All Hallows Eve & Vegetable & Rice (or Noodle) Bowls

There are holidays and, then, there are HOLIDAYS. Thanksgiving and Christmas tend to top the charts but Halloween has to be an ever-so-close runner up. So, why does Halloween beat all the other movers and shakers? Think about it, kids get the day off from school on Columbus Day – in spite of a ton of controversy. On the other hand, All Hallows Eve, is loads of fun but no one gets the day off.

Then again, Halloween is not without controversy. Over the past several of years, some Halloween costumes have found themselves in the news. Instead of fun fantasy or scary spookdom, some disguises are nothing short of offensive. So, here’s some simple advice, when it comes to Halloween, don’t be a yahoo.

In case you are wondering, what’s a yahoo? Say the word a few times, out loud with enthusiasm. Now, think about the kind of person who might fit that description and you’ll get the picture. If you’re still not sure; it all boils down to this – don’t choose an offensive costume. Traditional or inventive, have fun with it but show some common sense. Show some common courtesy.

As I understand it; there are some politicians, pundits and their fans out there who are getting tired of political correctness. With or without air quotes, politically correct has somehow or other become an insult. But wait a minute there; back up the train. Accusing someone of political correctness is like accusing them of common courtesy. How or why would anyone suggest that being polite is a bad thing?

I don’t know about your mom but Mrs. Nye didn’t raise her kids to be rude. She didn’t raise them to be bullies or to offend people that didn’t look, act or talk the way they did. No, Mrs. Nye raised her kids to be pumpkins and fairy princesses, clowns and super heroes, witches, vampires, ghosts and goblins.

Which brings us back to the initial question, why does Halloween beat all those other holidays in the top of the pops charts? Easy – it’s the costumes. It’s fun to dress up. It’s fun to pretend you are someone or something else. It’s fun to give your imagination free rein and come up with an amazing costume. It’s fun to show how clever you are. Dress up is part of being a kid and being a kid again.

So have a ball. Throw caution to the wind; let your imagination run wild. Be silly, be scary, be surprising. One of my favorite costumes of all time was a group effort. Three or four friends dressed up as a construction site. One put on a yellow slicker, reflective vest and hardhat while the others dressed up as traffic cones, complete with flashing lights. At least for me, it was clever, funny and memorable because – how in the world do you come up with such an idea? To be a traffic cone, a TRAFFIC CONE, for Halloween?

This year and every year, forget stereotypes. Black face and Nazis are more outdated than your great-grandfather’s fedora. However, a fedora could be the start of something interesting. Or maybe a bowler? Anyway, if you are unsure about a costume, ask yourself, “What would my kids or grandkids or future kids or grandkids think?” Would they laugh? Or, would they squirm uncomfortably and, then, shrug, sigh and admit that, as much as they love you; you’re a yahoo.

Happy Halloween and bon appétit!

Vegetable & Rice (or Noodle) Bowls

Everyone likes a cozy dish on a chilly night. These spicy vegetable bowls are quick and easy at the end of a busy day – or after trick or treating! If you like, add tofu or shrimp or slices of leftover chicken or pork. Enjoy!

Serves 4

  • Vegetable oil
  • 1 pound broccoli, cut in bite-sized pieces
  • 1 pound mushrooms, sliced or chopped
  • 1/2 onion, finely chopped
  • 1-2 carrots, peeled and finely chopped
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1-inch piece ginger, peeled and minced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons or to taste sriracha
  • 2 tablespoons tahini or smooth peanut butter
  • 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon fish sauce
  • 1/4 teaspoon brown sugar
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 12-16 ounces tofu or leftover chicken or pork (optional)
  • 1 cup rice or 8 ounces Chinese or udon noodles
  • 2 teaspoons sesame oil
  • 1/4 cup peanuts, toasted and finely chopped or toasted sesame seeds
  • 1/4 cup thinly sliced scallions
  • 1/4 cup roughly chopped cilantro

Lightly coat a large wok or skillet with vegetable oil and heat over medium-high. Add the broccoli, mushrooms, onion and carrots and tossing frequently, cook until the onion is translucent. Add the ginger and garlic and, tossing frequently, cook for 2 minutes more.

Stir in the sriracha, tahini, vinegar, soy sauce, fish sauce and sugar and toss to combine. Stir in the chicken stock. If using, add the tofu, chicken or pork, toss to combine. Bring to a simmer, reduce the heat and simmer until the broccoli is tender-crisp, about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook the noodles or rice according to package directions.

Transfer the noodles or rice to a large platter or individual bowls. Stir the sesame oil to the vegetables. Top the noodles or rice with vegetables, sprinkle with peanuts, scallions and cilantro and serve immediately.

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Life in a Small New England Town & Pumpkin-Sausage Ragù

A bunch of years ago, some friends were visiting from Switzerland. It was the Summer of the Gnus. I did what everyone else in town did with guests that summer. I took them on a walking tour of Main Street to see the colorful cows. It was a lovely day, warm and sunny. We parked at the top of the town green, stopped for coffee along the way and turned around at the farm. We chatted and admired and chatted some more.

About the time we turned around to head back to the car, Bob remarked, “At least a dozen people have greeted you by name.” I’m pretty sure he was exaggerating but he continued, “I could walk up and down the Rue du Rhone all day and not see anyone I knew.” Or maybe he mentioned the Rue de l’Hotel-de-Ville, it was a while ago. Anyway, there is nothing anonymous about living in a small town. No, not everyone knows your name but a good many do. And for those that don’t, there’s a pretty good chance they know someone in your family.

With or without houseguests, October is a wonderful time to meander up and down Main Street. Just about now, the foliage is at its peak. It’s cool enough to wear a sweater but you don’t need to pile on a parka and heavy boots. If you grew up in New England, a sweater has got to be your favorite piece of clothing. Southern girls can have their fluffy, flowery dresses, Californians – their bikinis and let those Midwest farm girls wear their jeans or overalls or whatever. Gimme a cozy sweater any day. Cotton, wool or cashmere, they’re all good.

Today, only a handful of gnus continue to strut their stuff on Main Street. The majority were adopted and are now hidden away in backyards. Luckily, October brings a brand new diversion – the invasion of the Pumpkin People. So please, you must take an hour to wander up and down Main Street. If you want; you can make a few stops along the way and support the local economy. Buy yet another sweater or sip a coffee in the sunshine. It’s all good.

If you’re feeling particularly energized, you can take it around the bend. There are a few more Pumpkin People on Newport Road. While nothing was up as I rushed to meet my deadline, the hospital can usually be counted on for a nice display. For anyone counting steps, the round trip from the top of the Town Green to the hospital and back is about three miles.

It’s more than worth the trip. The creativity of our merchants is impressive and you will be absolutely charmed by the Cub Scouts’ delightful display. From Dorothy and her three friends sashaying down the yellow brook road to Cookie Monster and Elmo, there something for everyone.

As important, you’ll see lots of smiling people. Real people that is, not the pumpkin head kind. There’s a very good chance that at least one real person will compliment your sweater. The combination of wonderful foliage, pumpkins and smiles will remind you of why small New England towns are so special.

Happy fall and bon appétit!

Pumpkin-Sausage Ragù

This cozy, country-style ragù is great with pasta on a chilly night. Enjoy!

Serves 8

  • 2 pounds eating pumpkin* or winter squash, seeded, peeled and cut in small dice (3-4 cups)
  • Olive oil
  • Balsamic vinegar
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 large onion, cut in small dice
  • 1 1/2-2 pounds Italian sausage – sweet or hot or a mix, casings removed and cut into small pieces
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh sage
  • 2 teaspoons fresh thyme
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 2 cups or more chicken broth
  • 1-2 tablespoons cognac
  • 1 cup or more half and half
  • 1 pound hearty short or long pasta, try rigatoni, fettucine or tortellini
  • Garnish: grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and/or Pecorino Romano cheese

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Put the pumpkin in a large skillet, drizzle with enough equal parts olive oil and vinegar to lightly coat, sprinkle with salt and pepper and toss to coat. Roast for 15 minutes.

Add the onion and sausage to pumpkin and toss to combine. Return to the oven for 15 minutes.

Add the garlic, herbs and nutmeg to the pan and toss to combine. Stir in the white wine, 1 cup chicken broth and the cognac and return to the oven.

After 15 minutes, give the ragù a stir, add more chicken broth if necessary and return to the oven. After another 15 minutes, stir in the half and half and return to the oven for a final 10-15 minutes.

Meanwhile cook the pasta according to package directions.

Reserving a little of the pasta water, drain the pasta and return it to the pot. Add the ragù and toss to combine. If the pasta seems dry, add a little of the pasta water or more chicken broth or cream. Cover and cook on low for 1-2 minutes.

Transfer the pasta to a deep platter or individual shallow bowls and serve with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and/or Pecorino Romano.

* The pumpkins you carve for Halloween are stringy and tasteless, not good for eating. Try a sugar, cheese or peek-a-boo pumpkin. Then again, you can’t go wrong with butternut squash.

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Back to Basics & Traditional Marinara Sauce

A friend recently confessed that she doesn’t make her own tomato sauce. She buys it at the supermarket, all made and packed in a jar. Before I go any further, I guess I should add that this particular woman is Italian-American. While I can’t verify, I’ve got to assume that her nonna is turning in her grave.

I did my best version of tough love by simultaneously expressing outrage and sympathy. Although, I’m not quite sure why I should be sympathetic. Tomato sauce, marinara in Italy, is both easy to make and takes almost no time at all. Besides, there is just enough chopping in a single batch to calm you down at the end of a tough day. (If it’s been a really, really tough day, better keep the knife in the block and order take-out.)

An added bonus, marinara freezes beautifully. So, go ahead and stir up several quarts to enjoy throughout the fall and winter. It is the perfect way to spend a rainy fall afternoon. Turn on some music, sing along and dance around the kitchen surrounded by the warm and wonderful aroma of garlic, onion and herbs simmering in tomatoes and wine.

Now, if your roots are not in Italy, there are loads of variations on this theme. Tomato sauces are found around the world. Perhaps, you’ve heard of the five mother sauces of French cuisine. Yes, tomato is one of them. Where ever you may travel, if locals can grow them, you’ll probably find tomato sauce in one form or another. Or to-mah-to sauce, if you prefer.

Just as addition, subtraction, multiplication and division are the building blocks of mathematics, a handful of recipes are culinary basics. These basics are at the heart of many meals and the foundation for new invention. What are they? Well, you can find them on dozens of lists. You know what I’m talking about; these lists have names like Five (or Ten or Twenty or More) Essential Recipes Everyone Should Know. There are a bunch of them. I think maybe I should put a list together. Anyway, in case you haven’t noticed, tomato sauce is on all or at least most of them.

Tomato sauce is definitely one of the basics in Mediterranean cuisine. A quart of marinara is good for more than a quick and easy meatless Monday spaghetti supper. A lot more. It is perfect for braising chicken, beef or lamb. It is just as good in a fish soup. Add ground beef or turkey or pork or veal or some combination to your marinara and it becomes Bolognese, a hearty sauce for fettucine. Play around with the spices and that Bolognese is perfect for moussaka or pastitsio.

Some might ask, “Why bother?” Simple, your homecooked sauce will be better than anything you’ll find in a jar. It won’t be filled with preservatives and weird ingredients you can’t spell or pronounce. In addition, you’ll be rewarded with almost instant gratification. From start to finish, it takes about a half hour to make a quart of marinara for a delicious dinner to share with those you love. And by the way, for about twenty of those minutes the sauce is simmering. Except for an occasional stir, you are freed up to make a salad or do whatever needs doing – including relaxing with a glass of wine. With a little more time, you can use it as the base for a fabulous chicken cacciatore, an Italian beef stew, lasagna or whatever suits you tonight.

Happy cooking and bon appétit!

Traditional Marinara Sauce

If it’s been a while or never since you made homemade marinara, there is no time like the present. Enjoy!

Makes about 1 quart

  • Olive oil
  • About 1/3 large onion, chopped
  • 1/2-1 small carrot, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon Italian herbs
  • Pinch or to taste dried chili pepper flakes
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup dry red wine
  • 1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 tablespoons chopped, fresh basil

Heat a little olive oil in a heavy saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the onion and carrot and season with the herbs, pepper flakes, salt and pepper. Sauté until the onion is translucent. Add the garlic and sauté 1-2 minutes more.

Add the wine and simmer until reduced by half. Add the crushed tomatoes and bay leaf and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for 20 minutes. Stir in the basil and simmer for a minute or two more.

Use about 1/2 cup of sauce for each serving of pasta or include it in your favorite tomatoey casseroles, braises and soups.

Feel free to make a big batch; I usually make about 6 quarts at a time. The only things you don’t need to multiply by six are the carrot and bay leaf – 1-2 carrots and 1-2 bay leaves should do it.

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If They Can … You Can & Risotto with Fresh Corn & Grilled Tomatoes 

If NASA can put a man on the moon and bring him safely back to earth …

If Oprah can turn cauliflower into pizza …

If I can teach little kids to hit a baseball …

… you can more or less do whatever you set your mind to.

About the baseball thing, let me explain. When I was in the second grade my report card noted that, although I was a sweet little girl, I was a dismal failure at the bean bag toss. I’m sure the teacher didn’t use the words dismal or failure but you get the picture.

It was a family joke for years and still pops up from time to time. Quite simply, I was that kid. The one who couldn’t throw or catch a bean bag or ball, shoe, orange or whatever. Forget about connecting a ball to bat or ball to foot or racket or goal or anything else. Oh, sure, once in a blue moon I won a tennis game but never a match. I never hit a home run and tripped over more than one soccer ball. The whole eye-hand (or foot) coordination thing just didn’t work for me.

You can imagine my surprise when I was drafted to coach T-ball. Of course, the commissioner or whatever they call the guy who organizes the teams was desperate. I figure he ran out names to call when he stumbled across my number in his directory. Anyway, he must have caught me at a weak moment because I said yes.

Either that or I somehow realized that he wasn’t taking the light blue team seriously. Perhaps they were Geneva’s answer to the Bad New Bears. Yes, this all happened when I was living in Geneva and at least half of the team didn’t speak English. One little girl didn’t speak French either. Two American dads, they were the red team’s coaches, divided up the kids. They stacked the deck, filling their roster with Americans who knew at least a bit about baseball and spoke English.

However, while I knew practically nuttin’ about baseball, I knew a whole lot about concentration. In addition, I spoke more than enough French to communicate the few basics I was able to grasp. By teaching the kids to concentrate on the ball – to ignore their friend on second base and not to worry about the bat – I taught them how to hit. One on one, I whispered to each child. I assured them that as long as he or she kept their eye on the ball, they’d hit it every time. With all seriousness and no shame, I attributed this no-fail/eye-on-the-ball thing to magic. After all, who needs skill when you have magic on your side.

Anyway, it worked. The light blue team won every game – yes, EVERY game.

But it’s not just kids who need focus and inspiration. We all do. A healthy measure of confidence and a little magic never hurts either. From that first day of kindergarten, fall has always been a time for new beginnings. With New England’s beautiful foliage, it’s also a magical time. Whatever your goal is for the coming months, if you set your mind to it and focus; you might just hit a home run.

Here’s to hitting it out of the park and bon appétit!

Risotto with Fresh Corn & Grilled Tomatoes 

September is the perfect, maybe the only, time for this dish. Local corn is at its peak and temperatures are cooling down. Homey and comforting but far from ordinary, risotto is great on a chilly night. Enjoy!

Serves 6 as a main course and 12 as a side dish

  • About 1 1/2 pints cherry tomatoes
  • 1 clove garlic
  • Olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 1/2 cups Arborio rice
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • About 5 cups chicken stock
  • About 4 cups (4-6 ears) fresh corn kernels
  • Pinch nutmeg
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons heavy cream
  • 2 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated plus more to pass
  • 1/2 cup loosely packed fresh basil leaves cut in julienne

Preheat the grill to high.

Put the tomatoes and garlic in a bowl, drizzle with just enough olive oil to lightly coat, season with salt and pepper and toss to coat.

Put the tomatoes and garlic in a grill pan, place on the grill and, stirring from time to time, grill on high until lightly caramelized, 4-5 minutes. Return the tomatoes to the bowl and fish out the garlic. Finely mince the garlic, add it back to the tomatoes, drizzle with the balsamic vinegar and toss to combine. Set aside.

Heat the chicken stock to a simmer and then reduce the heat to low to keep warm.

Lightly coat a large, heavy saucepan with a little olive oil and heat over medium. Add the onion, season with salt and pepper and cook until it starts to turn translucent, about 2 minutes. Add the rice and cook, stirring for another 3 minutes.

Reduce the heat to medium low, add the wine and simmer until the rice absorbs the wine. Add 1 cup stock and, stirring frequently, simmer until the liquid is absorbed. Continue to add stock, 1 cup at a time, and stirring, until the rice is tender, about 20 minutes.

Add the corn and nutmeg and cook, stirring for 2-3 minutes. Add the butter, cream and the Parmigiano-Reggiano and stir until melted and combined. Stir in half the basil.

Spoon the risotto into shallow bowls, garnish with grilled tomatoes, sprinkle with the remaining basil and serve. Pass more grated Parmigiano-Reggiano for those that like a cheesier risotto.

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Back to a New Beginning & Spaghetti with Grilled Eggplant

Well, my goodness, how the heck did that happen? Today, yes today, is the first day of school in the district. Not to mention, the long Labor Day Weekend is coming up. By the way, there is something very wrong, very out of whack with that. School is supposed to start the day after Labor Day not the week before.

It’s been quite a while since I had to worry about finding the perfect back-to-school backpack or notebooks. That said, Labor Day does stir those not quite forgotten memories of a new start. The almanac claims that the new year comes on January 1 but that feels like just another winter day. However, the Tuesday after Labor Day – that’s something else. It’s not just another day on the calendar. It’s for jumping into new adventures. As a student and then a teacher, I spent more than a couple of decades doing just that. It still feels like a good time to start something new.

During the summer, schedules and routines seem to fall apart. One day, it’s too beautiful to stay inside and finish that project. Another is too hot to cook or write or think or do anything but float in the lake. My mother was always so sad on Labor Day. She loved our worry-free summers in New Hampshire. The first Monday in September always heralded the return to suburbia with its schedules and carpools.

If it’s not happened already, we’ll soon be back to our old routines or creating new ones. Long, lazy evenings on the beach will be cut short. Real shoes will replace flip-flops. Shorts will go into plastic bins and get stored in the attic. Book club and any number of other activities and responsibilities that were suspended over the summer will start up again.

Unfortunately, the whole idea, even the word routine sounds sooooo boring and, well, routine. However, there are some benefits. Creating routines that work for you, your priorities and your temperament will make you more efficient. With any luck, they’ll help you break a few bad habits and start a few good ones. Think of a new routine or return to an old one as a framework and a promise to yourself to accomplish a goal.

Now might be a good time to think about any changes you’d like to make. No, you don’t need to move across the country or start training to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. It’s okay to keep it simple. Maybe your new fall routine will include a walk every morning or cooking at home three times a week. Perhaps you’ll make room for a daily hour of quiet time to tackle that list of books you’ve been meaning to read. Or, you’ll finally take those Italian lessons, volunteer for a favorite cause or candidate or start tai chi. Whether it’s a skill you promise to learn or five pounds you want to lose, now is a good time to build a new routine to make it happen.

In the spirit of back-to-school, there will be rewards. Instead of a glowing report card, you will be rewarded in lots of small ways. Some will be intangible like the pleasure of getting lost in a wonderful book. Others will be easily discernible like the new found strength and stamina from regular exercise. While not always earth shattering, there’s something quite satisfying about taking on a challenge, large or small, and achieving success.

Carp diem and bon appétit!

Spaghetti and Grilled Eggplant
Farmstands and farmers markets are filled with wonderful local produce. Pasta tossed with fresh vegetables is a quick and easy dinner when the evenings start to cool. Enjoy!
Serves 8

  • 1 smallish red onion, cut in thin wedges
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • Olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 teaspoon or to taste your favorite hot sauce (optional)
  • 4 smallish eggplants, trimmed and cut in half
  • 1 pound spaghetti
  • 1/2-1 cup roughly chopped or cut in julienne basil leaves
  • 1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted
  • Extra virgin olive oil (optional)
  • Grated Pecorino Romano or Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese or a combination of both

Preheat the grill to high.

Put the onion and garlic in a bowl, drizzle with olive oil and toss to coat. Season with salt and pepper and toss again.

Put the onion and garlic in a grill pan, place on the grill and, stirring from time to time, grill on high until tender crisp. Return the onions to the bowl, fish out the garlic cloves, add the hot sauce and toss to coat. Finely mince the garlic, add it back to the onion and toss again.

Meanwhile, brush the eggplant halves with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Place the eggplant on the grill, cut side down, for 3-5 minutes or until nicely browned. Turn the eggplant, reduce the heat to low or place on a cool spot on the grill and continue cooking until the eggplant is tender, an additional 3-5 minutes. Remove from the grill and cut into bite sized pieces. Add the eggplant to the onion and garlic and toss to combine.

Cook the spaghetti according to package directions. Drain the pasta, reserving a little of the pasta water, and return the spaghetti to the pan. Add the vegetables, pine nuts and basil, toss to combine, cover and cook on medium for about 1 minute. If the spaghetti seems dry, add a little pasta water.

Transfer the pasta to a deep serving platter or individual shallow bowls, drizzle with a little extra virgin olive oil and serve with freshly grated Pecorino Romano or Parmigiano-Reggiano or a combination of both.

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One Year Ago – Citrus & Spice Grilled Chicken
Two Years Ago – Cheesy Polenta with Fresh Corn
Three Years Ago – Fresh Corn with Sriracha Aioli
Four Years Ago – Romaine with Grilled Corn, Tomato & Avocado
Five Years Ago – Savory Parmesan Shortbread with Tomato Jam
Six Years Ago – Chocolate-Orange Tart
Seven Years Ago – Chicken Liver Pâté
Eight Years Ago – Blueberry Crisp
Nine Years Ago – Death by Chocolate Sauce
Ten Years Ago – Lemon Cupcakes
Eleven Years Ago – Couscous with Dried Fruit and Pine Nuts

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

Are you planning any changes this fall? Feel free to share!

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

 

 

 

Believe in Magic & Spicy Asian Noodle Salad with Grilled Eggplant

There is a special magic to summer. It’s in the air – an indefinable sense that anything is possible. The feeling is strongest at dawn and again at dusk or maybe it just seems that way. I suppose it has something to do with the slight dampness that cools the air. Caught between day and night, the sky turns gold and pink. The atmosphere is almost otherworldly and filled with quiet optimism.

Not a believer? Well – look back and look around. It shouldn’t take much to change your mind. Summers past, present and future are filled with mystical, magical happenings. After all, what else but magic can explain …

The moment you suddenly realized that you weren’t going to sink like a stone. No matter how ugly it may have been, you were swimming.

How, after gazillion tries, you pulled your bat back, (finally kept your eye on the ball instead of your friend at first base) and hit it out the park.

A perfect afternoon building fanciful fairy houses with the children. The next morning, still in their jammies, the children discover evidence of sparkly visitors.

Your all-time favorite ice cream shop has your all-time favorite flavor.

After a thunderstorm roars through, a perfect rainbow forms over the lake.

After that same thunderstorm, the brook isn’t just babbling, it’s singing.

The most beautiful butterfly flutters through your garden.

Each morning, you wake not to an alarm but to the sound of birds signing.

Your very best friend in the whole world calls you out of the blue just when you need a good long chat.

After what seems like hundreds of tries, you drop that ski and do a perfect slalom around the lake.

A tiny child giggles with delight upon finding the most perfect strawberry in the pick-your-own field. And then promptly eats it!

Young players’ faces light up with pure joy and admiration when the women’s soccer team score the final, victorious goal at the World Cup.

Magic happens through acts of nature and acts of kindness. It can be the result of hours, even years, of hard work. A bit of good luck might have something to do with it as well. Sometimes I think that I believe in magic because there is no other choice. The alternative is too bleak, too distressing. Summer is a time to dream – to not only see the magic around us but to see the magic within ourselves.

Happy summer and bon appétit!

Spicy Asian Noodle Salad with Grilled Eggplant
Warm evenings send us outside for one last swim. Why not bring a picnic along? This delicious salad will make an excellent addition to your outdoor feast. Enjoy!
Serves 8

12-16 ounces pad thai rice noodles
Asian Vinaigrette (recipe follows)
About 2 1/2 pounds eggplant, sliced 1/2-inch thick
Peanut or canola oil
1/2 cup peeled, seeded and finely chopped cucumber
1/2 cup finely chopped red or yellow bell pepper
3-4 scallions thinly sliced
1/4 cup roughly chopped fresh mint leaves
1/4 cup roughly chopped fresh cilantro leaves
1/4 cup chopped peanuts, toasted

Prepare the noodles according to package directions. Drain, rinse under cold water and drain well. Transfer the noodles to a bowl, drizzle with enough Asian Vinaigrette to generously coat and toss.

Can be made ahead to this point, covered and refrigerated for several hours. Bring to room temperature before continuing.

Preheat a gas or charcoal grill to medium-hot. Brush the eggplant slices with oil and season with salt and pepper. Arrange the slices on the grill and cook for about 3 minutes. Turn and grill until tender, about 2 minutes more. When the eggplant is cool enough to handle, chop into bite-sized pieces.

Add the eggplant, cucumber, pepper and scallions to the noodles and toss to combine. Add more vinaigrette if necessary. Add the herbs and peanuts, toss again and serve.

Asian Vinaigrette
Makes about 1 cup

2 tablespoons peanut or canola oil
2 tablespoons sesame oil
2 tablespoons unseasoned rice vinegar
Zest and juice of 1 lime
1 tablespoon or to taste Sriracha
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon fish sauce
3 cloves garlic, minced
1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and minced
1 teaspoon brown sugar

Put all of the ingredients in a glass jar and shake vigorously to combine. Let sit for at least 30 minutes to combine the flavors. Give the vinaigrette a good shake before using.

Cover and store extra vinaigrette in the refrigerator.

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

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

What are your favorite summer flavors and dishes? Feel free to share!

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

Come Together & Quinoa-Cheddar Cakes

What’s going on? We are plagued by division. Forget dog eat dog; we live in a world of dog people versus cat people. The simplest of nonissues spark controversy with #whiteandgold versus #blueandblack, Facebook versus Twitter and Superman versus Batman. Not to mention, the more significant debates of stay-at-home versus working moms, Coke versus Pepsi, skins versus shirts, this versus that and on and on. It’s exhausting.

Not only exhausting but (and I’m speculating here) it’s hardly worth it. White-gold-blue-black, it’s only a dress. As for the Facebook and Twitter question, well, think for a minute. Whether its 400 or 4,000 or 4,000,000, the vast majority of your contacts are not friends and they are definitely not your followers. Unless of course, you are some kind of cult leader. If that’s the case, I guess you do have followers. Whoa, that’s a bit scary.

Anyway, life is complicated. Issues can rarely be dumbed down to either or. Unless someone’s asking about dinner at a wedding reception, then it works. By the way, take the chicken. The beef is always well done as in overcooked and tough as shoe leather. Okay, lets get back to more complicated choices and debates.

The Man of Steel can fly which is incredibly special and pretty wonderful, especially if you live somewhere with a lot of traffic. On the other hand, Batman has lots of cool toys and is a millionaire. However, he is a brooding type of guy and never seems too happy. You could ask, why have a bunch of cool toys if they don’t make you happy? Wouldn’t it be better to fly around and leap tall buildings? Not to digress but have you ever noticed that invisibility is an exceedingly rare super power? More than complicated, that one is just creepy.

Anyway, I guess if pushed to choose, I’d lean towards Superman. However, in the grand scheme of things – the debate is not worth a big or even a small blowup. Surely, you wouldn’t risk a longtime friend or the close relationship with your sister, brother, uncle or whoever over Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne.

Cuddle your cat or sing with your parakeet. Enjoy that Pepsi, Mountain Dew or Dr. Pepper. Play rugby with or without a shirt. Post your photos on Instagram and Tweet to your heart’s content. It’s okay by me. Except for mean Tweets, even if I don’t see them, it would make me sad to think you might be so inclined.

When it gets right down to it; we’re more alike than different. Most of us want the same things out of life. We want to be warm, safe and loved. We’d like to have enough food to keep us going and good health. We’d like to be happy. While we all have different definitions of luxury, I’m betting we’d all like to indulge in an extravagance now and then.

Not convinced? Here’s one undeniable truth that ties us together – we all put our socks on before our shoes. Spike heels, mukluks or sneakers; silky stocking or wooly socks, the order is undeniable. It links us through time and space. Unless you don’t wear socks or shoes or both. If that’s the case, you probably still put your pants on one leg at a time.

A toast to a lot less partisanship and a lot more kindness and understanding. Bon appétit!

Quinoa-Cheddar Cakes
Appetizer, side dish or main, these little cakes are delicious and have a nice crunch. Serve them with a dab of guacamole and salsa or sprinkle with cilantro and finely chopped red bell pepper. Enjoy!
Makes about 16 regular cakes

1 cup quinoa
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
4-5 scallions, finely chopped
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh oregano
1 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
5 large eggs
1-2 teaspoons hot pepper sauce
1 cup (about 4 ounces) grated cheddar cheese
Olive oil
Garnish: your favorite salsa and/or guacamole or cilantro and finely chopped red bell pepper

Cook the quinoa until tender according to package directions.

While the quinoa cooks, put the scallions, garlic, herbs and spices in a large bowl, season with salt and pepper and toss to combine. Add the hot quinoa to the scallions and stir to combine. Cool to room temperature.

Preheat the oven to 170 degrees.

Put the eggs and pepper sauce in a bowl and whisk until smooth. Add the eggs to the quinoa and stir to combine. Add the cheese and toss to combine. Let the mixture sit for about 15 minutes or cover and refrigerate until ready to cook.

Lightly coat a large, heavy skillet with olive oil and heat over medium. Working in batches, add dollops of quinoa to the pan and flatten into pancakes. (A 1/4-1/3 cup ice cream scoop works well. A mini scoop is good for hors d’oeuvres.)

Fry the pancakes for 5-8 minutes per side or until lightly browned and cooked through.

Remove the cakes from the pan and drain on paper towels. Transfer the cakes to an ovenproof platter to keep warm in the oven and continue with the next batch.

Serve immediately with your favorite salsa, guacamole or a sprinkle of cilantro and finely chopped red bell pepper.

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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!

What are your thoughts? Can you suggest one action – large or small – to help bring us together? Feel free to share!

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