Many summers ago, while living in our first house on an all-American kind of street, it was not uncommon for neighbors to gather for an evening meal. Children would play as their dads took charge of a grill filled with chubby bratwurst and polish sausage. Moms would arrange paper plates and plastic forks, salads, baked beans and chips on picnic tables, slice some buns, then relax on folding lawn chairs as they sipped a cool beverage and chatted. And then, amidst the laughter of children, my sweet little preschool-aged son would whine, "I don't want a politsch." Ah, yes, the good old days.
It was one of those rare times in my days as a young mother when my infant son was finally taking one of his quick catnaps at the same time his big brother, the kindergartener, was playing by himself, pretending to be a sportscaster announcing a basketball game. This atypical occurrence gave me a little time to bake. I was just pulling a pan of cookies from the oven when my neighbor stopped by. Her jaw dropped. "You're baking cookies?" Her voice was filled with incredulousness. "Where's the mess?" I'll admit my kitchen looked quite tidy that day, with not a dirty mixing bowl in sight.
Over the last several years I've become much more interested in knowing how and where the food I cook and serve is grown and who was involved in its production. I feel happy when I know I am contributing to a healthier life for my family and myself. And I feel a responsibility to contribute to a more sustainable way of living on this planet. That's why I love farmers market season and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA).
"Did I just get a piece of basil in my mouth?" My husband had taken a big gulp from the glass of iced Lemon, Honey and Herbs Cooler I had poured for him. I'm pretty sure this man with the discerning palate, who can correctly determine the source of flavors in any dish he eats, was just teasing me. I detected a slight grin on his face as I told him it was a rosemary leaf. Later, when I put the empty glass into the dishwasher, that little leaf was stuck to its side.
How many rhubarb pies, cobblers and crisps can a person eat? At my house, it would be quite a lot, actually. How can anyone get enough of those pinkish green stalks, so intensely sour, yet so deeply delicious when paired with sweet ingredients, such as honey, sugar or maple syrup? It's my penchant for rhubarb that has me hunting it down in neighbors' gardens and at farmers markets. Oh, sure, I know it's supposed to grow like a weed. It does for most people. Not me. I've got some in the same garden that has those two crowns of asparagus I told you about last week.
Waiting for the first delectable spears of asparagus to break through the soil in the spring takes patience. For days, I rushed out to the weedy garden in my yard. This was a prolific weed-free vegetable garden when my husband and I bought our house 10 years ago. Despite my lack of gardening skills, there are a couple of crowns of asparagus that were buried in the garden years ago that continue to produce. With each trip out to the garden, my anticipation grew. Once that first tip poked its little head out of the soil, the growth continued rapidly.
On a cloudy, gray day in early spring, a friend handed me a small plastic bag with a moist paper towel inside. As I opened the bag, a familiar fragrance of mild sweet onions wafted up to my nostrils. Before I even unrolled the wet paper, I knew there were fresh chives tucked inside. I can't think of one thing that could have brightened my day more than the gift of petite, young, vivid green blades of chives. I was giddy with the anticipation of polishing off a scoop of creamy cottage cheese generously doused with chopped freshly harvested chives.
I was watching an old rerun of the Food Network's Barefoot Contessa the other day. Ina Garten whipped up a soft and fluffy angel food cake, making the task look as easy as slicing some strawberries to serve with each thick chunk of cake. I've always liked angel food cake, especially the kind flecked with rainbow-colored confetti that comes from a boxed mix. I've never made an angel food cake from scratch.
Early in our marriage, when there was little extra money for babysitters and date nights, my husband and I began hosting casual meals for our friends and their children. There was nothing fancy about these family-friendly, economical meals. The entrée often involved ground beef or chicken, both budget-friendly choices at that time. When chicken was featured on our dinner table, it was always chicken still on the bone. I'm not even sure boneless, skinless chicken breasts, now so popular, were available in grocery stores at that time.
If you've had an opportunity to peruse the grocery store shelves packed with boxes and bags of all sorts of pasta, there is a good chance your eyes caught something called orzo. But is it pasta? You might think it is a type of rice that was mistakenly stocked with the pasta. Or is it a grain? These are all common questions when it comes to orzo, an Italian word that means "barley." Orzo is a small, flat, elongated oval-shaped pasta, resembling a grain of barley. It also looks like rice. It's pasta that can be treated like rice. It can even be treated like barley.