Crazed Chef Craves Squash (really!)

Things have been a little hectic here in the Meadballs kitchen. Big news is that I am finally certified. This seemed liked the hugest hurdle back in the spring. But when the day finally came on Friday, Aug. 4, it really was just he beginning. Because of three things:

  • Most of my pots and pans didn’t work with induction. So I had to buy new ones.
  • I have to wash dishes now. (Dishwasher not in the budget).
  • The ventilation project wasn’t totally finished.

The last is probably the biggest issue because it is August. And while it has been pretty chill so far, it isn’t all that cool in my basement digs with three fridges, two freezers, two ovens, and three induction cooktops going. Sometimes all at once. So the electrician returned to install a big fan, some vents in the ductwork and a cooler for the wine room. As a result, my shiny new kitchen is a mess of dust, dirt, power saws, and electrical things. It is loud and dirty. So I haven’t been in the kitchen much since I picked up my lovely certificate.

But, never fear, it should all be done by tomorrow morning and I’ll be cooking away. If you have signed up for my newsletter – there is a sign-up on this website – you will find the specials for next week. They will also be posted on the Meadballs Meals facebook page. Order by e-mailing marnie@meadballs.com, messaging me on Facebook, or by texting 814.470.8688. Orders need to be received by Sunday at noon for Monday delivery.

In the meantime, I’ve been in my home kitchen working with what to do with a truckload of yellow squash. I love this bread with blueberries. Don’t skip the glaze, it makes the cake and helps keep it fresh.

Print Recipe
Lemonade Blueberry Squash Bread
Course breakfast, dessert
Cuisine American
Servings
loaves
Ingredients
Course breakfast, dessert
Cuisine American
Servings
loaves
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease 2 regular loaf pans.
  2. Whisk together flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda in a large bowl.
  3. In another large or medium bowl, combine melted butter and sugar. Add lemon juice, lemon zest, and vanilla. Whisk in eggs.
  4. Add wet ingredients to dry. Mix thoroughly.
  5. Add squash and stir just to blend. Toss blueberries with the remaining flour. Add to mixture.
  6. Pour into prepared pans and bake at 325 degrees for 45 to 55 minutes.
  7. Allow the pan to cool; remove the bread and place top down on a serving plate.
  8. In the meantime, make the glaze by combining all the ingredients and mixing until smooth. Pour over top of bread.
  9. Serve.
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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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Children, Divorce, and Christmas (cookies, too)

“Christmas really sucks for children of divorce,” my daughter pronounced while we were sitting on the couch together watching a Zak Efron movie (our compromise) after I made yet another batch of cookies, these with chocolate.

That wasn’t what I was expecting to hear. She’s 14. This is her fourth divorced Christmas. I thought we had worked out the kinks.

“Ah, how do you mean?”

My first reaction is to get all defensive. Mom’s in a better place, I say to myself. When Mom is happier, it’s better for those around Mom (except the divorced Dad, I guess). My grown-up brain is flashing back to the Christmas season six years ago when, on this day, Dec. 20, I went into the Cleveland Clinic because I was in liver failure. I didn’t know exactly what was wrong, other than my liver wasn’t recovering even after I stopped drinking a month earlier. The damage was more extensive than the Erie hospital, where I went in right before Thanksgiving, and returned two weeks later, had noted.

I had been self-medicating with alcohol to deal with anxiety/panic attacks that began when my daughter was around 2. I’d be suddenly overcome with nausea, and then the heaving would start. I could be driving. Or in the middle of a meeting. In the six months leading up to the diagnosis, I ate very little in an attempt to keep my stomach empty. I drank at home (like most women) to stay calm (my rationalization).

I tried therapy. But three different therapists said I had nothing to be anxious about. I had a job. A husband. Family. A daughter. A nice home. Friends. A member of a country club. What did I have to be anxious/depressed about?

As I write this now, I wonder if perhaps that was a question. At the time, I heard judgment. I heard, “Suck it up, sister. There are a lot of people with real problems out there.”

“And you aren’t one of them.”

No excuse on my part. I almost left a middle schooler without a mother.

Support of my family, some close friends, and some great women in AA, helped me navigate life post alcohol. And, not surprisingly, a lot of things became clearer. I was a different person than the woman who married 20 years earlier. I didn’t want to dull feelings, I wanted adventure. I wanted to hike in the mountains. I wanted to kayak – and eventually try rapids. Travel to Europe again. Go dancing. I wanted to live – in all CAPS.

I didn’t, and couldn’t, come home from a day of work, supporting our little family because my husband was unemployed, have a glass of wine and make dinner. I also needed to be a Mom. An active Mom. A Mom who shows her daughter what it is like to bounce back from the edge – it is possible – and go on to be happy. And happiness didn’t mean a house, two cars, two dogs, the country club, and dinner with wine. I had to find it on my own terms.

My daughter is right. Christmas sucks for divorced kids. That first Christmas was painful. The lawyer my ex hired wanted monthly support and a housing allowance that amounted to my entire salary. He was unemployed, and had been for quite a few years. He was in the house and deserved to be supported in the life he and my daughter were accustomed to. Arguing that we couldn’t afford the house – I had tried to convince my ex to sell when he first lost his job so we could afford to live on just my salary. He kept saying he would find a job and it would be OK. Four years and a tremendous amount of credit card debt (nearly all in my name) to balance the books, and I was panicked.

So that first Christmas as painful. I was living rent free thanks to my family in a summer cottage that had been winterized and had heat. I had enough for presents and a tree. But she wasn’t going to wake up in a house with Mom and Dad, and Santa. She would wake up in the house she had lived in her whole life, with no Mom and no tree. I woke up with a tree and no Nicole. The gym had become my anti-anxiety medication, but it was closed. That was when I started running.

I picked her up mid-morning and we had our own Christmas.  I convinced her Santa would find her new second home, even if it was temporary. But it was different. And kids don’t like different, especially where Santa is involved. This wasn’t the first different. Two years earlier, when I was at the Cleveland Clinic, she spent Christmas in Mexico with my parents, my sister, and her family. I wouldn’t be released in time to make it. A winter storm shut down the East Coast, preventing my brothers and their families from getting to Cancun.

So I was messing with her Christmas for the second time.

I think of how far we’ve come. I have my own place now. It’s a small condo – not a three-bedroom house on 2 acres overlooking Lake Erie like she grew up in. My credit is still destroyed, but that just means Christmas is paid for. I own a car, used and purchased with cash, of course. And we have a dog, not a pure-breed, but a loving shelter dog.

But she knows about the struggle to get here. She still watches me at the holiday table when alcohol is served. She worries about money. She thinks I am extravagant when it comes to Christmas – but she still has a list that includes 365 T-shirts (so she doesn’t have to worry about running out) and an equal number of phone cases.

I know this is OK. She has the optimism to still ask for the moon, but understand that she may not get there. She can see that you can go to a holiday event and not have a drink. I also think it is OK not to go to some holiday events because the main feature is alcohol, which is incredibly dull when you are the only person not imbibing. It’s OK to find other things to do, like go for a walk in the woods. Read a book. Or find a terrible Zak Efron movie on TV to watch with your daughter.

But, yes, Nicole, Christmas does suck when you are the child of divorce. Mainly because you learn a lot of lessons about Christmas at an earlier age than the other kids. You learn that it’s not a holiday about presents that magically appear, and people who get along. You learn that Christmas is about love. It’s about the love of a mother for her child. And sometimes the journey they take is a difficult one, sometimes celebrated with strangers in a house that isn’t our own.

I’m not all about the lessons – thank heavens. I do know my daughter adores chocolate. So after her pronunciation about divorce, I handed her a cookie. It doesn’t make everything better, but chocolate does help.

Merry, Merry

Marnie

Marnie@marniemeadmedia.com

 

Print Recipe
Children, Divorce, and Christmas (cookies, too)
Course dessert
Cuisine American
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Passive Time 1 hour
Servings
dozen
Ingredients
Course dessert
Cuisine American
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Passive Time 1 hour
Servings
dozen
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Cream butter, cream cheese and sugar using the paddle attachment of a stand mixer. Beat until light and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes or more. Add egg, and flavorings.
  2. In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt. Add slowly to butter mixture. Mix until a soft dough forms. Divide in half.
  3. Lay a sheet of parchment on a cookie sheet and place 1 ball of dough on it. Cover with plastic wrap and roll out to 1/4 to 1/8-inch thick. Repeat with second ball. Refrigerate 1 hour.
  4. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Cut out cookies. Remove scraps (to reroll in the same method). Bake for 8 to 12 minutes, or until edges just start to brown. This will depend on how thick the cookies are. Check after 8.
  5. Remove from oven. Allow to cool about 5 minutes before moving to a wire rack to cool completely before frosting.
  6. To dip in chocolate, heat chocolate chips and butter in a microwave-safe bowl for 30 seconds. Stir. If not melted, return to microwave for another 30 seconds. Stir until melted.
  7. Dip cookies in chocolate. Or, dip part in chocolate and use a silicone brush (like for basting meat) to spread chocolate where you want it. Return to the wire rack to harden. If using sprinkles, add before chocolate hardens.
Recipe Notes

Adapted from TheKitchn.com

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Is There a Santa in the House?

I miss Santa. He wielded so much power in December. All you had to do was utter his name and behavior would suddenly improve. A simple, “Santa’s watching” reduced complaints, hustled out the door, fed the dog, and generally meant peace on Earth.

Not that my daughter is a hellion. She is a smart, funny, well-behaved … teenager. And, for now, she talks to me. And sometimes she listens. She’s got this tell, though, when she stops. You know, when she’s there physically, but mentally all she hears is “blah, blah, blah.” So then I say something outrageous, like condom, and suddenly she is present again. “Marn,” she will moan.

I’m not fond of the “Marn” thing to my face. I still don’t call my mother by her name to her face. I do sometimes call her “Didi,” which is the approved name for the grandkids to call her. But I remember when I was her age and we started calling all the moms by their names among ourselves. I’m a child of the 60s, so we generally didn’t call them by their first names to their faces.

Teens push boundaries. There are kids in her class who are having sex, smoking weed, harming themselves, bullying others, and generally acting like teens act. There’s a reason why – anthropologically speaking. At this age they push away because, throughout history, this is the age when they struck out on their own. Some sources insist they push away because they know they will be pushed out. There are days when I think they were shoved because of their behavior.

In any case, we know a lot more about teen brains now. And, in this country at least, we don’t marry our 14-year-olds off anymore. We understand their brains – and behavior – aren’t fully developed until their 20s. Mark Twain may not have known the science behind it, but I’ve always loved this quote:

“When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years.”

All of this brings me back to Santa and why I miss him. He is a gift to parents for about 1 month. Some parents may haul Santa out in July, but I always reserved him for the month between Thanksgiving and Christmas. You could abdicate all discipline to Santa. I didn’t have to threaten. I just has to say, “Santa.” Immediately, whatever behavior was aggravating at the time disappeared. It really was a gift.

Sure, there was some work around it. Hiding presents. Making sure there was different wrapping paper for Santa presents. Altering handwriting. Dodging the “Is Santa real” question as she got a little older. “I don’t know, honey, what do you think?” worked for a while.

Now I have to parent 365 days out of the year. Like I said, she’s a really good kid. She knows where the presents are hidden and she doesn’t look. She wants the joy of opening on Christmas morning. Indeed, the real reason she held on to Santa for as long as she did was a fear that the present pile would be diminished if Santa wasn’t carrying the financial burden anymore. (I love the logic of kids.)

But this morning, when it was 11 degrees outside, and she had no hat, no mittens, no boots, and just a fleece jacket … despite nagging all week about it … I really just wanted to say “Santa” and have her magically put on a hat, mittens, and her down coat.

Santa can’t do that anymore. And I can’t stuff her into a snowsuit (although I wasn’t particularly adept at that past age 3 anyway). So Santa must be content with filling her stocking with more hats and gloves, and hope that brain of hers – so smart in so many ways – will register that Santa really is watching out.

Enjoy the holiday season

XOXOXO

marnie

Marnie@marniemeadmedia.com

Print Recipe
Rollout Sugar Cookies
Course dessert
Cuisine American
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 9 minutes
Passive Time 2 hours or overnight
Servings
dozen
Ingredients
Course dessert
Cuisine American
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 9 minutes
Passive Time 2 hours or overnight
Servings
dozen
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. To make the dough: Beat the butter and sugar until light, fluffy, and pale yellow. Add the eggs and yolks one at a time, beating well after each addition.
  2. With the mixer on low, slowly add the vanilla and almond extracts, and mix until combined.
  3. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, salt, and baking powder. Slowly add dry ingredients and mix until just combined.
  4. Divide dough in half. Place each half on a large piece of plastic wrap. Pull wrap around each half and gently shape into a flat disc. Chill overnight.
  5. Heat oven to 325 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment.
  6. To shape and bake: Working with one piece of dough at a time, roll approximately 1/4" to 1/2" thick on a flour and sugar dusted surface. Cut out cookies. Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. You can reroll scraps once or twice to use up the cookie dough.
  7. Bake the cookies for approximately 8 to 10 minutes, until they just barely start to turn golden on the edges. Remove from the oven and cool completely before decorating.
  8. To make the icing: In a large bowl, add powdered sugar, egg whites, salt, and lemon juice. Beat with an electric mixer or stand mixer with paddle attachment on medium until it is white and thick. This is what you will use to pipe around the edges of the cookies using a pastry bag and plain tip. Once you have finished piping around the edges of the cookies, let it dry for about an hour. In the meantime, you can tint and thin out the icing using either another egg white or water to flood between the piped edges. You want the consistency to be that of maple syrup. I use a paste color to tint the icing, if you are using liquid tint, don't finish thinning out the icing until you have achieved the color you want. Once you finish flooding the cookies with icing, allow to dry for 24 hours before adding any other tint - like for eyes or mouths (or else it bleeds into the white icing).
Recipe Notes
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