Fleur-de-Ramps

I knew the teaching tunnel would be full of lessons.

I didn’t expect the first lesson to come so quickly, or on the drive home.

The first time I saw the sign I was cruising at 60 mph toward Shingletown.

LEEKS RAMPS FOR SALE

A memory fluttered for a moment. No. It couldn’t be. The place must sell some type of truck ramp for DIY oil changes or something.

The next trip back from the teaching tunnel, Marina and my mom were in the car.

“Did you see that sign? Did it say Ramps?”

Marina hadn’t noticed. I was doing a double take, again, at 60 mph.

“I think it said Ramps. Ramps are like wild garlic and supposed to be delicious. They’re available for just a short time in the spring. Maybe they’re just selling truck ramps…but hey, this is spring. Maybe they have the ramps you eat.”

I made a U-turn.

Years ago, a big fellow stopped by Fleur-de-Lys Farm Market. He saw our Garlic Greens sign and wanted to know if we sold ramps. I had never heard of ramps (aka Allium tricoccum) but the seed was planted, so to speak. Some time after that, when my chef-phew Wille was working at Bucks County’s Yardley Inn, he said if we had ramps growing in our woods, the restaurant would buy them all. No such luck.

At the 2013 PASA conference I took a class on wildcrafting—foraging for uncultivated edible plants—and once again, ramps raised their broad, flat green leaves from the litter of the forest floor and waved at me. I even asked my co-worker Sharon if her dad had ramps growing in the wilds of his Rebersburg woodlands. We talked about escaping the office and gathering ramps and morels and other such delights of Penn’s Woods. We’d call ourselves The Wild Women. But alas, Sharon’s dad told her there were no ramps to be found.

We drove down the J.L. Farm lane to a complex of greenhouses. A pickup truck pulled in about 15 seconds later.Image

A fellow, probably in his 70s, climbed out of the truck. Marina and I approached him. He introduced himself as John. I asked if he had ramps. Not now, but he would on Monday. On Saturday he would drive to his place in McKean County, dig up the wild leeks, and return Sunday. Bushels of ramps would be available Monday for several local restaurants, and yes, I could buy some too. (McKean County is in the northwest section of the state known as the “Pennsylvania Wilds.”)

“They’re small this time of year,” John said, holding his calloused hands about 6 inches apart, “but they’re so good. Filled with vitamins and minerals.”

In Appalachia, ramps are the traditional spring tonic, warding off a long winter’s ailments. And what a long winter it was. I read that ramps are often cooked in bacon fat and served with a heapin’ helpin’ of eggs, potatoes, and bacon. Ramp festivals celebrate the allium in North Carolina, Kentucky, and West Virginia, all the way up to Quebec, where the French-Canadians call them “ail des bois”.

The spring ephemeral grows in cool, shady areas where you might find Mayapples or trout lilies. It emerges from the damp humus in late March or early April before the tree canopy fills in. By late May, the leaves of the perennial bulb die back, the flower stalk shoots up, and in June, the plant flowers and sets seed. Researchers at North Carolina State University found that seeds can take anywhere from 6 to 18 months to germinate. All in all, if you’re trying to cultivate ramps from seed to root harvest, expect to wait five to seven years.

But John is fortunate. Mother Nature takes care of the process for him. On spring weekends he returns to the 20 or so acres of his childhood homestead where the woodland floor spreads out in a sea of green—ramps rising from the thawing soil. Even with the bounty, careful harvest is required so the native population is not depleted.

When I returned to J.L. Farm on Monday, John greeted me with disappointing news. His restaurant clients were expecting 200 pounds of ramps. He had nothing to sell them. “There’s still snow up there.” He opened a black garbage bag filled with slimy, blackened leaves. Tucked in among them were a tangle of ramp roots and bulbs, barely sprouting. He was going to spend the evening planting them in his greenhouse beds to grow them out to saleable size. He cupped a few in his hand and then went to a raised bed where a few ramps were showing their stuff, survivors of John’s marauding chickens.Image

“These are a tonic for people, deer, even turkeys. Thins the blood. Your daughter has to taste these before she goes back to Belgium,” he said, placing a fistful in a paper bag. “They have a spark. Make you feel like a wild Indian.”

For Marina’s last Momma-cooked meal, I made Fasta Pasta chipotle penne with a sauce of bacon drippings, bacon, and diced ramps, sprinkled with Romano cheese. Comfort food, ramp style. Laurie Lynch

Gourmet Giggle: In the midst of my tramping for ramps I was emailing chef-phew Wille about my progress. Long after the dinner dishes were done, I returned to my email and found this:

“Awesome! I would glaze them and serve them whole on a side of pureed parsnips with fish. Top with a nice sauce to finish it off and a whiff of fresh rosemary. Hit with some nasturtiums for that extra little zip and eye candy. Let me know how it works out.”

I guess that is next week’s project.

 

 

 

 

Fleur-de-Chocolate

It is going to be a springtime of learning.

My Master Gardener friend Jo drafted Mom and me to help with a high tunnel project at Penn State’s Ag Progress Days site in Rock Springs, 10-plus miles from State College. Chris, another MG, heads the Centre County MG demonstration gardens just outside the high tunnel door.

A high tunnel is similar to the hoop house we had at Fleur-de-Lys, only this one is larger and has aluminum arches covered with clear plastic and sides that roll up when (if) the weather warms. Inside, we have a 4’x18’ raised bed and will soon have two tables holding a dozen Earth Boxes. The other half of the tunnel is empty, to make room for chairs when we hold presentations in the “teaching tunnel”.

Jo, an interior designer, transports her talents outside into perennial gardens and is a master at recruiting volunteers to showcase their skills. Chris has a long history with the MG program and is a gregarious gardener who always has a treat—plastic bag of Brussels sprouts in fall, jar of hot pepper jelly in winter, bulbs of stargazer lilies in spring.

We will have an “open tunnel” May 17, as part of the Garden Fair and Plant Sale, sponsored by the Penn State Extension Master Gardeners of Center County (quite a mouthful). Our MG herb expert will give a talk on Culinary Herbs, and with a little luck, our Earth Boxes will be billowing with fragrant, tasty and gorgeous boughs of basil, lemon verbena, rosemary, parsley…you get the picture. The raised bed will have three mini gardens: the Square-Foot Quilt Garden, the Pea Teepee Garden, and the Power Greens Garden. After the Garden Fair, we will switch out the raised bed plantings to make way for a grafted heirloom tomato trial garden for Ag Progress Days in August.

That’s the plan, anyway.

Chris stopped by the other day bearing gifts of peat pellets and donated seeds before she left for a business trip to Phoenix. I had never seeded a peat pellet before, so I was a little nervous, but heck, it’s only plant science. Chris warned me that you need “really warm water” to get the peat pellets to expand quickly.

The weekend arrives. I put the teakettle on the burner in the kitchen and start laying out the 86 peat pellets in their plastic trays on the atrium table. My cohort figures we are having a party.Image

When will the chocolate cookies be ready? Mom asks

They are not cookies. They are peat pellets. We are planting seeds.

When will the cookies be ready?

They are not cookies. They are for starting seeds.

They look like chocolate cookies.

They don’t taste like chocolate. They are made of peat moss.

So you don’t put them in the oven?

No. We’re using them to grow plants.

They look like such good chocolate. I could eat them up.

You know how there are two kinds of people in the world, those who see a glass half empty and those who see it half full? Well, there are actually three kinds—those who see chocolate. That’s my mom. Just a few nights ago we had dinner at an Asian-fusion restaurant where chocolate-brown linen napkins were wrapped around silverware and a white sleeve of chopsticks was strapped on top. Throughout dinner m mother would raise her eyebrows and motion to an unoccupied table, saying to Marina, “Look at that yummy chocolate dessert.” She repeated herself three or four times, despite our explanations to the contrary.

Back to our seeding. The warm water works. The peat pellets expand like pop-up sponges.

Those look like good chocolate cakes.

Well, they’re not. These are peat pellets so we can germinate seeds.

Every time I see them, I think it is a good piece of chocolate I can eat.

Finally, all 86 peat pellets are watered, seeded, and labeled. I snap on the clear plastic “greenhouse” lids and placed them on a card table where they will be warmed by the sun, if it ever shows.

Come to think of it, they do look resemble the cupcakes sealed in plastic containers in supermarket bakeries. All I can hope is that the darn seeds germinate before she tries to sneak a bite.

That next day we have a work session at the high tunnel to transplant donated seedlings into our Power Greens Garden.

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My mom sits in a lawn chair watching the crew. We plan. We dig. We space. In goes the kale and chard. Next come the napa cabbage and spinach. We water. We label. Up go the bamboo teepees, our much-needed “visual interest” according to our designing woman. We are making progress. We are making a garden. As the cold rain patters on our plastic shell we are warm with activity and accomplishment.

Jo steps back, admires the work, and reaches into a bag for her Tupperware container. She peels off the lid and offers the first of her batch of chocolate brownies to my mom. Laurie Lynch

BTW: Our teaching tunnel is fueled by plant labels made from recycled wine corks supported by bamboo skewers.

Title Exchange: We had dinner with Emelie, a friend from the Lehigh Valley, last week.

She asked if I had read any good books recently. I knew I had, it’s just that the names didn’t come to me until I got home: The Telling Room: A Tale of Love, Betrayal, Revenge and the World’s Greatest Piece of Cheese by Michael Paterniti and The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert.

And Emelie’s suggestions were: City of Thieves by David Benioff and Plainsong by Kent Haruf..

Your Turn: If you’ve read a great book recently, add the title in the comment section of this blog.

Words Worth Reading: “The love of learning, the sequestered nooks, and all the sweet serenity of books.”—Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

And Another: “With freedom, books, flowers and the moon, who could not be happy?”—Oscar Wilde

 

 

Fleur-de-Ruminating

I’ve been ruminating. While the kids were back from Belgium, words of a parent kept returning to me

This Kutztown parent had a son who was interested in attending Vesalius College. My kids supplied details long-distance, via email or Facebook or whatever. At the end of the process, comparing all things that parents look for in a college, the woman didn’t care that tuition costs were less than, say, Penn State. No, the woman objected to the “true cost” of sending her son to Vesalius.

When I first heard this story, I immediately thought of the cost of plane tickets, postal and banking rates, and “side trips” to Budapest or Berlin or Bath. But those costs are so insignificant compared to the opportunities that abound, I told myself.

And then, overnight, teen-agers become adults. I find myself lost in a web of mother love, a purgatory of values, visas, and vicissitudes. I thought about the other “true costs”: Visits that come too seldom and end too quickly. Skype conversations, such a blessing compared to airmail; but Skype hugs and Skype tears, hollow and heartbreaking. No blowing out candles together, no sharing sunsets or moonrises, no spur-of-the-moment cups of tea.

When I was in labor with Richard, we walked around the neighborhood of Allentown’s birthing center to get things moving. Despite everything, I remember seeing crocuses blooming in the snow on that March 25th, 22 years ago. On Monday morning, February 27, 2014, I opened the Centre Daily Times to a photo of crocuses blooming around the Brussels Atomium. Connection.

Marina will be flying back to Belgium long before the tomatoes and basil go into the ground. Yet I was successful in capturing the essence of last summer with a savory tomato pie, frozen and then baked one blustery January day, just as the smell of happiness within a container of August pesto was resurrected from the freezer in February.

My niece Ansley, the psychology graduate, came for a visit. She spent a few days with her Nonna and dubbed this The House of Questions. That description bubbled with laughter then cut to the heart, reverberating through the generations. The web of mother love: In The House of Questions, where are the answers?

When our world was covered in sheets of winter, I raided the refrigerator and made a dish of roasted red cabbage and Brussels spouts drizzled in olive oil. Our white dinner plates became palettes of my garden dreaming, echoing memories of green “Envy” zinnias paired with velvety spikes of Salvia ‘Victoria’ or a fistful of the chenille exuberance of amaranth.

On seeing the deep burgundy strips of cabbage tossed with halves of emerald Brussels spouts, I was seeing my summer garden. My mother looked at the plate and asked, “What is this? I don’t know anything like this in my mind anymore.”

”Earth laughs in flowers,” Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote. Earth cries in flowers too. Laurie Lynch

 

Fleur-de-Scrabble

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Koen and Marina sledding

There are a couple ways of looking at it: A Valentine’s Day double date or one fellow with his hands full. I prefer the latter.

My mother is all things to all people, but when we went to see Casablanca at The State Theatre on Valentine’s night with Koen and Marina, I didn’t consider her my date. No, I looked at our new Belgian friend Koen as an escort for 168 years of womanhood.

For almost a week the poor guy had to answer our questions on everything from his blue eyes to his twin brother to how he met Marina in Croatia. Richard is used to being out-numbered by questioning women when in State College. But I’m not sure we were what Koen bargained for.  Then again, there was the Scrabble game…

My mother could not get over how well Koen spoke English. She kept asking where he grew up—Belgium—and why he spoke English so well. I explained that in Europe they teach English in school, along with their native language. Koen politely clarified that while he had English classes he actually learned to speak by watching American television shows—especially The Simpsons. He would hear the English while reading the subtitles in Flemish.

Yes, The Simpsons is this country’s longest running sit-com—but I’ve never watched it. So I had to do a little Google homework. Episodes deal with parodies of American culture and society, and the dysfunctional family. Maybe Koen did know what he was getting himself into!

He speaks English beautifully and plays a mean game of Scrabble. He not only whooped Marina and me, he taught me a new word…razzia.

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Koen, Marina, Finley Flanagan, Nonna, and Liam and Jess Flanagan

Getting back to Valentine’s Day. I wanted to keep it low-key, an at-home dinner. So I went to Fasta Pasta for pink, heart-shaped cheese ravioli. I topped the ravioli with a simple Prosecco-Butter Sauce: ¼ cup minced shallots, 2 cups Prosecco, 1/3 cup butter cut into 2” cubes, salt and pepper. Heat shallots and Prosecco to medium high, stirring until reduced to a glaze. Whisk in butter cubes, a few at a time. Serve over ravioli.

I asked Koen to make Prosecco cocktails, mixing an elderflower liqueur from Ghent with Prosecco—a blending of Belgian and Italian spirits.

The dessert was a surprise for Marina. I figured if she could whisk me away to Corning, NY, without me knowing, I could whisk up a vegan Avocado Cacao Mousse, a repeat our special weekend. I went online, searching for Chocolate Avocado Mousse, and lo and behold, found several to choose from. The waiter from The Cellar told us his chef’s secret ingredient was maple syrup, so I substituted that for the sweetener used in another recipe, and then gave it an Uptown Espresso Bar twist. Years ago, Tweet made a Hot Chocolate Cheesecake with a touch of habanero for the “hot”. I used cayenne for a hint of heat.

 Avocado Cacao Mousse

½ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips, such as Ghiradelli

4 very ripe avocados, peeled and pitted (I used two small and one large)

½ cup maple syrup

½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1/3 cup almond milk

1 Tbsp. pure vanilla extract

¼ tsp. salt

2 hefty dashes of cayenne

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Lion in WInter

Place chocolate chips in a bowl that you place over a small saucepan of simmering water. Stir chips until melted and smooth, about 3 minutes Set aside and cool slightly.

Place everything in a blender or food processor, and blend until smooth and creamy. Be sure to scrape sides of container as needed.  Spoon into glasses and chill for at least three hours. Makes four large servings.

Truth be told, I’d rather eat my avocado as a salad—and then have chocolate for dessert. But I was curious to see if I could recreate a mousse in which you can’t tell there is green, not cream. If you have dietary restrictions or are just feeling adventurous…give it a try. Or maybe, pull one over on everyone for April Fool’s Day! Laurie Lynch

Here’s looking at you, kid:  “And I will cover you in diamonds the size of walnuts, place pearls as white as truffles at your feet, pluck emeralds as large as kiwi fruit…” spoken by Guido Brunetti in Donna Leon’s Willful Behavior. Ah, Guido, the Venetian policeman-poet-philosopher who always has an appetite for good Italian food continues to keep me up at night.

Fleur-de-Amuse-Bouche

Marina made all of the plans. We were to meet her friend Abby and my friend Vanessa (Abby’s mom) in an undisclosed location. She arranged for my sister Lee Ann to come stay with her Nonna.  She even arranged a Sunday morning massage.Image

As we got in the car on this Saturday morning in January, she punched the destination into the GPS while I put my fingers in my ears and started chanting, as not to hear “Siri” repeat her every entry.  It was an easy drive, the highway cutting through the mountains of northern Pennsylvania. About two hours into the trip, we got a call from Abby and Vanessa. Their trip from Kutztown was delayed by a snowstorm. As we kept driving, I soon guessed where we were headed—Corning, NY.

Marina and I explored the town until we got another call from Abby and Vanessa. We would meet at the Corning Museum of Glass. There, we spent several hours tracing the history of glass, selecting our favorite glass artifacts, and watching a glassblowing demonstration. We got our second-wind back at the Rosewood Inn and a recommendation for dinner.

The innkeeper told us three tempting tidbits about The Cellar restaurant. First, the wine menu comes on an iTablet; second, the Lamb Lollipops are “lovely”; and third, the Avocado Cacao Mousse is vegan food from heaven.

The iTablet wine list is technology I can get used to. Vanessa used her charm with the flirtatious waiter and upped the three-Lamb Lollipop appetizer to four so we could each taste the lamb with chevre, fig demi-glace, crispy prosciutto, and mint. We were sitting there, enjoying the evening, when a surprise concoction of shredded carrots and cucumber, with either marinated seitan (wheat meat) or tempeh (soy product), and topped with cilantro sprouts, arrived at the table in white ceramic spoons. (Our collective memories are misted by the red wine, so we’re not exactly sure of the ingredients.) Vanessa and I said to the waiter, “But these aren’t Lamb Lollipops” and the waiter gave us his melting smile, saying, “No, this is the amuse-bouche. Courtesy of the chef.”

After the waiter left the table, Marina translated for us. An amuse-bouche literally means something to amuse or entertain the mouth.

When we got home, I did a little more investigating. An amuse-bouche is often a whimsical creation intended to invigorate and tempt the appetite. According to the Dictionary of the History of the French Language the term originated in 1946. The first mention of amuse-bouche in the U.S. was an ad in The New York Times for a special New Year’s Eve dinner at a South Orange, NJ restaurant called Gitane. The year: 1985.

The amuse-bouche is a greeting, a single bite-sized hors d’ oeuvre (my sister Lee Ann always jokingly pronounces them hoover-doovers.)  It is different from an appetizer because it is not ordered from the menu; it is a tasty gift from the chef. Often an amuse-bouche is served in an Asian-style white ceramic soupspoon, in a demitasse cup, or on a skewer. As I was reading the description, I realized I had been gifted with multiple amuse-bouches five years ago at Chez Leon in Liege, BE, a neighborhood restaurant that Marina’s au pair family frequented. When we went to Chez Leon, one amuse-bouche followed another. I figured it was because Denise and Benoit are regulars, but apparently, in many restaurants everyone is a special guest…except in State College. I don’t know of any restaurants that serve amuse-bouche. I guess in a college town, everyone is so self-amused that chefs don’t see the need.

The Lamb Lollipops were fantastic and the vegan chocolate mousse deserves a blog entry all its own. Our mother-daughter weekend was joyful and it was good to connect to Kutztown news via Vanessa. She told me she joined Tim Stark’s Eckerton Hill Farm CSA and got a blue-green warty heirloom Marina di Chioggia Squash that she didn’t know how to prepare. Now this is one of my favorite winter squashes, not only because of its first and last names (Chioggia is the coastal town just below Venice) but because it tastes so darn good in Spicy Pumpkin Chowder.

Just talking about Marina di Chioggia drove me into the kitchen when we returned home to make a pot. Since I owe Vanessa the recipe, I will share it with all of you. If you have Marina di Chioggia (I had puree in the freezer), use it by all means. If not, a neck pumpkin or any winter squash will do.Image

Spicy Pumpkin Chowder

2 tablespoons butter

1 medium onion, chopped

3 fresh sage leaves

2 cloves garlic, minced

3 potatoes, unpeeled and cut into ½” cubes

2 10-ounce packages of frozen corn

4 cups vegetable broth

4 cups pumpkin puree

Cayenne, black pepper, and salt to taste.

Melt butter in large soup pot and add onion, sage, garlic and stir frequently until soft. Add potatoes, corn, and broth, and bring to boil. Lower heat and simmer until potatoes are tender, about 10 minutes. In a saucepan, mix pumpkin, peppers and salt, and heat through. Add to corn-potato mixture, stir to blend, and serve.

Worth Remembering: A daughter is the happy memories of the past, the joyful moments of the present, and the hope and promise of the future.  ~Author Unknown

Fleur-de-Raclette

It was the perfect gift for the winter of 2013-14.  A snow-vember; a storm in December that closed Route 322 leaving Richard, Sabine and me stranded on the wrong side of the Seven Mountains for several hours on the way home from Philadelphia International; whiteout New Year’s travel; the thrill of the Sochi Winter Olympics; and here it is March, and the snowflakes are still falling.

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Getting a tree!

The gift, which Sabine somehow crammed into her oversized carry-on luggage and then sweet-talked Belgian airport security into letting it pass, was a Belgian-made, 1300W, 6.6 kg (14.6 lb.) stone grill-raclette for a crowd of eight.

Raclette, the classic Swiss dish, is pure peasant food. Swiss shepherds move their dairy cows from one mountainous pasture to the next. At night, they warm themselves around a campfire and break out a loaf of crusty bread and a wheel of cow’s milk cheese. They melt the cheese slowly and scrape it onto the bread for a simple meal. The French word for “to scrape” is “racler,” which gave way to the term raclette.

As is often the case, peasant food became haute cuisine. It evolved into ski holiday fare in the Alps, with a wedge of cheese melted in front of a cozy fireplace, and then scraped and draped over fingerling potatoes, cornichons (tiny pickles) and pickled onions. From there the tradition travelled downhill and was modified to become urban-friendly. Today, you will visit apartments of 20-somethings in Brussels, where young people huddle around a table, sip Belgian brew, toast meats and vegetables on the stone grill, and underneath, melt cheese in square little trays with handles.  Each person has her own tray. When the cheese sizzles to perfection, she pulls it out and uses her individual wooden spatula to scrape the cheesy-ooze onto boiled fingerling potatoes and meat and vegetables from the grill. He persons follow suit. As each cheese tray is emptied, it is refilled. And on it goes into the night.

Raclette is a hostess friendly method of entertaining which encourages informality, relaxed conversation, and laughter. One night, Celso (our former Brazilian Rotary exchange student) and his fiancée Sarah joined Richard, Sabine (originally from Rwanda), Marina, my mom and me for such a dinner. We grilled pre-roasted cabbage and zucchini strips, and slices of prosciutto, and had a bowl of cooked “Tiny Tim” potatoes. Each of us had color-coded trays so we could monitor our melting cheese. It was a night to remember: People of four continents dining without borders. Laurie Lynch

Side Salad: Raclette is often paired with a fresh salad. Here is a new one I enjoy.

Red Cabbage Slaw with Ginger Dressing

½ red cabbage, thinly sliced

2 carrots, julienned

2 scallions, thinly sliced

Handful of toasted, slivered almonds.

Dressing:

½ cup rice vinegar

¼ cucumber

¼ green pepper

¼ onion

1-inch knob fresh ginger, peeled

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

½ cup plain yogurt

Salt and Pepper

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Sabine, Richard and Nonna in Pittsburgh for New Year’s

Slice vegetables for slaw. Set aside. Place ingredients for the dressing in a blender, and liquefy. Pour over slaw, toss, sprinkle with almonds, and serve.

Side Comment: If you have good thoughts they will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely.  –Roald Dahl

Fleur-de-Holidays

Image“How were your holidays?”

The question stops me. The holidays haven’t ended.

They started in mid-December, with the arrival of Richard and his girlfriend Sabine from Brussels. A week later, Marina arrived from the same city.

The homecoming was enriched with getting to know Sabine and introducing her to Pennsylvania. In mid-January, no sooner had I driven Richard and Sabine to Philadelphia International to return to Belgium than I began anticipating the arrival of Koen, Marina’s significant other, from Ghent. With touch downs in State College and Kutztown, Koen and Marina are visiting NYC, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, and various points in New York State before he flies back next week.

But the holiday continues, at least until April, when Belgian visa regulations allow Marina to return to Brussels. Richard is on a student visa, so he’s deep in the midst of classes. Marina has her bachelor’s and master’s, and is searching for that elusive job that will land her back in Europe. Until then, the holiday goes on.

It hasn’t been a holiday like others, where there is pressure to package all that is good and fun in a few rushed days and nights. No, it’s been a lazy, although sometimes crazy, holiday of snowstorms, sled rides, and shoveling, wining (no H in this wining) and dining, catching up and reaching out, bubble baths and pajama hugs, the pure ease of family togetherness, with a few potholes along the way. Comfort food and conversation framed our season. As we look forward to spring, the growing and glowing season, I will share some highlights, simple meals and stories that may add warmth to this long winter of 2014.  Laurie Lynch

P.S. The photo for this blog shows how we measure snowfall at 101 Timber Lane.

Fleur-de-2Stories

An Italian Story: The day in December that I make tortellini is a highlight and a relief. A highlight, because warm memories of four generations I’ve shared the tradition with come tumbling into my head with every gentle push of the rolling pin; a relief, because no matter what holiday calamity that may occur, we will have tortellini for Christmas Eve supper.

Last summer, my niece Ansley forwarded a link to an NPR show discussing tortellini—and the legend that the dumpling was inspired by Venus’ navel.  Google “tortellini NPR” and you can read or listen to it too.

As romantic as Venus is, I’m just not getting the navel image. To me, a tortellini looks like a miniature turkey—you could place it on a platter the size of a half-dollar and re-create Thanksgiving in a dollhouse. A belly button? I don’t think so.

When I was old enough to stand, I watched my Italian grandmother Nene roll out the egg pasta by hand. The filling starts with a whole chicken in pot water with herbs, celery, garlic, etc. The cooked meat is ground and mixed with eggs, chopped parsley, grated Parmesan cheese, and a dusting of freshly ground nutmeg.Image

As a youngster, my first job was making balls of the filling and placing them on the squares of pasta Nene cut with a fluted pastry wheel. The palms of your hands can get sticky when you do this and if you’re 5, you may need to lick them. Ah, Nene was a woman of patience!

Then she would fold, pinch, and twist each tortellino like a master. Both my parents took over for Nene when she visited the great pasta-maker in the sky, and I passed on the loving tradition to my children.

This year, I tried to make it festive with a Trans-Siberian Orchestra CD playing it the background. But it was a solo project, with my mother observing but not comprehending.

What are you doing?

Making tortellini.

What’s tortellini?

They’re chicken dumplings we put in broth for Christmas Eve dinner.

It hurt having to explain. And, to be frank, made me angrier than I should be while making tortellini. Where are Nene’s patience genes?

I should have expected it. Just days before I found a bath towel hanging on the oven door.  I was horrified. I snatched the towel and took it into the guest bathroom where it belongs. It’s not that I’m a stickler for propriety, but my mother was. She was such a gracious hostess and woman-about-the-kitchen. It is the nuances of the disease that stab my heart.

I placed the tortellini on a wax-paper-lined cookie sheet to slide into freezer. That way the dumplings freeze individually, so when you bag them, they stay separate.

Are you getting ready to bake them?

No, we boil the frozen tortellini in broth on Christmas Eve.

Out slipped the tears. I wiped my cheeks with the back of my wrist. I took a deep breath and heard Nene calling from a hazy past: “Tears sweeten the broth.”

A Polish Story: The beauty of living in State College is that eventually, everyone seems to come to town. In the last several weeks, I’ve seen three of my former swim coaches—two of whom I haven’t seen for decades.

My mom and I met Coach Sue for coffee the other day before she headed back to New York. We were catching up on careers and kids. Sue was a PE instructor at West Point for 30+ years. I told her that my mom taught art at State College High School for just a few years but touched so many lives. When we go out to her favorite breakfast place—The Waffle Shop—we always seem to run into a former student with a story to tell. One woman said she was still mad at my mom for making the class memorize the spelling of her last name—Wrobleski—when just a few months into the school year she married and her name switched to Fedon.Image

Sue lit up and said, “Are you any relation to Victor Wrobleski?”

Our eyes widened. That was her father’s name, and her brother’s—Victor Valentine Wrobleski.

“No, younger.”

Her nephew—VV Wrobleski.

Sue remembered him—a swimmer, blond, powerfully built—and the name Wrobleski. So, I emailed cousin VV and linked the two of them.

“Oh, the world is too small!!  It’s taken about 35 years for this to come full circle!

“Victor, I was the Women’s Swim coach and I taught in the Department of Physical Education (DPE – the cadets still call it “The Department with a Heart”) when you were on the swim team. I taught Swimming, Gymnastics, Aerobics, Ice Skating (all the “Leotard Sports” as I call them)…I was just one of the new instructors, probably just one level above a plebe!  The Women swimmers were all Walk-Ons back then, so we tried our best to help them improve.

“I remember that you worked really hard, and I also remember being sad that you left. (Victor failed English and transferred to West Virginia University.)  But at the time I knew that leaving West Point was probably as hard as entering West Point.  It’s funny what things you remember. I probably couldn’t tell you the names of any of the men on the swim team back then without looking up their names, but for some reason I remember yours. Maybe because it’s not “Smith”?

“So great to close the loop!”

May your holidays be filled with memorable stories.  Laurie Lynch

Fleur-de-OhDear

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Chef Wille

 Before Thanksgiving, our big worry was how the free-range, Amish-grown, 26-pound turkey was going to fit in the oven. Chef Wille took care of that, with a half-inch to spare.

After our houseguests took to the road and the last of the carcass simmered into broth, the air cleared of turkey and trimmings and it was time to sit down and relax…but wait, the air wasn’t clear. Tiny winged creatures were fluttering around the kitchen.

While every red-blooded he-man in Centre County went to huntin’ camp for the post-Turkey Day rifle-and-poker weekend/first-day-of-deer season, Mom and yours truly found ourselves on a slightly different seek-and-destroy mission.

Indian Meal Moths invaded the kitchen!

True confession: In retrospect I ignored their presence before the holiday. I smacked and swatted, sometimes getting lucky with a smear of brown moth dust settling on my palms or the kitchen cupboard. It was just a tiny moth or two. They would disappear with the colder weather.

I think it all started when Chef Wille used the kitchen as an experimental station for his gluten-free baking last summer. In came the strangers: potato starch, tapioca flour, brown rice flour, etc. But all the blame can’t rest on his broad shoulders. I love raiding shelves at Trader Joe’s for couscous, quinoa, and the like. Then, I started baking whole wheat bread filled with sprouted sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, and wheat berries.

The microscopic eggs of Indian Meal Moths hide in the creases of packaging from Weis, Wegmans, Trader Joe’s or the local health food store. The tiny, newly hatched larvae slip into seams of various foodstuffs or wait until you open the package and then take that route and start chowing down. By this weekend, the Indian Meal Moths resembled geese in V-formation. (Oh, I exaggerate, but it was time for action.)

I took up arms in the battle against the scourge of the pantry, Plodia interpunctella, by reading about its egg, larval and pupa stages. With seven to nine generations a year, it seems to be a virtual rabbit of kitchen pests. The larvae weave webs as they grow, leaving behind silken threads as they crawl around cereal, flour, and the like. (So that’s what that little cluster of webbing and crumbs was.) Eventually, they spin silken cocoons on the bottom of your Campbell’s chicken noodle soup can, for example. In no time the adult emerges, starts flying about laying microscopic eggs on your barley and green lentils, and the whole damn chain of events starts over again.

Out went the potato starch, cornstarch, tapioca flour, and brown rice flour. In my subconscious the Mom-ghost of 50 years ago kept repeating, “But what about all the starving children in Africa?” I plowed ahead.

Out went the quinoa. The Mom of this year simply said, “Oh dear.” Out went the couscous. “Oh dear.” The two partial bags of chocolate chips, dumped into the trash. “Oh dear.” The brown rice, the white rice, and on it went. I wiped a white cocoon off the bottom of a can. “Oh dear.” The brand-new and pricey almond flour was in the freezer, thank God. Our precious Brazilian farinha was already locked away in an airtight container. It could stay. My homegrown, dehydrated kale found refuge in a Ball jar, as did a treasure of chocolate-peppermint biscotti and my supply of Craisins and candied ginger.  My Ball jar brigade marches on where no ineffective Ziploc dares to travel.

We absolutely FILLED the garbage can in the garage and I couldn’t wait to drag it out to the curb for trash pickup. Got back from work, and the garbage can was still there—full. Turns out the garbage men take off for deer hunting too.

Back in the old days, when the men went hunting and the womenfolk stayed home, State College stores ran Deer Lonely Ladies Day sales. The kids all had a day or two off from school (still do), so it was a win-win for all, except the deer.  “Oh dear.” Laurie Lynch 

Leftover Discovery: With all of the swatting and sorting and wiping and washing and tossing I worked up quite an appetite. I roasted the last few wedges of a neck pumpkin and spooned my sister Lee Ann’s Cranberry Chutney over top. Wow! Lee Ann’s chutney is a perennial hit at my mother’s table, and Marina and Richard introduced it to a houseful of friends in Ghent to celebrate an American Thanksgiving in Belgium. Magnifique and grandioos!

Cranberry Chutney

1 small can Mandarin oranges, drain most liquid

2 cups cranberries, rinsed

1 medium apple, diced with skin

½ cup golden raisins

½ cup orange marmalade

½ cup cider vinegar

1½ cups of water

1¼ cups of sugar

Dash of allspice

¾ tsp. of cinnamon

½ tsp. of ginger

¼ tsp. ground cloves. 

Combine all, bring to a boil and then simmer, one to three hours. The longer it simmers, the thicker it gets. Then chill. It is best made a day or two ahead.

 

 

 

Fleur-de-Soundtrack

 

This music-as-a-soundtrack-of-our-lives concept fascinates me.

It started at the nursing home concert. The singer asked for requests. To break the silence I suggested “Moon River,” thinking that was a good oldie for the group, and yes, a favorite of mine. I was shocked when the entertainer said “Moon River” came out in 1961. I thought it was ancient, not a song from the Sixties!

So I started drifting back. Back to the BS days. BS, in this case, stands for Before Seatbelts. I sang many a song in the back of the family station wagon with a gaggle of girlfriends on the way to swim meets. My favorite was what we might now call “performance art,” combining words and hand motions, in this instance, on a friend’s back:

“X marks the spot with a dot, dot, dot and a dash, dash, dash and a question mark. Three lines down, once around, the chills go up, the chills go down, the chills go all around. Crack an egg, down it flows, with a breeze and a squeeze.” 

Then there was “John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt” and our school bus ballad, “100 Bottles of Beer on the Wall”.  TV commercials, such as the one for Brylcream, “a little dab’ll do ya,” are imprinted on my brain, and I can’t forget the jingle from a Pittsburgh cousin: “Just plant a watermelon on my grave and let the juice (slurp, slurp) run through.” As the wrinkles wrinkle and the hairs gray I’m seriously considering it as my personal after-life plan.

By college, I was still swimming and my musical memories dredge up songs like “Black Water” and Barbra Streisand’s “The Way We Were.” (We created our own lyrics with “misty water-colored memories” to honor two wonderful coaches.)

Skip a few decades, and we’re driving to State College on Route 322, starting up the Seven Mountains. The kids are fidgeting in their car seats, anxious to get to their grandparents’ house for Thanksgiving dinner. My childhood comes calling and I break into song.

“The bear went over the mountain, the bear went over the mountain, the bear went over the mountain—to see what he could see. He saw another mountain, he saw another mountain, he saw another mountain—and what do you think he did? He climbed another mountain, he climbed another mountain…”

Yes, I’m developing my soundtrack. Now it is your turn. Share your musical memories, and while you’re at it, have a Thanksgiving that is full of thanks. Laurie Lynch