FALL HARVEST FESTIVALS BEGIN – AND I DISCOVER A GREAT FOODIE CLUB AT ONE OF THEM!

FALL HARVEST FESTIVALS BEGIN – AND I DISCOVER A GREAT FOODIE CLUB AT ONE OF THEM!

I know, I know – I was only taking the summer off from the computer (except for necessary e-mails, and I wasn’t very good about getting to them either), but it’s somehow already gotten to October. Well, I’m back but thought I’d readjust to the blogging thing with pictures from the Honest Weight Food Co-Op’s fall harvest festival (and this could be my only blog for at least for several days), which was held Sunday, September 23rd, and a couple snapshots from an event on Madison Avenue (also in Albany). It was at Honest Weight’s fest that I found a terrific resource, both local and online!

[NOTE that this blogpost was originally written about a week ago, drafted in MS Word, but when I attempted – several times – to complete it with pictures in the WP draft, big problems arose. Possibly with Gravatar, through which my photos get processed onto the blog, but perhaps ultimately with the fact that I have an old XP computer that WordPress doesn’t like any more because I can no longer download newer versions of my browser. Also, I can’t create links attached to words or phrases in the post, so I followed the phrases with the link, which is what I was doing before I knew how to streamline the process back when I first started the blog almost a year ago on 10/7/12. Looks like there’s a problem adding tags too. New computer needed but can’t afford it for a while. So I’ll “make do” with what I have, using the more time-consuming, roundabout way daughter Kristen figured out for me to add pics. She’ll be back to see if that can be improved upon!]

So, back to the festival…  Apparently this was the “fourth annual” harvest event by Honest Weight. Who knew? I just happened upon an item in the Albany Times Union ten days beforehand and told Bill I wanted to try to get to Washington Park ( http://www.albany.com/hotspot_washington-park.cfm) on that day, where everything happens around the Lakehouse. Sunday surfaced nice and sunny, a perfect day for an outdoor festival. Especially one that promised “more than 45 local growers, chefs, artisans and other vendors, plus family fun, prizes, and samples from the Chefs Consortium.” It was free too. Of course, one needed $$ in order to purchase some of the great stuff available.

One of the fun things for me: nostalgia. Washington Park is situated just blocks from where I grew up, in the heart of the city of Albany, NY. It’s where I played when I was kid, with parents escorting my brothers and me when younger and then on our own as we grew older.

Zembo cousins (some of us), probably late 60s, very early 60s. Marilyn (me) in front; back are, l. to r., Mary, Jim, Lynn.

When we urbanites wanted some green background for pictures (once color photographs became more popular, or maybe just more affordable), it’s where we went with our Kodak cameras to pose for snapshots commemorating such things as First Holy Communion days and Confirmations.

First Communions all happened close to Tulip Festival Time, so I posed (looking quite holy) in front of one of the beds of tulips in the park.

The Lakehouse, opened in 1876 (for some Park history, (http://www.washingtonparkconservancy.org/Park_History.htm), still goes strong- with numerous events, spring through fall ,and then there’s winter ice skating and the Holiday Lights in the Park, a month-long drive-thru activity beginning at Thanksgiving time. The best of them (or at least the most well-advertised and attended): the annual Albany Tulip Festival in May, which has grown into a huge event since my kid-days, and musicals and plays presented free to the public all summer long.

We don’t get into Albany all that often, although there’s plenty to attract our attention, but each time we do find ourselves in the city, the where-did-the-time-go feelings start up. I love the architecture (check out the virtual tour at http://www.albany.com/tours/washington-park/index.html?KeepThis=true&TB_iframe=true&height=500&width=1000, where you can see some of the buildings surrounding the park!) and the knowledge that I’m “home” (yes, you can go home again; it’s just that lots of it’s in your mind while you wander around what’s left of where you lived – so many changes, not all of them good). Yet Bill, who also grew up in this Dutch-settled area, and I never fail to remark to each other that it wouldn’t be bad living in this city again—except it’s noisier than the suburbs and, inevitably, the issue of parking emerges.

So, mostly in pictures, here’s the fall food festival – with few comments provided. You’ll have to read further to find out what that newly-discovered foodie club’s all about. You might even want to join online!

*****

Once we found a parking spot along Madison Avenue, we walked around the edge of the lake to the starting point of the festival, where a hay and pumpkin set-up blocked the road off, marking Honest Weight’s temporary territory. (Yup, that’s me hold my bags – which are filled since the pic was actually snapped just before leaving.)

Two aisles to choose from, so we headed in the direction of the Lakehouse area first…

Which is where I found the FROM SCRATCH CLUB (FSC, at http://fromscratchclub.com/) table, in the tent outside the Lakehouse (enroute, stopping so Bill could get a cup of chili for lunch)….

On their table, FSC had information about classes the group holds (dubbed “FSC Academy”), both in Ballston Spa and at the Arts Center of the Capital Region in Troy. They also hold “food swaps” of homemade items in various parts of the Capital District/Saratoga area.

I noticed a book I love atop some papers, An Everlasting Meal by Tamar Adler (I wrote about its influence on me in a 5/25/12 blogpost titled “How to Get Rave Reviews: Start with Homemade Chicken [or Other] Stock” at https://kitchencauldron.wordpress.com/2012/05/26/how-to-get-rave-reviews-start-with-homemade-chicken-or-other-stock/). I commented to one of the women behind the table on how much I enjoyed that book, and she told me about FSC’s book club online at GoodReads (http://www.goodreads.com -you can join too- just look for book clubs). I took some flyers about the group. Adler’s book was their first read and they were about to start on The Homemade Pantry: 101 Foods You Can Stop Buying & Start Making by Alana Chernila (Crown Publishing Group, Random House, 2012). I already owned this one too and had read it this past spring. I decided I was going to check this out!

Hubby and I then wandered back the way we’d come, perusing fresh vegetables and homemade items on the opposite side of the aisle. At one booth, we bought two scones (which we devoured a couple days later) and two cinnamon-apple buns (Bill ate one right away; our son Adrian happily consumed the other the next day). Up the other lane of tents, angled around the hill in front of the Lakehouse, I found a stand of yummy-looking baked goods, from which I selected four huge cookies, two cranberry-chocolate chip plus two choc-chips with potato chips and pretzels. I managed to munch on one while walking around and the rest came home with us.

One of my favorite vendors from the Schenectady Green Market, The Pasta Factory, had taken the day off from that Electric City gig to participate in Honest Weight’s extravaganza. I bought ¾ pound of a multi-colored orzo that contains a note indicating there’s a bit of jalapeno in it (Bill & Ade will love that!), as well as ¾ pound of a mixture of various shapes and colors whose ingredients list included things like sweet potato and lime. The latter mix became an Italian-style casserole Tuesday might, created with good cheeses, sauce from scratch, and ground Italian sweet sausage – which went over BIG with the guys. (No, that recipe isn’t going to appear on this blog because I didn’t take any pictures!) That “sauce from scratch,” incidentally, included a dozen very orange, heirloom, plum tomatoes that called to me from another festival table, popping up from perches in a recycled egg carton!

We wandered around for at least an hour-and-a-half, loving the sights, sounds, aromas and weather.

 

No visit to Washington Park, at least not in the Lakehouse area, is complete for me without a visit to Moses (http://alloveralbany.com/archive/2011/04/18/the-moses-fountain-in-washington-park) . The monument, that is. Moses has been around the park since his unveiling in 1893. We played around Moses (and on Moses, when we could get away with it – a different definition, when I think of it, for “on the rocks”)  as kids, occasionally coming away with scrapes and cuts. The garden area encircling him is awesome. I especially love the blooms during our short tulip season in May – absolutely gorgeous. During this visit I even spoke with a woman who said she had also climbed the monument when she was a kid, although I think she said she lived on the other side of the park from where we resided. She’d recently returned from out-of-state to once again live in the area.

After a few minutes of rest on a park bench, we headed back toward the car, past the festive tents.

You’d think we’d had enough but we decided to stop by the Madison Avenue event, which was more like a block party than a harvest fest. I bought a great chocolate Halloween witch, etched in tinted chocolate atop a totally chocolate casket, which opened to reveal mini-chocolate pumpkins, skulls (white choc), and a black (dark choc) cat. All innards melted in my mouth within a day or so, and – with a little help from Adrian- you might say we terminated the casket. I also came away with a preserve from a woman who said she’s used it as a rub on pork, to the raves of dinner guests.

Best part of this stop, however, was that we ran into several friends, including Therese and hubby Frank, and another poet/writer friend (another Frank), and Anne Marie and Ed . Anne Marie’s White Pine Studio (http://www.etsy.com/shop/whitepinestudioamf) tent was pitched and selling. I brought home a pair of her handmade earrings and some of her notecards (had to get them—she’d painted the Snake Goddess picture years ago, at a time when we were on personal retreats at the same time at Still Point!).

Bill chatted with Ed for a while. Ed and I shared an office years ago, back when we both worked for NYS Division of Parole – on the very same block of Madison Avenue where this fest was happening! I think he even mentioned something about being back in his old neighborhood again as well… ah, nostalgia again (and his mom was with them too!).

I think Ed & Anne Marie might be posing right in front of the building (since remodeled) where Ed & I shared an office back in the mid-’90s. If it not, then it’s the place next-door.

We arrived home having loved the day and expecting to further enjoy it via our purchases. No fresh fruits and very few veggies were toted back to the homestead this time (the cupboard was far from bare in this department!), but we’re still lovin’ our purchased goodies. Plus, I joined GoodReads almost immediately, signed up for the FSC Book Club and have partially completed my first assignment from The Homemade Pantry. I made the Ricotta Cheese in Chapter 1 (Who’da thought I’d ever do that?!). Took pictures and will be posting them, blogging about it too. Maybe I’ll even go for Chapter 2’s Homemade Toaster Pastries. even though we were only “assigned” (no pressure to actually do it) to create one homemade goodie from either of the first two chapters.  Back in the day, I was always one of those nerds who’d go for the “extra-credit” assignment – although only for English or art class!

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WHAT TO DO WITH YOUR LEFTOVER MUFFINS & CUPCAKES

Got a couple muffins or cupcakes that are just a bit past their prime? Not likely anyone will opt to devour them in this condition? Here’s a terrific idea, gleaned from The Art of Eating In: How I Learned to Stop Spending and Love the Stove by Cathy Erway (Gotham Books, 2010).

Erway’s book, inspired by her blog, tracks her journey through what she’d determined would be a year of NOT eating in restaurants in New York City – which, when done as often as most New Yorkers do, is expensive as well as not necessarily good for either the body or the environment. It’s an engrossing book that not only chronicles her cooking and baking endeavors (with recipes) but also her adventures while exploring underground supper clubs, local cook-offs and even a few experiences with “trash diving, freegans and frualistas.” Her recipe for “Almond Custard Tarts with Leftover Muffin Crust” inspired the recipe below, hurriedly drafted as I am in the middle of packing to attend the Women Writers and Artists Matrix (WWAM) Weekend in Saratoga Springs this weekend. I wanted to get another post onto KitchenCauldron before I take off!

These are incredibly easy to make. And it was the perfect use for the leftover gluten-free almond cupcakes I’d made for the WomanWords Reading at Caffè Lena. G-free baked goods are notoriously drier the next day (although mine were more moist than most), plus these had ground nuts in them. What more could I ask for in a tart crust? (Oh yeah, I was going to assume that readers would realize they’d not be using any frosting that was on a cupcake – but then we know why one shouldn’t ASSume, right? Such assumption would make of me what the first part of that word spells out!)

The few changes I made to Erway’s recipe are noted within the recipe. I also gave the option of simply using a “cook & serve” boxed pudding, if you’re really short on time or prefer not to do custard from scratch.

Bill loved these tarts, as did I. And they’re so simple to make, yet look so fancy-schmancy!

I know I have one more cupcake recipe to post from the WomanWords 15-Year Birthday Reading, but that will wait until next week. It’s for the most popular of the cupcakes that night too – a super-rich vanilla cupcake. And then there will be the Squash & Sweet Potato Soup that I’ll want to tell you about—there’s a potluck at the home of one of the WWAM founders tomorrow night, and I made it in the slowcooker! All I have to do is remember to bring the camera and to actually take a few snapshots of the evening’s feast!

May you all have as creative a weekend as I am expecting to enjoy!

ALMOND (OR VANILLA) CUSTARD TARTS FROM GOING-STALE MUFFINS/CUPCAKES
Yields 4 tarts

CRUST:

Ingredients

  • 1 or 2 leftover muffins or cupcakes (the “heavier” texture of muffins make them the best candidates for these tarts, but use the latter if crumbs are truly stale, especially if there are nuts in them!)
  • 1 tablespoon water (you could use melted butter instead, which I did, but not necessary)

Process

  1. Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. In a bowl, crumble your muffin or cupcake by hand.
  3. Add the water (or butter) and combine with a spatula. Mixture should be moist but you don’t want it to stick together in a ball.
  4. Press the mixture with your hands or a spatula firmly into the sides of four ramekins.
  5. Place the ramekins on a baking tray and bake for 10 to 15 minutes.
  6. Remove to a wire rack and cool completely before filling.

CUSTARD (two options):

Option #1 Ingredients

  • ½ cup sugar
  • 2 cups whole milk (I don’t stock whole milk so I combined 1¼ cup 2% and ¾ cup heavy cream)
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 1 teaspoon almond or vanilla extract
  • ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • Fresh berries for topping (optional) – I had only frozen strawberries, which don’t look as pretty but they sure tasted good!

Option #1 Process

  1. Whisk sugar, milk, extract and nutmeg together in a saucepan.
  2. Scald the mixture by bringing it to a boil. Then turn off the heat (if you have an electric stove, make sure you remove it from the burner or hot cooktop area!)
  3. In another bowl, lightly beat the egg yolks.
  4. While stirring, add a small amount (about a teaspoonful) of the heated milk mixture (this is called tempering, which should ensure the eggs don’t begin to cook when adding hot liquid).
  5. Gradually add a few more teaspoons of milk mix. Mixture should be smooth, not lumpy.
  6. When you’ve added about ½ cup of the milk mixture, pour the egg mix into the milk one.
  7. Cook over medium heat, stirring once in a while, until the custard has thickened to where it coats the back of a spoon dipped into it.
  8. Pour custard into the baked tart shells.
  9. Sprinkle with a little more nutmeg.
  10. Chill in refrigerator until set, about 3 to 4 hours.
  11. Serve with berries atop, if using.

Option #2 Ingredients

  • 1 box “cook & serve” vanilla pudding (strongly advised not to use “instant” pudding – it’s just terrible)
  • ½ teaspoon of almond extract (if you want to add a bit of almond flavor to vanilla)
  • Up to ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
  • Berries, as noted above in Option #1

Option #2 Process

  1. Cook pudding according to directions on the box, adding extract (if using) and nutmeg.
  2. Chill for amount of time directed on box.
  3. Serve with berries atop, if using.

Brown Sugar Banana Bread & “Back in the Day” with Uncle Arch

I didn’t need another cookbook. But then I was in the grocery store earlier this week, scanning through the cooking magazines. I’d already bought (or received via subscription), and read or perused, all my favorites for the month; so I was hoping that some articles or recipes in a less-familiar (to me) mag would catch my eye enough to warrant a closer read at home. A large illustration in Taste of the South did just that – it was the cover of The Back in the Day Bakery Cookbook: More Than 100 Recipes from the Best Little Bakery in the South.

I knew I’d seen it at Barne’s & Noble, maybe even opened it up to a few pages. How could I not? Its authors, Savannah bakery owners Cheryl Day and Griffith Day, adorn the cover. They stand in front of shelves painted a bright blue stationed against an old brick wall painted white, its tiers holding all sorts of bakery paraphernalia and a few cakes. Everything about them is down-home looking, casual and comfortable. He sports tan big-pocketed shorts, a beige/brown plaid shirt and sneakers. She’s in an old-fashioned, red-polka-dots-on-white, short-sleeved dress, with a bit of a dainty feathered or flowered adornment atop her curly-topped head, and dark ballerina-type shoes. A blue apron that I wouldn’t necessarily accessorize with that outfit seems to work exactly right for Cheryl. She balances, waitress-style, a tray of what look like extra-huge cookies. And they aren’t just smiling – they’re laughing!

As I read a bit of the Q&A-formatted article, which highlights the cookbook, a few other things heightened my interest. Number One: their bakery/café is located in Savannah, Georgia, a city I’ve only enjoyed once but could grow to love. Unfortunately, we were driving north from Florida, from visiting various relatives, so we couldn’t stay longer than two overnights – and it happened to be a cold January for the South in 2009 (ok, comparatively speaking, it wasn’t so cold since our adult kids had been through a couple of not-so-great snowstorms during our absence). Still, we toured parts of the city (gorgeous architecture, great history) and managed to stumble across Food Network celebrity Paula Deen’s restaurant, The Lady and Sons. We’d already eaten a yummy lunch at a little café downtown and didn’t plan to go inside, but the hostess happened to mention that we could Just Do Dessert – and that they happened to bake the best pecan pie in the South. Bill had to test out that boast since he loves pecan pie. We did coffee with our pies, Bill nodding happily through his perfect pecan snack, as well as scarfing down what I couldn’t finish of the huge portion of key lime pie I’d ordered!

I also loved the description of the Back in the Day bakery. Homey, a neighborhood place where people gather, a true community deliberately sought by its founders. It doesn’t sound like just southern hospitality – it smacks of “the olden days” when such places existed in neighborhoods everywhere in this country, when fast-food and chain restaurants hadn’t taken over our eating habits and computer screens weren’t our primary source of social networking.

And the recipes! Reviewing the recipe for Chocolate Heaven Cake in Taste of the South convinced me that this cookbook deserved a closer viewing, and that’s just what I did next time I was in a bookstore. I bought it. And the very next day, before I’d even checked out any recipes beyond their Brown Sugar Banana Bread on page 45, I was spending the morning (yesterday) baking the absolute best banana bread I’d ever made, maybe the best I’d ever even tasted! (Of course, I did slightly modify Back in the Day’s bread, creating my own rendition – because that’s what I do, that’s creativity.) I sent three slices over to our daughter Kristen’s apartment for her to enjoy when she got home from work (via Bill, when he went out to run errands), along with some chicken soup made the day before. That evening, she let us know that she’d devoured two of the three slices and gave it a rating of “awesome.”

There’s also something about the expression, Back in the Day…, that got to me. Cheryl Day and Griffith Day didn’t, as you might think, choose it for its nostalgic twist. They liked a different “twist” about it – the play on their last name! Well, we share the last name, but I hadn’t looked at the authors’ names on the book until I read about how they picked it out. I was lost in the nostalgia instead.

Right to left: Aunt Pat (in back), Aunt Dot w/cuz Diane on lap, Grandma Boyd, Uncle Doug (standing), Aunt Pat’s mom & brother, maybe brother’s wife, Uncle Arch (far right)

Back in the Daytweaks memories of the past, of long-gone simpler times. This morning, for example, having spent a good deal of yesterday finishing the two-page “bio” of my Uncle Doug for the “Honor a Vet” ceremony mentioned in my last blogpost, family was on my mind – and for some reason the expression made me think of my Uncle Arch, who wasbriefly mentioned in yesterday’s writing. I imagined him beginning one of his stories with Back in the day..., continuing on with a tale that might be factual, or bear a tidbit of fact, but surely was spun into a fantasy of his own making.

Everyone loved Uncle Arch (real name Archibald, but he’d never tell you that!). He was funny and fun-loving, generous, and quite handsome (as were all the Boyd boys). He could also be unpredictable. My father decided early in his acquaintance with this brother-in-law that he probably ought not to go drinking with him too often – leastwise not unless they were on foot. Mom told me that the first time they did that, “Arch was driving and your father found himself on the road to Kingston or Poughkeepsie or some point far south of Albany, never getting home until the wee hours of the morning!” Dad didn’t drive, so he had no choice but to go along.Two of my funniest memories of my uncle:

Front: Aunt Ann, Uncle Arch; my mom, Dolly. Back: Uncle Doug, Aunt Pat, Aunt Naomi, Walt. (Sometime in the late 1980s?)

When my Aunt Naomi was surprised with a 60th birthday party by her four adult children many years back, Uncle Arch wasn’t present during the “surprising” part but showed up about an hour late. Everyone was saying, “Where’s Arch? Isn’t he coming?” By this time in her life, Aunt Naomi’s husband (Uncle Corley) has passed away but I can’t remember if she was already seeing Walt yet (they would marry sometime later). What I do recall is that there were several people present who did not know Uncle Arch, or not as well as we did, and some of them were Walt’s relatives – so when he walked into the hall, wearing all black duds with a priest’s collar at his neck, many didn’t know he wasn’t some Catholic Father come to bless Naomi! He walked about for a little while, making the sign of the cross and some sorts of holy conversation while those who knew him were in stitches, some with eyes watering from laughter. He definitely livened up the place.

Our yard circa 1989. Brother George, cousin David (sole surviving son of Uncle Arch), Uncle Arch, George’s first wife Sharon, George & Sharon’s son Matt.

Another time – on a visit to their home in Perth, NY (outside Amsterdam) – Bill, our two kids and my mother made the 40-minute trip to see Aunt Ann and Uncle Arch. Adrian, our son, was at that early teen stage where he preferred to be with his friends at home rather than “old” family people, so normally he’d rather not join us when we attended many family events. But he loved Uncle Arch in the same way and for the same reasons my brothers, cousins and I always did. You never knew what to expect from him, but it would often be fun. As we sat in the yard in front of their A-frame, talking about the vegetable garden, Adrian fiddling with an antique wooden mousetrap that my uncle had found somewhere and brought home (totally not humane as it had a trap door that dropped the poor creature to a drowning demise), something about the conversation caught Ade’s attention. Maybe Uncle Arch was testing to see if Ade was listening when he mentioned weird noises out back at night, near the garden. Pretty soon, noting Adrian caught up in the tale, he embellished the story with a spaceship, flashing lights, aliens and an invitation to go for a ride. At that point, we all knew he was BSing us. Adrian grinned back at his great-uncle’s shit-eating grin (you know, like that grin Steve McQueen would flash in The Great Escape, as he strut back into the POW camp, his escape attempt foiled by the Nazis?). Give Uncle Arch a prompt like, It was a dark and stormy night… and off he’d go!

That was Uncle Arch, joke-teller, house painter, Navy war veteran, movie-star good looks, lover of beer and stories. My favorite. Who might’ve started a story with Back in the day… and, on occasions when he pondered some sad or horrific event, would simply say, It don’t make..., leaving off that last word, sense… because sometimes it just doesn’t sense. Especially not the loss of two sons before they even reached middle-age (one murdered, one struck by a car), nor the disabling of their third son and last surviving child. Yet his love of life never faltered, nor his and Aunt Ann’s generous and loving care of their last-surviving son and their grandchildren. Aunt Ann still lives in that A-frame with several of them.

So here’s what I did differently from Back in the Day’s version of banana cake (It was a warm and cozy kitchen… can be your prompt for today):

To start with, I don’t own the prescribed 9” x 5” loaf pan. In my overcrowded baking pans & equipment space (a pull-out shelf over the wall oven, which I don’t dare pull out for fear of several metal objects clattering to the floor below), I could locate a much larger loaf pan (its length measures 9½ inches), a smaller one, and several mini-loafers. I chose the smaller one, 8½” x 4½” x 2¾”, and then buttered up a small ramekin to fill along with the loaf pan (which very nicely provided me with a “sampler” to share with Bill while the larger one cooled). The recipe below, however, is written for the 9 x 5 pan since that’s the amount of batter it will make.

I didn’t put my oven rack on in the bottom of one-third of the oven; I just forgot. It was in the center. Perhaps that might be why my loaf took a little longer to bake. Or not.

The next revision was out of necessity: it turned out I only had ½ cup of light brown sugar but, luckily, an unopened bag of brown sugar sat in the same plastic container on the lazy-susan under the counter. I adjusted the ¾ cup in the original recipe to reflect what I already had.

I love that the original recipe uses mace, an ingredient that I’d found difficult to locate in larger markets around here for a while (all of a sudden, at least Hannaford carries small containers of it now!) – but I reduced the mace, cutting it in half, and then added nutmeg to the mix.

Once I’d mashed up the bananas, I decided to zip a bit of lemon juice on them to stave off the browning while I followed through on the rest of the prep work of gathering together my ingredients (in case you didn’t already know, this is called mis en place).

Back in the Day uses vanilla extract, which would be perfectly fine, but I decided to add vanilla powder instead. I figured the little bit of lemon juice would balance out the loss of a teaspoon of the liquid extract. I hoped adding of lemon, an acidic ingredient, wouldn’t throw off the balance of overall ingredients required for good baking results.

I opted not to add an optional brown sugar sprinkling on top. Good decision – it was plenty sweet enough!

THE VERY BEST BROWN SUGAR BANANA BREAD EVER
Yields One (1) 9-inch loaf

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup light brown sugar
  • ¼ cup dark brown sugar
  • ¾ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon fine sea salt (or table salt will do)
  • ½ teaspoon ground mace
  • ½ teaspoon fresh ground nutmeg
  • ½ teaspoon Roasted Saigon Cinnamon (regular cinnamon is okay; I use Roasted Saigon variation because of deeper, richer flavor)
  • ¼ cups pecans, toasted then chopped (If you’ve never toasted nuts before, here’s a basic how-to for all three methods; I like either stovetop or oven method.)
  • 1 ½ cups well-mashed, ripe bananas (I had 2 very ripe and 2 just-over-the-green stage of the fruit, about medium sized, that worked out well.)
  • a squirt or two of lemon juice
  • ¼ cup sour cream
  • 2 large eggs
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla powder

Process:

  1. Lightly grease a 9” x 5” loaf pan with butter or vegetable oil spray. Line the bottom with parchment paper.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, brown sugars, baking soda, salt, mace, nutmeg, cinnamon and pecans. Set aside.
  3. In a medium bowl, mix together the mashed bananas, sour cream eggs, butter and vanilla powder with a wooden spoon.
  4. Fold the banana mixture into the flour mix until just combined.
  5. Scrape the batter into the prepared loaf pan, spreading evenly across the top.
  6. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes, or until loaf is golden brown and a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean. (NOTE: I don’t own a 9” x 5” loaf pan, as noted above – using the smaller pan, plus a ramekin, might have caused my longer baking time, which was something like 70 minutes – or maybe it was my changes to the recipes. Doesn’t matter to me cuz the bread was supreme!)
  7. Cool loaf in its pan for 5 to 10 minutes; then transfer to a wire rack (although I just put it on its platter, which I placed on a rack).

Can’t wait to bake that Chocolate Heaven Cake – but it will become cupcakes, maybe even for the WomanWords (my writing collective) 15-Year Birthday. I should be toting cupcakes to the Caffe Lena Open Mic in Saratoga Springs, NY on April 4, 2012, where WW will be featured. Readers will be Judith Prest, Kristen Day, Lesley Tabor, Leslie Neustadt, Mary Armao McCarthy, Kittie Bintz, Kelly de la Rocha and myself. Doors open at 7 p.m. – come join us if you’re nearby and free!

Uncles, World War II: front – David; back, left – Archibald; back, right – Douglas

Munching at the Moosewood

If you’re a foodie, possibly you know about the Moosewood Restaurant in Ithaca, NY, having browsed cookbooks  at Barnes & Noble or other bookstores. If you’re a vegetarian and seek out flavorful foods, you probably even own one of those cookbooks. If you’re both foodie AND follow some form of vegetarian or semi-vegetarian diet, you likely realize that the Moosewood is world-famous for its vegetarian cuisine (with an occasional fish entrée thrown in). Maybe you’ve even traveled to Ithaca, Gateway to the Finger Lakes – home to Cornell University, Ithaca College (famed for its School of Music), and a thriving community of artists. If you’ve been there, I hope you dropped by Moosewood for lunch or dinner. It’s a delicious experience.

I’ve done dinner at Moosewood once, with my husband Bill. Twice, I’ve enjoyed lunches there. The first time one of my writer friends, Kathe Kokolias, and I traveled to Ithaca to visit with our friend Jan Tramontano, who was finishing her novel at Saltonstall Arts Colony. Most recently (last weekend), I shared lunch with both hubby Bill and our daughter Kristen, who first introduced me to Moosewood cookbooks when she was a teenage vegetarian. Each time, I enjoyed scrumptious food and lovely ambiance.

Let me preface my stories about Moosewood meals by telling you that I am not a vegetarian. Neither is Bill. I could be a vegetarian, except that I happen to enjoy (and make) several meat-endowed dishes; and I love chicken and turkey. And eggs. Hard-boiled, over-easy, deviled, baked, lots of which-ways (and they’re so necessary for lots of baking). I could be content eating meat maybe once or twice a week. As for Bill – no way. He can tolerate several meatless meals in a week, even enjoy a good cheese or veggie lasagna or other concoction I might serve, but he’d want his red meat, pork, ham, or even occasional lamb (no veal – I don’t buy or cook veal) at least a few times per week. Our son Adrian would eat meat every day, even twice a day, if he could. Kristen, on the other hand, had her totally vegetarian phase back in high school and for a while afterward. Now she sometimes indulges in chicken or turkey, provided someone else prepares it.

If you don’t know about the “labels” that now describe vegetarians, vegans and semi-vegetarians, you might check out the Wikipedia article on vegetarians. You’d be amazed at the varieties! And anyone who falls into any of these categories would likely find foods on the Moosewood menu that they could consume.

Non-vegetarians love Moosewood too, where they might discover an occasional fish entrée, just as creatively prepped as the strict veggie ones. I imagine that many of the family groups sighted at nearby tables include carnivore parents in town to visit their vegetarian college kids, who’ve dragged them to the restaurant. Whether or not they started out simply to indulge their Ivy League or artsy offspring, they all looked (to me) like they appreciated the yummy food before them.

Kathe, Jan and I sat on the terrace for our lunch years ago, enjoying warm Indian Summer weather as our meals were served. My entrée was an awesome stuffed zucchini dish, but I best recall dessert. Simple and amazingly satisfying. Fresh figs, perhaps warmed by a quick visit to the oven (?), and cheeses. Maybe there was a dribble of sweet sauce on the plate. All I know is that I’d never before tasted a fresh fig. My only exposure to figs: Fig Newtons, which I happen to like in very small quantities. I was impressed with the simplicity and enamored by the burst of flavors that offset each other yet worked together. Memory is a strange thing. Details often get erased but the overall experience usually stays with you if it’s particularly good (or, in contrast, especially bad). This memory made me determined that I’d bring Kristen to Moosewood someday.

When Bill and I managed a trip to Ithaca, it was too cold for the terrace but it was cozy and warm inside. My non-vegetarian husband was happy to note that the evening’s dinner menu included Oven Poached Salmon. Several portions of Moosewood’s menu change daily and we hadn’t checked online beforehand, so it was a pleasant surprise to see fish listed among the four entrée choices. I decided on the Calabacitas Burrito, described as a “Wheat tortilla filled with spiced sautéed summer squash, zucchini, carrots, corn and bell peppers with cheddar & neufchatel cheeses; served with tomato-chili sauce, sour cream. drunken beans & rice.” Before the waitress arrived, we looked more closely at Bill’s preferred main course: “Fresh fillet poached with lemon and served with shallot tarragon butter, wide rice pilaf and Brussels sprouts.” Since there are only three vegetables he cannot stand – Brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes, and lima beans – he was in a quandary, wondering if substitution was doable, given the limited number of entrée options to begin with. When our waitress returned to take our order, Bill cited the last line on the menu, which reads, in part, “If you have any dietary restrictions or food allergies, please consult your waiter…” She laughed as he inquired whether or not the fact that he hates Brussels sprouts qualifies as “a dietary restriction”; then she assured him that the kitchen might be able to substitute broccoli (which he loves).

We enjoyed both of our meals and, unable to “fit in” dessert, ordered it “to go.” Bill went for the Red Devil Cake, a recipe that can be found in the Moosewood Restaurant Book of Desserts. I own this cookbook and hope to eventually get around to baking what I guess you might say is a healthier version of a Red Velvet Cake – its color doesn’t come from bottled artificial food dyes; it’s from canned beets! I had to find out what Vegan Pumpkin Pie tasted like. Pumpkin pie without eggs? And how did they pull together that pastry? It turned out to be passable but definitely not The Real Thing that I love.

Incidentally, the Creamy Butternut Squash soup was perhaps the best rendition of that kind of soup I’ve ever slurped down (while wishing I’d ordered a bowl instead of a cup). Bill said his Turkish Red Lentil soup was excellent as well.

Last weekend, we arrived at Moosewood about an hour before they stop serving lunch. Entrée choices on the menu this time were Spanish Frittata, Vegan Lasagna, Kevin’s Torta, Red Bean Burrito (another vegan possibility), Salmon Cake or a Salad Plate (also vegan-friendly). Kevin’s Torta sounded like heaven to me: “Flaky filo pastry strudel made with leeks, spinach, portabello mushrooms, dill and an array of sharp and mellow cheeses; served with marinated vegetables.” Kristen liked the sound of the Spanish Frittata (“Layers of roasted potatoes and onions, Spanish olives, sharp and mellow cheeses baked in an egg custard and served with zesty chipotle aioli.”). Bill immediately gravitated toward the Salmon Cake but then there was the description, which closed with “served with marinated vegetables, creamy tartar sauce and mashed sweet potatoes.” Sweet potatoes, another one of The Dreaded Three. I assured him it would be fine to once again ask if a different side could be substituted, but he replied, “Well, no, I won’t bother. Besides, I can tolerate sweet potatoes much better than the horrible taste of Brussels sprouts!” I found myself pondering whether or not I’d somehow muted this particular culinary aversion in him when I managed to sneak sweet potatoes into my pumpkin soup (for texture, since I use canned pumpkin), not revealing the underhanded trick until he exclaimed to dinnertime company that “Marilyn’s pumpkin soup is excellent; you have to try it.”

As soon as our waitress came over to the table she informed us, “I have to tell you there’s only one order of Kevin’s Torta left; it’s really popular today.” Unfortunately, by the time she returned to the kitchen with our orders, the last Torta was already spoken for; and I became the one “substituting” this time, deciding on the same entrée Kristen had requested. Everything was scrumptious, including our soups (Curried Lentil and Creamy Tomato) and fresh salads (great dressings). Bill even ate most of his sweet potatoes. We didn’t do dessert this time since we planned to head to the nearby artsy shopping area, after which we wanted to search for a Thai restaurant Bill & I had glimpsed on our last trip to Ithaca (Kris loves Thai).

It’s been a joy to sample foodfare at the Moosewood Restaurant, not just because I’ve loved their cookbooks over the years but also because it’s both tasty and healthy. Reasonably priced too. I own three of the Moosewood books, as well as four more by the author of the original Moosewood Cookbook (Ten Speed Press, 1977 with subsequent editions), Mollie Katzen. I especially love her Enchanted Broccoli Forest (Ten Speed Press, 1982, also with subsequent editions). And the original recipe for my chocolate-banana mousse, posted on this blog on 11/18/11 with my enhancements, evolved from Katzen’s Bittersweet Chocolate-Banana Mousse recipe in her Vegetable Heaven (Hyperion, 1997). Somehow, however, doesn’t everything taste better when someone else prepared it? Especially, I have to say, at the Moosewood.

There remains yet one unanswered question for me and my family as I close this blogpost about my three, Bill’s two and Kristen’s one visit to the Moosewood. What are the chances that, at a future culinary outing there, Bill’s preferred menu option would include a sidedish of lima beans? (Succotash anyone?)