Sunday, July 29, 2018

Ismail Merchant's Chili-Tomato Salad

This is the salad I fix over and over again all through the summer, Ismail Merchant's Mirch aur Tamatur Salaad.

About every third day, we have enough sweet little cherry tomatoes ready to pick in the garden. I cut two or three jalapeños and a serrano pepper and clip a handful of parsley...

and I'm ready to make an easy salad that is so tasty.

Our favorite tomato for this is the Super Sweet 100. Next year we're going to plant two or three of these.

Ismail writes:
The most important part of cooking is to satisfy the taste buds and give the stomach what it yearns for.

This cold tasty salad is wonderful with any hot summer meal.

You simply slice a cherry tomato in half, chop or slice chilies, chop a handful of parsley, and although Ismail doesn't call for it, I slice a few scallions too. Mix with the tomatoes and chill in fridge.

Mix the dressing before serving and pour over:

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard (I use Maille)
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 1/2 teaspoons of vegetable oil (I use olive oil)
A pinch of salt and a pinch of cayenne

That's it, and enough for two of us, so double or triple if needed. And be sure not to pour the dressing over until you're ready to serve it.

I have to mention that Ismail was, of course, half of the wonderful Merchant Ivory Films, with James Ivory, my favorite of which are:

A Room with a View
Howards End
The Remains of the Day

But I also love Mr. and Mrs. Bridge with Joanne Woodward and Paul Newman.  

Another favorite recipe from Merchant's Passionate Meals is his Baked Spicy Beefburgers that I serve on top of a salad instead of as a sandwich.

I've spiced Ismail's burger up a little more--

To a couple pounds of lean ground beef I add:

2 tablespoons of olive oil, 1/4 cup lemon juice, 2 medium beaten eggs, 1 teaspoon cayenne, 1/2 teaspoon each of cinnamon, cumin, coriander and salt, and a couple tablespoons of chopped parsley.

Mix well, shape into patties, place on greased baking sheet (with rim to catch juices), and bake about 20 minutes at 450   degrees.

Serve on a salad with a good vinaigrette of your choice.

And be sure to put on your favorite Merchant Ivory film to watch while you eat!

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Even When Stricken

There isn't much that helps when stricken with sorrow.

There really isn't. 

So all I can offer, besides love and prayers, to a dear friend thousands of miles away on the beautiful island of Crete while her heart is so heavy for the horrible loss of innocent lives in Greece are some words from Rumer Godden that have given me some light at the end of the tunnel when my heart has been heavy with sorrow.

Not at first, when little light gets in, but as time goes by.

Even when one is stricken, much remains; often creature things: drinking good tea from a thin porcelain cup; hot baths...the sound of a stream can be consolation, thinks Mrs. Quin, or the shape of a tree; even stricken, she can enjoy those. To hold a skeleton leaf, see its structure, can safely lift one away from grief for a moment...sunrises help, she thinks, though sunsets are dangerous, and moon and stars; they stir too much. Shells are safe, and birds and most little animals, kittens or foals especially, for they are not sentimental....
I have been happy in food, Mrs. Quin is able to say. How ridiculous to find consolation in food, but it is true and when one is taking those first steps back, bruised and wounded, one can read certain books: Hans Andersen, and the Psalms, Jane Austen, a few other novels. Helped by those things, life reasserts itself, as it must, even when one knows one will be stricken again.

Rumer Godden
China Court

We can help so little when others are hurting, and there is so little that others can do to help us.

I send love and prayers and a listening ear and hopes that the simple creature comforts around you will ease your heart.

As time goes by. 

Sunday, July 22, 2018


I blame it entirely on distractions because it certainly couldn't be that I'm at that age where I let the tea water boil almost dry.

Oh wait, that was RH!

Or accidentally squirt ketchup into my coffee, or pour orange juice into my cereal instead of milk.

Oh wait, that was RH!

Or put dirty dishes into the fridge instead of the sink!

Oh wait, that was RH!

Or go around the house calling for James Mason when all along he's right there following along behind me.

Okay, that last one is me and I also admit to being guilty of letting the tea water boil almost dry, but I don't walk around trying to find where I laid my hammer down when its in my left hand.

But we're just distracted, that's all.

So when I made Cook's Illustrated Orange Honey Glazed Chicken and instead of it turning out all golden, like in this video.....

Instead of that, mine turns out like this...

How can that be when I followed all the steps perfectly, even though I had to squeeze 1 1/2 cups of orange juice when I discovered I had forgotten to put orange juice on my grocery list. But the sauce was delicious. I added 1/3 cup light corn syrup to the juice, 3 tablespoons honey, 1 tablespoon Dijon, 1 tablespoon distilled white vinegar, and a few red pepper flakes. 

Then I seasoned the chicken breasts (with skin and bones) with salt and pepper and floured them and put them skin side down in my big sauté pan to brown in a little vegetable oil for about 14 minutes, turned  them and browned on the other side for about 5 minutes, then put them on a plate.

Lacking a shallot to mince, I used half a small onion and sautéd it. Oops, you were supposed to take out all but 1 teaspoon of the fat from the pan before adding the onion. Oh well, I got a lot out with a spoon as I cooked the onion. 

Maybe I did get a little distracted when I stopped to look out the kitchen window at RH watering plants, which led to him striking muscle man poses.

And I did slip out for just a few minutes to get a picture of his latest project, clearing out a messy weedy neglected spot under the kitchen window, putting down some found materials to make a spot for his grill and the bird seed can.

Well, at least that's a beginning for an outdoor cooking area here but I can already see the wheels turning in his mind on how to improve it, enlarge it. All needing discussion.

But surely I was back inside in time to add the orange juice mixture to the pan, simmering it until it was reduced to about 1 cup of syrupy glaze, about 6 to 10 minutes.

Then I added the browned chicken breasts back to the glaze, turning them with tongs to coat, leaving them skin side down in the pan.

And into the 375 degree oven the pan went.

Hmm, they do look a little darker than the video, but I'm only cooking them 15 minutes before turning them over for 15 minutes more. They would be fine.

And at the end of their cooking time I had to put the chicken back on a plate to rest and then cooked the glaze, stirring constantly for only a minute, then whisking in 2 more tablespoons of orange juice before spooning the glaze over the chicken.

But during all that oven time I was also setting the table--the simple old Fourth of July table things are still okay...

--and making a side dish of Chili-Basil Rice that was so amazing that I must put a link to it here.

The changes to regular cooked rice were to first sauté chopped onion and 3 Serrano peppers (from my own plant!) for 5 minutes, then stir in 1 teaspoon ground ginger.

When rice is done, stir in juice of one lime and then garnish with sliced basil leaves, extra sliced Serrano peppers, and chopped toasted peanuts. So delicious that this recipe will become a regular side dish for us, at least until I can find a non-carb side dish that tastes as amazing as this does.

Our other side dish was steamed broccoli and squash (from grandson Luke's garden), planned-over from the night before.

Even with all the distractions, the glazed chicken was marvelous! And actually, we pull the skin off the chicken before eating anyway.

Maybe next time I won't have distractions, but then again, maybe I will. Life seems to be full of them.

Here's three final July distractions for you.

A glimpse of my July calendar page, illustrated by a Kevin Dodds. I just love this one!

And I love the face of this little one who has a July birthday...

I cannot believe that she will be a first grader in a few weeks!

Wasn't it only yesterday that we took this photo of her and her daddy at Valley View?

Life is just full of wonderful distractions!

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Life Dazzles

First there was just a chain link fence, practical and needed but not exactly dazzling.

This summer there are two large butterfly bushes, two red maples, two brown-eyed Susans--only one now after two dachshunds chose one to uproot a chipmunk tunnel--various grasses and northern sea oats, and in the foreground two small cannas that will bloom yellow and a canna musifolia that should reach six feet that I ordered for its beautiful purple-green leaves.

That's one section of chain link fence that is now dazzling, admittedly it will disappear in winter but maybe it wouldn't be as dazzling if I could see it twelve months of the year.

But I am dazzled even more by the visitors to this section of chain link fence.

Black swallowtails.......

Eastern tiger swallowtails...

Sometimes so many that the butterfly bushes seem to twinkle with yellow lights.

Other creatures of more modest beauty join them.

Sometimes they feast together.

Each one doing its part to pollinate.

Right here, this morning as I'm writing this post, I can either close it out and let it be another beautiful example of the dazzling gifts of summer, or I can tell you what else is on my mind, knowing that you can't comment back.

And in this case that's as it needs to be because sometimes conversation just dilutes intentions.

I'm more aware this July of my life than I ever have been before of the simply glorious gifts of summer. Of things growing outside, from the holly bushes that really need pruning at the proper time--many would say rip them out but if they saw how many bees feast on the little flowers and then knew how many red berries feed the winter birds and how the bushes shelter new thrasher and cardinal babies all summer long, they might understand why I say no, at least until the proper pruning time and done very carefully--to the old established trees in this yard that I treasure, to the new trees that RH has planted and drug the water hose around the big yard to keep watered.

From the perennials that we have planted that give us beauty and the bees and butterflies their meals, to the herbs and various pepper plants that add a home-grown taste to our meals.

To the grass that needs mowing and the long hedge filled with blackberries that birds feast on.

All of it fills me with so much joy these July mornings that I can hardly bear it. 

And yet that joy comes laced with poignancy.

RH and I can't help but wonder how many more Julys we'll be given to enjoy. We just don't take them for granted anymore. Each time, like this past Sunday, that he has dizzy spells and just doesn't feel well makes us wonder if a trip to the ER will follow or if it's just that again he has not been drinking nearly enough water throughout the day. One ER trip revealed just that. 

Each summer when my annual skin cancer check is coming up I get nervous. After it being positive in 2003 and 2017, I just can't help having butterflies in my stomach. 

Last week we attended the life celebration service of a beautiful woman, beautiful inside and out. A woman who lived with joy and a loving spirit, a woman who should have had many decades left ahead of her. A woman who left such a hole in the lives of her husband, children, family and friends when cancer returned.

And so from the time I pull the curtains in the morning and open the kitchen door to let BreeBree and James Mason out while I look at the pond--it looks different every morning to someone who really observes it with care-- and then drink my first glass of water in front of our big kitchen sink window while looking at the paradise RH has created outside...

to the time when I climb into bed at night, my reading glasses and a good book at hand, I am so thankful for another July day, a day when there have been wonders all around me.

Even a day when there are butterflies in the pit of my stomach. Because those July days are God-given too.

I want them to dazzle.

[added later]

[7/20/18: At last a Monarch!]

[7/30/18: Zebra Swallowtail,
symbol of Tennessee,
feeds on pawpaw trees so what is it doing
on our butterfly bush?]

[8/5/18: what could this one be?
She's rather plain-jane.]

[9/28/18: Great Spangled Fritillary]

[7/15/19: Tawny Emperor, hackberry trees are their hosts and doesn't feed on flowers. Rather likes sweaty humans, among other less attractive foods.]

Monday, July 16, 2018

Summer Vacation Clothes

All of my vintage women's magazines show summer vacation clothes like this one from the 1950s.

Men and women dressed up to travel and to sightsee unless they were at the beach.

Hats, gloves, high heels, on the women anyway.

Down to nylon covered legs. Bet you anything there was a girdle under that dress too.

Not too much had changed by the early 1960s either. When RH and I could afford a few days away before we had children we headed for the Blue Ridge in my red MG.

I didn't travel in hose and high heels but there were certain things you wore in a small sports car then and a kerchief was a necessity.

RH's idea of chic was matching windbreakers for us.

My sentimental husband has held onto them all these years.

When we spent the night at the lodge at the Peaks of Otter on the Blue Ridge in Virginia, I naturally wore a dress to supper, nylons and heels included. 

When we left the cool Blue Ridge and traveled on to hotter than hades Williamsburg, I didn't wear high heels or nylons but I did wear a dress because a lady just didn't check into a hotel wearing pants. 

And the next day when we crammed touring all of Williamsburg into one long blistering hot day I wore a yellow linen sheath, a panty girdle, nylons and heels, a dressy purse on my arm.

I don't think we took any snapshots but when I googled 1963 yellow sheath I found this one that was nearly the same, mine having a scooped neck instead.

I wanted to see everything and as we walked around the whole town there was not a single woman that I remember not wearing a dress and nylons and high heels, church purse on their arm. 

We ate in Chowning's Tavern that night dressed the same and I remember the tavern as very warm so think it must not have been air conditioned at the time.

RH wasn't in a suit and tie that day but it wouldn't have occurred to him to wear blue jeans while touring Williamsburg so it was slacks and a sports shirt.

How times have changed but thank God that women today don't have to wear nylons or the panty hose that came after them. 

Or panty girdles. 

But I'm glad to see that women are now wearing pretty summer dresses again. Because that's one thing the 1950s had, really pretty dresses.

And personally, I miss seeing a man wearing a seersucker suit on a hot July day.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

"Last night came the rain..."

After days of hot baking sunshine.....

It was glorious to hear rain and thunder when I woke up...

It's even darker outside now, giving hope that the rain will keep falling, a good soaking rain but not a gully-washer.

A gift for the trees that RH has planted and a gift for him--no watering today.

 A gift for our eyes, a respite from the July sun.

A gift from above.

Last night came the rain, all night long. I awakened in the dark with the cool sweet breath of it upon my face. I lay there, still and happy, and listened to the rain come down.
                                                            David Grayson
                                                                                The Countryman's Year

Today I will rest and read and keep RH company while he watches France play Croatia in the World Cup. 

BreeBree is for France and James Mason is for Croatia but it's not looking very well for Croatia while I'm typing this. 

These strong young men have both played so hard to get to this game that the mother's heart in me wishes both teams could win. The girly-girl in me, even at my advanced age, has spotted more than a few hunks on the playing field. The former soccer mom in me knows that it's not just a game, it really hurts to lose.

May the best team win--fairly and honorably!