BE A KITCHEN HERO
You have the power to rock someone’s world. You and your measuring cups, your coconut, and your sense of flair and creativity.
Grandma Jackson was not known for her culinary skills. (I love you, Grandma.) She burned pancakes… every time, smoke coming around the corner into the next room like those cartoon smoke fingers. She chopped and mashed the iceberg lettuce into oblivion with her trusty little paring knife, but she was a kitchen hero around birthday time. An all out HERO. Butterfly cakes, rocking horses with licorice reins, turtles with cupcake cup heads, sailboats with LifeSaver portholes. I knew when my grandma was in the kitchen in secret time, something magical would be waiting when she finally called us in to see her drop dead gorgeous, perfect-in-my-eyes, birthday cake on its foil covered board.
Don’t be afraid. Oh, just do it. Take the time. Bake something wonderful for someone you love. Grandma J, your menagerie of cakes touched my soul. They are with me still, magical. Love you.
(OK, there was a really, really cute insert showing a giraffe and a bear cake , but somehow not showing properly from the Cakes Kids Love booklet from Betty Crocker….will replace with something soon..just as cute )
Check back. I will be featuring a classic birthday cake recipe soon. You will be able to create layers of great cake with yummy ingredients of your own.
In the meantime, try your hand at the tasty buns below. Contains yeast and a little rising time, but is not difficult and, oh, so popular with sandwich lovers of all ages.
Have you ever found yourself sitting in a place of comfort and not wanting to leave?
My stepmother passed away several years ago, but I have fond memories of the trips we took down South to visit her relatives in a land so foreign from my Illinois roots, that it might as well have been another country, entirely. Red clay outcroppings, moss dripping from trees, alligator warnings, slowed-down towns where people still tipped their hats and said things like “Miss Ruth”, the fact that people still wore hats, pines , doorless cabins alongside fields of cotton, and kudzu-covered hills blanketing the shapes of old decaying barns in the land of girls who go by both their first and middle names. The first ones always sounding a little quirky or boy-like: Billie Ann, Minnie Rae, Bobbie Sue.
My stepmother’s dear aunt and uncle came along to rescue her when her own mother died. I have a reoccurring memory of their modest home down a back road in Mississippi. It was years and years ago, and I can’t tell you the exact colors or exact layout, but this is what I do remember, the feeling of comfort, quiet security and the feeling of home. After we drove down a dusty road to a small frame house with a big front porch, I remember sitting in the living room, witness to the conversation between a woman and the little girl raised as her own. It was a slow, quiet Mississippi summer afternoon, complete with sweet tea, a tour of the little garden, built-in book shelves with beveled glass doors.
I sat there listening, looking around, trying not to be rude, but even as young as I was, I was intrigued, glancing in one direction off into the kitchen, through the kitchen to the screened porch in the back, off to the left or right directly into bedrooms. The bedrooms, clean, spare with just the dresser, side table, double beds covered by chenille bedspreads with flowers, creased under the pillows then folded over their tops…everything wrinkle free, like somebody cared…polished wood, hardwood floors with scatter rugs, breezes drifting through the screens fluttering the curtains.
On a quest for creating a little comfort in my own life, I had a fortuitous encounter with two platters. Last Sunday I was out taking a back road to visit my father, when I happened upon a yard sale, and I did that dangerous yard sale turn around maneuver. Here is what I bought: an aged, dark golden plaque for my garden, which is now mostly hidden behind roses and grape vines, and which is giving my funky garden an instant element of old world mystery, not bad for three bucks, and two old china platters with flowers around their edges and no cracks or chips anywhere. The moment I saw them in the bottom of the cardboard box hidden under random pots, I knew they would be mine. They have the look of relaxed Sunday dinners, resting places for the pot roast and boiled ears of corn waiting to be rubbed over with butter and sprinkled with black pepper.
I think the very reason why people like Martha Stewart have been so popular is that they bring to us the feeling of home, comfort, good food. We are so busy. There is no one home to hang the laundry on the line, squeeze the lemons, set out the cups, dust under the sofa, and water the ferns, so we settle for a photo layout substitute. I have been thinking of how to start incorporating more people, times of comfort, and the celebration of good food into my life and to enhance the life of those I love. Maybe to start small but still take the time to make those things a priority.
The two serving platters were my catalyst for action and inspired me to make a lunch which included cornbread with rich, dark honey from a farm stand along a country road below the Mason Dixon Line, peas and spinach from my little raised bed garden, and ice tea.
Here is the recipe for the cornbread I often bake. Do you know that there are two schools of thought regarding cornbread? You have your, Yankee, and you have your, Rebel, cornbread. The Northern version is sweet , often tasting more like muffins rather than savory, and according to my stepmother, the Southern is strictly unsweet. I much prefer the Rebel version, and I like it crispy around the edges, but in the name of keeping the peace, I usually use this recipe, and those who like more sweetness can always twirl on a big ol’ dollop of honey. If you are planning on making cornbread dressing, another Southern favorite, omit all the sugar.
Make sure you read the whole recipe before you head to the store, as some of the ingredients are further down in the text. You can use all-purpose flour instead of my whole wheat, and you can use regular sugar, or omit it all together, you Rebel. The pepper gives a little zip. I think a little more is even better. I also think the cast-iron skillet is imperative.
Crispy edged, tender inside…Cornbread
Oven 400°. Heat a 10 inch cast-iron skillet in the oven for 10 minutes.
In a large bowl, whisk together:
1 c. yellow cornmeal
1 c. whole wheat pastry flour
1 T. baking powder
2 T. organic sugar
½ t. salt
1/8 t. red pepper, ground
Combine 1 c. buttermilk and ¼ t. baking soda.
Beat 2 large eggs with 5 T. melted butter.
Add wet ingredients to the dry and gently fold and whisk, just until combined. As you are combining add 1 T. vegetable shortening to the hot skillet and return to oven to melt, tilt all around to cover the skillet. Immediately pour the batter into the hot skillet and bake about 20 minutes, until golden and a little crispy around the edge. Cool on rack for about 5 minutes, then serve hot. Makes about 8 serving wedges.
I am looking for comfort, things like this cornbread, chenille bedspreads, and boiled peanuts…. I love boiled peanuts. In the barn in Mississippi there were whole bunches of peanuts, including their green tops, hanging from the rafters for safe keeping. I wish I had some now. By the way, I have okra growing in my garden this year. My all-time favorite Southern food, fried okra. Oh, wait, hmm..maybe Aunt Minnie’s preserved figs from the tree in her backyard, those dark gems crowded into those quart Mason jars suspended in sweet dark syrup……..
Maybe that’s why it’s called The Mason Dixon Line.
I love to collect food postcards whenever I can find them while on the road. The one above is particularly nice for the summer. It makes a nice tangy pie without much fuss. I collected this card on Sanibel Island, Florida during a trip when my oldest was just a baby barely able to run in the little waves breaking on shore. I have precious memories of that trip, and one of the nicest ones is popping this recipe in the oven where we were staying, then enjoying the quintessential summer Floridian treat, keylime pie. Oh, and Sanibel is a great place to collect shells, especially after a storm. My favorite: angel wings or little jingle shells.
note: see how I altered the recipe…made the oven temperature 325°, added an approximate time in the oven, around 12 to 15 minutes, but watch the pie carefully. It can burn in a flash.
Oh, and speaking of travel food postcards. Here is a recent one my daughter and I collected in New Orleans. Do you remember the bananas foster scones I have made for the community market?
Here is a recipe that has been in my files for years. Today I just got a reminder in my email inbox about this one, so here it is for you. Makes nice soft buns for burgers, or you can shape for hoagies instead.
1 cup lukewarm water…..2 tablespoons butter…1 large egg….3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (or white flour with a little whole wheat thrown in for health and interest)……………………. 1/4 cup sugar……1 1/4 teaspoons salt…..1 T. instant yeast __________________________________
Mix all the above to form a soft dough (adding either more water, or more flour if needed).
Cover and let rise until double in bulk (1 to 2 hours).
Gently deflate the dough, and divide it into 8 pieces. Shape each piece into a round ball; flatten to about 3″ across. Place the buns on a parchment-lined baking sheet, cover, and let rise for about an hour, until noticeably puffy.
Melt 3 T. butter and use half of it to brush on the buns now.
Bake the buns in a preheated 375°F oven for 15 to 18 minutes, until golden. Remove them from the oven, and brush with the remaining melted butter.
Cool on rack. Yield: 8