Baking Phase

My Inspiration

Like many of you, inferred by the lack of flour on the grocery shelves, I have been doing more baking recently. 

I had planned on doing this after I left store proprietorship in an effort to improve my baking skills, since I am not a great baker. I love to cook and am rather fearless, and I think pretty good at it.

When I was in high school I felt like cooking something one day, so looked through my mom’s well-worn copy of Betty Crocker to see what I could try given which ingredients were on hand. I found cheese soufflé and promptly got started. When my mother came home, she was astounded – she had always been too intimidated to try a soufflé. Since I knew nothing of a souffle’s finicky character, I had proceeded without concern and was completely successful. Cheese soufflé became a pillar of my arsenal of recipes. In fact, still while in high school, I had two friends over for a “nice” lunch. I used my mother’s cream bone china plates and the good silverware. And what a beauty my lunch was – ripe, Michigan tomato slices, steamed broccoli and my cheese soufflé! A feast for the eyes! Unfortunately, Debby didn’t like tomatoes (which I knew and had forgotten) and Mary Kay didn’t like broccoli. But no matter – after I made them appreciate how pretty my “plating” was, I swapped Debby’s tomatoes out for Mary Kay’s broccoli and everyone was happy. I don’t remember what I served for dessert. Perhaps ice cream. 

Baking, despite an earlier friend’s interest, didn’t really grab me. Maybe because this friend always wanted to bake a cake when I was at her house, and I didn’t particularly care one way or another, and so would agree. She’d greet me at the door, asking “do you want to bake a cake? I’ll ask my mom!” And off she’d go to return a minute later with permission granted along with the caveat that we clean up our mess. Years later when my mom told me she was puzzled that Mrs. Clancey thought I must be a good baker since I’d always wanted to bake when I came over to see Marilyn, I realized I had been used! And I don’t have any recollection of even eating any of that cake!

Of course, I made cookies, and fudge and boxed mix cakes. But there was always something of a struggle – the first batch of cookies was underdone, the last was always burned. I think I was so happy to be done rolling, or scooping, or cutting, I invariably forgot that last sheet in the oven until I began to smell them burning. It was complicated by the fact that while I own several cookie sheets, each is a different size and material. I will look at them in the stores, but get confused over which might be best, and not wanting to waste my money on something that won’t give stellar results, walk away empty-handed only to be frustrated next time I decide to make cookies. 

Cakes weren’t much better. I remember a sheet cake I made – twice – for my son’s birthday. It was even from a box, but didn’t quite rise even though I’d followed the directions carefully. Or the scones I made from a mix that turned out a batter that was more like cake batter. Luckily I had a second mix, so kept adding until it was the right consistency, and was able to turn out some scones. Later, I reviewed where I had gone wrong, and ended up discovering that my American made Pyrex 2 cup measuring cup was not calibrated correctly! I still have it, because it’s handy, although I don’t use it for measuring. Just recently, amazed that this really could be true, I checked again, using measures I know to be accurate. Sure enough – at the two-cup mark, viewed correctly, at eye level, it contains three ounces too much. No wonder my scone batter was so thin!

I have managed some successes. Flourless chocolate decadence, a to-die-for lemon cake, a spectacular pear/cranberry tart with almond flavored filling that I would show my guests in its pre-cut beauty before serving. My mother-in-law’s brownie recipe I now avoid due to indigestion! I would make Christmas bread with my son every year from an old friend’s Swedish family recipe. It used yeast, which was a big deal to me, and was braided, and we’d top it with slivered almonds and colored sugars. So pretty, and so fragrant with cardamom, it made nice gifts if we could part with a few loaves!

Usually, I would bake as part of a menu I was putting together, or as a celebratory stand-alone treat. It wasn’t something I had time for or particular interest in.

On the other hand, I love cooking and trying new recipes. It is something I do every day, after all, and I get tired of my repertoire. So I love cookbooks, especially those with pretty, inspiring pictures!

I have confidence as a cook. I feel as though I understand the science behind it, so I can alter a recipe, or move ahead with confidence, knowing that throwing more or less carrot in, for example, will not throw off the whole thing. I know to make a sauce I need a fat, a starch and a liquid, so can play with what I have. No chicken broth? How about some wine? I find cooking to be very creative, and I savor that.

I felt less confident grilling, and over the past few years have improved immensely. Yet again, my tools frustrated me. We had a charcoal grill and I could never get the timing of the coals just right. Chicken would come off the grill either raw inside or burned on the outside. Or both! Since I was the one with the interest, my husband gifted me with a gas grill several years ago for our anniversary and voila! I can grill!! I have even spatch-cocked chicken, thank you very much!

So baking is my next hurdle. I know it’s the careful measuring, the mixing of dry, and then the wet. The whipping of egg whites to the proper consistency. Less slap dash than cooking – more of a science, but still an art. Hmmmm.

I fell in love with one of the cookbooks I ordered for the shop – Hannah Queen’s Honey and Jam. It’s subtitled Seasonal Baking from My Kitchen in the Mountains. I love the look of this book – the old-fashioned tea towel looking binding, reminiscent of one your grandmother would have owned. It’s organized seasonally in order to take advantage of what is fresh and peak, and she includes tips for buying and storing fruit and vegetables used in her recipes. A food photographer by trade, Hannah’s photos are surely inspirational, and make this book a pleasure to read. She is from the Appalachian Mountain area of Georgia and there are many photos of the area’s fruits, flowers and other rural details.

It was my intention to delve into the approachable recipes in this book, but have only fairly recently done so. Several weeks ago I made the Spiced Parsnip Cake with toasted Walnut-Brown Sugar Glaze. It was pretty amazing! I like parsnips anyway, and this was like a carrot cake with a bit less sweetness. Especially warm, I could pick out the flavor of the parsnips, and we decided a nice dollop of freshly whipped cream would be an over-the-top addition!

I am learning some things, which is the idea, right? I was making the Lemon-Rosemary Custard Cake, which works like those Bisquick Impossible Pies. Remember those?

What I learned:

  1. “Room Temperature” is subjective. The recipe called for two cups room temperature milk (I did NOT use my Pyrex 2-cup measure!) to be mixed with a combination of egg yolks and melted butter that had cooled a bit. Well, on that day, my room temperature was only about 64 degrees. So even though I had warmed the milk a bit, it was not what most people would call room temperature, which I’m guessing would be closer to 70 degrees. As a result my butter/egg yolk mixture sort of lumped up when I began adding the milk. So I heated the remaining milk some more, and beat out the butter lumps as best I could. 
  2. Finely Chopped does not mean finely minced I think I over minced my rosemary and it sort of disappeared in the batter. I will try this again and make sure my rosemary and lemon are more flavorful.

Last week I tried a Spring recipe using rhubarb, as I have some sprouting up in the yard. It is Rhubarb Kuchen, and I was making it early (I thought) because I was going to have it as a dessert after a braised red cabbage and pork loin dinner.

A nice smooth batter!

I had double-checked my ingredient list, and found it called for yeast. Checked in the refrigerator – I had two envelopes – yay! But the expiration date on both was a year ago. So I planned to buy more yeast in case what I had really was no good. Also more flour, since I’m baking now! Well, you know. I went to the store, where our desire is to “grab and go right now”, and the whole baking section was pathetic. Not only was there no flour, which I was okay on, there was no yeast! So we spent way longer in that aisle than I would have liked, looking for yeast.

Fingers crossed…

I decided I would try the yeast I had. Dissolving the yeast in warm water was the first step in the recipe, so I figured I would see how it went. If neither envelope worked, I would look for another recipe. And during the five minutes I waited to see if the yeast responded, I could measure out my flour, get the eggs out and warm them in warm water (see, I’m learning) and find all the spices I’d need.

What I learned about yeast:

  1. The Use By Date on the package is probably a decent indicator of whether the yeast will work. I carefully took the temperature of my water, mixed the correct amount with the yeast in a cup and added a pinch of sugar, as suggested on the packet. Then I worked on getting the other ingredients prepped. Five minutes later the mixture looked pretty much as it had when I first mixed it.
  2. But sometimes it will still be good! While I waited to see if my second envelope would perform, I looked through another cookbook for a kuchen recipe that did not require yeast. By the time I had found one, I checked my cup of yeast, and it was nice and foamy – yay!
  3. Yeast takes longer to rise in a cool room. As I mentioned earlier, we keep our house quite cool, and when my batter didn’t seem to be rising, I remembered my grandmother had a rising box that was heated just by a light bulb. So I turned my oven on for a minute, then off, and placed the bowl of batter in the warmed oven, and it did the trick!
  4. When it says “punch down the dough”, but it’s really more of a batter, I could use a spoon instead of my fist….

The Rhubarb Kuchen was great. It was finally finished with the rest of my dinner (so much for starting early!). My only complaint is that it didn’t last long enough!

Rhubarb over batter …

then the streusel. And into the oven it goes!

I have recently created a section on our website called The Bookshelf . It’s in the pull-down menu under For Home, and I will be putting books here that I have left. Of some I have only one or two copies. I have five copies of Honey and Jam, I believe. It would make a great Mother’s Day gift for someone who likes to bake, or for someone who would like to learn – I think the recipes are not daunting, and do not have too many steps.

Voila – not bad, eh?

Parades on the 4th of July


When I was growing up, I lived in a small suburban area of Detroit. It was actually a village in terms of its governing structure, and the area contracted for fire and police from the next town over. But there was no “break” between us and the city to one side or the town to the other – just one neighborhood next to the other with the same type of houses, built at roughly the same time.

Of course, as a kid it didn’t seem to matter, except I seem to remember needing to apply for a different kind of library card, or maybe because we didn’t live in the town I wasn’t able to check books out. I have fond memories, though, of spending hours in that library during the upper levels of grade school and then in high school, surrounded by various encyclopedias and books, researching papers. I liked the silence, the focus there. And I loved looking books up in the card catalogs – those small but long drawers of index-size cards, arranged alphabetically. You could pull the whole drawer out and take it to the counter and go through it, often discovering other books on your same or another topic that were just as interesting, or more so. A few years ago I was at the local library here and asked for help from a librarian. She replied to my request by suggesting we look at the card catalog. I was so excited! I thought perhaps they had moved them to a place less obvious and I had overlooked them for years. Imagine my disappointment when she walked over and sat down before a computer! But I digress.

When you’re little, your world is small. You know how to get to school and your friends’ houses, and they usually lived pretty close. Beyond that radius, the parents were in charge of getting you where you needed to go. It was a really big deal when we were allowed to ride our bikes up to the drug store a half-mile away, armed with instructions about crossing the road – wait for the light and the walk signal, get off your bike and walk, look both ways and be careful – and coming home immediately after buying whatever it was we were allowed to buy that day, most likely a nickel (for a minute of my memory, then a dime) candy bar.

It wasn’t until I was older that I began to distinguish between where I lived, which was completely residential, and where my friend had moved, which had it’s own commercial area. She referred to it as “uptown”. “Let’s go walk uptown” she’d say, sounding ever so sophisticated, which I thought she was, anyway, since she was a year older and two grades ahead. So we’d go explore the Woolworth’s dime store full of goldfish and pet turtles, pillowcases to embroider, small plastic Disney collectible figurines, and all sorts of other treasures mixed in with mundane items like sponges and fly paper and lace doilies old people put on their chair arms to protect them from wear. We’d walk across the park in the center of town to visit the bookstore, which we both loved, then maybe into the small local department store and look at clothes. We didn’t really have much money with us, certainly not after our purchases at the dime store, so I don’t remember even trying anything on. And I felt self-conscious as a result – I felt certain the sales clerks knew we didn’t have money to buy, so we should leave! But I felt that the town was my town, too, and it was rather confusing, though nothing I thought much about. Until the Fourth of July rolled around, that is.

Every Fourth of July our Village of Beverly Hills sponsored a parade to celebrate, and it was quite an event! All the kids would decorate their bikes with crepe paper streamers and clip old playing cards to their spokes with clothespins so they made this great flapping noise which became quicker and louder as you pedaled faster and faster! We would start days ahead of the parade, whether we intended to ride in the parade or not, deciding which colors to use, and where, and whether you would make the front wheel the same as the back, or different, and don’t forget to cut some narrow pieces to make a sort of tassel coming our of that convenient hole in the plastic handlebar grips. My mom must have loved it – it really took all our attention for days!

If you weren’t planning on riding, you could dress up and walk in the parade. That’s what I most remember. Once I was Little Red Riding Hood, borrowing a voluminous red cloak from a neighbor, another time I was a Pilgrim. Halloween and Fourth of July sometimes overlapped, but a witch just would not have worked! Once, my sisters and I, along with a few neighbors rode in a float – a red convertible decorated with crepe paper and flags and banners reading Armed Forces Queens (we must have come up with that one!) and They’ll Keep Our Nation Safe (if only it was that easy). We wore our swimsuits and sashes and silver crowns that in the snapshots look like they’re made from foil covered cardboard with gems stuck on. The local paper came out and took a photo that was in that week’s paper, so we were real celebrities! I don’t remember if it was my dad’s car, and the same one I drove during college, or a neighbor’s, and I have no recollection of who drove during the parade, but I do remember practicing waving.


When I was about eight, I was unable to participate in the parade due to the mumps. I felt so left out, and my only consolation was that my dad promised to take me out for an ice cream Sunday when I was better. And true to his word, he did. I had peppermint ice cream with marshmallow topping, sitting next to my dad at the counter of the soda fountain in the local Howard Johnson’s. So even missing the parade became memorable.

The parade began at the schoolyard of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs elementary school and would its way through the neighborhood to end at Greenfield School where the local Dairy – Twin Pines – distributed Popsicles to all the kids who participated. There were ribbons as prizes for many categories – Best Patriotic, Best Historic Character, Best Decorated Bike, Best Float, etc. I won one once – can’t remember which category, but the fun was in participating. We’d start walking, and looking for our neighbors who had brought their lawn chairs out into the parking strip, lining the parade route, waving at all the kids and bikes and dogs. Our street was one of the first streets and the most fun because we knew all the people waving at us. Soon we’d be on other streets where we didn’t know anyone, which wasn’t as much fun. But we knew it was all our neighborhoods, our schools – one Catholic, one public – and our Village of Beverly Hills – and so began our sense of civic pride.

Then it would be over and we’d be looking, Popsicle in hand, for the adult come to collect us and take us home where we’d perhaps go on a picnic at a relative’s, or the backyard, and finish off the day watching fireworks from the edge of some golf course. We’d get home late, and tired from a long day with lots of activity and more memories.

In bed those nights, I’d crane my neck to see if I could press my cheek far enough against the screen to catch a last glimpse of any stray fireworks and breathe in the magical night air.

It seems a lost, nostalgic bit of Americana to me now. So “small town” and from a simpler, more naïve time. And yet, in Seattle we have the tradition of many neighborhood parades all summer long, and generally associated with Sea Fair.

Join us in Wallingford on Saturday July 8th at 11 a.m. for the Wallingford Family Parade. Get your own dose of nostalgia and have some fun!17796285_1256625677787896_3165657095613896991_n

Father’s Day is June 19th


My dad passed away almost fourteen years ago, now, and I still miss him. I think he tethered me in this world. I looked up to him even though we didn’t always agree. He unkindly teased me once about having failed as a parent because he’d raised a Democrat. Needless to say, we avoided that topic of conversation afterward!

He was someone a person could rely on, and I think he instilled a sense of the importance of integrity in all his children. None of us takes things on lightly – if we agree to do something, we do it, even if it kills us! A member of what is now termed The Greatest Generation, he was a World War II reconnaissance pilot, a period of his life he, unlike others, remembered with great fondness even though his meticulously kept photo album held m3fcf9488-74ea-470a-bb69-b85ff829010bany pictures of friends and comrades who didn’t survive. An only son, he re-entered civilian life at the end of the war since his own father had died and he felt an obligation to help his mother. Returning to college, he pursued an engineering degree and met my mom. Theirs was a typical post-war life; Dad worked, Mom stayed home with the children who began arriving approximately every two years. Between sister two and three, we moved from a smaller home into a larger one, and my dad’s mother came to live with us, too!

So here was my dad, with a wife, a mother, four daughters, and even a female cat. And I believe he was completely in his element! Aside from coming home from work, and wondering aloud if we all thought he owned the electric company because the house was “lit up like a Christmas tree”, he was pretty even-tempered. Oh, and driving – not even-tempered then. It took me years before I stopped wondering why a bee’s son was anything to be angry about!

But he liked driving, and often on a Sunday afternoon in the summer, he’d pile us all in the car and drive out into the country. Once we even took the cat, when she was a kitten, and it wasn’t until we were too far from home to turn back that she decided she didn’t like the car after all, and began to howl. That was a long afternoon, and we didn’t take the cat again.

Our vacations always involved driving. We would drive from Michigan to Buffalo, NY where my dad had been born, to see some relatives, leaving my grandma with them for a longer visit, then drive up into Canada. One year we drove all the way up around Lake Huron, through Sudbury and then down through Sault Ste. Marie. Unfortunately for Sudbury, the day we came through was miserable, grey and wet. No town would look appealing under those circumstances, but we have all remembered SudburySistersSt.Ignace as a result! I have a picture I love of the four of us on the beach in St. Ignace. Marianne is in peddle pushers atop a big rock, the other three of us are in dresses, Maureen exploring the pebbles in the wet sand, her back to the camera, Linda sitting at Marianne’s feet. I’m beyond the rock pointing down into the water at its base. We are all involved with exploring, not posing. I wonder who took the picture? I have no memory of that, but am filled with nostalgia when I look at it.

It was my dad’s job, though, to take the Christmas morning movies. He had an 8mm movie camera with big flood lights on either side, like some crazy reindeer antlers! We four would gather at the top of the stairs ready to run down on cue into the living room to discover, on camera, what Santa had brought. Good plan, right? Invariably we would get the green light, be rushing down the stairs only to be told “Wait, wait – go back up!”  The film was not moving, so we had to begin again. Except for my dad peering into the camera to be sure the film was actually moving, we never see him in our home movies!

I suppose that’s my point in writing this: what I remember about my dad, and cherish, is not what he did “out in the world”, but what he did, and who he was, within our family. And he was someone you could count on. He was at the bottom of the basement steps on Sunday morning, ready to give your shoes a polish before church, he was willing to get in the car and come check out the weird music you heard coming from the basement at the house where you were babysitting, he was the one you called when you got in a fender-bender.

He was my Dad. And I miss him always, but Father’s Day reminds me that I miss him. On Father’s Day now, I am celebrating the qualities and love my husband embodies as a fantastic father to our son, and seeing those and similar qualities in my son that will make him a great father down the road. Father’s Day has become Fathers’ Day. Maybe it should be Fatherhood Day, a celebration of both the specific fathers in our lives as well as the vocation of fatherhood and those who live it whether they be biological fathers or not. What do you think? Should we vote on it?