Family Time Adventures

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Because of a family funeral, I’ve been on the road for days now. One unexpected surprise, among many, was the visit to the Bob Evans Farm, which is in Ohio and is the original Bob Evans restaurant! We had a delicious meal after a long drive on a very overwhelming week, and I will remember for a long time how nice it was to sit down and be greeted and served here. The weather has been almost heartbreakingly pretty lately and I barely know what to do with February 70s, but I’m trying to take everything one moment at a time.

64. S’s Palak Paneer

S and I always seem to pick up where we left off when we get to see each other, and I was so excited to stop and see her for the weekend on our way to Maine. S had a special plan: she’d bought all the ingredients to make palak paneer, her favorite indian food dish made of spinach, paneer cheese, spices and… well, I didn’t know. I knew that if I made things that approximate palak paneer in the past, they never taste like they do in the restaurants. I was eager to see what S could do with it.

S, her boyfriend A, and I spent a whole day hiking and then returned to their home to make this dish, which could have been done by one person but really was so work intensive that it wasn’t bad to have 3 cooks. S browned the paneer (is there ever such a beautiful thing as frying cheese?), I measured out many many kinds of spices in precise quantities and set them up, cooking-show-style. A chopped and cooked fresh spinach, tomatoes, and onions; they mentioned that they’d tried with frozen and canned and it is never as good. After the frying cheese, the next mixture to create was a chickpea flour and spices mixture, which gives the sauce its thickness – there was no cream in this recipe! The following steps involved combining all the ingredients in precise order, mixing them or pulverizing them in a blender or cooking them slowly for half an hour. I say “or” because it was all a blur to me, and I was in charge of changing records on the record player, so I often had to leave the kitchen. There are worse things, though, than chatting with some of your oldest friends (yes, even S’s boyfriend has now graduated into the ranks of “one of my oldest friends” – they’ve been together a long time, and many of my friends and I met in the last few years) dancing around to big band swing music while large cats flee from your galumphing feet… It made me feel like a young and excited person again.

Also, the final product was MAGICAL. If I get the recipe from S, I can try to recreate it, but I bet I’d need two sous chefs to pull it off. It may look like green glop, but believe me, it’s the most amazing dish. I order it at restaurants habitually, but now I’m gratified to be able to make it in house.

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Food Memory: Chips and Dips on the Water

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I have an ache in my heart pretty much constantly for the beauty and restlessness of the ocean; during the winter, it gets even more acute. This memory is extra special: after a long day on the beach with Husband, we wandered back into town and found this restaurant with a balcony that was literally right over a causeway. We watched people pilot their boats and we ate spinach and artichoke dip and cheesy dip on crisp, perfect pita chips – I have not felt deeply relaxed in other places the way I can feel when I’m out at the water, eating something unhealthy and cheesy.

A and J = Gardening Goals!

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This is part of a row of fall greens planted by my sister-in-law and brother-in-law – don’t they look luscious? Husband and I got leaves of salad greens, but never big, lush heads of lettuce that we could use. A and J have developed 8 or 9 100 foot rows of veggies behind their house, and they work awfully hard to keep the veggies and fruits coming all spring, summer, and fall – between the three seasons, they provide veggies for their own vegetarian lifestyle, local veggie restaurants, and a tiny farmer’s market they host in their hometown! I don’t want my life to be quite as garden-ful as theirs, but they sure do remind me how much more is possible! Will be spending some of the drive home today daydreaming about how to expand and improve for next spring. 🙂

64. S’s Palak Paneer

S and I always seem to pick up where we left off when we get to see each other, and I was so excited to stop and see her for the weekend on our way to Maine. S had a special plan: she’d bought all the ingredients to make palak paneer, her favorite indian food dish made of spinach, paneer cheese, spices and… well, I didn’t know. I knew that if I made things that approximate palak paneer in the past, they never taste like they do in the restaurants. I was eager to see what S could do with it.

S, her boyfriend A, and I spent a whole day hiking and then returned to their home to make this dish, which could have been done by one person but really was so work intensive that it wasn’t bad to have 3 cooks. S browned the paneer (is there ever such a beautiful thing as frying cheese?), I measured out many many kinds of spices in precise quantities and set them up, cooking-show-style. A chopped and cooked fresh spinach, tomatoes, and onions; they mentioned that they’d tried with frozen and canned and it is never as good. After the frying cheese, the next mixture to create was a chickpea flour and spices mixture, which gives the sauce its thickness – there was no cream in this recipe! The following steps involved combining all the ingredients in precise order, mixing them or pulverizing them in a blender or cooking them slowly for half an hour. I say “or” because it was all a blur to me, and I was in charge of changing records on the record player, so I often had to leave the kitchen. There are worse things, though, than chatting with some of your oldest friends (yes, even S’s boyfriend has now graduated into the ranks of “one of my oldest friends” – they’ve been together a long time, and many of my friends and I met in the last few years) dancing around to big band swing music while large cats flee from your galumphing feet… It made me feel like a young and excited person again.

Also, the final product was MAGICAL. If I get the recipe from S, I can try to recreate it, but I bet I’d need two sous chefs to pull it off. It may look like green glop, but believe me, it’s the most amazing dish. I order it at restaurants habitually, but now I’m gratified to be able to make it in house.

fryingcheesetwo

The Lobster’s Journey

I arrived in Maine two days ago. Upon arriving, Husband and I settled in for a lobster roll. This unassuming sandwich relies almost exclusively on the flavor of the Maine coast specialty, sweet and tender lobster meat. We ate them quietly while sitting at bar stools along a dock looking out at the boats.

Lobsters come a long way to get into my stomach, and I don’t even know the extent to it. I’ve been reading a bit of The Lobster Coast and just the view I’ve gotten so far is crazy – setting traps, checking traps by hand, taking the lobsters to market, cooking them up and making the lobster rolls. That doesn’t even include the long bottom-dwelling lives of these weird bugs. What stuns me, though, is that it is a supremely local, mostly low-tech industry. Certainly, some electronics are helping lobstermen and lobsterwomen out, but most likely, these lobsters are from somewhere less than 100 miles of where we’re staying in Maine.

I think the combination of the specialness of lobster (I’ve never eaten it, that I can recall, outside of beach towns, and even then, it’s just a bit of lobster meat in bisque) and the intense beauty of the coast here that makes me so impressed by the lines of this particular food system. Sure, lobster is expensive, but it’s also got such a story behind it; between lobsters and tourism, it seems like the Maine economy has taken a few hits over the last two centuries, and those two things always seem to shore it up.

I have also seen some other aquatic life that I don’t (and never would) eat: whales. The baby and momma humpbacks pictured were less than 100 feet from our boat, and it was pretty magical to float alongside as they surfaced, blew air out of their blowholes, and flipped their flukes at us. Maine is magical for many reasons that have nothing to do with food, and I’m trying to eat all the magic up.

Finally: Dinner Party 2

So, we had a dinner party in January, and there was one in March that got cancelled, so finally, finally, we’re having dinner party the second. Meatball/”Meatball” cook-off style.

I’m hosting this in tandem with N, who has me very excited about cooking up a few kinds of meatballs in hopes of being the crowd favorite. Husband has invited a friend from work, we’ve invited a neighbor or two, and some of the folks from the first dinner party are returning. A good time and a full stomach is sure to be had by all.

I am so excited to get home tomorrow, folks. I love travelling, but I’m ready to be cooking in my own kitchen again, sleeping in my own bed, moving forward on my summer projects at my normal space. I miss coffee fresh-ground (sounds snobby, but everyone’s got a comfort thing like that, I think) and obviously, I miss Husband. This is the first 8-day absence since marriage! I’m ready to bug him to go get ice cream with me again.

So, I promise I’ll get back to posts about actual recipes, but it’s been fun to have the chance to write a little more creatively while on the road. If you are just tuning in, please do check out the many numbered posts about recipes I’ve tried for the project; it’s not always a personal travelogue around here. 🙂