Nana’s Blog

25 Sep

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I feel like when there’s been a long hiatus of blog posts I have to provide some sort of explanation.  Not that I have millions of followers that are emailing me asking for reasons (although I would love that!), but as my conviction of a writer I feel I have to answer the questions “why?” and “how?”.

I teach my students those exact things – the why and the how and the importance behind the explanation.  It shows understanding.  It shows thoughtfulness.  It shows caring.

So, to be perfectly candid, and now that we’ve entered a new season, I’ll share what happened over my summer.  I simply needed a break.  Not really from writing (because writing really is incredibly therapeutic), but really just from everything.

For years, teaching in Florida had been less than ideal, and after a much needed switch to a better school in a safer area, I ended the last school year coming off of a 2-year span of extreme stress (and a classroom/portable that I’m convinced was infested – at least – with mold).  I simply didn’t realize how much of a toll it had taken on my body and spirit.  Starting in January, a nice white light of professional freedom slowly started to soften those wounds, and by June, I needed to just sit and recoup.

Also, Rob deployed again, which is always stressful in its own right.

Sig needed surgery, and then had a horrible reaction to it.  I don’t have kids, but this little pup is the closest thing to it, and watching him convulsing in pain and not being able to help him was beyond heartbreaking.

And, my Nana died.

It wasn’t unexpected; in fact, it was very expected and I think myself and many family members felt a bit of peace knowing she was in a better place.

I was lucky, I got to say goodbye to her.  Unlike the suddenness of my grandfather’s passing, Nana and I got to spend some quiet moments together only weeks before she passed.  Many of us were honored with those moments of just sitting with her.  Quietly, comfortably.  I held her soft, boney, freshly manicured hand and she held my calloused, rough cooker/teacher hand.  Mind you, this was after many finicky moments of trying to figure out why her oxygen lines weren’t staying in her nose – I had been stepping on them.  Luckily she found as much humor in that as I did embarrassment.

She asked me what would happen next, and I chickened out and gave a blanket answer of “You’ll be ok, Nana,” instead of telling her the best was yet to come.  We said goodbye, knowing it was truly a goodbye, and Nana passed an hour after her 89th birthday ended.  In true fashion, Nana stuck around for one last party.

My mom and I missed the last teacher workday of the school year and my dad drove us up the endlessly long I-95 corridor, Georgia-induced flat tires and all.  Word to the wise: if you are going to get stranded in Nowheresville, Georgia, don’t do it on a Sunday morning when that Southern Bible Belt charm doesn’t kick in until after the 11am Baptist Eucharist (and then there’s Potluck at Noon.  Oh, and I could go on to describe how weeks later Rob and I got stranded in BumbleYouKnowWhat, SC whose Eucharist doesn’t ever seem to kick in as we were told we would’ve received car help if we were “locals.”  Southern hospitality???).

However – enter silver lining – the Georgia delay inevitably helped us, as the George Washington Bridge had a beautiful midnight view of New York City, without the usual vehicle gridlock.

We spent the first week of summer vacation doing what happens at funerals: crying, laughing, reminiscing, crying, eating, drinking, staying up too late, and then falling into deep, deep sleep.  It’s always so wonderful spending time with family we don’t get to see every day, even despite the circumstances.  Nana had an open casket, and looked lovely wearing the same dress she wore to my wedding, the sparkly mint green one my mom helped her pick out.  We talked to her, about her, and collectively prayed the Hail Mary, Glory Be, and Our Father.

My mom was so strong.  She’s the middle child, the only girl, and Nana was proud of her.  Still is.

My uncle, who is also my Godfather, is the baby of the family and jokes flew about little Tommy being a “publican” (someone relinquished to the doldrums of public school as opposed to the standard Long Island private institutions).  Followed by stories around vats of Hellman’s mayo he could have invested in to build himself his own fortune.  Poor Uncle Tom!

In a whirlwind of time and bags and boxes and dust and beautiful weather, my mom, dad, Uncle Tom, Uncle Bob and I cleaned out Nana’s house.  It was sad, funny, silly, tiring for sure, and we got it done.   But what we really did during that time was keep the Long Island delis in business.

My dad always got a ham and cheese, simple and easy.  My mom, her brothers and I always got the rare roast beef and swiss with extra mayo, expect for that one time Uncle Tom got liverwurst with extra mustard.  All were always on a Kaiser roll, and always with a pickle on the side.  Mom introduced Uncle Tom to putting pickles ON the sandwich, a new revelation of a pickle-mayo condiment combo that rocked his world.  We tried maco salad, potato salad, and coleslaw from each deli because, after all, each place makes them differently.  Personally, I think the Million Dollar Deli’s maco salad is the best, but Uncle Tom would disagree.  He likes the maco from Setauket.

Nana would have loved the fact that her countertops turned the color of deli parchment, and the smell of beef and pickle brine scented the air.  And it’s clear from our toppings and accompaniments that our family loves mayo.

It’s serious, people.  Like, use-a-spoon-to-slather-it-on-a-ripe-tomato-end-of-story serious.

In fact, at a celebration of Nana’s life, my Aunt Regina’s mom recalled how at her bridal shower my Nana brought a huuuuuuge tub of Hellman’s Mayo (despite the standard Waterford crystal and linens being gifted).  Handing it over, Nana simply informed Aunt Regina, “My son loves mayo.  You’ll need this.”

So much so, that my mom says when Uncle Tom dies, she is going to put all those little squeezy packets of mayo in his casket (with a pair of small scissors because those things are hard as hell to open).

We are a mayonnaise-loving family.

There’s mayo, and then there’s mayo.  Sorry Midwesterners, despite my love for the Green Bay Packers, I’d have to vehemently pass on the Miracle Whip.  That stuff isn’t a miracle at all.  Also, living in the South has made me drop a “y’all” or two, but I will never, EVER succumb to the Duke’s Mayo world.  It’s simply not the best.

Hellman’s is (that’s why west of the Rockies it’s called “Best Foods”).

So to keep true to a classic that my whole family loves – and of which Nana would greatly approve – here’s an oldie and a goodie for you.  The Classic Deviled Egg Salad.

Only 5 ingredients, this stuff is perfection in mayo simplicity.  And maybe, if I put it on the internet, one of those delis will start selling it and give me the royalties – eh?  One can dream.

This recipe is perfect for a cookout, picnic, easy lunch, or an easy go-to breakfast.  As a family classic, I debated whether or not to reveal it, but being so easy and tasty, it would be silly not to.  Plus, Nana would have wanted me to.

So here it is:

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Classic Deviled Egg Salad
(serves as many as you are willing to make)

  • Hard boiled eggs *Everyone has a trick or tip for “perfect” hard boiled eggs. Mine simply is to start with any number of eggs in cold water.  Bring the pot to a boil.  Boil for 5 minutes.  Turn off stove.  Let sit in hot water until water has become manageable to the touch.  Submerge eggs into ice water. 
  • Hellman’s Mayonnaise
  • Celery
  • Fresh dill (adding the dill is my adaptation to the family fave, not everyone is on board)
  • Spicy paprika
  • s&p (yes, this technically makes it 7 ingredients, but s&p has to be a gimme because even the corner store next to the gas station has s&p to put on their sandwiches, so y’all must have it, too.)

This Deviled Egg salad can be made in small batches or in large.  Here’s the ratio:

2 eggs:1 tsp mayo:2 stems celery:¼ tsp fresh dill, paprika and s&p to taste. 

After slicing the celery and mincing the dill, put everything into a mixing bowl.  Like my Nana, and my mom after her, I follow suit by mashing the eggs and mixing everything together with a fork.

Spoon on top of some whole grain toast, or mix with some greens, or eat just as is. 

Enjoy!

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Beet Down – A New Way to do Beets

4 May

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I’ve moved a lot, both growing up and now in my adult years.  More than occasionally I get the, “How do you do that?” round of questioning, mostly from people that consider a significant move an over-filled pick-up truck unloading across town.  Now, don’t get me wrong, a move is a move.  But some are more uprooting then others.

We’ve been in Jacksonville for about 3 years now, and I’m starting to get a tad bit antsy about where we’ll go next.  At night, Rob and I lie in bed perusing Zillow, dreaming of a possible destination for our next Coast Guard-led adventure.  Port Angeles, Detroit, Boston, not much is out of the running except for land locked areas, most of which we wouldn’t want to live in anyway (sorry, Oklahoma.  Been there, done that).  Of course we look at houses that are waaaaay beyond our means – with kitchens that just might make me famous – but it’s just a fun torturous game we play.  Like window shopping at Gucci.

Everywhere we go we try to squeeze everything we can out of the location, and we have only a year left in north Florida.  We’ve done a lot here, but definitely have a lot more to go, do, and see.  Though altogether we’ve found things we love (paddle boarding, the bird life, dolphins, good shopping), and really don’t love (the bugs, the heat, the bugs, the heat, oh and snakes.  Well, I don’t mind the snakes, but Rob runs away like a little girl).

In terms of one of the more important things in life – food – we’ve also found our regional likes and dislikes.  Sorry, Southern folk, we haven’t taken to the oddly-hairy-yet-slimy-at-the-same-time-omg-who-created-this-thing called okra, nor have some traditions (potato salad at Thanksgiving?) found a settled place in our hearts.  BBQ, however, that’s a love story.  So are the sweet onions.  Also, honey.  And so are the beets.

I’ve never actually documented the epic argument Rob and I had over beets.  Maybe one day.  But, beets!  Really?  Aren’t there better things to argue about, like sponges or spoons?

Well, we’ve grown in our relationship since arguing about beets (thank goodness) and now we can’t go a week without them.  Luckily, farms in Florida grow beets almost year round, and the months they don’t, the red roots keep for a long while in a crisper – if they last that long.  Thankfully, our CSA provides us with bunches regularly.  We eat them straight from the oven, or cold with a bit of vinegar and honey.  I’ve chopped them up into fancy tapenades and relishes, used their juice to dye Easter eggs, and have even infused vodka to make a fancy beet cocktail.  Beet options are endless.

So then why are restaurants only serving beets with the standard goat cheese and arugula?  I mean, some have pecans, some do a balsamic reduction drizzle, but really they are all the same.  It’s so sad!  Culinary monotony at its best.

So let’s turn the tables, shall we, and shake up the beet world.

With these: Beet Tacos.

Vegetarians, unite!  Meat Eaters, indulge!  Paleo folk, take a shower from your last CrossFit workout and pick up one of these tacos (sans cheese and crema)!

These are simple enough for a weeknight, but impressive enough for easy entertaining.  Having spent enough time in Mesa, Arizona, I prefer the small corn tacos to flour, and I feel their earthy flavor compliments the sweet beets wonderfully.  Chipotle crema is nothing more than 1 c Mexican cream (found now at most grocery stores), 3 chopped up chipotle peppers, lime zest and 1 tsp of agave Every Mex dish needs some beans, which are super simple to prepare.  Heat some canned black beans (drained and rinsed) in a pot over medium heat with ½ c water, 1 glove of garlic, and a sprig of mint.  Once boiling, remove from the heat, discard the herb and garlic, season the beans with s&p, and smash them with a fork.  For the star of the show: In a foil-lined baking dish, roast 4 peeled beets at 400 degrees with a dash of s&p, a drizzle of canola oil, 1 tsp cumin, and a whole jalapeno (sliced down the middle) until beets are tender, about an hour and a halfThe fresh topping of crisp cilantro (tear off stem) and soft shredded romaine (roll 2-4 leaves like a cigar then chop into thin strips) top off the bite with herby freshness For an optional creamy, salty indulgence, crumbled Queso Fresco tops the taco with ease.  Oh, and don’t forget the squeeze of that lime you zested earlier (it’s not just a margarita garnish, you know).

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When Rob and I were dating, tacos were our go-to dinner date.  Here in Jacksonville, we haven’t been able to find quite the same ole(!) experience as I we had in the South West.  Remembering those fresh flavors, I decided to create my own using one of Jacksonville’s finest produce, the bodacious beet.  Yes, bodacious.

With Cinco De Mayo coming up, enjoy these tacos with friends and maybe a marg or two.  You’ll get the best of two worlds, or at least the best of two regions of the U.S. (speaking from lots of moving – and eating – experience here, folks).

CinEnjoy!

Beet Tacos
(serves 4)
*ingredients and instructions above. 

To assemble:
Put the corn tortilla on a plate.  Spread some of the smashed black beans on the tortilla.  Top the beans with some roughly chopped beets.  Then Top the beets with the lettuce, cilantro, queso fresco, and a drizzle or two of the crema.  Squeeze the juice of a lime slice over the top, and you’ve got seriously one of the best tacos you’ll ever eat.

Enjoy!

An Aftertaste
If you like beets, check out these and these.  

The Galette that Saved My Life

22 Apr

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No, my life wasn’t literally in danger.  No, there weren’t superhero galettes flying around donning colorful capes and swords.  Nor were there any galettes with magical powers.  I simply had a stressful day, and this galette made things better (apparently I’m a little dramatic).

Here’s what the galette did do. For one, the crispy, crispy protein-packed crust took no time at all.  Also, with seasonal vegetables, I knew the nutritional value was there.  And with the smell of freshness roasting away in the oven, it brought about the memories of comforting home-cooked meals I grew up eating.

And boy could I go for one of those meals.

Growing up, I was fortunate. It wasn’t until about the middle of college – when I needed to cook on my own – that I realized just how fortunate I was.  Other coeds in my environment experienced only tv dinners throughout their childhood (it was the 80s after all), leaving them with limited taste preferences, food experiences, and nutritional prowess.  While I was never deprived of the famous Kid Cuisine (anyone remember the chocolate pudding?!), I also was scarfing down raw veggies as snacks, Cornish game hens, salads at every meal, and a variety of edible colors.  Because of this, I ate.  I ate well.

Vividly I remember coming home from basketball practice, showering and getting to work on my homework on my mom’s old roll-top antique desk. The soft, outside ambient light was turning dark, and the house always had lingering warmth from the SoCal day.  Downstairs, Tom Brokaw’s velvety voice reported the day’s happenings, and my sister was probably sitting on the step in time-out (sorry, Jenn, but you did spend a lot of time there).  A pot was on the stove, or something was in the oven, and the smells were always delicious.  I sat in a holey blanket struggling through my pre-calculus, a soggy messy ponytail dampening my sweatshirt, Casey the dog at my feet (before he got old and stinky), and the comfort of knowing a home-cooked dinner with my family enrobed me.

The computer screen just got foggy. I miss those days.

So rather than fall into a swamp of reminiscence wishing I had my mom cook me an old-fashioned meal while I do my precalc homework, I decided to create it myself. (My mom does live 8 doors down from us so maybe this could happen, minus the math homework – or maybe my dad would give me some problems just to see if I can remember how to solve changes in functions with respect to independent variables.  Eh?  Like that, Dad?)

Wanting to fill the house with the smell of warmth, I knew baking or roasting something would be ideal. I roast veg a lot, but wanted to spice things up a bit and make the meal special – average weeknight special.  So finding some leftover quinoa flour, I whipped up a quick dough with cold butter and cold yogurt.  Free-forming the rolled out dough around some seasonal veggies held them together with a sprinkling of very sharp cheddar cheese.  After 40 minutes in the oven, a beautiful, rustic galette was born.

And the house smelled weeknight wonderful.

Of course the circumstances were different, but when the light gets low and the house starts to smell like the love someone put into a good meal, it’s like a big, necessary hug (sans homework).

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Spring Veg Galette
(serves 2-4)

Dough:

  • 1 ½ c ground organic quinoa flour (I use Bob’s Red Mill)
  • ½ c all purpose flour, plus more for dusting
  • 4 tbsp cold butter, cut into chunks
  • ½ c cold greek yogurt
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 5-7 tbsp cold water

Filling:

  • 1 pint asparagus, ends trimmed
  • Fresh corn cut off 1 cob
  • 1 medium radish, thinly sliced
  • ½ c sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • s&p
  • *Optional: 1 egg, beaten

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

To make the dough, cut the yogurt and butter into the flours with salt until the dough shows pieces the size of peas. NOTE: use a pastry cutter, or two large forks to cut the dough.  Add in the cold water, a tbsp at a time, mixing until dough holds together when squeezed.  On a floured surface, pour out the dough and form into a disk.  Working quickly to keep the dough cold, roll out the dough with a rolling pin until it is 1/8 in thick.  Using as much surface area as possible, use a paring knife to cut the dough into a large circle, discarding the few outside scraps.  Roll the circle of dough over a rolling pin, and lay it onto a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. 

In the center of the circle, layer the asparagus (I used thinner stalks here), corn, and radishes, leaving about an inch border all the way around. Sprinkle the veg with s&p and a tbsp drizzle of olive oil.  To create the galette, start with a piece of the edge and fold over the veg to create a little crust.  Go all the way around folding (and crimping the pieces together if you want to), until a little open pie is formed. 

Sprinkle the galette with the cheddar cheese. If using the egg wash, paint the crust of the galette dough with the beaten egg (this will create a lovely golden, shiny color on the crust once baked). 

Put the sheet pan in the oven and bake until the crust is browned and the veg are cooked through, about 40 minutes.

Slice into pie pieces, and pair with a light salad. Enjoy!

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