Category: valentines

December 20, 2005

He will kill me when he reads this, but I'm writing it anyway.  Dear friends, I've been told that my parents have a spiffy new DSL connection, which now means I can blog from the family homestead in Philadelphia this weekend, but just in case I can't, I am seizing the moment to say happy birthday to one of my boyish friends, one of the best fellows to be found on this green and pleasant earth, whose birthday falls on Sunday.  (That would be the fellow, not the green and pleasant earth.)  In tribute to him, I offer two poems, or rather, a poem and a song.  The poem comes from that hardworker, freethinker and overall studmuffin Robert Burns.  The song comes from the late Laura Nyro, whose records my mom used to play when I was little, who I rediscovered and listened to for hours as a teenager, and who, thirty years later, still sends me into swoony paroxysms of pop music love.

Happy birthday, you.  Yeah, you.  You have a problem with that?  smile

To A Mouse.

Wee sleekit, cow'rin, tim'rous beastie,
O, what a panic's in thy breastie!
Thou need na start awa sae hasty,
Wi bickering brattle!
I wad be laith to rin an chase thee,
Wi murdering pattle!

I'm truly sorry man's dominion
Has broken Nature's social union,
An justifies that ill opinion,
Which makes thee startle
At me, thy poor, earth-born companion.
An fellow mortal!

I doubt na, whyles, but thou may thieve:
What then? poor beastie, thou maun live!
A daimen icker in a thrave
'S a sma request;
I'll get a blessin wi the lave,
An never miss't!

Thy wee-bit housie, too, in ruin!
Its silly wa's the win's are strewin!
An naething, now, to big a new ane,
O foggage green!
An bleak December's win's ensuin.
Baith snell an keen!

Thou saw the fields laid bare an waste,
An weary winter comin fast.
An cozie here, beneath the blast,
Thou thought to dwell,
Till crash! the cruel coulter past
Out thro thy cell.

That wee bit heap o leaves an stibble,
Has cost thee monie a weary nibble!
Now thou's turn'd out, for a' thy trouble.
But house or hald,
To thole the winter's sleety dribble,
An cranreuch cauld!

But Mousie, thou art no thy lane,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best-laid schemes o mice an men
Gang aft agley,
An lea'e us nought but grief an pain,
For promis'd joy!

Still thou art blest, compar'd wi me!
The present only toucheth thee:
But och! I backward cast my e'e,
On prospects drear!
An forward, tho I canna see,
I guess an fear!

          -- Robert Burns

California Shoeshine Boys

California shoeshine boys

countin' up their dimes

countin' up the girls they've known

and countin' up the times

I got heartache

but I got news

California shoeshine boys

you can shine my shoes

California shoeshine boys

never really care

only for that California shoeshine

in their hair

I got heartache

but I got news

California shoeshine boys

you can shine my shoes

California shoeshine boys

rappin' ten feet tall

John can make sweet Cindy cry

but Joe can make her crawl

I got heartache

but I got news

California shoeshine boys

you can shine my shoes

-- Laura Nyro

Posted by Bakerina at 11:21 PM in valentines • (0) Comments • (0) Trackbacks
December 17, 2005

Confidential to KitchenMage:  I have found the answer.  It is here.  smile

I have decided, dear friends, that the most beautiful phrase in the English language is gevulde koeken.  Of course, when I said this to Lloyd, he pointed out that gevulde koeken is actually Dutch, not English.  He's so helpful, that Lloyd.

Let's try this again:  The most beautiful phrase in the English language is almond paste sandwich cookies, not only because they are beautiful (which they are), nor because they taste like heaven made manifest (which they do), but because they are surprisingly easy to put together.  I had my doubts.  Although these are called sandwich cookies, they bear less resemblance to what most Americans consider sandwich cookies -- Oreos, Mint Milanos or, heaven forfend, SnackWells -- and more resemblance to little filled pastries.  The pastry itself is rather like pie dough, albeit with more butter, more sugar and less liquid.  Unlike most pastry recipes with which I work a lot, in this one the sugar is added after the butter has been cut into the flour, so the finished dough has a bit of a sandy texture, even if you use a fine-grain sugar like caster sugar.  All of the usual rules of pastry apply here:  use a light hand, keep everything as cool as you can, dust your work surface with enough flour to keep everything from sticking, don't panic.

I did find myself on the gauzy edge of panic, though.  I didn't have the right size or shape cutter for which the recipe called.  The dough crumbled, and continued to crumble until I bit the bullet and kneaded it a bit.  Even though I know that some gluten development is necessary for pastry to hold together, I still have too many years of dire warnings about not kneading pie crust or biscuit dough, lest the gluten get overworked and the dough get too tough.  This time, though, it worked like a charm, and the dough rolled right out.  I lay 15 circles of dough on a baking sheet (more than the 12 specified by the recipe, thanks to my too-small biscuit cutter), lay 15 slightly-smaller-but-still-substantial circles of almond paste (lightened with a bit of egg) on top of the pastry, capped each of the circles with a second set of pastry circles, crimped everything together, tried not to panic when a bit of pastry or almond paste stuck to my hands, brushed them all with an egg wash, topped them with blanched almonds, let them sit out a bit to dry, and then sent them to the oven.  I was sure that the seams would not hold, that the cookies would spread into one giant cookie, that I would have a morass of burned sugar and gooey pastry waiting for me.

I did not.  What I had was a brilliant surprise.  I can't believe that my afternoon of feckless goofing could produce such a wonder of a cookie.  I love these so much that I want to stay home and bake them for a solid month.  In hindsight, I should not be surprised, for the recipe came from the much-discussed-on-this-page Windmills in My Oven:  A Book of Dutch Baking by Gaitri Pagrach-Chandra, who has been my baking history hero ever since I bought her book, and now is my baking hero as well.  I hope that she will indulge me one more spate of quoting from Windmills, specifically her headnote for gevulde koeken:

These delicious biscuits have got to be the nation's Number One Bestseller and, tragically, this popularity is dangerously close to destroying them.  Everybody makes them:  the local baker at the corner, the market baker and the biscuit manufacturer, hence the quality of the ingredients varies greatly, with cheap pulses or apricot kernels replacing the almonds in the filling and margarine the butter in the pastry.  Even more people sell them; you can buy them loose or prepackaged, even individually packaged, from the baker, the supermarket, the railway station restaurant and the school canteen.  Often, the name is the only common characteristic.  This recipe is for the genuine article, pure and simple.

She's right.  These are the genuine article, pure and simple, crunchy on the outside, soft on the inside, the purest essence of almond throughout.  They would almost make a body cry, except that crying tends to interfere with eating, and you really should eat these, not cry over them.  smile


Posted by Bakerina at 07:42 PM in valentines • (1) Comments • (1) Trackbacks
December 12, 2005

Please forgive me, dear friends, for singing out about something I bought for myself during the season of giving to others, peace on earth and goodwill toward all.  I will not gloat, really, I won't.

I now have a copy of How America Eats to call my own.



This book has been twelve years in the writing.  It was in January 1948 I started criss-crossing the United States as roving Food Editor for This Week Magazine -- my assignment, tell "How America Eats."  I have traveled by train, plane, automobile, by mule back, on foot -- in all over 800,000 miles.

I have ranged from the lobster pots of Maine to the vineyards of California, from the sugar shanties of Vermont to the salmon canneries in Alaska.  I have collected these recipes from a wide variety of kitchens:  farm kitchens, apartment kitchenettes, governors' mansions, hamburger diners, tea rooms and from the finest restaurants with great chefs in charge.  I have eaten with crews on fishing boats and enjoyed slum gullion at a Hobo Convention.

I have eaten many regional specialties I had never eaten before -- cioppino on Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco, Alaskan King Crab of the North Pacific in Seattle, mango ice cream in Tampa, chawed on cuts of fresh sugar cane in Louisiana, eaten roasted young goat in San Antonio, and roasted fresh truffles flown in from Italy at the Four Seasons in New York City.

This book is based on personal interviews with more than 2,000 of the country's best cooks.  And I have eaten every dish in the book at the table where I found it...The pioneer mother created dishes with foods available.  These we call regional.  It is to these, perhaps, I have given the greatest emphasis here.  However, I am not given to food favorites, hold no food prejudices.  Good food is good food, wherever you find it.  Many of these recipes were salvaged from batter-splashed, hand-written notebooks...They are word-of-mouth hand-downs from mother to daughter.  To get such recipes takes everlasting patience, and a dash of effrontery, too.

                         -- from the Foreword

Legends abound of [the Philadelphia Club's] groaning board.  It's a kitchen set in its ways -- clam chowder is made without tomatoes; cottage cheese is only cottage cheese when it's made with real cream; mincemeat always must have a brandy breath.

                         -- from "Patriotic Pepperpot, Scrumptious Scrapple and Steamboat Pudding"

Sunday dinner is to me the symbol of good eating in the Middle West.  I know those Sunday feasts as of yesterday and today.  I was born and raised in Blue River Valley, now the bain of the Government's great Tuttle Creek Dam.  Our farm, before Alaska's and Hawaii's statehood, was within twenty miles of the geographical center of the United States.  It was in a yellow limestone church at Stockdale, Kansas, a crossroads town, that I sat dreaming during summer Sunday sermons, not of heaven or hell, but of the good dinner to come.  There would be fried chicken and gravy, fresh garden vegetables, geen beans, summer squash or beets.  In July came new peas and new potatoes.  There would be leaf lettuce and cucumbers with a vinegar-sugar dressing.  Always in summer, homemade ice cream and invariably this marble cake made by Grandma Paddleford's recipe.

                         -- from "Kansas - Pancake Hub of the Universe"

A golden silky heat lay over the valley.  The car traveled full speed along the beautiful road by the side of the ripple-reefed Wenatchee River.  Ahead the rugged Cascades lifted in a jagged rim rising straight up, it seemed, from the valley floor.  Follow any one of these little canyons opening so slyly into the narrow valley and you are in apple land.  Through the town of Cashmere, Washington, and one mile beyond, up a steep and winding hill road to keep a tea date with Mrs. Kenneth Bixler.

Fern and Kenneth are apple growers; forty-five acres they have of the red and golden Delicious, a few of the Winesaps.  Fern is Kenneth's right-hand helper -- she keeps the books, pays the help, writes the leeters and keeps the business end of things running as well as her house.  She learned about apples before she married.  Her father, an orchardist, died the year Fern finished college and she came home to help run the family business.

Around a curve of the road Fern is waiting.  Slim, blonde, tanned, a woman golden and silky as the day itself.

"The muffins are done, the tea is ready," and Fern led the way.  "Let's eat on the terrace."  What a view!  The rustic house is built into the side of a mountain; it's a 400-foot drop into the valley.  In a matter of minutes I was sipping flowery tea and eating apple muffins concocted just for me.  The oblique evening sun nibbled at the edge of the table.  Once it stretched a warm finger as far as the muffin basket.

          -- from "Washington - Pie Timber Country - Apples, Peaches, Plums and Pears"

Posted by Bakerina at 11:56 PM in valentines • (2) Comments • (0) Trackbacks
December 08, 2005

Dear friends, I still have almonds on the brain -- which is surprisingly less painful than it sounds [rimshot] -- but I have made myself a solemn promise that I will get the Christmas shopping done before I can yammer on about almonds.  As I started getting loaded for retail bear, I remembered that today is my grandmother's birthday, and that somewhere in my archives was a post all about her.  My grandmom has Alzheimer's, and doesn't do much reading anymore, and thus won't be reading this, but I still wanted to put it up.  This originally ran on December 30, 2003, the first Christmas she -- and all of us -- spent without my grandfather.  Every word is still as applicable today as it was then.

Bunni and I both received David Sedaris's Live at Carnegie Hall for Christmas. The first reading is his story "Repeat After Me," in which he mentions that his sister Lisa is convinced that anything can kill you. Because she retains the alarmist headlines from the local news, but none of the information in the actual broadcast, Lisa believes that applesauce can kill you, but she forgets that in order to do this, it must be injected intravenously. Bunni's grandmother is cut from much the same cloth. So is mine. Or, at least, she was.

Neddie is my mother's mother, the wife of my late and much-missed grandfather. Because she was young when my mom was born, and because Mom was young when I was born, we have had a lot of time together, and that time has been a lot of fun. When I came to visit her, we never had to ask each other twice if we wanted to go to the mall. She was not exactly a cook or a baker, but she had her dishes (pot roast, lasagne, a really fine dark chocolate cake with vanilla buttercream), and the dishes she had, she did well. She used to bicker with my grandpop, good-naturedly but bickering nonetheless, that was the best entertainment in town. (Once when I was about 7 or 8, they were having words because she was trying to get him to take his blood pressure medication while he was trying to play computer chess. "I don't want you making mistakes with your medicine," she said. "Mistakes? Let's talk about mistakes," said Daddy Joe. "I made the biggest mistake of my life on September 19, 1941." There was silence from the kitchen. I recognized September 19 as their wedding anniversary, and I thought, oh god, she's going to kill him. After a beat, she yelled back, "1942!", which was, of course, their actual anniversary. I nearly laughed my iced tea out my nose.)

Neddie was fun. She was also a worrier. As my mom said, "Anything that was the least bit fun, she knew someone who had died from it." Walking to the corner store. Hayrides at the apple orchard in Bucks County. Learning to ride a bike. Moving to New York. It was all fraught with peril for her.

In her defense, she had received an early, harsh lesson in the perils of life: when she was a child, one of her brothers had died at the age of 3. He had been ill, was hospitalized and apparently made a full recovery. Her parents were told, essentially, you can pick up your son at the hospital on Friday afternoon, and when they went to pick him up, he was dead, having suffered a sudden, violent relapse. I can't imagine the kind of grief and shock that Neddie and her parents and other brother suffered, but because my great-grandparents were stoics, and didn't believe in any form of psychiatric help or grief counseling at all, my grandmother was left believing that life was chaos, the world was chaos, and you fought chaos by controlling anything you could, and getting overwhelmingly frustrated by what you could not. This had repercussions, for my grandfather, for my mom and her brothers, and, eventually, for me, my brother and our cousins.

Knowing what I know about Grandmom's little brother, I can feel sympathy for her, but her fretting still drove us nuts for years. "Make sure you don't carry your bag on one shoulder like that," she used to admonish me. "Cross it over to your other shoulder, so that robbers can't steal your bag." She told the same thing to my brother when he started carrying a briefcase with a shoulder strap. He told her that that just meant that a potential robber could still steal his briefcase, with the added benefit of breaking his neck, and then she really worried. When I moved to New York, she told my mom, without a trace of irony, "I really think it would be safest if Jenny just didn't leave her apartment after dark." Mom nearly swallowed her own tongue, trying to contemplate telling a 21-year-old living in Manhattan, "your grandmom doesn't want you out after dark." I thought it was a great idea because it meant that in winter, I would have to leave my office at 3:30 in the afternoon.

When I moved to Philadelphia and acquired a live-in fiance, my mom (who was thrilled with this arrangement because she was nuts about Lloyd) phoned my grandmom. "How's Jenny?" said Grandmom.

"Fine," said my mother with trepidation. "Still in the same apartment. Uh, Lloyd has moved in with her." She winced and waited for the outrage.

"Oh, thank God," said Neddie. "I've been so worried about her, living alone in that city. Thank God she's not living alone in that apartment."

"WAIT A MINUTE!," said Mom, who knew that if it had been her, shacking up outside of the bonds of matrimony, Neddie's response would not have been "oh, thank God."

"It's Neddie logic," said Aunt Nan, my mom's best friend, who knew it well.

Neddie logic failed her at least once, though; of course, since it's Neddie logic and only she can understand it, maybe it worked in some mysterious way that only she can see, the way my believer friends tell me that God works. I am speaking specifically of September 11, 2001. I will not rehash the specific horrors of that day, or of the days that followed. I will just say that once the phone lines started to free up, I was on the phone for two solid days, with parents, friends in England, friends in New Zealand, friends all over the U.S., co-workers, corporate weasels from LuthorCorp who were surprised, and a little put out, to discover that I was not at my desk on September 12 (one of them had the nerve to tell me, "now, Jen, you know that a work-at-home day means just that"wink. After the 203rd phone call in two days to my mom, it hit me that I'd never called Grandmom to let her know that Lloyd and I were okay. Oh, lord, I thought to myself, Neddie has to be going absolutely batshit. I called Mom back immediately.

"I knew there was something I forgot to tell you," Mom said. "You're going to love this." It turns out that Neddie, who lived in front of CNN 24/7 at the time, saw everything, basically thought, "oh, how terrible," as if she were watching footage of a distant plane wreck in the Russian steppes, and then drove to her local Genuardi's to do groceries for the week. Mom reached her on the phone when she got back. It was obvious that Mom had been crying. Neddie's response was a surprised, "why, what are you so upset about?"

"Uh, Mom," said my mom, "did you see the news? Did you know there was a terrorist attack on the World Trade Center? And on the Pentagon?"

"Oh, yes," said Neddie. "I saw that, and I thought, 'oh, that's terrible' [which in Philadelphia-speak is pronounced 'turble'], and then I went to Genuardi's and did my shopping."

"Mom," said Mom patiently, "I'm sure there's nothing to worry about, because they both work miles away, but I haven't heard from Jenny or Lloyd yet."

"Oh, well, when you do hear from them, just let me know."

I am still trying to figure out the logic whereby living alone is a virtual death warrant, but being in Manhattan during a terrorist attack is no big shakes. I really don't care, though, because I laughed my first laugh in days when I heard that story. I am laughing now at the thought of it.

Neddie now has mid-stage Alzheimer's and lives in a locked Alzheimer's ward in the retirement community she and Grandpop moved to after selling their house 10 years ago. She still worries, but because she has lost a lot of memory about who we all are, where we live and what we do, she worries less about us, and more about running out of money (she will not, thanks to my grandfather's savvy investing), paying her bills (my mom takes care of the bills), and wondering why all of her mail has been forwarded to Mom's house (so Mom can get the bills on time). Mom told her that she needs to stop making herself sick with worry, and Neddie replied, "I wouldn't know what to do with myself if I didn't worry about something." This makes me heartsick, and it fills me with a seasonally-appropriate resolve: All of the worrying that I do, it is not an amusing personality quirk, it is a drain on my energy, and I have to cut it off at the knees. Since Neddie could not, and still cannot, I will.

Posted by Bakerina at 10:15 AM in valentines • (0) Comments • (0) Trackbacks
December 03, 2005

Dear friends,

After a month or six of semi-lucid exhaustion, I'm starting to feel all verbose again, although not at this precise moment.  At this precise moment, sleep deprivation has caught up with me, and whatever problems I may have tonight, verbosity will not be one of them.  So leave us seize the moment so that I can administer the thanks that should have been thanked days ago (and which will be followed with proper thank-you notes):

Thanks to everyone who helped, and is continuing to help, me celebrate my birthday with a maximum of grace and class and a minimum of whining "hi, honey!  I'm old!"  Thanks to my mom and stepdad for the earrings (gold loveknots, dear friends, and really beautiful ones).  Thanks to my dad and stepmom, my grandmother and my in-laws for the money that was used to buy some really superb books.  Thanks to bunni and to the little lovemuffins at the Upper West Side Lush, who will keep me smelling pretty clear through to 2010.  Thanks to 'mouse for the homemade jam (kiwi!  apricot!  blackberry!) that reduces me to a gibbering puddle of confiserie-based love.  Thanks to Snowball for ignoring my protestations of knitting idiocy, and sending me some nifty pattern books to grow into.  Additional thanks to Snowball for giving me the gentle nudge that led to the pink-and-yellow page you are reading now, and to the first words ever published on it.  Thanks to orionoir, a guy outstanding in his field (hellooooooooo!) and the best friend a writer ever had, for introducing me to Snowball.  And thanks again, ever and always, to all of you, dear ones, for your encouragements, constructive criticisms, and general everythings.  Thank you very much, thank you very very much, it's the nicest thing that anyone's ever done for me.

Posted by Bakerina at 12:56 AM in valentines • (1) Comments • (0) Trackbacks
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