29 April 2010

I am still here

How did it get to be nearly two weeks since the last post? Houseguests, major meetings, major field trips, papers, posters, all the other activities that spontaneously combust simultaneously at the end of a college semester....orals, finals, defenses....and somehow Family Recipe Monday was lost in the shuffle. Look for a good one next week to make up for the omission. In the meantime, here are some shots of Badlands and wildlife from last weekend's field trip, a.k.a. Dances with Geologists. It was a cold, wet, windy and spectacular weekend. Enjoy.

Badlands after a heavy rain; the water brings out the colors and fineness of the strata.

 Badlands formations

 The Badlands are essentially an eroding and melting landcape, grain by grain.

 The Fossil Exhibit Trail and the first blue sky of the day.

 Lone pillar.

Badlands formations.

 Yellow Mounds.

 Yellow Mounds in a distinctly O'Keeffeian light.

 Conata Basin.

Desert bighorn sheep on a stroll.  

Small bighorn with telemetry collar.  

 Bison unimpressed with geologists. Winter shed has just started.

 Prairie dog talking with its mouth full.

 Turkey vulture and prairie dog town. Can you tell that it's a better camera?

 The critically important wildlife saga of Badlands.

 Prairie falcon hovering over an endless horizon.

 Storefront. Scenic, South Dakota. Get that comma in there, or else the message is entirely different.

19 April 2010

Family recipe Monday: baked goods: muffins

Three states in the United States of America have adopted official muffins. Minnesota has adopted the blueberry muffin as the official state muffin. Massachusetts in 1986 adopted the Corn Muffin as the official state muffin. Then in 1987 New York took on the Apple Muffin as its official muffin of choice.

I must admit here that I did not know that there were any state muffins. South Dakota doesn't seem to have one, though it does have a state bread (frybread) and a state dessert (kuchen). (Of course, I'm still trying to wrap my brain around the fact that South Dakota's state bird is the Chinese ringnecked pheasant, making SD the only state in the Union, as far as I can tell, whose state bird is 1. a non-native, introduced species, and 2. a major game bird in the state. We can shoot and eat our state bird. But I digress.)

These are unofficial but great muffin recipes from the Simple Gifts file. Muffins have an interesting history, particularly in terms of leavening. They are batter breads rather than dough breads and depend on a chemical agent (first pearlash, now baking powder) to leaven the batter. The best muffins are mixed quickly and baked in sturdy mold pans. I am a fan of cast-iron muffin pans, personally, as they seem to yield the lightest muffins. For best results, let them cool in the pan for 5 minutes or so before removing them.

Here's the recipe from the card at the top.

Sour cream muffins
1 cup sour cream
1 tsp baking soda
1 cup sugar
1 tsp cream of tartar
2 eggs
2 cups flour
Salt (1 tsp)

Beat all ingredients together and bake at 400* F.
--Vada Johnson Brooks

"Flavoring" could be any extract or essence desired: vanilla, lemon, orange, almond and rum were particularly popular. 

I have not tested the claim below that this muffin batter will keep for six weeks, and am I ever glad that someone corrected the recipe. 8 cups of sugar and no flour would be a bit much...This makes a huge batch of muffins, and my inclination would be to make it up all at the same time rather than trying to save the batter. With sufficient friends, family and colleagues, you can get these distributed quickly, and be far more popular in the process than the zucchini reverse bandits of late summer. (I actually, out of desperation, made zucchini muffins and teabread two years ago...but I digress again.)

Six-week muffins
1 10-oz box Raisin Bran
3 cups sugar (or use brown sugar)
5 cups flour
2 tsp salt
5 tsp baking soda
1 quart buttermilk
4 beaten eggs
1 cup Crisco (melted)

Mix Raisin Bran, sugar, flour, salt and baking soda. Add buttermilk, eggs and Crisco. Use a very large mixing bowl and mix well. Store covered in refrigerator and use as desired. Fill muffin tins 2/3 full and bake at 400* F for 15 to 20 minutes. This batter will keep for 6 weeks.
--Gladys Strickland

A couple of other favorites:

Blueberry muffins
1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries
1 ½ cups sifted unbleached flour
2 tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
½ cup granulated sugar
1 egg
2 T unsalted butter, melted
½ cup milk
Grated rind of 1 medium lemon

Wash and dry blueberries thoroughly. In a mixing bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, salt and sugar. Add blueberries and stir to mix, being careful not to break blueberries. In a separate bowl, beat egg lightly. Mix in melted butter and milk. Stir in grated lemon rind. Add liquid ingredients all at once to dry ingredients. With a spatula, stir and fold only until dry ingredients are barely moistened (only a few seconds). The batter will be slightly lumpy and quite thick. Fill greased or paper-line muffin tins 2/3 full and bake at 400* F for 20 to 25 minutes, or until golden brown. Cool in the tins for 2 to 3 minutes, then remove and cool on a rack. Makes 10 to 12 muffins.

Interesting how blueberries and lemons always pair well in taste and complement each other.

Cranberry orange muffins
1 cup all-purpose flour
½ tsp salt
1 cup sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1½ cups yellow cornmeal
1 cup cranberries, washed and patted dry
½ cup salad oil
2 eggs
2/3 cup buttermilk
2 T Grand Marnier (optional)
1 T grated orange rind

Preheat oven to 375* F. Grease bottoms of 12-cup muffin tins. In large bowl, sift together flour, salt, sugar, and soda. Add cornmeal and cranberries. Stir to mix. In smaller bowl, combine oil, eggs, buttermilk, Grand Marnier, and orange rind. Beat until well blended. Add liquid ingredients to dry ones, stirring until flour is moistened but still lumpy. Do not overbeat. Divide batter among 12 muffin cups. Bake 20 minutes or until tops are peaked and golden. Let sit in pan for 5 minutes before serving. Serve warm with butter.

Dinosaur corn muffins. Take that, Massachusetts.

Happy Monday.

15 April 2010

Spring wildlife: hoofed stock

Feral burro checking us out for handouts. No zoom used.

I don't have quilt news to post today; several surprise projects are still under way. Instead, here are some photos submitted as proof that spring may actually have arrived in the Black Hills. We were driving on the Wildlife Loop in Custer State Park last week, and the wildlife cooperated beautifully. There are a lot of calves and foals about to be born, from the look of things. The graze is just starting to green up. It's been a lean and hungry winter for the critters, and they were clearly enjoying the milder day. Gene may be posting bird pictures later.

Bison male, very thin

Herd of female bison, mostly pregnant

Herd of elk at airstrip, as close as we could get

Feral burros in foreground; more of the mom bison herd in background

Feral burro with Jerusalem donkey markings

Happy Thursday.

12 April 2010

Family recipe Monday: pickles

We are all ready for the farmer's market to start up again this year. This being the northern part of the Great Plains, the season of productivity starts later and ends earlier than the season in the southern extent of the plains (aka the tropics of the Texas Panhandle), where I grew up. My colleagues in the tropics of DC and the Southeast are gleefully writing about tilling gardens and planting containers full of lovely greenery. Yesterday, I was looking at three-foot-high piles of snow left over from the last storm that hit the Black Hills. This is just what spring is like up here. Last year at this time, we were only halfway through the blizzard run for the month. The container plantings will have to wait a bit.

In the meantime, I am pulling together the various pickling recipes from the Simple Gifts files. Here are some I'm planning to try this year, in addition to the various crabapple, wild plum and other preserves that worked well last year. Here's one from my aunt Melba's mother, from Louisiana.

Slack lime pickles (sweet)
1 gallon cucumbers, sliced
1 cup slack lime
2 gallons water

Slice cucumbers and soak 24 hours in lime water. Wash and soak 1 hour in clear water. Drain well.

3 quarts vinegar
8 cups sugar
2 T salt
1/2 box pickling spice

Cook pickles 1½ to 2 hours, or until tender in vinegar, sugar, salt and spice. Put in jars and seal.
--Mrs. Royal D. Campbell (Melba Campbell Johnson’s mother)

Note: slack lime (or slaked lime) is the same as pickling lime. Up here, we can get it at the feed store, in pickling season.

It seems that everyone in the family had a different recipe (and even a different name) for the mixed-vegetable preserve that my grandmother called chow chow. This one could be mild to outright scary, depending on your choice of hot peppers.

Chow chow
1 gallon green tomatoes
5 large onions
1 large cabbage head
1 ½ cups sugar
1 ½ green (bell) pepper
12 hot peppers
1 ½ tsp. each cloves, cinnamon, ginger
1 T salt
3 to 4 apples
4 cups vinegar

Chop green tomatoes fine. Salt and let stand overnight. Press out juice and add other chopped ingredients and cook 20 minutes. Can. To double: use 1 peck green tomatoes, 10 large onions, 6 cups vinegar, 3 cups sugar, 1 T of each of the spices, 2 T salt.
 --Vada Brooks Johnson

Notice that doubling the recipe does not necessarily meaning doubling all the ingredients. If you are following the casserole philosophy of one to keep, one to share, you will find that you need to be careful about the doubling proportions in spicing and canning. In this recipe, for example, you already have enough peppers for taste and heat before you begin doubling. Trust us on this one.

Here is a classic from the 1950s. Red food coloring, cinnamon sticks AND Red-Hots cinnamon candy are used for an unexpectedly zippy preparation. I have to admit that I have not tried to make this one, myself...

Cucumber rings (Lois’s pickles)

1 gallon cucumber rings, peeled, sliced, and centers cut out
1 ½ cup pickling lime
8 ½ quarts water

Combine and soak 24 hours. Drain and wash enough to get rid of all lime. Combine 1 cup vinegar, 1 T alum, and 1 small bottle of red food coloring. Add to cucumber rings and add enough water to cover. Simmer 2 hours and drain off. In another pan, mix 2 cups vinegar, 2 cups water, 10 cups sugar, 8 sticks cinnamon, and 1 10-oz pkg. Red-Hots candy. Bring to a boil and pour over rings. Repeat a second day. Heat all to a boil on third day and seal.
--Gladys Brooks Strickland

More on this subject next week. Happy Monday.

11 April 2010

That was the week that was

"Hexagon patchwork from about 1830 with the papers and the basting still in them." From Barbara Brackman's site at http://barbarabrackman.blogspot.com/2010/03/hexagons-again.html.

I'm not sure what happened. It was Monday, then it was Sunday, and everything in between is a frenetic blur. April on a college campus always seems to be a time for meetings, tests, defenses, weddings and other pivotal life events, both for the students and for all of us working with them. Spring arrives and life changes forever. In one week, I've watched my students repeat vows, deliver papers at a professional meeting, and prepare for the final steps in getting advanced degrees. They are moving forward in scholarship and in life simultaneously, marking the milestones. There is much more of the same ahead for the rest of the month. Emotions are running at fever pitch.

Does that mean that there are more celebratory/commemorative quilting projects afoot here? Does it ever....more on that in a later post.

The new building is nearly ready for the final walk-through before it becomes ours. After that, we will be moving collections, library resources, archives and lab equipment in all during the summer, trying to have everything in the best shape possible for a grand fall opening. It's not a theoretical move any more. Once again, I will be triaging and moving my own office, sooner rather than later. Emotions are running high on this front, too. Couldn't I have collected something less painful to move than hundreds of books? Origami, perhaps? (Answer: a resounding no.)

So, im lieu of what should have been Quilt Thursday, here's a link to a followup on hexagon quilts that Barbara Brackman has posted. It's great eye candy for a lovely Sunday. Take a moment to savor the day; I will do so, too.

05 April 2010

Family recipe Monday: casseroles: one to have, one to share

"Casserole: A dish or pot made from a material such as glass, cast iron, aluminum, or earthenware in which food is baked and, often, served. The word, which may also refer to the food itself...is from the French and was first printed in English in 1708....Cooking in such dishes has always been a part of most nation's gastronomy, but the idea of casserole cooking as a one-dish meal became popular in America in the twentieth century, especially in the 1950s when new forms of lightweight metal and glassware appeared on the market. The virtues of easy-to-prepare meals were increasingly promoted in the women's magazines of the era, thereby supposedly freeing the housewife from the lengthy drudgery of the kitchen....By the 1970s casserole cookery took on a less-than sophisticated image..."
---The Encyclopedia of American Food & Drink, John F. Mariani [Lebhar-Friedman:New York] 1999 (p.59)

We have many casserole recipes in the Simple Gifts files, most of which we remember from childhood but have not ourselves prepared as adults. And I have to wonder if we are missing out on something that way. The technique is ancient and cross-cultural, the approach is simple, and the results can be wonderful. Certainly up here, in prime hotdish and potluck territory, the concept has never waned. I have a quilting pattern for a hotdish warmer and carrier in one, which is a necessary item up here.

A casserole is a dish for a group, whether family or friends. We seem to be hard-wired to share food with those we care about, as a way of fostering good feelings and showing love and care.

Here are a few good ones from the files.

Cheese scalloped corn casserole
2-3 eggs
2 1-lb. cans cream-style corn
1 cup milk
1 cup cracker crumbs
½ cup chopped onions
½ cup green peppers
1 cup grated Cheddar cheese
Salt and pepper

Beat eggs in bowl. Stir in remaining ingredients. Pour in two greased casseroles. Cook at 350* F for 35 minutes.
--Vada Brooks Johnson

This is notable on a couple of points: there is no canned soup used as a filler/binder (that did not start in earnest until the 1950s, and this one is older), and it makes two casseroles (one for home and one to freeze for a future potluck, church supper, or food to take to a friend's house in response to illness or death). Casseroles keep well and improve in flavor the second day. You could have this on hand for a busy night when everyone would be tired and hungry, and it would be wonderful.

Here is one, daring for its time and place (a cup of sherry?! in a casserole?! in West Texas?!), from a friend of my grandmother's.

Audrey’s chicken casserole

1 6-lb. hen, cook until tender {in water to cover}. Cut in bite size pieces with scissors. Pour a bit of stock over chicken. Save the bottom of sauce for spaghetti. 1 stick oleo, melt over very low heat. Sauté 1 green pepper and one chopped garlic head* in butter. Cook very slowly, stirring constantly. Add 5 T flour slowly, cook a bit, stirring. Add 2 cups milk at room temperature. Cook slowly, making a sauce. Add 2 cans mushroom soup, 2 jars pimentos, a bit of garlic salt, 2 T Worcestershire sauce and 1 small can mushrooms. When mixture bubbles, add 1 cup sherry. Simmer a few minutes. Add chicken to sauce and blend in 6 cups grated cheddar cheese. Save 1 cup cheese for top. Stir until melted and add ¾ cup Parmesan cheese and a dash of pepper. Simmer 4 or 5 minutes. Preheat oven to 350 F. Cook one 16-oz pkg. of spaghetti in broth and rinse with cold water. Add half the spaghetti in baking dish and half the sauce. Repeat until all is used. Sprinkle other cup of cheese on top and cook 10 or 15 minutes until cheese is melted. Makes two casseroles.

Note on original card: “Audrey only used 3 C. of cheese and rum instead of sherry.”
--Audrey Smith

*I think that this should be "clove." It could be a little overwhelming on the garlic front otherwise, though that cup of sherry (or rum) might smooth things out. AFTER you put the scissors down.

Note that, once again, it makes two casseroles. One to have, one to share.

Finally, here is a one-dish version of squash casserole. A great thing to have in late summer, when the zucchini and yellow squash start swarming....you can double this and have one for you, one for the neighbor who foisted off gave you the squash in the first place.

Squash casserole
5-6 medium-sized yellow or white squash
1 medium onion

Cook together until tender; mash. Add 3 well-beaten eggs, 1 3-oz. package cream cheese (crumbled), salt and pepper to taste, and 1 tsp sugar. Pour into greased baking dish. Crush Ritz or saltine crackers, enough to cover top of casserole. Melt ¾ stick oleo and add crackers. Sprinkle over top of casserole. Bake at 350 F until crackers brown. In Pyrex 325 F.

Pyrex was a dream come true for cooks of my grandmother's generation. You can find more about its history here.

Happy Monday. Remember to keep one and share one, whatever it is.

04 April 2010

The little winter

Spring sunrise in South Dakota

As the wiser ones predicted, our luck with the weather did not extend to a third drive into Nebraska this weekend. Spring is like that up here. The birds return on the great flyway migration north, the trees start budding, the bulb plants poke up greenery, and then a snowstorm sweeps in from nowhere. Since our plan was to take the field trip on tiny roads that the Nebraska DOT listed as being under "extreme caution," which does not bode well for vans full of students, the leader took the option of cancelling the trip. The correct, if disappointing and frustrating, option, in my opinion.

Of course, the wet heavy snow melted by that evening.....

This is part of what John Nichols, in The Milagro Beanfield War, calls "the little winter that always occurred after the false spring." He describes it as follows:

"The ritual Death of the Fruit Tree Blossoms began toward the end of every March when, after a long hard winter, warm air coursed lovingly into the Miracle Valley, leading all the fruit trees to believe spring was just around the corner. And, believing this, their sap began running, their buds grew fat, their branches suddenly burst forth into flowers. … Whereupon, inevitably … there ensued a final week of frost and frequently snow that turned into blizzards … and all the fruit tree blossoms were killed and the subsequent summer came and went without so much as a boo! from a single pear, apple or plum."

That's us. We're there. 

The birds, however, are here, and are not going away. They see the end of winter in sight, even if we get frustrated by the changes. I think they're on to something....

Meadowlark singing in all directions, on a snowy spring day.

It's spring, the bread is is its final rise, and I think we're ready for the next crazy-busy month. It's a day of quiet celebration for all.