Posts Tagged ‘Singing Brook Farm’

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.

If you enjoyed this post, please consider taking out an email subscription to my blog. Just click on the link below!

Subscribe to In Our Grandmothers’ Kitchens by Email.

Toni’s Salmon Mousse

Monday, August 24th, 2009
Toni in 2005 (Courtesy of Ena Haines)

Toni in 2005 (Courtesy of Ena Haines)

After our memorial party for the late Florette Zuelke, Florette’s niece Sue Stone requested that I post the recipe for one specific food that was served that day. She had fallen love with the rich, velvety salmon mousse provided by Betsy Kovacs.
I asked Betsy for the recipe–and she revealed that, appropriately, it came from one of Florette’s cohorts in the glory days of Singing Brook Farm, our summer community in Hawley, Massachusetts.
Betsy’s late mother Toni Leitner was charming, energetic (she worked well into her late 80s), bright, and a terrific cook. She gleaned her kitchen skills in one of the legendary culinary capitals of the world, interwar Vienna.
In 1965 Toni put together a recipe binder for Betsy. This is one of the binder’s cherished formulas. According to Betsy, Toni would have used the old-fashioned term and called it a receipt.
I helped Betsy make the mousse this past weekend–and it couldn’t have been easier. It’s a particularly useful recipe at this time of year because if you use canned salmon (and she generally does) the only cooking involved is boiling a little water.
You end up with a cool kitchen–and a dish that evokes the flavor of another remarkable member of a remarkable generation. 
Betsy gets ready to add gelatin to the mousse.

Betsy gets ready to add gelatin to the mousse.



1/2 cup boiling water

1 envelope gelatin

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 tiny onion, sliced

1/2 cup mayonnaise

1/4 teaspoon paprika

1 tablespoon dill

1 can (1 pound, or the closest approximation) salmon, well drained

1 cup cream (Toni preferred light, but use whatever you have)

2 or more drops red food coloring


for the sauce:


1/2 cup mayonnaise

1/2 cup sour cream or yogurt

lots of chopped dill



The day before you wish to serve the mousse, prepare it. Place the boiling water in a blender. Add the gelatin, lemon juice, and sliced onion. Blend for 40 seconds.
Add the mayonnaise, paprika, dill, and salmon. Replace the top of the blender, leaving the removable center piece off. Blend the mixture while gradually adding the cream. Add the food coloring and blend for 5 to 30 seconds more, until the color is dispersed and the mixture has turned a pale salmon color. 

Pour the mixture into an ungreased 4-cup mold. Cover gently and chill overnight. 

While the mold is chilling prepare the sauce by whisking together its ingredients. Chill until needed. 

The next day, gently dip the outside of the mold in hot water to loosen the mousse. Turn it out onto a platter. 
If you are using a ring mold, place 1/3 to 1/2 of the sauce in the middle of the mousse. (If you put too much sauce in the middle, it will overwhelm the mousse and make it collapse.) Place the remainder of the sauce in a bowl.

Serve with small pieces of bread, toast rounds, or crackers. Makes about 2-1/2 cups mousse. 

salmon mousseweb

The Best Finger Food Ever

Friday, August 14th, 2009
Functional yet beautiful, Florette Zuelke's round garden (shown here in 1980) won a prize from the PBS show "Crockett's Victory Garden." (Courtesy of Ena Haines)

Functional yet beautiful, Florette Zuelke's round garden (shown here in 1980) won a prize from the PBS show "Crockett's Victory Garden." (Courtesy of Ena Haines)

I promised in my last post that I would have more recipe tributes to the late Florette Zuelke. Here is the first. Ena and Michael Haines brought these lovely little open sandwiches to the memorial party for Florette last weekend.
Both decorative and delicious, they epitomized Florette’s elegant cookery.
Ena grew up spending every summer at Singing Brook Farm in Hawley, Massachusetts, with her mother Toni and sister Betsy. When Ena married Michael, the Farm community welcomed him with open arms. Florette was the undisputed queen of chic clothing and cuisine in that community.
A hint from me: the dense white sandwich bread in my recent recipe for BOLTs would probably work well for these squares. But I’m not pushing!
Florette hosts an informal "do" in 1981; she loved red bandanas. (Courtesy of Ena Haines)

Florette hosts an informal "do" in 1981; she loved red bandanas. (Courtesy of Ena Haines)

Checkerboard Cherry Tomatoes
From the Garden and Kitchen of Florette
Narrated by Michael Haines
packaged white bread, firm and dense such as Pepperidge Farm
freshly made pesto sauce (I use Craig Claiborne’s recipe. Harvesting and chopping basil leaves was often a communal activity in Florette’s kitchen. The job goes quickly with good fellowship, conversation, and wine.)
freshly picked red and yellow cherry tomatoes

checkerboard squares web
Cut off the bread crusts and make a single layer of bread on a cutting board or cookie sheet. 
Spread the bread with pesto sauce. 
Halve the cherry tomatoes, leaving semispheres. 
Place the cherry tomatoes in rows, alternating colors for the checkerboard look. 
Cut the bread in squares, each holding a half tomato. 
The eye appeal, hand appeal, and mouth appeal of this dish make it a perfect summer hors d’oeuvre. Florette was a skillful and passionate gardener. An exacting cook, and a warm and charming hostess. She was generous with her time and efforts, loving to her friends, and fun to be with. Thank you, Florette.
Michael and Ena

Michael and Ena

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.