Every year, as we start February, a not-so-subtle shift in television advertising occurs. The increase in ads for diamond studs and men’s fragrances (think Versace’s Roman archer on a pedestal) are aired with the intent to convince the viewer these objects will demonstrate love.
Since our household fits none of the standard marketing demographics, we never succumb – no champagne to tickle the nose or heart-shaped necklaces to store in the dresser drawer. With a nod to the Victorian card-giving traditions, we may exchange cards although these have been given and then re-given many years over.
Except, this year will be different. With a nod to my friend Kim R. for offering cookie decorating classes at the recent church fundraising auction, Richard and I will enjoy an artfully decorated selection of Raspberry Sugar Cookies and Brownie Rolled Cookies. While I will certainly not be going into the cookie decorating business, I am pleased with my first attempts at decorating these sweet concoctions.
Today was a snowy baking day although I wasn’t ready to make Candy Cane Cookies or Cappuccino Flats. Yes, I know Christmas is just two weeks and a few days away and holiday baking should be in full swing but I am still in Advent mode.
From the autumn section of Beth Dooley’s The Northern Heartland Kitchen and using craisins harvested just a mile from Mom’s Lac Courte Oreilles house, I tried Beth’s Oatmeal Chocolate Chip and Dried Cranberry Cookies, with two small modifications:
Mine include coarsely chopped pecans – a nod to my southern heritage. Each year, Aunt Mini Lou would send a bushel basket sized box of just fallen pecans, raked from her Alabama lawn and mailed to our Wisconsin house. (Although one year she sent Vidalia onions much to the amusement of our postal delivery person.)
The recipe calls for the stiff dough to be dropped by tablespoon but I opted to use my teaspoon scoop as Richard and I prefer petite rather than ginormous desserts.
They might not be the most photogenic, but the crunch of oatmeal and pecans, combined with the sweetness of chocolate and the cranberry tartness make a delicious treat.
While it is officially National Swiss Day (celebratory greetings to all my Swiss cousins!) I have declared this to be Blueberry Day at our house. I am feeling a time crunch to put our freshly picked produce to good use before leaving for Boston – but more about upcoming travels in tomorrow’s post. A Double Good Blueberry Pie is chilling in the refrigerator and Blueberry Lemon Muffins are on the menu as tomorrow’s breakfast treat with a few tucked into the freezer for frigid January mornings.
We estimate one more picking will complete this season’s crop. Our four bushes have produced 16.25 cups thus far; much better than last summer’s yield of only 9.5 cups but not nearly up to the bountiful summers of 2019 and 2020 with 24 and 25 cups, respectively.
The Double Good Blueberry Pie is super easy and, as promised, doubly good with two cups of fresh berries serving as the fruit base in a baked pie shell then topped with two cups of cooked glazed berries. We will add a dollop of Crème Fraîche to make it extra festive.
As I misplaced the paper copy of the Blueberry Sour Cream Muffins (shared by Betty D. last summer) and the web address produced an error message, I spent this morning recipe sleuthing (always a fun task.) The Preppy Kitchen covered my bases – blueberries, lemon and sour cream – although my muffins exclude the streusel topping, all the better to enjoy the berries.
While I am by no means a Francophile, (my time in Paris is limited to an arrival at Gare de l’Est, a quick Metro ride, and a departure from Gare du Nord) my recent book purchases tell a slightly different story. Just days ago at Rochester’s new used bookstore, Garden Party Books, I picked up Monet’s Garden: Though the Seasonsat Giverny in hardcover with gorgeous photo illustrations and a paperback copy of The Paris Seamstress. The Paris Library is downloaded on my iPad ready for next month’s Knit Camp book club; and, last year at this time, The Directors – my library loving, book reading, wine-drinking group of retired friends – read The Bookseller, the first of the Hugo Marston mysteries, where the foul deed occurs on the banks of the Seine. For a 2018 January potluck, The Directors planned an entire luncheon menu with recipes from Monet’s Table: The Cooking Journals from Claude Monet.
With one very inattentive year high school French, my language skills are limited, my wardrobe is far from haute couture and I have never taken a French cooking class but I enjoy the writing and the cooking inspiration offered by Clotilde Dusoulier. Her Chocolate & Zucchini: Daily Adventures in a Parisian Kitchen has been a trusted source for culinary inspiration and yesterday she came through again as I made her easy, not too sweet gâteau au yaourt. The tartness of the yogurt paired with a tablespoon of light rum blend tastefully into a moist yellow cake which I garnished with freshly made blueberry sauce. Yumm!
Bibliography: Books mentioned in this post or on my shelves:
I cannot remember the year I first made these almond flavored cookies but I do remember the kitchen. The front of the house, second floor apartment on 2nd Street, above the chiropractor’s (my landlord’s) office, and across the street from the Brodhead Public Library. That gives me a three-year window of Decembers from 1976-1978. The recipe was part of a multi-year Betty Crocker recipe club subscription (think book-of-month club only recipes) where the tangerine orange recipe box and the first 24 recipe cards were the free gift for subscribing and a thematic packet with 24 additional cards arrived each month for the next two years.
These candy cane cookies are my must-bake Christmas treat. If I make nothing else, it will be these. The result is a shaped cookie without the extra steps of frosting and decorating cutouts or requiring the technical skill of applying the perfect pressure necessitated for Spritz cookies. Although I do own a Sawa 2000 Deluxe Swedish cookie press complete with 24 nozzles, circa 1985.
As we gingerly plan for another Covid Christmas, Mom and I have agreed less is acceptable. She baked only two batches of family traditional sweets – Pecan Crisps (a double batch, of course) and Holiday Fruits – instead of the usual six varieties; to be served with her purchase of Rosettes, Pizzelles, and Sandbakkles courtesy of the St. James ethnic bakers. With what is in her cookie jars plus my Candy Canes and a vanilla cheese cake on a chocolate wafer crust topped with cranberry glaze for Christmas Day, our holiday cookie platter should be merry and bright.
My afternoon bake was oatmeal cookies with sweetened craisins just purchased last week direct from the source at W.D. Zawistowski Cranberries. This cranberry marsh is located on the corner of County E and Victory Heights Circle in Sawyer County Wisconsin. Set back from the road, on the edge of the marsh, the small white concrete block building serves as a berry receiving and sorting center at harvest time, as well as a rudimentary farmer-to-customer sales counter. And, it is just a mile from Mom’s Lac Courte Oreilles cabin.
Cranberries grow on short evergreen shrubs and thrive in acidic marshy soil in the northern climes of our hemisphere – with Wisconsin leading harvest numbers (Go Badgers!). At harvest time, the bogs are intentionally flooded so the lighter-than-water bright red fruit will float to the top and can be scooped or raked for collection. This unique harvesting method, often seen in TV ads promoting cranberry juice, leads to the common misconception that cranberries grow in water.
If your only experience with cranberries is mass market sauce plopped from a can at Thanksgiving you are missing a culinary treat. This versatile fruit provides a tasty addition to any course from appetizer to dessert. And, while I have never planned a menu featuring cranberries in every dish, it could easily be accomplished. I was lucky to make my craisin purchase as this year’s fresh cranberries were sold out after last week’s Stone Lake Cranberry Fest.
The beauty and the bane of summer bounty are the kitchen hours required to transform a morning’s abundance into delicious treats. On blue sky, temperature-perfect days just made for hours of pleasure on my screened porch knitting the 4-Day Fireworks KAL sweater, I joined the women of ages past toiling in summer kitchens. Admittedly, my experience was far more pleasant as my work time was spent in air conditioned comfort with good tunes coming from surround sound. Some of the tasty delights will be eaten immediately and some will be stashed in our small deep freeze to be enjoyed on frigid winter days as a talisman against the cold and a sunny reminder that spring will come, even in the North Country.
My Sunday & Monday garden-to-kitchen yield:
Blueberry Sour Cream Muffins – two dozen regular-sized and 24 minis using a recipe shared by Betty D. from Older Mommy Still Yummy
Having returned from Eau Claire with a large bunch of tartness, tonight we will enjoy a freshly baked crisp, topped with newly mixed Crème fraîche and served with Rhubarb Daiquiris. Mom’s patch is overflowing with hefty stalks, so full my harvest went undetected. In contrast, our small cluster of thin stems barely able to support the large triangular leaves struggles. I suspect the ginormous root system of the neighbor’s black walnut to be the unhealthy culprit. While the tree is gone, the natural chemicals genetically designed to give this once deciduous giant an advantage, may still be contributing to unhealthy dirt. After all – who cannot grow rhubarb?
There are those special foods that simply speak to tradition, to holiday, to holyday.
There is absolutely no reason that Mom’s mouth-watering Pecan Crisps could not be baked year round but we only have them at Christmas and only Mom takes on that loved-filled task to bake a double batch to be stored in the yellow cookie jar. The same is true when making Altar Bread using a recipe from Father Fred Devett, TOR (Franciscan Friars of the Third Order Regular.) Years ago, while in library school, baking altar bread was a biweekly task for Sunday Mass at St. Paul’s Catholic Student Center shared between my friend Hedy and me. While my grad school days are a reminiscent blur of classes, daily flavors of Babcock ice cream, and sunny afternoons on Memorial Union Terrace sitting on the iconic Sunburst chairs, this recipe holds a deep celebration of Spring.
Again, a simple recipe that could certainly be made anytime but now I only bake it for Maudy / Holy Thursday. Not quite truly unleavened as required for Pesach / Passover, while this recipe does not include yeast thus eliminating the time required for it to rise but it does include baking powder to give a little volume and lighten the texture. The blend of unbleached and whole wheat flour, baking powder, just a pinch of salt, milk, and honey combine for a sweet, dense communion bite.