We’re back in Sacramento, back on the eleventh floor of the Residence Inn, back to the culinary challenge of cooking without an oven. We look out on a beautiful view, sleep in a comfortable bed, enjoy a free breakfast, wash clothes in a laundry room that doesn’t require quarter-hoarding, buy extras at a “boutique” Goodwill down the block, take a 10-minute bus ride to swim, drive a reasonably short city-street commute, and keep cool at night with an air-conditioner that works—all is good.
Sacramento Central YMCA
On Saturday, I went to a baby shower for my niece Claire in Orinda, northwest of Sacramento. Lovely girl, lovely event and I got to spend time with Ginny—an extra bonus.
We’re settling in, Bob found his work, I found a pool. Midtown Sacramento is full of fun. The other day the bus driver slowed down and shouted, “Everybody, look out your right window!” You always obey the bus driver, so twenty heads first swiveled to the left, then to the right, and this is what we saw.
Just in case, I guess.
Not Tom Cruise, but two middle-aged women, rappelling down the side of the hotel. “Over the Edge,” an event-planning company was supporting a fund raiser for Stanford Youth Solutions. Each rappeller/rappellee nagged friends, family, and coworkers to sponsor their plunge over a building backwards. What ever happened to bake sales?
Breakfast room burritos
Being somewhat discrete, pilfer (thx for the great word, Ronnie B.) scrambled eggs, grated cheese, bacon, green onions, Canadian bacon, salsa, and a tortilla from the breakfast room. It may take two mornings—just casually fill paper coffee cups with enough ingredients for two.
Microwave eggs and green onions for 30 seconds
Microwave tortilla with grated cheese for 10 seconds
If we had a dog, he would know that something’s up. The work shirts have been to the cleaners, the prescriptions have been filled, the Gramma chair in our bedroom is stacked with “don’t forgets,” I spent the morning grinding coffee beans, the big suitcase is out, and the refrigerator is almost empty. We’re leaving for the Sweetie’s two month Sacramento project on Monday, start date Tuesday.
At least Sacramento is familiar—we’ll be downtown in the same hotel as last year; Sweetie will work for the same hospital group and drive the same short side-street commute. For me, there’s a bus stop in front of the hotel, a Goodwill down the block, an edgy Grocery Outlet Bargain Market a short walk away, a 24 Hour Fitness pool within a 10 minute bus ride, the Crocker Art Museum, the Sacramento Delta, and access to San Francisco’s BART system. This year I’ll try to explore more; the weather should be in the range of beautiful to scorching; but Sacramento is the “City of Trees” which makes getting out and about on foot bearable.
I look forward to spending time in the State Capitol Park’s rose garden and eating Gogi tacos in the outdoor patio, tomatoes from the Cesar Chavez Plaza farmers market, shu mei dumplings from the Sunday Asian Market, and pupusas at La Flor—as you can see, I travel on my stomach.
I’ll enjoy reading two daily newspapers, having someone clean the room once a week, setting the wastebasket outside the door every night, running errands on foot, and weekend waffles.
I’ll miss our cozy house, drinking good coffee, cooking with an oven, using substantial forks and spoons, swimming with my pool friends, visiting with our friends/neighbors Bill and Glenda, spending all day with the Sweetie, and seeing my Ginny. But we will be back in November and there will be new and exotic stories to tell, although Joan Didion may disagree with the exotic stories part. As she once said, “Anyone who talks about California hedonism has never spent a Christmas in Sacramento.”
•4 tablespoons unsalted butter (cubed and chilled)
FOR THE CAKE
•9 ounces cake flour
•1 teaspoon baking powder
•1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
•1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
•4 tablespoons unsalted butter (left at room temperature for 30 minutes (or until instant-read thermometer stuck into the middle reads about 60 degrees F))
•5 1/4 ounces sugar
•1 large egg
•1/2 cup whole milk
•15 ounces fresh blueberries
MAKE THE TOPPING
Combine the sugar, flour and nutmeg in a small bowl then work in the butter, using a fork to combine. Keep “forking” until the mixture has a crumb-like texture. Set aside. (Note: If you have a pastry cutter, now’s the time to use it.)
MAKE THE CAKE
Heat the oven to 375 degrees F. Spray a 9-inch square GLASS baking dish with nonstick cooking spray and set aside.
Whisk the flour, baking powder, salt and ginger together in a medium bowl and set aside.
Beat together the butter and sugar in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment on medium speed until light and fluffy, approximately 1 minute. Reduce the speed a bit and thoroughly incorporate the egg. Reduce the speed to low (or “stir” on a Kitchenaid) and add one-third of the flour mixture. Once incorporated, add one-third of the milk then repeat alternating until all ingredients are combined.
Gently stir in the blueberries and pour the mixture into the prepared baking dish and sprinkle on the topping mixture.
Bake on the middle rack of the oven for 45 minutes, or until golden. Cool for 30 minutes before serving.
Seems as if friend-making years occur when we are the busiest: during college, on our first jobs, when we’re young couples, or as playdate Moms. The Sweetie and I are lucky to have friends we met forty-five years ago during our first job/young couple years.
Over those forty-five years, we have all made a concerted effort to stay in touch. In 1989 we hosted our first winter dinner that included single girls Marilyn and Beth, recently married Nancy, Tom, and daughter Sierra, old friends Becky and Jerry, and our dear Tommy. Beth married MacGregor, Marilyn wed Fritz, Becky and Jerry moved to Hood Canal, Sierra grew up, and Tommy died, so when we get the band together, we are eight.
Tenyears before our first dinner, I went to work for Rick O’Reilly and his French dream, La Petite Maison. As decade starters seem to be markers for momentous occasions, last Sunday’s summer dinner was about remembering Rick.
Burrowing through boxes in the garage, I recently found a notecard with Rick’s hand-written recipe for Tarte Aux Champignons and went from there.
“Tarte Aux Champignons
One Baked 9” pie shell
4 cups sliced mushrooms
1 shallot, minced
1/4 cup butter
Salt and pepper
1/2 cup Port
1 pint heavy cream
1/2# Swiss cheese
Sauté mushrooms and shallots in butter, salt and pepper. (Do not wash mushrooms in water!)
Place mushrooms in pie shell, leaving all liquid and butter in fry pan. Add 1⁄2 c. port to pan and boil until reduced to 1-2 T.
Add 1 pt. heavy cream and boil until mixture thickens.
Sprinkle 1/2 c. grated Swiss cheese and 1/2 cup Gruyere over mushrooms and pour cream mixture over all.
Bake in a 400° oven for 30 minutes.”
Next up: Caesar Salad.
While Rick welcomed input from the staff, he had the last word when it came to the menu. In Mexico he ate Caesar Salad prepared table-side by male waiters dressed in black and was determined to reproduce that dining experience. Scott and Chris, our two long-time waiters, were adamantly opposed; “Sheer lunacy”, if I remember correctly. Tableside Caesars would “slow service to a crawl, be messy, inconsistent, pretentious, and embarrassing.” Even though Rick was a novice in the restaurant world and Scott and Chris were experienced servers, Rick won that round and Caesar salads were prepared table-side.
Within a week of opening, I was in the kitchen making Caesar Salad dressing by the quart, using a blender and the waiters were in the dining room wearing black vests, shirts, and pants.
3 egg yolks
1⁄2 tsp. anchovy paste
2 T. red wine vinegar
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1⁄2 tsp. Tabasco
1 Tbs. chopped garlic
2 tsp. dry mustard
2 tsp. capers
Juice of 1 lemon
Salt and pepper to taste
1⁄2 c. olive oil
1⁄2 c. salad oil
Place egg yolks, anchovy paste, vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco, garlic, mustard, capers, and lemon juice in a blender—add salt & pepper and blend until smooth.
Add oils in slowly until emulsified.
Main course: Salmon with sorrel sauce.
Rick spent at least ten summers in France, initially eating for pleasure, taking cooking classes from some of the greats, and eventually teaching. His favorites chefs were the Troisgros brothers; his favorite dish—salmon with sorrel sauce. Sorrel is difficult to find but so easy to grow. My friend Glenda found seeds for me, I planted them in pots, and still have enough sorrel to supply Rick’s old restaurant. I mowed it twice, but still had three times what I needed to make the sauce. So if you need some sorrel, I’m your guy.
Salmon with sorrel sauce (Recipe from muscle memory only)—4 servings
Sauté 2 minced shallots in 2 T. butter. Add salt
Add 1 cup clam juice
Bring to boil, simmer 5 minutes or until syrupy
Add 1 c. wine and 3T. vermouth, reduce
Add 1 1/2 cup cream, cook 5 minutes or until thickened. (Consider it thickened if you can see the bottom of the pan when you pull a spatula through it, or/and when the mixture coats a spoon. If the sauce should break, splash a bit of water in the pan, shake it around and the sauce should come back together.)
Pass through a fine mesh sieve into a clean pan—yield 1-2 cups (4-6 servings)
Add 1 1/2c. shredded sorrel, and cook for 25 seconds. Remove from heat.
Season with lemon juice, salt, and pepper.
Season thin salmon filets on the skin side.
Heat non-stick pan, add small amount butter, slide fillets into pan unseasoned side down. Don’t crowd.
Cook no more than 1 1/2 minutes. Turn over, cook 30 seconds more.
Serve immediately on heated plates.
After months of long hours for the staff and years of preparation for Rick, La Petite finally opened. After opening night service was over we all sat in the empty dining room drinking champagne. Rick looked at me and said, “Marla, we have to do this again tomorrow?” He did, and we did.
Patty and Jim’s sweet dog Gracie died last week after giving them years of walks, protection, and companionship. She was a good dog, a fine friend, and will be missed.
Another beautiful morning on San Diego’s Pacific Beach: soft, summer breeze, cloudless blue sky, gulls circling overhead (probably on the prowl for palm rats and kittens). Sundays bring out the surfers, the watchers, the families, and the yoga practitioners. Barefoot surfers walk by my concrete perch wearing wet suits, most black, carrying their boards, mostly white, and descend the steep dirt trail to the beach.
Like the beach, surfing is egalitarian: to be known as a “surfer dude,” all you need is a ride to the beach, a board, the discipline to learn some serious skills, and stamina. Most of the wet-suited, board-carriers are young, white, men with lean, sun-tanned bodies. There are always a few silver-haired older gents and some naturally brown skins in the mix, but today I saw someone completely different: an older, grey-haired woman about my age.
She walked solo (wearing a bright pink wet suit) with a careful stride, and easily carried her board (bright aqua blue) down the winding dirt path. She paddled out into the surf, ducking under each wave as it crashed, bobbing up on the other side, ready to take on the next one. Taking her place beyond the cresting waves alongside the young ones, she waited her turn, pulled through the water to merge, was up in a flash, and rode gracefully all the way to the beach.
While the surfers surfed, the watchers watched, and the yoga practitioners gathered. I could hear the thumping of rubber mats on the grass behind my bench as the Sunday morning devotees claimed their piece of turf. “Gotta get here early to claim a flat spot, otherwise you are downward dogging on every step.”
As if on cue, a lithe man in his forties greeted me pleasantly and asked (exactly as he did a year ago), “Mind if I hop up on your bench to lead my yoga class?” When I asked him why his pig wasn’t with him (unlike last year), he said, “Clubber fell victim to a few PB residents who ratted him out for lack of a permit. The city required that I place him in Penelope’s Purpose, a sanctuary up in Ramona, so now I pay pig support every month—don’t want to be a deadbeat dad.”
Steve, yoga instructor
Clubber, yoga pig
North Carolina fish stew
1/2 lb. (6 strips) Thick-Cut Bacon
2 Medium or 1 Large Yellow Onion, peeled, halved, and sliced into 1/4” half-moons
6 cups Fish or chicken stock or water
6 oz. Tomato Paste
1 t Red Pepper Flake
1 Bay Leaf
1 1/2 lb Red Potatoes, sliced 1/4” thick
1 1/2 lb Thick Cut white fish fillet – cod works well
1-2 tsp Hot Sauce, such as Frank’s or Crystal
Salt & Pepper
Heat a heavy soup pot over Medium heat. Cut the bacon strips into 1” sections, and place in the pot to render the fat. Allow the bacon to crisp. Remove from the pan, leaving the fat.
Add the onion slices to the pan and cook about 8 minutes until they are translucent and tender and just beginning to brown.
To the onions, add 1-2 teaspoons salt, 1 tsp black pepper, the red pepper flake and the 6 cups water. Stir in the Tomato paste. Add the sliced potatoes, and turn heat up to Medium-High. When the soup begins to simmer, wait 10 minutes.
While simmering, cut the fish fillet into large (2”x2”x2”) chunks. They should be big and thick. After the 10 minutes has passed, add the fish to the soup. Then, cracking the eggs, add 1 at a time to the soup. Cover for 15 minutes. This should be enough time to cook the fish and poach the eggs.
Test and adjust flavor by adding salt, pepper and hot sauce, as desired.
San Diego’s May grey and June gloom have been replaced by July blue sky. With Paris scorching in at 106°, the Netherlands at 104°, and the Midwest, South, and East Coast sweltering through a heat wave, San Diego’s high of 82°, with a soft ocean breeze coming in across the bay, is a daytime dream and a sleeper’s delight.
San Diego is the land of the hapless Padres, the grand, pink Hotel Del Coronado, Balboa Park, San Diego Zoo, flocks of graceful surfers in black wetsuits, sandy beaches from Chula Vista to Del Mar, Rubio’s Baja fish tacos, Old Town tamales, past home of the beleaguered Sea World orcas and current home to our friends the Fostermiglias and our nephew Andrew and his wife Ashley. We once carved out a small footprint here in a long, breezy California box house at the top of a hill with a killer view, but California has little or no patience with financial upheavals, so our brief sojourn ended when our project did. Luckily our dear friends leave the light on for us so we are still able to visit and wonder at our good fortune.
First up in the morning is a short drive to Pacific Beach—the Sweetie walks, I watch on a concrete bench high above the sand.
Beaches are egalitarian and it doesn’t matter if you have driven from Tijuana or La Jolla, parking is impossible, but the sun and the surf are free. Benches are rare, so I share with another watcher who usually has a story to tell. This morning I sat next to a formidable dude with visible ink everywhere and a sad story of missed child support, garnished disability checks, and a repossessed motorcycle.
Next up: a beautiful blonde seventy-year old woman wearing an Australian slouch hat and her fortyish son wearing a Padres baseball cap. In the 1950s, beautiful blonde’s father bought a cottage (with large lots on either side) down the beach, conveniently died in the early 2000s, and left her all his property. Dutiful son tried hard not to look too gleeful or expectant as beautiful blonde explained that when she died, all the property would go to him.
If Unicorn lets me share his lane, I have a convenient morning swim in the backyard pool.
Baja Fish Tacos
Pickled Red Onion: 1 large red onion, halved lengthways, thinly sliced 2 small green jalapeños 2/3 cup rice vinegar 1 tablespoon lime juice 1 heaped teaspoon sea salt
Baja Cream: 1/2 cup mayonnaise 1/2 cup sour cream 2 teaspoons lime juice, plus extra to taste 1 teaspoon finely grated lime zest Pinch of sea salt
Baja Cabbage Slaw: 2 tablespoons mayonnaise 3/4 teaspoon lime juice 2 drops jalapeño Tabasco sauce 1/2 small head green cabbage, thinly sliced Sea salt and ground black pepper
Marinated Fish: 1/4 cup olive oil 1/2 teaspoon chili powder, or to taste 1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin 1/4 cup cilantro leaves, chopped 1 green jalapeño, chopped 1 lb flaky white fish filets Sea salt and ground black pepper Corn tortillas, for serving
Pickled Red Onion: To make the pickled red onion, place the onion and jalapeño in a heatproof medium bowl. In a small saucepan, combine the vinegar, lime juice and salt. Bring to the boil over high heat, stirring until the salt dissolves, then pour over the onion and jalapeño. Allow to stand at room temperature for at least 1 hour before using. (Leftovers will keep up to 1 week in the fridge.)
Baja Cream: To make the Baja cream, whisk the mayonnaise, sour cream, lime juice, lime zest and salt in a small bowl, then taste for seasoning and lime juice.
Baja Cabbage Slaw: To make the cabbage slaw, mix together the mayonnaise, lime juice and Tabasco in a bowl. Toss the cabbage with the mayonnaise mixture, season to taste and refrigerate.
Marinated Fish: To marinate the fish, mix the olive oil, chili powder, oregano, cumin, coriander and jalapeño in a non-reactive dish. Add the fish and marinate for 20 minutes. When ready to cook the fish, heat a non-stick frying pan over medium–high heat. Remove the fish from the marinade, place in the hot pan and season with salt. Cook the fish for 4 minutes, then turn over, season again with salt and cook for another 2 minutes or until just cooked through, depending on the thickness. Remove the pan from the heat and flake the fish with a fork, scraping up and mixing in any marinade that has stuck to the bottom.
Assembly: Heat the tortillas according to the directions on the packet. To assemble the tacos, place a heaped spoon of the fish onto the centre of a warm tortilla. Top with the pickled onion and jalapeño, Baja cream, Baja cabbage slaw and tomato salsa.
If you want to start a spirited debate in Texas (remember, it’s a legal-carry state), ask for your chili with beans. You’ll likely be told, “Take that bean stew up north, Yankee.” Texans believe that beans are added to chili only to accommodate babies, the weak, and the elderly.
Humorist Will Rogers, who measured his fondness for a town by the quality of its chili, called Texas chili, “a bowl of blessedness.” Texan Lyndon B. Johnson swore by his state’s chili and said, “Chili concocted outside of Texas is usually a weak, apologetic imitation of the real thing.” According to legend, the James brothers spared the local bank in McKinley, Texas any shenanigans because Frank and Jessie’s favorite chili parlor was located next door.
The chili conversation can also be heated in Cincinnati, Ohio where chili is served in five layers: spaghetti, chili, chopped onions, beans, and grated cheese. Critical opinions range from “one of America’s quintessential meals” to “a Z-grade atrocity.” There is also Illinois chilli (note the two lls) made with ground beef, Oklahoma chili (like Texan but less militant), New Mexican chile verde, American white chili with chicken, and then there’s Mom’s chili, which involves a can opener. Strangely enough, the usually contentious New York City and Los Angeles, don’t get into the chili fray.
No one is sure where chili originated. One slightly gruesome theory involves hapless conquistadores, the Aztecs, and this recipe from humorist H. Allen Smith, “First catch yourself a lean Spaniard.” At the other end of that spectrum, a Spanish nun is said to have received the recipe from God while in a trance. Most give credit to Texas, specifically to early 1900s San Antonio, where the “Chili Queens” made chili at home in copper kettles, loaded the vats onto wagons, and sold the spicy stew in downtown Alamo Plaza.
While chili purists insist that there is no place in authentic chili for beans, tomatoes, corn, armadillo, chicken, pasta, chocolate, coffee, or quinoa—I say, let ‘er rip. We agree to become adults only if we can do what we please, so make chili to suit yourself. Anyways, here’s my version.
BTW, pay no attention to the extremists who find garnishes to be an abomination. The more the merrier: grated cheese, sour cream, black olives, diced avocado, lime wedges, chopped tomatoes, red onions, cilantro, etc.
Texas-style Beef and Pork Chili
2 ancho chilies
You’ll find anchos in grocery stores in the Mexican food area. They’re usually in a clear plastic bag along with Mexican food spices. Split them, remove the stems and seeds, and roast them over a burner or in a hot skillet. When soft and dark, they’re done. Cover them with boiling water and let stand until they’re soft. Blend and strain.
2 # beef
2 # pork
2 diced onions
6 cloves minced garlic
3 T. flour, salt & pepper
1 T. cumin
1 t. coriander
1 t. oregano
1 t. marjoram
3 bay leaves
1⁄4 t. allspice
1⁄4 t. cloves
2 teaspoons salt or to taste
1 c. beer
1 large can crushed tomatoes
1/2 cup strained ancho chili puree
1/2 cup jarred tomatillo salsa
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup orange juice
Juice of one lime
1 tablespoon brown sugar or some agave
4 c. chicken stock
2 T. chopped canned chipotle peppers in sauce
Dry beef and pork cubes, season with salt and pepper, then dredge in flour. Brown in hot oil.
Add onions, brown. Add minced garlic, sauté. Add spices, sauté until spices are browned and stick to the pan.
Add beer, stir to loosen spices. Add tomatoes, strained anchos, and tomatillo salsa, simmer 5 minutes. Mix cocoa powder with a few spoons of chili liquid to blend, add. Add chocolate chips, minced chipotle peppers, orange juice, lime juice, sugar, and chicken stock.
Bring to a boil, lower to simmer and cook until meat is tender. Check for meat tenderness in one hour, you don’t want the beef and pork cubes to be over-cooked. If you want beans, add a can or two of pintos now. Cook for additional 1-2 hours, if necessary.
And here’s where anything goes. You are the master of your kitchen: add beans, tomatoes, carrots, potatoes, macaroni, or corn. Whatever suits your fancy, even a squirt of ketchup—just don’t tell the Texans.
I was 21 when my daughter Bridget was born; she had her first child, Caleb, in her late twenties; and today, my grandson and his wife, Leah, became parents to Jane Rose. All of this adds up to a new stage in life for my 76-year-old self—that of Great Grandmotherhood.
Caleb was a cheerful, spunky little boy with a thoughtful side who grew up to be a cheerful, athletic, intelligent man who is kind and generous. His raising up was similar to Louie, the Batchelor’s family dog. Louie, a rambunctious, stubborn, and smart pup, was the first dog on the Batchelor scene. Ronnie and Bridget, the adults in charge, raised Louie with kindness, consistency, and a firm hand—much the same way they raised their three children. There was to be no biting, slapping, hitting, howling or running into the street; you were expected to answer when you were called; you loved and supported your siblings and you were respectful to Mom. All four grew up to be loyal, caring, tax-paying (well, three of them) citizens with a commitment to fun, family, and faith.
The Sweetie and Caleb
Caleb and Jane
Leah and Jane
Gramma Bridget, Poppa Ronnie and Jane
Bridget was born in a military hospital where order was the rule and there were to be no questions or complaints. Women were lined up, assembly-line style; fathers were kept pacing far away in an outer corridor smoking cigars; and just-born babies were scrubbed, measured, and whisked off to boot camp. It is a kinder, gentler world now where birthing centers (and hospitals) offer a quiet, supportive environment with pillows, ice chips, colorful sheets, and fathers.
Breaking news: another Texas Walmart incident involving an anonymous woman and food. This time, security cameras caught a woman opening a cartoon of “Tin Roof” Blue Bell ice cream and licking the top! Police were called, the culprit admitted to her misdeed, and was banned from Walmart for life. What is it with Texas, Walmarts, and food?
You may remember that not long ago, thanks to Beto and Bernie, the Sweetie and I were released from Wichita Falls, Texas. You may also recall the kerfuffle at the local Walmart Supercenter when a scooter-riding woman careened around the store, guzzling wine out of a Pringle’s can. Walmart security eventually herded her into a corner where she was relieved of her ride and banned from the store for life.
Well, that same Wichita Falls Walmart is back in the news. This time the culprit (again, a woman) bought a cake from the bakery and polished off half of it while she shopped. When she lined up at the check-out counter, she demanded 50% off because there was only half a cake left. Whether or not utensils were involved has not been revealed by store management, but the visual is vivid—scooter-riding woman careening around a Walmart Supercenter, eating cake out of a bakery box. Wichita Falls Police were called, the cake-eating suspect was forced to pay full price and was banned from the store for life.
Today is the Fourth of July and I can’t seem to conjure up many bright holiday tales. Don’t remember much about it growing up, other than watermelon, sparklers and Roman candles. I do remember attending a great Fourth of July party in 1985 or so at the Foster/Ventimiglia Fontainebleau apartment in the Pacific Palisades. We consumed copious amounts of bing cherries and wine, sang songs, danced dances, and ooohed and aaahed as fireworks sparkled up and down Sunset Boulevard.
Our sister Nikki died on the Fourth and our brother Tommy died on Father’s Day, so those holidays carry a mixed bag of emotions. Here’s to you both, we will always remember you.
Nikki was our family’s “Pie Lady” but she also made a mean chocolate cake. I pressed her over the years for the recipe and she finally wrote it out on the back of an envelope.
Nikki’s Chocolate Cake
“Buy a Pillsbury ‘Moist Chocolate Cake with Pudding.’ Put it in a mixing bowl. Add one tablespoon of instant coffee espresso powder to the warm water. Then put in the eggs, the water with the espresso and however much oil it says. I also add a teaspoon of real vanilla—it seems to help with the cake mix taste. I mix it with the beaters for about two minutes and then put it in a 13 x 9 inch oiled pan. Bake as directed on the box.
Be prepared to serve this particular recipe about 45-50 minutes after it comes out of the oven. It should still be pretty warm. I guess one could really just warm it up again.
While the cake is baking put an 8oz. bar of whatever kind of semi-sweet baking chocolate you like in a microwave safe Pyrex four-cup pitcher. It is easier to stir and then pour it right at the table. I was forced to use an 8 oz. brick of Baker’s Chocolate and it seemed to be just fine. Melt about a little over half of a 1/4 lb. of butter and about a 1/3 cup of half and half in the microwave. There is less chance of seizing if you put the butter and cream in first to heat up a little. Then add the chocolate chunks. I don’t bother with chopping. I put it in the microwave for 10 secs. for a few times, checking and stirring until everything is quite warm. If you need to correct the consistency it is easier to add at the end than instead of trying to figure out just how much you need at the start. Start stirring it until it looks almost like runny pudding. Serve sauce very warm on warm cake and don’t forget the coffee ice cream. You already know how to melt chocolate and bake a cake but this is just the way I do it.”
In 1950s small-town Nebraska, strawberries were not a big thing, either in size or in importance. Everyone grew a few in their backyard garden, made a little jam if they had extra, and enjoyed a few rounds of strawberry shortcake. Our berry game changed when we started visiting my Aunt Norma and Gramma Lottie on Vashon Island. There was the annual Strawberry Festival, buckets of frozen berries from the Kiwanis Club (perfect for jam), coerced child labor in Mr. Mukai’s berry fields, sliced strawberries and cream on our morning bowl of Cheerios, Muth’s Strawberry Pie (flakey crust piled high with berries barely held together with red Jello), and Normie’s strawberry sauce over home-cranked vanilla ice cream.
I’m sure sending six children under the age of twelve to the fields to pick fruit, didn’t seem cruel and unusual to Muth and Aunt Normie—they just wanted a little peace and quiet. We six would trudge off (Nikki in charge) without adult supervision, to Manzanita Road to wait for the old school bus to take us to the fields. Marshall strawberries, first to the harvest in late June, were our favorite crop—easy to pick, good to eat, convenient to throw. At the end of the day, when we walked in the door of Normie’s high-bank, waterfront cabin, we were sunburned, tired, dirty, and stained red from fingertips to bare toes. If anyone was bleeding, no one knew about it until bath-time.
After strawberries came red currants: squishy to pick, too sour to eat, but satisfying to throw. At the end of the summer, we took Harlan’s bus and our hard-earned money (paid out each day in coins and dollar bills) into Seattle and the Pike Place Market. Lunch was at Lowell’s window counter (“Almost classy since 1950”), on the ground floor of the Market. We had already eaten a cup of clam chowder on the ferry, so we ordered Alaska cod and chips with sourdough rolls—exotic fare for Midwesterners. After lunch we headed downstairs to the Giant Shoe Museum to see a shoe worn by the “tallest man in the world” and check out the tricks at the Magic Shop.
Although James Beard once described the Marshall as “the tastiest berry ever grown”, the delicate Marshall didn’t ship well and was eventually replaced by more robust, but less flavorful California varieties. In the late 1980s, the strawberry fields disappeared and the Vashon strawberry harvest came to an end. Recently, however, two Island women found heirloom Marshall seeds at the Corvallis Seed Repository, carefully cultivated them, and now are selling plants at the Saturday Market. Who knows, maybe Vashon’s next generation of six-year olds will be back in the fields, picking, eating, and throwing.
Our Aunt Normie and Grandma Lottie in Vancouver B.C., circa 1945
Every late June, I make strawberry pie, with uneven results. This year’s attempt was not memorable, but Glenda’s strawberry cobbler was, so here is that recipe.
3 cups fresh strawberries, diced
½-3/4 cup sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup sugar
1 cup milk
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 stick butter, melted
Preheat oven to 375.
In a medium bowl, combine strawberries and ¾ cup sugar. Stir to coat strawberries in sugar and set aside.
In a large bowl whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar.
Add milk, vanilla extract, and melted butter. Stir until combined—a few lumps are ok.
Grease a 9-inch casserole dish, pour batter evenly into dish.
Spoon strawberries evenly on top of batter. Do NOT stir.