Summer surprise at your local neighborhood mall

A few weeks ago, I made a quick trip to Austin to help my daughter pack up her sweet first home. It is a bittersweet time for their little family because they are leaving not only a house they built (only 2 years ago) where their daughter was born, but also a community of friends and my son-in-law’s family. But it’s also an exciting period in their lives — new job, moving back to their college town and of course, being so much closer to Cookie (moi)!

During our packing endeavors, we stopped to pursue sustenance and our hunger transported us to the Domain at the north end of Austin. My daughter had been sharing how much she loves the food at North Italia and with 7 month baby in tow, we decided to pursue a late lunch at the restaurant. Unfortunately, North Italia did not want to impress us on that day…having no available indoor seating for two women and a high chair. At 1:30pm they were still holding tables for reservations. 😠

So back in the car, stomachs grumbling we had to make a quick decision…where could we enjoy a nice lunch with a/c guaranteed and where I could find a Whole30-compliant-ish meal? I suggested the cafe at Nordstrom and because she had never been, we acted. Of course there was available seating on Friday at 1:45 pm, and we were so welcomed by a lovely server who cooed and played peek-a-boo with our infant. We immediately felt relieved when we dropped into our soothingly cool booth at Cafe Bazille and began to peruse the menu.

Charming service aside, we had the loveliest lunch. We started with Cauliflower “Wings” — deep-fried florets of the sweet vegetable, basted in Buffalo sauce. Wow. Amazing. Delish. But the star of my lunch show was the Wild Salmon Nicoise Salad. And aside from the few tidbits that I sacrificed to share with sweet Clara, I’m pretty sure I licked my plate clean. The perfectly cooked salmon fillet with an herby chimichurri, tender but still firm fingerling potatoes, perfectly steamed haricot vert, wedges of hardboiled egg, briny olives, grape tomatoes and a drizzle of amazing Dijon Balsamic vinaigrette…I’m still thinking about that salad so I am going to duplicate it for my customers. My version is on the menu this week!

So what began as a meal-fail, ended in lunchtime success. Bazille 1, North Italia 0.

Let's Community Sup, shall we?

pot·luck

/ˌpätˈlək/ noun

a meal or party to which each of the guests contributes a dish

and also

used in reference to a situation in which one must take a chance that whatever is available will prove to be good or acceptable. e.g. "he could take potluck in a town not noted for its hotels"

This latter definition may be the reason I do not particularly care for the term “Potluck” when it refers to a community supper. Who really wants to “take a chance” on food items?? It’s as though the message is “who knows what you’ll find here…it might be great or it might be horrible, so good luck with that.” Pretty low expectations abound when heading to a “Potluck!”

I have a problem with the word, potluck, but not with the concept. I grew up on church potluck suppers where everyone would contribute a main course, side/salad or dessert. My daddy was a preacher and a Potluck Pro. How could he not be? Every sweet lady in the congregation wanted Pastor Tom to try her famous dish and compliment it’s tastiness. I remember his plate being piled so high and thick with different dishes that he couldn’t possibly tell where the squash casserole began and the bean salad ended. And the desserts! Dad had such a weakness for sweets…cakes, cookies, pie, strudel, puddings, they were all loved and loved well.

As the children of our father, we were a little less enthusiastic about the potlucks. Our mom was a great cook and yet I managed to be picky at home, so obviously I was not as trusting as Dad when we entered the fellowship halls where these meals were held. I think there are 3 types of Potluck Participants in this world.

  1. The Potluck Pro, i.e., my dad. Loves to try everything, will have seconds of anything, can’t wait to attend the casserole free-for-all. Maybe these individuals are not well-fed at home so the supper is a treat or as in my father’s case, he just loves food.

  2. The Polite Nibbler - most individuals fall into this category, I imagine. They will sample their friends’ dishes and a few others that look appetizing. This person also realizes there are sometimes a few culinary surprises in the spread and if you carefully look down the entire table before beginning, you might actually find a dish for which you would like to copy the recipe.

  3. The Potluck Snob - this person ONLY eats what his/her spouse or parent has brought to the party. End of story. No exceptions. They don’t trust other home cooks and they would rather dine on a meal they’ve eaten 50 times than be disappointed in something new.

So back to my respect for Community Suppers. I really think they’re pretty fabulous. We attended a July Fourth party at some friends’ home last week at which the hosts provided the main course (burgers, hot dogs) and dessert (decadent ice cream cake). The guests were asked to bring whatever they wanted as long as they commented on the Facebook invitation so everyone knew what was coming. From this diverse group of young families, empty nesters, singles and college kids came the following offerings:

7 layer dip, spicy sausage balls, corn & jalapeno dip, baked beans, potato salad, curried cauliflower, grilled veggie pasta salad, fruit kabobs, barley and walnut salad, cookies, shredded bbq chicken, gluten-free cheesecake bars

It was quite the spread and such a fun way to get together. The hosts didn’t have to provide everything, which made it a less stressful day for them. The guests were given the sense that they contributed to the festivities and could freely partake. And the point is to be together, sharing a meal around a community table…not to lay out a gourmet spread that someone might be intimidated by. Everyone ate well, at least until the poolside karaoke began. It was a win-win all around. Just don’t call it a potluck, please.

The Last Dance

Our youngest graduates from college in three weeks. That’s 21 days. Approximately 504 hours. I am blown away by this impending milestone. It’s so cliche to say that these past four years went by so fast, but wow. I feel like we stepped into a time tunnel and warped our way to this point. I can see all of our experiences from this period in our lives—the parents’ weekends, football games, fraternity events, semester abroad, dorm life, spring breaks, internships, honors classes, baseball games, fun runs—along the walls of this weird time continuum funnel so I know I WAS THERE. And yet, it’s also a blur, one year blending into the next.

Because you see, this is our final parenting hurrah. Not that he’s needed much parenting lately…he is most definitely ready for adulthood. Last weekend we looked at apartments for his post-graduate move in August. We talked about amenities he’d like to have, proximity to his job, the perks of walkability to restaurants and shopping. I provided my opinion and suggestions but I am fully aware that I will not be making this choice for him. In the past, his father and I were funding all of his housing, so of course, we were heavily involved in the final decision. But for this move, it’s his call, and he is ready and able to make it.

On May 11, I think my husband and I will turn to each other tearfully and whisper- “we did it!” Our fourth chick has successfully completed higher education and is flying from the nest. It will be an emotional day; I am honored that God gave me the responsibility to raise, nurture and teach these amazing people when He made me their Mom. And I know, I’m still Mom. We’re in a different phase now—with Dad and I giving advice on taxes, career changes, breast feeding and meal planning for a growing family. However, that ultimate responsibility…when you are the final word on what’s best for your child, that time is over.

Last weekend, James’ fraternity hosted their mothers in Ft. Worth. One of the events was an hour of country dance lessons at Billy Bob’s. There’s always lots of laughter, some lips bitten in concentration, and a few injured toes. We had so much fun and as we took to the floor for the Cotton-eyed Joe, I felt it was a metaphor for my role as Mom. The last dance of the night, a few steps back, shuffling forward, hand in hand, but easily and more confidently with each step. And when the music speeds up, it’s just like time…moving faster and faster…so all you can do is laugh and try to keep up. 💓

So much more than a pot pie

Random new acquaintance - So, do you work outside the home?

Me - Yes, I operate a gourmet foods business—specializing in pot pies.

Pause. Polite smile. Her - Oh. How interesting. (translation: not.)

This is a recurring conversation for me…different venue, new face, same expression. Sometimes I just let it slide, content to have them think that Butterfield Gourmet is nothing special. Other times I emphasize some of the other facets of the business, for instance, the holiday gift boxes which we ship all over the U.S. On other occasions, I have shared my love of writing stories and how this business provides a creative outlet for me.

However, the fact remains that Chicken Pot Pies are pretty tasty. Tender chicken, sweet peas, savory gravy are packaged in a perfectly flaky crust, forked to your mouth hot and fresh to the delight of your digestive system. And it’s a simple meal—training from culinary school is not required in order to create the satisfaction of a chicken pot pie. Many of us ate pot pies growing up, whether Grandma made one from scratch, Mom heated Marie Calendar’s frozen version, or Dad filled a casserole with chicken stew and topped it with refrigerator biscuits, we all have a memory of the ubiquitous dish.

My pot pie “journey” began with a pie crust obsession in 1988, and thence continuing to make a savory pie for dinner every single week. Later, I always made a pot pie when I took a meal to anyone- a friend who’d had a baby or a grieving church member or a new neighbor. Truly, there is always someone in need of a hot, home-cooked meal.

But is it really a pot pie that they need, or is it more? Is it what the flaky-crusted dinner symbolizes? That someone cares about you. That we know you’re hurting and don’t know what to say. That we realize you are exhausted and don’t have time to take care of yourself. That you deserve an easy, comforting meal with no hassle. That we are happy to know you.

I’ve heard many stories since I began this career as a pie purveyor. I had a gentleman visit my stand at the St. Michael’s Farmers Market a few years ago and he became a regular, purchasing the Home Sweet Home chicken pot pies each week. Once I tried to convince him to try other flavors but he explained that as he was currently undergoing chemotherapy, the chicken pot pies were the perfect meal as they never upset his stomach. (pot pie = health food)

A customer who had purchased 30+ pot pies for the holidays shared with me how she and her husband had gifted them to friends, neighbors, and work associates and how impactful these gifts were. Because the couple delivered each pie in person, pausing to visit with their recipients, it was so much more than a delicious present; it was a gift of their time during an incredibly busy season. (pot pie = friendship)

Over the past year, our children have experienced the joy of adding to their families. It’s difficult for me, as Mom, to see them struggle with sleep deprivation, new parent anxiety and the challenges of finding balance between their formerly child-free lives and currently child-rules-our-lives. I cannot help them with most of these experiences except by listening and giving occasional advice, if asked. They have to find their way. But I always know that I CAN provide a hot meal, or several pot pies for the freezer for those nights when they have no time to consider how to nourish their own bodies, while caring for their little ones. And that gives me great satisfaction. (pot pie = mom)

So it’s not just a chicken pot pie. It is love, compassion, grace, friendship, joy, comfort, empathy, reassurance, forgiveness and community. And that’s pretty darn special. 😊

If you’ve been blessed with a gift of a Butterfield Gourmet pot pie (or any other comfort food) we would love to hear your story in the comments below!

2019 - Feeding Body & Soul

One of my goals this year is to keep on cooking. Surprised? Of course not- anyone who knows me is aware that it’s part of my chemical makeup to work and play in the kitchen. In the Butterfield Gourmet shop we were cooking for the holidays right up through the Friday before Christmas. After we hung the “Closed for the Holidays” sign on December 21, the cooking didn’t stop, though the venue changed. Here’s a look at some of the culinary endeavors that occurred when we were NOT at Butterfield Gourmet.

December 21 - Chicken Vegetable Soup

December 22 - Korean Cooking Class*

December 23 - Grilled Lamb Chops, Double-Baked Potatoes, Roasted Broccoli, Salad, Tiramisu*

December 25 - Cinnamon Rolls for Breakfast; Roasted Prime Rib Roast with Bourbon Sauce and Horseradish Cream, Butter Poached Lobster Tails, Potato Pavé, Creamed Spinach, Winter Citrus Salad, Homemade Butter Rolls and Chocolate-Espresso Buche de Noel for dessert

December 29 - Beef Stroganoff (leftover rib roast!), Roasted Broccoli, Homemade Butter Rolls

December 30 - Baked Potato Soup, Green Salad

January 1 - New Cinnamon sweet roll recipe - fabulous; Glazed ham, Au Gratin Potatoes, Roasted Vegetables

January 2 - Italian Feast: Sausage, Rosemary & Pesto Pasta, Meatballs on Polenta Crostini, Caesar Salad, Garlic Spinach*

January 3 - Butterfield Beef Pot Pies for my daughter’s freezer

January 4 - Smoked Beef Brisket experiment in the Green Egg, Creamed Corn*

January 5 - Asian Feast: Pot Stickers, Spicy Chicken Wings, Pork Fried Rice, Sesame Chicken with Broccoli*

January 6 - Grilled Salmon and Asparagus, Roasted Red Potatoes*

January 7 - Nashville Hot Chicken, Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

Most of the meals/menus listed above were cooked/baked by me alone. Sometimes I feel like I can’t escape the kitchen; when I’m at work, I’m at the stove making soup or rolling out pie crust. While at home, I’m “fixing dinner” while my husband and son are catching a game on TV. But the best experiences from the above list are marked with an * and signify the meals that I worked with one of my family members to create.

So what I really want to do differently in 2019 is I want to cook fewer dishes alone and more meals with my loved ones. There was a time when my experience at the stove was at a medium level and working solo was the best way to successfully complete a meal. In those early days, if anyone—kids, dinner guests, parents—tried to help, they were often delegated to make the salad because a) you can’t mess up a salad and b) it ensured the helpers stayed clear of my prep zone. Nowadays, I direct my staff in helping me create the menu items that grace many familys’ tables on an everyday basis. I have become accustomed to cooking alongside employees, friends, and family.

One especially fun experience from the holidays was the Saturday that my son and I attended a Korean Cooking Class in a couple’s home. The session was a birthday gift from James to me—so thoughtful because 1) he knows I love to try new things and 2) I love spending time with him! We spent three hours learning a few new techniques, but mostly eating some diverse items. But it was a great way to spend an afternoon, chatting, cooking, and absorbing with my son.

Two things came out of that experience that I hope to bring to fruition in the new year. First, as I already mentioned above, I am making it a goal to be in the kitchen with at least one family member on the regular. Rather than be in separate rooms of the house, I will include my DH or any of my children in the preparation of meals. Second, I’d like to begin to share what I’ve learned from my time in the kitchen over the years—not only through Butterfield Gourmet meals—but also with instruction. I’d like to help YOU, my customer, reader, follower, take on the challenge of stepping out of YOUR comfort zone to

  • create an organized, workable kitchen space in your home,

  • develop weekly menus that fit with your busy lifestyle and/or,

  • learn new cooking and baking techniques to bolster your confidence in the kitchen.

This second goal/plan/resolve will take my love of all things culinary to a new level in assisting others, thereby bringing more satisfaction and joy surrounding food. I want to feel full in Body & Soul! I’ll keep you posted on how this goal is shaping up in the next few months but feel free to reach out with questions!

Cheers to a delicious 2019!

review of a 2018 resolution-win or lose?

A year ago, in the early ambitious hours of January 2018, I challenged myself with a commitment to cook every recipe in Fine Cooking magazine. Twelve months later, let me update you on how that resolution turned out….well, it wasn’t a Super Bowl season but I definitely batted a better than .500 average. (mixed sports metaphors ‘cause that’s just me)

By the numbers, I feel like a failure. I completed only 124 new recipes out of 215. Remember that I was trying to complete EVERY recipe, which mean I was 91 short. The individual issue stats were as follows:

  • Dec 2017/Jan 2018: 81%

  • Feb/Mar 2018: 68%

  • Apr/May 2018: 65%

  • June/July 2018: 56%

  • Aug/Sept 2018: 51%

  • Oct/Nov 2018: 21% - ouch!

As with many resolutions, one’s adherence to a goal drops off over time. I grew tired of trying to incorporate new recipes with difficult-to-find ingredients into my weekly menus. Publishing and executing a new menu almost every week of the year is challenging enough without including recipes that I’ve never attempted. In summary, I DID NOT COMPLETE THIS GOAL.

But on the flip side, I

  • learned a fool-proof technique for making frites (french fries) on the stove without a deep-fryer, thermometer, or any other fancy double-fry method

  • incorporated Indian-inspired dishes onto the BG menu, having never dared before

  • tried (and failed miserably) making three different “inside-out” roasts where the stuffing was rolled on the outside of the beef, pork and lamb cuts—a costly experiment to be sure but fun, nonetheless

  • made Chashu Ramen from scratch and discovered the multiple days required with many different steps really wasn’t worth the end result (we’ll be eating ramen at a noodle house for the foreseeable future, thank you)

  • fell in love with homemade gnocchi

  • experimented with four new takes on pot pie, one of which has been permanently added to the BG rotation

  • ordered lobster from Maine to bring authentic lobster rolls to my menu

  • tested several cream pie recipes, much to the delight of my DH, whom I love to please with culinary treats

So was the resolution a bust? I don’t think so. The positives I gleaned from the process far outweigh the actual numbers. And who’s to say I cannot continue the endeavor? Why can’t I keep cooking my way through the magazines until I’ve made each and every recipe? I won’t put it at the top of my goals list for 2019 but it can still be a goal, right?

I’m including my favorite recipe from the year, Cold-fry Frites, in case you want to give it a whirl. Always be trying something new—it’s an opportunity for growth, change and fun!

Yield: 6-8

cold-fry frites

prep time: 20 minscook time: 30 minstotal time: 50 mins

Fries with a moist, creamy interior, an intense potato flavor, and a perfectly crisp, golden non oily exterior.

ingredients:

  • 3 lb. russet potatoes
  • 3 quarts sunflower, vegetable or canola oil
  • kosher salt
  • 3 quarts sunflower, vegetable or canola oil
  • kosher salt

instructions:

Rinse the potatoes, peel, and rinse again. Cut each potato lengthwise into disks about 3/8-inch-thick, then cut these disks lengthwise into sticks about 3/8-inch-thick. (Precision is not essential here: I love the tiny, crunchy, almost-burned bits that emerge from the fryer.)

Soak the potatoes in a bowl of cold water for about 5 minutes, changing the water when it becomes cloudy, until the water remains clear (at least three times). Drain the potatoes and put them in a single layer on a paper towel-lined baking sheet and pat dry with additional paper towels.

Transfer the potatoes to a 7 qt. Dutch oven and set it on the stove. Pour the oil over the potatoes. Do not cover the pot. Set the heat to high, and stirring the potatoes gently with a metal spoon to distribute and prevent sticking, bring the oil to a boil. (The oil should move from a peppy simmer to a boil in 7 to 9 minutes.) When the oil starts to boil, set a timer for 17 minutes. Stir the potatoes very gently every 3 to 4 minutes and lower the heat to medium, if necessary to keep the oil from boiling over the pot.

After 17 minutes, the potatoes should be slightly golden. Continue to cook for 4 minutes, stirring gently. Resist the urge to remove them from the oil too soon. When the fries are a deep golden brown, taste one to make sure they are crisp and firm on the outside with a creamy interior. Transfer the fries with the wire skimmer or slotted spoon to a paper towel–lined tray to drain. Season with salt and serve immediately.
Created using The Recipes Generator

So many meals to celebrate 30 years

My friends have long teased me about “Ruth’s birthday month.” Honestly, the ribbing is well-deserved because over the years I have managed to celebrate my birthday which falls in the first week of November over the remaining weeks of the month; a couple of lunches one week, dinner and shopping the next week, brunch with family and cocktails with friends, sometimes a long weekend trip to a food destination too. The streak continued for quite a number of years and I basked in all the attention. Until finally my three adult children decided to sabotage my birthday month by each finding mates whose birthdays also fell in November! Can you believe the audacity? That they would dare to horn in on my birthday month so that we now must celebrate their spouses in the midst of my once-dominant four weeks of celebration?! LOL, I am so completely kidding. It was a very nice trade-off to gain three wonderful family members and give up my 30 days of celebrations.

But I rocked it for 2018, in commemorating our 30th anniversary with meal, after glorious meal. For this grand milestone, we managed to stretch the celebration for six months! Beginning in May, at a lovely Michelin starred restaurant in Barcelona, and ending last week in a long weekend trip in southern California, we’ve celebrated over some memorable meals along the way. The following are a couple of the highlights enjoyed most recently.

Anniversary Party at Venue Forty⎜50, Addison, Texas

Yes, we threw ourselves a party and my only culinary contributions were apple pie and a chocolate cake. It was such a fun evening with all of our children, parents, siblings, cousins, nieces and nephews. The food was excellent and the venue staff could not have been more professional, helpful, or pleasant. We will definitely host another party here and I cannot more highly recommend the venue, owned and operated by Macklin’s Catering to all of you.

Uchi, Dallas, Texas

October 18 was our actual anniversary and after a long day of cooking a special menu for my customers, I was thrilled to be taken out to dine for the first time at the much-talked about sushi restaurant. Our server began the evening on a perfect tone when learning our newbie status, by asking if we would allow him to construct a meal for us of his favorite menu items. As he had served there since their opening in 2015, and because he thoughtfully inquired about allergies and budget, we appreciated his offer and accepted. The evening was perfect and his selections flawless; we highly anticipate returning for another fabulous meal.

Fig + Olive, Newport Beach, California

Although this restaurant is owned and operated by a corporation, we quite enjoyed a delicious dinner beginning with 6 different crostini and ending with an anniversary flourless chocolate cake. The Fashion Island location boasts beautiful decor, impeccable staff and tasty meals. Added bonus: it was within walking distance from our hotel on a beautiful California evening, the perfect setting in which to end six months of celebrations.

Of course, the most remarkable thing about all of these parties, dinners and experiences is that I’ve been walking this life with my very best friend for over thirty years. I am so blessed. So very blessed and in awe that God could be so good. The travel is fun, the meals are pleasurable but it’s the relationship with this amazing man for which I am most grateful. I love you, JB; you’re my one and only forever. ❤️

Do you #partnerscard?

I first became aware of the Partners Card 20 years ago when my children were young. At the time, I understood it to be a great shopping perk, using the 20% discount at many popular retailers as an excuse to kick off the holiday gift-buying season. My friend that introduced me to the Partners Card also invited me to the first Chi Omega Christmas market that I ever attended. Shopping with girlfriends became a new, fun pastime, one I hadn’t really ever enjoyed.

It wasn’t until a couple years later that I really read the literature and learned that Partners Card is the signature fundraiser for The Family Place, the largest family violence agency in Texas. And that 100% of each Partners Card purchase goes directly to supporting survivors of family violence. Over 100 women are killed by their domestic partners each year in North Texas.

The Family Place provides tremendous support for women who cannot escape the violence brought on by those they trust, and that’s why I buy a card every year. It seems like a small contribution but $70 pays for 1 night in a shelter for a woman to hide from her attacker. My hope is that the number of domestic violence deaths can reduce to zero thanks to the work that this organization is doing in the community.

This week, to coincide with Partners Card sales, Butterfield Gourmet will donate 10% of all sales to The Family Place. If you are interested in purchasing a Partners Card to help end domestic violence, visit their website for the available retail locations.

domestic violence.jpeg

What makes a hero?

Our society places a lot of stock in celebrity status. Star in a movie (or even appear on screen), you're adored. Make it to the majors in any sport, instantly an icon. Sell a few thousand albums, gain a million followers. Or, appear sans clothing in self-made videos (a la Kardashian) and you might even get your own reality TV show. Many people consider these individuals to be heroes and idolize their every move.

I'm not much of a groupie person myself (other than revering Super Chef status, natch) because I feel that celebrities are just people like you and me. They get dressed every morning and brush their teeth. They have highs and lows. They love, lose, cry, mourn, rejoice, live, and die. And sometimes, the way in which celebrities live their lives is not only undeserving of hero-worship but downright shameful.  

Today I want to briefly mention a superstar who made a point of using his celebrity status to make someone special to me feel like she was the brightest star in the universe. My niece, Faith Elizabeth Kuhn, suffers from spina bifida. She is 12 years old, has been through 15+ surgeries since birth and she has a huge, pre-adolescent crush on Chicago Cubs third baseman, Kris Bryant. Through a friend of the family in Albuquerque, Kris learned of her "feelings for him" (i.e. "He's hot!") and made arrangements to bring Faith, her two siblings, and parents to Chicago to watch a home game. It was a surreal experience for the entire family, of which Faith shared "was a like a dream come true." I am so grateful to Kris Bryant and his lovely wife for showing real love to my extended family. The very successful athlete was heroic in his compassion and generosity.

However, if you’re with me on this…you’ll agree that the spunky 12-year-old is the real hero in this story. My sister and her husband, from the time she was in the womb and learned that she would be born with this very limiting disability, knew there was a reason this child should share their life and appropriately christened her Faith. And with each year and new surgery, all of the pain and discomfort, missing out on school and time with friends, none of the trials seem to dim her thousand-watt smile. Faith has a strength of will and determination that many children and even adults lack, despite perfect health.

In two weeks, Faith will undergo her most trying surgical experience to date. Due to a major growth spurt, she needs a rod removed from her spine because it is threatening to twist her little body into a most unnatural shape. She will be in traction for two weeks to stretch her spine and spinal chord. After this painful stint in the hospital, she will possibly endure another surgery involving rib removal. And then another for final fusion in two places along her spine. Through it all, Faith and the entire Kuhn family will remain, well, faithful. Won’t you join me in praying for this little warrior who heroically trudges on through the trials of her young life?

Chile Relleno you didn't...

While away on vacation, I missed one of my favorite culinary seasons...those short two weeks when Hatch green chiles are in abundance and being roasted at North Texas grocery stores. I grew up in New Mexico and have learned to love that time in August when the smell of blistered peppers saturates the air with a burnt pungency. To clarify, we did not eat New Mexican cuisine in my Kansas-white-boy-meets-Taiwan-girl influenced home on Clancy Street. Simply because my mother could not stomach anything spicy so although I lived in Albuquerque I did not partake of Hatch chiles until I left my childhood home.

And once I tried a specific Hatch dish...Chiles Rellenos...there was no going back. I'm not referring to the soggy ‘deep fried poblano stuffed with meat and cheese’ that Tex-Mex restaurants offer here in Texas. Oh no. (head wags vehemently) The dish that calls to me late at night and causes me to whisper in my mate’s ear that "we should visit our parents soon" is very different. 

Imagine a smoky, roasted Hatch chile that has been skinned, stuffed with gooey cheese, coated in a fluffy-eggy batter, deep fried until crispy then smothered in your choice of red or green chile sauce, and finally topped with shredded lettuce and chopped tomatoes. Oh my goodness. It's heartburn on a platter, sometimes so spicy that your nose runs, your eyes tear and your throat burns, and yet you can't stop, won’t stop, shoveling bite after bite into your gaping mouth. And don't forget to wash it down with a Mexican cerveza con limón or maybe a Margarita on the rocks. 

On one visit to the Land of Enchantment, I endeavored to eat Chiles Rellenos as many times as possible. I will share two of these experiences with you. The first was at Sadie's, that famous 60-year old institution, known for big plates and hot, hot spicy salsa. Lunch is the best time to eat a heavy meal like Chiles Rellenos; a midday serving ensures time for an afternoon siesta before heading into evening cocktails and your supper. So we visited the Fourth Street location in the Rio Grande Valley where the lunch entree featured a single relleno served with beans and potatoes. It was a huge portion, spicy and cheesy but the chile flavor was a bit bland. I don't regret my lunch at Sadie's but I don't need to go back anytime soon.

Our second research lunch was at a relatively new restaurant, Cocina Azul. Not a member of the roster of famous New Mexican restaurants, but the online reviews were compelling so we gave it a try. It's a weird space, where chips and salsa must be ordered (most eateries, as here in Texas, automatically bring C & S to the table for your complimentary enjoyment) and the floors were sticky with decor that features tables & chairs reminiscent of those found in a Furr’s cafeteria. The bartender was also unprepared…”what? you don’t know how to make a simple margarita concocted of lime juice, tequila and cointreau?” But the rellenos. Oh the rellenos. At lunch service the chiles are a la carte, no platters offered. So I stepped out of the norm and ordered one brisket filled relleno with green sauce and one regular, cheese only, again green sauce. (I’m strictly a green-only girl, no red or Christmas style for me!) The brisket was meltingly tender and generously portioned; the sauce earthy and spicy. All of the rellenos brought to our table were A++.

We dined on the same dish at two restaurants and have not even begun to scratch the surface of the Chiles Rellenos summit. So I’ll just have to make time to go back and maybe we’ll swing up to Santa Fe to see if the offerings will differ up north? And maybe next trip we will endeavor to also sample as many fluffy sopapillas as will fit in my tummy….:)) Please share in the comments below where you have enjoyed delicious chiles rellenos on your travels!

 

Read any good books lately?

I am a self-proclaimed bookworm. No, correction: I WAS a self-proclaimed bookworm. Although I enjoy reading as much as I ever did, I don't commit the hours to the pastime as I did in childhood. My annual book average has begun to climb again, thanks to time on the elliptical machine, but truthfully, some years I am lucky to ready 6-7 books with the bulk of the reading done on a beach. I am guilty of devoting too many minutes to the internet, social media sites, and cooking magazines to claim loyalty to the written words of authors. So the rest of the year, outside of vacation, can be barren of my former favorite hobby.

This past August, I was able to get through just one book while on vacation and it was a doozy. Weighing in at 842 pages, this paperback was a commitment--to travel with and haul down to the beach every day. But I experienced immense satisfaction when I finished the tome--a hefty book will do that--and I am happy to recommend it to you. Stephen King's 11/22/63 is not exactly a thriller but it is a fascinating, easy read that makes the reader wonder at the possibility of time travel. 

Currently I have my nose tucked into two books: the first is a charming, sweet little fiction by Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows titled The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, recommended to me by my daughter. It's composed of a series of letters and I read a little each day and the sweet little notes contained therein take me back to a time when I loved writing to pen pals. A good book will always inspire you to try something new, take up an old hobby, or reflect on a strong belief. 

I am also currently reading my favorite book ever. I've downloaded Little Women to my Kindle app to read while I'm exercising. And even though I am not turning the pages as I did on the first occasion that I devoured this book (I was probably 8 years old), I'm still tearing up and feeling the varied emotions I experienced as a child reading the novel under my covers after my parents told me to go to bed. 

Louisa May Alcott's Little Women is the first novel that I read multiple times. But thoughts of my favorite book have been drifting in my subconscious, untouched for quite some time. While on vacation in August, I spied a review for a new book titled Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy: The Story of Little Women and Why it Still Matters by Anne Boyd Rioux. This year marks the 150th anniversary of Alcott's original publication and reading some of the English professor's thoughts on the classic stirred my desire to read it again. 

Why is Little Women preserved on my mind's shelf of all time best reads? I cannot point exactly to the reason...I remember that I strongly identified with Jo, the primary protagonist and her love, no, need to write. And as Rioux points out, apparently I am not not alone in this character identification.

The timeless novel about four sisters who are the best of friends has been named by numerous female authors as their literary inspiration and Rioux credits Alcott's cultural influence to include many pop-culture characters of whom our daughters and sons have read and watched voraciously. (Hermione Grainger, Katniss Everdeen, the Gilmore Girls, etc.) And although the influence is there, I worry that today's generation will not experience Little Women anymore--as it seldom appears on their required reading. 

Can you do me this favor? Will you buy a copy of Little Women and give it as a gift to a young person in your life? Encourage them to read it? If you've never read the novel, will you give it a try on my recommendation? I hope this lovely novel, that has inspired my personal writing journey will live on and be loved by many in the future. It would be such a shame if Little Women drifted into obscurity. It is a precious American work that deserves a place on every bookshelf in every home.

“I like good strong words that mean something.” — Jo March
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To the Best Guy

It's Father's Day, another made-up Hallmark holiday that actually has turned into a worthy occasion. After all, without a card company to tell us that we need to celebrate the special someones in our lives, would we ever get around to telling them how much they mean to us? Maybe we would, maybe not. But I'm going to use this excuse to share with you about not a father figure in my life, but my husband, the father of my children.

In case I've never really said it, JB's kind of great. He is patient, sweet, funny, generous, intelligent, and ambitious. He has adored his children from the first moment he held them in his arms as infants. He also imparted his Faith to our children, raising them to seek God and follow His ways. JB preaches tough love to his kids but then worries about them incessantly. He loves to laugh with them, and to make them crack up. He looks forward to golf outings with his sons more than any other humans. He enjoys sharing what he knows about life, travel and business with his family, teaching them as much as he is able. All of these things make him a really great Dad.

But there is one thing that JB especially does well that makes him an all-star father:  He loves his kids' mom. In our house, we believe that the Marriage is the foundation on which the family is built. So we have always tried to put our relationship as the top priority. Not to say that the children are excluded from the inner circle, but that they are outer rings that form the family with parents that love each other at the core. So on Father's Day, I am so grateful to this man that has adored, protected and loved me like I never knew was possible. His commitment to "Us" is steadfast and true, and there would be no family without his dedication to all of us. Life is not perfect. But I am blessed beyond measure to be walking this imperfect life with the man that is The One for me.

On the lighter side...when our children were young, my husband was highly skilled at playing what came to be known as the "daddy game." It's a very simple game--someone starts to tell a story about their day and invariably, Dad repeats a part of the story back to the teller, but mispronounces one of the names as though he misheard. The storyteller corrects his mistake and he acknowledges but then continues to repeat the incorrect usage until finally, the child wises up and realizes that Dad is doing it on PURPOSE. It is a father's right to tease and torment his children, don't you agree? BTW, JB answers to many names in our circle: there's Dad, Pops, and Daddy; also JB, Loverboy, Butterman, Master of the Universe, Captain Obvious and lastly, Johnny B, when he speaks of himself in 3rd person, usually after performing a signature dive into the pool. 

Hope you all have a wonderful Father's Day filled with laughter and good food. Be sure to hug your daddy or your children's daddy or someone who likes to be called daddy. Hugging is always a good thing.

Partie Trois: Paris, Pain au chocolat et Escargot

Partie Trois: Paris, Pain au chocolat et Escargot

Three beautiful days…eating our way through the city of lights…

Seconda Parte: Varenna i Venezia, pasta i Gnocchi, mamma mia!

Part Two: Varenna and Venice, i.e., Italy, where pasta and gnocchi reign supreme! From Barcelona we headed to northern Italy, landing in Milan and taking a train directly to Varenna, a lovely town situated on Lake Como. (Well, to rephrase...the Milan airport is NOT close to the city but after a couple of trial and error attempts with a finicky train ticket machine, we managed to take a train to the city center of Milan and THEN navigate our way through the confusion of finding the correct train to Varenna.) Needless to say, no time for lunch!

Happily, our hotel in a tiny little haven in the hills was a five-minute taxi ride from the train station. We were deposited at the Hotel du Lac, just 8 minutes after arriving, checked in within 5 and out on the cobblestone path to find sustenance within 20 minutes of landing in Varenna. The weather was a little drizzly so searched no further than il Nilus Bar, where we sat on the covered patio directly at water's edge to have our first meal in Italy. Starvation had no bearing on the deliciousness of our roasted sopressata-potato-gorgonzola pizza, which we immediately scarfed down with a glass of wine. Oh my. Superb. 

Did I mention that within the 20 minutes from train stop to seated for lunch, we managed to ask our hotel receptionist/concierge/girl Friday to find a reservation for dinner? She found us a table at La Vista, a terraced restaurant atop the Albergo Milano. It's a tiny town but we experienced some trouble finding which little alleyway to climb. But so worth the search, steep hill, and confusion. Sitting outside, wrapped in a fleece blanket provided with each and every table, we watched as the lights twinkled on in Menaggio, the town directly across Lake Como from Varenna. After the hustle and bustle of the big city Barcelona, we were drawn into the calm, quiet beauty of the water and the Alps that towered above.

And our dinner! What a fabulous meal we had that evening. The menu offered a la carte and either a 3 course or 4 course fixed price option which included the entire menu. If you tell me I can have a starter, first course, second course and dessert for 45 euro...it's a no brainer! After all, this is RESEARCH! I definitely researched my way to satiation in the most delicious fashion.

  • Starter-  RB: charcuterie platter, JB: velvety potato soup
  • Primi-    RB: ravioli with seafood, JB: risotto with scallops
  • Secondi-   RB: baked lake fish with creamed potatoes, JB: lamb shank osso bucco
  • Dessert-   RB: cheese plate, JB: chocolate cake with raspberry sauce

Oof. It was too much food. But so enjoyable. 

On the dawn of our 5th day in Europe, we had a light breakfast in the hotel cafe and went out to explore Varenna. At 10am, we were picked up by van to take us to Ristorante il Caminetto (in the hills of Perledo), for a day-long cooking class. Our driver was also the chef, owner and instructor, Moreno Maglia. It was a delightful six hours...Moreno is charming, humorous and well-versed in American culture. The class was made up of two other couples from the US, a couple from Manchester, England, two young girls from Poland and a lady from the Netherlands. We watched our host prep a veal roast, form pasta dough entirely with his hands, and we learned to shape gnocchi. Then he rolled and cut the pasta, adding a dollop of ricotta filling to each square and allowed us to shape the packets into tortelloni. He demonstrated one porcini mushroom sauce for the gnocchi and then a fresh tomato topping for the tortelloni. And finally, we lunched on all of these amazing dishes, helping ourselves to refills of wine and laughing at his references to American rock and roll and movie stars. If you are ever in the Lake Como area for a few days, I highly recommend this cooking class--such an insight into meal prep at a small local restaurant. I loved it.

Following the class and being dropped back in our little town square, we had just enough time to walk to the train station and meet our son, who arrived from Rome after a semester at John Cabot University. What a happy sight to see him step off that train! He looked taller, wiser, and tired; it was so wonderful to put our arms around him after 4 months apart.

That evening, we had a very late supper at Osteria Quatro Pass, another tiny restaurant. Sometimes it is a challenge to order food coherently when trying to soak up each moment with a child you haven't seen in some time. But we managed to have a delightful meal which we shared family style: salumi board, cheese plate, seafood spaghettoni, fish fillets in an almond sauce, and a cheese ravioli before consuming a sweet apple tart to finish. Note: you can never order too much food when you have a 21-year-old at the table.

The next morning, the three of us hiked to Castello de Vezio, a wonderful castle ruin with beautiful views overlooking the lake and town below. It was a gorgeous morning and the hike was a perfect bit of exercise after the previous day spent wining and dining.

That afternoon we headed to Venice which also provided some physical exertion in the manner of hauling our luggage through tiny little streets, inaccessible to any other form of traffic. We spent a quick 24 hours touring with just one real sit-down meal. A carafe of wine, a little bourbon, some lasagna, gnocchi, and fried calamari was consumed and delighted in while sitting at a small table on a cobblestone street, 15 steps from our hotel. The next morning when we walked through that same street, any evidence of the quaint little eatery with a gregarious host had been shuttered away, only to be discovered again later in the day by other lucky wanderers.

Next week: follow along as we wrap up our trip in the City of Lights. ❤️ Ruth

 

Primera Part: Barcelona, ciutat de tapes i paelle

Three countries. Five cities. Ten days. It was an ambitious trip but we managed to accomplish two end goals: bring our son home from his semester abroad and eat our way across several different regions. We were also able to celebrate 30 years of marriage with every glass of champagne or prosecco, beginning on the flight over! So the journey was a success and I am excited to share so many delicious memories with my readers.

Our flight touched down in Barcelona in the early morning and we hit the ground running. After a quick Cafe Americano at the charming Cotton House hotel, we hopped on a bus to drive by popular sites and get our bearings. Ignoring the chilly weather and any tinges of jet-lag, we capped off our first evening with a walking Tapas Tour. If you know me at all, you know that I L-O-V-E nibble food, so I was more than ready to check out this very Spanish style of noshing. 

Our guide led us and two other couples through the Mercat de la Boqueria where we sampled Serrano Jamon and Manchego cheese from little paper cones, nibbled on cocoa covered hazelnuts and gaped at the butcher stands where EVERY part of the animal was available for purchase. We also visited two different style Tapas Bars--the first served popular tapas family style at the table: Patatas Bravas, fresh tomato bread, marinated peppers and veggies, croquetas, and Tortilla Española all came out in little dishes to be shared by the group. The second establishment offered a pinchos buffet. In this style of bar, you help yourself to any number of tapas varieties, all skewered on toothpicks, and the server simply counts the number of empty picks on your plate to calculate your bill. Seafood figured heavily into these offerings.

My takeaways from casual food in Barcelona:

  • Amazing slices of bread on which you spread fresh tomatoes that are so tender, they burst open when you rub the fruit on the crispy surface
  • Spanish extra-virgin olive oil which I loved drizzling over the above mentioned bread
  • Paper thin slices of jamon (spanish ham)
  • Salty, delicious manchego, a sheep's milk cheese that makes my heart sing

You could serve me the above items any night of the week and I would call it dinner! So first day/night done, and we were able to see a little of the city, taste some of it's flavors, partake of some wine and we were off to a great start.

The next day dawned cold and rainy in the city so we headed out on an hour train ride to visit Montserrat and the monastery set in the mountain. Our lunch at the Restaurant Montserrat was surprisingly lovely--surprising because most of the patrons are tourists and we've all experienced mediocrity of touristy establishments--lovely due to the inexpensive bottle of wine we shared (thought we were ordering a couple of glasses, got the entire bottle!), the fresh tomato bread, and the seafood we consumed.

That evening marked another culinary milestone for us...we dined at a Three-Star Michelin restaurant: Lasarte was elegant, subdued, and pleasantly meticulous. The service was perfection, casually friendly but at the same time, oh so professional. After we made our course decisions, a parade of amuse bouche found its way to the table. My favorite: a jalapeño ice cream that melted into a foam with a single salty clam. And of course, I loved the array of flavored butters presented in tiny little logs to accompany our bread selections. There were five flavors to choose from and I couldn't eat enough bread to sample them all! Our main courses of Chargrilled Pigeon (him) and Sea Bass (me) were stunning. It was a gastronomically excellent night and a wonderful way to celebrate our anniversary.

Our final day in Barcelona was spent self-touring the cathedral and Ramblas area and a quick stop at the beach. For a mid-morning snack, we stumbled upon a pastry shop, Caelum, where we sipped cappuccino and agonized over which nun-produced pastries we wanted to try. No lie: the shop specializes in "heavenly" sweets baked by nuns from all over the country! For lunch we sat in sunny Plaça Reial and shared yet another board of tomato bread and serrano ham as well as a bottle of wine. (What?! I was on vacation!) Our only disappointing meal: the paella at Vez Pella, (which came highly recommended) which was served with little shrimp instead of the promised ubiquitous prawns. 

And we were on to the next city...

*The above title translates to "Part One: Barcelona, city of tapas and paella."

 

A Taste of Paris

Ten years ago, my husband took me to Paris to celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary. It was an amazing trip, the adventure of a lifetime, a triumph on so many levels. Paris is truly a magical city and we ate, drank, toured, laughed, sat, strolled, and explored as much as possible. Since that year, we have taken other trips, exotic and foreign, but Paris still holds the power of unshakeable memories over us, always drawing us back into the "remember that time..."

One such remembrance is our actual anniversary dinner at the Michelin starred restaurant, Guy Savoy. The ambiance: elegant and reserved. The service: witty, attentive, and intelligent. The fare: delicious, rich, and artistic. The bill: exorbitant. That meal, that night, remains to this day in our top five food experiences of all time.

We were in love with each other, fell in love with the city and in turn, in love with all things France. Fast forward to this year when I have undertaken this crazy goal to cook my way through Fine Cooking magazine. I opened the April/May issue to find the "Moveable Feast" article highlighted a visit with none other than Guy Savoy (the chef and namesake of our beloved restaurant) and cookbook author, Patricia Wells, who resides in Paris! So I was quite excited to prepare the recipes from this particular issue. 

On a cold and windy evening in April, I invited friends to join us and they graciously agreed to suffer through this menu:

Spring Greens Salad with Fruit, Roquefort & Balsamic Dressing

Asparagus with Paprika Sabayon

Rib-eye Steak with Tarragon Chimichurri

Frites

Strawberry-Rhubarb Blitz Torte

The conversation was lively, the wine poured and though the steak was a bit underdone, I think the meal was a success. I'm definitely not Guy Savoy, but when I was crafting his sabayon (a cooked egg yolk sauce), I felt a renewed appreciation for the art that is Fine Dining. 

My experiment or goal or resolution, whatever you want to call it --to step out of my comfort zone and create recipes that I would not otherwise attempt--is succeeding. For the "numbers" people out there, I stand at 55 completed recipes out of 114 from 3 issues. Still a ways to go...hoping the June/July issue does not arrive for several more weeks!

 

a brunchin' we will go

a beautiful day at the Dallas Arboretum

a beautiful day at the Dallas Arboretum

Spring has been an absolute whirlwind. Maybe because I have been sleep deprived beginning with Daylight Savings or perhaps it's due to trying to schedule FaceTime sessions with a son on the other side of the world. Whatever the reason, I feel constantly behind, always running to catch up. 

Long weekends spent with family are usually a great way to slow things down. In that spirit, our Easter week began on Palm Sunday with church services alongside our son and his pregnant wife. Oh wait. Haven't I told you? Our family is being blessed in 2018 with new babies. My eldest daughter (residing in Arkansas) is expecting her fourth child, due in May and our eldest son (lives here!) is expecting his first....TWINS! SO. EXCITING. I. MAY. JUST. WRITE. LIKE. THIS. UNTIL. SUMMER. Jk. But we are indeed overjoyed by all of these tiny blessings headed our way. 

Back to Palm Sunday. After mass, the four of us came home for brunch because a leisurely meal accompanied by mimosas is a surefire way to slow time. The menu was Eggs Benedict as requested by my DH. It's a timeless breakfast entree, isn't it? Crisp english muffins topped with canadian bacon, a pillowy poached egg and rich, decadent hollandaise sauce. In the Butterfield house, we like to change things up and sometimes replace the muffin with hash brown potatoes, or even stack the potatoes on top of the toasted bread. Also, we seldom serve the traditional skinny slices of canadian bacon and opt for slabs of smoked ham. Or, maybe a crab cake for ultimate, sinful gluttony. Whatever version, the crowning glory remains the same--bright, lemony hollandaise, and I'm sharing my recipe at the end of this post. 

Dinner that evening was also a feast. Expertly grilled New York Strip steaks, baked potatoes, sautéed spinach, roasted eggplant, a lovely crisp green salad with balsamic dressing. And there was chocolate cake for dessert. That was just for 4 of us! But our celebratory week was off to a good start.

Happily on Thursday, my in-laws arrived from Albuquerque without incident. They have not been in Dallas since 2015, the year of two weddings, a graduation, and a family reunion. We scheduled a number of outings for their visit and tried not to wear out their 80+year-old bodies too much. They were able to see our son's new home and hear the glad news that the twins are GIRLS! (see how I keep sneaking those announcements in..?!) On Friday, our youngest daughter, husband and canine child, Frank, were here with us from Round Rock. We enjoyed a margarita lunch, strolling around the Arboretum and a fabulous meal at 20-Feet Seafood Joint in Lakewood. 

Side Review: If you haven't heard of this little hole-in-the-wall seafood restaurant, I am here to endorse the establishment and send you as soon as your little feet can carry you that direction for the following reasons:

  1. It's BYOB. We brought 3 bottles of wine with us: rosé, sauvignon blanc, and a red blend. Also a premixed shaker of Manhattans (the in-laws go-to cocktail.) (we did NOT consume it all!) And they will uncork your bottles as well as provide stemware in which to enjoy your beverage of choice!
  2. The Lobster Roll. It's amazing. Also, the Green Room Mussels, Fried Oyster Po Boy, Fish & Chips, and any special they're offering that day.
  3. Service is better than any I've encountered in a casual setting. You place your order at the counter, but the servers are patient, pleasant and helpful. The table bussers are young and sweet, also helpful. There's just nothing to complain about. Tables are first come, first served, but they'll help put tables together and find an area, outside or inside for you. 

The weather was ideal Thursday-Saturday so we sat out on the patio and enjoyed our mussels, french fries, Lobster Rolls (3), Fish & Chips (2) and Shrimp Po boy (1). Afterwards we indulged in a little custard from Wild About Harry's and came home to play cards.

Saturday breakfast was 2 casseroles I pulled from the fridge making my life so easy. The kids returned to Round Rock and we prepared for the next round of guests--my brother-in-law, wife and canine arrived from Houston. We supped on homemade lasagna and caesar salad and dined al fresco while watching the NCAA Final Four.

Easter Sunday dawned cool and cloudy and the mass was just beautiful, uplifting and joyful. And then we headed to another brunch, this time at The Mercury, where although our server is the best (Medy?) the food was honestly, just ok. Not that they didn't have variety: prime rib, fried chicken, sushi, salads galore and waffles. But it's really hard to do Eggs Benedict for a crowd because it's always cold and a little congealed, don't you think? So that brunch was a bit disappointing. 

I know right now you're thinking, all those Butterfields do is EAT! And sometimes, it feels that way to us too. I have omitted the boring details of walking pups, gardening, and any exercise that made it's way on to the schedule.

Sunday dinner was a bit of a masterpiece, if I'm allowed to say so. Beef Tenderloin roast, perfectly seared on the grill by my hubby and accompanied by au gratin potatoes, maple-bacon roasted brussels sprouts, spring salad with asparagus, fruit and citrus vinaigrette (on the menu this week!) and finally a luscious Chocolate-Espresso Cream Pie for dessert was shared with my dear friend, Rosemarie and her three girls, making our number 10 for dinner. What a fun evening! After our meal we watched the live production of "Jesus Christ Superstar" and digested slowly.

Monday was so nice and quiet, with just the four of us. The weather turned cold, giving us an excuse to read the paper by the fire and only venture out for a little chinese bistro lunch. They departed on Tuesday morning and it was back to work for my husband and me. Thanks to their visit, we were able to extend those five days and truly experience five days rather than the rapid, whirlwind, collapsed time that I've been feeling is my life. In three weeks we head to Europe to meet my son--can you believe the semester is at a close?

Ruth's No-Cook Hollandaise Sauce