Tag Archives: family

Christmas Past

26 Dec

Christmas was unseasonably mild this year. No snow. No wild wrapper paper flung about the room. Just three teens, lazily stepping downward from their rooms, in stepped-down order.

Perhaps, it was because they had been told–repeatedly–not to expect any presents under the tree this year. Asked if any stockings would be filled, the response was unclear, though intentionally.

This year marked a new Christmas tradition; which, unplanned, served to remind our family that no kid in America would truly die if they didn’t have gobfuls of presents to greet them on Christ’s birthday.

They were working teens, now (the last of the three had learned of his new job on Christmas morning) and they were happy to earn their own gifts. Of course, we couldn’t shirk on our parental obligations to surprise them with a little somethingin their stockings, and what kid ever refuses cold, hard cash?

Especially when a third of it makes its way from Cleveland–thanks, Kaukab!

This Christmas was the most relaxed and least costly one, yet. Kaukab’s daughter had been slowly stepping away from the idea of gift exchanges and “out-doing” games; instead, concentrating on nourishing relationships throughout the year. Sure, gift cards and cash are still given to those who have worked hard to instruct the kids, namely music teachers (since we homeschool, by default), but no more do I choose to buy into the notion that Christmas means impressing others with presents and festive, Pier1-decorated parties–cute as they are (I’m a sucker for tableware).

Yep, Christmas (and Christmas Eve) consisted of simplified menus and restorative gatherings. Rather than steaks and filet of last year, Christmas Eve dinner greeted us home from church with the smells of pot roast/vegetables, cooked perfectly with red wine and thyme sprigs to bring that holiday flavor to the dish.

Christmas morning gave us a lovely chocolate chip brioche (one I was going to use to make bread pudding–are you listening, Agnes?). After a quiet few hours, some went to the coffeehouse at which they work, for free drinks, while Kaukab’s daughter prepped for dinner. (Les Miserables was the Christmas movie of choice, afterwards, but there was food to be cooked, and a stomach upset, so no movie for her.)

Once again, perfect cookery timing. The potatoes just buttered and mashed, in came everyone, along with friends, one of whom (violin girl’s bandmate) stayed to eat with us. Simple food: spiral ham (courtesy of hubby’s work), roasted broccoli w/lemon, cranberry and apple chutney, and canned cresent rolls.

We have canned rolls twice, maybe, three times a year–holidays, generally. And, yet, they always seem to please. The bandmate couldn’t believe they were canned. And, she’s an appreciator of good eats. (Don’t bother to correct; it’s just my lame–some might say, “lazy”–attempt at being clever.)

Christmas night was topped off by our holiday tradition of popping in the modern classic, “A Christmas Story.” And even though there was no figgy pudding, Dickens would have been satisfied.

‘Tis the Season for Peace and Goodwill

And, if you’d like to take a listen to the classic-turned-bluegrass rendition of “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas,” you can turn to Youtube and watch December Alleys (violin girl and her bandmate) perform. Or, just go to the my sidebar blogroll and click on “December Alleys” link. (Make sure to click on “Videos,” once there.) Enjoy!


What’s All the Fuss?

19 Nov

Each year, we come to the time when all matters of true importance get placed on the back burner and only one topic is to consume us for an entire week.

The overriding question of questions is this: How to cook a turkey? Not just cook, but cook purrrfectly. Because, only in America, land of the obssessive-compulsive need to be the best, do we spend countless hours watching, talking, and listening to professional cooks lending their expertise with regards to roasting, turning, basting, stuffing, and bird carving, which is rarely thought of once November (and sometimes December) passes.

Surely, the original pilgrims didn’t partake in such mind-numbing quibble. They had more urgent matters to consider, like survival. Once the first year passed, those who remained understood the true meaning of Thanksgiving. Decisions to stuff or not to stuff; cover or uncover; low and slow or high then low just weren’t of issue.

This daughter of a more recent pilgrim had watched Kaukab get up quite early each Thanksgiving Day to prep the turkey and get it in the oven so that her little turkeys could have their Thanksgiving meal mid-day. This was so the family could finish up and digest in time to make the two-block drive to the cousins’ house, where other aunts and uncles, cousins and siblings could get together and brag, pick on, and generally compete for the most annoying relative  award, most frequently split between a certain aunt and uncle (brother-sister duo), the two clueless to their winnings.

But I digress.

As for turkeys, the morning news shows and various foodie networks would have us think that the most important matter of the week leading to the big day would be the cooking of the turkey. No other country (other than, perhaps, Canada) celebrates a turkey as much as we do. And for what good reason? To blow the minds of women.

No matter how much the world will tell us we can achieve, every Thanksgiving is a reminder of how little all that matters. The most important measure of a woman’s honor is how good her turkey is. Not only must it be moist and delicious, it must also be pretty. Tables must be made up to look extra special, even if no one special is coming to feast at it.

So, this Thanksgiving will be no different. Out will come the beautiful brown turkey with all the trimmings, and all will be impressed. You will have done your jobs, and done them well. You can rest on your turkey laurels for another full year.

Until the next one comes.

For now, try not to worry. It’s just a turkey. What could possibly go wrong?

Now go eat some pie and just be thankful.

The Proper Way To Eat

5 Aug

I was reading back on some responses on my ‘Food Flicks’ page and I came across a very perceptive (and funny) remark by my very clever writer/artist-friend, Agnes. The conversation had focused on various favorite food scenes, to which she remarked about the sniffing of one’s food when first coming in contact with the plate and how this was such a natural thing to do.

Of course, it got this foodie thinking about our relationship to food and how different it is for everyone. Take Hubby and violin girl–natural food sniffers, through and through. Something I don’t understand. For me, the odors naturally wafting from the plate suffices my senses. I don’t need to hover my nares milimeters above food that will soon come into contact with my mouth.

In Kaukab’s household, we ate much with our fingers, scooping up all kinds of Arabic food with the Middle Eastern utensil that is pita bread. Fingers have been the utensil of choice around the world since man’s creation.

But, in American culture, which took its cues from British and other Western-European decorum, the proper way to eat has evolved into something altogether prescriptive. For example, pizza. You would think that this meal-in-a-slice marvel would be the great cultural equalizer. But, when surveyed, Americans seem fairly split on the matter of how to properly eat a pizza. Fork, or hands? And if it’s deep-dish, then what?

Same goes for spaghetti. “Proper” Americans seem to go for the fork and spoon technique and one which Hubby employs–much to the chagrin of Kaukab’s daughter. Just ask him. Nevermind that pasta can be easily managed with fork, alone, if utilized in small, circular movements and of a patient, food-loving mind. Eating spaghetti shouldn’t require false intentions for the sake of ill-perceived “high” culture.

And, let’s not forget the on-going  conundrum of how to eat a steak. Who here is a fork-exchanger? At Kaukab’s table, forks remained in their “proper” left hands, the fork’s back facing outward, with knives in their right (the lefty siblings were left to their own devices), enabling a more efficient path to the eater’s mouth. This seems to be a more customary method outside of the U.S., but one this daughter of immigrants has personally noticed MIA at the tables of the cultural high-minded, even though visiting heads-of-state have been observed on C-SPAN engaging in such methods. And, what could be more high-minded than C-SPAN?

Which brings me back to my original question. Does it take an obscure cable news show to teach we Americans how best to be proper about our eating habits?

Like C-SPAN, does anyone really care?




On to something else

4 Aug

Well, I think we’ve all had our fil’ of chicken for the moment, so in honor of moving on, Kaukab’s daughter decided to stuff some Khusa squash she found at the Farmers’ Market a few days earlier. This squash is the kind Kaukab used a lot. It’s a small, tender-skinned specimen, with a pretty light-green color.

They’d been sitting on my counter for several days and it was time to do something with ’em, so I took a large tablespoon, and using its handle, plunged and twisted into the center of the narrow top, of which was cut across so the diameter was large enough to worm my way into scraping its innards, eventually making enough room to stuff with the ground beef/rice/onion mixture.

I used roughly one pound of raw ground chuck, a half an onion (finely chopped), and about a cup of uncooked rice. I seasoned the mixture with a little salt, black pepper, and Arabic 5 spice (about 2 Tblsp).

I use my fingers to stuff the squash and then place them (about 8 – 10 squashes) into a large soup pot. I add in two 15 oz. cans of diced or whole tomatoes (squeeze them into the pot to separate somewhat) and a little salt and then add cold water to cover the cute buggars. Put a lid on, slightly tilted to allow for reduction and bring to boil. Once boiling, turn stove down to medium to medium-low and cook for about an hour to an hour-and-a-half, or until meat turns brown and rice is cooked.  Eat with some pita bread to sop up the juices.

Trust me, this is too good to boycott. Besides, Kaukab would never hear of it.

“The Fourth” Leftovers

9 Jul

So, here we are on day “8” (or “9”, depending which wordpress decides), four days (or five, per wordpress) following the big day.

In case anyone’s wondering, yes, we’re still munching on leftovers. Not that it’s a bad thing. The burger sliders, made with minced onions, parsley and Arabic spices and topped with grilled onions, peppers and taziki sauce were a hit.

One more thing: Kaukab’s eldest daughter, who lives a ‘too-close-for-comfort’ distance from her, phoned to pronounce that there is only one way to cut a watermelon and it isn’t hers. You guessed it. Altogether now: “Kaukab’s is the only way.”

Grilled Burgers…Summer Consolation Food

24 Jun

Whenever the following question arises, “What to make that costs us the least and feeds the most (while scoring leftovers for the next two days)?” two summertime foods inevitably come up. Hotdogs and hamburgers.

Yes, hotdogs most likely win out on price, but eating them for days upon days doesn’t hold the same appeal as do burgers. Plus, burger meat can be ammended in more varied ways.

Take Kaukab’s way. (I promise, it won’t hurt.)

Growing up, burgers at Kaukab’s house (and backyard grill) looked quite different from the classic, all-American patty. She liked to fit them with chopped onion and finely-chopped Italian parsley, all hermetically sealed and seasoned with salt and pepper, making it impossible for tiny children’s fingers to remove them.

Of course, times have changed and Kaukab’s burgers have taken on a hip, urban feel, albeit ubiquitous one, thanks to the Food Network cookery thieves. This thievery, to which Kaukab likes to proclaim, stems from the fact that somehere, at some time, someone has made the food item in question…long before it was made “new” and “hip” on a major t.v. show or cookery book.

So the question becomes: Do we make Kaukab’s burgers tonight, or not?

Answer: Kaukab’s burgers, minus the onions and parsley. Kaukab’s daughter will have to wait for some palettes to mature into “new” and “hip.” (Boys, you know who you are.)

Summertime Memories

21 Jun

Ah, summer! Time to break out the barbeques and bistro tables.

In the next few weeks, we’ll be holding our annual “Fourth” party. It’s amazing how we can fit nearly 40 of our dear friends and family in our postage stamp-sized “yard,” but, thankfully, the Victorians understood the value of wrap-around porches, so we’re good.

I’m still contemplating the main course–last year’s was pulled beef sandwiches w/homemade barbeque sauce. I had planned on grilling chicken but had waited too long to shop, so, instead, had to switch plans, and hence, the beef won out. This year, I’m planning for an earlier chicken hunt. If successful, I’ll accompany them with a large batch of grilled peppers and onions, which I’ve already pre-tested. After grilling the lemon/garlic marinated chicken and removing, I then covered the hot grill with heavy foil and waited a few minutes to regain heat. I then spread out olive-oiled peppers and onions (w/cracked black pepper and sea salt) and hovered over the grill, moving them about as they began to cook. I did this until all were slightly charred and tender. An easy, efficient way to grill veggies on a “massive” scale. Though I wish I had a photog for you (don’t worry, I will, come “The Fourth”), I don’t.

But, I do have some equally-as-nice photogs of some grilled tilapia and homemade salsa that I had prepared some several weeks ago, if that would be acceptable? I’m going to post those below, with skeleton recipes, in honor of violin girl. This has become one of her favorites, and since she’ll be leaving for college in late summer (6 HOURS AWAY), it is the mission of Kaukab’s daughter to fill her head with memories of home. And what better way than through food?


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The fish was grilled in a lightly buttered/Canola oil combo in a cast iron skillet turned on medium-high. I added a few pinches of ground cumin to the pan, as well. Make sure you pat dry the fillets well, before sauteeing/grilling. Once out of the pan, I squeezed a little lime on them.

The salsa was made with finely chopped tomatoes, shallots, and English cucumbers. You can use pickling cucumbers, as well. I added some finely chopped cilantro to the mix and then squeezed some lime and added a pinch of cumin and some sea salt. Finish off with a light drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil and you’ve got a simple, quick salsa to top off your fish. Oh, and the slightly charred undercover on which the fish is laying is simply a flour tortilla which I lay atop one of my gas stove burners and move about quickly using a tong. You’ll see the tortilla begin to form bubbles about itself and you just move it about to evenly “grill.” You can do the same on the barbeque.

I had also made a quinoa/brown rice salad to accompany the above. Here’s what it looked like:

Apple Cider Vinegar
Canola Oil
Raw sugar or brown sugar, or even better, good maple syrup
Dijon Mustard
Sea Salt
Sesame Oil (spicy) and/or hot pepper sauce
yellow and red bell peppers (total 2)
jalepeno pepper (1/2 of one)
small box of quinoa/brown rice blend (cooked and cooled)
shallot or green onion (scallion) (1/2 shallot or one scallion)
English or pickling cucumber (1/4 – 1/2 English cucumber or 1 – 2 pickling cucumbers)

Dressing: While rice/quinoa mixture is cooking, prepare the dressing. I used about a 1/2 C. of vinegar and about 3/4 C. or more of oil, but remember, I don’t measure. Start with about 1/4 C. vinegar and move up as you make it, if you’re unsure. Generally, you’ll use almost double of oil:vinegar ratio. Use a few pinches of cumin, sea salt ( 3 – 4 grinds, perhaps). Squeeze enough lemon to taste, starting with a couple wedges, and a couple small squeezes of mustard, or about 1 Tbl. I used 2 – 3 packets of raw sugar, but I’ve used good maple syrup instead, and that was a few drizzles, which made it taste really good. Also, a few drops of hot pepper sauce, not too much, because you’ll have a bit of jalepeno in it. Whisk all ingredients together, and then whisk in the Canola oil. Adjust flavors. You should taste a sweet/sour product.

Finely chop the peppers, cucumbers, shallot/green onion, and jalepeno pepper and add to the cooled quinoa/brown rice mixture, which you’ve placed in a large bowl. Add in the dressing and mix gently. Store in fridge for a few hours, the longer the better. Use as an accompaniment, or as a main veggie lunch.

That’s it! or “Dat it!…What da big deal?!” as Kaukab likes saying.

Food Pics!

15 May

So, I had promised you some food pics. Here they are. Not the prettiest, but hey, cooking shouldn’t be about contests, right?

In case you wondered about the roasted corn: I had taken a Mexican means of seasoning roasted corn-on-the-cob and modified it to in-house stove cooking. In a cast iron skillet, with melted butter (about 3 to 4 Tbs.) I sprinkled in some cayenne pepper and poured in about 12 to 14 oz. frozen corn. On medium heat, I stirred around, letting corn get cooked to a roasted texture (about 10 to 15 minutes). Once cooked and beginning to look slightly wrinkly-charred, turn off heat. Squeeze in about 1/4 lime, and stir in a couple tablespoons of mayo. Sprinkle in parmesean or romano cheese and stir. Sprinkle with chopped cilantro and eat up. You can use Canola oil in place of butter, but I would finish off with a little butter in the end. Normally, all of these ingredients would have been smothered on roasted corn-on-the-cob. Either way, it’s really, really yummy. Even the picky buggars like it.

Missing in Action

4 May

I decided to stop by and check on things. Goodness! Seems it’s been a while.

Even looks like I’ve been away from the kitchen, but looks are deceiving. And important. At least in blog-land. So, I’m going to make it up to you. But, not in this post. My food photos are hanging out at the family computer while these words are originating from one of the household exemption’s laptop. Why, you ask, can you not simply go over to the family computer and marry your photos to your words? Excellent question! Simply put…Kaukab’s daughter is lazy. A word bestowed upon her from a young age, courtesy of Kaukab. Don’t worry, I’m long over it. In fact, in some warped way, “lazy” became a great motivator for conjuring up some hard work as a means for disproving the personality tag.

For now, I shall describe for you some of the magical foodstuffs I had produced in my hard-working kitchen and post the mounting photos shortly.

Here’s what I’ve been cooking:
1. I roasted some young, tender asparagus which are a lovely, easy way to prepare. I chopped off their bottoms, about a 1/4 or so up, spread them out on a large baking tray and drizzled them with extra virgin olive oil, sea salt and cracked pepper. Shoved them in a 375 degree oven and waited about 25 min. or so. Just check on them around minute 20 and move them around a bit. Once out, I sprinkled them with some parmesean cheese. I forgot to squeeze a little lemon on them, as that would have finished them off just right. Or not. Twas all good. Picture coming.

2. I made a lovely pork tenderloin for Easter dinner. I had first planned to use some of my expensive (but only if you purchased retail; I purchased at Marshall’s) orange marmelade, but decided to forgo that idea in place of using dijon mustard, soy sauce, rosemary, thyme, cracked black pepper, and garlic salt. Just smeared all of it on the pork and placed on a canola-oiled shallow roasting pan in a 450 degree oven to brown. Then, I added a cup or so of water, cut potatoes and carrots and onions to the pan, covered with foil and turned down the oven to 350 degrees or even 325. How long to cook? Just check your meat package. To make a nice gravy, remove the meat to a platter and tent with foil. Place pan with meat juices on stove and place burners on medium-high. Whisk in a couple tablespoons of flour and adjust with salt/pepper. Stir until smooth. Turn down to medium and cook for 3 – 5 mintues, just to cook out the flour. Add more liquid if need be. Adding some chicken or vegetable broth adds a nice flavor. Photos to come–excluding the meat package.

3. A nice, simple way of making brussel sprouts, if I haven’t already told you, is to boil the fresh sprouts (bottoms slighted off and an “X” mark placed upon it) until almost done. Then, drain, cut into halves (you can do in the pan) and place on medium heat with enough extra virgin olive oil to prevent them from scorching. Add some sea salt and cracked black pepper, along with a pinch of red pepper flakes. Stir, but make sure to let them sit on each side long enough to get nicely carmelized. Tasty and goes well with lots of main dishes. Healthier than butter version, although butter is tasty, too. Also, I believe pictures may be coming.

4. Oh, and I had made very festive roasted pablano peppers, which I stuffed with a black bean, roasted corn, finely chopped green onions, cilantro, and tomato salsa mixture, seasoned with lime, cumin, salt, panko bread crumbs, and olive oil. I put them on a baking sheet, spooned more salsa over them and baked on 375 degrees for about 35 to 40 minutes. It would be good to douse the pepper with some olive oil to keep skins moist. Once the peppers were roasted, I pulled them out so I could top them with con queso (?) cheese (mexican white cheese) and put them back in to melt. And while these came out picture perfect and snap-shot ready, they never made the cut. Apparently, camera-boy (formally driver-boy) had elected to delete them before confirming with the cook. So, pictures not forthcoming. Kaukab’s daughter is most apologetic.

As you can see, Kaukab’s daughter may have been missing, but there was still a lot of action in the kitchen. See where I went with that?

So, it’s a new year…

9 Jan

What to make of it, thus far?

Looking about the house, I’d say…not much.

The fireplace mantel still holds semi-filled Christmas stockings. The live tree, still guzzling water, hangs on, while the front porch Christmas lights linger, hoping to come down soon, if they had their druthers.

Druthers aside, the new year has arrived and there’s not much Kaukab’s daughter can do about it. With a new year comes new chances. Chances to start fresh, unencumbered by past hopes.

The last conversation with Kaukab in 2010 covered potatoes and turkey; frosty weather reports; family shenanigans and more potatoes and turkey.

Here’s hoping that Kaukab’s new year rings in fewer root vegetables and poultry. For her daughter’s sake.

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