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baking

Nov 30 2011

Baking up memories

by Dea Anne M

I will never forget the Christmas Eve that I arrived home from college at about 7:30 pm. After hugging me, Mom said “You can start baking the cookies while the rest of us trim the tree!” Now I know that some folks actually do put up the tree the night before, but even for my “let’s do everything at the last minute” family this was a little extreme. Anyway, I put my stuff down, pulled out the bowls and pans, and got to work. I think my head hit the pillow just before Santa arrived but I got those cookies baked and another family holiday tradition was preserved.

I started doing the holiday baking when I was still in high school and it was always a happy task for me. My family’s taste (or maybe just mine!) veered more towards the buttery end of the goodie spectrum than the sugary, and the cookies I baked were invariably rich. Dad’s favorite was a shortbread-like toasted pecan bedecked bar known as Jan Hagel. I also baked a cookie that we called Jingle Bells—a complicated affair that involved making a rich, buttery dough, setting aside about a third of it, dividing the rest in half, and using food coloring to dye one half green and the other half red. I would then form each dough half into a log and then shape the log into a form approximating that of a bell. I’d then divide the uncolored dough in half, roll out each piece into a rectangle, and wrap the rectangles around the bell-logs. After chilling, I would take the dough, slice it, and bake the bells. Right now, you might be thinking that no cookie could possibly taste good enough to be worth that much effort, and you might be right. Still, Jingle Bells were one of those “wouldn’t be Christmas without it” items for my family and, for me, time more than well spent. As if Jingle Bells weren’t enough, I also always made my own favorite, Christmas Spritz. These little labors of love involved filling a cookie press with a…you guessed it…buttery dough and carefully pressing out tiny Christmas wreaths which I would then painstakingly decorate with sprinkles and nonpareils.

I still do holiday baking, although these days my choices involve cookies of the “drop ’em and bake ’em” variety. I have for several years now baked the same two cookies—one a chocolate and chocolate chip flavored with peppermint and the other an orange flavored drop stuffed with dried cranberries and orange zest. I usually spend the better part of a day baking dozens and dozens to give to friends, co-workers, and family. Every year, as I consider baking a different variety, someone will tell me how much they loved the orange-cranberry last year or drop some not-so-subtle hint about looking forward to the chocolate-chocolate mint, and so my own holiday tradition remains preserved.

Are you looking to change up your own holiday baking tradition or start a new one? If so, DCPL has resources to help.

You’ll find a stunning collection of cookie possibilities in The Gourmet Cookie Book: the single best recipe from each year 1941 -2009. As the title promises, the editors of Gourmet magazine (which ceased publication in 2009) have selected a “best” recipe from each year. The selections range from the homey (Aunt Sis’s Strawberry Tart Cookies) to the exotic (Grand Marnier Glazed Pain D’Epice Cookies). You’re sure to find a tradition-worthy recipe or two here.

Say what you will about Martha Stewart, she’s still a woman who knows her way around a kitchen. The DVD Martha’s Favorite Cookies from the folks at Martha Stewart Living Television will provide you with one-on-one instructions for baking 33 different cookies including Fig Bars and Coconut Pinwheels. Yum!

Of course, holiday baking is about more than cookies. Holiday Baking: new and traditional recipes for wintertime holidays by Sara Perry includes not just recipes for cookies, but also pastries, savory tarts, oven baked omelets, and other delicious sounding treats. As the title promises, the recipes run the gamut of holidays that we celebrate this time of year and include Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, and Boxing Day.

And of course the winter holidays are never just about Christmas. If your family celebrates Kwanzaa, be sure to check out Eric V. Copage’s Fruits of the Harvest: recipes to celebrate Kwanzaa and other holidays. This book offers a global wealth of recipes from people of African descent. I don’t know about you, but Jerked Pork Chops and Fresh Papaya Chutney with a side of Garlic-Cheddar Grits Souffle sounds pretty good to me. For Hanukkah celebrations, you couldn’t do better than Joan Nathan’s Jewish Holiday Cookbook. This impressive volume offers history, lore, and 400 fabulous recipes from the woman who is considered by many to be the reigning expert on global Jewish cuisine.

Here’s hoping that your holidays are filled with happiness! Do you have a holiday cooking tradition?

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Sep 19 2011

It’s the Berries!

by Greg H

Several three to four foot tall bushes  with striking purple clusters of small berries grow just outside the staff room doors at the Hairston Crossing branch.  I’ve been told that they are called Beauty Berries, a  plant I’d never heard of before I saw these.   They look succulent enough to eat, and could be eaten, but their taste is such that even wildlife  will only feed on them as a last resort.  This started me thinking about the berries in my life, the ones outside of a supermarket,  that could be eaten as a first resort.

My grandmother first introduced me to the joys of berries, if only indirectly. When I’d visit her we would sometimes walk to the home of her friend Mrs. Gorski who had red raspberry plants growing along the edge of her back yard. Mrs. Gorski would give me a bowl of raspberries doctored with milk and sugar.  They were so good that I didn’t mind sitting there on the porch while two matronly women talked at length over my five year old head.

Those red raspberries became for me the standard against which other berries would be compared.  Black raspberries, for example. They grew like the weeds that I guess they were among the abandoned coke ovens across the railroad tracks at the bottom of our street.  In my eyes the only advantage the black raspberries had over their red cousins was this ability to grow everywhere.  They were tart where the red raspberries had a more pleasing flavor and their bushes were guarded with plenty of thorns.  Furthermore, picking them meant wearing long denim jeans in the middle of the stifling summer heat to protect us against sticks and scratches and poison ivy.  Once in a while we might find a blackberry that was big enough and ripe enough to taste almost as good as a red raspberry; if we collected enough of them in our empty Maxwell House coffee cans they could be turned into pies, possibly a la mode,  before the afternoon was over. That nearly instant reward made the heat and the thorns easier to endure.

Blueberries were next on my berry countdown. My Aunt Bib and Uncle Tony owned a cabin in north central Pennsylvania and we would sometimes visit for a weekend. On one such visit they took us to a wide field of nothing but blueberry bushes. I’d never seen them in the wild until then.  We were issued our containers but, before we were turned loose,  Uncle Tony advised us to be aware of snakes who just so happened to also like blueberries. While I’m sure that there was a kernel of fact to my uncle’s warning, I’m just as sure that he enjoyed watching our eyes get big as he issued it. Aunt Bib turned most of those berries into pies as well, saving enough for blueberry pancakes the next morning.

Those were the wild berries of my childhood. Yes, there was a brief dalliance with an elderberry bush that grew on some undeveloped property at the top of our street but, while it was interesting to know that they could be eaten, those berries were ultimately deemed too small and sour to hold our attention. And I know there are more out there.  Thanks to Ikea, I’ve tasted lingonberry jam but that doesn’t really count. Just where are the huckleberries, pokeberries and gooseberries of which I’ve heard tell?

The Library has the following books to aid the intrepid berry enthusiast:

The Berry Bible: with 175 Recipes Using Cultivated and Wild, Fresh and Frozen Berries by Jane Hibler

The Berry Growers Companion by Barbara L. Bowling

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