Mountlake Terrace Library Blog

Monday, June 29, 2009

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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Comfort Food

I consider myself a bit of a "foodie." I am currently working my way through all of the fine dining restaurants in Seattle in alphabetical order. But I can't say I came from a family of "foodies," though my mother always cooked, mostly from scratch. We were a middle class family typical of the 1950's. There were five of us - my Dad went off to work every day and my mother stayed at home. I have an older sister, an older brother and I was the youngest. I used to feel my family was just like "Father Knows Best," except my mother wasn't as saintly as Jane Wyatt. I, of course, was "Kitten."

When my mother passed away, I saved her little box of hand written recipes and going through them is like going through my growing up years. All the staples of our diet were there -- the Swedish Rye Bread, the Johnny Cake, the Potato Chip Cookies and more. I am struck by the lack of diet friendly ingredients, and yet, I don't think people were any fatter then than they are now.

As I said, I am a bit of a "foodie," so naturally I not only like to eat food, but I like to read about it. I like to read memoirs, too, and fortunately for me, memoirs that talk about food and even include recipes are quite popular now. So I thought I would write my own little mini "food memoir" and share some of my mother's recipes.

"Johnny Cake"
Growing up I never thought we were poor, but when I look at some of the things my mother served, I wonder. Creamed Peas on Toast and Kraft Macaroni and Cheese with bacon or hotdogs cut up in it were favorites. I would have "Johnny Cake" for lunch when I would come home from school (remember when kids could go home for lunch?), and it was basically corn bread with maple syrup on it. But I LOVED it.

History of Johnny

My mother's recipe doesn't seem to be exactly as described but here it is:

1 C. corn meal 3/4 t baking soda
1 C. flour 1 egg
3 T. sugar 1 1/4 C. sour milk
1 1/2 t baking powder 3 T butter
My mother had added a note to "Add molasses for 1/4 C sour milk"
I guess for the baking time, you are on your own since she doesn't indicate it, but I think corn bread usually takes about 25 minutes at 350 degrees. Don't forget to serve it with maple syrup.

"Coffee Cake"
I remember many a Saturday night when my mother would put the ingredients together for the coffee cake so she could pop it in the oven on Sunday morning before church. Nothing like fresh coffee cake. Her recipe card even said, "Delish!"
1 C. milk, scalded 1/2 t salt
3 T. butter 1 cake yeast, crumbed in cooled milk
1/4 C. sugar 2 eggs
3 1/2-4 C. flour
Add butter, sugar and salt to scalded milk. Cool to lukewarm. Add yeast. Add 1 C. flour. Beat with Rotary Beater (I loved that she capitalized that) until well blended. Add eggs. Beat again. Mix in remining flour. Let rest for 5 minutes. Knead and put in bowl. Let rise until double. Push down and knead slightly. Mike into coffee cakes. Let rise until double. Bake at 350 for about 30 minutes.

"Swedish Rye Bread"
Both of my mother's parents came from Sweden and my mother's rye bread was the best. Enjoy!
2 1/2 C. milk 1/2 t caraway
1/2 C. shortening 1 T. salt
1 C. corn syrup 4 C. rye flour
1/2 C. dark molasses 5 C. white flour
1/2 t anise seed
1/2 t fennel seed
Heat milk. Add shortening, molasses, syrup and spices. When lukewarm, add yeast and salt. Place the two flours in a bowl, mix and add liquid. Mix with hands. Let rise 2 hours. Knead. Break into 3 sections. Put in well-greased pan. Rise until double. Bake at 350 degrees 45-50 minutes. Brush 2 t. corn syrup and 1 T. water over top after baking.

"Potato Chip Cookies"
Who knew potato chips and sugar could be so good together!
1/2 C. butter 1 3/4 C. flour
1/2 C. margarine 1/2 C. nuts (optional)
1/2 C. sugar
3/4 C. crushed potato chips
Roll into balls and flatten with fork. Bake in 375 degree oven about 15 minutes.

"7-Layer Salad."This was my mother's favorite dish to take to potlucks. She would always come home and say that everyone "gobbled it up." My mother went to so many potlucks she had her own little round fabric carrying case for her plate and utensils. Not sure why she had to take her own plate. Anyone know anything about that practice? What sets this layered salad apart from the many other similar recipes is that my mother used a large straight-sided pan - 9 x 13 instead of the usual glass bowl.

Assemble in this order:
1 head of lettuce (ice-berg) broken into small pieces
1/2 C. chopped green onions
1/2 C. chopped celery
1 can sliced water chestnuts
1 pkg. frozen peas, uncooked, sprinkled over lettuce
Speak 1 pint mayonnaise over this, then sprinkle 2 T. sugar, then sprinkle 1/2 C. parmesan cheese. Cover with Saran Wrap and refrigerate overnight. Next day, sprinkle about 1/2 jar Bacos over salad. Then cook 1/2 dozen eggs (6), chop and put evenly on top of salad. Top with 4 thinly sliced tomatoes.

Finally, my memories would not be complete without my mother's "Tater Tot Casserole." I think she discovered this recipe after I had left home, because I can't really remember eating it, but thinking about this dish makes me laugh everytime.

1 1/4 lbs. ground beef, browned a bit
1 onion sliced over meat
Pour on:
1 can cream of mushroom soup plus 1/2 can milk
1 large pkg. frozen mixed vegetables (California Blend)
1 can cream of onion soup plus 1/2 can milk. Pour over vegetables.
Top with Tater Tots (large pkg.)
Bake 1 1/2 hours at 375 degrees covered half the time.

Everything you ever wanted to know about Tater Tots

There you have it. Thanks for joining me on this brief walk down the culinary lane of the 1950's and 60's.

Share your family recipes.

If you dare cook any of the recipes I have shared, let me know how they turned out. When we pass down recipes from generation to generation, some of the steps get lost, I think. With the Swedish Rye bread recipe, I'm not sure why it's divided in thirds. Three loaves? It's not clear. And the Johnny Cake...I guess you are just supposed to know how long to cook it.

Speaking of "food memoirs," here are some good ones that you can get at the library and read while you eat what you have cooked.

If you are a foodie, too…watch for our Foodie Book Group starting in October!

Animal Vegetable Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver

I Loved I Lost I Made Spaghetti by Giulia Melucci

Tender at the Bone, Growing up at the Table by Ruth Reichl

Taking Big Bites, Adventures Around the World and Across the Table by Linda Ellerbee

Are You Hungry Dear? Life, Laughs and Lasagna by Doris Roberts

Under the Tuscan Sun, At Home in Italy by Frances Mayes

Monsoon Diary, a Memoir with Recipes by Shoba Narayan

Living in a Foreign Language, a Memoir of Food, Wine and Love in Italy by Michael Tucker

Monday, June 8, 2009

Vacation Blues

Well, here I am back at work after my annual vacation, and I have a touch of the "Vacation Blues." All the planning and anticipation of the trip is over, the trip itself is over and now it's back to the reality of everyday life. There's a bit of a let down there.

As I mentioned in an earlier blog, we were planning on renting a canalboat, AKA a narrowboat, and cruising the Oxford Canal in the UK with our daughter, my sister and my Swedish cousin and her boyfriend. The age range of the group was 24 to 70.

Before we left, I was conjuring up all kinds of bad things that could happen to spoil the trip...what if we all didn't get along? What if it rained the entire time? What if it's boring? What if the boat breaks down or we hit something? Well, my fears were mostly unfounded.

Our boat was called The Damselfly II. The boat had three bedrooms and two bathrooms. It was nicely fitted out with all the necessary equipment to live on the boat -- wine glasses, pots and pans, dishes, bedding, even egg cups.

The first day it rained quite a bit, but after that, most days were like around here in May -- cloudy, some showers, some sun. We ate breakfast and lunch on the boat and dined at whatever pub happened to be near where we moored the boat. We mastered the locks (it helps to read the directions provided).

We also managed to turn around in the "winding hole (pronounced "wind-ing," it's a wider place in the canal that will accommodate the 62' that was our boat) with the help of a fellow in a nearby boat (hadn't read the directions for that).

Our final night, we partied into the wee hours playing songs from our IPhones and singing loudly with only the sheep and cows grazing nearby to hear us.

As an aside, for Inspector Morse fans, I was able to dine at The Trout, a pub near Oxford where Morse and Lewis would often have a pint, and we also had a drink at The Randolph Hotel, another Morse haunt, where the author Colin Dexter is known to hang out. Alas, he wasn't there that day, but the waiter pointed out where he always sits. He added that when Mr. Dexter comes in, if the seat is occupied, he waits patiently in the lobby until the seat is available.

I was able to feed my Celebrity Chef addiction as well - ate at two Gordon Ramsey restaurants (TV's "Kitchen Nightmares" and "Hell's Kitchen") and one Raymond Blanc restaurant (BBC America's "Last Restaurant Standing"). I fancy myself a bit of a "foodie

This was one of those vacations that was so perfect that one hesitates to repeat it for fear the next attempt would disappoint. We all got along famously despite our age and cultural differences, the weather was good, it was not boring at all but relaxing and special, the boat ran wonderfully (all of 3 miles per hour), and we only hit a wall and a tree.

But despite my vacation blues, I am already thinking of something fabulous to do next year. Barging in France perhaps? Bicycling in Holland? Planning is half the fun. And the library has all kinds of materials to help you plan...books, DVDs, computers...or at least, dream.

Click here for some armchair traveling

Share your vacation stories. What was your best vacation? What made it so great? Do you get the Vacation Blues too?