About leslieislate

My love affair with food began more than 40 years ago with Mrs. P.'s tuna fish sandwich. Mrs. P. and her daughter, Jane (my then best friend) have long since moved away. Food, while not my first love -- husband, kids, dogs come first -- is still pretty central to my universe. Oh, and I love to write too!

Martha and the Spoon

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My grandmother, the late, great Martha (“Martha Darling” as she was lovingly referred to by my sisters and I) came to me in a dream last night.  I wasn’t surprised by her visit.  Having recently retired from my job of 13 years, I find myself — again — in a time of transition. (See this blog’s very first post, circa 2011, and you’ll understand why I say “again.”).  Transitions are stressful.  There’s all that un-knowing to contend with.  And, as one who has spent the better part of the last three decades with some of degree of certainty as to what Monday through Friday looks like — well, let’s just say, this is unchartered territory.

In a recent New York Times opinion piece, author Alice Robb asserts, not surprisingly, that our dreams are windows into our conscious selves and that there is real value in trying to interpret them.  In her research, Robb spoke with psychologists who claim that in dreams “our brains are reminding us of a time when we prevailed over something we had feared, boosting our confidence.”

In my dream, Martha joined me in a happy place — on a beautiful lake, the water moving endlessly and without worry while dappled sunlight sparkled on its surface.  Martha leaned in and whispered, “You’re a good girl, Leslie.”  Then she handed me a wooden mixing spoon, worn by years of use in what I can only imagine would have been any number of delicious dishes she created.  And then she was gone.

Here’s how I am choosing to interpret this lovely reunion with my sweet, funny, one-of-a-kind grandmother who was – in case it hasn’t already been made clear – an absolute boss in the kitchen (and I mean that in the best possible way).  Concerning my future, I don’t have any more answers today than I did before the dream, but I think Martha was simply trying to say: “It’s okay.  You will figure this out.  You’re a good girl.”

As for the spoon, well that was meant to be my dream-induced confidence booster, a not-so-subtle hint to get back into the kitchen and to writing this blog (which has been on a multiple year hiatus).  Goodness — and hopefully deliciousness — will prevail.  Enjoy!

Regan’s Butternut Squash Ravioli A lot has happened since I first started writing this blog in 2011, and I hope you will return again and again to find out more.  In the meantime, what follows is a recipe for homemade butternut squash ravioli that is pretty much perfect for the season.  I am especially proud to share this one since it comes from my daughter Regan’s ever growing arsenal of deliciousness.  This recipe is for the filling; the homemade pasta recipe was adapted straight from Thomas Keller’s The French Laundry Cookbook.

Ingredients

  1.  1 butternut squash, peeled and cut into medium cubes
  2.  2 garlic cloves, whole with skins on
  3.  2 tbs. olive oil
  4.  salt and pepper to taste
  5. a few sprigs of thyme
  6. 1/2 to 1-1/2 c. ricotta cheese
  7.  1 tsp. fresh lemon juice

Preheat oven to 425.  Place cubed squash and whole garlic cloves (skins on) in a bowl, toss with olive oil, salt and pepper.  Transfer to a greased or parchment lined sheet tray and add sprigs of thyme.  Roast until soft fragrant, and just beginning to brown around the edges (approximately 15-20 minutes).  Remove squash and garlic from the oven, remove skins from garlic and allow mixture to cool.  Discard the thyme.

Once cooled, transfer squash and garlic to a food processor, along with ricotta cheese and lemon juice.  *Add ricotta a half-cup at a time until you achieve desired consistency.  You are looking for a smooth puree that is NOT too liquid-y.

For instructions on filling the ravioli, follow these fool-proof, easy-to-follow steps, courtesy of Epicurious.

To cook ravioli, cook in a medium saucepan of salted boiling water for 2-3 minutes, just until the center is hot and the pasta is al dente.  Remember that this is fresh pasta, which cooks much faster than the dried variety.  Toss with your favorite sauce, or perhaps just a shimmer of olive oil, salt and pepper, and enjoy!

Regan’s Butternut Squash Ravioli

Ice-Cube Zen

I hate being late. I’m pretty sure this dates back to a childhood obsession with “people pleasing” that has carried over into my adult world. Not that there’s anything wrong with it; it’s nice to show up on time — professionally speaking, this is a bonus, and I think when you’re a dinner guest or meeting a friend, promptness is a courtesy we all can appreciate.

The thing is, I’m realizing that my race to get out the door is inhibiting my ability to live in the present. This is a goal of mine, now that I am in a transitional life phase (that sounds ominous; it shouldn’t).  With all of my children no longer children and living primarily on their own, I find that the mental energy I expend during most days centers around work and…work. Again, this is good — from a professional standpoint, I’m being productive and I like to feel as though I’m accomplishing something (again, the people pleasing rears its sometimes ugly head). But the days are whizzing by, and I’m realizing that there is a real peace and satisfaction in sometimes doing and thinking nothing. Well, not nothing, but nothing of consequence.

In his book, The Miracle of Mindfulness, Thich Nhat Hanh offers practical suggestions for how we become more mindful. One of my favorites:

“While washing the dishes, one should only be washing the dishes, which means that while washing the dishes, one should be completely aware of the fact that one is washing the dishes.”

It’s been more than a decade since I first picked up the Zen master’s seminal work, but for some reason, this passage has stayed with me. And I was reminded of it today as I was filling the ice-cube trays.

In our house, this is a job usually reserved for my husband. I can’t give a good reason as to why, but I suspect it has something to do with the fact that, well, he just has more patience than I. There are 6 trays in our freezer, and emptying and refilling them all at once takes — oh, I don’t know — maybe 3-4 minutes. In my world, that’s 4 minutes I could otherwise be accomplishing something. But today, armed with a renewed commitment to living presently in the moment, I filled the trays. And while I was filling the trays, I thought of nothing else but filling those trays. Watching the small cavities gradually transform from empty to full was gratifying — A little nugget of momentary peace.  I’ll take it.

Baked Rice Pudding
This dish, in addition to filling your belly with warm, sweet satisfaction, offers good practice in mindfulness and patience, as it requires some babysitting, a little extra TLC, if you will. But oh, it’s worth it.

Ingredients:
4 c. Whole milk (more as needed)
⅓ c. Arborio rice
⅓ c. Sugar
1 T Unsalted butter
½ Cinnamon stick
1 t. Vanilla extract
Zest from one orange
Fine sea salt
Optional: ½ c. dried fruits such as raisins, currants, cherries, etc.

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Lightly butter a shallow 2-quart baking dish.

In a saucepan, combine the milk, rice, sugar, butter and cinnamon stick. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring to dissolve sugar. Pour into the baking dish and distribute evenly. Bake, stirring with a wooden spoon every 15-20 minutes — this is where the patience part comes in — until the rice is very tender and has absorbed most of the milk, about 1.5 hours.

Remove from the oven and stir in vanilla, orange zest and a pinch of salt (*if you’re adding dried fruit, this is when you’ll want to do that). If the pudding seems too thick, stir in additional milk until you have achieved desired consistency. Spoon into bowls, and enjoy! (makes 4-6 servings)

–Adapted from Comfort Food for Williams-Sonoma (Oxmoor House, 2009).

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Mid-Life Lessons from my Children

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“Let that be a lesson to you.” How often have we parents said this to our children? In those “teachable moments,” it’s the phrase we use to drive the point home. As the parent of young adults, however, I realize now that I am the student. Their wisdom comes from an honest world view that is opening my eyes to important life lessons I wish I had known a long time ago.

In the Sanskrit English Dictionary of Monier-Williams, the word “sage” is described as a derivative of the Sanskrit root rsh, meaning “to go, to move.” Tārānātha identifies this as “one who reaches beyond this mundane world by means of spiritual knowledge.” So, yes, I’d go so far as to claim my children as having the qualities of the great sages.

Let’s just say I believe my kids are far more evolved than I, but I am the happy beneficiary of their unabashedly pure — and “real” — outlook on life.  For instance, I am learning from them that who we are really isn’t at all about what we look like or what we do. Rather, we are becoming every day, a process that has nothing to do with the above and everything to do with: being vulnerable; having heart; having courage; dreaming big; loving even bigger; and being okay with everything just as it is.

It’s a tall order. Lucky for me that I am a willing student with (hopefully) a lot of life left in which to learn. Of course, we never really know, so for today I’ll just be sure to pay close attention.

Homecomings…and Goings

IMG_0818My oldest child returned home from a two-month job out west last week. Her stay here will be temporary, as she is preparing for a new adventure in yet another part of the country and will be leaving again in just a few short days. It’s hard saying hello again, knowing that more goodbyes are imminent. These grainy sands of time just keep slipping through my fingers.

There is still one child home, and he turns 18 this week — the age at which one is considered a legal adult in the U.S. Old enough to legally work, participate in contracts, vote, marry, give sexual consent, and join the military.So in truth, he is an adult; there are no more children at home.

We have a tradition in our family that when one celebrates a birthday, he/she is treated to breakfast in bed. In a happy surprise, the almost-adult told me he wanted to stick with tradition and be feted in bed with a big old breakfast! I’m figuring this might be my last opportunity, so I plan to make it memorable.

Of course, for me they’re all memorable. Burned in my memory in fact. Every breakfast in bed; every birthday party; every celebration that ever was. Hopefully, the “kids” share those memories. Maybe they will think of them (and me), even as time between homecomings becomes longer.

photo (21)Lemon Blueberry Muffins
I love these muffins for their sunny, lemony taste and for their incredible fluffiness — made possible by the addition of a few special ingredients. These will certainly be on the menu for Spencer’s breakfast in bed.

Ingredients:
3 c. flour, plus 1 T. for dredging the berries
4 t. baking powder
1 t. salt
1 c. sugar
2 eggs
2 t. lemon zest
1/2 c. butter, melted
1-1/2 c. sour cream*
1 c. blueberries

*(Sometimes I like to mix 1 c. of sour cream with 1/2 c. of crème frâiche.)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease or line a 12-well muffin tin with paper liners.

In a mixing bowl, combine 3 cups flour, baking powder, and salt, and whisk until thoroughly combined. Create a well in the bottom of the bowl for adding the wet ingredients.

In another large mixing bowl, whisk together the sugar, eggs, lemon zest, and melted butter.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients; mix until combined and then add the sour cream. Lightly mix again but do not over mix. Toss the blueberries with 1 tablespoon flour and fold into the batter.

Divide the batter evenly into each cup in the prepared muffin tin.

Bake for approximately 22 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean.
(recipe adapted from Kelsey Nixon, Kelsey’s Essentials.)

Season of Missing

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It’s cold here on the east coast.  There is a biting wind outside that elevates the notion of “chill in the air” to something otherworldly. Although I am a December baby, these frigid months are especially hard for me, now … Continue reading

Plant Your Roots, and Watch What Grows

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Today is December 1 and in 29 days I will turn 50. Here’s me in Atlanta, Georgia, just six months shy of my 4th birthday. Not much has changed since then (though I do miss those white patent leather Mary … Continue reading