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Archive for the ‘Food’ Category

Aw, shucks

The bin was new. It stood a few feet from a table filled to overflowing with freshly picked corn. A portly picker was joined by a woman with a kerchief on her head and a sleek woman in heals who was likely on her lunch break from her office nearby. A hand-lettered sign read

PLEASE SHUCK YOUR CORN HERE – THANK YOU”.

I wandered a bit, slowly pushing my squeaky cart, selecting some zucchini and a few bright vine-ripened red tomatoes, then I headed over to the corn just as another boxful was being dumped onto the table. I stowed my cart close by and started going through the corn, feeling them for soft spots and selecting a half-dozen ears of somewhat equal size. I put them, one-by-one, into my cart and shuffled over to the shucking bin.

“This is new” I said to a woman whose attention was firmly focussed on the ear of corn she was undressing. “Yes, It is. Already a lot of silk and husks in here.” I started to shuck my first cob, over the bin, tossing the corn’s coverings inside. “I wonder what they do with these?” said another. Compost? Bedding for farm animals? We shucked and talked and shucked some more, as others came to the bin with their desired dole of sweet corn.

The conversation was pleasant. “The pickles look good”, said one as another commented on the fresh blueberries and peaches inside the barn, along with some freshly drawn honey. We discussed the best way to cook corn – a dozen ways to corn-on-the-cob heaven – and agreed that it was nice to be able to toss the leavings into the bin instead of the mess in our kitchens or decks. We were an amicable group of varying ages and from different walks of life enjoying the chat and the prospect of sweet corn over dinner come suppertime.

t wondered, silently to myself, if this was what it was like to be among women at a communal oven for baking bread – or the proverbial well. There we were, on a hot midsummer’s afternoon, gleaners of the glory of sweet corn, chuckling and chattering as we shucked the corn, offering tips on cooking or serving this midwestern summertime indulgence.

That evening, the Antler Man and I had a simple supper of broiled salmon, salad and sweet corn-on-the-cob, without the usual corny mess, thanks to the shucking station at my favorite farmstand.

How about you? What have you gleaned lately?

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I grabbed a numbered ticket from the dispenser then bobbed to and fro like a robin looking for a worm. I was perusing the long deli case to see what was on sale, what looked good, what I shouldn’t eat, etc. Low numbered grazers took their places close to the counter, while shoppers like me, in for a dozen or so numbers,  stepped back. Shopping carts were parked near the olive island or over by the cheese section where samples were set out.

We needed sliced turkey. We don’t go in for the fancy stuff; no mesquite or honey glazed for us, though they are tempting choices, especially when shopping hungry.

I stood, rocking from foot to foot, checking my ticket stub in case I forgot my number (it happens). I mentally selected my turkey choice. I remember when there were only a few choices of turkey to choose from. Actually, I remember when there were no choices of turkey to choose from, but, I digress.

Another shopper and I struck up a conversation. We both liked the store, the cashiers, the floral department – a good place to shop. She asked my opinion of Lacey Swiss cheese and we noted how busy it was for the time of day.

Talk. Chit chat. Two ladies waiting for thin slice or thick.

Our trail of words turned a corner to Brie. Had I tried the Brie in the cheese section? It was, she said, outstanding, and that she wanted to go over and thank the attendant cheesemonger who had given her a sample last time she was in, which she did right then and there.

My deli companion then told me she was a caretaker for an elderly woman. The woman’s best friend had just passed away. She was terribly sad. Upon tasting the brie, my deli companion said she put some in her cart, along with some apricot jam and specialty crackers and brought them as a treat, a small indulgence, for her charge – and that made all the difference in the woman’s day and in her demeanor.

My number came up.

I waved my ticket like a banner and stepped forward, but, first I gave my kind deli companion a little hug and thanked her. Such chance encounters often become a balm for my soul; reminders of the simple things that make life a wee bit sweeter in sour times. Brie and crackers, thanking the cheesemonger, just taking the time to chat –  a simply remarkable slice of time at the deli counter.

How about you? Any chance encounters that soothed your soul recently?

 

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As we perused the vast holdings of my laptop computer, Ezra pointed to a word on the bookmark bar.

“Yia Yia, what’s that?”.

“What, honey?”.

“That. It says strawberry. What is it?” 

Forgetting what it was that I had bookmarked, I clicked onto that coveted word, strawberry, which propelled this adorable bundle of energy into a froth of strawberry anticipation. As he filled to the brim of excitement, I found myself humming.

Let me take you down, ’cause I’m going to Strawberry Fields …

The bookmark was for a recipe for Strawberry Coffee Cake Muffins; something I hoped to make for Ez when he came to visit. We looked at the recipe (well, I looked at the recipe, Ezra looked at the pictures of the muffin) and I mentally checked off what ingredients I had on hand. Soon enough, we wandered away from the computer and on to other things, the muffins forgotten – or so I thought.

The next morning, Ezra came searching for me to see if I was awake. Finding me with my eyes open and sitting upon my cozy chair, he fastened his baby blues on my face and proclaimed “let’s make strawberry muffins!“. He had me twisted around his fingers and he knew it!

Unlike the Chocolate Mayonnaise Cake bake-a-thon of the previous day, this time I didn’t have the ingredients, but, I did have a box of Jiffy Corn Muffin mix. Jiffy mixes are always easy-peasy and good in a strawberry pinch. While I cracked the eggs, measured the milk, cut up a few strawberries and turned on the oven, Ezra put paper liners in the muffin tins. As I put the mixture into the cups, he and Papa made a crumb topping and then very nicely topped the muffins with it.

These two are the best of buddies – and a great help in the kitchen! Ezra tried to be patient as the muffins baked, checking the oven window to see how they were doing. Before long, the buzzer rang and the muffins were set on a rack to cool.

It is hard work watching strawberry muffins cool.

Finally, the muffins cooled enough to eat. They were still warm enough for the strawberries to tease taste buds and seem akin to strawberry jam. My pint-sized muffin man could finally eat his strawberry muffin.

Do you know the muffin man?
The muffin man, the muffin man.
Do you know the muffin man
He visits Yia Yia’s Lane?

PS – Ezra asked me for the recipe.

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 I’d ‘ve baked a cake,

baked a cake,

baked a cake.


If I knew you were comin’ I’d ‘ve baked a cake.

How-ja do, How-ja do, How-ja do

Our Up North family came down for a visit last week, which meant this most excellent “cook fantastic” wanted to bake, bake, bake! Bake, we did, every day they were here, however, one of the days found us snowbound and Yia Yia did not have any box mixes in the pantry.

I always have a few boxes of cake mix on hand for quick use just in case company comes. Not a box to be found, I remembered the chocolate mayonnaise cake that I made last year for the Elmhurst Garden Club’s celebration of the 1930’s – AND I had all the ingredients on hand. Out they came, along with cake pans, waxed paper, and a little white lie.

Kezzie’s birthday is much later this month. She was thinking out loud about it through much of our visit in that inquiring way youngsters have as their birthdays approach.

Hmmmm . . .

I decided that we would make this cake, only I told her it was to bring to a gathering at a friend’s house on Friday. We could make it early since Kezzie was such a good helper. I froze the layers, then took them out on Wednesday to frost. Kezzie was eager and more than willing to not only make the cake, but, to make the frosting as well. Hershey’s cocoa and butter and vanilla and milk and WOW! Lots of licking ensued once the cake was properly dressed.

Kezzie pondered, rightfully, that the cake needed a bit of pizzaz. I had a few Fannie May mints left over from Valentine’s Day, so, out they came and round the cake they merrily marched. The cake was on a cake stand (so I could easily transport it to my “friend’s” house) and there it sat, all afternoon, under a glass dome, waiting.

That evening the entire clan was over for our hearty corned beef and cabbage dinner; a St. Patrick’s Day tradition here on the Cutoff, along with the first of the Irish Soda bread (which Kezzie also helped make). Since all were gathering, we decided on an early St. Paddy’s Day celebration.  Amid the end-of-meal talking, laughing, resting from a big meal, I slipped away from the table. I put some candles on the cake while the Antler Man set out plates and made a pot of coffee.

On cue, Tom turned out the lights and in came the cake to a very surprised young lady, who, we all declared, had to bake her own birthday cake!

Do you have a favorite cake to bake?

Words to the song by songwriters Al Hoffman, Albert J Trace, and Bob Merrill

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Two loaves of Irish Soda Bread are baking in the oven emanating a buttery temptation as the scent of baking bread rises on this rather gloomy St. Patrick’s Day. These two loaves will follow me out the door and down the roads I often traverse. When I return home, two more will go into the oven; one for my tall, Irish lad and the other for a neighbor.

We had a traditional Irish dinner of corned beef and cabbage the other night when our Up North family was in and our hereabouts daughter and son-in-law could join us. Tonight – ah, tonight, I will make corned beef hash from the tasty leftovers.

I will be back writing soon, but, until then . . .

“May you have warm words on a cold evening, a full moon on a dark night and a smooth road all the way to your door.”
Irish Blessing

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. . . and other sweet treasures.

I couldn’t find the recipe. It wasn’t in my recipe files, nor was it in a small notebook with Hollie Hobbie on the cover, a gift from a student a long time ago. Inside it are old, faded favorites with tell-tale splatters.

No luck!

The recipe for Fruit Pizza was given to me by my friend, Linda, who first brought this delectable delight to my family many moons ago. Jennifer liked it so much that I asked for the recipe. Maybe it was in the Field School Cookbook. Linda’s children attended the same elementary school as Jennifer and Katy, so I thought it might be in there.

No luck!

I love these recipe books that come from PTA’s, women’s auxiliaries, civic organizations, etc. I call them church lady cookbooks, and I keep them, even if there is only one recipe in them that I use. These are the best of recipe books, for no woman puts in her worst recipe, does she (or he)?

At any rate, I could not find the recipe for Fruit Pizza, even in the school cookbook, but, I did come upon my friend Donna’s recipe for Lemon Sherbet! Donna served us this refreshing and sweet delight as desert for our book group’s annual Christmas Book Discussion in early December.  The tartly sweet frozen sherbet, along with a tray of Christmas cookies, was a perfect complement to her dinner. Then and there, I decided to make sherbet for our Christmas Eve dinner. This young lass helped me. The Lemon Sherbet accompanied not only our Christmas Eve deserts, but, our Christmas Day festivities as well.

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Ezra and Kezzie (and Papa) also frosted Ethel Cookies, an old family favorite. Our kitchen became a confectionary lab for young hands as we slid on a floor covered with powdered sugar and sprinkles.

Both children awakened before their Mommy and Daddy on Christmas morning. Kezzie was eager to make Pinch Cake, a Christmas morning tradition ever since our own daughters were young.

pinch-cake

teakezzie

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Unable to find the recipe for Fruit Pizza, it occurred to me that it was one of our Jennifer’s favorite treats and that I must might have put it in a cookbook I made her – and I had! She brought it over on Christmas. We made it later in the week to bring to Aunty Jenny’s.

It is always a joy for me to bake with our grandchildren. It is rewarding as well; not only for our taste buds, but, the for the ritual of baking for them, showing them how we prepare the food we eat, and, of course, eating the things we make.

The first step in making fruit pizza is to make the cookie crust. It is basically a sugar cookie base patted and rolled onto a pizza pan and baked.

Kezzie was quite the young expert at rolling out the dough and patting it in the pan.

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When the cookie dough was done, we let it cool while we made a cream cheese frosting.

Then, like any good pizza, it needed toppings. Kiwi, strawberries, blueberries, and blackberries were carefully placed around the pizza, with both children topping if off. Ezra LOVES fruit. It seemed the perfect kitchen activity for him (and it was).

Round and round the pizza they went with circles of fruit marching along in a palatable parade that made for a perfect desert at Aunty Jenny’s and Uncle Jason’s Gnocchi Night!

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Do you have a church lady cookbook (or more)? How about a fun fruit desert? Are you doing anything to bring in the New Year, and, lest I forget, Happy New Year to all!

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rootstotheearth_final-275x363Wendell Berry’s words have shown up on several of my favorite blogs recently, and I have, on loan from our Katy, his novel, “Jayber Crow”. It is one of several books that I am currently halfway through.

Does this ever happen to you; this juggling act of two or more books at one time, born out of an insatiable appetite for the written word?

There I was, at the Indian Prairie Library, looking for “One Souffle at a Time” by Anne Willan, when this Wendell Berry gem, “Roots to the Earth”, appeared in the new books section. I was drawn first to Wesley Bates’ woodcarving on the cover, then pleased to see more wood engravings accompany several of Berry’s poems and a short story, The Branch Way of Doing.

From Wendell Berry’s poem, The Current – ‘

Having once put his hand into the ground,

seeding there what he hopes will outlast him,

a man has made a marriage with his place,

and if he leaves it his flesh will ache to go back.

“Roots to the Earth” is such a lovely book. While it has the outward look and feel of a children’s book, it is a really a more mature book and an homage to the earth and soil.

I read “Roots to the Earth” this afternoon, in the company of a few tasty gingerbread men and a steamy cup of coffee.

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Attendees to the Naperville Garden Club’s annual Christmas house walk, tea, and market, A Cup of Cheer, receive a cup and saucer to take home. Each year, for over 50 years, the cups and saucers have a new design. I think this year’s are particularly beautiful.
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