Where do the holidays take you? Christmas is all about family for us, but since my son was born, we no longer rush to multiple houses on Christmas Day; we compromised to make the day less chaotic. Christmas Eve is now spent with my in-laws: first, dinner at Carrabbas and then back to our house for presents and cookies. Christmas Day is always dinner at either my Mom’s or sister’s house. This year, it’s my turn to host my family for a Christmas brunch. Me…make breakfast food? I’m sure you’re shocked. At this point, I should be seriously thinking about renaming my blog Breakfast 24/7. At any rate, our holiday table will be a veritable buffet of my favorite brunchy foods–the catch is, they need to be practically effortless. This brings me to quiche–or as my son, Everett, used to call it, egg pie.
I distinctly remember the day last year when I finished my Florida Cracker Cranberry Jam from Urban Canning Company. I was so bummed; I took a picture of my last bite of toast spread thinly with the last speck of jam that I could scrape from the jar. That was the first time that I actually felt aware of the seasonal nature of produce–and that’s a shame. I think we take for granted the variety of produce that we can get year-round, despite the fact that a true growing season is anything but year-round. Our produce is typically shipped in from all around the world just so that we can have everything that we need–whenever we need it. Not so with this local cranberry specimen: it’s so unusual, you won’t see it at your local grocery store and once it’s gone, you’ll have to wait until its season comes again.
By mid-September, my Halloween decorations are up for my favorite holiday. I suppose the disadvantage of decorating so early is becoming overconfident that everything is ready for October 31st. Imagine my surprise on October 30th when I realized that we hadn’t picked our annual pumpkin! So, late that Friday night, after my son’s baseball game, we drove to a church pumpkin patch down the road from the ballpark. The pumpkins were barely visible in the dimly lit patch. The typical search for our prized pumpkin is a lengthy process: many are chosen and returned before the winner makes its way to our car. However, this year was surprisingly different. As we approached the pricing table, my son, Everett, eyed one of the biggest pumpkins ever–I could see the cogs turning as he went on his quest looking for its twin. It was as if the proverbial rays of light were shining down from above onto this pumpkin; he walked right up to it and said, “This one!” The search for the Ferrer Family Pumpkin was over in five minutes flat. Fastest. Ever.
Attempting to pick it up was a challenge; my arms weren’t able to make it all the way around its middle. If I couldn’t even carry it without help, how on Earth was I going to carve this monstrosity? Halloween morning, I carved our 3-inch thick pumpkin with my carving tools and a steak knife; cleaning out the inside felt like a never-ending task. I harvested over 2 cups of seeds: what to do with them? I needed to make sure I didn’t waste them; for the past several years, I’ve meticulously cleaned and saved them…and then forgot about them and into the garbage they went. Not this year! I had some sweet ideas. Because we had so many seeds, I decided to use them for two sweet treats: pumpkin seed brittle and spiced pumpkin seeds.
Pumpkin bread, pumpkin muffins, pumpkin scones, pumpkin cookies: if you can bake it, you can bake it with pumpkin. These are just a few of the yummy treats that will be popping up very soon…it is pumpkin season! Since the weather here in Florida doesn’t really start to change until around Halloween, the release of pumpkin items is our cue that fall is on its way–even though the weather here still feels like July.
The dishes can sit; the laundry can wait. Today, I’m taking a moment: all of my September magazines have finally arrived–it’s time to sit and read and breathe. The summer has flown by, school started on Monday, and my house is now quiet. Before you know it, the time-warp known as the end of the year will be here. It happens every year: September magazines today, Thanksgiving feasts adorning the covers tomorrow and Christmas issues next week. The last half of the year blows by faster than the first half and I want to enjoy it.
Breakfast is my favorite meal. I love it so much, I make it for dinner–often. French toast, veggie-potato hash, waffles, fried egg sandwiches and pancakes of all sorts make the cut for our evening meal. Paired up with some fruit and sausage or bacon for my guys–and some sausage or bacon-like substitute for me–it is my favorite kind of meal.
As I was strolling through the produce section the other day I saw that cherries are in season; I grabbed the biggest bag I could find. The first thing I thought of making with them is a recipe that has been on my “culinary bucket list” for years–clafoutis. A clafoutis (clah-foo-TEE) is a French dessert that bakes fruit into a custard batter. Don’t be intimidated, it sounds fancier than it really is. The ingredients and technique are as simple as can be: whirl up a pancake-like batter in the blender, pour over fruit and bake until slightly crispy on the outside and warm and custardy in the center. While I’m sure it makes a lovely dessert, it sounds more like breakfast to me–it was finally time to cross this dish off my list!
Aside from desserts, one of the first things I remember cooking for other people is chili. I learned how to make my Mom’s “dump and stir” version–there wasn’t much to it. The recipe was exactly this: one pound of browned ground beef; one can Hunt’s “chili-ready” tomatoes; one can tomato sauce; and one can kidney beans. I made it often and people loved it–until one night I had friends over to my dorm room for dinner and I got busted by the RA. “No plug-in electrical skillets!” she scolded. Well, that was the end of my first dinner party era.
I moved to Florida when I was ten; my lazy summer days were spent in the pool and around the neighborhood with my friends. We would swim most of the day and occasionally come inside for a meal; our days were full, yet relaxing. I don’t remember how I spent my summer days when I was six years old, but I can’t imagine they were as busy as my son likes his days to be. Everett is ready to go the second he opens his eyes in the morning; he doesn’t stop until his head hits the pillow at night. As usual, he is ready to fill the day with activities–with no “lazy” time in sight. When trying to make the most of our busy summer days, fitting in time to cook is challenging. Lately, we have been dining out more often than we would like–convenience rules when you are on the go.
I got to enjoy a lazy day to myself last week: my husband, Ed, took Everett to work with him. While enjoying the quiet, I realized that it was time to get back to cooking. We can still fill our summer with fun things to do, but I also need to carve out the time to cook proper meals for myself and my family. So, with Pandora playing my French Cafe station, I reclaimed my kitchen as a workspace–rather than a dish collecting space. I raided the fridge, picked up my chef’s knife, started chopping away and ended up with my favorite summery salad–tabbouleh.
Summer is right around the corner here in Florida: the humidity is getting higher by the day and hurricane season is about ready to begin. When the summer comes, I look forward to stone fruits, melons and sweet corn on the cob–I also can’t wait to get my hands on some in-season tomatoes.
When I was a kid, I would eat tomatoes fresh from my Grandfather’s garden and bite into them as I would an apple–with the added addition of a bit of salt. The smell of a fresh tomato is intoxicating: it smells just like the vine it grew on. If you don’t grow your own tomatoes, the next best thing is the on-the-vine variety from your local supermarket. I have found that these smell just like those back in my Grandfather’s garden and taste almost as good. Compari tomatoes, although small, are my runner-up at the grocery store.
Like many holidays, Easter is celebrated with a feast: a feast full of spring vegetables; a hearty meat as the star of the meal; and a nice, light dessert to finish. While I miss my Grandmother’s ham and raisin sauce as well as the rack of lamb I used to make, I have found a new main course that not only pleases the vegetarian in me, but also is a reminder of family.
My Great Uncle Ray was the only family member we had in Florida when we moved here in 1985. I viewed him as a surrogate Grandfather after my own Grandfather, his brother, passed away. He attended all family gatherings and he loved to eat. I never remember a time hearing him say that there was anything he didn’t like. He always filled his plate with everything offered and always came back for seconds. He finished off every meal with dessert and black coffee. He derived such pleasure from family and food and life. He loved to cook for his friends and family and was always experimenting with new recipes. Looking back, I think that he was the first foodie I ever met. I’m not sure if he was even familiar with that term, but he definitely embodied the definition: he was a great lover of all things food.