SEASON TO TASTE(my monthly food column for Heartland Women)
The last few weeks of May have been important ones for my family.
My niece and all-around good kid, Megan, graduated from middle school with an armload of awards and honors.
My nephew, Andrew, graduated from high school and is now carefully weighing his options for college first, or Air Force then college.
And my bright and beautiful daughter-in-law, Kristen – who began working as a nurse as soon as she earned her LPN, and then worked while she finished her Associates Degree, then passed her RN boards, and then went on to work full time as an RN while she completed her 4-year degree – has just received her B.S.N. from Webster University.
All three of these kids are at different stages in their educations and careers, but they have one thing in common – they have worked hard to reach a goal. They have solved problems, jumped hurdles and challenged themselves to achieve something that wasn’t always easy for them. And isn’t that the greatest and most rewarding lesson any of us can learn – on bad days and good days, long days and short days, sad days and happy days – just keep working toward your goals.
Megan’s graduation from middle school reminded me of the one and only award I received on honor’s day at Lincoln Junior High School. I had been a good student all through seventh and eighth grade, so I expected to, and did, graduate with honors. I was completely unaware there were other awards to be given though. When I heard my name called, I was a little surprised. As I stood and walked toward the podium, a thousand thoughts began to race through my head.
What did they say? There must be some mistake! The Future Homemaker Award? It’s like I’m some sort of junior June Cleaver. I’m a marked woman! Everyone will think I’m earnestly searching for Mr. Future Breadwinner of the Year! I can’t do this. This can’t be happening to me! Smile. Take the little box. Shake hands. Slink back to my seat on the bleachers. It’s all over now. My life is over.
Seriously! Isn’t it funny how self-absorbed we can be at that age, thinking that anyone even took notice of my little award! Nevertheless, that whole dialogue played out in my mind in a matter of seconds and the memory is vivid to this day. Until now, I’ve always regarded that little pin, still tucked inside its little plastic box, with mixed emotions.
I never took another Home Ec class after eighth grade, and with good reason! Those skills were free and easy enough to come by at home, especially in a family with six kids. Cooking, cleaning, laundry, sewing, home decorating and caring for babies, toddlers and teens were inescapable facts of life for me – the oldest child and only girl in my family. I had done all the homework I needed on that subject!
I preferred to think I should set my course for bigger things. For me, that meant working hard in high school, making good grades, earning a scholarship to college, and working two jobs for four years. That B.S. degree was the means to an end. Education = career job + travel + adventure + independence. That’s what I wanted!
So what did I do after finishing my degree in English? I married the guy who caught my eye at work one day. It was right at the beginning of my senior year and he was a man in an Air Force uniform. Ten months later, just two weeks after I graduated from college, we got married, moved away from my home and family, traveled and had adventures. Not exactly the way I had planned, but plans can change when a better plan comes along.
Throughout our travels, my formal education and college work experience opened many doors. I had credentials, as well as the confidence and creativity to adapt to whatever work situation I found. My career was not quite what I had planned either – sales clerk, office worker, substitute teacher, hospital volunteer, testing program specialist, college program director, college administrator, paralegal, school board member and college counselor. I never worked as a writer, an editor or an English teacher. But I was never bored and there was always something new and interesting to learn.
If you know anything about the Air Force, you won’t be surprised to learn that we moved nine times in the first eleven years we were married! And here’s what happens when you move? You have to take your home apart, piece-by-piece and pray that it arrives safely and in a timely manner. Then you reassemble it, as fast as you can, in a totally different environment, before it’s time for the next move. So while my pilot was flying off to places around the world, known and unknown, friendly and hostile, I was the busy homemaker – cooking, cleaning, sewing, and decorating our living quarters so that it was cozy, comfortable and always welcoming for all who entered. I never knew who or what to expect, but there was never a dull moment!
It wasn’t long before I realized that, no matter what work I chose to do outside the home, I was born to be the homemaker. I’d been fluffing pillows and feathering my nest since the day I realized I owned my half of the bedroom I shared with my brother. Early on, I had taken my first serious step into the kitchen to make tuna fish the way I wanted it – without pickle relish! And I had discovered sewing was just like a puzzle that becomes five new outfits for the same price as one from the store.
I also realized that way back in the eighth grade, when I was awarded that Future Homemaker pin, I was already cooking, sewing and decorating well beyond my years. And in the years since then I’ve certainly relied on all of those skills and talents to help me along the pathways of my life, both chosen and not chosen. I’m happy with how things have worked out for this Future Homemaker.
I am also happy that Megan and Kristen are so serious about doing well in school and choosing careers. But I am just as pleased that both of them are interested in cooking, sewing and decorating. It never hurts to be able to do it all, just in case you decide someday that you want it all – meaningful career, healthy family and happy home.
This month, our series on healthy eating continues with some more recipes using fruit. I’m sure a lot of you already consume plenty of fresh or frozen fruit every day. However, I’ve never been a big fruit eater, so I’ve been making a sincere effort to add more fruits to meals at our house.
Locally grown fruits in Southern Illinois – blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, cherries and peaches – are valuable sources of anti-oxidants, vitamins and other nutrients. Eaten out of hand, they are delicious and refreshing. But added to vegetables and spices, they become something extra special. Chop and blend them into salsas, chutneys, relishes and sauces to serve with grilled meats, fish and poultry for a light main dish.
But wait, there’s more! Pour these chutneys and salsas over a block of cream cheese or goat cheese and serve with crackers for an easy, light and delicious appetizer. Enjoy the fruits of summer!
Blackberry peak season is May to September. A one-cup serving has about 62 calories, 8 grams of fiber and 50% of the RDA of Vitamin C.
1 med. onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
3 tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. salt
¼ cup wine vinegar
¾ cup light brown sugar
1 tsp. ground cumin
¼ tsp. cayenne pepper
½ tsp. cinnamon
½ tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
4 cup sliced peaches
1 cup fresh blackberries
½ cup walnut halves
In a large frying pan, sauté the onion and garlic in olive oil over low heat. Add the salt, vinegar, sugar and spices, blending well. Add the fruits and nuts. Continue cooking over low heat for 12-15 minutes, until the fruit is lightly cooked. Let cool. Cover and refrigerate for several hours before serving. Stored in refrigerator, it will keep for a couple of weeks. Serve with grilled chicken, pork or salmon.
Blueberries are harvested from May through August. A one-cup serving has about 84 calories, 4 grams of fiber and 24% of the RDA for Vitamin C.
BERRY GINGER CHUTNEY
2 cups sugar
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1 tbsp. grated fresh ginger
4 cups peeled and chopped peaches
1 pt. blueberries
½ pt. raspberries
Combine sugar, vinegar and ginger in a medium saucepan; bring to a boil over medium high heat. Boil for 1 minute; remove from heat and let cool. Combine fruits in a large bowl. Pour sugar mixture over fruit and let stand for 30 minutes. Serve immediately or transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate up to 1 week.
SUMMER BERRY SALSA
1 pt. fresh blueberries
1 pt. fresh strawberries, cleaned and chopped
¼ cup sugar
2 tbsp. finely chopped onion
1 tbsp. lemon juice
½ tsp. ground pepper
2 drops hot pepper sauce
¼ cup slivered almonds, toasted
In a large bowl, combine the berries, sugar, onion, lemon juice, pepper and hot pepper sauce. Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour. Stir in almonds just before serving.
Raspberries are very delicate and are harvested from June through October. A one-cup serving has about 64 calories, 8 grams of fiber and 54% of the RDA of Vitamin C.
3 cups fresh raspberries
2 tbsp. honey
1 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
¼ tsp. ground cinnamon
¼ tsp. freshly ground nutmeg
In a blender or food processor, combine all the ingredients and puree until smooth. Pass the puree through a fine-mesh sieve placed over a bowl, pressing firmly on the solids with a rubber spatula or the back of a wooden spoon to extract all the juice. Scrape the inside of the sieve periodically to dislodge any seeds that may be plugging the holes. Keep pushing the pulp firmly through the sieve until all that is left is a small number of seeds. Cover the puree and refrigerate until ready to use. Makes about 1 cup. Serve with grilled fish or chicken.
RASPBERRY BARBECUE SAUCE
3 cloves garlic, peeled
¼ tsp. olive oil
1 ¼ cups unsweetened raspberries
3 tbsp. brown sugar
1 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp. honey
1 tsp. molasses
1/2 tsp. lemon juice
1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
1/8 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. pepper
1 dash onion powder
Place garlic on a double thickness of heavy-duty foil; drizzle with oil. Wrap foil around garlic. Bake at 425 degrees for 15-20 minutes. Cool for 10-15 minutes. Place softened garlic in a small saucepan. Add the remaining ingredients. Cook over medium-low heat for 15-20 minutes until sauce is thickened and bubbly. Remove from the heat; cool slightly. Transfer to a food processor or blender; cover and process until smooth. Strain seeds through a fine-mesh sieve. Store in the refrigerator. Baste sauce on grilled chicken or pork during last few minutes of cooking. Serve additional sauce on the side.
Strawberries are harvested April through July. A one-cup serving of strawberries has 49 calories, 3 grams of fiber and 149% of the RDA of Vitamin C.
¼ cup packed brown sugar
¼ cup lemon juice
¼ cup raspberry vinegar
2 tbsp. honey
¼ teaspoon grated orange peel
¼ teaspoon prepared mustard
2 cups sliced fresh strawberries
In a saucepan, combine the first six ingredients; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium; cook, uncovered, for 15 minutes or until slightly thickened, stirring occasionally. Stir in strawberries. Reduce heat to low; simmer 10 minutes longer or until thickened, stirring occasionally. Refrigerate overnight before serving.
8 oz. strawberries, cleaned and chopped
2 scallions, thinly sliced
2 tbsp. chopped fresh cilantro
Juice of 1 lime
1 small jalapeno pepper, seeded and finely chopped (optional)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Stir strawberries, scallions, cilantro, lime juice and jalapeno (if using) together in a small mixing bowl, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve with grilled or pan-seared salmon.
Cherries are divided into two varieties: tart cherries used mainly for pie filling from Michigan, and sweet cherries from the northwest states for eating out of hand. A one-cup serving of sweet cherries has about 87 calories, 3 grams of fiber and 16% of the RDA for Vitamin C.
SWEET CHERRY BARBECUE SAUCE
2 cups pitted and halved fresh sweet cherries
2 tbsp. orange juice
2 tbsp. sherry
1 tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. grated orange peel
¾ tsp. Dijon mustard
¼ tsp. salt
3 drops Aromatic bitters (optional)
1 tbsp. cold water
2 tsp. cornstarch
Combine cherries, orange juice, sugar, orange peel, mustard, salt and bitters. Cover and simmer gently 5 minutes. Combine water and cornstarch; stir into cherry mixture. Cook and stir until thickened and clear. Sauce may be stored up to a week in the refrigerator. Serve with grilled chicken, ham or sausages.
BLACK BEAN CHERRY RELISH
1 ½ cups pitted sweet cherries, chopped
1 16-oz. can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 small yellow bell pepper, diced
¼ c. chopped onion
¼ c. chopped Anaheim or poblano chili pepper
2 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
1 garlic clove, minced
Salt to taste
Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl. Refrigerate at least 2 hours before serving. Makes a summery relish for grilled meat or poultry, especially duck.
Peaches are divided into to varieties, clingstones and freestones. Fresh peaches are available from late May into August. One large peach has about 68 calories, 3 grams of fiber and 19% of the RDA for Vitamin C.
FRESH PEACH SALSA
2 cups chopped peaches
¼ cup chopped sweet red pepper
¼ cup chopped red onion
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and chopped
2 tbsp. orange juice
1 tbsp. minced fresh cilantro
2 tsp. lime juice
¼ tsp. salt
In a bowl, combine all ingredients and stir to blend. Cover and refrigerate for at least an hour. Serve with grilled chicken or fish.
HONEY PEACH SAUCE
4 med. peaches, peeled
2 tbsp. lemon juice
2 tbsp. honey
½ tsp. black pepper, cracked
2 tsp. fresh thyme or ½ tsp. dried, crushed thyme
Cut up 3 of the peaches. In a blender or food processor, combine the cut-up fruit, lemon juice, honey, and black pepper; cover and blend until smooth. Transfer mixture to a small saucepan, and simmer, uncovered, about 15 minutes or until slightly thickened, stirring occasionally. Chop remaining peach and stir into sauce with thyme. Sauce may be made up to 24 hours in advance. Reheat over low heat, stirring occasionally. Serve with pork or chicken.