Traverse City Record-Eagle

July 12, 2010

Grandma's Kitchen: Friend or foe?

Local columnist

---- — Lately, I've been giving lots of thought to my relationship with Mother Nature, or maybe that should be lack thereof.

It's obvious that I have grievously offended her to the point she has been visiting one plague after another since early June.

This began with the crazed robin who flogged his reflection in my bedroom window at dawn every day. His ardor cooled when he discovered the gorgeous creature in the side mirrors of Molly's car. Lucky for him, they were safety glass. His pain tolerance was unbelievable.

The morning he disappeared, I rushed to the kitchen for a celebratory cup of coffee. Instead of enjoying peace and quiet, plague No. 2 was visited: the invasion of the black ants. They were marching, in formation, across the kitchen floor. There was no beginning and no end.

They avoided the ant traps and everything else the hardware store had to offer. So, I swatted and swept for a week until Google came to the rescue, with borax for the floors and vinegar-soaked cotton balls for the countertops.

The borax helped a little bit but it was the vinegar-soaked cotton balls that introduced the plague to follow. Plague No. 3 was the arrival of swarms of fruit flies, which we know from last year, never end. The only sure elimination of the fruit flies is to not allow one crumb of food in your kitchen until the first snowfall.

So much for early summer in northern Michigan wetlands; you have to love it or leave it. On the plus side, we haven't yet met the mother bear with her two little cubs rumored to be roaming in our area.

To balance this, we've had some welcome visitors, tiny people equipped with parents. We have more of this on schedule for the rest of the summer. We also welcomed a beautiful little great-granddaughter, Hazel, born in New York last week. That leaves the next baby in queue — due in September. Stay tuned!

A baby will always be the most wonderful gift of all. We will thank Mother Nature (and complying parties) for these tiny people. We love each and every one.

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We have been enjoying the first berries and cherries of the summer. We are so fortunate to have Putneys' berry and vegetable farm nearby. The red, black and yellow raspberries and saskatoons are on now, with the hybrid (no briars) blackberries coming in about a month.

I am looking forward to tomatoes! The only homegrown tomatoes I had last summer were from my daughter Vicki's garden in Ohio. I love a big, juicy, drippy, over-the-sink tomato sandwich — a true summer treat.

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I often think of all you diabetic friends. With 23.6 million diabetics in the United States, I feel like the food industry has ignored us, as far as providing any nutritious, prepared food in the grocery store. In fact, they may have helped play a role in creating a diabetic epidemic. Regardless, I hope to provide more recipes that diabetics can enjoy — and you don't have to be a diabetic to do so. We all can benefit from eating healthy food; limiting our sugar, fat and carb intake.

It is so critical to establish good eating habits for our children while they are still at home. One of my daughters told me this week that she has no problem eating healthy because she learned to do so at home. I flinched, realizing I knew much less about nutrition when she was growing up. The information was not readily available. Today there are no excuses. Fifty years ago, we all cooked from scratch, raised and preserved our own food. Prepackaged foods were not in our food budget and baked goods were reserved for a weekend treat.

I just bought an American Diabetes Cookbook. I hope you will try this wonderful recipe Molly made for dinner last night. We tweaked it to our personal taste so feel free to do the same. We are looking forward to having planned-overs tonight.

Spaghetti Squash with Garden Vegetables

1 three-pound spaghetti squash

¾ c. grated parmesan cheese

2 t. olive oil

1 c. carrot, thinly sliced

1 small zucchini, cut into thin strips

4 ozs. fresh mushrooms, sliced

1 small green pepper, cut into strips

1 medium sweet onion, cut into thin wedges

Fresh basil leaves chopped

3 cloves garlic, chopped

Oregano to taste

Salt to taste

Cut squash in half lengthwise; remove and discard seeds. Place squash, cut side down, in a Dutch oven. Add about 2 inches of water. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat and simmer 20 to 25 minutes or until tender. Drain. Using a fork, remove the spaghetti-like strands from the squash. You can incorporate the rest of the squash (we did) or save it for future use. Combine the squash and grated parmesan. Set aside and keep warm.

Add olive oil to a large skillet. Place over medium heat until hot. Add carrot, garlic and onion. Saute for a few minutes and add the remaining vegetables. Cook until tender.

To serve, place spaghetti squash on plate and top with vegetable mixture.

If you have a bumper crop of pickling cucumbers, here's a recipe for refrigerator Bread and Butter Pickles. They are great with summer sandwiches.

Bread and Butter Pickles

5&½ c. pickling cucumbers, thinly sliced (about 1½ lbs.)

1&½ T. kosher salt

1 c. onion, thinly sliced

1 c. sugar, or sugar substitute (1/4 t. pure stevia)

1 c. white vinegar

½ c. cider vinegar

¼ c. brown sugar

1&½ t. mustard seeds

½ t. celery seeds

⅛ tsp turmeric

Combine sliced cucumbers and salt in a large bowl. Cover and chill for 1&½ hours. Drain; rinse cucumbers under cold water and drain again. Return to large bowl and add sliced onion.

Combine sugar and remaining ingredients in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Pour hot vinegar mixture over cucumber mixture. Let stand at room temperature for one hour. Cover and refrigerate for 24 hours. Store in airtight container up to 2 weeks. Makes about 4 cups

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Parting Shot: "We are indeed much more than what we eat, but what we eat can nevertheless help us to be much more than what we are." — Adele Davis (and you can take that any way you want to.)

Edna Shaffer is a local mother, grandmother and great-grandmother who writes about cooking from the perspective of an older adult. She can be reached at For more Grandma's Kitchen columns by Edna Shaffer, log on to