The Reading List

Anybody remember Book It? ... That Pizza Hut reading program where, as an elementary school student, you could earn that super-exciting coupon for a personal pan pizza simply by reading books! As I remember it, this pizza prize was basically about 4 ounces of grease in a tiny cast iron pan, lightly dusted with tomatoes and cheese. But whatever... we all read more because of Book It. Or at least I did. So Thumbs Up to those folks! (No, I'm not being paid to say this, by they way. I can guarantee you that Pizza Hut really does not give a care what I say.)

Regardless of the gastronomic disappointment, those Pizza Hut bookworm dinners really are a sweet memory. Because more exciting than any tiny pizza was the fact that, in our family, a Book It coupon earned you a dinner date to the Hut with Dad. (I have 3 siblings... one-on-one time with anything was a prized possession.) Father and daughter sitting in a vinyl booth over those 4 ounces of grease was about as dreamy as it got as a youth.

There it is again... Words and food... bringing us together.
Like here. Right now. Via my current reading list... (Presuming you care more than Pizza Hut)

Elise Hofer Derstine, writer and farmer in Goshen, Indiana, (who you may remember from her interview here!) recently started publishing her words on her own blog, Hoof and Wings. Her latest posts (which come out each Thursday) are about the lovely story of her grandparent's courtship and their road to farming. Consider me hooked and awaiting Thursday.

Photo courtesy Elise Hofer Derstine

Momofuku Milk Bar by Christina Tosi.
Tosi's recipes are fun and creative. She doesn't take herself too seriously, reminds me of the playful because at the end of the day... it really is just a cookie. Why not have fun?
That said, it's a really really really good cookie.

Cornflake. Chocolate. Marshmallow. Crunch. Right?! Right.
Today I unashamedly made Fruity Pebble Crunch Cookies. Then ice cream sandwiches with lemongrass ice cream (because it turns out lemongrass ice cream tastes EXACTLY like Fruity Pebbles).

Here's the recipe for the cornflake cookies. Me? I took out the chocolate and subbed about a third of the cornflakes for oats. You?

The Joke by Milan Kundera. Kundera's words, and his ability to get you in so deeply in the heads of his characters make me feel full. In the best way possible.

Do stories, apart from happening, being, have something to say? For all my skepticism, some trace of irrational superstition did survive in me, the strange conviction, for example, that everything in life that happens to me also has a sense, that it means something, that life speaks to us about itself through its story...

The Random...  
Poem on my frig

Read the full poem by Machado here.

Katie @ The Shoofly


The Answer is Pastry (and I love you)

I know what you're thinking. And I love you too.
Oh wait. that's not what you were thinking? Well, one can dream. (And I still love you.)
Especially if you took that survey way back when. Your responses were overwhelmingly helpful! So overwhelming that I went comatose for a bit. See blogs are always so hungry, and sometimes a gal is just too tired to cook every night.
Then I woke up.
Yeah, you. Fact

Also sometimes I am seized with decision paralysis. Like trying to order food at a counter while staring UP at the menu on the wall (like those trendy chalkboard menus... bah!) sends me into a stuttering stress response. I'm trying to learn to breathe through it. Which is what the last several months have amounted to... several deep and quiet breaths.

If you're gracious enough to still be reading (thank you thank you thank you) here's the plan... 
  • NOT attempt to write Mastering the Art of French Cooking... for Mennonites (at this point). 
  • Peel away pieces and stick them in the "To Do In My Lifetime" file. 
  • Choose one piece and stick it in the "To Do This Year" file. 
  • The answer, that one piece I breathed a lot to get to, is... PASTRY! Mennonite baked goods galore shall be the aim. 
So perhaps you were actually thinking... "Reeaaal nice, Katie... You go and promise us cookbooks and then you just waft away like the Carolina breeze. Into the world of beaches, sorghum cakes, and loafers sans socks. " Touche.  Let me break the ice for all our future affairs with cute pictures of children.

photo courtesy of Sarah Boyts Yoder

That last one is Sofie drawing a name from Zeke's (my nephew) fireman's hat. A very dear reader who took the survey was in fact chosen that day. And then promptly elected A Girl and Her Pig by April Bloomfield.

Then I got all caught up in that breathing thing, a niece doing spectacular things like growing fingernails, a sister getting married, another doing amazing artwork (see below) a few lovely east coast excursions, and of course some kitchen work with the creatives at Two Boroughs Larder.

With that... I'm back and I'll see you quite soon!


That's my sister getting married. That's me singing Business Time in my head to keep from weeping. 

east coast excursion = baltimore
Sister Sarah's most recent work... Loving the culinary themes.
Where one finds the milk when living with toddlers. 


Cookbook Giveaway! And the Future of The Shoofly

I wish I could share a supper with you at an actual table, perhaps discussing the nuances of wiggle glace (pictured below), a Julia Kasdorf poem, or how much you love the summer. The dinner table holds the richest and most human of conversations. It's my favorite spot to be planted.

My brother Matt was visiting last weekend, and for us it was homemade pizza and his memories of Nicaragua - all the proof anyone needs that something special happens at the supper table.

But I suppose for you and I the virtual table will have to suffice for the moment. And at the heart of any good dinner conversation, virtual or otherwise, is the good question... From apertif to red to digestif, it's a necessity for us to sit and stay and sip awhile.

In that spirit, there’s 10 questions right here, begging your answer – a SURVEY! The Shoofly's first-ever survey in fact. And it’s been my experience that any good survey comes with a potential prize for the surveyed… so answer said questions and you’re in the Shoofly Project’s raffle!

Winner of the raffle will be announced next week, drawn by my unbiased niece Sofia Yoder.  (cause what’s better than a 4 year old drawing names out of hats?)

The prize? A cookbook of course! Your choice of... 
A Girl and Her Pig by April Bloomfield
Saving the Seasons by Mary Clemens Meyer and Susanna Meyer
The Pie and Pastry Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum

Speaking of questions - Why a survey? …Well I’ve been thinking a lot about the future of The Shoofly Project, and it has occurred to me frequently that it needs a more specific shape. Otherwise, the vague nature of “Mennonite food and culture” seems to be threatening its very existence and identity.  

Vagueness is hard to make vivid. Specificity, vagueness's antithesis, has a much more predictable and palatable nature. I’m reminded of the advice: Don’t overwhelm the palate with too many flavors – otherwise we can’t enjoy the taste of any

Two particulars became clear as I looked at the blog’s history and also just up at my bedroom wall.
On the blog and book plan: Lots of pig and lots of pie. 
On the wall: My grandmother’s hands and a pie crust and a pig from Drywell Quality Meat Art.

So a theme emerges…
Pork and Pastry.
Sugar and Swine.
Sweet and Meat.
Bacon and Baking. ok ok I'm stopping. 
I think these two beasts are perhaps the answer to the vagueness question. The question then is whether or not to really focus the lens of subject matter to those two? That’s where you and the survey and the cookbook raffle come in! 
So do tell... Is Pork and Pastry a good paring?


Peach Galettes and Mascarpone Orange Blossom Cream

I am now several weeks into life in Charleston, and the stickiest parts of transition are thankfully behind me – finding work (pastry chef at Two Boroughs Larder and blogger at mac & murphy), a new bike, and a few solidly great girlfriends. So with all that achieved we can begin to immerse ourselves in the best food beginning I can think of in America’s south… The Peach.


Frankly, I was a bit salty about my fruit situation when I initially arrived. I left Santa Fe before the strawberries came on, and then arrived in Charleston after they had all been picked and devoured. What sweetened me amidst this berry tragedy was the illustrious South Carolina peach... the farmer’s market is teeming with their gold. 

At a recent trip to the market I found a particularly peach-adorned stand and asked the farmer if I could sample the goods. He nodded enthusiastically, seemingly thrilled with my audacious request. I find it to be a good sign – a farmer who displays fervor in fruit tastings.

So he confidently took up his paring knife, and with bare, soil-stained hands cut the fruit in half, juice dripping from his palms. He graciously gifted me the entire thing, and I felt how purely southern summer the moment was. I loved it! … The weather was hot and thickly humid, the people were overtly friendly, there were southern women wearing high heels and twangy accents. And I was eating peaches.

My own palms filled with the fruit’s liquid. They were like saucepans waiting for a task, and yet the task was simpler than any sauce... Just sink in. 
The peach was totally glorious. Smooth, without a hint of grain or mush. Ripened and sweet, the fuzz giving it a refreshing rawness. I think I may have given the farmer a high five. Ok yes I definitely gave him a high five. That peach was, after all, why the best dessert I’ve ever had is a simple, unadorned, piece of fruit.

All that is really required for absolute joy is the expectation that what is simple is also what is enough. 

That said, there are times when we want to play with and charm our produce. For instance, orange blossom water plays beautifully with peaches. Orange blossom water is a perfumed, clear distillation of... you guessed it... orange blossoms.  Added to mascarpone and cream, a classic is reborn smelling like my heaven.
So simplicity meets slight refinement, and yet retains its glory.
Not overboard, not complicated.
Just Enough. 

photo by Matthew Yoder

Mini Peach Galettes 
with Mascarpone Orange Blossom Cream

I made these golden nuggets for the Larder this week, using nectarines when I ran out of peaches. Both were fantastic. The pastries can be made in advance, filling and all, and then frozen till you’re ready to bake... They’re actually better if frozen first. The cream, however, will only be at its best the same day you make it. Orange blossom water can be found at most international grocery stores.

Yields 5 individual galettes

The Filling:
6 large peaches
1/2 cup sugar
juice of 1 lemon
1 Tablespoon kirsch (optional)
2 teaspoons flour

1. Peel and slice peaches. Tip: To peel, bring a pot of water to boil. Cut a small X at the base of the peach and carefully immerse all the fruit in the boiling water for 60 seconds. Drain and run cold water over the peaches to cool them down. Skins should peel off easily.
2. Place peeled fruit in a large mixing bowl, and add the sugar, kirsch, and lemon juice. Set aside to macerate for 30 minutes.
3. Drain the resulting juices, and set aside. Add the flour to the peaches and chill in refrigerator.
4. In a medium-sized sauce pan, reduce the reserved juices on medium heat till they just begin to thicken. (It will thicken more as it cools.) Set aside and allow to cool.  

The Pastry:
Note: Feel free to use your favorite pie crust recipe here. This is my preferred version on this particular day. But hey… that’s me. 
Replace the lard with butter if you're without lard. 
Replace the pastry flour with AP flour if you're without pastry. 

¾ cup all purpose flour
¾ cup pastry flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons sugar
6 Tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed and chilled
3 Tablespoons leaf lard, broken into chunks and chilled
5-6 Tablespoons cold water

1. Whisk together the flours, salt, and sugar in a large mixing bowl.
2. With your fingertips, rub the butter and lard into the flour mixture till broken into small chunks about the size of peas. Some can be smaller. Some can be bigger.
3. Make a small well in the middle of the mixture and add 1 Tablespoon of cold water. With your palms facing upwards, toss the mixture lightly to incorporate the water. Continue adding water, 1 Tablespoon at a time until the dough comes together.
4. Form the dough into a disc, wrap in plastic, and chill in the frig for at least 15 minutes.
Tips: Use the ball of dough as a sponge to mop up remaining flour.
Use as little water as possible. Too much water will make the final crust chewy – not what we’re going for. Also the flour will become more hydrated as it rests in the frig.
5. Divide the disc into 5 equal portions. If you have a scale, you can weigh them out… Each should weigh about 2.5 ounces. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the dough to about 5 or 6 inches in diameter. Using a small bowl as stencil, cut the dough into a circle. Transfer to baking sheet and refrigerate. Repeat this with each portion.
6. Brush the center of each crust with the the reserved juices, leaving about 2 inches on the outside border.

7. Place slices of peach in one layer in the center, again leaving about 2 inches. Bring the edge of the crust towards the center and make a fold every 1 or 2 inches, pinching to seal the fold. Now add another layer of peaches. Repeat with remaining pastries. Place galettes in freezer till ready for baking. 

The Cream:
Adapted from Ad Hoc
2 eggs, separated
¼ cup sugar
¼ cup mascarpone, at room temp
½ cup cream, cold
1 Tablespoon orange blossom water

1. In a medium-sized mixing bowl, whisk egg whites till foamy. Add 2 Tablespoons of the sugar and continue whisking (furiously whisking!) till you obtain stiff peaks. Set this aside.
2. In large mixing bowl, whisk together egg yolks and remaining 2 Tablespoons of sugar. Whisk in mascarpone till incorporated.
3. In another bowl, whisk the heavy cream and orange blossom water (again, get furious on it!) until medium peaks form.
4. To the yolk mixture, fold in the whipped cream one third at a time. Then fold in the egg whites one third at a time, just until combined. Too much folding and you’ll lose the air you’ve worked so hard create.
5. Cover and chill for at least 2 hours or for up to 1 day.

Bake and Serve!
1. Remove the galettes from the freezer and immediately place in a 375 degree preheated oven. Meanwhile, rewarm the remaining reduced fruit sauce in small saucepan over low heat. 
Tip: Never let a frozen pastry defrost before you bake it… A soggy mess you will have.
2. After about 10 minutes, reduce heat to 350 and bake for another 20 minutes or until the crust is golden brown and the peaches begin to brown. Remove from the oven and brush with sauce. Cool on wire baking rack.
Serve with a very generous portion of the cream right on top.

Mid-cooling. Pre-cream.


The Hope in the Marshmallow Tree, Part 5

What Charleston often looks like

From Atlanta to Charleston is a mere 5 hours and 300 miles. I’d told myself this many times as I prepped for the last leg of the trip.... 5 hours... a drop in the bucket compared to what had come before. 

But 5 measly hours turned into what felt like the longest stretch in all of America. I took the back roads, thinking the more scenic routes of Georgia would provoke some pleasant sense of nostalgia within. Perhaps I would have the energy to stop at the funky roadside diners who promised crawfish and catfish and more fried okra. It could be the perfect end to the long week. 

The novelty of the back roads dwindled quickly though, and for most of the drive I couldn't muster the energy to stop and pee, much less stop and taste the flavors of backwoods Georgia. 

Keturah’s diary of 1972 had been sitting accessible in the glove compartment the entire trip, set aside from the others who found home in their blue Rubbermaid.

Her life in 1972 had dramatically changed on two fronts... The aforementioned death of her husband Fred. And then her subsequent move from the farm to Schowalter Villa, the town’s Mennonite retirement center. In the days leading up to the move, through the lens of her daily writings, she vacillates.
April 5, 1972: I wanted to see the apartment they want me to go into at the Villa. Phoebe Yoder's apartment. I was really excited over it. 

April 6, 1972: But not quite as excited as I was last evening. 

April 15, 1972: So busy thinking about moving to the Villa. I do not want to go but feel it would be wise - as Pop had planed so much, for us both to go and now everything is changed. I am glad he could spend his last night here in our own little home on the far. But I think he would have been content in the apartment. 

Like Keturah, I was shuffling between two phases of life, trying to sift through the various available emotions.

And in a moment I didn't have the geographical foresight to anticipate I suddenly became a South Carolinian as I passed the big "Welcome!" sign. So far South Carolinian felt like a heavy heart, heavy eyelids and an impatient bladder. 

The beautiful city of Charleston did finally appear - exactly 5 long hours from the Atlanta departure and 6 long days from Santa Fe. I drove straight to meet the family at a restaurant downtown. The family includes sister Sarah, brother-in-law Matt, niece Sofia, and nephew Zeke. 

Some small piece of the the intricately-designed cobweb in my head cleared away as I had hugged my older sister and watched Sofia jump up and down behind her, a huge grin beaming off her little face, “Aunt Katie! Aunt Katie!”.

In the corner of the patio Sofie and Zeke had found a small niche within which they could create their own little home. I joined them there, their delight feeling contagious. Sofie gave me tour... 
“Here is the kitchen (she sweeps her little 4 year old arm over to the left railing of the roof). And here is our garden… This our cherry tree and our peach tree. And this is my favorite - our marshmallow tree. (she points to the 3 small potted bushes lining the railing).”

She is building her own world wherever she please, constructed of anything she pleases. A marshmallow tree… why not? I am building one here too and in the tiny corner of that patio, tucked away in their dreamy play garden, rife with fresh produce and sugar, is where it began.

There is hope in her marshmallow tree, I thought, more than in any car or clock or even a diary. Her marshmallow tree was beautiful, lush with gleaming white fruit and deep, deep roots , and I think… There is hope in marshmallows after all.


How To Get Swindled for Oysters in New Orleans, Part 4

New Orleans has the power to pause clocks. In the Big Easy, it feels as though Shanda and I are launched back to some past century where old laws keep developers are kept at bay. They limit donut chains and burger drive thrus, keep the beignets frying and the gumbo simmering, and maintain the fragrance of booze. The French Quarter is pungent with the smells... piss and booze, coffee and cigarettes. The textures of the place were like no where in America I'd been. 

We check into our hotel and immediately take to the streets, our legs aching for movement. Brass bands and karaoke blast from the street corners on Bourbon Street. Tuneless tourists crone along. And in my pocket, my cell phone chimes in with the dings of text messages,
 “How are you? Where are you? Drive safe. We love you.”
From Oregon, Indiana, Texas, South Carolina, Illinois, New Mexico, Kansas... I had a solid entourage among the karaoke with that wonderful ding.

In the morning, at Café du Monde patio, where only cash is accepted and beignets, the French donut, are the only menu item other than coffee, we joyously sit for a morning. The accompanying tink tink of the dishes, ceramic on ceramic, is almost harmonic with the place's chatter.

A lovely, albeit apathetic, waitress plops down two perfectly balanced café au laits and a plate of the beignets. I love watching the silent dust storm of powdered sugar being carried off by the breeze over the bricks. The servers are covered with a fine white paste, the thickness seems to tell of their tenure.

And the slightly greasy, sugary, doughy morsels on the plate... they were sheer and vivid joy. I could feel the entire outdoor patio pulse with every beignet-consumer’s giddy pleasure. Shanda and I happily joined in the pulsating. I felt a kid at Christmas - people bringing me sweets, all that sugary snow floating around.

The mural by the Cafe du Monde patio

The city also sounded a lot like laughter. The laugh I remember most is that of the middle-aged local fellow we dined with. He (let’s call him Kevin) chortled all the way home, I'm sure of it, after having swindled us two naïve tourists for at least 2 dozen oysters and a couple beers.

Our time with Kevin began as he walked with us through the streets of the French quarter, giving us the golden “local” take on the city – how it was before the storm, where his family had gone, who had the best jazz and the best oysters. Ooh Oysters… “Let’s go get some!”

Charmed by his tour-guide capabilities, and the absence of any sexual prowess, we agree and head to Remoulades. The three of us settle in happily at the oyster bar, where Joe schmoozes with the resident shucker. Kevin schmoozes and orders and eats, and then repeats. Plate after plate of oysters, he orders and eats and schmoozes, waving his hand with an “Bah!... No worries... It’s on me!”
Oysters on the half shell.
Charbroiled Oysters.
Baked Oysters - Rockefeller, Bienvelle, and Suzette.

Then quite suddenly Kevin needs to step outside for a “smoke break”. And with that… he wafts away down Bourbon Street like a breeze off the gulf, without even a dime for the cocktail sauce. The $100 restaurant bill is handed to us as the shucker shakes his head, and slips off his shucking glove. Tsk tsk Tourists, he seems to say.

But we’re too happy not to laugh at our naivete... See I have a theory that raw seafood gives a swift kick of endorphins to the head, so getting swindled in New Orleans for a few dozen oysters… Things could be worse. The night proceeds with a high buoyancy and only mild disbelief.

But the interlude over beignets must end, and the inevitable approaches. Shanda must fly back to Fargo and her husband Peter, and I must drive on to Charleston. We spend our final night together in a dingy airport hotel in Atlanta. We eat Papa John’s pizza, and appropriately, watch Tina Fey on 30 Rock. 


Traveling with Shanda and Tina Fey, Part 3

If you're just joining us... Welcome!  Catch up on this Road Trip series in... 
Part 1, Keturah's Fast and My Unexpected Road Trip
Part 2, Leaf Lard and the Woven Basket. 

Every road trip comes with an inherent romanticism, a keen sense of possibility as constant movement breeds unpredictability. Who you will meet, what you will see, where you will eat - it's all in constant flux. And the truth is... I’m a romantic deep down. Although previously the movement, of clock hands and cars headed east, felt ominous, something had shifted in Fort Worth. 
I began to feel the possibilities again.

In Fort Worth, my mother added to my woven basket - granola, cookies, cinnamon rolls wrapped in foil and smelling like Christmas. To the car I added my best friend Shanda, who had from flown in from Fargo, North Dakota with the sole purpose of sitting beside me in a car for 17 hours.
Fort Worth to Atlanta, with a two day stop in New Orleans. 

A George Strait spotting at the necessary western-wear stop in Cowtown!

With Shanda there, the possibilities felt endless. For this particular adventure, Shanda had made 10 mix cds to act as our soundtrack. So we set off on a Sunday morning, and popped in Road Trip Music, Part One which started off with a bang... "None of Your Business" by Salt-N-Pepa.  

There were four categories to this set of 10 cds.
1    1. Texas Travellin’ Tunes
2    2. Moving Forward! 
3    3. Road Trip Music
4    4. Break-ups Suck

She’d also brought a gift - wrapped in a colorful scarf, she called it my “Congrats on Not Marrying That Guy!” gift. (Not because she didn’t like the guy… It’s not always about him. Sheesh.) I reluctantly decided to wait to open the gift, delaying gratification so as to cushion a future hard moment I was sure would come. So I placed the gift in the backseat next to the cooler, grinned at Shanda, and drove on.

Riding shotgun, Shanda planted her feet on the dash and her pink sunglasses on her face. 
Volume up. Windows down, we sang and played air piano to "Anthony’s Song" by Billy Joel from Moving Forward, part 2, "Idiot Wind" by Bob Dylan from Break Ups Suck, part 1, and "Africa" by Toto - Road Trip, part 3. I could feel the clocks turning back.

Back to moments in college where we had embarked in cars with similar senses of playfulness. Back to junior year of college as our group of women drove 24 hours straight from Goshen, Indiana to southern Florida in my tan Buick Century, equipped with a boombox powered by D batteries. Shanda and I improvising songs about passing scenery when the batteries died. I owned a video camera at the time, which would get promptly propped on the enormous dashboard when we hit a lull. We recorded such traveling classics as "Hello, I'm a Truck". (Of note, all these tapes got stolen in our Goshen House Robbery 2005. So if you're out there putting our "music" on the internet... Well... please don't.)

In the blue Subaru we considered the way we and our lives have evolved, how lucky we were that our clocks were still coordinated. We have gone through the celebrations and devastations with each other long enough to know what questions needed asking and which ones were answered long ago.

Me: “How is your brother doing? How are you feeling about God in the midst of the healing process?”.
And how is your mother holding up? How is her garden?
What’s happening with your thesis?  

We talk of her wonderfully solid marriage to a fantastic man, what shade of pink is her favorite at the moment, and how shockingly - her best time of day is now morning.

Shanda: “What hobbies will you take up in Charleston?”
“Where do you envision working?”
“What was your favorite thing about Santa Fe?”

I talk about how much I loved the coffee shop in Santa Fe, and decide on paddleboarding as well as becoming best friends with Sean Brock, considering our mutual love of pork.

At some point (because dietary precepts don’t count in the car) I realize I’m literally pouring Cheetos into my mouth. Pouring. I decided this was actually not a low point, rather it's just what you do when you’re driving cross country pretending to be 20 again: you pour Cheetos, chew endlessly on Twizzlers, and drink way too much fountain Pepsi.

Somewhere else in East Texas we decide on fried okra, BBQ chicken, and a disappointing taco from the taco joint welded to the Shell station. 
Shanda (with a tone of sarcasm and sorority girl foodie): "Do you like think this like local, organic, free range beef?"
Me: "Oh Yes. Definitely yes."  

We listened to Tina Fey talk about breastfeeding, laughing the way we did in Goshen when we would go Baggin’. Baggin’ involves duct taping a fast food to-go bag on top of your car and then driving around town with the radio blaring.
Well-intentioned folks at stoplights then try to alert you to this fast food catastrophe,
“There's a bag on your car!”
You reply, with a confused expression,
“I’m sorry, what? I can’t hear you over the music!”
They yell, they scream, they point, they lean out their car window, they get out of their car,
You then erupt in juvenile laughter. Because, like Tina Fey on breastfeeding, this is always funny.

Driving into New Orleans on the highway surrounded by water, the skyline of the beautiful city emerged, punctured with the Superdome. We discuss the trauma of Katrina that engulfed the space, curious of what the space held for us. 

I can smell the sea. 
I can feel our freedom and our excitement. 
I can taste the imminence of oysters. 
My gratitude for the depth of these simple, timeless things with me in this car is palpable.

Stay tuned for Part 4... Oysters and Beignets in New Orleans! 


The Leaf Lard and Woven Basket, Part 2

To get caught up, check out Part 1 in this series, Keturah's Fast and My Unexpected Road Trip.

My car and the clock did indeed move forward that first day on the road. Both of them barreled across west Texas towards my first stop in Fort Worth, the city where I grew up and where my parents still call home. In some sense, the car seemed to move with its own beastly agency; I was just its stubborn cargo in the driver's seat - shell-shocked and sad, albeit resolute.

I recalled the first line in Keturah's entry for February 7th, 1972: I'm still somewhat in a daze. 

Although the car's movement paused very few times that day, I did insist on a break at a funky roadside diner around Amarillo for fried okra. The young counter girl eyed me with curiosity as I sat at the booth, alone, eating a simple meal of okra and ranch dressing. Staring out at the care, I took stock of my traveling companions…

They were the things I dared not put on moving trucks - Keturah’s and my diaries, a box of quilts, my baby blanket made by my grandmother, the fabric a print of Amish girls in bonnets.

My woven basket sat in the passenger seat, buckled up because its weight was setting off the “Buckle Up Please” sensor. Over the years, that basket's belly has carried so many memories –  garnet yams for a first date curry, a bottle of red wine for dinner party hosts, chocolate chip cookie ingredients. People’s eyes always light up at its arrival. Children tend to swoon… a colorful woven basket is the sweet promise of surprises.

That day on the road its contents were just for me... 
Peanut butter
Raspberry jam
2 apples
16 oz. Indonesian coffee, ground for an aeropress

In the backseat of the Subaru was a cooler - the old, dingy one I borrowed to pack the pint-sized mason jars of leaf lard I'd so lovingly rendered myself. Fearful the lard would somehow spoil during the drive, I fed the cooler ice cubes at my few stops as though it were some starving child.

With great irrationality, these were the things I clung to tightly as I drove. Isn’t this what we all do, with greater or lesser novelty? Move through life, holding close the things we consider dear? Mennonites are notorious for simple living, but even we have our precious ties to the tangible things that shape us.
Mine...  an Amish baby blanket, 2 boxes of diaries, leaf lard, and my woven basket.

**Special Thanks to my nephew Zeke who joined me in the photo shoots... lard never looked better. 

And stay tuned for Part 3... My dearest friend Shanda jumps in the car and we head to New Orleans!


Keturah's Fast and My Unexpected Road Trip

Great Grandma Keturah’s diaries, the ones I once traversed the Puget Sound for, recently made a trip in a large Rubbermaid container, each book wrapped cautiously in tissue paper. They travelled in the back of my blue Subaru, and sitting beneath Keturah’s Rubbermaid was my own, another blue box - full of my diaries.
I sat in the driver's seat.
My woven basket in the passenger seat.
Santa Fe, with a surprised look in her eyes, in the rear view mirror.
My precious cargo and I head east.

These books of Keturah’s – encapsulating her life from 1945 to 1987 - are generally quite tedious to read. Their contents are mostly records of the names of visitors, notes on the baking of bread and pies, butchering pigs, farm chores, and more visitors.

Dinner menus are listed day after day: chicken dinner, offelkuchen, milk pies, coffee cake, egg sandwiches, and infinite amounts of coffee.

With a handful of poignant, glimmering exceptions, there is a hardly a deep thought within the pages. On the day of the Hiroshima bombings, she cans 100 quarts of corn, and a week later scrawls in the margin: “Japan asking for peace…”

But as I packed the car for travel I couldn't ignore Keturah's world. 1972 to be exact. Because in that year an unexpected event amidst Keturah's daily grind unfurls. On January 30th her husband Fred, who she affectionately refers to as Pop, dies suddenly while sitting in his living room chair. And everything, with a great heaving gasp, shifts. Three months after his death she has to move from the farm she loves dearly and into the local retirement center, The Villa. I was reminded, especially as I prepared for that unexpected road trip, that indeed life does not always unfurl how we expect.

My own unfurling is about departure, not death. Thankfully, I have no concept of how Keturah felt in 1972, losing someone after 38 years of marriage. But an unexpected shift  – I can relate to that. You see Santa Fe was to be home, but it has ultimately become a stop on the map. So I picked up my life in the desert, my pots and pans, my Rubbermaids full of our diaries, I considered my options, and headed east for Charleston, South Carolina where my sister Sarah and her sweet family reside. Across 7 states and nearly 2000 miles I drove in the blue subaru to what is now my new home in Charleston. 

Somewhere in eastern New Mexico

Starting out from Santa Fe, as the desolate roads and big dry skies of eastern New Mexico stretched out before me, Keturah’s 1972 was somehow soothing. A reminder of the normalcy that is change.

After Fred’s death, Keturah does not speak of an intentional fast. She does not even elude to it, but in her entries she immediately stops providing her dinner menus. No more talk of pie or bread or coffee. Perhaps it presumptuous, but to me Keturah is fasting - a kind of ritualistic pause so as to mark the importance of her pain.

Keturah also appears to have gone back to previous entries, ones before Pop’s death, and add recollections. Often in a different color ink, one that seems to carry the hue of a grief.

January 6, in blue: ... We went to the villa this afternoon to see Aunt Mamie.
In black: This was last time Pop saw Aunt Mamie. 

January 26One of those mornings when there is much to do and hard to decide which to do, that would be worthwhile…. I did get some pies made – apple, milk, and blueberry. Pop likes the milk pie best so do I.
Scrawled in the margin: These are cold days.

January 29Today I really worked, cleaned, changed our bedding, put bedroom curtains up. I did not take time to do much cooking. We sat down at 9 o’clock this morning to rest a bit and listened to a good talk over Newton station by Ella Mae Miller.

Then her handwriting turns tight, letters pressed against one another:
... The little girls brot some big icicles over to show us and Pop went to the door to see them too. Again our supper was egg sandwiches. Pop went to bed not feeling good even earlier in the evening had terrible pains too I called Cora to tell her we would not come tomorrow but she pleaded so Pop reluctantly concented. After a late bath I finally got to bed he was waiting for me. Little did I think it would be our last night together.

In the margin, underlined severely in black ink:
Pop’s last day with us.

What would I go back and add to my diaries about Santa Fe?
Ate green chiles at La Choza for the last time.
Last time to bake with Willem. We made challah and I made an apple tart. 
These were such sunny, windy days. The moths came up from the ground and the cicadas buzzed, and I baked bread for the first and last time in this home.

Last meal eaten with Willem and the CloudCliff crew

We cannot coerce clocks. They rebel against our every effort, and as much as we try and seduce them, their lean towards movement is relentless. We ask: Could the pain pause please? Could we go back please? Keturah’s retro-entries and presumed fast, to me, are her attempted coercions.  

Keturah’s grief takes its own time. For weeks, she speaks almost solely of her visitors and the weather. February 9th to February 26th, most of her pages sit as blank and desolate as west Texas. Sometimes the day of the week is scrawled, lonely on the page. 

February 14: Monday
February 18: Saturday

But the clocks, like cars, do move forward. The tick-tock of hands around their circular bodice resound with a particular hope. Even in the midst of the most profound grief, a woman may find a bright color, a big sky, a burst of flavor. I see Keturah’s flash of hope, and thus a hint of my own, in her day with Cora on March 6 in which she lists her dinner menu for the first time since Pop died on that Sunday in January.

March 6, 1972: Cora comes for a visit, Keturah goes on a drive with her friend and later writes:
Came home eat supper together, Cora’s stuffed peppers, smoked turkey sandwiches. Strawberry shortcake and coffee…


Bigfoot and The Beautiful Bread, Part 3

Last week I baked bread at home for the first time since I arrived in Santa Fe - this town that sits at 7000 feet. You see making yeasted doughs at this high altitude is an intimidating task at best, a terror-inducing time-waster at worst. As I mentioned, that ugly and critical Bigfoot told me it was impossible. I think "flat and disgusting" were the exact words. But the aim is to prove the thing wrong. So gathering myself and my ingredients for the classic Oatmeal Bread from More-with-Less, I did just that. This Oatmeal Bread was the first bread I ever baked years ago, and has become my go-to. It is straightforward and genuine, lightly sweetened. Add a few oats on top and the thing is stunning.

On that baking day - Without music. Without a machine. Quietly and meditatively, I measured and stirred and kneaded. Refusing to simply rely on the recipe, I instead channeled the instincts of my grandmother, thought on the words of Willem and the advice of Robert.  How should the dough feel? I looked intently, touched, smelled, tasted - I added honey and salt, cut back on flour. It was one visceral motion after another.

A bread dough is a living thing really. You press it with your fingertips and it recedes. You move it and twist it - it gasps, exhales, and lets you in. The seemingly simple ball of water and wheat and honey evolves underneath your touch into a deeply complex flavored prize. It meanwhile feeds our urge to touch something nurturing. The dough tells us the sweet stories about the water and wheat and honey, how much they love each other, and where their fate lies.

I actually became so meditative on that story-telling dough that as I placed it in the oven, the oats looking pleased and poised on top, I realized I was supposed to have “shaped into 2 loaves”. No matter... I had one giant loaf of beautiful, nurturing bread. Perfectly flavored, it was an affectionate silk. The day was a lovely one and the house smelled like home for the moment.
Not a Bigfoot in sight.

Oatmeal Bread
Adapted from More-with-Less 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Combine in a large bowl:

1 cup rolled oats

1/2 cup whole wheat flour

1/2 cup brown sugar

4 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt 

2 Tablespoons butter
2 Tablespoons honey

Pour over:

2 cups boiling water

Stir boiling water in to combine and melt butter.


1 pkg dry yeast or 2 1/4 teaspoons dry yeast

1/2 cups warm water

When batter is cooled to lukewarm, add yeast.

Stir in:

4 to 5 cups white flour
Note: Stir in flour 1 cup at a time, stopping when the dough can be formed into a ball, and is no longer excessively sticky. It can be slightly sticky as you'll continue adding a bit of flour as you knead. You do NOT want a tight-feeling dough, which too much flour will certainly do.

When the dough can be formed into a ball, but before it feels tight, turn onto a lightly-floured surface and knead 8-10 minutes. Place in a greased bowl, cover and let rise until doubled - about one hour. Punch down and let rise again. 
Shape into 1 giant loaf by folding the edges in towards the center to create one seam. Brush the top with water and roll the top surface in a layer of rolled oats. Place in a greased large bread pan and let rise another 15 minutes. You'll know it is ready when you push your finger into the loaf and an indent remains. With a straight razor or knife, cut 3-4 diagonal slits across the top.
Bake at 350 F for 30-40 minutes or until the crust is dark golden brown. (60-70 minutes at 7000 feet). Cool on rack completely before serving. Makes superb toast and will keep for several days. 

Enjoy! (and Take That Bigfoot!) 


Bigfoot and Bread, Part 2

Here in Part 2 of 3...  I'd like to introduce you to my Bigfoot, my inner critic, that I spoke of and find so annoying. Today I'm aiming to shut it down. Why do that here? you ask. Fair question. Well, part of my aim with this here blog was to show, with almost complete transparency, the process of writing a cookbook. What would transparency be without showing the maddening, doubtful parts of it.

So as I said in Part 1, this particular post is the product of a writing exercise I took on in which I projected the voice of that Bigfoot onto paper - to see how it felt, to view its humor and to rob it of its power over the work. Deep down I don't believe these things... I couldn't keep writing, much less get out of bed, if I did. And I hope this transparency inspires a shutting down of your own inner critic, allowing your creative self to open and flourish...

Yes, I do organize cookbooks incessantly. 

You will organize your books for days – 
even the weird ones like “Wok Cookery from 1988” 
You will make lists on silly little overpriced French notepads.
But  you will check off nothing.
You will pin inspirational quotes on walls, pretty pictures in frames.
Turn on the internet, and then alphabetize the cookbooks.
You will look at bank accounts and worry about the weather.
You will call your sister. 
But not write.
So you will take a bath.
You will sit in your bathtub, paralyzed
thinking heat will make words come easy like sweat beads or razor burn.
But you’ll just be sweaty and razor-burned in a bathtub.  

You will feed those birds. Again.

You will want to write a book.
You will want to bake bread... at 7000 feet.
You’ll just watch the thing, the dough, rise and fall like a baby’s belly and then
sit flat, dense and disgusting.

You will sharpen pencils, move rugs, organize the cookbooks again.
You will straighten knives and forks.
Wash your hair. Put earrings on.
Make an omelet
Then read about making an omelet
Then watch a video about making an omelet.
All the while feeling guilty about your failures with omelets.
So you will check your Facebook.

You will never writing anything interesting because you won’t remember how you did it before, 
not that it was good before anyway.
You will ultimately fail because you have no good ideas. 
Boring. Been done. Said before.
You will make the wrong choice.
You will only ever make bad baked beans and big mistakes.
You will never write with humor, only mediocre melancholy.
And you will always believe they are better than you.
Probably because they are. They can all make omelets after all.

The Bigfoot will succeed and grow your fear in his garden. 
You will feast from this garden and not even see the irony in that meal. 
Because all irony will be lost on you.

You’ll regret the exertion till the day you die, (which will actually be sooner than you think.)
Also you will never have children. Even if you do you’ll be hated by them so you’ll die alone anyway.
Surrounded by your organized, alphabetized cookbooks. 

Proof of bread's beauty at 7000 feet, created by Norma. Photo courtesy of Jen Reyneri