#WeekendCoffeeShare – November 5, 2016

coffee share

If you and I were having coffee right now … I would admit that 2016 has been a year largely spent fighting disorganization, writer’s block and various other obstacles strewn in front of my blogging and writing desk.

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Burnin’ Up The Kitchen: Salad in a Jar

Like so many of us, I struggle with maintaining a healthy weight and lifestyle. With its abundance of fresh produce, summer encourages me to eat healthy and lose weight. As the Ella Fitzgerald song declares its “Summertime, and the livin’ is easy.”  I am finding that summertime livin’ is definitely easier when I spend a few hours prepping fruits and veggies. Continue reading

Summer Ends at Fenway

Summer ended abruptly shortly before 5 p.m. on this sunny Sunday evening with the temperature soaring in the 80s and a RBI infield single and the Yankees’ 9-5 victory over the Red Sox ending Derek Jeter’s career and less than luster filled seasons for the rival teams.

For many, summer begins and ends with Memorial Day and Labor Day. For others, summer directly aligns with the summer solstice and autumnal equinox.  For me and many other Fenway Faithful, summer begins and ends with the crack of a bat.  Summer begins with the first crack of a bat in April at Fenway Park on Opening Day and ends with the silence that soon follows the last crack of a bat come October in the years the Red Sox advance to the post season or in September when the season and summer end all too soon.

This summer there was a drought at Fenway Park and Red Sox Nation was left feeling like we had not experienced much of a summer at all.   Last summer with our beloved Red Sox going from worst to first, we let ourselves believe that this was going to be another memorable season.  Some, including myself, even dared to think that we could win back to back World Series.

At times, this summer was so painful I couldn’t bear to watch. What happened to our team that made baseball history and helped heal a grieving city after the Boston Marathon bombings?   What happened to our team that united its reeling city and answered Big Papi’s rallying call when he proclaimed last April to a cheering crowd at the first game at Fenway after the bombings, “This is our fucking city!  And nobody is going to dictate our freedom. Stay strong.”

Ironically all through the summer of 2013, the Fenway Faithful watched on in awe and amazement waiting for the other baseball cleat to drop. And through the summer of 2014, we watched on in despair and disbelief waiting for the season to turn around.  It never did.

It was incomprehensible that we could start a season with essentially the same World Series winning roster and perform so badly. Losing only outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury to the evil empire also known as New York Yankees and infielder Stephen Drew to free agency for just over a month at the start of the season should not have impacted the team. Neither player could be considered the glue that held the 2013 team together.  Essentially our 2013 Boys of Summer were seemingly unscathed but appeared not to show up to play in 2014.

Then, we stood by in shock as management cleaned house at July’s trade deadline. By the time July was over, gone were Peavy, Lester, Gomes, Lackey, Miller, Drew and Doubront.  The fans, Big Papi and what remained of the 2013 roster looked around the dugout and said “Where the heck did everybody go and who the F are you?”

There were good moments. The ring ceremony was definitely the highlight. Ortiz hit his 400th home run as a Red Sox player on August 16th.   But, this season was not meant to be so the Fenway Faithful patiently and sometimes not so patiently waited for the season and our collective suffering to end.

All season long I kept thinking of the Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore movie, Fever Pitch when Uncle Carl says to young Ben who started to like the Red Sox after his first game, “Careful, kid. They’ll break your heart.”  And that they did this year.  I like so many Red Sox faithful couldn’t wait for the season to end and just stop the bleeding.

So on this last day of summer, the Red Sox and the Yankees gathered at Fenway’s Cathedral to play one last game and send the Captain off in style.

And as the season ended the team and fans turned their attention to next summer, opening day is only 189 days away and our beloved Red Sox have a lot of work to do this off season.

And as we are known to say in Red Sox Nation, wait until next year!

Summer’s Bounty or lack thereof

SSPX0030Around Memorial Day, I decided I was going to try my hand at urban gardening.  Armed with fifteen five-gallon signature Homer orange buckets from one of America’s favorite home improvement retailers; bags of organic soil; starter plants from a local nursery – tomatoes, both Roma plum and cherry, cucumbers, salad and pickling, summer squash, both green zucchini and yellow, green peppers and basil and a can do attitude I set out to grow some of my own vegetables.

I tended my garden every day, watering and fertilizing while imagining the overflow of tomatoes, zucchini and cucumbers my garden would surely yield as reward for all my hard work and diligence. At first things appeared to be on track, my plants were growing. I was excited over the arrival of the first tomatoes on the vine, but as summer progressed I realized there would be no high yield, my plum tomatoes barely larger than a walnut.

Luckily, I live in area where I have access to fresh locally grown fruits and vegetables from several local family owned farms and no less than three farmers markets spread throughout the week within a mile from my house and even more within a several mile radius.

DSCN1085My urban garden’s summer bounty consists of a still growing basil plant. With more basil than I could eat in one of my summer favorites: caprese salad, I think fresh pesto.

Having never made pesto before, I did have a basic sense of how it is made – traditionally with a mortar and pestle out of basil, pignoli nuts (pine nuts), extra virgin olive oil, garlic cloves, and Romano or parmesan cheese.  I perused the internet looking at the recipes of some of my favorite Food Network Stars – Ina Garten, Giada De Laurentiis and Ree Drummond and on simplyrecipes.com and allrecipes.com to get an idea of the proportion of ingredients to another.

After comparing the various recipes, preferences and best practices this is what I decided upon for based on the amount of basil I harvested.

Basic Recipe for Basil Pesto

Ingredients

  • 3 cups fresh basil leaves
  • ½ cup pignoli nuts (pine nuts), toasted or raw
  • ¾ cup grated pecorino Romano or parmesan cheese
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 5 cloves of fresh garlic
  • ¾ cup extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO)

Directions

  • Rinse basil leaves and dry in a salad spinner or pat dry between paper towels.
  • If your preference is to toast the pignoli nuts to bring out their nutty flavor, spread the pignoli nuts in a single layer on a cookie sheet. Place cookie sheet in a preheated 350 degree oven for 6 – 10 minutes, turning the nuts periodically. Remove from oven when nuts are a golden brown. Immediately transfer to a bowl for cooling. Note it is better to under toast than to over toast.
  • Using a food processor or blender place the basil leaves, pignoli nuts, salt, pepper and garlic in the bowl and pulse blend.
  • Scrape sides to ensure all the ingredients are well blended.
  • Drizzle olive oil into the mixture as it blends; adding more if consistency of pesto is not creamy or smooth enough.
  • Note if you are using the pesto immediately, add the cheese in with the basil leave mixture. If you are freezing for later use do not add the cheese in until ready to use.
  • If freezing, top jar with a thin layer of EVOO to preserve green color.

Below are pictures and commentary on my first batch of pesto.

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I harvested my basil plant leaving some leaves to encourage continued growth throughout the fall.

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I rinsed the leaves, spun them dry in my salad spinner and let them sit to dry for about an hour while I did other things around the house. DSCN1088

My harvest yielded about 3 cups of basil leaves.

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My pesto ingredients lined up on the kitchen counter.

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Wanting to enhance the flavor of pignoli nuts, I toasted them in my 350 degree oven for about six minutes.

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I added about 1/3 of my ingredients into the blender’s bowl at a time.

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As I blended the ingredients, I added more ingredients along with drizzling olive oil into the bowl as I blended.  (Note, I ran out of hands so did not take a picture of me adding EVOO as I pulsed the ingredients with one hand and poured EVOO into the blender’s bowl with the other.)

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Creamy pesto, yummy.

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Since I’m freezing my pesto, I did not blend in my cheese and I added a thin level of EVOO to the top of each jar to preserve the color.

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My end result – one 8-ounce and two 4-ounce jelly jars of pesto waiting to be placed into my freezer.

Homemade pesto will last about four months in the freezer or five – ten days in the refrigerator.  Some cool evening this fall, I will prepare a pesto dish using one of the jars of frozen pesto after blending in some cheese and enjoy my summer bounty.

Peach Cobbler: my search for the perfect recipe

When I think of summer desserts, I think watermelon, refreshing and simple, and berries – strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and their endless dessert possibilities throughout the summer.  But as summer begins to wane, the days getting a bit shorter, I think of peaches, sweet and juicy, and peach cobbler.

Several summers ago, I decided I should learn to make peach cobbler; for no other reason than I had never tried to bake one. I called my sister to see if she had her late mother-in-law’s recipe.  Kate Cassidy, who was originally from South Carolina, was a phenomenal baker and excellent cook.  She prided herself on her culinary and homemaking skills and was known for her signature coconut cake, peach cobbler and barbecue sauce to name a few of her notable recipes.

A delightful Southern belle, Kate never turned down a request for one of her recipes, but when sharing her recipes I suspect she sometimes left out an ingredient.  It was never anything that would make your attempt at her dish a total flop, but your version would always be slightly less than the perfection she served up of the same recipe with a smile and a healthy spoonful of Southern charm.

Armed with a coveted recipe from a phenomenal baker and a basketful of freshly picked peaches from a local family owned farm, I set out to make my first cobbler.  The result was a tasty cobbler, delicious actually, but lacking in presentation.  The peaches were not completely covered by batter and in spots the cobbler was too juicy.  I made several attempts at peach cobbler that first summer, all tasty but none perfect.

Kate Cassidy’s Peach Cobbler

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup brown sugar                                   
  • ½ cup water                                                      
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch                              
  • 2 lbs. cut peaches                                            
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice                          
  • ¼ cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup flour 
  • ½ cup white sugar  
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder 
  • ½ teaspoon salt     
  • ½ cup milk

Directions:

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
  • Cook and stir brown sugar, water, cornstarch and peaches over medium heat until thick.
  • Remove from heat and add lemon juice.
  • Pour into baking dish and set aside.
  • Combine remaining ingredients together.
  • Smooth flour mixture over the top of the peaches.
  • Bake until syrup is bubbling and crust is golden brown, approximately 50 minutes.

Over the next few summers, I tried repeatedly to make the ever elusive perfect peach cobbler with a variety of recipes.  No matter which recipe I used, I continued to come up short.

Last week, I decided I was going to make yet another attempt at baking the perfect peach cobbler.  I went to the farmer’s market and bought my peaches; I did more research on allrecipes.com where I found both a video on how to make peach cobbler and a nearly perfect recipe from Chef John.

My first attempt at making Chef John’s version of cobbler was almost perfect. Close enough to perfection that I am feeling I have finally nearly mastered the elusive peach cobbler.  So close to perfect that if in addition to being a world class procrastinator I wasn’t also a perfectionist, I would declare victory and move on, happy to tweak the recipe next summer.

The original recipe calls for 1/8 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder, which I did not have so I substituted nutmeg and cinnamon.   In the video Chef John uses 5 peaches and the recipe calls for 5 cups of sliced peaches.  I used 7 – 8 peaches which is about 5 – 5 1/2 cups.  The consensus was that there were not enough peaches: we were split on the spices – I thought I should use a dash less nutmeg,  my other half thought the nutmeg was fine; he thought it could be sweeter; and we both thought it should have stayed in the oven longer than the 50 minutes the recipe called for as it was still a bit juicy in spots.  The next day the juice had tightened up.

I reviewed Kate Cassidy’s recipe, which now that I have looked at it more carefully, I think that there is an error in the amount of baking powder – 1/2 teaspoon should be 1 1/2 teaspoons.  That change would likely make the batter rise enough to spread over all the peaches.  I compared it to Chef John’s recipes and my other attempts at baking the perfect peach cobbler.

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I documented my next attempt at the perfect peach cobbler.  I halved, peeled and sliced my bowl of peaches.  DSCN1047

Five peaches yielded about four cups of peaches.

DSCN1049I continued until I finished prepping my bowl of peaches.  In the end, I had a bowlful of 7 1/2 cups of sliced peaches.  DSCN1052

Over mediums heat, I gently stirred 1/2 cup of packed brown sugar and 3/4 cups of white sugar with 1 cup of water until the sugar dissolved into the water.  This simple sugar had an amber color because of the brown sugar; had I used all white sugar it would have been clear in color.  DSCN1054After adding cinnamon, nutmeg and lemon zest to the sliced peaches, I placed them in the saucepot with the simple sugar; stirring for 2 – 3 minutes before removing from the heat, covering the pot and placing to the side.  DSCN1058In the meantime, I placed my butter in a baking dish in my preheated 350 degree oven to melt.  Thanks for the tip,  Paula Deen!  Why make more dirty dishes, when you don’t have to?!? DSCN1059After removing the melted butter, pour the batter over the butter.

DSCN1060Uncover the setting peaches and gently add the peaches and juice on top of the batter.  DSCN1061At this point, I almost stopped adding peaches, fearing I would have too many peaches. DSCN1063Lured by the sweetness of juicy peaches from our local orchard and in spite of the voice in my head telling me to stop, I did not stop until I put all 7 1/2 cups of sliced peaches and juice in my baking dish.

DSCN1069After about 30 minutes of baking, I removed the cobbler from the oven to sprinkle cinnamon sugar on top.  Remember, my other half thought my first attempt at peach cobbler wasn’t sweet enough.

DSCN1074After another 20 minutes with the oven on and 10 minutes with the oven off (door shut so no heat would escape) the cobbler was done baking.  Immediately I knew that I had used too many peaches.  I should have listened to that little voice in my head that told me to make two cobblers out of the peaches – one family sized and one smaller.  I seldom listen to the little voice in my head; which would be a good thing if that voice was telling me to commit murder or some other heinous crime.  But the voice in my head tries to help me with “You’ve got too many peaches, make two cobblers.” or “Why don’t you work on that project today, so you won’t be so stressed tomorrow.”  And, sadly I seldom listen to her.

DSCN1075I can see from the first piece that there is way too much juice in the cobbler.

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Topping it with whipped cream, I tried my latest version of peach cobbler.  Hoping that it at least tasted delicious, albeit soupy.  Wrong! Way too sweet for even my sweet tooth and my other half agrees.

Summer is almost over, but if I host or am invited to an end of summer barbecue I will make one last attempt at perfecting peach cobbler during the summer of 2014.  And, I will of course post my results here.  I have several ideas as to how to fix my latest attempt and am confident one more trip to one of our local orchards for peaches and I will master peach cobbler. I am so close, I can taste the peachy goodness.

 

Thankful Thursday

Several Thursdays ago, I was too busy to respond to a challenge from Iyanla Vanzant that a friend posted on Facebook. Ms. Vanzant challenged her twitter and Facebook followers to come up with 101 things that they are grateful for in 90 minutes and tweet or post them. I would’ve found it hard to express that much gratitude in 140 characters or less on my twitter account.

Since I believe that for gratitude to be sincere it cannot be overly excessive, I have stopped at roughly 25 random thoughts of things, people and places that I am grateful for in my life.  So here is my attempt at a gratitude list, posted on what social media types have labeled Thankful Thursday.

I am grateful:

  • that my parents raised me up right with equal amounts of love and discipline.
  • that it is Octember and the Red Sox are still playing baseball.
  • for my three sisters, though we may argue, fuss and fight at the end of the day we always have each other’s backs.
  • for my curly hair.
  • for my brat pack, my five youngest nieces, who bring laughter and joy into our family.  They get very upset by the nickname, brat pack, “We’re not brats, auntie,” they protest, which just makes me laugh louder.
  • I have known the love of a good man.
  • for walks on the beach.
  • that my mom instilled in me a strong belief that I can handle anything that life sends my way. God will not give you more than you can handle was one of her mantras.
  • for the love and friendship of my sister-friends.
  • that the Red Sox have a healthy chance of going all the way this year.
  • for my blue eyes.
  • that I believe in an on time God.
  • that I wear my heart on my sleeve.
  • for my nephews, even when they are challenging.
  • for the first snowfall of the year.
  • for my relatively good health.
  • that I have learned to be thankful for what it is, because it could be a whole lot worse.
  • that one of my best friends double dared me to get off my duff and start writing by blogging.
  • that she sees something in my writing that I am often blinded from seeing.
  • that my sisters and I weren’t raised to believe that girls can’t _____.
  • that I live in New England and enjoy real change of seasons (although I do wish summer was longer)!
  • for my belief that summer is more than a season that it is a state of mind and in my mind it generally corresponds with the cracking of bats at Fenway Park from April until September/October.
  • that Amtrak runs from Boston to Maine, a service I should use more often to visit friends and family in the state that boasts it’s the way life should be.
  • for the feel of warm rain on my face.
  • for the magic of Christmas.
  • that New Year’s offers each and every one of us a clean slate and a chance to start over again.
  • for the vibrant colors of leaves in Octember.
  • for the sound of the ocean in sea shells and the feelings and memories that sound can evoke in me.