Food Friday: Spring Perennial

It’s time to put the wool away and focus on spring and all the felicity therein. The towhees are performing an operetta in the front yard. The blue birds are setting up housekeeping in the nesting box out back. Our daffodils are bobbing in the breeze, and now, in the evening, though still cool, we have enough sunshine for a quick Rhubarb Spritzer on the back porch as we watch the sun go down. The mosquitoes haven’t yet taken up residence, so quick, get outside and enjoy the coolth.

Plan ahead for the weekend: make some rhubarb juice.
½ cup sugar
¾ pound rhubarb, chopped
4 basil leaves, for garnish

Much Prosecco

In a medium saucepan, bring 1/2 cup water, sugar, rhubarb to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook until the rhubarb is tender, about 10 minutes. Push through a fine-mesh sieve. Let cool.
Fill 4 small glasses halfway with ice. Pour into each glass a scant 1/4 cup rhubarb juice, then top with Prosecco or sparkling wine, or if you insist, soda water to taste. Garnish with a basil leaf.

We had a couple of rhubarb plants growing in the lower garden, near the mulch pile by the barn. We never ate the rhubarb. My mother was never going to serve Rhubarb Spritzers, so I think it they were plants she inherited from the original owners of the house. Like the Jack-in-the-Pulpit by the steps and the bank of Lilies of the Valley on the west side of the stone wall. I have to use store-bought (or farmers’ market-bought) rhubarb, and that’s a good thing.

Every spring there are cascades of recipes for rhubarb and strawberry pies, cakes, jams, lemon bars, tarts, crumbles and fools. Which are all wonderful and delicious, but this year I want to try a couple of new recipes; where rhubarb isn’t the main novelty or ingredient, but is a subtle and unusual taste.

I am related to a couple of people who are always looking for the next best ribs recipe, and I think this might scratch their itch, for this weekend, at least:

And here is one that will make an excellent Sunday night supper:

Try this for something light in the middle of the week, when you want to stay out in the garden a little bit longer and plant those daylilies, or when you cannot stand another minute in the kitchen:

And any of these meals can only be enhanced if you give in to the springtime celebration of sweet and sour rhubarb desserts. An Eton Mess is always bliss, but it becomes more than a schoolboy treat when rhubarb and lemon basil are added to the lush whipped cream and the airy and crisp meringue. Or maybe you should reconsider dinner, and just have some Eton Mess with those Rhubarb Spritzers. Yum.

Roasting the rhubarb elevates the humble lower garden vegetable considerably. This shortcake will be scarfed down by your rib lovers, too:

And something easy to make, and keep in the fridge to give you another little taste of spring even when the mosquitoes are back, and the frantic moths are circling the the back light: rhubarb jam. There is a link in this recipe for a PDF for printing jam jar labels:

Please remember if you are eating home-grown rhubarb DO NOT eat the leaves – very sick-making.

“I want a dish to taste good, rather than to have been seethed in pig’s milk and served wrapped in a rhubarb leaf with grated thistle root.”
-Kingsley Amis

Food Friday: Spring into Salads!

Spring is sprung! And Food Friday has snuck away for spring break. Indulge me, and enjoy this redux.

I want to retire the crockpot, stash the Dutch oven, put the lasagna pan out to pasture and start digging into light, healthy, crispy fresh green salads. With crusty French bread and sweet butter and a glass or two of cool Chardonnay. In my bare feet. In shorts.

I am heartily tired of the winter weather and snowy concerns. I am ready to spend some time in my humble little container garden. How about you? The more organized among you have probably thumbed through all the seed catalogues, marked your favorites with Post-its or have cleverly started your salad gardens in tiny peat containers or out in your cold frames. Obviously there was enough time with all the snow days this winter to linger with pleasure over the many tantalizing illustrations and photos of giant tomatoes and mouth-watering melons. I fell into the Burpee catalogue and just placed my order online, so when the seeds arrive I’ll have to get cracking on the Spring Salad Project.

March is a good time to get a jump on cool-season vegetables. You can start the annual competition with the deer and rabbits for the finest lettuces, broccoli and spinach. We are going to try some mixed, loose-leaf, heat tolerant lettuces this year. I want to enjoy the practical, health conscious and economic concepts of growing our own lettuce, with an eye to the decorative. I envision my ecclectic collection of odd terra cotta pots brimming with a array of colorful, wafting lettuce leaves. A veritable cornucopia of renewable crunchy salads!

That is always the best part of gardening, seeing everything in your mind’s eye in the gauzy Technicolor future. Somehow there I am always wearing a float-y white outfit as I drop my bountiful harvest into my antique English garden trug, clipping merrily (and with surgical precision) with the vintage secateurs. Reality won’t elbow that fantasy out of my suggestive and malleable brain for a couple of months…

I was appalled to see that the cheater’s way of buying lettuce at the grocery store has gotten so expensive – $4.09 today for a single puny bag of pre-washed mixed spring greens! I have had enough! Enough of the madness! I am fighting back. I have just spent $5.95 for 500 lettuce seeds. Let’s see what my actual return on the dollar is, at roughly 1.2¢ a seed…

Here is Burpee’s perky and unintimidating video for growing lettuce.

While I was earnestly researching lettuce seeds I was diverted by the day dream that I am able to grow hydrangeas, which are my favorite flowers (after violets, daffodils and lily of the valley) but which I can never seem to grow. Maybe this year I’ll be lucky. I have just ordered ten Nikko Blue Hydrangeas, as well as the lettuce seeds. And pole bean seeds, morning glory seeds and some half price vinca seeds. Obviously, I will have to regale you with some gardening stories later this season, as I watch them all grow. With crossed fingers.

But back to the matter at hand – salad: as usual, we are hoping that the basil container farm will be busy and bushy this summer, as well as the annual tomatoes, which I hope won’t wither on the vine. We are also considered trying to make our own fresh mozzarella cheese. Maybe it would be easier to just move to Italy. But that depends on the lottery officials, I am sad to say.

My mother was always fond of ordering from the kind folks at Burpee, so give them a whirl. She always had an amazing garden.

“It is said that the effect of eating too much lettuce is ‘soporific’.”
― Beatrix Potter

Food Friday: Dinner Improv

We started the home-cooked pizza routine back when the children were in elementary school, and pizza was a big deal for them. But we could only get crummy cardboard Papa John’s pizza delivered to the house, and taking everyone to the pizza place became prohibitively expensive. And so we rolled up our thrifty New England shirt sleeves and learn how to make pizza. And maybe over the years we have saved a little money, although good ingredients are pricey. Fresh mozzarella, good pepperoni and flavorful tomatoes start to add up.

Most Friday nights we still heat up the kitchen and make an amoeba-shaped disc that we call pizza. It is a good time to share the rote duties in the kitchen as we heat the pizza stone, roll out the dough (after all these years we still can’t twirl it), slice up the pepperoni, slather the sauce, and pluck the basil from the feeble container garden. The mozzarella melts, the cool beer tastes deelish and a cloud of garlic perfume fills the air. Also, the corn meal falls all over the floor and the oven, and the smoke detector frequently alarms us. After a quick ten minutes of cutting, folding and triangulating, dinner is over. And then the clean up begins.

The empty nest yawns about us now. We could probably sashay out on a Friday night to have pizza nearby. But we do love that time when we have Alexa playing 70s Dance Music for us. And we talk about the weekend ahead, and what delightful prospects it holds. And we don’t need a recipe any more. We know how to turn out a tasty pizza.

But if I eat another pizza on Friday night, and sweep up that damn corn meal again, I will probably implode. This weekend we are going to break out of the routine and rummage in the freezer and fridge, and we are going to improvise. I have found the best outline for a no-recipe meal: steak tacos, courtesy of Sam Sifton and The New York Times. The New York Times has a pretty rigorous and alert paywall – but I assure you that I have subscribed for years, so I feel secure in sharing this radical and freeing notion of cooking without a recipe with you.

“This is a no-recipe recipe, a recipe without an ingredients list or steps. It invites you to improvise in the kitchen.
Get some fresh tortillas and a pound of skirt steak, then make salsa from mostly fresh or canned pineapple, pickled jalapeños and a healthy couple shakes of chile powder, along with plenty of chopped cilantro. Shower the steaks with salt and pepper, and broil them for 2 to 3 minutes a side until they’re perfect and rare. Warm the tortillas. Grate some Cheddar. Rest the steak, slice it, and serve with the tortillas, cheese and that awesome salsa.”

Basically we need:
small steaks: flank steak, skirt steak, Omaha steaks, hanger steak
tortilla shells (flour or corn – your call)
salsa – jarred or homemade
chile powder
fresh cilantro
salt and pepper
Cheddar cheese
bits and pieces: avocado, onion, sour cream, lime juice, garlic, guacamole, tortilla chips (lightly warmed in the oven)

We always have tortillas in the fridge, and luckily, we also have a couple of Omaha steaks in the freezer, thanks to Santa. The spindly container garden has a pale and wan cilantro plant that I haven’t killed yet. And we have a bowl of jewel-like cherry tomatoes for the salsa. I will have to re-organize the pantry to see if we have any cans of pineapple. I refuse to make one more trip to the grocery store this week. Enough is enough, and enough is as good as a feast.

Epicurious Magazine weighs in:

Food and Wine suggests serving the tacos with wine; always a serious consideration in our house:

Gimme Delicious points out the cost benefits of making steak tacos at home. Indeed!

“The only time to eat diet food is while you’re waiting for the steak to cook.”
― Julia Child

“You don’t have to cook fancy or complicated masterpieces — just good food from fresh ingredients.”
– Julia Child

Food Friday: Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Our family has a weak spot like the back of a bad knee for chocolate desserts. When it is your birthday, we will bake a Boston cream pie. Christmas dinner? A flourless chocolate cake is the only answer. You came home for spring break? Let’s have some chocolate éclairs. And while other families are preparing corned beef and cabbage (which I think stinks to high heaven) this St. Patrick’s Day, we will be digging into some chocolate stout cup cakes. We will honor the blessed saint, the foe of snakes, in our own sweet way.

A couple of weeks ago I chatted briefly with one of our neighbors when I was out walking Luke the wonder dog. This fellow always carries a mug and I have assumed he was taking his coffee for his early morning strolls. (I cannot walk the dog, listen to Slate Magazine podcasts AND carry a Diet Coke in the mornings. I have a limited skill set, I’m afraid.)

Luke wanted to get acquainted. While going through all of the usual dog rituals of sniffing and leash dancing, I found out that the neighbor’s dog is named “Guinness.” I asked if there was a good story about the dog’s name. Maybe he had a secret Lulu Guinness handbag collection, or was noted in the Book of World Records for some perilous feat? Sadly, no. Our neighbor gazed blankly at me. His dog was named after the Irish stout. He is a very dark, very tiny little dog. I hope that the dog Guinness is extra strong. Perhaps he has his own fantasies of a more picturesque neighborhood, one where he is strolled along the cobbles down to the pub late on a golden summer afternoon, to lift a pint with his walker. A nice little daydream that Guinness entertains, instead of resigning himself the prosaic suburban reality of the early morning trot down our street, only to have the indignity of Luke getting overly familiar and sniffy. And now I wonder if our neighbor is really drinking coffee…

It is about time to download The Quiet Man for our annual John Wayne, Maureen O’Hara love fest. Where we gaze at the gauzy golden Hollywood Innisfree, and admire John Wayne in a rain-soaked shirt and laugh at Barry Fitzgerald’s tippling matchmaker. That calls for another Guinness.

In the meantime, we must surely celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in an authentic fashion. No stinky corned beef and cabbage for us! Here is a Guinness Cake from the kitchen goddess herself, Nigella Lawson:

I love a good cup cake – and with these you will eat both the cake and the icing.

I haven’t tried this recipe yet – but Julia Turner endorsed it on the Slate Culture Gabfest this week, and that’s good enough for me. She used it to great success when she baked two birthday cakes for her six-year-old boys’ birthday:

If your St. Patrick’s Day is not complete without corned beef, then accept the Bon Appétit challenge, and see how many ways you can prepare it: breakfast, lunch and egg rolls. Really.

Luke is looking forward to another sidewalk encounter with our neighbor’s dog. We can stage our own St. Patrick’s Day parade through the neighborhood. We’ll bring our own mugs of Guinness.

“Beer is living proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.”
-Benjamin Franklin

Food Friday: Pork Chops

March is proving to be a little chillier than I had anticipated. I am not running around sweater-less. At least we seem to have left the snow behind. And now is the time when I remember my father’s mutterings about the great April blizzard of 1888. Not that he had been born yet, but he loved to inject a little niggling doubt in our minds, that maybe spring wasn’t really on its way. No one ever writes about the day of great sunshine and warm zephyrs gently tossing the new bright green leaves on the oak trees. I come from a long line of gloomy New Englanders.

I do not see snow in the forecast, though there is rain. It seems to be warming up enough to take a walk in the garden, and look for snowdrops and crocus shoots. And while I stack a few fallen branches and peer anxiously in the leaf piles under the yet-to-bloom flowering quince, I must return to thinking about dinner.

We have used up the vat o’spaghetti sauce that Mr. Friday had prepared long ago in January. It served us well, through the original meal of spaghetti, through the homemade pasta experiments, through baked ziti, chicken parm and an interesting rigatoni R and D. My dinner insurance policy has expired, and now I have to pony up a meal that would charm, delight and fill. But I wanted one that would not involve a trip to the grocery store.

Luckily, Mr. Friday was in an Asian food mood this past weekend. In addition to his version of General Tso’s chicken, he wanted to prepare stir-fried rice. His recipe called for a handful of diced pork. And so he bought a package of three pork chops, instead of sidling up to the fellow behind the meat counter, and asking for a singleton pork chop. Lucky me! There were two plump pork chops sitting in the freezer, just begging to be cooked for our mid-week-not-spaghetti dinner.

I’m pretty sure all my mother ever did with pork chops was toss them into a Pyrex baking dish and let the oven take over. (She did not believe in exotic convenience foods like Shake N’Bake.) She included a side dish of homemade coleslaw and a bowl of apple sauce, adding a simple flourish of cinnamon. And now you see the stodgy New England side: no fuss, no muss, and a lot of banausic, colorless food. Surely we have advanced a little here in the twenty-first century?

Food52 has a spicy, colorful paprika inspired pork chop recipe:

Mark Bittman, never one to fuss, has a sautéed pork chop recipe:

Of course, Martha has a complicated variation on my mother’s applesauce:

Bon Appétit has the answer for everyone:

Possible side dishes:
Green beans
Grilled vegetables
Butternut squash
Scalloped potatoes
Baked potatoes
Baked sweet potato fries:
Green salad
Cranberry Apple Salad
Tomato salad

I opted to bake the pork chops, after browning them lightly in a pan. We also had scalloped potatoes, applesauce, a green salad and some delicious cheap white wine. And candles. It wasn’t spaghetti, and it wasn’t bland. We are ready to greet spring.

“No one who cooks, cooks alone. Even at her most solitary, a cook in the kitchen is surrounded by generations of cooks past, the advice and menus of cooks present, the wisdom of cookbook writers.”

― Laurie Colwin

Food Friday: Spuds!

Here we are at the beginning of March, thinking we have managed to hoodwink winter, but it is going to come sneaking back into our lives next week. As much as I love wool sweaters, enough is enough. It’s time for some springtime. As the weather gods are not heeding my silent pleas, is it too much to ask, if I can’t be rid of wool just yet, could I at least have a little summertime cooking?

Mr. Friday sashayed out to the back porch last Sunday, being gallant as always, and rustled up a couple of backyard-grilled-burgers. We haven’t grilled outside all winter, in part I think to yielding to the distractions of a couple of new cookbooks.

We have been staging monthly pasta-making clinics, refining our flours, and improving upon our kneading techniques. Mr. Friday rolls the dough ball around on the counter for a moment or two, and declares it done; I attack it as if it were a hefty chuck of gritty raku clay, and punch out all the air bubbles. We were going nowhere fast. But now that we have learned to plug in the KitchenAid mixer, and set the dough hook in action, the pasta dough is actually viable, and, ultimately, edible.

It is amazing to think how much money we have spent on store-bought pasta all these years. Forget the convenience of having a box of spaghetti or macaroni sitting on the pantry shelf – which is like money in the bank; knowing dinner is just a well-salted pot of boiling water away. But a pound of Ronzoni costs about $2. A pound of lovingly fashioned home-made pasta, once you subtract the emotional distress, the hefty costs of tamping down the sous chef’s insubordinate soul, and cleaning up the powdery mess which clouds across kitchen counters, wafts to the floor, and lodges in dark wool sweaters, barely costs 35¢. It takes a couple of hours, too. And there goes a Sunday. A floury poof!

Luckily for us, last Sunday was spent organizing tax documents. That is always a humbling and distressful ritual. Eventually I flounced off to read, and nap. Mr. Friday and Luke the wonder dog went for a walk. As the sun set on the horizon we gathered together for a glass of cheap white wine, a handful of peanuts, and then he tossed a couple of burgers onto the grill.

I boiled up a couple of new red potatoes, because if a meal is served in this house without some good starchy carbs, it is not worth eating. A friend recently introduced me to smashed, roasted potatoes: all of the crispy joy of French fries, without the mess of splattered oil. And because we are grown ups now, we added a nice little tossed green salad to the hamburger meal. And changed over to cheap red wine. And finished off with brownies, made from a box. (Doing the taxes was my excuse.)

Smashed Red Potatoes for Two Weary, Touchy, Pasta Makers

4 medium red potatoes (or whatever is in the pantry – be realistic) – boiled until fork tender (do the math if you are serving more than 2 people)
Splashes of extra virgin olive oil
Good butter to dot each potato
A handful of Maldon salt
A scattering of black pepper

Preheat oven to 450°F

Line a cookie sheet with aluminum foil and drizzle some oil over the surface. Carefully cut the boiled potatoes in half, and salvage as many fingerprints as you can. Place potatoes cut side down. SMASH. With a heavy pancake turner, with a heavy glass, with a rolling pin. Use something hefty and satisfying. Admire the irregular shapes, press down some more, so everything gets pretty evenly squished. Neatness counts against your final score. Drizzle more oil over the potatoes. Add a small butter pat to each large land mass of potato. Scatter salt and pepper with abandon. Put the cookie sheet in the oven for about 20 minutes. Check every 5 or 10 minutes to admire the brown crispiness and listen for the sizzle. You will know when they are done. Serve immediately. Yumsters.

I have seen the crazy robins in our back yard. Spring is on its way.

“Yes, I deserve a spring–I owe nobody nothing.”
― Virginia Woolf

Food Friday: The Common Cold

There is nothing like a mid-week snow day to make a heart leap with childish glee. Oh, dear. I’ve gone and offended the winter weather gods, and now we will have blizzards all through March. My apologies.

But that’s OK. I can just rack up some more quality time spent in bed, with my box of tissues, my dry up pills, and my Kindle. It is thoroughly demoralizing to be felled by a cold. Are there special colds, or just the common denominator kind? I have lived through car accidents, broken bones and childbirth, and nothing makes me feel more puny, or vulnerable, than a cold.

There is none of the middle-of-the-night drama of a Madeline-appendicitis attack, or the heaving violence of intestinal flu, thank goodness. I just lie against the pillows, hoping that I look vaguely like Camille, and coughcoughcough. So attractive. And even more so now that my nose has gone a positively incandescent rose-madder-red from all the blowing. Who needs hair product? My hair stands up in spikes, all by itself.

Sadly, Luke the wonder dog speaks coughcoughcough. He scuttles over from his comfy cushion in the corner of the bedroom, to sitting worriedly by my side of the bed, staring sadly at me. I wonder what doggy expletive I am shouting out to him whenever I cough. He does not react well to swearing as it is.

I let out a stream of oaths the other day when I dropped a bottle of wine, and it smashed to smithereens on the kitchen floor. Luke was so worried about that blue streak of swear words that spewed unbidden from my otherwise lady-like lips, that he scuttled over as if he had been to blame. (I might yell at myself for stupidly dropping a bottle of cheap white wine, but I would’t yell at him. The poor dog has a misplaced sense of guilt and responsibility.) That is the sad, sincere, guilt-ridden face I see staring up at me whenever I finish a coughing jag.

Luke does not let his responsibility for my coughcoughcoughing interfere when his internal clock announces that it is time for a walk. He might just be mutt of a dog, but he has a great facility for telling time. He is secretly Swiss, because at 8:00 AM, 12:01 PM and 4:59 PM he makes a dramatic show of wagging and wriggling himself about with anticipatory pleasure, insinuating himself between me and the computer, or me and the drawing table. That is very charming behavior normally, but when I have to drag the sneezy snotty coughcoughcoughing self out from the warm embrace of my Pendleton blanket nest, and take someone out for a walk, I am aware of the injustice in the universe. I can hardly wait for the weekend to come, when I will either feel better, or Mr. Friday can walk Luke the wonder dog.

In the meantime, when I am not whingeing about poor, poor pitiful me, here are some things you can use to tempt your patients along the road to recovery (assuming that you will not succumb yourself); things that will improve their outlook and their poor raw noses.

Tissues – be sure to stock up on boxes and boxes of the kind suffused with lotion.
Fluids – ginger ale, orange juice, Gatorade, tea
Bendy straws
Beef broth – you too, can pretend to be on the Queen Mary, wrapped in a thick wooly cruise ship rug, reclining on a spindly teak deck chair, watching for icebergs while sipping the warm broth as supplied by the nameless (yet attentive) deck hand.
Chicken noodle soup – when Mr. Friday had the cold he went through a couple of gallons of this.
Kindle, Netflix enabled, or with any recent bio of Queen Victoria; the book will outlive the cold. It took me a week of steadily plowing through one biography, and King George VI had just died, and Victoria had just turned 18. If my cold worsens and I come down with pneumonia, maybe I’ll get to the wedding to poor, dear, doomed Albert.
Snacks – forbidden childhood favorites. Utz cheese balls. Yumsters.
Ice cream – for your sore throat
Drugs – you name an OTC cold remedy that we haven’t tried. Our go-to drug seems to be NyQuil, for its reliable powers to knock you out. Thank heavens. Otherwise Luke wouldn’t get a wink of sleep at night.

Here is a recipe from our clever friends at Food52. But I think you can cheat and use a can of Campbell’s. Shhh. You didn’t hear it from me!

“The only way to treat the common cold is with contempt.”
William Osler

Food Friday: Presidential Foods

President’s Day is giving some of us a nice three-day weekend. Another day to linger over the papers, to make breakfast and enjoy ruminating about having a little unusual leisure time. And if you have young ‘uns at home, you can have an educational moment and make some of George Washington’s favorite Hoe Cakes for breakfast. Isn’t it nice to know that he didn’t subsist on that mythical cherry pie?

Hoe Cakes were cooked like pancakes on the back of a garden hoe, or on a griddle. Use whatever you have at hand.

1/2 teaspoon active dry yeast
2 1/2 cups white cornmeal, divided
3 to 4 cups lukewarm water
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 large egg, lightly beaten
Melted butter for drizzling and serving
Honey or maple syrup for serving

Mix the yeast and 1 1/4 cups of the cornmeal in a large bowl. Add 1 cup of the lukewarm water, stirring to combine thoroughly. Mix in 1/2 cup more of the water, if needed, to give the mixture the consistency of pancake batter. Cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 8 hours, or overnight.

Preheat the oven to 200°F.

When ready to finish the hoecakes, begin by adding 1/2 to 1 cup of the remaining water to the batter. Stir in the salt and the egg, blending thoroughly.

Gradually add the remaining 1 1/4 cups of cornmeal, alternating with enough additional lukewarm water to make a mixture that is the consistency of waffle batter. Cover with a towel, and set aside at room temperature for 15 to 20 minutes.

Heat a griddle on medium-high heat, and lightly grease it with lard or vegetable shortening. Preparing 1 hoecake at a time, drop a scant 1/4 cup of the batter onto the griddle and cook on one side for about 5 minutes, or until lightly browned. With a spatula, turn the hoecake over and continue cooking another 4 to 5 minutes, until browned.
Place the hoecake on a platter, and set it in the oven to keep warm while making the rest of the batch. Drizzle each batch with melted butter.

Serve the hoecakes warm, drizzled with melted butter and honey or maple syrup.

As long as you are entertaining President Washington for breakfast, you should invite President Lincoln to come along, too, since one of his favorite foods was bacon. I can’t imagine a tastier companion to hoe cakes than a few sizzling rashers of bacon.

We’ll ask President Jefferson to bring a covered dish of mac and cheese to the cookout we are going to have later this afternoon. He made macaroni and cheese a popular dish, but he also championed Champagne.

Also coming with his own Crock Pot is President Obama, who is bringing his world famous chili.

President Franklin Roosevelt, who once served hot dogs to the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth when they toured the United States, has offered to be grill master.

President Theodore Roosevelt is ready to shuck a couple of bushels of oysters.President Van Buren is getting ready to help; he’s making a pile of ice chips.

President Lyndon Johnson is going to flip the steaks, since he had the first White House cookout and knows the ropes.They are a presidential favorite; also eager for a steak are Presidents Grant, Truman, Eisenhower and Reagan:

Dessert is going to be easy. Ice cream for everyone. Thank you, President Washington who spent an extraordinary $200 for ice cream during the summer of 1790 (

President Jefferson built an ice house on the White House grounds to be sure he had easy access to ice cream all year long. We should also thank Dolley Madison, who was married to the fourth president.She had festive White House parties that featured elaborate ice creams. I don’t think TR is going to donate any oysters to her favorite Oyster Ice Cream, but he’ll be happy for a dish of vanilla.

Many of the livelier American presidents have enjoyed their cocktails. Jefferson, Madison, Tyler, and Grant were all very fond of Champagne. Which seems like a suitable way to toast President’s Day.

“If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.”
– Harry S. Truman

Food Friday: Seeds

Seed packets are so beautiful. On the front there is a romanticized illustration of a freakishly perfect tomato; it is round and looks sun-warmed. So unlike the cardboard tomatoes we have been buying all winter. On the back there are instructions about sowing the seeds after all danger of frost has passed. Hmmm. It’s not even mid-February and I am ready to hang up the snow shovel and start planting summer salads.

I wandered past the seed section of the garden department at the hardware store last weekend. Mr. Friday thought we were going in to buy windshield wiper fluid and light bulbs. Such admirable naiveté! Instead, we walked out with three seed starting kits, and a handful of flower seed packets. I might talk a good tomato game, but I am longing to have hollyhocks and zinnias and armfuls of coreopsis. I am going to run through a Technicolor meadow of cutting flowers this year. Oh, and have a nice little vegetable garden, too.

I have been waiting all winter for this – I admit it. I have been thumbing through seed catalogues and imagining my new and improved raised garden bed, spilling over with cukes, beans, and tomatoes. I have been thinking about all those tender herbs that I will manage to coax along this year. I have pictured the extra little flourish and the modest bow I will take when I humbly present our salad greens at the Fourth of July picnic. Envisioning how I will please, delight, and amaze Mr. Friday when I whip out a fresh, homegrown shallot for the homemade salad dressing.

Last year we over-estimated the number of tomato plants that two people actually need. We started with a dozen small plants, but were completely clueless about how big they would get. It got Tokyo-subway-crowded in that tiny little garden. There is science to be applied, and a lot of math, too, according to The Old Farmer’s Almanac:
Resolve: fewer tomato plants in 2019.

We also planted the basil farm, which is our favorite ingredient, except for garlic. We had half a dozen basil plants, which were well-tended and yielded a hefty amount of basil through the spring and summer. The plants were all pretty leggy by September, but I managed to fill a gallon-sized Baggie with fragrant basil leaves to tide us over the long winter months. You can never have too much basil.
Resolve: more basil in 2019.

The row of nasturtiums was shiny and bright with color for a few weeks. The plants did not self-sow, which was a disappointment to my lazy soul, because I never remembered to plant any more nasturtium seeds. And my neighbor had mentioned once that she just loved nasturtiums.
Resolve: be a better neighbor, and plant more nasturtiums.

I like to have slicer tomatoes sunning on the windowsill. I can always make a happy lunch of a tomato sandwich, Pepperidge Farm white bread and a thick schmear of mayonnaise. With some potato chips, please. There is nothing better than a home-grown sun-warmed tomato. But Mr. Friday is fond of some cherry tomatoes, which he likes to sear under the broiler, and serve with burrata, basil and good olive oil. He might prefer growing some Sungold or Sweet Million cherry tomatoes.

If you do not feel not up to the responsibilities of growing your own vegetable garden from seed this season, now that the snow has paused (Thank you, Punxsutawney Phil!), and the snow drops are popping up every where, please think about supporting your local farmers at farmers’ markets and farm stands and CSAs. They were cool long before Brooklyn with all of its mustachioed, plaid-sporting, artisan, organic, heirloom, microcosmically hip farmers, butchers, chicken farmers, bakers and baristas. We like locally grown and all the virtues associated with it.

I was appalled to see that the cheater’s way of buying lettuce at the grocery store has gotten so expensive – $4.49 today for a single puny bag of pre-washed mixed spring greens! I have had enough! Enough of the madness! I am fighting back. I have just spent $5.95 for 500 lettuce seeds. Let’s see what my actual return on the dollar is, at roughly 1.2¢ a seed…
Here is Burpee’s perky and un-intimidating video for growing lettuce. If I only get two heads of lettuce I will be slightly ahead.

While I was earnestly researching lettuce seeds I was diverted by the fantasy that I am able to grow hydrangeas, which are my favorite flowers (after violets, daffodils and lily of the valley) but which I can never seem to grow well. Maybe this year I’ll be lucky. I have finally determined where the wet areas are in the back yard, perfect for hydrangeas. I have ordered a Nikko Blue Hydrangea, as well as the lettuce seeds. And pole bean seeds and morning glory seeds. I am crossing my soon-to-be-muddy fingers, and am hoping for an early jump on our summer salads.

“From December to March,
there are for many of us three gardens:
the garden outdoors,
the garden of pots and bowls in the house,
and the garden of the mind’s eye.”
– Katharine S. White

Food Friday: Game Day!

Perhaps you will be entertaining this weekend. There is a nationally televised sporting event on Sunday, but like invoking Harry Potter’s nemesis, Voldemort, mere mortals (or non NFL commentators) are not allowed to call it by its name. But you know what I mean. Football. Big guys. With lots of commercials.

I am not very interested in sports, but a couple of times a year Mr. Friday enjoys watching the odd baseball game or horserace, and considering how many hours of The Crown and Escape to the Country he has endured because of my Anglophilia, I think I can make time for one football game.

When we had our friend over a couple of weeks ago for the Puff Pastry Beef Wellington versus Choux Pastry Cream Puff Smackdown, we served a smallish bowl of WASPy carrots, celery and radishes, along with a big wooden bowl of popcorn for nibbles before dinner. Were we being spare and creative, or had we run out of time to prepare more elaborate fare? Were we balancing the Puritan aesthetics of simple popped-on-the-stovetop popcorn, dressed merely in Irish butter and table salt, with the more elaborate and baroque Beef Wellington, wrapped in a blanket of delicately browned, multi-layered casing, already enveloped in a mushroom and olive tapenade?

The truth is that we ran out of time, and I was out of ideas. Making créme pat can be so exhausting! Doritos did not seem appropriate. And homemade popcorn is so good. And cheap! Heavens. It probably cost about $1.39 to fill that bowl with popped corn. And it was a big, huge, over-the-top, wooden, wedding present-worthy, salad bowl. (Think of a Caesar salad prepared tableside at the Four Seasons back in your mythical Madison Avenue three-martini-lunch past.) And our friend ate practically every kernel. Triumph does not come often to our kitchen, but that was a night of ringing successes.

I have often proclaimed (to those who would listen) that there are a couple of food that exist just so we can indulge our deep insatiable desire for melted butter. Lobsters and popcorn. But we cannot keep a bag or jar of lobster in the pantry for everyday butter cravings. Luckily, there is popcorn.

And there are myriad ways to season popcorn. I think good butter and salt are just perfect. But our Tall One, who is all about smoked meats and real Southern Barbecue, is a fan of this variation: Bacon Drizzled with Creole-Spiced Butter, from, wait for it, Garden & Gun. If you are not worried about heart health, give it a try.

Here is a good Eastern Shore-flavored popcorn recipe:

This one might be a little fancy. I am all for store-brand corn oil and Diamond Crystal salt, which could explain my relatively low number of Instagram followers…

And where would we be without Martha? Pecorino and rosemary? Hmmm. I guess I’ll have to iron the linen cocktail napkins.

And of course, our friends at Food52 have an interesting variation on the theme, without being over the top. I like their paper bag idea, too. We can hand out bags of popcorn at this Major Sporting Event on Sunday, and not worry about ironing the cocktail napkins, or letting Luke the wonder dog practice his Hoovering techniques among our guests feet. I like tidy. I like sweet and salty, too.

Have a great weekend!

“Don’t you go to the movies?”
“Mostly just to eat popcorn in the dark.”
― Charles Bukowski

“The problem with winter sports is that — follow me closely here — they generally take place in winter.”
― Dave Barry

We're glad you're enjoying The Talbot Spy.

Sign up for the the free email blast to see what's new in the Spy. It's delivered right to your inbox at 3PM sharp.

Sign up here.