Book Review of Pushing the Line by Kimberly Kincaid and a Recipe Review of the recipe it contained Grandma Izzy’s Pecan Clusters

PushingTheLinebyKimberlyKincaid

There is an entire sub-genre within the romance and mystery genres that involves cooking and baking where a particular recipe plays an important role in character development or the plot’s unfolding. The heroes of these culinary romances are generally no-nonsense women who have a business to run, or life to live, and children and grandchildren to raise. Through cooking for and feeding others these heroes express and often identify their femininity and inner goddess. I am oversimplifying the idea but these female heroes don’t need the hero in their lives, but through cooking for him they reveal to themselves they are a woman, have womanly thoughts, and the hero might be good to have around.

I do not read contemporary romances and hardly any mystery novels so I have missed out on this sub-genre. Most I have seen on the self, at least mystery-wise, look like I would get cavities by reading the book, if it were possible. Pushing the Line was a self-published book on the 2015 RWA RITA Award finalists’ listings so I thought I would give it a try.

Book Review: Pushing the Line by Kimberly Kincaid

Pushing the Line (No. 4 of The Line Series) by Kimberly Kincaid is a 2015 RWA RITA Award finalist in the novella category. Pushing the Line is a self-published novella. The RWA Rita Awards define a novella as a story between 20,000 and 40,000 words long. Other literary and genre awards recognize different word count maximums as their definition of a novella (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Novella). Novellas generally contain chapters, think Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, whereas short stories have a blank line between sections.

Novellas, because of their nature are often quick reads and contemporary romance Pushing the Line is no different. One can read Pushing the Line in under 3 hours. I purchased it as an e-book and its formatting within my Kindle was not a problem to the reading experience. In summary, Harper McGee a free spirited artist crashes, emotionally and physically, back to her hometown after the death of her beloved grandmother who raised her. She discovers her grandmother left her the local landmark candy shop, and what does someone who has not spent more than seven days in one place since college do with a such business. The candy shop coincidentally and mysteriously catches fire after the reading of the will. McGee rushes into the burning building (????) and our hero Aaron Fisher the fireman leads (drags?) her out of the dangerous situation. McGee cannot sell the business after the fire until the building is brought up to city building codes, so she contracts to have the renovation done and guess who is the sub-contractor (this is quite believable, actually): our hero Fisher the fireman. Sparks fly and embers burn as McGee and Fisher, both rootless, figure out what to do with the attraction between them. Here enters the mystical, magical pecan cluster chocolate candy. This recipe is a plot device that proves to all who eat the candy, and to McGee, she is the mythical feminine figure who possesses the magic to cook this recipe like no one else. It is a romance novella and ends as a romance should.

Pushing the Line is very well done. It deserved its RWA RITA nomination. I kept expecting the disagreeable cousin to demand McGee sell the candy shop so he could receive a full portion of the inheritance. I fully expected him to be behind the candy shop fire. I still feel the old wiring explanation is not right, and the disagreeable cousin faded from the story much to easily. Perhaps in an effort to keep the story under 40,000 words that complication had to be edited out. I did not know how Kincaid was going to wrap up the story for her happily ever after ending, and she provided a good ending. Pushing the Line was well written, well formatted, and an enjoyable read.

Recipe Review: Grandma Izzy’s Pecan Clusters

I made Grandma Izzy’s Pecan Clusters as Kincaid presented the recipe at the end of Pushing the Line. I knew that as I read through the recipe the first time there were going to be problems. The end of the recipe she says to drop the chocolate and pecan mixture by a tablespoon onto waxed-paper sheets. I did not see how the evaporated milk-sugar mixture could hold any shape when hot, so I used little shaped squares and any excess would be treated as goo and shaped later with a spoon. Where the recipe goes wrong is it does not tell the reader/candy maker how hot to heat the evaporated milk-sugar mixture. I followed the recipe as written and did not use a candy thermometer.

There is nothing magical about basic cooking and this is a basic recipe. Cooking and baking is plain, old fashion chemistry. Cook the candy until it reaches the temperature point of “soft ball”, and you can get all fancy after that. Once you master, for example, cooking a hard-boiled egg you can then get fancy and magical with the deviled egg recipes, but you have to learn how to boil the egg first.

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Evaporated milk, sugar, and clear corn syrup mixture heating in a double boiler.

So, you have the sugar and corn syrup and evaporated milk heating in the double boiler (a very important thing that double boiler) and you now need to take your candy thermometer and heat the mixture until the thermometer reads 230 °F (110 °C). Stir constantly for two minutes, and do not let the heat rise above 240 °F (115.5 °C), otherwise the sugar will do things you don’t want it to do. Remove from heat and carefully add in small amounts the milk chocolate chips or pieces, stirring between additions until what you added melted. Then, add the pecans and stir until coated. I chopped the pecans into small pieces. Spoon into your candy forms or chance the waxed paper. Refrigerate immediately.

cluster in form (640x427)

Spooning the chocolate pecan mixture into the candy forms.

I did not allow the evaporated milk-sugar mixture to get hot enough and it was a soft goo that did not take any shape even after refrigerated overnight. It has to be eaten with a spoon. It tastes very good spread on toast.

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The soft chocolate pecan mixture after being refrigerated overnight was not solid enough to hold a form. It tastes good when spread on toast.

Grandma Izzy’s Pecan Clusters taste good, but you need to use a candy thermometer to get the evaporated milk-sugar mixture hot enough the sugar dissolves properly so that you get to the “soft ball” phase. Enjoy this good recipe and its good story.

Pushing the Line (No. 4 of The Line Series) is available as an e-book and as a printed book through your favorite online retailer or by ordering through your local book store. You can check with your local library or state library to see if it is available. If not, request it.

 

Here is a link to Kimberly Kincaid’s website. You can order it through her links. That helps her out, too.

http://www.kimberlykincaid.com/index.html

For a quick summary of candy making, I would encourage you to look at Wikipedia’s entry. The entry reports “soft ball” starts at 234 °F (112 °C), but I think there is enough wiggle room when it comes to thermometer accuracy to think 230 °F (110 °C) is a good starting point, too.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Candy_making

 

Recipe Review: Sweet Potato Bread with Caramel and Aleppo-Spiced Pecans by Gerardo Gonzalez (Epicurious, September 2014)

SweetPotatoblogNoahVerrier

“Sweet Potato” oil on canvas panel, 10X8, by Noah Verrier featured on Verrier’s Daily Paintings blog on 17 June 2009

The sweet potato [Ipomoea batas (L.) Lam.] is a tuber vegetable plant that originated and was domesticated millennia ago somewhere between the Yucatan Peninsula of modern Mexico and Orinoco River in modern Venezuela. Our modern sweet potato is a member of the morning glory family Convolvulaceae family and possibly only distantly related to the potato (Solanum tuberosum L.) of the nightshade Solanaceae family. Sweet potato is purported to be the only globally important food crop among the Convolvulaceae. A raw, unpeeled sweet potato is rich in antioxidants and fiber. The sweet potato is not grown from seed, and does not tolerate frost. The sweet potato plant does not tolerate water-logged soils, and does best in sandy soil. University of Missouri Extension suggests home gardeners plant the tuber slips in raised beds or a black plastic mulch pieces and then cover with an organic mulch such as straw or hay.

Sweet potatoes have become a prominent component of the US “Southern” identity in the past couple of decades. The tuber was documented as being grown in Virginia in 1648. Sweet potato was documented as being grown by the local Native American residents when the first Acadian Canadians, now known as Cajuns, arrived in Louisiana in the mid-1700s. The sweet potato probably was not present at the Massachusetts Pilgrim’s Thanksgiving celebrations unless the Native American neighbors brought them. Yams (Dioscorea species) originated in Africa, and probably were also unknown to the Pilgrims and their rocky New England soils.

Recently Southern US themed women magazines have celebrated preparing sweet potatoes for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and everyday meals. Fried sweet potato fries and baked chips are popular sandwich side dishes. Mashed and baked sweet potatoes are more common at restaurants. What modern sweet potato enthusiasts conveniently forget is that sweet potatoes were the food of poor people, both black and white and all those colored folks in between. If one had any money one did not eat sweet potatoes. Once people left poverty and the South behind it is my understanding no one wanted to even smell sweet potatoes except when the “traditional” American holiday dinner required it.

We found ourselves with an abundance of purchased sweet potatoes several months ago. When cured correctly, sweet potatoes last up to 10 months if dry and stored at 55 to 60°F (12.7 to 15.5 °C) at high humidity. These potatoes that we acquired were not cured well and needed used as soon as possible. One can only eat so many of variations of mashed sweet potatoes.

The sweet potato bread recipe called for a pound of sweet potatoes. I weighed out 16 ¾ oz raw sweet potatoes. The recipe called for piercing the sweet potatoes several times then baking on a baking sheet, but I did not do that. I peeled and then wrapped the potatoes in aluminum foil and baked at 400 °F (204.4 °C) for an hour. I pureed the baked sweet potatoes and scooped out 1 ⅓ cup of sweet potatoes into a mixing bowl and allowed the purée to cool so not to cook the eggs. I used half-and-half and not whole milk. A quarter cup (2 oz) half-and-half is easier to obtain than 2 oz whole milk. Use a tasteless oil such as canola so that the sweetness of the potatoes comes through. The dry ingredients were added as instructed in batches to the wet ingredients. It is very important to use cake flour. Cake flour is milled finer than all-purpose flour. Cake flour produces a more delicate crumb and texture than all-purpose flour which is more desirable in a heavier batter quick bread. It is important to gently stir until all the dry ingredients are just moist. The batter does not photograph well.

halfway through baking (640x442)

the sweet potato bread after 30 minutes of baking

I poured the batter into a greased loaf pan. The oven was set to 325 °F (162.7 °C). As directed I turned the loaf 180° around 30 minutes into the baking time. The recipe says allow 60 to 75 minutes to bake. It took 70 minutes baking for the toothpick to come out clean.

after 65 minutes

toothpick after 65 minutes of baking

clean toothpick 70 minutes

a clean toothpick after 70 minutes of baking

After the bread (cake) had cooled it slipped out of the loaf pan easily. I topped the loaf with 3 tablespoons dulce de leche. Amazing stuff that dulce de leche. I sprinkled about ⅛ teaspoon salt over the caramel topping. I could not find any Maldon type salt except in a King Arthur Flour catalog, so I used a medium ground sea salt. I toasted ⅓ cup chopped pecans, the recipe called for ¼ cup, in a 325 °F (162.7 °C) oven for about eight minutes stirring frequently for even toasting, and pressed the pecan pieces into the caramel. I could not find Aleppo pepper flakes outside of a catalog or the internet. I am not sure what 1 ½ teaspoon pepper flakes would add.

sliced sweet potato bread

sliced sweet potato bread with dulce de leche and toasted pecans

The sweet potato bread was cake-like and we ate it as a dessert. It was amazing. This bread/cake was very moist and maintained its moistness over a couple of days. I have made this recipe several times over the past couple months. This is a type of bread/cake that you would spend $4.5 for a slice in a nice coffee shop. Did I mention the break/cake is amazing?

The recipe can be found at: http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/sweet-potato-bread-with-caramel-and-aleppo-spiced-pecans-51249830

“Sweet Potato” oil on canvas panel, 10X8, by Noah Verrier featured on Verrier’s Daily Paintings blog on 17 June 2009 http://noahverrier.blogspot.com/2009/06/sweet-potato-oil-on-canvas-panel-10×8.html

If you want to know more about the harvest of US sweet potatoes, here is a report from NPR.  “Behind Your Holiday Sweet Potato Dish, Hard Work In The Fields” by Dan Charles. Updated January 11, 201612:12 PM ET, Published November 24, 20155:32 AM ET http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2015/11/24/457203127/behind-your-holiday-sweet-potato-dish-hard-work-in-the-fields

If you want to grow your own sweet potatoes, the University of Missouri Extension has a nice write-up. http://extension.missouri.edu/publications/DisplayPub.aspx?P=G6368

Poetry Review: Letters, To The Men I Have Loved (2014) by Mirtha Michelle Castro Mármol

“…who shall measure the heat and violence of a poet’s heart when caught and tangled in a woman’s body?” – from A Room of One’s Own (1929) by Virginia Woolf (1882-1941)

I am aware there is such a thing as narrative poetry, and I am not a fan of the narrative poetry form. However, who am I to say what a poetry form is? For example, what form defines a sonnet? Some 20th century sonnets are one letter per line so one word is spelled vertically. You know when you see it that the poem is a sonnet. Traditionalists will argue a sonnet must be iambic pentameter with exactly 14 lines ending with a heroic couplet. My “experimental” sonnets are not iambic but they do have 14 lines. Elizabeth Bishop’s posthumous published “Sonnet” (1979) is a reverse sonnet and is gorgeous. Back to narrative poetry, an essay can become a poem, maybe, while a poem can be an essay. Possibly the intended purpose of the poem or essay should dictate how it is pigeon-holed by its reader. But more often than not it is the form of the poem on the page that determines how it is perceived by the reader.

Letters, To The Men I Have Loved (2014) is a combination of letter/essays and poems written by Castro Mármol about and directed towards male family members and her former lovers. She admires and frets over her male relatives. She is very open with what happened between her and her lovers, and how that particular relationship ended messily. I have no idea how anyone can be that open about their relationships even when I, an absolute stranger, have no idea who these men are. I am originally from a small US Midwestern town where it is important to have everything about your life be private. There is a sharp divide between your public life and your private life. It is not about keeping secrets, but what happens between you and another person is not to be shared. So, reading about the relationships between Castro Mármol and her lovers was at first awkward. I can understand how this would be cathartic exercise and the artistic result is good. You don’t know anything about anything until you write about it. Some poets that I know would call the letter/essays poems in themselves, but I am not comfortable with that classification. The letter/essays convey something more than the poems. The letter/essays are better than the poems.

The poetry is the cathartic getting-over-the-relationship type that is universal among all humans even when they do not write poetry. The difference between the angst-wrung poetry most people write and throw in the trashcan and what Castro Mármol wrote is Castro Mármol’s poems are good. Some are breathtaking. If you have experienced a messy breakup, then you will empathize with her sentiments.

What I admire most about this collection is Castro Mármol writes as a woman and exclusively with a woman’s voice. The vast majority of Western women fiction, poets, and (especially) nonfiction writers write with a male slant even when the “voice” or “character” of the piece is female. I would argue it is an unconscious habit learned from equally unaware teachers. Historically a woman had to write, or imitate a “male” voice if she wanted a passing grade, to obtain a graduate degree, or to have her writing published. In A Room of One’s Own (1929) by Virginia Woolf, Woolf discusses the necessity of a woman writing as a woman to be a complete human being and how, at the time she gave the lecture to a group of British, upper to middle class, women university students in 1928, writing as a woman was a precarious activity. Finding this collection by a woman poet writing as a woman on a national chain bookstore shelf as a new book makes me feel better about the world. I look forward to seeing what Castro Mármol does next.

Letters, To Men I Have Loved (ISBN: 978-1-4787-3590-8) can be found at bookstores, online through your favorite bookseller, and at your friendly public library. It was illustrated by Deanna First.

Castro Mármol’s website can be found at http://mirthamichelle.com/ .

The publisher Outskirts Press (http://www.outskirtspress.com) is a self-publishing company. The poetry and letter/essay collection can be ordered online at http://outskirtspress.com/mirthamichelle/ .

 

A discussion (2000) on Elizabeth Bishop’s poem “Sonnet” in The Atlantic. “Sonnet” was first published in 1979 three weeks after Bishop’s death. http://www.theatlantic.com/past/docs/unbound/poetry/soundings/bishop.htm

Quotes from Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own (1929) via GoodReads.  http://www.goodreads.com/work/quotes/1315615-a-room-of-one-s-own

Recipe Review: Blackberry Muffins (2003) by Beth Hensperger

A summer berry muffin ready to eat.

A blackberry muffin.

“‘You’re out and about so much more these days,’ said Cecil. ‘Why don’t you join us on Blackberry Night?’

This was his great idea? ‘You’re mad!’

Good girls didn’t romp about on Blackberry Night. Father has strong opinions about it. His biggest, fattest sermon of the year is all about Blackberry Night, which is also Michaelmas, when is also when Archangel hurled the Devil from Heaven. Naturally, this annoyed the Devil considerably, and goes about on that night spoiling the blackberries.

‘I’ll protect you,’ said Cecil, laying his hand over mine.

I whipped my hand away. ‘Cecil!’

On Blackberry Night, the lads and lasses run barefoot through the swamp, pretending to try to catch the Devil; but it would appear the Devil catches them instead, for they consume quantities of beer and wine, and they shed their clothes, and there are always a number of surprise weddings come Advent.”

From Chapter 16 – The Party’s Always Over at Midnight, from Chime (2011) by Franny Billingsley

This is the legend as I understand it. At the end of the battle of who would rule Heaven, Archangel Michael pushed the then-angel Lucifer one final time and Lucifer fell all the way to Earth and landed in a bramble patch. The bramble patch was full of thorns and blackberries. Lucifer, already furious at losing his access to Heaven and God, thrashed his way out of the brambles, cursing the thorny vines and staining berries as he went. So, no one is to pick blackberries after Michaelmas, because the Devil cursed them. This victory by Archangel Michael and his band of angels is one of the events celebrated at Michaelmas, a traditional Roman Catholic Church holiday adapted by the British Isle Anglican Church. When Michaelmas is to occur seems to depend on who you are talking to or reading. Some would have it be September 29, the traditional “quarter day” when rents were due. Others would have you wait until October 10 or 11. I understand a more modern celebration of Michaelmas has been pushed up to the Autumn Equinox, September 21.

Michaelmas was in some sense a traditional second harvest festival, or a thanksgiving celebration. The harvests were all in, whatever was required had been sold to pay the rent, and the first frost historically could be expected any day towards the end of September. Blackberries would have been in abundance, and hard to preserve outside of jellies or jams, so they would need to be used as picked. Stories about the food served at any holiday can define a culture, so blackberry dishes and associated stories around Michaelmas would help define the local traditions and culture.

Blackberry muffins are tasty year round thanks to freezers. I was reading about Michaelmas, a much mentioned calendar date in Regency and historical romance novels – Mr. Bingley of Austin’s Pride and Prejudice was to decide to keep or release his lease of Netherfield Park by Michalemas – and thought blackberry muffins sounded good. I went to my trusty cookbooks and did not find a recipe. So I went online and found a promising looking recipe on the Williams-Sonoma website. I have seen Williams-Sonoma ceramic mixing bowls, usually chipped, in junk stores. What told me this was the recipe to use was it was designed by Beth Hensperger for the Williams-Sonoma Collection Series, Muffins (2003). I do not think Hensperger has ever developed a bad muffin recipe.

I used a frozen three-berry mix of blackberries, blueberries, and red raspberries. This worked fine. Following the recipe was simple. The recipe called for maintaining the structure of the berries. The berries only need to be stirred three times after adding to the batter. This keeps the white quick bread white. I prefer to mash part of the berries up and swirl within the batter. When I make this recipe again I will mash all the berries so there are no empty spaces within the muffin where the berry has cooked then collapsed. Mashing the berries is my preference for an everyday muffin. Keeping the berries whole looks pretty and would work for a holiday brunch or breakfast.

I like the pecan crumb top to the muffins. The crumb topping adds sweetness and finger-licking goodness to your breakfast. Even though the muffins do not need the crumb topping, I encourage you to keep it.

A close up of the topping on four berry muffins still in the pan.

A close up of the topping on four berry muffins still in the pan.

Another reason to incorporate mashed berries into the batter is it keeps the muffins from sticking to a well-greased and floured muffin tin. I was not expecting the problem of removing the muffins from the pans. I had to leave the muffins in pan until the next morning after the muffin pan spent the night in the refrigerator. I dislike using paper cups because I just do. For this recipe I would recommend silicon muffin baking dishes or decorative muffin paper cups, if you have them. The biggest problem was the muffins sticking to the pan.

The recipe said it made twelve muffins. Here are all the muffins still in the pan.

The recipe said it made twelve muffins. Here are all the muffins still in the pan they did not want to leave.

I will be making this recipe again. I will be using the crumb topping in recipes that do not call for it. This is a fun recipe to make for family because the finished muffin is pretty as well as tasty.

The recipe is located online at:

http://www.williams-sonoma.com/recipe/blackberry-muffins.html

Chime by Franny Billingsley was a finalist for a National Book Award for Young People’s Literature (US) in 2011. It is a beautifully written, if slow at times, “growing up” story. The protagonist “came of age” before the book started, I think. I cannot tell you the “coming of age” backstory without spoiling the a gorgeously written book. In the first scene she is presented at the train station by her village pastor father as a child, but she does not have a child’s “voice”. By the end of the story she has grown into that adult voice we met in the first chapter. Check Chime out from your favorite public library, or purchase it from a local bookstore, or from your favorite online retailor.

In Addition: Besides the story of the Devil falling into the bramble, stories also include Pan and other satyrs fouling the berry vines after Michaelmas.

Poetry Review: She of the Dreaming Sky (2005) by Diane C. Randall

reviewcover (480x640)

“She of the Dreaming Sky” (2005) took time to assimilate. Randall describes her poetry as “spiritual poetry” and that is true. The challenge when reading “spiritual poetry” is not to be intimidated or put off by the intimacy expressed by the poet. A spiritual expression, in my mind, is an effort to get at as direct as possible the point of entry where the artist makes first contact with the word, music, image, motion, or other creative endeavor without judgement as it enters his or her conscious awareness. Anyone who can do this well for an entire poetry collection is to be commended.

Western European art and poetry often desire to use the entire planet’s cultural treasure chest in its creative expression. Randall uses the entire North American cultural palette with a deft hand. Some individuals may find reflections of their own insecurities in her poetry, and criticize her for that perceived appropriation. My response to such complaints is two questions: Who are you to order the structure of image or sound or voice of the interaction of a soul and spirit at point of contact? What are you projecting onto what is in front of you?

The poems within “She of the Dreaming Sky” took time to unwrap. I selected it from the bookstore shelf because it was the first woman-authored poetry collection I pulled from the shelf. First read-through I was disappointed. The poems felt cliché and, as someone who has over the years hung out with Tai Chi practitioners and aging hippies, tired. Then, I would read a line or phrase whose clarity stunned me.

Reading the poems in “She of the Dreaming Sky” is like watching an autumn cloudy sky being cleared of gray clouds by a brisk north wind. The clouds are moving, going somewhere, and a patch of painfully blue sky appears above you. The brilliant blue sky is there existing behind the clouds all the time. You as reader must have patience to wait for the clouds to clear. One after another the poems became clear – or I became clear – with the passage of time.

The book comes with a compact disc sound recording of eight poems from “She of the Dreaming Sky” read with music in the background. This is a good multi-media presentation of the work. Artwork throughout the collection is by Randall. It all looks and sounds good.

“She of the Dreaming Sky” made me cognizant of what I project onto the world. I had to work for that realization, and to appreciate the quality of these poems. This collection contains many more good to excellent poems than okay to “meh” poems that you see in other collections identifying themselves as “spiritual poetry”. It is easy for “spiritual poetry” to be cloyingly grocery store cake frosting sweet, extremely earnest, and downright icky in my opinion. Randall avoids those pitfalls by crafting her poems to get to as close as she can to that point of contact between the subconscious and that part of her that devises words.

I have not located a website for either Diane C. Randall or her publisher Pearl’s Book ‘em Publisher. “She of the Dreaming Sky” is available on online and through your favorite local bookstore or library.

If you are interested in “spiritual jazz” I would recommend Raven Wolf C. Felton Jennings II. He creates spiritual jazz of the St. Louis tradition and is phenomenal. Pug Dog Records is his own label. As Raven Wolf says, “Change your music, change your life”.    http://www.pugdogrecords.com/node/9

Recipe Review: Morning Glory Muffins by Pam McKinstry

“Merry Christmas, little daughters! I’m glad you began at once, and hope you will keep on. But I want to say one word before we sit down. Not far away from here lies a poor woman with a little new-born baby. Six children are huddled into one bed to keep from freezing, for they have no fire. There is nothing to eat over there; and the oldest boy came to tell me they were suffering hunger and cold. My girls, will you give them your breakfast as a Christmas present?”

They were all unusually hungry, having waited nearly an hour, and for a minute no one spoke; only a minute, for Jo exclaimed impetuously,—

“I’m so glad you came before we began!”

“May I go and help carry the things to the poor little children?” asked Beth, eagerly.

I shall take the cream and the muffins,” added Amy, heroically giving up the articles she most liked.”

From “Little Women” (1868, 1869), Chapter II A Merry Christmas by Louisa May Alcott (1832-1888)

“[European] Muffins. good, but indigestible…” from “Mark Twain’s Notebooks and Journals, Volume II: (1877-1883)”

For several years I was making muffins all the time. It was not the muffin fad that came and, for the most part went in the last ten years, but Beth Hensperger’s “The Best Quick Breads” (2000) cookbook I think I acquired through an art-and-craft book club. I enjoy quick breads, but storing and freezing muffins is an easier way of eating quick bread when you live on your own alone.

I found no mention of the word “muffin” or “crumpet” or any alternate spellings in Samuel Johnson’s 1785 Dictionary of the English Language. An English muffin, also called Yorkshire muffin, or rock bread is a yeast bread cooked on a griddle in the kitchen, or a flat rock over hot embers. Documentation of English muffins goes back the 13th century. According to etymonline.com the word “muffin” first made an appearance in 1703. “Crumpet” can be found in written use in the 1690s. Jane Austin would have known what a muffin or crumpet was, but it may not have been socially acceptable for her, or her characters, to consume such a working class food. I have not studied Austin’s letters or other writing to know either way. Muffin men were 17th century through early 20th century English street food vendors who cooked the bread on griddles fresh for their customers. So, the food trucks that specialize in modern muffins and oven-fresh cookies are continuing a culinary tradition possibly dating back to the time of England’s Elizabeth I.

Recipes for what Americans, coffee house, and muffin enthusiasts would recognize as a “muffin” possibly first appeared in the USA’s very first cookbook “American Cookery” (1796) by Amelia Simmons. Simmons’ “American Cookery” was the first to include as an ingredient a very refined potash or pearlash, a native-to-North America alkali leavening agent. Through the generation of carbon dioxide while baking, including pearlash caused the bread to rise as seen with modern baking powder. This was the birth of the modern quick bread. Identifiable muffin recipes appeared in US cookbooks in the early 19th century along with the entry of muffin pans into the marketplace and kitchen.

The recent muffin fad was not the first muffin fad. When I was little in the 1980s there was a muffin recipe that was all the rage. When we visited my aunt in the Kansas City area (Kansas side) she made Morning Glory Muffins which she loved. The recipe came from Nantucket Island which in the Midwestern imagination was the playground of the rich and famous. When I was ten years old I did not appreciate what a Morning Glory Muffin was or what it represented to the larger American culture.

From what I have been able to find, Morning Glory Muffins were first put together by Chef Pam McKinstry  in 1978 for her Morning Glory Café on Nantucket Island, a 3-by-15 mile long island about 30 miles off of the coast of Massachusetts. The original Morning Glory Muffin recipe appeared in Gourmet magazine in the reader submitted recipe section in 1981. Appearing in the reader submitted recipe section of Gourmet was like winning an Olympic gold medal. The muffin recipe ‘went viral’ by 1981 standards. In 1991 the recipe was selected by readers as one of Gourmet’s twenty-five favorite recipes published in the previous fifty years (1940-1990 or 1941-1991).

The Morning Glory Muffin is a catch-all recipe that uses lots of odds and ends that can be found in a busy bakery and café. The crushed pineapple, two cups grated carrots, grated apple, raisins, shredded coconut, and pecans are all in amounts that look like to me Chef McKinstry had enough to make something, but not enough of any one ingredient, except maybe carrots, to make anything in particular. The results are wonderful, rich, sweet, and freezes well muffins.

Morning Glory Muffins

Morning Glory Muffins

This is a very easy muffin recipe. You spend more time grating and chopping the ingredients than you do mixing. Use canola oil as directed or another flavorless cooking oil. A more forward flavor cooking oil will negatively interact with the oils in the nuts and other botanical compounds in all the fruit and vegetable ingredients.

I would strongly recommend hand mixing in a large glass mixing bowl. The batter is thick and heavy. A hand-held electric mixer would be overwhelmed by the heaviness of the batter. A hand-held electric mixer works great to mix and aerate the liquid ingredients, mixing the eggs and oil until almost double in volume. With a stand mixer it would be very easy to overmix the combined dry ingredients and wet ingredients. Overmixing is a danger when making quick breads. Overmixed quick bread is heavy because the gluten in the flour activated while mixing and the bread does not raise while baking. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and hand stir until the mixture is just combined, and the flour only just moist. Gently spoon the batter into paper-lined or well-greased muffin pan cups. Place in hot 350°F (176.7°C) oven and leave the door closed for thirty minutes. No Peaking (Mother!Jamie!Dad!Sam!). The muffins are done when the tester comes out clean after being inserted into the baked muffin.

Morning Glory Muffins made from the original recipe by Chef Pam McKinstry.

Morning Glory Muffins made from the original recipe by Chef Pam McKinstry.

The muffins would be good for a Sunday or holiday brunch. They really do need to sit for at least overnight to reach their best flavor and texture. Make the evening before the brunch or breakfast and allow to sit overnight in a storage container. Butter spreads well with the muffins as well as plain cream cheese. These muffins freeze extremely well for up to two months. A muffin reheated after frozen for longer than two months is not as tasty.

The Morning Glory Muffin recipe has been around almost forty years. It has become a dependable recipe for me. For a little bit of work you can get a great result.

Below is a link to Pam McKinstry’s original Morning Glory Muffin recipe, via Earthbound Farms’ website. I have, yet, to find a copy of the original 1981 Gourmet magazine. I will keep looking.

http://www.ebfarm.com/recipes-morning-glory-muffins/b/1/?utm_expid=1477063-0.1mQljNIXQAKNU7dPjX547g.6&utm_referrer=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.google.com%2F

Below is more information about “American Cookery” (1796) by Amelia Simmons. I have read repeatedly that “American Cookery” was the first American cookbook written by an American for Americans. The Spanish settlers arrived in the Western North America as early as the 1530s so I am not comfortable making that claim until I have proof the Spanish settlers and Catholic missionaries were not writing cookbooks for their American mission settlements on how to use local ingredients, too.

http://digital.lib.msu.edu/projects/cookbooks/html/authors/author_simmons.html

If you like “Little Women” by Louisa May Alcott or have not read it before, you can download a free e-book. Please, feel free to leave a donation for the Gutanburg.org efforts. There are other free copies of “Little Women” available online. Or, you can support your favorite local bookstore and purchase a hard copy. Or, you can visit your public library and practice your social skills with the librarian behind the circulation desk.

http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/514

Mark Twain’s Notebooks and Journals are available through Google Books.

www.etymonline.com provides a quick glance at the evolution of words we use every day

Recipe Review: Chocolate-Coconut Pound Cake by Alison Roman (Bon Appétit, March 2014)

Chocolate-Coconut Pound Cake with vanilla ice cream.

Chocolate-Coconut Pound Cake with vanilla ice cream.

“I could be hit by a Sara Lee truck tomorrow. Which is not a bad way of going: ‘Richard Simmons Found in a Freeway in a Pound Cake and Fudge, With a Smile on His Face.’ Let’s face it. We don’t know anything” Richard Simmons (b. 1948), enthusiastic exercise leader

My father purchased a coconut at the grocery store. When my father was a child in the 1950s as a treat my grandmother would buy a coconut, drain the coconut liquid out for the family to drink, and make things from the raw, unsweetened coconut. I have in my memory the story she would take the coconut out to my grandfather’s wood shop, put the coconut in a vice, and use a hand drill to make a hole. Dad used a screwdriver and clawed hammer to pound an opening. He poured off the coconut liquid which mom used in her smoothies, and pried the rich, white meat from the shell.

What was he to do with all that coconut meat? He has images of heavenly coconut cream pies with fluffy, sky-high meringue like his mother used to make. I will get the pies made, eventually, but I wanted to try a cake first. This is a cake recipe I had put back and waited to make.

I had no idea how much of the raw coconut would be required for the 1/4th cup (by volume) as called for in the recipe. This is partially why I did not tackle the coconut cream pie because I had no idea how much coconut would be required. I hand-grated frozen coconut pieces. I did not make a dent in the sum total of all the coconut by removing a grated 1/4th cup. We have enough coconut for several pies. I need to find a better way to grate the coconut meat.

Following the directions, I buttered the loaf pan and lined it with parchment paper. You need to leave the “generous overhang”. The browned paper edging looks classy, I think, and that overhang keeps the batter when poured into the loaf pan inside the parchment paper and away from the pan walls. I would recommend cutting the parchment paper into a circle before placing it into the loaf pan. The square ends of the parchment paper burn and smolder, while a circle shape browns without catching fire. I did not think of this until the paper had been placed inside the loaf pan and cut the edges of the overhand into an overall circle shape.

The cake batter went together well. Make sure to use a stand mixer with an very open bowl because you need to aerate (add air) to the batter. Beat at medium-high speed for the entire time period, 5 to 7 minutes before eggs, and 5 to 8 minutes after eggs until the batter volume has doubled. You want a light batter. With a slow speed, add the dry ingredients and the buttermilk as directed. As soon as the dry ingredients are moistened and just incorporated, stop the mixer. Cease, halt, and discontinue the electric mixer. You may want to take a couple of turns with a spatula to clean off the sides of the mixing bowl, but that is it. Gently pour the batter into the cake pan, and run spatula down the center of the full loaf pan. Sprinkle with the tablespoon sugar and all the coconut.

Pound cake batter topped with white sugar and grated coconut before it has been placed in the oven.

Pound cake batter topped with white sugar and grated coconut before it has been placed in the oven.

When I sat down to read the recipe before preparing the batter, my first thought was there was no way this cake would be done in a 325 °F (163 °C) oven in 70 minutes. Experience told me this cake, with or without foil to protect the coconut from scorching, would take 90 minutes to bake. I was correct. I gently placed the cake in the oven and set the timer for 60 minutes. I did not open the oven once in those 60 minutes. When the timer beeped, I opened the oven and surmised the cake had a long ways to go to be done. There was still liquid on top of the cake. I set the timer for another fifteen minutes (75 minutes total baking time) and waited. When the timer beeped, I tried, again, and the toothpick tester was wet with cake batter. I set the timer for another fifteen minutes (90 minutes total baking time). After 90 minutes, the cake was done, but could have been removed five minutes sooner. The bottom corners of the cake were slightly overdone, but the cake was cooked through. Next time I will allow 85 minutes total baking time.

Chocolate-Coconut Pound Cake fresh from the oven.

Chocolate-Coconut Pound Cake fresh from the oven.

I planned to serve the cake for dessert for our family Sunday afternoon dinner. The additional baking time pushed allowing the cake to cool in pan to fifteen minutes before I sliced it. This did not hurt the cake.

Chocolate-Coconut Pound Cake after it has been sliced.

Chocolate-Coconut Pound Cake after it has been sliced.

Next time I go to a community meal or supper get-together, I will seriously consider preparing this cake. It looks so charming presented in the parchment-lined loaf pan. It is an easy recipe to make, it just takes time to mix in the electric mixer and bakes for an hour and a half.

Richard Simmons is correct. You do not know what is going to happen next. Make your cake and eat it, with ice cream, and chocolate syrup, and excellent coffee. Savor what you have when it is in front of you. Enjoy.

Here is a link to the recipe:

http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/chocolate-coconut-pound-cake-51223990

Here, too, is Epicurious’ instructions on how to open a coconut.

http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/opening-a-fresh-coconut-104353