Thursday, July 31, 2008

How to make an American Pie

It must a sign of aging. I was scanning through the 700 channels that show up on our Dish TV schedule, trying to find one worth watching, when I found a listing for "How to Make an American Quilt". I told hubby "Gee, let's record that because I've been wanting to see that since it came out in the 90s." A few days later, I sit down to watch it and as soon as the voice over begins, I realize that I have seen it - the whole thing - and I just didn't remember it.

That's weird for me because I usually can remember movies and actors really well. What is even weirder is that I liked the movie. Sure, Wynona Rider is her same, doe-eyed self, but Anne Bancroft and Maya Angelou, Ellen Burstyn and Kate Nelligan, Alfre Woodard and Kate Capshaw are there, so really, how can it not be good. It is an adaptation of the novel by Whitney Otto (thank you, one that I'll be picking up to add to my growing stack of reading. (Founding Mothers by Cokie Roberts is my current pick)

And yet, I managed to forget I had ever seen it. Old age - hmpf.

Well, I don't quilt (not yet, but it's on my list) but I admire the skill. The patience and precision seems limitless in the people who make large scale quilts. In the movie, the women who are making the wedding quilt for Wynona are trying to demonstrate "where love resides" and tell us their own stories in the process (stories far better than Wynona's to be sure).

I won't spoil the end if you haven't seen it but I suggest you rent this one (or find it on one of your 700 channels) and check it out.

I can't quilt, but I can make pie and I thought I'd bring back a post from last October that I shared with a great pie crust. This crust makes a humdinger of a pie, though it can be a bit persnickety to work with. But as the movie instructs, old lovers find the beauty in patches - so feel free to patch up any holes that you might get as you transfer the dough to the pie plate. As for a filling, apple would be a top choice, but this time of year has some great raspberries or peaches for consideration.

Biting into a big piece of pie might make you wonder if that is where love resides. It's as good an answer as any in the film.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

An Inconvenience Truth

Living on a food budget takes the whim out of whimsy. When you can't toss items willy-nilly into your cart, (and who doesn't like a good willy-nilly) then you must make a plan. That plan can't include too many "convenience" foods or the budget will be blown.

Convenience foods are the latest, greatest, add water and stir, microwave for 30 seconds and serve kind of foods that have grown exponentially in the last few decades. Used to be that Hamburger Helper was as convenient as you could get but no more. Now everything from "homestyle" chicken and biscuits in a box, precooked waffles, frozen bread dough, warm gooey desserts that take tablespoons of water (akin to your old Easy Bake Oven desserts) and pot roast in Styrofoam are ready for you to take home.

Grocery stores are getting to be more and more like restaurants; baked chicken and meatloaf under warming lights, hot french bread out at 4pm, fried chicken and deli salads at the ready. All of these things are there because people want them. Those on a 9-5 schedule like the convenience of picking up dinner partially (or totally) made for them at the store, leaving just minutes of cooking time when they get home. But with convenience comes a price.

A price I cannot pay on my new food budget. And so, I put into practice a rule I read somewhere that suggested only shopping the outer edges of the grocery store. The inner aisles are where all the convenient and expensive things reside - things like ding dongs, boxed casseroles, cake mixes, instant thai noodles. The outer aisles tend to be the dairy, meat and produce aisles. The stuff that you actually have to cook and the stuff that tends to be cheaper when you price it per pound. Now of course, one must foray into dangerous territory for staples; flour and sugar are neighbors to instant scone mixes, but going in and getting out seems to help curb the whimsy shopping.

So is convenience bad? No, just expensive. I would also say that most of the "tastes like home" stuff in a box tastes more like home siding than home cooking, but there are some good products out there. I can take a couple of hours to make dinner from scratch because I am home and can build that time into my day. For those folks working outside the home though, it doesn't have to be deli chicken either. There are tons of 30 minute meal ideas that don't use a lot of convenience food. The trick with them (and all recipes, really) is having a plan. Making a menu a week out, getting the groceries lined up, prepping what you can before you make it. Sounds harder than just picking up a pot roast in a box, doesn't it. But it is cheaper, tastier and probably better for you.

You can save your whimsy for shopping at the shoe store or hardware store, or wherever it is that makes your coin purse go pitter patter. Plus, think how proud Al Gore will be if you cut your carbon footprint by eliminating all those pizza boxes, plastic chicken containers and Styrofoam cartons. Bet Tipper cooks from scratch.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Bounce? Not so much

I've always used dryer sheets. You know,those white slips you put in your dryer to keep the static off your clothes and add spring rain fragrance to your socks; those gossamer gremlins that end up stuck to a pant leg and unseen until you are at Starbucks for a mocha. Those sheets.

Always been a fan because heck, adding one of those is just what you do, right? You can't dry clothes in a dryer without one because...well, it just isn't done.

Until you move, and you don't have any, and you are drying a load of towels. Then you check out alternatives to your favorite chemical sheet. It came as a surprise to me that laundry can be static free without them. Surprising but true.

Adding just a splash of white vinegar to the fabric softener dispenser helps diffuse the static and nothing comes out of the dryer smelling like boiled eggs. I have a front loading machine, so I use about a tablespoon of vinegar in the dispenser. For top loaders, I have read that 1/2 cup of vinegar is needed, but I would test this out with a load or two.

I would not recommend this if you use bleach in your wash - bad high school chem lab experiments come to mind. But for normal loads, a little dab will do ya. I've washed towels, socks, everything that used to get a dryer sheet (heck, sometimes two sheets) and haven't noticed anything - no vinegar smell, no static. What I have noticed is less lint in the dryer, no annoying shriveled white sheets stuck onto socks and less money spent on laundry supplies.

So necessity was the mother of invention on this one (not like I invented anything, just searched out an option) and I'm sticking with it. A jug o' white vinegar is a dollar or so, versus four bucks for a small box of sheets. The jug will last for ages and losing the sheets might help prevent build up in the dryer lint trap, which could wear out your machine faster (some people think dryer sheets cause this). Vinegar might even help keep colors from running, so that's an added benefit.

I'll just gladly spend the four bucks somewhere else. Like on a mocha at Starbucks.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Random Recipe Monday - Gotham Cheesecake

Yesterday, we went to see The Dark Knight. Hubby has been dying to see it and I was mildly interested too (I enjoyed Batman Begins, even though superhero flicks aren't usually my speed). Long story (two and half hours) short - all the talk about Heath Ledger is true; he was amazing. But that's all that was amazing, in my humble, non-comic book geek opinion. Don't get me started on the storyline. Really. Don't. (No hate mail, please. I know, I'm one of seven people in the whole world who think this way about this movie.)

What was interesting was our conversation after the movie, discussing choices Batman made that put him in the anti-hero category. Was using every citizen's cellphone without their consent justified? I won't spoil the story on this, but where have I heard similar things lately...hmmmm.

Anybat, we had a good time picking apart the Joker and Batman, delving into their motivations. We did this over a non-glamorous dinner of hot dogs and chili (for hubby) and nachos (for me). Sadly, neither of these dishes warranted a Monday recipe but I thought a little New York (er...make that Gotham) cheesecake would. Since Wednesday is National Cheesecake day (see my earlier post on this), here's another reason to give it a try. Emeril Lagasse offers up a cheesecake with a big apple caramel topping at FoodNetwork.

Nothing beats apple and caramel, in my humble, non-comic book geek opinion.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Adam and Eve on a raft....

I'm a fan of old movies. TCM (Turner Classic Movies for the uninitiated) is on most days in my house and I spend a good deal of time in a black and white world. There are many reasons that old movies speak to me - the actors, the wardrobe, the storytelling - and sometimes just for the dialogue. I find the language of the early 20th century fascinating. Slang cracks me up, mainly when it is out of use and faded into obscurity. Every time I hear William Bendix call out that the guy was "a heel, a pair of heels" I can't help but smile. Boy, is that different than some of the things folks call each other today. Sure, the censorship in the movies of that time forced some creative writing, but I think slang was a bigger part of daily vocabulary than it is today.

Take as Exhibit A, the diner. Diner lingo is famous and sadly obscure. I always wanted to own a diner, a coffee and pie kind of place, and use the lingo (Order up: a Blond with Sand and Eve with a lid on - for some coffee with sugar and cream and a slice of apple pie, thank you).

I found a great page of diner slang that sadly only exists in Google's cache. The author, Dave Hutchins of Des Moines, Iowa, posted a laundry list of phrases, which I have copied here to preserve*. I don't know where he got all of these, many of which I recognize, but I'd love to know his source. Maybe he watches a lot of TCM.

Bubble dancer: Dish washer
Gallery: Booth
Crowd: Three of any thing (as in Two is company three is a crowd)
Bridge Party: Four of any thing from the bridge game
Eighty Six: The kitchen is out of the item ordered
Go for a walk or on wheels: it’s to go
In the alley: Served as a side dish
Lumber: toothpick
Chopper: Table knife
Blue plate special: a dish of meat, potato, vegetable (also daily special)
Sea Dust: Salt
Mike & Ike or the twins: salt & pepper shakers
Hemorrhage: Ketchup
Paint it Red: Put ketchup on it
Light House: Ketchup bottle
Mississippi mud or yellow paint: Mustard
Warts: Olives
Java or Joe: Cup of coffee
Draw one or a cup of mud: Cup of coffee
Pair of drawers: two cups of coffee
Draw one in the dark: A Black coffee
No cow: without milk
A blond with sand: Coffee with cream and sugar
Hot top: Hot Chocolate
Boiled leaves: Tea
A spot with a twist: Cup of tea with lemon
Yum yum or sand: Sugar
Gravel train: Sugar bowl
Sun kiss or oh gee: Orange juice
Hug one or squeeze one: Orange juice
Moo juice, Baby juice, Sweet Alice: Milk

Canned cow: Evaporated milk
Billiard: Buttermilk
Throw it in the mud: Add Chocolate syrup
Hail: Ice
Balloon juice: Seltzer or soda water
Belch water: Alka Seltzer
Hold the hail: No ice
Wind mill, Adams ale, city juice, dog soup: A glass of water
Shoot from the south: CocaCola
An MD: Dr Pepper
Fifty-five: A glass of root beer
Black and white: Chocolate soda with vanilla ice cream
White cow: Vanilla milk shake
Shake one in the hay: Strawberry milk shake
Break it and shake it: Add egg to a drink
Creep: Draft beer
Life preserver: Doughnut
Bird seed: Breakfast
Bailed hay: Shredded wheat
Burn the British: Toasted English muffin
Looseners: Prunes
Graveyard stew: Milk toast (buttered toast sprinkled with sugar
and cinnamon, dropped in a bowl of milk)
Cackle fruit: Eggs
Cow paste, Skid grease, Axel grease: Butter
Smear: Margarine
CJ: Boston Cream cheese and Jelly
Dough well done with cow: Buttered toast
Whiskey: Rye bread
Whiskey down: rye toast
Shingle with a shimmy and a shake: Buttered toast with jam or jelly
Fry two let the sun shine: 2 eggs with unbroken yolks
Flop two fry: two eggs any style
Dead eye: Poached eggs

Customer will take a chance: Hash
Sweep the kitchen: Hash
Mystery in the alley: Side order of hash
Adam & eve on a raft: Two poached eggs on toast
Cowboy or western: A western omelet or sandwich
Zeppelin: Sausage
Blow out patches: Pancakes
Stack or short stack: Order of pancakes
Vermont: Maple syrup
Machine oil: Syrup
Radio: Tuna salad sandwich
One from the alps: A Swiss cheese sandwich
GAC: Grilled American cheese sandwich
Jack Benny: Cheese with bacon (Named after Jack Benny)
High and dry: A plain sandwich with nothing on it
Rabbit food: Lettuce
Keep off the grass: No Lettuce
Breath: Onion
Pin a rose on it: Add Onion to a order
Burn one: Fry a hamburger
Hockey Puck: A hamburger well done
Two cows make them cry: two hamburgers with onion
Burn one take it through the garden: Hamburger with lettuce tomato, onion
Bow Wow, Ground hog: A hot dog
Blood hounds in the hay: Hot dogs and sauerkraut
Bullets or whistle berries: Baked beans
Million on a platter: Plate of baked beans
Bossy in a bowl: Beef stew
Frenchman’s delight: Pea soup
Frog sticks: French Fries
Bowl of Red: Chili con carne
Wax: American cheese
Put out the lights and cry: Liver and onions

Aren't these Jake? You certainly know your onions now. On the level.

*edited slightly for readability

Chocolate milk, lasagna and cheesecake - but not together

I love to check those wacky calendars of obscure holidays that are a mere google away. You find out when Take your Pants for a Walk day is and that you forgot to observe Barbershop Appreciation Day (July 13, for those who missed it). But in the spirit of keeping everyone informed, you'll want to be sure to celebrate the next three holidays coming up on July 28, 29th and 30th. Now that sounds like a lollapalooza of celebratoriness, but I think you'll agree that chocolate milk, lasagna and cheesecake deserve the respect.

Monday, you can start off your half-week of excitement by pouring a big tall glass of the "chocky mulk" as my son used to say, made with your favorite source of chocolate (I'd have to go with Hershey's syrup on this one). You could always upgrade to a Black Cow later in the day (chocolate milk with a scoop of chocolate ice cream - see my upcoming post on diner lingo) but you might want to pace yourself.

Tuesday, the big dish is lasagna. Meaty or veggie, red sauce or bechamel, whatever floats your Italian boat, go for it. I'll be making up a big dish of it, likely with mild sausage and plenty of mozzarella. This will bake your noodle: lasagna appeared in the first cookbook ever written in England (that we know of) - from the 14th century. It was a layered pasta dish with cheese called loseyns. So offensive is the idea that lasagna is British and not Italian, the Italian embassy in London had to weigh in on the topic. Uh, couldn't the Romans have brought this little gem with them when they invaded Britain? Anychew, let's move on to our third day of feasting.

Wednesday rounds off our festival with cheesecake. Much like Donkey from Shrek and his observations on parfait, I don't know anyone who doesn't like cheesecake. Perhaps that is because there are so many variations that it really can be just about anything - chocolatey, covered in berries, topped with caramel, crunchy with coconut, smeared in lemon curd - whatever rings your cheesebell. Or, you can go very purist and eat it plain, which is just lovely too. For fans of the tv show The View, there was a taste-off recently between a plain cheesecake and a vanilla bean and lemon curd version (from chef Bobby Flay). You can have your own taste off with the recipes (listed under July 17).

Are you full? Stuffed to the gills, perhaps? Well, what else can you expect from such a dairy-filled trifecta. Grab your lactaid and gear up for National Raspberry Ice Cream day on August 1 and National Ice Cream Sandwich Day on the 2nd. Just kidding. Like those two things deserve holidays.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Be it ever so humble, the casserole

We've been eating a lot of casseroles lately. I'm not sure why but for some reason my menus have gravitated to things like tuna casserole and mac n'cheese. Usually, I dust those off in colder weather but moving must have put comfort food on the top of my list.

The casseroles as we know them developed in the 1930s and 1940s. Before that, a casserole often meant a filling encased in pounded rice or some other type of coating. No doubt the Great Depression had much to do with developing ways to stretch expensive things like meat. Not only are casseroles budget conscious but they are fairly easy too. That makes them winners for folks looking for homey, hot food in a hurry (wow, that was poetic).

Tuna casserole, that staple of school lunch rooms in years gone by, really didn't catch on until the 1950s, even though canned tuna was around in the beginning of the 20th century. I would guess that it isn't the most popular food with adults; it can be awfully bland. My own attempt at this old school favorite actually turned out pretty good because it relied on a heavy dose of dijon mustard. The recipe came from a recent Better Homes and Gardens magazine issue. I omited the potato chip crust and went with bread crumbs instead. I also omited the celery (I know, sacrilage) and upped the onion, adding a bit of celery seed to the sauce instead. Hubby isn't a fan of tuna so it was a gamble and while he liked the sauce, he still would rather avoid the fish. So next time, we'll do it with chicken I think. But for someone looking for a meal that costs under $2 a serving, it is worth a try.

Macaroni and Cheese, for the last five years in our house, has consisted of one recipe - Alton Brown's version with plenty of chopped onion and powdered mustard. Yesterday, I tried something new; sliced tomatoes, gruyere and sharp cheddar cheeses and nutmeg. It made for a nice change and moved Ina Garten's version to the top of the cheesy pasta pile. To keep it a bit cheaper, I would bet that plain old Swiss could be substituted for the gruyere. It made a ton, so leftovers, that kindred spirit of casseroles, can do double duty for lunch or another dinner.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Six Degrees of Crispy Bacon - Tom Selleck

Time for another installment of my fascinating game aka rip-off, Six Degrees of Crispy Bacon. This time, we'll see if we can connect 1980s heartthrob Tom Selleck to crispy bacon. Let's see:
Tom Selleck* was in a movie with Laura San Giacomo (Quigley Down Under)
She was in a TV show called "Just Shoot Me" with George Segal
George Segal and Elliot Gould played together in the Altman film, California Split
Elliot Gould was in Bugsy with Warren Beatty
Warren Beatty starred in a movie called Reds (not about baby potatoes, but still)
Reds star in a Roasted Potato Salad with Balsalmic-Bacon Vinaigrette.

*Chosen at random by hubby who had no idea that I was using his idea for this.

I hate it when facts screw up my rant

Ok, I had this good rant about Comcast dumping MSNBC out of their line up. In fact, on news of this I called DirectTV and ordered some satellite TV because I can't imagine going through this election without my crush..err...trusted news source Keith Olbermann.

But it turns out that this only applies to non-digital Pittsburgh. That's what I get for listening to second hand info, sent via text message. My righteous fury has fizzled and my smarty pants post with it. Oh I hate it when the facts get in the way of my theories. Darn it.

But on the plus side, I'll have TV, Internet and phone next week now. Woohoo.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

In my day, TV was called books....

Princess Bride fans will catch that approximate quote. Here at the house that Comcast forgot, we are still living the simple life without tv, phone or Internet. Something that I've immediately noticed is my reliance on the Internet for everything, including my recipes. Over the years, I've collected tons of cookbooks - three from Ina Garten, a couple from Martha, new ones about cupcakes (of course) and tapas, celeb chefs like Bobby Flay, Alton Brown and Todd English have a spot on the shelf (though why, I don't know because I hardly use these books). I have a couple of "Lost Recipes" books, which have recipes that are anything but lost - you can't toss a WWII recipe card without hitting a version of mayonnaise cake or monkey bread.

Ok, so my point is that I have a lot of recipe books. But when it comes down to cooking, I tend to head to the Web and let my fingers do the walking. That's all fine and dandy until you are cut off from the streaming network and you must rely on yourself - and your library of friends. And so, I've been perusing my stacks, in between unpacking boxes, and discovering why I liked these books in the first place.

Ina's Tequila Lime Chicken really is wonderful and that banana cake recipe from Confetti Cakes that I've been wanting to try does make some tasty cupcakes. Martha Fosse's technique from Screen Doors and Sweet Tea really does make an easy to peel hard boiled egg and her egg salad recipe was pretty swell too. That UK book of Jams and Preserves had a great recipe for lemon and orange marmalade that simmered while I hung pictures and smashed cardboard.

And cooking hasn't been the only reading material I've checked out (Oh, for a close library...). My compendium of Homemade products provided a recipe for bathroom cleanser (we had none with us) and it did a good enough job that I just might switch. I've almost finished The Other Boleyn Girl (I'm a sucker for Elizabethan fiction) and I've cracked into Zen and the Art of Homemaking (yeah, I do read about homemaking, for fun).

Twice now, I've walked into NR's room and caught him reading - unprompted - from his own library. Of course, as soon as I notice it, he's done so I keep my thoughts to myself on this.

So does this mean that I'm calling Comcast and cancelling the TV service? Ummm, no. But it is nice to find some fun on our own shelves and to remember why we collected those books in the first place. I used to be such an avid reader but in the last few years, that has ebbed. Now I know what I've been missing.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Ankle bone's connected to the shin bone...

I'm back - sort of. We still don't have Internet, telephone or cable. Like Robinson Crusoe, it's primitive as can be (with the exception of a blueray player and a library of dvds, so we're a step above Gilligan).

So how am I posting this, you might ask? Thank goodness for tethering, so I've learned. My laptop plugs into my cell phone, which does the connecting (at something less than dial-up speed). So, no uploading photos or heavy content sites (like Comcast, to chat with someone who can fix things) but I'll take what I can get.

The move went - not totally smoothly, but what move does? I've learned some valuable things in this process. First, I have waaaaay too much stuff. It's like living in that George Carlin routine about needing a bigger house because we keep accumulating stuff. How many candlesticks do I really need? Ditto on the turkey platters. Second, I am waaaay too out of shape. Our new place has stairs and plenty of them. Carrying all the gazillion (that's a techinical term) boxes of the waaaay too much stuff up the stairs was some hard work. Ninety degree weather didn't help but the stairs were the real culprit. And third, I really don't think I'll be moving again. Ever.

So, we have plenty of boxes left to unpack. I'm going to try to really plan out where the contents will go, rather than just stuffing things into places to get them out of my hair. Ask me after the last of the gazillion boxes and we'll see how it went.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Moving along

UPDATE: Our new house is the only house in the whole wide world (aka our neighborhood) not to have cable accessible. So, it may be a couple of weeks before I'll be back online. For someone addicted to Internet that is some rough cold turkey time. Send me your good Internet vibes and maybe I'll be up and running soon.

For the next couple of days, we'll be moving all our stuff and I won't have any Internet access. But hopefully by Friday, I'll have pictures a plenty of the new house and the ability to load them to the blog.

Wish me (and my back!) luck! See you on Friday.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Stay-cations? Yeah, but....

Like many folks, we're not going out of town this year for vacation. Buying a new house has certainly put a crimp in any travel, but more importantly, gas prices are keeping us near home. We're planning to take a jaunt to Bozeman, Montana to see some dino bones eventually, but that's as far a field as we are going. So, I guess that puts us in the group of those taking "stay-cations".

This phrase was coined recently and many folks are latching on to it as the perfect description for staying home and exploring their own neighborhoods during their time off. I'm all for the idea but I really don't like the term.

Why, you might ask. Well, I have never liked made up, cutesy words in the first place. But more importantly, "stay-cations" are a make-do solution to high gas prices and a bad economy and the term just makes it more palatable. Sure, make the best of a bad situation and find fun near your home, but there's no need to call it a "stay-cation".

Unfortunately, the reality now is that many people can't afford to travel to their favorite (distant) destinations. That's just how it is. The people that control our economy and the forces that make gas over four bucks a gallon are the primary causes of it. By all means, let's find fun things to do closer to home but by giving this (hopefully temporary) situation a term like "stay-cation", we signal our acceptance of the new reality and an embrace of being forced to stay home during time off.

Hello? Is this thing on? (echo echo echo) Ok, I'm in the minority on this, I'm sure. Me, Jon Stewart, and the guys who order kids to get off their lawns. But I'm a big believer in the power of words, so I'll stick to my vacation guns here and point out loudly that the Emperor has neither a Hawaiian shirt, flip flops nor a Speedo on.

Happy Vacation to you all - whether you are going to the beach, Disneyland, or your own back yard.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Veg update

Here are some snaps of The Great Veggie Experiment.
The pepper plants are growing but will they ever develop peppers? Peter Piper wonders...

Here is our amusing corn which seems to like growing in a planter after all.

The yellow and red tomato plants both came back from the heavy duty heat from a week ago. But will they dig this new cooler weather?

Looks like some tomato flowers, with big maters to follow, I hope.

Oh and I couldn't resist throwing this photo on too because I can't say enough good things about Alabama Chanin. I used the stencil ideas from the Alabama Stitch Book and refinished an old Ikea cabinet top. Here's my book review of the Alabama Stitch Book.

What a peach

“Life is better than death, I believe, if only because it is less boring and because it has fresh peaches in it” Thomas Walker

Fresh peaches taste like summer, without the sunscreen or bug spray flavor. They are perfection at their ripest and whether you eat them off the tree or in a pie, pudding or upside down cake, they are one of the best summer fruits going.

Now some folks are put off by the fuzzy skin. Not me, I find it part of the peachy experience. But for those who can't deal with it, there are a couple of ways to get rid of the fuzz. If you are eating only one, use a veggie peeler or a paring knife and just peel it off. But if you need to make a pie and you have a bunch to peel, get a pot of water boiling. Cut an X in the bottom of each peach, place the peach in the water for 15 seconds or so, remove the peaches with a slotted spoon and rinse them in cool water. Once they are cool enough to handle, rub them with a towel to peel back the skin. Read EHow for a more detailed version if you need it.

For those who love historic food stories, check out The Old Foodie's blog for the rumor about unpopular King John's death by way of peaches. Foodie reports that peaches were grown at the Tower of London in 1272 and provides a 16th century recipe for "Marmelet of Peches". Kinda puts my humble offering of Fresh Peach Coffee Cake (in honor of Rosemary) to shame.

So, fresh or cooked, I hope you'll give these in-season sirens a place in your kitchen. Let these sweet babies spark your imagination; some peach jam would be lovely in the winter, or some dried peaches would be great in a Waldorf salad, or a pitcher of mimosas with fresh peach juice, or...

*Peaches and Pewter by Pauline Campanelli. Check out

Thursday, July 3, 2008

We hold these hoecakes to be self-evident....

Or something like that. The Fourth of July is upon us and everyone will be dressing their potato salads, grilling their hot dogs and adding blue and red sprinkles to everything that will stand still. I thought it might be interesting to eat something that was actually eaten during the time of our Declaration of Independence - something not cut into the shape of a flag or topped with redi-whip. I bring you the humble hoecake.

Ok, don't get excited. The daily breakfast of General George Washington is something to clamor about, but I'll give you the recipe, promise. I know, it's hard to contain the excitement for corn meal and honey, but a bit of back story first.

His devoted wife, Martha, actually had been married before she wed the General. George himself had no kids but he doted like mad on Martha's children. His step-granddaughter, Nellie, lived at Mount Vernon and recalled the ritual that began the General's day; he ate three of these hoecakes, drown in butter and honey, with three cups of tea (no cream, thank you) each morning.

If it was good enough for the Father of our Nation, by golly, it's good enough for me. Start your Fourth off right with Washington's favorite breakfast. Happy Fourth everyone!

Nellie Custis' Hoecakes (modernized, as found at
8 3/4 cups white cornmeal
1/4 teaspoons dry yeast
1 egg
Warm water
Optional: You may want to add salt to the batter
Shortening or other cooking grease

1. In large container, mix together 4 cups white cornmeal, 1 1/4 teaspoons dry yeast, and enough warm water to give the mixture the consistency of pancake batter (probably 3-4 cups). Cover and set on the stove or counter overnight.
2. In the morning, gradually add remaining cornmeal, egg and enough warm water to give the mixture the consistency of pancake batter (3-4 cups). Cover and set aside for 15 to 20 minutes.
3. Add cooking grease to a griddle or skillet and heat until water sprinkled onto it will bead up.
4. Pour batter, by the spoonful, onto the hot griddle. (Note: since the batter has a tendency to separate, you will need to stir it well before pouring each batch.) When the hoecake is brown on one side, turn it over and brown the other. Serve warm with butter and honey.

*Painting of the construction of Mount Vernon, as found at

One person's graffiti, another's needle art....

I'm curious about the line between public art and defacing property. There are those that feel graffiti is temporary public art and there are those (the majority, I think) who find it destructive and damaging to public and private property. I have to say that I have seen some lovely graffiti - way beyond the "Rulez 4 Evar" kind of stuff you see on stop signs and garage doors. But I must also say that such graffiti is few and far between. And even if something is lovely or powerful or thought-provoking, does that make it ok to deface someone else's property?

Now take this argument a step further, away from spray paint, and into yarn. There is a group in the Houston area that "tags" public places (think stop signs, basketball poles, tree limbs) with knitted pieces of fabric. The fabric is stretched around the object and zip-tied into place. The Knitstas that do this say that they consider it art and temporary. Imagine the pole of a stop sign swathed in multi-colored knit, like a big long sweater sleeve, and you get the general idea.

So is this an art installation? Is this something unique and special because it is yarn and not paint? Are the perpetrators artists or vandals? Honestly, I don't know how I feel about this. Generally, I'm anti-graffiti, again except when it is provocative and purposeful - I know that is a double standard. But in the case of yarn, I really like the idea. I like the odd mix of ordinary objects covered in knit. How eyecatching to be walking down the street and suddenly notice a telephone pole with a four foot long sock of knit wrapped around it. Eyecatching, puzzling, colorful, whimsical. A few snips of the scissors removes it and nothing is harmed.

But it is still vandalism, right? It is still someone else putting something that doesn't belong on to something they don't own. It is the next generation of the TP party, right? I supposed it is. I suppose it costs the city money to remove it, snarls up traffic when people stop to look, possibly harms the environment if the yarn gets all tangled up and into some animal's way.

But art has been tangling things up for a long time. Art doesn't have to be safe or sensible. It doesn't have to have a big message or a big purpose. It can be a simple as some knitted swatches wrapped around tree limbs, tagging the tree with color and pattern. Or can it?

Hmmmm...guess I'm on the fence on this one, a fence swathed in yarn to be sure, but a fence nonetheless.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

How I roll, Pin

Most people, at some time in their lives, own a rolling pin. Whether you cook or not, you seem to have one in your drawer. Likely made of wood, with little handles on the end, your pin languishes in that drawer until you drag it out to make a pie at Thanksgiving or sugar cookies in December. That's a lot of prime drawer real estate taken up by something not used that often. So should you ditch the pin? Nope. These babies have history and style. Put that pin to greater use.

Word around the web is that the Etruscans (those folks that were around pre-Rome in the future Italy) invented the pin. There are artifacts that show cooks proudly brandishing their pins.

Time moved on and with it, pins changed. Marble, clay, wood, glass, and porcelain were all options. Glass and porcelain had the advantage of being hollow so cold water could keep the pin cool while working with pastry. Heck, I'm going to find a porcelain one to try out on pie dough.

The trusty old wooden pin with the handles, the one your grandma probably used and you probably have in your own drawer, came about in the 19th century. The evolution of the pin hasn't changed much since then but new ideas are coming around. Chrome and silicone coatings are things that are making a showing in the world of pins.

Ok, so now you know the 2 minute history of rolling pins. And so what, you may be thinking. Well, there is no necessity for pins in this modern world - unless you count really good tasting things as a necessity. You can buy ready-made pie crusts at the store, you can buy frozen cookie dough and pre-rolled slabs of sugar cookie dough too. So, technically, no one has to have a pin to make their bread, to make their pastry, to live. But the same can be said for every appliance in your kitchen. Just because food exists in some ready-made, pre-packaged, pre-measured, pre-digested form doesn't mean it is any good or any good for you. The old pin, hopefully worn from some use, is your ticket to some tasty food and a hand held reminder of centuries of cooks.

Ok, so some of you aren't buying that argument. Well, if all else fails, you can also collect them. There are some gorgeous examples out there that make some lovely decorative objects. Painted porcelain, cherry wood, decorative handles. Much as with aprons, pins can be collected rather than used. Personally, I say collect and use them. Become the preeminent pie maker in your family. Wow the PTA with your astonishingly thin cookies. Pound those cutlets to within an inch of their meaty lives. Obliterate those crackers for that cheesecake crust. Get that pin out of the drawer and into your hands. You'll never go pre-fab again.

For advice on picking out a great pin (and yes, the kind of pin makes a difference) here is a place to start. For the expanded history of rolling pins, check out