Tag Archives: family

From the recipe files: Lebanese Baklawa

Every year we attend the Master’s Swim Team holiday party and every year I wonder what to bring to a gathering of healthy eaters looking to treat themselves after a year of nutritious meals and regular exercise. This year we’re bringing my friend Leesa’s mother’s Lebanese baklawa. I learned this recipe in her kitchen and have never written it out. It had been handed down through oral tradition in her family and she had me repeat the steps back to her as we worked – rapping me gently on the hand with a wooden spoon when I stumbled over the details.

Baklawa baclava

If you’ve made “baclava” from the package directions on the box of phyllo dough this version is going to be so much easier! On the other hand, Leesa’s mom was adamant about a few things:

  • If you’re thinking about using anything but walnuts stop right there. Pistachios are fine, pecans are delicious, but they don’t make baklawa – only walnuts will do.
  • Ditto adding chocolate, dried fruit, coffee, or hazelnut liqueur; just say no.
  • Don’t skimp on the butter. Limit yourself to just one piece of the finished product if you must, but use the amount specified. Angels in heaven will be lining up for the leftovers.

Ingredients: a 10 x 13 pan, 1 package phyllo dough; Filling: 3 C walnuts, 1/2 C sugar, 1 C butter: Syrup: 1 C sugar, 1 C honey, 1/2 C water, 1 Tbs lemon juice, 1 tsp rose water

rosewater, honey, butter, phyllo

The phyllo layers are probably in your grocer’s freezer. They need to be fully defrosted for this recipe so leave them in the refrigerator for a day if you have time. If not, open the box and remove the two plastic-sealed rolls of dough and leave them out on the counter. In a warm kitchen they should be thawed in an hour. Don’t open the plastic until right before you need them; the dough dries out very quickly.

Melt the butter over a low flame and keep warm once melted. Preheat the oven to 350.

Make the syrup by boiling the water, honey, and 1 C of sugar together until the sugar melts and the honey is thoroughly combined, about 10 minutes at a simmer. When cool, add the lemon juice and rosewater. Orange blossom water will do in a pinch, but rosewater does add a characteristic flavor; you could try a little vanilla as a substitute.

While the syrup is cooking, toast the walnuts. I like to do this in an uncovered skillet on top of the stove, but you could spread them on a cookie sheet and put them in the preheating oven. Keep an eye on them – a little burnt is fine but blackened is not. Leesa’s mom liked them quite toasty and said it gave the dish a “grown-up” flavor. Allow them to cool just a bit and then put them in a food processor with the 1/2 cup sugar. Pulse about 10 times to get them finely chopped – big pieces will interfere with cutting the fragile dough layers into serving pieces, but you don’t want to go too far and make walnut butter either.

Now we’re ready to construct the baklawa, and here’s where the Lebanese method diverges from the traditional Greek dish. Brush your 10 x 13 pan with butter. Dampen a dish towel and have it ready. Open one plastic packet of phyllo and unroll it on the plastic it’s wrapped in, then immediately drape the towel over it to prevent drying. Lay two leaves in the bottom of the pan. Are they a little too long? If so, cut a strip off the leaves that are still under the towel with kitchen shears (you can ignore the layers already in the pan).

Pick up about half the remaining layers (still working with only one of the plastic rolls of phyllo) and lay them in the pan. There’s no need to be precise about how many layers are in each step. Brush with butter and spread half the walnut mixture on top. Drape the remaining stack of phyllo from that first package over the nuts, brush with butter, and add the rest of the walnuts. Open the other roll of phyllo, cut to fit if necessary, and drape the whole thing over the nut layer.

Now take your sharpest, most evil kitchen knife, and cut four times lengthwise down the pan. You can (gently) hold down the down with one hand as you go, and try your best to get through all the layers to the bottom without disturbing the top layer too much. This is how the rest of the butter, and eventually the honey and rosewater syrup, are going to travel through every single delicious nook and cranny (مكان إختباء). Now cut through on the diagonal until the entire pan is criss-crossed into rough diamond shaped pieces.

Check the pan of butter to be sure it is still liquid and heat it up again if a firm surface has formed. Pour the butter evenly over the dish, making sure the edges are filled in. Place the pan in the middle of the preheated oven and bake for 50 to 60 minutes until browned.

Place the pan on a cooling rack or trivet and pour the syrup over it, trying to distribute it over the whole surface. Don’t worry about this too much – it’s going to spread through the layers by itself. Let the pan sit and soak, uncovered or loosely covered with waxed paper, for several hours or overnight. There will be a few small, oddly shaped pieces around the edges – those are for the cook and their assistants.

baklawa backlava

It’s traditional to cut the pieces out of the pan and place them in small, individual paper servers. I use cupcake liners. Arrange them in a starburst pattern on a large platter and you’re ready for the potluck. This recipe makes about 30 pieces.

The dish keeps for a week, loosely covered, at room temperature. I’ve never had it around long enough to see if it kept well refrigerated.

 

The Journals, continued

Yesterday I finished an inventory of the journals found in my mother’s collection of papers. I’ve found them in ones and twos and occasionally five-years-worth tied together with ancient baling twine but haven’t run across any new ones lately, so I think this must be the lot: 53 books by two authors spanning the years 1900 to 1942. Here’s a sampling:

From Raymond Harrison Barnard (1893 – 1947) this entry for August 9, 1938 is about Jessie H. MacDonald’s death in Stevenson, Scotland; “our dear friend”. She was the family’s housekeeper for 25 years and had been visiting her birthplace in Scotland when she passed away unexpectedly at age 60. My mother remembers the family’s grief when they received the new that she had died right about the time they expected her to return. RHB’s journals are always inked in his lovely, loose scrawl and annotated with clippings and letters.

Jessie H. MacDonald obit

Benjamin Isaac (BI) Miller (1868 -1949); BI’s journals are done in pencil, interleaved with bills, receipts, and solicitations addressed to “The Mayor, Hartford Connecticut”. This little drawing of the farm is done on the back of a letter and carefully taped together with linen strips on the back.

Farm Drawing

From BI’s journal in 1914, a mimeograph from the Hartford County Rural Development Association encouraging us to “buy local” more than a century ago. It’s still a good read.

Rural Improvement Manifesto

Both men were fond of including pamphlets and advertisements in their journals. They wrote about attending presentations at the Grange and Masonic Halls on tuberculosis, infantile paralysis (polio) and the Mile of Dimes, eye exams, air raid protocols, and the latest news from Washington DC. Here’s a selection from RHB’s journal about the Panama Canal, which opened on August 15, 1914.

National Geographic

There’s a wealth of material about everyday life in the last century in these little books. Consider contributing to your local historical society to help them preserve your past. These journals will be at the Wintonbury Historical Society in Bloomfield, Connecticut.

 

Happy Grandma’s Birthday, everyone!

My grandmother, Martha Louise Miller, was born in Avon, Connecticut on August 3, 1900. Traditionally we have wonderful weather to celebrate her birth and today was no exception: bright and sunny with a cooling breeze; good for cutting hay or picking green beans, and remember to wear your bonnet!

I went looking for a photograph to share on her day and found this being used as a bookmark in Psalms in a family bible. Here she is, on the left, about six years old with her two older sisters all wearing warm and stylish hats.

Snow sisters

And the verso, in her daughter’s handwriting:

mlb-photo-verso

The Notions Department, 1951

Many women (and men) in my home town commuted into the big city to work at one of the large department stores that crowded the main avenue. In honor of International Women’s Day, here is a photo of the Sage-Allen Notions Department staff in 1951. My mother, Harriet Barnard, is standing in the middle of the back row.

Sage Allen Department Store

Left to right and back to front: Ann Jackson, Lucy Kimball, Harriet Barnard, Elaine Messer, (next row) Minnie Goodman, Mamie Shea, Nellie Neelan, Claire Coons, Millie Slayton, Kathryn Lamb, (front row) Minerva Forker, Barbara Orcutt (Assistant Buyer), Mary Greene (Buyer), and Verne Grapski

 

Hardy ancestors: the ledgers

My mother turned 87 on Friday, and in the past I’ve posted a photo in her honor. While looking through the archives for something suitable this year I turned up a set of ledgers from the 1800’s. She loved reading the lists and prices of tasks and addresses from the past in their elegant copperplate. The label on this 1858 volume indicates that it belonged to Augustus Whiton and was loaned by my grandfather, Raymond Harrison Barnard, probably for an exhibit at the town’s historical society.

ledger-hbb-whiton

Ancestry.com helpfully informs me that Augustus is related to me as “father-in-law of a great grand Aunt”. (Seriously, that’s very helpful – it would have taken me hours to figure that out on paper.) He was born in Ashford (Windham), Connecticut in 1808 and died in Bloomfield, where his carriage business was located, on July 1, 1885. His accounts from 1858 are a wonderful collection of names that now adorn streets and plaques: Filley, Gillette, Miller from a time when it cost six cents to shoe a horse and twenty-three cents to repair a tire. This is Dr. Nathan Miller’s page.carriage ledger

And one from William Gillette, a big spender at $87.42. Reading down the list makes a sort of historical poem out of the information: shoe horse, shoe horse, shoe oxen, repair whiffletree, shoe horse(s), fix buggy, reset tire, sharpen crowbar, shoe horse, shoe horse. . . .

Ledger

Other books in the collection include the ledgers for my grandfather’s dairy deliveries. This one, labeled “The Hill Route” still has receipts from the Ice Delivery Company dated 1926.

ice receipts

This page lists the Whiton family on a delivery route:

Ledger

 

 

Recipe post: Martha Snyder’s Sour Cream Sugar Cookies

Many of my favorite recipes come down from my mother’s mother. She had a sense for simplification – take the best and leave the rest – which is a particularly useful philosophy for cookies. These are delicious, sturdy enough for packed lunches, basic enough to take on any sort of variation, and pretty after a plain, Yankee fashion (much like the woman herself).

Grandma Snyder

Martha Snyder’s Sour Cream Sugar Cookies

48 smallish cookies, 36 big ol’ Martha Stewart size

1 C sour cream or yogurt

1 tsp baking soda

2 C sugar

4 C white all-purpose flour

1 tsp baking powder

½ C butter, melted

3 eggs

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 tsp lemon extract

Preheat oven to 400 (200 C, gas mark 6, moderately hot) and grease cookies sheets. I use Silpat sheets, you’ll also need a cooling rack and, eventually, a cookie jar. This recipe does not require a mixer.

Mix the flour and baking powder in a medium bowl and set aside. Whisk the baking soda into the sour cream or yogurt and set aside. Mix the melted butter and sugar until well-incorporated, add eggs and beat well. Stir in sour cream mixture and extracts, add dry ingredients and mix gently until incorporated.

Drop by heaping teaspoons (for 48 cookies) or serving spoons (36 larger cookies) onto greased cookie sheets and bake 10 minutes. Sprinkle with sugar if you like – coarse sugar on top allows for easier stacking later. They will not brown, except on the bottoms. Move to a rack to cool completely before storing.

VARIATIONS:

Rolled cookies: I make these as drop cookies because I find that the extra flour and handling tends to make them a little tough, however they are very pretty. Chill the dough for at least an hour before rolling out on a floured board and using your favorite cookie cutters. You may need to adjust baking time down by a minute.

Jacob’s Cookies: Add 1 heaping Tbls finely ground Earl Grey tea, 1 C white chocolate chips. Use the dry tea straight from the box or bag, not an infusion. Two bags = 1 heaping tablespoon. Ice with lemon glaze.

Blueberry Cookies: Add 2 C small wild blueberries or dried blueberries, ice with lemon glaze

Lemon Glaze

2 cups confectioners’ sugar, 2 tablespoons finely grated lemon zest, 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice

In a medium bowl, whisk together 2 cups confectioners’ sugar, 2 tablespoons finely grated lemon zest, and 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice until smooth.  When the cookies are cooled completely pick them up and dip the top of each one in the glaze – much easier than spreading the glaze with a spoon or spatula.

NOTES: The original recipe calls for ¼ C butter and ¼ C lard. I generally use all butter these days, but lard will make a firmer cookie that stands up better to the addition of fresh fruit such as blueberries, raspberries, or peach chunks.

One of the many reasons I need to publish a cookbook is that my own documentation is in such rough shape! Here is what the card for this well-loved recipe looks like after decades of hard use around my coffee habit:

sugar cookies

And yes, I left the nutmeg out on purpose. I never put it in – no one in my family likes nutmeg other than in their Yuletide eggnog – sorry!

Happy Merry from Christmas past

This awesome holiday drawing was done by our son, circa 1995.

christmas at our house

There are details here that deserve commentary:

  • We built this house when Boy was a toddler, so there some things have received more emphasis than they might have from a child that didn’t witness quite so much construction for instance – light switches. As in, hey – we now have electricity!
  • Yes, we did store kayaks on hooks from the ceiling. In our defense, it’s a very small house with very high ceilings and it seemed like a good idea at the time?
  • Snow falls off that steep metal roof like king-sized mattresses being dropped from 40′. It sounds like thunder and was obviously a big part of his childhood.
  • Our neighbors were often in the front yard, spoiling for a snowball fight. I don’t remember the Darth Vader get-up but it’s possible.
  • My partner is a landscape painter. That painting hanging on the wall is a pretty good reproduction of a Robert Pollien.

May your season now be merry, and may you have joyous records of the time spent before!

New(ish) work

I was down in the studio on this glorious Maine morning to clean and organize, and realized I’ve never posted a photo of “Clara’s Vase with Nasturtiums”. This vase is has been very difficult to merge with the softer forms of plants and drapery in past studies. I think my current experiment with Cezanne’s shorter, exploratory brushstrokes have given me more capacity for that type of change in substance.

Claras Vase Nasturtium

Clara’s Vase with Nasturtiums, 20 x 16, oil on panel

Photos from the Refridgerator

You have at least one of these, right? A photograph that was so good you fixed it to the front of the fridge with two magnets and there it stayed, getting a little more foxed around the edges with every passing year. This is one of my favorites; a little boy with one mitten chasing a puppy – also with one mitten, in the backyard during a snowstorm. They’re not so little anymore. . .

Jacob and Jim Clark