Friday, July 31, 2015

An Odd Love Letter to My Grandmother

It's been a long time since I posted. Life happened; you know how it goes...

Three years ago, I found an ugly and beat-up bookcase at a flea market. The guy's child had attempted to remove some of the paint with a powerwasher, resulting in some pretty bad gouging in the wood. It was a mess. We paid $25 for it, and then it sat on our sunporch waiting for me to refinish it.

I knew exactly what I wanted to do with it: I wanted to paint it to resemble the designs on my paternal grandmother's recipe box, I just needed the time and the goose to do it. Mostly, I got tired of looking at it on the sunporch.

It involved more scraping, a lot of sanding, more scraping, and finally coming to the realization that I was never going to get all the old paint off without chemical stripper. Since I was going to paint it anyway, there really didn't seem to be the need to go to that kind of effort, plus I hate that stuff.

Here's what it looked like before:

Interior was painted black. Exterior was painted faded dark red over harvest gold. Ugly.

I filled the worst of the gouges with wood filler, since some of them were on shelves, and I wanted cookbooks not to catch in those gouges, and had to sand those after they dried. After several coats of primer, spray paint for the interior, and several coats of paint for the exterior, I had a white and blue bookcase that looked nothing like it did before.

I then used Photoshop to resize and modify the motifs from her recipe box. Well, sort of hers... Mamaw's recipe box is well-used, and not in pristine condition. I love the design, and had another just like it and scanned it to get the images I needed. I also found a tray on Etsy that Ohio Art made to go with it, because it was apparently a very popular design with several accessories. (Mom even found a watering can for me.)

Here's my inspiration for the motifs that I painted into the insets on the sides, and on the drawers:

I measured each of the insets and the drawers, figured out which motifs I was going to use, and then used Photoshop's "find edges" command so I wasn't printing full color images of what I resized. I then traced those onto tracing paper, and applied the images to the bookcase with graphite paper. I held the tracing and graphite paper on with painter's tape, so the design didn't shift while I was tracing it. The blue bird on the tray above was my fourth motif; to make it I just reversed the pink bird's branch, and swapped the blue one in. The heart from the box lid (left, top image), had to be reduced and squished down a little to make it fit on the round knob. It's also elevated in position on the drawer, in order to get the size I wanted on the drawer without the tulip running off the edge. (Easier to see, below.)

And here is my finished love letter to Mamaw:

Closer look at drawer and sides.
That's not even close to all the cookbooks I have.
Some transformation! I'm incredibly proud of that. With the paint and other materials, it ended up costing more than $25, of course, but I have something that is a giant reminder of my grandmother, that is a functional piece of furniture that goes with my kitchen, and is sturdier shelving for my heavy cookbook collection than the baker's rack I was using (that was starting to lean under the weight -- yikes!).

I suppose what I hope you'll take away from this is the inspiration that your family recipes are more than just the meals. It's the history, and the memories of the people. I feel so very privileged to be The Keeper of the Box. How you honor the memories of those who came before is up to you, but don't limit yourself to cookbooks. Inspiration is everywhere.

The original box.
Because it would not close, and things could not be
removed without fear of damaging them,
everything has been relocated to an acid-free
binder for conservation purposes.


By the way, if you're hyper-organized, and have a cooperative family, there is time to get a family cookbook put together in time for the holidays. You might make yourself a little nutty, but you can do it! I put ours together starting in October, and had them done by Christmas. (That was 15 years ago, probably time for a new one!)
Available at Amazon.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

May Foodie Holidays: Week 4

May 22 - Vanilla Pudding Day
May 23 - Taffy Day
May 24 - Escargot Day
May 25 - Wine Day
May 26 - Blueberry Cheesecake Day
May 27 - Grape Popsicle Day
May 28 - Hamburger Day, Brisket Day
May 29 - Coq au Vin Day
May 30 - Mint Julep Day
May 31 - Macaroon Day

Grilling season is here! Maybe you have men in your family who rule the grill. Be sure to ask them for recipes or tips for the things they cook.

Cherry-Lime Macaroons (my own recipe, developed for a friend)
1 C. sweetened condensed milk
3 C. + shredded coconut
1/4 C. flour
1/4 C. minced sour cherries and/or maraschino cherries
4 Tbsp. lime juice
lime zest from the lime
1/4 tsp. salt

Directions: Preheat oven to 350F. Pour sweetened condensed milk into a bowl, add remaining ingredients and mix well. Add more coconut if it seems too gooey. Drop into small balls and place on a parchment-lined cookie sheet. Bake 12-13 minutes until brown. Let cool on the cookie sheet 10 minutes before removing – once cool, they will peel off easily.

Available at Amazon.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

May Foodie Holidays: Week 3

May 15 - Chocolate Chip Cookie Day; International Day of Families, Family Cookbook Day
May 16 - Coquilles St. Jacques Day
May 17 - Cherry Cobbler Day
May 18 - Cheese Soufflé Day
May 19 - Devil's Food Cake Day
May 20 - Quiche Lorraine Day
May 21 - Strawberries and Cream Day

Beginning in 1993, May 15th was declared by the United Nations to be the International Day of Families: "The International Day provides an opportunity to promote awareness of issues relating to families and to increase knowledge of the social, economic and demographic processes affecting families." I think it's also the perfect time to celebrate family, acknowledge roots and history, cultural shifts and traditions... through food.

Family recipes trace a subtle (or overt) history, where we come from, what our heritage is, what traditions we hold. It's important to preserve those histories and traditions, important to know where we've come from. A family cookbook is just one way to do that.

Chocolate chip cookies have a million variations. How many does your family have? (Be sure to include them all, so no one's favorite gets left out!)

Available at Amazon.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

May Foodie Holidays: Week 2

May 8 - Coconut Cream Pie Day
May 9 - Butterscotch Brownie Day
May 10 - Shrimp Day
May 11 Mocha Torte Day; MOTHER'S DAY!
May 12 - Nutty Fudge Day
May 13 - Apple Pie Day
May 14 - Buttermilk Biscuit Day

Sunday, May 11th is Mother's Day! Seize the opportunity to spend some time with your mom if you can, whether you talk about family recipes or not. 

Not all of the recipes in your family's boxes will be handwritten; expect to find plenty of clippings, too! This one was in my grandmother's box, from Nestle. I wasn't able to find a date, but it's old enough that I don't recognize the package design (so 1970s probably?), and I don't think butterscotch chips are even sold in 6-ounce packages anymore.


Debbie’s Fudge (white or chocolate)

1 stick margarine
2 C. sugar
2/3 C. Milnot
14 large marshmallows
small pkg. chocolate chips OR 4 oz. white chocolate
1/2 C. peanut butter OR 1 C nuts
Directions: In a heavy saucepan, boil the first four ingredients for exactly 3 minutes and 20 seconds. Remove from heat and add the chocolate. Stir until melted and add the peanut butter or the nuts. Pour into a buttered 9x9” pan and cut when cool.
NOTE: On a humid day, cook for 10 seconds longer.


They aren't buttermilk biscuits, but they are my mamaw's biscuits, that Mom stood next to her, measuring ingredients (because her mother-in-law didn't, she just dumped things in a bowl) to get.

Grandma Mabel’s Biscuits
4 C. self-rising flour
1/2 C. powdered milk
handful shortening

Directions: Put flour in a bowl. Make a well in the flour; pour the powdered milk in it. Add the shortening. Add water, a little at a time, working in flour from the sides. When the consistency is right, scoop by handfuls onto a floured surface. Pat into a biscuit shape with floured hands. Bake at 450ºF until light golden brown.

Available at Amazon.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

May Foodie Holidays: Week 1

May 1 - Chocolate Parfait Day
May 2 - Truffle (Candy) Day
May 3 - Raspberry Tart Day
May 4 - Lemonade Day, Candied Orange Peel Day
May 5 - Chocolate Custard Day, Hoagie Day
May 6 - Crêpes Suzette Day
May 7 - Roast Leg of Lamb Day

No recipes this month -- I don't have family recipes for any of those holidays!

Mother's Day is May 11th this year, and a great time to get together with your mom and go through those family recipes. If you want to compile a family cookbook in time for Christmas (or Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa, or Yule), now's the time!

Why is Mother's Day the best time to start this project? Because women do the balance of the cooking in most households, most recipes are passed mother to daughter, and starting now gives you six months to get all the recipes you want from your family and have your family cookbook ready in time for the winter holidays. Creating an Heirloom: Writing Your Family's Cookbook takes you through every step of the process. It's easier than you think!

Available at Amazon.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

April Foodie Holidays: Week 4

April 22 - Jelly Bean Day
April 23 - Cherry Cheesecake Day, Picnic Day
April 24 - Pigs-in-a-Blanket Day
April 25 - Zucchini Bread Day, DNA Day
April 26 - Pretzel Day
April 27 - Prime Rib Day
April 28 - Blueberry Pie Day
April 29 - Shrimp Scampi Day
April 30 - Oatmeal Cookie Day

Jelly beans are a fairly recent confection (at least in terms of food history), having been around since the mid-1800s. The Jelly Belly brand of beans came into prominence when Ronald Regan was in the White House, as he favored them specifically.

Depending on where you live, April 23rd may still be too chilly to enjoy a picnic outside, but there's also cherry cheesecake for that day, so you're still covered. 

Having a recipe for zucchini bread comes in handy later in the summer, when that one zucchini plant in your garden is producing way more than you ever considered it might. This one is from my mother's mother: 

DNA Day marks the day the Watson, Crick, Wilkins and Franklin published their paper in Nature on the structure of DNA. There has been a fairly recent trend in genealogy to make use of this science to better understand lineage. It's not a cheap test, generally $100 and up depending on how much information you want, but it can be a really interesting one. (When I win the lottery, I'll probably do this, but until then... it's not a priority.)

I love oatmeal raisin cookies, but my husband prefers them with chocolate chips (weird). I'm working on a recipe for oatmeal bacon cookies, that the first trial was a huge success according to a friend of mine. Here's the recipe my mother-in-law gave me when I was compiling our cookbook: 

Oatmeal Cookies

1 C. brown sugar
1 C. sugar
1 C. oil
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
1 1/2 C. flour
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. cinnamon
3 C. oatmeal
chocolate chips or nuts as desired

Directions: Cream the sugars and oil together. Add vanilla. Add the dry ingredients except oatmeal and mix well. Add oatmeal gradually. Stir in chocolate chips or nuts as desired. Drop in spoonfuls onto a cookie sheet. Bake at 350ºF for about 10 minutes until golden.

Available at Amazon.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

April Foodie Holidays: Week 3

April 15 - Glazed Ham Day
April 16 - Eggs Benedict Day
April 17 - Cheese Ball Day, Ellis Island Family History Day
Apri; 18 - Animal Crackers Day
April 19 - Garlic Day, Amaretto Day
April 20 - Pineapple Upside-down Cake Day
April 21 - Chocolate Covered Cashews Day

Cheese balls may have their origins in the Southern United States, and are frequently made as a party food at Christmas or for other gatherings.

I'm pretty sure that's my aunt's handwriting, but the paper it's written
on is from the car dealership her dad (my Papaw) worked at before
he retired. Things like this will help you research family history
because it will tell you where they were at that point in time.
Also on April 17th, is Ellis Island Family History Day. Did your ancestors come through Ellis Island? Use the Ellis Island search form and find out!
Ellis Island Family History Day was first celebrated on April 17, 2001 to commemorate the opening of the American Family Immigration History Center® at Ellis Island and its companion website:

Animal crackers were originally imported from England in the late 1800s, but were so popular in the U.S. that companies began making them domestically. The "Barnum's Animals," named for the circus, didn't appear until 1902. The string on the box was so that they could be hung on the Christmas tree, as they were produced as a holiday treat. It was so popular, that the packaging persists even today.

Pineapple Upside-down Cake is a particular favorite of mine. Mom always asked us what kind of cake we wanted for our birthdays. For my 21st, I requested pineapple upside-down cake. Mom got creative since you can't frost it, used crushed pineapple instead of rings, and used the cherries to create the number 21.

Available at Amazon.