31 January 2011

Family recipe Monday: pancakes

The effects of a day-long freezing fog. That's ice, not snow.

It's cold enough up here for career Minnesotans to notice, even. Today's high is supposed to zoom up to 3*F. That does not mean that we get to stay home. This is an outpost on the Great Plains, after all, and we are made of hardier stock than that. Unless the car doesn't start.

I mean, brrr.

It gets colder tomorrow and then warms up for the rest of the week. I'm making tea and a warm breakfast before I head out. This morning, it'll be biscuits made from scratch yesterday and gently warmed in the oven (NEVER nuke bread) today. If we'd had the snow day I was hoping for, I might have made one of these instead. It's great weather for pancakes and for staying in, but education comes first.

Oh, and happy National Bubble Wrap Appreciation Day.

Wholesome pancakes

2/3 cup whole wheat flour
1/3 cup white flour
¼ cup wheat germ (optional)
½ tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp sugar
¼ tsp salt
1 cup buttermilk
½ cup skim milk
1 whole egg plus 1 egg white
1 T oil
Sliced fruit
Cinnamon sugar to taste

In a bowl, mix together the first seven ingredients. In separate bowl, mix together the next four ingredients and add to the first bowl, stirring just enough to break up the lumps. Fry on a lightly greased griddle. Serve with sliced fruits and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar. Makes about 16 4” pancakes.

Rye cornmeal pancakes

2 eggs, beaten
6 T molasses
1 cup milk
1 cup rye flour
1 cup cornmeal

Blend eggs, molasses and milk. Sift remaining ingredients and stir into liquid. Add more rye flour if necessary to make the batter stiff. Drop by spoonfuls onto a heated oiled frypan. Brown lightly on both sides. Serves 4 to 6.

Blueberry cornmeal pancakes
1 ¼ cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
3 ½ T sugar
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
2 cups buttermilk
3 egg yolks
3 T unsalted butter, melted
3 egg whites
1 cup blueberries
1 cup cornmeal

Sift together all dry ingredients. Mix together the buttermilk, egg yolks and butter with the dry ingredients. Beat egg whites until stiff but not dry, and fold into batter. Pour ¼ cup batter onto hot griddle, sprinkle about 2 T blueberries on each pancake, and cook until bubbles form and start popping on top. Flip with wide spatula and brown the other side. Turn only once, and do not press down. Yield: 18 pancakes.

Happy Monday. Stay warm. Seriously.

24 January 2011

Family recipe Monday: Happy (day after) National Pie Day

Prairie dog babies out for a nibble. Most interesting squirrels ever.

I knew that there was a National Pi Day (March 14), but not a National Pie Day. No one ever clues me in on these worthwhile holidays. I almost missed National Squirrel Appreciation Day on January 21. And what a tragedy THAT would have been. Not so much for the city squirrels that the cats are convinced they could take down if I'd only let them out, but for the prairie dogs and ground squirrels out here that, like 'em or not, are the architects of the prairie. Lose a prairie dog town, lose a microcosm ecosystem. I am avidly following a story about prairie dog communications. It seems that they are far more sophisticated in their calls than we suspected.

But back to pies. Knowing that it was National Pie Day, I did my patriotic duty and made a buttermilk pie that set up beautifully (unlike my first attempt, in which the custard refused to set up and required a second baking. Still have no idea what happened there). This one behaved as ordered.

Since that recipe has already been featured here, try a couple of others. National Pie Day lasts all week. Honest.

If you have a ready source of fresh or frozen cherries, by all means substitute those for the canned ones; ditto for the blueberries.

Cherry pie

9” unbaked pie shell
1 can (21 oz) cherry pie filling
4 3-oz pkg. soft cream cheese
½ cup sugar
2 eggs
½ tsp vanilla extract
1 cup sour cream

Preheat oven to 425* F. Prepare pie shell. Spread half of cherry filling in bottom. Bake shell 15 minutes, or just until crust is golden. Remove from oven. Reduce oven temperature to 350* F. In small bowl, beat cheese with sugar, eggs, and vanilla until smooth. Pour over hot cherry pie filling and bake 25 minutes. (Filling will be slightly soft in center.) Cool completely on wire rack. To serve spoon sour cream around edge of pie. Fill center with remaining cherry pie filling. Blueberry pie filling can be substituted

This is a Pennsylvania classic.
Apple dumplings

6 large baking apples
2 cups flour
3 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
6 T butter or margarine
¾ cup milk
1 cup sugar
2 T lemon juice
2 T butter
1 tsp cinnamon

Make pastry first. Mix flour, baking powder, and salt together. Cut in shortening until like coarse cornmeal. Moisten with milk, stirring with fork as little as possible. Roll into a rectangular sheet about ¼“ thick. Cut into 6 squares. Peel and core apples and place one on each square. Mix ¼ cup of sugar with 1 tsp cinnamon. Fill center of apples. Use more sugar to fill centers if necessary. Make a syrup by bringing to a boil ¾ cup water, ¾ cup sugar, 2 T lemon juice and 2 T butter. Roll dough around apples and fasten by moistening edges and pinching them together. Place in large shallow pan. Pour syrup over dumplings. Bake at 450o for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 350* and bake for 30 minutes.
--Dolly Shaffner Hess

Happy Monday. I don't think it's National Anything Day, but you never know....

23 January 2011

Heroes: Vivien Maier

Thanks to cousin Colin, I have been apprised of a quiet, almost secret 20th century street photographer who blows away everyone's preconceptions about....just about everything. From John Maloof's blog:

"It’s still hard to grasp how quickly appreciation has grown for Vivian’s work. Efforts to assure a lasting recognition for Vivian Maier’s art are at an important juncture right now. To this end, we have begun with the creation of a documentary film about her amazing story."

You can see more about the upcoming documentary here.

I recommend that you skip the reading right now and go straight to her photographs that have been posted at these and other sites. She had an eye for Chicago street life and her surroundings that is unbelievable. If anyone ever again claims that color photography is better than b/w, I will send them Vivien's way. She can explain through her shots better than anyone can in words.

We are all surrounded by awesome scenes and stories in the details of even the most mundane activities. Only a few, like Vivien Maier, have the artistry and passion to remind us of that.

I wish I'd met her. Or maybe I just did.

17 January 2011

Family recipe Monday: staying warm, giving back

Barn buildings in the snow

I haven't done nearly as much photography in the past couple of months as I would like or need to. It's been difficult to get away from the museum, and sometimes impossible to drive on the blue highways in this not-quite snow and not-quite ice we've been having. And that just feels wrong. I'll do better, at least monthly. The light is terrific these days, and so far the snow has been minimal.

Today is the Martin Luther King Day of Service. We're throwing our support to the Reach Out and Read program.All other factors being more or less equal, early literacy makes the most difference in building rich and productive lives. Get out there and give a book, or read one to a child. It's a huge investment in the future of your community. MLK Day is no longer just another three-day weekend.

But make sure you stay warm out there. No one can understand you if you are trying to read aloud with your teeth chattering or your energy flagging, after all. Building on last week's stocks, here are some good winter soups to fuel your community spirit.

There are a number of elegant squashes that are winter vegetables, often overlooked in the produce aisle. This recipe calls for the warm-weather scallop or patty-pan squash, but can be used with any of the others. It's especially good with butternut squash. Use chicken stock for this one.

Volunteer butternut squash arising out of a stray seed in the compost pile, from Delaware.

Squash soup with rosemary

¼ cup vegetable oil
6 large white scalloped squash, coarsely chopped
1 large sweet onion, coarsely chopped
2 T chicken broth base
2 cups water
1 pint half-and-half
2 T minced rosemary
Salt and pepper

Heat oil over moderate heat in a large skillet. Add squash and onion, and sauté for 4 minutes while stirring. Add chicken broth base and water. Stir and cover. Reduce heat and simmer until vegetables are soft. Drain and reserve liquid. Process the solids to puree. Combine puree with liquid and half-and-half. Add rosemary and stir. Add salt and pepper to taste. Heat and stir. Serve either warm or chilled. Garnish with a sprinkle of nutmeg and a sprig of rosemary. Serves 8.

Multi-bean soup mixes are always good to have on hand. They are easy to make, too, and incredibly inexpensive. Many of us were sent off to college with a pretty glass jar filled with a colorful bean mix and strict instructions to make soup for ourselves, since dorm food could not be trusted. You can substitute other kinds of meat or protein for the bacon and sausage, or leave them out altogether, depending on your tastes. If you're not in Ro-Tel country, use crushed tomatoes and chopped green chilies. Extra points if you grew them yourselves. You can substitute stock for part or all of the water. This is a natural for a slow cooker. The lemon juice really adds a shine to the taste--don't add it until you are ready to serve.

Seven-bean soup

Bean mix

Use 1 lb. each of the following dry beans:

Lima beans
Kidney beans
Pinto beans
Navy beans
Black beans
Split green peas

Mix together thoroughly and store in closed glass jars.


2 cups bean mix
5 quarts water
2 slices bacon
1 large onion, coarsely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
Salt to taste
10-oz can Ro-Tel tomatoes with chiles
1 lb. country-style breakfast sausage, browned
2 T lemon juice

Wash and pick over beans carefully. Place in a large pot and cover with 2 1/2 quarts water. Soak at least 2 hours. Bring to a boil and remove from flame. Discard water. Fill with fresh water (2 1/2 quarts again) and bring to boil again with bacon slices. Add onion and garlic. Bring to a boil again, reduce heat, and cook over low heat for 1 1/2 hour or until beans are soft but not mushy. Add Ro-Tel and cook for 30 minutes. Add browned and drained sausage. Add lemon juice and salt to taste. Remove and discard bacon slices. Simmer for a few more hours. Serve hot with tortilla chips or over rice.

Here is another version.

Nine bean soup

Bean mix

Use 1 lb. each of the following dry beans:

Dried yellow split peas
Black beans
Red beans
Pinto beans
Navy beans
Great Northern beans
Dried split green peas
Red lentils
Dried black-eyed peas
Barley pearls

Combine all beans and barley. Divide into 10 2-cup portions.


2 cups nine-bean mix
2 quarts water
1 lb. diced ham
1 large onion, coarsely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
½ to ¾ tsp salt
10-oz can Ro-Tel tomatoes, undrained
16-oz can tomatoes, chopped, undrained

Sort and wash beans carefully. Place in a large pot and cover with water 2” above beans. Soak overnight. Drain beans. Add water, ham, onion, garlic and salt. Cover, bring to a boil and reduce heat. Simmer 1 1/2 hours or until beans are tender. Add remaining ingredients and simmer 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Makes 2 quarts. Serve with cornbread or corn tortillas.

Happy Monday. Go make your corner of the world a little brighter today.

Schoolhouse, South Dakota.

10 January 2011

Family recipe Monday: winter stocks

Best doorway ever. Photo by Pat Monaco

“In seed time learn, in harvest teach, in winter enjoy.”
--William Blake

One solid week into 2011, and everything seems to be holding together. It's been an emotional roller coaster of a week, as we deal with getting the new building dried out and put back together, deal with the impact of the tragic shootings in Arizona, and get ready for the search for the new director while missing the old one.

The problems that caused this particular little incident in the building have been fixed, and hopefully we will hear nothing more from the sprinkler system until and unless it has an actual job to do, which Heaven forfend. Classes start next week, and we need to be ready to rumble.

We also started the Nostalgia Night series of vintage films shown in the big-screen vintage movie theatre downtown for the next 10 weekends. This is a fundraiser for the campus library: Best. Idea. Ever. Cheapest date night ever, too. Nostalgia Night is a treasure; there just aren't that many big screens any more, and the older films look wrong in any other format. More on that later.

On the home front, we are bracing for some seriously cold weather. No high winds or heavy snows are in the forecast--just bitter cold. The forecast keeps changing, too. By Tuesday, the low will be -9* F. That kind of weather sets off some genetic switch in my brain to drag out the stockpots and get some serious soups going.

I like to have stock on hand in the refrigerator or freezer at all times, usually chicken or vegetable, to act as a base for creative (aka "good grief, clean out the refrigerator") soup-making. My grandmother would have called these broths and would have had them on hand at all times, too. My dad's grandmother never took the simmering stock pot off the back of the wood stove in east Texas, and legend has it that she added a newly killed and cleaned chicken to it every morning. You are supposed to keep the stock pot going. I usually drag it out every week or two and put the stock in the refrigerator (especially chicken, so that it nicely defats itself) and then the freezer. We like having soup on weekend nights or when we need to thaw out.

For stocks and soups, I use the low temperature-long time (LT2) approach. You can use a slow cooker to get the same results, in fact. Simmer, don't boil. Boiling too fast cheats you of deep flavor and texture, kind of like real life.

Quick and easy vegetable stock

½ lb. carrots
2 medium onions
4 green onions
½ lb. leeks
2 ribs celery
3 T butter or oil
10 cups cold water
Small bouquet garni (2 sprigs parsley, small bay leaf, and 1/8 tsp thyme tied up in cheesecloth)

Peel and slice all vegetables. Sauté vegetables in stockpot in butter until soft. Cover with the water, bring slowly to a boil, skim well with a fine-mesh skimmer and add the bouquet garni. Simmer for 2 hours or until liquid is reduced to 8 cups. Strain stock through chinois or strainer lined with cheesecloth. Store in refrigerator or freeze. Makes about 2 quarts.

Basic chicken soup

1 5 to 6-lb. fowl, or 7 to 8 lb. of broilers, with neck and all giblets except liver
10-12 cups of water, as needed
2 medium carrots, scraped and quartered
2 or 3 celery stalks with leaves, whole or cut in half
1 medium yellow onion, whole or cut in half
2 to 3 tsp coarse salt
8 to 10 black peppercorns

Clean and trim chicken; quarter if necessary. Place in a 5-quart soup pot. Add 10 cups of water for broilers, 12 for a fowl. Cover the pot and bring to a boil. Reduce to a slow simmer and skim the foam as it rises to the surface. When the foam subsides, add all the remaining ingredients with only 1 tsp salt. Cook chicken until it loosens from the bone (~1¼ hours for quartered broilers, 1 ½ for whole broilers, 2 ½ to 3 hours for a quartered fowl and an extra 30 minutes for a whole fowl). Add more water during cooking if chicken is not 7/8ths covered. Turn chicken 2 or 3 times during cooking. Add more salt to taste gradually. Remove chicken, giblets, and bones. Pour soup through a sieve, rinse the pot and return soup to the pot. Skim the fat. The chicken can be trimmed, cut into smaller pieces, and reheated with the soup.

With good stocks on hand, you can do just about anything. I substitute stock for plain water in a lot of entrée and vegetable recipes for better nutrition and flavor. We know what went into our stocks and what didn't, so these are much better for Gene, without the added salt and starch of commercial products. They also make the whole place smell good for hours.

Here is a cold-night favorite. I would and do substitute chicken stock for the water called for.

Hot and sour soup

6 dried Chinese mushrooms
8 cups stock or water
4 cubes vegetable bouillon
6 sliced green onions, green and white separated
2 cakes tofu, silvered (1/2 lb.)
2 T dry sherry or Chinese rice wine
¼ cup cider vinegar or Chinese rice wine vinegar
2 T tamari
2 T cornstarch or arrowroot
¼ cup cold water
2 eggs, beaten
¼ cup carrot cut in 2” matchsticks
¼ cup bok choy or celery, cut in 2” sticks
¼-½ tsp ground black pepper

Before preparing vegetables, place mushrooms in a small bowl. Bring 2 cups of water to boil and pour over mushrooms. Let stand 15 minutes and prepare other vegetables. Place 6 cups water and bouillon cubes in a large saucepan, Drain mushrooms and add liquid to pan. Simmer. Cut mushrooms in slivers and add to stock with white part of green onions. Simmer 5 minutes and add tofu. Simmer 5 minutes and add wine, vinegar and tamari. Dissolve cornstarch in cold water. Stir into soup and bring to gentle boil, stirring. Drizzle beaten eggs into boiling soup, stirring so that egg forms shreds. When soup becomes clear and thickened, remove from heat. Stir in pepper and adjust vinegar and tamari. Distribute carrots, bok choy and green onion tops among bowls. Ladle in soup and serve at once, passing additional pepper and vinegar. Yield: 4 servings.

(This will cure any cold on the planet. And you can still make it without a prescription.)

Happy Monday. Let's make this a year of inclusiveness and not polarization, k?

04 January 2011

Family recipe Monday: enchiladas

Sign photo courtesy of our friend Pat. It describes the past few days very well.

It's been a non-stop beginning to 2011, dealing with the aftermath of the water in the new building. In the midst of the hectic day yesterday, I received an envelope confirming my appointment as Interim Director of the museum. I had so hoped to be called Czarina, but I guess that's not on the state position roster.

To celebrate both the job title change and the fact that we survived three days of post-water aftermath with very little damage, our friend Pat made crayfish gumbo and I made pineapple upside-down skillet cake. They were both great comfort foods. The night before, we made venison chili stew, so our leftovers currently are unbelievable. Pat has headed back for Colorado and I am contemplating making a big pan of enchiladas to have on hand for the next few days.

Enchiladas are wonderful and as simple or as complicated as you want them to be. The Mexican saying "estas no son enchiladas" (these are not enchiladas) is used to describe anything that is not easy. As noted in the great discussion here, "enchilada" simply means "dipped in chili."

It seems as if every Texan has a version of this recipe. Because it is Texan, the enchiladas are rolled. In New Mexico, they are stacked. You can get into endless discussions about the pros and cons of each approach, which I will not do here. These are Texan. They are rolled. Not up for discussion.

Kerrville jalapeño chicken enchiladas
1 large stewing chicken
1 quart water
2 stalks celery, cut into 4” chunks
1 T salt
½ tsp. pepper
½ tsp. poultry seasoning

Put the chicken in a pan with the water, celery, and seasonings. Boil the chicken until tender. Remove chicken and set aside to cool. When cool enough to handle, Remove the meat from the bones and shred. Keep the dark and light meat separated. Make the sauce:

Jalapeño sauce

2 T salad oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
4 fresh green jalapeños, finely chopped
1 cup cooked shredded dark chicken meat
3/4 cup water
½ tsp. salt
Dash of pepper

Sauté the onion and jalapeños in the salad oil until tender (5-6 minutes). Add chicken and stir for about 2 minutes. Add water, salt and pepper. Simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Bring to a boil and remove from heat. Assemble the enchiladas using the following:

2 cups cooking oil
12 corn tortillas
3 cups of the remaining chicken
4-5 cups jalapeño sauce
1 cup grated cheddar cheese

Heat the oil in a skillet. One at a time, dip the tortillas into the oil for a few seconds, just enough to soften. Set each aside on a paper towel or platter. Spoon about 2 T of shredded chicken into the center of each tortilla. Cover the chicken with about 1 T of the sauce. Roll and place the enchiladas seam side down. When all the tortillas have been filled, place them in a baking pan, pour the remaining sauce over them, and top with cheese. Bake for 10-15 minutes in a 475* F oven or until the cheese has melted. Serve at once. Serves 6.

You can expand the recipe as needed, but don't forget the casserole law: one to have, one to share. This is a one-pot meal in itself and freezes beautifully.

Happy recipe Monday Tuesday. We're a bit late, but we got here, and it looks like we have survived the water crisis just fine.

01 January 2011

Happy 2011

We have made it to the start of a new year, despite a last-minute sucker-punch of a winter storm that dropped temperatures here to -15* F (with the wind chill factored in), blew 6 inches of snow in all directions, closed the interstate and just generally wreaked havoc with a lot of New Year's Eve plans. But we had a lovely evening at a friend's house with good food and good company. Minus, unfortunately, the hosts, who were stranded in Denver overnight. They'll have great leftovers, though.

Today is a lovely day with snowdrifts glittering in the sun. The New Year's Day menu was served as planned and we looked forward to enjoying a slow afternoon. I have a quilt to bind and send off. The teacakes arrived in Afghanistan safely and have been consumed to the last crumb, from the reports, so another batch is on the horizon.

It was going to be the last truly slow day for a few months. My boss has taken a well-deserved retirement, after 31+ years of service as a professor and curator. Effective tomorrow, I will be the acting director of the museum until the position is filled. I did not see this one coming and am looking forward to this with some excitement but much more apprehension. I'll be posting on the perspective from the director's office periodically. We all hope that the search will go smoothly and that we'll get someone with the vision to make our museum a leader in the field.

Instead of resting up, I plunged in headfirst today when I got a call that a malfunctioning sprinkler head had flooded the building. Because we have the best colleagues, faculty, staff and students ever, we had a dozen people there in 20 minutes to move boxes and get archives and publications into dry boxes. It is a bit of a nightmare right now, and there will be a lot of drying and recovery to do, but the problem was caught early enough to be a nuisance rather than a disaster.

We are hoping that this gets our bad luck out of the way for the year. Had our security guy not come by today and noticed the problem, we would have had a massive disaster to deal with on Monday. As it is, we will get everything dried out and back in place over the next week.

I am thankful for the people I work with. Museum work does not make any of us billionaires, but it puts us in touch with the best, brightest, most dedicated people I have ever known in my life, believing so strongly that we are blessed to be able to preserve a vital legacy for the future. It is good to remind myself that that is the point of all of this work. Maybe I can do this.

Happy New Year to all.