Stuff & Nonsense: 2019


13 February 2019

#WordlessWednesday: Brook

All the rain & snowmelt have given Birge Pond Brook new energy.

11 February 2019

From Delicious Bundt Cakes: Rosemary-Lemon Bundt Cake


Even though I already possess an incalculable wealth of cookbooks, I am always eager to add another one to my collection. I have a great weakness for the book section BJ's Wholesale Club and must browse it every time I pop in to pick "just a few" things up. The stores usually have a good selection of new books by America's Test Kitchen and I've added three or four to my collection over the year. When (not if) I find a cookbook I like, I'll check the price against Amazon and BJ's is usually a little cheaper, happily legitimizing my impulsive purchase. My most recent purchase was Delicious Bundt Cakes: More Than 100 New Recipes For Timeless Favorites by Roxanne Wyss and Kathy Moore.

I purchased this book mostly because of the "Tomato Soup Spice Bundt Cake" recipe which brought back a flood of memories of my mother's tomato soup cake. Mind you, the book's recipe is nothing like my mother's as it uses a spice cake mix and my mother's (excepting the soup) was completely from scratch. I also hated tomato soup as a child and would never eat her tomato soup cake. The idea of tomato soup -- so disgusting in itself -- going into a cake was just untenable. Now I know it doesn't taste at all of soup, but is much more like a rich and nutty spice cake.

There's also a chapter titled "A Year of Bundts" and doesn't that just sound delightful? Also, an easy way to make baking a more regular thing again as baking one thing usually leads me to baking more things. Bundt cakes -- the gateway bake. February's cake is "Chock-Full of Cherries Bundt Cake" made with dark cherries and pecans. I'll probably bake it around Washington's Birthday since it plays into the whole cherry tree myth.

While I've only just started baking from this book, I find it quite good. The recipes seem easy to follow and do not use any hard-to-find or costly ingredients. There isn't a photo for every cake, which is a bit of a downer, but the photos that are included make the cakes look very, very tempting. The recipes are a mixture of scratch and "cheater" baking with about half the recipes starting with a cake mix base. I can see it might annoy a purist, but I enjoy the opportunities made possible by the duality -- throw together mix-based bundt on a minute's notice or spend a lazy afternoon faffing around with a scratch cake recipe.


Today I baked the "Rosemary-Lemon Bundt Cake" for my coworker's as one of the part-timers will soon be heading off to work in a different town department and I just feel like we should have a little cake to celebrate her. She's been brilliant to work with and I wish we didn't have to lose her, but she needs a job with more regular hours and better pay and she'll find that in her new position.

The cake is very good, imho. Only mildly sweet with tender crumb, it is a good cake to pair with a cuppa. Flavor-wise, rosemary and lemon compliment each other well and, every time I lift the cake dome, I am caught up in what I can only describe as the scent of summer in a mythical Provence. All in all, it is a very appealing cake and I will be baking it again.

07 February 2019

Memories of Baking With Mom

I'm baking a pumpkin bundt using a mix of my baking things and Mom's and it's kind-of ... nice? As if, even though she's not here and will never be here again, she is still with me? When I was a small child, Mom and I baked together all the time. I had a little wooden footstool I would stand on to reach the counter properly and she would give me bowls to mix together or eggs to crack or nuts to chop in the hand chopper. I loved that hand chopper. It was a very simply device -- just a glass jar with a screw on plastic lid and a metal X-shaped blade on a rod. It looked very much like this Gemco-Ware one:


I'd lean forward on my little stool, push up my sleeves, and chop with all my might until those nuts were chopped. I'll admit there was more than one batch of nuts that ended up chopped a bit more than my mother needed. She usually asked me to chop the nuts coarsely or medium coarsely, but I would get a little hepped up and Hulk smash the chopper until the nuts were rather finely chopped. With a little instruction, I eventually mastered all the sizes and learned which were appropriate for what recipe. Really, Mom taught me a lot about cooking without me realizing it -- just having me in the kitchen withe her, observing and experiencing, helped me absorb her teachings in what I thought, as a wee kidlet, was just another form of play.

Unfortunately, as I grew older, I was much more resistant to helping my Mom in the kitchen. Part of that was the usual teenage contrariness, but I think some of it was a withholding of self. My mother had been in a terrible car accident when I was eight and spent many months in the hospital before she could come home and even when she came home it was a very long time before she was anything like the mother I'd known. Having been without her for so long and so suddenly cognizant of her mortality, I fear I withheld some of myself from her and we lost a lot of our old intimacy.

Later as I, an adult, slowly opened my self up to the prospect of romantic love, it was also easier to open up to my mother and return to something like our earlier relationship. We sewed together, swapped recipes, and had a few deeply intimate conversations about things I never thought I'd discuss with my mother. We were good. And then she died so abruptly and I find myself wanting to shout that we weren't done yet, we were really only beginning, and it's not fair.


So I am baking a pumpkin bundt cake using a mix of my baking things and Mom's, because even though she can't be here I can still remember all the baking we did do together and I can still bake the things we would have baked together.

My pumpkin bundt uses a modified version of Betty Crocker's "Pumpkin Bread" recipe. I used finely chopped toasted pecans, a medley of raisins (because they're pretty and more interesting), and mace instead of nutmeg. I also threw in a ½ teaspoon of ground ginger and used whole white wheat flour, because that's all I have on hand these days.

06 February 2019

#WordlessWednesday: Loom

Loom at Bloodroot Vegetarian Restaurant (& bookstore!) in Bridgeport, Connecticut.

04 February 2019

The Great Burlington Baking Club: Artichoke Dip

This week I joined a cookbook club. Yes, I do run a club for my library, but running one doesn't provide the same experience as being a participant and I want to be a participant. Let someone else tell me what to make. Let someone else steer the discussion. Let someone else do the set up and take down. And if I get to make things I've been wanting to, but haven't had a reason to or an audience for, well that's just gravy.

Burlington Library started offering a cookbook club last autumn. Inspired by The Great British Bake Off, The Great Burlington Baking Club is open to all bakers and cooks -- just make a dish that fits the monthly theme and bring it in to share on the appointed night. Previous themes included layered desserts, desserts featuring fruit, and chocolate desserts.

This month's theme is dips. While I considered making Taste of Home's "Slow-Cooker Cheeseburger Dip" or Martha Stewart's "Easy Red Pepper Dip," I ultimately decided to go with America's Test Kitchen's "Artichoke Dip" from Food Processor Perfection: 75 Amazing Ways to Use the Most Powerful Tool in Your Kitchen.


I really like Food Processor Perfection -- like most ATK books it is very attractive, with beautiful pictures, detailed but clearly written recipes, and lots of helpful operating tips (I had never thought to clean my bowl by processing water and a little soap together). Based on my experience with this cookbook -- I'd already made the "Classic Chocolate Chip Cookies," "Quick Tomato Salsa," and "Classic Hummus" with very delicious results -- and my prior experience with other ATK cookbooks, I knew the artichoke dip was likely to turn out well.

It was dead easy to put together -- just process the cheeses, artichokes, garlic, and seasonings together and then let them chill in the fridge until needed. Really, it couldn't have taken more than ten minutes to put together. I probably spent more time washing up! And, yes, I tried the water and soap trick and it worked. (This trick also works with the Ninja Master Prep).

30 January 2019

26 January 2019

Roast Yer Roots

Roasted vegetables are the best! The sugars in the vegetables become caramelized, creating a layer of sweetness and depth of flavor that cannot be achieved with any other method. They're also easy to make and, roasted at high temperatures, take very little time to cook. Thee crispy, slightly charred bits that stick to the pan are the best part, I think, and I always go for them first. It's the vegetable equivalent of cracklings.


Saturday is usually my clean-out-the-fridge meal night. I go through our fridge, taking out anything that is nearing the end of its life or I'm simply tired of seeing and turn it a meal. A lot of the time, in winter, I end up making a soup or stew. Other times, like tonight, I chop all the veggies and roast them with whatever meat might be on hand. Tonight, I roasted almost all the root vegetables in the fridge (onions keep forever) and a pound of boneless chicken thighs.

I roasted the vegetables and chicken thighs separately as I didn't think there was enough room on the tray for everything and I wanted to make sure there was enough space on the veg tray to let everything "breathe" so they properly roasted and didn't steam themselves -- no mushy turnips for us!


Roasted Root Vegetables

Yield: 4 generous servings

Ingredients

  • 5 parsnips, halved lengthwise & quartered
  • 5 carrots, halved lengthwise & quartered
  • 3 turnips, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp maple syrup
  • Salt & pepper, as desired

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 425°F.
  2. Place the parsnips, carrots, and turnips on a baking sheet and drizzle with the olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and then toss the vegetables until they are evenly coated with oil. Roast for 20 minutes.
  3. Drizzle the vegetables with maple syrup, toss again to combine, and return them to the oven for another 10-15 minutes or until the vegetables are caramelized and yum.

23 January 2019

#WordlessWednesday: Birds

Titmouse & Red-bellied Woodpecker

19 January 2019

Making Taste of Home's Tacos in a Bowl

Taste of Home's "Tacos in a Bowl" feels like the ideal bitter January weekend, can't-be-arsed-to-do-proper cooking meal. Full of carbs and cheese, it is a delicious bowl of comfort. It took me about twenty minutes to make and the most labor-intensive part was chopping the onion.


I did make a few changes to the original recipe: Instead of using "¾ cup canned diced tomatoes, drained" and "1 cup water" I drained a 10 oz can of Huy Fong Sriracha Diced Tomatoes & Red Chilies, retaining the juice in a measuring cup and then adding water until I'd reached the 1 cup mark. To make use of what I already had on hand, I substituted Penzeys salt-free Arizona Dreaming seasoning blend for the regular, salty taco seasoning and Cabot Sharp Light for the regular whole-fat cheddar called for in the recipe.

This was a quick and easy lazy Saturday meal that tasted pretty great for what could have been an unsavory food fusion experience. Even The Husband, who complained it was "a bit spicy" (read: his mouth was on fire), liked it and said he would eat it again. But will I make it again?

Probably not. It was easy and tasty, yes, but not really ... necessary? I love ramen. I love tacos. I just don't feel I need to combine the two again. Also, and I don't know if this makes sense, but when I think about taco ramen bowls too hard, I get this unquiet feeling I've engaged in cultural appropriation and I don't like that feeling so ... no, I won't be making it again.

17 January 2019

Cookbook Club: Cake


I probably shouldn't have chosen cake as January's library cookbook club theme, considering "everyone" is "dieting" this time of year, but I tried veg*n cooking last January and no-one really liked that so I thought I'd swing for the opposite pole.

Anyway, five cooks came with cakes and we all had a good time and that's all that matters. Several bakers complained their cakes were not up to scratch -- the walnut cake baker simply did not like the flavor or texture of her cake, while the butter cake baker was embarrassed her cake fell in the middle after it came out of the oven and was afraid there was something very wrong with it. As is often true, we can be our own worst critics, for everyone else liked their cakes very much.

To be fair, the cookbook club members are a compassionate, optimistic bunch who never have anything but nice things to say to each other. Even when a dish is awful, everyone is supernice about figuring out how it went wrong or could be fixed. If you're feeling down about the world and think that humanity is pretty awful, cookbook club will make you feel so much better.

Cakes:
  • "Basic Yellow Butter Cake" from Yvonne Ruperti's One Bowl Baking: Simple, from Scratch Recipes for Delicious Desserts
  • "Chocolate Zucchini Cake" from Debbie Macomber's Cedar Cove cookbook
  • "Lemon-Fig Cake" from Martha Stewart's Cakes: Our First-Ever Book of Bundts, Loaves, Layers, Coffee Cakes, and More
  • "Lemon-Poppy Seed Pound Cake" from Better Homes & Gardens' Baking Step By Step: Everything You Need to Know to Start Baking Now!
  • "Spiced Walnut Cake" from Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough's All-Time Favorite Sheet Cakes & Slab Pies: Easy to Make, Easy to Serve
  • "Supermoist Applesauce Quick Bread" also from Yvonne Ruperti's One Bowl Baking: Simple, from Scratch Recipes for Delicious Desserts

16 January 2019

13 January 2019

Thoughts of Mom: More Things

Saturday, I went down to Dad's and we spent some more time going through Mom's things. While we've dispersed a tremendous amount of Mom's things to various local charities and institutions, much of her crafting stuff remains. Mom quilted and cross-stitched, tole painted and stenciled, and occasionally crocheted. In addition to her sewing room being full of quilting stuff, there was a second floor bookcase full of binders of quilting newsletters and patterns and a storage bench full of, well, everything that is crafty. Yarn. Embroidery floss. Embroidery hoops. Felt. Canvas. Beads. Crochet Hooks. Knitting needles. Christmas-y fabric prints. Snaps. Buttons. Knit elastic. Bias tape. Theorem stencils. And dozens of dress patterns.


We didn't know what lay in the chest until we opened it and, while was an unruly mess of crafty stuff, everything we pulled out triggered a memory. That chest alone took most of the afternoon and we didn't even succeed in emptying it out. We removed anything Dad didn't want or I didn't think I could find a new home for (at the senior center's knitting group, etc), but left everything that seemed too significant to deal with. We'll go back in a month or two, with fresh eyes and fortified hearts, to find that much we left can also go on and, hopefully, will have some idea of what to do with what we want to keep.


If I could, I would keep so much more of my mother's things, but I know she wouldn't have wanted me to create a shrine to her out of her things so I've tried to keep only the things that spark deeply felt, warm memories. Her jewelry, a few of her quilted table runners, her best (gas station) china, Christmas ornaments she crafted when I was small. I see these things, experience the weight and texture of them, and I remember so many things I thought I had forgotten. In some very real ways, my mother feels more present in my life, not less.


And it's okay. This is the first week since Mom died that I felt like myself and not some kind of shadow self. The grief and pain of her loss has dulled from a knife sharp stab of shock and surprise into a constant dull ache. My father calls it the new normal and I guess that's right. Mom's being dead is a normal thing now -- we've gotten used to the idea, accepted it, made it a simple fact of life.

11 January 2019

On Baking King Arthur Flour's Whole-Grain Banana Bread


I've been craving banana bread, but haven't feel quite up to making Mom's recipe. Mom was allergic to bananas, which always confused me, because she would still buy bananas and bake banana bread for my Dad. They only made her sick if she ingested them, so having them in the house wasn't going to make her sick, but why would you keep a fruit associated with vomiting and hives around if you didn't have to? Because my Dad liked bananas. And Mom liked Dad. And she was one of those people who was happiest making other people happy. So, bananas.

Mom would throw a banana in each of our lunchboxes and, invariably, at the end of the week there would be a browning banana or two who had traveled hither and yon without being eaten. Mom would throw the banana(s) in the freezer and, when there were enough, she would make banana bread.

Mom's banana bread was very dense and heavy. A real stick-to-your-ribs banana bread. A thick slice, slathered with sweet butter, made for a delicious breakfast and is something I've missed as an adult. The Husband does not eat banana bread and I can't/shouldn't eat an entire loaf on my own, so I just don't make it. My browned frozen bananas go into smoothies which, while quite good, are no banana bread.

Anyway, since Mom died, I'm been craving all sorts of childhood eats. Banana bread. Zucchini bread. Spritz cookies. Raspberry crumb bars. Tomato-y meatloaf. Salmon cakes. Hard salami sandwiches on toasted Pepperidge Farm white sandwich bread with provolone, iceberg lettuce, tomato, a smear of mayonnaise, and sprinkle of oregano.

Well, that got unexpectedly specific.

I'm going down to help Dad sort through more of Mom's things this weekend and so tonight seemed like the best time to give into my banana bread craving and just bake one. Dad loves banana bread even more than I do and wouldn't mind if I left him with half the loaf. I wasn't about to feed him Mom's loaf, though. Too soon for everyone, definitely. Instead, I made King Arthur Flour's "Whole-Grain Banana Bread."

This is a very morish bread and I could easily eat an entire loaf. As it is, my half is already greatly reduced in size and I don't doubt I'll help Dad eat some of his tomorrow. This cake is less dense and more tender than my mother's and seems more like a snacking cake than something I might have for breakfast (although I probably will, anyway). I used butterscotch chips as the nuts I'd planned on using had gone off and the chips gave the bread a nice caramelized note. While not Mom's bread, I still think she would have approved of my recipe choice as she was a great fan of King Arthur Flour.

09 January 2019

#WordlessWednesday: Squirrel!

Gray squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) waiting for the coast to clear
before, no doubt, raiding a bird feeder

02 January 2019

#WordlessWednesday: Picture Purrfect

"Picture Purrfect" 750 piece jigsaw puzzle from Buffalo Games's Cats collection. Illustration by Charles Wysocki.

01 January 2019

Thinking of Mom: Food Is Love


After my mother died in November, my father and I went through every pantry shelf and every kitchen cupboard, bagging items to donate to the soup kitchen. It was awful but necessary work as Dad, who is a very basic cook anyway, couldn't stand being surrounded by so many things that reminded him of Mom. It is still really hard not to walk into their kitchen and "see" Mom there, putting together a meatloaf or pulling a banana bread out of the oven. (Mom was allergic to bananas, but she still baked Dad banana bread because he loved it and she loved him and food is love).

My mother always kept her pantry and freezer fully stocked with ingredients so that, at any moment, she might whip up a blueberry coffee cake or hearty supper as need or whim moved her. She was a generous cook, who loved to feed other people, and was not going to get caught out because she'd run out of, say, baking powder or vanilla.

Also, Mom had spent a significant part of her youth poor and hungry and, I think once she had grown into a thrifty adult with a household of her own, she was determined to manage things so her family would never go hungry or lack basic necessities. This worked out well as Dad was in construction and, whenever the housing market took a downturn, money would get tight. While my parents might worry about the mortgage payments, there was always good food on our table and toothpaste in the bathroom.


In the end, after a day of rummaging and reminiscing, I took a trunk-load of unopened, unexpired spices, baking mixes, flours, sugars, and canned goods to the soup kitchen. The kitchen staff were happy to receive it -- I contacted them in advance to make sure they could use what I was bringing -- and I think Mom would be pleased with the donation, too.

I also brought a smaller load of unopened, expired baking mixes, flours, and sugars home with me. Too old to donate, I couldn't bear to throw them away as there was nothing wrong with them and, also, throwing them away felt like throwing little pieces of Mom away.

As time has gone on, I've slowly begun to integrate my mother's things into my own kitchen and the situation is becoming more normal. I don't look at my mother's recipe box -- hand painted with strawberries by her back in the 70s -- and feel grief like a stabbing knife in my chest. It's more a gentle, wistful ache. I wish my mother were still alive and well. I wish we could cook together, again. Short of miracles, I can at least hold those memories of her in my heart as I cook with her things in my kitchen.


TL;DR, I baked scones using Mom's very expired (best if used by 9/30/2017) King Arthur Flour cranberry-orange scone mix and her mini scone pan. This was only the second time I had baked scones and they came out fabulously. Crisp on the outside, soft but crumby in the middle (kind of like a buttermilk biscuit?), with lots of good orange flavor. Mom would approve.