Tuesday, December 19, 2006

The Sure Signs of Christmas

Everyone who celebrates Christmas--and probably even those who don't--know the signs that Christmas is coming. They are so familiar to us that they've become traditions. Store shelves are stocked with decorations and cards (and it seems as though this happens earlier every year), Christmas tree lots open with their offerings of wonderfully smelling trees, Christmas music takes over the radio playlists, and those familiar and treasured Christmas films such as It's a Wonderful Life, A Christmas Story, and White Christmas come on television, along with my personal favorites National Lampoon Christmas Vacation and Elf. And then we have the ultimate sign that Christmas is around the corner--Peter comes home for coffee and the Salad Shooter.


In a coffee commercial--and I can't recall which brand--Peter came home from college apparently. His adorable little sister meets him as he comes in. Then his parents come downstairs, "Peter, you're home," his mother sacchrinely greets him. For many of my Christmases, that particular commercial seemed to signal the coming of Christmas. Oh, they'd wait until Thanksgiving passed, but it seemed that a minute after midnight of the following day that commercial began playing. And, it played for years and years. Fortunately, they stopped showing it right after Christmas.

Oh, the beloved Salad Shooter. OK, I admit to never owning one of these, but I know people who do, and they wouldn't live without it. When it first came out, commercials for it were all over television. Actually, now that I think about it, I do remember asking for one, but it never made it to Santa's list. You put the veggies in and it "shoots" them out--all perfectly uniformly cut. What more could you want? As time went by (and I'm guessing that people saw more value in a food processor or even a good chef's knife), commercials for the Salad Shooter were relegated to Christmas time--what to get that cook who has everything.

These were my indicators that Christmas and Hanukkah were on the way. But then, something happened: Peter stopped coming home, and the Salad Shooter vanished. At first I'd occasionally see these commercials on The Food Network. Then--nothing. Oh all right, Peter is probably middle aged and waiting for his own kid to come home from college now. And really, how practical is a Salad Shooter anyway? Still, there's something sad about losing traditions--even these.

Thursday, November 16, 2006


Well, Thanksgiving is a week away, and in just seven days, many of us will find ourselves cooking and baking our little hearts out. I know to some it feels like work--and it is (or can be) a lot of work. Me? I prefer to think of it as creating memories.

We spent almost every Thanksgiving of my childhood at my grandparents house, in the country in the middle of nowhere--and without a TV! I'm not sure how this particular tradition started, but my mother was always in charge of making the turkey and stuffing. Mind you--we lived the greatest distance from my grandparents' home. I had an aunt and uncle who lived much closer, but each year my mother got up while it was still dark and got the turkey roasting. She'd also make the oyster dressing and perhaps a pie, leaving only more pies and a side dish or two for my grandmother to make. Funny, but I don't recall my aunt and uncle providing anything for the meal.

I guess I believed that no matter what size turkey you fix, you absolutely have to get up in the wee hours of the morning to roast it. I know that's what I did. Imagine my surprise when the turkey was done by mid-morning! I think I have missed making turkey one Thanksgiving since leaving college. It didn't matter if I was going to be alone or with friends, I needed (and that is not too strong of a word) to remember that tradition--though I am much better at timing things now.

This Thanksgiving will be a bit strained for me, as tomorrow is my last day at my full-time job. I may not qualify for unemployment because I have my own business; they don't seem to care that it doesn't make any money. At first, I thought about skipping Thanksgiving. But, there are some things you just can't do, and skipping Thanksgiving is one of them. Yes, the bird will be smaller, and there probably won't be as large an assortment of side dishes, but I do have the ability to put together a meal, unlike many in our country. If you have something to be thankful for this year, I ask you to please consider those who are having a difficult time finding any reason to give thanks. At the bottom of this blog page is a link for America's Second Harvest. Please consider clicking on it and making a donation--perhaps the cost of one meal. That small act will do big things--it may help someone find the strength to have hope, and for that, we will all be thankful.

Turkey Day Blessings,

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Keep your eyes open for the first offering from Stockpot Books, Soup and Sop: A Cookbook for Lovers of Soup, Stew, and Sopping.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

I'm Back!

Well, hi there. It's been a a long time. It's odd, but during this past summer I seemed more interested in knitting than cooking. OUCH!! Anyway, I'm back--and with a project in hand.

I live more than a thousand miles away from my family. With each passing year I have a harder time trying to figure out what to give my family. Well, this year that problem seemed to answer itself. My mother and brother often ask me for recipes. So, this year I'm writing a cookbook for them. And, after the first of the year, it will be available as an e-book on the website http://www.sweet-tea-and-magnolias.com. It will be the first offering from Stockpot Books, an imprint of Charing Cross Publishers, my publishing company!!!

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Giving Back

I love Chef Catalog--perhaps too much! I love looking at the new kitchen gadgets and, in some cases, buying them. I pay special attention to the items that carry the SOS icon, indicating that when they are purchased, a portion of the sale goes to charity. Giving back is important, whether it is by purchasing kitchen equipment, donating to hunger outreach programs, or volunteering at a soup kitchen. Sometimes I think the need to give back--to do good--is almost as basic as the need to eat and fulfill our other biological needs.

I'd like to take this opportunity to let you know about another way you can give back. All of us remember the heartbreaking images we watched on television or saw in magazines and newspapers of the destruction caused in Southeast Asia by the tsunami of 2004. We barely had time to catch our breaths when Mother Nature sent us a message that we in the United States were not immune from her fury. The aftermath of hurricanes Katrina and Rita have changed much of that region--and of ourselves--forever.

It is my honor to work for a publisher who feels the need to give back, to do good works, with what she does. From her vision, Village Earth Press was born. Books published under this imprint will benefit organizations doing good around the world. Profits from the books will be shared with these organizations, and directed toward the next project that will make a difference.

I am happy to announce the publication of the first book under the Village Earth Press imprint. In 2005, our publisher and director of photography traveled to Thailand to document tsunami recovery efforts. Later that year, they visited the U.S. Gulf Coast, witnessing efforts there to bring life to a new sense of normalcy. The Gift of Hope in the Wake of the 2004 Tsunami and 2005 Hurricanes is the result. Eloquent prose combines with evocative photographs to tell the story of regions and cultures rebuilding. Most important, it tells of the triumph of the human spirit.

When you purchase a copy of The Gift of Hope, one-third of the purchase price will be donated to Habitat for Humanity and Give2Asia, two organizations working with residents to rebuild lives. The book can be preordered at the Village Earth Press web site: http://www.villageearthpress.com.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Philosophy of Cooking
I was watching the Food Network's new show in which they try to find their next big superstar. It's the first time I've seen it all the way through, and it was OK but not real exciting. I must admit that my opinion might be colored by the fact that I really don't like Bobby Flay, but that's a subject for another blog.
I was intrigued by the task the budding stars were given--to create a dish from pantry items that reflects their food philosophy, or something like that. It made me stop and think about mine. If I were to write about food--my ultimate goal (especially if I could find a way to link it to the civil rights movement)--what would I be trying to say. When I first began to think about it, it seemed hard. But then, like the flash of a lightbulb over my head, it came to me. My philosophy is smell. Well, to be more exact, the memories induced by smell.
When I recall events, the first things that come to my mind are the smells associated with it. And that's true not just for events featuring food, it's the smell of pine at Christmas time, the smell of burning leaves in the fall, the smell of chalk dust as I helped a teacher clean erasers (when teachers still used chalk). To me, and to many others I might suspect, smells go hand in hand with memories.
So, I guess my philosophy surrounds the smells of comfort foods. Comfort foods by definition make people feel better. The smells of comfort food should be an integral part of the experience. And that's what I try to achieve in my cooking--creating recipes with smells that will evoke a sense of comfort, of safety, of contentment.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Product Plug

As a purist (hey, I make my own butter), I love making stock. However, I work full time and then freelance almost full time, making time a scarce commodity. So, I have discovered a company that has done the work for me--Better than Boullion.
I discovered this product on QVC. At the time, you received three jars of the paste and a cookbook. I don't believe it's available on QVC anymore, but most grocery stores seem to carry it--at least in upstate New York.
Many flavors are available, including chili, beef, pork, ham, vegetable, clam, and my favorite, chicken. The paste easily dissolves in water, and the flavors are to die for. They really do taste and smell as though you've been cooking all day. Most are either low or no fat, and the sodium count is extremely low--no more eating a salt shaker with a little bit of flavor added. One word of caution however. Start with an amount LESS than what is recommended on the label. The flavors are so intense that the suggested amounts can be a bit too strong. If you're making something like soup, that's easily remedied by adding more water, but it's still best to start out on the cautious side. After all, it's easier to add more than to remove excess.
As I mentioned, my favorite is the chicken base. One of my favorite weekend meals is chicken soup--with or without the noodles. With the intense flavor of the base, you really don't even need the chicken, and more often than not, that's how I prepare the following.

1 tablespoon butter
1 rib celery, chopped
1/4 cup chopped onion
4 cups water
1 1/2 tablespoons Better than Boullion chicken base
1 carrot, sliced thinly
1 cup frozen spinach
1 cup egg noodles (optional)
1 scallion, chopped finely (optional)

In the butter, saute the celery and onion only until translucent (do not let them get any color). Add the water, chicken base, and carrot. Bring to a boil and simmer uncovered until the vegetables are just about tender. Add the spinach and noodles if desired, and continue to simmer until the vegetables and noodles are done. Before serving, add the chopped scallion for a bit of a crunch.

Keep in mind that this recipe can be adjusted very easily to accommodate a large crowd. No one will go away disappointed. To quote Rachael Ray--this one is "yum-oh."

Saturday, March 11, 2006

The Gadget Queen

If there were a self-help group for kitchen gadget addicts, I would have to join. If I see or hear about some new, can't live without kitchen appliance, I have to have it. It's the law. Or at least it seems to be in my house.
The restaurant-style deep fryer--got it. It's somewhere in the cabinet.
The latest smoothie maker, better than a blender--got it. It's somewhere in the cabinet, or perhaps in the closet.
The top of the line ice cream maker--got it. It's somewhere. . . . OK, it's not completely my fault that I don't use this. The canister never got completely frozen in my freezer.
The immersible blender--got it. At first, this seems like a wonderful idea. Perhaps it's me, but I could never get it to work without splashing stuff all over the stove and walls.
The Magic Bullet--got it. This one I use! It did take some getting used to, but at least I use it.

This doesn't include the assorted things I have in the cabinet above the stove. To be honest, I'm not sure what's there anymore, but there's enough stuff crammed in that cabinet that my spices fall out. I do recall small chopper/blender combinations that never worked in my real life the way they did in television presentations. Oh, and there are the Kitchen Aid mixer and Cuisinart food processor on my counter. They get used, occasionally. But they do look good on my counter.
What do I blame for this addiction? Chef catalog, QVC, and me. OK, it's probably me.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

The Slurp Factor

Food is a wonderful thing. It feeds our bodies, and it feeds our souls. How many of us associate life events with the smell--if not taste--of food? Then there are the sounds . . .
Let me preface this by saying that my childhood preceded the invention of Lipton's Cup a Soup. I think ramen noodles have been around since the beginning of time; I haven't. But, I have been around longer than Cup a Soup.
My mom was a big fan of Campbell's soup. It was easy to prepare, and all you needed to add was a supply of crackers to have an entire meal. (Mom was never a master cook.) It was inexpensive; we never had a lot of money, and their tomato soup could often be found for twenty-five cents a can. Plus, to quote a TV commercial from my childhood, my mother married my father for better or worse--and got him for lunch, too.
Sometimes my mom decided to treat us to a "higher class" of soup--boxed soup! Now remember, Cup of Soup wasn't available. This was one of the original boxed soups. You bought a box containing an envelope containing dried soup mix, which you added to boiling water. My personal favorite was the chicken noodle soup.
Ahh, I can still remember it. As it simmered on the stove, the light chicken smell filled the kitchen. Unlike our more usual Campbell Chicken Noodle soup, this version didn't leave a yellow ring-around-the pan (and later the bowl). It had a much lighter taste, and it was fun chasing the small pieces of parsley around the bowl with our spoons. The noodles were very short and very, very thin. And sadly, the noodles were the most disappointing part of this special lunch treat.
Chicken noodle soup is one of the world's best inventions. It can help cure all ills, or at least make them a bit more tolerable; it didn't earn the name "Jewish penicillin" easily. As an adult, I count chicken noodle soup as one of my specialties. Still, it's not the same as Campbell's.
Why? I use all-fresh ingredients, the best stock, and add that extra touch of love. And, my soup has chicken in it; the Campbell version of my childhood might have had three or four pieces of something called chicken in the entire can. What could I be doing wrong?
Nothing. Most of the time I prefer my version. Then there are those other times when nothing but Campbell's Chicken Noodle soup will do. Even other canned soups don't have the same effect. What is it about Campbell's?
Well, there is the yellow ring, but the real difference is the noodles--the slurp factor. What greater joy was there as a child than to lift a soup spoon to my mouth--filled with broth and noodles--and slurp the noodles into my mouth? The sound of the slurp; the sensation of the noodles against my teeth and to my tongue, which caressed the noodles before releasing them down my throat. It was even better when the loss of childhood teeth left a direct path to the gums and a louder slurp. Of course it also meant a bigger laugh from my brother and father; Mom failed to see the humor.
As an adult, I'm not supposed to play with my food. I now know that the yellow residue probably means Campbell's Chicken Noodle soup isn't the most healthful food I can eat. But then, sometimes you just don't care. You just have to slurp.