Saturday, October 4, 2014

Orange Almond Olive Oil Cake

I wanted cake. No, I really wanted ice cream, but cake or pie or even any sort of gooey pastry would do. And yet, I did not want to leave the house to buy ice cream or anything else. It was a stay-at-home Saturday of chores and hobbies and a bit of rest, and I simply didn't want to leave the house.

"I know how to cook," I thought. "I'll make something!" Even though I wasn't really in the mood to fuss about in the kitchen too much, it seemed like a reasonable activity for a Saturday afternoon. I then remembered that I had no butter. I flirted briefly with the idea of making my fudgesicles as I had all the ingredients, but I wasn't really in the mood for chocolate. No butter, no butter, how could I make a nice rich carby dessert with no butter?

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Woodbine Coffee Company -- Tasty, Cool, And In My 'Hood

In early 2012, one of the storefronts on Nolensville Pike in the Woodbine area was covered with brown paper and had a notice that the Woodbine Coffee Company was Coming Soon! I live nearby, and while this neighborhood has lots of tasty ethnic restaurants and food stores, it has definitely lacked a friendly coffeehouse. I was more than ready for a good coffee-and-snack option near home. Then time passed, and time passed, and ... I assumed the project never got off the ground.

A few months ago, though, word began to circulate that progress was being made. In late May the doors were open; I was very excited. Due to everything else going on in my life, though, it wasn't until July 4 that I finally had the chance to drop by. I'm pleased to report that I've been back several times since, and look forward to my next visit.

The shop itself is quirky and fun, with found-object and reclaimed-material decor. It is spacious and there is plenty of light from the shopfront windows. Seating varies from couch and armchairs to tables arranged in front of church pews with chairs on the opposite side. There are even a few bar-height counters with stools,

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Getting Back in the Swing of Things

It's been a while since I've had time or brain space to devote to the blog. Travel for work, travel to help with the work needed to deal with Dad's estate, and general chaos has meant not only little energy left for writing, but little time to cook more than basic "feed myself" sort of fare.

I have occasionally had the opportunity to try some new restaurants in the last few months. I'll be going on a posting blitz with thumbnail sketches of these experiences. Some are of established restaurants that are new to me, many are of places that are recent entrants to the restaurant scene.

In the meantime, here's a link to a favorite from last summer. I haven't had a chance to make them this year, but I hope to soon. If you've never made your own fudgesicles, you are missing out on an easy and incredibly tasty hot weather treat. Once you've made these, you'll never want supermarket fudgesicles again.

Fudgesicles - Frozen Chocolate Treats for Summer

Sunday, May 4, 2014


My father passed a month ago today. This is what I said at his funeral.

Here is a short list of things I got from my father:

1. Blue Eyes.

2. Angiomas.
Tiny red dots on the skin. My sister Kellie has them, too.

3. A dry sense of humor, rich in sarcasm and irony.
We all have it. Ask brother-in-law Leroy.

4. Being a crossword puzzle nerd.
Actually, that’s something that both grandmothers loved, too. So I come by it honestly from multiple directions.

5. A love of Star Trek, Star Wars, and science fiction in general.

We did not ask him to take us to see Star Wars or the first Star Trek movie – he took us with him when *he* went to see them.

6. Baseball.
He took me to my first Braves game soon after they came to town – I seem to remember it was right around my first grade year, so that would have been around 1967 or 1968. I never quite picked up the football/basketball/hockey/whatever bug, but baseball has stuck with me. Go Braves. Go Dores.

7. A love of the past.
It’s no coincidence that I majored in anthropology and considered archaeology as a profession. He enjoyed reading about history, and vacations frequently included prowling old cemeteries.

8. A capacity to work long hours.
Raising four kids on a fireman’s salary wasn’t the easiest task. A lot of you know that until he got to up in rank, he always worked second jobs. The fruit of that was not only having everything we needed (if not everything we wanted), but the freedom to enjoy restaurant meals, vacations, and the like. We ate our share of Spam and even meatless meals at times, but we always had enough.

9. An appreciation of a good paint job.

I did not inherit the ability to DO a good paint job, but thanks to watching him paint a million rooms (ours and other people’s), I know what one is supposed to look like. To this day I marvel at his ability to paint a straight line where ceiling met wall or on window grills without a scrap of protective tape. 

10. A taste for culinary adventure.
We weren’t epicures – we ate basic Southern classics with the usual amount of 70s convenience food sprinkled in. We did, however, eat out a fair amount, and tried new things. One day Dad brought home a “recipe” from a fellow fireman – it was an exotic treat called “nachos.” These were tortilla chips from a box, topped with a chunk of cheddar cheese and a slice of pickled jalapeno, then broiled. This was our introduction to Mexican-American food, long before anyone else we knew had even heard of it. Before long we were making our own tacos from Old El Paso kits and traveling up to Northlake Mall to go to El Chico, because you couldn’t get Mexican food on our side of town. We were quite cutting edge.

11. A generosity of spirit.
I actually fail at this more than I succeed, but I try. He, and Mama, were always doing things for other people, whether it was Mama baking the 9 billionth batch of cupcakes for PTA or the fire station, or them helping an elderly couple when they had trouble doing for themselves. The door to our house was always open to any random whoever we dragged home, and there was always room for another chair at the table. 

12. The idea that girls could do the same things that boys did.
Being raised in the 60s and 70s, I was still subject to lots of cultural norms about what girls should and shouldn’t do. We were supposed to grow up to be secretaries and nurses and teachers, if we had jobs at all. We played with dolls and Easy-Bake Ovens. We didn’t play catch. As late as my 6th grade year, girls’ basketball in Georgia was still played half-court because we delicate girls just weren’t up to the task of running the full length of the court.

If you asked Dad if he was a feminist, he would probably have given you the stink-eye. And yes, I loved my Barbies and my Easy-Bake Oven. But I also loved when we played softball in the yard, or went fishing. He took me along to trim hedges and cut grass on his landscaping jobs. I “caddied” for him when he played golf. He took me to Braves games, and taught me what he was learning in his psychology and algebra classes when he went to Clayton Junior College as an adult.

Dad never treated me like a substitute son, or tried to make me a tomboy. He simply included me in whatever he was doing as a matter of course.

By the same token, he could type, and cook, and did the shopping and housework when he was off and Mama was at work. He was a thoroughly progressive, modern man. This wasn’t something that was ever really discussed, and wasn’t political in the least. It was simply the daily reality of the family getting on with getting on.

I could go on. And, of course, I could make a parallel list of things I got from Mama. But, in many ways, I am my Daddy’s little girl, and this little girl is going to miss her Daddy.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Butterscotch Pudding for My Dad

A couple of years ago, Penzey's spices gave away bumper stickers that said, "Love people. Cook them good food." I think most people who enjoy cooking understand that directive in a deep way. Cooking is such an act of nurturing, whether of other people or just yourself. More than providing sustenance, it can be an act of great love. Trying to please someone else by preparing food you think or know that they will enjoy is one of the best gifts you can give.

Usually this blog, and other food blogs, are about pushing boundaries, trying new things, and even (dare I say it?) showing off. American food culture has come so far in the last several decades that there's a never-ending source of things to cook and taste and write about. A lot of the food I think of as commonplace would have seemed exotic when I was in my teens and twenties, if it was even available. Like most of my peers, I typically steer away from the packaged and processed foods of my youth towards fresh ingredients, not to mention artisan this and organic that. I grew up in a household where scratch cooking was still the order of the day, but so was Cool Whip and Spaghetti-Os. It was the 70s, what can I say?

I've written quite a bit about my family recipes and culinary traditions, but today's post is special. My father has been very ill the last few months. The dreaded C word. Today he went to hospice. He's is alert and not in any pain, just needs care that we can no longer give him at home.

One of the issues we've faced is that he has no appetite, and many foods irritate his mouth. He's been living on Ensure and milk and yogurt and the like. Last weekend I picked up the ingredients for two of his favorite desserts in hopes of tempting him to eat a little more. The day after I arrived I asked him if he'd eat either one if I made it, and he chose one as being a likely candidate.

I measured out the milk into a saucepan, substituting a little half-and-half to boost the calorie content. I dumped in the package of Jell-O butterscotch pudding mix, whisked it in, and set it over the heat. Just like a million times in my childhood, I stirred the mixture as it gradually, gradually heated, making sure it didn't stick or lump up. Stirring a pot of pudding on the stove when you start with cold milk seems like a never-ending chore. I'm not the most patient person in the world, and I always thought that the person who wrote "a watched pot never boils" should have referred to pudding instead.

After what seemed like a year, though suddenly, as always, it started simmering and came to the boil that would cause it to thicken properly. Quickly, quickly, I poured the steaming mixture into four custard cups, leaving them on the counter to cool a bit before popping into the fridge. When they were sufficiently cool, Dad decided he'd try one. A little whipped cream from a can completed the dish.

He'd had some of those plastic cups with various pudding flavors, including butterscotch. But this ... this he ate with as much relish as anything these last few weeks. He even commented that it had a really good flavor, and ate nearly the whole thing -- a major accomplishment.

So yes, I'm a big fan of scratch cooking, and I don't make much from a package these days. Sometimes, though, the packaged stuff is just what the doctor ordered.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Grown-Up Roasted Tomato Balsamic Soup

Since I've been in a bread-making phase this bitter winter, it only seems natural that I also am in a soup and stew phase. This recipe is a long-time favorite. (In fact, I should probably just rename this blog SingleGrrl's Greatest Hits, since I've been blogging more about my old standards than new experiments. But anyway ....) I've been making it, or variations thereof, since it was first published in Cooking Light magazine. Its title in the magazine is Creamy Tomato Balsamic Soup. I consider the "creamy" part optional, though, and I like to emphasize the fact that the tomatoes are roasted. This soup has a deep, robust flavor, and has the added attraction of being healthy and easy to make.

Of course, you'll want to pair this with a grilled cheese sandwich made with slices of Cottage Tea House Bread or 100% Whole Wheat Bread, as you see here. What is more classic than a good homemade tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwich?

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

More Yeast: 100% Whole Wheat Bread

My favorite white bread recipe was featured on the blog a few weeks ago. (Yeast Bread - Yes You Can!) I have another favorite recipe for yeast bread -- this one is whole wheat. Baking with whole wheat flour presents some special challenges. As noted in my previous post about wheat flours, a good wheat yeast bread made depends on gluten for structure. In general, the higher the protein content in the flour, the more potential for gluten development. When you are working with white flours -- flour where the germ and the bran of the wheat kernel has been removed -- this relationship is pretty straightforward. If you are working with whole wheat flour, however, a number of factors complicate matters. This recipe provides some techniques for getting the most out of a 100% whole wheat loaf.