Off-Road Cooking

Pie Therapy
September 12, 2011, 4:41 pm
Filed under: Cooking
“So, what did you do for Labor Day Weekend?” was bound to be the most-asked question as we headed back to reality on Tuesday morning.  I have to say I had a blast over the holiday weekend at our family reunion, sharing food, fun, sun, thunderstorms, pontoon rides, canoe trips, and campfires with a “small” group of 50 extended family members in northern Indiana!
Temperatures hovered near 100 degrees the first day as only a sea of bobbing heads were visible from the lakeshore.  In contrast, on the last day, we awoke to cold winds and a group desire to become one with the space heater. Somewhere smack in the middle of this thermal roller coaster, though, we had a day that held one of the more memorable adventures of the weekend: our peach pie odyssey.
You may be wondering how peach pie could qualify as an adventure?  Suffice it to say, my siblings and I love pie therapy. We consider it—the anticipation, the gathering of the fruit, the cooking, and then, oh then, the eating of it!– to be an event, in the realm of a journey, not just a destination.
So, this weekend was to be the latest installment in our saga of pie therapy. I knew it when my daughter and I stepped out of the car and into the tiny lake cottage to greet our relatives.  My sisters had already started aligning a shrine of ingredients along the kitchen cabinet…flour, oil, sugar, and just the right tin pans (recycled from some previous pie event, of course).  The anticipation had begun!  Yet this preview was just a teaser; with 50 relatives on hand, we would have to wait until the following day to go any further, when it would be “just us.”
The next day dawned in whispers as we awoke, one by one, waiting for the others to stumble bleary-eyed into the kitchen.  “Want some coffee? We’ll make the pie right after Church.”  For something to rank right up there with coffee and Church, that tells you something. This was serious business.  I wasn’t sure how many minds would be intent on the sermon that day.
Anyhow, once we got back to the cottage after Mass and zipped through the motions of lunch, we knew the ritual could begin.  How many relatives does it take to make a pie crust?  Obviously at least six.  One of us got the flour, another the oil, and someone else measured the sugar, while several others pressed the sweet-salty dough into the tins.
The only thing missing now was the star of the show.  So this is when the real adventure began.  We were going to go pick the peaches– as a group, of course! Even the next generation was primed to participate.  As we headed en masse down the drive, in exodus from the cottage, my tiny great-nieces skipped along eagerly with open bags trailing behind them like kites, trekking across the canal over to the neighbors where the coveted peach tree awaited us.
We quickly arrived at our destination.  Undaunted by the reality that this orchard consisted of a peach tree—that’s singular, as in the one and only–we  descended upon its bountiful branches.  Several dads shook the tree and the ripe, sticky fruit cascaded down.  This sent the little girls scampering to pick up the good fruit from the grass, reminiscent of an Easter egg hunt. At last, determining we had enough for two pies, we tromped our way back to the cottage.
Now the peaches took center stage as the ritual of washing, blanching, peeling, and chopping began.  Meanwhile the crusts were browned, and on the stove, a sweet sauce began to bubble. Once it was all assembled and placed lovingly back in the oven to bake, we had to turn our attention to other pursuits while we waited anxiously for results!
Several hours later, our patience was rewarded.  Our grilled supper was topped off with a delight from nature’s bounty, our delicious peach pie.  And not just an ordinary peach pie, but one prepared by many hands, willingly and lovingly, amid much conversation, laughter, and sharing of other stories.
I realized, perhaps, why we as a family like pie.  Just as we delighted in the pie, we had delighted in each other’s company.  Throughout the planning, the picking, and the preparations, we were together.  Perhaps that is why we find pie therapy so effective.  Funny how we don’t have this feeling when we eat pie alone.  I guess the secret ingredient is family!

Strong possum in Romania… READ IT!
May 17, 2011, 9:34 pm
Filed under: Do-It-Yourself, Travel

This is my sister’s (my mother’s daughter, the former Food Fashionista herself) new blog, all the way from Romania… READ IT! She IS a strong possum! This is beautiful. She is a beautiful soul.

Post-Adventure Cooking
May 8, 2011, 10:12 pm
Filed under: Cooking, Do-It-Yourself

Last-minute dinner after an adventurous hike in the park

The Strong Possum Way
March 19, 2011, 10:18 am
Filed under: Cooking, Do-It-Yourself, Idea Sharing

Ever since I can remember, my mother has said, “We are strong possums! We can do it!”

The expression probably came from a children’s book or a short story. Neither of us can really figure it out, but it sure stuck! Both of us use it frequently (read: every day).

But what does it MEAN?

It means:

A strong, driven do-it-yourself attitude

A knack for fixing things

The initiative to solve your own problems and LEAP over your own hurdles

A little bit of level-headed-ness mixed with common sense

The inner child

Believing that YOU are capable of helping YOURSELF, always!

Love for all people

Willingness and ability to help others at all times

Cooking and learning outside of the box (Did I mention cooking?)

Making mistakes, getting messy, and doing it all over again


But…why POSSUM? It was from a book, so it stuck.

Food Fashionista
February 20, 2011, 3:22 pm
Filed under: Cooking, Recipes

(YET ANOTHER lovely post by my fabulous mother!! Enjoy!)


Food Fashionista

When it came to babyhood food antics in our house, there were those who mushmashed their lunch…and those who were better known for wearing it. The Mushmasher (aka Larisa, whom you know as co-editor of this site) reigned from her high chair for about 6 years before being dethroned by her younger sister. That’s when Olivia came along, the Food Fashionista, quick to mark her rule with a new definition of the term food palette. Give her less than 5 minutes in her high chair and her little body rapidly donned dessert, transforming itself into a canvas. Her skin soon displayed a rainbow of hues brought on by “watercolor” cherries or blueberries.

Whereas Larisa would meticulously mold a science experiment out of her sandwich, Olivia took it to the next level, or past, mashing food into her hair with abandon until the stiff little spikes on top of her head could surpass the claims of any superhold hair gel out there on the market. Early on, she discovered that oatmeal worked great for this effect, but throw in a little peanut butter and jelly, and you could go over the top.

Then there was the day we cooked beets for lunch. Olivia entered her high chair as a Caucasian and emerged…well…PINK. I had heard of Indigo children. I began to wonder. Where was my child? Was she it? Whoever she was, she was giggling with delight, a magenta ring now framing that toothless smile below her dancing eyes. And so our family had ushered in a new era of culinary creativity, in the presence of a budding Van Gogh. Or, in the spirit of veering off road, shall we say, van gone?

The (Mapless) Road Less Traveled
February 13, 2011, 11:28 am
Filed under: Cooking, Recipes

The Road Less Traveled (Excerpt from THE Cookbook)


Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

–Robert Frost, “The Road Not Taken”


The above selection from Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” has always been an inspiration and a favorite of mine and my mother’s. In the journey through map-less cooking, we have always taken the road less traveled. We have even created a few new paths of our own!

Sometimes, when you’re cooking, the map WILL fly out the window. You may even lose your place in this cookbook as you’re looking up what to put in your zingy curry or your Christmas Cookies from Aunt Betha. But it’s important to keep your cool! (Don’t burn up… oops!) If the map flies out the window, perhaps it’s a sign to roll up the window and keep going. You may find something new and fun out there. Or you may have to stop and ask for directions. When the map flies out the window while cooking, make lemonade from your lemon situation! If you’re making a curry or sauté, and you forget to add an ingredient, don’t panic! Just remove the skillet from the burner, let the pan cool while you’re searching for your missing clove of garlic or your broccoli pieces, and get back to cooking once you’ve found it! Or, if you’re really unsure as to what’s going on, there’s a good chance you probably need to have a little snack, take a deep breath, make some tea, and continue on!


If you lose your place in the cookbook, it’s important to assess what you have in front of you and what you’ve accomplished so far in order to be able to move on. Sometimes remembering the name of the dish will help if you’re truly concerned that you may ruin a dish, but other times you can really be creative and set the cookbook aside to create something new!


Also, if you lack an ingredient after running around the city to find the perfect bell pepper, the most beautiful pineapple, the twiggiest lemongrass, or whatever the case may be, and you’ve arrived home only to find you don’t have any … (insert name of ingredient here) … don’t panic! You may be able to make the dish without that particular ingredient. You could also probably substitute (See our Substitution section for tips) what you don’t have with what you DO have! Say it’s a vegetable, for example. Figure out what vegetables you do have and think about what would taste good in the dish, and then add that ingredient instead. If it’s a spice, figure out which spices you have, and add something new! Often times people who have tasted your cooking a zillion jillion times may not notice that Kavita’s Indian chole (NOTE: please please don’t quote me on the spelling of this!!!) is missing some cumin (and that you’ve used butter beans instead of garbanzos), or that the lemon thyme bread from Way Back When has brown sugar and soymilk in it. YOU don’t have to say anything!! Just proudly present the dish and enjoy the creativity of the moment. If no one with whom you are dining has ever tasted your cooking, don’t sweat it! You can always make improvements later on!


My mother and I have had plenty of experiences cooking something and realizing that we forgot the soymilk, the lemon, the “right kind” of beans, etc. It really takes creativity and repeat mistakes to learn about substitution and invention. Just count these experiences as good practice! If need be, makeshift pizza, PB&J, cutout hummous and pepper sandwiches, or leftovers from yesterday are perfectly acceptable substitutes for a burnt, tasteless mess! The point is, you’ve made the effort to cook and learned a lot. Next time will always be better.

No, She Started It!
February 5, 2011, 10:29 pm
Filed under: Cooking

(ALSO Posted on the “She Started It” Page…. Post by my mother! 😀 )


Whoa, hold on a minute! I started it? My lovely, sweet, bloggerbaby daughter claims that I am to blame for this off-road cooking thing?? Let’s get this straight. From my perspective, she started it! Some of my earliest, funniest memories of veering off the beaten food path began when my daughter, Larisa, was still an infant.

To set the scene, let me take you back 23 years.…It’s 7 am. I am propped against the kitchen sink, disheveled and bleary-eyed from the latest round of sleep deprivation that marks every new parent’s first year on the job, seeking out the coffee pot through one half-opened eyelid. Suddenly I am startled by a shriek of delight! Immediately my eyes pop open. I look down to see an innocent face with huge brown eyes excitedly gazing back up at me from the body of my one-year-old crumb-encrusted daughter, firmly cemented to her high chair by oatmeal goo and apple juice.

That’s when two baby hands packed with squishy, slimy mushmash wave triumphantly as they fling her latest concoction of gooey glop across the room. A smile breaks out across her cherubic face. I imagine a little thought bubble popping up from the spikes of matted-down hair on the top of her head: “Yes! It stuck to the wall this time! Aren’t you proud of what my new recipe can do, Mommy?!”

I am instantly reminded of cats and dogs that admiringly place their latest roadkill on the front porch as a sign of respect. This thought reminds me of our animal nature. It must be our instinct to enjoy our food and take pleasure in presenting it to others whom we love. This little critter of mine, as grimy as she was, had just taught me a memorable first lesson in cooking family style: it’s not always pretty, but it sure is an adventure!