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

A one, and a two…

By Susan Greene

It has been called the “universal language of mankind” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, attributed with beginning where words leave off by Heinrich Heine and having “charms to soothe the savage breast” by William Congreve.  Music is powerful and musical instruments are beautiful tools for expression.

cello The gorgeous woods and metals formed into beautiful shapes which will produce enchanting sounds are works of art in themselves.

french hornSome are huge, I don’t know if the Korean Bell of Friendship in San Pedro, CA qualifies as an official musical instrument but I like to think it does. This symbol of friendship between the United States and the Republic of Korea sits in a pagoda overlooking the Los Angeles harbor and Pacific Ocean.

Korean Friendship Bell, San Pedro CAA wooden log hanging next to it is used to strike it. Four times a year it is unchained and used to ring the bell, to learn when click here. I haven’t heard the bell yet but would like to and am going to make an effort to get there on one of these ringing occasions this year.

Other musical instruments are smaller and more portable.

percussion instrumentsMany a kindergartner has begun a love of music with these percussion instruments.

percussion instrumentsAs an early oatmeal box drummer turned piano player and student of the cello, I have found music provides many opportunities. From an avenue for sharing your voice with others to exercising your mind, especially should you take up an instrument later in life. It is a good challenge for your brain.

conga drums being playedIn this story on public radio about French percussionist, Christine Salem, from the island of Reunion in the Indian Ocean, she shares how her music allows her an outlet for expressing herself which she wasn’t always able to do.

Music, whether listening or playing, has been associated with many health benefits in the body and mind. From helping us de-stress to boosting our moods and our pace when exercising, there are many well-documented positives to taking in a note or two.

turntable, record playerSo in this week of Valentine’s Day, I leave you with these words from William Shakespeare, “If music be the food of love, play on.”

~ 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

Come out, come out, wherever you are!

By Susan Greene
Finding your artistic voice, what does that mean? Is it anything like locating your misplaced keys or the missing sock in a pair? Maybe, a little bit, in the sense that it is there and just needs to be discovered. There is much written on the subject and even courses offered to assist people with finding their photographic voices. This month’s literary term of exploration is voice/sound.

breaking waveMost know what a wave sounds like and maybe seeing a photo of one conjures up the sound of it crashing in your mind. Some are gentler and quieter.

susnet wheelie rider on shore Others are big and powerful,

large breaking wave, redondo beach CAcrashing,

breaking wave, surfer and photographers, redondo beach CA with a loud boom.

large crashing wave, redondo beach CA Can a photo convey sound?  This month try to imagine what a scene sounded like when you contemplate photos. As for finding that artistic voice, it might be quieter and gentler thus requiring some introspection. Artistic voice is your unique story to tell how you wish, no matter the medium, you choose the style.  For a photographic voice, look to the photographers that inspire you and the things you are inspired to photograph.

I’ll be looking at the beach!

~ Susan

Washed Up

By Susan Greene
Taking a walk along the sea shore, with eyes cast down, encountering the multitude of items washed up on the sand can get the curious wondering. “Where did that come from?”, “is this flotsam or jetsam?”  and more questions will flood the inquiring mind.

seaweed and seashellsSeaweed and sea shells, even though an expected sight, will trigger pondering of the places they’ve been.  What happened to the rest of the plant or the sea creature that once called a shell home?

seaweed and sea shells

How far have these bits traveled?

seaweed on shorePhilosophically, how did these end up in this location, at this time, in this shape at the same time as I?

seaweed on shoreSeaweed, according to the NOAA website, is “utterly essential to innumerable marine creatures, both as food and as habitat, they also provide many benefits to land-dwellers, notably those of the human variety.” It also comes in many shapes and sizes. seaweed on shore

Finding myself tangled up in seaweed thought, I stumble upon something unexpected.

sea shells on shoreA mussel shell like a tiny bowl full of water, even though the tide is out and everything in the immediate vicinity is dry makes me curious, but not as curious as this…

rope on shoreIf only it could talk, what stories would be shared of its journey and ultimate arrival on the sand in Redondo Beach, California?

Spotting sea glass on the local shores is not an everyday occurrence and when it does, I view it as a gift, and also start wondering: how long was it in the sea? what type of bottle was it? how did it break apart?

sea shells and sea glass on shoreIn the absence of concrete answers, let your imagination run wild. The rope is from a colorful fishing vessel off Mexico. The glass is from a Japanese saki bottle and has been in the water for 25 years. The seaweed has floated down the coast from Alaska before getting caught in a current and deposited on this shore all the while playing host to many sea creatures. You get the picture.

Visit the NOAA  website if you would like to learn a bit more about seaweed regarding some of the health properties and benefits to humans and sea creatures.

I will be at water’s edge creating back stories for the lost and found.

~ 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

We’re Walking, We’re Walking

Santa Monica Bay morning

By Susan Greene
As the minutes tick away, our carpool slowly cruises down the coast in our neighbor’s VW van. Their mother keeps her eyes peeled for the telltale spout of the California gray whale. Upon spotting one, she pulls over urging careful observation. This was my first introduction to the annual migration. The whales would surface several times spouting sea mist and then take a deeper dive indicated by the appearance of the fluke. The fleeting moment was gone, as was the chance to be on time to school. Every winter, I recall the thrill in her eyes. While I certainly did not appreciate the majestic creatures because I associated them with tardies, that is no longer the case.

CA gray whale spoutingIt is exhilarating spotting one of the large creatures on its way to Mexico, especially when, on  the rare occasion they are close to shore.

CA gray whale in waveThis one seemed to want to ride the wave. Every winter, since those carpooling years, I keep my own eyes peeled on the horizon from late December through March hoping for a sighting. More common but still exciting is spotting some bottlenose dolphins swimming in the surf.

two swimming dolphins finss The dorsal fin popping out of the water is the first and sometimes only sign. If your lucky, you will see a head pop out of the water.

bottlenose dolphinPresenting the opportunity to see their smiling faces to anyone fortunate enough to be in the vicinity.

bottlenose dolphinInevitably, they will head back out to sea.

bottlenose dolphinSaying “goodbye” with a wave of the fluke.

dolphin flukeA dolphin sighting always elicits ooohs and aaahs from lucky walkers, joggers and/or beachcombers. I have begun a quest for catching dolphins in all their glory. I am hoping to capture at least one jumping and more of their behavior. I will be devoting at least a day a week for taking my camera to the beach, zoom lens attached, with dolphins in my sights, and if I spy a whale or two, all the better.

Click here to read and hear a story from NPR about a recent “traffic jam” of whales off the southern California coast.

With eyes on the horizon,

~ 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

Putting Pen to Paper

wooden dip pen with ink on tip

By Susan Greene
Wrapping and packing up the holiday accoutrements, produces, in me, a conflicting sense of sadness and excitement. Sadness for the end of the holidays and the joy of spending extra time with family and friends yet, excitement in the start of a new year. The house appears barren when the holiday decorations are gone but an opportunity to take a fresh approach to the everyday decor presents itself. With the new year, comes a chance to re-evaluate and set new goals for the next twelve months, a blank piece of paper to fill as you wish.

hand writing on blank paperThis year, the backyard sisters are using literary terms as springboards for stories, photos and teaching; maybe even some food.

writing with dip pen

Sharing thoughts, experiences and emotions with others, through writing, is an art. The writer of the sisters will provide the terms and offer her insights while I will supply a photographic interpretation. I am excited to see what the “writer sister” of the backyard sisters has up her sleeve for challenging and sharing with us.

wooden ball point pen on paperMy tools are ready for the inspiration. Writing is an important part of how we communicate and to write well is a gift. Our backyard father has been sharing his memories of growing up through an ongoing book titled “Jaunts with the Memory Elves”. Each year at Christmas, for the past ten years, he gifts us with the addition of a new chapter. These are priceless gifts and I am grateful for the ability to experience, through his narration, not only our grandparents as parents but also living in New York and driving and moving cross country.

keyboard typing handsMy fingers are ready for typing and my pen to be put to paper.

dip pen tip on paperI am anxiously awaiting the first term, sister . . .

~ Susan

How Shallow is your Field?

angel tree topperThe halls are being decked, the tannenbaum’s lovely branches are becoming adorned with lights, beads and ornaments and the spicy aroma of molasses crinkles cookies baking in the oven is filling the house. The perfect time to grab the camera and capture some of the details. This week we are exploring shallow depth of field.  A shallow depth of field will be achieved by using a large aperture which is represented by the smaller f-stop numbers. Using an 85mm f/1.8 lens and opening the aperture to its widest or almost widest, is my method of focusing on a specific area or item in a scene.

_MG_2653With the aperture open to f/2.8 I can focus solely on the mug and blur the books or…

_MG_2655focus on a portion of the books only and everything else will blur. If you want to isolate your subject from the other elements in the photo this is an excellent method. Shutting down the aperture to f/8 will allow you to achieve focus in most of your scene.

_MG_2659At f/1.8, the focus is on the top book and cider inside the mug;_MG_2662 at f/7.1, all the items on the tabletop are in focus.

_MG_2661  A shallower depth of field can be used to isolate ornaments on the tree.

_MG_2666

_MG_2668Also, using a large aperture enables focusing on one item in a group.

_MG_2671Which depth of field is used is based on what you are trying to communicate in your photo. With people gathering to celebrate at this time of year, there are many opportunities for experimenting.

~ Susan