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If you follow my blog, you know that the photos on it are taken by my husband, Steve Pool.  After many, many years of prodding, we finally got him to put himself out into the internet world through a website which is www.stevepool.net.  I share one of his much-loved flower photos with an urge for you to visit his website.  He sells prints and should you desire, I think he might make cards from any of the photos on the website or from any photos on my blog that lend themselves to the card format.  We – his friends, family, and editors – love his work and I hope you will share it with others also.

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As I mentioned upon my return to writing these posts, one of my joys is watching our youngest granddaughter thrive.  So, we often go to the west coast to visit her which is where we’ve been these past couple of weeks.  This is a photo of the two of us doing what she loves best – playing and learning.  We are at a cash register that she recently got as a birthday gift learning about how to pay at the grocery store as well as the worth of each bill and coin that you have to spend to buy your groceries.  Her monies – as she calls the play money – all seem to have the same value to her at the moment no matter how many times we try to point out the differences it is all there just to spend.  As we neared the end of our visit, I told her parents that she should have been named Sunshine as that is what she brings to each day.  A have never known such a happy, joyful child and I’m so happy that we are able to frequently spend time with her.

 

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Grocery shopping the other day at Trader Joes – one of my favorite stops – I saw a young woman handing out tastes of something called a Thomcord grape with a small piece of Manchego cheese.  Although I usually don’t bother to snack on samples when I shop I was intrigued by the grape so I popped one into my mouth.  It was so delicious – a little sweet, a little tart with a snappy skin – small as a plain old grape jelly Concord grape and about the same color, but no seeds and no bitter skin.  So, of course, I bought some.  They are absolutely terrific with almost any cheese – we served them with a cheese selection and a glass of Cava after a light dinner.  A wonderful ending!

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I am probably one of the few non-Southerners who loves okra.  I usually don’t buy it at the supermarket – only when it pops up at the green market in August does it make it to our table.  It is such an interesting looking vegetable, particularly when it is the purple variety. When I have time and the price is right, I will pickle a good amount of okra.  It makes a great accompaniment to charcuterie or cheese platters.  But, as often as not, I will give it a quick stir-fry all by itself or mix it up with some tomatoes and onions.  But occasionally – particularly when I’ve made cornbread or have shrimp on hand – I’ll turn them into my version of maque choux, that traditional Louisiana side dish that usually features just corn, bell peppers, and onion.  Cornbread makes a good dipping tool and shrimp can turn it into a sorta gumbo.  I never cook okra very long as I’m not a fan once it starts to get slimy.  Although recently someone told me that if you blanch it for a minute or so, it stays bright green and doesn’t get slimy.  I haven’t tried that method so can’t recommend it, but you might want to give it a try.

Maque Choux

Serves 4

2 tablespoons bacon grease (or any fat you like)

½ cup chopped red onion

1 teaspoon minced garlic

1 teaspoon minced hot green or red chile or to taste

1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme

1 cup fresh corn kernels

½ cup chopped red bell pepper

2 cups sliced okra

¾ cup heavy cream

Salt and pepper

½ cup chopped scallions

2 tablespoons chopped flat leaf parsley

Hot sauce, optional

 

Heat the bacon grease in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add the onion, garlic, chile, and thyme and cook, stirring frequently, for about 4 minutes or until the onion is softening.  Stir in the corn and bell pepper and continue to cook, stirring frequently, for about 5 minutes or until just barely tender.  Stir in the okra and then quickly add the cream, season with salt and pepper, and bring to a simmer.  Simmer for about 5 minutes or just until slightly thick.  Don’t cook too long as you don’t want the okra to start oozing – you want it slightly crisp.

Remove from the heat and stir in the scallions and parsley.  Taste and, if necessary, season with salt, pepper, and hot sauce.

Serve hot.

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It’s been quite a while since I wrote my last blog post.  I don’t exactly know why I stopped. Maybe I felt I had run out of things to say. Maybe I just got lazy.  Maybe I wondered if I had been at it so long that I couldn’t write another recipe that was interesting.  But if I really wanted to speak the truth I think that after I lost my oldest son to lung cancer, my heart just wasn’t interested in doing too much of anything other than watching my grandchildren grow up, particularly our youngest granddaughter who is 15 years younger than our middle granddaughter. Watching her as she celebrates her birthdays gives us one more chance to feel the joy of watching a little one grow up to be an amazing adult.

One day last week the thought came to me that I’d like to be back at it.  So here I am.  I hope that I have a little stick-to-it still in my bones and that I will keep writing recipes for years to come.  More than anything, I would love to hear from you if you come across the blog. I would love to hear about the foods you enjoy, favorite recipes, and, of course, tell me if you enjoy the blog or even if you hate it.  If the latter I’ll try to do a better job.

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Lima beans only appear in the green market in the fall and they don’t hang around for very long.  I suspect that this is because they are a pain to disrobe from their tough pod and honestly I don’t think many people like them very much.  I, on the other hand, really like them and try my darndest to pick out the pods that contain pale green, medium-sized beans.  The large beans tend to be starchy and not very flavorful – at least to me.  The tiny ones are so small that you would have to buy pounds and pounds to unearth enough for a meal.  This is a long way to say that when I find them I buy whatever I can.  Sometimes serve them like I do fava beans – let guests peel off the pod and eat the raw beans with some slivers of cheese – ricotta salata, parmesan, or any other hard cheese that you can peel off paper thin slices.  When cooking, I often mix them up with other vegetables or beans and do a quick stir in some olive oil and butter or with some pancetta or bacon to add some smoky flavor.  Always add a little onion and a nice bit of salt and pepper.  You could do the same thing with frozen limas that you have let thaw and patted dry, but oddly I never do.  I just prefer the fresh beans and the fact that they are so seasonal makes them even more alluring.

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The winter holidays always mean cranberries to me – cranberry relish or chutney alongside the bird (whether turkey or something more exotic) is at the top of my list. My mom always served Cranberry Ice as an accompaniment to our Thanksgiving turkey so I’ve given you a bonus recipe here for it just because it is not a recipe I’ve seen much and I thought you might like it. Cranberry Ice never appeared any other time of the year – a reasonable guess would be because you couldn’t get cranberries at any other time in those days. As a child, the most amazing thing was that she served it at the middle of the meal in her mother’s coupe glasses. Only when I was very much an adult did I learn that this course is called an intermezzo, a term I’m sure my mom had never heard nor did she know the culinary etiquette that covered it. Just in case you’ve never heard the term it simply translates to a palate cleanser between courses – often a refreshing, not-at-all- sweet, sorbet. It is rarely served anymore, even in the fanciest of fancy restaurants.   How she came to do this I, regretfully, never asked. (As for the coupes they were slightly iridescent; the luminescent colors fascinated me, but not enough as an adult to keep the glasses after my mom passed away. Of course, this is a decision I now rue.)   The ice is refreshingly delicious and works just as well as a dessert, particularly with a bit of dark chocolate on the side. My mom’s recipe calls for 1 bag of cranberries which, I bet, in her day weighed 1 pound. However, the current 12 ounce weight seems to work just fine. Since you can now buy pure, unsweetened cranberry juice, you can probably use that also.

Makes about 3 pounds

1 large tart green apple, peeled, cored, and chopped

6 cups chopped fresh cranberries

1 cup chopped red onion

1 cup dried currants

½ cup chopped celery

¼ cup finely chopped preserved lemon, skin only

2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger

1½ tablespoons minced garlic

2 cups light brown sugar

¾ cup dry red wine or any fruit juice you prefer (each one will add a different flavor)

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon mustard seed

½ teaspoon ground cloves

½ teaspoon ground cardamom

½ teaspoon cayenne pepper

 

Combine the apple, cranberries, onion, currants, celery, preserved lemon, ginger, and garlic in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Stir in the brown sugar. When blended, add the wine, cinnamon, mustard seed, cloves, cardamom, and cayenne, stirring to blend well. Bring to a boil; then, immediately lower the heat and cook at a very gentle simmer for about 30 minutes or until the mixture has thickened and is very flavorful.

Remove from the heat and pack into sterilized jars and tightly cover, if canning, or into nonreactive containers with lids for refrigerating. If canning, place the sealed jars in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Remove from the bath and set on wire racks to cool before storing. If refrigerated, set on wire racks to cool before transferring to the refrigerator. Canned, the chutney will last for a year; refrigerated for 6 weeks.

Cranberry Ice

Makes about 1 quart

1 package fresh cranberries

3 to 4 cups sugar, depending on how sweet you want the ice to be

Juice of 6 lemons, strained

 

Place the cranberries in a large saucepan with cold water to cover over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil; then, lower the heat and simmer, stirring frequently, for about 20 minutes or until all of the cranberries have popped and are soft.

Remove from the heat and pour through a fine mesh sieve into a large, heatproof mixing bowl, pressing lightly on the pulp. You do not want to push any seeds through; the liquid should be clear. Discard the solids.

Add the sugar to the hot juice, stirring until dissolved. Add the strained lemon juice (the straining is important as you want the juice to be completely clear). Measure the juice and add enough water to make 1 gallon of liquid.

Pour the liquid into shallow 1 quart containers or into ice cube trays and place in the freezer. Freeze for about 2 hours or until almost completely frozen.

Remove from the freezer and place in the bowl of a heavy-duty standing electric mixer fitted with the paddle (or a food processor fitted with the metal blade). Chop into chunks to facilitate beating. Beat or process until the consistency of sherbet.

Use immediately or return to the freezer for no more than an hour or it will get too hard to serve easily. If it does get too hard, beat or process again. You can also freeze the mixture in an ice cream maker following manufacturer’s directions for freezing sorbets.

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