Charlie Brown, the little 8-year-old by from Minnesota who never gives up. Charlie Brown, the eternal optimist. One of my favorite things to do on Halloween night is watch, "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown." The made for television "movie" first aired on October 27th in 1966, on CBS. Produced by Lee Mendelson with theme music by Vince Guaraldi and created and written by Charles Schultz, the animated TV Special is as iconic as Trick-or-Treating and Halloween itself.
When I was a child, you used to have to wait for your favorite animated specials to play on television. There were no VCRs, DVDs or TiVO in "those days." Can you imagine the anticipation? Can you remember the anticipation? For those of you that can remember, wasn't it fun? Knowing you and most everyone you knew were probably watching the same thing on television, as a country? Television was the main source of home entertainment, not counting games and the antiquated thing known as the imagination. Remember imagination? You know! When you used to play pretend? Isn't playing pretend what Halloween is all about? See? I knew you would remember pretend! Yay for you! Pat yourself on the back for using your imagination! I bet you're thinking about the costumes you used to wear right now! Since I was both blonde and blue-eyed, I dressed as Tinkerbell one year. My mother made my costume and it had sparkly silver snow flakes on it. I used to beg to wear it! One year, I was Alice in Wonderland and my mother made that dress too; in fact, I still have it! My favorite costumes though were when my brothers and I used to dress up as hobos. We'd raid my father's closet and stuff pillows down our pants and shirts. Mom would dirty our faces up with black eyeliner and I'd get to have a beard and mustache. (The dressing up part was just as fun as the trick-or-treating part of the night.) Fun times!
Anyway, each year we watched "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown." We never gave up hoping poor Charlie Brown's bag would not be full of rocks. We hoped and hoped he would not open his crumpled paper sack and with utter complacency state, "I got a rock." He just accepted it and went on to the next house and then the next house. His friends got bubble gum and chocolate or the holy grail of treats, money; and yet, Charlie Brown always got the "trick" end of the "treat." Charlie Brown always got a rock! Always! I used to ask my mother why he kept on knocking and she used to say, 'Charlie Brown is an eternal optimist Honey. That's why he keeps on knocking.'
Sometimes, life gives you treats and sometimes, life gives you rocks. Our life keeps on getting interesting if we just keep knocking...
Share your thoughts about keeping optimistic, even when you get a bag of rocks.
It stormed all night long. The wind howled and rain pelted the windows. What was blowing last night went way past a breeze and I loved it! Say what? Yep. I LOVE stormy days...
As a Californian, then as a transplanted Arizonan, I appreciate rain storms. If you come from a drought state, you understand what I mean. Always be grateful for rain and wind. It feeds and cleanses the earth. It feeds and cleanses the soul. For some, like me, rain storms can be a natural high. For others, maybe you, Dear Reader, it can be a soul crushing and depressing experience. How to make them feel better? What to do? What to do? FEED them of course! Dah!
I find days like these, stormy days, are made for soup. Have you ever noticed? Certain foods go really well with rain storms, namely; you probably guessed it, soup. Since rain storms can also bring about sore throats, soup is always the ticket to soothe and calm someone. Soup fills your mouth and tummy with warm goodness that can only cheer a person up. What soups fit the "cheering up" bill? In our home, there are two children so two types of favorite soups. Our older daughter, Alyssa, loves the Greek soup, Avoglemono Soup or Mama Soup as she named it when she was little. Mama soup is a chicken broth-based egg and lemon soup that has rice in it. Something about rice when you're feeling blue or ill always perks you up and makes you feel better. (I think it's because rice is so easy and comforting to eat.) Our youngest daughter, Mia, loves a Creamy Chicken and Rice Soup. See? Rice again. This soup is also a chicken stock-based soup but it is thickened with a roux and made creamy with milk.
No matter how you ladle it out, soup makes a body feel good, especially on stormy days. If you like, visit my Recipes Page for my Mama Soup recipe and please share your favorite soups for cheering up someone on a stormy day or helping them feel better when they are ill.
Yesterday, my husband Russell and I spent the afternoon chaperoning our youngest daughter, Mia's, high school football game. Our day chaperoning began hours before the actual game so I decided to pack a lunch and snacks for us. I brought two types of sandwiches, pretzels, homemade cookies, crackers and air-popped popcorn for me I flavored with olive oil and good sea salt, the way I like it. We also had plenty of water.
The day was perfect. The sun shone and a cool breeze was blowing. The game however, was not so great. "Our" team lost to their rival in a penalty-ridden and not very well-played game. Things started off rather poorly for us when the opposing team blocked the punt and scored within the first 30 seconds of play! Things went a bit downhill from there and by the end of the fourth quarter, many of "our" team members were injured due to the unnecessary rough grabs and tackles of the other team. It was a bit of a blood bath and upsetting to watch.
Partway through the second quarter, Russell and I began to eat our sandwiches. I made chicken salad sandwiches with a touch of mayonnaise, cider vinegar, grated onion and minced celery. I mounded the mix onto toasted Kaiser rolls and added crispy romaine lettuce. Next, we shared a ham and turkey sandwich with mozzarella cheese and a sharp mustard. After that, Russ had crackers and I munched on my popcorn. I had not noticed the other parents around us had been watching the various goodies come out of our lunch bag. One mother began to tease me that I had a 'Mary Poppins's lunch bag!' I just like to be prepared... After all, chaperoning and food go together like marching bands and football.
I have to admit something, Dear Readers, I am not the hugest fan of football. I just don't get it. The bashing and smashing and short actual playing time are lost on me. I cringe when the quarterback gets sacked or the wide receiver gets tackled, really, really hard. I thank God I never had any sons because, undoubtedly, they would have played the sport. I don't think I have the personality to watch my child get beaten to death, while others watched and cheered, at least not without sedation.
Here in the East, football is more than just a game. Unless you live here or have visited during game season, you do not know what I am talking about. The whole football experience transcends normal here in the East; in fact, it takes two rights, a left and a sideways jump straight to Crazyville. I DO NOT mean this disrespectfully, just making a point. Maybe I do not understand football but I do understand food and food and football go together. If you put fans, football, food and cars together, you get a uniquely American experience called, tailgating. The tailgate party goes back 100 years or more. Tailgating may have begun at either college games or at the first Green Bay Packers game but either way, it boils down to food and drink and the fans that consume both before a game begins. Fans come together, in parking lots or fields, before a game, open up their car trunks, set up tables, cook food and in general have a raucous and crazy time, before they ever step into the sporting arena. That doesn't sound so bad does it? I think it sounds more fun than the game itself personally.
What to do? What to do? (What to bring more like!) Classically, dips, chips, burgers, hot dogs, sausages and of course desserts like cupcakes, cookies and brownies should be on the "Bring List." Beer is essential and sodas and water should be packed as well. (Probably sunscreen should be on the list too.) Think of a tailgate party like a picnic with team jersey-clad nutters (sorry Dear Reader football fans.) Our local area rival football teams play this afternoon and it is an enormous affair with, you guessed it, tailgating. Current and former students from both schools, going back generations, attend the game. They paint their bodies in team colors, wear team logo clothing, root, boo and yes, tailgate in the parking lot of the school. The first time I ever saw tailgating happening at a high school game I was in culture shock. The concept of high school football tailgating was completely foreign to me and still is a bit. It really is just great fun with rivalry yes, but also mutual support of the players and the bands and a feeling of family. Football really is like family anyway, just with helmets.
Share your favorite tailgating foods in the comments section.
This morning I started thinking about 'what would be the most unique blog I could write.' I think I may have nailed it. Coconuts. Why not? Why not!? Well, for starters, coconuts are a touchy subject. They are the type of food, much like brussels sprouts, you love or hate. Coconuts are experiencing a sort of craze too. They seem to be in everything from candy and granola bars (much the same thing) to drinks and meals. What is the deal? Why is it always coconuts? What is a coconut anyway?
A coconut is a member of the Arecaceae family and the only species of the genus Cocos (according to Wikipedia, so it must be true...) Also from Wikipedia, I read the term coconut is derived from a 16th century Spanish/Portuguese word coco, meaning "head" or "skull" so named because of the three little indentions on the shell that resemble facial features. (Sorry, but now there is one more reason to love or hate coconuts. They are creepy...)
When most of us think of coconuts, we think of the islands and usually Florida or Hawaii. Did you know coconuts are not actually indigenous to Florida or Hawaii but to the Caribbean island of Trinidad. You see, there was a ship wreck in the late 1800's and thousands of coconuts were scattered along the coast of Florida. The coconut palms grew into what would later become Palm Beach. Most all the palms growing in (most) places were put there by us, not nature!
What to do? What to do? Make stuff of course! Dah! Dear Readers! We make drinks and treats. We make main meals and sides too. We eat it raw, dried, cooked, you name it, we eat it. I used to hate coconut when I was a little girl. My mother would raid my Halloween trick-or-treat basket for Mounds or Almond Joy the "bad neighbors" would hand out. We three kids acted like those candy bars had the plague or something! My mother would fish them out and squirrel them away to eat in private because just the smell of them made us kids squirm. God forbid she attempt to actually consume those nasty candy bars in front of us! (I still don't like either candy bar very much unless I make them homemade and then they're okay. I only like them in stuff like a macaroon or something.)
Where do you stand on coconut Dear Readers. Love it or hate it? Share your thoughts in the comments section.
I love eggs. I like them hard boiled, soft boiled, fried or scrambled. I adore egg-based sauces like béchamel or hollandaise and desserts too like Crème brûlée or Creme Anglaise. I enjoy the richness eggs add to pasta, pies and cakes. I try to purchase the freshest and best eggs I can afford and find locally. When I travel, and have access to a kitchen, I enjoy trying eggs from different parts of the world. Somehow the eggs in Europe always taste rich and sweet compared to the ones from the United States. Eggs purchased from farmers markets are fun because the shell colors can be so varied. Do you know why egg shells come in different colors? Eggs come in different colors because eggshell color is based on the type of hen that leaves the egg. Apparently, there is a connection between the chicken's earlobe and the color of the egg the chicken will lay. Now there’s never any judging here at Mary’s Kitchen, but, if your hobby is studying chicken earlobes -you may need to think about expanding your horizons and getting out more...
The egg’s outward appearance makes no difference on how it tastes on the inside. Like many things in life, the way an egg looks on the outside has no effect on it's inside. On the inside, all eggs are basically the same. (It makes no difference if they’re brown, green, blue or white.) Obviously, the food the hen is given will effect the color of the yolk and how “clean“ the egg is, meaning the amount of steroids and so forth in the egg. (An eggs-ellent tip to keep in mind is giving chickens hormones is illegal in the United States so you don’t need to worry about that; instead, look for packaging that says “steroid and antibiotic free.“ )
My favorite thing about eggs is they make phenomenal emergency meals! They are affordable, keep for long periods of time and are easy to prepare. All these qualities make eggs perfect for those days when you get home late from work and need to feed your family fast. Try whipping up an omelette, strata or even a frittata. (My Frittata For Two cooking video can be found on my home page and it includes a recipe.) Most all of us keep eggs, cheese and bread in our homes and any combination of those things can be used to make a delicious and quick meal.
Share your thoughts and tips for using eggs in the comments section.
There is a frequently travelled road. It is a magical road that only appears to the true followers of Fall. The name of this magical road is called "The Spice Trail." If you are like me, Fall is your favorite time of year. The foods to make and eat during Fall are among my favorites because Fall is the season of baking! The heat of summer has passed and the colors that surround us provide inspiration for new culinary creations.
Now, hold onto your rolling pins, Dear Readers, Fall is also a volatile time. Why is Fall so volatile? That's easy, Pumpkin Spice. Pumpkin Spice is big business. Really big! Huge! Gi-normous! In fact, Pumpkin Spice is a $500,000,000 industry! THAT is a HUGE LOT of zeros Dear Readers! How did all this multimillion dollar craze begin? One word, Starbucks. Starbucks first introduced the Pumpkin Spice Latte in 2014 and in so doing, launched a craze of ridiculous proportions. From July, until things go on clearance, there does not seem to be a product that some company has not flavored with Pumpkin Spice. There are granola bars, cereal, candy, chips and of course, coffee. There are cookies and cakes and ice cream too.
Although Pumpkin Spice can be purchased ready made on the baking aisle shelf, it's super easy to make and traditionally, consists of only four spices; cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and allspice. Most of us have these four spices in our cabinets but if you don't, it's probably more cost effective to just purchase a little jar of the stuff. If you do have the spices on hand, go online and find a recipe for Pumpkin Spice that appeals to your tastes or make up your own combination. (The whole process should take a matter of minutes.) Once you purchase or make the spice mixture, use it in your coffee or favorite shortbread cookie recipe. Make a batch of the spice mixture and add it some apple cider to both drink and make your home smell like a heavenly, Fall escape.
Share your thoughts on Pumpkin Spice in the comments section.
I know there is no judging here at Mary's Kitchen but I have to ask, Dear Reader, are you a "Dirty Cook" or a "Clean Cook?"
Growing up in a Greek household, as I did, means one thing, cleanliness. The Greeks really do believe 'cleanliness is next to Godliness.' My mother, Ellen, taught me, as her mother, Mary, taught her and her mother, Ellen, mother taught her, 'clean as you go.' Running and keeping a clean, tidy and well organized kitchen makes me a better and happier cook. I will not or cannot cook in a dirty, disorganized kitchen. This fact is not just because, as all chefs, I am a control freak, it is because I can neither concentrate nor have fun in a dirty, disorganized kitchen space. My kitchen is definitely lived in but it is clean and well organized.
See the picture above? Does your kitchen, or someone you love, have a kitchen that looks like this? My head would explode! I look at this kitchen and think, 'AAAAAHHHHHH!!!!!!!' The only good thing about this messy kitchen? The homicide detectives would never find any evidence of the murder I would inevitably commit if I walked into this kind of mess at the end of a busy day! My husband, Russell, is a dirty cook. He very rarely cooks any meals and I'm always a little anxious when he does. My fuse is VERY short when it comes to my own kitchen being dirty. I check surfaces and such and if there are dishes about, I am not very happy... It is my kitchen and on occasion, I loan it out to other members of our family so they need to return to me the way they found it. That's fair and reasonable, right? Well, even if it's not, it's my kitchen and NO judging!
See this photo to the right? I look at this and, although it's sterile, I think 'ahhhhhhh...' I wanna do me some cook'n in there! I could concentrate in this space and create!
Most of our kitchens fall somewhere in-between these two images.
Some of you, Dear Readers, grew up never having had anyone in your life who cooks. Maybe your mother or father worked all the time or were too ill to prepare food at home so most of your meals consisted of ready made foods or take out. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that! My childhood had elements of that too after my parents divorced and my mother began to work full-time. My mother cooked on weekends. She made lasagna, manicotti, keftedes and vudalikia (both Greek dishes.) My two brothers and I ate all week from the food she made all weekend. Each Friday night, she grocery shopped and then Saturdays she cleaned and Sundays, she cooked. I helped her during the week by keeping our house tidy, doing laundry and re-warming the foods she made so dinner would be ready when she got home. Sometimes, I roasted the chickens she prepped too. I was happy to help and the food she cooked kept eating semi-normal for us kids after the divorce. She and I would also cook together. She never "taught" me how to cook but she taught me about cooking. I watched and took in what she did. She always cleaned as she cooked. I am just like her. I can make food for an army and no-one would ever know I've set a toenail in the kitchen! It's satisfying and I am proud of how clean I am in the kitchen. I've passed the 'clean as you go' cooking technique along to our daughters too.
IF you are a dirty cook, what steps could you take to begin to become a clean cook? Baby steps as the saying goes. Like most things, being a clean cook is a skill and as such, that means it can be taught! YAY!
Here are some steps to follow that will help you down the path of becoming a clean(er) cook:
1. Put an ingredient away as soon as you are done using it, always. I mean, always!
2. Clean the dish or equipment you used to cook in/with BEFORE you sit down to eat. Yep, always.
3. Clean the surfaces you cooked on as you cook. (This means, keep a soapy cloth available and wipe the stove/counter or whatever as you cook, so you don't have a splattery mess to deal with.)
4. Cover foods you place in the microwave BEFORE you microwave them! Yep, always! (Purchase some waxed or parchment paper and keep it in the microwave until you develop this habit.)
If you have any tips for how you stay (or become) a clean cook or how you are learning to be a clean cook, please share them in the comments section.
I admit, today's post may sound a bit nutty, so prepare yourself, Dear Reader.
Have you ever had a dining experience, so perfect, you never want to have it again for fear the second experience will not live up to the first experience; thus, taint the memory forever? (I warned you the post may sound odd.) You know what I mean don't you? The table was perfect. The ambience was sublime. The wine and food were transcendently scrumptious. The conversation was engaging. You and your date looked fantastic. You get picture...
I always say, one of my favorite things about food and cooking is that it connects us and transports us.
I have been fortunate enough to have had many memorable dining experiences. One that stands out from all the others was the dinner my husband Russell and I shared on our wedding night. That night was pure, magical bliss! We stayed at the Fairmont Hotel in San Jose California. We arrived, directly from our wedding reception. Russ was wearing a tuxedo and I was wearing my wedding dress and veil. We were glowing with love and joy. We placed our bags in the room and went to dinner in our wedding cloths. (Why brides change from their wedding dress, into a 'going away outfit' is beyond me. Unless they are Elizabeth Taylor, in the whole of their life, they will never get married again or wear that dress again, so why change?)
Anyway, the restaurant was called Les Saisson and we were the center of attention! We sat at the best table in the restaurant! Champagne arrived followed by nibbles, wine and mint sorbet to clear the palate, before the main course arrived. Everything was incredible? We were young and poor and had not had many fine dining experiences together. We were elated about being married and very much in love. That night, that meal, was one of the happiest experiences of our lives. It was perfection. It was the first time and the last time we ate at that restaurant (which has since closed) but the experience of that night is among the best of our lives. It sounds strange, but we decided that night, never to return to the restaurant. No other experience could compare to that night.
Please share your 'once was enough,' truly memorable dining experience in the comments section. We can all get a little connected that way.
Do you have something in your life that brings you such joy, you will make sacrifices in order to experience that activity? Maybe it's roller skating. Maybe it's traveling. Maybe, like me, it's cooking. Now wait a minute, why would anyone have to make sacrifices to cook? Well, if you're like me, cooking is one of my great joys but is a sacrifice too because I have arthritis. Arthritis is not one of my great joys. Arthritis is a stink fest! What to do? What to do? Moan and groan about it? (That's fun but not very productive.) The next best thing is to do something about it. What do I do you may be wondering? I live smart.
What does "live smart" mean? It means being proactive about pain. How do I do that? I move, eat and perform tasks intelligently. I move intelligently by being purposeful and organized. I have equipment where I need it for one thing. Having equipment where I need it is proactive because it saves effort. I also move intelligently. I workout every day to stay fit and keep my body limber. I also (try) to eat intelligently. This means I do not live a life of deprivation but moderation. I indulge but try to do so sensibly. All these ways I live allow me to have more joy in my life.
Do you have some tips on living joyfully? Please share them in the comments section.
Avid home cook and passionate instructor