To the Boys at the APCC: CHEERS!

In any marriage, there are things that you might “borrow” which rightfully belong to your spouse.  Sometimes it’s a well worn shirt.  Or a jacket.  Or a hat.  Or perhaps, sometimes it’s not.  Sometimes, you might just want to steal their relatives instead.

I grew up with a few cousins, mostly older, a few younger.  We moved, they moved. In the “pre-facebook” days of the 60s and 70s, I never felt like I really knew those cousins.  Some I haven’t seen or spoken to since I was a kid.

Grumpy grew up without any first cousins.  None at all.  His father was an only child, his mother’s only sibling died young.  Really small family.  His grandmother (mother’s mother), however, came from a big family.  She left them behind in Newcastle, England.  She, and then her daughter (my mother in law), were good about keeping in touch.  Mary (my MIL) went over for a visit, and met some of her cousins and their children.  This is how Grumpy and I came to know his (2cd…3rd???) cousins in the UK.  And I stole them.

I didn’t set out to steal them.  It started out with a visit from Hylton and his (new) bride Yve. They were great- the kind of people you have fun with right off.  Then we stayed in touch through FB.  This is where I met Allen.  Allen and Hylton are brothers; and also very competitive, in a friendly way (ahem- right?).

Somehow or other, we started having intercontinental challenges.Kelly's yorky pudd I’m not sure who started it, or even what the first one was.  It might have been the Yorkshire pudding challenge.  This one was the entry from Kelly, Allen’s daughter who lives down in Australia.  My own entry was not so pretty.  There was also the “Toad in the Hole” contest.  This is basically a nice yorky pudd with sausages in the middle. toad in hole

This here is the Toad in the Hole that I made.  The toads (sausages) were burnt nearly to a crisp!  It’s a sad thing compared to Kelly’s- all high here/ flat there, but  it does pull off a neat height of 5 inches on the high corners(that’s more than 10cm there Kell!).

marrsy's mud pieThen, there was the Mud Pie.  We used a recipe from the Hairy Biker’s.  Know of them?  Those guys can really cook! This is Allen’s entry.  

Here is a link to the official recipe for Mississippi Mud Pie from the Hairy Bikers Mississippi Adventure.  It’s not like the ice cream one.  It’s a decadent, rich, chocolaty treat.mud pie 5

My own entry into the contest is pictured here, but I’m clearly not going to win the award for best photo!  Not sure what the problem was that day- must have been the camera, surely!

Somewhere along the way I really started looking forward to these food challenges.  In between those times we found plenty to communicate about, getting to know each other as well as sharing jokes.  I think Allen shares my fondness for jokes.  I love a good laugh- life is just to precious to take seriously! Allen is a regular attendee at “Church on Sunday“.   Click on the link there to read about it in his own words at  On Sunday’s the guys get together at the Annfield Plain Cricket Club to watch the games.  There’s probably a great deal of cricket (or football) cheering going on, but there is a bit of pint pulling in the club on a Sunday as well.    The boys at the club have been bringing in a variety of foods (at one time Thursday was “cheese night”), following the goings on with the Hairy Bikers and the international foodie competitions among the cousins as well.  I’m not sure they are all on Allen’s side, either! ;-)

Recently I was made an honorary member of the Annfield Plain Cricket Club.  Me.  Not Grumpy.DSCF2070  And I couldn’t be happier.  In fact, just today I received a gift from Allen: a memorial cup from the APCC centennial.    I’m absolutely tickled pink!  I’d like nothing more than to hop a plane out there and join them on a Sunday.  I know less than nothing about cricket, but I’ll cheer for Newcastle United, or Sunderland (If they’re ever the underdogs) and I’ll bring my cup. I know it’s meant for tea- but it’s an official cup lads! It won’t hold a pint all at once, but it seems to have a promise of 2000 refills stated in the handle.  It may take me a while to get through soDSCF2073 DSCF2077 DSCF2081many, but I’ll have a great time coming to know you all in person while I’m getting there!  Thanks so much Allen and you fellas, for making me a part of the club and a fine gift of the cup.  I’m aware it’s a limited edition (and commemorative of the championship) and I’ll treasure it.  Thank you for the cup, and the honor.

Cheers Boys! XXX

Barm Brack: American Style

Barm Brack is an Irish bread with dried fruits, soaked in tea, inside the batter.  I was challenged to bake this  (see here) in Barm Brack…Challenge Accepted, by my cousin (via Grumpy) Allen of Durham, England.

The recipe he used was this one Here, from .  Here is his offering:

Look! Allen has a dalek cookie jar in the background!

Look! Allen has a dalek cookie jar in the background!

It looks terrific, but I like to use what I have on hand, and chopped candied citron was not in the pantry! DSCF1746 I made a nice big mug of really great tea (Yes, Allen, we do have really great tea here! This is Constant Comment by Bigelow.  It’s the perfect tea for this operation-or so  I think ;-) ).  The dried fruit options included raisins (sultanas), applis, strawberries, bananas and cherries.  I just couldn’t picture strawberries and bananas in this recipe, so raisins, apples and cherries it was.   They soaked for 2 hours (a lot less than the “overnight” called for) in the recipe.  I hope it will be okay…..

So the original recipe calls for 8oz light brown sugar.  From what I could find that would be just a bit over a cup (7oz= 1 cup).  I used about 2 tablespoons of low sugar marmalade, and decided to try with about 3/4 cup brown sugar (this was just perfect).  After draining off most of the tea, I added the brown sugar and marmalade, then stirred it all together.

The recipe also called for 5oz of self rising flour.  The 5oz is about a cup in US measure.DSCF1750  I didn’t have self rising flour, so substituted one cup flour and 1 tsp baking soda. After stirring all that together, I had a nice thick batter.  It was rich, sweet and tasted of tea. Not bad!  I baked it at 325f for an hour and came up with… (tadaaa!)…

This is delicious! DSCF1755 Very moist, thick with plumped up fruits and a hint of tea.  Grumpy says it’s more than “a hint”, but he really loves tea so this was a good flavor for him.

I’m not sure how this version shapes up against our UK cousins, but we’re happy with the Bram Brack and will definitely be making it again.   What do you say Allen dear??? (XX ).DSCF1756

Barm Brack…Challenge Accepted!

When you marry, for better or for worse, you get a whole new family.  I knew that my Grumpy had 3 sisters.  All three went on to marry and through them I inherited additional brothers/sister-in-law.  The surprise gift was the family overseas.  He has “distant” cousins living in Durham, England and thereabouts.  Mainly I’ve come to know two brothers: Hylton and Allen.  They are roughly my own age (give or take).  Hylton is a great guy.  Loves his Yve, dogs, travel, and a good Stella.  Great fella to travel with; he’s been everywhere.  I don’t suspect he’s the primary cook in the house, but he and Allen have a brotherly love of competition.  That’s where Allen comes in. Allen is forever coming up with cooking “challenges” in which we can all compete.  Hylton, usually unable to refuse a challenge, works his tail off in these trials.  Allen is a rascal.  He’s tamed a bit over the years, I suspect.  He and his bride Susan have raised 3 girls who dote on them and share their love for good, old fashioned rock music (the stuff we grew up with). Allen isn’t a professional cook.  He’s actually an officer for Her Majesty’s Prison Service.   He’s also all about cricket.   And Dr Who (we have this in common).  He probably has dozens of other hobbies, but these are big.  He writes once in a while about life at his blog (  One of my favorite posts is Church on Sunday , where he writes about Sundays with his “boys” at the local Cricket Club.  These men, all cricketers, drink and talk about all manner of things, including food.  Sometimes the boys of the Cricket Club get involved in these challenges.  We’ve had some memorable ones over the past couple of years.  One was a yorkshire pudding challenge.

Not a bad offering!

Not a bad offering!

Then, there was the “Toad in the Hole”

The sausages were overdone, but good marks for height!

The sausages were overdone, but good marks for height!

Here is the

Here is the “Hairy Bikers” rendition of Mud Pie

It’s been a lot of fun.  He’s challenged me to learn knew things, and we have other cousins, family and friends participating in 3 continents no less!

So now Allen has challenged me to bake a Barm Brack.  Stand aside Clyde, this girl is stepping up to the challenge!

I’ll let you know how it goes….after I find out what Barm Brack is! ;-)




Inspiring Women Part 2: My Aunt Kay Diane (Johnson)

If you have an Aunt in your life, you are blessed.  It’s a gift that you might not appreciate right away.  An adult female, who is of the same generation as your parents and even grew up with (at least) one of them.  They have all the dirt, and if you’re lucky you’ll get to hear some of those stories.  If you’re truly lucky, you’ll have an extraordinary aunt.  I am truly lucky in having my Aunt Kay Diane.

Kay Diane and my Dad grew up on a ranch in Long Beach, California.  Their parents divorced, and in those days (the early 50s) women didn’t get treated fairly.  My Grandma Mary got to take her kids and not much else.  They moved to a much smaller home in a kind of sketchy neighborhood.  I don’t know a lot about those years.  I heard a rumor that she dated the drummer of The Silhouettes, a local band headed by Richie Valenzuela who was soon to be known as Ritchie Valens.  Rumor had it that Dad and Ritchie were friends, and he would go along to make sure Ritchie got paid for some of the gigs.

We’ve never discussed those years, because that’s not what she’s about.  For the past 50+ years Aunt Kay Diane has been married to my Uncle Dick.  Their marriage has always seemed to be magical.  I only mention her earlier life to provide contrast for her married life.  In the early 1960s, when other women were fighting for independence, going off to forge bright careers, my aunt agreed to move away from all that.  They bought a large piece of land up in a place called Kennedy Meadows, CA.  It was high up in the Sierra Nevada mountain range. The area is popular now with campers/hikers who want to get away; a big open plateau and lots of forested areas.  At the time that they moved there, more than 50 years ago, it was seriously remote. Not much had changed in the prior 100 years.  There were just a few families living up there.  My uncle built a one room cabin.  I don’t remember if there was any running water, but there was no indoor plumbing.  They had a beautiful old wood burning stove, an Aga.  My first visit there was in the winter (or as I recollect).   They had a blanket hanging down the middle of the cabin, probably to give us privacy.  A trip to the bathroom at night meant putting on a coat, and trudging through the snow.  To the outhouse.  There was no electricity, no gas.  My Aunt raised two babies in that cabin, before disposable diapers.  No “washing machine”.   My best memory of that visit was the food.  Aunt Kay D made sourdough bread.  And sourdough pancakes.  She probably made a lot of other things, but the fabulous things she managed to bake on a wood burning oven were beyond wonderful.

Over the next few years we only got to visit rarely.  I’m not sure if my mother was more offended by the pioneer lifestyle or by the fact that My Uncle Dick taught us all how to shoot.  For myself, I’m not sure which thrilled me more.  The years brought some changes to the area.  A few more families moved in. My uncle dug a reservoir, which provided running water to the new home he built for his family.  We went up one summer to help connect the (indoor!) plumbing.  My Dad also brought up a hot water heater, although I don’t believe it was ever put to use.  There were 3 bedrooms.  There were no the walls between the bedrooms; only studs.  The need for privacy was not evident. The entertainment was a treat: there was a beautiful old player piano, and at least 300 music scrolls to choose from.   There was also an antique operator switchboard in the kitchen.  My uncle had strung telephone wire from one homestead to the next.  It was meant to be in place for emergency contacts.  At the time they were growing frustrated that it was becoming a tool for gossips and had become a nuisance.  They also felt that the mountain was becoming too crowded, almost civilized. 

That led to the next phase of their lives.  Once my cousins had gotten through high school (which entailed a hair raising ride down the mountain to the nearest town every day in the school year), they were ready to move on.  My uncle also became certified as a pilot at some point in his life.  He built his own plane (Oh yeah, he did!), and would fly it up and down the mountain.  They decided to move to the real frontier, up to Alaska, where he would work as a pilot for the next few years.  They sold there homestead, keeping the player piano and stove, and flew themselves up to Fairbanks.  They rented a place in Fairbanks while they scouted out the area for a new home.  They bought a large area on the Salcha river.  There was no road to their property.  They could get back and forth to Fairbanks by plane, or boat.  In the winter, with enough snow pack they make the trip by snow cat in about 6 hours.  They cut down enough trees to build an 1800 sq foot home.  That was all they needed.  Until they had guests.  Because it was so far away, guests tended to stay awhile.  So they cut down more trees, and built a 3000 sq foot home.  The smaller one was now a guest house.  And they had all that they needed.  Until they started to evaluate their lives.

Now, after retiring on their frontier homestead in the wilderness of Alaska, they felt like another adventure was due.  They went to Seattle, where they bought a used sailboat.  They restored the boat and taught themselves to sail.  They then set out to explore the world.  They would travel all over the globe in the next 7 years.  Mostly by sail, although they did put the boat into dry dock in Australia.  They decided that it was worthy of a longer visit, bought a used Land Rover and drove all over that country for the next 16 months.  They then sold the car, retrieved their boat and continued to sail around the world.  There were many dangerous and frightening episodes, but they were not put off.  Throughout this time, really inspiring to me, was my aunt’s determination to continue as a homemaker.  Every time they pulled into a port, she’d head off to buy provisions.  She would then can all the fresh meat, vegetables and fruit that they’d have on the next excursion.  She would do this in the galley of a small sailboat.  Also, as disinterested as they had been with overpopulated spaces, they were amazingly social.  They developed a large group of friends in each port as well as a network of fellow sailors.  They would engage in potluck meals and parties with this group in each stop.

Finally they returned home to Alaska.  Their home there is equipped with the same wood burning Aga, but they also have a conventional stove there as well now.  They have a wood fueled hot tub under the stars.  The piano coexists with their generator powered laptops.  They took some time off to write and publish a memoir of their journey.  Also to battle some serious health problems.  After a go ahead to return home from the doctors, they did this briefly.  Until the adventure bug hit again.  They bought an RV this time, and decided that they would alternate periods of “rest” at home with traveling the continent on extended road trips.  In Alaska, they continue to hunt, fish and grow most of their food supply.  When they are not in Alaska they are traveling the road.  My Aunt Kay D continues to feed them from the confines of a tiny kitchen.  This is an image that has always stayed with me.  Anywhere, anytime, they are self-sufficient.  She is inspired me to learn to cook, to bake, and most of all to preserve.  She also inspires me to emulate the best part of herself; to face life as an adventure.

I was inspired also to write this, as I’ve been thinking about her a lot lately.  I’m overdue for my own road trip.  It’s time to feel that enthusiasm for life again myself.

Photo by Brenda Ordway; previously published in NY Daily News

Inspiring women in my life…Like my Nana and Great Grandmother

People think I’m crazy sometimes for trying to “do it all”.  To be fair, I don’t do it all.  No one can… or at least not the women of my generation.  I’m inspired to do the things that other women did when I was growing up (and before).  Not everything- I don’t want to live without the cell phone, never mind without modern washing machines, etc.  I’ve been inspired by different women, for different reasons.  Like my Nana…

My Nana, Violet Frances Striegel, was born in 1904.  Her mother, Dorothy Von Lisk,  married “unwisely” (she said he was a nasty drinker), later regretted her choice.  She left her husband in St. Louis and returned to the family farm in Iowa after my Nana, her only child, was born.  In those days, you didn’t have much of a choice. No woman wants to move back home with a baby, but it was just not okay to divorce.  Four years later her estranged husband conveniantly died in an accident and made her an independent woman.

Grandma Striegel and my Nana went on a cruise through Alaska, where she met a fellow.  My Nana wanted no part of a step-father, and her mother decided to say goodbye to the man, and continue on her way.  They then bought up some land in the Ozarks and tried farming.  This only lasted a few years, as they had one mishap after another.  My Nana survived Typhoid Fever, after drinking tainted water.  Her mom suspected there was foul play involved ( or fowl play- as in someone may have thrown a dead chicken in the well).  The locals weren’t so happy with a single woman farming, and especially since they’d used her property for distillation (moonshine)  purposes for a generation or two.  My great grandmother was a teetotaler and  godly woman, she chased them right out.  Finally, when the locals burned their barn down they threw in the towel.

Grandma Striegel gathered up her assets, and bought tickets to LA.  It was 1916, and Southern California was still relatively small, but the movie industry was exploding already. In 1915, David Wark Griffith’s epic “The Birth of A Nation” was released.  Hollywood was up in arms, as the film was both a moving portrayal of the war of the states, and scandalous in it’s positive portrayal of the Ku Klux Klan.  Grandma Striegel wasn’t interested in all that, she just wanted to farm.  They headed out to LA by train, all their worldly goods in tow.  In Cheyenne WY, however, they were robbed of their belongings.  All the trunks just vanished.  Grandma Striegel got over it, sold up the jewelry she was wearing, and some fancy things.  She used the money to buy supplies and camping equipment. She and my Nana then left on foot, walking by night and camping by day.  There were no great roads in those days, and no roadside inns who “left the light on”.  This photo is of a road in 1916, in the San Bernadino desert area.  They would have been almost to LA before they reached that road.  In those days the roads were still being surveyed, and the American Automobile Club was just beginning to instal signs for travelers.  These photos are of actual places that they walked through on their journey.  They stopped every so often, built a fire, cooked some coffee when there was enough water and whatever they managed to catch on the trail.  They finally reached LA late in 1916.  My Nana lived at a boarding house so she could attend school in downtown LA.  Grandma Striegel liked the San Bernadino Desert area, and bought up some land out there where she lived and farmed on her own.

So, while they were neither one of them great cooks, fashionistas or suffragettes (as was my grandfather’s relation and another inspiration,  Florence Jaffray Harriman ), these ladies were a huge source of pride and inspiration to me.  Because when the going got tough, they didn’t whine or give up.  They just gathered up their things and kept on going.  Every time.  They were, to quote my daughter Syd, “tough as balls”.


On Ants and Aunts…and Peaches!

Remember the song? Frank Sinatra made it famous…”Just what makes that little old ant…Think he’ll move that rubber tree plant…”.  That was me on Friday.  Friday, aka “Haymarket Day“.

Each Friday I set off to the Haymarket with a small wad in my pocket for The Shopping Games. This week I had $13.  It isn’t much, but I decided to just play with what I had on me rather than go in with a flash wad and buy “too much”.  Heaven forbid.

This week I was victorious.  I bought 1/2 bushel (25 pounds) of perfect peaches, 10 mangoes and 2 lbs of campari tomatoes for my $13.  I was so excited.  I hit the jackpot.  Then, after I paid for my prizes, I tried to pick them up.  OMG.  What the heck was I thinking??  This stuff was HEAVY! Impossible! I repositioned my backpack, which already had a small laptop, 2 books and some other crap really important things in it.  Then I grabbed the whole load in one big stack and headed towards the train.  I made it about 50 feet before I had to rest.  I tried again.  Made it to the corner, but Thank God unfortunately had to stop for a red light. After much flexing of fingers, balancing on posts/trash barrels/newsstands and the fender of a very chatty cop I finally made it to the subway.  What??? You thought I’d make it to the big train?  Nope.  With arms trembling and sweat running between the twins like a luge I finally set my cases of bounty on the seat of the subway car and road for…one stop.  As in 2 blocks.  I’m so pathetic.  Maybe if I was more like an ant…but no.  I can’t lift 1/2 my weight, never mind 50x.  I meekly rode the escalator upstairs to the commuter train station.

After recovering from my workout, however, I returned home where my Aunt Jo was visiting from her home in Tucson, AZ.  I don’t have a lot of relatives.  Having her visit is a rare treat.  Last time she was at my house…I think GW was in office for the first term.  So what wonderful things would I do to entertain my dear Aunt during her visit?  Did you guess I’d have her skinny little self in my kitchen for a peach cooking party?  Oh you do know me so well!  Friday night was processing night.  We peeled 25lbs of peaches.  I didn’t think to take a photo before; this is what was left (mixed with mangoes):

I saved the peels and stones for peach jelly (I’ll explain later).  We canned 10 pints of peach pie filling (easy-peasy, but that’s for later).  This morning we had peach coffee cake (yeah- we’ll go over that later too).  But first, before anything else, we had to have peach cobbler.  We caught up on the cousins, the nieces and nephews and each other over the makings of a magnificent cobbler.  I can say this with confidence, as we made a double batch and I just had to do another quality check while I wrote. :-)

Peach Cobbler  :an adaption of a recipe from my favorite baking book: the 1987 edition of Jim Fobel’s Old-Fashioned Baking Book (1987 edition not in print; link to 1996) .              Ingredients:

8 medium sized peaches

2/3 cup sugar

1 Tblsp cornstarch

1 Tblsp salted butter

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp grated lemon zest

2 Tblsp lemon juice

(For the Topping)

1 cup all purpose flour. (Plain old flour to you , Allen!)

2 Tblsp sugar

1 1/2 tsp baking powder

3 Tblsp salted butter

1/2 cup milk

Prepare the fruit part:

1. Peel, pit and cut peaches into 1/2 inch slices (or 1cm).  You should have about 4 cups.

2. Preheat over to 400f. In a large saucepan stir together sugar and cornstarch.  Then add peaches, butter, and cinnamon. Place over moderate heat and bring to boil, stirring frequently.  Remove from heat and stir in lemon zest and juice. Turn into an ungreased 8 inch square pan (I don’t know why it has to be square. It says so in the book).

Prepare the cobbler bit:

3. Prepare the topping: In a medium-sized bowl combine the flour, sugar and baking powder; then cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse meal.  Stir in milk to make a soft dough and drop by the spoonful all over the peach filling.  Bake about 20 minutes, until light golden brown.  Cool on a rack for at least 15 minutes.  Serve warm, with heavy cream (or ice cream!) if desired. Dive in!

Bringing Home the (Trader Joe’s) Bacon

Bacon is a serious subject around here.  Any weekend that starts off with the smell of bacon coming upstairs is a better weekend for my kids.  Including the one I married.  We have been buying family farmed and locally smoked bacon ends for the past year or so.   I’ve mentioned this before in Pancake Days.  We buy the bacon ends, because it’s a bargain at $2.99 instead of $4.99 a pound, and because I believed my dear ones preferred to use a fork to pick up their diced bacon rather than pick up a rasher with their fingers.  My youngest son PJ has corrected me on this matter. Not only would he rather use his fingers whenever possible, he likes his in slices. Oh well.

It’s easy to get smug about being able to give your kids choices about things like better bacon, diced or sliced.  Not everyone has the option of buying meat that is gently raised and smoked within a few miles of your home. We were doing our routine stop and drool run at the Trader Joe’s when Grumpy noticed that they also sold bacon ends.  Not only that, but they were at the same price as Blood Farm (oh yes I said that! The butcher is named after the Blood family, so as bizarre as it sounds it is just a coincidence).  Anyway- The bacon ends actually looked pretty good.  Except one little thing- they’re uncured. No nitrates or nitrites.  That’s good right?  Well, it’s healthier.  I’ve bought uncured bacon before, however, and it was…not bacon.  I don’t care what they put on the package, it had a nasty and weird flavor that didn’t say bacon in my mouth.  Grumpy was so keen on this stuff though, that I thought it was worth a try.  We grabbed a pound and determined to give it a try.

I diced it up into smallish chunks.   The bits that were all/mostly fat I cut into tiny bits to render out the grease.  It’s uncured, so it has no bright pinkness.  The fat isn’t that different in color from the meat. This photo shows it as pinker and lighter- but those chunks that appear to be big and pale?  That’s just my lack of skill with the camera.  Those are solid meat.  Now to fry it up.

The finished product looked the same as Blood’s.  It smelled delicious.  Grumpy and the others did the taste testing.  The comments were that it was a bit fattier than our usual bacon; but far, far leaner than usual store or butcher bacon.  The flavor was a bit smokier, and a tiny bit sweeter.  The overall flavor actually was a winner with everyone.  Maybe even better than our usual.  There was absolutely no nasty “uncured, nitrate/nitrite free” flavor.  Absolutely delicious.

The bottom line:  If you can get to a Trader Joe’s then RUN, don’t walk, to the bacon section and stock up.  You’d better make some space in that freezer.  Because if I get there before you there won’t be any “uncured bacon ends and pieces” left at all.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

(And here’s Grumpy sneaking in to steal another bite!)

The pancake dance…with bacon!

Weekends at our home usually include pancakes.  Everybody knows this, even the little guys. They seem to know the steps to the pancake-making dance and wait as close to my legs as I’ll allow just to remind me that they are here, and how much they love pancakes!

Before starting the pancake dance today I chopped up some nice bacon ends to fry.  This got me to thinking…bacon is amazing.  The last few years we’ve seen it pop up in milkshakes, cocktails,candy and brownnies, among other things.  Why not bacon pancakes? It’s a natural!  First I fried up the bacon…


Then I made my usualy pancakes batter….

.(see the official batter recipe below)…

Then I sprinkled a little chopped bacon on top….

Now the flip side. 

Add a, dab of butter and smiden of syrup….




Present my new creation to the kids and……no takers!  Nobody wanted to be the first to sample these.  Well, almost nobody!

These sweet guys gave it two big thumbs (Paws? Phalanges?) up.  They ate those pancakes in about two seconds flat.  They always love pancakes, but this time I think the little guy actually smiled.  Can you see it?

Then Grumpy returned home from his morning adventures.  I offered him some bacon pancakes.  He loooked sceptical.  I then assured him that they had recieved, not one but, two votes of approval!  He realized his caution was unfounded and saddled up to a big plate of pancakes.  The verdit is…3 thumbs (paws…phalanges..whatever) up! 

The Pancake Dance

First, put 3 Tablespoons of salted butter in a glass measuring cup. Microwave (covered) until just melted.

While this is melting, dance off to the pantry and grab a big bowl into which you put 1 cup of all purpose flour, 1/8 cup of sugar and 1 tsp baking powder. Give it a quick stir with the whisk or fork.

Now remove butter from microwave, add enough milk to equal 1 cup. Break 1 egg and add to the butter/milk mix. Stir it up briefly, then add to the dry ingredients. Whisk just until mixed.  Cook in the usual fashion.

That’s it! Luscious batter in one quick (<2 minutes) dance.  It helps to have some lively music on the radio, but even if you stumble out of bed with the queen-bee of all hangovers, you can get this batter into a hot pan in under 3 minutes.  Not that I’d know. ;-) 

I hear angels …and they’re singing about pie!

Every holiday my mom would gear up for the official chef-hostess duties.  She bought all the foods.  Mostly in a box or bag with instructions on the label.  With pies her favorite was: Mrs. Smith.  Everyone else seemed to agree that Mrs. Smith made the best pies.  I know.  I come from a long line of women you don’t cook.  Mom, who never liked the job.  Nana who preferred to work at town hall and hire someone to “do” for them.  Grandma Striegel, who was conveniently widowed in her 20s, left with one small daughter.  She traveled a lot; eventually winding up in California around 1916.  She preferred to be outdoors, gardening and painting.  She never made pie.  My experience with cooking, and specifically pie, was nonexistent.

How did I ever end up a pie lover?  Well, I had this guy.  His mom, Rita, made pies.  Like every day.  She was kind of intimidating that way.  Spoiled him rotten.  She made every kind of pie you could imagine.  Then, she took pity on me.  She explained that pie is one of those things that people think are hard.  Master the pie and you can get away with being lousy at almost everything else in life.  And she taught me pies.  The guy is no longer my problem.  I swore off spoiled boys (until I  met Grumpy…).

Last night I made a strawberry-blueberry-rhubarb pie. It wasn’t finished until late, but that’s fine.  I like pies even more the next day.

First, make or buy (if you must) enough crust for a double crust pie (top and bottom). I really like this crust recipe.  I prefer crust made mostly with butter (salted butter) and lard.  Specifically, homemade lard from “gently raised pigs”.  Thank you farmer Jack!  You can (if you must) substitute shortening.  You should really check out what Northwest Edible Life has to say about cooking with lard.

Now- I mix 2 1/2 cups flour and 1/2 cup sugar in a large bowl.  Then, with my trusty dollar store box grater I shred 1 1/2 sticks of frozen butter and dump it over the top.  Now toss it well with the flour-sugar mix to coat the butter bits.  Add 1/3 cup lard (or shortening if you must) and cut it in with forks or pastry blender until it’s crumbly.  Gradually add enough ice water, a little at a time, until it comes together into a moist dough.  (Sorry, I thought there was a photo of this, but maybe the dog ate it).  Now divide the dough into 2 balls, wrap in plastic cling, shape into discs and put into fridge to chill for at least an hour.

For the pie, I’ve modified a favorite recipe from Food Network called Grandma’s Strawberry-Rhubarb pie. Here are all the ingredients (including the lard for the crust).  I have 1 quart of strawberries, 2 cups of blueberries, about a pound of rhubarb (from the farmstand- I didn’t forage this time!), juice and zest of 1/2 lemon, 1 1/2 cups of sugar, 1 tsp cinnamon, 1 tsp vanilla and 3 Tblsp quick cooking tapioca.   Now, just slice rhubarb and put it all together in a big bowl  (did you notice how it’s the same bowl I made the crust it? I hate a messy kitchen).  It’s all ready to go into the pie.  Berries have tons of juice, and tapioca has no purpose except to soak up that juice and keep it in the pie.

Roll out your crust as usual.  Here’s what it looks like with all the fruit inside.  I was kind of hoping I’d have too much fruit and (sigh) just have to make a little straw-brhuberry crumble, but not this time!That’s butter on top- almost forgot! Cut up a tablespoon or so and put it on the fruit.  Don’t be skimpy!

Now you need to roll out the top crust.  I like to take little cookie cutters and cut out pieces of dough to make big steam vents.  I just stick them back on the pie.  I thought about doing something clever for Grumpy, like lacrosse sticks or sailboats or something to make it special for him.  Then I thought about how much time that might take.  And how I could do something better, like watch Chopped.  I love that show.  I DVR  it, and I have a new episode.  He gets flowers instead.

So this is what it looks like when it’s put together. You can brush the top with cream or egg white and sprinkle some sugar over that. I always put the pie on a baking sheet lined with foil, bending up the sides of the foil a bit.  The boiled over juices can make a real mess!

I them fold a square of foil into four quarters and cut the center out to make a shield for the edges of the pie crust.    Place this over the pie and bake at 425f for 15 minutes.  Then remove the foil collar and bake for at 350f for another 45 minutes. 

Leave it out to cool for at least an hour(or overnight).   This is the finished pie.  Can you believe we went to bed without trying this?  Yup.  Even Grumpy likes his pie to rest a few hours.  It lets all the juices settle in (that’s where the tapioca helps).

Today, I couldn’t wait to get home and try a piece.  Good thing I hurried as 1/2 the pie was already gone!  Unfortunately, I’m not a professional photographer.  And I don’t have a professional camera.  If I was, and I did, then maybe you would know how amazing this pie is.  The crust is crisp, sweet and pastry like.  The filling………………… well my Syd likes to say it’s like God giving birth in your mouth.  I’ve seen just a few too many births to consider that a good thing.  It’s more like angels singing.  If they could sing about that strangely tangy rhubarb mixed with blueberries, strawberries and a hint of lemon.  Sigh!

on being rescued from the gypsies and apple pie

I have an emotional attachment to my Cuisinart.  It’s a food processor, from 1975, when that’s about all they made.  It wasn’t mine originally.  It was a gift from a husband to a wife.  My rescue parents.

Growing up I waited (as did most kids) for my real (cooler, kinder, more together) parents to rescue me from the home that had raised me until puberty hit.  No offense meant to my biological family, after all you were surely there as teens yourself.  My rescue parents were real.  They were friends of my mother.  They were not a perfect couple, or perfect parents.  They were perfect for me.  They did indeed rescue me, brought me to the cold winters and hot summers of New England.  They gave me a little extra time in the nest, to be spoiled and learn things that I appreciated then, as well as some  I’d fail to appreciate until years later..

At some point after I left home my rescue mom gave me the Cuisinart.  At first I used this workhorse to chop, shred and mix everything.  I used it like a rented horse- lots of miles and little concern.  Lately, though, I’ve come to appreciate that this can’t be replaced.  I’m aware of it’s emotional value.  I love my rescue parents.  As I age, so do they.  I’m not ready to cope with the eventual loss of these treasures in my life.  This food processor is tangled up in my heart with the end of my childhood, the tentative branching out to independence and the people who protected me with a safety net of love.  I’m aware of the strain I’ve put on the Cuisinart (and them, but that’s another story!).  I pamper it now, I’m afraid of the funny sounds it makes if I ask it to shred carrots, to chop ice.  I’m starting to find other ways of doing things.  I’m sparing it, bringing it out for ceremonial dishes and easy runs.

I always used the Cuisinart to make pie crust.   I’ve found another way to make crust.  Instead I’m using the large hole setting on my box grater to shred frozen butter.  I now mix it right into the bowl, without chopping and grinding.  It works well.  I made some pies for a pot luck affair on Wednesday  The pie is the same, crust just as flaky.

My rescue parents live almost 2 hours away, and I don’t get to see them as often as I’d like.  It’s something I need to do more often.  I’m planning to make another pie this week.  This one I’ll take to their home.

Apple Pie 

In a large bowl mix 2 1/2 cups all purpose flour, 1/2 cup sugar. Using a grater with large holes, shred 12 ox frozen (salted) butter over dry mix.  Use your fingers to toss this around so each piece of butter is lightly covered with flour.  Now add 1/4 cup shortening or lard(if you really love them, use lard. You won’t be sorry).  Use a pastry blender, fork or (see my) broken spatula to mix it together.

Now add ice cold water, a tablespoon at a time, until the mixture comes together as a moist dough. Divide the dough into two equal halves and wrap in plastic wrap, shaping into a disc (this photo shows 4, I’d doubled the recipe for 2 pies). Place these into fridge for at least 30 minutes to chill.

Now for the filling: Peel and thickly slice the apples.  I used about 3 lbs of Macintosh with 3 large granny smiths.  I like to saute them briefly.  First put them into a large bowl with 1/4 cup lemon juice.  I also add lemon zest from at least one of the lemons.  Add 3/4 cup sugar, 3/4 cup brown sugar, 1 tsp cinnamon, 1 pinch ground cloves and a pinch of nutmeg.  The spice mixture can be changed to suit your preference. You can add allspice, more or less of anything, whatever your want.

In a saucepan melt 1/2 stick (salted) butter.  Toss in all the apple mixture, and saute until the liquid starts to leave the apples, but before they are cooked through (apples should still have some crispness). This took about 8 minutes on medium-high for me.  Stoves vary greatly- use your judgement. Now I remove the apples to a bowl, and continue to simmer the liquid in the pan, reducing it until it makes a thick sauce.  While doing this be sure to taste and adjust the sauce until you really love it. I ended up adding more lemon. Now- this is optional- I don’t like a really wet pie.  I added about 3 tablespoons of corn starch at the end. Whisk it into the sauce and it thickens up quickly.

Preheat oven to 425f.  I put a pizza stone in my oven (okay- I really just leave it there almost all the time).  It gets super hot, and will ensure the bottom crust is not soggy.  Therefore, I don’t prebake the crust. Go ahead- call my lazy.

Now get the dough out, sprinkle your surface and place the dough on the flour. Press it into the flour, flip it and press again.  This should be enough to keep it from sticking.  Brush the extra flour away, roll the dough out until it’s at least 2″ larger than the diameter of your pie pan.  Place it in pan (try folding it in half, pulling it over pan and spreading it back out).

Artfully arrange (dump) your apples on top of the crust.  Pour the thick, yummy apple-spice sauce over the apples.  Repeat the rolling out thing with the other crust.  Place the dough on top.  Sometimes, when I’m feeling fancy, I’ll take the extra dough and roll up little balls to decorate the edge of the pie crust. Then too, instead of just cutting little slices into the top to vent, I’ll use tiny cookie cutters to cut out little shapes (apples, leaves, ducks) from the top crust and artfully arrange them over the cut outs.  That’s not happening today.  I’m hobbling around the kitchen on an aircast, trying to rest my foot a bit.  This is the other kind of pie: the one where I grab a handful of crust at the edges and just squeeze it together, leaving a whole lot of thick crust at the sides.  I actually used kitchen scissors to snip some air vents.  I’ll be it tastes the same.So- anyway, brush some cream (or if you don’t have cream, beaten egg white) on top of the crust and sprinkle with a little sugar.

Put into that 425f oven, bake for 15 minutes.  Then reduce heat to 350f and bake for another 35 minutes. Take out to cool.  Doesn’t that look fine?

Now the most important thing about apple pie: it’s a perfect holiday or special occasion dessert because you can make it a day ahead.  It actually tastes better the next day.  Enjoy!

The Other Good Thing About Chickens….

Last year I stumbled upon, which is a website and blog written by Suzanne McMinn.  She and I have so much in common.  Like: she moved from the urban life to a run down farm in West Virginia.  And I… like chickens.  Also she has managed to build a life for herself and her children, out there in he-man country.  She’s learned animal husbandry, gardening and to be a jack-of-all trades.  And I… like chickens.  Well, that’s not all.  I’m starting to really like goats.  And I love cows.

This website is filled with amazing photos (I envy her skill, and her camera), ideas, recipes and stories.  Every year in the fall she runs a retreat for people who like chickens.  Just kidding- but she does have a retreat.  And 75 lucky people get to travel to West Virginia (and like that’s not enough) to learn skills from about a million years ago.  Skills like how to bake bread, make cheese and soap, milk goats, play a dulcimer (I didn’t know either), spin and weave and a bunch of other old time stuff.  You stay in a bunk house with other chicken lovers.  They cook your meals.  I think it’s like summer camp for moms.  I’m one of the lucky 75 this year and I can’t wait!  I’m feeling like I should maybe sew my name in my clothes or something to get ready.

West Virginia is farrrr away.  I thought about flying there, but I really like road trips.  Billboards, Route 66, diners.  Then, I met Jan and Judith.  They come from New England and they are also going to the retreat.  We’re going to be road buddies.  My husband says it’s just like Thelma and Louise and Veronica.  I’m not sure, but I think I’m Veronica.  Anyway- My new buddy Jan has chickens.  AND her neighbor has goats! How great is that??? Jan came to my house today for lunch.  And she brought me eggs.  AND feta cheese from her neighbors goats (which was amazing).  This time, though, I’m talking chickens.  Like, after lunch, we made chicken pot pies.  First we made the dough:This here is my trusty Cuisinart from 1975 (okay-it’s a food processor, but back then it meant the same thing).  Into this we put 1 1/2 cups of flour. Then we added 1 stick of salted butter.  The butter gets chopped up into pieces about 1/4 inch in size, then drop them in to the flower and wiggle them around with your fingers to make sure each piece is coated with flour.  Pulse it 2 or 3 times.  Then we added 2 Tblsp of chicken fat, and 2Tblsp of lard.  We sprinkled in about 1Tblsp of thyme.  Then pulsed it again until it was just mixed and the pieces were the size of small peas.  Then we dumped it into this bowl, and stirred in some ice water.  About 3 Tablespoons, but maybe more.  Just add it until it comes together when you stir.  Then divide the dough into 2 halves, shape each into a disc on plastic wrap, wrap it up and refrigerate for about an hour.  While this is happening you can have lunch.  We did. Then we went to Blood Farm.  That’s the name of our butcher shop.  It’s also an abattoir.  And guess what- they also sell chickens.  Just can’t get away from them here, can you?

After the field trip we started to make the pies.  This is where we started: Chop and saute (I like butter) one small leek.  Then  add chopped celery and carrots to the pan.  After they are softened, sprinkle them in your pie dish. Now, since my family loves their carbs, I add some corn, diced (precanned) potatoes and about 1/2 cup frozen peas too.  This is all optional.  We also added a good portion of leftover diced chicken at this point.  So it’s only missing- the gravy!  One of my favorite parts.   Put butter in saute pan (about 4T), and melt for a roux.  Stir in 1/4 cup flour and whisk while flour starts to cook down (color starts to brown just slightly).  Then slowly add about 1/2 cup milk.  As that incorporates, add 1 Tblsp dry sherry and about 2 cups of chicken broth.  Season with pepper and salt (go light on the salt- just to taste).  By the way- that’s Jan showing her whisking skills off for that photo.

Now, pour the gravy over the veggies and chicken.  Time for the crust: It’s nice and cool. Just roll it out to a bit wider and longer than the pie pan.  A little flour as needed so it won’t stick.  See all the specks? That’s the thyme.  After it’s all rolled out, just lay it over the pan, and instead of hanging over, tuck the ends inside.  That gives you more crust, as it runs down the sides a little.  That side crust is wetter, like a bottom crust would be.  That’s my PJ’s favorite part. Then, brush some cream over the top and make some cuts to vent the steam.  Now it’s ready to bake.  Bake at 375f for about 35 minutes, then increase heat to 425 for about 15 minutes to brown the crust.  See how brown it gets?  The pan turned clear too! Just kidding- we made two pans.  Jan has a hungry man to feed at her home too.  This one was for my tribe. And this dish right here- it’s mine.  And this is the other good thing about chickens.  In addition to all the other things they do, when chickens are not your dear pets, especially when they are fresh roosters who go away to freezer camp, they make really yummy chicken pot pie!

This is why I love my boys…

Here is a conversation with my PJ…

If you could have anything for your birthday what would it be?

I would like another dog.

Do you remember when you got your first dog?

No, I don’t remember ever not having a dog.

You have a schnoodle dog now. What do you like about him?

Well, he’s kind of smart.  And he’s fluffy.  Or he was.  Then you shaved him.  

What don’t you like about him?

Well, you know.  He’s a wuss. 

What would you look for in a dog now?

He’d have to be big.  Really big. I like big dogs.

What would you call him?

Waldo.  That’s a good name for a dog.  Or Fredwardo.

What kind of dog would Fredwardo-Waldo be?

Well, he should be smart.  I like smart dogs. Maybe a border collie.  One that could herd chickens.

What chickens would Waldo herd?

The chickens we want to get. 

To go with the dog.

Oh! Of course, those chickens.  

And that is why I love my boy.