ROBIN’S SPINACH AND OYSTER DRESSING

This is my Facebook friend Robin:

Robin profile

I’ve never met Robin in person.  She and I are part of an informal  network of recipe contesters, most of whom initially met through conversations on the website Cooking Contest Central.  Eventually, most of the conversations moved to Facebook and other social media.  Over time, many in the group have forged genuine friendships, looking forward to meeting up at cook-offs, and visiting when passing through.  Since I’ve never been to a cook-off, I haven’t met many of the group in person (OK, I’ve only met one in person), but after years of following these cooking friends, and depending, of course, on the frequency and content of a person’s posts, I feel like I have come to know many of them pretty well.  Robin was one of those friends.

I remember when Robin was a finalist a decade ago in the Pillsbury Bake-Off — the holy grail of cooking contests — with her Tomato-Crab Bisque:

crab bisque

On more than one occasion she posted photos of perfect eggrolls, which she used to roll by the hundreds:

egg rolls

Robin had a passion for canning and preserving, and had a thriving  Etsy shop called Thyme Square Herb Farm.  I marveled at the beautiful rainbow of vegetables, salsas, chutneys, and the like that she prepared for her shop:

 

Robin did not have it easy.  She had multiple sclerosis and steroid-induced diabetes, and was confined to a wheelchair.  Last year around this time, she was fighting for her life after several surgeries to remove clots in her right leg.  Between the poor circulation and other complications, her right leg never did heal, and in October she had a below-knee amputation.  We all admired Robin’s determination, her grit, and her positive outlook. When the doctors finally decided that amputation was the only real option, she wrote, “Right now, I have a few days to fall apart and break a few things and punch a few pillows . . . but I’ll be fine.”  That was Robin.

Unfortunately, the amputation wound didn’t heal well, and shortly thereafter she had a subsequent above-knee revision.  I was aching for her when she wrote: “I’m tired physcially and emotionally. I’ve had enough. When they wheeled me back for the last amputation, I remember the last thought in my head was praying for God to let me go peacefully in my sleep. But in my world, God doesn’t see fit for anything to go smoothly  . . . whether it be love or happiness, it is not his intention for me to take the easy road.”  And so she persevered, writing “I’m taking it one day at a time. I’m learning to do everything all over again in a different way. It can get frustrating and many, many times I’ve felt like it would just be easier to give up. But with so much encouragement from family and friends and total strangers who have stepped up to help, I can’t possibly let them down. I have to stay strong. One day all of this will be behind me and I will . . . be able to move on and do big and important things with my life.”

As soon as she was out of the rehabilitation hospital, she was frequenting the farmer’s market and back in the kitchen.  Look at this beautiful fudge she made for a client’s wedding — 14 pounds of it!

fudgeShe cooked the entire Thanksgiving meal for her family, including what she described as a “competition ready” turkey, and which her family called a “Food Network turkey”:

thanksgivingOn Thanksgiving she wrote, “Thank you God! This time last year, I was in the ICU on life support fighting for my life. Thank God for giving me another year to spend with my family and give thanks. While it may be difficult at times, I thank you for the opportunity to fight the fight and win the struggle.”

On December 15, just shy of 44 years old, Robin had a massive stroke and died shortly thereafter in her daughter’s arms.  I was stunned to read that she had passed. Although I never met her, I can’t shake the sadness I feel for her and her family, and that she faced so many devastating medical conditions in the last year of her life.  My admiration for her undefeatable spirit, however, remains strong.

Winning a recipe contest is a thrill.  Seeing your recipe in print is another thrill.  Yet another thrill, perhaps the most personally satisfying one, is to have someone make and enjoy one of your recipe creations.  Today happens to be Robin’s birthday — she would have been 44 — and to honor her memory, I made her Spinach and Oyster Dressing, a recipe she said was one of her “most prized recipes.”  I’ve printed the recipe here exactly as written.  The dressing is delicious, and the smell of the bacon and garlic as it baked had our mouths watering in anticipation.

ROBIN'S SPINACH AND OYSTER DRESSING
Print
Recipe type: Side Dish
Author:
Ingredients
  • 12 cups French or Italian bread, cut into ½-inch cubes
  • ½ pound pancetta or bacon, diced
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cups finely chopped onion
  • ½ cup thinly sliced leeks
  • 1-1/2 cups thinly sliced celery
  • 1 (10-ounce) package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
  • ½ cup (1 stick) butter, melted
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage, or 1 teaspoon dried sage leaves
  • 1tablespoon minced garlic (about 6 medium cloves)
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2-1/2 cups chicken or turkey broth
  • 1 (10-ounce) container shucked oysters, drained
Instructions
  1. Arrange bread cubes on sheets of wax paper or foil in a single layer and let dry overnight. (Or place cubes on foil-lined oven racks and bake in a 325 degree oven 25 minutes, or until golden.)
  2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 13 x 9-inch glass baking dish.
  3. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add pancetta and cook until crisp. Remove from skillet and drain on paper towels.
  4. Add olive oil to pan drippings. Stir in onion, leeks and celery. Reduce heat to medium and cook until celery is tender, about 7 minutes, stirring frequently.
  5. Combine bread cubes, pancetta, onion mixture, spinach, butter, sage, garlic, salt and pepper in a large bowl. Toss until well blended. Stir in broth and fold in oysters. Spoon mixture into pan.
  6. Bake, covered with foil, 30 minutes, until thoroughly heated. Remove foil and bake 15 minutes longer, or until lightly golden.

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Ready for the oven

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Ready!

robin with dog

Happy Birthday Robin.  May you rest in peace.

CHRISTMAS COUNTDOWN — DECEMBER 17

Don’t forget your pets this holiday season (like I really need to tell any pet owner that).

Do your pets have Christmas stockings?  Of course they do.  Our three dogs share a Christmas stocking that I needlepointed years ago for our first (of 4) shar peis.  As you might guess, this was done BK (before kids):

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We loved Siu Mai, our first shar pei

I’m pretty sure Santa will leave them some squeaky toys and rawhide treats in their stockings this year — they’ve tried really hard to be good:

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Your pet might appreciate some holiday apparel.  Santa hats, holiday coats, and antlers are all popular.  Jasper feels festive in his “Definitely Naughty” holiday scarf:

 As does Lilo in her “Definitely Nice” holiday scarf:

lilo

What about gifts?  Last year we got Jasper what I thought would be a perfect gift — a horse head squirrel feeder:

Unfortunately, he was scared of it, and we finally had to take it down because he wouldn’t stop barking at it.  I’m still looking for a special gift for the dogs for this year — any ideas?