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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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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The Ten Days of Thanksgiving & Stuffed Winter Squash

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Thanksgiving is marathon; not a sprint. I love surrounding my table with family and friends on Thanksgiving. However, this annual gastronomic extravaganza only works because I pace myself. As of this minute, there are ten days until Thanksgiving. For anyone who’s cooking this year, here are ten tips to get you from here to there in one piece.

On the FIRST day of Thanksgiving – that’s today – finalize your guest list but assume there could be last-minute additions or changes. While you’re at it, find out about food allergies or issues. If you haven’t done it yet, order the turkey

To anyone alone this Thanksgiving: let friends and neighbors know. Assuming you are a decent sort, one or more will be delighted to invite you … but they can’t if they don’t know of your predicament.

On the SECOND day of Thanksgiving – finalize your menu. If you’re having trouble deciding how to cook the spuds or whether to bother with creamed onions, stop dithering. Now is also a good time to decide how you want to handle those food allergies and issues.

 

My attitude – except for real allergies, true health issues and deeply held beliefs, don’t worry about it. Twenty years ago, the Atkins diet was all the rage. Trend followers then demanded gluten-free everything before moving on paleo eating and keto. Omnivore, carnivore, pescatarian, vegetarian, vegan – it’s one dinner. There’ll be loads of delicious food to pick and choose. Relax, no one will starve.

On the THIRD day of Thanksgiving – create your detailed shopping list; actually, two detailed lists. The first list includes anything with a week to ten-day or longer shelf life. The second covers everything else, including the turkey.

On the FOURTH day of Thanksgiving – shop for everything on list number one.

On the FIFTH day of Thanksgiving – make soup. Try one of my Thanksgiving favorites; butternut squash or mushroom. Both soups freeze beautifully. Spend the afternoon making as many quarts as you can stuff into your freezer. Enjoy some on Thanksgiving and the rest on a cold winter night.

On the SIXTH day of Thanksgiving – track down all your serving dishes and set the table. Make and freeze pie dough.

On the SEVENTH day of Thanksgiving – make the cranberry sauce. Yes, it IS much better than the canned stuff and takes very little time and effort. Due for a change? Try cranberry chutney.

On the EIGHTH day of Thanksgiving – pick up the turkey and everything else on list number two.

On the NINTH day of Thanksgiving – take the day off from work and anything else. Tomorrow’s the big day; it’s time to get cooking. Prep the stuffing, make the side dishes and bake pies.

On the TENTH day of Thanksgiving – Make or finish any of the side dishes and desserts that didn’t get done on Wednesday. Stuff the turkey and pop it in the oven. Take a long walk and relax.

Happy Turkey Day and bon appétit!

Stuffed Winter Squash

Delicious as a side for omnivores or a festive Thanksgiving main dish for vegetarians. Enjoy!

Serves 6 as a main and 12 as a side dish

  • 3 (12-16 ounce) delicata, sweet dumpling or acorn squash
  • Olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1/4 cup brown rice
  • 1/4 cup wild rice
  • 1/4 cup quinoa
  • 1 pound mushrooms, trimmed and chopped
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 2 carrots finely chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons thyme
  • 1 teaspoon sage
  • 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 12-16 ounces baby spinach
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts
  • 8 ounces cheddar cheese, shredded (optional)
  • 2 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated (optional)
  • 1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Cut the squash in half lengthwise and remove the seeds. If serving as a side dish, cut the halves in half. Brush the flesh side of the squash with a little olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast the squash cut side down at 375 degrees until tender, 20-30 minutes. Remove from the oven and reserve.

Put the rice in a fine mesh sieve and rinse well under cold water. Put 1 3/4 cups water in a pot and bring to a boil. Add the rice and cook for 30 minutes.

Put the quinoa in a fine mesh sieve and rinse well under cold water. Add the quinoa to the rice and cook 10-15 minutes more or until the grains are tender. Remove from the heat and reserve.

Meanwhile, lightly coat a large skillet with olive oil and heat on medium. Add the mushrooms, onion, carrots and celery, sprinkle with 1 teaspoon thyme, the sage and smoked paprika, season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring frequently, until lightly browned. Add the garlic and cook 2-3 minutes more. Add the spinach and toss until wilted. Remove from the heat.

Add the grains and nuts to the vegetables and toss to combine. Cool to room temperature, add the cheddar and toss to combine. Arrange the squash in a lightly oiled baking dish and spoon the vegetable mixture into the squash cavities.

Put the Parmigiano-Reggiano, breadcrumbs and remaining thyme in a bowl, season with salt and pepper and toss to combine. Drizzle with a little olive oil and toss again. Sprinkle the tops of stuffed squash with the cheesy breadcrumbs.

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

Bake uncovered at 375 degrees until piping hot and lightly browned, about 30 minutes. Transfer to a serving platter or individual plates and serve.

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

Getting Ready to Give Thanks & Roasted Brussels Sprouts & Sweet Potatoes

There is a light at the end of the Blahvember tunnel. Dull or shining, that light is Thanksgiving and it will be here in just a few short weeks. Nothing beats Thanksgiving for inspiring both gratitude and conflict. Think about it. What other holiday inspires joy in some while unleashing fear or dread in others? Host or guest, it doesn’t matter – contrary feelings persist around tables across America.

Thanksgiving fans embrace the day. A good many of them love to cook. For those that prefer life outside the kitchen, they have workarounds like potlucks and restaurants. No matter the circumstance or place, Thanksgiving fans are absolutely delighted to spend the holiday with a tableful of friends and family.

To both borrow and mangle a line from W.C. Fields, Thanksgiving detractors would rather be in Philadelphia. For them, Thanksgiving is a highly combustible gathering of gripes and grumbles. Siblings, cousins, ex-s and in-laws, these relationships can be fraught with rivalry, disdain or both. Add a few too many glasses of wine and an explosion of one kind or another is more or less guaranteed.

Now, it’s upon us. Whether you meant to or not, you raised your hand over Labor Day weekend and agreed to host Turkey Day. That means, it’s time to get organized. And no, you can’t go back and pretend you were kidding or swatting a nonexistent mosquito.

Start by letting everyone know that Thanksgiving is still on and you’re still hosting. Give them an arrival time and turn a deaf ear to complaints. It’s an age-old fact, no matter what time you choose, afternoon – early or late – or wait until evening, some big football game will kick off at just the wrong minute. Ignore the complaints, cue the DVR and have a lovely dinner. By the way, it’s always nice to encourage your guests to bring along any Thanksgiving orphans.

Invitations done; the menu is next. Unless of course, you have one of those families. You know the type. They insist on the same menu every year. A few might even admit that they don’t really like great-grandma Annabel’s stuffing or great-great-aunt Betty’s yams. They just like the sense of tradition that a decades old menu brings.

My family is one of those types. If it wasn’t on Nana’s Thanksgiving table, they don’t particularly want it on theirs. Except for me. Makes you wonder; was I somehow switched at birth? Anyway, I haven’t exactly ignored them – just reinvented an old dish or three. Okay, maybe I have ignored them but I like to think of it as gently nudging my nearest and dearest out of an antiquated food rut.

My reinventions are not all that dramatic. Instead of boiling, I roast the vegetables and have amped up the decadence on the smashed potatoes. No one but no one is complaining about the spuds. That said, although he loves my Roasted Butternut Soup, my brother is still accusing me of heresy for dropping Mom’s stuffing. On a more positive note, everyone seems delighted that pumpkin cheesecake has replaced pie.

If you’ve hesitated to change things up, stop worrying. While they may threaten, your family won’t disown you over a few Brussels sprouts.

Happy planning, happy cooking and bon appétit!

Roasted Brussels Sprouts & Sweet Potatoes

Brussels sprouts and sweet potatoes were not part of my childhood Thanksgiving. However, I like them as does about half of my family. So, last year, I added them to our Thanksgiving table. Enjoy!

Serves 8

  • 12 ounces thick cut bacon, cut in small pieces*
  • About 2 pounds Brussels sprouts, trimmed and quartered
  • About 2 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and cut in 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • Apple cider vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon thyme
  • 1 teaspoon sage
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1-2 cups chicken or vegetable broth
  • About 1/2 cup chopped walnuts, toasted

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Heat a skillet with over medium, add the bacon and cook until it starts to brown. Remove from the pan and reserve. Reserve the rendered bacon fat as well.

Put the Brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes and onion in a roasting pan, drizzle with enough equal parts bacon fat and vinegar to lightly coat and toss to combine. Sprinkle with thyme and sage, season with salt and pepper and toss again.

Tossing at the midpoint, roast the vegetables at 375 degrees for 30 minutes. Add the bacon, garlic and chicken broth, toss to combine and roast for 15 minutes. Give the vegetables another toss and continue roasting until tender, another 10-15 minutes

Transfer the vegetables to a serving bowl, sprinkle with toasted walnuts and serve.

*  If you have a few vegetarians at your table, you may want to skip the bacon. Instead of bacon fat, toss the veggies in olive oil. Along with the toasted walnuts, sprinkle with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and serve.

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Turn on the Heat & Maple-Ginger Apple Crisp

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have a cozy fall and bon appétit!

Maple-Ginger Apple Crisp

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

Serves 8

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

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

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

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

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

Crumble Topping

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

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

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

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Home for Lunch Bunch & Greek Grilled Cheese Sandwiches

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy back to school and bon appétit! 

Greek Grilled Cheese Sandwiches

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

Makes 4 sandwiches

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

Preheat the grill to high.

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

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

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

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

Cut the sandwiches into wedges and serve.

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

 

Begin with a Single Step & Rhubarb-Walnut Muffins

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”
From Tao Te Ching by Laozi

I need a new word; one that combines sad and angry. Three mass murders in eight days created this mix of emotions. These most recent crimes are on top of the tens of thousands of annual gun deaths and injuries. Foot-dragging politicians talk about mental illness, video games  and the need for more information. Then, if history repeats itself, they will do nothing. No study group will be formed. No funding will be provided. The outrage will subside. The moment for action will pass until the next crisis.

While I am sure that common psychological or sociological threads can be found, let’s face it – each crime is perpetrated by an individual. Some are fueled by hate, some by despair. Some are part of a larger criminal enterprise; others are powered by extremist religious or political fervor. Some are the product of mental illness, drugs or alcohol abuse. Some perpetrators were bullied. Others are bullies. There is no one root cause, no single, elusive answer. Gun violence is complex. There is a long list of explanations for each terrible crime. However, there is one constant, one common denominator. Regardless of the crime – mass murder, drive by shooting, burglary gone bad or family violence turned deadly – easy access to guns makes it possible.

We will never make any progress, if we don’t take a first step. The vast majority of Americans want sensible gun control. And yes, my definition of sensible may be different from yours. But again, we will never get anywhere if we don’t take a first step. We need to make the effort. We need to try. The step can be small. It can be a compromise. We just need to take the first step … and then another and one more after that. Eventually, what is now very imperfect will become a little less so.

This morning I made muffins. I find peace in the Zen of everyday activities. Simple tasks, done one after another, are grounding. Recipes, no matter how complex, are nothing more than taking one step and then another and another to make something. Something you can share. Something that makes the day a little better or brighter or at least keeps you from going hungry.

I measured flour, baking powder and spices. I preheated the oven. I chopped rhubarb and nuts. I whipped butter and sugar, added eggs, vanilla and sour cream. The dry ingredients gradually joined the wet, followed by the rhubarb. Not done yet, I scooped the batter into muffin tins and then slid them into the oven. All told, I guess it took about a dozen steps.

Fifteen minutes later, they were golden and delicious. However, if you arrived at my door hoping to find a big breakfast, an all-encompassing solution to your morning hunger, it wasn’t there. Only muffins, one piece of what could become a more comprehensive feast.

A friend did come over. I took two more steps; brewed coffee and heated milk. We sipped lattes and ate a few of the muffins. We had a lovely chat about writing and freelancing and making a living as well as life and a few other things. Progress of a different sort was made.

Although some may lead you astray, most steps take you at least a little closer to where you need to be; closer to a more perfect imperfection. If the life of one child, one teenager, one man, one woman can be saved by taking the first step, isn’t it worth the effort? Isn’t it worth a try?

Here’s to a safer tomorrow and bon appétit!

Rhubarb-Walnut Muffins
A neighbor gave me an armful of rhubarb the other day so I made muffins. They are delicious as a little something to nibble with coffee or tea. Or include them in your next brunch – maybe you refer to it as a comprehensive solution to morning hunger. Enjoy!
Makes 36 muffins

4 cups all-purpose flour
5 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons ginger
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 1/2 cups chopped walnuts
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups sour cream
12 ounces fresh rhubarb, cut into small dice

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

Put the flour, baking powder and spices in a bowl and whisk to combine. Add the walnuts and whisk again.

Put the sugars and butter in a bowl and beat with an electric mixer until fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla and continue beating until smooth. Add the sour cream and beat until well combined.

Reduce the mixer speed to low and slowly add the dry ingredients. Gradually add the rhubarb and continue beating until just combined.

Use an ice cream scoop or two spoons to fill each muffin cup about 3/4 full with batter.

Bake in the middle of the oven until the tops are golden and a toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean, 15-20 minutes. Cool the muffins on a rack for a few minutes.

Serve warm or at room temperature.

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One Year Ago – Green Bean Salad with Tomatoes, Olives & Feta
Two Years Ago – Grilled Shrimp Tacos with Charred Corn, Tomatoes & Salsa Verde
Three Years Ago – Heirloom Tomato Salad with Grilled Corn, Cucumber & Feta
Four Years Ago – Bluebree Grunt
Five Years Ago – Almond Macarons with Chocolate-Raspberry Ganache
Six Years Ago – Watermelon-Limeade
Seven Years Ago – Filet de Sole Meunière
Eight Years Ago – Artichoke Leaves with Shrimp 
Nine Years Ago – Spicy Grilled Chicken
Ten Years Ago – Corn & Tomato Salad
Eleven Years Ago – Summer Rolls

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

How do find peace during chaos? Feel free to share!

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