I received my first two letters from the Penpal Project yesterday! One's from Nicole of Blue Bicicletta, whom you met last week. The other's from Cathy, who blogs over here, and whom I'm introducing today.
Don't you love the bright colors on this envelope from Cathy?
It's so lovely to exchange letters, and letters with strangers who could quickly become friends is ridiculously fun. Interestingly, I'm not the type of person to chat up strangers in the line at the grocery store, although I do admire those who can do it (like my mother, and like the lady who asked me what the heck fennel was last week, and what one does with it). I love to talk, and when I do meet someone and feel a spark of a kindred spirit, as Anne Shirley would say, it doesn't take me long to make them my new best friend, though. And this penpal project is a great way to reach out -- it's fun to think about how it's a re-invention of an old pastime, made possible by our current methods of communication. Without people putting their work and thoughts out on the internet for strangers to come by and read and comment on and start conversations, would an old-fashioned penpal project be possible today?
Back to the letters. Nicole included a lovely quote from the magnificent poet Mary Oliver, from her poem "It was Early" in Evidence:
Sometimes I need
only to stand
wherever I am
to be blessed
Good words to live by, don't you think?
Both my penpals are big readers and love poetry. They also cook, and Cathy kindly sent two recipes, which I'm going to share with you today. They're nice and cheesy, great for getting through this last bit of chilly, wet weather before the spring sunshine and fresh vegetables arrive.
2 c crushed cheese-flavored crackers, divided
1/4 c butter, melted
3 large onions, thinly sliced
2 Tbsp. and 1 Tbsp. butter, divided
1/2 c egg or egg substitute
1 c milk
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. each Italian seasoning, pepper and garlic powder
1/2 c shredded cheddar cheese
Preheat the oven to 350 F/180 C. In a small bowl combine 1 1/2 c of the crushed crackers and the 1/4 c melted butter. Press onto the bottom and sides of a 9-inch pie plate. Bake 5 minutes. Let crust cool completely.
Increase oven to 450 F/230 C. In a large skillet, cook onions in 2 Tbsp. butter over low heat 10 to 15 minutes, until soft, stirring occasionally. Spoon into crust. Set aside.
In a medium bowl, whisk together egg, milk, salt, Italian seasoning, pepper and garlic. Stir in cheese. In the same large skillet, melt 1 Tbsp. butter. Add egg mixture. Cook adn stir over very low heat until cheese melts. Pour evenly over onions. Sprinkle with remaining crushed crackers.
Bake, uncovered, 5 minutes. Reduce oven to 350 F/180 C. Bake 10-15 minutes more or until set. Let cool slightly before slicing.
Loaded Mashed Potatoes
5 lbs. red potatoes
16 oz. cream cheese, softened and cut up
16 oz. sour cream
1/2 c melted butter
1/4 c chopped chives
1 tsp. onion powder
1 tsp. garlic powder
2 c shredded cheddar cheese
1/2 c bacon bits
Preheat oven to 350 F/180 C. Coat a rectangular 3-qt. baking dish with nonstick cooking spray. Scrub potatoes and cut into 1-inch pieces. In a 6- to 8-qt. Dutch oven, place potatoes in enough lightly salted boiling water to cover. Cook 10-15 min. or just until tender. Drain; return potatoes to pot.
Add cream cheese, sour cream, butter, chives, onion powder and garlic to potatoes. Using a large spoon, mash potatoes slightly and stir until well combined. Season with salt to taste.
Spoon potato mixture into baking dish. Sprinkle with cheddar and bacon bits. Bake, uncovered, 20-25 minutes or until heated through and cheese melts.