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.
The recipe card reads Cashew Cookies but I always add the extra nomenclature in honor of the gracious hostess and great baker who, years ago, sent me on the road with a fresh batch of these sweet treats. I don’t usually make them. My cookie baking tends towards the quick, crunchy kind without the extra step of frosting. Plus, this frosting calls for browned butter requiring extra vigilance since butter can go from nutty caramel to burnt in just those few seconds when you look away from the stove.
And, of course, there is a story with this recipe — In 1978, I had been invited to teach a summer storytelling class at the University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse. At the time, I was working as a school librarian and going to Library School at UW-Madison. The chance to teach at the academic level, even if only for a week, would have been a great additional to my resume. However, I was seriously considering declining the offer simply due to the math. Even though I would be totally responsible for developing the curriculum, teaching unsupervised and managing all the required paperwork I would only receive an un-degreed TA (teaching assistant) stipend. By the time I covered a week’s expenses – motel, meals, gas and maybe a glass of wine or two – I would be paying the university for the experience. Then a friend connected me with a retired parish housekeeper who loved to host short term guests. It was like a private B&B as Clara baked fresh pastries each morning and when I left at the end of the week she gave me a “care package” for the long (90 mile) journey from LaCrosse to Eau Claire.
And yes, those with a discerning eye will note it is a pistachio and not a cashew atop each cookie as I claim a baker’s prerogative to modify the recipe so these are made with chopped pistachios.
At precisely midnight, we rang the Swiss cow bell, a 1982 souvenir that sits on our kitchen window sill, to usher out the old year in raucous fashion and toasted the new year with a glass of bubbly. Today, my first bake of 2021 is a cherryly delicious welcome to a new year.
Each year we celebrate the Solstice, acknowledging the shortest day, celebrating a holy darkness, and enjoying a special meal. In a year where nothing was as it was supposed to be, it felt even more important last night to gather fresh evergreens, bake a sweet treat and claim tradition.
Needing a recipe that did not require an extra trip to the store since we had already picked up our drive-through, online order, I landed on Easy French Almond Cake from the café sucre farine. Just as promised in the intro, “Incredibly delicious cake and it’s incredibly easy!” I did modify it slightly (a baker’s prerogative) as I replaced the orange glaze and sliced almonds garnish with Cafe Delites’s homemade blueberry sauce. Bon appétit!
In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter, long ago.
Christina Rossetti, 1830-1894