Dish up self-help |

Dish up self-help

Kitchen time is as important as self-help workshops.

For instance, rather than confronting my daughters with in-your-face questions, I’ve developed a casual chop-the-onions technique.

Onions allow tears to flow without the chopper appearing upset, and encourages bonding without even looking in each others’ eyes. I’ve tried mincing parsley and celery during difficult talks, but dry eyes just aren’t as meaningful.

For more relaxed conversations, try communal bean snapping or corn shucking. Using this method, I’ve heard boyfriend news, athletic accomplishments, and a list of everything wrong I’ve done as a mother.

We don’t have gym equipment in our home, and as I always feel better after physical workouts, I stretch my legs on a kitchen counter while waiting for soup to simmer and heft heavy glass casseroles with just one hand. I can cook and work-out in grubbies, so I feel empowered saving money on stylish exercise clothes.

Even though we’ve installed arrows pointing toward the front door, the kitchen entry lures guests like sirens singing along a rocky coastline. Once inside, friends are encouraged to set the table, make salad dressings, or whatever I haven’t yet gotten around to doing.

They bellyache, “I’ve never sautéed leeks,” and, “I’m terrible at pulling napkins through rings,” but by the end of the evening, they’re proud of their new accomplishments.

Cooking is one of my favorite self-help activities. I hope trying these recipes boosts your confidence in every way.

Stuffed Eggplant

4 hearty servings

Make this for a robust winter dinner.

2 round eggplants, about 1 pound each, halved length-wise

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 large garlic cloves, pressed

1/2 cup raw white basmati rice

3/4 cups water

2 tablespoons olive oil

8 ounces mushrooms, thinly sliced

1/2 medium onion, chopped

2 packed tablespoons minced parsley

1 chopped tomato

Salt and pepper

4 tablespoons Parmesan cheese

Mix 2 tablespoons of olive oil with the garlic and brush on the cut-side of each eggplant. Bake face-side down on a greased sheet for 30 minutes at 375-degrees until the flesh is very soft. Let the eggplant cool.

Put the basmati and water in a pot, bring to a boil, and simmer covered for 15 minutes until the rice is tender. While the rice cooks, sauté the mushrooms, onion, and parsley in 2 tablespoons olive oil until the mushrooms are tender and the onions translucent.

Scoop out the eggplant innards and chop. Mix the chopped eggplant, tomato, and salt and pepper, with the sautéed veggies, and spoon equally into the four eggplant hollows. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon Parmesan on each eggplant half, and place face-up in an ungreased baking dish. Bake uncovered at 350 degrees for 35 minutes until the cheese melts. A quick zap under the broiler is allowable.

Vegetarian Split Pea Soup

4-6 servings

Chop in the morning, enjoy in the evening.

1 pound dry split peas

7 cups water

1 bay leaf

3/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup diced celery

1 cup diced carrots

1 cup diced potatoes

1 good-size onion, diced

1/2 cup minced parsley

3 garlic cloves, pressed

1 packed tablespoon fresh oregano

1/4 teaspoon powdered mustard

Pepper to taste

Put the split peas, water, bay leaf and salt in a soup pot and bring to a boil.

Then turn the flame down, cover, and simmer for one hour, during which you’ll have time to chop the veggies and do the laundry.

Add all the remaining ingredients, and simmer covered on the stove for at least three hours — for more thickening time, put it on a hotplate after this — stirring occasionally so the bottom doesn’t burn. If the soup looks like it could be cut with a steak knife, add a little water.

Winter Scones

8 servings

Hint: these are wonderful companions to split pea soup.

1 1/2 cups white flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

2 teaspoons baking powder

3 tablespoons salted butter at room temperature, cut into bits

2 packed tablespoons brown sugar

1 beaten egg

3/4 cup vanilla yogurt

1/2 cup dried cranberries

Put the flour, baking soda, baking powder, butter and sugar in a food processor, and mix until it resembles coarse meal.

In a separate bowl, mix the egg and yogurt until smooth. Add the cranberries and dry ingredients and stir until blended.

Divide the dough into eight portions, and place on a buttered baking sheet. Bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes until the centers are set.

Ronnie Paul is a freelance writer in Nevada City.

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