Sunday, March 1, 2015

11. BANANA BREAD


Berkley and Quincey
“I’m mashing wiff my cousin….”  They sang together, some unidentifiable melody, their little arms pumping away with their potato mashers, soft ripe bananas giving way under their throbbing pulses.  Three-year-old Qunicey and her four-year-old cousin, Berkley knelt on the black stools at my kitchen island.  I watched from the other side, reaching over occasionally to keep their bowls from sliding out from under them.  We mashed and measured and mixed, their little chef hats flopped to the side of their heads, their giggles floating up above us as we worked.  We have done this before, and they know just how this goes.
Quincey lives in the East Wing, which is really Auntie Libby’s house just to the east of us.  She has her own little bed there with her mommy and daddy and baby brother, Jonah. They are there while Mommy and Daddy work on remodeling the house they bought in Salt Lake City.  Berkley and her brother Sydney are here visiting with their parents, Adrian and TJ. They are here with Auntie Heather and Amy and Auntie Terry and others , who are here because PopPop is here.  PopPop is their grandpa, Dennis Riggs.  And Dennis is our friend.  (That sort of felt like one of those “who begat” chapters in the Old Testament.)

Dennis has been trying the last number of weeks to get out of here.  “Here” being earth life.  His spirit, strong and willful and tender and wise, has outlived his body.  His kidney, donated lovingly years ago by his little sister Terry, had filled the measure of its creation, twice.  And because the kidney was done, so was the rest of him.  And since his body was being stubborn about the exit plan, Denny came up here to Farmington from his home in Orem, cuz we have a gang of people who wanted to be able to give the care any good father should have while his children have to go to work. My sisters Libby and Sherry, and hospice, make for a loving recipe.
This morning Quincey and Berkley, a bit wiggly for the goings on in the east wing, skipped across the yard and down the driveway so we could make banana bread.
Just when we were adding the smashed fruit to our butter and sugar, the phone rang.  Because there was a pause before anyone spoke, and because the caller ID had told me it was Libby, I got an instant twist in my tummy.
“He did it.” She struggled to get the words out, partly because she is sick and her vocal cords aren’t cooperative, and partly because those words are hard to say.  I knew what she meant, and I stood there with the phone to my ear, my chest rising and falling, watching PopPop’s two little loves giggle with each other.  I hung up and tipped my head toward my heart, asking for direction regarding these little girls and how we should help them know what just happened.  Dennis had made the leap!  Two days ago, when I had asked how he was feeling, he pursed his forehead and whispered, “Desperate.”.  I told him maybe he could try another strategy and just sort of fall back into it instead of pushing forward.  I’m not sure what method finally worked, but I do know it was courageous.  And I also know he had unfailing faith in the divinity of his God.

Here in my kitchen this afternoon we who were baking left our mixing, removed our hats, and we talked.  “Why is PopPop going to be with Jesus?” they asked in a matter of fact way.  We talked about his body, and his spirit.  I don’t recall the exact words, and I knew it wasn’t really my place to explain my own beliefs to children who are not mine, so I didn’t overdo it  And yet, it felt like water wanted to flow in that direction, and trying to divert it would be not only futile but unwise.  And so our conversation rolled out as naturally as the ingredients in our recipe, so that when they each took one of my hands and we walked back up the driveway it was not frightening.  Dennis lay still and peaceful, the loves of his life gathered around him, except for Tim who was working in New York.  Tender hearted Sydney stood at the head of the bed, his silkened head leaning on his father’s side, his seven-year-old tears dropping onto Pop Pop’s bed. It was a sacred moment in a holy place.

After hugs and kisses and whispers and tears, I took the girls’ hands once again and they skipped back down the driveway.  My sluggish feet could not keep up with them and their hands broke from mine as they raced into the house.  I thought about how our journeys vary, how delightful it was to skip once upon a time, and how slowly we wind up moving when so much road has passed under our feet. 

When our banana bread was cooked, the girls carried loaves up to the east wing in bags.  They got a little smashed.  But the Shiva keepers up there didn’t mind.  They broke it off a chunk at a time.  Someone sent Sydney upstairs for a cube of butter. and again ten minutes later for a second cube when the first one was gone.  Hot bread and cold butter.  Our kind of Toast . We raise our warm bread topped with chunks of good cold butter to you, Dennis Riggs.  Fare well, dear man.


Banana Bread

¾ c butter
3  c sugar
3 eggs
6 large smashed bananas
½ t salt
4 ½ c flour
3 T soda
8-12 oz sour cream
2 t vanilla
walnuts optional

Mix softened butter and sugar.  Add eggs.  Mix dry ingredients together and add to butter mix. Add bananas and vanilla. Mix in sour cream. Add nuts if desired. (I add nuts to one pan) and bake at 335 for one hour.  Grease pans but do not flour.
This recipe fills two long sweet bread pans and one small one. Only fill bread pan about half full with batter.
video



Saturday, February 28, 2015

10. CARAMEL CORN


Tonight the littles who are staying up at Libby’s house trekked down to our house to make popcorn.  In my mind you have two options when making popcorn: either smother it with …you guessed it, butter; or coat it with absolutely non-nutritious caramel coating, which is mostly made of…you guessed it, butter.  And sugar.

We pulled out the new red hot air popcorn popper, the one I bought to replace the old yellow one that kept burning out after the first batch.  I’ve used it a number of times with no problem, but sure enough, tonight, with three little helpers at the counter, it died mid pop, with only a handful of kernels having filled the measure of their creation.  I had to rush it out to the front porch because, even after it was unplugged, it was sparking and spurting.
R.I.P. little red popcorn popper.
Alas, we had to resort to the long forgotten methods of my childhood.  A large pot, a glug of vegetable oil on top of a nice steady flame.  We popped our Orville Redenbacher successfully the way our mothers did, on the stove top.  

After consulting with the three powers that be, whose median age was four and a half, we opted for the caramel version. This is not that brownish sticky kind of caramel that makes popcorn balls.  This is the white sugar kind you serve in a big bowl and grab by the handful, crunching unconsciously while you watch a show.  We made two giant bowls, one to go up to Libby’s with the kids and the movie, and one for our house, where tonight we host nine delightful teenage girls for a church “mission” sleepover.  Kate and I sat in the basement family room with the girls and our guitars, the popcorn and a batch of brownies on the table in the middle of us, the Young Women in their comfies curled up on the couches and snuggled into pillows on the floor.  I loved watching them interact.  I love hearing them giggle, and sing, and pray together.  There is something completely divine in a girl trying to make good choices, even if she’s not sure of them.  The desire is so beautiful to me.

This recipe is one that sits soundly in the brain and I never need to open the recipe book to make it.  I carry it with me always.  I imagine one day I might be in some memory care unit and the only cohesive string of words I will recall will be in the form of songs or recipes.  I guess that’s ok, considering my songs are my history, and for that matter, so are my recipes.

SHERRY’S CARAMEL CORN (Sherry Davis, my sister)

Pop a couple batches of popcorn, enough to fill a very large Tupperware bowl, or two.  I like less coating on mine, just enough to make it crunchy sweet.  But the recipe originally called for something like 12 cups of popcorn. Salt the popcorn before you add caramel.

Caramel coating:
1 c butter (2 sticks)
1 c sugar (white granulated, but you can substitute some brown sugar for some of the white if you want a more caramelly flavor and color)
2 T light corn syrup
2 T water

Melt butter, add sugar and corn syrup and water.  Stir constantly over medium heat .  Low boil for somewhere between 5 and 10 minutes.  It should end up at a soft ball stage.  To test for soft ball stage, put a small spoonful of the caramel in a cup of cold water.  Try to gather it up with your fingers in the water.  If it will clump together in a soft “ball” of caramel, then it’s ready.  If not, cook a while longer and keep testing.  (If it cracks when you put it in the water then it’s a hard crack stage and you’ve over cooked it.)

Pour mixture gradually over popcorn, stirring as you pour so that the popcorn is evenly coated.  I find it best to stir it with a spatula or wide spoon.


Enjoy.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

9. CHICKEN TETRAZZINI

In his third year of law school Dave was selected by Judge E. A.VanGraafeiland of the US Second District Court of Appeals to serve a year long clerkship in New York.  The Judge's chambers were in Rochester, NY, and they heard cases in Manhattan one week out of every month. So upon graduation we loaded up a UHaul truck and drove to the east coast, up from Pittsburgh through the green belt, through the maze of lakes to Pittsford, NY, where we rented the house of a family who had gone overseas for a year.  We have fond memories of that year, of that place, and especially the people.  I distinctly remember the gold shag carpet, and the astrological posters that graced the walls of the master bedroom.  I patiently pursed my lips together and new on one of those stars through hours of labor with our second baby, Sarah, who was born at Rochester General on my 22nd birthday.  
Dave worked unreasonable hours while we were there.  Twelve hour days…or more.  Meanwhile I was in a strange new place with no car and no friends (until I got a church calling with the incomparable Sally Jo Winebrenner, who changed my life).  So I started my own business, Cori's Unforgettable Edibles.  I designed and baked and decorated gingerbread houses.  I marketed them to Realtors, who ordered them for clients with children.  I even hand delivered them, with hand made cards that said things like "Hope you're enjoying your new HO-HO-HOME", with a santa on front. I spent a lot of time cooking there in New York, since there wasn't a whole lot else to do but change diapers and chase a toddler and nurse a new baby.
One of the recipes I tried that year was in a Better Homes and Garden's cookbook.  Turkey Tetrazzini, using leftover Thanksgiving turkey.  I wasn't in love with that idea, but I could tell by reading the recipe that if I altered it and used fresh ingredients it would likely make for some yumminess.  And so this is what I came up with.  It's a family favorite, and is one of the few things we rarely have to throw away as a leftover from the fridge, because it is just as good reheated as it was fresh from the oven.  Many a teenage school kid came home after school and zapped a portion in the microwave. 
By the way, I keep my shredded Parmesan cheese in the freezer.  It lasts much longer and defrosts quickly since it's shredded.

CHICKEN TETRAZZINI
This should make enough for a family of 6 plus another one to freeze for later

1 cube butter (1/2 c) plus more if needed
Chicken breasts or tenders, cut into 1” chunks (maybe 2 lbs or so )
1 pound (more or less)  mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
2 pints  cream (this all depends on how much you are making)
Same amount of chicken broth as cream
2-4 t bullion crystals
1/2  -1c. flour
½ c – 1 c white cooking wine
Salt and pepper
1-2 lb. thin spaghetti (1 lb per casserole dish)
1 c. Parmesan cheese

Bring large pot of water to boil and cook spaghetti noodles (al dente…do not overcook)  Follow directions on package.

Melt butter in a large skillet.  Sear chicken chunks in hot butter. Searing means cook it just till it turns white.  Do not overcook - it will continue to cook when you remove it from the pan.  Remove chicken from pan.  Add clean sliced mushrooms and cook until tender.  Remove from pan (may put in same bowl as chicken).  Add another ½ cube butter. Melt, then add 1/2 c flour (this will vary according to how much liquid you are using…if the sauce ends up too thin add more flour in cold water.  If too thick, add more broth and cream). Stir flour into fat until completely coated.  Add equal portions of broth and cream. ( For a single batch use one pint cream and 1 can chicken broth, to one pound pasta).  Stir in bullion.  Stir until it thickens like a thin gravy.  Add white cooking wine.  Let boil so alcohol steams off.   Salt and pepper to taste. If it is bland, add more bullion, salt or cooking wine.  Or all three.

Once sauce is thick and smooth add chicken and mushrooms.  Stir into drained noodles and mix well.  Pour into casserole dish and top with shredded Parmesan cheese.  Bake uncovered ½ to one hour at 350 degrees or until it’s bubbling and cheese is browned on top.
Slice chicken breast meat into strips.
It will cut easier and more uniformly if it's slightly frozen.
Cut into uniform chunks, 1/2" to 1"
Clean surfaces where chicken has touched with bleach and water.
Cook mushrooms after you sear the chicken, in the same pan.
After cooking mushrooms, cook down the remaining liquid
then add more butter, then flour.
Stir constantly as you add broth, cream and wine to flour and butter mixture.
Add chicken and mushrooms to cream mix. Then add cooked pasta. Stir.
Pour into casserole dishes and cover with parmesan cheese.  Bake 30-45 mins at 350.



8. GINGERBREAD BOYS

Our army of Gingerbread Boys at GRAM'S FAM Reunion last year.
When the trees have shivered in an autumnal chill, and their leaves have trembled themselves from their branches…when I’ve rolled the casement window knobs and sealed the locks against the blast of wind from the east canyon…when the boiler in our basement grumbles and shakes, and the vents in the floor belch out the dust that has gathered in the temperate weeks of Indian summer…then I search the skies for that swirl of grey and inhale as I step out on my front porch, knowing that this would be the day.  First Snow.  Virgin flakes sift from the heavens, dying like the front lines in a massive battle as they hit the ground. The surface is not yet cold enough to sustain them.  By mid-morning, however,  the grass has taken on a pearly sheen, and I know I must prepare.  By the time school gets out we have a couple inches.  The counter is cleaned off, and the molasses and shortening sit beside the sugars and flours and powdered ginger.  I heft my workhorse AEG mixer over onto the island because little hands on my little loves will be measuring and mixing and it is easier if they kneel on the stools over there.
Traditionally, in our house, we make Gingerbread Boys on the first snow of the year.  We hope our schedules cooperate.  My grandchildren, if they are close enough to make the trek, stand in a row while I sort through their aprons and chefs hats.  I tie them to their necks and waists, tuck their hair under their caps, and we all wash our hands with soap.  The youngest ones are strapped into their high chairs with Cheerios and the plastic set of Dwarves to humor them.  The mid range Littles scramble for the closest stools, and the older ones huddle behind them.  We measure, and pour and mix and chill.  We roll and cut and bake and frost.  “Oh goodness…too BAD, (one of us moans).  He broke his arm!”  We all sympathize as we rip appendages from the poor fellow, gobbling him up before he is properly adorned with raisin buttons.
My Gingerbread Boy recipe is hand written, in the lovely script of my mother.  I am ageless when I place that recipe on my counter.  I am thirteen and I am thirty and I am fifty six and I am ninety.  My mother’s long slender fingers press the raisins into her thick buttercream frosting and I imitate her.  And my children imitate me, and their children repeat after them until we form a long eternal chain of deliciousness.

It’s been such a tepid winter here in Utah this year.  Almost no snow since Christmas.  My family and friends back east are envious.  And I must admit it has been lovely to have so much sun.  But there is just as much winter weariness here.  And flu bugs and coughing abounds here.  I think we need a hefty snowstorm to freeze it all off! Come on, Snow, make yourself known!  It is nearly March, and my Littles are waiting!

I have a good supply of these vintage cutters.


GINGERBREAD BOYS  (Afton Hansen, aka Gram)


¼  cup butter flavored shortening
¼ c soft butter
½  cup brown sugar
½ cup molasses
½ c buttermilk

½  tablespoon vinegar
3 ½  cups flour
1  teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon ground ginger
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 t. salt / raisins


Cream shortening, sugar and salt. Mix in molasses and vinegar. Sift together dry ingredients. Add 1 ¼ c. to mix. Add remaining dry ingredients alternating with buttermilk. Chill mixture overnight. I usually triple this recipe so I can give a bunch away, so I divide it into thirds and put each 1/3 into a plastic food storage bag, sort of flatten it out and stack the three bags in the fridge.  It’s easier to roll out when prepared that way. I’ve made these without chilling and it’s fine, but chilling makes them better.  Chill for even a half hour outside in the winter, each bag separated from the other for quicker chilling. Roll one part of dough at a time on floured board to ¼ to 1/8  inch thick. Cut out gingerbread boys with sharp cookie cutter. Place on greased cookie sheets (or use parchment paper) and bake at 375 degrees F about 6  to 10 minutes. Cookies are done when you gently press your finger into a tummy and it sort of springs back up.  Unless you want really crisp cookies, don’t overcook. Cool slightly and remove. Decorate with white buttercream frosting and raisins.

Buttercream Frosting
1 ½  cubes butter, softened
2 ½ c powdered sugar
1 T pure vanilla
a tablespoon or two of warm water or milk.
 Beat well till fluffy

(need to at least double this for multiple cookie recipes)