Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Reading “Peace Like A River”

A few weeks ago I was talking to my brother-in-law Andy and he mentioned he was reading a book that he just loved. I'd never heard of it, Peace Like A River by Leif Enger but, based on Andy's recommendation, I decided to order it. For the last few days I've been somewhat felled by a combination of a sore back and some kind of chills/body ache thingy so it was a good time to lay low and savor this book. Savoring is the best way to read a book like this.

We live in an era when people seem bizarrely proud to declare, “Oh, I never read fiction!” like that says something positive about them. We also live in an era where genre fiction tends to make that tendency among some to be somewhat more forgivable. Formula novels for romance, mystery, sci-fi, or whatever have rendered those genres so lame and predictable I can understand why many readers give up on fiction. But the popular alternatives, celebrity and political bios and the deplorable miz-lit chief among them, are equally lame and predictable. But then there is the literary novel. Peace Like A River is a luminous example of those.

The first thing you notice beginning this novel is the language. Enger writes with a style that is both hard-scrabble, mid-Western plainness and lilting poetics at the same time. There were passages that were a little challenging until I caught on to the flow of his language and then the lilt and flow added seamlessly to the experience of living in Minnesota, traveling through North Dakota and into the Badlands searching for one's beloved son.

The story, told from the point of view of Reuben Land, the 11 year old son of Jeremiah Land, a widower rising his three children alone, is simple. In the 1960s Jeremiah is a school janitor doing his best to raise his kids. His feisty but romantic, poetry-writing 9 year old daughter Swede has a frightening encounter with two teenage school bullies. Later that night the two break into the Land's house and are both shot dead by the older Land son, 16 year old Davy. What follows is a trial in which the young shooter is convicted of second degree manslaughter and sentenced to prison. But Davy manages to escape the jail before being carted off to prison and takes off into the Badlands. Jeremiah packs his two younger children into an Airstream trailer and goes off in search of his son.

Throughout the journey there is the constant presence of the awe and wonder of a time that cannot help but seem more innocent and yet more frightening. There are mysteries, signs, wonders and the haunting presence of the unexplained, the miraculous. These are things I love and appreciate in story-telling because, in my opinion, these are things that make stories integral to human experience and eternal. Jeremiah Land is the real hero of the story because he is a good man who loves all his children and wants to do right by them but he is an honest man torn between protecting Davy and doing the right thing.

Our modern era is so full of technology and scientific advancements and media and constant information overload that it is something of a relief to slip back to a time, not all that long ago, when communication was often problematic and life was more mysterious. People could just disappear. Using one's instincts and heightened perception and bonds of love were integral to an adventure such as the one Jeremiah Land takes his children on. This is a book that haunts even days after you finish the last page there are scenes that linger and feelings that stir. This is a novel that has more truth than any non-fiction is capable of. I've always said that a good novel tells the truth while being unencumbered by the facts. Peace Like A River is an excellent example of that.

Thanks for reading.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

March is Maple Month

For breakfast this morning I sliced up some fresh strawberries, put a scoop of ricotta cheese on top of them and drizzled some maple syrup over the whole thing. I love the flavor of maple and strawberries together. For a long time I thought this was odd and could not figure out why I ever put strawberry and maple together in the first place but then, a few years back, I was visiting my Dad and the reason became clear. We had stopped to get ice cream and, when we were about to order, Dad said, “Don't tell me, a scoop of strawberry and a scoop of maple walnut, right? That's what you always wanted when you were little.” Another mystery solved.

I love the flavor of maple probably even more than chocolate. I sometimes buy a bottle of the organic maple flavoring and use a couple drops in oatmeal, or mixed into ricotta cheese with a few drops of stevia for a sweet, mapley treat. Celestial Seasonings makes a delicious Maple-Vanilla tea that I stock up on whenever I see it in the store.

Here in New England there are plenty of maple sugaring farms and it is at this time of year, when the sap begins to run, that maple syrup is made. Pennsylvania also has a good many maple sugaring farms and every year in Coudersport, PA, where my sister Lisa lives, they have a maple sugar festival. Many old Pennsylvania Dutch recipes use maple syrup for sweetening. Maple sugar trees were abundant in the Allegheny Highlands where I grew up and thrifty PA Dutch families, who were adept at using the resources at hand, took advantage of nature's bounty. When I was putting together our family cookbook I was sort of surprised at how many recipes included maple syrup --- including Kitchen Sink Bread and Fruited Mincemeat. Maple wood was also highly prized for smoking game meat. A good stand of maple trees was a precious thing.

When Jack and I were kids we decided to give it a try. Well, he did mostly. He had scouted out a few good sugar maple trees and had devised some metal taps with small buckets to use. I remember going with him to empty the buckets into a pail that I got to carry. It was unimpressive stuff but, of course, that was before it was boiled down. Once we had about a gallon of sap we strained it through clean cheesecloth to take out all the bits of leaves, bark, and bugs and then boiled it over an open fire in the field below our house. That was a long and tedious process because the sap had to simmer and steam so it would cook down but it didn't dare become scorched or the flavor would be ruined.

After all our work we were left with about a cup of deep, dark, thick syrup which was incredibly sweet and had a rich, smokey taste to it. I still remember the Sunday morning when we had it for breakfast, our own home-made maple syrup! Mom made pancakes and Jack, Dad and I helped ourselves and then realized that was about as far as the syrup would stretch. Oh well. Out came the Log Cabin bottle and I'm not sure anyone knew the difference. But it was a nice thing to think that we had managed to gather enough syrup from our woods to feel like pioneers.

I wonder who first thought of making maple syrup. I think that about a lot of things --- who thought up cheese or using the bark of sassafras bushes to make tea and then root beer? I guess when you are hungry enough you will try anything.

Anyway, March is Maple Month and that seems like a god reason to post a recipe from the cookbook. This is a delicious, simple sauce made with maple syrup and apples that is wonderful warm or cold over pancakes, oatmeal, ice cream or anything you like:

Apple-Maple Sauce
Peel and slice 7-8 Cortland apples. Place in a heavy saucepan with 1 tbsp. butter, ½ to ¾ c. good dark maple syrup, 3” cinnamon stick, and 2-3 grates of nutmeg. Simmer over a low flame until apples are transparent. Serve over oatmeal, pancakes, ice cream, etc.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, March 26, 2010

In Our Grandmother's Kitchen Blog features a recipe from my cookbook!

Tinky Weisblat writes an absolutely wonderful blog about cooking. In today's blog she features the Maple Candied Sausage from Fry Bacon. Add Onions. Look at what she made:
Please take a look at her blog! It is wonderful.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

It's a good night to listen to Stan...

This is so excellent...

The guy with the long blond hair is Garnet Rogers whose gorgeous voice was the voice in my head when I created Baptiste in The Old Mermaid's Tale... His wife Gail read the book and said she loved it.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Three Good Reviews for "Fry Bacon. Add Onions."

With all the attention given to knitting lately I haven't talked much about the cookbook but two readers posted very nice reviews on Amazon. Amazon has also reduced the price to $10.80! I absolutely LOVED the comment about the book being the "Pennsylvania Dutch" version of Moonstruck!

The first one is from my cousin:
5.0 out of 5 stars Family History, March 24, 2010
By Bonita L. Heindl (St. Marys, Pa United States)   
Amazon Verified Purchase
I just received my cookbook and it was wonderful!!! To not only see all the recipes that were forgotten over the years but to step back in time to remember days gone by of family were precious to me. Wonderful old time german and Pa. Dutch recipes.
Bonnie H. St. Marys Pa.

From "watchful critic"
Comfort food at its best, March 22, 2010

I just got the best present, a charming little cookbook, "Fry Bacon. Add Onions The Valentine Family and Friends Cookbook." A recent introduction by an independent publisher in Massachusetts, my copy came from my cousin who heard about it from another cousin, who had borrowed it from a friend. The attached note said: "This reminds me so much of our family."

"Fry Bacon. Add Onions", the title alone alerted my saliva glands. I flipped the pages, pausing on almost every one to study the photos of the author's family (stretching back six generations) and to inhale the domestic lore associated with short, simple, mouthwatering recipes. The theme is largely Pennsylvania Dutch, such as the Potato Pancakes, three kinds of cabbage rolls and corn chowders, apple dumplings, mincemeat tarts and an assortment of homemade pickles and relishes that were once the pride of every cook. There are some sophisticated surprises too; to wit, Whiskey Fudge Cake, Matt's Bourbon Slush, Sinful Orange Zest Brownies.

This deeply personal yet universal work of love could represent the culinary history of any American family whose interactions were framed by a tradition of delicious, wholesome food. We should all be so lucky as to have an Aunt Kathleen in the family to preserve our precious moments in snapshots and
recipes for the generations to come. 

And from V. Reider Stabile:
A Heartwarming Family History, March 17, 2010

Kathleen Valentine has produced a very special personal family history evolving through the recipes of German immigrants to St. Mary's, Pennsylvania, USA. Her touching photographs and colorful, poignant memories guide the reader through the decades in the Valentine family's saga. Her love of family, food and tradition comes right through the pages.

This reminded me of a German/Pennsylvania Dutch version of "Moonstruck." I loved the book and highly recommend it! 

So thanks to both of them for their kind words. I hope people will give the book a try!

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Cape Ann Magazine loves Knitters

Cape Ann Magazine has a big article in the Spring 2010 issue about knitting on Cape Ann. Below are three photos from the article. Here is the PDF of the article: CLICK HERE

Knitters gather at Cape Ann Brewing for the Tuesday night Knit Night.

Rob Porter of Coveted Yarn.

Crazy lady in a pub offers a toast to all the knitters who have made her book a success!

Thanks for reading.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

...and now for the models...

From photographer Manny Simones, the two Seaman's Scarves I designed on a couple of models from Cape Ann Brewing's Pub:

Thursday, March 18, 2010

From today's Boston Globe

Leslie Wind pointed this out to me:

Rediscovering camaraderie, creativity in knitting

Local artisans rediscover creativity, relaxation in needle crafts

HINGHAM — Heads down, their hands flourish.
One is halfway through a mohair sweater. Another has a woven suede handbag going. Others are intent on hats or cardigans.
As knitting needles work in a constant rhythm among this multigenerational group of women gathered in downtown Hingham, laughter flares up and conversation buzzes.
How is the new Labradoodle puppy?
Where can you find peacock lamps?
And just how, Maria, did you wrap that scarf so stylishly?
“This is women getting together and bonding,’’ said Betty MacIntyre, who never misses this weekly knitting class at The Creative Stitch in her hometown.
The old-fashioned knitting circle isn’t quite so old-fashioned.
In fact, knitting is cross-stitching its way across the generations — prompted, some say, by the stay-at-home, do-it-yourself movement arising from the lingering recession.
All told, there are about 38 million knitters and crocheters across the country (Julia Roberts, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Cameron Diaz among them), according to the North Carolina-based Craft Yarn Council of America.
Locally, needlers gather at the South of Boston Knitters Guild in Marshfield, the South Shore Knitting Meetup in Hingham, and a new group at Plimoth Plantation that began in January, among other smaller groups. Meanwhile, twenty- and thirty-somethings hold more impromptu — and somewhat dichotomous — gatherings in Boston-area pubs, bars, and coffee houses.
Costs vary for joining the knitting groups. For the South of Boston Knitters Guild, occasional attendees pay $5 per monthly meeting while regular members pay $25 a year. At The Creative Stitch, classes cost $65 for a five-week session.
Supplementing such meetings is a bustling online presence, with hundreds of how-to tweets, YouTube videos, and discussion boards.
“Some of it is economic,’’ said Penny Sitler, executive director of the Knitting Guild Association, based in Ohio, whose roughly 10,000 members are spread across 300 guilds in the 50 states, including three in Massachusetts. (She said that in 2003, the association had only 11 member guilds nationwide.)
Among other things, it’s relaxing and a stress reliever. “In times like this, those things are important,’’ Sitler said. “A lot of people are looking for ways to remove themselves from their worries.’’
But on the other hand, the activity is ever-more geared toward the 21st-century crowd — rather than their grandmothers.
For starters, yarns today are bold-colored, glitter-sprinkled, chunky, furry, or crafted from sustainable soy, bamboo, and hemp, according to the Knitting Guild Association. Then there are all the new designs: crop tops, cellphone and iPod cases, felted bags, gloves based on the “Twilight’’ phenomenon; even lingerie.
This variety is what keeps Bob Jaeger of Plymouth interested — there’s the choice of sweaters, mittens, hats, scarves, and kerchiefs; and wool, suede, mohair, and acrylic novelty yarns.
“It’s infinite,’’ said the 51-year-old. “You never get bored.’’
Yes, you read right: a male knitter.
Although women dominate the pastime, men are (quite literally) needling their way in.
Jaeger, for his part, has been a dedicated knitter since his childhood, when his grandmother taught him; he got most absorbed in it in the 1990s. Now, he’s the sole male member of the South of Boston Knitters Guild.
“It seems to transcend gender,’’ he said. “We’re all just there to knit.’’
And with gusto. Judy O’Neil, another guild member from Rockland, prolifically crafts Icelandic sweaters and socks, and stitches intricate cable patterns and multicolored weaves.
“I like the creativity of it, the relaxation, the challenge,’’ said the 66-year-old, who also teaches knitting.
It’s hard to put down, she acknowledged. “When we travel, I always talk my husband into driving, so I can knit,’’ she said with a laugh.
And she travels quite a bit. “I can honestly tell you I have knit on all seven continents,’’ she said.
Other yarn addicts, meanwhile, are content just to gather around a table in Hingham.
Specifically, a class assembles every Friday morning at the fiber shop The Creative Stitch.
“It’s relaxing for me,’’ explained 50-year-old Maria Gibson, of Hingham, peeking over red-lensed glasses at her project, a cardigan in mohair and Kidsilk. “If my mind is racing, I pick up my knitting.’’
The group gossips, vents, and shares things that they might not even divulge to longtime friends.
There’s a “closeness,’’ explained Janet Holleran, a 49-year-old from Hingham. “We know it’s safe here.’’
Taryn Plumb can be reached at tarynplumb1@gmail.com.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

In honor of the day: Corned Beef & Cabbage Stew with Caraway Dumplings

Today is St. Patrick's Day and, while I have no Irish ancestors that I know of, I'm making this stew for tonight. The stew itself is one I've made before but the Caraway Dumplings are a new addition. Traditionally Caraway Dumplings are served with chicken stew but this seems like a perfect pairing.

For the stew:
Remove a 3-4 lb. corned beef brisket from package. Rinse and place in a heavy pot (Dutch oven) with 1 quart beef broth (and the seasoning packet if one comes with your brisket). Bring to a full boil then reduce heat and simmer 3-5 hours until the brisket is falling apart (you can do this in crockpot if you have one large enough.) Remove the brisket to a platter and turn off the heat. It is best to do this a couple hours before you plan to serve so the broth has time to cool and you can skim off the fat.

Prepare the dumplings: Combine 2 eggs with 1 ¼ c. flour and ½ c. corn meal. Add 1 tsp salt. ½ tsp. pepper, ½ tsp. onion powder, 2 tsp baking powder, 2 tsp sugar, and 2 tbsp. caraway seeds. Beat together then pour in 1 c. half and half (or milk). You may add a little more if needed to make a sticky but firm dough. Set aside to rest.

Prepare vegetables: While the meat and broth cool you can prepare your vegetables. Cut a small head of cabbage into wedges, remove core and cut into bite-sized pieces. Peel and slice 3 carrots. Chop one medium onion. Clean and cut into pieces 1 lb. of green string beans (or you can use a package of frozen cut green beans). You may also use potatoes if you like but I won't use them because the dumplings provide enough carbohydrates.

When the broth is cooled skim off as much fat as possible and add the carrots, onions and beans. Simmer until just tender then add cabbage (3-4 cups). You want the cabbage to stay a little crisp. Meanwhile cut the brisket into bite-sized chunks removing fat as you do so.

When the cabbage is just starting to turn translucent bring the broth to a rolling boil. Add the beef and then, with broth boiling, drop the dumplings by tablespoonfuls into it. Allow to boil for 10 minutes turning the dumplings once. Remove from heat and serve.

That's it. Happy St. Patrick's Day! Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Seaman's Scarf Patterns

I posted pictures of these Seaman's Scarves here before and offered the PDFs at no cost to knitters who wanted to use them for fund-raising. So now I've decided to post the patterns and the charts here. I hope people will use them for charity knitting, fund-raising or just to add some brightness to another person's life. Happy knitting!

Two Seamen's Scarves
(All images can be enlarged by clicking on them.)
Materials:     3 skeins worsted weight yarn (I used Laines Du Nord Maxi, 95 yds. per skein)
Needles:    #8

Although any fiber can be used, the Seaman’s Church Institute suggests using fibers that can be easily laundered; either a superwash wool or wool and acrylic blends.

Guernsey Style Seaman's Scarf
Size: 9” wide by 48” long (although this is knit with fewer cast-on stitches it works up wider because it does not have the cables used in the Aran-style

Cast on 39 stitches using the knitting-on method. Work in seed stitch for ten rows:
Row 1 (RS): (K1, P1) 19x, K1
Row 2 (WS): (P1, K1) 19x, P1
Begin working in pattern following the chart below. When you have completed 4 repeats of the pattern the scarf should be about 15” long. The chart shown for this design does not include WS stitches. On the WS you will work in pattern, purling in knit stitches and knitting in purl stitches except for the 5 stitch borders. Continue working border in seed stitch as you did for the beginning 10 rows.
Switch to a 3x3 rib stitch (K3, P3) ending with K3 for RS; (P3, K3) ending with P3 for WS. Knit 18” in ribbing.
Resume knitting following chart for 4 more repeats of pattern. Change to seed stitch for 10 rows. Bind off.

Aran Style Seaman's Scarf
Size: 8.5” wide by 48” long 

Cast on 44 stitches using the knitting-on method. Work in seed stitch for ten rows:
Row 1 (RS): (K1, P1) 22x
Row 2 (WS): (K1, P1) 22x
Begin working in pattern following the chart below. When you have completed 3 repeats of the pattern the scarf should be about 15” long. Switch to a 4x4 rib stitch (K4, P4) ending with K4 for RS, (P4, K4) ending with P4 for WS. Knit 18” in ribbing. Resume knitting following chart for 3 more repeats of pattern. Change to seed stitch for 10 rows. Bind off.

I hope you'll let me know if you give them a try.

Please visit the Christmas At Sea Site for more information. 

This pattern can also be downloaded in PDF format from Ravelry: download now
Thanks for reading.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Some Pretties for Summer

Summer has to be coming eventually! This dark and stormy weekend was discouraging but a good time to stay inside and putter. I spent much of it in my sewing room making a few cotton knit camisoles in the belief that summer really will come some day. I use the same design for all of them which is not a commercial pattern but rather a pattern I drafted from a camisole I bought years ago. I tend to be a "production" seamstress making several garments at once then doing the finishing work one by one. I have a bag of lace trims and used pieces from those to decorate the front of the camisoles:

Above is the only black one I made. The fabric was left over from a couple long-sleeved t-shirts made last week and the lace is a little piece left from the black velvet kimono coat shown in an earlier blog.

I have an entire bolt of this unbelievably soft, silky white cotton knit so I made three camisoles. The one above is trimmed with a white bridal applique lace.

This one is a beautiful, shiny applique in the shape of a butterfly. It is rather large so I decided not to cut away the fabric underneath the applique. I think I'm past the age where I can get away with that.

And this is a small tatted lace doiley I bought years ago at a shop in Marblehead. I just trimmed away the fabric in the center of the doiley. It gives a pretty effect.

All of the lace was applied by loosening the pressure on the feeder foot to 1 and setting the zig-zag stitch to a width of 3 and length of 2. Then I just held the lace firmly against the fabric (after having strategically pinned it) and moved it free-form under the needle. I cut away underneath last.

So that was a cheerful way to spend the weekend despite the cold and rain. Summer is coming, I know it is, it has to be, right?

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Ultimate Blustery Day Comfort Food

It is a dark and rainy day here in Gloucester. The wind is blowing like mad, I can hear the fog horns and the train and I have divided the weekend between working on a short story for the 2010 Level Best Crime Anthology and puttering round in my sewing room which has yielded some very pretty new treasures I'll show you later. A friend sent this photo taken on Rockport's Front Beach little while ago.

But now I have to tell you about my discovery of a rainy day comfort food that may be my best discovery yet.

Some months back my friend Jane, the ultimate thrift store diva, presented me with the cutest little crockpot. It only holds about a quart and a half but for one person that is perfect. I've been experimenting with different uses for it and today hit upon a treat that may be the best tummy-warmer I've ever found for a raw, cold dark day:

Four Cheese and Saffron Risotto
In a small saucepan bring one cup of chicken broth to a boil and add about 1/8 th teaspoon of saffron threads. Set aside and allow the saffron to melt.

In a medium sized skillet heat 1 tbsp. each olive oil and butter. Cut a good sized onion in half lengthwise and then into very thin slices. Saute until just transparent. Add 1 cup good quality arborrio rice and stir gently until the rice is coated in butter and becoming opaque. Add the broth with saffron a little at a time allowing the rice to absorb it. When all the chicken broth has been added scrape the mixture into the crockpot which has been well-coated with a non-sticking spray. Add 2 more cups chicken broth, cover and cook on high for 1½ hours. Check the rice and add more broth if necessary. Allow it to cook for another hour. Fill a one cup measure with grated or shredded cheeses. I used gruyere, smokey provolone, romano and parmesan. Add this to the rice mixture and stir well. Sprinkle with white pepper to taste. I used ½ tsp. Turn the crockpot to warm and let sit for 15-20 mins. Stir again and serve.

This is absolutely delicious and the easiest risotto I ever made. Perfect comfort for a blustery day!

Thanks for reading.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Another Superb Blog from Frank Schaeffer

I've posted here before about my admiration for blogger and writer Frank Schaeffer. Here is another exceptional post: Obama Critics Admit You Were Wrong

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Mysteries of Erie...

Hemingway once said that he had to go to Paris to write about Michigan and to Bimini to write about Paris. I think there is a good point in there because sometimes you have to remove yourself from the absolute realities of a place in order to give your imagination room in which to be creative.

Lately I've received a couple of emails from readers from Erie, Pennsylvania who have just finished The Old Mermaid's Tale and wanted to ask questions about the setting. I spent a lot of time in Erie when I was a child and I went to college at Behrend PSU. While I was there I lived in Erie on West 27th Street near Plum Street and worked in diner on Peach Street. I also spent one summer working at a restaurant off of Lake Shore Drive near the entrance to Presque Isle. When I began writing The Old Mermaid's Tale all of these locations were very much in my mind as settings in the book.

I did a lot of research for that book. Mostly on the maritime lore of Lake Erie and my original intention was to have the story actually set in Erie. Anyone who knows that city will recognize a lot of the settings: the waterfront, the Cascade shipyards, Frontier Park, Perry Square, the customs house, the museum on West 6th Street and, of course, the peninsula. But, as the story began to take shape I realized that I had a problem. My logistics were off. If I shaped the story to fit the city there would be too much running around and fussing with transportation. So I compromised, I invented a new street, Canal Street, that I tucked in between State Street and Peach Street between Perry Square and the waterfront.

This made for a much more navigable setting for the story and allowed me to create a sort of gothic ambiance of slightly seedy, decaying structures where mystery and ill-advised romance could both flourish and flounder. However, when it was done, I realized this was the sort of artistic license that would invite criticism from people who knew perfectly well there was no such place as Canal Street in Erie. So, after much contemplation, I decided to call the city in which the story was set Port Presque Isle. I renamed Behrend Chesterton and added a few more settings, like the Winter Castle, which was actually an opportunity to make good use of Hammond Castle from here in Gloucester in an entirely new setting. It was fun.

Well, it's a work of fiction. I'm allowed to do that. But I do love it when people write and say, “The places you wrote about sounded so familiar to me. It was almost like being there.” If you grew up in Erie, Pennsylvania in the 1950s and 60s you probably were.

In the middle of the nineteenth century there arose a rather charmingly gothic literary genre of romantic mystery novels all titled “The Mysteries of [insert city name]”. The trend grew out of German romanticism and most of the stories were serialized in newspapers. The Mysteries of Detroit, The Mysteries of Cleveland, The Mysteries of New Orleans (I actually have a copy of that one.) The stories are highly charged with lots of gothic standards like ghosts and paranormal occurrences. There is much forbidden love, swooning, and swashbuckling involved. It's a lot of fun.

I suppose when you've lived anywhere for a long time, especially if you spent your adolescence there, it is hard to imagine that place as being mysterious and romantic. But when a writer can gain some distance and write with imagination then a reader can enter a world that is both alien and familiar and dream. If the writer is very lucky the readers will send n email and tell about that.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Joys of Cooking

While working on Fry Bacon. Add Onions: The Valentine Family & Friends Cookbook I was reminded of a lot of recipes I haven't made in years. Just like the shoemaker's children have no shoes, so the cookbook author's kitchen can go through long periods of neglect. However, lately I've been cooking up some of my favorite recipes and it is sort of amazing to realize how powerful food/tastes can be at stirring up memories.

One of the recipes in the book, for my Mom's Pizza Sauce, had been whispering to me so over the weekend I made a smaller batch of it and it was even more delicious than I remembered it. While it was simmering that fragrance reminded me of the way we used to make “grilled pizza” sandwiches with it. You buttered two slices of bread lightly and sprinkled a little garlic powder on them. Place one, butter side down in the frying pan and top it with a couple spoonfuls of the pizza sauce. Add 2 slices of provolone cheese and some thinly sliced onion and the other slice of bread, butter side out. Grill, flipping once, until both sides are golden brown and the cheese is gooey.

As soon as the sauce was ready I made one and it was so delicious, and tasted so much like “home” that I promptly made another one.

So I decided to make another recipe that was always a favorite, Gram's Instant Cole Slaw. Gram used to make it all the time and keep big jars of it in the fridge. The longer it sat, the tastier it got but it never sat for long. It got used as a salad but also as a relish on sandwiches. It is wonderful on hamburgers or hot dogs, too. I made a 2 quart container full of it and it only lasted a couple days so I made it again.

Gram’s Instant Cole Slaw
This is absolutely delicious, and keeps for a long time, or would if it wasn’t so delicious...
Heat to boiling:
2 c. vinegar, 2 c. sugar, 1 tsp. celery seed, 1 tsp. mustard seed, 1½ tsp. salt, ½ tsp. turmeric
Pour this over:
1 quart shredded cabbage
2 shredded green peppers
1 chopped sweet onion
2 grated carrots
1 small jar of pimentos
Mix very well and pack in jars for the refrigerator. Chill at least 12 hours before serving. Will keep for weeks in the refrigerator.

Something in the combination of the celery seed, mustard seed and turmeric is just delicious and spicier than conventional mayonnaise-based slaw.

In Pittsburgh there is a chain of sandwich shops famous for their use of cole slaw. I've only been in the original Primanti Brothers in Pittsburgh's Strip District but their sandwiches are delicious. They make most every sub you can think of and, once the meat and cheese is heaped on the bread they add a generous scoop of french fries, a big scoop of their cole slaw, and sliced tomatoes. Yum. I think Pittsburgh may be the original home of french-fries-as-sandwich-garnish.

This morning my cousin Bonnie Heindl sent me an email to tell me that she had made up batch of Aunt Rosie's Sauerkraut Balls from the cookbook recipe and they were a big hit in her house. That makes me happy.

And she added that my brother Wayne had stopped by to visit her Dad --- and brought him a fresh, home-made peach pie. How nice was that? It is wonderful to hear about such things --- Mom and Gram would be so proud.

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

The Kimono Project: Using Fabric Creatively II

This is another variation on the Crane Kimono Jacket. I made it 4 or 5 years ago and wear it pretty often in the winter as it is quite warm. I interlined it with a thermal fleece to add warmth. This began with 2 fabrics, 2 trims and some pretty, sparkly buttons.

I had purchased an entire bolt of 64" wide black panne velvet at a fabric mill store in Uxbridge that was liquidating their stock. The whole bolt was $30 so that's about $1.33/yd. I later purchased some black-on-black embossed lining fabric at JoAnn Fabrics on sale for 33% off. The trims were rummge table finds at The Fabric Place, a length of 1/2" rayon soutache braid in black and 4 yards of commercially made black Venetian lace. The soutache and Venetian lace were good finds because they are both sturdy enough to stand-up to substantial outerwear.

The coat is made from the same McCall's pattern only longer, just below the knee in length. The panne velvet is very lusterous so it is hard to photograph. In the picture it looks wrinkled but when you wear it the fabric drapes beautifully.

Here is the stand-up collar trimmed in Venetian Lace and you can see the brocade lining.

I had five beautiful, jet black buttons in my collection which are cut with a bevel that makes them sparkle. The buttonholes are loops made from the brocade:

The cuffs turn back and are trimmed with the Venetian lace:

I love these pockets. They are large with a center pleat. The brocade, faux-flap is trimmed with soutache and a button.
So that is one more variation on the same, kimono-style pattern using very different fabrics and techniques. Next I'll show the third variation, the Winter Solstice coat.

Thanks for reading.

Summer is coming...

Monday, March 08, 2010

The Kimono Project: Using Fabric Creatively

Over the weekend I spent some time in my sewing room organizing fabrics and doing some sewing. For years I have hoarded fabrics which I keep in 2 gallon zipper bags according to color or coordination ability all with an eye to someday making a kimono-style jacket. I've made a few of them over the years but am making myself a promise to make more.

Below are five patterns I've had for years and keep because they are perfect for kinds of jackets I like to make. The McCall's pattern, bottom center, is my Old Reliable as it has been used in at least five jackets or coats including my Winter Solstice Coat. I bought it in 1995 and have never found a better one. The Vogue pattern to its right is from 1985. I made burgundy and black brocaded rayon jacket lined in black silk that I wore for years before it finally  died. I used the McCalls pattern for the Crane Kimono Jacket below made 6 or 7 years ago.

For this jacket I used three fabrics: 2 100% cottons purchased at Loom & Shuttle in Ipswich and a jade green lining fabric from The Fabric Place. The two cottons were coordinated quilting fabrics with black backgrounds. One had a small pattern of white cranes and gold, green and rose flowers, the other was a large, multi-colored pattern of flowers, fans and more cranes.

I had read an article in Threads about making Chinese Knots for closures and used the technique described in that article to make the closures from the green lining fabric.

The smaller crane print was used for the collar, cuffs and pocket welting. I used a very lightweight batting and channel quilted all the trim. I also made Chinese Knot trim for the cuffs.

In the picture below you can see the welted, stand-up collar and facing. There is a piping of green lining fabric as well

And this is the pocket welt trimmed with piping.
I've gotten a lot of wear out of this jacket. With a white t-shirt and jeans or a pretty camisole and dress pants or skirt it is always a hit. It's getting a little worn now but my new objective is to make a couple more like it and show the process here. I'll keep you posted.

Thanks for reading.

Stunning Video of the Milky Way

The White Mountain from charles on Vimeo.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Stories, stories, stories...

One of the pure joys of the last week, since the cookbook has been available, and people are ordering it and reading it, is the number of cousins who have contacted me. Some I have not heard from in decades. This is a wonderful treat. I've never really gotten the hang of all that cousin stuff – I know first cousins are the nieces and nephews of my parents but when it gets more complicated than that I get lost. Diane and Bonnie W. are the daughters of my Dad's niece Jean Jundzillo so that makes them my second cousins I guess. Bonnie H. is the grand-daughter of Dad's sister Viola so, okay, that's a second cousin, too. But Gretchen is the daughter of Dad's first cousin, Thad, and John is Mom's first cousin so I have no idea what they are --- cousin will do.

Anyway, I am happy to be hearing from them and even happier to hear how much they like the cookbook. John just called a little while ago and told me two wonderful stories! Stories are such a wonderful part of family lore. I wish I could remember more of them.

In the first story he told me one of his uncles had been out in the woods. It was not deer season but there was this fat, juicy-looking deer just asking for it. So the guy shot it and stuffed it in the trunk of his car. On his way home he noticed he was being followed by a cop car and, when the cop pulled into his driveway behind him, he knew he was in trouble. He got out of his car. The cop got out of his car. He started to earnestly explain that, yes, he was in the woods and, yes, he had a gun with him but, honest to God, officer, I didn't shoot anything. In the midst of his sincere explanation a great ruckus interrupted him. The ruckus was coming --- oh no – from the trunk of his car! So, with the annoyed police officer looking on, he opened his car trunk and out leaped a deer, slightly bloody but far from dead. It took off down the driveway and, well, you can guess the rest. That was one expensive deer.

The second story was about Great-grandfather Werner (right) who was the town constable for awhile. When his middle son Edward was in his rebellious teenage years Great-grandfather had his hands full. One day he was called to a disturbance of some sort where some hooligans were up to no good. Among them was his son and, so, he had no choice but to put him in jail along with the other rapscallions. That night, when he arrived home he discovered a dark house with no heat and none of the familiar smells of dinner cooking for a hard-working man. He discovered in the kitchen his little wife, Great-grandmother, sitting with a look of fierce determination on her face. “There will be neither heat, nor light, nor food in this house,” she announced, “until my son is also in this house.”

So there.

I love these stories. I was talking to my Aunt Rosie's husband Jim a little while ago. They married a few years back after the deaths of my Uncle Buddy and Jim's wife Lillian (they had all been friends for years). Jim said, “Even though I never met these people, these stories are right out of my life. I just read them over and over.”

What could be a better compliment than that?

Friday, March 05, 2010

Mom's Apple Cake for Lunch

My sister Anne called this morning to tell me that she is holding a little luncheon party today. She bought a couple more copies of the new cookbook and has invited two ladies, friends of our mother's, to lunch today so she can give them the cookbooks and do some catching up. What a sweet idea!

"What are you making?" I asked her.

"Right now I've got Mom's Apple Cake in the oven," she told me. I can easily imagine how wonderful her house smells!

Mom’s Apple Cake
Cream together:
1 cup brown sugar
½ cup white sugar
1 stick of softened margarine
2 eggs
½ tsp. salt
Blend in:
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 c. milk
2 ¼ cups flour
dash of vanilla
Stir well. Gently fold in 2 c. chopped apples. Mix well and pour into cake pans. Sprinkle the tops with brown sugar, cinnamon and chopped walnuts. Bake at 350° for 45 minutes.

Lorraine McMackin lived right next to us. She and her husband Mickey had 7 children and it seems each of us in our family had a McMackin of the same age except for one. My brother Wayne and Lorraine's Mick are still friends.

Ann Weis, her husband Bill, and their four kids lived across the street. I talk to their daughter  AnnMarie nearly every day on Facebook. One of the most beautiful things about old friends is that shared history.

I wish I could be at Anne's lunch today but, since I can't, I'm sharing Mom's Apple Cake recipe with you. Amazon finally has the full order page for the cookbook online so anyone who wants one can have it. As of yesterday it was the #1 Bestselling German cuisine cookbook on Amazon. Thanks, Mom!

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Fry Bacon. Add Onions - now on Amazon and Barnes & Noble

The new expanded and redesigned edition of Fry Bacon. Add Onions: The Valentine Family & Friends Cookbook: five generations of good eating is now available to be ordered online:

As of yesterday the book was ranked #2 on Amazon for cookbooks featuring German cuisine:
Fry Bacon. Add Onions: The Valentine Family & Friends Cookbook
ISBN #978-0-9785940-4-6
180 pages
Book Description: In this combination memoir and family cookbook blogger and novelist Kathleen Valentine combines 30 posts from her blog with nearly 400 recipes collected from family and friends. Growing up in a "mostly Pennsylvania Dutch" family she collected and recorded recipes from grandparents, great-grandparents, aunts, cousins, friends, etc. which were combined in the first Valentine Family & Friends Cookbook published in 1981. 

This was expanded in the 1992 edition and now, in this third edition, nearly 400 recipes combine with essays recording memories of growing up in rural Pennsylvania and photographs from six generations. Essays topics include making sauerkraut and soltz (a German pickled meat loaf), toasting marshmallows and catching fireflies, the old-country Christmas traditions of making stollen and visits from Belsnickle, old world ghost stories, their grandmother's quilts, and more. Traditional family recipes include schmarn, panhaas, moultasha, a variety of sausage recipes, hassenpfeffer, and liver dumplings, a wide variety of pickles and relishes, as well as keuchels (a type of fried dough), apple dumplings, and rhubarb crisps and pies. 

Contemporary recipes from the younger generations of the Valentine family expand the collection with everything from dips and cocktails to chowders, cakes and cookies. Among the more popular recipes first featured on Valentine's blog are three maple syrup pies, an apricot-apple crisp with maple cream, caramel peachy-pear pandowdy, a honey & white peach pie, and her own Pennsylvania Dutch hot and sour soup. Though this collection is a memoir in food of the Valentine family it could be the story of any first, second and third generation immigrant family. 

From the book: "Most Pennsylvania Dutch families evolved from immigrants who were peasants in "the Old Country". They learned, out of necessity, to use everything they could to feed their families and they devised ways of preserving those things through the long, harsh winters. Pickling, preserving, smoking, canning were necessary to get a large family through the bitterly cold winter months. As I worked on this cookbook I was continually aware of how so much of the food that was part of family tradition was also making good use of commonly available food sources that were abundant and cheap. My Gram Werner used to say that the reason pigs were so valuable was because you could use every part of them except the squeak. In the cold hill country of Pennsylvania maple trees grew in such abundance, that maple syrup was a frequently used sweetener. Cows were kept for milk, cream, butter, cheese and sour cream. When I read these recipes now some seem so rich and loaded with calories but back then people needed those rich, calorie-laden foods to see them through long days in the fields or the factories or lumbering in the forests."

A  PDF version of the book is also available for instant download. It is all black and white for ease in printing and consists of 180 pages/6.7MB. Cost is $10. You may order through PayPal with any major credit card:

After completing your order wait to be sent to the download site. If you are not redirected, email inquiry@parlezmoipress.com and the link will be sent to you within 24 hours.

Thank you.