A Fine Dish

dish (v) to emit a ready flow of inconsequential talk... babble, blab, burble... chatter, dither... gab, lallygag... natter, patter, prattle, rattle on... yammer, yawp...also...chew the fat, shoot the breeze, sling the bull.... and (n) a container to serve food -or- the food contained in the dish ....(archaic slang) a hot mama

Location: Rock Creek Township, North Carolina, United States

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Sushi for the American Male

So some of you may have noticed that Japanese cuisine is sweeping the nation. Helen particularly is interested in all things Japanese and has taken the plunge at our local favorite restaraunt Sushi 101. While she likens sashimi to eating nightcrawlers, she loves the sushi, the tempura, and of course the atmosphere.

Not so our intrepid 'I'll try anything once' boy Chris. Now this is the kid who is willing to stuff a whole lemon in his mouth, will top a nacho with seven variations of pepper sauce, and even braves himself to handle raw squid to make Calamari Ripieni. For some reason, though, he just cannot get sushi from the plate to his palate.

After much thought, Chris came up with his own variation of sushi for the American Male.

"Mom, how about this. You take a twinkie and wrap it in fruit leather. Then use a sharp knife and cut it into those little round circles. Who would know the difference?"

Monday, September 26, 2005

Like Mother. Like Son

He never ceases to amaze me.

We have some guidelines in our house about education and life's lessons. My children will not officially reach adulthood until they know how to
  1. do their own laundry (including putting it away)
  2. clean the bathroom
  3. cook and serve 5 balanced meals
The oldest is still working on boiling water but she makes an excellent fruit salad. The youngest can park himself behind a loaf of bread with jars of peanutbutter and jelly handy and he is always willing to stir the pots. It's Chris though, the middle child who shines in the kitchen.

It didn't take Chris very long to figure out the ins and outs of the microwave. His school has one and it gives him a real kick to bring in soups or burrito makings to wow (show off in front of) his friends. On the weekends we decide what ingredients he will need to throw together a real cafeteria lunch. But it's not this part of the meal that has captured his imagine. It's....


Chris makes the most amazing chocolate cake, usually using his great-grandmother's ("Grammy's Man's Cake") handwritten recipe. He is equally comfortable with cocoa powder and chocolate squares and is very particular about the vanilla. He also makes great frosting--right now he's on a lemon kick. Recently I had some friends over, immigrants from Vietnam. In their honor, Chris whipped up a colossal cake and was making the frosting when they arrived. They were fascinated! Not only were they interested in 'American style cooking,' they were delighted to see a guy in the kitchen.

"This is what we came to America for," said one. "This is equality."

Chris's latest creation comes from two recipes that he really favors. He loves chocolate pudding pie with a graham cracker crust but it's too messy for him to take to school. He also is a brownie fanatic (did I say like mother like son?) So what would be better than baking brownies in a graham cracker crust? He of course started with real butter, melted. Had a blast crunching up the graham crackers and tossing in some extra sugar when I wasn't looking. Pressed that into a pie tin and then poured in a brownie batter fortified with chocolate chips. When it was done it could be sliced like a pie, popped in a baggie and taken off to school.

There was nothing leftover.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Poughkeepsie Farm Project

While my dear friend posted this for me on her blog earlier this year, I wanted to share it here also. Last summer the kids and I took our yearly sojourn up the coast and I wanted to let you know about a project in the Hudson Valley.

Poughkeepsie NY is not a pretty town. Like many urban areas, it is in a constant state of decay and renewal. While Vassar College is certainly a lovely place, the surrounding neighborhood has gone through the usual flux of affluence and poverty. A five block walk in any direction repetitively demonstrates the 'two Americas.'

The first week in July my sister drove me through some grubby streets then hooked onto a narrow dirt and gravel drive into a stand of trees. Beyond a bend there were a couple of tiny buildings--and seven acres of thriving fields. Tucked between city streets, Vassar College, and office parks is the Poughkeepsie Farm Project. On land leased from that college, a group of people devoted toward a just and sustainable food system for the Mid-Hudson Valley have reawakened farmland not only for the use of members but to provide fresh and local produce for local soup kitchens and shelters and as an experiential learning arena for students and ommunity members.

My children headed for the strawberry fields where they turned over little leaves to find tiny sparkling sweet berries--nothing like the fat fruit we see in markets (the ones that emphasize the 'straw' not the berry). A local baker set up his goodies on a plank under the spreading canopy of a maple tree just before the distribution building, a cool cave of brick with barely room to walk through the crates and shelves stuffed with greens, garlic tops, zucchini, broccoli. They were still in the late spring season--salads, young and mature greens, peas, and the beginning of cucumbers and squashes. The ten pound weekly allotment is ample for my siter's family of four.

A few steps out of the doorway brings you to the herb garden which is protected by chicken wire and a woven vine fence. Paths separate the different beds with bee balm brightening the entrance. The oregano was so pungent you could find it in the dark and the basil! In the center is a small gazebo-meditation area built by members.

It was so beautiful that I cried.

If you are in Upstate New York up until November, I encourage you to stop by. The people, of course, are wonderful and the project is inspiring.


Thursday, September 22, 2005

Food and Crisis

Some people think that a food crisis is when dinner is 15 minutes away and there isn't any baking powder for the biscuits. This is not really a crisis. You just need to combine some baking soda and cream of tartar or better, substitute baking soda and buttermilk. No, the degree of crisis that has everyone talking is the natural-disaster-terrorist-attack-the-end-is-near variety.

I heard last weekend varying reports from government sources that every household should have between 3 days and 3 weeks food and water on hand in case of a crisis to tide them over before the men in white hats show up to save the day. Now I found these reports disturbing on numerous levels, most of them obvious in the light of the images and first-hand accounts that we have all seen and heard but I am going to save that rant for a cold day this winter when we need some hot air to keep us warm. What I would like to share is a really nutritious and yummy and easy and portable food that is very slow to spoil.

Ya ready?

Granola. (OK, bring on the fruit and nuts jokes. One day soon I'll have enough to write a book. )

One of the great things about granola is that the ingredients can be kept in sealed mason jars for an extended period of time without spoiling. In my house the ingredients are replenished often but if you don't have much use for rolled oats, various seeds, or dried coconut, they have a long shelf life. Also, granola can be made with or without cooking in case there's no power (although it can be toasted over an open fire). It is light weight, high in energy, fiber, and nutrition and is very filling. Would you want to live on granola for three weeks? Well, that's why they call it a crisis.

Cooked granola is roasted spread out on baking sheets in a slow oven (300 degrees) for about 15 minutes. Most have rolled oats as a base. Of course whole oat kernels would be too hard to digest and instant oats have all of the nutritional value scared out of the poor beleaguered little guys. The oats are mixed with some kind of oil (which is what makes it roast) and some kind of flavoring like maple syrup or honey. A variety of nuts and seeds and dried fruits can also be added. I put the fruit in after it's cooked because I like the texture. Here's a really yummy combination--


A large canister of oats

A cup or so of oil (soy is good, so is peanut or canola--olive oil is not)

Enough maple syrup for the oats to stick together a little bit--not dripping

In a really big bowl mix:

1 cup soy flour

1 c dry milk

2 c wheat germ

1 c coconut

2 c sesame seeds

1 c sunflower seeds

1 c pumpkin seeds

2 c almonds

Add the oats mixture to the big bowl and mix well.

Roast on a baking tray in a thin layer for about ten minutes. Remove from oven and stir or flip mixture over then roast 5 minutes more. When you take it out of the oven, the nuts won't be super crunchy but by the time they cool, it will have that great toasty aroma and crunch. Cool in a separate bowl.

When it's cool add


dried apricots

dried bananas

This makes about 35-40 cups.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

It's in the genes.

I have it-got it from my father. He got it from his mother and I have passed it on to my oldest son. My sister does not have it, nor does her husband but my niece does. What is it?

The cooking gene.

This elusive and wonderful cross-gender strand of D.N.A. provides the potential for creative cookery. It is not necessary for chefs whose art is more about consistency, timing, and detail. No, genetic cooker-ers are the people who can taste from smell, who make meals from the scraps in the bottom of the refridgerator, who respond to a recipe with 'sounds good but swap the basil for rosemary and....' We wake up from an early morning dream remembering not the plot or imagery but the question 'was that roasted garlic or crushed shallots Johnny Depp was pressing into portabello mushrooms?'

We LOVE to please palates but are a nightmare to cooking technicians. While my family has both (as well as some who shun the kitchen altogether) this trait is wholly absent from my husband's gene pool. This has been the cause of some stress for my mother-in-law. She is a wonderful old-style provider whose meals start with seedlings under glass before awakening soil in the spring. Every meal year round features something that she grew, picked, canned, pickled, or froze. Her herbs are pungent, her jams gemlike. Her stews are hearty and filling. A cultural anthropologist could define mainstream Americana in her kitchen. Her handwritten cookbooks read like scientific texts--and therin lies our difficulty.

"We loved that chicken, what do you call it, catch-a-tory that you made. What's your recipe?" she asks.

Uh-oh, I know what's coming.

"Well, Carol, when I made it the other night I had some leftover broth that hadn't been frozen which is nice. I used just chicken thighs this time. The mushrooms and I used a vidalia were sauteed in equal parts butter and olive oil..."

"Wait a minute. How much broth did you use?"

"I don't know. There were, what, nine people that night? The broth mixed with white wine, about 3 to 1 and it depends on what kind of tomatoes, I think I had plums that day and since they're not as juicy I probably threw in some extra broth..."

You get the picture. I measure by a little bit, some more, a tight handful, a palm's worth. It's equivalent to a dash, a tablespoon, a quarter cup, um, well, maybe-sort-of.

Those of us with the cooking gene really do want to please, even if we haven't the same syntax or semantics of the general population. Carol has accepted my cookbook dyslexia and has not let it keep her from enjoying the meals we have together. And even better, for every meal I cook for her, she cleans the kitchen!