“It Takes a Lot of Doing to Die”: The Bread Thing from A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

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(New feature, so I ramble less) Favorite Quote: “‘You betcha they’d live, thought France grimly. It takes a lot of doing to die.”*

SourceA Tree Grows in Brooklyn, by Betty Smith. As the headline on my copy says, “The American classic about a young girl’s coming-of-age at the turn of the century.”

To be more specific, “a young girl’s coming-of-age in abject poverty in a Brooklyn slum at the turn of the century.” Though it’s more than that, too.

Reading this as a teen, close to the age of main character/author expy Francie Nolan (this is one of few books I know that’s clearly autobiographical but obnoxiously pro-author), I never thought that this kind of abject poverty sounded that bad.

Sure, there were some terrible conditions and events, but that was overshadowed by colorful, close-knit families and neighborhoods and lots of creative food.

And Francie spends her Saturdays as an eleven-year-old much the same way I’d spent mine: hanging out with her brother, hitting up the candy store and library, spending quality hours alone with her book and peppermints, and running errands for weekend meals (Francie = day-old bread and a little ground meat, me = chocolate mousse mix and prosciutto (for my pasta recipe) from the specialty Italian store).

This life comes off as idyllic, at least at the start, because this is all Francie knows. It’s the grown author, not Francie, who makes it clear she goes to bed hungry.

But re-reading now, closer to the age of Francie’s mother, Katie, I see it from her perspective. It’s an intense struggle to bring up kids with practically no resources but a supportive family (drunk husband not included) and ingenuity.

When you can’t afford much besides stale bread and occasional meat, you have to get creative.

When I was younger, I wanted to recreate Katie’s family dinner staple, below. I was curious. I was excited now, to do it for the blog (even if an oven issue delayed it for a few weeks).

Now it’s done, though;

Dear Lord, please never, ever make me have to feed this to my kids. Ever. Amen.

(*Or in Dad’s case, not doing. )

Recipe/Ingredients:

“The Nolans practically lived on that stale bread and what amazing things Katie could make from it! She’d take a loaf of stale bread, pour boiling water over it, work it up into a paste, flavor it with salt, pepper, thyme, minced onion and an egg (if eggs were cheap), and bake it in th eoven. When it was good and brown, she made a sauce from half a cupt of ketchup, two cups of boiling watr, seasoning, a dash of strong coffee, thickened it with flour and poured it over the baked stuff. IT was good, hot, tasty and staying. What was left over, was sliced thin the next day and fried in hot bacon fat.” (Smith 43-44).

A few notes:

-White bread became standard in the late 1800s, so presumably Katie’s bread is white.

-In the 1920s and 30s, white flour was enriched with vitamins and nutrients that people who ate like the Nolans weren’t getting otherwise. We’re in 1912, so the egg is the only source of nutrition here.

-Sliced bread was invented in the late 1920s.

-Now, unenriched, unsliced white bread is way more expensive and difficult to find than enriched, sliced white bread. Attempting accuracy, I wound up with a 2lb bakery loaf that cost $5, pricey by today’s standard.

For everything else, I went as basic as possible.

-I never noticed it before, but this is basically a stuffing loaf.

Process: 

-I couldn’t find a standard weight for a 1912 loaf, but I’m assuming 1lb is closer than two.

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So I cut my 2 pounder in half.

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Here’s a basic yellow onion.  If someone happens to know that a white onion is more on point, holler.

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And a very informative picture of onion dicing, accompanied by basic brown egg that’s probably inaccurately large.

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It’s surprisingly fun to mash bread into a paste with water. As with meatloaf, you’ve gotta get your fingers involved.

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Seasoned, onioned, egged.

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Re-loafed.

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The challenge was actually baking it. The book doesn’t tell us how, and why would it?

I think at this point Katie has a gas (rather than coal) stove, whose heat will be pretty constant, but we’re advanced enough in oven technology at this point that she may be able to adjust that temperature a few different ways.

I went with 350, per usual default, for intervals of 10-20 minutes. It never browned for me, though: I probably could have gone higher.

Meanwhile, I’d always been intrigued by the sauce, especially the ketchup/coffee combination. I bought some Heinz ketchup in a glass bottle, then started a coffee adventure.

It’s a feature of the Nolan household to always have a pot of coffee percolating on the stove. Black coffee (ground at home, stretched with chicory) is the only thing anyone can have whenever they want.  It also has to be the coffee that goes into this sauce.

This was a good push to get out my own glass stove stop percolator again.  image

I’d planned to have a tangent here about how mesmerizing it is to watch coffee percolate out of a stem that’s too tall for the pot (including the story about why my percolator stem is too tall for the pot), but it kind of fails without the video.

Long story short, I finally went to eBay for a stem that was the right size. Also, apropos of nothing you know, my grandparents are awesome.

Anyway, here’s a sauce made out of glass bottle Heinz ketchup, store-brand percolated coffee, pepper, and flour:

(And you ready?)

(Really?)

(I always thought coffee + ketchup would = BBQ sauce…)

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Just admit, this is the pleasantest thing you’ve ever encountered on the blog, including Troll in Central Park and American Airlines Flight 1408.  If you can imagine how it tastes, it’s all that and more.

Meanwhile, after 3 or 4 status checks–

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I decided the loaf was done.

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I sliced some up, poured a little sauce over it, poured the rest of the sauce down the sink, and finally poured some coffee, 1912 slum style, with condensed milk.

Reduced fat condensed milk, which was in the cupboard. But believe me, if this was my kids' dinner, I'd be feeding them every bit of dairy fat my dimes could buy.

I love condensed milk. Opening the condensed milk was my favorite part of the process. This happens to be reduced fat. If this was my kids’ dinner, it would most definitely not be.

It was okay, but I was hungry again before long.

A few days later, I fried up some bacon and used the fat.

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I hadn’t had bacon-fried bread in years. A chunk of this went down well as a toast substitute.

The rest of the loaf is still in my fridge. In the spirit of using all resources available, I’ve been meaning to cut it up and bake it for croutons.

I now consider myself strongly anti-food stamp restriction.

And that’s (very sadly) not a coconut cake.

An Open Letter to American Airlines: Up There, on the Page Link Bar

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Food to follow.

Meanwhile, a bad trip story–that I’d really, really like to get out there–on a new page. https://thatsacoconutcake.wordpress.com/an-open-letter-to-american-airlines/

You’re invited to share your own. And that’s a coconut cake.

Apple Pi Cookies for 3.14.15

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Last year, I felt like establishing a little nerd cred at work. I decided to bring treats in for Pi Day, (3/14, for those of you who haven’t thought of it. This year, incidentally, is special: 3.1415 is a couple digits further into Pi than plain 3.14. I hadn’t thought of that until someone mentioned it on Facebook. *)

In my experience, Pi Day is celebrated with pie. This works well for, say, high school Physics Club**,  but pie’s a tough treat to home-make and then serve to a facility of 50+ employees.

Plus, I can make maybe one full-size pie look and taste decent.

So I did what I usually do when I want to make something that may not exist, and Googled  “pie cookies.”

Many results are variants on this theme:

http://www.ohbiteit.com/2012/11/apple-pie-cookies.html

That doesn’t get around my limited pastry prowess.

Eventually I found these, courtesy of Momables, and originally, Laura Fuentes:

http://www.momables.com/apple-pie-cookies-recipe/

http://www.laurafuentes.com/apple-pie-cookies-recipe/

These are easy, tasty, and both times I’ve made them have been huge hits at the office. So thanks, Momables and Laura Fuentes, you’ve made something wonderful for our last few days as the snow melts and we wait for the 17th.

Since I can take absolutely no credit for this recipe, I won’t post much about my own process. Just a few tips:

-This recipe’s simple to multiply, if you know things like what 1 1/2 of 3/4ths is, and if you’re celebrating Pi Day I assume you do.***

-One Granny Smith might yield quite a bit more than a cup of chopped apple. If you end up with extra, you can boil those in a shallow pan of water until mushy and have yourself some Granny Smith applesauce.  Add cinnamon and caramel as desired.

-Or you can mix the spare apples with the traces of dough left in the bowl and eat by the spoonful, because this dough is the best fricking thing ever and I’m going to look forward to it every March from now on.

Cheers and enjoy.

*So much for my nerd cred.

**I was not a member. I just knew that they had pie.

***Unless you’re me.* Then you’ll have to count measuring cupfuls and wonder why your fourth grade teacher didn’t use measuring cups to make fractions fun.

*Pretty much the theme here is that I am a hard discipline poser and I can’t even come up with my own themed food for 3.14.15. Please enjoy the cookies and still like me, too.

“Daddy, you’ve made a recipe again”: The Pizza from the End of Coraline

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Source: Coraline, by Neil Gaiman, a book a kid in the last few days of summer vacation, who’s not too excited about her family’s new apartment in a big old house, quirky neighbors who seem to keep telling the same stories, and parents who can’t seem to pay attention to her—

                Coraline’s father stopped working and made them all dinner.

                Coraline was disgusted. ‘Daddy,’ she said, ‘you’ve made a recipe again.’

                “It’s leek and potato stew, with a tarragon garnish and melted Gruyere cheese,” he admitted.

                Coraline sighed. Then she went to the freezer and got out some microwave chips and a microwave mini pizza.

                “You know I don’t like recipes,” She told her father […].

                “If you tried it, maybe you’d like it,” said Coraline’s father, but she shook her head. (18-19)

–and discovering an alternate home, family, neighbors, and life through a previously bricked-up door.

                “Yes,” said the other mother. “It wasn’t the same here without you. But we knew you’d arrive one day, and then we could be a proper family. Would you like some more chicken?”

                It was the best chicken that Coraline had ever eaten. Her mother sometimes made chicken, but it was always out of packets, or frozen, and was very dry, and it never tasted of anything. When Coraline’s father cooked chicken, he cooked real chicken, but he did stranges things ot it, like stewing it in wine, or stuffing it with prunes, or baking it in pastry, and Coraline would always refuse to touch it on principle.

                She took some more chicken. (40)

While everything in this new world, which isn’t very big, is designed to let Coraline have fun, feel adored, and eat the food she likes, there’s something off about it from the beginning. When she goes back to her real apartment to find her “old”, flawed, real parents are gone, Coraline must fight through an increasingly twisted “new” world to get back the life she’s just begun to appreciate.

Context: Coraline is a good analysis waiting to happen. I haven’t touched the meaning of apples or hot chocolate in this book. But the pizza from the end seemed best for the blog.

Also, since it’s founding, I’ve hardly been a devout observer of Pizza Week, and this was a way to atone.

Just before her final battle, Coraline is reunited with her parents, back in their real house.

               Dinner that night was pizza, and even though it was homemade by her father (so the crust was alternately thick and doughy and raw, or too thin and burnt), and even though he had put slices of green pepper on it, along with little meatballs and of all things, pineapple chunks, Coraline ate the entire slice she had been given.

                Well, she ate everything except the pineapple chunks. (162)

There’s a lot going here. First, Coraline’s showing some maturity and appreciation by eating her father’s pizza instead of beelining for the freezer again. She’s grown.

Second, the pizza itself is important. Its bad base and weird combination of toppings are physical proof that Coraline’s real father is truly back.  If he, Mr. Jones, had produced a perfectly baked, plain cheese pizza, that would be suspect.

But as it is, it shows that he’s here, in the flesh, still flawed and unchanged. Probably a little frazzled from his time away, and probably scrounging ingredients from the freezer and cabinets, but definitely himself. When she eats the pizza, Coraline knows for sure.

It’s kind of a spin on Jesus eating the fish on the beach.

Recipe: Coraline was published in 2002. It doesn’t specify a setting, but it’s pretty clearly Britain (and thank goodness it never pretends to be anywhere else.)  Both Mr. and Mrs. Jones work from home, on computers.

I’m sure they both still take breaks on the late 90s/early 2000 BBC site, but from what I can tell it’s a little too early yet for BBC Food to be online.

Still, it seems reasonable that Mr. Jones gets his “recipes” from magazines and TV aimed at the same audience as the BBC Food site. With that big assumption (for my convenience), I used this basic pizza recipe:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/how_to_make_pizza_50967

I’m linking it rather than copying it, because if you’re actually making pizza you’ll be better off following those steps than  mine.

Such as it is, the following is for entertainment purposes only.

After all, flawed pizza is the whole point.

Ingredients:  Flawed pizza and scrounged cupboards being the point,  I replaced the semolina with cornmeal. I’m in America and semolina is pricey and requires a special trip to the store that’s farther away.

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I don’t recommend the substitute.

You could argue for using frozen meatballs here, but where’s the fun.

Equipment:  Mr. Jones probably has a pizza stone he’s used once or twice or never, hence the crust that’s alternately raw and burnt.

I used an upside down baking tray, which was just as likely to get the same results.

Process: 

Mixing the dough is pretty straightforward.

Rather than have two lumps of dough that wouldn’t work, I halved the recipe.

7oz + 1 1/4 oz = ...

7oz + 1 1/4 oz = …

Stirred cornmeal and flour, plus yeast.

Stirred cornmeal and flour, plus yeast.

Yeast added, "well" made.

Yeast added, “well” made.

No liquid measuring cup? No problem!

No liquid measuring cup? No problem!

Mixed the oil and water to make a suspension before adding.

Mixed the oil and water to make a suspension before adding.

Added.

Added.

Mixed.

Mixed.

Mixed.

Mixed.

Mixed.

Mixed.

Balled.

Balled.

I left the dough to rise, with not much hope that it would.

I was concerned the yeast wouldn’t work, because it had nothing to eat.

Normally, in breadmaking, you’d mix yeast with a little warm water and sugar. The yeast particles “eat” the sugar, process it, and pass gas, which is where the bubbles and rising action comes from. I questioned how dry yeast mixed straight with these ingredients would activate.

Also, my kitchen was freezing. Eventually I had to turn the oven on and open it.

Still, this was the dough after an hour and a half:

Maybe the yeast could have eaten semolina.

Maybe the yeast could have eaten semolina.

I punched the air out anyway, ’cause it’s fun.   Press down with the heel of your hand. You get a feel for handling dough after a while.

Here’s where my summers working at a bakery/pizzeria really started to come back.

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Note that while I handled and rolled bulbs of pizza dough, assembled pizzas, and prepped toppings (until they thankfully outsourced those job to the pizza pros and put me on the counter full time) I never made the dough itself.

While this dough “rose” more, I prepped these toppings.

I thought Mr. Jones might have had the notion to imitate homemade sausage meat. So I seasoned the ground beef with basic Italian seasonings: oregano, basil, parsley, garlic powder. Some thyme would’ve gone down well, too. I added a little egg white (what was in the fridge, again) to bind it together.

These seasonings are not enough. It also needed breadcrumbs, FYI

Needs more seasoning, and breadcrumbs. But Mr. Jones would’ve done the same.

Mixed.

Mixed.

Then, rather than get raw meat all up in my phone, I took a picture of the “after” meatballs.

Fridge these while other things are going on.

Fridge these while other things are being done.

It’s not a huge challenge to cut a green pepper semi-nicely. Here’s where my summers working at a bakery/pizzeria started to come back:

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Cut out the core.

 

Get rid of that white stuff.

Get rid of that white stuff.

Try, really try not to get the seeds everywhere.

Try, really try not to get the seeds everywhere.

Slice.

Slice.

Dice, if needed for space.

Dice, if needed for space.

Those slices/dices would not have passed pizza place muster.

Then, I started with basic tomato sauce out of a can:

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And added the same seasonings as in the meat, plus a little ground red pepper.

 

 

 

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If I weren’t making *this* pizza from *this* scene of *this* book, I’d go for some onion powder, black pepper, and honey in here, too, which is all I remember of our store’s incredibly addictive sauce recipe.

When this was all done, I gave up on the dough rising:

Oiled bowl.

Oiled bowl.

Floured surface.

Floured surface.

Surprisingly, it rolled out and held its shape.

Roll back and forth with your rolling pin for a few strokes, then give the dough a quarter turn and roll again for an even stretch. Keep going until you have a rough circle.

Roll back and forth with your rolling pin for a few strokes, then give the dough a quarter turn and roll again for an even stretch. Keep going until you have a rough circle.

If you like, pick up the dough, drape it over your fists, and use your knuckles to rotate and gently stretch the center.

If you like, pick up the dough, drape it over your fists, and use your knuckles to rotate and gently stretch the center.

I shook cornmeal over the baking tray and placed the dough, now a base, on it.

About 2-3 tbs. of sauce will be enough. This is a little more than we would’ve been trained to put on saleable pizzas, but what amateurs like me and Mr. Jones tend to like:

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Cheese should leave some red showing through:

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Toppings go in a radial pattern:

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Drained and rinsed pineapple:

As we'll see, I should have dried it, too, and cut the chunks smaller or bought a can of "pieces" instead of "chunks". But it's "chunks" that Coraline leaves on the plate.

As we’ll see, I should have dried it, too, and cut the chunks smaller or bought a can of “pieces” instead of “chunks”. But it’s “chunks” that Coraline leaves on the plate.

Raw meat goes on last, so you can wash your hands efficiently when it’s all done.

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I was scared to put this in my oven on the highest heat, so I put my oven at 425. When the pizza still looked pale after 10-15 minutes (longer than the recipe gives), I turned it up to 450.

I think our oven at work was 500-something.

I think our oven at work was 500-something.

This is too wet.

Smaller pineapple chunks definitely needed! Also, maybe brown the meatballs briefly in a pan first to get some of the excess fat out.

Smaller pineapple chunks definitely needed! Also, maybe brown the meatballs briefly in a pan first to get some of the excess fat out.

But it looks less wet here.

Longtime readers know dramatic food shots have never been a strength of this blog.

Longtime readers know dramatic food shots have never been a strength of this blog.

I ate a slice (leaving the pineapple on), and it was okay.

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I ate another sliver and then realized just how raw this was. Like, actual dough still in the center raw.

I put it back in the oven for a while. Sadly for authenticity’s sake, it baked more, but I still couldn’t achieve burnt patches. Though the weird, heavy texture produced by the cornmeal makes up for that in my opinion.

The meatballs were a little bland, too, but overall it actually wasn’t half bad. Especially cold, when the crust’s issues were less noticeable, the pineapple/meatball combination worked well and the peppers are pretty inoffensive.

A good thing, too, since this was a real investment in time, food, and effort and I had to eat it for 3.5 meals.

Still, if I was a picky eater my dad was a gourmet hobbyist who didn’t quite have his techniques down, I’d have total faith this came from the real him.

Next time: something Lenten. Suggestions welcome.

The Wednesday Woman/Coconut Lady

Cashing in on the Mockingbird Buzz: Pound Cake by Miss Maudie

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*atmosphere*

*atmosphere*

Source: To Kill A Mockingbird. It’s set in Depression-era small town Alabama, mostly in the genteel neighborhood where people can afford extra food. We all love it. We all have mixed feelings about the sequel.

Context: Miss Maudie is a family friend of the main child characters, who’s known for her cakes and gives the kids a adult perspective from time to time.

My friend at The Next Betz Thing actually suggested several weeks ago I try to recreate Maudie’s pound cake. The timing here isn’t completely cynical.

Betz has this to say about that:

For me, some of the most memorable moments in To Kill a Mockingbird were Scout’s interactions with Miss Maudie.  And while Miss Maudie had numerous wonderful qualities as a character, for some reason, the thing that always stuck with me most was the passion with which she guarded her cake recipes from the other neighborhood ladies. 

I like to think the reason it stuck with me most is due to the contrast of a Southern lady’s concern over her cake recipes with the darker backdrop of the Great Depression.  But considering I first read this book when I was in fifth grade, I’m pretty sure it’s more likely that I remember these scenes because I’m really into cake.

When I was a kid, I don’t think I could have imagined a better ending to a conversation with an adult than “How’d you like some fresh poundcake to take home?”  Really, it’s no wonder that Scout and Jem considered Miss Maudie to be a friend

At some point, I’ll also revisit this book for Miss Maudie’s Lane cake. But, just as in the book, she saves this for big-time company and thanking a neighbor who helped out with her burning house, I’ll save it for a major personal celebration, or Easter. Whichever comes later.

Meanwhile, I’ve got an okay grasp on pound cake. So, for everyday use/for the neighborhood kids with big new questions about society and life:

Recipe: Pound cake is pretty classic. It doesn’t vary a whole lot from recipe to recipe. Miss Maudie’s is probaby so good less because she has a secret ingredient and more because she’s got her technique down like that. 

I used a recipe from the 1920s, which wouldn’t be far off hers. A full-pound cake would of course have a full pound of everything, but this one stretches a long way with a little.

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And if that marshmallow lemon cake below piques your interest…

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I’ve always been scared to try that one myself.

But to the pound cake: look how simple the Ingredients are.

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If you can afford to make any cake during the Depression, you can afford to make this.

Equipment: I cheated here in a couple of ways. First is the scale. Miss Maudie’s probably looked like this:

From the 1920s, saved during the leaner years for an appliance budget

From the 1920s, saved during the leaner years for an appliance budget

Mine, pictured with ingredients, does not look like that. It was a Christmas gift during the 2010s, used during the leaner years for an authentic vintage appliance budget. I think Miss Maudie would approve of the thrift

The other way is the pan. Non-stick cookware wasn’t even a twinkle in anyone’s eye until 1938 and beyond, which is why our friend Ida C. the recipe writer uses oiled paper in hers. I will buy an  old non-non-stick pan when I find one and can determine it’s actually food safe by today’s standards.

Meanwhile, non-stick is what’s already in the cupboard. I greased it, but didn’t use paper.  I think Miss Maudie would have saved trees, too, if she’d had the option.

Process:

Cream butter and sugar. Do it properly.

I ran the beaters through it a few times to break it up for the sugar.

I ran the beaters through it a few times to break it up for the sugar.

Then added the sugar a little at a time, to be manageable:

And beat, stopping from time to time to scrape the sides of the bowl or get butter chunks out of the beaters.

And beat, stopping from time to time to scrape the sides of the bowl or get butter chunks out of the beaters.

Remember to beat this for a solid five minutes. Everything follows from well-creamed butter and sugar, which should be a nice, fluffy cohesive mass that’ll take a fourth of the flour with no problem.

Weigh the flour before sifting it with the salt:

Cheater.  Thrifty cheater.

Cheater.
Thrifty cheater.

Not cheating. This part hasn't advanced in centuries.

Not cheating. This part hasn’t advanced in centuries.

Be careful adding the flour, so you don’t tamp down the fluffy siftedness. It doesn’t hurt to sift a second time when adding it.

Added flour.

Added flour.

Beat gently, again to preserve the fluff.

Combined flour.

Combined flour.

This is probably the best time to add flavoring. I used vanilla, plain and simple, but I’d imagine Miss Maudie has a dynamite secret combo, akin to rose and almond, that makes her cake so special.

Speculations are welcome. That’s what this blog’s supposed to be about.

Here, this recipe always throws me. For space’s sake, the steps aren’t in chronological order: you have to read the whole thing to know how to start (like, how hot to preheat the oven).

I’m bad at reading recipes all the way through in the best of times, so if you’re anything like me, your eggs aren’t beaten until thick right now either.

Though I'm sure Miss Maudie's are.

Though I’m sure Miss Maudie’s are.

If you rinse your beaters now, this will take a minute or two. It’s about twice as long by hand, plus one or two sore biceps.

But hey, it's good for you. Notice how the volume's increased.

But hey, it’s good for you. Notice how the volume’s increased.

Slowly combine the eggs into the batter. Again, those bubbles are what makes your cake not an inedible brick, so be careful not to flatten them.

This can also be combined by hand.

This can also be combined by hand.

It doesn’t hurt to sift the flour/salt mixture again before adding it. It’s had time to settle by now, after all.

At least I think so, otherwise I'm not sure why I took this picture.

At least I think so, otherwise I’m not sure why I took this picture.

By now, folding the dry ingredients in with a rubber spatula is pretty easy, and the most fool-proof method.

Rubber spatulas, incidentally, would have been in use in an experienced cakemaker’s home in the 1930’s.  It took at least six Google searches to come to that conclusion. Soon I will get myself to the library and do this properly.

Though I doubt Miss Maudie's spatula came from the accessory room at Ikea.

Though I doubt Miss Maudie’s spatula came from the accessory room at Ikea.

Anyway, be strong but gentle. Scrape the sides of the bowl, lift the batter up from the bottom, and keep scraping, lifting, and swirling until you don’t see any more white.

Eventually, the batter should pull away from the sides of the bowl on its own. It should all hold together. I’ve learned that when you see this, you’ve done right, and you’re on your way to a nicely risen cake.

Almost there.

Almost there.

It should just fall into the pan in one big fall of pale gold goodness, and not leave much into the bowl to lick.

Not licked at all, FYI.

Not licked at all, FYI. That’s spatula smoothing there. Still working on getting that perfect. 

You need a free morning or afternoon for this cake. The good news is, once it’s in the oven for it’s hour and forty five minutes, you’re tied to the house with nothing to do but that project you’ve been putting off. Clean the bathroom, read a few chapters, sketch out the next blog post, reassure the kids on your porch who wondering why some people are so mad about what their dad’s been doing at work lately, etc.

I confess my oven was too hot to start with, and I didn’t have time to let it cool down. So this is a little dark and dense on top.

IMG_0435

But it slid out of the pan nicely, even without oiled paper.

IMG_0437

And has that singular pound cake glow inside.

IMG_0439

Ready to serve.

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Coming soon: for Pizza Week 2015, a post that’s not about cake.

Cheers,

The Wednesday Woman

That’s a Coconut Cake Part 2

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Continued from Part 1 . A reminder:

Lady Baltimore cake involves dried fruit somehow, right?

Mrs. Skinner: I collect pictures of cakes that I clip out of the magazines. It all started in 1941 when “Good Housekeeping” featured a photo of a lovely cake. [opens album]
Bart: You wouldn’t happen to have any real cakes around here, would you?
Mrs. Skinner: Oh, my, no. I don’t care for cake, too sweet. Now, this is called a Lady Baltimore cake. [points to a picture] At my age, I don’t have much saliva left, so you’ll have to lick my thumb before I can turn the page. [gives Bart the thumbs-up]
Bart: Oh, can’t I just turn the page for you? [reaches for the page]
Mrs. Skinner: [slaps Bart’s hand away] No! But you can pick out any picture you want to take home with you.
Bart: Okay … that one. [points]
Mrs. Skinner: [slaps Bart’s hand away] No! You can’t have that one! That’s a coconut cake!

Today, we’re making that coconut cake. And trying a standardized format for “food from fiction” posts.

Source: It’s The Simpsons. You can Google it. The reference comes from Season Eight, which people who think about The Simpsons a lot tend to see as a transitional stage. Around here the non-sequitors (more so than this one) and darker (or mean-spirited) humor that characterizes later seasons starts to creep in.

Some see this point  as the end of the real Simpsons, though I don’t notice a true drop in quality for another three or four seasons on.

After all, the coconut cake has always stuck with me.

Context: Mrs. Skinner (Agnes) helpfully names the year and publication her scrapbook started from. The coconut cake is only a few pages in, so it’s a safe bet the picture was published in 1941 or 2.

Conveniently, wartime rationing in the US began in 1942, so we can use as much butter and sugar here as we want.

Recipes: After Googling “1940s coconut cake”, following lots of awesome Pinterest boards, and either not finding what I was looking for or not wanting to plagiarize another blog, I went back to my own cookbook collection.

One ration-era recipe booklet has a “sugarless” white cake I could have adapted, but I balked at the cup of corn syrup involved (apparently the army didn’t want much of that.)

In the end, I split the difference with a pretty basic 1920s cake, and a 1960s frosting (which lines up with many of the older coconut frosting recipes I found online).

So cake, from Mrs. Allen on Cooking, 1924:

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And frosting, from The Modern Family Cookbook, Meta Given, 1964

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Notes on Ingredients: I used period brands when available (Swan Cake Flour, Argo Cornstarch).  It also hit me, after buying a carton of egg whites, that I should probably separate my own eggs.

This is a two-handed job, so no step-by-step photos available, but I’m sure some blogger out there has a great tutorial if you don’t know how to do it. Speaking of,

Eggs: it also hit me that Mrs. Allan might use so many eggs in most of her cake recipes because in her day eggs were smaller. But buying smaller eggs meant buying eggs in styrofoam, and in the end the environment won out over authenticity.

Besides, if anything, this cake could use more egg.

Coco(a)nut: I couldn’t find “moist-packed” (canned or frozen) coconut, and it’s not a good time of life to break open and grate a fresh one. So for the frosting, I soaked dried coconut (from the baking aisle) in coconut milk.

Presumably, coconut milk’s been available in the US since not long after the Bakers started importing packaged coconut meat in the 1890s.  Again, the war(s) might have disrupted this, but we’re safe in 1941 now. Which means,

Butter/Shortening: We’re free to use butter as a shortening substitute. Shortening makes good cake, and might make a better cake than butter in this case, but I wasn’t willing to buy a full package and use an eighth of it.  Those who are should.

Equipment:

An egg separator would have been helpful. I don’t own one, so it was the shell-to-shell method for me.

Electric mixer: The first hand-operated rotary mixer was patented in 1856. Electric mixers became common for home use in the 1920s. Production of home appliances in the US stopped during World War II, but even if you’d made this cake post-1942 you’d probably have your old mixer to use. So I’m using mine.

Oven/stove: In all these projects, my oven will be the oven. Even when I get into Dickens-era stuff, I’m not going to rent out a coal stove. Unless my SCA buddy can hook me up, we’ll have to concede this one.

Double boiler, sifter, bowls, pans: Can’t have changed much, apart from materials. My two 9-inch layer pans are not in this location, so I used a single 8-incher, which turned out to be a good size. For two layers, I’d double this recipe.

Process: To start, here’s 4 tablespoons of butter in a bowl.

FYI, 4 tbs of shortening will look different.

FYI, 4 tbs of shortening will look different.

Here’s the butter after it’s creamed and scraped out of the beaters:

I like to break it up a little before adding the sugar.

I like to break it up a little before adding the sugar.

Starting to add sugar...

Starting to add sugar…

One thing I’ve learned about cake making is that you have absolutely got to cream that butter and sugar properly. For the cover photo cake above, I creamed it for five full minutes, timed.  I didn’t time this one, but did keep going until the lumps of butter were gone and it all came together in one whole, fluffy mass.

Thank the Food Network site for the five minutes tip.

Thank the Food Network site for the five minutes tip.

To avoid washing the beaters, I beat the egg in a separate bowl with a fork:

Hello yellow.

Hello yellow.

For flavoring, I used vanilla extract, but almond or citrus would also be good:

You could also blend the flavoring with the egg before adding.

You could also blend the flavoring with the egg before adding.

I then failed to take a picture of the egg combined with the butter/sugar, but you want that to be pretty smooth, too.

Next step. When you’re sifting a flour mixture, it’s a good idea to put the sifter in the bowl, then add the ingredients to the sifter.

Like this. Cornstarch and baking powder are a different shade than the flour.

Like this. Cornstarch and baking powder are a different shade than the flour.

After the first sift, I put the sifter on a plate, then poured the mixer back into the sifter from the bowl. You could also get two bowls going here.

First sift.

First sift.

Second sift.

Second sift. Isn’t this exciting?

From there, I sifted right into the main mixture.

It can get messy.

It can get messy.

Mrs. Allan doesn’t specify how many times we should alternate adding the milk and flour mixture, so I went for the standard three, beating “vigorously” after each dry and wet ingredient. The pictures show the batter through each step.

This could get boring quickly.

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At least you can see it grow?

At least you can see it grow?

Finally.

Finally.

Cooking spray was invented until 1961, so I cheated by using PAM on the pan. On the other hand, it was that or olive oil.

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I started to pour the batter in before I remembered the point of the whole exercise.

You can see the coco(a)nut!

Coco(a)nut

And this picture:

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While it was baking, I did frosting.

I discovered in the planning stage that I couldn’t use a mixer for this, because the kitchen outlets are all too far from the stove. I proceeded anyway, figuring I could attempt to beat by hand.

The ingredients made this look pretty daunting.

How much beating doe it take before someone wants to eat this?

How much beating doe it take before someone wants to eat this?

Eventually I came up with a work-around. I’d beat the frosting by hand over the double boiler for a minute or two, then take the whole system–

Careful, you do not want this on your floor.

Which looked like this, only filled with sticky/boiling stuff you don’t want on your floor, at all.

–Over to the counter, where I electric mixed for a few more minutes over the still-hot water.

After several sessions of this, I decided it was done.

Twelve minute frosting.

Twelve minute frosting.

And unpanned the cake.

image

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Since you’ve invested so much hard work in making this frosting, it’s only fair that it spoons over the cake without much fuss.

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Meanwhile, about 3/4ths of a bag of coconut had been soaking in coconut milk in the fridge.

Incidentally, this is what coconut milk looks like sitrred and poured out of the can:

Guess I better make some Thai.

Guess I better make some Thai.

And here’s what coconut milk looks like mixed with coconut:

This stuff is a fat bomb.

Thanks to the milk, every spoonful’s a fat bomb.

And, pressed over the cake:

*fanfare notes*

*fanfare notes*

It won’t be featured in Ladies Home Journal any time soon, but maybe it’s what readers came up with when they followed the recipe in the ad/article.

Here’s a close up:

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And the inside:

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Before I cut into it, I thought the cake needed one more touch to remind us what this post was all about in the first place.

There we go.

There we go.

And there’s a picture of the coconut you can’t have.

Until next time,

The Wednesday Woman

PS: Requests are accepted.

That’s a Coconut Cake! Part 1

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(Update: see the finished cake here)

What happened was, I’d been in the mood to attempt a coconut cake.

I will never not associate coconut cake with one of my favorite moments ever in The Simpsons, from Season 8: 

Lady Baltimore cake involves dried fruit somehow, right?

Mrs. Skinner: I collect pictures of cakes that I clip out of the magazines. It all started in 1941 when “Good Housekeeping” featured a photo of a lovely cake. [opens album]
Bart: You wouldn’t happen to have any real cakes around here, would you?
Mrs. Skinner: Oh, my, no. I don’t care for cake, too sweet. Now, this is called a Lady Baltimore cake. [points to a picture] At my age, I don’t have much saliva left, so you’ll have to lick my thumb before I can turn the page. [gives Bart the thumbs-up]
Bart: Oh, can’t I just turn the page for you? [reaches for the page]
Mrs. Skinner: [slaps Bart’s hand away] No! But you can pick out any picture you want to take home with you.
Bart: Okay … that one. [points]
Mrs. Skinner: [slaps Bart’s hand away] No! You can’t have that one! That’s a coconut cake!

I planned to blog about the coconut cake and use this quote as a title.

Turns out someone already did it (and do I ever admire her no. 3 round tip skills), but there’s got to be plenty of Simpsons/cake crossover love to go around online.

That said, why not take it a step further?

Why not try to recreate a cake as near as possible to the one in Mrs. Skinner’s (Agnes’) scrapbook?

I mean, why bother compulsively buying cookbooks from antique stores if you can’t use them as a reference base in constructing an elaborate late-nineties pop culture reference?

And while you’re at it, why not read up a little on period food availability and kitchen technology so you can replicate the coconut cake Bart can’t have a picture of using the same ingredients and equipment available to the average reader of a ladies’ magazine in 1940s Anytown USA?

(We’re assuming the cake isn’t only a lie put forth by magazine artists for egg-and-sugar-strapped wartime consumers to slobber over.)

As silly as this idea is, it set a fair number of my dork nerves all a-tingle, and then I thought–

Why stop with coconut cake?

I’d already planned to turn this into a food blog. While I may have other things or say or post sometimes, food makes for the snappiest posts with the strongest readership. And focusing on one subject would give this blog a much needed sense of direction.

To that end, I’ve weeded out the archives, keeping most of the old food posts and a few others. I’ve given The Wednesday Woman a new title, which as a bonus could snag unsuspecting Googlers looking for the Simpsons Wiki.

And also–

It’s a good title for a new theme, of “Making food from books or shows or movies I like (or don’t)”.

I’m not the first person to have this idea. I’m pretty sure someone’s doing it for George R. R. Martin.  Still, there’s got to be enough love or tolerance for the food/fiction to go around.

Plus I’d love doing it. I’d get to rant or rave a tiny bit, do a little contextual research and analysis, then go nuts in the kitchen.  And if the process is inherently interesting, to me at least, the pressure’s off somewhat for making something edible (i.e Extreme Baking Fundamentals Challenge: Jack’s birthday cake, from the first few pages of Room. Then I can shut up about the book forever.)

If the idea goes over well, I’ll keep it up. Of course the entries will be pretty work intensive and won’t happen every week, or even every two. Some weeks I’ll write about lunch and some I won’t write at all. Sometimes I might still try for something completely different. 

But for now, I’ll be looking up illustrated cake recipes from Ladies Home Journal in the early forties.

A final thanks to my many coworkers who eat things for me. Hope some of you like coconut.

Cheers,

Still The Wednesday Woman

A Post about Sticky Nuts

After a couple months focused on fiction projects, travel, and unpredictable work schedules, I finally had a chance to bake something and post about it. The holiday theme may seem a little behind the times, but keep in mind on this blog we celebrate Christmas for 12 days.

(We also take time out of our 12 days to post if we’ve been really, really lax in posting.)

Normally fudge making/packing is a big part of my Christmas prep, but this I decided to try something a bit different for office gifts. The recipe inspired me back in August or so, when I bought a new old cookbook.

Here's your recipe. I won't rewrite it, because Amy VanderBilt says it better than me and I have something besides this to finish today.

Here’s your recipe. I won’t rewrite it, because Amy VanderBilt says it better than me and I have something besides this to finish today.

And here's said book. Read more about Amy Vanderbilt here.

And here’s said book. Read more about Amy Vanderbilt here.

My coworkers may not have everything, but I thought they’d still like something delicious for Christmas. I figured on about 1/4th a pound of glazed nuts per person, so doubled the recipe.

That said, there's now a mixing bowl of leftover nut syrup gelling in my fridge. A big mixing bowl.

That said, there’s now a mixing bowl of leftover nut syrup gelling in my fridge. Any ideas on what to do with roughly five cups of cooked processed sugar are appreciated.

Combining the sugar, molasses, and corn syrup was easy enough. It struck me then that this wasn’t the most photogenic food I’ve ever made.

Even if it hadn't been a few weeks I wouldn't know which of these photos was which.

Even if it hadn’t been a few weeks I wouldn’t know which of these photos was which.

I think the spoon in that pan is meant to represent the initial mixing, so believe me when I say there’s a delightful sludge being swirled in the bottom of that molasses.

Speaking of molasses, a tablespoonful of blackstrap molasses provides about 70% of your daily iron needs. Add some to a mug of hot water for a non-caffeinated-coffee-tasting afternoon pick-me-up. You can even add a little milk or lemon.

Enjoy while waiting for your syrup to boil.

Enjoy while waiting for your syrup to boil.

At this stage, I was at a loss for syrup cooking. I didn’t have a candy thermometer, and hadn’t bought one since I expected one for Christmas. Google and Amy Vanderbilt told me only that the “hard crack stage” was about 300 degrees F. Try Googling “how many minutes to hard crack stage” and tell me how much helpful advice you can find about getting there without the thermometer.

From the pictures' order, I'm guessing this happened for a while.

Early, reflective syrup. If you look closely you’ll see a lovely view of my stove vent.

The only choice was to drop some syrup in a cup of cool water every few minutes, hoping eventually it’d form a hard, cracked ball.

Instead the syrup kept spreading into pale gold spots in the water, photos of which are useful to no one.

Something did seem to progress after ten or fifteen minutes:

Foamy action.

Foamy action.

More distinctive foamy action.

More distinctive foamy action.

Coke-like action.

Coke-like action.

At about 18 or 19 minutes, the syrup bubbled up to twice its size. A few rounds with the wooden spoon brought it back down. I tested a drop in the water again, and with no hard cracks to be found, thought this would be a good time to line some Seinfeld up on the Roku and finally get to work on decorating the tree.

FYI, this happens multiple times.

FYI, unattended, this will keep on going.

(Not pictured: brown puddles on stove top. Non-picture’s caption: “If you thought you had fruit fly problems before…)

Before long I found an answer to my earlier question: it takes syrup 20-25 minutes to reach 300 degrees. Unfortunately by then I’d taken my syrup off the heat and moved it to another ring. Rather than call this one a loss and try again tomorrow, I went for the reheat.

25 minutes went by. I stirred attentively. At the end, with work looming, the nuts were very hastily spooned into the glaze.

Actually, I dumped them in one bag at a time, plastic then paper, stirred them around, and lifted them out by the slotted spoonful.

Nuts in syrup. Note that it's nice and glossy, but real hard crack glaze will likely be clearer and glossier. It's still a nice view of some cabinets, though.

Nuts in syrup. Note that it’s nice and glossy, but real hard crack glaze will likely be clearer and glossier. This is still a nice view of some cabinets, though.

Per Amy, I spread the nuts on sheets of wax paper to dry, insomuch as they would

The spoon is glazed, so there's that.

The spoon is glazed, so there’s that.

When I went to box them the next morning, I found the glaze on the nuts hadn’t hardened. They were tasty, but incredibly sticky.

Like, snacking on these nuts is its own intensive project, or else your fingers will stick to your puzzle pieces or keyboard or his shirt buttons or whatever.

I lined my gift boxes with wax paper instead of tissue.

Or, I tried one with tissue, took the picture, then switched the paper out.

Or, I tried one with tissue, took the picture, then switched the paper out.

Later I realized I'd left a coworker out of the count. If she's reading this, I'm so sorry and I'll make you something else nice ASAP.

Later I realized I’d left a new coworker out of the count. If she’s reading this, I’m so sorry and I’ll make you something else nice ASAP.

I told the ladies at the office that these were “sticky nuts” and I recommended they eat them at home. When I put the leftovers out in the breakroom, I left a post-it to warn about the stickiness. The leftovers did not all go.

I’ll try again with a thermometer sometime. For Valentine’s Day, I’ll make fudge.

Wash your hands,

The Wednesday Woman

Nine Ways to Enjoy Your Haunt Experience (While Spoiling it For Others)

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Content
Credit where credit is due: http://www.amazon.com/ANUMAN-INTERACTIVE-Haunted-House-Mysteries/dp/B00FXVIPAS

It’s that time of the year again! (It has been for a month). If you’re hitting a haunted attraction for Halloween, here are some ways to make it great. For yourself.

1. If entering with a fearful child, SO, spouse, or friend, position him/her in such a way s/he can be easily used as a shield or decoy.

For instance, the around-the-waist, front-facing hug works especially well for girlfriends. Reassure her of her safety if she mentions how close this is to a hold abductors use.

2. If on entering, you are the fearful one, sublimate your fears by making a joyful noise. Use any praise songs you remember from VBS (i.e here ). Bonus points if you whap a ghoul across the head while doing the motions. Double bonus points if the devil is involved (30-second sample here here, starting :28ish.)

3. You can also sublimate your fears by putting on a tough persona. Remember, nothing’s more courageous than telling
heavily made-up non-mainstream drama geeks they suck and look lame.

4. On the other hand, if you belong to the Be Nice campaign, Be Nice. When the pale, hollow-eyed girl in the rust splattered cage groans about being hungry, offer to buy her Taco Bell. She will love you. You will not be the 52nd person to make the offer tonight.

5. If you remain fearless, sneak behind a monologuing actor and put the fear in him. You’ll be surprised what one little “Boo” can do.

6. If you have any haunt savvy, now is the time to verbalize it. Now means all of now:

“That’s an actor pocket…that’s an actor pocket…someone’s gonna jump out of that shower…there’s a drop panel…that picture’s a drop panel…one of these corpses is real, yep…nope, this is a fakeout, this is not the real ending, this is totally not the end…that’s a pocket, but it’s empty, they must be really understaffed tonight…Hey! We used that Demonic Dino-dog back in ’08! Oh, memories,” etc.
Carefully point everything out as you speak, to be sure other paying customers are relieved of all tension.

7. When needed, verbalize loudly.

“OMG! OMG! THEY’RE PLANTS! THEY’RE PLANTS! I’VE NEVER ACTUALLY SEEN CUSTOMER PLANTS!”

This is so the group behind you will not be surprised when the scared couple in UofM sweatshirts they see up ahead get throttled by a wall dweller.

8. If your fear gets the better of you and you’re escorted backwards through the show by an actress who does a bang-up job staying in character, to preserve the other patrons’ experience, balance her performance (and preserve your dignity) by doing the chicken dance as she shows your wuss ass the exit.

9. On exiting, don’t wait until you reach the car the comment on how unfortunate it is that they cast all the black kids in that voodoo section. It’s unlikely that said kids, who are still in earshot, have noticed this themselves.
I don’t plan to say which of these I’m guilty of.

Happy Halloween from

The Wednesday Woman

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