“I have dreamed something entirely pretend with my eyes wide open. The sweet wonder of it makes me smile. I believe in the emotions implanted by dreams, for they are not pretend, and they will never cease to bloom.” ~ Richelle E Goodrich
Enough of the cold already! Cloudy skies bring snowflakes, some days more than others. Temperatures have dipped into the single digits on more days than not. I know winter has to run its course, that is the nature of things. But January brought us enough coldness and viruses to last us through the year. I want to play outside, go for walks, and garden. The seed catalogs plant the thoughts and bring on daydreams of flourishing flowers and gorgeous green life. I want to plant more flowering perennials and herbs. And I aim to grow some succulents this year, planting them in unique planters, repurposed vessels to sell in the flea market booth. There isn’t enough room for more plants in the basement, so it will have to wait until spring.
With my allergy to the cold being outdoors is difficult to do without serious repercussions. So I busy myself with reading, decluttering the house, and new writing projects. I submitted poems to six publishers’ contests and challenges this month. The latest is a “black-out poem” with a Valentine theme. I loved the challenge of taking an already published piece and reusing specific words that had meaning to me to write an original poem, then marking out the words I did not want in my poem. The link to my black-out poem will be shared once it is published on Valentine’s Day. Of course, my poem has a culinary theme. That is my other time occupation this winter.
Soups, soups, and more soups! Every week this winter it has been a big pot of soup or chili homemade. They fill our souls and tummies. Chicken-noodle, wild rice & mushroom, Italian stone, and cheesy broccoli soups, and 3-bean chili so far. Speaking of soup, my Italian Stone Soup recipe is featured in the Winter issue of e-Merge online magazine that just published. Click on the link above and make it! Full of veggies and robust flavor. I have refrained from baking sweets and breads. Those holiday cookies were enough to throw off my A1c numbers. I have to be good to my body. Those winter daydreams include fresh picked organic greens from the garden bed. My cooking classes for 2022 finally start up in February. Italian Cooking Made Easy and Cupid’s Brunch are on the agenda for next month. A warm destination occupies those winter daydreams and planned for February, too. More on that next time …
“She was always daydreaming. She never wanted to live in the real world; she always seemed to be separated from other children her age. They couldn’t understand her or her imagination. She was always thinking outside of the box, breaking rules, and only following what her heart told her was right.” ~ Shannon A. Thompson
I use my abundant, pungent arugula in my salads as well as egg, pasta, and rice dishes these days. A little goes a long way, so most of my culinary creations as of late include my fresh grown arugula. One important aspect to the culinary arts is that improvisation goes a long way. It is easier to substitute ingredients with cooking versus baking. I find arugula can be used in place of spinach in most dishes and salads. There is a taste difference with these 2 greens, but cooking properties similar. Arugula like spinach is a great source of vitamin A and C as well as potassium, calcium, and magnesium. Arugula grows much like spinach, spring and autumn sowing here in Missouri.
I love creamed spinach! The best I ever had is crafted by the executive chef Gerard Germain. I learned much from the culinary experts while working at Dierbergs School of Cooking. Chef Gerard dazzles his students’ appetites with Italian and French cuisines. A first generation French immigrant applies his old world culinary magic in the kitchen of a fine Italian establishment in St. Louis called Tony’s. The next best thing is spinach in a white sauce over pasta. So here is my attempt to a lighter version of Pasta alla Fiorentina … Pasta Arugula (or the Italians say rucola), but my recipe is American-style. I lessen the butter and use a little olive oil as a base for the slurry as well as use whole milk instead of cream or half & half. Of course, arugula goes in the recipe instead of spinach. Noted for the recipe this evening, I cooked too much whole-grain pasta for the amount of white sauce I made, and did not add enough arugula. Fresh arugula shrinks considerably while sauteed. Tonight I served the Pasta Arugula with locally-made chicken Italian sausage and crusty bread. I sipped a glass of lavender sparkling water, and Dean downed a domestic beer this rainy summer evening.
This weekend Dean and I hibernated in Hermann, Missouri. We were invited to stay at a lovely guest house by some wonderful folks. We took a gander at antiques and patronized a gift shop in the historic downtown area. The friendly salesman at the gift shop greeted us warmly and proceeded to tell us where he was from and why he retired in Hermann. This retired banker from St. Peters, my hometown says the cost of living is so reasonable in Hermann, and so many services cater to the aging population in the quaint German town. Just my thoughts exactly for the past almost 6 years, retiring in Hermann.
“You had me at ‘hello'” was displayed on a wooden sign in the gift shop. That would be my Dean and I. Love at the first sight, e-mail, FB message, and date 6-1/2 years ago. Our garden courtyard wedding took place 5-1/2 years ago just 4 blocks from where I stand at that gift shop. We had to pick up a pastry in this old Old World town. A local bakery was spotted amidst the neighborhood bars and shops. A kringle, “krakeling” filled with strawberry ooze called out our name as we perused the dessert selections. My diabetic diet just went to pot, but back on track come Monday. Besides the small town walking helped, right?
After an early Saturday dinner at the Tin Mill Brewery, Dean and I hung out with the local folks at the firehouse fundraiser mouse races. We fit right in, happy women with full hips and bearded men with a sense of humor. Homemade chili and desserts galore. Bids for cash and guns kept us on our toes. Loads of fun! The laughter got louder as the evening went with the number of empty beer & wine bottles and whiskey & coke glasses. German people know how to celebrate life! Not a need for a wedding or birthday to live life fully.
Sunshine beams through the tall-pane window as I sit in an elegant armed chair. Next to me my cup of hot Earl Grey tea laced with bergamot and half & half while a couple of Italian dark chocolate wafers await my consumption. This crisp January afternoon brings my dream to life once again. The heart dreams where the soul needs to be. Our house and bed & breakfast in Hermann, Missouri. We feel at home, at peace every time we come to Hermann. From the time we cross the lighted bridge over the Missouri River, we are home. Oh Hermann, we will be here to stay within 5 years.
“Herbs deserve to be used much more liberally,” quoting food writer and chef, Yotam Ottolenghi. I keep telling my friends, family, and co-workers the marvelous benefits of herbs. Bursting flavor and full of nutrition! I recently found this guide, the ANDI guide which rates foods based on nutrient density. My ravings on herbs are justified according to ANDI. ANDI stands for “Aggregate Nutrient Density Index,” a scoring system that rates foods on a scale from 1 to 1000 based on nutrient content. ANDI scores are calculated by evaluating an extensive range of micronutrients, including vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and antioxidant capacities.
Here is a list of basic herbs and their scores to illustrate this concept.
Herbs/ ANDI Score
Bay Leaves/ 271
Basil rated the highest of all the herbs! Such an easy herb to grow in terra cotta pots in the kitchen window sill or in a sunny garden spot. Our bed of herbs in the screenhouse of our greenhouse include a few varieties of basil. Genovese, lemon, and Tai to name three. In the heat of the summer, it is prolific! Basil nutrients rate up there with arugula, leaf lettuce, and radishes. It’s about 50% the value of superfoods kale and garden cress, but 4 or 5 times more than soybeans or pinto beans. The Italian and Mediterranean cultures include basil in many of their recipes as well as Thai and Mexican cultures. Where I live and work in the St. Louis, Missouri region, there is an Italian restaurant or pizzeria on every corner of the block and in between. We love our pasta and pizza! My home kitchen has the flavors of Italy with my own fresh homegrown basil. Cost pennies to grow. Last night I made homemade pizza with a cup of fresh Genovese basil leaves cut into strips and atop tomato sauce, Italian sausage, Canadian bacon, garlic and black olives. Sometimes its a veggie pizza, with chunky tomatoes, mushrooms, bell peppers, spinach, arugula, black olives, etc. You know, the plumposity of veggies in a single slice of pizza pie! Then there’s pesto! It’s flavor tastes how the word sounds when you say it. PEST-O! More flavors to discover in this nutrient dense herb … sweet, lemon, Tai, spicy, lime, Genovese, cinnamon, anise. Cannot wait to make some lemon scones with the lemon basil this weekend. What herb has captured your taste buds?
Friday seems so far away when I return to my Clayton office on Monday mornings. My weekends are full. Never bored. With six grown children and their growing families, a greenhouse, and per diem retail sales at the local herb and spice shop, boredom is never an issue. Herbal tea soothes Monday’s madness. Wish I could be where these herbs grow … Quaintness in the quiet of a countryside garden. Monday’s evening chores include the creation of an Italian bowl with zucchini, yellow squash, fresh basil, Italian sausage and rotini in zesty tomato sauce topped with an Italian cheese blend. After cleaning the kitchen, off to the closets once again. I am lessening the wardrobe, giving away and throwing away. Keep these fashions long enough, they will be considered vintage! Monday night’s sleep rolls into Tuesday so quickly…
Hot herbal cinnamon tea greets my Tuesday afternoon break at the office. The AC is working overtime this humid July day. Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s thoughts go to Dean and I’s house hunt. We met some monumental financial goals this year with hopes of a simply charming home to call “our own” before year end. It is interesting to view other people’s homes, thinking of the history lived in them. We desire a home built over 50 years ago, when quality reigned. Large is not necessary. Quaintness is. This quest to turn an antiquated house into a picturesque home is exciting. Old Town St. Charles has been in our thoughts, but open to other neighborhoods in the St. Louis area. We would like a yard large enough to occupy our Labrador retriever, Midnight when he is outdoors. Our green plant friends such as flowers, herbs, and vegetables are quintessential to our life, so space for them is paramount.
What does “quaint” look like to you? So how about this “Escape Cabin” designed by architect/artist Kelly Davis?
This might work when Dean & I are ready to retire!
As a personal chef by nature I wonder if I should name my summer time culinary creations a nosh, dish, bowl, or plate. I improvise when I cook in my kitchen. With the ingredients in hand from the garden or farmer’s market, they make way for creativity. A casual menu on a whim. This summer my herbs climb with the summer humidity. My chicken risotto served in individual bowls one weekend was laced with a leafy green herb Dean brought home from the greenhouse. It had a spicy bite to it unknown to be parsley as I had thought it might be by its look. When returning to the greenhouse mid-week for watering, I discovered on the garden sign it was watercress added to Sunday’s risotto bowl. I had never grown or cooked with this newly discovered herb before, and it paired deliciously with the farm fresh eggs for egg salad on dollar rolls last night. I hear it is the new kale in the farm-to-table culinary world. Just 1 cup of chopped water cress is power-packed with potassium and vitamins A & C. There are only 4 calories in 1 cup of chopped watercress. Calorie breakdown: 8% fat, 42% carbs, 50% protein. Oh, the flavors burst, so it goes a long way!
Fresh sprigs of dill were snipped into the red potato-celery salad. This week a spare bottle of local summer ale went into the crockpot with the turkey breast sprinkled with lemon pepper from the Olde Town Spice Shoppe, slow-cooked for 10 hours. Succulent! Accompanied with farm fresh, roasted yellow beets, red potatoes, and carrots in a bowl! The leftover turkey breast had filled a casserole dish of enchiladas another night. When I cook, I cook for 2 or 3 meals, using one dish to accent another. Rarely does food go to waste in my home. That stock left from the turkey breast is put into the freezer and will make another risotto another rainy night. Tonight it is small plates of Three-Cheese Italian Herb-Veggie Foccocia and Italian Breaded Chicken Tenderloins. What nosh, dish, bowl, or plate are you making tonight with your garden fresh ingredients?
The birthday trip to Chicago this past Thursday and Friday was great! On Thursday night Brian Setzer and Orchestra gave a Christmas concert to remember for our lives. The big band or rockabilly Setzer-style to favorite holiday tunes set our feet a dancing. The show was held at the beautiful, classy Rialto Theatre in Joliet, Illinois. Dean and I were dazzled by the spirit, sounds, and sights of the holidays. On Friday the birthday boy and I ventured to the big city. After finding a parking space (which cost more than our lunch!), we met up with his younger brother and dined at a downtown Chicago pizzeria called Lou Malnati’s. Scrumptious, delicious Italian fare! This eatery described the Roma tomatoes as “plumposity” for the sauce in their signature deep dish pizza. “Plumposity” might be another word for “pleasing plump”, as some men describe how they like their women. My hubby included. Or the “plumposity” of a freshly picked crisp apple as you bite into, it squirts juice down your hand. Or the “plumposity” of the Cherokee purple tomatoes I indulge in still with our tomato plants under plant lights in the semi-heated garage. But the word definitely describes the Roma tomatoes used on this classic Chicago-style pizza. “It’s difficult to think anything but pleasant thoughts while eating a homegrown tomato,”
quoting Southern comedian, Lewis Grizzard. Culture shocked for a couple of hours, we then battled the traffic headed out of the city into the suburbs. We visited with my cousin and her husband over a home-cooked meal, before heading back home on a 5-hour drive. A blitz trip, and now we are back to prepare for 5 more adults and 4 more dogs staying for the Thanksgiving weekend, with more family for a pasta dinner Saturday night. Now I am thinking this new-found word might describe the effects of a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. Yes, this weekend I think our home will experience “plumposity”, an overflow of holiday indulgence and family!
“Dinner is double d-licious”, my husband said yesterday evening. To me just another creation made with leftovers and stables from our mostly empty frig and kitchen cupboards using little time. Dean and I are headed out-of-state in just a couple of days, so we have not stocked up with groceries. Saving time and pennies for the trip north. I made a breakfast dinner. On the menu: fresh organic blueberry pancakes and eggs scrambled with fresh organic basil, diced tavern ham, & shredded Monterey cheese. Tight schedules and tighter budgets dictate the menu some days. What throw-together meals have you created?
The basil is quite pungent now as the weather in the St. Louis area has been well over 90 degrees everyday this past week. Basil grows prolifically in Missouri, our long summers are ideal. I have grown sweet basil, but desire to try growing some other varieties.
Here are some varieties of basil:
Sweet Basil (Ocimum basilcum) is the most popular variety which is used in Italian style dishes and salads. It grows to a height of 2-1/2 foot.
Lemon Basil (Ocimum citriodorum) has a mild lemon flavor, and is commonly used with fish. I love it with lemon thyme in my lemon bread recipe. Double d-licous lemon flavor! This variety grows to a height of 1 foot.
Purple Basil (Ocimum basilcum purpurea) is similar to sweet basil, but has purple leaves. It is a tender variety and grows to a height of 2-1/2 foot.
Red Rubin Basil (Ocimum basilcum) is like sweet basil but has very dark colored leaves, a much deeper color than purple basil. It grows to a height of 2-1/2 foot.
Cinnamon Basil (Ocimum basilcum) comes from Mexico, and has a cinnamon flavor. I want to try this for sure! I like cinnamon flavors in my tea, coffee, chocolate, hot cereal, fruits, veggies, and meats. It grows to a height of 1-1/2 foot.
Thai Basil (Ocimum sp.) is very spicy, typically used in Indian cooking. I started experimenting with Thai foods this past couple of years. I will have to try this variety in my recipes. It grows to a height of 3 foot.
Please share the variety of basil you use in your recipes or have grown.
It is a homemade chicken soup day today, as cool April showers water the earth. This spring keeps blowing in drastic changes in the air, with temperatures climbing into the 70’s and then dip down to the 30’s within hours of each other. Storms and tornadoes become a regular springtime threat in Missouri. This year it is flash flood warnings, and now the mighty Mississippi is cresting in some small local rivertowns. One of my favorite comfort foods is homemade chicken soup. During cold and/or rainy weather, nothing beats the aroma in the kitchen and flavor at mealtime.
My homemade chicken soup recipe includes fresh chicken and vegetable stock, herbs, and garlic are key. Organic brings out the flavors. It’s clean, no artifical product to dull the tastes. I roasted a chicken fryer for our Sunday dinner with plans to use the leftovers later. I simply put a fryer in the crockpot, added no-salt lemon pepper, a pinch of kosher salt, fresh thyme, and 32 oz organic vegetable broth. This slow-cooked for 8 hours while working at the spice shoppe. Sometimes I use a different herb mixture such as herbs de provence or an Italian blend. After our Sunday dinner, I diced 2 celery ribs and 2 carrots, minced 2 garlic cloves, and added to the existing stock from the roasted chicken. This time it is chicken-rice soup, so I added a 1/2 cup of brown rice. (If it is chicken-noodle soup, I add rice, gluten-free noodles.) I cooked for about 30 minutes on the stovetop. Then I added more vegetable broth and the leftover chicken chunks. The soup pot is in the fridge for lunches and future dinners. This is what we will have for dinner tonight. Steaming hot soup and a warm French baquette! Ummmmm!
According to my culinary book Food Lover’s Companion, primavera alla [pree-muh-VEHR-uhl] is the Italian phrase which means “spring style”. The Italian dish pasta primavera is an example of this culinary style. Fresh vegetables, are diced or julienne cut either raw, blanched, or lightly sauteed and added to al denta pasta tossed with olive oil and parmigiano-reggiano [pahr-muh-ZHAH-noh reh-zhee-AH-noh], Italy’s premier parmesan cheese. Well, this evening was my turn to cook dinner, as Chef Mick was off with his family with other dinner plans. I thought to make a fresh arugula pizza, but did not have any flour in the house. My low-gluten diet. One way or another I was using the organic baby arugula mix I bought at the store yesterday. Store-bought is not quite as tasteful as the home grown variety, but arugula’s destinctive flavor is what I craved, if you can tell by my previous blog. Spring fever has offically hit! I found a box of multi-grain penne, so I prepared them al dente. My kitchen’s vegetables on hand were lightly sauteed in 2 teaspoons of olive oil + 1 teaspoon of vegetable oil. So here are the ingredients found in Anna Marie’s Pasta Primavera made tonight:
2 Deanna Greens And Garden Art dried jalapeno peppers, hydrated and chopped finely
1/2 cup yellow squash chunks
1/2 cup zucchini squash chunks
3 large button mushrooms, chopped in chunks
1/4 cup fresh baby arugula leaves
1-1/2 teaspoon dried basil leaves
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/3 cup petite cut tomatoes
1/3 cup + shredded Italian cheese blend
10 oz penne pasta, cooked al dente, drained, coated with 1 teaspoon olive oil
Here are the recipe instructions:
1. Heat both oils in a medium skillet.
2. Add the finely chopped jalepeno peppers to the heated oil; saute for 30 seconds.
3. Add both squash and mushroom chunks to the skillet; saute 3 minutes.
4. Toss in arugula; stir to coat with oil.
5. Toss in basil, garlic powder, and salt; stir.
6. Stir in tomatoes and 1/3 cup cheese.
7. Toss saute vegetables with al dente pasta.
8. Pour into bowls; garnish with additional shredded cheese, if desired.
Sure savored every bite of this dish. Buonanotte!