Monday, April 19, 2010

My First Love

Who was your first love?

Most people can answer that question readily. Some have married their first love; some are married to him/her still.

I recently saw an ad for a reality tv show about getting back your first love. (Which pretty much sums up the state of our country and culture, I guess. Non-reality.)

My first love was eggplant. My second was my Mother's lasagna.
My husband came much, much later.

Eggplant. What's not to love? So plump, so firm, such a gorgeous deep, rich purple color.
It's majestic!

I will eat eggplant in any way, shape, or form, but my favorite and most loved is (natch) the most fattening: fried in slices.
This doesn't work out well for me at all.

My second fave is what Ma (my Grandmother) used to make: stuffed eggplant.
There are no recipes for the old time dishes we make, so bear with me.
She cut an eggplant in half, lengthwise.
She scooped out the 'meat', leaving the skin- like you would a squash.
She'd throw that which I affectionately refer to as 'the guts', cubed, into a pan with a little sauteed garlic and oil, and cook it until it was soft. This is not a dish for al dente eggplant.

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halfway there!
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Now you're cooking with gas! (My other Grandmother's line. Cracked me up.)


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Finished. Rather mushy looking, isn't it?

Eggplant reeeeally likes oil, and soaks it up fast. Keep adding water, and keep the pan covered once the oil is absorbed. Don't let it scorch. Season with salt and pepper when done. Then add fresh parsley.

Now: the world of possibility opens up.

I have, at this point, eaten it from the pan with a spoon.
But, that's me.

I have thrown it over pasta, with some ricotta. Oh, yes. It's good.
I've mixed it into risotto, with tons of fresh parsley. And once with truffle oil, but only because somebody gave it to me.
I've added it as a layer to lasagna. It negates some of the calories. Yes, it does.

Ma would take that pan, though, and let it cool. Then she'd add 2 eggs, a handful of grated Romano, and a handful of breadcrumbs, and mix it all together.
Then she'd take that and fill the two halves of the eggplant skin, and bake it until it was nice and brown.

Now.
She cooked it in the skin, because the skin is good for you.
There's vitamins and such in that skin, she'd say, when I wrinkled my nose up at it.
And she wouldn't let me up from the table until that skin was gone.

Don't tell Ma, but I don't eat the skin anymore. In fact, I don't even use it- I peel the eggplant, throw the skin in the compost bin, and cook the 'stuffing' in a greased baking dish.
And my kids LOVE it!
But you should try it in the skin. It is good for you, though it is bitter.
If you gag, or your kids look like they might be plotting your premature death, peel the skin next time. (BTW, the skin does not flavor the cooked 'stuffing' after baking.)


I buy a luscious eggplant or two every time I leave the island.
Today I cooked it, as usual, into my favorite 'stuffing', but only put half the mixture into the baking dish.

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Then I took a pound of ricotta, mixed it with an egg, salt, pepper,parsley, grated cheese, and 2cups of shredded mozzarella. (Recognize the filling for lasagna?)
I spread that over the eggplant layer.
I topped it with the rest of the eggplant.


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I topped that with some gravy (tomato sauce) and a handful of shredded mozzarella.

Ricotta-stuffed eggplant


It was completely calorie-free and healthy.
NOT.

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But I'm pretty sure it can bring about World Peace.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Stowaways

I heard some squabbling outside my window.


Thinking it was the kids, I stepped outside, to see what mischief they'd gotten into.

There's always mischief.
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Well, Hello, Ladies.

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You're cute, and it's really funny that you're here...but if there had been anything planted in there...you'd be dinner.

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This is why, when we are asked to chicken-sit, egg production comes to a screeching halt.

We often have visitors.

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I'm pretty sure it's the cooking smells coming from my kitchen.
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This guy made it all the way into my mudroom before I realized he was there.
I thought it was a kid.
I was having a whole conversation with him, when he grunted.

Luckily for me, I don't have bladder-control issues.

I am developing the habit of chasing my visitors off with a wooden spoon, which doesn't bode well for my two-legged neighbors!

Friday, April 16, 2010

Do Fish Have Balls?

Fish balls.


It's what's for dinner!

I don't know who came up with these babies, but we've had them since I was a kid, and I've never met anyone who didn't like them.

I stumbled into this recipe the other day. I knew immediately that I could not live without them, and raided the freezer to see what lurks in its depths for fish.

I found haddock. SCORE!

By the time it defrosted, I had a mutiny on my hands.
We haven't had these for a while, and it seems my crew was all about Fish Balls With Gravy (Tomato sauce).
Period.
No amount of threatening bribery would sway them.

So gravy (sauce) it was.

Fish Balls look exactly like meatballs. Sub ground fish for ground meat.
What's not to love?

My Margarita Machine (aka blender) came with this how-did-I-ever-live-without-it food processor attachment.

Cut your fish into chunks, and grind.
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I used haddock this time. I've used cod and hake, and once a wolf fish (man, are they ugly!)

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I tried salmon once. They never made it to the gravy. They were better suited as fish cakes, with different ingredients. White-fleshed fish works here. Darker, stronger fish wants to be the star of the show.

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Everything looks disgusting ground up. Except chocolate.

Mix the ground fish with your favorite meatball ingredients. We do eggs, fresh parsley, grated cheese (the only time you'll see fish and cheese in the same dish in my house!), and a handful of breadcrumbs.

This was 2lbs of fish, 3 eggs, a handful of parsley, and about 1/3c of grated cheese.
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Add small amounts of breadcrumbs; as with meatballs, too much makes them tough. I mix this with my hands, to judge. When it sticks together well, it's enough. I used close to 1 cup of breadcrumbs.

I seasoned these with pepper only. The reason? That grated cheese is pretty salty (I use fresh Romano). I find that I am better off adding it at the end when the balls are cooked, when I can taste them.

Form into these lovely perfect balls. Your hands were already dirty anyway.

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I could have eaten that whole tray.

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Well, maybe not in one sitting. Maybe, though.

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Hmmm. Yes, probably.

Darn it, I really wanted to try that recipe! It is, after all, what inspired the craving to begin with. (Next time.)

But the mutiny will continue into school vacation week. I don't have the stamina to listen to whining for that amount of time.
And so into the gravy they went.

You add these to whatever tomato sauce recipe you prefer. I go from scratch, but only because I know no other way.

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I had a lot going on, and actually baked these at 10pm. the gravy (sauce) I'd already made on the stove top, so I threw the whole mess into the crockpot and let it cook all night.

And I drooled onto my pillow all night.

I can't tell you how good it smelled.

I heard my son get up three times, and had to yell at him to NOT TOUCH THE CROCKPOT-IT"S HOT!

I would have had ten less fish balls in the morning if I hadn't heard him.


He ate five over the course of the day, including three for dinner.
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This dish is really about the gravy (sauce). White-fleshed fish is mild to begin with, and once cooked in the gravy imparts just a hint of fish flavor. (Not to be confused with 'fishy'.) The texture of the fish balls mimics meatballs.

One of our favorite dishes, this is a nice break from the ubiquitous Friday Night Fish fry during lent, or baked Fish Sticks.

p.s. The Big Guy said Fish Do Not Have Balls.
So now you know.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Easter Recap

The Things were thrilled that a couple of neighbors took on the task of an Easter Egg hunt, the day before Easter. Their Mother was, well, let's say not on her game this year.
I was no help whatsoever.

But the neighbors filled and hid over 400 plastic eggs, and set the island kids loose to hunt them. They had a blast!

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I would like to point out the immaculate fingernails on this child. Thank You.

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I would like to distract you from this child's less-than-immaculate fingernails by pointing out how cute that scrunched up face is.

We dyed our eggs on Thursday, so we could look at them for a few days before eating them.
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Instead of Eggs Benedict or some other labor-intensive breakfast dish, this is what we did Easter morning. Just as tasty, much less work.
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These, oh...these are our favorite thing!
We roasted carrots as well. Scrumptious!
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There were the usual plethora of desserts, but this one caused some excitement. When I make the meringue for the Lemon Meringue Pie, I triple what the normal person would make. Not because it tastes any better, but because it looks so good!
The Things were laughing like hyenas when I piled the meringue atop the lemon- they measured it to be a full 9 inches high!
I had to tone it down to seal the edges, to about 6 inches.

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The Things have become the Master Frosters of these cookies.
Next year I may let Thing One have a crack at the pizzele iron.
Somebody should probably talk me out of that, I have visions of spending Easter Eve in the ER.
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That jar was full to the brim on Friday. It didn't last long.


But the star of the show?
My husband's most favorite, 'it isn't Easter without it' item?
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The Fresh Kielbasa.

Courtesy of our friends Jerry and Barbara in Connecticut.
The fresh is so different from the smoked, and so very good.
But so hard to find.
And these are Easter kielbasa, only made this time of year (so he tells me).
I've heard tales of a group of Polacks driving clear to Pennsylvania to a particular butcher and filling their trunk with fresh Easter kielbasa to bring back to friends and family in Connecticut. A full weekend's drive. And the car smelled until the following year, when they made the pilgrimage again.

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The smoked- my favorite.
Thank you Jerry and Barbara, for remembering us every year at Easter!

They've been mailing us these kielbasas for as long as I can remember.
My husband would rather skip the holiday altogether than go without them, so they are very much appreciated.
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And a ham for good measure.

Because there are only four of us, and no sane person could consume the staggering amount of food I prepare for any holiday, we try to split it up a little.
Growing up, there would have been stuffed shells, lasagna, or manicotti, along with ham and lamb for Easter. Roasted potatoes. Carrots. Artichokes. Sweet potatoes. Mushrooms. Asparagus. Carrots.

I've taken to spreading the food out, to include all the traditional food all week, instead of all on one day.
It's so much better!!

I made another trip to Boston, this time without the kids.
While there, we talked my Aunt into making two of the traditional Easter pies:
pizza gena and pizza dolci.


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Pizza Gena. No idea how to spell that. Our 'stuff' doesn't translate.

She does it nice, no?
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This is my favorite. I make them save me a piece of this every year. Not the sweet one, this one.
I used to make it myself, but...there was a bad experience.
It involved a funeral, and some not very nice people. Let's leave it alone.

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The meat. It's all about the meat.

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Pizza Dolci. So good.

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Auntie Ro tried to blame Krissy for being heavy-handed with the brandy.
We know better.
It was perfect.

We ate them the night I brought them home. Fabulous!

Thanks, Rosie!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

With Great Thanks

Today I am thankful for many things.


I am thankful for the warm sunshine spilling around me.
I am thankful the kids got up without complaint and got themselves ready for school.
I am thankful for the jobs I will perform later today, which occupy me and give me the great feeling of accomplishment (and, well, monetary compensation).

And I am thankful for good friends. Friends who, unasked, make our days a little (or a LOT) brighter.

Grace is one of those friends. Never far away, always with encouraging words, a ready ear, a supportive smile...and gifts!


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She tried to talk me into letting her wear this to our Easter Egg hunt as recompense for modeling. Silly kid.


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Then she tried to con me into letting her wear it back to school, because 'it matched her outfit'. Not sure those velour jogpants qualify as 'outfit'.

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Thank You, Grace, for brightening my world with your art and your kindness.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Ropes and Webs

The school was offered a field trip last week. We love it when that happens!


Thanks to the superb organizational and networking skills of Rob Benson (of SeaCoast Mission fame), the kids went over to Southwest Harbor to Camp Beech Cliff.

The teachers called. Will the School Board authorize an impromptu field trip to Southwest Harbor to do a Low Ropes course at Camp Beech Cliff?

What does that entail, I asked, spidey-sense tingling.
(All the while thinking -Ropes? Cliff? And there will be a boat ride involved, maybe two, and it's April, it will undoubtedly be raining and blowing, and who knows-snowing, and we just watched another tv show about 100 foot rogue killer waves and please, please, tell me you don't need me to chaperone, that 80 people have volunteered to go over with the kids...and what do you mean 'ropes', and I am responsible for all 13 kids in the school, and, wait, Cliffs??)

They'll learn teamwork, coordinating, trust, the teachers said. They'll climb a rock wall. They'll belay. It's perfectly safe. There will be a harness.
Yeah, that came at the end. That implies height, doesn't it?

I knew it. Spidey-sense is always right.
Horror show.
My kids, suspended from ropes, hanging mid-air, too many feet from the ground.

Helmets and harnesses my butt. This calls for mucho investigative reporting on my end, in the name of safety's sake.

Will there be Valium for me, I asked?**

I am not That Mom, who just lets her kids Do Stuff because someone else says its safe.
So I thoroughly checked out Camp Beech Cliff.

They're awesome! Totally safe! Rave reviews! Huge following! Many, many repeat attendees! And not a single death on record!

And so it was that I found myself on the Gott boat, in Early April, when a typhoon or monsoon or rogue wave could happen at any second, heading over to a place where my kids would be climbing cliffs and rock walls and strapped into a harness to keep their little bodies from crashing onto the ground and breaking into a million little irreparable pieces.

In my next life I'm coming back as That Mom Who Just Doesn't Care. It's exhausting this way.

The kids LOVED it. Everybody climbed. Nobody fell. All their little bodies remain intact. (Actually, four of them are missing teeth, but that's entirely unrelated!)

Even the boat ride wasn't so bad.

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Look at them; they have no idea of the potential dangers afoot.
May they always be that way.


I did not stay to witness the hanging from ropes in mid-air. I drove a few kids to the Camp, and left, because, well, the Valium was really not an option. Which means I have no pictures of the Camp. It is also how I am able to sleep at night.

This may have been the highlight of the day for me:

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I still don't know what to make of it.

We were driving by. It was raining lightly.
I was reading directions and trying to find the camp and watching the road and yelling at kids...when this cow caught my eye.

I screeched to a halt (it shut the kids up, anyway).
I turned the car around, and pulled into the driveway. (The fact that I had to turn the car around hints at my stellar driving skills.)

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AWESOME! At first I thought it was one of the Hilltop cows!
You know the ones I mean- in front of the steakhouse in Saugus?

p.s. I may have ridden one of those cows in my much younger and wilder days. When I was, like, 20. Maybe.
However, there is no photographic evidence of any such event having taken place. So it never really happened.
And I may have run screaming because I thought I felt the darn thing move, like it was alive.

I always wondered if they have cameras on those cows, and some remotely activated motion inside them to freak out the stupid among us who are compelled to get up close and personal with the cows. I mean, those cows have been there forever, yet everybody who has lived into adulthood has some story of interaction with them. I'll bet they've got electric current running through them nowadays.
Be forewarned kiddos!
Don't mess with the Hilltop Cows!

**Disclaimer: The Chair of the School Board likes to joke about requiring narcotics to attend field trips, but she does not actually take them on those occasions. There is supervising and driving required, you see.
There are usually copious amounts of wine upon the return, however.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

April Fool's

My kiddos love my jams and jellies.


Of course, it helps that my kiddos have really only ever had my jams and jellies.
Captive audience, and all that.

They know where the jelly 'lives' in our house. They know what is 'their' jelly, and what is the 'Bakery's' jelly. The Bakery's jelly is off limits. They know this.

Their Father, however...

He isn't allowed in the kitchen, or the cupboards, so he knows naught of how it all works.

He was in charge of The Lunch one day.

They ran out of jelly. He grabbed a jar for them.
They said, That's not our jelly.
He said, Yeah. It's strawberry. You can have this.

They shrugged. Dad say it's OK. He'll take the heat for it.


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'Cept it wasn't strawberry. It was cranberry sauce.
The strawberry is labeled. The cranberry sauce is not.

The kids are not amused.
And yes, I am making them finish off the jar.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Best.Color.Eva.

Spring has sprung. It was hiding at Fleegle's.


Spas and Such

I have a new Happy Place.


It's my shower.

I'm loving my shower right now. Though it's far, far from grand, it is clean. Sparkling, even, because that's how I roll.
My favorite thing about my shower? I can't hear the phone when I'm in there.
And I don't bring the cell phone in there, either.

It's a freakin' phone-free oasis!

It is the one time of each and every day that I am completely, utterly inaccessible.
It's heaven.

I hate my phone. I want to disconnect the landline; I want to disconnect it very, very badly.
Every single call on that line is a task for me to complete. Every single call begins with the words "I need you to...".
(I get BIG points for not cutting people off and finishing that sentence for them. Just sayin'.)

Seriously. I can't remember the last time somebody called to Just Say Hi.
I'm tired of being needed. Need someone else 'to'.

I'm not answering that phone anymore. People are beginning to notice.
It's been about 3 weeks now. The answering machine answers, but I have the volume off, so I don't hear it. And I'm not listening to the messages.

And I get in the shower, where I can't hear the phone ring, and I wonder what people are thinking.

Do they think I'm dead?
Away for an extended vacation?

Do they wonder if I've finally snapped?
(C'mon, I live on an island. With 28 other semi- deranged adults. It's just a matter of time.)

And I wonder these things in an odd, disconnected way. A calm way. Not my usual frantic, obsessive Worried Things Aren't Getting Done way. I like this new way much better.

The cat used to climb up on that answering machine. It's electronic; it gives off heat. She used to sleep on it. She died in January.

I love not hearing that phone.

I love my shower.

I'm pretty sure I'm disconnecting that phone.