History Tidbits: Macaroni and Cheese 19th Century Style

Here’s a history tidbit wrapped up in details…

Who knew that macaroni and cheese’s lineage is rich with such notables beginning with  Marco Polo and going on to… Thomas Jefferson.  Who knew that TJ’s cousin, Mary Randolph…his acting hostess in his Virginia home after the death of his wife… served macaroni and cheese made by James Hemings…see James was a slave owned by Thomas Jefferson…TJ had James schooled in the culinary arts in France and then James became his chef…James was among the first chefs in America to serve macaroni and cheese. TJ loved macaroni and cheese.  There is so much more to this story.

Fresh Basil Selfie

Here comes the fresh and juicy, juicy tomatoes off the local vines.  Here comes the fresh strawberries hand-picked from the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia.  And here comes the abundance of fresh sweet basil from my garden.  Seeing the shiny, glossy green leaves of this special herb is a summer delight.  Touch or rub the leaves and its aromatics lace the air with a spicy and distinguished fragrance.  So, let the foodies challenge begin!  We adore this herb. My summer plates evolve around the inclusion of basil.  And by first frost (Zone 7), fresh basil plants and their bounty will be a fleeting memory and sorely missed.  So, while basil is here, it’s king. (The name Basil comes from the Greek word “Basileus” meaning King or people’s leader).

Here are some simple suggestions for the aforementioned.  You don’t need a recipe, just snip the leaves, cut up the tomatoes, slice the strawberries and make mouth-watering  crowd pleasing and nutritional dishes.  Warning… fresh basil is intoxicating, garden-fresh tomatoes… addictive and fresh strawberries…well there are never enough.

Ugly Tomato, Fresh Mozzarella, Fresh Basil, Olive Oil & Balsamic Vinegar and French Baguette
Ugly tomato, fresh basil, mozzarella, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, cracked pepper (Caprese) and a French baguette
Prepared platter of fresh tomatoes with fresh Basil, Olive Oil & Balsamic Vinegar & French Baguette
Voila! It’s all in the presentation and in this case it’s also in the eating.
Ingredients for a strawberry & baby spinach salad
Fresh strawberries, locally grown baby spinach, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, crumbled feta cheese, fresh mint garnish
Strawberry, spinach salad
Ta-da, ingredients assembled & layered for the freshest of fresh strawberry and tender baby spinach salad. In the background is an arrangement from my garden of sweet basil and rosemary.

Maintaining fresh-cut herbs:  Suggest trimming the sprigs in the AM before the heat of the day arrives.  Then immediately rinse under cold water, shake off excess and place the bunch of cut herbs in a container of water.  Place container in a cool place away from sunny windows.  Your bouquet will stay fresh and last a remarkable amount of time, while also bringing in the aromatics of the plant to your kitchen.


What’s Your Daddy Food ?


My Dad during WWII in his Uniform of the Day.

When I saw my father take out the black cast-iron skillet, I knew that a favorite of mine was going to hit the table within 30 minutes.  This morning food magic happened while the coffee pot was percolating cheap java with chicory and the cooked bacon sat waiting. Lard, white flour, salt & pepper, milk, in that order would be turned into white gravy.  There was no recipe or cookbook.  Skillet hit one of the four burners.  First, a scoop of lard out of the lard-jar melted in the heated pan.  Then the flour.  His hands moved with purpose and confidence.  His large, dented, stainless steel spoon with a wooden handle was part of his system.  He’d stir the stuff using a smooth circular motion, blending and blending the grease with the flour until he saw the right consistency.  Next, milk was slowly added while the stirring continued.  Both of his hands were in action.  Stirring with patience and watching for the right moment, he’d add the salt and pepper.  And voila, there was the white gravy.

We’d eat it on white bread and beg for more.  If we were really lucky, the gravy topped some of his homemade biscuits to complete this Virginia country beginning for the day.   Chipped beef-gravy, red-eye gravy and sausage gravy made by him were also favorites.

Dang, I would love to have some of Daddy’s white gravy, but even more than that, I’d give anything for kitchen time with him and watch the magic he made for us.

What’s your Daddy food?  Would enjoy you sharing about your Daddy Food as we approach Father’s Day.


Tea Towel Memories

I have a drawer in the kitchen that houses my tea towels.  I call them tea towels because my grandmother referred to them in that way.  Her tea towels were a daily necessity in the kitchen. She never owned a dishwasher.  She was the dishwashing machine.

I have lovely and vibrant memories of my sweet, little grandmother wearing her handmade apron that tied around her neck and her waist. She’s wearing rubber gloves, protecting her hands from the extremely hot faucet water. She’s standing at the sink, washing the dishes and then placing them in the green plastic dish drainer.  She knew how to get the suds going for her washing cycle.  She had a double sink and she knew how to minimize the use of water when she was rinsing.  They were on well water and were ever vigilant about conserving their supply.  They truly wasted nothing, especially their precious water.  My grandfather completes my recollection, as I see him standing tall and strong by my petite grandmother.  I see the tea towel in his massive hands.  He’s wiping the dishes dry.  The cupboard doors are open to save time as he puts each dish away in its place.  Lots of dishes could need more than one tea towel. Not a problem.

Grandmother had lots of tea towels.  Her towels were all cotton, a thin cotton and they all looked the same.  There were however, a few that she hand embroidered with tiny purple violets. They were special.  After drying the dishes, the damp towels were hung on this nifty three-pronged hanger, so the towels would air dry.  Once dry, the towels became useful one more time before being washed by my grandmother in the hand wringer washing machine. Then she hung them out to dry on the clothes line.  It was a system that worked.

I think that my grandmother would like my tea towels, although they are quite different in look and in usage from hers.  Some remind me of our travels and some were gifts from family members, so each one is unique and finally, we use them to dry only the pots and pans that cannot be accommodated in the dishwasher.  I know Nannie would really appreciate that my husband prefers to dry, just like my grandfather.

I like my tea towels.  It’s a deja vu each time I open the tea towel drawer.

Visit:  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/11/12/what-are-tea-towels_n_6135252.html to find out about “What the Heck are Tea Towels, Anyway?”