Sunday, January 28, 2018

A Memory of Taste and Place

Jard sur Mer, Vendee, France

Jard sur Mer, Garden on the Sea, and we are there together. We will eat oysters plucked right from the sea and mussels bathed in garlic, butter and white wine, a baguette for each of us to soak up the briny, luscious liquid. In the morning, before our afternoon feast, we will walk to town together from our home, Villa des Lutins (Home of the Elves), to le boulanger to purchase the baguettes, warm and fragrant from the ovens, and as long as sabers so that we will have a sword fight with them on our return home. They may drop on the ground, but we just flick off the dust and pretend that nothing happened. It is an imaginary sword fight after all!

After our lunch under the pines, we will bike a la plage (to the beach), with towels and sunscreen and a bit of refreshment, cheese and croutons from the baguettes, in the baskets. The beach is a bit stony, not like the smooth sugar sand of the Del Coronado or the coarser black sand of Kona Village, but it lends us a beautiful easterly view of the ocean, one we are not used to seeing from California. A friend may offer us a ride in his petit bateau but for the most part we float in the water, dry on the shore and relish the hot sun on our bodies.
We celebrate Bastille Day on the quay that surrounds the small harbor, the windmill standing guard as fireworks dazzle the mid summer night, the most amazing display of light and spark either of us has ever seen.
Another day, we arrive early at le marché aux poissons (the fish market) in Les Sables D’Olonne, a short drive up the coast from Jard. We select ocean fish just caught that morning, each one just the right size for each of us to savor after they have been roasted on the open grill in our jardin (garden). The scent of charred wood, sweet pine and grilled fish fills the air. The air is as nourishing as the meal itself. We de-bone and filet our whole fish and heap mounds of ratatouille onto the plate, the juices from the vegetable mélange and the fish mixing to make a flavor uniquely ours, our Jard flavor, our Jard fragrance. I drink a dry Loire white, you a local beer. To help settle our satiated tummies, we stroll into town pour la crème glacée (for ice cream). My favorite is Pêche Melba, served with a crunchy petite gateau and a spritz of kir. You select chocolate, plain and simple.

You learn to love the simplicity of our life in Jard, the walks to town for bread and to visit the vendors who arrive in the square with their poulet, viande, legumes et fruites, and fromage. We develop a lazy, regular routine that may include a bike ride out through the fields of flowers that surround the village, or we may decide to attend mass at the ancient Catholic church, neither of us sure what the priest is saying or whether the mass is in French or Latin. It is a sacred, peaceful time and we give thanks for being alive and in this place.

Our most special time is a la plage, no matter where we have been on our travels. The beach has always held sway over us both. Is it the soothing repetition of gentle waves kissing the damp sand or the full throttle surge of vigorous, almost angry, surf tumbling down, battling to be the arrive first on that shore? I am the gentle waves, longing to just be; you are the tumbling surf, always surging, always searching, always challenging yourself.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Summer Tomato, Olive and Herb Crostata

Summer Tomato, Olive and Herb Crostata
Serves 4-6

My baking is pretty "rustic", meaning I'm not very good at making pastry dough and fancy cakes. By taking the shortcut of using prepared puffed pastry and selecting a variety of fresh tomatoes (preferably from your local farmer's market), and including pitted Kalamata olives and fresh garden herbs, this Crostata is an elegantly rustic way to celebrate the flavors of summer. Serve as a dinner party appetizer or as the star of a small luncheon. Nutmeg Kitchens' Magic Mediterranean blend adds a the perfect bit of "je ne sais quoi".

1 sheet of frozen puffed pastry, such as Pepperidge Farms
1-2 baskets of your favorite variety of cherry tomatoes
2-3 colorful heirloom tomatoes cut into chunks
1 cup Kalamata olives coarsely chopped
Fresh garden herbs, such as basil, thyme, oregano and rosemary, finely chopped
1-3 tablespoons of Magic Mediterranean, depending on your taste
½ - 1 cup Freshly grated Parmesan
Salt and pepper to taste
Olive oil
2 tablespoons or so of all purpose flour
1 egg yolk

Special equipment - rolling pin, pastry scrapper, baking sheet, pastry brush, large spatula, wire cooling rack
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Remove the puffed pastry from its packaging and allow it to defrost while you prepare the tomato mixture, about 30 minutes.

In a medium to large bowl, combine the cherry tomatoes, the chunks of heirlooms, the chopped olives and herbs with Magic Mediterranean blend, grated Parmesan, salt and pepper (if needed) and olive oil, using just enough to lightly coat the tomato mixture. You may have roughly 2-4 cups. Set aside. 

Lightly dust a level, flat surface with some flour and place the defrosted pastry on it. With the rolling pin, gingerly begin to roll the dough, using gently but firm pressure. Roll the dough out from the center in each directly, creating a somewhat non-conforming square or rectangle. That's OK, this is a rustic tart, remember?

Once the dough is evenly rolled, use the pastry scrapper, if necessary, and roll it back on the pin, wrapping it gently. Unroll the dough on to the baking sheet.

Spoon the tomato mixture into the center of the dough, about 2 cups or so, creating a small hill that spreads out slightly. If you have a lot of mixture, don't use it all; you don't want to overweight the pastry. You can save these leftovers to roast later or include in a green salad to accompany the Crostata. 
Beginning on one side of the dough, begin wrapping and folding it around the edge of the tomatoes, making a semi-thick crust. Once the wrapping is done, beat the egg yolk with a bit of water in a small bowl. With pastry brush, "paint" the crust with a light coat of the egg wash. Sprinkle more grated Parmesan over the entire Crostata, crust and tomatoes. 

Place the baking sheet in the oven and bake for 20-25 minutes, until the crust is risen and golden and the tomatoes are bubbly.

With a large spatula, remove the Crostata to a wire cooling rack and let it sit for a few minutes. Slice and serve warm or at room temperature.

Enjoy with love!

The difference between a bland tomato and great one is immense, much like the difference between a standard, sliced white bread and a crusty, aromatic sourdough. ~ Yotam Ottolenghi

Sunday, May 14, 2017

The First Without...

The first sigh, the first smile, the first recognition that you are a significant person in this little person’s life; the first clutch of a toy, the first step, the first solid food, the first word ( “giggie” for dog, “owa” for cat); the first Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Christmas, birthday, Halloween and Easter; the first day of kindergarten; the first soccer/basketball/baseball/lacrosse team; the first day of high school; the first car, the first girlfriend, the first college graduation, the first job and the first business success. 

 I relish these events, noting each one on my calendar; I share them by phone with grandparents, aunts and uncles; I reflect upon them with a photo, and more recently, I relive them via a Facebook post or a text message.

Today is another first. The first Mother’s Day in 26 years I will spend without my son, Ian Clarke MacKenzie. 

He died on July 16 2016, in an accident that should have never happened. But then, when are accidents planned?

In May 1991, Ian was in utero at about 20 weeks, and in that way, he joined his father, Bill, and me on a trip the island of Kauai. I count that as my first Mother’s Day.

One year later, we celebrated in Southern California at brunch with family at a restaurant on Newport harbor. By the next May, 1993, Ian’s brother, Alec Hugh, was a 3 month old. We had a double celebration!

My mother died in 1995 and the first Mother’s Day without her, which also always falls close to her birthday, was difficult. Since then, I have been able to celebrate and remember my mother, Jane Hite Reilly, on two days, very close together. I have always held her in my heart as I shared this special day with my sons, basking in the love of being a mother of two active, vibrant, mischievous, creative, intelligent children.

I have experienced the first birthday, the first Halloween, the first Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, Valentine’s Day and Easter without Ian. Each is accompanied by its own loving memory.

The first Mother’s Day without him? I was totally unprepared for the emotion this day has brought.

I am thankful for the rich memories I have of Ian. There are more than I can count. I am sad that I no longer have him to hug as he comes home from work and to congratulate him on a successful sale. I am sorry that I will not witness the growth of a young man who, poised to take the world by storm, was also growing into his role as a thoughtful adult with dreams of good things to come. I am sad that I will not watch him as he courts and marries the woman he loves, and that I will not one day hold his child, my grandchild, in my arms.

Hawaii. Ohana, the Hawaiian word for family, is important us. It is why, when the boys were growing up, we spent vacations at Kona Village Resort, a place that holds Ohana in its heart. The Big Island of Hawaii is where Bill and I now go to find peace, beauty, spiritually and simplicity. 

Ohana. I am not without Ian. I know you are with me but in a different, more spiritual way. I miss you mightily.  I love you wholeheartedly. Remember when you realized you could order as many Cookie Monsters as you wanted at Kona Village? Oh, those, were the days...

I love you, Ian. 

Monday, January 23, 2017

Say Aloha to Aloha Java Seasoning Blend

How Aloha Java Was Created

The Big Island of Hawaii has been a special vacation destination for the Mackenzie's for years. This past October, Bill and I rented a cottage in the Kohala district at the northern tip of the island, in the town of Hawi. Listening to the rain and wind on the lanai of our cottage while reading, walking through the lush gardens surrounding us and enjoying local dining and arts provided the tranquility we were looking for on this trip to  the Big Island.
Welcome to Bamboo Cottage!
When it was clear enough, we could catch a glimpse of Maui and the summit of Haleakala across the choppy channel that separates the two islands. It was like a Bali Hai experience; mysterious, near but far away at the same time. Knowing another piece of land was also there, so far from the Continental US, was a comfort.

Hawi is a casual town with a thriving art scene and lots of history. King Kamehameha was born in here. In the early 20th century, sugar cane was king on the island and the waters from rain-heavy Kohala flowed to the cane fields through ditches engineered by M. M. O'Shaughnessy, who was also responsible for the Hetch-Hetchy project that brought water from the Sierra Nevada to San Francisco. Known as "Da Ditch", there are tour operators that provide tourists with a locals-only view of the water system by inflatable kayak. My family loved this soggy adventure during a 2002 island visit. I highly recommend the restaurant Bamboo, right in the heart of town. It serves up a tangy pulled pork sandwich and if you're lucky, local son and slack key guitar virtuoso John Keawe will be playing.

Bamboo Cottage is situated along one of the ditches and we were privy to the fresh citrus and avocados that grow on the property. I actually plucked my own ginger root from the garden to include in a vinaigrette I prepared for greens purchased at the Hawi farmers' market. 

Under the banyan tree, the Hawi farmer's market

At the market, I got to talking with Chris Bornstein, the co-founder of Spicy Ninja Sauce. I have recently developed a greater appreciation for heat in my cooking, recognizing that chili peppers provide depth of flavor in many dishes that one may not associate with hot, spicy food. Well, Chris' Spicy Ninja Sauce blew me away. Even the mild sauce tested my wimpy palate, but after the initial intense heat wore off, there was a delightful buzz in my mouth. Hum...I could get to like this stuff! Maybe heat is addictive after all.

I told Chris about Nutmeg Kitchens Handcrafted Seasonings  and he said, "You should do a Hawaiian blend". That suggestion germinated in me for the remainder of our stay. Hawaii holds a significant place in my heart and it would seem only natural for me to give flavor to that special place.

The 5 hour flight from Kona to SFO provided plenty of time for me to dream of potential concoctions. Coffee was an obvious ingredient, and ginger, which I had at my finger tips at Bamboo Cottage, had to be included. Once home, I explored the seasonings I had on hand and found that in addition to coffee and ginger, garlic, smoked paprika, some brown sugar and something I hadn't used very often, Sichuan peppercorns, would make for a very interesting blend. And now I have a blend that gives a little delightful buzz of Hawi to my tongue!

Aloha Java Blend brings me back to a place my family loves. I hope it brings you a taste of the islands and some spice to your cooking!

Aloha Java Pan Roasted Cod with Mashed Butternut Squash

The subtlety of any flaky white fish will be enhanced by the smoky, sweet and spicy flavors provided by Aloha Java blend. Do not be afraid of purchasing fish fillets that have been processed, individually packaged and flash frozen aboard a fishing vessel; this is the best way to high quality, non-local fish (a fish monger told me this). I’ve had a lot of luck with the frozen individual cod fillets available at Costco; they are all even sized portions and easy to defrost and prepare.


For the Butternut Squash

Spray Canola or Olive oil
1 butternut squash, about 1 pound
Ian’s Fire Seasoning Blend, red pepper flakes or hot sauce, to taste
Salt and pepper

For the Cod
Olive Oil
4 cod fillets, or other flaky white fish, even in size.
4 tablespoons Nutmeg Kitchens Handcrafted Aloha Java Seasoning
Maldon Salt or kosher salt, to finish, if desired
Special equipment – baking sheet pan, 10 inch skillet, handheld potato masher


For the Squash

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Spray the sheet pan with the oil.
Slice the stem off the squash and cut in half, lengthwise. Remove the seeds and membranes from the center of each half of the squash with spoon and place, cut side down, on the prepared sheet pan. Use a paring knife to make several slits in the skin of the squash to allow steam to escape during cooking. Place the sheet pan in the oven and roast for about 50 minutes to 1 hour, until the outer skin is soft and you can cut through to the flesh easily.
Remove the sheet pan from the oven and allow the squash to cool to the point that you can handle it. With a spoon, scrape the flesh from the skin into a medium bowl, being careful not include any of the skin. Add a tablespoon or so of butter, salt, pepper and Ian’s Fire or other spicy choice (go easy on the Ian’s Fire, though!), and mash with the potato masher to desired texture; it doesn’t have to be perfectly smooth. Add extra seasoning as desired.
The squash can be made several hours or up to one day in advance. To warm, place in a sauce pan with a lid, add a little bit more butter, and heat over low, stirring occasionally to prevent scorching.

For the Cod

Pat the fish dry and sprinkle with Aloha Java blend on each side, about a tablespoon per fillet.
Heat the skillet over medium-high heat and add 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil. Place the cod fillets in the skillet and cook for about 4 minutes, until you can see that about half of the fillet is opaque. Gently flip the fillets with a spatula and continue to cook until the entire fillet is cooked through and flaky. Remove the fish to a chopping board.
Place a generous spoonful of warm Mashed Butternut Squash onto four dinner plates and then place the Aloha Java cod slightly a top. You can also add another green vegetable or salad if you’d like.

Enjoy with Aloha and Love!

Monday, January 16, 2017

A Kona Village Remembrance

The MacKenzies at Kona Village Resort, 2001

The Big Island of Hawaii…just writing those words makes me take a deep, relaxing breath and pretend a gentle trade wind has brushed my cheek. The island has long been a favorite vacation spot for my family. We spent 5 spring breaks at Kona Village Resort, a throwback of sorts - no phones, radios or TV’s in the individual bungalows, or hales; no swimming pools with multitudes of water slides, grottos or swim up bars. Kona Village provided a feeling of welcome, of ‘Ohana (the Hawaiian word for family) from the staff who had become friends; a refuge from Silicon Valley for our sons to explore tide pools, fish in ancient Hawaiian ponds (catch and release, of course), snorkel through waters filled with a diverse and colorful array of sea life and just enjoy being kids in a very family-friendly environment.

 The boys wore their surf trunks on the plane so they could hop out of the car before it even rolled up to the reception area and race to the beach to find their friends who also always came this same week. Bill and I, in turn, became with friends with the parents of the boys’ friends. That’s what Kona Village was all about – friendship. We’d check in with the daytime bartenders, Sid or Rusty, about how many Cookie Monsters or Lava Flows the boys had ordered; they were limited to 3 of each. “Sometimes it's hard to say no”, Sid or Rusty would tell us if the boys has exceeded their limit. No worries, the boys were not tracking our Mai Tais or Kona Lagers!

Bill and I would catch glimpses of Ian and Alec throughout the day while we sat on the beach and read copious amounts of books. The boys would join us at the bountiful luncheon buffet (they both developed an affinity for sashimi here). We’d watch as they jumped off the diving raft anchored in Kahuwai Bay with half a dozen other kids and I would joined them for snorkeling with green sea turtles that called the bay and beach home. 

Bill kayaked with Ian and captained a sailfish with Alec. The three of them - Bill, Ian and Alec - completed their SCUBA certification at Kona Village.

Fishing in the pond off our hale

Bill and I would collect the boys after “keiki” dinner – a time spent playing totally low tech games like capture the flag or dodge ball with all the other keikis (kids) in the village – at the manta ray grotto at 8:30. We would then watch the mantas who, attracted by the lights aimed at the water, came into the bay to feed and provide us with a graceful farewell to the day, waving to us with their own special form of aloha. For seven days, we were content with living in a thatched roof hale, listening to the lap of waves on the black sand shore as we went to sleep and a cacophony of birdsong as we awoke, and then savoring all the simple pleasures that Kona Village presented.

We had hoped to return with the boys for our 30th wedding anniversary this year, but that won’t happen. Sadly, Kona Village was a victim of the 2011 tsunami that swept across the Pacific from Japan and has been closed since then. 2005 was our last visit to the village.

During a stay on the Big Island this past October, Bill and I walked the KVR beach. We saw the rusted keel of the New Moon, the boat piloted by KVR founder Johnno Jackson, moored on the coral and lava since the early 1960’s. Honu (sea turtle) are still sunning on the black sand and thriving in Kahuwai Bay. The bones of the village are there and all the memories are still alive, all the smiling welcoming people who embraced us as ‘Ohana. It was the same and yet different.

The keel of the New Moon
KVR is rebuilding and hopes to reopen in 2019. Will we ever capture the special feeling we had there for 5 spring breaks? 

Our eldest Ian died in July 2016 at the age of 24. I don’t know what a stay at a renewed Kona Village would be like without him. Bill, Alec and I will build a new relationship with the Big Island, and Ian will always be with us. 

Bill and I tossed a lei into Kahuwai Bay at the manta ray grotto on October 16, 2016, on what would have been Ian's 25th birthday.  He will always swim in those waters.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

What's new in Nutmeg's Kitchens?

Announcing Nutmeg Kitchens Handcrafted Seasonings!

Nutmeg Kitchens Handcrafted Seasonings is the newest offering from my kitchen to yours. These seasoning blends are a result of my playing with my favorite flavors. Why should I purchase a seasoning blend or a rub when I could very well make my own? After gifting my first blend, Magic Mediterranean, to a number of friends, I was overwhelmed with questions about when it would be available for purchase. My second medley, Chipotle-Brown Sugar Rub, has met with similar responses. Lemon-Ginger Warmth and Orange-Sage Warmth complete the quartet of Nutmeg Kitchens Handcrafted Seasonings. All blends are made with Pacific Blue™ kosher sea salt and only organic herbs and spices.

I have worked for many months to create the perfect combination of flavors in my blends and have developed recipes that will hopefully jump start the imaginations of those who purchase them.  I hold a San Mateo County Cottage Food Operator permit and will soon begin selling directly to the public and at farmer's markets in the Mid Peninsula area. 

If you are interested in helping me realize my dream, please visit my Go Fund Me page:

What to do with Nutmeg Kitchens Handcrafted Seasonings?

I use Magic Mediterranean Blend in just about everything, from scrambled eggs to vinaigrettes to roasted vegetables. It's especially good on well-marbled, grass-fed Rib Eye steak, grilled to succulent perfection. Fennel seed, cumin seed, ground sumac and cloves give this blend a distinctive aroma and taste. A ramekin of the blend is always next to my stove, ready to add magic to whatever I'm cooking.

Steaks with Magic Mediterranean Blend waiting for the grill

Ian’s Fire Blend – A force to be reckoned with, just like the young man for whom it is named. Ancho chiles, smoked paprika, red pepper flakes and cayenne lay a spicy foundation for cumin, brown sugar, ginger, garlic, nutmeg and cinnamon to bring balance, sweetness and depth of flavor to this special blend. Use Ian’s Fire in place of packaged taco seasoning for all your South of the Border cooking, but don’t stop there. Be inspired and let your culinary imagination run wild. Ian would like that!

Chipotle-Brown Sugar Rub 

In addition to the two titular ingredients, this mélange of sea salt, ginger, cumin, cinnamon, garlic powder and black pepper is perfect on any grilled meat, especially pork. But why stop there? Toss popcorn with Chipotle-Brown Sugar Rub and butter for an unforgettable movie night treat.

Aloha Java Blend – This blend marries Hawaiian alaea red salt and organic coffee with kosher sea salt, ginger, brown sugar, cayenne pepper, Sichuan peppercorns and smoked paprika.  It’s a spicy, smoky taste of the islands that adds both heat and sweetness to grilled or roasted fish, pork, beef or chicken, or anything else you want to play with. Lei and palm tree optional!

But these are just my suggestions. As a curious cook, I encourage you to play with Handcrafted Seasonings in your everyday preparations and discover your own way to add spice to your meal.

I look forward to bringing spice to as many kitchens as I can!

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Celery! Soup, Chicken Salad and Crunch!

I used to love it. The steam from the bowl as it rose up to my nostrils; the creamy warmth just a spoonful away; the green, floating slices of subtle crunchiness – Campbell’s Cream of Celery Soup, my favorite lunch after coming home from the morning session of Kindergarten at Macy Elementary School. If I was really lucky, Mom would also include a grilled cheese sandwich, but for the most part, just the soup was enough to make me one happy 5 year old. It was served in my very own Mary Alice Hadley bowl.

Mary Alice Hadley was an artist from Louisville, Kentucky and
one of my aunt's best friends. My aunt was one of the first retailers to sell
Mary Alice's wares in her shop in St. Matthews, Kentucky.

It had my name on the outside and ALL GONE on the bottom. Mom made it a game to get to the “All DONE”, making lunch not only filling but fun. I loved this soup; it was my favorite lunch, until…

…I spent a weekend with the babysitter from hell. Her name was Mrs. Marris. My parents were going away for a long overdue weekend away alone, and Mrs. Marris was to mind us. And mind us, she would. She minded me, especially.

My mother had selected Mrs. Marris from a child care registry which noted she was a church going woman, had raised a large family herself and was experienced in caring for infants – my sister was less than a year old at time. I was used to having neighborhood high school girls babysit. They would listen to rock and roll on my parents’ Hi-Fi, tell me all about their boyfriends - “You know the really cute guy who drives that cool Chevy?” -  and would put my hair up in pink sponge rollers before I went to bed so my extra-straight locks would be somewhat curly the next morning. Mrs. Marris was a different kind of babysitter. Everything with her was all peachy as my parents, waving and blowing kisses, drove out of the driveway, down the street and on to their weekend alone. (Elsie Smith, the housekeeper who was in our lives for 20 years, had not yet become that beloved family member, otherwise, Mrs. Marris would never have been a part of this story.)

The first hint of “a different kind of babysitter” came when a boy, a few years older and much taller than me, was dropped off at our house. It was one of Mrs. Marris’ grandsons and she had told his parents that she would watch him since she was already watching someone else’s kids. Once out of eye and ear shot of his grandmother, who was doting endlessly on my little sister, he called me names and teased me mercilessly, trying to illicit a dramatic response on my part that would no doubt cause his grandmother to leave the reverie of caring for the baby and get mad at me. I ignored him, which only made him all the angrier. Bullies are like that, aren’t they? 

As a last resort for my attention, Grandson from Hell grabbed a small chair, a special gift from a visit to Los Angeles’ Olvera Street  and threatened to break my chair, my chair, my chair!

A similar, more modern version
 of my  beloved chair
Grandson, seeing my pleading, anxious eyes, did whatever any self-respecting, overweight 9 year old bully would do – he sat on my chair. It broke. A flurry of frantic calls for “Grandma, come see what she has done!” brought me out of the momentary shock I experienced as I saw a favorite possession ruined . I screamed, and screamed until Mrs. Marris appeared.

Mrs. Marris was not pleased, not at all.  But it was not her devil spawn who felt her wrath. No matter how I tried to explain that it was he who sat in and broke my chair, the blame was all on me. Nope, no way, no how, would her grandson do such a thing. I was told to stay in my room, indefinitely.  I hated Mrs. Marris.

The next day, Grandson from Hell was gone and Mrs. Marris was in a far more conciliatory mood. Perhaps the little blighter confessed, but I’m sure it had more to do with Mrs. Marris wanting to receive a glowing review of her services from the eldest, and only articulate, Reilly child. I was served Campbell’s Cream of Celery soup for lunch that day. “Your mother said it is your favorite”, she said with a tone of voice bordering on fawning. 

“Oh, it is”, I replied with a sly smile. Once her back was turned, I took the lid off the table top salt shaker and proceeded to empty its contents into my blessed, long awaited bowl of Cream of Celery Soup. Sometimes you have to destroy the one thing you love in order to have some integrity. I took a taste. I didn’t scream, I didn’t make a sour face, I didn’t cry about the foulness of it or curse her repugnant grandson. I simply pushed the offending bowl of soup away from me with a look of indifference. Mrs. Marris became harsh now, a bit fed up with all the drama her stay at our home had created. “Why don’t you eat your soup?!” When push came to shove, I asked her to take a taste from my Margie bowl. Afraid that it might be contaminated but not wanting to lose face with a 5 year old, she gingerly took a spoon, dipped it so lightly into that murky, questionable cream of whatever, brought the spoon to her lips and immediately christened the contents “Inedible!" And then she said, with a defeated look," Margie, you may leave the table.”

Now, 50 years later, I have not had another bowl of Campbell's Cream of Celery soup. Try as she might, my mother could not get me to consume another spoonful of my once favorite luncheon item. As for Mrs. Marris? I am so over her!

So, how have I found my current celery love? 

At Camp Blogaway in May 2103, Duda Farm Fresh provided a prom dress showing of pink and green stalks. If these do not change your opinion of celery, I don’t know what will!

One of my favorite salads is Chicken Salad Veronique from the Ina Garten’s Barefoot Contessa At Home cookbook.

Chicken Salad Veronique

Adapted from The Barefoot Contessa by Margie MacKenzie, Nutmeg Kitchens

Serves 6-8, easily increased to serve any amount


4 whole chicken breasts
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
2 cups Red Flame Grapes, halved
2 cups chopped celery
1 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons chopped tarragon, more for garnish
½-1 cup apple cider vinegar, depending on taste
Salt and pepper to taste
½ cup toasted pecans or walnuts – optional


Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Generously salt and pepper the chicken breasts and rub olive oil over them. Roast for 25-35 minutes, until the skin is golden and the flesh hits 160 degrees with an instant read thermometer. Allow chicken to cool. Chicken can be prepared one day in advance.

Once chicken is cooled, remove the skin and shred the meat off the bones. Dice the meat and set aside.

To assemble the salad:
Halve the grapes. Chop the celery – include some of the leaves for extra flavor.

For the dressing :
Place the mayonnaise, cider vinegar, tarragon and salt and pepper in a small bowl; whisk together and add more salt and pepper to taste (sometimes I even add a splash or two of hot sauce).

Place the cubed chicken, grapes and celery in a bowl; toss with the dressing. Refrigerate overnight, or up to 2 days. 

Allow the salad to come room temperature before serving. Garnish with chopped tarragon and optional nuts. Serve in a large serving bowl or on a platter on top of a bed of red leaf lettuce.

Note: If you don't want to go through the process of roasting and shredding chicken breasts, and you are a Costco shopper, look for vacuum-sealed packages of chicken breast meat in the deli refrigerator case, $11.99. This is meat from the plump, succulent, roasted chickens that do not sell on a given day. Costco birds have little additional seasoning so the breast meat is perfect for use in any recipe that calls for chicken breast meat. And it is REALLY tasty!! A great time-saver that provides excellent results!