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Cooking with Myra: Find new adventures, learn new skills

April 12, 2011 at midnight
Updated April 11, 2011 at 11:12 p.m.

Southern Pecan  and Apple Salad

Southern Pecan and Apple Salad

Olive Oil

2 Tbsp. butter

1/3 cup light brown sugar

Scant 1 cup pecan halves

2 red or green apples

2 heads Belgian endive, leaves removed, washed and spun dry

A couple of handfuls of mixed lettuce leaves, such as arugula and radicchio

Dressing

Zest and juice of 1 orange

1 tsp. Dijon mustard

1 tsp. white wine vinegar

3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Lightly oil a sheet pan with olive oil and put to one side. Put a large saucepan on a low heat and add butter and sugar. Leave on a gentle simmer for a couple of minutes, stirring occasionally, until the sugar is completely dissolved and the mixture starts to darken. Gently stir in your pecans until they're well coated in caramel syrup. Be careful not to splash yourself, and don't be tempted to have a taste because hot caramel can burn quite badly. Once coated, tip the nuts onto the oiled pan and use the back of a spoon to separate them out into one layer. Leave them to cool, so the caramel can harden on the nuts.

Meanwhile, prepare dressing. Place orange zest and juice, Dijon mustard, and white wine vinegar into a large salad bowl and add a good lug of extra virgin olive oil. Whisk together and taste - you want to get a nice balance between the sharpness of the vinegar and the smoothness of the oil, so add a little more oil if needed, season with salt and pepper to taste.

Core, quarter and thinly slice apples and add to bowl with mixed lettuce leaves. Break the cooled pecans apart, add half of them to the bowl, and use your hands to delicately toss and dress everything. Serve on one big platter, or divide up between plates, and finish by crumbling over the rest of the caramel pecans.

Source: "Jaime's America" cookbook

By Myra Starkey

Most of my daily life is filled with administrative duties at the clinic. I actually don't mind this, especially as I have gotten older and have fewer responsibilities at home.

Being an empty nester means you don't have to cook supper every night, and when you do, it is most often a simple meal for two. Since my days are mostly routine, I don't mind getting the chance to learn something new, but sometimes I fear that my 50-year-old brain may not be capable of anything too complex.

All new learning opportunities may not be equally exciting. At the clinic, we do lots of hearing screens (audiograms) for people who work in noisy environments. Many large employers require a special certification for the clinic staff member who supervises these tests. I decided that I would get the certification, instead of burdening someone else at the office with that task. I went to Dallas at the end of last week for the three-day course. The course was quite informative, and I learned how precious the hearing sense is, and how easily your hearing can be damaged.

At the beginning of the first day of class, the instructor told us we would have an exam on the third day of class, and we must pass the test in order to be certified. My brain immediately thought, "of course this material can't be that hard," After listening to about two hours of lecture and video, I wondered if I would be among those who passed. It seemed that most of the others in the group were much younger than me and might have brains that were more exercised and memory retentive. I paid attention and studied the best I could.

On the morning of the test, I woke early and reviewed the material. I had a nervous feeling in my stomach, so I took a break around 7 a.m. to surf the Internet. If I was in Dallas, I might as well have some fun after the class. I typed in "weaving in Dallas" and lo and behold, there was a FiberFest in Grapevine, which was on my way home.

I tried to contain my excitement and wrote down the address. I practically skipped to the classroom and arrived as the teacher was placing tests on the desk. Although it was still early, he indicated that those of us who were ready could begin, and therefore, finish early. If I could just make it through the test I could be off to the festival. I broke out into a cold sweat as I looked through the test and noticed some math problems, but I reassured and calmed myself and moved ahead. One after another I recognized answers. Perhaps my brain could still absorb data. An hour later, I waltzed out, having only missed two questions.

I set my automobile GPS to Grapevine and headed toward the festival of fiber. I arrived as the vendors were opening their booths of hand-dyed knitting yarns, beautiful wooden carved needles, spinning wheels and wool heaped in bundles. The room was filling up with women sporting large shopping bags and going from booth to booth to touch the yarns. I made a few quick purchases, since I was short on time and then began the long drive to Victoria.

I had to be back for a motorcycle safety course, which was to start at six that evening.

As you may recall, my husband had the great idea of purchasing a pair of Vespa scooters, so that we could have a fun and adventurous activity together. A motorcycle license is required to legally ride these on the street, and the course is necessary for the license. And certainly, I want to be as safe as possible, so I knew the course would be worthwhile. If we had been riding these scooters on public roads already, then I could tell you how much fun it is to do it, but I am not one who would knowingly or repeatedly break the law.

The class was given by Victoria College. It took the entire weekend. Part of it involved lots of classroom learning, followed by a written test.

My new-found confidence in test taking assured me that the written portion could be mastered, as long as I paid attention in class. The class of 12 was made up of some folks who said they wanted to get a motorcycle to save gas, and others who were more truthful and admitted that they thought riding motorcycles was just plain exciting.

The main instructor, Michael, was a fun-loving, military man, who had just retired from the Air Force after 20 years of service. He may have more motorcycles than I have cooking pots, and that's saying a lot.

Unlike others in the class, I couldn't think of lots of fond motorcycle memories. We have a couple of dirt bikes at our place in the country, and Taylor and our sons love to ride them. My only dirt bike experience was when my eldest son, Miles, tried to teach me, and I ran into a briar patch, which seriously scratched my arms and face, and Miles was terrified and did not want me to get back on.

The most challenging part of the course was actually learning how to ride a motorcycle. These were actual full-size cycles with powerful engines that required shifting of gears. I quickly realized that a motorcycle only has two wheels and will fall over much easier than your average car. Michael and the other instructor, Merlyn, were both very capable and patient. By Sunday, we had worked through most skills and were practicing turns and shifting and braking, all important motorcycle maneuvers to avoid injury and death.

I learned that 70 percent of motorcycle fatalities are caused by head injuries, so you should always wear a helmet ... and that most crashes occur on curves in the road ... and that motorcycles are often not seen by other large vehicular traffic. I was thinking this might be a somewhat dangerous hobby if one was not careful.

In the end, we passed the course, and in the process, got to spend some time with some other fun folks. I am officially a motorcycle mama. I am ready to find new adventures on the open road among the brotherhood of bikers.

We finished late on Saturday night, and my friend, Kim, had invited us to dinner. She was cooking from our Cookbook Club cookbook, "Jamie's America," by Jamie Oliver. The salad is divine, both because of the delicious orange dressing and the caramel pecans. Then we had crab balls with tomato salsa.

I was much too tired to do anything but eat, but I assisted Kim on the salad dressing and can vouch for how easy it is. Enjoy food, friends and adventure.

Myra Starkey lives in Victoria. Write her in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901, or email myra@vicad.com.

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