Snacks for Thomas

I loved making treats for my son. J. didn’t have any allergies, but some of his friends had to avoid peanuts and it was just easier to discover all the wonderful things I could make without: snacks with fruit, seeds, grain, oats and brown sugar. Occasionally there might be a chocolate chip or three, golden raisins, dried blueberries, good times! Now our friend Thomas is newly peanut-free and we’re happy to contribute.

I don’t have a picture for either of the recipes, so here’s a photo of the Boy, snacking.

Brown Bag Banana Bars, adapted from the King Arthur Flour cookbook

1/2 cup butter, 2/3 cup brown sugar, 1 egg, 1 tsp. vanilla,3 ripe bananas

1-1/4 cups all-purpose flour, 1/2 cup whole wheat flour,  1/4 cup cornmeal, 2 tsp. baking powder, 1/2 tsp. salt, 2 tbsp. poppy seeds, 3/4 cup raisins (I like the look of golden raisins. Experiment with softened dried blueberries, too.)

In the bowl of a mixer, cream the butter and sugar and add the egg and vanilla. Mash the bananas (which will make about 1-1/2 cups) and stir them in. Combine the flours, cornmeal, baking powder, salt and poppyseeds and stir into creamed mixture until all blended. Add the raisins. Spread in a greased 13 x 9 inch baking pan and bake at 350 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes, until the edges are golden. Cool on a rack and cut into bars. Makes 3 dozen bars.

 

Oaties

Ingredients: 3/4 cup all-purpose flour, 3/4 cup whole-wheat flour, 2 teaspoons baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 3 tablespoons packed brown sugar, 1/2 cup rolled oats (not quick-cooking), 1/2 cup raisins or dried cherries, 2 teaspoons fennel seed (optional), 3 tablespoons  butter, melted, 1 large egg, lightly beaten, 1 cup buttermilk. (After you get a feel for these you can really load them up with fruit: fresh raspberries and blueberries with plumped raisins, chunks of papaya or peach, dates, really just about anything.)

Directions; Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a medium bowl, whisk together flours, baking powder, salt, brown sugar, oats, raisins, and fennel seed, if using. In a small bowl, whisk together butter, egg, and buttermilk until combined, then add to flour mixture. Stir until batter is evenly moistened (do not overmix). Drop batter by 1/3 cupfuls, 2 inches apart, onto a greased baking sheet. I use the Silpat for these, because they can be a little sticky. Bake until golden brown, 15 minutes, rotating sheet halfway through. Let scones cool on a wire rack, 5 minutes.

 

 

Hot Crossed

We had family over for dinner last night. We have a few friends who go way back and a few more who know they don’t have to take their boots off to come inside (long story, maybe a future blog entry), and sometimes family members drop in from out of state. This couple were attending an orientation at the college their son will be attending next year, so they’re going to be a fixture for at least four years. We’ll be on good enough terms that I can feed them weird food, which is what family means in this house.

Last night we started with homemade dulse crackers and Cabot cheese. I never admit to making the crackers unless someone asks me for a brand name. This group ate the whole batch, but where I got them never came up. I love experimenting with cracker recipes. Next we had vegetarian chili with extra vegetables. I add a sweet potato, carrots, red onions and a pound of spinach to the regular spices and three varieties of beans. It doesn’t bear much resemblance to the best chili I’ve ever eaten (working for the cook at the jail in San Bernadino), but that was nowhere near vegetarian. Then we had hot cross buns!

This is adapted Martha’s recipe or, as we say around here, “Mawther”. Some homemade hot cross buns are too doughy, some are too cakey, these are perfect. The recipe makes 24 buns which, if you’re going to go to all this trouble, there should be more than six. Everyone loved these, and tonight I had one split in half with strawberries. Yum.

Hot Cross Buns

  • 12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled, plus more for bowl and baking sheet
  • 1 cup plus 1 tablespoon milk
  • 2 packages active dry yeast
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons plus one pinch salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 3/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 4 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 5 1/2 cups all-purpose, flour plus more for dusting
  • 1 1/3 cups currants
  • 1 large egg white
  • About 2 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 egg white
  1. Generously butter a large bowl. In a small saucepan set over medium heat, heat 1 cup milk until it is warm to the touch.
  2. Pour warm milk into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the dough hook (actually, I used my food processor). With mixer on low, add yeast, granulated sugar, 2 teaspoons salt, melted butter, cinnamon, nutmeg, and beaten eggs.
  3. With mixer on low, add flour, 1 cup at a time, until a soft, slightly sticky dough forms around the dough hook, about 3 minutes. Continue kneading, scraping down hook and sides of bowl as necessary until smooth, about 4 minutes longer. Add currants, and knead until combined, about 30 seconds.
  4. Turn dough out onto a heavily floured surface. Knead by hand to evenly distribute currants, about 1 minute.
  5. Shape dough into a ball, and place in the buttered bowl; turn ball to coat with butter, and cover bowl tightly with plastic wrap. Let dough rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour 20 minutes. For a richer flavor, let dough rise in a refrigerator overnight. (I highly recommend rising it overnight. My house is fairly cold, so I just left it out on the counter)
  6. Generously butter an 11-by-17-inch baking sheet, or use a Silpat. Turn dough out onto work surface, and knead briefly to redistribute the yeast. Divide dough into 24 equal pieces, about 2 ounces each. Shape pieces into tight balls, and place on baking sheet, spaced 1/2 inch apart. Cover with plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm place until touching and doubled in bulk, 45 minutes to 1 hour.
  7. Heat oven to 375 degrees, with rack positioned in center. To make egg wash, whisk together egg white, 1 tablespoon water, and pinch of salt in a small bowl; brush tops of buns with egg wash. Using very sharp scissors or a buttered slicing knife, slice a cross into the top of each bun. Transfer pan to oven, and bake until golden brown, about 25 minutes. Transfer pan to a wire rack to cool.
  8. Make frosting: In a medium bowl, whisk together 1 tablespoon milk, an egg white*, confectioners’ sugar, and lemon juice. Add more sugar if the frosting is too thin. Put the frosting in a stout plastic bag and clip one corner to pipe crosses on the buns.

*Use commercial pasteurized egg whites if you’re not sure about your eggs – this egg white remains uncooked.

Millers

I was cleaning out and going through boxes tonight, and came across one of those photos that you can’t put back in the box – or at least, I can’t. This is Henry Virgil Miller 1830-1900, with his son Benjamin Isaac (BI) Miller 1868 – 1930, and BI’s son Reuben Parsells Miller (my great-uncle) 1893 – 1956.

I think this must be the house where B.I. was born, in Avon CT. The rocker with the hat is nice, so are the chaps. The verso is labeled, and this handwriting has become very familiar to me because it’s on so many of the family photos in my possession. It isn’t my grandmother’s – she was a lefty who was forced to switch  in school and had a very rounded hand. I think it must be B.I.’s.

On to the next box!

Boxty

Spring is in the cold, damp air, the temperature hovers around the freezing mark, it’s light until 6:30 pm, the moss is bright green under the snow – time for boxty.

I had always thought of boxty as Irish latkes – and then I went to Yonkers and had actual crispy, delicious latkes made of dry grated potato, matzoh meal and sea salt. Boxty, on the other hand, always start with mashed potatoes. Most people add a grated raw potato but I never learned that method – mine are just mashed potatoes with a leeks, little flour, baking powder, salt, buttermilk and perhaps an egg if the mashers are very dry. Somewhere, an Irishwoman is wailing about me using baking powder. Or buttermilk. Or something – I’ve read recipes for boxty and included bacon, whiskey, corn meal, and parsley and they’re all right for somebody, just not for me.

First, go out to the raised beds and get some leeks. The snow has melted off enough to dig the knife down and get to the pristine white roots. Leave the upper leaves on the bed for compost.

Boil two or three potatoes. I don’t have any of ours left in the cellar, but Hannafords had some nice Maine Corollas. Mash the potatoes and add 1 C flour, 1 tsp baking powder, 1 tsp sea salt, 1/2 C chopped leeks (raw). Mix that up and add enough buttermilk to make it “cohesive” – add an egg if it looks too dry.  Put a little canola oil in a frying pan, add 1 Tbs butter and fry the potato mixture until browned – about 3 minutes on a side.

Serve with applesauce, sour cream, and salad.

Boxty on the griddle,
And Boxty on the pan;
The wee one in the middle
Is for Mary Ann.
Boxty on the griddle,
boxty on the pan,
If you can’t bake boxty
sure you’ll never get a man.
Boxty on the griddle,
Boxty on the pan,
If you don’t eat boxty,
You’ll never get a man.

Molasses crinkles

My grandmother, Martha Louise Miller Barnard Snyder, was born left-handed and forced to use her right hand at school. I have always been fascinated by her handwriting: studied and careful, almost childlike and without any of the affectations that usually accumulate over a lifetime of repetitive movement. There’s nothing very personal about her marks except the sheer impersonality of the textbook isolation of each nicely formed letter. Her teachers might have been able to force her to write with the wrong hand, but she wasn’t going to cave and accept it.

Grandma’s molasses crinkles are wonderful – perfect for making the house smell warmly of spices on a frigid Sunday afternoon. Here is the recipe in her handwriting:

The arrow points to a note that her right-handed daughter, Cynthia wrote on the other side. Cynthia has a school-based hand, too – familiar to anyone who went to school more than 20 years ago in New England.

A note from me, too: leave them ball shaped, don’t flatten into discs. They are very delicate and will spread out on their own while baking. I add a Tbs of sour cream to the shortening, sugar, molasses mixture to help out the baking soda.

Now I’m off to get a cup of tea and a cookie.

Mystery

Wednesday was a snow day. My office was closed, schools were closed, State offices. The gas station at the One-Stop was open but only because that’s a point of pride for those particular “WE NEVER CLOSE” folks. Someone skidded into one of the pumps; not hard enough to cause an explosion but there’s enough damage that it’s being held together with duct tape so perhaps closing would have been a good idea, but whatever. I had the whole day off and to celebrate we rearranged the furniture.

We built our house in 1993.  That’s the royal “we”; my partner swung the hammer, laid pipe and ran conduit while I kept us fed and out from underfoot. We moved in over Easter weekend in 1994 and then took several trips south to Portland to retrieve furniture from a storage locker. The television, kitchen table, mattresses and what-all went in piecemeal and wherever they landed, there they stayed. We haven’t changed the layout of what is essentially one large first floor room with two bedrooms and a bath on the second floor for fifteen years and it was time for a change.

I don’t have any recent “before” pictures, but this is what the south end of the house looked like when we moved in.

Yesterday’s reconfiguring of the room went well. We exchanged enough pieces that we could get the rug up, vacuumed and turned around, we dusted and teased out the snarl of wires behind the rack of computer paraphernalia, and threw out four big bags of garbage. I went in to work the next day and talked about the changes; “The sofa looks really nice in the new living room area!”,  and that’s where this post comes in. People who have been to dinner at my house have never noticed that we had a sofa.

It’s a whale of a thing, our sofa – truly. Long enough to lie down on, ornate and covered with green and striped horsehair upholstery with the tufted back and geegaws, I would not have thought you could miss it. Or the chandelier, which also got me blank looks. “You have a chandelier?”.

I hereby admit that our previous floor plan (I can’t call it interior design) was deeply flawed if there was enough stuff in the way to hide furniture of this magnitude in only 600 square feet (minus the stairwell). And I feel compelled to provide pictures of the new arrangement even though there is no proof, I guess, that I didn’t go out and purchase these things after the fact. You’ll just have to come over for dinner again and see if the sofa looks familiar.

I found I couldn’t take a picture of the chandelier (36″ in diameter, stained glass waterlily pattern) without dusting it, which is going to have to wait until I finish this batch of cinnamon chili cupcakes with chipoltle ganache for the Town Hill Chili Fest tomorrow night. Until then, you’ll just have to take my word for it.

Night off

My family is on the road tonight and it’s been a long day, so instead of doing anything productive I’m sitting at the kitchen table reading old cookbooks. I’m learning about chicken and dumplings, the proper use of marjoram with fish (don’t over do it), all the various uses of lard and how to roll out pie crust in the 1860’s. I found this bill being used as a bookmark in the pie section and had admire the fine copperplate hand of the person making out a list of gas fixture parts for great grandfather Miller’s wife’s father in NYC.

Wikipedia Commons has a photo of a display of Archer and Pancoast chandeliers – very impressive! I’ll keep reading, and see what else I run across.

Mr. Flood’s Party

This is my favorite New Year’s poem, written in 1900 by Edwin Arlington Robinson. He grew up in Gardiner, Maine and the inland winters probably contributed a great deal to his outlook on life. He also wrote “Richard Cory” and “The Mill”.

Here is Eben Flood, and his party.

Old Eben Flood, climbing alone one night
Over the hill between the town below
And the forsaken upland hermitage
That held as much as he should ever know
On earth again of home, paused warily.
The road was his with not a native near;
And Eben, having leisure, said aloud,
For no man else in Tilbury Town to hear:
“Well, Mr. Flood, we have the harvest moon
Again, and we may not have many more;
The bird is on the wing, the poet says,
And you and I have said it here before.
Drink to the bird.” He raised up to the light
The jug that he had gone so far to fill,
And answered huskily: “Well, Mr. Flood,
Since you propose it, I believe I will.”
Alone, as if enduring to the end
A valiant armor of scarred hopes outworn,
He stood there in the middle of the road
Like Roland’s ghost winding a silent horn.
Below him, in the town among the trees,
Where friends of other days had honored him,
A phantom salutation of the dead
Rang thinly till old Eben’s eyes were dim.
Then, as a mother lays her sleeping child
Down tenderly, fearing it may awake,
He set the jug down slowly at his feet
With trembling care, knowing that most things break;
And only when assured that on firm earth
It stood, as the uncertain lives of men
Assuredly did not, he paced away,
And with his hand extended paused again:
“Well, Mr. Flood, we have not met like this
In a long time; and many a change has come
To both of us, I fear, since last it was
We had a drop together. Welcome home!”
Convivially returning with himself,
Again he raised the jug up to the light;
And with an acquiescent quaver said:
“Well, Mr. Flood, if you insist, I might.
“Only a very little, Mr. Flood—
For auld lang syne. No more, sir; that will do.”
So, for the time, apparently it did,
And Eben evidently thought so too;
For soon amid the silver loneliness
Of night he lifted up his voice and sang,
Secure, with only two moons listening,
Until the whole harmonious landscape rang—
“For auld lang syne.” The weary throat gave out,
The last word wavered; and the song being done,
He raised again the jug regretfully
And shook his head, and was again alone.
There was not much that was ahead of him,
And there was nothing in the town below—
Where strangers would have shut the many doors
That many friends had opened long ago.

The County of Marriage

Sometimes our life reminds me
of a forest in which there is a graceful clearing
and in that opening a house,
an orchard and garden,
comfortable shades, and flowers
red and yellow in the sun, a pattern
made in the light for the light to return to.
The forest is mostly dark, its ways
to be made anew day after day, the dark
richer than the light and more blessed,
provided we stay brave
enough to keep on going in.
Wendall Barry