Saturday, July 30, 2011

I call this "a study in blue"

One of my favorite cookbooks is from the Black Dog Tavern on Martha's Vineyard.  In this landlocked heat, oh! wouldn't it be loverly this morning to sit on a cool harborside porch drinking hot coffee and eating some of their Blueberry Butter Cake?  And we're not even quite at the "dog days of summer" yet.  I've been so fortunate to find wonderful blueberries this year I just had to make up a couple of these.

I've got a dozen banana-blueberry muffins made up for the Market today, too.

Oh, yeah.  There's also the died-and-gone-to-heaven pineapple upside-down cake.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

I know God loves me because. . .

. . . He made corn and peaches.

Other non-casualties

Rosemary basil mini-baguettes and soda bread rolls (the second, more successful batch)

I particularly love these mini-baguettes.  They're what I'd call an appetizer bread, best eaten with cheese and fruit or dipped in a good olive oil.  In fact, my niece calls them "dipping bread".

Friday, July 15, 2011

Fraught with adversity

Some weeks.  I mean, really.

I think I'm a pretty good baker.  I don't screw up a lot.  But jeepers, this week!

I guess it started with the bohemian bread I really wanted to bake.  It called for rye flour.  How hard can that be, to find rye flour?  Isn't it everywhere?  No.  Four towns and eight  (yes, eight) stores later, I bought a 2 pound bag (you know how much 2 pounds is?  about 6 cups in volume -- that's nothing) at the only health food store in what I believe is about a fifty-mile radius.  FYI, folks:  rye flour isn't a health food.  And also FYI, folks:  it wasn't particularly cheap.

So I made up a batch of bohemian bread.  It was in fact quite good, but not what I wanted:  I wanted more rye bread flavor.  I'd only topped it with the caraway seeds, not worked them into the dough.  So I made a second batch with wonderful caraway seeds all loaded up within -- one recipe makes two loaves.  This time the breads rose nicely prior to baking, then fell in their centers (too much moisture in the dough).  Well, I'm not going to sell that!  But then I was out of rye flour and out of time to make another run to the health food store.

This morning I made soda bread rolls.  Too big, too dense, but seriously tasty -- butter 'em up and oh, Lordy!  I can't even imagine them with jam.  We'll eat them here.  Will try again tonight and make smaller rolls.

I forgot and left my first batch of savory herbed loaves in the oven while I took my mother to the hairdresser.  Can you say "door stop"?  Actually they're not heavy; just hard (like "the victim was struck with a blunt object" hard).  I'm going to take a shot at making them into croutons, which if successful will be absolutely delicious.

Let's not talk about the soup that fell out of the refrigerator.

Just so you know I'm not a complete flubber-di-blub (is that a term?  Like flibbertigibbet?) -- but perhaps a will-o'-th'-wisp, a clown (yeeaahh, nootttt. . . .) -- here are some of the non-casualties:

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Culprit! or Why I Was Late or How the Animals Benefitted


This past Saturday morning I thought I really had my act together as I headed for the FM.  I'd done all the necessary tasks around the house (Mom duty, dog duty, cat duty) that have to be accomplished before I set out and despite the fact that some still-unknown-to-me force majeure knocked out our electricity for about two hours on Friday evening, bringing my KitchenAid stand mixer to a whhooorrrllliinngg standstill at a most inconvenient moment and generally throwing off my baking timetable such that I scratched a couple of planned items from my list, I was pretty well on schedule for my ETA at the FM when I left the house.

Then about 5-6 miles down the road and about a third of the way there, steam started coming from underneath my car hood.  Understand:  I live way out in the country.  There are no service stations around here.  I don't have minions at the ready to rescue me from car trouble.  There is a mechanic in our nearest town who has a tow truck but I'm fairly certain his shop is closed on Saturdays (as are many of my home town businesses, to my -- chagrin?  annoyance?  incredulity?) and I don't even know its name or phone number.  I do, however, have not a minion or a knight in shining armor but a good family friend who, if he's available, has helped me out of the occasional scrape involving vehicles and plumbing and heavy lifting.  So in a panic -- and that's so me! -- I called him and said I thought maybe I'd blown a radiator hose or something and could he please come help?  Actually I didn't have any specific idea as to how he could help beyond looking under the hood and telling me what was wrong and I guess giving me a lift back home and helping me figure out a plan of action to get the car somewhere it could be repaired -- I hadn't thought that out, panic mode being what it was.  I was maybe 15 miles away from where he was, but he made his way to where I'd landed, at a propane (and propane products?  I've never seen Hank Hill there) and Amoco station which is, kind of oddly, out in the middle of my nowhere and which is, kind of amazingly, open until noon on Saturdays.

I had a car packed gill-high with breads and snackbreads and apple cakes and cookies and three different kinds of scones and I can't remember what-all and all I could think about, besides stupid car! how bad is it? am I going to have to get it towed? what timing -- it's the weekend! how long will I be without a car? was what in the name of sanity am I going to do with all this BREAD???  Fortuitously the propane/gas station employs a very nice lady with whom I have visited while filling up my tank, and who has told me she would like to stop at the FM on her way to work (she apparently lives on the other side of Kennett) but she must be at work at 7:00 a.m. on Saturday mornings so her hours are the same as the market's.  She was there.  I told her I was waiting for help for my car.  I told her it was full of breads and baked goods.  She bought several items.  I was somewhat relieved.

Eventually my rescuer arrived.  After a thorough examination and assessment, he determined that the steam that I saw resulted from an aged, sprung spring in the radiator cap that allowed excessive overflow to escape.  I just needed a new radiator cap.  Observe, above, the old.

Cost of friend-aid:  a dozen scones.

So.  I drove on to Kennett.  I set up although it was well past nine.  Nonetheless, I sold quite a lot of my stuff; yet at the end of the morning, I still had a couple of loaves of each kind of bread and a few snackbreads and one apple cake and three bags of cookies.  What to do?  What to do?

That afternoon I took them to my church and left them all in the kitchen.  I knew my fellow Methodists couldn't resist, and particularly in the summer someone or another brings in garden overruns to share, the double sinks on any given Sunday filled with okra or tomatoes or plums.  The next morning our organist, who always arrives at church early to make coffee, called to ask what I wanted done with all the breads and such, and offered to set out a donation bowl with the proceeds going to our animal shelter -- the perfect solution!  Everything was scarfed up and we gave more than $30 to the shelter.

As a post script:  many thanks to Pam whom I called to ask to go to the FM and tell one of the vendors to advise anyone looking for "the bread lady" of my perceived car trouble and likewise to Libby who posted a notice on facebook of my plight.  I have lovely friends.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Source material

I don't specifically recall growing up with a lot of cookbooks.  Plenty of cooking went on in this house -- both my mother and my grandmother, who lived with us, were wonderful cooks, and my dad was good in the kitchen and on the outdoor grill -- but generally speaking, the culinary music around here was "played by ear" -- or maybe taste buds or the nose.  Recipes, if written, were on cards; however, almost all the food we ate seemed to have been prepared almost by instinct.  From time to time my mother would write down and contribute one or another of our family's favorite recipes to a community or church cookbook, but most of those, I think, were originally acquired from the Wednesday food section of the Memphis Press Scimitar or the Commercial Appeal or the St. Louis Post Dispatch.  Or they came from my aunt Bobbie, who liked to collect recipes and try out new dishes.  But anyway, other than those church ladies' fundraising publications or the like, we didn't have more than just a few cookbooks.

When I was probably still in grade school, Mother received a New Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook for a Mother's Day gift.  It was a ring-binder book with loads of bright color photos of food.  It's still here.  The pictures are much less appetizing than they were way back then -- lots of casseroles with corn flakes on top and hams with pineapple rings and maraschino cherries in the centers.

Also in our home, we had Amy Vanderbilt's Complete Cookbook.  That likely came for Christmas from some of our California relatives.  We thought it was the height of sophistication -- I mean, AMY VANDERBILT!  Fancy schmantzy stuff for the Missouri Bootheel.  Almost three inches thick and more than 800 deckle-edge pages, this hardback meant business.  There were no photographs, no color -- just simple little line illustrations every few pages.

I don't remember that my mother or my grandmother ever used it.

However:  at about the age of thirteen or fourteen, once I'd taken a junior high home ec class (an eighth grade requirement), I felt compelled, nose in air, to check out the Vanderbilt's contents.  What I honed in on (dangling prep; I know) was a cookie recipe -- "Spice Cookies".  Don't remember why.  Undertook to make spice cookies.  I remember it as a big deal.  Three -- count 'em, three -- kinds of spices.  I felt so challenged.  The recipe called for both butter and shortening.  This was back in the day when we didn't have sticks of butter or Crisco wrapped in paper marked off by tablespoon; we had to put a level of water in a liquid measuring cup and then spoon in enough fat to bring the volume to the required line.  It was tedious and tricky.  The dough required refrigeration to firm it up to work with it.  I was so impressed.  They were cutout cookies but I rolled the dough into lengths wrapped in waxed paper (this was before Saran Wrap, even) and when chilled, sliced it to bake.

Anyway, to shorten this tale. . . .  We kids loved the spice cookies and I made them for years.  They became our madeleines -- even now, as adults we can just conjure up their flavor in our minds and recall the sweetness of our childhood.

Although I can't even imagine how many years it's been since I've baked them, I decided last week to make the spice cookies for the FM this past Saturday, so I pulled out the Vanderbilt.  It kind of fell open to the recipe.  It's obvious that page 135 has known its share of daylight.

They were everything I remembered, very unassuming in appearance but tasting oh! so home-y.

But the story of the spice cookies isn't really the point of this post.  The point is this:  Amy Vanderbilt's Complete Cookbook is a cookbook I genuinely like.  It has probably over a thousand recipes in it, it's well-written and easy to follow, it's NOT full of exotic or particularly complicated recipes and as best I can tell, virtually none of them calls for ingredients I couldn't find right here at any of the local groceries (and that's saying something).  It's an extremely practical cookbook and it's pretty well comprehensive.  And I'd always been oddly charmed by the drawings -- they're very precise and geometric, perfect circles for dinner plates and triangles for cheeses.

I appropriated it at some point and took it back to Dallas with me and I have made a number of dishes from it (although not the one with the potato-stuffed prunes).  Back about twenty years ago my friend Laura asked me to teach her to cook, and it was the book we used and from which she learned.

I guess it was around then that I took a moment to check to see when it was published (1961).  And oh, my stars!  Just take a gander at the title page and the illustrator's credit.

Who would've thunk?