Garlic butter roasted mushrooms (2 servings)

Sometimes, as an Eastern Pennsylvanian who has moved to North Carolina, I forget that people down here don't understand Pennsylvania Dutch terms. Of course, I'm not surprised that Southerners are unfamiliar with the blatantly "Dutchy" turns of phrase (Obviously, nobody here parts ways with, "Y'all come back now, vuntz!") but I was surprised to learn how many of the things I grew up saying without a second thought are actually part of a very specific regional vernacular. Admittedly, most of these linguistic lightbulb moments came to me when I was teaching. In a moment of frustration, I once scolded a group of restless pupils, telling them, "Stop rutsching and just do your work," only to have them respond with blank stares. (Hey, at least it shut them up momentarily.) Just the other day, I discovered that no one here says, "It's spritzing" when the rain comes down in fine droplets. I've also learned that "Hush your fussin'!" is the South's version of the "Stop grexing!" that my Mom-Mom sometimes hissed at me and my sister if we whined too much.

Image from http://suzyssitcom.com

But I miss the colorful local language of Lancaster and Berks County. Each time I go home, I hear less and less of the true Dutchy accent, as in "Meet me dahn at the Ranch Haas," or "I'm from Berks Cahney." Pennsylvania Dutch is, of course, not actually Dutch but a corruption and modernization of German. It's characterized by unique words and phrases but also for the order of words, as in, "Throw the cow over the fence some hay." (That one always makes me giggle.) As with modern German, Pennsylvania Dutch has some situation-specific, difficult-to-translate words. Some of my favorites are "nix nootz" to describe a trouble-making but good-hearted child, or "schusslich" to describe hasty, sloppy, last-minute actions.

However, the PA Dutch word I most miss, simply because it describes the action it names so well, is "fress." To fress is eat, but it's a specific kind of eating; fressing is like grazing or snacking leisurely throughout the day. We fress on holidays, when we're already stuffed so full of gustatory goodness but we don't want to hurt the host's feelings, so we pick at the cheese plate. We fress when it's hot outside and a heavy meal would make us lethargic, so we just eat a few bites of whatever we can find in the fridge. We fress at picnics and holidays, where there's so much temptation that choosing one or two main dishes is too difficult, so we take bits of this and that and load up our plates until they start to bow. In my understanding, fressing isn't so much about the quantity or type of food; it's more about a variety of small samples, often spread out over time.

Bryan and I are most likely to fress at the end of the week, when energy levels are low and leftovers are diverse. Usually, by the end of the week, I have an assortment of ingredients sitting around, either due to purposeful exclusion ("I don't feel like putting tomatoes in this dish tonight") or accidental amnesia ("What the hell did I buy this leek for again?") and "Fressing Friday" is a wonderful (wunnerful goot?) opportunity to use up those things. Friday evening is a time for dressed-up finger foods, dips, side dishes, and cut-up fruits. It's a chance to relax and unwind without going to any extra trouble. And one of my favorite last-minute fressing dishes is Smitten Kitchen's garlic butter roasted mushrooms. I halved Deb's recipe since it was just two of us.

(I know, I know -- you were just starting to think, "Soooo... is there a recipe in all this, or are you just waxing nostalgic this week?")

You will need:

  • 1/2 pound medium sized button mushrooms, cleaned and stemmed
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 Tbsp vegetable or canola oil
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp butter, cut into small chunks
  • Parmesan cheese

Steps:

  1. Preheat the oven to 450° F. Coat the insides of a small baking dish (you could even use a round pie plate) with a little non-stick spray or oil and set it aside.
  2. Place the mushrooms in a resealable plastic bag; add the garlic, vegetable/canola oil, and a dash of salt and pepper to the bag, too. Toss gently to combine. 
  3. Place the mushrooms, gill-side up, in the baking dish. Spread the butter pieces out on top of the mushrooms and sprinkle with a bit of parmesan. 
  4. Roast the mushrooms for 15-20 minutes, or until the mushrooms are tender and the buttery sauce around them is bubbling. Top with chopped parsley, if desired, and serve warm.

These mushrooms are chewy, dense, and earthy. The garlicky-buttery juice they roast in is flavorful but not overpowering. I served this two Fridays ago with a sliced Fuji apple, some leftover roasted green beans, chunks of warm pretzel bread (Thank goodness for the Elysium that is A Southern Season), whole-grain mustard, and salty hunks of cheese. At the end of a long week, it was a feast for all the senses and a welcome respite!

Tuna Chickpea salad à la my mom

What the hell is going on with this weather? Last Sunday was 72°, and then we had freezing rain on Tuesday, which led to a day off from school. Today, we have more ice and another day off (bye bye, spring break), and then tomorrow, it's supposed to be sunny and 64°. I don't get it. Being from Pennsylvania, I'm pretty used to the cold and ugly weather, but having the sunny, gorgeous days in between has made the wintry weather so much worse to deal with.

The funny thing about the bad weather is that it makes me miss home. It's not that I want to be where there's MORE of this (and from what my family and friends have told me, this has been an especially brutal winter in Berks/Lancaster County), but I miss being stuck inside with my family when it's cold outside. After a long afternoon of shoveling (which, when I was younger, consisted more of me and my sister romping across the yard and sidewalks while our dad hollered, "I just shoveled there!" in the background), we'd all retire to the warmth of the house, blinking to adjust our eyes to the relative darkness of the indoors, and throw our sopping wet clothes into a pile. While my mother got started on several dozen pounds of laundry (the poor woman), the three of us would collapse in the living room to watch Murder, She Wrote or something else similarly inane.

By dinnertime, we were all starving. I knew my mom would be too tired to make anything elaborate, but that was fine, because one of my favorite of my mom's recipes was also one of her go-to quick staples: tuna salad. The funny thing about my mom's tuna salad was that I don't ever remember seeing her make it; it would just appear at dinnertime in that same faded green, round tupperware bowl with the frosted, flexible lid. My mom is a smart woman; she doesn't ruin her tuna salad with unnecessary things like chopped egg or olives. Oh no. Her tuna salad is simple, enhanced only by a little bit of lemon and some tangy pickle relish.

These days, I make the same recipe using mashed-up chickpeas. True, it doesn't have the same chewy texture or seaworthy saltiness as tuna has, but the chickpeas still make a lovely sandwich filling when you need something light and quick.

You will need:

  • 1 15-oz can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
  • 2-4 Tbsp mayo, depending on preference (or vegan mayo, if you prefer)
  • 2 Tbsp sweet pickle relish
  • 1/4 tsp lemon pepper
  • 1/3 tsp onion powder (or less, if your lemon pepper mix contains onion powder)
  • 1/4 tsp salt (or less, if your lemon pepper mix contains salt)
  • dash of soy sauce
  • dash of lemon juice
  • 1/4 tsp yellow mustard
  • 1-2 stalks celery, diced (you can throw the leaves in too)

Steps:

  1. Place the drained chickpeas in a small bowl. Using a potato masher, roughly mash the chickpeas, leaving a few whole.
  2. Add all the remaining ingredients to the chickpeas and stir to combine.

 

You can serve the chickpea salad on top of salad greens, in a pita (as shown), by itself, or -- my favorite -- between toasted slices of rye bread, topped with American cheese. 

Now I kind of want to go build a snowman...

Vegan beer-glazed sausage and apples (4 servings)

As my sister pointed out the other day, one problem with moving away from from your childhood home is that you forget that people around you don't understand your nostalgic references. For example, when the weather turns cool and crisp and the leaves begin to dry and change color, one fabulously fun but ludicrously simple attraction always comes to mind: Pumpkinland at Green Valley Nursery.

Sadly, no one around here knows about Pumpkinland, and as far as I know, there is no Triangle equivalent. Yes, we have local hay rides or corn mazes, but nothing tops Pumpkinland, with its hay bale and cornstalk-festooned obstacle course and giant field of pick-your-own pumpkins. Oh, and it had a petting zoo! (Nothing says Halloween like baby goats and fuzzy rabbits, right?) I can still remember the odd fragrance the place gave off: dried straw mixed with livestock droppings. Ahh, it was Heaven.

Oh, I'm sorry -- did you come here for a recipe this week? 

One of the oddest parts of Pumpkinland was Harry's Hay Toss, which was, as far as I remember, a cordoned-off outdoor area filled with knee-deep hay where children were invited to -- you guessed it -- launch handfuls of hay at their unsuspecting younger siblings. My sister and I were never allowed to visit this attraction, and when I asked Bryan (a fellow Sinking Spring native) about it, he shook his head and said, "My parents hated  that thing. My brother and I used to get so filthy."

But, by far, the most popular attraction at Pumpkinland was Dizzy's Darkroom, the nursery's best interpretation of a G-rated haunted house. They tried to make it scary, and honestly, for anyone under the age of eight, it was pretty spooky. In my mind now, it was huge and rambling, but in actuality, I think it was just a corridor between two rooms of the plant nursery, so it couldn't have been longer than a couple yards. I remember being freaked out by the hanging polyester spider webbing and the flashing strobe lights. (It was a simpler time.) Bryan and his brother used to pay their quarters to get in, wend their way through the haunted house, and then walk backwards to the start to do it again. (I like to imagine that my sister and I emerged from the exit and ran to my parents, whining, "Two boys in there are cheating! ")

So yes, in my mind, autumn equals nostalgia. Some of my happiest childhood memories occurred in the fall, from meandering family car rides to Lititz to "nose poke" in the shops along East Main Street to crunching through the leaves in the playground near my Mom-Mom's house. It's a season that involves change, but moving forward always requires some looking back, in my mind.

 So happy fall, everyone! And happy Vegan Mofo

This month's premier vegan offering is a remix from a Better Homes and Gardens recipe that originally featured regular sausage. However, by subbing oil for the butter and using Field Roast Smoked Apple Sage sausage (Expensive but well worth it, it's available at Whole Foods), I easily veganized this hearty, autumnal dish.

You will need: 

  • 12 oz bottle of Belgium-style vegan wheat beer, such as Blue Moon Belgian White (Find vegan beer here!)
  • 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper
  • 12-14 oz vegan smoked sausage, sliced into 2-inch rounds
  • 1/2 lb fresh green beans, trimmed
  • 2 Tbsp canola oil
  • 1 large firm apple, such as Honeycrisp, unpeeled but cut into small chunks
  • 2 Tbsp packed brown sugar
  • 1 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • zest from half an orange
  • 1/2 tsp dried sage

(A quick note: The only obnoxious thing about this recipe is the way the ingredients repeatedly go in and out of the pan like a terrier in heat through a dog door.  I kept a big serving bowl nearby to store the ingredients in between steps.)

Steps: 

  1. Start by adding half the beer and the red pepper to a wide, rimmed skillet; turn the heat to medium-high and allow the beer to come to a boil. Then add the sausage and green beans and turn the heat down to medium-low. Let the sausage and beans simmer for 5-8 minutes, or until the beans are just tender. Pour the mixture into the serving bowl and set aside.
  2. Next, wipe out the skillet with a damp paper towel. Add 1 Tbsp of oil to the skillet and turn the heat to medium. Cook the apples int he oil for a few minutes until they're golden brown. Remove them from the pan with a slotted spoon and place them on the serving platter.
  3. There should still be a tiny bit of oil left in the pan, so pick out the sausage from the serving platter (I warned you this gets annoying!) and add it to the skillet. Brown the sausage on all sides and then return it to the serving platter.
  4. With the heat still on medium, add the remaining beer to the skillet and then pour in the remaining oil, the brown sugar, the vinegar, and the orange zest. Whisk the mixture for a few minutes, allowing it to simmer, until it's slightly thickened. Return the sausage, green beans, and apples to the skillet to coat them in the glaze. Sprinkle the mixture with the dried sage and serve.

 

If this dish doesn't remind you of fall, then you've never actually experienced the season. The smoked sausage recalls woodsmoke on blanket-wrapped evenings, the sage evokes late-season family dinners, and the sweet-tart apples call to mind long walks through scattered orange and red leaves.