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.

Garden days of yore

Well, say around 1997. Our first garden was hemmed in by pine and hemlock forest, sited to take best advantage of the south-facing strip of land that had been cleared to put in the well at our new house.

Ten years ago we cleared some land to the left in this photo, put in a driveway and, five years later, a plot farther across the new driveway for an orchard. Last season we cleared to the right. Those spruce had grown 15′ to 20′ over ten years and the western half of the garden had become “shade plants only”.

We grew the same plants then as we do now with one exception; I used to have Asiatic lilies. White Madonna lilies and “Strawberry Fields”, red, orange and striped, they grew tall enough to tangle in the apple trees and leave great swaths of orange pollen on the sleeves of my garden clothes. Sadly, they attracted deer and repelled my partner in equal (and staggering) amounts. I couldn’t even pick them as bouquets for the office without feeling like I worked in a funeral parlour. I finally dug them out and carted the bushel-basket sized bulbs to a friend’s garden where I imagine them blooming still.

Bacon

I stopped at Pectic Seafood (OMG don’t click on this link if you’re allergic to Flash!) on my way home last night and picked up a pound and a half of absolutely gorgeous haddock, which is not a euphemism. While I was there I had to check out the donuts (handmade each morning) and cruise the coolers full of duck sausage and local goat cheese. There was a new display – four shelves – of bacon, so I bought a pound of Broadbent’s Country Bacon and went on my way. Donuts, bacon and fish to fry – nothing wrong with that.

We had the fish last night, dredged in matzo meal and pan fried in a little olive oil. I went all out and made tartar sauce and it was wonderful. Tonight we tried the bacon.

Oh my heavens. I’ve been eating the stuff from the grocery store and forgotten all about real bacon. Lentil stew with sweet potatoes and bacon, cheddar buttermilk biscuits, and a tossed salad – just the right menu for a Winter Storm Warning night in January.

Lenny’s Lentil Stew

Lenny was a housemate of mine long ago. This dish was his only contribution to our weekly communal dinners and to his credit no one ever complained. Double, triple or multiply this recipe by exponents – you really can’t go wrong. I’ve written like I learned it, folks – Lenny was a plain food type of guy.

For two people: get out two saucepans and fill one halfway up with water. While the water heats, peel a sweet potato and cut it into 1/2″ cubes and dump them into the now boiling water to cook until soft. In the other pan, dump in a can of lentils, 1 C tomato sauce, 2 Tbs tomato paste, 1 tsp marjoram, 2 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp pepper, or Szechuan peppercorns if you have them. Heat to a simmer. Stir occasionally. Check the sweet potatoes – when done, drain and dump them into the stew. You can add little pieces of cooked bacon if you think you can slip it by the vegetarians. Serve with biscuits even if you have to buy them, but you could try to talk Amy into making a batch even if it isn’t her night to cook.

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.

Salad Days

The winter garden cares for itself; I don’t need to be out there tending the kale and the leeks, the horseradish will bury itself and sprout again without me – probably even better without me. Which means that I’ve been inside tonight working with the genealogy software.

My son J. is the “home person” for our family tree. You can start with a source ancestor, but frankly I had no idea who that might be when I started this project. And it’s fun to enter someone’s name and have them pop up as “fourth cousin twice removed of J___”. Tonight, I got as far as “eleventh great-grandfather of” with William J. Pitkin. Born in England in 1608, William J. received his MA from Oxford and was a headmaster. His “medical condition” is listed as beheaded, so I’m off to do some further research on that one.

This is a picture closer to our time, but still far enough away that it comes with an obituary. Charlie is the boy with his arms crossed at the far right and tonight I entered notes into the family tree from a press clipping about his son and daughter, his love of farming and the hayfields, and his burial in August, 2009. Goodbye, Charlie – I’m glad we took time out and stood together on this gravel road, on some sunny day back in ’73.

Left back to right and left again: Sarah, Melissa, Charlie, Raymond, Kimmy, Doug, Amy, Dickie, Heather and Mary Beth.

Pre-game

The menu for Thanksgiving Dinner 2010 stands as follows:

Martha Stewart’s Gruyere Thyme refrigerator crackers, made with Seal Cove mixed milk aged cheese “Olga” instead of Gruyere. Thank you for the delicious sample, Betsy! The crackers are incredibly simple to make but do need to chill overnight, so I’m making them in between blog posts. They will be our appetizer, with. . .

Fruit: Forelle pears (here on Peanut Butter Etoufee – welcome, pull up a fork!), Red Globe grapes and Courtland apple slices.

We will have turkey. R received a beautiful-but-deadly Wusthof 4″ boning knife for his birthday, so we’ll have a rolled, boneless turkey a la Julia Child – pan roasted in butter, and then finished in the oven in a remarkably short period of time. It will share oven space with sweet potatoes in maple syrup and turnips, par-boiled and then roasted with sea salt. Oh, and stuffing! This year the Morning Glory Bakery in the village provided 15 cup bags of their assorted breads cubed and baked – both savory and efficient. I added butter (duh), chopped onions, shallots and celery, vegetable stock, Black Mission figs and Northern Spy apples. R. will roll some up with the turkey and we’ll serve the rest on the side for the vegetarians in the audience.

We’ll have Savoy cabbage, carrot and apple slaw in the big wooden bowl with Susan’s favorite dressing for which I promise I will find and record the recipe (sorry, Susan!). There may be rolls.There will be cranberry sauce with local berries, sweetened with pomegranate molasses, which makes the sauce explosively tart and gives it a wonderful dark color.

Then there will be pie! Just two this year: Fannie Farmer pumpkin made with the New England pie pumpkins we grew over the incredibly balmy summer of 2010, and Martha Stewart’s (again) Maple Bourbon Pecan Pie, because it is just so good.

Recipes for what makes the grade to follow over the weekend. Keep warm, everybody.

Erased

Earlier this week R. came home from the village and reported it gone. Whole blocks, down by the waterfront; the confused jumble of decrepit housing wiped clean with some alt-Photoshop tool. A large hotel is planned, very clean and bright until a few decades of the local weather sets its teeth in it, and then the cedar siding and glass will peel back and fade like the little houses before. It will take a while, but I’m looking forward to it.

This is the back yard of the houses that faced West St. and the harbor, taken from the municipal parking lot. Not a very typical description of pricey real estate, but these little shacks were much too dear to stand.

Hattie’s Day

My mother, Harriet (one “t” no “e”) was born on October 9, 1928. Tonight in celebration we had buttermilk vanilla cake with fudge frosting from Alisa Huntsman’s book “Sky High“, Martha Stewart’s mac-and-cheese as re-imagined by Smitten Kitchen, and cabbage slaw with Westfield Seek-no-further apples and Seckel pears from the trees in the dooryard. Good friends K. and S. were there, and there are no better friends than the kind who come over for your mom’s birthday. Thanks, guys!

I’ve promised blog entries for the slaw dressing (buttermilk, honey, cider vinegar and so forth) and the cake, but after that meal and some follow-up vodka I’m just going to scan a picture of my mom and call it good.

This is Harriet on your left, the eldest, and moving to the right: Harrison, “Pinky Blue the Doll”, Cynthia and Dorothy. Grampa Barnard’s house still stands at the “vee” of Jerome and Bloomfield Ave. I estimate the date of the photo at about 1940 – a long way from Bar Harbor in 2010.

Happy Birthday, Mom!

Hospitality

Five people for risotto, green bean salad, herbed bread and peach ice cream – it must be August. Somehow, this puts me in the mood for the “Song of the Open Road”. Somehow the last lines have been with me all day today. Apologies, for the excerpting, to Walt Whitman.

Allons! whoever you are come travel with me!

Traveling with me you find what never tires.

The earth never tires,

The earth is rude, silent, incomprehensible at first, Nature is rude and incomprehensible at first,

Be not discouraged, keep on, there are divine things well envelop’d,

I swear to you there are divine things more beautiful than words can tell.

Allons! we must not stop here,

However sweet these laid-up stores, however convenient this dwelling we cannot remain here,

However shelter’d this port and however calm these waters we must not anchor here,

However welcome the hospitality that surrounds us we are permitted to receive it but a little while.

Allons! the road is before us!

It is safe—I have tried it—my own feet have tried it well—be not detain’d!

Let the paper remain on the desk unwritten, and the book on the shelf unopen’d!

Let the tools remain in the workshop! let the money remain unearn’d!

Let the school stand! mind not the cry of the teacher!

Let the preacher preach in his pulpit! let the lawyer plead in the court, and the judge expound the law.

Camerado, I give you my hand!

I give you my love more precious than money,

I give you myself before preaching or law;

Will you give me yourself? will you come travel with me?

Shall we stick by each other as long as we live?