Nov 18, 2005

Of Pirates and Party Manners

We're having a pirate birthday party here tomorrow for Will and Jack. Their birthdays are a week apart, and we're trying to get as many joint parties in as we can. The boys and I looked online for pirate images to use in the invitations, but I remembered, after looking at various etchings and drawings of historical pirates, that pirates were not nice. They made people walk the plank. They (obviously) stole people's ships and money. Pirates really got theirs, though, when they were caught. Gosh!

I hastily steered the boys away from these grim images of piratry, but couldn't find very many happy pictures of real pirates, unless you count this one, which doesn't strike me as quite the right tone for a children's birthday party. Plus, the guy looks miserable. I thought of using web photos of real pirate maps for the invitations, but they seemed a bit esoteric.So we sent generic invitations, and then got your conventional sanitized party pirate pictures, on napkins, plates, tablecloth.

And the cake, you ask. I just made it this morning, Richard Sax's Fudgy Chocolate Layer Cake. from Classic Home Desserts. Instead of chocolate frosting I used a cream cheese frosting, changed a little from the one he lists for the Applesauce-Carrot Cake. All vanilla extract and no lemon zest. I love Richard Sax. Love him. A couple years ago I read in John Thorne's Simple Cooking Newsletter that he was dead. Richard Sax was dead even when I got the book, about nine years ago. I felt so sad, and also very disconcerted that all that time I thought he was alive. If you just read a little from the book, which has been reissued because it is so well researched and written in such a warm voice, you'll know what I mean. He lives in the book.

Then I had to go and make a pirate hat with that gross black frosting in a can. And a skull and crossbones from the slightly less disgusting can of white frosting. Then a bunch of "Easter sprinkles" around the sides for a lighter mood, more resurrection and less death.

Voila! The skull has a drunken lopsided smile and the edges of the black hat jut out oddly in a few places. As Jack just said to me, "It looks good for not being professional." Kind words, matey.

Nov 17, 2005

Better than Sex

I've hit the motherlode, dear readers. Nana's most special of all her half dozen recipe boxes, the rustiest one, the one with odd bits of paper and wrongly labelled sections. "Salads." No salads, here, sister! Only luscious desserts, such as "Better than Sex." Now I have heard of "Better than Sex" Cake, but this recipe, typed on the old black Smith-Corona on a small unevenly cut piece of paper, just says "Better than Sex" at the top. Is it the name of the dish or a description of it? This ambiguity leads me to wonder why my grandparents had separate bedrooms, and if it was really because Papa snored too loud, as was the party line. Not surprisingly, I don't remember this dessert at all, perhaps because Nana didn't want to tell us children what it was called.

It does sound sweet, silky, creamy, smooth. And . . . . greasy. Topped with Cool Whip, ooh la la. But guaranteed not to demand anything from you, give you an STD, or get you pregnant. And without further ado,

Better Than Sex

1 C flour
1 stick oleo (WW II rationing has been over a while; use butter)
1/2 C chopped pecans
1 C powdered sugar
8-oz. package cream cheese
tub of Cool Whip (I changed from Dream Whip, thanks Betty McB)
2 small packages lemon or chocolate instant pudding (depending on your orientation?)
2 1/2 C whole milk, COLD

Mix flour, oleo, and nuts. Press into bottom of 9 x 13 pan and and bake 15 minutes at 350. Cool.

Cream together powdered sugar and cream cheese to a frost-like consistency (I think she means "frosting") and spread over the cooled crust. Blend milk and pudding to an almost set consistency and pour over cream cheese mixture. Top with Cool Whip.

Nov 15, 2005

The Well-Intentioned Cook

I try to use fresh local ingredients whenever possible and don't eat or serve processed food, for the most part. I make my own bread, with a bread machine. Jack and Will's teachers comment on how good the bread looks! No single-serving packaged food in our house, no juice boxes. We aim for optimal health,living lightly on this earth, and good taste. Which reminds me that I need to make dinner. I haven't thought too much about it all day. But we have tomatoes, cheese, pasta, green peppers, garlic, olive oil, and so I think I'll manage come up with something.

Please check out Simply in Season, Cathy Hockman-Wert's food blog named after the cookbook she co-edited with Mary Beth Lind, published by Herald Press. The proceeds from the cookbook go to Mennonite Central Committee, an organization that helps the world. I tested one recipe in the book (Grilled Vegetable Salad) and my sister in law tested ten. Cathy has known my husband John for years. Besides being nonprofit, the book is lovely on its own. It's not a trendy foodie cookbook, no famous chefs involved. It is truly friendly to the home cook who is willing to be patient with her or his methods and foods, and who cares about healthful eating.

That said, I confess I have a bunch of greens, an eggplant, and a crowd of squashes in the downstairs fridge that are past the point of no return and sorely need to be evicted and composted. I keep vainly hoping for a resurrection.

Nov 14, 2005

Happy Birthday, Dream Kitchen

On Saturday my blog turned one year old. I'm thinking of a few ways to celebrate it:

-Write one of those 100 things about me memes
-Publish a couple of essays that haven't been published anywhere
-Take roll

I'll start with the last--Who reads my blog? Are you a new visitor or a regular? Figuratively raise your hand by leaving a comment. Insincere, empty, ironic, any comment will do, as long as it's from a real person. You could just say "present." Thank you kindly, dear readers.

The Existential Kindergartener

We have deep conversations on the way to school in the morning. This Pinteresque one from last Thursday:

Jack: What if there was nothing?

Lauren (stalling): I'm not sure what you're asking. No helmet AND the wrong side of the street. Idiot.

Jack: I mean no people, no air, no earth, no nothing.

Lauren (vaguely) Wow. That might be boring.(There's no way I'm letting you in, silver Mercedes.)

Will: No cars! No roads!

Jack: No, wait. It wouldn't be boring. Not if there wasn't anyone around to think it's boring.

Will: No food! No cats!

Lauren: Jack, good thinking. An excellent point. Move already, geezer in the blue Cadillac. If there were nothing, no one could call it nothing because we wouldn't be around to name anything. In a way it's already something even if it's called "nothing." How long has that gas indicator light been on?

Jack: God wouldn't even be there.

Lauren: Not if there was nothing. I'm glad there's not nothing.

Will: Can we go to the playground after school?

Lauren: If it's warm enough, we can. And stop kicking my seat.

Nov 10, 2005

Nana's "Where is that Biscuit Dough Recipe, Anyway?" Apple Pan Dowdy

Now I'm the keeper of my Nana's five recipe boxes and two recipe collections in notebooks. Nana was born in 1899 and died in 2002 so something sure gave her a lot of staying power. Whether it was the food she cooked, her zeal for propriety in all things, or her desire to see me happily married and a mother, I don't know. I sure made her wait a long time for the latter. She didn't seem to quite keep me straight with my mother by the time the boys were born, but my mother was dead by then, so whatever. It's all good.

What was I talking about? Apple pan dowdy. This recipe is typical of the many recipes I copied out the other day. It was written with a blue fountain pen in big, barely decipherable loopy script. When I find her biscuit recipe I'll publish it, but don't hold your breath. I'll probably make this with Deborah Madison's biscuit recipe. This apple pan dowdy recipe is actually from a composition book that probably dates from the early forties. Some of the entries are written in my mother's writing, a tightly controlled script that is much easier to read, written with the same kind of pen.

Answers to anticipated questions:

1. A quart is four cups.
2. A pudding dish is just a ceramic baking dish. A 1 1/2 to 2-qt. size would work.
3. I would guess this would take about 40 mins. Check at 30 mins. and if the top is too brown, cover with foil.

Nana's Apple Pan Dowdy

qt. apples, sliced
1 C light brown sugar
½ t cinnamon
1/8 t cloves
1/8 t nutmeg
4 T butter
½ C cider

Butter pudding dish and put in sliced apples. Spread sugar over apples and sprinkle spices over sugar. Dot top with butter. Add cider and cover with biscuit dough ¼ in thick. Score holes for steam to escape. Bake in moderate oven 350 degrees until apples are tender and crust is well browned.

Nov 8, 2005

Eyes That See

Months ago, I was assigned children's time for November 6 at church. I didn't know what I should do it on, and because the pastor was out of town for several days he couldn't answer my email. And there wasn't a worship leader for the service until Wednesday. Finally, the administrative assistant remembered the pastor had sent him the topic earlier: "Prayer can be a real part of caring for the community around us."

Right away, I knew that Will would teach the congregation a prayer he had learned at camp this summer. I have been very taken with the profundity and simplicity of this prayer, and Will prays it often before dinner:

May we have eyes that see, (hands uncover eyes)
Hearts that love, (hands crisscross over heart)
And hands that are ready to help.(hands spread outwards)

Right before the service it's our practice for the people involved in worship to pray briefly together just by the landing, and I happened to be holding Will's hand to take him in to church. (John and Jack were already there.) So I just brought Will in with me, we all held hands, and before the pastor could pray, Will just piped up with his entire prayer, confident and clear as a bell. "I think that says everything," laughed the pastor in wonder, and he dismissed us. The lump in my throat made it hard for me to speak.

When children's time came, Will was just as eager to teach everyone the prayer, and he spoke very close to the microphone. The children learned it, and then we all turned outward to the congregation to teach them.

We really needed to pray that prayer. It turns out it had been a hard week for several of our members, as a child abuse allegation had been made against the mother of a child in Jack's Sunday school class. The grandmother, who seems to be the backbone of the family, expressed her hurt that no one had called her first. She has struggled for decades to bring her children and grandchildren up to be good people. She has attended our church for 20 years, and regularly brings her famous macaroni and cheese to the potlucks. She stands up every week during sharing, in a great big wonderful flowered hat, to ask for prayer. And yet she believed now that some members in the church had shown racist attitudes toward her family. We listened to her anger and disappointment for as long as she had words, which seemed very long indeed. When she was done, hugs and tears.It was so hard.

Now I have learned that Will's camp prayer is based on a Unitarian-Universalist prayer that goes like this:

Mystery of Life, Source of All Being, we are thankful for the gifts of life and being, of love and connection. We are thankful for all the wonders of the world around us. We are thankful for each other and for all the members of our global family. May we have eyes that see, hearts that love and hands that are ready to serve in love and in kindness, with caring and with courage. Blessed Be.


Nov 4, 2005

Quakers Can Be Kinky, Too.

From the New York Times today:

"WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Quaker Maid Meats Inc. on Tuesday said it would voluntarily recall 94,400 pounds of frozen ground beef panties that may be contaminated with E. coli."

Contaminated or not, just try sitting through Meeting wearing these things.

Nov 2, 2005

Coincidence? I Think Not.

1. Three weeks ago, I finally went to the local bank to deposit some checks. But I couldn't. The bank manager was outside the door saying they had no electricity!

2. Two weeks ago, I finally took the encrusted crumb-filled minivan to the car wash, but it was closed. Because they were washing the car wash!

3. Today, I finally went to Barnes and Noble, which I don't even live particularly near, to start to use up the gift certificate my Dad gave me for my birthday. I was only going to get a cup of coffee. But they were having their hot water heater replaced at that moment, and had no coffee!

Nov 1, 2005

Prunes, Actually

Several weeks ago I made a Prune and Armagnac Gingerbread that was greatly enjoyed by all. I made it for a reunion with some friends I hadn't seen in years. Friends from my sordid conservative evangelical past, to tell you the truth, and I wasn't sure what had changed over the years with them, or what hadn't changed. As for myself, I have veered decidedly leftwards.

It such situations, it always helps to make a fabulous dessert. Especially in this case, since a fissure had developed late in the main course. We were eating by candlelight at my friend Annie's house, and were just finishing up some grilled salmon. Maryanne and Keith are the ones, out of everyone at the table, to have held onto a lot of their convictions, it turns out, not that anyone had been grilling them. Whenever John and I have to explain that we're Mennonite we have to go into a long set piece about how Mennonites don't all drive buggies, and so forth. Now that we go to a Mennonite church that was rejected from the local Mennonite conference for sanctioning gay/lesbian partnerships, we have even more explaining to do. In this case it was met with a truly surprised and baffled "Oh."

And then about 2.5 seconds of silence until Annie, ever the diplomat, suddenly expressed her delight that the candles weren't dripping. Onward and upward with the meal, and the spicy, sensuous dark gingerbread seemed to restore our good cheer. And perhaps the prunes will do some good yet.