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Posts Tagged ‘grandmother’

Pearl Barron portrait September 23, 1944Editor’s note: I inherited my grandmother’s recipe box when she died. Instead of finding recipes for the family favorites we loved to eat, I found instructions for foods most of us had never eaten. I’ve decided to try some of these recipes as I have time for a new series I’m calling “Pearl’s Kitchen.” I think Minnie Pearl Reeves Barron would approve of my kitchen adventures. 

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To say I was excited to find a recipe for Butterscotch Cookies was an understatement. Cookies that tasted like butterscotch pudding? Those delightful little hard candies? The ice cream topping?

Count me in.

Alas, they ended up more teacake than butterscotch, but there’s nothing wrong with that. They’re softer than the teacakes I grew up with, and pretty satisfying with a cup of coffee (I also imagine they’re a pretty good accessory for a glass of milk).

A note on the “nut meat” question: This recipe seems to come from a time before we had access to any number of nut species from around the country. I split the dough in half and used chopped walnuts in one half and chopped pecans in the other. (Pecans readily grew close to the part of Mississippi where my grandmother lived, so I assume that was probably her nut of choice, and walnuts are readily available in Costco, so that’s my nut of choice.) Both were delicious, and made little difference in flavor. I may lightly toast the nuts before adding them if I make these again.

 

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Butterscotch Cookies

1 cup butter
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
1 tbsp. boiling water
2 eggs, well-beaten
3 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 cup nut meat (chopped nuts of your choice)
1/2 tsp. vanilla

Cream the butter and sugar, and add boiling water. Add eggs. Sift flour and add the baking powder. Sift again, and add this to the first mixture. Add nuts and vanilla.

Form into rolls and roll in wax paper; store in refrigerator until ready for use. Slice and bake on greased (I used parchment paper) baking sheet at 375 degrees for approximately 10 minutes. (My oven had them ready at 9 minutes – they didn’t get very brown on top, but the bottoms were starting to brown, so watch them carefully.)

I froze one roll for a week; after thawing, I sliced and baked and the cookies were as good as they were the first time. So these could be a good make-ahead cookie.

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This announcement is more serious than it should be: I’m giving up artificial sweetener.

For the better part of two decades, I’ve stirred the blue stuff or the yellow stuff into my coffee, tea and oatmeal with utter abandon. (As for the pink stuff, seriously, how does that bitter mess still even exist?)

I took up the habit in college during frequent visits to my grandparents. My grandfather, despite never gaining all that much weight, had recently been diagnosed with adult-onset diabetes, and my grandmother immediately traded out the sugar bowl for the blue stuff.

I quickly got used to sweetening my coffee and tea with chemicals. It seemed like the ultimate freebie: sweet beverages without bothersome calories.

I can’t tell you if the blue stuff had any ill effects on my grandfather or not. He died from advanced heart disease before the diabetes could get him outright, although I’m sure the two conditions didn’t co-exist peacefully.

Long story short, the increasing amounts of chatter about artificial sweeteners not being free of consequence have finally sunk in. It just makes sense that tricking your taste buds into thinking that they’re enjoying sugar might just be tricking your body that it’s about to have to process some sugar, too. Given my family history of adult-onset diabetes (my uncle developed it in his late 40s), I don’t need to play fast and loose with my pancreas.

Also, the husband, who has been trying to get me to give up artificial sweetener for years, finally emailed me a story on its possible ill effects with the subject line, “Please stop using artificial sweeteners.”

Nothing like a “please” instead of a “you should” to change a girl’s mind.

So, a couple of months ago I promised to taper off as I made my way through my final Costco-sized box of yellow packets. I began by cutting down on the number of packets I was using, adding only one instead of two to a cup of coffee or tea, and sprinkling only half a packet instead of a whole one over my oatmeal.

I soon came to a somewhat surprising conclusion: Artificial sweetener had enabled me to become accustomed to foods that were way sweeter than they should have been. The husband had suggested that I replace the sweetener in my coffee with (gasp) actual sugar, but the amount of sugar required to make it as sweet as I had gotten used to would be obscene. Same with oatmeal: I had been turning a healthy breakfast food into a bowl of candy (albeit candy with few extra sugar calories).

I haven’t used sweetener at work in weeks, which has caused me to cut down on my coffee consumption overall. I can drink unsweetened coffee, but I don’t exactly look forward to it. And I’ve cut sweetener out of my oatmeal completely, meaning I now enjoy the flavors of the cinnamon, walnuts and raisins that are stirred into it.

And now, answers to the top questions that I get regarding this effort:

  • Do I feel better? Meh. I don’t think artificial sweetener was making me feel that bad to begin with. I worried about the long-term effects above everything else.
  • Have I lost any weight? No. I wasn’t trying to lose any weight. I’m reasonably happy where I am. What I am trying to do, however, is avoid the seemingly inevitable post-40 weight gain that accompanies an unexamined diet and slack exercise habits.
  • Have I upped the sugar intake in my diet? Nope. I added maybe a teaspoon of sugar to a cup of tea one evening to accentuate its cinnamon and apple flavors, but overall I’m adapting to eating a diet that just doesn’t feature that many sweet items.
  • Am I turning into some kind of sugar-hating weirdo? Double nope. I love cookies, cake and candy, but I also recognize them as a sometimes food, not a daily treat.

This effort is almost over. There are only a few yellow packets left in the cabinet (I hesitate to take the container down and count). I have to admit, what I’m going to miss most is not the super-sweet coffee and tea (although, man, there’s nothing like a cup of syrupy sweet hot tea on a cold, rainy winter afternoon), but the ritual. You pour your coffee, add a packet or two of sweetener, stir in some milk or half-and-half, and sit down to enjoy the morning paper and/or a nice leisurely chat with your housemates or co-workers.

Only I can’t even get a daily newspaper anymore, at least in Huntsville, Alabama. The husband doesn’t even DRINK coffee, and I haven’t worked anywhere in years where folks truly spent the first 10 minutes of work catching up over a fresh cup of java.

I can’t hold on to the ritual, so I might as well let go of the yellow stuff, too. Adios, sweet chemicals. It hasn’t been real.

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Nanny in her natural habitat: the kitchen.

I realized this weekend that I have successfully made a souffle, but can’t make a fried egg.

My grandmother made delectable fried eggs, and made it look easy. The everyday breakfast options at her house included bacon (turkey bacon after my grandfather’s heart problems were diagnosed), toast (or biscuits, on occasion) and eggs, either scrambled or fried (note: fried eggs, over easy, became known as Paw-Paw eggs, because they were his favorite, and to this day I can barely order them in a restaurant without calling them by this nickname).

I should have paid more attention, I guess. I should have offered to cook the eggs instead of going for the easy job of making toast or microwaving turkey bacon. (Or making the grits. I can’t believe I forgot about the grits option.)

I might not even have this ongoing fear of cast-iron skillets.

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My mother collected this keychain from my grandmother’s house last year. I had made it for my grandfather in, I don’t know, maybe fourth or fifth grade. It bears evidence of my tragic attempts at cursive writing, which honestly has only degraded over the years.

And Papa should be spelled Pawpaw. I have yet to actually picture it spelled the correct way in my head, however. (We all picture words spelled out in our heads, right?)

Am I impressed that Pawpaw kept this knickknack for some 20 years? Sure. But it’s easy to just toss little things like this into the top drawer and never happen upon them again.

The attached keys are what’s really impressive. At one time, somewhere on that reasonably sized farm, was a padlock that could be opened only by hauling out the keychain that I made.

Knowing that my grandfather held on to this item for so long gives me warm fuzzies. Knowing that he actually found it semi-useful simply thrills my inner utilitarian.

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I was excited and a little leery when I found a bagful of fresh English peas in my latest CSA box.

As confirmed by my CSA representative, English peas are extremely sensitive to hot weather, so they would have never had a chance on my grandparents’ farm in South Mississippi. Therefore, the only English peas I’ve ever eaten have come straight out of the can, slightly mushy and pretty bland. Meh.

Since the record-breaking heat in North Alabama/South Tennessee was making it clear that this would be the only fresh English peas I would get this year, I knew I had to make the most of them.

I don’t mean this as an insult to my Southern ancestry, but at some point cooks in the South started boiling vegetables into a salty mush. I remember the first time I ever had a string bean that had been briefly steamed, and thus still held a bit of natural sweetness and a light crunch. (Truly, it would have been considered underdone at my grandmother’s house.) Corn on the cob became a whole new experience for me when I discovered that I could simply wrap individual ears in waxed paper and microwave them for a few minutes, leaving sweet and crunchy kernels that needed neither salt nor butter.

I was determined not to turn these peas into mush.

I found inspiration at Williams-Sonoma’s website: Sautéed English Peas with Garlic and Sesame. Unfortunately, I didn’t have sesame seeds or sesame oil in my pantry, so I had to wing it. I also don’t know how many pounds of peas I started with; Williams-Sonoma recommended two garlic cloves for 3 pounds of unshelled English peas. Do the math for the amount of peas you have, or just use a couple of cloves of garlic.

There are few vegetable recipes that wouldn’t be made better with a couple of cloves of garlic.

The husband was at first stunned by the color of the peas when I removed the lid from the pan; the short cooking time had left the peas a brilliant green. The texture was magnificent; they weren’t crunchy or chewy, but they weren’t mushy either. The garlic flavor burst through with every bite, but not in an overwhelming way.

Sautéed English Peas with Garlic

  • Fresh English peas, shelled
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • Pinch of sea salt
  • Pinch of freshly ground pepper

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Fill a large bowl 2/3 full with ice water. Add the peas to the boiling water and cook for 3 minutes. Drain the peas and immediately plunge them into the ice water. Let stand for two minutes and drain.

In a large frying pan over medium-high heat, heat the olive oil. Add the garlic and sauté, stirring constantly, until it is fragrant but not brown, about 30 seconds.

Add the peas, salt and pepper, and sauté, tossing and stirring occasionally, until the peas are just tender, 4 to 5 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasonings. Serve immediately.

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Yang hasn’t given up his photobombing duties; here, he inspects the bowl of English peas mid-shoot.

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Yesterday, we hustled this beast of a piano into a rental truck for a short trip across town to one half of The Owl Sisters, two Huntsville ladies who refinish old furniture. After they remove its incredibly heavy harp, one Owl Sister will move the piano (which will really be a former piano at that point) into her home, where she’ll probably turn it into a bar. Or, possibly, something even cooler.

I’ve learned that old pianos are essentially worthless unless they’ve been completely reconditioned, a process that can cost just a thousand dollars or two less than the newly reconditioned piano’s value. I’m not taking that wager.

In the past, I’ve called this the accidental piano. When I was helping my dad clean out his mother’s house, it seemed like a good idea to take it home, not because I had fond memories of it (or even played piano), but because I had always thought it was a groovy piece of furniture. I had no idea that nearly 10 years in Mobile’s humidity would render its delicate wheels virtually useless.

For me, it has held family photos and knickknacks, along with whatever objects happened to be attracted to a flat surface at any given moment. I will miss its unique addition to the general decor, but I won’t miss moving it to another house or worrying about it scratching/denting the new floor when we get around to ditching the carpet.

Au revoir, beastly piano. Enjoy your third life.

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This month’s Rocket City Bloggers’ shared carnival topic — “your favorite tool” — was a gimme.

It’s the set of screwdrivers that my grandmother gave me for Christmas the year after I got married.

One of the first realizations I had after moving in with the husband was that our organizational styles differed. He could live with items in any number of places, whereas I enjoyed finding the same items in the same places time and time again.

Screwdrivers, for some reason, were an early ongoing issue. I would find them on the kitchen counter, under a bathroom sink, on a bookshelf or in the car. Anywhere but the toolbox. And I would NEVER find the model I actually needed. Sure, it was nice to know that the medium Phillips head was on the end table, but that knowledge wasn’t helping me tighten the flat-head screw on the top bookshelf.

My grandmother heard my laments and came to the rescue. Christmas morning, I was the envy of all the men in the room, with my full set of Craftsman screwdrivers (complete with a bonus pair of RoboGrip pliers that have since met their demise).  The tools were packaged in a vinyl organizer, so it was easy to keep track of them, and keep track I did. I all but made the husband sign a checkout card when he needed to use one for a project.

The vinyl organizer disintegrated a couple of years ago, so the screwdrivers now reside in a plastic box that formerly housed jewelry. I had to steal back the favored medium Phillips head from the husband’s office for this photo, so obviously my efforts to keep them all in one place aren’t always that effective.

It would be too simple to say that these screwdrivers are my favorite tools because my grandmother gave them to me. I mean, she made sure I had the BEST screwdriver set that she could find. What could have been a throwaway joke gift was, instead, a well-planned purchase that I’ve used time and time again.

The woman who had given me a toaster and a mixer at my wedding shower was perfectly content with the idea of her granddaughter wielding a screwdriver in the name of DIY. Awesomeness personified.

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