Thursday, March 5, 2009

Small Hands, Big Lessons

Yesterday, I went to Saint Sebastian’s School in Middletown, where preschool teacher Nicole Milardo runs a 5-week after-school cooking club for students of all ages. I met kids from 5-12 years old, and took pictures of them for picture page that will run in Monday’s edition of The Middletown Press. The kids were elbow deep in chocolate chip cookie dough when I arrived, and gave me plenty of opportunities to laugh and smile as I observed them.
Above: Students of Saint Sebastian's School in Middletown make chocolate chip
cookie dough Wednesday, March 4, 2009 during a cooking club meeting.

Bella, a five-year-old in kindergarten, remarked to me about how her grandmother does a lot of cooking, when I asked them about who they help in the kitchen at home. When I queried a group of about 8 girls if they planned to share their cookies with their parents and siblings when they got home, I was met with a mixed chorus of “yeses,” and (more emphatic) “NO’s!”

Nicole Milardo, who runs the school’s cooking club, told me that she loves to cook, and wanted to share that with the students. She did admit that she prefers cooking to baking (like me) and said that Lisa Nettis, who is a paraprofessional in Milardo’s classroom, is the go-to person when it comes to baking.

Last week, at the club’s first meeting, the group made an oatmeal-based, no-bake, type of cookie, which, to Milardo’s dismay, the kids weren’t thrilled with. But this week, they watched, wide-eyed, full of ready-to-burst excitement as Milardo carefully removed the trays of hot cookies from the oven.Above: Students of Saint Sebastian's School in Middletown watch as Cooking Club
Nicole Milardo, who teaches preschool at Saint Sebastian's, takes a
sheet of chocolate
chip cookies out the oven Wednesday, March 4, 2009
during a cooking club meeting

The students, like my neice, Nadya, who regularly gets “culinary lessons” from my mother, seemed as excited at the prospect of warm, melty, chocolatey cookies as they were to dig their hands in the bowl of dough and get dirty. They are learning the lesson of what it means to create something with their own two hands, and the happiness that that creativity can bring themselves, and others.
Above:Top- Four-year-old Nadya Murphy decorates a cake for her grandfather,
under the guidance of her grandmother. Bottom- Murphy makes a homemade pizza
decorated with basil for eyes and bacon for a smiling mouth.

To view more photos of Saint Sebastian school students making chocolate chip cookies with teacher Nicole Milardo, go here, to the Press' online photo gallery.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Sister Sunday

I’m the middle child among three girls. My older sister, Mely, is 26, and lives in Colorado, with her husband Aaron, who is a Warrant Officer in the Army, and their new four-month-old son, Jackson (who I’m going to visit next week!). Angie, my younger sister, is 23, works as a pharmacy technician, is a full-time student at Uconn (graduating this spring) and has a four-year-old daughter, Nadya. Needless to say, Angie has a very busy schedule, but I’ve always been very close with my sisters, and in order to make sure Angie and I get a little time to see each other every week, we started having “Sister Sunday,” a weekly dinner date at my apartment, since we are both off from work and Nadya spends Sunday nights with her father. This Sunday, our mom joined us since my father is away for the week.

This week, we actually thought out our dinner in advance, and settled on linguine with scallops in a lemony wine sauce, and Caesar Salad on the side. It was a first for me, so I looked at a few different recipes and combined different elements from each that I thought would work, adding in a few of my own touches. Angie doesn’t cook. Usually, she sits at the kitchen table, or on one of the bar stools at the counter, munching happily on whatever appetizer I’ve set out for her (shrimp cocktail this week), while I cook. I don’t mind. She’s happy, I’m happy, and we have a great meal ahead of us.

So here is what I started with:

  • 1 pound of Spinach Linguine
  • 1 pound sea scallops, seasoned with salt and pepper
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 1 small yellow squash
  • 4 sprigs of fresh thyme
  • About 1 cup dry white wine
  • One lemon, zested and juiced
  • 2 stems of fresh basil, about 15 leaves, shredded
  • 1 tomato, chopped
Boil the water for the pasta, and begin cooking the scallops once you put the pasta in the boiling water. Boil the pasta according to the directions on the package. Heat about 2 tablespoons olive oil and 2 tablespoons butter over medium heat in a large skillet until they combine. Add the scallops and cook for about 3 minutes on each side, being careful not to overcook. Scoop the scallops out with a slotted spoon into a bowl, and cover with foil to keep warm. Pour the liquid cooked off of the scallops in a separate container to reserve. Add about 1 tablespoon of olive oil to the same pan and sauté the garlic and shallots for about 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Add the wine and cook off the alcohol for 5 minutes before adding the squash. Cook another 5 minutes, until squash is tender. Add the liquid reserved from cooking scallops and the lemon juice, and stir together. Add the cooked linguine, chopped tomatoes, thyme, and shredded basil. Stir together until pasta is coated in the sauce, and serve.

The only pitfall I experienced making this was the horror I felt when I realized that I forgot to pick up a bottle of my favorite white wine, a Luna di Luna chardonnay and pinot grigio blend, and since it was Sunday and we live in the great, conservative-on-liquor-sales state of Connecticut, ended up stuck using a bottle of COOKING WINE from the grocery store. Imagine.

I used basil and thyme from my Aerogarden, a Christmas gift from my parents that keeps on giving. I have fresh herbs year-round, and am never short on flavor. That, and, you pretty much can’t kill it. It lets you know when it needs watering, nutrients, etc. The grow lights even run on a timer to simulate daylight. Also, you can use it to grow cherry tomatoes, green beans, etc. So far, I’ve only used their herb pod kit, but it really is fail-proof and can’t wait to try growing something new.

We had our linguine with a Caesar salad tossed together quickly from a head of romaine lettuce, prepared croutons and creamy Caesar dressing, and grated parmesan cheese, with warm multigrain bread on the side.

The result was pretty good. The lemon-wine sauce was light but flavorful, with notes of basil and lemon combining to balance out the strong, sweet taste of the sea scallops. The tomato added a nice contrast to not only the color palate of the dish, but to the overall impression it leaves you with. I was very happy with the result and Angie told me that it was her favorite meal we’d had, out of all of our Sunday night dinners.

For dessert, I served some prepared tiramisu rounds and New York style cheesecake from the bakery at Stop and Shop. I chopped up a few strawberries, and tossed them with a teaspoon of sugar to get their juices flowing, and topped the cheesecake with them, and a sprig of mint (also from my Aerogarden). I finished my dessert platter off with a few whole strawberries. Our meal was complete and our bellies were full, and another “Sister Sunday” had passed.