Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Great-Granny's Pound Cake

This has been a week full of celebration.  My birthday and my son's birthday fall just two days apart during this beautiful season of azaleas and dogwoods.  We both always want the same cake, so we often celebrate with it on the day between our birthdays.

birthday pound cake

The cake we both love so much is from a recipe my great-grandmother (for whom I was named) brought over from England when she immigrated.  Her daughter made it often, her granddaughter made it often, I make it often, and now my son can help continue the tradition.

*  *  *

 Great-Granny's Pound Cake

3 cups sugar
1 cup butter (2 sticks)
6 eggs
3 cups flour
1 cup heavy cream
1 lemon, zested and juiced

1. Bring the butter and eggs to room temperature.

2. Prepare a tube pan or a bundt pan by greasing it with butter.  Sprinkle flour in the pan and shake to distribute.  Dump out any remaining flour.

3. Cream the butter and sugar until light and smooth.  A good stand mixer makes this process much easier, but you can do it with a hand egg beater if you are patient and strong.

4.  Add eggs, one at a time, and beat them in well.

5.  Mix in the lemon zest and lemon juice.

6.  Alternately add a little flour and a little cream and mix until all is incorporated.  Don't overbeat.

7.  Pour into the prepared cake mold, using a rubber spatula to get every last bit.

8.  Put the pan into a cold oven and set the temperature to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.  Cook for 90 minutes or until it is golden brown and smells heavenly.

9.  Let it cool a bit, if you can wait--especially if you're putting wax candles in, which will melt into the cake otherwise!

*  *  *

One of the tricks that makes this cake turn out so well is to use cream, butter, and eggs from grassfed animals.  I know those are the only things my great-grandmother had access to, but it means making a decision these days.  Going grass-fed means this gastronomical splurge is a bit better for you since these ingredients will be higher in vitamin E, omega 3 fatty acids, and conjugated linoleic acid than conventional eggs and dairy would be.  (You're also reducing the chance of food poisioning if you lick the delicious batter from the bowl!)

Sunday, April 25, 2010

"Scrambling" for a Spring Menu Plan

Last week, I made an official meal plan for the first time--and loved the relaxed feeling it gave me at 5:30 or 6pm when I carried my laptop into the kitchen and turned on a podcast (often The Splendid Table) while I cut veggies for a meal already thought out. Although I've always adored reading cookbooks, I've rarely actually followed a recipe without major changes. I did this week--and we had a couple of meals that were quite different from the meals I normally create.

We did change a few things around. I forgot to defrost the chicken, so we had stuffed potatoes with goat cheese and rapini that night (instead of chicken, baked potatoes, and sauteed rapini). I changed the meal plan to reflect how we actually ate.

One of the best things about the week of meals had nothing to do with the planning itself. This was the first week when our local farmers market sold asparagus! We ate it for two meals--one roasted, and one steamed. Perhaps because we've spent a long winter deprived of these offerings, or perhaps because of my spring birthday, asparagus and strawberries are my absolute favorite foods ever. Well--and okra. And Brussels sprouts. Oh--and oysters, or shrimp.... And I couldn't live without rice.... (Yep, I'm a coastal South Carolina girl at heart, no matter where I live now.)

For those of you who read my first meal-planning post last week, you may remember that I was inspired to try meal planning by conversations with--and then a book talk by--Aviva Goldfarb, creator of The Six O'Clock Scramble and the author of the fabulous new eco-cookbook SOS! The Six O'Clock Scramble to the Rescue: Earth-Friendly, Kid-Pleasing Dinners for Busy Families.

This week will be a plan almost entirely inspired by recipes from Goldfarb's book.  All of these main dish recipes--and even many of the side dishes that accompany the mains--are hers (more or less), with the exception of Saturday evening.

*  *  *

A Night at the Opera
Beef Empanadas (made with homemade dough)
Carried "to-go style" in our tiffin

Indian-spiced Salmon over Brown Basmati Rice
Spinach with Mushrooms
Mango Lassi (dessert)

Orzo Salad with Peas and Feta Cheese (vegetarian)

Cream of Asparagus Soup (vegetarian)
Assorted Salad Greens with Raisins, Cashews, and Sunflower seeds
Homemade Sourdough Bread

Spice-tossed Shrimp with Parmesan Grits
Lemon-Pepper Broccoli
Rhubarb Crisp (dessert)

A Day at the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival
Homemade Mushroom Pizza topped with Homegrown Arugula (vegetarian)
(dough recipe from The Greens Cookbook)

Lemon Parmesan Fusilli with Asparagus and Spinach (vegetarian)
Strawberries topped with Greek Honey Yogurt

* * *

I found a few online link lists of meal plans and have really enjoyed clicking to see how everybody makes their menus. Two of my favorites are Menu Plan Monday and Mindful Menus.

Next week: menus from great food memoirs!

Friday, April 23, 2010

Maple Sugaring

Early spring is the time when the sap starts running in the trees. While we were at farm camp a few weeks ago, the children had the opportunity to collect maple sap to make syrup and other maple products.

maple tap

In order to express their appreciation of the gifts of the trees, the children hiked into the woods and formed a circle under the trees.  They joined with others to read poems and say blessings...

maple fest circle

...and sing songs together.

maple fest

The sap was poured into vats and fires were stoked underneath.

maple sugaring 2

With the hours boiling over the fire, water in the sap slowly evaporated and the liquid got thicker, more viscous, and sweet as the sugar concentrated.

maple sugaring

Ten gallons of sap makes only about one quart of syrup.

On the last day at camp, we had a feast of whole-wheat pancakes, which we soaked with the glorious maple syrup we had helped make. Its wonderful sweetness was magnified for us by our participation in the process.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Food, and Cognitive Dissonance

My 10yo son and I are reading next to each other on the couch.

My book: Cathy Erway's The Art of Eating In: How I Learned to Stop Spending and Love the Stove. This book is a lighthearted romp through adventurous but non-restaurant-based eating in New York City. The author incorporates everything from news of her love life, details of parties, friendly information about food politics, and great recipes. It is all about the pleasures of food.

My son's book, being read for the local library's "Banned Books Club": Upton Sinclair's 1906 The Jungle. This book was perhaps the first major food expose, highlighting in VERY graphic ways the horrors of the meat-packing industry. If you think information about factory farms is grotesque, this book will blow you away. (Think workers falling in the rendering vat and being ground up with animal parts.) Although the author's intention was to analyze the terrible working conditions of working class and immigrant laborers, most readers came away shocked by food safety issues and ready to demand changes. As Sinclair said, "I aimed at the public's heart, and by accident I hit it in the stomach."

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Menu Planning

Last night, we went to a fabulous talk at my favorite bookstore (ie, the first bookstore I knew was carrying my book). Aviva Goldfarb, creator of The Six-O'Clock Scramble meal planning service, talked about her brand new book, SOS! The Six O'Clock Scramble to the Rescue: Earth-Friendly, Kid-Pleasing Dinners for Busy Families. Aviva worked with David many years ago, and when we found out that she too was obsessed with food and the environment, he was thrilled to reconnect a bit with her.

For those of you who have read my blog for a while, you know I am a dyed-in-the-wool hippie who tries to live in an ecologically sound fashion--and that I often try to challenge myself to create new behaviors that reflect my commitments. Goldfarb's book introduces her readers to the importance of many of the actions my family has taken over the years, from carrying our own bags and shopping at farmers market to eating meat responsibly and beginning to compost. Her book is a great intro to eco-eating for those who are interested in the issue but haven't gotten deeply involved yet.

Although those of us who have been labeled "deep green" or "already off the deep end" may not learn much new green info, the thing I really like about Goldfarb's book is her emphasis on having a plan for the week's meals.

I love to cook and love to invent recipes on the fly. Although I've made detailed plans for Passover or for family visits where things get a bit more challenging, I rarely do more than sketch out a few possibilities for the coming week. Over the last year of so, I have occasionally signed on to Meal Outlaw to try to flesh out a bit of a plan and to spy on other people's methods--but often I wind up logging meals in retrospect.  In my usual real life, I just buy whatever looks great at the market and go from there.

This fly-by-night method works well for my personality about 75% of the time. It is an utter failure at other times. We wind up going out to eat or I talk my 10yo son into cooking or my husband into putting something together at some late hour.  I think I get enough pleasure from the relaxed intuitive cooking during the height of gardening and CSA season that I'm not 100% sure I am ready to totally abandon my method. I suspect that even if I do get hooked on planning, I won't really be sticking to other people's recipes much of the time.

But when I started hearing about Goldfarb's planning method, I was inspired to try something new. I am eager to try out her recipes now that I own her cookbook.  But before I bought it, I spent the past week with a bunch of cookbooks from the library, a pad of paper for making a map of the week, and the commitment to try things this different way.

In poking around online for alternative sources for meal planning, I also found two super-cool blog collectives, Menu Plan Monday and Mindful Menus. Reading the linked posts gave me lots of ideas and further inspiration.

* * *

So here is this experimental week:

Chicken Penne with Pesto and Artichoke Cream
     from Robin Rescues Dinner: 52 Weeks of Quick-Fix Meals, 350 Recipes, and a Realistic Plan to Get Weeknight Dinners on the Table
Roasted Asparagus

Caribbean Vegetable Stew (vegan)
     from Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home: Fast and Easy Recipes for Any Day
Brown Rice
Papaya Salad with Ginger-Lime Dressing

Egyptian Pasta en Crema
     from Hands-Off Cooking: Low-Supervision, High-Flavor Meals for Busy People
Assorted Salad Greens with Papaya Seed Dressing

North African Cauliflower Soup (vegan)
     from Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home: Fast and Easy Recipes for Any Day
Assorted Salad Greens with Papaya Seed Dressing
Warmed Bread (from the farmer's market)

Butternut Squash Enchiladas with Spinach (vegetarian)
     from Hands-Off Cooking: Low-Supervision, High-Flavor Meals for Busy People
Crunchy Salad

Baked Potatoes topped with Goat Cheese, Sauteed Rapini, Leeks, and Mushroom (vegetarian)
     to be improvised

Macaroni and Yeast with Broccoli (a special request and an old favorite) (vegan recipe)
     from Vegan Vittles: Recipes Inspired by the Critters of Farm Sanctuary
Assorted Salad Greens
Great-Granny's Lemon Pound Cake
     recipe forthcoming

Shrimp Pomodoro over Angel Hair
     from Robin Rescues Dinner: 52 Weeks of Quick-Fix Meals, 350 Recipes, and a Realistic Plan to Get Weeknight Dinners on the Table
Steamed Asparagus

*  *  *

I am hungry already...

Do you meal plan? I'd love to hear more about your experiences!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Cooking Together

I've been enjoying Too Many Cooks: Kitchen Adventures with 1 Mom, 4 Kids, and 102 Recipes by Emily Franklin in short spurts over the last few afternoons.  It is a great book for picking up in those odd quiet moments that seem to happen here every once in a while--times when I know I can't get deeply into a project or serious book but do want to celebrate the few seconds I have.

Franklin's book is filled with stories of cooking and eating with her children.  She leaves this reader laughing, inspired, and occasionally feeling really lucky to have only one child!  Her stories are a great window into the life of her family--full of that patient-but-very-amused parenting style which feels just right in a book.  It is often too easy for cooks or parents writing memoirs to slip into what seems like a holier-than-thou attitude--and it is equally easy to be too self-critical.  Franklin takes a comfortable playful middle road, where she laughs gently at herself and her family in a way that shows how much she loves the whole shebang.  As she writes in one recipe, after mixing the ingredients into a batter, "let stand for 8-10 minutes or however long it takes you to change diaper/ send e-mail/ sing song/ divert toddler/ explain who Nixon was, or any other kid-related issue."

I immediately identified with the author when she recounts being with her mother in a kitchen shop--a scene which shapes the entire book: "Contained within the shelves there, packed away amidst the plain white plates and jelly jar glasses, were meals as yet uncooked, conversations unspoken, a whole future of smells and tastes and togetherness."  From the beginning, she knew that kitchens and cooking were about connections, about possibilities, and about love.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

"There's an old saying..."

Last night we had a fabulous dinner with new friends in our town--and played a great game totally new to us: Wise and Otherwise. It brought out both our funny sides, out poetic sides, and our most generous selves.

One player draws a card and reads the beginning of a saying from another culture. Other players have to guess or make up an ending and write it down. Players then vote for what they think it the right answer--or the funniest.

An example:

There is an old Russion saying, "No grease...":

1. No grease makes the iron pot brittle.
2. No grease could make Lenin's vodka smooth
3. No grease, no ride.
4. No grease make the blinis burn.
5. No grease makes a strong heart.
(answer in the comments)

A few other favorites from the evening--only one of which was true (answer in the comments):

1. There is an old Italian saying, "Old meat makes...the wisest salami."

2. There is an old saying, "You can saddle a horse and ride it well, but you can't lead it to water."

3. There is an old saying, "Water does not cleanse us to the bone"

4. There us an old saying, "The sea never buys fish."

5. There is an old Swedish saying, "Don't throw out the old watering can until you buy a new one from Ikea."

Highly recommended for mixed-age groups!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Chicken Whisperers

chickens 1

chicken 2

chickens 3

chicken 5

chicken path

chickens rooster

chickens 4

And one escapes all this loving attention:

chicken escapee

Friday, April 09, 2010

Interlude: A Knitted Quilt

The amazing group of homeschoolers with whom we attended farm camp has done many projects together. The most recent is this lovely pieced afghan or blanket--made up of 6-inch garter stitch squares made by the children and their parents. (My family had a blast making squares during this season's Snowpocalypse.) Many of the squares were knit from hand spun yarn, and several were hand dyed as well. What a lovely project to work on together!

We auctioned off the quilt to raise money for Haiti Projects, a multi-pronged non-profit working in Fond des Blancs, Haiti. Some of its projects are a craft cooperative that provides work and much needed cash for women, a tuition program to help poor families send their children to school, a family health care clinic which offers planning services to those who wish to control their family's size, a community library to encourage reading skills among local citizens, and a micro-lending program to help farmers borrow money for tools and animal raising.

In 10 days, our homeschooling group sold 143 raffle tickets, raising $1,430 for Haiti Projects!

While we were thrilled that a local kindergarten teacher received the quilt, we were sorry to see it go, too. It has inspired my family to try making our own blanket. The squares have just begun. More details soon!

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Playground with Cows

After all the hours in the car driving up to New York state, the kids in the homeschooling group were ready to brave the rainy day and let off a little energy.  They were all thrilled to see a space at the farm all set up for a little boisterous play.  And the children loved the proximity of their playground to the cows' playspace:

farm playground

They paused in their play to watch the cows begin their afternoon parade to the barn for a little hay:

farm playground 1

farm playground cows

How wonderful when the calves came onto the playground to play with the human kids!

farm playground 5

farm playground 6

Mamas were both watchful and patient:

farm playground 4

(to be continued)

Tuesday, April 06, 2010


farm sign

My family spent the last week living on a dairy farm in New York state--chaperoning twelve homeschooled children at farm camp. It was an amazing, exhausting week full of both laughter and tears, stress and quiet peace.

The biodynamic farm we visited is the same farm that Colin Beavan ("No Impact Man") visited with his family. Although it was the first time David and I had been up there, it was the third year of camp for many of the children.

In the next few posts, I'll talk more about some of the incredible things we got to do and see.

Today I'll leave you with a few observations about what went on in my own head during those times we were acting as chaperones:

1. I was flooded with memories of the deep pain of homesickness I experienced when I first went to camp when I was a child.

2. I was overwhelmed by the intense memories of how cruel and exclusionary I was (usually unintentionally) when I was eleven years old.

3. I was surprised that the boys, still physically immature, were far more modest than the girls, many of whom are beginning to develop.

4. I was much more aware of the weather's effect on our attitudes and behaviors than I am at home in our suburban world, full of inside activities to blunt the connection with nature.

5. I was very amused to watch the entire group of children embrace whatever chores they were offered, even chores they complain about at home. All were eager to help in any way they could, whether it was taking out compost, beating rugs, or washing dishes. At the end of the week as we said our goodbyes, I invited any of them to come to help at our house whenever they were missing camp!

* * *

It is good to be home--back to the beginning of sprouting radishes and arugula in our backyard, back to our own beds and pillows, back to our usual routines. But spending this spring week in a place of such obvious rebirth and growth emphasizes to me how important it is to remember our connections to the land and to each other.

More details about the farm to follow in the coming days.


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