Friday, December 28, 2012

7 Faves, the Jumpstart Edition

I've been neglecting this here blog.  I won't bother you with excuses.  It's been months since I've picked up one of my Nicholas Sparks books.  I've done one project from The Last Song, and that's it.   I've stalled, big time.  I'm determined not to abandon you all, though; I know there are many blogs out there that are pretty much dead in the water because their authors just up and quit and got on with their busy lives.  I'm sorry to say that I spent a good half hour just the other day going through and clicking the "Stop Following This Blog" option on my reading list, and many of those were blogs that hadn't been updated in months.  (Some of them I just quit reading.  Shame on me.)  I don't have many followers here to begin with, and I wouldn't want anyone to do that to me.

Anyway, since it's the end of the year and all, I'm determined to see this through.  Call it a New Year's resolution if you will.  I've had a lot of fun cooking all those Nicholas Sparks-inspired meals and sharing them with you, and do you know what?  It also has made me pay more attention to the food in other books as well (hence my deviation to The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo; and have you ever read Dean Koontz' Odd Thomas series?  I've been practically drooling at the thought of trying some of the dishes in those books...)

So in a what I hope isn't a futile attempt to jump start Cooking Nick's Books, I'm choosing seven of my favorite posts from the last year and a half or so.  Here they are in reverse chronological order, starting with the most recent (click on the titles to link to the posts):


I suppose I should have called this one "Brazilian Chicken with Raw Tropical Sauce," because that's what it is.  Anyway, it's inspired by Rachael Ray (I got to meet her recently; I'll tell you about that soon!  Let's just say I was giddy) and one of our favorite race car drivers.


Shrimp.  Grits.  The Lucky One.  Paula Deen.  And some family photos from like eight years ago.


Delicious.  That is all.


...or, "What I Cooked For Christmas Dinner 2011 and Narrowly Escaped Disaster."  The best Christmas dinner I ever made.  2012's was lame in comparison, I'm sorry to say.


We love shrimp and we love grilling, and the watermelon-pineapple salad is one of our favorite summer sides.  I posted this in November 2011, but I remember the day we made this:  October 16, the day Dan Wheldon died.  Thankfully during dinner we were blissfully unaware that he had been killed that day. We wouldn't find out until later.


My mother-in-law taught me to make this.  You won't get a better gravy (that's Italian for "pasta sauce") anywhere.


I have no idea why I've only made this once.  It's fantastic.

So that's it.  I resisted the temptation to post more than seven, so I guess if you want more where these came from, you'll just have to poke around here some more.  In fact, I would LOVE for you to do that.  And I WILL keep posting here, I promise; I hope you'll put me on your reading list!

(And while you're at it, you can check out my other blog, Musings of a Catholic Mom, where just the other day I shared my ten favorite posts from 2012.)

And for more Quick Takes, be sure to visit Jenn at Conversion Diary!

Happy New Year!

Saturday, October 20, 2012

The Last Song: Breakfast Burritos! But First, an Update in Six Quick Takes

Dang, has it really been over two months since I've posted anything here?  Holy smokes.  I'm sure you figured I've ditched this blog and gotten on with my life.  Well, let me give you a quick update on what's been keeping me away (and I'm going to post this as a "7 Quick Takes"--aren't I clever?)  Here goes:

1Our trip to Alaska.  It was only a week, but we returned right before school started, and then things REALLY got crazy. (They showed The Lucky One on the red-eye from Fairbanks to Minneapolis.  I still haven't seen the movie, not really; even in my half-awake state and with no sound I could almost fill in the dialog.  I'm sure that's partly due to the fact that I've read the book twice.  One of these days we'll sit down and watch it properly.)

2.  My job:  These past several years I've worked--assisting, subbing, and teaching in various schools--about twenty hours a week, on average; this year I'm working thirty.  It doesn't seem like much (and all you moms who work 40+ hours per week--I salute you) but it keeps me busier than ever.  And right now I have no carpool (that may be changing soon--wish me luck), and I'm having to drive Curly and Moe both two AND from school every day. 

3.  After we all return home from school, things get even busier--I usually have just enough time to pour myself a nice glass of red wine and relax and think about nothing for about fifteen minutes before it's time to start dinner, take kids to their activities, pick up Larry from whatever activity he happens to be doing after school (there's always something), do a little laundry, or whatever.

4.  In the evenings I'm exhausted.  If I'm not already in bed by 9:30 pm, I'm attempting to watch something on TV with my husband and/or the boys, and I miss most of it anyway because I always fall asleep.  (That's usually when I finally finish that glass of wine I poured myself at 4:30 in the afternoon.)

5.  On the weekends, it's time for everyone to clean the house--that is, when we're not trotting off to someplace or another, or enjoying a visit from friends or family--and do the grocery shopping and all the  other random errands and tasks we don't have time to do during the week.  If I DO get on the computer, I'm catching up on emails from people who need me to help out with some such thing, inviting the boys to this or that party, or reminding me of some very important event that someone absolutely positively cannot miss and that we need a permission slip and x amount of dollars yesterday.

(Here I am on a recent visit to a pumpkin farm, when Joe's brother and sister-in-law came for a weekend visit with their two adorable kids.)

6.  All that said, I'm actually enjoying being a working mom.  Even though I have less free time, and I feel a little overwhelmed on occasion, I'm learning NOT to stress out when the in-laws are coming the next day and I still need to clean the entire house; and when it's 5 pm and I've spent the entire day with people needing things from me and all I want to do is take a nap or cry and the boys are handing me papers to sign and telling me oh by the way I need to get such-and-such for school tomorrow and oh yeah, the sole came off my shoe, can you fix it? I can take a deep breath, take a few sips of wine, utter a few words in prayer, and thank the Lord that I am really, truly blessed.  And I love my job at the Episcopal preschool, which definitely helps! 

7.  Now for the REAL purpose of this post, which is to show you the breakfast burritos we made recently, a la The Last Song

Way back in July,  I told you a little bit about Nicholas Sparks' longest book:  seventeen-year-old Ronnie and her younger brother, Jonah, are staying with their father Steve at the beach in Wilmington for the summer.  Ronnie is angry with Steve for leaving their mother, and spends her days avoiding contact with him.  He does all kinds of nice things to try and warm her to him, and when she turns her nose up at the bacon he fixes for breakfast one morning, Jonah tells Steve that Ronnie is a vegetarian.  The next morning (after Ronnie has discovered a turtle nest near Steve's house, and a cute guy who just happens to work at the nearby aquarium and knows a thing or two about sea turtles) he tries again, this time hoping to appeal to her vegetarian tastes:

In the kitchen, her dad was standing over a frying pan at the stove, stirring with a spatula.  On the counter beside him lay a packet of tortillas, and Ronnie had to admit that whatever he was making smelled terrific.  Then again, she hadn't eaten since yesterday afternoon.
                "Hey there," he said over his shoulder.  "Who was that you were talking to?"
                "Just some guy from the aquarium.  He's here to mark the nest.  What are you making?"
                "A vegetarian breakfast burrito."
                "You're kidding."
                "It has rice, beans, and tofu.  It all goes in the tortilla.  I hope that's okay.  I found the recipe online, so I can't vouch for how it tastes."
 (The Last Song, p. 113)

Well, now, at our house we are NOT vegetarians, and frankly I wouldn't dream of putting tofu in anything, not even for the sake of this blog.  (If you want to put tofu in yours, be my guest; to each his own!)  Like Steve, I browsed the Internet until I found something that looked good.  I learned that most breakfast burritos have fried potatoes in them, and it took a little searching to find one with rice and beans.  I found this recipe and used it as a guide:
1 cup rice - brown or white
1 red pepper
1 green pepper
1 onion
1 15-oz can black beans - or your favorite bean!
1 1/2 cups shredded monterey jack cheese, about 4 ounces - or your favorite cheese!
6 eggs, whisked
Large flour tortillas
Optional Extras: Roasted potatoes, roasted sweet potatoes, roasted poblano peppers, crispy bacon, cooked sausage
Equipment [OR] Tools
Griddle or skillet
Lots of prep bowls for holding ingredients
1. Cook your rice - We like cooking rice in a large amount of boiling water (like pasta) and then draining it at the end. Rice can be prepared the day ahead.
2. Roast your vegetables - Cut the peppers and the onions into large chunks and spread them onto a baking sheet. Drizzle them with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Roast them under the broiler for 15-20 minutes, until the peppers are soft and all the vegetables show roasted surfaces. Check the veggies every few minutes and remove any that look done before the others. Slice all the vegetables into long strips.
3. Cook your eggs - We like our eggs soft and creamy, so we cook them slowly over low heat. You can also fry or poach eggs for breakfast burritos. The yolk splits as you roll the burrito up, covering everything with warm, runny yumminess.
While roasting the vegetables and cooking the eggs, rinse the beans and warm them in the microwave. If the rice was prepared ahead of time, also warm the rice. Set up a space on the counter where the burritos can be assembled.
4. Melt the cheese on the tortilla - Melted cheese is the key to an excellent breakfast burrito! Wipe the pan clean that was used for eggs and set it back over low heat. One at a time, warm the tortilla shells with a sprinkling of the shredded cheese. Place a large lid over the tortilla to help the cheese melt and keep the tortilla from getting too dried out.
5. Assemble the burrito - Spread a little of each filling down the center of the tortilla.
6. Fold the burrito - Fold the top and bottom of the burrito over the inside (or leave the top open, as we did), and then fold in the sides to make a neat package. Eat immediately while the cheese is still gooey!

I didn't roast my vegetables beforehand (Why?  Because I forgot to check the recipe before I started.)  Instead I chopped them and cooked them in a pan with a little olive oil, salt, and pepper.  And, because I'm lazy, I also left out the part about melting the cheese on the tortilla.  

The Supplies.  I added in some Poblano peppers just for fun, and they were a big hit!

My gluten free version.  Notice the bacon on the side; something that would make Ronnie cringe.  I thought about making some corn tortillas--which is so easy it's ridiculous--but once again laziness got the best of me.  (Ha Ha, get it?  The Best Of Me?  Lucky for me you can't throw any rotten tomatoes at me through your computer screen...)

In the near future I will finish re-reading The Last Song; I know there are one or two more things I can cook, including--maybe--apple pie.  It's high time pulled out that that gluten free pie crust recipe again that my friend Wendy gave me...

Have a wonderful weekend, and for more Quick Takes, be sure to visit!

Friday, August 10, 2012

7 Quick Takes, Volume 11


Earlier this week I finished Michael Pollan's fascinating book, The Omnivore's Dilemma.  I wrote a review of it on Goodreads, check it out!  I was thinking of publishing the entire thing here (seeing as it's a book about food and all), but this post is long enough already.  You'll have to settle for a link.
And now that I've finally finished The Omnivore's Dilemma and Outlander, I'm finally able to move on to other books.  Last week I read The Help.  If you're one of the six people on the planet who still hasn't read it, let me tell you, it's fantastic.  (I want to cook something out of there but I was so absorbed in the story that I didn't take the time to bookmark and take note of the food.  A good excuse to read it again, right?)  After that I started a book called Adam and Eve After the Pill:  Paradoxes of the Sexual Revolution, by Mary Eberstadt.  It's a very interesting, factual analysis of how Western society has evolved over the last fifty or so years, and how our casual attitudes about sex and the widespread use of birth control has led to societal ills that most people--with the possible exception of Pope Paul VI--couldn't have foreseen.  I'm making my way through that one slowly (and carefully--I'm sure you'll hear more from me about that one, in a non-judgmental way, of course) while I devour Room by Emma Donoghue.  I started that one yesterday and I can hardly put it down.  It's written from the perspective of a five-year-old boy who has been imprisoned with his mother in a tiny room by a psychopath since the day he was born, and that little room is the only world he knows.

I have lots of other books on my to-read list.  I'd better hurry up and read them because once school starts I won't have much time for books.


For my husband's birthday recently we made coconut cake.  I had planned to devote an entire blog post to it, but I made a kind of "shortcut" version; when I finally get around to making one from scratch I'll share all the juicy details.  I'll call it "Incredibly Deadly Cake," because Lemony Snicket's The Reptile Room (one of the reptiles being The Incredibly Deadly Viper, which isn't deadly at all) inspired it.  Meanwhile, here's a plain old Coconut Cream Cake, brought to you by Duncan Hines.


1 pkg. Duncan Hines Moist Deluxe Classic White Cake Mix
1 (3.4-oz) pkg. coconut cream instant pudding and pie filling (I couldn't find instant so I used the Cook & Serve version instead, and it worked just fine)
4 large eggs
1 cup water
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup flaked coconut
1 can store-bought vanilla frosting
1 1/3 cup flaked coconut for topping

Baking Instructions

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease and flour two 9" round cake pans.
2.  For cake, combine cake mix, pudding, eggs, water, and oil in large bowl.  Beat at low speed with electric mixer until moistened.  Beat at medium speed for two minutes.  Stir in 1/3 cup coconut.  Divide into pans.
3.  Bake at 350 degrees for 32 to 37 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.  Cool following package directions.
4.  Fill and frost cake.  Sprinkle with remaining coconut.  Refrigerate until ready to serve.

(adapted from Duncan Hines Dot Com)

So that's my "fast-food" version.  It was a huge hit.  I hope soon to make, in the spirit of The Omnivore's Dilemma, a "slow-food" version; i.e. from scratch.  And maybe I'll try a gluten free variety, too.


I know I've been deviating these last several months from the main theme of this blog; namely, Nicholas Sparks.  I'm tempted to rename it to more accurately reflect what I've been doing here lately.  Maybe I'll call it Cooking Nick's and Other People's Books Too:  A Book Lover's Food Blog, Especially Nicholas Sparks.  Hmm, that's too long.  I'll study on it a while.

I did manage to make something from The Lucky One recently; a simple and delicious ratatouille.  Check it out here.


Besides chomping through one book after another this summer (plus getting to see Gavin DeGraw AND Foreigner in concert)  I've gotten myself COMPLETELY hooked on One Tree Hill.  I know I've mentioned that before; but let me tell you, now that I'm nearing the end of Season Three, I'm not ashamed to admit that I LOVE it.  It feels kind of like being hooked on a daytime soap opera.  If you love Nicholas Sparks, One Tree Hill is right up your alley.  And the first eight seasons are streaming on Netflix; I'm sure it won't be long before the ninth and final season is available as well.  I stayed up way too late watching it last night because they killed off a major character and I was so shocked I kept on watching.  A couple of episodes later I finally switched off the iPad I've mostly been watching it on and lay awake thinking about it and when I finally got to sleep it invaded my dreams.

Maybe during the school year I'll make my way through the fourth season at a normal pace.  After all, there will be many other shows I'll be watching too--Person of Interest, Once Upon a Time, The Amazing Race, Dancing With the Stars; and maybe that new J.J. Abrams show Revolution.

For your entertainment, here are some photos from the amazing Foreigner show we attended last Friday night:

That's the Colonial Forge High School Choir on stage singing "I Wanna Know What Love Is" with the band.  An incredible moment.

Our friend Glenn took the next four pictures, with my phone through his binoculars.  He's such a talented photographer; that's why, seventeen years ago, we had him videotape our wedding.

And since I failed to get a t-shirt at the Gavin DeGraw concert, I was darn well going to get one this time.


Now for a bit of Catholicism:  Today is the feast day of St. Lawrence.  Why would I mention this in a food/cooking blog, you ask?  Well, it's kind of morbid, actually, but quite entertaining:
Lawrence was one of the seven deacons of the Church of Rome, who along with Pope Sixtus II and other deacons, was executed in 258.
The Prefect of Rome, a greedy pagan, thought the Church had a great fortune hidden away. So he ordered Lawrence to bring the Church's treasure to him. The Saint said he would, in three days. Then he went through the city and gathered together all the poor and sick people supported by the Church. When he showed them to the Prefect, he said: "This is the Church's treasure!"
In great anger, the Prefect condemned Lawrence to a slow, cruel death. Lawrence was tied on top of an iron grill over a slow fire that roasted his flesh little by little, but Lawrence was burning with so much love of God that he almost did not feel the flames. In fact, God gave him so much strength and joy that he even joked. "Turn me over. "I'm done on this side!" And just prior to his death, he said, "It's cooked enough now." Then he prayed that the city of Rome might be converted to Jesus and that the Catholic Faith might spread all over the world. With that, he went to His heavenly reward. (source)
St. Lawrence is the patron of comedians, cooks, restaurants, librarians, brewers, butchers, and wine growers.  And lots of other things, too.  Fitting for a blog about food and books, don't you think?


I'm told that today is National S'mores Day.  Which reminds me, I still haven't told you about the new fire pit we bought at the beginning of the summer.  Now we can roast marshmallows and make s'mores right on our back deck!

(My gluten free version:  marshmallows and chocolate atop a Pamela's Gluten Free Peanut Butter Cookie.  If I put one on top it would be too sweet.)


It's been a while since I've shared Nick's more entertaining posts on Twitter, so let me present STELLAR SPARKS TWEETS:  THE OLYMPICS EDITION!

think a lot of women would be happy if i had a movie coming out with Ryan Lochte. #Olympics

Sometimes, I think every Olympic event should have an average person competing, just for reference.

It's great when Olympic commentators say "He wants to take home the gold today" because it really helps me understand the sport.

My tweet critiquing NBC's tape-delayed Olympic coverage will be available for reading in a few hours.

And this non-Olympic one:

If I ever get taken in for questioning, I hope there's no Algebra.

Check out Nick's Twitter page for more like this, as well as updates on the filming of Safe Haven!

Have a wonderful weekend, and be sure to visit Conversion Diary for many more Quick Takes!

Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Lucky One: Ratatouille; or, Beth's Summer Stew

The scene:  Logan is helping Beth prepare tacos for dinner.  He admires the way she deftly dices the onions, green peppers, and tomatoes.  She explains that when she was a teenager she dreamed of opening her own restaurant, and during the summer she would pick loads of vegetables from the garden and practice her knife skills on them.

"I had this dream about opening this great place in Charleston or Savannah and having my own cookbooks and television show.  Crazy, I know.  But anyway, I spent the summer practicing my dicing.  I'd dice everything I could, as fast as I could, until I was as fast as the guy on the [Ginsu knife] commercial.  There were Tupperware bowls filled with zucchini and carrots and squash that I'd picked from the garden.  It drove Nana crazy, since it meant we had to have summer stew just about every single day."
"What's summer stew?"
"Anything mixed together that can be served over noodles or rice."
He smiled as he shifted a pile of grated cheese to the side.  "Then what happened?"
"Summer ended, and we ran out of vegetables."
"Ah," he said, wondering how someone could look so pretty in an apron.
The Lucky One, p. 128-129

When I first pondered the idea of making summer stew for this blog, immediately I thought of ratatouille, since that's an easy dish that we enjoy during the summer months.  Joe's mom used to make it (and she has her own special recipe that I haven't actually tried yet--I've promised her I will soon, though), and when the Pixar film Ratatouille came out, I decided I wanted to learn to make it.

The recipe I usually use comes from Rachael Ray.  On her television show, she wanted to replicate the dish that Remy the Cooking Rat made in the movie; the one that the cranky restaurant critic loved so much.  (Click here for that one; it's delicious.)  This time around I wanted something that would be a little quicker to prepare than Rachael/Remy's or Queen MIL's, and I found this one at the About-dot-com Southern Food site:
·         2 tablespoons olive oil
·         2 cloves garlic, crushed and minced
·         1 large onion, quartered and thinly sliced
·         1 small eggplant, cubed
·         2 green bell peppers, coarsely chopped
·         4 large tomatoes, coarsely chopped, or 2 cans (14.5 ounces each) diced tomatoes*
·         3 to 4 small zucchini, cut into 1/4-inch slices
·         1 teaspoon dried leaf basil
·         1/2 teaspoon dried leaf oregano
·         1/4 teaspoon dried leaf thyme (I had fresh thyme on hand, so I used that)
·         2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley (and just for fun I added some cilantro, too)

(*I used a combination of canned tomatoes and fresh.)
In a 4-quart Dutch oven or saucepan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add garlic and onions and cook, stirring often, until softened, about 6 to 7 minutes. Add eggplant; stir until coated with oil. Add peppers; stir to combine. Cover and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally to keep vegetables from sticking.
Add tomatoes, zucchini, and herbs; mix well. Cover and cook over low heat about 15 minutes, or until eggplant is tender but not too soft.
Serves 4.

I also had a jar of roasted red peppers in my fridge, and I decided to chop up a few of those and add them along with the tomatoes and zucchini.  Rachael's recipe uses a sauce made with roasted red peppers, and I think that's what makes it so delicious.  I think it was the right move on my part, because it added a nice robust smokiness to the summer stew. 

(As you can see, I added some chopped up bacon left over from the pancakes and some grated parmesan cheese as a garnish.  The ratatouille is delicious both with and without those additions!)

Winner, Winner, Veggie Dinner.  Even Moe, who does NOT like vegetables, ate all of his and asked for more.  I will be making this again very soon.  Perhaps I'll try Queen MIL's recipe next time.  When I do, I'll be sure to share it with you!

Next we'll be returning to A Series of Unfortunate Events, and making coconut cream cake.  Stay tuned!

Friday, July 27, 2012

7 Quick Takes, Volume 10


 In case you missed it, here's how I make Summer Spaghetti.  It's a special pasta dish that should ONLY be made during the summer months, passed down from my mother-in-law.  It's super-easy and delicious.  Check it out!


I spent last Saturday in Northern Virginia with my brother and sister-in-law.  (OH, guess what?  They're expecting their first baby!  Jenn is almost five months along now, and she's starting to show, and she looks fabulous.)  We don't have a Trader Joe's in my neck of the woods, and Jenn took me to theirs.  Oh, my.  I want one.

I got all this--there are TWO packs of gluten free pasta, by the way--plus a bouquet of flowers for $41.   That's the wine they used to call "Two Buck Chuck;" except now it's $3.29.  And the chocolate chip cookies?  You wouldn't guess they were gluten free.

We met Joe and the boys that evening at Nationals Park for a game.  The Nats beat the Altanta Braves, 5-2.  Woot!  (And I thoroughly enjoyed my loaded nachos and Redbridge beer from the gluten free kiosk, which I told you about in this post.)


The other night when I needed to find something quick to cook for dinner, I pulled out this.

A friend gave me a subscription last Christmas, and I'm sorry to say I haven't taken advantage of it much.  I chose this recipe for tuna melts:


Start to finish:  10 min (really it was like 20)
Makes:  4 servings (I adjusted the recipe to make more)

1 pouch (11 oz.) light tuna in water.  (I used three 7-oz cans)
1/2 cup each finely chopped celery, cucumber, and red onion (Joe doesn't like celery so I just put in a whole chopped-up cucumber)
2 tsp. dill weed
1 tsp. lemon juice
1/8 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. pepper
1/4 cup mayonnaise (we put some aside without mayo for egg-allergic Moe)
4 ciabtta rolls
2 cups (8 oz) shredded cheddar cheese

1.  In a small bowl, combine the tuna, celery, cucumber, onion, mayonnaise, dill, lemon juices, salt and pepper.  Mix well.

2.  Place rolls on a baking sheet.  Spread each half with tuna mixture; sprinkle with cheese.  Broil 2-3 in. from the heat for 2-4 minutes or until cheese has melted.

(adapted from Taste of Home, Aug/Sept. 2012, p.47)

Delicious.  I had mine cold over some chunks of fresh, local heirloom tomatoes.


My friend and around-the-corner neighbor and her youngest daughter have their own cooking show on You Tube!  They call themselves "Two Peas in a Pod."  Here's Pam and Paris' latest episode, in which they make a yummy fruit pizza.

I finally subscribed to their channel, "twopeasinapodcooking."  I don't really subscribe to channels, so it's a new thing for me...


So what am I reading these days?  Two books: the e-book I'm reading is Outlander, the first in a seven-part series by Diana Gabladon.  It involves history, time travel, Scotland, and sex.  Once I'm finished I might tell you more about it, and whether or not I'll plan to tackle the next six books, most of which are extremely thick. 

I'm also reading The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan.  That one is an EXTREMELY interesting chronicle about the history and sources of the different foods we eat, from government subsidized corn  to industrial feedlots to the booming organic industry to small family farms to hunting and gathering.  Reading it has renewed my determination to buy local and make things from scratch whenever I can, and I want to learn more about the Slow Food Movement.  And you know what?  Cooking is so much more fun when you know where your food comes from.  (Once you learn how a Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation works, you may never want to eat steak or burgers again.  Unless they're grass fed, of course.)


Speaking of small farms and knowing where your food comes from, I ran across a video not long ago that the North Carolina Farm Bureau produced about a wonderful summer camp I worked at years ago called GwynnValley.  It has its own working farm, the kids help plant and harvest the food, milk the cow and the goats, feed the chickens, and gather the eggs; and it all ends up on the table.  And they don't use any chemical fertilizers or pesticides.  I can remember the farmer standing up during lunch or dinner every day and announcing with enthusiasm which cabin picked potatoes today and how many pounds, and that the broccoli on your plate was brought to you by such-and-such cabin who had picked it that morning; and everyone responding with loud applause and cheers.  From what I can see in the video, the place hasn't changed much, and that's a very good thing.  (Except Dale didn't have a single gray hair when I worked at Gwynn Valley...)

What we never told the kids was that the brown cows grazing in the distant field were the source of the burgers they ate on their cookouts; and that this year's contented pig would become next year's bacon and sausage.  And they were all delicious.


 I try not to bring politics or religion to this blog.  And reading The Omnivore's Dilemma and relishing memories of idyllic farms and pastures makes me kind of averse to fast food, but these past few days have put a certain restaurant chain front and center in everyone's mind.  I'm sure you've heard about all the hoo-ha surrounding Chick-Fil-A restaurants, and how the CEO voiced his support for traditional marriage, and now all these supporters of same-sex marriage are calling him a bigot and accusing him of spewing hate (yeah, right; check out what Rosanne Barr said) and demanding that people boycott the restaurant.  The mayors of Chicago and Boston have vowed to keep Chick-Fil-A out of their cities, and the Muppets walked out in a huff. 

Earlier this week I took the boys to Chick-Fil-A for lunch.  They were selling "I Heart Chick Fil-A" t-shirts; next time I might just buy one.  No one should be bullied for having an opinion, not even the CEO of a corporation.  (Here is where I insert a disclaimer:  The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of our favorite author, Nicholas Sparks, to whom this entire blog is devoted.  I have no idea what Nick thinks of all the Chick-Fil-A uproar; and frankly, I don't really care.  I won't quit buying his books if he happens to disagree with me.)

August 1 has been declared "Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day."  I hope they get lots of business that day, and for many years to come.

And that's my soapbox speech for today.

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary.  Have a great weekend; see you at Chick-Fil-A!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Last Song: Summer Spaghetti!

I think The Last Song might be the only book Nicholas Sparks wrote after he had already written the screenplay for the movie, and he wrote it specifically so that Miley Cyrus could play the main character.  And, according to Nick's website, it's longer than any of his previous novels.  (It's also longer than the next two, Safe Haven and The Best of Me.  I checked.) 

Ronnie (Miley Cyrus picked the name--can you believe that?) is a troubled teenage girl whose parents are divorced.  She lives with her mother and younger brother, Jonah, in New York.  Her parents decide that it would be great if the kids could spend the summer with their father, Steve, in his beach bungalow in WIlmington, North Carolina (aka Tree Hill--anyone a fan of that show?  Thanks to Netflix, I've gotten myself hooked on One Tree Hill this summer.  I'm almost finished with Season Two.  It's cute and hilarious and touching and fun and infuriating all at the same time.  Reminds me of a Nicholas Sparks novel.  You can read more about my latest addiction here.)  Anyhow, Ronnie is not too happy about spending three whole months in some podunk town with a father who all but abandoned her.  Jonah is thrilled; what kid wouldn't want to spend an entire summer at the beach?  Needless to say, Ronnie's visit gets off to a rocky start, and she spends much of her time in town or by the pier trying to find something, anything, more stimulating than hanging around the house with Steve.

One evening after spending the day getting re-acquainted while Ronnie is off galavanting with some newly found friends (and a cute guy she met named Will--more on him in a later post), Jonah and Steve share a spaghetti dinner before heading down the beach for a nighttime spider-crab hunt.

(You can find these little buggers all over North Carolina's beaches at night.  In the summer, at least;  I haven't really been there in the winter.)

I've already made spaghetti for this blog (with my mother-in-law's semi-famous pasta sauce); since I don't like to repeat myself too much here, I decided to make another one of Queen MIL's specialties, Summer Spaghetti.  This was a frequent summertime meal for Joe growing up, and it's become a favorite at our house, too.  I don't have a recipe per se; it's so easy I don't need one.  I just follow a simple procedure as Joe explained it to me years ago:

1.  Cook a box of spaghetti according to the package directions.
2.  While the spaghetti is cooking, heat about a half cup of olive oil in a small saucepan over medium-low heat.
3.  Mince several cloves of garlic (I never count) and brown in the olive oil until golden.  When it's done you can discard the garlic; or if you like your pasta a little more garlic-y you can leave it in.  I usually leave it unless the garlic is overcooked.
4.  Grate about a pound and a half of mozzarella cheese.  
5.  Dice up a few garden-fresh tomatoes. (This is very important.  You never, EVER, want to use the mealy ones that come from the grocery store.  This is why you ONLY make this in the summer when tomatoes are in season.)
6.  When the spaghetti is finished cooking, drain and pour into a serving platter or large bowl.  (Sometimes I just pour it back into the pan I cooked it in.)   Stir in the grated cheese and tomatoes.  Pour the hot garlic-flavored olive oil over the whole thing.  Garnish with fresh basil and serve immediately.

Joe's mom often mixes in a healthy portion of freshly-grated parmesan cheese as well; I prefer to grate it on top of my own serving.

When I mince garlic, I like to smash it with the side of my knife and then chop it up really small.  Queen MIL recently showed me how to hold the knife really close to the blade to get the most mobility out of it while you're chopping.  I haven't quite gotten the hang of that yet.

I found a new favorite gluten free spaghetti!  And the linguine is even better.

I never use pre-shredded cheese anymore, not since I learned that it has added cellulose to keep it from sticking together.  And I always use whole-milk mozzarella, too.

Be sure to keep a close eye on the garlic while it's cooking; it's very easy to overcook it.

Fresh, Local, vine-ripened tomatoes.

You can cut the tomatoes as small or as large as you'd like.


My gluten free version.

Steve hopes that eventually Ronnie will come around, and hopefully she'll decide to share a meal and open up to him; and before the summer is over, father and daughter will perhaps be close once again.

Next, we'll re-visit The Lucky One for another summer weekday meal; and soon, perhaps, I'll make some REAL Swedish bacon pancakes--not the American ones I showed you in my last post.  Stay tuned!