The Good is Now

I’ve been touching and studying Gran’s dishes for decades – running my fingers over the hand-painted raised, pink flowers. Many solitary hours of my childhood were spent exploring the china cabinet and any nooks with pretty clutter. I organized and rearranged dishes, silver, china, Carnival glass, and more.

Gran’s dishes were the ones I loved because mom loved them. She searched antique shows and shops to find matching pieces. Back then there was no Internet for quick searches and free shipping. I remember her excitement when she came home with another piece. Victory!

But she never used them. Why? Maybe because there was only service for six. Or maybe they were just too precious, something you “saved for good.” That was the way a lot of Depression-era folks thought…save the good stuff, you might not get it again.

Gran’s dishes are Noritake’s Azalea pattern, hand-painted with gold trim. Because of the stamp on the back, this particular pattern was manufactured pre-World War II in Japan in the original factory owned by Ichizaemon Morimura.

Mom gave me those dishes. I never asked for them, she just knew. I’ve never used them until this year. This Thanksgiving there were only six of us so I had enough plates. Instead of my usual go-all-out tablescape, I kept it simple…simply Gran.

The moral of the story: use that stuff you were saving for good. The good is now.

Lucy…Don’t Try This at Home!

Today, December 13, is St. Lucy’s Day or Santa Lucia Day. The day is celebrated in Norway and Sweden when girls dress in white dresses with red sashes and wear wreaths of candles on their heads. (That’s the part not to try at home.) In the Julian calendar, December 13 marked the winter solstice and the candles gave light to the longest day of the year. Saint Lucy Day is also celebrated in Italy.

Santa Lucia Buns, made with a rich, saffron dough, are the traditional treat for the day. They’re fun to make, so gather the kids to help roll the dough and make the whimsical twists. You might have a new Christmas tradition….and lots of memories.

Santa Lucia Buns

From the Silver Palate Good Times Cookbook

  • 1 cup light cream (I used half and half)
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
  • 1 teaspoon saffron threads
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 packages active dry yeast
  • 3/4 cup lukewarm water (105-115 degrees)
  • 5-1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 eggs
  • I egg white, slightly beaten with 2 teaspoons water
  • 1/2 cup golden raisins
  • 1 cup ground almonds
  • 1/4 cup dark raisins

Heat the cream just until hot but not boiling in a saucepan. Remove from heat. Add the sugar, butter, saffron, and salt and stir until the butter is melted. Let cool to room temperature.

Stir the yeast into the warm water in a large mixing bowl. Let stand until foamy, about five minutes.

Stir the cream mixture into the dissolved yeast. Using a wooden spoon, stir in 2-1/2 cups of the flour; beat until smooth. Beat in 2 eggs, the golden raisins, and ground almonds. Gradually incorporate the remaining flour, first stirring with the spoon and then mixing with your hands. The dough will be fairly soft.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly-floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, 5 to 10 minutes.

Place the dough in a large buttered bowl and turn to coat with butter. Let rise, covered with a damp towel, in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 1-1/2 hours.

Punch the dough down and place on a lightly-floured surface. Cut into 20 pieces. Roll the dough into ropes on a work surface and shape on greased cookie sheets in any of the ways that follow below.

Cover the buns with a damp towel and let rise until doubled in bulk, about 45 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Just before baking, brush the buns with the egg-white wash.

Bake until golden brown, 12 to 15 minutes. Remove to wire racks to cool. Serve warm or at room temperature with plenty of butter.

SHAPES FOR SANTA LUCIA BUNS

Wagon Wheels: Roll two pieces of dough into 10-inch ropes, one-half inch wide. Place the two strips side by side on the cookie sheet. Pinch all but the ends together and coil each of the four ends as in the photo (right). Press a dark raisin in the center of each coil.

Santa Twists: Roll one slightly smaller piece of dough into an eight-inch rope, one-half inch wide. Coil the ends in the opposite direction, making an S that resembles the photo (left).

Santa Lucia Buns: Roll two pieces of dough into 10-inch ropes, one-half inch wide. Make an X with the ropes. Coil each end counterclockwise to resemble the diagram. Press a dark raisin in the center of each coil (center photo).

 

In Your Handwriting

We blog, text, and email our recipes to family and friends. But, there’s nothing like a hand-written recipe. Mom didn’t have a computer way back when. She used pretty little recipe cards with her unique and familiar cursive.

The Internet has made finding recipes easy and quick. But, take the time to write some of your family favorites down on paper for your kids…in your own handwriting. It’s all part of the memory.

I just made mom’s fudge from her well-worn recipe card.  She made it every year at Christmas. Her directions are vague and the jar sizes don’t exist anymore. But I get it as close as I can every Christmas season.

A Family Christmas Gift to Cherish: Scan a cherished, hand-written family recipe and print it on iron-on transfer paper for fabric. (Available from Michaels, Walmart and craft stores.) Follow the directions on the package to iron on your family recipe on an apron. Plain colored aprons can be purchased at Bed, Bath and Beyond and similar stores.

Mom’s Peanut Butter Fudge
From the kitchen of Lois Garneau

  • 1 box confectioner’s sugar (1 pound or 4 cups)
  • 3/4 stick margarine (no butter, seriously, use Parkay margarine)
  • 1/2 cup milk (any kind will do, I used skim)
  • 1 twelve-ounce jar of peanut butter (about 1-1/2 cups)
  • 1 nine-ounce jar of marshmallow cream (closest I could find is 7.5 ounces)

DIRECTIONS

In saucepan, mix confectioner’s sugar, margarine and milk. Cook and stir for about 6-1/2 minutes until it boils. It should be at the candy soft ball stage.

Add peanut butter and marshmallow cream. Beat by hand, Pour into square pan. Cool and cut.

Giving Thanks: A Woman on the Front Lines

“I’ve always been in a man’s world. I have a son, my mother had all brothers, her mother had all brothers, now I’m here at The Heights, a boy’s school,” explained Mrs. Glenn.

I first heard about Mrs. Glenn five years ago when our son got his first late slip in his new school. He told me, “Mrs. Glenn gave me a piece of paper to give to my teacher…and, a piece of candy!”

Renetta Glenn (76) retired from Fannie Mae as an executive assistant to a CEO in a high-pressure environment. At her retirement lunch she said she didn’t want to stay home and sit. She loved kids and said that she might want to work at a school. One connection led to another. She recalls with a big smile, “Mr. [Tom] Royals interviewed me in the morning and he called me that night and offered me a job as a receptionist!”

She sits at the front desk and has a panoramic view of the action including the school crest (don’t step on it). Nothing gets by Mrs. Glenn.

“I imagine this is much different from working at Fannie Mae?”

“Oh yes, she laughs, oh my yes!”

Nothing is too much trouble for her, especially when it comes to her “precious boys” at The Heights, or their parents. Would you like your son’s report card? Mrs. Glenn has A-K (her affable co-worker, Mrs. Kilner, takes L-Z). Is your son sick? “Ahhh poor baby…what’s wrong today?”

My recent exchange was asking her if she could get a message to my son:

“I hate to ask this, and if it’s not too much trouble….”

She interjected: “Oh, it’s trouble, believe me! This will cost you…” (You could see the twinkle in her eye through the phone.)

Me, apologetically: “This is the first time in five years I have ever had to do this.”

Mrs. Glenn: “The first time? Then, we’ll let this one pass, but the next time it will cost you…”

She made me laugh just when I needed it and had a messenger dispensed lickety-split. Pitch any problem to Mrs. Glenn and she hits it outa the park.

As for that payment, I figured I would ask just in case I needed to pay her off one day:

“What kind of cookies do you like?

Without skipping a beat she said slowly: “Choc-o-late chip…home-made choc-o-late chip.

With matched intensity, I said, “With real butter?”

“Real butter,” she confirmed.

Renetta Glenn

Renetta Glenn

The Heights is not Fannie Mae but I imagine Renetta Glen has marked each career with capable skills and a hospitable attitude. Anyone who gives a boy a piece of candy for being late is tops in my book! We have a lot to be thankful for this year.

Say Thanks with Chocolate Chip Cookies Recipe

Recipe adapted from The America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook

You can substitute any kind of chocolate (white, milk or mixed) or peanut butter chips for the semisweet ones. The recipe calls for 2 large eggs plus 2 large egg yolks (the extra fat makes them chewy but not tough). The melted butter accounts for the chewy inside.

Wrap them up in a box and pretty bow and say “Thanks!”

INGREDIENTS

  • 3-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 1-1/4 cups packed light brown sugar
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 (12-ounce bag) semisweet chocolate chips (2 cups)
  • 3/4 cup coconut (optional but I usually add it)
  • 1/2 cup chopped nuts, optional

Adjust the oven racks to the upper and lower-middle positions and heat oven to 325 degrees. Whisk the flour, baking soda, and salt together in a large bowl and set aside.

Beat the butter and sugars in a large bowl using an electric mixer on medium speed until combined, one to two minutes. Beat in the eggs, egg yolks, and vanilla, until combined, about 30 second, scraping down the bowl and the beaters as needed.

Reduce the mixer speed to low and slowly mix in the flour mixture until combined, about 30 seconds. Mix in the chocolate chips until incorporated.

Working with 1/4 cup of dough at a time, roll the dough into balls and lay on two parchment-lined baking sheets, spaced about 2-1/2 inches apart.

Bake until the edges are golden but the centers are still soft and puffy, 17 to 20 minutes, rotating and switching the baking sheets halfway through baking.

Let the cookies cool on the baking sheet for 10 minutes, then serve warm or transfer to a wire rack. They keep well in a sealed container.

Other stories about The Heights — The Sixth Grade Gentlemen’s Dinner and Hospitality and Raising Boys. 

Savoring Thanksgiving

Pretty as a Picture Pecan Pie

Cranberry Crazed

Holiday Pumpkin Cookies

Thanksgiving Tablescape (aka-Setting the Table)

Candied Apple Cookies

You-Picked-a-Fine-Time-to-Leave-Me-Lucille Pumpkin Roll

Emily the Dietician Chef on How to Eat Healthy During the Holidays

 

 

People Really Did Pay Bills with Food!

My friend Margaret preserved her family legends of hospitality and food in her own family heirloom cookbook. With each recipe she told a story to go with it. She recalls the following story about her grandmother’s cakes.

My parents were born in 1924. When I asked them questions about food and their childhood, their memories were vivid and clearly influenced by the Depression. My favorite story was about my maternal grandmother’s cakes. My grandmother, her sister-and-law and a friend sold cakes, pies, cookies and fresh fruit at a little stand my grandfather built near his brother’s farm. They set up on Fridays and Saturday mornings. My grandmother also paid the family’s doctor bills with angel food cakes. For years, she baked an angel food cake each week and took it to the family physician as payment.

I wonder if our kids will be talking about memories of food? Hope so!

Esther’s Spice Cake

This was one of the cakes Margaret’s grandmother sold at her cake stand during the Depression. The mocha icing probably made it a best seller. Cindy Dyer photographed the cake I baked from Esther’s recipe with the Depression-era milk glass cake stand.

  • 2-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon mace
  • 1/4 teaspoon cloves
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1/3 cup molasses

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Grease and flour two eight-inch round cake pans.

Combine the flour, salt, baking powder, cinnamon, mace, and cloves. Sift together and set aside.

Put the butter, sugar and eggs in a large mixing bowl.  Cream the butter, sugar and eggs until smooth and well blended.

Stir the milk and molasses together in a smaller bowl.

Add the milk-molasses mixture into the creamed butter mixture in two stages alternately with the flour mixture.

Beat until the batter is well blended and smooth after each addition.

Divide the batter between the prepared cake pans.

Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of a cake comes out clean.

Cool for 5 minutes. Turn out the cakes from the pans onto a cooling rack. Cool completely.

Read more about Margaret Barkers family cookbook in the Winter 2013 Celebrate Home Magazine, page 54, “Green Chicken: Creating a Family Heirloom Cookbook.”

Comfort Food Refined

Bread puddings are from a simpler era when home cooks used up stale bread and mixed it with milk, eggs, sugar, dried fruit and spices. Bread pudding knows no geographic limits— its variations are still made throughout the world.

This Amaretto Bread Pudding uses the basic ingredients with some refined tweaks. Before serving, the pudding is topped with an amaretto sauce and put under the broiler. Bookmark this one, because it’s the perfect fall dessert.

Amaretto Bread Pudding

The recipe is inspired from a 1989 bon appétit magazine issue. I lost the recipe and couldn’t find the precise recipe on a Google search. But I replicated the flavors and texture in my test kitchen. I nailed it!

Pudding:

  • 1 loaf challah bread, approximately one-pound loaf, torn into one-inch pieces
  • 1 quart half and half (Note: I did one batch with fat-free milk and, although a little less rich, it was delicious, so milk is a fine low-fat alternative)
  • 1-1/4 cups of sugar
  • 3 eggs, room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons almond extract
  • 1 cup sliced almonds
  • 1 cup golden raisins
  • Butter, unsalted and at room temperature, for greasing a 9” x 13” baking pan

Combine bread and half and half in a large bowl. Cover and let stand for one hour, stirring occasionally.

Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Grease pan with butter.

Whisk sugar, eggs and almond extract together. Stir into bread mixture. Gently fold in almonds and raisins. Spoon into baking dish.

Bake 50-55 minutes until firm. Cool. Can be prepared a day ahead (do not refrigerate).

Amaretto Sauce:

  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 egg, room temperature, well beaten
  • 1/4 cup amaretto liqueur

Stir sugar and butter in top of a double boiler until sugar dissolves and mixture it very hot. Remove from heat and whisk in egg a little bit at a time until mixed well and slightly cool. Whisk in amaretto liqueur. Sauce can be prepared ahead and refrigerated.

When ready to serve, preheat broiler. Cut pudding into squares. Spoon amaretto sauce on squares and broil until bubbly.

Amaretto Bread Pudding makes a lovely dessert to take to a potluck party during the holidays. Decorate the tray with the colors of the season and label it for a buffet.

Amaretto Bread Pudding makes a lovely dessert to take to a potluck party during the holidays. Cut the pudding and decorate the tray with the colors of the season and label it for a buffet. Or table the dish it was baked in.