Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Bettina's Baked Cottage Pudding

From A Thousand Ways to Please a Husband

I've tried versions of Cottage Pudding before and always found them too dry or bland--I prefer baking muffin batter in a pan if I want something quite plain, or vanilla microwave cake, or maybe the biscuit batter from our shortcake recipe. But Bettina's version--with a couple of adaptations for 2010--is quite good, and three out of five Squirrels would like to have it again. Mama Squirrel was unsure of the amounts on this, but it made plenty--especially because only three out of five squirrels tried it.

Bettina's Baked Cottage Pudding with Lemon Sauce

1 cup flour
1 2/3 tsp. baking powder (who wants to measure that? I just put in about 2 tsp.)
1/4 tsp. salt
1/3 cup sugar
1 well-beaten egg
1/2 cup milk
2 tbsp. melted butter (I used canola oil)
1/4 tsp. vanilla or lemon extract (I used lemon)

"Mix dry ingredients, add egg and milk. Beat well and add melted butter and extract. Bake 25 minutes in a well buttered mould. Serve hot with the following sauce...." My notes: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease or spray a small lidded casserole, and bake for about half an hour or until the edges are pulling away from the pan. Let it stay in the pan while you make the sauce.

Lemon Sauce

1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 tbsp. flour (I used about 2 tbsp.)
1/2 tsp. salt (I used about half that)
1 cup hot water
1 tsp. butter or to taste
1 tsp. lemon extract or 1/2 tsp. lemon juice (I used 1/2 tsp. lemon extract and that was plenty)

With a whisk, combine dry ingredients in a saucepan. Slowly add the hot water. Cook over medium heat until thick and bubbly (this only takes a few minutes if you start with hot water). Mix in the butter and flavouring.

Now I'm sure Bettina would have nicely unmoulded her pudding and then served it drizzled with some of the sauce, maybe passing the rest in one of her wedding-china sauce servers. But this is what I did: I left the cake in the pan, went around the edges with a sharp knife and also sort of cut through it three times each way. Then I just poured all the sauce over the top and served it from the pan.

(And now you know why housewives were so happy to discover self-saucing puddings!)

Sunday, June 20, 2010

"Permission to be serious": Carol Bly on education

I just finished reading the late Carol Bly's Beyond the Writer's Workshop. This wasn't much like any other how-to-write book I've ever read...most of them are set up more like "classes," with "lessons", or are at least fairly sequential. This was more like having a very smart but very intense person come for a visit and talk your ear off for a week about everything that's on her mind and then some...and then try to connect it all back to writing.

I found myself getting more and more frustrated with her obvious biases, her meanderings into psychology, her anecdotes that were intended to prove a point about writing or thinking but that just made me wonder more about why she was telling them or why she had reacted to certain events as she did. Then I got to the chapter on teaching writing to elementary students, and this:
"Throughout the nineteenth century and much of the twentieth, schoolteachers were likely to be joy killers--they were people who disciplined us for not practicing penmanship just so or for misspelling or for laughing aloud in class or for not folding our hands on our desks. In reaction, first the "progressive" schools, then other private schools, and finally the public schools, began in the 1930's to encourage individual personality and especially fun in elementary classrooms. Quite right too.

"The irony is that American children have been watching kidding and practical jokes on television for fifty years. They are a long way past the days when children learned somber hand skills and violin playing in the cultivated living rooms of their elders. These days they are tossed into fun day-care groupings at less than age one. They are bused to fun, interactive museum demonstrations. At home they master fun computer games at an early age. They are choking with fun. Schools of education....need to pull up rein and consider whether or not a better task for education might be saving the children's own serious nature, not barreling them into still more and more superficial fun.

"We had better do the oddly psychological work of giving children "permission" to be serious."--Carol Bly, Beyond the Writers' Workshop, published in 2000.
In that regard, I think Carol Bly and Charlotte Mason had a common philosophy. The business of education is a serious one, and though it can also be enjoyable, we need to take learning seriously and make sure our children understand that as well.

I had a short conversation this week with my nine-year-old about that. We were reading The Insect Man, Eleanor Doorly's quirky but interesting little biography of Jean-Henri Fabre. Did you know that, at least according to this book, Fabre lost his teaching position and was essentially drummed out of town for promoting higher education for girls? I pointed out to my daughter that we women enjoy a huge privilege that wasn't available to many girls even in the 1800's. I did not go into the fact that it is not available to girls in many parts of the world even today, but it was on my mind as well. If our right to an education was so important that someone like Jean-Henri Fabre was willing to put his job on the line for it, what right do we have to trivialize it?

Ricotta desserts, and ricotta whipped topping

"Bettina" might not approve of putting ricotta cheese to use in desserts, and usually it is too expensive for us to recommend it as a frugal ingredient; but our local supermarket occasionally runs specials on an Italian-style brand of dairy products--their Parmesan, their ricotta and so on--and that's when we pick some up.

We haven't made frozen Tortoni for awhile, but we do sometimes make Cocoa Ricotta Cream when we have a container of cheese on hand. It's very good, but you don't want it after a heavy meal--ricotta desserts aren't usually sweet, but they are rich.

Tonight we had one of those sale-priced 2-cup containers in the fridge, and Father's Day company coming (just Grandpa Squirrel, but he's important), and strawberries and raspberries to make shortcake with, but no whipped cream. We could have used plain yogurt, or just had the fruit on top of the plain biscuit cake, but there was the ricotta, and Mama Squirrel remembered a recipe for Ricotta Topping in the Goldbecks' American Wholefoods Cuisine. So that's what we did. Short version: run the ricotta cheese plus some yogurt plus some honey plus a little vanilla through the food processor, or beat with electric beaters until fluffy. The recipe also called for a bit additional cream cheese, but that seems optional if your ricotta is already pretty creamy.

An option to make all this more frugal would be to use a homemade version of ricotta cheese, like the Hillbilly Housewife's version. I've made it and used it in main dishes, but haven't yet tried it in desserts. If I do, I'll let you know.

The Ladybugs' Picnic

Made by Ponytails for the Apprentice's "young ladies'" party this weekend: Taste of Home's Ladybug Appetizers. (Photo at that link.)

Notes from our experience making them:

1. Use sturdy crackers. We forgot to get round crackers and settled for saltines, but after even a couple of hours in the fridge, the crackers started to get a bit limp. They still tasted good but you had to pick them up carefully.

2. We didn't have any chives, so left them out of the cheese mixture and used bits of parsley stems for the antennae. (Somebody on the Taste of Home site commented that ladybugs don't have antennae anyway. But we thought they were cuter with them.)

3. Ponytails tried to follow the exact directions at first, but found that with our tomatoes (we had grape tomatoes, not cherry) she needed to use more than the half-tomato recommended to make a ladybug that looked like more than just a splotch of red on the cracker. Instead of cutting the half in half, she just put a slit in the back for "wings." Once you've done a couple, you'll see what we mean. Just cut them the way that makes sense to you.

4. Black food colouring added to white cream cheese and sour cream doesn't make black, it makes gray, as any kid who's ever painted can tell you. After adding quite a bit of food colouring and still getting somewhere between purple and gray, we experimented with adding a bit of brown and a bit of royal blue, and that did darken it a bit more; on the tomatoes, it did look pretty much black. I think another time I would just try for purple spots or whatever you think looks good on a ladybug. (Maybe yellow spots?)

5. In spite of all our little difficulties, Ponytails did a fantastic job decorating the bugs, and all the young ladies were Amazed.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

I'm in the mood for frugal

For the next little while, we're going to hang out with my new frugal superhero: Bettina from A Thousand Ways to Please a Husband, by Louise Bennett Weaver and Helen Cowles Le Cron, 1917 edition. (Downloadable in lots of formats.)

The recipes in this book, as the planksconstance review says, are, um, very 1917. They remind me of the ones in my great-aunt's 1920's Modern Priscilla Cookbook. Lots of canned pimiento, beefsteak, and white sauce over everything. One quick little dinner Bettina whips up has no less than three sauces made from scratch. But on the other hand, Bettina is a generous soul who likes to help out her not-quite-as-economical friends; she's up on all the latest fuel-saving technology (did you know fireless cookers were a hot kitchen gadget in the early 20th century?); and her principles, if not always her exact recipes, are worth examining.

The Depression Kitchen blog also reviewed different editions of this book--there were revisions in the 1930's and the 1940's. Only the first edition is actually online. "Bettina's" sequel, A Thousand Ways to Please a Family, isn't online either--maybe somebody will upload it sometime. (Note: Kessinger Publishing has reprinted both books.)

Anyway, our first look at Bettina's housekeeping comes in the first chapter, as she and Bob (who looks like a 1917 Ken doll) return from their honeymoon and make themselves a "simple" dinner from their emergency shelf (and from a few fresh things left by relatives who guessed they'd be returning soon).

So what does Bettina keep in her pantry? Canned pimientos, of course. Canned everything: tuna, salmon, dried beef, corn, mushrooms, peas, string beans, lima beans, devilled ham, tomatoes, condensed milk. Marshmallows (definitely something you can't live without!). Salted codfish. Cookies. Olives. Pickles. It reminds me of Mr. Drucker's Deluxe Special. (Scroll down there.)

And what do Bettina and Bob cook up for themselves in ten minutes? Creamed tuna on toast strips--and buttered rolls. (have some bread with your bread, dear?) Canned peas with butter sauce--I assume that's the only way they could choke down the canned peas. Strawberry preserves that magically appear from somewhere. Hot chocolate with marshmallows (obviously they had some chocolate, sugar and vanilla and a few other staples).

Bob is very impressed. Obviously the marshmallows helped.

So what's the point of all this, now, in 2010?

1. Have some sort of easy, long-lasting food put by, both for major-major emergencies like ice storms, and for more everyday last-minute meals. Your shelf doesn't have to include pimiento or capers or preserved kumquats. What will you and your family actually eat? Years ago tofu was our after-work-fast-meal standby, but since then some of the Squirrels have found they can't eat soy, so that's off the list. Be creative, but also realistic: if your kids like canned baked beans with sliced wieners, then do that. Add in a few carrot sticks and call it a meal. Not everything requires butter sauce. Or marshmallows. If it's peanut butter sandwiches, eat it with thanks, and plan better for next time.

2. Bettina points out that they got better deals on their canned goods by buying in larger amounts. It's the same now. Stock up on staples when or where they're cheapest for you. Brenda says that she buys lots of her favourite canned tomatoes when they're on sale. (Brenda is always a great source of pantry inspiration.)

3. Don't be rummaging through recipes when dinner has to be on the table in twenty minutes. Have a few things you know how to make really quickly--like eggs, or salmon patties, or hot sandwiches. But when you do have time, do a little research. Look for inexpensive, pantry-friendly, adaptable recipes. Student cookbooks are often a good source.
4. Bettina sets great store on having things "nice"--hence the pimiento, the toast strips, the butter sauce. The marshmallows. Not to mention her trim percale bungalow apron. In later chapters she also manages to have some kind of flowers or fruit on the table for decoration. Now I do not wear aprons, and I hardly ever put flowers on the table--bringing the outside in is not always a good idea for Mr. Fixit's allergies. But there are other ways to make even a quick meal a little better than just "the ordinary." What can you add for "some little surprise," as Charlotte Mason suggested? Sometimes I find something nice on sale--shelf-stable juice, chow mein noodles, a box of cherry tomatoes--and I save it till we need a little extra touch with dinner. Leftover pumpkin doughnuts or something like that add a little humour, if perhaps too much sugar, to the breakfast table.

5. Enjoy the people you're eating with. That's why Bob and Bettina are such a cute couple.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Just Carrot Cake

This isn't the customizable Blinky-Blink Carrot Cake I posted about a couple of years ago. This one has no nuts, no coconut, no raisins, and no pineapple--which is exactly what The Apprentice requested for her birthday this week. (It's also dairy-free, unless you frost it with cream cheese frosting.) I found it in The Harrowsmith Cookbook Volume 1. It makes lots (a 9 x 13 inch pan), and has a noticeable honey flavour since you're not blocking it out with other ingredients.

Carrot Cake

submitted by Lynn Hill, Ilderton, Ontario

3 cups flour (I used unbleached)
2 tsp. baking soda
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. cinnamon (I used only 1 1/2 tsp.)
1 cup honey (I had only 3/4 cup honey, so I filled in with 1/4 cup brown sugar)
1 cup oil
4 eggs
2 cups grated carrot
1 cup raisins or chopped nuts, optional

Measure dry ingredients into bowl. Stir and add honey, oil and eggs. Beat hard by hand for 1 minute. Add carrots and nuts/raisins if desired, and beat to mix.

Pour into a greased 9 x 13 inch pan and bake at 350 degrees F for 35 minutes. But be careful--it will brown quickly because of the honey, and might not take quite that long--ours was done sooner. As soon as it smells "done," it probably is.

We covered it with cream-cheese frosting and put an enormous number of candles on it.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

A package from Hampstead House

We don't get brand-new books all that often.

But I saw some things that might be useful in the last HH catalogue, and I had a credit note for some stuff that had gone out of stock, so I decided to send in an order.

Violet Comes to Stay: this will be a birthday gift for a young relative later this year.

World in a Box: I posted about this earlier today.

Watching Water Birds, by Jim Arnosky.

Mouse Tail Moon--a book of poems, also for a birthday gift.

Stars & Planets: a book with lots of tabs, things to unfold, photos, and a poster in the back. Even The Apprentice thought this was pretty cool.

Photos: Ponytails

Learning Geography (Things we like, including Aunty Dot)

Aunty Dot's Incredible Adventure Atlas, by Eljay Yildirim, is Crayons' favourite geography resource right now [2013: and still is!]. We bought it a few years ago from Hampstead House; it was published in 1997 but is still listed on Amazon. Aunty Dot and Uncle Frank have won a trip around the world; the book is full of their letters home (real letters in real envelopes), maps of their travels, and photos of their souvenirs. "Well, here we are in busy Beijing. Elephants weren't such a good idea--if we'd stuck with them we would never have gotten here! Beijing is a real contrast from our journey across the Tibetan Plateau, where we hardly met a soul. There were plenty of yaks, though--very useful animals!"
Children' "The Book, CD-Rom, and Website That Work Together." I posted about this rummage-sale find a few weeks ago. Published in 1997, still occasionally available (on Amazon); the CD-Rom runs fine on our computer but the website is gone. Crayons found this a lot of fun and fairly challenging, although she bought up all the "souvenirs" so fast, by playing a couple of favourite games and winning a certain number of points, that she lost some of her interest in trying out the other activities...we'll probably bring it out again next fall anyway.
We found Hammond's Discovering Maps in a sale bin at a department store. There is another edition available on Amazon, but this one is pretty up to date (2006). Ponytails has been using this for general map skills, and the Apprentice also found it useful for a twelfth-grade class that required knowing facts about the "world's longest rivers" etc. It also offers little tips like the fact that if you point at the North Star with one hand and at the horizon with the other, the resulting angle will tell you how many degrees north or south of the equator you are. (How you're supposed to measure the angle while holding your arms like that, I'm not sure, but anyway...)
Maps and Globes: a classic Reading Rainbow selection--looks like a little kids' book, but there's a fair amount of information in there. "Globes (unlike flat maps) are shaped exactly like the earth--like a ball or sphere. They are very tiny models--the earth is really 30 to 40 million times bigger than the globe in your classroom. Globes, because they are round, put all the world's geography in its proper place; they give the truest possible view of the whole earth."
Geography Songs--don't all homeschoolers know about these? "The British Isles, the British Isles..." The Apprentice used to sing the Scandinavia song at the top of her lungs on the swingset, which the elderly lady next door found amusing as well as educational.

[2013 Update:  There were a couple of other resources originally included in this post, but they turned out not to really make the grade, so I've cut them out.]

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Food we really eat, recipes we really make

Specially for Ponytails: here's a link to the webpage for CBC's Best Recipes Ever, a cooking show we both like to watch. If you like Canadian Living-style family-oriented recipes, this is your show. If you like to see how those recipes are actually supposed to look, this is your show. If you like food adjectives like ooey-gooey-goodness, this is definitely your show.

Very educational.

New nightwear for Crystal

Crystal is Crayons' 18-inch doll. We found her at a yard sale last summer. She's very pretty but needs The Apprentice to help her with a bad case of bed-head.

The patterns are from the doll pattern book that goes with Bunkhouse Books' Stitches and Pins. There are doll-size patterns available for all the sewing books, including the boys' book Buckles and Bobbins (although the doll clothes there are still modelled by girl dolls!). They also sell individual patterns, including the pajamas, but the books are a better deal. You can probably follow the doll package patterns without having the main book to refer to, especially if you have medium sewing skills and have done doll clothes or real-size clothes before; but I wouldn't give just the doll package to a young or inexperienced sewer unless there was someone around to help. The patterns are full size and easy to photocopy, but the directions are brief and (at least in the pajama pattern) occasionally forget to mention things. The Triangle Scarf, Pajama Pants and Top turned out well; I tried the Slippers but they didn't stay on Crystal's feet. [Forgot to mention: Crayons did some of the sewing on this along with Mama Squirrel.]

If the fabric looks vaguely familiar, it's because we used the leftovers from last year's "Sense and Sensibility" apron project.

"OK, guys, photo shoot's over."

Monday, June 07, 2010

They don't make them like this anymore

Some finds from a Saturday yard sale...History of Ancient Rome, by Jean Defrasne, from the Myths and Legends series, the same small books as Stories of Alexander the Great and Stories of the Norsemen. They're unassuming little dustjacketed books, translated from French and printed in Britain in the 1960's. They have only a few pictures. But they sure do keep your interest...people in these books scale mountains, stagger and collapse, harass the Carthaginian army, and resist the onslaught. Centurions shout commands in hoarse voices. The trampled soil disappears in pools of blood.

The vocabulary is challenging:

"Already, Hannibal was growing weaker. His thoughts seemed to be far away with his native city of Carthage now, abased and defeated.

"'I have done everything for my fatherland,' he continued slowly, 'but what has my fatherland done for me? After Zama I was appointed Head of State. I restored order. I filled our treasury with gold, I covered our countryside with olive groves and orchards, I prepared our revenge, prudently but persistently. My adversaries betrayed me to the Romans and so I was exiled, declared a public enemy, my house was razed to the ground and no one was even allowed to pronounce my name.'

"He shivered; his strong body began to struggle against the grip of death.

"'Carthage,' he said, staring with glazed eyes, 'land of greedy and cowardly jackals, you will die. Your conquerors will scatter salt on your ravaged soil, and your proud elders will end their days in the underground cells of Rome.'"

I also found a book called When the World was Rome, by Polly Schoyer Brooks and Nancy Zinsser Walworth. Apparently the same authors wrote books on the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, but I'm not familiar with them. The format is kind of like one of those junior Time-Life books, sort of a chunky hardcover with some black and white photos and drawings. The language is fairly difficult for children, so I'd guess that the book would be good for maybe the middle school years, for students who still like the feel of a bigger book. This one doesn't have the staggerings and shiverings of the Myths and Legends's more straightforward history, but not uninteresting. Sample:

"But power soon corrupted Nero and he sank lower and lower into vice, losing all sense of decency and morality. When he divorced his wife to marry the vicious, seductive Poppea, his domineering mother tried to interfere. Poppaea taunted him with being afraid of his mother, who, she said, was plotting his downfall in order to rule as empress herself. So Nero consented to poison his mother, but Agrippina had antidotes for poison. Nero then staged a shipwreck, but his indomitable mother escaped and swam to safety. Finally he left it up to his soldiers, who stabbed her to death."

And on that note...

Thursday, June 03, 2010

No-bake fruit and chocolate balls, latest incarnation

I've posted about this "recipe" before, but it changes every time I make it. It can be made gluten-free, dairy-free or whatever depending on the chips, cereal etc. that you use.

Latest version, with amounts very indefinite: most of a 12-oz. bag of chocolate chips; half a bag of unsweetened coconut; 1 package (about 12-15) dried figs, with their hard little stems chopped off; small amount of orange juice; and a couple of cupfuls of rice krispie-type cereal, divided. Also something to roll the balls in, either coconut or something else like ground oatmeal or graham crumbs. Run all ingredients except for about half of the cereal through the food processor, until it is a fairly solid, slightly sticky mass of pulverized stuff. Add a little more orange juice if you have to, but not too much. It's okay if there are still some small bits of chocolate etc. that don't get mashed before the mixture won't move around the bowl any more.

Transfer to a larger bowl and mix in the remaining krispie-type cereal, enough to give it some texture but not so much that it won't hold together in balls. Roll in small balls and roll the balls in coconut or other coating...or leave plain if you prefer.

I don't always have rice-krispie-type cereal around and you can make very good balls without it, but adding it seems to lighten up the dense fruit-chocolate mixture a bit, and it also adds a bit of crunch.