An intentional family

An intentional family

Families do not become strong unintentionally.  It takes intentional planning of activities that create memories for your family to share.  For example, many of you posted pictures recently in social media of your family’s first day of school traditions. Creating these important traditions takes time and commitment by everyone in the family. Rituals and traditions provide the family glue.  These traditions are intentional, repeated, consistent and coordinated and are significant to family members.  In most families, traditions are created, changed and blended over time.

What is your family glue?  When I was a little girl, my family always had a large Sunday meal after church in our home in Kansas.  We set the table with our best dishes and all of us helped wash the dishes afterwards (no automated dishwasher on Main Street).  My mother fried chicken or prepared a roast with all the fixings. There was a lot of food. We always sat down at the dining room table all together.  Sometimes, my parents invited family friends to join us. These meals lasted more than an hour sometimes two depending on the conversation.

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In our home, RM grills homemade pizza most Friday nights.  We usually have my egg rolls on Christmas eve but this ritual is now changing with a new tradition of traveling together instead of gathering at our home on Ashland like we have in the past.  At Easter, we always had an egg hunt in the yard.  At birthdays, I baked the cake but RM decorated it. We all love our Kansas Jayhawks and basketball. Many families traditionally have a door frame where they keep rough pencil lines marking off the height of their kiddos as they age.  There is probably an app for this now.

Do you have a tradition of watching certain movies together as a family?  Jaws, Christmas Vacation, and Jurassic Park are some of ours.  For several years, we had the tradition of going together to a newly released movie in the afternoon of a major holiday like the 4th of July,  Thanksgiving or Christmas.

The start of school is always a stressful time for families.  And this year in particular there is stress on families due to the assault on south Texas by Hurricane Harvey. Sticking together, with the help of family glue, may be the best path forward.  And of course, time.

Traditions can have a calming effect on both parents and children.  Research shows that they produce many other positive benefits, like improving family cohesion, fostering stability and promoting social development in children. Our hearts go out to our friends and families in south Texas and know we are thinking about you and doing our best to support you through the coming weeks and months.

 

“A fiddler on the roof. Sounds crazy, no? But in our little village of Anatevka, 
you might say every one of us is a fiddler on the roof, 
trying to scratch out a pleasant, simple tune without breaking his neck. It isn’t easy. 
You may ask, why do we stay up there if it’s so dangerous? 
We stay because Anatevka is our home… And how do we keep our balance? 
That I can tell you in one word… Tradition.”

 

 

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Veggie Broth

Veggie Broth

Just like those of you who appreciate the value of composting food scraps, you can equally put your fresh vegetable scraps to good use by tossing them into a plastic bag and saving them in your freezer until you are ready for a nice, yummy bowl of home-made soup or to add your own broth to your recipes when it calls for the addition of chicken or beef broth.  This home-made vegetable broth is just as ‘meaty tasting’ as meat-based broth and so much better for you as it is made without salt and full of all those great vitamins you get in your veggies.

So, after you have collected a bag of scraps (ends of an onion, tips of celery, tops of beets, stems of beans, shreds of carrots, leftover herbs and garlic cloves), you are ready to throw them all into a large pot and cover with about 8 cups of water.  In my bag of veg., I had quite a few ends of asparagus and I had some orange peel too.  Throw it all into the pool, there are no rules.  I love it when there are no rules.

 Bring water to a boil and simmer for 30 minutes or so.  Cool, drain in a colander and put in a jar in your refrigerator until you need it.

I made Moroccan inspired stew when RM was out-of-town Friday night.  The broth made the dish so rich with sweet potatoes, chickpeas, carrots, herb and spices.  The perfect stew to fix what ails you as my sweet mother used to say. I needed it after working out with the Mule for three days in a row.

Wish I could transport a batch of this stew to our Texas friends to the south who are hunkered down due to hurricane Harvey.  Be safe and look out for each other, dear loved ones.  Your friends to the north stand ready to lend a helping hand.


 

 

 

Totality

Totality

Over several months, RM planned our five hundred mile road trip to northeast Kansas to view the recent solar eclipse in the so-called totality zone. He plotted and printed maps, researched websites, purchased the necessary protective eye glasses and not-so-necessary commemorative t-shirts, and timed our journey to coincide with the solar eclipse on Monday, August 21st. We stayed with some dear friends on their picturesque farm near Holton, Kansas.

farm

We were one of many visitors to the zone last Monday — stretching across a width of 70 miles from Oregon to South Carolina  — who made it a point to travel to a place where the moon’s shadow will touch the earth.  We were not disappointed in the experience even after dodging traffic, rain clouds and showers to get to our destination.  For us, we ended up on an isolated, dirt road that straddled the Nebraska/Kansas border not too far from Du Bois, NE., surrounded by miles of ripening corn and soybean fields.

While RM was the champion of this excursion, the rest of us in our small party were willing but uninformed, highly supportive accompaniments.  We agreed to stock up the SUV with a picnic lunch and celebratory spirits, keep the phones and iPad charged for tracking and other necessary communication updates from NASA, and drive Ruby (yes, the SUV has a name), over and across this nation’s bread basket back roads to get us in line for the perfect viewing of the total eclipse, weather conditions be damned. While we didn’t fully understand RM’s fixation with getting the perfect spot, we knew it was important to him so we followed our leader’s direction to head up Highway 75 from Holton, over to Sabetha and then north and west to his predetermined, viewing point.

eclipse tracy

Through our safety glasses, we saw early glimpses of the partial eclipse but the clouds were thickening and the viewing was sporadic so under RM’s worried brow, we packed up and moved about 10 miles to an area on the radar that looked clear.  We were not disappointed with the audible as we pulled off the road into a pasture, the sky cleared and we could see the eclipse as it moved from partial to total at 1:04 p.m. central Kansas time. At full eclipse, the sky darkened and a 360 degree sunset magically appeared all around us as we admired Bailey’s beads — pearls of sunlight shining through the valleys and mountains of the moon. We saw the beads around the edges of the moon as it passed over the sun.  We took many pictures but mostly we stood and stared up at the eclipse in awe.

cornfield

I  first noticed the immense quiet and the surrealism of the space with light reflecting oddly over the fields around us, no sounds of animals or man except for us hooting and comparing comments of what each of us saw and felt.  It was truly an  ‘awe’ moment — one that reached, for me, the upper levels of pleasure but also on the boundary of fear or perhaps better described as the feeling of the unknown.  After the experience, I felt rich in time, somehow better connected to nature with a renewed boost of hope for our future.  We are already plotting for the next eclipse in 2024.  Come join us in Texas, in the the totality zone, and experience the awe.

 

Dave

 

 

Rock Chalk Pizza

Rock Chalk Pizza

Add sweet Kansas corn from the cob, garden tomatoes, basil, and mozzarella cheese to your grilled pizza dough and you scream, Rock Chalk!


The foundation to the pie is corn, garlic, and Parmesan cheese combined until smooth, spread all over the base of the crust, then sprinkle on your favorite toppings and grill for our best version of a Kansas harvest pizza. 

Enjoy a sublime slice before your road trip to see the solar eclipse in the totality zone.


With a crescent cookie and a cold Corona cerveza, of course.  Happy viewing, America.

Baking School

Baking School

C3 and I took four days of baking classes at King Arthur Flour in Norwich, Vermont.  The class focused on pastries including principles and tons of practice with hands-on preparation of 10 different desserts including blintz pastry dough, tender white cake with swiss meringue buttercream, almond dacquoise, pate a choux, pastry cream, turnovers, blueberry and peach pie, Florentine bars, lemon bundt cake, linzer torte, and chocolate ganache.

In addition to us attending from the Lone Star State, we were joined by fourteen other bakers from Louisiana, Michigan, New Jersey, Vermont, and Illinois. Each day our two instructors, most of them trained in a culinary institute with years of experience at King Arthur, guided us through a demonstration of preparing the dessert, followed by each of us trying to replicate it with their assistance and technical expertise.

We learned several baker’s secrets.  One of our teachers was originally from Newton, Kansas, my dad’s home town, and she learned to bake the Mennonite way before training in the kitchens of King Arthur.   Always a small world when we travel.

The facility at King Arthur is top-notch and each of us had a metal table space equipped with scale, Kitchen Aid mixer, bowls, scraper, bench knife, spoons, and more.  We were trained the first day to measure in grams instead of ounces or cups using a scale and a beaker for accuracy and the best results.  One of the assistants kept our dishes and pans clean for us which was such a treat not to have to do dishes while we were baking.  Not a reality when we came back home!

The amount of butter used in these recipes is arresting but with advice from the instructors we learned ways to modify the recipes to accommodate dietary restrictions like those who may be lactose intolerant or just wanting to reduce the calorie content. It was challenging to figure out how to modify the recipe, substitute alternative ingredients and still make a proper dessert.

Between baking classes, C3 and I explored southern Vermont hiking trails, the quaint little villages, we were especially fond of Woodstock, dined at a great restaurant in Rutland called Roots, please try their appetizer called Vt Cider Braised Pork Belly with grilled watermelon, jalepeno-honey vinaigrette and pickles. We soothed in the cooler temperatures and lower humidity levels. We drove by dairy farms, corn fields, mountain streams, well-tended gardens, berry crops, wild flowers and so many beautiful perennials just blooming for us to admire. Writers and story tellers like Howard Frank Mosher refer to Vermont as God’s Kingdom.  C3 and I learned why.

Get a little closer to nature and try your hand at baking.  Here is one of the recipes I especially enjoyed and want to share with you.

Florentine Bars

Ingredients

  • 113 grams of unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 57 grams sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 egg (cold or room temperature)

Topping

  • 43 grams honey
  • 43 grams unsalted butter
  • 128 grams sugar
  • 113 grams heavy cream (cold or room temperature)
  • 113 grams sliced almonds
  • 57 grams dried cranberries
  • 7 grams all purpose flour

Directions

  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spray 9×13 inch pan with pan spray.
  • In the bowl of electric mixer fitted with paddle, cream together butter, sugar and salt until it looks like sand.
  • Add the egg and vanilla (it will look a little gloppy)
  • Add the flour and stir until combined (turn up your mixer to 5 speed)
  • Press mixture into the prepared pan.
  • Prick bottom with a fork – the steam will escape from the butter.
  • Chill 30 minutes before baking.  Don’t skip this step!
  • Bake for 10 minutes until just set but not taking color.
  • Remove from oven, set aside, and reduce oven to 325.

For the topping

  1. In a sauce pan, boil the honey, butter, sugar and cream over medium heat until lightly golden brown, about 240 degrees. Use a candy thermometer for best results.
  2. Remove from heat and stir in almonds, cranberries and flour (mix together before adding to sugar mixture)
  3. Spread the cooked mixture on top of the par-baked crust
  4. Bake until the almonds are well browned and the topping is bubbling (about 12 minutes).

Allow to cool, invert the pan releasing the bars and cut into diamond pattern.  So pretty and yummy good.

 

 

 

 

JT, Friendly Confines, Flower Power, and GoT

JT, Friendly Confines, Flower Power, and GoT

On a road trip,  RM and I listen to music and frequently it is to James Taylor. I especially like his newest album, Before This World. I remember singing along with JT on our honeymoon/relocation journey to Los Angeles back in 1984.  We knew the lyrics to Fire and Rain, Sweet Baby James, Carolina In My Mind, Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight and Shower the People.  His familiar voice was and still is a comfort to us in uncertain times.

concert 4

Monday night, along with our growing brood, we softly sang along again to his music at his outdoor concert at Wrigley Field. It was a beautiful night in the ‘Friendly Confines’ as the music matched the mellow mood of an ideal summer evening in Chicago – a relief to us in our group escaping the Texas heat. While JT is legendary to our generation, our kids softly snickered, fogyish, his 10-piece band is the real deal full of horns, bass, percussion, fiddle, flute, sax and piano.  He also brought along Bonnie Raitt and his soulful session musician, Arnold McCuller. Memories of sitting in this intimate space under the iconic red sign, the fans, the groovy, flower power motif and the ivy-cladded brick walls, with our family, is indelible.

concert 1

Our Chicago week-ender celebrated RM’s December birthday without all the distraction of the holiday season.  We kayaked up and down the Chicago River, took pics in front of the Bean and the Buckingham Fountain, toured museums, picked our way through vintage shops, and gobbled down colossal burgers at Rocket Burger Bar on Clark Street in Wrigleyville.  We rented a house within a couple of blocks of the stadium from HomeAway and it met our families’ needs to perfection. Jimmy Buffett was also performing at Wrigley Field so Saturday night was filled with his parrot cladded fans as they fortified themselves at the local pubs before his show.  We just happened to walk by the entrance to the stadium when he and his followers belted out Margaritaville. It brought out goosebumps.

concert 2

While I thought the concert would be the highlight of the trip, the Sunday night season premiere of GoT (Game of Thrones for the uninitiated) took top honors.  The Cs got RM hooked several seasons ago on this fantasy drama and they, when together, throw Dothraki and High Valyrian vocabulary around as if they themselves are nomadic inhabitants from some long-lost sea. Worrisome, it took several hours to figure out how to access HBO from our rental (valar dohaeris), but with ingenuity, several degrees in engineering and computer programming, consultation with the internet, we watched the season opener, together, just as assuredly as winter is coming and just like home.

concert 3

Red Rooster

Red Rooster

I admire chef Marcus Samuelsson so when I planned a trip to NYC this summer, eating at the Red Rooster Harlem restaurant was top of my list of ‘must do’s’, along with touring the Guggenheim, seeing a Broadway show, and visiting the National September 11 Memorial and Museum. I recently added to my growing cookbook collection, Samuelsson’s beautifully illustrated cookbook, Red Rooster Harlem, which includes his recipes, stories about his life in Harlem, but he also provides an eclectic playlist to accompany each section.  For example, there is the The Bar Playlist for the cocktail section, the Big Day Playlist for the entrée section, and it goes on like that throughout the book.  Songs by Wynton Marsalis, Roberta Flack,  Miles Davis and Erykah Badu make his list of favorites.

The Red Rooster did not disappoint.  I loved the vibe of the place with the multitude of bright and colorful paintings all over the walls, tons of homage to the red rooster in the decor, hip and helpful staff, amazing and creative dishes and oh, yeah, awesome soulful live music.   We met for brunch on a Sunday and the place was hopping with customers of all stripes and sorts dining in twos, fours, eights and more.  There was even a family celebrating a reunion down in Ginny’s Supper Club (downstairs from the Red Rooster, and on my list for next visit to the Big Apple) with matchy-matchy t-shirts.  And everyone was so happy in the space – some places just make you smile and the Red Rooster is such a place.

We ordered the cornbread first. Correction,  I ordered the cornbread, a core recipe at the Rooster, the minute we sat down at the table. I had recently poured over the chef’s cookbook for items I had to taste. This decadent cornbread topped the list.  I didn’t even ask my table mates what they wanted to order. I said, “an order of cornbread, please,” to our attentive waiter.  The bread, filled with fresh corn, aleppo pepper and coarse yellow cornmeal arrived quickly to our table, warm and crunchy, served with honey sage butter and an amazing tomato jam. I tried to share.

We sampled several items off the brunch menu including the Fried Yard Bird, Chicken and Waffles and the Mac and Greens –  all were superb – cooked to perfection.  The Yard Bird came with sweet potatoes and collard greens, the waffles and perfectly fried chicken were paired with smoked maple syrup, rooster hot sauce and house made pickles. The bird is the heartbeat of the restaurant and grounds their menu.  They make use of every part including chicken liver butter, chicken liver omelette, and Wild Wild Wings.  They even fold cracklings into their deviled eggs and serve it with duck salami. Yes, I am definitely trying that hat trick.

Chef Samuelsson is also a pickle guy so of course this Czech girl is enamored with his cooking. For dessert, we shared a bowl of mini-donuts filled with strawberry-orange preserves which was paired with chocolate dipping sauce and whipped cream.  So damn good.

The live jazz, including a strolling songstress, upped the funk of the place.  Every race and every hue is welcome at the Red Rooster. The legendary Apollo Theater is just around the corner from the restaurant and there are several Metro stops nearby to make your trip to the Red Rooster an easy journey from other parts of NYC.