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Cooking With Myra: Summer is time for casual meals, easy menus with friends

By By Myra Starkey
June 3, 2014 at 1:03 a.m.

Hannah's salad

Hannah's Salad

• 2 garlic cloves, minced

• 8 green onions, chopped

• 2 large avocados, diced

• 2/3 cup grapeseed oil

• 1/3 cup Riesling vinegar (If I'm out, I just use white wine vinegar.)

• 1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard

• 2 tsp. salt

• 1 tsp. pepper

• 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

• 2 Tbsp. grated Romano cheese (If I'm out, I just use extra Parmesan.)

• 2 heads romaine lettuce, torn and dried

Combine garlic, green onions and avocados in a large bowl and mix well. Combine grape seed oil, vinegar, mustard, salt, pepper, Parmesan and Romano cheeses in a small separate bowl and whisk well. Add dressing to the green onion mixture and toss. Place the romaine on top (do not mix). Chill covered for six to eight hours. Toss just before serving. I usually garnish with homemade croutons - because if you are going to eat a salad, you deserve those.

Easy French Bread

• 1 pkg. active dry yeast

• 1/2 cup water

• 21/2-3 cups all-purpose flour

• 1 cup cake flour

• 3/4 cup beer, room temperature

• 1 tsp. salt

• 1 Tbsp. cornmeal

• 1/4 tsp. salt

• 1/4 cup water

Sprinkle yeast over warm water and stir. Set aside to soften. Do not move for five minutes.

Add 2 cups flour, cake flour, beer, and 3/4 tsp. salt to yeast. Beat with wooden spoon. Stir in just enough flour for dough to get stiff. Turn dough out to floured surface and allow it to rest for five minutes. Oil a large bowl. Knead dough for around two minutes, folding and refolding until the dough is elastic. Knead for an additional five minutes, continually dusting hands with flour. Shape into a ball and put in bowl turning once so dough is oil side up. Allow dough to rise for two hours.

Spray a sheet pan with vegetables spray and sprinkle with cornmeal. Divide dough in half. Take each half and shape into a ball. Gently roll back and forth in center to form a log. Continue until the log is 12 inches long. Place on prepared sheet pan. Repeat process. The dough will resemble a log or rope.

Cover with a cloth.

Allow dough to rise one hour. Heat oven to 450 degrees. Add remaining salt and water and mix. Brush loaves with salt water mixture. Slice gently across the tops of the loaves. Bake 10 minutes. Brush saltwater again and bake an additional 10 minutes.

Loaves are done when tapped and they sound hollow. They should be golden and crusty. Remove from sheet and cool on wire rack.

I remember our first house. We bought it just after we married almost 32 years ago. Taylor had finished his first year of medical school in Galveston. I had a great job as a programmer analyst working for American National Insurance Co. We had enough money available for a down payment and borrowed the rest to buy the house at 923 Church St. in Galveston.

The house was only two blocks from the medical school; he could walk to class, and I could drive our car to work in downtown Galveston.

The house was about 50 years old and in need of paint inside and out, but it was ours - or at least ours and the bank's. We began to work on it every weekend and night. My mother came over from Louisiana and helped us sand, stain and varnish the wood floors. The previous owner had large Labrador retrievers that lived in the house while their owner attended medical school.

This was a great deal for the dogs and a bad situation for the house. After the owner moved out, there were so many fleas that we had to spray our legs with flea spray to keep them from biting us, and this was after it was professionally fumigated. In fact, the only thing that seemed to cure this flea infestation was the heavy varnishing of the floors. That seemed to have glued them into permanent immobility.

Eventually, we painted the walls, interior and exterior, after fixing the rotten wood. We laid some grass in the postage-stamp-sized front yard. The more we restored our little house, the more we loved it. After about five months, we saved enough money to replace the kitchen floor, and I chose bright blue linoleum tiles.

We glued them to the floor; then, I realized they had to be waxed in order to shine. So I got down on my hands and knees with a can of paste wax, and the blue color came alive. Every week or two, I buffed those tiles to keep them bright and shiny. I was so proud of our little home.

Last month, our daughter, Hannah, and her husband, Ben, bought a house in Houston. It was built in 1939 and is near the Texas Medical Center. Hannah will be starting a residency in general surgery in a month and wanted to be near the hospitals. Since the house is 75 years old and has been unoccupied for the past two years, it needed a lot of work.

It is a solid house that was worth fixing up. During the past several weekends, we have traveled to Houston to lend a helping hand. Nature had taken over and reclaimed much of the yard. Taylor is the handy carpenter in the group, so he worked on doors, reworked and added trim, repaired rotten wood, replaced cracked asbestos siding and did other jobs requiring skilled hands. The rest of us - Randy, Patti, Janet, Ben, Hannah and I - hauled fill dirt, trimmed trees and bushes, raked uncountable bags of leaves, mulched everywhere and laid almost three pallets of grass.

After two weekends of work, the house is looking more like a home. There are no beds or furniture yet. The movers are coming this week. As we sat on the floor having a snack with some of Hannah's friends, I could see it is becoming their home. I could hear the excitement in their voices as they planned where to hang their pictures and how to arrange their couch, chairs and coffee table.

The milestone in a marriage of owning or renting the first house together is something to be treasured. I believe the more we pour ourselves into a project, the more we become a part of it. And if we do it with someone we love, it can create the best sort of memories.

Hannah and Ben love their new little house. It sits on a shaded street, and they have already met several neighbors. Despite the fact that we were in Houston, neighbors were walking dogs and stopping to say hello to the new, young couple moving in.

Another milestone in their lives happened last weekend when Hannah graduated from University of Texas Medical School at Houston. It seems a little odd that she is old enough to be a medical doctor.

It wasn't that long ago that she was a little girl sitting at our kitchen table with her brothers eating breakfast. When I look at her now, she is a grown woman, and I am so proud of her accomplishments.

Most of our weekends in Houston revolve around food. This weekend, despite all the work on the old house, we had time for some amazing barbecue at Caroline and Andy's house during the post-graduation party. We had pulled pork barbecue from Killen's in Pearland. Hannah and Caroline made several side salads, coleslaw and some really delicious pies. The dressing on the romaine salad was amazing, and so I wanted to share it with you.

Summer is a time for casual meals and easy menus with friends. Create or order out the main course and supplement it with this fresh, appetizing salad.

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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