

Combine the olive oil, wine, lemon juice, garlic, pepper flakes, salt and pepper in a large skillet. Bring to a simmer over medium heat and continue to cook until reduced by about 2/3rds.

Raise the heat to medium high, add the shrimp, sprinkle with herbs and and toss to coat.

Cook the shrimp for 2-3 minutes or until pink. Do not overcook. Serve warm or at room temperature.

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One Year Ago – Grilled Hoisin Pork

Do you have a question? An idea, a few thoughts or an opinion you’d like to share? I’d love to hear from you! Let’s get a conversation going. To make a comment, just click on Comments below.

I’d be delighted to add you to the growing list of blog subscribers. To subscribe: just scroll back up, fill in your email address and click on the Sign Me Up button. You’ll get an email asking you to confirm your subscription … confirm and you will automatically receive a new story and recipe every week.

Feel free to visit my other, cleverly named blog, Susan Nye’s Other Blog, or website www.susannye.com. You can find more than 200 recipes, links to magazine articles and lots more. I hope that you will take a minute to learn about my philanthropic project Eat Well-Do Good. ©Susan W. Nye, 2010

January – The Coldest Month – Part Two & Apple Bread Pudding

It’s that time of year when the weather takes center stage and the lead story on the morning news. A cold wind has been blowing out of the northwest. The skies have been mostly grey. While it has been pretty chilly here, we’ve not been hit by earth shattering, record breaking cold. For that kind of cold you need to head south to Florida, yes, Florida.

From one end of my neighborhood to the other, half the houses are empty. My snowbird neighbors have fled to the south, looking for sunshine and warm temperatures. Many are down in Florida, the Sunshine State. What they’ve found, at least for now, is frost on the golf course, icicles on the oranges and the threat of flurries in the air. Not for a day or even two but several. The governor even declared a state of emergency. It’s not the first time but it’s the first time in decades, at least two, maybe three.

I’ve only been to Florida a couple of times. The first was enough to swear me off the state for life. Since that first trip, I’ve been forced or tricked into a couple of visits but I try to steer clear. I took my infamous Florida vacation in mid-January during a break from college.

Every year my grandparents spent October to May in a condo apartment in West Palm Beach. The apartment looked out onto a pool and the beach was just around the corner. Sounds good. My mother flew down to check up on them every month or so and she asked me to tag along. Since it was January, it was ridiculously cold in New Hampshire. The trip south was billed as a chance to get out of the cold, walk the beach and go for a swim. I had nothing better to do. I loved and missed my grandparents. I could get a tan before heading back to school. I went along.

It snowed.

Yes, snowed. Not long, not hard and not a lot, just enough to know that it had happened. All these years later they still talk about it. Every January on a slow news day, the story makes page five or six in the local newspaper, usually with a picture of an orange or strawberry dripping with icicles.

My mother and I shivered in our cotton dresses and summer shoes. At some point I think we must have started to go a little stir-crazy. I guess we took a walk. Or maybe not. With the fierce winds a gust could have easily picked us up and carried us away. We could have landed in Freeport; that’s the Bahamas not Maine. It wouldn’t have done much good. The islands were hit by the same deep freeze.

Throughout the three or four days we spend with them, Nana apologized often and profusely. It’s amazing how women, particularly grandmothers, seem to take responsibility for all those uncontrollable hiccups that mar a vacation. My grandfather took us out to lunch. A head cold has turned my brain to mush so it’s all a bit of blur right now but I seem to remember tiki torches and lots of pineapple. He also took us shopping to Nana’s favorite boutique. All in all, it’s best to describe the vacation as an interesting experience. Eventually it warmed up, just in time for us to head to the airport and home.

If the frigid temperatures have got you feeling cold and out of sorts, cheer up. You could be shivering in the Sunshine State. A walk on a beach may be out of the question but you can always walk the well-sanded roads around Pleasant Lake. A big gust of wind won’t land you in Freeport, the Bahamas or Maine, only Elkins.

Bon appétit!

Apple Bread Pudding with Bourbon-Caramel Crème Anglaise

Invite friends and family in for a cozy dinner by the fire and top it off with warm and wonderful bread pudding. It’s pure comfort food! Enjoy!

Serves 12

1 cup raisins or craisins
1/4 cup bourbon
1/4 apple cider or orange juice
1 tablespoon butter
4 cups whole milk
1 cup granulated sugar
8 whole eggs
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
4 apples, peeled, cored and thinly sliced
1 loaf day old crusty, country bread; cut in 1 1/2-inch cubes

  1. In a small bowl, combine the raisins with the bourbon and cider; soak for at least 2 hours.
  2. Butter a 9×13-inch baking dish or large casserole.
  3. To make the custard: put the sugar, eggs, vanilla, cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg in a large mixing bowl and whisk until well combined. Slowly whisk in the milk.
  4. Put the bread cubes, apples and raisins in a large bowl and gently toss to combine. Transfer the bread and apple mixture to the prepared baking dish. Pour the custard over the bread cubes, making sure that all the cubes are submerged (push cubes down if necessary). Set aside for 15-20 minutes.
  5. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  6. Bake for about 1 hour or until pudding is set. Serve warm with Bourbon-Caramel Crème Anglaise.

Bourbon-Caramel Crème Anglaise
Makes about 2 cups

3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
4 tablespoons bourbon
3 large egg yolks
Pinch salt
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

  1. Put the sugar and water in a heavy medium saucepan and cook over medium-low heat, stirring continuously, until the sugar dissolves.
  2. Add the lemon juice. Increase the heat and bring to a boil, swirling pan occasionally, until the caramel turns a deep amber color, about 10 minutes. If sugar crystals form on the side of the pan, brush down the sides of the pan with a wet pastry brush.
  3. Remove the pan from the heat. Stir in 4 tablespoons cream (the mixture will bubble up). Transfer the caramel to a medium bowl. Cool for 5 minutes and whisk in the bourbon.
  4. Prepare an ice bath; set aside.
  5. Whisk the remaining cream with the egg yolks and salt in a small heavy saucepan. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly until it registers 160 degrees on a candy thermometer. Pour the custard through a fine-mesh sieve into the bowl with the bourbon-caramel. Whisk until the mixture is smooth. Stir in the vanilla.
  6. Set the bowl in the ice bath, stir frequently to cool. Chill completely in the refrigerator and keep refrigerated until ready to use.
  7. Serve warm, room temperature or cold with warm bread pudding. To reheat zap in the microwave on low, start with 1 minute and continue in increments of 10-15 seconds.

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One Year Ago – Root ‘n’ Tooty Good ‘n’ Fruity Oatmeal Cookies

I’d love to hear from you! Let’s get a conversation going. To make a comment, just click on Comments below. I’d be delighted to add you to the growing list of blog subscribers. To subscribe: just scroll back up, fill in your email address and click on the Sign Me Up button. You’ll get an email asking you to confirm your subscription … confirm and you will automatically receive a new story and recipe every week.

Feel free to visit my photoblog, Susan Nye 365 or my cleverly named other blog, Susan Nye’s Other Blog, or website www.susannye.com. You can find more than 200 recipes, links to magazine articles and lots more. I hope that you will take a minute to learn about my philanthropic project Eat Well-Do Good. ©Susan W. Nye, 2010