Tea for One

Tea? Yes, please; preferably British or Irish with a splash of milk. No, no sweetener. Just the richness and depth of the good black gold that is a properly brewed cup.

I had to stop drinking coffee earlier this year. Oh, I love the stuff, but can’t tolerate it well anymore. Not the caffeine, but the other compounds caused by the roasting process are what gets to me.

But tea? Oh, yes, please. It doesn’t have to be in a fancy china cup. I brew it and drink it in my red mug. Steeped for a good five minutes, workingman’s strength is what it’s called in the UK.

I don’t really need anything to go with it. I wouldn’t say “no” to a good cookie or a scone, but those are optional. The milk isn’t.

Green tea doesn’t do very much for me. It’s ok, brewed strong, no dairy. Herb teas I don’t really like.

Just black, splash of milk, in a red mug. 

The Comfort Food Notes

It’s both Monday and Earth Day. I am one of those freaks who actually likes Monday. To me, it’s a chance to start over again, a time to reset the world.

After last week, we certainly could use it. There was the bombing at the finish line of the Boston Marathon followed by the capture of the still-living suspect on Friday, and a fertilizer plant in Texas blew itself to kingdom come, taking out an elementary school and a nursing home with it. And then we had several earthquakes.

Oy. Scary stuff. What’s the first thing you want to do in response to such a week? For many people, the answer is “eat.” Preferably something with fat and carbs. Something your parents or grandparents might have made.

We are hardwired to do that. Physiologically, carbs, especially white ones, trigger off seretonin production. Fat enhances the mouth feel. Celery is a comfort food, said no one ever, because of this. Psychologically, it reminds us of perceived simpler times, of visits to Grandma’s when we sat with her at the kitchen table enjoying milk and cookies with her. 

Is eating for comfort a bad thing? Not necessarily. If you are eating with the clear and deliberate intent of evoking memories or of indulging your inner child, and you are doing it with a conscious intent while savoring the food and the memories, that’s one thing. It’s the absentminded munching to quash discomfort that’s problematic.

In Sarah Ban Breathnacht’s book of days Simple Abundance, she has several entries about nursery food and how sometimes you just need to eat something that reminds you of the days when someone reassuringly whispered “there, there” while stroking your hair when you were upset. Gingerbread, soup, pasta? What’s yours?

I made mac and cheese. My dad would save the odds and ends of cheese, then make a big 9×13″ pan of it. My own recipe goes like this: Pour some pasta into a pot, suca as elbows or bow ties or ziti. Then pour in enough milk and chicken or veggie broth to not quite cover. While it simmers (don’t boil–if it boils over, it will create an unspeakable mess), grate some cheese. I used cheddar. I don’t know how much; sorry. You will also need to mix about a tablespoon of flour with the same amount of water. When the pasta is done and has absorbed most of the cooking liquid, add the flour/water mixture and cook while stirring for about two minutes. Then add the cheese. Keep stirring. It’s ready when the cheese is melted. I like a sprinkle of nutmeg and black pepper on top.

Yes, I had some broccoli with it. No, I didn’t scarf it down in one sitting. I had enough for lunch the next day. Had to keep the seretonin levels up, you know.   

 

Retro Food

Image

(illustration courtesy of http://graphicsfairy.blogspot.com)

Hubby’s work on his mom’s house continues. He cleared the biggest hurdle this afternoon: finding Midcentury Modern pink tiles to match the ones in the bathroom. They’ve been ordered and will be en route in the next couple of days.

Midcentury Modern is the buzz phrase for the homes and decor of the post war era. It’s taken off in recent years as the Boomer demographic grows older and searches to recreate the pleasant parts of what’s seen as a happier time. I don’t know if that will include food, though.

Processed foods have been around since the 1800’s, but the postwar years brought in a new wave of popularity. The magazines of the era featured combinations of food-like products: molded Jell-o salads; indescribable and borderline inedible (to my palate, anyway) processed meat concoctions; and if you wanted to get fancy with dinner, you could open not one but two frozen and pre-sauced vegetables.

Luckily, Julia Child arrived on the scene with Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Between the books and her TV shows, she managed to throw a life preserver to home cooks drowning in the sea of chemical and sugar laden stuff out there.

If someone really wanted to go retro with their cooking, they need to go back to the days before World War II, or perhaps even I. Once you get the chicken in the oven or the roast in the Crock Pot, the sides can be puttered into existence. Steamed green beans with a little olive oil and Parmesan, roasted cauliflower, maybe a salad–was that so hard? Dessert doesn’t have to be anything other than fruit, does it?

Cooking doesn’t have to be difficult or time consuming. It just has to be done, and can be with the elegance and grace that comes with simplicity.

Food and the Solo Female

ImageI’m flying solo at the moment. Hubby is out of town, getting his mom’s house ready to go on the market. 

Well, not 100% solo. Oakley is at my side, ready to pat killer rabbits into submission. His meals are uncomplicated: some meat, sweet potato, a dollop of goat-gurt, perhaps a few biskies. He’s using my right arm as a pillow; please forgive any errors.

My meals run on the simple side, usually. I do grab a little takeout here and there, and have some prepared meals on hand. Or salad. I love salads, preferable the kind where you think, “Yum, yum! I’m being healthy and eating a salad!” even though you’re consuming as many calories as a burger.  I make dishes like French toast or chicken with lemon and green olives, ones that Hubby doesn’t care for much. He’ll eat them under protest.

But no protest is to be heard at the moment.   

When Oakley wakes up, I’ll make a salad with chicken and other yummy stuff for lunch. Nuts will add a little crunch. Not sure which dressing. But yummy it will be.

In Grandma’s Kitchen

Yesterday, I had my Easter lunch out with a friend. I had a chicken Cesear salad; Terri had a chicken flatbread pizza. Both were yummy. For dinner, Hubby and I had mussels marinara with salad and a little cake for dessert. We just are not into holidays, him for religious reasons; me for one of those long stories best shared over tea or something at least 30 proof.

We had a lot of strong personalities around the table in my early days. When the cracks began showing in the veneer of civility, it was time to retreat to Grandma’s kitchen and play a game of Twister or hopscotch on the linoleum floor.

The walls were blue and white. One or two houseplants flourished in the southern window over the sink. The scents of coffee, carefully saved cooking grease, and Lux dishwashing detergent floated in the air. Her stove, a 1939 electric GE, sat next to the refrigerator. It was working when she had to go into assisted living in 1989, and there’s no reason to think it’s not today. The white tongue and groove cabinets hid a treasure trove of goodies for good children, homemade cookies and caramel corn and candy.

 

Today’s designers would have called it the focal point, but we just called it the table. We–some combination of me, a parent or two, and a sibling or two would sit around it with her, drinking coffee or Coke (never Pepsi) or milk and enjoying some of her cookies. I sat quietly, tracing the white border on its grey Formica top with a finger. I had my first cup of coffee at that table, strong and laced with a liberal pour of half-and-half and sugar. I also drank my first beer there with Grandma. My father had called to tell us that my other grandmother had made her passage after a struggle with leukemia. “It’s a strengthening drink,” she said as she opened the dark brown bottle and poured its contents into two glasses.

It was also at that table where I learned how to make her Christmas cookies and copied her recipes for them and for carrot cake, her signature go-to dessert for holidays, birthdays, graduations, and because it was Wednesday. Even though it’s her recipe, mine just don’t taste the same as hers. Granted that I’ve done some tweaking by using butter instead of oil, and had to recalculate the amount of flour since she measured using a 6-ounce coffee cup and I use a standard 8-ounce measuring one. I make good carrot cakes, if I say so myself. But they aren’t Grandma’s.

My kitchen is as unique as hers, but there are traces of her influence. I have a GE gas range, still going strong after fourteen years. I have her recipes in a folder carefully tucked into a drawer and some of her dishes have found homes in the oak cabinets. As she did for the long line of companions, the dozens of kitties and pooches including Rags, Brownie, Prinnie, and others who have faded along with their photos, I cooked for Orion and now for Oakley.  The scent of coffee fills the air. The sense of her presence fills my heart.