Late Summer Pasta

Two nights ago, we ate this version of roasted veggies and whole grain pasta with tiny dishes of lump crab meat dipped in hot lemon butter and a small Greek salad. Last night, we ate a slightly different version with Italian-herb grilled chicken breast filets.  It's pretty. It's gooood.

Version 1:  Chopped yellow onion, two cloves garlic, one sweet red pepper and about 6 white mushrooms (Cremini would be even better). Toss with olive oil, salt and pepper and roast in the oven at 400 degrees for half an hour. Soon as you take it out of the oven, throw in a handful of spinach leaves. Pour over cooked angel hair pasta and chow down either by itself, with bread, or the protein of your choice.

Version 2: About the same, but traded out the mushrooms for zuchini.



Bronzed Salmon with Roasted Veggies and Spinach

Here on the Gulf Coast, we don’t have ready access to wild-caught salmon very often. This Coho is much more dense and interesting — almost chewy — than the bland farm-raised, artificially colored salmon we normally get in the supermarket. Here, I bronzed it in a big cast-iron skillet with smoked paprika and brown sugar.

Memoir of an Expedient Italian Menu in the Mountains


The hotter it gets in Pensacola, the more I look at my photos and journal notes from our time spending summers near Asheville, where it almost never got above 80 low-humidity degrees. The paragraphs below were written sometime in a late October time frame. . .

It has been kind of chilly and gray today, here in the Smoky Mountains. It’s that transitional few weeks between fabulous Autumn color and a seasonal Brown. Yesterday I walked out on the windy deck, where a swirl of yellow leaves was spiralling straight up to heaven. Today, it’s beginning to look a little bare.

Early afternoon, The Craving hit me: lasagna and bust head. When The Craving hits you, the nearest grocery and a recipe on the back of the pasta box looks pretty good. Forget my cook’s James Michener approach for tonight. If you’ve ever read any of his books, you know they all begin at the cellular level. I often feel guilty somehow if I don’t cook that way: homemade salad dressing, authentic lasagna with homegrown basil, and sauce made from the ground up, fresh baguettes and fruity olive oil infused with fresh chopped garlic and herbs. Chianti Classico or some such. Nope. Not tonight. Call this “The Expedient Italian” menu.

Okay. Here’s what we did. 

Chopped Romaine with a splash of Paul Newman’s Balsamic Vinaigrette 

Back of the box Lasagna, fiddled with only a little

Santa Carolina Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon (Colchagua Valley, Chile)

Oh, my God. It was so good. I’ve started being able to sleep again most of the night, and an occasional treat of pasta and bust head is just the medicine for a solid six.

Uh, and oh yes, a chocolate-covered vanilla ice cream bar. (Around here we call that “portion control” — not that it matters after a dinner like this. If you can’t afford the calories, don’t read the label; just put on the dimmer switch, light a candle and enjoy.)

Agua Fresca

I'm hooked on this stuff. It's a pitcher of filtered water with a bunch of fruit thrown in. I added about a teaspoon of honey, too. The fruits? Two sliced lemons, and a handful of strawberries, blueberries, pineapple and blackberries (from the woods). Let it chill for a couple of hours. The taste is amazing. And it's beautiful, too.

Blueberry Bliss

This old lost post from Mary Beth's kitchen pulls me back to the Little Island House. Kim and Charlene rented out the top floor,too, then, and it was filled with plants and wonderful books.

Renting a cottage on Maine's Mount Desert Island is one room in my own personal heaven. Stay in Kim and Charlene Strauss's The Little Island House or Jeanne Fernald's The Captain's Quarters in Bass Harbor for a special experience. Enjoy your morning coffee with warm sourdough and Blueberry Bliss jam, surrounded by dahlias, morning glories, rose hedges, and sweet peas clambering over old, stacked lobster traps, while you watch the extraordinary tides ebb and flow. The Little Island House actually becomes an island during high tide. Pure magic.


The Little Island House

Bass Harbor, Maine


There will be plenty of time for lobsters and sweet corn after a day of hiking in the Acadia National Park. But on the first night, do yourself a favor. Find a big cast iron skillet — don't worry — I think it's a rule: they have to have one in a Maine coast cottage rental (along with a lobster pot) — and roast a chicken while you watch the sun set over Bass Harbor.

Rest the bird on thickly sliced Vidalia onions — available at Sawyer's Market in nearby Southwest Harbor — and stuff it with a large bunch of fresh thyme, an entire head of garlic sliced crosswise in half, a little salt and pepper and a whole lemon, cut in half. Season the outside and rub in some olive oil, then bake at 425 for about 1 1/2 hours. This recipe is based on Ina Garten's recipe for Perfect Roast Chicken from her marvelous book, The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook.

Meanwhile, find another oven-going pan, toss some whole new potatoes with the freshest carrots you can find and a little olive oil; roast them for the last 40 minutes.

While the chicken is roasting, head outside with good whiskey, some warm whole grain bread, one of many excellent local Cheddars, and hopefully a romantic companion. Find a good spot on the rocks to sit and watch the tide come in, the gulls, the cormorants with their wings outstretched in the wind, the lights and steam rising from lobster pots at Thurston's Lobster Pound across the way, and just gleam for sheer joy in the moment.

Bold Food

Living in Lima, Peru as an exchange student in 1968 was a "coming of age" experience in many ways for this country girl. This restored post from Mary Beth's Kitchen was published in a 2005 anthology, Digital Dish: Five seasons of the freshest recipes and writing from food blogs around the world, by Press For Change Publishing, edited by Own Linderholm. Original post date: October 4, 2003.

Growing up in rural Florida, "pasta" was not in my vocabulary. Spaghetti came from Chef Boyardee. In my home, tuna fish might as well have been born in a can. The only fresh herb I saw as a young girl was the stiff clump of parsley decorating an ice cream scoop of unyielding mashed potatoes at the occasional after-church family lunch at Howard Johnsons.

The stirrings of an epiphany came when I lived with a local family in Lima, Peru during the summer of 1968. I was seventeen and had never been away from home. It was there I began to taste the world. The searing heat of Aji  peppers ground and mixed into a creamy sauce whose fire belied its looks. Cool, fresh ceviche. Earthy, luscious ravioli made from pigeons raised for my birthday dinner.  I was shocked to discover I was eating what I thought were decorative family pets, living in their wooden cage in the family dining room until the special day arrived.

And there was pachamanca, a mixed grill barbecue, accompanied by yams and cooked on hot rocks underground, enjoyed in the open air of a countryside restaurant with live music. The elders drank copious quantities of pisco, a potent Peruvian grape brandy, while we young folks danced to exuberant guitars.

This was my first taste of bold food, my first taste of freedom. I drank deeply. When I returned home, Mother was very upset. She said I was speaking with a Spanish accent. She knew that her shy, studious, classical piano-playing daughter had somehow changed forever. She was right. There had been a fundamental shift in the tectonic plates of my personality.

And I never looked back.


Mustard Greens at the Gate

My cell phone rang while I was standing in line at the post office on Wednesday. I figured it was Buck, so I pushed the little button on my Plantronics Bluetooth ear gizmo.

"Hello?" (almost said "Hello, Sweetie. . .")

"Ms. Westmark? This is Regan. I didn't see the cooler, but I went ahead and left the greens and the eggs at the gate."

"Oh gosh, I completely forgot that today is Wednesday! I'm so sorry. What about your money?"

"No problem. We'll just catch up with next week's order."

"That'll work. Thanks so much for letting me know. I'm running a few errands and will be back home soon."

"Okay. I just wanted you to know they were there, so they wouldn't get too hot."

"That's great. I'll pick them up at the gate. Thanks, Regan."

Just like last week's turnip greens: field fresh and delicious. That picture shows only a fraction of the bodacious bundles of greens. I made a crustless zuchini quiche using some of the eggs Regan brought. We ate it all before I thought to make a picture!


Mustard Greens at the Gate

My cell phone rang while I was standing in line at the post office on Wednesday. I figured it was Buck, so I pushed the little button on my Plantronics Bluetooth ear gizmo.

“Hello?” (almost said “Hello, Sweetie. . .”)

“Ms. Westmark? This is Regan. I didn’t see the cooler, but I went ahead and left the greens and the eggs at the gate.”

“Oh gosh, I completely forgot that today is Wednesday! I’m so sorry. What about your money?”

“No problem. We’ll just catch up with next week’s order.”

“That’ll work. Thanks so much for letting me know. I’m running a few errands and will be back home soon.”

“Okay. I just wanted you to know they were there, so they wouldn’t get too hot.”

“That’s great. I’ll pick them up at the gate. Thanks, Regan.”

Just like last week’s turnip greens: field fresh and delicious. That picture shows only a fraction of the bodacious bundles of greens. I made a crustless zuchini quiche using some of the eggs Regan brought. We ate it all before I thought to make a picture!

Waking Up

Ever have one of those days when it seems like Someone  is trying to tell you something? 

First there were the Hostas. I decided to take big clippers to the small hardwoods and weeds that have taken over a two foot perimeter around a magnificent oak tree fairly near the back kitchen door. I keep a compost bin beyond the tree, so I walk by it almost every day.  The tree was badly damaged during Hurricane Ivan, and you know what? I have been seeing only its brokenness, through a warped lens of that time, and suddenly, this morning, it was like I just WOKE UP.

The tree is thriving, huge, a gift of shade in a hot land. When I began to clip and tug away the invading horde, I discovered lush, jade hosta plants in a ring around the tree. I had planted them in another age, when only the one-bedroom cabin in the woods was here. I've been in and out all day, just looking at the tree, looking at the hostas. They have both been here all the time. It is I who have been away.

Next, I decided on the spur of the moment to make a pot of clean-out-the-refrigerator soup. All of these left-to-languish, almost forgotten bits and pieces melded together into the best minestrone-style soup I have ever tasted. Cuttings went to the compost bin, the soup into me. See that yummy slice of aged Parmesan melting into the hot soup?


Finally, I continued a project begun yesterday, to work in my little file-room, (it's a closet I share with a friendly hot water heater), and in an unlikely spot, misfiled (not so unlikely), I found yet another nice surprise: a print-out of blog posts from my very first food-themed blog, most of which had never made it into any archive and which I thought were gone with the wind. The blog was called "Mary Beth's Kitchen." And so, today, I'm also having fun posting them over at The Longleaf Bar & Grill blog.

I can't begin to say what today's gifts mean. But, it's not even 1:00 o'clock yet. Who knows what else may come my way? All I know is, it feels like a homily straight to my heart. My sense of wonder and optimism have been blunted lately. Feels like an awakening.  Feels good.

Calling Brother Al

There haven't been any posts over at The Longleaf Bar and Grill lately. Perhaps it's a natural asceticism that follows the richness of holiday foods, a leaning toward the dry after a season of juice. I have always been a carnivorous woman, but lately, the smell of steak or rare roast tenderloin makes me nauseous, and therefore, it has disappeared from our plates. Pork, long a staple, has, at least temporarily, lost its sensual allure. Chicken, too, seems just too much. This won't last, of course. It's not a political statement, and I am personally healthy as a young horse. Meanwhile, writing about food is temporarily – excuse the expression – off the table, too.

I'm not wasting away either, so I must be eating something. Oh, yes, I am, and well. Muesli with soy milk, sesame ginger tempeh on baby salad greens, veggie pizza with red and yellow peppers, onion and shitaki mushrooms, roasted beets. Oh, lots and lots of roasted beets, my new love. Oranges, so fragrant I cry at their beauty. I stand at the cutting board and inhale. Deep breathing over a fresh cut orange is the way to go. Trust me on this.

Coffee is still king in my kitchen, but Japanese green tea has become queen. And my treadmill, walking and free weight work has become more routine and more rigorous. Are you sensing a theme here?

I know we will all die – oops, sorry, there I go again talking about that – so avoiding death isn't the point. But it sure would be nice to live to be very, very old and not be sick and then just die. With a younger brother on the ailing list, and our annual physicals fast approaching, I have found diet and exercise religion again, as I do over and over again. They say some preachers are especially good at talking about sin because they know so much about it. That's me.

When I was a child, there either was or I imagined, a radio evangelist named "Brother Al." He preached purple prose over the air waves. His voice would rise to a hysterical high, thin screech, and then drop theatrically way down into a low, growly whisper. Fabulous stuff. He was a master. At the finale, he would tell the audience to put their hand on the radio, pray about what was worrying them, and then send Brother Al a dollar and their prayers would be answered.

Brother Al, old buddy. Call me if you read this. Maybe we can make a deal.