Saturday, November 11, 2017

Ritz Crackers

Ritz Crackers

Red Ritz box
sleeves of buttery crackers
salty on top
What can I create?
 thick peanut butter
melted chocolate
gooey marshmallow

My dad
his "Grampa"
Ritz crackers
sometimes stale
peanut butter, always 
lay the salt side in
make a dozen the night before
in the fridge next to the cucumber and the hunk of cheese
no time to fuss on the boat
there are fish to haul in.

My son
Declan, 11 years old
Ritz crackers
smeared with Nutella
after school
before soccer
before basketball
"Mom, can I eat them all?"
licks the salt off his fingers
runs off to play.

Ritz Cracker S'mores
(make as many as you want, 6 for me)

6 Ritz crackers
6 teaspoons peanut butter
24 chocolate chips
3 marshmallows

Spread 1 teaspoon of peanut butter on each cracker.  Place 4 chocolate chips onto peanut butter on each cracker.  Cut marshmallows in half horizontally with scissors.  Place 1/2 marshmallow on peanut butter and chocolate chips, sticky side down.  Line up crackers on a cookie sheet.  Preheat broiler to high.  Toast marshmallows to golden brown, 1-2 minutes.  Remove from oven and allow to cool for 5 minutes before shoving them in your mouth.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Craving the Crisp

 I made applesauce to go with dinner the other night.  I needed something quick and satisfying to round out the meal. Warm, spiced applesauce seemed just right on a rainy, damp October evening.  I used the same technique I have seen my mother, Val use throughout my childhood.  Peel and slice any type of apples, usually Macoun or Macintosh, about one per person.  Add sliced apples and about a teaspoon of cinnamon, a few tablespoons of sugar, a little nutmeg, maybe some lemon zest and a little water in the bottom of the pan.  Cover and simmer on the back of the stove while you make the rest of dinner.  Once the apples have turned into a soft mass, serve them.  Cold leftovers are delicious, if you end up having any, at all.
  After Ava arrived home from field hockey practice and dance class, she sat down at the table and devoured every last sweet morsel along with the rest of her dinner of corn cakes and garlic and cheese sausage.  Between bites, she began her interrogation:
  "What kind of apples did you use?" she asked.
  "The ones that have seen better days, they were rolling around, forgotten in the vegetable crisper and no one wanted to eat them,"  I replied.
  "Is this Gramma's recipe?"
  "There is no actual recipe.  A little of this and that. But it is the way I remember her making it."
  "Oh," she said and looked off into the distance as she thought about it for a minute, as if trying to  recall something in the back of her mind, that was just out of reach.
  Ava doesn't know that she comes by this love for sweet mushy, cooked apples seasoned with cinnamon and nutmeg, quite honestly.  It began early on, during that seemingly endless pregnancy almost fourteen years ago, I had insatiable cravings that came and went in waves alternating with bouts of nausea.  I was out of my mind for a variety of exotic fare: whole bags of juicy naval oranges, tiny mandarin orange wedges that came in small cans, swimming in syrupy liquid, sweet and salty Hawaiian pizza made by Kosta's down the street, studded with canned pineapple and chunks of deli ham, which I ate just about every night for dinner.  But by far the most soothing snack on my list of must haves during the time Ava spent in the womb was apple crisp.
  But not just any apple crisp.
  In an effort to tame some of the side effects from that brutal gestational period (along with the cravings and nausea, there were intense emotional mood swings rivaling those of Jekyll and Hyde), Val dragged me to a weekly yoga class. It was held upstairs in the Rec building in a room over the basketball courts.  While the Men's Over 40 Basketball League played heated games: Dino's Bar v.s. Wizz Barbershop and co-eds mingled during Adult Volleyball, I pretended to stretch myself to my limit in the name of bettering my health during pregnancy.
  I barely attempted each tortuous yoga pose. I held my breath instead of breathing into it. My mind was not at all mindful. It was all I could do to keep myself from gagging during Downward Dog. I couldn't wait for the Sun Salutations to finally set. I counted the minutes until Savasana or Corpse Pose. The one at the end of all the exertion when you are finally allowed to lay on your back and restore yourself.  The pose is meant for about twenty minutes of quiet reflection, meditation and giving thanks.  Thank you for my strong body, for this invigorating class, all this positive energy flowing freely and blah, blah blah...  But I could barely make it through five minutes, my thoughts were far from transcendental contemplation, instead I was completely distracted by the baby swishing around inside of me making me feel anxious and hungry at the same time and the apple crisp that could make it all better.
  The thing that really got me motivated to go to yoga class after dark on those chilly fall evenings when I could have been snuggled up on the couch watching "Friends" re-runs and devouring one of the fore mentioned Hawaiian pizzas was the promise of a post yoga trip to the local Hearth 'n Kettle.  Hearth 'n Kettle is a chain of restaurants unique to Cape Cod and the southern shore of Massachusetts offering hearty New England fare such as beer battered fish and chips, thick creamy clam chowder and hot turkey sandwiches with cranberry sauce, smothered by ladle after ladle of gravy.  The desserts are typical Northeastern diner style: Indian pudding, Grape-nut custard with real whipped cream and of course, apple crisp served hot with a perfectly rounded scoop of vanilla ice cream.  As if on cue, my taste buds began to salivate as soon as I unrolled my mat every week.
  It's a good thing yoga pants are forgiving.  I gained at least forty pounds while carrying Ava.  Those warm, soft apples scented with cinnamon and sugar under a blanket of crunchy, buttery oats and brown sugar with the cold vanilla ice cream melting into the crackly crags of the fall fruit dessert didn't help.  It took a long time, years in fact, to shed most of the weight. Some of it's still here and my baby will soon be coming up on her fourteenth birthday. But that won't stop me.  The heat in the oven begins to melt the butter and softens the apples, cinnamon scents the air in the kitchen and I have a brief memory of those endless days before Ava arrived. Every moment of discomfort, craving and hormonal meltdown; it was all worth it.

Apple Crisp
(Makes about 9 servings)

1/4 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons cold butter
1 cup rolled oats (old fashioned)

6 medium size apples, peeled and sliced to yield 6 cups
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
pinch of salt

vanilla ice cream
whipped cream

  Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Lightly grease an 8"x 8" glass baking dish.
  In a large bowl, mix together the flour, sugar, cinnamon and salt.  Cut the butter into cubes and add to the flour mixture.  Using a pastry cutter or fork, cut the butter into the mixture until it resembles coarse meal.  Mix in the oats.  Set aside.
  In another large bowl, combine the sliced apples, sugar, lemon zest, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt.  Mix to coat apples.  Pour apple mixture into prepared baking dish.  Cover apple mixture with topping.
  Bake for 35-45 minutes until browned on edges and fruit juices bubble.  Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack until ready to serve.  Delicious served warm with vanilla ice cream or at room temperature with whipped cream.


Tuesday, September 26, 2017


A few weeks ago, I made the labor intensive zucchini relish recipe that is a favorite among many of our family and friends. One huge zucchini from Val's garden yielded eight cups of finely chopped green and white cubes. Add four cups of diced onions, a red pepper, some green peppers, that's a lot of chopping. Who knew such a concoction mixed with celery seed, sugar and salt could be so lipsmackingly delicious?  It brightens up grilled chicken, tuna salad on thick white bread and makes a grilled hot dog into something out of this world.  But to be able to have a jar on the dinner table in January means putting in the hard work in August when all I really want to do is spend the last few days before school starts again, on the beach with my feet in the sand and my chair directed toward the tide coming in and out.  Waiting for September doesn't help.  Less people in town make the beach and other outdoor activities even more inviting.  The few hours I have to myself while the kids are in school are often spent doing the usual household chores but if I'm lucky, I might fit in a walk along the bike path in blissful silence or take in the view at Falmouth Harbor.  But the harvest awaits!
  The cucumbers won't stop this year, either.  They are growing long and green to the point where there are too many to eat in salads or used as vehicles to scoop up blue cheese dip.  So, mother nature has me back in the kitchen again, firing up the canning pot to make two batches of dill pickles. Val's dill plant is more like a "tree" with many "branches" of dill flower heads.  The garlic from the farmer's market is pungent and strong, and tastes so much spicier than the dried up heads I get at the supermarket.  A few slices of bright red chili peppers make a nice looking contrast in the jars full of  sliced green pickles.  All together it tastes of a vinegary, spicy, sour bite.
  There are a lot of recipes in the repertoire that I won't get to this year before the time for freshly picked fruits and vegetables has gone by.  But I am putting in an extreme effort to make at least one batch of jam before the leaves begin to fall.
  Val's Heavenly Peach Jam is actually a recipe given to her by the late Mrs. Eastman.  Mrs. "E" commissioned Val to make numerous batches of this sweet concoction to be sold in the back section of Eastman's Hardware.  The part of the store was called "Fannie's Corner" and displayed all sorts of delightful knick-knacks, Christmas ornaments, fancy candies in decorative tins and my favorite: an assortment of very large stuffed rabbits wearing knit sweaters.  I could browse around that shop with it's creaky, lacquered wood floors for hours on end looking at all the treasures that Mrs. Eastman carefully curated.  Her taste was impeccable, her style on point.  Although I admired all the things that Mrs. Eastman displayed in her shop, this jam was not exactly a favorite of mine.  Mostly because I preferred sweet jellies and jams along with peanut butter in a sandwich packed in my lunchbox for school.  The peaches and the peanut butter just never seemed to make a good match to me and I longed for red raspberry or strawberry jelly in my sandwiches, instead.  Perhaps it was the color.  Bright orangy/yellow alongside the light brown peanut butter on white bread.  Reminds me of the popular color scheme in the 1970's of burnt orange, brown and yellow, which then reminds me of shag carpeting and polyester leisure suits, ideas better left in the past.  So, I am not sure why I am feeling so strongly about putting in the effort to make this jam.  Perhaps because my palate has matured and I know how delicious, sweet and juicy a fresh peach can be.  I want to be able to enjoy that burst of early Autumn flavor in the dead of winter on a piece of buttery toast while the snow falls outside my window.
  I've gathered my ingredients and found the jars and lids.  All that is left now is to let the peaches soften up a bit.  When I'm finished, I'll stash the jam in the cellar with my other preserved pantry items.  Call me in January, when the snow is falling.  I might just invite you over to enjoy the bounty from summer 2017.

Heavenly Peach Jam

3 pounds peaches
zest of 1 orange
juice and pulp from 2 oranges
1 small jar maraschino cherries with juice (no stems)
2 packages pectin

Peel peaches and slice into a large pot.  Smash peaches leaving some larger pieces.   Zest one orange and add it to the peaches.  Peel and section oranges into the pot (discard connective membrane).  On high heat, bring mixture to a full rolling boil, stirring constantly.  Quickly stir in pectin and return to a full rolling boil for one minute while continuing to stir.  After one minute, remove pot from heat and skim off any foam with a metal spoon.  Ladle into prepared (sterilized) jars leaving 1/8" head space.  Wipe jar rims and threads with a damp towel.  Top with prepared lids and bands.  Process in a canner for 10 minutes in boiling water.   Remove from canner and allow to cool.
After jars have cooled, test the seals making sure that they are tight.  Tightly sealed jars can be stored in a cool, dry place for up to 12 months.  If the seal is not tight, refrigerate and use the jam within 2 weeks.