Saturday, September 12, 2015

Labor Day, Tomatoes and Mexican Dip

     On Labor Day, I feel a need to mark the end of summer.  Draw a line in the beach sand defining the beginning of the school year, going back to schedules, buses, homework and after school activities.  This is not just for the kids.  It gets me back on track, too.  Time to focus more on organization, paying bills on time, vacuuming and family meals.  When I was a child, my grandmother, Edie usually held the "holiday" cookouts at her house in Greengate, an upscale neighborhood a short walk from Main Street in town.  Labor Day was one of those annual events that often was celebrated in this fashion with hamburgers and hotdogs on the charcoal grill, that my mother or one of my aunts ended up cooking for hungry mouths while the adults enjoyed a vodka cocktail or two accompanied by Triscuits topped with  hot pink and orange colored port wine cheddar cheese.  So, in that tradition, I gathered family together to commemorate the beginning of school and the end to so much fun we had this summer.
    I am also obsessed with tomatoes at this time of year.  I want to be sure to eat my fill of fresh off the vine, still warm from the sun tomatoes from Val's garden.  Tomato sandwiches smeared with Hellman's on soft white bread piled so high, you have to eat them over the sink and use the dishtowel to wipe the tomato juices from your hands, wrists and elbows.  BLT's with warm bacon and Boston lettuce, chopped tomatoes drenched in Good Season's Italian Dressing.  There are recipes, too: tomato pie, salsa, fresh tomato sauce with quahogs to go over hot pasta for dinner.  But my favorite one, the one that perfectly compliments the celebratory feel of summer has always been
 "Mexican Dip".

   The story goes that my aunt Janet was introduced to it on the beach one day and brought this simple recipe to the rest of us, or something like that.  Val still has the 2.5" x 5" card written in my aunt's unmistakable handwriting so that's how I seem to remember it.  In any case, it's so easy, I no longer need to consult the written instructions.  Also, I recall, we used to serve it with Doritoes as true "Mexican" style food had yet to make it's way to Cape Cod.  Basic tortilla chips were not available in the supermarket.  Serve it with whatever chips you want.  But be warned: this dip is so delicious, hitting all the bells and whistles for hungry pre-dinner appetites, your guests will inhale it if served as an appetizer.  Before the main part of the menu was ready last Monday, I had to tell my father not to spoil his appetite: 
"Dad, this isn't the meal."  I said as I pulled the dip and chips away from him.
"No, but it could be." was his response.
It is that good.  I have been known to replace my dinner with a small batch for just myself.  When the children are watching Disney shows in the basement, I prepare a personal portion with a heaping pile of chips.  Pour a generous glass of wine and devour it all with my feet up on the ottoman while I watch some truly terrible T.V. (Real Housewives of NYC, anyone?)  Now that's a celebration.

Mexican Dip
(serves a group)
1/2 package taco seasoning (I use McCormick)
3/4 cup sour cream, divided
1 ripe avocado
juice from 1/2 lemon
2 dashes Tabasco sauce
1 2.25 oz. can chopped black olives
1-2 medium sized ripe tomatoes
1 small onion (optional)
6 oz. cheddar cheese, shredded
tortilla chips
Combine the taco seasoning and1/2 cup sour cream. Spread over a large plate or platter.

In a small bowl, mash avocado.  Add remaining 1/4 cup sour cream, lemon juice, Tabasco and salt and pepper to taste.  Spread avocado mixture over taco seasoning mixture. 
Layer finely chopped black olives over avocado mixture.
Cut tomato and gently squeeze out seeds.  Dice seeded tomato and layer on top of black olives.  
If using, dice onion and layer on top of tomatoes. 
Top entire dip with shredded cheddar cheese. 
Cover and chill until ready to serve.  Can be made a few hours in advance.

Thursday, August 6, 2015


 I feel compelled to use it all.  Every vegetable, fruit, leaf of lettuce, if it's growing in my yard or on my deck.  If I've had a hand in helping it to survive, it must be devoured instead of left to wither on the vine.
The herbs have done very well this year, especially the potted ones.  But my own consumption can barely keep up with their bounty.  Of course, I want to employ their flavors in creative dishes when they are fresh and the flavors vibrant.  However, I have succumbed to the fact that they won't be growing like this for long and have taken measures to "preserve" them.  Hanging from the lamp over the kitchen table where I usually string up holiday decorations, are bundles of sage, oregano, rosemary and thyme in an attempt to dry them for later use.  (I'll have to report back on how well this idea actually works out.)  Other types like basil and parsley, I puree with a touch of olive oil then freeze in ice cube trays to be  used in various recipes throughout the year. In spite of my efforts or maybe because of them, these crazy plants keep producing!

My latest cookbook obsession is "Pomegranates & Pine Nuts" by Bethany Kehdy.  It's a collection of recipes based on traditional Lebanese, Moroccan and Persian dishes.  This book partly inspired this tasty dip with the addition of Greek yogurt and the layering of the components instead of stirring it all together. (Although that would be o.k.  Ava always wants to stir it all together, I just like how it looks when plated my way.)  The herb blend derives from another current obsession (of which I have many, it seems.), that began a few years ago with chimichuri sauce, as well as green harissa and gremolata (see blog post: Eat Your Vegetables with Sauce ) In this one, I have omitted the garlic for those of you with sensitive stomachs and a delicate sense of smell when it comes to dining with companions who get stinky garlic breath.

Garden Fresh Herb Sauce
1 large bunch fresh herbs such as parsley, basil or cilantro or a combination
3-4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
juice from 1/2 lemon
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
1 pinch red pepper flakes
pinch of salt and black pepper, to taste
Remove all stems from herbs and place leaves in a Cuisinart with blade or small chopper.  Add 2-3 tablespoons olive oil, lemon juice, red wine vinegar, red pepper flakes and salt and pepper.  Puree mixture.  If leaves are not moving around, add more olive oil to loosen so that the mixture moves around in the chopper.  Once, leaves are pureed into fine pieces, adjust for taste.  Mixture can be saved in an airtight container in refrigerator for 2-3 days.
Lately, I have been serving this sauce over a generous dollop of Greek yogurt accompanied by my favorite dipping mechanism: Kettle Brand Krinkle Cut Potato Chips.  "Salt & Fresh Ground Pepper" is my favorite flavor.  Love it when they go on sale 2/$5.00!  This yummy dip is great with cocktails (there is not much that isn't) before or instead of dinner.  Enjoy!




Monday, July 6, 2015

Simply Divine

It began with an overflowing quart of some of the most beautiful, ruby red strawberries I have ever seen. Tiny, bursting fruit begging to be eaten tonight.  At their very peak of ripeness, warning, "Don't wait! We'll be soggy and bruised by tomorrow!"
There was also the problem with my oven.  It wasn't working.
Not to mention my utter exhaustion from working far to many hours on my feet selling t-shirts to rabid tourists all clamoring for souvenirs to commemorate their vacations on Cape Cod. For the past few weeks, I have been held hostage inside a busy shop on Main Street instead of lounging on the beach and creating concoctions in the kitchen.  It's sad, very sad.
That is why I had to resort to the simplest but by far the best method of all to enjoy these sweeties before Ava swooped into the kitchen to snatch another and another into her mouth, her fingers already stained red from their juices, revealing her thievery.
But first, I called Val to make sure she would be available to partake.  After all, I have her to blame for introducing this decadent recipe when my sister, brother and I were children.  Of course she would make a stop over after a long day of painting the trim on her house, her arms smeared with green paint, her body exhausted, she would not miss enjoying this treat that truly comes but once a year. As it can only be reproduced with the finest, local, fresh and sweet berries, the kind that are as deep red on the inside as they are on their surface.  The window of opportunity is short especially this year as many strawberry crops in the area were hampered by the rough snowy winter of 2015.
Val arrived as I cleared away the dinner dishes and placed small glass bowls on the table.  We sliced the berries into each dish and sprinkled them with sugar.  Next, each portion received a splash of cold, heavy cream.  We ate the soft berries floating in their rich bath in silence only to pause to add a bit more sugar or cream to taste. 
I realized in that moment, it all works out: the oven, the job, the moment I happened upon the strawberries at the farmers' market that very afternoon.  It all came to together.  The simplest of desserts.  The simplest moment.  Divine.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Bread Battle


There is always a potential battle waiting to be waged over a freshly baked loaf of Val's homemade bread.  The kids want at least two slices at breakfast smothered in butter.  Then they want it for a snack and request to have it instead of dinner.  When I see what is left of the whole loaf that my mother had just gifted to me hours ago, I search their faces accusingly while Rob murmurs under his breath, "I only ate a heel." Only a heel, indeed.
Val's bread is simple but it takes some patience and time to mix it, knead it, allow it to rise and knead and rise again.  She bakes it to a perfect brown on top and slices it with an expert hand.  I prefer her to slice our loaf as some people slice it way too thick, thus wasting it.  And I will admit that I can make the cuts a bit lopsided in my rush to eat it all up.
But I am going to win tonight.  No one else is home to argue over or beg and plead to eat the last remaining pieces.  I slather them with some Lemon Garlic Aioli I found in the back of the fridge. (It never lasts that long so it can't be very old.)  Top the sauce with various slices of assorted cheeses: cheddar, mozzarella and provolone and add some sliced cherry tomatoes (it's all I have), then sprinkle with sea salt and black pepper. 


The first step is to bake all this in the toaster oven.  After the cheese has melted sufficiently, I heat up my black cast-iron griddle, drop down some dollops of butter and place the open faced sandwich on top of the melting goodness. I cook the sandwich halves until golden on the outside but leave them separate instead of making a real sandwich as to prolong my consumption of the last two pieces of Val's bread.


  As for the remaining heel that was left in the bag?  I ate it smothered with aioli and fresh basil as I created my masterpiece.  Oh yeah, when they all get home and ask for toast with no regard to their mother's/wife's needs, they will know.  There is going to be one hell of a fight tonight.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

French Breakfast

The Falmouth Farmers' Market opened for the season today in it's new location at Marina Park.  There was a nervous excitement in the air as all of  the vendors and board members who make the market happen were a bit nervous about having to move the market from it's original spot on Main Street.  But the majority feeling amongst the shoppers who were there at the opening bell was one of optimism as the new site is more spacious and likely easier for access and parking during the madness of the summer months.  Aside from all of this, I was there to check out the goods.
My first stop was at Rein's Real Baking as I spotted what looked like a chocolate filled chocolate whoopee pie in the pastry case.  Indeed it was, and I purchased one immediately to quell my growling stomach. I can never just walk by Carrie's set up for Peach Tree Circle Farm.  Her style, quality of produce as well as interesting flavors of jams and jellies cannot be compared.  Plus, it's fun to chat with her.  Once I spotted the tiny fresh radishes, only $1.00 for a bunch, I knew what I was going to have for lunch today: tartine with sliced radishes, sweet butter and a generous pinch of sea salt.  I informed her of my plan.
"Well, then you will have to buy the French Breakfast radishes."  she said.  SOLD.
As I made my way along the tents of homemade soaps, Italian olive oil and local cheeses, (I'll be back next week for some cloumage from the Shy Brother's Farm) to procure a baguette on which to smear butter and layer on radish slices, I got sidetracked at Westport Rivers Vineyard.  How can I say "No." to a sample to go along with the chocolate whoopee pie I was shoving into my mouth?  The port style wine was divine but I had my eye on the quirky label on the bottle of Farmer's Fizz.  This estate grown proseco style wine is slightly sweet and bubbly with notes of fresh peach...out of this world and likely a great way to end a hot summer day after spending time at the beach.  Of course, I bought a bottle!
I cashed in my last $2.50 for a demi baguette from Pain d'Avignon and bid good-by to some of my friends on the Falmouth Farmers' Market board who were hard at work trying to duct tape the market sign to the information table.  I explained I had to fly home and eat my intended lunch as I devoured the last bite of my chocolate treat.  As I got into my car, I noticed most of the parking spaces were taken and many more eager shoppers out on the lawn, talking with farmers, so glad that springtime and the market have arrived once again.

I am completely lazy when it comes to making my radish tartine.  However if you are a bit more ambitious, check out Falmouth Farmer's Market board member, Patricia Gadsby's recipe for making homemade scallion herb butter.  Her sandwich is more elaborate and sounds utterly delectable.  If you decide to make it, invite me over for lunch.

Super Easy Radish Tartine for Lazy People
Serves 2
1 fresh demi baguette (4 slices cut on an angle)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
4-5 small fresh radishes
sea salt
Slice 4 thin slices off the baguette on an angle to create as much surface area for the butter as possible.  Smear a generous amount of butter on each slice of bread.  Thinly slice the radishes and arrange in one layer over the buttered bread.  Generously sprinkle radish layer with sea salt. Enjoy immediately. 

"YES!" Woman

I've finally finished putting all the recipes from the Kids' Culinary Camp into a book available for purchase on  These are the recipes I developed for the cooking camp I taught for 3 weeks along with my sister, Karyn's assistance back in the summer of 2012.  Evidence of yet another situation I got myself into by saying, "YES!" before I really knew what it was all about.
I was asked in February of 2012 by the woman who runs the culinary program at Highfield Hall if I would take on the kids' summer program.  Before I thought about it, before I formulated even one question, a loud "YES!" came out of my mouth.  I clearly wasn't thinking at all during that long, cold snowy winter because I also had previously agreed to take on a gourmet to-go food business with someone I knew from my days at Falmouth High.  I didn't inquire about any details on that offer either before I dove in head first.
Anyone who really knows me, understands that I am in my most vulnerable state of mind in February.  According to my good friend, Deb, I am always coming up with new businesses and wild ideas in the shortest, yet most brutal month of the year.  She and many members of my family try and detour me from accepting any tasks, volunteering positions, jobs or new business ventures until my head is clear, usually by the end of April when the sun is shining on a more consistent basis and I can get outside to eradicate any cobwebs and pie in the sky ideas that have taken up residence in my brain during the cabin fever inducing winter season.
While the camp was fun, I did throw out my back in week two likely due to the stress of it all.  The recipes were a huge hit, that is why I decided to actually publish them in a book.  The kids were great and willing to attempt new foods likely because parents weren't around.  I know this because my own cherubs will likely take a bite of something I have been trying desperately to get them to eat only when they are off with another adult and then I hear later that they devoured the whole thing.  In spite of not knowing anything about the adventure that lay ahead of me, the camp was a success and I'm glad I naively said, "YES!".
Will there ever be another Kids' Culinary Camp?  I don't know. It may be a while before I come out of retirement.  Until then, follow the link to buy the book.  A culinary program in your own kitchen awaits.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Happy Mother's Day!

This story first appeared in the monthly column I wrote for the Falmouth Bulletin entitled: "Lessons from Val's Kitchen".  It was published in May 2009.

My Every Day, Extraordinary Super Mom

I have been wracking my brain, trying to recall an event or incident that fully describes the essence of my mother, Val; one that encapsulates how extraordinary she is.  Here in lies the problem: nothing in particular comes to mind.  Nothing stands out from the rest.  Sure, she has been there to fight for me when my sophomore English teacher did not want to let me out of 10th period early enough to make an away field hockey game.  She baked countless batches of chocolate chip cookies for school parties and bake sales.  Chauffeur, prom gown seamstress, brownie troop leader, the list of sacrifices goes on and on.  Still nothing.

I recently wrote in a letter to a publisher: “So, who is Val?  She’s my mother and I wrote the [cook] book about her.  It seemed there isn’t anything she can’t do.  She refinishes furniture, makes wedding gowns and farms her own organic garden. Then she takes a break to make dinner: quahog chowder with homemade bread or barbecued chicken with a cool and creamy cucumber salad and blueberry pie for dessert.” It’s all true, pretty awesome day in and day out.   If you know Val, you can vouch for me.

In my attempt to find that “nugget” of a memory that would tell the complete story, perfectly depicting my mother’s love, I’ve come to realize that the mundane stuff, the everyday, small acts of caring, are what is the most important.  I actually had this epiphany when I was rigging up a pair of adult sized headphones for my five year old daughter to wear on her tiny head. Sometimes, tying my son’s shoes for the tenth time in one day, can grate on my nerves, still other moments I cherish as I acknowledge the swiftly passing time.   The little things I took for granted from my own childhood have formed pebble by pebble into a mountain of memories. Crisp clothes fresh from the clothes line, going to the beach every day for swimming lessons during summer vacation, even when storm clouds threatened  (“You need to learn to swim in all types of weather!”), clich├ęd phrases: “You’re treading on thin ice!”, a favorite meal to celebrate my birthday, it was all Val’s way to say, “I love you.”

One day in these last few years (it has all run together for me ), an elderly woman stopped me in the grocery store while I was trying to control my unruly children who both wanted to push the carriage without the help of the other one.

“The days are long but the years are short…” she said with a wistful smile.

At that moment I was thinking about how incredibly long my day had already been trying to keep Ava and Declan from killing each other.  I smiled and nodded my head in agreement.

I think of that phrase often as my children are growing up so fast.  How did Ava get to be five years old already?  How am I forty?  Where did all of those moments go?  The ones that the parenting magazines tell you to put in a scrap book or a time capsule?  Just like kids do, it’s easy for moms and dads to take mundane life for granted, too. It makes me wonder if Val ever felt frustrated and too tired to make dinner or help with homework.  That’s when it hit me.  Of course she was tired and overwhelmed and sick of explaining fractions for the umpteenth time.  The thing is, I never knew it.

I can only hope to strive to be like Val: patient and loving even when it seemed like I didn’t deserve it.  She created a consistent life where it was safe to be a little naughty and “tread on thin ice!” because I knew she would still love me.  She has always been there to pick me up when I fall down or just to lend a helping hand when I feel like I’m failing.

I just got annoyed because I had to stop writing yet again to see why my son is crying. He has been fussing all afternoon over his sister’s teasing and a toy that won’t work the way he wants it to.  As I got out of my chair and stormed over to the door in disgust, I saw that he had fallen and scraped his knee.  Real tears ran down his cheeks as he said between sobs, “I-I want my m-m-mommy!” My feelings of frustration gave way to a desire to comfort when I scooped him up and held him close to shush his sobs and wipe his tears.  He nestled his face into the crook of my neck and took a long deep breath.  Just the kind I like to do when I hug my own mother and inhale her perfume. It may not seem extraordinary to anyone else, but it is always there when I need it.


Enjoy these breads toasted and smeared with butter and jam for breakfast, served with ice cream for dessert or like Val does, alongside a cup of hot cocoa.  They are versatile and understated.  She bakes a batch and puts a few in the freezer so there is always a snack at the ready for comforting a small child’s bruised shins or an adult child’s bruised ego.

Lemon Poppy Seed Cake

(Makes 3 small loaves)

½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter at room temperature

1 1/2 cup sugar, divided

3 eggs

2 teaspoons lemon extract

grated rind of one lemon

¼ cup poppy seeds

2 cups flour

1 cup buttermilk

1 ½ teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

pinch of salt

½ cup lemon juice


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and dust with flour 3 small loaf pans (6”x3”x2”).

In a large mixing bowl, cream together butter and 1 cup sugar for two minutes, scraping down sides of bowl with a rubber spatula until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one by one beating well after each addition. Beat in lemon rind, lemon extract and poppy seeds.

Add 1 cup flour, beat well. Add buttermilk, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Beat in remaining cup of flour until just mixed. Pour into prepared pans. Bake for 35-45 minutes until golden brown and a knife inserted comes out clean.

While loaves are baking, in a saucepan, combine ½ cup sugar and lemon juice to make syrup. Heat until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat and let rest until loaves are done cooking.

Poke small holes in top of cooked warm loaves with a toothpick. Pour syrup over top of loaves reserving a small portion of syrup for the bottom of the loaves.  Let rest for 15 minutes. Turn loaves out onto a cooling rack and brush bottoms of loaves with remaining syrup. Cool completely, slice and serve.

*Can be wrapped tightly in plastic wrap and frozen.



Holiday Cranberry Bread

(Makes 3 small loaves or one large)

2 cups flour

1 cup sugar

1 ½ teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

grated rind and juice from one orange

2 tablespoons butter (very soft)

¾ cup boiling water

1 egg

1 ½ cups raw cranberries, cut in half by hand*

½ cup chopped walnuts


Grease 3 small loaf pans or one large one.

In a mixing bowl, sift together flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, combine orange rind, juice, soft butter, boiling water, and egg.  Add dry ingredients, cranberries and walnuts. Mix by hand (as not to crush cranberries) until combined. Pour into prepared pans and let stand for 20 minutes. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Bake a large sized loaf for 60-70 minutes and the smaller loaves for 25-35 minutes until the top is golden brown and a knife inserted comes out clean. Cool on wire rack for 10 minutes and turn bread out of pan(s) back onto rack to continue cooling for at least 30 minutes.  Slice and serve.

*Val cuts each cranberry in half to reveal star pattern in the middle of the fruit. It makes a better presentation and larger chunks than chopping them in the food processor. Do what you like.



Andrea Norris lives in East Falmouth, just a few miles away from a comforting hug and a warm slice of Lemon Poppy Seed Cake. Check out her blog: