Making occasions special with food
September 3, 2013
In the 1950s post-war era of abundance, suburban refrigerators and pantries boasted pyramids of food.
My friends rummaged through shelves stuffed with Wheaties and Cheerios. Milk bottles and Velveeta jammed their refrigerators.
My practical mother bought only the amount of food we'd eat in one week. I fantasized about finding a stale cracker on a back shelf or even a forgotten tomato in our vegetable bin. As much as I searched, my dream never came true.
Even the concrete shelves in my friend Jane's bomb shelter held more. Peanut butter jars, Ritz cracker boxes, Pepperidge Farm cookie bags stacked three-deep: Compared to our meager food storage, a post-nuclear war snack seemed luxurious.
Although frugal, my mother always made a special going-away meal when I left for camp in July. In thinking about it now, I realize she was probably celebrating the two peaceful months she'd enjoy without me at home.
Lobster tails, artichokes and home-made French fries, exotic kid fare for those days but always my last supper request.
Even when I went away to college and traveled in Europe, my farewell feast preferences never changed. And in those innocent days of irrelevant fat grams and unmeasured cholesterol levels, melted butter was the preferred sauce for all dippable items.
I have different ideas about festive food now, and hope these new summer recipes inspire creations for your special meals.
Spread this on grilled fish, scoop it up with chips, eat it plain out of the jar: any way you gobble this, you'll cheer zucchini.
1 pound zucchini – two colors are artistically beautiful – chopped in small pieces
1/2 cup well chopped red onion
1/4 cup well chopped red pepper
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup white vinegar
1 teaspoon pickling spice
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
Mix the chopped pieces of zucchini, pepper, and onion together, stir in the salt, and refrigerate overnight.
In the morning, press all the liquid out of the chilled veggies.
Put them in a pot with the marinade, bring to a boil, and then simmer for about 30 minutes until the liquid is absorbed but the veggies are still moist. Chill before serving.
Corn, tomatoes, peppers: hot weather goodies for sure.
Here's what appeared when my daughter requested a quiche, but I felt too lazy to make a crust.
3 corn tortillas, cut in quarters
1 1/2 cups sharp cheddar
1/2 cup chopped tomatoes
1/2 cup corn kernels
1/2 cup chopped red pepper
4-ounce can mild diced Ortega chiles
4 scallions, sliced in Os
4 beaten eggs
1 1/2 cups sour cream
1 tablespoon flour
1/4 teaspoon powdered mustard
Salt and pepper
Arrange the cut tortillas along the bottom of a well-greased 10-inch deep glass pie pan.
Spread the cheese on the bottom of the tortilla crust. Mix together the veggies and layer them over the cheese.
Finally, pour the custard over the veggies. Bake for 40 minutes at 375 degrees until the custard is set.
Serve hot, cold, or at room temp.
Quick Sesame Cukes
When you think, "Oh, I need one more thing on the dinner table," try this simple side dish.
2 cups thinly sliced cucumbers (I leave the skin on)
1 scallion, whites and greens, cut in thin Os
1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
1 tablespoon minced cilantro
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon sesame oil
Mix the cukes, scallion, sesame seeds, cilantro and dressing together and chill. Add the salt just before serving.
Use fresh peaches, and this comfort-food dessert will make you purr.
1 1/2 pounds peaches, skins on and sliced in 1/2-inch pieces
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest (Do this before you squeeze the juice)
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup ground ginger snaps (Easy grinding instructions to follow)
2 tablespoons brown sugar
4 tablespoons butter, melted
1/4 cup chopped walnuts
Toss together the peaches, lemon zest, and lemon juice, and arrange on the bottom of an ungreased 8-inch square glass pan.
If you don't feel like hauling out the Cuisinart, place a handful of gingersnaps in a plastic bag and hit lightly with a rolling pin until the cookies become crumbs.
Don't obsess if you measure out more than the indicated 1/2 cup. Put the crumbs in a bowl, add the sugar, butter, and walnuts, and mix with a fork until everything's combined.
Pat the crumbs over the peaches – the peaches won't be completely covered – and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes until the peaches are tender. Then broil for 1 or 2 minutes until the crumbs turn light brown.
Ronnie Paul is a freelance writer in Nevada City.