pink peony

pink peony
old-fashioned peony

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Oh, Boy, I B-lieve this is a B kind of day!

As I Busily went about the process of putting dinner together (we call the noon meal dinner Because that's how we grew up, and especially Because it is our main meal and so the evening meal is supper), I noticed a theme developing.

We're having Baked Barbecued country ribs and Baked potatoes,

a pan of speckled Brown Butter Beans is Bubbling away on the Back Burner, and the aroma of Beth's Banana Bread is making my mouth water as it Bakes up Beautifully.

The Bs just Begged to Be noticed.

So Before I lug my vacuum cleaner upstairs to tackle the post-holiday mess, I thought I'd share the recipe for Beth's Banana Bread with you, in case you happen to have any Black-looking Bananas lingering on your counter, as I did. In fact, if you have any non-Black Bananas, you might want to tuck them away in a cupboard somewhere and give them permission to turn Black, just so you can whip up a loaf of this Bonnie Bread. It's that good.

My sister-in-law, Beth, shared this recipe with me many years ago. It's probably no different from a thousand others, except for the manner in which it is Baked. S-l-o-w-l-y, very s-l-o-w-l-y. I'm not sure what that does to this wonderful Bread, but the results speak for themselves.

Beth is not only Beautiful, she is also a great cook; she majored in home economics but she also learned some tricks of the trade from her mom, another great cook. Beth and I rarely have a conversation without the subject of some new recipe she has tried coming up, and she's always eager to share. I love that -- some people are stingy with their favorites. Boo to them! Soups are one of Beth's specialties. She's generous with what she cooks, too, often carrying a casserole, salad and dessert to a new mother or to someone who's Been ill.

I want to Be more like that.

Another of our shared interests is good Books, and we talk about our latest favorties every time we chat. This week she shared that she'd just finished John Grisham's latest and that it was a good one, so I'll Be giving it a go. 

I shared that I have two on order that sound very promising. One is Sue Monk Kidd's latest, The Invention of Wings. The two of us (along with some other friends) read Kidd's The Secret Life of Bees together a few years ago, and the day we got together to talk about it is a fond memory. I'm hoping we'll read this new one together, too.

My other Book on order is The Beekeeper's Apprentice, in which the protagonist meets up with Sherlock Holmes late in his life and they solve a mystery together. The premise sounds delightful -- I'll let Beth ... and you ... know how it turns out.

Beth and I also love GOOD movies, not ordinary, ho-hum ones. She told me that Saving Mrs. Banks is the Best thing she's seen in a LONG time, so now I can hardly wait till it comes to a theater near me.

So ... Baking Beth's Banana Bread, like good recipes often do, led me to fond thoughts of someone, good memories and a Bold B alliteration. I hope it didn't Bore you or drive you Batty but that it has inspired .... no, Beckoned ... you to Bake some for yourself. Here's the Breakdown:

1/2 cup Butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 eggs, Beaten
3 ripe Bananas, mashed
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon Baking soda
1 pinch salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup chopped pecans

Combine sugar and Butter; cream until light and fluffy. Add eggs and Bananas, mixing well. Combine dry ingredients and stir into Banana mixture, just until all are mostened. Stir in pecans and vanilla. Bake in 9x5x3 loafpan at 250 degrees for at least 1 1/2 hours, maybe 1 3/4 hours.

I think I need to sample, to Be sure this is okay. Just to Be on the safe side ....

Bye, friends -- hope your day is B-you-tiful!




Thursday, January 9, 2014

Old-fashioned goodness

I love these snowy days for so many reasons, not the least of which is that it makes me want to cook. I keep thinking of all sorts of warming comfort foods, all designed to keep my farmer-husband fueled for the difficult tasks at hand: repairing a jillion broken water lines, pulling feed trucks out of icy, muddy bogs, hauling hay bales to the most remote pastures, replacing motors in silo feeders that balk at the cold, and just, in general, keeping everything alive and well.

When the cold wind blows and the snow flies, it is easy to think of meals to prepare. The oven helps warm the kitchen, and the good smells permeate the whole house. Today it is the delicious scent of nutmeg in the air that keeps pulling me back to the kitchen.

Bread pudding is probably my favorite dessert in the whole wide world. It is easy -- elementary cooking skills are all you need -- and you could probably make the case that it is even good for you. Most of the time I have all the ingredients on hand, so it's handy to make in a pinch. A real go-to choice, in my opinion.

But my opinion is colored by sentiment, so it isn't objective. Bread pudding was one of my grandmother's favorites, too, so it's no surprise it is mine. Oh, how I loved Grandmother's bread pudding! She didn't think it was anything special -- a way to use up leftovers, really. Grandmother was of the generation that wasted not, so when she had leftover biscuits, bread pudding would be on the table the next day. When I asked her how to make it, she just scoffed and said, "There's nothing to it. Just some milk and eggs and a little bit of sugar, all mixed up and poured over the broken biscuits."

How could something so humble taste so magnificent? Divine, really.

My maternal grandmother,
Iola Pitchford Kirkpatrick 1914-2007
So this morning, I was looking through some old files and came across a picture I'd saved of my grandmother, and suddenly I was craving bread pudding. I didn't have any leftover biscuits, but I scrounged in the freezer and found a lonely, slightly-frostbitten hamburger bun, a couple of hoagie rolls in a freezer bag, and from the cupboard pulled two thick slices of French bread.

Yes, I had some good bread, but that would defeat the purpose. I believe 'tis nobler to use up the old stuff.

I unwrapped and laid out on the counter that sad collection of odds and ends, to sit and go stale. You see, bread pudding is better if made with stale bread. It sort of retains its shape, as it soaks up the custard, which is a good thing.

And the custard is what makes it SOOOO good! First, if you've lost your flock of chickens to murder and mayhem like I have, run out and make friends with someone who has some -- big, fresh eggs with dark yellow yolks are the best for this. Then, if you have forgotten a half-pint of whipping cream that you thought you'd use at Christmas but it's hidden way in the back of the fridge, dig it out.

Minnie and her chix; she was the best little hen I had. All my hens were named
after my grandmother's many aunts. Minnie was a good mama. 

You're nearly there.

Measure 3/4 cup (or guess, like I did) of white sugar, mix it with three of those big eggs, the cup of whipping cream and another cup of milk (I always have skim, which makes the cream even more important.) Slosh in a tablespoon-ful of vanilla (guessing continues to work, and more is better), a pinch of salt, and about two tablespoons of melted butter (real is the only way to go.) Mix that up good with a fork or a whisk; never use a mixer -- waaaaay too much trouble.

Cut or break your bread into chunky cubes, about an inch across. Place them in a buttered baking dish and pour your custard over. Take a spoon and push the bread cubes down into the liquid, so that it is absorbed. Let it sit on the counter while your oven preheats to 325 degrees. Sprinkle the top generously -- no light hand here -- with nutmeg, and let it work its magic for about 45-50 minutes. The pudding will puff up (if you had good eggs, like Michelle Pointer's or Jessi Dreckman's) which is a good sign. Take it out when the edges of the bread cubes are nicely brown and it seems set in the center. Let it rest and watch it deflate. Smile, because things are going your way!

Now, Grandmother didn't do this next part, and the pudding is content to stand alone. But company is such a nice thing that I like to give it some, in the form of vanilla sauce. Put a half cup of brown sugar and about a tablespoon of flour in a saucepan; stir in a cup of milk (and a slosh of cream, if you have any left), another slosh of vanilla, another one of those beautiful eggs, a  dash of salt, whisk it all together and let it cook till thickened. Somewhere in there add a couple tablespoons of butter, too. Stir and stir, because it sort of curdles, but it's all good.

Finally, when your cold and hungry crew comes inside, serve up a dish of your bread pudding with warm sauce spooned over and innocently wait for the compliments to come. They will, I promise. Act like it was nothing. Modesty is a desirable trait.

But know that there are places on earth where this would be considered a true delicacy -- probably some fancy-schmancy restaurants in cities across this country. And you just whipped it up in your own little kitchen, with your own basic ingredients -- just like Grandmother did.

Luci Jane loves to gather eggs; she is named for Grandmother's
grandmothers, Lucinda Pitchford and Jane Luna.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Fresh off the needles ....

My first finish of 2014 is this shawlette created from a pattern called Cadence. I love the name because it felt like I got into a regular rhythm as I knitted along. It was an easy pattern to follow, with just enough variation to give it interest without being so complicated that I'd get lost.
The yarn was so much fun to work with -- Odori by Noro, a heavenly blend of silk, wool, angora and kid mohair. It felt so good to my fingers and, as always, the coloration by the artists at Noro lent itself perfectly to make this look like it is made with lots of different yarns, rather than just one self-striping delight. It is a rather chunky yarn so the shawl will feel snuggly and warm, not wispy and airy. I will block it out to be a bit wider at the wingspan -- just the size I love to wear.

During this frigid, wintry spell we're having, I've had to discipline myself to not just sit at the kitchen window, watching the many birds. They are so entertaining! I've been surprised the last two winters to see bluebirds at the birdbath. They are very shy and don't venture near the feeders or even browse on the ground for leftovers, but they come often to get water. Yesterday I saw four, two females and two males, drinking at the same time. By the time I grabbed my camera, one pair had flown away, leaving these two. I use a heating element in the birdbath to keep the water thawed, and it is quite an attraction. All the ponds are frozen completely. 

This book, published in 1996, is one I found at a second-hand book store several years ago, and it remains one of my favorites. If I were to write a cookbook, this is the book I'd want to write. Inside, on the title page it says, "A Treasury of Old-Fashioned Foods and Fond Memories." Food and recipes are so closely tied to memories for me -- they go hand in hand, intertwined forever. Jane intersperses poetry, personal family recollections, old photos and pencil sketches among her own personal favorite recipes, ones that always seem like something I want to make.
The Girl in White
We saw her standing on our lawn,
One zero winter-day;
She never stirred, nor said a word,
Nor asked if she might stay.
And though it may not seem polite,
Indeed, almost a sin,
We never said a word to her,
Nor asked her to come in.
Her gown and cape and hat were white,
And white her feet and toes;
Her mittened hands were just as white,
And white her very nose.
She stood out there upon the lawn
All day, and all the night,
And never once lay down to sleep
That stranger girl in white.
A dainty little maid she was,
A playmate you all know,
For she was "Jack Frost's little girl,"
Carved from the soft white snow.
~Charles Stuart Pratt
Jane tells about her Aunt Heta making Chocolate Snow Ice Cream, and of "Good old winter, when kinfolk stop by to talk a spell and break bread," and of her uncle in 1911 getting new red flannel long underwear ordered from the Sears Roebuck when he was just four and of how he loved the "neat trapdoor."
Jane, like me, loved winter and celebrated its beauty and coziness. She saw crystals in snowflakes, heard songs in the wintry wind, and loved nothing more than to bundle up her children and take them out into the contryside, to experience nature first-hand, even in the extreme. A wintertime picnic was an adventure, with chili (and hands!) warmed over a fire and hot chocolate and cookies for dessert.
In addition to feeding the birds, we put out ears of corn on this spinner for the squirrels. It's fun to watch the acrobatic ways they take kernels off the cob. This morning, Mr. Redbird thought he would see if it some corn might be a nice addition to the birdseed he's been getting.
On the farm, we spend most of the cold, snowy days taking care of the livestock. They usually do well in cold weather if it isn't too wet. Yesterday, however, we found a month-old calf that had somehow gotten separated from his mama. He was down, dehydrated, hungry and very, very cold. The temperature was not even 5 degrees, and it was dangerous for him. So we brought him into the barn.
With no calf milk replacer on hand, I mixed up a concoction of milk, eggs, sugar and calf vitamins, and, since he was too weak to suck from a bottle, he was force-fed (drenched) with this. Later in the evening, the calf was sitting up and holding his head up. This morning, the routine was repeated, and he's looking better all the time. Hopefully, he will soon stand up, and then we'll give the V for victory sign! I think we found him just in the nick of time.
Another important job for me during these cold spells is to keep the tea kettle simmering on the stove. Something hot to drink is always welcome when someone comes in to warm up, toes frozen and cheeks red. I think I hear the sound of boots stomping at the back door and the kettle starting to whistle, just in time to make us a cup of tea. And maybe a cookie or two to go with it? Just what Jane Watson Hopping would have ordered!