Archive of ‘recipes’ category

TARDIS Blueberry Scones and How The Doctor Helped Me Beat Cancer

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I have never been a big television person. Friends, The Sopranos, Parks & Recreation, Breaking Bad – I’ve watched all of these televisions shows at some point, but they never stuck. I’d start out loving them, but as the weeks went by, I’d lose interest. I did manage to spend several months following Mad Men, but I think that’s just because of Jon Hamm and his slightly scary penchant for going commando.

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I’d like to pretend that my lack of zeal for most televisions shows is because I am intellectually superior to regular television watchers. That reasoning breaks down when you know that I surf the shit out of the internet, like an 80′s Wallstreeter pursues coke.  I do spend quite a bit of potential TV time reading books. As much as I’d like to pretend that these books are written by authors such as Dostoevsky, they’re much more likely to be about Harry Potter . So yeah – I can’t take the moral high ground here. And I don’t want to.

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I’m actually jealous of people who have their show – the TV show they look forward to watching all week, the show they discuss with hashtags on twitter or the show they used to post rabidly about at the now sadly defunct Television Without Pity. I wanted a show like this. I wanted to have a show where I would watch previous episodes so much, that I got all the inside jokes. But nothing kept my interest, and I thought I’d just be stuck reading about a boy wizard for the 8 millionth time while everyone else thrilled to the latest episode of House of Cards.

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Then I found The Doctor.

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Marcus had been exposed to Doctor Who much earlier than me. He grew up watching old Doctor Who shows on the local PBS station. I’ve never been a Sci Fi kind of girl, and I thought Doctor Who friends were mainly pudgy, glasses wearing nerds who also spent a lot of time playing Dungeons and Dragons. I want to make it clear that I’m not insinuating that my husband was a ginormous nerd.

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I’m telling you he was a ginormous nerd. But adorkable nerds aside, I had no desire to watch an old British Sci Fi show, especially one that was in fuzzy black and white. Then last year happened.

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A little over a year ago,  I got so sick with gastroparesis that I lost 23 pounds in 3.5 weeks. You need to understand something about this. I never get nauseous. Ever. And when I do, I’m still hungry. Marcus and I once got food poisoning at the same time. I would puke, pull my head out of the garbage can, and declare how hungry I was. At one point, Marcus couldn’t take it any longer. “What the hell is wrong with you? How can you be hungry? How can you want food? I never want to see food again, you freak!”

I dealt with the pain and exhaustion of cancer treatment as best as I could, most days only whining a little. But the persistent feeling of nausea was a whole different ball game. At most, I was only getting about 500 calories a day, most of those coming from Cream of Wheat. I was constantly dizzy because my inner ear was so messed up, and horribly depressed.

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My brain was so fuzzy that I would look at a page of text, read it, and realize I hadn’t comprehended any of it, not even any of my beloved Tamora Pierce Books. So, I went down a rabbit hole of Youtube videos. I got hooked on watching TED talks.

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I’m kidding. I didn’t watch a single TED talk. Instead I watched X Factor, but not normal X Factor. The US version of X Factor was for peasants. I only watched the CLASSY versions of X Factor, namely the UK and Australian versions. (Let’s not talk about any other reality shows I may have watched last year, ok?)

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It wasn’t all bad. I found the boy band that I wish I could have worshipped in junior high. I got to be horrified by Cheryl Cole’s butt tattoo. I got to watch the Minogue sisters take passive aggressive digs at each other. I began to understand that Louie really is useless, and why Gary Barlow was crush worthy and seemed to be the only judge with any credibility. (Call me, Gary!)

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But I found myself reading the Mirror UK, trying to find out if Matt Cardle and his dulcet tones were still going out with Sporty Spice. I wanted to know what latest dick move James Arthur had done in his quest to prove himself a giant asshole. I knew I had hit rock bottom when I found myself reading an article that discussed whether the love between Perrie from Little Mix and Zayn from One Direction would endure.

kylie and the doctor  One out of two Minogue sisters recommend The Doctor

Luckily, The Doctor saved me from adding to the revenue stream of the deep V-neck wearing, tangerine colored, manboobed pelt that is Simon Cowell. I’ll always be grateful to The Doctor for that.

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How did my Who obsession start? With this video:

Marcus and I own a rowing machine, and we bribe ourselves by watching certain shows on Netflix while we row. Marcus had run out of Archer episodes, so he started watching the new reboot of Doctor Who. He really enjoyed it. He knew I was bored out of mind and thought I might like the show. He showed me the above video.

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After he explained a little bit about Doctor Who and who River Song was, I watched a few more YouTube videos. Then I realized I really liked this show. I really did.

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And I was done. The conversion to Whovian was complete.

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I watched a couple of season seven episodes online at a site that is totally and completely legal. Thank god for Netflix. I started at the beginning and got sucked in.

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Before I go any further, let me answer some questions for those of you who already watch Doctor Who:

  • How can you consider yourself a Who fan if you haven’t watched Classic Who? I’m a fraud. Now run along and play Magic: The Gathering.
  • Who’s my Doctor? The Eleventh, but I like all of them.
  • Who’s my favorite companion? Donna Noble. Forever.
  • Which character would I most like to have sex with? Captain Jack, of course. And Paul McGann’s doctor from The Night of the Doctor. Preferably at the same time.
  • Do you ship Ten and Rose? I’d like to kill that shipping with fire. And then kill it again, just to make sure it doesn’t pull a Rory and come back.
  • My favorite episode? This is always changing, but right now it’s Silence in the Library and Forest of the Dead.
  • How much do you hate Stephen Moffat? Sometimes I feel like I’m the only Moffat fan out there, but most of my favorite stories have been written by him.

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I love that I’ve actually signed up at an online forum that discusses the show. And I love that when I told my husband I had not only signed up, but chosen a very Whovian username, he looked at me and said “It’s like I don’t even know you anymore. By the way, did anyone there read/watch the leaked episodes? Did they like them?” WONDER NERD POWERS, ACTIVATE! Form of a sonic screwdriver! Shape of a fez!

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I love that people discuss the merits of each Doctor. I love that the fellow Whovians among my friends rejoiced when Rose & The Tenth Doctor’s budding love was dashed, but still cried when they were separated. I love that most of them think Donna is the best companion ever, and that Amy is only at her best when Rory is traveling with her.

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I love the the statue in my garden now scares me a bit. I love that there is Doctor Who nail art. I love that we have a crack in our plaster and that Marcus and I are pretty sure it’s a crack in time and space. I love that I’ve started a Doctor Who Pinterest board. I love that this summer, Marcus and I rewatched all of the episodes so we could be ready for the premier of The Twelfth Doctor.

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I love the debate over whether or not the New Doctor, Peter Capaldi, will be any good. In my opinion, any man who’s been in Dangerous Liaisons and can swear as brilliantly as Malcolm Tucker is going to be fantastic.

So what will I be doing tonight? I’ll be at the movie theatre, watching the premier for the new season of Doctor Who. I will not be wearing a bowtie or sonicing the popcorn machine with my screwdriver. If I had a fez or Jammy dodgers, I’d bring them. But I will be bringing scones.

I hope the TARDIS is ready.

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When I was trying to figure out what I could make to celebrate Doctor Who, I had several options (This tumblr full of ideas is amazing!). I could have made homemade Jammie Dodgers. I could have made anything with a banana in it. I could have made fish fingers and custard. There are even Doctor Who cake pops! Bless. Instead, I decided on scones. Blueberry scones to be exact. Tardis blueberry scones to be even more exact.

Notes: These make scones that are on the more biscuity side of scones. I prefer these rather than dryer scones, but keep that in mind. If you’d like them dryer, use less fresh fruit and cook a bit longer. I think the amount of sugar is fine for plain scones, but if you want to add a glaze or sprinkle them with sugar before baking, use only 1/2 cups of sugar. I don’t have A/C in my kitchen, so in order to keep these from being a sloppy mess, I put my butter in the freezer for a couple of hours, and use chilled bowls when mixing.

Tardis Blueberry Scones
Loosely adapted from Epicurious
Yields 12 scones

3 cups flour
1 1/2 tablespoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoons salt
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
3/4 cup (which is 1 1/2 sticks) chilled unsalted butter
1 cup blueberries
1/4 – 1/2 cup dried blueberries
1 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon heavy cream (not vital, but good)
2 tablespoons finely grated lemon rind

Make sure the oven rack is in the middle of the oven. Preheat to 400 degrees F. Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper.

Using a whisk, mix flour, baking powder, salt and sugar in a large bowl. Add to large bowl of food processor.

Mix buttermilk, vanilla, cream and lemon rind in a small bowl. Place in fridge.

Cut butter into 1/2-inch cubes. Place in food processor. Pulse just until the flour and the butter are in pieces about the size of small peas. Pour mixture into a large chilled bowl. Add fresh and dried blueberries and toss to coat.

Make three wells in dough. Pour the buttermilk mixture into each well. Stir just until the dough begins to form. That means some of the flour will not be incorporated into the dough. That’s ok.

Flour your work surface and transfer your dough there. Knead about 8 turns. Divide ball of dough into half. Re-flour your work surface and form each dough half into a disk about one inch high. Cut each disk into six wedges.

Place six wedges onto each prepared baking sheet. Put one baking sheet in the fridge until first batch is done baking. Bake scones until they’re golden brown and toothpick inserted into the middle is clean. This takes around 15-20 minutes.

IMG_2274  This is what the flour mixture should look like after pulsing. Enjoy!

McLynchburg Lemonades – Horrifying Cocktail Aficionados Everywhere

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No green food coloring was used in the making of this drink.

I have never been one for fruity, over-sweet cocktails. I like my bourbon neat, and I’ve never found a margarita mix that I could tolerate. I think this process started in college. While most of my friends were getting carded every time they ordered a Sex on the Beach or a Long Island Iced Tea, baby-face me got away with ordering a vodka tonic with a twist of lime almost every time. From an early age, I was well on the path to becoming a cocktail snob.

My husband jokes that I like manlier beers than he does. It’s true – give me a stout, and I’m a happy girl. But I’m game to try any kind of cocktail. It either needs to be the kind of refreshing drink that you crave when it’s 90 degrees out like Watermelon Gin Fizzes or a Route 69 Cherry Limeade. If it’s not something that’s going to cool me down, it needs to have an intriguing element to it like lavender (Kid Curry Cocktail) or basil (Peach Basil Sangria)

The McLynchburg Lemonade is not one of those cocktails. At all. And yet, I still adore every single sweet, fruity gulp of it.

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I had my first Lynchburg Lemonade at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel. This place is amazing. It looks like a Sandals Beach Resort, a hideously huge McMansion, Pigeon Forge and a botanical garden all got together for an orgy, and 9 months later this hotel was born. As a child I occasionally went to brunches there with my parent and participated in Easter Egg hunts, so I have a soft place in my heart for it. Is it tacky? You better believe it. But it’s tacky in such a refined way that you actually feel posh when you stay there. Its presence almost makes up for the fact that they ripped apart my beloved Opryland Theme Park and turned it into a steroid infused mockery of an outlet mall. The Opryland hotel has also provided me with the sweet, sweet image of Sarah Palin giving a speech standing in front of a podium that had “GAYLORD” posted in big letters across it.

The first time I took my husband to Nashville, I told him he had to experience the Opryland Hotel. It was too glorious to be missed. I brought him to the restaurant in the Cascades Atrium because it was where I had my first Lynchburg Lemonade. I have no idea if this still goes on, but at one point there was a nightly light and water show there. A man dressed in white would play a gigantic white piano in what had to have been an homage to Liberace. That show was another formative step towards my love for all things camp.

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We each ordered a Lynchburg Lemonade. We sat there looking at the pulsating fountains and tropical trees all around us. And then my husband turned to me and said “Not bad. I bet we could make this better. This tastes like a mix.” I looked deeply into his eyes and said “Let it be done.”

As soon as we got home we made them ourselves, and they were better. Every once in a while we’d make and drink them, usually while sitting on our upper porch that we like to call “The Veranda” when we’re feeling fancy.

The topic of  Lynchburg Lemonades can be very controversial. Some things in the South are sacrosanct and should not be changed, but there is no way in hell I would ever buy a container of sweet & sour mix.  So we make our own sweet and sour mix (it’s very similar to this recipe), and we sometimes change it up with a more natural lemon-lime soda than Sprite. You may do these things as well, but here’s the “real” recipe for a Lynchburg Lemonade.

One hot August day we decided a Lynchburg Lemonade was in order, but there was no Jack Daniels to be found. The only whiskey we had was a bottle of Bushmills Irish whiskey. We defiled that whiskey, and we defiled it hard. Into the Lynchburg Lemonade it went, and it was delicious. We decided to name that drink a McLynchburg Lemonade, because O’Lynchburg Lemonade didn’t sound as dumb.

So we created a new holiday ritual in our home. Every St. Patrick’s Day we go to a fine purveyor of spirits in our fair city. Every St. Patrick’s Day we ask them what kind of moderately-priced Irish Whiskey they recommend. And every St. Patrick’s Day we enjoy the look of horror that spreads across that person’s face when we tell them what we’re going to do with it.

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Have a gloriously fun St. Patrick’s Day everyone. And for the love of all that is holy, stay away from the green beer.

McLynchburg Lemonade
Serves 2

2 part Irish Whiskey
2 part sweet and sour mix
2 part triple sec
8 parts Sprite or lemon-lime soda

Add ice and give it a good stir. If you’re feeling all Sandra Lee and want to garnish it up, stick some lemon slices and cherries on the edge or in the drink.

Trout with Brown Butter-Caper Sauce and Facing the Cruelty Behind my Cooking

 I’m on a brief blog hiatus for the next little bit, so I thought posting some of my favorite posts from the past would be a good way to fill in until I got a new blog post up.  This post is from August 30, 2009.

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The Clinch River is one of my favorite places in Tennessee. Sure – It’s a creation of TVA and that in itself is a strike against it. But it’s such a beautiful place that I find even that can’t diminish my love for it.

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TVA or the Tennessee Valley Authority has a very mixed heritage in our area. During the 1930s, the Tennessee Valley was a very poor area, even by Depression Era standards. TVA projects displaced over 15,000 people, covering over towns, native burial grounds and land that had been in families for years. On the other hand, TVA provided jobs to an area that was surrounded by poverty. Marcus’s grandfather was an electrician at Norris Dam and a few other TVA projects. TVA reduced the devastating floods in this area but they also destroyed pristine areas when they built projects like the Tellico Dam. The creation of the Tellico Dam ruined one on of the best trout fisheries in the area when they dammed the Little Tennessee, and land that TVA acquired through eminent domain at a very low cost is now being sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars per acre to developers.

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No matter what my feelings towards TVA are, Norris Lake is here to stay. The Clinch River starts in Southwest Virgina, near Tazwell. The Clinch and Powell River meet up at Norris Lake, formed when Norris Dam was built in 1936. Norris Dam is the first dam built by TVA and at the time was constructed in a modernist style – considered quite advanced and controversial at the time. It really is an impressive sight, especially at dusk.

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Because the dam is 285 feet high, it impounds a large quantity of very cold water. This cold water is the perfect temperature for trout. In the 80s, TVA constructed a weir dam that speeds the river back up about two miles from the dam – this adds oxygen to the water and makes it even more habitable for trout.

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On a hot summer’s night, not many things are more refreshing then walking alongside the tailwaters. Not only is it beautiful but the rushing, cold water kicks up a cool breeze, even on a hot night. During the summer, there’s usually fog that begins to form as sunset approaches.

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Norris State Park, Cove Creek Wildlife Management Area and Chuck Swan State Forest all preserve areas around the lake. We’ve seen groundhogs, hawks, osprey, deer, skunks and foxes around here.

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On Friday, Marcus and I went blueberry picking at a farm nearby and stopped by the river so Marcus could fish for a bit. It was one of those days when the fishing alchemy was perfect and in the hour we were there, Marcus quickly caught several brown trout. Two were too small to keep and one was too big so they were quickly let go. Marcus asked me if we should keep the other ones to eat and I told him he could make that decision. It was a cop-out. If he decided to keep them, I wasn’t responsible for their death. But even doing that made me feel bad – I could have asked him to let them go and he would have.

I’m a bit of a hypocrite when it comes to facing the cruelty of my cooking head on. Sure, we buy the majority of our meat from local, humane producers and we eat a lot less meat than the average consumer. But I don’t feel guilty when I eat that meat. I don’t feel like I personally caused that animal to die and it’s because I’m so insulated from the process.

I think there’s a lot of truth to the saying that if slaughterhouses all had glass walls, we’d be vegetarians. Most of us have insulated ourselves from the cruelty of our choices. We buy pork or beef at our grocery store, sanitized and packed in a neat little package. We don’t have to see the horrific conditions those animals were raised under. We don’t even have the courage to call it by it’s animal name – cow meat or pig meat.

I’ve had people throw a fit when Marcus has mentioned that he sometimes hunts and fishes quite a bit. These people stand there in their leather shoes, holding a burger from McDonalds and tell us that hunting is cruel and have no idea of the irony of their statements. We’ve created a world where we don’t have to see the consequences of our actions, at least when it comes to the meal on the kitchen table.

There’s no getting away from the fact that creatures on this planet will die to produce the food that keeps you alive. You can be a vegan and animals will still have died to produce your food. Even humans will be harmed and possibly die to produce the food you eat. All kinds of animals die during the harvesting process. Merely using the land for the growing of food, rather than animal habitat, causes death. If you don’t eat organic produce, farm workers will contract cancer because of the chemicals that are used in the farming of your food. Even if you eat organic foods, farm workers in foreign country will go hungry when the organic peaches they grow to provide for their families are turned down for not being up to standard. Even if you buy local, organic produce, you’re still not blameless. An organic farmer I know lost 600 tomato plants in one night to deer. His losses were so great that he had to get a depredation permit in order to get any kind of harvest at all and to control his losses for next year.

I grow a lot of our produce in my suburban garden. Every year we fight off the birds and possums so we can harvest our tomatoes. They don’t usually take enough to cause severe losses but I know the frustration of going out to the garden and finding nibbles and pecks in almost all of the not-quite-ripe tomatoes. A few weeks ago, we had a difficult choice to make. The biggest groundhog I had ever seen was in our back yard. They may be cute animals but anyone who’s gardened knows that devastation they can cause in a garden in a single night. It disappeared, never to be seen again but what would we have done if it had decided to make its home nearby?

We need to strip off the marketing gloss of our dining choices and come face to face with the cruelty that comes as a result of our choices. That doesn’t mean we need to go out and shoot a deer or kill a chicken ourselves, although I greatly admire people who are willing to do that. It does mean that we need to be aware that our food comes with a cost. We need to treat our food with the reverence that it deserves – we need to use it wisely. We need to appreciate the farmers that grew it and the lives that were lost in the production of it.

This life can be an amazing gift – full of beauty and wonder. But none of us can escape the fact that it can be cruel as well. In the gorgeous surroundings of the Clinch River valley, I was responsible for the death of three living creatures. The best thing I could do is to be grateful for the loss of those lives so that I could live.

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Trout with Brown Butter-Caper Sauce

1/4 teaspoon olive oil
2 trout fillets – about 4 oz each
Salt and Pepper
2 tablespoons shallots (We used Egyptian Walking Onions from our garden)
1 heaping tablespoon of drained capers
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon butter

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First off, if you caught your own fish, you need to clean them and fillet them.

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Chop your shallots and get your capers and lemon ready. Add oil to a non-stick skillet and put over medium heat. Heat for 2 minutes. Salt and pepper both sides of fillets and add to pan.

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When the edges of the fillet start to turn white, flip. This will take 1 to 1 1/2 minutes. After flipping, cook for another 1 1/2 or until fish flakes easily with a fork.

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Remove fillets from pan, put on a plate and tent with foil to keep warm.

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Add butter to skillet. Watch carefully because in a non-stick skillet it’s hard to see when it begins to brown. It usually takes about 2 to 2 1/2 minutes for us.

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When it’s beginning to turn brown, add shallots and sautee for two minutes until they begin to soften.

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Then add lemon juice and capers, cook for another minute.

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Pour sauce over fish and serve.

For a printable recipe, click here!

 

2465276993_396ac181ea_o This meal is part of my One Local Summer meal for this week.  Admittedly, capers aren’t local but I’m hoping that next year, I’ll have pickled nasturtium buds to use as a substitute.  The butter was made from Cruze Farm milk and we used some of the caper juice to sub in for the lemon.  Instead of shallots, we used Egyptian Walking Onions from our garden.  We served this fish with roasted Dragon Langerie, Masai and Purple Trionfo Violetto beans from our garden.  Dessert was a blueberry cornmeal cake made with local blueberries and local cornmeal.

Anniversary Apple Butter & Loving the Wrong Person

 I’m on a brief blog hiatus for the next little bit, so I thought posting some of my favorite posts from the past would be a good way to fill in until I got a new blog post up.  This post is from November 17, 2010

 

Loving the wrong person

We’re all seeking that special person who is right for us, but if you’ve been through enough relationships, you begin to suspect there’s no right person, just different flavors of wrong. Why is this? Because you yourself are wrong in some way, and you seek out partners who are wrong in some complementary way. But it takes a lot of living to grow fully into your own wrongness. It isn’t until you finally run up against your deepest demons, your unsolvable problems – the ones that make you truly who you are – that you’re ready to find a life-long mate. You’re looking for the wrong person. But not just any wrong person: the right wrong person – someone you lovingly gaze upon and think, “This is the problem I want to have.” – Andrew Boyd, Daily Afflictions.

You know, I had this lovely post all worked out for our anniversary.  I was going to post our recipe for apple butter because when my husband and I got married, we made apple butter for our guests.  I figured they all probably didn’t need another engraved-with-a-random-wedding-date-cheap champagne flute so we went for something practical. And our guests seemed to be happy with it – I actually saw several guests drinking it like a shot.  Either we made a damn good apple butter or those guests were drunk.  Probably both.

My husband and I have turned making apple butter into an anniversary tradition and I had this wonderful blog post idea about how marriage was like a jar of apple butter.  And it was so cute without being retch-inducing and I’m sure it would have totally gone viral in a major way and at this point in time, I’m sure one of Ellen’s producers would have been calling me, asking me to make apple butter and be witty on her show.

Life has this funny way of getting in the way.  Instead of writing that post, we painted our bedroom blue.  And worked on code.

Why did we do this?  Because it had to be done.  My husband and I run an online shopping board and we’re heading into what we refer to as crazytime.  We’re getting over 200 non-spam emails a day and the posts on our site and traffic to it are going up.  We’re also getting ready to make a MAJOR update in our board software and that’s been causing us to tear our hair out,  especially since it has to be done before the week of Black Friday.

Add to this stress the fact that we’re also in the middle of some pretty big home renovations.  We have this beautiful, big house and we’ve spent the last two years crammed into three rooms.  We made some progress a couple of weeks ago and got our office opened up but I’m jonesing to have our bedroom back.  Especially since I’m sick of our clothes being scattered to the four winds throughout our house.  And especially since we’re working on a deadline and have to have a certain amount of our house finished by the time we re-finance.

So instead of some swooningly beautiful prose about my husband, I’m going to say this.  I love him.  And the man drives me crazy. And I drive him crazy. And sometimes that crazy is even in a good way.  I would have rather been on a tropical beach, sipping on a frosty tropical drink while we lounged in the sun together.  Hell – I would have rather been hiking in the rain.  Instead, we painted our bedroom blue.  And I threw a hissy fit about not being where I wanted to be and being where I was.  And my husband waited for me to finish and then said he was going to finish painting the trim now.  And I sighed.  And realized that where I was, was where I was.  And I was lucky to be there with the man that I was with.

So we ate cupcakes & drank red wine from our anniversary champagne flutes.  And painted.  But I still made apple butter.  And I had the problem I wanted to have.

The key to really good apple butter is really good apples.  Stayman Winesaps are my preferred apples for this.   If you’re not sure what kind of apples to use, buy lots of different kinds and mix them.  Please understand that the measurements below are flexible on purpose.  There is no way for me to give you an absolute recipe for this – every batch of apples are different so you’ll need to season this as you go.

If I can get my hands on organic Stayman Winesaps, I simply quarter them and cook them with skins and cores.  This takes a lot longer to cook down and you can’t do chunky-style applesauce this way but as long as you put everything through a food mill, this is my favorite way to make apple butter.  It’s next to impossible to find organic Stayman Winesaps locally though so the method I have detailed below is the one I regularly turn to.

I don’t like to keep a slow cooker going all night (and it’s really not smart to do this while the apple butter is cooking down) so I start this on the stove, stick it in the fridge overnight and heat it back up again on the stove.  And then I pour the applesauce into the slow cooker to cook down.  Again – this is not something you can really leave because you need to leave the lid askew in order for it to cook down.  You’re also going to need to scrape down the sides of the slow cooker every hour or so.

Anniversary Apple Butter
8 lbs apples
2 cups apple cider
1 – 2 cups packed dark brown sugar (my batch I used 1 1/2 cups)
Juice from 1/2 to 2 lemons (I used one lemon which was about 4 tablespoons of juice)
2-4 teaspoons cinnamon

Making Applesauce:
Core & slice apples.  Place in large saucepan with apple cider, one cup brown sugar and two tablespoons lemon juice.  Bring to a simmer over low heat and simmer for 2 hours or until apples are tender and falling apart.  Season to taste with cinnamon.  Correct the seasonings again – if the flavor seems a little flat, add more lemon juice.  Now you can eat this as applesauce or you take the next step and make into apple butter.

Making Apple Butter:
Put apple butter through a food mill.  You can also puree it in a food processor but I think the food mill gives it a really silky consistency you can’t get anywhere else.  If this is cold, I usually heat it back up on the stove and then pour it into a slow cooker on low.  Make sure that the lid to your cooker is askew and cook for about 12 hours.  Make sure to scrape down the sides as it cooks.  Let most of the liquid cook out.  It will get very dark.  About 6 hours through cooking, taste and add any additional sugar or cinnamon that you think it may need.

Allow it to cool completely.  You can refrigerate this for up to three weeks or you can can it.  To can, ladle hot apple butter into prepared jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace.  Process in a hot water canner for 10 minutes.

Please click here for a printable recipe!


Black Bottom Banana Cream Bars and Remembering Lester

I’m on a brief blog hiatus for the next little bit, so I thought posting some of my favorite posts from the past would be a good way to fill in until I got a new blog post up.  This post is from May 27, 2011

Tomorrow, it will be a year since my Father-in-law died.  A year that’s been full of watching my husband go through the hardest struggle I’ve ever had to watch him face.

It’s one thing to think about the inevitable event in the future – the fact that everyone at some point will lose a parent.  Several of my friends have already been through this.  But if you haven’t experienced it yet, it’s something you ruminate over late at night. You think about that day and what it could mean for you.

A wise person once told us that anticipatory grief never takes the place of actual grieving, and they were right.  No matter how much you try to prepare yourself, it still is a sucker punch to your gut.  As you watch your husband’s dad lay there getting sicker and weaker by the day, then the hour, you tell yourself that surely nothing could be worse than this.  But there is something much worse than this.  You just don’t know it yet.

First, the relief that they’re out of pain overtakes you.  You’re grateful for that.  You’re also grateful for the fact that you don’t have to watch them hurt anymore.  Because. That. Is. Awful.  The see-sawing back and forth hoping that the rattle of each breath will be the last one but knowing that a last breath means that they’ll finally be out of reach, out of reach of pain, but out of reach from you forever.

When the end finally does come, you’re so damn grateful.  And then the men from the funeral home come and carry his body out, and you tell yourself that he’s not there anymore, and it doesn’t matter.  Except it does.  Because now he’s really gone and he’ll never be in the house ever again.

Hospice comes and breaks down the hospital bed, and you’re so freaking glad to get that sad piece of furniture out of the house.  Except – you realize this is the sad beginning of the process that you’re about to go through, a process that will slowly strip the person you love and reminders of them out of your life.  Pills get picked up, and his dress uniform comes back from the cleaners.  And you feel relieved because that death rattle is gone, but the house seems strangely quiet.  You go outside and see the first firefly of the season and realize that the last time a firefly made you cry, you were seven and had left them in a jar overnight, and they had died.  You see the look of hopelessness on your husband’s face, and your heart wants to explode from grief.  Surely, you can make it through this and things will get better.

And it does in a way, but it doesn’t.  Casseroles come rolling into the house.  Fried chicken arrives.  The only thing green that shows up is a broccoli casserole, and that doesn’t count because it’s covered in Velveeta and buttered Ritz cracker crumbs.  You smile faintly when you realize that you’re with people that consider macaroni and cheese a vegetable.  You’re grateful that when people don’t know what to say, they try to help in any way they can so they cook.  Cans of cream of mushroom soup get opened, and they find their way to the house in casserole dishes.  You look at potatoes made five different ways and feel comforted.

You head to the farmers market because you need to do something that feels normal.  You cry when Dave from VG’s bakery fills you up a box full of pastries, gives you a hug and charges you a pittance.  You’re so grateful for small kindnesses, because when your heart feels so sore, these small kindnesses remind you that there is something out there beyond pain. You go down to the river and watch your husband burst into tears, because he will never fish with his dad again.  Then you both eat a cinnamon roll.  You feel exhausted and numb and sad.  You run the rest of the day fueled by carbs and caffeine.

Then the memorial service happens.  You wait in the receiving line for hours.  You meet many people who you do not know.  You hear stories about your husband as a child.  You hear stories about your father-in-law as a child.  You feel like you are serving no purpose, and you realize that’s just because you feel empty inside.  You feel guilty because the hug you get from your own dad feels so comforting, and it makes your heart hurt for your husband even more. You have never felt more strongly in your life the desire to scoop up someone’s pain and carry it for them.  You hug your friends that are there, and you realize that you’ve never felt more grateful for them.

The next day, you get up and feel like a zombie.  You meet at the funeral home.  You watch the little kids skip merrily around the fire engines that are there to travel with you to the grave site.  You get in the car to travel to the cemetery and on the way there, you see a bum on the side of the street with his hand over his heart.  You wish you could get out and hug him.  You watch your husband watch his dad be buried.  You listen to the horns play “Taps” and feel grateful that the people that are playing are good horn players.  The last thing you want your husband, a French horn player, to be subjected to at his father’s burial is crappy horn playing. You look at your husband, and you both smile because you know you’re thinking the same thing.  You feel grateful for soft Kleenexes.  Bagpipes are played.  You think of an ex-boyfriend who played the bagpipes, and you’re so grateful that the man next to you now is named Marcus.  And the funeral is over.  And having to leave that grave site is one of the hardest things you’ve ever had to watch your husband do.  Again, your heart feels like it can’t contain your grief.

You go back home and eat more casserole.  You go back to your house and surround yourself with cats.  You both sob because last Memorial Day is the day that one of the furbabies you referred to as your firstborn died in your arms.  You get back in the car the next day and get some of the flowers from the grave site to put in your compost heap.  You know Lester would have liked to know that his funeral did something to improve your tomatoes.  And you feel like you never will feel normal again.

It’s after all this happens that you feel so alone.  I’ve found that people in the South (and probably anywhere) are wonderful in the immediate aftermath of death.  You couldn’t feel more cared for.  It’s later when your body is consumed with rage and fury that they don’t  quite know what to do with you.  They don’t want to hear the mixed bag of emotions you’re feeling, because they’ve got theirs locked down tight.  Truth has no place there, because truth is ugly.  And it makes you feel even more alone.  Because the father that my husband buried was a good man.  But he had his faults, and his pride and anger caused him to leave this earth too soon.  And sometimes my husband wishes his dad was still alive just so he could tell him how angry he is at him.  And then he realizes that it would have had the same effect it did when he tried this when his dad was alive.  And all the sadness that made your heart feel like it would explode?  Anger replaces it, and again your heart feels like it would burst from the fury that pulses out of it.

It’s one thing to be aware of the stages of grief and how people deal with it.  It’s another to be caught up in them.  One minute my husband feels like he might be at peace with his dad.  The next minute, he’s so filled with Rage that it doesn’t even feel like his body can contain it.  Then Sadness slinks in, makes itself at home in your house and drinks all your beer.  It belches loudly and wonders out loud if he can bring his good friend, Depression, to sleep on your couch for a while, because he’s a little down on his luck at the moment and just needs a place to crash.  Guilt flits in and out, leaving the door open so the cats get outside.  Acceptance says he’s going to stop by, but the party’s almost over. You realize that Acceptance won’t be stopping by, and that he’s as full of shit as he always was.

Grief is a thief in the night that whispers in your husband’s ear while he sleeps “You have no father” so that the refrain plays over and over in his head during the day.  It’s the voice the tells you both that if you ever have kids, they will never know one of their grandparents.  Your husband tells you that what was even worse than burying his dad was burying the hope he had.  The hope he had that he could find some way to break through the resentment his Dad felt towards him and find a way to make their relationship stronger.  This grief is as acute as it was the day his dad died, even almost a year later. So I tell him to write his Dad and tell him how he feels.  That we’ll burn that letter and sprinkle the ashes on his Dad’s grave and tell him goodbye again. And I feel cheesy and trite and useless for having such a simplistic idea.  But I pray with every fiber of my being that it will help.  Because this is a good man who hurts, and I love him more than I ever thought possible.

A year later you’re out for a walk and see the first fireflies of the year.  You realize that every time you see a firefly for the rest of your life, you will be grateful, and your heart will hurt.  And then you hug your husband.

Right before Marcus’s Dad got too sick to eat, we brought over soup beans, cornbread and Black Bottom Banana Cream Bars.  I knew his dad was a fan of banana pudding but I wanted to do something a little different.

My dad has always been a fan of banana cream pie – it’s his “birthday cake” every year.  One year I added a layer of chocolate to the pie and loved it.  So I definitely wanted to use chocolate.  A few years ago I had a banana bread pudding with a whiskey sauce, and it was wonderful.  So the next time I made banana pudding, I added Irish whiskey to it and loved the combination.  Pie crusts aren’t hard, but people can be intimidated by them, so I went with a graham cracker crust.  I like it better than a regular crust in this, because it mimics the vanilla wafers in banana pudding without getting soggy.  The butteriness of the crust mixed with the bittersweetness of the chocolate is perfection.  Every time we make these bars, we think of Lester.

Black Bottom Banana Cream Pie Bars
Makes 9 good-sized servings

1 1/4 cups graham cracker crumbs (about 15 crackers)
1/4 cup butter, melted (1/2 stick)
1 1/2 tablespoons brown sugar
3 ounces semi-bittersweet chocolate
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1 1/2 cups whole milk
4 large egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup flour, measured and then sifted
pinch of salt
3 tablespoons Irish whiskey
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2-3 ripe bananas
1 cup whipping cream
1/4 cup superfine sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Place the graham cracker crumbs in  a medium bowl, mix with brown sugar and pour in melted butter.  Stir well.  Place this crumb mixture in an 8×8 baking pan and pat it evenly into bottom of pan.  Bake for 7-10 minutes or until edges begin to brown.  Let cool.

Melt the chocolate with the 3 tablespoons cream in the microwave on medium power until the chocolate begins to melt. Stir well and microwave until the chocolate and cream are a smooth liquid.  Pour over crust and smooth over it so that the chocolate completely covers the crust.  Place in freezer and let cool for at least ten minutes.

Over medium-high heat, heat milk in a saucepan until it’s warm.  Set aside and let cool. You want it to still be warm but cool enough to touch without burning yourself.  Place a strainer over a medium mixing bowl and set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and sugar.  When the mixture is thick and smooth, whisk in the flour and salt.  Slowly pour in the warm milk, whisking constantly. Transfer back to the saucepan.

Cook this mixture over medium heat.  You need to stir this mixture constantly because you don’t want the bottom to scorch.  It will begin to thicken so that it looks like pudding.  Large bubbles will begin to appear.  Taste the pudding mixture (Do this carefully so you don’t burn yourself!) and see if you can detect any taste of flour.  If so, cook for another minute or two and taste again.  When you can’t detect any taste of flour, remove from heat.  Whisk in the Irish whiskey and vanilla.

Pour the pudding into the strainer to catch any lumps.  You’ll want to have a spoon handy to gently stir the pudding in the strainer so make sure all usable pudding is in the bowl.  Let cool for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, slice bananas and place over chocolate crust in a single layer. Pour the pudding over the bananas, using a spatula to scrap sides of bowl and even out the pudding in the pan.  Let the bars chill for at least four hours in the refrigerator.

Before serving, whip cream until soft peaks appear.  Add sugar, stir and let sit for a few minutes and then stir again.  You have two options to serve this. You can spread the whipped cream across the entire surface of the bars.  If you do this, let chill for a couple of hours before serving.  Or you can simply top each bar with a dollop of the whipped cream.  Serve.

Note: Do not store bars in a metal pan and make sure they are wrapped well so they don’t pick up off odors in your fridge.

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