I’ve been neglecting this blog for the last little bit as my sister and I arranged the memorial service and burial of our only cousin on my mother’s side, Carl. Carl was a special kind of guy. He had Asburger’s Syndrome, which is a form of autism. Carl could communicate with the world, but he had a hard time relating to it. He went undiagnosed for many years and, of course, everyone just thought he was kind of strange. He did have a fixation (most Asburger’s victims do) with trains. He had a train set in his basement that would rival the most elaborate set-up at FAO Shwartz. When we went through his house (the one he grew up and lived in his entire life), everything was pretty much a mess. Carl wasn’t a housekeeper and there were piles of papers all over the house. The basement train set was gone, replaced with mounds of moldy boxes and dusty knicknacks. But when we opened a padlocked closet, there were all his train cars, put back in their original boxes and neatly stacked on some shelves. It was the only orderly thing in his house, perhaps in his life.
Carl died of a massive heart attack sitting in his car at a trainyard in South Chicago where he’d gone to take photos. It was a pretty spectacular exit. Louise and I scattered some of his ashes on some train tracks before we buried the cremains (isn’t that a creepy word?) with his mother in Jacksonville, Ill.
The coolest thing about Carl is that the last few years of his life were full of companionship and fun. He became an avid anti-war protestor (he was even interviewed on television at a rally). He joined an Asberger’s support group and made lots of friends. We were worried that no one would show up at his memorial service and almost 50 people were there. My aunt, his mother, was very fearful about Carl’s future after she was gone. Auntie, you needn’t have worried. He turned out fine.
One of the great things about the Internet and blogs is that folks who walked this earth, breathed the same air as the rest of us, and died almost anonymously can be remembered and memorialized. I was not the best cousin in the world to him. I should have tried harder. I flew up to Chicago last week and got Carl’s car for my 17-year-old son. It’s a pretty nice Ford Focus. I thought I’d be a little squemish about driving a car that someone had died in, but it turned out to be oddly comforting.
I love my boy, but he’s eating us out of house and home. I’d forgotten what it was like to have actual leftovers until he went to New York City with his high school choir to sing at Carnegie Hall. It was really hard to let him go (I pride myself on not being a clingy mom, but as he heads into his last year of high school I’m getting more and more clingy – stop that!).
So while he was gone, I made normal portions of food and there were actually leftovers! The best was pasta with slow-roasted tomatoes – the first of the season from the Farmer’s Market in Franklin.
Slow roasted tomatoes sound gourmet, but they’re easy, easy. Just core the tomatoes and cut them in half. Lay them in a rimmed cookie sheet covered in foil. Drizzle a good amount of olive oil over the tomatoes and a spare amount of balsamic vinegar (they make the sauce), throw in some peeled whole garlic and sprinkle with salt, pepper and a little sugar. Pop them in the oven set at 275 degrees and just let them roast until they’ve shriveled up and are starting to get brown around the edges.
I just toss the tomatoes, olive oil and all, with fettuccine and add some freshly grated Parmesan cheese. Delicious.
We like giving teas in the South. We’ll use almost any excuse to get our hands on those deceptively dainty tea sandwiches that can’t really add too many inches to our waistlines because they’re , well, so tiny. I am involved in two annual teas. The first is the English Tea at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Franklin.
The English Tea began as a mission of the Episcopal Women of St. Paul’s to raise funds for restoration of our historic church. Over the years, the tea grew from a small event catering to about thirty guests to a juggernaut with two seatings for a total of 240 people and a precise order of preparation that had to be followed to the letter. Here is what’s involved in the St. Paul’s Episcopal Church English Tea. About four months before the tea the chair, Wanda Woolen, convenes a meeting of any volunteers who want to participate. But the main roles have been long filled with meticulous care. The food chairman is selected after reviewing the designee’s history as a very good cook, flawless organizer and having good enough standing with her fellow parishioners that she can convince at least twenty women to spend hundreds of dollars making tea sweets and savories, which we then turn around and sell to the public. The economics of this would not stand up to close scrutiny.
The decorations chair has also been pre-selected and a theme is agreed on. While the decorations chair starts rounding up whatever props are needed, the food chair starts recruiting volunteers to make a variety of tea sandwiches, sweets and scones. This calls for diplomacy befitting an ambassador to the United Nations because all cooks are not created equal. You must know who makes delicate, flaky scones and who turns out hockey pucks. The sandwiches each have their own set of rules: cucumber always goes on white bread rounds, pimento cheese on whole-wheat triangles, and chicken salad in phyllo cups. There are no variations and no substitutions.
The second tea I’m involved in is the Green Tea for P.E.O. That’s green as in raising money, not the kind of tea. P.E.O. is a philanthropic educational organization that raises money for women’s scholarships. There is also a huge social side to P.E.O. All the members are referred to as sisters and we try to put forth the best attributes of that moniker. The Green Tea is a lot less meticulous than the English Tea. There were no formatted recipes, at least until I joined. By first assignment after initiation was as the Ways and Means Chairman. That actually means Green Tea Chairman, for that is the committee’s only duty.
So this morning, we had our first organizational meeting and the first order of business was sampling possible menu items for the tea. Which is a long-winded way of saying: Blue Moon Cheese Sandwiches. These are the most addictive, most unusual version of pimento cheese sandwiches ever in the universe. As I understand it, these sandwiches were served in a tea room in Montgomery, Alabama, that went out of business long ago. Thank heavens, someone saved the Blue Moon recipe. Here it is:
Blue Moon Cheese Sandwiches
2 cups finely grated sharp New York Cheddar cheese
1/3 cup chili sauce
3/4 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup chopped stuffed olives
1/2 cup finely chopped pecans
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
Directions: Mix together well and chill before using. Cut the crusts off whole wheat bread and spread with mixture. Cut into four triangles.
Making tacos from a kit tonight. I know – how pathetic. But I just got finished making some fabulous scones for a P.E.O. meeting tomorrow and this is easy. So here’s my tip: when you use ground chuck and it says to “drain” after “browning” – don’t. Most people cook ground beef until it’s gray, not brown. Keep a’going. Really brown the meat until it’s, well, brown. The fat will help that happen. And the meat will absorb it. So don’t drain – you’re taking the flavor out of the meat.
I just made the most amazing thing and I made it up completely. Patent pending…here you go.
7.5 ounces Mexican chorizo (the kind you take out of the casing and it’s loose… 7.5 ounces is 1/2 a stick)
1 cup finely diced new potatoes
1/2 cup finely diced onion
Salt and pepper
1 cup grated sharp Cheddar cheese
Heat a non-stick saute pan over medium high heat. Remove the chorizo from its casing and saute until chorizo begins to turn brown. Reserve.
Add a little vegetable oil to the pan. Saute the potatoes and onions, salted and peppered, until the potatoes are browned and beginning to crisp.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Whisk the eggs with the cheese. Heat an 8-inch cast iron skillet to medium. Add enough oil to lightly coat the bottom. Add the chorizo, the potatoes and onions and the eggs. Cook over medium heat until the eggs begin to pull away from the sides of the skillet. Put in the oven and bake about 5-7 minutes or until a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean. Serve slices topped with sour cream and salsa.
I would have taken a photo of this, but we ate it all!
This is kind of what it looked like without the sliced green onions (but that would be a good addition).
I’ll bet anyone with a 16-year-old boy has been through this, but Noah’s my “only” and everything is a first for me. Yesterday, I dedicated myself to making enough food for Noah to take to lunch at school (he hates school lunches and I don’t blame him) and leftovers for my husband, who works from home.
1. Three servings of cous-cous salad.
2. Two servings of regular cous-cous to heat up with something else for lunch.
3. Two servings of Asian Chicken noodles
4. A pan of Cheesy Chicken Mushroom Lasagne from March’s Gourmet (very good, by the way), which we had for supper and from which three containers of leftovers were placed in the fridge.
Here’s what was in the f ridge this morning: 2 containers of cous-cous salad and my Asian Chicken Salad. The boy had gone through two containers of cous-cous, one container of cous-cous salad and three containers of the lasagna from the time he got home at about 8:30 p.m. until he left for school!
I’ll make the lasagne again, even though I only had a SMALL taste of it before the leftovers disappeared. Here’s the recipe:
Cheesy Chicken and Mushroom Lasagne
(Gourmet, March 2009)
1 (10-ounce) package cremini or white mushrooms, thinly sliced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon olive oil
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 roast chicken, skin discarded, meat shredded (about 2 1/4 cups), and carcass reserved for stock.
3 1/2 cups whole milk
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons thyme leaves
3/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
12 Barilla no-boil egg lasagne noodles (less than a 9-ounce package)
1 1/2 cups coarsely grated Gruyère (3 ounces)
Equipment: an 8-inch square baking pan
Cook mushrooms, garlic, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/8 teaspoon pepper in oil and 1 tablespoon butter in a 4-quart heavy saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until mushrooms are softened, about 3 minutes. Add wine and simmer briskly 2 minutes. Transfer mushroom mixture to a large bowl and stir in chicken. (Set aside saucepan.)
Bring milk to a bare simmer in a medium saucepan. Melt remaining 4 tablespoons butter in 4-quart saucepan over medium-low heat. Add flour and cook roux, whisking constantly, 3 minutes. Add hot milk in a slow stream, whisking constantly. Add thyme, 3/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper and simmer, whisking occasionally, until thickened, 5 to 6 minutes. Remove from heat and reserve 1 cup sauce. Stir parmesan into sauce remaining in pan, then stir into mushroom filling.
Pour half of reserved plain sauce into baking pan, spreading evenly to coat bottom. Add 3 lasagne sheets, overlapping slightly, and one third of mushroom filling, spreading evenly, then sprinkle one fourth of Gruyère over top. Repeat 2 times. Top with remaining 3 lasagne sheets and remaining plain sauce, spreading evenly. Sprinkle with remaining Gruyère.
Cover with foil, tenting slightly to prevent foil from touching top of lasagne but sealing all around edge, and bake 30 minutes. Remove foil and bake until cheese is golden, about 15 minutes more. Let lasagne stand 10 minutes before serving.