Life In My Kitchen

Spaghetti Dinner at the Cains
One of my favorite pictures! Spaghetti and Roast Chicken at the Cains.

“If you’re afraid of butter, use cream.”
Julia Child

They say the heart of the home is the kitchen and I cannot help but agree. It is at my house for sure. We do everything in our kitchen and over the years, we have the best memories that one could ever hope for.

First I have to tell you that Jim’s mom graciously sold us her house when she remarried. That was thirty years ago this week. What a blessing. I doubt we would have been able to afford much at the time and my mother in law made it happen. Thanks Mom. 🙂

From the birth of our son John (Michelene was already born by this time) to the acquisition of cats, dogs, fish, hamsters, cockatiels, you name it, our kitchen has witnessed the evolution of our family. But besides pets and friends, what is really noteworthy is the volume of food that has been consumed over the years from our kitchen table.

Hundreds of pounds of Greek food- spanakopita, baklava, fish plaki, roast lamb- have graced the table. Tons of pasta, interesting soups, Thanksgiving turkeys, Jim’s famous flank steak, amazing chicken egg omelets, bacon, mounds of salads with Michelene’s heirloom tomatoes have all been a part of our food landscape.

Thanksgiving 2015
Thanksgiving 2015

If the walls could talk they would tell the tale of the recipes, good and not so good, and certainly the triumph of success with feeding the entire Cain family on Christmas Eve. Everyone pitches in and the noise, bedlam, fun, and gaiety is simply exquisite. This Christmas there was spiral ham, potato salad, amazing cheeses, little hotdogs in crescent rolls, shrimp cocktail, potatoes, green beans, cranberry orange relish, and my son’s smoked brisket. Oh my.

Jim and his siblings hamming it up! From Left, Chuck, Tom, Katie, and Jim.
Jim and his siblings hamming it up! From Left, Chuck, Tom, Katie, and Jim.

At other times, our kitchen table is the forum for discussions, problem solving, joke sharing, and hilarity over steaming plates of fish plaki and mashed potatoes. Afterwards, during cups of coffee and whatever sweets are in the house- usually something chocolate!- we finish the conversations and clean up the dishes.

I don’t have a fancy kitchen but it is well worn, tried, and true. It has everything I need including a gas oven and two refrigerators- one of which is at least twenty years old and one fairly brand new. It was my intention to take the old fridge downstairs and use it as a backup, but that has never happened. It doesn’t matter now. It’s so darn convenient to have two fridges during holiday entertaining and summer garden harvests. I really like having them both.

About seven or eight years ago, we decided to expand the kitchen and add on a real dining room. Our cousin Clint broke through the wall (a momentous occasion) and added on a spacious extra room. I have a large wooden table with two inserts that I absolutely love and we made the addition big enough to accommodate the table when both leaves are in it. Now we have a small kitchen table and the larger dining room table, perfect for when we have all those family gatherings.

My sister Cally and her husband Raymond in the new dining wing
My sister Cally and her husband Raymond in the new dining wing

My grandson is at our house every day after school and his mother (my daughter Michelene) comes about an hour later after work. It is not unusual for us to eat dinner together four nights a week; true sit down dinners with plates, silverware, warm meals, and dinner conversation. When I tell people this they almost always say “wow” but to us it feels entirely normal.

I’m going to share my fish plaki (meaning braised or baked fish with vegetables) recipe as this is one of our evening favorites. It’s very simple and when served with mashed potatoes or rice, it’s a definite winner. Believe it or not, I made this last night to test the recipe and I forgot to take a picture!! I promise you’ll love it.

Joanne’s Fish Plaki

4-6 Tilapia Loins (thawed & patted dry), or other meaty white fish

1 large sweet onion

4-5 Carrots

16 oz diced tomatoes, (canned, organic, whatever you have in your cupboard)

6 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil

6 tablespoons of butter

Salt and Pepper

1 Lemon

Hot Mashed potatoes or cooked rice to serve on the side

Peel and slice carrots into small medallions. Microwave 3-4 minutes covered or steam in a double boiler until just barely tender. Set aside.

Cut the sweet onion into medium slivers and lightly saute in a large skillet in 4 TBS of the olive oil and 3 TBS of butter over medium heat. Lightly salt and pepper them. Cook until barely soft but do not brown. Turn heat down to medium/low.

Spread the sauteed onions out flat and lay the tilapia loins on top of the onions. Lay small slices of the remaining butter on each of the tilapia loins (more or less to taste!). Salt and pepper the loins and drizzle with remaining olive oil. Pour the diced tomatoes over the tilapia, coating them as much as possible.

Cover the pan and simmer on medium to low for approximately 20 minutes. If you need to, flip the loins mid way through the cooking time to evenly cook them. When they are almost done, add the carrots on top of the whole tomatoes. Salt and pepper everything, cover and simmer for another five minutes.

Check your fish loins at this time by breaking one of them in the center. Cook more or less to taste. (I don’t like my tilapia over done)

To serve: Present fish with mashed potatoes or rice and spoon the tomatoes and carrots over top of everything. Splash alittle lemon juice over all or serve a lemon slice with the plate.

*Notes: This is a pretty healthy recipe. (well, minus the butter!) If you want more flavorful fish, lightly brown the loins in butter and/or olive oil before placing them atop of the onions (then adjust your cooking time as well). You can also add cooked green beans or peas at the end, really any kind of vegetable that would go well with the tomatoes.

Happy Eating!

Join me on my graceful journey.
1015

Winter Comforts

Faith Tree

“My old grandmother always used to say, Summer friends will melt away like summer snows, but winter friends are friends forever.”
― George R.R. Martin, A Feast for Crows

How is it possible to find comfort in a winter that seems to never end?

Here in the Northeast, as in other parts of the country, we have been bombarded by snow, snow, snow and freezing temperatures. We woke up to freezing rain and snow this morning yet again, and it’s only the beginning of February!

As optimistic as I try to be, I can get down in the dumps about all this cold weather. But I do have some secret weapons that help me through a long winter. Here are some of my best strategies:

First, I use pops of color to keep me motivated. I have a set of bright beaded bracelets I bought from a sweet bunch of young girls who were selling them to raise money. I think it was the Girl Scouts. So I bought a handful of them and sport them on bleak dreary days. I also have some bright sweaters- red!- and cheery scarves just perfect for a pick me up.

A Crystal Dove on my Winter Tree!
A Crystal Dove on my Winter Tree!

Second, I made an indoor winter tree. Since I didn’t have the heart to completely dismantle my holiday tree, I adapted it. I put away the obvious Christmas ornaments and left the winter ones on. I have a small pair of mittens, a miniature ice skate, frosted cranberry branches and other red and white decorations amid golden twinkle lights. I admit to lighting this glowing tree every morning while I drink my first coffee of the day and do my spiritual readings. I love the glow and the light infuses hope into my heart and soul.

Third, I spend time with my friends. We go to lunch, hit the mall or my favorite consignment shop. I put on my warmest boots and coat and push myself to get out, as long as the roads are good. Lunch with Amy is one of my favorite things and we went to a place recently with a crackling fire. I love fires!

Fourth, I drink a lot of hot cocoa! I bought some candy cane cocoa at holiday’s end and I’ve been enjoying a mug almost daily. Yes, it is indulgent but tough times call for strategic measures! Cocoa is a must in winter weather and marshmallows make it all the better.

Finally, I try new recipes. I made a delicious navy bean soup twice in the last few weeks. Making my own chicken broth and using a leftover holiday ham bone cranked up the volume on this heart warming soup! Check out the recipe HERE if you’re a bean soup fan!

Don’t you feel warmer and cozier already? Please share your winter weather strategy measures. I’d love to hear from you and I’m sure others would as well!

Join me on my graceful journey.
1015

Peanut Butter and Jelly Moments

This past weekend marked a special event. After thirty one years of living with us, my daughter has moved into her very first house.

It has been quite a transition for us, a big time reality check that includes a stark awareness of how time really does march on. We have all been through much together, thick and thin, and weathered it all with the grace of God.

“And still, after all this time, the Sun has never said to the Earth,”You owe me.” Look what happens with love like that. It lights up the sky.” ― Rumi

I am in the right place (I hope) about my daughter’s departure. She is a love that lights up the sky and it is her time to have the freedom she has long desired and worked so hard for. Her leaving is a testament to having goals. She went to school, got good grades, worked part time then full time, She saved her money and pursued this little house with a big yard because she’d like to have a small farm someday.

My son has been gone for five years already so I am used to him not being here (except for holidays). I think Jim is apprehensive about the quiet around our house but I feel ready. Maybe I will change my mind, but I know time cannot stand still and we all have to move on.

finishedpeanutbuttercookies1Through all this, I’ve been thinking about peanut butter and jelly. And eating peanut butter and jelly. It is the basic comfort food, the quintessential sandwich of childhood, the “everything will be all right” kind of nourishment that we all crave when life gets alittle challenging.

I found a wonderful blog recently called “Confetti Diaries” and asked Natalie if I could publish the delicious picture of her peanut butter and jelly cookies. I’m going to make a batch of these soon. And then I think I’ll take some over to my daughter’s house.

Click HERE for the link to Natalie’s cookie recipe.

What’s your favorite comfort food?

Join me on my graceful journey.
1015