It’s one of the easiest dinners I’ve prepared this spring – a time when easy is essential. My three kids, one each in elementary, middle and high school, are in the thick of homework, school projects, swim practice, track meets, community plays and charity work, and they all come with their own mom-involved to do list. A simple dinner is key to survival, and I’m here to tell you that Grill Night checks that box and whole bunch more.
Television writer and novelist Ellen Byron is a Louisiana junkie.
The New York native and Tulane University graduate, who now lives in Los Angeles with her husband and daughter, can’t get the Bayou State out of her system, admitting that she sheds tears of joy when she visits New Orleans and tears of sadness when she leaves. In 2015, Byron sunk all that residual Louisiana passion into a new mystery novel, Plantation Shudders, a fun and breezy jaunt with nods to classic inn murders (which guest is really the baddie?), except told in modern day Cajun Country. The second in the series, Body on the Bayou, will be released in September 2016.
I especially appreciated the heroine’s name, Maggie, short for Magnolia, bringing back memories of me trying to buffalo college friends in Washington, DC, that my real name was a southern flower and not the truer, dowdier Margaret.
Ellen and I discovered each other recently, and had a great time connecting and sharing notes as writers inspired by Louisiana. I picked up her book and read it over one weekend, relishing her depictions of my zany adopted home. Here’s some of what we discussed.
For the record, I’m a big fan of the mini-marshmallow.
One of my greatest food memories is cozying up to a marshmallow-y fruit salad — classic Southern ambrosia – that someone brought to my maternal grandfather’s after funeral gathering. I’ll never forget the way the baby marshmallows melted into the citrus juice, creating creamy goodness and a perfect comforting texture. I couldn’t stop eating it. Years later, I similarly fell in love with something called Green Stuff, a congealed cottage cheese and marshmallow fruit salad made by an old boyfriend’s mother and always served at his family’s Thanksgiving dinner. Yum. I love a bowl of trashy.
But as much as I savor marshmallows, and as much as I bow down to tradition, this year, I wanted an all-natural version of the classic holiday side….
Borrowing words from my friend, writer Renée Bacher, I threw up my hands recently upon reading my bank statement, and screeched to my children, “Stop eating! You’re devouring your college funds!”
For years, the amount of money I spend at the grocery store has been creeping . . .no. . . skyrocketing, up. I used to fantasize about how much I’d save when our children were finally out of diapers. Right. Diapers were cheap compared to the endless list of items I collect at the supermarket to satisfy their needs as growing kids, and mine and John’s as food enthusiasts. Even if we didn’t like food so much, getting meals for five people on the table (two to three meals a day, seven days a week) ain’t cheap.
I finally got frustrated. There had to be a better way of doing things. And so, after 15 years of marriage and 14 years of parenting, I bit the bullet and tried what so many people before me claim works like a charm. I started planning meals. I generally resist forced organization, and part of me sees myself as a childless gourmand who thinks she can still eat at dinner 10 pm and shop at the “market” every day with an eco-basket. “Food should be spontaneous, not restrained!” I’d think. “They don’t plan meals in France!”
I finally got over myself and started planning meals. And guess what? It does work like a charm.
The other day, my friend Anna-Karin Skillen and I were talking about chanterelles. They’re in season in her native Sweden right now, as well as in the U.S. on the northwest coast, in New England and other spots. I’ve been drooling lately watching a Facebook friend from Seattle document her family’s foraging trips, the kitchen table blanketed with fresh (and free!) chanterelles, soon be thrown in a scorching skillet or tossed in buttery pasta or noodle soup. Just this week, the Boston-based radio program, Here and Now, featured a segment on fall mushrooms, complete with easy recipes by resident chef Kathy Gunst, who had picked up several different wild mushroom varieties from Boston-area farmers markets.
One of the easiest ways to use fresh summer produce is in a luscious seasonal soup. I know, it’s hot outside, but your AC is probably on full blast, and soup is an inside dish. Corn soup (…and its many versions) is a longtime favorite around South Louisiana, but adding squash to the mix creates depth and wholesome goodness. Thanks to the Red Stick Farmers Market for planting the seed with their annual Corn & Squash-tastic event last Saturday celebrating the summer bounty. The idea of combining the two got stuck in my head and led to this simple recipe, which gives me a chance to do something different with yellow squash. I admit to getting stuck sometimes on expanding my use for it.
This soup tastes rich, but it’s really pretty healthy. A portion of the corn is pureed with a little broth to create a creamy consistency without actually using cream.