Category Archives: In between

Fèves Part 2

With epiphany eight days away I am getting out my fève collection and trying to decide which piece I will use in our King Cake* to celebrate the end of the Christmas season. A couple of years ago when I told our French exchange student Charline I was a bit of a “favophilie” (a person who collects fèves) so when she went home she sent me a box of fèves from Paul, a French bakery. I loved seeing the historical evolution of their delivery vehicles rendered in porcelain with one very small slice of pie. While Paul and Ladureé both have stores in America I’m not sure they carry fèves in their shops on this side of the pond. This company in Lyon sells quite a few different sets (including naughty fèves!!!). I have not purchased anything from them so I can’t attest one way or another to how they are with overseas sales. If anyone has ordered from them I’d love to hear about your experience. There also seem to be several folks selling fèves on Etsy and eBay.

Paul Bakery feves

What surprises me is that in France, a country known for its King’s cakes, the fève of choice (at least according to my friend Alexis) is often a cartoon or tv character. I feel like such a fuddy-duddy saying I’d rather have one of the three wise men or baby Jesus in my slice of cake instead of a porcelain dinosaur, duck, or wizard. I wonder what Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar would say?

funny feves

“Bonne Fête des Rois”

*Here is a French video on how to make a Galette de Roi

Here’s my previous post on fèves.

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Raspberries, Napkin Rings and Crackers with Cream Cheese and Jelly

Mountain Day

Last Thursday was Mountain Day at Smith College. How do I know? Was I wandering the streets of Northampton when the bells began to ring? Did I happen to be in an apple orchard in a nearby farm which was suddenly overrun by Smithies? No, it was much more mundane. I received an email from the president informing all alumni she’d given student and faculty the day off. I didn’t give myself the day off, though I was tempted. Instead i took some time to enjoy a view of the hills from behind the town library. My own Mountain Day moment.

It’s funny the things you remember about college. With our eldest daughter in her freshman year at University of New Haven I’ve been thinking about my alma mater often. Especially the quirky little food memories which have stuck with me for more than a quarter of a century.

napkin ring

Every Thursday night Smith would serve us a family style dinner by candlelight, complete with linen napkins and tablecloths. I loved those cloth napkins and so did my mother. She was so entranced with the tradition she got me my very own cloisonné napkin holder. The cloth napkins took a little getting used to since unlike paper napkins where you use and dispose of them after every meal our linen napkins had to last us for a week. If it became too grubby you could put them in the napkin hamper, then use paper until the following Thursday when you got a fresh cloth napkin. We even had our own individual napkin cubbies in the dinning hall.

Smith’s food was what we referred to as “grade A institutional food”. Great food considering it was made in such large quantities, but by no means home cooking. Every so often I’d go on the hunt for something that wasn’t made for 100+ students or that was rare enough to be a considered an out-of-dining-hall treat. One fall, around this time of year, one of my best friends Jim Ferguson and I were wandering around the farmer’s market in Amherst, Massachusetts. As much as I loved Smith, it was nice to occasionally get off campus and cross the river to visit Ferg and his friends at Amherst College. One booth was selling small boxes of what were probably the last of the fall raspberries. We bought two. Half a pint of heavy cream, two bowls, and two spoons later we locked ourselves in Ferg’s room. No sharing. No talking. Just gobbling fresh raspberries swimming in heavy cream. One small box each. It was perfect.

Raspberries and heavy cream

I’m sure many of the meals we ate were amazing, after all with Julia Child and Charlotte Turgeon as two of our illustrious alums college dining services had something to aspire to. The funny thing is it isn’t the fancy food I recall (and still eat) but the simplest. It is the humblest of desserts. Probably something thrown together when the cooks were just so tired of feeding us they wanted to weep and throw their ladles in the soup. And we loved it. We acted like a bunch of hungry sharks circling around a hurt fish. It required no cooking and no prep. Are you ready? Cream cheese, Ritz Saltine crackers and jelly. If you think about it it’s almost like a deconstructed cheesecake. Don’t believe me about how good this is? I dare you to try it.

Crackers, cream cheese and jam

What are your favorite college food memories?

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Treasure Among the Weeds

I think the all time scariest Dr. Who episode is Weeping Angels. Weeping Angels are stone statues who will kill you if you blink or look away. So don’t blink – don’t ever, ever blink. Sumac is the plant version of a weeping angel. Some people mistakenly think it is a decorative shrub, which is like saying weeping angels are just statues. While sumac may not kill you like a weeping angel would, you have to be careful because if ignored it will take over your yard. I’m not just talking a little bit, it will become the equivalent of a jungle. Plus it likes to invite its friends – other invasive species such as bittersweet and wild grapevine.

Sumac forest

Sure the birds love it. I will admit it does look pretty in the fall when its leaves turn a brilliant red. In certain cultures they cook with the dried sumac fruit. The architect Frank Lloyd Wright even used sumac as a design motif in one of his houses. Here’s the newsflash though – I am willing to bet cold, hard cash Mr. Wright never ever had to deal with a sumac invasion himself. Either he had a team of gardeners to prune and cut everything back or he left the sumac infected area to go design another house before the invasion became apparent.

wild rose bush

I vaguely remember my parents not liking the sumac in our neighbor’s yard. At that point though I was eighteen and didn’t understand their concern/disdain for the plant. Then twenty years ago my husband and I moved to our house and decided there was really too much lawn to mow. So we seeded a wildflower garden. That was pretty for a few years. While we were lulled into those first few years of flowery abundance the sumac saw its chance. It crept underground from the edges of our property to this open field we had created and started sprouting up. We ignored it because we were busy with other things. So the sumac grew and Grew and GREW. Suddenly we realized we could no longer see our garden or the beehives. In fact the garden itself was getting a lot less sun than it used to. Our wintertime sledding hill had become a dense maze of sumac trunks. We had done the long, slow blink, and the sumac had taken over.

wild black raspberries

So 2013 has become the summer of what I am calling The Sumac Deforestation Project. My kids and some of their friends have been hacking, chopping, digging, pulling, and uprooting all the invasive plants that have done their best to take over our yard. Along the way we’ve come across a few treasures among the weeds. These include clumps of blackberry vines, wild rose bushes, some really delicious black raspberries which we’ve been munching this last week, and an awesome blue stone which will eventually become a step into the playhouse. So deep in the forest of sumac there have been a few jewels, they just haven’t been spectacular enough to justify maintaining the invasive forest.

starting to cut back the sumac

sumac cut and ready to clear

almost cleared field

moving the blue stone

unloading the blue stone

So thanks Isabelle, Russell, Eamon, Addie, Milo, and Shawn. The deforestation project is coming along nicely.

Oh and those black raspberries I mentioned? They’re going on some buttermilk waffles with a drizzle of maple syrup – yum!

Buttermilk waffles with black raspberries

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Leave No Cup Unfilled

"cupcake water trick"

Sometimes you come up short. Not enough change for the parking meter, not enough milk for your cereal, not enough batter to fill all your cupcake cups. For the first challenge I suggest looking under the seat, asking the kids, or if those two ideas don’t result in a handful of change, getting back in your car and finding some free parking on a side street. For the second problem I have been known to go with the bizarre (and some would say disgusting) solution of pouring orange juice over my Wheaties. Or switching to toast. Either one works. The answer to the third kerfuffle is water. A little H2O. Not mixed into the batter, rather poured into any empty cupcake wells. Just a small splash. It keeps that part of the pan from overheating by being unfilled. Surprisingly this little bit of moisture has the added benefit of producing well-rounded tops on the cupcakes.

"miniature chocolate cupcakes with raspberries"

Click here for the chocolate cake recipe.

Click here for the frosting recipe.

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Holiday Baking with Cookie Logs

I’m going to tell you one of my favorite cooking secrets. Cookie Logs. Better than sliced bread, the wheel, or individual packets of nutella. Cookie logs spell salvation for the home cook. The concept is beautifully simple – you take your favorite cookie recipe, mix it up, shape it into logs, and freeze (or refrigerate).

"cookie logs"

Kids forget to tell you they have to bring in dessert for the community supper tomorrow? No worries you’ve got cookie logs. Invited to a going away party for a neighbor but forgot to make something? You’re covered because you have cookie logs and can have fresh-baked cookies in less than 17 minutes. Stressed out with all the holiday stuff you still need to do including finding a ukulele for your husband who wants to learn to play the instrument at age 53? No sweat, Christmas cookies are covered due to a fridge full of cookie logs. I am telling you cookie logs make you feel you can handle whatever culinary curveballs life throws. If you make three or more doughs today and turn them all into logs, you’ve just taken more than half the stress out of baking. Tomorrow (or Sunday or Monday) you will be a slice and bake Queen or King! Guaranteed.

"getting ready to roll cookie dough"

Getting ready to roll.

Martha Stewart puts her logs in empty paper towel tubes to keep them perfectly symmetrical. I’m down and dirty with mine. Plop some dough along a sheet of wax paper, fold over and use a dough scraper or ruler to push the wax paper around the dough and form into a log shape, then twist the ends and throw in the fridge or bag up for the freezer. It really doesn’t mater if they have a slightly flat side – they’ll sit on the counter and not roll when you go to slice them.

I usually give myself a clue as to what is in the log plus note what temperature the particular dough bakes at with a magic marker. Remember lower your baking times. My logs tend to be about the size of a quarter, which is usually smaller than a regular cookie. This means their cooking time is shorter. You’ll smell/see when they are done. Smaller cookies also means you’ll end up with a larger yield. I like this because often all I want is a nibble, not a cookie the size of my hand.

"dough scraper cookie log rolling"

Dough scraper log rolling.

The other thing to know is not all doughs are able to be turned into logs. Anything which ultimately gets rolled out flat, such as sugar cookies, I don’t make into logs. In the past I haven’t “logged” dough that needs to be rolled into balls, but lately I’ve switched over to logging just about everything. With doughs that call for being rolled into a ball, I simply slice off bigger chunks and roll them into marble or walnut sizes depending on the recipe. You also may need to leave those doughs out to soften a bit before attempting to roll them, especially if they’ve been frozen.

"plastic ruler cookie dough log rolling"

Plastic ruler cookie log rolling.

Since my doughs don’t have preservatives I only keep them in the fridge for 5-7 days. When I pop logs into the freezer I place them in zip lock bags to guard against freezer burn.

"slice and bake cookie dough logs"

Slice and bake.

So now you know one of my favorite culinary tricks. I hope you enjoy your cookie logs!

"cookie crown"

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