Thursday, August 26, 2010

Bumps in the road and friends for lunch

Today started out kind of rough. My son dribbled a “spill-proof” cup full of milk on the floor as we walked out the door to drive him to school. Since we were already running late and couldn’t stop to clean it up, I looked forward to having that waiting for me when I got back home.

Then, halfway to school while driving through stop and go traffic, my dog threw up, half in my purse and half on my back floor mat after heaving for no less than two minutes. The warning sound of his impending sickness only helped to build the anticipation of its arrival. I drove home looking forward to also cleaning up the new mess after I got there. For obvious reasons this one took priority over the spilled milk in the entryway. It is times like these that I remind myself that it could always get worse, so I count my blessings and move on. Some days you’re the bat…some days you’re the ball.

No matter how badly it started, today is still a blessing because this is the day of the week that I meet up with two of my favorite girlfriends for a little lunch, a lot of laughs and a bit of problem solving. If anyone has any pressing problems that you need help with, just drop me a line and we'll have a profound answer for you after our next weekly meeting.

I was lucky enough to have met my friend Joanie through our two teenage daughters. We first met several years ago during a kid swap at the parking lot of our local supermarket. We had an immediate connection and I knew that we were meant to be friends. She was with me in New York when I won the Ocean Spray Cranberry Recipe Contest so in a way she’s also my good luck charm. Joanie is one of the kindest and most generous people I have ever met. She radiates optimism and sweetness. After a couple of hours with her, I am a better person.

I met Anita, the remaining member of our group, several years ago when we first moved to Colorado from Texas. She lives down the street from me and we were brought together by another neighbor who organized morning walks around the neighborhood. We didn’t walk for too many weeks before the winter weather moved in and we had to disband with plans on starting back up the following spring.

When spring came, I was painting my basement and Anita was a busy working mother, so life just got in the way. On one regular day in March, after a routine medical procedure, Anita had a dizzy spell and fell, hitting the back of her head on one of her kitchen cabinet doors paralyzing her.

After many months in the hospital, she returned home to her husband, sons, daughter and the bossiest Jack Russell terrier I have ever met. He really runs the place, but he depends on Anita to be his second in command, or so he thinks. Their lives together are a testament to honoring marriage vows, raising a close family and being a dedicated hands-on mother. I admire her more than I can say.

Well, I guess you can see how lucky I am to have such a wonderful support group; so when things get a little challenging, like they did this morning, I know I only have a few days at the most until I meet up with the girls again for a therapy session. Thanks so much Joanie and Anita, for including me in your group. Our luncheon date is truly one of the highpoints of my week.

More often than not, Joanie volunteers to bring some sort of wonderful lunch for the three of use to share. Every now and then she takes mercy on me and allows me to bring something to soothe my guilty conscience. My favorite “go to” recipe is super simple but contains a secret ingredient that really, truly makes a huge difference in this run of the mill, everyday recipe. I really think if you'll give this recipe a try, you'll be glad that you've rediscovered this old favorite.

Extreme Tuna Salad

I worked for a caterer many years ago who also sold sandwiches out of the front of her shop. This girl could really make a sandwich. One of her best sellers was her tuna salad and as an employee I was privy to her recipe which I have embellished a bit and made it my own. The addition of crumbled saltine crackers mellows the flavor of the fish and creates the best tuna salad you’ll ever eat. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

1 – 5 ounce (150g) can tuna in water, drained and flaked
2 tablespoons celery, finely minced
1 large spring onion, finely minced
2 tablespoons yellow, orange or red bell pepper
1 teaspoon finely chopped Serrano pepper (optional)
1 egg, boiled and chopped
6 saltine crackers, crumbled (cream crackers can be substituted)
1/4 teaspoon dried dill
1/4 teaspoon granulated garlic
A generous grinding of black pepper
2 – 4 tablespoons mayonnaise (depending on how moist you like it)
1/4 teaspoon fresh lime juice
Salt to taste

Place all the ingredients in a medium size bowl and stir well. Chill for at least 1 hour before serving.

This makes 4 medium size sandwiches. YUM!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Way to a Man's Heart...

My sister and I became our grandfather’s caregivers after our father passed away. Since our dad was his only child, and at 89 most of the members of his already small family had also passed away, this labor of love was left to us. Grandpa was still really “with it” mentally, but between his poor eyesight and bad knees, he needed our help to get around and take care of his business. He was actually doing both until the day his car hit a pole that “jumped out from nowhere” in the alley behind the neighborhood Big Lots. His car was totaled, his face was bloodied and his pride was mortally wounded. I still get a guilty chuckle from the memory of my six year old son’s description of the carnage when he and his father arrived on the scene. Thank goodness Grandpa wasn’t really hurt, but since he had let his insurance lapse because their customer service representative was “snotty” to him, he was out of a car (boy he really showed them!) and we realized that his paperwork had become a burden. The possible repercussions of this poor financial decision scared us all to death, so we were relieved that Grandpa’s driving days were over. Little did the people of America know, but from that day on, their streets were much safer. Oh sure, with the loss of his car, Grandpa’s “George Clooney” status slipped a bit at the independent living complex where he lived, but he still managed to remain pretty hot stuff with the female residents. He was clever, funny, darned handsome and continent. With assets like these, who really needs a car anyway?

Cooking for Grandpa was a real pleasure, he really loved regular old food, and as long as there was lots of it, he was a happy man. Being a long term bachelor and living off institutional cuisine for a couple of years made him a grateful and eager diner. He never tired of the down home food from the land of his childhood and God’s chosen country, Oklahoma. He loved liver and onions, chicken fried steak, pinto beans, turnip greens and a surprising new favorite, blue Jell-O. He claimed that he ate it to improve the thickness of his fingernails, but we all knew the truth, it just made him smile and sometimes that’s the best reason of all for loving something. No excuses or further explanation needed. Cooking for my father on the other hand was always a pleasure but also a real challenge. While he was always pretty tactful about it, he more often than not let you know that improvements could be made on your technique and/or ingredients. Even though this was sometimes a bit disheartening, when you got it right, it was as exciting as receiving a James Beard Award. His accolades were earned, not given capriciously.

Grandpa passed away a little over eight years ago. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about him or something funny he said. That scraped up pole behind Big Lots still stands like an unofficial monument to that stubborn old man. Even though Grandpa and Dad are gone I thankfully still have two grateful diners to cook for and they are both pretty easy to please themselves. My husband likes nothing better than dry Texas sausage and Bavarian sauerkraut. My son on the other hand is easier to please than that, his current summer favorite is grilled bacon wrapped hot dogs on buttery toasted buns with jalapeno mustard and a gooey Hot Fudge Pudding Cake for dessert. Even though I am grateful for my two simple eaters, I still greatly miss a good Sunday dinner James Beard challenge with a side of blue Jell-O.

Since there is no recipe needed for bacon wrapped hot dogs, as they pretty much speak for themselves (forgive me Hebrew National), I thought I might share the Hot Fudge Pudding Cake recipe. It may seem like more of a winter recipe but I can vouch for the fact that it is just as delicious after a summertime barbeque as it is after a wintertime Sunday roast.

Kevin's new favorite - No recipe required

Hot Fudge Pudding Cake

1-1/4 cup (250g) granulated sugar, divided
1 cup (128g) all-purpose flour
1/2 cup (64g) best quality cocoa, divided
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (125ml) milk
1/3 cup (75g) melted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup (110g) packed light brown sugar
1-1/4 (312ml) cup hot water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F, 180 C.

In a medium size bowl combine 3/4 cup granulated sugar, flour, 1/4 cup cocoa, baking powder, salt, milk, melted butter and vanilla, stir until smooth. Pour into a 9 x 9” baking dish that has been lightly sprayed with non-stick cooking spray.

Combine the remaining 1/2 cup granulated sugar, 1/4 cup cocoa, and the light brown sugar. Sprinkle evenly over the top of the batter in the baking dish. Pour the hot water over the top but do not stir. Place into the preheated oven and bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until the center is almost set. Remove from the oven and rest for 10 minutes before serving warm. Top with ice cream, cream or whipped cream.

Makes 6 generous servings.