Traverse City Record-Eagle

August 24, 2009

Foodie With Family: Poison ivy payback

By REBECCA LINDAMOOD

'What's the big deal about poison ivy? Except for when folks get a secondary infection from it and have to take medicine, I don't understand why they dwell on it so much. Why can't they buck up and deal with it? It's just a little itch."

That's what I thought until last week when, for the first time in my life, I experienced my own poison ivy reaction.

I thought I was immune and I had the attitude to go with it; very little sympathy toward my husband, children and siblings who repeatedly reacted to poison ivy.

Sitting around the campfire on a family camping trip, I felt what seemed like hundreds of little bug bites. I borrowed my dad's calamine gel, took a Benadryl and sat up all night in a hot tent trying not to itch my ankles that felt like they were on fire and gritting my teeth to keep from whining and waking my sleeping husband and kids.

In the morning, my experienced siblings and husband took one look at my puffy red ankles and identified the source of my torture as poison ivy. Ack. Now that's a come-uppance if ever there was one. In one fiery, itchy weekend, I paid for every snide thought I'd ever had about poison ivy.

I sat at the picnic table the next morning watching my kids mill around and thankful that my siblings, dad and husband were taking care of business for me. As we were picking up camp, my sweet nephew Ezra picked up the wooden toy gun my kids had brought to camp. He asked his mom, my sister Jessamine, whether it was a toy gun. She told him it was. He asked, "Mom? Why don't I have a toy gun?" Jessamine said, "Well, Ezra, because guns kill people." My little Aidan, who heard the exchange, yelled, -- ¦ And dinner!" Did I mention my sister is a vegetarian? Thankfully, I was itchy enough that I didn't have the mental capacity to dwell on that one too long.

The night I spent awake in the hot tent was not entirely unproductive. While trying not to itch my feet in the sweltering heat I dreamed of fall weather and foods. I planned all the gorgeous foods and recipes that I could share here and online.

This oatmeal recipe is an all-around winner. With kids starting back to school and fall activities kicking into gear, this is a fantastic recipe for your repertoire. You toss all the ingredients in the slow cooker as you're heading to bed and wake up to the mouthwatering scents of apple, maple syrup and cinnamon. If you (gloriously) oversleep and the oatmeal cooks up a bit thick, just douse it with some fresh milk before eating. This is the way to start your day!

Slow Cooker Maple, Apple and Cinnamon Oatmeal

2 c. milk (For a richer oatmeal, you can substitute 1 c. half and half for 1 c. milk.)

1 c. old-fashioned rolled oats (You can use steel-cut oats instead but do not use quick oats.)

1/4 c. real maple syrup

1 c. peeled and chopped apple, any variety

1 T. butter

1/4 c. brown sugar

1/2 t. ground cinnamon

1/2 c. raisins, optional

1/2 c. toasted walnuts, pecans or almonds, optional

Nonstick cooking spray

Spray the inside of the slow cooker with a light coating of nonstick cooking spray. Add all remaining ingredients and stir gently. Cover and cook on low for between 8 and 9 hours. Uncover, stir and serve.

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And while my heart is yearning for fall, my head is making use of the rest of our bountiful summer fruits and vegetables. While I've canned quite a few regular garlic dills to get us through the winter, these Almost Instant Garlic Dill Pickles are a favorite around here. We look forward to these all year and eat indecent amounts before our garden stops producing pickling cucumbers. A word to the wise: Be sure to use Kosher salt or coarse ground sea salt, as the amount of salt in the recipe is crucial to a perfect pickle.

Almost Instant Garlic Dill Pickles

10 (3- to 5-inch) pickling cucumbers

1 head of fresh dill (or 1 T. dried dill seed)

2-3 cloves fresh garlic, peeled

1/4 c. cider vinegar

1 t. yellow or brown mustard seed

1/4 t. whole black peppercorns

1/2 bay leaf, crumbled

1 whole allspice berry

2 T. plus 1 t. Kosher salt or coarse grind sea salt

Pack the fresh dill into the bottom of a clean, wide-mouth quart jar. Top with garlic, allspice, the bay leaf, peppercorns and mustard seed. Set aside.

Wash cucumbers gently but thoroughly in cold running water. Trim about 1/8" off of both ends of the cucumbers. Pack the cucumbers in on top of the spices leaving at least 11/2 inches of headspace at the top of the jar.

In a large measuring cup (or bowl) whisk together the vinegar and salt along with 1 cup of cold water until salt is dissolved. Pour over the cucumbers. If any cucumbers pop up in the brine, push them back down. You can keep them submerged by setting a small glass directly on them but do not cover the jar tightly.

Leave the pickles to stand at room temperature for 3 days. If foam or scum forms at the top of the brine, skim off. After four days, put on a tight-fitting lid and store in the refrigerator.

You can read more of Rebecca's recipes, kitchen tips and parenting adventures at www.foodiewithfamily.com. For more of Rebecca's Foodie With Family column, log on to record-eagle.com/rebeccalindamood.