Salad Days

The term one’s “‘salad days'” refers to when one is young and inexperienced.  I used to love cooking for my parents once I got in college.  I was never more than footsteps from them.  First, I went to an excellent community college and then I went to SMU which is still in the city.  My mother seriously used to make every meal from scratch until the day I was graduated from high school.  I can still see our tiny, windowless apartment kitchen where I spent the majority of my childhood.  She always had a cloth calendar hanging on the wall and an apron around her waist.  She made the best meatloaf and stuffed bell peppers in the entire world.  I STILL cannot believe I got upset because the other kids got the cool, new “TV dinners” while my mother was making every meal by hand.  We did not even own a microwave until I was graduated from high school and I will never forget the fateful night I asked her what was for dinner.  “Whatever goes ‘beep beep beep'” was her reply.  How COULD she?!  Well, I was seventeen and she had been making dinners at least five days a week for Daddy and me for all those years.  The adult mother in me not only does not blame her; she marvels at her.  The youth in me was hurt and outraged.  It was then that I began cooking for them.  My father taught me his grilling techniques and I found I loved having them over for dinner.  When I got married I felt like I was starting all over.  My cooking was being compared/contrasted with someone else’s, including staff that worked for my husband’s parents.  Then we were fortunate enough to have a child and it added her opinion into the mix.  Something as simple as a SALAD became a big deal.  Somebody didn’t like this; somebody was “freaked out” by the texture of that.  FINALLY I settled our family of three upon Romaine lettuce, shredded carrots, heirloom tomatoes, and a celebrity’s olive oil and vinegar dressing.  Everything is organic and all of the profits of the salad dressing go toward charity.  Heaven help I am TRYING to add more ingredients!  The Ethiopian-born Swedish-raised chef Marcus Samuelsson said:

“Salad can get a bad rap.  People think of bland and watery iceberg lettuce, but in fact, salads are an art form, from the simplest rendition to a colorful kitchen-sink approach.”

I agree.  I would like to add SO many more ingredients!  Avocado, onion, Mandarin oranges, pecans, chickpeas, spinach, black olives, sunflower seeds, jalapeños, and so much more.  For now I guess I shall content myself with the simple salad days.

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Missing Paris

We had been back from Paris for less than a month and I was already “homesick.”  I found my longing manifested itself in our little dinner of haricots verts, purée de pommes de terre et vin rouge.  I adore green beans, and I have always loved that the French refer to potatoes as “the apples of the earth.”  The red wine was, of course for me.  I missed the small street cafés, I missed the lack of television screens blaring everywhere, I missed the quiet hum of conversation versus the incessant “ong-chicka, ong-chicka, ong” of that blasted techno “music.”  And yes I missed seeing ash trays.  They bring my childhood back to me and I can so remember the days of walking into a restaurant where my parents were always asked, “Smoking or non?”  The French were not hunched over, buried in their iPhones.  As much as I nearly worship mine, I ALWAYS put it away during dinner or socializing.  Even I could spot the Americans a mile away.  I missed my demi bottles and carafes of wine and the small water glasses.  I did purchase a big blue carafe from Montréal years ago that I have used to hold our chilled, filtered water for the table.  With startling clarity I realized that the plates and glassware in Paris were sized exactly as they were in the states in the ’70’s.  Dear God that’s why people have struggled with their weight; they’re giving you at LEAST twice too much here.  And I NEVER went away hungry in France.  Food is not only a necessity; it is a culturally important experience as well.  When you partake of someone else’s food, you are observing their customs.  I found myself missing “hot chocolate” in the heat of summer as well as having it for breakfast.  Pour-quoi pas?!  The American author David Augsburger said:

“Theologically, the creation of chocolate demonstrates both the unity and the diversity of humanity.  Wherever you taste it, in every country of the world, it is immediately recognizable.  Other things, in every cuisine, are just food, but chocolate is chocolate.”

I would have to agree.  I would know French chocolate from anything else, and I do not consider myself to have a sophisticated palate.  I knew I was missing Paris.

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Kindness Begins From Within

This gluten-free pasta tastes JUST like spaghetti!  One cannot even tell the difference, particularly once you add garlic and olive oil as I did here.  The family went wild!  It is made from a combination of quinoa and corn.  Our little girl being gluten intolerant has been a blessing in disguise for our whole family.  We are eating healthier and not missing out on anything but calories really.  Thankfully there are many gluten-free options now in grocery stores as well as restaurants.  We are very fortunate in that we still can enjoy pizza, pasta, rolls, muffins, cake, and more now that so many things are being made gluten-free.  Best of all, they do not taste like cardboard.  Now she can have a “normal” looking sandwich at school and not be made to feel different.  I have also discovered that people who are truly considerate make sure that children with allergies do not feel left out at birthdays.  My little one went to a birthday party several months ago where they had literally two giant towers of pizza — 25 cheese and 25 pepperoni — and not one of them was gluten free.  I was next to her as she stood staring up at all those pizza boxes with tears streaming silently down her little face.  Of course there were no gluten-free cupcakes either.  The irony is that pizza chain made gluten-free pizza!  How hard would it have been to order just one gluten-free?  Since then I have learned to bring her own snacks in case nothing is offered.  But it is so much nicer when she feels the same as all the other kids.  The South Sudanese-British model and designer Alek Wek said, “True beauty is born though our actions and aspirations and in the kindness we offer to others.”  I am thankful for the moms who have been considerate enough to show my daughter kindness.  I hope I am leading by example; I always want her to see that kindness begins from within.

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What Binds Us

As I have written before, our little one is gluten intolerant, which means her small intestines cannot properly digest things containing gluten.  Gluten is a general name for the proteins found in wheat, rye, and barley.  It is used in the states at least as both a filler and a binder.  The hubs balked initially at having a gluten free kitchen but I think, after over a year, he is finally coming to see its merits.  First, if pet food companies are advertising they do not use gluten as a filler and that is for cats and dogs … one would think their human counterparts might start to question their own food as well.  The trouble is, the public has not been told.  A popular fast food restaurant chain uses gluten to puff up their meat.  So one believes they are eating beef when in fact they are consuming various fillers and binders with it.  Being a vegetarian, I am not touting the slaughter of animals.  In fact I think it is yet another reason why we should not be eating meat.  The U.S. is allowing a lot of “Frankenfood” these days, full of heaven only knows what, including pesticides and chemicals similar to that of paint and agent orange.  I applaud Mexico’s farmers for fighting against GMOs in their corn.  I believe India is now refusing genetically modified food, God bless them.  The French have resisted as well I believe.  Anyway, I confess I have not cooked very much in terms of pasta or baked goods (foods that generally rely on wheat) because frankly I have not had the time to devote to making apt substitutions such as flax seed, almond paste, etc.  But now grocery stores have created gluten free aisles (another warning sign people seem to be blithely ignoring) and it is making my culinary life MUCH easier.  We have found a delicious macaroni and cheese made with chickpeas and the best frozen pizza around has a cauliflower crust!  My beloved has not turned his nose up and my little one has been devouring the things she has been missing.  I snapped this silly picture as my two little wolfies were playing and waiting near the kitchen for dinner to be served.  OK so one is huge but the one with the bloomers on her head is still pretty little.  An Emperor of Ancient Rome, Marcus Aurelius, once said:

“Accept the things to which fate binds you, and love the people with whom fate brings you together, but do so with all your heart.”

Cooking and sharing meals are timeless and without borders; they are what binds us.

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Snow in Summer

When I was a little girl I used to visit my Choctaw Grandmother who lived in Oak Cliff, which is a part of the city of Dallas.  It was unbearably hot in the summer, particularly in my father’s old station wagon, which had no air.  We would leave the “white” part of town and enter into a large section of southern Dallas which was first black, then Mexican, then American Indian, then lastly whatever the most recent groups of immigrants were at the time.  I found it a fascinating study in socioeconomics, race, culture, and class division.  My greatest joy was lining up on foot to this tiny shack that had the BEST snow cones!  I used to think I was so cool ordering a “Tiger’s Blood” (really strawberry and coconut) and now I have a been a vegetarian so long I cannot even manage that.  The place was famous and the wait was long … interminably so with the Texas summer sun beating down.  Oh but the reward was sweet!  My daddy told me he’d been coming there since he was a kid.  Now I live in a part of town where there is a small snow cone stand, very similar to the one I knew in my childhood.  Only now I can drive up and I get what you see here — cherry and bubble gum.  My little one thinks she’s so cool, just as I once did, getting Tiger’s Blood.  And so the circle continues, of Texas heat and sweet snow in summer.  The British photographer and environmentalist Andy Goldsworthy said:

“Occasionally I have come across a last patch of snow on top of a mountain in late May or June.  There’s something very powerful about finding snow in summer.”

Dallas may not have mountains, but there is definitely something very sweet and magical about finding snow in summer.

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Let Them Go

Now this is how I like to be served lemons!  Whenever we go out, I always ask for water with extra lemons.  I don’t know, it seems to “kill” the taste of the water somehow.  I do not care for the taste of tap water in the U.S. and what’s even freakier is bathing in water in between cities when it actually feels vastly different.  I have just realized I never use lemons in my water in France.  Their tap water tastes delicious.  Dallas’ city water can vary greatly, which, quite frankly, I find disturbing.  They say having lemons is good for you anyway in that it keeps your body (ironically) less acidic and more alkaline.  I wonder how the term “lemon” came to have a negative connotation.  For instance, buying a “lemon” means you have just acquired a bad car.  “Lemons to lemonade” is the term used to express that lemons are somehow negative and that lemonade is somehow positive.  According to my research, the origin of the lemon is unknown, although they are first thought to have grown in northeast Asia, northern Burma, or China.  Lemons entered Europe near southern Italy no later than the second century AD, during the time of Ancient Rome.  They are a rich source of vitamin C, as well as containing numerous phytochemicals such as polyphenols, terpenes, and tannins.  For the record, I only knew what two of those three meant; I had to look up the middle one.  India’s highest-selling female writer of 2015 Tina Khanna said:

“I start my day with a hot water and lemon routine.  I meditate.  And I take my problems lightly, like my mother always said:  treat them like helium balloons and let them go.  I devour a lot of books to feed my mind.”

What lovely imagery.  We all experience adversity in our lives.  But if possible we should try to take our problems lightly, like helium balloons, and let them go.

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Out By The Grill

I know many people are serious about their grills.  I’ve seen the monster stainless gas ones that are very expensive.  One of the things I have always loved about my husband is that he is not a snob.  I am particular about grills in my own way; I prefer charcoal.  My father taught me how to make the most delicious potatoes by burying them in the hot coals.  He said it was even better when they were in the ground.  So many Native ways seem to be becoming forgotten.  What he knew I want to pass on.  He taught me to ALWAYS grill corn in their own husks and I can still see his huge, red hands cutting the kernels off with a knife.  It was perfection.  Truly, no salt or butter was needed.  Since we have gotten our fence the workers inadvertently moved our grill to a much better spot.  This led to me wanting to fire it up and enjoy its new location.  I am always amazed by how just the placement of something can be so important.  It can either free up space, become more functional, or simply look better in its new place.  I would like to think our little grill qualifies for all three.  The American chef Bobby Flay said, “It is very important that when you put something on the grill, you leave it in place to cook.  If you move it around too quickly, chances are it is going to stick.”  My father taught me so much.  He taught me about patience and the value of waiting.  He taught me to trust my instincts.  He taught me to respect fire, not waste, and to savor the smell of being out by the grill.

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Barred

There is a place in our neighborhood which cannot be found anywhere else in the city of Dallas.  It is an unusual hang out where kids can play in a giant sandlot that is completely enclosed and even dogs have their own spot away from screaming little humans.  For those who prefer neither children nor dogs, they have the “civilized” section right in the middle as well as the option of dining/drinking either indoors or out.  With the exception of the dog days of summer (no pun intended) it is absolute heaven.  Their food, in my opinion, far surpasses typical “bar fare” and their huevos rancheros give New Mexico a run for their money.  What I love most is there is a true place for everyone where all are able to go and relax.  If you don’t want to eat next to Fido, don’t.  If you don’t want to hear kiddos shrieking in the sand, don’t.  Recently a local Facebook page published something I found hilarious.  It was an actual picture of a woman who had her toddler on a leash but her dog was not.  There is, sadly, another restaurant in the area where children have been allowed to run amok.  And I mean out of control to the point where a multi-tiered fountain had to be made into a planter.  I’m telling you my father would have taken me out and beaten me for even thinking about some of the things these kids have been allowed to get away with.  I am an older mother, so prior to having a baby I think people assumed I was just a crazy animal lover and/or child hater.  I AM in fact a crazy animal lover but I always wanted to have my own child.  There seems to be a growing trend toward children running the proverbial show.  Mine knows we will simply pack up IMMEDIATELY if she ever starts something like that.  And yes, once we had to leave our favorite Tex-Mex place because, at one and a half, I had let her drink five bowls of salsa straight and thought perhaps I should cut her off.  I remember she was so enraged the soft spot on her head was pulsing.  Have I ever been guilty of letting my little one have an iPad at a restaurant?  Yes … but only to enjoy that second margarita.  *grinning*  Stepping out of the confessional and back onto my high horse I will say I pride myself on our family enjoying an actual conversation during most of dinner.  Whenever I see a kid in a restaurant watching a movie with their headphones on I feel like they should be in an airplane.  When I was a child I was expected to just SIT there and behave.  However, I don’t mind our little one bringing her My Little Ponies with her so she can quietly entertain herself after she is done eating.  The British writer Tom Hodgkinson said:

“Festivals are fun for kids, fun for parents and offer a welcome break from the stresses of the nuclear family.  The sheer quantities of people make life easier:  loads of adults for the adults to talk to and loads of kids for the kids to play with.”

That is how I feel about this particular spot.  It makes life easier and kids are able to freely play with other kids.  As for essentially any other restaurant?  I believe it is the rotten parents who should be barred.

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Eggcited

The American writer and humorist Mark Twain is credited with having said, “The more I learn about people, the more I like my dog.”  After years of working with “the public” through high school and college, I suppose that is one reason why I was so happy when I sort of stumbled into starting a pet sitting business.  From a hedgehog named Spike to an octopus that I could never find until it was time for him to eat, I used to say I had taken care of just about every critter with the exception of farm animals.  Now urban farming is on the rise and I have been caring for chickens as well in the last several years.  The neighborhood in which my Choctaw grandmother lived was lively with sound of cackling hens and they had a rooster who used to chase me relentlessly around the yard when I had to go out and gather eggs.  When I was a kid it was very much sneered upon if one had chickens.  Now our upper middle class neighborhood is full of fancy chicken coops and people are gathering their own eggs.  I love it, as it is a blow to the horrible industry of factory farming, which MUST stop.  This way one can have eggs and know for certain they did not inflict suffering upon other animals just to eat them.  I have since learned there are all sorts of breeds of hens and I was thrilled to discover there are some that lay actual blue eggs.  I had clients recently who went to Europe and they had added eight chickens in a large coop on the other side of their house, completely separate from their dogs.  My little one is my best helper and she comes with me when she is not in school.  When I told her we would be gathering eggs she looked exactly like I felt the first time I gathered eggs at just about her age.  “HELLO LADIES!” I said loudly in a pronounced falsetto voice.  Immediately they started with their soft “brawk brawk brawk brawk” which would become louder as they got to know me.  I lifted up my little one and showed her where to look for the eggs.  This coop was much better designed than the one I used to check when I was a kid.  I actually had to go in and up, risking getting my heels pecked to death by the very protective rooster.  Now I believe it is illegal to have roosters in the city.  So I lifted the first hatch for her and there was nothing.  Going to the second, I told her to look in each “stall.”  “I FOUND SOME MAMA!” my little one squealed.  “What now?” she asked.  “Get them!” I told her as she gingerly placed her little hands inside.  “Careful” I told her as she handed them to me one by one.  “MAMA THIS ONE’S PINK!” she shrieked.  She feels the same way about pink that I do about blue.  “Can I keep it?!  PLEASE?”  “May I please keep it” I said, automatically correcting her.  “And yes, you may.  They told us to please enjoy the eggs while they are gone.”  “GOODY!” she said with joy.  “We get to take them home!”  It is hard to see by this picture, but during the course of their trip we collected eggs ranging from white to brown to my little one’s favorite pink and, to my delight, blue!  One day I was out with the ladies a little earlier than normal.  I lifted up the second hatch to find a startled and I swear somewhat embarrassed looking chicken.  She was in the process of laying an egg.  Our eyes met and I said, “Oh I beg your pardon!” quickly closing the hatch.  My little one could not stop laughing at me.  Now she loves to go around saying, “I beg your pardon!” and then dissolves into fits of giggles.  Oh well, I told her, I guess I was just too “eggcited.”

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Whatever You Are, Be A Good One

The 16th President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, once said, “Whatever you are, be a good one.”  I believe I am a pretty good cook.  Although admittedly I have never attempted to make fried okra or fried rice at home.  I just have this sneaking suspicion neither one would turn out quite right.  In the meantime, this “Chinese” take out is our “happy family” pleasure.  We all love the little place we frequent and it’s gluten free.  Fried rice is a favorite of mine and I always ask for extra green onions.  I miss the days though of the little red boxes that looked so exotic.  Anyone else remember them?  The thin metal handle always made me think of a lantern and I enjoyed the different designs they used to put on the cartons.  The scenes reminded me of patterns on old Chinese ceramics portraying fierce dragons, delicate trees, and tiered rooftops turned up at the corners.  I also miss bamboo chopsticks and fortune cookies.  I still use chopsticks but I have precious few left.  In truth I never really cared for the taste of fortune cookies; I just always enjoyed reading the sayings inside.  There was one Asian restaurant which used to have paper placemats listing all the animals of the zodiac and you could see under which animal’s year you were born.  I am the year of the dog.  I’ll take it as that is the closest they have to the wolf.  Funny how the little touches can mean a lot.  Now it seems as if everything is so sterilized and homogenized.  Where did the character go?  Where are the different cultures?  Where is the little something extra?  It seems to have been swallowed up, no pun intended.  I for one think that’s a shame.  We can go to any city in the U.S. and eat the exact same food thanks to chain restaurants.  Heaven help that anyone actually venture out.  I have never minded our country being a melting pot, but I wish it remained more of a mixing pot.  I think our differences make us stronger.  We do not all have to be carbon copies of one another.  And yes, I realize how much that sentence just dated me.  Let’s all resolve to be creative, bold, and to break the proverbial mold!  Like our former president once said, “Whatever you are, be a good one.”

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