Heirloom Mashed Potatoes

Passing the baton...um...potato peeler...

I have asked daughter Shelley to make the mashed potato casserole for Thanksgiving.

Her response was: “You want me to make your mashed potato casserole?”

Um…yeah.  My hip hurts, and I dread the thought of standing at the sink peeling ten pounds of potatoes and then standing at the counter mashing them.  And for those of you thinking, “Hey, just sit on a stool”–really, that is harder on the back than standing is on the hip.  Yes, I know I’m announcing geezerdom, but that’s just how it is this year and your turn is coming, so zip your lip.

But here’s my real point.  At some point, someone (nephews Andrew and Brendan) designated my mashed potato casserole as  Aunt Kathy’s special, classic, traditional, gotta-have-it-on-Thanksgiving dish.  Shelley feels entrusted with the honor of making it this year, like I’m passing it along to the next generation.


It’s just mashed potatoes.  It’s a recipe I found in Cooking Light a few years ago and tried because it was a way to have mashed potatoes prepared in advance of Turkey Day.   They also happen to be low-fat and absolutely yummy.  I quadrupled or quintupled the recipe to feed a crowd of forty and, ta-da, it’s now a family heirloom recipe.


Heirloom  recipes are passed from one generation to the next… Oh.

You get heirloom recipes from people who are grandmothers… Oh.

But, heirloom recipes are really old and came over with the Pilgrims on the Mayflower or, according to an international student at our school, the Titanic.  Well, maybe not so much.  My mother’s heirloom recipe for Vienna Cake was one she started making from her Fanny Farmer’s Cookbook.  My grandmother’s famous raisin bread recipe was clipped from the newspaper.

Heirloom recipes are also enshrouded with the mystique that no one can make them like the originator or  the designated heir to the recipe.   Furthermore, no one has permission to make them except the originator or the designated heir to the recipe.  Some people protect their recipes because they want to be needed.  Others like the honor of being recognized for excellence. For whatever reason, heirloom recipes are supposedly closely guarded family secrets.

Secret or not, eventually heirloom recipes get passed along, even if one has to steal the deceased cook’s recipe file.  But I propose to you that the Number One reason for passing down an heirloom recipe is this:  The cook is too daggone tired to do it!

Here’s Aunt Kathy’s Famous Mashed Potato Casserole recipe:


  • 10 lbs. russet baking pototoes, peeled and cut into small pieces
  • 5    8 oz. packages of fat-free cream cheese
  • 40 oz. fat free plain yogurt (in 8 oz. containers, that’s 5!)
  • 2 tsp. garlic powder
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • 1 stick of butter
  • paprika


Cook the potatoes, covered in water, in a stockpot until very soft (about 20 minutes).  Drain.  Return the potatoes to the nice warm cooking pot and add the cream cheese, yogurt, garlic powder, and salt.  Mash well and then beat well with a mixer.  (This is too much to fit into a stand mixer, so it’s best to use the cooking pot and a hand mixer.)

Spray  2 extra-large  (14 x 10) baking dishes with cooking spray.   Spoon the potato mixture into each.  Melt the butter and drizzle over both casseroles.  Sprinkle paprika on top.

(Note: I do not recommend trying aluminum disposable pans for this.  The potatoes are runny when they come out of the oven, and a disposable pan may not be sturdy enough.)

Cover the casseroles with plastic wrap and store in fridge.

The next day, remove the casseroles from the fridge early enough (30 minutes) that they are not cold when they go into the oven.  (Pyrex does indeed crack!).  Cook in preheated 350 degree oven for about 30 minutes or until hot and bubbly.

Do not expect leftovers.

Friday Night at the Hunting Lodge

I must begin by saying that we do not run a hunting lodge, bed-and-breakfast, boarding house, retreat center, target practice range, catering service, or wedding reception venue.  It just feels that way.  If we really were doing all those things I would not have to limp into work everyday and deal with sleepy teenagers who are completely unproductive until the end of quarter when they will literally interrupt a life-and-death conversation to ask for extra credit points.   So I resist the urge to beat the student over the head with my cane until I can drive my weary self home, where the hills are alive with the sound of…black powder rifles.

We’re full swing into hunting season here at Maywood.  That means the Lodge is open and busy.  We don’t take reservations.  This is strictly a pop-in-if-the-lights-are-on place. (Leaving me this option: The lights are OFF but somebody’s home.)   The Lodge mainly acts as a post-hunting bar, although I must say it’s a classy one–no dead animals on the walls quite yet.  We’re not full-service.  There’s always coffee and beer, but alas, soda is hard to come by. ( I keep forgetting that the lads are hunting with their dads now and they are too young for beer.)  We don’t serve dinner, but snacks are sometimes available.  It gets a little awkward when hunters show up as I’m serving dinner, which is often the case on Fridays.

Last Friday night the place was hopping.  Everyone was out here: Mike and Tim and their boys and cousin Don.  John got a tender doe, Don gutted it, and they all came down to the mancave to tell their hunting tales over a cold drink while having text message arguments with their wives.

“We just popped in to have a quick beer.”

“I know what that means!  You’ll be there another hour!”

This particular Friday I had planned to cook up a big batch of corn chowder.  While John and the others were off in various corners of the woods, I busied myself in the kitchen.  When they all came in, there was a huge stockpot of soup ready to eat.   Shelley and I sat on the sofa with our bowls of chowder.  The lads entertained Harper with new phone apps and the old guys gathered ’round the bar slurping chowder and brewskis and out-yapping each other.  It was fun.

And I won the amazing wife award for pulling off a delicious soup at the end of a grueling week–just to make John happy.  I’ll tell ya…it’s amazing what the right pain meds can do for you.

Here’s the chowder recipe.  I got the original recipe from Allrecipes but have made some changes.  The original recipe was rather bland.  It truly does make full stockpot of chowder.  After feeding six adults, I still had plenty to tuck away in the freezer.

Corn Chowder

2 lbs of  bacon, cooked til crispy and then chopped.  (Or you could chop and then cook til crispy)  Set aside some of the bacon to use as a garnish.

1 onion, chopped and cooked in bacon grease til translucent

4 large baking potatoes, peeled, diced, and boiled til soft ( just barely cover the potatoes with water to cook, and save the water to add to the soup)

3 cans of creamed corn ( I used creamed corn I had frozen from summer corn–about 6 ears worth.  If using plain corn, I would increase the flour and a bit of bacon grease with the onions in the soup.)

1/4 cup flour

8 cups  milk

fresh dried thyme leaves

Tabasco sauce

salt and pepper

Heat the cooked onions and the flour in a stockpot until hot and blended.  Add the milk, and heat until hot and steamy.  Mash 1/2 the potatoes and stir them into the milk along with the potato water.  Add the remaining potato chunks, the corn,  the bacon, a fistful of crumbled thyme leaves, a few shakes of Tabasco sauce, and salt and pepper to taste.  Simmer to allow the flavors to blend.  Stir frequently or the milk will burn on the bottom of the pot.  Serve garnished with remaining bacon pieces.

Under less fatiguing circumstances, I would serve this with a fresh sweet cornbread and crispy salad.

What do you do with pumpkin seeds?

Pumpkin seed donors

Here’s the dilemma du jour.  Do you have to soak pumpkin seeds before roasting them?  I have toasted them straight from the pumpkin with resulting tough, chewy seeds.  Daughter Shelley, culinary queen in her own right, has either soaked them overnight or boiled them in salt water, both yielding excellent results.  Friday night she was too daggone tired from carving pumpkins to bother with soaking.  She took  a risk, eliminated the pre-soak, and the next morning I could not resist eating her pumpkin seeds for breakfast.  Delicately crisp and addictively salty, they actually went well with my morning coffee–not that I’m planning on doing that very often.  (A pumpkin muffin would be more to my liking!)

So here’s a question.  An interactive show-me-you-care survey.

Since this is jack-o-lantern week and dear readers will have a plethora of pumpkin seeds on and in their hands, here is how Shelley creates pumpkin seed magic at our house:

1.  Cut off the top of the pumpkin.

2.  Get a kid to scoop out the insides.  Boys are preferred because they don’t mind getting their hands all goopy.

3.  (This is optional from the seed standpoint, but since the seeds are really the optional part, do this.)  Get the kid to draw a jack-o-lantern template and then you, the grown-up, carve it into the face of the pumpkin.  If the kid has recently had visits from the tooth fairy, the jack-o-lantern should resemble the kid.

4.  Ok…the seeds.  Rinse them in a colander, picking off the goopy pumpkin innards.

5.  Put the seeds on a paper towel.  Blot the seeds with more paper towels to absorb the water.

6.  Move the seeds to a cookie sheet coated in olive oil. Sprinkle with more olive oil and sea salt.  You can add other seasonings if you like–Old Bay, chili powder, curry powder, etc.

7. Roast in the oven at 375 degrees, stirring occasionally until the seeds are golden and crunchy, about 10 minutes.

8.  Remove from oven.  Sprinkle with more seasoning.  Cool. 

9.  Store in an air-tight container.

Just for the record, there will not be any handmade pumpkin parchment place cards at our Thanksgiving.  But if you are planning on doing so, you can skip the Old Bay seasoning when you roast your seeds.

Butternut Squash Soup

Miller Lane in Hereford, Maryland

“The sun’ll come out…next Thursday.”  That was the weatherman’s snide remark on the radio the other morning as my windshield wipers swished away.  (And the song from the musical Annie is still stuck in my head.)  By Saturday I am finally able to sit out on the café porch, surrounded by deep green leaves backlit by patches of chartreuse where the September sunlight filters through the trees.  Hints of yellow and orange emerge in the foliage.  Dogwood trees present their bright red berries for the doves.  Nearby in the woods, a young deer nibbles contentedly, too naive to be afraid of the humans.

Wet brown leaves stick to the porch.  A mustiness is in the air.  Somehow, the musty smell pairs well with my snack of apple cider and cheddar cheese.  Crickets drone.  Cars whoosh on the highway.  White noise.  This is the moment to let the week roll off my shoulders.

Out in the garden, the late-starting volunteer cherry tomato plant is loaded with tomatoes.  Three of them have actually managed to ripen in limited sunshine.  Garlic chives have bloomed and faded and now threaten to cast seeds everywhere.  Out come the scissors to snip away the flowers.  I harvest the chives in order to find the rosemary and sage.  Fennel seeds are ready to be snipped and saved.

Tonight calls for Butternut Squash soup.  And the crazy busy-ness of the recent weeks means that a double batch is in order–some for now and some to freeze for a hectic evening later.  There  are times when all you need is a bowl of soup, some crunchy bread and a salad.  It’s so satisfying.  Add a glass of chardonnay and life is good.  Sometimes I make this soup elegant with a “garnish” of lump crab meat.  (By garnish, I mean a nice big plop gently placed in the center of the bowl.)  Other times, I’ve added sliced hotdogs.  Most of the time I eat it simply as is.

Once upon a time I had an actual recipe.  But now it’s something I throw together sort of like this…

Butternut Squash Soup

1 butternut squash, peeled and cut into pieces

1 carrot

1 stalk of celery

1 medium onion or 2 shallots

1 potato (preferably russet), peeled and cubed

3 cups chicken or vegetable broth

crumbled fresh dried sage to taste

crumbled fresh dried thyme to taste

salt and pepper to taste

In a large pot sauté the vegetables in a bit of olive oil until the onions are soft.  Add the broth and seasonings and simmer about 45 minutes until all the vegetables are very soft (mashable with a fork).  In small batches, blend the vegetables and broth in a blender until smooth.  Serve while still hot.

I  think I may have added an apple to this.  Or I might be getting confused with a different squash soup I’ve made.  But I wouldn’t be averse to adding an apple next time I make it.  And at least for me (who does not have blood-pressure issues), this soup tastes really yummy with sea salt sprinkled on top.

Gouttières and Dutch boys’ suits

Lemon verbena by a goutière

This is transition week.  Next Monday teachers report back to work.  This is the week I’m torn by what to do.  Do I sit and relax?  Do I frantically finish summer projects?  Do I “set my face toward Jerusalem” and dig into school work?  All of the above?  None of the above?  (None of the above involves emotional paralysis from the inability to choose.)

So far I’ve been combining tasks.  All summer I’ve been soaking up books.  The past couple of weeks I’ve been priming my brain for the classroom by soaking them up in French.  I’ve finished two novels and am currently working through Suite Française.  I had read it in English a few years ago.  It affirms me to be able to just pick it up and enjoy it in French.

Last night I had a linguistic “ah-hah” while reading.  In the book, a cat had exited a bedroom and was walking along the gouttière.  Being a good lazy reader (don’t pull out a dictionary unless you really, really have to), it wasn’t hard to figure out that a gouttière was a gutter.  And if you know that a goutte is a drop, then it’s even easier.  Hah!  Who needs a dictionary for that?  But just because I’m now curious and want to prove myself right, I look it up.  Voilà!  The English word dates to the 13th century, coming by way of Anglo-Norman which came from the Old French goute which got started way, way back with the Latin gutta which, interestingly enough, is how they pronounce it today in New England.  (Part of my back to school transition involves thinking of my colleagues, especially my buddy from Maine who is mad at me because I am being relocated into his spacious classroom and he is being put into my closet of a room.)

This morning we awoke to gouttières whooshing with rainwater.  We drove down to Towson, our arrival at daughter and son-in-law’s house coinciding with a deluge.   One of their goutières, experiencing a leaf cloggage, spilled rivers of water out front, flooding the front walk.  I should have just removed my sandals, but I deluded myself into thinking that my umbrella would keep me dry.  We all pondered the weather.  What to do?  Enjoy a cup of tea or brave the rain?  Sit it front of Doppler radar all day?  Is it worth going out in to go to the library–with a baby?  Will I be able to plant my fall seeds?

Enough blue to make a Dutch boy's suit

We did have a cup of tea.  On my way home the rain had stopped, the sun was trying to shine, and there was enough blue to make a Dutch boy’s suit.  Back in the day, my grandmother Noona didn’t need Doppler radar to make her plans.  She always said that the weather would clear if there was enough blue to make a Dutch boy’s suit.  Admittedly, that’s a little vague.  How much blue do you need to make this suit?  And how big is the Dutch boy?  Is he, to use another Noona-ism, “the size of a minute”?  That boy wouldn’t need a very big suit.  But that’s the charm of it.  If you are sure you have enough blue, then the weather is surely clearing.

There is definitely enough blue.  I can now safely harvest some lemon verbena without floating through the yard.   Then I’ll make the lemon verbena sherbet that my mouth has been watering for and I will savor some while I continue with Suite Française.  Planting seeds can wait ’til tomorrow, along with a trip out to purchase school supplies.

Lemon Verbena Yogurt Sherbet

I found this recipe, from Jerry Traunfeld, at www.herbcompanion.com.  It is amazingly delicious.  And easy!

2 cups lemon verbena leaves

2 cups whole-milk yogurt

1 and 1/2 cups sugar

1 and 1/2 cups lemon juice

1 and 1/2 cups water

Purée lemon verbena, sugar, and water in blender on high speed.  Whisk together yogurt and lemon juice in a mixing bowl.  Strain lemon verbena mixture into the yogurt mixture through a sieve.  Whisk until smooth.  Process in ice cream maker until slushy.  Transfer to storage container and freeze until scoopably firm.

Peach Jammin’ 2011

I will not buy peaches in a grocery store.  I don’t care if they do say “locally grown.”  Shipping to a store still means a lag time from orchard to kitchen, and in order not to have gloppy bruised peaches, the fruit must be picked on the early side.  Peaches picked too soon never ripen properly. So instead of buying rock-hard peaches that go bad before they get soft, every summer I go to the source and bring home a lot of peaches.  Then it is Peach Week at our house.

“I  love you a bushel and a peck,” goes the song from the musical Guys and Dolls.  That song is rolling in my head as I look at all my peaches.  I did buy a bushel and a peck.  The  bushel is for making peach yummies: desserts and jam and freezing for winter.  The peck is simply for eating: sliced on cereal or yogurt, or just fist to mouth with juice slobbering down my chin and up to my elbow.  The  bushel and peck of peaches (minus what has already gone into a crustless pie, a batch of jam, and pleasure eating) has exited the boxes for single layer display on the kitchen counter.  Good thing I have a lot of counter space.

Kristin picking peaches, 1984

Once upon a time, I picked the peaches myself.  I used to take the children to Larriland Farm in Howard County.  New-mom Kristin was just a year old when I discovered her in our kitchen, clad only in diaper and t-shirt, slurping a peach she had pilfered from the box of fruit I had picked the day before.  And Harper’s mom Shelley was a wee babe the first time she came along for peach-picking.  But fresh peach fuzz gave me a rash.  It didn’t bother me a day later, but right off the tree the peaches bothered my skin.

Shelley with the peaches, 6 weeks old

When we moved to the Hereford Zone, I headed north to Brown’s Orchards in Loganville, PA, and discovered boxes and boxes of fresh-picked peaches ready to go.  I felt so lazy the first time I bought a box that someone else had picked.  But after buying a peach sundae and eating it at the picnic tables overlooking the orchards, my guilt subsided and I just gave in to the relaxing moment.

The other day, when Harper and I went up to Brown’s, some friendly ladies enjoying their sundaes at the picnic tables asked if we knew about the playground.  Well, talk about a treat!  We hadn’t planned for playground time, but Harper checked it out, had a quick slide down the sliding board and approved the monkey bars.  It won’t take any arm-twisting to get him to accompany me on my next trip to Brown’s.

Peach jammin'

So what have I done with a bushel and a peck of peaches?  Two batches of jam, peach sorbet, a crustless peach pie, 2 “pie-fulls” of sliced peaches in the freezer, some smoothies, a peach cake, and frozen ice cube trays of peach purée for future smoothies and for baby John to eat in a month or so!  Wow, before next peach season rolls around Tiny Reber will be born and old enough to eat them!

Here’s the recipe for the absolutely amazing peach sorbet I made this week:

Peach Sorbet

2.5 pounds of ripe peaches (about 10 peaches)

1 cup sugar

pinch of salt

1/2 cup water

2 tablespoons of lemon juice

1 tablespoon Grand Marnier*

Peel, pit, and chop the peaches. Pulse in food processor with sugar and salt until combined.  With processor running, add the water, lemon juice, and Grand Marnier.  Process for 1 minute to dissolve the sugar.

Chill in fridge for an hour.  Once chilled, pour into ice cream maker and process for about 20 minutes, or until slushy.  Transfer to freezer bowl, cover surface with plastic wrap to avoid ice crystals and freeze several hours until firm.

(*I used Grand Marnier because several recipes I looked at called for it and I had it in the house.  I would have tried Amaretto, but didn’t have any.  And Peach Schnappes would be an obvious option.  The alcohol helps with the texture of the sorbet.)


Sorry, Mary Beth, but my food memories pre-date you.

Some of my most vivid childhood memories involve foods.  Ok, duh.  A child spends a larger percentage of his life eating than an adult.  Take little Mini-Mo, for example.  At two months, he has a very small repertoire of things to dream about: eating, eliminating what he eats, smiling at Mommy and Daddy, playing with his rings, and staring at random weird family members.  Aside from sleeping, most of his experience is with eating.  That’s why when he sleeps, his mouth is either working to eat or pouting because he isn’t.

Anyway, my point is that food is a significant issue for a kid.  Even bigger kids who have teeth and can actually chew.  I have fond food memories of cornstarch pudding and peach tapioca.  My mother can probably still quote the recipe for the 1-2-3-4 cake she used to make all the time.  There are less fond memories:  Dad forcing Eddy to eat his spinach (that did not go down well!); Mom lining up quarters on the dinner table for those who finished their liver (sorry, but even in 1966 twenty-five cents was not enough of a bribe to get me to eat liver).

Then there are weird food memories like sardine sandwiches.  I have a very vivid memory when I was four or five years old of sitting at the table in the breakfast room eating a sardine sandwich.  (I don’t know where my other three or four siblings were at the time, but clearly they were not of an age where they were invited to eat sardine sandwiches.)  I was wearing a navy blue cardigan sweater and all the sardines slipped out of the bread.  Just then my cousin Denise came over to our house and saw me with silver sardines sparkling all over my navy sweater.  Years later, I wondered why I only remember sardine sandwiches from my early years.  Mom said that she only craved sardine sandwiches when she was pregnant.  Take a look at my Facebook photo and you can guess that my childhood was filled with sardine experiences.  So, I don’t particularly care for sardines.  I think I liked them ok as a child, but I associate them with that weird experience of the sardine sweater.

Another food that I don’t like is beets.  Let me re-phrase that…another food that I don’t eat because of childhood associations is beets.  My mom loves pickled beets.  With cottage cheese.  She ate beets a lot when I was a kid.  She probably tried to get me to eat pickled beets with my sardine sandwich.  (That is something a pregnant woman would do.)  I just didn’t like them.  They were too red and too pickly…but not in a good way like pickles.  So fifty years later, I go around saying I don’t like beets.

But poor, long-suffering hubby John.  He loves beets.  He loves sardines, too, and I put tins of them in his Christmas stocking every year.  Beets, however, don’t go in his Christmas stocking.  One recent Saturday, the farmer’s market was offering free chiogga beets, so I took some.  I told John he could cook them however he wanted and he could eat them all.  He peeled and boiled them and seasoned them with salt, pepper, and some butter.  They weren’t “beet red” because they were the candy-stripe variety.  Contrary to my memory of beet-stained cottage cheese,  these beets actually looked rather tasty on his plate, so I just had to have a taste.  Well, maybe several tastes.  They were sweet and earthy and yummy.

The next week at the farmer’s market, I actively sought out the beets and asked for help.  It helped that the July 2011 issue of Bon Appetit was sitting open to a recipe for a raw chiogga beet and carrot slaw.  Wow, the beets were even good raw.  I made the slaw for our Fourth of July dinner and it was a hit.

And then there are the greens.  You can eat them too, and we did.  We sautéed some onion and garlic in a bit of bacon grease, added water, a blop of Maywood honey and some red pepper flakes to the skillet and tossed in the chopped greens to cook for about 10 minutes.  At the end we added a bit of vinegar (I used tarragon because that’s what I usually put on kale).  The greens tasted sweet like spinach but earthier.  They taste like the beets.  Huh, imagine that.

Cousin Bill

Last week, dining out in my hometown with my cousin Bill mere blocks from where I suffered sardine trauma, I actually ordered a roasted beet salad as my first course.  They were red beets.  The kind of beets my mother would want to put on her cottage cheese.  I don’t think they were pickled, but they had a vinaigrette on them which accomplished a similar tangy effect.  And I must say, it was delectable.

Bill, the younger of two, was not traumatized in his youth by pregnant mother food cravings, but he played it safe anyway with shrimp cocktail.  I’m sure he has his own food traumas, a topic we can mull over when we next visit!

Celebrating Independence Day

This enormous flag was flying over the Ventnor boardwalk. Can't you just hear it snapping in the breeze?

Last week I celebrated independence by skipping town.  All by my lonesome.  (Except that I wasn’t the least bit lonesome!)  Coming home for Independence Day Weekend, I had to decide what we were going to do about celebrating the Fourth.

Once upon a time, before Thanksgiving took over as the big to-do at our house, we spent a few years hosting Fourth of July parties.  The kids would go down to the stream, build dams, try to catch crayfish.  Up at the house Uncle Jeff might instigate a water balloon battle, if he wasn’t too busy trying to take incriminating photos of people.  Badminton or volleyball nets would be set up and people would sometimes even play.  After a day of burgers and dogs, watermelon and salads, the kids would run around with sparklers (aka pointy rods of red-hot metal).  And then everyone would roll home with injuries usually no more serious than bug bites.

This year, I merely had to ponder whether my immediate “peeps” were coming over or not.  Once my “peeps” grew up, broadened their horizons with their own transportation, and had access to rooftops overlooking the Inner Harbor, sparklers in the backyard became a little ho-hum.  Ah, but enter the next generation!

Harper practicing for the Fourth

Friday, John and I went up to Shrewsbury with grandson Harper and spent more money on explosive stuff than I ever have before.  (Ok, it didn’t take much, given that my usual expenditure was a few boxes of sparklers at High’s.)  Then we came home and texted people: “We have fireworks.  Are you coming over Monday?”  I guess that means we really want them to come, since I  bought the incentive before offering the invitation.

So there we were on Friday with poppers and sparklers and a whole assortment of other cool things.  While Shelley was off at work, John, Harper and I had a little preliminary test run.   We ate dinner by a bonfire and waited until the lightning bugs were twinkling in the yard.  My trusty little Casio camera has a fireworks setting.  Combine that with a five-year old who can’t stand still and voilà!  Sparkler Art!

With the entertainment ready, the next item is food.  Burgers and corn on the cob are a must.  And homemade pickles for the pregnant one.  And a rhubarb-apple crisp because I’m in a rhubarb mood and it tastes so good with Prigel’s vanilla ice cream!

Rhubarb Crisp

I found this recipe by DianaRattray on About.com.  I  added an apple to sweeten up the rhubarb a bit.  I like this recipe because pouring the thickened sugar, cornstarch, vanilla, and water over the raw fruit keeps the fruit from getting mushy.  And I like a crispy crisp!

1 cup brown sugar
1 cup  flour
3/4 cup oats
1/2 cup melted butter
1 teaspoon cinnamon
4 cups diced rhubarb                                                                                                                   1 diced apple
1 cup  sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 cup water
1 teaspoon vanilla


In mixing bowl, combine brown sugar, flour,
oats, butter and cinnamon; mix together until crumbly. Press half of the brown
sugar and oats mixture into a buttered 8-inch square baking dish. Top with the rhubarb.

In a saucepan combine the granulated sugar, cornstarch,
and the 1 cup of water and vanilla. Cook together until clear, then pour over

Top rhubarb with remaining crumb mixture and bake at 350° for 45 to 55 minutes.

Serve with vanilla ice cream!

Happy Fourth of July!

Wild Violets

Wild violets

We don’t have a lawn.  We have non-wooded areas that get mowed.  Occasionally those areas are supplemented with grass seed, and the grass learns to live in cooperation with all the other ground covers already occupying the yard.  Right now the yard is sprinkled with delicate little violets, as are my flower beds and the vegetable garden, where some substantial clumps of violets have established themselves.  There are so many violets, that last year I was digging them up and tossing them.  Some people consider them a weed.  I can see why.  However, after my success with violets in the kitchen, I am inclined to consider my violets a crop!

Wild violets are a culinary herb.  We can eat them.  You can’t eat the African violets, just the wild ones in your yard.  And don’t even think of eating the wild ones if you use chemicals on your lawn!  I knew the flowers could be crystalized and used on cakes, but did not realize that the leaves were good too.  They are mild in flavor and a good source of iron. 

This week, because my spring break coincides with violet season in the yard, I went searching for uses for the wild violet.  And then I recruited my resident five year old sort-of labor source to assist me in harvesting flowers and leaves.  He’s pretty good with scissors and did a nice job–while he lasted–of snipping the tiny flowers.  

A helpful harvester of wild violet blossoms

Our task was to harvest flowers and leaves for three recipes:

Wild violet ice cubes

Violet mint spring salad

Creamy violet dressing

We had success with both the harvest and the food prep.

When the weather gets hot, I plan to plop my lovely wild violet ice cubes into homemade lemonade.  If I serve this to the right person, they will say, “You are so clever.  I hate you.”  I will smile and say, “Thank you” because that kind of hatred is a compliment.

The Wild violet ice cubes are pretty easy.  Fill ice cube trays halfway with water.  Place a violet flower in each cube.  Freeze.  Then top off the ice cube trays with more water.  You want to do this as a two-step process because the flowers want to float on top, but you want them in the middle!

Violet-mint spring salad

This salad was inspired by a salad I found at www.prodigalgardens.info.  I did not have exactly the ingredients listed and I made several changes, so this is now my salad. 

2 cups of violet leaves, cut into thin ribbons

1 cup of mint, chopped

2 cups of baby spinach leaves

1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted

1 cup of strawberries, sliced

violet flowers (as many as you care to snip!)

Toss together all but the flowers.  Sprinkle the flowers on top.  Serve with the dressing…

Creamy violet dressing

This, too, I found at prodigalgardens, and again I made some changes to fit what was on hand.

2 cups of violet greens

1 tablespoon champagne vinegar

1 tablespoon honey (Maywood honey, of course!)

1/2 cup olive oil

1/2 cup plain yogurt

1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

dash of salt and pepper

Blend all ingredients except the yogurt in a food processor until greens are thoroughly chopped.  Then gently process in the yogurt.

This is really a tasty dressing!   I plan to serve it on Easter, if I can dodge the raindrops to find enough leaves.

Sloppy Joe

Did we jinx the Ravens by serving Sloppy Joe’s at our play-off party?  Or was it because I did not buy that Flaco red wine that I saw at Calvert?  (I didn’t buy it because it wasn’t spelled Flacco and because it said it was a good sangria red.  Well, that told me that I had to doctor it up to drink it.  So, since I was not planning on making sangria and I–unlike my husband–prefer NOT to do inventive spelling, I passed on the Flaco red.)

During the first half, we screamed and cheered and laughed and jumped and clapped and pretty much scared MiniMo into the deepest recesses of MommyMo’s womb, while MaxiMo trash talked Steelers fans via cellphone and John raised his beer scepter in salute.  It was glorious.  We especially loved it when the Steelers left a live ball on the field and we ran it in for a touchdown.  Wow.

At halftime we fixed our plates with sloppy joes.  Basking in a 21-7 lead, we thoroughly enjoyed eating.  Alas, we should have stuck to calling them pulled venison sandwiches.  The second half was a completely different ball-game.  It was like they had switched uniforms.  So we screamed and jumped through the second half, but this time we were pounding the sofa and wailing and yelling and moaning.   How could Ray Rice fumble?  Ray Rice does not fumble. 

Ice cream and chocolates comforted us a wee bit in our loss.  Emotionally depleted, people made sad little exits.  We tried to watch the Atlanta Falcons game but we were all used up and just couldn’t care.  John and I went to bed and read for awhile.  We’ll be ok by next week.  At least we know who to root against.

Crockpot Pulled Venison

Sloppy Joe without the Flaco red

This is a great game-day recipe.  I started it in the morning and let it cook until half-time.  I quickly pulled the meat to shreds (not thinking that the Steelers were about to do that to the Ravens!).  I plopped the pulled meat back into the yummy sauce and called everyone to eat.  It was wonderfully tender, sweet and tangy.

In crockpot combine the following:

1 large onion, chopped

1/2 c. brown sugar

1/4 cup wine vinegar (I used my own basil vinegar instead)

1 T. cumin

1 t. chili powder

2 T. minced garlic

1 T. dijon mustard

1 c. ketchup

salt and pepper to taste

Brown the roast in bacon grease, then place in the crockpot with the other mixed ingredients.  Cook on low for 8 hours.  When the meat is nice and tender, remove the roast to a dish and use 2 forks to separate it into strands.  Return it to the crockpot, mix it in with the sauce, and serve on rolls.

(Note: the original “Slow Cooker Venision Sloppy Joes” recipe from Allrecipes.com calls for bacon.  I didn’t have any bacon on hand, but the bacon grease provided sufficient flavor.)