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Drink, Eat, and Be Very Merry Indeed

Wednesday, September 21st, 2016


I am one of the lucky food writers who have been invited to what is called the Abrams Dinner Party. Abrams Publishing (long known for art books and more recently for colorful cookbooks) will be sending us books to review throughout the year.

I’m already behind on posting reviews (I’m behind on EVERYTHING during this nutty season of the year) so I’m giving you three at once.

Colonial Spirits: A Toast to Our Drunken History by Steven Grasse is charming—so much so that although I THOUGHT I was going to set it aside as a prize for my upcoming Hawley Gentlemen’s Pie & Tart Extravaganza, I have decided that it needs to stay in my house so I can use it.

(In addition to enjoying the text I loved the old-fashioned typeface and the whimsical illustrations by the Reverend Michael Alan.)

Grasse is a distiller himself and the creator of such successful historically oriented brands as Narragansett Beer and Hendrick’s Gin. In his book he returns to colonial days, reminding the reader that since the water was unsafe to drink early white Americans turned to ale and other spirits to quench their thirst.

He provides recipes and history for a variety of concoctions, including a variety of beers and wines (cock ale or quince wine, anyone?), ciders, and cocktails. I can now make beverages I had only previously encountered in historical novels, including syllabub, ratafia, and milk punch. (Okay, I may skip the milk punch.)

Look for me to concoct such drinks as cranberry shrub and peach cobbler (yes, it’s a cocktail as well as a dessert) on TV in the months to come.


In The 24-Hour Wine Expert Jancis Robinson offers a primer for people like me, who either don’t drink wine or don’t know much about it. She helps with selecting wines (telling the reader how to move from one wine s/he likes to another s/he will PROBABLY like), serving them, and storing them.

I have apparently stored much of the wine in my house a little too long.

She also runs through the products of major wine-producing areas and tells the reader how to find a bargain. All in all, this is a handy little book.

Butter & Scotch shares recipes from a combination bar and bakery in Brooklyn of the same name. The bar’s founders, Allison Kave and Keavy Landreth, share their “baking and boozing philosophy,” which is all about having fun while eating and drinking very well. Some of their recipes even combine butter and scotch with delicious-sounding results. All of their recipes are imaginative.

I wanted to test at least one recipe from this book. I was tempted to try the very rich peanut-butter pie but decided to give my guests the slightly less caloric Mama T’s Tuna Quiche.

Basically a rearranged tuna melt in a pie shell (I didn’t say it was calorie free!), the quiche was very popular with a group from my small hometown at a recent pot luck. I think another time I would grate the cheese instead of cubing it, to make it flow through the pie, but I’ll definitely try it again!


Mama T’s Tuna Quiche

from Butter & Scotch, used with permission


1 single pie crust
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup whole milk
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons flour
6 ounces Swiss cheese, cubed
1 (5-ounce) can tuna packed in water, drained
1/3 cup sliced Kalamata olives
1/4 cup thinly sliced scallions
1-1/2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 pinch cayenne pepper


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Fit the crust into a pie pan. (The original recipe uses an 8-inch springform pan, which would be great, but I don’t have one so I used a 9-inch pie pan.) Refrigerate until ready to fill.

In a large bowl beat together the mayonnaise, milk, eggs, and flour. Add the cheese, tuna, olives, scallions, mustard, and cayenne, and stir well. Pour all of the ingredients into the crust, and bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until the top is golden brown and the center has set. (The original recipe says 20 to 25 minutes, and if one has the springform that may work, but in my pie pan it took longer.)

Allow the quiche to cool for at least 20 minutes, then serve it warm or at room temperature. Leftovers can be kept in the fridge for up to 1 week and warmed in a 350-degree oven for 15 minutes. Serves 6 (more at a pot-luck event!).


Locavore Bliss

Thursday, July 23rd, 2015
Making All-Hawley Frozen Yogurt makes me happy. (So does wearing big hats.)

Making All-Hawley Frozen Yogurt makes me happy. (So does wearing big hats.)

I like buying and eating locally. The food one gets is fresher that way. I’m not an obsessive locavore. Nevertheless, I have dreamed in my modest way of creating a recipe that uses ONLY ingredients native to my small hometown of Hawley, Massachusetts.

Here is that recipe!

One COULD argue that two ingredients do not constitute a recipe. The two ingredients here work so perfectly together, however, that I’m going to call them a recipe.

The dish is maple frozen yogurt. I made it using Sidehill Farm yogurt. Sidehill moved to Hawley a couple of years ago and sells lovely raw milk and other products as well as the yogurt.

The farm is worth a visit if you’re in our area. I know Carnation used to bill its products as “the milk from contented cows.” The Sidehill cows are DEFINITELY contented.

Courtesy of Sidehill Farm

Courtesy of Sidehill Farm

I combined the yogurt with maple syrup from my neighbors at Chickley Alp Farm. How much more local and delicious could food be?

This dessert was a huge hit when I visited Mass Appeal this week. Unfortunately, the video to which I link below doesn’t show the best part of the show: the look of rapture on co-host Ashley Kohl’s face when she tasted the yogurt. (No, I’m not exaggerating. “Rapture” is the mot juste.) That look made me very happy.

The yogurt also made me happy. Commercial frozen yogurt doesn’t tend to taste very yogurt-y. This version had lots of yogurt tang, combined with maple sweetness. My “recipe” was a match made in heaven.

You may ask why I used whole-milk yogurt instead of low fat. I had never made frozen yogurt before, so I consulted several cookbooks and websites. Apparently, low-fat yogurt becomes very hard very quickly if you pop leftovers in the freezer.

If you put this version in the freezer for a few hours, you will find it lovely and creamy still. (I haven’t tried freezing it for longer than a few hours; it’s too popular in my house.)

And let’s face it: frozen whole-milk yogurt is still healthier than ice cream!

Just for fun after the video link to the yogurt segment I have embedded the video for the other recipe we made on the air this week, cowboy caviar. I have featured the caviar recipe, from my wonderful Texan friend Teri Tynes, previously on this blog, and it’s remarkably tasty.

But first, the yogurt recipe:

All Hawley Frozen Yogurtweb

All-Hawley Frozen Yogurt


1 quart plain Sidehill Farm Yogurt
3/4 cup Chickley Alp Maple Syrup (darkest version preferred)


Whisk together the yogurt and maple syrup. Place them in an ice-cream maker and freeze until ready (about half an hour, in my experience).

That’s it! Serves 8.

Now, for the yogurt video:


And here is the cowboy caviar.


Return of the Pudding Festival

Monday, September 22nd, 2014

Chocolate Pudding Cakeweb

My favorite culinary event, the Pudding Hollow Pudding Festival, will return this coming Sunday, September 28, in my beloved Hawley, Massachusetts, after a five-year hiatus–an even longer hiatus if you consider the fact that the most recent festival (in 2009) took place in Charlemont, not in Hawley. 

Centering around a contest, the day is a whole lot of fun.

Good food, good scenery, good music, and good company. A perfect combination.

I hope readers who can will attend this festival—and perhaps enter a pudding! Here is the schedule for the day:

11 a.m.
Puddings arrive at the Hawley Grove in East Hawley. (We ask a $15 entry fee. And please bring the recipe!)
11:15 a.m.
Free tour of nearby Sidehill Farm (a wonderful organic dairy farm, and a donor to the contest).
12:30 p.m.
Lunch. (Donation requested.)
1:30 p.m.
Pudding parade, entertainment, and announcement of the contest winner(s). Puddings will be available for tasting after the judging—although you eat at your own risk!

Here’s a pudding to get you salivating. I was going to make it on TV last week, but we ran out of time so you see it in the video but don’t watch the preparation. It’s simple, and a variation on it is a frequent entry in the contest.

To make it more local, I used Taza Chocolate. Taza is a company in Somerville, Massachusetts, that buys organic cacao beans and stone grinds them. They sent me some chocolate to play with (they also generously donated a chocolate sampler as a prize in the pudding contest) so I used their cinnamon chocolate discs to make the pudding.

The recipe as it stands here is only gently chocolaty. If you are a major chocoholic, feel free to add more chocolate.

And if you’d like more information about the Pudding Festival, visit its website.

Cinnamon Taza

Taza Chocolate Pudding Cake


1 cup white sugar
1 cup flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/3 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 ounce Taza chocolate (from a disc; you choose the flavor!)
2 tablespoons sweet butter
1/2 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
2 tablespoons grated Taza chocolate
1 cup boiling water


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Into a bowl sift 3/4 cup of the sugar with the flour, baking powder, and salt. Beat in the milk and vanilla.

Melt the ounce of chocolate and the butter together in a double boiler. Add them to the other mixture. Pour this batter into a greased small 1-1/2- to 2-quart casserole dish.

Blend the brown sugar, the remaining white sugar, and the grated chocolate, and sprinkle them on top of the batter. Pour the water over all. Bake for 40 minutes. Serve with whipped cream or ice cream.

Serves 6 to 8.

pudding talkweb

I can’t leave you without a cute story. As you’ll see in the video below, I occasionally call myself the Queen of Pudding. (This distinguishes me from the winner of the Pudding Contest, who is known as the Pudding Head.)

At the end of Mass Appeal everyone was invited to eat pudding. One of the other guests took a bite, looked at me, and exclamed, “You really ARE the Queen of Pudding!”

I had to fluff up my feathers just a little. Well, maybe a lot.

Here is my video preview of the Pudding Festival. The corn pudding recipe will come soon!


Yummy Yammy Salsa Giveaway (Plus Tinky in a New Hat)

Sunday, September 7th, 2014


I haven’t offered a giveaway on this blog in a while—so this one should be GOOD. And it is!

Yummy Yammy has generously offered to send three jars of its sweet-potato salsa (one Mexican, one Moroccan, and one Tuscan) to a reader of In Our Grandmothers’ Kitchens.

This company, based in Norwich, Vermont, is run by a woman named Lisa Johnson. Lisa’s salsas have no tomatoes in them, but salsa doesn’t need tomatoes.

As readers may recall I have made peach salsa, tropical fruit salsa, rhubarb salsa, and apple-cranberry salsa. I had never thought of making salsa out of sweet potatoes, however, and I was intrigued when Yummy Yammy offered to send me some to try.

Lisa’s salsa lives up to its name. It’s made of real food—sweet potatoes, beans, lime juice, vegetables, spices—and it tastes fresh and yummy. I served some at a cocktail party this week, and neighbors loved it, too.

The salsa isn’t cheap. When I think of what I spend making salsa, however, I realize why. Yummy Yammy is smoother than tomato salsa, which makes it versatile. And it’s low in calories and high in nutrition.

Yummy Yammy is available in the North Atlantic region at Whole Foods Market as well as online at Amazon and Open Sky. If you don’t win the salsa giveaway (I wish you ALL could!), you can go to the Yummy Yammy website and sign up for its mailing list. You will receive free shipping on your first online order as well as special offers in the future.

To enter the drawing for the giveaway, just leave a comment below telling me about your favorite salsa or your favorite thing to do with salsa (or whatever you feel like discussing!) between now and midnight on the morning of Tuesday, September 16. I’ll choose a winner randomly and announce his/her name on the morning of the 17th.

Good luck—and just in case you were dying to see me in a new straw hat (I KNOW you were!), here is my most recent TV appearance. The recipe I make comes from my upcoming book on Funeral Foods and is based on a dish in a mystery novel by Margaret Maron. Just click on the picture below to watch. And if you make the actual recipe depicted (I encourage you to do so!), bake the casserole until the biscuits brown (about 20 minutes) and then cover the whole thing and bake for 10 to 20 minutes longer to make sure everything is warm and bubbly.

Enjoy the glorious almost fall weather….


Cooking and Thinking in Provence, 1970

Friday, December 6th, 2013

30book "Provence, 1970" by Luke Barr.

I review a lot of books for my local newspaper. I can’t remember the last one that spoke to me as Provence, 1970 has.

Subitled “M.F.K. Fisher, Julia Child, James Beard, and the Reinvention of American Taste,” the book was written by Luke Barr, an editor at Travel + Leisure and Fisher’s nephew.

(M.F.K. Fisher, in case you haven’t read her, is another great read, perhaps the first American to write culinary essays that were taken seriously by both food lovers and literary critics.)

The book hones in on a few weeks toward the end of 1970 when six food luminaries converged in the South of France. In addition to the three writers in the subtitle, Barr writes about Simone Beck, Julia Child’s friend and the co-author of Child’s pioneering volumes on Mastering the Art of French Cooking; Richard Olney, an American writer and artist who wrote meticulously researched books about traditional French country cooking; and Judith Jones, the influential editor who worked with most of the writers involved.

Jones is the only major character in the book who is still alive. At 89 she is still cooking and writing and is a former judge at my very own hometown’s charity pudding contest, which will return in 2014.

Working from letters, diaries, and memoirs, Barr examines individuals and cultures at a defining moment. Most of his American characters had made their reputations (and built much of their lives) paying tribute to traditional French cuisine. At this point in their lives Child and Fisher in particular were beginning to feel ever so slightly oppressed by the Old World and their old lives in France … and to look forward to a new beginning in the New World.

Barr argues that this moment in food history, the time his characters spent together in Provence late in that year, marked a turning point in the way Americans write about food and consequently in the way we cook. Instead of trying to duplicate classic French modes of food preparation, we began to explore our own culinary possibilities.

Much of the food culture we now take for granted followed—including our renewed interest in local, fresh food; the status of chefs and food writers (although not this food writer yet, alas) as icons of popular culture; our curiosity about new, varied flavors; and what Barr calls the “moral dimension” of cookery in contemporary America.

Barr is careful not to overstate his argument; he doesn’t claim that these encounters in Provence CAUSED the way we cook today. He does convincingly maintain that his characters and their interactions “provide a unique, up-close view of the push and pull of history and personality.”

Provence, 1970 takes the reader on a thought-provoking, delicious tour of a remarkable time, place, and group of people. My favorite moment in the book comes when Julia Child and James Beard are improvising a simple supper in the kitchen at la Pitchoune, the small house built by Child and her husband Paul in rural France.

Julia Child and James Beard in December 1970, taken by Paul Child. Used with permission/courtesy of the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University.

Julia Child and James Beard  at la Pitchoune in December 1970, taken by Paul Child. Used with permission from/courtesy of the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University

For them, as for most of us who love to cook, the preparation of a meal is a balancing act between the knowledge and tradition they have built up over the years in the kitchen and the demands of the unique foodstuffs in front of them. It is an opportunity for creativity and for camaraderie.

I treasure Provence, 1970 for scenes like the one in the Childs’ kitchen and also for its implicit message that change can come at any age. All the main characters are middle aged, ranging from Richard Olney at 43 to James Beard at 67. Yet all are preparing for new chapters in their lives and new chapters in books.

Above all, I love the book for Barr’s sensitivity to the enduring connections that food can forge between people who care for one another and for the preparation and consumption of meals.

His words about his mother near the end of the book speak to the impulse that made me call this blog In Our Grandmothers’ Kitchens.

It was my mother, who died a few years ago, who taught me to cook. And when I make something she made for me, or with me, I feel her presence—not in any literal or even ghostly way, but in the form of an atmospheric shift, an emotional warmth. It is striking how cooking binds us to the past, and to the people we love, even when they’re gone.

As Christmas approaches, I raise a glass and lift a fork to Luke Barr and to the historical figures he brings to life in his book. And of course to my own late mother—and to you and those you love, dear readers.

Taffy and Tinky in 2009

Taffy and Tinky in 2009

P.S. If you have already purchased Provence, 1970 for a food lover on your gift list and are looking for other book suggestions, a bookstore, Amazon, or I would be more than happy to sell you a copy of my own Pulling Taffy or Pudding Hollow Cookbook. (If you order from me, you may get your copies signed—and you will be supporting THIS middle-aged food writer!)

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