Wednesday, July 28, 2010

be patient

I've always visited Italy in the winter so I've never seen fields of sunflowers. My Italy is gray and somber, and I adore it.

So why am I not writing about it, you ask.....

Well, I'm just now getting old film converted, so when I do talk about how much I love walking along those dim, ancient streets, only to turn the corner and suddenly be in magnificent sunlight, I can post the photos and you can see for yourself.

essere paziente

Thursday, July 22, 2010

reading, writing, and basil

The back-to-school supplies are out.


There's still a month of summer vacation left to enjoy but now they've thrown me into a funk so deep and depressing that I'm not sure I can get out.

That's how it was for me.

I hated school. Even ran away one day early on; out the side door, long braids flying as I raced down the sidewalk toward home, teacher and principal running after me. I don't know why. Just knew I'd rather be home.

Yet I landed in public education and spent thirty years there. The kids were so, so, so great. I can't tell you how great. I should write their stories one day.....

Like the time Chris' young, guide dog Rolly, ate an entire chicken carcass which he had, in a flash, stolen from the trash can in a Home and Family Living class. He also ate through his harness waiting for the Radio &TV Broadcasting class to start. Chris had to have another shipped overnight.

Or when Maria, a totally blind, kindergarten student suddenly had one of those "ah-hah" moments I'd been waiting for, realizing that the wooden toys we were playing with at her desk, were a set of 'playground equipment'. Her favorite thing! And so, she tried to climb onto the ten inch, toy swing.

Oh, those were such great days, but over time the system changed and I'd be lying if I denied there were too many afternoons when I wanted to again, take off running.

When summer starts, my plans are simple. Sit outside. Sip cold Pinot Grigio. Watch the basil grow.


This plan lasts until about mid-summer. By then I've watched the basil get very, very tall and begin to flower, attracting bees. It's easily a hundred degrees out so time to seek refuge indoors......time to make pesto!

Spoke likes to get theatrical, saying basil in a most authentic British voice. He'll hang out in the kitchen perfecting his intonation; "How's the bah-sil looking today, my dear?" or "How much pesto will the bah-sil make, gorgeous?" He's really good with accents. I wish you could hear him. But I eventually get back to my prep and shoo him off............Cheerio!

When it comes to making pesto I'm adamant about two things:
thoroughly washing the basil and using a mortar & pestle.

There's none of the fill-the-sink-and-swish-twice method for me. I pretty much hand clean every leaf.

I use a food processor for the first chop then transfer the leaves to a mortar & pestle and pound them to release their juice. What you lose in volume is made up for in flavor.


8 cups fresh basil leaves, washed and dried
3 tablespoons toasted pine nuts
3/4 to 1 tablespoon chopped garlic
salt & pepper
2 tablespoons Pecorino, finely grated
3 tablespoons Parmigiano Reggiano, finely grated
4 or 5 tablespoons olive oil

Pound the pine nuts in a mortar & pestle, leaving a few whole. Set aside.

In the bowl of a food processor, or by hand, chop garlic cloves until fine. Transfer to a small dish and set aside.

In the (same if used) bowl of a food processor, coarsely chop the basil leaves. Transfer by small batches to a mortar & pestle and pound them until they release their juice and the leaves are broken down. Transfer the batches to a small bowl, repeating until all of the basil is bruised.

To the bowl of basil, add the pine nuts, garlic, two pinches of salt, one grind of black pepper, the grated cheese and the olive oil. Stir to combine.

Presto, pesto!

Makes only this much.


Saturday, July 17, 2010

just now catching my breath

I sat on the edge of my seat the other night; Balcony B, Row 6, Seat 11, Lakewood Theater, Dallas.

I sipped chardonnay from a plastic cup and twiddled my thumbs; sip, sip, twiddle, twiddle, sip, sip, twiddle, twiddle. And then, there he was.

Welcome to Dallas, Jamie Cullum.

The theater packed a sold out crowd of serious followers, no longer twentysomethings. Everyone came to see and hear, and Jamie didn't disappoint. He belted, he banged, he crooned, and yes, he jumped off the piano. Twice.

When the show was over, I sat awhile in the old, worn out, velvet seat which had tilted me a bit to the right all night, and I thought. I thought about my dad.

Kevin often tells me the best pictures are those we store in our head. Usually, I say, "Yeah, Babe...." Click, click, click. But that night I decided to lock the camera in the car.

Watching the roadies break down the stage, I thought of my dad's rich history with jazz. He loves it so. He saw Billie several times. Ditto Frank. And there was Ella, Gene Krupa, Duke Ellington, Teddy Wilson, Dizzy Gillespie, Peggy Lee, Arthur Prysock, Anita O'Day, Carmen McRae, Duango Rinehardt, June Christy, Chris Conner, Bobbie Scott, Rosemary Clooney, Eddie Heywood, Sweets Edison, Lockjaw Davis, Joe Mooney....

His eyes light up when he tells me about these evenings. He remembers where, when, with whom, how many sets they played, what songs they played, and probably what he drank. (He won't tell me how much but I have a really good idea.) Yet of all these nights with all of these famous musicians and singers, he has no pictures.


I knew this night would be memorable for me, for a lot of different reasons. I also knew I'd be surrounded by instant video, texting of instant video, and you tube posting of video, which I was. That's exactly why I left the camera behind.

I wanted what my dad has.

My complete attention was on Jamie and the band, with no concern for whether I'd framed or timed the myriad of possible shots 'just right'. I was free. I was as in the moment as one could be.

I want my eyes to light up in years to come, when I tell Kevin for the umpteenth time, all about the show, and I know they will; I've stored every single picture in my head.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

going through the line

I like cafeterias. There, I said it.

Before you start in on me, let me clarify: I like really good cafeterias. Sadly, those I can no longer find.
As a kid, it was the S&W Cafeteria at Park Road Shopping Center in Charlotte. It was located in the same shopping strip as the Park Road Bakery. That would be the bakery I knew hung the moon because they sold a cake frosted with alternating swirls of chocolate ganache and marshmallow cream.

Sometimes we went to S&W after church. Everyone was in spiffy clothes; the men would loosen their ties just a bit, the ladies always kept their hats on. (And what hats they were!)

My grandmother Nez's hat.
I keep it in my bookcase.

Wide-eyed I was, with all those choices before me yet I knew what I wanted, each and every time. I wanted haddock! Bites of plump, moist, white fish battered and fried until it was crispy and crunchy, with tarter sauce on the side. At just seven, I knew that fish was some kind of good eats.

The variety of fresh vegetables wasn't simply predictable, it was expected. They were the vegetables you ate at home and you wouldn't expect to find less; mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, creamed corn, green beans, fried okra, yellow squash, white rice, crowder peas, zucchini, lima beans.....and of course there were the yucky things only the adults chose; spring onions, deviled eggs, pickles, chilled asparagus, radishes...

I always got a biscuit. With a mother and two grandmothers who all made biscuits, it might not seem a special thing to get but these were not the tiny, southern biscuits we had every day. These were big. B-I-G big. Better than dessert. (Except for coconut cake.)

I grew up eating my way through many other great cafeterias. Along the way, I was introduced to squash casseroles. Of all the squash we ate in Charlotte, from home gardens and cafeterias, I don't remember a single casserole.

So I've been cooking a few this summer, just experimenting. Here's one I like. I've called it a Squash Gratin because I bake it in a gratin dish which is shallower than a casserole pan but it's simply a yummy Squash Casserole I think any really good cafeteria would be proud to serve.

Squash Gratin

two pats of butter
5 or 6 medium yellow (summer-crookneck) squash
1/2 of a medium yellow onion
a pinch of sugar
1 teaspoon salt
several grinds of black pepper
1/2 teaspoon paprika
several grinds of fresh nutmeg
4 tablespoons sour cream
2 eggs, beaten
3/4 cups fresh bread crumbs, divided
Lightly coat two gratin dishes with the pats of butter and set aside.
Wash the squash and cut them into large chunks. Place them in a medium size pot, cover with water and gently boil until a knife can easily pierce each one. Drain and allow to cool a little.
Chop half of a medium onion and place the them in a large bowl. Add the squash. With a sharp knife, roughly cut the pieces of squash to a smaller size. Leave any liquid that accumulates in the bowl.
Season the squash with the sugar, salt, black pepper, nutmeg and paprika. Add the sour cream, eggs and 1/4 cup of the bread crumbs, stirring to combine.
Fill each dish with the squash, topping with the remaining 1/3 to 1/2 cups of bread crumbs.
Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for about 30 minutes or until the tops are brown.
makes two gratins

One Easter when I was seven or eight years old, my mother bought a beautiful hat for me. It was really more like a very wide headband. I think of it now as a Juliet cap. It was snow white lace with a couple of large pink flowers. I know it was exquisite and probably expensive....but I hated it!

So sorry Mom. How I wish I had it now.

Monday, July 5, 2010

a lemony kind of day

Lemon Fusilli Salad

6 small lemons
8 ounces fusilli
salt & pepper
a large sprig of rosemary
a couple sprigs of parsley
3 to 4 tablespoons of great olive oil

Trim the ends off of 5 of the lemons. Slice the lemons thinly and remove any seeds. Place the slices in a bowl large enough to later hold the pasta.

Remove the rosemary leaves and the parsley leaves from their stems. Chop each and set aside.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add a tablespoon or more of salt.

Drop the fusilli and stir to quickly bring it back to a boil. Cook according to package instructions but only until al dente. Drain.

Add the fusilli to the bowl of lemons, tossing to blend. Season with salt and pepper.

Cut the remaining lemon in half and remove any visible seeds. Squeeze the juice from one lemon half over the pasta and stir. Cut the other half in two and set aside.

Throw in the herbs, drizzle with 3 tablespoons of olive oil and gently toss again until the herbs are distributed and the pasta is coated.

Allow the fusilli to cool a little before refrigerating. It may be served chilled or at room temperature. If you'd like, serve with a little more olive oil and a wedge of lemon to squeeze.

serves two dinner portions

{Add peas or asparagus, even pine nuts and Parmigiano
but I find the lemon only version the most refreshing.}

Sunday, July 4, 2010

fly baby fly

We found her!
And then there was pie.
Cherry pie, of course.

Two in fact.

One All-American Cherry Pie
Ingredients for One Double Pie Crust

2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
3/4 cup shortening
1/2 cup or less, very cold water

Ingredients for One Pie Filling
3 1/2 cups fresh, washed and pitted cherries
1 1/4 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/4 heaping cup unbleached, all-purpose flour

Sift the flour and shortening into a small bowl. Using a pastry blender or two knives, cut the shortening into the flour until the mixture looks crumbly. Add most but not all of the water and stir to combine. If the dough seems a little dry, stir in the rest of the water.
Pat the dough into a disk, cut it in half, one for the bottom crust and one for the top crust. Reshape each half into a round. Loosely wrap in waxed paper or plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour.
Once the dough is chilled, prepare the pie filling. Place the cherries in a large bowl and sprinkle with the sugar, tossing to coat. Add the salt, then the flour, and toss again. Set aside.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Remove one portion of the chilled dough. Roll it out on a floured board to a size large enough to fit a 9" pie pan. Loosely wrap the first third of the dough over the rolling pin, lifting it and then unrolling it gently into the pan. Don't stretch the dough but lift along the edges, allowing it to ease itself down into the pan. Crimp the edges a little but don't fuss over them.
Next roll out the other half of the dough which will be the top crust of the pie, to a size large enough to cover just beyond the edge of the pan.
Fill the pie pan with the cherry-sugar mixture. Again wrapping the dough loosely over the rolling pin, unroll it onto the top of the pie. Pinch the two crusts together along the edge of the pan.
With a sharp knife, cut three slits in the dough to allow steam to escape while baking. Place the pie on a cookie sheet and bake for 55 to 65 minutes. Carefully remove from the oven.
Now stand in front of the pie and listen. It will hiss and sputter as the hot filling continues to bubble and the pie adjusts to the cooler temperature. Watch the crust rise and fall. It looks like the pie is breathing. Or perhaps singing......Oh, say can you see by the dawn's early light
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming,
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there
Oh, say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave....