By Beth Lee 2014-03-23 23:45:44
FINDING TREASURE IN AN ABANDONED RECIPE BOX In my best foodie dream I have finally found the written recipes to all of my grandmother's brilliant baking accomplishments. But, alas, upon waking up I remember the sad fact that none of her recipes are documented. So it is with jealousy and joy that I write about Nancy Spiller's luck to find her mother's abandoned recipe box and a secret piece of paper that opened the door for Spiller to pen the memoir with recipes Compromise Cake: Lessons Learned from my Mother's Recipe Box (Counterpoint Press, 2013). Spiller is a fourth-generation Californian who lives in Oxnard part-time as a writer, teacher and artist. Motivated by her mom's recipe box and the teaching credential she found tucked in the back of it after her mother passed away, Spiller explores the compromises her mom made by not pursuing her teaching career and instead raising her family as was expected in the mid-20th century. Spiller uses the recipes as a springboard to share tales of her family as well as the often-rocky relationship with her troubled mom, who was somehow always grounded when they were in the kitchen. Spiller writes in the first chapter: "I continue these conversations with my mother through her recipe box. It is part Ouija board, part crystal ball, part interactive text. Here my mother is again my mentor. As student, I will make the recipes and remember our life together." Each of the 13 chapters includes a recipe from the box and stories of Spiller's life with her mom and extended family woven together with the mid-20th-century recipes. The recipes range from sweet to savory with intriguing names such as Compromise Cake and My Man Cookies and some basic family staples like Mother's Famous Clam Chowder. Compromise Cake in the second chapter reveals the crux of the conundrum that Spiller's mother and so many women have struggled with for generations: finding the balance between familial responsibilities, societal expectations and their own personal desires. Spiller concludes at the end of the chapter: ". . .it is better to eat compromise as a cake, than to let your life be devoured by it." As a 21st century feminist, I'm drawn to the chapter titled "My Man Cookies." The name makes me cringe, but that is exactly what's intriguing about this chapter. Spiller imagines that in the original days of the recipe, these were the perfect cookies to hand "your man" after a hard day's work. Spiller's description of the cookies lured me in even further: "Like too many marriages from that era, the cookies sounded dull . . ." She goes on to say: "Coming out of the oven they looked as boring as I feared they would . . . Then I bit into one." She describes them as rough on the outside, tender on the inside and proceeds to relate that description to some of her cranky relatives. Delightful. The original recipe leaves out details often found in today's recipes, assuming cooks knew to preheat the oven, drop the dough onto prepared cookie sheets and to pull them out of the oven when golden brown. Still, I found that the cookies come together easily and tasted like a coconut oatmeal cookie with a nice crunchy exterior, softer interior. If your man – or woman or child – yearns for raisins or chocolate in their oatmeal cookies, by all means add some or sub them in for the nuts. Dried cherries might be a nice addition, too. These homey cookies would be a perfect accompaniment to coffee, tea or a big glass of milk. For both the California history and the lyrical way Spiller's writing shows us the importance of food as a way to connect with people – both living and dead – and as a way to weave and reveal the tale of our lives, Compromise Cake is a treasure. Signed copies of Spiller's book are available at Chaucer's Bookstore (ChaucersBooks.com) in Santa Barbara. Unsigned copies are available at Barnes & Noble (BarnesAndNoble.com) in Ventura and online at Amazon.com and IndieBound.com. MY MAN COOKIES From Compromise Cake by Nancy Spiller Editor's Note: Though the original recipe doesn't say, the cookies should be baked in a preheated oven. Yields 25 cookies, teaspoon size or size of a walnut in shell (cookie dough) 1/2 cup white sugar 1/2 cup brown sugar 1/2 cup shortening (Spiller suggests coconut oil as a good substitution) 1 egg 1 cup flour 1/2 teaspoon salt 1/2 teaspoon baking powder 1/2 teaspoon baking soda 1 cup quick-cooking oats 1/2 cup coconut 1/2 cup nuts 1 teaspoon vanilla Cream sugars and shortening. Beat in egg. Add flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda. Blend in oats, coconut, nuts and vanilla. Bake in a 350° oven for 15 minutes. Note: The recipe originally called for H-O Quick Cooking Oats, a name-brand from the 1950s THE VEGETARIAN WAY BY SARENE WALLACE Randy Graham's father predicted that his son's desire to become vegetarian would be a passing phase. His future in-laws were equally perplexed. "When my wife, Robin, first introduced me to her family in 1977, they didn't know what a vegetarian was – or what to feed one," says the Ojai resident and vegetarian cookbook author and blogger. "When Robin and I got married, Hattie welcomed me to the family saying, 'We are glad to have inherited you and your vegetarian self,'" he says. Remembering the long-ago comment, Robin came up with the name for Graham's third cookbook, the newly published So You've Inherited a Vegetarian . . . Now What? "She also suggested that it contain not only vegetarian recipes but advice for omnivores who, like her parents, inherited vegetarians of their own," says Graham. So this "omnivore's guide to cooking vegetarian meals for friends and family," features 88 vegetarian and vegan recipes and helpful information for non-vegetarian cooks, including definitions of the different types of vegetarians, and advice about what ingredients to have on hand. Graham is a lacto-ovo vegetarian, meaning he "eats just about anything that is not meat or fish," he writes. He explains that there are many other types of vegetarians, too, including demi-vegetarians (who eat fish, eggs, vegetarian cheese and some milk-based foods) and pollotarians (who eat poultry, but not meat from mammals). Vegans' diets avoid all animals or animal byproducts. Cooking for vegetarians can be confusing, Graham admits. He gives tips for non-vegetarian cooks, including asking how strict they are. Is it OK to use the same spatula for turning bacon as pancakes – even if they're separated on a griddle – as one of his hosts had done? (Probably not.) What about serving a dish flavored with Worcestershire sauce? (It contains anchovies.) The cookbook is written in a friendly style as the recipes walk cooks through an entire meal – from appetizer to main course – and includes dressings, salsas and sauces. Colleen Mc-Dougal, who created the art for the cover, introduces each section with a colorful illustration. There are no dessert recipes, though cooks can always serve a fruit salad as the meal's finishing touch. Graham's book offers a great deal of variety in easy-to-follow recipes. In the entrees, he offers up global flavors that span the vegan Thai Barely Stir-Fry that's spiced with Tabasco, hoisin and tamari sauces to El Salvadorian Pupusas, which are stuffed corn tortillas. He also adapts classic meat-based dishes into vegetarian or vegan-friendly fare, as with vegan Tofu Osso Buco, for example. I made Broccoli-Ricotta Cheese Pie, which is like a quiche with a top crust. The recipe calls for store-bought vegetarian piecrust, a nice timesaving touch. I happened to have homemade crust on hand, so I used that. What I especially liked about the pie is its versatility. I could see this recipe working with just about any vegetable or combination of spices. The book's recipes are healthful and interesting – even if you don't inherit a vegetarian. The cookbook is available at select Ventura County retailers and online at Amazon.com. For a complete list of retailers, visit Valley-Vegetarian.com. GRILLED AVOCADOS This recipe comes courtesy of Randy Graham, author of So You've Inherited a Vegetarian . . . Now What? He was introduced to this appetizer by his son, Robert. "It is sort of a caprese salad folded into a grilled avocado," he writes. "Who'd a thunk it! Easy to prepare, it is full of nutrition, and it doesn't hurt that it looks and tastes fantastic." Serves 6 1 clove garlic (minced) 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for the tomatoes 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice 3 avocados Salt and fresh ground black pepper 18 grape or mini-heirloom tomatoes 12 ciliegine whole-milk fresh mozzarella balls (ciliegine are small-size balls) 1 serrano chile (stemmed, seeded and thinly sliced) 2 tablespoons basil (chopped) Heat grill to medium-hot (about 400°). Place garlic in a medium-size bowl. Add oil and lime juice, and whisk together. Cut the avocados in half (lengthwise) and remove pits. Brush some of the oil mixture onto each avocado half. Reserve the balance of the oil mixture for later (see below). Season the avocados liberally with salt and pepper. Skewer the tomatoes and drizzle with olive oil. Season with salt. Place the avocados on the grill cut-side-down. Add the tomatoes to the grill. Grill for 4 to 5 minutes in total, turning the tomatoes once. The avocados should be nicely marked and the skin on the tomatoes should be blistered. Remove everything from the grill. Remove the tomatoes from the skewer, and cut each in half. Add the tomatoes and the mozzarella balls to the reserved oil mixture. Fold in the sliced chiles and basil. Spoon some of this mixture into each avocado half and finish with a little extra salt, if desired. Serve warm. DELICIOUSLY FRESH TAKE ON FARMING Like Edible Ojai & Ventura County, Susie Middleton, author of Fresh From the Farm: A Year of Recipes and Stories (The Taunton Press, 2014), celebrates local food, season by season. In Middleton's case, "local" is Martha's Vineyard, Mass. But that won't stop anyone in our area from joining in her celebration of seasonal, farm-fresh produce lovingly grown – and enjoying her 125 recipes showcasing the just-picked flavors. Middleton's introduction to readers begins with the story of how she found her bliss transitioning from a suit-wearing professional to a farmer with dirt-crusted boots. The story continues with Middleton's discoveries each season. Woven throughout are also stories of her family, chickens, bunnies and a shelter dog named Andy. Decorated with slice-of-life photos mixed with those featuring produce and finished dishes, the book winds its way through "Late Spring and Early Summer (AKA 'We Brake for Salad Greens')" to Indian Summer and Early Fall (AKA "The Bonus Season"). Winter is for snow and planning for spring. Each season presents its produce through uncomplicated recipes, ranging from appetizers to desserts. Middleton also offers up "cook's tips," like a helpful friend cooking beside you. Middleton, who's written two other cookbooks, knows her way around recipe development and writing. Her Fresh Fava Beans and Peas with Shallots, Mint, Pancetta and Angel Hair recipe is straightforward, quick (once the favas are shelled) and exudes spring's fresh flavors. Middleton calls it a starter or side dish, but it's substantial enough to be lunch or light dinner when served with a green salad. The cook's tip explains how to shell fava beans, a task that can perplex some cooks. (See the tip and recipe on page 40.) Beyond the stories and recipes are four designs for a garden or farm, including constructing a farm stand and chicken coop. Through it all, Middleton's passion for her new life leaps off the page, leaving behind a perfume of fresh-picked tomatoes and droplets of inspiration.
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