Taking a dip

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“Did you miss me?”

A long-ago former co-worker used to always ask me that question when he returned from vacation.

I would often tease him by saying, “Were you gone?” even though I had, of course, missed his presence.

If I were to ask you readers the first question, I imagine you might also answer “Were you gone?” and actually mean it. After all, I haven’t been writing this blog for very long, so I likely haven’t built up enough of a following for the lack of a blog to be noticed.

But that’s what happened last week, and I have no excuse. Despite my resolve to write a blog every week, I just plain forgot. My usual writing day was sandwiched between two very busy days of working for the local school district’s technology department, which has been my summertime gig. Open houses at two schools took priority — and most of my energy — and because my schedule was different than previous weeks, I never sat down at the computer and wrote out the recipe that was to be the basis for last week’s musings.

So instead, you get it this week, and a day earlier than usual, since I don’t want to forget again. And luckily, it’s still sweet corn season, since that is the prime ingredient in this yummy dip. I made this as an appetizer for a gathering of friends a few weeks ago after hearing a chef talk about such a concoction on a TV program. That original version was a hot dip, baked in the oven, but since I was taking it to an outdoor gathering, I didn’t want to mess around with heating it. I believe the cold version is just as tasty, but it could certainly be baked until bubbly and brown on top.

Let’s Go For a (Sweet Corn) Dip

corndip2.jpg8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature

½ cup mayonnaise

½ cup Greek yogurt (or sour cream, if you prefer)

1 cup finely shredded sharp Cheddar cheese

1 jalapeno pepper, very finely minced

¼ cup chopped red pepper

¼ cup chopped Anaheim pepper

½ cup chopped onion

3 ears sweet corn, cooked (I used the microwave), cut from the cob

¼ teaspoon chili powder

¼ teaspoon seasoned salt

Combine all ingredients. Refrigerate for several hours to let flavors meld. Serve with tortilla chips, corn chips or cornbread crackers.

 

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Remembering Katherine

katherine pike hedeen

There’s an African proverb that says “It takes a village to raise a child.” It’s a concept I have pondered quite a bit in recent days as I reflect on the death of one of the chieftesses in my own “village.”

Katherine Hedeen, who died quite suddenly last week,  was one of my late mother’s very best friends. Her husband, Bill Hedeen, had been one of my father’s very best friends. The photos shown here are from a trip they all took to Europe in 1980.

I have known Katherine my entire life and can point to very particular influences she had on my life.

Younger than my siblings by 10 and eight years, I was also the youngest child among my parents’ close circle of friends. Consequently, I was brought along to parties and other gatherings more than my sister and brother, and I spent quite a bit of time with those adults.

Katherine, in particular, took an interest in me. She encouraged my love of reading by giving me books, even enrolling me in a children’s book club. I still have a few of those books in my collection and would never think of parting with them.

I knew Katherine to be a bit prim and proper (Mom always prompted me to send a prompt and proper thank-you note for those books), but she was also warm and caring and always interested in whatever I was doing, never failing to include me in the conversation. I also often attended the theater with my parents and the Hedeens, cultivating that interest, too.

When my brother Marty was battling cancer and Mom spent most of the summer of 1975 in Rochester with him, Katherine was one of several of her friends who stepped up to fill a motherly role for this then-12-year-old.

And Katherine also stepped up for me later in life, after my dear mom passed away in 2005 (my father Don having preceded her nine years prior).

Katherine made a point of calling me. She sent me emails. She invited me over for ice tea with lemon and brownies. On the occasion of my 50th birthday — a time when I was sharply feeling the absence of my birthday-loving momma — Katherine honored the occasion with a special gift, filling that void and touching my heart.

In recent years, the population of my village of elders has steadily declined, one by one. Katherine’s death is the most recent of many who influenced my life in one way or another.

There are only a handful of such people left, and I am feeling her loss quite keenly. When I attend Katherine’s memorial service tomorrow, there will likely be a few tears shed as I envision the reunion happening on a heavenly plain. But I imagine there is one heck of a bridge game going on up there, and the thought of that puts a smile on my face.

A perfect garden pairing

In our very small backyard, I don’t have room to grow any tomatoes, but that’s OK, because there are lots of tomatoes to be found at the local farmers markets. Besides, when I did grow tomatoes a number of years ago, I didn’t seem to have the knack for the luscious fruits. They always seemed to end up with blight or end rot or some other tomato malady.

FullSizeRender (23)But I do grow something that is a perfect partner for the tomato.

Basil.

Basil is by far my favorite herb. When it is flourishing in my backyard planters, I throw it in just about everything — pastas, soups, salads, vegetables.

But basil is really at its best when paired with tomato. The two are often planted side by side in the garden because they like the same growing conditions and seem to thrive during the hottest weather.

When the weather begins to turn cooler, I begin to squirrel away basil in my freezer (more on that later) for future use. But I’m not quite at that stage yet this year. Instead, I will make the most of the harvest in dishes such as this salad, one of my favorite latter summer side dishes. It’s so simple to put together and makes the most of that tomato-basil combination.

For the rice, you can use leftover rice, or I’ve used the quick-cooking variety or even those pre-cooked pouches that can be found in the grocery aisle. Rather that bottled dressing, I usually utilize the mix that comes in small envelopes in the dressing aisle, mixing it at home with red wine vinegar and olive oil.

Other vegetables, such as sliced cucumbers or broccoli florets, could be added to the salad, too, but I prefer the simplicity of the tomato and basil combo.

Simply Delicious Rice Salad

3 cups cold cooked rice

⅓ cup Italian dressing

2 tomatoes, diced

½ cup red onion, diced

¼ cup chopped basil

In a large bowl, combine all ingredients; toss well. Makes 6 servings.

 

Getting an earful

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One of my current means of gainful employment is paraprofessional subbing with the local school district. During one such gig earlier this year, I heard some kindergarteners telling knock-knock jokes, but they weren’t quite getting the format right. They would say the “knock-knock” part, but then would just insert nonsensical words instead of coming up with an actual pun.

So I resolved to teach them a real knock-knock joke, and happened upon this gem:

 

Knock, knock.

Who’s there?

Gorilla.

Gorilla, who?

Gorilla me a burger, please?

 

I’m not sure my young charges actually grasped the word play, but soon they were telling this joke to the janitor and the lunch ladies as we waited to get in line for food, and they continued to do so for several days in a row.

Yes, it’s truly a corny joke, but it was the best I could come up with and get 5-year-olds to repeat.

Which makes me think, how did the term “corny” ever get applied to bad jokes. Because to me, sweet corn season is no joke.

This week, I’ve been working my way through a bag of corn that was left on our doorstep by a good friend — a really good friend! — whose family grows some of the best ears around. The corn is sweet and delicious, needing nothing but some butter, salt and pepper to enhance its flavor.

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Since I usually only make a couple ears of corn at a time, I almost always use the microwave method for cooking it. Here’s how I do it:

Using a sharp knife, cut off the excess husk and stem at both ends of the ear. Remove the outermost layers of husk, leaving just a couple layers in place over the kernels. Loosen the remaining husk and run the ears under cold water, or soak in cold water for a few minutes.

Place in microwave and cook on high for 3 to 4 minutes, depending on number and size of ears, turning once in the process. Let ears sit for a few minutes to further steam the corn. Use hot pads or oven mitts to remove the husk and silk from the corn. You can also pull the husk back and use it as a handle for eating. Consume.

While it certainly isn’t the case with this batch of corn, occasionally you come across an ear or two that isn’t so sweet, or maybe it loses some flavor with an extended stay in the refrigerator. Such corn is the perfect candidate for making street corn, which utilizes 

mayonnaise instead of butter. Most often, this is referred to as Mexican Street Corn, but I’ve changed it up a bit, so I’m going to call it Minnesota Street Corn instead.

Minnesota Street Corn

¼ cup mayonnaise

½  cup grated Parmesan cheese

½ teaspoon chili powder

¼ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon ground pepper

½ teaspoon fresh basil, chopped

4 ears corn, husked and silk removed

 

Preheat grill.

Combine mayonnaise, Parmesan and seasonings. Spread a thin layer of the mixture over each ear of corn. Wrap ears in foil and place on grill.

Cook, turning occasionally, for about 10 minutes.