With the arrival of Spring comes the fresh picked asparagus. We love asparagus. They make a lovely dish to accompany any holiday meal. They are fantastic in omelets as well as soups and stir-fry’s. Asparagus is a perennial, related to the lily with fern like leaves and flowers. The spears are actually shoots grown from a mother plant called the crown. It takes up to 3 years for crowns to develop enough to begin producing shoots, but once they do they can produce for up to 20 years. Asparagus are grown in purple, white and green varieties with 1/2 to 1-inch thickness. Look for firm unmarred stalks with tightly closed heads. Never freeze asparagus as they will become mushy and loose their flavor.
1 1/2 pounds asparagus, rough bottoms removed
1-2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp kosher or sea salt
1 tbsp butter
4 large cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
Wash and dry asparagus. Lay single layer on a baking sheet. Drizzle lightly with a little oil. Roll asparagus in oil to lightly coat. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake 350 for 10 minutes. Check to see if tender, can easily pierce with a fork. If done pull out of the oven. Cut butter into slivers and lay across spears. Sprinkle with Parmesan. Return to oven for 3 minutes more to melt cheese and butter.
Herbed boiled potatoes is a family favorite. We often serve them on Valentine’s Day, Easter and other special occasions. This version of red potatoes transforms the ordinary boiled or baked potato into something spectacular that your guests will really enjoy.
Potatoes can be very tricky to cook sometimes. To test doneness spear the potato with a skewer, or knife. If it sticks or does not easily pierce it is not done. If is falls apart or quickly slips off it is too done. A perfectly cooked potato should easily slide off the skewer. Shaking the pan fluffs the potatoes up a bit. It is a trick often used before roasting peeled potatoes to give them a nice coated texture.
2 pounds red potatoes, skins on
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp chopped parsley
1/2 tsp garlic powder
Salt and pepper
Wash potatoes thoroughly. Place in a pot and cover with water. Season with a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and continue to boil until tender 15-20 minutes. Drain. Hold the lid tightly on the pan and shake a few times to fluff the potatoes. Toss with the butter, garlic and parsley. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
The birth of Spring is a marvelous sight to see here in the Valley. The medians along the highway flourish with a backdrop of orange and red poppies in addition to random purple and yellow wildflowers. The once boring lifeless hills awaken with the fresh scents of vibrant greens. The fragrant air recently cleaned by the passing rainstorm breathes life and beauty into the sleeping earth.
These little chocolate nests are just as delightful as the surrounding landscape. They are a little messy to begin with but they are so darn cute. They would make an adorable place setting to welcome guests to for Easter day dinner or an extra special treat at a tea party. You could even share one with the Spring Bunny. So don the aprons and let’s make some Springtime Chocolate nests.
8 oz dark, semi-sweet or milk chocolate chips
1 bag (2 1/2 cups) chow mein noodles
Small egg shaped candies
Place the chocolate in a bowl and microwave on medium for 30 second intervals, stirring each time, until melted. Or place the chocolate in a heat proof bowl set over simmering water, stirring until melted.
Gently stir in the chow mein noodles.
Divide mixture into 5-6 mounds on the waxed paper shaping to form the nest with an indentation in the middle. Let set 15-20 minutes. Place a few eggs in the middle.
March 30th marks the birth of the great painter Vincent Van Gogh.Van Gogh was born March 30, 1853 in Groot-Zundert, Holland. During the brief 10 years that Van Gogh pursued painting he produced some 900 paintings and 1100 drawings. Though he had little success during his lifetime his status as an artist has been compared to the likes of Rembrandt.
Van Gogh was taught drawing in middle school by a successful artist from Paris. Although he excelled in the subject he found the boarding school “gloomy…cold and sterile…” He immediately dropped out of school and returned home. His Uncle persuaded him to take a job with a local art dealer in London where he was successful for a time later commenting it was the “happiest year of his life.” However after accepting a 2nd transfer to the Paris office he became notably displeased with his situation and was shortly thereafter terminated.
Van Gogh had thought to become a Pastor like his father and in May 1877 left for Amsterdam to study Theology. Religion would later prove to be an unsuitable profession for the emotional Van Gogh. After he failed the Theology exam he took a position as a missionary in a coal mining village in Belgium. He was later released for being “too overzealous.” The church authorities felt his choice of living conditions undermined the church. All was not lost for while Van Gogh was in Belgium he spent much of his time drawing portraits of the villagers. After his dismissal he lingered for a spell in Belgium working on his drawings.
In 1886 Van Gogh traveled to Paris at the behest of his parents and brother Theo. Theo, the manager of Goupil’s gallery, was so impressed by Vincent’s drawings he convinced Van Gogh to study with the accomplished Willem Roelofs. Willem was dissatisfied with Van Gogh’s dark somber palette and recommended he attend the Royal Academy of Art. Van Gogh would later be influenced in the art of Impressionism by greats such as Cormon, Pissarro, Monet and Gauguin.
Unfortunately Van Gogh was plagued with mental illness that ultimately lead to his demise. SadlyVan Gogh only sold one painting while alive. His fame would not come until eleven years after his death at a gallery showing in his name organized by his widow Johanna Gesina Bonger van Gogh. After the death of Van Gogh Johanna actively began collecting all his letters and artworks. It was her hard work and dedication that brought about the recognition Van Gogh so rightly deserved.
On March 30th we pay tribute to the remarkable artist Vincent Van Gogh was.
Historically cornbread has been around long before the first European settlers arrived. The Native American Indians taught the new settlers how to grind corn into corn meal to make “Pone”. Using a simple mixture of ground corn meal, water and salt this early version of cornbread became a valuable staple to the New settlers those first few years after their arrival. Cornbread was especially popular throughout the Civil War as it was quick and cheap to make. The ingredients used depended on the region; for instance, the addition of sugar and flour was typical of the North while the South favored an unsweetened version cooked in a cast iron skillet. Cornbread has had quite a makeover over the years. The variations are endless with each family claiming to have the best recipe ever.
You would think my dad being a farmer from Georgia would have passed along a treasured recipe. All we got was Betty Crocker and Jiffy. Needless to say I was never a fan of cornbread as it was always dry and flavorless. Then I met the Odoms in Woodville Texas. A loverly little town in East Texas with fresh air, tons of trees and lots of old 19th century houses. Odomville was a small community comprised of the descendants of the Odom family located about 30 minutes out of town heading East toward Fred Texas.
During my visits in Odomville I mostly enjoyed sitting at the kitchen table with Mr. Odom and Alice eating a square of cornbread. Alice died of old age shortly after I arrived in Woodville. It was a somber time for us all even more so for her beloved Mr. Odom. They had known one another since childhood and the loss was almost more than he could bare. I continued to visit Mr. Odom when in the area as I so enjoyed his stories of Odomville. And so it was on my last day in East Texas I was with him at the kitchen table once again sharing a meager snack of cornbread and milk.
I am extremely particular about cornbread. There are but two recipes I can say I have enjoyed one being Alice Odom’s recipe and the other one is this recipe for honey whole grain cornbread. The sweet kiss of honey mingles well with scrumptious earth grains. Serve as a side with chili or a salad.
1/2 cup butter, melted
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 cup whole grain flour
2/3 cup honey
1 cup buttermilk
1 cup yellow cornmeal
1/2 tsp salt
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9X13 baking dish; set aside.
In a medium bowl, mix honey and butter until combined. Add eggs, buttermilk and soda; mix well.
In a separate bowl, mix cornmeal, flour and salt. Add flour mixture to milk mixture; folding just until combined. Pour batter into prepared baking dish. Bake for 20-30 minutes.
If you do not have a natural foods market near by Whole Grain Flour can be found in most supermarkets that sell Bob’s Red Mill flours. If you cannot find whole grain try blending 1 part kamut + 1 part spelt + 1 part hard white wheat.
I try to start every week prepared. Sunday night we sit down and have a family pow wow to discuss the family issues and the upcoming week’s schedule. I finish the weekly menu and write up the grocery list. Sunday I was in control. Monday I was frustrated. Monday’s are always packed. There is laundry to do, grocery shopping and it is my day to volunteer at school. The cupboards, pantry and refrigerator were bare after a week of trying to use up what we already had. This made for a very long shopping day as I had to stop off at several places for the best deals. Then there was the call from the doctor asking if I could bring Mason in for some lab tests. I was hoping the nurse was going to say I could pick up the health examination form I dropped off the following Monday that was only supposed to take them 48 hours to fill out. The deadline to submit all the school registration paperwork was fast approaching and I needed that form by week’s end. Tuesday was fulfilling yet exhausting. I spent all Tuesday morning cleaning the house, organizing and playing Taxi driver. Wednesday afternoon I spent at the doctor’s office holding my six year old son down while they gave him three shots. I was feeling relieved the evening’s dinner party was canceled; our guests had something come up last minute. Worried because I still needed a babysitter for Friday afternoon; parent/teacher conference. And guilty because I did not do a very good job selling tickets for the school’s tri-tip fundraiser due on Friday.
After all of the commotion that week I was looking forward to a bowl of Pork Lo Mein. Problem was I forgot to take the pork chops out of the freezer to thaw. Luckily I had left over roasted chicken. The next obstacle in my way was I accidentally threw out the magazine page with the Lo Mein recipe I wanted to try. So I winged it using Top Ramen.
1 tbsp oil
2 cups chopped chicken, 1-inch pieces
3 garlic cloves, chopped
Any combination of the following Vegetables- 1 celery stalk sliced, 2 cups shredded cabbage, a handful water chestnuts, shitake mushrooms sliced, handful snow peas, 1 bok choy chopped roughly, bean sprouts, sliced red pepper, 1 carrot cut julienne, 1 small onion sliced, 1 crown broccoli
Noodles- rice noodles, Soba Noodles, Top Ramen noodles
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup Top Ramen Oriental broth
1 tsp powdered ginger, 1 tbsp grated
1-2 tsp Chinese rice wine vinegar
1-2 tsp sesame oil
Mix together the soy sauce, broth, ginger, vinegar and sesame oil. Set aside.
Boil noodles according to package directions.
Meanwhile, heat oil in a skillet or wok. If using raw chicken add the chicken to the wok; cooking until no longer pink. Remove. Add the garlic and vegetables; saute until tender but still crisp. Return the chicken and pour in the sauce. Let simmer for five minutes. Serve mixture over noodles or without noodles.
In the sauce I used 1 Top Ramen Oriental flavoring packet. You can substitute chicken stock or make your Oriental flavoring with less sodium.
Source: Adapted from Spark People
2 tablespoons onion powder
2 tablespoons ground ginger
2 tablespoons garlic powder
1/2 tablespoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon Chinese Five Spice Powder
Mix all the spices together; store in an airtight container.
1 teaspoon = 1 Top Ramen packet.
Here is a hearty Lentil Soup to warm the bones through the last scraps of winter. I have tried many lentil soup recipes but they either had an off taste or they lacked flavour. I hope this soup is to your liking.
When ever possible I like to add a little history with a recipe. It makes for an interesting conversation starter at the dinner table.
A member of the legume family, the lentil in addition to providing a rich source of iron is packed with fiber, folate and B vitamins. The lentil is often associated with Middle Eastern fare; however, the origins of this tiny legume dates back to 9000 BC Asia. Traces of the lentil are evident in Greece where it was once considered a poor man’s food while in Egypt the lentil has been discovered amoung the belongings of the royal Egypian tombs. Lentils were also a staple in early settlements of Hungary, Britain, Switzerland, Africa, Peru and Eastern Indian civilizations.
Lentils remain a popular source of protein for many cultures throughout the world. They cook quickly and do not require an overnight soaking like their cousins. Add 1/4 to 1/2 cup of lentils to any soup or stew. Mix cooked lentils with recipes like hamburgers, meatloaf and pasta dishes.
2 Italian Sausage links, castings removed
1/4 cup olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 carrots, diced
2 celery stalks, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon oregano
1 large bay leaf
1 teaspoon basil
1 (14.5 ounce) can diced tomatoes, undrained
2 cups dry lentils
8 cups chicken broth or water
1-2 cups baby spinach leaves
1/4 teaspoon pepper
Salt to taste
In a large soup pot, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the sausage; crumbling as it cooks. Add the garlic, onions, carrots and celery and saute until tender. Stir in garlic, oregano, bay leaf, basil, lentils, broth and tomatoes. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for at least 2 hours until thickened and the vegetables are soft. When ready to serve, stir in spinach and pepper; cook until wilted. Season with salt if needed.
– Note that the chicken stock helps give the soup flavor. Do not use canned broth it is flavorless. Use a good quality chicken base or homemade stock. I like Better than Bullion. If using water you might need to adjust the spices adding some thyme, salt, rosemary and a tablespoons of vinegar (distilled, red or white).
– For a vegan version of the soup omit the sausage and stock adding 1 tablespoon of vinegar.
I have been referred to as the “Kool Aide Mom” once or twice because our home is the place to be if you want to have fun. There is always something going on here. We love celebrating holidays official and corny made up ones. That is why we put just as much effort into Saint Patty’s Day as we do any other holiday. I started a tradition years ago when the cousins still lived nearby. That year I made a hat out of paper, filled it with spritz cookies and left it on their doorstep. Down the walkway I placed little Leprechaun footprints running every which way leading into a bush. I also dropped a half eaten apple for extra fun. The little kids went nuts. They searched the yard trying to find the little Leprechaun.
A little Irish History
Maewyn Succat was born to a Roman Official sometime around 385 AD near Wales. He was later taken prisoner (at the age of 16) by Irish sea-faring raiders and sold into slavery in Ireland. Maewyn was not a religious boy before his time spent in Ireland where he turned to God in prayer in search of solace. He wrote that he believed his misfortune was due to his apostate attitude toward God. He remained captive for six years as a slave tending the sheep and pigs before he had a vision from God telling him he would soon return home. Maewyn escaped by ship to Gaul where he dedicated his life to serving God. He changed his name to Saint Patrick while attending the Seminary in France. St. Patrick believed that his calling was to convert the pagan Irish to Christianity. Eleven years later he would return to Ireland to fulfill that calling . He was revered by those whom he converted yet despised by those who favored the Celtic pagan ways and saw him as a threat. He spent 30 years building monasteries and schools working to establish Christianity in Ireland. Saint Patrick died March 17th 461 AD.
There are many old Irish legends that describe the miracles Saint Patrick performed but they are just that, old legends. St. Patrick’s Day was first celebrated in America in 1737. The Saint Patrick feast day remains a religious holiday in Ireland while here in the states it is a festive occasion celebrated by wearing something green and other symbols we have come to associate with St. Patrick’s Day. The use of the shamrock was believed to have originated with Saint Patrick. As legend states he used the shamrock to explain the holy trinity being the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The shamrock thus became a symbol of Christianity in Ireland. To the Celtic people of ancient Ireland, the shamrock represented the rebirth of spring. (Ireland is referred to as “The Emerald Isle” due to the lush green landscape.) Historically, the color green was used by revolutionary groups in Ireland. By the 17th century, when the English began to suppress the Irish, the shamrock became a symbol of hope and Irish nationalism. Thus it was only fitting for the color green to become part of the official Irish flag in 1919.
The Leprechaun with his pot of gold at the end of the rainbow is a mythical creature. The Leprechaun stems from the Irish pagan belief in fairies. It is said that the Leprechaun is a crafty workman who guards the pot of fairy gold. The Leprechaun, the rainbow, the pot of gold and the clover are symbols celebrated on St. Patrick’s Day here in the United States to make St. Patrick’s Day a fun family affair.
Other ways to celebrate Saint Patty’s day may include:
Herbs de Provence is a culmination of popular herbs used in Southern French cuisine. Before commercial bottles of herbs came along, Grandmothers would walk the hillside picking herbs to flavor their meats and soups. The herbs used depended on the chef. Some might use a combination of bay leaf, thyme, fennel, rosemary, chervil, oregano, summer savory, tarragon, mint, and marjoram. Lavender was not a traditional herb but is commonly found in jars of Herbs de Provence.
Traditional or not, the lavender is what I love most about this version of beef stew. There is this depth to the stew. I can only describe it as romance and silk scarves sauntering in the breeze. Cunning like a black widow toying with her prey. Very French. Very Amazing and delicious.
Source: Adapted from “Where’s My Spatula?” by Christy Rost
2-3 pounds Stew meat, cut into 3-inch pieces
3 tbsp olive oil, divided
1 cup cranberry juice
3 stalks celery, sliced
1 bunch fresh celery leaves
12 whole pearl onion, peeled
1 head garlic, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 pound small red potatoes, rinsed
1 (14.5-oz) can diced tomatoes
3/4 cup beef stock or water
2 sprigs rosemary
1 bay leaf
1 tsp Herbs De Provence
Salt and Freshly ground pepper, to taste
Heat a large skillet over medium heat, add 1 tablespoon olive oil, swirl to coat the bottom of the pan. Cook the meat, in batches, in the skillet. Cook several minutes on each side until brown; transfer to the crock pot.
Deglaze the pan with the cranberry juice, scraping up the browned bits from the bottom of the skillet. Pour the mixture into the crock pot.
Add the celery, leaves, onion, garlic and potatoes to the crock pot. Pour in the tomatoes and beef stock; season with rosemary bay leaf, Herbs de Provence and salt and pepper.
Cover and cook on low heat for 4 to 5 hours. After 6 hours check the meat and potatoes for tenderness. The meat should almost fall apart.
Spring is here. Buds are forming on the trees. Everyone is out enjoying the beautiful weather. Since last fall we have battled illness after illness. There were two weeks of pink eye followed by two weeks of the flu in December. An ER trip, a bout of Fifth’s Disease and three weeks of bronchitis in January, oh and a cold. Our public appearances have been limited as each week a new victim is claimed. Either one of my kids is sick or one of my friend’s kids. With winter in full swing by the time February came we were all going stir crazy to get out and play. What I look forward to the most is walking with my friend Kate every morning. I also hope to finally have that playdate with Summer that has been on hold since last October as she and her family have been quarantined due to illnesses too.
This brings me to my resolution for March: Friendships. So far this year I have discovered more ways and reasons to laugh in January. February was filled with lots of hand written love notes and sweet gestures. Even though National Friendship Month is officially in August, during the month of March I hope to rekindle stale friendships.
Throughout my life I have had been fortunate to know many exquisite individuals. Those friendships (good and bad) have helped shape me into the person I am today. If I had my way we would all live on the same street together for the rest of our lives. Few are lucky enough to enjoy the cherished company of their best friends through the many stages of life. Unfortunately some friendships unintentionally drift apart leaving us with lasting memories we will always treasure.
The philosopher Aristotle said, “In poverty and other misfortunes of life, true friends are a sure refuge. They keep the young out of mischief; they comfort and aid the old in their weakness, and they incite those in the prime of life to noble deeds.”
Friendships are vital to our well being. Experts agree that if you have a vibrant circle of friends you will live a longer healthier life. Friends motivate and comfort us. Great friends challenge us to be better and applaud our accomplishments. When we learn how to be a good friend we become a better partner, mother, sister, employee and person as a whole.
In my thirties I have come to a new understanding of what a friend is. My friends are not limited to a couple close friends I do everything with and go every where together like back in college. For years after college I was depressed. I had started a new life elsewhere leaving my only bosom buddy miles away in another state. I struggled trying to find someone to connect with on the same level Elise and I had. Bosom buddies are extremely rare. There are few out there with whom we instantly click with. Someone we feel we have known all of our life; someone who understands us when no one else does. I had some really great friends at the time but I prevented them from getting too close because I was more interested in finding that soul sister. I decided that what I really needed was the circle of great friends I already had and to do so I had to be a better friend.
I have friends who I rarely see but the minute we hook up we pick up right where we left off. I have a couple of friends that are my rock. Just being around them gives me the confidence I need to take care of business. I have friends I can go to when I need an escape and friends who are treasures of wisdom. Lastly, there is my best friend who I was lucky enough to marry.
The Golden Rule in friendships is: Treat your friends as you wish to be treated.
Be a friend: Avoid complaining, gossiping, and criticizing. Listen intently to what the other person is saying not what you want to say. Avoid trying to solve problems. Offer your opinion only when asked. Be loyal do not talk about your friend behind their back. Babysit her kids, wash her floors or make her dinner. Be understanding. We all have busy lives.
Make time: Spend quality time with one another. Have a ladies night out, go on walks, host a playgroup, shop or work on a craft.
Follow up: Communicate by phone, email, letter or text.
Support: No one wants a friend who tells them they will fail or their dreams are lame. It is important to always support the dreams and goals of others even if they aren’t necessarily what you are interested in.
All relationships take time to develop and nurture. Being a busy mom I tend to put off calling a friend because I do not want to bother her. Ironically she is having the same inhibitions about calling me. This month my challenge is to override those thoughts and just call. Chances are she needs the phone call as much as I do.