Category Archives: family memories

Cold Snap in SF and Tuna Primavera Casserole

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Yesterday was a wild spring day in San Francisco! When I woke up the windows were rattling, as sash windows do when it’s over 35 MPH, and the sky was looking decidedly dark. It was 45 F out, which is pretty cold here, and they said rain was coming so I put on lots of layers and my waterproof parka and headed to work. On the bus almost to Market Street I heard strange noises and realized it was rain and sleet!  People were scattering on the street for doorways like leaves in a strong wind. I have a 15 minute walk from the bus stop and so I zipped up tightly and headed off the bus, so grateful I was wearing my extra warm and fluffy Russian mohair shawl under all parka as it was verging on hail.

It was too windy for most of the walk to use the umbrella but the hooded parka was a blessing, for my upper half! I had soggy pants and shoes for the morning, alleviated by hot tea.  It did clear up to be sunny but icy cold and as the day wore on I really wanted to go home and make comfort food. I stopped at the FiDi Target and got some milk, broccoli, and fresh spinach, and a bottle of white wine.  On the way home I hit upon the idea of the ultimate comfort food, tuna noodle casserole, but I would add veggies, because I don’t eat enough of them, much to my shame, it’s hard to shop when we have bad weather and one  is on a budget.

Years ago my friend Pat shared her recipe on our recipe swap, and it was just like what my mom used to make. I had it bookmarked on my cell phone so I texted my sister while I was on the bus. What a fun exchange we had, remembering these great dishes when we were so very poor, and being forced to do the dreadful task of “just making a salad”.  My sis suggested putting breadcrumbs with Parmesan on top. I recalled that I had a little bit of buttery tasting club crackers in the breadbox, and we agreed that would work well.  She liked the vegetable addition idea and that reminded me of the necessity for peas, which happily I had in the freezer.  I also found a packet of fancy orecchiette pasta from Trader Joes, plus a can of their very fancy tuna.

I chopped the broccoli up a bit finer and sauteed the florets in butter, then added the damp, rinsed spinach, and a splash of the Pinot Gris. Once they were done, I added the peas, the milk, and the canned soup – this is how mom made it and nostalgia demanded I not deviate, although I could have easily rehydrated some mushrooms and made a bechamel. Sometimes comfort food’s appeal is that it is fast and easy, and I am fond of the cream of mushroom soup ubiquitous from my childhood.  I bashed up the club crackers and some good grated Parmesan using the wine bottle and a small ziplock bag and they were sprinkled on over the sauced orecchiette pasta.

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While the casserole baked I watched Mind of Chef and amused myself by the comparison of David Kinch’s exquisite cuisine compared to my humble tuna primavera casserole. I also knitted myself a mini cat in Kuma colors, which just made me grin so much, I even stuffed him so that he’s a bit plump like his namesake.

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The timer rang and the tuna primavera casserole was done! I scooped up a bowlful, poured some wine, and had a relaxing evening with Kuma at my side, coziness and comfort food moment achieved.

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Printable Recipe: Tuna Primavera Casserole

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Soup for a Duvet Day

This Saturday was a mellow day, I lounged around the house doing a bit of cooking, a bit of housework, and a bit of watching Netflix, but mostly I was snoozing on top of the bed while wearing fleecy sweats and wooley socks. When I was describing it to a British colleague he said, oh we call those “Duvet Days”! I love this term so much, I definitely had a wonderful Duvet Day this weekend.

After a slightly boozy cafe mocha or two and some toast while lounging on the duvet, I discovered a delightful Australian drama on Acorn TV which rivals Downton Abbey, set in post World War II in a small town named Inverness near Sidney. “A Place to call Home” has drama, romance, draconian grandmothers, illicit affairs, and blackmail make for perfect Saturday Duvet Days. Around 2 pm I started to feel peckish and nothing in the fridge and pantry terribly inspired me except I knew I had russet potatoes and a tub of sour cream in the fridge for a bodacious baked potato with a ribeye I had thawed that morning. But I really didn’t feel like having a steak for some reason, it felt like too much work and I really just wanted soup, and then I remembered the first dinner I ever made my family.

Growing up with my mom and sister being such amazing cooks, I learned a lot perched by their elbows. Even my father was a good cook and made what he called Turkey Bone soup after Thanksgiving every year, and blueberry pies in the summer. My mom had tons of lovely cookbooks, and I would take a pile of them and lie on my stomach on the cool tile floor of the entry hall to read. The light slanted in from the tall vertical pebbled windows surrounding the front door to the courtyard with the perfect brightness for reading and yet I was out from underfoot and could be left alone in peace. While reading, I would image what everything would taste like and wonder if we had the ingredients to make these things, and made a list of things I had never heard of before to ask mom later, or realize with a loud internal “AHA! *that’s* where mom got that recipe!” when I saw something utterly familiar. The Spice Islands Cookbook was a family favorite, the majority of the pages were spotted with stains and the book would fall open to those family favorites when the pages were ruffled.

One recipe caught my attention, Sour Cream Potato Soup, because I always loved baked potatoes, *and* it had cumin, my absolute favorite spice. I remember looking through the kitchen and realizing everything I needed was there, and it didn’t sound hard, and maybe mom would let me cook it for dinner. I was so excited about it, and yet it was just a small pot of soup, but my family was very kind about it and it really did taste good.


(A humble soup and yet so flavorful and unusual)

The purpose of the cookbook was to highlight the products made by Spice Islands, and to introduce spices to 50s housewives who were not terribly adventurous in the culinary department.  It is quite a varied cookbook in terms of cuisines and countries, since the spices are mostly sourced from “exotic locales”.  The recipes come out quite well using dried spices and herbs, which in the long ago pantries of bored housewives or wintertime, even in San Francisco, can be handy when fresh things are limited, or when one can’t be bothered to get out of pajamas to go grocery shopping.

I peeled a few potatoes and diced them, and assembled all of the soup ingredients while waiting for the dishwasher to finish its cycle.  Diced potatoes are simmered in a beef broth until tender, then mashed in the pan with a potato masher, which is very appealing to an 8 year old.  Cumin, beau monde seasoning, and black pepper are added to the pot, then cream thickened with arrowroot, and finally sour cream are stirred in.  A final handful of chervil finishes the soup, but I never seem to have chervil around, so fresh parsley made do. I had some turkey broth leftover from the Thanksgiving carcass so this time I used half turkey and half beef broth.

Another nap happened upon me while the soup was cooking, so I perked myself up to finish the cooking with a restorative cup of tea.  The soup was quickly ready, and as it was after 5:00 pm I had a tot of whiskey to wash down my initial mug of soup.  Another dram of whiskey and another mugful of soup made me feel so happy and content with the world and it tasted just as good as I remembered.

Next time you have a Duvet Day I hope you try making a pot of this soup.

Recipe:  Sour Cream Cumin Potato Soup