SoCS: an excuse to eat butter

There was a long period in the US where the dietary advice was to avoid fat, especially animal fat, in our diets. During that time, I didn’t each much butter.

This was sad!

More recently, the recommendations have changed somewhat, so I do use more butter now.

I especially like homemade bread with butter. The usual butter that I use for spreading is a spread made of grass-fed cow-milk butter and a bit of oil to keep it from being too hard.

We also keep both salted and unsalted butter for cooking and baking. B has recently discovered that his family’s shortbread recipe comes out much better using unsalted butter. I ran across an article that explained why; it has to do with the moisture content difference between salted and unsalted butter. The recipe is so old that it didn’t specify the type of butter, but may have gone back to the day when people made their own butter, which likely would have been unsalted. The recipe does call for a bit of salt. Other than that, the only ingredients are flour and a small amount of sugar.

Shortbreads are basically an excuse to eat butter, and a very delicious excuse at that!

Linda’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday this week is “butter.” Join us! Find out more here:

another strawberry season

We are almost at the end of strawberry season here in upstate New York.

When I was growing up in rural New England, we always went strawberrying every spring and made lots of recipes with the fresh, flavorful berries. Back then, you only had access to fresh strawberries when they were available locally. Now you can buy them in the grocery store year-round grown somewhere far away, but we seldom buy them because they are never as good as local ones.

For many years, I picked my own from nearby farms, but now I buy them from the farmstands and embark on the annual strawberry binge.

This year, we had some of our old favorites – strawberry shortcake, fresh strawberry pie, strawberry-rhubarb pie, strawberry salad, strawberry sundaes, strawberries with yogurt, and strawberries on pancakes. We also tried some new recipes – strawberry spoon cake, strawberry-rhubarb muffins, fresh strawberry tarts, and strawberry bread pudding.

Wow! That looks like a lot when it is all written out.

I think it will tide us over until next spring, when I’m sure we’ll be ready to dive into strawberry season once again.

in the pandemic kitchen

Many people are discovering cooking and baking from scratch during these past weeks of sheltering at home and less frequent trips to the store. The demand for basic ingredients has been so high that is still difficult to reliably find flour, yeast, sugar, milk, and eggs. There are lots of stories of people learning to make sourdough bread and to concoct meals with what they have on hand. Some people, who had always bought already-prepared meals or restaurant food, are finding out that they enjoy making their own dishes and baked goods and even find it relaxing.

At our house, we were accustomed to doing our own cooking and baking, although some things have changed. I’m definitely being more intentional with meal planning, both to make sure I have the ingredients on hand and to accommodate everyone’s breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Before B began working at home, he often ate lunch with friends; now, I try to have leftovers or some other options available for him.

Another thing that is different is that B is doing more cooking and baking. He actually enjoys kitchen work more than I do and finds it fun to make recipes that are more involved. I make bread in the bread machine; he recently made an apricot-raisin bread that took three days to make. He tends to wake up early and frequently makes breakfast treats – muffins, scones, even Chelsea buns. He does all the family grilling and has several special dishes that he prepares, including chicken marsala and Nana’s lasagna. I tend to make more old-style recipes, like meatloaf, pot roast, and soups.

Some people are also discovering things like pickling and making stock, things that I learned from my mom when I was growing up in rural New England. Of course, if you had a turkey, you would make stock from the carcass. Back then, it was considered frugal; now, it’s about better utilization of resources. I will admit, though, that now I will make a small batch of refrigerator bread-and-better pickles, rather than the dozens of jars we used to make and process in Ball jars and hot-water bath when cucumbers were in season. The pickles are still very tasty!

In some ways, my freezer and pantry resemble the ones from my childhood much more now than they used to. Because our house growing up was twenty miles from the nearest grocery store and there was a big chunk of the year when you had to worry about snow and ice on the road, we always had a stock of shelf-stable and frozen foods on hand. Now, in case we need to quarantine, I have followed the recommendation to have at least two weeks of food on hand, plus what we need to eat for at least a week or more so that grocery shopping would only happen every one to two weeks. Fortunately, I did this before the panic buying set in. A hundred days into the pandemic restrictions here in our part of upstate New York, our food distribution system has still not stabilized. Supply of some staples is spotty and a few things have been impossible to find for weeks. For example, I finally had to order a pound of yeast online in April; two months later, I still have not seen any in stores. My latest shopping triumph was finding quick-cooking tapioca, important this time of year for thickening strawberry-rhubarb and peach pies.

I’m not sure how long our current pattern of cooking, baking, and eating will persist. We have been ordering carryout from some of our favorite local restaurants, hoping to keep them going. Now that our area is in stage two of re-opening, outdoor dining is allowed, but not many restaurants here are set up for that. In a later phase, restaurants will be allowed to re-open indoor space, but probably only at 25-50% capacity. I’m guessing that we may still order carry-out rather than trying to dine-in.

The other wild card in all this is not knowing how long B will be working from home. If/when he needs to go back to the office, his return home in the evening will be too unpredictable for him to make weeknight dinners, so I will be back to more solo cooking. I had done that for years, so, of course, I can do it again, but I’ll miss having B here. Maybe it is a preview of his eventual retirement…

strawberry pies

In my region, it is strawberry season. While strawberries from far away are available in supermarkets year-round, we almost never buy them, preferring to wait for the short but sweet local strawberry season.

When the wild strawberries in our lawn begin to ripen, it is time to head to the farmstands for quarts of flavorful, ripe berries. (It used to be time to head to the pick-your-own farms in the area but lack of time and an aging body have put an end to spending some early morning hours picking berries and avoiding slugs.)

In the early part of the season, I always make a fresh strawberry pie, using a recipe that my mom, known as Nana here at TJCM, made. It originated in a leaflet from the farm that we used to visit with her during childhood to pick strawberries. My copy was written out in Nana’s elegant cursive on a recipe card among those that she gifted to me when B and I married. We shared this year’s fresh strawberry pie topped with whipped cream with her and the family over at Mercy House, the hospice residence where Nana is now living.

As the season progresses and the berries need to be used more quickly, I move on to recipes that involve cooked berries. Last week, I made one of my favorites, strawberry rhubarb pie. I tried something different this time, using pastry cut-outs instead of a full top crust, hoping that the filling in the extra-deep pie plate would cook through without soaking the crust.
36427111_10212160706838382_6712770018037202944_n It worked! Again, the family gathered at Mercy House to enjoy pie with Nana and Paco.

Strawberry season is always a blessing, but this year even more so. Making more sweet memories is a precious gift.

Poem: Making Aunt Gert’s Indian Pudding

I have not (yet) fallen off the face of the earth.

Life is increasingly complicated, so I haven’t been able to post much lately.

It’s so complicated that I forgot to post for National Indian Pudding Day yesterday! Here I am belated sharing an Indian Pudding blog post from last year. Enjoy!

Top of JC's Mind

I am very pleased to announce that I have another poem published today!  The blog of Silver Birch Press has published “Making Aunt Gert’s Indian Pudding” as part of their “My Sweet Word” series. You can find it here:


Update:  The recipe is now available here:

View original post

Sugar cookie recipe

I had a request for this recipe from Idaswear’s blog.  The measurements are US, so I hope you still have some of your US measuring cups and spoons…

Holiday sugar cookies

1 cup butter (2 sticks) at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla
1 egg
1 teaspoon water

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 ½ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
1 ½ teaspoon cinnamon *
¼ teaspoon nutmeg *

Color sugars, etc. to decorate

Cream butter, sugar, and vanilla.  Add egg and water, then beat until light and fluffy.

Combine dry ingredients.  Blend into creamed mixture.  Divide dough in half, and then chill for 1 hour. (Do not over chill as this will make dough hard to work.  If dough is chilled overnight, you will need to let dough sit for awhile before you can roll it.)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

On lightly floured surface, roll dough to ⅛ inch thickness.  Cut into desired shapes, sprinkle with colored sugar, etc. to decorate the cookies.

Bake on greased cookie sheets at 375 degrees for 6-8 minutes.

Makes 6 dozen cookies.

Originally from JC’s mom.

* Notes:
Original recipe did not call for spices.  We discovered that adding spices made a more flavorful cookie

Indian Pudding recipe

Yesterday, I posted about my poem “Making Aunt Gert’s Indian Pudding” which precipitated several requests for the recipe. So, here it is, with various notes, because I can never seem to share a recipe without side commentary. Sorry that the measurements are all US ones.  The recipe is pretty forgiving, so if you do have to estimate amounts, don’t worry about it.

Indian Pudding

2 Tablespoons cornmeal*
3 Tablespoons tapioca
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup molasses
1 quart warm milk
1 cup cold milk
butter size of egg

Add first four ingredients to molasses – then add cold milk and mix well. When the quart of milk is thoroughly heated, add gradually to above mixture. Pour into buttered 2-quart casserole. Add butter and bake two hours at 300 degrees F.  Stir occasionally first 1/2 hour.  Serve with ice cream.

*For a thicker texture, increase cornmeal to 6 Tablespoons and stir occasionally for the first hour. I’ve been doing this variation lately.

Other notes:
I’ve made this with whole milk, 2% milk, skim milk, and lactose-free milk. I have absolutely no idea what would happen if one attempted it with soy milk or almond milk.
It’s best to bake this a day ahead and then store in the refrigerator. The flavors seem to meld better after they set.
You can reheat individual servings in the microwave or reheat the whole casserole dish in the oven or microwave. You definitely want to serve it warm so that the ice cream melts over it as you eat it.
You can experiment with adding spices, such as cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger. I happen to like this recipe without them, but many Indian pudding recipes do add them.
Indian pudding is deceptively filling. Don’t try to eat a large bowl unless you are very hungry.

Poem: Making Aunt Gert’s Indian Pudding

I am very pleased to announce that I have another poem published today!  The blog of Silver Birch Press has published “Making Aunt Gert’s Indian Pudding” as part of their “My Sweet Word” series. You can find it here:


Update:  The recipe is now available here:

Score one for Indian pudding!

I’ve spent an inordinate amount to time over the last couple of days revising one of my poems about Indian pudding for submission to Silver Birch Press’s upcoming “My Sweet Word” series and compiling and formatting the rest of the materials needed – bio, author’s note, photo with caption.

As many of you know, I often wrestle with technical issues, especially when I have to format for MS Word from my non-Windows system and when I have to deal with images of any sort.

It literally took me hours to get everything assembled properly, but I was finally able to hit “send” this morning.

And – drum roll, please! – I am happy to report that I have already received an acceptance! I think my submission must have landed on the top of the inbox on the West Coast for the beginning of their work day.

So, at some point this month or next, I’ll be able to share the link with you, featuring an ever-so-artistic photo of my hands cradling a bowl of Indian pudding with melting vanilla ice cream. I made a batch in the heat of August, just so we could do the photo shoot.

Well, truth be told, not just for the photo shoot….

While we generally don’t make something that has to bake for two hours during the dog days of summer, Indian pudding is still a delicious treat and brings back memories of Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners with family and of B’s great-aunt Gert, whose recipe we use, although I must confess that I have been experimenting with proportions a bit.

It’s always a good time for Indian pudding!

Fruitcake recipe

A college friend who reads my blog asked if I’d share our fruitcake recipe, so here it is. Enjoy!

1 16-ounce package (3 cups) pitted prunes, aka dried plums
1 8-ounce package (1 1/2 cups) dried apricots
1 15-ounce package (3 cups) raisins (we usually use golden raisins)
1 8-ounce package (1 1/3 cups) chopped pitted dates
16 ounces additional dried fruits – we usually use cherries and pineapple and additional apricots
1/2 cup apple juice or other clear juice
2 cups packed brown sugar
1 1/2 cups butter, softened
6 eggs
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground allspice
2 large ripe bananas, mashed
2 cups pecan or walnut halves

Cut prunes and apricots into quarters. (If any of the other dried fruits are in large pieces, you may want to cut them, too.) In a large bowl, combine all the dried fruits. Pour the juice over them. Cover and let stand overnight.

In large mixer bowl, cream brown sugar and butter until fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time; beat well after each. Stir together flour, salt, and spices. Add flour mixture alternately with banana to butter mixture. Stir in nuts and fruit mixture. Divide the 15 cups of batter into any of the following very well-greased loaf pans:
9x5x3-inch – 4 cups of batter – 3 hours baking time
7 1/2×3 1/2×2-inch – 3 cups of batter – 2 hours baking time
4 1/2×2 1/2×1 1/2-inch – 2 cups of batter – 2 hours baking time

Bake in 250 degree F. oven for time indicted or until golden. (You can check with a toothpick if you can find a bit that has enough cake to test.) Cool in pans 10 minutes; remove from pans. Cool on wire rack. Wrap and store in refrigerator. It will store nicely for several weeks in the refrigerator, but also freezes well for longer term storage.

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