About Me

My photo
Hi! I'm Beth and I started my blog in July of 2011 just to have a place that I could talk about - to someone other than the dogs -cooking, food and other stuff I like. I chose the name because it's the one thing I've never been able to make so it keeps me humble.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Will Swap for Sunshine!!

So in defiance of this soggy gray spring we've had, I'm scheduling a Food Swap. I know there's not going to be an abundance of fresh stuff (though I'm sure there will be a little bit from you over-achievers) but we can take the opportunity to clear out some of last year's jams and pickles. Or maybe you just need a good excuse to try a new cookie recipe. Or how about it's just fun! Be sure to leave your comment here or the Facebook page to RSVP for your spot.

If you aren't sure what it's all about check the Food Swap info here.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Yeah! It’s been a year….I’ve been busy – sort of. Okay…”slack” then. I’ll try to do better.

This weekend I’ll be hosting – with my HoneyBunny – my second Grandma Ina Sunday Lunch. We’ll sit down to the dishes that made getting up on Sunday morning a worthy endeavor. It's a fitting tribute because I’m not a cemetery person and this makes me feel close to her. I’ve thought about a lunch for my Little Grandma but I can’t make the biscuits or the “whipped cream” she made happen from evaporated milk and lemon juice so why try.

Big Grandma (Grandma Ina was the name our kids - and their kids – gave her) was a working woman long before Helen Reddy and Gloria Steinem made it “empowering” so cooking was just another thing she had to do. Like a lot of smart women of that time, she made use of the modern marvel of packaged convenience foods. Then after my grandfather passed on and the big plot of dirt behind her house (aka the garden) was slowly taken over by grass, the frozen bounty of so many summers gave way to canned vegetables and various boxes of dried stuff claiming to “taste just like” the stuff they were claiming to be and my grandma’s kitchen forever changed.

Like most Grandmas of her generation, she had her specialties and it’s no surprise to me that her specialties – and there is no tongue in my cheek – were primarily convenience foods. Instant potatoes, mac n “cheese” from a blue box, brown and serve rolls – or better - the canned variety pinched raw and dropped into canned chicken broth for the best dumplings you’ve ever tasted. Her Sunday roast seemed equal parts beef and garlic salt (excuse me while I mop the drool) and the Shake n Bake® barbeque chicken just didn’t taste the same at anybody else’s house. I think one of my favorites though was the canned yellow squash that she put in the pan with the drippings from fatback (if you have to ask you really don’t want to know) and chopped onions. By the time they were done it looked nothing like squash but it was really tasty. I know there was a time when she cooked “real” food but I don’t remember a lot of those times and now when the family speaks of her food it’s usually the canned and boxed versions that we’re talking about. I don’t mean to imply that she fed us nothing but Hamburger Helper but she rocked that food group!

Grandma’s Sunday menus were dictated by what was on sale the day before at Winn-Dixie and my Sunday menu will reflect hers. I do, however, refuse to open a can of green peas or pour powdered flakes into boiling water and call them potatoes – that memory is better tasted with my heart. I don’t think it will really matter so much…my family loves to eat and I don’t think that they’re such purist that they’ll turn it down. And what I’ve come to know is that what we all really remember tasting is not so much the food – tasty as it was - but what it was flavored with - the time spent sitting around her kitchen or on the front porch talking and “fellowshipping” and sometimes I’m sure there were arguments but no one remembers those. My cousins have more memories of those times than I do – most of my growing-up Sundays were spent at my Little Grandma’s house until she passed away. I kinda envy them that time but then I had those biscuits so I guess maybe it all evens out.

Grandma got up early and Sunday and to do more than cook. She was creating the bonds that to this day keep our family bound to each other. Was she aware? Or was it just what you do…love your family and create the times that help them love each other whether they want to or not. We weren’t total sponges though – we did contribute and since desserts were not my Grandma’s thing - not that I can remember anyway - I’m pretty sure we brought those in. My Aunt Linda’s banana pudding, my mom’s pies or cakes and my cousin Erin’s dump cake – a curious mixture of canned pie filling and boxed cake mix (apples never fall far from the tree)….I’m sure there were others but that’s what I remember right now. My Aunt Patricia makes a mean potato salad with nothing from a box and there was usually some variety of casserole (with canned fried onions on top) that made it onto the table.

In the spirit of my grandma’s tradition …this Sunday we’re serving birthday cake purchased from Costco – just to keep a little of her convenience factor going and well, they’re pretty tasty - to celebrate my family’s uncanny ability to produce babies in August. We have never needed an excuse to gather and eat but this was as good a reason as any to celebrate my grandma and the memories we have of her. 

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Getting Ready.....

It’s 4 days to our first Food Swap. Not exactly sure how many folks we’ll have this first time out but I’m really excited about it. It’s going to be fun no matter what. I know the date marks one of our country’s saddest times but I can’t think of a better way to spend it than spending time with, and appreciating, the people that make up our community.

I’ve been so excited at the prospect of the Food Swap that I haven’t been able to settle on what to prepare. I’m thinking whoopie pies. I also have pickles, some blackberry jam and some sweet/spicy tomato jam that is really good with cream cheese and crackers. So many options! So while I’m making up my mind about that I’ve added the Food Swap page to the blog to add information about Swaps in general, and so that folks can register and to update everyone on how we did. I do want to give a shout out to all the folks that I gleaned information from – SHOUT! Thanks for the information/inspiration. The Hip Girl’s Guide to Homemaking is the source of all this – be sure to check out her blog.

Another thing I’ve done is to take the leap to schedule a second swap. There were a number of folks that weren’t able to attend this one so I thought we’d try for another. Be sure to check out the Food Swap page, leave me a comment or sign up for the next Food Swap on Oct. 16th

Friday, August 12, 2011

Brand new thing.....

Just sent out an invitation for a food swap via the FB page. I've been reading about them and looked around for one in my area and couldn't find one. So I'm doing my own! If you aren't familiar here's an interesting article to check out.
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/13/nyregion/13barter.html There are lots of websites for other swaps as well.

I have pickles for days so I'm hoping to trade a few of those for some other goodies. I may bake up a few cookies as well. Hope we have a good response! I think this is a great way to hang out with friends or even a meet new friends as well! Hope to see you here!

Monday, July 18, 2011

So long Sweet Mae

This morning brought the news that we lost Norm's mom. It was just a few weeks ago that we celebrated her 100th birthday. She was a great lady - strong and fearless. I had the pleasure of spending time in the kitchen with her numerous times. We made shoofly pie once. When she said get molasses that's what I did. No one told me that molasses in PA Dutch country is different from down South. It made for an interesting pie. On her visits here in North Carolina we canned apple butter and made cookies. Just last Thanksgiving it was pie again - pumpkin from a pumpkin - not the can. While most of her contributions were of the supervisory nature on these occasions, it was a pleasure and a privilege to take direction from her.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Biscuits....an homage

I know that there are lots of biscuits made and eaten every day and I know that folks think they are good. That’s because they don’t know what real biscuits taste like. A real biscuit tastes good naked – hot or cold. It doesn’t need to be soaked in butter and stuffed with a bunch of greasy stuff. (My personal favorite is bacon, egg and cheese. Yeah! I eat ‘em – but not too often. My grandma’s gone and a girl has to get her biscuit on somehow.) Unless you substitute wall paper paste for the flour, it’s not hard to make a good,  hot biscuit. Any biscuit right out of the oven is going to be good because it’s soft and hot and the butter is going to melt into the little pockets. Once the biscuit cools, its true nature emerges. A bad biscuit is going to be hard and crumbly. You can stick it in the microwave for a bit and get a little more life from it but it isn’t the same. I know this because I’ve made those biscuits many times – from more recipes than I can count. I've decided that it's all in the touch. Grandma passed on her "arm wings" but not her biscuit fingers.

Grandma made biscuits every day; and after raising – and feeding - ten kids along with numerous relatives and friends, I’m sure she could make them in her sleep. In my memories she has a round metal dishpan filled with flour that she replenished as needed. I know she owned a sifter but I can’t bring the picture of her using it into focus. I see her standing by the kitchen table with that pan in front of her. She makes a well in the middle of the flour and scoops the lard into the pan and pours in the buttermilk. A few swirls around the pan and the next thing you know she’s got a piece of dough between her forefinger and thumb – her pinching machine - and rolling it around in her hand. She’d get that little piece of dough the way she wanted and then, using the back of her fingers, she’d pat the dough into a disk and lay it in the pan. Once it was full, she’d pat them all again to make them perfectly level. They were always the same size and shape – the woman was a biscuit-making savant – so they were always uniformly baked…..and uniformly awesome!

Grandma’s biscuits were everything a hunk of dough should aspire to be – light, fluffy, tender inside and a nice, barely-there crustiness on the outside. And I was never at her house that there wasn’t a pan of biscuits, and a bowl with butter, on her table. As wonderful as they were hot out of the oven, I liked them better cold because they were still tender, and the butter – soft from always being out - stayed creamy instead of melting. There was usually a jar of something – most likely molasses – on the table but seriously that was just gilding the lily.

As much as I loved eating her biscuits then, I can truly appreciate them now.  In the shallowness of my youth (I have a different kind of shallowness now) there was no real appreciation for her artistry and the tactile knowledge in her hands - and the years of doing to gain that knowledge - an appreciation that, even as the world was spitting out every kind of convenience, she stood at her kitchen table every day and made those biscuits. I know that I watch this memory through Hollywood’s magic filter – the one that makes the hard edges all fuzzy and glowing. -legends and tall tales begin this way but that’s okay.

Sometimes when I am kneading bread (Qkay…watching the KitchenAid do it) on my kitchen island I think of her standing at her kitchen table and I wonder what she really thought about as she stood there baking yet another pan of biscuits. Did she get the same sense of smug satisfaction that I get when I see my dough rise? Did she like the feel of the dough on her hands – find it therapeutic the way I do - or did she hate how the dough dried her skin? Did she enjoy pulling that pan of flour out every morning or was it just one more chore in her day? I don’t have a house full of hungry kids waiting on me to make the biscuits the way she did for so many years; I think that would alter my perspective a bit but this is what makes me feel better for romanticizing it - for the time I knew my grandmother she didn’t have a house full of kids – unless you count the Sunday dinners - and she still made biscuits. There were rolls in the bread aisle and canned biscuits in the refrigerator section of the grocery store and she still made biscuits. Because of that, I choose to believe there was some part of her soul – large or small - that was comforted by the action of rolling that dough between her hands. Or maybe it was she just knew there was no way the store-bought stuff was as good as hers. It doesn’t really matter except that I hope that either one – or even both – made her happy.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Where it all started....sort of

The first thing I ever cooked was an omelette. I was in 6th grade and brought home a kid's cookbook from the library. I asked my mom if I could cook supper (dinner was the mid-day meal in my childhood) and for some  reason she said yes - much to my suprise. Imagine! Obviously her judgement was impaired by the steady stream of kids in and out her house. All I really remember about that night is that the family- sized omelette was made, filled with jelly as the recipe suggested and my dad ate it and said it was good. I don't remember if anyone else ate it or not....Daddy said it was good. That is the genesis of my love of feeding people.

I had four siblings and my mom ran an in-home daycare - I don't know how she did it (or why she isn't in a home somewhere) except that the convenience food industry ramped up at the right time. Potato flakes, macaroni and cheese in the blue box, Hamburger Helper....a busy mom's best friends. Food that "foodies" would sniff at now but at the time it was almost exotic - at least for us. Chef Boyardee and Old El Paso were our ethnic choices. My mom - like most of the women I knew growing up - worked. Not in the women's lib version of a career woman but the worked-to-help-support-our-family - she didn't have time to lovingly slow cook a sauce or braise a hunk of meat to serve with roasted vegetables.

My grandmothers worked as well - one in a laundry and one on the farm. They cooked but I'm sure neither of them ever thought in terms of whether they "loved feeding people" or "entertaining," but my grandmothers were wonderful cooks...not just my opinion - I've heard many people say so. This is the way I see it: the food can't be that good unless there's a love component somewhere - whether it's the actual doing or the love for the ones being done for. While both were good, they had very different styles. My Big Grandma (she was tall) could do magic with canned biscuits and Shake 'n Bake while my Little Grandma (short, of course) was the epitomy of the country cook - she could probably count on her two hands the number of days that she didn't make a pan of biscuits (more on those later.)

I love to cook. I love to entertain. I love to love people with food. I'm told I do all of those well. We'll see how well I write about it. I'm excited to tell you about the food that was cooked for me throughout my life and the influence that it's had on the food that I cook now.

(BTW...who puts an omelette in a kid's cookbook?)