Welcome to austinagrodolce … My family and I garden with more intention and enthusiasm than allocated budget or overall design plan. It shows. Wildlife populations don't seem to notice our lack of cohesive design, they just like the native plants here. It seems by growing local we've thrown out a welcome mat. Occasionally, we're surprised at who (and what) shows up.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Spring Has Sprung

The sun is out, the skies are blue, the flowers are blooming, the oaks are pollinating, it all adds up to one conclusion:Spring has arrived.

Mostly when I think about Spring I think "Easter".

When I think about Easter, I am typically thinking, "EGGS!" (sorry, Pastor!).

Now that my children are grown (chronologically at least), when I think of eggs my mind is overtaken by my stomach who happily gurgles "Egg Salad Sandwiches!"

Egg Salad is one of those concoctions that seems to exist for the sole purpose of taking different people different directions.

Not unlike potato salad, if you get 11 home cooks in a group and ask, you will get 11 slightly different recipes for egg salad.
My favorite in the spring garden- an egg salad sandwich plant
If you don't have your own Egg Salad Sandwich plant in the garden, as a starting point, I like this very basic recipe offered by Elise of Simply Recipes.

Egg Salad Sandwich Recipe
This recipe is for a one egg sandwich. If you have more eggs and more people to feed, just double, triple, etc. the recipe.
1 large hard-boiled egg*, peeled and chopped
1-2 Tbsp mayonnaise (to taste)
1 Tbsp chopped green onion
2 Tbsp chopped celery
Curry powder
1 leaf of lettuce
2 slices dark rye bread, toasted
* To make hard boiled eggs, place a few eggs in a saucepan, cover with at least an inch of water. Add a half teaspoon of vinegar and some salt to the water (if the shells crack while boiling, the vinegar will help keep the egg in the shell). Cover and bring the water to a boil. As soon as the water is boiling, remove from heat and let sit, covered, for 12 minutes. Drain water, add cold water to cool the eggs, let sit a couple minutes longer.
1 Mash up the chopped egg a bit with a fork. Mix together the chopped hard-boiled egg, mayonnaise, onion and celery. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and curry powder. Mix.
2 If you haven't already, toast your bread slices. Put a layer of lettuce on one slice of toasted bread, spread the egg mixture on top of the lettuce, put another slice of toasted bread on top.
Makes one sandwich.

I always add a bit of powdered mustard to my egg salad (except when I don't).  I have also been known to throw in all sorts of other spices on occasion, including paprika, tumeric, and powdered sage. At times I've made egg salad with red onion, sweet Vidalias, chow chow, gherkins or dill pickles (but not all at one time). I even threw some finely chopped jalapeño in one batch. Egg salad is fun to play with.

And, eggs are an inexpensive form of protein.  In these economically troubled times, eggs represent a great way to get your daily supply of protein without breaking the bank.  

In my most recent foray into egg salad sandwich territory I used toasted pumpernickel rather than rye bread as suggested in the Simply Recipes version, but otherwise I stayed the course.
Egg Sandwich on a Blue Plate
The results? Delicious creamy crunchy egg salad sandwiches. Just the thing to take out and enjoy as a picnic lunch in the spring time sunshine.  

Rain or shine wherever you are, celebrate Spring with some egg salad sandwiches, fixed your way. Then let me know what you think constitutes a proper egg sandwich in the comments section. Perhaps we can build a compendium of egg salad add ins for posterity! Or maybe we will settle once and for all the burning eternal question, "Which came first? The chicken or the egg salad sandwich?".More Egg Salad Sandwich resources:
Serious Eats>Dinner Tonight: Grandmother's Egg Salad (Sandwich) - Blake Royer
The Egg Salad Gourmet
Smitten Kitchen Lost Recipe Haiku

Egg salad sandwich on a plate photo is my optimistic entry into Jugalbandi's April "CLICK!" event, more information on that here.  

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Block Aid

I have been suffering from an ongoing case of blogger's block recently.Not sure why. I would probably, if pressed, offer up "medicine head" as an explanation.The rigors of working through the side effects my over the counter allergy medicine have on me is my go-to excuse at the moment. I take one teensy pill every evening before going to bed. I do this only in order to keep breathing through my nose (an unattainable goal judging by experience in years past) as the live oak trees here in Central Texas do their best to stretch the limits of how many times in a row one human being can sneeze and survive.

A side effect of this "daily medication to keep breathing" strategy is a certain level of brain fogginess. Add that on top of my ongoing tendency to lapse into senior moments, and there you have it. A ready made excuse for any/every mental lapse for at least the next few weeks.

Despite that cloudy brain situation I did want to share with you a recipe discovered as part of what happened over a reunion weekend recently.

For me, good food is great, but food shared with friends and the stories generated, the memories triggered by a particular dish are what elevates the experience from "eating" to "feasting".Recently I had the delight of gathering with a group of friends, most of whom I met for the very first time in the early 1970s as fellow residents of Kinsolving Dormitory on the UT Campus.
Kinsolving Dormitory, University of Texas at Austin Campus
Although a few of the ladies from the dormitory could not make it this go-round, we have been gathering in varying configurations for several years now. Each year we do manage to get together, we are struck again by how very fortunate we were not only to have been thrown together, but also to have connected, deeply, in ways we were unaware of at the time.

I don't have everybody's permission to share names or stories - most of what we said and did would bore you to tears. But I do have permission to share a simply delicious breakfast casserole recipe that comes along with its own great story. It is a little complicated to pull the strands of the story together, so bear with me while I set the stage a bit.
Inspiration Hill - scenic backdrop for our reunion this  year. 
This is one of those "this led to that led to the other" chains which all circles back around like a necklace with a clasp at the end, in this case that clasp taking the form of a recipe. Not "my recipe" but a good recipe, and one I want to share.

One of my friends who was part of this last reunion is married to an artist who creates absolutely astonishing (to me) watercolors,very many of them reflecting the ranching heritage of Texas.
Mark Kohler, watercolor artist extraordinaire.
This artist, J. Mark Kohler, grew up in my home town of Austin, although he now lives in Yorktown with his wife, my friend from the dorm, Pam.

Mark has his studio adjacent to the home he and Pam have been building together, where they offer, among other things, workshop experiences that include instruction from Mark himself, and a continental breakfast prepared by Pam.

Pam's comfort with fixing food for visitors attending their workshops led to her offering to prepare for us a delicious breakfast as part of our reunion. The particular casserole she fixed for us as part of this breakfast, came along with a story of the woman who introduced her to the recipe.
Mary Sue, photo from her website.
This woman, Mary Sue Koontz Nelson, proclaims not to be a good cook herself, but she has rather collected recipes from other good cooks offering them in a book entitled "Stolen Recipes".When not compiling recipes in a cookbook, Mary Sue is a motivational speaker and a strong Texas woman in her own right.

Here, allow Pam to tell you more.
"The recipe book is full of colorful commentary by Mary Sue, who herself is a colorful character. She is 77 years old and as full of life as anyone more than half her age. She arrived on our doorstep by inviting herself to come view Mark's watercolors, which she had seen at the Hunt Gallery in San Antonio. She wouldn't take "no" for an answer, and drove from her ranch outside Placedo, TX to spend the afternoon with us.

She regaled us with her philosophy on art and life, sprinkled with four-letter words and comic insight. When she left, she presented me with a signed copy of her cookbook, which is full of "down home" recipes and "comfort food". She is honest throughout the book in her declaration that she never cooks, but has enjoyed the cooking of "fine cooks" throughout her life. And it is to these queens of the cuisine that she dedicates her book."
In the photos to follow you will see a doubled recipe prep which Pam discovered requires longer baking times to get the middle cooked. We agreed, the results were well worth the wait. Here is the undoubled recipe based upon the original featured in Mary Sue Koontz Nelson's book "Stolen Recipes":

Breakfast Casserole
6 eggs
1 lb. pkg of Jimmy Dean's maple sausage
2 cup pkg. of shredded Cheddar Cheese
2 cups evaporated milk
4 oz. can of chopped green chiles

Fry sausage into crumbles, and spread as bottom layer in baking dish.Cover this layer with a layer of cheddar cheese. Whisk together eggs, evaporated milk and green chiles, and pour over sausage/cheese layers. Spread another small layer of cheese on the top.Bake at 400 degrees for 20-25 minutes. 

This recipe is delicious as written, but those of you with a few years of breakfast experience under your belts will recognize the potential of this as a vehicle for a variety of additions in order to make the dish your own.

To me, a good recipe has always been like a work of art. Both are enhanced when you know the provenance and even more so when you know the artist themselves.

Like to see how your own story and artistry might intersect with these two Texas treasures? Order a copy of the cookbook directly from Mary Sue, or from Cogdells General Store, online.

Then contact J. Mark Kohler at his studio in Yorktown and get information not only on how you can view and purchase an original work of art for yourself, but also to participate in a workshop where Mark will teach you how to create your own watercolor masterpiece. If you are very lucky, Pam might even make some of Sue's casserole for you. Then you can tell her the story about how you first saw that recipe right here.

Thursday, March 19, 2009


Recently I'd written about my hesitance to post about certain meals in some misguided attempt to protect you from food that is/was not something-enough to blog about. Then I proposed that cooking things so I could blog about them rather than blogging about what I was cooking anyway, was the reverse of what I am interested in doing.

In that spirit I will admit to you a very typical yo-yo week around here dinner wise.

One night we had Niman Ranch pork chops, grilled, with sautéed apples, asparagus and beer muffins.For St. Patrick's Day, (warm temperatures be damned!) we had Irish Stew and Soda Bread. I posted separately about the bread, so here is a peek at the stew.I have a soft spot for stew.

My own mother had, as a result of a surgery meant to correct a progressive hearing loss decades earlier, a nearly complete inability to taste salt. That meant unless she was very careful, we all ended up with some pretty salty tasting meals. This iffyness put her off cooking somewhat, but she would reliably prepare beef stew for us about once a week the entire time I was growing up, and of all the things she cooked for us, I think her stew had to be a favorite.

Stew was one of the first meals I attempted on my own as a very young hostess, and I still feel most domesticated in certain ways when I have a pot of stew bubbling away, or safely tucked into the refrigerator, serving as potential for a nearly instant delicious meal whenever I need one.

As to the soda bread, in Ireland it is reportedly baked with great frequency as it does not keep particularly well. The third day after I'd baked it we still had a quarter loaf left so I decided to test out the premise that it makes great toast. Great toast it made, indeed. It takes a bit more time to get a nice browning going on with the slices, but the toast tastes very much like a hot biscuit. Any way you like your biscuits, you will probably enjoy soda bread toast. For us that morning, that meant butter and homemade loquat jam from the bounty of last Spring's harvest.One final note (I always have trouble finishing phone conversations and posts either one). We have loads more loquats out ripening even as you read this.I am excited at the prospects of jamming it up again in a few weeks when the fruit is ready. Jam! Yay!

Here's your question to mull over and prompt sharing in the comments section for today. If you could never eat your Mom's home cooking again, what would you miss most? For me it is my Mom's Beef Stew. What is your favorite dish that Mom makes?

Wednesday, March 18, 2009


Right now Austin is in the middle of one of its two larger "everybody here must be from someplace else" conniption fits.The current Austinfest madness is SxSW of course, which has metastasized over the years into a multi-limbed creature featuring music, movies, interactiveness, and, of course, food.Home game or away, everybody's gotta eat.

I avoid SxSW the way I imagine a native New Yorker avoids the Statue of Liberty on a weekend. All the SxSW fun has little to do with everyday life in Austin, that is not the point of the gathering. We host the shindig, we are not the shindig itself.

SxSW does shine something of a light on Austin however, and as somebody born here long ago, I always wish for that light to be a favorable one.

Which is why it is so frustrating to see potential visitors throwing out a question about "where to eat while I am in Austin?" in various interweb settings because the answers are so often more revelatory about where NOT to eat while you are in Austin.
"...don't miss out on all the awesome LOCAL foods in Austin! You really should visit the Whole Foods,..."
Whole Foods? Really?!?!? Any of you offering the Austin Whole Foods store as an essentially Austin place to eat ever been in a Whole Foods store anywhere else? Or you not-so-secretly hate Austin and understand that by offering up that ginormous chain grocery store as the place to eat here you simultaneously completely dismiss the efforts of thousands of owners, chefs, cart vendors and line cooks who show up for work every day because they are all about the process of preparing good food for people to enjoy? Gack!!

To those of you holding out Whole Paycheck as a "great place to eat in Austin" I fear the gulf yawning between us is so large that we may have no recourse except to agree to disagree by way of which I am saying I mean you are a total moron generally and more specifically, with regards to choosing places to eat, may be so far off the low end of the intelligence scale that the very fact you are still considered human is an ongoing insult to dolphins and pigs.

Not that I really care. Ahem, caff!

I am not alone in my frustration. Featured yesterday on Eat me daily, is a post from their Paula Forbes (Austin transfer/author of Arscoquinaria) reflecting her own search for the answer to that question, Austin style. Forbes states that the good food to be found in proximity to the music and movies will fall into one of two categories.  'Cue or Tacos.  Insisting that barbeque represents well covered ground, she hostessed a bash of her own devising to bring you the word on Austin Tacos.

Ladeez and Gentz, for your perusal, the Great Austin Taco Tasting (SxSW).

The rules were simple and the results may surprise you. Two semi-spoilers ahead: 1) Jack in the Box Tacos were not included and 2) Torchy's did not win. (I know, right!? I was shocked and I haven't ever eaten there yet because there isn't a Torchy's close to where I live and I have been assured so often that once you have had a Torchy's you can never, EVER go back to ordinary tacos again that I fear to do so.)

Soon enough the streets of downtown Austin will empty out and all the Sometime Austinites will have flown back to wherever they came from. I just hope they aren't taking back stories of how great the dining was in some grocery store food court with them. 

Not that I want everybody to move here, but when they visit, I'd sure like to know they are trying for better than what they will find in even an upscale store's food court.  We might as well be saying folks should come visit for the airport food vendors (not that there is anything wrong with Austin's ABIA local food court choices as stacked up against any/every other domestic airport I've ever been in...).
BuhBye! Y'all come back, now!
Follow the link, read the assessments and see how your own favorite taco haunt stacks up. Feel free to vote for your own favorite (specificity gets you extra style points) in the comments section.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Prepositional Danger

As we draw closer to St. Patrick's Day there are a growing number of sites purporting to find you the music, clothes (t-shirts especially) parade sites, customs, foods and beverages you will "need" to have to support an authentically themed holiday celebration.

Many of these sites even claim they will help you "get your Irish up".

Problem. "Got your Irish up" means somebody has lost their temper and is now behaving in a noticeably angry way.

"Get your Irish on" might be what they meant to say, and what they mean to help you do, but it really matters little because here in the US it can be difficult to know what is authentically Irish to start with.

Take the case of Soda Bread. I wanted to make some authentic Irish Soda bread to have as part of our meal tomorrow. If you try to find a recipe for Soda Bread however, you will find nearly as many variations on how to make that as you will cases of Guinness in your upscale grocery store this week.

I decided to go with one site devoted to Soda Bread in its entirety, and supplement that with information from a site featuring recipes from a chef well regarded in Ireland.

This meant no raisins, no seeds, no add ins at all.Just four simple ingredients and one quick process.Authentic Irish Soda Bread, made daily in the very poorest households (which would have been the kind my Irish ancestors grew up in) consists of flour, salt, baking soda and buttermilk. You don't get much simpler than that.

White Soda Bread
4 cups (16 oz) of all purpose flour.

1 Teaspoon baking soda

1 Teaspoon salt

14 oz of buttermilk
Preheat the oven to 425 F. degrees.  Lightly grease and flour a cake pan. (I used my dutch oven so I greased but didn't flour.)

In a large bowl sieve and combine all the dry ingredients.
Add the buttermilk to form a sticky dough.  Place on floured surface and lightly knead (too much allows the gas to escape)

Shape into a round flat shape in a round pan and cut a cross in the top of the dough.Cover the pan with another pan and bake for 30 minutes (this simulates the bastible pot if you aren't using a dutch oven). 

Remove cover and bake for an additional 15 minutes.

The bottom of the bread will have a hollow sound when tapped to show it is done.

Cover the bread in a tea towel and lightly sprinkle water on the cloth to keep the bread moist

Authentically, Irish Soda Bread has a deep cross cut into the top of it. This is fancifully said to let the bread fairies out so they won't mess with your loaf, but probably was an early way to help serve the bread at table.It was the highest honor you could afford a guest, to give them fresh uncut bread. The round loaves baked daily in every household would have that deep score from the cross cut into the top which made it that much easier for a guest to tear apart one quarter of the loaf from which to serve themselves.This is not too dissimilar from a tradition of pre-scoring the communion loaves in a church I attended. We altar stewards were trained to slightly score the loaves crosswise so at the point in the liturgy when the pastor would hold the loaf aloft and speak about Jesus breaking the bread, even the pastors with the mildest grip strength would be able to tear the loaf into two reasonably even pieces for the liturgical assistants to distribute at communion.

I'd decided to try out my soda bread in a bastible pot (dutch oven). It is not known where the term "bastible" came from, although some sources speculated it was a bastardized form of the town name in Ireland where most iron pots were forged.

I followed the directions as given and am very pleased with the results. Clearly I did not cut as deep a cross in the top as I should have. Next time! The bread was extremely easy to make. If it lasts long enough to dry out (a problem with soda breads - they are not meant for long term storage) I will freeze what is left and see how it works in some sort of savory bread pudding. As long as it is mixed in with other types of bread I think it will work just fine in that eventual application.

Currently though I am doubtful we will have any leftovers past tomorrow when I debut this with some Irish Stew. I tried out just under a quarter of the loaf with some of our favorite Irish Butter (Kerrygold - try some immediately if you have access because although not organic, it is so delicious as to elevate everything it comes into contact with) and know I will be happy to sit and eat this bread with or without stew or soup to sop it into.It is so just what it is - a nice, everyday, softly delicious quick bread.

I did use ground sea salt rather than table salt in this. The flour was unbleached all purpose and organic to boot, but honestly. This recipe makes a simple loaf that serves as a good reminder of why bread is considered the staff of life.

So don't get your Irish up, hopefully, but do get your Irish on this year. Put on some van Morrison, make some authentic soda bread and know you are entering into a daily tradition that warmed Irish homes and graced Irish tables, through thick and thin, across the years.

This Joint is Hashed

The only thing better than corned beef is corned beef hash.That has as much to do with our preferred method of serving [consisting of putting a fried egg on top] as anything else, because otherwise corned beef hash is centrally just a downscaled reprise of corned beef, cabbage and boiled potatoes. Which, don't get me wrong, is simply delicious as is.

But what isn't better with a fried egg on top? [That was rhetorical dearies. Don't feel the need to answer aloud.]
The Eggle has landed. 

I don't use so much a recipe as a sense of proportions when I make hash. I like to have equal amounts of meat, potato, with any and everything else I might be adding comprising a third portion of a similar size.
Rule of thre
This go round I had the leftover corned beef (after I took the cloves out) finely chopped, the rest of the cabbage onion mixture chopped, and some boiled potatoes, finely diced. Each of the three legs of this contraption equalled about 3 cups apiece. I typically brown the mixture in around 3 tablespoons of unsalted butter, so you could characterize this hash as the result of following a rule of three.

For those of you who'd prefer a full on recipe, Elise from Simply Recipes has you covered, here. I'd originally used her oven baked corned beef technique a few days ago. Simply Recipes is always a great starting point, I've found. Elise just won't steer you wrong. But back to hashing out our dinner last night.

I was pleased with myself come dinnertime this evening because I had not only planned ahead, I had worked ahead, and chopped up my corned beef, cabbage/onion mixture, and my boiled potatoes all ahead of time.

That meant the only part of our dinner I had to put together from scratch was the beer batter muffins.
10 jumbos or a dozen smaller size.
Those muffins being a good enough reason to have a box of biscuit mix around all the time. I went wildly far afield this go-round and gilded the lily, using Guinness for the beer, adding a 1/4 teaspoon of hot paprika and adding a cup of shredded sharp cheddar cheese stirred in to the usual mix before baking.

To follow is the basic recipe as given me by my Mother-in-Law decades ago.
Gilding the lily
2 cups biscuit mix
3/4 cup warm beer (may use microwave to warm beer)
1 tablespoon of sugar

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease bottoms and sides of muffin cups with shortening (or spray). Mix ingredients until well blended. Fill cups about 2/3 full for a dozen, or divide equally among 10 cups for larger muffins. Bake until golden brown - about 15 minutes for 12 muffins and about 18-20 minutes for ten muffins. After cooling in pan 10 minutes remove and keep warm until serving. Makes a very light muffin with a large crumb.Next time I try adding cheese I want to use teensy cubes for a more pronounced presence. We thought the flavor of the Guinness was a bit heavy handed, actually. It left a slightly bitter edge that didn't work as well as I'd hoped. Next time I will stick to Shiner Bock or regular beer.

And now for the hash portion of the evening's entertainment. It was delicious. The flavor was somewhat shifted by my use of the leftover cabbage, but not at all in a bad way.Hashes, done well, are layered with wonderful flavors and textures and when they are topped with a runny fried egg, hit the spot, especially when there is a chilly, damp March evening to combat. After this hash went hand-to-hand with the weather last night the Hub and I both agreed on the results. 

Hash 1 : Chilly weather 0.

I realize I am a bit early but will go ahead and be among the first to wish you and yours a Happy St. Patrick's Day this coming Tuesday.  Faith, tis true, you will want to be wearin (or drinkin) yourself somethin green, kissin yourself a Leprechaun, eatin some corned beef and havin yourself a most lovely day, me darlins!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

You Are What You Blog?

I am aware that, in the wide wide world of the interweb, this blog is small potatoes. Micro fingerlings, if you will.

Which is why I find it interesting when the big(ger) boys and girls in the blogosphere start writing in their blogs what I have either also written about, or at least thought about, when considering what is blogworthy. Namely, in this instance, whether or not the food we have been preparing and eating around here is interesting enough to post about.

Just this morning I was reading one of my favorites, Amy writing in Eggs on Sunday, who stated,
Maybe this is why I’ve been turning to comfort-type foods lately; I don’t know. I’ve been making things that are warm and easy and that we can eat for a few days in a row during the week. At first I was hesitant to blog about some of these dishes, but then I reconsidered: if I’m falling for these types of foods, maybe some of you are just as discombobulated by March as I am, and maybe you’re in need of some comfort-in-a-bowl just as much as I am.

I thought back to the times when posting gaps occurred in my own blogging attempts because I was convinced that the food we were eating was simply not of interest to anybody else. I considered leaving out dishes that were too easy, too common, dishes that included some pedestrian ingredient I was quietly ashamed of,or felt was not in keeping with a purported philosophy of eating locally and organically whenever possible.

In the back of my head there was always this voice, whispering, "what would impress fill-in-the-name-of-famous-food-blogger?". Two big problems with that: 1) As far as I am aware, nobody famous reads this blog and B)paying attention to the judgmental voices in my head falls into the category of "looking for snarky ways to prove I am better than you are" which is, on a good day, not at all the way I (want to) roll.

As an example of the form my hesitancy to reveal real cooking around here generally assumes because it would not clear some fantasy bar of being noble enough or earnest enough to satisfy I don't know who, I kept this post about lasagna in draft form for two weeks. My lasagna recipe essentially comes off the side of the box. It doesn't use homemade noodles or sauce or cheese I've made in my own kitchen from the goats we raise.Rumors and neighborly noise complaints aside, we don't even own any goats. Raccoons, birds, deer, squirrels, snakes and even tree rats all abound and freely frolic around here, but we have nothing critterwise that produces any sort of useful food.

Should I keep my lasagna a secret? It is too embarrassing to admit I don't make my own pasta? Is that some sort of disqualifier for food blogging that I do not make everything from scratch? Am I just some small town (smaller chested, yikes!) version of a Sandra Lee?I sat down, hard, and thought about that for a while.

Finally I decided that 1) I don't have a large enough readership to play such games and B) if I get to the point where I am cooking to blog rather than blogging about what I am cooking, then something has gone terribly wrong.

So. I am taking a deep breath and pledging to keep blogging about all sorts of things we eat around here, and not skipping around to report upon only the loftiest attempts I make at putting meals together. There are loads of other people out there already who are going to incredible lengths to cook impressively from scratch, take professional photographs of the results, and then regale you with entertaining, name studded stories about their lives rubbing shoulders with food world luminaries.

That isn't me, and it never will be.

What I will write about is what we are doing in a real house with real people living in it, the food we like, or the food it turns out we did not like, and why not. If that is ok by you then please, continue to drop in and do consider leaving a comment or two as the mood strikes. It is nice when I know you have been here, because when it comes to blogging, I really like the company.

Tonight? Corned Beef Hash made with leftovers from my recent trial of Elise's corned beef from Simply Recipes. Stay tuned....

Friday, March 13, 2009

When the Going Gets Tough

This tough gal makes lasagna.

I did one of my very least favorite things in the world recently.I put my youngest on an airplane to go back to law school after a delightful week spent in her company while she had Spring Break.  

As that week rushed past us, I cooked less and we ate out at some of LawSchoolGirl's favorite local venues more. Nothing super exciting culinary wise, this wasn't about "new" or "exciting" at all. It was about "HOME!" and "this is how food is supposed to taste" more than anything else.

At first she was circumspect about expressing her meal preferences, wondering if I'd be a bit offended about the idea the things she was craving most were not versions of my home cooking but dishes from certain local restaurants.

She had reason to wonder. I will admit it. 10 or so years ago, I might have taken that preference personally, as a slight.

Today? I am simply happy happy when anybody will communicate clearly and specifically what they are interested in eating.

If that is something I can make happen at home, so be it. If that is something I can shell out bucks for and obtain without having to dirty dishes or spend time shopping and cooking and cleaning up after? Hey - my heart will not be broken, I assure you.

Honestly I mostly have myself to blame if my kids want something other than home cooked when it is time for us to eat together.  You see, first when ChefSon, and years later again when LawSchoolGirl left home, they both left with a notebook from Mom. 

In that notebook were copies of my go-to recipes: the ones they already enjoyed, the ones I hoped they would eventually come to appreciate, their grandmother's recipes, the whole nine yards. I worked with each of my children, when they were still children, so they would know how to do their own laundry (no pink loads for these kids) and know how to cook the dishes they liked for themselves.

For me, cooking has never been about mystery or "only I can do this for you". Cooking is about feeding people I love with food I like (and sometimes people I like with food I love) and that simply ought to be cooperative, open, and reproducible. Hence, the Notebook.

If that now means when my out of state grad student is home in Austin she craves the things she either cannot afford on her own or can not find under any circumstances where she currently lives, and most of those things are not the things I cook here routinely at home?

I say OK. I say welcome home baby. I say, what would you like for dinner and how can I help make that happen?

And, I smile. I hug. I kiss and I hang on a bit to my kids who have grown up in ways that I could only imagine when I first held them, small, squirmy, and willing to trust that Mom Knows Best when it comes to what to eat.

Don't get me wrong. In that week of LawSchoolGirl's Spring Break I did cook some. I made gumbo, pork roast, chimichangas.
I am the ghost of lasagnas past.... 
What I did not make that week was lasagna. I'd been craving it big time but it is simply not a LawSchoolGirl favorite. So once her planes' wheels were up off the runway at ABIA and I was saying goodbye to her once more (with feeling!) I knew it was time. Lasagna was the dish to save the dinner, if not the day.

I don't have much in the way of photos or even a particular recipe to promote here. I typically use the recipe printed right on the box of Barilla's NoBoil noodles although they have a whole series of variations posted on their website

I use as many organic ingredients as I can but lasagna for me is not about finding some once in a lifetime, or over the top recipe.  Lasagna is about that familiar, yes, this is it, experience that requires it to taste pretty much the same comforting way, time after time. When I am tired, when I am discouraged, when I am blue or beaten down in any way by whatever life is handing out, eating lasagna is one way I fight back. 

That explains a lot of elastic waist clothing you might find in my closet, don't you agree? 

I do apply my Lasagna Makes Life Better principle broadly when the opportunity arises. Earlier this week when I found out my across the street neighbor was in the hospital critically ill, I prepared a batch of that layered anti-depressant in a pan and took it to her husband and son. People need a break from fast food when they are spending long days in hospital hallways, waiting for visits and clinging alternately to each other and bits of good news.

So how about you? What dish do you fix when the blues hit and you want a food based pick-me-up?  What gets bundled up and trundled over to your neighbor in need?  Put your thoughts in the comments section and share what inspires and comforts you.  I'll be waiting, and if you like, maybe we will share that conversation over a nice plate of lasagna.