I bit into the almond whatsit (they had me at almond) and sighed happily when something began niggling in the back of my brain. I had had something else blissfully almondish… Yes, the almond cake that everyone went wild for, but something else… And then it hit me. Astrid’s almond bars. Eureka!
Astrid was a sweet little lady at the church I grew up in, and one blessed day she brought these luscious bars to a church potluck. Or ladies’ tea. Or something. All I remember is falling in love, and my mother and I sweetly begging the recipe – which arrived on a beautiful little recipe card shortly thereafter.
Perhaps it’s appropriate that I’m making these now – Astrid called them Swedish Almond Bars, and I certainly live now in the land of Swedes and bars! And oh, these are delicious!
Confession: I’m not a big fan of pancakes. When we go as a family out to breakfast I tend to get lunch – breakfast food is no great shakes to me. The one caveat is my mom’s favorite weekend treat growing up – banana pancakes with coconut syrup. Of course, neither Jeff nor Olive will eat bananas, so…. sigh. As I said, no pancakes for me.
Cut to Olive’s birthday party this year… 5 years old so she could invite 5 friends (I stole that from Barbara Kingsolver and it’s brilliant) and she wanted a pajama party. Which, to her, meant the girls come over in the morning in their jammies and eat pancakes (instead of cake! Have I mentioned how much I love this kid?). I made Jeff and Olive’s favorite buttermilk pancakes, a recipe I’ve had in my little recipe box for goodness only knows how long and whose provenance is an utter mystery. And here’s the thing: I could not stop eating them. Plain, even – no syrup needed. And tonight the unheard-of craving hit and I had to have them…
Combine the dry ingredients in one bowl, the wet in another. Keep separate until you’re ready to cook.
Heat a lightly oiled/buttered griddle or frying pan over medium/high heat.
Pour the wet mixture into the dry mixture and stir till just blended.
Pour the batter onto the griddle in ½ cups for each pancake.
Brown on both sides and serve.
You must use actual buttermilk for these to turn out right. Instant buttermilk or milk curdled with vinegar (that substitute trick every cookbook recommends) will result in soggy pancakes. I don’t know why this is, but trust me on this one.
** some of the munchkins in my classes at school call pancakes “pannycakes” and I think it’s the cutest thing ever. Thus the title.
A good cook is like a sorceress who dispenses happiness.
Having a new baby is like entering a vortex where day is night and night is day and there’s nothing to hang your hat on – no schedule, no routine, no to-do list to give days shape or meaning. It’s a whirlwind of no sleep but catnaps, a place where everything smells softly of sour milk and all clothes have soiled shoulders and chests. It’s magnificent and heartrending and exhausting and isolating.
Into this mess of broken and beginning life come rays of light – the beauty of help. Because truly, it’s too much alone.
Today I am working to catch up on my thank you notes – scribbled bits trying to express even just a little of the immense gratitude I feel for those gracious people who came alongside and offered help in the most basic and beautiful way – they fed us.
There is some bit of magic in the kitchen – that you can slop eggs, milk, sugar and flour together and somehow it comes together to make a cake (and reliably so!) is an utter mystery. Disparate things – sometimes none too palatable on their own – meld to become something delicious, nurturing, nourishing. Amazing. And employing this magic for others is such a gorgeous show of grace, whether cooking yourself or simply picking something up… it’s life giving. Literally. And never more so than when life has gone caddywompus. I hold that when major life events happen – birth, death, illness, moving homes, new jobs – you bring food. You give a little magic to help bridge the gap. You hand over some extra life to those who need it. And oh, how I have needed it!
So this post is a special (extra) thank you to those who gifted our family this way, who welcomed Lila and sustained us all as we walked into this new life of ours as a family of four. Thank you, thank you, thank you dear ones… Anna, Jen, Kate, Courtney, Anna, Maggie, Hugo, Johanna, Joy & Mary. (As a sidenote, I find it an awesome testament that most of the friends who loved us this way were ones I’ve met through blogging and twitter. Who says you can’t have real relationships online?)
*written as part of Just Write, my friend Heather’s freewriting link-up. Join in & read some of the other posts here.
my frosty cup, alongside our new fish bowl. Oscar the betta fish hid.
There’s a giant in my garden. It’s a pretty giant, and a yummy one, but it’s rather taking over… so I’ve been trolling the internets, looking for ways to use her up and cut her down to size.
My new favorite: rhubarb iced tea.
I came across a few different recipes in my hunting and realized it came down more to method than recipe, so I went outside, hacked some rhubarb, and made it up as I went along. And friends? It’s goooood. Olive tried some and her little face just lit up. And just look at that lovely pink color…. sigh. The perfect summer drink. Especially if you have an overgrown rhubarb plant, like me.
If you know me at all, or have read here for very long, you know that I am a pumpkin NUT. Like, certifiable. I absolutely cannot pass up anything pumpkin – so this time of year is heaven to me. Everywhere you go there are pumpkin pies, cheesecakes, bread, muffins, scones, soups, milkshakes, curries, ice cream, chilis, blizzards, you name it – and I try to sample them all.
All of which meant that I was particularly excited when Alison Sherwood of Post College Cook at the Milkwaukee Journal Sentinel (one of my favorite reads) started Pumpkin Week. A whole week of pumpkin goodness! And when she put out the APB for pumpkin recipes, I had to answer the call. After all, I’m a connoissuer, am I not?
Today she posted her Reader’s Favorites as a capstone to the week ‘o pumpkin, and my donuts – plus an awesome recipe for Ravioli with Pumpkin Sauce I’ve been wowing people with for years – made the list. The other recipes sound SO GOOD that I know I will be buying a few more cans of pumpkin tonight so I can test them out. I mean, pumpkin dip for cinnamon grahams? GIVE ME A BREAK. I might faint with happiness.
And if all this isn’t enough pumpkin for you, here’s one more recipe from the goddess of butter, Paula Deen. This one is uber yummy and probably seriously heart attack causing and I LOVE IT. Just listen to the name and tell me you wouldn’t too. Pumpkin Gooey Buttercake. Be still my heart.
Combine the cake mix, egg, and butter and mix well with an electric mixer. Pat the mixture into the bottom of a lightly greased 13 by 9-inch baking pan.
To make the filling: In a large bowl, beat the cream cheese and pumpkin until smooth. Add the eggs, vanilla, and butter, and beat together. Next, add the powdered sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and mix well. Spread pumpkin mixture over cake batter and bake for 40 to 50 minutes. Make sure not to overbake as the center should be a little gooey.
I’ve been preparing for my annual shindig and I’m so excited I can hardly stand it… mostly because of the fabulous people who I know will be coming but quite a bit because I cannot wait to eat my body weight in pumpkin donuts. I’m allowed to gorge – we only make them once a year. ONCE A YEAR, people. So yes, we go a little overboard. But who can resist a fresh donut straight from the fryer, warm and covered in sugar? Yep, that’s what I thought – NO ONE.
I can’t wait for the lovely denoument: Sweeping wood floors doused in sugar that grinds under your feet. The house smelling of hot oil. Reliving hugs and chats and reconnects. Leftover dough to put in the fridge and forget about.
And in honor of all this hubbub, I’m reposting the recipe and the story of my party. And hey – if you’re in the Twin Cities area and want to come, drop me a line. The more the merrier.
Growing up, my mom cooked every day, wending her way artfully through four kids’ appetites and dislikes, plus a husband who had Midwestern tastes – Momma is Italian. She had such a knack for picking out recipes – amazing things like gumbo, chicken cordon bleu, bananas flambe. Not to mention the weekly (or so) pasta installment, with homemade spaghetti sauce that simmered all day.
Dinner in the Adams household was an EVENT – everyone knew not to call from 6 to 7pm because we would be HAVING DINNER. If you happened to be around, you would be ushered to the table with the rest of the herd; if you were there often enough to become one of us, Dad would correct your table manners.
Momma’s cooking was always surefooted, experimental, and full of love. She didn’t measure, winged things, made substitutions even when she hadn’t tried a recipe before. She inspired me. By second grade I was picking out recipes to make dinner for the family myself.
The true treasure, beyond all this, was the sense of tradition and joy surrounding certain culinary creations. Christmas brought strufoli, and autumn brought pumpkin donuts. I so vividly recall sitting watching Fraggle Rock, awaiting the donuts and the chance to start carving my jack-o-lantern. The donuts were our celebration of fall, a time to invite friends to come and join us in our warmth and familial ties. Every year, as soon as the school year dawned anew, we would start dreaming of those donuts.
When I was younger, there were whole donuts, cut perfectly with a glass and then a smaller one for the hole. But the larger donuts always sat, and over the years there were larger and larger preponderances of holes – till there were only holes. They became less perfectly round… but there were always more than we could eat.
When we came to Minneapolis three years ago, I wasn’t sure how to continue the tradition… but back home Momma started hosting an annual pumpkin donut party. She invited friends, made donuts, tea and coffee and opened her home, widening the circle of family ever outward.
The first year here I didn’t know enough people to invite, well, anyone. My mother-in-law came to visit and I initiated her into the tradition; we ate to our hearts’ content.
Last year I followed in Momma’s footsteps, opening our little home to friends. Five came and munched, sucking down cider with me.
Today there were nearly twenty people clustered in our tiny little abode, with fresh donuts churning out every few minutes – till we were nearly roll-able. My second annual Pumpkin Donut Party, with years and years of this ahead of me, and it was lovely – just like my Momma.
Beat eggs and sugar together till light and fluffy.
Combine oil, buttermilk and pumpkin and add to egg mixture.
Sift the dry ingredients together.
Add to the pumpkin mixture.
Chill 1 hour.
Turn out the dough on a floured surface.
Roll it out to ½ inch thick and cut into desired shapes.
Drop donuts into deep hot oil (375 degrees).
Donuts will rise to the surface. Turn them once so both sides brown.
Remove and drain well.
Roll in sugar and enjoy!
** Best eaten hot and fresh out of the frying oil – unfortunately they don’t keep well once made. The dough DOES keep well in the fridge – we just keep the deep fryer out on the counter for a week or so for spontaneous batches.
It’s just such a fun word to say, isn’t it? Pastitsio, pastitsio, pastitsio! It could be a swear word, if you said it the right way, or a word of blessing, a toast… I might start using it as an all purpose word, like Smurf.
In any case, it’s also rather yummy and here, my friends, is the recipe, adapted from the one in my most recent fun read, The Recipe Club.
a pinch each of salt, pepper, sugar and crushed red pepper flakes
¾ cup butter
¾ cup flour
3 cups milk
¼ tsp nutmeg
salt and pepper
1 egg, lightly beaten
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Cook ziti according to package & drain. Toss the pasta with \parmesan cheese, ½ tsp salt, 3 tbsp butter, and some pepper. Let cool slightly and then stir in 3 eggs, lightly beaten.
In a skillet, melt 2 tbsp butter and cook chopped onion and pressed cloves of garlic till soft. Add ground beef and cook, stirring, till well browned. Add crushed tomatoes, cinnamon, and salt, pepper, sugar and crushed red pepper flakes. Cover & simmer 15 minutes.
In another pot, melt ¾ cup butter and add flour. Stir together and then pour in milk. Bring to a boil and cook one minute. Stir in ¼ tsp nutmeg and some salt and pepper. Let cool slightly and then stir in one lightly beaten egg.
Pour half the ziti mixture into a greased 9×13 pan. Cover with meat sauce, then the rest of the ziti. Spread the cream sauce over the top and then douse liberally with parmesan cheese. Bake 50 minutes, till golden brown. Let sit 10 minutes before serving.