THE DAIRY FARM AROUND THE BLOCK – Marilyn Armstrong

As 2019’s first major winter storm closes in, memories of summer seemed in order, not to mention a recipe for one great and classic cake.


Garry wanted pound cake for which I needed eggs. Our half-and-half was going “off.” With pound cake, we obviously will want coffee, hence we need fresh half-and-half. I wanted new pictures; Garry needed a photo airing too.

We accomplished it in one fell swoop (click here for a history of fell swoop), merely by driving around the block.

fresh eggs at the farm

It’s a dairy farm. Milk, eggs. Sometimes local honey. Today they had homemade jams and organic lip balm. The eggs come from the chickens wandering around the yards and are often fertilized. The milk is from the happiest bunch of cows I’ve ever seen. They loll around the green pasture which lies along the Blackstone River.

farm an windmill

There are several pastures. The pasture further down the road has a small creek running through it. They take the cows there in very hot weather so they can wade in the cool stream and graze on the wildflowers and weeds along the banks. It’s shady there. The calves have a pasture of their own and graze together along a hillside on the other side of the barn.

The milk isn’t homogenized or pasteurized, which means it’s very close to half-and-half, but you have to shake it before using because the cream rises to the top.

cows in pasture on the farm

I splurged on a jar of homemade elderberry jam. They had fresh corn, but I don’t need corn today. Maybe I’ll go back Monday, get some corn then. We don’t eat a lot, so I try not to over-buy things that will spoil and end up getting thrown out.

elderberry jamAnd we got pictures. I haven’t downloaded most of them yet. These are the first batch.

Here’s my recipe for pound cake. I’ll be baking as soon as the butter softens.

  • 1 pound (3-1/3 cups) flour
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 4 sticks softened sweet butter
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract (use the real thing)
  • 9 large eggs, lightly beaten.

It makes two cakes in standard loaf pans. I’ll freeze one. We will happily devour the other. I can feel my hips expanding as I write.

The elderberry jam is delicious. And 2 pound-cakes are baking in the oven. The smell is … wow.

REVISED REVISITED GINGERBREAD – THE JANUARY RECIPE

It has been cold and really nasty out. Garry went out and unasked, shoveled the walk again. This was very brave considering the near zero temperature.

I decided to warm him up with gingerbread. I thought I had everything, but I turned out to be 1/4 cup short of molasses and I decided to use my mixer instead of beating it by hand with a wooden spoon. I think it’s less complicated and less messy using a spoon, but this certainly produced a much smoother batter. Which took an extra 10 minutes to bake.

Was it the beating that did it? Extra air in the batter? Maybe the eggs were too big? 


The NEW REVISED RECIPE for GINGERBREAD

This a very fine, old-fashioned recipe. I bake it in a loaf pan in a counter-top electric oven and it takes between 40 and 50 minutes at 370 to 375 degrees.  You can use a regular baking pan and a standard full-size oven, but you will probably need to change the oven temperature to whatever works in your oven. Hopefully, you know your oven and whether it should be turned up or down.

This is not a difficult recipe. It pretty much always comes out well, even if you make mistakes. It can take as long as 50 minutes or as few as 42 and sometimes. I’m not sure what makes the difference.

Baking is like that. When I baked bread, I always had to check and make sure it was done, even when I baked the loaf in the same oven using an identical recipe to the previous time. Ovens don’t always seem to run exactly the same from use to use — or maybe there are tiny differences in the way you prepare something that changes something ineffable in the batter.

I should have taken the pictures before I lopped off two big pieces, but it was hot and it smelled SO good …

I think the batch I made today took 50 minutes (a little more?), about 8 minutes more than last time and for the final 10 minutes, I had to turn the temperature up higher.

Identical never really is, you know. Ovens running at the same temperature may not really be exactly the same each time … which is why owning an oven thermometer is a good idea. I had one, but it died and I haven’t gotten around to replacing it. In any case, I don’t think it would work in the mini-oven.

Also, flour varies from use to use, even when it all came in the same bag. Eggs are different sizes. Mixing versus beating changes things. This use, the molasses seemed thinner, though it came in the same bottle as the last batch. Room temperature? Take your best guess.

I check for doneness by pressing lightly on the top. If it springs immediately back, it’s done. If not, it goes back in the oven and damn the recipe. Also, look to see if the edges have pulled away from the pan — another sign of whatever it is being fully baked. I don’t use toothpicks to check for doneness because sometimes, poking deflates it. I know that’s what cookbooks recommend, but it doesn’t work for me.

2-1/2 cups flour (sift or not, I don’t sift.)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1-1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
Optional: 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 cup melted butter or other shortening (I use corn oil)
2 tablespoons sugar
1 cup molasses
1 cup very hot water (not boiling) from the tap.

Note: I ran short of molasses and used 1/4 cup of Vermont maple syrup to make up the difference. The result is delicious. Maybe that’s why it took longer to bake?

I put everything in together then mix or beat it. It honestly doesn’t seem to make much difference how you do it, but beaten using a mixer produces a smoother batter. And seems to take a longer to bake.

Pour it in either a greased loaf pan or a Teflon loaf pan. I’m a dedicated Teflon user and I’m not sure if a greased pan would change baking time … but I do know you need to use a slightly hotter oven if you’re using a glass dish.

Preheat the oven before you bake. That does make a difference. A big difference.

Serve it hot or cold, it’s good any way you eat it.  Anything left over will go great with coffee in the morning.  Traditionally, it’s served with honey butter, but it’s delicious alone. The smell of it as it bakes gets every nose in the house twitching. Especially the dogs.

I should mention this is not the kind of gingerbread out of which you build houses, though I suppose you could fiddle with the recipe and see how it goes.

This gingerbread is for eating.

MY BEST-EVER COOKIE RECIPE – BY ELLIN CURLEY

For a short while, many years ago, I had the fantasy that I could start a dessert catering business from home. I spent a year collecting and testing recipes and producing marketing materials. After all that, I discovered that my town didn’t allow any type of commercial cooking from a residence without a professionally licensed kitchen. I had been given misinformation when I inquired before starting this process.

The cover of my marketing flyer

The year of experimenting with and tweaking recipes was a wonderful time for me. I threw myself into the process of education and invention. My concept was to adapt old-fashioned English desserts into exciting and new American treats.

I first discovered English ‘puddings’ (the English word for desserts) on a canal boat trip through the countryside of England. The local pubs we ate at served glorious dessert concoctions that were different from the average American dessert. I was infatuated and became obsessed with these recipes. I bought some English cookbooks specializing in this genre of English baking.

One of the paperback cookbooks I bought in England

One very popular English treat is called a ‘Flapjack Bar’. It has no relationship to the pancake that we refer to as a Flapjack. This bar has more in common with our Rice Krispie Treats. It’s a soft and chewy, sweet bar made from oats rather than Rice Krispies.

Flapjack Bar

Everyone who tried my Flapjack Bar loved it. We especially loved the crispy bits around the edges of the bar. It occurred to me that I could get an all crispy snack if I flattened the ‘bar’ into a cookie. I experimented with different recipes and finally came up with the perfect ‘Flapjack Cookie’ recipe. I checked with my friend in London. No one in England has come up with my idea, so I’m very proud of my invention.

This cookie became the most popular item when I tested my recipes on family and friends. People went crazy for this chewy, crunchy, tasty, unique cookie. When I was invited for dinner, I was often asked to bring some of my addictive cookies.

I consider this cookie to be one of my most creative and successful ideas. I would like to share the recipe with you so you can enjoy it too.

My Flapjack Cookies

The recipe is incredibly simple, quick and easy to make. It’s pretty foolproof too. However, the key ingredient is something that is very popular in England but is not always easy to find in America. It’s called Lyle’s Golden Syrup. It’s the brown sugar version of clear corn syrup. It has the delicious flavor that makes this cookie unique. It also insures the right texture. I’ve tried to replace it with honey or corn syrup and it just isn’t the same.

NOTE: You can find half a dozen versions of this for sale on Amazon, so don’t give up. Just type “Lyle Golden Syrup” into the Amazon finder and it will pop up … in bottles, cans, and various sizes.

Lyle’s Golden Syrup in can and plastic bottle

I can get Lyle’s Golden Syrup in the honey and maple syrup section of my supermarket. I have also found it in the English/Irish part of the international aisle in other supermarkets. Some gourmet food stores will also sell it. If you can’t find it locally, go online and order it. You can use it in dessert recipes instead of honey or corn syrup. It gives everything a wonderfully different taste.

These cookies will last for up to a week if you keep them well covered. You can also freeze them and defrost them naturally (no microwave). Another option is to freeze extra balls of the pre measured batter and take them out when you want to make a fresh batch of the cookies. Just add a minute or so to the cooking time if you’re cooking them frozen.

Ready to bake frozen balls of cookie dough

You can also add chopped dried fruit or nuts to the batter to vary the flavor if you want some variety. I used chopped dried cranberries or chopped skinless almonds (I started with the diced almonds and further cut them down a bit).

Here is the recipe. I hope you like it as much as I do!


FLAPJACK COOKIES


5 oz. butter (unsalted)
3 oz. Lyle’s Golden Syrup
7 oz. light brown sugar
2 ½ cups (8 oz.) quick oatmeal oats
¼ cup (1 oz.) shredded sweetened coconut
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350. Put parchment paper on cookie sheets.
  2. Heat the butter, brown sugar and syrup until butter has completely melted. Add the vanilla and mix through.
  3. Mix the oatmeal and the coconut together.
  4. Stir the sauce into the dry ingredients and blend thoroughly.
  5. Cool slightly till batter thickens a bit.
  6. Place heaping teaspoons of the batter (about .5 oz per cookie) on the cookie sheets. Place cookies at least 2” apart.
  7. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until edges are a dark caramel color.
  8.  Cool completely till firm and crisp before removing from sheet.

Notes: (1) For Cranberry Flapjack Cookies, add 2.5 oz. chopped cranberries to dry mix. (2) For Almond Flapjack Cookies, add 1.25 oz. chopped almonds to dry mix.

CORN BREAD

Bet you’re wondering what this is about.

It’s about corn bread. Because for the first time in more than two years, I actually baked something. From scratch. I even turned on The Big Oven to do it.

I’ve had a yen for cornbread. The cornbread commercial mixes I’ve bought as well as the cornbread I’ve bought already baked have not been worth either the effort or the eating. Not nearly as good as my cornbread. I gave in. I was also yearning for comfort food. Garry hasn’t been feeling well and he wanted soup. Cornbread and soup are two of my favorite comfort foods and they go well together. So, that’s what we had for dinner.

72-cornbread-10022016_1

I found this recipe on the back of a bag of stone-ground cornmeal probably 20 years ago. It’s simple and if you don’t forget to take the cornbread out of the oven when it’s done, it’s pretty much fool-proof.


Corn Bread: The Recipe

This makes the best cornbread I’ve eaten anywhere. It’s also super simple to bake. I’ve added a bit more preparation information than the original recipe included because not everyone is intuitive about baking.

3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
3/4 teaspoon salt
1-1/2 cups milk
2 cups flour
1 cup yellow corn meal (stone ground if possible — yes, it makes a difference)
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 tablespoon melted butter (alternatively corn or olive oil)

Mix everything together in a big bowl. The original recipe calls for sifting, but I have never sifted and it has always come out perfectly.

72-cornbread-10022016_3

Stir the batter until it is mixed and not lumpy. Do not overbeat. No electric mixers, please! A wooden spoon will do the job nicely.

Preheat the oven to 425 F (220 C) or 450 (235 C) depending on your oven — in mine, I use the lower temperature. Bake in a large, well-greased pan —  9 inches by  12 inches (22 X 30 cm approximately) is fine or there about. I think it bakes better in a metal pan. If you’re going to use glass, you may want to use the higher baking temperature

Bake for 15 to 20 minutes. After 15 minutes, check for doneness. It’s done when it’s light golden on top and has pulled away from the sides of the pan. If you press the top, it should spring back.

Even if you use a Teflon-coated pan, grease it. Don’t argue. Just grease it!

NOTES:


I have never tried cutting the recipe in half or doubling it, so I don’t know how well it would work.

Don’t bang around in the kitchen while it’s baking. It’s sensitive and will fall.

My mother-in-law (Garry’s mom) liked my cornbread (trust me, that was the ultimate compliment) and asked for the recipe. She added a cup of golden raisins and that was good, too.

I like it toasted the next morning with a bit of butter melting on top. It doesn’t keep well. It will be too stale to eat after 24 hours.

EASY HOME-MADE HUMUS (NO MEAT, EGGS, OR DAIRY)

Memory on the menu? Not really. But today — there’s humus on the menu and it’s good!

I love humus and don’t understand why it costs so much at the supermarket. Especially since the supermarket stuff isn’t particularly good. So, I make it myself.

Making hummus

HUMUS

2 15-1/2 oz cans chick peas (with or w/o water drained)
1 cup organic tahina
1/8 cup lemon juice
¼ cup olive oil (NO substitution)
1-1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 heaping tablespoon chopped garlic (more if you prefer it garlicky)

Add salt to taste (about a teaspoon and a pinch), plus water as needed.

Optional: Chopped onion and/or hot sauce

Throw everything in the food processor. Process until smooth. If it’s too thick (that is, the food processor seems to be laboring), add a bit of water, a little at a time. You won’t need much.

Taste. Adjust seasonings. I add 2 teaspoons of hot sauce (chipotle or whatever I have on hand).

Makes two good-sized containers of humus. I use one for dinner and there’s usually some left over, depending on how many are eating. I freeze the second container.

Serve with pita wedges (fresh if you can get it, lightly toasted if not). Nice with a side of fresh avocado, fresh lemon, and sliced tomatoes. In Israel, humus is typically served with a drizzle of olive oil, a shake of paprika, a bit of fresh, chopped onion and hot sauce. Often very hot sauce.


hummus with pita

I got the basic recipe from my Armenian bank manager, added a few Israeli twists. It’s good. Really good and not expensive. This is not a particularly sensitive recipe. If you have two mismatched cans of chick peas, not to worry. A little more or less water? No problem. The hardest part is cleaning up … and there is always a lot of cleanup. No matter how hard I try, humus and tahina winds up everywhere.

I highly recommend buying organic tahina. Not only does it taste better, but it doesn’t turn rock solid when left in the cupboard. Do not refrigerate it. That’s like refrigerating peanut butter. It will become solid and may be impossible to stir back to life. Tahina — organic or otherwise — does not require refrigeration, either before or after opening.

I usually make a double recipe, thus using up the entire jar of tahina. After you have collected all the ingredients and set up the food processor, you might as well make full use of it. One jar of tahina will make two big (double) batches of humus.

RECIPE FOR BAKED ME

Note: This is a complicated recipe. Full preparation may take decades. Patience is required.


Mix three scant cups of child abuse with a double handful of art, literature, and music. Add a tablespoon each cumin, garlic, salt, pepper. Omit sugar. This recipe does not call for sweetening.

Add thousands of library books, plus hundreds of hours deep in the stacks of the New York public library. Add orange juice until a soft batter is formed. Mix gently but thoroughly until you can no longer tell fact from fiction. Cover and refrigerate for a decade or so.

I'm in the middle, Mom and my sister Ann are on the right. Code Red.
I’m in the middle, Mom and my sister Ann are on the right. Code Red.

Add a handful of excellent LSD, half a pound of finely ground marijuana to 20 years of education and a bachelor’s degree. Include one Steinway grand piano, an erudite husband, a bunch of wonderful, loving and supportive friends, one crazy college radio station and an old typewriter with glass sides.

NOTE: Keep track of the future husband over there (the quiet, handsome one). You’ll need him later.

Add yeast. Knead several times. Cover, then put aside in a warm place to rise. Add a baby, catastrophic medical bills, a broken spine, a husband with kidney cancer and a heart attack. For spice, use two mortgages, car payments and a career in publishing. Don’t forget a couple of fantastic women friends.

Put all the ingredients in a big greased bowl and knead until smooth. Put aside for a separate rising. Pack everything and move it to the city of Jerusalem. That’s pretty far away, so pack carefully.

86 Derech Hevron, Jerusalem, Israel

Now, add a stupid, abusive man, a couple of confused stepchildren, the aforementioned son, 60 hour work weeks and a heaping dose of new technology. Put them to cook in a city full of magic and ghosts of ages past. Add a rounded tablespoon of mysticism, and a few ancient artifacts.

Remove Mother and aunt, reserving enough cash to get back to the U.S.A. Don’t forget the rest of the recipe! It’s still rising. Check your fridge.

Defrost future husband. Warm to room temperature, then heat up with lots of cuddling, hugs, encouragement and faith. Grab that risen dough from refrigerator. Knead thoroughly. Build a teepee, then separate batter into four pieces.

Braid each loaf and bake at 400 degrees until each loaf is golden, suitable for a feast.

Photo: Debbie Stone
Photo: Debbie Stone
Serving Suggestions:

Sprinkle with dog hair and oak pollen, nest in a new career and top with a dollop of joy.

Ignore spinal calcification (it’ll still taste great, but you’ll have to eat sitting down). Be sure to remove two large malignant breasts (they can ruin the feast) while retaining a spicy sense of humor. Serve warm.

IT’S NOT PIE WITHOUT CRUST

Pie – Food evokes all the senses: the scent of pastry baking, the sound of a fork clinking on a plate… I don’t think this is going to make anyone’s mouth water, but this is the way it happened. Another true story from the giant closet of memories I call life.


dessert Island

I do not have a hand for pastry. I have had it demonstrated step-by-step and followed along as my gifted friends made pastry. With the flick of a wrist, in no time flat, they had that sucker on a big floured board, rolled out and voilà. Light, perfectly flaky pie crust.

I was glad to discover that the secret ingredient of at least two women whose baking was out of this world was the pre-made crust they bought at the grocery store. It made me feel a little better. They made the filling, but not the crust.

I make great filling.

Yet, I was troubled by my inability to conquer pastry. I’d watched pie crust being made. It appeared easy enough. There seemed no reason why I shouldn’t be able to do it myself. I cook well. I make bread. Excellent bread and by hand, if you please. I also make cake and cookies from scratch. You should try my ginger snaps — they are fabulous (if I do say so myself).

My husband comes from a West Indian family. Spicy meat pies are near and dear to his heart and I had just gotten his mother’s secret recipe for filling. She bought pre-made crust and suggested I should too. She even told me what brand to buy.

I was going to make my own pie crust. No store-bought stuff for me!

I did it. On previous attempts, it had fallen apart when I tried to roll it out. By golly, I was not going to let that happen again. I put the flour in the bowl. I added the butter, and a pinch of salt. Mixed it with a fork. I did that multi-knife chopping thing that turns it into dough, but maybe I didn’t do such a great job. And it was too dry.

So, I added (per the recipe) a bit of ice water.

Which made it too wet. So I added a bit more flour. Then a bit more ice water. A bit more butter. Finally, I could roll it out. I couldn’t roll it thin, but I figured a little thicker wouldn’t matter. I was making meat pies … so a slightly heavier crust would be fine. Wouldn’t it?

I made two meat pies and they looked fabulous. When they came out of the oven, they smelled like heaven and the crust was gorgeous, a baked-to-perfection shade of golden brown.

I proudly presented one to Garry, who took a knife and fork and began to dig in. He could not cut the through crust. He couldn’t even scratch it. Finally, he took a knife and stabbed it with both hands. It would have killed a lesser pie.

NOTE: Garry was a Marine. He does 200 push-ups every morning and has for his entire adult life. He’s no sissy. This was more than 10 years ago, so he was even stronger back then.

The knife bounced off leaving the crust unscathed. Garry kept apologizing, as if it were his fault … trying, I suppose, to spare my feelings. It was hopeless.

I eventually pried the top off both pies and we ate the filling. The crust could have been used as a building material. The one thing it was not, was food.

Is anyone surprised to learn this was my last, absolutely final, attempt to make my own pie crust?