Saturday, March 27, 2010

Something Green This Way Comes: Cream of Asparagus Soup

Asparagus arrives with the earliest and most eager days of spring and that is why I love it so. If I could choose to reappear on this earth in a food form, (yes, there is room in my mind for such random thoughts- using the imagination isn't just a puerile pasttime!) I would be asparagus. You have to love the dogged determination of this lean green stalk of nutrients. No fat, no cholesterol, and densely packed with good-for-you vitamins. It dares to wait three years before propagating(gotta grow those roots) and once it does, it reproduces with zeal. I appreciate that it doesn't require much preparation to be delicious.

My favorite way to eat asparagus is to saute it in olive oil with green onions and then very lightly salt it. I admire the way it gets greener and stays firm even when cooked. What's not to love? Seeing asparagus appear in bundles in the grocery store a few weeks ago buoyed my hopes that warmth and sunshine were on the way. If you can't trust the crudites, it's a dark day.

And of course, there is the health factor. Vegetables are good for you as we all know. That is why parents across the world make their children eat them before they bust out the chocolate cake. My memories of Grandma cooking vegetables doesn't involve olive oil though. She usually cooked them in water. I do know that she recognized that they lost some nutritional value in that process. She once offered me a cup of vegetable water left from boiling green beans. "Here" she said, "they say all the vitamins are in the water." No thanks, my adoloscent self replied. I watched, astonished, as Grandma knocked back the cup of green bean water. She dared to chuckle at my incredulous expression. I like that in a person. Way to go Grandma!

Here is a recipe for Cream of Asparagus Soup
2 bunches of asparagus
4 green onions
3 T butter
3 T flour
1 qt milk (I used some fat free half and half)
salt and pepper
Melt butter in saucepan, add flour and then milk to make a cream sauce.
cook chopped asparagus for 20 minutes in salt water.
Saute minced onion in 1 T of butter; when tender, add to asparagus.
Add asparagus to cream sauce.
Bring to a boil and serve.

This was really delicious!
This recipe is adapted from the Mennonite Community Cookbook (1950). It was submitted by Mrs. Amos B. Charles from my dad's homeland Lancaster, PA.

With the love of green things and spring,

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Food is Hello:Butter Horns

"Food has always been a hello, it's been a goodbye, and it's been part of the celebration." Lousie McKay
I saw this quote in the American Indian museum in Washington DC last week as part of a display about how different tribes are maintaining culture. Food, as we know, is a significant part of culture. One of the things I have learned while cooking memories these last months is that shared meals have been a kind of language as well. Food is an embracing, a way of saying, "come in and stay".

While visiting at my brother and sister in law's home on our trip to the DC area, we found this to be true. We were welcomed by a fragrant and delicious meal and given more of the same throughout our stay. My sister-in-law, Magda, can cook! Even now, my taste buds tingle upon the remembrance. When we arrived back in Kansas, my mother called to say that she would have dinner for us when we arrived back in town. Warm soup would bid us welcome. Such hospitality says hello, celebrates togetherness and tradition as well as sustains our physical needs. Many times when my own children come home, they peek their head in the kitchen wondering what familiar fare will greet them. Often when they leave, I say goodbye by handing them some homemake cookies or rolls for the journey. Food as goodbye.

Food as part of the celebration are delicacies that have special meaning for extraordinary times. Someone's favorite on his or her birthday, pies made only annually for the Christmas dinner, the remembered favorite when someone comes home from college. It is clear to me now, that cooking and sharing meals are of tremendous importance in my family when gathering with loved ones.

I thought of one time when my mom and I went to visit Grandma after my Grandpa had died. We got there about lunch time and there was not a meal waiting. Instead, Grandma asked us to go to the local grocery store for a deli chicken. Beg your pardon? I was startled because never in any visit to Grandma's had I ever had anything but homemade food. While Mom and I were in the grocery store picking out the chicken, I said to my mom, "This is just weird." I don't remember exactly what she said but she agreed with me that it was different and likely due to the fact that Grandma wasn't doing everything she used to do. It was a statement of acceptance that things had changed. Certainly hello can look like a deli chicken or even a frozen pizza. I didn't feel any less loved but I remember realizing that I had become very accustomed to being welcomed by food made in Grandma's kitchen. In some ways, the baton was passed. We did more in the kitchen that visit, she did less. It was time for that.

Here is a recipe for butter horns which will say hello to my husband when he returns from his work today and to my daughter Amber, soon to be home for spring break.
Butter Horns
1 package yeast dissolved in 1/2 cup warm water
1 cup scalded milk
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup shortening
3 eggs
1 1/2 tsp salt
4-5 cups of flour
Scald milk. Add shortening. when cooled to lukewarm temperature, add the yeast and water. Add sugar, salt, and beaten eggs.
Mix thoroughly.
Stir in flour gradually, adding enough so that dough doesn't stick to your fingers.
Cover, let rise in warm place until double.
Roll out dough into circles the size of a dinner plate. Cut into pie shaped wedges and brush with melted butter.
Start rolling at wide end and roll toward center.
Place on greased sheet or pan and let rise again until double.
Bake at 425 for 15-18 minutes.

This recipe adapted from the Mennonite Community Cookbook (1950).

Hello, goodbye, and celebrate!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Guest Blog: Eggplant for Dinner (or as Decoration)

This blog will have a different sound from Ellen's usual creative writing style. Since Ellen is out of town, she invited me, her mom, to add a recipe. Last week as I was re-reading journals from the early 70's, I found this story. Ellen had been playing basketball with three little guys, about her age, from the neighborhood and from the sound of laughter, and conversation, all had gone well. She came to tell me about the fun time saying, "Mom, don't you wish you were my age so you could have all this fun?" I avoided an affirming response, aware of what I was doing (sanding an antique frame for a mirror) and the difference in ages. While I continued to sand, she declared with enthusiasm, "I"d always like to stay this age..........nine years." Thinking logically as a Mom, I said, "You do want to go on to be a teenager and enjoy the years that will follow?"" "Oh, yes, I do. I want to go and be ninety-one, then I'd like to come back and be nine again. I love being this age!"

As in her younger years, enthusiam, creativity and imagination were evident. These characteristics have continued in what she does. Ellen finds what gives life.

I decided to include a recipe using an eggplant. This was not a familiar veggie in my early years. In fact, since Gene enjoyed gardening, we've added such plants in our small garden plot. They usually are quite productive. I looked for recipes that appealed to me, and yes, the one I chose to try was found in Grandma's favorite cookbook. I learned recently of a friend who was in a garden club where veggies were shared and he had received eggplants. That raised questions about what to do with this produce. He finally decided to use it as a centerpiece with other colorful garden items. Perhaps that's yet another idea one can use when gifted with a plethora of this interesting vegetable.

Here's a recipe for a creative eggplant souffle..........

1 large eggplant
Pare eggplant and cut into 1/2 inch pieces.
Cook in 1/2 cup salt water until tender and almost dry

2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup milk
1 cup grated cheese
3/4 cup soft bread crumbs
2 teaspoons grated onion
1 tablespoon catsup (add more if you like the taste)
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper (I added a bit of basil and Island spice blend from Jamaica)
2 eggs, separated

Make a white sauce with butter, flour and milk.
When thickened, add mashed eggplant, seasonings, cheese, crumbs and beaten egg yolks
Fold in stiffly beaten whites

Pour into greased baking dish and bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes.
Serves 6

From the kitchens of Mrs. Velma Miller and Mrs. Marling Lauver

Mary Herr

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Simply Delicious: Baked Cheesy Pasta

This is me tending the pasta, stirring the white sauce, and thinking about frugality while making some creamy pasta and cheese. I was thinking thrifty so decided to make this dish because it meant I could make supper for a few dollars. I also wanted to use up some refrigerator ingredients whose time had come. Two things that make us Mennofolk wince, grimace, heck maybe even cry: 1)throwing good food out and 2)paying full price for anything. I say this gladly. Learning to use and not waste, save and not overspend are good lessons to learn.

I remember Grandma Yutzy was a coupon clipper. We would get letters from her, which upon opening would produce coupons falling like manna from the heavens. My mom and I joked about this occasionally but we did use some of those coupons and many years later, sometimes my mom's letters to me contained coupons, usually for diapers.

The other thing Grandma did was collect pop bottles (usually ones she found discarded on the road) return them to the store, and save the money. When our family would visit them, this money would be the grandchildren's suprise gift. She would give us the collection of coins and my brothers and I would set about the task of dividing it up among ourselves, lining up the sets of coins like peaceful demonstrators until we were each satisfied we had our fair share. It was her way of giving us a gift without it costing her a lot of money, just her leg work mostly. As I heard tell, she'd ask Grandpa to stop while they were driving down the road if she spottted a bottle.

Plato said, "Let parents bequeath to their children not riches, but the spirit of reverence." This leads me to be thankful that my value inheritance of frugality was not handed down in a spirit of fear or selfishness but rather presented alongside the attitudes of gratefulness and giving. Learning to be thankful for the simple and recognizing the abundance we have is the essential truth if frugality is to be celebration and not deprivation.

Here is a most deliciously simple recipe for baked pasta and cheese.

2 cups pasta (I used cavatappi)
6 cups boiling water
White sauce (recipe follows)
1 1/2 cups grated cheese I used a colby /monterey jack mix)
4 slices of old bread (cubed and browned in butter)

Cook macaroni in salt water and drain.
Make a white sauce with these ingredients:
4 T buuter
4 T flour
1 Tsp salt
2 cups milk (I used half and half nonfat)

Mix the cooked pasta, white sauce, and grated cheese and put in a buttered casserole dish. Sprinkle parmesan cheese on top. Put buttered bread cubes on top.
Bake at 375 for 35 minutes.

This recipe is adapted from Baked Macaroni and Cheese in the Mennonite Community Cookbook.


Monday, March 1, 2010

Something Beautiful: A Numana Event

Today at our school, we had a Numana event. A multitude of cheerful people planned and supervised this great event. Children carried in banners with colorful handprints declaring their intent to do "something beautiful for God." All day first graders to middle schoolers donned hair nets, aprons, and gloves and worked cooperatively scooping, spooning, weighing, sealing, and packing these meals that are to be sent to Haiti. The word is, by next Friday, the packaged meals meant to feed up to 6 will be in the hands of our seriously hungry brothers and sisters in Haiti. At 4 o'clock parents and parishioners showed up (the saints kept marching in) and the gong went off as we celebrated every 5,000 meals boxed and ready to fly.

It was a wonderful event to be privvy to. We started the morning by getting our hands blessed and many ended in early evening with tired hands and dusty feet. But hearts were focused on the intent of the day. "Together, we can do something beautiful for God." (Mother Teresa)