Traverse City Record-Eagle

January 11, 2010

Foodie With Family: Determined to have fun


The week before Christmas marked a major milestone for me as a parent. My husband and I left all five of our sons (and our two dogs) with my sainted mother (sainted for agreeing to and following through with a promise to watch the aforementioned horde) and flew to Houston.

As in Texas. The Texas. The one that is over a thousand miles from my porch.

Not that I was fixated on how far away it was. (No indeed, what I was fixated on was whether anyone from the no-fly list would sneak onto my flight. I mentally ran through my self-defense checklist and brushed up on my martial arts skills. Was I going to leave my children parentless in the name of a vacation? What? Like you haven't thought of that before? If you haven't, I bet you will now. I apologize.)

Aside from taking short sojourns at the nearest hospital to birth more children, and two little overnight expeditions to area food events, I have not left my kids for any appreciable time or distance.

The kids and mutts were deposited at Mom's along with the pediatrician's contact information, half of our household furnishings, the keys to our van, 50 pounds of dog food, triplicate copies of our cell phone numbers, flight numbers and the name and address of the bed and breakfast where we would be staying. And we were off ...

Considering that this is the first time that I have flown since shortly before 9/11, I think I stayed fairly calm. (All that pre-trip karate practice paid dividends in calmness.) Aside from elbowing my husband to pay closer attention to the flight attendant's hand gestures indicating the emergency exits, and repeating The Lord's Prayer three or four times, I would say I was pretty mellow.

When you take into account that our plane was buffeted by near constant turbulence, landed canted to one side and our connecting flight was almost hit by a wayward baggage truck (I kid you not) as it taxied for takeoff, my continued chillaxing attitude was nothing short of miraculous.

While our pilot repeatedly apologized over the loudspeakers for the "clearly incompetent baggage handler" that caused him to "slam on the plane's brakes" I contemplated my newfound ability not to make panicky stink-eyes at everyone around me.

I made several "Mom, I don't know if I can actually go on this trip" phone calls to my mother in the weeks leading up to the trip. My mother told me, "Honey. Just make up your mind to have a good time. Chances like this don't come along very often."

As with many lessons I've learned from my mother, I realized that I was living the lesson before I even understood it. I had resolved to have a good time and didn't even know it until I found myself giggling at the look of shock on the face of the baggage truck driver who jack-knifed his vehicle in a barely successful attempt to turn away before hitting our plane. While that poor guy probably went on to have a very bad day, I had a marvelous and truly relaxed one.

My resolution held for the duration of our vacation. We had a wonderful time knowing our children were safe with their Nana. (The question remained was their Nana safe in their hands?) In the spirit of the coming new year, we further resolved to jump at it should a similar opportunity present itself again.

Now if we can just scrape my mother down from the ceiling where the kids duct-taped her ...


Mark Twain is quoted as saying, "New Year's Day: Now is the accepted time to make your regular annual good resolutions. Next week you can begin paving hell with them as usual." Whether you're as yet resolved or have gone merrily down the path of dissolution, the following recipes will please you. (Unless, that is, your resolution included eating less tasty food. If that is the case you are on your own. I can't help you.)

It's cold out there! Despite the presence of bacon, this Fish Chowder is more waistline friendly than most chowders owing to its use of milk rather than cream. I use whole milk, but you can substitute a lower fat product if you so desire. It's also easy on the wallet and is made from scratch in almost no time at all. While the scents wafting from a simmering pot are enough to warm you up by themselves, a few bites of this hearty soup will heat you from the bottoms of your feet on up through your hair. And if you find yourself a little too tall for your hair, maybe it'll grow some for you.

Hearty Fish Chowder

4 slices of bacon or pancetta, minced

1 medium onion, peeled and diced

2 c. cubed Yukon Gold potatoes (or white all-purpose potatoes)

2 T. all-purpose flour

1/2 t. dried thyme

2 c. chicken stock or broth

2 c. milk

3 c. roughly cut boneless, skinless white fish fillets (I prefer Blue Hake, cod is a good choice, too.)

2 c. frozen corn

Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Fresh parsley and pats of butter for garnish, optional

Fry the minced bacon in a deep, heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat until crispy and brown. Transfer bacon, using a slotted spoon, to a plate lined with paper towels. Lower the heat to medium-low and add the onions and potatoes to the fat that remains in the pot. Cook 10 minutes or until the onions soften.

Sprinkle the flour and thyme over the potatoes and onions and stir until thoroughly combined. Raise the burner's heat to medium. Add the broth and return the soup to a gentle simmer. Allow it to continue simmering until potatoes are tender. Stir the corn into the broth. Cook for one minute.

Add the milk, salt and pepper to the pot and stir well. Once more, drop the heat to low and add the fish. Return the pot to a bare simmer. When fish is opaque throughout (about 3-5 minutes, depending on the type of fish used) the chowder is done.

You may serve as it is or garnish with a pat of butter and a small handful of freshly chopped parsley.

If your resolution includes eating according to the recommendations from the food pyramid, I would like to remind you -- in my father's words -- that chocolate is the mortar that holds together the food pyramid. Without the mortar the pyramid would all fall apart. And this mortar? Well, it is as fluffy as a cloud and as rich as the Rockefellers. Float a couple of these on your hot cocoa and all is well with the world.

Homemade Chocolate-Dusted Marshmallows

.75-oz unflavored gelatin (3 envelopes of Knox gelatin)

1/2 c. cold water

2 c. granulated sugar

2/3 c. light corn syrup

1/4 c. water

1/4 t. salt

1 T. vanilla extract (or other flavor extract)

2 c. powdered sugar

1/2 c. unsweetened cocoa powder

Line 9-by-9-inch or 8-by-8-inch pan with plastic wrap and lightly oil it using your fingers or non-stick cooking spray. Set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, sprinkle gelatin over 1/2 cup cold water. Soak for about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine sugar, corn syrup and 1/4 cup water in a small saucepan. Bring the mixture to a rapid boil. As soon as it is boiling, set the timer and allow the syrup to boil hard for 1 minute.

Carefully pour the boiling syrup into soaked gelatin and turn on the mixer, using the whisk attachment, starting on low and moving up to high speed. Add the salt and beat for between 10 and 12 minutes, or until fluffy and mostly cooled to almost room temperature.

After the mixture is mainly cooled and fluffy, add in the extract and beat to incorporate.

Grease your hands and a rubber or silicone scraper with neutral oil and transfer marshmallow into the prepared pan. Use your greased hands to press the marshmallow into the pan evenly. Take another piece of lightly oiled plastic wrap and press lightly on top of the marshmallow, creating a seal. Let mixture sit for a few hours, or overnight, until cooled and firmly set.

While the marshmallows are setting up, combine the cocoa powder and powdered sugar with a whisk in a separate bowl. Set aside.

Sprinkle a cutting surface very generously with the powdered sugar and cocoa mixture. Remove marshmallow from pan and lay on top of the sugar. Dust the top generously with the sugar and cocoa as well. Use a large, sharp knife to cut into squares. Separate pieces and toss to coat all surfaces with any remaining cocoa and sugar. Store in an airtight container.

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