Archive for the ‘My Family’ Category

New Year’s Changes

Saturday, January 1st, 2011

Greetings, readers, and happy 2011!
As usual at this time of year I’ve been thinking about what lies behind me and ahead of me—in general and also on this blog.
I have adored our time together “In Our Grandmothers’ Kitchens,” and I don’t want to end it.
I do intend to curtail it a bit. Here’s why.
My hope when I started writing here in September 2008 was that I would grow as a writer and a cook by having a regular outlet.
I also hoped to strengthen my “brand”—the recognition and readership of Tinky—so that when it was time to transform the blog into my second cookbook I would have a ready-made audience for that book (and thus a great argument to any publisher that I should be included in its lists).
I got halfway there. I think I’ve DEFINITELY improved as a writer and a cook. Nevertheless, my career hasn’t prospered as much as I hoped it would.
I have a small but loyal readership, for which I am grateful. But my blog’s statistics actually went down this year instead of growing. So clearly I’m doing something wrong.
Part of my problem, I’m sure, stems from timing. I first started writing about food more than 15 years ago because it was one of the few areas of journalism in which there seemed to be a growing demand for writers. Most newspapers had weekly food pages, and they didn’t seem to have the staff to fill those pages.
Since I loved cooking and knew that I could relate food to just about any topic, I was happy to move into this niche.
Things have changed, however. Today, the U.S. has more food writers than ever before. And it has a ton of food bloggers. So my blog and I simply don’t stand out.
I will keep posting here from time to time in the hope that I can figure out how to turn around my fate and that of “In Our Grandmothers’ Kitchens.”
Much of my creative energy will be devoted to a new project, however. As regular readers know, I have been busy lately trying to keep up with my aging mother.
My new writing project will explore our journey together as her dementia progresses.
I plan to put vignettes from our life and from this new writing project on the internet on a blog called “Pulling Taffy” (Taffy is one of my names for my mother, thanks to her affection for swimming in salt water.)
So please do keep up with me here and there as we try to be true to ourselves and each other.
Meanwhile, happy New Year to all….

P.S. You DO deserve a recipe on January 1–but since I don’t have a new one here’s something appropriate from this past year: black-eyed peas, a traditional (and hearty) new year’s dish! Enjoy……..

My Favorite Flank Steak

Tuesday, October 19th, 2010

I don’t post a lot of meat recipes on this blog. I’m not sure why. I do eat meat. Somehow it doesn’t stimulate my memory, senses, and creative juices as vegetables, breads, desserts, and appetizers do, however.
Today I’m popping a quick meat recipe on anyway. Whenever I see a flank steak at the meat counter of Avery’s General Store I’m tempted to make this truly easy dish. I love marinating things, and flank steak really rewards you with flavor and texture if you marinate it.
I’m sorry that the measurements aren’t exact. Luckily, you can’t really go wrong with the recipe.
Next time I make it I’ll try to get something written down. But this is just one of those weeks!  Lots of phone calls to make and answer, lots of recipes to test and write up, a number of songs to practice, and a bored elderly mother to entertain.
Earlier today in her infatuation with the autumn sun Jan made an unauthorized break from the house with her walker. I thought she was napping until the Hawley, Massachusetts, road crew showed up at the door.
“Your mother seems to be hiking to Charlemont,” Wayne Clark told me in his laconic drawl.
When I found my mother she was WAY down the street chatting unrepentantly with a man she had found while walking.
(Believe me, it’s not easy to find stray men here in Hawley!)
“I knew you’d find me,” she said with a big grin on her face. I had to grin back as I thanked the man and the road crew.
Thank goodness for small towns! It takes a village to care for more than just children…….
The Flank Steak
1 flank steak (1-1/2 to 2 pounds)
several cloves of garlic, peeled and sliced into tiny slices
soy sauce as needed (enough to cover but not submerge your steak)
With a small sharp knife make small slits all over one side of your flank steak. Insert pieces of garlic into each slit.
Pour soy sauce onto the steak; then turn it over and repeat the cutting, inserting, and pouring on that side as well.
Allow the steak to marinate at room temperature for at least 1-1/2 hours (a little longer is best, but if you want to marinate it for several hours you’ll need to refrigerate it). Turn it every 1/2 hour or so to make sure both sides stay moist.
Remove the steak from the soy sauce and place it on a hot grill (or on a grill pan). Grill it for about 4 minutes on each side—maybe a little longer—so that it is rare. If you overcook your steak it will be tough. It doesn’t have to be as rare as the photo above, however. (I love rare steak!)
Slice the warm steak against the grain.
Serves 4 to 6.

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Two Grandmothers’ Cake

Thursday, September 30th, 2010

My mother celebrated a big birthday a few days ago. I won’t say exactly how old she is, mostly because it makes me feel incredibly old myself. Suffice it to say that she is at an age at which every birthday is a big birthday.
We were visiting my brother and his family and faced a couple of requirements for the birthday cake.
It had to be relatively small since all of us (except my mother) need to lose a little weight. And it had to be simple. My brother was in the hospital at the time. He is happily and healthily home now, but we didn’t want to make a complicated family time more complicated.
I had recently rediscovered my grandmother’s recipe for chocolate cake and decided it might fit the bill.
I recalled this cake well from my youth, when it was one of my mother’s standbys for a quick cake. She called it “Mother’s Chocolate Cake” (on my grandmother’s recipe card it is called “My Favorite Chocolate Cake”) and iced it with cream-cheese frosting. 

My mother’s own version of the recipe had long since disappeared so I was happy to find my grandmother’s. It’s a great cake—and she was a lovely person. Here is she as she looked when I was little. (I do so admire a woman who can wear hats.)


The recipe turned out to be a teensy bit more challenging that I had imagined. 

First, it was just old fashioned enough to be very confusing. My grandmother provided a range of oven temperatures and a range of flour quantities.
Second, she was unclear as to which ingredients were added when.
I standardized it as best I could and proceeded.
In hindsight, it seems to me that one could easily bake this in two layers for a bit less time, but the 8-by-8 inch pan made a nice thick cake that was easy to eat and frost.
According to my grandmother’s recipe card, she used a cooked icing on the cake. I stuck with my mother’s standby cream-cheese version, which is ever popular in our house.
My nephew Michael took charge of decorating the cake. He began with the word “Nana” written in orange lettering. He then went to town with candy corn and sprinkles. At ten, Michael takes the “more is more” school of decorating very seriously. 

The birthday girl was pleased as punch with the results.

Tinky’s Grandmother’s Chocolate Cake
2 ounces bitter chocolate
1/2 cup boiling water
1/2 cup (1 stick) sweet butter at room temperature
1-1/2 cups sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups flour
1/2 cup milk
2 teaspoons vanilla
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour an 8-by-8-inch baking pan.
Place the chocolate in a small saucepan, and pour the boiling water over it. Stir to dissolve, turning the heat below on very low if necessary.
In a mixing bowl cream together the butter and sugar. Beat in the eggs, 1 at a time. Beat in the baking soda.
Add the flour and milk alternately, beginning and ending with the flour. Stir in the chocolate mixture, followed by the vanilla.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan, and bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 50 minutes.
If you want to be informal and serve the cake out of the pan, that’s just fine. To be a bit more festive, let it cool for 10 minutes and then invert it onto a cooling rack.
Ice with cream-cheese frosting. 

Serves 8 to 10.

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Adventures in Real Estate

Monday, August 9th, 2010

Daffodil Cottage

Regular readers may have wondered at my recent uncharacteristic silence. (In fact, a few of you wrote to ask whether I was all right, which was very sweet.)
I have indeed taken a break from writing lately. My whole family has been busy helping my mother get ready to sell her house in Millburn, New Jersey.
For several years now, she and I have been traveling from Massachusetts (my home) to New Jersey (her home) to Virginia (my brother’s home) and then back to New Jersey and so on.
Frankly, living in three places has been exhausting and confusing for me, let alone the almost 92-year-old Jan!
So this spring she decided to put the New Jersey house on the market. She and I spent a couple of weeks at the house (known as Daffodil Cottage) in June de-cluttering and making sure that all the little repair jobs we had been saving up got done. 
We then turned the place over to our realtor, the amazing Wendy Drucker.

Recently, my friend Peter asked me for advice about choosing a realtor. I sent him a long letter, and OF COURSE I can’t find it now. The gist of it was that the ideal realtor understands the unique features of one’s home and looks not just for the most money but also for the best fit for the house and its owner.
I also suggested that the best realtors were rooted in the communities in which they sold property.
Peter told me I was brilliant. Well, of course, I am—but my description of the ideal realtor had nothing to do with my brilliance and everything to do with Wendy’s.
She is cheerful, knowledgeable, and competent—and she cares about my mother, me, and the past and future of Daffodil Cottage. She has found a buyer who wants to bring up his children in Daffodil Cottage. The closing will take place next week!
Whenever we have been in a jam—locating a repairman while out of state, trying to figure out how to get rid of decades’ worth of garbage, looking for a real-estate lawyer who would reassure my mother that selling the house was indeed the right thing to do—Wendy has come through. 

She and her terrific husband Chris have spent more time in Daffodil Cottage lately than we have. Chris and my nephew Michael bonded when Chris stopped by to help my brother David install a fire extinguisher in the kitchen.

We call Chris Our Hero. We call Wendy a Goddess. (She is actually Goddess Number One. Number Two is my sister-in-law Leigh, who has been acting as the family organizer and archivist.)
What with all the sorting and packing, we haven’t had much time for cooking. We have eaten some yummy takeout, about which I’ll write soon. But we did invite Wendy and Chris over last week for a quick pasta supper.
We served the simple sauce below over whole-wheat rigatoni purchased at one of Millburn’s best places to shop, Mia Famiglia.
This little Italian deli sells tasty sandwiches and soups, aged Italian cheeses, and crusty breads.
Naturally, we prepared the sauce with Mia Famiglia’s own sausage, which is flavored with tons of fennel. If you can’t shop there (we won’t be able to soon!), you may make it with any Italian sausage you like (I’d mix hot and sweet if you don’t have the natural spiciness we enjoyed)—even vegetarian faux sausage.
Jan and I will be embarking on more adventures in real-estate soon: another experienced realtor, Carol Cooke, is looking for an apartment for us in Virginia. In the meantime, here is the sauce we served to Wendy and Chris. 

You don’t actually have to sell real estate to enjoy it.

Daffodil Cottage Pasta Sauce
12 ounces real (or veggie) Italian sausage, cut into small chunks
2 to 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (use only if using faux sausage or if your real sausage is quite lean)
2 to 3 cloves garlic, minced
another 2 to 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 large can (28 ounces) Italian tomatoes, crushed by hand or with a gentle knife
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 pinches red pepper flakes (or to taste)
1 teaspoon oregano leaves
fresh, chopped basil to taste
In a frying pan brown the sausage chunks, using oil if they are made of soy or are very lean. Drain and set aside.
In another large frying pan or a Dutch oven sauté the garlic in the olive oil just until it turns golden brown.
Add the tomatoes, salt, peppers, oregano, and sausage. Cook this mixture down for at least 20 minutes, uncovered. Stir occasionally. The sausage gets richer and denser if you simmer it for up to an hour; if you want to extend the cooking, make sure you cover the sauce almost all the way after it begins to thicken. 
Toss in the basil just before serving over pasta. Top with grated, aged Romano cheese from Mia Famiglia. Serves 4.

Goodbye, arts-and-crafts living room of Daffodil Cottage!

My Trip to Bountiful

Tuesday, July 13th, 2010

Alice's Cabin as seen from the Dam

I have always been moved by Horton Foote’s play/teleplay/screenplay The Trip to Bountiful. Its elderly heroine, Carrie Watts, longs to return to her rural childhood home. To her it represents youth, peace, joy, and love.
We all have our individual Bountifuls. Their sights, sounds, and textures speak to us of home, of happy childhood, of a close kinship with nature.
I’m lucky enough to be able to make visits from time to time to my own Bountiful. It’s located less than a mile from my home in Hawley, Massachusetts, in the summer community of Singing Brook Farm. 

My family rented Alice’s Cabin every summer from the time I was four until I was 21. The cabin is set in the woods, way down a curvy dirt road.


Alice’s Cabin perches right above Singing Brook Farm’s dammed up mountain stream and tennis courts—an ideal location for children. We could always see who was available for play.

Nowadays my brother David, my sister-in-law Leigh, and my nephew Michael rent the cabin each summer with a little contribution from me. They don’t stay for the entire summer so I always get to enjoy some time there.
I used to stay at the cabin in order to be alone. My mother can no longer be left by herself. So this summer she and I have spent a couple of nights together at Alice’s Cabin.
There are a few things I DON’T like about Alice’s Cabin. Since people don’t live in it for most of the year (with no insulation, a small wood stove for heat, and an above-ground water supply, the place can’t be used except in the summer) it tends to attract other residents—bugs, mice, and often a bat. It’s also a little nippy, even in the summer. 

Everything else I love. So does my mother. So do the dog and cat. The latter has unfortunately retired from mousing at the advanced age of 19; her celestial blue eyes are beautiful but blind.

Lorelei Lee adores this sofa, perhaps because the cover matches her eyes.

When my family first moved to a year-round house on the main road, in fact, I had trouble sleeping. I missed the brook’s lullaby.
Since we are regular tenants Singing Brook Farm lets us strew our stuff about. The cover art for my cookbook hangs on a wall in the kitchen, and the cow painting given to me in graduate school by an artist, Ernie from Mars, looms majestically above the mantle. 

(Ernie and the cow deserve their own post one of these days. For the moment, let me just say that the cow is hard to miss.)

My own room (used by nephew Michael when he is in residence) is decorated with posters. Two of my favorites are a World War I-era announcement and a blown-up advertisement for one of my singing engagements.


Naturally, when we are at Alice’s Cabin my mother and I spend time down at the Dam. The water is cool—actually, COLD—but refreshing. Jan can’t go swimming unless she has more than one person to help her so sometimes we have to compromise.  

I am able to move her chair into the water so that she can cool her feet off. And she often enjoys just sitting near the Dam with Truffle. The air there is always cooler than it is way up on the main road. 

I don’t know how often we’ll be able to stay at Alice’s Cabin this summer since moving around tends to disorient my mother.
Even if I don’t go back at all, I’ll feel that my portion of the rent has been well spent. Sunday night after my mother went to bed, I sat happily reading in the living room with the animals by my side. As always, the sounds of the singing brook soothed me.
Like Carrie Watts, I felt a sense of peace and renewal. I was home.
As a bonus, I experienced a spectacular sunset—something I don’t get to see at my regular house since the Casa Weisblat faces east. (Sunrises are completely wasted on me.) 

What—and where—is YOUR Bountiful, readers?

Mint Syrup
I’ll bet you almost thought I was going to forget to include a recipe in this post!
This syrup smells just like the doorway to Alice’s Cabin. Mint grows wild outside the door, and it’s almost impossible not to step on it and release its aroma. (I don’t actually try very hard to avoid it.)
The recipe appears in my Pudding Hollow Cookbook. I like it in tea or lemonade. It also makes a lovely punch combined with iced tea, fruit juice, and ginger ale.
If you store your syrup for more than a couple of months, you may have to thin it out by heating it with additional water. Make sure it is either well sealed or refrigerated, or it will mold after a couple of weeks.
8 sprigs fresh spearmint
8 sprigs fresh peppermint
(If you don’t have both, use twice as much of either.)
2-1/2 cups sugar
1 cup water
1 or 2 drops of green food coloring (optional)
Wash and carefully blot the mints dry. Place them in a saucepan, and pound or crush them slightly to release their flavors. Add the sugar and water, and bring the mixture to a boil, stirring until the sugar dissolves.
Turn down the heat, and simmer for 15 minutes. Stir in the food coloring, if desired, and remove from heat. 

Let the syrup cool for a few minutes; then strain it through cheesecloth into a sterilized jar or bottle. Makes about 2 cups.   

The newest feature of Alice's Cabin. One can sit on the swing and watch tennis, listen to the rain, or just take a nap.

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