Category Archives: kitchen memories

Mis-Matched Plates

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Mis-Matched Plates

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It was,  and still is, a tradition for young women who are going to marry to pick out their set of  dishes and cutlery with the romantic vision of many fine dinners with family and evenings entertaining guests. If one had the means…the language wasn’t “dishes” but “fine china” and not cutlery but “silver” in a padded wooden chest.

My first set was one for 12 people and it was fine china by Noritake. Absolutely lovey…white with a colored rim of delicate flowers. My new Italian mother-in-law fancied  and collected several different sets of the very finest china like Mitterteich from Bavaria, Lenox,  and Wedgewood which were all proudly displayed in a oversized Henredon china cabinet in the dining room, and only used on holidays like Easter or Christmas.

I very seldom, if ever, seated 12 people at my table over the years so a set of 12 served as back-up replacement plates for our usual table of 4-8. Eventually, after several moves and lifestyle changes, that set dwindled and new colorful dishes took their places instead. In time, I inherited the Mitterteich dishes from my mother-in-law but to tell the truth they are still in the box of them that she gave to me one Christmas 20 years ago! Complete with serving platters, coffee server, gravy bowl etc. No place to store them in my kitchen (they are packed away in the basement) and no 12 people or Sunday dinners with family,  who live in other states.

Brides these days are more practical and lifestyles are somewhat frenetic for the 30 year-olds, so often it’s Pottery Barn designs or tableware from Target, often bought by the piece rather than a whole set. And from what I know in my own family of busy professional daughters and their busy professional husbands…no one seems to be cooking full meals or sitting down together as a family on a regular basis anyway. Sunday dinner is periodically attempted in between weekend kiddie birthday parties, quickie play dates with peers and their kids, or just organizing and getting ready to once again catch a train on time for work in the city on Monday morning.

Over the years I have moseyed at flea markets and yard sales and I must admit, I fall in love with pretty dishes with interesting or cheerful designs that stimulate my imagination with mental images of happy family around the table, deliciously cooked specialties displayed on a lovely plate, serving hors d’oevres  on a unique platter, to fun and interesting guests for the evening or afternoon. A dish here, a plate there. Always I have insisted on at least two of a pattern, usually four and occasionally six, which serves my actual lifestyle. Once in a while, a solo plate will join the mélange with the vision of serving some wonderful appetizer to a small gathering of good friends.

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I host women’s circles which of course always include food so I do love to set a table where things match, but after this essay, I think I am going to surprise everyone at our next gathering and do a total mix-up! If you got it, flaunt it! My bargain mismatched set of dishes from everywhere!

In a nearby town, there is a “tea room” in which there are tables and chairs of all different styles mixed together and dishes that are all mismatched. The charm is un-mistakable, comforting and cheerful.

Matched dishesIs it also about letting go of the need for “perfection” ..? ( Altho there is aesthetic appeal and pleasure in co-ordination and beauty of things that match)

Are there times for perfect co-ordination, but also times for complete and random experimentation, inclusion or blending of differences? Kind of like a healthy society or culture…preserving unique and indigenous traditions, and yet allowing for a community that is open to differences and exchange of ideas.

The next phase of my life this upcoming year or two will be about moving, or downsizing, deciding what stays with me and what will be released for others to enjoy… the years of “collecting and adding” are giving way to simplicity and the elimination of all that needs to be tended and taking time away from passions and interests that have replaced earlier concerns…but for now…I enjoy my dishes, all of them, matched and now mis-matched and I intend to fill them with good food..sensuous, comforting and nourishing to share with friends and family around the table…

From Christine, The Cook

 

Cranberyy 2    I have other blogs of mis-matches topics and themes too!

For seasonal and spiritual inspiration: http://thegreeningspirit.wordpress.com

For the power of words and word magic for a happier life:http://wordmagicandthelawaof attraction.wordpress.com

For “in praise of music” and music memoirs as a music teacher: http://pianomistress.wordpress.com

 

 

 

 

Flemish Beef Stew with Beer and Vegetables

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Flemish Beef Stew with Beer and Vegetables

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July 6, 2o15

I originally posted this in 2013 but since it is going to be “real feel” heat index today of 90 degrees, I brought out the crock pot to keep a cool kitchen and still have something wonderful to eat for dinner!

This is forever one of my favorite recipes …most delicious with memories of one of my many former lives. How we grow and change in the various chapters of our stories. This is one of the threads that runs through all of them, this recipe altho ingredients change depending what is in the fridge, on he shelf  or in the garden.

Today the herbs were all fresh from the garden, except the bay leaf and astragalus, which most definitely was not part of the original recipe. The fresh herbs today were basil, lemon thyme, parsley and sweet marjoram, the sprigs of which will be fished out of the broth at the end.

(To read about the love affair with my garden this year, please check out the series “My Garden, My Soul” on my http://thegreeningspirit.wordpress.com blog)

Now on the recipe and the story that goes with it!

Many years ago when my former husband and I were first married, we followed his dream of becoming a marine biologist, relocating from inland New York state to the coast of New England so he could attend graduate school and the Colleges of Oceanography and Zoology at the University of R.I. Neither of us had traveled afar in our young years (nobody of our ages did much traveling abroad in those days except to Vietnam under orders from the “Draft”). Being an oceanography/zoology major was kind of romantic,  and later offered him the opportunity to travel the high seas  as a research scientist/oceanographer. But graduate school also offered both of us…all of us.. the opportunity to meet people from other cultures who came here to study as well.

In those years, our closest friends became a couple from Belgium..a country we really had not studied much in earlier school days. She, Anne Marie, and I met a few days before the semester started,  hanging our laundry in adjacent rented apartment backyards. Delighted to find out, over the clotheslines, that both of our husbands, my Jack and her Thierry,  were going to be in the same department at the university, we became fast-friends and colleagues sharing many meals, holidays, daytrips as well as babyclothes and babysitting as graduate student families do,  for many a year. We each learned much about each other’s cultures and perspectives on life ie The American way vs. The European way. From us, Anne Marie and Thierry experienced their first American Thanksgiving (Thierry was aghast that Americans pile all sort of foods on one plate, eating them all mixed up together on that day, he being used to separate courses in more elegant style) and I learned how to make this wonderful stew from Annemarie.

Americans at that time were into “a large portion of meat”,  a starchy food like potato, rice or pasta and maybe a  small salad or token green vegetable on the side. The meat was kind of low cost…hamburger, or a lower quality cut of beef to barbecue  or roast, as the portion was larger than any one ingredient in the meal. The Belgique way, even as graduate students on a stipend, was a small medallion of a more costly cut of beef or meat, surrounded..and I mean surrounded ..by a variety of deliciously and carefully-prepared vegetables and a salad. Our Belgian friends got “Thanksgiving” from us…and I got this Flemish Beef Stew.

The traditional way that Annemarie made this was with stew beef, and onions only, browned in butter, seasoned  and braised in beer, served with potatoes. It is delicious that way, but as always, my creative spirit has enlarged on that recipe and I cook this with other vegetables as well as onions, and season it with bay, dried marjoram and basil. Served with potatoes.

This is a most hearty and delicious stew and I hope you enjoy it. I do not eat much meat, but when I do, I now use only grass-fed beef froma local and known farm. Grass-fed beef, be aware, is leaner and tougher in texture than supermarket beef, fattened and flavored with corn and which, after having sat through a showing of the documentary “Food Inc”, I will never ever purchase commercially in a market again.

As always, when eating meat…I give a blessing and a special thanks for the animal that sustains me in that meal.

Ingredients:

1 lb of stew beef (local grass-feed preferred if possible),  several tablespoons of butter ( The Belgians love butter and like Julia Child, use it with abandon) 1-2 large onions sliced thin (I use a sweet onion like Vidalia), 2 cloves of garlic chopped small, 2-3 carrots sliced thin, 1-2 ribs of celery chopped, 1-3 parsnips (optional) sliced thin, 1  (24-oz) can of beer (I use Bud..can use a fancier one if preferred), I small can of beef broth, 1-2 thinly slices of bread slathered with honey mustard ( a tuscan olive bread is good if you have it), 1 large or 2 small bay leaves,  a dash of dried basil and marjoram (go easy at first..adjust  and add a little more if suited to your taste..you can always “add” but your can’t “take away” once something is too much!), salt and pepper. Boiled potatoes on the side to add to the stew at serving. (a couple of options for the stew while cooking…a small squeeze of  anchovy paste, or several chopped kalamata olives..go easy..and taste along the way)

IMG_6874Preparation:  

Cut the stew beef in small one inch chunks, and saute in butter, browning on all sides. Add the onions and stir to soften onions, add garlic, saute but do not burn. Add other vegetable and saute gently for several minutes for flavors to blend. Add 3/4 of the can of beer to cover the meat and vegetables, and 1/2 of the can of beef broth. Stir. Add the bay leaf, and dried basil and marjoram, and a little salt and pepper. Meat and vegetables should be covered with liquid. Lay the slices of bread which have been spread with a thin layer of honey mustard on top of the meat and liquid, bring to a gentle boil, lower heat to a simmer and cover, with a little opening. The bread will eventually dissolve and in stirring, will thicken the broth. Do add the rest of the beer and broth as needed while cooking. The stew is done when the beef is tender.

I do not give exact ingredients because I cook with basic ingredients and experiment and taste taste taste along the way in the cooking process.. For me it is like an art project, requiring small adjustments and assessments all along the way, to create a meal that will be delicious and a favorite to repeat many times in the future!

Good luck and good eating to you!

Christine, The Cook

Mug Shots: The Day’s First Decision (Coffee)

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Mug Shots: The Day’s First Decision (Coffee)

 

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I always have had an odd relationship with MUGS. I don’t like drinking from them…too bulky in the hand, too thick on the rim against the lips. It has always been a challenge when visiting family or friends to be offered my choice of mugs for morning coffee, which is as much as a sensuous experience as a wake-up ritual for me.

When necessary where there is no other choice, I will drink from the mug, but not happily so….and never EVER a mug for tea which remains perpetually hot and almost undrinkable. (Only a china cup with the right kind of thin rim for my tea).

I know this initially upsets some of my readers who have a love-relationship with their favorite mugs..even with the tender little chip on the rim…but I will now reveal that in the past several years, I have come to new and personal relationship with several carefully chosen mugs that have special emotional meanings for me because of how they feel to the hand and lips, how they allow the coffee to please me temperature and taste wise, where they came from and represent as I drink from them, and how they stimulate my imaging for beloved things I treasure in their glazed artwork.

This morning, on the Solstice 2014, my MUGS asked to be acknowledged as they gear up to brings me comfort and joy in the now cold sleepy mornings of Winter when I brew my only coffee of the day. They lined up for their Mug Shots photo shoot most proudly each with their stories of why they are now treasures in my first morning ritual.

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My mug from the beautiful St. Edmunds Retreat Center on Enders Island and the delicious Mystic Monl coffee from  the Carmelite Monks in the state of Wyoming.

St. Edmunds Retreat Center is on an island in Connecticut and it is where I go to take beautiful pictures of the church, the sea and the rocks, and the beautiful gardens filled with dahlias and other flowers in the summertime. This mug reminds me of a lovely place of sanctuary away from the chaos and noise of day to day life….I love it’s shape and smoothness, and I love holding the island of Enders in my hands in the morning.

 

One eight It is delightful to be both a student and a guest instructor/lecturer at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the University of Rhode Island. This mug was presented to the guest faculty upon the presentation of our first course offering. I love it’s reminder that learning IS a lifelong adventure…This is a heavy sturdy mug reminding me that there is strength in wisdom and knowledge…

one ten The University and the Garden Girls. When I want to remember the beauty of the flowers and plants in my garden and the gardens of friends and the world, I choose one of my flower mugs..sunflowers or peonies, these two mugs are more feminine in feel, a finer weight and smooth and slim on the lips…occasionally tea will find their way into these temporary wells which cool down more quickly than a full-bodied mug, allowing the fragrance and delicacy of the tea to escape…into me!

 

IMG_8795My newest mug is just from the market…it was the curved open sweep on its rim and its greenness that caught my eye…just the right weight, a big open handle for balance and invitation to sit with its sense of the feminine and nature’s green-growingness. It reminded my of my other blog, http://thegreeningspirit.wordpress.com where I record many things of nature in word and photography and of the greening spirit within our souls…

From Christine, The Cook (and the The Greening Spirit)

dreams  You are invited to visit my other blogs here on WordPress!

For Inspiration and Beauty: http://thegreeningspirit.wordpress.com

For Music and Music Memoirs/Piano Teaching: http://pianomistress.wordpress.com

For the power of positive speech and life satisfaction: http://wordmagicandthelawofattraction.wordpress.com

For lunch and learn seminar lectures: http://lunchandlearnseminars.wordpress.com