The scratching at the door was most persistent at night, when the sun lowered itself behind the mountains. We would sit around the table, playing cards, while my mother cooked at the stove and we would hear it; it made you jump, to hear those nails against the wood of our door and caused a shiver to run up your arms. The scratching and clawing, the low growl.
My mother heard it, just as we did, but she didn’t take her hand off the wooden spoon and her voice was calm when she told me that it was just the neighbor’s cat. We all knew the truth, that the wolves come at night and find their way to our door.
“Now, of all times of our history, we should be using our minds as well as our hearts in order to survive… to live gracefully if we live at all.” MFK Fisher, How to Cook a Wolf
I spent the weekend in New York visiting my lovely friend Kate (20 years of friendship next month! Which is crazy pants). We were out all day on Saturday in the blistering heat, the intention of our morning to visit Idlewild, a travel bookstore in the Village. How to Cook a Wolf all but leapt into my hands. Earlier that morning, I’d seen MFK Fisher’s name in an ad on the subway. I noticed the convergence and bought the book (I like convergence- it’s the closest thing to magic). The book is ostensibly about rationing during the war but it’s really about surviving with grace. After being submerged, first in unrelenting, grim news and then in New York’s pounding heat, they are words I need.
In the first few pages, MFKF rages against food magazines and radio and movies and the decrying pressure for home cooks to prepare three full, balanced meals every day. Some people need more, some less, she argues. Fight against what you’re told- go for balance in the day, not at every meal.
Don’t wear yourself to nothing trying to do the right thing in all places, in all ways, everywhere, all the time- you will probably fail on all counts. If, for breakfast, you have blueberries, sinking, buckling, inside a cake, a small piece, and coffee, you’re doing fine. It’s fruit, it counts toward the balance of your day. Cut yourself a piece and some slack, direct your grace elsewhere.
Don’t forget your ability to build. Hopefully you hear those words when you feel powerless and swept up by the world’s troubles. You can always build- your own family, your friendships, a house, inside a kitchen, at work, in your heart. There is no end to the things you can build. Start with this cake- a dessert that’s lasted decades. Flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, butter, milk, summery blueberries.
Build in the kitchen first and work your way outward if that’s all you can do today. Build your little people into the people you need in the world. Build your friendships and make them stronger. Build up the grace in your heart so that you know what to do when it’s called upon.
FOR THE CAKE:
1/4 Cup butter, softened
3/4 Cup sugar
2 Cups all-purpose flour
2 Teaspoons baking powder
1/4 Teaspoon salt
1/2 Cup milk
2 Cups fresh blueberries
FOR THE TOPPING:
2/3 Cup sugar
1/2 Cup all-purpose flour
1/2 Teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/3 Cup cold butter, cubed
In a small bowl, cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Beat in egg. In a small bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt; add half to butter mixture and then the milk, then the rest of the flour, beating well after each addition. Fold in blueberries. Pour into greased 9-in. square baking pan.
Make topping: in a small bowl, combine sugar, flour and cinnamon; cut in butter until crumbly. Sprinkle over blueberry mixture.
Bake at 375° for 40-45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack.
“Okay so here’s what you do. You take a sheet pan, spread the crackers. Melt the butter and the sugar and then pour it over. Stick it in the oven and then melt some chocolate, pour it over the top, let it cool and voila! You got dessert faster than a pig says periwinkle.” – My grandma’s next door neighbor, and best friend, Janice who was extremely nosy and once overheard my grandmother on her phone complaining to my mother that my grandfather had invited his boss over to dinner and there was nothing in the house but bologna and saltine crackers. Janice, as my grandmother says, practically climbed into the kitchen window to tell her how to make these. She also invited herself over to dinner.
Let’s talk about the things you probably have in your kitchen. Chocolate chips? Brown sugar? Butter? And then… there’s the “sick day” supplies. An errant can of ginger ale in the fridge. If you’re me, a half-eaten bag of egg noodles. White bread stashed in the freezer (it makes the best toast, okay? I didn’t make the rules.) And a giant box of Saltines.
Saltines, in my life, are meant to be eaten on the couch while watching the Three’s Company and awaiting death (I’m very dramatic when I’m sick). I didn’t really understand a need to eat them otherwise. Until I learned they’re a long-time vehicle for carrying toffee, chocolate and salt. Maybe the feeling is different in Missouri where they’re from- are they used in everything in Missouri, the panko of the midwest?
I tried finding out where this particular confection comes from and no luck. If you’re from Missouri and have a particularly chatty grandparent or great-grandparent who remembers where this comes from, let me know would you?
Saltine Cracker Toffee
40 Salted saltine crackers
1 Cup unsalted butter
1 Cup packed brown sugar
2 Cups bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate chips
3/4 Cup chopped pecans (optional)
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees and line a baking sheet with foil or parchment paper. Line up saltine crackers on cookie sheet in a single layer, they should be touching like best friends.
- In a small pot, mix sugar and butter and bring to a delicious boil. Boil for three minutes or until the mixture is a deep caramel color. Immediately pour over saltines and use a butter knife to spread until all crackers are covered.
- Bake for just 5 to 6 minutes, top should be bubbly.
- Remove from oven and sprinkle with chocolate chips. In a few minutes, these should melt (or pop back into the warm oven). Spread melted chocolate and sprinkle with pecans.
- Wait until completely cool and then break into pieces.
Laura and Stacy sat on the curb outside Stacy’s house. The sun was setting fast and cast pink and orange light over the cul-de-sac. Laura gasped as her vanilla and chocolate swirl soft serve dripped onto her bare leg. “Shoot!” She swiped at the chocolate drip with her finger and scowled at Stacy and her perfectly maintained vanilla cone. Stacy pretended not to notice.
“Did you hear about Joanne?” Stacy murmured. They watched Joanne swing by on her bike. “She’s going out with Mike T.”
“No way. Really? I thought he was with Jessica H?”
“No, Jessica H said she was too self-actualized to be dating anyone right now.”
Laura stared at Stacy and they both choked on their soft-serve. “No, she did not.”
“You can tell her mom is a therapist.”
“Totally. Oh, and apparently there’s a big party at Garret’s house on Saturday.”
“Huh. Good to know.” Laura scowled again. “You get all the good gossip.”
Stacy shrugged. “I try.” She finished the last bite of her cone. “So, do we tell the kids we know about the party and call Garret’s mom to break it up before hand? Or do what we did last time and just coincidentally show up right as it gets started.”
The women stood up and Laura licked her finger to get the smudge of chocolate off her leg. “Let’s wait until they’re actually at Garret’s house. I like to have some proof before I ground them. It makes it stick more.”
“Cool. I might tell my daughter I already know. I like her to be a little scared of my witchy all-knowing-eye. Which is really just knowing the password to her brother’s phone.” Stacy glanced down. “You got some on your blouse too.”
Here, we made you a giant oatmeal cookie with sticky sweet and slightly sour strawberry rhubarb compote. Okay, so it’s a more of a pie situation. A beautiful, nutty, sloppy, crumbly pie that is also sticky. It’s summer, after all. And does anything make you feel more like a kid, in summer, than pink-stained, sticky hands? If you just whispered, “No” to your computer screen or phone screen, you are correct. If you muttered things like, “smell of cut grass” and “neon blue popsicles” and “playing basketball in the driveway until 9” you are wrong. Okay not wrong, per se, but we cannot devise a recipe that captures playing basketball in the driveway while the sun goes down, kind of feeling. So this will have to suffice.
I seem to be moving backward at the moment and not just in the kitchen. This weekend I saw pictures of my parents’ latest trip to Italy where they explored the town my grandfather was born in Bari (Palo de Cole, which, every time my father said the name, I started to sing, “I don’t wanna wait… for my life to be over…” He did not get it.) On Wednesday, I’m going to hear Pet Sounds when the anniversary tour hits Portland and then Saturday is DOLLY with my girlfriends (which- how can you not see Dolly, at least once in your life? I’ll just be over here, sobbing quietly to Coat of Many Colors and eating pie. Don’t mind me.) Don’t read too much into it, I think. (Right? It’s almost summer, after all.)
Classic Oatmeal Pie with Strawberry Rhubarb Compote
For the Pie:
3⁄4 Cup sugar
6 TBS butter, softened
2/3 Cup dark corn syrup
1 Tsp vanilla
2/3 Cup regular oats
1 unbaked, frozen 9-inch pie crust
For the Compote:
1 and 1⁄4 Cups water
1 and 1⁄4 Cups dry or sweet white wine
1⁄2 Cup sugar
1/3 to 1/2 Cup honey
1 Vanilla bean, split lengthwise, seeds scraped
2 Pounds of rhubarb stems, trimmed and cut into 3-inch batons and about 1/2 –inch wide
1 Pound of strawberries, hulled and quartered
Make the pie:
1. Preheat oven to 325° and place unbaked, frozen pie shell on baking sheet.
2. Cream sugar and butter together for 4 minutes. Mix in eggs, 1 at a time, and combine. Add corn syrup and vanilla, scraping down sides of bowl in between.
3. Remove bowl from mixer and stir in oats by hand until well-mixed.
4. Pour into unbaked pie shell and bake at 325° for 45 minutes or until crust is brown and center is just a bit jiggly.
Make the compote:
1. In a large, nonreactive saucepan, heat the water, wine, vanilla bean and seeds, sugar, and honey.
2. When the sugar is dissolved and the syrup is simmering, add the rhubarb and let the rhubarb cook in the simmering syrup until it’s just softened, about 5 minutes or so. Remove from heat and add the strawberries. When cool, pluck out the vanilla bean.
“What are you doing now, Aunt Janet?”
“Making a snack for us.”
“Ooooh, what is it? Is it chips and salsa?!”
“No, it’s something Grandmommy used to make for us.”
“Can I help? Can I pour the stuff in the bowl? Mom lets me pour the stuff into the bowl if I wash my hands and blow my nose. Well, I have to blow my nose and then wash my hands. And she makes me put my hair in a ponytail, should I put my hair in a ponytail?”
“Um. You don’t have to…”
“Okay, I’ll leave it down. This is so fun! I feel so dangerous. What’s that, what are you doing now?”
“Chopping some chocolate.”
“Cool, that’s cool. What else do you have? I see peanut butter, is that the natural unsalted peanut butter with the gunk on the top?”
“Mom makes me stir it before she uses it. It tastes like paste. But good paste, I mean, I like it. And what’s that?”
“This is sweetened condensed milk. Listen, don’t- don’t tell your mom I used it, okay?”
“Why? Is it bad? Does it have gluten in it? You said sweetened, is there sugar in it? Can I see it? Can I see the label? I just want to see it for a second. I just want to see it for a second! I’ll give it back. I’m just going to stand over here for a second and look at it.”
“Lucy, what are you doing? Are you taking a picture of the condensed milk with your phone? Are you sending that to your mother?!”
“SHE TOLD ME IF I SEE SOMETHING TO SAY SOMETHING.”
We tackled this recipe (well, Nicole did. I have yet to make it but I will this weekend. I will, I promise!) when we were discussing recipes that Nicole was familiar with from growing up in Pennsylvania. These “Amish Seven Layer Bars” were on her list, though Nicole’s mother called them Magic Bars. The recipe we chose is nearly identical to a popular version from Eagle Brand sweetened condensed milk and the same in name.
Basically those magic layers we’re talking about? Those would be graham crackers, chocolate, peanut butter, coconut, almonds, butter and sweetened condensed milk. (Why isn’t this more of a thing? Everyone’s made those saltine crack things by now, why are we resisting an entity that is basically a jacked-up graham cracker crust turned into a salty sweet crunchy gooey slab cookie?)
Also in case you want to spin this into a whole Amish meal, there is apparently a Six Layer Dinner too, I’m just saying.
1 and 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1/2 cup butter, melted
1 (14 oz) can sweetened condensed milk
1 cup chopped semi-sweet chocolate
1 cup peanut butter chips
1 and 1/3 cup flaked coconut
1 cup chopped almonds
- Heat oven to 350°F. Line a 13 x 9 inch baking pan with parchment paper and spray with no-stick cooking spray.
- Mix graham cracker crumbs and cooled, melted butter in small bowl and then press into bottom of prepared pan. Pour sweetened condensed milk evenly over the crumb mixture.
- Layer with chocolate, peanut butter chips, coconut flakes and nuts. Use a fork and press down firmly.
- Bake for 25 to 30 minutes until lightly browned. Loosen from sides of pan while still warm; cool on wire rack. Cut into bars or diamonds and serve.
There is an interesting article on Slate about the disparity between foodie culture and the prevalence of AllRecipes in terms of how the majority of home cooks in America actually cook. It’s worth a look. Although the findings might not surprise you too much- if you’re like me and do a lot of searching for recipes, AllRecipes comes up quite often at the top of the results. When we searched for cornbread recipes, an Allrecipes pick was the second on the list (with a 4.8 rating and 4,300 reviews- take that, Epicurious).
It’s easy to see the place cornbread has in American food culture- is there any vegetable more inherently American than corn? It brings to mind (just as a start) the swooping farm country of the Midwest, the heritage of Native Americans, stuffing at Thanksgiving (or dressing, if you will) and a staple in the South where it’s right at home on a plate of barbecue. Mark Bittman has lauded it as a must-have when it comes to vegetarian diets. The sweetness of it, its unique gritty texture and its versatility makes it a pleasure to eat. Also, it’s incredibly different depending on where you get it- restaurants in the North, for example, tend to treat it like cake in its sweetness and richness and sheer height. Purists eschew adding sweetness and prefer to let the corn flavor shine. This is a good recipe because it lands right in the middle and it’s incredibly easy to adapt the recipe to your taste.
A few cornbread musts (that’ll make you feel like you just stepped out of Little House on the Prairie) A cast-iron skillet, hot and ready for a swirl of melted butter or shortening. A hot oven. Baking soda to make the batter bubbly and then it goes into the hot pan, on the stove for a minute and then into the hot oven for about 20 minutes until the edges are crunchy and pull away from the sides.
Look at these little beauties- aren’t they pretty? Like two suns in the sky. (Is that folksy enough? I’m trying…) The great thing about cornbread is that once you have a base, or a classic cornbread recipe ahem, you can riff on it a lot and make it your own. Add some fresh corn niblets (extra points for the fun word), a few chopped chipotle peppers in adobo sauce (I added two and the bread has a serious kick plus a pretty red tint to it), jalapeno, chive and cheddar.
1 Cup of yellow cornmeal
1/2 Cup of all-purpose flour
1 Teaspoon of salt
1 Tablespoon of baking powder
1 Cup of buttermilk
1/2 Cup of milk
1 Whole egg
1/2 Teaspoon of baking soda
1/4 Cup of shortening or melted butter
2 Tablespoons of shortening or melted butter
- Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
- Combine cornmeal, our, salt, and baking powder in a bowl.
- Measure the buttermilk and milk in a measuring cup, add the egg and stir to combine. Add baking soda and stir.
- Pour the milk mixture into the dry ingredients and stir until combined.
- In a small bowl, melt 1/4 shortening. Slowly add melted shortening to the batter, stirring until just combined. In an iron skillet, melt the remaining 2 tablespoons shortening over medium heat. Pour the batter into the hot skillet. Spread to even out the surface. (Batter should sizzle.)
- Cook on stovetop for 1 minute, then bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until golden brown. Edges should be crispy!
“Okey dokey, artichoke-y.”
“After a while, crocodile.”
It’s funny the foods that permeate your childhood and discovering the source as an adult. For me, the ah-ha moment was a trip to Sicily a few years ago, in April, with my family. You cannot move about Sicily in the spring without being visually assaulted by artichokes, artichokes everywhere.
I’ve talked a little bit about this trip before and its impact on me, in terms of noticing how much of Italy’s culture actually permeated my life in big and not-so-big ways. That sounds a little simplistic but it was actually, really shocking to my system. This is why my mother talks the way she does. This is why we eat this. It’s one thing to know, intellectually, that Italians talk with their hands; it’s another to be confronted with it so specifically and see actual gestures that you thought only belonged to you or your family.
Stuffed artichokes were a staple at some holidays and the occasional weeknight treat, a favorite of my sister Jenn’s, and something I have never once attempted to make myself, until this week. Stuffed artichokes are one of those things that felt like they belonged firmly with my mom and my aunts- I always found artichokes kind of fussy and hard to eat for such little reward. But you can’t deny how unique and beautiful they are and that they’re actually fun to eat and share around a big table. Now when I see them, they remind me of streetcarts in Sicily, which isn’t such a bad thing either.
Sicilian Stuffed Artichokes
Makes 4 Servings | Print Recipe
4 Medium-sized artichokes
1 Cup plain bread crumbs
1/2 Cup grated pecorino romano cheese
1/2 Cup parmiggiano reggiano cheese, shavings
1/2 Cup toasted chopped almonds
3 Cloves finely chopped garlic
Extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and Pepper
Note: I found a great post today about cleaning and prepping artichokes- did you know artichokes are among the most heavily sprayed vegetables? I didn’t. Definitely worth the quick read (and the recipe looks amazing too).
- Clean the artichokes by pulling the harder, outer leaves off. You can also cut the stem and the top part of the leaves (which also gives it a really pretty look, as you can tell from Nicole’s pictures.)
- Put the artichokes in a bowl full of water and lemon juice to soak. Give them a quick rinse.
- Place asauté pan over medium-low heat and warm 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add bread crumbs and stir, sautéing until the crumbs are likely golden. Remove and let cool in a bowl.
- To the bread crumbs, add finely chopped parsley, garlic, salt and pepper, grated cheese and a drizzle of olive oil. Stir until combined.
- Take the artichokes and pull the leaves back a bit, opening them as wide as you can and insert the bread crumb mixture and parm shavings. Drizzle artichokes with olive oil.
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
- In an oven-safe saucepan, add 1 and 1/2 inches of water and place artichokes, standing up. Cover pan and place on stove over medium heat, cook for 20-25 minutes.
- Remove cover and place in the oven for 10-15 more minutes.
Grammie Esther lived across the street from us, which Daddy hated but used to his advantage. When he was hip deep in a story for the paper, for example, he’d send us off to school and holler at our backs, “Make sure you go to Grammie’s right from the bus!”
Every time we did that, she’d stand on the front steps and smile at us like it was the first time it had ever happened. Grammie Esther had a lot to say about Daddy and his method of raising his daughters and when it was just the three of us, she leaned into her argument hard. She fussed over our hair and recombed it, braided it into plaits. She tucked our blouses firmly into our skirts, even though school was over and the point moot. She put on records and shooed us away from the television set, ushered us into the kitchen and stuffed us to the gills. She’d set down a plate of sweet potato biscuits and interrogate us about our day as we ate. Her kitchen was spotless, her utensils and pots and bowls shining and practically new. There was a whole spread of food when we walked through the door but not a single dirty spoon or pan to be found. Biscuits, pound cakes, platters of crisp fried chicken, bowls and bowls of greens, soups and stews, delicate little cookies that crumbled in your hand before your mouth could reach them, chocolate cakes with white icing, you name it and she would produce it for you. And when I say “produced” I mean literally- she would emerge from the kitchen with the plate and the item of your request piled high, brushing off your compliments with a swish of her perfectly coiffed hair.
I would learn later that she didn’t make a lick of it, not a single thing. Grammie Esther raised three sons and saw all of them and her own husband through two great wars, worked the line at the phone company into her sixties, was the president of the local rotary for a notorious four month tenure of terror but her greatest accomplishment, by far, was that she perpetuated a lie of her good, from scratch Southern home-cooking for years and years. Her house smelled glorious, even on holidays, and there was plenty for everyone and a few nosy neighbors too but Grammie Esther had her hands in absolutely none of the making. To this day, and she’s been dead for many of them, nobody can suss out how she managed it, where it all came from (did she have a secret maid stashed in the pantry?) (a whole and operating bakery in the basement?) and how she avoided the knowing eyebrow raise of the other women in the neighborhood who could smell a store-bought pound cake from a mile away. What’s most amazing to me, even now, is how she managed to take food from away and make it feel like home.
It would be impossible to study heritage and heirloom recipes without focusing on the South. Start your search from anywhere and you will inevitably end up in the South. So we’re embracing it. Southern food is delicious and homey and folksy, some of it absurd, some of it so old-fashioned that it feels other-worldly.
Biscuits are a good place to start because, you know, biscuits. Is there any able-bodied bread-eater alive who sees a plate of biscuits and says, “Ugh, biscuits?” No. Impossible. We were intrigued by these sweet potato biscuits because of their bright, friendly color and that the liquid comes from a mixture of milk and mashed sweet potato (delicious and great for you and available all year round). And we really wanted to eat them.
The use of sweet potatoes date back to the colonies- we can use the origins of the sweet potato pie, a soul food staple, among African American slaves to infer the use of sweet potatoes in other baked goods. And then apparently Thomas Jefferson made them (I’m sure he made them) and served them at the First Continental Congress in 1774, such a good guest, the Sophie Fisher of the Continental Congress. (If you’re jonesing for one of those, you can still order them here.)
Sweet Potato Biscuits
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus 1/4 cup for dusting
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon fine salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (optional)
Pinch of nutmeg (optional)
3/4 cup whole milk
1 cup baked, mashed sweet potato (about 1 medium potato)
8 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 stick), frozen
Heavy cream, for brushing the tops
1. Heat the oven to 400°F and arrange a rack in the middle. Combine all dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl and set aside. In a separate large bowl, mix together milk and mashed sweet potato until evenly combined.
2. Grate frozen butter using a box grater and toss with dry ingredients until butter is coated. Add milk mixture and mix until dough forms a shaggy mass. Do not overmix.
3. Cover counter with 1/4 cup of flour and dust your hands (dough is very wet). Turn mixture out onto the floured surface and knead until it just comes together, about 30 seconds (the dough will not be smooth). Don’t overwork the dough, it’s very soft.
4. Pat into a circle and use a floured rolling pin (or your hands) to roll dough to a thickness of about 3/4 inch. You can use a 3-inch cutter but we found smaller biscuits handled easier. You should get about 8 large biscuits, 12 smaller.
5. Place biscuits on a baking sheet, brush tops with heavy cream, and bake about 12 to 15 minutes, until the bottoms are golden brown.
Serve with honey butter or makes an excellent egg sandwich. Slice some leftover Easter ham and pile high. Would also be amazing with fried chicken. Or as a side on Thanksgiving. Oooh, a sage and turkey sandwich. It’s a very tender biscuit though so you will have to eat your sandwiches with messy hands.
“No, no, no. Don’t rinse. Look, you waste.” She reached for my hand, the one that had grabbed the can and she guided me to the running water in the sink. Together, we caught the sauce on the sides of the can with a tiny stream of water and she took the can from me and swirled it so the water spun up all the way to the top of the can’s wall and took everything back down with it. “Look at that,” she said and she showed me the pink bath inside. She dumped it into the pot without care or ceremony and handed me the second can. “You try.”
You would be amazed at how varied a simple tomato sauce can be. First of all, it has different names depending on when you’re from; sauce, gravy, marinara. (We’re firmly in the sauce camp although my mother does occasionally toss out “marinara” but with an s and an accent because my mother does what she wants.) You would think, if we all call it the same thing, we would all make it the same way. I think the stereotype is along the lines of “Gram made it this way and I learned how to make it this way and you’re going to learn how to make it this way too.” But that’s not the case. My aunts and my mother and I all have a variation of my grandmother’s sauce. They spun out into different directions from the same base and use different tomatoes, process them differently (food processor or food mill? Crushed with your hands? Wooden spoon?) but all of them have a thicker sauce than my grandmother’s original. My aunt told me her boys preferred it thicker when they were young and we did too, when we were little. I have a memory of complaining to my mother that my grandmother’s sauce was too thin, almost like water, because I was a child and also an idiot.
Crush the garlic, mince it, slice it or drop it in whole? Heat it in the oil first or put it in the cold sauce? Basil first or basil last? Salt yes but pepper? Sugar or no sugar?
My father loved my grandmother’s (his mother-in-law) sauce the most and so did my uncles (also my grandmother’s sons-in-law. She had four daughters. When she was in the hospital and very ill, she asked to see “her sons” and that memory still makes me cry). My only memory of grandma’s sauce was how thin it was so I asked my mother and my aunt how to make it- I wondered if she had spun some magic into it that I couldn’t recognize as a child.
My mother gets very heated when she talks about my grandmother- the volume and forcefulness of her voice intensifies immediately- not out of anger but out of love. (I learned that volume and intensity is very much a Southern Italy thing when we visited Calabria a few years ago, where my grandmother is from. I’m not yelling, I’m just talking to you.)
“Grandma used to slice the garlic in her hands. She didn’t use a cutting board, she took a knife and did it right over the pot. That’s how you have to do it.”
“Ma, I can’t tell people on a blog to slice garlic into their palms. It’s not exactly safe.”
“Well, that’s how she did it. And she didn’t use an electric stove! She never had an electric stove. You cannot make this sauce on an electric stove.” Note: I have an electric stove. My mother, to her endless chagrin, now has an electric stove in her new house in Connecticut. I can assure you that you can absolutely make this sauce on an electric stove.
So here’s the deal. Grandma’s tomato sauce, like Marcella Hazan’s, is so ridiculously simple that you’re going to think we’re crazy and also wonder how something so simple and with so few ingredients can be good enough to make, let alone write about and tell people they should make it too. When I saw the instructions, I had my doubts too. For one thing, it only simmers for 30 minutes which sounded crazy to me (doesn’t it taste raw unless it cooks long enough? My mother cooks her sauce low and slow, for hours) but I did as I was told and it is delicious. It’s thin, yes, but that makes it ideal for delicate pasta, baked fish and even something like tortellini or gnocci where you have enough heft that the sauce could serve from some lightness. I thought maybe partly it was the punch of nostalgia that made me a little tearful, a little comforted as I ate it but Nicole’s family enjoyed it and I’m confident you will too.
Grandma’s Tomato Sauce
Serves: 4-6 | Ideal with: 1lb of thin spaghetti, tortellini or gnocci. Perfect with baked fish, as we made it here. (My grandfather would approve.) | Print Recipe
2 (28oz) cans of Tuttorosso Whole Tomatoes*
2 Garlic cloves, thinly sliced (use a cutting board)
2 TBsps olive oil
Basil, whole leaves
Baked cod or haddock filets, for serving
Note: we use a food mill for the tomatoes but a blender or food processor works fine too. Just strain through a mesh strainer to remove seeds and skins before adding to the pot.
1. Process your cans of whole tomatoes with a food mill over a bowl. Once the cans are empty, take the cans and fill them with water (about 1/4 of the can) and roll the water to catch the sauce on the sides of the can. Dump the water and remaining sauce into the bowl as well.
2. In a medium saucepan, drizzle your olive oil and warm pan over medium heat for a few minutes. Add tomatoes and sliced garlic and a handful of whole basil leaves. Bring to a boil and then simmer (it should be barely bubbling), partly covered, for 35 minutes. Season with salt to taste. The sauce should be very wispy and thin, almost broth-like.
3. Cook pasta according to instructions.
4. To make the baked fish: take a 1lb piece of fish like cod or haddock. On a baking sheet, lay parchment paper and drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Lay fish down, drizzle with more olive oil, salt and pepper and sliced lemons. Wrap parchment into a bundle and bake in a 325 degree oven for 10-15 minutes until fish is opaque and cooked through.
5. To serve: toss cooked, drained pasta with sauce and top with fish fillet.
*My aunt Catherine and my mother were very specific on the brand of tomatoes for this, because of the water content in the tomatoes. If you use a different brand of canned tomatoes, you may need to adjust the amount of water added to get the desired consistency. Also, the swishing of the water in the can to catch the sauce on the sides is a pretty fairly common tactic and my mother guesses that my grandmother picked it up from the Depression where nothing could be wasted, ever.
Confession time: I had some serious reservations about taking the blog in this direction, focusing on heritage recipes. As excited as I was to try something new, my personal tendency is to leave the recipe-testing and tweaking to others (I am in awe of Smitten Kitchen’s ability, for example, to make the same recipe half-a-dozen time until it’s just right for her audience) and gravitate, like most people, toward recipes that I know are going to work the first time, dammit.
Almost immediately, it became apparent to myself and Nicole that a lot of the old recipes we wanted to try are in need of updating and tweaking (understandable since I think a lot of them are passed down orally or by hand and some things can get lost in the translation to paper and then to the online world. Not to mention new technology and equipment and the availability of ingredients.) As I said… I am definitely not used to cooking or baking this way. It was scary and a little daunting (it still is) to think that I’d have to start approaching the kitchen differently; not as familiar, homey territory, but with an added reliance on my own instincts and skill.
As I get older and more settled into my adult life, I feel a new sense of determination to seek out the scary, daunting things; I’m curious about the version of myself I’ll meet on the other side. If you’ve been a little bored and uninspired in the kitchen lately and you’re a regularly practicing, passionate cook or baker, used to strictly following recipes and have not yet branched out into experimentation or adaption, I’m going to put your mind at ease right now- you have the skills and instinct to change the recipe. And you should do it.
Maybe it’ll hit you the first time you try it, or the second. Maybe it’ll hit you the seventh or twenty-ninth time but eventually it’ll sink in- oh, I know this place… You’ll be so happy you did, trust me.
We’re only two recipes in our heritage recipe adventure and, as scared as I still am, I’ve already fallen in love with the process- and by that, I mean researching the recipes and where they came from and then getting to tweak them in the kitchen. (I mean, look at this; the end of the post got me all choked up. Is it dusty in here or something?)
We decided to make Hot Milk Cake with Jam before Valentine’s Day. It’s pretty close to a classic crumb cake with the exception of the liquid being hot milk and melted butter, mixed alternately with flour. I had some glossy expectations for it- for one thing, I expected the fruit filling to stay where we put it, right under the crumb topping. Alas, this was not to be (thankfully Hot Milk Cake with a Jammy Bottom is a hilarious name option and also sounds weirdly British). I did not expect my version to turn out a dense, ultra-rich cousin of coffee cake and pound cake (resulting in us halving the original recipe completely). What you will find here is a Depression-era classic (NYT found a recipe from 1955 but there are reports of it popping up in the late 30s, early 40s) that is more aligned with the Mid-Atlantic version. Move farther South and a very similar cake with the same name is usually served with fruit on top and icing. It became popular because basically everyone (from your great-grandmother down) agreed it tasted way better than sponge cake. The crumb is good and though the edges of the cake risk getting overbaked, I’ve been told by my taste-testing coworkers that the crunchy exterior is worth it. When I make it again, I’m going to attempt it in its classic style- 2 9″ cake tiers with a fruity cream cheese frosting between the layers; I have a feeling it’ll be insanely delicious and I can’t wait.
We hope you’ll share it with someone you love tomorrow. And as always, please share if you have a heritage recipe that makes you proud! We’re logging your comments and want to make your family recipes to, with full credit to you.
Hot Milk Cake with Jam
Makes: One 9 x 13″ Cake | Serves: 12 | Print Recipe
1/2 Stick of cold butter
1/2 Cup of flour
1/4 Cup of packed brown sugar
1/4 Cup of granulated sugar
1 and 1/4 Teaspoons of cinnamon
1/4 Cup of ground pecans **optional
3/4 Cup of whole milk
1 and 1/2 Sticks of butter
1 and 1/2 Cups of sugar
2 Teaspoons of vanilla
2 and 1/4 Cups of all-purpose flour
1 and 1/2 heaping teaspoons of baking powder
1 Teaspoon of fine salt
1 Cup of fruit jam
Grady watched me haul the old trailer, really not much more than a heavily dented silver box, into the corner of our yard, unhitch it from the truck and carefully drive away. I saw him shaking his head on the porch and decided to ignore him as long as I could.
“What is this?” he asked me later. We sat in the parlor, surrounded by our books and the property was quiet, the dogs asleep with the cat. I kept my head in my book. “Is this another thing? About Betty?”
I glanced out the window. Even though it was dark and I couldn’t see a a thing, it made me feel better knowing the silver box was out there. How could I explain that to Grady when I couldn’t even explain it to myself? “You barely knew her,” he insisted. “You didn’t even go to the funeral.”
He was right about half those things. When Mama called to tell me, I barely had time to finish the conversation, let alone board a flight to Kent. I press the corner of the book into my round belly as if it can squash the shame. “She had a fallout shelter. I tell you that?”
“No. She did?”
“Yeah.” I shifted in my seat and the dogs lifted their heads. “She’d let us play down there when we went over for dinner. I couldn’t get over all the stuff down there, all the cans and rations. She had enough for an army.” My grandmother was a nearly silent woman and lived alone. She had spindly arms and a hunched back, even as a younger woman. As a child, I marveled at the giant bags of potatoes at the foot of the ladder, in a neat pile; how had she hauled them down there? When she brought bowls of steaming soup to the table, her hands shook.
I asked Mama once why she had the shelter and Mama shrugged in that agitated way that tells you this was the short answer for a long conversation, “It makes her feel better, Annette.” And then she shook her head and tapped her cigarette out the window. “Because she’s a crazy person.”
“Are we really,” Grady said with a shake of his own head, “Going to be those people with an old trailer in our yard?”
“We are,” I said and my voice was firmer than either of us expected. I gripped the edge of the book and imagined how Grandma Betty felt when things shakier than usual and she climbed down the steel stairs, surrounded by everything she needed. I imagined filling the trailer myself, lining the shelves with cans, storing bags of potatoes in the corners. I took a deep breath.
Welcome to our first heritage recipe!
Nicole and I were discussing what we’d like to do with this space and agreed that the idea of modernizing classic recipes appealed to us both. We’re going to be searching for recipes that are passed down through generations or have relevance in a particular time/place, trying them out and tweaking them to our particular tastes. Some will be from our own families, some from chefs but mostly from home-cooks around the country. If you have a family recipe you’d like us to try, we hope you’ll share it with us!
We chose this Simple Potato Soup because it’s winter, everything is white and classic comfort food felt like a great place to start. Also as a result of researching this recipe, I now am the leading expert on evaporated milk so feel free to ask me anything. (Did you know it was first called Sterilized Cream? Good job guys- perfect name. Don’t change a thing.)
Simple Potato Soup with Honey & Sea Salt
Origins: Popular among grandmothers and great-grandmothers, recipe likely originates from the can of evaporated milk in the 20s and 30s. Evaporated milk debuted in America in 1899 as a safe, shelf-stable alternative to unregulated milk. Original recipes boast little more than potatoes, onion, flour, butter and evaporated milk- we found it a little bland and added a little sweetness, boosted the salt. You can do a lot of things to potato soup but there’s something even more comforting about stripping it down and keeping it simple. Substitutions for evaporated milk can be found below.
Makes: 4 Servings | Print Recipe
2 Pounds of russet potatoes, peeled and cut into large chunks about 1 1/2”
1/2 cup chopped onion
3 Tablespoons of all purpose flour
Salt and freshly cracked pepper, to taste
1/2 Stick of salted butter
Water to cover
1 (12 oz) Can of evaporated milk*
2 Tablespoons of honey
Grilled bread for serving
- Toss the potatoes with the onion, our, salt and pepper and set aside to rest about 10 minutes.
- Meanwhile, melt the butter in a soup pot. Add the potato mixture to the pot and stir to coat. Add enough water to cover the potatoes and bring to a boil.
- Once boiling, stir in the milk, reduce to a simmer and cook uncovered about 30 minutes or until potatoes are tender, stirring occasionally.
- Taste, adjust salt and pepper, and continue simmering uncovered until soup reaches desired consistency and thickness. Using an immersion blender, blend the soup until some chunks still remain. Stir in honey to taste and serve with grilled bread.
*Substitutions for evaporated milk: Boil 2 and 1/4 milk down to 1 cup (Grandma: Who has time to do that? Just buy the can!) You can also do the same to almond milk, 2 cups down to 1 cup (Grandma: Almond milk? What in tarnation is that? Hippie nonsense?) Or split between milk and half & half (Grandma just shakes her head.)
Transitions are hard. Nobody’s going to dispute that right?
I think it’s interesting that every January, we contort ourselves into confronting change head-on and the rest of the year feels like… I don’t know… I don’t want to say we resist change but maybe it’s more that we crave an existence that feels familiar, one that we have control over.
I actually do love this time of year even though I will state, for the record, here and forevermore that I find it so unspeakably hard. I love it because even though it’s hard, ultimately anything we set out to change ends up changing us in good ways, if we look at it in the right light. And that’s never a bad thing.
This week we’re offering up a transitional treat of sorts- this Popcorn and Peanut Bark has chocolate, yes, but it’s got peanuts (protein?) and popcorn (the healthful dessert of choice in my house). We’re giving it to you as a sort of buck-up, shrugging, you still deserve chocolate even when you’re being really good and you had that protein shake for breakfast right, so this is totally okay kind of way.
It’s a fitting treat for January and allllll this transition talk is a good intro for Nicole and I to share that the blog will be changing soon. We’ve both grown a lot since we first started the site and we’re ready to take it in a new direction, to stretch ourselves and talk and share recipes and stories that strike a cord with us. That more narrowed focus of the types of recipes we share and the stories behind them will reveal themselves very soon. We’re super excited about it though. And I think, given where we are now (settled in our respective homes and into very adult-looking lives), it’s going to be really meaningful to take you down a new path.
Popcorn and Peanut Bark
12 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
3 cups freshly popped popcorn
1/2 cup salted peanuts (preferably Virginia)
Pinch of kosher salt
- Line a baking sheet with a nonstick liner.
- Melt the chocolate in a large heatproof bowl set over simmering water, stirring until the chocolate is melted and smooth, about 4 minutes. Remove the bowl from the heat and add the popcorn, peanuts, and salt. Fold the mixture until the popcorn and peanuts are evenly coated with the chocolate.
- Scrape the mixture onto the prepared baking sheet and spread into a thin layer.
- Refrigerate for about 30 minutes, or until cold and rm. Break into small clusters and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
It was my husband Jerry who came up with the idea of secret presents.
It was a simple construct really- starting on December 1, you had a month to do small, otherwise unnoticeable acts of kindness to someone in the family. It could be… starting the car for them while they were in still fighting to get out the door, so the car would be nice and warm for them. Or washing their dishes when they wandered into the living room to call their friend Tina, the chore momentarily forgotten. Flowers on the windowsill in a tiny vase. A new book on their nightstand. A plate of cookies or blondies, Joe’s favorite, on the counter by the stack of catalogs. A love note in your wallet.
The rule was, you didn’t say anything about it. You don’t say, “I started your car for you!” or “check your wallet when you get to work!” But you wrote it down on a slip of paper and on Christmas day, you roll the paper up and wrap it with a ribbon and it goes in the stocking. And when all the presents are unwrapped and the wrapping paper is sighing and hovering over the carpet, you move over to the stockings and soon everyone is unscrolling and reading and exclaiming and hugging and thanking. It’s my most favorite tradition. Even though Jerry only thought of it because of that one year when I lost my job and he hurt his back and we knew the kids would only have two presents each under the tree. Even though he’s gone now, two years this winter.
We still have the scrolls but they list bigger things now. “Called Mom out of the blue to say hi.” “Sent Grandma flowers on her birthday.” “Came home for Christmas.” This isn’t how the game is played, I want to tell my kids, amidst all that swirling paper. It’s not worth the protest, I think to myself. At least there’s a tray of treats on the counter by the catalogs, I think, and in my head, I add a note to my list, the one topped with Jerry’s name.
WELL HELLO. Hanukkah is over. Christmas is in one week. I’m not sure if you’re feeling festive or a little chubby (hi) because of the onslaught of sweets (combined with the hectic frenzy of everything which, for some reason, has made eating regular meals a rare occasion) or maybe the constant reorganizing of your to-do list against your completely blown budget has created a strange twitch in your cheek (OH HI) or maybe, just maybe all of that was true until 11pm last night when you set the last gift under the tree and then 3pm this afternoon when the last box was put on the counter at the post office and NOW you are just on the couch with a blanket over your legs and the tree is turned on and you can sit there and imagine yourself getting up and exercising in the morning (ha).
No matter where you are this month of months, you should really consider baking something. Eat it or give it away, wrap it up with a bow but honestly, even with all the run-around and the cheek twitching (seriously, what is that?) the kitchen is still a warm, welcoming place. And big fat blondies made with brown-speckled, nutty butter and dotted with chocolate chips are welcome too because of course they are.
*Looking for a fun way to be kind? This is pretty great.*
SKS Holiday Recipe Collection
S’more Cookies | The Best Chocolate Chip Cookies | Snowball Cookies (Foodie.com) | Cookie in a Skillet | White Chocolate Peppermint M&M Cookies | Hot Cocoa Cookies | Shortbread Cookies Filled With Caramel | Crisp Salted Oatmeal White Chocolate Cookies | Bourbon Balls | Peanut Butter Sandwich Cookies |Beurre and Sel Jammers | Brown Butter Salted Caramel Snickerdoodles | Nutella Peanut Butter Chocolate Chunk Cookies | Turtle Tassies | Walnut Bombs | Whiskey Truffles | Caramel Corn with Bacon and Cashews | Apricot White Chocolate Biscotti | Homemade Peppermint Patties | Easy Buckeye Brownie Cookies | Nana’s Butter Cookies with Milk Jam | World Peace Cookies | Jam Meringue Cookies
Brown Butter Blondies
2 Sticks (1 cup) of unsalted butter
2 Cups of all-purpose flour
1 Heaping teaspoon of kosher salt
4 Teaspoons of good-quality vanilla extract
1 and 3/4 Cups of dark brown sugar (light brown works in a pinch)
1 cup bittersweet chocolate chips
- Melt the butter in a medium-sized saucepan over medium-low heat. After 3 to 4 minutes, it will start to smell nutty. Watch carefully and when the sizzling subsides, you should see little brown bits drop to the bottom of the pan. Wait until there is a small army of brown bits and pour into a large bowl. Cool completely (about 30 minutes). (Don’t want to wait? Cool butter for only 5 minutes and proceed with the recipe. The warm dough will melt the chocolate chips a bit and you’ll end up with a more marbled brownie. That’s an adjective right? Marbled?)
- Heat oven to 350° F. Prepare your 8 by 8-inch baking pan with aluminum foil: just press it into the pan with a little overhang, no need to grease. Set aside.
- Whisk together flour and salt. In another bowl, whisk together eggs and vanilla. Set aside.
- Add brown sugar to the cooled butter. Mix with a wooden spoon for about a minute. Add egg/vanilla mixture to butter/sugar mixture. Mix until combined and shiny, about 20 seconds.
- Add flour mixture to the butter/sugar/egg mixture. Mix until there are still a few pockets of flour visible. Add chocolate chips. Mix until evenly distributed and all flour pockets are gone, but do not over-mix! Spoon dough into your prepared baking pan. Spread evenly. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes. (Note from Food52: You can’t do the toothpick test with this because it always comes out clean. Instead, look for a crispy top that’s just starting to crack. Firm slightly-browned edges. And when you press on the center, you don’t want it to feel really soft. Don’t stress. You can always throw it back in later. Just know that once it’s cool, it will firm up quite a bit. Also great frozen.)
Remove from the oven and cool completely. Cut into desired portion sizes. Will keep for a few days at room temperature in an airtight container. Or you can freeze them for a few months.
“Are you sure you don’t want me to take the baby?”
“Mom, no. I got it. See? This is what the baby carrier is for. She’s perfectly fine. Look, she’s sleeping!” Patty proudly turned to the side, two wooden spoons in hand, and tilted her body toward her mother’s concerned face. In the carrier against her chest, her four month old daughter Lili slept against her chest. “See?” And you thought I couldn’t handle having a baby and throwing together my first, big family Thanksgiving. Ha! Patti thought as she stirred the brussel sprouts in one pan and grabbed an oven mitt to check the lid on the boiling potatoes. In a third, small saucepan, sliced apples were stewing. Patti immediately grabbed a small bowl of cinnamon, took a pinchful and added it to the simmering pot.
She heard her mother let out a somewhat exasperated sigh. “What?” Patty said. She put her hands to her side and looked around. “What is wrong?”
“Patty,” her mother said calmly. “You are doing a wonderful job. Thanksgiving is going to be delicious. But I really think you should give me the baby for a while.”
“Mother, I told you. I got this. She’s asleep!”
Her mother reached over and nudged Lili’s face over to the side. The other side of the baby’s head, Patty realized with horror, was sprinkled with cinnamon, salt and everything else she’d been grabbing for their meal that morning. “Well,” her mother said. “Worse comes to worse, we can always eat off the baby’s head later.”
I’ve brought up the idea of Reverse Apple Pie to a few people over the last few weeks and seen some eyes light up. If you’ve got a relative who immediately scours the dessert table, looks over all the gorgeous pie and dessert offerings and asks you if you have any ice cream? This might make their holiday. A slice of creamy vanilla-flecked ice cream pie, a dollop of warm apple pie filling and a drizzle of salty caramel sauce; you still get the magic effect of melting cream and thick fruit compote and a spike of salt, just with a little twist.
Over the next week, I’ll be tweaking this slightly because I’m curious if I can get the same effect using a store-bought pie crust and a layer of melted and then chilled white chocolate between the ice cream and pie. I’ll keep you posted if it works.
SKS Thanksgiving Recipes
Traditional Sweet Potato Casserole with Marshmallows | Butternut Squash Soup | Sugar and Spice Cocktail Nuts | No Knead Dinner Rolls | Apple Crumb Pie | Mad Easy Chocolate Pecan Pies | Apple Crisp | Almond Crunch Pumpkin Cheesecake | Multicultural Stuffing | Pear Cornmeal Cake with Rosemary Syrup | Brussels Sprouts with Mint & Anchovy Sauce | Spinach with Fresh Indian Cheese | Mini Pumpkin Pies | Whiskey Glazed Carrots
Thanksgiving Recipes: Reverse Apple Pie
Make in advance: Using a store-bought graham cracker crust and vanilla ice cream makes this come together fast and the ice cream pie can stay frozen in the freezer for 2 weeks. The apple pie filling and salty caramel sauce can be stored in separate jars in the fridge. Just reheat and warm through before serving.
You will need:
Make the Apple Pie Topping:
4 Medium apples
3 Tablespoons of water
2 Tablespoons of butter
1 Teaspoon of cinnamon
1/3 Cup of sugar
1 Tablespoon + 1 Teaspoon cornstarch
2 Tablespoons of water
Soften ice cream and spread in graham cracker crust. Freeze at least 4 hours.
Make the apple topping:
- Peel, core and slice apples.
- Melt butter and cinnamon over medium heat. Stir in apples, sugar & 3 tablespoons water.
- Cover and cook stirring occasionally for 4-6 minutes or until very slightly softened.
- In a small dish combine cornstarch and water. Add to pan while stirring and continue to cook until apples are soft (not mushy) and filling is thickened. Let bubble 1 minute. Cool.
Serve pie with apple topping and caramel drizzle.
There was a moment when Eloise was alone on the plane, or at least it felt like she was. The flight attendants didn’t see her, in her seat all the way in the back row against the window and for a few long minutes, Eloise stayed glued to the blue fabric seat and tried to remember how to breathe.
The flight attendant that noticed her looked pinched and more than a little confused as she hurried toward her down the aisle. “Ma’am?” she asked with impatience in her voice. It had been a long flight, nearly ten hours and outside, the sky was pink. “Ma’am, you have to get off the plane.”
“Right. Sure.” Feeling like a fool, she stood, on shaking legs.
“Are you all right?”
No. “Yes,” Eloise replied. “Fine.”
She had no bags but a small purse. Everything she owned would be waiting for her in the baggage claim, four large suitcases. Eloise had worried about her bag when she first sat down; everyone else seemed to have brought on small libraries to entertain them during the long flight, books and laptops and headphones, tablets everywhere. She hoped she could watch a movie on the small screen on the back of the seat in front of her but it turned out not to be needed. For 10 hours, she sat with her eyes wide open and did nothing but think. It was like someone tazed her as she sat down and she remained that way, frozen, for the whole flight.
Every step she took now felt like a month. 12 months ago when she lost her job. 11 months ago when her father died. 10 months ago, 9, 8 when they sold her father’s house and all of his belongings and handed her a check, more money than she’d ever seen in her life. 7 months when Jonathan broke up with her- it wasn’t his fault, she thought now with a big, staggering step, he didn’t know what to do with her mountain of grief over a man she’d never known and the burden of his gifts. 6 months, 5 months, 4 months ago when she wandered into that strange building across the street from the Thai place, the one that promised “peace”, a meditation room where Eloise sat down on the floor and finally, finally wept and found peace. The man who owned the studio, who gave her a cup of tea and told her, in such a calm and lilting and knowing way that she should go to France. He was not French and he looked as surprised to have said the words as she was to hear them. 3 months, 2 months, 2 weeks ago when she went to the airport and bought the ticket. Last night, when she said goodbye to no one and boarded the plane.
And then… just hours and hours of shock. What had she done? Was she insane? Eloise felt the flight attendant’s eyes on her back as she finally left the plane, descended the stairs, shocked to find herself outside on the tarmac. Did they still do this, she wondered as she swayed on the steps, still wheel stairs up to the massive plane and let people disembark, like she was the president or Marilyn Monroe. Eloise felt the foreignness of her own life sink in then and the air stung her eyes. She reached the last step and touched the ground. And then a smell hit her. Rosemary. It punctured the air, through the stink of gasoline and the man in the vest who hadn’t showered in weeks. She stared at the ground, at the narrow path before her and saw that someone had jammed rosemary plants on either side of the door to the airport. They were out of place and lopsided but she took them as a sign- they meant well, their intentions were good. And more than that, the smell reminded her of her aunt and the small pots of it she kept on her windowsill. She lived in a big house all alone in Maine, and Eloise sought refuge there as a girl when they’d go to the lakes and into the woods and sit on the wide front porch and shuck corn and listen for the cows in the distance. Eloise took one step in front of the other and thought of her aunt, when her mother would shake her head and say, “What would possess a single, childless woman to buy such a big house in the middle of nowhere?” Probably the same thing that would possess your lost child to move to France because a stranger suggested it, Eloise replied silently to her mother. She took one step closer to the rosemary, to refuge.
A few notes on this beautiful almond cake… I used ground almonds in place of toasting and grinding them. And sour cream works in a pinch if you’re “out of creme fraiche” like some kind of peasant. 😉 I also have a theory that it would be amazing with roasted pears… like this Cornmeal Cake from our holiday collection.
Almond Cake with Lemon and Creme Fraiche Glaze
1 Stick of unsalted butter, melted and cooled, plus more for the pan
1 Cup of unsalted raw almonds
1 and 1/3 Cups of all-purpose flour
1/2 Cup of instant polenta
1 Tablespoon of baking powder
1 Teaspoon of minced rosemary
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
1/2 Teaspoon of salt
4 Large eggs, at room temperature
1/2 Cup of granulated sugar
3/4 Cup of crème fraîche
1/2 Cup of water
1/2 Cup of granulated sugar
1 Tablespoon of fresh lemon juice
1/2 Cup of confectioners’ sugar
3 Tablespoons of crème fraîche
1 Tablespoon of fresh lemon juice
Make the cake:
Preheat the oven to 350° and butter an 10-inch springform pan.
On a baking sheet, spread almonds and bake for about 4 minutes, until toasty and fragrant. Let the almonds cool completely, then coarsely chop them. In a food processor, pulse the almonds until they are finely ground but not pasty. (Or buy ground almonds- just as good and a few less steps… if you do, I used about 1 and 1/2 cups of ground almond flour. Turned out fine.)
In a large bowl, whisk together ground almonds, flour, polenta, baking powder, rosemary, lemon zest and salt.
In the bowl of a standing electric mixer fitted with a whisk, combine eggs and sugar and beat at medium-high speed until tripled in volume, about 10 minutes. With the mixer at low speed, add crème fraîche (or sour cream thinned with a bit of water), then drizzle in the melted butter just until incorporated.
Using a rubber spatula, gently fold the egg mixture into the dry ingredients in 3 batches. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake for about 30 minutes, until a paring knife inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.
In a small saucepan, combine the water, sugar and lemon juice and boil for 3 minutes. Let cool.
Set the hot cake on a rimmed baking sheet and pour the syrup evenly over it. Let the cake cool completely. Remove the side and bottom of the pan and transfer the almond cake to a platter.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the confectioners’ sugar, crème fraîche and lemon juice until smooth. Spread the glaze all over the top of the cake. Let stand until the glaze sets slightly, then cut into wedges and serve.
The Murder Mystery Year: Chapter 10
When Clemmons opened her eyes, only Gibbs was in the room. He frowned down at her, his old face creased in concern. “Take a deep breath,” he counseled. “Did you hit your head? I couldn’t tell.”
She tried to shake her head no, that she hadn’t and felt a fuzzy sort of pain. “What happened?” And before he could answer, she remembered the scene. She took a sideways look around the room. “Where did everyone go?”
“The rookie, Turner, took them into the hall.” Gibbs shifted on his feet. He was in a crouch beside her and his back was bad. He grimaced. “Help me up,” she said and grabbed his arm. “We have to find that bag, the one Freddy described. We have to find it in this house.” She pushed the hair out of her eyes. From the way Gibbs looked at her, she knew she looked as wild as she felt. She didn’t care. She gripped his arm.
“That bag he described,” she said. It felt like the words were chalk, in her mouth. “I know that bag.” She looked around the room, in the big house on top of the hill, and shook her head. “We were just talking about her too,” she murmured.
Gibbs frowned. “Talking about who? Whose bag?”
“My grandmother.” Clemmons tried to feel the floor beneath her feet.
Well, hello. Are you surprised to see us? Me too.
In the way that life is ridiculous and weird, Nicole and I decided to take a break from blogging at exactly the same time. Her reason for a mini-break had been cooking for a while and is quite delicious. My reason was nonexistent three months ago and is now undeniably real.
And now here we are, back far sooner than I expected. Maybe it’s not so surprising- when your daily view change so drastically, so suddenly, maybe it’s helpful to head for a terrain you know well. For Nicole, it’s baking sheets and her camera and for me, it’s baking sheets and computer keys. In a way, it makes perfect sense. Last night, after days of looking around the house in equal parts shock and overwhelmed, I turned the oven on and took a deep breath, imagined my equilibrium sliding back into place. I’m not quite there yet but getting closer. Day by day.
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