Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Some final thoughts: Sand Tarts or Saint Hearts



Well, this is it! The final blog. It is a few weeks shy of a year but with over 52 entries, I am feeling it is time to turn my attention to some other things. The jar of scramble(pictured above) was something produced on each end of this project, December 2009 and December 2010.

The sand tarts are nice little uncomplicated Christmas cookies. Rolled thinly, brushed with rich milk, sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar they are the perfect sweet treat for the cookie minimalist. Which I am. I love to look at those pretty, dripping, stone-studded cookies offered at a local bakery, but they are too much for my palate. I also love the alternative name the cookbook records for this cookie. Saint Hearts. It reminds me of a teaching colleague at the Catholic school. She told me recently about sitting at the school Mass with one of her very challenging students. She was praying for him and asking for patience to deal with his behavioral needs. He was nudging her all the while, saying her name. She asked him to wait so she could pray for more patience for yet another request. When she was done with her final desperate petition, the student whispered to her, "Mrs. W___, what do you have to do to be a saint?" When she relayed this experience to me, I laughed and laughed. Talk about a speedy reply.

I would like to have the heart of a saint. I want a heart that seeks to love in extraordinary ways, contains patience for troubles, has a need for little besides the opportunity to serve humanity. Sometimes, cooking in the kitchen with reverence for the women that created this beautiful book, as well as memories of the offered love by my mother and grandmother and finally with absolute gratefulness for the heritage of my faith community, I felt closer to acquiring the heart of a saint than ever before. I felt still in my kitchen even as my hands were busy. I felt content, even as I created a huge mess of flour covered counter tops and sticky dishes which would need attention. I felt hunger for goodness, even as I ate the solid foods from the hallowed pages of the Mennonite Community Cookbook. I don't do quiet and reflective well out in the big busy world. I react and overreact too much. In the warm place that is my kitchen, with memories of the only grandmother I ever knew, I found some peace of mind. I liked it.

Thank you for reading this blog and for sharing your own thoughts and memories. That was one of the great bonuses for me. Many of these recipes will continue to be made and served in my home. I loved the surprises I found along the way and am pleased to say that pie dough no longer intimidates me. The simple pleasures of cooking for those I love is always a gift. I count myself blessed that my grandmother and mother modeled that for me and that they let me help before I could do it myself.

I offer you now, and finally, the recipe for Sand Tarts or Saint Hearts adapted from the Mennonite Community Cookbook (1950).

1 cup shortening (I used one stick of butter, 1 stick of margarine)
2 cups sugar
3 eggs
3 1/2 to 4 cups of flour
1 tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla
Cream shortening and sugar together. Add eggs and vanilla and beat until fluffy. Add flour, salt and baking powder and mix well. Add enough flour to make a medium-soft dough (whatever this means). Chill several hours in the refrigerator. Roll the dough very thin and cut in fancy shapes. Brush top with half and half and sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon.
Place on greased cookie sheets.
Bake at 350 for 8-10 minutes.

Thank you so much for reading.
I wish you peace,
~Ellen ~

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

How Sweet It Is: Pumpkin Ice Cream Pie


"How sweet it is!" I have heard this exclamation from the lips of my father countless times whe he savors the sight, smell and taste of a favorite dessert. Savor is the word. Never have I seen my dad gobble, he can make a slice of pie last 15 minutes. Enjoying each bite, celebrating each tasty morsel and the company of those around him. In this, and in many things, my dad shows us how to live the journey.

Tomorrow we will gather around the table with some new things. New family members, new jobs, and for my father a new diagnosis: brain cancer. Sporting a serious scar and 24 staples in his cranium, Dad is still embracing the moments and savoring the gifts therein. So much is unknown about what lies ahead. Sitting at the head of the table, digesting the information from websites and doctors' reports, Dad suggests we take it one phase at a time. So we will. Celebrating the sweetness to be found in each moment: love, warm hugs, good doctors, soup from friends, prayers offered and a most holy presence lying deep within the soul. Glory Be.

Here is a recipe I want to share for a variation of pumpkin pie. It was found in the margins of Grandma's cookbook. I had to assume or make up some of it as Grandma's instructions were somewhat abbreviated. I hope whatever desserts you enjoy for your Thanksgiving feast taste are thoroughly enjoyed, one bite at a time.

Pumpkin Ice Cream Pie

1 cup pumpkin
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ginger
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1 qt ice cream

Mix above ingredients and pour into graham cracker crust. Freeze until 20 minutes before serving.

With a grateful heart,
~Ellen~

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Happy Happy Birthday: Whoopie Pies



Oh my, the whoopie pie. As much fun to say as it is to eat. I made these to celebrate my youngest daughter's 18th birthday. It is a bittersweet occasion. I am happy to celebrate her 18 years of life, love, and health while facing the truth that I have no more children. I am still a mother, yes, but I have young adults who call me mom, madre or mother, depending on the moment. I am not anyone's mommy. And sometimes I miss it.

When we were young we would sometimes laugh and be surprised at how my grandma, who lived in Ohio, would forget how her grandchildren, residing in Kansas, had grown up. One year, she sent my brothers toy trucks for Christmas and it was well past the age where they played with such things. When we would go to her house after not seeing her for awhile, my mother would smile when she would replace the little child's cup or plate Grandma had set for me with an adult sized one. Well, let me say, I get it now.

Even as I planned to make these whoopie pies, I imagined my daughter's joy will be the same as it was when I made them for her 9th birthday so long ago. But it can't be. Her world is much larger now. She will smile and be grateful but it will mean more to me, her mom, who wants to hang on to her with one hand and escort her to the edge of the nest with the other.

When my children were young, I knew they went to bed at a good time, with clean ears and teeth and three bedtime stories. I knew they said their prayers and were safe and sound. I went bedside every night before my own repose, laid my hand on their backs and listened to the sweet sound of their tiny breath. I realized the miracle of being a mommy was an honor like no other. Some days, as my grandma did, I want to pull out a childhood remnant and say, "Look, honey, Goodnight Moon. Do you want me to read it to you?" I miss dyeing Easter eggs, trick or treating, driving the carpool.

I am so grateful my children are growing, developmentally on target, smart and funny. There is some relief in the knowledge that they, not me anymore, are responsible for their future. But I still miss the days of backyard soccer, snowcones and cookie decorating. I wouldn't trade a day. I might do some better if I could but I can't. I loved them well and I still do.

So, Happy Birthday Little One, Baby Avery, 18 year old young woman. I'll love you forever, I'll like you for always. As long as I'm living, my loved one you'll be. As you used to begin your childhood prayers, "Thank you God for this wonderful day." You were born this day. It is indeed, a wonderful day.

And now, the recipe for Whoopie Pies:
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup margarine
1 egg
2 cups flour
1/2 cup baking cocoa
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup sour milk
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup hot water
Cream sugar and margarine. Add egg. Sift together flour, cocoa, and salt. Add to creamed mixture alternately with sour milk. Add vanilla.
Dissolve soda in hot water and add last. Mix well.
Drop by rounded teaspoonful onto greased cookie sheet. Bake at 400 for 9 minutes.
Fill with your favorite vanilla frosting.

I use margarine, milk, vanilla and powdered sugar to make butter frosting of spreading consistency. I don't measure this too accurately. I start with about 3 T of butter, 2 T of milk and add 1 tsp of vanilla. I pour in powdered sugar until it seems right.

Happy celebrating,
~Ellen~

Sunday, October 31, 2010

For all the Saints: Ellen's Cookies




Friends and family love these cookies. I witnessed my husband's enthusiastic response as he prepared to partake of a fresh warm cookie today. They are full of candy pieces (harvest colors this time) and chocolate chips, combined with a hint of peanut butter. Evolving over time, I finally have found the formula that results in soft, flavorful, morsel-filled cookies. So, although not from Grandma's cookbook, it seemed necessary to enter them into this blog because they have become a current favorite. The harmonious marriage of the old and the new is what this journey is about.

All Saints Day is tomorrow and that was a theme of today's church service. We sang the words " for all the saints who from their labors rest" and I thought of Grandma working in kitchen and garden, now at rest. We sang about being in "mystic sweet communion" and I thought of feeling her spirit and feeling her presence when I read from her scrawled recipes and stained pages. Honoring tradition is a way of honoring the saints in our lives. My own wall of fame is full of saints: Julian of Norwich, Saint Francis of Assisi, Mother Teresa, Ghandi, and St. Therese. We would do well to honor the gift for doing the extraordinary into our current culture. Information comes to us know at rapid fire speed but the ancient writings of the saints contain a wisdom and a depth that we need- likely more we need the latest twitter posting of a contemporary.

So, with reverence for the old and gratefulness for the new, I offer you my special cookie recipe. I hope you like them!

Ellen's cookies
10 T margarine
1/2 cup smooth organic peanut butter
2/3 cup white sugar
2/3 cup brown sugar
1 T pure vanilla

Mix all these ingredients until smooth.

Add 2 eggs and continue mixing.

2 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt

Mix dry ingredients into above mixture. When well blended, add 1 cup chocolate chips and 3/4 cup M&M candies.

Bake at 375 degrees for 10-12 minutes. These are so delicious right from the oven!

Happy All Saints Day!
~Ellen~

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Not Talking Turkey: Mock Turkey


Wow! November is almost here which for many of us, causes our minds to turn to turkey. Or, mock turkey as the case may be. There is a recipe in the Mennonite Community Cookbook by that very name. The endorsement at the bottom of the recipe says, "This dish actually tastes like turkey." That it does. Or at least like turkey stuffing. I remember Grandma making it for us once when we went to visit her and subsequently my mom added it to her "occasional" list of recipes. You know, not the regular list of go to recipes but the ones pulled out occasionally. So, I remembered this recipe and prepared it last evening for dinner. It was satisfying and it tasted as I remember Grandma's dish.

Thinking turkey and making mock turkey led me to think of the phrase talking turkey and it happens that I have a story about that. I think of it every November since it happened and I retell it if someone will listen. In 2005, I was going through a divorce and it was a rough time. Most of the time the pain felt so intense that it seemed as though I wasn't wearing skin. Small words of kindness and the slightest signs of hope kept me going. My faith led me to be grateful each day for small blessings and large gifts like breath and grace. It was a time when I didn't feel I had much to give and with the holidays approaching, I felt rather depressed. But,alas, being a Mennonite means you believe you are genetically equipped to go forth and serve no matter what the circumstances. Despair, who cares? Put on your sensible shoes and go do some good for the world.

So, I heard there was going to be a dinner for the homeless in our community and it was to be served at a church in town. I called the pastor, whom I shall call Reverend Zeal. He has a good heart and a call to lead the church of Relentless Evangelism. When I picked up the phone to make this call I had no idea what I was in for. Hello, Reverend Zeal. My name is Ellen and I heard that your church is serving a Thanksgiving meal for the homeless. I would like to help prepare or serve some food if you need it. Ellen? Ellen? Where are you from Ellen? North Newton, sir. Ahh Ellen, do you believe in our wonderful, sweet, sweet Jesus, Ellen? Yes, yes I do. Why Ellen, why, do you believe in our wonderful sweet, loving Jesus? Well... (because answered prayers are the only thing keeping me from going over the edge didn't seem like a good response) ...because He is wonderful? Now, I do love Jesus and I would like to know if you need some help with your Thanksgiving meal. I could help serve or bring some food. I would just like to help in some way. Ahhh, Ellen, can you give a testimony? We need a testimony. Well, Reverend Zeal, these days I am going through a bit of crisis and just trying to hang on. I do want to share and I really just want to serve some turkey. Well, Ellen what we need is a TESTIMONY! I am not just TALKING TURKEY here, Can you give us a real Jesus testimony? That is what people need- a TESTIMONY! ( I am starting to think I will just stay home on Thanksgiving.) Reverend, I would be very happy to come and talk to people and try to share some hope one -on -one but could I please just serve some turkey? Well, Ellen we really need some testimonies but I suppose you could just bring a potato dish. (Clearly, he was disappointed.) Okay, thank you Reverend, goodbye. Exhausted, I hung up the phone. I was looking for signs and this seemed to a good one that perhaps this year, I was allowed to stay home and be healed. Sometimes we have to show ourselves the kindness we offer so readily to others.

So, I share with you now the recipe for mock turkey... perhaps for times when you aren't talking turkey!

1 loaf stale bread
1 quart milk
1 carrot, grated
1 onion, minced
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 tsp salt
1 dash of pepper
1 lb ground sausage
1 tsp poulty seasoning

Remove crust from load of bread;tear apart and moisten with milk. Add meat, chopped vegetables and seasoning.
Mix together well and place in a buttered baking dish. (9x13 is about right)
Bake at 350 for 1 and 1/2 hours.

This recipe is adapted from the Mennonite Community Cookbook (1950).

Take good care,
~Ellen~

Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Mennonite tries Methodist: Chicken and Noodles


Recently the big downtown food event of the year was happening in our quaint little village . Taste of Newton, kickoff to the Bethel College Fall Festival, closes down the main streets in the heart of the town and becomes a feeding frenzy of sorts. Churches, clubs, businesses, and organizations set up booths and sell their culinary specialities.There is also some local entertainment, singers, dancers, etc. but let's not kid ourselves, it is all about the food. Newtonians turn out for this event. They try ethnic foods, barbecue, and even fried food served in state fair type trailers. They see old friends and stop to laugh, talk and hold their stomachs while they compare their eating adventures. It is a great time.

In my mind I had already decided that my dinner of choice would involve a reach across the denominational aisle for a Methodist main dish ( chicken and noodles) and a Presbyterian dessert (apple dumplings). These two things have been my favorite for the last 8 years or so that I attended. But it was not to be so. I eagerly approached the spot where the chicken and noodles table is usually stationed and I found a big empty patch of pavement. I was so disappointed. Stubbornly I made the rounds hoping maybe they had just chosen a new location but my search was in vain. There was not a bowl of Methodist chicken and noodles to be found. Not to worry, I found plenty to eat anyway but there was a hole in my heart where a bowl of chicken and noodles should have found its place.

What do we do when there is a hole in our hearts? Well, we can try to fill that place with something else, we can try to distract ourselves with banalities temporal or we can deny that we are missing anything. Sometimes, we have to just wait and hope for what we are missing. Occasionally we realize what we have been missing has been there all along. And sometimes, as in the case of my chicken and noodles cavity, we have to take care of the need ourselves. And so, armed with a lovely plump locally raised chicken from Prairie Harvest and some Amish noodles from the grocery store, I cooked up a Mennonite batch of Methodist fare. It took a while, but it was wonderful.

Here is the recipe I used. It is modified from the Mennonite Community Cookbook.

Chicken and Noodles
1 plump locally raised chicken
1 lb package of noodles (I prefer the ones that say Amish on the package!)
1 1/2 tsp salt
4 T butter
4 T flour
2 cups milk
3 cups chicken broth

Cook chicken in water until tender and remove meat from the bones. Cut into pieces.
Boil noodles in salt water according to package directions.
Drain the noodles with warm water.
Make a thin white sauce with the butter, flour and milk.
Add chopped chicken and noodles to broth. Stir in white sauce. Salt and pepper to taste.

These were sooo good! Almost as good as the Methodist version although I still hope they come back to next Taste of Newton. If not, at least I know I don't have to go without- thanks to Grandma's cookbook.

Peace,
~Ellen~

Saturday, October 9, 2010

I Like These: Sourdough Apple Wheat Rolls


I picked up my phone the other day and saw that I had a text message. It was one line from my daughter Emily at 8:07 AM: I like these rolls. That was it, and I knew which rolls she meant. It made my morning brighter, knowing she enjoyed them and was gathering sustenance for her day from something I had made.

But about the likable rolls.. they require sourdough if you know how or where to get yourself some of that. I used my mother's sourdough which has been around for a half-century or more I assume. Being a teacher, mother, wife and dog owner I feel I have plenty to nurture so I steer clear of most things that need tending, even if you can keep it in tupperware with a lid on it. Sourdough still needs to be fed, stirred and coddled from time to time. But every now and again, I get hungry for these rolls so I borrow some sourdough to make them. They are hearty and delicious!

I should say they are not from grandma's cookbook. They are a recipe I copied somewhere when I was a new bride. I carried the recipe from home to home on a piece of paper torn from a yellow legal pad. There are very few things I still make from those early years, but this is one. I have carried forth my grandma's tradition of hunting and gathering recipes. And someday, when my nest feels too empty, I will adopt some sourdough from the mother ship and bring it home, put it in a nice cozy bowl and give it my tender loving care.

Sourdough Apple Wheat Rolls
Bring 1/2 cup sourdough starter to room temperature. In mixing bowl combine 1 and 1/2cups unbleached all purpose flour, 1 package yeast, 1/2 cup wheat germ, and 1/4 tsp baking soda. Heat 1/2 cup milk, 1/4 cup butter or margarine, 1 T honey and 3/4 tsp salt until warm. Add milk mixture to the flour mixture;stir in one beaten egg, 3/4 cup apple butter and the sourdough. Beat at low speed until blended. Add 1 and 1/2 cups of whole wheat flour and then enough white flour to make a semi-stiff dough. Turn dough onto lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic. Shape into a ball and put in a greased blow, turn once. Cover and let rise for 15 minutes. Shape into 24 two-inch balls. Place on greased baking sheets. Cover;let rise until double. Brush tops with milk or melted butter. Bake in a 375 oven for 15-18 minutes. Makes 24.


Blessings,
~Ellen~

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Learning to Invert: Apple Sponge Pudding


I guess you could call it a trifecta. Three great apple recipes in succession to celebrate our wonderful friend, the apple. I love apple season and the vast array of apple varieties and products that we can choose from this time of year. I like trios too and there are three reasons why I chose to make this dish. One, it completes the apple series. Two, the Mennonite Community Cookbook says it is "very old" and the older I get, the more respect I have for the aged treasures among us. Three, the last step in the recipe is to invert the baked product. Inversion is a lovely idea and one I have been attempting to practice.

This dish was fun. I'm warning you though, it's a heavyweight in the sugar department. But it was awesome to make. My favorite part was the final step. After baking this creation, I slipped a knife around the edges, procured the largest platter in the house, and inverted. It was spectacular underneath. The apples neatly laid in a row, surrounded by soft crust with a brown sugar syrup oozing around it. "Come look" I yelled, "it's beautiful!" And delicious, delectable, and different, since we are honoring all things trinitarian.

But back to inverting. When I am in a conflict, my husband advises me to try this. "Invert" he says, "always invert." This is engineer speak for trying to see things from another point of view. Sage advice. Before I criticize or grumble about someone I try to think how the situation might look from his/her perspective. What we find, when we invert, helps us grow and can give us pause, lest we judge. It is an intentional action, to turn our own thoughts upside-down. So, like my apple sponge dish, I can look at the part not readily seen and appreciate the view from another vantage point. We don't have to agree but we can try to understand. We might catch a glimpse of someone else's reality.

Here is the very old recipe from the Mennonite Community Cookbook:

6 medium apples, sliced
2 eggs, separated
1 cup sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup water
1 tsp vanilla
2 T butter
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
Make batter by stirring together beaten egg yolks and sugar.
Mix dry ingredients together and add to the batter alternately with water and vanilla.
Fold in stiffly beaten egg whites.
Melt butter and brown sugar in the bottom of a glass 13x 9 pan.
Add sliced apples.
Pout batter over top of apples.
Bake at 350 for 45 minutes.
Run knife around outside edges and INVERT!
Serve with cream or ice cream.

This recipe was adapted from the Mennonite Community Cookbook (1950).

Wishing you some upside-down goodness,
~Ellen~

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Courage: Apple Pie




For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business. T.S. Eliot

This week I made a stalwart attempt to let go of two things: the need to have an excellent outcome and my problem with crust envy. In my most recent cooking adventure, there was an opportunity for the confluence of the two things that have thus far plagued my pie baking efforts.First, I must confess something that I know my grandma full of grace, would forgive. I hope the same from those staunch pie bakers out there who would never dream of doing the deed I am about to uncover. For about the past 20 years, I have been purchasing pie crusts. I know. I love the idea of pie, the smell of pie, the taste of pie but I have been so afraid of the crust and the filling and getting it just right that I didn't dare to do both. I thought if I purchased a crust, I could focus on the filling and I would increase the odds that I'd end up with a decent pie. Oh, I knew I was betraying the sisterhood and the brotherhood, possibly motherhood and the flag, but it seemed safer to me. I confess to being so jealous of those delicious flaky crusts that other people seemed to produce with nary a sign of stress. But now you know the truth that lies beneath my sweet fillings. And I suspect it really isn't a big deal to you. As my husband wisely tells me when I am in danger of losing perspective, "Honey, there are big problems in the world, and this isn't one of them."

Even so, it took some words of wisdom to grant me courage to make a whole pie bottom up from scratch. First the quote from Eliot. So wise about the true things in life, our vocations, our calling, our attempts to make a difference. "For us, there is only the trying"...I figured it could apply to pie as well. The second source came just last evening. Heidi Regier Kreider, my pastor, was talking with me about this blog and I shared my fears about how my pies turned out. She told me her family's motto: "Just get it in the pan any way you can". Freedom. I felt I had heard the gospel of pie baking.

So, this evening I came home from work and made a crust. I was sure that when I picked it up it would fall to pieces on my counter and I would be left with a jigsaw puzzle to solve (any way you can) but what do you know? It stayed together and acted like a crust should. I sliced the apples, mixed the crumb topping and baked it. I just pulled it from the oven. Call me sentimental but I went down and opened my antique pie safe and slid the hot pie right in there. I think it knew it was home.

Here is the crust and filling recipe I followed:

Pastry
2 1/4 cups flour
2/3 cup shortening
1/2 tsp salt
1/3 cup cold water
Combine flour and salt in a mixing bowl. Cut shortening into flour with a pastry blender or two knives until particles are the size of small peas. Add water gradually, one tablespoon at at time. Toss (great choice of verbs) lightly with a fork until all particles are damp. Use only enough water to hold the pastry together when pressed between the fingers. It should not be wet. (I am so glad they told me that). Roll dough into a round ball, handling as little as possible. Roll out onto a lightly floured board into a circle. Put into pie plate and do something nice to the crust edges.

Filling
6 tart apples (I used Braeburns)
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup butter
3/4 cup flour
1 tsp cinnamon
Slice apples thinly. Mix 3/4 cup of the sugar and cinnamon together and sprinkle over apples. Put apple mixture into unbaked pie shell. Combine remaining sugar and flour. Add butter and rub together until crumbs are formed. Sprinkle fine crumbs over apples. Bake at 425 degrees for 10 minutes and then reduce oven to 350. Bake 35 minutes longer.

Courage,
~Ellen~

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Back to the Basics: Apple Dumplings



A is for apple. This phrase often begins our formal education and is basic to the essential understanding of the complicated world of lexicons. Apple dumplings are a back to the basic food for me. I have a long history with the apple dumpling. This deliciously simple food graced our table many times. A warm, gently browned pan of fresh dumplings were often set on the table, a pitcher of milk as companion, for my family to eat. Apple dumplings are uncomplicated, easy on the stomach, and simply kind to the palate.

Do you ever find yourself hungry again for the basics of life? Living and working in modern society, I admit to frequently feeling overwhelmed . Constant noise, blinking screens, beeping gadgets, and endless piles of papers overload my sensory system after a couple of hours. I yearn for stillness and solitude like someone in the dry desert thirsts for water. One of the unexpected outcomes of this cooking experience is discovering that peace of mind can be found in the kitchen. Who knew? Going back to the basics of my upbringing while working the dough, slicing the apples, and washing the dishes provides simpatico sensory experiences. I feel at home with these subtle sounds and smells. I feel they work with my spirit, not against it. The added benefit? Some pretty amazing food.

The page in Grandma's cookbook where I found this recipe was stained and worn so my guess is, Grandma visited this page a lot. My Aunt Marion from Pennsylvania also turned out some wonderful apple dumplings and I recall that it made my Uncle Ed very happy when she did so. I had never made them so I asked mom if I could come over to her house to make a batch. I love it that I can still ask her to cook with me. She and I have always been compatible in the kitchen. Neither of us feels the need for idle chatter, we stay focused on the task but without urgency or stress. Like a great dance partner, mom reads my movements and know when she knows to lead with more certainty. She made the dough ahead of time and talked me through the process of peeling, coring, filling, and covering. It was like the old days when I was her best help. (At least she made me think I was!) The next night, my hungry husband and I made a meal of apple dumplings. He topped his with ice cream while I poured half and half over mine. Truly terrific, basically comforting, wonderfully tasting like love.

Here is the recipe as we made them:
Apple Dumplings
Your favorite pie pastry for a two crust pie
8 apples, peeled and cored
1 cup brown sugar with 2 tsp of cinnamon added
Roll out pastry into squares. Set apple on top and spoon in the brown sugar and cinnamon mixture. Pat dough around apple to cover it completely.
Place apples 1 inch apart in buttered baking dish.
Just before baking mix together:
1/2 cup butter, melted
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 T cinnamon
Pour this mixture over the apple dumplings and bake at 375 degrees for 35-40 minutes.

This recipe is adapted from the Mennonite Community Cookbook (1950). Thanks to my wonderful mother for her kind direction!

Hoping you find peace in your kitchen,
~Ellen~

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Fall Colors: Sweet Potato Pudding



This is one of my favorite times of the year. Fall colors begin to come out, the weather cools and there are some new seasonal foods. Sweet potatoes can be found in the farmer's markets and I recently made a wonderful dish featuring the sweet potato. The sweet potato is both homely and beautiful, a little knobby, weathered in flesh tone, but warm in its appearance. Not unlike my midlife self.

I wanted to submit an entry to a local holiday cookbook contest and the new category was a secret ingredient-ginger. I pondered on this challenge for a few weeks, trying to decide what I could do with ginger to create a new dish or alter an old one. So, where did I turn? Grandma's cookbook. I found a recipe there that interested me: Sweet Potato Pudding. So, I changed it up just a bit and the result was quite satisfactory. We ate this dish recently as we celebrated Grandparents' Day on Sunday. I served it with some grilled pork loins and a salad. It was really delicious and family members were complimentary. I didn't have marshmallows (having banned foods that are sparkling white from my kitchen!) so I put pecans on top. I liked that variation. This dish will be invited back for Thanksgiving dinner!



Here it is:
Sweet Potato Pudding
2 1/2 cups mashed sweet potatoes
2 eggs
1 cup half and half
6 T sugar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ginger
2 T butter
Marshmallows or chopped pecans
Cook sweet potatoes with skins on until soft. Peel and mash. When well mashed, add sugar, salt, cinnamon, ginger, melted butter and half and half. Beat eggs well and add to mixture. Top with chopped pecans or marshmallows.
Bake at 350 for 45 minutes.
This recipe is adapted from the Mennonite Community Cookbook (1950).

Happy Fall,
~Ellen~

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Friends with the Soul : Hamburger Casserole

All that you have is your soul. Tracy Chapman

This line, one of my favorites, in a song entitled the same, talks of a woman who learned the hard way that you can love and live and try to hang on but when it comes right down to it, all that you have is your soul. When I heard this song, sung by Emmylou Harris in a beautiful venue in Colorado a few years ago, I felt as if I had found my theme song. Finding out that our birthing, creating and giving are a wonderful part of the journey, but not the journey, is when we grow up. When we realize that apart from our trappings, however fancy or plain they may be, all that we are and all that we have is our soul.

Rather heavy subject this, and so is the casserole which I offer today. Perhaps that is what led me to the topic. I was thinking of a hearty dish which was suggested to me by a gracious person who attended the Kauffman Museum presentation in early August where we discussed favorites from the Mennonite Community Cookbook. She didn't speak up in the large session but as she went through the line, she told me, "The hamburger casserole on page 60 is one of my favorites." Impressed that she knew the page number, I wrote it down that day and determined to make it before my year of Mennonite cooking expired. Turns out my mom used to make this one and I ate it a few times as a youngster. I loved the mashed potatoes slightly moistened by the tomato soup. An atypical combination but it works. A complete meal in a casserole dish. A meal of substance and simplicity. A dish that can holds it own. You kind of get the idea that if this casserole met tofu on the street, it wouldn't back down. I love tofu but I gotta say, if we are talking about solid, mashed potatoes wins, hands down.

But on this subject of soul I have been ruminating. I remember the many days I sat in a pediatrician's office waiting for a doctor or nurse to come and help me and one of my three children. One room contained a poster that said, By all means, take some time to be alone. See what your soul doth wear. It had the word Anonymous written on it. I saw that poster over and over and every time I had the same two thoughts. First, who said that? It was so darn smart, deep and philosophical that someone ought to take credit for it. Second, Exactly! Bingo, Right on, Tell it. This was some good advice for young parents, for teenagers and for anyone who lives and breathes. Be friends with your soul.. listen to it... feed it. It is really, in the end, what you have. It's a long row to hoe, feeling one with your soul, but the most necessary gig we've got to show up for.

While you are hoeing that row, here is a great casserole to sustain you.

Hamburger Casserole: A One Dish Meal
1 large onion, minced
1 lb lean ground beef
1 lb cooked green beans
1 can of tomato soup
4 medium potatoes, diced and cooked
1/2 cup warm milk
1 beaten egg
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
Brown onion and ground beef. Add beans and soup and mix together.
Pour into buttered baking dish.
Mash potatoes and add milk, egg and seasoning.
Put the mashed potatoes on top of meat mixture.
Bake in 350 oven for 30 minutes.

By all means, take some time to be alone,
~Ellen~

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Knowing what you Need: Cinnamon Rolls




These are a few of the things I need to keep my balance. Water, sunshine, homemade food and flower. Years ago, I heard a friend speak about individuals with disabilities and their need to have choices about what they wanted in their lives. Too many times, those choices are made for people who must be supported in the activities of daily life. Well-intentioned caregivers may assume they know best what a person who struggles with less than average cognitive ability might need or want. His point was that we all need to identify those things we need in our lives so that the crazy things others do don't scare us so much. When I feel as if I am reacting only to what others expect, when duty compels me to weariness, or when fear rather than love is driving my actions, I recall my friend's excellent advice.

What puts the less in your fear? What makes you feel your feet are firmly planted, your nerve endings are covered and your eyes can stay wide open? It is different for all of us. But this Labor Day weekend, I am thinking less about labor and more about balance. I work well. I don't always take care of myself well. So, lately I am making time for that. I went to play in the water, to buy myself some flowers and I baked up an amazing batch of cinnamon rolls. And I ate them warm. I am feeling more balanced already.

Here is the recipe for truly wonderful cinnamon rolls. It is adapted slightly from the Mennonite Community Cookbook (1950).
1 cup scalded milk (I used 3/4 cup half and half and 1/4 cup 2% milk)
1 cup lukewarm water
2 packages of yeast
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 tsp salt
2 eggs, beaten
6 -7 cups of flour (I used one cup whole wheat, the rest white flour)

Scald milk and pour it over sugar, salt, and butter.
Dissolve yeast in lukewarm water.
Add beaten eggs.
When milk has cooled to lukewarm temperature, add the yeast and beaten eggs.
Beat well.
Add flour gradually, beating well.
Knead lightly, working in just enough flour so that dough can be handled (think soft and supple) easily.
Place dough in a buttered bowl, cover and let stand about 2 hours.

Make into cinnamon rolls by rolling out dough into an oblong shape. about 1/4 inch thick. Spread with melted butter, sprinkle brown sugar mixed with cinnamon and add chopped pecans. Roll up like a jelly roll and slice. Lay down in a buttered pan. Let them rise for about one hour. Bake at 375 degrees for 20 minutes.

While still warm, frost with butter frosting:
3 T butter
2 T milk
powdered sugar to desired consistency

Here's to knowing what you need,
~Ellen~

Sunday, August 29, 2010

While We Wait: Crullers




It seemed necessary to observe a local tradition. Almost too late but I managed to squeeze it in, the winning combination of crullers and watermelon. This isn't a tradition I grew up with but I understand it is something of a constant at local summer afternoon picnics and other social gatherings. Must they be served in tandem? I honestly don't know but when the topic of crullers came up at a recent gathering of Mennonite feminine folk, I gathered that it could possible be a breach of etiquette if one didn't pair the dynamic duo. So, in anticipation of the cruller making event, I stopped and purchased a healthy looking, organically grown watermelon.

The recipe says to make the dough and then let it sit for two hours. Why, I wondered? It doesn't need to rise. Maybe it just needs to wait. So I made the dough and waited for it to be ready and for my daughters to come and help me finish the process. This led me to some musings on the holy act of waiting.

Waiting for the dough, we say thank you for the anticipation of sweet bread.
Waiting for the train, we say thank you for the moment to rest.
Waiting for the diagnosis, we say thank you for every breath we take.
Wating for the pain to go away, we pause and remember the many others who suffer pain and we ask for healing.
Waiting for the sun to shine, we hope that our Chilean miner brothers will be brought to light quickly.
Wating for someone to change, we let go and realize we can only change ourselves and that is enough.
Waiting for peace, we look in the eyes of all we meet as we smile, because that is where peace begins.
Wating for those we love to come and visit, we say thank you for their sweet faces which brighten our days.



So, I waited and soon two of my daughters arrived to assist me with this project. I knew that crullers are deep fried (hmmm, state fair food?) so I anticipated that my daughter Amber with her affinity for funnel cakes, would enjoy these little golden offerings. She did and so did her sister Emily who usually frowns upon deep fried entrees. In fact, Emily did say, after 8-10 bites, "I can't stop!" She did of course, but they were particulary enticing warm, which you know if you have had occasion to have them just fresh. Eating some juicy watermelon alongside the cruller does provide a nice balance of heavy and light fare.


So, here is the recipe for crullers adaped slightly from the Mennonite Community Cookbook (1950)

1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup half and half
2 eggs
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
3 1/2 cups to 4 cups flour

Beat eggs, add cream and milk. Sift dry ingredients together. Add to liquid. Use just enough flour so that dough can be rolled but is still soft. When well mixed, let it stand for 2 hours. Here is where you wait.
Roll out 3/8 inches thick and cut into oblong strips 2 x 7 inches.
Cut 2 slashes through strips crosswise to aid in frying.
Fry in deep fat until light brown on both sides.
Roll in powdered sugar.

Serve with a big chunk of watermelon and know it was worth the wait!

Enjoy,
~Ellen~

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Bake yourself a smile: Huckleberry Muffins


The little round and precious huckleberry was unknown to me until this summer. I am a verdant and curious disciple of the Mennonite Community Cookbook and I found within two recipes calling for huckleberries. Do you know where I can get huckleberries? I asked my mom. Yes, she replied, I have some in the freezer. Well of course she did. This shouldn't have surprised me. Mom's freezer is kind of like Mary Poppins satchel, she opens it and pulls out all kinds of things that amaze and astound me. She said she bought them at the Kauffman Museum here in Newton, so they must be growing locally. She sent me home with a bag of them and I made some huckleberry muffins.

The huckleberry isn't as sweet as its friend the blueberry. Still I liked it. There is room in my heart for almost anything that grows though so of course I would give it due respect. Besides its nice shape and growing prowess, there is the name. Huckleberry. Unlike some monikers, the word huckleberry does roll off the tongue. It is a playful word and fun to say. It suggests merriment and lightheartedness which we could all use a little bit of every day. So, I suggest you track down some huckleberries and bake yourself a smile.

I used graham flour in these muffins and really liked the outcome. Here is my variation of the recipe in the Mennonite Community Cookbook.

Huckleberry Muffins
2 cups flour (1 cup white flour, 1 cup graham flour)
4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 T sugar
2 T honey
2 T melted butter
1 egg
1 cup milk
1 cup huckleberries

Reserve 3 T of flour to dust the berries. To remaining flour add baking powder, salt, sugar and honey.
Add beaten egg and melted butter to milk and combine with dry ingredients.
Fold in berries that have been "dusted" with flour.
Drop by spoonfuls into greased muffin tins.
Bake at 400 for 25 minutes.

Have fun with the huckleberries,
~Ellen~

Monday, August 16, 2010

What We Want: Lemon Desire


Well first, I know that several months ago in a blog entry I made disparaging remarks about dishes containing the wiggly, nutritionally null product Jello. And here I am today sharing a recipe containing this very item. I found a recipe in Grandma's small cursive written on a page of her cookbook. It is one of many recipes she added to her personal copy of the Mennonite Community Cookbook. This inquiry into Grandma's cooking adventures wouldn't be complete if I didn't explore some of the scrawled entries she deemed worthy of adding to her well-used cookbook.

Besides, the name Lemon Desire led me to wonder. It didn't seem to fit the mostly practical or descriptive titles within the cookbook. I pondered where it may have come from. I tried to think of an occassion where I might have heard my grandma use the word desire. I can't think of one time. In fact, I can't even think of one time I heard her say she wanted something. I am sure she did. She just didn't seem to think much about what was missing from her life. She seemed rather, to be content with what was. What did she want?

If I had to draw inferences from the life I observed, I'd say she wanted to see people treated with dignity and respect. I'd say she wanted to feel the sun on her face, to use her arms and legs to do good work and to walk humbly with God. That is what I think she wanted. Good food, good health, and the love of family were also likely on her list. I have to believe that she obtained those things in her life because from what I observed she didn't spend a lot of time chasing things that were just distractions. It is an example worth following.

So, here it is. Lemon Desire. If you don't like lemon the name is an oxymoron. If you like lemon, you will likely find some pleasure in this sweet and light dessert. But the pleasure is temporary. What do we really want? I think I know now, what I really want. To be grateful, each moment, for being exactly where I am.

Lemon Desire
1/2 cup sugar
1 pkg lemon jello
1 1/4 cup hot water for jello
2 or 3 T lemon juice and grated lemon rind
1 can evaporated milk, chilled
2 cups graham crackers, crushed

Put 1/2 cups of graham crackers in a 9x9 pan. Make jello and chill until it starts to get firm. Whip evaporated milk and add juice and rind. Fold in jello. Pour on top of graham cracker crumbs. Sprinkle 1/2 cup crumbs on top. Chill until serving.

Hoping you find your heart's desire,
~Ellen~

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Happy Endings: Elderberry Pie


Sometimes you really need a happy ending. You find yourself on a bad date or with a dentist's drill in your mouth doing overtime. Or you become entangled in a messy conflict and the skies are all cloudy and gray either outside or in your heart. What to do? Well, when we can keep an overactive ego in check or when we are gifted with that wonderful equalizer, perspective, we just enjoy the journey knowing that this is what it is all about. Sometimes, though, being human, we just bear down and hope for a surprising positive ending. I don't know about you but I seem to need a healthy dose of "it was all worth it" benedictions to keep me keeping on. So, even when the happy ending isn't there, I tend to invent it. You might know what I mean. Well, I learned a lot... Someday, this will be a great story... Better to have loved and lost... The thing is, redemption is a powerful thing. All my favorite stories, fiction and non-fiction, have a common thread. That thread is a theme about the power of the human spirit rising above the muck and mire of difficult times and making her own happy ending.

This is what I am thinking about today and it relates to what I was thinking about last week when I made the elderberry pie. This pie was recommended by the Muellers of North Newton. They even offered their own homegrown elderberries. I was a bit worried about this undertaking simply because I hadn't ever made one. Berneil kindly shared her baking tips and the recipe below reflects her adapted instructions as I carried them out to the best of my understanding. So, in my own mostly Mennonite kitchen, I baked this pie and pulled it from the oven. It looked a fright. I got the crust a bit too brown and it was really messy. I left it to cool on the stovetop. I asked my husband after a period of heavy silence. "Did you see my pie?" "Yes, he replied, "but I was kind of afraid to say anything. Might this be a redo?" I was afraid so. But alas, it cooled and settled down a bit and I even started to think the mostly filling covered crust and crumb topping looked good that way. I took a bite and it was (surprise) delicious. It was tangy but sweet and I loved the small crunchiness of the elderberries. Very good pie and for sure one I want to make again. In fact, every July, when the elderberries are plentiful, I want to make an elderberry pie. To celebrate happy endings.

Elderberry Pie

Filling
2 1/2 cups elderberrries
3/4 cup sugar
2 T flour
1/8 tsp salt
3 T lemon juice

Pie pastry for 9 inch crust

Crumb Topping
4 T flour
3 T sugar
2 T butter


Line a pie pan with pastry. Prebake at 425 for 8 minutes. Mix filling ingredients together and bring to a boil in a saucepan. (I let it cook for about 5 minutes or so). Pour cooked filling into prebaked crust. Mix crumb topping with two knifes until small crumbs are formed. Bake at 425 for another 10 minutes and then turn down the oven to 350 until the pie begins spilling over.This requires that you check it periodically. My pie did runneth over after 8 minutes I think. Remove from the oven and cool.

Happy Endings,
~Ellen~

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Fascination: Pecan Squares



"The world fascinates me."
Andy Warhol

I love this quote and quite agree. The world fascinates me too. That's why I don't watch much TV or why often I just want to find out where others have been and what they think, know or remember. Wherever I go there is so much to see and hear that is illuminating. The world's inhabitants are fascinating creatures. Show me a room full of people and I see beauty and stories and lots of common threads. This was so true on Sunday at the Kauffman Museum. We gathered together to talk about memories and cooking and a very special book.

People came for various reasons I believe. I know a few attended because they are related to me and I had asked them 6 times if they were coming! (thank you) Some came because they were curious about some aspect of the cooking/blogging/history part of it. But many came because of their memories of the Mennonite Community Cookbook. Some folks came clutching this treasured cookbook, ready with page numbers of their favorite recipes. There were stories of receiving the book, traveling abroad with the book, cooking from it and knowing the author or illustrator. The stories told aloud to the larger group or to me personally after the program were each precious and rare. I loved hearing them. They are still trickling in with suggestions for recipes or offers of information and each one is like seeing a new star in the sky. Each shared experience is a story with meaning and a connection to a source of love or happiness. Keeping these stories alive is one way we give meaning to growing older I think.

I made these pecan squares to share at this time on Sunday afternoon at the museum. It was a fascinating experience and the appreciation for the memories bubbled over and spilled out and made me eager to learn more. I have suggestions, new information and even some elderberries that will provide me with more cooking experiences to continue on this journey.

Here is a recipe for some bars that were served at that gathering...

Pecan Squares
1/3 cup butter
1/3 cup margarine
1 egg
2 cups flour
Topping:
1 egg
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 cup chopped pecans

Cream butter, margarine and sugar together.
Add egg and beat until fluffy.
Add flour and work well into mixture.
Spread in a buttered 9 X 13 pan.
Beat remaining egg and spread over mixture with a brush. Spread the egg all the way to the edges of the dough.
Sprinkle with brown sugar and top with chopped nuts.
Bake at 350 for 25-27 minutes.
Cut into small squares.

This recipe is adapted from the Mennonite Community Cookbook. I confess, I had to make it twice, learning some things after the first time. So, my learned lessons are reflected in this adapted recipe. These are good, not the most memorable thing you may ever eat, but tasty and fairly efficient to make.

Thanks for sharing in this fascinating journey,
~Ellen~

Friday, July 30, 2010

Company for Dinner: Swiss Steak and Creamed Potatoes



This entry features two items which could easily be made for dinner guests. Part of the package of traditions that I inherited is that of having company for dinner. I remember many meals spent either at the homes of others or in our own home when we shared a meal with friends, relatives or out of town guests to whom we extended some homemade hospitality. I remember when we were the hosts, there would be a kind of buzz around the house. "What is going on?" one of my brothers or I might ask. "We are having company," would be the reply. Ah yes, of course. That explains the increase in noises and smells from the kitchen, the table extensions, the unfolding of the tablecloth. None of us were excused from the preparations and we knew that. We may be called upon to polish silver, scrub potatoes, cut flowers, or help set the table.

When we were the guests, there was preparation as well. Take a bath, wear clean clothes, comb your hair. On the way there... the manners discussion. Say please and thank you. Try everything. Ask to be excused and use, use, use your napkin. Any questions? "Yes" squeaked a voice from the backseat, "Do we have to eat spinach or liver if they have it?" Take a little and try it. Never say you don't like it, just say no thank you if you are offered more. These lessons in etiquette were delivered firmly but not unkindly by our parents when we were freshly scrubbed and earnestly hungry, a captive audience of three in the backseat.

The benefits of being guests and having guests for dinner are many: good food is shared, conversation can be enlightening and entertaining, and bonds develop or are strengthened around the table. We learn, we give, we are nourished in body and spirit. Recently, I was a guest along with my mother, at Cousin Elizabeth's house. She is a double cousin to my mother. I found out that this means that their mothers were sisters and their fathers were brothers. Cousin Elizabeth lives near Hutchinson now and recently invited my mom and I to enjoy lunch in her home. The food was homemade or homegrown and the joyful hospitality was wonderful. We shared stories new and old and a bit more of my Grandma Yutzy's personality was revealed to me through a story from Cousin Elizabeth. Just as I thought, Grandma was a spunky character. I left blessed and full, better from having had this visit and meal.

These recipes are two from the Mennonite Community Cookbook that I have made in the recent past for company dinners.
Swiss Steak
2 pounds round steak
3 T oil
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 onion, sliced
1/4 tsp pepper
1/2 cup flour
1 can mushroom soup diluted with 1 can milk
Rub salt and pepper into steak and dredge with flour.
Brown quickly on both sides in hot oil with the onions.
Pour the mushroom soup mixed with milk over the top.
Bake in a covered pan at 350 for 1 hour.

Creamed Potatoes with Parsley
3 cups new potatoes
1 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper
3/4 cup half and half
2 T fresh parsley
Cook potatoes in salt water until soft. Add cream, seasoning and chopped parsely and bring to a boil.

Both recipes are adapted from the Mennonite Community Cookbook (1950) and have been tested on guests. They are polite people (having endured the manners talk) so of course they said they liked these dishes! I liked them too though and will likely make them again.



Saturday, July 24, 2010

What you can hear : Fried Corn



There were railroad tracks close by grandparent's house in Ohio. When we would go visit Grandma and Grandpa, trains would often stir me awake during the night. I was somewhat fascinated as well intimidated by the trains and I wanted to watch them whenever I could. I wanted to get close, but not too close. I remember one time I went somewhere with Grandma, and rather than drive, she suggested we walk. Our path? The railroad track. "Grandma, isn't this dangerous?" I'd ask. "What if a train comes?" She would tell me that she had good ears and that she would hear a train in plenty of time to keep me safe. She had learned to listen for faraway sounds that announced the impending arrival of a train.

Listening is, I believe, an acquired skill. On this cooking journey, I am often alone in my kitchen. Rather than turn on music or let myself fret about the day's schedule or latest challenge, I intentionally quiet the room and try to turn off my own thoughts. I want to hear what comes. What memory, what wisdom. I want to hear the corn sizzling in the pan, to hear the soft patter of my hands on the bread dough. I want to learn to listen and to be present. It is a wonderful time that restores my soul and keeps me from getting lost in the world. Memories are my companion, new perspectives my guide.

As I made fried corn today, I listened for what would come. The memory of Grandma promising to listen so that I would be safe is what I heard (besides the great sounds coming from the pan)and remembered. For this recipe, I took ideas from two recipes found in the cookbook and came up with something I found very enjoyable to eat. If corn is plentiful for you right now or it's just too difficult to eat on the cob, you might enjoy this variation.

Fried Corn
2 cups corn, cut from the cob
3 T butter(make it real!)
2 green onions
2 eggs
1 1/2 T flour
3/4 tsp salt
2/3 cup half and half or whole milk
Heat butter in a skillet. Add the corn and green onions and stir over moderate heat. Keep turning the corn so it doesn't burn.
Beat eggs and add flour, salt, and half and half.
When the corn begins to brown, add the egg mixture. Simmer slowly until mixture becomes thick.

This recipe is adapted from recipes found in The Mennonite Community Cookbook (1950).

Enjoy,
~Ellen~

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Out on the Ocean with God: Buttercup Cake


My birthday was a week ago and so my mom baked a cake while the family was assembled for the wedding of my daughter. We celebrated as we usually do in our family on special occasions, with homemade ice cream. My parents still hand crank a wonderful freezer of ice cream. My mother found a cake recipe from the Mennonite Community Cookbook that she brought along to wish me well on my last 40-something birthday. Which means I am looking 50 straight in the eyes! With no fear or trembling on my part, I might add. I am grateful for life and health and a body that still works on my behalf. It bends, lifts, runs (if it has to) and houses my spirit which is, I believe, getting stronger with age.

When my family celebrates my birthday, we always reminisce about a declaration I made when I was a young one. "Before I was born," I would state resolutely, "I was out on the ocean with God." I was totally convinced of this, still am actually. I don't know what led to this formulation of thought or how I knew or if it contradicted any theological beliefs I was taught. I do know that I liked telling my family that before they were honored with my presence, I had been in some pretty awesome company. I also enjoyed the thought that I had been somewhere beautiful and calm and natural. As I grow older, I am still calmed by water in natural places.

I do seek those places where God seems only a whisper away. I have felt a holy presence in an airport, classroom or sanctuary but it takes more of a conscious effort. When looking at a vast expanse of water, hearing the wind move over the water and through the trees, and seeing the dappled light on the surface, I believe that we, along with the rest of the natural world, were born from a creative and loving source of life. For me, connecting to that source, is what breathes new life into old veins, damaged cells, and fragmented thoughts.

When we celebrate it is fun to hear stories around our birth. This is one my family tells and it always makes me smile. Because before I was born, I was out on the ocean with God. Part of me still is.

Buttercup Cake
1/2 cup shortening
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 cup buttermilk or sour milk
2 eggs
1/2 tsp salt
2 1/3 cups cake flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla or 1/2 tsp each of lemon, orange, and almond extract
Cream shortening and add sugar gradually. When mixture is fluffy, add well beaten eggs and beat thoroughly. Sift flour; measure and add salt, baking powder and soda. Sift again. Add dry ingredients alternately with milk and flavoring. Beat thoroughly after each addition. Pour into greased layer pans.
Bake at 350 for 30 to 35 minutes.

This recipe is from the Mennonite Community Cookbook (1950).

Peace,
~Ellen~

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Delicious Reverie: Peach Skillet Pie


This is a wonderful way to use peaches which are in season right now. I have found that the peach has a very small window of opportunity when it is just perfect for eating. Our neighbors brought over some freshly picked peaches that were just right that day. We didn't get to them all in time so I flipped open the cookbook and found a great recipe for peach skillet pie. It was, no kidding, delicious. Really good. In fact, we liked it so much, I made another one again today.

We ate it warm, with half and half poured over the top and listened to each other making those happy noises that escape our lips when we are caught in eating reverie.

Here is the recipe. I heartily endorse this selection. I didn't have a skillet that I can bake in (that's on my kitchen wish list though) so I just used a pie plate. I am not artful with dough so it was a bit patched together but no matter. The taste more than made up for the presentation.

Peach Skillet Pie
2 cups flour
1 tsp salt
4 tsp baking powder
1/3 cup shortening
1/3 to 1/2 cup milk (I used half and half)
8 fresh peaches

Add salt and baking powder to two cups of flour. Sift.
Cut in shortening as for pastry.
Add milk all at once, just enough to make a soft dough. Turn the dough onto a floured dough and roll 1/4 inch thick and several inches larger in diameter than the skillet used. Place dough in the bottom of the skillet and let the edges hang over. Then fill with the ripe sliced peaches. Sprinkle 3/4 cup sugar and 1/2 tsp cinnamon over the peaches.
Dot with butter.
Fold edges back toward center to partially cover.
Leave center of pie uncovered.
Bake at 400 for 25-30 minutes.
Serve warm with rich milk.

This recipe was adapted from the Mennonite Community Cookbook (1950).

Enjoy,
~Ellen~

Thursday, July 1, 2010

A nuttiness all our own: Chocolate Surprise




The suprise is kind of about the nuts. No, actually it is all about the nuts. The collectivity of family gatherings spawns laughter and nuttiness unique to the gene pools and years of traditions which we claim as ours. This past week was my daughter's wedding, a lovely celebration of love and commitment. We were so lucky to have so much family around which made it all the more memorable. We ate, laughed, danced, took walks, and shared memories. We also made a few new memories.

In anticipation of my family's arrival I pored over the pages of grandma's cookbook for a recipe that would be light, sweet, and welcoming. I found "Chocolate Surprise." Always game for a surprise, I thought I'd try it. I like it, no surprise as almost anything chocolate is a friend of mine. It contains nuts and graham cracker crumbs. It is easy to make and it gets quite thick rather quickly. It is somewhere between pudding and mousse. I ventured to guess that my brother, Karl, himself rather nuts in the very best way possible, would like it. And he did.

Families are wonderful and it is the nutty times we treasure. Anne Lamott, commenting on family times, said that "things go wrong every time we visit. But more things go right.' I love that. So, over the course of events I pledged to enjoy the unique nuttiness of each family member and to let my own special brand of nuttiness show. I vowed to realize that it can be good and fun to be together if not perfect or spotless or completely organized. Each person is a gift and each so surprisingly special. The amalgam of Herr/ Awe/ Vogts/ McElhiney/ Metcalf is ours now and we treasure them every one. I am deeply greatful to be part of a clan that celebrates, laughs, and remembers that we are all of us, connected, to each other and to the world.

Chocolate Surprise
1 cup sugar
3 T cocoa
3 T cornstarch
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup half and half
1 cup milk
3 eggs, beaten
3 T butter
6 graham crackers
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup chopped pecans
Combine sugar, cocoa, cornstarch and salt.
Add mixture to beaten eggs and mix thoroughly.
Add to scalded milk and cook until smooth and thickened, stirring constantly.
Remove from heat and add butter, vanilla, graham cracker crumbs, and chopped nuts.
Chill until firm.
Serve with whipped cream.

This recipe was adapted from the Mennonite Community Cookbook (1950)

With gratefulness for the love of family,
~Ellen~

Friday, June 25, 2010

Thoughts of Home and Zucchini Muffins


The graceful zucchini is ubiquitous this time of year, dangling from sprawling plants in gardens and piled high on the tables at the farmer's market. Glad am I, that they are plentiful. Like their other vegetable friends, zucchini can be eaten raw or cooked. I find zucchini desirable almost any way you serve it but I really really like zucchini muffins. This recipe isn't one that I found in the Mennonite Community Cookbook. In fact, the only thing listed under Z in the index of that collection of recipes is zwiebach. The recipe I share now is adapted slightly from my mom's zucchini bread recipe. I know that if Grandma had tasted this bread, she would have scrawled the recipe in the hallowed pages of her best coookbook.

A few things in this world serve as the most salient reminders of home. Zucchini bread is one such item to me. Mom made it many times and it is on the short list of never fail comfort foods. When it is baking, it has a warm cinnamon aroma that stirs my senses and makes me think of my mom's various kitchens. Home, essentially having one, has been in the front of my consciousness this past week. The colors and smells of every place I have been fortunate enough to call home are in the deep recesses of my memory, easily triggered by a smell or a sound.

Homes should be sacred spaces. Homes are where we are wanted and loved. Homes can also be complicated and crazy. Sometimes people have to call more than one venue home. Divorce can be like a blunt instrument to the heart of those who go through it and the children of divorced families can tell you that when they switch homes, they also switch loyalties, paradigms, and expectations. It is difficult even in the best of circumstances. There is so much associated with our experiences of home and to be asked to make that adjustment requires that some time, care,and understanding be extended to the mobile child. When I help my daughter pack her bags, carry them to her car and hug her goodbye there is always some sadness for me. She is eager to go share life at her dad's house and she has people who love her there but she has to make a switch and it hurts. For children of divorce, a home can be a good place but it can also be a place where they always miss somebody.

Sharing a home is something of an extended forgiveness boot camp because we show our worst and most petty issues to those who live with us. Family members sometimes need us when we are tired or sick or overwhelmed. Sometimes we rise and bless and sometimes we fail. To keep our homes a place where all living things can grow, we must be sure there is plenty of light and water both literally and figuratively. Kindess is light, laughter is water. Meals shared (warm zucchini muffins for example) are water.

I think too that we must remember that our heart is our home and perhaps some who live without a walls or roofs know that better than we do. There is a dignity in the human heart that cannot be taken away. There is a desire to give and to contribute that can come from those who have the great reserves of compassion and largesse that goes with them wherever they lay their heads. I have been the recipient of such graces from those in difficult living situations. At homeless shelters there is rejoicing when people are connected with resources to get a home. We rejoice when anyone, ourselves included, rise above restlessness and addictions and learn to be at home in our own hearts.

Here is the recipe for zucchini muffins:

3 eggs
1 cup canola oil
3/4 cup white sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup honey
2 cups grated zucchini
2 cups flour
1 T wheat germ
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking powder
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla

Combine all ingredients. Pour into greased muffin tins. BAke at 325 for 20-25 minutes. Makes 18 muffins.

Hoping you are at home in your heart today,
~Ellen~

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Vegetables from the Farmers' Market: Cucumber Salad times 2



It is summer and here in my little town, that means the Farmers' Market is here. How I love to go, bag in hand, to the market to buy fresh vegetables. Presently, I am a girl without a garden. My little mint crop is flourishing and I have some nice blooming flowers, but no rows of green beans, corn, or onions grace my backyard. My husband and I tend my parent's garden when they are gone and reap the benefits even when they are not. When we moved into our present house, there was no garden plot but we do plan to change that because we find ourselves missing the benefits of growing and sowing.

If my mother taught me to find joy in the kitchen, my father taught me to find joy in the garden. There are so many memories of my dad planting, watering, and picking vegetables in his garden. He would beckon us, my brothers and I, from our play to come and help. I remember one summer when I was about 11, Dad walked me to a mysterious looking set of plants and said, "Here. This is your job this summer. Water these plants." "What are they?" I asked. "Rhubarb" he replied." I protested, "But I don't even like rhubarb." "That's okay, water it anyway." And so I did. The rhubarb flourished even under the reluctant beginnings of our relationship. As it grew, I developed a respect for its thick stalks and rosy color. When we finally harvested it, I was proud. I still didn't love the taste but after putting all that work into it, I for darn sure was going to partake! Smart man, my dad.

Last Saturday, I bought some lovely cucumbers from a local gardener. They looked so great on her stand reclining in a basket in fetal postions. I tried two recipes with them that I am going to share. One from Grandma's cookbook and one from a clipping I have from a magazine. They are both fantastic!

#1
Cucumber Salad (Russian) from the Mennonite Community Cookbook
1 quart thick sour milk or buttermilk (I mixed sour cream and half and half)
4 medium cucumbers
1 T salt
2 T vinegar
Pare and slice cucumbers into thin rings.
Sprinkle with 1 1/8 tsp salt and let stand 3 minutes
Beat sour milk with an egg beater until smooth.
Add vinegar and remaining salt.
Drain cucumbers and add to milk.

#2

Cucumbers with Oregano, Feta and Pine Nuts
1 shallot, minced
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 tsp salt
8 cucumbers peeled and sliced
3 sprigs fresh oregano, stems removed
1/2 cup feta cheese
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
black pepper
Combine shallot and vinegar in a small bowl. Let stand about 10 minutes. Add olive oil and salt, whisking well. Pour vinaigrette over cucumbers and toss well. Sprinkle with oregano, cheese and pine nuts. Season with black pepper.

Happy (fresh) Eating!
~Ellen~

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Mennonite Food Revolution: Cream Waffles


There is much ado, if one follows popular culture, about the new Food Revolution series. This series shares themes with a book by Michael Pollan, Food Rules as well as the documentary Food, Inc. These are old ideas with a new spin. Know what is in your food. Eat to live, not live to eat. Banish highly processed foods from your diet. Make room for green space on your table. Go ahead and eat mashed potatoes, gravy, and chicken strips. Just make them yourself.

Many Mennonites, and other healthy minded, sensible folks have been doing this for a long time. I have found the Mennonite Community Cookbook a treasure trove of delicious recipes made from healthy and simple ingredients. There is, to be sure, a lot of butter and cream used. Few recipes call for wheat flour. But the basics are there. Making good food ,with locally found ingredients and then savoring them at the family table. I take the liberty to make some substitutes: low fat cream, whole wheat flour, less salt and sugar when I can. I also think of quality, not quantity, when I shop, eat, and prepare. Less food, better taste!

The cream waffles my husband and I enjoyed this balmy morning are from Grandma's cookbook. They are wonderful. We topped them with organic peanut butter and syrup and enjoyed them in their sticky glory. They are easy to mix and make and I had all the ingredients already in the house.

Cream Waffles
2 cups flour (1 cup white, 1 cup whole wheat)
1/2 cup thick sour cream
1 1/2 cups milk
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
2 tsp baking powder
2 eggs, separated

Mix dry ingredients together.
Beat egg yolks and add milk and cream.
combine with dry ingredients.
Fold in stiffly beaten eggg whites.
Makes 6 waffles.

This recipe is adapted from the Mennonite Community Cookbook (1950)

Thoroughly enjoying my Mennonite Food Revolution,
~Ellen~

Food Rules
Michael Pollan (2009)
Food, Inc.
Robert Kenner, Director (2008)

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Knocking on Heaven's Door: Icebox Cheesecake



In celebration of Memorial Day I made a recipe that was written on an index card in Grandma's script and stuck in the pages of her cookbook. The day was hot with a temperature in the 90's and the Icebox Cheesecake seemed the ideal recipe to try. I marveled that the recipe had to have been written around 30 years ago and that it remained in the folds of the well-turned pages in spite of the many times the book was open and shut, packed and moved, and handed from mother to daughter to daughter.

Memorial Day is also a time to remember those who have come and gone on this earth. Obeisance to my culinary heros led me back to the hallowed pages of Grandma's cookbook. The idea that we all have a one way ticket on this train, that we are here but for a stay, was not lost to me that day. My mother had recently suffered an illness that scared us all a bit and my parents recently lost a good friend who was an important person to those who knew him and his family. I read the obituaries with alarming regularity, mostly to honor the gift of life and to remind me to be grateful for the day and the opportunities therein. I feel in living my life, I am traveling a path that has been well trod by many wiser than me and I like to look at their footprints as I walk the road. When I am quiet I hear their voices, when I look with my heart, I can see their faces and I am taken back to places like my grandparents' front porch, the little church in PA where my father pastored, the sandbox,the Kindergarten classroom, the college laboratory and so many other venues where I learned from those who were my teachers and my guides.

We are all of us, with our friend Bob Dylan, knocking on Heaven's door and will be remembered hopefully well by those we have loved and cherished when we are gone. In the above picture, you see my daughter Emily and her fiance who are embarking on the journey of marriage in about a month. They practiced their cake sharing moment with this cheesecake. Chris, said fiance, after his taste pronounced it "gold". Or maybe it was his bride-to-be he was referring to! I wish them many happy years to make memories together.

This cheesecake from the handwritten card of my grandma is very tasty and fit for a special summer day.

Icebox Cheesecake
1 stick butter melted
2 cups graham cracker crumbs (crushed)
2 T sugar.
Press this mixture in a 8 X 13 pan, saving a few crumbs for the top.
1 package lemon jello
1 cup hot water
1 8 oz package of cream cheese
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup sugar
1 can sweetened condensed milk
Dissolve jello in 1 cup hot water and let it set until it begins to solidify. Beat cream cheese, vanilla, and sugar until creamy. Beat the can of condensed milk in a chilled bowl. Add jello to cream cheese mixture and fold in whipped milk. Sprinkle with crumbs and put in refrigerator until served.

Wishing you time to enjoy good memories,
~Ellen~

Monday, May 24, 2010

A sure sign of summer:Mint Lemonade



Even though my school year has four days remaining, I feel that summer has arrived. Today I made my first jug of mint tea lemonade using my mother's handed down recipe. This special brew hints of many summers past. It is summer in a glass!

Pictured above is a healthy crop of mint which is growing in our backyard. This nomadic plant has ancestral roots in Indiana. Once when I was visiting my parents in Michigan, I brought a sprig or two of mint tea (brought north from Indiana) back to the plains of Kansas in my suitcase. Laid to rest between my t-shirts these offspring wilted and looked to be gone from this world. Optimistically I placed the limp stalks into the earth, watered them, and gave myself to dreams of fresh mint tea. Behold the plants grew, and grew, and even multiplied. Since then, the tea plants has been split and shared and moved to my third Kansas home.

We all have loved this tea/lemonade mix that my mother created. The recipe has never been written down so I always hope to get the mix as I fondly remember it. I just took my mom a sample and she declared it "just right". My brother used to take a big jug of it to football practice back in his Goshen High Days. It has made the guest list at many special dinners, anniversaries, and graduation celebrations. People just trying it for the first time usually find it quite unique and refreshing. "What is this stuff?" they ask. Someone told me once that it is good with a bit of gin added and I have to wonder if that story ended with a guy sporting a lampshade with a southwestern motif. Don't say I didn't warn you.

Here is my attempt to record...

Mother Mary's Mint Lemonade
4-5 sprigs of fresh mint
water
1 can of frozen lemonade or powdered lemonade mix

Steep tea using the fresh mint. Prepare the lemonade mixture substituting the mint tea for 1/3 of the water requested. Serve cold with ice and a sprig of mint on top.

Happy Happy Summer,
~Ellen~

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Dreams and Bones: Sweet Potatoes



Pullin' weeds and picking stones,
We are made of dreams and bones.

These lyrics are from The Garden Song by Pete Seeger, a song which always reminds me of my dad. My dad has always loved a garden, has always seemed to feel a kinship with the vegetables planted deep in the ground. Vegetables need care, tending, and the dreams of the earnest planter. Many days I spend pullin' weeds and pickin' stones at my dad's behest. Many meals I enjoyed the vegetables pulled up out of the ground and spread out on the family table.

I appreciate the earthy taste of the sweet potato. Knowing I am eating something that got its start in the soil, was fed by the warmth of the sun, and watered by the blessings of showers makes me feel closer to the earth and closer to my dreams. I think anyone spending time in a garden knows what it means to be made of dreams and bones. Our bones do the laboring in the hard ground, while dreams make us fly somewhere above ground level. We need both, the balance of sweat and vision. Lucky are we, if at the end of the day, we have been required to call upon our dreams and bones to fulfill the demands of our day. Work should ask that from us.

I love fresh vegetables with their coats of many colors, the crunchiness, the tenderness, the pure flavor they possess. I love it that someone's dreams brought them into being. We, human beings, are, so much more like vegetables than we are foodlike products that are made in a factory, like gumdrops, or crackers, or imitation cheese. I believe we are meant to be close to the earth.

I tried this recipe for sweet potatoes for a dinner with members of my family. This dish received favorable comments from all around the table and I will surely make it again.

Sweet Potatoes
6 medium sweet potatoes
1 tsp salt
1/4 cup butter
1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup orange juice
Cook potatoes until soft, but not mushy.
Remove skins and cut in half lengthwise.
Arrange in a buttered baking dish and sprinkle with salt.
Heat together the butter, honey, and orange juice. Pour over the potatoes.
Bake at 400 for 25 minutes.

This recipe is from the Mennonite Community Cookbook (1950).

Celebrating dreams and bones,
~Ellen~