When I was little, I had a book called “Hurry, Hurry!” and in case you did not also have this book, I will give you a little spoiler-laden plot synopsis here.
“Hurry, Hurry!” (by Edith Thacher Hurd, and illustrated by Clement Hurd) is about silly old Miss Muggs, who comes to take care of little Suzie while her parents are away, and who is always in such a rush that she gets tangled up with all sorts of people–the milkman, the old lady walking her dogs–and causes them woe. They all warn her, “Slow down, or something worse will happen!” But Miss Muggs does not heed them. People like Miss Muggs just never heed warnings, thank goodness, or we would never have books to read. The foretold Something Worse turns out to be knocking into a workman with a pot of glue (this was back before billboards were made of vinyl and just manifested by the side of the road, so cast your mind back). Poor Miss Muggs is covered in the stuff. All the people she has collided with gather around, and they promise to help scrape it off as long as she promises to stop telling Suzie to hurry. But when they get to her shoes, Miss Muggs cannot help herself. “Hurry, or Suzie will be late for school!” she blurts out, and Suzie calls a stop to the cleaning. Leave the glue on her shoes, she commands. And so Miss Muggs learns a new pace.
I tracked this book down when my first daughter was little (speaking of casting your mind back), and she did not like it, not one little bit. She had enough of Miss Muggs live and in person, I think. She did like a book called “The Seven Silly Eaters,” (by Mary Ann Hoberman, drawings by Marla Frazee), which tells the story of a family of children whose extremely particular tastes in food run their mother ragged.
Creamy oatmeal, pots of it!
Homemade bread, and lots of it!
Peeling apples by the peck, Mrs. Peters was a wreck!
As a person of somewhat particular tastes herself at the time, this daughter found the whole thing entirely hilarious, especially the solution to their woes, which came when they discovered the pleasant result of combining their individual favorites. Combining foods! It had her rolling on the floor every time.
Life has been a little Hurry, Hurry around here. But mercifully, this has been a record-setting apple season. And peeling peck after peck has allowed enough applesauce to accumulate on the bottom of my shoes that I now move at a stately pace, with the result that I may soon perish under a landslide of apples. My parents’ orchard is unmoved by falling leaves or freezing nights, and continues to churn out bushels of apples; meanwhile, my husband’s car is a home for wayward fruit. If there is a tree by the soccer field, the library, the side of the road, he fills a bag or his shirt or a boot, or just parks under it with the sunroof open and gives the tree a good shake, and brings those home, too. There is a thin film of apple pectin on every surface in the kitchen, top-side and underneath, except where there are thicker globs.
There was a great deal of satisfaction, when the season got underway (especially given that last year was kind of a dud in this regard), in practicing a kind of nose-to-tail apple processing. I would make applesauce, and then make juice from the cores and peelings and reject apples, and then the pulp from the juicer became fruit leather, and other noses got to send the remainder down to their tails.
At this point, maybe 11 bushels in, maybe more, hard to say, I think probably more, yeah, it seems definitely like more than 11, more like 15 or possibly 90, I am ready to be a little more cavalier. I am generous with apples (bless the hungry soccer teams!) and eager to find uses for apple by-products.
I once called my dad at work and he begged leave to call me later—“I am up to my ass in alligators at the moment,” he said, which was a compelling image. Early testers tell me that even if you are not to up to your elbows in applesauce, this is a good use of your time. If time is at a premium, you could, of course, start with applesauce brought into existence by a person other than yourself. Or, if you find you are running low on apples or applesauce, you could swing by here. Just be patient after you knock. I may be slow getting to the door.
Apple Barbecue Sauce
I have a great recipe for BBQ sauce, which involves peeling and grating an apple, and also slicing and mincing and dicing a whole bunch of other stuff. This is not that recipe. This one could maybe be enhanced by some mincing and slicing and sautéing and the like, and you go right ahead if that’s your feeling. Enhance away. Add more heat, or some mustard, or make it sweeter. I was looking for plug and play satisfaction, and I found it. As to the uses of this substance, so far I have roasted some chicken parts in it, and also made a pulled chicken that ended up in burritos and sandwiches and was by far the tastier application. People have also been seen using it in place of ketchup on a potato, and looking pleased, and we got a little Tex Mex Italiano action going with a pizza using this as the sauce.
If you don’t have a little container of chipotle in adobo sauce in your freezer, (a) why not? and (b) you could substitute the hot sauce of your choosing–a few tsp or a T, depending on its heat and your tolerance for same. The chipotles get a little smokiness into play and it works well with the apple-ness, so add a little smoked paprika if you have that instead.
- 4-6 apples (or 2c applesauce)
- ½ c ketchup, or 1/3 c tomato paste, plus water to make ½ c
- 1 chipotle pepper
- 2T oil
- 1T cider vinegar
- 2T tamari or soy sauce
- 1T chile powder (aim for pure powdered dried chiles, and not the spice mix sold as chili powder)
- 2t ground cumin
Core the apples, but do not peel them, and chop into chunks. Put the apple chunks in a 2-quart saucepan with water or apple cider to come half way up the volume of the apples. Cook at a stead boil until the apples are quite soft, stirring as needed to prevent scorching the bottom, and use an immersion blender and good sense to get that nice and smooth without burning your eyeball.
Stick 2 cups of this applesauce in a blender with the other stuff. Taste for your preferred level of saltiness and sweetness and heat. Pow, you’re done.
- 2# boneless chicken thighs
- 2 c BBQ sauce
- 3-4T oil
Heat the oil, salt and pepper the thighs and and brown them in a heavy casserole on both sides. Cover with 1c. of the sauce, and toss to coat. Cover the pan, and cook at a low simmer, or (my preferred method) stick the covered pot in a 250 degree oven, and cook for an hour or two, until the chicken pulls apart easily (check it midway through the cooking; if it seems dry, add a little water). Pull it with two forks, and add the remaining cup of sauce; serve it sloppy on a bun, or over rice, or bake it uncovered at 350 for a half hour to let some parts crisp up. Pow, you’re done.
By way of explanation as to where in the sam hill I have been, I could offer this compelling photograph and say no more:
“Is that,” you may be wondering to yourself, “a timely reminder to back up all my files, in the form of a person with a stethoscope trying to detect any faint sign of life within the innards of the Porpoiseful laptop?” Why, yes it is. You can’t quite tell from the picture, but he is about to inform me that there are, in fact, absolutely no detectable signs of life whatsoever. He is about to say, in effect, “Go forth, oh ye who cannot set a good example, and serve YET AGAIN as the horrible warning that will scare everyone straight.”
So that had a lot to do with keeping mum. Numerous other factors contrived to keep me occupied, but that was the real immovable object. Now I write you from my precarious perch on the slippery uphill part of the learning curve of a new computer.
Another complication had to do with having only enough energy for quite some time to eke out minimally serviceable food, some of which I had written about already and the rest of which did not really merit purple prose.
But tonight I got invited to a very nice party, so I had to muster up some verve. What can I possibly make that I am willing to serve to such impressive company? Again and again I posed the question listlessly to my dreary self, and then I remembered describing Thai Nut Relish as a food that should be everyone’s go-to for the occasions when they feel verve-less yet circumstances demand that they get their groove back and be quick about it.
So I made that very stuff, and was feeling pretty vervacious until I recalled that (a) our lovely hostess cannot bear the smell or taste of cilantro, and (b) I was supposed to bring REGIONAL FOOD. Of my present region. Thai Nut Relish is regional to the Western corner of Massachusetts only inasmuch as those of us who live here sometimes have to use Yankee resourcefulness to get our hands on what we want to eat.
When I was looking for the recipe for the nut stuff, I found a poem I used in a food-writing class I taught last year tucked into my recipe file, no doubt during a mad tidying episode by a person tricked by the word “coconut” in the title. It was stuck by some ossified particle to the next loose piece of paper in there, which was a collection of recipes I’ve made over the years for our sometimes annual Pumpkin Party, including a baked rice item which seemed like the way to go, regionally speaking. The poem is a very apt poem for this evening of mine, with its threads of coconut and weariness and the hunt for lost joy and the sweet little faces of kiddos who would like to go home. I commend it to you.
And the rice–the regional rice. That was good too. I use red rice, from Bhutan, which is regional to whomever is looking to get inside that coconut. Brown rice would do, but might impact the feast-for-the-eyes element. It isn’t New England Boiled Dinner, (naturally gluten-free!–I think that may be the nicest thing that can be said about NEBD) but it had a little fall squash, a little maple syrup–it was as close as I was going to get.
red rice with squash and smokey cheese
- 2 c red or short-grain brown rice
- 1 medium red onion
- about 1.5# butternut squash
- 1 t cumin seed (whole)
- 2 tsp maple syrup
- olive oil
- about 5 ozs smoked cheddar or gouda, cubed
- 1 chipotle pepper in adobo, finely minced (see note below)
Cook the rice until tender, fluff it up and set aside to cool enough that it won’t melt the cheese when you combine everything.
Line a baking sheet with parchment, and heat the oven to 425.
Peel the onion, and chop it into a half-inch dice. In a medium bowl, toss it with about a T of olive oil and the cumin seed until evenly coated. Spread on one side of the prepared sheet. Peel and seed the squash, and dice it into 1/2″ cubes. In the same bowl, toss the squash with another little glug of olive oil, the maple syrup, a fat pinch of salt and a few twists of black pepper. Spread it in a single layer on the other side of the baking sheet. Roast in the oven, stirring gently from time to time, about 15-20 minutes. Keeping the two segregated allows you pull one or the other if their cooking rates are out of sync. You want them both to be tender and browned in places. Let them cool a few minutes.
Turn the oven down to 350. Lightly oil a 9×13 baking dish.
Toss the cooked vegetables with the cooked rice and the minced chipotle pepper. Adjust seasoning and add a little more olive oil if needed so that every grain has a nice light sheen. Taste and adjust to your liking for salt. Toss the cubed cheese with the rice and vegetables, and transfer to the prepared baking dish. Bake about 25 minutes, until the cheese cubes visible on top are golden, and serve hot or at warm room temperature. A little chutney wouldn’t hurt, alongside at serving time.
Here is the promised Note on chipotle peppers: about once a year, I buy a can or jar of chipotle in adobo at Ye Olde Average Grocery Store. I dump the contents into a small ziploc bag, and pull one or two at a time out as needed. They don’t freeze rock-hard, making it easy to extract just what you need, and while frozen they are very much easier to chop.
Various pals of mine have recently obliged (or will shortly oblige) me by producing sweet little babies for me to play with. I do like a baby. My own personal round chubby babies are now long lean motion machines, as will happen, and enjoyable in their own right, but even if you can catch them they are hard to carry around and blow raspberries on. When I look at them, so big and full of ideas and complexities, I can still see the fuzzy-headed little dumplings they so recently were, but squinting is involved. So I like to get my mitts on an actual baby when I can, to admire its soft, squooshy elbows and enjoy its simple equations. Baby is grumpy? Pick one: feed, change, rock, tickle. Aahhh.
I have a standing date with one particularly luscious baby, and it shocks her mother slightly that I am so willing to drop everything and hold her infant while she does the things that mothers of the teeny weeny long to do if only they had an hour to do them in (like pee alone—the new spa day!). It’s funny how later on you’d do anything to go back to the very hours and demands that seemed so endless and relentless at the time.
One particularly obliging friend, who long ago cared for my babies with tender attention, has just asked me to be with her at the birth of her first baby next month. Do you know the expression “beside herself with happiness”? My chair is crowded. Here I am, and here next to me is the second self this request has necessitated, to hold all the excess joy.
So we arrive at gingerbread in hot weather thus: my once-a-week baby sometimes brings her brother along, thank goodness, because his presence cheers her very reliably. He and I got to talking about gingerbread this week, and he says next time he comes over he may want to make some with me. I built the food chain for his family, the first they had ever heard of such a thing, when this little sister arrived, and now the mama regularly sets such chains in motion for the new families in her ken. This morning came the invitation to be at the birth. Then another friend sent an email asking me for the recipe for the gingerbread I brought her when her daughter was born, so she could make it for a friend who had just had a baby.
If there is one thing I am learning from the last two years of upheaval and grief, it is how to nod as gratefully when help is offered as when the opportunity to help arises. Life has generously explained to me that the benefits extend to both the helper and the helped, in times of happiness and woe, to such a degree that it can be hard to tell which is which and whom is whom. The world spins more gracefully when we say yes, and the payouts quickly get beyond our feeble capacities to calculate.
So the compass points to gingerbread. It’s tasty with peaches, anyway, and good gravy do we ever have a lot of peaches.
A note about Laurie Colwin because, you know, there really is always a note about Laurie Colwin (who will never be “Laurie” any more than she will ever be “Colwin”), even if I don’t say it out loud. I have tried to love Laurie Colwin’s damp gingerbread as much as I love Laurie Colwin generally, but to me a recipe in a very spattered old issue of Fine Cooking is the pinnacle of gingerbread. Laurie Colwin does a fine job, in her essay about gingerbread, of explaining how finicky and quixotic a person’s gingerbread requirements can be, so in this sense I feel supported in not resting until I found mine. Maybe it is yours.If not, enjoy the hunt.
Lightly adapted from Barbara Bria Pugliese’s recipe in Fine Cooking, (November 1997)
- 1 ¾ c + 2T flour (I have used both AP flour and gluten-free with good results)
- 1 ½ t baking soda
- 2 ½ t ground ginger
- ½ t ground cinnamon
- pinch salt
- 5T unsalted butter, softened
- 1/3 c sugar
- 2T finely grated fresh ginger (optional)
- 1 large egg, room temperature
- ¾ c molasses
- ¾ c cold water
Heat the oven to 350. Butter an 8 x 8 baking pan. Sift together the flour, soda, spices and salt, and set aside.
Beat the butter until light, and add the sugar, continuing to beat until the mixture is light and fluffy. Add the egg and beat well. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, and with the beaters running, slowly pour in the molasses in a steady stream. Add half the dry ingredients and beat only to incorporate; repeat with the second half. Slowly pour in the cold water, beating on low speed, and then once it is all added, give the beaters a burst of speed for about twenty seconds to aerate and fluff the mixture.
Scrape into the prepared pan and bake until a tester comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes. Let it cool as long as you can manage before serving. Softly whipped cream makes an excellent accompaniment, even if you are eating the leftovers for breakfast the next day.