Focaccia Bread Appetizers
Focaccia Bread Appetizers
While recovering from a flu bug, I found myself in an in-between dream and sleep state. It had to be a dream because my mom was there.

My house was filled with unexpected company and I was feeding them popcorn. My mom (who passed away in 2010) was telling me I needed to give them more food. So I was pondering what I had in my cupboards that I might quickly fix for the guests.

I conjured up a block of cheese and a can of black olives. I thought about cutting the cheese in cubes and stacking the cheese and olives on toothpicks with something else, I wasn't sure what.

Then I woke up and realized I might be dreaming about food because I was hungry. It was in the wee hours of the morning. After being sick, I had been back at work the day before, but had hardly eaten all day, afraid of any consequences.

But I'd prepared some spaghetti for my evening meal and had consumed two small serving portions. Although I'd slept well the night after being sick all day, I was not sleeping well at all the night of the dream. That's why I was unsure if I was asleep or awake when the company situation arose.

After realizing it was a dream and that perhaps I was hungry, I got up, ate a cheese stick, stuffed handfuls of blueberries in my mouth and drank a small glass of milk before going back to bed. Then I slept soundly until my radio started playing a couple hours later.

As dreams can be odd, the strange part for me was being unprepared for company. I over-prepare for guests and then find myself trying to use up, weeks later, some of the party foods still in my cupboards, freezer or even fridge.

However, it was completely in character for my mother to be concerned about having enough food to feed the guests. She hosted hordes of expected and unexpected guests during her lifetime and always made sure there was plenty of food for all.

I also remember the Christmas Eve when she and my dad were here for the annual family party. As was their tradition, they took naps in our bedroom to rest up after arriving. My husband had ducked into the bedroom door before realizing it was occupied when he heard Mom filling Dad in.

"You would not believe all the food she has out there," he heard her say, but then she added, "Tom, stay away from that shrimp." (My dad was deathly allergic to shrimp.)

After the dream, I had a yearning for popcorn and kept thinking about the cheese and olives on toothpicks. Eventually, I had expanded the idea to include bits of veggies and/or pickles. Then - why not have something to poke the toothpicks into to complete the presentation?

Perhaps bread - a flat loaf of focaccia bread? I already had a packaged mix for it in my cupboard. This time I'd actually read the directions ahead of time and mixed it up correctly (unlike at Christmas when I started mixing it a couple hours before the meal). I needed something to take to the Super Bowl party we would be attending.

So it was decided. I picked up some extra cheese and mini cucumbers. I already had mini peppers and olives-various kinds of olives, a few leftover from Christmas.

I set my alarm early on Sunday and got up to mix up the bread to give it two hours to rise. Then I crawled back under the covers and reset the alarm.

Sunday was a full day for me - fellowship dinner at church (I'd cooked squash on Saturday), annual meeting at church, pictures to take for a coronation at school (2 p.m.) and then the party.

So my husband got drafted into helping with the toothpick appetizer presentation when I was back from the photo shoot. I cut up bowls of cheese chunks, cucumbers, peppers and had olives and beet pickles draining on paper towels. The most difficult part was cutting up the bread.

If you wonder how I get ideas for each column, you are with me. I wonder many times right up to the day I have to write again. I had another idea-fresh salads of greens with fixings, to remind me of summer.

It's important to me in the middle of the winter to find reasonably priced fruits and veggies for healthy eating all through the winter months, when there's nothing to harvest outside.

I am cheap, I'll admit, but I also crave things like pineapple, honeydew melon or sweet cherries. I make a point of cutting up veggies or fruit ahead of time that can be easily bagged up for lunches at work. This week, after checking the prices, I picked up a large honeydew melon. After halving, seeding and cutting it into wedges, I removed the skin, cut it up and have bite-sized pieces in a plastic container in the fridge.

For many years, I purchased diet frozen meals that I took to work. Until one day, I suddenly could not stand to eat another one. I had tried all the varieties, over and over. Now I cook my own meals, stir-fries, soups or pasta that can be reheated. I cook a couple times each week and then tuck meal-sized, single-serve portions into the fridge. I tried freezing them, but found I forgot what was inside and they lost some of their flavor and texture after being frozen, so I abandoned that method.

The underlying "rule" is making sure things are consumed within a week, if not, they become chicken or pig food. Nothing is wasted at our house. Chickens love the seeds from melons, skins from cooked squash or stems from herbs.

Cooking from scratch and consuming several servings of fruit and veggies each day has become a passion for me, just as it has become a passion to pass along ideas for easy scratch cooking. I want everyone to know how easy and quick healthy cooking can be.

I liked my "dream" appetizer because it shows one can easily put together basic ingredients and make something more of them. It is pretty too.