Marriage is Not a 50/50 Proposition – Neither is Brunch!

Breakfast 022013

This morning as I was eating my yummy breakfast parfait, I was mulling over the idea of gratitude and all the things for which I am grateful.  I wish I could say I start every day that way, but if I told you I do it would be a lie.  Not that I am not grateful every day, but most mornings begin with me in a somewhat grumpy mood – especially if you catch me before coffee. I am not a “morning person.”

One of the things that came first to mind this morning when I was thinking about gratitude was that Jeff made breakfast (actually it was more like brunch) for me on Sunday morning. And this act of kindness was completely unexpected!

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Chocolate Covered February

Last Saturday I spent part of the day at the Hotel Hershey with some fellow bloggers at one the MANY Chocolate Covered February events being offered in Hershey.  We met in the lobby and then wended our way through the hotel to one of the ballrooms for a cooking demonstration by Chef Garde Manger, Mario Oliverio.

Chefe Garde Manger Mario Oliverio

Chef Mario demonstrated several components for the group, including:

  • Chocolate Pecans
  • Dried Cherry & Chive Vinaigrette
  • Salad of Frisee and Arugula with Apple, Dried Cherry & Chive Vinaigrette, and Chocolate Pecans
  • Cocoa Spiced Braised Lamb with Pickled Red Onion on Fried Wonton

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A Crackerjack Event

Last week was so much fun….I spent the majority of it preparing for a party I catered for our friends Lowell and Nancy on Saturday evening. They were welcoming some friends from our church into their neighborhood.  Lowell and Nancy are such gracious hosts and some of the most generous people I have ever met – they’re quite inspiring.  So it was my pleasure to cater the party.

We met a few weeks ago to talk about the menu, decor, buffet placement, etc. I then worked out a menu, which Nancy and I tweaked along the way, and last Tuesday I did all the grocery shopping I could do in advance.  On Wednesday food prep began and by Saturday afternoon, Jeff was helping me unload the car at Lowell and Nancy’s beautiful home.  Their house overlooks a lake, which made working in their kitchen a pleasure. The view from the window over the sink is spectacular!

Between 2:30 and 4:00 I got the bar, the dessert table and the appetizer buffet set and then at 4:00 I began putting the finishing touches on the food.

Nancy and Lowell chose a nautical theme and I had great fun coming up with ideas for the bar and buffets. Jeff agreed to tend bar, so I wanted him to have a nice space to work.  I created the bar using a 4 foot table; two vases with sand, rope and shells; a piece of reclaimed wood; and some other decorations including a string of battery-operated lights.  Everyone at the party commented on the bar.

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Busy Day and Great News

I am catering a party for some friends on Saturday night and have been working on shopping, food prep, tablescape (you know how this word makes me nervous), etc.  And I’ve had some great help!

I finished all the grocery shopping I could do in advance on Tuesday.  And if you’ve been reading you know I set up a schedule for myself working backwards from Saturday.  I am happy to say we (my mom and I – she is fantastic help with catering jobs) are ahead of schedule – but I try not to jinx myself with that kind of thinking!

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What’s the Difference: Orange Marmalade?

I want to share with you a lesson I’ve learned over the last week.  While testing a recipe I will be making later in the month for a catered event, I discovered that all orange marmalades are not alike.  I know, not a gasp-out-loud, jaw dropping revelation – because you’d expect differences; but I did not expect what I found.

Orange Marmalade

Let me start by clearing up one of the great mysteries of life…the difference between marmalade, jam and jelly!

  • Marmalade – a clear, jelly-like preserve made from the pulp and rind of fruits, especially citrus fruits.
  • Jam – a preserve made from whole fruit boiled to a pulp with sugar.
  • Jelly – a fruit product made by boiling sugar and the juice of the fruit.

So, back to my story….

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It’s Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas – Friday

Ooohhhhh, what a fun and productive day we had yesterday!

My friend Holly, who has a Costco membership, was gracious enough to accompany me and my Mom, Mimi, there so that we could buy some things for our Feast of the Seven Fishes on Christmas Eve.

The day began at my house at 9:00 am……my mom met me there for a quick bowl of savory oatmeal and a cup-a-joe.  Next we met Holly at her house at 10:00 and the day was officially under way.

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Topic Melange

The last 48 hours feel like a whirlwind…..so I am glad to be sitting down for a minute to write about them!

I spent the evening on Wednesday at the Kitchen Shoppe helping at a hands-on class. And I sure had a great time!  The class, Holiday Pierogies, was composed of 23 students who had various levels of experience making pierogi.  It was so much fun to see groups of friends, grandmother & granddaughter, father & son, etc. working together to make a traditional food. Tracee, the instructor, did a fantastic job of keeping everyone on track and making sure everyone had success.  Not only was it a fun experience for the students; but the bonus for me was that I had a ball as well!

I returned home on Wednesday evening to find a brown box on my front porch – not an unusual sight at this time of year since we do much of our Christmas shopping online.  However, I hadn’t ordered anything that was scheduled to arrive on Wednesday; so the mischievous part of me was anxious to get to the box before Jeff….I know, I probably shouldn’t admit that in writing, but it’s true!  I brought the box inside and it was addressed to Mr. and Mrs. Jeffery Groff….hmmmm…..curiouser and curiouser.  Jeff and I opened the box together and found a beautiful gift tower from Harry & David, but no gift card.  Interesting.  I called Harry & David and they told me who sent it – so now I can set about writing my thank you note.  But let me tell you about this gift – it includes six of Harry & David’s famous pears – including a single one wrapped in gold foil (a H&D tradition); a bag of Milk Chocolate Moose Munch Snack (a decadent mix of chocolate covered and caramel popcorn); a bag of mixed nuts; a box of beautiful chocolates with yummy fillings including milk chocolate, coffee, cherry, dark chocolate, raspberry (my favorite) and almond; and a bag of H&D chocolate cherries.  What a terrific gift for a foodie!!!!

That brings me to yesterday.  I had an extravagantly long lunch with my friend Holly.  She and I haven’t had a chance to spend much time together lately; so it was great to have a few hours (OK, maybe more) to catch up. We met at Sophia’s on Market (you know it’s one of my fav’s), where I ordered the Marinated Roast Beef Sandwich.  Their menu has several sandwiches that I love; but I was definitely in the mood for the one I ordered and I was not disappointed.  I always order the potato salad as a side, although for my taste there is never enough salt on it.  Fortunately, a salt shaker on the table fixes it up and I always enjoy it!!!  Sophia’s has such a warm and inviting atmosphere for spending time with a friend.  It’s cozy, decorated in a funky way with local art on the walls, and the conversation is lively, but not too loud.

After lunch I did some Christmas shopping and got the supplies for a Christmas project on which I am working.  Traffic was heavier than usual, but not the frustrating mess it can be near the holidays.  I hope to have my shopping done before the roads get too crowded!  When I got home I put in a little work on my Christmas project and then worked at my consulting job for several hours.  By the time I got around to eating dinner it was 9:30 – so I had a nice little cheese plate with red grapes. Mmm mmm mmm.

EARLY this morning my brain was spinning out of control – this often happens when I work later in the day, which I did last night.  So I got up and made myself a cup of homemade Chai.  If you’re not familiar with Chai it is a wonderfully soothing, warm spiced tea and milk drink that originated in India.  It was the perfect beverage for some time in God’s Word.  Both the drink and the message from the Bible wrapped around me like a well-worn blanket, soothed my mind and soul, and brought me to a place where I could sink back into bed for another two hours of sleep.

The ingredients I use in the chai I make include: water, milk (whole milk is best but I didn’t have any in the fridge), honey, vanilla paste, loose Darjeeling tea, and a mix of spices.  The photo at right shows the tea and spices, including from front to back: fennel seed, nutmeg, cardamom, black peppercorns, tea, ground ginger (I would have used fresh if I had any), a cinnamon stick and star anise. The spices are steeped in the water for several minutes.  Then the milk, honey, vanilla paste, and tea are added and the whole thing is steeped for about 3 more minutes. After it has steeped to the desired taste, it is strained and then I froth it a bit with a whisk and serve it in a pretty mug. Mmm mmm mmm.

As I said, the Chai and God’s message for me helped me quiet my mind so that I could get a few more hours of sleep.  When I woke up, I made a delicious fritatta with onion, red pepper, a mix of ground beef and ground turkey, cheddar, and parsley.  I made enough for me to have for breakfast and for Jeff to have for dinner.  You see, I will be back at the Kitchen Shoppe tonight by the time he gets home from work and I want him to have a warm dinner on a dreary, rainy day!

 

A Healthier Comfort Food

The lunch I made today was so good that I just had to tell you about it.  I woke up too late for breakfast (darn), so I didn’t get to have my oatmeal (I have been on a kick lately).  So I thought to myself, “Oatmeal?  I could do oatmeal for lunch, but I don’t want anything sweet.”  That was like a challenge to myself….which I think I overcame quite nicely!

So I ended up making pizza style oatmeal – a great way to satisfy a pizza craving without having the crust.  I also added a few healthy things that you can easily “hide” in oatmeal!

I made a regular serving of oatmeal and added:

  • 1 tsp. ground flax-seed (a good source of Omega-3’s, fiber, and it helps lower cholesterol (particularly the LDL (the bad cholesterol) among other things))
  • 1 tsp. chia seeds (high in protein, fiber, magnesium, calcium, and Omega-3’s)
  • A healthy grind of black pepper
  • A handful of grated cheddar and parmesan cheeses
  • An ounce-ish of ham (that I diced) – I didn’t have pepperoni, which would have been my first choice
  • 1 Tbsp chopped sundried tomatoes
  • A sprinkle of pepitas
  • A sprinkle of chopped fresh parsley

It was DELICIOUS, warm and satisfying!!!  It really did taste like pizza…..AND it kept me full until about 5:00 p.m.  Who could ask for anything more?

Leftovers

Unlike many people, I like leftovers – especially when the meal the night before was wonderful. I know this is going to sound strange, but my favorite meal of the year is Christmas morning – leftovers from Christmas Eve dinner!  But when I have a day where time won’t allow me to cook, I RRREEEAAALLLLLLYYY appreciate leftovers.

Today is one of those days.  Not only was the day busy, but I’ll be at my Bible study this evening so dinner is either leftovers, fast food, or something way too late in the day.  And today is one of those lucky days where the leftovers are from a wonderful meal – stuffed shells.

Jeff and I worked together to make them and they turned out great.  The filling included: ricotta cheese, spinach from our garden, parmesan cheese, mozzarella cheese, salt, pepper, nutmeg, fresh parsley, and some sauteed onion, garlic, and red pepper flakes.

When we make a dish that requires tomato sauce, I am so glad that Jeff roasts and cans tomatoes when they are plentiful in the garden!  We sauteed onions, carrots, green peppers, zucchini, garlic and red pepper flakes until they were soft, added some tomato paste, and cooked it until it had a chance to caramelize.  We then whizzed it up in the food processor (allowing it to remain a bit chunky) and added it to a jar of Jeff’s roasted summer tomatoes.  Finally we added some fresh oregano and parsley and the juice and zest of one lemon and allowed it to cook until all the flavors melded together. Mmm mmm mmm!

While the sauce cooked, we cooked the pasta and filled a pastry bag with the filling.  Although you can fill the shells using a spoon, I find using a pastry bag to be more efficient and less messy. I put a layer of sauce on the bottom of the baking dish and filled the shells, nestling them tightly in the dish.  When all the shells were filled, I topped them with sauce and then some parmesan and mozzarella.

 

The finished product was a warm, gooey, delicious pasta treat with a summer-fresh tomato sauce.  It was great the first night and I’m sure it will be even better tonight!!!!

Pizza: Conventional and Unconventional

I LOVE PIZZA!  And I don’t really trust people who don’t like pizza – I mean, what’s not to like?  Bread, tomatoes, cheese….mmmmmmm! I know there are people who can’t eat pizza for health reasons and they are exempt from my mistrust – mainly because if they could eat it, they would.

I like pizza shop pizza (particularly JoJo’s Pizza and Al’s of Hampden (they also offer a great selection of craft beers)) and frozen pizza – SOME frozen pizza; but I especially love pizza we make at home.  I usually call it “Jeff’s pizza,” but the truth is we collaborate.  The dough is all him!  Over many years he has finessed a recipe he received from a good friend of ours – I didn’t even ask him if I could share it because I’m fairly certain the answer would be “no.”

The toppings are where the collaboration happens.  Typically the ingredients we have in the house dictate the kind of pizza we end up making.  We’ve made conventional pizza with just sauce, mozzarella and traditional toppings; and we’ve made many unconventional pizzas – including some ideas we’ve gotten from recipe books and some made from our creative energies, such as:

  • Coney Island – chili instead of sauce, cheddar cheese and sliced hot dogs topped after cooking with yellow mustard and chopped onions
  • White pizza – sometimes with ricotta and sometimes without it, some creamy and others on the drier side
  • Chopped salad topped pizza (without sauce)
  • White sauce, asparagus, pancetta and fried egg
  • Caramelized onion with all kinds of different cheeses and chopped nuts
  • Etc.

Last night we went conventional and unconventional. We made a pepperoni pizza and a caramelized onion and goat cheese pizza.  The following is a photographic walk through the process:

Pizza dough just after being punched down.  Look at the air bubbles.  The dough may look like it’s too wet, but it is actually just right!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shaping the Pizza. We don’t worry if the pizzas don’t come out perfectly round.  They taste great no matter the shape!

 

Topping the Caramelized Onion & Goat Cheese Pizza.  The toppings included a brush of olive oil and a sprinkling of salt and pepper on the dough, a tiny bit of mozzarella cheese to help the ingredients stick to the pizza, caramelized onions, chopped prosciutto, goat cheese and a tiny bit of mozzarella on the top to hold everything together!  Jeff wanted a few pepperoncini rings and I didn’t so we put them on half!

Topping the Pepperoni Pizza.  The toppings included Don Pepino Pizza Sauce (a good choice if you don’t have the time to make your own), pepperoni (as you can see Jeff had a serious hankerin’ for pepperoni), mozzarella, and dried oregano.

The Finished Products!

Not all our creations are delicious – sometimes we flop; but we always have fun when we make pizza.  It’s a chance to create together and to enjoy our labor of love.  One day we’ll have a brick oven for our pizza and will be able to make more than one at a time – that will make it easier when we make pizza for company.

My remaining pizza challenge is to recreate a white pizza my grandmother used to make.  It was an incredibly tasty dough topped very simply with olive oil, cracked black pepper and Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.  The pizza was not thin crust, but it was not as thick as a Sicilian style.  I have my mom on the lookout for the recipe……once I master it, I’ll definitely let you know!

In the meantime, let me know your favorite pizza toppings!  I always love to hear what other people like to eat.

Forecast Last Week: Chilly, Chili & Chile

This past week was a busy one….I guess most of us could start a sentence that way. We live in a fast-paced world where cramming one more think into our already over-crowded schedules is expected.  That’s why I am happy the weather has taken a turn toward the chilly.  It seems like when that happens people I start slowing my pace to a more sustainable one.

It’s crazy to say, but Jeff and I only had dinner together two evenings of the last seven.  One was last evening when I made a quick “kitchen sink” pasta. It’s a concept we use to clean out the fridge and, in this case, use up the last of the produce from the garden.  The other dinner together is one I’ll write more about below, but first let me give you a run down of the rest of the week:

  • Monday: write for blog, work on the blog; do some HR consulting work; Me, Myself and Lies Bible study; ride with Jeff to BWI Airport to pick up his parents (we left at 10:30 pm and got home around 3:30 am Tuesday)
  • Tuesday: sleep in a bit to recover from last night; read for Bible study; work on the blog – test and photograph recipes; prep for consulting meeting tomorrow; laundry; walk.
  • Wednesday: consulting meeting; doctor appointment; grocery shop; make chili; dinner with Jeff; write for blog; small group meeting.
  • Thursday: drive mom to doctor appointment in Hershey – wait, wait, wait with Mrs. M (a nice time to catch up!); lunch at Hershey Pantry; shopping; recipe test for baking contest; write for blog; read, read, read for Bible study and some fiction.
  • Friday: make lunch to take to Jeff; have lunch with Jeff; afternoon meeting; laundry; photos for blog; tres bonne annee wine tasting – The Wines of Chile; “dinner” with Ben, Christa & Jeff
  • Saturday: work at Kitchen Shoppe’s Italian Soups and Breads class; final recipe test and photos for baking contest; upload and organize photos from digital camera; read for Bible study; make dinner for me (Jeff was working the homecoming dance); fall into bed after midnight.
  • Sunday: church (a much-needed time of praise and reconnection); work at Kitchen Shoppe’s fundraiser for the Bosler Library in Carlisle, PA; read some fiction; finally connect with Jeff; make dinner; eat together; mindless t.v.; early to bed!

I know there are many of you who add kids activities to this already crowded schedule so I am not complaining by any stretch of the imagination, but sometimes I have to remind myself how much I actually have in my schedule so I understand why some things slide!!! Typically there’s exercise in the schedule too, but I’ve been having a problem with my left foot (No, not the movie) and I’ve been instructed to stay off it for a few days!  Which to me only means I have to stop “organized” exercise, not the rest of the activities I do each day.

So, back to the chili.  I had a two-pound piece of sirloin in the fridge and wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with it; but with the brisk weather I got inspired to fiddle with a new chili recipe.  here’s what I came up with:

Chilly Weather Sirloin Chili

Jeff picked some beautiful Roma tomatoes and Hungarian peppers from the garden and I thought both would be excellent additions to this dish.  I started by halving the tomatoes, placing them cut-side up on a baking sheet and drizzling with olive oil.  I sprinkled them with kosher salt, ground black pepper, brown sugar and red pepper flakes and roasted them in a preheated 350 degree oven until they were caramelized (40 – 60 minutes depending on the size of the tomatoes).  After they cooled enough so that I could handle them, I slid the skins off each tomato half.

While the tomatoes were roasting, I turned my attention to the sirloin.  I cut it into 1 1/2 inch cubes and tossed them in a bowl with 1/2 tsp. kosher salt, 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper, 4 tsp. yellow corn meal (which will help to give a nice crust to the meat and later thicken the chili), 1 tsp. chili powder, 1/2 tsp. cinnamon and 1 tsp. cocoa powder until all the meat cubes were well coated.  I heated 2 Tbsp. olive oil in a dutch oven on the stove top and browned the meat in three batches – removing all the meat to a plate when browned.

In the same dutch oven, which now had gloriously browned bits from the meat on the bottom, I added 3 cups diced Spanish onion, 3 diced Hungarian peppers and 1 cup of water to deglaze the pan.  I cooked the veggies, stirring frequently, for about 10 minutes until the onions were translucent and the water evaporated.  I added garlic to the pan and cooked, stirring, for one minute more.

I then added to the onion mixture, the tomato paste, 1 tsp. chili powder, 1 tsp. cinnamon, 1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper, 1 tsp. paprika, 2 tsp. cocoa powder and 1 Tbsp. cumin.  I cooked  the tomato paste and spices with the veggies to caramelize for about 2 minutes.  I then added the browned meat, 3 cups chicken broth, the roasted tomatoes (skins removed) and 1 can each drained and rinsed black beans and red beans.  I brought it all to a boil, lowered the heat to medium low and simmered for 30 minutes.  Of course, the longer you simmer, the better and the chili is even better if it sits over night in the fridge and is reheated – it gives all the flavors time to meld together.

I served the chili over rice and it was a warm, spicy and delicious treat for a chilly day!

Chilly Weather Sirloin Chili

Serves 6 - 10
Meal type Lunch, Main Dish, Soup
Misc Pre-preparable, Serve Hot

Ingredients

  • 20 Roma tomatoes (fresh from the garden is best!)
  • olive oil to drizzle
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt (divided)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper (divided)
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • .5 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil (for browning meat)
  • 2lb sirloin steak (cut into 1.5 inch cubes~)
  • 4 teaspoons yellow corn meal
  • 2 teaspoons chili powder (divided)
  • 1 tablespoon cocoa powder (divided)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon (divided)
  • 3 cups Spanish onion (diced)
  • 3 Hungarian peppers (diced)
  • 1 cup water
  • 6 cloves garlic (minced)
  • 3 thin slices tomato paste
  • .5 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 tablespoon cumin
  • 3 cups chicken broth ((I prefer low sodium))
  • 1 can black beans (drained and rinsed)
  • 1 can red beans (drained and rinsed)

Note

mmm mmm mmm blog at www.cookeatentertain.com

Directions

Roasting Tomatoes
1. Cut Roma tomatoes in half and place cut side up on a greased half sheet pan.
2. Drizzle lightly with olive oil and sprinkle with 1 1/2 tsp. salt, 1 tsp. pepper, 2 Tbsp. brown sugar and 1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes.
3. Place in a preheated 350 degree oven and roast for 40 - 60 minutes until caramelized.
4. Allow to cool and remove skins.
The skins can be removed ahead of time using in boiling water, but I find this way less time-consuming and just as easy and it doesn't result in somewhat gritty or mealy tomatoes.
Browning Meat
5. Place the cubed sirloin, 1/2 tsp. salt, 1/2 tsp. pepper, 4 tsp. cornmeal, 1 tsp. chili powder, 1/2 tsp. cinnamon and 1 tsp. cocoa powder in a large bowl and toss well to coat.
6. In a heavy bottom dutch oven, heat 2 Tbsp olive oil. Add 1/3 of the meat and cook over medium high heat, browning on all sides.
7. Remove browned meat and repeat with the remaining meat until all meat is browned and removed to a bowl.
Cooking Veggies
8. Using the same pan in which you browned the meat (which should have nice brown bits on the bottom), add the onion, peppers and 1 cup of water to deglaze the pan.
9. Stirring frequently, cook over medium high heat until water evaporates and onions are translucent - about 10 minutes.
10. Add garlic to the pan and cook, stirring for one minute more.
Making Sauce
11. Add the tomato paste, 1 tsp. chili powder, 1 tsp. cinnamon, 1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper, 1 tsp. paprika, 2 tsp. cocoa powder and 1 Tbsp. cumin to the pan and cook with veggies to caramelize for about 2 minutes.
12. Add browned meat back into pan.
13. Add chicken broth, roasted tomatoes and beans. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium low (low if you have particularly hot burners) and simmer for at least 30 minutes.
The Finished Product
14. Serve over rice and enjoy!

I Cannot Tell a Lie – It’s Apple Cider “Caramel”

Oh boy, did I discover something I didn’t know yesterday!  Maybe I am behind the curve and you already know this; but I discovered, quite by accident, that you can make a terrific mock caramel using apple cider!!!

I was working on a new recipe and I wanted to include an apple cider reduction, but I went a bit too far – some of you will not be surprised by this as I often go a bit too far – and ended up with an amazing treat.   I envision it being excellent over vanilla ice cream, perhaps drizzled over a bagel with cream cheese or over oven roasted sweet potato fries.  Or even on grilled pork – a new twist on “Pork Chops and Apple Sauce, Shwell.” The possibilities are endless!!!! Enjoy!

Here’s what I did – I am currently trying to replicate it in larger quantities – as soon as I do, you will be the first to know!

Apple Cider “Caramel”

Meal type Condiment, Dessert
This recipe was a happy accident. I envision it being excellent over vanilla ice cream, perhaps drizzled over a bagel with cream cheese or over oven roasted sweet potato fries. The possibilities are endless!!!! Enjoy!

Ingredients

  • 2 cups Apple Cider
  • 1 pinch Kosher Salt
  • 1 pinch Ground Black Pepper
  • 2 tablespoons Brown Sugar (divided)

Note

mmm mmm mmm blog at www.cookeatentertain.com

Directions

1. Put cider, salt, pepper and 1 Tbsp of brown sugar in a heavy bottom saucepan, stir well and bring to a boil.
2. Lower heat to medium low (low if you have a particularly hot burner) and reduce to 1 cup.
3. Add the remaining 1 Tbsp of brown sugar, increase heat. Bring to a boil. Lower heat and reduce to 1/3 cup.

This was one of those things in life that we refer to as a “happy accident.”  A time when you get something wonderful that you didn’t plan or intend.  When these things happen, I’m glad I can embrace them. Because so often when things don’t turn out like we had planned, we look at the situation as a failure.

I prefer to look at it like Thomas Edison did.  He said, “I have not failed.  I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

* If you’ve been following my blog, you may think I have a thing for Thomas Edison.  I assure you, I do not.  I do, however, “collect” quotes.  I find them both inspiring and comforting; so I will share them with you from time to time.

 

Octoberfest at The Kitchen Shoppe in Carlisle

Gourds1I am so excited to start my work study program at the Kitchen Shoppe in Carlisle tonight! If you haven’t taken a cooking class there, I’d highly recommend it.  Some classes are demonstration only and some are hands-on classes. There are a wide range of topics – something for everyone!

The class I am working this evening is Octoberfest and is being taught by Grayson Bowman and Dennis Dragas.  The course catalog describes the class as follows:

“Celebrate Octoberfest with German Food and Roy Pitz Brewery!  Food and Beer Tasting!

Octoberfest in Germany is a time for good food and great beer!

– Beef Goulash
– Apple Sausage Breakfast Ring
– Sauerbraten with Red Cabbage and Potato Dumplings
– Apple Dijon Pork Roast with Potato and Asparagus Casserole
– Beef Tenderloin Stroganoff
– Linzer Torte”

I can’t wait to get there and get started!  This is such a great way to combine my love of cooking and my love of learning!  Although I love to cook I would never be arrogant enough to think I have nothing more to learn.  In fact, learning and trying new things is part of the fun – it’s always an adventure!

Click here to see a list of classes and/or to register.  Click here to request a course catalog via US Mail.

Update:
My first night at The Kitchen Shoppe was wonderful.  I worked with many amazing folks, some who were new like me and some veterans.  Everyone was very helpful and friendly.  After about the first 15 minutes we really got into a groove.

Although I was only serving and clearing (it is quite difficult for me to be in a kitchen and not be chopping, stirring, seasoning, etc.), I enjoyed being busy and being able to fully experience the class.  I haven’t cooked much, if any, German food and was glad to have the opportunity to learn about a new kind of cuisine, to taste some great dishes, and to meet other people with a passion for food.

The food was paired with beers from a semi-local brewery.  The Chambersburg-based Roy Pitz Brewing Company, whose tagline is “Liquid Art,”  was very well represented by a young man with a burning passion for beer-making!  Their seasonal pumpkin brew was a terrific end to the evening!

Suppli and Salad

Yesterday was a dreary day, but it gave me a chance to snuggle up with a soft blanket and some favorite cookbooks.  I was looking for inspiration for dinner and feeding my soul at the same time.

I decided I would make Suppli (cheese-stuffed rice croquettes) last night, but God and Kissy had other plans.  We had to take our girl to the emergency vet, where she stayed overnight.  That meant little sleep for us as we waited for updates on her condition.  Apparently, she ate well on vacation too – unfortunately it was from the trash.  She ate some corn cobs, which then got “stuck” in her system.

After talking to the ER vet, we resigned ourselves to the fact that Kissy would either have emergency surgery last night or, best case scenario, they’d be able to stabilize her over night and our regular vet would do the surgery today.  Again, God had other plans.  Many friends prayed for our little Kissy and this morning after we transported her from the emergency vet to our regular vet, we found that our regular vet thought a conservative approach was best.

You see, Kissy’s had a difficult life medically speaking.  We rescued her a little over a year ago and prior to us getting her she had several surgeries – for eye issues, thyroid problems, broken legs, etc.  Because of all these things and because the fluids the ER vet administered over night perked Kissy up, our vet decided surgery would only be a last resort.

They continued to administer fluids, gave Kissy some pain meds and watched her closely today with periodic x-rays to see if/how the corn cobs were “progressing” through her system.  Although Kissy isn’t out of the woods yet, she is at home tonight – with many meds.  We will watch her closely over night and will begin feeding her small meals in the morning and pray she continues to improve.

I know, you’re waiting for me to connect this to comfort food.  Never fear…..After very little sleep last night, much praying (and a little worrying) both last night and today, and an early start this morning to get Kissy from one vet to the other; Jeff and I needed some comfort food.  My mind immediately goes to mac and cheese when I think comfort food, but I thought I’d make the suppli that were on my mind yesterday.  And I’m glad I did.

I adapted a recipe from the food of italy: a journey for food lovers. Making suppli requires first making risotto, which is a mesmerizing process.  The ingredients are quite simple:

Suppli Ingredients 1

3 Tbsp butter
1 small onion, diced
2 cups Arborio rice
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
6 cups chicken stock (not pictured), heated in a separate saucepan

AND

Suppli Ingredients 2

2 eggs, beaten
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
15 mini mozzarella balls (approximately 6 oz. of cheese)
1 1/4 cup seasoned breadcrumbs, with 2 Tbsp ground flax seed mixed in
15 small basil leaves

To make the risotto:

  1. Melt butter in a large heavy saucepan.
  2. Add onions and saute 4 – 5 minutes, until translucent.
  3. Add rice and toast for 1 – 2 minutes, stirring constantly.
  4. Add a ladleful of the hot stock and stir constantly until all the stock is absorbed by the rice.  Repeat until all the stock is added and risotto is creamy.  The entire process should take approximately 220 – 30 minutes.
  5. Remove from heat and stir in the parmesan cheese, parsley and eggs – be careful to add the eggs slowly and stir vigorously to avoid scrambling the eggs.
  6. Spread on a half sheet pan and cool completely.

To make the suppli:

  1. Heat enough canola oil in a heavy saucepan to cover the suppli when frying.  Heat oil to approximately 180 degrees F.
  2. Divide the risotto into 15 portions.  With damp hands, take one portion and form it into a ball in your hand.
  3. Make a hole in the ball with your index finger and insert a basil leaf and a mozzarella ball.  Cover the hole with rice so that you end up with an oval with the cheese in the middle.
  4. Roll the suppli in breadcrumbs and place on a platter.  Repeat to form all suppli before frying.
  5. Lower a few suppli gently into the hot oil and cook for approximately four minutes – turning to brown evenly – until golden brown.
  6. Remove from oil and drain on paper towels.
  7. Serve hot.

I made a salad to go with the suppli.  I started with a nice spring mix and added grape tomatoes and peppers from the garden, a little feta cheese and a few toasted pepitas. I made a quick vinaigrette, dressed the salad and dinner was ready.

Suppli & Salad

The salad was crisp and refreshing and the suppli were warm and crunchy with creamy, oozy mozzarella seeping out of the center.  Mmm mmm mmmm! Now we’ve got our fingers and paws crossed that Kissy’s breakfast tomorrow morning is as comforting to her as tonight’s dinner was to us!

Rules are Meant to Be Broken

There was so much activity in our vacation kitchen that my smile was an accessory to EVERY outfit I wore!  But two things in particular stand out to me as outside the norm.

The first is that I got to cook with my dad.  Not since (1) the days of scrambled egg hoagies when I was young and my mom worked in the evenings or (2) the days of ordering so much pizza from Pizza Village in Bethlehem, PA when I was a teen and my sister was away at college and my mom worked evenings that the Italian guys knew us by phone number have my dad and I spent time in the kitchen together “creating” (or phoning in) a dinner.  But my mom was under the weather on this trip and my dad and I were determined to still serve her fabulous grilled clam pasta; so we set to work shoulder to shoulder under my mom’s direction!

Together we chopped and grated and zested and sautéed and grilled the necessary ingredients to end up with a fabulous, if a bit too spicy but just sassy enough, pasta!

First we cooked the bacon to crispy perfection and removed it from the pan to get crisp on paper towels.  We poured off all but a bit of the bacon grease.  In the remaining bacon grease we sautéed red onion until it was beautifully translucent and the bottom of the pan was a gorgeous chestnut brown.

Then we deglazed the pan with about a cup of Pinot Grigio and let it cook until most of the wine evaporated.  We added the juice of two lemons and let that cook a bit longer.  We added olive oil and chopped garlic, a few too many hot pepper flakes, the zest of two lemons, some cracked black pepper and one or two ladles of the salted water in which the pasta was cooking.  We let that get nice and mellow and put the cleaned, fresh clams on the grill.

 

 

 

 

The clams cooked until they had absorbed the taste of the fire and smoke.  When they opened we put them in a large foil pan and tossed them with the pasta, crisp bacon, oil mixture, zest of two lemons, and some chopped fresh parsley.  The whole, delicious dish was served with grilled Italian bread, some fresh made seasoned bread crumbs for sprinkling over the pasta, and a bit of parmesan cheese.

Which brings me to the second thing that struck me as outside the norm in our vacation kitchen.  Fish with cheese!  Horror of horrors!  Sins against food and man!

I have watched enough episodes of Chopped on the Food Network to hear Scott Conant say at least a gazillion times that it’s just not done.  You don’t serve fish with cheese. It’s not the Italian way.

Well I stick out my tongue and give the raspberries to that sentiment!

As far as I am concerned, if we (cooks everywhere – whether home cooks or Michelin starred chefs) hadn’t pushed the proverbial envelope in the kitchen and broken a few rules along the way, we would still be eating exactly what our ancestors ate thousands of years ago exactly how they ate it!  AND there would be no cooking shows like Chopped on television – Chopped, which judges food based upon CREATIVITY, taste and presentation – not on tradition and rules.  How can we be creative if we do what we’ve always done?  In fact, isn’t the definition of insanity “doing what you’ve always done and expecting a different result?”

Sorry for the rant, but I REALLY had to get that out of my system!

This turned out to be a great meal because I got to cook with my dad, I got to eat the freshest clams I’ve eaten in I don’t know how long, and I got to break a few rules.  So I say eat what tastes good, cook with the people you love, and be innovative in the kitchen.  After all, as Thomas Edison once said, “There are no rules here — we are trying to accomplish something!”

Sea Food

Good Morning!

What an amazing morning…..Jeff and I got up early to catch the sunrise on the beach.  I am so lucky to be married to a man who understands that if I am going to get up early enough to see the sunrise I NEED to have some coffee with me.

Sitting on the beach is one of my favorite things in the world – I love hearing the sound of the waves and I marvel at how no two waves are alike – kind of like snowflakes!  I love the smell of the air and how if I stay long enough my lips taste salty.  It is no wonder people flock to the beach and come here for respite.  I can’t imagine being able to look at all this beauty and not attribute it to God!

And speaking of God, we were all grateful last night for the blessings we’ve been given.  We were sitting at the table enjoying a FANTASTIC meal and even better company.  Then after dinner we retired to the deck for drinks and to watch the night sky.

The menu last night was:

Felty cooked the steaks to perfection – a luscious medium rare.  The taters had a light coating of olive oil, salt and pepper and were in the oven for a good 90 minutes.  The outside was perfectly crisp and the inside was succulent and creamy…..mmmmmm……and the corn was sweet and hot……ahhh!

Oh, and it was capped off by a homemade pizzelle with a light dusting of powdered sugar.  Does life get any better than this?

I don’t know if it was especially good food, the spectacular company, or being by the sea – perhaps a combination of all three – but I can truly say it was a memorable meal – one of the best in a while.  I love that great sea food doesn’t have to be seafood!

 

 

No Such Thing As A Little Lie!

As I was pickling some cherry tomatoes early this morning, I got to thinking about the Bible study I began last night with a group of women from my church.  The study is entitled ‘Me, Myself & Lies’ and was written by an inspiringly talented and brave woman named Jennifer Rothschild. There are four women from our church co-leading the study… two of these women I know and have an incredible amount of respect and love for. Two I am looking forward to getting to know better, along with the other members of the group, over the next 13 weeks.

I will do my best to briefly explain the concept here, but please understand these ideas are Jennifer Rothschild’s, not mine – although I suspect and hope that by the end of this study I will have begun to believe her message instead of the lies!

Click here to listen to a little ditty about lies by Dave Barnes.

The focus of the study is the lies we tell ourselves that wound us.  We may have made these lies up ourselves or we may have heard them from others (including Satan or sadly even from people we love) and believed they were true so we started telling them to ourselves.  If you are a woman reading this, you already know what I mean even if you’re not willing to admit it.  [You may know what I mean if you are a man, but I’ve never been a man so I don’t really know for sure].

These lies are things like, “Why did you even try that? You knew you were going to fail.” Or “Don’t bother looking for a bathing suit this season; you’re too fat to look good in one.” Or “You’re not smart enough for that job so don’t even bother applying.” And on and on it goes – where it stops, nobody knows.  And we tell ourselves these things often enough that we start to believe them – I mean really believe them in our souls – and they begin to affect our behavior and even the course of our lives.

Anyway, why am I writing about this on a food blog?  Because I realized this morning over the hot steam of the pickling liquid that perhaps the reason I love cooking and entertaining so much is because I don’t tell myself those destructive lies when I am cooking and entertaining.  I know I am good at these two things.  Please don’t misunderstand me – I am not in any way trying to sound prideful or conceited.  However, I have so much “cooking DNA” in me from generations of amazing cooks and I feel such passion for it that I don’t even question whether I can do it.  If only I could transfer this confidence to other areas of my life and to other areas of yours!

As I looked around the circle of women last night and as I listened to their brief introductions (and mine), I had nothing but compassion for each person in that room. I was uplifted by the notion that I will link arms with these women for a season to bolster one another and to extinguish the lies.

You see, in our culture women can be vicious to other women.  I don’t use the term ‘vicious’ lightly.  I’m not sure where we learn it or when, but somewhere along the line mainstream culture teaches us that it’s ok to say things (even if it’s only in our own heads) like, “Why in the word would she wear that? Doesn’t she own a mirror?” or “If I were in her shoes I’d just leave him” or “If she just disciplined those kids they wouldn’t act like that.”  No wonder we tell ourselves lies!  We say them about others and others say them about us and in our heads the boundaries between truth and lie, acceptable and unacceptable become blurred.

This morning, I am grateful to have a passion into which I can escape.  A place where the lies STOP!  A place where I feel confident and competent.  I encourage you, if you don’t have one, to try so many things that you find that place where you can silence the lies.

And I challenge you to learn to identify the lies you tell yourself so that you change the messages you send in your own head.  And even more, I challenge you to identify those negative things you’re saying (even if only in your head) about others and change them into positive things.  We women have enough challenges in this world (don’t worry men, I’m not about to have a Betty Friedan moment) that we don’t need to put up roadblocks for ourselves and others.  So put your arms around the next woman you see – tell her she’s wonderful and beautiful and that the lies are just that – lies.  Or even better – find a reason to cook for her, eat with her or entertain to serve her!

Click here to learn more about Jennifer Rothschild.

Top Ten….or is it Eleven?

This morning I was in the kitchen and looked at the four containers in which we store kitchen tools and “gadgets” and, among other things, I wondered why we need four containers and if we actually use the things in them.  I emptied the containers to determine if I could get rid of anything and I couldn’t bring myself to discard anything.  But I was able to ask and answer, “What are the 10 tools you couldn’t cook without?”

Unfortunately I was only able to answer the question with 11 items!  I know, I always have to be difficult.  A friend of mine told me once that she never buys a gadget if it doesn’t have more than one use.  In looking through my containers, I realize I have inadvertently followed her theory. The following are the items I couldn’t cook without.  I thought about ordering the list from least to most important tool, but I truly cannot decide which would be the most important – I just know that I wouldn’t want to do without any of them in the kitchen.

Disclaimer: All items in the following photographs are well-used.  I don’t have the budget the fancy magazines have to show you only pristine, brand new products!

To order items mentioned below from Amazon.com, visit my blog store.

  • Whisks

I have them in different shapes and sizes, but on any given day there is at least one in the dishwasher because it’s been used to beat eggs until they are fluffy, to stir polenta or gravy to eliminate lumps, or to beat something by hand rather than getting out the mixer.  If you find yourself without a whisk – a situation I hope to avoid at all costs – you can use two forks facing one another so the tines interlock.

  • OXO Good Grips Vegetable Peeler

For some items the brand is not important to me, but for others I find it makes a difference.  In the case of my vegetable peelers, I like the OXO Good Grips.  Specifically the Swivel Peeler.  Having peeled an inordinate amount of carrots and potatoes in my lifetime and having used many not-so-great peelers, I prefer the OXO because it’s comfortable in my hand, the food doesn’t get stuck in the blade and the blade swivels nicely around curves.

 

 

  • Salt Box and Kuhn Rikon Pepper Mill (Vase Grinder)

Technically I know this is two items, but they both fall under seasoning and you can hardly even say “salt” without “pepper” so surely you can cut me some slack!  The salt box is a round wooden “box” with a lid that swivels open to reveal the salt yet stays attached.  It’s a good size and fits neatly on my counter blending nicely with the cabinets.  The Kuhn Rikon Pepper Mill (Vase Grinder) was a gift from my mother-in-law and I’ve never used another pepper mill in the many years I’ve owned this one.  It grinds the pepper just the way I like it, holds a lot of peppercorns at one time and never (knock wood) jams.

 

This tool is amazing.  I have two and they’re usually both in the dishwasher because we use them so often.  My favorite use is grating parmesan cheese (my absolute favorite food); but I also use it for zesting all kinds of citrus fruits (this is quite different than a zester that gives you longer “strips” of citrus peel), for finely grating chocolate over tiramisu or other desserts, for grating whole nutmeg, ginger, etc.  I like this brand because the grating blade is longer than others I have tried.

  • Hand-Held Citrus Juicer

I have no idea what brand mine is, but I like the design because it keeps the seeds inside while the juice flows though the holes.  The only drawback of the model I have is that while it is terrific for smaller fruits like lemons, limes, and mandarin oranges, larger citrus fruits just don’t fit into it.  I am typically not in need of so much juice that I would pull out an electric juicer so I don’t even own one.

  • Williams Sonoma Green Herb Snips

Because I grow a lot of fresh herbs in my yard, these are an invaluable tool – particularly during the growing season.  The snips are dishwasher safe and come apart so they dry completely without rusting.  They have an “on board” stripper that removes leaves from woody herbs such as rosemary.


  • Seven Inch Hollow-Edge Santoku

I love this knife!  The brand of mine is Wusthof.  It fits very comfortably in my large hand and is weighted quite nicely.  I really appreciate the hollow edge, which reduces drag when cutting and helps prevent food sticking to the blade.  If you use your knives as much as I do, I would highly recommend investing in a knife sharpener.

  • Ramekins and Pinch Bowls

I am a firm believer in mis en place.  This is a French phrase that translates into “everything in place.”  It means you get all your recipe ingredients prepped and in place before you start cooking.  In order to do that, I use ramekins and pinch bowls of different sizes on a regular basis.  I find prepping all my ingredients ahead of time helps reduce the chance of missing an ingredient and requires me to review a recipe so there are no surprises when I actually start cooking.

  • Food Processor

Again, this is a tool I use quite regularly.  It’s great for making pesto, for grating large amounts of cheese and/or veggies quickly, for making pizza dough and/or bread dough, for incorporating butter into pastry dough, etc.  In fact, I use mine so often that I purchased a second bowl so that I’m not constantly washing the bowl.  My current food processor is a Kitchen Aid and I have had very good luck with it.

  • Silicone Spoons with Stainless Steel Handles

I am a lover of wooden spoons.  I think they are quite beautiful – particularly those in funky shapes made from exotic woods; but I don’t like the hassle of cleaning them.  For the hard core cooking I do, I like being able to throw my spoons into the dishwasher.  Over time I have found that silicone spoons with stainless steel handles really hold up for the long haul.

  • Half Sheet Pans

We use our half sheet pans at least once a day.  We use them for roasting meats and vegetables, for baking cookies and cakes, for reheating leftovers, for making chocolate barks, among a zillion other uses.  You can tell by looking at them that they are well loved.  We own two, but honestly I would say it’s not enough.  Of course, if I owned more I’d dirty more and then I’d be complaining more often because they don’t fit into my sink.

I hope the above information is helpful to you.  I would love to hear the tools you can’t cook without – especially those with more than one use!

Food Connects….Part 2

As Jeff and I sat in church this morning I was feeling particularly blessed.  I am a little embarrassed to admit that my mind was wandering a bit and that after glancing at who was sitting near me I started making notes on my service outline that had nothing to do with the message.

[I will apologize right here to Pastor Shawn. He preached a great sermon about involving God in our personal finances and I really was listening to the message.  In addition to the notes I took that had nothing to do with the message, I really did take notes that were pertinent to the sermon; it’s just that my mind was working overtime….yeah, working overtime.  It’s true that women can multitask! ]

Anyway….at some point I realized that Jeff and I were surrounded on three sides by other couples who we are so fortunate to count as friends.  I couldn’t help my mind from reaching back to what I had been mulling over all day Friday – the idea that food connects. I realized that we have shared meals with all these couples and, if memory serves, we’ve shared one particular meal with all of them.  It’s not a fancy meal by any stretch of the imagination, but it is one that is meaningful for several reasons.

We first had Taco Soup on our missions trip to Ecuador in 2008.  The last night of our trip, the full-time missionaries with whom we were serving invited our team over to their home in Quito for dinner.  They made Taco Soup.  After spending days eating in unfamiliar places and sometimes not really knowing for sure what we were having, the soup was a wonderful tonic – warm and comforting. We ate and talked and connected over the soup and were so grateful to the Brown’s for their hospitality.  Before we left, we asked for the recipe.

I can’t tell you how many times we’ve made Taco Soup since we returned to the states, but I can tell you it is ALWAYS for a crowd, there’s always lots of laughter, and invariably someone always asks for the recipe.  I always triple the recipe and make it in a huge, heavy yellow pot. I’ve even loaned the pot to a friend so that she could make the soup for a crowd too!

We served Taco Soup at our small group meeting the night before our friend, Laura (one of the folks sitting near us at church this morning), went into labor with her first baby.  We served it several times when Jeff and I have taught a finance class to premarital couples at church.  We served it to our ministry team when we had training on how to counsel people about their finances. We made it when we went on vacation with my family over Christmas in 2010. Taco soup has been like an old friend to us.

Of course, thinking about Taco Soup got me to thinking about other food / food traditions we have had at small group meetings.    Before she moved away, our good friend Bev used to make the most amazing Banana Pudding when there was a special occasion.  She got the recipe from her mother-in-law and all of us in our group are indebted to said mother-in-law for her generosity.  Our friends Laura and Aaron, who were newly married and who are so careful and smart with their money, used to bring Doritos each week.  Now, that may not sound like a big deal – but each week they’d bring a new flavor and everyone looked forward to the “Doritos du Jour.”  Until that year, I had no idea there were so many different kinds of Doritos! My personal favorite was the cheeseburger flavored!

For Valentine’s Day this year, my friend Lu and I worked together to create an unforgettable 5 course meal for the 14 people in our small group.  She and I not only made the food, but we also made a beautiful card that served as a place marker for each couple. Inside the card was the printed menu for our ‘Story of the Heart’ dinner.  To continue the theme we created a framed, hand-calligraphed favor for each couple to take home.  It read, “every heart has a story to tell” and included a three-dimensional heart with Bible verses about love printed on it.  I cannot tell you whether Lu and I had more fun getting to know one another while working together on this labor of love or having dinner with the group.  Both were incredible times of connection.

 

 

 

 

 

 

So if you love cooking, eating and entertaining as much as I do, or if you simply enjoy being a gracious guest; my sincerest hope for you is that you have many of your own stories of food as a connector.  Perhaps memories of meals you’ve shared with friends or memories that warm your heart when you make a recipe that’s been shared with you by a friend or family member.  After all, every heart (and every recipe) has a story to tell!

Taco Soup

1 lb. ground beef
2 cans diced tomatoes, with liquid
2 cans corn, with liquid
2 cans chili beans, with liquid
1 pkg taco seasoning
________

Tortilla chips
Sour cream
Shredded cheddar cheese

  1. Brown ground beef.  Drain and return to pot.
  2. Add remaining ingredients and stir.
  3. Simmer for at least 20 minutes.
  4. Crush a handful of tortilla chips in the bottom of a bowl.
  5. Ladle soup over chips.
  6. Top with shredded cheese and sour cream as desired.
  7. Enjoy!!!

Note:  Taco Soup freezes well if you make too much!

“And”, “But”, and “Or”, They’ll Get You Pretty Far

This morning I awoke with two words rattling around my brain – food connects.  I kept turning them over and over, sort of chewing on them; but it wasn’t until I had a cup of coffee that I really started thinking about the idea.  When I did, the first thing that popped into my head was a little ditty I had heard on TV a million times when I was growing up.  It goes a little something like this:

“Conjunction junction, what’s your function? Hooking up words and phrases and clauses.  Conjunction junction, how’s that function? I’ve got three favorite cars that get most of my job done….”

If you’re near my age, you’ll probably have the tune stuck in your head for hours after you read this and you’ll struggle to remember all the words.  Never fear, just click this link to a YouTube video with lyrics!

But I digress.  Food DOES connect.  First date?  Dinner and a movie.  Catch up with friends?  Let’s do lunch.  Crisis?  People bring food.  Engagement?  Engagement party.  Marriage?  Wedding reception.  Funeral?  You get the idea.  People connect over food.  Food is part of our comfort, our celebrations, and our grief.

Family traditions often include food.  In my family, one of my favorite traditions is Christmas Eve dinner.  We do our version of the Feast of the Seven Fishes.  Talk about food!  And when I was young and we lived closer to my extended family not only did we eat at home on the holidays, afterward we visited extended family and ate some more.

Food can even penetrate a language barrier.  Several years ago Jeff and I travelled to Ecuador on a missions trip with our church.  Fortunately for Jeff, when he was in high school he took several years of Spanish.  I did not. As a result I was often frustrated during the trip – wanting to connect with people, but having to wait for a translator to help.  It was interesting though, that at meal time the barrier didn’t seem quite so high.  Everyone gathered together at the table and communication somehow seemed simpler. I don’t know if it was because the bilingual people were all in one place or because everyone relaxed when the food was served and had something other than what made us different to concentrate on.  The food was something that made us the same – the need for nourishment – the desire to enjoy the meal and the company.  Webster’s Dictionary defines FELLOWSHIP as “the companionship of individuals in a congenial atmosphere and on equal terms.”  That is what our shared meals provided – a level playing field.

So food connects us to people we love and even to strangers.  It can also connect us to memories.  How many times have you smelled something – cinnamon buns, bread baking, hot buttered mashed potatoes – that made you flash to a childhood memory?  Now I don’t know all the science behind it. Words like “olfactory,” “amygdala,” and “hippocampus” are best left to science class if you ask me.  But I do know that the smell of food can make me think of a specific event or a particular person.

It’s simple.  Food connects.

Well, I’ve got to run.  I’m meeting a friend I haven’t hung out with in a while.  We’re reconnecting…over sushi and a movie!