Canning Nostalgia One Strawberry at a Time

Canning is rough work but so worth it when there is the delicious reward of summertime fruit and veggies all winter long. Check out my article about canning strawberries in Umami…a recipe too, in case you are inspired.

Canning Nostalgia One Strawberry at a Time – via @umami_site


Strawberry Jelly – via @umami_site



A simple vinaigrette is an important recipe to have in your cooking repertoire. It can be used for classic lettuce salads, chopped seasonal veggie salads (shown here), and as a marinade for meat and fish. I like this recipe because I can add any number of flavor boosters to it like garlic and fresh herbs. Most of the time I make a big batch of vinaigrette but this basic formula can also be made very easily on the fly, in the bottom of your salad bowl before you add lettuce.

Vinaigrette – via @umami_site

Home Work Together

Several years ago my Mom and I created a family cookbook to capture the food and recipes of my grandparents.  We are in the process of updating it;  adding, editing, plucking and planting forgotten memories onto paper.  Here are two memories written by my Mom.

Sharing Work by Carol Berg O’Toole
My parents had a traditional marriage.  My father worked outside the home and my mother worked inside.

My dad never changed a diaper for any of my siblings but he always held the babies in the crook of his arm, for hours it seemed. He claimed his arthritic hands “needed” the hot water in the sink as he washed the dinner dishes and mashing potatoes was one of his specialties.

The kitchen duties rarely seemed to be women’s work. I think the esteem he showered on my mother’s accomplishments and the evening and weekend embrace of the household activities made the division of labor less gender based. He valued my mother’s accomplishments and showed it through small comments and his willingness to contribute.

On the day my mother made bread each week, my father would often bring an office friend home mid-afternoon for coffee and fresh rolls. Showing off to a friend and proud of my Mom’s skills.


Canning by Carol Berg O’Toole

Growing up we ate a lot of processed food. But processed food then meant fruit or vegetables grown in the garden, purchased directly from the farmer or procured at a discount from the grocery store because of its overripe status, and then canned by my parents.

Our canning recipes include just a few ingredients: the fruit or vegetable and salt or sugar, water or vinegar. Canning always occurred in the heat of the summer or early fall when produce was ripe and the kitchen was hot.

My parents canned together to get finished quickly while the produce was ready. My mother was the director of the operation, relying on some written recipes, and my father was the packer and chronicler. He wrote down yields, prices of the produce, variations in the recipe, and sometimes what we all were doing. Those notes became a treasured reminder of their teamwork and the “professionalism” of those doing it.

The canned goods were considered a very important part of our family tradition. They fed us all winter and we proudly packed them in baskets to give to family and friends as Christmas presents or housewarming gifts.

My father constructed a storeroom, painted orange because that’s the color he had leftover from some other project, to display the beautifully colored canned goods lined up on the shelves like soldiers. All winter we tasted summer with the bounty from the canning: chokecherry, grape and crap Apple jelly and apple butter, rhubarb and plum jam, pickled northern pike, sauerkraut, dill pickles, pears, plums, cherries, applesauce, peaches, chokecherry and grape juice.



When Organic Snacks Become Junk Food

Believe me.  I don’t want to get rid of all snacking pleasures but I do want to do better with the snacks at my house.  Click on the link below to read my latest article in Umami for a story of better snacking.

Better Eating with Umami: When Organic Snacks Become Junk Food – via @umami_site



The Great Bread Experiment

This is an article about my adventure cleaning up my kitchen using lots of advice from Mark Bittman and Michael Pollan.  It started with a loaf of bread in a very long grocery store bread aisle….image

Better Eating with Umami: The Bread Experiment | Umami – via @umami_site

Healthy Smoked Salmon Breakfast Toast

I love lox and bagels in its traditional form but it is too heavy in calories for every day breakfast.

In this lighter version, cream cheese is replaced with cottage cheese and the bagel is swapped with whole grain toast. It is livened up with shallots, lemon and dill.  It is breakfast toast that I can eat every day.


Healthy Smoked Salmon Breakfast Toast | Umami – via @umami_site

Cook Like Grandma

In a fit of food nostalgia not long ago, I asked my Mom for a lefsa recipe. She gave me this:


It is my Grandmother’s recipe and in typical, minimalist Doris Berg fashion the details are sketchy. “Big kettle of potatoes” doesn’t exactly tell me how many pounds or what kind of spuds, or how many gallons of water the kettle should hold. There are a couple mentions of ricing, when, exactly is unclear, no instructions about how you roll the dough, cook it or how much the recipe makes.

And this isn’t a one off, absentminded, leave out the procedures recipe, this is how all of my Grandmother’s recipes look.

Grandma and her best friend Marvel.
Grandma (left) and her best friend Marvel.

It isn’t surprising that her recipes are sparse. She didn’t use them and they are only written because someone asked her for them. Grandma knew how to cook from watching and cooking with her mom, by practicing a lot on her big family and by improvising with what was available. She didn’t have a choice not to cook.

Cooking then wasn’t optional like it is now. She didn’t have the choice to go out to eat, it cost too much for a big family and there weren’t that many options anyway. She didn’t, until much later, have the option of pre made meals in the freezer aisles or boxes of dried noodles with orange powder or pre assembled boxes of meals you can purchase on line. She wasn’t constantly bombarded with new health claims divised not by doctors but marketers. Big food wasn’t as big then.

Some would argue that she also had more time. Her kids didn’t do 8 billion outside of school activities. My grandparents were a one income household, that meant one person worked outside the home and the other worked inside. Life seems much more complicated now, though I am pretty sure she would have said that her life was super busy. The same sentiment that every woman I know says today.

So what has changed? Why don’t we cook anymore? Why can’t we find time? I think it has to do with a combination of not having the skills and not making it a priority.

So it made me start thinking about my own kids. How do I make sure that my kids learn how to cook like I did. How to I make sure that my kids learn the ins and outs of food and how it affects their bodies and health? How to I make sure they know how to shop for the best possible food they can get their hands on and prepare it for themselves or their family in simple ways that don’t take umpteen hours in the kitchen.

How do I instill in them the knowledge, love and respect I have for food and how do I make cooking not a burdensome task but rather a cheerful habit for them.

This is the beginning of a new project I will be writing about on Sunny Side. I have changed the settings to make it easier to comment directly into the blog. Please also share your own thoughts and follow me on Twitter at @eileenlotoole for frequent updates.