Change is Gonna’ Come

The other day, I took my two dogs on a detour from our usual walk around the neighborhood. It was one of those unseasonably mild late-Winter days, so I grabbed the opportunity for some extra time in the sun and a much-needed dose of Vitamin K.The dogs responded just as I expected them to. As soon as we veered off our regular course, Kirby put the brakes on and Sable blithely took off for parts unknown.

A little more background about my dogs: This is Kirby. He is the wise old man. Sweet as sugar. A few months back, we learned he has cancer. The worst part of pet ownership, the inevitability of having to say goodbye, is now staring us in the face.  But he is strong and he is here, and we are grateful for every day.This is Sable. She is a whirling dervish. Too smart for her own good and always looking for the party. She keeps life interesting.So, my furry kids behaved exactly as I expected them to in this new situation. Kirby, wisely cautious, needed extra encouragement and coaxing from me before reluctantly venturing ahead. Sable, wearing her moxie like a badge of honor, scampered well ahead of us, never bothering to look back.

It got me thinking. Change is about the only thing in life we can count on. It’s inevitable. Yet for many of us — for me, perhaps for Kirby too — adapting to change is a little like wading through jello. Let’s just say it’s not easy. But change is gonna’ come. Bet on it.

In my family this is a big year for change.There will be many milestone events celebrated: graduations, a wedding, new jobs, perhaps moves to other cities. These are the happy transitions we will record with photographs and stories to share for years to come. No doubt there will be many unanticipated changes too. Truth is, we never know what the future holds, only that if we weather the shifting tides together, the ride is likely to be a little less bumpy.

Winter Vegetable Soup
Thinking about change made me hungry for something warm, soothing and grounding. This Winter Vegetable Soup, an adaptation of the recipe by the same name from the Beekman 1802 Heirloom Cookbook, was just the ticket.

2 T. olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2-3 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
4 t. fresh ginger, minced
3 carrots, peeled and sliced
1/2 medium rutabaga, peeled, quartered and thinly sliced
4 Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced crosswise
1/2 bunch of beet greens (I used these because it was what I had in the frig; any greens will do)
2 T. tomato paste
3-1/2 c. low sodium chicken stock
freshly ground pepper
1 T. sugar
chopped parsley for garnish

In a large saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic and ginger and cook, stirring frequently, for about 3 minutes. Add the carrots and rutabaga and cook until the vegetables are crisp-tender, about 7 minutes.

Stir in the potatoes, greens and tomato paste, stirring to coat. Add the stock and salt to taste and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer, cover and cook until the vegetables are tender, about 20 minutes.Once the vegetables are tender, add the sugar, season with salt and pepper, and garnish with the chopped parsley. Enjoy!

A Pot of Love

It’s February and it’s cold. Dinner begs to be made. What’s a nice Jewish girl to do but prepare a traditional, one-pot corned beef and cabbage dinner, just like the Irish ancestors she never had used to make?

Seriously, it’s an interesting thing about that corned beef and cabbage; it was actually one of the more memorable dishes my mother prepared for us as kids. And I don’t mean just in March, either. No disrespect to my mother, she had many perfectly good meals in her dinner time repertoire, but for some odd reason, her corned beef and cabbage has always ranked as one of my favorites.

As for one-pot meals, I have to admit that since I’ve begun pursuing my culinary interests in earnest, I’ve steered clear of the old slow cooker. Somehow, it seemed like cheating to me. And after my terrific but humbling experience in the kitchens of the Culinary Institute of America (see Never Too Late Risotto), I was almost embarrassed to use it.

Silly, I know. Slow cooking has been around for centuries.  It is the quintessential cook’s tool, one that predates most if not all cooking methods we rely on today. Long before the Crock Pot debuted in American kitchens in the early 1970s, home cooks were tending to pots of slow simmering meats over an open flame for hours on end.  Consider this recipe for “Brisket of Beef, a la Flamande,” from Isabella Beeton‘s The Campaign for Domestic Happiness, originally published in 1860:

Choose the portion of the brisket which contains the gristle, trim it, and put it into a stewpan with the slices of bacon, which should be put under and over the meat.  Add the vegetables, herbs, spices, and seasoning, and cover with a little weak stock or water, close the stewpan as hermetically as possible, and simmer very gently for four hours.  Strain the liquor, reserve a portion of it for sauce, and the remainder boil quickly over a sharp fire until reduced to a glaze….Garnish the dish with scooped carrots and turnips, and when liked, a little cabbage…

Sounds like a precursor to slow-cooked corned beef and cabbage to me!

Putting all nostalgia and historical context aside, one-pot meals serve an even more important role in the kitchen. They bring people together, much like I imagine Ms. Beeton’s Brisket of Beef, a la Flamande did. Gathered around a steaming vessel of aromatic mystery, friends, family, even neighbors cannot resist the temptation of what is surely to follow.

One-Pot Corned Beef

I took my cues for this dish from a beautiful blog, Recipes for Our Daily Bread. The author transformed her CB into a mouth-watering Reuben Sandwich, as well as Corned Beef Hash. Both wonderful ideas. I served it traditional Irish-style, with boiled parsley potatoes and buttery steamed cabbage on the side.

1 3-4 lb. corned beef brisket
1 large sweet onion, diced
Approximately 2 c. of water (just enough to cover the top of the meat; do not add too much liquid)
1/2 c. brown sugar
1-1/2 T. yellow mustard
2 T. whole peppercorns
1-1/2 T. dried thyme
1 t. allspice
1 t. cumin
2 t. Simply Organic all-purpose seasoning

Place the brisket in the slow-cooker and add onion, water, brown sugar, mustard and all of the remaining ingredients. Cook on low setting for 8 hours. Remove brisket to a cutting board and allow to cool for approximately 30 minutes before slicing. Trim any excess fat before slicing the meat. Strain the marinade using a fine-mesh strainer or cheesecloth, discard the solids, and reserve the liquid to pour over the meat and cabbage.

Corned beef in the slow cooker.

The Family that Cooks Together

My daughter and I are collaborating on a cookbook. It’s not exactly a cookbook, per se, more like a shared compendium of recipes. We began the project at her request about a year ago, shortly after she returned from a semester abroad in Samoa. Something tells me that after four months of little more than taro, rice, coconut milk, and the occasional spit-roasted pork, she returned hungry–not simply for food, but for options.

Two years earlier, when she first left for college, I packed a copy of The Healthy College Cookbook in her duffle. Self-described as “quick, cheap, and easy,” the book was full of options for the the student seeking more than just dining hall fare. Honestly, if I had had access to recipes for “Easy Chicken Philly,” “BLT Taters,” and “Orange French Toast” as a young (and usually hungry) college coed, I’m thinking I would have learned how to fire up that skillet long before I got married.

In any case, I love that the students who wrote the Healthy College Cookbook, now all Williams College alumni, dedicated it to their families. I have a hunch that it was the mothers, fathers, siblings, and others with whom these first-time authors shared their tables that served as inspiration for the project. Let’s face it, when we are away from the ones we love, we hunger for more than just food. We long for the familiar company, conversation, sounds and smells that conjure happy memories and allow us to be ourselves.

Which brings me back to the mother-daughter recipe collection. It remains a work in progress; in fact, many pages are still blank. Which is the best part really, because the recipe book is more than a resource for those days when you just can’t decide what to make for dinner. It’s a reflection of our best days in the kitchen, our tried-and-true favorites, and our creative whimsy. It offers a glimpse into who each of us is and forever links us to one another. As long as there are pages to fill, the conversation will continue. Which is a good thing, because I still have a lot to learn.

Hangover Home Fries
Okay, no surprise here that this is one of my daughter’s contributions. Trust me, you will love these-hangover or not!

3-4 potatoes, washed and diced. No peeling necessary*
1 large onion, diced or sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
Pinch (or more, according to your heat preference) dried hot pepper flakes
2 T olive oil
1 t dried rosemary
Salt and pepper to taste

*Feel free to pre-soak the potatoes in order to expedite the cooking process, although this is not necessary.

In a pan, sauté onions, garlic and hot pepper. When onions start to soften, add potatoes. The onions will ultimately crisp up, as potatoes will take some time to cook. Stir occasionally until potatoes start to brown around edges. Add rosemary, salt and pepper. Enjoy with ketchup or maple syrup.