One way to thank a veteran

Featured

Why is it that the smallest gestures become so rich when repeated as tradition?

I ponder this as I prepare for my annual fall pumpkin bread baking custom.  The recipe is splattered with egg stains, penned upon by an enthusiastic child baker, and smudged with speckles of pumpkin from years of sitting too close to the mixing bowl.

It was a first grade teacher, Mrs. Franklin, who began the tradition when one of the original Backyard Boys was in first grade.  Mrs. Franklin guided the class through a baking lesson.  We parents thought she was teaching counting, and adding whole numbers, introducing fractions, building reading vocabulary, and instilling patience.  But of course her instruction was far deeper than that.  Did she realize the impact of her pumpkin bread lesson?

j-and-mrs-f.jpg

That day in first grade, each child took home a small loaf as a gift to their families. The bread was so much better than any pumpkin bread we’d ever tried, and the joy on the boy’s face when he realized he could bake a gift was so gleeful, we began an annual fall tradition of baking and giving Mrs. Franklin’s Pumpkin Bread.

We started close to home, that year, baking for sisters and cousins and grandparents.  The next year we branched out, sharing pumpkin bread with neighbors and friends.  The man next door who fought in the Korean War was touched. “I’ve never been remembered on Veteran’s Day before,” he said when we knocked on his front door and proffered the still-warm loaf.

Whenever we shared the bread, we always heard two things a few days later.

“That pumpkin bread was so good, we ate it all in one day!”
“Can I have the recipe?”

The Pumpkin Bread recipe began to take on a magical aura in our house as the never-fail-to-please item to take to new neighbors and friends, to potlucks and as hostess gifts to parties.  We loved to make it.

IMG_3372

Knowing that Mrs. Franklin wouldn’t mind, we added on to the tradition by photocopying the recipe and including it with the bread.  The recipe wasn’t beautiful anymore but it bore its badge of frequent use with good humor.  Like love and wise lessons from first grade teachers, Mrs. Franklin’s Pumpkin Bread was soon travelling far from its original source.

Lynn began a pumpkin bread-giving circle in Kansas City.
Mustafa took it to his family in St. Louis where it’s now a fall tradition in his home.
Bharti made it and sent it to her family in Mumbai.

As the cousins grew up and moved away to college they knew they could count on a Backyard Sister Fall Care Package that always included pumpkin bread nestled in tissue paper.  It arrived safely and fragrant from California to  Washington, D.C., and Boston, to Chicago, and Iowa City and Tucson, Arizona.

Mrs. Franklin’s Pumpkin Bread was even snuck into Pauley Pavilion in the interior pocket of a giant khaki raincoat as a fall treat for the UCLA Men’s Basketball team.  When the Backyard Boy left home to play basketball in Malaga, Spain, he received a care package in time to celebrate his first Thanksgiving in Europe with the taste of home.

Even though we’ve never actually met you, our loyal readers, I see no reason why we can’t share the recipe.  I’m absolutely positive that Mrs. Franklin would like that.  So, with love from her, and from the Backyard Sisters, here it is.

Bake it soon, with a child. And when you get a chance, walk with it, still warm, to someone who served our country. Say thank you. You can’t imagine what kind of goodness you might be sowing there among the brave acting as if all you are doing  is sharing bread.

With pumpkin and spice,
~Catherine

 

The Weekend Dish – Avocado, Cilantro, Cashew Cups

Avocado, cilantro, cashew cupsInspired by the avocado egg rolls at the Cheesecake Factory restaurant, I headed to the kitchen to see what I could come up with to achieve similar flavors and textures at home. They are a mixture of crispy outside and creamy inside all dipped in a tangy and sweet sauce – a delicious treat. It takes great restraint to keep me from drinking the dipping sauce on it’s own. Wanting the crunchiness of the outside but not the greasiness and mess of frying, I decided to use wonton wrappers and bake them until crispy.

Avocado, cilantro, cashew cupsDipping the cups in the sauce could make it awkward to eat, so I opted to mix the dipping sauce and filling together and then place them in the cup, creating a two bite finger food, success! One of our seasonal family birthday celebration extravaganzas was the inaugural attempt of this recipe and it was a hit. I think you will find this handy appetizer a welcome guest at your next party too.

Avocado, Cilantro, Cashew Cups

  • 1 pkg of wonton wrappers
  • 2 ripe avocados, peeled, pitted and diced – it helps to have ripe but firm avocados
  • 2 Tbsp red onion, finely chopped
  • 1 Tbsp cilantro, chopped
  • 1/4 tsp salt

Place the wonton wrappers in a mini muffin tin and press them in to the bottom and sides. Bake in a preheated 350° oven for 9 minutes or until slightly browned. Remove from oven and leave in pan until cooled. Meanwhile place the avocados, onion, cilantro and salt together in a medium bowl, being careful to keep the avocados in pieces rather than smashing. Set aside and prepare the sauce.

Sauce

  • 4 tsp white vinegar
  • 1tsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • juice of 1 lime

Mix these together in a microwave safe bowl for 30 seconds and stir until the honey is dissolved, set aside. In a food processor combine:

  • 1/2 cup cashews
  • 2/3 cup cilantro
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 2 green onions
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 1 tsp soy sauce
  • pinch turmeric
  • 1/4 cup olive oil, or less depending on your taste

Pulse until the cashews are chopped fine, add the vinegar honey mixture and olive oil and pulse until incorporated. Pour about half of this mixture, more or less depending on your taste, into the avocado onion mixture and stir until just mixed. Fill the cups and serve.

Makes 24 cups

Avocado, cilantro, cashew cups

This weekend finds us celebrating the winter birthdays of the family.

Cheers!

~ Susan

The Weekend Dish – The Oscars 2014

popcorn popped and unpoppedBy Susan Greene

The Academy Awards are a little over a week away, Sunday March 2, and it’s that time of year to  think about parties you may be hosting or attending or simply how to enhance your own viewing pleasure. I am talking about food, not just any food, but food that has some sort of tie-in to this year’s best picture nominees.

I am going with mostly appetizer and dessert  dishes. So here goes:

American Hustle, an account of the ABSCAM scandal of the 70’s. Clams casino works on many levels here. The Italian, casino and 70’s themes are all represented by this dish.

Captain Phillips, the story of the capturing of a container ship by Somali pirates. Somali food is a natural for this one. Hummus  on the Somali kitchen blog sounds good serve with flat bread, crackers or vegetables and you could put out some olives and call them cannonballs (pirates).

The Wolf of Wall Street, the story of Jordan Belfourt and his exploits as he came to “make it big” on Wall St. Excess and extravagance are everywhere in this movie so sushi, maybe some brie and lobster if you’re feeling really extravagant.

Dallas Buyers Club, the tale of real life Texan, Ron Woodroof and how he deals with his AIDS diagnosis. He takes his doctor out for a steak dinner so grilled rib eye would be nice or since Texas is a pecan producing state you could have these nut cups, which are like mini pecan pies:

Nut Cups

  • 3 oz cream cheese
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup sifted flour

Blend cream cheese and butter (can use mixer), add flour and mix thoroughly. Chill for 1 hour. Make small balls (24) to fit in mini muffin tins. spread dough into tin with thumb. Fill with filling.

Filling:

  • 1 egg
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 2 Tbsp melted butter
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 cup chopped pecans (or walnuts)

Beat egg slightly. Add sugar and then other ingredients. Blend. Fill dough lined muffin tins. Bake at 350° for 20 minutes. Let cups cool slightly before removing. When cooled, dust with powdered sugar.

Nebraska, a son agrees to help his father make a trip to claim what he (the father) believes to be a winning million dollar sweepstakes ticket. Since Nebraska is the cornhusker state, a corn casserole represents well.

Philomena,  an Irish woman’s search for the child, conceived out of wedlock, she was forced to give up for adoption in her youth. She has a fascination with croutons when she encounters them at a salad bar so make your own by cutting a loaf of french bread into cubes, spraying them with enough olive oil to coat, and place on a sheet pan in a 350º oven until crispy (or buy some) and serve on your favorite salad. I like mixed green with balsamic vinaigrette and maybe some red bell peppers or other vegetables of your liking tossed in as well.

Gravity, a woman mission specialist’s struggle to find a way to get back to earth after a disastrous spacewalk. I loved the weightlessness of the movie and seeing items floating in space, especially in 3D. I am going with root beer floats (root beer soda with a scoop of vanilla ice cream floating in it) or if you want to get fancy, floating islands or ile flottante.

12 Years A Slave, the tale of a free black man who is captured and sold into slavery and his continuous efforts to free himself. Since he uses blackberry juice to try to write a letter with, a blackberry cobbler would do nicely here.

Her, the story of a lonely man who falls in love with his computer’s advanced operating system in the not too distant future Los Angeles. He plays a video game while visiting one of his friends and earns “perfect mom points” for making cupcakes. So you should too. There are vanilla and chocolate cake recipes here, to make cupcakes – instead of a cake pan pour the batter into paper lined muffin tins and bake at 350° for 20-23 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. You can make the chocolate frosting also which accompanies these recipes or any other one you prefer.

popcorn

If you haven’t seen these nominees, there’s still time, just pop some popcorn and get viewing. Let me know your choice for winner.

All of these dishes can be accompanied by the beverage of your choice. How about a little bubbly?

~ Susan

The Weekend Dish – Scalloped Tomatoes

By Susan Greene
The first dish we are bringing to the table from our grandmother’s recipe box is one which has also made it into the family cookbook Catherine compiled a few years back. I don’t remember the exact occasion when I first tasted this dish. It could have been at a family party or a dinner served during a weekend visit. I do remember thinking it was delicious and wanting to have it again. It is simple to prepare and yet impressive, two of my favorite qualities in a dish. Fresh tomatoes could be used in the summertime when they are readily available.

scalloped tomatoesIf you like bread, cheese and tomatoes, there’s a very good chance you will love this dish also.

minced onions

Scalloped Tomatoes

  • 1 – 1 pound can of whole tomatoes, quartered
  • 4 slices of toast or 1 1/2 cup of croutons ( I used a combination of the two, I had some leftover bread to use up, so cubed it and toasted it in the oven)
  • 1 tablespoon minced onion
  • 1/4 cup melted butter, or olive oil
  • 1 cup cubed mozzarella cheese
  • 1 cup cubed cheddar cheese
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper

Combine all ingredients in a 1 1/2 – 2 quart casserole dish.

scalloped tomatoes ready to bakeBake uncovered at 375° for 20 minutes.   Serves 4-5.

scalloped tomatoesThat’s all there is to it!

Here’s to warm, yummy comfort food for your weekend.

~ Susan

The Weekend Dish – Olive Cheese Balls

olive cheese ball appetizer

By Susan Greene
Lets start this weekend with a trip back to the beginning. This appetizer is an oldie but goodie. Our mother used to make them for parties in the 70’s.  I chose to copy the recipe from my mother’s recipe box when I got married and started my own recipe box some 30+ years ago. These days, the internet is my main search destination for recipe ideas and my recipe box holds the tried and true favorite recipes of my own family which I work into the rotation now and then. The olive cheese ball appetizers were forgotten until this past Christmas when they made a surprise appearance at our family celebration. Thank-you Catherine for bringing them. I am happy to become re-acquainted. The richness of the crunchy, cheesy coating is a perfect complement to the salty, tangy olives with a little heat from some cayenne pepper adding a little kick.

olive cheese ball appetizer ingredients

Olive Cheese Balls

  • 1 cup grated cheddar cheese
  • 3 Tablespoons softened butter
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 24 stuffed olives – these can be stuffed with whatever you prefer, garlic, almonds, jalapenos or pimientos. Some stuffed olives are larger than the average pimiento stuffed ones and if you want 24 wrapped olives you will probably need to double the cheese mixture if using the larger ones.

olive cheese ball appetizer preparation

Blend the cheese and butter, using a pastry cutter, until incorporated. Stir in the flour, paprika and cayenne pepper. Drain and dry the olives (it is important to completely dry the olives for the cheese mixture to stick.) Wrap the olives with about a teaspoon or more of the mixture and spread until completely covered. Place on a lightly greased or parchment-lined cookie sheet and bake at 400°, 10-15 minutes or until lightly browned.

Note: The backyard sister also made some without olives on Christmas and they are delicious that way too.

olive cheese balls appetizersThe re-discovery of this recipe is the aha moment for launching a project we have discussed, off and on, since beginning this blog. Our grandmothers were experts at preparing some of the most delicious foods and meals. We think their recipe boxes could be veritable treasure troves of scrumptious recipes and we will be using them for recipe inspiration in the coming weeks. It is a sentimental exploration for us, from reading the mostly handwritten recipes with accompanying notes to experiencing the fond memories the dishes will most certainly evoke. Hopefully, you will find a recipe or more to add to your repertoire.

With anticipation of dishes of old being new again.

~ Susan

The Weekend Dish – Apple and Sausage Tidbits

apple and sausage tidbitsBy Susan Greene
Beginning a meal with a small bite or two of a flavorful food introducing the rest of the meal, otherwise known as an amuse bouche, is a practice I can embrace. In Europe, it is common to place an order for an apertif which is accompanied by a small portion of a tasty morsel. At home, I have gotten into the habit of enjoying a small bit of something such as a handful of nuts, small plate of cheese with crackers and/or olives or fruit, as I prepare dinner. These apple sausage tidbits are more extensive in their preparation than I use for an everyday meal, but they are an impressive treat for guests or special occasion meals.

apples and sage Start with your favorite sausage. I used hot and sweet Italian sausages. Place the sausage in a large frying pan, add a quarter cup of water and cover. Cook over medium-high heat approximately five minutes, until the sausage is firm enough to cut ( if you are using pre-cooked sausage this step can be skipped). Slice the sausage and return to the pan and continue cooking until browned.

cooking sausage bitsRemove the sausage from the pan and set aside for later. Slice one or two Granny Smith apples, or your favorite tart firm apple, into inch sized cubes. Add to the same pan with one pat of butter, a splash of brandy or sweet wine, to de-glaze the pan, and about a tablespoon or so of brown sugar and cook over medium heat stirring often until softened but still firm in the middle.

sauteeing applesAt this point, you can fry sage leaves until crisped, or not. I like the touch of green it adds to the presentation but flavor-wise they are not essential. To use the sage, add enough olive oil to the pan, after removing the apples, to cover the bottom about 1/8 inch thick. Add the sage leaves cooking for approximately 1 minute or until crisp. This process doesn’t take long. To assemble, place a sausage slice on a plate add a sage leave and top with an apple cube. You can either skewer with toothpicks now or put the toothpicks out for your guests to use. The amounts can be adjusted for the number of people you are feeding. One pound of sausage and one apple make about twenty-four bites, so you would need 24 sage leaves.The final tidbit is a wonderful mix of sweet, salty and spicy.

apple and sausage tidbitsAdd an apertif and your meal is off to a great beginning! Don’t you wonder what comes next?

Cheers~

Susan

The Weekend Dish-Christmas Quiz

You know that golden moment we dream each holiday will hold? The one where we’ll pause for one beat, inhale the scent of cinnamon and cloves, look around in candle glow at the family gathered around, listen to laughter and stories, and say this, yes this is what Christmas spirit feels like.
079I know this feeling is something that doesn’t come in a box from the mall and yet, like a hamster on a wheel, at some moment in December I find myself wandering from shop to shop wondering what the people I care most about want or need.

It was after one of these seemingly futile ramblings that I developed the Christmas quiz, a short fill-in-the blank opportunity for the entire family to reflect on gifts of the year while also offering glimpses into what might be treasured under the tree.  I tried to cover multiple topics – learning opportunities, gifts of time, ways to have fun, needed or desired things, ways to make memories and guidance on how to make another feel loved.  These lists guide me, not only as a shopping list, but as a way of discovering how to spend special time together in the coming year.

      The Christmas Quiz

I only wish I could learn to…
I wish I had time to…
A long-term fun goal for me is…
If I had one whole week off I would…
The best Christmas present you ever gave me was…
If I could have one new item of technology it would be…
If I could have one new item of clothing it would be…
If I could have one new toy it would be…
If I could have one new item of self-care it would be…
If I could have one new thing for the house it would be…
My favorite date this year was…
I would feel very loved if you…

My family teased me at first and wondered why we couldn’t just exchange lists like “normal people.” But after the first year, we looked forward to taking a moment to really reflect, not only on the many things that we dream of, but the many ways we do gift each other in ordinary time.

I wish I’d saved these lists from year to year. If I had it to do all over again, I would.  I recently discovered those dated December, 2004 and I’m amused and amazed at how these quizzes offer a snapshot and time capsule.  What was important once, still threads through the things we like best.

When my son was 17, he wrote that he felt very loved when “you keep providing me with food.” My daughter treasured Disneyland trips as her favorite date, and J wished he could “learn to play the piano.” Funny thing is, nine years later, I still show my son love by cooking when he’s home, still know that my daughter’s favorite dates are to the Magic Kingdom, still remember the year I gave J piano lessons because he plays the piano – quite well – all the time now.

You want to know one more funny thing? In 2004 I wrote, “If I could have one new toy it would be an art easel.”

This year, I again asked for an art easel, thinking it was some random new tangent, me wanting a space to create images as well as word play. I’d entirely forgotten my previous desire, but they say if you write something down, set a desire as your intention, that eventually it will work its way into being.

Some times repeat gifts – of time, love, and attention – are perfectly fine. In 2004, my daughter wrote, “I would feel very loved if you do the same things you always do.” So I guess once again I’ll pull out the Christmas quiz. Want to join me this year?

~Catherine