The View From Will’s Bench

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Greeted by the lovely Joe-Pye Weeds at Lake Elise

It happens every time. That sudden overwhelming sadness. It’s just a sign off the highway that reads “Middlebury”, but it causes my chin to quiver and an ache in my jaw as I try to fight back the feelings. First stop always is Lake Elise to sit on Will’s Bench. It’s been a year.

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My heart is racing and I feel like I can’t breathe. My jaw is killing me by the time I step out of the car. I can’t take it one more minute. No one is here except me, so I let it go. It’s just the way it is and I am surprised, after all this time, I still can’t control it. Maybe that is why I have not been here since last summer. A place I used to call home.

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There is relief in the hot tears and the shade of the trees. There is a whisper in the wind. I tell him how sorry I am for crying. “I miss you so much and if you can see me from whatever world you are in I hope my obvious grief in this moment doesn’t cause you any pain.” Imagine that. Can our deceased loved ones see us grieving and with that do we cause them to suffer even more than they already have in dying? I quickly change the subject and tell him all about the joy of Annabelle and being a grandmother. A text from Caitlin reminds me that William is her guardian angel. Yes, he absolutely is and just like that I am OK.

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left behind by a young boy the bench remains a favorite fishing spot

There is a second bench I must visit. It’s over at the Taft school. As I gaze at the pond I see a handsome young student with a grin a mile wide fading into the water. This time I hold back the tears, but the yearning in my heart to turn back time is very present. No denying it will always be this way year after year after year.

Thanks to everyone who shared some time with me this weekend. I loved seeing each and every one of you. Your simple presence in my life means more than you will ever know. When this oppressive heat lifts I hope you, too, will take in a view from the bench.

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Tomato-Tomato-Tomato

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It occurs to me that I have yet to share much of my 2016 garden with you. If you follow @goodgriefcook on instagram then you have gotten some snippets. I love instagram. It is such a happy place with the best photography of people, places and food. Right now home-grown tomatoes are trending.

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home-grown tomatoes with red onion jam

Back to my garden. It has been the most bountiful, yet. Each year seems to be better and better. It helps to rotate crops and purchase plants and seeds from reputable places. The last two years I have been a huge fan of the Burpee company because every single seed and plant purchased from them seem to flourish in my little plot of heaven. More good news is that I haven’t needed to use any herbicides or pesticides on my plants. It seems hungry birds make a meal of most of the bugs. We encourage birds to hang around in our yard by providing  suet in the winter and a few nesting boxes scattered around the garden area.

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One thing I really do need to learn is how to properly plant a variety of plants and seeds that don’t ripen all at once. Feast or famine? Right now we are feasting on tomatoes including two varieties (salsa and yellow pear) that self seeded from last year. I love those surprise plants and all the others that inspired today’s recipes.

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Toasted Fennel Tomato Jam is one of my all-time favorite recipes. I featured it around this time last year as inspired by my son’s love for the caprese salad. If you really want to add some life to your favorite Italian mozzarella or burrata make the jam.  Happily, I used up a 4 pound mix of tomatoes in this batch and it is as good as ever.

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My latest original recipe is a Tomato Bread made with tomato juice and a mix of soy and bread flour. Back when I attended the National Festival of Breads I was gifted a bag of Bob’s Red Mill soy flour, so I thought I might give it a try. The bread makes a great sandwich with a mild tomato taste and slight sweetness from molasses.

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photo by Caitlin Keys Pemberton

Finally, and at at the suggestion of my daughter, together we whipped up this tomato pie recipe from Epicurious.com. We used gruyere cheese instead of cheddar and filled it with  sweet heirloom cherry tomatoes and a smaller Brandywine variety. From the crisp buttery crust to the spicy cheese topping this tomato pie is a tasty one. It’s perfect for breakfast, lunch or dinner.

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Hope you enjoyed this glimpse of gardening from my neck of the woods. You say tomato and I say delicious especially if it is home-grown.

Tomato Bread

1 (1/4 oz.) package Red Star Active Dry Yeast

1 ¾ cups tomato juice, warmed to about 115F.

1-tablespoon molasses

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon dried basil

1-tablespoon olive oil

1-cup Bob’s Red Mill soy flour

3 ½ to 4 cups King Arthur Flour bread flour

Grease a 9×5-inch loaf pan. In large bowl of stand mixer, fitted with paddle attachment, sprinkle yeast over warm tomato juice; let stand 5 minutes. Stir in molasses, salt, basil, oil and soy flour. Slowly add bread flour until it comes together and pulls away from sides of the bowl. Switch to dough hook attachment. Knead dough on speed level 2 for 5 to 7 minutes. Shape the dough and place in prepared loaf pan. Cover and let rise in a warm place, about 90 minutes, or until it rises ½-inch above the rim of the pan. Preheat oven to 325F. Slash top of bread, if desired. Bake bread for 50 to 60 minutes or until instant read thermometer inserted in center registers 200-205F. Turn out on cooling rack and cool completely.

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By the way, I have not been compensated in any way by any of the companies that I have mentioned here. As always I am just sharing my favorite quality products with you. It’s like a good neighbor who suggests her favorite restaurant or a tomato plant variety to try.

 

A Day In the Life of a Cook-Off Contestant

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She rises early for a cross-country trip that takes 13 hours. The hours of preparation to get to this point are even greater. A creative thought process, grocery shopping, recipe development, more shopping, testing, food styling, photography, writing it all down and submitting to the sponsor of the recipe contest; it takes a lot of time. She is passionate about what she does and has a positive outlook. As the airline agent checks her overweight bag filled with all the necessary cooking utensils she prays her bag arrives safely. There is no question that her recipe is darn delicious. She hopes the professional judges at the garlic cook-off love it, too.

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Welcome to the 38th annual Gilroy Garlic Festival and The Great Garlic Cook-Off. The ultimate summer food fair is truly one of the greatest shows on earth. Run by over 4000 generous volunteers, this event has raised over 11 million dollars for local charities since its inception. Celebrating the love and appreciation of garlic it has everything you’d expect from a top-notch festival including family fun entertainment, arts & crafts, food and cooking contests. There’s even a scholarship pageant featuring a stunning and accomplished garlic queen and her court waiting to crown a garlic cook-off winner. It won’t be me. Happily, I’m in attendance as a food blogger following one of the finalists and reporting on her experience.

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My friend, Veronica Callaghan, beat out hundreds of others to take one of the 8 highly coveted finalist spots. She is a well-seasoned cook-off winner and after a full day of sourcing a few local ingredients she is ready to go. Just prior to cook-off time she is feeling a little nervous. Apparently, she took a big risk entering her garlic-roasted pizza. “Pizza has never been done before on this cook-off stage!” announces the emcee. Will she and her homemade yeast crust rise to the top? Veronica is worried her oven is not getting up to temperature. A hot oven is crucial in baking the thin, crispy crust she is aiming for.

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Veronica and fellow competitors have two hours to cook in a most professional kitchen stadium. The set-up is one of the best I have ever seen with each contestant having plenty of space in their individual kitchens including stoves and sinks and counters. In addition, each contestant is assigned a volunteer helper and Veronica’s couldn’t have been more wonderful. Chris happily takes direction from Veronica grating fontina cheese, pouring a most refreshing peach sangria (yes, I got to taste) into judges glasses and cleaning up as they go, so Veronica can fully concentrate on the execution of the perfect pizza.

Veronica does not disappoint. She preps and cooks several pizza toppings like a pro. The aroma  of rosemary roasted garlic, wine infused sriracha caramelized onions and perfectly crisp bacon fills the stadium. She is in the cooking zone and cool as a garlic clove (or is that cucumber)?

It’s obvious she is happy with her pizza dough. She rolls it out and tops it with an artistic flair finishing it off with sliced dried figs for sweetness, a sprinkle of  flavorful cheeses and fresh rosemary. It’s oven ready. With a flick of her wrist it slides onto a hot pizza stone.

It’s clear this pizza is not your average take-out, but is the crust crisp and does the garlic shine? Did the oven get hot enough? You betcha! When it comes time to face the judges one of them holds up a slice to the audience and does the ultimate crisp crust test. He snaps it into the classic fold and it holds its shape.

The Italian judge is so impressed with her presentation, balance of fresh ingredient flavors and crust execution that he confides in me that she should go into the pizza making business. In fact, all the judges seem to be over the moon with her pizza, but they have 7 more garlic infused fabulous dishes to taste and score.

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The final results are tabulated and the contestants wait anxiously for the announcement. “By the hair on a frog” (I swear the judge said it) Veronica just misses first place, but is pleased to take second and receive a garlic crown. Her hard work is further rewarded with a generous cash prize and the admiration of all her peers.

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Do give her pizza a try. It just may inspire you to enter the cook-off next year or at least to up your own game on pizza making. Check out this link to find out more about the other contestant entries and if you are interested in purchasing the cookbook you may order by phone: (408) 842-1625.

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Congratulations, Veronica and thanks for letting me tag along. You inspire me.

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