"Salads are refreshing, lovely... like coming upon a woodland spring, clear and cool. Beauty will be the reward of your understanding touch. And health benefits will abundantly bless your table through the precious vitamins and minerals of crisp, sparkling salad ingredients. Salads are the delightful way to ensure those prescribed raw vegetables and fruits every day."
-Betty Crocker (from the 1950 first edition of Betty Crocker's Picture Cook Book)
What do you think of when I say salad?
Garden salad? Caesar salad? Potato salad? Tuna salad? Fruit salad?
Do you think of pudding?
When I pulled out my grandmother's recipe for Pistachio Salad, I started to question the definition of salad. I pulled out vintage and modern cookbooks and read all of the salad chapters. I found plenty of gelatin, but no pudding. Even my 1989 version of the Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book includes gelatin based dishes in the salad chapter.
Gelatin was used to preserve meats and vegetables and was made into elaborate shapes for hundreds of years. In the mid-19th century a powdered gelatin was developed for housewives, so they wouldn't have to spend the day boiling calves' feet. Pearle B. Wait took things one step further and started adding sugar and fruit flavors to the powdered gelatin and created Jell-O. In the first half of the 20th century, Knox and Jell-O put out a plethora of cookbooks as marketing tools to sell more gelatin.
Apparently, it worked. Home cooks adopted many of the dishes, cookbook writers included them in their works, and church potlucks were never without one. Some of the more disturbing recipes I ran across were: Frosted Meat Loaf Salad, Jewel-Toned Ham Salad Mold, and Coleslaw Souffle Salad.
Now that I have ruined your appetite, I'll get back to the recipe on hand. I'm guessing that all of these gelatin salads led to making the leap to an instant pudding salad- the boxes are right next to each other, after all. And there is fruit in it. Truth be told, this particular "salad" is really a dessert. To her credit, Betty Crocker included a special section for Dessert Salads. This would be right at home there.
Here's the mixture before the Cool Whip is added:
And here is the finished product and the recipe:
So the final question is, is it any good? My girls didn't care for it. Their complaint was that the pineapple ruined the texture. The only thing I didn't like, was that coating your tongue gets after eating anything with Cool Whip in it. As soon as we all tasted it, we decided it should be called Fluff. It was the first word that came to all of our minds. Digging into my second helping, I decided I liked it.
It's not gourmet or sophisticated or healthy, but it is a treat. To me it tastes like childhood and potlucks and cafeterias. It's simple and sweet and creamy. And some days, that's just what I need.
There is only one thing I remember my grandmother baking- banana cupcakes. They were practically a fixture in her kitchen. I can see them sitting on her counter in my mind's eye and hear her tell me how one of her nieces doesn't like raisins and calls them bugs.
I hadn't made these in years and making them was a sentimental journey. My grandmother is no longer able to bake, so the next time I see her I vow to make them for her. I'm hoping it will make her feel like an old friend has returned.
I made them today to be part of the refreshments served after my older daughter competed in Battle of the Books (her team won!!!!) Since I was making them for school children, I decided to leave the nuts out, because of allergy concerns, and replace the raisins with chocolate chips. Knowing how much Grammy loves chocolate, I don't think she'd mind. I also dusted them with confectioner's sugar when they were done. Of course I had to taste one before I served them to other people. I was a little worried, because they didn't rise much, but they were light, melt in your mouth, springy, full of banana goodness and just plain yummy.
Here is the original recipe:
And here's my version including instructions:
Preheat oven to 350.
-2/3 cup shortening - 1 cup sugar - 1 cup mashed bananas (about 2 large ripe bananas) - 4 tsp. buttermilk or coffee - 2 eggs, separated - 1 tsp vanilla - 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour - 1 tsp. baking soda - 1 tsp. salt - 1 tsp. baking powder - 1/2 cup chopped nuts (optional) - 1/2 cup raisins (optional)
Cream the shortening and sugar in a large mixing bowl. Add the bananas and beat until well combined. Add the buttermilk or coffee, egg yolks, and vanilla and mix well. In a medium mixing bowl whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, and baking powder. Add to the wet ingredients and mix well. Beat egg whites until stiff peaks form and fold into the batter. Fold in the optional nuts and raisins (or chocolate chips!) Put cupcake liners in a muffin tin and fill cups 2/3 full. Bake for 22-25 minutes. Makes around 14 cupcakes.
Since I gave that whole batch away, I think I'll make some more tomorrow. I might top them with a smear of Nutella. I have also added a simple lemon icing to them before (confectioner's sugar, butter, lemon juice, and lemon zest) to rave reviews.
I decided to start with a dessert that says HOME - pineapple upside down cake. I don't remember my grandmother making this recipe, but I do remember my mom making it. I hadn't had it in years and it was everything I remembered. Oh how I love the caramelized brown sugar, the sweet pineapple and the tender, melt-in-your-mouth cake.
Here it is in the skillet, before you flip it over:
My grandmother wrote where she got a recipe on almost every recipe card. This one is from her sister Eleanor. Here is the card for this cake:
I do love to see my grandma's handwriting. I like to think of her trying something at her sister's house and asking for the recipe or getting a taste for something and calling her sister and sitting down and writing it all out. I picture her making the cake in her pristine kitchen full of gleaming formica and stainless steel.
While this recipe is sentimental for me, I will rewrite it with clearer instructions for you. The one and only thing I have added is cherries. It's a classic touch, so it doesn't feel like sacrilege. Maraschino cherries are the usual choice, but I opted for Trader Joe's Dark Morello Cherries. They are not as red, but they taste like cherries.
Here are more detailed instructions:
If baking in the oven, preheat the oven to 350.
- 2 cups of flour, sifted and measured again - 2 tsp baking powder - 1/2 tsp salt - 1/2 cup shortening - 1 cup sugar - 2 eggs, separated - 1/2 cup milk - 2 Tbsp butter, melted - 1 cup brown sugar -1 can of sliced pineapple (20 oz.) - a few Morello or other cherries (optional)
In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. In a large mixing bowl, cream the shortening and the sugar. Mix in the egg yolks until well combined. Mix in about 1/3 of the flour mixture, then 1/2 of the milk, then the flour, then the rest of the milk and finally the rest of the flour. Beat the egg whites to stiff peaks and fold into the batter.
Swirl the melted butter in the bottom of a 10 inch cast iron skillet. Spread the brown sugar over the butter. Put the pineapple rings on top of the brown sugar. You will not have enough space to use all of the pineapple rings. Place the optional cherries in the middle of each pineapple ring and in the empty spaces between the rings around the edge. Pour in the batter and smooth the top. Bake at 350 for 45 minutes in the oven or cook on the stove top for 30 minutes. When a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, let it cool for a bit. Run a knife around the edge of the skillet to loosen it and then invert onto a platter. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Try to eat one piece. I dare you!
This is my grandmother's recipe box.
She hasn't cooked for about 30 years. When my late grandfather retired from Ford, he told my grandmother that she could retire too. So they ate out, three meals a day, for the rest of his life. As a child, I took this for granted, but as an adult, I realize how sweet and considerate this was. My grandparents were far from rich and they ate mostly at small diners. Oh what a gesture to budget for and change their lifestyle for her comfort and happiness.
As you can guess, my grandmother doesn't like to cook, but she did cook for her family for many years while raising three children. And now I have the recipes she used. Even though she doesn't delight in cooking, she does enjoy eating. I am loving the picture her recipes paint. It is a portrait of a blue collar, middle class kitchen in the mid-twentieth century. It also reveals my grandmother's sweet tooth. (Now I know for sure where I get mine!) There are many more recipes for sweets than for anything else.
I have read all the recipes and have decided to cook my way through them. I know this is probably sounding a bit Julie and Julia, but it is quite different, I assure you. There is nothing gourmet about these recipes. They are not a work of culinary brilliance like Mastering the Art of French Cooking. They are the recipes my grandmother liked enough to make again and again. They are a piece of my personal history and the domestic history of America.
I will be stepping outside my comfort zone a bit. I like to cook from scratch and stopped using a lot of processed foods a long time ago, but I will break my own rules for this journey. I will use Cool Whip and Dream Whip and instant pudding and lard. I will include all of the original recipes, their sources when known, and any changes I make. Some of the recipes are just lists of ingredients, so I will share the techniques I use to make them.
I am fascinated with all things vintage, especially from the 40's - the 60's, so I can't think of a more fitting project than to cook an entire recipe box from that era, from my own grandmother. It's like opening a time capsule and diving right in.
Here's to Grammy!
Snap snap snap. The sound of my gait on any given day is a metronome at full tilt. My older daughter knows I'm coming by the rhythm of my step. One of the first things I noticed after settling into the Summerhouse Inn at Chautauqua in New York, was that my pace had been completely altered.
Wandering down a lane past gardens, tangles of bikes, houses covered in gingerbread, and people on their porches, I realized I'd taken on the languid rhythm of a sheet on a line, blowing in the breeze- at once irregular and fluid. Even when I was headed to a specific destination, I took my time getting there and went a different way whenever I stepped out the door.
I lived a little over an hour away from Chautauqua for 12 years and somehow never found the time to go there. Now I live 11 hours away, but I knew it was time to find out what was so special about it. Over the years I've heard about it from friends and strangers. I've looked over the schedule of events many times and circled things I wanted to go see or hear.
For nine weeks every summer, a little historic lakeside community becomes the place to go to be immersed in culture. Every week there is a different theme and all day from dawn until after dark there are several things going on at all times from art clasess to lectures to theater performances to concerts to religious services to discussions to meditations and everything in between. When I found out I missed Alan Alda speaking there last year, I decided I would not let another year go by without experincing Chautauqua for myself.
Early this year I looked at my calendar and found one weekend I could make the trip. I clicked on the schedule and, lo and behold, an author I greatly admire, Karen Armstrong, was speaking that weekend. My mind was made up in that moment.
Not only did I get to hear Karen Armstrong, but I got to hear Tea Obreht too. I went to the symphony. I heard the group Straight No Chaser. I went to a sufi meditation and a Jewish service. I learned how to bake challah and I met many interesting people.
I loved the confluence of solitude and community. When I wanted to be alone, I walked into the woods or along the lakeshore or sat in the empty sanctuary of a lovely church and relished the silence, but when I wanted conversation there was always someone around with a smile and an interesting story or viewpoint.
In many ways, Chautauqua is how I picture the perfect small town. There are very few cars and lots of open minds. In the town square, there is always someone playing music. Art, literature, music, and theater are highly valued. There's always a lemonade stand somewhere. There's a bookstore and a library and lots of authors come to visit.
I'm sad that I missed out on this magical place for so long, but I'm also thankful I got to experince it by myself the first time. It was the right time for me to be able to fully appreciate all Chautauqua has to offer. I look forward to bringing my family here, but I also want to come back alone again.
In my every day life, I don't often give myself permission to wander, but I had forgotten that it is essential. When I wander, I am filled with wonder and as Socrates said, "Wonder is the beginning of wisdom."
My challenge to myself is to bring a piece of Chautauqua into my daily life. This might mean writing in a journal, or staying away from the computer for a day or two at a time, or going to a lecture, or striking up a conversation with a stranger, or slowing my pace, or meditating, or wandering down a random street for no good reason.
There are things that obviously change our lives: marriage, children, graduation, death, moving. And then there are things that at the time seem small, but later you realize caused you to turn a corner and set you on a whole new path. Slipping back into the silk of Ella's voice recently, reminded me of those twists and turns.
The first time I listened to Ella Fitzgerald I was babysitting. I glanced through the CD's on the shelf and put Best of the Songbooks in the player. (Thank you Bousquets wherever you are!) I was hooked immediately. Before that moment, I knew nothing of jazz. The impulse to play that album started a love of a whole genre of music. I became a student of Mary Alice Brown and sang with her at the Paper Moon more times than I can count. For a short time, I had a duo with a friend and we played every week at a lovely spot. I was taken out of the mold of singing only in church or school and starting exploring what else I could do.
The day I walked into the Roadhouse Theatre and auditioned for Picasso at the Lapin Agile I had no idea I had found a home of sorts. Dear Scott gave me a small role and finally I wasn't sitting in the audience wishing and dreaming and trying to keep my heart from jumping out of my chest, I was on the stage!!! I made so many friends there I wouldn't want to live without and at last had a place to belong. I've been in lots of shows since then and hope to be in many more.
From there I realized how thankful I am for those unexpected blessings. Knowing that some ordinary decision on an ordinary day might take me to places I've never known is one of the things that gets me out of bed in the morning.
Reading a great book is a lot like falling in love. It holds you in thrall and makes all your troubles seem to fade. It makes your heart pound and takes you to new places. When the last page is turned, it's like that moment when you finally let yourself see that it can never be. And all the illusions dissolve into the dust motes. You watch them float away as a new hole opens up inside you. A longing you didn't know you had.
Here are some new books that were recent infatuations:
(Go here if you need a refresher on my rating system.)
The Help by Kathryn Stockett and Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson- These are two very different books, but are connected by an important thread. They both highlight knocking down barriers and insignificant divisions between people. The Help is about racism, bravery, and friendship. It's set in the South in the early sixties and explores the relationship between African American housekeepers and their white employers.
Quote- "...it's a strange thing happening here cause nobody saying nothing and we still managing to have us a conversation."
Book rating- Beef stew 7
Major Pettigrew's Last Stand is a unique tale of love, told from a man's perspective. I enjoyed reading what it must be like on the other side of the fence. The issues of classism, ageism, and the clash of cultures all play a role in this intriguing book.
Quote- "Memories were like tomb paintings, thought the Major, the colors still vivid no matter the many layers of mud and sand and time deposited. Scrape at them and they come up all red and blazing."
Book rating- Beef stew 7 (with a dab of foie gras!)
Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese- This book got inside me. It was an experience. The story revolves around the lives of twin boys, sons of a surgeon. I don't want to give away much, because I like to go into a book not knowing and have the opportunity to discover everything on my own. I will tell you that I was fascinated by the entwining of cultures, the history of places I haven't given enough thought to, and the rich, complex characters.
Quote- "But if you did, if you had that kind of curiosity, if you had an innate interest in the welfare of your fellow human beings, and if you went through that door, a strange thing happened: you left your petty troubles on the threshold. It could be addictive."
Book rating- Foie gras and beef stew all rolled into one 9
Women Who Run With the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype by Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Ph.D.- You could call this a psychology book. You could call it a handbook for women. You could call it an investigation and interpretation of oral literature. It is all of these things. I have to admit that I am not done reading it yet. I read sections of it in between novels. It is dense reading. I read most pages at least twice to let it sink in. From the first paragraph, I knew it was a book I needed to read.
Quote- "I was an aesthete rather than an athlete, and my only wish was to be an ecstatic wanderer."
Book rating- Beef stew 9
If you have some time to waste, try Stumble Upon. Give the site a little info about your interests and it will randomly take you to links you might like. I don't stumble often, but when I do, it seems I always find something interesting, enchanting or inspiring.
A recent trip kicked off a firestorm of creativity for me and my girls that hasn't stopped burning yet. It started with this site, called Craft Gawker, that is a collection of photos and links to tons of crafty ideas. I've been swimming in a world of colors and textures ever since. The first thing I made was some paper origami stars. (See the tutorial here.) They are simple and lovely. And if you put a secret message inside, they can brighten up someone's day. When Julia got home, she went to town and made many more than I did (and is better at it too!)
Next up was a tree. (Instructions here.) Natalie and I gathered branches from our yard, cut out leaves, and glued wire on each leaf. Julia helped put all the leaves on the branches. It's as nice as a bouquet of flowers, but lasts a lot longer!
Then all three of us created a little forest of toadstools. (Animated instructions here.) Now our table has the spirit of spring!