Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Happy Halloween

Today was probably the most fun Danny has ever had in a single day. He woke to a plastic pumpkin filled with Cars items (some crayons, stickers and a plastic billfold), which he just adores. Because he loves those silly cartoon cars so much, I had my husband rent the movie last night and this afternoon, I hooked-up the television/DVD contraption and let him sit in my bed and watch it. He fell asleep after about ten minutes, but boy was he ever excited for those ten minutes. This was only about the third time he's seen a television set (we rented Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and The Red Balloon) so that might have had something to do with the interest-though I really do think it is the animated cars he's drawn to.
Today was also the day that Danny hit ten dollars saved in his bank. He gets a quarter every day for helping me make the beds (OK, he's not much "help"in the literal sense of the word, but you get the idea). We took his bank and passbook (yes, our little bank is so old fashioned they actually write in the deposits by hand) to the bank and he shoved it up on the counter announcing "I want to make a deposit." In return, he was given a cute little mylar Halloween bag and a couple pieces of candy to get him started.
I noticed the teller's hair was looking sort of bad today, almost an Afro, except that she's very white. He glasses seemed sort of crooked too, but around here, not everyone races out to get new ones if they get slightly bent. It was only after I got home that I realised she was in a costume. Must have been her interpretation of a nerd or something. I'm not sure what that says about the town I live in, but honestly, she didn't look all that different than most of us on any given day. Maybe she thought I was in costume too; I'm going as a middle aged woman-BOO!
There's a community Halloween party tonight with contests and food, etc. I'll take Danny for a bit and hopefully he won't be frightened by it.
Happy Halloween everyone.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007


There's a story that I need to tell along with this Barmbrack recipe. Maybe it's just a lesson in modernity. At any rate, I'm going to share it even though I suspect I'm overreacting.

When all was said and done with the Barmbracks (and it was quite a bit of work, making my own candied peel and a three-rise bread without the benefit of a working stand mixer) I ended up tossing them out. Yes, that's right-I threw them into the dustbin. Why?

I used what are the traditional charms for a Barmbrack, wrapped well in parchment to prevent choking. What I didn't anticipate (and really, I've never heard of this being an issue before) was the button giving off very strong fumes once the cake was cut. I dug out the paper packet and unwrapped it. Although the button was intact (the breads only reach an internal temperature of 200 degrees F whilst baking-a fact I verified with the instant read thermometer) I was immediately dizzied by the fumes-from a tiny hard plastic button-to the point of feeling my legs get heavy like I was about to faint. I've never had that happen before-I think my clothes dryer gets hotter than that. Like an idiot, I took a bite of the bread to see if it tasted funny (it didn't, but if I should die mysteriously in the next couple of days, we should probably assume it was the Barmbrack).

Obviously, I thought I'd gone mad. I tore open the cake that was baked without charms and sure enough-no odour. I went back to the other bread and whoa, there it was again, still not fully dissipated. I realise I'm pretty sensitive to odours, but this was unmistakably chemical in nature. Since they all baked in the same oven, I decided to err on the side of caution and pitch them.

So. If you're determined to bake charms into your Barmbrack, either skip the button or find a metal one as the materials being used to make plastic buttons these days obviously break down at much lower temperature than those in the past.

Otherwise, it was a lovely looking bread/cake. I'm kind of sorry we won't get to enjoy it.

You Will Need:

7 cups sifted, all purpose flour (you may need up to a cup more)

2 teaspoons ground allspice

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1 cup sugar

4 1/2 teaspoons granulated yeast

1 1/2 cup milk warmed with

1 1/2 cups water

6 tablespoons butter

2 1/2 cups raisins

3/4 cup dried currants

3/4 cup chopped orange peel

Sift together the flour, allspice, salt and sugar in a large bowl. Dissolve the yeast in 1/2 of the water/milk mixture. Add yeast to dry ingredients and then add the rest of the liquid. It will be sticky. Begin adding flour until it is able to be kneaded and is somewhat smooth. The dough can remain somewhat sticky, it certainly shouldn't be too dry.

Place in a greased bowl, turn once to coat, cover and let rise two hours or until doubled in bulk.

Turn the dough out on a floured board and flatten into a round. Place the butter, cut up into chunks and the fruits on top in a layer. Fold it in half and begin working the fruit and butter into the dough. This will seem like an impossible mess, but be patient and squeeze it in small bits at a time. Eventually it will all be incorporated. Return the dough to the bowl, cover again and let rise another 45 minutes.

Divide the dough in 3 parts. If you're going to use charms, wrap them and insert them into the dough at this point. Place in well-buttered 9x5x3 bread tins. Cover with a towel and let rise again until they top the pans.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Place the breads in the oven and immediately reduce the heat to 425 degrees F. After 30 minutes. reduce the heat to 400 and continue baking another 10-15 minutes. In the last five minutes (or thereabouts) make a sugar syrup of 1/4 cup sugar and 1/4 cup water. Brush this atop the Barmbracks and return to the oven to finish baking.

Breads are done when they read 200 degrees with an instant read thermometer, or when very dark, almost burnt looking and hollow sounding. Cool on racks.

Celtic New Year

Today, I'm getting ready for Samhain/Halloween by baking Barmbracks. Barmbrack is a sweet dough, heavy with allspice and fruit that is brushed with a sugary glaze. Into the dough is kneaded a parchment-wrapped packet containing a button, coin and ring for fortune telling. I'll go into more detail when I post the recipe early this evening. I would mention though, the recipe calls for 3/4 cup candied orange peel. I did not plan ahead, and just spent the last hour making my own. If you think this is something you might like to make for the holiday tomorrow, it might be worth a trip to the store to pick some up. I'll post instructions for making candied peel anyway, but it does add a bit of extra work to an otherwise straightforward yeast bread recipe.

Now, I'm going to sit down and wait for the second rise.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Fresh Corn Bread and Onion Wine Jam

This wonderful bread with fresh corn and chili powder comes from My Kitchen In Half Cups, and you may find the recipe HERE. You'll note how the loaves are supposed to look, provided you don't forget the final egg wash. Yep, I have a toddler at home-distraction anyone?
With a bread this special, I knew it would take something really extraordinary to stand up to it. Onion jam with plenty of red wine and port turned out to be the perfect match.
Let me warn you, this stuff is very rich and gooey. Since I no longer trust recipes from Gourmet (see earlier posts) I took the basic idea from an old issue and followed my intuition( you thought I was going to say "instincts", didn't you? Ha. They learned me real good at the big university and now I know humans don't have instincts. See? One never knows when they'll use an anthropology degree...ok mother?).
This recipe would work fine with any onion-you certainly don't need to invest in pearl onions (but then you do get to post it as Pearl Onion Jam, which will result in tons of hits from music fans that are going to be seriously disgruntled to discover the post was actually about, jam). I used both red and white pearl onions because I had them on hand. This led to an interesting deep colour with light bits of the white onion peeking through. Do as you wish-trust your intuition.
You Will Need:
1/2 stick unsalted butter
about 2 pounds pearl (or any other type) onions
1/3 cup caster sugar
1 cup ruby port (hint: don't use the $40. a bottle stuff. Buy the cheap-o crap for five bucks at the supermarket)
1 cup Cabernet (again, go cheap for this)
Melt the butter in a saucepan (I used enamel over cast iron to retain the heat, but a frying pan with a lid would also work). Add the peeled onions (if using regular onions, slice them into 1/4 inch rounds). Over medium heat, cook covered for about ten minutes. Remove lid and cook another half an hour or until very tender.
Add the sugar and cook until dark brown (about 15-20 minutes). They should really look carmelised at this point-if they don't give it a few more minutes-just keep stirring so they don't scorch.
Add the Port and Cabernet. Bring to a boil, stirring until it is reduced to syrup and well...glop. This should take about ten minutes, and you may need to reduce the heat a bit and go slower. Keep stirring so you don't burn it.
The jam will firm up a bit upon cooling, but it should be served warm. To reheat it, please do not use the microwave. Re-heat it slowly in a pan over low heat. It will keep a couple of weeks under refrigeration, but I can promise you, it won't last that long-particularly if you have any of this bread in the house.

Mushroom Soup

I took advantage of a sale on mushrooms (expect plenty of mushroom dishes this week) and made this very simple, delicious soup. When I tell you this was easy, I mean it. In under an hour, you can have homemade mushroom soup on the table-and no one needs to know that you didn't slave away all day making it. Shhh, I won't rat you out.
From The New York Times Heritage Cookbook
You Will Need:
1 pound of mushrooms (any type you prefer)
4 cups chicken broth
1/4 cup unsalted butter
2 tablespoons flour
salt and pepper to taste
1/4cup dry sherry
1/2 cup heavy cream
Remove stems from caps and chop coarsely. Slice the caps and set aside.
Place chopped stems in broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes. Drain, reserving the broth.
In a large frying pan (or a pot) melt the butter over medium heat. Add the mushrooms and cook until browned. Sprinkle with the flour, salt and pepper. Using a whisk, add the broth and bring to a boil. Simmer five minutes. Stir in the sherry and cream. Heat through and serve hot.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Cider Doughnuts

You know, I try not to dwell on unhappy memories and as a result, I don't have many childhood anecdotes to retell here. Occasionally, I'm reminded of something pleasant and immediately, I want to share-sort of to prove I wasn't raised by wolves or something.

Years ago (and really, I mean years) there was a wonderful farm way the hell out in the middle of nowhere on Rt. 22 in Illinois (way west of Deerfield, which wasn't the booming metropolis it is today but rather a sort of unremarkable backwater). Gosh, you'd think I could at least remember the name of the place, but I'm not sure I ever knew it. Every fall, We'd drive for what seemed like forever in the backseat of my parent's 1968 Mercury (a green so dark and sparkly it almost looked black) to go get apples and pumpkins, as I choked on second hand smoke from both adults and my teenaged sister-smoke that mingled with my mother's heavily applied Azure perfume. What? You don't remember Azure? It was horrendous, but it came in a gorgeous bottle (Estee Lauder was all over the beautiful bottles back then. Mum had previously worn Youth Dew but felt compelled to give it up when our housekeeper took to wearing it (I guess a fragrance tends to lose its cachet once the cleaning ladies embrace it). Anyway, between Pall Malls and Estee Lauder's latest assault, it seemed like a pretty long drive into the wilds of North West Chicagoland. Vernon Hills? Was that it? I'm sorry, for the life of me I can't remember the name of the place nor the town-not that it matters as the place is long, long gone.

I could spot the orchard from a few miles off as they had a gigantic Jack-O-Lantern atop their silo. You couldn't really miss it as there wasn't much of anything else around. Wait...Koppens? Could that be the name? Meuller's? Damn this early senility. Anyway, I'd see the giant pumpkin and know that fresh air was only a couple of miles down the road.

Free of the smoke chamber, my first stop was the barn where they had both hot apple cider and apple cider doughnuts. Years later, living in Massachusetts, we'd go to the Big E (Eastern States Exposition) pretty much so I could re-live this happy memory by gorging on cider and cider doughnuts. They were good, but not even close to the treats of my childhood.

I don't remember if my sister was partial to the doughnuts or not, but our mother was. Clearly, not the best thing for a diabetic with cardiac problems, but eh-it was a once a year binge. Oh, those doughnuts were really good. They sold apple and pumpkin butter that were pretty fantastic as well.

My mother wasn't a baker, but you know, we'd driven all this way out into the country so it was almost obligatory to buy a few apples. She'd bring them home and bake them in (I really do wish I were making this up) diet ginger ale and cinnamon hearts. She'd hollow the apples out and plunk exactly three tiny candies into each and fill it with ginger ale. The apples would then be baked to a pulp. Mmmm...memories...almost as good as the skinless chicken breasts stewed in V-8 Juice. Anyway, we'd get a few apples that were too special to simply eat, that would instead be subjected to my mother's idea of baking.

When I saw the recipe for cider doughnuts in this month's issue of Gourmet, a little voice went off in my head saying "Don't." I'm a firm believer in trusting one's gut feelings. The minute I begin making excuses, or trying to ignore it-I'm doomed. I made the doughnuts. Or I tried to anyway.

Reading the recipe, it sounded screwy to me, particularly not chilling the dough for a couple hours, which is normal with cake doughnuts. There were so many poorly conveyed directions and just outright wrong directions that I feel confident that the recipe was not tested prior to publishing. What I got, from following the directions was a sticky mess that even with a well-floured cutter was impossible to cut. I added close to 1 cup more flour than the recipe called for, and it was still impossible to work with. The doughnuts were heavy, bland, (save for too much cinnamon which overpowered any hint of boiled cider flavour) and not very attractive (I gave up and cut them with a small juice glass forgoing the holes).

OK, I'm being a bit harsh-they weren't inedible (though they would have been if I'd not added the flour) but they also weren't special. These were not the cider doughnuts of my youth-they weren't even the second-rate cider doughnuts of my early adulthood. For third rate cider doughnuts, I don't need a subscription to Gourmet-I could have improvised much better on my own (and I'm going to prove this by trying them again next Sunday).

On the other hand, it did provide me with an excuse to make boiled cider syrup, which makes the house smell wonderful-or it would have had the stupid, insipid cinnamon not overpowered it.

This is not the first time Gourmet has published a horribly off recipe-but the frequency with which they are happening is notable. I'm really disappointed, not only with the doughnuts, but with the subscription in general. Clearly, I won't be renewing. The magazine has a long history, and maybe in a decade it will be safe to return to its pages again, but for now I think this is going to be the last thing I prepare from Gourmet's pages for a while. My gut feeling is screaming to be heeded.

Anyone have a good recipe for cider doughnuts?

Friday, October 26, 2007

Meatless, Tomatoless, Pizza (Sort Of)

I'm not really sure I ought to call this pizza, though it isn't exactly a flat bread either. The dough makes a very light, crusty base due to 1/4 cup of olive oil. You could omit it for a heavier, chewy crust.

Having been sick for a week, I worked with what I had on hand, which ended up being frozen spinach and red potatoes. I briefly considered adding frozen cauliflower but then thought better of it.

The cheese was an assortment of left-over ends and dried out bits that I grated fine and tossed together with some semi-soft French cheese that was rather unimpressive (I wouldn't buy it again).

I deliberately omitted onions and garlic, but since this isn't exactly a "recipe" you may find that they add depth to the dish. I'm really only listing the toppings because the combination was unusual-not because I think it was the best combination I've ever devised.

I roasted the potatoes and cooked the spinach early in the day to facilitate getting dinner on the table in a timely manner.

Overall, it was a nice change from my usual tomato-based pizzas with chewy crusts. It certainly was simple enough to make.

For The Dough:

1 cup warm water

2 1/4 teaspoons dry granulated yeast

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon sugar

1/4 cup olive oil

2-3 cups bread flour

1 tablespoon dried oregano

1/2 tablespoon dried basil

Proof the yeast in the warm water with the sugar and salt for 15 minutes. Add olive oil and spices-stir well. Add 2 cups of the flour, then turn out on a board and add as much flour as needed whilst kneading until dough is smooth and elastic. Place in an oiled bowl, turn once to coat and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise 1 hour in a warm spot.

Punch down dough, divide in two and let rest 15 minutes. Roll out and brush lightly with olive oil. Top as desired. Let rise another 15-20 minutes before baking in a 450 degree oven. Begin on the lowest shelf in the oven for ten minutes, then move to a middle shelf and bake another 4-5 minutes or until golden.

How I Topped My Pizza:

2 blocks of frozen spinach, cooked and squeezed of water in a towel

5 large red potatoes, roasted with olive oil and rosemary in a 425 degree oven for 30 minutes (stirring every ten minutes).

3 cups shredded hard cheeses(Romano, Parmesan with peppercorns, Doux de Montagne)

1/4 cup chopped olives (Kalamata and green Sicilian)

Generous amount of black pepper

Sour Cream Poppy Seed Cake

You can tell how tired I am by the fact that I decorated this cake with Halloween candy. Still, cake is cake and this one is a real delight.

The recipe is something I saved from a tin of Solo Poppy seed filling-ages ago. This is still my favourite cake, hands down. I've tried making this with all sorts of adjustments (creme fresh for sour cream, lemon zest, homemade poppy seed filling with ground raisins and honey) and do you know, I still prefer it as prepared on the inside label of tinned filling? Why mess with perfection, right?

Of course, if you do feel like altering it, the recipe is quite forgiving-in fact, the only real challenge (if you want to call it one) is folding the egg whites into the somewhat heavy batter. I use my hand, with fingers held tightly together, instead of a spatula. I find that this method permits me to be certain I'm scraping everything off the bottom of the bowl. This is particularly helpful with this batter.

The only drawback to this recipe is that it dirties a number of dishes to prepare. I realise that's a pretty small drawback, but if you're working in a small kitchen, or without a dishwasher, you may wish to take it into consideration.

This cake will also look lovely (and less foolish) dusted with powdered sugar-be sure to wait until it is completely cooled.

You Will Need:

1 cup butter, softened

1 1/2 cups sugar

1 tin poppy seed filling (12.5 oz)

4 eggs, separated

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 cup sour cream

2 1/2 cups all purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

Icing or powdered sugar for decorating

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Grease and flour a 12 cup bundt pan (or a ten inch tube pan).

Beat butter and sugar together until light. Add poppy seeds and mix well. Add yolks one at a time mixing well after each addition. Add vanilla.Add sour cream and mix just until blended.

In a small bowl, sift together the flour, salt and baking soda. Add in two additions, mixing very well.

In a small bowl, beat egg whites until stiff peaks form. Fold into other batter and spread evenly in pan.

Bake 1 hour-1 hour and 15 minutes (be sure to check at 60 minutes as it tends to burn fast once it goes).

Cool 15 minutes in pan, then unmould on rack and cool completely before decorating and serving.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Odd Food Combinations

Before you click the link, I should mention that I am married to a man that once battered and fried a piece of cold, leftover pizza. That said, I doubt even his evil genius could have thought up something like THIS.

Squash Bread

Isn't the colour amazing? This is a very old recipe for sweet potato bread that I re-worked to accommodate squash. It is delicious and quite light. You could divide the dough up and make it as rolls if you prefer.

You Will Need:

4 1/2 teaspoons granulated dry yeast (not instant)

4 tablespoons sugar

1/2 cup warm water

3 tablespoons melted butter

1 tablespoon salt

3 eggs

3-4 cups bread flour

1/2 cup mashed squash

2 tablespoons cream

In the warm water proof the yeast with 1 tablespoon of the sugar. Let stand a few minutes.

In a large bowl, combine yeast mixture, melted butter, the rest of the sugar salt and 2 of the eggs. Mix well. Slowly add three cups of the flour, mixing well. Add the squash and work in. On a floured board, continue adding flour until the dough is able to be kneaded without being too dry. It should be tacky, but not so sticky you can't work it. Depending on the humidity in your kitchen, the water content of the squash, and a million other factors, you may need upwards of four cups flour to get the right consistency. A little too soft or dry isn't going to matter, so don't spend too much time worrying.

Grease a large bowl, place the dough in, turn once to coat and cover. Let rise until doubled-about an hour.

Punch the dough down and let rest a few minutes. Divide in two and place in well-buttered bread pans, or divide for rolls if you prefer. Cover, let rise another 45 minutes or until almost doubled.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Combine the last egg with 2 tablespoons heavy cream. Brush the tops of the loaves generously.

Bake for 30-40 minutes or until tops are golden and bottoms sound hollow when rapped. I had an internal temperature with an instant read thermometer at around 205 degrees F.

Cool on racks.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Apple Raisin Crumble

We're still feeling a bit wobbly (as in sick, not the IWW, not that there's anything wrong with the IWW) and had exactly four apples in the house-which is all you need to make this wonderful fruit crumble. I made the ice cream as well (1 cup heavy cream, 1 cup 1% milk, 1 teaspoon vanilla, 3/4 cup sugar). For dinner, I have a pot of chicken soup (why yes, I will be making matzo balls...gosh, stereotypes don't occur in a vacuum, eh?) and some stale bread. I do hope I'm feeling better soon, this cold has really been something else.

Recipe From Granny Stark's Apple Cookbook by Olwen Woodier

You Will Need:

4 medium sized apples

1 cup raisins

2 tablespoons brown sugar

1 teaspoon grated orange rind

1/4 cup orange juice

1 teaspoon ground allspice

1 cup all purpose flour

1 cup brown sugar

3/4 cup rolled oats

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 cup unsalted butter

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. and grease a 2 quart baking dish.

Peel, core and slice the apples into 1/4-1/2 inch thick slices. Combine with the raisins, 2 tablespoons brown sugar, orange rind, orange juice and allspice in the baking dish.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, 1 cup brown sugar, oats, and cinnamon. Cut in the butter until crumbly. Spread atop the apples and raisins. Bake aprox. 30 minutes, or until browned on top.

Best served warm with cream or ice cream.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Chocolate Cornstarch Custard

What better way to treat my little guy's (and big guy's ) sore throats than with something cool and smooth? I made ice-cream as well, but the pudding was clearly the big winner. I didn't bother to photograph it as I simply poured it into ramekins and didn't feel like fussing to make it attractive (we're all sick around here, you know).

The recipe comes from the 1950 edition of the Betty Crocker Picture Cookbook.

You Will Need:

1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 squares chopped, unsweetened chocolate
1 egg
2 cups milk
1 tablespoon butter
1 teaspoon vanilla

In a heavy saucepan combine sugar, cornstarch, salt, chocolate and egg. Slowly stir in the milk. Over medium heat, keep stirring (or whisking) until it comes to a boil. Cook one additional minute making sure to keep the custard moving in the pot. Remove from heat. Add butter and vanilla and beat smooth. Pour into cups and press plastic over each to prevent a skin forming. Cool slightly, then refrigerate. Makes 4-5 servings

Vicious, You Hit Me With A Flower

(Cross-posted from F16's Don't Kill People, 500 Lb. Bombs Kill People)

I'm still alive; though I have a severe cold that has me thinking I may be teetering near death. It seems to last a couple of days at its worst, and then hang in there with some additional yuckiness to kick your butt. Yesterday, at what about the worst of my cold (and Danny's) we run up to the store for a couple of items (soft tissues, anyone?) and Danny manages to knock his head in the same exact spot he'd klunked it a few hours earlier (on the corner of the dining room table). Now seriously, what are the odds? I swear it must be something in my family as I once broke my arm twice in the same day. * Well, they say the apple doesn't fall far from the tree (and if it does, its sure to break an arm or bruise its noggin).

It was probably the fluorescent lights in the place, but the goose egg was looking pretty terrible, so off we went to the small country hospital down the street…that had closed that very day. They never did say when the new building would be opening, but as we discovered as we drove down the road to the lavish new digs-yesterday was the first day of business, and Danny the first patient. I dunno, he should get a plaque or something, don't you think?

Mind you, I was a wreck seeing his forehead turn purple, but the child was in positively wonderful spirits. He'd been to his paediatrician the day prior for an earache, so he was ready to instruct the doctor where to put the stethoscope and how to find the penguins in his ears. Every doctor jokes with children about something in their ears when they have a look. Be it puppy dogs, potatoes, what have you, it must be something they teach in medical school as a way to distract children. My son, he's particular about what resides in his ears and corrected both doctors promptly about the contents therein. What can I say, my boy is partial to penguins and a good thing too as they tend to hide in my bed and stockpot. It's true. They get everywhere. Now me? I'm awful shy of penguins-just don't like them a bit, so my son checks my bed for me, looking beneath the covers and pillows making sure they aren't hiding. Sometimes, they like to hide in my big stockpot so he will step in, lift the lid and yell "hey you guys, mama said to beat it", so I can proceed with whatever I was doing. Right, so if there's anything in the kid's ears, odds are pretty good it is penguins.

When my little chatterbox sees the doctor walk in (whom they had to page at home to come in-I told you it was a small town) she was still wearing sweats and a t-shirt with a motorcycle on it which led to my son exclaiming "The lady doctor is wearing a motorcycle shirt". Everyone thought this was adorable save perhaps for the doctor who probably has had more than her share of "lady" comments over the years from less innocent mouths. She looked him over, said he looked fine and didn't want to stick us with a big bill for unnecessary x-rays. We had our list of things to watch for and did the waking-up every four hours just in case of concussion. He's fine. Between poking himself in the eye with a fly swatter and this, I'm ready to make the kid wear a helmet and kneepads around the clock. I don't know what I'm going to do when he's older and wants a skateboard or something.

Most kids, when they're not feeling well get sort of sullen and quiet, but Danny just becomes more of a chatterbox than usual and sometimes begins singing and making up songs. It's cute how he can take the melody of Ode To Joy and add words until he's singing (not making this up, dear God, I wish I were)

…They have drills and
Vacuum cleaners
All of the things I really like
Cause I like to go to Shop-Ko
When I sing the Ode To Shop-Ko.

He does that. I suppose everyone does, to a certain degree when we can't remember the words. Sometimes you just get the lyrics wrong like my husband who always thought Bad Moon On The Rise was "There's A Bathroom On The Right" (apparently, that's a common mis-understood lyric). I sing to Danny quite a bit, and whenever we go out in the car, we listen to my old cassette tapes. One of my son's very favourite tapes is part of a multi cassette set of Lou Reed recordings that cover the stuff from Velvet Underground up through the mid-80's, all the songs you'd expect like Caroline Sez, Satellite Of Love, Sweet Jane. The one that my kid just adores is "Vicious" because he thinks the chorus is funny:
"Vicious, you hit me with a flower
You do it every hour,
Oh baby you're so vicious."

OK, not the best recording on the tape, but I don't mind re-winding and playing it again and again for him. With any luck, one of these days it will break and I'll be back to listening to Richard Hell's version of Chinese Rock.

As I already pointed out, the child likes to sing and when he's not feeling his best, we're apt to hear him sitting back in his room playing with matchbox cars and singing. As a parent, this is great because I sort of know what he's doing without going all the way to the other end of the house to check every five minutes. He has a short bookcase that he likes to line up all his little cars atop and play with them. I'm not sure what brought me back there, but I hear him singing Vicious, only he's changed the lyrics to:

Vicious, you gave your mama headaches
You do it every hour
Oh baby you're so vicious…vicious…vicious

*When I was in preschool we took a field trip to some park with a very large slide and I broke my arm falling off at the bottom. The teacher did not believe I was hurt (I seem to recall her waving it around to prove to me it was not broken) so the trip continued. On the way back to the school, we had to stop at one of the children's houses to see a bird's nest in the doorway. We all trudged up the front steps to see the bird's nest and I was knocked backward down the steps where I fell a second time on the broken arm. This had lead to years of jokes about breaking my arm in two places, literally.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Baccala With Red Peppers, Olives and Roasted Potatoes

Salt cod has a bad reputation, largely due to its association as a food of deprivation. With the price of cod these days, even the salted variety, it can now safely be thought of as a luxury food. Still not convinced? Conjures up too many images of boiling cauldrons of chowder ladled over hardtack? Relax, I'm going to show you a recipe that reflects neither Newfoundland thrift, nor the Scandinavian tendency to cook with lye. This is a salt cod recipe you can manage to both prepare, and eat.

Last year (about this time, actually) I made Brandade and used it to spread on toast and as a filling for ravioli. I rather like it, but two people can only eat so much of it-and a little goes a very long way. The baccala however, went fast. This recipe should serve six but instead I had one nugget sized piece of fish and well, we all know who finished the rest of the platter (and it wasn't Danny). That sort of shocked me, though the dish is considerably lighter than brandade. It sort of reminded me of my dad when the family would go out for Friday fish fry (this used to be a big deal in the Midwest-all you can eat fried fish and chips. Now you only see it during Lent, if at all though when I was young (a million years ago) every Friday was meatless for Catholics. So anyway, my dad would tell the waitress to just skip the potatoes and cole slaw and bring him fish three at a time so he wouldn't have to keep flagging her down. Mind you, my dad did pretty hard physical work all day making deliveries so it wasn't like 5,000 calories was just going to sit there (though he was a pretty large man). He could easily down ten pieces of fried fish and then stop for ice-cream on the way home (he used to walk to the corner drugstore every night after dinner for a pint of ice-cream until my mother put a stop to it). What was my point? Oh yeah, if you're serving this to a man with a hearty appetite, don't count on leftovers. I'm sure a woman could devour a pound and a half of salt cod, but I've got to think even if she could, she would have more sense. I'm sure that's why God put women on Earth-to keep men from eating until they throw up-like dogs...except dogs sometimes eat their vomit...but anyway, you get the idea.

You Will Need:

1 1/2 pounds (about) salt cod, soaked two days (with water changed 2-3 times each day)
1 finely chopped carrot
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 onion,finely minced
1/2 cup white wine
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1/2 cup marinated red pepper cut into slices
8 oil cured olives
8 large green olives
1/4 cup capers, rinsed well
olive oil for frying
flour for dredging
1 cup chopped parsley
2 cups hot water
pepper to taste

Roasted potatoes or rice to serve with

In a pot of boiling water, cook the baccala for about eight minutes. Drain. Dry well on a towel. Cut into chunks and dredge in flour. Fry in pan with olive oil until browned. Set aside.

In a large, heavy pot cook the carrot, celery and onion in a bit of olive oil until browned. Add the tomato paste, peppers, olives, capers, wine and half a cup of the hot water. Bring to a boil and cook a few minutes to slightly reduce and burn off the alcohol. Add the baccala, cover with sauce and sprinkle with parsley. Slowly add 2-3 ladles of hot water . Cover and simmer very slowly for 1 1/2-2 hours. Keep checking to make sure the sauce doesn't dry out (add more water if needed).

While baccala cooks, either roast potatoes or make rice. A good crusty bread is also nice to soak up sauce.

Before serving, remove to a platter and then heat the remaining liquid at boiling until it thickens. Pour sauce over fish, vegetables and potatoes/rice. Serve hot, and try not to eat a pound and a half of salt cod in one sitting (mama sez even if you don't get a bellyache, it isn't smart).

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Two More Views Of The Concord Grapes

I couldn't resist two more photos of the Concord grape filling. How many seconds do you think it took Danny to inhale his? Scroll down to earlier posts to get the directions.
I managed a small taste and let me tell you-wow. Regular table grapes you get year round just don't have this sort of flavour.

Chili With Beef And Beans

I swore up and down I wasn't going to make chili, but curiosity got the better of me and well, here you have it.

Today was a soda crackers and tea kind of day for me (when isn't it) but L. said it was "really good" (emphasis his). I'll take him at his word as he ate three bowls of it.

With cornbread and coleslaw, it was a hearty dinner for what is the coldest day we've had around here this fall.

I didn't go crazy with the cayenne. I used quite a bit of ancho chilies and cumin, but reigned-in the temptation to make it overly hot. That seems to be a fixation people have about chili that I just don't get. I don't mind some heat to enhance a dish, but it shouldn't be painful ( or dangerous) to eat it.

You Will Need:

1 lb. ground beef

1 large chopped onion

4 tablespoons ground ancho chilies

1 large garlic clove, minced

1 lg (abt. 28 oz) tin of peeled tomatoes, chopped coarsely(use juice also)

1 8 oz. tin of tomato sauce

3 tablespoons cumin

1 teaspoon marjoram

1 teaspoon thyme

1 tin of black beans, rinsed and drained

Cook the onion and beef in a large pot until browned. Drain off fat. Add everything else except the beans. Bring to a boil, then cover and reduce to a simmer (keep checking to make sure it doesn't start boiling again). Cook 2-3 hours, stirring every half hour or so. In the last half hour, add the beans and cook until warmed through.

Concord Grape Mini Pies

The colour of this filling is so vibrant and lovely I'd be

tempted to try it out as haircolour, were I twenty years younger.

The filling recipe will make one 8 inch pie, or about a dozen mini-pies. I opted for less pies and kept the extra filling for ice cream topping.

It occurred to me that a peanut-butter crust would turn these into mini PBJ pies (maybe next time).

You Will Need:

4 cups Concord grapes

2 teaspoons lemon juice

1/4 cup flour

1 cup sugar

Remove skins from grapes (just squeeze them, they slip right out) reserving skins. Place the grapes in a small pot and bring to a boil. As they cook, use a potato masher to break them up. Let cook about two minutes, remove from heat and place through a food mill (or sieve) while still hot. Discard seeds.

Return grapes to pan with the skins, and everything else. Bring back to a boil over medium heat stirring constantly. Boil 1-2 minutes, or until thickened. Remove to a bowl and chill before using.

Cole Slaw

I guess If I'd thought about it, I might have been able to anticipate being asked the question and had a more sensitive answer prepared. No, Danny didn't ask the "where do babies come from" question, though honestly, I'd have preferred it.

I was standing at the kitchen counter mixing cole slaw (with my hands, which is the only way to do it when you're making a quantity) when Danny sat down on the floor.

"Granny Annie is Papa's mama?"

"Yes, that's right."

"Who's Mama's mama?"

At this point, my son's only real concept of death is from mice and spiders and I sure didn't want to explain my mother's death in the context of a mouse with its head in a trap. For a split second, I considered telling him she died because she wasn't listening and was climbing on the bookcases, or playing with outlets. I didn't of course, but I thought about it. We all do that right? Think about what would be great answers that we know would never be uttered like;

"Clean up your room or the social workers will come and take you away and you'll have to eat mac and cheese from a box in a foster home."

Anyway, I wiped the coleslaw off my hands and did my best to explain that when people get old and sick they die (I didn't feel the need to explain she died young). I tried to stress how this is normal. To answer the "where did she go?" question, I reminded him of the big cemetery we pass by on our drives to Omaha. This seemed to satisfy him.

"But I'm going to be around for a long time" I tried to reassure him. "How about a hug and kiss?"

At that, he backed against the wall and put his hands up to his face.

"Oh crap, I scared him" I thought. "Danny, I'm sorry if I frightened you, do you want to tell mama what's scaring you?"

My darling little boy cautiously pulled his hands away from his face and still trying to back away from me replied;

"Mama's hands smell like cabbage. No kisses."

You Will Need:

1 quart boiling water

1 head green cabbage, sliced thinly

4 carrots, grated

1 cup mayonnaise

2 tablespoons cider vinegar

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

salt to taste

caraway seeds to taste

Slice the cabbage and place in a large pot. Pour boiling water over and let sit five minutes. Drain well. Place in fridge to cool. Grate carrots. Mix the rest into a sauce. Blend the carrots with cabbage and coat well with the dressing. Chill well before serving.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Corn Pone

Yes, I realise I'm writing myself into some awful joke by making corn pone whilst residing in Nebraska. Gosh, if only I could work football into this...

This is a heavy sort of cornbread-more like a substantial cake. I dressed it up a bit with some parsley on top.

You Will Need:

1 cup sugar

1/2 cup butter

2 eggs

1 1/2 cups cornmeal

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour

3 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 cups milk

Preheat oven to 350.

Grease a 9x13 pan.

Cream together the sugar and butter until light. Add the eggs and mix well. In a small bowl, mix the dry ingredients together. Add to eggs/sugar/butter mixture, alternating with the milk. Don't over mix. Pour into pan, decorate as desired (roasted red pepper is nice also) and bake for 35-40 minutes or until golden.

I Hope You Enjoyed Dining On My Cashmere Blazer

(Cross-posted at F-16's Don't Kill People, 500 Lb. Bombs Kill People)

After the mouse episode in the crawl space, I held my breath and opened another seldom-used closet. Though not quite as bad (probably due to a lack of food) they did manage to completely destroy a few items of clothing. I know they climb, but it seems so strange that a mouse would want to climb up a dress, a suit and a fragile antique lace blouse, to nibble gigantic holes. It actually looks more shredded. Gosh, I'm heartsick over this.

Over the years, I've really all but stopped buying clothes figuring what I had would last a lifetime (…and it would have, blah, blah). Only today, as I realised the jacket I was wearing had (numerous) moths holes, did it dawn on me that I've become old. Too old to see properly to put on makeup (and yes, I forgo blush lest I sport the typical old lady unblended line straight up the cheekbones…if I had cheekbones) haven't had a professional haircut in over five years, shoes have holes, can't see well enough to tweeze those few hairs that have decided to sprout on my chin (yes, really. Just wait till your estrogen ups and leaves) and so on. I don't know, in the back of my mind, I figured I at least had a few nice items to wear, should I ever need to do more than clean piss up off the floor, or pick up groceries at No Frills. Seeing the destruction made me terribly sad-silly as it sounds (and it is actually being kind of silly) those clothes were the last nice things I'll ever own. I know that. Even if we could afford to replace them, I wouldn't. Ideologically, it no longer fits in my life-I couldn't very well go indulge in expensive clothing when I know people who are eating from dumpsters. Odds are, I wouldn't have ever worn most of these things again because I'd be embarrassed that they seem ostentatious. Sooner or later, I'd have given them away-seems a shame that the mice should get them first though.

This came on a day when I was already feeling pretty lousy, physically (which is of course, a great time to go clean a closet, eh?). Regular readers will attest-I am not even close to being thin-skinned. I routinely dish it out, and in return, do a fairly good job of taking it. I don't take Internet things personally; because they are not personal-even less so when I have to take crap from total strangers. That said, and again-I think this just fits into a very long couple of weeks and being a bit run-down, I just about put my fist through the computer this afternoon.

I made the unbearably stupid mistake of commenting on something in our inane newspaper. The story was about a traffic accident that resulted in a fatality. I noted that I frequently pass the area and it is indeed dangerous, and advised people should be cautious there. The story was shortly thereafter updated to indicate more details, and it turns out the accident was about a mile down the same road. Oh my God! There was a factual error in my comment. Slap me upside the head and call me moron, I will have zero credibility from now on. This lead to (weirdly) someone else posting to correct me (in MY name) and another poster all but calling me an idiot for not reading the article.

I'm furious that I'm furious over a fucktard comment from someone I don't even know. Believe me, this stuff never so much as irritates me in passing. Today, it did (for like, fifteen seconds-but still, I'm pissed that he/she got even that much of a rise out of me). So yes, I'll learn how to read a newspaper, and while I'm at it, I'll write to the University that had the poor judgment to issue me not one, but two degrees. Maybe they'll permit me to sell them back-I could use the money.

I'll tell you this, I'm afraid to open any more closets. I need to go upstairs and unpack my winter clothes, which are in sealed plastic tubs. If I find those gnawed and pried open, I'm moving back to Boston, where the rats stick to eating garbage.

Quick, someone please tell a joke or something in the comments thread before the mood around here gets too self-pitying.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The Quilt That Wouldn't End

I really do need to finish this as the weather is turning cooler here. A week of determined work would finish it off, but it is so very boring. The stitching isn't an interesting design and as there are only two sheets of fabric, there isn't even piecing to keep me interested.
My mother-in-law offered to buy me a sewing machine, but I declined knowing that I'd end up finishing off the large quilt instead of hand stitching as intended. I'd rather have my uneven stitches and weirdly uneven work than something hurried off on a machine. I'm not faulting machine quilters, but for my own reasons, I want to sew this and the king sized quilt by hand.
Then, I'm never making another quilt so long as I live.
On a sad note, the mice from the post a few down on the page managed to get into a stash of yarn which is now ruined. That's pretty sad (but again, our own fault for not taking precautions) as it contained the Guernsey (I'm probably misspelling that) my husband was 95 % finished knitting before he got disgusted and packed it away.
I hope the mice enjoyed rubbing their poopy, mousy behinds on it-at least as much as I'm going to enjoy putting out glue traps. Blech, I hate mice. Hate them.

Brandied Pears

This recipe will make 2-3 quarts (I got two). The recipe I was working from )Martha Stewart Living, 1994) didn't say anything about sterilising the jars. I went ahead and did it anyway, though I suppose with the high acid content of the fruit and the addition of booze, it might have been unnecessary. My advice is to do it anyway.
The pears will need to sit for at least six weeks, under refrigeration to soak up all the brandy flavour. I made these when I originally bought the magazine and as far as I know, no one got botulism-but that doesn't mean you should be careless with canning. I'm not sure why they insist they should stay under refrigeration, but I'll take the recipe author at their word. The last time I made these I used an entire bottle of Asbach brandy for the task, which as I recall lead to my husband walking around mumbling about very expensive brandied pears. Thank God I didn't go for the Armagnac. This year, I used the very inexpensive, though surprisingly good Christian Brothers brandy that costs about nine bucks a bottle.
You Will Need:
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
5 1/2 lbs. seckel pears (about 20)
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 cinnamon sticks
3 cups brandy
Fill a large bowl halfway full with water. Add the lemon juice. Carefully peel pears to retain shape(keep stems on) and place in the water.
Combine sugar, cinnamon sticks and three quarts of water in a large pot. Drain and add the pears and bring to a boil. (Note: the pears will brown slightly from the cinnamon-this is to be expected)When pears boil, reduce to a simmer and cook 10-30 minutes, depending on the ripeness of the fruit. Remove from pot with a slotted spoon and distribute evenly between jars.
Turn the heat up to high under the syrup and boil until reduced to 2 cups (about 50 minutes). Remove from heat. Strain through a fine sieve lined with cheesecloth. Distribute the syrup evenly between the jars. Top off jars with brandy to cover the pears. Let cool. Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 weeks (the longer the better).

Highlights From My Afternoon

Not that I make a habit of this sort of thing, but I let my son eat an ice cream sundae for lunch. He'd been so cooperative at the optometrist (having his eye re-checked) and the next couple of chores that I decided to take him to the ice-cream parlour. The following are some of the highlights from lunch.

"Can you have sundae on a Tuesday?"

(playing with my Nantucket basket necklace)"What's in there? Is there cheese in there?" (and then, loudly so all the old folks having lunch could hear) "Are there cheese maggots in there?" (proud, "That's my boy" moment there).

(Looking at pies in glass case) "That's a cherry pie, that's apple pie...what's that pie mama? Oh, that's cheesecake. Cheesecake is very good and very tasty. Mama will make cheesecake after she cans pears."

(To waitress) "The grocery store was out of Ball jars. The drug store was out of Ball jars. We need Ball jars. Mama has to go to Lincoln for Ball jars to make pears. Mama will make cheesecake."

"Two kinds of syrup!"

"The kitchen by the bathroom is where the mama bakes pies. This bathroom is by the kitchen,"

"I have to go...right now."

"I have to go again."

Me: This ice cream is pretty much melted now Danny."
Danny: (grabbing the dish) Danny will eat it. Danny will eat it." (shoots mama a "back off of my ice-cream" look).

(announces loudly to entire place) "Ice cream is very tasty...mama necklace has cheese maggots!"

(leaving) "Thank you, Danny really enjoyed that."

Monday, October 15, 2007

Brioche Bread

Amazing what four eggs and a cup of melted butter can do for bread. I can't wait to turn the last bits into bread pudding.
This is, as already noted, not health food. It won't help your waistline either. If you're like me, and inclined to eat a slab of bittersweet chocolate on bread, this is an excellent accompaniment (though I love chocolate on a plain baguette).
The recipe comes from Beard on Bread, and makes two loaves.
You Will Need: (aside from willpower to keep from consuming an entire loaf in one sitting)
3 3/4 teaspoons of granulated yeast (not quick rise)
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/2 cup warm water (abt 110 degrees F)
1 cup melted butter (!)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
4 cups all purpose flour
4 eggs
1 egg yolk mixed with 1/4 cup light cream for wash
Combine the yeast, sugar, wand warm water in a measuring cup. Stir to dissolve yeast and let proof about ten minutes. In a small bowl, combine the melted butter and salt. In a large bowl, combine the flour, eggs, melted butter, and yeast mixture (in that order). First with a wooden spoon, and then with your hand, mix until smooth. Place in a buttered bowl, turn once (it will be a sticky glob) and cover with plastic wrap and a towel until doubled in bulk. Mine took 2 hours, but it is very cold here today.
Grease two bread pans generously with butter. Divide the dough and fit into pans. Cover with a towel, and let rise again another hour.
Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees F. Before placing in the oven, brush the tops generously with the egg/cream mixture. Bake 30 minutes or until deep golden brown and sound hollow.
Cool on racks.

Lentil Soup, Harrisburg Style

Well, I don't know if it is officially Harrisburg style, but it is based on a recipe from my husband's grandmother, who was from Harrisburg (as are my mother-in-law and husband).
I couldn't believe he'd held on to the small recipe card for over thirty years, when he presented it to me. My husband's grandmother has been gone for a very long time. Remarkable as well is that he had the thought to ask her for the recipe all those years ago.
Over the years, I've added a bit to the original (sacrilege, I know). The unique thing about the recipe that I've kept constant however is the use of a small 6 oz. tin of tomato paste, and chopped parsley in place of spinach. I've taken the liberty of adding a bullion cube, some cumin and coriander to the original recipe, though it is delicious without it.
I pre-soak my lentils, though it is not necessary to do so. Supposedly, this cuts down on the "windy-ness" factor, but I don't have any science to support this. While it is true of beans, there's little evidence it matters with lentils. Pre-soaking will however, cut down on your cooking time.
Some people insist that lentil soup should have escarole in it, though I've never noticed that it added anything that spinach or parsley didn't. By all means, use whatever green (or none at all) you prefer (it's not like Great Granny is going to start haunting you from the great beyond, banging on your door at night bellowing-"No escarole in the lentil soup!" At least I hope not. As a bit of Great Granny trivia, Danny is now wearing the woolens she knitted for my husband as a child.
Lentil soup is now one of my son's favourites as well. Maybe someday he will present the hand-written index card to his spouse with a request to make "The Harrisburg Lentil Soup."
You Will Need:
1 lb. package of lentils-picked over, rinsed and soaked overnight.
1 6 oz tin of tomato paste
1 beef bullion cube
3 tablespoons oil
1 bunch parsley, stems removed and chopped
1 large onion, diced
2 cloves minced garlic
4 carrots, peeled and diced
1 parsnip, peeled (you really don't need me to point that out, do you?) and diced
3 stalks celery, diced
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
salt to taste
2 tablespoons cumin
1 tablespoon coriander
1 teaspoon thyme
3 bay leaves
2 quarts+ water
Drain and rinse the lentils. In a large pot, saute in the oil the onion, carrot, celery, parsley, turnip, and garlic until somewhat soft and the onions are transparent. Add the bullion cube, bay leaves and the spices-mix well to incorporate. Add the tomato paste and mix well. Slowly add the water, stirring. Add the lentils. Bring the pot to a boil and then cover with the lid slightly askew to vent and reduce heat to simmer. You may need more water as the lentil expand (or not). Check the soup every half hour or so, stir and add water if needed. Taste about halfway through and adjust any seasonings (if you used unsalted tomato paste, you may need a bit more table salt in the soup).
The soup will be ready in about an hour, but I cook mine much longer. Today I went about three hours. This soup really does benefit from getting the vegetables mushy. If you are the sort that likes a potato in your soup, add the diced pieces in the last hour-but then do not freeze left-overs as potatoes will get mushy in the freezer. A better option is to serve the soup as a topping for a baked potato.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

They Really Did Build A Better Mousetrap

No more setting springs and touching the dead mice.
I opened the seldom used crawl space to get something and was greeted by a little mouse that didn't even bother to scurry, but instead sat there eyeballing me as though I were intruding. I did what any sensible person would do-shut the door, and insisted my spouse clean it up. Hey look, I already have a compromised immune system-I'm not going to go courting Hanta Virus.
When my husband went in, to begin cleaning up the terrific mess (I'll spare you the details, this being a cooking blog and such) there were two little mice giving him the evil eye for disturbing them.
They'd managed to get into what we thought was the tightly sealed emergency kit. In what I'm sure must have been a form of mouse-hell, I could see where they'd been gnawing on the jar of peanut butter, but were unable to nibble completely through the plastic. They had, however, gotten into about a dozen meal-replacement bars which judging from the mess, must have had an interesting effect on their little mousy intestines. Fibre, you know.
(As I write, another trap just went off)
This is a yearly occurrence on the farm, and no matter how many traps we set, year after year they find some lovely, out of the way place to wreak havoc. One year my husband reached for a coffee mug from the tree-stand on our counter only to see a little pink nose and whiskers peeking out.
Lest you get the idea we're unclean people, I should point out that once the corn comes down, and the weather turns cold, the field mice will take up residence wherever they can. We are aggressive in our baiting, but every year they find a way to outsmart us in at least one major way. In the kitchen, I'm careful to keep things in glass jars, large plastic containers and the like. For whatever reason, I blanked-out the emergency kit and well, who could have suspected mice would like protien bars?
As much as I'd like to set "humane" traps and let the mice loose, it would be a pointless exercise here-there's just too many of them. I have to draw the line at health concerns, and the only way to keep ourselves healthy and free of mice droppings is to kill the mice. I know this is going to be terribly upsetting for some readers.
You're probably wondering why we just don't get a cat. I'm terribly allergic. While I'd be interested in one of the non-allergic breeds like a Siberian, my spouse is dead set against the idea, though he did have a cat in college that he and the roommates named "pissmop." Apparently, it was a great source of amusement when his grandmother visited and would stand on the porch yelling "Here, Pissmop. Here Kitty." Anyway, he now claims to hate cats.
We do have stray cats that roam the farm, but they're too busy foraging for scraps in the garbage pit to be bothered killing mice. The year that one had her litter in our mudroom, I put out bowls of milk for them-but hell, have you seen dairy prices lately? It's true that when I was feeding the cats, the mouse population was thinned considerably, but I just don't like the idea of wild cats, probably sick with distemper, roaming about. Just recently out in North Platte, a group of feral cats got into a house (I'm not making this up) and attacked the family. The sheriff had to come out and shoot them (the cats, not the residents) . You see, traps really are so much simpler.
Anyway, I ought to begin keeping a tally. I can count six so far. I'll keep you updated, because I know that nothing whets the appetite of cooking blog readers like descriptions of mice on high fibre diets.
Any great mouse-hunters out there have tips they'd like to share?

Eillien's Candies, Green Bay,WI

Like many people, I spend a fair amount of time complaining about declining quality in candy products. This goes well beyond the issue of fake chocolate being passed off as the real thing. From impossibly stupid packaging (the plastic wrapper that anyone over the age of twenty can't open on the re-designed Hershey bars-because foil and paper was just too functional), to lollipops that are so jagged they cut your tongue (yes, I'm talking to you Dum-Dum pops), to jelly candies made with walnut oil(yes, I know people with food allergies should read the label but come on, who expects walnut oil in fruit slices?) things just aren't as I remember them.
I don't know what Brachs has done to their candy corn and mellowcream candies, but I can no longer eat them. I suspect it has something to do with the new extra-shiny glaze, but I get a major mouth sensitivity from them and have had to swear off them for several years. That's unfortunate, because as a child I loved candy corn and mellowcream pumpkins.
Sure, I'm an adult (actually, I'm just really old) and candy isn't as big a deal these days, and I'm better able to deal with major disappointments like Tootsie Pops that have no sight of a tootsie (that used to happen to my mother quite a bit as well-probably a conspiracy). These days when I fork over a couple bucks for candy, I pretty much expect it to be garbage.
The candy pictured above was most certainly not garbage. Oh, it is good. Really good. I picked it up at the cheap-O grocer and only decided to try them as they lacked the super-shiny glaze. Given that I've managed to eat the better part of the package without any mouth itching, I'm even more convinced it is indeed something in the beeswax Brachs uses. Not only were the Eillien's candy corn edible, they were, well...perfect. I'm not one of those sentimental nostalgic types, but these were every bit as good as the candy corn I used to stick into my mouth like false teeth and go around irritating my parents. No, I never was terribly ladylike-at least not when I had candy-corn poking out of my mouth like Jim Bob chompers.
I'm not being compensated in any way to plug the company, I don't know them, and have no reason beyond appreciation to be writing this post. Their web site talks about sucking the oxygen out of the packaging to keep it fresh longer, which sounds so very technical, but whatever they are doing, it is clearly working-the candies were fresh and soft.
Guess I'd better pick up a couple more trays before they're gone.

Friday, October 12, 2007

But I Like Lutefisk

Though I must say that the other items on this list of the world's most terrifying foods are a bit on the disgusting side. I say that as an anthropologist that has eaten deep fried grubs.

The maggot infested cheese would have made my mum laugh. She worked for a cheese company in the 50's at the corporate office. Every once in a while, this elderly, Italian delivery man would bring an infested cheese back for a refund. He'd walk in and plop the crawling cheese down on her desk, even though she'd plead with him not to. She had no problem giving him a credit without proof, but he still felt compelled to prove the cheese was infested with maggots. Anyway, I think she'd have laughed at a Sardinian delicacy of sheep's milk cheese with leaping maggots.

I was so not going to link this to a cooking blog, but then I figured "eh, what the hell."

Bon Appetit!

Baked Rice Pudding

I feel a story coming on, so if you're just here looking for the "how-to" go ahead and scroll down.
I first discovered rice pudding in high school. My friend B's mother served the most wonderful rice pudding, on a fairly regular basis. For years, I just assumed she made it, and it's only now as I think about it that I realise she couldn't possibly have made it herself.
B's mother couldn't cook-she could barely make a cup of coffee. Generic coffee. You think I'm kidding? Remember in the 70's when grocery chains started offering products in black and white packaging with stenciled letters telling you in the simplest way what it was. The can of "COFFEE" sat on the kitchen counter as more of a threat than an invitation. Sure, this was long before anyone was drinking good coffee (except for me, because our Hungarian neighbour bought me a Melita drip cup and some expensive coffee for a birthday present-when I was eight). That said, the generic coffee was something I can only describe as what I'd imagine sewer water to taste like.
Thinking back, about the only thing I remember eating at their house (and I ate there quite a bit) were frozen burritos, and of course the rice pudding. The more I think about it, the more convinced I am that the pudding came from Dominick's. Sure, she'd warm it up and pour a bit of cream over it, but that's hardly cooking.
B's mom was politically active in their village and as a leader in the League of Women Voters, had managed to get on the mayor's bad side. The mayor was well-known to be an unsavoury fellow and eventually was driven from office many years later by some sort of corruption scandal. Anyway, B's mom finds herself on the mayor's shit list and was seriously concerned for her safety. I remember sitting at their kitchen counter drinking (or trying to drink) a cup of the generic coffee and reassure her that he was petty, but not stupid.
"I'm going to end up in the trunk of the car." she kept insisting despite our reassurances that she would not. Finally, B's boyfriend insisted we all step outside to the driveway, which we did.
Pointing to the car, he announced with assured authority (or all the authority a seventeen year old can pull-off)
"Mayor ____ isn't going to have you in the trunk of this car."
Incredulous, and getting annoyed at being dragged outside she indulged him by asking how he was so certain of that.
B's boyfriend (who as I recall walked around shirtless year round and had a lovely long, blonde, Robert Plant-type perm) pointed to the car again.
"Those maffiosos aren't too bright, but they're not dumb enough to dump a body in a hatchback."
To make rice pudding of the type my friend's mom probably bought at the grocer, you will need:
2 cups cooked rice
1/2 cup raisins
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 cups whole milk
2 large eggs
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
Heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Place a pan with hot water in the oven (it should measure halfway up the side of the mould).
In a pan, scald the milk. In another bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar, cinnamon and salt. Slowly whisk the milk into the eggs until well combined. Add the raisins and vanilla. Add the rice. Pour into a well greased 1 1/2 quart souffle dish or casserole. Bake 1 hour and fifteen minutes or until a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean.