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Posts Tagged ‘Judie Choate Blog’

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Cheers to the end-of-summer!  Celebrate the coming of fall and the family holidays ahead with my latest cookbook  An American Family Cooks to be published by Welcome Books on September 24th.  It may be pre-ordered online:

http://www.welcomebooks.com/americanfamilycooks/

or through your favorite bookstore.

Mine is Micawber’s Books in St. Paul. ( micawbers.blogspot.com )

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With the 4th of July weekend on the horizon, I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be American, particularly in these rough economic times with wars waging in distant lands and families splintered.  As angry as I get with our politicians and our own inertia to bring about change (can you tell that I was a rabble-rouser in the 60s?), we always conclude that I live in a very extraordinary country – still filled with promise.

One of my not-so-important but irritating peeves comes about when I read about how the populations of other countries are more in touch with the land than we are in America.  Yes, we are, for the most part, an urban society finding our nutrition in supermarkets and fast food restaurants.  But, I can tell you, the rest of the world is not far behind us in this area and the quaint foraging natives that food and travel writers tend to glorify the world over are a dying breed.  I’ll bet that you will find far more American cooks returning to the land for their sustenance than you will find elsewhere in the world.  But don’t use the word “locavore” when talking to me, that irritates me more.

Recently I was surfing the net and came across an old article written by Mark Bittman and sent from Pula, Croatia.  The article states – segueing from his opening about people picking wild asparagus from the roadside – “For many in this section of Croatia, any free nutrition is good nutrition.  And for those who are better off its simply a matter of getting the best food, directly from the land.”  Him and Dick Tracy!   Isn’t this true for all of us?

I grew up in the Midwest picking asparagus from the side of the road and from the edges of the irrigation ditches.  Long after I had grown and left rural life behind my aunt and uncle still went out every spring to collect it.  In upstate New York, where we spend a lot of time, people are still picking wild asparagus, ramps, dandelion greens, and mushrooms in the spring, planting gardens, fishing for perch, trout and other local fishes, hunting for deer and wild birds, supporting farmers, and creating town markets.  For many of them, this is a way of life that has not changed for generations, for most it is a way of eating well while staying within the confines of a very tight budget, for some it is an acquired addiction, and for a few of us, it is an extravagance that we indulge in to allow ourselves the pleasure of truly knowing what we are eating, no matter the cost.

I know that our experience is not unique.  I just know too many people who care deeply about where, what and how they eat.  For some this is simply how it has always been while others might not have begun knowing anything about foraging, gardening, agriculture and/or animal husbandry but they have made it their business to find out.  And you know what it usually comes down to – the food just tastes better when you have some attachment to it.

One of our dearest friends – who happens to also be our physician – supplies us with wild turkey, venison, and whatever wild birds he can catch.  And, sharing a bottle of wine we think of new ways to cook our good fortune.  Another friend – also a doctor – takes me by the hand to carefully forage for wild mushrooms.  Our postal person brings me morels from the abandoned apple orchard on her road.  And, if you are a reader of my ramblings, you know that I dig (a miserably hard job) for ramps every spring and often pickle them for a winter treat.  The farm nearby has meadow-raised lamb and goat.  Another down the road a piece has the same but also adds beef, cheeses, eggs, chickens and turkeys that were in the coop in the morning – along with maple syrup and hand-knit sweaters and mittens.  My good friend, Debbie, is a whiz of a cook with no training and no exposure to 3 star restaurants.  She and her husband take their brief week’s vacation with a drive through the central New York wine region, stopping and tasting at every winery they can get to.  This all occurs just a couple of hours from New York City with a mix of people who run the gamut from MD/PhDs to those who have never cracked a book with any enthusiasm.  We can’t be alone – I know that all over the country there are communities just like ours with a mix of “locals” who really know the lore of the region and transplants who are eager students.  Let me know if you agree!

This, I guess, is my 4th of July rant – after all is said and done I send greetings for a safe holiday – one filled with family, friends, good food, and reflections on peace and prosperity.

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I don’t bake much in the summer in the city as my kitchen just gets unbearably hot and humid and I get unbearingly hot and grumpy.  However, the temperature went from 100º last week to the low 60s this so I threw a batch of brownies in the oven so we could have an evening treat and I would have sweets to bring to my favorite baristas at JOE, our morning coffee bar.

I have been making the recipe since I was a teenager and it appeared in my first cookbook, The Gift-Giver’s Cookbook (written with my close friend, Jane Green in 1970) as Edna’s Brownies.  It had been given to my mom by an Illinois cook named Edna Vogel who had used it as her go-to dessert for years.  I assume that this recipe has seen more church socials, bridge parties, picnics, and backyard barbecues than we, altogether, can imagine.  I think that it makes a wonderful cookie – today I added about half a bag of bittersweet chocolate chips that had become half a bag through my reaching in for a sneak treat.  You can also add just about any type chip you like to the mix.  I made the bars a bit thicker than usual – no matter – thick or thin – they’re delicious.

1 cup sifted all-purpose flour

½ cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder

½ teaspoon salt

1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature

2 cups sugar 

4 large eggs, at room temperature

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1 cup walnut or pecan pieces, optional

Preheat the oven to 350ºF.

Generously butter and floured an 11-inch by 7-inch baking pan or coat it with nonstick baking spray.  Set aside.

Combine the flour, cocoa, and salt. Set aside.

Place the butter and sugar in the bowl of a standing electric mixer fitted with the paddle.  Beat, on medium, until light and fluffy.

Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. When blended, lower the speed and add the vanilla.

When well combined, gradually add the reserved flour mixture, beating to blend completely.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan, slightly smoothing the top.

Place in the preheated oven and bake for about 25 minutes or until the sides begin to pull away from the pan and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Remove from the oven and place on wire racks to cool for about 15 minutes. Then, cut into squares, but leave in the pan until cool.

When cool, store, airtight, at room temperature, for up to a week.

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As I told you earlier, we were in San Francisco for a couple of weeks to celebrate the wedding of our son Chris to his best girl, Heather.  What I didn’t know was that I was to be part of the crafting team preparing the décor for the outdoor celebration.  Stacks of tissue paper were to be turned into flowers, a job that you couldn’t pay me to do but when assigned by your daughter-in-law-to be, you craft!  When it got too much, I decided that I would do my impersonation of Queen Elizabeth and turned the tissue paper flower into my wedding hat!  Heather, the bride to be, and Canada, our granddaughter, joined the fun and Steve caught it all on “film” as we preened in the loo (because of its great natural light, it is also known as Steve’s west coast studio)!  The sad after-thought to these hundreds of hand-made flowers is that, although the tables sitting in a meadow at Rush Ranch {where the wedding took place} looked charming filled with paper flower centerpieces in the morning sunlight, they disintegrated in the afternoon’s downpour.

So, the wedding was celebrated in rain – everyone tells us that rain on the bride is a good omen for a long and happy marriage.  The atmosphere was as casual as can be with many of the guests camping on the grounds and lots and lots of little children (one meadow was filled with tents and toys).  The celebrant was Chris’ best buddy, Doug Collister, who placed them under a huge oak tree that kept the marrying group fairly dry but the rest of us got soaked.  The less hardy souls took to the hills after the ceremony but lots and lots of people stayed to party.  The champagne and wine flowed and then the taco truck appeared and the feeding frenzy began.  The line was long but Chris’ brother worked it, keeping everyone’s glass full while Chris got out of his “wet” suit and donned bright orange shorts and a sombrero.  I’m here to tell you that the tacos were well worth the wait!  These were not your average tacos – we had duck, beef, pork, mahi mahi, shrimp, even a blt!  We plied the truck cooks with champagne and they just kept feeding the crowd until it was time to build the bonfire, toast marshmallows, and let Dave Matthews sing the kids to sleep.  What a way to begin married life!

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I apologize for getting behind on my posts but we have spent the last couple of weeks in California celebrating our son’s marriage.  Chris and his bride, Heather, had a casual and fun celebration complete with taco truck and rainstorm.   Pictures and story will be posted shortly.

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