Baby Spinach as a Blank Canvas

At Poppy’s house, we start most meals with a salad. More often than not, the greens used are baby spinach or a blend of baby spinach and spring mix. Spinach ranks number 2, right below kale as the healthiest salad greens. But unlike kale, spinach doesn’t constantly remind you how healthy it is while you’re eating it.

If we are making even a pretense of eating healthy, the last thing you want to do is use some store-bought dressing packed with calories and chemicals, especially since making a basic salad dressing is so simple and quick. If you have the ingredients handy, I would say 30 seconds, maybe a minute if you’re listening to some good jazz, having a glass of wine and dancing around the kitchen (just sayin’).

My go-to dressing is a variation on the basic Balsamic Vinaigrette: Continue reading “Baby Spinach as a Blank Canvas”

Asparagus and Grape Tomato Side

This is so simple, I hesitate to call it a recipe!

I like to keep things fresh. Not fresh like crispy veggies, but fresh as in not cooking the same things over and over again. This is an unexpected side dish that is super simple, not starchy, adds color to any plate, healthy, and goes with anything (unless your main dish involves asparagus and grape tomatoes).

Let’s get started. Halve some ripe grape tomatoes, snap off the hard ends of some medium to small diameter asparagus, then toss both in a little EVOO. Place the brilliant red and green mixture in a large skillet over medium heat.

Put a couple of tablespoons of salted butter in a cup. Take a clove or two of garlic and run it through your garlic press on top of the butter. You do have a garlic press, don’t you? Zap the butter-garlic mixture in the microwave until the butter is melted and the garlic is warmed.

Saute the asparagus and tomatoes, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes become blistered and the asparagus is done. How do you know when the asparagus is done? … when no one is looking, take a bite out of the end of one of your stalks (you can put that one on your plate).

When ready, transfer to your plates, spoon a little of the butter-garlic sauce over the veggies and top with a little fresh grated Parmesan.

Yes, it’s that simple!

The 67′ Pontiac and the Comfortable Silence

Mom never drove a car.

To be totally accurate, I should say, I never saw her drive a car. She claims that in 1931, at the age of 16, she went to the drugstore in whatever small town in Texas her family was living in at the time and exchanged a dime for a drivers license. Apparently at that time, proving a proficiency in driving was no more necessary to obtaining a driver’s license than proving a proficiency in fishing was necessary to obtaining a fishing license. Whether or not she actually drove is unknown. No one in the family has any recollection of that happening. Two years later she married and received not only a husband, but a chauffeur. That union lasted 78 years and Dad did all the driving for 75 of those years until he passed the keys over to my brother at age 95. That Dad did all the driving was for the best. Dad was the pragmatist, rooted in logic and a good sense of direction. Mom was the dreamer, the artist, and had no interest in navigation or driving. It was a good arrangement for Mom and Dad and everyone else on the road. Continue reading “The 67′ Pontiac and the Comfortable Silence”

One Brick at a Time

At some point you realize you’ll never win the Nobel Peace Prize, the Pulitzer Prize, find a cure for cancer or even the common cold. You wake up every morning and prepare to go to work where you will not win any major awards, where your co-workers will not hoist you on their shoulders, marching around the office chanting your name, where it seems that you are not making a difference, where your job appears almost meaningless. Day after day.

You may wake up to the sounds of a crying infant or toddler, knowing that your day will be spent within the boundaries of your house, changing smelly diapers and preparing food for an unreceptive audience. Day after day after day after day.

Behind us and before us are a string of days beyond our reckoning. Behind us are the records of everyone who has ever lived, from the most famous to the most obscure. People who have made history and the majority who have not. The majority who have struggled to survive, with no recognition, no accolades, no mention in the history books, yet day by day they persevered, they made a life for themselves and their families.

Before us are days that can’t be seen or accurately imagined and the number promised to us is unknown.

We do not own the past or the future, we only own today. Each day we, along with everyone else on the planet, are handed a brick. Each day it is the same size and weight. It weighs 4.5 pounds. It is 3 5/8″  deep, 2 1/4″ tall and 8″ long. It is also 24 hours or 1,440 minutes long. It is ours to do with what we wish. We can choose to just toss it aside onto a heap of its brethren, it is just another brick, it is just another day. Who cares? Who notices? What does it matter? Continue reading “One Brick at a Time”

Waiting for Spring

Dinner was simmering. It was chili. Well, chili-ish, it was missing a few ingredients I thought I had on hand (tomatoes). Thankfully the grilled cheese sandwiches saved the day (one slice of cheddar, one slice of provolone, you’ll be a hero).

I stepped out on the front porch.

Tonight was the eve of the official first day of spring. Breathing deeply, I could smell the earth and the scent of emerging growth. Our porch, like the one pictured on the home across the street, runs the length of the house. I’ve a theory, totally unsupported by research, that world peace could be achieved if everyone had a front porch. A place for reflection, a spot to enjoy a cup of coffee or tea and watch the world that is your community go by. A place for sitting. A place for greeting neighbors. A place for watching the sun rise or set.

I’ve walked out of our front door onto the porch thousands of times. I’ve seen that tree an equal number of times. I have walked under it’s shade more times than I can remember. Tonight I was struck by its anticipation.

Our house was built in 1890. I’m guessing the house across the street can’t be too far off that timeline. The houses here in my neighborhood of famous Ferguson were constructed pre-bulldozer. The lots weren’t leveled, the basements were dug by hand, and unless a tree was in the exact location a house was planned, it was allowed to stand.

I’m not smart enough to tell you the species of the tree in the photo or its age. But I can tell you it’s dang ancient. It towers over a two-story house that most of us would consider old. It has stood by a street that was once dirt and provided passage to horse and buggy. It now stands sentinel over paved roads and automobiles. It has provided shelter for hundreds of generations of birds. It has withstood storms and tornadoes. In this current season, its gaunt limbs are raised in supplication. It waits for spring.

I too wait for spring. It is a time of waiting, a time of Lent. Then comes a time of new growth, a time of resurrection. A time of hope.

I really don’t like winter. Okay, let’s be honest, I hate winter. It’s cold, duh, it’s lifeless, colorless, and generally depressing. But without winter would I truly appreciate spring? Without barren seasons, would I truly appreciate fruitful ones?

I walked back into the house. I was greeted by the smells of mediocre chili, the chatter of a loving family …and hope. Spring is coming.

Peace, Poppy

 

Fusilli with Roasted Asparagus/Piquillo Peppers

When tasty and easy-to-make intersect, it’s a win-win. This is a simple recipe with simple ingredients that makes a satisfying main dish without being heavy. Okay, enough hyperbole Poppy, let’s get to it.


Ingredients: 

  • 3/4 pound of Fusilli pasta (feeds 3-4)
  • bunch of asparagus
  • roasted piquillo peppers (more about this later)
  • 1 stick of unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 cups of fresh grated Parmesan cheese
  • Coarse ground black pepper to taste (lots)
  • 1 tbsp. sea salt

Preheat your oven to 425° in preparation for roasting the asparagus. When choosing asparagus for roasting, I look for shoots that are about the diameter of my little finger. If it’s much thinner, lower the temperature or reduce the roasting time. If it’s much thicker, don’t buy it and plan something else for dinner.

Snap off the tough ends and cut the asparagus into 1 inch sections, leaving the tips longer. Toss in a little EVOO and spread on a foil lined baking sheet. Roast for 25 minutes.

While the asparagus is roasting, start your water boiling for the pasta, add the salt to the water. You should also have enough time while the roasting is happening to grate your cheese, cut the stick of butter into 8 or so smaller chunks (chunks is a very technical term). I struggle with timing everything, so to keep it simple, I usually wait until the asparagus is done roasting before adding the pasta to the boiling water.

Roasted piquillo peppers. I love these guys … they are one of Poppy’s “secret ingredients.” I have no idea where you might find them fresh, so I’m quite content to buy them canned. This is the variety I use.

For this recipe, I cut three of the peppers into 1/2″ squares. There is so much to like about these peppers. They are not hot, but sweet. The roasting or grilling adds a delightful smoky flavor to their sweetness. I use them in salads, antipasto, add them to fresh corn, and of course, pasta. Their smokey sweetness contrasts nicely to strong flavors like feta cheese or bacon, plus they add a great pop of red to any dish. Okay, back to the recipe at hand.

After the pasta has cooked (about 9 minutes), drain the pasta, but reserve 1 cup of the pasta water. Set the pasta aside and return the remaining pasta water back to the stove-top on medium heat. Stir in the butter a few chunks at a time, until it has blended with the pasta water. Add one cup of the Parmesan cheese, bit by bit, stirring constantly until the mixture is well blended. If you are going to splurge on anything for this recipe, treat yourself to a high quality, well aged wedge of Parmesan and hand grate it. You will tell the difference.

Add the pasta back to the mixture along with the roasted asparagus and piquillo peppers. Stir and simmer for a minute before serving. Top with the remaining cheese, a couple of tablespoons of the pasta water-butter-cheese mixture and a very generous grind of coarse black pepper.

Enjoy!

I think this would also be good with roasted tomatoes instead of the asparagus and peppers. It’s on my list of things to try.

Of Head, Heart, Steinbeck and Zombie Mistakes

“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up your men to collect wood and give orders and distribute the work. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.”
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, author of The Little Prince.

Sure, there was the Apple stock that I bought at $30 and sold at $36, congratulating myself for being so very smart and clever to make a 20% gain, but in general, I don’t have many regrets. I’m not much for digging up past mistakes, there are so many it would be a full-time job. It’s better to keep them buried. Besides, I’ll make some fresh ones tomorrow, I don’t need zombie mistakes following me around too.

The quote at the beginning of this blog illustrates that there is more than one way to get a task done. One way is through logic, through process, through delegation. In other words,  by using your head. The other way is driven by yearning, by passion. In other words, by using your heart.

A few regrets that I do have are those of the heart and represented in this blog; cooking and writing. I started cooking about nine years ago. I still love it. Do I wish I had started sooner? Yes, of course. But the regret here is pretty minor. I love coming home and turning on some music, pouring myself a glass of wine and start slicing, dicing, sautéing, simmering, roasting, broiling, whatever it takes to create a meal for my family. I enjoy it so much I want to stretch it out. This does not always go over so well with my family when their stomachs begin to rumble.

I started this blog thinking I would be focusing on cooking. But a successful cooking blog relies on exact measurements and precise steps not to mention some good photography. By the time I’m done, no one in the family wants to wait around while I stage a great photo, they want to eat! Then there is that exact measurement and precise step thing. My cooking technique more closely resembles a Jackson Pollack painting than a Rembrandt.  I sling ingredients around like Jackson Pollack did paint. By the time I’m done, I can barely remember what ingredients I used, let alone how much.

And then there is writing.

I grew up without a television, possibly the best thing to ever happen to me as it turned me into a reader. Our family Saturday routine went something like this. Shortly after it opened, I was dropped off at the local branch of the St. Louis County library system. This was the early sixties when it was safe to leave your child unsupervised for hours at a time in the library. I searched for undiscovered titles and repeats from my favorite authors. By the time my parents returned to pick me up, I had 5-7 books checked out and ready to go. When next Saturday rolled around, those books were finished and I was looking for more. I read adventure stories, science fiction stories, Dr. Doolittle, Danny Dunn and anything by Elizabeth Enright. I always read several grade levels above my actual grade, not because I was smart, simply because I just read and read.

Then one day I picked up a copy of The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. Continue reading “Of Head, Heart, Steinbeck and Zombie Mistakes”