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Posts Tagged ‘comfort food’

I’m staring at the leftover box of Mrs. See’s chocolates. When I lift the lid off the pure white box with the gold script, I see there are five pieces left. Well, make that four and 3/4, one with a bite out of it. One of the three of us must not have liked the flavor. Now I’m thinking of my mother-in-law who boarded a plane for Wyoming this morning. The See’s was a gift from her the first night she arrived in Minneapolis. If I remember correctly, she has three layovers and may not be home until very late. She flies into the Twin Cities once a year to see Liz. Her brother flies in, too. I look forward to their visits. We go out to eat, a play at the Guthrie, watch a few movies. It feels like a vacation for me, too.

I’m wondering what flavor Mary See has left in the box for me. I just took a nibble. Hmmmm, chocolate flavor bursting on the tongue. It is nutty, minced nut with a hint of almond? Creamy, and milk chocolate, my favorite. I run my tongue over the back teeth to grab every morsel. There is a patch of chocolate stuck to a filling. A nut wedged between two teeth. I have maybe three bites left. I’m one of those people who savors. As a girl, I was the type to keep my Easter basket around for weeks. I’d take little bites off the rabbit head, nibble away on an ear of white or milk chocolate. Some used to say that white chocolate wasn’t real chocolate. But I disagreed. I went through a white chocolate phase around junior high age.

Nope, never been a gobbler. Always a savorer. Hmmmm, last bite of the piece with the jagged dip out of it. It’s gone. And now there are four pieces of See’s chocolate left and Mrs. See is staring up at me from the edge of the box. She’s got glasses like John Lennon’s, gray hair, a kind smile. She’s wearing a knitted shawl. The photograph is tinted brown and shaped like a cameo. Did Mrs. See live in San Francisco?

Liz will be home from work soon. I want to see which piece she chooses from the box, her next to the last. It’s not like the boxes of Whitman’s chocolate where they print each type of candy on the inside cover so you can see what you are choosing. Do they still do that? I’d rather have the surprise. Last night, I bit one, and then asked Liz if she wanted it. Tasted too rich for me, too much like licorice. I don’t like the flavor of licorice all that much.

Chocolate reminds me of all the good things in life. It’s sweet, creamy, something to be shared, something that people are happy to share. We’ve got a bag of bite-sized Snickers in the fridge. I like them frozen. Liz has a bag of Dove almond dark chocolate, silky smooth promise next to the Snickers. A piece of chocolate lifts the spirits. A box of chocolates makes me feel rich, nectar of the gods. What is it about chocolate that is so satisfying?


-related to Topic post and practices: WRITING TOPIC — CHOCOLATE, PRACTICE — CHOCOLATE – 15min, PRACTICE –CHOCOLATE – 15min

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CHOC 4 2011-07-15 18.11.43 AUTO c

Chocolate – One Of Life’s Simple Pleasures – 28/52, BlackBerry 52 – WEEK 28 BlackBerry 52 response to Jump-Off from Lotus, Around the City: Simple Pleasures, July 15th, 2011, photo © 2011 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


It’s late in the evening at the end of a long week, so I’m going to make this Writing Topic short—and sweet (the way I like my chocolate). Though today we think of chocolate as having at least a hint of sweetness, it wasn’t always so. According to the Smithsonian’s article A Brief History of Chocolate it is estimated that chocolate has been around for over 2000 years, and for about 90 percent of that history, it was strictly a beverage, and sugar didn’t have anything to do with it. It wasn’t until Europeans came to the Americas that chocolate was sweetened with cane sugar and honey.

The Timeline of Chocolate History at The Gourmet Chocolate of the Month Club states that in 1765, the first chocolate factory appeared in the United States in pre-revolutionary New England, where the production of chocolate proceeded at a faster pace than anywhere else in the world. And in 1797, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe toured Switzerland and insisted on having chocolate available at all times, along with a chocolate pot.

According to the Smithsonian, we often misuse words related to the origins of chocolate:

Most experts these days use the term “cacao” to refer to the plant or its beans before processing, while the term “chocolate” refers to anything made from the beans. “Cocoa” generally refers to chocolate in a powdered form, although it can also be a British form of “cacao.”

Etymologists trace the origin of the word “chocolate” to the Aztec word “xocoatl,” which referred to a bitter drink brewed from cacao beans. The Latin name for the cacao tree, Theobroma cacao, means “food of the gods.”

Nectar of the gods. The Midwest Writing Group I am in never meets without indulging in a few bars of gourmet chocolate. (And it’s no secret that our teacher Natalie loves chocolate.) Reading, writing, and chocolate just seem to go together. Have you ever read Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory or delighted in Gene Wilder’s portrayal of Willy in the film (based on Dahl’s book) Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory?

______________________

The Secrets Of ChocolateWhat is your favorite chocolate? Do you prefer milk chocolate or dark chocolate? Do you believe chocolate has aphrodisiac properties? Scientists have isolated phenylethylamine (PEA) which is a stimulant found in chocolate, and also in the brain. A miniscule amount of PEA is released at moments of emotional euphoria, raising blood pressure and heart rate. Is there a connection between food and the brain?

Last week Liz brought these chocolate bars home from Trader Joe’s. She chose the dark with walnuts and pecans; mine is the Swiss milk. Let’s put a slightly different twist on this Writing Practice. Instead of writing Chocolate at the top of your page, head into the kitchen and rip open your favorite chocolate bar. Slip a square right on top of your tongue, and write down what connects pen, page and a delicious chunk of chocolate — 15 minutes, Go!


-posted on red Ravine, Saturday, July 16th, 2011

Lotus and I will continue to respond to each other’s BlackBerry Jump-Off photos with text, photography, poetry (however we are inspired) for the 52 weeks of 2011. You can read more at BlackBerry 52 Collaboration. If you are inspired to join us, send us a link to your images, poetry, or prose and we’ll add them to our posts.

-related to posts: the velveeta cheese of donuts haiku, WRITING TOPIC — CANDY FREAK, Homage to a Candy Freak, On Candy, Candy Stash — Barter Is Better

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Taco Soup

Taco Soup, BlackBerry Shots, Minneapolis, Minnesota, December 2010, photo © 2010 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


Family Recipes

Family Recipes, BlackBerry Shots, Minneapolis, Minnesota, December 2010, photo © 2010 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.




Simple Taco Soup


1 lb. lean ground beef
1 can whole kernel corn
1 can Mexican chili beans
1 can pinto beans
1 can kidney beans
1 large can petite diced tomatoes
1 package taco seasoning mix


Brown ground beef and stir in the taco seasoning. Add canned veggies and simmer until flavors are blended — about 20 minutes. Ladle into bowls and top with your choice of cheese, sour cream, cilantro, or tortilla chips.




Top With Your Choice

Top With Your Choice, BlackBerry Shots, Minneapolis, Minnesota, December 2010, photo © 2010 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


Comfort Food - Taco Soup

Comfort Food - Taco Soup, BlackBerry Shots, Minneapolis, Minnesota, December 2010, photo © 2010 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


Sometimes it’s a gift to be a product of a blended family. There are different sets of parents, plumes of siblings, cousins galore. When I was in Pennsylvania a few weeks ago visiting my brother after his liver transplant, part of my Southern family showed up on the doorstep and surprised me. After driving the 10 hours from South Carolina, they literally stepped right out of the front seat of their car and into my brother’s kitchen. They came bearing gifts for a celebration of Thanksgiving. It was the first time in 45 years the Robertson side of the family had been together.

Though I’m not much of a cook, I love easy-to-make meals. One of my favorite gifts was a spiral bound recipe book. Daddy and Judy had handwritten simple recipes they collected from different members of the family. And behind the pages of the recipe cards, they tucked vintage family snapshots.


Like this one:


April 1973

April 1973, Vintage Family Snapshot In Recipe Book, Morristown, Tennessee, photo © 2010 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


If you look closely, you might spot me there in Tennessee, in a half circle with my paternal grandparents, Ada and Jess, smirking behind that 70’s smile. So many memories.

Back in Minnesota, it’s a lot colder, and I’m a lot older. I pull the ground beef out of the freezer and open the handmade recipe book to Taco Soup. Since I’m late getting home, Liz starts dinner (if you are from the South, you might say “supper”), and I walk right into the middle smell of a family memory. The recipe book makes a creative Holiday gift. All you need are recipe cards, a fast writing pen, and a strong wrist. Food and family photos are a natural combination, a memory maker that keeps on giving.


-posted on red Ravine, with gratitude to my family, Wednesday, December 1st, 2010

-related to post: Memories, Writing, & Family Recipes

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soy milk

Got (Soy) Milk?, morning fix of soymilk and coffee,
photo © 2010 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.





I picked up my milk habit in Granada, Spain, in 1986. There my morning ritual was to walk out the door, hop the narrow cobblestone road to the bar across the way, and order a tall glass of café-con-leche. Pepe, the bar owner, prepared it with hot milk and just a splash of strong coffee.

Milk became over the next 20-plus years my daily vice. In all respects it seemed to be a respectable habit. My nails grew strong, hair thick, bones firm. One would expect (and I do) that my two cups of milk-and-coffee a day kept osteoporosis away.

But there were downsides. The worst was at night as I lay on my back and drifted off to sleep. I’d wake up choking to what felt like a wet hairball in the back of my throat. Mucus was the culprit, and it wasn’t just at night. When I exercised I had to clear my throat like a smoker with a hack. I suffered from morning stuffiness and a drippy nose even when it wasn’t allergy season. And forget about allergy season! During those months I was a poster child for Kleenex.

But the worst of the milk side effects hit recently as I began to enter menopause. If you’ve gone through menopause, you know the symptoms. Sore boobs, hot flashes, mood swings (mine went from grumpiness to rage).

Women I knew told me that I ought to try soy milk. My sister-in-law said it had an instant calming effect on her. Soy beans contain isoflavones, which produce an estrogen-like effect on the body. Inspired, I gave it try.

At first I disliked it. The sweetened kind was too sweet; unsweetened tasted like liquid chalk. For a few months I tried almond milk, then coconut. Nothing stuck. I turned to green tea (since I drink black tea the way I drink coffee) but didn’t like that either. I fumbled through my mornings, lost. I lamented that I’d inadvertently dumped my coffee habit. I missed my ritual.

I don’t have all that many vices, and honestly, milk-and-coffee probably did more good for my health than bad. Maybe that’s why I kept trying to find the right non-dairy version of my old favorite beverage.

Persistence paid off—I have finally discovered the secret to making the kind of non-dairy leche-con-café that might even make ol’ Pepe proud.

I am now an avid soy milk drinker. The extra mucus is gone, as are a couple of extra pounds. I only rage once in a blue moon. But most importantly, I got myself a new morning ritual. Life is good.



Roma’s Menopause-B-Gone Soy Milk-and-Coffee Drink


Start with a good brand of unsweetened soy milk. Not all brands are the same. Soy milk is processed from soy beans, and as with other processed foods, the processing can take something that is healthy and make it unhealthy. So if you’re going to drink soy milk, you need to check out the soy scorecard.

Pour about a cup of soy milk into a glass saucepan (preferably with a pouring spout) and heat on low for about 3-5 minutes, stirring constantly. I add just enough local honey (no more than a teaspoon) to give the unsweetened soy milk a hint of sweetness. I’m not a fan of sweet coffee, and so I’m stingy with the honey. Just a bit. Helps with allergies, too.

Once the soy milk is good and hot yet not boiling, pour it into a curved mug that fits your hand just so. Add in enough strong coffee to top the drink. (I make the coffee beforehand in a French press.)

Walk into your writing room, sit down, take a few sips, and then write. A calm beginning to any day.



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The most wholesome, delicious potatoes I’ve tasted in a long time came from the Minnesota Garlic Festival this summer. It was pouring down rain when Liz and I ducked under a canopy that led to a small booth of farmer’s produce. On the table were two paper dishes of homegrown potatoes. One held a buttery Yukon Gold variety. The other, Russet baking potatoes about the size of a garlic, so clean and shorn it was hard to believe they emerged from under the Earth.

We came home with the baking potatoes, sliced them up, boiled them and served them with butter and pork chops a few days later. I’m a big potato lover. In fact, anything carbohydrate hits the spot. Potatoes remind me of Woody Guthrie and the Dust Bowl days but maybe that’s because I was watching a documentary on him at 2am Monday night because I couldn’t sleep.

Last night for dinner, we had a couple of steaks grilled on our new Grill It! from the Minnesota State Fair and microwaved Bob Evans mashed potatoes from Byerly’s. The last time I was at a Bob Evans was with my brother after he picked me up at the Baltimore airport. On the drive back to Harrisburg, we stopped at a Bob Evans and had dinner in between catching a few geocaches. I’m sure I must have ordered mashed potatoes.

I remember Granny’s mashed potatoes, my paternal grandmother who lived in Morristown, Tennessee. That woman could cook. I was probably in high school the last time I saw her. But it’s the holiday dinners at her home when I was a much younger child that I remember best. I don’t know if I’ve ever tasted mashed potatoes like that anywhere else in the world. She also canned her own green beans; she’d sit on the porch and snap them one by one into a glass bowl. Always served with butter. In the South, vegetables were always served dripping with real butter.

Mashed potatoes are comfort food to me. They are cheap and filling. You can buy the real deal or microwave them in tater tot form, bake them au gratin, shred them into hash browns, or scrub their skins with a vegetable brush and pop them into the oven or microwave to bake, then slather with butter and sour cream.

There is nothing as flexible as the iconic potato. And if you free associate the word “potato,” that tricky deadly Nightshade can take you all the way to Ireland, or sliding down the back steps of the political campaign of Dan Quayle. Now that’s a versatile tuber.

 

-related to Writing Topic post: I Found Potatoes In My Pantry (& They Scared The Hell Out Of Me)

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Potatoes are a heroic food. They emerge from the dirt, lumpy and misshapen. It is rare to find a perfectly round potato. They are the Salt of the Earth among vegetables. Not a diva or prince among them. If potatoes were people, they would be the peasants, toiling in the fields.

I love the potato, filling and hearty. There is little as satisfying as potato salad made with small red potatoes, mayonnaise, spicy mustard, dill, and hard-boiled eggs. Sure, the accoutrements add flavor, but it is the potato that takes the show.

And the mashed potato is a dish without compare. Wasn’t it just the other day that Dee was craving roasted turkey with mashed potatoes and gravy? A meal that satisfies like no other, and while one may give credit to the turkey and the gravy, it is again the potato that keeps us going back to that ensemble again and again.

Jim says that the potato is most prone among vegetables to be affected by toxins in the environment, and I suppose in that way the potato is the toad among vegetables, warty and thin-skinned. And like the toad, the potato is an essential member of the ecosystem, a staple in the food pyramid, like corn or wheat or rice, and among all of those the potato takes you further, sustains you, keeps your tummy from grumbling overnight.

Mom was a fan of potatoes. She sliced them thin and fried them with garlic and onion, and we ate them greasy and salty with a piece of overdone meat and a salad. Or cubed in teeny tiny squares reminiscent of board game pieces, mixed with ground beef—filling for tacos.

The potatoes of my youth were always greasy, except for baked potatoes, although I don’t think Mom made those until after we were out of the house. Three fried Russets could feed a large family, whereas the same number of baked Russets feeds only three.

Jim buys his potatoes now during Growers Market season from the Johnstons. They are among the handful, maybe less, selling potatoes. They grow small red ones and one that is such a deep purple color it looks like a bruise, and I have to say I’ve never tasted as smooth and creamy a potato as theirs.

Tonight it’s turkey cutlets, which I’ll lightly bread and fry, and some of those bruised potatoes, which I hate to peel, but there’s nothing more appetizing than a cream-colored mashed potato (and with my girls, anything that resembles mashed prunes will be rejected outright). And gravy. To satisfy the need in all of us for heavier food, to keep us warm during cooling nights.

If I were to write a potato haiku, it would read:

Mister Potato
hero among veggies
Here to save the day




-Related to topic post I Found Potatoes In My Pantry (& They Scared The Hell Out Of Me) and haiku 2 (one-a-day)

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Flowering Onion, MN State Fair, St. Paul, Minnesota, September 2009, all photos © 2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



It’s Labor Day, final day of the Minnesota State Fair, when the last of 12 Butter Queens will take her place in the Butter Booth at the Dairy Building. The Fair signifies the unofficial end of Summer (officially marked by shadows of the Fall Equinox). We spent 6 hours walking around the Fairgrounds last Friday.

The art in the juried show seemed of a higher caliber this year. We saw some great work in the Art Building, including the commemorative painting from artist Leo Stans displayed front and center.

In the food category, we bought a paring knife at Standing Buffalo Knives and a Grill It! in the Merchandise Building. As strange as the Grill It! looks (an engineer must have designed it), we made the best bacon ever for breakfast yesterday morning. But we weren’t as adventurous as usual when consuming Minnesota State Fair foods on-a-stick.

Liz and I are eating 8 leftover Tom Thumb Donuts as I type and trying to recall what else we had to eat last Friday. We split a Flowering Onion four ways with our friends, a bucket of fries with vinegar and ketchup, a Papa Pronto Pup from one of the original 1947 stands, two large cups of fresh squeezed lemonade (refills half price), and a few morsels of chicken from the Grill It! demonstrator.

We brought home Saint Agnes Baking Company’s blueberry lemon sourdough bread, named after the widowed Grandma Agnes Rod who began baking in the 1940’s. That might be all we consumed in the food department. Well, except for our personal best — Peach Glazed Pig Cheeks from Famous Dave’s.


Peach Glazed Pig Cheeks On-A-Stick, MN State Fair, St. Paul,
Minnesota, September 2009, all photos © 2009 by
QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


These little morsels are pork cheeks marinated in garlic, herbs, spices, and honey served on-a-stick and grilled with peach chipotle glaze. Our friends really liked them. But we found them a little gamey. Though they were extremely tender, they tasted more like dark meat than the white pork I tend to eat. The peach glaze, however, was fantastic.

I did a little research and it seems that the pig cheeks are different than the jowls. I’m no expert, but I read that the pig jowl tends to be the actual fatty part that is almost like pork belly in its striation and normally does not include the pig cheek.

The pig cheeks are mostly from the side of the head, not from under the chin. The upper part is rather thin and mostly skin. The lower part is adjacent to the true jowl, so it is thicker than the upper part and has the same striations as the jowl.

Whether cheeks or jowls, I’m not much for consuming dicey parts of a pig. But I’m glad we tried them. My favorite times were when we stopped to chat with people like Stan Stokesbary of Standing Buffalo Knives who handcrafts knives out of old buzz saw blades. Or Ronald Kelsey who has part of his collection of 500 vintage seed bags displayed in the Horticulture Building.

How many pounds of seed are in a bushel? You’ll see the number on the bottom corner of each and every sack.

-posted on red Ravine, Happy Labor Day, Monday, September 7th, 2009

-related to posts: MN State Fair On-A-Stick (Happy B’Day MN!), MN State Fair On-A-Stick II – Video & Stats, On-The-Go List Of Must-Haves (MN State Fair), Nightshot – Carousel, Mary In Minnesota, food on-a-stick haiku

-More photos from this year’s Fair in QuoinMonkey’s Minnesota State Fair Series

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