Archive for July, 2009

A Trip to the Moon

Monday, July 20th, 2009



I see the moon. The moon sees me.


As we contemplate the anniversary of the moon landing forty years ago today, the moon is barely visible in the sky very early in the morning (not my ideal moon-gazing time of day!).


It’s the “tiny silver slipper of a moon” of Tennessee Williams, not the rich glowing globe of the full moon.


Nevertheless, the moon is never far from our imagination. As an article in yesterday’s New York Times pointed out, the moon has inspired humans for millennia and has held a special place in our popular culture. My favorite moon fantasy is A Trip to the Moon (1902), a charming and playful early short French film by Georges Méliès.




The moon is our sister and our closest celestial companion. Its silver beauty keeps us company, sheds soft light through our darkness, and reminds us that our home is not the only place in the universe.


The moon landing itself was one of the most joyous moments in recent American history. I am only 39 so I can only surmise that my vivid memories of it must be prenatal.


TV reception is minimal in Hawley, Massachusetts. Forty years ago the residents of Singing Brook Farm all crowded into the Farm’s highest point—the upstairs apartment in the barn, then inhabited by the glamorous Florette Zuelke—and watched the landing on a fuzzy tiny black-and-white television set. Even on that little, dim screen the “one small step” stunned us.


In an era in which many Americans were increasingly skeptical about our government and society, the moon landing celebrated some of the best things about life in these United States—our adventurous spirit, our pragmatism, our love of science, our optimism.


Today along with the moon landing we remember Walter Cronkite, who narrated that event for us. Recalling the moon landing also brings back some of Cronkite’s outstanding qualities—his sense of fun, his journalistic tenacity, his belief that we as a people could do good and do well.

Watch CBS Videos Online


In honor of this sweet anniversary, I offer a sweet recipe for Moon Pies (what else?). Although the Chattanooga Bakery, the inventor of this treat, now makes a variety of flavors (chocolate, banana, peanut butter!), I am faithful to the original moon pie. This is a sizeable chocolate-covered, marshmallow-filled, graham-cracker cookie. It isn’t quite as sizeable as the one NASA is serving today according to the Huffington Post, but then my kitchen doesn’t have as many visitors as NASA–yet!


My only deviation was to place chocolate on the top of my pies only, rather than all around them. This made application of the chocolate easier and kept the chocolate from overwhelming the other flavors.


The graham-cracker recipe is a very slight adaptation of one from the excellent blog Smitten Kitchen, for which I thank Smitten Kitchen’s writer/cook, Deb.


Of course, you’re welcome to try to cut commercial graham-crackers into rounds, but I highly recommend making your own.


And now, the recipe……….


moon pie web


Singing Brook Farm Moon Landing Moon Pies




for the crackers:


1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
5 tablespoons graham or whole-wheat flour (I used King Arthur Flour’s white whole-wheat flour)
1/2 cup dark-brown sugar, lightly packed
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
3-1/2 tablespoons (almost 1/2 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 4 cubes and frozen
5 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon maple syrup
2-1/2 tablespoons full-fat milk
1 tablespoon vanilla


for the filling:


1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter at room temperature
1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup marshmallow cream


for the topping:


12 ounces milk chocolate (Hershey’s works just fine; there’s no need to get fancy!)




Early in the day (better yet, early the day before you want to serve the moon pies since the crackers work better the second day) prepare the dough for the graham crackers. Combine the flour, brown sugar, baking soda, and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer. Mix on low to combine; then add the butter and mix on low again until the mixture resembles coarse meal.


In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining ingredients. Add them to the flour mixture and mix until the dough just comes together. (Deb warns that the dough will be fairly sticky, and she’s right!) Dust a large piece of waxed paper with flour, turn the dough out onto it, and pat it into a rectangle that measures about 1 inch thick. Wrap it and then chill it for at least 2 hours, until it firms up.


When the dough has firmed, divide it in half and return half to the refrigerator. Sift flour onto your work surface, and roll the dough out until it’s about 1/8-inch thick, adding flour as necessary to keep it just workable. Use a 2-inch biscuit cutter to cut rounds out of the flour, returning leftovers to the fridge to chill with the second batch of dough. When you finish with both batches of dough and their leftovers you should have about 16 rounds. Prick a few holes in each round with a fork.


Place the rounds on parchment- or silicone-covered cookie sheets about 2 inches apart, and put them in the freezer for 15 to 20 minutes.


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees while they chill. When you are ready to bake, put the crackers in the oven and bake them for about 15 to 20 minutes, until they are a little brown and slightly firm to the touch, rotating the cookie sheets after 8 minutes.


Allow the cookies to cool completely; then place them in a plastic bag until you’re ready to assemble your moon pies.


To assemble the moon pies: in the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the butter, sugar, and vanilla, until they are creamy and completely blended. Fold in the marshmallow cream.


Gently spread the filling on the bottom of half of the crackers, and top with the remaining crackers.


Finally, melt the chocolate in a double boiler, and gently swirl chocolate on the top of each moon pie.  Allow the chocolate to firm up before serving. Makes 8 big moon pies.





A Salute to the Hidden Harriet

Friday, July 17th, 2009
Harriet Hilliard Nelson (Courtesy of

Harriet Hilliard Nelson (Courtesy of


Tomorrow the matriarch of “America’s favorite family” would have turned 100.


Born Peggy Lou Snyder on July 18, 1909, Harriet Hilliard Nelson grew up in a theatrical family that used the name Hilliard (definitely classier than Snyder!). She worked as a chorus dancer and an actress before trying her hand as a singer and nightclub mistress of ceremonies. In 1932 she started singing with bandleader Ozzie Nelson’s orchestra, beginning a professional and personal partnership that would last until Ozzie’s death in 1975. (Harriet herself died in 1994.)


In the 1930s Harriet still worked solo from time to time. Her biggest role came in the 1936 Astaire-Rogers film Follow the Fleet, playing the romantic second lead opposite Randolph Scott. One can glimpse the singer she was—and the actress she might have become—in that film, where she is attractive and has a sultry if smallish voice.


Increasingly, however, she worked only with Ozzie. After the birth of their two children, David (in 1936) and Eric (known as Ricky and later Rick, in 1940), the couple began performing on the radio. This medium enabled Ozzie and Harriet to maintain a more stable home life than nightclub work could offer.


They launched their signature radio program, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, in 1944. The program allegedly followed the real-life story of the couple and their sons. The latter were played on the radio by actors. When the Adventures expanded to television in 1952, David and Ricky were brought in to portray themselves.


The televised Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet became one of the best known American situation comedies of the 1950s and 1960s. The program is sometimes irritating to view today. (I had to watch A LOT of episodes while doing research for my dissertation so I should know!) Like Ozzie’s rather bland orchestra, it tended, in the words of one critic, to “[border] very much on the Babbitt.”


By the time they hit television Ozzie and Harriet were primarily actors rather than musicians, although they sang in a few episodes. Young Rick sang increasingly beginning in 1959, when under his father’s watchful eye he became a recording star.


Even after Rick emerged as a singing sensation the major emphasis of the television program was on family life—specifically on the dilemmas of males, both grown up (Ozzie) and growing up (David and Ricky). Ozzie’s character was awash with insecurity. He was never sure he was brave enough, strong enough, or rugged enough— in short, masculine enough. In the final analysis, then, the only character in the program who seemed like a true grown up was Harriet.


Although her character was allowed occasional wisecracks, she generally represented reason and stability. Harriet Nelson played this character with grace and a certain amount of charm, but I frequently find myself wondering what the televised Harriet might have been like freed of Ozzie and the boys.


The same question comes to mind about the offscreen Harriet Nelson. She was portrayed in magazines and newspapers of the 1950s as a quiet homemaker who viewed her work on the family’s show as an old-fashioned pre-industrial cottage industry, a suitable accompaniment to her collection of early-American antiques. Nevertheless, no true personality peeks out of those pages.


Ozzie was described in the press as an efficient producer and director of the show; one can sense the iron hand with which he ruled the family as well as the program. The younger Nelsons were described as fairly normal boys who just happened to be the stars of a television show. While this was undoubtedly an exaggeration, they had definite personalities. The “real” Harriet disappeared from press coverage, however, just as her earlier vivacity disappeared from the television program. Behind the pretty smile and the smooth, tailored dresses lurked an enigma.


I hope the Harriet we never really knew managed to enjoy herself. I like to think that her on- and offscreen rationality and blandness camouflaged a busy, happy existence.


In any case, I use the recipe below to salute her competence as an actress and her status as one of America’s best known television personalities. (A 1965 New Yorker cartoon celebrated the Nelsons’ iconic status; in it a TV-watching wife tells her husband, “I’ll make a deal with you. I’ll try to be more like Harriet if you’ll try to be more like Ozzie.”)


The recipe was inspired by the episode “Pancake Mix” in the televised Adventures’ first season. In this half hour Harriet tries a new product, Hasty Tasty Pancake Mix. The Irrepressible Ricky (as he was often called by the program’s announcer) tries to get rich by exploiting the promise of the Hasty Tasty company to refund twice the purchase price of its product if the mix doesn’t make the finest pancakes the eater has ever tasted.


Ricky learns his lesson (sort of) when the pancake-mix president shows up at the Nelson home with a retinue and prepares a batch of pancakes on the spot—adorned with chocolate ice cream, strawberry jam, whipped cream, and a cherry.


Naturally, Ricky declares that these are ABSOLUTELY the finest pancakes he has ever tasted. Mine weren’t bad, either—or so my nephew Michael told me. He ate them with maple syrup. I was careful not to mention the trimmings Ricky enjoyed until after we had finished eating!


Enjoy them—and think of Harriet in her perfectly pressed apron, competently flipping them on her Hotpoint kitchen range….


Courtesy of Kathleen O'Quinn Jacobs


Hasty Tasty Pancake Mix


You may double this recipe easily. In fact, you may make up to EIGHT TIMES as much mix as the recipe suggests; just make sure that it is well mixed together.




1 cup flour
1/4 cup buttermilk powder (in larger grocery stores under “baking needs”)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder




Sift together these ingredients, and whisk them as well to make sure that they are thoroughly combined. Store the mix in an airtight container until it is needed (but not for more than 3 months!).


To make a batch of pancakes: In a bowl whisk together 1 cup water, 1 egg, and 2 tablespoons melted butter. Gently stir in the pancake mix. Do not overmix the batter.


Heat a frying pan or skillet to medium heat (about 375 degrees), and melt a small amount of butter into it. Dollop just under 1/4 cup batter onto the pan for each pancake.


Turn the pancakes after a minute or two, when they are nice and bubbly on the surface and easy to lift; then cook them on the other side. Add a bit more butter as needed to prevent sticking. Remove and serve with butter and warm maple syrup—or ice cream, jam, whipped cream, and a cherry. Each recipe makes about 10 pancakes.


The Irrepressible Michael contemplates a Hasty Tasty Pancake (I think he's ready to utter Ricky's favorite line, "I don't mess around, boy!")

The Irrepressible Michael contemplates a Hasty Tasty Pancake. (I think he's ready to utter Ricky's favorite line, "I don't mess around, boy!")


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Papa Haydn Anniversary Torte

Wednesday, July 15th, 2009



Yesterday was Bastille Day—so we hosted a “Let them eat cake!” evening at our house. Neighbors came over to help consume the sweet goodies I had to test this week. The most impressive of these (in flavor, if not in looks) was the Haydn Anniversary Torte.


This year Mohawk Trail Concerts is celebrating a number of musical anniversaries in addition to its own 40th birthday. The July 24/25 concert will honor the 200th anniversary of the death of Franz Joseph Haydn, known to music lovers as Papa Haydn.


I wanted to pay tribute to Haydn (the father of the string quartet, one of my favorite musical combinations) but I didn’t know much about his taste in food. He HAS been dead for a while, after all. I did a web search using the words “Papa Haydn” and “recipe.”


To my delight I found the innovative, upscale Papa Haydn Bakery and Restaurant in Portland, Oregon.


The owners of Papa Haydn, sisters Evelyn Franz and Heidi Van Dyke, are German. Van Dyke was trained as a pastry chef in Austria so they honored their roots by naming the place after Austria’s patron composer. They have been in business for three decades and seem likely to keep their classic tradition going for years to come.


I sent a plea to the restaurant. Manager Tewin Ettien generously provided the recipe below, which was created just for this year’s Haydn anniversary by Papa Haydn’s lead baker.


You can see that the version made by Papa Haydn (which appears at the bottom of this post) is much nicer looking than mine. Mine was looking fabulous for a while–mostly because of the sterling efforts of my sister Leigh, who has very delicate hands. She was doing a great job assembling the thing and remarked, “No one will believe you made this, Tinky,” because she knows from experience that presentation is not my forte.


Alas, I decided to place the final layer onto the torte myself. The result was first ooze and then collapse! I think that when I make the torte again (and it really is worth the effort and the expense of the ingredients), I’ll put it in a trifle pan. That way the collapse will be contained.


I didn’t have a torch so I tried broiling the fluff—again not one of my finer efforts. Another time I think I’d just use a little more filling or maybe some whipped cream on the top.


I hope I haven’t scared readers away from this recipe; it really is lovely, just a little challenging for those who, like me, lack the ability to put delicate things together. (If you’re one of them, do try it as a trifle!) By the way, the filling is pretty amazing all by itself with fresh fruit.

Papa Haydn (Courtesy of Mohawk Trail Concerts)

Papa Haydn (Courtesy of Mohawk Trail Concerts)




for the syrup (this may make a little extra):


1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons framboise (raspberry liqueur)
1 tablespoon vanilla


for the cake:


2 cups cake flour, sifted
3/4 cup cocoa
1-1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup (1-1/2 sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1-1/3 cups coffee


for the filling:


1 cup mascarpone
6 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons framboise (raspberry liqueur)
3/4 cup cream


for assembly:


1 pint fresh raspberries (plus a few more if you just can’t resist)
1 cup marshmallow fluff




First, make the syrup. Bring the syrup ingredients to a boil, and then let them cool completely.


Next make the cake. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Oil a half-sheet pan (a pan that measures approximately 8 inches by 13 by 1). (I only had a 9-by-13-by-1 inch pan, which worked very well.)


Sift together the dry ingredients. In a separate bowl cream together the butter, sugar, and brown sugar. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Add the dry ingredients to the creamed mixture, alternating with the coffee.


Pour the batter into the pan and bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean (about 30 minutes in my experience, but check earlier).


Allow the cake to cool completely. Toward the end of the cooling process, make the filling. Put the filling ingredients into an electric mixer and blend at low speed until combined. Turn the speed up to medium and beat until soft peaks form.


To assemble the torte, cut the cake into thirds. Make layers as follows: cake, syrup (“painted” on), raspberries, filling; cake, syrup, raspberries, filling; cake. (Save a few raspberries for the end!)


Put the fluff into a pastry bag and pipe it on top of the cake. Brown the top with a torch, and garnish with fresh raspberries. Serves 8.

The "Real" Torte (Courtesy of Papa Haydn)

The "Real" Torte (Courtesy of Papa Haydn)

My Torte After Collapse and Spooning (Picture it in a trifle dish!)

My Torte After Collapse and Spooning (Picture it in a trifle dish!)

Joan and Bill’s Sunday-Brunch Pancakes

Monday, July 13th, 2009
Joan Morris and William Bolcom (photo by Katryn Conlin)

Joan Morris and William Bolcom (photo by Katryn Conlin)



Intent on continuing my culinary tribute to Mohawk Trail Concerts, I got in touch with the couple who are the audience’s hands-down favorite year after year (they make an appearance at every summer concert series), Bill Bolcom and Joan Morris.


Bill is a Pulitzer-prize winning composer as well as a sensitive pianist and accompanist. Joan is probably our country’s leading practitioner of musical cabaret. She has a rich mezzo-soprano voice and a capacity to put across any type of song—funny, tender, bawdy, earnest: you name it, and she can do it.


When I asked Joan for a recipe, she replied, “Well, you’ve hit on the closest thing to my heart–after music, of course–which is FOOD!”


She explained that she makes these relatively low-carb pancakes every week. She added, “Sometimes I’ll add blueberries, which I did yesterday. If we’re feeling virtuous, we’ll have them with apple butter or no-sugar-added jam, but since we’ve been coming up to Charlemont we fell in love with Grade B Maple syrup from Gould’s Sugar House, and, OK, we have that, too, sometimes.”


My mother, Truffle, and I tried the pancakes for Sunday brunch yesterday and were very pleased. They’re a cross between a pancake and an omelet—not unlike a crepe or a blintz. A little fruit and sour cream (Greek yogurt for the healthy!) would make a nice accompaniment, but we went for the traditional maple syrup. It seemed to me that they took a little longer to cook than traditional pancakes–but the wait was worth it!


Bill and Joan will be featured this weekend at Mohawk Trail Concerts. Saturday night concertgoers may also support the Federated Church, the concerts’ venue (and my church; I sang a FABULOUS solo at yesterday’s morning service!) by attending the Chicken Barbecue before the concert. The highlight of the barbecue is always the homemade pies; my mother and I are contributing a couple of key-lime beauties.


Meanwhile, here is Joan’s recipe:




3 eggs, beaten
1 cup cottage cheese
2 tablespoons canola oil
1/4 to 1/3 cup flour
salt to taste (Joan uses about 1/2 teaspoon; I like a little more)
a small amount of butter for cooking (Joan didn’t mention this, but my pancakes needed it)


Joan’s Instructions:


After beating the eggs in a bowl, add the other things. I’ve learned to measure out the flour first (the recipe [from which it was adapted in The Low Blood Sugar Cookbook] calls for oat flour, but any will do), then the cottage cheese, so I don’t have to wash out the measuring cup after the cottage cheese.


You pretty much dump everything else in, stir it up, and spoon out about 4 small pancakes at a time on a griddle pan, if you have one of those. The recipe says it makes 10 to 12 pancakes, but I’ve stretched it out to about 16 small ones.


They’re yummy! They come out nice and crispy round the edges. Now you know how come Bill stayed with me all these years!



Musical Menus

Saturday, July 11th, 2009



My neighbor, composer Alice Parker, says that she has never met a musician who isn’t also a good cook. One could argue that music and cooking speak to similar human instincts.


Both involve the physical body but go far beyond the physical tasks they entail. Both are forms of nonverbal communication. Both take something written down or at the very least maintained by tradition (sheet music/musical forms, recipes/styles of cooking) and make something new and unique every time we engage in them.


Both are human activities that emphasize process as well as product.


So it’s not surprising that when I was asked to write about the 40th anniversary season of Mohawk Trail Concerts my mind turned to food. (All right, I admit it: my mind turns to food a lot anyway. But this time it’s appropriate!)


Founded in 1969 by violinist and composer Arnold Black, the concert series sprang from Arnie’s passion for the acoustics of the Federated Church in Charlemont, Massachusetts. That love quickly grew to encompass the church community. Numerous church suppers and artists’ receptions (not to mention 40 seasons of concerts!) followed.


Arnie Black is now dead, but his wife Ruth and her fellow artistic director Abba Bogin continue the concerts’ commitment to good music, good community relations, and good food.


Younger music lovers who grew up listening to the concerts have now become involved in the series. MTC president Chas Fox of Heath is a second-generation board member.


When I asked him about his earliest memory of the concerts, he recalled hearing pianist Marian McPartland play when he was a teenager listening to a concert from the church’s choir loft. “I was literally sitting behind her as she played,” he said with a touch of awe in his voice. “I remember her playing a jazz interpretation of the Beatles’ ‘Come Together’ at the request of Sandy Black [Arnold and Ruth’s son], who was a Beatles fan.”


Chas was hooked from then on. When he was asked to join the board a couple of years ago he jumped at the chance. “I was thrilled to be invited because my dad was on the board and was president of Mohawk Trail Concerts in the early days,” he told me last week. “Because of changes in my career I now had a significant amount of time on my hands and thought this would be a wonderful thing to do, to get involved in the community.”


“I’m not an expert on chamber music,” he admitted. “I call the meetings, I run the meetings, and that’s what I’m good at. I also prepare the program book.”


Concertgoers know that he does more. His playful introductions to each concert establish the informal tone that is one of MTC’s trademarks. They also set the stage for the musical musings of Ruth Black, Abba Bogin, and the evening’s performers.


Just to show that food is never far from the minds of the MTC board, Chas often models aprons adorned with MTC’s logo for the crowd, encouraging audience members to go home and make food (and perhaps music!) while thinking of the series.

Chas in apronweb


In honor of the concerts’ anniversary I am going to offer a few (tangentially!) relevant recipes here. All relate to aspects of this season’s program, which Chas justly calls “spectacular.”


The first is from Chas himself. He has allowed me to reprint the formula for the “Bean There, Done That” pudding with which he hit the finals two years ago in the Pudding Hollow Pudding Contest. It takes the traditional green-bean casserole to new heights with the addition of local mushrooms from grower Paul Lagreze of New England Wild Edibles.


Enjoy the recipes and the ones to come—and if you’re in western Massachusetts please enjoy the music as well! MTC will offer concerts on Friday evenings at 7:30 and Saturdays at 8:00 until the end of July. For more details call the concert office at 413-625-9511.



Paul Lagreze of New England Wild Edibles

Paul Lagreze of New England Wild Edibles


Bean There, Done That




for the sauce:


2 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
1 cup vegetable broth (preferably made with the stems of your mushrooms and other veggies)
1/2 cup half and half
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 splash sherry
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil


for the pudding:


3 scallions, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon minced ginger (about 4 cents’ worth at Avery’s general store)
3 cups cut and cooked green beans
3 cups mushrooms (preferably local mushrooms), cut into strips (these could also be diced, which might make for a slightly smoother pudding)


for assembly:


1 can (2.8 ounces) fried onion rings




Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.


First, prepare the sauce: Melt the butter, and whisk in the flour. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes.


Whisk in the broth a little at a time, and bring the mixture to a boil, continuing to stir. Lower the heat, and cook for 2 more minutes. Whisk in the half and half, soy sauce, and sherry; cook just until the mixture is warm. Remove from the heat, and stir in the sesame oil.


Now assemble the pudding: Combine all the ingredients except for the onion rings. Stir in half of the onion rings.


Place the pudding in a 9-by-13-inch baking dish or a 2-quart casserole dish.  Bake for 25 minutes or until warmed through. Sprinkle the remaining onion rings on top, and bake for 5 more minutes. Serves 6.