Monday, May 30, 2016

Back to baking

So, what happens when the student exceed the teacher?  Not just in conjugating French verbs or writing poetry.  Something more serious... baking.  One of the little darlings, a 7th grade girlie, brought this in to share with her classmates a couple of weeks ago.  Quite honestly, it was one of the best things I have ever put in my mouth.  Galette Rustique.  Rustic Apple-Cinnamon Tart.

The 7th graders in her class wolfed theirs down.  Pas moi!  I saved mine until I had a free period and a cup of tea.  I don't eat very much in the way of desserts these days, but I savored every bite of this. It is hard to go wrong with a handmade crust, apples, cinnamon, and sugar.

Mine is now in the oven and my house is starting to smell like heaven, let me tell you.  The Ex-Ex and I have been invited to have dinner with JC, her hubby and another couple and this is my contribution.  I hope it turns out half as well as my 7th grader's tart.

Elle's Rustic Apple-Cinnamon Tart
Serves 8

Cream Cheese Pie Crust

2 teaspoons cold water
1 teaspoon cold cider vinegar
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for surface
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 ounces (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
4 ounces cold cream cheese, cut into small pieces

  1. Combine water and vinegar in a small bowl.  Combine flour and salt in another bowl.  Using a pastry cutter or your fingers, cut butter and cream cheese into flour mixture until mixture resembles coarse crumbs with some larger pieces still remaining.
  2. Add water mixture to dough in a slow, steady stream, stirring, until mixture just begins to hold together. (I added about 2 more tablespoons of cold water because there was not enough liquid to hold it together.)  Turn out onto a piece of plastic wrap, and wrap.  Press dough into a disk using a rolling pin.  Refrigerate until firm, about 1 hours or overnight.  (Dough can be frozen for up to 1 month; thaw before using.)

4 cups peeled, thinly sliced apples (I used Pink Lady apples)  Elle has one of those really cool contraptions that peels, cores, and slices the apples- she said that she loved using that!
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
Big pinch salt
1 large egg, well-beaten
2 tablespoons turbinado sugar

  1. Put the applies in a large bowl.  Toss the fruit with the granulated sugar.  Taste the fruit, if it's more tart than you like, add up to 2 tablespoons more sugar.  Add the flour, vanilla extract, cinnamon, and salt and toss until everything is evenly mixed.
  2. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and turn it out of the plastic wrap onto a floured work surface.  Let it sit for about 5 minutes to warm up a bit and become pliable enough to roll.
  3. Heat oven to 350˚F.  Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
  4. Working on the floured surface, roll the dough into a round that's about 13-14 inches in diameter.  It's all right if the edges are a little ragged.  Transfer the dough to the baking sheet.
  5. Heap the apple mixture in the center of the dough round.  Using your fingertips, fold the edges of the dough over some of the apples to create a rim about 2 inches wide.  Work your way all around, pleating the dough as you go.
  6. Using a pastry brush, brush the pleated dough evenly with the beaten egg.  Sprinkle the turbinado sugar directly on the dough and fruit.
  7. Bake the tart until the pleats of dough are completely golden brown with a trace of pale, unbaked dough, about 55 minutes.  (It's all right if some of the juices escape from the tart and seep onto the pan.)  Transfer to a rack and let cool.  The tart may be baked up to six hours ahead of serving.
  8. When cool it enough to handle, use a spatula to transfer the tart to a serving plate or cutting board.  Slice it (I used a pizza cutter to make it easy) and serve it warm or at room temperature.
It's good with ice cream, too, of course...

Bon appétit!  Happy spring and the arrival of all kinds of fruit to make tarts, muffins, cakes, etc. Yum!!  Cook on, cookers and feeders!  Eat on, eaters!  Don't just sit on the sidelines, lookers, when there is something this delicious!

Sunday, May 8, 2016

28 Mother's Days

I became a mother in 1987.  Son #1 came into the world as a perfect textbook baby, according to his pediatrician.  I had no other frame of reference.  He ate every four hours, rarely cried, slept through the night at four weeks, and made me feel like the perfect mother.  I actually had very little to do with it.  Other than the feeding and changing diapers.  The first thing the Ex-Ex and I did when we brought him home was to take him upstairs and change his diaper.  We were scared to death and really didn't know what else to do.  I had zero to no experience with baby boys and their parts.  I managed to let him pee all over himself before I could get the diaper back on.  Live and learn.  I learned to always keep a diaper in place so that wouldn't happen again.  I've come to the side of the camp that believes we are born with a certain personality and temperament.  If we are lucky, we have a spouse who loves us and helps us and understands that the bond between a mother and child has nine months to take hold and that it never lets go.  We are also lucky if we have enough resources to provide for all of this little bundle's needs and a few of his wants.

I became a mother for the second time in 1992.  Son #2 was completely different.  He seemed hungry all of the time (my parts hurt just remembering that).  He cried with a gusto I didn't know a little bundle could muster.  He rarely napped (anything under an hour doesn't count, in my book).  And he suffered from night terrors off and on for a few years.  Our pediatrician, Dr. Will London, informed me that he was a "normal" baby.  Now he is as calm as can be.  A couple of years ago he asked me if he was an accident since there is almost a five year difference between him and his big brother.  No, he was planned.  We were thinking ahead to college tuition probably.

Mothers want their children to be happy.  It is as simple as that.  When they are heartbroken, so are we.  I am not a hover mother or any of the other titles that have been given to mothers who want to fix everything and make their child's world perfect.  I know that you cannot do that.  Mama Mildred taught me that.  There will be some stumbles and probably some falls.  That's how you learn self-confidence and resiliency.  Life comes with happy and sad.  You have to learn not to get too high on the happy or too low on the sad.  Balance.  It isn't always fair.  Asking for help when you need it is not a sign of weakness.  Each of us is a work in progress.  For our entire lives.  Not everyone is meant to be a doctor, a five-star general or the head of a corporation.  As Abraham Lincoln said "Whatever you are, be a good one."  Abe knew adversity.

There are no perfect mothers.  We are human.  We cry.  We stumble.  We take detours.  But we never stop loving our babies or wanting the very best for them.  Our worst fear is that our babies will leave us before we leave them.  That's not the natural order of things.  We will always feel the need to fix things, even though we know we can't.  That's when we pull out a frying pan or a mixer and try to feed them something we know they love or at least they used to when they were little.

Someone gave me us the children's book Love You Forever by Robert Munsch when the boys were little. This became their favorite bedtime story because it always made me cry.  (I am tearing up just thinking about it.)  On his website, the author says the book started out as a song.

I'll love you forever,
I'll like you for always,
as long as I'm living
my baby you'll be.

I know that somewhere I still have that book.  It's in a box of treasures in a closet, I am guessing, with the Batmans and Thomas the Tank Engines.  It's the story of a little boy and all the stuff he gets into (as you can see from the cover).  It ends, however, with the grown up little boy taking care of his mother and singing:

I'll love you forever,
I'll like you for always,
as long as I'm living
my mommy you'll be.

Click on the link above and listen to the author read the story.  You will understand why Love You Forever is a best seller in retirement communities.  I am not just tearing up at this point.  I am a lucky mother.  Dripping tears and all.

Son #1 was (and still is) a big fan of Chili's Boneless Buffalo Wings back in 2002.  The internet was around at that point and he found the recipe on the Top Secret Recipe website.  I found the recipe yesterday while straightening out my cookbook shelf.  It's actually a bookcase-- I have a lot of cookbooks.

Top Secret Recipes version of Chili's Boneless Buffalo Wings 
by Todd Wilbur

1 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1 egg
1 cup milk
2 chicken breast fillets
4-6 cups vegetable oil
1/4 cup Crystal or Frank's Louisiana hot sauce
1 tablespoon butter (the recipe calls for margarine, but I am a purist and only use butter!)

On the side:
bleu cheese dressing (for dipping)-- we prefer ranch
celery sticks

  1. Combine flour, salt, peppers and paprika in a medium bowl.
  2. In another small bowl, whisk together egg and milk.
  3. Slice each chicken breast into 6 pieces.  Preheat 4-6 cups of vegetable oil in a deep fryer to 375˚ F.  (I use my deep cast iron frying pan.)
  4. One or two at a time, dip each piece of chicken into the egg mixture, then into the breading blend; then repeat the process so that each piece of chicken is double-coated.
  5. When all chicken pieces have been breaded, arrange them on a plate and chill for 15 minutes.
  6. When the chicken is done resting, drop each piece into the hot oil and fry for 5-6 minutes or until each piece is browned.
  7. As chicken fries, combine the hot sauce and butter in a small bowl.  Microwave sauce for 20-30 seconds or just until the butter is melted, then stir to combine.  You can also use a small saucepan for this step.  Just combine the hot sauce and margarine in the saucepan over low heat and still until the butter is melted and ingredients are blended.
  8. When chicken pieces are done frying, remove them to a plate lined with a couple of paper towels.
  9. Place the chicken pieces in a covered container such as a large jar with a lid (a tupperware-type bowl will work just fine).  Pour the sauce over the chicken in the container, cover, and then shake gently until each piece of chicken is coated with sauce.  Pour the chicken onto a plate and serve the dish with bleu cheese dressing (or ranch or whatever you like) and sliced celery on the side.

I also found a cookbook that Son #2's fourth grade teacher and class put together.  The Comet's Cafeteria.  Son #2 was (and still is) a fan of cheese sticks.  I remember searching for a recipe and having occasional success with it.

Fried Mozzarella Cheese Sticks

2 eggs, beaten
1/4 cup water
1-1/2 cups Italian seasoned bread crumbs
1/2 teaspoon garlic salt
2/3 cup flour
1/3 cup cornstarch
1 quart oil for deep frying
1 (16 ounce) package of mozzarella cheese sticks

In a small bowl, mix the eggs and water.  Mix the bread crumbs and garlic salt in a medium bowl.  In another medium bowl, blend the flour and cornstarch.
In a heavy saucepan, heat the oil to 375˚F.  One at a time, moisten each mozzarella stick in the egg mixture.  Then dip into the bread crumbs, and finally into the flour mixture.  Then fry until golden brown, about 30 seconds.  Remove from heat and drain on paper towels.

photo:  Rick Bland

Bon appétit to all mothers.  Happy Mother's Day!  Our babies might not be able to be with us, but they are in our hearts and souls.  Now and always.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

You can take the girl out of the mountains...

I've written before about who I am.  The age old question.  The one I started contemplating around 6th or 7th grade.  Who am I?  But more importantly, what makes me me?  That question.  After spending a couple of days with my family last week, I've given more thought to where I am from.  I am from the Appalachian Mountains.  Western North Carolina.  The Blue Ridge Mountains.  I was born there and I spent my first 22 years living there.  I love the city I live in now, but I will always be a mountain girl at heart.

I was born in Spruce Pine Community Hospital.  The hospital was built some time between 1950 and 1958.  I know this because Roy Williams, the men's basketball coach at UNC-Chapel Hill, is from Spruce Pine, too, but he was born in Marion because Spruce Pine didn't have a hospital in 1950. It was built by the time I came along in July 1958.  Roy only spent 6 months in Spruce Pine, though, before moving on to Asheville. (I know this because when he was up for the Carolina job the first time, the sportscasters said he was from Spruce Pine.  I did not know that, so I called his secretary at Kansas and asked. Coach Williams was at the NCAA tournament she politely told me, but she would get back to me. And she did.) I lived there for 18 years, before moving on to Boone and then to Durham.  (Roy and I are practically neighbors, but we haven't run into each other at the grocery store or post office yet.)


I digress.  As usual.

I forget how much I miss the mountains until I go back to visit.  There is just something soothing about the views.  

After exiting Interstate 40 and driving around Marion, this is the stretch of mountain that you have to climb to get to Spruce Pine.  I don't really like this road.  Trucks can lose their brakes.  One of my cousins and her husband died that way about 30 years ago.  

The view at the top is pretty spectacular, though.  And worth the drive.

On the way out of town, before heading down the mountain, I took a little detour to visit with Miss Vicky at Big Lynn Lodge in Little Switzerland.  

In less than two months, my graduating class from Harris High School will hold our 40th Reunion at Big Lynn.  One of my classmates, PW, who lives in Texas and I are frantically trying to find the other 88 names on the back of the program from our Commencement Exercises held on May 28, 1976. 

We know that we have already lost at least six of our classmates, including my cousin, Kathy.  It is past time for a get-together.  It was nice to meet Miss Vicky and put a face to a name.

I was in the mountains to take my baby sister Moo to the hospital in Boone for sinus surgery.  I would post the photo she asked me to take post-surgery, but I think she would stop speaking to me.  And I do not want that to happen.  I am the only one of my siblings to leave Spruce Pine.  As a matter of fact, Mama Mildred, Sister Cindy, and Moo all live on the same street, Bell Street, named for my Papa.  On the way home from the hospital the day after the surgery, I couldn't resist pulling off in Linville for a couple of photos.  Moo was still pretty drugged, so she didn't object.  I spent three summers working in Linville at Eseeola Lodge as a waitress.

It is much fancier now, featuring a spa and an updated pool, as well as the golf course.  It also stays open longer, not just Memorial Day through Labor Day the way it did back in the '70's.  It was a great place to work and live.

One of my Lodge buddies, The Honorable JR, has a family home next to the Lodge.  I had to take a photo.

And my old friend, The Grandfather, is still lying there watching the clouds roll by and allowing hikers to climb all over him.

Although I have no photos to prove it, I don't think I've ever seen so many shades of green. The trees covering the mountains are leafing out.  Spring has hit the Appalachians.  Spring and fall put on magnificent shows of color up there.

I physically left 36 years ago, but my heart is and always will be there.  I hope that I appreciated the beauty that surrounded me for those 22 years, even while I dreamed of taking airplanes to faraway places.  I knew that I wanted a different life than I could have there. Marrying The Mailman (who, by the way, just happened to be bringing mail to my mom as I was leaving... bit unsettling to run into him after all these years) would not have been a good idea.  I needed a bigger world, a world where I could teach middle school French and make my own way.  Daddy didn't understand, but I think that he was proud of me.  Mama Mildred has always encouraged me to follow my dreams, even if that meant leaving the mountains.  I've never regretted the decision to leave, but I sure miss the views and my family.

While sitting around the table at Mama Mildred's house, I remembered to look through her tattered cookbook- the one she and Sister Cindy fight over- and find her favorite pound cake recipe.  I wrote it out in that cookbook for her, copying it from Southern Living magazine, she says.  I do not remember where she found it.  So, my kitchen smells like chocolate cake.  It just came out of the oven...

 (I took a croissant-making class yesterday at Sur La Table and was told that my goodies will bake better if they are not just placed on the wire rack in the oven, but on a "platform."  Thus the pizza stone. That is supposed to make them bake more evenly.  We shall see.)

The Ex-Ex will be eating chocolate cake for breakfast this week.

Mama Mildred's Mahogany Pound Cake

1 c. butter, softened
2 cups granulated sugar
1 c. firmly packed brown sugar
6 eggs, separated, at room temperature
2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour (I use King Arthur's)
1/2 cup cocoa (the last of the box of Van Houten I brought home from France in January)
1 cup sour cream, at room temperature
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Butter and flour a 10-inch tube pan.  Set aside.
Cream butter; gradually add sugars, beating well at medium speed.
Add egg yolks, one at a time, beating after each addition.
Sift flour and cocoa together. 
Combine sour cream and baking soda.
Add flour mixture to creamed mixture, alternately with sour cream, beginning and ending with flour, scraping down the bowl often. Mix just until blended after each addition.
Stir in vanilla.
Beat egg whites in a separate bowl until stiff peaks form.  Fold into the cake batter.
Spoon into the pan.
Place in cold oven, set the temperature to 325˚F and bake for 1 hour and 10 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean. (I had to add 12 extra minutes.)
Cool in pan 10 minutes.
Remove from pan and let cool completely on wire rack.

Bon appétit to all my fellow mountaineers!  Enjoy the views wherever you are.  And eat more chocolate cake.  Life is short.