May 2011 archive

Black Bottom Banana Cream Bars and Remembering Lester

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Tomorrow, it will be a year since my Father-in-law died.  A year that’s been full of watching my husband go through the hardest struggle I’ve ever had to watch him face.

It’s one thing to think about the inevitable event in the future – the fact that everyone at some point will lose a parent.  Several of my friends have already been through this.  But if you haven’t experienced it yet, it’s something you ruminate over late at night. You think about that day and what it could mean for you.

A wise person once told us that anticipatory grief never takes the place of actual grieving and they were right.  No matter how much you try to prepare yourself, it still is a sucker punch to your gut.  As you watch your husband’s dad lay there getting sicker and weaker by the day, then the hour, you tell yourself that surely nothing could be worse than this.  But there is something but worse than this.  You just don’t know it yet.

First, the relief that they’re out of pain overtakes you.  You’re grateful for that.  You’re also grateful for the fact that you don’t have to watch them hurt anymore.  Because That. Is. Awful.  The see-sawing back and forth hoping that the rattle of each breath will be the last one but knowing that a last breath means that they’ll finally be out of reach, out of reach of pain, but out of reach from you forever.

When the end finally does come, you’re so damn grateful.  And then the men from the funeral home come and carry his body out and you tell yourself that he’s not there anymore and it doesn’t matter.  Except it does.  Because now he’s really gone and he’ll never be in the house ever again.

Hospice comes and breaks down the hospital bed and you’re so freaking glad to get that sad piece of furniture out of the house.  Except – you realize this is the sad beginning of the process that you’re about to go through, a process that will slowly strip the person you love and reminders of them out of your life.  Pills get picked up and his dress uniform comes back from the cleaners.  And you feel relieved because that death rattle is gone but the house seems strangely quiet.  You go outside and see the first firefly of the season and realize that the last time a firefly made you cry, you were seven and had left them in a jar overnight and they had died.  You see the look of hopelessness on your husband’s face and your heart wants to explode from grief.  Surely, you can make it through this and things will get better.

And it does in a way but it doesn’t.  Casseroles come rolling into the house.  Fried chicken arrives.  The only thing green that shows up is a broccoli casserole and that doesn’t count because it’s covered in Velveeta and buttered Ritz cracker crumbs.  You smile faintly when you realize that you’re with people that consider macaroni and cheese a vegetable.  You’re grateful that when people don’t know what to say, they try to help in any way they can so they cook.  Cans of cream of mushroom soup get opened and they find their way to the house in casserole dishes.  You look at potatoes made five different ways and feel comforted.

You head to the farmers market because you need to do something that feels normal.  You cry when Dave from VG’s bakery fills you up a box full of pastries, gives you a hug and charges you a pittance.  You’re so grateful for small kindnesses because when your heart feels so sore, these small kindnesses remind you that there is something out there beyond pain. You go down to the river and watch your husband burst into tears because he will never fish with his dad again.  Then you both eat a cinnamon roll.  You feel exhausted and numb and sad.  You run the rest of the day fueled by carbs and caffeine.

Then the memorial service happens.  You wait in the receiving line for hours.  You meet many people who you do not know.  You hear stories about your husband as a child.  You hear stories about your father-in-law as a child.  You feel like you are serving no purpose and you realize that’s just because you feel empty inside.  You feel guilty because the hug you get from your own Dad feels so comforting and it makes your heart hurt for your husband even more. You have never felt more strongly in your life the desire to scoop up someone’s pain and carry it for them.  You hug your friends that are there and you realize that you’ve never felt more grateful for them.

The next day, you get up and feel like a zombie.  You meet at the funeral home.  You watch the little kids skip merrily around the fire engines that are there to travel with you to the grave site.  You get in the car to travel to the cemetery and on the way there, you see a bum on the side of the street with his hand over his heart.  You wish you could get out and hug him.  You watch your husband watch his dad be buried.  You listen to the horns play “Taps” and feel grateful that the people that are playing are good horn players.  The last thing you want your husband, a French horn player, to be subjected to at his father’s burial is crappy horn playing. You look at your husband and you both smile because you know you’re thinking the same thing.  You feel grateful for soft Kleenexes.  Bagpipes are played.  You think of an ex-boyfriend who played the bagpipes and you’re so grateful that the man next to you now is named Marcus.  And the funeral is over.  And having to leave that grave site is one of the hardest things you’ve ever had to watch your husband do.  Again, your heart feels like it can’t contain your grief.

You go back home and eat more casserole.  You go back to your house and surround yourself with cats.  You both sob because last Memorial Day is the day that one of the furbabies you referred to as your firstborn died in your arms.  You get back in the car the next day and get some of the flowers from the grave site to put in your compost heap.  You know Lester would have liked to know that his funeral did something to improve your tomatoes.  And you feel like you never will feel normal again.

It’s after all this happens that you feel so alone.  I’ve found that people in the South (and probably anywhere) are wonderful in the immediate aftermath of death.  You couldn’t feel more cared for.  It’s later when your body is consumed with rage and fury that they don’t  quite know what to do with you.  They don’t want to hear the mixed bag of emotions you’re feeling because they’ve got theirs locked down tight.  Truth has no place there because truth is ugly.  And it make you feel even more alone.  Because the father that my husband buried was a good man.  But he had his faults and his pride and anger caused him to leave this earth too soon.  And sometimes my husband wishes his dad was still alive just so he could tell him how angry he is at him.  And then he realizes that it would have the same effect that it had when he tried to do this when his dad was alive.  And all the sadness that made your heart feel like it would explode?  Anger replaces it and again your heart feels like it would burst from the fury that pulses out of it.

It’s one thing to be aware of the stages of grief and how people deal with it.  It’s another to be caught up in them.  One minute my husband feels like he might be at peace with his dad.  The next minute, he’s so filled with Rage that it doesn’t even feel like his body can contain it.  Then Sadness slinks in, makes itself at home in your house and drinks all your beer.  It belches loudly and wonders out loud if he can bring his good friend, Depression, to sleep on your couch for a while because he’s a little down on his luck at the moment and just needs a place to crash.  Guilt flits in and out, leaving the door open so the cats get outside.  Acceptance says he’s going to stop by, but the party’s almost over and you realize that Acceptance won’t be stopping by and that he’s as full of shit as he always was.

Grief is a thief in the night that whispers in your husband’s ear while he sleeps “You have no father anymore” so that the refrain plays over and over in his head during the day.  It’s the voice the tells you both that if you ever have kids, they will never know one of their grandparents.  Your husband tells you that what was even worse than burying his dad was burying the hope he had.  The hope he had that he could find some way to break through the resentment his Dad felt towards him and find a way to make their relationship stronger.  This grief is as acute as it was the day his dad died, even almost a year later. So I tell him to write his Dad and tell him how he feels.  That we’ll burn that letter and sprinkle the ashes on his Dad’s grave and tell him goodbye again. And I feel cheesy and trite and useless for having such a simplistic idea.  But I pray with every fiber of my being that it will help.  Because this is a good man who hurts and I love him more than I ever thought possible.

A year later you’re out for a walk and see the first fireflies of the year.  You realize that every time you see a firefly for the rest of your life, you will be grateful and your heart will hurt.  And then you hug your husband.

Right before Marcus’s Dad got too sick to eat, we brought over soup beans, cornbread and Black Bottom Banana Cream Bars.  I knew his dad was a fan of banana pudding but I wanted to do something a little different.

My dad has always been a fan of banana cream pie – it’s his “birthday cake” every year.  One year I added a layer of chocolate to the pie and loved it.  So I definitely wanted to use chocolate.  A few years ago I had a banana bread pudding with a whiskey sauce and it was wonderful.  So the next time I made banana pudding, I added Irish whiskey to it and loved the combination.  Pie crusts aren’t hard but people can be intimidated by them so I went with a graham cracker crust.  I like it better than a regular crust in this because it mimics the vanilla wafers in banana pudding without getting soggy.  The butteriness of the crust mixed with the bittersweetness of the chocolate is perfection.  Every time we make these bars, we think of Lester.

Black Bottom Banana Cream Pie Bars
Makes 9 good-sized servings

1 1/4 cups graham cracker crumbs (about 15 crackers)
1/4 cup butter, melted (1/2 stick)
1 1/2 tablespoons brown sugar
3 ounces semi-bittersweet chocolate
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1 1/2 cups whole milk
4 large egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup flour, measured and then sifted
pinch of salt
3 tablespoons Irish whiskey
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2-3 ripe bananas
1 cup whipping cream
1/4 cup superfine sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Place the graham cracker crumbs in  a medium bowl, mix with brown sugar and pour in melted butter.  Stir well.  Place this crumb mixture in an 8×8 baking pan and pat it evenly into bottom of pan.  Bake for 7-10 minutes or until edges begin to brown.  Let cool.

Melt the chocolate with the 3 tablespoons cream in the microwave on medium power until the chocolate begins to melt. Stir well and microwave until the chocolate and cream are a smooth liquid.  Pour over crust and smooth over it so that the chocolate completely covers the crust.  Place in freezer and let cool for at least ten minutes.

Over medium-high heat, heat milk in a saucepan until it’s warm.  Set aside and let cool. You want it to still be warm but cool enough to touch without burning yourself.  Place a strainer over a medium mixing bowl and set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and sugar.  When the mixture is thick and smooth, whisk in the flour and salt.  Slowly pour in the warm milk, whisking constantly. Transfer back to the saucepan.

Cook this mixture over medium heat.  You need to stir this mixture constantly because you don’t want the bottom to scorch.  It will begin to thicken so that it looks like pudding.  Large bubbles will begin to appear.  Taste the pudding mixture (Do this carefully so you don’t burn yourself!) and see if you can detect any taste of flour.  If so, cook for another minute or two and taste again.  When you can’t detect any taste of flour, remove from heat.  Whisk in the Irish whiskey and vanilla.

Pour the pudding into the strainer to catch any lumps.  You’ll want to have a spoon handy to gently stir the pudding in the strainer so make sure all usable pudding is in the bowl.  Let cool for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, slice bananas and place over chocolate crust in a single layer. Pour the pudding over the bananas, using a spatula to scrap sides of bowl and even out the pudding in the pan.  Let the bars chill for at least four hours in the refrigerator.

Before serving, whip cream until soft peaks appear.  Add sugar, stir and let sit for a few minutes and then stir again.  You have two options to serve this. You can spread the whipped cream across the entire surface of the bars.  If you do this, let chill for a couple of hours before serving.  Or you can simply top each bar with a dollop of the whipped cream.  Serve.

Note: Do not store bars in a metal pan and make sure they are wrapped well so they don’t pick up off odors in your fridge.

White Bean and Garlic Scapes Dip & Recipes for Memorial Day Weekend

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I had an amazing recipe for ribs to share with you for grilling out for Memorial Day weekend but alas, I thawed out my ribs and they were freezer burnt.  Sure I could have made them anyway (since this is a recipe I’ve made many times before) but there is no way I could have handled the delicious aroma of ribs permeating through the house knowing that I couldn’t eat them.

Instead, I thought I’d share my love for garlic scapes with you.  Every year when their season rolls around, it makes me so happy that for a moment, I almost wish that they were available all season, if not all year.  But part of their charm is that they’re here and before you can even begin to imagine getting sick of them, they’re gone.

Garlic scapes are the green, Medusa-haired offspring of garlic plants.  I’m not sure how much you all know about garlic but it’s planted in the fall.  There are two main kinds, softneck and hardneck garlic.  Hardneck garlic usually shoot up flower stalks in late spring.  These stalks are also known as garlic scapes.  I cut them off every year so that my garlic bulbs will get plumper & fatter. Imagine the punch of garlic mixed with a little whiff of freshly mown green grass.  I adore them.  I’ve been known to create necklaces and large hoop earrings out of them and wear them around the house. Alas, my husband always stops me before I go out in public with them.

There are a lot of ways to use garlic scapes.  I made refried beans this weekend and used them instead of garlic.  I add them to my scrambled eggs.  These are amazingly delicious when goat cheese is added as well.  You can add them to baked potatoes and mix them into pasta.  They’re delicious in stir-fries. I grill them and eat them plain.  To be quite honest, I’ve yet to find a way I don’t like them.  This white bean dip is my latest find.

This dip tastes like velvety Spring.  The brassiness & grassiness of the garlic scapes are tempered by the beans.  It’s a bit jarring to eat it plain but I found myself inhaling the better part of a loaf of bread with this dip last night.  Much later that night I creeped into the kitchen to scrape down the food processor with a spatula to get every last bit. It’s addictive.

White Bean and Garlic Scapes Dip
Adapted from The New York Times
Yield: 1 1/2 cups

Note: Serve with freshly toasted bread, pita bread and/or vegetables.  I particularly love blanched sugar snap peas with this dip.

1/3 cup sliced garlic scapes (roughly four of them)
1 tablespoon fresh squeezed lemon juice, more to taste
1/2 teaspoon sea salt, more to taste
Ground black pepper, to taste
1 can (15 ounces) cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, more for drizzling

In a food processor, process together the garlic scapes with the lemon juice, salt and pepper until very finely chopped.  Add the cannellini beans and process to a rough paste.

With motor running, slowly drizzle in the olive oil (this is a perfect time to use the feed tube of your food processor) and process until nice and smooth.  Pulse in 2-3 tablespoons of water.  Add more lemon juice, salt and pepper if desired.

Place dip in bowl, drizzle with olive oil and serve.

 

Some other Memorial Day menu ideas:

Buttermilk Chess Pie
Maple Glazed Ribs
Watermelon Margaritas
Peach Basil Sangria
Muhammara
Barbecued Raspberry Hoisin Chicken

Kid Curry Cocktail or BlogHer Food Pity Party 2011 & Creating Drinks Based On Your Own Bitter Tears

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The cool kids might be in Atlanta (every time a BlogHer Food attendee refers to it as Hawt-Lanta, God kills a kitten) this weekend for BlogHer Food but the fool kids (AKA The Most Awesome Sauce Drunks in the Universe) will be partying it up at home, with only our bitter tears and our loneliness to keep us company.

The BlogHer Food Pity Party is where those of us who can’t attend BlogHer Food commiserate with one another.  One of my favorite cooking couples is the host of this debauched party of loneliness and bitterness.  You’ll find us on Twitter tweeting with the hashtag #bhf11pp. And crying into our booze.

Last year, I discovered the BlogHer Food Pity Party community the day before the conference.  This year, I was more prepared.  Besides making a hairshirt, there are a few things that you can do to make your Pity Party experience even fuller.  Let me guide you.

First off, you really need to make sure you’re in the right mindset.  I suggest listening to this song repeatedly.

Since the world is going to end during BlogHer Food, get prepped by listening to this:

Follow this up by listening to Ke$he.  Because she sucks and so do you.

The only way to show those foodies at BlogHer Food that you don’t need them is to outdo them at their own game.  Make your most elegant dish and serve it with a very fine wine.  Let me make a pictorial menu suggestion:

You’re going to want to be comfortable, yet professional looking while BHFPP11 is going on.  You’ll never have a better chance to make a good impression so dress sharp.  As a guide, here’s what I wore last year:

Crafting is never amiss when it comes to BHFPP11.  I’ve been hard at work on my project.

Beverages are a very integral part of BHFPP11.  Sure, you could slum it with a boring margarita or martini but why not get fancy pants about it?  Show all those BlogHer Food attendees you don’t need them and the buckets of awesome sauce swag they’re about to get because you’ve got fancy-schmancy drinks.  Don’t you and your liver deserve it?

Enter the Kid Curry.  I first had one of these at Knox Public House.  This is my favorite bar in Knoxville.  Every Thursday they have an artisanal cocktail and Laura, the owner, created this drink for one of those Thursdays.  Lavender syrup, lemon juice and my favorite bourbon, Buffalo Trace, come together into a magical elixir that takes the pain away.

This is the kind of drink you start out BHFPP11 with.  This is a drink that says that you’re cool and sophisticated.  This is a drink that says “Hey – I could totally go to BlogHer Food if I wanted to.  I choose not to.”

After three or four of these drinks, you’ll be able to convince yourself that when the world ends on Saturday you’d much rather be at home, dressed in baggy sweats with Cheeto stains, finishing off leftover Chinese food than living it up at the after parties at BlogHer Food.

After five or six of these drinks, you’ll be convinced that your genius idea to put out a couple pairs of shoes and clothes in the yard on Saturday will totally fool your neighbors into believing that you got raptured up while they were left behind.  And that kind of brilliance took the act of missing BlogHer Food in order to come to fruition.

It’s later on when all your hopes and dreams have died that you start cracking into the Cardbordeaux and MadDog.  The only cocktail mixing you’ll need to do with these babies is letting your bitter, bitter tears fall into the glass.

 

The Kid Curry Cocktail
Adapted from Mockingbird Events

2.5 ox Buffalo Trace
1 oz lavender syrup
1/2 oz lemon juice

Shake all items together in a cocktail shaker with a little ice. Strain and serve.

Lavender Syrup:
1 cup water
1/4 cup lavender blossoms (I used fresh blossoms, use 2-3 tablespoons dried)
2 cups sugar

Bring water and lavender blossoms to a boil.  Stir in sugar and remove from heat once it’s fully dissolved. Let cool and refrigerate for three days.  Strain lavender out. You can use the syrup immediately but I like it best once it’s steeped a little.

Knox Vegas Farms – 2011 Plants for sale!

For the sixth year in a row, Marcus and I will once again transform from the professional nerds that we normally are and become the crazy tomato people.  Knox Vegas Farms (AKA our sleeping porch, front porch and yard) will be selling heirloom tomato, pepper and eggplant seedlings at the Market Square Farmer’s Market this Saturday from 9am to 2pm.  We will sell at all the Saturday markets until we run out of plants.

We lost several trays of plants due to the storms.  We had time to get them up on the porch before the hail and storms hit but a microburst flipped a decent amount of seedling trays over so we don’t have as many plants to sell this year  If you have your eye on a particular variety, please get there early in order to make sure we have it!

We can’t wait to see you!  Make sure to come say hi!

Tomato Varieties Available this Year!
Amish Paste
Ananas Noire
Andrew Rahart Jumbo Red
Arkansas Traveler
Aunt Ginny’s Purple
Aunt Ruby’s German Green
Banana Legs
Black Cherry
Black Krim
Brandywine, Off The Vine
Brandywine, Sudduth Strain
Brandywine, Yellow Platfoot
Burgundy Traveler
Cherokee Purple
Chocolate Cherry
Druzba
German Red Strawberry
Green Doctors
Green Zebra
Hillbilly
Juliet
Kellogg’s Breakfast
Lime Green Salad
Marizol Purple
Mirabelle
Mortgage Lifter
New Big Dwarf
Opalka
Persimmon
Pink
Principe Bhorghese
Pruden’s Purple
Purple Russian
Rose
Rutgers
San Marzano
Sara’s Galapagos
Silvery Fir Tree
Speckled Roman
Stupice
Sun Gold
Thessaloniki
Tiny Tiger
Violet Jasper
Wapsipinicon Peach
White Currant
White Queen
Window Box Roma

Note – due to poor seed germination, my peppers are fairly small this year.  I may not have all varieties available to sell at the May 7th market but they should be ready the following week

Hot Peppers Available:
Aji Dulce
Birds Eye
Chichemeca
Filius Blue
Fish
Lemon Drop
Limon
Padron
Tabasco

Sweet Peppers Available:
Aconcagua
Alma Paprika
California Wonder
Carmen
Gypsy
Lipstick
Orange Sun
Patio Red Marconi
Shishito
Tequila

Eggplants Available:
Applegreen
Diamond
Ichiban
Listada de Gandia
Pingtung Long
Rosa Bianca