Saturday, February 16, 2019

collard greens

Besides the butter dumplings, I learned to make a few other southern staples from the Bragg book. Several of the recipes were for the birds (literally), but there were some solid finds, too: creamed onions, jalapeno cornbread, ham and beans, stewed cabbage, and collards.

The collards, in particular, I was excited about. I’d always been curious about them — how could a bitter, boring vegetable be at the heart of a cuisine that relied so heavily on meat, fat, and sugar? 

Turns out, the greens are anything but boring, and they cut the richness quite nicely — probably that’s the key to their success. I like them because they’re a cheap and delicious way to get great mounds of greens into our tummies, and the slow simmer is perfect for cold winter nights.

Never mind that no one else is particularly enthusiastic about my new discovery. It’s good for them and I’m in charge so end of story.

Collard Greens
Adapted from The Best Cook in the World by Rick Bragg.

The first time I made these, I accidentally cooked the pot dry and the greens got slightly charred on the bottom. I immediately transferred them to another pot, added a little water and continued cooking, but rather then being a disaster, the chewy bits of caramelization made the greens taste fantastic — sweet and salty, with a hit of heat. The second time I cooked these, without any scorching, they weren’t quite as interesting. Do as you wish!

I used my dad's homecanned hot sauce, but you can use whatever you have: sriracha, tabasco, dried peppers, etc. Just be careful not to go overboard. You're aiming for only a whisper of heat.

2-3 large bunches of collard greens
2 slices bacon, rough chopped
A dollop of hot sauce
1 small clove garlic
1 tablespoon each salt and sugar

Devein the collards and discard the stems. Rough-chop the leaves into large pieces. Wash well. You should have enough greens to fill a 12-quart soup pot.

Put two to three cups of water into the pot. Add the bacon, hot sauce, garlic, salt (I usually start with half the amount and then add the rest at the end), and sugar. Pile in the greens.

Bring the water to a boil. Reduce the heat, clap on a lid, and simmer for about two hours. Use a pair of tongs to gently stir the greens every fifteen minutes or so. By the end there should be very little liquid, and the greens should so soft that you can easily cut them with the side of a fork.

Remove the garlic clove and taste to correct seasonings. Serve with ham and beans, cornbread, eggs, pot roast, whatever.

This same time, years previous: kitchen sink cookies, the quotidian (2.13.17), the quotidian (2.15.16), the quotidian (2.16.15), chocolate pudding, buses, boats, and trucks, sweet.

Monday, February 11, 2019

the quotidian (2.11.19)

Quotidian: daily, usual or customary; 
everyday; ordinary; commonplace

Avocado toast.

Baking lessons with my neice.

Experimenting (and making edits here).

Better than it looks: with freshly-ground chocolate barley (similar), millet, and oats.

Well, shucks. 

The rest of it.

Flipped and fixed.

A backwards C.

The studier. 

This same time, years previous: good morning, lovies, bits and bobs, chasing fog, a taste, and then I turned into a blob, how we do things, chai-spiced hot chocolate.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

snake cake

I’m not much for finicky cake decorating, but earlier this week, with my younger son’s birthday celebration looming — his real birthday was Sunday, but we wouldn’t be partying until Friday — I got an uncharacteristic urge. Maybe it’d be fun to do something a little more involved?

Along with a host of other off-handed suggestions, my son mentioned a snake. The idea lodged in my brain. A snake, with its low center of gravity and streamlined body, seemed fairly simple, right? Plus, since my son is the youngest, the pressure was off. No other children would be coming up through the ranks demanding a similarly fancy cake come their thirteenth birthday. Neat how that works, yes? So after a quick Internet search, I settled on a cake by Yolanda of How To Cake It fame.

My son said that he wanted chocolate and not white icing and please, no weird experiments. Fine, I said, it will be chocolate, but no promises on the icing and yes, this is an experiment and a surprise so that's all I’m saying about that.

The poor kid’s anxiety shot through the roof. He still had lingering PTSD from The Picaken Fiasco of 2015, in which his birthday cake ended up in the compost (and then the dog ate it).

“Can’t I make a small cake?” he pleaded. “Please? Just in case the experiment doesn’t work?”
“Oh, shush,” I laughed. “You're going to like it just fine.”

I made the chocolate cakes — four recipes worth — on Thursday, so he saw those. And then on Friday morning he saw me make the two batches of fondant and a fifth chocolate cake (and I made the coffee buttercream, too, but I don’t think he noticed that).

Right after lunch, I took him to my mother’s house so my younger daughter and I could decorate in peace. The two of us worked the entire afternoon.

To start, there was the carving.

To do it well, or at least thoroughly, one must dispose entirely of any notion of thriftiness. Cake is a medium: Cut and chuck with abandon! (We did, however, freeze the scraps. What to do with three containers of chocolate cake bits?)

Then we connected the pieces with buttercream and spritzed them with simple syrup to lock in moisture — something that I learned from Yolanda.

I dirty iced the whole affair.

The board cleaned, it was time for the fondant. Because it was a tricky process — but not hard! — there are no photos of the rolling, lifting, pressing, and patching.

To create a pattern, I cut a piece of netting an onion bag and pressed that into the fondant. It didn’t leave a very clear imprint, but it was good enough, we decided.

Then the painting.

We brushed the whole snake with ivory gel mixed with rum. Then we made the shapes using mixtures of browns and blacks, blotting with paper towels as we went.

It was touch-and-go, and the end result was highly imperfect, but we were having far too much fun to really care.

We decorated the board with rocks (that my father brought over when he and my mother came for supper) and twigs from the yard, and then hid the snake in the downstairs bedroom until the big reveal.

The whole project was so much fun, and now I can’t stop thinking about cake.

What to make next?

This same time, years previous: crispy baked hash browns, timpano!, a horse of her own, the quotidian (2.9.15), eight, seven, school: the verdict, travel tips, gourmet chocolate bark.

Friday, February 8, 2019

in progress

My baby's a teenager!

And I'm going overboard in a glorious cloud of sugar and chocolate.

Wish me luck!

This same time, years previous: twelve, the quotidian (2.6.17), loss, cheesy bacon toasts, chocolate mint chip cookies, in which we enroll our children in school.

Monday, February 4, 2019

the quotidian (2.4.19)

Quotidian: daily, usual or customary; 
everyday; ordinary; commonplace





Wrong, on so many levels.

Shooting up (the steers).

In search of self.

Also in search of self: an ancestory lesson from his parents.
(Interesting fact: on his great grandmother's ride across the Atlantic, 
her ship stopped to take on survivors from the Titanic!)


Ice bells.

"This is how you do it: you sit down at the keyboard and you put one word after another 
until it's done. It's that easy, and that hard." Neil Gaiman

This same time, years previous: chicken and sausage gumbo, baked brie with cranberries and walnuts, the quotidian (2.1.16), object of terror, the quotidian (2.2.15), a Wednesday list, itchy in my skin, how we got our house, taco seasoning mix, wheat berry salad.

Thursday, January 31, 2019

all things thursday

This morning my older daughter left for Florida (again) where she’ll be living in a trailer with her employer, taking riding lessons from some fancy guy, and, hopefully, earning a bit of money.

Tomorrow morning I head to NYC for the Fresh Air Conference, and then Saturday my younger daughter returns from a week of nannying for my brother’s family in Pittsburgh.

It's more comings and goings than usual, but I'm okay with it. I'm also looking forward to March when we're all back together again.


I was all excited about trying this recipe — I even made homemade pasta (but with just one egg and about a third cup water) — and then no one liked it.

I mean, we ate it, but the kids weren’t too keen on the onions and I thought the yogurt sauce made it taste like baby spit-up. Lovely, right?


I need a new read aloud for me and the younger two kids!

We’re all a little worn out from the last two books — Ender’s Game, which the boy liked but the girl (and mother) not so much, and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy which none of us liked (sorry, Hitchhiker fans!) — so now we’re craving pure pleasure, something like Holes, or A Day No Pigs Would Die, or Counting By Sevens.



Hey-hey, lookie here! For all things beautiful and practical, check out my cousin’s fabulous new website.

at the Christmas gathering, in her element

She’s amazing, and so are the things she makes. I’m a fan of her drawstring bags and skillet socks, and we use her cloth napkins daily.

Treat yo self, people!


The other evening, the older two kids and I decided to watch something. It’s gotta be funny, Mom, they said, and I was like, I know JUST the thing. I’d already seen Hasan Minhaj’s Homecoming King, but this time it was even more fun, since I got to watch the kids’ reactions. They loved it. They caught a bunch of the jokes that never made any sense to me — pop culture and tech stuff — and they appreciated the hard topics of immigration, racism, and romance. Have you seen it?


My older son and I both made it into The Valley Playhouse's production of The Diary of Anne Frank — I'm Mrs. Frank and he's Peter. Rehearsals start tonight, and the show runs May 2-12. Mark your calendars!

Have a great weekend!

This same time, years previous: vindication, ROAR, crispy pan pizzas, lemon creams, and just when you thought my life was all peaches, peanut butter and honey granola, mayonnaise, rock-my-world cocoa brownies.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

butter dumplings

So here’s something new (or, it's new for me, at least) — butter dumplings.

Their actual name is "butter rolls," but I think that's all wrong. These are biscuits baked in butter; therefore, butter dumplings.

And before we go any further, let's get this straight: there is nothing, absolutely nothing, healthy about these babies. Don’t even try to justify.

I discovered this recipe in Rick Bragg’s book The Best Cook in the World: Tales from My Momma's Table. It was the first one in the book, and so inspiring was his writing that I had no choice but to leap to my feet and make a batch right then and there. (Bragg has that effect on me. Just two days ago, I slammed the book down mid-paragraph and galloped out to the kitchen to make a grilled cheese-and-grape jelly sandwich.)

I slipped the dumplings in the oven at the same time we sat down for supper. My food scarfed, I entertained everyone by reading from the book’s introduction, part of which, it just so happened, was about the very buttered dumplings that I was making. While I read, I had to hop up once to flip the dumplings in their bubbling, sugary-milk bath, and then again a second time to pull them from the oven and fill dessert bowls. I continued reading then, though every now and then my words were drowned out by startled pleasure-gasps: Oh, WOW, and, Mmm, this is good, and, Yeah, REALLY good.

Nothing more than plain biscuits set afloat in a lake of sweetened condensed milk and butter, vanilla and cinnamon, I consider these the Southern equivalent of an emergency dessert. The cook is already making biscuits for dinner anyway, so instead of rustling up a whole different dessert, she (or he) just holds a few biscuits back and cracks open a can of sweetened condensed milk. Easy-peasy.


As the biscuits bake, the liquid boils down, transforming into a thick, gently-spiced caramel syrup. Fresh from the oven, the dumplings look an awful lot like an alien planet, or oatmeal, or maybe cancer cells, but be ye not dismayed! 

Place a sticky hot dumpling in a bowl, or on a plate that you picked up from the Gift and Thrift, and spoon a little sauce over top. Weirdly enough, they taste just like apple dumplings but without the apples.

I like my dumplings sizzling hot (the leftovers reheat just fine in the microwave) and then drowned in a goodly amount of cold milk. Sliced fresh banana is a fine addition, too. 

Butter Dumplings 
Adapted from The Best Cook in the World by Rick Bragg

My younger son complains that these are too sweet. He may have a point. Perhaps next time I’ll reduce the sugar to just a half cup.

For a thinner sauce — and for more of it — add a little extra milk.

For the biscuits, you can use whatever biscuit recipe you like, but Rick’s mother’s is as follows: Work several tablespoons of lard into about three cups of self-rising flour. Stir in a half cup of buttermilk and a bit of water, maybe a couple tablespoons. Combine to make a dough and then pinch off pieces, rolling them into balls and patting flat into smallish biscuits.

8-9 smallish biscuits
1 12-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
½ cup milk, at least
1 cup sugar (or less)
1 teaspoon each vanilla and cinnamon
1 stick butter

Directly in the baking dish (a 9x13-inch pan is too big but an 8x8-inch square is definitely too small), whisk together the condensed milk, regular milk, sugar, and spices. Cube the butter and distribute evenly over top the liquid.

Lay the biscuits on top of the liquid, briefly pushing them under with your fingertips so the tops get wet. It is of utmost importance to not, under any circumstances, crowd the biscuits. If you do, they will grow together in the oven and the whole thing will be ruined.

Bake the dumplings at 350 degrees for 15 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and gently flip each dumpling. Return the pan to the oven and bake another 10 minutes or so.

Serve warm, with cold milk.

This same time, year previous: what kind of stove should we buy?, omeletty egg bake, the quotidian (1.25.16), a wedding, sour cream and berry baked oatmeal, about a picture, swimming in the sunshine, Friday evening fun, Gretchen's green chili.