THE INVISIBLE MOM

I don’t know who wrote this, but I appreciate the sentiments–Sandy

THE INVISIBLE MOTHER

It all began to make sense, the blank stares, the lack of response, the way one of the kids will walk into the room while I’m on the phone and ask to be taken to the store.

Inside I’m thinking, ‘Can’t you see I’m on the phone?’

Obviously not; no one can see if I’m on the phone, or cooking, or sweeping the floor, or even standing on my head in the corner, because no one can see me at all. I’m invisible. The invisible Mom.

Some days I am only a pair of hands, nothing more! Can you fix this? Can you tie this? Can you open this??

Some days I’m not a pair of hands; I’m not even a human being. I’m a clock to ask, ‘What time is it?’ I’m a satellite guide to answer, ‘What number is the Disney Channel?’ I’m a car to order, ‘Right around 5:30, please.’

Some days I’m a crystal ball; ‘Where’s my other sock?, Where’s my phone?, What’s for dinner?’

I was certain that these were the hands that once held books and the eyes that studied history, music and literature — but now, they had disappeared into the peanut butter, never to be seen again. She’s going, she’s going, she’s gone!

One night, a group of us were having dinner, celebrating the return of a friend from England . She had just gotten back from a fabulous trip, and she was going on and on about the hotel she stayed in. I was sitting there, looking around at the others all put together so well. It was hard not to compare. I was feeling pretty pathetic, when she turned to me with a beautifully wrapped package, and said, ‘I brought you this.’ It was a book on the great cathedrals of Europe .

I wasn’t exactly sure why she’d given it to me until I read her inscription:

‘With admiration for the greatness of what you are building when no one sees.’

In the days ahead I would read – no, devour – the book.
And I would discover what would become for me, four life-changing truths, after which I could pattern my work:

1) No one can say who built the great cathedrals – we have no record of their names.

2) These builders gave their whole lives for a work they would never see finished.

3) They made great sacrifices and expected no credit.

4) The passion of their building was fueled by their faith that the eyes of God saw everything.

I closed the book, feeling the missing piece fall into place. It was almost as if I heard, ‘I see you. I see the sacrifices you make every day, even when no one around you does.

‘No act of kindness you’ve done, no sequin you’ve sewn on, no cupcake you’ve baked, no Cub Scout meeting, no last minute errand is too small for me to notice and smile over. You are building a great cathedral, but you can’t see right now what it will become.’

I keep the right perspective when I see myself as a great builder. As one of the people who show up at a job that they will never see finished, to work on something that their name will never be on. The writer of the book went so far as to say that no cathedrals could ever be built in our lifetime because there are so few people willing to sacrifice to that degree.
When I really think about it, I don’t want my son to tell the friend he’s bringing home from college for Thanksgiving, ‘My Mom gets up at 4 in the morning and bakes homemade pies, and then she hand bastes a turkey for 3 hours and presses all the linens for the table.’ That would mean I’d built a monument to myself. I just want him to want to come home. And then, if there is anything more to say to his friend, he’d say, ‘You’re gonna love it there…’

As mothers, we are building great cathedrals. We cannot be seen if we’re doing it right. And one day, it is very possible that the world will marvel, not only at what we have built, but at the beauty that has been added to the world by the sacrifices of invisible mothers.

AUTHOR UNKNOWN but isn’t this a wonderful tribute for mothers everywhere?

–Sandy

Easter Greetings 2014

Easter Greetings

So often we lose sight of the original (or perhaps not so original) reasons for celebrating holidays such as Christmas, Easter and other events that were originally pagan holidays. When Christianity was in its fledgling years, the church elders wanted to steer people away from celebrating pagan holidays and instead, celebrate Christian ones, so many Christian holidays were built on a foundation of a pagan one. Sounds confusing? It is.
From Wikipedia we learn that Easter (also called the Pasch or Pascha) is a Christian festival and holiday celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ on the third day after his crucifixion at Calvary as described in the New Testament. Easter is the culmination of the Passion of Christ, preceded by Lent, a forty-day period of fasting, prayer, and penance. The last week of Lent is called Holy Week, and it contains the days of the Easter Triduum, including Maundy Thursday (also known as Holy Thursday), commemorating the Last Supper and its preceding foot washing, as well as Good Friday, commemorating the crucifixion and death of Jesus. Easter is followed by a fifty-day period called Eastertide or the Easter Season, ending with Pentecost Sunday.

What adds to the confusion is that Easter is a moveable feast, meaning it is not fixed in relation to the civil calendar. The First Council of Nicaea (325) established the date of Easter as the first Sunday after the full moon (the Paschal Full Moon) following the March equinox. (I can write it down much easier than I can explain it to anyone).

Ecclesiastically, the equinox is reckoned to be on 21 March (even though the equinox occurs, astronomically speaking, on 20 March in most years), and the “Full Moon” is not necessarily the astronomically correct date. The date of Easter therefore varies between 22 March and 25 April. Eastern Christianity bases its calculations on the Julian calendar whose 21 March corresponds, during the 21st century, to 3 April in the Gregorian calendar, in which the celebration of Easter therefore varies between 4 April and 8 May.

But, like so many Christian holidays, Easter is linked to the Jewish Passover by much of its symbolism, as well as by its position in the calendar. In many languages, the words for “Easter” and “Passover” are etymologically related or homonymous. Easter customs vary across the Christian world, but attending sunrise services, exclaiming the Paschal greeting, clipping the church and decorating Easter eggs, a symbol of the empty tomb, are common motifs. Additional customs include egg hunting, the Easter Bunny, and Easter parades, which are observed by both Christians and some non-Christians. Try explaining to any non-Christian how it is that Christians celebrate Easter and credit the Easter Bunny (which does not lay eggs!) with putting colorful eggs in a basket or hiding them in the back yard.

EASTER MEMORIES

The onset of Easter is on Ash Wednesday. Having gone to Catholic grade school, we went to mass every day before classes began, so on Ash Wednesday everyone walked around school with a black smudge of ash on their foreheads. Then we always made a big deal about what we were giving up for lent. The usual things were candy, soda pop, movies (not that we had very much of any of those things to begin with). In my family we always had some kind of fish on Fridays and there wasn’t that much meat to go around anyway.

I do remember my mother placing orders for new clothing from Sears or Montgomery Ward but the highlight of pre-Easter celebrations was going downtown to Schiff Shoes to get a new pair of shoes. These would become our new Sunday shoes and the old Sunday shoes would become everyday shoes. I think most of our shoes were functional, seldom dressy (until I got old enough to buy my own). I leaned heavily towards penny loafers and rarely wore saddle oxfords.

The Stations of the Cross would be said – I think – on Wednesday and Friday evenings. The statues inside church would be covered with purple cloths during Lent. In retrospect, I see that much of our lives revolved around the Church. Our church was St Leo’s, just down the street from my grandmother’s home. My father, uncle and aunt all went to St Leo’s too. My grandparents bought this three storied brick house when my father was about seven years old. Aunt Annie was a toddler who only spoke German and she got lost in the shuffle of the move. My father was sent to find her. I imagine most of the neighbors spoke German too. That part of Cincinnati was heavily populated with German and Italian immigrants.

The day before Easter we boiled eggs and colored them. Easter morning there would be a basket hidden somewhere for each of us. Imagine never refrigerating the boiled eggs—I told my granddaughter this recently. She was astonished. I said we never heard of salmonella poisoning. And nothing in our baskets lasted very long anyway. Easter dinner may have been one of the holidays where the Schmidt family got together – often at grandma’s – and when everyone had eaten, an adult would take the carload of kids to a movie theatre and drop us off there with just enough money for admission and either candy or popcorn. I think Uncle Al usually gave us each a quarter. We thought he was rich.

By the time we got back to grandma’s, the adults would be playing cards and all the dishes had been washed up…by then everything would be brought out again for a snack before going home.
I don’t seem to remember very much about our Easter celebrations.
I remember buying a new outfit for myself, for Michael who was three at the time, and Steve, who was a baby. We were living in an apartment near the Warner Brothers Studio. I never gave much thought to whoever might be going through the nearby studio gates.

Well, I’m not here to explain Christian holidays—what I would like to do is share with you a couple of my favorite Easter holiday recipes! My #1 favorite is my Cool Rise Cinnamon Rolls. Even as we speak, I have a pan of the cinnamon rolls rising in the refrigerator, to bake tomorrow morning.

Cool Rise Sweet Dough for Cinnamon Rolls

Stir together in a bowl:

2 cups flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp salt
2 Tbsp dry yeast (or 2 little packets)

½ cup (1 stick of butter), softened to room temperature
Pour in 1 1/2 c. very hot water. Mix on medium speed for 2 minutes.

Add:
2 eggs (at room temperature) and
1 c. flour
Mix on high speed for 1 minute.

Gradually add in 2-3 more cups of flour until the dough is thick and elastic, pulling away from the side of the bowl.

Turn dough out onto counter or a cutting board. Cover and let rest for 20 minutes.

Divide the dough into two balls. Roll out one ball at a time. Roll out into a rectangle that is roughly 10×14 inches. Spread melted butter over the top of rectangle to within 3/4″ of edges. Sprinkle sugar on top of the butter. Sprinkle cinnamon on top of that. Distribute raisins over the butter/sugar/cinnamon. Starting with one side, roll up the dough into a long, thick roll. Slice into individual rolls and place in a 9×13″ pan on their sides. I try to get 12 rolls out of each ball of dough and put 12 to a pan.

Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2-24 hours. The flavor really improves if you refrigerate this recipe overnight. Before baking, remove from fridge and let sit on the counter for at least an hour.

Bake at 350° until golden brown. Remove from oven. While they’re still hot, drizzle some glaze over them. Serve warm. Glaze: a cup of powdered sugar, a drizzle of melted butter, and just enough milk or lemon juice to make a runny glaze. Recently, I saw a bunch of glaze recipes and so I tried one. I was very disappointed with the results. Note to self: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

This is a versatile sweet dough recipe and you can make a lot of coffee cakes with it.

My next favorite holiday recipe (for any holiday!) is my friend and former co-worker Nina’s recipe for making deviled eggs. I have no idea how many different recipes I have tried for deviled eggs—but always come back to Nina’s recipe! At work, when we had pot lucks, Nina had to set out one batch for immediate consumption as people arrived at work. She’d have a second batch when the dishes were put out for the department at lunch time.

To make Nina’s Deviled Eggs

6 hard cooked eggs
1/4 C mayo or salad dressing (less if eggs are very small)
1 tsp vinegar
1 tsp mustard
1/2 tsp horseradish
salt to taste
dash of pepper

Nina writes, “I very rarely add salt or pepper, but it depends on what you like. My recipe book also has alternatives: Add 2 TBSP crumbled crisp bacon, or 1 TBSP finely chopped olives, or 1 TBSP finely chopped green-onions or chives. Enjoy!”

I generally associate cookie making with Christmas but Easter is also one of the occasions when I make up lots of large egg-shaped cookies; two of the cut-out egg shaped cookie dough fit on a cookie sheet so you will go through a good amount of cookie dough and I prefer to bake one sheet of cookies at a time* so it takes a while to get the cookies baked.

*The reason I bake one sheet of cookies at a time is because my stove is almost as old as I am and I can bake two sheets at a time, by checking them after five minutes and switching the trays around – but if I am in a hurry or working on frosting, I do one tray at a time and set the timer. I made a lot of cookies this year—who doesn’t like cookies?

I made a batch of Hot Wings for an appetizer but those are so easy—does it even constitute a recipe? I like the McCormick’s brand of Buffalo Hot Wings spice mixture and bought a 4 pound bag of wings with the tips already cut off. All you have to do is mix the raw chicken wings with the seasoning mix and bake them on a cookie sheet in the oven. The directions don’t say so, but trial and error has taught me not to put the wings directly on the foil-covered cookie sheet—I use a rack. You won’t believe how much oil collects on the sheet underneath the wings. A lot!
My sons like the wings best if they are “dry” (not greasy) so I baked them at 450 degrees for 25 minutes according to the package directions—but they weren’t “dry” so I turned the heat down to 250 and kept them in the oven for well over an hour checking every 15 minutes to see if they felt and looked “done” enough. These wings are not mouth-burning hot like many hot wings ARE but we have young children who like hot wings and so the recipe has to be toned down for them.

I’m not hosting Easter dinner this year—I haven’t for a few years. I am going to my son & daughter in law’s for lunch. There will be an egg hunt at my son’s. Our holidays are a far cry from those of my childhood.

But I wish you all a Happy and Joyous Easter holiday.
Sandy

THE ROUTE 66 COOKBOOK

THE ROUTE 66 COOKBOOK by Marian Clark and Michael Wallis;

The first time my then-husband and one year old son drove across country, from Cincinnati, Ohio to Los Angeles, California, most of the trip was via Route 66. If I remember correctly, we picked up route 66 in St. Louis.
We made the trip in a little over three days, driving long and hard hours. It was October, 1961, and we listened to the World Series as we drove along. Our belongings were piled into the back seat and trunk , and we had a baby bed and ironing board tied to the roof of the car (shades of Grapes of Wrath).

The baby’s mattress had been laid across the piles of clothing in the back, so he could crawl around on the mattress (mind you, this was long before car seats became mandatory much less SAFE enclosures in which children could ride). Michael’s car seat was a little cloth contraption supported by some kind of aluminum tube on which a plastic steering where was attached.

The reason for this autumn trip across country was that Jim’s best friend had moved to Los Angeles and would call on weekends to tell us about the land of milk and honey and the streets that were paved with gold. Maybe not quite – but Jim had been laid off at the factory where he worked and I quit my job downtown. It was never intended to be permanent—and it wasn’t.

I know we visited some interesting restaurants along the way, but confess to having little memory of them, except for one place where we were served huge steaks. I vaguely recall warnings about speed traps in New Mexico, climbing into the mountains of Arizona, traveling through Oatmeal, Arizona, stopping in Needles, before we began the trek across the Mojave Desert into the southern California and in particular, our astonishment as we descended from the high desert into the southern California basin, over the thick white and noxious smelling haze that lay across the land.

“This must be the smog everyone talks about,” my husband joked. Unfortunately, it really WAS.

I feel as though I missed a great deal along route 65—considering we were moving across country, and not on a vacation trip…so it was with a great deal of pleasure that I discovered The Route 66 Cookbook by Marian Clark, published by Council Oak Books in 1993. This soft cover cookbook, replete with photos, originally sold for $17.95.
Ms. Clark is a native of Hereford, Texas, in Deaf Smith County. As a child, she traveled many times on The Mother Road”.

“From Chicago to L.A.,” state the publishers, “these are the stories of Route 66’s best loved eateries, along with favorite recipes. Here is the food that brought fame to hometown diners, hotel dining rooms, cafes and upscale restaurants, all along the Mother Road. Through memorabilia, anecdotes and recipes, these eating establishments come to life page after page…”

In the Preface, Ms. Clark explains, “A book like this did not fall into places from front to back, but was fitted together like a giant jigsaw puzzle. Some of the pieces were easy to find, others requires a careful search. A few are still missing…”

The author says that in her search, she found regional specialties, ethnic foods and down-home Americana. She says she also found a story at every stop, a living chronology of people who made their American Dream come true. She writes that the purpose of her cookbook was not to find every pieces of the puzzle, but to capture some memories, to whet the appetite, and to save some history that might otherwise be forgotten.

Interestingly, Ms. Clark states that for travelers, food is a course of comfort, a revelation of new experiences and a mirror of the lifestyle in each succeeding community. A simple bowl of chili, she says, takes on entirely different characteristics along the 2400 mile span of the highway.

This cookbook was a mammoth undertaking, for in order to write it, the author, with husband and traveling companion/photographer Donna Lea, actually made the trip. They were encouraged and supported not only by people they met in diners, cafes and restaurants and hotels along Route 66 but also by librarians, museum employees and Chamber of Commerce members in communities all along Route 66.

The Route 66 cookbook begins, then, with recipes from eateries in Chicago…and takes you through seven states, counting Illinois at the one end and California at the other.

It ends with Belle Vue French Restaurant in Santa Monica, which closed down in 1991, but is worthy of mentioning for as the author writes, “The closing of the Belle Vue is reminiscent of the passing of an epoch in the life of America’s great lost highway. Changes occur but memories remain. Historic Route 66 can never be captured and held to one time. it remains a symbol of movement, adventure and exhilaration, an icon of a more innocent time when a shining coast-to-coast highway first beckoned to intrepid travelers…it remains a living, breathing monument to the people who live along its many miles and to everyone who ever sat behind the wheel—or in the back seat—and watched the wonderful signs roll by long the Mother Road.

This is a cookbook packed with recipes and memories, a kind of time capsule of an era in danger of being forgotten. It’s a great “read” and the recipes are worthy.
There are a number of different editions available on Amazon.com. You can buy a pre-owned copy for as little as one cent ($3.99 shipping)—one of the more interesting copies I found on Amazon is the 75th Anniversary edition, published 10/1/2000 – you can buy this one for $ 3.74 (pre owned).

–Review by Sandra Lee Smith

MAKING REALLY GREAT COOKIES – EVERY TIME! (Part 2)

MAKING REALLY GREAT COOKIES – EVERY TIME!

I originally wrote the following blog post in 2012 about making good (or even really great) cookies every time you get the urge to make some homemade cookies.

My new issue of a magazine came in today’s mail & the cover advertised hints for making great cookies – but the teaser turned out to be just a very small block on a page with only a few suggestions for making really great cookies, every time.  I thought to myself “huh! I can come up with a lot more ideas than this!” – and so here I am.

Tip #1 – buy yourself some good cookie sheets. Blackened cookie sheets, even if you cover them with aluminum foil, will not bake as well as nice shiny new cookie sheets. Girlfriends, cookie sheets don’t need to be expensive (I’ve priced them–they CAN be expensive but they don’t need to be. And if you don’t spend a lot on them, you can afford to replace them every few years). And while you are at it, buy some cooling racks. Not expensive! And if you buy parchment paper to line your cookie sheets – and don’t use them for anything else – they will stay nice. You want to invest in about 6 cookie sheets (to be able to have 2 in the oven at one time, one set cooling, one set being covered with cookie dough while the first batch is in the oven). Another thing I treasure is about 6 restaurant-size Bake-lite trays that Kelly’s godfather bought for me many years ago at a restaurant supply house. I put the cooling racks on these trays and it eliminates mess from crumbs. When the kids are doing their cookie-and-craft projects, they each have one of these trays to work on – when sprinkles spill (and they usually do), it’s an easy clean up if you have all the mess contained on a plastic tray.  Roger bought these trays for me back in the day (1970s!) when we made shishkabobs almost every weekend—the prepared shishkabobs would be piled up on one of these restaurant size trays, ready to go to the grill. Probably one of my all-time-all-favorite kitchen utensils.

So tip #2 is, don’t ever put cookie dough on hot (or even warm) cookie sheets. Let them cool down completely. If you are in a big hurry and only have two cookie sheets – run cold water over the ones you want to cool down fast. And I have made a curious discovery–Some cookie dough (like chocolate chip and oatmeal raisins) works BEST at room temperature. Lots of times I like making up cookie dough in the evening & then refrigerating it to start baking the next day. Sometimes you need to let it come back up to room temperature. And when there were just two of us in the house, I often made up the dough and baked them maybe a dozen at a time. Most cookie dough will keep for weeks in the refrigerator. Label it something like “turnip puree” so the kids don’t get into it and eat raw cookie dough.

Tip #3 is – buy a TIMER and USE it for every single batch. I have been notorious for burning the last batch of cookies over the years – because I would get distracted, start cleaning up the kitchen, answer the telephone & whoops, when I could smell them I knew they would be burnt. Now I use a timer. Actually I have three timers. I could use one of those I could wear around my neck.

Tip #4 Most cookies can be removed from the oven before they are really brown. Most sugar cookies only need to be a little brown around the edges. I once asked a friend at work why her chocolate chip cookies were so soft and chewy, just perfect – she said she always took them out of the oven in less time than recommended by the cookie recipe. So I began doing that too. You can let them cool a bit on the cookie sheets–they’ll still be just right–and they’ll be easier to remove from the cookie sheets if you let them stand for a minute or two. Meantime you can be putting the next batch into the oven and setting the timer.

Tip #5 – this is my most important tip, in my opinion. When the cookies are half way through baking – if you are using two racks – switch the cookie sheets, top to bottom, bottom to top – AND turn them around the other way. If your oven (like mine) is a little off this will make the cookies all bake evenly at the same time. Wear long mitts so you don’t burn your arms (I burn myself a lot. Ok. I need new mitts). And while I am thinking of it – get yourself a couple of those handy-dandy cookie scoops. This way you can be sure to have all the cookies exactly the same size so they will bake evenly.

Tip #6 If you are making roll out sugar cookies – you want to keep the dough chilled. Take some out of the frig only what you need to roll out some of the dough, keep the rest in the frig in a plastic bag. If the dough gets too soft/warm – put it back into the refrigerator to chill some more. (or stick it into the freezer to cool down faster).

Tip #7 – also about rolled out cookies – it will be so much easier to roll out the dough and handle it – if you sprinkle wax paper with flour and then roll out the dough between two sheets of wax paper. Less messy, too. Roll out the dough and remove the top sheet of wax paper, then cut out as many cookies as you can (cut them close together–have you ever seen those magazine illustrations showing cut out cookies being made with one or two cut out way apart from one another? What are they thinking?) – you want to handle the dough as little as possible, so cut OUT as many as you can each time you roll out the dough — tossing the bits of dough back into the bowl to mash back together and re-roll (re-chilling if necessary). If I am baking something like all hearts (Valentine’s Day) – I will cut out as many heart-shaped cookies with one size cutter, and then use a smaller heart-shaped cookie cutter on some of the remaining dough-space…but use different cookie sheets for the different sized hearts. (You want to bake same-size cookies together, too. Don’t put small cutout cookies with large ones – the little ones will be burnt before the large ones are finished baking.

Tip #8 BUTTER. If you are going to all the work of making butter/sugar cookies – girlfriends, don’t waste your time with margarine. Buy butter when it’s on sale and keep it in the freezer. You can keep it for a year in the freezer (OK, I have been known to keep it longer than that but I doubt the butter manufacturers recommend it). And you should also consider buying unsalted butter when you find it on sale. Most cookie recipes have salt as an ingredient anyway. Since I first wrote this article, I have switched almost entirely to unsalted butter.

Tip #9 – GOOD UNSWEETENED CHOCOLATE – that’s another item I stock up on when I find it on sale. I keep it in a tight fitting plastic container (like Tupperware). And when making chocolate chip cookies – well, I guess there could be a debate over which chocolate chips are the best buy, but for my money, nothing beats Nestle’s semi sweet morsels. I watch for it to be on sale and then USE COUPONS. A few months ago, Baker’s Unsweetened chocolate was on sale at my 99c store—for 99 cents!  I bought several boxes every time I was  in the 99c store and  have it all packed in tight fitting plastic tubs.

Tip #10 – OTHER INGREDIENTS – if you are going to all the work of making homemade cookies, with all the little rug rats underfoot trying to help and people invading your kitchen eating them up as fast as you can bake them – invest in good ingredients. If you buy walnuts or pecans, store them in the freezer in plastic bags. They will last for months (ok, possibly years) in the freezer. They won’t get rancid. Buy large or extra large eggs just to use for baking. Keep flour in a tight fitting plastic container – and oh yes, if you don’t know about BAY LEAVES – let me be the first to tell you.

You can put some BAY LEAVES in any kind of flour or cornmeal or Bisquick or Pancake mix – and you will NOT get any pantry bugs. Put the flour or cornmeal into plastic containers as soon as you bring it home from the supermarket and then stick a couple of bay leaves in with it. (Remember to remove the bay leaves when you scoop out cups of flour-ok, I have found bay leaves in my cookie dough a few times). It always amazes me the number of times I have seen inquiries in magazines – what to do about pantry bugs – and no one tells them BAY LEAVES. I learned this trick from my mother years ago. It works. Bay leaves are cheap (or do as my brother Jim does and grow your own). I have taught my bay leaf trick to two of my daughters in law who have expressed surprise that it WORKS. Also under other ingredients – buy real vanilla extract. It’s worth it.

Ok, those were my ten tips.  Happy Cooking!

Well, while sifting through my fat files of clippings, I found an article by cookie cookbook author Rose Levy Beranbaum and thought I could share some of her tips with you.   She writes, “One of the nicest things about cookies is that even if they aren’t perfect, they’re still appreciated. At a book signing a few weeks ago, a pastry chef prepared my spritz cookies to give out as sample. She called me the night before, puzzling and upset that they weren’t coming out like mine and the dough seemed very soft.

The next day,” Rose continues, “I realized what the problem had been. Instead of sliced almonds she had used whole almonds. When processed without grating them first, they become very oily, softening the dough. They were still delicious but not the same.”  Rose says if you want your cookies to look like the ones in her cookbook, you may need to pay closer attention to the instructions.

Rose then provided a list of tips, starting with:

  • Use the ingredients called for in the recipe.  Substitutions may present problems.    
  • Measure or weigh carefully. If you add too much flour the cookies will be dry and crumbly. Too little and they will spread and be thin.
  • Bleached all-purpose flour contains eight to 14 grams of protein per four ounces of flour. This is listed on the side of the bag. Lower protein flour will result in more fragile, paler, higher cookies. Unbleached or higher protein flour will result in tougher, browner, flatter cookies (I didn’t know this!)
  • For best flavor, use unsalted butter and unsalted nuts (I only buy unsalted butter to bake with nowadays. I keep Imperial margarine on hand for my youngest son who is unable to digest butter—but when it comes to baking, I stock up on unsalted butter whenever I find it on sale!)
  • Make cookies in the same batch, the same size, shape and thickness arranged in even intervals on the baking sheet for even baking. (I do this – most of the time I have only six cookies to a cookie sheet).
  • Preheat the oven for at least 15 minutes before baking the cookies.
  • Rotate the baking sheets in the oven for even baking (if you have two cookie sheets in the oven, switch the sheets and turn them front to back).
  • Use flat baking sheets with very low sheets so that the air can circulate over the cookies and make them crisp. If you only have a jellyroll pan, simply invert it and place the cookies on the back.
  • Only grease the pans if specified in the recipe. Many cookie doughs have enough butter to keep the cookies from sticking. If the pans are greased, it will cause the cookies to spread too much (*I take exception to this suggestion—I use only parchment paper on all my cookie sheets-sls).
  • Allow baking sheets to cool completely before placing the next batch of dough on them. The cookies will spread too much if placed on hot or warm sheets before being set by the oven’s heat.(*My suggestion to you is to have six or eight cookie sheets on hand. That way you will always have a couple of cool cookie sheets to work with—watch for sales  on household items after Christmas.
  • Don’t overbake cokies. Remove them from the baking sheets as soon as they are rigid enough to transfer and cool them on racks so they remain crisp and do not continue cooking from the heat of the sheets.
  • Cool cookies completely before storing them airtight to maintain the best possible  texture.
  • Store soft cookies together—not with crisp ones. To preserve each cookie’s special flavor, it is best to store each variety in its own container. ** I have bought, over time, about twenty or more Rubbermaid Take-Along containers (available at Walmart). These are the perfect size to layer the baked cookies with sheets of wax paper. When I am baking Christmas cookies, each type of cookie has its own container!
  • Separate layers of cookies with wax paper to keep cookies crisp and to separate those that are sticky.

(How to bake a better cookie from  a newspaper article by Rose Levy Beranbaum)

FALSE TONGUES & SUNDAY BREAD

FALSE TONGUES AND SUNDAY BREAD is a tantalizing cookbook that captivated me, not only with the title—but also from the subtitle “A Guatemalan and Mayan Cookbook.” It wasn’t so very long ago that I reviewed a cookbook for you titled “FOODS OF THE MAYA/ A TASTE OF THE YUCATAN” by Nancy & Jeffrey Gerlach.

I have never had a desire to visit any of the countries in South America—but “FOODS OF THE MAYA” piqued my curiosity. Copeland Marks, I learned, is co-author of THE INDONESIAN KITCHEN and often contributed to Gourmet, Bon Appetit and Food and Wine—all of which has me wondering how a New Yorker has produced such a tantalizing title as, FALSE TONGUES AND SUNDAY BFEAD.

My curiosity increased in Marks’ introduction in which he writes, “several years ago I approached a number of people in Guatemala City and told them I wanted to write a book on the cuisine of Guatemala. My comment was received with utter disbelief that there was a cuisine at all; people claimed that the highland Indians ate only beans, tortillas and tamales, and that if there was any semblance of a cooking style it occurred only in the large cities…”
Marks says he collected the textiles of the Maya for twenty years, moving from one village to another where the great tribal textile tradition was still extant. He says he had been impressed by the variety of foods in the daily markets as well as the selection of spices and seasonings available. He knew, he says, there had to be a cuisine. despite fact that none of the restaurants serving tourists were presenting the authentic foods and that there was no real bibliography of cookbooks in English one could study. So Marks returned to the village weavers known to him, all of them women, and proceeded to talk about food and recorded the daily and ceremonial recipes based upon his observation and actual cooking activities with them.
Marks says it wasn’t all that easy—at one point he was bitten by a mad dog in the village of San Juan Sacatepequez and had to undergo 16 injections into his stomach—and there were many other Sacatepequez experiences—during which he asked himself if there wasn’t an easier way to find and write about a cuisine. However, he writes, after a guerilla experience, the veil lifted and Marks was able to collect considerable evidence that the cuisine of Guatemaya Maya is in reality two separate cuisines, –one of the highland Indian with their pre-Hispanic style and the other of the Spanish Colonial era which had been developed by the new race, the Ladinos, who were a mixture of the old and the new. brought about independently of the two other cuisines, a minor satellite that had developed independently in the town of Livingston in Guatemala’s Caribbean coast. It was here that indentured labor from India and Africa was brought in by the British to work in the sugarcane and forests of British Honduras, (now known as Belize). These people developed a vivid style of cooking that was tropical, based on seafood, bananas and coconut milk.

Nowhere will you find more creatively named recipes than those you will find in False Tongues and Sunday Bread! Starting with False Tongues, which is a ground beef loaf, otherwise known as Lengua Fingida.

In the Foreword, Elizabeth Lambert Ortiz writes “Copeland Marks has made a meticulous study of a little-known culinary regions of the Americas—the once-great Mayan empire that stretched from the mother city of “Tikal in Guacamole , north into Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula through the modern state of Campeche to Palenque in Chiapas and south to Copan in Honduras, glory had begun to fade by the time of the Spanish Conquest in the sixteenth century. Surprisingly, much has survived the centuries, including the magnificent weavings and the food…the cuisines are, of course, dominated by the indigenous foods. Most of them, like tomatoes, corn, the common bean, chiles and sweet peppers were first cultivated in Mexico, where it is believed agriculture was born millennia ago. These still form the basis of the kitchen, though nowadays with the foods introduced by the Conquest and by the spread of modern trade, all the foods of the world are available. The Guatemalan kitchen of today reflects this and it has also been modified by modern cooking methods and kitchen tools such as the blender and food processor…”

Recipes throughout False Tongues and Sunday Bread reflect the combining of old and new and you will surely reflect all of these and a great deal more. Read and enjoy.

FALSE TONGUES AND SUNDAY BREAD is available on Amazon.com; prices mostly steep but there is one in pre-owned copies for $14.91.

REVIEW BY SANDRA LEE SMITH

EXPIRATION DATES AND OTHER FOIBLES OF THE CANNED FOOD INDUSTRY

What, exactly, is it about expiration dates on the packages of cookies or crackers, or expiration dates on canned food prod products? Actually, for what it’s worth, dozens of different kinds of expiration dated-foods can frequently be found on marked down grocery items and I veer directly towards them. I have found some fantastic sale items this way. In the fresh product section, I often find lettuce, yogurt, cottage cheese and other dairy items marked down as much as half price. One of my best finds a year ago were large bottles of Karo light corn syrup for 75c—more than half off. Then I began thinking about all the uses for light corn syrup during the holidays –but when I went back to the store, all of those bottles of karo syrup had been bought. Now I try to pay closer attention. A similar situation took place when my daughter in law bought 2-lb bags of brown sugar. I bought 4 or 5 bags and when I went back to the store, intending to buy whatever remained –and they had all been sold. And the reason those items were marked way down was that the manufacturer was introducing a new plastic bag. And if you worry about having too many bags of raisins or brown sugar, you can re-bag the products into glass jars. The major complaint that I hear from friends or family member is that “the product inside won’t be any good” This is probably the food industry’s number one “the joke’s is on you”

The reason I wanted to share these letters with you was due to comments that appeared in Cook’s Illustrated Magazine March/April in -2012. I have been contending for years that canned food with long-ago expiration dates, no dents or flaws in the container—are still safe to eat. Two of my grandchildren check the dates on everything edible (consequently, if I am preparing a food with a canned food content, I put the canned food into a baking dish and bury the cans at the bottom of the trash can).

What did Cooks Illustrated have to say about this issue?
A subscriber wrote to say she recently used a can of chicken broth and later discovered it had a “best buy” date of several years past–but the product tasted fine and no one got sick.

Says Cooks Illustrated “The best buy” printed on some labels is not a hard and fast rule; it refers strictly to the manufacturers recommendation for peak quality, not safety concerns. In theory, as long as cans are in good condition and have been stored under the right conditions (in a dry place between 40 and 70 degrees, their contents should remain safe to use indefinitely.

That said, natural chemicals in foods continually react with the metal in cans and over time canned food’s taste, texture and nutritional value will gradually deteriorate.

The question is when. Manufacturers have an incentive to cite “a best buy” date that is a conservative estimate of when the food may lose quality. But it’s possible that some canned foods will last for decades without any dip in taste or nutrition.

In a shelf life study conducted by the National Food Processors Association and cited in FDA Consumer, even 100 year old canned food was found to be remarkably well preserved with a drop in some nutrients but not others….”
I’m sure there have been or will be studies to detract from the above study – my point is just this: I have grandchildren who read all the labels and if any of the cereal or other breakfast food has an expiration date of even one week, they won’t eat it. They have been so indoctrinated that no one can tell them any different. (So I transfer food, including cereal, to jars whenever possible. No expiration dates. No problem). But I am also a believer in moving canned foods around so that the oldest in the shelves is up front and will be used next.
This also brings me up to date on another kind of canned food product – those you make yourself, using up fresh fruit when you have an abundance of a crop—or when a friend has more apples, pears, peaches, tomatoes—or any other food they can’t use. Actually, it’s not a matter of having too many apples, tomatoes or whatever—but rather, it’s being gifted with the neighbor or friend’s overflow. I just love being presented with whatever overflow a friend or neighbor can offer to us; Last summer, I dehydrated chili peppers and green bell peppers—other bell peppers were converted into stuffed bell peppers that were cooked, then frozen. We froze an enormous amount of bell peppers and cooked fresh corn on the cob to have for dinners. We picked little red tomatoes and I converted almost all of these into tomato sauce. There is a huge amount of work but an equal amount of satisfaction for having converted vegetables into tomato sauce, canned tomato sauce with hot sauce added to it, working on tomatoes until I had done something with all of it.

We have been giving serious consideration to “what will be next”. Mind you, my garden was a fraction of the size of my son’s in 2013. A survey of all the jars of tomatoes and sauces is very satisfying. (And doesn’t even take into consideration the canning of fruit juices in preparation for jelly and jam making. But that’s another story!

Sandra Lee Smith

A RIVER RUNS BACKWARD

The title to the Junior League of Jacksonville, Florida’s cookbook A RIVER RUNS BACKWARD is based on a little known fact—that the hometown river of the St. John’s River is one of only two rivers flowing north in this hemisphere.
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(And, in case you are wondering—as I was—how or why those two rivers run backward, I learned from Google that “Unless the land is totally flat, rivers of water run downhill. The vast percentage of rivers on the planet flow in a southerly direction because the source (usually in the mountains) is to the north of the mouth. If the source of a river is at a higher elevation than the mouth, that river will run from the source to the mouth. However, if that (higher) source is to the south of the mouth, that river will then flow to the north (downhill).
**
And actually—if you start digging deeper—you will find there are numerous other examples of rivers in the USA flowing north instead of south. I found the following on Google:

“How can a river flow north?” the real estate lady asked me. ‘I mean, it’s impossible. The offending river, within whose watershed I proposed to buy a house, is the Wallkill. It rises in Northern New Jersey – near Sparta – and passes by Middletown, NY, and through Montgomery, Walden, the eponymous town of Wallkill, New Paltz, Rosendale, and finally (with a complication) drains into the Hudson River at Kingston, NY – approximately 100 miles north of its source….” (There is a lot more but I’ll leave those up to you to find out for yourselves…sls)

You are invited to tour the hometown river and beach communities of Jacksonville and Northeast Florida in the Junior League’s collection of regional recipes, area history and family memories.

I was especially captivated by the reproduction of many old-time photographs, especially one of the old St. John’s Lighthouse, the oldest building in Mayport, built in 1858, and learned that two earlier lighthouses were abandoned and removed due to “their perilous proximity to the ocean.” There are a number of other equally interesting illustrations, some of which appear to have possibly been reproduced from old post cards. Many have been provided by the Jacksonville Historical Society Archives.

Published by those creative people at the Wimmer Company, “A RIVER RUNS BACKWARD” is beautifully composed and printed—and easy to read (a must for me nowadays—if I can’t easily read the print in a cookbook, I won’t buy it.)

And, A RIVER RUNS BACKWARD is packed with a delectable collection of recipes; whether you fancy Madeline Maude’s Molasses Cookies (try saying that one five times real fast) or Nutmeg Ice Box cookies, Cinnamon Honey Squares, or Caramel Oat and Chocolate Bars (the nutmeg ice box cookies sounds like a good cookie recipe to add to your Christmas cookie baking list)—other sweet treats that sound enticing include a chocolate flan and a holiday sorbet made with fresh or frozen cranberries.

I tried Nancy’s Veggie relish and can personally vouch for it—plus, it’s easy to put together and lasts a long time in the frig—I was first introduced to this particular recipe by a girlfriend in Covina, California, who had relatives in the south – in Georgia and Florida. This recipe is well worth your time; keep it on hand as a standby relish or side dish.

I’m looking forward to trying Bourbon–Laced Sweet Potato Puree—I’ve been on a quest to find the perfect mashed sweet potato casserole—only please don’t top it off with marshmallows! I’ll try Grated Sweet Potato Souffle as soon as possible too.

What else sounds good to me? Asparagus with warm tomato Vinaigrette—I think it could be served as a salad or a side dish. The Glazed Red Cabbage which contains raspberry jam sounds delish to me too.

Also in the side dish category are several mouth watering Vidalia Onion recipes (if you are as partial to Vidalia Onions as I am!)

I have marked with post-its recipes for Chocolate Truffle Cake and Bunny’s Carrot Cake (I can’t wait to make this—finally!! A carrot cake that doesn’t contain two cups of cooking oil!) – and for next Christmas, I will be making MereMom’s Favorite Fruitcake—this recipe contains pecans, dates, candied cherries, candied pineapple—and no other candied fruit. I also found a recipe for Nutmeg Ice Box Cookies that is not in my ice box cookie collection.

Look for a great sounding Tortilla Soup recipe and something called Dragon’s Breath (also a soup!); Chutney Chicken salad and Pensacola Pasta Salad—the latter would make, I think, a fine addition to a holiday buffet.

Another fine feature of THE RIVER RUNS BACKWARDS is a
section of suggested party menus (the recipes, of course, can be found in the book).

Another little section is devoted to local restaurants with some of their specialty recipes; be sure to check out the steak marinade from the Beech Street Grill!

The Junior League of Jacksonville was formed in 1923 ; its charitable purpose has remained constant while its specific undertakings have met the challenges of each generation. At the time A RIVER RUNS BACKWARD was published in 1995, volunteers of the Junior League have focused on children’s issues, teen pregnancy and literacy. One project, the Family Visitation Center, developed in conjunction with the HRs and the Children’s Home Society, provides a homelike atmosphere for parents and other relatives to have supervised visits with their children in foster care. With each endeavor.

The League strives to encourage and celebrate a healthy community. The Junior League of Jacksonville was proud to present their unique and delicious collection of recipes to share with all those who enjoy a passion for cooking, tempting aromas, and memorable parties. They urge us to allow their river of recipes to flow back towards us.
Along with the many recipes, presented in a hidden spiral binding, there are reproductions of old black and white photographs including a copy of an 1858 Mayport Lighthouse and Keeperes residence from a 1900 photograph shared by the Beaches Area Historical Society Archives.

A RIVER RUNS BACKWARD is available on Amazon.com; you can order a new copy for $11.66 or a pre-owned copy starting at $1.01.

And, If you are interested, the Junior League of Jacksonville published an earlier cookbook in 1982, titled Jacksonville & Company. I think the price of a new copy (starting at $ 51.69) is another example of overpricing, but pre-owned copies start at $5.50 or a collectible copy is listed at $8.77. Jacksonville & Company was priced at $12.00 when published in 1982. This cookbook is also a fine example of well-thought out publishing; it was printed by a company in Memphis that I am not familiar with—but it’s a nice thick cookbook!

–Review by Sandra Lee Smith