Thursday, May 11, 2017

Baseball vs. Rainy Days




Mother Nature has finally released us from winter.  The flat faced pansies, the song of the peepers, red and yellow tulips have emerged.  Lush green grass, tiny leaves on tree branches are everywhere I look. The days are finally long enough to begin looking forward to the end of school and dare I say, "warmer weather"?
  But Declan couldn't be more frustrated.  So many soccer practices and baseball games cancelled due to rain, rain and more rain.  When it finally stops raining, the playing fields are so saturated, the powers that be keep the kids off the grass for fear the landscaping will be torn to shreds. 
  Like tonight.  The sun finally came out, warmed the air and created the perfect weather for an evening baseball game.  He packed his bag with sunflower seeds, the baseball player's healthier alternative to chewing tobacco.  After searching through his desk drawers cluttered with the odd birthday party favor, beach finds and pencils worn down beyond use, he found his "baseball" sunglasses that he hasn't needed since last summer.  He scurried around the house gathering his gear, anticipating that the game could possibly finish under the lights, if the innings stretch out that long.  Wait.  Cancelled.  Again.  Declan is devastated.  He longs so much to get out and play.  The tears are barely hidden under the brim of his red and white cap.  Oh, Mother Nature what an eleven year old boy has to go through to swing a bat and shag a few fly balls with his friends!
  I remember back in high school when I was dying to get outside and run around the fields after school instead of my winter time routine of heading home on the bus for another boring afternoon of homework and soap operas.  The chilly spring air stinging my face, my freezing cold, raw, red hands gripping my lacrosse stick.  I didn't care that my entire backside was covered in splashes of mud from running up and down the wet field in my cleats. To finally get outside, run until I was out of breath and laugh with my friends in the fresh air; I never felt the cold on my bare legs.
  I used to trudge through the school day. My only motivation for being there was all the good stuff I got to do afterwards.  Monday through Friday, at lunchtime, I crossed my fingers and looked out the cafeteria windows hoping to see the sun or at least just cloud cover, praying against the rain.  If the weather looked alright to my untrained eye, I was happy and went about eating my lunch, looking forward to slamming my locker shut at dismissal.  But if the announcement belted out on the loudspeaker declared, "ALL OUTDOOR PRATICES CANCELLED FOR TODAY" followed by the response of a collective heavy groan, I was left in a funk.
  Today, I am addicted to the weather app on my phone.  I check the radar hourly, making my own interpretations based on the patterns on the screen, not wanting to rely on the inaccuracy of those weather people who have no idea how to make predictions for Cape Cod.  I constantly put it out to the Universe for heavy rain clouds to drift north or be blown out to sea.  At the very least to provide light rain showers only in the middle of the night so that the kids can get on the fields the next day.  I don't know if this obsession does anyone any good but it comforts me, as if I am somehow doing my part to let Mother Nature know I mean business when it comes to baseball vs. rainy days.



  I'm sure the Falmouth High School cafeteria ladies made this cake year round but I connect the memory of it with springtime.  Yellow cake layered with thick, white frosting, topped with a heavy hand of yellow and orange sprinkles.  It was served in large squares cut from rectangular sheet pans.  I could never get enough of the sugary sweetness and bright colors.  It always made my day when I saw "Sunshine Cake" featured on the menu, especially if rain was in the forecast.  These cupcakes pay homage to that dessert.





Sunshine Cupcakes
makes about 24



*Cupcakes:
2/3 cup butter, softened
1 3/4 cups sugar
2 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups 2% milk

Frosting:
1/2 cup butter, softened (1 stick)
1/2 cup Crisco
4 cups powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons milk
2 teaspoons vanilla

orange and yellow sprinkles

Bake the Cupcakes:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line 24 muffin cups with paper liners.
In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Beat in vanilla.  In another bowl, whisk flour baking powder and salt.  Add this mixture alternately to butter mixture with milk, beating well after each addition.
Fill prepared cups 3/4 full (just shy of 1/4 cup batter, each).  Bake 15-20 minutes or until a pick inserted comes out clean.  Cool in pans then remove to wire racks to cool completely before frosting.

Make the Frosting:
In a stand mixer, combine butter and Crisco.  Slowly, add powdered sugar, one cup at a time.  Alternately, add one tablespoon of milk.  Add vanilla and salt. Mix well.  If frosting is stiff, add a few drops of milk, if loose, add more powdered sugar, one tablespoon at a time.  Frost cupcakes and top with sprinkles while frosting is still wet.

Cupcakes will keep for up to 3 days in an airtight container.

*Cupcake recipe adapted from Taste of Home "Yellow Cupcakes Recipe"
 

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Just Get it on the Table Season



It's baseball season, spring recital season, everyone get outside because the weather is finally nice and the flowers are blooming after a long and dreary winter season.  There is absolutely no time to cook and sit down to dinner unless you want to eat at 10:00pm.  Which means how the heck will I get everyone fed without making myself absolutely nuts?  I could just eat crackers and cheese, pour myself a glass of wine (counts as a fruit/vegetable, right?) and be done with it.  But my children look at me with their big hungry eyes and rub their growling tummies.  Long before any sane person should even be thinking about an evening meal, it happens every afternoon just as the bus doors close.  As they burst into the house, they yell,  "What's for dinner?"
Short of offering them something prepackaged and microwavable, there is not much I can do unless I want to be cooking dinner at 800pm and washing dishes from 9-10pm.  Everyone knows I like to be in bed far before that snuggling up with the same book I have been trying to get through for the past six months.  Oh the exhaustion of motherhood!  I have reread the same page over and over again, before I drift off to sleep midsentence.
Of course, there is the trusty Crock Pot.  However, my picky eaters don't really like soup or stew.  A meat entrĂ©e usually still needs some starch like mashed potatoes or boiling up a pot of rice and maybe even the addition of a vegetable....I need it to be easier than that.  Even rice takes 30 minutes on the stove top.
In a moment of sheer genius, I placed skinless, boneless chicken thighs and 1/2 a bottle of BBQ sauce in the crockpot and set it on low.  Stopped at the store for sandwich rolls and a bundle of fresh kale.  Yes, that's right.  KALE for children who always complain about what is on the plate.
It's shocking, I know that my picky eaters might even try a kale.  But I tricked them.  I baked kale chips.  Chips sound like junk food, like something forbidden.  So at least they might try it.  Now here they are devouring the whole bowl before I can get a handful for myself.  Even more surprising is that I actually like kale chips.  I have always hated kale, was angry about those "Eat More Kale" t-shirts and bumper stickers.  Yes, I have finally came around to the kale craze.  Late to the party but ready to celebrate.
Especially because kale chips can be made ahead and served at room temperature.  I actually left them on the cookie sheet I used to bake them right on top of the stove.  Crockpot on low with the BBQ chicken inside.  Now I feel like super mom.  Now, I am ready to watch a  two plus hour little league game and know that I can crawl into bed to try and read, uninterrupted by whining and complaining while my people devour their dinner.

Easiest BBQ Chicken Sandwiches
makes about 8 sandwiches

1 package boneless, skinless chicken thighs (about 1.5-2 pounds)
8 ounces BBQ sauce of your choice (I use Stubb's)
1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons cold water
8 sandwich or ciabatta rolls
8 slices deli cheddar cheese

Spray inside of Crock Pot with cooking spray.  Place chicken in a single layer inside Crock Pot.  Pour BBQ sauce over chicken.  Make a slurry out of cornstarch and cold water by mixing both together until smooth.  Add to BBQ sauce and swirl to combine.  Cover Crock Pot and cook on low for approximately 5 hours.  Once cooked, shred chicken and stir back into sauce.  Serve on toasted rolls or ciabatta bread.  Top with melted cheese, if desired.



Ridiculous Kale Chips

1 bunch of kale, washed and dried
cooking spray
salt
pepper
garlic powder.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Spray 2 cookie sheets with cooking spray.  Remove kale leaves from stems and rip into small pieces about 2"-3" long.  Scatter kale pieces in one layer over the cookie sheets.  Spray kale leaves with cooking spray.  Sprinkle with salt, pepper and garlic powder.  Bake kale for 15-20 minutes until crisp and dark green and slightly browned on edges.  Serve immediately or leave out for people to snack on.  Great with cocktails!!



Thursday, April 27, 2017

TBT May 29, 2008 Falmouth Bulletin "Lessons from Val's Kitchen" Salad recipe adds some zing to spring


On May 29, 2008 this story appeared  in the Falmouth Bulletin: "Lessons  from Val's Kitchen"





Salad recipe adds some zing to spring
For years I have had what I call a “black thumb”.  No magic touch with vegetation, just a rotten rather than green thumb. Oh, I managed to keep a few house plants alive throughout the years.  This I believe happened not because I was trying. By chance, the only place in my apartment with sun was a large window with an ample window sill. My technique of barely remembering to water the plants on occasion somehow helped too. However, now that I live in a house with a yard, I would like to imbue it with life.  In the last couple of years, my sad attempts at planting seeds failed because I was always too impatient to learn the rules of gardening 101 or perhaps I just blocked it all out…

You see, Val has always had a very large, organic vegetable garden.  The planning started in the winter when the seed catalogs would arrive in the mail.  She would comb through them and choose the best seeds for her soil sometimes ordering various bugs and traps as well.  Once they arrived in the mail, the seeds would be started in the basement under the grow light and her careful watch. As the seeds sprouted under the eerie purple light, we knew what our fate would be come spring time, after the last sign of frost.

The truck loads of seaweed arrived soon after the plants went into the ground.  This would be used to mulch the entire garden, a task that seemed to take weeks in our young minds.  Karyn manned the pitch fork and loaded up 5 gallon buckets for me and Ethan to haul down to Val’s location in the garden.  We went up and down the sloping hill along the side of the house in the hot sun, until Val allowed us to take what seemed like a one minute break . The brown, moist seaweed got inside our shoes filling them with sand and slime mixed with sweaty feet. Yucky.

To my mother’s delight, sometimes we would have the pleasure of mulching with horse manure.  We thought she was insane not knowing the virtues of the fertilizer. Karyn dressed in tall rubber boots and a bandana over her nose like Jesse James, continued to man the pitch fork while Ethan and I gagged as we hauled our buckets in the hot sun.

Times were really tough when the seaweed wasn’t as plentiful and Val didn’t score her horse manure.  Instead of making lemons out of lemonade, Val made “manure tea”, a fertilizer out of our pet rabbit’s droppings.  The recipe is as follows:

Fill ¼ of a five gallon bucket with rabbit or chicken manure

Top off bucket with water

Leave in the hot sun to “steep”

After 4-5 days pour the mixture over your crops.

If the wind blows just right, you can smell the sweet aroma of the tea from anywhere in the yard while it is steeping.  Yummy.
The gardening trauma did not end with the mulching.  A whole new phase of torture began with harvesting the crops.  Raspberries proved to be especially gruesome.  The wild, unruly and very thorny bush would slowly envelope me as I inched my way in to pick every last one.  Even though it was best to wear long sleeves and pants as not to get my skin torn to shreds, a child never remembers to do that in July.  Don't think for a second that I could have gotten away with leaving a few berries on the most interior of the sharp vines.  Val always checked.
In spite of my memories of childhood gardening, I have been spoiled by the quality and taste of fresh fruits and vegetables harvested and consumed at their peak.  Luckily, I still reap the benefits of Val's garden.  I no longer have to help with mulching as she plants a little less quantity and variety.  Now, I know how fortunate I am when she says, "Do you want some tomatoes? Here's a bag, go and pick what you want."  As for my own yard, I don't have enough time or room for a vegetable garden but you should check out my potted herbs on the deck.
The following recipe is a springtime favorite.  Val's Aunt Viola, who was known for cooking and entertaining, made this often.



Aunt Viola's Special Salad and Dressing
1 large bag fresh baby spinach
1 large bag fresh salad greens
1 red onion, sliced thin
parmesan cheese, coarsely grated
homemade croutons (see recipe)
For the dressing:
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon dried mustard
1/4 teaspoon dried onion
1/3 cup poppy seeds
1/3 cup white vinegar
1/3 cup salad oil

Wash and dry green and toss together in a large salad bowl.  Arrange red onion rings over top of greens and sprinkle with parmesan cheese and croutons.  Combine all ingredients for dressing and shake well.  Dress salad and serve immediately.

Homemade Croutons
5-6 slices day old French bread
2 tablespoons butter, melted
3/4 teaspoon dried parsley
3/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
Heat oven to 350 degrees.  Cube slices of bread.  Toss cubed bread with butter.  Spread bread onto a cookie sheet.  Sprinkle with parsley, garlic powder and salt.  Toast in oven for 5-10 minutes until browned on edges.  Allow to cool before adding to salad.