♦ On the Table

Dear Shaina,

I had no idea how long it’s been since the last time I wrote to you. Extended vacations have a way of transporting you to an alternate universe. I have no excuses… I simply have been out to lunch…and dinner and happy hour and airplanes and VRBOs and vintage shops and mahjong marathons and Pacific coasts and Gulf coasts and eastern mountains and…well, I’m just worn out!

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I have been trying to figure out why it is so hard for me to write these letters. I make excuses…I haven’t cooked anything (This is a cooking blog, isn’t it?)…I just saw you…I have nothing new to say and no clever way to say it…I’m on vacation. I promise to write. I procrastinate.

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Getting back into a routine is no easy feat for a retired person who operates on an as-desired basis with no demands and few obligations. The post-renovation mess and chaos that I left the house in over a month ago hasn’t budged a bit and is screaming loudly for my undivided attention while my body is wondering if it will ever see a downward dog again, let alone find the all consuming present in shavasana. I have yet to cook a real meal and the only consistent activity in my life is Monday Mahjong (one of my few obligations).

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So I set my alarm and declared today the day of return…I made my pre-dawn cup of coffee, went to minyan, walked three miles, came home, showered and got to work. I made the bed, put a dent in finding new homes for the accumulation of stuff stored in your bedroom and the basement, made a few phone calls and pulled out the computer to rewrite my earlier futile attempts to respond to your letter. The first part was easy, but the writing/communicating part is a little more challenging.

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I think being the mother of an almost-grown woman-child is the most confusing stage to date. How much space defines a close mother-daughter relationship? How much closeness creates the need for distance? Can a close mother and daughter ever be free of the restraints engendered by loving too much, protecting too much and worrying too much? Are we close? Are we too close? Do I want too much from you? Do I want to much for you, for me?

In the past month, I saw you easing into the beginnings of a new path in your life; a new school, new city, new home, new friends and new jars to be filled with the tastes and flavors that surround you . A few weeks later I watched you reminisce with your high school friends sharing the heretofore untold-to-me stories of your adolescent escapades. Sometimes I think I missed whole chunks of your life.

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I don’t worry about you. I mostly worry about me; about how to be a mother of an almost-grown daughter without being intrusive or clueless. I want to be close to you in a way that is enriching to both of us and not burdensome to either. I don’t even know what that means except that I didn’t have it with my mother. Maybe it’s an impossible ideal, but I’d like to leave it on the table anyway.

Your first semester has flown by. Thanksgiving is around the corner and the kitchen frenzy will soon begin. Aside from the Big Bird and the other Thanksgiving standards, there’s no telling what may end up on the table this year! I can’t wait!!

Love, Mom
xooxoxoxoxoxox

It’s that Soup time of year again…

Fresh Butternut Squash and Corn Soup

IMG_4940Our neighbor brought over some home-grown organic Butternut squash. We had a day at home between trips and I decided to make soup. I looked around my food-depleted home and tried to use up any remaining edibles before we left again. This sweet and savory soup turned out to be very tasty and satisfying. Feel free to add or subtract or substitute any part of this recipe to suit you own tastes.

  • 2 medium sized butternut squash
  • 1 -2 medium sized purple or yellow onion
  • 1 small garlic bulb
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 3 cups water
  • 2-3 carrots, cut in chunks
  • 2-3 stalks of celery, cut in chunks
  • 3-5 dried figs cut-up
  • 2-4 teaspoons sea salt or to taste
  • black and red pepper to taste
  • 1 tablespoon cumin or to taste
  • 1 tablespoon za’atar or to taste
  • 12 ounce bag of frozen corn or kernels from 3-5 ears of fresh or frozen corn

Preheat oven to 375°

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or spray with cooking spray

Rub the outside of the butternut squash with a little olive oil and salt.
Peel the onions and cut in quarters. Sprinkle with a little olive oil and salt.
Removes the thin paper-like skin of the garlic bulb and slice off the tip of the pointed edge of the bulb. Rub the outside of the garlic bulb with a little olive oil and salt and set it upright on the baking sheet with the cut edge up.

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Place squash and onions on the baking sheet with the garlic and roast in the oven for about 30 minutes or until the edges of the garlic and onion are browned and the squash is slightly tender.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool enough to be able to handle.

Cut the squash in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds and stringy stuff and discard. Scoop out the remaining squash down to the outer skin and place in a large pot with the water.

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Squeeze the insides of the roasted garlic into the pot with the squash and add the roasted onions. Add the carrots, celery, figs and spices. Cook over a low flame, adding water as needed, until all vegetables are tender and cooked through (about 20 minutes).

Remove the pot from the heat and blend all the ingredients with an immersion blender until your desired consistency.

Return the pot to the stove and continue cooking over a low flame. Taste for seasoning and adjust as desired. Add more water if the soup is too thick. For added sweetness, add another fig or two or a little honey.

Add the corn kernels and cook until heated through and tender.

This soup tastes better the next day…and the next as the flavors blend together.

A dollop of sour cream or Greek yogurt make a great garnish.

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♦ Tzereis Gezundereit…or Carpe Diem

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Dear Shaina,

What a role reversal for you to be driving us to the airport to send us off on an adventure!  No guilt or fear…maybe a little worry…worry that you might get lonely or scared, especially since you’re still afraid to go into the basement alone! But you sound good and I am thrilled for you…not even the slightest bit concerned about the state of the kitchen.  Out of sight, out of mind!

I am happy for your comfort in cooking and sharing with friends and using the house for what it is meant for: a place to enjoy, to eat and drink and be with friends and family.  As Bubbe used to say, Tzereis Gezundereit: tear it up in good health!  Not literally, of course.

She  meant that the things we have shouldn’t be saved and preserved for some later pleasure…use what you have, enjoy it today and share it with the people in your life.  It was the Bubbe version of Carpe Diem, plus the acknowledgement that most of our stuff will outlast us, hence, tear it up while you can.

picking peaches on the streets of our neighborhood

picking peaches on the streets of our neighborhood

We all seem to have taken that message to heart.  Here we are in Portland indulging in food, wine, and the distinctive sights and sounds that live in an environment that seems to be fearless when it comes to the expression of individual style, creativity and preference for just about anything…as long as it doesn’t hurt your neighbor or the environment.  We are drinking ( we are tasting a lot of wine) this city in like parched nomads emerging from the desert…and it is delicious!

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There are hundreds of neighborhoods (and we have hit many of them on this trip) each boasting unique flavors and personalities.  The walkable streets, lined with bike lanes and crosswalks and closely packed craftsman style homes are lushly adorned with Portland greenery and fruit trees… small independently owned coffee shops, French bakeries and taquerias, bars and ice cream parlors, vintage stores and shops displaying the work of artisans of every talent and skill (dress shops complete with sewing machine and seamstress, old fashioned barber shops, weavers, painters and jewelers) are everywhere. The costumes on the street are wide open…from biking shorts to hiking boots to retro flowered dresses to…well, anything goes in this town, really.  The tattoos are  bold and sported by people of all ages and lifestyles. Freedom and independence feeds the creative spirit…and the entrepreneur.

We followed a llama into a jewellery boutique

We followed a llama into a jewellery boutique

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We have shared  good wine, food and conversation with our new dear friends from Portland and look forward to showing them Portland’s polar opposite twin city in the South when they visit us.  We’ll try to break them in slowly.

Today we drove to Ashland, home of the Oregon Shakespeare Theater and saw a production of Midsummer Night’s Dream set in 1964 at a Catholic Parochial School. Tomorrow on to Napa.

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The luxury of our trip reminds me that now is our time.  Even old couples need some time alone in a fresh space every now and then to remind them of who they are…separately and together. We are seizing the day…and hope to continue to do so together for a very long time.

Breakfast on our porch

Breakfast on our porch

Soon it will be the holidays. I saw your post for the cleanse.  Although I haven’t done much cooking (not that I haven’t been eating), the one thing I did make is cleanse-friendly.  I tried to replicate a beet dish that we had at a Peruvian restaurant in Portland.  I thought mine tasted good, but definitely didn’t have quite the same visual appeal.

Everyday there are new places and sites and experiences I want to share, but enough is enough! I am looking forward to coming home and returning to the normal order of things…me doting on you for the last few weeks of your home-stay…you preparing to leave and being annoyed with my stickiness.

I miss you already. Even though I know its not easy for us to live in the same house.  I still miss being around you…being a part of the moments of your every day.  I know these days are short-lived and that soon, I will be hearing about your life through the wonders of technology, again.

We’re off for a wine tour in Napa, so I better send this now because I am sure I won’t feel much like focusing after we return.

Love,
Mom
xoxoxoxoxoxooxoxo

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Beet Salad with Cilantro Chimichurri Sauce
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  • 2 Red Beets, medium sized
  • 2 Golden Beets, medium sized

Wrap beets in aluminum foil and roast in a 375° oven for 30 -45 minutes or until done (able to be pierced easily with a knife)
Slice thinly, keeping red and yellow beets in separate bowls

Beet Dressing

  • 2 limes, juice and zest
  • 1 Tblsp olive oil
  • A few drops of sesame oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Mix together and adjust to taste.

Cilantro Chimichurri Sauce

  • 1 cup (packed) fresh cilantro
  • 1/2 cup (packed) fresh Italian parsley
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled
  • Jalapeno or habanero pepper to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Process all ingredients in a food processor.  Adjust seasonings to taste.

The restaurant version

The restaurant version

Arrange thinly sliced beets in alternating layers of red, golden, red beets on a platter. Pour lime sesame dressing over beets.
Drip Cilantro Chimichurri sauce along edges or center of beets.

Garnish with fresh cucumber , cut in thin julienne strips and fresh chopped cilantro or parsley.  Serve cold or at room temperature as an appetizer with a fresh baguette or on a bed of arugula as a salad with dinner.