About Me

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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, 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?)