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So this is a very beautiful, basic idea that I learned about by reading this recipe by the wonderful Lidia Bastianich. It never ceases to amaze me how differently people do things, especially simple things like frying zucchini.  Until tonight I have put zucchini in egg and milk first and then in breadcrumb and parmigiano cheese, the way I do eggplant when I want to make parmigiana. But a super crisp crust doesn’t like to roll-up, so sometimes I just leave  my involtini naked like I do with eggplant involtini which I grill and then bake with sauce and cheese.

Kids, however, at least in my house, don’t do well with the texture of zucchini or eggplant without it being dressed up as junk food. And so Lidia’s recipe was worth a shot and the oil splatter, too.

I started tonight’s little bites, by doing it Lidia’s way and slicing the zucchini nice and thinly, although I had to use much larger zucchini than the ones she uses.  It looks like our garden will only have a few more coming and they are really small still.  So, I sent my husband to the farm stand for these.  Beggars can’t be choosers, I know, but this beggar will be more specific next time, I assure you. Regardless, you slice them about 1/8 of an inch thick.

Then you set out a colander (on a plate) and two bowls.  In the first bowl you beat 5 eggs (yup) and in the second you just put a few cups of white flour. A slice gets floured, then dipped in the egg, then waits in the colander to drip off a bit before frying.

After letting the slices fry on both sides until golden, you drain them and allow them to cool on a bed of pater towels. I waited until they were cool enough to handle and then I started rolling them up with grated cheese inside.

Lidia uses a caper inside each one, which I would love, but we were out of capers and my kids would never eat them if there was an unfamiliar surprise inside.

I also didn’t have toothpicks, and I wanted these to be grab-able, so I used a skewer to make a place for a little carrot matchstick to slide in.  It actually gave them a nice little crunch and reminded me of veggie tempura sushi.

In the end, one of my kids popped these into her mouth one after the other, while the other one had a reaction I will not describe, but reminded me of that scene in the movie Big when the man-child realizes he’s just eaten fish-eggs.

Oh, well. It’s not like I spent any amount of time standing over a hot sizzling stove to make these.

(Can you hear the guilt dripping off with the excess oil?)

The Flying Zucchini Brothers!!!!!

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Every once in a while, you get those “check-in” days, as my father calls them. Those days that go so amazingly NOT according to plan that it’s like someone getting a hold of  the back of your neck, shoving your face against a wall, and saying, “You know you’re not in control here, right?”

I’m still a little flustered by my recent encounter with Fate the tough guy.

It started out of thin air halfway to my mom’s house. By the time I arrived, instead of quickly dropping off my kids so I could rush home and accomplish 4 billion things before our long-awaited anniversary celebration, I  opened the car door and sort of crumbled onto the garage floor.  I was barely able to really talk. It felt like I was being stabbed in the back with an  icicle every time I drew breath and I kept thinking about the grandfather I’d never met and genes he might have passed on…the ones that make your heart stop too soon.

My kids didn’t get it.  They kept pulling on me and asking about their swim goggles.

Eventually, thanks to my parents,  a bunch of people in blue uniforms showed up and said it wasn’t my heart, but this bizarre  muscle spasm that was pushing against the ribs in my back, making me cry when I inhaled. They really didn’t need to plug me into their equipment though, since I figured it wasn’t my heart when I didn’t drop dead immediately when one of them referred to my FATHER as my HUSBAND.   I’m not buying that she thought I was a trophy wife, so that means she thought I was eligible for an AARP membership.

Not cool.

Anyway, when I briefly pulled my hands away from the painful spot on my back and considered wrapping them around the woman’s throat, I figured I (for one) would live. (Deep breath.)

So, as most things involving a 911 call tend to be, yesterday’s incident was unexpected, inconvenient, and terrifying. The worst, most horrible part was the look on my son’s face and the fact that he went from worrying about the location of his swim goggles to asking my mother if I was going to die.  Sweet Jesus.

Now I’m sore, but it’s all good again, although dis(harhar)heartening because I’d hoped to avoid any and all emergencies in this life. Why? Because I thought I was wearing my  funeral goggles and didn’t need “check-in” days to know what’s what.

Funeral goggles? Well, what they are not are those worn by the sexy mourners draping themselves all over Will Ferrell in Wedding Crashers. (Nobody in real life is ever attracted to a man who dry humps the air.)

What I mean are those lenses that zoom in on everything that really matters. They help you see everyday what others can only see after attending a funeral, and what they stop seeing as soon as the effect wears off. They (these goggles)  focus in on little children and family and good food. Best yet, on a day when they are really working, they sweep away trivial things into your peripheral vision, like handbags that cost two grand (who buys those?) and Fox News reports and bizarre comments made by idiots who think you are eligible for social security when you are most certainly still youngish.

So here I am.  I have cancelled everything fun we had planned, the house is still a huge mess, and I don’t feel quite up to doing much of anything. But maybe that’s all part of the check-in, the just figuring out how to have fun without so much preparation. Maybe I’ll stop worrying so much about little things and, say, start ordering pizza sometimes instead of making the dough…and the sauce…and the cheese… from scratch. (Eyes wide in the realization that I’m insane.)

I think I can see clearly now that my goggles were broken.

My uncle married a great woman.  She’s down to earth and generous and funny and real. (Real people are my very favorites.) Plus, she told me about this idea, for which I will always be grateful. Thank you, VL. I’m so glad you are in our family.

So this idea, which is simple and brilliant, is to substitute grated zucchini for crab in your Maryland style crab cakes. You will be SHOCKED to discover that the texture is so similar that the Old Bay tricks your mouth into saving over twenty bucks a pound on crab meat. Plus, eating bottom feeders is a lousy idea for some people with certain health problems and  for women who are pregnant. I really wish I had known about this recipe when I was expecting.  I really craved crabs and beer and all the while I could have been feasting on these and washing them down with Near Beer. Oh, well.

After trying these a few times, I discovered that they fry up better than they handle broiling. Also,  you need to chill the grated zucchini before you create the patties. In most crab cake recipes, after you form the patties, they need to chill in the fridge for an hour or so in order to hold their shape while cooking. If you include this step with the zucchini variation, however, the squash will release all of its liquid and everything below the patties in your fridge will be covered in drippy, eggy, zucchini water, causing you to pick a fight with your husband… and it just snowballs from there.

So here’s what you need:

Ingredients

2 medium sized zucchini, grated (on the side pictured above)

breadcrumbs

1 Tbsp mayo

1 Tbsp yellow mustard

1 Tbsp Old Bay

1 egg

flour

Method

1. Grate the zucchini and place in a colander lined with paper towels. Let it chill in the fridge for about 30 minutes.

2. Beat the egg in a bowl and add the breadcrumbs (one tsp. at a time) until you have a paste. Then mix in the  mayo, the mustard, and the Old Bay. (Now’s the time to turn the heat on under the frying oil.  Use medium heat, whatever that might mean on your stove. Also, set the oven to 350.)

3. In a mixing bowl, use a spatula to mix the paste into the grated zucchini.  In about 2 minutes you will have a scraggly batter (the only way to describe it, really).

4.Prepare a flouring dish and line a baking dish (or cookie sheet) with wax paper.

5. With a cookie scoop if you have one (or a quarter cup measure), create patties out of the wet batter and flop them onto the flouring plate, coating them on each side.  Then place them on the wax paper.

6. Fry them in a pan until the edges are golden, then flip.


7.  Now you can test one.  If the zucchini still tastes too firm, set them on a towel to drain their excess oil and then place the patties in the heated oven for about 5 minutes on each side.

Serve them as you would normally.  For me, the tomato is the clincher.  (And a beer.)

At some point, this ideal woman (who never actually existed) was considered to be the most beautiful woman in the world. The fact that  the local Florentine women typically did not look anything like this says a lot about every culture’s  list of  “who’s purdy and who ain’t.”  The media or maybe the public or those girls leaning against their lockers, I don’t exactly know who else might be on the list,  but “they” are very hard on EVERYONE.

It actually seems like the characteristics that are least likely to crop up in a given genetic pool are always the most admired by “those” folks. So, let me ask you, if you were a stand-up comic, say, and you were told that a particular audience at a particular club had never in its history laughed at a joke, would you bother walking on stage?  Would that make you want to try harder to impress them or would that be a clue to you they they just don’t get it?

Luckily, I have found that there are people who get it. And finally after a bit of a journey, I have found my audience. And they are so appreciative. It turns out, the people who are actually the most physically beautiful people in the world, they get me and see my beauty, which doesn’t compare to theirs in the least. I’ll give you a hint: They exist in every country, in every little town, and they are as gorgeous as they are different from one another. Additional hint: Almost from the first moment they meet you, they go crazy for your boobs (regardless of their size) and they are so happy to see you everyday after that, they actually poop in their pants. A lot. And this goes on for quite some time! Here’s the book that clued me in:

So in light of this realization, here are some beauty tips I learned by watching my mother:

1. When someone screams in your face, at various times in their life, that they no longer need you, gracefully exhale and simply wait for that inevitable call for help, be it from the bathroom when they realize there is no more toilet paper or from their college dorm when they are rejected by a boy who stopped seeing their beauty.

2. If you know in your gut what is right for your kid, block out any static, even if it comes from voices you love.  You know what’s best. Trust yourself.

3. If you are going on a long journey with your kids, instead of setting them up for failure, plan ahead and give them a roasting pan with a Tupperware lid filled with tiny new toys and portable art supplies.

4. Smile a lot and find joy in nature and small things.

5. Put off home repairs that you can live with for a while longer if it means you can afford to take your kids to a place that will change the way they see the world forever.

6.  Read for answers in many different kinds of books.

7. Be a tourist in your own life. (When your kids make fun of you for taking pictures of everyone you know doing seemingly mundane things, smile and ignore them.  You know time passes quickly, even if they are too young to understand.)

8. Never forget your own childhood and how it felt to feel small.

9. Do not blame other people when you feel taken advantage of. You teach people how to treat you.

10.Let the kids play with rice and get it all over floor. Rice is fun. You can sweep it up later.

At times like this, I feel like maybe I shouldn’t be allowed to be the grown up.  I mean, my mother would never have even entertained the idea of making these back in the late 70’s when (for a brief , but emotionally scarring time) she tried to pass off carob chips as treats.  Sadly, not only did I make these tonight, but I’m considering letting the kids have one after (for) breakfast. Maybe afterward I’ll take them to my mom’s until they run off the sugar;)

Anyway, they aren’t my invention, but they are currently in my fridge and in my belly (and probably heading for my hips as we speak), so they might as well be in yours, too. The good news is that they ARE billed as a healthier version of Rice Krispies treats, but that’s like claiming you picked the “normal” brother. In the light of day, when we step back, we know that what we are left with is a total nut-job and a tray of coconut butter-balls.

The reason I’m trying to sort of talk you out of making these is that once you make them, you will always be making them.  And people will ask you to bring them places and you’ll be buying Rice Krispies with just the pure intention of eating them with milk, but we know what you’ll end up doing. It’s going to be a downward spiral of sticky, sugary, coconut goodness and I’m sorry.

So,  think before you click: http://www.eatingwell.com/recipes/angel_delights.html

And where I can’t really improve on this sweet little piece of heaven, I can suggest replacing a bit of the coconut with orange zest and using some almond extract in the place of the vanilla. I used less than a teaspoon because to me it is more noticeable than the vanilla. Also, another time, I didn’t have enough dates, so I chopped up dried figs and nobody noticed.

Anyway, sorry.  Maybe you can stand next to a rather fat aunt in your next family photo.

Peach Granita

There are only two hard parts to this recipe: restraining yourself from just eating the peaches as you peel them and not gulping down everything as a smoothie before it even makes it to the freezer.  But you mustn’t do either because this is such a perfect way to cleanse your palette and to cool off on a wretchedly hot day like today. Today, like yesterday and the day before that, when you walk outside you feel as though you are swimming in soup. YUCK.  But this granita is honestly the best answer to all this sweltering, muggy, summer-ness.

You need:

a fork

a roasting pan

a blender or food processor

6 or 7 pretty ripe (or even overly ripe) peaches, peeled and sliced

sugar

a bit of water

Directions:

1. Put the peeled, sliced peaches into the food processor and puree until smooth, adding QUITE a bit of sugar until it tastes sweet enough for you. (I won’t tell you how much I put, but I started with 1/2 cup and went up from there. Pretty far up actually.  Remember, life is short, but hot days last FOREVER.)

2. Pour the contents of the processor into the roasting pan and add about a cup of water.  Stir it in until it’s all mixed. (My reasoning is that I HATE it when the food processor spills over and/or leaks out the bottom due to excess liquid, so I add the water in the pan.)

3. Put the pan in the freezer and wait 15-20 minutes. The sides will be firm and the center will be slushy. With a fork, mix the sides in until it is a uniform consistency. Then, repeat in another 20 minutes.

4. After that (see picture below), you can leave the tray in the freezer for a few hours and then when you are ready to serve, you scrape the surface with a fork and scoop the crystal-ice into bowls.

5.  You can put panna on this (slightly sweet fresh whipped cream) as you can with strawberry or coffee granita. Traditionally this is eaten with brioche, but not the French kind.  The kind I mean is Sicilian and tastes like challah, but is sweeter and a bit softer and is shaped like, well, a breast with a huge nipple in the middle. (I think they must have been invented by a baker whose wife had a really flat chest…or maybe they were the implants even before tissues were invented!!) As soon as I figure out a dough recipe that is even remotely close, I will post it. I have been trying for 6 years, so don’t hold your breath. Nothing online that looks close, tastes right:/ Meanwhile, challah in boob shapes is what I’ve got,  and  for now it has to be good enough.

Stay cool.

Independence Day

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I woke up this morning really hoping that my son’s fever was gone and that his sister would be all better as well. Nobody likes a sick kid, but somehow everybody bounced back with twice as much energy than they ever had before, like those rubber, balloon-like punch balls from my childhood that sailed gently away from your knuckles and made a quick return to smother your face with an unexpected pop. Bottom line: it was a loud morning.  Like fire-crackers in the house kind of loud.

So here’s what I did, and what you too are welcome to try if you need some sanity but don’t have the option of running out the door and far, far away.  First, you pick a good book and put it on the kitchen table.  (I grabbed Parisian Chic: A Style Guide by Ines de la Fressange cause, you know, it’s so deep and so appropriate for the 4th.) Then you wash the kitchen floor with LOTS of water and confine the kids to an adjoining room.  Then repeat: “DO NOT COME IN HERE!!!! YOU WILL SLIP!!! YOU COULD HIT YOUR HEAD AND DIE! !! DO NOT COME IN HERE!” (I re-washed the floor 3 more times.)

The other problem is that regardless of what they just had for breakfast, everyone’s always STARVING the moment the kitchen is off limits, so I used my time well and started lunch early by roasting every vegetable in the house in a skillet with garlic and olive oil. It takes a good, long time to preheat the oven so hot, but it’s a great “chore” to take on if you need to waste time (ALONE!!!) in the kitchen.

Here’s what I did:

Ingredients

a garlic bulb

7 little eggplant, peeled and sliced

5 red peppers, quartered and emptied of seeds

some baby zucchini or one big one, sliced but not peeled

salt

olive oil

Directions

1.Preheat the oven to 500 and then once the buzzer sounds bring it down to 450. Adjust the rack to the very top.

2. Eggplant: peel and slice the eggplant first. Take out a colander, place it in the sink, then wet it and sprinkle it with salt. Then line it with the eggplant slices and lightly salt again.  You should cook these guys last so they have time to give up their liquid. Once that happens (they will look old and sweaty in about 20 minutes), you need to wipe each one off with a paper towel and sort of press them between your palms to get as much water out as possible.

3. Peppers: place them into a dry skillet (skin side up) and into the oven for about a half hour (maybe more depending on your oven) until the skins are black.  Then take them out,  stick them in a covered pot for about 15 minutes, and then let them come to room temperature with the lid off.  The skins come off easily with a fork or your fingers. Place in a dish.  That’s it.

4. Zucchini: add some oil to the skillet and line it with the zucchini.  Flip them over so they are oiled on each side and toss in the garlic cloves with their papery skins still on. Roast for about 7 minutes on the first side and 3-4 after you flip them over.

5. Leaving the garlic in the skillet after removing the zucchini, add some more oil to the skillet and line it with the eggplant. Cook for almost 10 minutes on one side and then just watch them after you flip them. Take them out when they look golden. You will have to cook the eggplant in batches so not to crowd them.

Serve with bread, cheese, fresh spinach, and maybe some nice salami (like the hard kind).  Also, you can pop the garlic out of their papers and spread it on the bread before you start stacking up your sandwich. When you have a fruity wine, the garlic is even better…and the firecrackers, I mean the children, are less loud then also;)

As my grandfather would say after a good meal, leaning back in his chair revealing armpits you didn’t really need to see, “Ma sciallai!”