My husband and I grew up on simple foods. Perhaps what best describes old-fashioned simple food tastes: We were hungry from physical work, and good food on the table was often the kind one grows in the dirt. My parents had a small farm and big garden, and Mom canned vegetables and some meat. Eventually there was a freezer and less canning. Mom baked bread. We ate simply and well. Lots of berries, fruits and veggies and very little processed stuff. Dad often said we ate like kings, especially when we were eating a fresh trout he’d caught. Meals were often a meat and potatoes affair. Now, I realize that these meals were delicious without much revision, tweaking or embellishment.

Later we moved over two-thousand miles away for college. Gradually we tasted the culture of a city and met people from other areas with different and varied tastes. And we were trying out our lives together.

After I married Clay many of our meals were like Mom’s with two vegetables including a salad, although I made more casseroles with smaller amounts of meat than she did. I gradually experimented more, and at picnics and social gatherings we came under the influence and tastes of fellow grad students and many different types of ethnic foods. We ate hummus, tabouli, and Moo Shu pork. When we went out, we tried gourmet fare like chicken mole and fricassee, dishes our parents had not heard of and did not make, and dishes that became so common they were no longer considered unusual. When they visited us I enjoyed trying out new dishes, hoping to impress them with different foods and combinations of foods.

Once when my parents came for a visit, I served them what I thought was a lovely exotic dessert. Fresh peaches slices are soaked in Chianti overnight. The Chianti takes on the sweetness of the peaches but without completely giving up its wine flavor. I made some almond biscotti to dip in the peaches with the peach/wine dessert or serve alongside, introducing a third flavor and bit of crunch to the rest of it. When we’d finished dessert, I asked Dad what he thought. He grinned and said, maybe it could have used some ice cream. I fondly remembered the two pies Mom made each weekend and the ice cream topping the slices, including the cream pie.

Clay says his dad did not stand on ceremony when he helped his busy mom by providing a meal for the family of five boys. The bread stayed in the wrapper and at least on one occasion, he burnt the pudding. He told the boys if they reached across the table and picked on the food before the prayer, they might pull back a stub. If one didn’t eat what was on the table, dinner was over for that brother.

Once when Clay’s folks visited, we all went to Florida and Disney World. There was a gourmet restaurant in the area with good reviews, and I was looking forward to trying it. Once we were seated and I looked at the menu, I was satisfied we’d found the right place. I don’t remember what any of us ordered, except Clay’s Dad. He ordered, not the gourmet dishes with unusual ingredients and preparations, not the pasta bolognaise or bouillabaisse, but a steak. I was sure this restaurant would cook it just right too.

Our dishes came and looked delicious. The waiter gave us a few minutes and then asked if everything was to our liking. It was then that Clay’s dad asked for the Heinz ’57. I saw the waiter quickly look askance and then recover. Perhaps he had to remember that the customer is always right. Dad was completely oblivious to all of this. In any case the waiter returned with the familiar bottle. Dad applied the sauce to his steak. Simple and unassuming, as though he expected this with no insult to the chef. He was accustomed to having steak with that condiment regardless of how the steak had been cooked just like Clay intends no insults to the chef when he adds ketchup or Siracha to foods I cook.

After that lovely dinner, Clay and I and his mom went to our rental car. We were pulling up to the curb in the ubiquitous generic car to pick Clay’s dad up after he’d stopped at the restroom. Then we saw him get into the back seat of another car that had pulled up to the curb ahead of us. We saw some words exchanged with the couple sitting in front, and Dad getting out of the car and back on the curb.

Sometimes it’s hard to recognize your rental or perhaps the Heinz ’57 had made him feel welcome wherever he plopped down. Maybe he’d seen enough of Florida’s Anhinga and alligators, and unaccustomed to another state’s exotica, was ready to come home and eat comfort foods. Once again, he did not seem embarrassed but quietly enjoyed the laugh. He had a steady humble confidence and from the time I first met him, always made me feel welcome and comfortable as though he were glad to have a daughter. I was fortunate to have two good dads. Their tastes in food were simple. What they gave us in life was laughter, some freedom to grow, and a belief that food does not need to put on airs. But especially they gave us love—abundance in our simple lives, complex and full of blessings.

I don’t search for gourmet restaurants anymore. Is gourmet still “a connoisseur of good food and drink prepared artfully?” I seem to have lost the thread of what that is. Prepared foods in markets are readily available and just adding an interesting sauce can make more ordinary dishes seem gourmet. Alongside Heinz ’57 sauces like chipotle cherry, caper Dijon, and tomato pesto are available in the grocery stores. Biscotti, too all of these condiments and prepared foods, making it easier for cooks to add the more challenging or creative touches to menus with a wallet and a shopping bag.

When the virus was raging, and we weren’t going to restaurants at all, and a variety of recipes were more available than ever, I cooked more. I could make many dishes that tasted as good as restaurant fare in my humble opinion, or maybe the ordinary restaurants’ foods tasted gourmet after we’d not been there so long while those brave workers continued to take care with take out.

Food is delicious prepared simply. While food lines became longer during the pandemic, simple grilled meat became special or meatless, a fresh vegetable stir fried with rice, enough. Perhaps the peaches and Chianti were delicious with a touch of biscotti’s elegance, but a bowl of sliced peaches will always be delicious. Skip the Chianti. Add a scoop of ice cream.

I still love going to restaurants. Better than ever, restaurants are serving more delicious foods creatively as though relieved that the pandemic and preparing only take-out will not be forever. Spaced out, partitioned off, or eating al fresco, with or without Heinz ’57, being served is a treat. About those dirty dishes, they are someone else’s responsibility. I love meeting friends over food and knowing that smoky burnt smell is not coming from my oven, and the crash in the kitchen is not my wine glass. Sometimes I order dessert, and I may be surprised someday to see chianti-soaked peaches served with biscotti with a scoop of ice cream on the side.





My writing today and the bread recipe at the end are full of gluten. I’m not sure whether clever cooks and bakers out there can adapt the recipe to make it gluten-free, but let me know if you can and if it rises to the occasion.

My mother made and baked an old-fashioned white bread. It was my favorite after school snack. This bread was not dairy or sugar-free either because I’d slather butter on it, and sometimes sprinkle a bit of brown sugar on it too. Each bite had that elastic spongy texture of good yeast breads. Since dinner was served later, the bread didn’t spoil my appetite. This bread was not the bread of sandwiches, that fortified and preserved bread cut in thin slices that held chicken salad or tomato slices with cheese. Sandwich bread could hold those fillings and needed them to make the bread taste good. The point was to hold the fillings in place and make it convenient to eat delicious and messy fillings. Bread like Mom’s could fulfill the sandwich role, but why use it when it was meant to be a meal one could chew on slowly, savoring each bite?

Since many of us are too busy or impatient to wait for good homemade bread, I think there should be bakeries that sell that type of bread in every town and on almost all street corners in cities. In France people can be seen with their baguette in hand or in their bicycle baskets. We didn’t need to walk far to find one of these bakeries when we were visitors there. But we are not in Paris.

I was delighted when the breadmaking machine was invented. How convenient for those of us who love the aroma and taste of fresh bread. I have several bread machine recipe books and have tried many recipes including those calling for dough (just the first rising) which I use for pizza crusts and rolls. I am on my third breadmaking machine. Unlike Mom, I usually use a combination of whole grain and bread flours. If you use all whole grain, you will likely be pumping up your dough with some additional gluten. Although I have no plans to give up my bread maker, recently, I’ve not been completely satisfied with the bread from the machine. First, the bread seems best when it doesn’t have whole wheat or too many other whole grains that don’t weigh down the bread.

Perhaps bread is best when it is mixed and kneaded by hand. I catch myself looking in the little window at the dough mixing and want to mix it myself. I peek too often to see if it’s rising the way it should. Of course, the machine is controlling all of this mixing and rising. Sometimes the bread is a surprise too–too hard, too flat on top, too gummy, and stale in a short time.  After it cools, it’s toast, which is okay too. I never waste it. I make croutons, crusties,,or stratas. I freeze it for toast and paninis. Yes, I can provide recipes. I will keep using the machine but I also began making artisanal breads—the kind we need but don’t need to knead.

I began artisan bread using half whole wheat and half bread flour and still felt something was missing. Finally, I realized that with both the machine and the artisanal bread, my problem was the whole wheat. It made my bread taste a little like sawdust and bitter. I looked on-line and found that others had experienced this too. Maybe you have too. If you know of a whole wheat that tastes good and is not bitter, let me know though I know you bread eaters are a scarce breed.

But with some experimentation I have a recipe which I love without whole wheat. It is 1/3 whole grain. Variations of this bread can likely be found in bread machine recipes too.

Regardless of how I make bread, machine or not, I don’t control the process. Do I breathe on the dough and make it rise? Do I make the wheat grow in the soil? For that matter, do I send the rain, cause the sun to shine on the plants? The beauty of bread is another reason to give thanks and say a prayer before biting into it.


My Artisanal Oat Bread


2 cups bread flour

1 cup oatmeal flour –Note: I grind up regular oatmeal (but quick should work too) in the food processor or small chopper until it’s flour. Of course, the flour is also available already ground in grocery stores.

¼ tsp. active dry yeast. I used Fleischmann’s for this recipe but Red Star active dry yeast works too.

1 tsp. salt, or kosher salt. Use more if you like your bread saltier.

A tsp. of sugar or honey

1½ cups plus 2 tablespoons room temperature water


1.In a large mixing bowl, combine flours, yeast, and salt. Stir in the water. When it’s incorporated, cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a shower cap, and let the dough rest at room temperature for 12 hours. It can rest for longer, just so it has doubled in size and is covered in small bubbles.

  1. Cut a square of parchment paper and sprinkle it with flour. Place the dough on the flour and fold it lightly over on itself. Coat it with a bit of flour to keep it from sticking to the surface and your hands. Shape the dough into a ball, tucking any seams underneath. Place the dough seam side down on the floured parchment and place the dough on the parchment back into the mixing bowl, cover the bowl again with plastic wrap and let it rise for 2 hours until the dough has doubled in size.
  2. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees and place a cast iron Dutch oven or stew pot in the oven to preheat. Transfer the dough on the paper into the Dutch oven and cover with the lid. Bake the loaf for 30 minutes. Then uncover the pan and bake the loaf until it is well browned and sounds hollow when tapped, about 20 minutes more. Cool on rack before slicing. Makes a 24 ounce loaf.


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Free, Ever Bearing, Forever Growing


Last week I wrote about a happy meal, partly happy because it was free. But although I did not pay for that meal someone did. This week I’m thinking about a different kind of free meal, one free for the picking.
A few years ago a relative from out east asked about planting a blackberry bush, the best type, in what type of soil, and where it should be planted in his yard. We laughed. In the Pacific Northwest, blackberries seem to crop up anywhere where there’s a piece of earth. Abandon some land and blackberries will arrive and proliferate. They will grow like, well, weeds. If you turn your back you might find one coming at you from the cracks of your sidewalk. If you haven’t cleaned the basement for a few weeks, one may find its way through your basement floor or wait in your washing machine.
These abundant briars also produce an abundance of berries. But these “common” berries are not native to Washington. The native blackberry is an evergreen trailer called Rubus Ursinus. I remember my grandfather donning a long-sleeved shirt and straw hat, and picking them near our farm and in the hills. Chefs and those whose taste buds are more sophisticated than mine say they taste better than the variety growing around us–the kind most of us pick. Those sophisticated in blackberries know where they grow, guard their treasure, and don’t reveal it to the rest of us.
I am glad just to pick the non-native one. Like loosestrife and non-native phragmites, the blackberry foreigner has invaded the region–and the whole land. It has found our soil and did fine, thank you. We live in a global plant kingdom. We can buy blackberry bushes to plant. This invader unlike many weeds is edible and delicious. That’s why I am glad to come across them each summer.
The bush I picked last summer or, perhaps, I should say, the knotted tangle, was in a small area walking distance from where I’m living. The bushes were loaded with berries. I am not revealing my source either because as many blackberries as there are in the area, I cannot just go and pick from any bush. Here’s why.

1.Some of the berries are on someone’s property. There are no-trespassing signs.

2.Some of the berries grow very high on the bushes. Unless you have a ladder you may not want to climb it to reach into the sharp brambles and risk falling. Who would find you? The thorns could be lethal. They are no bed of roses though from the same family and just as prickly.

3. Many berry bushes grow along the highways–where fumes and exhaust and who knows what toxics gather on the berries though even away from the highways, I suppose, we don’t know if an owner has tried to kill them with a poisonous spray. Pickers assume the best. 4. You don’t want to pick berries on the low branches no matter how delicious they look–ahem, dogs.

Back to the bush I picked last summer. They were nearly falling off the bush. I picked a pail full and placed them in small bags in the freezer. When I returned a week later, the bush was full again. I picked another few quarts. I returned several times, adding them to freezer bags and then to cobblers with other kinds of berries. I even made a blackberry vinegar–delicious. I will include recipes another time. This happened several more times until about October, and then, although the berries looked just as good and were clinging to the bush and black, they did not seem to ripen. They were not the sun-filled tasty indolent berries hanging in the laziness of August–the kind that squished so easily, heavy with juice. I knew then it was time to leave the bush to the yellow jackets, flies, and other bugs for their free meal.

Blackberry vinegar

11/2 cups blackberries–I used fresh but frozen may work. I like to heat them on the stove just until they simmer, bringing out their flavor.

2 Tblsp balsamic vinegar

For a good salad dressing:

Add 2 garlic cloves, minced, 1 Tbls. honey to the blackberries and vinegar, then slowly add 1/2 cup olive oil until emulsified. Add salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. This is good on romaine or butter lettuce with some crumbled blue cheese and some chopped toasted walnuts.

The Happiest Meal

Our first stop after vacationing at Bryce and Zion was at St. George’s Even Steven for breakfast. We had decided to forgo the typical chains with predictable menus for a local experience, and my brother-in-law Bob “yelped” a few good reviews for Even Steven. One customer had said, “come hungry, leave happy.”  We’d have something to rib Bob about if the eatery didn’t live up to our expectations. We drove into the empty parking lot and walked into the clean restaurant. An inviting play area for children or perhaps anyone stood before a wall of windows. On another wall, cartoon-like characters in a car raised two fingers up in a peace sign. Clarissa and another young woman standing behind a podium greeted us with the news that we were their first customers. They were to open up at 9 AM and it was 8:45, but it was okay. We could come in. Behind Clarissa was a large chalkboard with 5 breakfast items. We placed our orders of one sandwich and 3 breakfast “undergrad” burritos with potatoes, egg, cheese and sausage. We asked about the Yelp reviews to find out how anyone had a chance to try their food if we were the first customers. But a few had tried the food for free, and provided the good reviews.

They informed us they were a non-profit donating earnings for every sandwich sold to the food bank and 2 other organizations.  (Later I thought about how we didn’t help them with their donations the day we stopped for breakfast.) They were anxious to share information with their food. Other Even Stevens existed, some in Salt Lake City. This one was about to have media giving them some publicity.  I hoped we wouldn’t appear on TV with our mouths full of burrito, but then we were traveling, and what better way to see us than eating?

Before we could take our first bites, people with cameras began walking in. Soon people stopped by our table and asked if we were enjoying our food. Should we look happy? Hungry? Eager? No one took a picture or filmed my plate–not a surprise since I had torn the 2nd half of my burrito open so it flapped open showing the bits of potato and sausage mashed together with cheese and destroying the looks of the neat folds of the burrito.

A festive atmosphere permeated the eatery as about 50 people gathered around a man who spoke into a microphone about the new non-profit. After we finished our meal people milled around a manager who asked us if we had enjoyed our meal. We took a picture with Clarissa all of us making the peace sign. She said we didn’t need to pay! Now that’s peace. We came in hungry, and liked our good food like the person who had yelped his pleasure. And, isn’t the happiest meal the free one?

Happiness, Peace, Food–Yes!