Tuesday, July 21, 2020

"Never touch cake? Pathetic!"

In Jan Karon's In This Mountain, Esther Bolick thinks:
It was hard, very hard, when people couldn't--and, in today's world, wouldn't--eat cake.

When she was coming up, families lived from cake to cake. A cake was a special event, it meant something. Now a homemade, baked-from-scratch cake meant next to nothing.

For one thing, most young people had never experienced such a thing. All they'd ever known was bought from a store and tasted like hamster shavings, or had been emptied from a box into a bowl, stirred with low-fat milk, and shoved into an oven that nearly blew a fuse from being turned on in the first place.

Such a cake could never be your cake, no way, it would be Betty Crocker's or Duncan Hine's cake, and the difference between yours and theirs was vast and unforgivable...

Worse yet was the inevitable declaration: I never touch cake!
 Never touch cake? Pathetic!

I had to bake a cake. No birthdays, no parties, no company. Still, I had to bake a cake. I had everything I needed for Silver Palate's Williamsburg Orange-Sherry Cake with Orange Frosting.

Rather than type the recipe, I found a link (click here) where you can print it, with their link to the frosting.  

Be sure to soak the raisins in sherry the night before you want to bake the cake. 

Esther Bolick will be so proud of you if you do--if not hers, any cake. 

I wanted this to be a short post but couldn't end without showing you the milk glass cake stand we found last winter during those wonderful carefree days when we could wander crowded aisles of an antique mall without worry. Remember them?

It is a Pitman Dreitzer cake stand in Lace pattern that was under $30, found on Poshmark for $100. It's my only piece of milk glass but I think of dear Gladys Taber's milk glass collection when I see it in my kitchen every day.

The milk glass fills the corner cupboard and the old pine cupboard across the family room and at night when the fire burns on the hearth, it sends a pearly glow over the room.
Gladys Taber

 Stillmeadow Album



Saturday, July 18, 2020

Cooling Off With Summer Books

Vogue 1930

Is it hot where you are this week?

I've got my beach hat on and am pretending to be in Cape Cod--the old uncrowded Cape Cod that I posted about on July 24, 2015 post.

My book bag holds the old-fashioned books of Cape Cod by Sara Ware Bassett. They may not be for everyone but if even one of you tries one for a summer read it will be worth the post. And you won't hurt my feelings if you scroll quickly through or exit altogether.

I found a couple of Bassett's books when antiquing years ago and have been adding to them. I've gathered some seaside props from around the house to make the pictures a little more interesting. 

I'll start with Bassett's final novel from 1957, The Girl in the Blue Pinafore.

As in each Bassett novel there is a love story and beautiful scenery that fulfilled my take-me-away to Cape Cod longings. Here's an autumn description dear to me because I would love to be there in autumn as well as summer.

The day was cool, the sea a somber blue ruffled by the east wind into white caps, but across the bronzed marshes the setting sun gilded the tips of the pines and turned to ruby the leaves that still clung to the oats, and the spire of the little white church to gold.

And there are good cooks in each book...
The chicken, broiled as only an experienced chef could broil it, was browned to a turn, the whipped potato a mound of snow, and fresh peas, jelly, and a bit of crisp parsley lent color to the white china edged with gold.

I don't know about you but that sentence rings my comfort-food bell. And all of the good cooks in Bassett's novels make delicious biscuit. Yes, biscuit, singular is also plural. I really like this odd detail from New England days past.

In Within the Harbor, from 1948, there is another description that made me want to be a citizen of the fictional Belleport.
 [My sister gave me this mermaid and since I pretend she's 
from Cape Cod I call her Madison.]

The sea, a deep sapphire, was ruffled just enough to be afoam with whitecaps, and along the dunes and edges of the small salt creeks the vivid marsh grass rippled in the wind. There was a clear, bracing tang in the air, and the sails of the boats scudding outside the harbor bellied white against the blue of the sky.
I've always longed to sail on a day like this. And there's something about marshland that whispers to me, as crazy as that sounds from the mountain girl that I am. And part of this Southern girl would also have been happy in a New England town of the 1940s and 50s.

From The White Sail of 1949 was such a small village.

A sun as bright as the treasure of Midas streamed down upon the village, gilding the ruffled surface of the sea and flooding every inlet that cut the shore with molten gold. The brown fields quickened beneath its warmth, it flooded with radiance the small white houses huddled about the bay, glistened on the cock that tipped the church steeple, turned to drifting splendor the smoke that streamed from the chimney.

And in the village a visitor came for refuge. The young woman went to work in a new shop where her job of transforming the old building fascinated me.

The rooms on the left and right of the hall had been tinted a warm creamy tone, the fireplace had been preserved, small-paned windows put in, and every suggestion she made incorporated. As for the hall, with its Dutch door and vista beyond, at which Myron Fletcher had jeered, even he was found to admit it was the glory of the house.

Hello! Instead of Lorna, our heroine, making it look like a store with shelves, it looked like a home, with pretty things displayed on tables, "scouring the antique shops...interesting prints, candlesticks, vases..."

Is this not a woman after your own heart?

Here's another capable New England woman in 1937's Shining Headlands.

I love the silver engraving on this oldest Bassett novel. Details like this enchant me. 

It is an old-fashioned story about a woman who is very nearly ready to be considered a spinster by the villagers. Thurza Bourne lives on the shore where a "little lane threaded its way in happy-go-lucky fashion down to the shore, wandering in and out of tangles of bayberry, sweet fern and wild roses." It was a place where artists came to paint.

Miss Thurza did not care to wed. She preferred to keep with her own hands the ordering of her life.

But on either side of her immaculate home live two men who hope Thurza will change her mind, one of whom would love to order her around, Luther, and one, Leander, who is perfectly happy to be ordered around himself.

1938's New England Born has a pretty dust jacket and book front.

Bassett often includes the same minor town characters over and over again in her books and many of them are the wise and droll New England characters that you'd expect. Abel is one of them.

Yes, as I said before, silence is golden. The man who's credited with knowin' all there is to be known under high heaven ain't the feller who prattles his knowledge. It's the one that shuts his mouth. He may be blessed with the wisdom of Solomon or he may be the biggest nincompoop alive, but so long as he seals his lips there's no earthly way of determinin' which he is.

Not bad advice from Uncle Abel, right?

In Head Winds, published in 1947, another uncle gives his niece advice.

You're a sensible girl an' have a sensible appetite. I've no patience with this notion some women have of livin' on an unbuttered eggshell until they shrink to a bag of bones. It makes 'em look scrawny an' twice their age, did they but know it. No woman who has a garden to take care of an' does her own housework need fret about her figger. 

I guess those of my readers here who do their own gardening can attest to Uncle Mac's dietin' advice.

The cover on 1953's The Whispering Pine, is my favorite.

I would have bought it for the cover alone. It takes place in Boston and rural Massachusetts instead of on Cape Cod. Two young women from Boston go exploring in the country where one of them ends up buying a house at a country auction just to save the large pine tree from being cut down by one man bidding. I always enjoy a novel where a house is transformed.
The gloomy brown paint was gone! Gone, too, the piazza with the jigsaw trimming which she had so spiritedly detested. Instead a charmingly quaint entrance with an arch for roses framed the doorway...the cottage now wore a coat of soft daffodil-yellow paint, a trim of white, and had green shutters which gave it style and character.

 If anyone is still around after this long book post you deserve a gold star! 

  Have any of you ever vacationed on Cape Cod? Please tell me about it!

Is there a certain place and time period that you love to read about? 

Any beach time planned this summer?

Stay safe and stay cool!

P.S. I'm so fond of this old glass block. If I had a house with a wall or window with ones like it, I'd never tear it down.

One client of ours wanted to keep the plain ones in her second floor bathroom remodel. Here's a pic of it after we installed the live edge counter slab she chose.

Would you have kept it?

Sunday, July 5, 2020

Independence Day Thoughts, A Day Late

She's a Grand Old Flag and I painted her long ago in a primitive copycatting of Childe Hassam's Fifth Avenue flag painting. With no room now to store seasonal decorations other than Christmas things, it's one of the few Fourth of July decorations I still put out each year. I'll explain the hair scrunchies sitting in front of it soon.

 That little card of the Capitol building goes up each year. Will there ever be another year when the Capitol Fourth program on PBS is played to a live audience, do you think?

There always has to be flag bunting on the front porch. 

Back to the hair scrunchies. They are silk and I ordered them from Amazon recently to tame my long hairdo that still has not seen a hair salon in many months. Has yours?

If your hair is long enough to need scrunchies then I must tell you that I love these, two more not in the picture are ones currently in use. They're a little pricey so I don't toss these around like the old cotton ones I had before that had almost snatched me bald!

And snatching me bald leads me to a story of a scary event that happened in my 5th grade classroom, many decades ago. It was a day when our teacher literally snatched a pupil bald. 

I don't remember what the girl did to bring on our teacher's wrath but I vividly remember Mrs. _______ grabbing the girl by her hair, two seats in front of me. She pulled her hair so hard that the girl fell over on the floor, her desk following with a crash.

I'm talking about a heavy old fashioned wood desk, folks, the kind we had in the dark ages. It scared me to death! The girl was screaming and crying and our teacher continued to yell. She pointed her finger at the door and screamed for the girl to go to the office and then she sat the desk back up, a hank of hair clutched in her fist.

You could have heard a pin drop.

The girl never returned to school and guess what? Our teacher never returned either. Word on the playground the next day was that our teacher had been sent to Central State, which everyone knew was the looney bin.

We were anything but politically correct kids back in the 1950s and in those days no one wanted to be sent there.

Why am I telling you this story? Because I wondered as I thought about this post if what really happened was that our teacher was just sent to another school. I know we have teacher's unions that protect teachers' jobs now, police unions that protect their members' jobs, and so forth. 

Is that why few are held accountable now? I know that unions were formed for a very good reason, to protect employees from employers' unreasonable treatment. And yet I wonder how different things would be if unions also policed their own?

If teacher's unions got rid of bad teachers, if police unions got rid of bad policemen and women, if the Catholic church had gotten rid of bad priests instead of shuffling them around...

Please notice that the last thing I'm stupidly advocating is getting rid of good teachers, good policemen, good priests. 

I guess what I'm trying to say is if we all policed ourselves, what a different world we would live in.

Then I remind myself how difficult it is to police myself. Like, was it really necessary for me to eat the small slivers of this meringue, topped by juicy organic strawberries, and that topped by sugared whipped cream everyday until the last morsel was gone? 

Of course not. But it was so good.

Turn oven to 270 degrees. Butter a 9 1/2 inch pie plate. Sprinkle with sugar. Beat six egg whites until soft peaks form, adding 1/4th teaspoon of salt and 1/4th teaspoon of cream of tartar. 

Gradually beat in 1 cup of sugar until stiff. Add 1 teaspoon of vanilla and 1 teaspoon of white vinegar. Slowly stir in 2 tablespoons of cornstarch. 

Spread in pie plate. Bake in 270 degree oven until light brown (I left mine in a tad too long), 1 to 1/2 hours, not opening oven door. Turn oven off and leave in oven for one hour, still not opening door. 

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

An Iron Skillet

Just look at that skillet! Isn't it a beauty? I only use it for one thing--

Buttermilk Cornbread!

It belongs to me and me alone, at least in my lifetime. I alone cook with it, I wipe it out and leave it in the warm oven overnight and hang it back up the next morning where it waits until the next time I make cornbread. I will not risk that finish with any other cooking.

The other three skillets are RH's. He uses them, mostly for country ham or pork chops, and he cleans them. But I also get to use his skillets, which I do for steaks when he doesn't grill out. 

And after I use them, RH cleans them. Because...just because. 

He made sure the pot rack I asked him to make under the shelves he and his brother built for me was strong enough to support these heavy skillets. The shelves are bolted on the other side of the wall in my laundry room. An elephant could swing on this pot rack. Maybe.

The other pots and pans I use all the time hang on the opposite side and I love them the way copper owners love their copper.

My All-Clad pans are workhorses, too. They go in the dishwasher, a definite advantage over the iron skillets. We bought all of them when RH and our sons put Vermont slate on all the many buildings in the compound belonging to one of our famous country music stars.

She's known by her first name only and it has four letters and begins with an R. She's since then sold the property but I still think of her when I use them. I bet she loves good cornbread and probably believes it's no good cooked in anything other than an iron skillet. Look at how well mine is seasoned...

It's a number 8 skillet and for some reason the handle curves down at the end. And I just can't talk about my buttermilk cornbread without giving you the recipe for it.

 Buttermilk Cornbread:

Heat oven to 450 degrees (in my oven that is a little hot), putting iron skillet in while heating. 

Whisk 2 eggs in bowl and stir in 1 1/2 cups buttermilk. Gently stir in 2 cups cornmeal mix (I use Martha White Self-rising Cornmeal Mix).

Melt 1 stick of butter and stir half of it into above mixture. (You don't want to beat it smooth, cornbread batter should be a little lumpy.)

Drop a heaping teaspoon of solid Crisco or lard into the hot skillet in oven and let it heat about 3 minutes, being careful not to overheat it but hot enough so that the batter will sizzle when poured into the skillet.

Remove hot pan from oven and pour batter into it and return to oven for about 18 minutes.

Remove pan of cornbread from oven when golden and spoon rest of melted butter over top of hot cornbread, spreading it around the top. Split and butter cornbread while still hot.

That's some good eating, and our favorite thing to have with cornbread is a pot of pinto beans. I discarded my mother's recipe for pinto beans when I found Angela of The Parisienne Farmgirl's recipe here.https://www.parisiennefarmgirl.com/best-refried-bean-recipe/

She uses hers for refried beans but it also makes our favorite recipe for plain old pinto beans because of her three ingredients that my mother's recipe was missing. 

1. A bottle of beer--Angela doesn't specify Guinness but it is my favorite in pinto beans and in chili and in my Beer Braised Roast Beef (recipe here).

2. Fresh cilantro. I feel so sorry for people who think cilantro tastes like soap because I can't do without cilantro in my pinto beans anymore. No cilantro, no pinto beans for supper.

3. A whole lime, juiced and stirred in before serving. No picture of the lime, you'll have to use your imagination.

And if you want to try the Garden Tacos that Angela makes with her refried beans it's on page 97 of her beautiful cookbook, From France to the Farm.

Angela's YouTube channel is one of my favorites, found here--https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC4P9zhII6woD8WriaQwk6bw 

My Garden Tacos aren't as pretty as hers but they were delicious!

Don't you love the pretty plates I serve all Mexican food on?

I only have two of these W. S. George Bolero Gracia plates but they're just enough for me and RH.

And be sure to save the beer bottle for a vase for the table for this meal, one zinnia is just right in it. I do regret the plain water glass in the picture. RH has several vintage pilsner glasses that would have been cute here.

Is there at least one iron skillet in your kitchen? 

Are you a cornbread fan? Please tell me you don't put sugar in yours! 

The one culinary mistake Southerners can never understand or forgive is to put sugar into cornbread. 
Richardson Wright