A Few of My Favorite Cooks

The lovely stained glass sits in my window, and I love the way it washes me in color when I stand by it with sun rays streaming in.  Color can be quite soothing.

I love to cook, bake, and create in my kitchen.  By the same token, I love the foods coming from the kitchens of family and friends, so I thought I’d dedicate this post to the many creative cooks in my life.  I’ll begin with my mother.  She is 90 years old, and goes to the kitchen to cook everyday, three times a day.  My siblings and I want her to slow down by emphasizing that we do not want her to put on the full-blown meals, as is in her nature.  Here are her beautiful hands.  She was a nurse for five decades.  She retired at 80.

Mom hands

She does cook for her husband and herself daily, which is great for cognitive support.  Growing up, I remember her greatest meals were those with fresh ingredients.  Our hometown has a vegetable and beef farm by day and a drive-in theater by night.  In the summer, Mom would go out to the “truck farm” and get beef  to roast and fresh cucumbers, onions, and tomatoes.  She’d bake the roast until it browned evenly with the crispy ends.  She sliced the cucumbers and onions, and marinated them in vinegar, oil, salt, and pepper, a simple marinade.  She’d slice the large beefsteak tomatoes and laid them out on a plate for serving.  So the menu consisted of roast been, cucumbers and onions in a simple vinaigrette, and sliced tomatoes.  We ate the tomatoes sprinkled with salt.  Dessert was cantaloupe or watermelon; when they were in season.  Dad would bring home sugar beets that had fallen off the railroad car, and he would bake those for a sweet fall or winter dessert.  The sweetness of a baked sugar beet is just like having pie!  Here are some sugar beets I grew a few summers ago.  Beets were a source of sugar to a long time until a Cuban embargo focused the sugar power in the fields of Hawai’i’s cane fields.  Seriously, if you ever grow these, they make a wonderful  dessert roasted.   Back to my story…
thumbnail_IMG_5161

We visited my hometown about four weeks ago.  Mother made this lovely cake for my sister’s dinner (distant) gathering.  I marvel at Mother’s persistence in creating something beautiful and tasty for her family.  Here is her strawberry angel food cake.

Mom cake

Now, you should know that my list  of favored cooks is quite extensive, and I will miss someone, I’m sure.  Our son, Stevie, and late daughter, Riki, have cooked or baked some most memorable meals.  Of course, I’ve written about Stevie’s meat pies and his fabulous bread.  Riki made killer chicken and noodles, complete with homemade noodles.  She baked fabulous bread, too.  Sadly, we lost Riki nearly five years ago, but her memory continues to bless us.

My friend, Kathy, makes this wonderful appetizer, called, French Quarter Dip.  It possesses the most wonderful combination of sweet and savory for a cracker.

100_2280

Here’s Kathy’s recipe:

French Quarter Cheese Dip

                              Kathy Sexson

8 oz cream cheese

1 Tbs grated onion

1 garlic clove, minced

¼ c. packed dark brown sugar

¼ c. butter (1/2 stick)

1 tsp worcestershire sauce

½ tsp. prepared mustard

1 c. chopped pecans

combine cream cheese, onion and garlic, mix well shape into 6” mound on serving place.  Chill, covered, til set.

Combine brown sugar, butter, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, and pecans in sauce pan.  Cook till butter melts, stir.  Uncover cheese mound, pour pecan mixture over top.  Chill covered till ready to serve.  Serve with crackers.

Kathy’s Low Country Boil leaves memories, too.  I remember the first time we witnessed and participated in the dinner.  I wondered about plates.  Kathy said, “no” it’s served on the table with paper.”  Then, I remembered the wonderful crayfish boils that I had had in New Orleans, so it did not seem odd at all.

Shrimp Boil  AKA Low-country boil

From Kathy Sexson

16 c.    water

¼ c      old bay seasoning or crab boil seasoning w/ quartered lemons (I use latter)

2-3 tsp ground red pepper

2 lb.     cooked smoked sausage, (I grill it first), cut in 1 ½” chunks

2 lb.     tiny new potatoes, halved if large

10        small onions, peeled, about 3 lbs. ( I use the little bitty ones that come dozen or so to mesh bag)

5 ears   fresh corn, shucked and broken into halves or thirds

2 lbs.   fresh or frozen large shrimp, in shells

¼ c      butter, melted (optional)

Optional ingredients:

¼ c      snipped fresh herbs, such as thyme, oregano, and or basil (optional – I don‘t bother with this)

Cocktail sauce – you can use little bowls for this or just pour on table  J

Bottled hot pepper sauce

  1. in large pot combine water, seasoning, and ground red pepper. Cover and bring to boil.  Once boiling, add sausage, potatoes, onions and corn.  Return to boiling, reduce heat.  Cover and simmer for 10 minutes.    Add shrimp.  Cover and cook for 2-3 minutes or until shrimp turns opaque.   Remove from heat, let stand 5 minutes.
  2. Carefully (duh) drain in large colander. Dump on da table.  No forks or plates allowed!      If desired, combine melted butter and herbs and drizzle over food.  Serve with cocktail sauce and hot pepper sauce, and drawn butter (add few drops of olive oil to butter to keep from solidifying.)   makes 10 servings.

Note – this recipe forgives easily, so be creative.  If you like one thing more than another (i.e. shrimp or sausage) add more.

You can serve on table on newspaper, but I prefer to get one of those, large, WATERPROOF picnic table cloths for a buck.

Shrimp boil1

Here, we are pictured with the blues band, The Nighthawks, from Washington D. C.  They were in town to give a concert at the zoo.  Good times!

My Friend, Mary L.’s Quick Pie From Scratch!

After finishing a lovely meal on a cozy winter evening, one of our friends said, “I wish we had a pie!”  Luckily, our dear friend, Mary Lake, was at table, too.  She’s one of the best pie-makers in the world!  Mary and I bet, those around the table, that we could produce a pie from scratch in 30 minutes.  The race was on!  The stopwatch began counting the time.  Mary got busy making her famous oil crust, and I set to getting the apples ready.  Fortunately, I had several quart jars of canned apples from the previous summer’s windfall of crispy, sweet apples.  I dumped a quart of apples in a bowl with 2 tablespoons of quick tapioca, cinnamon, 3 tablespoons sugar, and a pat of butter.  Here’s Mary’s crust recipe:

2 cups of all-purpose flour

Dash of salt mixed in flour – put flour/salt mixture in a bowl.

½ cup of vegetable oil (Mary likes corn oil for its nutty flavor. I use sunflower oil.)

5 tablespoons buttermilk (Make some with milk and vinegar if you have no buttermilk on hand)

1 glass pie plate.  It must be a clear, oven-proof pie plate.

With a fork, emulsify the oil and buttermilk until well blended.

Add to flour mixture

Stir with a fork until all flour is well-moistened

Divide, and put half of the dough on a square sheet of parchment paper. Shape into a round, flat disc without handling the dough too much. Place another square sheet of parchment, and roll out the dough with a rolling pin.  Once the dough is the size of your glass pie place.  Shape to the pie plate.  Repeat for the top crust.  Once the top crust is rolled out, place the fruit in the pie plate with the bottom crust.  Settle the fruit in to the crust, and then place the top crust. Shape the edges of the pie crust, cut air vents with scissors, and sprinkle crust with cinnamon sugar.

Place your pie in the microwave oven for 12 to13 minutes.  Meanwhile pre-heat your conventional oven to 400°.  After the time sounds for the microwave, remove the pie from the microwave, and place it into your conventional oven for 12-13 minutes, or until the crust is browned.

Mary and I put our apple pie on the table in 35 minutes.  The microwave oven gets the fruit cooking and thickened.  This shortens the time in the conventional oven, and prevents burned edges.  Starting the pie in the microwave only works for fruit pies.  Do not try with custard pies.

Here is a picture of a mince pie with the oil crust.  You can see that the crust if tender and flaky.  The cinnamon sugar mixture gives the crust a beautiful glow.

IMG_4615

I knew if I began to write about my favorite cooks, I would leave someone out of my story, but let us say that other writing will be devoted, further, to more of my favorite cooks.    I will leave you, now, with one of my favorite breakfasts: Egg taco with Dalgona coffee.

The egg taco is a small 1-egg omelet with green chilies.  I fry/warm it in a small cast iron skillet, 6.5 inches (16.51 cm), which is the perfect size for one corn tortilla. Use a little bit of butter so that the skillet does not stick.   Cook one side of the egg, and lay the tortilla to begin to warm. Flip to cook the other side of the omelette.  All this works best with a small lid to steam the egg.

The coffee, all the rage these days, is simple.  Use 1 teaspoon instant coffee, 1 teaspoon coconut sugar, and 1 tablespoon water, 1 tablespoon milk.  Whip into a froth.  Pour over 1/2 cup milk (on ice or steamed milk).  Pictured here, I have used steamed milk.  Yummy, and it’s low calorie.

egg taco

Thank you for reading!

Missing Riki on the Day of Her Birth

Today would have been our lovely Riki’s 38th birthday.  As I had written of a year ago, we lost her to an untimely death because of a faulty medical diagnosis.  We continue to hear her voice, and we see her ways reflected in her children, which is of great comfort.

Riki lived, loved, and worked intensely.  Whatever she did, she did it well.  Thinking back to her middle school days, she decided to be on the swim teach.  She received medals for winning competitions.  Once the season came to an end, she didn’t need to do it again.  Then she played basketball.  She was the lead point-maker for her team.  Once the season ended, she did not feel the need to go back.

Riki did maintain her love of cooking and being with her “village” of friends.  When I spoke at her funeral, I wanted to tell the story of her vivid dreams of driving a car.  She was only 11 years old when she told me of the dream in which she was driving a car from the town of Ingalls to Montezuma (about 17 miles of road or 27.6 km).  Along the side of the road was a raccoon.  She stopped, and opened the door, through which the furry critter jumped in.  As she drove along a little further, there stood a young fawn along the side of the road.  She stopped, opened the door, and the little guy jumped in.  Well, she had not driven but a few paces, and there was a big dog! Yes.  He jumped in the car through the door that Riki had opened. By the time she had reached Montezuma, she carried eight animals in the car! Once she stopped, she let them out of the car, and they ran to safety.  She loved that dream, and I loved hearing her story.

If we thought about what dreams meant, it would not be until well into her adult life that I began to understand.  She gathered friends in much the same way she was gathering those four-legged creatures.  Riki quickly made friends where ever she planted. Whether I visit her home town or the town where she and Jonathan raise their children, she made close friends, and they continue to love her to this day.  Alas, I didn’t tell the story at her funeral.  Perhaps I thought, in a split second, that it would have been a weird comparison.  Perhaps not, though.  My point would have been to describe a loving heart that beat inside her.  I leave you with some images of her.

Riki could be called mischievous!

IMG_7215

Here’s a goofy one of Riki and “the Village”.

IMG_7149

More than anything, we know that she loved her family, and she loved her friends, deeply.  She loved to have fun, and she continues to be an inspiration to each of us who knew her.  Meanwhile, we continue to remember what she believed in.  I leave you with a picture of her and our son, her brother, Stevie.  He carries on the tradition of fabulous cooking and sharing his food with loved ones.

IMG_1132

Thank you for reading my blog.  I hope to talk to you soon.

 

A Beautiful Young Lady

On September 27, 1981, a lovely little girl came into this world in last hour of the day.  We called her Riki Lee.  She was extraordinary in so many ways.  A natural leader, Riki was often called, “bossy”, because the world isn’t used to girls who lead naturally.  She went through school as a popular girl who gathered her peers at the house, or where ever young people gathered.

Riki tried everything, once.  She played bass guitar in a band and tried her hand at skating boarding.  She competed on the swim team, and did well.  She played basketball, and was the high score-maker that year.  What ever she tried, she did well.  Riki worked as a waitress during high school, and came to love food and cooking.

At the age of 22, Riki married her childhood sweetheart, Jonathan.  They had been best friends since the age of 12!  In their 14 years of marriage, they had three lovely children.  Riki worked as the director of nutrition for a school where she and her family live.  Riki made friends quickly, and she was known as “Mama Bear” to her large group of friends she lovingly called, “The Village”.   The Village gathered every Wednesday for Riki’s famous “taco bar”.  She was known as a bread-maker and a cook of extraordinary talent.  She was known for her homemade noodles, too.  Her sons said they’d never find someone who cooks better that “Mom”.

It would take pages and pages to talk about Riki’s extraordinary life, and it was cut too short.  On December 18, 2015 at 10:05 p.m., our son-in-law called to tell us Riki had a heart attack (She was 34), we jumped in the car and drove 9 hours through the night to get to her.  She was on life supports.  When we arrived at the hospital the next morning, The Village was in the waiting room of the intensive/critical care unit of the hospital.  There were about 8 couples waiting.  The men were openly weeping, and the women had the most frightened looks on their faces.  “What was happening to their beloved ‘Mamma Bear’?  I could feel such great love for our daughter in that room.

Riki had been on heart medication for the past 11 years.  Because of a switch in insurance, she had to change cardiologists.  The new doctor said, “You’re on strong medicine.  Let’s take you off of it and see how you do.”  Needless to say, that was a reckless call on the doc’s part.

Riki took her last breath New Year’s morning.  So many things run through one’s mind as one witnesses the last breath of a child in a similar setting as the first breath is taken…in a hospital.  The next dreadful step was to tell the children, ages 7, 11, and 12, that their mother was gone.  Watching their little hearts break was excruciating!

Riki loved life, and she loved people.  She was a wonderful mother, and a loving daughter to her parents and to her brother, Stevie.  When we think of her, we think of this smile:

img_7147.jpg

And this ornery streak:

IMG_7215

When my sister passed at the age of 60, I read the words of Lebanese-American poet, Khalil Gibran, “On Children” to give my mother some comfort.  Now, I read the words and find some comfort in them, too.   If you ever get the chance, listen to the poem as brought to music by a Capella group, Sweet Honey in the Rock.  They bring an exquisite meaning to the words.

On Children by Khalil Gibran

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts.
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as he loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable.

We keep the memory of Riki in our hearts.  We can hear her voice.  We can hear her laughter.  May she watch over her children, and may she rest in peace.  Here is love to your, our beautiful daughter.

 

Loss and Grieving

Loss of a loved one garners emotions that hurt to the very core of who you are.  Humans experience such emotions, because we have the power to love.  We lost our lovely daughter nearly three years ago, and the deep pain never goes away.  We just learn to live with it.  Our daughter, Riki, married her childhood sweetheart.  They had been together since they were 12, and it was a life long love story until her death at the age of 34.  She left behind three bright and lovely children, and the love of her life, Jonathan, and her brother, Stevie, and her parents.

My observation is that people don’t always know what to say when a friend, co-worker, or acquaintance are grieving.  My suggestion is that you ask about it.  Ask about the well-being of the one who is grieving.  Give a loving pat, hug, touch, or anything that establishes a physical presence.  I cannot imagine anyone, in the throes of grief, who would not appreciate such a gesture.  It is a most generous gesture, and it takes nothing from you.

Also, I can tell you what not to say: “Life goes on.”  Not sure why anyone would say such a non-affectionate, heartless thing.  As the news got around about our daughter, several people said that to me.  Okay, I get it.  They simply did not know what to say.  Then, I think, say nothing at all.  Other phrases that I’ve heard, “Aren’t you over it yet?”It boggles my mind.

I can say, here, that grief is not a linear process.  One simply learns a new way of life with its emotional ups and downs while missing the loved one.  Our daughter was extraordinary, and we see it in her children.  She was on this earth, as their mother, just enough to instill her joy for life, her curiosity, and her acerbic wit!  We miss you so very much, Riki.  I’m not posting pictures of her family since the children are young, and Jonathan needs his privacy.

Now, are you wondering why there is a dog in my featured photo.  That’s our Scottish Terrier, Fiona.  She’s in our back yard, and please notice, she is under the watchful eye of St. Francis, patron saint of animals.

Fiona came to us 13 1/2 years ago.  Her parents, Skye and Shamus, and her brother, Tavish, lived with their humans, Jeff and Jo.  We shared furbaby sitting with Jeff and Jo.  We lost daddy, Shamus, in April 2017, mom, Skye, April 2018, and two days ago, Tavish went over the “Rainbow Bridge”.  Loss is never easy, even when it’s our family “pets”.  Our furkids are such a deep part of our lives, especially when those animals belonged to our children.  Here’s Tavish, Fiona’s brother:

Upclose Tavvie

Most people who have dogs or cats know that they are important members of the family.  I have read that children who are experiencing hardship, in any form, are better able to cope if they have a close relationship to a family pet.  I tend to think that dogs are the better choice.  I find that cats are a little too independent to be affectionate when there are high emotions in the home.

Our love of Scottish Terriers began when we bought one for Stevie when he was in 7th grade.  Beth, was affectionate and sweet.  We lost her to heart failure when she was eight.  We had found an abandoned cat, Skippy, who was two weeks old.  Bethy raised that cat with all the parental chores of the “whelping nest”. Here they are:

beth and skippy They were inseparable, and when Bethy died, Skippy screamed while looking for her, for weeks.  Their favorite past time was watching the world go by at the front window when they were not outside.  I have several pictures of the two, and the only thing that changed was the weather!

Skip and Beth at window

Sometimes, Skippy and Bethy even allowed the tabby, Clovis, to share their window-watching space.  Notice the snow.

three at window

We still have Fiona.  Skippy, Beth, and Fiona’s family are gone now.  We know that 13 1/2 is old for a canine, so we dread the day.  Our furkids continue to help us through our grieving for Riki, for which we are grateful.  Here’s Fiona and our sheep dog, Jitsu.  They’re watching it rain from the deck, Fiona looking woolly and in need of a Scottie trim.

J and F

Thank you for reading.