Different Boat & Baked Tortellini with Sausage, Eggplant, Spinach & Mushrooms

As the coronavirus rages across the country and around world, there’s a lot of talk of solidarity. You know the clichés – united we stand, we’re all in this together and we’re all in the same boat. These strong words help us feel better and less alone. But here’s the thing, we’re not all in the same boat. We’re not even in the same ocean. I’d venture to say we’re weathering different storms.

If you grew up in New England or have lived here a while, you know about hurricanes. They generally wreak havoc in the Caribbean and down along the southern Atlantic and the Gulf coasts. Every few years, a hurricane will wind its way up north. However, by the time they reach us, they are a different storm. More often than not, they bring a little wind and a fair amount of rain. We spend the day in our cozy houses playing Scrabble and feeling grumpy because it’s too wet to walk.

That said, there are exceptions. My dad has been known to reach into his bag of stories and reminisce about the 1938 hurricane. Irene and Sandy are more recent reminders that not all tropical storms blow themselves out before reaching the northeast. For now, New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts are among those caught deep inside the covid hurricane. New Hampshire is on the fringe.

The coronavirus thrives in densely populated areas. The population in our little corner of rural New England is far from dense. Big cities and the suburbs that surround them have been thrashing about in open seas while we’ve been hunkered down in a quiet cove. Now is a very good time to live far from crowded subways and teaming streets. Next time I start to complain about the lack of public transportation or limited entertainment options, I hope I remember these days and stop grumbling.

Anyway, it’s a lovely thought, that we’re all in this together. However, whether you’re in the thick of the coronavirus storm or tucked in a safe harbor, the boats are different. The lucky ones are strapped into life jackets and safely ensconced in well-built, seaworthy vessels. Their pantries are stocked. Telecommuting may be inconvenient but their jobs are secure. Everyone who needs one has a laptop. They’ve been catching up on Netflix, putting jigsaw puzzles together and walking three miles a day. The family may be a little bored with each other’s company but cabin fever is rarely life threatening.

The less fortunate are crammed into leaky dinghies. These decrepit little boats are filled with people who live paycheck to paycheck. Except there is no paycheck because they’ve been laid off or furloughed. Now, they’re scrambling to get signed up for unemployment and figure out how to get and pay for health insurance. All the while, the kids are home and mom or dad or both are frantically trying to remember the definition of a parallelogram and how Pythagoras’ theorem works.

Another batch of dilapidated boats are filled with people with pre-existing conditions. Maybe they’re old or immune compromised, have a heart condition or asthma. Could be they are overweight or have diabetes. The coronavirus is a whole lot scarier if you’re in one of these boats. A strong, healthy young person with covid-19 might suffer the inconvenience of a cough and fever for a week or so. However, the virus can be deadly for anyone weakened by age or an underlying illness.

By the way, it’s also terrifying to have a family member or dear friend with a pre-existing condition. Here’s the reality that fills me with dread – if a loved one ends up in the hospital; they’ll be alone. Nurses, assistants, technicians and doctors will be with them but, as caring and wonderful as they are, they’re not family.

One last bit for locals – I was introduced to a new community organization last week. Kearsarge Neighborhood Partners (KNP) is dedicated to building a community of neighbors helping neighbors. If you need help or know someone who needs help – reach out. If you are looking for opportunities to volunteer – reach out.

That’s all for now. Be well, be safe and be kind. Bon appétit!

Baked Tortellini with Sausage, Eggplant, Spinach & Mushrooms

There must be a million different, delicious ways to prepare a wonderfully comforting pasta feast. I hope you enjoy this one!

Serves 4-6

  • Olive oil
  • 1 small-medium eggplant, sliced about 1/2-inch thick
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 8 ounces mushrooms, trimmed and sliced or chopped
  • 1/2 onion, chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried Italian herbs
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 8-12 ounces your favorite precooked chicken sausage, cut in 1/2-inch rounds
  • 1 pound fresh or frozen tortellini
  • About 6 ounces baby spinach
  • 2 cups marinara sauce
  • 1/2 cup half & half
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • About 6 ounces (1 1/2 cups) shredded mozzarella cheese

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Lightly oil or butter a large baking dish.

Lightly brush the eggplant slices with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Place on a baking sheet and, turning once, bake at 375 degrees for 20 minutes or until tender. Cut into bite-sized pieces and reserve.

Lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees.

Heat a little olive oil in a skillet over medium high, add the mushrooms and onion, sprinkle with the herbs and season with salt and pepper. Sauté until the onion is translucent. Add the garlic and sauté 2-3 minutes more. Remove from the pan and reserve.

Add the sausage to the skillet with a little more olive oil if necessary. Sauté until lightly browned. Reserve.

Cook the tortellini according to package directions.

Drain the tortellini and return it to the pot. Add the sausage and vegetables, including the spinach, toss to combine and transfer to the prepared dish.

Combine the marinara sauce, half & half and Parmigiano-Reggiano. Pour the sauce over the pasta. Sprinkle with mozzarella and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minute or until bubbling and nicely browned.

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How’s Everything at your House? & Shrimp Fra Diavolo

It was just about two and a half weeks ago when the governor declared a state of emergency. While rural, northern New Hampshire has been hit nowhere near as hard as cities and suburbs to the south, change is more than imminent. It is already here. In the years to come, when we look back on the spring of 2020, what will we remember?

Well, I’ve got to believe that we’ll giggle over stories of scandalous toilet paper hoarders. I suppose the memories won’t last forever; just until the guilty finish off their last roll of TP. I’m guessing that could be sometime around 2035.

Searching for a silver lining, I can’t help but hope that The Spring of Staying Apart somehow manages to bring us together. It feels like a definite possibility. Whenever I venture out, whether for a walk or a trip to the post office, one question reigns supreme. How’s everything at your house? Friends, neighbors and even vague acquaintances check to make sure that all is well. So far, responses on both sides of this greeting have been positive.

As a next step, we are also starting to think about feelings. No, not how are you feeling – as in – do you have a fever or a cough; but where’s your head these days? How are you coping? What emotions greet you each morning? After a long day, what feelings do you take to bed with you?

Let’s face it, we are New Englanders. We’re not great with all that feeling stuff. The other day, I took a few moments to think about it. I realized that I wasn’t feeling frightened. Maybe that will come later; when or if cases start to pile up in my little town. Or if the pandemic throws the rule of law out the window. Instead, I was feeling two things; discombobulated and sad.

Like most people, my life had a certain comfortable rhythm. One that was busy – filled with writing and walking; engaged with friends and family; active with yoga and movies; enriched with perfecting interesting dishes and quests for good restaurants. In January, a little, old dog adopted me. She quickly slipped me into her routine and my rhythm added a new beat.

Not everything has changed, just enough to create empty spaces in my day. I miss hugging family and friends and chatting with them face-to-face. I miss yoga classes. It’s not just the regular work on flexibility, strength and balance; I miss the camaraderie. I miss sitting in a dark theater and escaping into a different world. I miss eating other people’s cooking. Although, I may need to tighten my belt a little, a smaller work load is not insurmountable – but I miss the race to meet yet another deadline. Not to forget, my father moved in with me a few weeks ago. That’s an adjustment. We’ll just leave it at that for now. All told, in the grand scheme of life, cabin fever is hardly a hardship.

Along with this discombobulation are feelings of sadness. My heart goes out to all the frustrated and exhausted doctors, nurses, technicians and support staff at hospitals. I feel for the nervous check-out clerks and baggers at the supermarket. I’m sad for the local high school kids who won’t have a prom. I’m sad for my niece whose college graduation will be online. I don’t what that means but it doesn’t sound very festive. Mostly, I’m sad every time I see the rapidly escalating number of COVID-19 cases and deaths.

How’s everything at your house? How are you feeling?

Be kind to others and yourself. Stay safe, keep your distance and stay at home.

Bon appétit!
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Shrimp Fra Diavolo

Fra Diavolo means Brother Devil in Italian. Somehow or other, it seems like a good time for this fiery dish. Enjoy!
Serves 4
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  • Olive oil
  • 1/2-1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1 carrot, peeled and finely chopped or grated
  • 1 teaspoon dried Italian herbs
  • 1 teaspoon or to taste crushed red pepper flakes
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 cups crushed tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1/2 cup shrimp or chicken broth
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1-1 1/2 pounds shrimp, shelled and de-veined

Heat a little olive oil in a saucepan over medium, add the onion and carrot, sprinkle with the herbs and pepper flakes, season with salt and pepper and sauté until the onion is translucent. Add the garlic and sauté for 2-3 minutes more.

Stir in the tomatoes, wine, broth and bay leaf and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for about 20 minutes.

The sauce can be made ahead, cooled to room temperature, covered and refrigerated.

Meanwhile … If you are serving pasta or polenta with the shrimp, cook one or the other according to package directions. If serving with bread, don’t forget to preheat the oven and warm the bread for 5-10 minutes.

Season the shrimp with salt and pepper. Raise the heat under the sauce and bring to a rapid simmer. Add the shrimp and stir to combine. Simmer for 3-5 minutes or until the shrimp are pink and cooked through.

If serving with pasta, add the pasta to the pot, toss to coat and transfer to individual shallow bowls. Otherwise, serve the shrimp in shallow bowls with a spoonful of sauce and a dollop of polenta or a hunk of crusty bread.

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Life in the Time of COVID-19 & Lemony Linguine with Scallops, Olives & Capers

Living in rural New Hampshire, we are far from the COVID-19 hot spots. Distance doesn’t necessarily keep us safe so the governor has order us all to stay at home. We’re following those orders as much as possible. When out and about, we’re keeping our distance. Our knuckles are dry and cracked from hand washing. We’re coughing into our elbows and doing our best to keep our hands off our faces.

Still and all, rural life offers certain benefits. At least for me, the most important is the ability to get outside. I can’t image being cooped up all day. It is a relief to take a walk and spend an hour or two outside in the fresh air and sunshine. Although carefully keeping the proper distance, I’m not alone.

Throughout the day, a constant parade of walkers and a few runners make their way around Pleasant Lake. Most of the runners are on the younger side. I’m guessing they’re college students taking a break from online learning. There’ll be no track and cross-country meets this spring. Rivalries old and new are put on hold. Of the walkers, some are neighbors, others strangers. Parking lots as well as the driveways of my summer neighbors are filled with cars hailing from southern New England and beyond. All are welcome but please – bring your own toilet paper and self-quarantine for fourteen days.#NH

Dad, the dog and I are all doing fine. As a freelance writer, I’m used to working from home. I just finished up a handful of articles covering everything from a seafood feast to renovating a kitchen. There’s always a lull between jobs. Let’s hope this lull doesn’t extend indefinitely as businesses cut back. I’m well aware that not everyone can work from home. Reduced paychecks and unemployment have started to hit New Hampshire and the country. My heart goes out to all who are suffering.

While I am as busy as ever, Dad is bored as could be. The stay-at-home order is pure torture for him. One of those people who never met a stranger he didn’t like; Dad thrives on face-to-face contact. He’d like nothing more than to be in Florida playing golf three or four times a week with his buddies. Except that the situation with this virus is much worse in the sunshine state so he’s actually relieved to be here rather than there. He’s cleaning closets and looking for any excuse to take a break. Dad keeps insisting on running most of the errands. Anything to escape the closets. I insist he wear gloves, keep his distance and wash his hands as soon as he comes back in the door.

The dog is doing her best to provide emotional support. She is putting up with belly rubs and scratches behind the ears, not once or twice but throughout the day. She figures it’s a tough job but someone has to do it. She has also agreed to take Dad along on our afternoon walk. I’m not quite sure who is slower, Dad or dog. The dog has an excuse. Her legs are all of three inches long plus she’s 119 in human years.

Along with writing, I continue to find peace in the Zen of everyday activities. Along with scratching the dog’s ears, rubbing her belly, shoveling snow and walking, I’ve been cooking lots of pasta.

Best wishes to all for good health and a speedy return to a new normalcy. Bon appétit!

Lemony Linguine with Scallops, Olives & Capers
A quick dinner that’s sure to please any New Englander. If you can’t find fresh scallops, try the freezer section in a pinch. Enjoy!
Serves 6

  • 1 1/2 pounds sea scallops
  • Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
  • Olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • Pinch or to taste red pepper flakes
  • 1 tablespoon anchovy paste
  • Zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • About 1/2 cup Castelvetrano or your favorite green olives, pitted and quartered
  • 2 tablespoons drained capers
  • 12 ounces linguine

Season the scallops with salt and pepper. Set aside.

Put about 1/4 cup olive oil, the garlic and pepper flakes in a large skillet and heat on low until the garlic starts to change color. Stir in the anchovy paste and cook for 1-2 minutes. Whisk in the lemon juice and wine.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta in salted boiling water according to package directions. Drain the pasta, reserving a little pasta water.

Toss the pasta, with the garlic-anchovy oil, lemon juice and wine. If the pasta seems dry, add a little pasta water. Add the lemon zest, olives and capers and toss again. Cover and set on low heat while you sear the scallops.

Lightly coat a large skillet with a little olive oil to and heat over medium-high. Add the scallops and cook until opaque in the center, about 1 minute per side.

Toss the scallops with the pasta, transfer to a deep platter or individual shallow bowls and serve.

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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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Simple Pleasures & Sausage & Broccoli Rabe Ragù

January is a time of resolutions. Every year, about forty percent of us resolve to make some change or another. We pledge to fix whatever is broken and a few things that aren’t. Popular promises include exercising more, spending less and losing weight. By the Fourth of July, the majority of those resolutions have been kicked to the curb.

Why do we fail? More often than not, these annual attempts at reform are all about deprivation and denial. Not only that, we make them during northern New England’s coldest, darkest days. Even if we somehow manage to keep our resolution through the long winter, there’s still the soggy, black fly infested spring to endure.

Whether we achieve the goal or not, all that deprivation can drive us to foolhardy indulgences. Or maybe it the endless snow and ice that lead us into temptation. Anyway, we take trips we can’t afford. Or spend days binge watching something, anything to avoid going outside for some exercise. Or go on shopping sprees for things we don’t need.

Instead of feeling sorry for ourselves and overindulging, how about considering a new approach to resolutions. Why not use them to embrace a happier, healthier and saner lifestyle? Maybe it’s time to pare down and create a life filled with simple pleasures.

An avid walker, I follow the same route almost everyday but it never gets old. There is always something beautiful to experience. One day, it’s the sun filtering through snow covered trees. On another, the songs of the loons fill the air or I bump into a neighbor and enjoy a chat. These simple pleasures send me back out day after day.

However, if the cold isn’t for you, how about dancing? Turn up the music at home or take a class. Find simple joy in good company, in movement and, most of all, in music. An added benefit, you may fulfill another resolution and loose a few pounds.

Is it past time you got out of debt? You are not alone. Just over forty percent of Americans are plagued with credit card debt. The solution is easy; don’t buy anything. And by anything, I mean all of those needless and often impulse purchases that we too often make.

Several years ago, I had a small remodeling project balloon into a much bigger one. I won’t bore you with the details except to say the builder discovered rot. The budget quadrupled. Freaked out, I stopped shopping for at least a year. I went for months without buying another pair of sneakers or a new sweater and whatever other impulse purchases I might have made. My feet were still well shod and body clothed. I already had more than enough dishes and cookware and homey stuff. The house was already filled with piles of books to read and lots of stuff to do

And no, my year without shopping wasn’t enough to cover the increased construction costs. However, it made me feel better – calmer and more in control. Besides, it was surprisingly easy. Except for the supermarket, farm stand and pharmacy, I stayed out stores. The rewards were fantastic. It’s amazing how many interesting adventures, how much fun you can have when you avoid recreational shopping. Instead of deprivation, I enjoyed the simple pleasure of more time to relax, to enjoy nature and to be with loved ones. I still do.

Wishing you many simple pleasures in the days and months to come. Bon appétit!

Sausage & Broccoli Rabe  Ragù

A hearty ragù is simply delicious on a cold winter night. Try the ragù with last week’s Sweet Potato Gnocchi recipe or serve it with polenta or your favorite pasta. Enjoy!

Serves 6

  • Olive oil
  • 1 pound Italian sausages, sweet or hot, casings removed
  • 1 red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme
  • 1/4 teaspoon or to taste hot pepper flakes
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • About 1 1/2 pounds broccoli rabe, trimmed and chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • Extra virgin olive oil (optional)
  • Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated

Lightly coat a large skillet with olive oil and heat over medium high, Add the sausage and, breaking up into small pieces, cook until lightly browned. Remove the sausage from the pan and drain.

Add the onion to the pan, sprinkle with thyme and hot pepper flakes, season with salt and pepper and sauté for about 5 minutes. Add the broccoli rabe and garlic, toss to combine and sauté until the broccoli rabe is tender, 5-10 minutes.

Return the sausage to the pan, add the white wine and toss to combine. Sauté until the wine evaporates. Remove from the heat and drizzle with balsamic vinegar.

Serve the ragù with your favorite gnocchi, pasta or polenta. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano.

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Stranger on a Train & Cheesy Sweet Potato Gnocchi

Over the holidays, I watched or sort of watched more than a few movies. By sort of watching, I mean I was multitasking. Anyway, one film in particular comes to mind. I’m not sure what I was doing but it probably included wrapping presents, baking a flourless chocolate cake and setting the table while vacuuming up pine needles. Except for one wonderful line, I don’t remember a thing about the movie. Delivered with just the right amount of indignation, a pretty blond woman responded to a cheery fellow’s questions with “That’s not something I’d tell a stranger on a train.”

It stopped me in my tracks and made me wonder, “What would I tell a stranger on a train?” I stopped what I was doing, found a scrap of paper and wrote it down – in red magic marker. Then went back to baking and decorating or whatever I was doing. Until today. This morning, I sat down at my desk with a story in my head and ready to write. Fumbling through the flotsam and jetsam for lip balm, I found that scrap of paper. (Now, a newly scrawled note with what would have been today’s topic sits amongst the pens and pencils, cables, flash drives and dogeared scraps that surround my laptop.)

Maybe it’s just me but the whole idea of a conversation with a stranger on a train is intriguing. Especially when it’s a stranger that you’ll probably never ever see again. So … what would you tell a stranger on a train? And what’s off limits or too much information?

Would you stick to the top of mind? The newest, biggest thing in your life like the sweet, little dog who just became the latest addition to your family. Of course, you’ll want to cover any and every detail of her adorableness. After all, she is without a doubt the world’s very best dog.

Then again, the everyday stuff might serve you better. Take for instance, the manager who drives you crazy on a daily basis. A stranger is the perfect target for a good long vent. Whether the boss is a micromanager or a drama queen, your fellow passenger will be thrilled to hear all the awful stuff you put up with. After all, everyone knows that you are more than the perfect employee; you are a saint.

Or, perhaps … a cozy compartment might be just the place for a confession. We all have secrets; some deeper and darker. What might you share? Did you sleep with a married man? Or are you the married man who did the cheating? Maybe you bullied the kid who sat behind you in middle school or scarfed that last piece of cake when no one was looking – and blamed it on your little brother.

An hour is generally plenty of time to share a favorite story. Why not skip the here and now and tell a tale that has been burnished by time, telling and retelling? Regale your seatmate with a glimpse into the life of your remarkable grandfather or childhood adventures on Pleasant Lake.

If you are so inclined, you could also lie. You could weave a tale about your engagement to Brad Pitt. So what if the closest you’ve come to marrying the two-time sexiest man alive was spotting him (or someone who looked a lot like him) on a hike in the Hollywood hills. Perhaps you’d rather share the details of your visit to Washington. The one that ended with you sitting next to Justin Trudeau at a fabulous White House dinner.

Or tell nothing, nothing at all. Maybe you’d hide behind a book and keep your stories, secrets and lies to yourself. At least for another day.

Wishing you many good stories in the new year and bon appétit!

Cheesy Sweet Potato Gnocchi

If train travel isn’t in your immediate future, maybe you’ll share your tall tales, confessions, stories and lies during a cozy dinner with family and friends. Enjoy!

Makes about 2 pounds (6-8 servings)

  • 1 large (1-1 1/2 pounds) sweet potato
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 cup whole milk ricotta cheese
  • 1 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • 1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
  • 1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1 1/2 or more cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting

Put the rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 425 degrees.

Prick the sweet potato with a sharp knife, set on a baking sheet lined with foil or parchment paper and bake at 425 degrees until soft, about 1 hour.

Meanwhile, put the ricotta and egg in a bowl and whisk until smooth. Add the Parmigiano-Reggiano and Pecorino Romano cheeses, sprinkle with thyme and paprika, season with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper and stir to combine.

As soon it is cool enough to handle, halve the sweet potato, scoop the flesh into a large bowl and mash it with a fork. Add the cheeses and egg mixture and stir to combine.

1/2 cup at a time, stir in the flour until a soft, sticky dough forms. Gently knead the dough on a well-floured surface.

Divide the dough into 6-8 balls. Working on a well-floured surface, roll the dough balls into ropes about 3/4-inch thick. Cut the ropes into 3/4-inch pieces. Place the gnocchi on baking sheets lined with parchment or wax paper.

Can be made a few hours ahead, covered and refrigerated until ready to cook. Or freeze on the baking sheet, transfer to a container, cover and store in the freezer. Do not defrost before cooking.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the gnocchi, simmer until they rise to the surface and then continue simmering for 2 minutes.

Serve the gnocchi tossed with roasted or sautéed vegetables or your favorite sauce and a sprinkle of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and/or Pecorino Romano cheese.

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Twenty-Seven Reasons to be Thankful & Turkey Tetrazzini

Forget Disneyland, Finland is the happiest place on earth. Yes, Finland. It seems the United Nations researches a bunch of countries every year and ranks them on happiness. One might assume that warm, sunny countries are the happiest. One would be wrong. During the dark days of December, Finland averages less than six hours of sun. In fact, every one of the top five – Finland, Denmark, Norway, Iceland and The Netherlands – are all well north of the equator.

Happiness is a lot about attitude. Winter days may be short but Finland can thank its lucky stars and hard work for many things. Starting with a healthy life expectancy, the Finns enjoy decent incomes along with a country and culture built on freedom, trust, social support and generosity.

Okay then, we might not be Finland but there is still a whole heap of stuff that can make us happy and fill us with gratitude.

Let hear it for …

  1. An average of nine hours of sun in December.
  2. Indoor plumbing.
  3. Electricity.
  4. Zippers.
  5. Yoga pants.
  6. A warm winter jacket.
  7. Snow boots.
  8. Warm socks.
  9. Finding a ten dollar bill in your back pocket.
  10. An internet connection and the hours of joy-filled procrastination it brings checking out Facebook and watching laughing baby videos.
  11. The vote.
  12. A warm bed.
  13. A funny story.
  14. Fresh air.
  15. Clean water.
  16. An education.
  17. A good hair day.
  18. A little black dress.
  19. A great book, even a good book.
  20. A great movie, even a good movie.
  21. The sense of accomplishment you get from fixing something – anything … a drippy faucet, a gnarly stain in a favorite shirt, a formatting glitch in a document …
  22. Finding a great anything on sale.
  23. Toothbrushes.
  24. A snow day.
  25. A delicious dinner with people you love.
  26. Friends.
  27. Even when they drive you crazy, family around the Thanksgiving table.

And that’s just for starters … Happy Thanksgiving and bon appétit!

Turkey Tetrazzini

Perhaps I should have added Thanksgiving leftovers to the list. Most tetrazzini has peas, I prefer spinach and, so, make the swap. Feel free to swap back. Enjoy!

Serves 8

  • Béchamel Sauce (recipe follows)
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 2 teaspoons dried Italian herbs
  • About 4 ounces (2 cups) freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • Olive oil
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1 pound mushrooms, trimmed and chopped
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 cups bite sized pieces cooked turkey
  • 1 – 1 1/2 pounds frozen chopped spinach, thawed and well drained
  • 12-16 ounces spaghetti
  • 1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Lightly butter a large casserole.

Make the Béchamel Sauce. (Recipe follows.) Whisking frequently, cool the sauce in the pan for 10-15 minutes.

Put the sour cream, white wine and 1 1/2 teaspoons Italian herbs in a large bowl and whisk to combine. A little at a time, whisk the Béchamel Sauce into the sour cream. Add 1 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and whisk to combine.

Meanwhile, lightly coat a skillet with olive oil, add the onion and mushrooms, season with salt and pepper and sauté until the onion is translucent. Add the garlic and sauté for about 3 minutes more.

Cook the pasta according to package directions, less 1 minute, and drain.

Add the turkey, sautéed vegetables, spinach and pasta to the sauce and toss to combine. Transfer everything to the prepared baking dish.

Put the breadcrumbs and remaining Parmigiano-Reggiano and herbs in a bowl, season with salt and pepper and whisk to combine. Drizzle with a little olive oil and whisk again. Sprinkle the casserole with the cheesy breadcrumbs.

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

Bake the casserole at 375 degrees until piping hot and golden, about 45 minutes. If it browns too quickly, lightly cover with aluminum foil.

Béchamel Sauce

  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 4 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 3 cups whole milk
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour and cook, whisking continuously, for 1 minute. Gradually whisk in the milk. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, whisking often, until the sauce thickens slightly, about 5 minutes. Whisk in the nutmeg and add salt and pepper to taste.

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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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