Friday, April 30, 2010

Potluck Memories and Cream Almond Cake

My friend Chelle, who doesn't cook but says that reading this blog at least inspires her to think about cooking, came by the other evening while I was making a cake. She endured my diatribe about sifting and measuring flour correctly and kindly assisted my baking effort. The event that precipitated this notion to bake a cake was a staff dinner "potluck style" that was scheduled at my school. I don't usually bake cakes. I like them just fine, but I think of cake as sin on a fork. It's not good for you in any way but sometimes you find yourself wanting it anyway.

The vision of a potluck lunch on Friday fairly sustained me this week. The menu was centered around homemade tacos and we were all to bring anything else to round out (pun intended) the meal. Oh what a sweet deal for a teacher on a Friday in April! This occasion got me thinking about the potluck experiences I have had. Potlucks are a fond memory as we had many in the Mennonite churches I grew up attending. And since my dad was usually a pastor, we were expected to go. If not, who would bless the food? We sent up our own prayer that his prayer would be short so we could eat. Potluck lunches meant many things to children: more time with friends, no table to set, no dishes to wash, but most importantly, a chance to ditch your parents and fill your plate with fried chicken legs, rolls, and 4 kinds of cake. No green space on the plate brought popular acclaim at the kids' table.

We would start at one end of the table, tray with dividers in one hand, rolled up silverware in another and survey the goods. I was always on the lookout for the crispiest fried chicken. Next came the potatoes, scalloped in twelve different ways. Rolls in the middle of the table. A small smattering of salads followed. Then came the jello. What was the deal with jello in the 70's and 80's anyway? Holy cow, there was a lot of table space wasted on that fraudulent dish. Green jello with pears (bad idea), orange jello with shredded carrots (are you KIDDING me?) and cherry with whipped cream (palatable). As a denomination, I believe we have "seen the light" regarding jello. I haven't found the dastardly product on a Mennonite table for quite some time. The desserts followed and they were plentiful: pies, cupcakes, cookies, and cakes galore. Which begs the question, which came first, the potluck or the pot belly?

Perhaps this background information explains my decision to make a cake. At any rate, I found a recipe that sounded delicious and it proved to be so. It was shared with my colleagues at our version of the potluck lunch. I present it to you now and urge it you to try it for a special occasion. It really is so nice and fluffy but still heavy enough to be a respectable cake.

Cream Almond Cake
1 cup shortening (I used half shortening and half oil)
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 cups cake flour (I really used cake flour)
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder
1 cup milk (I used 3/4 milk, 1/4 cream)
5 egg whites
1 tsp almond extract
Cream shortening. Add sugar gradually and beat until fluffy.
Sift flour and add salt and baking powder.
Add dry ingredients alternately with milk and flavoring.
Beat thoroughly after each addition.
Fold in stiffly beaten egg whites.
Bake at 350 for 30 minutes.

Topped with cream cheese frosting, I thought it was just terrific.
Recipe adaped from Grandma's copy of The Mennonite Community Cookbook (1950).

I hope there is a potluck in your near future,

Friday, April 23, 2010

Bread and Beauty

I learned a lesson about beauty in Plain City, Ohio back in my teen years. I went there with my parents for my grandma's funeral and was surrounded by many elderly conservative Mennonite and Amish folks. It was there among the cape dresses, coverings, and plain suits that I discovered true beauty.

I was a teen in Phoenix, Arizona at a fairly affluent high school. It seemed to me at the time that beauty described those who were well dressed, clear skinned , thin, and good looking. I was convinced that, for me, beauty was always going to be elusive. Until I found myself in Plain City shaking hands, accepting condolences, and looking into the clear, kind eyes of the plain folks who had come to remember Ida Kauffman Yutzy. I watched their exchanges with each other, marveled at their sincere smiles and sensed a deep peace. I inhaled and exhaled in the midst of the simplicity and hope that just seemed to be hanging around the room. Might as well breathe some in. It was a knowing moment, where a truth hits and changes one's perspective forever. These people,I thought, are beautiful. I have to say that this sublimation helped me endure the rest of my high school years. "Okay, so you might be pretty," I'd think about someone I had previously felt envious of, "but I have seen beautiful."

Thereafter I saw beauty in many places where previously I had not. I remembered my grandma's wrinkles around her eyes when she laughed and knew they had been beautiful. To this day whenever I hear my mother's voice, I hear beautiful. Generousity is beautiful. Anyone bending down to help a child is beautiful. A young person listening to someone older and wiser tell an important story is beautiful. Children with Down Syndrome are beautiful. My daughter's faces, fresh, red, and new, when first I gazed upon them were unspeakably beautiful. My husband's forbearance is beautiful. A simple homemade meal is beautiful.

When I work with bread dough, the wrinkles and lines sometimes remind me of Grandma's face. In my memory she is smiling and the creases frame her shining eyes like streams of light. That is one reason I like to make bread. The folds and wrinkles of the yeasty dough take me back to when the eyes of my heart were opened to beauty that can't be bought and will never fade.

Oatmeal Yeast Bread
1 cup rolled oats
2 T sugar
1 T shortening
1 tsp salt
1 cup milk, scalded
1 pkg yeast
1/4 cups warm water
2 1/2 cups flour
Mix together the oats, sugar, salt, and shortening.
Pour over this the scalded milk.
When cooled to lukewarm, add yeast that has been softened in 1/4 cup warm water.
Stir in flour and knead until dough no longer sticks to fingers.
Shape into a load of bread.
Let rise until double.
Bake at 374 for 35-40 minutes.

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

Enjoy something beautiful today!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

When life gives you... Lemon Pudding

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. You know the saying and forgive the banality. It is advice both trite and sage. Those words came to mind today when I returned to Grandma's cookbook and to my own kitchen where I often seek to soothe my soul. Cooking these recipes has become respite and refuge for me.

Stirring is centering, baking is believing, and beating egg whites is like claiming a strength that you thought was out of reach. And then the eating... well, that is loving and also the affirming that all shall, eventually, be well. And it will. And I've got lemon pudding to prove it.

In my memories of Grandma, she had a ready smile and contented eyes. She seemed always to be at peace. I would say the same is true of her daughter, my mother. It is a legacy I treasure. That is also why I return to my culinary history, to draw from the well of deep peace and true joy. And sometimes, to beat the heck out of a few eggs.

Here is the recipe for Lemon Pudding adapted from the Mennonite Community Cookbook
(1950). Even if life hasn't given you lemons lately, I suggest you try it! It is light and sweetly delicious.

1/4 cup lemon juice
grated rind of 1 lemon
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 tsp salt
3 eggs, separated
1 cup graham cracker crumbs
1 cup whipping cream
combine fruit juice and rind,sugar, salt, and beaten egg whites.
Cook mixture until thickened.
Cool slightly and fold in stiffly beaten egg whites.
then add whipped cream and blend into mixture.
Put 2/3 cup graham cracker crumbs in a shallow pan (8 X 11)
Pour in filling and sprinkle remaining crumbs on top.
Freeze until set.

The grated lemon rind gives this an energetic zesty taste. It made me smile.

Peace and joy,

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Easy to toss, Easy to Eat: Bierocks

The bierock, object of today's entry, is endearing largely because it is prehensile and nutritionally complete. Easy to eat, and throw (if one is so led) the bierock contains meat, vegetable, and bread. I have never thrown a bierock but its nearly elliptical shape suggests that it could be effortlessly tossed across a dinner table in a spirit of fun. It can be eaten with your bare hands or with utensils depending on how your mama raised you.

My resourceful Grandma wouldn't mind, I suppose, that I gleaned this recipe from another source of Mennonite culinary treasures. The Best of Mennonite Fellowship Meals (Good Books, 2003) contains many recipes that are good for large groups of people. As if Mennnonites would ever feed large groups! Recently I had a day off and I wanted to do some baking that would result in having something healthy and easy to put in my work day lunches. The bierock is the perfect solution. They are fun to make, delicious, and can be quickly reheated in a microwave. In a complicated world, lunch should be simple, shouldn't it?

I add whole wheat flour in place of some of the white flour and I also add some ketchup, mustard, and grated cheddar cheese to the meat mixture which goes inside. I don't measure this, I just add enough to make it moist. Also, you might notice from the picture that I don't shred the cabbage too finely. If I am putting vegetables in something, I like them to be known for what they are!

Here is the recipe:


1/2 cup warm water
2 pkgs yeast
1 1/2 cups lukewarm milk
1/2 cup sugar
2 t salt
2 eggs
1/2 cup shortening, softened
7-71/2 cups flour (white and wheat)
1 1/2 lbs ground beef
onion to taste
1/2 cup butter
1 medium head cabbage

Dissolve yeast in warm water. Combine milk, sugar, salt, eggs, shortening and yeast mixture. Add flour until dough handles easily.
Turn on lightly floured board. Knead until smoooth and elastic. Place in greased bowl, turning to grease top of bowl.
Let rise until double, about 1 1/2 hours. Punch down and let rise until double again, about 30 minutes.
Brown ground beef and add onion to taste. Drain. (Here is where I add ketchup, mustard, cheese)
In separate skillet, melt butter. Shred cabbage and cook until wilted. Drain. Mix with ground beef.
Divide dough in half and roll out. Cut dough into 4 inch squares.
Fill each square with meat mixture. Fold up corners and pinch together. Seal well and turn upside down on a greased pan. Let rise 15 minutes.
Bake at 350 for 15 minutes or until nicely browned.

Hoping you can enjoy the simple pleasures of the bierock,

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Hope Rises: Orange Bowknots

In Sunday school with the youngsters a couple of weeks ago, we were hearing the stories of Jesus and the events that led to the crucifixion. These stories have become passé to many it seems but not so to one little girl who had been propped against me on the floor. The leader was telling of the betrayal of Jesus and this feisty young one sat upright and said, “WHAT? They were mean to Jesus? Why were they MEAN to JESUS? You mean his friends were mean to him? WHY?

Good questions, little one.

Her indignant, darling, freckled face has come across my mind more than a dozen times the last few weeks when I read the paper, listen to the news, or think about ways life has gone wrong. Then her voice comes to mind and shakes my complacency. WHAT? I think, how could this happen? Why are people sometimes cruel, why do bad things happen? Why don’t we all say, “WHAT?” more often, even to the meanness that lurks in our own hearts or to the ways that we fail to do right?

We do know though that wallowing in the "what?" can cause us to despair.
Abbbot Nichols ( asks “Do you ask too much of God? Know that when God’s prize is downfalling, you may find a rising. When God's favor is silence, you may find a melody. When God's blessing is suffering you may sense deep peace. The heart of darkness is new light. The heart of despair is fresh hope. The heart of death is eternal life."

As I thought about this, it seemed important for me to turn to Grandma's cookbook for a recipe that would rise, like hope does when we don’t want to be stuck in the what. We have to do the work. We gather the important stuff, knead until the life giving yeast is spread throughout, and give it a warm place to grow. Rising, growing, living...the good news of Easter.

These rolls are soft and buttery with just a touch of orange flavoring.
Orange Bowknots
1 1/4 cups milk, scalded
1/2 cup butter
2 eggs, beaten
1/4 cup orange juice
1/3 cup sugar
1 tsp salt
1 package yeast
2 T grated orange peel
5 cups flour
Combine sugar, salt, shortening, and scalded milk.
Cool to lukewarm and add yeast to this mixture.
Add beaten eggs, orange juice and grated rind.
Beat mixture thoroughly. Add four gradually, mixing to a soft dough. Cover and let stand 10 minutes.
Knead and then let rise until double its bulk.
Roll dough 1/2 inch thick. cut in 10 inch strips 1/2 inch wide. Tie each strip into a knot. Place on baking sheat and let rise again until double in size. Bake at 400 for 15 minutes.
Spread with topping made of:
2 T orange juice
1 tsp. grated orange rind
1 cup confectioners sugar

From the Mennonite Community Cookbook (1950).

Happy Easter