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Serious as Pie

11 Sep

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So there really is something magical about the South.  The culture, the music, of course the food, but also the people here can leave a lasting impression on a gal from the west.  Take, for example, the accent – it’s fantastically infectious.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve found myself rolling words like “mama” and “y’all” off my tongue like they were vernacular I grew up hearing, let alone saying.  It gives me a feeling of fitting in and being one with the locals.  Silly, I know.  I’m not usually one to conform.  But have you ever had a conversation with a lovely Southerner?  If so, you know what I mean. 

However, there is one thing that I am missing in my budding southern lingo, and that is the cheeky, snazzy, completely amazing phrases that are used down here to describe anything from ripe fruit to an extraordinarily humid day.  For example, I would say:

“O.M.G. It’s. So. SO. Hot.”  With a big, yucky sigh. 

But a local’s tone would ring more like, “It’s hotter than a billy goat’s butt in a pepper patch,” with a sweet-as-Tupelo-honey smile.  

Now really, which one more effectively, and creatively, gets the point across? 

The problem is, I’m not originally from ‘round here, and my natural inclination to witty –isms are left to the likings of literature, art, and (my favorite) food descriptions.  So rather than wallow in the tall grasses of being an outsider, I figured if I can’t beat ‘em, I’ll join ‘em.

So I’ve been making up my own. 

Walking across the black, cast-iron asphalt that is called the Target parking lot, I found myself mumbling, “It’s hotter than Crisco in a frying pan.”  To get my students’ attention, I’ve been telling them things are as “Serious as pie.”  My favorite was when I told a co-worker that I would “chase a hog through a turd field” for a piece of chocolate.  Hmm.  All my made-up –isms naturally run to food. 

Kind of like me.

Part of what spurred on this wave of concocting cheeky phrases to replace mundane meaning has been the unbearable heat we’ve had.  I guess to many native northern Floridians, the 102-degree heat index – WITH humidity – is what they call, “normal.” I see nothing normal about it, and both Rob and I have suffered bouts of heat stroke until we realized that any sort of electrolyte drink was a new best friend.  On the plus side, we’ve also taken to paddleboarding like crazy, hanging out in the water with sand sharks, pods of dolphins, sting rays, and alligators.  Yes, we are in Gator country, folks. 

So, while the heat continues, and my tan gets better, my new creative crush for finding witty -isms has only grown.  As has my cooking repertoire. 

Years ago, when I was a pretty strict vegetarian, I learned how to cook using local and seasonal ingredients, matching my taste buds to that of the day’s farmers market.  Opposed to some classical points of view, my foundation in cooking was not based on veal stock and beef rafts, but on figuring out ways to bring out the genuine, complimentary flavors of foods without the natural flavor imparted by fat.  Jump forward a few years, more cooking techniques, a great Thanksgiving turkey, bacon broiling at my mom’s house, yada yada yada, and now I’m cooking a very flexitarian diet, full of grains, greens, with all the foundational vegetarian cooking I love, as well as using simple animal proteins.  And bacon.  Yes, bacon.  Mmm, bacon. 

Tonight’s dinner took the hog for the most flavorful bacon accompaniment.  Was bacon the main ingredient?  Hardly.  Did it overwhelm?  Not in the least.  Did it add a smoky goodness to my Harvest Summer Stuffed Tomatoes?  Absolutely. 

The weather has just started to cool down, enough that, when combined with the continual rise and fall of the start-to-football-season-on-the-tv hum in the background, it has hinted to fall at times.  So this dinner was perfect for our kind-of-cool Monday Night Football casual evening.  The applewood-smoked bacon added just enough fat, smokiness, and salt that rounded the veg-stuffed tomatoes so well, it would be a shooting match with a BLT.  As a two-pot meal consisting of a huge vegetable serving, and healthy grains, these stuffed tomatoes are sure to delight even the meatiest of meat-eaters.  I mean, the meal was slap my ass and call me Sally – good. 

(Ok, I may have stolen that last little –ism, but it totally applies). 

So make these as soon as you read this.  They are easy and so good.  Do it before the fresh, summer veg runs out.  Your health buds and taste buds will thank you.  Really.  I’m being as serious as pie. 

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Harvest Summer Stuffed Tomatoes
(serves 4)

  • 4 beefsteak tomatoes, tops cut off, and insides (ribs and pulp) removed (a serrated knife works best for this)
  • 1 ear corn (grilled preferably, but fine raw also)
  • 1 medium sized zucchini, diced
  • ½ small red onion, diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3 strips of bacon, sliced into lardon (1/2-inch width) pieces
  • 2 tbsp good quality mayo
  • ¼ tsp dried oregano
  • pinch of red pepper flakes
  • 1 package frozen brown rice medley, or any sort of barley/rice grain mixture (found nowadays in most grocery stores)
  • 3 big sprigs of fresh dill, leaves finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • s&p

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

In a large sauté pan, cook the bacon.  When almost fully browned, add the onion and zucchini.  Let the veg soften, stirring occasionally, then add the corn, oregano, and red pepper flakes.  After the corn has warmed through, transfer mixture to a mixing bowl, and add the mayo.  Taste for seasoning (maybe pepper is needed, but the bacon and mayo are fairly salty). 

Put the tomatoes into a baking dish (I used a round cake plate), and spoon the bacon and veg mixture generously into the tomatoes.  Bake in the oven until the tomatoes just start to loose their sturdy, about 20 minutes. 

Meanwhile, heat/cook the rice mixture.  When done, add the dill, apple cider vinegar, and s&p. 

When the tomatoes are done, spoon a bit of the rice onto a plate, and nestle the tomato on top.  Pour a yummy, light, Tuesday-night wine, and serve warm (but also great as a cold salad the next day). 

Enjoy! 

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Flavors of Summer

8 Aug

We are back now from all our traveling, relaxed, and yes, a bit more tan.  Expecting to come back to the frigid Oregon Coast summertime winds, we have actually had quite a few days of beautiful sun, mild weather, and gentle breezes.  It has been more than pleasant, and Rob and I are taking advantages of the best of it.  The many hikes, lead to long days, sometimes not even showering until mid afternoon (it’s not gross, it’s “natural”).  We’ve been doing some small entertaining, enjoying close friends in intimate conversation over simply good food.

One of the things I will miss the most come our goodbye next summer, will be the amazing Oregon produce.  Wow, this place has got it down.  The berries are incredible, and our CSA farm basket (yielding not only great zucchini and greens, but inspired the cheeky name for this blog), has been overflowing our crisper.  It’s awesome.

Through the lazy days of summer (and I do mean lazy… Sig is snoring under the table at the moment), I have enjoyed cooking from my roots – simple, easy, tasty dishes celebrating the greatness of food.  We’ve kept some staples in the house: herbed chicken salad (above), blueberry sauce, white bean puree (a great companion for blanched green beans), good quality mayo (for the healthy shmear on a ripe summer tomato), pluots and blueberries for cold, sparkling sangria, and most recently vegetable cream cheese.  With the tons of veg we’ve been getting, combined with our undying and unconditional love of bagels and cream cheese, I don’t know why I hadn’t thought of this sooner.  Super simple, incredibly flavorful, and a fantastic way to get some raw veg into the system first thing in the morning.

Right now, I’m waiting for some overripe peaches (there are always a couple in a lug – why waste?) to do their infusing magic with some vodka, anticipating a ginger peach cordial sometime in the next couple of days.

With albacore swimming like crazy right now, one found it’s loin on my dinner plate, grilled with lime, brown sugar, smoked salt, and served with a simple lime balsamic dressing.

And with so many beautiful zucchinis around, a tart was just calling out to me (with a fried egg, oui chic!)

Today’s farmer’s market yielded beautiful blackberries, and the juices are already flowing (no pun) as to what to make next.  Suggestions are welcome. 🙂

Vegetable Cream Cheese (makes 8 oz) 

  • 8 oz room temperature cream cheese (I used the “whipped” kind; it made incorporating the ingredients very easy) 
  • 1 medium carrot, peeled 
  • 1/2 green bell pepper
  • 1/2 small zucchini 
  • 2-3 scallions, white and light green parts only 
  • a handful of parsley 
  • s&p

This requires some patience chopping, but chop all the veg into a very small dice.  First, make thin slices, then slice again into matchsticks.  Then, line up the pieces, chopping them across to make very small pieces.  HERE’S A TRICK: with the carrot, use the vegetable peeler to make the thin slices, and then continue cutting from those “peeled” slices.  It’s much easier than trying to keep a I-want-to-be-free-and-roll-all-over-the-place carrot still.  

Chop the scallion into thin slices, and chop the parsley until fairly fine.  

Mix all the veg and herbs into the cream cheese, and season with s&p.  Depending on the brand of cream cheese you use, you may not need much salt.  

Generously spread on a freshly toasted bagel, lick the excess off your fingers, add more to the bagel once you realize how great it is, and enjoy! 

**The longer the cream cheese mixture sits, the more incorporated the vegetable flavors become.  The second, third, fourth days are the best – if it lasts that long.  

What a Birthday

5 Jul

There’s a school of thought that the infamous “they” proclaim which says the way you are on New Years Day is what shapes the way you’ll be the entire year.   That, among other reasons is why I like to wake up rested, sans hangover, on New Years Day.  I’m hoping the same mindset goes for the 4th of July – the way the 4th is spent will shape the rest of the summer.  If it’s true (and being that I like to occasionally make up my own silly superstitions and pass them on so others will become similarly superstitious), then Rob and I are in for a summertime treat.

Our 4th of July started out with sunshine and ended with sparklers.  We had a perfect day – simple, humble, and just enough of our own festivities to make the day special.  The sun woke us up later than usual (thank you, Sig, for not barking at 5:something in the morning!), and proceeded to draw us up the Oregon Coast towards Cape Perpetua.  The almost 3-mile hike is straight uphill with switchbacks completely up and down.  It helps that the mountain faces the south, thus blocking the Arctic Ocean winds, but doesn’t make the climb any less strenuous.  Climbing only a couple feet behind Rob, my face was level with the small of his back and I could clearly see the sweat soaking through his quickly-turning-darker-shades-of-green shirt.  At one point the sweat turned to stink.

“Oh, well I don’t have any deodorant on,” said like that was totally normal.

“Why wouldn’t you put on deodorant this morning when you knew we were going hiking?”

“Because I’m clean.”

Ok then.

Notwithstanding the climb, it brought us to a view that can only be described with a noise.  A gasping “wow” under the breath might suffice.  Or maybe a low whistle would do.  But if I had to use words, I would only need one: freakingamazing.

We stayed at the top for a while, sitting on stone look-out fence, quietly chatting but mostly not, hoping to see a whale and soaking in the sun with un-SPF-protected skin.  The sea was not nearly calm, but from way up high it looked like dark, etched glass.  The lava-rock cliff beneath us showed millions of years of growth with succulents and wildflowers singing with bees and birds doing their biological jobs, despite the national holiday.  The tropical view made a contrasting picture with the mountain pines standing like tall, skinny guards bordering the horizon.  It made us long for a tropical drink and a bowl of chili at the same time.  A zucchini salad at the bottom of the mountain would have to do.  With our pasty Oregon skin starting to burn, and stomachs starting to growl, we made the trek down the mountain, and a beeline towards the nearest picnic table.

Eating with bamboo forks right out of the bowl, we devoured the salad.  And not just because we were hungry.  The combination of grilled zucchini, sweet cranberries, tangy goat cheese, and pop-in-your-mouth pine nuts made for the perfect outdoor travel lunch.  One of my favorite things to do in the summertime is grill zucchini with olive oil, s&p, and a sprinkling of dried oregano; it’s a great side dish, or even a snack.  But this way may be my new favorite.

Like I tend to do in cars, I fell asleep on the ride home.  We had hotdogs and hamburgers for dinner, and lit our sparkler centerpiece after dusk, waving the wands around like little kids.  At that moment, Sig was probably the most mature out of the bunch.  It was a 4th for the books.

Grilled Zucchini Salad (serves 2 hungry hikers)

  • 2 med-large zucchini, sliced lengthwise 
  • ¼ c dried cranberries
  • ¼ c toasted pine nuts (I toast mine in a dry pan over high heat)
  • 3 oz. goat cheese, crumbled
  • few leaves of basil, chopped
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • s&p

On a large grill-pan, heat 1 tbsp of the olive oil.  Prepare the zucchini by drizzling the other tbps of olive oil, oregano, and s&p over the slices.  When the grill is hot (the oil will shimmer like the sun reflecting off the ocean), place the zucchini on the grill cut-side down.  Leave to grill – and do not bother – until brown grill-marks appear, about 5 minutes.  Flip zucchini and grill until the veg is just tender, but still has bite.  Set zucchini aside to cool.

When cool, slice the zucchini lengthwise again (now, there should be 8 slices).  Slice those into bite-sized pieces, like little triangles.  Pour into a bowl, and add the cranberries, nuts, and goat cheese.  Mix well, taste for seasoning, and top with basil.

Enjoy!  

 

 

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