Before the Hunt

Quick! Feed the family…it’s Halloween and all the kids want to do is get into their costumes and go trick-or-treating. It’s really not about the candy itself, it’s about the hunt. At the end of the hunt, there is the candy weigh-in, then the candy sorting and trading begins. Of course, there is eating candy along the way. Our dentist has a great approach —  he tells the kids to eat all the candy they want the first night, then throw the rest away.

No matter how you feel about the loads of candy and the aftermath, here’s a quick and nutritious way to feed the goblins before they embark on their annual take. They’ll need a hot meal to sustain them and something in their stomachs before they eat candy. It can all be made ahead of time so all you have to do is heat and eat. You will also need something if you are walking along as parents in charge.

Invite a few of the neighborhood families and start the trick-or-or treating at your house. The kids like the Sloppy Joes and sometimes they will eat the chowder. But the adults all like the chowder.

Halloween Menu

Sloppy Joes – make it easy on yourself, use lean ground beef and buy a prepared Sloppy Joe mix. Get really fresh rolls.

Corn Chowder – my recipe below, make a few days ahead so the flavors marry up, heat it on the stove or in a crock pot

Cole slaw

And, finally no dessert. That is NO dessert.

Happy Halloween!

Corn Chowder by Barbara Kelley

This recipe is easily doubled or tripled. Here is the six-serving version.

  • 1 onion, diced (Hint: Do not use sweet Vidalia-type onions, they lose their flavor when cooked. The onions need to stand up and be counted in this soup.)
  • 3 medium potatoes diced (2-1/2 cups)
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 cans cream-style corn (15 oz can)
  • 2 cups milk (I use 2 percent to make it lower in fat)
  • salt
  • pepper
  • fresh dill – about 1/2 cup chopped

Saute onion in about 4 T of oil of your choice. Put potatoes and water in stock pot to cook.  When onions are soft, add them to the stock pot. Hint: I carmelize half of the onions to add to give it a rich flavor.

Cook until tender. Add the remaining ingredients. Season to taste. You can add more dill if you like that flavor. Or try another seasoning. Make it your own.

Hint: If you want a thicker soup, when the potatoes are cooked, take about a cup out and puree them and return to the stock. Another thickening trick is to add dehydrated instant potato flakes.

The World Series of Snack Shacks

Cue “Centerfield” sung by John Fogerty with retro baseball footage.

Tonight is Game 1 of the 2011 World Series with the Texas Rangers battling the St. Louis Cardinals. The boys of summer and their chase for the ring marks the end of the baseball season.

With that in mind it’s time to take our caps off and pay tribute to all the Little League snack shacks in towns across the country.

Great Falls Hits Home Run with Nike Field Snack Shack

For some, snack shacks conjure up memories of half-cooked hot dogs and second-rate greasy food. Not so in Great Falls, Virginia, where the burgers and dogs are grilled fresh to perfection, the pizza is hot, the candy bars are chilled, and the coffee is freshly brewed. And for those watching their waistline, there is fresh fruit, nuts, popcorn, and Skinny Cow frozen treats.

Snack Shack Manager Michelle Gasparis, volunteer, takes her job seriously. As a mother of four, she knows that some families are at the field five nights a week and depend on the Snack Shack to feed their families. The Shack is also a major source of income for the Great Falls Little League Program. This spring alone, the shack brought in $9,000 that went toward uniforms, field upkeep, umpires and more. The food is quality and at a good value. No one will go broke eating at the Snack Shack.

Michelle brews fresh coffee. "The Snack Shack brings the community together."

When you ask Michelle what is the best thing about the Snack Shack she says, “It brings our community together. We’ve thought about contracting the Shack out, but by running it ourselves we get everyone involved and come together as a community to support our local program.”

Michelle runs a clean, organized shop but passes on the credit to many others. She said there is a schedule of regular volunteers who faithfully open and close the shack, parents who staff it nightly and on weekends during the spring and fall seasons, as well as her husband Nick who does just about anything there needs to be done. Add to that the triple play of shopping, stocking, and cleaning.

Home run hitters are inducted into the Home Run Club at the Snack Shack which entitles them to a complimentary menu item on the day of their home run.

They Answered the Call from the Bullpen

Michelle is the current manager but others have gone before her with hours of dedication to make our local fields hospitable to the home and visiting teams. In my Little League lifetime before Michelle answered the call, there was Jennifer and Todd Norris, and Julie Casso before them. And to all the un-named others before them, thank you. It’s a calling and those who answer it are pretty special in this town.

Kaitlin and Kelley wait on a customer at the Snack Shack.

If you’re in Great Falls, Nike Field is located at the corner of Route 7 (Leesburg Pike) and Utterback Store Road— stop by just for dinner and catch a game. Nike Field is named after the Nike Missile site operated by the U.S. Army to defend Washington, D.C. from Soviet air strikes during the Cold War.

To all the volunteers in Snack Shacks across the country…thanks! Enjoy the last days of baseball. See you in the spring! Learn more about Great Falls Little League here.

Hospitality and Raising Boys: Get Your Xenia Going

“Hospitality is a lost art.” (Micah Willard, September 2011)

Micah Willard teaches sixth grade at The Heights School. Simply put, he is the type of man you want teaching your boys. The oldest of twelve children, he is married to his Irish sweetheart, Kathleen. Micah has a bachelor’s degree in classical and early Christian studies. During his college years, he taught middle school boys in the Bronx, New York, with the Crotona Achievement Program. This is Micah’s third year at The Heights teaching literature, language arts, and history as the head of a sixth grade home room.

Micah Willard, sixth-grade home room teacher (photo courtesy of The Heights)

Above all, he knows boys. As our son’s teacher and advisor, he said, We are here to assist you in the intellectual, moral, physical, and spiritual education of your son.”

I shared with him that we also want our son to be hospitable toward others, be it in our home or anywhere he goes in life.

Mr. Willard didn’t hesitate when he responded:

“Yes, hospitality is a lost art.”

It wasn’t long after meeting that Mr. Willard worked a hospitality lesson into some Greek Mythology and the story of the Golden Fleece. A literature worksheet came home with the Greek word “xenia” noted along with its meaning and its relation to the story. I knew this because my son quizzed me to see if I knew what xenia meant.

The Greek god Zeus is sometimes referred to as Zeus Xenios — meaning the god of travelers. This title created an obligation to be hospitable to travelers and guests to their hosts.

Xenia consists of three basic rules:

  1. The respect from host to guest. The host must be hospitable to guests and provide them with food, drink and a bath.
  2. Respect from guest to host. The guest must be polite and not be a burden.
  3. The parting gift (xenion) from host to guest is when the host shows honor at receiving the guest.

You have to admit, a brilliant move on Mr. Willard’s part — teaching hospitality by working it into a lesson — seamless!

Xenia: Learning from a 12-Year-Old Boy

Sixth-grade boys are just getting warmed up for a night of fun. Crazy hats made from packing material destined for the trash bin.

Two weeks ago was the long holiday weekend, Columbus Day. School let out on Friday to an Indian summer day. The boys started out at the baseball field and continued the evening in the yard—bikes, silly hats, camp fire, rope swings, flashlight tag, you name it. FREEDOM after a long week of hitting the books.

At 10 p.m. our son asked:

“Can Connor spend the night?”

I replied, “Yes, but it’s late and you two have an early game, so you have to get your showers and get right into bed.

To save time, Connor ran home to his house to shower and get a change of clothes. In the meantime, our son, Patrick, showered and got ready for bed. I asked Patrick to get in his bed so when Connor arrived, my husband could just tell him to come in and go right to bed.

Mother-Son Exchange

“Mom, I can’t be already in bed when Connor comes. I have to be downstairs to wait for him.”

“But, it’s late and you have to get up early for a game!”

“But, Mom! That’s not hospitality…me not there waiting for him and dad just sending him up here with me already in bed?!”

I said, “You know…you’re right.”

To which our 12-year-old replied: “Thanks Mom…you know, it’s a good thing you started Kelley Hospitality!”

Okay, maybe it was a ploy to get to stay up a tad later, but he was right. Greet your quests at the door and show them you are glad they came.

Eureka! (Greek)  We have a little xenia going on!

The Purple Onion Arrives

Sliced tenderloin with purple onion chutney-type condiment

Everyone loves a purple onion whether it’s the deep purple popping on a salad or the strong taste holding its own with smoked salmon, cream cheese and capers.

But this Purple Onion happens to be the name of the Purple Onion Catering Company in Vienna, Virginia. (Tyson’s Corner area, a suburb of Washington, D.C.)

This is a story of a mom-and-pop operation who, through hard work and lean years, made it big. Mom and pop are Margot and Dave Jones who started the Purple Onion Catering Company in 1990 with a simple goal to provide exceptional food and service to the Washington, D.C., area.

Why the “Purple Onion”

I asked Margot how they got the name. She quipped: “My dad suggested it because I like onions and I like purple.”

I first met Margot in 2004 when my husband and I were planning a fundraiser for our son’s school, Siena Academy in Great Falls, Virginia. The theme was Oktoberfest and we had a lean budget. A few years later, we planned another fundraiser with a seated dinner and an Italian theme, and, yes, another lean budget. Each time, the Purple Onion worked within our budget while providing really delicious food. They never treated us like we were second-rate because we didn’t have the big budget for their services.

This fall, the Purple Onion moved from their café-front catering kitchen to a bigger facility with an industrial-sized kitchen, showroom complete with table scapes, and sales offices. I had the pleasure of attending the party for the opening of their new facility in Vienna, Virginia. The Purple Onion theme was well executed in their interior design, even down to the lavender walls and purple and lime green tiles on the elevator floor.

I applaud The Purple Onion for becoming the caterer of choice for both the Arlington and Washington, D.C., Catholic Dioceses. And you just never know where they will show up. To my great surprise, I attended a garden party at The Heights School in Potomac, Maryland and guess who provided the menu?

So, to all you small businesses starting up or trying to make it…I say keep at it! The Purple Onion did and is celebrating their success, not to mention making a lot of people happy with their fine food and catering services.

Specialty cakes by Alla Z -- The Purple Onion's newest pastry chef.

On the Menu

Irene Kelley Hill taste tests the Purple Onion Bisque. It even matches her outfit!

After getting a glass of wine, we were treated to tastings while watching the chefs prepare the food before our eyes. Chef Adam L. Gooch created a signature Purple Onion Bisque for the opening. It was warm and exquisite, yet not overpowered with onion. Owner Dave Jones was not sure yet how they would use it and he liked my idea of serving it in a cup with croutons on top for a first course.

“Yes, I like the crunch with the smooth bisque.” I never had anything like it. Unfortunately all the recipes are top-secret so I could only guess at the ingredients.

Enjoy the experience with me!

I have to admit, wearing a little black dress and heeled sandals, all accented with a Nikon camera around my neck, while balancing a glass of red wine in one hand, and a plate in the other, and chatting it up, was not easy. But, you know me, I will do anything for a story.

Chef Gooch's tool box filled with knives and various implements. I hope he didn't mind that I rested my wine glass and plate on top of it.

One of their many pastry offerings made by Alla and Seth.

Chicken salad in a cone

Crab balls

Lollipop petit fours