Fast(er) Roasted Potatoes

Roasted Potatoes

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His scent was that of a printing press. Inky. Mixed with a bit of Old Spice. An earthy undertone brought it all together in a warm blanket of protection. Consistency. He was my short, solid, bearded, refuge. He was my Dad.

Certain memories of him are in full, vibrant color. The sounds fill my ears like a wave of warmth. I can easily  trick my brain to go there.  On his lap of his La-Z-Boy recliner. The orchard. The garden.

Especially the garden. Every time I bend over the sink and wash potatoes I go to him in the garden.

It was a damp day, but he needed the soil to give way to the shovel. If we waited, the new red potatoes would get too big. The earth too hard. So I stood by the empty bushel basket and waited for him to bring up the first blade-full of dirt. The soil gave way and little burgundy gems peaked out to the daylight. I eagerly fell to my knees and plucked them out.

He moved on down the row and brought up each mound of dirt, his smile getting bigger all the way. It was a good crop. I scooted on my little bottom and knees, filling the bushel basket handfuls at a time, pushing the dirt back into place with my bare hands.

He stood at the edge of the garden. Sweaty. Smiling. Admiring the full basket of labor. I stood up and he looked in my direction. His eyes went from my head, to my filthy hands, to my soiled clothes.

With a smirk, he said, “Your Mother’s going to kill me.”

Finish tilling garden

 

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Salmon with Cucumber Dill Sauce (Gluten Free)

Salmon4

1990

I was thirteen and we were taking our first real family vacation. As I sat in the car driving through northern Michigan the roads became surrounded by water on both sides. I had never seen such a thing and it freaked me out a little. We arrived at our cabin skirting Lake Lelanau and the breeze from the water made the hot summer somewhat bearable as I steadied my jello-like legs from the long ride.

Salmon5

Settling in, my sister and I made quick friends with a couple of older boys a few cabins down. Their dad owned a speed boat and they invited us out on a ride. Having never been on a boat before, it was exhilarating. The sun was shining, the radio was blaring “Straight Up” by Paula Abdul, and the wind whipped through my long pony tail.

That week Dad went out on a charter fishing trip and returned with several King Salmon. He took me to the fish cleaning station at the back of the cabin and taught me how to fillet fish. Mom prepped the grill and cucumber dill sauce and soon we sat at the porch table and took in the sunset over dinner.

We returned to that cabin the next year. I begged Dad to take me on the charter with him. He promised once I turned sixteen he would make it happen. Time passed by too quickly and even though we talked about it and dreamed about it, that trip never happened for us.

In 2009, ten years to the day after Dad died, I found myself on a small fishing boat in Michigan. Vintage Thread took me up for a weekend – John, a close family friend of hers was an avid fisherman and we made our way out to deeper waters.

Not one hour into our trolling I saw a line pull, yelled ‘FISH ON’ and grabbed the pole from its holder. I immediately felt the weight of something big and heavy. John stood alongside me and coached me with the line. “Ok, pull. Ok, now reel. Stop. Pull, reel. Step forward. Back up. Reel more.” He barked a few directions to Vintage Thread who was at the wheel, but they did not compute with me. I had the pole anchored into my hip, painfully digging into my muscles and was struggling to hold the line. I turned to John, “It’s too heavy. You need to help me!”

“No way, you’ve got this. Just do what I tell you.”

A few minutes later a thirty pound King Salmon flopped into the boat.

We continued to fish for the rest of the day, pulling in nine more salmon, but none the size of the King. With the afternoon behind us and our bellies grumbling for dinner we pulled the lines and sped toward our slip. The wind was in my hair and the sun on my face, and I was transported back to those Michiagn family vacations and wished Dad had seen me reel in the big one.

30lb King

Salmon with Cucumber Dill Sauce

Ingredients:

1.5 lbs fresh salmon, cut into 4-5 ounce fillets
1 medium cucumber, or 1/2 English cucumber
2 tablespoons fresh dill, minced
1/2 cup mayo
1/2 cup sour cream
salt and pepper to taste
Vegetable cooking spray

Preparation:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and set the rack on the lower third position.
Lightly spray a 9×13 inch glass baking dish with vegetable oil and set aside.

Using a vegetable peeler, peel the skin off of the cucumber. Trim cucumber as needed, then slice down the middle and remove the large seeds with a spoon. If you are using an English cucumber you can skip removing the seeds.

Using a box greater on the largest holes, grate the cucumber into a colander and nest the colander in a bowl. Lightly salt the shredded cucumber and let stand for five to ten minutes. Press the cucumber into the colander with a rubber spatula or the back of a spoon to release as mush liquid as you can. Transfer to a clean, dry bowl.

Add dill, mayo and sour cream and a little black pepper to the cucumber and combine. Taste the sauce and adjust with salt and pepper.

Place the fish fillets, skin side down, in the baking dish leaving one inch between each. Dollop a spoon of cucumber dill sauce on top of each fillet and using a separate utensil (as to not contaminate the sauce) spread evenly over the top. Place remaining sauce in refrigerator.

Bake the salmon for approximately 20-35 minutes (depending on the thickness of the fillets) until the internal temperature reaches 130 to 135 degrees or until the fish is translucent and flakes easily.

Serve with reserved sauce and sides of your choice. Our family favorite is pasta, polenta or risotto with asparagus.

Homemade Ice Cream

Homemade Icecream

The sun is shinning through the farm house kitchen window, stretching through the doorway, and casting an orange glow over the brown shag carpeting of the family room. The smell of cake lingers in the air, interrupted every so often with whiffs of lemon scented dusting polish. The lawn mower whizzes by the back windows with a growl, and it’s the only thing I can hear over the loud whirring and grinding of the ice cream maker that is nested in the laundry tub of the mud room.  The house has been cleaned, floors vacuumed, and a small card table for presents is set up in the corner along with a chair for the guest of honor. We are just about ready.

It’s a birthday party.

Grandparents, Aunts, Uncles and Cousins will be here soon and the gathering will begin. It is not as formal as it sounds. The kids will arrive – ranging from seven years older than me to three years younger. The age differences disappear as soon as the car doors slam shut and we all run through the orchard for a game of freeze tag or balance on the porch railing like circus tight rope walkers. I bring out my rock collection (shoe) box and bug jars and my closest cousin and I comb the driveway for new additions.

An adult voice calls out from the house and we all run inside. Presents are opened and passed around, and a friendly wrapping-paper-ball fight ensues. The candles are lit, we sing the song, and the homemade cake in the shape of the birthday girl’s favorite character is cut. I carefully cup the bowl of cake with both hands and stand in line at the laundry tub as Daddy scoops from the now-quiet wooden drum. It starts to melt no sooner than it rolls down the slice of cake and nests in the bottom of the bowl.

This is the taste of summer. This is the taste of a birthday.

 

Home Made Ice Cream

 

Ingredients

1 3/4 cups whole cream

1 1/4 cups whole milk

1/3 cup plus granulated sugar

1/3 cup corn syrup

1/4 teaspoon salt

6 large egg yolks

 

 

Preparation

1. Combine cream, milk, 1/8 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar, corn syrup, and salt in medium saucepan. Heat over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until mixture is steaming steadily and registers 175 degrees, 5 to 10 minutes. Remove saucepan from heat.

2. While cream mixture heats, whisk yolks and remaining 1/8 cup sugar in bowl until smooth, about 30 seconds. Slowly whisk 1 cup heated cream mixture into egg yolk mixture. Return mixture to saucepan and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens and registers 180 degrees, 7 to 14 minutes. Immediately pour custard into large bowl and let cool until no longer steaming, 10 to 20 minutes. Transfer 1 cup custard to small bowl. Cover both bowls with plastic wrap. Place large bowl in refrigerator and small bowl in freezer and cool completely, at least 4 hours and up to 24 hours. (Small bowl of custard will freeze solid.)

3. Remove custards from refrigerator and freezer. Dip the bottom of the frozen custard cup into warm water for easy release. Remove frozen custard from small bowl into large bowl of custard. Add 2 teaspoons vanilla extract. Stir and cut frozen custard until fully dissolved. Strain custard through fine-mesh strainer and transfer to an already-churning ice-cream machine. Churn until mixture resembles thick soft-serve ice cream and registers about 21 degrees, 20 to 30 minutes. Transfer ice cream to glass bowl or dish (I use a pyrex bowl with tight fitting lid) and press plastic wrap on surface to prevent ‘skin’ from forming. Return to freezer until firm 3 hours.

(Ice cream can be stored for up to 5 days.)

 

 

Bacon Wrapped Asparagus

Bacon Wrapped Asparagus

The House

They were living in the church parish house and decided it was time to get a place of their own. Down the country road stood an old farmhouse on an overgrown lot among acres of field owned by the neighboring farmers. The house was built in the mid 1800s and in its heyday it boasted a spring house, smoke house, shed, large stable barn with a hay loft, the creek, and land as far as the eye could see.

The fields were sold off to other farmers over time and the only thing left was the house on about one-and-a-half acres and the shed – all in abandoned condition. The large stable barn still stood, but a fence now separated it from the house, sold with the neighboring parcel.

My parents bought the fixer-upper with great excitement and a vision of a house of their own. They already had a toddler girl, and this house had the space they needed for their growing family.

The interior had plaster and lath walls, burn marks above most every electrical outlet due to fires, and the previous owners housed sheep in the basement. This was the project of all projects.

One of the first jobs on the land was to clear it. The grass was more than head high on the entire lot and it all needed cut back and taken under control. Mom and Dad gathered machetes, hack saws, and mowers. The hard work resulted in a beautiful treasure. They found numerous young pine trees hiding there. Planted in rows with care by an owner long before.

Over the course of nine months they gutted the walls, hung new ceilings, and ran new electric. My mother, pregnant with me, used cinder blocks stacked along the back property line for an outhouse – adding more blocks the more pregnant she became.

Farmhouse before and after

Finally, the indoor plumbing was finished, drywall hung, and sub-flooring laid. Just in time for my birth in the fall. The winter brought the great blizzard of 1978.

Thankfully my parents had a wood burning stove, and an abundance of wood from clearing the land, to keep us warm. The county sheriff heard news of a baby at our address and came on snow mobile to deliver milk and essentials.

With the house nearly finished, attention was turned to the land again. The pine trees had been nibbled on by sheep, but they transplanted them to the back of the property for a wind break and each one recovered nicely. They ordered fruit trees and Mom tells the story of the planting…

“Your father had the holes already dug for the trees. We received the trees by UPS and then it began to rain, filling up the holes with water. Finally after a week of rain we decide to plant on Saturday, even if we had a monsoon. Monsoon it was and we were outside planting trees with you and your sister looking out the windows. What a bonding experience! We were wet, muddy, and tired, but the trees were planted. Every tree lived and after that every time we planted something large, we dug the hole and filled it with water!” 

There was a lovely flat area – three thousand five hundred square feet – just between the apple tree line and the back corn field. The garden was so big our friend Jeff brought his field tractor to turn the soil. With three quick swoops the first turn was done. It would have taken days with the two-wheeled rototiller my Dad shared with my Uncle.

Garden plow day

The garden’s longest side contained blackberry bushes, strawberries and asparagus patches. Walk along the rows and you would find potatoes, onions, corn, green beans, lettuces, broccoli and an occasional Tonka™ Truck. My sister and I loved making roads, mountains and creeks amide the pathways. We harvested throughout the growing season and either canned or processed by a blanch-and-freeze method for the winter.

The asparagus patch is still there. In a few weeks the first spears will be peaking through the soil and I will beg my mother for some – as I do every year. To anyone else it might just taste like asparagus, but to me it tastes like home.

 

Bacon Wrapped Asparagus

Ingredients:

Asparagus, one bunch (about 1 1/2 to 2 pounds)
Bacon, one pound
Cheese – Parmesan or Mozzarella, shredded

Preparation:

  • Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees
  • Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil and nest a wire rack inside.
  • Wet a paper towel with olive oil and rub generously on the rack.
  • Working with one asparagus spear and one slice of bacon at a time, snap an inch or two off the cut-end of the spear. Wrap spear with one slice of bacon.
  • Place on rack, leaving about 1/2 inch gap in between. Do not allow them to touch.
  • Once all the spears are wrapped, place in oven for 18-20 minutes, or until the bacon is to the crispness you desire.
  • Remove tray from oven and use tongs to transfer spears to a serving tray.
  • Sprinkle with cheese and serve.