The quick answer: For guys who don't cook, the key to good food (and a little dessert) is a happy wife.
Sometimes life takes you by surprise and you bump into something that just makes your soul sing. Like the Swing Girls playing the big band classic, In the Mood. This is about a dreadful movie, a Japanese comedy, which required a group of high school girls, want-to-be actresses without instrumental training, to play big band music. The girls were given five months to learn an instrument and the movie was filmed. End of story, except the girls had fallen in love with the music—in Japan there’s a fascination with American music, past and present. The girls wanted to prove they really had played, so they put on a single show titled, “Swing Girls’ First & Last Concert.” You have to love the fresh innocence of these girls, dressed in school uniforms with knee socks, mimicking the hipness of big band musicians, with soloists taking Japanese-style bows after their numbers. See it here. (Yeah, the pianist’s a guy.)
The French Laundry
Looking back, our best days were when the house was filled with the energy of young children. Living on a skinny budget, we were fabulously rich with children. It was tiring, but almost always joyful. The children are gone now but we're comforted by treasured memories. From the start the beautiful wife wanted dinnertime to be special and the kids could be a little unruly so for a time we read the book Miss Manners after dinner. With kids, a lot runs in one ear and out the other, but a few things do stick. Imagine our pleasure the other day to see a post about dinnertime on the blog “Dinner a Love Story” by one of our daughters. See it here—she’s improved on what we did. Mom’s efforts do make a difference; one more way life can make your soul sing.
It’s hard work rearing children. It works best, they say, if moms get a break, a little R&R, from time to time. In our busy years we tried to schedule quarterly weekends away from the children, we called them minimoons and it was my job to plan them. I liked to find the little forgotten corners of history, older towns with romantic B&Bs ensconced in aged mansions. (Yes, I'll share my list some day.) We should make this a Healthy Change, that mom can look forward to a scheduled weekend away. Mom is the cook in most homes, which ties into this week’s subject: cooking.
One minimoon we traveled to Yountville, in California’s wine country. It wasn’t true then, but today Yountville makes this claim: “More Michelin stars per person than any place on earth.” Yountville has some great restaurants, like the French Laundry. The French Laundry is not only the best restaurant in Yountville, it may be the best restaurant in the world (check it out in Wikipedia). I’ve been reading The Soul of a Chef and the author describes the workings of the French Laundry’s kitchen—it’s so fascinating I rashly promise the beautiful wife I’d take her there if she wants to go. It’s a crazy thing to promise, you know, but we really don’t eat out much and it’s important to keep the cook happy. Hope I can get a reservation.
The menu at the French Laundry is so off-the-chart fancy that it caused a fresh insight: What America needs is not more exotic food, but a few super healthy, cook-in-your-own-kitchen dishes to build a new food culture around. So that’s our goal for the rest of the year, to find those recipes. We’ve made a good start with these recipes, presented in past posts:
- Split Pea Soup with Ham Bone; we just took some out of freezer to eat this week. There’s just two of us so we’ve gotten a half-dozen meals from that ham bone.
- Skip’s Scalloped Potatoes; this dish is best on the weekend, as it takes longer to prepare, but it’s good for several days as leftovers.
- People love Beth's Vegetarian Enchilada recipe; it’s great for cleaning out the vegetables in the refrigerator, you can use about anything.
- Oven-Roasted Fries were offered when we banned all deep-fried food not cooked in your own oil, including that American icon, French fries. Some folks use sweet potatoes.
- Skip’s Breakfast Compote, our most popular recipe, it’s tasty, cheap, and healthy. This summer we enjoyed it with fresh peaches, a little granola, and sunflower seeds.
- Katie’s Granola, we like this so much we sprinkle it on the Breakfast Compote and use it as a snack.
- Skip’s Homemade Applesauce; I got this recipe from Janet Athey in tiny Midway, Utah and made minor changes, like fresh orange juice. (Tastes better, plus cheaper, than concentrate.) Martha Stewart posted the recipe at her site, here. Try this and you won’t want store-bought anymore.
- We created a good recipe for Whole Wheat Bread but I actually like the recipe submitted by Nancy O, a charming woman with much cooking wisdom. It’s found in the comments here, but I’ll repeat it below for easier access.
- We’re working on a recipe for healthy mac & cheese. In the past this meant low-fat but we’re going for whole-grain pasta, healthy fats (not too much), and secret veggies. For Sunday dinner we’ll use the grandkids as a taste panel. Who better to judge mac & cheese than kids?
Readers have submitted their favorite recipes and we’re trying out before we share them. We’ll also respond to the suggestion that we make the recipes easier to find on the blog (starting with this post).
Whole Wheat Bread (by Nancy O.)
4 1/2 c. warm water (filtered, or R. O. is good)
2 t. yeast (not tablespoons).
1/3 c. vital wheat gluten
¼ t. vitamin C powder – can crush a 500 mg tablet.
6 cups of freshly ground w.w. flour
Let sit for 10 minutes
1/3 c. oil (any healthy oil)
1/3 c. honey (agave works as well)
1 rounded T. salt
4 to 6 cups more w.w. flour (not a super-stiff dough)
Beat in mixer for 6 to 8 minutes or by hand for 10 minutes.
Let sit for 10 minutes.
Form into loaves (4), place in greased bread pan, and let rise until double.
Bake at 350 degrees for 35 to 40 minutes.
Note: This bread works well with little yeast, the most expensive item in most bread recipes. You can save again by buying yeast in bulk. To bring out the wheat flavor, I grind the wheat the day before and soak the 6 cups of flour with half the water overnight.
A Weekly Menu
We’ve been a little shy about sharing menus, first because the summer has been busy, but also because it’s a little like exposing one self in public. Know what I mean? Another issue is what works for us may not work for others; it’s unlikely there’s a universal diet that’s optimum for all. We eat simple two- or three-dish meals based on whole foods, mostly with 30-minute recipes. We plan five meals a week and also use leftovers; Friday and Saturday we improvise and occasionally eat out. Some weeks the beautiful wife tries a new recipe.
Day 1: Macaroni & cheese with broccoli salad. Yes, mac & cheese for Sunday dinner, but we’re testing recipes on the grandkids.
Day 2: Split pea soup (from the freezer) and watermelon. This is so easy, you only have to remember to take the soup out of the freezer in the morning.
Day 3: Dr. Weil’s Roasted Winter Squash and Apple Soup; the beautiful wife wanted to try this recipe. You have to try a lot of recipes to find one you’ll keep.
Day 4: BLT on whole wheat, with cantaloupe. Another simple summer meal, though it seems more like fall now. Add some cucumber slices and lots of leafy greens and tomato, so this sandwich is more like a salad.
Day 5: Baked chicken with rice, and spinach salad. We’re going to try a recipe suggested by a reader.
Please comment on your favorite recipe, or interesting ideas or books on cooking you’ve discovered.