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The foods that bind us

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I made twenty dozen of these scrumptious cookies to send off to loved ones this Valentine's Day.  A chocolate-based cookie, I used premium bittersweet cocoa powder, doubling the amount the recipe called for.  In addition to a standard dose of semi-sweet mini chocolate chips, I added one bag of large Ghirardelli bittersweet chocolate morsels so that each cookie would have one or two extra chunks of premium bittersweet chocolate. With other interesting ingredients like whiskey and coffee, these cookies seemed the perfect choice for a Valentine confection. Everyone who received them seemed to agree. I gave my husband his own private stash, and I sent dozens out in various directions via U.S. Mail.  For my son, I sent a couple of dozen cookies plus a dozen dark chocolate brownies baked as shallow cupcakes.  Knitting Related Side Bar: I posted all of my remaining Country Cotton (nine different colors) at Etsy yesterday. Everyone who placed a special order, your yarn is in and I will have it ready for shipment shortly. After I sell the yarn that is posted at Etsy, I won't be carrying yarn any longer--I just found out my supplier has gone out of business. I still have some of the Deluxe Limited Edition Blanket Kits, which I will continue to sell until they are all gone, and then that will be the end of Biscuit Blanket kits as well. Sorry for such sad news. Back to the Blog: I love sending out care packages stuffed with homemade goodies to family and friends, especially as an unexpected treat.  The first Christmas on the farm I sent homemade apple preserves and dehydrated apple slices to my family out West.  We are surrounded by apple orchards and I wanted my family in California and Colorado to have a taste of the beautiful New York apple crop so bountiful here.  Two years later my younger brother told me he and his sons were down to their last serving of those apple preserves.  He treasured the preserves so much he only served them every other Sunday morning on biscuits he baked -- one teaspoon for each person. When you learn that something you baked, or made by hand, means so much to someone else, it is rewarding and heartwarming to the nth degree.  My brother of course has won a lifetime supply of homemade preserves from my kitchen for treasuring my creation so dearly. I started baking when  I was eight years old, the year Santa brought me an Easy Bake Oven--I think it may have been the first year Easy Bake Ovens came on the market. (Note: This is not a photograph of me and my father. I found this photo at Wikipedia when I searched for more info about the year the Easy Bake Oven became available.)
I have told parts of this story before, but it has been a while and I figure I will tell it a bit differently this time and different people will be here on the blog reading my tale. Besides, any truly dedicated story teller will tell their tales many times over to many different audiences, or anyone they can get to sit still long enough.
Oh, how I loved my Easy Bake Oven. It opened up a world of creativity and responsibility to my chubby little hands, heart, and soul. I loved the little pans and the little packets of mix. Mix it up, put it in the pan, slip it in through the little slot and let the goodies bake under an ordinary light bulb. If that wasn't magic, I couldn't have imagined what was. I vividly recall the sights of my little oven and my first experiences with baking. In my recollection, I can still smell the baking mixes and finished products.  But, the Easy Bake Oven was merely a start for me.  Soon I graduated to Jiffy brand biscuit and cake mix along with use of my mother's oven. Each week I would save my allowance and go to the A&P Grocery store with Mama to buy a box of Jiffy mix, my favorite was biscuit mix. At home I would mix up my biscuits, cut them out with a little round cutter and bake them in Mama's oven. The biscuits I was making were cute little things about an inch and half in diameter and very tall and fluffy. After baking them to a perfect golden brown and removing them from the oven I would toss them into a brown paper lunch bag and run all over the neighborhood sharing them with my friends. The kids gobbled them up graciously and proclaimed me the best baker in the neighborhood. When I was about ten or eleven years old I started holding bake sales during the summer months. Mama would take me to the grocery store  to buy my ingredients -- usually some biscuit mix, cake mix and icing, and CoolAid to serve for drinks. The next  morning I would get up early and do my baking, then set up a table out front under a tree with an assortment of my offerings laid out very nice and pretty. Though we lived outside of the city and on a dead-end street, I always sold out early in the day. I could depend on it that by investing $5 in ingredients I would bring in $25 in sales. It was a nice little business that satisfied my creative nature as well as the early manifestations of my entrepreneurial spirit.  My baking satisfied the tummies of many of the boys in the neighborhood -- they were my best customers. I started experimenting with more items to bake including large sheet cakes with icing, cupcakes, brownies, and so forth. I even taught myself how to make popovers, stuffed with a cream filling -- they seemed especially magical (if you have never made popovers, you really should try it sometime for the novelty of it). As a teenager I used to make all sorts of cookies and holiday fruit breads to give to people as gifts at Christmas, and I remember learning how to make a truly delicious, moist carrot cake in teen years as well. A friend of the family's introduced me to the notion of making yeast bread and gave me a little booklet from Fleischmann's Yeast with all of the basics of making proper yeast bread from scratch and a bunch of great recipes. I studied the booklet thoroughly and became quite skilled at making a wide variety of yeast breads, much to the delight of my family. My son took a very early interest in cooking and baking, beginning when he was about two years old. He would drag a chair over to the stove and climb up and look at the pans and so forth. We tried to discourage him from getting near the stove because of the potential danger, but honestly there just wasn't any stopping him from his many attempts. It seemed more practical to teach him how cook a little something safely.  By the time he was three years old he could crack eggs into a bowl, beat them up like a pro, turn on the burner under a pan and make scrambled eggs all by himself. He was very careful about it and never once burned himself or anything else. All through his childhood he continued to cook and bake, much as I did but with a twist. His "twist" was always in the direction of an interest in gourmet cooking. Even as a young teenager he could watch a cooking show on television and go in the kitchen and use whatever techniques he had just seen demonstrated to put together a delicious and tantalizing meal. Naturally, he and I began cooking and baking together, always sharing interest in each other's creations. I loved baking cookies and cake and homemade bread for him, and he loved making a gourmet meal to share with me. At the holidays, he always contributed to the meal and gave me ideas of creative twists and turns I could apply to dishes I was preparing.  This subject--cooking and baking--has always been one of the special bonds between us. Moving to New York five years ago was a wonderful adventure, living here is divine and I have the wonderful fortune of being married to the best husband in the world, for me. However, moving away from my son was a very difficult  thing to do and as the years have progressed the separation has become more and more poignantly disturbing to my heart. Several months ago some circumstances changed and he has been able to spend more time in New York on the farm, we have set up a room for him that his room--as opposed to a "guest" room for him to stay in occasionally. With his baby, The Duke, boarding with us and his more frequent visits, now the farm is a second home of his and he has become a part of the place just like the rest of us. Of course, when he comes here we always cook together. Sometime in the future I would like to collaborate with him in writing a cookbook because we both contribute different dishes, styles, and flavors to a complete and delicious meal. My style is down-home while his is urban-gourmet and we make the two go very, very well together in my humble opinion. Now that he has become an Etsy seller (he is the designer FlyingJunction at Etsy), I love the interaction we have together as two shop owners who happen to be family. His store has gotten off to a great start over the past three months, with many of my readers giving some very helpful feedback and encouragement to him. He and I were talking recently about what he might do to in order to give back a little something to my readership to show his gratitude for their welcoming words.  What we decided is that we would both like to share more recipes and techniques with you all to give you a taste of what we cook up together.  He will send recipes along with photographs of dishes he has prepared and I will post them on the blog.  I will also send him recipes, but share them with you as well. You can ask questions, make suggestions and special requests and we will see what we can do to accomodate you.  It should be fun and ... tasty.  Each time we post a recipe, I will alert those readers who are on my mailing list.  Or, you can subscribe to the blog to receive alerts via RSS feed (see upper right hand area of page). For today, I have to go. I have a ton of Country Cotton yarn that still needs sorting and labeling in preparation for shipment. Have a beautiful day! ~firefly


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