IMG_6175I found this iron dragon at an estate sale.  Supposedly it was a gift from an ambassador, although I suspect it may have been the ambassador of Nowhereville.  It’s so fierce, isn’t it? IMG_6176The dragon sits atop a fence in my backyard, and it’s so intimidating that even the birds won’t poop on it, and they pretty much poop on everything.

It’s the end of yet another school year, and I have to admit, this one was a tough one.  If anyone thinks raising kids gets easier as they get older, I have news for you — it does not.  Sure, you don’t have to tote around all that stuff and deal with all the equipment (diapers, stroller, swing, breast pump, high chair, monitor, blankies, binkies, tilt-a-whirls, etc.).  But the issues you may find yourself confronted with as your kids enter their teen years become so much more important and life-affecting than they didn’t get invited to so-and-so’s birthday party.  The issues that can go along with teenagers are the ones that keep you up at night, make you wonder if you’ve been a good parent, require you to take blood pressure medicine, and cause gray hairs to multiply exponentially.  But gosh, I love those kids.

Anyway, like every May, I am draggin’ (groan).  It’s hot, I’m tired, and keeping my son focused on studying for finals can be a job in and of itself.  Picking up my daughter and her dorm room full of stuff (she HAD to live on the third floor) in 90 degree heat and 90% humidity was exhausting, although we are thrilled to have her back home for the summer.  When it comes to cooking dinner, I am riding on fumes.  Inspired by my awesome dragon, I dragged my draggin’ butt in the kitchen and made Pasta with Sausage and Broccoli, a family favorite that doesn’t take a lot of time or effort.  I’ve sent it as part of a compassion meal on several occasions, and it’s always well-received.  We like to make it with cavatappi or rotini, but you can use any pasta you like.  Here’s to the end of the school year, and may the dragon of life only roast your hot dogs and never burn your buns.

Recipe type: Pasta
  • 1 lb. cavatappi or rotini
  • 2 heads broccoli, cut into florets
  • 2-3 links Italian sausage, hot or sweet
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper, or to taste (optional)
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil over high heat. Add pasta and cook according to package directions until just al dente. Add broccoli florets to pot and cook for 1 to 1-1/2 minutes longer, until broccoli is bright green and begins to soften. Drain pasta and broccoli well in a colander, then transfer to a large bowl.
  2. While pasta is cooking, heat a small nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Remove sausage from casings and cook until browned, breaking up with a spoon. Remove sausage to a paper towel-lined plate to drain. Add sausage to pasta.
  3. Add olive oil to pasta and stir to combine all ingredients. Stir in Parmesan cheese, reserving 2 tablespoons to sprinkle on top. Add crushed red pepper as desired, and season to taste with salt and pepper, stirring to combine. Sprinkle with reserved Parmesan cheese and serve.



Slap happy over cavatappi


Rotini works too, but it’s not as much fun to say as cavatappi


My son’s school is having a carnival this weekend, and all of the funds raised go towards the scholarship fund, which helps out about 100 students annually.  One of the booths is a frozen casserole booth — frozen meals are donated and sold for $25.  What’s that?  An opportunity to cook?  Well sign me up!

With Fat Tuesday just a few days away, I thought something Cajun might be popular.  (It’s really embarassing to have your item not sell, and wind up buying it yourself to spare yourself the shame.)  (UPDATE:  My dish went quickly, and I didn’t have to buy it myself.)  The recipe is slightly adapted from this one from Town Hall restaurant in San Francisco (yes, I know, it’s not in Louisiana).  I’ve never made jambalaya before, and I have to say, it was a lot of work. Not hard, but definitely time-consuming.  And definitely tasty.  This version has a lot of spice, but the heat was not overwhelming.  I hope whoever buys it (and I’m hoping it’s not me) will think it was as delicious as I did.

Recipe type: Main Course
For the spice mix:
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • ¾ teaspoon paprika
  • ½ teaspoon garlic powder
  • ½ teaspoon onion powder
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cumin
  • ¼ teaspoon dried oregano
  • ¼ teaspoon dried thyme
  • ⅛ teaspoon ground coriander
  • ⅛ teaspoon ground mustard
  • Pinch of celery salt
For the jambalaya:
  • 2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 2-inch pieces
  • ¼ cup vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 large onion, medium dice
  • 1 pound andouille sausage, medium dice
  • 4 ounces smoked ham, medium dice
  • 1 large green bell pepper, cored, seeded, and medium dice
  • 3 celery stalks, medium dice
  • 1 jalapeno, cored, seed, and minced
  • 3 medium garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 14.5-ounce can tomato sauce
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 2 cups uncooked long-grain white rice
  • 3 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 scallions, thinly sliced, for optional garnish
  1. To prepare spice mix, place all of the ingredients in a small bowl and stir to combine; set aside. Preheat oven to 375°F and arrange a rack in the lower third of the oven (need to have enough room for a large stockpot).
  2. Heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed, ovenproof, 7-quart stockpot over medium-high heat. Add half of the chicken and cook, stirring occasionally, until browned all over, about 5-6 minutes. Remove to a medium bowl and brown the remaining chicken. Remove to bowl and set aside.
  3. Add the butter and melt over medium heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions just begin to brown, about 6 minutes. Add the sausage, ham, and half of the reserved spice mix. Stir to coat everything with the spice mix and cook, scraping the bottom of the pot occasionally, until the meat is browned and the onions are very tender, about 10 minutes. Add the bell peppers, celery, jalapeño, garlic, salt, and remaining spice mix. Cook, scraping the bottom of the pot occasionally, until the bell peppers have softened, about 10 minutes. Add the chicken, tomato sauce, and tomato paste. Stir to combine and bring to a boil over high heat. Add the rice, broth, and bay leaves, and stir to combine. Cover with a tight-fitting lid, transfer to oven, and bake until the rice is tender and the liquid has been absorbed, about 30 minutes. Remove the pot to a wire rack and let it sit, covered, for 5 minutes. Remove and discard the bay leaves. Stir to evenly combine the jambalaya. Taste, and season with salt as needed. Just before serving, sprinkle with scallions, if using, and serve.


Ready for the oven (do you like the bay leaf sharks?) IMG_3640

 Laissez les bons temps rouler! 


375I found this ornate Victorian brass letter holder at an estate sale.  It sits in service on my desk, holding papers, bills, coupons, and other important ephemera.  It makes me want to sit down with a cup of tea and a big plumed pen and correspond.

I used to love to get mail, didn’t you?  Every once in a while a check still shows up in the mail, or an increasingly rare thank you note, but other than that, it’s all just junk these days. How exciting it would be to receive a letter, a party invitation, or a birth announcement in the mail.  Electronic communications have made lots of things easier and more efficient, but they’ll never match the excitement of something delivered by the mailman and the anticipation of tearing the envelope open to see what’s inside.  And I miss being able to post invitations and such on the refrigerator or wall so that everyone can see how immensely popular and important I am.

Touring colleges recently with my daughter, we ran across a bank of mailboxes in a dorm lobby that looked like this:

ELLC Dorm Pictures 038

When I was in college, I used to run to the mailbox every day hoping for a letter from home (especially one with a check in it) or one of my friends.  When I did get one, I used to wait until a quiet time to read it, when I could savor every word.  I treasured every letter I received.  Seeing the dorm mailboxes made me wonder if anyone writes to college kids any more, or if they just check in with a text or email every once in a while. I made a promise to myself right then and there that when my daughter leaves for college next fall, I’m going to try to send her a letter — even if it’s just a note to say hi — at least once a week.

Visiting college campuses has brought back a flood of memories, and causes me to marvel at how much the world has changed since then.  Like phones, for example.  We had one corded telephone that was mounted on the wall, shared by six girls in my dorm room suite.  Phoning home was a momentous occasion, and we’d try to wait until the off hours, when the rates were lower.  Just before making the call, we’d announce “I’m dialing the 9,”  which meant we were going to make a long-distance call and didn’t want to be disturbed.  When the phone rang, there was no way of telling who was on the other end — you just took your chances and answered it.  One Sunday morning my roommate’s mother called around 8:00 a.m.  Eileen, however, had spent the night at her boyfriend’s. Thinking fast, I told her mother she was at a study group, and her mother replied, “Oh, is that what they call it now?”  I was reminded of that this summer on our visit to the University of Texas.  We stayed at a hotel on campus, and I burst out laughing when I saw the privacy hangtag:

hangtagSo, to answer my roommate’s mother’s question, yes, that is what we called it then, and apparently still call it today.  🙂

On a visit to Texas A & M, we stopped for lunch at Koppe Bridge Bar & Grill, and this sign on the counter brought back a lot of fun memories from my days at nursing school in upstate NY:

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Macaroni and cheese played prominently in our college diet back then.  It was served for lunch almost every Friday, and it was among the more popular dining hall meals.  Moreover, a box of Kraft macaroni and cheese only cost about 25 cents in those days, and you could prepare it in a hotpot in your dorm room, which in the pre-microwave era, was a pretty big deal.  (You could also iron yourself a grilled cheese, but let’s not go there.)

I still love macaroni and cheese, but nowadays it is something of a treat, not a mainstay in our diet.  My favorite recipe is one from Food & Wine’s Grace Parisi–it’s simple, creamy, and cheesy.   There’s no foie gras, truffles, or vegetables hiding in it–just plain ol’ macaroni and cheese.  I like to make it for gatherings where there will be children–who always welcome it–and watch the adults sneak a scoop or two.  I’ve sent it numerous times as part of a compassion meal, and it’s always appreciated.  It’s perfect comfort food.

Recipe type: Main Course, Side Dish, Pasta
  • 5 tablespoons butter
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 2-1/2 cups half and half or whole milk (can substitute low-fat milk for half of the milk)
  • 1 pound sharp Cheddar cheese, cut into ½" cubes
  • ½ pound Colby cheese, cut into ½" cubes
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
  • Pinch of cayenne
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 pound cavatappi or elbow macaroni
  • ½ cup plain dry bread crumbs
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9 x 13 baking dish.
  2. Melt 3 tablespoons of butter in a large saucepan over medium heat.
  3. Add the flour and cook, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes. Add the half-and-half and cook over moderate heat, whisking constantly until thickened, about 3 minutes. Add half of the Cheddar and Colby cheeses, and cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until melted and smooth. Stir in mustard, nutmeg, and cayenne. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  4. Meanwhile, cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water until al dente. Drain well, and return pasta to pot. Add the cheese sauce to the pasta and the remaining cheese, and stir until thoroughly combined. Transfer the pasta to the prepared baking dish.
  5. In a small non-metal bowl, melt the remaining two tablespoons of butter in the microwave. Add the bread crumbs and stir until evenly moistened. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Sprinkle the crumbs over the pasta, and bake for 45 minutes, until golden and bubbling on top. Let stand 10-15 minutes before serving.

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 I want the corner!


IMG_3020 copy

I found this vintage French copper mold on ebay.  It’s actually one of a trio of molds:

IMG_3022 copy

I’m not sure what you would mold in these — maybe pate or aspic?  Maybe they’re just decorative.  Of the three, the pig with his curly little tail is my favorite, and the inspiration for today’s recipe.

Have you ever wondered why a whole roasted pig is usually served with an apple in its mouth?  One urban myth is that it’s to keep the pig’s mouth open in order to let toxic gasses from the pig’s stomach escape during roasting.  It turns out that it’s purely aesthetic.  Reportedly, as the pig roasts, its jaws tighten into an unsightly grimace, and the apple helps prevent, or at least minimize, that.  It is also believed by some that the tradition, which goes back 800 years, may be symbolic of the pig’s life cycle.  In the fall, pigs were fattened up on apples, and an apple in the pig’s mouth is thought to have been a way to symbolize the life and death cycle.

I’m not a big fan of the whole roast pig with an apple in its mouth thing.  Maybe it’s because my dog Jasper likes to pretend he’s a whole roast pig with an apple in his mouth:

photo-7 copy

photo-8 copyYou can put lipstick on a pig . . . .

Did you know that in Germany, pigs are a symbol of good luck?

iPhoto Library copyNot long ago, I came home to discover that my friend had dropped off a bunch of leftovers from a business dinner at my favorite restaurant, Provisions, including roast pig:


OK, so maybe the pig wasn’t lucky, but we sure were!  Although there wasn’t enough for a meal for our family, there was plenty to use in Spaghetti Carbonara.  The recipe is adapted from one from Martha Stewart, and although most traditional recipes call for pancetta, you can use any smoked pork product — bacon, Canadian bacon, prosciutto, roast pig — and it will be just as good.  Martha’s calls for half a cup of half and half, but do yourself a favor and just use 2 tablespoons — you’ll still get the desired taste and effect.

The kids were so happy to have this rich dish for dinner that I earned a “thanks for making dinner, Mom.”  They literally pigged out on it.  Were they happy enough to help with the dishes?  Yeah, right, when pigs fly!

Recipe type: Pasta
  • 1 pound spaghetti
  • 3 eggs
  • ¾ cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra for serving
  • 2 tablespoons half and half
  • ⅓ cup minced roast pig (can substitute bacon, ham, etc.)
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add spaghetti and cook according to package instructions until al dente.
  2. While pasta is cooking, whisk together eggs, Parmesan cheese, and half and half in a medium bowl.
  3. Drain pasta and transfer to large bowl, Immediately add egg mixture to hot pasta and toss to combine (the heat from the pasta will cook the eggs). Add roast pig, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with additional Parmesan cheese, as desired, and serve immediately.

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Kids were happy as pigs in mud eating Spaghetti Carbonara!


I found this cast iron nutcracker at a garage sale.  I bring it out every year around this time, and the kids enjoying putting the nuts in the squirrel’s mouth and cracking them.  I’m sure over the years other things have made their way to the squirrel’s mouth, but I am thankfully unaware of them.

I don’t know about you, but I think squirrels are the cutest members of the rodent family, not that there is a lot of competition for that title.  The squirrels in my neighborhood are hilarious.  Like this little guy that made himself at home in my neighbor’s bird feeder:

Biosphere squirrel

Another one of my neighbors has squirrels in her attic, and it’s hilarious watching them poke their faces out (she didn’t think they were so hilarious when I pointed them out to her, and called the exterminator):


 Is the pizza here yet?

There was a church near us that was completely overrun with squirrels.  They tried just about everything, but couldn’t get rid of them.  Finally, they baptized the squirrels and registered them as members of the church, and now they only see them on Christmas and Easter.

When my son was in fifth grade, he had one of those projects that make you want to call the teacher at midnight from a pay phone with a sock over your mouth, as you (and unfortunately, I do mean you) are finishing the project on Mother’s Day (thanks, Teach), and scream into the receiver “WHAT THE HELL WERE YOU THINKING?”  The project was to write 25 poems using different literary techniques (e.g., alliteration, rhyming, etc.).  If you have school-age children, you know that the project didn’t end with the drafting of the poems — they had to be typed, mounted on construction paper, illustrated, and bound — after all, by fifth grade your mom should be pretty good at that.  He drew a blank when it came to writing a haiku involving nature.  This was at about the point where I didn’t care if he got an F on the project, so I told him to just write about the dead squirrel we saw in front of our house that morning.  This is what he came up with:

Dead squirrel on sidewalk

Did you fall from tall treetop?

No acorns for you!

We still laugh about that one.  (I am aware that in some parts of the country the word squirrel is pronounced as two syllables — i.e., skwur-uhl — but in our neck of the woods, and especially for purposes of coming up with a 5-syallable haiku line near midnight, we prounouce it skworl.)

Our neighborhood squirrels have lots of acorns, nuts, and seeds to choose from, but pecans are among their favorites.  Once, a squirrel in a tree in front of my house started screaming at me when I stepped out the front door.  It kinda hurt my feelings, as it had been one of those days when it felt like everyone was screaming at me.  I guess he felt bad about it afterwards, because the next morning I found this pecan on my doorstep (and I don’t have a pecan tree), which I honestly believe was the squirrel’s way of saying he was sorry:

Inspired by the squirrel nutcracker and the antics of my squirrelly neighbors, I made Baked Pecan Rice.  My Dad told me it tastes like Thanksgiving, so I think it’s particularly timely.  The pecans, butter, and herbs combine to make this a satisfying dish that goes nicely with a holiday meal.  I think I might put a little dish out for my squirrel friends to enjoy this year.

Recipe type: Pasta and Rice, Side dish
  • 2 cups uncooked white rice
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • ¼ teaspoon oregano (optional)
  • ¼ teaspoon thyme (optional)
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • ¾ cup chopped fresh parsley
  • ¾ cup diced celery
  • ¾ cup diced onion
  • 1 cup chopped pecans
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Melt butter in a nonstick skillet over medium high heat. Add rice and cook until golden brown, stirring frequently. Transfer to a 2-quart casserole and add 3-1/4 cups chicken broth, oregano, and thyme, mixing to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover and bake for 1 hour, stirring occasionally.
  3. Add the remaining ¾ cup chicken broth, parsley, celery, onions, and pecans, stirring to combine. Cover and bake an additional 45 minutes.

 Browning the rice in butter

 A perfect dish for squirrels, family, and squirrelly family