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.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

overnight baked oatmeal

When we were in Pennsylvania, Amber served us baked oatmeal for breakfast. She’d mixed it up the evening before, after we’d cleaned up from the birthday dinner, stirring together oats and sugar, milk and eggs. She divided the batter between two pans and then grabbed a bag of blueberries from the freezer and, sprinkling out a generous amount, covered the tops of the cakes completely. The she slipped the pans into the cold oven and set it for delayed bake.

I was fascinated. The batter didn’t sour overnight? Would the blueberries sink in? What else did she use her delay bake for? Did the oven turn off automatically? Had she ever burned anything? And so on.

The baked oatmeals were delicious. Their overnight rest had softened and plumped the oats, and the cakes baked up high, the blueberries capping the cake with juicy sweetness.

Back home, my husband and I studied the oven manual, trying to figure out the fancy settings. We first set the clock and then the delay bake, and then we stood there, waiting for the oven to whoosh on at the appointed time — I certainly didn’t want to burn the house down while we slept. Satisfied that all was in working order, I mixed up a batch of Amber’s baked oatmeal and popped it in the oven. 

The next morning, I was still in bed when I heard the oven peep that it was at temperature. Soon after, the smell of baking oats wafted up the stairs. By the time I walked into the kitchen, breakfast was five minutes from being done.

While similar to my standard recipe, Amber’s is a little less sweet and more cake-like, thanks to the overnight soak. In my recipe — a fast mix-and-bake affair — the oats rise to the top a little, leaving a thin custardy layer of buttery egg on the bottom. I liked that sweet layer, but the children did not. Amber’s recipe, now, they much prefered.

"It's way better, Mom," my older son said. "Way better."

I agree.

Also, delay bake is awesome and I love my oven.
The end.

Overnight Baked Oatmeal 
Adapted from Amber’s recipe.

The first time I made this, I used rolled oats, but then I discovered a sack of quick cooking steel cut oats — they looked very similar to Amber's hand-rolled oats — and snatched them right up. It's funny though — Amber fusses about her hand-rolled oats. She thinks they make her granola and baked oatmeal too chewy. But the chewiness is exactly what we love! Do what you want: For a more nubbly, nutty baked oatmeal, use the Costco fancy cut oats, or regular rolled oats, and for a cakier baked oatmeal, use quick oats. Either way, it will be delicious.

Amber uses a scale to measure her oil — just plops the mixing bowl on the scales, tares it, and then glug-glugs in the oil — so she doesn’t have to dirty a measuring cup.

4½ cups rolled oats
¾ cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1¼ teaspoon salt
3 eggs
1½ cups milk
6 tablespoons (75 grams) oil
¾ cup applesauce
2 cups frozen blueberries, optional

Stir together the dry ingredients and mix in the wet (except for the blueberries). Pour the batter into a buttered 9x12-inch pan. Sprinkle the blueberries on top — I lightly stirred them into the top layer of batter, but Amber did not.

Let the pan sit on the counter, or in a cold oven, at room temperature overnight. In the morning, bake for 30 minutes (40 minutes, if using delay bake) at 350 degrees.

Serve warm, with milk. (Or, ignore the coffee shop's "no outside food or drink" sign and eat cold, out of a tupperware box, breaking off bite-sized pieces and shoveling them into your mouth when no one is looking, shh.)

This same time, years previous: a new routine, the quotidian (1.23.17), and so it begins, hobo beans, rocks in my granola and other tales, polenta and greens, chuck roast braised in red wine.

Monday, January 21, 2019

the quotidian (1.21.19)

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

These days, all things Southern, both readin' and cookin'.

The twelve-year-old cooks.

The box looks boring and cheap; the chocolates are anything but.
Have you tried them?

Last breakfast.


A gift from Glorimar: both candle AND hand lotion.

Bad dog!

In my mother's kitchen.
(What you don't see: the sweet, sweet baby I'm holding.)

Oh wait  here you go! See? So sweet.


Photo Credit: Younger Daughter
Have a great week!

This same time, years previous: the quotidian (1.22.18), the women's march on Washington, lemon cream cake, lazy stuffed cabbage rolls, cream cheese dip, world's best pancakes.

Friday, January 18, 2019

salad dressing: a basic formula

Back when we celebrated my older son’s birthday, I made a giant salad to go with his requested timpano. Instead of serving the greens and passing the Ranch as I normally do, I decided to dress the salad ahead of time. I’d read about a dressing recipe — more a formula than a recipe, really — on Cup of Jo and wanted to give it a go.

This was risky. I’d bought one of those huge boxes of mixed salad greens from Costco, and dressing the leaves ahead of time would mean that any leftovers would need to be thrown out. Would we be able to eat the whole thing? What if no one liked the dressing?

In the end, I decided to go for it. And it’s a good thing I did, too! The entire salad got gobbled. My mother couldn’t stop raving about it.

Since then, I’ve made the salad — and its dressing — numerous times. It’s a hit with some people. Others, preferring their beloved Ranch, just tolerate it. But even that — tolerance — I consider a win.

Salad Dressing: A Basic Formula

The basic “recipe” called for 1 to 2 cloves garlic, but I prefer a more moderate amount. Do what you want.

Also, I recently splurged on a bottle of good quality olive oil and the flavor was different from the regular (still good quality) stuff I buy in bulk. I’m pretty sure it’s the fancy oil — peppery and rich — that make the whole thing so delicious.

ALSO also, the recipe calls for champagne vinegar, but since I can’t find that in my regular grocery haunts, I just used regular white wine vinegar.

juice from ½ lemon
½ clove of garlic, minced fine, or mashed
a generous pour of good olive oil, maybe ½ cup
some white wine vinegar (1-2 tablespoons)
a squirt of mustard (½ teaspoon?)
a plop of mayonnaise (1 tablespoon?)
salt and plenty of black pepper

Whisk well, or put in a pint jar and shake the hell out of it. Taste and correct seasonings by adding more lemon (or vinegar) and salt, as needed.

Leafy Green Salad: Heap a bowl with mixed salad greens, picked over. Right before serving, toss the leaves with dressing and sprinkle with a generous handfuls of craisins, feta, and candied nuts.

Candied Nuts: Melt 1-2 tablespoons of butter in a cast-iron skillet Add ½ cup pecans, or walnuts, and several tablespoons of sugar. Toast, stirring frequently, until the sugar is caramelized and the nuts are a couple shades darker. Transfer the nuts to a plate to cool and sprinkle with plenty of flaky salt. Before adding the nuts to the salad, rough-chop.

This same time, years previous: homemade grainy mustard, the quotidian (1.18.16), just do it, the good and the bad, vanilla cream cheese braids, quick fruit cobbler, peanut noodles.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

no-knead sourdough bread

When we were in Pennsylvania last week, my aunt served fresh loaves of her homemade sourdough. Nutty with whole wheat, they were gorgeously rustic, and the bread itself was light and chewy. When I inquired after it, she straightaway launched into a passionate saga, the gist of which was this:


Her method is basic. Simply mix up the ingredients and then every couple hours or so, fold the dough over a few times. Before bed, shape the dough into loaves and refrigerate. The next morning, bake. I had more questions, but since I wasn’t talking much (no voice, remember), I couldn’t ask them.

Back home, I switched to a chain of emails, interspering my questions — all the why’s, how’s, and what for’s — with play-by-play details of my baking experiments. The first batch was inedible — even the steers had trouble — but it went uphill from there.

It’s amazing, really, how forgiving bread is. All the things I once thought were in stone — never tear the dough! keep the salt separate from the yeast! don’t bump risen dough! knead for a long time to develop the gluten! — have been, at one time or another, challenged. Bottom line: When it comes to bread, you can get away with an awful lot. As long as it turns out good, you can pretty much do whatever you want.

Note: With sourdough, even with the no-knead version, there is a learning curve. (This is what I keep telling my mother who finally, after fifteen years of watching me make sourdough, has decided to give it a go herself.) Plan on a full week of baking, just to understand the process and become familiar with the the dough — it’s a living, breathing thing, remember, and, as with any relationship, it takes time to develop trust and form a connection. Be patient and persistent, and more attentive than feels proper. In no time at all, you should — fingers crossed — be consistently knocking it out of the park.

No-Knead Sourdough Bread
Adapted from my aunt Valerie’s recipe and method.

Don’t have any starter? No worries! Your options are as follows:
a) Go to the best bakery in your area and ask if they’ll sell you some. (Here's one — except, guess where they got their first starter? That's right: ME! 'Course, I have no idea if the original starter is still the one they are using....)
b) Order it online (though since I’ve never done that myself, I can’t vouch for the product).
c) If you live close, ask me for some!
d) Make your own.

Updated, January 11, 2019:
*For a more textured, wholegrain bread, add 2 cups whole wheat bread flour, 2/3 cup rough-cut oats (rolled or steel-cut), 1/4 cup millet, and 1/4 cup flax seed, and then enough bread flour to make the require 1000 grams.
*Mix the dough in the morning. Around lunch time, knead the dough for a minute, keeping it in the bowl and without adding more flour (or only a small dusting, if you must). The dough will be soft and supple. Cover and let rise during the afternoon, stirring it down (or briefly kneading) once or twice. Around supper time, divide the dough and shape into loaves, placing dough directly into the baking pans (or into greased bowls, or floured baskets, from which they will be dumped when it's time to bake). Let the dough rise to double (about two hours), and then bake. Without the overnight fridge proofing, the bread is slightly less sour, and it gets a lot more height.
*Warning: if you allow the dough to rise in the Dutch oven and then bake it with the lid on, it will stick to the pan. Solution: grease the Dutch oven!

400 grams (1¾ cups) starter
1000 grams (8 cups) of bread flour, about three cups of which is whole wheat pastry flour
20 grams (4½ teaspoons) salt, Morton’s Kosher, coarse
575 grams (2½ cups) cool water

Measure the starter into a mixing bowl. Add the flour. Scoop some of the measured flour into a separate bowl, add the salt, and mix well. Return the flour and salt to the mixing bowl and lightly toss with the flour to combine. Measure in the water.

With a sturdy spoon, stir the dough until it is coming together, but still shaggy. There should be no rifts of dry flour lingering on the bottom and sides of the bowl, but the dough itself will look dry and powdery with streaks of sourdough showing through in places. Cover with a plastic and let set at room temperature.

After about four hours, the dough should be noticeably puffy. Taking a firm spatula, fold the dough into the center of the mound, working your way around the bowl and making a smooth-ish ball in the center. There will still be rough, scabby patches of dry flour in the dough — ignore them. They will eventually get eaten by the rest of the dough. Cover the bowl with the plastic and let sit at room temp.

Every couple hours or so, repeat the folding process. As the day wears on, the dough will rebound more quickly after each folding, rising faster. The dry bits will disappear and the dough will become amazingly supple and stretchy.

After supper, fold the dough once more and let it rest for about an hour, just until it’s beginning to puff. Carefully, gently, so as to knock out as little of the air as possible, cut the dough in half and gently smooth into a ball and set into a smaller, well-buttered bowl with the rough side facing up. Cover each of the smaller bowls with plastic and let rest at room temperature until nicely risen. Transfer the bowls to the fridge to proof overnight.

In the morning, remove the dough from the fridge about 30-45 minutes before baking, just long enough to take the chill off.

There are many ways to bake the bread (regular loaf pans, baking stone, cast-iron skillet with an inverted stainless steel mixing bowl for a lid), but I've been using my cast-iron Dutch oven.

I set it in the oven on a low rack, turn the oven to 450 degrees, and let the whole mess preheat for a good 20-25 minutes. When the iron is hot through and through, I take it from the oven, sprinkle cornmeal in the bottom, and gently turn the dough into the pan, lumpy side down, taking care not to singe my knuckles on the hot sides. I sprinkle the loaf with lots of flour, slash it good, clap the lid on, and then slip it back in the oven.

After the first twenty minutes, I remove the lid and continue baking for another twenty. At that point, I reduce the heat to 375 and bake for another ten. Tumble the loaf onto a cooling rack, and repeat the process for the second loaf.

(Note to self: buy a second Dutch oven.)

This same time, years previous: doing stupid safely, the quotidian (1.16.17), all the way under, on kindness, through the kitchen window, day one, spinach lemon orzo soup, crumbs.

Monday, January 14, 2019

the quotidian (1.14.19)

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

Lunch for one.



Cutting up.

Find dead mouse, look like dead mouse.

Who let the dogs in, woof.


Ice water.



Green screen.


Music makers.


The sky that broke Facebook.


This same time, years previous: boys in beds, Scandinavian sweet buns, the quotidian (1.11.16), sourdough crackers, cranberry bread, the quotidian (1.13.14), Guatemala!, sticky toffee pudding, rum raisin shortbread.