Contributing to the hash of life

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Confessions of a Culinary Sentimentalist

BRUSH WITH FAME: Elizabeth Glasgow (seated, far left) on the set of Marjorie Mariner’s cooking program, ‘Kitchen Corner,’ which was broadcast on WFMJ (Channel 21). The photo dates from the 1960s. Mariner was Glasgow’s great aunt. By ELIZABETH GLASGOW | METRO MONTHLY CONTRIBUTING WRITER Years ago I wrote a post for a mostly abandoned food blog called Rattlebox in which I waxed poetic about the wonders of the Northside Farmers Market. I’d found currants at Patty Brungard’s booth and bought them immediately. I hadn’t seen currants since the late sixties or early seventies when my maternal grandmother and I had made raspberry currant jam from the fruit in her garden. Being a Boardman girl, it was a wonder to me that people who lived in the city grew food in their yards, but my grandmother assured me that the family had stretched my grandfather’s railroad salary with produce from their Hollywood Avenue lot. I don’t remember a great deal about either of my grandmothers, both of whom had passed by the early 1980s. What comes to mind immediately is how my memories of them, indeed my memories of most of my folks, are linked with preparing food for family. Both grandmothers lived on the South Side of Youngstown. The Glasgows had the larger lot, situated two doors down from Pleasant Grove Presbyterian Church, and it was planted with cherry trees, rhubarb and grapes. The narrow Davidson place on Hollywood was really packed with grapes, currants, raspberries and fruit trees, and they’d kept chickens in the garage. My grandmothers were my first introduction to the kitchen. When my brother and I visited Grandma Glasgow, I recall that she, a good Missouri-born cook, kept a can of leftover bacon grease on the kitchen counter and propped her broken oven door closed with a kitchen chair. Unable to say no to her grandchildren, she also allowed my brother and me to dress in my father’s old clothes and paint the inside of the doghouse. Mom was a reluctant La Choy and Bisquick sort of cook who tried to prepare meals for her ungrateful children between teaching, keeping house and taking care of elderly relatives. She adhered to popular dishes from the “Angels and Friends” cookbook – barbecue beef, Pretzel Salad and a creation fondly referred to as “meatlump.” It was Grandma Glasgow who taught me to cook Thanksgiving dinner, and Grandma Davidson who set the bar for homemade cookies, jams and pies. I still have several of Grandma Davidson’s recipe cards, typed, written out in pen and ink, or clipped from my Great Aunt Marjorie Mariner’s recipe column that ran in the Vindicator. Aunt Marjorie also had a television cooking program called “Kitchen Corner” that was broadcast on WFMJ when I was a kid. Somewhere I have a photo of Aunt Marge, my aunts and most of my cousins on the Davidson side, all seated around a table covered in punch cups and ham sandwiches on the set of her show. I imagine this was the least-interesting show ever to most viewers, but by the coquettish look on my 5-year-old face I’m sure I was thinking it was my introduction to celebrity. When we packed up the Hollywood house after my grandmother’s death, I found Mom weeping quietly over the patterned bottom of an old glass her mom had used to press a design into the tops of her cookies. It still contained a little cookie dough caught in the grooves. Not all the food memories came from my grandmothers. My Dad’s sister, Aunt Jean, made creamed chicken with heavy cream and sherry, served in puff pastry cups for Sunday dinner following church. Another of her staples was a barbecue ham sandwich made from Isaly’s Chipped Chopped Ham and simmered in a ketchup-and-grape-jelly sauce. I’m sure it was a staple in many Youngstown kitchens of the 1960s. Each year for my birthday my sister, Laurie, still makes a carrot cake with cream cheese frosting for which she won a prize at the Canfield Fair. She cans her own bread-and-butter pickles, piccalilli, and strawberry preserves. Many of our holiday traditions came from the meals she has served over the last three decades, and no Christmas Eve is complete without her hors d’oeuvres table. My brother, Rich, has readily taken over Thanksgiving dinner for his side of the family. I still take credit for teaching him to cook the holiday meal, although the very first thing I did was to imbed a cleaver in my middle finger, causing me to spend the day with a bulbous gauze wrap on my hand. These days, work and obligations keep me from puttering in the kitchen as much as I’d like, and being single makes me lazy about creating actual meals. I contribute mostly side dishes and desserts to family holidays. Still, Laurie’s big aluminum canner is in my pantry, the kitchen drawers are filled with my grandmothers’ rolling pins, cookie cutters and egg timers, and Mom’s 1950 “Betty Crocker Cookbook” remains a staple. I overindulge in produce at the market at every opportunity, conceding to the fact that I’m a culinary sentimentalist who loves the idea of food grown close to home and the neighborhood farmers’ markets in the Yo that enable us to reclaim both land and memory. © 2015 Metro Monthly. All rights reserved.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Friday Fish Dinners - Noday's Pizza and Deli, Mahoning Avenue, Austintown. 1 large piece of fish, 3 pierogies, cole slaw and a roll, $8.49 The fact that Noday's is packed on Friday nights is a good indicator of the quality of their fish dinners. I stood among a forest of tall Austintown firefighters after my order was taken, watching the staff hand-bread rack after rack of huge fish fillets. You can see directly into the kitchen from where orders are placed and watch the assembly of dinners, but your wait won't be long if my experience was any indication. My piece of fish was large enough that it had to be folded to fit into the takeout box. It came with a cornmeal coating, and was well seasoned and delicious. Tartar sauce is provided in packets, but the fish is good enough to go without. The pierogies had a flavorful potato filling and were not covered in butter. I'm not fan of coleslaw, but this was fresh and had a good taste. While pierogies are a Youngstown specialty I think I'll try fish with macaroni and cheese the next time I'm in. There are a host of sides dishes available, including pasta salad, soup and jo jos, plus big brownies made in-house. Overall everything was very good, mainly because of the size and quality of the fish. Wangari never left me alone while I had any fish left, so she gives Noday's a five of five paw rating.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Reclaim the Rust Belt

Chef Cavan Patterson discusses harvesting wild foods in urban settings for his restaurants in Cleveland and Pittsburgh. Replanting the Rust Belt

Thursday, December 13, 2012


Today while I was walking my favorite area of Mill Creek park I saw a big buck come down from the forest to graze on the acorns that lay along the roadway. Once aware of me he watched steadily as I approached up a steep hill.  While he never seemed alarmed he did keep some of the larger trees between himself and my line of sight as he stepped away.

I had been thinking about all the foolish things we do to the park, a place we claim to hold dear.  Either for purposes of access or revenue we've altered the park to fit our needs, without much regard to the effects on the land and water, or on the park's inhabitants.  And all the while the edges of the road crumble, the brush and small trees grow up in the disturbed places, and moss appears on the center of the blacktop.  Despite all our alterations, and in the tiniest of increments, the park continues to reclaim itself.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Regrets: Updating a Perfectly Good Wedding Soup Recipe

For several years now I've been making what I refer to as Cheaters' Wedding Soup that I take to work for lunch.  It involves merely simmering carrots and pasta together in chicken stock and then adding cooked meat and handfuls of baby spinach at the end for a few minutes.  The cheating involves using prepared stock (and I'll admit that I really like the fat-free Target brand) and substituting Rulli Brothers' turkey kielbasa for the meatballs found in traditional wedding soup.  I can use about 1/6 of a pound of kielbasa and get a lot of flavor from it, so a little cholesterol goes a long way.  If I have leftover chicken breast I dice that and throw it in as well, and serve the soup with some grated table cheese.

Today I thought I'd try something different by pureeing the spinach leaves, using cheese-filled tortellini in place of the pastina and perhaps adding some lemon to freshen the flavor.  I often find that eating this soup can be messy because what is sold as baby spinach is really 6-7 inch spinach leaves that drape down your chin and spatter your shirt with soup.  Results?  Good news and bad news.  Some regrets.

This would be one:

Note to self:  use less broth when pureeing cooked spinach.  Now, instead of the previously mentioned whole leaf spatter, I'll be brushing tiny bits of spinach out of my teeth. Also, I'll be cleaning the immersion blender with needle-nose pliers. 

The final result tasted just fine, in part because the carrots I used from the Northside Farmer's Market were so much sweeter than those from the grocery.   When using the cheese-filled tortellini there is no need to add additional cheese at the table.  Finally, wedding soup does NOT benefit from lemon.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Coming Home

In 1995 I accepted my first professional position and moved from the Youngstown area to Mansfield, Ohio to work for the Ohio Genealogical Society.  For the last seventeen years I've lived away from home, sometimes in places that I loved, sometimes in places I loathed.  I visited often, usually staying with my mother, who is elderly and in poor health.  Every time I left I worried that we might have said our last goodbyes. In the late summer of 2010 I was offered a position at the Warren Trumbull County Public Library and this past spring I relocated to Youngstown.

There's something about living in the area again that's sitting really well with me.  I'm located near family again, just minutes from my mom.  Many people I cared about either stayed in Youngstown or returned to the area themselves.  There seem to be an abundance of people I'm just now meeting who are smart and funny and care about the  same things that I do.  I've belatedly realized that we've all gotten older and mellowed a bit and become more accepting.  I'm spending a lot of time in Mill Creek Park, and it's such a gift. 

It's so good to be home.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Northside Farmer's Market 2011 Season

The season opened on June 11 with sun and a light wind, new faces and old friends. I was happy to see that Jay of Jackson 'Maters had brought a carload of heirloom tomato plants and Marla was setting up her grill and had a big pan of famous brownies. Renee had returned with homemade salsas, pasta sauces, jams and pickles, and her son had accompanied her with a big batch of dog treats.

New this year are the Turnip the Beat Kitchen, located in the kitchen of the UU church. The TBK is comprised of Amber & Adam, two gifted local cooks with strong ties to Grow Youngstown and the local CSA. Each week these folks turn out a lunch comprised of locally sourced foods that might include rhubarb spice muffins, veggie or fruit chips, chilled fruit soups, wraps or a variety of salad.

Also new this year was produce from the Newleaf Natural Garden, provided by Bethany and her boyfriend. Newleaf had the most gorgeous, fresh greens I've ever seen at the market.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Jackson 'Maters

Jay, the fellow with the best tomatoes at the North Side Farmer's Market, now has a blog, Jackson'Maters. On the blog you can view the varieties of tomatoes Jay sells, as well as his pricing for plants.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Spring 2011, Welcome Back

Spring of 2011 finds me back in Ohio with a new job, a sort-of new place and some new commitments. I received a tapered rolling pin and some tiny fluted tart pans for Christmas, and I broke out the puff pastry this morning. Also, I joined the local CSA Grow Youngstown, so I believe a crash course in preparing vegetables should begin sometime in June. Should I ever come to find a use for beets or okra I'll consider this move a huge success.

To begin, I tried an asparagus tart for Mother's Day. I found one of Martha's recipes on Tastespotting, which means it was well-tested. I thought the puff pasty would be tough to work with, but it turned out to be much easier to handle than I thought. I'll need some more experience rolling the dough out to the desired size, in part because my Silpat mat was smaller than both the dimensions in the recipe and my rectangular tart pan. I just went with a free-form tart that fit the size of the asparagus, scoring, pricking and pre-baking the pastry according to the package directions.

The recipe called for 1 1/2 lbs. of medium to thick asparagus, and the market was selling tiny, slim stalks. This ended up being just as well, because had I baked the tart as long as the resipe had called for it would have been very overcooked. Also, Martha asked for 2c (5 1/2 oz.) of Gruyere cheese, but I used the remainder of some dill Harvarti that I needed to use up. It worked, although with the addition of the tablespoon of olive oil drizzled over the asparagus this tart had a lot of excess fat.

The only additional seasoning involved was salt and pepper. My regular pepper mix is half and half black and red peppercorns, so I used a rough grind of that, plus NuSalt. I reserved a little of the cheese for sprinkling over the asparagus and baked, keeping an eye on the color of the pastry. Instead of using parchment paper, which I've been very lazy about purchasing, I went with a Silpat mat. I pulled the tart about 4 minutes early, both because of the darkening pastry and because of the small stalks.

It came out great! I'll have to try this with mushrooms and with fruit. It will take a while to get the pastry/filling baking time down, and I need to be more aggressive pricking the crust prior to the pre-baking, but overall I was very impressed.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

2010's Best Cookbooks

NPR's coverage of food writer's Susan Chang's overview of the year's cookbooks.