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No limits to mother’s creativity in kitchen

2/27/14 | By Paul Suplee, CEC PCIII

We knew it was inevitable.  Mom’s passing was an event that we all dreaded but understood given the many years she was blessed to be here.  She had a smile, a wit and a charisma that lit up a room.  The humor groomed over 86 years, a 43-year marriage, eight children, 17 grandchildren and six great- grandchildren was warped to say the least.

It was good to be the youngest of eight children; the baby, the caboose.  By the time I came around, our parents were fairly well spent.  I believe her moniker for me and my two older brothers was The Terrible Three.  With the help of my older brothers and sisters, I turned into the man I am today.  In hindsight, I guess I can blame them too, can’t I?

When I was in my teens I had a case of empty beer cans under my bed since my parents came home from a weekend trip early.  Being me, as many of you here know, I saw a squirrel and forgot about the cans.  On Tuesday my dad came in and lectured me, saying that he was looking for something and found the cans.  I held my head low, repented to my father, and then felt like Ralphie from Christmas Story when he said “I won’t tell your mother.  Don’t let it happen again.”

No more than an hour later, my nerves were on edge as the scene repeated itself with my mother, rife with consternation over her own discovery of the cans.  She concluded her sermon with sage words that I shall never forget when she said, “I won’t tell your dad. Don’t let it happen again.”

Mom was a culinary visionary.  Known for her Swamp Meat, Garbage (“gar-BAZH”) à Marie, Shrimp Creosote and Catch-as-catch-can, there were no limits to her creativity.  On one occasion, well before Spring Mix found its niche in America, she and Dad were hosting a party for executives from the National Gallery of Art.  Dad called home to say extra people were coming, and not having enough salad greens, mom went into the yard and picked dandelion greens, washed them and stretched the salad.  The salad was a smash hit and as far as I know, she never did divulge her secret source of high-end greens.

My mother outlived her parents and her husband’s parents by decades.  She made it on God’s green earth 14 years longer than Dad.  She had followers from around the world when it came to her jewelry design, and she never gave up.  She lived a full life.  Was it her fortitude?  Was it her drive that gave us this amazing woman well into her eighties?

I dare say that while these qualities had so much to do with her spunk and vigor, what was more contributory to her longevity was coffee.  She loved coffee and everything about it.  When Mom would have ‘just one cup’ of coffee, you could rest assured that it was a very, very large cup.  Some of us would often refer to them as ‘pots’.  In clearing out her house, we found well over 13 pounds of coffee in various forms.  She never ran out of coffee; one of her biggest fears.

Among the food qualities that my mother had (don’t forget that she had eight children and dad was a government worker, making frugality a necessity) was the ‘can room’ in the basement.  Her favorite store was in Hanover, Md., and she would buy all of the scratched and dented cans for pennies on the dollar.  Don’t worry; they never tried to push the bulging cans on us.

The result was a bomb shelter room in the basement in which stood hundreds of mystery cans.  Soup, dog food, cat food, vegetables and sauces all made their way into our meals.  I take that back.  Pet food was never part of our meal plan.

But one thing was sure; our meals were delicious, we were well fed, and rarely would there be less than 15 people around our table.  Mom was a great woman and a great entertainer.  She will be missed.  But I will just have to carry on her legacy with her famous Swamp Meat.

Swamp Meat    

makes 1 pie

14 sheets phyllo

Olive oil, as needed

1.5 pounds ground beef and lamb

1/2 medium white onion, diced

2 shallots, minced

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 tsp. cinnamon

1/8 tsp. nutmeg

salt and pepper to taste

1 pound baby spinach

2 eggs

12 oz. crumbled feta cheese

cornstarch, as needed

Cook meat, onion, shallots, garlic, spices until done, reserving liquid in the mixture

Add spinach and carefully toss until it wilts in

Set aside until cool enough to handle

Brush a spring form pan with oil and line with a sheet of phyllo with remaining edge dangling over the side

Follow this procedure, oiling in between each layer until you have seven layers on the bottom and side

Fold cheese and eggs into meat mixture thoroughly and then fill pie

Fold phyllo leaves over and press down

Add remaining layers of phyllo, pressing into pan with a brush

Bake in 350F oven until internal temperature is 165 and phyllo is golden and flaky

Let rest for half an hour before serving

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