Food Friday: Avoid the Pumpkin Pie Spices

With falling leaves come clattering acorns and thumping pecans. Fall also heralds the marketing of all things pumpkin spice-y. It is much too early to consider the pumpkin, or the pumpkin pie spices, now a seasonal meme. Wait for November. As a matter of fact, wait for Thanksgiving. We’ve got another month before we have to bake pumpkin pies, pumpkin breads or anything vaguely related to that large orange gourd, except Halloween. Until then, lets just eat cake.

Once again the New York Times provided the temptation: Lemon Spice Visiting Cake
https://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1018963-lemon-spice-visiting-cake (recipe in full below)

I topped off our warm slices with a generous schmear of lemon curd, which should be a required condiment placed on every table, right next to the catsup bottle. Yumsters.

Our cake lasted through the work week, with slices for dessert for lunches and dinners. Toward the end I even had a nice slab toasted for breakfast one morning. It is the perfect cake for a week of fine dining, as well as being a good traveling cake, if you are inclined to bake one and bring it to share it with anyone.

Martha has a recipe for a lemon pound cake, which make two loaves. So you can keep one at home for those midnight snacks while chilling and watching Netflix, while still selflessly giving one away. If you are that kind of person. Martha’s recipe also doesn’t have the expensive spices found in the New York Times recipe. I was shocked, shocked at how expensive the cardamon was at my grocery store – and I was NOT shopping at Whole Paycheck. There were two from which to choose, and I picked the less pricey, $7.79 tiny, little bottle. I will have to find a lot of uses for cardamon this holiday baking season.

https://www.marthastewart.com/344409/glazed-lemon-pound-cake

Epicurious has a nice and easy recipe for Honey and Spice Loaf Cake – with spices we all have on hand, like cinnamon and ground ginger and ground cloves; perilously close to being pumpkin pie spices. If you are anything like me you will reconsider the wisdom of including raisins. (In our house we don’t bake healthy oatmeal raisin cookies, we prefer the much more palatable oatmeal chocolate chip cookie recipe. To each their own!)
https://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/honey-and-spice-loaf-cake-102698

Consider what is really in your pumpkin pie spices. Not pumpkin. According to Wikipedia, pumpkin spice contains:

18 parts ground cinnamon
4 parts ground nutmeg
4 parts ground ginger
3 parts ground cloves
3 parts ground allspice

And now take a gander at this NPR story from 2014: http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2014/11/19/365213805/just-what-is-in-pumpkin-spice-flavor-hint-not-pumpkin

My $7.79 bottle of cardamon is looking good!

Lemon Spice Visiting Cake

Butter and flour for the pan
1 ½ cups (204 grams) all-purpose flour
1 ¼ teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
½ teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon fine sea salt
1 ¼ cups (250 grams) sugar
1 large (or 2 small) lemons
4 large eggs, at room temperature
½ cup (120 ml.) heavy cream, at room temperature
1 ½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract
5 ½ tablespoons (77 grams) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
⅓ cup marmalade (for optional glaze)
½ teaspoon water (for optional glaze)

1.Center a rack in the oven, and preheat it to 350. Butter an 8 1/2-inch loaf pan (Pyrex works well), dust with flour and tap out the excess. (For this cake, bakers’ spray isn’t as good as butter and flour.) Place on a baking sheet.

2.Whisk the 1 1/2 cups flour, baking powder, cardamom, ginger and salt together.

3.Put the sugar in a large bowl, and grate the zest of the lemon(s) over the sugar. Squeeze the lemon(s) to produce 3 tablespoons juice, and set this aside. Using your fingers, rub the sugar and zest together until the mixture is moist and aromatic. One at a time, add the eggs, whisking well after each. Whisk in the juice, followed by the heavy cream. Still using the whisk, gently stir the dry ingredients into the batter in two additions. Stir the vanilla into the melted butter, and then gradually blend the butter into the batter. The batter will be thick and have a beautiful sheen. Scrape it into the loaf pan.

4.Bake for 70 to 75 minutes (if the cake looks as if it’s getting too dark too quickly, tent it loosely with foil) or until a tester inserted deep into the center of the cake comes out clean. Transfer to a rack, let rest for 5 minutes and then carefully run a blunt knife between the sides of the cake and the pan. Invert onto the rack, and turn over. Glaze now, or cool to room temperature.

5.For the glaze: Bring the marmalade and water to a boil. Brush the glaze over the top of the warm cake, and allow to it to set for 2 hours. The glaze will remain slightly tacky.

6.When the cake is completely cool, wrap in plastic to store. If it’s glazed, wrap loosely on top.

“Debbie had to get up and slice me a thick piece of cake before she could answer. And I do mean thick. Harry Potter volume seven thick. I could have knocked out a burglar with this piece of cake. Once I tasted it, though, it seemed just the right size.”
― Maureen Johnson

Food Friday: Quick Pickles

It is finally starting to cool down, at night at least. I have artfully stacked a couple of festive pumpkins on the front steps, hoping that they do not rot before Halloween. I have replanted the window boxes with chrysanthemums and some decorative kale. I doubt if Martha is going to come inspect our neighborhood, but I will be ready for her just in case. We are ready to greet fall, whenever it finally shows up.

We had a good summer, even it it refuses to depart entirely, and I can look back on it fondly. I have readjusted my thinking, and am getting used to being back in the kitchen after a lovely hiatus of a summertime of backyard-grilled veggies and meats. One way to revisit the golden haze of summer is by pickling vegetables.

I like the immediacy of quick pickling, which reveals my dependence on shopping at the grocery store instead of relying on the CSA or the seasonal foods at the farmers’ market. Forgive me my fondness for cucumber pickles. Load me up with some thin-skinned Kirby pickles. Yumsters!

My mother favored a small butcher shop just around the corner from our house. It was the kind of place that stocked bread and Saltines and penny candy as well as the hanging slabs of meat kept cold in an old-fashioned wooden cooler at the back of the store. While we waited for our pound of cubed steak and a pound of sliced American cheese, we were sometimes allowed the great treat of selecting a pickle out of the large barrel located near the front door. They were huge, manatee-sized pickles, which we ate sitting on the step of the shop, with juice running down our arms and onto the sidewalk. In retrospect I wonder how my mother decided they would be a treat for us, because she didn’t like pickles. Every year she would put out a tiny WASPy bowl of sweet gherkins for a relish dish at Thanksgiving, but I never saw her eat any.

I enjoy a cool cucumber salad, with slices of sweet Vidalia onion, and a scattering of Maldon salt is the perfect summer meal. Quick pickles are almost as good as a summer salad, or sitting on Benny’s Butcher Shop front step, chowing down on a big, honking pickle, watching the neighborhood parade by.

We all have such busy lives that few of us can spend a day learning how to ferment pickle the slow, traditional way. I am always afraid of ptomaine poisoning or exploding jars. Quick pickles can give us a little sunshine on the dinner table when fall’s cooler temperatures and darker nights make us long for summer’s warm sunshine.

Cheater’s Pickles – From the New York Times

2 English cucumbers
2 tablespoons sugar
Handful of ice cubes
¼ cup rice vinegar, Champagne vinegar, apple cider vinegar or distilled white vinegar
Several pinches of flaky salt, such as Maldon
Several grinds of black pepper, optional
2 tablespoons snipped fresh dill, mint or chives, or a mixture, optional
½ Vidalia onion, sliced into thin half-moons, optional

1.Cut off the ends of the cucumbers and use the tines of a fork to draw long stripes down their lengths. Slice the cucumbers like bread-and-butter pickles, about 1/8-inch thick, and pile them into a large shallow bowl. Sprinkle the sugar over the cucumbers and stir in well. Scatter the ice cubes over the slices and cover the bowl loosely with plastic wrap. Chill in the freezer for 1/2 hour.

2.Drain the cucumbers in a colander and pat dry with a clean kitchen towel. Put the cucumbers back in the bowl, sprinkle the vinegar over them evenly, and stir well. Add the salt and pepper, if using, and stir well to combine. Toss in the herbs and the onions, if using. Refrigerate until ready to serve. They will still be good the next day, though not quite as crisp.

https://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1017680-cheaters-pickles

Vivian Howard knows busy. Here is her recipe for quick pickles from PBS’s A Chef’s Life:
http://www.pbs.org/food/recipes/quick-pickled-cucumbers-onions/

https://www.lecreuset.com/vivianhoward

Of course, our friends at Food52 have the answer for quick pickles, too: https://food52.com/recipes/18162-spicy-dill-quick-pickles

And here is a super quick recipe from Alice Waters for a medley of cucumbers, radishes and watermelon meant to be consumed immediately. Hurry up! Get going!
https://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/salt-sugar-pickles-363479

“The perfect weather of Indian Summer lengthened and lingered, warm sunny days were followed by brisk nights with Halloween a presentiment in the air.”
― Wallace Stegner

Food Friday: Squirreling Away

This is a story from the Spy Test Kitchen’s venerable Way Back Machine. I’ll be back with pickles next week!

Luke the wonder dog and I have been enjoying our daily walks around town quite a lot these days. I am thrilled not to be sweating and panting from the merciless heat of summer. He, being a happy kind of guy, is just glad to be out of the studio and in a world of swirling smells and sights. And then there are the squirrels. The squirrels are everywhere!

Luke is a mutt of indeterminate parentage. We adopted him from the Humane Society four years ago when he was just a wiry black, brown and white pup. Since then we have learned that he sheds about a bale of fur every day, his favorite spot in the house would be smack in the middle the white sofa if he were allowed on it, he does not like the UPS man, he loves to play ball, and his heart’s desire is to catch a squirrel.

Luke is a short hair something. Passersby often comment that he looks like a blue tick. Or a short Doberman. Or a tall beagle. Or something else with papers and lineage. We think he is a true American mongrel – our own mid-sized mélange of a dog. He is not a water dog, although he loves to swim – but only if he is retrieving his ball. He is not a retriever, until you hurl his ball though the air, and then he goes tearing across the field like a race horse, intent upon catching his ball. He is a snob. No common tennis balls for him. He is not a Lab. Only orange and blue Chuckit!® balls for Luke.

Luke is not nearly as fussy about squirrels. He is pathetically comical when he sees a squirrel. Suddenly he assumes his cloak of invisibility and cartoonishly slows his pace, as he tiptoes, silently, toward his intended. The squirrels will sit, unblinking, staring back at Luke, munching on their nuts, until the dog is inches away. Then, in a tiny furry flash, the squirrels pivot and exit the scene, often vertically. Keep in mind that I am part of this scenario, every time, as Luke and I are attached by 6 feet of heavy duty leash. In the cartoon that is our life, I am the dust and debris behind Wiley Coyote and the squirrels are the Roadrunner.

Fall is a marvelous time for the squirrels. There are acorns and pecans and dogwood berries pelting down from the trees. We squashed our way through some ripe-smelling ginkgo fruit yesterday. But the best part of fall for the squirrels (and for Luke) seems to be enjoying the Episcopal church pumpkin patch. We walk by the pumpkin patch a couple of times a day. This morning it was swathed in a cool wispy fog. Yesterday it was sunny, and before the church ladies arrived to set up their cash box, the church yard was buzzing with busy squirrels, grazing on the pumpkins and gourds. We saw one squirrel who was enjoying the buffet with a dinner plate-sized slice of pumpkin while sitting on a flat gravestone. It was a tasty looking breakfast. The squirrels had nothing to fear from Luke, because they were behind the wrought iron fence, and Luke was on this side. He paused often and poked his nose through the rails, sniffing, willing his luck to change. Luke is ever vigilant and ever hopeful. With almost a dozen squirrels to consider, surely the odds would tip in his favor eventually.

Back in the real world we are enjoying the notion of fall. As we turn back into the kitchen to prepare warmer meals for the cooler days, I am like Luke, and always hoping for a tasty schmackeral or two. I’m not hanging out at the churchyard, hoping to catch a squirrel for dinner, but I am always looking for something deelish and easy. Fall means the return of root vegetables. Get down to the farmers’ market this weekend, and load up on some local produce. Squirrel some away for an easy dinner (or two) this week. Roasting vegetables fast and easy, and you can take a little leisure time walking through the fallen leaves, watching the squirrels stock up for winter.

http://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1017703-roasted-vegetables

http://www.eattheweeds.com/ginkgo-putrid-perfection/

“Experiment to me
Is every one I meet
If it contain a Kernel?
The Figure of a Nut
Presents upon a Tree
Equally plausibly,
But Meat within,
is requisite
To Squirrels,
and to Me”
-Emily Dickinson

Food Friday: End of the Summer

Fall is here, although it doesn’t feel like it. Hurricanes are churning their ways up the coast from Florida. It is still sub-tropically warm and damp. And yet I am anticipating cooler weather and warmer foods. I know, come February, I will be pining away for summertime treats. Sometimes I feel like Milo in The Phantom Tollbooth, always longing for the next experience. I should be like the cat, happily napping in pools of warm buttery sunlight, but in truth I just flipped through the L.L. Bean winter outdoor clothing catalogue with relish!

Cooler weather means I will return to the kitchen and will rummage about for the big stew pots, the loaf pans, the Crock Pot and the recipes that will stick-to-our-ribs. And, I fear, enlarging our expanding waistlines… Stews, chilies, spaghetti sauces, meatloaves, lasagnes, breads, brownies and pot pies. Spices swirling in the air. Baking. Anticipating Thanksgiving. I’m dreaming of a change from the hot, all-too-familiar sameness of this stinking hot old summer. And then there are the sugar plums that arrive in December! Plus having to figure out what to do for the Christmas card this year!

I love trailing through food halls, peering through shop windows and admiring perfectly arranged still lives of fruits, vegetables and meats, getting ideas and inspirations. In London at Selfridge’s palatial food hall a couple of years ago I marveled at the goose eggs, duck eggs and quail eggs artfully displayed in small packages in a case that also included tubs of duck fat. Interesting. Perplexing. Nearby there were the picture perfect piles of roasted meats and strings of sausages, and acres of fish and pretty shiny red lobsters, too. Much easier culinary concepts for my addled tourist brain to absorb.

Closer to home we have a butcher shop where all manner of imported specialities are stacked on every surface, and they are fascinating to contemplate while standing in line for my two pounds of Italian sausage; one hot, one sweet. Perched on counters and shelves and under the counter are day-glow pink pickled eggs in Jeroboam-sized jars, capers galore, an abundance of olive varieties, huge cafeteria-sized tins of La Bella San Marzano Italian Plum Tomatoes, gallons of imported light, plain, virgin and extra virgin olive oils in varying-shaped bottles and vessels, dusty packages of pastas, trays of fresh mozzarella, and I could continue the inventory all day. I always feel humbled when confronted by all the ingredients of what must be the potential for many feasts, when all I want is some sausage.

We do not ease our way back inside from the summer spent cooking on the grill. It is done abruptly. Labor Day has come and gone. The white shoes have been banished (except for sneakers). Football games occupy the weekends. I’d prefer to have my sausage and chicken cooked on the grill, but the grill is in semi-retirement. It will only cook steaks and hamburgers until the spring rolls around again, or if our Connecticut friend comes to visit and we prepare Big Love Pizza as a threesome. It is back to the kitchen for me – the summer holiday is over.

The End of Summer
Chicken, Sausage and Peppers

• 1/4 cup olive oil
• 2 large bell peppers, cut into strips (We like the sweeter tasting red or yellow peppers)
• 2 medium onions, sliced (I like Vidalia or any sweet onion)
• 3 garlic cloves, minced
• 1 pound hot Italian sausage
• 1 pound sweet Italian sausage
• 1 pound boneless chicken breast, cubed
• A generous sprinkle of crushed red pepper flakes

Heat oil in heavy large skillet over medium heat. Add peppers, onions, garlic and sauté 10 minutes. Cook until tender, about 5 -10 minutes. I like to singe the edges of the vegetables.

Cook sausages in another heavy large skillet over medium-high heat until brown and cooked through, turning occasionally, about 15 minutes. Ditto with the chicken cubes. Scoop the peppers and onions onto a platter and pile the meat on top. Add a salad, a crusty loaf of bread, a tall glass of wine and candles.

This is a good meal to make on the weekend, because you can toss the leftover sausage and chicken with pasta or rice, and voilà! Dinner is made for a dreary Monday, when no one (least of all me!) wants to cook.
Summer is almost a dream again.

http://food52.com/recipes/15846-healthy-sausage-peppers

http://www.bonappetit.com/recipe/open-face-sausage-and-peppers-sandwiches

“What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness.”
― John Steinbeck

Food Friday: Falling for Apples

Happy first day of Autumn! I hope you have unloaded the last of your zucchini on the unsuspecting, and are ready to roll into fall harvests. Do not consult the weather app on your phone – I know it is still warm outside, but the light is changing, the dogwoods are starting to turn red, and some leaves are floating airily past the Spy Test Kitchen windows. It is time for apples.

I had the good fortune to meet chef Vivian Howard last weekend, and have been binge-watching her PBS show A Chef’s Life ever since. I cannot recommend it too highly. Go support your local PBS station so you don’t feel too guilty about watching this delightful time sucker. It is informative and innovative and heart-warming.

Vivian Howard is a Peabody Award-winning chef, restauranteur and raconteur. She’s not the first farm-to-table chef, but her approach is clever and hyper-local for her corner of Eastern North Carolina. She is a genius at adapting old-timey recipes to the our slightly more sophisticated tastes. We have more resources than our mothers, because we have been able to travel farther, and watch television cooking shows, and order fancy ingredients from Amazon. I am adding Vivian Howard to my list of cooking gods: Julia Child, James Beard, Nora Ephron, Mark Bittman, Nigella Lawson and the dream team at Food52.

Vivian Howard is almost able to time travel in her quests for authenticity. She finds an old lady who whips up sheets of biscuits by hand, without measuring the ingredients. No Cusinart food processors, or KitchenAid mixers, or rolling pins, or even biscuit cutters are used. Then Vivian (I can call her that, and you will, too) tracked down another woman whose family ran the tiny café where Vivian first delighted in Apple Jacks – little hand-held, pan-fried apple pies, wrapped in white grease paper. http://www.pbs.org/food/features/a-chefs-life-season-2-episode-6-apples/ (The recipe is included with the video link.) These are foods we can cook ourselves, and reinvigorate our repertoires. You don’t have to bake a perfect apple pie like Martha. Try Apple Jacks, and have some fun. There is nothing old-timey about the sprinkle of rosemary sugar as a finishing touch.

Vivian Howard honors the unsung home cooks and her Eastern North Carolina heritage. We cooked (Vivian’s mother’s) Scarlett’s Chicken and Rice for dinner last Sunday. It is updated slightly from her mother’s original recipe. It is twenty-first century chicken and rice. Not only was it deelish, but we had enough leftovers that we ate it again on Wednesday night, and have frozen two more dinner-for-two-sized portions. I love that peace of mind, knowing there are a few meals stashed away in the freezer. We have both Vivian and her mother to thank. http://www.pbs.org/food/recipes/scarletts-chicken-rice/

Vivian Howard’s rural southern upbringing meant home-cooked meals of pork, chicken, lard, collards, butter beans, blueberries and apples. Some of these were grown in the back yard, or came from a nearby farmer. And now that it is fashionable (and good for the environment) to shop locally, imagine what great dishes you can make this fall with apples from the farmers’ market. There are recipes in Vivian’s book, Deep Run Roots, for dried apples, apple chips, apple pie moonshine, lentil apple soup with bacon, vinaigrettes, cookies, and slaw. You can be as busy as you want.

P.S. Vivian Howard has two restaurants in Kinston, North Carolina.
http://www.vivianhoward.com/chef-the-farmer/

“Autumn seemed to arrive suddenly that year. The morning of the first September was crisp and golden as an apple.”
― J.K. Rowling

Food Friday: Zucchini Fest

Have you started sneaking zucchini onto your neighbors’ front porches under the cover of night yet? If you have a garden, you have been harvesting tomatoes with an greedy heart, thinking about jars of spaghetti sauce you will enjoy this winter. But what about that ever-expanding green mountain of zucchini? If your neighbors are hiding behind their lace curtains when you come tippy-toeing up their front walks, then you need to put on your thinking cap, and find some creative culinary solutions. Zucchini fest!

Nobody is fooled by zucchini bread. Least of all small children into whom you are trying to stuff healthy vegetables. You might fool them once, but never twice. Here is one recipe for you to try, you shameless exploiter of small children. Lemon Zucchini Bread: http://www.lemontreedwelling.com/2017/03/lemon-zucchini-bread.html

One of the best ways to reduce your zucchini surplus is to invite unsuspecting houseguests. Breakfast is usually a good time for a surprise zucchini onslaught. The white wine from last night isn’t out of their systems yet, and the coffee hasn’t kicked in. They will need food. A hot and cheesy frittata, please. If they were raised to have minimally good manners, they will eat whatever is placed in front of them, and then they will ask for seconds, and also a copy of your recipe. Print the recipe in advance, so you look gracious and artfully prepared. And send a thank you bread and butter note to the New York Times. Frittata with Zucchini, Goat Cheese and Dill. https://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1013528-frittata-with-zucchini-goat-cheese-and-dill?mcubz=3

Labor Day is over, and hurricane season is upon us, but it is still warm in the evenings, so it is still seasonally appropriate to serve salad as a main course. Luckily this recipe takes care of a pound and a half of those pesky zucchini. Plus it uses up those four ears of perfect corn that you couldn’t resist at the last minute on your prowl through the farmers’ market. Efficiency! Seasonal vegetables! Pretty zucchini blossoms! Martha will envy you. https://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/corn-and-zucchini-salad-with-feta-51242120

You might be running low on friends and dinner invitations by now. But just in case your iPhone vibrates with a sudden text to come next door for an impromptu drink, consider having a quart (or two) of Sichuan Pickles on hand to bring along. Your friends won’t suspect anything, since you won’t be clutching a large brown paper bag while edging furtively into their house. This is a glorious host-y gift, particularly if you package it nicely. Think green garden twine, and Mason jars, and vintage labels. Lovely. http://www.bonappetit.com/recipe/sichuan-pickles

I have been sweater shopping. It’s ridiculous, I know. It’s going to be in the high 70s and low 80s next week. And I have also been thinking about socks, and long pants. I guess I am really ready for a change in the weather, and the first day of autumn. Thursday can’t get here quickly enough for me. So this weekend I am going to pull out the stock pot, and make a vat o’soup, and use up another couple of pounds of zucchini. Please join us. I have some very special pickles to share with you, too. And don’t forget to take a loaf of zucchini bread home with you. There’s one over on the table by the front door, tucked in a big brown paper bag of homegrown zucchini. It was so nice to have you over!

Zucchini Soup à la The River Café

Serves 4
Ingredients:
• 2 1/4 pounds zucchini
• 2 tablespoons olive oil
• 2 garlic cloves
• 2 cups chicken (or vegetable) stock
• 1/2 cup heavy cream
• 1 small bunch basil, chopped
• 1 small bunch parsley, chopped
• 1/2 cup grated Parmesan
• salt and pepper

Crouton:
6 slices Ciabatta bread, cut at an angle
2 garlic cloves
Olive oil

Directions:
1. Cut the zucchini lengthwise into quarters, then into 1 inch pieces. Heat the oil in a heavy bottomed sauce pan and cook the garlic and
zucchini very slowly over low heat until the zucchini is brown and quite soft (around 25 minutes).
2. Add salt, pepper, and stock, and simmer for a few minutes. Remove from the heat.
3. Put three-quarters of the zucchini into a food processor and puree. Return the puree to the pan and add the cream, basil, parsley and
Parmesan.

To make crouton, toast the bread on both sides. Rub garlic on the toasted bread, and drizzle with olive oil. Tear into massive chunks, and drop artfully onto soup, in individual bowls. Enjoy!

Zucchini Soup, adapted from The River Café Cook Book, by Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers

“The trouble is, you cannot grow just one zucchini. Minutes after you plant a single seed, hundreds of zucchini will barge out of the ground and sprawl around the garden, menacing the other vegetables. At night, you will be able to hear the ground quake as more and more zucchinis erupt.”
-Dave Barry

Food Friday: Packed Lunches

Sundays are fraught again with anxiety. Not only do you get that feeling of dread in the pit of your belly about forgotten homework – you have to figure out a clever plan for packed lunches. I remember the homework dread well. Along about the fourth grade Mrs. Poole made us all miserable. She sucked all the joy out of school for 180 days. Luckily, the fifth grade brought Mrs. Shulman, Laura Ingalls Wilder and the best construction paper timeline of U.S. history every crafted in that elementary school.

I was lucky and got to walk home for lunch every day in elementary school, though I always felt like I was missing out on something fabulous. There wasn’t a cafeteria in our school – everyone toted their own lunches. I was deeply envious of all the lunch boxes stashed in the class cubbies. And by the time junior high rolled around it wasn’t cool to bring a lunch box. Brown paper bags were the only way to transport the mid-day meal. I missed that window.

The American cheese on white bread sandwiches I carried dutifully to seventh grade wouldn’t cut it today, when gluten and nut allergies and personal wellness issues are paramount. I can’t see my mother dithering over non-GMO hydroponic tomato varieties. She might have suggested a little bottled catsup instead.

Making lunch interesting and healthy is a real concern these days. And you can’t just slide by using leftovers and hurricane supply-peanut butter. On Sundays, while you are planning your dinners for the week, you need to plan out lunches, too. Take a page from practically perfect Amanda Hesser from Food52. She packs fabulously original lunches for her children. We could hate her if she wan’t so clever. And her ideas are reasonable. They don’t call for too many obscure and expensive ingredients. With a little practice, we might just be trainable. Because we know there will be dessert.

https://food52.com/blog/17941-13-greatest-hits-from-amanda-s-kids-lunches

Another Food52 writer has some brilliant ideas for meals to bring to the airport. I’m sure that the lunchroom can be every bit as friendly as an airport waiting room. Here are some healthy ideas: https://food52.com/blog/17133-16-lunches-and-dinners-to-pack-for-the-airport
And lunch doesn’t have to be sandwiches! It can be a good time to prepare people for college: cold pizza! Chicken wings! http://www.thekitchn.com/thinking-outside-the-lunch-box-10-sandwich-free-kids-lunch-ideas-222906

Here are some ideas for your lunch, too. What a concept: make your own lunch while preparing food for others. http://www.bonappetit.com/recipes/family-meals/slideshow/30-quick-easy-school-lunches-pack-kids#1 Surely these are better than the chocolate protein bar I just tore through while staring down my deadline.

A few years ago the world-famous Spy Test Kitchens came up with this great list of ingredients for packing school lunches. It is just as timely today:

Column A
Let’s start with bread:
Ciabatta bread
Rye bread
Whole grain breads
Hard rolls
Portuguese rolls
French baguette
Italian bread
Brioche
Flour tortillas
Croissants
Bagels
Challah bread
Crostini
Cornbread
Naan bread
Focaccia bread
Pita bread
If storing overnight, top bread with lettuce first, then the spreads, to keep sandwich from getting soggy.

Column B
Next, the spread:
Mayo
Sriracha
Ketchup
Dijon mustard
Honey mustard
Italian dressing
Russian dressing
Cranberry sauce
Pesto sauce
Hummus
Tapenade
Sour cream
Mango chutney
Butter
Hot sauce
Salsa

Column C
Cheeses:
Swiss cheese
American cheese
Mozzarella
Blue cheese
Cream cheese
Havarti cheese
Ricotta cheese
Cheddar cheese
Provolone cheese
Brie cheese
Cottage cheese
Goat cheese

Column D
The main ingredient:
Meatloaf
Turkey
Chicken
Corned beef
Bacon
Crumbled hard boiled eggs
Scrambled eggs
Corned beef
Salami
Italian sausage
Ham
Roast beef
Egg salad
Tuna salad
Ham salad
Crab salad
Chicken salad
Turkey salad
Lobster salad
Tofu

Column E
The decorative (and tasty) elements:
Tomatoes
Lettuce
Basil
Onion
Avocado
Cucumber
Cilantro
Shredded carrots
Jalapenos
Cole slaw
Sliced apples
Sliced red peppers
Arugula
Sprouts
Radicchio
Watercress
Sliced pears
Apricots
Pickles
Spinach
Artichoke hearts
Grapes
Strawberries
Figs

Column F
Finger foods:
Cherries
Carrots
Strawberries
Green Beans
Broccoli
Celery
Edemame
Granola
Rice cakes
Apples
Bananas
Oranges
Melon balls
Raisins
Broccoli

Nobody will ever complain about lunch again if you can remember to jazz it up a little. My son, who lived for at least an entire year on (requested) white bread, bologna and yellow mustard sandwiches, is now a strapping 6 feet 4 inches tall. Imagine how far into the clouds he would stretch if we had thought to make him fig, goat cheese and caramelized onion sandwiches.

And don’t forget dessert!

“A party without cake is just a meeting”
― Julia Child

Food Friday: End of the Summer Corn

Here we are, on the precipice of the end of summer. I’ve been teetering back and forth between wishing for change, and wishing that if it cooled down just a few degrees we could live in this weather all year round. Well, if we wanted that we could move to Florida, and that is just too problematic. Who really wants hot days and all those thunderstorms? I am ready for a little change, though.

If I eat one more ear of corn-on-the-cob I am sure my head will explode. I feel similarly tired of grilled hamburgers and hot dogs. It might mean that I am almost ready to head back into the kitchen, and relieve Mr. Friday of his summer cooking duties. Or I can make some side dishes to go with the last picnic of the summer season. Labor Day is a significant cookout opportunity, and we need to make the summer go out in style.

There is still so much fresh produce to enjoy at the farmers’ markets! I found a great app the other day: Seasonal Food Guide. It has a state-by-state produce guide to “Find What is in Season Near You.” There is a handy dandy Learn & Cook button, too, which always helps when you are in the middle of dinner despair. And it is free. Hooray. Here is a link to their helpful webpage: http://www.sustainabletable.org/4529/the-seasonal-food-guide I found the app in the iTunes app store.

This is a sweet and easy way to enjoy corn and cilantro all year long, but notably in these waning days of summer vacation. The jalapeno gives it a nice little kick. https://food52.com/recipes/61614-jalapeno-cilantro-corn-salad

Food52 has explored corn variations extensively. I love the concept of charred corn. Now I have a new term for corn that we have unintentionally scorched on the grill. Mr. Friday is a big fan of wrapping the ears of corn in aluminum foil and tossing them on the grill. And sometimes we get distracted by bright shiny objects and do not return to the grill in a timely fashion. Voila! Charred corn as an ingredient. And sometimes we are amazed at our own cleverness! https://food52.com/recipes/17913-charred-corn-and-avocado-salad-with-lime-chili-and-tomato?

One of our friends has decamped for New England for butter-drenched lobster-y Labor Day weekend. She is already taunting us with Instagram-ready photos of her deelightful meals. I hope she is having a very good time, and here is a recipe for her leftover lobster bits which also includes charred corn: http://abetterhappierstsebastian.com/journal/2015/8/24/charred-corn-farro-risotto-with-lobster

If it happens to be raining this weekend (and with Tropical Storm Harvey wandering around out there, it probably will) and you can’t get outside to the grill – never fear. You can make charred corn in a good sturdy cast iron frying pan, or under the broiler. And then you can make a charred corn pizza: http://www.homemadeaustin.com/2017/06/charred-corn-flatbread.html

Here are a zillion ideas from Epicurious: http://www.epicurious.com/recipes-menus/best-corn-recipes-cob-soup-salad-gallery/1

As summer wafts away we will be thinking more about cozy meals and roasted seasonal vegetables. In the meantime, go celebrate your Labor Day weekend with drawn butter, hot, charred corn, a couple of hot dogs, a crab feast (or two) and don’t forget to sneak a little reading time in the hammock. Next weekend it will be time to put away all our toys of summer. Enjoy!

“We know that in September, we will wander through the warm winds of summer’s wreckage. We will welcome summer’s ghost.”
― Heny Rollins

Food Friday: Al Fresco Frittatas

Summer is winding down. We have enjoyed the near-spectacle of the eclipse. We aren’t melting into silvery puddles of sweat every time we exit the air conditioned car and tear across the driveway into the house. Labor Day is coming up, and the most wonderful time of the year is returning – it is almost time to go back to school. How divine is that? But it is still too early to consider the myriad permutations that we can dream up for the lunch boxes in our care.

Al fresco dining, whether on the back porch, in the back yard, before a concert or poised on a picnic table in a state park, is a seasonal delight. Let’s enjoy the fresh air, and enjoy the last days of summer.

Al fresco dining brings to my mind lush paintings. Just across the Bay in DC, Renoir’s Luncheon of the Boating Party is one of my favorites. I don’t think those happy, elegant French people were consuming Diet Cokes and fried chicken (which are both very deelish in any other setting). Our boaters have used stemmed glasses for the several bottles of wine strewn across the linen tablecloth. And there is fruit and bread and perhaps some cheese. I can see a glint of silver. Some of our convivial folks have flowers in their hats, and are wearing flowing dresses, which contribute to the colorful party atmosphere. Luncheon is almost over. No one is consulting a smart phone, as they seem to engage with each other languidly. I do draw the line at the small dog on the table. Luke the wonder dog would get ideas.
http://www.phillipscollection.org/collection/browse-the-collection?id=1637

Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe by Edouard Manet is the famous painting of men and women picnicking under the trees, but one of the women is naked, and is seemingly untroubled by the situation. I can only imagine what her anxiety dreams must have been like. She is sitting next to a tumble of fruit and bread, while her male companions natter on, fully clothed and showing no interest in the food or in her!
http://www.musee-orsay.fr/index.php?id=851&L=1&tx_commentaire_pi1%5BshowUid%5D=7123

Luncheon on the Grass by Claude Monet, which was painted in response to Manet’s startling work, is another large painting that shows an elegant meal about to be eaten outside. The diners (all clothed this time) will soon be enjoying bread, wine, fruit, and a terrine of a mystery dish in the dappled light filtered by birch trees. The meal has yet to begin. And there is no tiny dog.
http://www.musee-orsay.fr/en/collections/works-in-focus/search/commentaire_id/luncheon-on-the-grass-18731.html?no_cache=1

I suggest frittatas for our luncheon under the trees. Frittatas are easy to prepare and they transport well. You might even consider adding frittatas to your Sunday Food for the Week Food Prep list – you can sneak them into a back pack or a brown paper bag or a cute little bento box for your own luncheon pleasures.

Skip the stemware. Skip the tablecloth. Enjoy the fresh air. Enjoy the wine.

I can assure you that Mr. Friday and I will be wearing all of our clothes when we have our picnic this weekend.

http://www.epicurious.com/expert-advice/ultimate-easy-frittata-recipe-article

Here’s a Use-Up-The-Leftovers recipe. It is very handy dandy. http://thepioneerwoman.com/cooking/sunday-frittata/?printable_recipe=11356

https://www.wsj.com/articles/how-to-picnic-like-a-pro-recipes-tools-and-tips-1503069248

Luncheon of the Boating Party
The Phillips Collection
1600 21st Street, NW
Washington, DC 20009

Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe
Luncheon on the Grass
Musée d’Orsay
1 Rue de la Légion d’Honneur
75007 Paris, France

“I’ll affect you slowly
as if you were having a picnic in a dream.
There will be no ants.
It won’t rain.”
― Richard Brautigan

Food Friday: Cool Beans!

We are still a few weeks away from Labor Day. Despite the constant heat it feels a little bit like fall is on its way. Maybe it is all the back-to-school sales. Maybe it is just wishful thinking. I have seen leaves falling in the back yard. They are probably just as exhausted and as exasperated with the weather as I am. I’m still avoiding the heat in the kitchen. I have a new Tana French mystery I would like to read, rather than wending my way around the kitchen, making something for dinner.

A perfect summer meal is something that you can prepare once, enjoy mightily, and then serve another couple of times. Poor Mr. Friday. Last night we had tuna salad-filled peppers, with a pasta dish and a green salad on the side. (Shades of my childhood!) Lucky me though – there’s enough left over for a couple of lunches. Luke the wonder dog and I can go sit out on the back porch after lunch. He enjoys soaking up the solar energy with his black coat. You’ll find me tucked back in a shadowy corner, sneaking in another chapter of The Trespasser before I head back into the Spy offices. We don’t get out for lunch much, and tuna is a step up from our usual peanut butter crackers.

Garden report: I pulled out the leggy tomato plants last weekend. They didn’t fare well when we were on vacation, and were looking very sad and droopy. And quite frankly, I was fighting a losing battle with the birds, who insisted on first dibs. I will concede that the birds deserved the blueberries that they stripped from the bushes – they being early risers where I am not. But the tomatoes were different. I had gauzy Italianate visions of fresh tomatoes and creamy burrata dinners, with tasty wine and the attentive Mr. Friday. These fantasies were dashed by the birds who were peckish, destructive and selfish. Back to the farm stand I will go for some red, ripe, intact tomatoes.

The containers that held my tomato dreams are now home to the new herb farm. Basil, parsley, rosemary, mint and a few cheerfully yellow marigolds. There are three basil plants, soon to be the basil bushes (I hope), supplying elements of interest to salads for the next month, and then forming the basis for clever warm meals come fall. I do not know if the birds have an appetite for these particular herbs. I hope not.

We are having house guests this weekend, and they are folks we haven’t seen for a long time. I’ve been getting ready in so many odd ways. Do you think they will notice that I weeded the window boxes? Or that I touched up the paint on the wall near the recycling basket? More importantly, I have laid in a supply of wine and nibbles. Which is more to the point, I think. Today I am going to do a little prep work so we have lots of time to enjoy each other, and lots of time to eat and drink and talk our heads off. I’m thinking a nice cool bean salad at dinner, that can be broken out at lunch again on Sunday. They are driving down from Connecticut, so we want to make it worth their drive time, and introduce them to a few flavors of the south. http://gardenandgun.com/recipe/chef-david-bancrofts-butterbean-salad/?

But Mark Bittman, one of oury household gods, has something even easier: http://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2012/05/mark-bittmans-green-beans-with-crisp-shallots.html I can handle a little blanching and sautéing on a summer morning. This is a meal I can prepare in advance, and by the bushel, so we will be well-supplied for the weekend.

I am going to get a little crafty, and in honor of the solar eclipse on Monday I will be baking some homemade moon pies. Thanks, Garden & Gun for all your help this week! I will be waddling a little more than usual when walking Luke the wonder dog! http://gardenandgun.com/recipe/anatomy-of-a-classic-do-it-yourself-moon-pies/

“After luncheon the sun, conscious that it was Saturday, would blaze an hour longer in the zenith…”
― Marcel Proust