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sweet stuff

So, when I went to wordpress.com to log in this afternoon, it didn’t remember me.  Yes, it’s been so long since I even checked in on the blog that I’ve been cleared by my own cache.

But much like that friend who only calls with marriage and birth announcements, here I am to say, “Hey, check this out … this is BIG.”  And by big, I mean delicious, and easy.  And able to be served either simply, as a comforting childhood favorite, or as something different and pretty to cap off a dinner with friends.

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There are certain things that just change when you have small kids.  One example: you stop ordering an ice cream cone for yourself, because you can be pretty confident that your sweet, sticky child will look at you about when she reaches the cone and say: “I can’t finish this.”  And you then eat the melted, spitty dregs of your kid’s ice cream cone.  And then soggy, dripping dregs of your other kid’s ice cream cone.

But every once in a while, it’s okay to indulge in a dessert that is just yours.  And this is an ice cream that is just for grown-ups: sweet cream doused with a good shot of bourbon, swirled through with a jammy peach syrup.

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In my mind, I bake for other people.  The cookies and brownies and cakes and ice creams and tea breads – I tell myself they’re my way of treating my husband and children to something decadent, yet wholesome, and full of love.  But it’s all a charade, because I’m the one with the sweet tooth.  My children – happily, mind you – prefer apples and blueberries to brownies, and Husband has nothing resembling a sweet tooth and nearly never eats dessert.

Unless it’s sour cherry pie.

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Our little adventure down South threw me way off my game: in the first week back, I managed to burn that super-easy tomato sauce that you all liked so well (I’m still not sure how that happened) and transfer a much-needed cake directly from the oven to the kitchen floor.  It was not a banner cooking week.

But there were wild blueberries in the market, and they’re delicious, but kind of a pain to eat out of hand.  In fact, they are the perfect baking blueberry, so I set out to find a recipe worthy of them.  The one I settled on was a cake – part coffee-cake, part-dessert, and perfect to bring to a Tupperware-esque party my sister was having.  It looked easy, which, apparently, was the speed I was working at last week.   But, being one of those rediscovered recipes from the 1950s that Cook’s Country loves, it had a ridiculous name – “Blueberry Boy Bait” (what would Mount Holyoke think?!) and seemed oddly lacking in complementary flavors, except for a scant quarter teaspoon of cinnamon.  I had a starting point, but the recipe needed some oomph.  Read More

Two weeks, ten pounds of sugar, three dozen jars, and who can say how many pounds of fruit later, and I think I have to ‘fess up:  I discovered “putting up,” and I am hooked.

This is funny, because I was the kid who never wanted peanut butter and jelly sandwiches – straight up peanut butter for me.  This is also funny because I’ve always said I could never can anything because I was intimidated by day-long efforts for a few jars of product, scared about the prospect of exploding jars, and terrified by the chance that I might poison my friends and family if everything didn’t go exactly as it should.

But a recipe in the latest Canal House Cooking for tomato jam was too unusual not to try, and made the process of actually preserving the goods seem straight-forward and oh-so-doable.  Thanks to that confidence booster and a handy and cheap buy-this-with-that offer from Amazon.com, and I had everything I needed to make my first batch of jam.  It was a huge success (though I’m having a hard time convincing anyone other than myself that tomato jam is the perfect thing to have with a salty cheese or with some kind of porky thing.  Really, it is!) It was much easier than I thought, and the perky little “pop” that those mason jars make as they cool and seal is incredibly satisfying – kind of like a gold star for a food geek.

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We’re heading South this week, to the land of chicken fried and barbecue and sweet tea. Now, I’m a New Englander through and through, and if it weren’t for family ties and the value inherent to children learning about all the places that they come from, I’d be hard-pressed to be heading toward more heat, more humidity and bugs bigger than your average SmartCar in the middle of August.  But the food … well, that’s where the South really finds my soft spot (well, the music, too, but this isn’t a music blog.)

I can remember my first visit south of the Mason-Dixon, again at the height of summer, to attend  a family event with Husband, long before he was my husband. We were in eastern Tennessee, and the whole extended family – most of whom I was meeting for the first time – went for a meal at a local restaurant.  All I remember about the meal is the dessert menu, recited by a local girl, and including what seemed like hundreds of pies, pronounced both rapidly and with an easy southern drawl: “Peach Pah, Strawberry Pah, Pecan Pah, Chocolate Cream Pah, Lemon Meringue Pah, Blueberry Pah, Cherry Pah, Razzleberry Pah, Apple Pah, Key Lime Pah …”

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