Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Lemonade Stand

A few weeks ago The Boy and I were almost home from having lunch with The Captain when The Boy asked, yet again, if he could set up a lemonade stand. Thankfully this time he asked when I didn’t have to say no. Usually the question is posed when we have less than an hour between activities or when it’s 55 degrees and windy or I haven’t the ingredients on hand. However, that day it was lovely. It was a Saturday. I had the ingredients. I got to say YES!!! I love saying yes.

The Boy mugging for the camera. He's just so cute. No, I am not biased.
So The Boy clambered out of the car, pulled out the folding table, made a sign that read, “50¢ per cup”, and found the plastic cups stored in the garage. I made it to the kitchen and dug from the freezer the quart of my dad’s Meyer lemon juice that he squeezed by hand and began thawing it and making simple syrup. Next The Boy asked for a tablecloth, “But not one of your nice ones, Mom.” So I pulled a beloved yellow and blue plaid off a hanger where it lives in the hall closet (it was a wedding gift so I keep it out of posterity but it has been very well-used over the years. Thanks, Jeff and Glenna). The Boy took off with it. When I brought the first pitcher of lemonade out to him, I couldn’t help but smile at his practical, if not quite aesthetically pleasing, set up. The Boy had placed the cloth on the table but instead of centering it so that it hung evenly over all sides or, better yet, allowing it to drape to the ground in front and leaving it open in the back, he let it hang to the ground in back and had it perfectly even with the front of the table so that he could masking tape his sign directly onto the  table. He had carefully stored the extra cups under the table… for all his customers to see. Too funny. I was good and didn’t make suggestions to turn the table or the cloth. But.It.Was.Very.Hard.

We don’t live on a terribly busy street; which is not to say we don’t have traffic from vehicles that don’t live here. That said, we had more than several cars stop prompting me to consider a potential new Starbucks location. (Our town of approximately 75,000 inhabitants has seven or eight Starbucks. What’s one more?) And, unbeknownst to me, The Boy and his buddies also knocked on doors to drum up business. His school’s librarian lives down the street and she happily participated.

All in all, two hours, four pitchers of homemade lemonade, a little walking, a bit of sitting, some assistance from his mama, and a great attitude awarded The Boy $13 to add to the savings account he opened the day before.

So... The Captain has been chairing a garden plant project at The Boy’s school. Every child potted two vegetable plants last winter, which were subsequently taken to one of the local high school’s greenhouses to germinate. This last week marked the actual sale at The Boy’s school of these little babies, which, eventually, brings me back to a lemonade stand. The Boy, once again, wanted to sell lemonade. We told him that was a great idea as long as he was raising money either for his trip to Washington, DC next year with his school or to donate directly to school and not to plump up his personal account. He decided to help out Mom and Dad and raise money for his trip. Good choice. J This time I had to make the lemonade in advance instead of a pitcher at a time, so out came the big, round, orange cooler we use for camping water. Not elegant but it definitely served its purpose. This go ‘round he cleared $15. He had a great time and felt like a true participant in the plant sale, as well as giving himself a vested interest in his trip next year.

So proud. (little tear)

If I were a good mother I'd find a recipe using honey or other sweetener instead of refined sugar but... I'd also like to try adding mint, lavender, or thyme to the simple syrup; however, I think that would be for a grownup party and gin or vodka may be involved. If you've done this, let me know how it is.

1 cup sugar
1 cup water
1 cup lemon juice
3 1/2 cups of cold water

To make the simple syrup, place the sugar and 1 cup of water in a sauce pan and heat over a medium flame stirring constantly just until the sugar is completely dissolved. Place the lemon juice in a pitcher and add the simple syrup. Give it a stir then add the cold water. Serve over ice.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Great-Grandma's Deviled Eggs

This glass Candlewick platter is the same one my Great-Grandma used. I treasure it.

All my growing up years, even through college and beyond, my great-grandparents hosted Easter dinner (and Thanksgiving and Christmas and…), not to mention every Sunday after church. They always served two meats: either ham or roast beef (or turkey if it was Thanksgiving or Christmas) and always, always, always fried chicken (well, I don’t actually remember fried chicken at Thanksgiving and Christmas). As well as, always, always, always coleslaw, head lettuce and tomato salad, canned green beans and corn, mashed potatoes with milk gravy, real cornbread (not the sweet kind), and white bread. They were originally from the Ozarks in southern Missouri and although they moved to northern California, they didn’t cook like it, which was fine by me!

My favorite meals included Grandma’s deviled eggs as appetizers. The entire family loved them and no matter how many dozen she made, they were all eaten. I watched her make them so many times, often while eating canned black olives off my finger tips, but as I got older she let me help. Grandma never measured, she just eyeballed it. My cousin Karen and I preferred the eggs without the bits of chopped pickle that everyone else liked so Grandma made some special, without pickles, just for us. Grandma was sweet and laughed at our antics as my cousins, brother, and I darted in and out of their small kitchen. She never complained or asked us to go in the other room. She patiently waited for her granddaughters, our mothers, to do that.

Due to her state of health, we had already gone many years without her deviled eggs when Grandma finally went to heaven; then one Easter Sunday I had a craving for those eggs. I decided to see if I could duplicate them and as the true test, I took them to Easter Dinner at my aunt’s house. It was unanimously decided that I had recreated the recipe and would I please write it down since Grandma never had. The problem was I couldn’t because I, too, had eyeballed it. I’ve tried to write it down as I went along many times but have always managed to mess it up, knowing I forgot to include the last addition of mustard or pickle juice. However, now I have a secretary in the form of The Boy. This year while I was eyeballing it, he was taking notes and revising those notes as we went along. He loves to help in the kitchen and he knew this time the most important role he could play was that of recipe clerk. And he did it well.

The Boy was also intrigued with my latest addition of whole eggs made into chickies, which was inspired by Pinterest. You’ll notice that there are only four chickies – because they’re kind of a pain in the @** to make, let alone eat, but very cute and I’ll do a few again next year because The Boy loved them.

In the recipe, you’ll notice that I throw everything into the food processor and then use a pastry bag with a large star tip to fill the eggs. My Grandma never did this. She didn’t even own either of those items. A fork to mash and two teaspoons to fill were what she used so if you don’t have a food processor or pastry bag, don’t fret. I usually cover my Great-Grandma’s Candlewick platter (in photo) with lettuce leaves or other greens or a doily; however, this time I placed them directly on the platter, just like she did.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not talented with a pastry bag and I will never be caught frosting cupcakes with one; the reason I use it is out of laziness. It is easier to pump the yolk yummy into the whites then go back and refill those that are a little on the light side than to try to spoon it in and go back and re-spoon without making a mess – which I am very good at…

What are your favorite adaptations of devilled eggs? Dijon mustard, bacon, red onions, scallions, shallots, blue cheese, caviar, smoked salmon, capers, hot sauce? I'd love to know what your family's deviled egg tradition is.

Great-Grandma’s Deviled Eggs
3 dozen boiled eggs, peeled
½ cup mayonnaise
¼ cup yellow mustard
1 Tbsp white vinegar
¼ cup sweet pickle juice
2 sweet pickles (not the tiny ones), roughly chopped
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
Fresh Italian Parsley, chopped for garnish, optional

Have your serving platters ready. You’ll need two large or several small ones.

Halve the boiled eggs, wiping the knife clean before the next cut, and carefully remove the yolks to the bowl of a food processor and arrange the whites on the platters. Add pickles to food processor and pulse a few times just to break things up a bit. Add the remaining ingredients to the bowl and blend until smooth. The pickles will disappear altogether (I still don’t like them in chunks J). Adjust seasoning as desired.

If using, place the pastry bag fitted with a large star tip into a pint glass or jar. Using a rubber spatula, scoop/scrape the yolk mixture into the pastry bag. Squeeze the bag to fill each egg white. Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper and garnish, if desired. Otherwise, just grab two teaspoons from your drawer and go for it.

If you're making the chickies, instead of slicing the egg in half, slice off the top quarter to third of the whole egg. Carefully score the inner portion of the cut side of the egg white just big enough to begin scraping out the yolk, which occasionally pops right out but mostly does not. I lost two eggs altogether due to the whites breaking open beyond repair. If this happens, just toss the whole egg, white and all, into the yolk bowl and try again. When you have enough chickies to make you happy, fill the cavities with the yolk mixture all the way up and out the top. Place lid back on top. Make the eyes out of black olives cut in tiny pieces and the beaks out of tiny triangles of carrot (mine happened to be blanched so the color stayed bright; this was purely by accident as I had to snatch a couple from The Captain's stockpot. We often compete for food for our recipes, one of very few downsides to having a husband who cooks). 

If you're making the day prior to serving, place egg whites on a damp paper towel then place another damp paper towel on top and cover with plastic wrap. Leave the yolk mixture in the bowl and place a piece of plastic wrap directly on top of the mixture so it doesn’t oxidize and harden. Refrigerate whites and yolks. Up to a couple of hours in advance of serving, remove whites to serving dishes, fill with yolk mixture, and garnish. 

If you’re taking the eggs with you, placing lettuce leaves under the whites will keep them from moving around in transit. To cover them with plastic wrap once filled, simply place toothpicks strategically into four or so yolks around the outside of the platter and a couple in the middle and tent loosely.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Letting Go

Most of us have lost loved ones, especially grandparents. I was fortunate to have been close to both my maternal great-grandparents until their passing when I was in my late 20s and early 30s. I never doubted their love for me and I certainly hope I never gave them cause to doubt mine. A few weeks ago my maternal grandfather, my Papa, died. His almost 90 year old heart finally gave up and he went peacefully in his sleep with his wife by his side. We’ve had him about three years longer than his cardiologist expected. He was stubborn, my Papa (runs in the family). My grandmother, mother, father, aunt, two uncles, and I spent that first morning saying goodbye to him and making the initial plans and phone calls for his services.

We ended up having two separate services for Papa. First was a memorial at his church on a cold, wet, windy day. The parishioners played piano, set lights, and served lunch. They didn’t complain a bit when we stayed too long, not wanting to let go of cousins we hadn’t seen since my great-grandfather passed in 2000 to go back to our respective homes and go about our lives. Second, and four days later, we had a private burial at the National Cemetery in our area on a beautiful, sunny day. Because my Papa was a submariner in WWII in the Pacific and occupied Japan, he was eligible to be buried there. The US Navy provided two sailors: one played Taps, both folded the flag into the triangle we’ve all seen presented to the loved ones of the departed, and the other made the presentation to my uncle who then said a few words. During Taps, most of us covered our hearts with our hands but another uncle, my father, and The Captain, all veterans, saluted as we said goodbye. After each of us placed a rose on his casket, they wheeled Papa from the pavilion, the last roof he would ever be under, to his final rest.

And we went to lunch.

How strange it felt to chat with my cousins and hold their babies knowing Papa would have loved to have been there with all the people he held dearest. Of course, during the car ride home with my parents and The Captain, we discussed our later options and that, as my Nana will be allowed to be placed with Papa, both my mother and I would be allowed to be placed with our husbands in that same cemetery. I sincerely hope that it is a very long time before I have to consider placing my father and mother there, let alone The Captain.

My Papa was a good man. He was always loving and strong. It was so hard to see him looking really old. I still picture him the way he was during my childhood: in his Calistoga Police Officer’s uniform. I can still hear his greeting, “Hello, Machol” in his sometimes exaggerated southern Missouri drawl kept alive even though the majority of his life was spent in California. He called me Stinky; he called us all Stinky. He took us for rides on his Shetland Pony and ancient tractor. He played his guitar and sang songs. He could jump straight off the floor and hit his rump with his feet. He let us use him as a horsey. He lay on the floor with us and ran his train under the Christmas tree. When I was in college he gave me a commemorative tin of Oreo’s for Christmas addressed from Papa to Kind because he knew they were my favorite since I was just old enough to ask for that “kind.” He fell asleep during church and on the sofa at family functions. He was very smart. He was passionate about his politics even though none of the rest of us agreed with him. He prayed in his deep, rich tones prayers that were honest and humble. He loved his God and he loved us.

It seems strangely fitting that Papa left us so close to Easter. We sang Easter songs during his services, which made it harder to sing them again at church on Palm Sunday, the next day. And I have realized this week that I am frightened by my Papa’s death because there is no longer that buffer of a generation (or two) between death and my parents, which brings me closer to my own mortality… which doesn’t actually frighten me as much – as long as it occurs after The Boy is well grown. He still needs his Mama and no one can love him the way I do.

Papa and The Boy, Easter Sunday 2006
The Boy had just cracked a confetti egg on Papa's head

Papa and The Boy, mid-April 2006

We lost The Captain’s mother while on our honeymoon. We had earlier been lamenting how we had to pass her off to his sisters more than we’d have liked due to it being the week before the wedding and all that that entails. However, she went home and told her friends how loved she felt that she was constantly with her children, one or another. She passed peacefully in her sleep ten days after we wed.

The Captain’s dad passed due to cancer six weeks before The Boy was born. It was fast and he went with dignity at home with almost all of his children at his side. We regret The Boy not meeting his grandpa. I know what that’s like, never having met my paternal grandfather who my daddy assures me would have adored me (what’s not to love?). The Boy is so much like The Captain who is, in turn, like his father. The Boy even has his grandfather’s breathy laugh where he slaps his knee, which I would have sworn was a learned trait, however, it must be innate because The Captain doesn’t do that.

This is a depressing post and I’m sorry for that. However, part of the point of this blog is me organizing things; this time it's my thoughts. I do this better on paper than when things are simply allowed to wander around unfenced, unleashed in my brain. My point is that we’ve been through this before but with every person it’s completely different since each fit in a different place in our hearts, leaves a gap that is never filled except as a placeholder for a loving memory.

I am not ready to let go.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Recipe for Shrimp Mosca

In the very early 80s an old family friend served Shrimp Mosca at a dinner party my parents attended. They instantly fell in love with the dish so she gave my mom the recipe. Now, I’ve lived with this dish in my life since junior high being served with the shells, legs, and tails still attached, thus, with the vein still intact. This didn’t really bother me, except that it was sometimes a source of grit in my food, until I knew what that vein was and have since always served it with tails only, no veins. However, if you're braver than me, it is really fun to serve the whole shrimp and clean them as you're eating.

Something about this dish I’ve often wondered but had never taken the time to research is the name “Mosca.” After a quick Google search, I have deduced that this recipe has to have morphed from Mosca’s Restaurant in New Orleans. Here’s the link for the original recipe. Next time we go to NOLA, I am booking reservations here and ordering this so I can compare.

The version my mother still uses calls for marinating the shrimp for at least a couple of hours or preferably overnight then baking for twenty minutes. If you choose to read the original recipe, you’ll notice the shrimp cook for nearly half an hour. It is my personal opinion that twenty minutes is far too long to cook shrimp. They get tough. Last time I made this dish, The Captain suggested (because he likes to add his two bits and he’s often correct – in the kitchen – so I don’t mind) that I, (ahem) we combine and place the herbs, wine, and garlic in a screaming hot oven to heat the oil so the shrimp start cooking immediately when we add them. This worked beautifully. Not only did the preheated oil become infused with the herbs and garlic, but very little additional oven time was needed before the shrimp were pink and plump and delectable.

The ingredient amounts are deliberately left vague so it can be suited to your family’s tastes. In fact, the recipe given my mom didn't have amounts either. Where we love strong flavors, you may not. So if you see an ingredient that you don’t love, scale back on it and amp up one you do love. Don’t drink wine or don’t want to open a bottle just for a couple of glugs for a recipe? Skip it. No fresh herbs in the garden or fridge? Use about half the amount of dried.

When you’re ready to serve, simply place the baking dishes on the table within everyone’s reach so they can dip crusty sourdough or ciabatta bread in the oil right out of the dish. We usually have a green salad along side and call it dinner. You could skip the bread (or not) and serve rice, couscous, or pasta as a bed for the shrimp instead. That would be tasty. Let me know how it turns out.

Keep in mind this is a fun, kid- and adult-friendly, unfussy meal. Don’t use your best linens because there will be olive oil on the table.

We combine the two plates of shrimp for the table.
See all the herbs and garlic on the bottom? mmmm

Shrimp Mosca
Raw shrimp with or without tails, we like the 31-40 size
Olive oil, just enough to cover
White wine, a glug or two, doesn’t matter what kind as long as you like it, we use Sauvignon Blanc or Chardonnay or whatever's in the wine rack
Garlic, at least several cloves, we use the better part of a head
Fresh herbs, chopped, lots: 
(Or use dried Italian Herbs blend from your spice cupboard)
Asparagus (we had never done that before but we had a bit from the garden so we threw it in too)

Preheat oven to 450°F. For two pounds of shrimp, use two 9x13 baking dishes and fill each about 1/4 to 1/3 inch deep with olive oil. If using, add some wine – don’t forget to put some in the oil, too J. Generously sprinkle with herbs, garlic, and salt. Place dishes in the oven for at least 5 minutes. To determine if the oil is hot enough, put a wooden spoon handle into it. If it bubbles a bit, it’s ready for the shrimp.

Carefully remove baking dishes from the oven and place shrimp in a single layer. If using asparagus or other veg, now’s the time for that too. Put the dishes back in the oven for 5 to 10 minutes; just until the shrimp are pink and plump.

Serve with large napkins and eat with your fingers… well maybe not your salad. Enjoy!