Monthly Archives: December 2012

NEW YEAR’S EVE MEMORIES

My earliest memories of New Year’s Eve are of the parties my parents hosted. On a few occasions, my cousin, Irene (called Renee by the family) and her brothers, along with me and my brothers, had our own little party down in my parents’ basement on Sutter Street.  Renee and I were almost the same age – she is six months older than I am – my two brothers (Scott wasn’t born until I was 17) and her three younger brothers, along with our cousin, Chuck, apparently had a good time together, judging from the few photos I have found from these occasions.

I think by the following year, I was babysitting for my sister and the family who lived downstairs from her. I remember babysitting there when my brother Jim brought me a plate of pork and sauerkraut, the traditional German dish we ate at midnight!  Midnight! It’s a wonder no one in the family suffered from any stomach problems.  I cried when I sat alone eating the sauerkraut. I missed being with my family.  I think my parents hosted a lot of New Year’s Eve parties but these are the few that remain outstanding in my memory. I babysat on New Year’s Eve until I got married in1958.

After Jim & I moved to California, he contacted an old friend of his who was living somewhere near Shell Beach in the central coast. We spent our first California new year’s eve with these friends who took us to a party. I thought I was spectacular in my black dress with white gloves! (What did I know about fashion?). New Year’s Day, 1962, found us down by Shell Beach, where we took some photographs. My favorite is myself sitting on a rail fence; my Canadian girlfriend, Doreen, dubbed this photograph “California Girl”.   I was twenty-one and the mother of a one year old son. I really didn’t know anything about California at the time but I would certainly learn.

Jim (my then-husband, now ex-) & I spent some New Year’s Eves with friends; the one most memorable was with a group of friends at a Hungarian restaurant where everyone ate traditional Hungarian food that night. We acquired these Hungarian friends in a circuitous way—a man named Alex and his wife Peggy rented an apartment behind our first home in California, a duplex we rented in late 1961. Peggy and Alex arrived from New York at closely the same time.  Alex introduced us to some of his Hungarian friends, who in turn became our friends—most notably Neva and Les. Les and his friends were freedom fighters in the short-lived Hungarian revolution in 1956; when they lost their bid for freedom, most of them immigrated to the United States as political refugees. It was through Les and Neva that I began returning to my culinary roots of Hungarian food foods such as goulash and Palascinta, Palascinta layered with poppy seed filling and cut into wedges. Palascinta can be made many different ways—it is a thin crepe-like pancake—it can have sweet fillings or savory.  My grandmother made Palascinta with jelly fillings. (We called them German pancakes—what did we know about Palascinta?) I can remember walking back to school after eating lunch at Grandma’s house, eating a rolled up palascinta filled with jelly along the way.

Another year, we hosted a New Year’s Eve party at our house—it had to be 1974 or later, because the house in photographs was the one in Arleta.  I imagine if I go through all of my photo albums—over sixty of them dating back to my teenage years—I will find other photographs taken on other New Year’s Eve celebrations.

One of the best adventures I ever had on a New Year’s Eve was celebrated after I was divorced in 1986.  A new boyfriend took me to Pasadena on New Year’s Eve – this is a happening event throughout the streets of Pasadena—the streets on which the famous Rose Bowl parade will travel the next morning. People are camped out along those streets, in small tents or sleeping bags, with folding chairs and blankets (it can get quite cold on those streets late at night!). My friend George had a large sleeping bag and a small hibachi that he kept fed with bits of wood; he was a carpenter and had his truck bed (parked near by on a side street) filled with small pieces of wood; it drew people to us throughout the night – and people come to this almost-event from all over the United States. It was one of the most exciting experiences of my life as I was just returning to dating. The next day, all of us had ring-side views of the floats as they came by on Colorado Boulevard. I have many photos of the floats but none of George and I as we sat along the curb drinking wine out of a coffee cup and talking to people who came up to our fire to get warm. I have never again been to Pasadena on a New Year’s Eve (or even a New Year’s Day for that matter) and my relationship with George was brief – I knew he was too young for me, in his mid thirties to my mid-forties – but it was great fun while it lasted.  And I think it was that night that I began to feel like there might be life after divorce.  There was.

In more recent years, Bob & I did not really celebrate New Year’s Eve. And New Year’s Day became my day to start dismantling the Christmas decorations, while watching the Rose Bowl Parade – over and over again throughout the day as KTLA, Channel 5 in Los Angeles, televised the parade with my favorite TV personalities, Bob Eubanks and Stephanie Edwards—and repeated the program throughout the day. What I might have missed one time, I could catch the next time around. What great memories!

Happy New Year 2013 to all my Sandychatter friends!

NEW YEAR’S EVE & NEW YEAR’S DAY MEALS FOR GOOD LUCK !

Throughout most of written history, we know that people have eaten certain foods on New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day, hoping for riches, love, or other good fortune.  For people of some nationalities, ham or pork has long been consideredthe luckiest thing to eat on New Year’s Day.  You might wonder how the pig became associated with the concept of good luck but in Europe during medieval times, wild boars were caught in the forests and killed on the first day of the year.  Since pigs are associated with plumpness and getting plenty to eat, it might be one explanation for having pork on New Year’s Day.

Austrians, Swedes, and Germans frequently chose pork or ham for their New Year’s meal and brought this tradition with them when they came to America. Germans and Swedes often picked cabbage as a lucky side dish and in my parents’ home, pork and sauerkraut was served at midnight on New Years Eve, along with mashed potatoes and creamed peas. (It might not have been so lucky, going to bed after eating such a hearty meal as after midnight!)

Turkey is considered lucky in some countries; Bolivians and residents in New Orleans follow this custom.  Fish is considered lucky food by people in the northwestern part of the United States who may eat salmon. Some Germans and Poles eat herring, which may be served in a cream sauce or pickled. Other Germans eat carp.

Sometimes sweets or pastries are eaten for luck. In the colony of New Amsterdam, now New York, the Dutch settlers still enjoy these treats. Germans often ate doughnuts while the French have traditionally celebrated with pancakes. In some places, a special cake is made with a coin baked inside. (Curiously, my German grandmother fried doughnuts with a coin inside each – on the Feast of the Three Kings, or the Epiphany, celebrated January 6th). Such cakes are traditional in Greece, which celebrates Saint Basil’s Day and New Year’s at the same time. The Saint Basil’s Day cake is made of yeast dough and flavored with lemon. The person who gets the slice with the silver or gold coin is considered very lucky!

Many of the luck-bringing foods are round or ring-shaped, because this signifies that the old year has been completed. Black-eyed peas are an example of this, and they are part of one of New Year’s most colorful dishes, Hoppin’ John, which is eaten in many southern states. Hoppin’ John is made with black-eyed peas or dried red peas, combined with hog jowls, bacon, or salt pork. Rice or other vegetables may be added. The children in the family might even hop around the table before the family sits down to eat this lucky dish. In Brazil, lentils are a symbol of prosperity, so lentil soup or lentils with rice is traditional for the first meal of the New Year.

Thousands of miles away, the Japanese observe their New Year’s tradition of eating a noodle called toshikoshi soba. (This means “sending out the old year.”) This buckwheat noodle is quite long, and those who can swallow at least one of them without chewing or breaking it are supposed to enjoy good luck and a long life. (Or maybe the luck might be not choking on the long noodle!)

In Portugal and Spain people have an interesting custom. When the clock strikes midnight, people in these countries eat twelve grapes or raisins to bring them luck for all twelve months of the coming year.

The ancient Romans gave gifts of nuts, dates, figs, and round cakes. Northern Italians began the new year eating lentils to symbolize coins. In the Piedmont region of Italy, the New Year’s Day meal of risotto signified wealth with its abundance of small grains. Another Italian custom is to eat sweets for a year of good luck. It can be as simple as a raisin or a more elaborate, almond-filled cake in the shape of a snake. As a snake sheds its old skin and leaves it behind, this cake symbolizes leaving the past behind as a new year begins.

In Spain, you are promised good luck in the new year if, at midnight, you eat one grape with each stroke of the clock.

Dumplings are a traditional New Year’s food in northern China. Because they look like nuggets of gold, they are thought to signal good fortune.

The Vietnamese celebrate their new year in late January and eat carp – a round-bodied fish thought to carry the god of good luck on its back.

Cambodians celebrate their new year in April by eating sticky rice cakes made with sweet beans.

In Iran, the New Year is celebrated in March, when grains of wheat and barley are sprouted in water to symbolize new life. Coins and colored eggs are placed on the table, which is set for a special meal of seven foods that begin with the letter “s”.

I posed this question – special foods to welcome in the New Year – to some friends. Lorraine wrote that at her mother’s they always had Menudo on New Years; she says her friend Geri always has Black Eyed Peas. My friend Patti who lives in Cincinnati wrote “Sauerkraut, Limburger cheese & Pickled Pigs Feet…I did not partake”.

Penpal Penny who lives in Oklahoma wrote “Here on New Year’s Day ……black-eyed peas and hog jowl……for good luck, greens…..for financial good luck then of course you have to have cornbread and fried potatoes. I always fix slaw though any kind of greens will do. You just want to make sure you eat PLENTY of both of the peas and greens!! Good ole poke salad  ( or as the old timers would say…. poke salit ) would be wonderful with it….some years I’ve lucked out and found plenty in the spring and had a bag or two in the freezer.”  And girlfriend Sylvia wrote, “We eat black eyed peas!!  I think that is a southern thing…”

From my penpal Bev, who lives in Oregon, I received this email, “My family had no New Years Eve or day traditions…When I was 40 became acquainted with a shy, soft spoken…gal when I went to ChemeketaCommunity College. She was taking classes as background for writing. and had in her mind a book she wanted to write…To my surprise, she was a member of MENSA. That was probably the first time I had ever heard of that elite society. Anyway, she and her husband invited us to their home for New Years Day, and served some type of beans. Seems to me it was limas. Have you heard of that before? This couple had lived in Japan but I can’t imagine beans being a good luck dish from that part of the world…” (In a subsequent email Bev decided it might have been black-eyed peas they were served).

Marge wrote “My grandmother was a first generation American born of German immigrants in Nebraska.  While that was not our usual New Year’s fare, we ate sauerkraut often especially in the winter time, and she used pork tails in hers often and often pork ribs while she cooked the kraut.  I rarely make sauerkraut though Dorman likes it.  I know some people make (sauerkraut) with bratwurst sausage…”

Chris wrote “As far as New Year’s Eve, I remember my grandpa always bringing home herring. It came in a squat jar in kind of a vinegar sauce. I don’t buy it anymore but it’s pretty popular in the grocery stores around here during the holidays.”

Rosie wrote “I never had anything special for New Year’s Eve or Day but Bernie always used to eat pickled herring on New Year’s Day before we were married.  It meant a prosperous year or something.  He’s German and Belgium so I’m assuming it’s one of those traditions”

And in my household, we returned to the custom of pork and sauerkraut, reflecting the German heritage of both Bob and myself.

This New Year’s Eve, my penpal Bev and her husband Leroy will be here for dinner and we are going to have sauerkraut (homemade!) and sausages. I cooked two corned beef briskets yesterday in my pressure cooker so we can have Reuben sandwiches the next day. When I was visiting them in Oregon in October, they took me to a wonderful German restaurant in Portland and we enjoyed Reuben sandwiches.  I may have lost a little of my connection with German and Hungarian cuisine and maybe this New Year’s dinner will be an opportunity to re-connect. I would love to share more of my German Hungarian roots with you!

May 2013 bring us all good luck and happiness.  Thank you for being such loyal subscribers to the Sandychatter blog.

Sandy@sandychatter

 

BOTCHING UP RECIPES & OTHER KITCHEN CULINARY DISASTERS

It’s not as though I’ve never botched up something in the kitchen. Heaven knows, I am the person who set the kitchen stove on fire when we lived in Florida (I was not very familiar with electric stoves)  and I had a strange misguided notion that I would be able to dry out the graham-cracker houses I had constructed with melted sugar. Yikes!  Well, it wasn’t a very big fire and my then-husband had the wherewithal to pour baking soda on the flames. At least I think that is what he did – by then I was out in the back yard prepared to jump into the pool to escape the flames.

When did I start cooking and baking?  Around the age of 10, I think, when I broke my mother’s yellow mixing bowl while making muffins and wanted to hold the bowl just the way I’d seen my mother and grandmother do. Well, needless to say I dropped the bowl and broke it, and ran upstairs crying.  I don’t remember what happened after that. Presumably, I started another batch of muffins, but maybe not. I only remember the incident, not the aftermath. What I also do remember is that it took me about a year to save up enough money to replace the yellow bowl. You couldn’t buy just the yellow bowl – you had to buy the entire Pyrex set, which was about $2.98 plus tax. It might as well have been a million dollars as far as I was concerned, at the age of ten. The set of bowls was on display at Pete’s Camp Washington 5 & 10 and eventually I did buy it. I think my younger sister now has some of the bowls from that replacement set. I can’t even look at a yellow Pyrex bowl without thinking about this incident. Acquiring money in my younger years was always a challenge.

If Grandma gave me a nickel to take the bus  home because it was dark—and I walked home instead—I had a nickel. (A long way from $2.98 plus tax). You could run errands for the neighbors who might or might not give you a nickel for your efforts. Or they might reward you with a cookie. Pop bottles were searched for diligently, because they were worth 2 cents, redeemable at any grocery store. All the kids searched for pop bottles though, so finding one was always a challenge.

I sold greeting cards for my mother, for a nickel or dime each—I am guessing that she paid me for my efforts although I don’t remember receiving the money. She would give me bus fare to go to Cardinal Craftsman to pick up her card order and bring it back. It was somewhere on 8th and State in Cincinnati, and required my changing buses under the Western Hills Viaduct. I was probably no more than eight years old when my mother began sending me on these errands. But I digress!

My intention was to write about culinary mishaps!  I should mention that around this age, between eight and ten, I began experimenting in my mother’s kitchen. Some of   the recipes didn’t always turn out just right. I remember a battle between myself and my childhood girlfriend Carol Sue, when she wanted to make frosting one way and I was adamant about making it another way. Hers turned out green and runny and we fed it to my two younger brothers, who sat outside the back door just waiting in expectation for such opportunities!

I also remember ruining all of my mother’s kitchen dish towels, when I decided to make grape jelly. Uncle Cal brought us the concord grapes and I decreed that I knew how to make jelly from those grapes. Did I make grape jelly? More importantly, did we EAT it? I guess I’ll never know. I’m inclined to think we ate it – food was never wasted in my mother’s kitchen. We often ate a lot of borderline bad food—but no one ever died from it.

The episode with a can of salmon is remembered by three of my brothers; I was about 12 at the time. My parents were going somewhere for dinner and I was to make supper for myself and three brothers (Scott wasn’t born until I was 17). I knew how to make salmon patties, macaroni and cheese, spinach (from a can) and cottage cheese.

When mom and dad came downstairs dressed in their going-out-somewhere finery, one of my brothers implored, “Do we really have to EAT this?” as I was busy cooking the salmon patties.

“Yes!” said my father (he knew he wasn’t eating any of it). “Every bite!!”

And so my parents left and I prepared my first dinner (we called it supper) and put it on the table. My brothers ate the meal and then, standing up (they had planned this part beforehand) they clutched their stomachs and fell to the floor. I think I may have kicked one of them and I surely burst into tears.  They all remember this story and love to tell it. (Salmon patties was, back then, one of my comfort foods and it remains so even to this day—despite the incident related above).

I don’t remember any other major culinary catastrophes of my childhood—I did begin collecting recipe booklets, offered free on the backs of cans of food and boxes. You could get almost anything free, just for writing and requesting it. I’d buy ten penny postcards and send away for these recipe booklets and pamphlets and got myself into a heap of trouble sending for free stamps—with approvals. I had no idea what approvals were, but I understood “free” and sent away for free stamps, putting them all in a big box. Then letters began to arrive demanding payment of the “approvals” and since I didn’t have any money and wouldn’t have even known which stamps belonged to which company, I tearfully confessed to my mother, who wrote to the stamp companies and told them their customer was ten years old and didn’t know any better. After that, I loathed the stamps (many of them quite beautiful) and gave them all to my cousin Margie when she was visiting us one summer. Out of sight, out of mind.

I thought myself quite an accomplished cook/baker by the time I married at the age of eighteen. My brother and his girlfriend came for dinner one Sunday and I made a pot roast, which my then-husband later claimed it was as tough as shoe leather. My brother, being used to my cooking I imagine, claimed it was delicious and chewed away.

I’m sure there were many other culinary disasters along the way – one time it wasn’t so much a culinary disaster as it was kitchen-related. My friend Connie and I decided to have our children—her three and my four—make ornaments out of baking soda or flour, or whatever it was that you used to make these things. We may not have followed the directions carefully (not unusual with seven children underfoot) and we both had ornament dough in our hair, under our fingernails, all over the table and the floor – not to mention all seven children.

Another time I thought it would be “FUN” to have the two daughters of two of my close friends come and make cookies with me. I hadn’t counted on rivalry between the two girls who bickered constantly and fought over whose turn it was to use the electric mixer.  I was raising all boys, what did I know about girls?  We only attempted that project once.  One of those girls is my goddaughter and now the mother of two little boys; I’ll have to ask her if her boys bicker for attention—and remind her of the time she and Jennifer  bickered constantly when I invited them over to make cookies. I should mention that I have a history of burning the last batch of cookies—this goes back many years; when  you put the last cookie sheet into the oven and start cleaning up the kitchen, It’s easy enough to get distracted. Nowadays I try to remember to turn two (yes, two) timers on every time I put cookies into the oven.

I’ve mentioned my setting the kitchen ablaze when I started a fire in the oven when we lived in Florida—I should mention that I had a tough time mixing and baking almost anything in Florida. The sugar was different from what I was used to using—in California we got cane sugar from Hawaii. In Florida, the sugar was made from beets. I thought it was grainy and hard to get it incorporated with the butter. That was many years ago and might not be an issue today but I was so put out with beet sugar that I had a girlfriend bring me some bags of C&H cane sugar when she and her husband came to visit us.

More recently, I thought it would be easy to make two different kinds of oatmeal cookies at the same time, since I had most of the same ingredients out of the pantry and on the kitchen counter. My reasoning was—I’ve made the one kind of cookie, oatmeal raisin, for over thirty years. The other cookie came from an All You magazine and makes thin and crisp cookies, which I love to dip in melted chocolate, like a Florentine.  Well, the oatmeal/raisin/walnut cookies turned out just fine. The thin and crisp cookies, however, were a disaster – they didn’t spread at all and were not the least bit thin and crisp. I thought I could “fix” the recipe so I added more ingredients – first more apple butter, then more melted butter. Nothing worked. Then I sat down one day to read the recipe again, line by line, comparing the original page from the magazine with what I had written on a tablet so I could read it better. I had the granulated sugar and brown sugar amounts completely wrong. (I could blame it on my eyesight—I know I need new glasses—but I think the problem was getting cocky in my old age, thinking I KNEW the recipe) – but at some point in time, I had copied the recipe and doubled all the ingredients—the original recipe only makes 3 dozen cookies—and I wanted to be able to make more..but I had the amounts of sugar completely wrong. To prove to myself that I did know how to make these cookies, I carefully copied the recipe again and then made the cookies. They turned out perfectly thin and crisp and a perfect size to dip halfway into melted chocolate. My friend Iona’s son Michael liked the “wrong” oatmeal cookies and happily ate them—the rest I gave to the birds which aren’t especially picky how cookies are made.

I suddenly remembered the first time I made peanut butter cookies—when I was a child. My mother was in the hospital one winter and I made these plate-sized peanut butter cookies for my father to take to her at the hospital. I never asked if anyone had eaten them. My two younger brothers happily ate the rest of the cookies. They were never especially choosy about cookies—our motto was quantity, not quality. And now I remember that my brother was working part-time for a few years for Durkee Foods, which had a warehouse in nearby Camp Washington. Jim brought home foods that had expired dates. There were a lot of canned biscuits which were fairly new to the marked about that time—they often exploded in the refrigerator or when you started to open one of the cans. We made a lot of doughnuts out of the canned biscuits. Jim also brought home boxes of Nestle’s cookie mix; I think all you had to add was water or maybe an egg. I had a good time experimenting with those. If something turned out reasonably well, I presented it to my parents. If not, I fed it to my two younger brothers.

I should mention, the only cookbook to which I had access was an old Ida Bailey Allen Service Cookbook (I have written about Ida Bailey Allen before) – I’d go through the cookbook looking for recipes that contained ingredients in my mother’s pantry. Mom didn’t care what I cooked – as long as I cleaned up after myself – and she never went shopping for ingredients. It was what was in the pantry or nothing. Many years later, I inherited that cookbook of my mother’s and then embarked on a search for a better copy, which I did find, and other cookbooks written by Ida Bailey Allen. That, and the free cookbooklets I sent away for were my culinary library. That, and watching my mother and sometimes my grandmother as they cooked, baked, mixed, stirred and created food for all of us to eat.

If mom or grandma had any culinary disasters, I never knew about them.

Happy cooking!

Sandy

 

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WHEN THINGS GO BUMP IN THE NIGHT AND DISAPPEAR FROM SIGHT

In Real Life Adventures years ago, there was a cartoon of a woman sitting on the floor surrounded by dozens (hundreds?) of recipes or pieces of paper with the caption “The biggest problem with following the recipe is finding the recipe” – and that is me to a “T”.  You know your collection of recipe cards (or cookbooks) has grown to mammoth proportions when you can’t find the recipe (or the cookbook) you are looking for.

I decided to write about this in the hopes that, by putting it out “There” (in the universe), enlightenment will strike me like lightning and I will sudden remember what I did with the three things now missing.

The first to “go missing” (an expression that Grandpa Bob loathed, by the way) was my green shirt, one I bought in South Dakota in June. I have a dark pink one just like it. I remember putting the green shirt on a hanger thinking it needed to be ironed before I could wear it again. So when I got out the ironing board (seldom used these days) and the iron, to press my shirts and tops, I looked for the green shirt – and it was missing. (And I have all of my tops and shirts grouped by colors. It should be with the green tops and shirts. It isn’t. but I looked through ALL of my shirts and tops not once or twice but five or six times. I also looked through Grandpa Bob’s closet, where I am now storing jackets and coats, and Savannah’s closet, which is in the spare bedroom. NO SHIRT. I have gone through all the laundry and looked in drawers. NO shirt.

Then  about a week or two ago, I lost my new jacket – also purchased in South Dakota in June. I thought maybe I had left it at the bowling alley but no one I talked to (or the girls in lost and found) knew anything about it. It’s just gone. Or gone missing if that expression doesn’t bother you.

NOW, since yesterday I have been searching for a cookbook to respond to inquiries from a woman living in the U.K. regarding my post Court Favorites.  Well, I finally found the cookbook but it didn’t contain the recipe I was looking for. L yikes!

Most recently, while unpacking Christmas decorations, I began searching for a green depression glass bowl that always looked pretty filled with glass tree ornaments. It’s gone. Did I give it away or did it just disappear like my jacket and shirt? I called the one girlfriend I would have conceivably given it to, and she doesn’t have it.

Well, last week I went shopping with my daughter-in-law and while I used the restroom (something I invariably have to do when I am out shopping), Keara went to the Christmas decorations—we were searching for a pig ornament for her niece, who is six, and auntie Keara nicknamed her piggy when she was a toddler. As I was walking through women’s wear – I spotted MY JACKET. Well, it wasn’t really MY jacket, of course, but it was identical so I bought it even though I have a closetful of jackets. We had coupons for 20% off and some other discount incentives so that the jacket didn’t cost me nearly as much as the price on the jacket. And no, they didn’t have a piggy ornaments. No one did.  We came close at Target, found a wonderful piggy ornament but the one on display was broken and there weren’t any more. (I can easily go into another whole tirade about the pitfalls of shopping during the holidays or any other time of the year. Actually, I prefer to do my shopping online any time possible). After a few hours of searching for gifts – we did find shirts for my youngest son, who is over six feet tall and needs specific shirts or tops for Big & Tall men. I found a wonderful baby doll for my youngest “adopted” granddaughter, Abby, who is Keara’s sister Sara’s daughter. Keara’s sisters’ children have adopted me as their grammy so I have adopted them as my granddaughters. (This is all confusing for long time friends when I write about my two little granddaughters, ages six and two).  I have been blessed. This is as good a time as any, as Christmas draws near, to remind myself that you don’t have to have a blood relationship with children who want to call you “grammy”.

So as a final note, when things go bump in the night or disappear from sight—is it really important in the great scheme of things?  Oh, yes, and now my little ceramic thimble with a lighthouse painted on it – has gone missing too.  I was using it to make thumbprint cookies. Now it’s GONE MISSING” (Grandpa would be having a fit if he ever heard me say this!)

Merry Christmas! I say this to every person I come in contact with, mostly in  stores, but my bank and supermarket, and other stores as well. They say “thank you” and I call out “MERRY CHRISTMAS!”

Somebody has to do it.  I hope you do, too.

Sandy

 

HOMEMADE CHRISTMAS CANDIES

HOMEMADE CHRISTMAS CANDIES

*This was originally posted on my blog in September, 2009–I made a few changes.

As promised, the following are from my personal recipe boxes and are favorites I have been making for many years. The first two are recipes for making Buckeye Balls. Any good Ohioan knows what Buckeyes are, and most probably have a recipe or two for making Buckeye Balls candy (You can also buy them in almost any good candy store in Ohio) but they aren’t hard to make and it’s an easy enough recipe to make with children. (This is the second year that my sous chef grandson has made buckeye balls; we buy suitable small containers with clear plastic covers to put them in, for him to give to his favorite people).

The first Buckeye Ball recipe is from my sister Becky’s collection and is in her handwriting. I have a lot of her recipes and my ultimate goal is to get them put together in a cookbook of just her recipes. She was an excellent cook, as all Schmidt & Heileman family members knew.

To make Becky’s Buckeye Balls you will need:

½ pound butter

1 pound jar peanut butter

1 ¼ cups powdered sugar (5 cups)

12 ounces chocolate

¼ bar paraffin

Have ingredients at room temperature. Mix together the butter, peanut butter and powdered sugar; mix well and shape into balls (bite size); then chill*

When the balls are thoroughly chilled, melt 12 ounces of chocolate and ¼ bar of paraffin in top of a double boiler.  Coat each ball and place on wax paper. (to make it look like a real buckeye, you need to dip the candy balls into the chocolate but not quite covering it all. There should be an uncovered spot on top of each ball.

*Becky wrote chill but didn’t say – she assumed everybody knew–it may be a lot easier to chill the buckeye balls if you place them on cookie sheets to chill. If you line the cookie sheets with wax paper, you can use the same cookie sheets again after the candies have been dipped.

This next recipe is similar.

BUCKEYE BALLS #2

To make Buckeye Balls #2, you will need:

1 jar (16 ounce) creamy peanut butter

1 cup butter or margarine, softened

1 ½ (16 ounce) packages  powdered sugar

1 (12 oz) package Nestle Toll House semi sweet chocolate morsels

2 TBSP shortening

Beat peanut butter and butter at medium speed with electric mixer until blended. Gradually add powdered sugar, beating until blended.  Shape into 1” balls and chill 10 minutes or until firm.  Microwave chocolate morsels and shortening in a 2 quart glass bowl at HIGH 1 ½ minutes or until melted, stirring twice.  DIP each peanut butter ball in melted chocolate until partially coated and place on wax paper to harden. Store candy in airtight container. Makes 7 dozen.

CREAMY NUT TOFFEE

This recipe has been in my files so long – it was typewritten on an index card; I don’t know how many years it’s been since I have even owned a typewriter.

To make Creamy Nut Toffee you will need:

1 cup sugar

½ tsp salt

¼ cup water

½ cup butter

1 cup chopped walnuts (divided in half)

1 12-oz package semi sweet chocolate chips

Combine sugar, salt, water and butter in a medium size saucepan. Cook to light crack stage (285 degrees on your candy thermometer). Add ½ cup chopped walnuts and then pour onto a well greased cookie sheet. Cool.  Melt the semi sweet chocolate pieces (over low heat, top of a double boiler). Spread half of the chocolate on top of the candy; sprinkle with half of the remaining chopped walnuts.  Cool. Turn the candy over and repeat with remaining chocolate and nuts. When cool, break toffee into small pieces.

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VERY GOOD ENGLISH TOFFEE

To make Very Good English Toffee, you will need:

½ cup finely chopped peanuts

½ cup butter or margarine (if using margarine don’t use a soft spread)

1 cup granulated sugar

Line a 12×10” with aluminum foil; shape piece of foil to about 10×8”. Sprinkle chopped nuts in pan and set aside. In 1 ½ quart pan, melt butter over medium heat. Immediately begin to stir in sugar with a long handled wooden spoon. Continue to cook over medium high heat about 6 or 7 minutes or until mixture turns golden, stirring only enough to prevent burning. Pour over nuts in prepared pan. Cool, break into pieces.  Makes ¾ pound.

AUNT ANNIE’S VERSATILE WHITE CHOCOLATE CANDY

Aunt Annie wrote on the recipe card, “I have used all kinds of nuts and different kinds of pretzels and it all turns out good!”

To make Aunt Annie’s Versatile White Chocolate Candy, you will need:

1 pound white chocolate

4 TBSP grated paraffin

1 ½ cups stick pretzels, broken

1 ½ cups cocktail nuts

- or peanuts

- or mixed nuts

or cashews

Melt white chocolate and paraffin in the top of a double boiler.  Stir in broken stick pretzels and your choice of 1 ½ cups of nuts. Drop by teaspoon onto cookie sheet sprayed with Pam.

(Sandy’s Cooknote: I have a recipe similar to this in my files; it was called Sticks & Stones.

HOLIDAY SUGARED WALNUTS

I have been making all of the variations of this recipe for so many years, I no longer remember where I originally got it. This is my favorite confection recipe to make up (I could make up three or four batches in one evening, after work). My penpal, Bev, has been keeping us supplied with walnuts from their walnut tree in Oregon–I keep them in the freezer so they won’t go bad.

To make Holiday Sugared Walnuts you will need:

1 ½ cups sugar

½ cup liquid*

1 tsp light corn syrup

¼ tsp salt

2-3 cups walnuts, halves or whole pieces

Cook first 4 ingredients to soft ball stage, (236 to 240 degrees F); remove from heat; add walnuts; stir until creamy; turn onto foil, separate pieces and let cool.

*To make Orange Flavored: ½ cup orange juice; 1 ½ tsp orange rind

To make Sherried Walnuts: ½ cup sherry wine, ½ tsp cinnamon

To make Spiced Walnuts: ½ cup water, ½ tsp EACH nutmeg & cloves and 2 tsp    cinnamon

To make Minted Walnuts: ½ cup milk, green food coloring, and ¾ tsp mint flavoring, stirred in after cooking milk, sugar, corn syrup & salt, but before you add the walnuts.

CHRISTMAS YULE LOG:

To make Christmas Yule Log you will need:

1 6-oz package butterscotch chips

1 8-oz package cream cheese

1 tsp vanilla

1 lb powdered sugar

Chopped nuts

Melt chips in pan; add cream cheese (room temperature will blend better) and mix. Next add vanilla extract and stir in 1 pound package of powdered sugar.  Cream in mixer; put in refrigerator to chill.  When chilled, form into logs. Roll in chopped nuts. Return to refrigerator until solid enough to slice. (This is a very rich candy. You will want to make the slices thin).

DIVINITY (Basic recipe)

To make Divinity you will need:

2 ½ cups granulated sugar

½ cup light corn syrup

½ cup hot water

¼ tsp salt

2 egg whites

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 cup nuts, chopped (optional)

Combine sugar, corn syrup, water and salt in a large saucepan. Cook, stirring just until sugar is dissolved but not after mixture begins to boil. Cover pan for 3 minutes to let steam dissolve sugar crystals on side of pan to prevent graininess in Divinity. Clip candy thermometer to side of pan.

Cook mixture, uncovered, to 238 degrees on candy thermometer (soft ball stage). While syrup is cooking to temperature, beat egg whites until stiff in a medium size bowl. When syrup reaches required temperature, slowly pour half of the hot syrup into the beaten egg whites in a slow but steady stream while beating continuously. Place remaining syrup back on the stove to cook to 258 degrees (hard ball stage). Continue beating the egg white/syrup mixture while adding the remaining syrup and the vanilla, until the mixture forms stiff peaks. Stir in nuts, if desired.  Drop mixture by teaspoonfuls onto wax paper and let cool. Store in tightly covered container.

Variations:

Cherry Divinity: Substitute ¼ cup maraschino cherry juice for ¼ cup water in basic recipe. Stir in ¼ cup chopped maraschino cherries just before spooning out.

Chocolate Divinity: Stir ¼ cup semi sweet chocolate pieces into basic recipe until melted, just before spooning onto wax paper.

SEE’S FUDGE

See’s Candy is a famous candy store in Southern California. I didn’t come across this recipe, though, until after I had already posted the fudge recipes.  (Discovered in October of this year that Oregon has Sees Candy stores!)

To make See’s Fudge, you will need:

½ cup butter

1 6-oz package of semisweet chocolate pieces

1 tsp vanilla

2 cups granulated sugar

1 (5 ¾ oz) can evaporated milk

10 large marshmallows

1 cup chopped nuts

Combine butter, chocolate pieces, and vanilla in medium size bowl. Set aside.  Place sugar, evaporated milk and marshmallows in a medium size saucepan. Bring to boil over medium heat, stirring frequently.  Reduce heat to low and cook 6 minutes, stirring constantly.  Pour hot mixture over ingredients in bowl.  Beat with electric mixture until fudge is thick and dull (this doesn’t take long). Stir in nuts.  Pour into a lightly buttered 8” square baking pan. Refrigerate several hours. Makes about 36 squares.

I found another fudge recipe in my files that I thought you might enjoy. It’s called Ribbon Fantasy Fudge. To make Ribbon Fantasy Fudge, you will need:

3 cups sugar

¾ cup solid stick margarine (not a soft spread)

2/3 cup evaporated milk

1 6-oz package of semi sweet chocolate pieces

1 7-oz jar of marshmallow crème

1 tsp vanilla

½ cup peanut butter (crunchy or cream style)

Combine 1 ½ cups sugar, 6 tablespoons of the margarine, and 1/3 cup evaporated milk in a heavy 1 ½ quart saucepan; bring to full rolling boil, stirring constantly. Continue boiling 4 minutes over medium heat, stirring constantly to prevent scorching. Remove from heat; stir in chocolate pieces until melted.  Add 1 cup (1/2 jar) marshmallow crème and ½ tsp vanilla; beat until well blended.  Pour into a greased 13×9” pan.  Repeat with remaining ingredients, substituting peanut butter for the chocolate pieces. Spread over chocolate layer. Cool at room temperature; cut into squares. Makes 3 pounds.

MAPLE PRALINES

To make Maple Pralines you will need:

2 cups granulated sugar

2/3 cup milk

1 cup maple syrup

2 cups pecans

Boil sugar, milk and syrup until mixture reaches 238 degrees on a candy thermometer.  Remove and cool. When it is lukewarm, beat until it is smooth and creamy. Add nuts and drop on wax paper making little mounds.

Happy Holiday baking and cooking!!! Yum!  And one final note about making Christmas candies–you dont really need to make a LOT of different candies. Become proficient at making ONE candy, such as fudge or divinity or pecan pralins – and the world will beat a path to your door. You will become KNOWN for your speciality candy.

Sandy

MULTITASKING – BAKING OATMEAL COOKIES AND MAKING POMEGRANATE JELLY

It started with mixing up a batch of oatmeal cookie dough last night. I got that mixed and decided I had enough for the day/night so I covered the dough with a kitchen towel and a plate.  First thing this morning, I thought – I need to get these cookies baked (I didn’t want to refrigerate the cookie dough—I find it affects the spreading of the cookies too much (that is, they don’t always spread enough) and then I thought oh, I need to get my pomegranate jelly made. (Reason I was in such a hurry this morning is because I am having a tree-trimming party tomorrow and serving Cincinnati chili to my guests – mostly young adults—but wanted to have something for each of them to take home—like a jar of jelly!).

I had four big jars of pomegranate juice made up from the fifty-something pomegranates Kelly & I picked from the tree belonging to a friend of his. A word about pomegranates: this is not the easiest fruit to work with.  Bob used to ream them with an electric juicer which was very messy and also very wasteful. I did some Google searching a few years ago and decided that instructions for “shelling” the fruit under water sounded best to me. So, I have been doing it this way for a few years. You cut an X in one end of the fruit and then hold it under cold water and break the pieces apart, removing the tough skin and membranes, leaving just the ruby red fruit. Strain and bag into ziplock bags – you are ready to eat the pomegranate or do something else with it. I have found  that mashing it with my hands, while it’s in the ziplock bag, works pretty well. You can use a rolling pin or you can just press down hard on the bag with the palm of your hand, until the juices begin to run. Then you strain it and you have pomegranate juice (You can also buy pomegranate juice in the supermarket nowadays but it’s kind of expensive) – besides which, I live in California where pomegranates grow. In our Arleta house, we had 3 pomegranate trees but it was a battle between us and the squirrels, to see who got the most fruit.  It’s helpful to have a friend with a pomegranate tree!  (Since moving to the high desert in 2008, we have planted 2 pomegranate trees (which the nursery insists on calling bushes).

Well, it took me about 2 weeks to “do” most of the pomegranates. I gave a few of the fruit to my sister for my nephew to eat, and I saved four of them to give to my Oregon penpal when she comes to visit. (Kelly and I weighed the basket of fruit – I had 51 pounds of pomegranates).

One of my blog readers was interested in making pomegranate jelly and I winged a response, not having made it for a few years and – to tell the truth, I’m not sure I even have directions for making pomegranate jelly written down anywhere.  So, Sharon, this one’s for you.

First, I buy the Ball low sugar/no sugar powdered pectin at Walmart. I think Sure-Jel also makes a low sugar/no sugar product but it’s kind of expensive for my pocket book. (It shocks me how much the price of pectin has gone up over the past few years). But Ball makes a product that Walmart sells (probably other places do as well) – and 3 tablespoons of this powder is equal to one of the old boxes of powdered low sugar/no sugar pectin.

When you are ready to make the jelly, let the juice come to room temperature (otherwise the powdered pectin will clump). Measure 4 cups of juice into a large pot (I use my 5 qt stainless pressure cooker pot – leave the lid off – and give the juice just a squirt of lemon juice. Add three tablespoons of powdered pectin and give it a whisk or two to dissolve. Add half a teaspoon of butter to the juice (this reduces the foam or scum or whatever you want to call it, from forming. I had NO foam or scum to skim off the juice when it had become jelly). Now you are ready to start heating the juice over a medium to high flame on the stove—have ready 2 cups of sugar and 4 8-oz jelly jars that have been washed in soapy water and then scalded in boiling water.  (OR – if you don’t plan on sealing the jars of jelly but just want to keep it in the frig to eat, use any small jars you may have saved – wash them well and have them ready to pour the jelly into – OR if you don’t want to seal the jars but don’t want to eat it immediately – you can do the old fashioned way of melting some paraffin wax to pour on top of the jelly once it has been poured into a jar.  Too much information? A fourth option is to freeze your jelly in some plastic containers but plan to eat it within a few months.

I am telling you all of this because maybe you don’t want to get that involved in jelly making. I have been making jellies and jams since my kids were toddlers (a very long time ago) and back then, I poured the jelly or jam into washed, scalded baby food jars – with a little melted paraffin on top, the lid replaced over that – it worked reasonably well. (I didn’t poison anyone). Eventually I graduated to really canning and it became a hobby (in fact, Bob & I entered canned foods into the Los Angeles county fair for about a decade and were proud of our blue ribbons!) – a case of canning jars will cost you about $9.00. the 8-ounce size jars are what you want.  (However, when I am canning jams or jellies JUST for family, I often put it into pint-size jars—especially when I am making strawberry jam and even when strawberries are in season, you are still paying for the berries, the sugar, the pectin, et al). When my sons were young boys, I would can grape jelly in QUART jars. I kid you not. It was the only kind of jelly they all liked.  (You know what they say about a prophet in his own town—it’s the same thing with a mother who likes making unique and unusual jellies and jams—your friends will love you for it, but your children won’t taste it for love or money. The first thing they always say to me is “What’s IN this?” (They still do).

If you are using canning jars, put the flat lids in a small pot, add water, and bring them to a boil. Let them cook for about 5 minutes and then just keep the water hot. This softens the seal on the lids so that when you put them onto the jelly jars and screw on the rings, you will get a firm seal.  I just wash the rings in soapy water and have them ready and waiting.

And while my sons like the pomegranate jelly, grape is probably still their universal favorite. But I can tell you unequivocally that my friends’ children LOVE my pomegranate jelly and if I give each one of them just one 8 ounce jar of jelly, you would think they’d gotten the queen’s jewels.

Well, I digress. Where were we?  You were heating up the 4 cups of pomegranate juice that you have doused with a squirt of lemon juice and the three tablespoons of powdered pectin and tossed in half a teaspoon of butter – and brought it to a boil. When it comes to a hard boil (a boil that can’t be stirred down), then dump in 2 cups of sugar all at one time. Now, the amount of sugar you add is entirely up to you. If you want a sweeter jelly, add 3 cups of sugar. If you want it to be tarter, reduce it to 1 or 1 ½ cups of sugar. But I find that 2 cups of sugar is perfect – it’s a little tart but the flavor of the pomegranate is there. The beauty of using a low sugar/no sugar pectin is that you control the amount of sugar that goes into it.

Stir the contents of the pot to dissolve the sugar, and bring it back to a boil.  Boil it for a minute or two – when you dip in a spoon and lift it out of the pot, the jelly should “sheet” off instead of just dripping off. However, that being said, the jelly I was making this morning, didn’t “sheet” off and I probably over-boiled the first batch—what I discovered is that the juice thickens into jelly as it cools. I was really uncertain that it was going to work right until it cooled – and every jar had thickened into a nice jelly. I hope this isn’t too much information!

Once I got into the rhythm of the jelly making, I was off and running – I poured the jelly from the pot into a quart size glass measuring cup to pour into the jelly jars that are hot and waiting—it’s much easier to pour this way and it avoids drips. You should wipe the rims of the jars off with a clean wet cloth to make sure nothing has spilled, place the lids on the jars, then the rings and tighten the rings (another new discovery – a pair of inexpensive rubber gloves are SO great for doing all of this without burning your fingers).  Now, most instruction booklets tell you to put the filled jars into a boiling water bath for 5 minutes but I have been skipping this step – the jars have been boiled, the lids have been boiled, the jelly has been boiled – I figure if the jars SEAL they are ok. You will know they have sealed if you hear a “ping” as each jar cools and forms a vacuum. The lid should be flat – if there is something like a bubble on the lid, it hasn’t sealed properly – just put it into the frig and use it in a reasonable amount of time.

Well, another way of learning how to do all of this is to buy the Ball blue book of canning and preserving – also sold at Walmart where the canning supplies are.  I began collecting canning/preserving/jelly and jam making cookbooks about twenty years ago and love some of the very old Ball and Kerr canning booklets from years ago.

So, Sharon, I hope this works for you.  And here is my favorite oatmeal cookie recipe, the one I was making this morning while making pomegranate jelly at the same time.

To make my favorite oatmeal cookies you will need

2 cups sifted flour

1 ½ tsp baking soda

2 tsp salt

2 tsp ground cinnamon

½ tsp nutmeg

Dash ground cloves

2 2/3 cups firmly packed brown sugar (or a combination of white sugar and brown sugar to make two and two thirds cups)

4 eggs

1 ½ cups butter flavored Crisco shortening

2 tsp vanilla extract

4 cups uncooked oats (can be a combination of old fashioned or quick – I like old fashioned)

1 cup dried cranberries

1 cup raisins

1 cup chopped pecans or walnuts

Stir together flour, soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. Now add shortening, sugar, eggs, and vanilla extract. Beat until smooth, about 2 minutes. Stir in oats, raisins and nuts. Drop by heaping teaspoon onto cookie sheets lined with parchment paper. Bake in preheated 350 degree oven about 12 minutes (I start checking at 10 minutes). Makes about 6 dozen depending on size.  Avoid overbaking!

Happy Holiday Baking and Jelly making!

Sandy

T’was a Week Before Christmas

T’WAS A WEEK BEFORE CHRISTMAS

T’was a week before Christmas

And all through the house

Gift-wrap was littered, it

Even covered a spouse,

Who sat forlorn in his old easy chair,

Wondering if there was

An extra cookie to spare—

For cookies were baked

And filled every tin

But to eat even one

Would be considered a sin—

(Unless it was one that was broken or burned)

Decorations hung everywhere that you turned.

In the guest room, presents were piled everywhere,

And trees were put up, not a moment to spare—

Twinkling lights and ornaments too,

But it will look pretty when we’re all through—

I’ve scorched all my fingers giving candy a test

And thought it was time that I had a good rest;

When out on the roof there arose such a clatter,

I dashed to the door to see what was the matter;

Up on a ladder, Grandpa swayed to and fro—

Trying to decide where fake reindeer should go—

I was sure he would fall and smash all the lights;

I shouted come down and we’ll fix it all right!

The dollhouse is back where it belongs

And hundreds of CDs play holiday songs,

Pork Loin’s in the freezer and wood on the fire,

Eggnog in the frig, we hope will inspire

But if not there is brandy, bourbon, and port

To serve every guest who is a good sport;

We’ll work at it all until we fall with a jerk

And let Santa get credit for all our hard work!

–Sandra Lee Smith

In memory of Robert Fend who willingly climbed up on the roof every year to hang lights or  install fake  reindeer. He is still greatly missed by the grandkids and me.

 

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