Yearly Archives: 2014
Post by Alison Hein.
My grandma used to bake Date Nut Bread in an old coffee can. It was common practice to clean and generously grease a coffee tin with shortening, then fill it with batter, place it in a hot oven, and bake a dense, round loaf. As kids, we would anxiously gather around the stove, inhaling the baking bread’s sweet aroma, eagerly awaiting its completion.
While you still see many round bread loaves (Boston Brown Bread as well as Date Nut and Raisin Nut), it is becoming ever more difficult to locate tin, oven-proof coffee containers. Check carefully in the grocery store before purchasing, as many modern containers are made of paper, plastic or cardboard – none of which work well in the oven!
My ongoing frustration with food history compelled me to skip it for this post (so many claim to be the originators of Date Nut Bread!), with one important exception. In the 1950s and ‘60s, when Chock Full o’Nuts lunch counters were wildly prolific, Date Nut Sandwiches – two thick slices of Date Nut Bread slathered with cream cheese – were a star of the menu.
Chock Full o’Nuts tried to make a recent comeback with mixed results. The company still makes and sells its popular coffee (anyone remember the famous “heavenly coffee” jingle?). Why not go buy some? Make a giant pot of coffee, then use the canister to whip up a loaf of Date Nut Bread. Bake. Cool. Slice. Slather with cream cheese. Pour yourself a steaming cup and reminisce over a heavenly breakfast in bed.
1 tin coffee can, with top removed
½ cup butter
½ cup light brown sugar
1 cup white flour
¼ cup whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 cup honey
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup chopped dates
1 cup chopped walnuts
Cooking spray, or other shortening, for greasing coffee can
Preheat oven to 350°. In a large bowl, beat butter and sugar until creamy. In a separate bowl, mix together white flour, wheat flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg. Add dry ingredients all at once to butter mixture, stirring to combine. Add eggs, honey and vanilla. Mix well. Stir in dates and walnuts. Spoon batter into a well-greased coffee can. Bake at 350° for about 60 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool on rack at least 20 minutes. Remove from coffee can and slice.
Makes one loaf.
Post by Mark T. Locker.
Fortunately, the Milk by Neil Gaiman.
Neil Gaiman is one of the most diverse and prolific writers I know of. From eerie to fantastic (and often a bit of both), from picture books to long novels for adults, Gaiman covers the gamut. Best known, perhaps, for his super scary young adult book Coraline which was made into a movie, he has taken a turn with his newest book, a short picture-filled story called Fortunately, the Milk. The story begins with a family that is fresh out of milk. The father steps out to the corner store to pick some up. When he doesn’t return for a long time, his two girls begin to worry. Finally, after a very long time (far longer than it should take to get some milk from the corner store) he returns. When asked what took him so long, he relates the long and inexplicable tale of what befell him when he left the market.
The rest of the book is the story of what took him so long, with occasional interjections by his daughters. It’s way more incredible than you’d dare think. Burbling green aliens hell-bent on redecorating Earth in a most tasteless manner is only the beginning. A stegosaurus in a time-travelling hot-air balloon named Professor Steg is to be his companion through time and space for a large portion of his journey. The father is hilariously focused on making sure the bottle of milk is safe throughout the entire ordeal. Hence the title, Fortunately, the Milk. “Fortunately, the milk was safely tucked away when the volcano erupted” for example.
My son and I both had a great time reading this book. I was worried it might be too random and nonsensical but it manages to retain a fairly cohesive, if totally weird, narrative thread. The only difficulty is that there are no chapter breaks, so reading at bedtime is a challenge. You have to choose an arbitrary stopping point which is easier to argue over than a chapter’s end. Super fun and imaginative book for kids 6-10.
Post by Mark T. Locker.
Well, today’s the big day! Happy Halloween, everyone! From the moment school begins, the witches and ghosts and skeletons come out. The black-dyed cheesecloth gets wrapped around old bones and bags of candy appear across from rows and rows of scythes. And many people enjoy watching scary, scary movies after darkness falls. I like watching scary, scary movies. They don’t tend to really scare me for the most part. I suppose I could still watch these movies, but now I’m a parent I have to wait until the kid is in bed and the likelihood of having enough energy to watch a whole movie on a weeknight is very, very slim. And my little boy is not a fan of scary movies. Not even kind of scary movies. The Dreamworks Halloween special “Night of the Living Carrots”, which is about carrots possessed by weird alien glowing stuff, was way too scary to watch. Mostly I think it’s because they turn people into zombie-like things. Zombies scare the bejeezus out of him.
So now for most of my Halloween fix has to come from such decidedly un-scary programming as Curious George’s Halloween Boo Fest! The SCARY bit is about a scarecrow named No Noggin who KICKS PEOPLES’ HATS OFF THEIR HEADS There is also a pumpkin contest. By the way, in case you are worried, No Noggin is not real. There is something else behind the hats going missing. Hint: it’s not scary and it’s totally implausible. So if you have a little kid, you can give this hour-long Curious George special a try. It’s probably available streaming via PBS for a couple more days.
Post by Tracy Kaler.
Kids like color too. Did you know that a bedroom with bright hues could affect your child’s happiness, health and behavior? Color plays a significant role in our lives, no matter our age. I adore these five colorful kids’ rooms and I think you will too.
Horizontal stripes with varying widths and bunk beds with mixed prints keep this room youthful yet stylish. The yellow, navy, orange and white color scheme is unisex –– which means both boys and girls will feel at ease in this cheerful space.
A clever design in a city apartment, this modern room for two children boasts a park theme. The column turned tree, tulip bedding, and birds-in-tree area rug are important components in the bohemian bedroom’s décor. Rubber resilient flooring and an integrated ladder to a bunk contribute to the clean feel of the space.
This Lego-inspired playroom also happens to have a mattress for sleeping. At first glance, however, the whimsical space feels nothing like a bedroom, which I assume is what the designer intended. Regardless, most children would love coming in to a room like this to sleep, play, or even do their homework.
A San Francisco children’s room combines traditional beds and a contemporary geometrical backdrop. Elephant bedding, the Eames-inspired sky blue “Eiffel” chairs, lamp, and stuffed animals keep the space youthful. But with a few minor edits, this room could transition into a sanctuary for a young adult.
Most likely a young girl’s bedroom (or a room for two sisters), the pretty lavender wall paint and hot pink bolsters give the space a feeling of sweetness and elegance. The black lampshade is a sophisticated touch for a child’s room, but it works, nonetheless. This is another example of a space with a youthful vibe that can adapt into an adult’s bedroom with a few minor changes. The personalized bedding is a lovely detail.
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.