The First Day of Spring? & Maple Muffins

Tomorrow is the first day of spring. While the concept is not completely foreign, it will be awhile before we see spring in New Hampshire. Or at least the spring depicted in magazines. You know the one I mean. The spring that has flowers gently bobbing in a warm breeze.

Meanwhile, you can measure the snow in my yard in feet not inches. Instead of spring, the vernal equinox kicks off mud season in New Hampshire. In spite of the calendar, mud season more or less began about a week ago. After what may or may not have been the final snowstorm of the season, temperatures began to climb. Giant snowbanks are starting to shrink. Throughout the winter, slabs of sand-embedded ice have managed to cover every shady stretch of road. Those slabs are now crumbling.

Sit quietly for a moment and you can hear the first sounds of a New Hampshire spring. No, not a flock of red red robins bobbin’ bob bobbin’ along, they’re still waiting for the snow to disappear. The sounds you hear are the constant drip, trickle and even rush of melting snow and ice. Every dip in the road and driveway is now home to a murky pool. Run off flows freely into seasonal creeks. Small, usually slow-moving brooks are gushing with icy water.

Of course, sand and mud are everywhere. Otherwise, we couldn’t or wouldn’t call it mud season. Hardy country people, we rarely bother with fancy shoes. Throughout the winter, we make sure we have a good tread to keep from slipping and sliding on the ice and snow. With the snowmelt, those same shoes and boots keep our feet dry. Only problem, that tread picks up everything in its path and then tracks it all into the house. When it’s cold, that’s a little snow. It melts and we mop it up with an old towel. Now, a trail of sand and mud follows us inside.

Let’s face it, in spite of the mud, we love the change of seasons. It doesn’t matter if it’s messy, we still smile when the weather starts to warm. And yes, warm is a relative term. Every day the temperature is above freezing and the sun is out is a good day. Speaking of sun, we applaud every extra minute of daylight. Pun or not, there’s an extra spring in our step as well as some additional cheer to our greetings.

There’s plenty to make you cheerful. If you haven’t been out, the skiing is fantastic. (Or so I hear, my ankle took the winter off.) There’s smoke coming out of the sap house chimney. Who needs flowers when the sweet smell of maple syrup fills the air? Bets are being placed on the day and time for ice out on the lake. Forget the lottery – you could win a bundle on the Ice Out Challenge!

In addition, while I don’t want to jinx it, when it comes to chores, mud season is one of those in between times. The garden and lawn are covered with snow so no weeding or mowing. As for shoveling, there’s a fifty-fifty chance or better that any precipitation will fall as rain instead of snow. And besides, once mid-March comes around, I’ve been known to leave the snow where if falls. After all, why shovel when warmer temperatures and the sun will (eventually) take care of it?

Here’s to the longer, warmer days and bon appétit!

Maple Muffins
Mud season is also maple season in New Hampshire. A batch of maple muffins will make a wonderful addition to an afternoon cup of tea or Sunday brunch. Enjoy!
Makes about 2 dozen muffins

2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 cup currents
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, room temperature
3/4 cup pure maple syrup
2 eggs
1 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon dark rum

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

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

Put the butter in a bowl and beat with an electric mixer until smooth. With the mixer running, slowly add the maple syrup. Add the eggs one at a time and beat until smooth. Add the sour cream and rum and beat until smooth.

With the mixer on low, gradually add the dry ingredients and beat until just combined.

Use an ice cream scoop or two spoons to fill each muffin cup about 2/3 with batter. Bake in the middle of the oven for about 15 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean. Cool in the pan for 5-10 minutes, transfer to a wire rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.

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One Year Ago – Roasted Carrot Salad
Two Years Ago – Irish Lamb Stew
Three Years Ago – Roasted Parsnips with Rosemary
Four Years Ago – Not-Really-Irish and Not-Really-French Potato Gratin
Five Years Ago – Zucchini Pancakes
Six Years Ago – Traditional Irish Soda Bread
Seven Three Years Ago – Moroccan Chicken with Preserved Lemons
Eight Years Ago – Grilled Strip Steak with Gorgonzola Sauce
Nine Years Ago – Linguine with Sundried Tomato Pesto & Roasted Eggplant
Ten Years Ago – Fettuccine with Classic Bolognese Sauce

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

Are you for or against or … the time change? Feel free to share!

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

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How to Avoid a Power Outage & Chicken Soup Florentine

When we were little kids, an approaching snowstorm was cause for excitement. With any luck, school would be cancelled. Yes, we did love those snow days. As it so happens, I still do. Com’on, who doesn’t like to spend the day in leggings and a ratty, no-longer-allowed-in-public turtleneck?

Now, I grew up in suburbia where power outages were rare. A snow day meant we could hang out in our PJs and watch television or read books until Mom sent us outside to build a snowman. As a would-be grownup, I can still hang out but a movie binge only works if the power stays on.

My neighborhood generally loses power a couple times a year. It happens when heavy snow takes down a tree which in turn takes down a power line. Sometime, instead of snow, a monster wind knocks them down. Or a frigid rain leaves a thick coat of ice on the lines, causing them to snap. Finally, and thankfully less frequently, some yahoo drives too fast and takes out a pole.

Just like a kid with inside-out and backwards PJs and ice cubes down the toilet, I’ve developed a series of rituals to ensure the lights stay on in spite of an approaching storm. I suppose none of this would be necessary if I invested in a generator but what’s the fun in that?

These rituals are not foolproof but, heck, they worked for the last two storms. Feel free to join me. For any hope of success, you must complete all the steps. The order doesn’t matter but completeness does. Just think, you might save your neighborhood from a power outage. Here goes:

Have the power company’s number handy so you’re ready to call the minute the lights go out.

Fill at least three large buckets with water. You’ll need it to refill the toilet after flushing. Fill several jugs or pitchers with water for drinking and cooking.

Run the dishwasher – even half-full. You’ll want plenty of clean dishes if the power goes out.

Do any urgent laundry. Of course, you define urgent but, if it were me and I was down to my last pair of leggings, I’d do a load.

Take a nice long shower. You want to be clean too.

Rummage around and locate every flashlight in the house. Check the batteries and stock up as needed.

Have candles ready as well as matches. Dinner, even in a power outage, tastes better by candlelight.

Don’t be left incommunicado – charge your phone. While you’re at it, charge your tablet and laptop.

Make soup. Whether the snow is gently falling or the wind is howling, there is nothing like curling up in front of the fire with a good book and a mug of soup.

And, just in case the power stays out for a couple of day … have plenty of wine on hand.

It worked last week. Hopefully, it will next time! Bon appétit!

Chicken Soup Florentine
Lights on or off, this delicious soup is great on a cold, winter evening. Enjoy!
Serves 8

Olive oil
1 1/2-2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast
1 large onion, finely chopped
3 stalks celery, finely chopped
2 carrots, finely chopped
1 teaspoon dried thyme
Pinch or to taste dried pepper flakes
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 or more quarts chicken stock
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 bay leaf
1 piece Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese rind* (optional)
1 pound whole mushrooms, trimmed and chopped
1 pound baby spinach

Heat a little olive oil in a large soup kettle over medium-high heat. Sear the chicken, 1-2 minutes per side. Remove from the pot and reserve.

If necessary, add a little more olive oil to the pot. Add the onion, celery and carrot, sprinkle with thyme and pepper flakes and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring frequently for 5 minutes or until the vegetables begin to soften. Add the garlic and cook 1-2 minutes more.

Return the chicken to the pot, add the stock, wine and bay leaf and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 5 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through.

Transfer the chicken to a cutting board. When the chicken is cool enough to handle, cut or shred it into bitesize pieces.

Meanwhile, heat a little olive oil in a skillet, add the mushrooms and sauté until lightly browned.

Return the chicken to the pot and add the mushrooms. Bring the soup to a boil, reduce the heat to low and simmer for 10 minutes.

This soup is best when made in advance to this point. If you have the time, cool the soup to room temperature and refrigerate for several hours or overnight.

If the soup is too thick, add more stock. Raise the heat to medium-high, add the spinach and stir to combine and wilt. Simmer for 2-3 minutes and serve.

* Adding a piece of Parmigiano-Reggiano rind will add flavor and richness to your soup.

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One Year Ago – Orecchiette with Cauliflower & Bacon
Two Years Ago – Romaine & Radicchio Caesar Salad
Three Years Ago – Sausages with White Beans
Four Years Ago – Chocolate Panna Cotta
Five Years Ago – Turkey Scaloppini with Prosciutto & Sage
Six Years Ago – Cheese Fondue
Seven Years Ago – Flatbread with Mushrooms, Caramelized Onions & Spinach
Eight Years Ago – Tuscan White Bean Soup
Nine Years Ago – Wild Mushroom Risotto
Ten Years Ago – Swimming Pool Jello

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

What are your favorite snow day rituals? Feel free to share!

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

A Cooking Marathon & Roasted Cauliflower-Cheddar Soup

What a strange winter it has been? Well, strange so far, it ain’t over yet. Yes, we New Englanders like to joke about snowsuits at Halloween. However, what we don’t tell the rest of the world, the snow rarely piles up and it usually melts within a day, maybe two. This year the snow held off until November but it kept coming and coming and coming. Kept coming until December which was unusually warm and rainy instead of snowy.

Now, what will the rest of the winter bring us? Mercifully, January has not given us a whole lot of it’s typical frozen tundra-type temperatures. That said, it could be me but, so far at least, it feels like the month has brought way too many cloudy days. Sure, we’ve had some sun and a couple of real, plowable storms but, mostly, we’ve been plagued with gray skies and what I call nuisance snow.

Since I’m a skier, you might wonder how I could consider any snow a nuisance. Let me explain. Nuisance snow is that inch of fluffy white stuff. It comes with a miserable dampness that makes it feel colder than the actual temperature. Furthermore, that skim of snow is quickly beaten into the pavement and is as slick as ice. In other words, it’s both uncomfortable and an accident waiting to happen.

But when the going gets rough, the tough get cooking! And when it’s really rough, it’s time for a cooking marathon.

Take for instance the other day. I was headed to the supermarket for a gallon of milk. That’s all I really needed. It was snowing so it was slowing going up the hill. As I inched my way to town, a whole bunch of tasty would-be recipes began floating around head. By the time I pulled into the snowy parking lot, I had a list a mile long. In the less than ten minute drive, I developed a hankering for both eggplant and cauliflower. I was betwixt and between curry, an over-indulgent Greek casserole and New England style soup.

Lucky for me, eggplant was on sale and the cauliflower was a beautiful, creamy white. No need to choose, I bought them both plus some greens, a couple of onions and garlic. I remembered the cilantro for curry but forgot the ginger root. And oops, the cheddar for the cauliflower soup. It’s tough to keep track when you shop without a list. A second trip to the supermarket and I was ready to spend a few afternoons in the kitchen.

Here’s how these marathons usually work. First, I get two or three interesting dishes or ideas stuck in my head. Then, I buy too much food. Next, I mull over ingredients and spices and whether to roast, braise, sauté or simmer. More often than not, it’s usually a combination.

At some point, the mulling stops and chopping begins. For the next few days, usually a weekend, I’ll cook enough to feed an army of foodies. As I put things together, I scribble out the list of ingredients and make notes of temperatures and timings. That’s one of the challenges of sharing recipes. You have to write them down.

On the other hand, the best part is inviting guinea pigs over to sample the results. Of course, they generally have to put up with a mini photoshoot. I like to photograph new recipes. Plus, not every dish is a brilliant success. Hopefully, the wine and company make up for any flops.

Wishing you a delicious 2019, stay warm and bon appétit!

Roasted Cauliflower-Cheddar Soup
What could be better than soup on a cold winter evening. Roasting the vegetables gives this soup a rich, deep flavor. Enjoy!
Serves 8

About 1 1/2 pounds cauliflower, trimmed and broken into florets
1-2 red potatoes, about 8 ounces, peeled and quartered
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
3 celery stalks, cut in thirds
1 large onion, cut in eighths
Olive oil
Apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon thyme
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
8-12 cups chicken or vegetable stock or broth
1 cup half and half (optional)
1 bay leaf
About 6 ounces sharp white cheddar cheese, grated
Garnish: fresh chopped chives

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Put the vegetables in a large roasting pan, drizzle with enough equal parts olive oil and vinegar to lightly coat, sprinkle with thyme and season with salt and pepper. Toss to combine and coat.

Stirring and tossing 2-3 times, roast at 375 for about 30 minutes. Add 4 cups of stock, reduce the heat to 350 degrees and return to the oven for 15 minutes or until all the vegetables are tender. Remove from the oven and cool for about 30 minutes.

Working in batches, puree the vegetables with a little stock in a blender or food processor until smooth.

Put the cauliflower puree into a soup pot, add the remaining stock and bay leaf and place on the stovetop. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, reduce to low and simmer for 15 minutes. Stir in the half and half and cheddar and reheat to steaming.

If you have the time, cool to room temperature, cover and refrigerate for several hours or overnight. Reheat on medium low.

To serve: ladle the soup into bowls or mugs, garnish with chives and serve.

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One Year Ago – Dandan Noodles
Two Years Ago – Sweet Potato & Red Lentil Soup
Three Years Ago – Tomato Soup
Four Years Ago – Savory Galette with Spinach, Mushrooms & Manchego
Five Years Ago – Mac & Cheese with Roasted Broccoli & Sun-dried Tomatoes
Six Years Ago – Red Bean Chili with Pork & Butternut Squash
Seven Years Ago – Piri Piri Prawns
Eight Years Ago – French Lentil Soup
Nine Years Ago – Spicy Chicken (or Turkey) Noodle Soup
Ten Years Ago – My Favorite Chili

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

What are your favorite dishes to cook up on a cold winter day? Feel free to share!

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

Autumn – A Season of Renewal & Resolutions & Pasta with Grilled Zucchini, Tomatoes & Feta

This past Saturday marked the autumnal equinox. If you’ve forgotten what that means, well, day and night are each about twelve hours long. For the next few months, with each passing day, the sun will be a little slower to rise and quicker to set. Don’t let the end of summer get you all mopey. The fall is beyond beautiful in New Hampshire.

Most mornings, an enigmatic mist shrouds the lake. On their way south for the winter, geese squawk overhead. The highways and byways become increasingly colorful. Most days, you’ll want to grab a sweater before heading out the door but you can usually shed it by lunch. Speaking of lunch (as well as breakfast, dinner, coffee, cocktails and a snack), pumpkin spice is suddenly in everything from coffee to martinis as well as cheerios, muffins and barbecue sauce. I like pumpkin and I like spice but I think the world has gone a little nuts with this pumpkin spice business.

Anyway, it’s autumn in New England and my favorite time of year. With beautiful weather and foliage, you can’t help but feel good about life. Why not funnel that goodwill into taking another crack at some still unmet challenge? After all, bitterly cold January is hardly a good time to resolve anything. Spring might work but it’s not particularly timely in New England. Then, when it finally comes, it only lasts a few days.

But fall, fall is good. It could be years since you went back-to-school but you still know the joy of new shoes and a fresh start.

What will your fresh start look like? What will you do this fall to renew yourself? You don’t need a total reinvention. How about you work on three things? For instance – try something new that will bring you joy. Next, develop a new habit that will give you peace. Finally, do some good.

Find joy. Besides shoes, where will you find joy this fall? It could be as simple as finally painting the living room that new color. I’m a strong believer in the power of small things. I have made more than a couple big, audacious changes in my life. Most of them worked out very well. More often than not, these life changes were preceded by a considerably smaller step or two.

Discover peace. It could be yoga or meditation or weed wacking the garden – find what brings you peace. You’ll know it when you find it. As if by magic, your overactive brain will relax and you’ll gain new perspective. We are so proud of our ability to multitask that our senses are constantly in overdrive and under attack. Whether it is once a day or once a week, give yourself a break. For one hour, do something that puts your mind at rest and revitalizes you.

Do good. The world can be a harsh place. You can make it better by practicing small acts of kindness. Sure, a huge foundation to end illiteracy or world hunger would be wonderful but small is also good. Rake leaves for a neighbor, hold the door for a stranger and smile. Little things will make the day brighter. A few years ago, someone distributed at least a couple dozen mini pumpkins up and down my street. Perched on stone walls and fence posts, they cheerfully decorated the neighborhood. Those little pumpkins didn’t cure cancer but they made a lot of people smile.

Here’s to a joyful, peaceful and kinder fall. Bon appétit!

Pasta with Grilled Zucchini, Tomatoes & Feta
It’s much too early to put the grill away. Pasta with grilled vegetables and fresh herbs from the garden is a wonderful dish to help you transition into fall. Enjoy!
Serves 8

3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
Pinch red pepper flakes
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 red onion, cut in thin wedges
Olive oil
About 1 pound cherry tomatoes
4-6 zucchini (about 2 pounds), trimmed and cut in half lengthwise
1 pound short pasta – try rigatoni, fusilli, cavatappi or fiorelli
2-3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
About 4 ounces feta, crumbled
2 tablespoons fresh chopped mint
2 tablespoons fresh chopped parsley
1 tablespoon fresh chopped oregano

Put the garlic and vinegar in a bowl, season with pepper flakes, salt and pepper and whisk to combine.

Preheat the grill to high.

Put the onion in a bowl, drizzle with a little olive oil, season with salt and pepper and toss to coat. Put the onion in a grill basket and, stirring from time to time, grill until tender-crisp and lightly caramelized, about 6 minutes. Remove the onion from the grill, add it to the garlic 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. Put the tomatoes in a grill basket and, stirring from time to time, grill until lightly caramelized, about 4 minutes. Add the tomatoes to the onion and garlic and toss to combine.

Brush the zucchini halves with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill the zucchini for 4 to 6 minutes per side or until nicely browned and tender. Remove the zucchinis from the grill, chop into bite-size pieces, add them to the other veggies and toss to combine.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta according to package directions less one minute. Reserving a little pasta water, drain the pasta and return it to the pot. Add the vegetables and 1/4-1/2 cup pasta water and toss to combine. Cover and simmer over medium heat for 2 minutes.

Transfer the pasta to a large serving dish, drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, sprinkle with feta and herbs, toss to combine and serve.

Serve as a main course or side dish with grilled chicken or fish.

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One Year Ago – Fried Green Tomatoes with Chipotle Crema
Two Years Ago – Pork & Black Bean Stew with Salsa Verde
Three Years Ago – Applesauce Scones
Four Years Ago – Homemade Bratwurst Bites with Horseradish Mustard
Five Years Ago – Fettuccine with Fresh Corn & Tomatoes
Six Years Ago – Lemon Rice Cakes with Spinach & Manchego
Seven Years Ago – Apple Crumb Cake
Eight Years Ago – Ginger Scones
Nine Years Ago – Curried Eggplant Soup
Ten Years Ago – Braised Beef Bourguignon

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

Do you have any fall fresh start resolutions? Feel free to share!

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

Enough Is Enough & Grilled Swordfish with Corn, Tomato & Avocado Salsa

About a month ago, drought warnings were all over the news. The gardens were looking thirsty and the lawns parched. It seemed like we were only minutes away from an outdoor watering ban. On the other hand, we were happily walking, running, hiking, biking, playing tennis, golfing, swimming, waterskiing, paddling and sailing. Now, we’re stuck in the house and all we hear is one flood warning after another.

As soon as we think the weather is going to change for the better – it doesn’t. For a while there, all the gardeners were giving us glass-half-full platitudes. Mind you, these oh-be-joyfuls were happy to join our rants about the oppressive humidity. Then, they’d shrug and say, “Well, at least the gardens are happy.”

Okay, enough already with the happy gardens. The steamy weather is doing nothing to help me maintain a sunny disposition.

Let’s turn our collective energy towards sunny days and clear nights. Some psychologists call it magical thinking. If you’ve not heard about magical thinking, it’s when the sheer force of thinking or wishing something makes it happen. Some might try to call it karma but it’s more akin to thinking is reality. If you think it; it will happen.

Consider this current situation, back in July every gardener in New England was shaking her fist at the sky and crying out for rain. The town was threatening a water ban. Obviously, someone heard all the wailing and threats, turned on the faucets and, then, forgot to turn them off.

Hello? Are you still there? It’s okay, we’ve had enough for now. Please? If for no other reason than each and every curly headed woman and girl in New England is about to go out of her mind. We can take only so many bad hair days … in a row.

Until these new pleas are heard, how about a little good news to cheer us up:

For sports fans, the football preseason has started but, more important, the Red Sox are on winning streak. With six weeks to go, the Sox might even break the record for the winningest season ever. With a .705 wins percentage, they are now tied with the 1897 Boston Beaneaters for ninth place. The 1906 Chicago Cubs claim the number one spot with a .763.

My nieces are coming for a visit. Not all at once but the four will have breezed in and out of town at least once before Halloween. (Yes, one isn’t coming until October but I’m grabbing at straws here. The humidity has left me with mush for brains.)

Finally, forget sports and my family’s good fortune. Somewhere close by and far away, a bunch of people are doing something nice, not because they have to but because they want to. Somewhere a teenager is running out of gas in the middle of nowhere. He’ll be rescued by some nice lady. Meanwhile, an older gent is helping some mom load groceries in trunk so she can buckle in her two rambunctious children. Later today, once it cools off a bit, someone will mow an elderly neighbor’s lawn. And more, a lot more, because, as we all know, there can never be enough kindness.

Stay cheerful and bon appétit!

Grilled Swordfish with Corn, Tomato & Avocado Salsa
Last week, the woman at the farmstand told me the corn is loving the steamy weather. Enjoy!
Serves 8

Juice of 1 lime
1-3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoon or to taste minced jalapeno
2 teaspoons cumin
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
6-8 ears corn, shucked
Olive oil
2 pints cherry tomatoes in a mix of colors, quartered
2 avocados, peeled, seeded and chopped
3-4 scallions, thinly sliced
1/4 cup roughly chopped cilantro leaves
2-2 1/2 pounds Swordfish steak

Put the juice of 1/2 lime, 1-2 cloves minced garlic, 1 tablespoon jalapeno, 1 teaspoon cumin and the extra virgin olive oil, in a large bowl, season with salt and whisk to combine. Let sit for 10 minutes to combine the flavors.

Preheat the grill to high.

Brush the corn with a little olive oil. Lay the ears directly on the grill and cook for about 6 minutes, turning to cook evenly. Remove from the grill and when they are cool enough to handle, use a sharp knife to remove the kernels from the cobs.

Put the corn, tomatoes, avocados and scallions in the bowl with the lime juice mixture and toss to combine. Add the cilantro and toss again.

Put the remaining lime juice, garlic, jalapeno and cumin in a bowl, add 2 tablespoons olive oil, season with salt and pepper and whisk to combine. Coat both sides of the swordfish with the marinade and let it sit for about 5 minutes.

Place the swordfish steaks on grill and, depending on thickness, cook for 6-8 minutes, turn and cook an additional 3-5 minutes. Remove the swordfish from the grill and let it rest for about 5 minutes. Cut the swordfish into 1-inch slices.

To serve – place a generous dollop of salsa on each plate and top with swordfish.

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One Year Ago – Zucchini Muffins
Two Years Ago – Berry Peachy Crisp
Three Years Ago – Spicy Refrigerator Pickles
Four Years Ago – Double Trouble Chocolate-Orange Cupcakes
Five Years Ago – Roasted Beets with Goat Cheese Salad
Six Years Ago – Blueberry Soup with Mascarpone Cream
Seven Years Ago – Grilled Corn, Black Bean & Avocado Salsa
Eight Years Ago – Crostini with Goat Cheese
Nine Years Ago – Corn & Chicken Chowder
Ten Years Ago – Joe Nye’s Perfect Lobster

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

Were you a free-range kid? Where 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

Staying Busy & Green Bean Salad with Tomatoes, Olives & Feta

Summertime and the livin’ is easy. Well, not necessarily in our house! My mother’s greatest fear was that even a few minutes of free time would lead her kids to some horrible mischief. She was bound and determined to keep us busy.

When we were little, it was swimming lessons, tennis and sailing. When we got older, the lessons ended but we were expected to find a summer job. If we couldn’t find one then a bunch of odd jobs would do. I did a fair amount of babysitting, ran a weekend lunch counter at the beach and sold raffle tickets for Hospital Day.

My last summer before college, I managed to land a full time job. Every day, I donned a bright smile, an ugly white uniform and even uglier white shoes. Sugar & Spice Restaurant was the beginning and end of my mercifully short career as a waitress.

Actually, I was a very good waitress. What I lacked in experience, I made up in enthusiasm. At eighteen, I had boundless energy, a bright smile and a sharp eye and ear for detail. I rarely mixed up orders or checks, filled and refilled water glasses promptly and didn’t keep people waiting for the ketchup and mustard. What more could you ask for?

A diner of sorts, Sugar & Spice opened at dawn, served three greasy meals and closed by eight. If your sweet tooth acted up, the afternoon shift’s lone waitress could help you out. She was more than happy to stop vacuuming or filling saltshakers to scoop you some ice cream, pour you a Coke or whip up a frappe.

Except for those few hours between lunch and dinner, you could get anything you wanted at Sugar & Spice. Okay, make that anything that could be thrown into a fryolator or slung onto a griddle. The kitchen produced a steady stream of burgers, hot dogs and French fries as well as mountains of fried chicken and fish. Except for dessert, the food was ordinary at best. One of the year-round waitresses did the baking and arrived every morning with fresh cakes and pies.

Speaking of staff, the crew at Sugar & Spice would have made a great cast for a sitcom. The tall, skinny boss sported an enormous handlebar mustache and wore coke bottle glasses. The vertically-challenged cook was as laid back as the boss was uptight. Two teenage brothers washed dishes. They were cute and funny as only fourteen and fifteen year old redheaded boys can be. Finally, there were half a dozen waitresses in every size, shape and temperament.

Well, not quite finally, I mustn’t forget the milkman. Not only did he come by most every day but he was my fling that summer. Between his sophomore and junior years at Dartmouth, I’m not sure why Harry decided to spend the summer delivering milk. We thought our nickname for him, Harry from the Dairy, was ever so clever but I don’t think he did. It didn’t really matter because he was feeling bored, perhaps even desperate, when he met our motley crew.

All in all, it wasn’t a bad summer. Mom was happy that I was busy and working. Waiting on table was hardly terrific but the cast of characters was entertaining. I wasn’t in love but dating a smart and funny college boy was certainly a plus. The tips weren’t great but I headed off to my first year of college with enough cash to pay for books, beer and late night pizza.

I hope the summer is keeping you busy and happy! Bon appétit!

Green Bean Salad with Tomatoes, Olives & Feta
Salad at the Sugar & Spice was tired Boston lettuce with a wedge of pale, hothouse tomato. This green bean salad is fresh, colorful and delicious. Enjoy!
Serves 8

About 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
About 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2-1 small red onion, cut in half and then into thin wedges
2 cloves garlic, minced
About 1 pound fresh green beans
1 1/2 pints cherry tomatoes (in a mix of different shapes and colors if you can find them), halved
2 tablespoons fresh chopped parsley
1 tablespoon fresh chopped mint
1 tablespoon fresh chopped oregano
About 4 ounces feta, crumbled
16-20 Kalamata olives, pitted and halved

Put the vinegar and mustard in a bowl, season with salt and pepper and whisk to combine. Add the olive oil and whisk again. Add the onion and garlic and toss to combine. Stirring occasionally, let the onions marinate for 30 minutes at room temperature or longer in the refrigerator.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, add the beans and cook until bright green and tender-crisp, about 5 minutes.

While the beans cook, fill a large bowl about half way with ice and add cold water to cover. Set aside.

Drain the beans and immediately transfer them to the bowl of ice water to cool. Drain the beans and pat dry.

Put the beans and tomatoes in a bowl, add the onions and toss to combine. Sprinkle with about 2/3 of the herbs and toss again.

To serve: transfer the salad to a large, deep serving platter or individual plates, sprinkle with olives, feta and the remaining herbs.

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

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

Do you have a summer job story? Feel free to share!

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

Don’t Jinx It & Lettuce Cups with Stir-fried Chicken & Vegetables

I haven’t seen so many teeth in all my life. Okay, that might be an exaggeration but it’s been just about year since I’ve seen so many and such big smiles. More or less everyone was beaming last Wednesday. At least for a day, it was not just summery, it was a perfect summer day. Blue sky, low humidity and eighty-five degrees, you can’t beat it. And it was only May!

Now here’s the question – what exactly was that perfect summer day all about? Was it a harbinger of more to come, a tease or a blip on the National Weather Service radar? Who knows? It doesn’t really matter. The challenge is simple – DON’T JINX IT. Come on; don’t play innocent. You know what I’m talking about – we’ve all got a million examples, some more memorable than others.

Here’s one … the first time I dressed down for casual Friday. To set the scene – it was long before I reinvented myself and became a plucky freelancer. Only a small handful of women executives worked in my employer’s European operations. I was one of them. On that particular Friday morning, I’d been out the office for at least a week and I was dragging. Half asleep, I grabbed a mug of coffee, threw on a pair shorts and headed out the door. Yes shorts, take your pick; you can blame it on the nineties or jetlag. Anyway, I was no sooner at my desk that a colleague asks me to meet with his client. Oh, and not just any client, a stuffy, British, pinstripe-type and I’m dressed like Gidget on her way to a pep rally.

Need more proof? Well, a few years later I was on the fence, dithering back and forth on whether to stay or leave Geneva. I ferreted around, investigated a few job leads but nothing looked promising. Deciding it wasn’t going to happen anytime soon, I upgraded and bought new stereo equipment. Within three months, I was house hunting in California and the stereo was on the Swiss equivalent of Craig’s list.

The list goes on. You finally get the car washed and it rains on the drive home. There’s six inches of new powder and it’s still snowing. You lie, call in sick and head to the mountain. A half mile from the ski slopes, you slide off the road and wreck the car. It’s overcast but you don’t bother bring an umbrella to your kid’s soccer game. It doesn’t rain; it snows. You only run into your arch nemesis or an old flame on bad hair days. You sell Babe Ruth to the Yankees for $125,000 and wait eighty-four years before winning another World Series. Like I said, the list goes on and on and on.

So what does all this jinx stuff have to do with summer weather in May? Simple, if you want it to last; don’t jinx it! In other words, don’t go running to the hardware store to buy a new air conditioner. Don’t drag the grill out of the garage and onto the patio. Leave the lawn furniture on the screen porch. Don’t swap out your winter and summer clothes. Sure, it’s a pain but day-by-day, dig through your storage containers to find a t-shirt, a pair of shorts and those sandals you love. If you want good weather to hold, you’ll keep tripping over that plastic box at least through Memorial Day. Flag Day, even the summer solstice, would be safer.

For the next month, maybe two, always bring your umbrella and bon appétit!

Lettuce Cups with Stir-fried Chicken and Vegetables
One of my after-the-movies, go-to restaurants took this off the menu a year or so ago. It is a great addition to any tapas-type meal. Time to add it to my regular repertoire. Enjoy!
Serves 8

1/4 cup dry white wine or chicken broth or a mix of both
2 tablespoons hoisin sauce
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon or to taste sambal oelek or sriracha
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
Vegetable oil
1/2 large onion, finely chopped
2-3 carrots, finely chopped
8 ounces mushrooms, trimmed and finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 (1-inch) piece fresh ginger, peeled and minced
2 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, finely chopped*
1 cup water chestnuts, finely chopped
About 1 cup loosely packed cilantro leaves
2-3 scallions, thinly sliced
About 1/4 English cucumber, peeled, seeded and chopped
About 1/2 cup roughly chopped toasted cashews
Inner leaves – Boston or romaine lettuce, trimmed

Make the sauce: put the wine, hoisin sauce, vinegar, soy sauce, fish sauce, sambal oelek, salt and sugar in a bowl and whisk to combine. Set aside.

Heat a little vegetable oil in a large skillet or wok over medium high heat,
add the onion and carrot and sauté for 1 minute,
add the mushroom and sauté 2-3 minutes,
add the garlic and ginger and sauté for 1 minute,
add the chicken and sauté for 3-5 minutes.

Add the water chestnuts and sauce and cook, stirring, until the chicken is cooked through and the liquid has been reduced down and absorbed, 2-3 minutes.

Transfer the chicken to a serving platter and sprinkle with cilantro, sliced scallions, cucumber and cashews. Let everyone help themselves to lettuce and spoon chicken and veggies into the leaves. Fold the lettuce leaf around filling and enjoy.

* You can use ground chicken if you want to save a little time.

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One Year Ago – Crostini with Cucumber, Radish & Feta
Two Years Ago – Crostini with Fig, Stilton and Walnuts
Three Years Ago – Rhubarb Crumb Cake
Four Years Ago – A Duo of Aiolis
Five Years Ago – Pork Tenderloin Medallions with Mushrooms & Mustard Sauce
Six Years Ago – Crunch Salad with Apples & Grapes
Seven Years Ago – Grilled Mustard Pork Chops
Eight Years Ago – Rhubarb Crisp
Nine Years Ago – Spicy Grilled Steak

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

What will you do to ensure the sun keeps shining? Feel free to share!

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