Tuesday, January 27, 2015

How my Grandmother Learned not to Starve and make Her Chinese Cucumber Salad Recipe

In 1970 my family moved to Hawaii from Jacksonville Florida. It was our third time living in Florida and the move to Hawaii was an exciting and really big adventure for us.

One of the biggest changes was that my maternal Grandmother who we referred to as "Grandma" to differentiate her from my Father's Mother who was called "Big Mama" by the family, came to live with us. That is she moved out of the home she had at the girls school where she was the schools dietitian and ran the kitchens and dining program, and moved in with us to take care of my brother and I while my Mom went back to work teaching.

As a Navy family we were packed up and ready to go in no time at all. My Mom was a master packer and organizer. And my Dad was not too bad either so between the two of them we were so ship-shape when the packers came to put things into the giant Wooden containers which would be shipped to Hawaii, they were shocked as to how easy their job was because of my parents prepping everything. So after the packing the entire contents of our home into brown cardboard moving boxes, each carefully labeled with room and contents as overseen by my Mother, these boxes where placed inside of huge the wooden crates. The purpose of which was at the time two fold. One was to pack them into containers to ship more easily. But the other reason was that once these boxes arrived in Hawaii they would undergo an extermination gassing which was to help eliminate  any non native pests which was a major concern of the Hawaiian State Government. I was more interested and fascinated by the Mayflower moniker on the moving truck, which I somehow thought tied our family's journey to the historic Pilgrims and a journey to a new world. And believe me when I say Hawaii was a new world to our family, it was really truly was.

Nothing could have prepared us for what we would find in all sorts of experiences in Hawaii. We had some of the most powerful cultural, spiritual, and educational experiences that would shape our family and change the way we saw life and even ourselves.  It was a very different world from the Islands today. Still in the development phase of what the Islands would become. For example we were there when wild fields and farms still populated parts of Oahu. In fact there was a famous watercress farm which was under siege by developers the entire time we were in Hawaii. Rather a famous story. Seems the farmer did not want his farm developed and to ensure this upon his death he divided the farm up among every living relative in his family equally. Which apparently was hundreds of people. Thus insuring that it would never be sold.

Hawaii gave our family some amazing experiences. Many of which were introduced to us through our Church. Through Navy friends we were introduced to Trinity United Methodist Church up the hill from us in Pearl City, a suburb of Honolulu.  Now my family was a mixed family religiously and remained so till we moved back to Charleston and ended up in the Episcopal Church and subsequently an offshoot in the form of the French Huguenot Church in downtown Charleston. Which my parents were impressed by because of the amazing Pastor and the fact that the members were so wealthy and so generous that the church never asked for money in the services, ever. Of course there were other great reasons too and great community but that aspect was something to note because it showed such commitment to the church. So how did we end up in the Methodist church for several years? Well now my father had grown up Episcopalian and Baptist and my Mother had grown up Catholic and Methodist. So when they got married they got married in a Methodist church because it was where my Grandparents on my Mother's side belonged and where my Mother had been very involved in the young Adult fellowship. I had asked my Father one time after visiting my Uncle's Baptist Church, where I remember lots of singing and yelling, what the difference between Baptist and Methodist was. And at the time like the ex-Episcopalian he was his answer. "Well Farley, Methodist's are like Baptists that can read". Yes, I loved my Father's sense of humor.

So the other part of the title of this chapter is "How my Grandmother learned not to starve". Well let me explain. So a year or so after we had lived in Hawaii my Grandma decided she needed to get out and learn something. And since she had a culinary background the obvious thing would be a cooking class. So she opted for a course in Chinese cooking that one of her friends introduced her to. So she did indeed learn how to cook alot of really great Chinese food. Some of these recipes I will be disclosed here. But the reason she felt so compelled to learn how to cook Asian food in general came from an experience she had in Japan.

So my Grandmother was actually one of the founding members of Hawaii's first senior citizen social group called the Silver Bells ( Which happened to be her favorite Christmas Song ). And one year the group which included many Asian members decided to take a trip to Japan. The trip which was excellently organized by the Japanese lady members of the group was an amazing experience for my Grandmother. There was just one problem. She came home from this vacation having lost 15 pounds. Why you might ask. Well the answer might surprise you. See in Asia most meals for groups are actually eaten family style. So when they would serve meals on this tour everyone would grab their chopsticks and dig in. Well Grandma did not know how to use chopsticks very well. So by the time she got a few bites in her tour comrades devoured the rest of the food. So she actually lost weight on this vacation! But boy did her chopstick skills improve!

So this recipe is really one of the recipes she learned in the Chinese Cooking School. One of the joys of  sharing this recipe is that is comes from notebook in her own hand that my Mother has kept. There is something really special about sharing her recipes that I am reading in her own hand. It's one of those things that I think is something that speaks directly to my own personal food heritage. I mean I read her recipes and notes written in her own hand. I make this dish and my Grandmother is there serving Egg Foo Young and Chinese Spare ribs. Telling me things about life I would learn no where else. She's in every bite and I am so glad she taught me how to cook and love through food.

So here is her Chinese Cucumber Salad recipe. It's simple and so good. So next time you want to kick up your cucumber salad try this and be happy that my Grandma survived her vacation to teach us how to make this salad.

Irene's Chinese Cucumber Salad

  •    2 English cucumbers, tough skin removed

    • 3 cloves garlic, crushed and minced

    • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

  •   1 tablespoon Chinkiang vinegar (or rice vinegar)

  •   1 tablespoon light soy sauce

  •   1 teaspoon sugar

  •   1/2 teaspoon salt

    • 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil

    • 1 tablespoon mixed black and white sesame seeds

    • 1 scallion white and light green parts sliced on the bias 


Cut Cucumbers into very thin slices
Mix all other ingredients in a bowl
Right before serving pour the dressing over the cucumbers and mix well
Mix in Sesame Seeds and garnish with the chopped scallions

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Bacon and Oyster Pot Pie, a Cold Weather Seafood Treat

Ok the Holiday's are over and we are well into January. Now during this cold and unforgiving time of year if you are like me, you like nothing better than to hunker down, and eat some warm and comforting food in this winter weather. If you don't live in a northern clime you still can enjoy food like this but it's not quite the same thing. When it's really cold out there's nothing like yummy warm comfort dishes. And there's nothing like some Pot Pie that says comfort food. And this Pot Pie was born of the holidays but it would be good anytime you wanted to have it. Especially in this Winter weather.

So Oysters, let's talk about oysters. When I go to Charleston for the holidays I always enjoy a New Years Eve feast with Oysters. Creamed Oysters or what is called Oyster Stew in the Low Country to be precise.. I know many people do indeed think of Oysters and Oyster Stew as a dish that is made typically for Christmas Eve dinner. But in my house we have it on New Years Eve because on Christmas Eve we have another tradition. And if there is a time for traditions it would be the Holidays.

Truly the holidays are really always special to me because of the people involved. Since my Father's death we have the tradition of spending every Christmas Eve with our very close family friends who are my adopted "Aunt and Uncle". We have a great time at their house. There is always a good mix of folks at the house when we return from Christmas Eve services. There are some relatives down from Columbia and other close friends from church thrown into the mix. Young and old enjoy the evening together and there's lots of good, good, good old Southern Holiday fare. The buffets groans under squash and vegetable casseroles, cooked greens, hot yeast rolls with salted butter. There's always a grand Holiday Ham, and lots of other goodies. There's a pecan pie and either coconut cake or chess pie or some other incredible southern sweet thing. And as the evening progresses we will hear a political discussion, holiday stories and family chatter. The meal always begins with a heartfelt and eloquent prayer. But what I love the most is just lots of story telling, catching up with each other and laughing. Well at least the laughing in the kitchen where I usually sit with the younger folks. Meaning the younger people with kids who have sent their kids off to the real kids table in another room.

Now my"cousin" Renee is married to a man named Bill. He's an amazing person. And he is a very very Southern person. One of those people who would I would best describe as a Southern gentleman. I think people that did not grow up in the South have the wrong idea of what the term "Southern Gentleman" actually means.

When we say southern gentleman it usually brings to mind someone with good manners and a deep Southern accent. Well Bill has a deep Southern accent and he definitely has good manners but that's not what makes him a Southern Gentleman. No he's a smart fellow, highly educated, well read, well traveled here and abroad, opinionated, deeply rooted in family, community and work.

He's a renaissance man. An architect by trade he works with some of the areas top developers and projects,  He's very modern, and current but also deeply rooted in his heritage. Not confined to the city he loves all things outdoors. When he is not working he will most likely be found with his youngest son out hunting or fishing in the creek. I know many Saturdays for them start out in the boat, hanging with our minister, some bait and whole lot of cold beer. Telling stories and catching fish. Or maybe just telling fish tales.

He is teaching his children to value the South and their life in it. Not just cultural things, but natural things. The land, the water, the air. To value the ocean life, animals and the plants. To understand the human element in all of that and the human responsibility towards it. He is passing on his love of sports and the community that is born out of it in the South. I mean we love out football down here.

He is passing on what he learned growing up and what he has come to believe as an adult to his children. That living involves understanding where you come from, honoring other people, being engaged in your community, having faith in what's beyond, working hard, and giving of one's time and attention to those you love.  Not in a monetary way, but in a get up and do for you sort of way. I admire him. He's a good guy. And that is indeed a Southern gentleman.

He's also a great story teller. One of my favorites involves our Minister who had recently lost his second wife after a long illness.

Seems Bill thought that it would benefit the church checkbook if he dug the grave in the church yard instead of hiring a company to do it. Well while he was down there digging he noticed that the reverend's plot was large enough to hold up to four graves. Now the reverend's first wife was already buried there. The second was coming in and he thought he would be cheeky given his friendship and tell the reverend that he could go ahead and get another wife. Because clearly there was enough room for both him and all three wives.

Well upon hearing this news the reverend turned to him and in his deep southern drawl said.
"Bill, let me tell you something. You know when my first wife died that was sad. And you know that as hard as this illness was on all of us including me, I am sad that my second wife has passed as well. But just so you know. Since my wife died, there have been more than a few ladies who have turned up  at my door several nights in  row with casseroles wanting to comfort me. And let me tell you something mister. After having had two wives. Dealing with all I have had to deal with concerning both those women in life and death. Well Bill, let me put it this way meaning no disrespect to any of those ladies that showed up to comfort me....But there might as well have been condoms in those casseroles those women showed up at my door with. Because that's about how interested I am in ever having another wife!"

"But Bill, thanks for pointing that out. I be sure to sell off the other parcel, I could really use the money!"

Yep. That's my kind of southern home spun story told around the dinner table on Christmas Eve. Just love it.

So getting back to Oysters and New Year's Eve traditions. It's a real low country thing, Creamed Oysters or Oyster Stew. A dish I have made on this blog before. Succulent and sweet right from the waters on the Carolinas, this dish is simple decadent and delicious. But this year I decided to do something a little different. I decided to follow and article I had read in a popular Southern Magazine and of course changed their idea a little bit and came up with this riff on Creamed Oysters. Well it was good. It was so good that my Mama said we should just make this from now on!

And now I will share it with you. If you like Oysters and Bacon you must make this before the weather changes although I imagine this would be good any time of year. It's comfort seafood at at's best. Hope you enjoy it Ya'll!

Oyster and Bacon Pot Pie
makes 6 - 12 ounce individual pot pies

1 qt of drained Oysters (liquor reserved)
4 to 5 slices of Applewood smoked bacon slices chopped
1/2 cup finely chopped celery
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1/2 cup finely chopped carrots 
1/2 cup finely chopped red pepper
8 oz sliced mushrooms
1/2 teaspoon ground Mace ( if you can't find Mace use Nutmeg)
1 teaspoon dried thyme
2 cloves minced garlic
1 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning
1 cup seafood stock
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon garlic flavored olive oil
2/3 cup flour
1/2 cups dry vermouth
2 dashes of hot sauce
S&P to taste
2 prepared pie crusts


Cook bacon pieces in a large pot and remove from pan reserving the fat in the pot
Melt butter in sauce pot add oil
saute onions celery carrots and red pepper till softened but not wilted
add mushrooms and lightly cook
add garlic let bloom
add flour cook 2 mins
add vermouth and cook about 2 mins
add seafood stock
add spices
add into pot and stir till mixture thickens and is bubbly
add cream and reduce heat to low
taste and season if necessary
add hot sauce

Spoon mixture into the baking dishes divide Oysters between the dishes pushing them down into the sauce till covered.

On a floured board roll out pie crust and
Cut out into rounds to cover your baking dishes

Brush with egg wash ( one egg mixed with one tablespoon water)

Cover baking dishes and cut a slit if you want to get fancy cut out extra dough into fish shapes and decorate the top. Poke the top with a knife to vent.

Place on baking sheet and bake for 25 to 30 mins or until crust is browned and done, serve hot.

Enjoy ya'll!!

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Easy Breezy Cherry Berry Crumble the Easiest Dessert Ever!!

There are in my humble opinion only a few desserts one needs to have in one's cooking repertoire. WHAT!!! you say!

I mean aside from throwing a few things into a dish with ice cream or purchasing something store bought to serve. Dessert can be a lot of effort. And I understand that many people are very much fans of  "the sweet" especially at the end of a meal. However it is my humble opinion that unless you are a sweets enthusiast ,which I am not, you might be better served by having a few amazing sweet tricks up your sleeve than trying new things out all the time and making a headache for yourself.

So Mister Sweets hater, you are saying, what might you suggest as some of these dishes that one should have in one's reprotoire? Well I won't give a laundry list here but i will simply state that simple is better in my book. And what is more simple that starting with nature's candy, fruit?

Fruit desserts are a part of my childhood. My Mother and Granmother used to make cobblers from everything from apples and berries to stone fruits. They there easy and simple and usually served up with a big dallop of cool whip topping and love. Then there is my Mom's apple pie that with it's simple and delicious crust is a runner up for best apple pie ever in my book. And let's not forget that one cake that my Grandmother would make from scratch, blueberry cheese cake. Simple and delicious.

So I like the idea of making simple fruit cobblers as an easy alternative to some very indulgent sweet dessert. And now I will teach you an unbelievable and easy way to do this. So hold on.

Step one: Take 2 bags of frozen mixed berries from the store and put it in a small pot
Step two Add 1/2 cup chopped nuts of you choice walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts just not peanuts.
Step three: Add 1/2 cup bottled commercial pancake syrup...yep!
Step four: heat gently over medium heat
Step five: grease a baking dish 9x9 or 6 individual dishes
Step six: Pour in the berry mixture
Step seven: In a mixing bowl mix 3 cups of a tasty favored granola cereal with another 1/2 cup of pancake syrup.
Step eight: Layer on top of you fruit nice and thick
Step nine: Bake in a preheated oven at 350 degrees for about 20 mins
Step ten: remove and serve, topping with a scoop of vanilla ice cream...Enjoy Ya'll!