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An Inventory Of My Mother’s Recipe Box

06-26-15 Recipe Box-1

My drawer of plastic storage containers recently reached maximum capacity and I had to make some hard decisions about what to toss. After I matched tops and bottoms, separated the Rubbermaid from the Tupperware, and accepted that I would never use the pastel bunny-face popsicle molds, I discovered a slightly rusty metal box with a hinged lid. My mother’s recipe holder.

This box lived in the drawer beneath our wall oven at my childhood home, along with all my mom’s cookbooks. When she moved out and got rid of most everything, I kept the box for sentimental reasons. I can’t remember my mother ever using the box when she cooked. In fact, I can barely remember her cooking.

Due to her declining health from Multiple Sclerosis (M.S.), family meals disappeared by the time I reached puberty. However, I learned to cook early, thanks to her encouragement – and benign neglect of my kitchen experiments.

Southern Living, Betty Crocker, and the Amana Touchmatic II Radarange Microwave Oven Cook Book were my early cooking instructors. On my own I figured out how to dispose of the evidence: muffins like hockey pucks, briquette brownies, and a confusing puddle of sugar syrup that was supposed to be microwave taffy.

My fondest memories in the kitchen are all at my grandmother’s house. At home, I blazed a solo trail of culinary inquiry because even before M.S. made cooking impossible for her my mother had a tenuous relationship with food.

She told me about starving herself all day in high school so she could have a plate of French Fries and a coke after class and still stay skinny. Smoking was a great way to stay thin, but she said she never liked it enough to keep going. She blamed growing up during World War II for malnutrition and told me that was probably why she had such bird bones. Indeed, old photos and dresses show that she didn’t eat much.

Mommy Bathing Suit

(This is not a physical trait I share with my mom. I couldn’t fit into her wedding dress when I was eight years old.)

Back when she did cook for the family, my mom’s rotation included lemon chicken, beef-and-rice, and liver-and-onions. I vividly recall her attempt at stuffing a whole head of cabbage. It freaked me out because it looked like a brain stewing on the stove.

My mother’s taste in food always seemed odd to me. She liked peanut butter and tomato sandwiches, crystallized ginger straight from the container, and liver-and-onions. If I ever wanted to give her a food gift, I’d just think about the last thing I’d ever want to eat and get her that.

The tin box of recipe cards, dishes my mother made a point of remembering, sat under the spare ice trays at the very back of my storage drawer. It escaped the trash can in past years because I promised myself I would find a recipe I liked and think of my mother as I made it. As long as I didn’t open the box, I imagined there was some wonderful meal with the aroma of her loving memory.

This time, the tin box couldn’t deflect my organization zeal with a nostalgic fantasy. A husband, a son, and a daughter all need copious containers to fill their lunch sacks. Storage in my kitchen is a high stakes Tetris game, and I can fit an entire sandwich kit in the space those old recipes occupy.

To purge any sentimentality, I took a calculating, clinical look at the box’s contents. Below is my Recipe Inventory. All recipe names are directly from the cards.

Drinks: 4

+ Mulled Wine
+ Unnamed Punch with Apple and Cranberry Juice
+ Instant Russian Tea
made with Tang 
+ Strawberry Tea Punch
recipe printed on a Lipton Tea Bag envelope

Sauces: 2

+ Hollaidaise (sic)
handwritten card with 11 drips obscuring words
+ White Sauce
handwritten card with 1 large brown drip

Bread: 1

+ Quick Family Dinner Rolls
total time to prepare rolls: 2 hours

Salads: 6

+ Congealed Salad
ingredients include orange Jell-O
+ Blueberry Salad
ingredients include Blackberry jello {A&P} (sic)
+ Fruit Cocktail ‘N Cottage Cheese Salad
recipe cut from a label of a Libby’s Fruit Cocktail in heavy syrup
ingredients include lime-flavored gelatin
+ Strawberry & Banana Salad
ingredients include 3 pks. strawberry & banana jello
+ Salad
ingredients include Marshmallows, crushed pineapple, mayonnaise, and lime Jello
+ Shrimp-and-Rice Salad Ring
ingredients include shrimp, green onions, rice, broth, mayonnaise, red food coloring, heavy cream, and gelatin

Casseroles: 8

+ Apple-Banana Casserole
+ Hamburger Casserole
+ Ham and Rice Casserole
+ Broccoli Casserole
handwritten
+ Broccoli Casserole
exact same recipe as above, but in a different handwriting
+ unnamed cornbread dressing casserole
+ Seven Seas Casserole
recipe cut from a box of Minute Rice
ingredients include 1 can tuna, condensed cream of celery soup, and cooked peas
+ unnamed chicken casserole
typed
ingredients include 4 chicken breasts, cream of mushroom soup, chipped beef, bacon, and sour cream
+ unnamed chicken casserole
handwritten written on back of State Employee’s Credit Union withdrawal slip
also written on slip is the number of someone named Dave

Dips: 2

+ Tomato Dip
+ CAL-O-RRIFIC DIP
recipe cut from a box of Wheat Thins Crackers

Spreads: 1

+ Beef Spread
ingredients include Smoked Chopped Beef, cream cheese, mayonnaise, sherry, and olives

Party Mix: 1

+ Toasted Party Mix
recipe cut from a magazine ad for Cheerios

Chicken Dishes: 7

+ Chicken Diable (sic)
+ Hungarian Chicken
handwritten on Tiki stationery, not my mother’s handwriting
+ Hungary
handwritten in my mother’s handwriting
+ Chicken Tahitian
+ Chicken Kiev
written on PARKS BUILDING SUPPLY COMPANY note paper
+ Boned Chicken Stuffed with Wild Rice Dressing
recipe cut from newspaper
+ Chicken Liver Saute Japanese Dish
recipe cut from newspaper
headline above recipe: “Japanese-accented liver dish is really delicious”

Beef Dishes: 13

+ Teriyaki Steak (Island Favorite from Japan)
recipe cut from newspaper
+ Braised Short Ribs of Beef for a Crowd
recipe cut from newspaper
+ Grenadin of Beef Tenderloin
recipe cut from newspaper
+ Filet Steak Diane
recipe cut from newspaper

+ Chuckwagon Beef on a Skewer
recipe cut from newspaper
+ Beef Burger Barbecue
recipe cut from newspaper

+ Marinated Steaks
recipe cut from newspaper
+ 30 Second Pan Fried Steak
recipe cut from newspaper
+ Steak San Marco
handwritten
+ Chinese Beef
handwritten
+ Chinese Beef and Rice
handwritten
+ NGO YuK Fan Kay (Beef Tomato)
handwritten
+ Ris de Veau Braised au Jus
recipe cut from a magazine

Specialty Dishes: 10

+ Egg Fried Rice
+ Shrimp Eloise
+ Asparagus Venetian
+ Fondue for Every Taste
recipe page cut from TV Guide, October 7, 1971
includes recipes for Cheese Fondue, Chocolate Fondue, Fondue Bourguinonne, and Fondue Orientale (made with only chicken broth and white wine)
+ Chile Rellenos
+ Taco Pie
handwritten
ingredients include canned “creasant” (sic) rolls, Fritos, burger, sour cream, american cheese, more Fritos, and “sreaded” (sic) lettuce
+ Beefy Quiche
+ Surprise Tuna Quiche
recipe cut from a magazine
last line of directions reads, “This quiche is unique in that it has its own ‘surprise’ cheese sauce.”

Sweets: 26

+ Butter-Cinnamon Delight
+ Butterballs
+ Congo Cookies
+ Marshmallow Treats
recipe cut from a Rice Krispies box
+ Cinnamon Coffee Cake
+ Glaze
made with sugar, butter, and rum
+ Icing
made with 1 can Baker’s coconut
+Quick Trick Fruitcake
recipe cut from Betty Crocker Date Bar Mix box
+ Carnation Five Minute Fudge
recipe cut from a can of Carnation milk
+ 24 Min. Chocolate Cake
+ Pillsbury Create-a-Cake Mix Recipe Booklet
+ Fresh Strawberry Pie
recipe cut from magazine ad for Cool Whip

+ Lemon Ice Box Whipped Cream Pie
+ Cherry Topped Cheese Pie
ingredients include cream cheese
+ Lemon Cheese Cake with Lemon Cheese Filling
ingredients do NOT include cheese of any kind
+ Coconut Pie
+ Candy Apples
2 copies of same recipe
+ Coca-Cola Cake
2 copies of same recipe
+ Orange Kiss-Me Cake
+ Orange Candy Cake
ingredients include a 14 oz. box of dates and 1 lb. orange candy slices
+ Carrot Cake
the only recipe she wrote her name on
+ Banana Nut Bread
+ Pineapple Nut Bread
+ Strawberry Nut Bread
handwritten in my sister’s handwriting
+ Brownies
handwritten by me, around age 10, on notebook paper
ingredients include “shorting” (sic) and “baking power” (sic)
corner of recipe page burned

 

You couldn’t pay me to prepare or eat the vast majority of these recipes. How can a person have SIX salads, all gelatin-based, and nary a one featuring lettuce? A casserole with chicken, beef, AND bacon is just pandering to the barnyard. My surprise about the Surprise Tuna Quiche is that anyone would think canned tuna and American cheese quiche would be a good idea. TV Guide simply isn’t a source I trust for fondue. Popular cuisine from the late 60’s and early 70’s just didn’t have legs, like a lot of culture from that time.

Nostalgia looks best with movie lighting, and very little analysis. Under the harsh glare of retrospect, many things that were special in the past become grotesque, outdated, and revolting. I think it’s time to let go of those wistful dreams of reliving good old days that never were.

At the same time, opening that box released a flood of laughter, and nausea, and happy memories. Each recipe took me back to church potlucks, neighborhood barbecues, family gatherings, and ordinary weekdays after school when my mother would talk with me for hours. While we didn’t have gourmet meals, we had delicious conversations and shared juicy stories about our lives.

Even if the recipes are ready to be retired from active duty, they still have value. I can use them to tell my kids about the grandmother they didn’t get a chance to know – and how lucky they are to have me in the kitchen instead.

This is why my house is cluttered. This is why I’ll never achieve the modern minimalist decor that looks so exquisitely clean and child-free in the magazines. This is why the storage drawer is always at maximum capacity. Family history is the reason I live in Dirty House Beautiful.

***

In all of the box, there is one recipe that I’ll keep in the kitchen – the one written in my sister’s handwriting.
Strawberry Nut Bread is a heroic treat.

According to my sister’s testimony, one day she pulled into the parking lot of the fabric store and saw an older woman lying on the ground, and another woman helping her get up. Then my sister noticed a man running away with a purse in his hand. So, she revved the engine on her Toyota Celica and drove after him, even jumping the curb in her little red two-seater and pursuing him down the sidewalk. The snatcher finally threw the purse back at the car’s windshield to get my sister off his tail.

My sister carried the purse back to the woman. Then, they came to discover that the victim was a close friend of my grandmother. A few days later, my sister received a fresh baked loaf of Strawberry Nut Bread, with the recipe attached, and a lovely handwritten thank you note.

I’ll save you from the Chicken Liver Saute Japanese Dish, even though it bears the headline, “Japanese-accented liver dish is really delicious”. Instead, take some U-pick strawberries out of the freezer and give this a try.

06-26-15 Strawberry Nut Bread 1 06-26-15 Strawberry Nut Bread 2

 

Lillet À L’Orange

12-09-14 Lillet a L'Orange-5

If I’m learning one thing while living in France (In Tacoma), it’s the value of a well-timed, beautifully crafted cocktail.
I waited all day for this one.

 (I keep my Lillet well-chilled in the réfrigérateur, and my gin in the freezer.)

Lillet À L’Orange

1 oz gin

2 oz Lillet

splash of soda water

Slice Orange

One Ice Cube

 

Put one ice cube in a lovely cocktail glass.

(I like to use this glass that belonged to my late grandmother, a woman who knew the value of an evening medicinal.)

Put the orange slice on top of the ice.

Pour the gin over the orange.

Pour the Lillet over the orange.

Top with splash of soda water.

Stir gently.

 

À votre santé!

 

 

Je Ne Sais Quoi

charcuterie des les enfants
charcuterie des les enfants

My children remained unaware of our new living arrangements. Today, on the first day of their Thanksgiving break, an undeniably American holiday, I set out a kiddie-style charcuterie plate for lunch and broke it to them, “Kids, we’re not where you think we are. Sunday night, while you slept, your father and I moved the family to France.”

We discussed the wrinkles in time and space necessary to accommodate our new living arrangements. They were surprised that I always dreamed of living in France. They were surprised I had dreams.

Once I assured the kids they could keep the kittens, and have turkey and sweet potato pie tomorrow, they gave a cheer and even agreed to try the pickled asparagus and okra in my impromptu attempt at a French-ish lunch we could all enjoy. Rosemary ham, dry salami, cheddar, gouda, soda crackers, three kinds of pickles and soda water with orange bitters. It wasn’t authentic or even that nutritious, but it would have to do.

I spent the morning finishing “Provence, 1970“, and I found myself thinking in the breathless style of all the food writers. It seemed things would always “have to do” as they threw fresh herbs over broiled shellfish or plated store-bought fresh foie gras and filled glasses with an especially haughty vintage of wine. In the other room my kids watched PBS Kids, and I read in my bathrobe, but the spirit of world-weary, mid-20th century, well-to-do food royalty filled my heart and belly.

In the book, our heroine, MFK Fisher, confronts the inherent snobbery of her passion for French cuisine and culture. Although she always wanted to retire to France, a nostalgic 1970 trip back to the hotels and restaurants of her youth convinces her that France is, in the parlance of 2014, OVER. Fed up with not just the other people in the culinary celebrity scene, but of herself in the scene, she decides to spend the rest of her life in California.

The author included actual quotes from letters people like Julia Child, James Beard and all their influential friends wrote to one another, often sniping about someone else. As I read their gossip, I considered that I was at least fifty years late getting to France. Then I remembered that this writer’s residency isn’t bound by time OR space. I can conjure any France, from any era. I just have to figure out which France is the one of my fantasy.

As much as a I love food, I can’t hang with the big boys when it comes to cooking, wine, and especially paté. I want to believe I can, but all my cookbook author interviews as a radio host taught me that I am small potatoes in the kitchen. It’s naive to confuse asking good questions of great chefs with being able to do what those great chefs describe. So, I know I’m not pursuing the Cordon Bleu path. (No, there will be no “Megan & MFK” to compete with “Julie & Julia“.)

Luckily, my children are even more unsophisticated than me. They don’t know le jambon from a hambone. So, when I told them we’d be trying to assimilate to our new country of imaginary residency, they accepted that my cheese and crackers plate was something exotic. They asked to learn more about France.

I told them the table would be called la table, and would no longer be an ‘it’, but would heretofore be referred to as ‘she’. They picked up the vocabulary lesson amazingly fast. Already, we outstripped my feeble attempts at sign language when they were babies.

They asked me what made me always want to go to France. I told them, “I don’t know what – perhaps the je ne sais quoi.” I explained my joke, since we hadn’t gotten that far in our one word French lesson. My son howled. He thought it was the funniest thing ever. We spent the next several minutes describing everything in our lives with that phrase of ambiguous praise. The whole house became instantly more chic.

If it’s not mastering the art of french cooking, then what is my reason to spend A Year In France (In Tacoma)? Right now, it’s definitely the je ne sais quoi.

 

Time For Cake Recipe

One of my very favorite memories is making pound cake with my Grandmama. She lived in a large house set way back from the street, and time seemed to stop when I visited her, especially when we baked.

It was that sense of timelessness, and a spate of severe winter rain and windstorms here in the Pacific Northwest, that inspired the story, “Time For Cake”.

If the story inspires you to take the time to make cake, don’t rush bringing all the ingredients to room temperature.

This recipe isn’t exactly the same as my Grandmama’s, but comes pretty daggum close. It’s adapted from the book, “Hungry for Home”, and I use it since I’m too ashamed to let my family know I lost the recipe my Grandmama wrote out for me, in her Perfect Palmer Method handwriting.

 

Time For Cake Cake

about 12 slices

2 sticks butter, room temperature

5 eggs, room temperature

3 cups sugar

3 cups flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 cup milk, room temperature

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

 

Preheat oven to 350

Grease a tube pan.

Using a mix, cream butter and sugar until the mixture is fluffy and the color gets lighter.

Beat in the eggs, one at a time.

Sift together flour and baking powder.

Stir vanilla extract into milk.

Add 1/3 flour mixture to butter and egg mixture, stir gently by hand until flour is all incorporated.

Add 1/2 cup milk mixture to flour, butter, egg mixture. Stir gently by hand.

Add 1/3 flour mixture, stir by hand.

Add 1/2 cup milk mixture, stir by hand.

Add final 1/3 flour mixture, stir batter gently until smooth.

 

Pour batter into greased tube pan.

Bake 55-65 minutes at 350 degrees, until a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean.

Cool cake for ten minutes.

Slide a knife around the edge of the pan to loosen the cake, invert onto a cooling rack.

Let cake cool completely before slicing. Wait for it. (Unless it’s the end of the world.)

 

Wake-Up Wars Episode IV: A New Oatmeal

oatmeal with Star Wars actions figures

This is the worst oatmeal in the entire world and no one will ever want to eat it.

At least, that’s what my nine-year-old son said when he first made it. Then he ran off to the living room to grouse about his cooking. While he vented, the too-runny oatmeal absorbed the extra water. By the time I coaxed him back into the kitchen, it was perfect. It just needed a little rest, kinda like everyone in my family.

Mornings are a battlefield in my house. My husband leaves for work at 6:00 am, so I’m solo for the whole school preparation. If I only had my son it wouldn’t even be a scuffle. It’s my five-year-old daughter who turns it into the Wake-Up Wars.

My son has always been an early riser. When he was two years old he would start jabbering in his crib at 5:00 am. I thought it would pass when he got better at talking. Instead, he got better at waking up the whole house. Once we taught him how to fix his own breakfast and occupy himself until we got up, though, there was no stress with his morning personality.

My daughter, on the other hand, was born a teenager. She prefers to sleep until 9:00 or 9:30 am, hiding under a mountain of blankets. We know she has risen when we see a shuffling, disheveled creature wander into the dining room. Even then we know not to look at her directly or, heaven forbid, speak to her. She’ll roar like a Wampa.

For this five-year-old girl, school starts when she still needs more time in her meditation chamber. I am the unlucky Admiral who must interrupt her slumber. In doing this I endure crying and screaming and the most vile use of the word ‘stupid’ as I prod her into clothes and shoes and a backpack. No matter how we adjust her bedtime and cultivate nighttime sleep hygiene, the morning brings out the worst in her.

As with most everything I experience as a mother, I am sure this is payback for my childhood. My attitude was so bad that my mother gave up on mornings altogether. My dad was responsible for waking my sisters and me. He had a gift for it.

Like my son, my father was an early riser. Perhaps from his days in the Navy, he had a routine of getting up at the crack of the dawn, making coffee, smoking cigarettes and reading the paper. Lying in bed I could hear him go about the ritual, even loading the dishwasher, and have no problem getting back to sleep. But, the sound of his ankles cracking as he crossed the den would set my heart racing.

He didn’t have to turn on lights or make any threats, he just had to say one word, “Girls”. The word wasn’t the problem, it was his voice. Deep, gravelly, a tone from a black hole, when my dad said, “Guuuuuurrrrrrllllllzzzz,” the sound of his voice irritated my molecules. I’d scream, “Shut UP!” It wouldn’t faze him. He’d keep talking, like the voice of God, “It’s time to gggggeeeeetttt uuuuuppppp”. I’d usually stand up just to get him to be quiet. On the worst days, if I resisted his ear torture, he’d come in and tickle me until I fell out of bed.

There was one time my mother got stuck with the job of waking us. She had to use an Amigo scooter by that time because of Multiple Sclerosis and couldn’t fit through the doorway back to the portion of the house where our bedrooms were. She also didn’t have the vocal magic that my dad possessed. She had to rely on being crafty.

I remember hearing a “THWUMP!”, then silence. I figured something fell in the kitchen and drifted back off. Then, a minute later, “THWUMP!” Then silence. Then “THWUMP!” The sound came at irregular intervals, impossible to sleep through. Finally, I got out of bed and walked into the den to find my mother pulling a book off the shelf, then slamming it back in place. “WHAT ARE YOU DOING??” I was incredulous. She gave me a syrupy sweet smile and said, “I’m just rearranging the bookcase. Is this not a good time for it? Well, you have to get up anyway.” Then she drove her scooter back to her room for the rest of the morning.

In my memories my parents are the torturers, making me leave the bliss of slumber for the gulag of school. Now that I’m a mother, I am painfully aware of the monster I was. I honestly don’t know why they put up with me. Based on my experience with a cranky daughter, I’d expect them to exile me to the rabbit hutch.

Those memories came rushing back as I faced down the blistering screeches of my own five-year-old teenager the other morning. Sadly, they offered no insight into a possible truce for our Wake-Up Wars. I turned to my husband for advice, “Help me Britton-wan, you’re my only hope.”

Like a good Master, he kept his own counsel on the matter for a couple days and then came back to me, “I’ve been trying to think of what gets me out of bed in the morning. I hate doing it and would scream like that if I could. But, the only reason I get up is coffee.” I considered the possibility of a family espresso machine, but my husband kept talking, “You can’t give her coffee.” Damn. “But, what if you told her she had something she’d like to eat waiting for her? That gives her a reason to get up that seems fun, nice and it’s not just about going to school.” He suggested I enact breakfast.

Breakfast and I are not friends on weekday mornings. Sunday brunch, I love. But on Thursday morning I’m more likely to eat cake at the counter than fix cereal. I took a deep breath, preparing to  lecture Jedi Dad about the chains of domesticity, my own aversion to mornings, how Mrs. Brady had a housekeeper and why, in the 21st century, did he think I’d embrace some 1950’s fantasy… We’ve been married fifteen years, I didn’t get a word out before he continued talking.

“Obviously you’re not the one to do the cooking. But, we both know who’s raring to go at oh-dark-thirty…” My son! Yes, there was a reason I had two kids.

My son has been itching to get cooking in the kitchen. He once said, “The best thing about getting older is you get to use more knives.” I didn’t want to unleash him on an omelet bar, but he has been learning how to make slow-cook oatmeal in the microwave.

As a culinary padawan, he jumped at the chance to be responsible for something, “Okay, I can be in charge of breakfast.” We started out this week with three bowls of piping hot oatmeal, set out on the table. My daughter rose for her breakfast without rioting and even smiled at the table. We had restored balance. For the moment.

The rest of this week has been hit and miss. On Tuesday we found that she likes oatmeal, “but not every day”. We made it through breakfast Wednesday, but there was a dresser drawer melt-down. And by today, Friday, my son was taking it personally. My daughter refused to even respond when I asked her to come downstairs. So, when the oatmeal didn’t cook up right, I felt a great disturbance in the Force.

I listened to my son recount the abuses he suffered as breakfast cook and stared at the Pyrex measuring cup full of half-cooked oatmeal. This was not winning the war. I had to re-examine my objectives.

For me, winning the Wake-Up war meant getting a sunshine and roses daughter, one who fluttered her lashes at sunrise and sang gaily as she donned a fresh frock for kindergarten. Basically, I wanted her to be totally unlike herself, and certainly unlike me. I’m still pretty surly before noon.

And that’s when I had an awful realization, it was Luke’s moment “in the cave”.

The only thing I remember about my parents in the morning for most of my childhood is that brief moment of wake-up. After that, I think everyone just steered clear. As far as I know, my parents did consider moving me to the rabbit hutch, but settled on benign neglect once I emerged from the covers. I didn’t grow out of it, I grew into it. I learned over time how to navigate mornings in the way that worked best for me. My daughter is a bad morning person JUST LIKE ME.

As this insight gelled in my head, the oatmeal reached its proper consistency. I called my son in to witness the miracle of transformation and told him how much I appreciated his dedication. Then, I put my arm around his shoulders and told him that his sister would probably always be grumpy in the morning and it wasn’t his responsibility to change her personality.

As with most everything I say to  my kids, that last statement also applies to me.

 

Good Motivator Oatmeal

serves 3-4

2 cups water

1 cup old-fashioned oatmeal

dash salt

3 Tablespoons brown sugar

1 Tablespoon maple syrup

1/4 cup half-and-half

Frozen fruit

 

Stir together water, oats and salt in a microwave-safe bowl or Pyrex measuring cup, 4 cup capacity or larger. (The oatmeal rises a lot during cooking and you don’t want it to overflow or you’ll be scrubbing the microwave.)

Microwave at 50% power for 8 minutes.

Stir oatmeal, then cook at 50% power for another 3-6 minutes, until the oats are thick and creamy and you can no longer see oat flakes. If it’s still a bit watery, try letting it sit for a couple minutes on the counter. It will keep cooking while it rests.

Spoon oatmeal into 3 or 4 small bowls. Sprinkle with brown sugar, drizzle with  maple syrup and splash the top with half-and-half. Spoon frozen fruit over the top.

If, like us, you’re running late and don’t have time to take a walk in the woods – or a spin in the TIE Fighter- while your porridge cools, stirring the frozen fruit into the hot oatmeal brings it to a palatable temperature in mere moments.

May the Force be with your Morning.

An Upside-Down Breakfast

A cake stand doubles as a plate when the cake is this good.
A cake stand doubles as a plate when the cake is this good.

A slice of upside-down cake in a bowl for breakfast with coffee at the table? A nice idea.

A second slice of upside-down cake in a bowl while standing at the counter? Probably okay.

Ignoring the bowl and eating upside-down cake straight from the cake stand? This cake is so good, it’s a problem.

 

I adapted the “Joy of Cooking” recipe for Pineapple Upside Down Cake to accommodate some super-tasty Remlinger Farms frozen peaches I picked up to bring a little taste of summer into the January doldrums.

While I baked, my husband watched the Seahawks face the 49’ers. Just after we took the cake out of the oven and flipped it upside-down, the Seahawks‘ Richard Sherman flipped the football away from Michael Crabtree to secure the NFC championship and a trip to the Superbowl for Seattle.

Am I implying that my cooking is voodoo? Yes. Try it for yourself if you need a turnover in your life.

Me, I’ll be turning over a new leaf on that New Year’s diet resolution.

Peach Upside-Down Cake
adapted from Joy of Cooking Pineapple Upside-Down Cake
8 servings

Have all ingredients at room temperature, 68 to 70ºF.
Preheat the oven to 350º.
Use a 9 inch cast iron skillet like I did. Or, butter a 9 inch cake pan.

 

Thaw 2 cups of frozen peach slices on the counter.

Place in the skillet or cake pan:

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

Place the pan in the oven just until the butter is melted, or melt it on top of the stove. Tilt to coat all sides with butter. The extra butter will settle in the bottom of the pan. Sprinkle evenly over the bottom of the pan:

3/4 cup packed light or dark brown sugar

Place the peach slices in a ring in the center of the pan and fill the center with as many slices as will fit in one layer.

Whisk together with a fork:

2 large eggs
2 tablespoons buttermilk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Mix for a few seconds with an electric mixer in a large bowl:

1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt

Add:
6 tablespoons (3/4stick) unsalted butter, softened
6 tablespoons buttermilk

Beat on low speed just until the flour is moistened. Increase the speed to medium, or high speed with a hand-held mixer, and beat for exactly 1-1/2 minutes. The batter will be stiff.

Add one-third of the egg mixture at a time, beating for exactly 20 seconds and scraping the bowl after each addition. Scrape the batter over the fruit in the pan and spread evenly. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the cake comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes. Remove the cake from the oven and tilt the pan in all directions to detach it from the sides of the pan. Let cool for 2 to 3 minutes before unmolding. Invert a serving platter on top of the pan. Cover your hands with oven mitts and turn the cake onto the platter. Lift off the pan. If any fruit or nut pieces are askew, use a fork to push them back into place. If brown sugar is left in the pan, scrape it up and spoon it over the cake.

Serve warm or cool, plain or with whipped cream, on a plate or simply standing at the counter.

It’s that good.

Sliced Chartery

I’m always a bit surprised that blood doesn’t gush out when I cut into red chard.

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Eating greens was a rite of passage for me. As a little kid, the pile of dark mush looked like something my grandmother pulled back out of the garbage can. I watched her eat fried fish tails and suck the marrow out of chicken bones, so I assumed that greens fell into the category of “things you learn to eat on a farm”. When she offered me a serving, I’d crinkle my nose and shake my head. I didn’t know how anyone would willingly subject themselves to that.

But then, around the age of 8, my grandmother suggested I try the collard greens with a little drizzle of vinegar. She had already won me over to okra by frying it and gave squash the heavy butter treatment so that I fell in love with it, too. But, there was nothing so glamorous to disguise the true nature of greens. Bitter, sour, dark, chewy, and wholly nutritious, you had to accept greens for what they really were:  pure vitamin delivery vehicles. If I could appreciate the flavor and experience of eating them, I knew I would no longer be a little kid. I would be strong like my grandmother.

After that first, timid taste, I finally understood how to eat cooked leaf. At the K&W cafeteria, I began to order a dish of greens every time. Drizzle the vinegar, sprinkle the salt and eat them with a bite of cornbread. My grandmother told me turnip greens would be sweeter, mustard greens spicier. I gave them a shot and I’ve been eating greens ever since.

But, I never tried chard until I moved to the Pacific Northwest. What a revelation. All the weight and chew of collards, but with a sweetness that I never tasted in greens before. And, the colors! When I cooked up a mess of chard, they glistened in a pool of bright red liquor. The hardy greens of my Southern childhood were full of strength and practicality, but chard had a little sexiness. Their leaves weren’t content to be pure green, scarlet ribs and vessels showed exactly where the life flowed.

I now make greens several times a week, rotating through kale, collards, turnip, mustard and chard. Washing, trimming and slicing the greens still often feels like a chore, a long process that can’t be avoided. However, I treasure the butchering of chard. I am keenly aware that the leaves I cut were once alive. And as I separate the tender leaf from the rib, I half expect to see that life come spilling out all over the counter. It doesn’t, of course. Instead, it spills into me.

 

BRAISED CHARD

serves 4 a side dish… or 1 hungry mom

1 Bunch Chard

3 cloves garlic

Olive Oil

0.5 tsp Salt

0.5 tsp Sugar

+ Put a cast iron skillet on the stove, pour in enough olive oil to cover the bottom of the pan. Turn the heat onto medium low.

+ Mince each of the garlic cloves in a press. (I used to chop the garlic, but I found the garlic press minced the garlic in a way that gave me even more garlic flavor. It’s a pain to clean the press, but I think it’s worth it.)

+ Put the garlic into the warm oil. Keep an eye on the skillet, you don’t want the garlic to brown, you just want it to flavor the oil in the pan.

+ While the garlic steeps, slice the chard. I first slice the ribs out of the center of each leaf. Then I stack the trimmed leaves on top of each other and slice them into thin ribbons.

+ Wash the sliced leaves THOROUGHLY. This is another step that feels like a chore. Isn’t one washing enough? Not when you get gritty sand in a bite later. So, I use my salad spinner and rinse the greens three times. (I don’t dry the leaves, though, just drain them. The water clinging to the leaves is what will be the braising liquid.)

+ Turn the skillet up to medium heat. When the garlic just begins to sizzle in the oil, put the wet, sliced chard into the pan. (I love the popping and crackling sound when I do that.)

+ Saute the greens until they wilt. Sprinkle the greens with the salt and sugar.

+ Let the greens cook gently for 5-10 minutes. (It just depends on how big your bunch was and how wide your pan is.) Because there is so little water, but a nice amount of oil, the greens will cook down, the water will evaporate and then the green will begin to sizzle again, getting a little crisp at the edges as they almost fry at the end of the cooking time. The little bit of sugar will give the greens a shiny glaze.

 

I love the mix of soft and crisp texture and I always give myself the biggest serving. My children eat them out of bravery right now, but once they figure out the joy of greens, I won’t be able to hog them all anymore. Of course, I’ll be happy to share. After all, blood is thicker than chard.

My Secret Sweetie Pie

Sweetie Pie Fixins

 

“Don’t give this recipe to anyone,” my sister wrote in the e-mail, “You can give them a different recipe and let them wonder why it doesn’t turn out as good as it does when you make it.”

Keeping a secret is not my strength. I like to tell people that’s why I went into radio, so I could at least make a living by spilling the beans. But, Eloise’s recipe for Sweet Potato Pie is sacred.

Eloise was a family friend of my brother-in-law down in Greenville, Mississippi. My sister only got the recipe because she married into the family. I got the recipe because I cried like a baby until she told me. So, despite my delicate condition surrounding confidentiality, I won’t be sharing the official preparation.

However, hiding something this wonderful from the rest of the world just seems like cruelty. If I could, I’d make this pie for every person I meet. My son has suggested that the pie could be my next career, just a pie stand with slices of this. I won’t be doing that.

As for my sister’s suggestion that I share a different recipe, well, I couldn’t bear someone to make this for themselves and then doubt that I could write a good recipe. So, since I can’t keep such a delicious, transcendent dessert all to myself, and since I’m fit to burst with wanting to share a secret, I will share my own version of the pie. This is actually how I make it most of the time because the secret recipe is so decadent that I can’t even bring myself to make it more than once a year. This isn’t Eloise’s pie, but friends still eat it with big smiles and bigger mmmmmm’s.

A couple secrets that I employ:

1. Roast the sweet potatoes in a 400 degree oven for an hour or hour and a half. I find this makes them even sweeter than if you boil or microwave the potatoes. I always get garnet sweet potatoes, poke them all over with a fork and leave them in the heat until the sugary syrup starts bubbling out of the holes.

2. The recipe calls for vanilla, but I also add a teaspoon of another, secret flavoring. (Hint: It rhymes with “Frisky”, which, incidentally, is how anyone you share this pie with may feel about you.)

 

SWEETIE PIE

 

2 medium-size sweet potatoes, cooked and mashed

1 stick butter, melted

0.75 cup sugar

3 eggs, well beaten

1 cup cold milk

3 Tablespoons flour

0.5 teaspoons nutmeg

1 teaspoon vanilla

 

+ Preheat oven to 400 degrees

+ Have ready a pie crust, already in the pie pan
(Another secret, I use Marie Callender’s frozen, in-pan, pie crusts. My grandmother would tsk at me, but this is one shortcut that saves my sanity.)

+ In a large bowl, mix mashed sweet potatoes and butter

+ Add sugar to sweet potato/butter mix, stir until well incorporated

+ In a separate bowl, whisk flour into the cold milk. Whisk *really* well, so that there are no flour clumps.
(If a few small lumps get in the pie, it’s not the end of the world.)

+ Mix flour/milk mixture into the potato/butter/sugar mix.

+ Mix nutmeg and vanilla (and that secret ‘Frisky’ ingredient) into the mix.

+ Pour mixture into pie crust
(One more secret: I often have a little more filling than can fit into the pie crust. This stuff is too good to throw away and the raw eggs make it a bad idea to just slurp it up with a straw. I will pour the extra filling in a buttered glass ramekin and bake it in a bain-marie beside the pie.)

+ Bake pie at 400 degrees for 35-45 minutes, until the filling puffs slightly, the center looks firm and the top is just a little brown at the edges.

+ Let pie cool for 30-45 minutes before serving.

 

This pie is lovely with a huge dollop of fresh whipped cream. I have fallen in love with making my own whipped cream, but there is absolutely nothing wrong with Cool Whip. That said, I always follow this piece of my sister’s advice (since I don’t when it comes to secrets), “Try a slice first without cool whip to get the full effect.”

 

Sweetie Pies

 

Better Than Bo-Berry

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For my son’s eighth birthday, he wanted Bo-Berry biscuits.

We live thousands of miles from the nearest Bojangles’. I can’t swing the airfare for drive-through. But, once he put Bo-Berries in my brain, I started jonesing for the sweet and savory treat.

Help me, food blogs, you’re my only hope.

First, I saw this Bo-Berry recipe from a former employee. That’s how I learned Bojangles uses blueberry-flavored pellets rather than real blueberries. I should have guessed this. Did I really expect purity from a fast-food restaurant?

That revelation may or may not affect my consumption of future Bojangles’ biscuits. However, it definitely gave me the confidence that I didn’t need to be dazzling to make something even better. After all, I’d at least use real dried blueberries.

Dried blueberries. That’s the trick. Frozen or fresh ones are just too juicy. Put in too many and the biscuits are soggy. Too few blueberries and you’re just not getting the punch.

I pulled out my trusty “Joy of Cooking” and found a recipe that added some cornmeal to a basic biscuit dough. I like mixing in some kind of other whole grain to white flour breakfasts, like biscuits or pancakes or muffins. The treats still give me that nice weekend morning sugar rush, without getting loopy on the carbs.

These are the modifications I made to the “Joy of Cooking” recipe:

– I added 1/2 cup dried blueberries and the zest of one lemon to the dry ingredients.

– Since I didn’t have buttermilk, I added the juice of 1/2 lemon to 3/4 cup half-and-half.

– I mixed up the biscuit glaze with 1 cup powdered sugar, the juice of 1/2 lemon, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla and 1 Tablespoon water (or so, just enough to make the glaze thin enough to drizzle over the tops of the biscuits, after they cooked).

 

Better than Bo-Berry Biscuits

+ Preheat oven to 450.

+ Have a baking sheet ready.

+ Mix these DRY INGREDIENTS in a large bowl:

1.5 cups all-purpose flour
0.5 cup cornmeal
2 teaspoons baking powder
0.5 teaspoon baking soda
2 Tablespoons sugar
0.5 cup Dried Blueberries
Zest of 1 lemon

+ Mix these WET INGREDIENTS in a separate bowl and let stand while you do the next step:

0.75 cup half-and-half (you could also use any kind of milk, but this makes the biscuits even richer)
the juice of 0.5 lemon

+ Thinly slice:

5 Tablespoons FROZEN butter

+ Using a pastry cutter, cut the thin slices of frozen butter into the DRY INGREDIENTS. When the butter pieces are about the size of the dried blueberries, use your fingers to smash the butter bits flat. This helps make the biscuits flaky. You don’t want the butter to start getting soft or melty, though, or the dough gets gummy.

+ Add lemon/milk mixture to the butter/DRY INGREDIENT mixture. Use a rubber spatula to mix them together. You’ll eventually have to get your hands dirty and knead the dough until it all holds together in a ball. It takes about 30 seconds of kneading.

+ Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface, like the counter or a large cutting board. Pat the dough into a rectangle, about 0.5 inch thick.

+ Cut the dough into even squares, about 2 inches each.

+ Place biscuits on baking sheet. Put in preheated 450 oven. Bake 10-12 minutes.

+ Whisk together these ingredients in a small bowl for the GLAZE:

1 cup powdered sugar
Juice of 0.5 lemon
1 teaspoon vanilla
1-2 Tablespoons water (enough to make glaze drizzle off a fork)

+ Take biscuits out of oven and let them cool on a wire rack for 2-3 minutes.

+ Use a fork to drizzle the GLAZE over the still-warm biscuits.

+ Eat a few before you let anyone else know they’re ready or you might not get any!

 

The result? Better than Bo-Berry Biscuits.

Sweet, filling and a little crisp around the edges, these biscuits fulfilled my homesickness without sending me into a full sugar crash. The eight-year old proclaimed them a success, and immediately asked for blueberry pancakes tomorrow.