30 May 2014

Cocktails at the Burn Pit

Allergies have got us down. 

We are just too tired to blog. 

We are not too tired to drink. 

Head over to Cookbook Of The Day to find a nice recipe for Punch

28 May 2014

Requiescat in Pace -- Maya Angelou

She wrote, she lectured, and she sang.  In her early career, Maya Angelou was Miss Calypso.  She also joined Jessica Mitford in a ditty or two.  Enjoy.

15 May 2014

Famous Food Friday --Bloomsbury

You might think that you know EVERYTHING, yes, everything there is to know about that merry band at Bloomsbury.  You know who slept with whom, who wanted to sleep with whom, who shouldn't have slept with whom, and on and on.  You have read all the letters, diaries, and biographies.  You have visited their houses in person, online, and in books.  There is absolutely NOTHING you don't know about Bloomsbury.


There is something you don't know.  While the literary ensemble that has become its own growth industry few have taken more than a passing look at the food of Bloomsbury.  I mean, after all that sleeping around, they had to have quite an appetite. Well, actually, there has been some peeking into the culinary exploits of the literary gang.  Several years ago, we wrote about a little self-published booklet about Grace Higgens.  Grace at Charleston featured memories and recipes from the housekeeper of Vanessa Bell.

Recently, Stewart MacKay wrote a slim biography of Grace Higgens, The Angel of Charleston.  Expanding on Grace's memories, and her correspondence, MacKay looked at references to Higgens in the many memoirs and letters of others at Bloomsbury, as well as the memories of Vanessa Bell's children and grandchildren.  While Higgens and Bell had moved past the rigors of the traditional Edwardian upstairs/downstairs dichotomy, there was still a broad chasm between the life of the very privileged Bell and her housekeeper. 

In an interview with the BBC, Higgens spoke about her time with Vanessa Bell.

When we last visited the kitchens of Bloomsbury we wrote:
"Grace at Charleston, though small, is the closest thing to a Bloomsbury cookbook there is, an I find it to be a treasure." 
A treasure, yes, but now we are blessed with mother lode of treasures, The Bloomsbury Cookbook.   Jans Ondaatje Rolls has produced one of the most beautiful and literary cookbooks ever.  She has combed the archives of the Charleston Trust and many other sources to assemble a cookbook that reflects the food of Bloomsbury.

Let's face facts, there was very little cooking actually done by the Bloomsbury group as they were occupied with sleeping around, painting, writing, dancing, gardening, and other things.  But they always had dinner and they were writing about it and painting it with reckless abandon.

Ondaatje Rolls has artfully gathered together the paintings and writing that frame the food.  The recipes have been drawn from actual cooks for Bloomsbury like Grace Higgens and from hand written recipes from the collections of Angelica Garret and Helen Anrep and Lydia Lopokova. When an event is recounted with no direct recipe attribution, Rolls uses the popular cookbooks of the day to recreate the recipe or she makes her own.

 The Bloomsbury Cookbook is a truly memorable work of art.  It is filled to the brim with painting and photographs.  There are excerpts from memoirs and novels.  There are hand written recipes and memories.  And there is food.  If you are a fan of any one of these literary characters or a fan of cookbooks, this book will blow you away.  One cannot merely pick it up, flip though it and set it back down.  Every time you pick it up, your mind swims in the information.  It is all at once a book of literary criticism, an art book, a culinary history, a recipe book, and a whole lot of fun.

Mark Gertler Portrait of a Girl Wearing Blue [Dora Carrington], 1912
 One of my favorite characters at Bloomsbury was Dora Carrington.  It seems that Carrington was quite the master of the kitchen.  Sadly, her collection of recipes has been lost, but the memory of them lingers.  David Garnett wrote of Carrington:
"Her cowslip wine was nectar, her sloe gin unequaled.  Then the jams, bottled fruit and vegetables, chutneys, pickles,preserves.  Her pickled pears were a revelation.  The making of these was part of Carrington's secret life."
A similar sloe gin comes from the pages of Mrs. Beeton's All About Cookery.  

Sloe Gin

Half fill clean, dry wine bottles with the fruit [sloes] previously pricked with a darning needle.  add to each, 1 oz of crushed barley-sugar, a little noyeau, or 2 or 3 drops of essence of almonds.  Fill the bottles with good unsweetened gin,cork them securely, and allow them to remain in a moderately warm place for 3 months.  At the end of this time strain the liqueur through fine muslin or filtering paper until quite clear, then bottle it, cork securely, and store away in a cool, dry place until required for use.

If you are a fan of Bloomsbury, a fan of cookbooks, a fan of art you must add this to your reading list.

14 May 2014

Carolina Wild

We have been big fans of Carolina Wild Juice since we heard of their plans to do for the muscadine what Pom did for pomegranates.  We have carefully watched their progress and got in on the first batch of orders. As with so many start-ups, there have been a few glitches, but all is going well, just a tad slower than originally thought.

Every week, it would seem, we e-mailed owners Dennis Tracz and Elizabeth Maxwell asking about our juice.  Yes, we do think of it as "our" juice. It seems that Vivian Howard thinks of it as "her" juice.  Fine!  Carolina Wild is one of the sponsors of  “A Chef’s Life,” and the show did win a Peabody and was nominated for a James Beard Award, so we are not too upset that she gets our juice.

The other day, Elizabeth sent an e-mail, followed by a first taste of Carolina Wild.  The e-mail said try it really cold with lots of ice, or with soda, or even with ginger ale.  So we followed instructions.

Carolina Wild taste like a memory.  Our house in Alabama had lush, muscadine vines, and there is nothing like the rich, pulpy taste bursting out of the those thick skins.  Opening the bottle, one can smell that earthy, warm Southern soil.  We worried that it might be cloying, but one sip and that idea melted away. The sweetness dissipates and a warm spice lingers.

We have actually been waiting for our Carolina Wild to cook with.  Our first recipe is a chicken liver paté.  The rich chicken livers are counterbalanced with the bracing layer of Carolina Wild aspic.

Carolina Wild Chicken Liver Paté

1 pound chicken livers, patted dry
1 cup butter (2 sticks)
1 medium onion chopped, about 3/4 cup
1 finely chopped clove garlic
2 teaspoons coarse salt
1 teaspoon ground pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 cup bourbon
1 1/2 cups Carolina Wild Juice
1 packet gelatin
1. In a large skillet, heat 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter over medium heat until melted. Add onions, cooking until slightly softened and translucent, about 3 minutes. Add chopped garlic and cook 1 minute. Add chicken livers, salt, pepper, and ground cloves and cook about 5 to 7 minutes.  Do not be tempted to overcook the chicken livers; they should be firm, but still pink in the middle. Add bourbon, cooking another 1 minute to burn off the alcohol.   Remove from heat and allow to cool about 5 minutes.

2. Transfer mixture to a food processor and puree until smooth. With machine running, add remaining 3/4 cups butter, 1 tablespoon at a time, until incorporated.  

3. Fill small glasses with the mixture, allowing at least 1/2 inch for the jelly.  Refrigerate for about 2 hours.

4. Place 1 cup Carolina Wild into a 16 ounce glass measuring cup with a pouring spout and sprinkle with the gelatin, allowing to bloom, about  5 minutes.

5. In a small saucepan, heat the remaining 1/2 cup juice until hot, do not bring to a boil. Add the hot juice to the bloomed gelatin, stirring to dissolve. Allow to cool about 5 minutes.

6. Remove the chilled chicken liver and gently pour the gelatin to cover, being careful not to disturb the soft, chicken liver paté. Return to the refrigerator and allow to set for at least 1 hour.  Serve with crackers or bread.

In her e-mail, Elizabeth failed to mention that we should try Carolina Wild with nice splash of vodka.  And so we did.  What better way to spend a rainy afternoon than with a Carolina Wild cocktail and a little snack.

08 May 2014

Cornbread Cake with Lemon, Rosemary Syrup

When I was kid living in the great unwashed North, they served "cornbread" in the school lunch.  It was bright yellow, super sweet and it was served with a thick, nondescript syrup.  I was horrified. It bore not a passing resemblance to the cornbread I ate at home. There is a rather famous anecdote from Southern food writer Ronnie Lundy.  When asked about putting sugar in cornbread she said, “I don’t mind if people put sugar in their cornbread…as long as they call it cake.” 

 I thought of her a while back when a neighbor brought me a beautiful bag of stone ground cornmeal.  It was a bright yellow and rough to the touch.  I was peering out the window and reached up to touch the rosemary plant sitting there and it released a spicy fragrance, so I decided to take Ronnie Lundy up on her statement.  I make cornbread three times a week, but this cornmeal need something extra, something those lunch ladies could only dream of.

With just a bit of sugar, that cornmeal might make a fine cake.  Instead of some sort of frosting, I thought the rosemary; steeped in a sugar syrup and some lemon zest would make a nice counterpoint.  This is not a recipe I dreamed up, exactly.  Ask Ronnie Lundy; it’s a sweet, cornbread with extra milk and syrup on top.  There are a lot of recipes like this on the web, in fact many of them are identical, only the name of the chef is different.  I baked this in my Lucinda’s Wood Cake Box.

Cornbread Cake with Lemon, Rosemary Syrup

11/2 cup stone ground yellow corn meal
1 cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup honey
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup olive oil
3 eggs, slightly beaten

1 cup sugar
1 lemon, zested and juiced
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, bruised
3/4 cup water

1. Preheat the oven to 300F.

2. Line the box with parchment paper and spray with cooking oil, like PAM.

3. Place the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Whisk the cornmeal, flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and sugar several times with a whisk to blend them.

4. In another bowl mix the honey, buttermilk, oil, and eggs until just blended.

5.  Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix until smooth.

6. Pour into prepared cake box.  Bake for 90 minutes.

7. While the cake is baking, combine the sugar, water and lemon juice and bring to simmer, stirring to insure the sugar is dissolved, about five minutes.  Remove from the heat and add the bruised rosemary, letting it steep until cool, about 30 minutes. When the syrup is cool, strain out the rosemary.  Add the lemon zest to the strained syrup and set aside.

8.  While the cake is still warm and in the box, pour the lemon, rosemary syrup over the cake.  Allow the cake to cool another 30 minutes before serving.

This is an easy cake that requires very little fuss. Make the syrup from thyme, mint or maple and bourbon. Dress it up  with some berries or a whipped cream. it can go from after school snack to elegant dinner with little trouble.

07 May 2014

Traité des couleurs servant à la peinture à l’eau

Erik Kwakkel is a Medieval book historian.  Now there is a cool job!  The other day he posted a rather zippy discovery (though he is quick to point out that he didn't "discover" it in the "No one ever opened this book before" sense but more in the "Take a look at this sense") and we are so glad he did.

In 1692 a Dutch author identified as "A.Boogert" produced a nearly 800 page book about color.  He describes how to make watercolor paints and how make gradation in the colors.  Most people describe it as a 17th century Pantone Color Guide.  The first Pantone was published in 1963, so there was a bit of a lag.

Entitled, Traité des couleurs servant à la peinture à l’eau, it resides at the Bibliothèque Méjanes   in Aix-en-Provence, France. In a wonderful example of the power of digitization, anyone can see this book here.

You can follow Erik Kwakkel and find out more cool stuff about Medieval books.

06 May 2014

How Do You Move A Library?

One book at a time.  

400 of the 690 residents of Stanton, Iowa formed a human chain for nearly two hours as they passed 3000 books from the old library to the new library building.  3000 books that were too large or delicate had already been moved.  They have another 2000 to go.

05 May 2014

Everyday is an Easter Egg Hunt

Eggs collected this weekend (and Monday).  Sadly we lost our oldest chicken.  Some people don't want to continue to feed chickens that are no longer laying and they are dispatched to a cooking pot.  Here, we believe that after laying such lovely eggs for us, they can mooch grain till the cows come home, or until they meet some other fate. 
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