Thursday, March 29, 2012

eggs galore

 The following article first appeared in the Daily News Record on March 28, 2012.


Our chickens have gone gangbusters. For several weeks we were getting only one egg daily, maybe two. And then the chickens laid eleven eggs in a single day. Eleven! Just like that we were flooded.

My kids are head-over-heels excited by all the egg laying. Even though we’ve had chickens for years, the springtime explosion comes as a delightful surprise each time—it’s like a perpetual Easter Egg hunt but without the sugar and plastic grass. The children make countless trips to the coop each day, and when they find two (or six, or ten) eggs, they cart them back up to the house in their shirts.

As they bang through the screen door with their loot, there’s always a report of some sort. Sometimes it’s the number, shouted out at the top of their lungs, but other times it’s an announcement about the impressive size, either extra small or extra large, or the news that one got slightly cracked or one had a bit of blood on it (ouch). My youngest child always sings the first few bars of “Happy Birthday” to me as he piles the green and brown little gifts into the metal egg bowl that sits on the counter.

My younger daughter spends a sizeable portion of her day down by the chicken coop. There is a long skinny door right above the nesting boxes so the eggs can be collected outside the coop. She opens that door and stands there, waiting for the eggs drop. “They’re sticky when they come out,” she informed me once, awe and surprise in her voice.

And the other day my older daughter came running in, brandishing an egg. “I heard a thump!” she squealed. “The chicken laid it right in the sunshine so it was glowing!”

Now that we’re swimming in eggs, once or twice a week we make a Dutch Puff for breakfast. Dutch Puff is an egg-rich oven pancake similar to Dutch Baby or Yorkshire pudding. It’s one of the kids’ all-time favorite breakfasts. Because the batter is mixed up and left to soak overnight, it’s a fairly quick hot breakfast, making it one of my favorites, too.

Some people add sugar and spices to the batter, but I don’t bother. The children drizzle theirs with syrup, and sometimes if I want to make the puff stretch further (one pan is barely enough to feed the four kids), I get a box of berries out of the freezer and mix up a pot of warm vanilla pudding to serve, too.

Dutch Puff

Dutch Puff rises sky-high in the oven but promptly deflates when out. In order to make the best impression, gather everyone to the table before taking the puff from the oven.

8 eggs, beaten
2 cups flour (I use half whole-wheat pastry flour)
½ teaspoon salt
2 cups milk
5 tablespoons butter

The night before:
In a large bowl, whisk the eggs. Beat in the flour and salt, and then the milk. Cover the bowl with plastic (or a shower cap) and let sit on the counter, or in the fridge, overnight.

Put the butter in a 9 x 13 pan and set aside.

In the morning:
Turn the oven to 350 degrees and slip the pan into the oven. When the butter has melted (watch it closely to make sure it doesn’t burn), take the pan from the oven and swirl gently to coat the sides and bottom. Whisk the batter thoroughly and pour it into the pan. Bake for 30-40 minutes or until the puff is billowing over the sides of the pan and the edges are a dark golden brown. Serve immediately.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

wholesomely subversive

The following article first appeared in the Daily News Record on March 14, 2012.


Several weeks ago I found myself in a quandary. Every single recipe I had written about for the newspaper was a healthy one.

“It feels dishonest,” I fretted to my husband. “All this talk of kale and raw ginger is going to make people think I’m a health nut.”

“Well, they’d be wrong,” he said flatly.

I certainly didn’t want to mislead anyone. The sweet truth is, I’m no purist. I buy at least four pounds of butter each week, cream by the quart, and sugar by the 10-pound sack.

Once I decided on my solution—a rich berry cobbler—I ran into a second problem. The recipe called for a blend of five whole-grain flours in place of some the white flour, which would totally sully my image to not appear so wholesome.

It was my mother, not my husband, who pulled me out of my pit of despair. “Write about the cobbler without revealing the whole truth. Next time, talk about the blend,” she suggested. “You’ll just have to admit that you fudged a little.”

So, I confess. The flour in that cobbler recipe two weeks ago, the one with the raspberries, blueberries, and blackberries, wasn’t pure, lily-livered white. The rest of it was millet, rye, barley, oats, and whole wheat. Can you forgive me?

It’s for the flavor, not for the nutrition, that I add whole grains to my baked goods. Desserts are supposed to be decadent, and the desserts I make are quite lavish. The interesting thing is, I’ve found that whole grains add to the allure of baked goods. Buckwheat lends a dark complexity to apple pancakes. Whole wheat imparts an element of nuttiness to chocolate chip cookies. Corn flour gives a sunny lift to blueberry-lemon scones.

A five-flour blend that I discovered in Kim Boyce’s book, Good to the Grain, yields delightfully light-colored and delicate-textured baked goods with a mildly nutty-sweet taste. I am so smitten with it that I dump it into everything from waffles to breads to cobblers. That I’m using a slew of whole grains to make my desserts even more sumptuous fills me with glee. I’m being subversive and naughty—in a most wholesome way.

Five-Flour Blend

Some of these grains contain less gluten than regular all-purpose flour, so don’t swap in the five-flour blend for more than 50 percent of the total flour amount called for in recipes.

1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup oat flour
1 cup barley flour
½ cup rye flour
½ cup millet flour

Combine the flours and store in an airtight container in the freezer. Use the blend in place of some of the white flour in pancakes, muffins, breads, cakes, cookies, and scones.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

using up the berries

The following article first appeared in the Daily News Record on February 29, 2012.


Each summer we grow, blanche, can, and bag until our two freezers are packed full of green beans, broccoli, spinach, strawberries, rhubarb, and corn, our basement shelves are groaning under the jars of applesauce, peaches, salsa, and grape juice, and we’re keeling over from exhaustion.

And every February and March, as seed catalogues fill our mailbox, I run down to the basement time and again to haul up jars to restock our hutch, and plumb the depths of the freezer in a hurry-scurry effort to use up the old to make room for the new.

Now the empty jars are clotting the shelves. The plastic containers are stacked inside each other, piling ever higher.

There are hardly any frozen vegetables left—when I announce I’ve discovered a bag of green beans rattling around in the depths, the children cheer and then snitch the still-frozen beans out of the pot I’ve just set on the stove. I’m swimming in frozen fruit, though. We have a handsome stash of nectarines, sour cherries, peaches, applesauce, rhubarb, and berries—strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, red raspberries, and cranberries. Of all the fruits, the frozen berries seem especially luxurious. They invoke all my hoarder tendencies, so I have to continually remind myself that the fruit is no good to us if we don’t actually eat it.

So the other evening when a child asked if she could make a cobbler for dessert, I said, “Yes, a double batch.”

Her cobbler was still in the oven when we finished our soup and cornbread. While we waited, we washed the dishes and cleaned up the kitchen. But before long, we were pulling our chairs up to the table again.

The kids thrust their bowls up close to the burbling, fragrant pan of berries, and the serving spoon cracked through their crisp, golden brown lid with a hearty crunch and sunk into the scarlet mess of soft, juicy fruit below. We ate our fill of milk-doused, tart sweetness, and when only one serving remained, my husband said, “Good, I get to have some in my lunch tomorrow.”

Recipes like this one can make it really easy to use up all that fruit in the freezer. On the other hand, maybe it’s not so smart to plow through the fruit, because once the berries are all gone we’ll be cobbler-less. That will be a sad predicament, indeed.

Berry Cobbler
Adapted from Recipes for a Postmodern Planet.

This time I used blueberries, red raspberries, and blackberries.

4 cups berries, a mixture, fresh or frozen
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 cup sugar
1 cup flour
1 egg, beaten
6 tablespoons butter, melted

Tumble the berries into a greased 8 x 8-inch baking dish and sprinkle with the lemon.

In a medium-sized bowl, stir together the flour and sugar. Add the beaten egg and stir to combine. Distribute the sandy mixture evenly over the berries. Drizzle the butter over all.

Bake the cobbler at 350 degrees for 30-45 minutes or until the juices are bubbling merrily and the topping is a toasty golden brown. Serve warm with milk or vanilla ice cream.