Wednesday, March 4, 2015

14. ASH CAN COOK - MOLASSES COOKIES & ARTICHOKE DIP

My friend Carla, who often shares the performance stage with me, says she is going to make a tee shirt with these words printed on the front:
Will work for artichoke dip.
Specifically, Ashley's artichoke dip. Backstage or in the green room, if I am producing the concert, we usually have a table set up with refreshments for the performers.  My daughter in law, Ashley Parker Connors, is not only a gracious person, but she's a great cook. Because she is thoughtful, and she lives close enough to the performing arts center, she will provide the backstage fare for us at the holiday concerts.  Can I just say…YUM!
Two of the backstage favorites are this dip and her amazing molasses cookies.  Last year we had artists, who will remain unnamed to protect their reputations, who packed her cookies into their pockets after the show.  They're that good.
Not every mother gets to have a daughter in law who feels like a daughter.  Actually, like a friend.  My beloved daughters have become more like friends to me now, and Ash fits right in.  She is a rare combination of character traits: organized and creative, dignified yet candid and approachable, bold and strong with a vulnerability that makes you feel connected in a real way.  She is kind, and loving, and dependable, and devoted. And talented. And she loves her God, her family, and her friends.  One of the sweetest aspects of her personality, to me, is the way she loves my son.  He makes her laugh, and she understands him.  And her devotion to him warms my heart.
For example, one day years back, when Sophie was still in a car seat and Parker was a baby, she and Johnny and the kids lived with us for a few months while they were remodeling their house.  Ash had started the car to warm it up, then locked Sophie into her car seat.  She shut the door and took Parker over to the other side to strap him in.  When she tried to open the door she realized she had accidentally locked the doors, and the keys were in the ignition.  She came back in the house to see if I had a spare key. We usually have a spare for all our kids' cars, since this is not the first time we've needed them.  But unfortunately John had borrowed the spare sometime before, and had not returned it to us.  And so there was Sophie, looking out the window at her mother, those crocodile tears streaming down her apple cheeks.  And there was Ash, her hand pressed against the window, aching to embrace her little girl, trying to comfort her through the glass, also crying. After searching through the collection of keys inside the house I came out armed with wire hangers and other paraphernalia. At that point I was a little miffed with Johnny for not getting that spare back to us, and I suggested Ash call him at work.  Maybe he had the key with him.  She sort of shrugged me off, focusing instead on her little girl.  We poked and stretched and tried all we could. Again, I suggested she call John.  She gave some sort of non-compliant response.  Finally, I asked why she didn't want to call John.  Through her tears she answered, "Because I don't want him to feel bad."
Seriously! 
Seriously?
I wanted him to feel bad.  At least bad enough to give back the dang spare key.
But that's not Ash.  
John is pretty lucky to have her.  And she's pretty lucky to have him.  She keeps him grounded, and he keeps her amused. They make a pretty good pair, those two.
And she makes a pretty good artichoke dip.

(By the way, Officer Winkelman of the Farmington Police Department eventually came and rescued Sophie. Kudos to the Farmington Police crew!)





Ashley Connors’ Artichoke Dip

In Mixer:
2 pkg. cream cheese (8 oz)
2 c. real mayonnaise
1 14 oz can artichoke hearts (marinated or not)  (approx 1 ½ c per can…cut up w/ scissors)
2 small cans green chilies
3 c. Parmesan cheese grated

Pour into ceramic casserole dish. Bake at 350 for approx 1 hr

Molasses Cookies (Ashley Connors)

1 ½ c butter
2 c brown sugar
2 eggs
½ c molasses
4 ½ c flour
4 t baking soda
2 t cinnamon
2 t ginger
1 t cloves
½ t salt

Cream butter and sugar.  Add eggs and molasses. Add dry ingredients. Scoop into balls. Roll balls in sugar and bake 375 10-12 minutes  (slightly under cook).

5 doz cookies

13. GRAMMA CONNORS SALAD

There's a spot in our kitchen where the high chair belongs. It never goes away, the high chair I mean, and it's rare that a week goes by when it sits unused.  It has Cheerios and little dried pieces of fruit and crunchy chunks of pasta hidden in the crevices of its padded seat. Dried milk and juice and syrup down in the joints. I love that high chair. Well, OK, it's not the chair per se.  You know what I mean.



Timothy is my oldest grandchild.  When he was born his mom Sarah was in her first year of medical school.  Fortunately for us the med school was the University of Utah.  Lucky for them I did not have to work a full time job, and so I was able to use that high chair quite a bit.  That was the year I was stricken with Guillain Barre Syndrome, which left me nearly paralyzed for a few months.  I lived my life of recovery in a recliner at home.  And in my arms was that little boy, making me feel useful, the pulse of his heart against mine, healing me.  We called it Timo-therapy.
I have a few nick names for Timothy: Timo, Mosely, Mo, Buddy Bear, Mr. Magoo.  He answers to all of them.  He has this little smile that melts my heart. Gram called it the snowman smile, because he once had a little size 2 shirt with a sweetly smiling snowman on the front. I adore his snowman smile, and his tender heart, and his angelic voice, and his creative mind, his sense of rhythm and his passion for orchestral scores. 
Timo with his Gram.  That's his snowman smile.
When I make this family recipe, originated by my mother-in-law, I always think of Mosely.  I think of his little fingers, their tiny fingertips picking up pieces of Gramma Connors Salad from the tray of that high chair in the corner of my kitchen.  
Same boy.  Same Smile.
(Doesn't need the high chair any more.)
I know I should steam clean that chair.  I should.  But I know that deep down there somewhere is a piece of that little boy, and his sister and brother and cousins, infused into that piece of furniture. It may not be the most hip, most designer friendly look, that Peg Perego high chair poking out in my kitchen.  But it speaks my heart.

Gramma Connors Salad
a simple pasta salad with the yin of spanish olives and the yang of sweet pickles.

1 lb pkg PASTA, small or med shells or short penne pasta, or little chopped off rings I don't know the name of.

One large jar SPANISH OLIVES (not the giant jar, not the small jar, said Goldilocks) .  Pre-sliced is good, cuz then you won't have to slice them, but I often buy them and slice myself, about four slices per olive.  Olives should have red pimiento inside.

One small jar SWEET GHERKIN PICKLES.  Chop into small pieces.  Slice into long quarters and then chop each slice so the size is fairly uniform.  Don't just randomly chop.

somewhere around One cup REAL MAYONNAISE (not Miracle Whip)

One can TUNA (in water) or canned chicken if you don't like tuna like Libby doesn't. Or nothing.  It's good that way too, with no fish or meat.


Boil pasta according to package directions.  When done to the tooth (as they say in Italy...al dente') then strain and run cold tap water over it to cool it.  Drain olives and pickles and slice. Mix pasta and greens.  Add Mayo, SALT & PEPPER to taste, and Tuna.  Cover and Chill.  Add more Mayo if pasta is dry or needs more flavor.


Monday, March 2, 2015

12. CHICKEN BREASTS IN LEMON CREAM


My friend Heather calls it “Chicken Crack”. The hard stuff. When you crave it, nothing else will do.  I served it yesterday for Sunday dinner.

After church we cleared the pile of mail off the antique bench table in our family room.  We hefted our massive coffee table to the hallway and brought in the 8’ long folding table I bought at a garage sale 15 years ago.  We set it in front of the fireplace, so four people could use its raised hearth as seats.  The oval coffee table from the drawing room was brought in for the little ones, their tiny chairs fitting barely under its apron.  Long red tablecloths, soft cloth napkins, clean white plates and the glass goblets we bought by the dozens for Katie and Elliott’s wedding:  all these united the variety of tables in our large family room and dining area.  When we built this house this is exactly what we had envisioned: a space large enough for a crowd, but warm enough for intimate conversation. 
This morning I laundered and folded the tablecloths and roughly 40 napkins.  I traditionally set my tables with tablecloths in honor of my grandmother Lizzie Parrish, whom I never knew.  My mother told me that she always had a tablecloth on the table for dinner.  Even during the Great Depression. Less than fragrant ranch hands sat at her table, along with a passel of children.  It would have been fine to just set some food on the wooden table top and let them go at it.  But instead she used her linen.  I think of it as a sort of prayer, a call to reverence for the bounty in their lives.  Even when they weren’t so bountiful.  My grandmother had culture in her, and even out there on that small ranch in the desert of Idaho she used it. The cloth napkins and tablecloths I use make me feel connected to that part of my mother’s mother.
Among the gathering yesterday were the Riggs family, and the Gardner family.  Reed Gardner is getting married today.  And Dennis Riggs has reunited with his family in heaven this weekend.  We cherish all these people.  When someone from each of those families wondered aloud if we might be having Chicken Breasts in Lemon Cream, I took it as a sign.
And so it was.
There is nothing like that aroma of browned butter cooking chicken and mushrooms, topped off with the scent of fresh squeezed lemons.
I took this up to my brother George's house the day his wife Cyndy passed away.  It's a go-to comfort food kind of meal.  My brother John turned to my husband Dave and said "Why don't you weigh 400 pounds?" You’ll have to ignore the calories in this recipe.  And don’t go toying with it to try to make it fat free.  Cook something else instead.  Be true to the faith then go for a jog.


Chicken Breasts in Lemon Cream
Cori Connors

Ingredients:
Boneless skinless chicken breasts or tenders, trimmed, cut thin or pounded thin
4-6 fresh lemons for juice
whole cream (roughly 1/2 pint per 2 servings)
chicken broth (roughly 1/2 pint per 2 servings)
fresh mushrooms
butter
olive oil
flour, salt and pepper
cooked rice (parslied rice pilaf is great with this recipe)

Prepare hot rice to serve under chicken. 
Squeeze juice of lemons into a bowl, remove seeds, and add lemon juice to whipping cream.  Stir and set aside. (note: lately I’ve been grating some lemon peel into the cream mixture to add more zest.)

Melt a few T butter in heavy saucepan.  Sautee’ washed and sliced mushrooms in butter. Remove from pan.  

Add a glug or two of olive oil and maybe half a cube butter. (Olive oil has a higher burning point than butter, so you can cook your chicken on higher heat.  But you also want the flavor of butter. )
Dredge chicken breast fillets in flour, salt and pepper.  Cook in oil until nice and brown. Because your chicken is thin it will cook quickly.  Do not overcook!  Remove from pan and store while you cook each chicken piece.  

When chicken and mushrooms are all cooked add  2 Tbs butter to pan, melt it, then add 2 -4 T flour to pan.  Scrape the drippings into the mix.  Add equal parts chicken broth and lemon cream mixture to the brownings.  Scrape the bottom of pan and heat, stirring constantly.  Add cooked chicken and mushrooms to cream mixture and heat.

Serve over hot rice.

Parslied Rice Pilaf
Cori Connors

Ingredients:
Long grain rice (Jasmine rice makes a nice fluffy pilaf)
1/4 to 1/2 bunch of fresh parsley, chopped (I use Italian parsley but either will work.)
1 small onion finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped or minced
chicken broth or water with chicken bullion
butter

Melt 2 T butter in saucepan.  Add chopped onion and sautee till tender.  Add 2 c rice and stir.  Add 4 c broth and stir.  Bring to a boil, lower to simple simmer and cover.  Cook for approx. 20 minutes or according to rice directions.  When rice is done, stir in minced garlic and chopped parsley.  Salt and pepper to taste.



Sunday, March 1, 2015

11. BANANA BREAD


Berkley and Quincey
“I’m mashing wiff my cousin….”  They sang together, some unidentifiable melody, their little arms pumping away with their potato mashers, soft ripe bananas giving way under their throbbing pulses.  Three-year-old Qunicey and her four-year-old cousin, Berkley knelt on the black stools at my kitchen island.  I watched from the other side, reaching over occasionally to keep their bowls from sliding out from under them.  We mashed and measured and mixed, their little chef hats flopped to the side of their heads, their giggles floating up above us as we worked.  We have done this before, and they know just how this goes.
Quincey lives in the East Wing, which is really Auntie Libby’s house just to the east of us. We live in the West Wing. She has her own little bed up there with her mommy and daddy and baby brother, Jonah. They are there while Mommy and Daddy work on remodeling the house they bought in Salt Lake City.  Berkley and her brother Sydney are here visiting with their parents, Adrian and TJ. They are here with Auntie Heather and Amy and Auntie Terry and others , who are here because PopPop is here.  PopPop is their grandpa, Dennis Riggs.  And Dennis is our friend.  (That sort of felt like one of those “who begat” chapters in the Old Testament.)

Dennis has been trying the last number of weeks to get out of here.  “Here” being earth life.  His spirit, strong and willful and tender and wise, has outlived his body.  His kidney, donated lovingly years ago by his little sister Terry, had filled the measure of its creation, twice.  And because the kidney was done, so was the rest of him.  And since his body was being stubborn about the exit plan, Denny came up here to Farmington from his home in Orem, cuz we have a gang of people who wanted to be able to give the care any good father should have while his children have to go to work. My sisters Libby and Sherry, and hospice, make for a loving recipe.
This morning Quincey and Berkley, a bit wiggly for the goings on in the east wing, skipped across the yard and down the driveway so we could make banana bread.
Just when we were adding the smashed fruit to our butter and sugar, the phone rang.  Because there was a pause before anyone spoke, and because the caller ID had told me it was Libby, I got an instant twist in my tummy.
“He did it.” She struggled to get the words out, partly because she is sick and her vocal cords aren’t cooperative, and partly because those words are hard to say.  I knew what she meant, and I stood there with the phone to my ear, my chest rising and falling, watching PopPop’s two little loves giggle with each other.  I hung up and tipped my head toward my heart, asking for direction regarding these little girls and how we should help them know what just happened.  Dennis had made the leap!  Two days ago, when I had asked how he was feeling, he pursed his forehead and whispered, “Desperate.”.  I told him maybe he could try another strategy and just sort of fall back into it instead of pushing forward.  I’m not sure what method finally worked, but I do know it was courageous.  And I also know he had unfailing faith in the divinity of his God.

Here in my kitchen this afternoon we who were baking left our mixing, removed our hats, and we talked.  “Why is PopPop going to be with Jesus?” they asked in a matter of fact way.  We talked about his body, and his spirit.  I don’t recall the exact words, and I knew it wasn’t really my place to explain my own beliefs to children who are not mine, so I didn’t overdo it  And yet, it felt like water wanted to flow in that direction, and trying to divert it would be not only futile but unwise.  And so our conversation rolled out as naturally as the ingredients in our recipe, so that when they each took one of my hands and we walked back up the driveway it was not frightening.  Dennis lay still and peaceful, the loves of his life gathered around him, except for Tim who was working in New York.  Tender hearted Sydney stood at the head of the bed, his silkened head leaning on his father’s side, his seven-year-old tears dropping onto Pop Pop’s bed. It was a sacred moment in a holy place.

After hugs and kisses and whispers and tears, I took the girls’ hands once again and they skipped back down the driveway.  My sluggish feet could not keep up with them and their hands broke from mine as they raced into the house.  I thought about how our journeys vary, how delightful it was to skip once upon a time, and how slowly we wind up moving when so much road has passed under our feet. 

When our banana bread was cooked, the girls carried loaves up to the east wing in bags.  They got a little smashed.  But the Shiva keepers up there didn’t mind.  They broke it off a chunk at a time.  Someone sent Sydney upstairs for a cube of butter. and again ten minutes later for a second cube when the first one was gone.  Hot bread and cold butter.  Our kind of Toast . We raise our warm bread topped with chunks of good cold butter to you, Dennis Riggs.  Fare well, dear man.


Banana Bread

¾ c butter
3  c sugar
3 eggs
6 large smashed bananas
½ t salt
4 ½ c flour
3 T soda
8-12 oz sour cream
2 t vanilla
walnuts optional

Mix softened butter and sugar.  Add eggs.  Mix dry ingredients together and add to butter mix. Add bananas and vanilla. Mix in sour cream. Add nuts if desired. (I add nuts to one pan) and bake at 335 for one hour.  Grease pans but do not flour.
This recipe fills two long sweet bread pans and one small one. Only fill bread pan about half full with batter.
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