mulberryshoots

"Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" ~ Mary Oliver

kitchens (cont.) . . .

"before" kitchen counter, left side

“before” kitchen counter, left side

"before" kitchen, center

“before” kitchen, center

 

"before" kitchen, right side

“before” kitchen, right side

Today is the day for the soapstone countertop project to begin. I say project because I’m not sure when it will be completed as it is sandwiched in with another job the contractor has in Boston tomorrow.

This morning, I was awakened by G. who said he was leaving to take his mother to the doctor’s and that he thought the new sink we had was too big and too deep to fit into the space. This was a little after 8 a.m. and the soapstone was due to arrive at 10 a.m. I hopped out of bed (literally, since my ankle is still stiff,) got dressed, washed up and got in the car to go to Lowe’s to see if they had a small undermount sink. They had only one in stock and it was approximately the size G. had specified but was still ten inches deep. Along the aisle to the sinks, I happened to see a single mount faucet by Grohe that was much sleeker and simpler than the bulbous Kohler faucet that arrived from Amazon yesterday.

I grabbed the new faucet, the undermount sink and checked out. I decided as long as I was at it that I would drive to the Shrewsbury Home Depot to see what they had in the way of sinks because I wasn’t crazy about the one I had just bought at Lowe’s. All I could think of was getting some hot, black coffee and honey dip donuts but didn’t have time to stop.

Lo and behold, although Home Depot also only had one undermount sink to choose from, it had frontal rounded edges that I had seen and admired previously at another stone cobbler contractor’s shop. It was an Elkay and I bought it while making a mental note that I would come back for a large pot of beautiful chrysanthemums once the countertop job was completed.

When I got home, we unpacked the sink and looked at how it might fit in, allowing for more cooking space. The faucet would be mounted on the right side, giving an asymmetrical look. When I opened up the box for the new faucet, we found that the faucet parts themselves were missing! That’s right, the kit had been previously opened, the long neck of the faucet was missing and other boxes in the kit were opened. The box had been secured with those stiff plastic tapes that you have to cut off with scissors. I had asked someone at Lowe’s whether I could look at the contents before checking out. Now, the worst had happened.

When I went back to the faucet section of Lowe’s, “Dennis” greeted me with a smile and then with a frown when I showed him the inner contents of the box and its missing parts. There was one more box of this particular faucet, the most expensive of the now FOUR faucets that I’d obtained as possible candidates (the Kohler faucets were gigantically bulbous and humongous-looking compared to the scale of the smaller sink.) When we pulled this one out of its wrapping, it was a brushed finish rather than shiny chrome which I actually liked better than the bright finish.

By this time, I’d figured that the design and choices for our kitchen had been taken over by the Kitchen Gods, that they were now fully in charge and that we were just along for the ride. Towards that end, I silently asked for cosmic helpers of countertops to weigh in to obtain a good outcome for soapstone matching and cutting, carrying soapstone up three flights of stairs and properly finish the job. I thought I detected a slight flutter of wings but maybe that was just my imagination. By this time, we had had three sinks (Kraus, Franke and Elkay) and four faucets (Moen, two Kohler and a Grohe) to choose from. As it turned out, the very last sink and faucet that I found this morning are the ones we liked best!

The soapstone slabs and workers arrived around 11 a.m. That’s when I learned that they were due to complete a fourth floor Boston job at 11:00 a.m. tomorrow and would have to leave this job and come back later to finish our job. I took my laptop and power cord into the bedroom with a couple of books because I wanted to give them free rein in the kitchen and also didn’t want to look like I was Cleopatra sailing down the Nile eating grapes while they slaved away.

Shortly after the first template was made, I was called down to look at how it would be positioned on the soapstone, especially where the veining would appear. We compromised a little and they’re cutting the stone now. G. will pick up lunch for them at a local shop nearby where one of the workman said he grew up.

Stay tuned for the next installment (literally!) of our new kitchen counter saga. Hopefully soon.

 

 

mushrooms! . . .

cooked portobella mushroom dish . . .

cooked portobella mushroom dish . . .

Trader Joe’s is a great local store to pick up things you can’t get elsewhere, like Kerrygold Irish butter made from grass-fed cow’s milk. A NYTimes food tasting survey led by Melissa Clark a few months ago pronounced another butter as the “best” butter around. It started with a “P” but I can’t remember the name of it now. I made a special trip to Whole Foods to buy some to try it out but wasn’t impressed.

My daughter, M., told me about Kerrygold butter while we were out in Seattle and it was the best butter I ever tasted, melted and eaten with chunks of Dungeness crab. In contrast, Kate’s Butter, a locally made butter that I’ve been using, has very little flavor and a wax-like texture compared to Kerrygold’s buttery, creamy taste. While I was at Trader Joe’s this morning, I saw some beautiful large portobella mushrooms for $2.99 that I thought I’d cook up for dinner tonight although I wasn’t sure what to do yet.

At Barnes and Noble on the way home, I saw a photo of large mushrooms stuffed with spinach and breadcrumbs in a European cookery magazine. Perfect for tonight because I have some tired baby spinach I’ve used for smoothies and a heel of sourdough bread in the fridge that might make a tasty stuffing for the mushrooms.

Here’s my impromptu preparation steps:

First, I cleaned the huge mushrooms with a paper towel and browned the flat end of the mushrooms in butter, placing them in a large copper au gratin pan. This initial browning step is important to give the thick mushrooms a head start on softening; otherwise, it takes too long for them to cook through without overbaking the spinach/crumb filling.

2. Crushed a large clove of garlic into little bits, browned it in some butter and dried parsley.

3. Toasted a third of a leftover loaf of sourdough bread. Put the toasted slices in a VItamix and crumbled it into smooth breadcrumbs.

4. Added half of the fresh breadcrumbs into browning garlic and parsley, added a sprinkle of Lawry’s garlic salt and coarse pepper, stirring the tender garlicky breadcrumb mixture and then let it cool.

fresh breadcrumbs with garlic and parsley. . .

fresh breadcrumbs with garlic and parsley. . .

5. Melted another dab of butter, added chopped shallot and two handfuls of baby spinach; stirring until it quickly wilted; turned the warm spinach onto a board and chopped it finely with a cleaver.

6. Added finely chopped spinach, moistened with a little cream, to garlicky crumb mixture, adding salt and coarse pepper as needed. Maybe sprinkle on a little nutmeg (which I meant to do but forgot.)

fresh spinach and shallots. . .

fresh spinach and shallots. . .

7. Spoon heavenly mixture onto three large portobella mushroom caps, underside up.mushrooms with spinach 2

8. Grate a little fresh gruyere cheese and add on top of mushrooms.

9. Bake at 375 oven for about 15-20 minutes until golden brown and mushrooms are cooked through. We couldn’t wait that long and split the smallest one which was done the soonest and let the other two cook a bit longer.

While they were finishing in the oven, I sauteed some cleaned asparagus and squeezed a little lemon on it. That’s all.

This was a satisfyingly simple meal with just two dishes to eat for our Sunday night supper. We knew there was pumpkin spice cake for dessert so it was easy to be satisfied without a salad.

A special treat will be to use some Cabot’s whipped cream (I love that stuff but can’t stay away from it) on top of the warmed slices of cake tonight while we watch that new show, “Madam Secretary” featuring Tea Leoni as Secretary of State and the opener for “The Good Wife’s Fall season.

Oh, and that’s after we watched the Patriots struggle against Oakland in their first home game this afternoon at Gillette Stadium. Tom Brady missed a couple of touchdown tries and they only won when an Oakland touchdown was disqualified at the very last minute.

Still, fun, fun, fun!

P.S.  I learned that choosing smallish large mushrooms works better because they cook more quickly than the really thick ones–and the proportion of the stuffing to a thinner mushroom works well.

Although it’s a little more effort, toasting freshly made bread crumbs ensures a texture for the crumb dressing that can’t be had from using off the shelf panko or other prepared breadcrumbs. Coarse, buttery, garlicky warm crumbs with fresh chopped spinach (not frozen) makes for delectable eating!

This dish was so satisfying that I’m thinking of making it as an accompaniment for our Christmas Eve dinner! Actually, it’s gotten me thinking about learning how to poach a salmon in court bouillon to go along with it!

 

 

kitchens . . .

dahlias and gerbera with knives on the old formica countertop . . .

dahlias and gerbera with knives on the old formica countertop . . .

I love kitchens.

Maybe it’s because I like to cook so much and spend a lot of time in it. Or maybe it’s because the kitchen is the heart of our home where we have our meals together. I’ve had good kitchens and almost-good kitchens in past lives. Ironically, the kitchen that had more storage cabinets than I needed was in a condo that I lived in between marriages. I had enough room but nobody to cook for. Three of my kids were in college or beyond (in more ways than one.) I never had so much storage than when I lived by myself in that glorious condo, having lived in Victorian houses before and afterwards, notorious for lack of closet and storage space.

In my current kitchen, I’ve cooked many meals in its small space. The dishwasher we are replacing was won in a contest at the local grocery by G.’s father decades ago. It still chugs along noisily and gets the dishes clean on the heavy duty setting, but that takes hours of washing! The plumber is coming on Sunday morning to install the new one, not a fancy European model but a sturdy Consumer Reports highest-ranking Sears Kenmore dishwasher with a stainless interior, “turbo jets” in the back and reinforced nylon racks. It was seriously on sale and I hope it works out.

old redware holding utensils next to the stove. . .

old redware holding utensils next to the stove. . .

Preparing for replacing our decades old formica top, I’ve been culling through the utensils I have, stored in old redware crocks near the stove and placement of our kitchen knives on a long knife rack mounted at the base of one of the octagonal windows.

We use an old set of shelves that holds our napkins, potato chips, teabags and supplements. It fits perfectly in the space under the paper towel holder and we’re used to it being there. I had used two pieces of fabric as a make-do curtain but found someone in Michigan who makes custom sized door fronts in a simple Shaker style. I chose one in cherry wood that G. can attach to the shelves when it arrives next week and voila, we’ll have a cupboard finally for minimal cost that will keep our necessities handy and invisible.

I’m excited, to be sure, about this renewal for our kitchen space because we have a six foot curly maple tavern table that we use, set diagonally in the kitchen when there are two to four of us, and moved perpendicular to the kitchen when we have six or more during the holidays. It was custom made for us according to a antique table I found in Wallace Nutting’s “Pilgrim Century furniture” book by a craftsman out in the Western part of Massachusetts. Years ago, G. had bought a stock of curly maple boards that were stored in the eaves of the barn which were used in making the table turnings and breadboard top. It has a center stile down the middle and vase-and-ring turnings. A gorgeous table that required taking our door off the hinges to get it into the house!

I can cook anywhere, as I have in the miniscule kitchen of our winter rental cottage on the ocean in Rockport, a few years back. We had to get the oven fixed because the temperature sensor was off and fluctuated wildly. In spite of not having a disposer or a dishwasher, and about two and half feet of counter working space, many meals were cooked in that kitchen for Thanksgiving and Christmas, including our traditional homemade cinnamon rolls on Christmas morning. The experience cooking there was kind of like playing an old upright piano, slightly out of tune, rather than a regulated and finely tuned Steinway grand piano.

Well, it looks like I’m finally going to get my Steinway kitchen. It’s going to be ebony and off white, just like piano keys, only the material will be soapstone, a dark background with some bold graining once it is waxed. Instead of a double sink in which you can’t really fit anything to wash which we’ve struggled with, there will be a single sink with plenty of space. Once we figured out how “pull out” faucet heads work, we ordered a Kohler kitchen faucet with adjustable temperature lever with just one hole required for installment.

The job is scheduled for next week. And even though we’ve had the countertop detached from the cabinets and the backsplash loosened in preparation, it’s still hard for me to believe that this is actually going to happen. You know how it is when you’ve dreamed about something for a long time and after a certain number of false starts over a number of years, it hardly seems like your vision will ever come true. But I believe it will this time, simply because this is the right timing for it to happen.

Culling things out in preparation for the soapstone fabrication has been an useful exercise. As usual, we’re finding we need half of what we had out before. The challenge now is not letting it all creep back in again.

 

 

“Roosevelts” . . .

clouds of history . . .

clouds of history . . .

We happened to watch the opening two-hour film, “The Roosevelts” by Ken Burns on PBS last Sunday night. We were surprised to see the second two-hour segment last night. Come to find out, it’s featured every night the rest of this week, fourteen hours in all! The historical film footage is very impressive and it’s nice to have Peter Coyote narrating again; but the music is very tired from having been used for just about everything Burns has ever filmed (and that’s a lot!)

So far in its coverage of Teddy Roosevelt, he is described as an egomaniac propelled by what appears to be a manic-depressive personality, either over the top-top-top and madly killing wild animals (>11,000 of them in ten months) in Africa; or being inconsolable when his mother and his first wife die within 24 hours of each other. He banishes his firstborn daughter, Alice, after his wife’s death to a relative living in England. Alice Roosevelt Longsworth later becomes a Washington personage in her own right, outliving every one of Roosevelt’s five children from his second marriage to a childhood sweetheart. Teddy made it big and that’s what he liked to do, his rough-riding ego dominating everyone in his family circle, except poor Alice, of course.

Eleanor Roosevelt’s mother was a mean person who denigrated her daughter by calling her “Granny” as a child because of her homely countenance. After her mother died, she was rescued from a dismal adolescence by an Aunt who arranged for her go to a boarding school in England for three years. The education and support she received there provided an important platform for her, later in life.

Eleanor Roosevelt’s mother-in-law, Sara, was a very controlling person who doted on her only child, Franklin, to the extent that she tried to keep him from marrying Eleanor for a year and then arranged to live in adjoining households with them for the first ten years of their marriage. Sara maintained that she was more of a “mother” to Eleanor and Franklin’s children than her daughter-in-law. Eleanor bore six children, one of whom died as an infant, and lived in a house that was neither of her choosing nor to her liking. Franklin did not counter his mother’s wishes nor accede to his wife’s feelings.

I can’t wait to see how things turn out in the next few evenings and have also ordered a used copy of “No Ordinary Time” a historical biography of Franklin and Eleanor set against the backdrop of World War II. Doris Kearns Goodwin received a Pulitzer Prize for that book and  has also been seen recently at the Oscars, her book on Lincoln having been a resource for Steven Spielberg’s movie on Lincoln starring Daniel Day Lewis. Lewis, as you might recall, blew everyone else out of the water to win the Oscar for his portrayal of Lincoln, the President of a suffering country divided by Civil War.

Throughout the hardships of Franklin’s contraction of polio, the love affairs and the disdain of her mother-in-law, Eleanor stayed true to herself and worked hard on causes that she believed in. One of her most famous quotes was:

                     “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

I guess she should know.

Although I majored in history, I like to look forward rather than back because you can’t change the past, can you? However, this series on the Roosevelts is engaging due to the pathos of their personal lives. As we learn more about them each evening, it makes me wonder how deep their suffering was during such tumultuous times.

Even the rich and famous have mothers and fathers who ignore them, send them away, try to keep them from doing what they want to do and take up all the oxygen in the room. That two of them also happened to have been Presidents of the United States at sometimes dire times for the country, is truly remarkable.

That Eleanor, the niece of one and the wife of the other, became her own person despite being shunned by her mother and mother-in-law, betrayed by her husband, the mother of six children and remained loyal to a polio-ridden, handicapped man who hid it from the world is even more remarkable, it seems to me.

So, we’ll watch the rest of the Roosevelt saga this week and learn more about the guts it sometimes takes to live out one’s destiny.

 

home again . . .

chinese lantern from the garden . . .

chinese lantern from the garden . . .

On Monday, five or so days ago, I arrived home around 8:30 a.m., having taken the red-eye flight from Los Angeles to Boston. I was tired. The connecting flight gate at LAX was moved a terminal away and I only got there by asking for someone to push me there in a wheelchair. For the next few nights, I didn’t sleep very well. I had vivid dreams. I woke up at 4 a.m. and couldn’t go back to sleep. Then, I slept until 9:30 after I finally fell back asleep.

Besides having irregular sleep patterns, I set forth to buy food, make broth and clean up the kitchen in anticipation of a new countertop being installed in the next month or so. Instead of having two knife blocks taking up so much room on the counter, I ordered a twenty-four inch magnetic knife strip to hold all the knives that we use. Once G. mounted it on the bottom strip of the octagonal window, we marveled at how efficient and useful it was, noting how we could have done this so long ago! I also ordered a twelve-dollar knife blade sharpener that arrived yesterday. As the reviewers said, it held firmly to the countertop, allowing for one’s non-sharpening hand to rest far away from it, and then to allow knives to be drawn towards me through a “dimond sharpening opening.” It worked so well that my knives are now razor sharp and slice through newspaper, just like on TV! DSCN6942

But I’m not really writing about knife-sharpening in this post, I’m writing about how much I appreciate being home. I’m not a world traveler much anymore, although I’ve done my share while working in the biotech industry, flying to Frankfurt and holding powwows in the airport restaurant with our business partners, then flying home two days later without having left the airport. Once, the American Airlines staff were so surprised to see me returning from Frankfurt on their own layover flight that they moved me to first class, gave me roses and the largest tin of caviar that I have ever seen! It was a memorable trip, also because it took place right before Christmas and there were stalls of German Christmas ornaments and gifts for sale set up in the airport. I had a great time, bought a couple of hand-blown glass ornaments and drank champagne and ate caviar all the way back home. Those were the days when business class was common, unlike today when people are fighting with each other in economy class about moving their seats back!

Now, I’m discovering once again how much I love being home with my husband, G. in our quirky home on the top floor of a Queen Anne Victorian house with his piano shop on the ground floor. Before my trip, we did a big refrigerator clean-out together and it really helped to come home to a half empty, clean fridge. I bought some food, shopping at a Mediterranean grocery store for their heavenly homemade baba ganoush (eggplant dip,) and brought home a sack of small Japanese light-fleshed sweet potatoes from the Vietnamese market–half the cost from the gourmet farm stand a half an hour away–and sharing them with neighbors who love them as much as we do.

Today, I went by the other Vietnamese grocery in town which offers whole roast duckling transported from Chinatown in Boston on Saturday mornings but only if you come at the right time–after they have arrived and before they are sold out–an unpredictable window of time on both ends. I also found a pack of roasted pork buns with a red dot on them and two bunches of scallions for the Peking Duck we’ll have with hoisin sauce and flour wrappers I’ll make tonight. I also picked up raw chicken and pork bones to make a “Tampopo” type broth with ginger root and green onions (plus a spoonful of apple cider vinegar.) When the broth is ready, I’ll strain it and use part of it to make a soup with tofu, mushrooms and fresh watercress added at the last minute so it’s still crunchy when served.

"tampopo" broth with chicken and pork bones . . .

“tampopo” broth with chicken and pork bones . . .

I’m glad to be home but don’t get me wrong, it was a great trip in many ways. Being with my daughter, M. who lives in Minneapolis was a treat. She went out of her way to take care of so many things, not the least of which was to drive our rental car towards Pike Place in Seattle (although we didn’t realize it at the time) during rush hour on a Friday afternoon.

The cottage views were delightful and peaceably enjoyed. DSCN6854We finally found Dungeness crab at the local grocery store and lightly steamed it, eating large chunks of crabmeat dipped in warm, melted Kerrygold butter (from Irish grass-fed cows.) Most of all I got to witness and to deeply appreciate my daughter’s silent ways that made the trip so meaningful. Many thanks, M.!

Making a home means a lot to me. Keeping it up for our needs and enjoyment is one of my great pleasures. I just happen to like doing it, even the tedious cleaning up of things. It looks and feels so much better afterwards. There are still closets to clean out and plenty of cupboards to reorganize before the kitchen gets its facelift in a couple of weeks. I guess I’ll never run out of things to do at this rate, will I?

I’m glad to be home with G.

 

beef “bone broth” . . .

bone brothDuring our trip to Puget Sound, I had a chance to learn about wellness foods from my daughter, M. who has been following a beyond-Paleo kind of diet: no grains (rice, wheat, flour); no vegetables growing below the ground (potatoes,) no dairy (including cheese!) no sugar. Plenty of eggs, uncured bacon, broccoli, spinach, chard, kale, collard greens, wild fish, organic chicken and grass-fed beef in small portions. She had a chance to tell me about homemade “bone broth.” It sounded similar to the homemade vegetable broth that I made a couple of weeks ago, a tasty broth for vegetable soups, sauce for veal chops piccata and other dishes. What I froze two weeks ago has been used up by now. So today, I thought I’d explore making a beef bone broth using some of the vegetables I had left over from making the vegetable broth, adding roasted marrow bones.

A couple of things stood out for me when I reviewed a few online articles about making bone broth. One was to ROAST the bones or any beef before boiling. This brings out the flavor and decreases the amount of foam that rises when cooking broth using raw meat ingredients. M. also noted that she uses beef short ribs in addition to soup bones and it was best to use grass-fed beef when possible.

The beef short ribs and bones roasted in the oven at 375 degrees for about an hour. roasted beefAfter it cooled, I browned some veggies in olive oil: leek, vidalia onion, carrots, a parsnip and some celery, about one-third the amount of vegetables that I used in the vegetable broth. Then, I added the roasted beef and spring water to the top of the stockpot. A handful of cherry tomatoes from the garden and a spoonful of instant dashi went in at the end. Two tablespoons of organic apple cider vinegar reacts with the bones and draws out the goodness that heightens the healthful quotient of the bone broth.

veggies for bone brothOh, and the other thing the recipes noted was to bring the soup to a boil but do not boil it–just simmer it very gently for a few hours (up to 48 hours!) Yeah, my eyes popped out when I read that too. But then I remembered the Japanese film called “Tampopo” where they spend the whole movie making a delicious soup broth base for their ramen noodles. In that case, pork bones were kept simmering for days. broth and cider vinegar

It’s the beginning of September and the weather is dry and sunny with a gentle breeze. Cool enough to be simmering stock on the stove, although just think of what it would be like to be making continuous vegetable and bone broths during cold winter months? People relate that they drink a bowl of bone broth everyday. To me, that would mean making it constantly because you’d be consuming it almost like tea. Experimenting with making homemade broths has been a revelation. I used to think about making broth as a luxury, carried out by high-end restaurants and super-chefs, using whole chickens and all those great vegetables just to strain it all out at the end.

But no more. What I learned from making that one batch of vegetable broth is how incredibly flavorful the stock is. There is a hint of umami taste too which is intangibly elusive to describe. The beef broth cooled overnight and I skimmed off half cup of fat from it. I used to buy cans of chicken and beef broth to add to stews, soups, glazes and sauces. Having begun to make stock myself, I’ve realized it can enhance flavor while imparting a clean taste. All it takes is a little planning, washing, preparing vegetables and roasting bones as sous prep. Browning the vegetables in olive oil, adding bones, skimming foam and keeping the stock to a simmer is all there is to it.

I’ve strained the broth and reserved some for our supper tonight. I plan to boil some udon noodles separately and then add to the broth along with bits of beef, organic spinach and thinly sliced mushrooms. Along with fresh, crisp bean sprouts and a few fresh mint leaves from the garden on the side, the dish resembles a Vietnamese Pho.

At the oriental market today, I noticed that they had pork and chicken bones. My next broth experiment might be a combination of roasted pork and chicken bones, green onions, fresh ginger root, diakon and perhaps chinese chives. It might resemble a “Tampopo” type broth to add to fresh ramen noodles and snow peas–or as a clear stock for winter melon soup with shitake mushrooms.

beef bone broth with udon, spinach and mushrooms . . .

beef bone broth with udon, spinach and mushrooms . . .

I just remembered that David Chang, in his cookbook entitled “Momofuku” gave a broth recipe that required using a ton of ingredients and simmered for days on end. I’ll have to dig that out and see how different it is from the one I made today. It’s fun to see where making broth is not a mere boiling exercise, but how the results have the potential to transform one’s cooking for just about everything.

Hey, remember that old folk tale called “Stone Soup?” Weary soldiers who have nothing to eat make a soup made with a huge pot of water and washed stones because there is no food to be had. As it is boiling, curious villagers come to see what is cooking and begin to volunteer some of the foodstuffs they have hidden from the soldiers: some bones with meat on it, barley, vegetables and more grains. Before long, there is a huge pot of delicious, hearty soup, enough to feed everyone! This is sort of like that.

Making this or vegetable broth doesn’t take a village, just a little planning and patience while the broth quietly simmers on the stove.

 

 

(new) lessons learned . . .

blue heron whirligig . . .

blue heron whirligig . . .

I’m writing this post in Seattle, Washington at a cottage with a view of Puget Sound right off our deck. DSCN6801I’m here with my daughter and her family. On the first two days, we ran around a lot, following an itinerary cobbled together from research from Seattle guidebooks and the Internet. Guess what? Things are not always what they seem. A Korean restaurant that looks impressive on its website turns out to be a tiny bar kind of a place wedged in at the mouth of Pike Place, the most crowded place on earth in which to try to find a restaurant with no markings visible from the street nor a place to park anywhere nearby.

Yesterday evening, we took stock, separately and together and then separately and then together again. This morning, I expressed what lessons I had learned about myself: that is, that I am idealistic and usually have a vision of what things or places are like in my mind’s eye that have no basis in reality. I also had an “idea” of going on the ferry and driving miles north to Port Townsend today because a translator, Red Pine, lived there. We weren’t going to see him and I didn’t even know him, so I realized that making that trek today was just an “idea.” So, instead, we went out for breakfast pastries–beautiful croissants and brought them back to the cottage for a leisurely breakfast.

I also changed tack about looking for Dungeness crab at pricey restaurants to eat at tonight because none of them offered a simple, steamed, Dungeness crab. And that’s all I wanted. The only thing I could find at a restaurant twenty minutes from home was a lunch plate of crab with a whole bunch of add-ons and extras, priced at $69.00! I began thinking last night about how our eating/food experiences could be improved after overpaying at eateries that didn’t meet our expectations for one reason or another. Finally, I realized that what suits us best is to buy fine ingredients, cook our own meals and eat at home. So, I started with a grocery store called Albertson’s. Lo and behold in the seafood section, there were whole, Dungeness crabs that weighed about 2 pounds each. Prior to that, I had called around and found a gourmet place that answered cheerfully that “yes, we have Dungeness crab” for $28 a half pound. The ones we bought at Albertson’s were $11. a POUND. I picked up some Poupon mustard, sour cream and fresh horseradish to mix together for a dip for the crab, along with melted butter, of course.

We found a grocery/eatery store that had carryout kale salad and an apple salad with dill which we bought to have along with the crab. So, that took care of dinner. Along the way, we passed a little shop called “Balloons and cupcakes” which reminded us that Josie’s 4th birthday is next Wednesday. We came back to the cottage with a helium birthday balloon, two cupcakes decorated with chocolate frosting and jimmies, and birthday candles for our after dinner birthday celebration. At the Planetarium and at the wonderful Elliot Bay Bookstore yesterday, we had bought some books for Josie, which I’ll wrap up for her to open tonight.

josie looking through her new binoculars. . .

josie looking through her new binoculars. . .

At our cottage, we’d seen a tiny hummingbird appear at dusk, fluttering and flitting about. From the beginning of our stay, I was charmed by a blue heron whirligig, an inventive concoction of very lightweight plastic, hand painted with bird’s eyes and feathers. I just loved that thing and thought how wonderful it would look mounted on the second floor balcony of the barn, visible from our kitchen window on the third floor, and also viewable by anyone coming into the drive of our home. So, we managed to find out from the owner where it could be had and asked the Wild Birds store to hold the last one for us–which we picked up today (see top photo.)

So, lessons learned (especially because I don’t travel a lot) have been to reflect about what I really want to do, and why–and to manage expectations differently (rather than eating out, to search for prime foods nearby and eat in.) Tomorrow is our last day at this lovely place. And we have had a lovely time of it. By not pushing ourselves too hard. And by enjoying what’s nearby with each other.

Cheers!

sun setting . . .

sun setting . . .

 

corn soup . . .

corn soup corn

There’s nothing better to eat than corn on the cob when it’s in season, tender and sweet. We’ve been fortunate with corn from two different farm stands in the last couple of weeks but the latest one, not so much. The corn we had last night was disappointingly tough. I had a hunch they might not be as fragrantly tender and so today, I decided to use the last four ears from this batch to make a corn puree soup. That’s right, I said puree and not a corn chowder either by any means.

When my daughter and I had lunch at the Harvest Restaurant in Harvard Square a couple of weeks ago, I ordered the corn soup. When it arrived, it was a creamy looking soup with no corn kernels in sight. It was also unbelievably delicious! Now, I have an excuse to replicate that soup with these four ears of corn.

corn soup at Harvest Restaurant, Cambridge, MA. . .

corn soup at Harvest Restaurant, Cambridge, MA. . .

I looked online at various recipes and settled on this one, adding a couple of touches of my own:

Puree of Corn Soup:

In a soup pot, (I love the one I’ve had a long time with a weighted bottom, enamelled and decorated with herbs and flowers made by Villeroy and Boch) pour a little extra virgin oil and half stick of unsalted butter to heat up for stir frying onions, carrot and corn.

Add:

1/2 chopped vidalia onion

1 carrot, peeled and quarter-cut into small pieces

1 large shallot, peeled and chopped

Shuck and rinse 4 ears of corn, removing silk from kernels

Using a sharp paring knife, hold the stem end of the corn in one hand and gently slice down sides of the ear of corn until kernels fall into a bowl. Break shorn cob in half and add to pot along with the kernels.

corn and cobs simmering in homemade vegetable broth . . .

corn and cobs simmering in homemade vegetable broth . . .

Add 2 cups of homemade vegetable broth

Simmer for 30 minutes with the cobs in the broth for added flavor.

Let cool. Remove cobs and discard.

Puree soup in a Vitamix, blender or Cuisinart

Stir in a little heavy cream to taste; season with salt if needed.

pureed corn soup . . .

pureed corn soup . . .

Tonight we’re going to have bowls of this corn soup, bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwiches on oatmeal toast and dark chocolate brownies with walnuts for dessert.

Yum!

Postscript: the corn soup below tasted very much like the soup at the Harvest Restaurant. I think their recipe included water in addition to broth (which was also in the recipe I used but which I omitted.) Mine tasted richer with just homemade vegetable broth and the addition of bacon and chive garnishes.

 

corn soup with bacon and chives . . .

corn soup with bacon and chives . . .

 

 

 

 

Victory! . . .

. . . the giraffe logo symbolizes "sticking our necks out!"

. . . the giraffe logo symbolizes “sticking our necks out!”

I don’t know how many of you live in New England but we have been transfixed by the 40+ day Market Basket grocery store melodrama. Last night after eleven o’clock, news finally came in that the family feud between two factions of the DeMoulas family has ended and that Arthur T. DeMoulas is back in the saddle again after having been fired as CEO in early June. For years, he had run a business that had no debt; paid 25,000 employees well including part-timers whose minimum wage was higher than the competition; provided bonuses and generous benefits which engendered employee loyalty from workers who spent their entire careers at the company; and kept prices low selling quality groceries to a loyal 2M customer base in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Profits in the millions were distributed to a handful of family shareholders over the years but a feud between cousins came to a head this summer.

The amazing thing about this public uprising is that it went on for so long, becoming more Solomonic by the day (cut the baby in half?). I read today that the senior managers who had been ousted (eight of them fired along with Artie T in early June) had a shadow plan that kept them in touch with vendors week-by-week in order to let them know the status and when to mobilize shipments (this Tuesday in preparation for a reopening today (Thursday.)

Right now, I am watching Artie T. speak to the troops live on TV. His emotional words of thanks and acknowledgement are heartfelt. Rarely has a CEO spoken with so much clarity to explain what the meaning of working for a “family” means, a family where everyone is considered equal (cashiers, baggers, managers, vendors and suppliers.) Truly rare.

Weeks ago, I purchased two Market Basket Strong tee shirts in support of a fund whose purpose was to provide interim pay for truckers and warehouse people who supported the employee strike. They arrived last weekend and I held off sending them to my daughter and sister-in-law this week when it wasn’t clear whether Arthur T.’s deal to buy out the business would prevail. Now that it has, I’m delighted to have a memento to commemorate this class struggle. This is also a small victory for those folks who participated in the “Occupy Wall Street” movement which lacked practical goals and suffered from ineffective leadership.

In his speech, Artie T talks about human dignity, mutual responsibility and moral compass. His words embody corporate responsibility towards employees that is rarely heard, never mind an operational business reality. For those of you who don’t live here, please know that we’re talking about seventy-one grocery stores (71!) whose sales total over $4 billion a year! Employees sacrificed a lot during the 42 days of this strike–some employed for 40 years working for Market Basket. To the press, he said, “We’re in the people business first; and in the food business second.”

This may sound like a fairy tale and in a way, it truly is. I’m just waiting to see who will write the definitive book about the Market Basket saga. Whoever it is, I’m hoping it will be a real heavyweight, a reporter whose books lend weight to the seriousness of this story and its impact on American culture. Carl Bernstein (“All the President’s Men) or Doris Kearns Goodwin (Pulitzer prize winning biographer) might do this human drama justice.

The impact of this summer’s Market Basket saga is important nationally. Scholars from business schools, marketing firms and Governors from Massachusetts and New Hampshire have weighed in. One business school professor commented early on that Market Basket will become a cautionary business case study for how boards should not behave!

Thomas A. Kochan, a professor of work and employment  at the MIT Sloan School of Management said in a NYTimes article that the episode showed that “the employees are the most valuable asset in this business,” concluding that:

 “Market Basket has done more to educate us on how to manage a business than any business case study that’s been written to date.” 

These employees were not unionized–they didn’t need to be. Perhaps other business owners will take stock and learn from it. I hope so. In the meantime, Arthur S., the cousin who fired Artie T., got married for the fourth time last Friday. Reportedly, he’s on his honeymoon in Greece. Maybe he’ll decide to stay there!

This is a happy day for a lot of people returning to work, knowing they still have a job and for customers who look forward to shopping again at Market Basket for the long Labor Day weekend. Had the Market Basket employee uprising not succeeded with the reinstatement of Arthur T. Demoulas as its leader, all of us watching for over a month would have witnessed a cynical commentary on the country we live in today. Corporate greed and family vendettas would have won over democracy and lots of heart from people who could ill afford to lose out. It’s a victory for diverse stakeholders (employees, vendors, truckers, warehouse workers and customers) who hung in there together at great personal risk and expense.

With this success, maybe more Americans will wake up and say, “I’m just not going to take it anymore!”

One belated note: I heard on the car radio that when asked how long it would take to restock the grocery stores after a 6 week layoff, one worker said, “I don’t know but I just threw a sleeping bag into my truck, and I’m staying there until it’s done!” You can’t buy this kind of loyalty and commitment!

Here’s an article with a photo of restocked fresh seafood at MB two days AFTER the deal was announced.

http://www.bostonglobe.com/business/2014/08/29/with-smiles-and-hugs-market-basket-workers-get-busy-restocking/KmAAAWYdmYcAP4Lqg79B3I/story.html?s_campaign=email_BG_TodaysHeadline

And guess what? The Market Basket strike, the biggest, successful non-union labor uprising in recent history succeeded right before Labor Day!

Go, Market Basket!

 

 

 

soup for lunch . . .

soup photo

The other day, I posted a piece about umami taste and in particular about making a fragrant vegetable broth from scratch that I froze to use as a base for when I make soups or sauces.

Today, when I returned from my physical therapy appointment for my ankle, broken in February, I thought I’d make a small batch of soup for our lunch. I’ve been thinking about composing a vegetable soup recipe that would become a constant companion drawn from ingredients that I have on hand most of the time. Here’s what I cooked up:

1/4 Vidalia sweet onion, chopped and browned in extra virgin olive oil;

added:

3 stalks of celery hearts with leaves, chopped

3 carrots, peeled and quarter cut*

(*hold the carrot (ends trimmed) perpendicular on the cutting board and make a small diagonal slice; turn the carrot a quarter turn; diagonally slice again; turn a quarter turn, slice again–keep doing this until it is cut up. This also works beautifully on fresh asparagus and parsnips too where you want irregular shaped but diagonally uniform cuts of vegetable.)

2 small cousa squash, cut in pieces (slice lengthwise; stack together and then cut diagonally to make bitesize pieces.)

1 small garden tomato cut in wedges

Stir-fry while browning vegetables and then add:

3 cups homemade vegetable broth

Cover pot and simmer until vegetables are tender but not overcooked.

Add a few stalks of chopped fresh parsley towards the end.

Serve with cold sliced ham, corn muffins and dark rye crackers with blue cheese.

It’s supposed to be hot today, but this soup tastes sublime and is so easy to make on a slow summer day. I think it’s also a good candidate for repeat performances!

When I make it again, I think I would keep everything the same except for reducing the celery and carrot to two instead of three. That would make the batch just right for two people to have a bowl and a half each of this delicious soup.

 

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