I wrote this a few weeks ago in the wake of the passing of my pet loves. At the surface, it has little to do with food or cooking, but in many ways it does. Cooking, for me, is a way of nurturing and offering love. These sweet friends gave it to me freely and continuously every day for many years. I hope in some small way it will help those dealing with grief in the loss of someone loved, pet or human. Much love, Holly
Like all great love stories, this one has elements of beauty, joy and tragedy. It is the tale of a precious dog and a cat. As their Momma, I had the pleasure of watching their story unfold for the decade it lasted.
It begins with Tann Mann. A native of Fayetteville, NC, he came home to me and Charleston at five months of age. A handsome cocker spaniel sporting a velveteen, chocolate coat and amber eyes, both playful and wise, his early years were spent sashaying around the peninsula greeting his buddies. There were many: Angus MacGregor, Scarlett, Rex, Rebel, Sister, Blue, Ivy, Bucky, Houston, Daisy, Apple, and Scout, to name a few.
By the time he was two, he spent his Friday mornings at The Ralph Johnson VA on the fourth floor with retired vets in the nursing home there. He was good at it. Patient and calm, he would sit quietly while the patients petted him, always eager to offer his signature high five. At home, most days were spent watching me cook, or very close by my side, at all times. Doggie ice cream treats and loving petting was abundant. Life was good; very good, indeed.
Enter Chutney Cat, about the time Tann Mann was in his prime at age seven. We first saw her on one of our countless walks, crouching and scared behind a bush by an old Victorian on lower Rutledge Avenue. I talked to her gently but she would not approach and scattered when I reached out to her. Two days later, she showed up in my back garden, partially hidden by an azalea. I sat on the stoop for a long time, talking with her. Finally, a can of tuna did the trick and because she didn’t have any owners I could find, she became a part of our household.
The beginning was rocky, and Chutney Cat played very hard to get with Tann Mann. She wanted very little to do with him or anyone, for that matter. Whatever trauma she had experienced, it took her six months to “come out” and really join the family. At first, for the grey, white and apricot Tortoiseshell beauty, Tann Mann was an afterthought, a pest really. There was a whole lot of swatting and hissing going on. Tann Mann would take it and just sally forth, his pride a little worse for the wear.
But, little by little, the bond formed. I’d find them rubbing noses, exchanging long glances, climbing the stairs together, sleeping back to back on my bed. We spent ten years in that house and by the time we left, Tann Mann and Chutney Cat were approaching their twilight years.
I retired Tann Mann from the VA because it was becoming too physically demanding for him and we all moved to a house in the country on James Island. Chutney Cat especially embraced her new abode, relishing the lower, broader window sills which afforded easy access garden viewing. She relinquished her former huntress ways, and instead preferred sunning and frolicking inside the screened in back porch. She loved to stare into the new gas fireplace and Tann Mann the forest view from the front door. Their pace became slower, their snoring louder, and their back-to- back sleeping pose longer. They both loved to watch me cook, Tann Mann from under the coffee table and Chutney Cat from her favorite sofa perch, Tann Mann’s chocolate button nose often sniffing to inhale the aromas.
These were such happy days. It seemed like they would last forever. But sadly, they came to an end, or at least a new kind of beginning. Now fourteen and a half years old, Tann Mann got sick over the course of a few weeks and when he was finally diagnosed, I had to release him to death. He died in my arms with a cascade of love surrounding him. The goodbye was intensely difficult for me, as Tann Mann was my soul mate dog. I returned home to Chutney Cat, hoping we would enjoy many more days together where I could spoil her with one-on-one love.
But, this was not to be, either. Starting the very first day Tann Mann did not come home, Chutney Cat started slipping away. First, sleeping in his bed or other new places that he favored, increasing her sleeping time to practically full time and by the sixth day she stopped eating, which was one of her favorite things. Even tuna fish wouldn’t do the trick. At first I thought she was grieving, but a trip to the vet proved that sixteen year-old Chutney Cat was also terminally ill with a cancer that couldn’t be fixed. She died in my arms, her sweet head on my right forearm, eyes closed, purring and almost relieved.
While she and I were grieving together, I observed Chutney Cat a lot. Her eyes would open wide at times, as if she was seeing or sensing something I couldn’t. Maybe it was Tann Mann, maybe it was pain, or maybe just a broken heart.
While my heart remains broken for my departed and cherished loved ones, it gives me joy that they found true love not only on this earth, but also in Heaven. True loves, even or especially when shared between animals, is everlasting. They taught me that, perhaps their greatest gift of all.
Thank you, my darlings and sweet, sweet dreams. God bless.
Tann Mann December 24, 2002 – April 5, 2016
Chutney Cat birthdate unknown, 2000 – April 12, 2016
Much gratitude to the love, compassion and care provided by the staff at Ohlandt Veterinary Clinic and Charleston Veterinary Referral Clinic (West Ashley).
The Birth of Cookbook #8
My publisher Gibbs Smith surprised me with a phone call late last September and described their vision for a cookbook featuring entirely mashed foods, a sophisticated and internationally inspired ode to perhaps the ultimate comfort food – all things mashed. Immediately, my brain flooded with the possibilities of texture and flavor plays runnning the gamut from potatoes (of course), every vegetable under the sun, legumes, fruits, even meats and eggs. I jotted them down as fast as my fingertips allowed, and before I knew it, I had an outline, a contract and a deadline – 75 tested recipes and corresponding pages within 3 months.
The holidays were just around the corner, my Dad was about to have a stroke (this unforeseen and sad part of the story ended well, thank God), and life seems to move faster with each passing year, but I didn’t hesitate to say yes, yes and yes! Saying no to virtually every social and professional invitation that came my way, I huddled closely to my stove and my assorted mashing tools until my work was done, which I wholly enjoyed. I’m happy to report that the first leg of the “Mashed” journey is joyfully complete. The pages were submitted a few short weeks ago. I’m breathing deep sighs of relief because I believe the recipes will be enjoyed around many happy tables for many years to come. My wonderful and patient editor Michelle Branson tells me the photos by photographer Alexandra DeFurio and stylist Anni Daulter are “exquisitely beautiful” (note photo below is by me) and cover design are underway now. I can’t wait to see all of the above and start the editing process. The book, simply and aptly titled “Mashed” (Gibbs Smith) will be released in early September.
The recipe that follows is one of my favorites featuring fabulous root vegetables. It’s already become a staple on my table. I have a bowl waiting for me to go with a seared peppered steak for lunch. The pretty, pale green colors recall early spring days and holidays such as Easter and St. Patrick’s day. By adding a bit more cream and stock, this turns into a beautiful, and delicious soup.
Triple Threat Celery Mash
(Yields 8 servings)
For the longest time, I thought of celery as a rather boring culinary building block. Something you put in stock or aromatic mixes to provide base flavor or fill with peanut butter for a snack, end of story. But, when living in France decades ago, I discovered celery root (or celeriac) which is the bulb that yields that stalks that yield the leaves, all of which have wonderfully distinct and varied levels of celery flavor. The crunch and the freshness of the stalks, the fluttery light aroma of the leaves, and the mysteriously, layered buttery celery essence of the root all come together in one place in this magnificent dish. Its gamey, vegetable flavor would work magic with roasted rabbit, duck, goose, or venison – making it an almost automatic annual holiday table show-stopper!
1 large celery root, rough outer skin and inner skin removed and discarded , and cut into 1-inch cubes (about 4 cups)
2 medium Russet potatoes, peeled, and cut into 1-inch cubes (about 2 cups)
2 stalks fresh celery, trimmed, cleaned and cut into 1”-lengths (Note: Reserve any fresh celery leaves for garnish)
Water to cover
1 tablespoon kosher or sea salt
1 cup heavy cream
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon celery seed
1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
Finely chopped fresh celery leaves for garnish
Place the prepped celery root, potatoes, and fresh celery in a medium pot. Cover generously with fresh, cold water. Add salt. Bring up to a boil over high and reduce to a simmer over medium/medium low heat. Cook, uncovered, for 30 minutes or until all ingredients are very tender when pierced with a knife or fork. Pour the potatoes, celery root, celery and water into a colander and drain well. Return to the warm cooking pot. Heat the celery/potato mixture over medium heat for 1 to 2 minutes, shaking to move around the pan and dry out the ingredients. Separately, heat the cream, butter and celery seed in the microwave or in a saucepan until warm and melted. Pour, in thirds, into the celery and potato mixture, mashing coarsely with a manual masher to combine and puree. Season with salt and pepper, tasting to adjust as needed. Serve hot, and garnish if desired with a few chopped celery leaves. (Note: The mash will store beautifully in a sealed container for up to 3 days. Reheat over water bath or microwave before serving.)
Now, I believe it’s time for lunch. As always, bon appetit!
The holidays are moving at warp speed. I hope we all will take time to sit back and enjoy the ride and the reason. Cooking is a big part of my Christmas joy, and this recipe from my new cookbook (working title Mashed, fall 2016 release), is pure pleasure to make and eat. I call it “Christmas” Guacamole because two of its main ingredients (pomegranate and citrus) are in season this time of year, and the colors are red, green and simply luscious. Even better, this recipe is made in minutes, gone in less, and ridiculously healthy at a time when most of us need more of that. Whatever holiday you celebrate this time of year, I’m wishing you all that it be beautiful and bright and full of love and delicious food.
Christmas Guacamole with Pomegranate and Orange
(Yields about 2 cups or 16 appetizer servings)
The shimmering, ruby red and jewel-like arils of winter’s pomegranate shine against the backdrop of mellow green of creamy avocado in this so-good-you-cannot-stop-eating it holiday treat. Packed with three “super” foods and magnificent, fruity flavors, it’s also nothing to feel guilty about going back for more. Make up to an hour before serving (to prevent discoloration) and serve room temperature with best quality pita chips or toast points.
2 ripe avocadoes, halved and seeded
1/2 cup fresh orange juice
2 cloves garlic, smashed and very finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon, best quality, fruity extra virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon dried (Valencia) orange peel
1/2 cup pomegranate seeds
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh parsley leaves
Scoop out the flesh from the avocado with a soup spoon and mash, with a fork or manual masher in a medium bowl with the orange juice, garlic and salt and pepper. Fold in the orange peel, pomegranate seeds and fresh parsley. Serve immediately or tightly wrap (to the surface of the guacamole) with plastic wrap and serve within the hour. Garnish with a few more pomegranate seeds and fresh parsley.
Considered a super food for its high nutrient content, pomegranate can be purchased in its whole form during the cooler months, and increasingly, already seeded or juiced. The seeds are called arils and they look like little rubies. Getting them out of their tightly-knitted pockets can be a challenge, but it’s worth the effort. An easy way to get to the fruit is to quarter the pomegranate each of the four “cores” will be revealed to peel back the bitter pith pockets and release the seeds. One pomegranate will yield one to two cups of seeds.
Bon appetit! Let me know what you think. I believe you’ll love this one. Merry, Merry, Holly.
I looked at the calendar yesterday and realized that Thanksgiving, my favorite holiday, is a little over a week away. October flew this year, with travel to visit my father who was ill (but thankfully is much better), a dreadful cold that lived in my sinuses for two weeks, and fast and furious recipe development for my newest cookbook baby (working title: Mashed) that will be released by my publisher Gibbs Smith in fall 2016. I wanted to share this recipe with you, because it’s one of my favorites from those yet developed for the book, but also because it’s a perfect ending for your Thanksgiving feast. I love the color and flavor sweet potato adds, and the grist of the grits melts into the pudding as it cooks. Delicious! I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. I think I’ll be making it again next week.
Sweet Potato Indian Pudding
(Yields 6 to 8 servings)
This rustic and gorgeous sweet pudding combines elements of the traditional Indian pudding I grew to know and love as a child in my native New England, with ingredients widely used in in my adult hometown of Charleston, SC and throughout the South – sweet potatoes and grits. The New England version skips the sweet potatoes all together and uses cornmeal as the “corn” element of the pudding, while this recipe adds the perfectly appropriate flavor and texture girth of mashed sweet potatoes and grits – a rougher, stone-ground version of cornmeal. The results are stunning. As southerners are apt to say, “It’s the best thing you’ll ever put in your mouth.”
It’s best warm with a generous scoop of vanilla ice cream or whipped cream on top. If you can’t find stone-ground grits, cornmeal or polenta will work fine. But, skip the instant variety. Longer cooking soaks up all the flavor of the pudding and melts the corn into one integrated bowl of perfection.
1 cup cooked, mashed sweet potatoes
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, room temperature
3 cups Half & Half
1/3 cup stone ground white or yellow grits (or substitute cornmeal)
1/4 cup molasses
2 large eggs
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
2 teaspoons real vanilla extract
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch cubes
The day before cooking, prep the mashed sweet potatoes. Preheat oven to 425F. Scrub and pierce a large sweet potato a couple times with a knife. Bake until soft and skin is puckered, about one hour. Remove skin when cook enough to handle and mash until fine and fluffy. Reserve (refrigerate, covered, for several days).
On pudding day, preheat oven to 350F. Butter a 1 1/2 to 2 quart deep-sided baking dish with 1 tablespoon butter. Bring the Half & Half up to a simmer over medium high heat in a medium-sized pot. Do not boil! When simmering, whisk in the sweet potatoes, grits and molasses. Whisk, constantly, over medium high heat until thickened to a thin pudding stage, about 5 minutes. Turn off heat and set aside.
In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, brown sugar, salt, vanilla, ginger and cinnamon until frothy. Whisk in 1 cup of the warm pudding mixture. Pour in the remaining pudding mixture and whisk to combine. Pour the pudding into the buttered baking dish. Bake on center rack for 40 minutes. Add the cold butter cubes, sprinkling evenly over the top. Reduce the heat to 325F. Cook 45 – 50 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. The pudding will quiver slightly to the touch. Remove from oven. Rest 10 to 15 minutes before serving. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.
Reflections and a Recipe: Feisty Chicken Drumstick Piperade
Some years ago, I was blessed enough not only to own a small home in a tiny village in southwestern France, I was doubly blessed to have the opportunity to visit for several months of those seven lucky years. Tucked away in the foothills of The Pyrenees and steeped in the tragic history of Le Pays Cathare, it was a tiny, pie-shaped home at the base of a crumbling old chateau in a pocket of a village called Chalabre. My French friends called it le maison du poupee, or a doll’s house. Sometimes I felt like a little doll working in it, especially working in my sliver of a kitchen with a view of rolling green hills, grazing cattle, and a tiny 16th-century church, tolling its soothing, soulful bells every hour into every day I spent there.
As much as I loved it, I would occasionally stray south of the border to neighboring Spain to buy red clay pottery, which brought me through and around Basque country. The language and dialect are unique and were foreign to my French-trained ears. Even though I couldn’t understand the language, I recognized and understood the faces of the villagers in the villages I passed through. Rows of stooped, elderly men lining short benches at the edges of cafes, sun-leathered faces and age-withered lips barely clinging to their omnipresent Gauloises cigarettes, and little old ladies clinging to well-used thatched baskets, hobbling through winding, ancient streets in floral, wrapped aprons on the way to the daily marche, all spoke to the time-worn traditions of the place.
Among other things, Basque country is home to the French Basque “piperade” (pronounced pip-errr-ahd), which derives its name from the French Gascon word for pepper, or “piper.” Traditionally, it is comprised primarily of peppers, onions and tomatoes, to mimic the red, green and white colors of the Basque flag. Because peppers have been haunting me for the past two months, both at supermarkets and farmer stands, I’ve been cooking quite a bit with them. Their diversity is growing, both in color and heat, and I enjoyed combining a bit of sweet and heat in this recipe, which is just hot enough to make you pucker, and sweet enough (with a dash of honey) to make you smile. I skipped tomatoes in this version, since I didn’t have any at home. Feel free to add one or two, coarsely chopped, after adding the chicken stock. It’s finished with a spray of fresh basil and parsley, and is as lovely served hot, as it is room temp or even cool for a picnic. Serve as is, or over rice, polenta, grits or creamy mashed potatoes.
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
6 large chicken drumsticks (about 1 1/2 pounds)
kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, peeled, halved and thinly sliced
1 3/4 cups mixed color sweet, baby bell peppers (about 8 total), halved, seeded, and thinly sliced
1 large banana pepper, halved, seeded, and thinly sliced
1 large jalapeno pepper, halved, seeded, and thinly sliced
kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 large cloves garlic, peeled, smashed and very finely chopped
Juice of 1 lime, about 2 tablespoons
2/3 cup fresh squeezed orange juice
Pinch crushed red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon local or wild honey
1 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken stock
kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon each, finely chopped fresh basil and parsley
Preheat oven to 350F. Pat dry the chicken drumsticks (or substitute same size pieces of other cuts of the chicken). Heat the 2 tablespoons butter and 1 tablespoon olive oil in a 5 1/2 quart Dutch Oven (or another sturdy, oven-proof pot) over medium high. Season the chicken generously on one side with the salt and pepper and 1/2 of the oregano. When sizzling, add the chicken, seasoned side down in a single layer, in the butter and oil. Brown until golden, about four minutes. Turn the chicken, and season the uncooked side with salt and pepper and remaining oregano. Cook another 2 to 3 minutes until golden. Remove the chicken from the pan and set aside. Drain off the cooking fat. Add a fresh tablespoon of olive oil, heat over medium low. Add the onion, season lightly with salt and pepper, stir and cook until just softened, about two minutes. Add the sweet peppers, banana pepper and jalapeno, season lightly with salt and pepper, stir, and continue cooking over medium low until softened, about three minutes. Add the garlic, lime juice, orange juice and crushed red pepper flakes. Increase the heat to medium high and reduce liquids by half. Add the honey, chicken stock and return the browned chicken to the pan, in a single layer. Bring up to a boil, cover, and place the pot in the preheated oven on the middle rack. Bake for 20 minutes. Turn the chicken once. Remove the lid and return to the oven, baking another 10 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through and beginning to pull from the bone. Remove the pot from the oven and remove the chicken from the pot, reserving warm. Return the pot to the stove, and reduce the liquid by half, simmering over medium high for 6 to 8 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed. At the last minute, add the fresh basil and parsley. Return the chicken to the pot and heat through. Serve immediately or cool, refrigerate overnight, and serve the next day hot, room temperature or chilled.