The Feast of Love and Hope and Gratitude

November 19th, 2013

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This month Americans are observing many anniversaries. Today is the 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. I long for its eloquence and brevity every time I write—and every time I listen to a political speech.

The 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s assassination in a few days is dominating our television screens now almost as much as it did at the time of that president’s death.

Mulling over it repeatedly, we explore our history, our feelings about our leaders, and the difficulty of ever knowing precisely what happened in the past. (The assassination is an event that has been seen by millions of people and studied by thousands—and yet no one can be 100-percent sure exactly what happened on that day in Dallas.)

The anniversary that interests me most, however, is another Lincoln-related one. In November 1863, a week after writing and reciting the Gettysburg Address, our 16th president led Americans in celebrating our first national day of Thanksgiving.

States and communities had celebrated their own days of Thanksgiving for a couple of centuries by then. It was Lincoln who nationalized the holiday and identified it as the last Thursday in November. (It eventually became the fourth Thursday rather than the last.)

Sarah Josepha Hale

Sarah Josepha Hale

Writer/editor Sarah Josepha Hale had campaigned unsuccessfully by letter for such a day with previous presidents beginning with Zachary Taylor. It took Lincoln’s genius to identify Thanksgiving as a quintessentially American holiday—one that was particularly appropriate to a nation at war.

It is when we are feeling the most stress that we have the greatest need to be grateful. Lincoln realized that a nation at war needed to stop, take stock of its blessings, and express gratitude—perhaps even more than a nation at peace. Indeed, his original proclamation reminded Americans to be particularly mindful of those whose families had been disrupted and/or destroyed by the war.

This spirit lives on in the efforts of a variety of organizations to serve Thanksgiving meals (and bring Thanksgiving cheer) to veterans and their families. It also continues whenever those of us hosting Thanksgiving dinner invite friends, relatives, or strangers to join us for this annual feast of love and hope and gratitude.

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You may see Lincoln’s original Thanksgiving proclamation at the National Archives website. And the White House website offers what it calls the “definitive” history of the practice of pardoning a turkey for Thanksgiving. I love the weird American-ness of this tradition; we pardon one turkey a year so that we can feel less guilty about eating millions of its cousins!

I’m not actually posting a Thanksgiving recipe this year—although I refer you to several of them I have posted over the years. Try the hush-puppy pudding … or cranberry upside-down cake … or even simple roasted Brussels sprouts.

Instead I offer this simple seasonal quiche. It uses a vegetable I always overbuy at this time of year, the sweet potato. (I received several with my farm share last week so I was forced to get creative.)

Happy Thanksgiving to you all … and to your families. Don’t forget to open your homes and your hearts to strangers at this time of year.

SP Tartweb

Sweet Potato Tart

Ingredients:

1 large sweet potato, cut into small pieces and peeled if you want to peel it
extra-virgin olive oil as needed
salt to taste
3 large or 4 medium onions, peeled and thinly sliced
fresh, chopped parsley to taste
four eggs
1/2 cup cream
a dash of Creole seasoning
ounces (more or less) sharp cheddar cheese, grated
1 8-inch pie shell

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Pour a tablespoon of oil into a bowl. Stir in salt to taste (start with 1/2 teaspoon). Toss in the pieces of sweet potato.

Place the sweet-potato pieces on a cookie sheet or baking pan, and roast until they are lightly brown around the edges, stirring occasionally. This took me about 1-1/4 hours, but my oven runs cool so it may take you less time.

While the sweet potatoes are cooking, splash oil onto a non-stick frying pan. Place the pan over medium-low heat. Toss in the onion slices.

Cook them slowly, stirring every 5 minutes or so, until they are reduced and softly caramelized. This may take an hour or more. Add a pinch of salt after the first 1/2 hour—and add a little more oil if you need it as you cook. When the onions are finished, stir in the parsley.

Both the onions and the sweet potatoes may be cooked the day before you want to serve your quiche; refrigerate the cooked vegetables until they are needed.

When you are ready to assemble your quiche whisk together the eggs, cream, and Creole seasoning in a bowl.

Place the pie shell in a pie pan. Sprinkle half of the cheese over the pie crust. Top the cheese with the onions and then the sweet potatoes; then pour on the cream/egg custard, and finish with the remaining cheese.

Place the tart (or quiche or whatever you want to call it!) on a rimmed cookie sheet to prevent spillage, and bake it for about 40 minutes, until the custard is set and the top is golden—but the sweet potatoes peeking out are not burning!

Serves 6.

assembling tartweb

The tart halfway through assembly

A Pressing Engagement

October 14th, 2013

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Apples and cider seem to sum up autumn in New England. Bursting with color and flavor, they are doubly precious because they represent the end of the harvest. Winter is coming, and we all know it, but in the meantime we savor the season and its fruit as much as we can.

Last year an ill-time frost made apples scarce here in Massachusetts. This year nature is making up for last year’s dearth with more apples than I can remember seeing in any single fall. An odd tree in my front yard that has never before produced ANYTHING suddenly droops with yellow-pink orbs.

Knowing that I love to make applesauce from a variety of apples, several of my neighbors have invited me to gather fruit from their trees as well as my own. I know that one tree down the road has Gravensteins. Another offers an abundance of Golden Delicious apples. The other trees are mysteries to me. Their fruits vary in color from yellow to such a deep red that the flesh as well as the skin of the apple is imbued with pigment. I don’t care what they’re all called. I just know that I love them!

On Saturday, the actual Columbus Day, the Coopers over on Strawberry Hill here in Hawley hosted their annual cider party. Paul Cooper hauled out his antique cider press, we all brought apples and jugs, and everyone who wanted to went home with fresh-pressed cider. (We also had an opportunity to catch up with neighbors and eat delicious food, but the cider was the main event!)

It can take several people (including advisers!) to press cider. Our host Paul Cooper is in the front right.

It can take several people (including advisers!) to press cider. Our host Paul Cooper is on the right in front.

This cider is amazingly aromatic, with a deep, rich color that seems even darker than the pretty terrific cider I frequently purchase at local orchards. I am unable to tell you how my own jug of cider tastes; I popped it into the freezer in anticipation of a visit from my brother and his family next weekend. (I’m SUCH a good sister and aunt!)

dark sweet ciderweb

I can’t really give you a recipe for cider, which just involves pressing apples until they release their lovely juice. (The press looks like a medieval instrument of torture, but it works!) So I’m sharing the recipe for the cookies I brought to Leslie and Paul Cooper’s party, snickerdoodles. Their cinnamony goodness is an ideal accompaniment to fresh-pressed cider.

The recipe came originally from Maureen Schaden-Foster, whose family runs the End of the Commons General Store in Mesopotamia, Ohio. Amish families drive up to the store in buggies to buy nourishing basics, and the store also delivers to several hundred Amish families nearby.

It’s one of the very few cookie recipes I make that call for vegetable shortening instead of butter. You’re welcome to try making it with butter, but I have to warn you that only shortening gives you the dreamy, melt-in-your-mouth consistency a snickerdoodle should have.

Speaking of that consistency, please note that you should really eat these cookies within 24 hours. After that they get a little stale and lose some of their appeal.

So haul out the cider and invite friends over to enjoy this bittersweet season with you.

Snickerdoodlesweb

Amish Snickerdoodles

Ingredients:

2-3/4 cups flour
2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup shortening, softened
1-1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons cinnamon

Instructions:

Sift together the flour, cream of tartar, baking soda, and salt. Set aside. Cream the shortening, and cream in the 1-1/2 cups sugar. Add the eggs and beat well. Gradually stir the flour mixture into the shortening mixture. Chill the dough for at least 2 hours. (It will have pastry-like consistency; pat it together a bit before chilling.)

When the dough has chilled, preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Combine the 2 tablespoons of sugar with the cinnamon in a small, shallow dish or bowl. Shape the dough into balls the size of walnuts, and roll each ball in the sugar-cinnamon mixture. Bake on ungreased cookie sheets for 8 to 10 minutes. The cookies should be lightly browned but still soft.

Yield: About 4 dozen snickerdoodles.

torturing applesweb

Connie’s Salade Niçoise

September 16th, 2013
Connie's Photo of Her Salade

Connie’s Photo of Her Salade

Summer is almost over—but we’re still surrounded by much of its lovely produce. This classic salad recipe comes from my friend Connie MacDonald via her sister Amy. (Thank you, Connie and Amy!)

Connie’s instructions call for tossing the entire salad together. When I made it I had fewer people than it serves so I ended up plating all the ingredients separately and letting my guests help themselves. That way, the leftovers could be combined again the next day.

However you mix it, the salad gives you a lovely way to say farewell to summer’s bounty. And it gives me a delicious way to remember my late mother, who adored Salade Niçoise.

She always included a little hard-boiled egg in her Salade so I did so as well (as you can see in the photo of my version). It’s not obligatory, however!

Salade Niçoise à la Constance

Ingredients:

for the salad:

8 small red potatoes
1-1/2 pounds French (or any good, fresh) green beans
1 cup Greek olives
1/2 red onion
1 pint cherry tomatoes
a couple of big handsful of Mesclun greens (3 to 4 cups)
about 1 pound tuna—canned, in packets, or fresh (if it’s fresh you should obviously quickly cook it before using it!)

for the Lemon Vinaigrette (more or less to your taste)

1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 cup olive oil
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons pepper
2 teaspoons garlic powder (Tinky used 1 fresh garlic clove, minced)
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

Instructions:

Boil the potatoes. While they are cooking to al dente, steam green beans. Set aside to cool to room temperature.

Dice the olives and onion. Set them aside separately.

Whisk together the vinaigrette.

Wash the tomatoes and the salad greens and set them aside. “By this point,” says Connie, “your counter top looks like an awesome Provençal cooking show with many bowls full of colorful veggies. You can practically feel your hair grow in anticipation of the impending nutritive boost.”

When the potatoes are cooked, drain them and let them cool until you can safely handle them. Slice them into 1/4-inch-thick slices and toss the warm potatoes with half of the vinaigrette. (I, Tinky, had the tiniest potatoes in the world so many of them didn’t need slicing.)

Find a really big bowl, toss and mix in all the ingredients, and cover them with the remaining vinaigrette. Toss gently, but thoroughly.

Turn the salad out onto a large platter and serve with fresh croissants.

“T.D.F. (to die for),” says Connie. The girl has a point. Serves 8 to 10 generously.

A Plate with My Unmixed Version of the Salade

A Plate with My Unmixed Version of the Salade

Finally … in case you’re not among those I have inundated with the links to my latest TV appearance, here they are! On Friday I made two dishes on the program “Mass Appeal” for World Alzheimer’s Month: Broccoli and Apple Salad and Apple Crumble.

Happy Anniversary to Me!

September 3rd, 2013

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Or rather to this blog. And to its faithful readers.

On September 3, 2008, In Our Grandmothers’ Kitchens first appeared on the internet. I thought the blog might serve as my passport to fame.

It hasn’t quite done that …. yet. It has attracted a moderate following, however, and it has given me a forum in which to develop some of my favorite ideas and recipes.

My most popular posts have been the ones about TV and Film History (particularly anything to do with “I Love Lucy”!), followed by those that dwell on two of my favorite foods, rhubarb and asparagus.

A quickly rising post that will probably be number one soon is one I wrote shortly after starting the blog, about the poignant “September Song.” Sometime in the past few months someone inserted a link to this post into the Wikipedia entry for the song … and so people wander over every day to look at it. It doesn’t offer a recipe, but it does offer food for thought.

In the coming year, I hope to use some of my blog posts in my next book. And I hope my audience will continue to grow. Please let me know what you like about the blog, what you don’t like, and what you’d like to see me do!

In case you haven’t been following me from the start, I’m reprinting my very first post here. I hope to make the tasty scones again today—and to contemplate the universe, something we all need to do from time to time.

As I contemplate, I’ll enjoy this (almost) autumnal anniversary. It’s fitting that the Jewish New Year falls in September, a month in which it seems natural to look both backward and forward. Thank you all for reading….

Posted on 3 September 2008:

Apples and the Universe

Photo Courtesy of Susan Hagen

Photo Courtesy of Susan Hagen

If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.

So said the late astronomer Carl Sagan on the PBS television series Cosmos.

Sagan was one of the great writers of popular science for a reason. He knew how to phrase complicated truths about human existence in down-to-earth ways.

To him, of course, the important noun in his sentence was the universe. To me (because I’m an ordinary person and a cook), it’s the apple pie.

I love to cook—but I can’t imagine how anyone ever invented our most basic recipes: a simple cake, a loaf of bread, a scrambled egg, a pie.

To my mind those breakthroughs are as mystifying as thinking up relativity or quantum theory. I’m glad I don’t have to come up with them myself. I’m content with tweaking traditional folk recipes and asking my neighbors to share the formulas for their own culinary triumphs.

Nevertheless, I do know that very time we cook or bake we’re using science and recreating the universe in numerous ways. Even though I managed to avoid taking chemistry in high school and college, I use its magical processes every day to create meals for family and friends.

When I follow a recipe or consider a specific food, the neurons (or whatever the heck does the work) in my brain conjure up the person who first introduced me to that flavor. And of course when cooking I create something new out of unrelated matter—my own personal big bang.

(I’ve had a few little bangs in the kitchen as well, but that’s another topic.)

Apples are all around us at this time of year, embodying the coming autumn with that season’s key characteristics. They are cool. They are colorful. They are crisp.

Looking down at us from trees or up at us from a basket, they evoke wonder and laughter, just like the universe. They are comforting, nutritious, and versatile—capable of waxing sweet or sour (again like the universe), depending on their use.

My dog finds them on the road and uses them as balls, illustrating gravity (wouldn’t that old apple lover Isaac Newton be proud?) by propelling them down the street and running to retrieve them.

I’ll be posting some apple recipes here as time goes by. Luckily, none of them actually takes 13 billion years to make—unless you, like Sagan, like to consider the very, very big picture.

pensive web

My Apple Scones

This simple recipe never fails to please. I made it almost weekly when I worked as the demo cook at Bloomingdale’s in Tysons Corner, Virginia. It’s also delightful with dried cranberries instead of the apple.

Ingredients:

1/2 cup sugar plus a bit more as needed for sprinkling
2 cups flour
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup (1 stick) sweet butter
2/3 cup cut-up apple (about 1 medium apple—use a bit more if you like)
1 egg
2/3 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and grease 2 baking sheets. Combine the sugar, flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon. Cut in the butter, but be careful not to overmix. Stir the apple pieces into this mixture.

In a separate bowl, combine the egg, buttermilk, and vanilla. Add the apple mixture and blend briefly. Drop the batter in clumps onto the baking sheets. You may either make large scones (you’ll end up with 6 to 8 of them) or smallish ones (12 to 16).

Sprinkle additional sugar on top for added flavor and crunch. Bake for 18 to 25 minutes. Makes 6 to 16 scones, depending on size.

Vintage-Anniversary-Card

Celebrating the March on Washington

August 28th, 2013

Today in honor of the March on Washington’s 50th anniversary I cooked a couple of appropriate recipes on the television program “Mass Appeal.” I post the videos below.

You may see the full recipes elsewhere on this very blog. I originally made the black-eyed peas to remember the television program “Amos and Andy.”

And the pound cake, which may be made with blueberries as well as peaches, appears here.

Happy viewing!