Gordon Lightfoot and a really Wacky Cake

It was 1969 when Gordon Lightfoot wrote “If you could read my mind, love, what a tale my thoughts would tell….” The song may have been about the breakup of his marriage, but the lyrics were solid gold for even the teenyboppin’ crowd. I know this because I was 13 years old and in the 8th grade.

So yesterday when I read in the New York Times that Lightfoot would turn 75 this week, that was the song that immediately came to mind. All through the day as I graded papers, walked the dog, cooked and baked, the song replayed in my head. Over and over.

Maybe it was good luck. Maybe not. Because my success in the kitchen was two for three. The vegetable soup and bread both turned out perfectly.

image (4)Of course, there is no recipe for either one because I pretty much threw both together with whatever was around.

The wacky cake, however, was another story. Actually, the cake itself was perfect as usual. It’s a can’t-miss recipe. But it’s what you decide to do to glitz it up for someone’s birthday that impacts the outcome. Here’s how it looked first:

imagePretty ho hum…unless you can smell it. So just close your eyes and imagine the amazing smell of warm cocoa.

But…it was the hubs’ birthday and I decided to replicate something the girls and I invented long ago. As soon as it comes out of the oven, you cover it with mini-marshmallows and chocolate chips. They quickly melt and you kind of blend them together with a icing spreader. This works well UNLESS, of course, the marshmallows have outlived their shelf life. Apparently, if they’re old and dried out, they won’t melt.

Nothing worked….not putting it back in the warm oven and not a quick zap in the microwave. I was really beginning to feel frustrated. Lucky for me, I don’t have a picky husband. He took one look and knew what I was thinking because he started humming “If you could read my mind, love…”

Just proves at least some of those lyrics can apply to just about every situation.

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Wacky Cake
(Makes one 8X8-in. square cake)

1 c. white sugar
1 1/2 c. flour
3 tbsp. cocoa
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
In the 8X8-in. square pan in which you plan to bake the cake, mix dry ingredients with fork. Make three holes. Pour in 1 tsp. vanilla, 1 tbsp. vinegar, and 6 tbsp. canola oil.
Pour one c. cold water over and mix up with the fork. Bake 25-30 minutes at 350 degrees F.

Note: This can be eaten as is, dusted with powdered sugar, iced with your favorite icing recipe, topped with marshmallows and chocolate chips, or with the following:

1/3 c. butter, melted
2/3 c. brown sugar
1/2 c. nuts
2 tbsp. water
Mix and pour over cake and brown until brown.

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Fried Green Tomatoes: Conjuring Fannie Flagg

Tomatoes. At the beginning of the season, when they just start ripening and nothing tastes better than a fresh tomato right off the vine, we can’t get enough of them. Fast forward to October, when the vines are still full of green tomatoes refusing to turn red or yellow. What to do?

A friend dropped off a bag of green tomatoes recently. I asked the Pie Man if he wanted to bake a green tomato pie. He snorted. Really. And then he reminded me of the last time he baked one. It was, he said awful. Might be because Pie Man tries to decrease the sugar in most of his baked goods. That might work in other fruits, but apparently not with green tomatoes.

So…what to do with the tomatoes? Long ago, back in the day when we had a huge garden, I wrapped each green tomato in newspaper, as directed by my grandmother. Maybe I used the wrong newspaper, because it didn’t work. They all rotted. Not pretty.

This time I took the advice of my big brother. I lined them up on a windowsill where they’d get some sun. This is how they looked when they first arrived.photo(8)

 

 

 

 

 

And now….10 days later…one yellow tomato is ready to be eaten, a red one is almost there, and another yellow on the way!

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The rest of the tomatoes? If they don’t ripen soon, we’ll go the route of Ruth, Idgie and the rest of the regulars at the Whistle Stop Cafe in Fannie Flagg’s “Fried Green Tomatoes.”

What would you do with them?

 

Sights, sounds, and colors of fall

What was with that whacko weather last Saturday? If — like me — you live in Northwest Ohio (or happened to be visiting), you were probably wondering whether you’d been teleported ahead or back to March. It was cold (30s and 40s), windy (40 mph gusts), and dreary. The vendors at the final farmers’ market of the season were bundled up in parkas and the customers zipped through their shopping. But..to make up for it, Sunday arrived in full fall bloom — one of those beautiful crisp, sunny days that are the perfect setting for the gorgeous changing colors of the trees.

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Saturday’s long run was a battle with the elements — with the wind, it was fine, but against the wind, not so fine. As if to make up for that, Sunday was the perfect day for a long walk. At the     quarry, we were entertained by the usual ducks and — surprise — two herons in the same location!heron2

heronUnlike Saturday’s run, today’s was perfect — clear, calm and starry — with the smell of fall in the air.

Early morning runs in a small town are usually quiet with limited traffic. But in late October the quiet is often interrupted by the sound of farm tractors pulling wagon loads of corn to the local elevator. Here is one of today’s early arrivals — I suppose an eery site to those unaccustomed to rural life.

photo (10)This guy was one of only two farmers waiting for the elevator to open this morning, but a few weeks ago, the picture was different. The line was long and moving slowly. No one seemed antsy or in a hurry — clearly, they were happy for the chance to talk.

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Days 3 and 4 of Mary’s Excellent Adventure: Sand, apple orchards and the Mississippi Queen

A beach on the Mississippi in Wisconsin? Who knew? Just when I was getting used to the beauty of the La Crosse bluffs, the kid introduces me to a beach at the edge of the river….a sand beach. With gulls. And shells.

Next up: A tour of apple orchards. Up, up, up through the hills around La Crescent, stopping for an overview at the top….photo (18)

and to buy apples at Southwind Orchards. …typical tourists…photo (16)

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photo (20)Thoroughly pooped by 7 p.m., we retreated to the homestead to rest up for the next day…another typical — but absolutely perfect — tourist attraction…a ride up and down the Mississippi aboard the Mississippi Queen.

The smaller of two riverboat options in LaCrosse, it begins near where the three rivers meet — the Mississippi, the Black, and the La Crosse — and took us through a”swing” bridge — one of the few remaining in the United States. Too bad the family train nut wasn’t along…he’d have wanted to join the guy in the bridge control building.

Along the way, we saw a heron, turtles sunning themselves on branches, and bald eagles soaring overhead.

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Day 2 of Mary’s Excellent Adventure: Eagles, bluffs, and a babbling brook

Today started with an early morning run on the Chaseburg Nature Trail, a one-mile paved path that crisscrosses a field of wildflowers and cattails  and at times borders a babbling brook. Really! I never really understood the term “babbling brook” until seeing — and hearing — this one.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sAPSmdeZlus

Across the water are a bunch of cows who alternated between loud mooing,  grazing. and staring at the crazy woman running in a circle.

Actually, it’s pretty amazing that a tiny town like Chaseburg (pop. 283) can maintain such a path. Donors funded the path in honor of families displaced by a flood in this lowland area. Benches line the brook and miniature street lights were just added along the path.

Four miles passed quickly because I was busy watching for Sand hill cranes, unusual birds like indigo buntings, cows, and wild animals. image (17)

Then it was back to academia — work for my daughter, exploring a new campus for me. Here are some of the sights…instead of the Beaver mascot that surrounds my job, there were signs of the Eagle mascot.photo (14)

Later in the afternoon, we drove up Grandad Bluff — about 600 feet up from the land around it. From there, you can see a panoramic view of La Crosse and the three rivers — Mississippi, Black, and La Crosse.photo (13)

From there we went to the local farmer’s market, lined with vendors selling the usual produce, but also organic cheeses and meats like buffalo and alpaca. Supper was at Kate’s Pizza — pear and Gorgonzola   on one and spinach, yellow squash and garbanzos on the other.

Day 1 of Mary’s Excellent Adventure: Riding the rails

My husband is a ferroequinologist, which basically means that he is a rail fan…AKA, train nut. When he helped our daughter move to Wisconsin, he was thrilled to return home via Amtrak. So when it was my turn to visit her, I thought I would drive. He — tactfully — showed me photos of the train. What finally sold me was the observation car and the promise of reading uninterrupted for eight hours.

So it was that we were on the road at 3:30 a.m., heading to the Toledo Amtrak station, where we found a lot of equally bleary-eyed travelers. Kind of like this…except he was sad not to be joining me.

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Amtrak is notoriously late, but we left only 40 minutes after the scheduled time. The hubs instructed me on the boarding process so I quickly found my seat on the upper level of the car. Lulled by the gentle movement, I conked out almost immediately and woke up two hours later. Two hours later, we reached Chicago, where I was met by my brother- and sister-in-law, who entertained me with a stop at a thrift store and lunch at Whole Foods.

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Boarded a new train at 3:30, but had to wait for a train from New York that had just arrived 6 hours late. Eeeeesh. More reading, but mostly sleeping off and on, with one eye open for the person taking reservations for dinner. My husband had made me promise to experience the dining car despite the fact that I’d be seated with three strangers. This is when my innate snoopy nature pays off — I have NO qualms about making conversation.

Just before 5 p.m. I made my way unsteadily toward the dining car, where I was seated with a 73-year-old divorced man traveling from Cleveland to North Dakota to see the daughter he hadn’t seen in 8 years, and a 50-something woman traveling with four friends, all of whom were seated together across the aisle. They’d been on the road for 10 days, traveling by train from Minneapolis to Buffalo, where they rented a van to drive to Bar Harbor, Maine, and Stowe, VT, then back to the Twin Cities by train.

The fourth seat was taken by a gregarious guy in his mid- to late 40s. The two of us generally monopolized the conversation, mostly because I kept asking him questions and he was game to answer. He’d first attended college in Thailand, where he met and married his first wife, a “spoiled brat,” with whom he has two children now in their early 20s. He owns 10 semis and contracts with auto dealers to transport cars. He was returning from having driven a new Volvo to the new owner in VA. Curious, I asked where he lives…he owns a house in the Philippines, where his pregnant wife and their six-year-old stepson live. He hoped to return in a few months. Neither of the other two seemed at all interested in learning our conversation and they took off as soon as they’d eaten.

As for the food….suffice to say that I’d choose differently next time.

Soon after we ordered dinner, Martin the Talker pointed out the window. We were heading into a DARK storm. My only thought was to wonder what happens to a train in a twister.

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That brought a very quick storm of driving rain before the sun returned. Martin and I shook hands and went our separate ways. Still trying to recover from two hours of sleep the previous night, I conked out again and woke up a few minutes before we reached my final stop — La Crosse, WI.

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The pinch hitter and his Dead Sea Scroll pear/cranberry/blueberry pie

Pies are not on my list of favorites to bake or eat, but I’m pretty sure my husband’s first solid food was pie. So this weekend, I realized it was time to call in my pinch hitter since I’ve been in a no-blogging zone for the past five weeks while teaching.

On Saturday night when I returned from the Country Living Fair in Columbus, there was another Dead Sea Scroll pie cooling on the counter. The pie baker had been busy, so I took a photo and begged him to send me the recipe to share. He did more than that — he expounded. What a guy!

photo (10)Fred’s Dead Sea Scroll
Pear-Cranberry-Blueberry Pie

I call these pies my “Dead Sea Pie Scroll” series. That’s because I use Phyllo dough as crust. It’s frozen and rolls out looking like I think the Dead Sea Scrolls probably looked when they were unrolled after 2,000 years in the desert.

I followed the opinion that it’s very difficult to bake a bad pie.

On Saturday someone placed a bag of Bartlett pears on our back porch. So, I peeled them (about 7). Sliced them and started rummaging through the freezer to see what needed to be dumped.

I found a half bag of cranberries from Christmas and a bag of blueberries. I nuked them for 2 minutes, dumped them into the pear slices and started to think.

What else would go with this? So, in went one-half cup of sugar, 2 tablespoons of corn starch and some random spices – ginger and something else that I don’t remember. You can never lose with sugar, but I like to try to limit it – most pie recipes call for lots more sugar than this.

While lemon juice is always good with cranberries, I had none, so I added a slug of OJ.

I wasn’t in the mood to make a crust, but luckily I had Phyllo dough frozen from a previous project. I used that for my pie crust and pie topping. After all, Phyllo sounds like “pie,” so why not use it as a crust substitute? It works.

Poured the fruit-sugar glop into the Pyllo crust, already placed in the deep dish pie plate.

I’d preheated the oven to 350. Placed the pie in the heated over and ignored it for one hour. I added an aluminum sheet on top of the pie so as to not burn the crust after one hour. 

Waited 30 more minutes and took it out of the oven. Didn’t wait to eat.

 

 

Got peaches? Freeze ’em in OJ

Canning summer produce is great if you have the time. It also works well if you enjoy canning. I might have the time but patience is not one of my virtues…at least not when it comes to canning.

I remember the shelves of my parents’ cellar lined with jars and jars of beans, corn, pickles, tomatoes, ketchup, applesauce, pears and peaches. So pretty…and then I remember hours in the kitchen sweating and whining. I’m pretty sure my mom sent us all off to the pool so she could can in silence. And yet, somehow I acquired a canner early in my marriage but every time I looked at it, I shuddered and so it quickly found its way to the garage sale table.

Last week I saw the best peaches at Suter’s farm stand, and couldn’t pass them up. But canning was clearly not an option. So….what to do?image

After my parents bought a giant freezer, they shifted their energy to freezing. One of my favorite foods were my mom’s peaches frozen in orange juice concentrate. Problem was, I had no recipe and by the time I thought to ask her, it was past her bedtime. So….I resorted to the old “by guess and by gosh” method.

Here’s the deal:
Prepare whatever containers you prefer — I used both zip locked bags and glass containers.

Thaw frozen OJ concentrate quickly by soaking it in hot water while you prepare the peaches. Pour the OJ into a container, add a little water (I think I added about 1/2 c. to the large OJ concentrate.image (6)

Peel and cut the peaches into slices or chunks and place in a large bowl. I had about 12 large peaches (I said this was by guess).

Pour about half of the OJ over the peaches and stir well. There is no need for added sugar and the OJ’s citric acid keeps the peaches from turning brown.image (2)

Use a large spoon to scoop the peaches and some OJ into containers and freeze.image (10)

My favorite way to eat these is when they are only slightly thawed. Kind of like a slushee!

Farmer’s market the community hub

It was a pretty typical August Saturday morning in Bluffton, Ohio. The sun was shining and by 9:30 a.m., the local farmer’s market was bustling. As I waited for a vendor to wrap my sunflowers ($3 for 15 stems) in newspaper and twine, the woman next to me asked if the market was always this full of vendors and buyers.  She’d come to town to visit the local quilt store and just happened to see the market.

photo (10)How can you not love a good farmer’s market? It’s not just the food — which is the best around — but the camaraderie, seeing lots of friends, sharing ideas of what to do with unusual produce like the lemon cucumber I picked up today.

It’ll be a week of veggies again — and trying out some new recipes. And while the sunflowers make me smile every time I look at them, my best purchase of the day was an eggplant. Not just any eggplant — this one was just begging for a face. Not sure what this one will become but for now, it’s also making us laugh.

photo (12)So here’s what I picked up today. Brown eggs, cucumbers, squash, cabbage, swiss chard, lettuce, white carrots, red and green sweet peppers, muskmelon, and a loaf of the best hearty, whole wheat bread (saves me from having to bake immediately).

Any suggestions for what we should be cooking?photo (11)

Send me some recipes! I love trying new things.

 

 

 

 

 

Up, Up and Away

Of all the running races I’ve done in the past 35+ years, one of my all-time favorites is the annual Up, Up and Away 5k,  held in conjunction with the Findlay (Ohio) Balloonfest.

Why does this race stand out? For one thing, it starts at 8 a.m., which is significant in August in Ohio, where the temp and humidity can often reach into  the 80s by 8 a.m. Then there’s the added exhilaration of watching the multi-colored hot air balloons fill and drift up to the sky above us as we approach the starting line. As we return to the finish line, the sky is dotted with many balloons.

And then there is the food table, sagging under the weight of slices of watermelon and bagels from Tim Horton’s.

Sure, those are all good reasons for loving this race, but the real reason we’re there is to help the Findlay Striders raise funds for the Hancock County (Ohio) Special Olympics. Following this year’s race, the local running club presented a check for $8,000. How great is that?

Once the 5k is over, we get to cheer on all the Special Olympians who are able to participate in a one-mile run/walk. Their persistence and strength far outshine the rest of us.

And somewhere in our attic is a box of race awards collected over the past 35+ years. But none of them means as much as the ones I’ve received at the Up, Up and Away. These unique awards are handcrafted by the Special Olympics athletes at the Kan Du Art Studio in downtown Findlay.

These are the only awards I actually keep out where I can see them on a daily basis because they serve as a daily reminder to be grateful for what is really important. photo (14)

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