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Fri, Jun 27th - 9:27PM

Condiment Conundrum

Tonight’s supper was homemade meatloaf, mashed potatoes and canned peas heated with a bit of sugar. I wonder how many meatloafs I’ve eaten over the course of my lifetime? When I try to remember the milieu of main dishes that were part of my growing up years, I sometimes forget meatloaf and we had it a lot. Meatloaf was my only food platform for catsup (just as hotdogs were my only food platform for mustard). I really wonder about myself. Was I alone in hating certain condiments EXCEPT on their specific foods? I swear I didn’t eat catsup on anything else (until I learned to mix it half and half with mayonnaise and slather it on French fries. Then it was called secret sauce, not catsup. The mayonnaise mellowed the sharp sweetness I didn’t like.) I truly loved mustard on hot dogs, only mustard, nothing else. But I HATED mustard on anything else, it ruined all other foods -it just took over.


In our house there was only French’s mustard and it never went into food, only on it. It took me a very long time as an adult to discover other mustards and to develop a taste for their tangy differences. Dipping salami slices in garlic flavored or hot and sweet mustard is now a treat. I still do not enjoy mustard on bread other than hotdog buns. Oh, maybe when a light smear of Grey Poupon or other gourmet mustard is mixed with some mayonnaise on a gourmet turkey sandwich or some such.


My sister-in-law’s boyfriend loves mustards so for Christmas we gave him a gift of four different gourmet mustards with some nice salami. It was amazing shopping for the gift. There are shelves teaming with mustards. There are the hot ones, like Chinese Hot Mustard. There are mustards paired with endless flavors like garlic or raspberry. Mustards have varying textures; there are the ones with whole seeds in them and the purely creamy. 


            We have five different mustards in our refrigerator these days. My husband cooks with them; we use them to accompany hors d oeuvres. My folks would really wonder about us. There is always, though, a jar of French’s, for those hotdog moments. Just as I had to have catsup on tonight’s meatloaf or it just wouldn’t have tasted right.


Have you or someone you know recently lost a beloved pet companion?

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Sat, Jun 21st - 9:13AM

See Where Jell-O Can Lead

Let’s talk Jell-O. I just asked a friend for a recipe. Do you remember that Lime Jell-O salad with pineapple, cottage cheese and nuts? Now, my mother never made it, that I remember, but I’ve had it over the years and love it. The Fourth of July is bringing a large gathering so I’m planning food. Why not that Lime Jell-O dish?


My Mom, Grandma, and aunts never seemed to make that “fancy” lime Jell-O, but we ALWAYS had a Jell-O dish at family gatherings. And, we all loved Jell-O. My Mom would most often make raspberry Jell-O (we had a lot of raspberries). She’d put berries and bananas and marshmallows in it -- always marshmallows. Sometimes it would be topped with whipped cream. 


My husband recalls that his Mom made lime Jell-O but always with fruit cocktail and grapes. If company were coming she would, at times, make strawberry Jell-O and stir in sliced strawberries.


Being a Baby Boomer there have been so many food innovations in my life, I’m jaded. Emerging products, like Jell-O, must have been fun for our mothers. As a teenager, I remember loving the pizza in a box. (My family had never made pizza before and there were no chain restaurants, only a place called Pelton’s Pizzeria in our town to which we never went.) The pizza in a box (my husband thinks it was made by Chef Boy Ardee, I'm not sure) had a package of flour to which you added water (somehow the yeast was already in it or something) and a can of pizza sauce with bits of pepperoni or whatever. And, I think, some Parmesan cheese – geez I can’t remember now. It did, though, bring pizza to our house and I remember making it myself. That was remarkable because I never cooked. How did my folks let me get away with that?


Today we take pizza for granted, Chinese food (again, available only in one place in my town in the 1950’s, a restaurant called The Oriental) and could you imagine Sushi Bars emerging in mid-century small town America? 


1950’s summer gatherings in my small western town would produce some amazing, though basic, food. Fried chicken (juicy, crispy, yummy fried chicken), potato salad, Jell-O salad, condiment plate (stacked with deviled eggs, dill and sweet pickles, green olives stuffed with pimentos, black olives that you could put on your finger tips, celery stuffed with pimento cream cheese from those little jars), baked beans, Cole slaw with pineapple, and here’s a weird one my husband’s Mom used to make - Angel food Cake it’s hole stuffed with grapes, walnuts, miniature marshmallows, bananas, pineapple and whipped cream. My husband’s family would have rolls. I can’t remember bread at our summer gatherings. There must have been – white bread fans that they were. Oh, wait, now I remember. I had an aunt named Neola who was famed among the family for her rolls – they would have Neola’s rolls. My husband remembers his Mom for very special gatherings would get ten pounds of shrimp (yeah, but they were from Las Vegas – close to California and you know those Californiaites). No form of seafood appeared at any of my family dinners. Oh wait, I lie. There was sometimes my Mom’s lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise salad with a can of shrimp in it. My husband’s Mom’s dressing for lettuce salad, like my Mom’s, was mayonnaise. Sometimes, though, his Mom would add catsup to the mayonnaise and call it Thousand Island dressing. My Mom never thought of that.

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Sun, Jun 15th - 7:40PM

A Salad Afternoon

I just read a great essay in Saveur (in my opinion, the best of the food magazines) on the history of the salad. It seems the French sort of began the trend but served them after the main course.

 Iceberg lettuce, a can of shrimp, a teaspoon of lemon juice and Best Foods Mayonnaise, is a favorite summer salad of mine. Or, Iceberg lettuce, a can of tuna, grated cheddar cheese and Best Food Mayonnaise another favorite. OK, one more – Iceberg lettuce, julienned ham, julienned Provolone cheese and a very tangy homemade Italian dressing I make. I know that Iceberg lettuce has been referred to as “the polyester of vegetables” but I was raised with it and love its hearty crunchiness. Some of the other greens just seem wimpy. If they are done well, though, I always like a green salad of any type.

 For a personal salad memory, my husband turned me onto mixing dressings – try French and Blue Cheese sometime. Lately I’ve been keeping a plastic tub in the refrigerator with Mandarin oranges, black olives, black beans, hard-boiled eggs, dried cranberries, julienned cheese of some sort, Feta cheese and other goodies ready to add to the greens. Some deli meat julienned or a breaded and fried chicken strip from the deli down the way cut up and, yum city! One of my favorite salads is from the Red Robin Restaurant, barbeque chicken salad – Iceberg lettuce with strips of barbequed chicken, black beans, avocado slices, tomatoes, with Ranch dressing and garlic toast on the side.

 Growing up never once, that I remember, did I have a salad as a main dish. And, other than a can of shrimp added to Iceberg lettuce sometimes (with Best Foods Mayonnaise, of course), no piece of meat every touched the lettuce unless the main dish pork chop somehow sidled over to the salad on the plate.

 According to the history of the salad article, they really didn’t take off in America until after the middle of the last century. Some fancy restaurants had them regularly, but middle class dinner tables didn’t sport them much. Olive oil was sold only in small amounts in pharmacies for medicinal purposes and softening skin. A “history of the avocado” article in Saveur said that an avocado, in 1920’s America, would have been the equivalent to $9.00 in today’s money. Maybe it was things like that that held up salad’s popularity.

 With summer arriving here, I’m going to keep my plastic tub stocked with salad goodies and maybe this year I’ll branch out beyond good ole Iceberg. I had a lobster salad the other day with some chopped cabbage mixed into the salad greens along with the most intriguing salad accoutrement I’ve had in a while - candied pecans – now there’s something I’ve got to remember to add to my salad tub!


My Tangy Italian Dressing recipe:

1 cup vegetable oil

½ cup red wine vinegar

1 Tbsp. sugar

3 pressed garlic cloves

½ teas. dried oregano

¼ teas. dried basil

¼ teas onion powder

¼ teas salt


 Are you or someone you car about suffering the loss of a beloved pet companion? Learn how to move beyond the pain.

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Sat, Jun 7th - 4:31PM

Spices and Chai for an Addled Brain

I’m sick! Bronchitis, flu, stuffed up, tired, whatever.  Need to do many things, don’t feel like doing anything. So, I organized my Indian spices. My hobby, Indian cooking, gives me pleasure - messing with it, organizing it, cooking dishes, reading recipe books…it all makes me feel good. So, today I made my flu-addled brain a pot of homemade Chai and set about transferring little plastic bags of spices (I buy in bulk, putting each spice in a little plastic bag and securing with a twist tie) into sixteen small plastic square containers with yellow lids that I found at a Dollar Store the other day. On each lid I neatly printed the spice name. Then, I vacuumed out the little Rubbermaid container that contains my sundry Indian cooking stuff and stacked them neatly on one end. I keep a very small frying pan for toasting spices, the master of the little cookbook I created, two different sizes of very small Ziploc bags for when I make gifts of the Chai or another recipe and want to include some spice, some larger Ziplocs containing more of some common spices like turmeric, cumin seed and garam masala, and a few 3” cloth and decorative bags for gift giving. I also have some other stuff I keep elsewhere, a small electric Krups coffee grinder that is just for spices and a stainless steel grater for ginger.


I then organized my Chai container. I have everything for making the flavorful tea in another smaller Rubbermaid container – Assam (black) tea, whole cloves, cinnamon sticks, brown sugar, cardamom powder. It takes 5 teaspoons each of tea, cinnamon, and brown sugar plus 5 half sticks of cinnamon and ½ teas. cardamom powder and 5 slices of fresh ginger to brew the tea. I Ziploc the brown sugar and tea in separate 5-teaspoon amounts, ready to dump and put the ½ teas cardamom into even smaller Ziplocs. Then with three cups of water, 2 cups of milk and my Hot Pot and it’s a quick fix. Thanks to my friend Sam for introducing me to his family’s special Chai (see Sept. 6th blog entry). Sam is from Pakistan, a place I’ve never been and likely never will be. Comfort and pleasure derived from food clearly transcends borders.


The comfort I’ve found today putting spices in small square containers while sipping warm spice-infused tea might be a metaphor for what many people need to do more often, scale back, do something simple that gives you pleasure and indulge in comforting tastes and smells.

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Sun, Jun 1st - 10:34PM

Comfort Food
A whole chicken with lots of garlic powder and Johnny's Seasoning Salt roasted to a golden brown, mashed potatoes topped with canned peas, cooked with a little sugar. It’s a comfort food night. I needed something familiarly tasty.

What is comforting to me? Tuna casserole might be high on the list. Oh, and scalloped potatoes with onions cheese and ham. Huckleberry pie would evoke comforting memories. Pot Roast, you can never beat a good pot roast. Probably my most favorite two dishes are my Grandma’s potato salad (5 lbs. russet potatoes, 1 large sweet onion chopped very fine, 8 hard boiled eggs, ½ cup cider vinegar, 2 cups Best Foods Mayo and salt to taste, that’s it) and a Bacon, Lettuce and Tomato sandwich with lots of Best Foods Mayo on white toast.

Guess I’ve been on a food kick lately. I’m going to a wedding next week that is preceded by a potluck. I’m taking a Tomato Zucchini Dahl from my Indian food repertoire (a dahl is a vegetable dish that has dried beans, dried peas or lentils in it.) This dish has yellow peas, onions, garlic, ginger, tomatoes, green pepper, zucchini and brown mustard seed, turmeric and a most aromatic Indian spice mixture called, garam masala. And, no food snob here, since the crowd at this wedding potluck will be rather traditionally American, I’m also taking Blackberry Jell-O infused with Cool Whip and star shaped marshmallows. Hey, that’s probably comfort food for many people and there will be kids there. I wonder, though, can stirring Cool Whip into Jell-O be called infusing?

I wonder what my Mom’s favorite dish was? It could have been fried chicken. We had that a lot. My dad, I believe, came to like seafood best. Amazing coming from such basic food roots. My grandma loved soda crackers slathered with butter, something I’m fond of to this day. I remember sharing that treat with her one evening while we waited for Chow Mien at the local Oriental restaurant. Chow Mien made with celery, onions and bean sprouts with juillianed pork atop crunchy noodles became our family’s one ethnic passion. In later years the only Chow Mien I could find was made with a few vegetables and a little meat mixed in a huge mound of soft noodles. I missed what I had enjoyed in childhood so much that I beseeched my husband to recreate it. He did and that has truly become a comfort food for both of us. We make it often and everyone we share it with wants the recipe.

Ah, food memories. Got myself a brownie for dessert tonight. Can’t beat that for comfort.

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