i promise to eat lunch

I do the same thing every year; sit down a couple of days before the new year begins and write out my resolutions. I completely ignore the fact that last year’s resolve got me about two weeks into January and set my sights on a three-week victory this time.

What am I resolving to do, you might ask? Probably the same sort of things that you are: eat healthier, get more exercise, read more,  dance like no one is watching, love like I never got hurt (wait, isn’t that a country song?), write a New York Time’s best-selling children’s book and retire to a farm on the coast of Maine… that last one may just be me. Other resolutions include getting a full night’s sleep and not forgetting to eat breakfast and lunch.

Speaking of eating, I do have some thoughts about that; I want to eat healthier. Not just follow some crazy health fad I read about in the doctor’s waiting room, but genuinely eat more nourishing, health-giving foods. You know what that means, don’t you? No more recipes for bacon chocolate chip cookies in your charming local newspaper! No siree, you’re getting the good stuff and only the good stuff from here on out. Foods that will have your innards glowing with health and vitality.  You might just explode with goodness (let’s just not and say we did, eh?).  We won’t be able to KEEP from succeeding in at least that one resolution.  Are you with me?  Here, I’ll say it for you, “Yes we are!”

Good deal, let’s start then, shall we? I don’t know about you, but I forget to eat lunch *almost* every day. It’s a terrible fault, but it’s one that I am working on. It’s so annoying to me to have to stop and make something to eat. It’s like going to the bathroom, a big fat bother and an interruption, I feel like I’m wasting time. Now, if I have to make lunch for Alex I’m fine – I don’t mind cooking for him, but if it’s just for me I get all huffy and red in the face and usually, conveniently, forget. Alas – no more! I’m resolving to eat lunch and a healthy lunch at that, every day if I can help it.  This recipe is one that I whipped up in a moment of red-faced huffiness the other day and then quickly devoured; it was so good I didn’t even mind that I had take time to eat it.

Chunky Tomato Bisque  – The Quick and Healthy Version

28 oz can of diced tomatoes

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 Tbsp butter or olive oil

1 tsp fresh basil, chopped (you can use dried basil, too)

1/2 cup full fat coconut milk

salt and pepper to taste

That’s it! Round up the usual suspects and heat up a soup pot on low. Add the oil and then the garlic. You want to stir the garlic so that it doesn’t scorch. Scorched garlic equals nasty – remember that. Several precious minutes will pass, but that’s ok, it’s going to be worth it. Once the garlic is nicely browned but before it gets crunchy, open your can of tomatoes and pour them in along with the basil, coconut milk and some salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, let cook for 5-10 minutes and then – viola – lunch is served, preferably with a grilled cheese sandwich or a salad if you’re *really* resolved.

Let’s talk for a moment about the ingredients. By using organic ingredients, you can boost the soup’s health benefits to hulk-like proportions. Non-organic ingredients = weak and nerdy Dr. Bruce Banner; Organic ingredients = crazy big and green raging health machine – and nobody has to get angry. Don’t be tempted to go with skim coconut milk, either. Coconut fat is what is giving this soup staying power and another great dose of healthiness, plus it makes it nice and creamy and rich… yum.  We need fat, so long as it’s the right kind!

Well, my friends, we’re all in this together – here’s to another great year! Enjoy…

Christmas Eve Memories

The apartment complex courtyard was unusually silent and empty. The snow had fallen after the residents of The Gardens had gone in for the night and nothing stirred, nothing made a sound. The tall, blank-faced buildings were hushed under a thin quilt of white and the air was so cold that it caught in my throat and brought tears to my eyes. The night was painfully crisp and clear and the stars glittered like shattered glass in the depth of black sky. I felt as though I had stepped into a fairy tale. We rarely got much snow, especially for Christmas and it was often blown about by violent East winds, filling the ditches and piling against houses and fences leaving nothing but a dusting on the grass. Tonight the wind was quiet and every inch of the dusty courtyard ground was covered in Snow. My brothers and I were bundled up against the frigid night air with only our noses and eyes exposed and those froze in the moments it took us to walk down the sidewalk to the parking lot where our big maroon van was parked.

We were on our way to midnight mass at the small, old church in town. It was deliciously late, another rarity, but it was Christmas Eve and if any night during the year was ripe for irregularity, this was it. I yawned and shivered as Mom ushered us toward the van. The stillness of the night seemed to seep in through our many bulky layers and infuse us with quiet awe. We piled in and after buckling up, covered ourselves with the several heavy comforters that were waiting for us in the back. Our van had no heat so we had to make the best with what we did have – blankets and comforters. I wrapped myself up, pulling the quilt over my head  and tight against my body and then rested my exposed forehead on the window beside me. The icy glass was painful at first but soon warmed to my skin and I dozed as we drove into town.

The church was almost as quiet as the town streets. The sanctuary with its wooden pews and broad, dark beams looked majestic decked in greenery and red velvet. The walls were baptized with the light of what seemed to be hundreds of candles and the flames danced and trembled around the shadows of the other members who had gathered. Hymns were sung, prayers said and as the bells tolled midnight, a tiny statue of the Christ Child was laid in the straw of the manger scene before the altar. It was all so achingly beautiful to me as a child and I sat on the flattened cushion of the pew, half asleep, with tears in my eyes.

When the service was over and the great wooden front doors opened, cold night air came rushing in and ended what seemed to be a dream. The congregants  milled out and went back to their homes while we made the short hike back to our big, chilly van. We bundled in once more, this time with a little more commotion because we were *not* going home as all the others were. The silence had been broken and our Christmas had begun. We were headed to a friend’s house where we would spend the holiday. Literally over the river and through the woods, across fields and to the next county we drove in the middle of the night towards our friend’s cozy farm where warm beds and Christmas morning waited for us. Presents, snow and a delicious brunch were just on the other side of sleep.

Christmas Brunch

1 lb bulk sausage

1 cup chopped onions

3 cups cooked spinach

1 red pepper, chopped

1 cup flour

1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese

1 clove garlic, minced

1/2 tsp salt

2 cups milk

8 eggs

1 cup shredded cheese

Heat oven to 425 degrees

Grease a 13×9 inch pan. Brown sausage, onions and garlic and then spread the mix on the bottom of the pan. Top with cooked spinach. Mix other ingredients in a bowl before pouring over the sausage. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until the center is firmed. Cool for 5 minutes before serving.

A Merry Christmas to You and Yours from Me and Mine… Enjoy!

the first man whose heart I won and the cookies that did the job

Roger lived up the road from the tiny homestead we lived on when I was a teenager. “Up the road” is common enough to hear out there, even though all the roads are flat as can be. To this day, my brothers and I have to say the words in our best ‘German Midwest bachelor farmer’ accent, followed by a deep sigh and then, “Poor Bob….” It’s become a tradition, and you’ll have to ask me about it another time.

But – back to Roger. I believe he parked his old truck on our front lawn the first day of fair weather the year we moved there, introduced himself and told us in great detail about having died after a heart attack and how the miraculous physicians at the Toledo hospital had resurrected him. My brothers and I stood amazed and slightly terrified on the stone driveway, but we very quickly came to realize that Roger had a talent and deep passion for telling amazing and terrifying stories, and sometimes they were even true.

He was sixty-five and retired from a life of doing anything and everything that was dangerous and just barely decent. When he was young, brave and insanely good-looking he shipped himself off to the jungles of who-knows-where to fight some smokey war and when he came home he married a fiery Quaker girl and kept right on fighting. He was a widower now with not much adventure left in his hard-used heart, so he took up with our farming ventures and was always deeply interested in whatever it was we had going on. He would park his truck on the side of the road and lean against our fence and talk for hours if we’d let him. He never came in the fence, never stepped foot inside the house, he was just as happy as could be standing on the side of the road telling stories and doling out advice.

One day I baked him cookies and he ate them right there.

“Annie – I swear you’re gonna make some poor shmuck a good wife someday! Mark my words. Why, if I were a hundred years younger, your mama would have me to deal with!”

I blushed deeply and didn’t know what to say. I was fifteen and still reeling from the dizzying heights of my most awkward phase.  “You know, you remind me something of my Marty – she was quiet and all domestic and ornery as heck! ” I tucked his words inside and kept them there as protection against the spinsterhood I saw rapidly approaching (at fifteen!!)

He would spoil us with warm, juicy Indiana melons in the summer – a luxury we could never really afford, and we baked for him. One spring he presented me with the loveliest yellow rose bush that fragranced my entire garden. He watched us ‘grow out our pinfeathers’ as it were, and go from a bunch of ambitious kids to a handful of dreamy-eyed young adults bent on moving far from home and finding adventure of our own.


Roger’s Oatmeal Cookies

1 cup butter or shortening

1 cup each brown and white sugars

2 eggs

1 tsp vanilla

1 1/2 cup flour

1 teaspoon each baking soda and salt

3 cups old fashioned rolled oats

1 cup raisins

I admit, this recipe doesn’t seem to hit the mark health-wise but it certainly reminds me of good times and the sweet man who lived up the road and made a very awkward, frizzy-haired teenager feel pretty with his blatant praise. In my old recipe notebook I’ve scribbled out the proportions for tripling the recipe, which goes to show you how well-loved these cookies were, simple though they be!

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Cream together the fat and sugars then beat in the eggs until the mix is ‘fluffy’. Add the vanilla and stir again, then add your dry ingredients. Stir to combine well then drop the cookies with a cookie scoop onto a lightly greased baking sheet and bake for 10-12 minutes.

Share with a neighbor, served with icy milk on a warm Spring day.


Eggnog French Toast (in other words, the holidays are over)

The Holidays are over.

And the whole world lets out a sigh. Half of us have already moved on, leaving the glitter of the holiday season for the more reasonable, rational business of Getting Back To Real Life. Others of us still can’t remember what year it is. I am the befuddled resident of this latter category.

Am I the only one who feels utterly confused after all the twinkling lights and sugar-laden foods? I always seem to stumble into January by accident and then can’t find my way around, I can’t remember what day it is or what I am supposed to be doing; for months my mind has been settled on Christmas and now it’s all gone. Sometimes I have to stop in the middle of the road and ask, “Who am I and what am I doing here?” Mostly, I get honked at and people say mean things as they drive by, but they don’t answer my questions. The new year can be somewhat harsh to those of us coming out the thick fog of yule-tide cheer.

It’s times like these when I have to reset. I have to step back and reenter the year without being hungover  with sugar cookies and late nights. I do this best by hiding in my kitchen until things make sense again. The kitchen of any home I’ve ever lived in has been my default haunt, if I could sleep there, I probably would. I feel at home, in control, able and in my right element. After the bustle of December I am happy to drift back into my favorite room, brew a cup of tea and get this show that is my life back up and running.

This is a breakfast I made early this week to ease us back into the swing of things. I love french toast; it is a hearty, homey food that is quick, easy on the budget and easy on my queasy baby stomach. Usually, recipes have you season your dipping mixture with cinnamon, but I decided to try something new. Inspired by the residue of Christmas passed, I added vanilla, some sugar and a little bit of nutmeg to the mix and came up with eggnog french toast. Instant win.

Post-Holiday French Toast

4-6 slices of day-old or older bread

1 1/2 cups milk

2 eggs

2 Tablespoons sugar

1/4 teaspoon vanilla

1 teaspoon ground nutmeg

butter or oil for frying

This is an excellent use for bread that is about to go or has gone out of usefulness. Don’t misunderstand me, it will not resurrect moldy bread, but a slice that just won’t cut it for peanut butter and jelly might be nigh onto perfect for breakfast.  Didn’t quite finish that loaf of bread you made from the last column? – here’s your solution.

In a wide bowl, mix together the milk, eggs, sugar, vanilla and nutmeg. It may seem like a lot of egg, but I like the fact that it adds a boost of protein much needed in the morning. Whisk all the ingredients well and then heat up your frying pan over medium heat. Add a little oil or butter once the pan is hot.

Dip your slice of bread into the milk and egg mixture, flipping them over once and making sure that it is covered completely. I use a fork to do the flipping and then pick the piece up and let it drip for a moment or two before placing it in the frying pan. Happy sizzling ensues. Each piece will need to cook for 3 or so minutes on one side and then flip them over for another 3 minutes. The toast should be firm and golden brown. Depending on how big your slices of bread are, you should be able to make 4-6 pieces of toast.

Serve hot with lots of butter and warm maple syrup and watch this new year become a more friendly, familiar place! Enjoy…

Bear Chili

They told me bear meat tastes like People – I didn’t want to ask how they knew.

My rugged hunter man went off into the woods and shot himself a decent-sized he-bear. When he came and announced the news to me I thought, “What are we going to do with all that meat?”

I’ve heard that it is a tough, sweet, oily sort of meat, not exactly everything we’ve come to love about good old Black Angus!  But, being the types to embrace adventure – culinary or otherwise – I decided to do my best to cook it into some edible form and Alex promised to eat it with an open mind.

From the various hunters and other adventurous cooks I interviewed, I realized that bear is not a distasteful meat, just a misunderstood and often poorly prepared one. It tends to be on the tough yet mild side and the fact that the animal itself lives all winter on hoarded stores of fat means that there can be quite a bit of grease, but that is easily pared off with a sharp knife, leaving you with less fat than most beef. It seems this meat wants to be spiced up and simmered long. I thought – “Chili!”

I used my crock pot and cooked the daylights out of it while I was at work and we ate it with homemade corn bread and a wild greens salad – a perfect, rustic, simple autumn meal.

Bear Chili

1 lbs lean bear meat, ground

1 28 oz can of crushed tomatoes plus 1 can water

4 oz cooked black beans

4 oz sweet corn (frozen or canned or fresh)

1 Tablespoon minced garlic

1/2 onion, diced

2 Tablespoons chili powder

1 teaspoon ground black pepper

1 teaspoon red pepper flakes (more or less, depending on how hot you want your chili to be)

1 Tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder

1 teaspoon salt


The first thing is to fry up your onions, garlic and bear meat (*or* ground beef, since I suppose not everyone has a package of bear just sitting in their freezer, waiting to be used!)  Start with about a teaspoon of olive oil or butter in a hot frying pan, add your diced onions and minced garlic and cook them over medium heat until they are translucent and fragrant. Next, add the ground meat with a little water. I don’t like to add more fat to fry the meat with when a quarter cup of water will keep things from sticking just as well. Break the meat into small pieces while it is cooking. Once the meat is thoroughly browned, turn off the heat and set the pan aside.

If you are using a crock pot, now is the time to rescue it from its shelf or box. If you are going to cook your chili on the stove top, get out an eight or more quart stock pot with a thick bottom. Pour the tomatoes, water, corn, beans and spices into the cooking apparatus. If you are wondering about the cocoa powder, let me tell you – it does wonders for a chili! It does not make your meat taste chocolate-dipped, rather it adds a depth and darkness of flavor that is hard to beat. Simply trust me and add the cocoa.

Now, scoop in the meat mixture and turn on the heat! As I said before, I let the chili cook on high in my crockpot for several hours. If you are cooking on the stove, let it simmer on a lower heat for an hour or two, stirring occasionally so that nothing sticks to the bottom. If you need to, cover it up or add water by the cupful if it seems to be losing too much moisture. It does need to cook for some time so that all those lovely flavors get a chance to work together and make something fabulous.

It will be fabulous, let me assure you, whether you use beef, bear, moose, venison or even ground chicken. You don’t necessarily need to be a huntsman to enjoy the fruits of field and forest.  Enjoy!



Hunter’s Breakfast

Here I am, cuddled away under layers of flannel pajamas and an over-sized hooded sweatshirt. The sun is just coming up and the quiet beams of light illuminate the icy stars etched on the window next to my bed. The frost has outlined the glass and framed the world outside like a perfect picture, crimson and orange leaves are waking and shaking off their night’s worth of ice and I can’t help but think of the determined people out among the frost, hunting. My next immediate thought concerns breakfast.

It’s the time of year when people don a contradiction of blaze orange and woodland camouflage and no one thinks anything of it. We see them at gas stations with large, hot coffees, at the diner grabbing a quick bite to eat, or walking along the outlying roads of the town.

I’ve known many hunters and they each have their reasons for gearing up each fall and winter and heading to the wilds. Some like the sense of getting their meat ‘the old way’, some enjoy the solitude, some are thrilled with the sport of it, and then I’ve known some who just really like the taste of wild game.

My husband and I were up visiting some friends in Northern Maine and they served us this delightful breakfast casserole made with moose sausage. It was incredible. Not only was it simple to make and good for a crowd, but it could be made ahead and cooked up when it was needed. I don’t know when I’ve enjoyed a breakfast so much, accompanied by fresh, hot coffee and a cinnamon roll – I felt ready to go out and conquer the wilds myself!

Hunter’s Breakfast Casserole

1/2 pound game sausage

4 eggs

4 slices of bread, cubed

1/2 cup milk

1 cup shredded cheese

1 Tablespoon flour

1 Tablespoon butter

1 teaspoon basil

1/4 – 1/2  teaspoon each salt and pepper


*You could very easily substitute regular pork sausage for the game, if you so desired.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease an 8×8 baking dish.

The first step is to brown the sausage in a frying pan, breaking it up into small pieces as it cooks. Once it is thoroughly browned, turn off the heat and scoop out the sausage  onto a plate that has been lined with paper towels. This will help to absorb any excess fat from the sausage, especially if you are using pork. I don’t believe game is as greasy and you might be able to skip this step if yours is dry enough already.

While the sausage is draining and cooling, beat together the milk and eggs in a mixing bowl. Add the flour, salt, pepper and basil, stir well, and then add the bread cubes and shredded cheese. Once everything is mixed, add the cooled sausage and stir once more. Pour the whole thing into your waiting baking dish. Cut the butter into small pieces and place around on top of the casserole.

I usually put the baking dish onto a baking sheet before putting it in the oven, just because the eggs can be a little bit excitable and spill over the sides sometimes. The casserole needs to bake for 30-45 minutes, or until the center of the dish is rather firm.  Remove and let it sit for about 5 minutes before serving.

If you are saving the dish for another day you have two options; you can bake the casserole and let it cool before covering with foil and keeping in the fridge until it is wanted – in which case you would gently heat it up in the oven, covered, at 350 degrees for about 15 minutes, or you can assemble the casserole and *not* cook it, but cover and keep in the fridge to bake in the morning – uncovered.

This meal could easily switch ends of the day and be served as a dinner, just add a cup of cooked spinach, broccoli florets, sauteed onions or bell peppers – you are only limited by your imagination!

Happy Hunting!


The Ugly Mugwump Rises…

Button Cowl in Fern

Howdy… just thought I would pop in and share with you beautiful people some of the knitterly stuff I’ve been working on for the Ol’ Shop.

Blue-Eyed Cowl

Button Cowl in Rose

Single Button Cowl in Honeyed-Oat

The Ugly Cowl

Gnomie Hat

Gnomie Hat side view

Man Lace Scarf

My Fair Midshipman Scarf

Midshipman Scarf

I was even able to hunt down a real, live model who was willing to wear this stuff in 90 degree heat so I could take pictures of it. We love you, Allie.

And – because I so love you, dear blog friends, I am offering – for a limited time – a coupon discount for readers.  Use this super secret code, willcookforfood  in the next two months and receive 20% off your order from Ugly Mugwump Designs on Etsy.

Cool, huh?

Do good – stay warm.

Ugly Mugwump Designs on Etsy

My Fair Breakfast

Of all the meals in a day (counting snacks and that bizarre meal eaten while watching a late-night movie that no one has seemed to have given a name…), I have the most trouble with breakfast. It’s a typical love/hate relationship, I know the popular opinion seems to be that it is the most important meal of the day, but how fair is it to hang so much on a meal most of us probably prepare and eat while half asleep? I don’t know about you, but when *I* wake up, my hair – left to its own devices all night – appears to be on the warpath with anything and everything in sight. Am I honestly expected to make a decent omelet under those circumstances? Omelets seem like something that should be taken rather seriously and I can’t take anything seriously while looking like I am wearing a poorly designed circus clown wig.

My inner breakfast conflict has often tempted me to skip the meal entirely, immediately attack my ‘to-do’ list and eagerly wait for lunch. This is *never* a good idea, I repeat, it’s a *bad* idea. The uncomfortable truth is that I need breakfast. My husband needs breakfast. My blood-thirsty hair needs breakfast (just kidding, my hair needs a retired lion tamer).

What’s a person to do?

Meet the meal that changed my mind about breakfast, in fact, it wouldn’t be going too far to say that it changed my whole life – at breakfast.

I found a recipe for Baked Oatmeal. Baked oatmeal is a revelation waiting to happen to *your* mornings, just as it happened to mine.

It’s the perfect breakfast food, being wicked healthy for you (full of fiber and protein while low in sugar and fat)  tasty as all get-out, and easy – I mean ‘pre-coffee’ easy, taking only about five minutes to throw together and 20 minutes to bake. Mix it up, throw it in the oven and then hit the showers – it’s ready when you are. How convenient is that? You can bake your oatmeal the night before and have it for the next morning, or you can *freeze* your baked oatmeal in individual portions and with a few minutes of defrosting, have a convenient meal *almost* at the snap of your fingers. Exciting, isn’t it?


Baked Oatmeal  (Basic Recipe)

2 eggs, beaten or 3 egg whites

1/4 cup vegetable oil

1/4 cup brown sugar

2/3 cup apple sauce

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 teaspoon cinnamon

3 cups old fashioned rolled oats

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 cup milk


While your oven is heating up to 375 degrees, mix together the eggs, oil, apple sauce, sugar and vanilla in a bowl. When these things are well blended, add the cinnamon, rolled oats, baking powder and milk.

Pour into an 8 inch square baking dish and then slide it on in the oven. This will bakc for 20 minutes or so. To check it, stick it with a toothpick or thin-bladed knife and if it comes out clean – you have yourself some baked oatmeal!

Now, as I mentioned before, this is the basic recipe, which, while tasting fine, can seem a little dull. The awesome part about this meal is that the variations are endless. I personally like to substitute 1/4 cup of pure Vermont maple syrup for the brown sugar, add 2 Tablespoons of flax seeds and 1/4 cup of craisins or raisins. Yum.

How about skipping the cinnamon and adding a 1/4 cup of chocolate chips? That there’s the best of breakfast *and* dessert. Speaking of which, serve it warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and you have instant deliciousness. Brilliant!

I send a square off with my husband as a mid-afternoon snack, and pack one in my own bag to stave away the 3:00 munchies while I’m at work. Breakfast, snack, dessert – is there anything baked oatmeal *can’t* do? I think not. If we thought about it hard enough, I bet we could come up with a way to make it a satisfactory dinner food, too.

So give baked oatmeal a chance, give your mornings a chance – it might just changed you!





gentle food

Some days you don’t want something heady and exotic.

Some days, the thought of mixing one more ingredient into your life is too much. Doctor’s appointments, work, worries, they gang up on the horizon like oncoming storms and the mere idea of doing anything more complicated than scrambling eggs is enough to send you in search of a hole to hide in.

These are the days when you need Gentle Food. Plain, homey dishes that come in and embrace you with their delicious simplicity- you don’t have to be brave or stalwart in order to enjoy them. Food that understands a rough day or wayward month and isn’t going to challenge you or ask you difficult questions like, “Is there too much pepper in this?” or “How long do I roast this eggplant?” You need food that *answers* questions, that sends reassuring messages to you through your tastebuds when the super-simple cheese recipe you tried earlier on in the day utterly flopped, or the dinner casserole has permanently burned itself to the bottom of your new casserole dish. You need, “cheer-up-it’s-all-going-to-be-ok-in-the-morning-but-it’s-alright-if-you-need-to-have-a-good-cry-now” food. Gentle food.

For some, thick macaroni and cheese is gentle food. Others may enjoy the ever-elegant peanut butter and jelly sandwich with the crusts cut off, or a bowl of ice cream. I know someone whose ultimate comfort food is a slice of meatloaf.

When I need gentle food, I often turn to potatoes (are you surprised?). This is my favorite potato recipe; it is, for me, the epitome of gentle food. The taste is friendly and kind, the preparation incredibly rhythmic and eating it is something akin to therapy. Here you go.

Mom’s Scalloped Potatoes

This recipe will feed four people (or just me on a rough day)

4 potatoes (I used heartier russets today and really liked how they kept their shape. If you can bear a little variety, feel free to substitute one or two of the white potatoes for sweet ones)

1/4 cup flour

4 cups milk

salt and pepper

an 8×8 casserole dish

350 degrees

There you are, how can you not already like a recipe that calls for only four ingredients? Scrub, then slice the potatoes rather thinly but the thickness is really up to you. This is gentle food, it isn’t going to demand anything too strenuous. Peeling is optional unless of course you have decided to use some sweet potatoes, then you had better peel those. Next, grease the casserole dish. Now you’re going to put a layer of potatoes down on the bottom of the dish, roughly two slices deep. I lay a single layer down and then go back and lay a second, covering the gaps left by the first- almost like laying bricks- only not that hard.  Sprinkle some salt around on the potatoes- this is another step that is entirely dependent upon your taste. Remember that potatoes have a habit of being salt gluttons… I probably use around 1/8 tsp or thereabouts. I *also* have a reputation for being a bit of a salt glutton. Sprinkle pepper on the layer, then a tablespoon or two of flour evenly distributed around on top of that. There’s the pattern- go to it. It doesn’t matter if you mix the sweet potatoes in with the white ones, or if you layer them separately, but you are going to fill the dish making sure to gently season and flour each layer. You may not use all the flour, and that’s ok. No pressure. Now for the milk, poured right on top of the potatoes. It should come a little more than halfway up the pan but more or less isn’t going to hurt anything. Hug it with aluminum foil and send it to the heat. I baked mine for a good hour before I had to take it out to make way for the eggplant that had been impatiently waiting in line for 20 minutes. In an ideal world (or perhaps just a world where ovens have more room), it would bake for 45 minutes to an hour covered, and then I would take off the foil and let it cook for another 15 minutes or so, so that the ‘sauce’ could thicken and the potatoes brown. Keep your eye on it, don’t let it get ahead of itself and burn to a crisp. Gentle is the key. As it stands, mine came out of the oven looking a little northern and pale, but cooked through and good enough to eat.

And eat it, we did. Mildly sweet, comforting, milky, gentle. Perfect.

Serve hot, with lots of consolation and good hope.

because that’s how Julia does it

I always cut the butter in by hand. Always. No exceptions.

I used to be one of those old-fashioned Midwest types who believe that a fork really *is* the only kitchen tool you need (try it sometime- you might be surprised…) and painstakingly forced chunks of butter into noncompliant flour with a fork that kept bending. Then I graduated to using a pastry blender- much easier, much faster, much less frustrating. And Then (another one of the famous ‘and thens’ of history, destined to be stored among other great moments such as, ‘..and then Columbus saw land..’ or, ‘..and then they realized that they had discovered soap..’ or even, ‘…and then they lived happily ever after..’) and then, I watched Julia Child make Pate En Croute and she used her fingers to cut in the butter for her pastry dough.

Oh. My. Word.

Fingers- of course. Why hadn’t I thought of that?

It is raining outside, odd for January in Vermont I know, we are trying to just ignore it until the weather gets itself together, not unlike a group of people who purposefully forget the one among them that has committed some foul sort of social blunder. We’re going on as if this is how it always is and casting scarce glances at the sky, hoping that the embarrassment will be over soon. My husband has left for work, leaving me to the night and the rain and the lonely crooning of Billy Holiday. The laundry is all done, the dishes have been washed.

Time to make tea biscuits.

My mom made these for us all through our childhood and could hardly keep a batch in the house for longer than a few hours. It is a light biscuit, bordering on a scone in dryness of texture, comfortably flavored with cinnamon, cloves and ginger and adorned with raisins which also supply a good deal of the sweetness. They are *supposed* to be made and then let to sit for a day or so until the full flavor is able to develop. I’m not sure I’ve ever tasted a fully developed tea biscuit since we almost always ate them as fast as they were produced.  They make an exquisite snack for a winter’s afternoon when the sun has hidden itself behind a thick veil of moody clouds. Enjoy with a cold glass of milk or cup of tea and some good conversation.

Tea Biscuits

4 cups of flour  ( I used a blend of 2 cups regular white flour, 1 cup of spelt and 1 cup of whole wheat)

2 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp salt

1 Tbsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp each ginger and cloves

1 cup raisins

1/2 cup nuts (very optional. I usually opt *no* on nuts…)

1 cup butter

1 cup light brown sugar

4 eggs

1 cup milk

1 tsp vanilla

I preheated our little oven to the required 375 degrees.

Next step is to sift together all the dry ingredients *except* the raisins (and nuts if you are adding them). Your flour should be slightly brown and wonderfully scented with warm spices. Next comes the fun part- cutting in the butter. I never used to enjoy this step, but now it’s my favorite. Do you know how to cut in butter *with your bare hands*?  I do it like Julia (of course) and this is an excellent recipe to practice with because you need a whole cup of butter. Anyone who cuts an entire cup of butter into a recipe gains automatic professional status- so take heart. I take the stick of butter and my thin paring knife and slice the butter into little chunks right into the bowl of dry ingredients. When all the butter has been chopped up, take clean fingertips and gently but firmly start to “smoosh” the pieces of butter with the flour. As you spread the butter out, it grabs a hold of the flour- do this over and over again until all the chunks have been spread into the flour. It may take a little while, this is a big amount, but keep at it and trust me, the butter will soon disappear. The goal is to have a flour which is rather like the texture of damp sand. It will hold together if you squeeze it in your hand, but you can easily knock it apart into grains again. Doing this step by hand raises these biscuits from being a common-place accompaniment for tea to an artisan treat that the finest of tea feels honored to share a table with.

Now, with that taken care of, add the raisins (and nuts) and pull yourself out another bowl where all the wet ingredients are going to meet each other. The four eggs need to be beaten until a bit foamy and then they’re ready for the milk and vanilla to be brought in. Introductions should be thorough, mix well.

Everything gets stirred together, the mess will be just that- a mess. Not dry enough to encourage kneading, just together enough to make one think that a little more flour is needed, and it is. Scatter a good amount of flour on your table, counter or pastry board (I used a good half cup) and then scrape the dough onto it. Flour the top enough so that it can be rolled out nicely to about 1/2 inch thickness. Next you’re going to cut them- use a biscuit cutter, free form into squares or triangles, or do as I do and use the lip of a small wine glass to make polite, dainty rounds. Place them on a lightly greased baking sheet, they need room to swell so make sure they aren’t touching, and then they can go in the oven.

These need to bake for 10-15 minutes, but as you always hear, it depends on a multitude of circumstances that none of us really wish to understand. Just check them often as the clock clears 10 minutes, the smell will make sure you won’t forget them, it is simply irresistible!

Bon Appetite!