“You’re a really great baker,” you said so matter of factly to me when we were driving somewhere the other day. You were actually driving as you have sort of become my driver since you have had your license. Not sure if this is something you enjoy as much as I do, but I must confess, I love being driven.
These words from son to mother are like the sound of my favorite cardinal in the morning. I love to bake, I am good at it and baking anything connects me to your great grandmother, Kitsie and the happier times with my own mother. It also reminds me of the strength and connection you and I have because of what I learned the sad and hard way in my relationship with Ann. Baking is a great connection. It is repairing and centering and filled with love. There is no anger in my kitchen, it is always a happy spot and a grounding one.
Anytime I am in the kitchen, this is my zen place. Pulling out pans and sticks of butter to prepare something for you or any guests gives me such a warm feeling in my heart. I hope that when you have your own kitchen, this feeling will always be your go to place anytime you feel anxious or may be overthinking something. The kitchen, like the garden always propels me into the present and before I know it, any worry has disappeared. Just pulling out a special pan, or a certain wooden spoon knowing the thousands of recipes it has stirred or held is enough to feel like I just did a yoga class.
As I thought about the next recipe this morning when I woke up at 3:30 am, besides the brownie recipe (which as you know cannot be made public and is in the vault until I exit), it would have to be the CHOCOLATE CHIP PIE recipe. There are some recipes that are made so often, you don’t even need the recipe. This one I have changed slightly from the original because I have made so many of them, I have discovered a better way to make them over the years.
This dessert is super easy especially if you use a store bought frozen pie crust. For some purist bakers, the thought of a frozen pie crust is counter intuitive, but I have yet to perfect an easy go to pie crust and this is a really awesome time saver. (Likely loaded with every preservative I am always barking about, but what the hell.) I always keep a few in the freezer, Grandma Ann turned me onto Oronoque Orchards Frozen Pie Crusts years before I got married like in 1985 or something. This was a time in my life when I should have been finishing college, but instead was living with a boyfriend, searching for some home life or stability that for some reason I didn’t think I could provide for myself. Thank goodness that silly notion has changed. I have evolved and so has this recipe as years of baking any one recipe does.
This pie recipe I found on the back of one of the hundreds of Nestle Chocolate Chip packages I have had as a baking staple in the kitchen for my entire life since my first apartment. Thank goodness for BJS because they sell the nuclear version of Nestle Chocolate Chips and I always have at least one but more often two in my pantry and or freezer. I hope that anytime you see the golden yellow package of Nestle Chocolate Chips in your adult life, it transports you to the smells and sweetness of our kitchen when you were younger.
CHOCOLATE CHIP PIE (original recipe taken from the back of a Nestle Toll House Chocolate Chip package at least twenty five years ago. I have doubled this recipe but I wouldn’t suggest it for your first rodeo of baking it, you have to get to know its personality first before assuming that simple doubling is just multiplying by 2 in a baking recipe, it is not).
½ cup of flour
½ cup of sugar
½ cup of brown sugar
3/4 stick of butter melted (if for some reason you only have a ½ stick this has worked too, this is an area where precision doesn’t’ really matter as much.)
1 stick of butter softened (not melted-like the way it is softened in BLUEBERRY CAKE. This part of the butter ingredient requires the entire stick so no cutting corners on this part.)
1 C of Nestle Semi Sweet Chocolate Chips (I have used Ghiradelli and other brands over the years, for some reason, this is the best for this recipe, maybe it is just tradition)
1 Oronoque Orchard Frozen Pie Crust — not deep dish, regular size.
(they come in a two pack, when you have one left, put it in a large Ziploc baggie and stick it back in the freezer for the next round. These crusts last “forever” see? Preservatives do have an occasional place in my life.
1 nice pie plate to put the piecrust in (keep the foil base on the shell and just insert the whole thing in the plate before baking, it looks better but it is also for the occasional spillage that occurs when it starts to bake).
Preheat oven to 325.
Put unfilled piecrust into oven while oven is preheating, this just softens it a bit before baking. Not totally necessary if you forget.
Melt 1 stick of butter and set aside
Beat eggs and the 1 stick of softened butter in a mixer or with a mixer until somewhat smooth. (hopefully you have my pink one and are enjoying its place in your kitchen.)
Add flour, brown sugar, regular sugar and melted butter and beat well until everything is nice and smooth. Go easy on the speed so everything doesn’t fly out.
Manually stir in chocolate chips.
Pour into pie shell and put on a cookie sheet covered with parchment paper. This is only necessary if the crust looks a little too full to avoid a mess in your oven.
Place in preheated oven and bake for almost an hour or until golden brown and not jiggly when you go to take it out.
There is something about a recipe that is handed down from generations. Like Grandma’s HOT FUDGE SAUCE, the blur of the typeface from years of butter on my fingers and hence the recipe, the yellowing of the card, the smear of chocolate all add to the magic of the recipe.
This is a new recipe as you have just started to break out of your comfort zone for your morning breakfasts. You used to be very particular about the am food intake. Chocolate Chip Pancakes, Sweet Bread Stuffed French Toast, Cheese and Red Pepper and Onion Fritatta or Cinnamon Sugar Bagel from Bristol Bagels with only Bristol Bagel cream cheese- see picky, or rather particular. I raised you this way I suppose. Of course, you were always game for breakfast at our go to morning hole in the wall, HOPE DINER. Nowadays, (thank you college and THE LOBSTER POT summer employment) you have branched out into onion or everything bagels, fried egg sandwiches on Brioche rolls from Baptista Bakery, and this new Whitehouse favorite, Mrs. Chace’s Blueberry Cake passed down from one of my dearest friends, Marcia.
In this fast paced world of drive thru muffin shops, four dollar donuts coated with fruit loops, buying a store bought mix these days now seems retro. Baking “from scratch” is so easy and quick if you have the ingredients on hand. Besides the fresh blueberries in this recipe, I always do. Flour, sugar, butter, baking powder, brown sugar, cinnamon, vanilla- the staples of a baking pantry. I learned this from your grandmother, my mother and she learned it from her mother. Lucky for this lesson, you, my dear Michael, are the luckier one.
There is something inherently old fashioned about waking up in the morning and pulling out the perfectly sized square Corning Ware glass pan. This favorite cooking dish belonged to your Great Great Grandmother Mimi and I received it from your Great Grandmother Isabelle when they were selling our summer family home in Naples, Maine and had to break down the house belongings. There is something comforting about creaming the dish with fresh butter and setting the stove to 375, getting the recipe ready while you are sleeping. As I sift the dry ingredients and look fondly at the recipe, I am connecting with generations of women who have baked this very recipe for their families. There are some recipes that I just don’t want to re write so I am including it just as I received it from Marcia at a birthday party I had for myself when we first moved into our condo on Poppasquash in March of 2011 when I turned 46. I had just left Dad and I know this was a hard time for you. I am hoping that the continuity and the efforts Dad and I made to keep you in our foremost focus during this difficult time made this painful transition at least a bit softer. My dear friend, Ros has since passed away, but his famous blueberry bushes live on forever in their proud place in this glorious recipe.
MRS. CHACE’S PRUDENCE ISLAND BLUEBERRY CAKE (as written by Marcia to me)
My husband, Ros has 60 blueberry bushes on our property on Prudence Island, and we look forward to July when the early bushes produce fruit. One of the first things I cook with the berries is Mrs. Chase’s blueberry cake. This recipe originated with Mrs. Eugene Chase, a year-round resident of Prudence Island from the 19th century well into the 20th. This recipe was first in print in the early 1940’s. Blueberries, blackberries, wild strawberries and elderberries are native to the island.
We enjoy this blueberry cake all summer with a hot cup of coffee in the morning or a glass of red wine after dinner as a summer dessert.
2 C sifted flour
2/3 C sugar
2 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
½ C softened butter (not melted)
1 tsp vanilla
½–3/4 C milk (Marcia and I have discussed this, she has used almond milk and it has worked fine, I have used buttermilk and ½ and ½ and it has also worked terrifically)
2 C blueberries
Sift dry ingredients. Cut in softened butter. Add slightly beaten eggs, vanilla and milk and then blueberries. Place in a well greased 8 x 11 pan. (I have used the square pan as mentioned but it is a little small. The pan I prefer is the grey square that is a little bigger, but I baked this recipe for Stephen and Julie B. when Stephen’s mom passed away so they would have something to eat before going to the funeral and I am waiting for its return.)
½ C golden brown sugar
1 Tbsp butter
½ t cinnamon
¼ C pecan meats (optional) I don’t use pecans (neither do I)
Mix brown sugar, butter and cinnamon together. Then add the nuts if desired. Spread over cake before baking.
Bake in 375 degree oven for about 35 minutes.
Here are a few pointers:
· “C” = CUP, “T = TABLESPOON, “tsp” = teaspoon
· Do not skip the sifting.
· When measuring the flour, scoop it into the measuring cup, then with a knife swipe it across the top of the measuring cup so that it is exactly the right cup full. Baking is precise, too much flour will make it dry, but if you do decide to be lazy, you can always add a little more milk.
· The recipe and some others will call for “cutting in the butter.” This may seem odd the first time you try the recipe, but it is exactly as it sounds- you take a slightly softened full stick of butter, cut it down the center lengthwise and then cut it into small cubes. Add them to the flour mixture and with a fork and knife, just simply cut it. It will be chunky and will not be mixed in smooth. This is the glory of this recipe and what makes it so moist. Baking is about not over mixing and not overthinking. Kind of funny that I am a good baker because I tend to overthink many things, but not baking. It is my happy place for sure.
· Always place in a prepared over, meaning preheat to 375 and don’t put in the oven until it is at 375, hot and ready.
While I was busy getting my barn ready for Jay’s Junk’s visit, I came across three old cookbooks. For a while I was sort of collecting old cookbooks because they have so much history and reflections of certain eras, (hence the need for a business like Jay’s Junk because along with cookbook collecting comes vintage kitchenware, turquoise canister sets, and an endless collection of many other collections, but more on this in another writing). One was called The Whitehouse Cookbook written by former Whitehouse chef, “Francois Rysavy as told to Frances Spatz Leighton,” head chef before Jimmy Carter. Not only does it have the recipes prepared for presidential and state dinners, but also some of the recipes from the actual Presidents and their wives. This book is a gem because it really demonstrates the different formalities of these times pre-Pinterest, pre-Tweeting and pre-Ipad. It has collections of meals like, Thomas Jefferson Birthday Dinner on the 228th Anniverary of His Birth and is listed under Chapter 8, named Jefferson, the First Whitehouse Gourmet.
The other delight was The Tollhouse Cookbook, by Ruth Wakefield the actual owner of The Tollhouse Inn. I never knew, or questioned for that matter, where the phrase Toll House came from when it came to the endless batches of cookies my grandmother made (and froze) or the Toll House chocolate chip pie I whip up for many hungry adoring fans, (you know who you are). It turns out the actual Toll House Inn was in Massachusetts and the Toll House cookie was created there too.
The third cookbook I came across was a cookbook written in 1959 by Mildred O. Knopf (sister in law of the famous publisher, Alfred, sometimes proving it’s not what you know, but who- just sayin’) named Cook, My Darling Daughter. The premise of this cookbook was from a mother who loved her daughter, Wendy, so much that she wanted to write a cookbook that was “Not a book about ‘how to boil water,’ but a book for young women who want to learn how to love to cook.” Brilliant. Each section preceding has a letter to her daughter on the thought process for the upcoming section. It is lovely and it makes me connect with all of the food that has been cooked for me over the years. Food is surely a connector.
What got me thinking was the intent of two of these cookbooks, both including personal dedications to the daughters they loved and I started thinking about what kinds of inspiring and thoughtful memories similar to this I could leave my son. Actually I first thought how sad that I don’t have my mother to write this for me, but because of all of my therapy and work I have done, immediately replaced these potentially sour thoughts with how I could translate this into a memory for my own son.
When he was first born I wrote in a journal every day until he was about three. I was really disciplined in doing this and when I pull out the writings I laugh at how excited I was by a five hour night sleep or a simple expression he made for the first time. On each birthday, I wrote him a letter probably until he was eight or nine sealing each of them to give to him later. Not sure when. College graduation, first job, first home, marriage, first born child? Who knows, when the time is right, I will know. This I know. I came across them the other day when I was getting ready for my soon to be new best friends, Jay’s Junk and contemplated opening them. I have absolutely no idea what they say and I am guessing that was the point. This must be why I sealed them and they are not addressed to me so I have released the need to open them. I wish I had put them in one unique place, but I didn’t, I know where at least these five of them are and as I move through cleanup phase, I will create a Michael spot so I (or he) can access easily when that time is right.
I love the idea of a cookbook, but with the added twists and turns of life intertwined from the stories I include with the recipes.
These cookbooks were a sign of the times- recipes directed at “busy housewives” to make their busy day with their children easier and so they could also be fresh and ready for ‘their man’s return from his busy day at the office.’ I like the idea of knowing that Dave and I raised a young man who can fend for himself in the kitchen and that Michael knows that when two people are raising a child, it takes both to participate in the meal preparation. We taught him unintentionally by our example a love of food, of love of kitchen, good knives, good pans and some kick ass meals. Dave tends to cook big and thick, mac and cheese with bacon and sausage or his mother’s stuffing loaded with Portuguese bread, sausage and chourico, a spicy Portuguese sausage because one type is just not enough. Dave taught Michael a love of BIG ASS burgers and trying new recipes. I taught Michael to buy really good meat at Persimmon Provisions or Venda Ravioli, and to drive endlessly for great food to specialty stores like my grandmother taught my mother and my mother taught me. Dave taught Michael daily shopping for the meal to be cooked that evening. He learned from me simple healthy cooking, homemade salad dressing with just oil, lemon, garlic, Bolognese sauce with really good crushed tomatoes and the best pasta. I love the mix of these unintended lessons, it is just who we are as parents and when we were married as a couple and as we moved on through a divorce how we live in our lives when Michael is with each of us.
It was really important to me that Michael travel and see the world so he experienced Madrid, Menorca, Tel Aviv, London and seeing some of our own beautiful country. Food was always a part of the great experiment called child rearing and his love of ethnic food comes from his exposure to the other parts of the world. Besides healthy eating in both of our Whitehouses, he has learned a love of homemade baked treats, cheesecake from our friend, Morgan, themed sugar cookies from our friend, Karen, and of course the slew of chocolate chip things I have been making since he was born. Sugar is bad for sure, but when sugar represents love and family, how can it be all that bad?
When I think in terms of writing a cookbook for him, I can’t help but think of the mishmash of theme. In one moment we are eating beautiful salmon baked with only a dollop of coconut oil, salt and pepper and fresh arugula salad and in the next meal eating buffalo chicken lasagna loaded with blue cheese, cheddar cheese, mozzarella and ricotta. Dave could be making a prime rib with mashed potatoes one night and the next night serving extra large cheese burgers on white bread buns and tator tots. My old neighbors, Karen and Bob may be making a big vat of American Chop Suey, circa 1960’s and sharing it with our tribe. No shortage of delicious food coming at him and he has a delightful and very opened appreciation of great food. So as I contemplate a compilation of recipes that tell a story of his young life, there are so many I would have to include not only from Dave and me, but from grandparents and extended family as well as friends who have stepped in for the family we don’t have here around us. With all of the endless discussions about nutrition and clean eating, all my own personal self talk about my constant worry of indulging in some old tried and true recipes that are dairy or sugar or chocolate (or all three) and the endless worry I have about my son’s non organic raised beef consumption or lack of regular fruit and vegetable intake, what I do know is that good food cooked for someone you love with love is love. Love is healing. So even if intake is not always the best, I know that the intention of the food and how it lands in your lap (or in your stomach) can be a miraculous cure all. Just look at the well known healing properties of old fashioned Jewish Chicken Soup, my first entry into this LETTER TO MICHAEL. I am imagining this project will be quite a long process as I add this to my ever growing list of things I want to accomplish. Here is my start- a test run.
As my first entry into this book I write for you, I have to begin with Chicken Soup as number one. The warm garlicky broth base has been the go to soup since you could eat real food. Its intense healing power has cured colds, flus, coughs, cold nights and been part of our tribe and our extended family for over twenty years. This soup as been a proud member of our family menus for every Jewish Holiday we have celebrated in both small company and large gatherings of over forty for Passover, Hanukkah and Roshashannah. The recipe actually started from one I found in a Bon Appetit Magazine called Garlic Soup. As a young and enthusiastic wife, I used to get cooking magazines well before cooking shows had their own network let alone existed. Ruth Reichl was the editor of Gourmet and I would hungrily read each of her entries from her travels and forge ahead with the recipes filled with butter and cream and unusual ingredients. “Back then” we mothers and fathers, if they were interested, (yours were) read cookbooks and magazines teaching ourselves in the kitchen. This recipe transformed into the soup you know and love and is one of my favorite meals to cook for you as soon as the weather gets that first New England chill. I hope this recipe becomes your go to meal for your future family. I am imagining that with both Dad and my influence, you will add and tweak it to make it your own in your next twenty years as you head off onto your own yellow brick road.
MOM’S (AKA ALAYNE’S) JEWISH CHICKEN SOUP
GOOD OLIVE OIL
15–20 CLOVES OF GARLIC
4–6 ORGANIC CARROTS
3–4 ORGANIC CELERY STALKS
1 MEDIUM ONION
1 LARGE ROASTED ORGANIC CHICKEN (PRECOOKED IS THE EASIEST)
SALT, PEPPER, BAY LEAF
CHICKEN STOCK OR BROTH (2 BOXES OR MORE)
FRESH SPINACH LEAVES
MATZO BALL MIX
HOW TO TURN THE INGREDIENTS INTO MAGIC
Heat ¼ cup of good olive oil or coconut oil in a pan that makes you happy to cook in
IN A CUISINART, mix the following:
Garlic, carrots, celery stalks, onion
MINCE WELL and add to the heated oil above.
Add a lot of fresh salt and pepper and a bay leaf- (more salt than you probably think)
Saute until fragrant and soft about 7–8 minutes- do not brown.
While this is cooking take the Cuisinart bowl and add cooked chicken pieces- chop till chunky.
(I buy a whole cooked organic chicken at Whole Foods because it is easy, but if you want to go purist- then buy a whole chicken and cook it ahead of time, keep the broth for future use.)
Add chopped chicken to this and mix well until heated, about 6–7 minutes
Add 2 boxes of organic chicken stock or broth
Add about 3 Tablespoons of fresh chopped parsley
Bring to a boil (if you are adding rice- add about ¼ cup here) and then turn down and simmer for as long as a few hours. You will probably need more salt and pepper- I used to add three bouillon cubes back in the day until I found out they were loaded with MSG so I stopped (but it does add a rocking flavor)
If you want to add them (and you will because this is the secret to this soup and this is what made you love it when you were little) go to the Jewish section of the grocery store and buy the box that says Matzo Balls and follow the directions. The secret to them being fluffy is to drop them in the boiling water and cover the pan with the lid while they cook. When they float to the top, they are ready. Add them to the soup anytime. They won’t get mushy.
10 MINUTES BEFORE SERVING THE SOUP- Add a few handfuls of spinach leaves, a squeeze of lemon and a splash of Cayenne Pepper, this is especially important if you are making the soup because you or someone is sick. It seriously seals the deal. Cover until spinach is just wilted and serve with the joy you know it will be bringing shortly.
If I close my eyes, I can see the almond color refrigerator. I think it was a side by side, but I can’t imagine it was in the late seventies. Like soldiers, there they stood at full attention, a line up of homemade frozen ice cream parfaits layered with homemade vanilla ice cream and homemade hot fudge sauce. They started and ended with the darkest of brown chocolate sauce waiting to be consumed by my grandfather or someone other than my diabetic grandmother who made them for “us.”
My visits to my grandmother’s house, (my mother’s mother who we called Kitsie) from the time she and my grandfather lived on Commonwealth Ave. in Boston, Mass to her basement apartment in Newton were some of the best memories of my young life. I was so fortunate to have a loving, kind relationship and a lengthy one with both sets of my grandparents. I have written about them many times and the positive influence they have had in my life. My grandparents still have this influence in me even though only one of the four of them is still alive.
My grandmother’s voices are in my head in my daily life especially when I am in the kitchen. From the type of sponge I use to wash dishes (Dobie, unless our friend Kalman comes for a visit from Israel or I go there, then he brings these amazing silver toned scrubbers) the way I clean as I go, wiping counter tops down, washing the dishes so there isn’t a big mess as I prepare my meal. The way I grocery shop driving to a variety of little stores to buy specific things, Persimmon Provision in Barrington for meat, Fruitland or Decastros for my fruits and vegetables, Green Grocer for the organic staples; Venda Ravioli for Italian goodness and so on; this is all when I have the time to do this. When it comes to food, I usually make the time because my grandmother taught me that food is love and love is worth the drive. When I don’t have the time to drive everywhere, I go to Whole Foods, the little one on the East Side, but my preference is always the small privately owned stores where I can talk to Champ, the butcher or Harold the fruit guy and find out about their kids and their lives. Like her mother, my mother did this too and though I dreaded the outings when I was a child, my memories of the experience are really special. Little did I know that these shopping excursions would be forming my foundation in the kitchen and my love to cook.
My aunt Kiley and I used to make fun of all of the driving to these small stores my grandmother would do. But like most traits we laughed about in our youth, I find myself mirroring many of the same ones in my fifties. This feels like I am honoring my grandmother and it comforts me.
Kitsie taught herself to cook as she was the generation that witnessed the first cooking show of the mother of all cooking shows, Julia Child. There was never a stick of margarine in the house, never processed food. Kitsie’s nemesis was sweets. She was always watching her blood sugar on one hand and cooking elaborate sugar laden desserts with the other.
Like a stunning bottle of red wine on a perfect cool fall evening, sometimes Kitsie’s desserts cannot be replicated. This is likely because of the experience surrounding the dessert, the smell of her house, the conversations in the kitchen, and the dishes they were served in. She always made chocolate chip cookies and put them in the freezer. Not only can I taste the frozen cookie as I think about them, I can see my entire being standing in the kitchen, opening the freezer door, reaching into it and pulling one out. I can almost smell Kitsie’s kitchen and like the movie, Back to the Future, I am transported back in time and it feels lovely and safe.
Grandmothers have this magical force especially when they are the good kinds of grandmothers. Many of my close friends have really spectacular loving relationships with their mothers, but didn’t know their grandmothers on that level. I was the opposite and though the pain of not having that type of depth of a relationship with my own mother, my grandparents on both sides served up a plate of delicious love and divine intervention with their examples and their hearts. Food was one of those ways. The action of the recipe and the preparation rather than the voice of it became the ripple effect in its omnipresent force in my life. It still is every time I pull out the hand typed HOT FUDGE SAUCE recipe that Kitsie created on one of about two hundred index cards for my twenty-first birthday because I asked for them. I have two full boxes of these vary worn cards and they all smell like butter, aka my grandmother’s kitchen.
Every time I whip up a batch of the gritty deep chocolate recipe and pass on a jarful to my friends, I pass on her torch, honoring how much she was a great example to me without even trying. I also whole-heartedly share the recipe because everyone needs a batch of homemade hot fudge sauce every once in a while.