Not Your Grandmother’s Egg Salad

I am not sure exactly how it happens. It may come in the form of a manual, a hardcover book – or in modern times – the password to a secret website. However, I am fairly certain that when one becomes a grandma, somehow you receive underground information on the art of sandwich making. In my personal experience the grandmas of the world seem to know exactly how to satisfy even the pickiest grandchild’s appetite.

Trust me, I will never forget the day when my step-children Avalon and Lukas both took a sip of their “pink milk” (Strawberry flavored milk) and declared that it tasted just like Granny Barb’s. Talk about feeling jubilant!

I still remember my mom’s frustration when she could not get my brother Jamie’s sandwich quite right.

There was a bit of tension in her voice as she picked up the phone to call my paternal grandmother Edna Armstrong, “Okay, now what brand of bread do you use? And the peanut butter? Do you spread it on both pieces? ”

“What brand of margarine?” (Don’t judge – it was the 70s).

“Do you put it on before or after the peanut butter? How thick? So there is no jelly or jam on the sandwich? Cut at a slant or lengthwise?”

While my mom may not have “mastered” the perfect peanut butter sandwich at this point in her life, she knew that cutting the sandwich wrong could be detrimental to the entire process.

After she put the phone down on the receiver we both turned to Jamie and studied him intently. He was all of six years old, complete with big blue eyes, rosy cheeks, freckles, and a fringe of sandy brown bangs. He took one bite. Put the sandwich down and shook his head.

“No. It still doesn’t taste like Grandma’s!”

My maternal grandma Hilda Puskala, after rearing seven children, had a large brood of grandchildren. One of my sandwich memories of Grandma’s kitchen was her and my mom making Pickle and Bologna. She would haul out the metal grinder and clamp it to the kitchen table. I can still hear the squeak of the handle as they processed the ring bologna and dill pickles. For the perfect sandwich spread she would mix in mayonnaise (or was it Miracle Whip?).

While Grandma and Mom would mix up pounds of Pickle and Bologna in a large McCoy mixing bowl with pink and blue stripes, my Aunt Christina and I would fight them for space at the table with her Fuzzy Pumper Play-Doh Barber Shop. Anyone who grew up in the 70s knew that the meat grinder and the Play-Doh barber shop were soul mates.

I wasn’t sure if Pickle and Bologna was an Upper Peninsula thing, but my husband John (who hails from Muskegon) said he remembers his grandmother making it too. After a quick Internet search, I found recipes for this sandwich spread (most from the Midwest) that are probably inspired from someone’s frugal grandma.

To be honest, I cannot imagine eating Pickle and Bologna today, but I remember eating it as a child. While I probably enjoyed my mom’s, I guarantee it was not as good as when she made it with Grandma.

So in the spirit of Grandmas everywhere, I am introducing a new sandwich spread to the mix. After all, one day – way into the future I may add — I may be a step-grandma. Therefore, I need to work on my sandwich game (just in case no one delivers me that precious manual).

This is “healthed up” version of a traditional egg salad. I do put in a lot of crunchy additions, so you can make edits based on your personal preference. To cut down on fat and add an extra boost of protein, I substitute cottage cheese for salad dressing or mayonnaise.

I will also add that while I do tend to take an old-fashioned approach to cooking and do not invest in a lot of fancy gadgets, purchasing a pressure cooker (such as the popular Instapot) has been a game changer for hardboiled eggs. Since our eggs are so fresh, I didn’t even bother hardboiling them before because they were impossible to peel. Now I put them in my pressure cooker and use the 6/6/6 method. I cook at high pressure for six minutes, let sit in the pot for six minutes, and immerse in an ice bath for six minutes and the shells pop right off like magic. However, I have found that the number of minutes that I cook them for depends on how many eggs I am cooking, so you may want to experiment. Since I have an 8 quart cooker, I can hard-boil 3 dozen or so eggs at a time.

NOT YOUR GRANDMA’S EGG SALAD

  • 6 large whole hard-boiled eggs (since our eggs are farm fresh from our happy hens, I often have to vary the amount due to differing size)
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped celery
  • 1/8 cup chopped onion
  • 1/8 cup chopped bell pepper
  • 1 cup 1% low-fat cottage cheese
  • 1+ Tbsp apple cider vinegar (I add several Tbsp for tanginess)
  • 1+ tsp yellow mustard
  • 1 tsp dried dill weed or fresh to taste (fresh is even better)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • *Optional – sugar (if you are used to a sweeter tasting salad dressing)

I think it’s crucial to the taste of the egg salad to let it sit overnight to marry the flavors. It may get a bit runny, but you just have to stir and it will be perfect.

This egg salad may not be as creamy as you are used to, so you can add a touch of mayo or even a small amount of plain Greek yogurt.

Another great addition for healthy fat and flavor is a mashed avocado.

While the egg salad that I remember from childhood was always on white bread, I like to further break tradition and serve as a dip for crackers or celery, and make an open faced sandwich on rye or dark bread with lettuce and tomato. You can also make a tortilla wrap — or if you are watching your starchy carbs — serve on a bed of lettuce or use it to stuff a tomato.

While my egg salad may not be the version that my grandmother’s made, that is okay. Because as corny as it is, we all know that the secret ingredient that made their food delicious was love. ❤

As I create recipes, I try to enhance flavors with ingredients that reflect this unconditional love. We must nourish our bodies with food that is kind to us and that helps us reach our health goals and our potential.

It is an understatement to say that it has been a long winter. I wish you beautiful days full of the luxury of sunshine, songbirds, and green. In the coming weeks, take advantage of milder weather and plan a picnic. While you are at it, whip up some egg salad sandwiches. What a perfect way to celebrate spring and the Grandma Edna and Hildas in our lives!

Grandma Hilda Puskala with myself, my mom Karen Armstrong, and my niece Kristine circa 1996. How perfect that we are wearing our “Easter bonnets”. We were attending a gorgeous shower that my Aunt Christina planned for me.

Grandma Edna. She displays her spunky nature with her creative bonnet. 🙂

 

My brother Jamie and I in 1976.

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Potato Encrusted Fried Chicken

Growing up in Crystal Falls in the 70s, with a traditional family structure, cooking was primarily reserved for my mother. She was a stay-at-home mom until my senior year of high school and the only time I remember my dad cooking was on hot summer evenings when he manned the domed charcoal grill. I know this set-up may sound familiar for many in my generation.

When I left for college, I noticed that my father, James Armstrong, started hobby cooking. He enjoyed making chili, hearty soups, and one of his specialties became Potato Encrusted Walleye. The fish was caught by either him or my brother Jamie on the Paint River — and I often requested it for breakfast when I was home on holiday. A sunny side up egg was the perfect accompaniment to the crispy coating of the fish and I can still hear and smell the fillets sizzling on the stove. My dad taught me that you had to be patient as you fry the delicate fish on low to allow the outside to brown to perfection. Of course, a squeeze of fresh lemon was the mandatory finishing touch. Fish may sound like a strange meal for breakfast, but most people who fish will agree that sometimes it is hard to wait until dinner to feast on your catch. So breakfast it is!

In our household, I try to do the bulk of the cooking. Not only was this the way that I was raised, but my workaholic husband goes above and beyond his share of household chores. However, he often pitches in at mealtime when we are in a time crunch (or when I need a cooking break) and he knows his way around the kitchen.

When I married John and became a step-mom, I tried to encourage my new family to eat healthier. Yet, I quickly learned that they were not going to get excited about hummus, roasted beets, or twenty ways to prepare avocado toast. Believe me, I learned this lesson quick. Our first summer together we spent many evenings at our backyard fire pit and my most important job was to make sure that we always had the ingredients for s’mores on hand (in fact, it is still my most important job). Avalon loves peanut butter cups on hers and Lukas is more of a purist and prefers the traditional chocolate squares and his marshmallows fluffy and toasted a mellow brown. Well, I thought that I would change things up a bit and suggested a ‘healthier’ s’mores substitute that I saw on Pinterest that utilized apple slices instead of graham crackers. I will never forget the looks on all of their faces. Avalon did not miss a beat with her tart reply, “Great job, Amy. You just ruined s’mores!” Thankfully, this was a moment that we still laugh about. Though, anyone with a blended family knows, this moment sums up being a step-parent perfectly.

One of the challenges of mealtime, not exclusive to step-parents, is finding ways to strike a healthy balance and satisfy everyone’s food cravings. One of the things that I discovered was that my step-daughter, who takes her s’mores seriously, is also a chicken finger/nugget/wing aficionado. While we do have hens for eggs, we also raise chickens on our farm for meat. I had the foresight to try out my dad’s walleye coating on chicken breasts and in the process I discovered a new dinner favorite for Avalon and the rest of the family.

The thing that I like about this recipe is that you can be exploratory with spices and it works well for a variety of meals: it makes great fish tacos with a cilantro slaw (check out my shrimp tacos recipe for the slaw. I recommend a firm fish like mahi mahi for the tacos) and I am a huge fan of it as a coating for zucchini or mushrooms. The main ingredient is simple: instant potato flakes. My father prefers “Potato Buds” but I buy whatever is available at the supermarket.

POTATO ENCRUSTED CHICKEN BREASTS

*3 cups of instant mashed potatoes (non-prepared)
*Tablespoon of oregano
*Tablespoon of garlic powder
*Tablespoon of onion power
*Tablespoon of paprika
*Tablespoon of lemon pepper seasoning (the seasoning I buy has plenty of salt – so I do not add any additionally)
*5 beaten eggs
*1 package of chicken breasts
*Cooking oil (1 inch in the pan)

Add all the dry ingredients to a gallon size plastic bag (if you like to recycle bread bags work great for this). Coating the chicken tends to be a messy process, but I promise you that it’s worth it. Coat the chicken near a sink, or have plenty of paper towels within reach (I tend to like to use my hands when I cook so I wash between each piece of chicken the coat).  I also cut the chicken into smaller pieces so it cooks faster.

We raise our own chicken, so happily I have not had to purchase chicken from the store in four years.

I pat dry the chicken with a paper towel and dip in the egg and then toss in the gallon bag and shake. I like to double-dip the chicken so once it’s coated, I dip it again into the egg wash and give it another shake in the coating. I try not to over-handle the chicken once coated. While the coating does maintain itself well (due to the double dipping) I am gentle with it when frying. I have found that if you coat all the chicken and then let it rest for the time that you heat the oil, the coating stays better intact when frying. I like to use a cast iron pan.

“Resting Chicken”

I heat the oil on low for 7-10 minutes and bring it up a few notches (3 or 4 on my gas burner) and cook the chicken for 5 minutes on each side (by then it should be golden brown).  I try not to overload the pan so the chicken cooks faster.  After each side is browned I transfer the chicken into a baking pan and cook at 350 for 20 minutes. While the chicken is baking I have time to finish my sides. Avalon’s favorite is mashed Yukon gold potatoes (I leave the peels on, cook in the pressure cooker for 5 minutes and whip up in the stand mixer with plenty of butter, hot milk — and if I am prepared – roasted garlic. Lukas’ favorite side is canned green beans from our garden.

While this chicken is fit for a Sunday dinner, it is easy enough to prepare for a weeknight. Sometimes I like to change out the spices and we like some heat with a blackening or Cajun spice and dill is fantastic as well. Just as my dad’s fish, I started serving this chicken with wedges of lemon, but I have found that the lemon pepper gives the coating a tangy finish (though personally I do not think you can ever have enough lemon).

As summer approaches after an arduous winter, I am dreaming of some of my dad’s fried walleye. I foresee time spent with him on the pontoon boat listening to Johnny Cash and sipping a PBR. Of course, the best fishing adventures involve stories around the campfire. I guess it is up to me to bring the s’mores. After all, it is the least I can do after nearly destroying the traditional dessert with one of my culinary adventures. Thank you, Dad, for helping me redeem myself!

 

 

Writing Prompt: The Kitchen Table

From my Sister Blog: Here is a universal themed writing prompt I use with my students that uses a powerful poem by Joy Harjo as a companion piece.

Glitter and Dog Hair

The world begins at a kitchen table. No matter what, we must eat to live.

The gifts of earth are brought and prepared, set on the table. So it has been since creation, and it will go on.

We chase chickens or dogs away from it. Babies teethe at the corners. They scrape their knees under it.

It is here that children are given instructions on what it means to be human. We make men at it, we make women.
–Joy Harjo

As a writing teacher, I often use food as a prompt to help my students capture their stories. Food is universal and we have an intimate connection to the food that surrounds us.

Not only am I a food blogger, but I think that food helps a writer tap into their senses. Food is smell, taste, sounds, and texture. Food is comfort, culture, community, family, and a way…

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A Writer’s Sensibility: Bearing Witness to Your Creativity

“As a writer I have what I call my, “Monet Moments”. When I want to experience the world with a new lens. Mid-February I was watching the blues set in at night (on many levels). I wanted to snowshoe at dusk to experience the optical effects of light up close and personal and not just from the mudroom window. I have a trail carved around our pasture and approximately three and a half times around is a mile.

Glitter and Dog Hair

“Don’t scorn your life just because it’s not dramatic, or it’s impoverished, or it looks dull, or it’s workaday. Don’t scorn it. It is where poetry is taking place if you’ve got the sensitivity to see it, if your eyes are open.”
–Philip Levine, describing what he learned from William Carlos Williams

A shelf in my classroom with Monet reproductions.

Mrs. Sherby was my art teacher in both elementary and secondary school and I will never forget the lessons she taught at the Forest Park Schools. I still dream about her classroom – the way the clay smelled, the wide-narrow drawers where we stored our work-in-progress, and the baby food jars where we mixed custom colors of acrylic paint and dipped our paintbrushes.

Mrs. Sherby taught us about the Impressionism Movement and I was moved by Monet. I vividly remember learning about his haystack series and the way he patiently…

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Virtual Scavenger Hunt Poem: Word Bank Poetry Prompt

Make sure you check out my posts on my sister blog .

Glitter and Dog Hair

“Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things.”
-Steve Jobs

As a high school writing teacher, I am constantly looking for new ways to help my students find inspiration. While my creative writing students come to class prepared to create, sometimes encouraging my 9th grade English students to tap into their creativity is a challenge. This is especially true when I ask them to write poetry.

To help free up writer’s block and self-doubt, I tell my students that for their first draft I will not assign a letter grade for a poem but will give credit or no credit. If they turn it in, they get…

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CHICKEN SOUP WITH LEMON, DILL, AND CANNELLINI BEANS

“Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson

We had an ice storm in early February and it turned our apple orchard in a series of crystal chandeliers.

Even though I grew up in the Upper Peninsula, I always was a fair weather Yooper. While I loved to spend every waking hour outside in the summer, in the winter I could often be found hunkered down with a good book and a hot beverage. That all seemed to change when I met my husband John who is an avid outdoorsman. His simple belief is that you can withstand any weather if you have the correct clothing. Needless to say, over the past four years I have acquired quite the collection of boots and attire for all seasons. I have the right gear to pan for gold in an Alaskan glacial stream, the proper boots to hike the mountains in Montana, and even the outerwear to withstand all the frosty weather that Marquette County can dish out.

Yet, I must admit that I still found myself dealing with winter outdoor adventures with a heaping dose of dread. So this year when I told my husband that I was finally serious about snowshoeing, he called my bluff and hauled me to a local sports store and bought me an early Christmas present – boots that were made for snowshoeing. Since we already had the snowshoes and twenty-seven acres of snow-laden property, I had zero excuses. John joined me in blazing the first trail and I have been crushing my goal of snowshoeing at least five times a week one snowy step at a time. An added bonus is that to date I have lost 13 pounds and have toned up my legs and core.

I cannot believe I didn’t start snowshoeing sooner! If you have never been snowshoeing before, give it a try. I find it both relaxing and exhilarating and it gives me time to reflect and ponder. My favorite way to round out my excursion is a pot of soup simmering on the stove followed by a hot sauna before bed.

John and our pup Apollo helped me blaze the first trail on our homestead in December. We have received several FEET of snow since this photo was taken.

The trail that I melt all of my stress away on.

Our Golden Retriever Gracie loves to frolic in snow! Look at that smile.

The recipe that I am going to share with you today is a refreshing twist on a traditional chicken soup. It combines the accompaniment of tangy lemon and dill and, instead of rice or noodles, gives an extra boost of protein with cannellini beans (white kidney beans). If you are a vegetarian, you can easily make this soup vegetarian friendly use a quality vegetable stock and replace the chicken with extra beans.

As with any flavorful soup, I think that the most important ingredient is a superior stock or broth. When you start with a good broth you reduce the cooking time of your soup because the flavor has already been developed. In recent years I have read a lot of information on the health benefits of bone broth. While I was a vegetarian for over eleven years, after being diagnosed with Hashimotos Disease (thyroid disease), I slowly started reintroducing meat (chicken and pork) that my husband and I raise ourselves – as well as small amounts of locally raised beef.

Whenever I roast a chicken I make sure to utilize 100% of the animal and always make broth (I can or freeze what is not going to be consumed within a day). Chicken broth is simple to make and my go-to method is to use my pressure cooker.

LEMON CHICKEN SOUP WITH DILL & CANNELLINI BEANS

  • 8 cups of chicken stock
  • 1 medium chopped onion (1/2 cup)
  • 3 ribs of chopped celery
  • ¼ cup of chopped carrots
  • 2 Tablespoons of minced garlic
  • 2 Tablespoons of olive oil
  • 2 cups of chopped roasted chicken
  • 1 can cannellini beans
  • 3-4 lemons (juice and zest)
  • ¼ cup of chopped fresh dill
  • ¼ cup of chopped fresh parsley
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • *Optional – flour and butter or cornstarch for a thickening agent

Sauté the onion, celery, garlic, and carrots in olive oil until soft (approximately 5 minutes). Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Add chicken meat, beans, and reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes. Add the lemon juice, zest, dill, parsley, salt, pepper, and simmer for an additional 10 minutes. Serve and enjoy!

If you want to thicken the soup you can use flour and butter. I combine three Tablespoons of flour with two Tablespoons of butter in a pan on low heat. When it forms a paste-like texture I add a ½ cup of hot broth and whisk until smooth (you can add more stock until there aren’t any chunks of flour) and then add the mixture to your soup and stir in well (you can simmer for a few minutes). You can add more the mixture if you want the broth to be thicker, but I prefer this soup to be thinner.

Another healthier option to thicken this soup is to puree the beans and incorporate into the soup. This is a good way to “hide” beans from small children who won’t eat them. I have found that this a healthy alternative for cream-based soups as well. You get the same creamy consistency without having to use heavy cream.

Not only do I hope you try this soup, but if you are craving winter adventure, I hope you log a few miles on a pair of snowshoes soon. If you are not athletically inclined (as I am not), snowshoeing is not a difficult activity and it is said to burn twice the calories as walking. I find that I do not have to over-dress, but rather dress in layers. I usually wear a pair of thicker leggings with knee high socks to protect my calves from any deep snow that finds its way into my boots. I layer a t-shirt with a sweatshirt, a lighter winter shell jacket, a scarf, a knit headband to protect my ears, and a flexible pair of gloves. I also apply a generous layer of moisturizer on my face and balm on my lips. When I snowshoe at night I wear a headlamp to light my way (though sometimes I just let the stars guide me). I recommend bringing a camera to capture nature’s beauty, a bottle of water, and follow the invigorating activity with a hot shower or a sauna.

I promise that you will find yourself craving the outdoors. In fact, I am heading outside now. Our 90+ pound, 10 month old, German Shepherd Apollo enjoys the exercise as much as I do. Nature calls – make sure that you answer – and don’t forget to warm up with a hot bowl of healthy soup!

Hurry up, Mama!

My beautiful snowshoe trail.

Apollo my personal trainer

 

SUNSHINE BOWLS WITH KICKY MANGO VINAIGRETTE

“The elimination diet:
Remove anger, regret, resentment, guilt, blame, and worry.
Then watch your health, and life, improve.”
Charles F. Glassman

It is that time of the year where many people make healthy resolutions (and perhaps have already abandoned them). If you are like me you believe, no matter how difficult it is, that it is important to make time for ourselves. For example, since my schedule has been extremely busy it feels sacred to me to enjoy a quiet house. For the new year I wanted to make time to write and be more reflective on my personal and professional life. Of course, it’s the end of January and I have not carved out the writing time that I hoped I would. However, I have written endless poems in my mind’s eye. Every time I step outside I marvel in the beautiful place in which I live. I have not given up hope for that precious writing time. After all, here I am on a snow day off of work – writing!

Truthfully, our winter until the last few weeks has been relatively mild. Mid-January delivered some significant snow storms and freezing temperature. Like every year, in January it is light that I crave. This time of year I covet posts from my friends who live in southern locations and I peek at my photos of sunshine sifting through my summer blooms. Perhaps it is this hope that helps us go on with our days. I believe that metaphorically summer gives us something to look forward to and encourages us to toil and work hard. (Plus, I did notice this week when driving my step children to hockey practice that our days are getting longer. At 5:00 pm it was still considerably light out).

The eternal optimist in my heart believes that we must make our own sunshine. Therefore, the spaces that I try to create in my life (whether it be my home, my classroom, or my blog) are filled with color. I think that is why I am so passionate about eating a variety of fruit and vegetables. I find myself in constant awe at the glorious colors and art in nature and food presentation.

I had winter in mind when coming up with this recipe. I intentionally wanted to create a bright bowl that utilized orange and yellow hued produce specifically for its health benefits. I also wanted to give the dressing a little heat, so I kicked it up with fresh jalapeno.

These bright-colored fruits and vegetables contain zeaxanthin, flavonoids, lycopene, potassium, vitamin C and beta-carotene (Vitamin A).

According to, ahealthiermichigan.org, these nutrients help our bodies in many different ways:

  1. Aids in eye health and reduces the risk of macular degeneration of the eye
  2. Reduces the risk of prostate cancer
  3. Lowers blood pressure
  4. Lowers LDL cholesterol (the bad cholesterol)
  5. Promotes healthy joints
  6. Promotes collagen formation
  7. Fights harmful free radicals in the body
  8. Encourages pH balance of the body
  9. Boosts immune system
  10. Builds healthier bones by working with calcium and magnesium”

I have heard that nutrients found in yellow and orange produce have complexion promoting benefits. This time of year I find my skin really suffers from the effects of the dry air and lack of sunshine so it gives me another reason to eat my vegetables.

In January, as I dream about sunshine, winter ices over precise words that I could use to describe a gold washed sky. So, I will let my Sunshine Bowls articulate.

KICKY MANGO VINAIGRETTE

  • 3/4 cup of rice vinegar (your favorite vinegar will work. Rice vinegar is a great choice because it is less acidic than a lot of vinegar. Some of my other favorites for homemade dressings are raw apple cider vinegar, champagne vinegar, and white balsamic vinegar. I really like tart dressings and if you do not, I suggest adding a little vinegar at a time)
  • 1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil (often I do not add the oil to the dressing but add it individually to each jar for portion control)
  • 1 peeled and pitted mango (you could substitute a cup of frozen)
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • teaspoon of onion
  • 1 lime (both the juice and the zest)
  • Jalapeno (I used 1/2 of a large pepper. I added a little at a time until I was satisfied. If you do not want a big “kick” you could use a banana pepper or green chilies)
  • 1/4 cup of fresh cilantro (parsley also works well if you are not on Team Cilantro)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Blend well. I store the leftover dressing in a jar in the refrigerator and it keeps for over a month.

SUNSHINE BOWLS:

  • Orange Segments
  • Roasted Sweet Potatoes
  • Orange and Yellow Tomatoes
  • Carrots
  • Orange Peppers

In the past I’ve also used pineapple, butternut squash, and grapefruit. You can also toss in kale or spinach and some of your favorite beans, chicken, or nuts for protein.

In celebration of the new year I cannot help but feel wonder for the opportunity that I have as a blogger to connect with people from all over and share my passion. I love healthy food, writing, photography, and brilliant color. Food should be savored and appreciated as a piece of art. The composition of flavor, color, nutrients, and attention to detail are vital to both pleasure and health.

As always, if you try this recipe, I would love your feedback. Please feel free to share my recipes with others. Make sure that you check out my other healthy salads at the tab at the top of the page.

Have a sunny day, My Friends! Even if in the winter it means having to manufacture your own sunshine. May your 2019 be filled with vibrant meals, health, and plenty of laughter.

SPINACH SALAD WITH PEARS, DRIED CHERRIES, & CHERRY VINIAGRETTE

“Instruction is good for a child; but example is worth more.”
Alexandre Dumas

This winter as we headed into the winter holiday season, I was reminded of a quote I read. It went something like, “Don’t put yourself in debt to tell someone how much you love them.” That makes sense. As a writing teacher, I constantly tell my students to, “Show. Don’t tell.” We need to do this in our lives as well.

My husband shows his kids constantly how much he loves them through his labor. This winter, often after a long day at work, he will be found outside putting another layer of ice on their backyard hockey rink. He shows them through countless other ways: from having them gather their own breakfast in the chicken coop, teaching them how to remove a fish from the hook, and giving them the opportunity to splash in a Montana mountain stream in an off-the-grid camping spot.

John found the most amazing off-the grid camping spots last summer in Montana. Even if I did have to close my eyes getting there via curvy mountain roads.

I guarantee the kids will never forget this family vacation.

We LOVED Glacier NP!

While we want to make sure that our kids have modern comforts and are not completely cut off from technology. It is not on the top of our priority list to make sure that they have the latest video game system or cell phones. We want them to appreciate things that are homemade and have old-fashioned values.

The best gift I ever bought for my stepson Lukas was an “art box” full of paper, markers, and creative supplies. He entertained himself, and us, for hours designing eye-popping scenarios involving dinosaurs and military helicopters. Because I am a teacher and his dad is a police officer, he crafted a “21 Jump Street” purse for me. It came complete with a 3-D laptop, handcuffs, grenades, lipstick, and even coupons for my favorite store. Apparently, he still wanted me to look good and save money while I was catching the “robbers” (which is what he used to call anyone who commits a crime). Now that Lukas is nine, he still loves to be artistic. However, now he prefers a sketchbook and he loves to write stories (last year Zombie Snake received rave reviews from his teacher, peers, and family members).

After school, Lukas’ bus drops him off at my building and he loves seeing the projects that my high school students are working on. In October he became obsessed with the fact that my 11th graders were reading Ray Bradbury’s, Fahrenheit 451. I gave him a quick rundown of Bradbury’s plot and he was intrigued by Bradbury’s dystopian view of a society where owning books was illegal and firefighters started fires rather than putting them out. Luke’s eyes grew big when I mentioned the mechanical hound that instead of conducting search and rescue missions was programmed to search and destroy!  Needless to say, Lukas begged to PLEASE let him read the novel. He didn’t relent and for three days didn’t put the book down the whole time discussing the character Montag, how F 451 is the temperature at which paper burns, and marveling in how sixty-five years ago Bradbury imagined a world destroyed by TV/technology where people no longer communicate or think critically. We discussed the Nazi book burnings that fueled Bradbury’s imagination and what Clarisse represented in the novel.

Lukas was captivated by this book.

Some of Lukas’ “take aways” from the book was that he could never go to a school where he could not ask questions, he thought that the main character and his wife should talk more to each other and they would be happier, and he loved stumbling across vocabulary words that he had learned in school. I had to giggle one day, about a month after he read the book, when Lukas stood outside before getting in our vehicle with his mouth opening catching snowflakes on his tongue. For those who have read Fahrenheit 451, he was channeling Clarisse. What an intelligent and remarkable little boy! I am in awe and thankful I get to be his step mom. Lukas reminds me to stop and appreciate the priceless wonders of the world that cannot be purchased in a store.

Ray Bradbury wrote this masterpiece by renting a typewriter in the basement of a library for 10 cents an hour. He was watching the arrival of television and feared it had the potential of wiping out human interaction. He imagined a world where large, looming, interactive video screens occupied the four walls of a house and it was illegal to drive slow or even walk outside. This book gives me goose bumps every time I read it. To me, it is a cautionary tale about using technology in moderation and making sure we do not forget our humanity.

Lukas’ new best friend, a Bearded Dragon named Harper. While we have a cat, many dogs, chickens, and ducks – Harper is special because he is LUKE’S. We hope caring for him teaches him responsibility.

Avalon and Lukas supporting their dad’s role as a K9 Officer – and of course, K9 Nitro.

This holiday season seemed like a great place to focus on the human things that are important. A handmade card, a gift purchased from a local artist, and a meal made and shared with loved ones.

The salad recipe that I am sharing is healthy, festive, and celebrates local wonders with Michigan cherries. Not to mention it is topped with crown jewels – caramelized cashews (which could be artfully packaged to make a delicious homemade gift for guests).

This salad can be plated, arranged on a large platter or in a bowl, or layered in a Mason jar (for a healthy work week).

SPINACH SALAD

Spinach
Sliced Pears (There are several varieties found in stores)
Avocado
Feta cheese (gorgonzola or goat cheese work well with the flavors in the salad)
Dried cherries
Caramelized cashews (recipe to follow)
Cherry Vinaigrette (recipe to follow)

CARAMELIZED CASHEWS
*1 Tablespoon of butter

*1 Tablespoon of brown sugar 
–per 1/2 Cup of cashes–
*Cinnamon
*Nutmeg
*Pinch of Salt

Melt butter and add sugar along with a sprinkle of nutmeg and cinnamon (depending on how many cashews you are using. I usually make a large batch of cashews (4-5 cups) so I add a couple teaspoons of cinnamon and 1/2 teaspoon of nutmeg). Cook on medium heat, stirring constantly, for 3 minutes. Remove from heat. Add the cashews and stir to coat.

Spread the cashews out on a tinfoil lined cookie sheet and bake for 7-10 minutes in a 350 degree oven. Remove and cool. The nuts are indulgent and delicious and a few go a long way.

CHERRY VINAIGRETTE

*1 cup tart cherry juice (I found the juice in the refrigerated juice section. While tart cherry juice is expensive – it has a lot of healthy benefits. You can find less expensive varieties that combine cherry and pomegranate juices)
*1/4 cup of vinegar (my favorite variety of vinegar for this dressing are either red wine or balsamic)
*1 teaspoon of Dijon mustard
*1 clove of garlic
*1 teaspoon of red onion
*1 Tablespoon honey (more or less to taste)
*salt and pepper to taste

May your New Year be full of health, laughter, and a community of family and friends. Make time to read a good book, share in wholesome and nurturing food, and remember that love comes wrapped in presence – no matter the season.

 

Velvety Butternut Squash Soup

“The house was very quiet, and the fog—we are in November now—pressed against the windows like an excluded ghost.”
E.M. Forster, Howards End

The last of our beautiful leaves – the trees are naked now and everything is white. I need updated photos.

November in Upper Michigan arrives with a fierce and energetic gust. The color has already been torn from the trees, so November gales stir up Lake Superior and remind us that whether you are Finnish or not – Yoopers have sisu. It is one of the reasons that we live here. Surviving a UP winter gives one stamina and a keen sense of perseverance. When traveling, our snow totals give us bragging rights and the wild beauty keeps us stimulated and inspired during long tedious months of frigid weather.

During November, social media, advertisements, and news outlets remind us that we should be thankful. Therefore, we tick off our blessings: health, family, friends, careers, pets, and all the stable factors in our lives.

While I try to be thankful year round, November naturally makes me focus on the abundance I have been given.

With my husband and I both possessing demanding jobs, both kids in hockey, and everyday household chores that include farm duties – simplifying our meals is essential. It is my obsession to make sure that our nutritional needs are met and that the majority of our meals are homemade. Therefore, in the coming months a variety of hot and nourishing soups will be a mainstay in our kitchen. This recipe for butternut squash soup is simple, satisfying, and healthy. The texture is velvety and so smooth you will not believe that it does not contain cream.

 

VELVETY BUTTERNUT SQUASH SOUP

*Butternut squash (three small, two medium, or one large)
*1 cup of chopped onion
*1 cup of celery
*1 Tablespoon of minced garlic
*1 Tablespoon of finely chopped ginger
*3 chopped Granny Smith apples (I left the peelings on)
*4 cups of stock/broth (vegetable or chicken stock)
*1 teaspoon nutmeg
*1 Tablespoon cinnamon
*Salt and pepper to taste
*Optional – sweetener to taste (maple syrup or brown sugar). I like the soup without sweetener but my husband likes it sweet.
*Optional – I like to add a large bunch of sage from my garden (remove before pureeing)

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Pierce Butternut Squash and place in a baking dish (add a couple of cups of water to bottom of the dish)
  2. Roast squash for 30-45 minutes at 400-450 degrees.
  3. Peel squash and remove seeds.
  4. Sauté onion, garlic, celery, and ginger until soft.
  5. Add the stock along with apples and squash.
  6. Add cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, and pepper and simmer for 30 minutes.
  7. Allow to cool a bit and puree in blender.
  8. Serve with a dash of cinnamon on top and/or a sprinkling of walnuts, pecans, or croutons.

This soup freezes well and is a wonderful way to round out a meal. Add a simple salad and it is a great lunch and it is elegant enough to serve to guests.

Make sure you check out my other soup recipes.

Thank you for reading my blog. As I reflect over the things that I am thankful for, you are part of that list. I love being able to encourage others to enjoy cooking and share my healthy recipes. May your November be full of warmth and laughter around your kitchen table.

Our driveway looks so magical in the fall. John had to plow this weekend – which doesn’t make it look quite as pretty!

 

ITALIAN HUMMUS SPREAD WITH SUN-DRIED TOMATOES, CAPERS, AND OLIVES

The world begins at a kitchen table. No matter what, we must eat to live.

The gifts of earth are brought and prepared, set on the table. So it has been since creation, and it will go on.

We chase chickens or dogs away from it. Babies teethe at the corners. They scrape their knees under it.

It is here that children are given instructions on what it means to be human. We make men at it, we make women.
–Joy Harjo

While it is only mid-October, I know many people are making plans for the Thanksgiving holiday. November reminds us that our kitchen tables are a sacred space. A hub where we can gather with loved ones and celebrate in our abundance. In our home, the kitchen table is a verb and not a noun. In our house the kitchen table is a place where our children learn responsibility, and manners, by engaging in conversation, helping prepare meals, set the table, and helping clean up after. It is also the place where homework is mulled over, canvases are covered with paint, Legos are stacked, manicures are glossed, and dinosaurs are sketched. It is a place where our cell phones and tablets are put away and we give each other our undivided attention.

Growing up my family embraced visitors at our kitchen table with bottomless cups of strong coffee, homemade baked goods, and as a child it is where I learned to value of the power of stories. At times I was excused, if the conversation was not fit for small ears, but the majority of the time I was a welcome participant in a glorious mix of laughter and a legacy of tales from the past. The kitchen table is where we mourned the loss of my grandparents, welcomed the hearty appetites of friends who helped my father raise the trusses on our new home, and where my mom fed my teenage friends after the Homecoming dance.

I believe that the best meals are made with simple ingredients. Therefore, you will find recipes on my blog that are not complicated to make. In addition, I want to share food ideas with you that are wholesome and nutritious for your family.  In the spirit of Thanksgiving, this hummus recipe makes a great dish to pass at a gathering,

While protein packed hummus is often my go-to choice – it can get a little bland and boring – so I try to give it a boost with a variety of ingredients. If your hummus needs a little interesting nudge, I think you will enjoy this recipe.

ITALIAN HUMMUS SPREAD WITH SUN-DRIED TOMATOES, CAPERS, AND OLIVES

*Hummus (you can use store-bought or find the recipe that I use is below)
*1 teaspoon of dried oregano
*1/2 cup of chopped sun-dried tomatoes
*1/2 cup of chopped Kalamata Greek olives
*1/2 cup of chopped Italian parsley

*1/2 cup of chopped artichoke hearts
*1/4 cup of finely chopped red bell pepper
*1/4 cup of chopped green olives
*3 Tablespoons of capers
*3 Tablespoons of olive oil
*3Tablespoons of pesto 
(store-bought or homemade. In place of pesto you could also use finely chopped fresh basil)
*Loaf of crusty bread (you can also use crackers, pita bread, tortilla chips, or raw vegetables for dipping)

HUMMUS
*30 ounces of

*1/4 cup tahini
*1/4 cup lemon juice and zest
*1 garlic clove
*1 teaspoon cumin
*salt to taste

Stir in oregano, sun-dried tomatoes, Greek olives, and parsley into hummus.

*Note – in place of raw garlic I added one head of roasted garlic to my hummus.

If you have never roasted garlic before, you have to try it. Roasting garlic makes it sweet, mellow, and creamy.

ROASTED GARLIC

Slice the end off of the garlic bulb (the wider end). Drizzle with a little olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and wrap in tinfoil. Pop into a preheated oven and bake for 30-40 minutes at 450 degrees (depending on your oven).

After roasting the garlic flesh will become soft and will slide right out of the bulb. It’s marvelous spread on bread, in hummus, and works well in any recipe that requires garlic. I always use all of my roasted garlic immediately, but it would keep well for a week in the refrigerator in an air-tight container.

 Spread hummus evenly on platter. Sprinkle on artichoke hearts and bell peppers. Drizzle with pesto and add the green olives and capers.

Slice bread, brush with olive oil, and toast in the oven or broiler until crisp. Serve and enjoy!

Hummus can be infused with endless herb combinations. Great additions are: avocado, caramelized onions, roasted garlic, roasted red peppers, feta, and goat cheese. Sometimes I like to add a little bit of nut butter and honey, and I love to whirl in pumpkin, roasted squash, or eggplant.

Other ideas for hummus are as a sandwich spread (or stuffing for a pita pocket), dollop on top of a green salad, or as a layer in a jar salad.

My wishes to you and your family as you necklace your kitchen and dining room tables to celebrate in your blessings. As we pass into winter and the season of hope, let us remember to be thankful all year round. We will make a space at our table for members of our community and break bread together.