Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Planning for Company

It is only fitting that right before Thanksgiving I post this blog about planning for company, though the occasion wasn't Thanksgiving. Last week my cousin came to have lunch with me. Having company is becoming a more special occasion now that I am retired and can take time to plan a luncheon menu. I thought perhaps I would serve tuna or chicken salad, with boiled eggs and would also take a special shopping trip to find and purchase some new delectable taste treats for her visit.

Once again I returned to my trusty computer for how to boil the perfect egg! You would think at age sixty-nine I would already know how to do this, though it was only a couple of years ago that I learned about "perfecting" boiled eggs, I had just boiled them before! Just think, if I had had a computer in my young years, all of the boiled eggs in my life would have been perfectly cooked with no gray or green edges to their yolks and if I had learned while my memory cells were still intact, I would now be able to do it without looking it up each time!

I lived in the day of encyclopedias and trips to the library, and now I have a library on my tablet and on my computer in my dining room next to the kitchen. Julia Child should have had such resources at her finger tips!! I have no need now for my vast array of cookbooks or memory for that matter, as whatever I need to know is found faster and easier on my computer than in books or for that matter waiting for my memory cells to connect!! I still keep my cookbooks as all books are my best friends and you know what they say about new friends being silver, but the old ones, gold!...And about my brain connections, I am glad for them whenever and if ever they occur, but depending on them is another matter!

Fingerling potatoes...this variety came in one bag!
Having company is definitely the time to be sure that my meal preparation is done to perfection and as I said, I used this opportunity to wander the isles of the grocery store looking for interesting new things to serve. It was not only entertaining, it was physical therapy for me, walking and walking as I imagined all the possibilities for our lunch.

I found some interesting tiny potatoes in the produce department that are called fingerling potatoes and in one bag there are several varieties, including some that were dark blue, sure to impress! I also found tiny cut carrots.  I am excited about vegetables of all kinds lately, learning that they can be fixed in other ways besides just boiling them. I came home with several bags of treasured finds so I could offer my cousin a smorgasbord of choices.  She was traveling from over an hour away to pay me a visit, and I wanted to be sure that she was well fed!
Mini-carrots and colorful veggies!

My mother, who taught me to cook was limited to recipes hand-copied and stuffed in a recipe box, many of which were sent to her in snail-mail letters by her mother and sisters. She also had recipes clipped out of magazines and had a few recipe books as well. It seems like a strange way of learning about new recipes doesn't it? I remember her thinking that vegetables were to be boiled and meats roasted and cakes baked. There are no such limits with my cooking, and I have mini tutorials at my finger tips!!

Perhaps these fingerling potatoes quartered with sliced onions and other vegetables in my refrigerator would make a good sort of vegetable casserole that, I think, tastes like "Veggie Pizza", very delectable when dotted with a bit of sweet sausage and covered with melted mozzarella cheese! It makes a very colorful mixture, and would be made even more "gourmet" by adding blue fingerling potatoes to add to our lunch and the left overs would serve as dinner. I like to imagine myself as a modern day Martha Stewart preparing a great lunch and dinner all so efficiently and effortlessly and what fun I would have impressing my cousin with more than my sewing!  I saved a fingerling potato to show my cousin how cute they are and just in case she would prefer a diet-sized baked potato instead, that could be baked in only minutes! All meals, I think, should be generously seasoned with a bit of humor!
"Veggie Pizza" ready to bake, later covered with melted mozzarella cheese!

Other lunch option a diet sized baked potato? Humor is everything!
I love to create casseroles just like my mother did. They became her most popular and creative way to stretch meals to feed her growing family, I think many of them were ways to use up whatever was left over in the refrigerator and I guess I "don't fall far from the tree". Her casseroles all seemed to have unique names to convince us they were delicious like New Joe's Special, though I thought it anything but!!  It looked like slop and tasted like it too, though perhaps with my newly acquired taste for vegetables, I would like it now, as it was spinach cooked with hamburger and if my memory serves me well it had green pasta too. No doubt if I take a few minutes on-line I will be able to find it again. It was, after all, supposedly a famous dish served by a well-known restaurant in California, or so my aunt claimed in her letter!

Vegetables can be very delicious when fixed in interesting ways and I have at last added them to my personal food pyramid, replacing many a cookie and cake.  Garnishing them with melted cheese seems to make anything delicious and I can imagine it looking a bit like a glaze or frosting! Sugar, I have learned too late, increases inflammation and has other deleterious health effects, and isn't one of the basic food groups after all! This has been a sad discovery!

In my bags were also nice multi-grained thin buns and I would use them as a "vehicle" to eat our chicken or tuna salad and as all vehicles they would be literally round like "wheels". I was clearly over-thinking this meal! A small snack-sized container of fresh fruit would be just the right amount of grapes and strawberries to garnish our green salad, that I bought all prepped and bagged. Lovely British "biscuits" were the perfect accompaniment to orange sherbet for dessert. Orange and brown, I thought perfect for a fall-colored dessert! My mother's spirit must have been loitering about as no company meal, she taught me, would be complete without way more than could possibly be consumed!

I looked forward to seeing my cousin, as I love to share memories of our common relatives and I smiled as I remembered our eldest step-aunt who was a spinster librarian by trade and kept her company menus well-ordered in her personal Dewey Decimal Card File at her home! She was ahead of the now infamous Side Tracked Home Executive sisters who organized their whole life on 3" x 5" cards, they called the SHE system.  Their system was for organizing their life as well as their housecleaning.  I had bought all their books and my family remembers the cute little wall hanging I made with our initials above the individual pouches to hold the cards that assigned each of us cleaning tasks for the week. I remember now that my family was less than cooperative and our house didn't seem to get any cleaner...but that is another story!!
Aunt Alice before she became a librarian and kept records on a 3 x 5 card file.

My aunt's card file was used to record what each of us liked to eat. She forgot that being of "the Martin clan" however, we were raised to be polite instead of honest and so our answers to her questions were always positive. Our "yeses" got us into trouble as I remember too well on a 100 degree day in Cleveland, Ohio, with no air-conditioning or fan, she served us boiled hot dogs, boiled vegetables, along with the hot vegetable water to drink so as to not waste any of their leached vitamins and for dessert we had hot stewed fruit! She was then almost blind which was perhaps fortunate for us, as we were able to switch our portions, so I ate my husband's stewed fruit to keep him from having to make bathroom stops too frequently, while I kept "regular" while "on the road"!

She relied on snail-mail letters and had carefully budgeted her company meal in advance and didn't wander about the grocery store whimsically picking up this and that the night before. A simple e-mail two days before let me know that my cousin didn't like cottage cheese. I simply used my computer to inquire about the negatives only!

It was only a year ago that I my eldest daughter helped prepare a lunch for company, but I have since reclaimed my kitchen and now use company as the excuse I need to try out some new taste treats!!  I did note that one of my more regular luncheon guests is insisting on only stopping by now to chat and not eat and it does give me cause to wonder about my menu choices?

After this lunch was planned, I realized my cousin is the same one that when visiting me as a child, was used to participating in sandwich competitions, where everyone fixed their own sandwich, most often starting with peanut butter? Perhaps my mother and my aunt didn't miss having a computer after all? Using their brains they had us kids fix our own lunch and not bother with all this fuss!
My daughter's recipe of a special peanut butter dish!

Although this event was big for me, Thanksgiving is the all-time feast of the year, and how fun it will be to get really creative and plan for this holiday and Pinterest is offering me all sorts of new menu ideas! Bon Appetite and Happy Thanksgiving!

....and here's to remembering you, Mary Margaret (another cousin) who always had peanut butter sandwiches instead of turkey and the trimmings for Thanksgiving! (If you would like to read about our family sandwich competitions see blog, A New Easy Recipe and read about my daughter's unusual open faced P.B. combo. It would have won our cousin sandwich competitions face-down! Pun intended!)
Read all about how to make it on A New Easy Recipe Blog.