The September miscellaneous file

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Did you give summer a proper send-off last weekend? We did with a football theme, (see below). My miscellaneous file also includes a report of my summer without a garden as well as what I have been and will be reading. I hope you enjoy the this-and-that-ness of this post as I sink my teeth into September, one of my favorite months! (It’s those bluer than blue September skies that get me every year.)

Of books, book clubs, & good reads

After decades of participation in my Wheaton book club, I cannot tell you how many people have asked if I have found a new one. The short answer is yes. In fact, I found two. First, I joined one in our neighborhood. It limits participation to less than 10 people, a far cry from the twenty members, give-or-take another ten that I am used to. And while I am uncomfortable with the size limitation (who wants to tell someone they can’t come to the discussion?), I understand the reasoning. We met recently to discuss Richard Russo’s Empire Falls, had a great discussion, and the small group allows everyone to participate fully. 

Our next read is Strapless by Debra Davis, about Virginie Gautreau, the subject of John Singer Sargent’s most famous painting, unveiled at the 1884 Paris Salon. Both were relatively unheard of at the time, but of course that quickly changed. Unfortunately Gautreau’s reputation did not assume the stardom of Sargent’s. It’s one of those books that has a bit of a buzz, and the story along with the 19th century art world setting should be interesting.

I’ve also discovered a very informal book group in the New Albany community. They will meet in October to discuss Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus which I just read and loved. It’s a book that begs for a conversation so I’m looking forward to that. 

I’ve decided the trick to finding a good book club is identifying one that likes to read the same material that you do, and maybe — hopefully — pushes you to read a bit beyond your comfort zone. It’s great if the books aren’t always current best sellers. Empire Falls was published in 2001, but there is so much depth and layering to the characters that the conversation just kept rolling. Not every book or author lends itself to that kind of examination. Some of my fellow readers in my last book group got me started on Louise Penny, and I devoured her mystery series. But I don’t think we would ever choose one for a book discussion. And I think the same is true of a lot of writers and not only of mysteries. What about you? 

My summer without a garden 

I’ve missed being able to go outside and cut some flowers for the table.

If you have followed my blog for long, you know I wrote often about my garden (for example here) and about cooking from the garden (as I did here and here), but at the Reset we are still waiting for irrigation, final grading and sod before we can plant much of anything. The front has been landscaped with boxwood, day lilies and a nice bed of mulch. I’m sure we’ll add to this scheme, but not until the builder finishes his work on the lot. 

In the meantime I have a few mis-matched planters of annuals on the front porch. There is no rhyme or reason to them: one over-sized pink geranium, because it was in full bloom back in May (and has continued to be so most of the summer), a pot of assorted coleus that I have cut back several times and yet it is taking over its spot along with a Boston fern from my grandson’s school flower sale. It’s also out of control. However, they don’t all really work together and so I need a better plan for next year. Any ideas?

And what about the missing vegetable garden? I honestly haven’t missed canning tomatoes (though I will probably miss cooking with them this fall). I bought some beautiful basil at the farmers market to make pesto. I do have pots with rosemary, thyme and parsley on the patio. so I can still duck out and snip what I need for a recipe.

This is Big Ten football country 

Meet Brutus, part OSU mascot, part OSU ambassador.

Columbus is the home of Ohio State University (my husband’s alma mater, but that’s another story) and you only have to be here once, on a fall Saturday, to grasp the football fever that grips Columbus. So, it should not have been a surprise to me — but it was — that when I attended a community event on September 1st — two days before kickoff against Notre Dame — the event had a bit of an OSU pep rally feel to it. EVERYONE — and I do mean EVERYONE — was dressed in some variation of an OSU shirt/hat/socks/shorts, etc. And in fact Brutus, pictured here, joined us for coffee. And that was just the beginning of kick-off weekend. We dropped by a community watch party in a park on Saturday night. It was fun – a huge screen streaming the game, food trucks, and more. Frankly, I am entertained by the fans as much as the game.

Thank you, as always, for stopping by to spend a little time with me. I hope you’re having a great week. And if you’re one of the millions experiencing our extreme weather, I hope the worst is behind you.

See you again soon!

In my January Kitchen

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Mise en place on the new cutting board.

January has been a fun month in my kitchen thanks to some new tools from my family. And with new tools, of course, come new recipes and a few new lessons. 

For starters, I have been wanting one of these Boos wooden cutting blocks since I worked on a smaller one at The Cook’s Atelier in France. Working on wood is much kinder to my knives than the vinyl and ceramic mats I have been using. This one is large  ( 15” by 20”) and therefore genuinely heavy. I can’t just snatch it up with one hand, and I may have to re-think how & where I store it, but it’s a delight to work on. It stays in place on the counter and is roomy enough to work with large vegetables, meats, etc.

Wood boards are a bit picky about maintenance. They clean up with soap & water, but must be immediately dried. Wood can be sprinkled with salt, then wiped with lemon  to eliminate strong odors (a.k.a. garlic); wiping with distilled vinegar disinfects the board after cutting raw meat. Treated to regular coats of oil, my board should last a life time. 

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Plenty of yummy comfort here. 

I was eager to give the block a work out, so I launched a two-day soup-making marathon using recipes from Ina Garten’s new book, Modern Comfort Food, a gift from my son & daughter-in-law. Ina’s Chicken Pot Pie soup is fabulous, every bit as delicious as her recipe for the pot pies in Make It Ahead, but with a flavorful broth instead of white sauce. There are a few ingredients that give it an edge over standard chicken soups: leeks, fennel, tarragon and a piece of parmesan cheesed rind that adds a subtle but yummy flavor dimension. 

Then, because I had a hambone left from Christmas and a bag of split peas, I made her pea soup, also in New Comfort Cooking. I love pea soup and this one is delicious and pretty much what I have always made based on my mother’s recipe which was my grandmother’s recipe. (As I write this I realize that my family recipe was never written down. I’d call Mom and say how do I do this and she would walk me through it. I’m sure she learned it from watching Grandma. Do you use recipes like this?)

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Each tray section is marked for 1 and 2 cups. This is a 2-cup porti0n.

Both recipes gave me plenty of chopping and dicing practice on my new board, but making the pots of soup also exhausted my supply of homemade chicken stock. So a few days ago I got out the pot, a cut-up chicken and the requisite fresh veggies to make more. This time in addition to a few quarts of stock for the freezer I also have frozen, 2-cup blocks of stock thanks to these silicone soup blocks, also from my daughter-in-law. Each section holds up to 2 cups of liquid. After freezing, you can pop them out of the tray (like ice cubes) and keep them frozen in a bag. They should be the perfect quantity for recipes calling for a lesser amount of chicken stock and they take less freezer space. Win/win!

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And look: My name is on the cover!

I hope you are’t too bored yet because I have one more tool to share and it’s this kitchen journal from my daughter. I have wanted something like this for some time, initially to track menus and what I served and to whom and when. Sometimes it would also be nice to refer back to how much of a given dish/appetizer/dessert I served. (As in, what cheeses were the favorites on the cheese board and what did everyone pass on?) It’s perfect for recording those unwritten recipes, like Grandma’s pea soup, my stuffing recipe, and how I prep and freeze summer vegetables.

There’s probably an app to track this on my computer, but since I am a paper and pen girl at heart, I love the idea of writing it down.

I know these are essentially small things, details perhaps in the grand scheme. But I am grateful to have this interest to fall back on during the continuing pandemic. Cooking is creating as much as painting, drawing, knitting, sewing, and all the other pursuits so many of us have adopted to stay engaged, to look forward. 

What about you? What’s keeping you going these winter days?

Thanks for stopping by. See you again soon!