In my new frenzy to join everything and send something to everyone in the world, I joined a recipe exchange on Swap-Bot earlier this week. The idea was to send five recipes to four different people and to include a comment about why you chose that recipe, or what was special about it. The hope was that people would go through their vaults and choose recipes that had been in the family for a long time and had good stories behind them.
I turned to my cookbook bible, Trifles from Tiny Tots, now raggedy edged and spotted with stains, the way a well-loved cookbook should be.
When our kids were in nursery school we would occasionally have parties and all brought food. Char and I often made Mexican won ton, a recipe we found in Sunset magazine. It was always a HUGE hit.
Mexican Won Ton
1/2 lb hamburger
So many people asked us for the recipe that when a fund raiser discussion came up, we suggested that we make a school cookbook. Char and I volunteered to be on the committee and the two of us decided that this book would be great because it would give us the opportunity to put all of our favorite recipes in one place so we would always know where to find them. Char's evil and potent "velvet hammer," for example.
1 bottle champagne
Mix all together. Put in punch bowl with block of ice.
The punch was lethal and many people woke up with hangovers the next day after indulging in the Velvet Hammer without realizing they had reached the point of no return.
And so I turned to Trifles from Tiny Tots to pick out my favorite recipes to include in the swap. The thing that struck me most forcibly as I went through it is how I don't cook like this any more. I recognized a lot of recipes I used to make, but haven't made in years--too complicated.
I particularly remembered all the fancy breads that I used to make ("You used to make bread and we didn't appreciate it nearly enough. Thank you!," said an unsolicited message from Jeri this morning. Just the thing to make my day!).
I still make bread, occasionally, but I make white bread and I put it in a bread maker, so my part is just adding ingredients and pushing a button. But back in the day, Char, Pat and I used to go to a specialty store where we bought all sorts of different flours (I used to love cracked wheat) and other ingredients and we really made most of our own bread. (I remember that there was a character on a soap opera in those days who seemed to be making bread every time she was on the screen--and she NEVER got the hang of kneading bread dough. It drove me nuts.)
I made bread at least twice a week, sometimes more and spent a lot of time bend over the breadboard kneading dough (which I don't do any more). I heard once that the quickest way to get the gluten active was to throw the dough down on the board as hard as possible. We had a shy sheltie in those years and he would run and hide whenever I started throwing the dough around.
My staple was Cuban Water bread, which just had yeast, water, sugar, salt and flour, but I used potato water and it turned out huge, probably because you started it in a cold oven and so it continued to rise as it began to bake. It also had a fabulous flavor.
There was also a quick loaf bread which rose faster because it used more yeast, and it had a different flavor because the sweet element in it was honey, rather than regular sugar.
Refrigerator potato bread was great because you could keep the dough in the fridge for up to 10 days and use it for loaf bread or for rolls.
But I think my favorite was Whole Wheat Spiced bread because it got its flavor from cumin, one of my favorite spices.
Char also got tired of making turkey stuffing, so developed a recipe for "stuffing bread" where all you had to do was cut it up and add liquid and stuff the turkey--this was before you could buy pre-seasoned bread cubes in the supermarket.
I rarely bake bread now because it's just Walt and me and if I make bread, he eats a slice and I finish the loaf, which is exactly what I shouldn't do.
But I do remember those days, fondly (even though the kids probably remember that I spent them all yelling) and it was really special when Jeri thought to write that note this morning.