For hot weather, some cool memories

 Southwestern Tabbouleh Salad

Southwestern Tabbouleh Salad is cool, nutritious, low-fat — and ridiculously easy to prepare. And did I say cool? (Photo by Laura Groch)

Hot, muggy weather of the sort we’ve been having lately makes me want to find cool and easy summer meals. After 25 years of relying on fans, we’ve got A/C in our home now, which is nice, but I still don’t want to heat up the kitchen too much.

Which makes me wonder — what, in those long, hot summer days before widespread air-conditioning, did my mom and her fellow homemakers do to put dinner on the table?

Continue reading

Singing the praises of soppressata

soppressata sandwich

A soppressata sandwich was a great way to wind down our brief getaway recently. (Photo by Laura Groch)

Spent a few days in San Antonio and Abilene, Texas, recently —- and I’m embarrassed to say that we never once tasted any authentic Texas cooking! Circumstances dictated that we did most of our eating at chain restaurants. Although I did manage to snag a forbidden sausage patty every morning at our hotels’ free breakfast buffets, Continue reading

Top this: Slaw Dogs for the Fourth, and all summer long

slaw dog

Coleslaw might not be your first thought when it comes to hot dog toppings, but I find it very refreshing. Photo by Laura Groch

July 4 is a holiday full of patriotic observance, parades and flags, and rightly so. We also celebrate in that all-American of ways, by cooking and/or eating outdoors in a burger-hot-dog-ribs-chicken-picnic-barbecue fest. Also rightly so.

We’ll probably grill a few sausages and maybe a turkey hot dog or two. DH is strictly a mustard-and-onion topping guy, but I like to change things up. My latest favorite for hot dogs (and I might try this on a bratwurst, too) is a simple slaw. It’s Continue reading

A cup of tea, a little pasteen, and comfort

cup of tea

Tea, heavy on the milk and sugar, still signals comfort in my family. Photo by Laura Groch

I’ve been overindulging in chocolate, adding sugar to my tea and coffee, and sneaking an extra blob of maple syrup on my pancakes. When life presents difficulties, we all need a little something sweet, as my mama would say.

.Sweets rank high on the list of comfort foods, and we’re needing some comfort these days. My mom has moved into a nursing home, and she doesn’t deliver much advice to me these days. After I visit her, I find myself reaching for a mini peanut butter cup, more than my normal ration.

And we just spent Father’s Day weekend mostly at the hospital because of a health issue with my dad. Serious, but treatable, thank goodness. So I’ve been checking into the comfort food-cupboard lately.

I think it’s safe to say we’ve all got a special comfort food. My theory is that most of these are on the white or pale side — why, I don’t know. Maybe they reflect mother’s milk, our very first comfort foods.

Yes, I know, chocolate, however delightful, doesn’t fit that theory. But what about vanilla ice cream (OK, any ice cream), rice pudding, mashed potatoes, mac & cheese (mostly white), cream of mushroom soup, even buttered toast.

Our childhood had two comfort foods. First honors go to the tiny Italian pasta called, appropriately and diminutively, “pastina.” Pastina is bitty star-shaped pasta that mammas cooked for their bambini as a kind of “first food,” so it has a longstanding pride of place. This was often served when we were sick or needed something mild to eat.

There’s no upper age limit on pastina. You might recall that in one episode of “The Sopranos,” Mama Carmela asks her upset daughter Meadow, “You want I should make you a little pasteen?”

And my pal Grace, who recently had surgery, posted a photo of herself a few weeks later wearing a full neck brace, with a familiar dish set before her. “Pastina at last,” she wrote.

Pastina doesn’t have to be little stars, which can be hard to find outside Ronzoni country. Orzo works, as do alphabet pastas, if you can find them. Goya also makes a little star-shaped pasta that is bigger than pastina but still small enough to qualify.

With butter and Parmesan cheese, pastina is a mild, soothing and savory dish. It’s also featured in Italian soups as “pastina in brodo” (broth). Some folks top it with tomato sauce, which is fine, and I’ve lately been enjoying it with a dollop of pesto, too. But butter and Parmesan cheese are my first choices.

The other comfort food of our childhood, served whenever we were tearful about some injustice or slight or disaster, was called “sugar milk tea,” heavy on the sugar and milk (so it also fits my “pale food” theory).

This was dispensed by my mother, who would pour cups for herself during the day from a small Corelle pot of brewed tea that was kept on the stovetop. The Corelle was ideal in those pre-microwave days because you could just fire up the burner under the pot to warm the tea, without having to pour it into a separate pot to warm or without having to boil water for a fresh cup. Tea was always there, ready for any childhood (or adult) calamity.

Once the matter had been hashed out, advice delivered and and tears dried, Mama would ask, “Now, how about a cup of sugar milk tea?” My answer was always “Yes.”

It was warm, sweet and a solace. How I miss those days when problems could be eased with a cup of sweet tea.

(If you have a comfort food, I’d love to know what it is. And whether it fits my pale-food theory.)

(c) copyright 2015 Laura Groch

PB pickles, and how to get into the San Diego County Fair for free

deep-fried peanut-butter-filled pickle

Deep-fried peanut-butter-filled pickle at the San Diego County Fair, slightly busted open to show the PB. It actually tasted kinda good. (Photo by Kelley Carlson)

Deep-fried. Peanut-butter-filled. Pickle.

Guess what time it is? Oh yes, it’s San Diego County Fair time, starting Friday, June 5 and running through Sunday, July 5, at the Del Mar Fairgrounds.

Before we go any farther, let me just say that the above-mentioned DFPBFP wasn’t as bad as it sounds. I could have done without the deep-fried part, really, but the actual peanut-butter-pickle combo was — kind of tasty.

That’s when I remembered: A long time ago, the newspaper’s Food section ran a Continue reading

Collecting poptops? We know you mean well, but …

soda can

What makes more sense: Recycling a whole can…? (Photo by Laura Groch)

My boss once gave me an assignment: People were collecting a million poptops from beverage cans and using the money made from recycling them to help a little girl who couldn’t afford dialysis treatments. What a great human interest story! Find out who the little girl was and what was going on. Here’s the phone number of the woman who called it in.

OK, fine. I called the nice lady. Let’s call her Mrs. Smith.

Continue reading

Cooking up some guilt: What I wrote to ‘Dear Abby’

I’ve read “Dear Abby” for years and years. Handled the column during my newspaper days. But never felt moved to write a letter to her (or her daughter, who now handles the column) until a couple of months ago.

A young woman wrote in worried about her cooking shortcuts. Neither she nor her husband cared for cooking, both worked outside the home, and she was Continue reading