Arugula–Nothing to Laugh About

There are no fun facts about arugula. Period.

I’ve scoured the internet, intending to illuminate and entertain, but after having read everybody else’s idea of ‘fun,’ I have come to the conclusion that these folks need to get out more often.

For example: “Hey! We’re going to the dentist!”

“You are? You lucky ducks. Instagram the hell out of that for us, ok?”

This is not fun.

I need FUN facts about arugula in order to encourage others to buy it, plant it, grow it, eat it. It’s really difficult to sway folks–who are used to seeing their food handed to them through their car windows–to start eating something they think needs to be eradicated with a drenching douse of Round Up.

Yes, you can tell people about its history, the fact that it was around before the Romans conquered Rome, but so has dirt, and people aren’t tossing that into their tuna casseroles for dinner.

You can remind them that arugula is one of the only herbs that has made some interesting presidential headlines … oh, wait, no, there’s another one.

Or how about I announce that arugula was once considered by many and used by scores as an aphrodisiac? Except for the fact that anything put next to flickering candlelight by default becomes an aphrodisiac. So it doesn’t count.

Since I could not come up with anything uproariously entertaining about the plant, I will divulge the few personal ‘fun’ facts I have encountered.

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  1. I don’t remember planting it. It just showed up in my garden one day, and we’ve been eating it as a science experiment ever since. No one seems to have been affected negatively.
  2. I cannot kill it. It’s like a Hydra. Seriously.
  3. I am competing in a one woman competition to see who can come up with the hottest, spiciest arugula leaf by leaving some of the plants to grow old, woody and leggy. Thus far, I am winning in that one of my plants may qualify as eligible firewood come fall.
  4. If you take one of the leaves and squish it between your fingers and then bring it to your nose while inhaling deeply, you will be reminded of the smell of … arugula. It’s amazing.
  5. Arugula leaves make wonderful bookmarks.
  6. I am trying to popularize my newest dance move called The Arugula. It intermingles nicely with The Funky Chicken and The Mashed Potato. This is best accompanied by Mozart’s only foxtrot.
  7. There are very few etchings and even fewer bronze carvings of the arugula plant.
  8. No one has ever recorded a song about arugula that has made it to the top of the charts.
  9. No one has ever recorded a song about arugula.
  10. Haggis, our resident hound, is addicted to it. He eats more of it than I do, and I’m writing this article … with his help.

Okay, so I hope this little pitch will have you all digging a small hole and tossing out a few seeds or snatching up a bunch at your local market. Or, if you find yourself in the neighborhood, come on up and I’ll load the backseat of your car with some of mine.

Once you get home, here are a few ideas of what to do with your booty—er, bounty.

Arugula and Bacon quiche

Corn Macaroni with Asparagus, Fava Beans and Arugula Pesto

Penne with Turkey, Arugula, and Sun-Dried-Tomato Vinaigrette

Roasted acorn squash and gorgonzola pizza topped with arugula

Roasted Beet and Blood Orange Salad with Spicy Greens Recipe

Meatless Monday: Roasted Beet and Arugula Sandwich with Green Olive Tapenade

The Best Lentil Salad, Ever

Searching for the Best Arugula Pesto Recipe, Making Arugula Pesto Cream Cheese Spread, and Discovering Arugula Pesto Pizza

Now Go Forth and Arugulate!

~Shelley

PS If you’re searching for seeds (from arugula to zucchini and everything in between), I’m recommending a company that not only has a worthy mission creed but a wonderful moral code. Give The Mauro Seed Company a looksee.

Their motto? Grow One, Give One. I’m impressed. Maybe you will be too.

 

Lastly, for the time being, our blog is closed to comments, but if you enjoyed it, maybe pass it on to someone else. Email it, Facebook it, or print it out and make new wallpaper for the bathroom. If it moves you, show it some love and share. Cheers!

Don’t forget to check out what we’re cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all talked about down in the pub. Plus, you can see more of Robin Gott‘s humor–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone.

Why I Wrote DEAR OPL – Part 2

*Just a heads up to anyone new joining in–this is not my typical blog post. This is part 2 of 3 for a speech I’m preparing and posting here to get valuable feedback from my community. If you’re interested in joining in (and I so hope you are), and you’ve not had a chance to read part 1, you might want to take a minute and get up to speed. I look forward to hearing what all of you have to say. It’s been wonderfully worthy thus far!

 

So let’s talk about the foul new four letter word that’s getting everyone’s knickers in a twist. FOOD.

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  1. Our diets have drastically changed form.

So much of what we used to eat was effortlessly easy to identify by using just one word to define it. For instance: apples, squash, lentils, pecans. Now the western diet needs a box to hold it in and a label to identify it with.

And a chemist to explain it all.

More and more of our food is processed with ingredients that most seventh graders aren’t allowed to handle without plastic gloves, eye goggles, and their science teacher in attendance.

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It happened right beneath our noses. As a kid, I remember the hour and a half of effort I’d spend making brownies—with the flour, the sugar, the butter and eggs, the melting of chocolate and the teaspoons of vanilla and salt and baking powder.

And almost overnight it changed. It’s now a box, an egg, and a splash of water from the faucet. It’s not so much food anymore as it is a magic trick no one really wants to pull back the curtain on and spoil. Not that spoiling is a concern any longer as science has discovered a way to make a fast food hamburger last longer than most marriages.

Reading nutrition labels dredges up memories of your earliest years in grammar school sounding out new words, and also proves to be a test of one’s grasp of the periodic table of elements. Plus, the regulations for what our government is allowing into our food and defining as food live in a murky swamp and are up for interpretation by the manufacturer.

That old line stating That which does not kill us makes us stronger, should be revised to read:

That which does not kill us—because the studies are ongoing and are being run by folks who have a vested interest in their financial outcome—does not kill us …yet.

Our food of today is no longer the food it was fifty years ago. A carrot is no longer a carrot. Chicken is no longer chicken. A hunk of fabulous chocolate cake is still the sugar bomb it was no matter how long ago it was made, but that’s sort of a given and doesn’t serve my argument. And my point is that things have changed in the food growing world.

Our soils are depleted. Our animals are fed unnatural food meant to supersize them toward growth and not health. We’ve introduced pesticides into our diets that have altered our endocrine function. We’ve stripped off minerals and vitamins from processed foods and have replaced them with chemicals meant to give them a shelf life rivaling the length of time it would take you to read off the numerical value of pi.

Some of the ingredients added into our foods today are ones not meant to contribute to our health or the food’s supermarket shelf endurance, but rather the perceived value of the manufacturer’s product.

We’re talking weight.

And just as WEIGHT is the hefty issue we’re struggling with here globally, putting additives into food that give it extra bulk and substance is a widespread technique used across the food industry. Cellulose, an indigestible fiber made from wood pulp, is a common item you’ll find in most processed foods. Supermarket bread, bags of shredded cheese, barbecue sauce and ice cream.

Yep, ice cream too.

Have yourself a Blue Bell country day. (Embrace nature. Hug a tree. Better yet, eat one.)

Carvel Ice Cream. It’s what happy tastes like. (And trees.)

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I could go on snarkily updating ice cream slogans, but the point I’d like to highlight is that cellulose has no nutritional value and our government food regulators have no policies regarding its use in manufacturing. Thus far scientists have determined that eating it in small quantities is what they’ve labeled as GRAS – Generally Regarded As Safe. And even if this remains to be so, it still points to the unhealthy practice of eating food that is deficient of the valuable nutrients we want and need for ourselves and our children.

Not surprisingly, there are plenty of other things food makers are slipping into the ingredient lists of their products these days:

Binders and extenders—nonmeat products used to create bulk and texture.

Coloring agents Blue #1 and #2, Yellow #5 and #6, and Red #40—a rainbow of creativity if your goal is to eat the Nickelodeon television channel.

Azodicarbonamide, or ADA—a funky little compound that keeps your bread spongy and your yoga mat squishy.

And don’t forget growth hormones—feedlot operators’ kitschy little answer to America’s question, “Where’s the beef?”

There is a solid handful of folks who are vocal and persuasive when illuminating the presence of these additives in hundreds of food items today. They draw attention from the press and the population occasionally takes note. Sometimes manufacturers stand up and defend their choices and sometimes they pull the worrisome ingredient from their recipe and replace it with something else. Oftentimes food scientists will jump in, provide a little data and the fire dies down—that is until a few more rats die, enough signatures on a petition are accumulated, or an organization’s lobbying funds dry up.

If you look behind the grand kerfuffle made about alarming ingredients, you’ll see the main message is simply that food manufacturers are putting unnecessary chemicals and compounds into our grub and there are alternatives.

Next let’s talk about the research, the studies, and the dry and brittle data. It’s WHAT WE KNOW.

  1. Architects are growing worried that they are building houses with an expensive and worthless room.

Kitchens are full of cobwebs. For many school-aged children, breakfast is skipped or breakfast and lunch are eaten at school. Dinner is handed over through the driver’s side window. And the new dinner plate is a cardboard box or bucket. Millions of kids are looking at a fork and a knife with the same confused look on their face when handed a pen or a pencil.

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Food education used to come from the home. Our grandmothers painstakingly took the time to write down the recipes that were crafted and perfected by the generations before them. Houses had gardens, produce markets were plentiful and dinner was a scheduled event that you showed up for rain or shine.

We learned how to shuck corn, peel potatoes and pinch a pie crust. You watched the bread rise, carved a chicken and got your hands slapped away if you tried to steal a cookie that was still cooling on a half sheet.

Now I’m not suggesting everyone return to churning butter and dig themselves a root cellar, but I find it unsettling that way too many children do not realize that chickens actually have bones.

Food is the most marvelous thing in the way that it’s often attached to the meaningful events in our lives. Birthdays. Holidays. Dates. Parties.  And we count on it for all the meals that are nothing more than something that satisfies an urge or are simply a scheduled time of day activity. An appreciated break from our busy lives. Breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Growing up, food was incredibly important to my family for many different reasons. I came from a clan of six and although I can’t recall ever going hungry because we didn’t have enough to eat, there were a few times when funds were quite tight and I chose to go hungry because of what was on offer.

To stretch a dollar and a pound of ground beef, my mom would creatively find all sorts of fillers—tofu was one and soy protein was another. She was quite ahead of her time. Powdered milk was cheap and showed up repeatedly—and I don’t care how you disguise it, it had about as much tastebud appeal as liquid cardboard.

As my family ancestry was Polish, my folks oftentimes introduced us to unusual foods that in my opinion would likely have had the offspring of scavenging beasts raise an eyebrow when encouraged to eat it by their parents. Blood seemed to be an ingredient in way too many things for your average nine-year-old’s comfort. I began thinking I should truthfully detail my family’s heritage as part Polish, part vampiric.

Of course, growing up where I did in the Midwest, many folks were hunters, and one evening a platter of what my folks labeled “tiny chicken” showed up on the kitchen table. It did not take me and my siblings long to figure out why my mom was no longer complaining about the unruly squirrel population taking over her summer garden.

And lastly, my mother’s favorite extender of any meal—cream of mushroom soup. Detesting mushrooms was a hobby of mine, and finding these spores in my food became an obsession. After highlighting my childhood foodscape, it’s not so surprising to see how I began to grow incredibly suspicious of all my food. I wanted to know the answer to a very important question:

What’s in it?

~~~~~~~

*I hope you’ll come back next week for part 3. And I hope you may consider offering your thoughts thus far.

Cheers everyone!

~Shelley

Don’t forget to check out what we’re cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all talked about down in the pub. Plus, you can see more of Robin Gott‘s humor–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone.

Ode to a Pot Roast

Ode to a Pot Roast

If ever there was a form of food
So humble in its name
It’d have to be this hunk of meat
A winter insurance claim.

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To hear it mentioned as for sup
Elicits moans and sighs
To see it brought upon a plate
Will bring on widened eyes.

Choosing a pan is half the task
As it must sit just so
With herbs and veg embracing it
Afloat in rich Bordeaux.

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The time it roasts, the temperature
These things must serve it well
And yet this dish forgives mistakes
Content till the dinner bell.

Aromas floating in the wind
Send out come hither scents
Warmth and love and plentitude
It’s these it represents.

We taste this beef extraordinaire
With garlic cloves and shallots
Carrots, peas and taters too
It’s heaven on our palettes.

Some say the post roast has no class
Its nature bourgeoisie
But ask the greatest chefs today
Most all would disagree.

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Oh how I love a pot roast so
It fills my heart with joy
Nothing louder shouts, “It’s Fall!”
It is the Real McCoy.

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Ode to A Vegetarian

I love my vegetarian
She’s bright and camp and brave
But I am always asking her
Why won’t you eat my pot roast?

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~Shelley

October Gotta Have a Gott winner

In January, Rob and I announced that his sketches will be available toward the end of the year in the form of a 2015 calendar! And our readers would get to be the judges and voters for which doodles they’d like to see selected for each month. We’ll reveal the winners one by one, and come November, If you’ve Gotta have a GOTT, you can place your order. Jump on over to see the cartoon winner for October!

Don’t forget to check out what we’re cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all talked about down in the pub. Plus, you can see more of Robin Gott‘s humor–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone.

Related articles

Food for thought, but rarely for dinner.

If there is one phrase that is more common than any other in my house, it has got to be …

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And I’m serious about it being all in capital letters, because I’m usually shouting that phrase to someone who either has their head buried deep within the fridge, or their body concealed within the cavernous room I had built to represent the pantry.

The pantry is really more of an averaged-sized dry goods store, and if I simply filled out a few pages of paperwork, it could easily qualify as a Stop n’ Shop for locals on their way home from the office. Those folks would really have to like tuna though, because that covers about half the pantry’s inventory. That and cat food. I’m guessing either the cat has convinced someone in the house that we’re running low and to write it on the list, or she’s finally passed the course with the daily YouTube videos I’m been making her watch on teaching yourself to write.

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Either way, she’s hoarding. And that needs to be dealt with.

I grew up with a kitchen that was just slightly bigger than a coat closet, and oftentimes had the entire family rummaging around within it, so it’s no surprise that as an adult I’d want to create a canteen that might easily share the same acreage as that of the Mall of America. I’m not saying I achieved those numbers, but it was what I was going for.

The refrigerator is not your average size either, and although not a commercial walk-in like some restaurants, it could double as a garage for a few small farm vehicles if need be. Note that the design for the rest of the house was given much less thought. My office is large enough for my swivel chair to make only half rotations in, unless I expel all oxygen from my lungs and tuck my elbows in beneath my rib cage, and the other living areas were fashioned after cheap department store changing rooms and fast food restaurant bathroom stalls. Why? Because I wanted everyone to live in the kitchen.

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We eat when we’re happy and we eat when we’re miserable. We also eat when we’re bored and trying to avoid laundry. So in my mind, that about covered where we needed to spend the serious money.

In the kitchen of my youth, the pantry closet was large enough to accommodate two cans of soup and a nail file. Nevertheless, it fed half my school district. Yet the one I currently have apparently does not hold enough of what is deemed necessary for my two teenagers. Ditto for the fridge. The crackers I have are not the right kind of crackers. The granola bars I purchase are now in the “so yesterday and I’ve gone off them” category. The macaroni I get doesn’t have the right kind of cheese. The butter is not the soft, spreadable kind like Grandma has. And most every other complaint falls under the wretched umbrella of, “Stop buying the organic version of everything. It tastes weird and I won’t eat it!”

The grocery list has always held the possibility of being a vehicle filled with “teachable moments” for those who eat regularly at my house in that if you finished the OJ and didn’t put it on the list, then you’re the guy everyone will be sending the next day’s hate mail to. This sounds like it should work, right?

Nuh uh.

As is well known to most mothers, we are expected to have our act so well put together it could headline on Broadway. Yes, someone forgot to add milk to the list, but surely you knew it belonged there when at the grocery store, right? Somehow you sprouted those eyes at the back of your head that caught nearly invisible infractions, and you grew the superhuman ears that heard the cursing grumble from way out in the sheep barn, so are you telling me your telesthesia is on the fritz?

So not cool, Mom.

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Occasionally, my nagging about adding things to the grocery list has made a small impact on my at home diners. There have been days when I’ve arrived at the store, taken the first glance at my list and then had to physically stop myself from ramming my shopping cart repeatedly into the nearest bin full of asparagus and avocados. Why? Because the list is chock-a-block full of junk. Chocolate in every form has made its way onto the paper but is “cleverly” disguised by showing up in between other items so the requests don’t appear too gluttonous.

Collard greens

Apples

Chocolate milk

Navy beans

Salmon

Chocolate covered pretzels

Eggs

Tofu

Brown rice

Chocolate toaster pastries

Sparkling water

Miso paste

Brownies

At this point, I simply buy the things I intended to purchase for the meals I plan to make, but also plop down onto the dinner table a squirt bottle of liquid chocolate and tell the kids to have at it. I shudder to think how Hershey’s syrup can make delicate halibut in a corn and mung bean broth taste more appealing, but apparently it must.

So I’m trying to see this all from a different perspective. I suppose I should be grateful for the last few precious years of gathering round the table. Clearly our tastes at this point are at opposite ends of the spectrum, but thankfully our desires still meet in the most important room of my house. And no matter what everyone is eating, and what head-shaking requests show up on my next grocery list, I shall pull up a chair to the dinner table with a thankful heart. Because “Spending time together” is not something that can be purchased at any store.

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~Shelley

Don’t forget to check out what we’re cookin’ in the Scullery (here) and what we all talked about down in the pub (here). And to see more of Robin Gott‘s humor–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone–click here.

Good health hurts

I think by now we’ve all gotten the message from our physicians that if we don’t take care of our health, we’re going to die a god-awful, fiery, sudden and catastrophic death.

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And I’m sure there is a multitude of medics out there who–after reading the latest report of appalling statistics pinpointing the condition of global wellbeing–are, if not jumping up and down shouting, “I told you so!” then are at least just making the I told you so face.

If we are not hearing these cautionary predictions directly from the doctors we routinely visit, then it’s from our mothers, or our web sites, or the butcher as he hands you the leg of lamb that was awarded a health care plan far better than your own. Apparently, we are all ticking time-bombs teetering on the edge and as long as you follow the experts’ sage advice, you may be able to buy yourself a few extra hours.

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Well, I’m not sure those few extra hours are worth it.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all about maintaining good health. And not just good health, but great health. I want arms and legs and all internal organs running at optimum speed for the most advantageous results. But there comes a time when you have to step back and analyze whether or not what you’re doing is something that will make historians and school children, generations down the road, slap themselves upside the head at the sheer lunacy of your current day practice.

I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about, reading about and running about, putting into practice countless ways to gain energy, improve my digestion and increase my immunity. Occasionally, there is time to wash a spoon, but for the most part, I’m covering all angles of the welfare wish list.

From farm to fridge to face, my aim is to find minimally processed, but maximally realized nutrients—all capable of helping me become the super-hearty, able-bodied, rosy-cheeked wonder woman that appears on the inside pages of my favorite reading material. She is everywhere: Food &Wine, the Yoga journal, and most importantly, The Farmer’s Almanac.

I’m determined to be her. And every day is a physical journey where I confidently feel I am marching toward my goal.

Except for last night, where my progress on this pilgrimage came to an abrupt halt.

Each morning starts off much the same way. I wake and plod my way toward the bathroom counter where a handful of relief and prevention awaits me. Down the hatch slide tiny tablets that will push away pain, fight free radicals and stimulate my defenses against invisible attack. I am now armed, and too full for breakfast.

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Instead, I take a two ounce swig of an energy shot made entirely of concentrated, bitter yerba mate—flavored with lemon so one’s facial muscles can practice that “extra puckery pout.” I’m sure it counts as exercise in someone’s book.

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Lunchtime brings an array of greens so hearty they usually require a small hatchet for carving purposes. On the side sits a pulpy cesspool of fermented foods which bacteria has made chewable for human teeth. To wash this all down, I choose some combination of herbs and roots, all ground, dried and steeped in boiled water. Occasionally, I throw in an eye of newt for good measure.

The afternoon slump rolls round and I combat that with forty drops of magic tinctures—extracts meant to boost endurance and rally the flailing troops. The potion is poured into a small amount of water, which then froths and clouds before meeting and shriveling my tongue. Good god, even rat poison is capable of being palatable. But it does the job and I am revived. I have just enough time to water a plant before it’s time to make dinner.

Tonight we’re gluten free and gorging on grains. Well … I am. The kids mostly make patterns on their plates like they’re creating Tibetan sand art, and will—as usual—meet up later in the kitchen, after I’ve tidied up, to prepare their real dinner. Likely it will come from the freezer. I’m guessing something beginning with ice and ending with cream.

Shortly thereafter, I swallow my own late night snack: blimp-sized balls chock full of bioflavonoids, rose hips and rutin–a fistful of antioxidant fortification meant to protect me from things that go bump in the night and make your skin sag three inches by morning. I lastly choke down two horse-sized pellets containing the equivalent amount of fish oil that the entire cast of Finding Nemo could produce. I slip into bed.

Literally.

It’s here I recall my afternoon eye doctor appointment. Basically, I was given about ten seconds to bask in the sharp-focused glow of the news that I have the eyesight of a prize-winning hawk. Then I discovered I barely squeaked by the test for early detection of macular degeneration and now needed to do something about it. I was given two carotenoid supplements to add to the daily lineup.

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So it’s Bottom’s up! again. As I drift off to sleep, something niggles at the back of my mind. Something the doctor mentioned as a side effect to my new best friends lutein and zeaxanthin.

Four hours later, his words sear themselves back into my brain.

LEG CRAMPS!

I phone the next morning to ask what can be done about them, for sleeping is impossible while a chain saw is severing away at your calf. He suggested a gin and tonic in the evening with dinner.

“Tonic water has quinine in it, which has been known to help treat leg cramps, and what the quinine doesn’t address, the gin will knock on the head.”

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Apparently, my ophthalmologist needs a new pair of reading glasses because it’s obvious he didn’t read the FDA’s announcement that quinine is a quiller. I mean killer.

I call my health food store friends to check for options. I need sleep.

“No worries,” they say. “First we’ll try you on 5 mg of melatonin, or a dietary supplement of valerian root—oh and poppy syrup goes down nice and easy.”

I sigh and put the phone down.

At this moment that god-awful, fiery, sudden and catastrophic death is starting to look really attractive.

So is a cheeseburger.

~Shelley

Don’t forget to check out what we’re cookin’ in the Scullery (here) and what we all talked about down in the pub (here). And to see more of Robin Gott‘s humor–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone–click here.

Gridiron Chef; we shopped, we chopped, we smoked, we seared.

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Somehow … my brother met an incredibly bright woman.

Somehow … my brother realized she was Tier One Talent and that he had happened upon a gold mine.

Somehow … my sister-in-law answered yes to his proposal of marriage.

I believe she may have been clubbed over the head, dragged back to his cave and denied food and water until she agreed, but that’s just a theory. (And for proof as to why I developed this hypothesis, last week’s post gives a rough outline that might illuminate.)

Regardless, this lovely woman gave her husband a plane ticket for his birthday, sending him off to mess up other people’s kitchens for a long weekend. I owned kitchen number one, but before we could put any floured fingerprints on my counter tops, we first needed staples. Therefore, we went to the place where both my children’s college funds have been spent.

Whole Foods Market.

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Shopping with a chef is a heady experience. Shopping with a chef is an expensive experience. Shopping with a chef and no precise grocery list is a mistake.

My initial idea of arriving at the store for a “spontaneous” menu creation was born after a few weeks of seeing my email inbox overflow with my brother’s dazzling bill of fare ideas and the suggestion that I begin hunting down local food purveyors who could source out needs.

Huhu (800x640)Panic set in when I realized I was going to have to make some long term promises and exchange money under the table. We were probably better off not knowing who could locate Huhu grubs, boiled duck embryo and sheep back fat. Okay, I could locate sheep back fat, but it was still very much in use by its current owners, so I had to put the brakes on. Whatever was in the bins and behind the shiny glass cases at the grocery store would source our needs.Backfat (800x412)

While in the shop, a common occurrence was turning my back for thirty seconds and then pivoting to see my brother surrounded by people—both shoppers and stockers—who were wholly absorbed by whatever my brother held in his hand and the sagacious, culinary-infused words that came from his mouth. Within moments, folks were raising their hands to share a personal story—both ebullient and tear-jerking—of some meal that moved them. My sibling is a Pied Piper of the gastronomic world.

The plan was to purchase ingredients for two evening dinners. The cart held enough for two evening dinners and all the essentials needed for making our way through The Joy of Cooking twice. (Our chef is used to things coming into his kitchen by the forklift load.)Shop (800x568)

Once back at the ranch, it’s all business. Aprons donned, knives honed, hands scrubbed, patient prepped. (And by patient, I mean “deceased bovine.”)

We made steak fajitas. Except these didn’t taste remotely close to my original version—the one I’ve perfected over years and years of practice. Mine were no longer perfect. But the fact that I took mental notes and then called my brother because my mental notes had massive gaps in them means my steak fajitas will now be perfect again. That is, until he comes back to visit.

We pummeled avocados, chopped onions, diced tomatoes, gutted peppers, shaved cheese, seared skirt steak, shredded greens and peeled garlic. Bushels of garlic. There is no vampiric activity within miles of the house. In fact, we can’t even get Twilight to play on TV.

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But here’s the big chef secret free giveaway: VANILLA.

Yep, you read it right. The stuff we put in ice cream and cookies. The chef says to take about 1 ½ — 2 lbs of skirt steak and marinate it in the juice of four freshly squeezed limes (toss the lime halves in as well), 1/2 cup of olive oil, an entire head of garlic (don’t worry about chopping, just peel and smash each clove with the back of a knife), salt, pepper, oregano, and 1/4 cup of high-quality vanilla. Let it burble away for an hour on the counter or for the day in the fridge. Grill it. Slice it. Eat it. Beg for more.

The other big meal was an experiment that came to us on the fly. We were going to smoke short ribs, but decided to use a slightly unconventional wood. In fact, it wasn’t wood at all. It was PEAT. My favorite flavor in the world.

DSC09747 (800x450)Last summer, I got myself a birthday present. Two forty pound bags of peat. They arrived in two canvas sacks, housed within a large cardboard box and handed over by one irate UPS guy. “You shipped eighty pounds of dirt to yourself?” he asked me, rubbing his back.

“Yes. But it’s really old dirt,” I explained.

Then at Christmas, I received another eighty pounds of it. I didn’t order it. No one in my family ordered it. And I know the UPS guy didn’t order it. It was a mistake from the company. Thank you, Irishpeat.com. Sorry, UPS guy.

So we smoked these beautiful grass fed short ribs for about three hours and then made a one pot meal by layering the ribs on the bottom, covering them with mirepoix, beer, beef broth and eventually adding potatoes and greens to finish. Click here for the full recipe.DSC09761 (800x540)

Lest it need to be spelled out, the grub was good. Damn good. What phrase is more potent than damn good that I can use to explain the awesome quality without offending sensitive ears? You’re right. There is none available.

But to sum it all up, we acquired, we cooked, we conquered. The kitchen, although scarred, is grateful to have been included.

Thanks, Bro.

~Shelley

Don’t forget to check out what we’re cookin’ in the Scullery (here) and what we all talked about down in the pub (here). And to see more of Robin Gott’s humor–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone–click here.

Sibling revelry

My brother is a liar.

Not only that, he’s a cheat, he steals things and he smells like he’s been wrestling inside a giant vat of rotting fish.Liar (800x653)

Okay, maybe I should have put all of that in the past tense or surrounded it with quotes and introduced it with, I announced to my mom when we were nine and ten. But then that takes all the fun out of knowing his face will go beet-red when he reads this. And I’d almost give my left lung to be there when it happens because that opening paragraph is a form of payback for popping all my Barbie dolls’ heads off, supergluing them together and then using them as a makeshift whiffle ball for batting practice. Barbie (800x597)I might have misremembered some of those exact facts, but the end result was basically the same: I was miserable.

Except when I wasn’t.

And that “non-miserable” status was actually a much more frequent state of mind.

My brother was my roommate, my playmate, and a very convincing Frederick the Great whenever we played war, which happened repeatedly. We agreed to rotate the games we played: we could build stuff with sticks in the woods, sword fight with sticks in a field, or pile up sticks and attempt to light them on fire.

The alternative was that I could get chased with a stick if I didn’t agree to one of the prior games.salkville,shell&steve001 (622x639)

It was a rare day when we got to play house, but when we did, it was Little House on the Prairie where I got to be Ma and watch him play Pa. He built us a “log cabin,” fought off warring Native Americans who wanted to run us off our homestead, and started a smoldering fire on which I could cook him his grub. Still sticks, no matter how you look at it.

There was one thing we heartily agreed upon though, and that was food. Everything we did was centered around getting, sneaking, stealing, making, hunting, fishing or feasting on grub.

on ya bike...

on ya bike… (Photo credit: deer_je)

If we wanted to get up early to bike through the woods to arrive in time for sunrise on the lake, we first had to fill plastic bags with cereal, grab two spoons and strap a thermos of milk to the handle bars. We’d make a quick stop to pick blueberries en route, then it was breakfast on the pier.

If we hoped to act like all the folks with big RVs and fancy tents who arrived at the local campground down the street and who got to eat Toni’s pizza, drink orange Fanta and play pinball while listening to the jukebox, we first needed to put our allowance savings plan into action. If we couldn’t scrounge up enough quarters to cobble together the price of the entire event, we’d settle for just the pizza. We had to have that pizza.

How stealthily could we sneak a fistful of pre-breakfast Oreos out of the booby-trapped cookie jar on a Saturday morning? How many weeds would we have to pull in our ancient neighbor’s vegetable patch before she’d call us in for sizzling fresh perch, drowning in home-churned butter and yanked out of the lake not an hour before?

Angry squirrel

Angry squirrel (Photo credit: @Doug88888)

How many blueberries could we stuff down our gullets while slyly creeping through the woods, hoping to ambush preoccupied squirrels, engrossed in nut gathering? How many wintergreen leaves did we scarf down, pretending it was candy? How many winter snowfalls had us tearing open a package of Kool-Aid or Jello in order to open our own professional snow cone stand with us as our only customers?

Things haven’t changed greatly, although supposedly he’s a grown up. He pays most of his taxes. He drives a truck now instead of a bike. His three beautiful daughters cling to him like ring-tailed lemurs on a mighty oak, so I’m gathering either he’s learned how a bar of soap works or his children have no sense of smell.Chef (551x800)

He has an actual job that pays more than his childhood allowance. And as sad as he was to give up playing Charles Ingles, he refused to give up centering life around food. Somehow, he learned to read and write while I wasn’t looking. And apparently muscled his way through the Culinary Institute of America.

They call him “Chef.”

I call him lucky.

Yeah, maybe he no longer lies, cheats, steals or smells, but he still plays with sticks. He’s just swapped out those long, woody weapons for shorter, sharper blades.

Still sticks, no matter how you look at it.

~ShelleyBarrels (800x630)

*Next week, we’ll go shopping with our chef since he came out for a visit. And once we put the groceries away, chef and I did some sword fighting in the kitchen. Come back to see who wins.

Don’t forget to check out what we’re cookin’ in the Scullery (here) and what we all talked about down in the pub (here). And to see more of Robin Gott’s humor–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone–click here.

Family Ties That Tug

Palace of Westminster.

Palace of Westminster. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I will be in London for Thanksgiving this year.

For me, it’s the second worst day of the year to be in London. The first, of course, is the Fourth of July. Sir Sackier made a practice of “accidentally” arranging family summer holidays so we’d be out of the country during America’s annual celebration of freedom from the British. We’d usually find ourselves ensconced within the warren of London’s streets, dazed from playing Follow the Leader where The Leader regularly forgot he had a family of three—jet-lagged and cranky—pulling up the rear.

One can’t expect the British to be all, “U-rah-rah!” over helping traveling Americans celebrate a page in the history books they might want to tear out and use as fire starter. Perhaps it’s the equivalent of picking at a scab. To Sir Sackier, it remains an open, festering wound.

550d - London - Churchill at Big Ben London

550d – London – Churchill at Big Ben London (Photo credit: @Doug88888)

To compensate, three quarters of the family were often found slumping against one another in cavernous museums, led by our own family monarch as he enlightened our weak-muscled minds about the hundreds of years of British invention and innovation. Surprisingly, there are quite a few dark corners in Churchill’s bunker where one can catch a quick kip.

Regardless, there’s an ever-increasing number of American expats living in the land of palaces and prisons. And because many of my countrymen have found it near impossible to be more than fifty feet from the big-boothed safe haven of chain restaurants, and because eateries find catering to the appetite of their diners a no-brainer in helping to pay their electric bills, locating an establishment willing to rustle up some Turkey Day grub is easier than imagined.

Whether they go for a dressed down sort of experience and order a McGobble-Gobble, or they get all gussied up and search out a big bird with all the trimmings, Americans are offered plenty of places willing to pull together the makings for a slice of comfort pie.

But it won’t be the same.

Line art drawing of Pteranodon.

Instead of man-handling a thirty-two pound turkey/pterodactyl into a Kmart kiddie swimming pool for a 24 hour soak in our own version of the Dead Sea, a tradition I’ve always cherished doing with my mom the night before, I will lie awake in bed knowing she’ll probably have chucked a three pound turkey breast into a salt-filled ziplock bag and tossed it to the back of the fridge. Likely she’ll still make a good dent in the fifth of scotch we would use to reward ourselves for slowly moving the bird from the back of the car and onto the back porch without breaking a wing or a leg or a sweat.

Instead of waking in the morning to find my parents in my kitchen, freshly scrubbed, aprons on, knives sharpened, coffee made and ready to discover just how many things I forgot to purchase at the grocery store and will need to send Sir Sackier back out for, I will sit quietly at a table with a cup of English Breakfast and nod consolingly toward the opposite end of the table where my husband grows increasingly shocked at the price of petrol, the loss of traditional values and how the American debt crisis could be solved if one English footballer simply donated three or four week’s pay.

Pie-Making - transferring the dough

Pie-Making – transferring the dough (Photo credit: CaptPiper)

Instead of kneading, rolling and crimping seven pie crusts using seven unique “no fail” recipes with the hope that at least two of them will “no fail,” I will contemplate the possibility that my mother will have decided to forgo pie altogether and simply give everyone their own pint of Ben & Jerry’s and a spoon in place of all the fuss.

Rather than hiding the salt from my mother just before she makes the gravy—who by late afternoon has lost all taste receptors that report salinity on her tongue due to her third jug of scalding coffee (okay, and maybe the cask strength single malt scotch, capable of scraping the tartar off of anyone’s teeth)–I will disembark from the bowels of an underground, blink back at the bright light of day, and scan across hundreds of heads rushing in and out of the Waterloo tube station, wondering which direction Sir Sackier dashed off toward.

Schlitz

Schlitz (Photo credit: fixedgear)

Instead of collapsing into a chair once we’ve finally gotten all the food to the dining room table and nearly allowing my head to slump forward to land in a pool of mashed potatoes larger than a pig trough full of slops, I will sit staring off into space in the back of a black cab wondering if my dad will have opened up a beautiful bottle of Beaujolais to compliment his can of Ocean Spray cranberry sauce or simply pulled back the tab on a can of Schlitz.

In place of gathering around the same table hours later after a post poultry nap to play Balderdash while we take turns shooing the dog out from under the table because of the nasally corrosive fumes he’s emitting, I will slip into a bed belonging to a crisply run British hotel and lie beneath covers so sharply starched I would not be surprised to find out they’d simply bleached off the words from last night’s Evening Standard.

Scène de l'Ordre de Bon Temps, Acadie (1606). ...

So although I won’t physically be in America for Thanksgiving this year, I’ll still be there.

But it won’t be the same.

~Shelley

Don’t forget to check out what’s cookin’ in the Scullery this week (here) and what we’re all talkin’ about down in the pub (here)!

The Party; prodigious promise, dismal delivery.

Car Fire

Car Fire (Photo credit: jasonbolonski)

I knew what I was going for last week when I started preparing my mother’s birthday dinner. Something warm, something autumnal, something that screamed, “Thanks for everything and I’m really sorry about setting the family car on fire that one Christmas when I was sixteen.” You know … a complete package message.

I go for the same theme each year, and each year I fall spectacularly short.

It usually starts with the number of attendees. When throwing a birthday dinner, it’s proven to be most readily appreciated if the individual whose birth you are celebrating is present (unless it’s something like Presidents’ Day or Christmas, in which one finds it unreasonable to expect the dead to appear).

This year, the number of invitees dwindled. It was only going to be my mom, my kids and myself: small, intimate, deflating.

I was going to have to cancel the big band swing orchestra and the caterer. I drew the line at calling off the inflatable moon bounce, because that has proven to be the highlight of the evening for my mom the last five years running.

Cab Calloway and His Orchestra, from the openi...

Cab Calloway and His Orchestra, from the opening credits of Max Fleischer’s Minnie the Moocher, which included a recording of the titular Calloway song. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I spent the entire previous day making this beautiful Gingery Spiced Cake with Sour Cherries and a Sour Cherry Glaze. And by the entire day, I mean the whole time between 3:30 and 4:45, but I shoved twenty-four hours worth of love into that labor.

The following day, I worked feverishly at creating a Smoked Turkey and Black Lentil Stew, filled with smoked turkey and black lentils.

There were a billion other things in there too, and it was supposed to be recorded and preserved for everyone to see under the Scullery section, but I forgot to take pictures until everything was already in the crockpot. It proved near impossible to separate the teeny tiny black lentils from the onions, Kuri squash and thyme leaves in order to set up individual photo shots of each ingredient–and I did try for a while–but there was a lot left to be done, so I gave up.

Champagne Fountain

Champagne Fountain (Photo credit: whatadqr)

I needed time to set up the champagne fountain and direct the newly arrived Grand Marshall as to the best route for the military parade later that day.

Once I finally unloaded the three vans full of white orchids, set up the fireworks and laser show outside, and emptied a room large enough to fit the shark tank in, I woke to the sound of the ringing telephone. (It turns out all those bits in between making the stew and filling up Shamu’s new digs were part of a lavish afternoon kip on the couch, but it didn’t make it any less real to me.)

The phone call was Chloe, announcing she and her brother were on their way home from his brutal soccer practice and her mind-numbing after-school job. They were hungry. Make food.

By the time they got home everything was ready: the stew, the cake, the set table , the small string quartet I’d settled for (okay, the CD player providing us with a little mood music). The problem was … we had no guest of honor.

I told the kids to have a light snack, which to them usually involves a bagel, a smoothie, a bowl of popcorn, some soup and an entire pantry shelf full of cookies. They were set for the next thirty minutes.

BomB   clip art by G.P. du Berger

BomB clip art by G.P. du Berger (Photo credit: HTML’S MAGIC)

After an hour and a half, I phoned my mother, who always answers her iPhone the same way: like it’s a small explosive device that could detonate at any moment, and therefore, she must handle it like plutonium.

“Hello?” came the tentative, faraway voice on the other end of the line. She usually holds it at arm’s length.

“Mom? What time are you coming for dinner?”

“My last student is late. I’m waiting for him.”

Note: my mother is a violin teacher who would rather be drawn and quartered, watching her intestines being roasted on an open flame in front of her, than miss instructing a small child of three or four how to properly take a bow.

“How late?”

“About an hour and a half, but he hasn’t phoned to cancel, so I’m assuming he’s still coming.”

“Mom. His lesson is a total of fifteen minutes. He’s missed it six times over. He’s not coming. Dinner is ready.”

“You go ahead and start without me. I’m just finishing up.”

I put the phone down and cradled my head. I am again in the situation where I must celebrate a birthday without the birthed celebrant.

“DINNER!” I called.

Stop eating animals

Stop eating animals (Photo credit: xornalcerto)

The dog and cat came running.

Ladling out the stew, the first question I get when handing it to my daughter is, “Is there meat in it?”

I answer yes, but remind her that the turkey was a vegetarian, so it should be okay in the end.

The next question is, “Are there guts in it?”

This is a question everyone asks if they know we’ll be dining with either one or both of my Polish parents.

“Not today, sweets. It’s guts-free gruel.”

We finish dinner, clean up and the kids leave to do homework. My mom’s car pulls up the driveway. She comes in looking exhausted. I place a bowl of stew in front of her, but then have to return half of it to the crockpot, because she insists it’s too much. I convince her to have a glass of wine from a very special bottle, pushing it into her hands. I sit across from her, watching as she nudges my stew around on the plate.

Finally, I call the kids down and we light the cake and bring it in. It looks beautiful. My daughter snaps photos, we pass out the pieces. My son takes a bite and announces in Spanish to his sibling that my chocolate cake tastes like mierda. I retort to my surprised fourteen-year old that firstly, it does not taste like poo and secondly, it is not chocolate and thirdly, I worked for hours on making that cake (75 minutes), and that I do not appreciate either his language or his lack of appreciation.

I turn to my mother. “What do you think? Do you like it?”

She shrugs her shoulders, “Truthfully, I can’t taste a thing. I’ve got a cold. I’m heading to bed.”

Moon bouncing!

Moon bouncing! (Photo credit: Zombies and Dinner)

I look at the dog and cat.

“You guys wanna go for a moon bounce?”

~Shelley

Don’t forget to check out what’s cookin’ in the Scullery this week (here) and what we’re all talkin’ about down in the pub (here)!

Birthdays; a cacophony of cake, calamity and cadavers.

A pile of inflatable balloons.

Birthdays.

People often fall into one of two camps when theirs come around: the kind that want balloons, and the kind that pop them.

I tend to tell my family to save their breath–not because I don’t like balloons, but because Sir Sackier is a god-awful singer, and without doubt, everybody wants to sing the duet part. It’s a train wreck of a song, but that’s not it. It’s not even half over after the first rousing chorus because then it has to be sung in Polish, then Spanish, and finally, just to impress, someone might start a verse in Hebrew. That one usually peters out quickly as no one is ever quite sure they remember the words, and it feels almost sacrilegious to continue muttering and mumbling something that could be mistaken for clearing your throat of phlegm.

Ducks in macao

Also, I was raised in a household that eventually fostered a lackadaisical attitude toward birthday celebrations. Being Polish, all festivities required the slaughtering of some unlucky animal, and seriously, one can only stomach so much duck blood soup. Therefore, I’m left trying to explain to my own kids why I’m not fussed when no one from my family calls or shows up to wish me happy returns on the day.

“Aren’t you offended? Doesn’t it hurt your feelings?” they’d ask.

“Nope. We were raised not to have feelings. We couldn’t afford them. Plus, we’re not big on guilt. We’ve still got a mighty big bag of it left over from catechism classes, so I think we’re all pretty much set for life in that department.”

Happy Birthday!

Now it’s not that my family doesn’t ever recognize one another’s birthdays, it just happens a little later in the calendar year–like over the phone when someone has called to let you know that another ninety-year old relative has finally shuffled off this mortal coil.

“Hey, you just turned thirty, didn’t you?”

“Yep. ‘Bout seven years ago.”

“Cool. And Ciocia Grazyna kicked the bucket.”

“Who?”

“Dad’s Great Auntie Gracie.”

“Good heavens, I had no idea she was still alive.”

“Apparently it came as quite a shock to the rest of the family, too. Three people swore they attended her funeral two years ago.”

Nowadays, birthdays for me are much more about taking stock. I start the morning off in bed and go through a small, yet growing, checklist. Toes still working? Check. Breath coming in and out? Slow, but steady. Check. Right arm still capable of hurling wretched alarm clock across the bedroom? Let’s see …

Check.

I take stock of what hurts, and more importantly, what doesn’t, but normally does. I say a small prayer of thanks and then throw a few curses at the bits that are louder than usual.

I try to get up early enough to drag a lopsided lounge chair outside, or find an accommodatingly soft rock to perch on, in order to watch the sunrise. It’s sort of a gift I give myself. That and the two shots of tequila I bring out as a pre-breakfast tipple.

I’m only kidding. I don’t actually get up to see the sunrise.

Petra's Yoga Poses around the world

Let’s all pretend this is me, okay?

Ok, seriously, I usually pick some yoga pose and try to hold it for as many seconds as years I’ve lived all while watching the sun creep above the horizon. By the time I’ve finished, the squirrels are having a good laugh, and birds are pointing out to their young just what not to do.

It doesn’t matter, I’ll get them all back later. We used to eat a lot of squirrel while growing up. We called it tiny chicken.

Usually, I then come into the kitchen, where Sir Sackier has cooked up something that one would normally see on a twelve-course tasting menu, but all on one plate, and the kids are bustling about snatching things like my iPad out of my hands, telling me I shouldn’t be doing any heavy lifting today.

The day continues with me basically eating too much, laughing too hard, and worrying that my kitchen will never look as it once did a few hours earlier.

I spend time really focusing on things. The direction of my writing, the height of my children, the sagging of my–well, never mind that–the point is I look with fresh eyes. Okay, maybe the eyes themselves aren’t so fresh, but the perspective is.

The phone rings and one of the kids peeks at the caller ID and says, “Hey, Mom, it’s your second cousin Celia.”

“Don’t answer it,” I shout.

“Geez, Mom, they’re only going to wish you a happy birthday.”

“No, they’re not. They’re calling to tell me about somebody’s deathday.”

“Whatever,” they respond. “And just so you know, G-ma and G-pa’s car just pulled into the driveway.”

Herding ducks in the New Forest

“Quick! Somebody hide the ducks. Or we’re going to have two funerals to attend this week.”

“No worries. Dad’s already made dinner. He said you’d love it.”

“Great,” I sigh. “What did he make?”

“I’m not really sure … I think he said it was some kind of soup.”

~Shelley

Don’t forget to check out what’s cookin’ in the Scullery this week (here) and what we’re all talkin’ about down in the pub (here)!

 

Pitchforks to fancy forks

Farm to table. It sounds so easy, so simple, so … no brainer, right? You farm your food, pick it, eat it.

Tah dah!

Except anyone who farms realizes there might be a few whoopsy-poos that can happen somewhere between dirt and dinner.

Yet surprisingly, you can’t turn around these days without bumping into somebody who is  ripe with success, making headlines in the food world.  Either they have a forthcoming book all about the way they turned a small third-world village into a new sustainable enterprise with nothing more than a tractor made from Legos, or they’ve opened five new restaurants which are run on recycled potato skins and leftover lemon rinds. I’ve even stayed in a hotel that stocked toilet paper made from sheep poo pellets.

I would love to be one of these people.

I am not.

James Shikwati, Kenyan economist, at the TEDGl...

So, until I come up with an ingenious way to run a dairy farm on methane gas, or discover an unknown symbiotic relationship between worms and non-recyclable plastic, I can only support the people who do find jaw-dropping ways to make the news and soon show up on stage at a TED talk.

One of those ways is to attend a farm dinner.

Farm dinners, also known as meals in the meadow, pitchfork to plate, farm to fork, or cowpie to peach pie (only kidding), are a growing trend inspired by the healthy locavore movement. Usually a local chef lends his name and talents to the community’s neighboring food producers and creates a memorable multicourse meal in a farmer’s barn, a field among the livestock, on the beach beside the roaring surf, or in the vineyards between the chardonnay and the pinot noir.

Oftentimes, diners get a farm tour and listen to the chef and farmers chatter about what Bessie had for dinner last night in the barn just before slaughtering time. They might even throw in her final words, surely a message of thanks to the farmers for a true quality of life experience. It was probably something like, “Moo,” but it might have been, “Mooove that knife. It’s too close to my throat.”

We’ll never know.

I actually went to my first farm dinner last night. It was held at the historic Virginia estate called Morven: a property with a pedigree that likely links back to biblical times when Moses was trying to rent a summer home to get out from under the skin-shriveling heat of the dessert. Okay, I totally made that last bit up, but click on the property link and make yourself a large pot of tea. There’s a bucketload to learn about the estate.

The dinner was held in support of the Charlottesville City Schoolyard Garden program that uses a garden-based curriculum to help promote health awareness, scholastic success, and neighborhood involvement. Math? Measure and chart plant growth. Science? Understand and view firsthand what chlorophyll is all about. Music? Tomatoes are said to be partial to Handel and The Rolling Stones. (I’m joking. They hate Handel.)

Chef Gay Beery of A Pimento put out a luscious spread for 90 + diners under the setting sun on an old Virginia farm, using food from at least five surrounding farms and one school garden.

Thomas Jefferson was no doubt smiling in his grave as folks sipped wines from the soil he’d first planted vines in shortly before the Revolutionary War.

The food, the farm and the fruit of the vines created a spectacular evening—one I think everyone should be able to take part in.

Go ahead. Look it up. Google farm to table and see what pops up in your neighborhood. Then make a reservation and see what happens. Shortly afterward you may find yourself:

-eating more vegetables

-buying local food

-starting your own garden

-heading up a community veggie patch

-solving world hunger

-writing a book about it

-giving a TED talk

Even if you only make it halfway down that list of exceptional accomplishments, you have done yourself and many others a great deed.

Now go forth. Grow. Eat green. Be green.

Get a farmer’s tan.

~Shelley

 

PS If you’re searching for seeds (from arugula to zucchini and everything in between), I’m recommending a company that not only has a worthy mission creed but a wonderful moral code. Give The Mauro Seed Company a looksee.

Their motto? Grow One, Give One. I’m impressed. Maybe you will be too.

Don’t forget to check out what’s cooking this week in the Scullery (here) and what folks are talkin’ bout down at the pub (here)!

 

The modest virgin, the prudent wife and the careful matron

With the whole Mother’s Day variety show behind us, I find it uncanny that both coincidence and example have blossomed before me almost repeatedly this week. The message is simple: household management is a must.

Maybe I’ve spent too much time watching the bustling wren nest over the last four weeks. It could be the catastrophic laundry room I’ve walked past a thousand times, but refuse to look into. Or perhaps that seventeen minute nap I took on Mother’s Day finally put us all behind schedule until the Fourth of July. Whatever the reason, I imagine these recurring illustrations are much like when a woman is pregnant; all she sees are the faceless masses of other pregnant women.

I see a mess in need of sorting.

I doubt I can be accused of running the tight and somewhat unforgiving household I did when my children were still of the age where I could easily demand their cooperation, or strike an element of fear in them with nothing more than a narrowing of the eye.

In fact, I’ve done that trick so often my eyes now remain in that fixed position, constantly suspicious, and puffy with lack of sleep. There is little expression left in them now, and having consulted the latest manual on the care and maintenance of women, I am told I should not cling to expectation for any return in the future.

Yes, surgery is an option for some, but it will reveal nothing in me apart from the wary demeanor buried deep within (a plague no scalpel can nip and tuck away, and only grain alcohol can temporarily blur).

Before I stray too far with my customary refusal to stick to the point, I’ll pull us back to management issues, the topic at hand.

Rijkmuseum Library, Amsterdam

Rijkmuseum Library, Amsterdam (Photo credit: leafar.)

I usually bite off far more than I can chew when it comes to my reading list, and because the literary world is analogous to an endless buffet of food (in turns savory, necessary and poisonous), I tend to keep about eight or nine books going at a time.

No, I don’t mix up characters or plots, authors or ideology, mainly because they all differ vastly from one another. Good writing is good writing, and I’ll inhale it whether it smells of curry, sabotage, or cheap wine and cigarettes.

At my bedside table is The Cookbook Collector by Allegra Goodman, the last few pages waiting to be read and returned to the library. Within the 350 previous pages were references to old cookbooks that had me scouring Google Books in search of more than the title, author and a passing reference to the odd recipe here and there.

Title Page of "Beeton's Book of Household...

Title Page of “Beeton’s Book of Household Management” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the titles was a book I’d come across in past research but had never had the opportunity to fully appreciate until now. Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management is part recipe book, part advice column, but most importantly, a strict guideline for how things ought to be done if you wanted them done properly in 1861.

There is no way to paraphrase Isabella Beeton’s words. To fully appreciate her tone and message, I’ve pasted an excerpt of what I feel best sums up the woman, her opinion, and her ‘there are no excuses’ attitude.

As with The Commander of an Army, or the leader of any enterprise, so is it with the mistress of a house. Her spirit will be seen through the whole establishment; and just in proportion as she performs her duties intelligently and thoroughly, so will her domestics follow in her path. Of all those acquirements, which more particularly belong to the feminine character, there are none which take a higher rank, in our estimation, than such as enter into a knowledge of household duties; for on these are perpetually dependent the happiness, comfort, and well being of a family. In this opinion, we are borne out by the author of “The Vicar of Wakefield,” who says: “The modest virgin, the prudent wife, and the careful matron, are much more serviceable in life than petticoated philosophers, blustering heroines, or virago queens. She who makes her husband and her children happy, who reclaims the one from vice and trains up the other to virtue, is a much greater character than ladies described in romances, whose whole occupation is to murder mankind with shafts from their quiver, or their eyes.

Isabella Beeton (1836-65). Hand-tinted albumen...

Isabella Beeton (1836-65).

Whew. I get the feeling she walks about with a well-oiled whip at her side.

I love that part about her domestics following in her path. My dog and cat are the only domestics that follow me anywhere in our house, and that’s usually just to the bathroom for a change of scenery.

And as far as classifying ‘a knowledge of household duties’ to be topmost on the list of high ranking feminine qualities, I would assume after quizzing my family they would likely replace that with not making eye contact with them when their friends are within a five mile radius. Second might be volunteering to take over their household duties.

Fashion plate from The Englishwoman's Domestic...

Fashion plate from The Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine of an 1869 issue

Yes, I greatly admire Mrs. Beeton, but I think, given the opportunity and permission not to judge herself too harshly afterward, she might have concluded that being a petticoated philosopher, a blustering heroine, or virago queen would have brought a hell of a lot more spice to her cooking and redefined her ‘careful matron’ strive-to-be status.

In the end, I find myself thumbing through her recipes, gauging whether I’d risk making dishes like barley gruel, cold tongue, or calves’ foot broth. At the risk of losing points in the prudent wife department, and possibly having to hand back my ‘Mother of the Year’ award, I’d best not.

But I’d bet the domestics would love it.

~Shelley

Don’t forget to check out what’s cookin’ in the Scullery this week (here) and what we’re all talkin’ about down in the pub (here)!

 

Arugula; Nothing to laugh about.

There are no fun facts about arugula. Period.

I’ve scoured the internet, intending to illuminate and entertain, but after having read everybody else’s idea of ‘fun,’ I have come to the conclusion that these folks need to get out more often.

For example: “Hey! We’re going to the dentist!”

“You are? You lucky ducks. Have a great time and tell us all about it later!”

This is not fun.

I need FUN facts about arugula in order to encourage others to buy it, plant it, grow it, eat it. It’s really difficult to sway folks–who are used to seeing their food handed to them through their car windows–to start eating something they think needs to be eradicated with a drenching douse of Round Up.

Yes, you can tell people about its history, the fact that it was around before the Romans conquered Rome, but so has dirt, and people aren’t tossing that into their tuna casseroles for dinner.

You can remind them that arugula is one of the only herbs that has made some interesting presidential headlines … oh wait, no, there’s another one.

Or how about I announce that arugula was once considered by many and used by scores as an aphrodisiac? Except for the fact that anything put next to flickering candlelight by default becomes an aphrodisiac. So it doesn’t count.

Since I could not come up with anything uproariously entertaining about the plant, I will divulge the few personal ‘fun’ facts I have encountered.

Beham, (Hans) Sebald (1500-1550): Hercules sla...

  1. I don’t remember planting it. It just showed up in my garden one day and we’ve been eating it as a science experiment ever since. No one seems to have been affected negatively.
  2. I cannot kill it. It’s like a Hydra. Seriously.
  3. I am competing in a one woman competition to see who can come up with the hottest, spiciest arugula leaf by leaving some of the plants to grow old, woody and leggy. Thus far, I am winning in that one of my plants may qualify as eligible firewood come fall.
  4. If you take one of the leaves and squish it between your fingers and then bring it to your nose while inhaling deeply, you will be reminded of the smell of … arugula. It’s amazing.
  5. Arugula leaves make wonderful bookmarks.
  6. I am trying to popularize my newest dance move called The Arugula. It intermingles nicely with The Funky Chicken and The Mashed Potato. This is best accompanied by Mozart’s only foxtrot.
  7. There are very few etchings and even fewer bronze carvings of the arugula plant.
  8. No one has ever recorded a song about arugula that has made it to the top of the charts.
  9. No one has ever recorded a song about arugula.
  10. Haggis, our resident hound, is addicted to it. He eats more of it than I do, and I’m writing this article … with his help.

Okay, so I hope this little pitch will have you all digging a small hole and tossing out a few seeds or snatching up a bunch at your local market. Or, if you find yourself in the neighborhood, come on up and I’ll load up the backseat of your car with some of mine.

Once you get home, here are a few ideas of what to do with your booty—er, bounty.

Arugula and Bacon quiche

Corn Macaroni with Asparagus, Fava Beans and Arugula Pesto

Penne with Turkey, Arugula, and Sun-Dried-Tomato Vinaigrette

Roasted acorn squash and gorgonzola pizza topped with arugula

Roasted Beet and Blood Orange Salad with Spicy Greens Recipe

Meatless Monday: Roasted Beet and Arugula Sandwich with Green Olive Tapenade

The Best Lentil Salad, Ever

Searching for the Best Arugula Pesto Recipe, Making Arugula Pesto Cream Cheese Spread, and Discovering Arugula Pesto Pizza

Now Go Forth and Arugulate!

~Shelley

Don’t forget to check out what’s cookin’ in the Scullery this week (here) and what we’re all talkin’ about down in the pub (here).

 

Man Jam

Ian Fleming's image of James Bond; commissione...

It’s hard to think of James Bond having anything but a dry martini to act as a quaffable accessory to his perfectly tailored tuxedo and a stunningly undernourished girl. You’d never see him handling a drink with an umbrella in it. (Of course, he would have no issue handling a girl who has a drink with an umbrella in it.)

And how often do you see men load up on yogurt? Especially something like Activia, which claims to “improve digestive transit?” I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard a gaggle of guys at the soccer field water fountain moaning while clutching their bellies, wishing they weren’t so bloated.

Sure, there are foods that are typically eaten by more females than males, and if you sit through five minutes of a football game on TV, you’ll find yourself fighting the urge to belch the alphabet along with the guys in the beer commercials. Although many get stuck on the letter B when the Beer, Beef & Babes subliminal advertising kicks in.

But what of cooking? Are there gender preferences there, too? I know plenty of women who handle the grill, but how many fellas make cake pops? Or madeleines? How many guys garnish? Author note: I do not.

portrait of Fanny Cradock

portrait of Fanny Cradock

But my husband does—and with great flare–but I attribute that to the fact that he’s English, grew up watching Fanny Cradock, and lived to tell of it.

Whether garnishing, soufflé-ing, quiche-ing, or mousse-ing, I’ve come across plenty of men who jump into the arena of artful technique and extreme creativity. However, it’s a little more unusual to come across one who will dip his toe into the pond of preserves. Seeing the average male come through the front door with an armload of Ball jars, a 33 quart enamel stockpot, and a basket full of freshly picked berries would make you look over his shoulder to see if he was carrying in June Cleaver’s groceries. Hearing the guy say, “Where’s my apron? Now clear out the kitchen, I’m about to bring Smucker’s to their knees,” is something many women would pay money to experience.

Is this so unusual? Not to G. Tilton Pugh II. He is a lineman at our local airport, drives a massive fuel truck, and probably performs his own tooth extractions. To top it off, this guy has made canning cool. He makes what I call MAN JAM. The jellies contain your average fruit, but he pitches in a load of jalapeños, allowing the more timid males at your breakfast table the opportunity to enjoy fruit preserves without fear of anyone eyeing his pinky when lifting a cup of tea.

Statements like, “Hey, pass me that kick-ass curd at your end of the table,” and “This stuff needs to be on a hunk a meat!” will likely float through conversation.

I expect folks will go through their closets, tossing shoes over their shoulders in the hunt for that old pair of cowboy boots gifted to them the year the whole high school thought them fashionable.

You’ll be greeted each morning with a quick nod and a, “Mornin’, ma’am.” Your husband may forego shaving for a day or two as it fits nicely with his new rough 24/7  five o’clock shadow. There may even be talk of trading in the minivan for a truck with a flatbed.

Visage de cowboy en profil

As heart-palpatatingly pleasant as it may be to find you’re suddenly living—if only temporarily—with the Marlboro Man, my point is that not only can fellas take it on their toast, but now they can make it for their toast.

All the raised eyebrows alone may be enough to encourage any guy to take a crack at it. Seeing the impressed faces at work as you leave a jar on someone’s desk with your own brand name like Men’s Meteoric Marmalade or Joe’s Jawbreaking Jelly can also become addictive.

The point, and I do have one, is that labeling activities as gender specific is wrong. Labeling jars by flavor and fire is fun! (If only as a cross off your bucket list activity.)

Men? Head on out to your local berry patch during the next month or two, or hunt the produce isles of your neighborhood Piggly Wiggly, and mosey on into the kitchen.

Pop some Dwight Yoakum, Johnny Cash, or any guy who’s spent some time in prison and came out the other side with a record deal into the CD player. Now make some MAN JAM.

Burning Bush Jams

Don’t forget the jalapeños. This stuff should scrape the tartar off your teeth.

Click here for MAN JAM recipes and ideas on how to use it elsewhere, or click here for G. Tilton Pugh II’s website, selection and order form.

Happy cooking, cowboys!

~Shelley

Don’t forget to check out what’s cookin’ in the Scullery this week (here) and what we’re all talkin’ about down in the pub (here).

Holy Cow

Watching my husband cook is a little like being in a car with him as he’s behind the wheel. You’re never quite certain if you’ll be arriving at the intended destination. There’s a lot of closing your eyes to the sights in front of you and whispering prayers to any and all deities listening. 

Walking into the kitchen while he’s hard at work will have you looking for the yellow and black tape, for the room should be partitioned off as a crime scene. Pots are upended, knives scattered across countertops, drops of unidentifiable liquid are splattered across cabinets and walls, and inevitably, several things gave up their life in the making of this meal.

That said, you are drawn in by the smells emanating from the nine or ten pots burbling on the stove where rattling lids spew a torrent of steam that would make a Turkish bath nod with approval.

On one occasion, after closing the front door and hanging up my coat, I followed strains of Bollywood music to the kitchen. The scene unfolded to reveal Sir Sackier with a wooden spoon in one hand and a martini in the other.

“What are you making?” I asked, looking around at the contents of my entire kitchen spread out on the counters like we’re having a rummage sale. I’ve always told myself not to panic at this point; keep a calm face.

“If it is pleasing you, I am to be making the salt beef,” came the reply in a brilliant imitation of Peter Sellers in The Party.

Cover of

I looked at the glass in his hand to determine just how far into the martini he’d gotten. “How’s it coming?”

“Most fine it is, to be certain.”

Sadly, I was not.

I saw the prep work that went into the making of this salt beef. Yes, it had all the regular bits and pieces: brisket, bay leaves, peppercorns and garlic, but it had one extremely worrying component—something I’ve never used before, mostly because it should be outlawed. Salt petre. Also known as Potassium Nitrate.

Most folks don’t use it for cooking anymore—not because it’s ineffective, but rather because it raises a few red flags when purchasing. Not only does it help pickle your brisket, but if you have any leftover, you can make fertilizer, explosives or solid rocket propellants. The dream kitchen created by NASA.

I looked into the Crockpot. Yum, gunpowder stew.

Knowing how long this chunk of beef spent in a briny solution of salt, salt and more salt, I was fairly positive we would be sitting down to a dinner of a large brown salt lick with a side of carrots.

But holding a plateful beneath my nose, the smells of beef, onions, carrots, celery and aromatic spices pushed aside any misgivings I’d had. The taste was out of this world.

This was a dish only the perfect Jewish Englishman channeling another Jewish Englishman channeling a Continental Indian could pull off. Truly a miracle.

And just like Sir Sackier’s car journeys, which can only be likened to the psychedelic boat ride from Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, his culinary destinations land you in a place unscathed, converted and more than willing to purchase a ticket for the next time.

For Sir Sackier’s Salt Beef recipe click here or go to the Scullery and scroll down to British, Brackish Brisket.

~Shelley

Don’t forget to check out what’s cookin’ in the Scullery this week (here) and what we’re all talkin’ about down in the pub (here).

 

Lights, Camera … Wait. Where are the lights?

Candles Flame in the Wind by Photos8.com

In addition to blowing out my hair, our lawn chairs, the flower boxes and a handful of shingles from the rooftop, our Herculean wind, blasting January through March across our mountaintop home, never forgets to tick off the last item on its ‘to-do’ list as a parting gift: it blows out the power.

I think of myself as a fairly prepared wanted-to-be Girl Scout, who, when throwing any kind of a dinner party—elaborate or no fuss—will write check lists in triplicate to make sure nothing is overlooked. Except it’s impossible to identify that one thing you overlooked when you’re looking at your list in the dark.

It happens with enough regularity to set a clock by, barring the fact that the timepiece I set repeatedly flashes twelve o’clock because the power has gone out yet again.

There’s nothing that ruffles my feathers more than the sound of silence where there was once the humming of my oven, six pots burbling on the stove top, Diana Krall crooning from the speakers and the tinkling of silverware as the table is decorated.

When I Look in Your Eyes

In its place is the, “Oof!” from my husband, falling up the stairs from the wine cellar—arms loaded for bear, the crash of glassware as my son who’s table setting loses sight of his work, my daughter’s cry of unheralded alarm at the loss of “IRRETRIEVABLE RELATIVISTIC QUANTUM FIELD THEORY RESEARCH!!” as she sits in front of a dark computer screen and a cackle buried deep within the roar of the demonic wind.

It is now that I consider the repercussions of snagging one of the bottles of wine still rolling down the hallway and heading straight for the comfort of my closet where I will shimmy out of whatever dreadful outfit I forced myself to wear for the evening and slip back into one of the umpteen pair of nonjudgmental-ever-forgiving yoga pants I own. I will curl up in a corner and if I’m truly lucky, find the wine bottle has a screw cap; otherwise, I’ll be forced to dig out shredded bits of cork with the back of an earring. (It’s been done before.)

Knowing I will never be forgiven if I pull that stunt, I take a deep breath, and use my mind’s eye to survey the damage in front of me. I’ve got hungry people coming to dinner and a dinner unfit for feeding said hungry people. And very shortly those folks will be arriving in front of an eerily dark house, believing they’ve got the wrong day, or we’ve changed our minds and went to bed early.

Downton Abbey

Just to add an element of apoplexy to my frenzied state, I remember my mother is staying with us, recuperating after some minor hand surgery, but so hopped up on Percocet, she continually mistakes me for either one of the servants from Downton Abbey or an old walnut armoire from her childhood bedroom. She will be trying to make it down the stairs solo or may have locked herself in a closet, believing it to be an elevator. If I don’t get to her straight away, I will soon find her at the bottom of the stairs needing substantially more Percocet.

Unfortunately, she’ll have to wait as I see a pair of headlights inching up the unforgiving driveway. Time’s up. Where the hell is my Plan B?

I hear my husband stub his toe on one of the spinning bottles and shout at the poor dog who’s announcing the arrival of our guests. I hear my despondent teen scientist sobbing at her desktop. And I hear my table setter holler, “Mom? Power’s out! Where are the candles?”

This last phrase is one that has repeatedly sent shivers down my spine. After every power outage I swear I will create a system of preparedness: memorable locations for flashlights, candles, matches and a corkscrew. And each time … I remember that sworn oath after the next power outage.

“In the apothecary chest,” I call back.

This goes on and on and on.

“Which drawer?”

“I can’t remember.”

I wait for it …

“WHAT?? WHICH DRAWER, MOM?”

Nobody sees me shrug in the dark, or cringe with self-loathing. I turn to speak in the direction of my young Marie Curie. “Please go help your brother find the candles.”

I can feel the rancor as she fumbles past me and know that it will mix with the already present hefty dose in the dining room. Nobody wants to search the apothecary chest. It has nearly one hundred drawers.

At last the blessed generator kicks on. It waits—an irritably long time—just to make sure that it’s truly needed, and that we aren’t simply testing circuits, or replacing fuses, or god-forbid seeing if it’s paying attention and ready to go.

roasting a marshmallow

Sadly, it’s too expensive to have the whole house wired to it. I remember the hot July day we had to pick and choose what we thought absolutely essential to have hooked up to the juice. Who needs heat? We laughed. Lights? Just the kitchen so we can find the marshmallows which we’ll cozily roast over our roaring fire. Microwave? Sure! We’ll make popcorn! Okay, that’s it, generator guys. Thanks for comin’ by and helping us ‘prepare for the worst’.

Idiot, idiot, idiot.

I hear peals of laughter from the front hall where my husband must have greeted our guests. I hear my mother introduce herself as Hyacinth Bucket from her favorite BBC series. I look at my no longer burbling pots on the stove and sigh.

Then I peek into the dining room to see the mellow glow of firelight on wood, candles covering every surface and effusing the room with a spellbinding sentiment. I squeeze my children and whisper thank you.

Someone comes up behind me for a hug, hands me a bottle of wine and sniffs the air. “Mmm …What’s for dinner?”

I laugh. “Popcorn, marshmallows …” I look down at the bottle of Merlot and smile at the screw cap, “And wine.”

~Shelley

Don’t forget to check out what’s cookin’ in the Scullery this week (here) and what we’re all talkin’ about down in the pub (here).

Food Fight

Perhaps it’s the same in your house, but come 7:22 a.m., two minutes past broadcasted departure time Monday thru Friday, my kitchen is ablaze with a mad panic rush of activity. Plastic tubs are flying from cupboard to counter. The cat shrieks from the pantry, and a voice bellows, “Move, Smudge!” from behind the door. The fridge door flies open with a force that suggests three times the power a 98 pound body can produce.

I make a mental note to check the hinges.

The dog, sensing the frantic energy, joins in at fevered pitch, snatching at swatches of loose clothing and dangling school bag straps. Someone shouts at the poor thing to Stay!as we fly out the front door and into the car, late and harried.

Given up

I rip out of the driveway, spraying gravel in a wide arc behind me and start the eye darting dance that is both necessary and routine when coming down the mountain. Whether deer, possum, raccoon, or hippo, they all know precisely when it is that we are in need of a clear runway, and usually choose to play chicken at that moment. If we are truly ill-fated, a posse of turkeys will band themselves together as if bowling pins waiting for the strike. They stare at my car, wild-eyed and frozen, a bowling ball of unprecedented proportions hurling toward them.

A flock of Eastern Wild Turkeys (Meleagris gal...

Turning onto the road and having woken half the surrounding hillside with a blaring horn of warning while pitching lightning fast down the mountain, I take a deep breath and ask, “What did you both pack for lunch?”

“Two Cliff bars and a Clementine,” is one response. “Water and a cheese stick,” is the other. The breath I’d inhaled rushes from my lungs, deflating my body and any hope I’d had for a stress-free day.

“What did you both have for breakfast?” I ask, a tiny bit of optimism pinned to their answers.

The responses, “I didn’t have time,” and “I wasn’t hungry,” quickly pierce that balloon.

The teenage stomach is one I can no longer fathom or recall. I am in a state of bewilderment when one begins to realize that this is the new normal. There is no going back. Now in charge of only one of their three (supposed) meals, I am forced to think strategically under pressure.

Flight Director Gene Kranz

Just like Gene Kranz when he gathered all the available engineers of NASA around a table and dumped a box of plastic hosing paraphernalia before them, telling them they needed to fit a large square through a small circle, I too, must pilfer through the items in my kitchen in order to squish a day’s worth of nutrition into a fork-sized bite to fit into a stomach that may or may not exist. When will they make a pill for this?!

Sound childhood nutrition is an obsession of mine—a cause I study, support and fight for. Now it’s also my sleep disorder.

Maybe I let the pendulum swing too far in my attempts to create children who strut out of the house each morning armed with a jar of kimchi, a cookie made entirely of quinoa and powdered stevia, and a sword to cut down any posters displaying golden arches or a stalk of corn.

English: Everlasting Gobstoppers candy made by...

I probably deserve it. In fact, chances are, my son will end up taking a position as an executive for Monsanto, tracking down and suing farmers for saving apple seeds from their lunch sacks, and my daughter will create the first workable prototype for Willy Wonka’s three course meal in a stick of sugar free gum. She’ll probably even get Congress to qualify it as a vegetable for school children because it has essence of carrot as one of its ingredients.

Dinner counts for a lot up here. The Family Meal is still important. We talk politics, debate religion and generally ignore anyone sliding food to the dog.

My hope is that one day, forty years from now, when my children are finally old (read wise) enough to have offspring of their own, my grandchildren will come to sit on my lap when visiting me at the Metamucil Relaxative Retirement Village, point to my Jell-O and say, “What is that? I’ve never seen that stuff before.”

I will smile and drool happily.

~Shelley

Don’t forget to check out what’s cookin’ in the Scullery this week (here) and what we’re all talkin’ about down in the pub (here).