A bit of history

The fall of the year.

A basket of apples by the back door
beneath the sweater pegs
The autumn winds lift along the street
A pair of dancing legs ...
~~ from "One More Colour" by Jane Siberry

Equinox 2011 3
If you were up very early this morning--at 4:04 a.m. CST--you might have caught the autumnal equinox. You wouldn’t have really seen anything but you would have been awake when the sun passed over the equator on its way to make spring and summer in the southern hemisphere while we enjoy fall--or maybe you say autumn--and (some would say "are subjected to") winter. And today we will see approximately equal ("equi") hours of day and night ("nox") before days start getting noticeably shorter.
Equinox 2011 1
I have heard Americans disparaged, usually by the British, for using the word "fall" in place of autumn. Fall makes sense, though, doesn't it? Autumn descends and temperatures fall, leaves fall, apples fall, acorns fall, crops fall, darkness falls, the year falls away. Plenty of falling around this time of year.
Equinox 2011 9
In days of olde ("olde" is about 1500ish and prior), autumn was referred to sensibly as harvest. When people moved into cities and away from traditional farming lifestyles, the season called harvest became autumn (from the French "automne"), and harvest referred strictly to the act of harvesting, not the entire season. The phrase "fall of the leaf"--to denote autumn--was shortened to fall, a term British settlers eventually introduced into American English. While fall seems more common here and autumn more common there, I've always preferred autumn, a word I find pretty and poetic. But I'm not snobby ... either is fine with me.
Signs of fall sedum
Although the flowers in my garden begin to fade and die at this time of year--except mums and sedum, which are just blooming--I feel most alive with the changing colors and cooler days, especially after a hot, sticky, mosquito-ridden summer. I am always happy to tuck away my summer wardrobe in favor of jeans, long sleeves, socks and cozy fleece jackets.
Autumn mums

Fall is unquestionably my favorite season--I love the crisp air, the smell of dry leaves, the crunch of dry acorns under foot, sipping mugs of hot apple cider, the possibility of fires in the fireplace, pulling a warm flannel sheet over me at night. If I could be a tree it would be a sugar maple, so I could wear those blazing oranges, reds and golds every autumn. Plus, spookyfun Halloween is in October. And my birthday!
Autumn maple tree
Best of all, fall is the time for all things pumpkiny (I already have a baking pumpkin to make Harvest Pumpkin Salad for our equinox dinner), maple-syrupy, appley, hot cidery, soupy, Halloweeny ... but not yet. For now I want to enjoy the transition from summer to fall/autumn.
Equinox 2011 10
To welcome the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, here is a pleasant tune called "The Fall Song" (that link takes you directly to the song) by my very own brother Mark (that link takes you to his bikey blog). I hope you take a listen and enjoy while you are celebrating the change of season.

So, what do you think--fall or autumn? Happy Autumnal Equinox!

Chicken Tikka Masala.

flag-mini-british flag-mini-Scotland Chicken Tikka Masala sits atop a culinary tree sprouting from a one simple word: tikka. In Hindi, it means "bits, pieces." From there, it grows to "chicken tikka" -- chicken marinated in seasoned yogurt and broiled in a clay tandoor (or a really hot oven). One can conclude that either pieces are marinated and broiled, or the cooked chicken is cut into pieces. And finally, Chicken Tikka Masala is those bits and pieces of broiled marinated chicken simmered in a tomato-based sauce seasoned with aromatic Indian spices such as coriander and garam masala. Sound good?

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What, you ask, does this Indian dish have to do with that little British flag at the top of this blog post? Well, like Kedgeree, Chicken Tikka Masala (henceforth "CTM") comes together as a sort-of hybrid of British and Indian cuisines, and its exact origins are sketchy. Some say it was created in Punjab sometime in the past 50 years, while others believe it came about -- some say in Glasgow, some say in 1970's London -- when a Brit decided his chicken tikka was too dry and "demanded" some British-style gravy to go with it. The annoyed Indian chef, so the tale goes, mixed Campbell's tomato soup with spices and yogurt to create a creamy, fragrant tomato sauce that, when mixed with chicken tikka, would go on to become one of Britain's most popular restaurant dishes.
Chicken Tikka Masala 1
I discovered CTM only recently and was curious to find out how easily makeable it was. My first attempts to make Indian food were inspired by my purchase of
The Vegetarian Table: India by Yamuna Devi. That was probably inspired by my then 8-year-old son's decision to become a vegetarian. He was earnest in his desire not to eat animals (it was a revelation to learn bacon was meat, let alone that it came from pigs), so I bought a few vegetarian cookbooks, including one specifically geared for kids.
Chicken Tikka Masala 2
In truth, after a week or so his craving for meat revisited him, and although he hopped back on the veggie bandwagon a few times -- wrestling with the animal flesh issue -- he has made peace with being a carnivore. But it was fun going through the books and coming up with ways to keep meat out of our meals. I donated most of the veg cookbooks (but kept
Simple Vegetarian Pleasures by Jeanne Lemlin -- it's a good one), and truly regret not hanging onto that Indian cookbook (although I see it for $1.90 at Amazon!).
Chicken Tikka Masala 3
At the time I found Indian food UNBELIEVABLY TIME-CONSUMING. I made
one Indian meal for the two other single moms and their kids who lived in our building, and I swear it took me three days from start to finish, what with sauteeing spices, marinating things in yogurt, seeding jalapenos, chopping fresh fruit, toasting sesame seeds and so on. Indian women must be absolute masters at engineering the advanced prep that goes into cooking for their families. I salute them. The meal I made was delicious (if I say so myself), but I was utterly spent afterward and vowed I would thenceforth eat Indian food only in restaurants.
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Chicken Tikka Masala won't take you three days to cook, I promise. It's not exactly fast food, but if you
buy garam masala (yes I made mine, lo those many years ago -- pan-toasted the spices and ground them up in an old coffee maker--took some time but good golly it smelled amazing!) and don't aspire to anything so slow-food as slaughtering your own chickens and culturing yogurt from scratch, it shouldn't take more than a few hours on a weekend afternoon. If you're ambitious, you'll have time to slip a batch of naan in there too.
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The absolute best part of cooking CTM is frying the fragrant spices until your kitchen, nay your entire house, smells so heady and heavenly you'll think you died and went to Delhi. Then it only gets better when you add tomatoes, spicy peppers, tomato paste or sauce, and a bit of cream. You'll want to eat the air above your stove.

Chicken Tikka Masala 10
The yogurt-marinated chicken breasts broiled quickly and very nicely in the oven. It's a poor substitute for an actual tandoor, 'tis true, but one makes do with the tools at hand. When the broiled chicken pieces cool, cut them into tikka cubes.
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There are so many versions of CTM, each just slightly different from the next, and it was hard choosing one. I finally combined a recipe from Pioneer Woman's site (actually a guest post from the VERY cool Pastor Ryan) with one from Mrs. Wheelbarrow (how fun is that name!). I do that. Sometimes I faithfully follow a recipe, especially when it involves the chemistry of successful baking. But with cooking, I tend to tinker a bit -- tweaking this, adding that, omitting this, increasing that to suit my tastes. Since there doesn't seem to be a definitive CTM recipe, I'm not worried about being authentic and did make some minor adjustments to the two combined recipes.
Chicken Tikka Masala 13
The Pioneer Woman/Pastor Ryan recipe includes directions for gorgeous golden turmeric rice with a cup of frozen peas. I cut the amount of turmeric down to two teaspoons and feel I could have gone down even more. A subtle gold colored rice, instead of blazing yellow, would have been equally appetizing, I think.
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Add a plate of buttered (my favorite!) freshly pan-cooked naan -- the recipe I used doesn't require activating yeast or proofing the dough (well sort of -- you let it sit for two hours but it doesn't really rise), and you just might believe you're at your favorite Indian restaurant. Or somewhere in London or possibly Glasgow.
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Britain's Food Service Intelligence (like the CIA for food? ) reports that Chicken Tikka Masala is the most popular dish ordered in restaurants throughout the U.K. And the late Robin Cook, a British Member of Parliament, proclaimed in 2006 that "Chicken Tikka Masala is now a true British national dish ... it is a perfect illustration of the way Britain absorbs and adapts external influences. Chicken Tikka is an Indian dish. The Masala sauce was added to satisfy the desire of British people to have their meat served in gravy." I'm not clear on whether everyone agrees with Cook that CTM should usurp, say, roast beef with Yorkshire pudding as a national culinary treasure, but it sounds like a lot of people are eating it over there.

For hoots, check out the
Little People Project's whimsically weird "Chicken Tikka Disasta."

Chicken Tikka Masala
Serves a small crowd, or 2 for several days running

3-4 chicken breasts
Kosher or other sea salt
Ground coriander
Ground cumin
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1 Tablespoon lemon juice

2 Tablespoons butter or canola oil
1/2 large white or yellow onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 2-inch knob fresh ginger, peeled and grated
2-3 teaspoons garam masala, or more to taste
2” piece of warm/hot (but not scorching) chile pepper, such as Anaheim, sliced thinly
1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes OR for creamier sauce 1 14-oz. can finely diced tomatoes plus 1 14-oz. can tomato sauce
1-2 Tablespoons sugar

1-1/2 cups light cream, skim evaporated milk, or fat free half-and-half (use heavy cream if your doctor has advised you to get more fat in your diet)

2 cups basmati, jasmine rice or other rice
1-2 teaspoons ground turmeric
sprinkling of salt
1 cup frozen or thawed green peas (optional)

Chopped parsley or cilantro (otional)

Make chicken: Sprinkle chicken breasts with ground coriander, cumin, and small amount of kosher salt on both sides. Stir lemon juice into yogurt and mix thoroughly. Brush over both sides of chicken breasts and let sit snuggled together in a pie plate for 30-60 minutes. (Good time to start chopping veggies.) Transfer to foil-lined baking pan and set about 10-12 inches below broiler heat/flame. Cook completely on both sides, allowing them to char and bubble a little. Keep an eye on them! Remove from oven and set aside to cool. Once cool, cut into bite-sized cubes.

Make sauce: While chicken is cooling, heat 2 tablespoons of butter or oil in a large skillet. Add onions and sautee until lightly browned. Add garlic, ginger, garam masala, and sliced chiles. Stir together for a minute or two. Pour in the can of chopped tomatoes, or tomatoes plus sauce, and 1 Tablespoon sugar. Simmer for about 5 minutes, then taste to see if it needs the other tablespoon of sugar. (You don’t want it sweet, but the sugar can balance the spices and heat of the chile.) Add cubed chicken to sauce and let simmer over low heat while you finish up everything else.

Make rice: in a large sauce pan add rice, a dash of salt ,1-2 teaspoons of turmeric (depending on how yellow you want the rice to be) and recommended amount of water (probably around 4 cups). Cook according to directions for the rice you are using. When rice is almost done, toss in a cup of frozen or thawed peas. This makes a lot of rice, but we found it to be just right for the amount of leftovers.

Serve hot Chicken Tikka Masala over or next to the lovely green-pea-studded golden rice along with warm naan. Cheers!

As always, feel free to leave a comment below.



flag-mini-british Scottish flag Monarch of the Glen, a BBC series filmed in the dreamy Scottish Highlands, introduced me to a strange new word: “kedgeree.” It was a dish the show’s characters -- the once wealthy but nearly bankrupt MacDonald family -- occasionally enjoyed at their manorly breakfasts alongside tea, toast, jam and cream. But I couldn't figure out what they were spooning out of that silver chafing dish! Kedgeree was some weirdly named mystery.
Kedgeree 9
I finally took to the web and learned that kedgeree (kedge-er-ree), according to the British Food Trust (and many other sources), consists of poached fish -- traditionally, smoked Findon (a Scottish fishing village) haddock known as “Finnan haddie” -- mixed with rice, butter, chopped hardboiled eggs, curry powder and parsley. It is thought to have evolved from the Indian rice-and-lentil dish khichdi (pronounced kitch-ri), possibly during the period of British colonial rule in South Asia known as the British Raj. Its association with Scotland originates with the belief that a Scottish regiment brought a version of the dish with them to India, where it evolved under Asian influence and was returned to the U.K. with exotic additions such as curry, fresh ginger and hot green chile. I'll let those who know the truth duke it out over kedgeree's true origins, but its Anglo-Indian history cannot be disputed: curry is definitely not a native British flavoring.
Kedgeree 1
Until recently, you could not get me anywhere near smoked fish -- smoked anything -- let alone eating fish of any kind for breakfast. I’m a devoted high-fiber-breakfast-cereal-with-milk girl, willing to eat toast, eggs, fruit, french toast, pancakes or whathaveyou when mid-morning hunger sets in on the weekends.
Kedgeree 6
But episodes of Monarch -- featuring deep blue Scottish lochs, rolling green Highland hills, misty moors, rustic stone crofts, a few kilts, some Scottish burr, occasional bagpiping, and the opulent 19th-century Glen Bogle estate -- made me homesick for the motherland-I've-never-seen and sparked my willingness to try kedgeree. Plus, just looking at all that brisk Highland air makes me hungry! If my British ancestors ate haddock for breakfast, then so shall I.
Kedgeree 2
Alas, smoked haddock is not a standard grocery item in these parts, and mail ordering it is not for the thin of wallet -- a whopping $23 per pound, with shipping, for fillets imported from Scotland. Ach, cannae do it. So for my first kedgeree attempt I settled on a pound of more budget-friendly tilapia fillets, but for future versions I’ll try a combination of smoked ($$!) and fresh (not as $$) salmon, or whatever fresh fish looks good and is reasonably bone-free, until I can find those authentic Finnan haddies without having to peddle family heirlooms on eBay.
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Recipes for kedgeree range from mild to fancy (three kinds of salmon!) to fragrantly seasoned with cumin and heady garam masala. It calls for hardboiled eggs, but I cheated and whipped up two poached ones -- they're a bit faster.
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I started with Jamie Oliver’s recipe, because, well check out the photo at his site. It's so appetizing! He had me at those pretty slivers of spicy red pepper and flecks of mustard seed. But of course I had to make a few wee changes, so my modified recipe is below. For example, I halved the curry powder to keep it from overwhelming the dish, added green onions, used a spicy green Anaheim pepper (couldn't find a red one), and used butter in place of butterghee, which requires a trip across town (file under "laziness").
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And instead of including steps for cooking the eggs and rice, I’m including those as already prepared ingredients. Both can be easily boiled up while you are chopping, measuring and poaching, but the whole thing comes together pretty quickly if you’ve made them in advance. I also added a few tablespoons of the poaching milk at the very end, to moisten things up and give it just the slightest creaminess.
Kedgeree 8
If you’re hip to smoked salmon for brunch (with or without bagels, onions, cream cheese and capers) you’re already used to fish in the morning, and now I'm hooked, too. Kedgeree is lovely any time of day -- it's light enough for a summer morning yet satisfying on a cold, rainy afternoon. The recipe can be easily tinkered with so add more curry or garlic, less onions, a cup of peas, a dash of nutmeg, some garam masala, more eggs, no eggs, more heat, no heat -- whatever strikes your fancy.
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Isn't it pretty? I promise you it tastes as good as it looks. The final word(s) is that kedgeree is versatile, easy to make and delicious comfort food that is truly suitable for any meal of the day. I know this because we ate it for breakfast -- or, more accurately, “second breakfast” -- and dinner. On the same day. And would have had it for dessert if there had been any left.

Adapted from Jamie Oliver
Serves 6 (or in our case, 2, twice)

1 to 1-1/2 pounds smoked haddock (traditional)
OR your favorite fish (try salmon, trout, tilapia), smoked ... or not
2 bay leaves
Milk (skim or 2%)

3-4 tablespoons butter
1” knob of fresh ginger, peeled and grated
1/2 medium onion, finely chopped (or more, if desired)
1/2 bunch of green onions, sliced (white and light green parts only)
1 clove garlic, peeled and minced
1 Tablespoon yellow curry powder (add more or less, to taste)
2 teaspoons yellow mustard seeds
1 14-oz. can chopped tomatoes, drained
OR 2 fresh tomatoes, chopped and seeded
Juice of 1 lemon, about 1/4 cup
1/4-1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley, cilantro, or arugula
1 fresh red or green hot chile, half of it chopped and half slivered
2-3 hard-boiled (or poached) eggs, cooled, peeled and chopped into
quarters or eighths
3 cups cooked long-grain, basmati or brown rice (from 1 cup uncooked rice)

Place fish into a saucepan or sautee pan with the bay leaves, and pour in just enough milk to cover the fish. Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer for about 5 minutes or until cooked through. Remove fish from pan with spatula or slotted spoon and cool on a plate or pie pan. Once cool, remove skin (if necessary) and flake fish into chunks; set aside. Reserve poaching milk.

Melt 3 tablespoons of butter in a sautee pan over low heat. Add ginger, white onion and garlic. Sautee until soft, about five minutes. Add green onions, curry powder and mustard seeds, and sautee a few minutes more. Add chopped tomatoes and lemon juice; stir until mixed. Add flaked fish and rice to the mixture and heat through, stirring gently but thoroughly. Mix in the eggs, parsley and the chopped hot chile to taste (omit if you don’t want a spicy dish). Add a few tablespoons of the reserved poaching milk to moisten the mixture and add some creaminess.

Serve on plates or in bowls; top with slivers of chile and sprinkles of parsley.

Thanks for stopping by, and please feel free to leave a comment.


Chocolate Malted Milk Cake.

Patsy and Stu
I love malted milk, and especially chocolate malted milkshakes. I assume I inherited my taste for malts from Dear Old Dad, who is also a malt lover. My husband shares this love of malts, and in the summer we occasionally walk to Hartigan’s Ice Cream for malts. My parents often tell of one blissful pre-marital summer when they drank so many malts they each gained 10 pounds. I dunno, those vintage love birds are looking pretty svelte to me! Oddly, my son does not like malts, which puzzles me to no end. What’s not to like?

Chocolate Malted Cake 1
Malted milk is made from
malted barley, wheat flour and whole milk, evaporated into a powder form. When you stop gagging, seriously -- it’s quite delicious whipped into a shake. Malted milk is an unusual flavor if you’re used to regular ol’ powdered chocolate milk mix and chocolate milkshakes (nothing wrong with’em). I imagine on some tastebuds that unique malty taste doesn’t blend well with vanilla ice cream and chocolate syrup. I’ve often wondered what that malted flavor really is. If I had to describe it, I wouldn’t know what adjectives to use. “Malt” is a word generally used in conjunction with beer and whiskey. Malted milk, thankfully, does not taste like beer or whiskey.

Chocolate Malted Cake 2
Malted milk was invented by the English-born
Horlick brothers -- William and James -- as a nutritional aid for infants and “invalids.” The Horlicks emigrated from England to Chicago, and ultimately settled in Racine, Wisconsin where they began manufacturing their milk-based product “Diastoid.” Mmmm, can I have a thick, frosty Diastoid shake to go with my burger, please?

Chocolate Malted Cake 3
Eventually they trademarked the more appetizing and descriptive name “malted milk,” which became popular not only with mothers of infants and teenagers at aptly named malt shops, but also with Arctic explorers, who appreciated the nutritious and non-perishable qualities of the milk powder. Back then it was mixed with water, making it tremendously convenient for Arctic travel.

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Recently I had malted milk in a truly delicious
Chocolate Malted Milk Cake I discovered at Lost Recipes Found. Created by Leona Kroupa of Cedar, Michigan, the cake won a prize at the Pillsbury 5th Grand National Bake Off in 1954 -- and well deserved, too!

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Even with 1-1/2 cups of Ovaltine Malted Milk powder, this cake doesn’t taste so much like a chocolate malted as it does like a really REALLY good chocolate cake. It has just a handful of ingredients all mixed together in the same bowl. The only modification I made in the batter was to substitute light sour cream for the full fat version.

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The Honey Nougat Frosting is to absolutely
dreamy -- like fluffy honeyed ambrosia made toasty and crunchy with roasted almond slivers. I used only 1 tablespoon of honey (whisky spiked Heather Honey!) instead of 2, and I admit I forgot to add the 1/2 tsp. of vanilla, but it was still one of the tastiest and surprisingly not over-sweet frostings I’ve ever made.

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Don’t be intimidated by the double boiler method for making this light marshmallow-like frosting -- it’s easy and so satisfying to watch the ingredients slowly froth up. I mixed the toasted slivered almonds into the frosting, but you could sprinkle them on top as well. Or omit them if you're not a nut lover. The recipe makes a nice manageable 8x8 (or 9x9) cake.

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Horlick's malt powder used to be easy to find in stores around here, but no more so I buy regular flavor Carnation and chocolate flavored Ovaltine -- just like
Little Orphan Annie. Vermont Country Store carries the Horlick's malted milk tablets, but holymackerelandy! They cost $19 PLUS shipping (which ain't cheap at VCS) for 27 tablets. YIKES. Back in the day we bought jars of those tablets at the drug store, and even if one allows for inflation there's no way they were that expensive.

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You'll need glasses of cold milk with this scrumptious chocolatey fluffy-topped cake. And before bed have a mug full of milk mixed with some leftover Ovaltine.

Little Orphan Annie knew what she was talking about!

Want to make this nummy cake? Go here for the recipe.

As always, please feel free to leave a comment.

Irish Brown Soda Bread.

Rye bread will do you good,
Barley bread will do you no harm,
Wheaten bread will sweeten your blood,
Oaten bread will strengthen your arm.

flag-mini-Ireland The festive indulgences -- and, one hopes, the ensuing hangovers -- of St. Patrick’s Day are long past as we approach April Fool’s Day. We like to celebrate the day of Ireland’s patron saint at home, away from noisy revelers drunk on too many green beers. Here at O’Smithigans, we enjoyed a simple meal of lamb stew, champ (potatoes mashed with cream, butter, green onions) and scrumptious homemade brown soda bread accompanied by bottles of Guinness and Smithwick’s while celtic tunes jigged their way out of the iHome. Oh, and Irish Coffee Meringues for dessert. Slainte!
Irish Coffee Meringue
Coffee flavored meringues with Irish whiskey-spiked whipped cream. (hiccup)

I used to bring Irish soda bread, Kerry Gold butter, and strawberry jam to work on St. Patrick’s day, in a vain effort to elevate the day above whatever green frosted cupcakes and cookies had also been brought in. My co-workers could not be enlightened and clearly preferred the green stuff. That’s about when I started wondering what St. Patrick’s day is really about. Why it never occurred to me that it’s a religious holiday (a saint’s day!) is possibly because in this country it seems to be largely about the color green: green food, beer, clothing, face paint, rivers, shamrocks and leprechauns.
Brown bread 1
St. Patrick was an actual guy, born around 387 in Roman Britain -- by some accounts present day Scotland, by others present-day Wales. At 16 he was captured by the Irish and sold into slavery. During his 6-year captivity, while he herded sheep for a Druid, he learned the local Celtic language, essentially converted himself to Christianity, escaped back to his homeland, and returned to Ireland as a bishop who was eventually sainted for Christianizing multitudes of pagan Irishfolk.
Brown bread 2
Paddy is credited with using the three leaves of a shamrock to demonstrate the Holy Trinity (that's the father, son, holy spirit for you heathens who escaped St. Patrick's campaign), and the snakes he banished from Ireland are likely a metaphor for the pagan religions he “drove out” as Christianity took root. Although, according to Franklin Habit, a popular knitter and blogger from Chicago, St. P was actually purging novelty yarns from the Emerald Isle.
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Christian country though it might be, Ireland is not immune to excessive drink and merrymaking on St. Patrick’s Day, and it sounds like they tried -- and ultimately failed -- to close pubs on March 17. Now they’ve turned the day into an Irish cultural festival in an effort to “bring the piety and the fun together,” so you can have your Jamieson’s and drink it too! The Irish Americans I’ve informally polled over the years celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with a family dinner, often the traditionally American meal of corned beef and cabbage.
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St. Patrick’s Day shouldn’t pass without a few hearty slices of brown bread. We occasionally buy McNamees wheaten bread from the Celtic Knot Pub in Evanston. The loaves are tasty, but wee small and quite pricey. I have experimented with several recipes, trying to replicate the McNamees experience, and landed on a "Brown Soda Bread" recipe I’ve had since May 1996, from the special Romance of Ireland issue of Bon Appetit magazine. So that’s 15 years I’ve had the perfect brown bread recipe in my possession and never realized it!
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It’s a quick bread with no fancy ingredients, and cooks up in 40 minutes flat. If you can stand to wait an extra 15 minutes for it to cool, you will be rewarded with a nutty, delicious bread that is not too dense or heavy. It's scrumptious with butter, or mustard, ham and cheese. No more McNamees for us, sorry Celtic Knot. But we’ll still dine there on Tuesday nights to catch your rousing live Celtic Music Seisiuns.
Brown bread 6My holy trinity ... brown bread, butter, and hot tea.

Bon Appetit doesn’t have this particular brown bread recipe online, so here is my adaptation of it. I reduced slightly the amount of whole wheat flour and increased the white flour because I dislike how wheat flour weighs things down. Although the bran and wheat germ say "toasted" I didn't actually toast either -- just scooped them directly out of their bags and jars. And do use real buttermilk -- 1 quart (the smallest I can find at local groceries) is enough for two loaves.

Brown Soda Bread
Adapted from Bon Appetit, May 1996

Yield: 1 loaf

2 cups all-purpose flour
1-1/2 cups whole wheat flour
3 Tablespoons toasted wheat bran
3 Tablespoons toasted wheat germ
2 Tablespoons old-fashioned oats
2 Tablespoons (packed) dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 Tablespoons (1/4 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into pieces
2 cups (about) buttermilk

Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter 9x5x3-inch loaf pan. Combine first 8 ingredients in large bowl; mix well. Add butter; rub in with fingertips or pastry blender until mixture resembles fine meal. Stir in enough buttermilk to form a soft sticky dough. Transfer dough to prepared loaf pan. Bake until bread is deep golden brown and tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 40 minutes. Turn bread out onto rack. Turn right side up and cool on rack.

Once cooled, it slices easily and freezes well.

Enjoy! And as always, feel free to leave a comment.


Victoria Sponge: Treacle and Spice and everything nice.

flag-mini-british Sounds like the name of an eccentric English detective, yes? Well, no. It's cake from the motherland.

Sometimes I think I was born on the wrong side of pond, so enamored am I of all things British. Well,
many things British. I was always fascinated by English accents, the royal family (didn't I dream of marrying one of the princes as a wee girl?), BBC shows on public television -- think Upstairs, Downstairs, double decker buses and London taxis, tea and finger sandwiches, Paddington Bear books. Over the years my fascination branched out from England to Scotland, Wales and Ireland--all of which hold the bones of my ancestors. I feel a kinship with the United Kingdom, and I’m on a quest to strengthen that kinship through--well, a trip there would be nice but until then--food.

Ever since I discovered
British Country Living magazine I’ve drooled over lots of interesting recipes from the U.K. And my favorite Miss Read books, about country life in the Cotswolds, have introduced me to a teatime treat called “Victoria sponge.”
Sea sponge cake
No no no, not that kind of sponge! This:
Treacle sponge on plate
It's Treacle and Spice Victoria Sponge -- darker than the usual Victoria sponges, which look more like this -- yellow cake layers with fruit or jam in between. A slice with a pot of tea, please!
Sponge cakes were, apparently, a favorite of
Queen Victoria, who not only invented the entire Victorian era but is also famed for her afternoon tea parties. For elevating the ritual of afternoon tea, credit is often given to the Duchess of Bedford, one of Queen V’s “Ladies of the Bedchamber." Apparently The Duchess got a bit peckish at 5ish, hours after the lunch dishes had been cleared and hours to go until dinner time (at 9:00 p.m.). The story goes that she convinced the household help to sneak pots of tea and snacks into her room, to quell the "sinking feeling" of low blood sugar in between meals. She started inviting friends for this daily repast, and when Queen Vic found out she adopted the ritual herself, enjoying slices of sponge cake with her tea every afternoon.

Back to Victoria sponge (named for guess who?), in which butter and sugar are beaten together until light and fluffy, then mixed with the remaining ingredients. The resulting cake is light, but not so light as angel food cake, which relies on whipped egg whites and cream of tartar to create marshmallow fluffiness and height. Typical Victoria sponge recipes call for equal portions -- usually 225g each (this is a British cake, remember) -- of butter,
caster sugar (ground to a fineness between granulated and powdered sugar--here we call it "superfine sugar"), eggs and self-raising flour (flour mixed with baking powder and salt, although my bag also lists baking soda). In fact, one Sponge recipe I found calls for weighing three eggs first, then adding the same weight in butter, sugar and flour. Clever! Like a pound cake.
Treacle sponge butter
With all those lovely grams to calculate, this cake calls for your trusty Escali Digital Scale. You say you don’t have one? Go here to buy! You won’t regret it.

This cake is a departure from regular Victoria sponge -- it is flavored with
dark muscovado sugar (like molasses flavored dark brown sugar), cinnamon and allspice, only one deep layer, no fruit in the middle, and a sweet orange glaze on top. I couldn’t find muscovado sugar anywhere, so I mixed about a tablespoon or more of molasses with dark brown sugar. Someday I’ll find that muscovado sugar to see how mine measured up. I also made my own self-raising/rising flour: 1.5 tsp. baking powder and 1/4 tsp. salt per cup of flour. Not being familiar with treacle, I'm assuming the muscovado sugar stands in for it in this recipe.
Treacle sponge all ingredients
The recipe calls for putting all ingredients into a bowl mixed together, rather than beating the eggs and sugar separately. Oh isn't it nice using just one bowl.
Treacle sponge batter in pan
I plopped the batter into a 9-inch springform pan with parchment paper on the bottom.
Treacle sponge baked
It puffed up nicely with the most interesting bubblynubbly thing happening on top. What beautiful color!
Treaclel sponge on rack
I really worked the orange glaze so it dripped down the sides just as prettily as the picture from the recipe.
Treacle sponge on platter
The glaze cracked a bit when I transferred the cake from pan to platter, but thankfully this did
not affect the flavor. It's moist, not too dense or sweet, and tastes like gingerbread. The glaze is exactly right for it -- just a thin layer of sweetness instead of heavy frosting. When I make this again, I might flavor the glaze with fresh squeezed lemon juice instead of orange, to make it more zingly.

Next time, though, I'm making a
chocolate version. I just can't go too long without chocolate.

Some more s'mores.

Were you able to celebrate National S’mores Day on August 10? This festive occasion passed me by! I’ll never let that happen again. I learned about it while preparing to make S’mores Cupcakes, which were a monster hit in the house and definitely a treat I’ll be making again.

The exact history of s’mores is vague, but the history of marshmallows, graham crackers and chocolate bars is not. Apparently a s’mores “recipe” first appeared in the 1927 publication Tramping and Trailing with the Girl Scouts. I’m just dying to get my hands on a copy of this vintage handbook. I bet the text and pictures are wonderful.

The classic s’more is snack perfection: gooey toasty marshmallows, melting-but-not-quite-melted Hershey’s milk chocolate (for me the chocolate still has to have some solid toothiness to it), and crispy graham crackers, all in the same messy, crumbly bite. It almost can’t be improved upon. Almost. Yet several years ago a Country Living article showed s’mores oozing over with marshmallow, melting chocolate ... and gorgeous purpley blackberry jam! I was intrigued. I am a (certain kinds of) fruit-and-chocolate kind of gal, so my mind and tastebuds were wide open for trying this.

S'mores bberry and pb setupFor the first time in my life I had all the ingredients for ANYthing in the house at the same time. Miraculous!

As I pulled together ingredients, I spied the peanut butter and decided to do a side-by-side comparison of peanut butter and blackberry jam s’mores.
S'mores bberry choc marshmallowNo need to get too fancy. Safeway brand blackberry preserves did just fine for me.

S'mores pbutter choc marshmallow
As a peanut-butter-and-chocolate lover (although give me Peanut Butter M&Ms over Reese’s cups any day), I thought I’d go absolutely mad for the peanut butter version.

S'mores bputter closeup
It was good, really good, but I took just one bite and saved the rest for my son, who proceeded to make several more of the same spread with a
thick layer of peanut butter.

S'mores bberry closeup
The blackberry s’mores, on the other hand, made me positively swoon! Even this store-brand blackberry jam has a depth of flavor that complemented the chocolate elegantly.

S'mores bberry almost goneA rapidly dwindling blackberry s'more with the requisite cold glass of milk.

Blackberry-and-chocolate is my new favorite fruit/chocolate combination, easily surpassing strawberries and chocolate. I’m imagining these made with dark chocolate next time. (I just happen to have a supply of Trader Joe's Belgian dark chocolate, and still have plenty of marshmallows and grahams.)

S'mores bberry goneThis one disappeared quickly!

Let me know if you try these flavored s'mores or come up with your own concoction. Or do you think the classic s'more is too pure to be tampered with?

Stay tuned for another s'mores pairing, this time dark chocolate and ...

To be continued!

Happy Veterans Day, Dad!

flag-mini-American My father is a veteran of World War II. I’m glad he made it through the war, met my mom, got married, and had ten kids (of which I’m the tenth, so ... ) And I’m glad he’s still alive and kicking!
PFC Stuart A
While I was growing up, I was vaguely aware that dad had been in that war, but never knew
how he'd been in it because he didn’t really talk about it. Then, when my son did a grade school report about his grandfather, I started learning heretofore unknown facts about my dad -- for instance, he was in the Junior ROTC during high school, and he appears in uniform in his senior year picture (someday I'll have a scan of that); in addition to playing the guitar with a military ensemble over in France (or Germany?), he played the mellophone; although I don’t think he participated in direct combat, he did the scary work of clearing anti-tank mines; and when the war ended he performed occupation service in Germany (or possibly France). Dad has interesting stories of his time in Europe during the War, and he remembers some of those times with a good deal of warmth. If he experienced anything grim, a la Saving Private Ryan, he is not dwelling on it publicly. I greatly enjoy hearing him reminisce, and hope to document some of his memories in the near future.

Veterans Day was originally meant to honor those who served in World War I, it now honors soldiers from all wars, including Dear Old Dad. President Woodrow Wilson first proclaimed an Armistice Day for November 11, 1919 -- one year after the armistice was signed between the allied nations and Germany, effectively ending “the war to end all wars.” (The war formally ended when the Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28, 1919.) In 1938, November 11 became a legal holiday -- "a day to be dedicated to the cause of world peace and to be thereafter celebrated and known as 'Armistice Day'." Then in 1953, a shoe store owner in Emporia (isn’t that a great name for a town!), Kansas named Al King started a campaign to turn Armistice Day into "All" Veterans Day. A year later President Dwight Eisenhower signed it into law, “Armistice” was replaced with “Veterans,” and it’s been Veterans Day ever since, with some controversy over whether and where to put an apostrophe. (Formally, there is no apostrophe.)

Starting in 1971, according to the
Department of Veterans Affairs, Veterans Day was scheduled on the fourth Monday in October, in keeping with President Lyndon Johnson's “Uniform Holiday Bill." The bill promoted 3-day holiday weekends for government workers, and enabled them to travel and "and see more of this beautiful land of ours." The change caused confusion and was short-lived -- Veterans Day was changed back to November 11 in 1978 and has been celebrated on this date -- as it is in many countries, where it is known variously as Remembrance Day, Poppy Day, Armistice Day, and Veterans Day -- ever since.

I'm sure dad has a flag flying in front of his house 300 miles from my own, as it always hung in front of our childhood home on similarly patriotic holidays. I've prompted him to look for his Army of Occupation medal and dig out that high school ROTC photo. Perhaps he's doing some reminiscing about his service overseas during World War II on this day. However he is spending it, I'm grateful he lived through it and can pass the remembrances on to his many children. Dad, I salute you on this Veterans Day for your good service to the country!

Happy Halloween!

This post is definitely rushed. Something more thoughtful to come in the very near future!

Autumn has absolutely bewitched me these past few weeks -- between the trees abloom in their gorgeous reds, rusts, oranges and golds, and the refreshing chill in the air, I've been wishing I could quit my job and somehow get paid just to walk the streets for hours appreciating each beautiful fall day.
red maple
A beautiful maple tree just down the street.

These colorful days also bring the promise of my favorite holiday: Halloween! Well, perhaps Halloween is tied evenly with Christmas and Valentine’s day, all of which are joyful, colorful and fun, were favorites of the Victorians, and involve chocolate. I love Halloween for the costumed trick-or-treaters who roam the neighborhood and pile up at our door with their goody bags waiting for treats, for orange candlelit pumpkins and strings of skull lights glowing in the dark, for bats and ravens, witches, tombstones and grim reapers.
five punkins
We carved six punkins this year! The sixth is perched out of sight on the mantel with a spooky crow. From left to right, the carvers were: Kinnin, Meg, Emilia, Sean, Kenny.
scary punkin crow
Nevermore! Bit blurry, but you get the idea. Kinnin did this one.

Not only is Halloween spooky by design, with its imagery of ghosts and spirits, but this time of year possesses a natural eerieness that my pre-Christian ancestors tuned into long before the holiday evolved into the festive event that we know. The Celtic celebration called Samhain (SOW-in) “is a special time of year and a powerful time for divination," according to Lisa Finander, an editor at Llewellyn.com, “when the veil between the world of the living and the dead is the thinnest, and a time when the communication between these worlds is the strongest.” At Samhain, which literally means “end of summer,” the ancient Celts acknowledged and honored the dead while they marked the end of the seasonal cycle with bonfires and ushered in their new year. Like many Celtic/pagan celebrations, Samhain was co-opted by Christians and turned into the eve of All Hallows or All Saints Day, and All Hallows Evening became Hallowe’en.

The Victorians expanded on the theme of divination and and promoted Halloween rituals -- such as looking in a mirror or eating apples -- as a means for determining one’s romantic fate. Halloween also became yet another opportunity for exchanging their famously whimsical postcards!
"He is your fate ... who's face you've seen ... in the mirror's face ... on Halloween."

"The fates tell by the cards your future destiny ... but if you share an apple
with a heart that's fancy free ... on Halloween at midnight a marriage it will be."

Although All Hallows Eve has already passed, you can still light candles in memory of friends, family members and loyal pets who’ve crossed to the other side of the veil, or to divine your future lover in the lookingglass. The moon is full right now, so go outside and enjoy the calm blue glow it is casting over the clouds and leaf-bare trees on this cool, crisp (in our corner of the midwest, anyway) All Saints night. Maybe you’ll sense something else in the air, too! I hope you had a Happy Samhain/Halloween, and are enjoying the fall colors wherever you are.

Please feel free to leave a comment -- how did you celebrate Halloween this year, or did you celebrate at all? How do you feel during this naturally mysterious time of the season? Share your favorite ways of passing time during these chilly, darkening days of autumn. Or feel free to correct any misinformation you've read above. Anything ... I'd love to hear from you!

Critters and sirens.

I’m home today with a VERY stiff, sore neck and shoulder. I’m not sure what caused it besides “sleeping funny.” Only it isn’t funny, it really aches. I think I made it worse this morning while trying to gently stretch the muscles. Now I can barely look left or right without wincing, so I’m heading off to a local massage therapist to see if she can work out this unpleasant kink.

Being home makes me the lucky center of attention from all our critters. Mr. Sass, who normally insists on sleeping squarely on a lap, makes do when there is a laptop on said lap by snuggling as closely as he can.
Mr Sass snoozes
I tried getting a picture of Piper sleeping a mere 12 inches from Mr. Sass on the couch, but alas she hopped off the couch and followed me into the family room when I tried sneaking in there to get the camera. Here she is instead posing next to my partially finished Corsage in Bloom. I just completed the aqua ruffled flower and am ready to proceed to a minty blue rosette.
Piper poses with corsage
Molly visits occasionally, sitting on the coffee table in the warm spot left by my laptop.
Miss Molly
And Lilly lounges nearby on Kenny's easy chair.
Lilly lounges
I could get used to this working-at-home thing!

Because I was home, I got to take Piper for a walk right around mid-morning. In fact, the clocks must have struck 10:00 precisely on this first Tuesday of the month because suddenly the eerie wooOOOOing of
civil defense sirens arose all around us. It was a bit chilling to hear them live, so many sirens all layered in varying ominous tones, fading in and fading out. After years of hearing them somewhat muffled from within the walls of my school or the buildings where I work, I felt for the first time the sense of urgency those loud sirens evoke. For a few moments I tried to imagine being in World War II London during The Blitz where they sounded nightly for months to warn of German bomb attacks. What an awful time that was -- such terror and destruction, resulting in the deaths of 43,000 civilians all over England.
I can’t imagine trying to cope on a day-to-day basis if our city was being bombed at night, and by day we still had to work, shop, get the kids to school, etc.
I hope we never find ourselves hearing those sirens in earnest, or sleeping in shelters or subway stations to stay safe until danger passes. May the worst reason they ring, at least here in Evanston, is to alert us that it’s time to relocate our cars to make way for snow plows.

Remember snow?

Mother's Day.

I miss my mother, who passed away several years ago at the ripe old age of 80. I wish she was here so I could give her a hug and tell her how glad I am she’s my mom, so I could share with her what’s growing in my garden, and show her the latest item I’m knitting, crocheting or sewing. My mom (and dad, of course) raised ten children, of which brood I am the youngest. How they managed that on a shoestring without losing their minds completely I’ll never know! Despite many battles during my teenage years, we luckily ended up with a very close, loving relationship. Dad speaks so tenderly of his courtship with mom when they were at art school together in Chicago. Here they are all dressed up for a date -- just a simple date! Doesn't mom look glowing and beautiful?

Now, lest you think Mother’s Day is simply a “Hallmark holiday” designed to swell Sunday brunch lines and peddle flowers, jewelry, cards and gifts, the truth is quite different. Mother’s Day started as an effort to promote peace, as envisioned by two mothers raising their families during the Civil War. Julia Ward Howe -- a women’s suffrage and abolition activist who wrote “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” (here’s a nice audio version of it) -- is one of two women credited for starting Mother’s Day. Troubled by too much war -- first the American Civil War, and next the Franco-Prussian war -- she puzzled over man’s continued compulsion to use violence to resolve conflict. In her memoir, Reminiscences, 1819-1899, she wrote, “Why do not the mothers of mankind interfere in these matters, to prevent the waste of human life of which they alone bear and know the cost?” Howe’s “Appeal to Womanhood,” also known as the “Mother’s Day Proclamation,” was intended to unite women against war and draw them into a crusade for peace. Her Mother’s Day was celebrated on June 2 for almost 40 years.

More than a decade earlier, a rural northern Virginia minister’s wife named
Ann Jarvis also united mothers in the name of community and peace. Around 1858 she started “Mother’s Day Work Clubs” -- groups of women who worked locally to help prevent the spread of disease by improving sanitary conditions, and who assisted families of mothers suffering from tuberculosis. At the onset of the Civil War, her clubs helped raise money for much-needed medicines, conducted food inspections to guard against contamination, and tended both Union and Confederate soldiers sick with typhoid fever. She created “Mother’s Friendship Day” to ease post-war tensions, and create a sense of peace and unity between Union and Confederate woman. Her wish for “a memorial mother’s day commemorating her for the matchless service she renders to humanity in every field of life” came to fruition in 1914 when President Woodrow Wilson declared Mother’s Day a national holiday. Ann's daughter, Anna (pictured below right, next to her mother) rallied for years until she was virtually destitute to help grant her mother's wish. Ironically, Anna Jarvis never married or had children, but clearly she was devoted to her mother!
I am humbled by the work of these women, which goes far beyond what I have presented in these few paragraphs. Each felt deeply the importance and necessity of peace in the world, having experienced directly its violent opposite in their homeland. Each understood the unique position women are in as traditional nurturers to help bring about peace. Each endured the hardship of war, disease, unsanitary living conditions and social disapproval to work (peacefully) for peace, to help others live better lives -- to help them simply live. Mother’s Day is built on a firm foundation of faith, integrity, sweat and compassion, not greeting cards and chocolates.

I miss phoning my mom on this day to say, "I love you, mom!" I miss the joy of receiving sweet handmade treasures from my own son (who, incidentally, gave me a hug this morning AND is in the kitchen
making me breakfast!). I appreciate the tulips and reassurances that I’m a good mother that I get from my husband. But since Mother’s Day has “real” -- not commercial -- beginnings as an effort toward peace, I need to figure out how to honor the women who began the day. While I’m working on that, I’m going sip my favorite kiwi pear green tea, enjoy the crunchy stuffed french toast being prepared for me by my two favorite guys, plant some Joseph's Coat climbing roses (oh I hope mine grow as beautifully!) in the front garden, go for a bike ride, and nurture peace and love in my own home.
Green tea on mother's day morning

May Day.

The first of May has always been about the May flowers brought by April showers: lily of the valley, violets and even dandelions picked from our yard (and sometimes tulips poached from the neighbor’s) all tucked into little baskets made from empty school milk cartons and left secretly for my mother on our back porch. The arrival of May 1 puts rainy, blustery April to rest and helps us believe that winter really is over.

As an adult I’ve explored my celtic roots and learned that the month of May is about
Beltane, which is celebrated in early to mid May. According to Wikipedia, “... Beltane marked the beginning of the pastoral summer season when the herds of livestock were driven out to the summer pastures and mountain grazing lands." The hills glowed with bonfires and May bushes of rowan or whitethorn were decorated with ribbons and flowers. It’s a “cross-quarter day,” midway between the vernal equinox and the solstice on June 21, our traditional first day of summer. For the ancient Celts, summer began in May and the solstice signaled “midsummer” -- the halfway point to harvest time! Interestingly, their year ends on October 31, but let’s talk about that closer to Halloween (one of my favorite days, in my favorite season).

For many Pagan/Wiccan folk, their Beltane is celebrated on May 1 with Maypole dancing and fertility rituals. It is a great excuse for getting romantic with your special someone ... or with yourself, if you happen to be the best thing going in your life at the moment. I also periodically check The Witches' Voice for information about Beltane and other ancient celebrations such as Lughnasadh (summer harvest), Samhain (Halloween) and Yule (winter, Christmas).

I recently learned that May Day is also known as International Workers Day -- essentially Labor Day for the world beyond the United States and Canada. And its origins are right here in Chicago. To oversimplify a complicated (and very interesting) story, in May of 1886 a rally at Haymarket Square (just west of the loop) in support of a strike in support of the 8-hour work day turned violent -- a bomb was thrown, shots were fired, and a number of civilians, strikers and police officers were killed. Eight men were charged with a police officer’s murder; six of them were sentenced to die. They became martyrs for the international movement toward an 8-hour workday, and May 1 became their worldwide day of commemoration. In other words, people died so we could work 9-to-5! To disassociate from those turbulent events, our Labor Day was established on the first Monday in September, while almost everywhere else in the world it is celebrated -- with similar turbulence -- today.

Of course, none of this should be mistaken for “
Mayday! Mayday! Mayday!” the common distress call rooted in the French phrase “m’aider” meaning “help me!” A lot of us are in distress these days -- over lost jobs, the daunting task of finding new employment in a desiccated job market, shrinking retirement accounts, the sluggish housing market, swine flu. I’m sure many people are having moments when they feel like things are hopelessly spinning out of control and they want to shout “Mayday!” while they grope for the eject button and the parachute ripcord. We all deserve a break from the gloom, and I'm taking mine today. In keeping with my daydream of a lovely, peaceful place in the country, I shall recall my childhood celebration of May 1 as a day of flowers, sunshine (hopefully) and surprises. No matter what you do this May 1 ... Happy May Day to you!