a Macaroon Epiphany

Until the gluten free movement put the flavor back into flourless foods, Passover bakery goods tasted like sawdust. For forever, the only Passover-approved cookie available at the grocery was an almond macaroon. Like a beloved family tradition, those icky sweet orbs have been passed off from one generation to the next as the holiday’s go-to sweet. Falling into the ancestral way, I’ve been serving almond nuggets for over 30 years, until this year, when I experienced a macaroon epiphany.

Ever so sick and tired of the packaged cookie, I turned to my cookbooks for a macaroon review.

A 1913 recipe for a Cocoanut Macaroon called for 1 grated cocoanut, 1/2 its weight in sugar, and the white of 1 egg. A mixture like a paste was to be worked into balls the size of a nutmeg and baked fifteen to twenty minutes in a slow oven.

While a perusal of recipes from later decades provided a tad more direction, apparent was the macaroon is no newcomer when it comes to the homemade treat scene.

More of a surprise is the simplicity of ingredients that are a modern macaroon.

You’ll Need:  14 ounces sweetened shredded coconut
14 ounces sweetened condensed milk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 large egg whites
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

The Mixing Directions:  Preheat the oven to 325 degrees
Combine the coconut, condensed milk, and vanilla in a large bowl. Whip the egg whites and salt on high speed until firm peaks form. Gently fold the egg whites into the coconut mixture.
Using 2 teaspoons, take generous dips into the mixture and drop onto sheet pans lined with parchment paper. Don’t smooth or compact into neat cookie “balls.” Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until golden brown. Cool, then store airtight to maintain freshness.

Step it up a notch: After cooling, dip 1/2 of a macaroon into melted dark chocolate; then place on a parchment covered cookie sheet. To harden the chocolate, set sheet in the freezer or refrigerator. Store airtight.

The resulting cookie is a Passover game changer. Irresistibly yummy, it’s impossible to eat just one, so smarten up from the get go and double the output.

It would seem no contest between a delectable macaroon and a macaroon with a shelf life

of two years, but not so, according to my tradition-besotted husband. Each bite of almond,

he says, is a sensory memory trigger, taking him back to a time when his parents were alive and as a family, they gathered at the Passover table.

His response gave me pause.

Perhaps when it comes to tradition and our holidays, a tastier macaroon isn’t necessarily better.

xx EllynAnne

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Setting the Table

The Seder is a meal of ritual.  While there can be some playing around with the menu, sacrosanct are the serving of matzo ball soup and the absence of flour in any recipe.

Never a fan of the matzo ball, I handed off this part of the meal for many years to a friend’s mother, who was delighted to bring her specialty to the table. Sadly, Sibi died and with her went the BEST matzo ball soup in the world, this according to my family. Sibi’s replacement soup provider arrives with two pots still bubbling from her stove, as well as her own ladle. Such preparedness is my own little prayer answered.

Baking a flourless dessert is, thankfully, not the hassle of years ago.

This recipe from Country Living magazine is my go-to. It’s a cake so delicious as to deserve an appearance more than once a year.

Chocolate-Almond Torte

Special equipment – a spring form cake pan

2 sticks unsalted butter cut into small pieces

9 ounces good quality dark chocolate, chopped

6 large eggs, separated

2/3 cup superfine sugar

½ cup fined ground almonds

· Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 10” spring form cake pan.

· In a heatproof bowl over a pan of gently simmering water, melt butter and chocolate together. Stir until smooth. Set bowl aside to cool.

· In another bowl, whisk egg yolks with sugar until pale and fluffy. Gradually pour melted chocolate mixture into egg mixture, stirring constantly. Now, fold in the almonds. Set bowl aside.

· In a large bowl, using an electric mixer set on medium speed, beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form. Fold the egg whites into the chocolate mixture until just combined.

· Pour this mixture into the spring form pan and bake for 35 minutes. (torte will be very moist in the middle).

· Cool in the pan about 1 hour. Then undo spring form. Now you have the torte on the pan bottom. Slide a spatula (or long piece of dental floss) to loosen the torte from the bottom. Then use the spatula to push/slide the torte onto a serving plate.

In a corner of the dining room is the dessert table. The torte offers a wonderful landscape for a plop of whipped cream with a sprinkle of blackberries and raspberries.

 

For those who believe fruit is dessert – a peach compote with a side of macaroon. Fresh mint is a pretty topper for both desserts.

With the meal in hand, I can revel in setting the table with an heirloom embroidered cloth, not of my own inheritance, but of a purchase at a second hand store. Cast off by one family, it is a part of my family’s holiday table.

Such beauty reminds me of the importance of remembering those who once graced our tables at holidays and how filling their seats with new families and friends is a testament to their memories…like a good matzo ball, gone but never forgotten.

Whether searching for the Passover matzo or a golden Easter egg, may this year’s holiday be beautifully blessed.

xx EllynAnne

Wrapping It Up

I’ve been ever hopeful for an early song bird or tip of a crocus to announce spring’s near arrival, but here it is the fourth day of March and the gloom of February continues to seep.

Tiring of the sun playing a solid game of peek-a-boo, I began searching computer files of downloaded pictures for something to bring a smile. Zipping through the alphabet, a folder caught my attention. Titled Cozied Covered_Art, I immediately remembered the contents and before the first click, was already smiling.

About two years ago, we were biking on a Denver trail and there it was, a tree wearing a colorful, crocheted trunk wrap. The dressing was something unexpected and exciting, and we pedaled on with a new energy. I didn’t realize what we’d come upon is an artistic movement called yarn bombing.

Yarn bombing is about bringing tactile beauty to a unique scape. With the canvas for yarn bombing undefined, the artist is only limited by imagination. What’s inherent in this discipline is the work is joyful and all who encounter it smile.

From around the world is yarn bombing:

At the forefront of this decorative movement is Carol Hummel, an artist living in Ohio. Her mission of uniting people through the act of art making is a global work in progress. A visit to her website is a travelogue of explosiveness, but in a good way. Carol says it best:

“As an artist, I think yarn bombing is a way to bring art to the people. Whether yarn bombing is done in stealth or with permission, I think it’s an extremely positive, creative, uplifting, happy experience for the people creating it as well as the people seeing it and living with it.”

Much closer to home, was this recent yarn bomb at the Denver Art Museum.

Big city living allows for such installations. I was so jealous of my Denver friends, until…

…on Main Street, in Pueblo! There was no one around, no one to share the excitement of such unexpected placement and the object of decoration, no one to exclaim over and over the disbelief and thrill and joy of experiencing yarn bombing.

But as with art, the image that impacts the most stays with us. And that nasty winter of chill-to-the-bone and soul, well, the artistry of spring will be here soon enough.

xx EllynAnne

 

 

Happy Birthday, Dr. Seuss

Read Across America Day is Sunday, March 2, a date co-opted by the National Education Association to coincide with Dr. Seuss’s birthday. Beloved the world over for his books of wacky rhyming and outlandish illustrations,

March 2 is also a day of celebration for the tiny contingency of America’s population whose last name is Geisel, the actual last name of Dr. Seuss.

Born Theodor Seuss Geisel, it is only on his birthday that this most mispronounced surname is correctly broadcast throughout the land as Guy´sel. Such correctness is music to the ears of 1,491 Geisels in the U.S., of which my husband’s family accounts for a dozen.

A foreign name, Geisel doesn’t follow the English grammatical rule of side-by-side vowels, When two vowels go a-walking the first one does the talking.

While there’s much lamenting of late over the breakdown of adults’ correct usage of the pronouns I and me, there is no grammar lesson than can lessen the mangling of a proud family name.

In 1939, my father-in-law, Albert Geisel, was released from a German concentration camp. Securing passage to America, he was questioned upon arrival by United States immigration authorities. Albert spoke only German, and when asked his last name, he emphatically spoke each letter, determined the family name would not be phonetically reinvented by the officials.

Albert was so proud that “Geisel was not an Ellis Island name.” The phrase became a family mantra, standing for the opportunities that are available to those who work hard.

Ted Geisel was a hard worker, a trait in common with the Geisel dozen. We’re proud of him

because his imagination brings joy to children and once a year, the world gets our name right.

xx EllynAnne

 

 

 

When Pictures Do the Talking

I recently received an email from a company seeking my business. The message contained so many symbols, it appeared more a drawing upon a cave dwelling wall than modern day communication. Interpreting the symbols’ intended conveyance wasn’t difficult, as the little graphics were easily recognizable, and were this a correspondence between an adult and a child, I’d not wonder as to the suitability of rainbows or happy-face sunshines in the stead of actual words.

When my children were very young, I purchased stationery for them to write thank you notes. The phraseology of such a typical note, from greeting to salutation, was printed on the sheet. What the child did was fill in the blanks with pictures of their own drawing. The notes were adorable keepsakes to doting family from children too small to write but old enough to express gratitude.

Such hieroglyphics were once an educational tool for elementary-aged students. In each issue of Children’s Activities, a magazine published from 1934 through the Fifties, there appeared a full page, two-column story. At the top of the page, a legend was provided to acquaint the child with the characters (both people and animals). The drawings broke up a rather long bit of type and made the reading more fun for everyone.

Substituting symbols for words wasn’t just for kiddos. Back in the day, such picture play was enjoyed by the vintage homemaker, also. Promising Hot Toast Makes the Butter Fly, this toaster cover is one of my favorite finds. I’d purchased it with the original tag stapled to the cover and always wondered if it was a kit or not. For others as domestically curiosity, I found the answer while flipping through Household’s February 1955 issue!

When we ran out of appliances to cover, there was always a child’s apron to adorn.

What’s old is new again, and yesterday’s hieroglyphic is today’s emoticon. While my toaster wears the cutest cozy, I’ll stick to letting entire words do the talking…that is until I’m corresponding with a grandchild; then, will my  rejoice and a  be my umbrella.

xx EllynAnne

 

 

 

Vintage Valentine Luv

Valentine’s Day wasn’t always such a commercial focus. Here are samples of hearts and love that show a different side of February 14th.

This 1920s boudoir pillow covering was never completed. From the outline, you can see that it was a kit. I have many aprons, linens and laundry items where the image is dyed and only the outlines need to be embroidered. Her stitches are so tiny and immaculate – this would have been the most enchanting cover. Always I wonder why such a project was abandoned. Perhaps it was for a friend’s bridal shower, and she was a tad envious. Perhaps she put it away, intending to sew it for her own dressing room and forgot about it. Whatever the reason, her heart was not into this project.

1943, with our men at war, we wore our hearts on the home front

This poem from 1943 may seem silly, but she is sending a valentine to her husband, who is fighting in the war.

The most popular boy in his 1949 elementary school with his Valentine haul.

Cookie cutter turns a canned cranberry blob into a dinner love fest.

1950s porcelain heart plate with very risque poetry for the times!

Never, ever too old for romance!!

                         “I’m trying to recall the last time you nibbled my ear.”

 

xx EA

 

 

 

 

 

 

Listening with Pleasure

In the 15 years since I took that first step on my apron journey, I’ve received many aprons in the mail. Always, the aprons are lovingly packaged, as if to make the best first impression upon arrival.

When I spy a large envelope in the mail delivery, my heart beats a tad faster because I anticipate it holds a piece of someone’s history. Such a package arrived this week.


The apron was double wrapped, first in yellow tissue with the sender’s information handwritten on a piece of kitty stationery, and secondly in pink.

The apron is of a dressy nature, perhaps worn over a Sunday Best dress, to serve dinner after church. It was a kit, purchased or received as a gift, and sewn entirely by hand. A stain from a kitchen mishap or storage in a leaky trunk is the only blemish, which is amazing, considering its from the 1920s.

Not only did the sender provide her address, but a phone number. Upon my ringing her up, E.S. shared that she lives in Iowa and the apron belonged to her grandmother, Carrie Cameron Lathrop. Carrie was a farmer’s wife, known throughout the area as a great storyteller. E.S. loved visiting the farm and spending time with her grandmother. She always wore an apron, but when she passed, I took just this one as a remembrance.

The apron is in my care now because E.S. is herself “getting on in years,” and she’s divesting of her treasures as she wishes, while she is still able.

E.S. inherited Grandma Carrie’s storytelling talent, and I was a willing audience to her recollections, especially her telling of hitchhiking to Colorado in 1952!

E.S. was twenty-two years old when she and two girlfriends hitched rides from Iowa to Denver. Their adventure lasted a year, ending when her friends up and married. Alone and lonely for family, E.S. borrowed the money for bus fare and returned home. But oh, her memories of Aspen, Boulder, and being a “single gal” in a city filled with rugged, western males. I adored hearing her voice lighten as she remembered that time and the adventure of her life.

One of the many lessons I’ve learned over the years of this apron journey is the value of practicing the old fashioned virtue of patience, zipping my lips and letting the apron direct the memory of the storyteller. A story unfolding on its own time frame eventually revealed something new about the human experience. Patience taught me that and I am the grateful recipient of the lesson.

E.S. will be 86 in March. While I’ll send a card and a little wrapped something, I know the gift she would appreciate most is a phone call and a patient ear. If I make it to her age, and in decent form, I so hope there will be a kind somebody with a willingness to hear an old lady tell a story.

xx EA

 

 

 

 

Snowy Days Bring Ice Cream Treat

Rejoice! The swath of snow storms that is making life miserable in other parts of the country is joyfully greeted in the parched High Plains of Colorado by those whose livelihoods are dependent on spring’s verdant land.

Living where the average yearly moisture amounts to 13″, I tend to greet snow flakes like a visit from Elvis. The rarity of days-on-end of winter storms in these parts is also cause for personal celebration, for with the freezing temperature is the opportunity to wear my inheritance, Mama’s mink.

Unlike when my snow euphoria was child-oriented with snowmen and cups of cocoa and globs of gooey marshmallows, in my sons’ adult absence, I focus on the aspects of snow that are personally pleasing: shoveling the sidewalk and eating snow ice cream.

Clearing a pathway is actually one of my favorite activities because it’s a very zen, easily obtainable goal and results in bringing pleasure to others, especially the newspaper and mail delivery folks.

The steady snowfall that requires multiple shoveling also fills a large bowl with freshly falling flakes, the main ingredient for snow ice cream. Never mind that it’s drifted through an atmosphere rife with pollutants, as long as it’s not yellow, I’m good with it. The very rarity of snow makes the treat so special.

A basic snow ice cream recipe is a simple stirring together of snow, sugar, vanilla extract and milk. For a creamier, richer taste, replace the sugar and milk with sweetened condensed milk. Substituting kahluah for the milk (and sugar) makes an adult version. Whatever is added to the mix, the savoring must be immediate, for this treat turns to mush in a blink.

Snow falling all around, on the trees and on the ground is poetry and purpose, with a cherry on top.

xx EA

Picture Speaks When Words Fail

The disappointment over the Super Bowl’s outcome has left many a Bronco fan speechless. Words are also failing to describe my personal annoyance for letting the smell of freshly popped popcorn lure me into forgetting that I do not like football, take a seat in front of the television, and stuff my face with all matter of snack and drink.

Words that aptly suit the game’s depressing outcome and my gluttonous bloating are likely what this homemaker is saying at the bursting of the garbage bag.

“What a mess!” perfectly describes the Bronco’s play and her kitchen floor.

xx EA

Hallelujah Challah

With the purchase of a breadmaker some years ago, I became a confident baker of Sabbath challah. With the task of kneading accomplished by the machine, my only job was to braid and bake. This arrangement worked for a good while, but with the machine’s breakdown, challah from the grocery took the place of homemade.

I thought about replacing the machine and reinstituting the tradition of Friday baking, because I missed the aroma of the bread in the oven…a signal of sorts that a change in the weekly routine was soon to begin. But something held me back from making the purchase.

When a hurt wrist and hand surgery put the stop to baking altogether, and cookie production ceased, my husband decided to put things to right and brought home a kitchen helper like I had only dreamed of

 

I love love love love love love love love this machine.

With dough making a breeze, challah baking is again a Friday happening.

For the record, I am not the advertising ambassador for KitchenAid. I could be, because I love (x10) this mixer. The recipe I use is adapted from the breadmaker, in case you’re thinking, oh, my! I need to do this.

Hallelujah Challah

Into 1 cup of warm water, pour contents of 2 packets of yeast and 3 T sugar. Stir to mix in. Then wait for it to become foamy.

In a measuring cup, combine 2 egg yolks, 1/3 c oil, 1 c water, 1 t salt and 1/3 sugar. Sift 7 cups flour into a bowl.

Put the dough hook in place. Into the KA bowl, alternately add flour and liquid, mixing the additions on speed 2. You’re done when the dough comes together. You may not use all the flour – the dough shouldn’t be dry, but rather a little sticky.

Oil the inside of a large bowl. Remove the dough from the KA bowl, round it, and roll it around in the bowl to get it oiled up. Cover with a cloth and let it rise. TIP: put a cup of warm water in the microwave with the covered bowl. Heat from the water will help with the rising. After an hour or so, punch the dough down. Round it, oil it and again cover to rise a half hour or so.

This recipe makes 2 large loaves.

Cut the dough mass in half. Cut each half into 3 pieces. Roll the pieces into ropes. On a parchment lined cookie sheet, lay 3 ropes side by side and braid. Tuck under both ends. Repeat with 2nd set of 3 ropes. Cover and let the loaves rise. Peeking under the tent is part of the fun, so peek away.

Brush the loaves with egg whites, adding seeds or not. Bake at 345/350 degrees for 25/30 minutes.

Have a lovely week-end!  With challah french toast on Sunday, how else can it be?

xx EllynAnne

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