My Dad enjoyed his family, his work and coming home the end of the day to eat a buttered slice of rye bread with caraway seeds before dinner. This became a ritual for me too. Dad was the youngest in his family of five children and the smallest in his family. Yet he was known to have the biggest appetite. He also loved eating sweets his mom gave him after school. It made him smile to remember.
Dad was ambitious but agreed to leave a college pre-med program when he learned his father was ill. He was only 22, but he took a job in Des Moines, Iowa as a shoe store manager and was proud he could help out. When he wasn’t managing a store, he would travel around the Midwest opening up more shoe stores — 30 in all. He liked visiting different towns, especially eating BBQ in Kansas City, matzo ball soup in Chicago, and enchiladas in Denver.
New Orleans, the festival city of America, is about to launch its carnival season and to celebrate what the French call Fat Tuesday. This is the happy time in March when the community lets its hair down while celebrating the tradition of eating more butter and sugar and cream than should be allowed. Yet these are traditions we all enjoy — the festive consumption of food and drink before the ritual fasting of the Lenten season begins.
As a youth living in Colombia, near Bogota in a town called Fusagasuga, Mardi Gras became a carnival to remember — a time to enjoy the party, the parades and the wonderful festivities. We would travel to the Caribbean coast for the Mardi Gras season. Cartagena was alive. The music and dance were everywhere. You could feel it in the air.
As winter continues to chill us to the bone, some vegetables continue to thrive even in the face of zero degree temperatures. Many cooked greens have such a capacity including collard, mustard, kale, Swiss chard and broccoli rabe among others.
My garden was frostbitten one winter day yet the cooking greens were blooming. My favorite is Swiss chard. I love it so many different ways. That season we enjoyed it as juice, and as hot sautéed soup, then puréed with Parmesan cheese crackers. Adding a crushed sheet of Nori seaweed is also tasty. I like the chard fried as well, especially in combination with sautéed kale and spinach. Sometimes we would add a mushroom soy with garlic and scallions. This version is quick, simple and delicious. Gratins were also appreciated by friends and family, especially when Swiss chard was layered with Gruyere, Finlandia, mozzarella and homemade Tuscan bread crumbs.
Chocolate desserts seem to be the favorite of so many people. I guess I am just not running with the crowd these days because generally speaking, chocolate does not fill the bill for me. Fruit or pie do the job quite fine thank you plus a few special cake recipes such as coconut, lemon and almond desserts knock my socks off. Of course, the candy bars of my youth enhance my memory bank as well such as Pay Day, Butter Finger (yum), Snickers and Mounds.
Soup is always popular as a meal or accompanying a sandwich or dinner menu. I personally enjoy it during all seasons of the year although cold weather brings out some of my favorite soup recipes such as potato and leek soup; lentil with or without a pork bone; chicken noodle; New England clam chowder; tortilla soup; and squash soup —in particular pumpkin or butternut squash. Eaten by itself or combined with other vegetables or fruit, squash soup can be excellent with dairy as well, although sometimes I am a bit overwhelmed by the cream in my soup so I often add an ingredient that cuts the richness a bit while achieving another layer of flavor that is sublime. Tart-flavored apples, mangos or kiwis are delicious companions for squash or pumpkin soup.
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