April 19, 2019

Spring Has Sprung...Finally!

It's Good Friday of Easter week and Spring has finally arrived in the Northeast, at least in this corner of upstate New York...and none too soon! It was a fairly snowy and protracted winter, but, despite the official arrival of Spring in late March, in a matter of a few days (including a balmy warm one in the mid-70s two weeks earlier), the snow that had literally lightly covered the landscape in a last gasp snowstorm quickly melted away, and the large piles of accumulated snow that had persisted all winter gradually diminished and disappeared over the following few days.

Now that we are well into April, the likelihood of any further snows are remote, although we all know that it's not safe to put out tender plants before Memorial Day, when any chance of a freeze also is well past. We're looking ahead to a typical spate of nonstop "April showers" days (week-plus, actually), but the daytime temperatures finally are expected in the 60s and overnights are likely remaining above 40. It's all good, despite the rains, which I can use as some rough spots in my lawn needs some serious re-seeding. I'm glad to have Mother Nature's help with that this weekend and next week.

The grass, at least, is finally starting to green up a bit, but it's still early for us to see leaves on the trees here...it's just that much colder than most of the region south of New York, so it's fairly normal for our landscape to lag behind until early May, but then every thing suddenly explodes, from the forsythia to the magnolias to the apple blossoms and honeysuckle.

I have plenty of plants waiting to go outside (pretty geraniums in a pale pink and a bright fuchsia that I've wintered over for two years now - amazing!), so I'm trying to limit bringing any more plants into the house for lack of room in a bright, light area for them, but I couldn't resist a small pot of pansies (above) a week or so ago. I just needed that sweet reminder that life does begin again each spring and to embrace this season of renewal.

In late February, came across this decorative bunny and speckled egg "Happy Spring" wall plaque with other phrases in French (which I'd studied since 3rd Grade and all through school) at a local thrift store. I don't usually go for mass-produced art (having been an art major in college), but something about this piece spoke to me and decided I needed to bring it home and I'm glad to have it as a reminder to celebrate the beauty and renewal that is Spring, the Easter season and the mild sunny days that finally have started to arrive.

If you celebrate Easter or Passover, have a lovely holiday, and, if those aren't your focus, enjoy the season's flowers and welcome the arrival of Spring wherever you are!        

March 18, 2019

St. Patrick's Day & Nearly Spring

Hello, Spring - almost! I must say, it's a relief that the frigid temperatures and snows of winter are on their way out...finally! This wasn't the worst winter ever seen in this part of upstate New York, but it did feel much colder than others. I did break out the snowblower a couple of times, but not constantly, so I'm grateful for that. In fact, the last time we got any measurable snow here - about 2 inches - I opted to ignore it and let the warming sun and temperatures do the job. It worked, and in about two days there was no snow at all on my driveway - a most encouraging sign and a respite for my occasionally aching muscles.

A little over a year ago, I had a freak fall indoors at an event venue with a marble floor and fractured the top of my humerus (upper arm just below the shoulder). It healed very well over about 5 months, but the muscles still remind me that there had been some real trauma there, so I do feel them whenever I  lift heavier items or shovel snow, so I'm careful when I do that, if I do it. Having ridden and cared for horses for years, I was always accustomed to doing some real "heavy lifting", but I am not the 20-, 30-, 40- or even 50-something that I was back in decades when I did that, so the muscles are both long out of practice and are quick to let me know just how many years have passed since I was last in that regular habit.

Still, Spring is upon us and, after experiencing a rare 73-degree day last week, I'm am more than ready for it to kick in and leave the freezing temperatures far behind. St. Patrick's Day is the real beginning of Spring for me with all of its lovely "greenness" - shamrocks and the rolling land of the emerald "Old Sod" that is Ireland. My maternal grandmother was born and grew up in Northern Ireland before she emigrated to the US in her late teens, so I feel a real kinship to my Irish ancestors, though most scattered to other places - England and the US mostly - as far as I know. I have been to Ireland, but only once and for much too short of a visit. It was a wonderful experience, so I hope to return and visit the north (which I didn't get to earlier) and other areas that I haven't yet seen.

The Wade Pottery covered box shown above that I inherited from my mother is a classic example of a functional piece from the famous Irish pottery maker and always reminds me of my familial roots in Ireland. The cover features a typical "Irish Jaunting Cart" - I can just imagine my grandmother (or her mother or father) taking their small, stocky little cart or plow horse (or large pony) to town or to church in the early 1900s. My grandmother also was a horsewoman, of course, so, while that fascination skipped my mother (though she loved watching horse racing), it definitely landed firmly within my genes' DNA.

Of course, the whole St. Patrick's Day "corned beef and cabbage" traditional menu is entirely an American concoction as corned beef was, and is, not a "thing" in Ireland. Lamb was, and probably still is, the most prevalent meat consumed there, though the widely held perception of the questionable nature of Irish cuisine has long since given way to a real, and much-deserved, appreciation of some of the most wonderful indigenous dishes and foods. If you doubt me, go online and check out the cookbooks from the late Myrtle Allen and her daughter-in-law Darina Allen of the renowned Ballymalloe House on the southern coast near Cork, and its famous cooking school. They were, and still are, doing "farm-to-table" dining long before it was widely popularized in the US as something novel. Sadly, we lost Myrtle fairly recently, but she was a force and leaves a tremendous, lasting legacy in Irish hospitality and cuisine that Darina and her family have carried on.

It's more likely the Irish who migrated to American in the mid-late 1800s learned, like most of our earlier settlers in the New World, that "corning" beef (brining in liquid and seasonings and cooking over a low heat for hours) was a viable method for preserving the meat in order to extend its use for food consumption. 

Still, old habits die hard, so here's my take on the traditional American corned beef and cabbage this year. I confess, I have found that unless I'm feeding a small army for the occasion, I have much more corned beef left over than I'd care to deal with (and have to eat for days), so - forgive me - I opted to go with just some thickly sliced corned beef from my grocery's deli department this year. (Heresy, I know, but I don't care.) Instead, I focused my energies on the accompaniments - none of which were boiled! Seriously, unless you are making mashed potatoes or potato salad, why would you boil them just to eat them that way? So plain and boring - ugh! I do love potatoes, though, so I prepared my usual roasted red potatoes, skins on, of course, and tossed with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, sea salt, freshly ground pepper, garlic and onion powders, and thyme before roasting. While they were roasting, I sauteed some chopped cabbage and sweet golden onion (Vidalia, in this case), and roasted carrots that I peeled, halved and chopped into approximately 1-inch segments, and tossed with the same seasoning as the potatoes, minus the balsamic vinegar, before roasting. I then chopped a few pieces of carrot into even smaller dice to add to the cabbage.

Rather than the usual intense mustard straight from the jar to serve with the corned beef, which is much too tart for me, I made a variation of a favorite Dijonnaise sauce - a cold sauce of mayonnaise, some sour cream, and a grainy Dijon mustard, which provides just the right creamy yet spicy blend to compliment the corned beef. (It's also great with ham and pastrami and mixed in potato salad - just sayin'.) You also could add grated or prepared horseradish to taste if you like your mustard sauce with even more of a kick.

If you're not feeding a crowd, I heartily recommend this "short-cut" approach to the St. Patrick's Day feast as it requires none of the protracted cooking required - whether boiling (again - ugh!) or roasting low and slow (which is my preferred method when I must cook the corned beef). This whole meal can be pulled together in the time it takes to roast the vegetables in the oven at 375F to 400F for approx. 45-50 minutes (depending on the size of your pieces).  Just saute the cabbage and onion in a bit of butter while the other vegetables are roasting as I noted earlier. You can even warm the corned beef in the skillet for a minute or two right (to take the chill off from the fridge) after you've removed the cabbage-onion blend to a serving dish. Serve with your favorite Irish brew or beverage.


February 10, 2019

Very Familiar Valentine Cake

I was scrolling through my blog feed from as far back as 2009 and 2010, when I first started writing here, in search of an image of the heart-shaped Valentine cake that my mother made periodically in the 1960s when I was a child. I thought for sure I'd shared it before and had taken a photo of it, but all I could find was my description of the luscious cake and the cookbook from which the original recipe came, from February 2010:

"From my mother, I remember vividly the heart-shaped double layer cakes she baked for our Valentine's Day celebrations. Rich, tasty, golden, butter cakes made from scratch with sweet pink, strawberry flavored frosting.  I still have her vintage, old Duncan Hines cookbook with that cake recipe, but I haven't tried to replicate it yet. Maybe I will make it on Valentine's Day and revisit those wonderful, warm childhood memories of the people who affectionately launched my Valentine traditions."

Although I haven't been inclined to make the cake in recent years, not being a particularly adept baker or that fond of sweets, I was prompted to make the heart-shaped golden butter Valentine cake today, with its tasty pink frosting colored and flavored with strawberry. I added my own variation this time, inserting a thin layer raspberry preserves to separate the cake's two layers. The strawberry frosting can be quite strong and I wanted to replace it in the middle of the cake and thought a slightly contrasting raspberry flavor - one of my favorites - would be just the thing. The cake itself is also rich with eggs and butter, so I thought the combination of flavors could stand a bit of tweaking from my mother's original.

I still have my mother's well worn and dog-eared paperback copy of Adventures in Good Cooking and the Art of Carving - Famous Recipes - A Duncan Hines Book of recipes and tips for cooking and carving from people, restaurants and inns from around the country and Canada. It's a 1948 edition - the 18th printing and the year my parents were married - and a wonderful thing to have in my own library, placed among some of my mother's favorite cookbooks. Calling them favorites probably would be a bit of a stretch as she didn't have many cookbooks (while, by contrast, I have dozens and dozens!) and relied on certain recipes over the years of her lifetime as a wife and mother.

Like so many wives and mothers in the mid-20th century, my mother was a self-taught cook. She didn't love cooking as I do, but she was a more precise and exacting one than I am. I am a bit more adventurous cook in some ways, as I had the opportunity to travel to Europe with my father (and brother) when I was just 12 and taste some fairly exotic dishes (while my mother got a welcome 3-week break from having us underfoot that August), but she made very well the meals and dishes that she did prepare. Her food was uncomplicated and honest and always tasty, so that's really all that mattered at that point. I appreciated her interest in making nutritious and attractive meals for us even though she regarded it as much of a chore as keeping house...it didn't show and it certainly didn't deny us the hearty and satisfying meals we enjoyed at home every day.

I hope you have some special Valentine food traditions and special memories that go along with them.

Have a happy Valentine's Day! 

December 30, 2018

Holidays Overdrive: Thanksgiving to Christmas and the New Year en Route

When I looked back recently on the last three months of 2018, I realized I had quite a LOT going on, which is why I never got back to posting after mid-summer. I'm sorry about that, as I so enjoy reading others' blogs, and so many of those I follow year-round are totally diligent about posting and sharing regularly - a few times a week, if not more often. Some of those folks generate real income from their blogs, and my hat is off to them. Unfortunately, my life at the moment doesn't allow me the time to pursue that approach to my blogging, as evidenced by my lack of posts since summer.

While it might seem disappointing, as writing is something I do and have done professionally, it just isn't the time for me to dedicate a lot of energy to a personal blog, but I didn't want to give it up entirely. I will, however, get to posting more often at some point - maybe in 2020 after I've stopped working for others - finally! - and because seasons - spring, summer, autumn and the holidays - are among my favorites and are always rich with inspiration. (Winter, I'm sorry to say, isn't my favorite and probably never will be until I can spend it somewhere a bit warmer than upstate New York.)

Autumn, in fact,  probably is my most favorite season of the year, but this autumn was loaded with other activities for me, and the most unseasonable autumn weather that I've experienced here in the Northeast in years, if not ever. It was damn cold and snowy far earlier in the year than we normally see...it was frigid, snowy, icy and, in a word, just plan awful more than it was lovely and gorgeous. The only saving grace was the autumn color, which was quite late to emerge into peak foliage this year, but we did see it, for a while anyway.

By early November, I had survived the siege of Halloween (never my favorite holiday for various reasons), but I have to say, I was very impressed with the politeness of the young trick-or-treaters who rang my doorbell this year. That was quite a pleasant treat for me, so, while I might have questions about the GenXers, this latest generation of young adolescents does give one hope for the future. I hope those I encountered are the norm and not the exception in their generation. And the doorbell ringing ended fairly early (by 7:30pm) at my home, which was a blissful relief. I think the more overzealous teenagers, who, to be honest, are too-old-to-be trick-or-treaters, might just have "aged out" in my neighborhood and did not appear this year as they had in the past. I'm thankful for that small favor, for sure.

One of the more fun things I do like to do in mid-October is an annual country church sale to benefit the local congregation. It's a fun sale and auction that offers something for everyone and I'm happy to say I have become an ace "picker" of vintage items, so I was thrilled to find, at the bottom of a box of dusty and dirty pots and pans, a perfect, bright yellow enameled saute pan. I wasn't certain, but I suspected, at first glance, that it was a bonafide Dansk enamelware pan covered in a thin layer of dust and grime. That might have been a bit daunting to some, but I usually can tell, despite the dust and grime, whether an item is a true "diamond in the rough" and there no other indication of damage or use on this lovely pan, so I knew that it would clean up beautifully. I snagged it for the astounding price of $3! Truly a steal! These older pans from Dansk usually sell for upwards of $50 as they are becoming increasingly hard to find in such pristine condition. What a satisfying score!

Along with this nice pan. I also purchased a couple of older, vintage cookbooks in the burgeoning book tent, for a whopping 50cents total! That's what makes the sale so great -- simply great stuff for very little money. So little, in fact, that I often give the salesclerks at each area of the sale where I purchase items more than they're asking for in payent - it's all for a good cause in one of my favorite communities, so I appreciate the insane bargains.

I always have had a special affinity for housewares, particularly those involving cooking and dining. I still have a classic, fabric covered ring binder in which I'd saved decorating and cooking/dining pages from old issues of Glamour and Mademoiselle magazines from when I was a young teenager (we're talking mid-1960s here - when Julia Child's program, "The French Chef", was just beginning to appear on public television.) I think I have been "nesting" mentally since I was about 13 and my tastes were just starting to forming. Of course, my taste in decorating and cooking/dining certainly have changed and evolved since as I have aged, but I've always been drawn to classic items with traditional style. I liked contemporary when it was the thing in the 1970s, but by the early 1980s, my taste (and lifestyle with horses) had evolved to the point of preferring the English country manor house style as I traveled more in my 20s and 30s. I've pretty much stayed in that genre ever since from an architecture and decorating perspective, and have gradually edited my collection of items - plates, linens, etc - to refine that taste and add only very well made and well designed, classic items. That said, even though Dansk is considered a mid-century modern brand, I've always liked their items for their clean simplicity, hence the appeal of the yellow saute pan.

Thanksgiving and Christmas were literally a blur of activity for me - no travel involved, fortunately, but way too much snow way too early in November, which kind of took away a bit of the glow of the holiday season, making the first snow a bit less special than it would have been with the arrival of Thanksgiving and early December. Notice also, that given the calendar this year, Thanksgiving arrived on what I think was its typically earliest date on November 22 -- a good 9 days before the first of December, so it pushed the arrival of the "holiday" season fairly early in November.  That seemed a bit odd, but I'm sure is what contributed to a robust holiday shopping season for most retailers.

My Thanksgiving celebration centered around dinner with three other long-time friends I've know through horses for decades - we've all known each other for between 15 and 30 years, so a genial group and a fine dinner that I helped to prepare. We are all meat-eaters and the turkey provided by our hostess was cooked well and happily enjoyed. As I often do, I used some of my left-overs to make several turkey mini-pot pies, which has become one of my favorite ways to use up left-over turkey. I don't follow any particular recipe and confess I do use store-bought crust because I don't usually have the energy to make a crust from scratch. To the cooked meat, I add whatever I have readily available - some sauteed onion and celery chopped into small pieces, chopped roasted carrots, some herbs - thyme, primarily, salt, pepper, garlic powder and some gravy - whatever is ready to go and easy to add. I often cut out a turkey-shaped piece of pie crust to put on top of the pie, so it adds a festive touch and helps identify what type of meat is included. So far, I haven't had any complaints on these tasty little "personal pan pies" so far.

 Christmas was, after a frenzy of activity leading up to the holiday, a blissfully quiet day for me. No complaints about that at all after a busy late summer and autumn season. I'll take it as a quiet time to savor the season and reflect on my many blessings. And we even did get a bit of snow - just a dusting, fortunately - on the morning of Christmas eve to add a festive touch to the holiday flavor, but not so much snow as to make travel hazardous here. Phew.

Above are a few scenes from the holiday decorations outside my home this December. I had to trim some low-hanging branches from a cedar tree next to my house and I decided to use them as a big, pot of seasonal greenery on the bench on my porch. I also had gotten some pre-lit faux greenery garland and strung that on the fencing beyond my patio - that gave a nice glow to the yard each evening. I'll be pulling it down and putting it away after New Year's...but it has been a treat to enjoy these nice seasonal holiday touches.

Now, the new year is upon us. No resolutions for me - I'm just resolved to do good things for others and be kind. I have much to be thankful for in my life, and much to look forward to in 2019, so I'm wishing you all the happiest and healthiest of years ahead - and thanks for reading along!

August 25, 2018

Happy Places and Secret Spaces

It's hard to believe that summer is bolting past...literally bolting. It has been a bit of an erratic one -- either very hot and humid (90s were not unusual and more expected this week) or raining. Only in the past few days have we had some heavenly days with warm, sunny weather and lovely cool evenings - great for sleeping after some pretty uncomfortable nights in the past month or two.

I don't want to get into global warming, but, boy, this is not the typical summer weather of my childhood, so, clearly, something is happening here. Mother Nature does NOT lie and when she starts shifting the norm, she is not her usual self. Just sayin'...

August always brings me to one of my most happy places in the world (that is not my home) and it is located not far from me in Saratoga Springs. As a horse person, I grew up going to the races there in August from the time I was about 7 years old. (I began riding at age 9.) Over the past several decades since my early years at the track, the racing season there has been extended from just 24 days in August to 40 racing days over six weeks from mid-July through Labor Day. And what was, in my childhood, a popular attraction has since become a massive one, attracting upwards of 25,000 people to enjoy the races on an average day, to a maximum of 50,000 on it's biggest racing day, Travers Stakes Day, which is usually the next-to-last Saturday of the meeting.

I still love going to the track, but I prefer a quieter time over wrestling with huge crowds on the venue's biggest day, and along with that, I really love finding special places in the area that many people either don't know about or just don't notice. Among them are three of my favorites over the years, including:

The Courtyard Garden at the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame located on Union Avenue - a beautiful tree-lined boulevard that separates the main race course grandstand and grounds from its Oklahoma Training Track. This "vest-pocket" dedicated space, just east of the museum's main entrance, is on the east side of the building and is defined by a low iron fence that encloses this tiny garden's perimeter. An inviting oasis along Union Avenue with its bubbling tiered fountain, the garden is a delightful haven away from the fray just beyond its soothing environs.

One of the featured elements within the garden is the large, historic wrought iron gate from legendary Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, Maryland - home of the second jewel in racing's "Triple Crown" - the Preakness Stakes. This elegant and elaborate gate dates to 1870, when Pimlico was built, and it stood there until 1966 when a fire destroyed the clubhouse nearby.     

Just a short stroll to the east of the museum is the Oklahoma Training Track.
A special favorite place and time of day are the early morning hours at the aforementioned Oklahoma Training Track that is near (across the street) the main race course. This training facility is called "Oklahoma" for its "far-flung" distance from the main track. It's actually nearby, but for some - probably those who had to walked from the backstretch of the main track to one of to the barn areas at the training track - which can take a good 20-30 minutes, depending on one's pace - must have seemed as far away as Oklahoma is from New York state many years ago...and the name stuck.

There is, at Oklahoma (the training track), a lovely newer structure that calls to mind the facility's historic past in the form of the Whitney Viewing Stand. It is a structure built and dedicated in 2013 to commemorate the 150th anniversary of racing in Saratoga. Yes, horses have been racing there for more than 150 years - and I've been going there for 55 of them! (I remember the celebration of the centennial of racing in Saratoga that occurred back in 1963 - I was, of course, a child.)

The newer Whitney Viewing Stand is modeled after a traditional "judge's viewing stand" where race track officials once stood overlooking the main race track in the era long before cameras and digital video. The original viewing stand is long gone (though the track still employs patrol judges stationed at stands - elevated platforms - at points around the race track, along with an array of cameras recording the action during each race, to ensure that the sport is conducted fairly and in accordance with the rules of racing.

This newer viewing stand was built at the training track to provide a raised vantage point for horse trainers, owners and visitors to stand to enable them watch their horses train in the morning hours. THere were one or two much smaller stands - maybe 3 feet off the ground - for trainers to use, but there was nothing designed to invite the public to join them when the training track is in operation and open to the public visitors. (This is a training facility only, so there is no grandstand.)

The Whitney Viewing Stand is hard to miss - it stands high above most of the buildings and barns nearby that house horses, stable staff and maintenance facilities for the race courses, designed in the style of the distinctive Victorian architecture that characterizes the main race course.         

Training at Oklahoma occurs from mid-April to mid-November and is open to the public at no charge on weekends only during the "shoulder seasons" when the race meeting is not operating (usually from 8-10am, but they'll usually let you in a little earlier). During the racing season (mid-late July through Labor Day), the Oklahoma track is open on racing days (Wednesday through Monday). Even if you're not in the area during the racing season, if you're nearby on a weekend, make the effort to get up early and check out the scene at the training track...it's a fascinating place!

If you're ready to move on, a short stroll (less than a mile) to the east is the rose garden at the renowned artists' retreat known as "Yaddo." Established at the historic property built by financier Spencer Trask in the late 1800s. Many a celebrated writer and artist have spent periods of productive time in the quiet idyllic surroundings of thie beautiful estate. Although the main buildings are not open to the public, the adjacent rose garden is open daily from dawn until dusk and, as with the other sites mentioned above, there is no admission cost to visit them.

Find more information on each of my favorite special places in Saratoga Springs on their respective websites (and in the case of the viewing stand, local tourism sites, since the race track's site isn't very detailed regarding either the training track or its viewing stand):

National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame

Saratoga's Oklahoma Training Track and Viewing Stand (Note the information is dated, but it's worth checking with the security guard on site if you wish to visit)

Yaddo Rose Garden

July 1, 2018

Hot, Hot, Hot Heralds July's Arrival

It's hot, hot, hot and steamy in the Northeast, and in upstate northeastern New York, with temperatures pushing the 90s for the past two days and expected to continue for five more days. It's just plain hot and not normally this hot in late June/early July, nor for such an extended period. Call it global warming (I'll say!) or whatever you want, but it is not typical at this time of year. Sure, we can get some hot and humid days in summer, but usually they don't arrive until late July and August, so this is not the nicest time to be suddenly so warm and uncomfortable. But we endure...

Despite the unseasonable heat, I pulled out the July 4th storage box of goodies, including this lovely pair of bunnies all decked out for the Independence Day holiday this week, along with a few other items I keep for holiday celebrations. In the past, I've put them on my rockers on the front porch, but I think it's a bit too hot to leave them out in the blazing sun this year, so they're staying nice and cool sharing a lovely weathered folding deck chair indoors.

As many have noted, July 4 falling on a Wednesday is slightly awkward timing this year, though many folks still enjoy having a mid-week celebration to break up the work week or summer vacation period. I'm happy to have a nice shorter work week and will be attending my favorite local parade early in the morning on the 4th before it gets too hot for man or beast!   

On a related note, my aged washing machine's drive belt gave up the ghost about two weeks ago, so I finally had to bite the bullet while awaiting a replacement belt and took my laundry to the -- ugh -- laundromat nearby early this morning, when it was both cooler (and air conditioned) and fairly empty. I'm not a fan of laundromats, but when push comes to shove, I needed to have some clean clothes so I took my wash to the big machines and just ran them through a full cycle. I brought them home to dry, since the dryer is working fine. Still, I don't love doing laundry or running the dryer when it's so unbearably hot outside, but I got it done as early as I could so as not to have it throwing off any heat in the house for too long. Needless to say, I won't be doing any cooking that requires the use of the oven during the next week, either. It's just too hot for that, too, so cold items and salads are the order of the week now.

After a short trip to do some grocery shopping and then returning home to water my plants and veggies that I'm growing (or summering) outdoors - the radishes, leaf lettuce, herbs and annuals (some of which have survived the winter indoors for two years!) are all doing well, I'm staying squarely parked indoors and doing a bit of indoor sorting, tossing and organizing. It is an endless task, but I'm keen to make a dent in the accumulated stuff and keep the volume under a bit better control.

Stay cool and enjoy a safe and pleasant July 4th holiday!     

March 25, 2018

The Promise of Spring...

One would be hard-pressed to believe that Spring actually had arrived earlier this week, when the snows of winter seemed to resist the appeal of the new season by depositing yet another deluge of the frozen white stuff on coastal New Jersey, New York, and New England areas - the fourth Nor'easter of the previous fortnight! It was enough.

Fortunately, the "Four'easter," as the media cleverly dubbed it, managed to avoid my area of upstate New York, by about 30 miles, so we were unscathed (phew!) by yet another ocean blast of the white stuff, but there's still a decent amount of snow still on the ground, though gradually fading.

I fully expect the remaining snow to diminish in the next week, and perhaps be completely melted by Easter Sunday, with temperatures finally returning to the normal (40s-50s) range expected in late March. One can only hope for that, but there are plenty of other reasons to go ahead and readily embrace the arrival of the Spring season - particularly in the kitchen.

It has been a long and cold winter, so the prospect of replacing the hearty, warming appeal of winter's heavier "comfort food" (and the pounds they often can add!) to the lighter, fresh fare of the spring season - first of the season salad greens, lemon and asparagus, etc.

I also decided to use the seasonal change in menu to see if I could skip a routine trip to the nearby grocery store and whether I could make several meals out of the contents of my refrigerator and freezer, along with the pantry staples I already had on hand. It was a fairly easy decision to make a light and tasty pasta primavera with some pennette pasta, turkey bacon, sauteed golden onion, frozen peas and chives, and some grated Asiago cheese.

The good news is that I used only a half of the box of pasta, which resulted in enough pasta for several dinners and lunches. I also have a jar of creamy Alfredo sauce for pasta and some shredded cheddar and Italian cheese blend, so I'll add some of those to create a "primavera" variation on baked macaroni and cheese. A little heavier than the basic pasta primavera, but enough to make it interesting and a little different than the original.

And that's just the beginning. I've got some frozen salmon fillets, a bit of frozen shrimp, some frozen left-over vegetable lasagna, some frozen spinach and puff pastry for spanakopita, fresh carrots and plenty of frozen turkey stock and soup base for Florentine chicken soup with pasta and spinach, along with some tasty fish bakes or stews.

Sometimes it just takes a long-awaited change of season to inspire a change in approach to cooking and dining as the weather finally starts to warm and the birds begin to chip and sing!