Thursday, July 30, 2009


Seeds become plants. Plants become food. Words become a story. And the story nourishes. These day as my words become - nothing, I fall back on the food! I am in the midst -of - how to say this gracefully -
"throwing up words on paper."
Not appetizing and not worthy of being in a play. As I work on my middle school play commission, I delete more than I write. I tell myself that this:

became this:
Under my guiding hands, basil became -


Tomatoes transform into...


These darling cucumber cups with gazpacho were found at: Figtree Appetizers. (Program note: She has a cast of small bites to please even the most discriminating audiences.)
And a pluot -

can become jam. (If it wishes really hard.)

How pretty is that? And easy. Ease is important because although I wait for the muse, my mind races and clicks. My brain has trapdoors, clacks, mazes and swings. As I cook, I concoct - in the mind and at the cutting board.
It's a quick, savory jam (rosemary, vinegar) that tops a shmear of goat cheese on a crostini. Creamy, tart, sweet and savory, it is a must for someone who cannot make up her mind. All in a few bites. It looks like A Midsummer Night's Dream, tastes exactly As You Like It and certainly sings a welcoming overture.
(Makes about 1 cup)
3/4 pound pluots (3-5 depending on size) (Pitted and diced; no need to peel)
3 T honey
4 T (or more, I did more) balsamic vinegar
1 T (or more, I did more) fresh lemon juice
2 t finely grated lemon peel
1/2 t freshly minced rosemary (Okay, I did a good 2-3 t; love rosemary!)
1/8 t coarse kosher salt
Pinch of black pepper
2 T chopped fresh chives
Place pluots, honey, vinegar lemon juice, lemon peel, rosemary, salt and pepper in sauce pan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring. Reduce heat to medium low and simmer until fruit breaks down and mixture is thick, stirring occasionally. I was able to write a good two pages (which I deleted) in that time! Cook about 20 minutes. Cool. Adjust seasonings; add chives. Serve on toasted bread topped with goat cheese. Sing.
Bon Appetit July 2009 has quite a few wonderful pluot recipes (a pluot is a plum and an apricot - so you know its good). I'm currently eyeing the pluot pinwheel tart... Now, on to dinner:
SWORDFISH WITH CUCUMBER-LIME RELISH (From Gourmet; recipe makes one serving)
Easy, fresh, looks like July, tastes like summer should. And yes, I did go overboard with the salsa topping! There's a fish peeking through ... somewhere. As elusive on the plate as in the water!
Summer transformation. Now if only the muse would come and transform me.

Monday, July 27, 2009

How Sweet It Is: Opening Night with Snickers

How sweet it is! And how sweet they are! I know this is a food blog and trust me, this is a food story. As is my custom, I do put food in all of my plays. (Do You Always Put Food in your Plays?) The Magic Fishbone did indeed have fish: cod and salmon. Also turnips and references to cheese, bread, crumpets, jam, butter and a proper English trifle. If my young thespians don't go into theatre, they might be swayed to go to culinary school!
I had two casts for the show and so two openings. They couldn't have been lovelier. But they are not without their terrors. That's where the wonder of chocolate enters the scene.

Sometimes ... when props are missing, costume pieces are in a sink and 50 students backstage sound like an earthquake - creating enough energy to send a man to the moon - I wonder, "Why do I do theatre with kids?" The wondering lasts a few minutes and then something happens to remind me why I love it.
A very shy, young girl was having her very first opening night. How special is that? She retreated and could barely talk after getting into costume. We spoke about getting in front of the audience for the first time, how they are rooting for you and how much easier things get once you've finally said your first line; once you can see that the show is going according to plan. The older students chimed in agreeing. She remained wide-eyed and quiet. She looked at the floor, looked at the clock and stood in a trance. Her older sister who is her security, was ushering. My co-director and I produced bowls of treats as is our custom. (It does produce high energy for an hour!) I had mini Milky Ways and mini Snickers bars. I do confess a love of frozen mini-Snickers bars. I had been known to delve into my children's Halloween bags and swipe them. (Bad mom.) I was kidding the cast and mentioned more than once that they needn't finish all the Snickers. I was not adverse to taking a few snickers home with me.
Ten minutes later the bowl was empty. Not one Snickers bar or Milky Way remained. The show went on and was indeed high energy and lovely. The shy young actress was grand - rising to the occasion. There were some proud directors in the back. After the show, when we were milling around, a small hand took mine and pressed it.

A Snickers bar was put into my hand.
"I saved it for you to take home." From my terrified thespian who had a successful opening night. Sweet actors, sweet opening, sweet Snickers. The rewards of theatre with kids: young actors and Snickers.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Saved by a clam!

How pretty is that? And I needed it. Truly. Absolutely. With yearning, bells on my toes, and petticoat jingles, I desperately needed it.
Tomorrow starts tech rehearsals. Wednesday and Thursday are dress rehearsals. Thursday is "bring 52 kids to a market fair" night (and don't lose one of them!). Sound cues, preshow, program, photo call and then - TADA! - opening night. This week 52 kids will do their shifts in the dark, wear long dresses they cannot walk in and short pants they feel silly in, spray frankfurter calls into steel, sweat off their eye-liner, look for the glo-tape and create energy enough to send an astronaut to Mars. It's the most stressful week for the show. And the grandest.
I had a fine family meal (and ... to be redundant ... I needed it) and the starter was grilled clams. Find the recipe from Proud Italian Cook: HERE
Have plenty of crusty bread for mopping.

Because whether or not you "need it," I guarantee you will want it!

"Someday" is not a Day of the Week

"Tomorrow is the busiest day of the week."
Only Robinson Crusoe had everything done by Friday."
And so it goes. Or went. I mean - it had to happen, right? There had to come a time when the cover recipe of Bon Appetit would not sing to me. But I was a martyr. I would forge on. And forge on I did. So much so, that my sister and I put the cover dinner on the table on June 17th.
And for over one month, I have successfully avoided writing about it. I didn't take a pretty picture. I liked all the ingredients separately but when I put them together, I felt as if the Easter Bunny invaded my Christmas town. It didn't fit. So, what would I write about? "Love and marriage go together like a horse and carriage" but "shrimp in corn tortillas with salsa verde" don't?
My daughter hates coconut, I could live my life without ever having cilantro again and my father won't touch pesto - so I chalked it up to - the quirky taste palettes we all have. I only like beets because they're pretty. My husband shudders at the thought of tiramisu for dessert. We are what we eat and what we choose not to eat!
So, even if I did procrastinate about the monthly entry - we did eat.

A Pinot Grigio was poured and we put out: marcona almonds, carrots and radishes with a lemony herb vegetable dip, white cheddar made by Milton Creamery in Iowa and and a feta-curry chutney torta made locally by Fig and Fromage. Does it go together? Not really. Was there something for all the fussy eaters invited? Absolutely.

The lemony herb dip was from the June 2009 issue of Bon Appetit and couldn't be easier.

LEMONY HERB DIP - makes one cup - flavor increases as it sits - so make-ahead
8 oz container of sour cream or creme fraiche (I combined the sour cream with my leftover creme fraiche - it worked)

2 T chopped fresh chives (I used closer to 5 T)
2 T chopped fresh dill (I used 4 T)
1 T fresh lemon juice (about right - I probably used a tad more)
1-2 bunches of radishes with tops
1-2 punches of baby carrots with tops, peeled

Mix first 4 ingredients in bowl. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Let dip stand for 40 minutes at room temperature or cover and chill until ready to serve. (Can be made 1 day ahead)
Serve with radishes and carrots.
Meanwhile, we were busy in the kitchen making:
Find the recipe and a much better photo by clicking: HERE

And we ended with the easiest mousse in the world:

Black Forest Chocolate Mousse

Find the recipe: HERE

For me - ending any meal with chocolate makes it worthwhile. Having people gathered at my table is always a good thing. My decision to make the cover recipes for Bon Appetit and Tastes of Italia every month still helps me jump out of my little "pasta-cannoli" comfort zone once in a while.
Chacun a son gout. "Each to his (her!) own taste!"

Monday, July 13, 2009

Food for the Soul: Historic Photos of Minnesota

A few weeks ago, I was the grateful recipient of Historical Photos of Minnesota, published by Turner Publishing Company with text and captions by Susan Marks. Yes, this is a food blog but nourishment comes from all over and as a non-TV watcher (this horrifies my young performers), books sing to me. As a writer, books claim my heart. And as a playwright, historical photos evoke a time and place instantaneously. My husband and I have dragged our children to every historical sight in Minnesota, New York (my hometown) and across the country. There is nothing like a visual to jump start your interest in the human stories that accompany every historical fact.
The cover photo (above) is a grand way to discover Minnesota. For while it is the Land of 10,000 Lakes - at least six months of the year - those lakes are frozen! The photo depicting a hockey game outside Burton Hall at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities campus (1925) brings to life the amazing spirit of the varied populations who moved here and embraced the cold winter. Burton Hall still stands at the University of Minnesota. The University is huge and buildings from every era adorn the campus. My daughter is at the U and the commute to campus includes views of the Stone Arch Bridge (built in 1883 and now a footbridge), as well as the milling district of Minneapolis. It is a commute through time. All these sights are in the book.

The above photo depicts hunters at a campsite along the St. Louis River circa 1890. The river flows into Lake Superior and to me this is vintage Minnesota. Minnesota's rivers and lakes remain popular destinations for many Americans. There are still pristine lakes protected heavily by the state of Minnesota. Whether people go to the lakes for hunting, fishing, boating or just to enjoy each other around the bonfire, the rich natural beauty of Minnesota remains a jewel to the people and they safeguard their wilderness.
Logging was a huge industry in Minnesota. The northern part of the state is heavily forested and over the years, forests were stripped of their trees. Photos showing log jams, lumber companies and lumberjacks loading felled trees on a sleigh are prevalent in the book. A few years ago, I did tours in Stillwater, MN which focused on the logging industry (and beer - but that's a different book!). Logging and mining was an ideal job for a new immigrant - for the work was physical and knowledge of reading and writing or even proficiency in the English language was not necessary. I did visit the iron-ore mines in Tower, MN. Taking an elevator 5 miles into the earthwas not for the feint of heart! And the sleeping bats we passed on the tour were not there for decoration! I closed my eyes and tried to the listen to the sounds of the men, peering into the dim light and trying not to think of the mass of earth above me.

Ah politics! Some things never change! The above photo depicts William Jennings Bryan (a three time Democratic nominee for President). He had a grand reputation as an great orator but on this trip he chose not to speak. Later, he may have wished that he had. For Bryan lost his presidential bid to William Taft! Other photos of politicians (including one of William Taft) are included in the book. I do enjoy the photos of the politicians on trains - typically outside in the back of the caboose - standing and waving - in the cold. Hoping that's enough to win votes!
The delight for me in the book is that so many photos can be searched for in the state and found. Minnesota has not erased all its history with "new." Minnesota's "Grand Get-together" (the State Fair), Duluth's aerial bridge, the lock and dams on the Mississippi River, Minnehaha Falls (immortalized by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in 1855), the State Capital, its rich array of colleges and universities, the beautiful lake destinations and so much more all remain.
I look at the people in the photos and am intrigued. Why is one group smiling and the other group solemn? Who were they? What happened just before the photo was snapped? Where did they later go? What happened to all the people gathered at the Grandstand in the Minnesota State Fair 1930? Who went to war? How did they fare during the depression? Did the polio epidemic later affect them? Who married the love of their life? Who was a published poet? So many people and each one is a separate story.
The book begins in 1850 and the last photos are from the late 1960's. Photos fluctuate from the Dakota Wars and all the sadness included therein to the struggle for the right for women to vote and then you turn the page and are surprised with a picture of children excitedly ready to frolic into a cool lake on a warm summer day. There's such a connection - the bathing suits have changed - the smiles on the faces of the children shoot to the present. The captions by Ms.Marks are wonderfully concise, informative, dated as accurately as possible and are set to show the evolution of Minnesota from a fur trade stop to the thriving state it is today.
As a die hard New Yorker who never thought she would live in "flyover country," the treasures in my adopted state continue to astonish and delight me. Historic Photos of Minnesota reminds me of the richness of its cities, towns, lakes, forests, rivers and valleys that lay just outside my door.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

"No, today I'm a chicken."

I start my day between 6 and 6:30 a.m. with cement trucks, tractors, pounders (okay, I have no idea what the real name of the "pounder" is) and beeping waking me not so gently from my slumber. At 7 a.m., I stumble onto my patio with my coffee to breathe in the fresh scent of tar. At 8:30 a.m. I am at the theatre as 52 kids stumble into the dark theatre. At 8:40, an 8th grade student takes the stage and performs small plays for the students.
"Do your Darth Vader play, Christie!" shouts a crowd of high school guys.
"No, today I'm a chicken."
And she was - for twenty minutes - a chicken performing in The Magic Fishbone (I knew Charles Dickens should have had a chicken in his story!). She performed as suggestions were shouted out from the sleep-eyed students and the more scarily alert ones.
Is it a wonder I am craving "simple?"
In May I wrote in my blog of my desire to live in a villa as Frances Mayes does and go to my terrace to pick baby lettuces. And now that it is July, I may. I transform my brain - as only a former actress can - and see my villa and my terrace.

My arugula - ready for picking.

Baby green lettuces - to be transformed into salads. But simple. After a morning with my squirrelly chickens, I have been coming home to adapt Pride and Prejudice. Twenty-seven characters (yes, I cut quite a few) and twenty two scenes - I want simple.
Arugula with shaved Parmesan. Salt and pepper and bit of oil and vinegar and done. Summer on my lips, simple, breathing in the spicy scent of the leaves - taking me to Italy.

Devoid of chickens.
And again - simple - but a wee bit sweeter.

Roasted-honey fresh figs atop my baby lettuce with some sauteed prosciutto.

The simplicity of the dishes revives me. A glass of Pinot Grigio soothes me. And I fall into bed ready to do it all over again.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Fireworks: The Beginning of a New Life

Happy 4th of July! Having travelled the country visiting the history of America, this day sits deeply in my spirit. Trials and tribulations, the amazing Constitution, the bravery of my grandparents embarking on a journey across the Atlantic to start a new life - this day embodies the promise that is still the heartbeat of this country. Having had so many personal milestones occur around this day, it also sits in my heart. I have spent the 4th of July at the Statue Of Liberty, in Central Park- NYC, by various lakes but the most important one was the one at the State Capital in St. Paul, MN. Twenty-four years ago I had this friend I worked with, went on bike rides with and joined for an afternoon of cross-country skiing. We talked a lot. I mentioned the fact that I probably wasn't going to marry having grown tired of the dating game. He mentioned that he would never date anyone with whom he worked. It was a safe relationship.
My sister visited in July 1985. It was after the 4th of July and it had rained the entire weekend. On July 7, 1985, the radio mentioned that the fireworks were finally on! My sister suggested getting friends together and going. With permission, she called my biking friend. My biking friend was thinking of going down to the fireworks anyway. His sister wanted to go and she suggested he call me. As it turned out, neither sister went. But my biking friend and I did go. We sat under the stars, listened to the Minnesota Orchestra, watched the fireworks, felt fuzzy and warm and comfortable and were dating by the end of the fireworks.
On November 7, 1985 we got engaged. We were married on May 24, 1986. The self-proclaimed single and the guy who wouldn't date anyone he worked with! Since that night, we have had many 4ths together - at the Capital and on White Bear Lake, under the stars, complete with a small orchestra! We brought drinks, popcorn, blankets, mosquito repellent and my children. Who grew up going to White Bear Lake's Optimist Beach for fireworks. Gone are the days when my children sought shelter in our arms from the noise. What still remains is our annual barbecue for any family members available. I married into a traditional family. Tomorrow 25-34 members of Paul's family will gather for brats, turkey, watermelon and an enormous array of sides - provided by - everyone!

I usually make Panna Cotta with a berry compote. It is a way of honoring my heritage and the Day. But this year, I veered of course. One of my desserts is a Blueberry-Raspberry Pound Cake from Molly Wizenberg's A Homemade Life.

BLUEBERRY-RASPBERRY POUND CAKE (and sometimes strawberries, too!)
2 cups plus 8 T cake flour
1 t baking powder
1/2 t salt
5 large eggs
1-2/3 cup sugar
2-1/2 sticks (10 oz) unsalted butter, diced, at room temperature
2 T kirsch
1 cup blueberries - rinsed and dried
1 cup raspberries - rinsed and dried

Set oven rack to medium position. Preheat oven to 300F. Butter a standard 9 cup Bundt pan and dust with flour. (Nonstick may not need to dust with flour)
In a medium bowl, whisk 2 cups plus 6 T flour, the baking powder and salt.
In food processor blend eggs and sugar until thick and pale yellow - about 1 minute. Add the butter and kirsch and blend until mixture is fluffy - stopping once to scrape down sides of bowl. It may look curdled and that's fine! Add the dry ingredients and process to just combine. Do not over mix. Batter should be thick and very smooth.
In a large bowl, toss the berries with the remaining 2T flour. Pour the batter over the berries and using a rubber spatula, gently fold to combine until all flour is absorbed. Pour the batter into prepared Bundt pan and spread it evenly across. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean - 1 hour to 1-1/4 hours. (Mine took closer to 1-1/4 hours.) Transfer cake to a rack and cool for five minutes. Carefully invert the cake out of the pan onto a rack (mine went straight to a dish) and cool for at least 20 minutes before slicing. Serve warm or at room temperature. Decorate at will - berries and whipped cream.

Red, white and blue - in honor of the day - a very special day for me in all ways. Happy 4th and a very special 4th to those who have given of themselves so I may enjoy my freedoms.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The Big C's in my life: Curbs, Chocolate and College Kids

It was nice to be organized. It was simply grand when I had my recipes ready to go by the computer. It was absolutely splendiferous to have menus planned. But that was before two college children came home complete with bags and boxes and furniture and found - we have no storage! So belongings lay all over the house.
It was nice when I could park my car in the garage instead of three blocks away because the "powers that be" decided we needed curbs. (I need carbs - not curbs!) I no longer go to the grocer with a list of ingredients for a dinner to soothe the frazzled day. No. I go to the grocery store looking for light ingredients - light in terms of - how much weight do I want to carry for three blocks? On muddy roads with clean-looking curbs that must be carefully stepped over.
Lest you think I am complaining (I am) - I am pretty indifferent to the boxes - for that means my children are home. I am a bitter little bird when it comes to these curbs! By the time I get home, I want a healthy light salad, some brie on sesame rice crackers, a glass of wine and then some decadent, rich, smooth, stick-to-your-hips chocolate. Chocolate is my balm, my consolation, my teddy bear, my heart.

I intended to post a trio of desserts. I thought I would have a lovely blog proclaiming the value of doing things in threes - was ready to quote Macbeth's three witches and then: I found I could not find the recipes! They are buried. So I shall make do with the chocolate one - because I found it.
1-1/2 cups whipping cream
1 can (16-1/2 oz - just buy a can!) pitted Bing cherries in syrup
1-1/2 T Kirsch (cherry brandy)*
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
Grated chocolate for garnish (optional)
Mint leaves for garnish (optional)
In deep 2 quart bowl, whip cream to stiff peaks. Reserve 1/2 cup and refrigerate. Set aside larger bowl of cream.
Thoroughly drain cherries (this takes a bit!) in strainer, reserving 1/4 cup of syrup in small saucepan; add Kirsch. Place chocolate chips in container of blender. Bring syrup mixture to boil and reduce slightly to 1/4 cup. Immediately pour over chocolate chips and blend till smooth. (Scrape sides of blender with spatula as needed.) With rubber spatula, scrape chocolate mixture into larger portion of reserved whipped cream and fold until streaks disappear. I loved doing this - it was so pretty and relaxing .... but I am veering off track. Maybe it was the wine that was relaxing but methinks it was the folding. Fold in cherries - reserving four for garnish. (I used about 3/4 of the cherries as I thought it might be too sweet with the entire can. Cover and refrigerate for 2-6 hours.
Spoon into dessert dishes (stemmed are pretty!). Dollop with smaller portion of whipped cream and garnish with remaining cherries , grated chocolate and mint leaves.
Makes 4 servings (mine made six)
*Note: You can eliminate kirsch and use a total of 1/3 cup syrup from cherries - bring to a boil and reduce to 1/4 cup.

"Summer time - and the living is easy!" Gershwin had that right and the dessert is easy, foolproof and the perfect antidote when your street gets repaved with curbs.