Author Archives: charlesprogers
Breakfast in Bed – Soul Cakes
Post by: Alison Hein.
It is my joy to create an annual Halloween recipe. In 2011 (when I began writing for Charles P. Rogers) it was the fun and popular Crêpe Dracula – a little chocolate crêpe dressed up like the count himself. Following that, I shared my secrets for baking individual Smoky Pumpkin, Egg and Bacon Cauldrons, and last year, we enjoyed rich and colorful Pumpkin Cream Crêpes.
This time, I chose to explore an ancient and somewhat confusing tradition of Soul Cakes, which are linked to the Gaelic harvest festival of Samhain, the forbear of Halloween. It was a time of year when spirits and fairies could enter more easily into our world, and celebratory, seasonal foods were served. Soul Cakes were baked with exotic saffron, perhaps to represent the great harvest sun. Much later, Samhain evolved into a Christian holiday, and Soul Cakes were made to honor the dead. Many bakers pressed currants in the tops of their cakes in the shape of a cross.
Soul Cake recipes abound, ranging from quick breads to yeast breads, tiny muffins to giant cakes. They are sweetened and spiced, glazed and decorated. I decided to make sweet, individual golden orbs, swapping out currants for plump golden raisins – tiny little suns within the great harvest sun. Fall spices add a pie-like feel, and become mysterious and aromatic when warmed. Wrap one in a colorful napkin and give it as a gift, or hoard them and share with a special someone for a soulful breakfast in bed.
10 – 12 threads of saffron
1 tablespoon hot water
¼ pound (1 stick) butter, softened, plus an additional teaspoon for greasing pans
1 cup sugar
½ cup milk
1½ cups flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
¼ teaspoon cloves
¼ teaspoon allspice
½ cup golden raisins
Preheat oven to 325°. Generously grease two 4×2-inch round cake pans and set aside.
Place the saffron threads in a mortar and crush with the pestle until powdery. Cover with 1 tablespoon hot water and let sit for at least 20 minutes.
Add butter and sugar to a large bowl, and cream together until fluffy. Beat in eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition, until batter is light and smooth. Pour milk into a measuring cup and stir in saffron “tea”. In a separate small bowl, mix together flour, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and allspice. Alternately add milk mixture and flour mixture into batter, stirring thoroughly after each addition. Gently stir in golden raisins.
Spoon batter equally into the prepared pans, smoothing the surface with a spatula. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes, until cake is golden and toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Let cool on rack for 30 minutes. Remove cakes from pans and serve warm, if you like.
Makes 2 4×2-inch cakes.
NOTE: If you are as fascinated as I am by convoluted food history, I recommend reading this engaging article and recipe from T. Susan Chang.
Bedtimes Stories: Scary Haunted House Books for Adults
Post by Mark T. Locker.
Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson and Hell House by Richard Matheson.
Happy Halloween, everyone! Here are two similar but very distinct haunted house novels. Hill House and Hell House, besides having quite similar names, have similar premises (no pun intended!). Each features a scientifically-minded individual engaging in an empirical study of a well-known haunted house.
In Hell House, Dr. Lionel Barrett is invited by a wealthy eccentric to spend a week in a notoriously haunted—and dangerous—house with two mediums to gather definitive proof of the paranormal. In this case, the site is known as the Belasco house, named for the former owner, a horrifically depraved and evil man named Emeric Bellasco. Many lives were lost in the house and many angry spirits remain. Every attempt to reside in and study the house has ended in death. Dr. Barrett is convinced he can end the whole thing using technology. Florence Tanner, a spiritualist and mental medium, wants to connect with the spirits and put them to rest. Benjamin Franklin Fischer, a physical medium, visited the home as a teenager and hopes simply to get through the week alive.
The Haunting of Hill House is by Shirley Jackson, a well-known author, most notably of her chilling short story “The Lottery”. Like Hell House, this story is based around a science-minded professor spending time in a haunted house with a couple assistants hoping to gather concrete proof of the supernatural. This story is built more around the characters, especially Eleanor, one of the young women staying with Dr. John Montague. Unlike the Belasco house, there is no particular set of event that makes the house so awful, rather it seems the house itself is malevolent. Its forces get into the characters minds and exploit their weaknesses.
Both are spooky and enjoyable books, though Shirley Jackson’s superb writing style and brilliant subtlety of narrative flow through the novel make it seem creepier. You never see a chair fly across a room, which somehow makes the whole thing scarier. Matheson’s book, however, highlights the darker parts of the human soul and the icky depths some people descend to. Either one will make you shiver in your bed as you read.
Movies in Bed: Star Wars is baaaack!
Post by Mark T. Locker.
If you or a loved one is a fan of any or all of the Star Wars universe, chances are you have been following the events that have begun since Disney acquired the franchise in 2012. Of course, there are a whole bunch of new movies coming out which is a great way to make a zillion dollars for the company. Seriously, they could have a movie about Han and Leia enjoying a quiet domestic life and it would make $100 million. But now there is another addition to the Star Wars universe. The Disney Channel has begun airing a new series called Star Wars: Rebels which is a computer-animated cartoon series, reminiscent of the Clone Wars cartoons. This one is set after the Revenge of the Sith and before the original movies, A New Hope. The first episode is called Sparks of Rebellion. This series promises to tell the story of what happens between when the Empire takes over the galaxy, or universe, or whatever, and when the Rebel Alliance fights back.
You get to meet a bunch of new droids, aliens, and humanoids. I’ll bet you that there will be a whole mess of new toys coming out soon, probably just in time for Christmas. It airs at 9 pm, which is good as it is clearly aimed at older viewers. One character mentions kicking someone’s a—and there is no shortage of killing. It’s interesting to see these cartoons which are actually way more violent than the first three movies ever were; everything there was mostly theatrical. I think this cartoon shows promise and is definitely a good time-filler while we await the next Star Wars movie, but is definitely geared toward kids who are a bit older.
Bedroom Design: Introducing Pumpkin into the Bedroom
Post by Tracy Kaler.
With autumn in full swing and leaves embellishing parks, backyards, and tree-lined streets, there’s no better time to introduce fall tones into our schemes in the bedroom. Pumpkin accents can brighten a bleak room, and give a temporary facelift that could even become permanent. While seasonal décor isn’t for every couturier, some look forward to bringing the outside in –– tweaking, shifting, enhancing, and coloring four times per year.
A bright orange blanket tucked underneath your bed covering adds a splash of color. Every bedroom needs a fresh floral arrangement, and even though this is for photo styling purposes only, add orange alstroemeria, roses, or calla lilies by your bedside, or on a dresser or desk.
Orange accessories like bookends are an inexpensive yet practical way to introduce color seasonally. Other great options include boxes, vases, and even prints. You can easily pack small accents away each year, and these won’t take up too much space in storage.
If you’re lucky enough to have a fireplace in the bedroom, try mini pumpkins, branches, and larger pumpkins, whole or carved, and bring the best of autumn inside. Decorate your mantle or the corners of your hearth, and light a pumpkin-scented candle to bring the fragrance of autumn to your space.
Throw pillows, lampshades and a cashmere throw are the perfect accoutrements for this almost neutral bedroom. Aim for a rich almost burnt orange –– the colors works so perfectly, why not keep this space as it is, all year long?
Breakfast in Bed – Grilled Flatbread Breakfast Pizza
by Alison Hein.
This past summer, I learned the neat trick of placing homemade pizza directly on the grill from Matty Matarazzo of Four Sisters Winery in Belvidere, New Jersey. Thanks to Matty, my husband and I have been impressing friends and family with delicious variations of bubbling hot, crispy pizza. (Read more about Matty’s Grilled Flatbread Pizza and Four Sisters Winery.)
Because the cooking time is super fast, Kevin and I work as a team – I shape the pizza and brush the surface with olive oil. While he is grilling the first side, I am preparing whatever toppings are needed for the final product. Meats and vegetables need to be sautéed in advance. Kevin brings the half-cooked pizza back to me, and I place the ingredients on the grill-marked surface. He oils up the grill again, and cooks the pizza to a crisp, melted finish. When you swap out some of the more traditional choices with bacon and eggs – voila! You’ve got an impressive pizza breakfast in bed.
½ pound pizza dough
Flour, for shaping dough
¼ cup olive oil
2 tablespoons tomato sauce
3 eggs, scrambled
½ cup grated cheddar (or other) cheese
2 slices bacon, cooked and broken into small pieces
Fresh herbs (parsley, basil, or oregano) for garnish
Salt and pepper, to taste
Preheat the grill to high. Shape the pizza dough by flattening with your hands on a lightly floured surface. Use your fingers to stretch the dough out, or hold up the edges of the dough, letting the dough hang and stretch, while working around the edges of the dough. Let the dough rest for 5 minutes, then push out the edges with your fingers again, until you have a nice round shape, about 6 to 7 inches in diameter. Keep the dough flat (no raised rim) for easy grilling.
When the grill is hot (you can hold your hands an inch over the grates for no more than 2 seconds), dip a tightly folded up paper towel in olive oil and use tongs to wipe the grill grates. Place shaped dough on a lightly floured (or use cornmeal) rimless cookie sheet or pizza peel. Gently let the dough slide onto the hot grill grates. Close the lid and cook for 2 minutes. Open the grill and check the bottom of the dough to see if it is getting browned. If it is evenly browned, let it cook for another minute. If not, rotate the dough so it gets an even browning for the last minute. If it is not beginning to brown, cover the grill and continue to cook a minute at a time until the bottom has begun to brown. Your dough is ready when the top of the pizza begins to bubble. Do not overcook as this will be the pizza top.
Remove the pizza from the grill using your cookie sheet or pizza peel. Use a spatula to flip the dough over onto a work surface so that the grilled side is now up. Keep the grill covered so it retains heat. Paint the grilled surface of the pizza with a little olive oil, then cover with sauce. Arrange scrambled eggs evenly on surface. Cover with cheese and bacon pieces.
Slide the pizza back onto the grill. If you’re using a gas grill, reduce the heat. If working with a charcoal grill, close the vents on the cover almost all the way. Close the lid and cook for 2 to 3 minutes more, or until the bottom begins to char and the cheese is bubbly. Remove with a spatula onto a cutting board or other flat surface. Top with fresh herbs, salt and pepper. Let rest for a couple of minutes before slicing.
Makes 1 6-inch pizza, or 2 servings.
NOTE: Double the recipe for a larger, 12-inch pizza.