Thursday, July 30, 2015

Switchel, Stichel, Switzel, Swizzle: Ginger Water for Hot Days

Six years ago, in a post I’d almost forgotten about, I talked about our sweltery summertime heat. And that’s where we’re at again: heat and humidity. Well? It makes the corn and the tomatoes grow!

But it makes me wilt. And it, with all the rain we’ve had, makes the watergrass, crabgrass, or whatever-it-is grow like crazy. So I’ve gotta mow the lawn it again. I’m going to wait until the sun starts to set tonight. Ugh! I’m dreading it. (Compared to this heat, my hot flashes seem cool!)

Revisiting that older post I did about “Heat,” I recalled John Madson’s description of an old-timey lemonade-like beverage that farmers used to gulp when they had to thresh wheat in the hottest part of summer. It must have been hell on earth. That’s how Madson describes it, anyway.



Madson called this beverage “stichel,” but from what I can see online, it’s more commonly called switchel, switzel, swizzle, ginger-water, haymaker’s punch, or switchy. It’s an incredibly old concoction, a centuries-old thirst-quencher, an antique equivalent to today’s “energy drinks” or “electrolyte beverages.”

Wikipedia’s entry on “Switchel” notes that the beverage is also mentioned by Laura Ingalls Wilder in her book The Long Winter. In it, Laura’s mom tells her to make up a bunch of the stuff to take to the laboring men, explaining that cold well water, alone, would make the overheated men feel sick, while the ginger-beverage would quench their thirst better.

Today it’s a super-trendy hipster beverage! Who knew? All the cool kids are drinking it!

You can find plenty of different recipes online, but here’s the one I tried. It seemed simple, basic, and it seemed to fit what Madson described Iowa farmers drinking “by the gallon.” (Sorry, but I can’t remember where I got this particular recipe.)

Use this recipe as an idea starter, and mess around with it until you get it just right: try pure maple syrup instead of brown sugar, as they do in Vermont, here and here. Molasses and honey were probably popular in some areas, too. Or try using the juice from fresh ginger instead of powdered.

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Stichel

3/4 cup brown sugar
1 tsp. ginger (powdered)
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1 quart cold water

Dissolve together the first three ingredients, then shake with the cold water. Serve chilled.

The recipe, wherever I got it from, also suggested you could mix it with equal quantities of ginger ale. Or, I would suggest, mix in some club soda or seltzer, if you wanted it bubbly and less strong.



How does it taste? Well—Sue and I think it’s actually pretty darned tasty! The hardest part is the first sip, because you can smell the vinegar, and the immediate thought is: This is going to taste like something you’d dip Easter eggs into. Or: “Ugh! pickle juice!”

But despite that initial panicked thought, it really does taste very good, and it goes down easy, and I’ll probably be making it again. The vinegar does the same thing that lemons do in lemonade. (Hey, remember the Greek lemonade recipe I shared with you a while back?)

I hope you’ll give switchel a try! When you do, let me know what you think of the flavor. Bonus points if you report on its efficacy as a thirst-quencher during these beastly hot days!

Monday, July 27, 2015

Grandma Renner’s Chili Sauce

Here’s another retro recipe for you! But first, I need to make a confession: I didn’t like this when I was a kid, when I had the opportunity to eat the chili sauce Grandma Renner herself had made! Now, of course, I kick myself for being such a little nitwit.

But I long ago copied the recipe from Mom’s collection, thinking I’d make it someday. But I had to go through some kind of phase where “real” chili sauces were viewed as somehow “better” than my own grandmother’s.

Maybe it’s a labeling problem: this really isn’t a true chili sauce. There aren’t any actual chilis in it! Bell peppers, green and red, but mostly it’s tomatoes. It’s a spicy tomato sauce. It’s basically chunky ketchup. There’s no heat to it at all.

If you look in church-lady cookbooks from the mid-twentieth century, you’ll find scads of recipes for “chili sauce” that are just like this: really, a tomato relish.

For our little Fourth of July feast, I decided to offer an alternative relish for our burgers, so I made up some of this. And boy, howdy—it’s pretty darned good!

You usually think of something piquant, tangy, tomatoey, and just . . . sharp tasting. Sharply tomatoey. But this has a good combination of flavors, vinegar, sugar.

Naturally, I didn’t follow the instructions to the letter. First, I made the “mistake” of not knowing that one is always supposed to blanch, peel, and deseed tomatoes used for sauce! What a nincompoop I am. (However, I do know that nutrients and flavor are in the skin and seeds, so unless I’m told not to, I tend to keep them in.)



After the initial hour of simmering, I could tell I’d have to run it through my food mill, and that would change the texture from how Grandma used to make it. But okay—I remember Grandma’s chili sauce being chunky and fairly watery, and I wanted mine to be more like a sauce—thicker, more ketchupy. So my “mistake” turned out to be a boon.

Grandma’s recipe calls for “red peppers,” too—I had to ask my mom what Grandma might have used. I mean, any hint of the word chili, and I’m inclined to use red chili peppers, those small, thin-skinned little firecrackers, like cayenne. But no, Mom told me it was more like a red bell pepper. Read: sweet red pepper.

I quartered Grandma’s recipe, since it was a maiden voyage, but next time, I’ll make a full batch and process it. Here’s why:



—It goes on nearly everything. Hamburgers, hot dogs, mac and cheese, baked potatoes, you name it—anything you’d maybe put ketchup on. I mean, just a hot dog or hamburger, a bun, and this stuff—and wow.

—Check this out: open a jar of sauerkraut, pull out enough kraut for however many servings you need, rinse and drain it, sprinkle caraway seeds on it, then spoon some of this relish in. Stir it up, then heat it. A microwave will do. Feed it to people who say they don’t like sauerkraut, and see if they don’t make an exception. Great as a side with brats and potatoes.

—You can use it as a salsa—a chip dip. Stir it in with yogurt or sour cream.

—Mix it with mayo and use as a dressing base for a pasta salad.

For this maiden voyage, I used greenhouse tomatoes—but I’ll bet it will be exponentially better made with red ripe summertime tomatoes! You might want to try it, too.

Here’s the recipe. Notes in [brackets] are by me.

Chilli Sauce
By Clara Renner

16 cups tomatoes (about large pot full)
6 sweet peppers [green bell peppers]
8 big onions [Mom said Grandma would’ve used yellow ones]

—Cook for 2 hours.
—Then, add and cook 1 hour longer:

2 cups vinegar [Grandma would have used apple cider vinegar]
3 red peppers [Mom said Grandma would’ve used sweet ones, such as red bell peppers]
2 Tbsp. mixed spices [Mom said these are pickling spices; I used McCormick, which must have some cinnamon in it—very delicious!]
2 cups sugar
1 Tbsp. salt
1 Tbsp. celery seed

—For catsup or sauce, use 1/2 tsp. ground red pepper, which you can use instead of 3 red peppers [okay, I added a little chili powder—the spice-blend kind you’d use for making chili—and I also used the red peppers as well.]



If you’re like me and you want to just try it out, below is the quartered recipe I used. I made an effort to cook it down.

Reduced Recipe
(makes about 3 pints)

4 cups tomatoes (approx. 4-5 tomatoes), chopped (next time, I’ll blanch and peel the skins off of them)
1 1/2 green bell peppers, chopped
2 regular-sized yellow onions, chopped [I figure what was a “large” onion in Grandma’s day is probably what we’d call a “medium.”]

—Cook for 2 hours in a heavy-based pan.
—Then, add the following and cook for 1 more hour or until as thick as you want:

1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
4 sweet red peppers (shape and size of jalapenos—but they’re sweet)
1/2 T. pickling spices
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 T. salt
1/4 T. celery seed

—Adjust seasonings to taste. I’m sure I added more pickling spices and celery seed, thinking my containers of them were rather old. I also added a pinch or so of chili powder.
—When it’s about as thick as you want, run it through a food mill if you want it to have a more homogenous texture.
—I didn’t preserve mine, but this recipe was born to be canned.



Thursday, July 9, 2015

A Humbling, Amazing Response

I’ve been putting off writing about this subject, because I haven’t been able to think of words to describe my reaction—but there aren’t any. Also, this post has two audiences: First, to “everyone,” a.k.a. tout le monde, a.k.a. “all you kids in Internet-land”; and second, to John G______ (last name withheld, because I’m not sure he’d want to be identified publicly), in Massachusetts.

Back in May, John wrote me a letter and sent it in the mail to my house. Okay, first of all, who writes actual letters anymore? That itself is remarkable. Plus, it was two pages, single-spaced, typewritten (with an actual typewriter, in good ol’ Courier), and it was a thoughtful, and warm, response to my entire blog.

No joke—John had read all 544 posts, dating back to early 2009, and instead of leaving comments here and there on miscellaneous older posts, he wrote me the letter, commenting on several at once.

Seriously: He mentioned reading about lebkuchen, venison jelly, woodchucks, stinkhorns, and spiders.



He mentioned reading about our temperamental historic storm windows, my fibula fracture, and our Christmas tree.



By golly, I think he really did read through every post. Wow!



There’s something a little disconcerting about that—my blog is, basically, an online journal, and although I refrain from posting things that are quite personal, still, if you were to read it straight through, I suppose you would get a pretty personal glimpse into “who I am.”



Despite the slightly disconcerting realization that someone had actually read my blog, the flip side is that it is deeply gratifying, and humbling, and exhilarating, to think someone enjoyed reading it so much that he waded through the whole shebang, starting all the way back at my insignificant little first post.



Again, I’m an editor. And I’ve heard it said that authors, during the editorial process, oftentimes feel this sense of being deeply flattered, because the editor has read and considered every single word of the manuscript. Such a close reading, by someone “on your side,” is supposed to be a big ego boost. At least for some authors. I suppose this is kind of how it feels to be on the receiving end.



But here’s something else. John found my blog (much to my personal satisfaction) when he was doing web searches about Edwin Way Teale’s four American Seasons books. (You might recall that I’ve written at length about Teale, and particularly about his four American Seasons books.)



I admit it: Most of my posts are not well planned. They lack structure. The blog itself doesn’t stick to a single topic the way a “good” blog should (crafts; cooking; grandchildren; hotrods; etc). I’m chatty and rambly. And the posts are way too long. I know better than this.

I worry that potential clients for editing projects will find my blog and think that my haphazard free-writings must mean I’m an awful editor. (Trust me, casual journal writing and editing are two completely different things! Make no mistake: I’m much better at editing! I do this blogging stuff just for fun! ~Honest!)



However, I took extra care with my Teale American Seasons posts. So much “care” that I haven’t even yet finished my post for the last book of the quartet, Wandering Through Winter! It’s still in my file titled “Drafts Op Op.” And someday I will post it. (Meanwhile, John, this next picture is for you!)



My Teale posts are especially long and full of words. They are the antithesis of “successful” blogging and Internet writing; they are not breezy, choppy, simple, hyped-up, dumbed-down.

But here’s the thing: I liked them. I was satisfied with them. Of all my 500+ posts, those are easily in my top ten personal favorites. And if the Internet is good for something, it can be a powerful tool for connecting people who have similar interests, no matter where we are in the world. When I posted them, I’m sure I muttered to myself, “There you go. I spent a week writing that post, and maybe three people will eventually read the entire thing.”



But it didn’t bother me too much, because whoever those three people were, I knew they’d be Teale fans. I knew they’d have just finished reading the American Seasons books, and I knew they’d relish the connection with another person who enjoyed reading them.

So my emotions upon reading John’s letter last May were all over the place. Sure, I was momentarily freaked out: How’d he find my address? —Oh yeah, it’s a matter of public record. (Though I don’t engrave it on my posts, it’s also not a secret.) But most of all, I was elated.

Well more than 500 times, I’ve clicked “post” and had the sense that my little voice has just swirled away . . . into nothingness. Or who knows.



Yes, I was thrilled back when I started blogging, when people started leaving comments. And (spammers excluded) it still thrills me each time someone leaves a comment. (And yes, John, I do get an e-mail notification from Blogger each time someone posts a comment, even on the oldest posts.)

But John’s response has felt much, much different. I’ve been trying to decide how to reply to his letter, but I realize I can’t do better than to simply describe what happened, and how it made me feel.

For weeks after I received it, I showed it to friends and family: “Look at this incredible letter I got in the mail!” I read portions of it to just about anyone who would listen. I carried that letter with me everywhere I went.



I took it with me on two recent vacations. I kept it in my possession the way a dog carries around a treasured bone. Swear to God, I want to frame it and put it on my wall, the way a business owner frames his first dollar of profit. What else can I say?

And so, John, I heartily return your final comment to me:

Thank you! I really enjoyed reading that!

My best regards,

Julie




Monday, July 6, 2015

Red, White, and Blueberry Jell-O Salad, alias "Blueberry Salad"

Trust me, this looked excellent before we demolished it.



And the fact that we demolished it implies (correctly) that it tasted really good, too!

It’s the perfect Jell-O salad for a Fourth of July meal. Like all Jell-O salads, its cool fruitiness is a great complement to barbecue, hamburgers, hotdogs, or whatever. And it’s refreshing on a hot day (like it always is here, in July). And face it, most Jell-O salads are more like dessert than a health food, and it’s a holiday, so hey, rock on!

But you gotta be fast if you want to take a picture of it.

File this one under “retro recipes.” I found it in the 125 Year Anniversary Commemorative Cookbook from Trinity Lutheran Church, published in 1995 or 1996. The original recipe, according to that collection, was in “the Kitchen Klatter Cookbook, published in 1982.” (Does that mean the magazine? I can’t find evidence that a Kitchen-Klatter cookbook was published in 1982; only in 1977. Hmm.)

Or it could have come from Country Woman magazine, July/August 2000, p. 42, where apparently it was called “Red, White, and Blueberry Salad”? Online, it’s frequently called “4th of July Party Jello.” (Sic.) (We all know how it’s officially spelled and capitalized: Jell-O.)

Anyway . . . there aren’t many pictures of this particular Jell-O concoction because, no doubt, it gets eaten up before anyone gets a chance to take a picture of it!



I amended the recipe just a tad: It was apparently created before Jell-O had come out with its blueberry flavor/color, so the original called for the blue layer to be created with raspberry Jell-O plus the fruit and juice from a can of blueberries. But shoot! Why not use blueberry, now that it’s available here in the modern age? Real or artificial, flavor-wise, blueberries and raspberries are great friends!

I interpreted the “coffee cream” it called for as “half-and-half,” and I substituted Neufchâtel cheese for the cream cheese in the recipe—it’s got less fat, but darned if I can tell much difference between the two.

Here’s how to make it. Be sure to allow time for each layer to get hard before adding the next—I suggest making it a day ahead. (Which is to say, July 3!)

The recipe suggests using an 8 x 8 or 9 x 11 inch dish. (I used an 8 x 8.)

1. First layer (red):

1 box raspberry Jell-O (regular size box; not the big one)
1 cup boiling water
1 cup cold water

Make the raspberry Jell-O per the usual directions on the box. Pour it into the dish and chill until firm.

2. Second layer (white):

1 envelope plain (Knox) gelatin
1/2 cup cold water
1 cup half-and-half (or milk)
1 (8-oz.) package of cream cheese (I use the lighter Neufchâtel cheese), softened a bit
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 cup pecan pieces

In a little bowl, stir the gelatin into the water and let soften. In a saucepan, heat the half-and-half with the sugar until hot but not boiling. Add the gelatin, mix, and let cool. When it’s no longer hot, in a blender or food processor, mix the gelatin mixture with the cream cheese, vanilla, and pecans.

Pour this white layer over the red layer and chill until firm.

3. Third layer (blue):


1 package blueberry Jell-O (again, regular size box)
1 cup boiling water
1 (approx. 15-oz.) can blueberries with juice (such as Oregon brand)

Dissolve the Jell-O in the boiling water. Stir in blueberries, with their juice. Let it cool so that it’s not hot (you don’t want it to melt the gelatin you’re pouring it on), then pour this blue layer over the white layer and chill until it’s firm.

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This is really delicious. If you’re like me, the slightly tangy, creamy white layer, with its pecans, will really transport you back to childhood potlucks from the sixties and seventies. Back then, I would have had no idea what was in that white “mystery” layer—but I sure would have given it my approval!


Saturday, July 4, 2015

Independence Day 2016

Greetings, my friends! It’s the Fourth of July—Independence Day!—and this year it’s extra special. By now, I’m sure everyone’s sick and tired about hearing about “gay marriage” (which, from now on, hopefully will be called just “marriage”). Even the bigots will be relieved not to read about it in the papers every day. Now we can all move on with our lives, working, mowing the lawn, doing the laundry, paying our taxes, and so on.

For me this is a special year. The recent Supreme Court ruling has been more than a validation of marriage—it has seemed like a validation of my rights, in general, as a U.S. citizen, and an acknowledgment of a turning point in public opinion, as well. It has helped me feel more “united” with the United States, and less “divided.”



I didn’t do a blog post about it at the time, but Sue and I got married last November, in St. Louis, the day after a federal court ruled Missouri’s anti-marriage amendment unconstitutional. We solemnized it on November 11 in our living room, with my parents, and Uncle Richard and Aunt Carole, in attendance. My mom and dad were our official witnesses! Reverend Coletta Eichenberger, who was then interim pastor at Jefferson City’s Central UCC, performed the ceremony. Sue and I have lived together as a couple since 1994.

A few days later, with all our paperwork signed, we drove back to St. Louis City Hall and got our official certificate.

It’s funny how people seem to forget the legal aspects of marriage—the trip to the courthouse, the paperwork, the document. But this “forgettable” part is the part we gay folks have been fighting for. For years—forever—we have found allies in the religious community to perform our ceremonies, in the eyes of God and our closest friends and family. We’ve had access to the spiritual aspect of marriage for ages, even if only in our hearts, but the legal part of marriage has been elusive, until now. We want those “boring” rights and responsibilities that other married couples apparently take for granted.

So Sue and I drove to St. Louis for the Pride parade last weekend. What a spectacle! (It always is.) In past years, I have felt somehow “apart” from the goings-on at Pride. Like, “those are the younger folks.” And “those are people who like to go to bars and stuff.” “These are big-city people.” This year, however, I felt that a great spectrum of folks were represented, including people like me—however you might define that.



Pride did indeed seem “bigger” this year—no doubt because we were all celebrating the court ruling. And I was moved to tears any number of times. It started at the front of the parade, with a contingent of St. Louis Police officers, many walking with their partners, husbands, or wives. It was moving to see these public servants—our public servants, who potentially risk their lives each day—able to walk down the street without having to hide “who they are.” (The irony of even writing that . . .) Why not support the families who support our police officers?

Soon after, the U.S. flag was carried carefully down the street, and there was tremendous cheering. Considering where we’ve come from, in the last fifty years—that cheering was almost heartbreaking. Someone behind the flag was walking, holding a real live bald eagle. One of our great American symbols. So beautiful. And yes, more tears. I didn’t realize how jaded I had become. It’s interesting how the court ruling renewed my sense of belonging here in this country, a sense that it’s our country, too, and that I’m proud of it.



And the parade went on and on. Hooray for the marching band! Hooray for all the politicians whose participation in the parade signaled their willingness to see LGBT folks as American citizens and constituents! Hooray for the Lambda Car Club, whose members’ vintage vehicles the dignitaries rode in! Hooray for the big corporations that now see the potential PR gain in having a contingent in the parade. (It wasn’t so long ago when those same corporations would have completely shied away from any association with the perverts and their “march.”)



And hooray for the many LGBT groups and allies, including PFLAG, the United Church of Christ, the Disciples of Christ, the Metropolitan Community Church, and many, many others. It bugs me so many in the media try to create a binary of opposition between LGBT people and “Christians.” As if all Christians are anti-gay. As if gay folks can’t be Christians, too. As if it’s impossible to be both pro-gay-rights and Christian. Thankfully, there are many religious groups who stick up for the rights of LGBT folks. And even the fundamentalists aren’t in lockstep against gay people: Their tide is turning, too.

Then there was the AIDS quilt—another opportunity for tears to roll down my face. I remember . . . so many of us remember: getting the news, learning about it, getting involved, and having friends die. Where were you when you first heard about the “gay plague”? So much has happened since then. I think we’ve all gotten stronger, together.



And there were the quilt panels, being carried down the street. I didn’t recognize any of the names, but I didn’t have to; I have plenty of other names to come to my mind. And the strange juxtaposition, the memory of those people who died in the late eighties and nineties, somehow frozen in history just how they were, and what we were all fighting for then—but today, they were being carried symbolically, proudly down the street, on this new day, this new morning, with a Supreme Court ruling that affirms that our marriages are equal under the law to those of straight people.

It’s a day they could only have dreamed about. And a black president, too? Even I have trouble really believing this has happened, even in my lifetime. We’ve all played a part, every day, by simply being who we are, and refusing to hide our love. Yeah, I wept and applauded as those memorial quilt sections went by.

So this year, the Fourth of July means more to me somehow. Is this how black folks felt the first year after emancipation? Maybe a little. Like it is somehow “our” United States, too.



And this is what Barack Obama said:

“Our nation was founded on a bedrock principle that we are all created equal. The project of each generation is to bridge the meaning of those founding words with the realities of changing times—a never-ending quest to ensure those words ring true for every single American.

“Progress on this journey often comes in small increments. Sometimes two steps forward, one step back, compelled by the persistent effort of dedicated citizens. And then sometimes there are days like this, when that slow, steady effort is rewarded with justice that arrives like a thunderbolt.

----------------------

“We are big and vast and diverse, a nation of people with different backgrounds and beliefs, different experiences and stories but bound by our shared ideal that no matter who you are or what you look like, how you started off or how and who you love, America is a place where you can write your own destiny.

“We are people who believe every single child is entitled to life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness. There is so much more work to be done to extend the full promise of America to every American. But today, we can say in no uncertain terms, that we’ve made our union a little more perfect.

“That’s the consequence of a decision from the Supreme Court, but more importantly, it is a consequence of the countless small acts of courage of millions of people across decades who stood up, who came out, talked to parents, parents who loved their children no matter what, folks who were willing to endure bullying and taunts, and stayed strong, and came to believe in themselves and who they were.

“And slowly made an entire country realize that love is love.

“What an extraordinary achievement, but what a vindication of the belief that ordinary people can do extraordinary things; what a reminder of what Bobby Kennedy once said about how small actions can be like pebbles being thrown into a still lake, and ripples of hope cascade outwards and change the world.

“Those countless, often anonymous heroes, they deserve our thanks. They should be very proud. America should be very proud.

“Thank you.”

—Present Barack Obama, June 26, 2015



Tuesday, May 19, 2015

I Make Brown Bread

I suppose to many people this post will be completely boring, but it’s about something I found incredibly interesting: I made brown bread for the first time, as in “Steamed Boston Brown Bread.”

I think it fascinated me because it seems no one makes it anymore. No one eats it, no one serves it. (At least not around here. I’ll bet it’s still proudly served in households throughout New England.) Yet I’m pretty sure it used to be fairly common throughout America. And that would make it a “retro recipe,” or a “mom” or “grandma recipe.” And that means: Let’s not forget it. Let’s check it out. Let’s have it sometimes, because it inspires nostalgia and reverence.



When I was a kid, we used to have brown bread pretty often. I think Mom used to buy it at the grocery store, canned. She’s told me that her mom used to make it. And like a lot of moms and grandmas, grandma used to make it in a largish tin can.

It would seem to be very healthy and full of nutrients: My recipe calls for equal parts of whole wheat flour, rye flour, and corn meal—plus molasses (I used Brer Rabbit full flavor). The leavening is buttermilk (or sour milk, but you can’t really buy that) plus baking soda and salt. Pretty simple, actually.

Raisins are commonly added—I intended to put them in, but forgot at the last moment. Yes, I really was that excited!

For those of you who don’t know anything about brown bread, here’s its most remarkable trait: It is not baked; it is steamed.

In my brain, that seems silly: Wouldn’t steaming make bread soggy? Well, not if you wrap up the batter/dough so that no extra moisture can get in.

And so, if you want to make brown bread, you need some kind of steamer. I used a big enamel-ware canning pot that Sue’s mom gave us. The recipe I used said to use a 2-quart pudding mold (filled 2/3’s full), and I didn’t have one of those. Well, I do, but I wanted something fairly loaf-shaped. (All our tin cans had gone out in the recycling, so I didn’t have any around!)

Digging around in our bakeware cupboard under the counter, I found some disposable aluminum-foil-type loaf tins that each hold 1 quart, and I found they would fit in the pot nicely side-by-side. I wrapped each tightly with heavy-duty aluminum foil, so no steam would get into the bread.

The instructions said to steam it for 3 1/2 hours, but they didn’t need to go that long (two 1-quart loaf tins would cook faster than one big mass in a single 2-quart mold). Even at 3 hours, it still seemed like a hell of a long time to cook anything on the stovetop (not counting the braising of sauerbraten, which is always worth doing). But at least it didn’t need much watching. The canning pot didn’t let out much water vapor at all, so the water never got close to needing replenishing.

The recipe is from my beloved copy of The Good Housekeeping Cook Book, ed. Dorothy B. Marsh (New York: Rinehart, 1949), pp. 446-47.





There was something magical about fishing those foil-wrapped tins out of the steamer, opening them, and finding nice little loaves of moist, spongy bread where before there had been a blob of quick-bread batter glop.



To celebrate, we followed the rest of the instructions in my 1940s cookbook, which suggested to serve the brown bread hot “with baked beans, codfish cakes, frankfurters, etc.” I didn’t have any codfish cakes lying about, but I did go to the store and found some actual frankfurters (as opposed to hot dogs)—plump, pudgy, flavorful franks with skins that kind of “snapped” when we bit into them. And yes, baked beans, too.

The next day, we made little sandwiches with the bread, now chilled, filled with cream cheese, and had them with red-grape-laced chicken salad (a delicious combo that my Aunt Ann served us for lunch a few years ago; she’d spiked the chicken salad with a hint of microplane-grated orange peel, too, and that was especially good).

My apologies: There are no pictures of our plates, because we consumed these meals before I even thought of taking any photos for the blog. (I do wonder about bloggers who seem to take pictures of every morsel they put into their mouths . . . !)

So although this wasn’t the most “colorful” of posts, I hope you’ll appreciate this humble culinary exploration of mine. Maybe it will inspire you to try making brown bread, too!

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Rainbow Scarab

I learned about another new insect today! I saw this in our backyard. At first I thought it was one of those doggoned Japanese beetles (invasive pests), but it looked stockier and somehow didn't fit my "search image" for that species. And I was right!

May I introduce you to: a rainbow scarab!



Phanaeus vindex is apparently pretty common in the eastern United States, though I'd never seen one before.

It's a type of dung beetle--one of those scarabs that takes advantage of organic materials that aren't completely digested by mammals. Unlike other dung beetles, which are generally dull black (shiny black if they're exceptionally spiffy), this one is bright shiny green and copper!



Like other dung beetles, this species sniffs out piles of poop using its elaborate antennae (orange, here--with platelike segments that can be fanned out or pressed together at will). Once it catches a whiff, the beetle, buzzing heavily like a bumblebee, flies upwind to the source of the stench (you know, to dung beetles, poop must smell like a steak on a grill, or a bunch of pretty flowers, or a cherry pie in the oven).

Finding the poop, the beetle burrows under the pile, rolls some of the dung into a ball, then buries the ball in a hole beneath the pile, laying eggs on it. After hatching, the larval beetles (C-shaped grubs) eat the dung as they develop. (Like other beetles, the larvae then pupate, much like a butterfly, and emerge as a winged adult.)

Most dung beetles (quite famously) roll their little dung balls away from the pile of poop. If you haven't seen Zefrank's video "True Facts About the Dung Beetle," you must see it. I insist. But the rainbow scarab doesn't do that "rolling" bit.

It's ironic that this species, which is so beautiful, apparently spends more time completely under the dung than the dull black types, which roll the poop along like a circus act for all to see.

Another thing: this one I saw is a male. See the horn on the top of its head? Females don't have that. Apparently the horn plays a role in male-male competition.



Sometimes the horn on males is breathtakingly large. Look at Bugguide's Phanaeus vindex page for examples.

As I type this, Mr. Rainbow Scarab is probably forming himself a nice little poo-ball and looking to hook up with a girlfriend. I leave you with this closeup on his face. I can't help but see an "expression" in it, like "Aren't you about done taking pictures? Can I just leave now, please? I have things to do."



So, after harassing this beetle and taking a bunch of pictures of it, what did I do with him? I found a pile of cat poo in the backyard and set him down beside it. He immediately began digging into the soil next to it. Fascinating!

But I didn't stick around to watch--I was curious, but flies were buzzing around, and it didn't exactly smell like a bunch of flowers, either.