When a Life is Like a Honeydew

OK – this blog is going to sound a little self-helpy. But everyone can use a dash of it now and again – and I promise it pertains to food, too. So bear with me.

The basic premise is this – sometimes we let perceptions dictate our lives. And as a result we can lose out on things.

I’ve ended more than one relationship when I realize – often a little later than would be good for me – that I was allowing myself to be molded by significant others into an idealized perception. Typically, this shows up when I mention something that crosses my partner’s comfort threshold. It could be musing about a day hike of the Appalachian Trail, whitewater rafting, or trying a new restaurant that’s a 45 minute drive.

Friends who get me will answer, “What makes you want to do that?”

It’s over when I hear: “You wouldn’t like/do that.”

What’s the difference? One is curious response about what makes me tick. The other has put me in a box with a label.

And I do not like labels, unless they include words like kind, adventurous …

As a woman who has been on a self-reflective journey for the past dozen years – more than half of them sober – I know to pause and wonder why someone is starting a statement that starts with “You.”  For one, it puts people on the defensive, immediately.

There’s a whole psychology behind You Statements vs I Statements. The crux is don’t push your own feelings off on someone else. Own them. It’s one thing to say, “I” wouldn’t like to spend a day hiking – OK, I can empathize with that. But please don’t tell me I don’t want to. Because I do. And I spent 20 years in a relationship where someone kept telling me what I did and didn’t like – to the point where I believed it. And that didn’t work out so well for me.

My parents, who have witnessed me hauling my sorry butt up from the depths of various misadventures, might have the authority to invoke a You Statement now and again. But they’ve also witnessed me hauling that same sorry tail through recovery and up a few mountains, across a few oceans, and wading through single parenting (one of the biggest adventures in life). So they like to start with, “I would like it if you would consider …” before I go ziplining off the Eiffel Tower (which I did not do because this would not be a good example for my 14-year-old).

My parents have also been along for quite a few of my culinary calamities, including the all-garlic dinner that left us reeking for days. Literally, we were emitting garlic from our every pore for three days.

They’ve also watched my journey into to my 50s, and how it has been about managing perceptions and taking control of what I can. My parents want happy, healthy children (4) and grandchildren (8).  All of us have different criteria for happy and healthy. Mine comes with a big dog, long walks, travel, gardening, and experimenting in the kitchen. It may not come with a husband, a job with benefits and regular hours, or a size 4 wardrobe.

So what does this have to do with food? Letting perceptions limit your experiences has a lot to do with just about everything in life, including melons.

The honeydew has been among my least favorite melons. It’s green. It’s often just a filler in fruit salad – frequently the least flavorful of the ingredients.  When I was growing up, it was diet food, filled with cottage cheese. In short, it was not on my Wegmans list.

Then I discovered a recipe for a cucumber and honeydew salad on Pinterest. Cubed honeydew is tossed with peeled, seeded, cubed cucumber and sliced red onion, mint, basil, and dill. It is dressed with lemon juice, olive oil, and (optional) honey and/or mustard. Suddenly this melon has moved from breakfast filler to salad star. It’s great with just about any summer dish, but pairs well with any grilled meat. It holds up well in the fridge, making it super for a refreshing summer snack or quick lunch.

I’m in love with honeydew now. All because my perception changed.

The honeydew went from second-rate breakfast dish to a summer staple for salads. All because I could look at it differently – and be flexible. Sometimes it is super sweet – in that case I just squeeze some lemon juice on top and mix in some mint and basil. Sometimes I put in a grind of pepper and a pinch of salt. If it is more on the bland side, then it gets the onion and dill. Then dressing goes into a bowl – lemon, mustard, honey, salt, pepper – and whisked. Then it is tossed with the melon and cucumber, and finally finished with some extra-virgin olive oil.

The secret to picking the right melon?  That’s a tough one. It’s not unlike dating – you can’t always tell from the outside. Labels don’t help either. I’ve had organic duds too. Thumping is useless. You just have to hold one, look for any soft spots, and take a whiff at the end where the stem was attached. If it smells sweet, then you have a winner.

If this worked for dating, I’d be giving seminars by now. Although an occasional thunk to see if a head is soft might not be a bad idea …

Melons are good for any just about any diet out there – paleo, Whole 30, WW, etc. Can’t say the same about boyfriends.

Enjoy

XOXOXO

marnie

marnie@meadballs.com

Print Recipe
Herbed Honeydew Cucumber Salad
Course lunch, Salad, side dish
Cuisine American
Servings
Ingredients
Course lunch, Salad, side dish
Cuisine American
Servings
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Whisk together dressing ingredients until blended. If honeydew is sweet, don't use mustard.
  2. Set aside.
  3. Cut melon in half; remove seeds. Then cut into quarters. Slide a knife between the sweet fruit and the rind. Remove rind. Cut fruit into chunks, Add to bowl. Cut peeled and seeded cucumber into chunks and add to bowl. If you are preparing this ahead of time, add mint and cover and chill.
  4. Before serving, add onion, remaining herbs, and dressing. Toss to mix and serve.
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Meadballs to Open in August

Sometimes you just have to take that step, even if it feels like you are walking off a cliff. You just have to trust you have put something there to support you.

Anyone starting a small business, buying a home, starting a new job knows the feeling. It’s a step  faith into the financial unknown.

That’s the way it is with Meadballs (nickname for the four Mead kids, my blog, and now my business). After months of trying to find a kitchen to rent – I’m going to renovate to create my own space. The past month has been a bit of a whirlwind on that front. I’ve been working with the fabulous kitchen designer Keegan Leehan at South One, who is coordinating with in A. Caplan Co. in Waterford on the equipment.

So what is Meadballs? I will cook seasonal dinners and deliver them. They will be fresh, not frozen, and ready to reheat or serve cold (or you can freeze). Meadballs is a subscription service for three meals a week, for either 2 or 4 people; but I’m open to what the market wants. Discounts will be for those who sign up for multiple weeks (such as 6 or 12), but you can opt out of consecutive weeks if you expect to be busy or on vacation. You’ll still get 6 or 12 weeks, just not in a row.

The driving ingredients will be what’s fresh on the farm that week. If you are familiar with a CSA (boxes of fresh vegetables delivered each week from local farms), then you will grasp the concept. I take those vegetables and turn them into dinners. No deciding, chopping, or cooking for you.

You’ll find my seasoning influences come from many cultures I have visited – Italy, France, Greece, Spain, and Mexico. Plus those I haven’t, yet, such as India and Asia.

As I get closer, I’ll post some sample menus.

Until then, there’s a lot of work to do.

By the end of last week,  Erie County Department of Health and my wonderful inspector is Lisa Susann, who is making sure everything is in compliance, gave initial approval for the site work. Zoning laws in Fairview permit for no-impact home businesses in residential areas (meaning no customers coming and going from the kitchen). And on Friday, we met with Tom Kovach from Longo Plumbing and Joe Dobrich from Dobrich Electric to go over the plumbing and electrical needs. These will be among the two largest expenses because of the number of sinks and the power supply needed to run a commercial-grade kitchen.

I’ve covered business as a journalist for long enough to learn 3 rules that I am standing by:

  1.  Start small. Do what you can afford to do. That means used equipment where I can get it and repurposing what is permitted.

2. Rely on people you have done business with – or friends have done business with. When your business hinges on a Health Department inspection – you want  everything done right (and everyone shows up on time).

3. If you don’t have a back-up plan, then you don’t have a plan. This is advice from my father, and I’ve always carried it with me. Whether I was planning for newspaper articles, magazine start-ups, or the redesign of an entire newsroom. Plan – and then have a back-up plan. Sometimes I would be on Plan D before things worked out.

There are all kinds of other fun things I’ve been learning along the way – such as filing with the state to register as both an LLC and for my sales tax license. The rules regarding licensing and selling of food (thankfully I took an excellent class in October offered by the Health Department).

I have wonderful suppliers – the Post Farm in North East and Parable Farm in New York state. I will be picking up my first load this week to start testing recipes, which is the actual fun part.

Marketing, etc., is on the list of things to do – but I need a firm start date. The opening goal is the first week in August. When I know more, you’ll see more posts by me, as well as some sponsored postings on social media.

I’ll keep you posted. Let me know your thoughts, too.

In the meantime, I’ve been picking berries. Lots of berries. Here’s a crisp/crunch I just love (especially for breakfast with yogurt).

XOXOXO

marnie

marnie@meadballs.com

Print Recipe
Fresh Strawberry Crumble
This is a fresh tasting-strawberry crumble. It is best eating within 2 days, otherwise the crumble gets soft. I love the combination of strawberries and ginger, but you can omit it if that's not your thing. You can also swap out some of the strawberries for blueberries or peaches when they come into season.
Course dessert
Cuisine American
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 45 minutes
Servings
people
Ingredients
Course dessert
Cuisine American
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 45 minutes
Servings
people
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Heat oven to 375 degrees
  2. In a large bowl, combine white sugar, 2 tablespoons flour, and strawberries.
  3. Place strawberry mixture in a greased 9x13 baking dish.
  4. Combine the rest of the ingredients until crumbly. Scatter over strawberry mixture. Bake for 45 minutes. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.
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Breakfast in Paris

J’adore Paris. It’s as simple as that. After my first trip, 27 years ago, not so much. But we’ve both mellowed a bit, Paris and I. She is more accepting of visitors, especially if you make an attempt at being polite in her language – bon jour madame or monsieur goes a long way. As does s’il vous plait, or please. I am more tolerant of her idiosyncratic bureaucracy – things open and close according to forces that are not in my control; if someone can’t help you, wait 10 minutes or 24 hours, and, often, they can or will. I don’t know why. C’est la vie.

Terrorism has changed a lot of life. There are now threat alerts posted at major locations. There are armed – as in machine gun armed, military personnel in the subway checking ID and at attractions patrolling. The Eiffel Tower base is now barricaded do prevent explosive vans from blowing the whole thing, along with the people visiting, up.

But a lot hasn’t changed. Parisians get up. Get on the subway. Stop at cafés. And have croissants – some much better than others. But nearly all better than what we can buy here.  Our guide noted, however, that doctors recommend eating no more than 3 per week.

We weren’t there to listen to doctors. We were there to eat and drink in all things Paris – from the croissants, to the metro, to the churches, to the museums, to the shops, restaurants, cafés, and, to even have a picnic dinner in the park watching the Eiffel Tower put on its nightly light show while men with green plastic bags hawked Champagne, wine, and beer to fellow visitors. It was heavenly. Where else could you buy a salted caramel and chocolate Pot de Crème in a supermarket.

This visit, in addition to buying the Seine River cruise and the Catacombs tickets (if you buy in advance the line is only about 30 minutes instead of the normal 90 minutes to 2 hours or more), I booked a 3-hour croissant class at La Cuisine Paris. The cooking school, which offers classes in English and was highly recommended in a New York Times review of cooking classes.

It certainly lived up to its reputation. La Cuisine Paris offers many classes, including a market shopping class that includes making lunch or dinner, macaroons, baguette, etc. But, for my daughter and I, learning to make the basic French pastry was the ultimate experience.

Our teacher, Guillaume, was from Marseilles and trained in Lyon – the epicenter of French cooking. His English was perfect, as was his ability to teach to all levels in our class, which included a Canadian student who had spent the year in Paris and whose mother told him to come home having learned how to cook something. There were several amateur pastry makers – American and Canadian, two novices (including my daughter, 14), and a Paris dweller.

We learned the three keys to the perfect pastry – butter (must be at least 82 percent butterfat which is typically found in European butters but not American, which requires 80 percent), technique, and time.

About the butter – this is really crucial. Guillaume recommended we buy President in the United States. Or basically any French butter. I didn’t really understand until I read Dorie Greenspan’s article on the difference in how the French make their butter.  Here is an article on the various types of butter you can usually find in American grocery stores and how they stack up. They aren’t cheap – you are going to pay about 150 percent more for half the butter. If you are going to make pastry, this is not the time to go cheap. I’ve done it. You will regret it. Because you will have about 24 hours invested in the process of rising, rolling, laminating, baking, etc. If you are going to do all of this, don’t try to save $2.

This goes back to the basics of cooking. When you have one star ingredient – in this case butter – make sure it shines.

I’m giving it a shot here in my U.S. kitchen. I bought butter yesterday – and I’m being daring using a U.S. butter cultured in the European fashion (the ratings are recommended, but not as high as Plugra, which is the best and I couldn’t find). The dough is rising as I write.

Right now, though, the best ingredient you can find in our area is strawberries. I went out on Sunday – complete with jet lag and 84 degrees – and picked 8 quarts. I will be back this afternoon because all of those berries are turning into fancy little shortcake cakes. Not the biscuit kind, but the ones made with a sponge cake, a lemon simple syrup, lots of whipped cream, and berries. Lots and lots of berries.

I hope you enjoy them as much as I did. And I’ll keep you posted on the croissants.

XOXOXO

marnie

marnie@meadballs.com

Print Recipe
Strawberry Shortcake Cake
Course breakfast, dessert
Cuisine American, French
Servings
slices
Ingredients
Course breakfast, dessert
Cuisine American, French
Servings
slices
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9-inch round cake pan with butter or cooking spray. Line with parchment and grease parchment. Or use mini paper cake pans that you have coated in cooking spray.
  2. Cut off tops of strawberries and thinly slice half of them, leaving remaining berries whole. Mix sliced strawberries with superfine sugar and half the lemon zest and 2 teaspoons of lemon juice. Set aside.
  3. In a small bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip eggs and egg white on high speed until frothy, about 30 seconds. Gradually pour in 1 1/4 cups sugar. Whip on high speed until mixture is a pale yellow and thick, 1 to 3 minutes.
  4. Fold flour mixture into egg mixture. Fold in milk, vanilla and butter until completely combined. (I melt the butter in the milk when warming in the microwave for 30 to 45 seconds).
  5. Gently pour batter into prepared pan and bake until golden brown, 30 to 35 minutes. Let cool 10 minutes in pan. Invert cake onto a cooling rack and peel off baking paper. Let cool completely. If you are using mini cake pans, bake for 15 minutes, then check, and turn to evenly distribute heat. Check again after 5 minutes.
  6. To make syrup: In a small saucepan, whisk together 1/2 cup) sugar, 3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon water, 2 teaspoons lemon juice, and optional pepper. Simmer on medium heat until sugar is dissolved and mixture has reduced by half, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in remaining lemon zest.
  7. Whip heavy cream and vanilla until soft peaks form.
  8. Using a serrated knife, horizontally slice cake in half. Generously brush each cut side with lemon syrup. Place the bottom half, cut side up, on a cake plate. Spoon sliced strawberries and any juices over it. Spread half the whipped cream over strawberries. Place the other cake half on top. Spread remaining whipped cream on top. Garnish with whole strawberries and drizzle with more lemon syrup for serving.
Recipe Notes

Adapted from Cooking at New York Times. Recipe by Melissa Clark with some modifications by Marnie Mead.

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Celebrate Each Birthday

My birthday is a time for personal reflection. Some people use the calendar year, but mine restarts every May 27. In the week leading up to the big day, I check in on how I have used my last 365 days on the planet.

Were they a wise use of this gift of time? Because it is a gift. Every day. Every morning that the birds are singing. Every morning when the sun shines (or at least tries to). And every evening when I tuck myself into bed. Each day I ask if I was good to my daughter. To the planet. To myself. To my family. Did I accomplish anything? Or at least do no harm?

I don’t plant to go through life just skimming along, however. It’s not enough just to know I tried to keep my carbon footprint low, my optimism contagious, and my contributions on the plus side of the abacus. On birthdays, I want  to measure whether I have hit goals that are important to me.

I wasn’t always like this. For awhile there (like maybe 20 years), I told myself I was content to get up each morning, have a coffee or Diet Coke, go to work, go home, make dinner, go to bed. Repeat. Throw in a Sunday dinner with family. An occasional evening out with friends. But really, at the end of the year, I measured my worth by my job title, and accompanying raise or bonus.

Then the raises and bonuses stopped, not because of my work, but because of the industry. And I was mad. Mad at the industry, bosses, etc. A complete and total waste of emotional investment. Yet I did it anyway.

I would like to report that I read a book, or attended a lecture, or saw a counselor who gave me an a-ha moment. But life doesn’t work like that. There are clues dropped along the way to a better path. You can either pick them up or ignore them.

Finally, I started picking them up.  I started really listening to friends – not just preparing a monologue of a reply in my head. I was present. I dug out books recommended by a career counselor, but ignored. I found poignant passages. Then I bought more books. Did more Internet searches. Listened more.

And, eventually, I climbed three mountains with my sister. Those mountains in Colorado were the start of setting goals – and reaching for them. I didn’t master the 14,400-foot one, but I did enjoy a day climbing to nearly 13,000 feet. The old me would have insisted on the Fourteen-er, no matter how miserable I would have been (and the guide assured me I would have been). Instead, when he recommended a compromise that would have meant enjoying the scenery, I accepted that challenge instead.

Since then, I’ve traveled to France, Greece, Italy, and England. I started riding a bike again. I adopted a wonderful dog from the A.N.N.A. Shelter. And my relationship with my daughter, and my family, is a blessing with challenges that I embrace.

I’m single – and that’s a good thing. I am now old enough to know what I want out of life, and I’m going after it. My friend Claudette jokes that men just need to meet me to realize that clingy, needy female I am not. I tried that shoe on, and it just didn’t fit. Another friend said she loves her 50s because now she can say what she has been thinking all along. The fabulous 50s.

I’m loving them.

So what’s a birthday girl do for her dinner when she doesn’t have a “date?”

She makes dinner for her daughter – which we eat in our PJs – and then make plans to go to Creamland for ice cream.

Damn right 50s are fabulous.

XOXOXO

Marnie

Marnie@meadballs.com

Print Recipe
Crab Topped Flounder
Course dinner
Cuisine American
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 25 minutes
Servings
people
Course dinner
Cuisine American
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 25 minutes
Servings
people
Instructions
  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. In a saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Add onion and red pepper. Saute until soft, about 5 minutes. Set aside to cool.
  3. In a medium bowl, mix together mayonnaise, mustard, egg yolk, seafood seasoning, Worcestershire, lemon juice, a dash or so of hot sauce (optional). Stir. Add in onion and pepper mix. Taste and add salt and pepper if desired.
  4. Fold crabmeat (picked over for any shell, and rinsed if you are using canned) into mayo mixture. Gently. You want lumps of crab.
  5. On a rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment, place the flounder fillets. Top with equal portions (4 in this case) of crab meat, to cover entire length of fish.
  6. Dot with butter, if using. Sprinkle additional seafood seasoning. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes.
  7. Serve with lemon wedges.
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