Spring is here, there's no mistaking, farmers tilling soil from coast to coast. Today, Christians celebrate Easter. Farmers celebrate new beginnings. Miracle lambs and baby goats. Seedlings poking through wet soil. Pullets dropping eggs like rain.
Enjoy your celebrations.
A slideshow of baby goats Stew and Boter, and our surprise lamb Mushroom, born in the rain and mud. Best viewed in full screen mode.
When I was about seven or eight, I began to teach myself how to bake from recipes in the original Betty Crocker Cookbook. The paperback culinary bible was so old, so worn out, some of the pages disintegrated between my fingers upon turning. The whole thing had to be held together with a pair of crisscrossed rubber bands.
I made a yellow sheet cake first. I didn't understand the concept of creaming the butter and sugar together. It turned out like sweet cornbread. My mother said it tasted good, though. Guess she wanted to encourage me to keep trying. And so I did.
She used to come home from work every afternoon and ask me what I had learned to bake. Looking forward to tasting whatever it was. It must have been summer for I wasn't in school. And there I was heating up an already hot kitchen with a child's experiments. She never once complained. Eventually, I figured out the art of building a cake from scratch that was moist and light and downright sinful. I perfected an old fashioned burnt sugar caramel cake and then had the nerve to figure out how to make hand-churned caramel pecan ice cream to go with it. The combination became my mother's favorite a most requested dessert.
Yesterday, I made my mother's cake for the first time since August 2001. I wanted to be with her for Christmas to see how she's faring since receiving the news that she's now facing a mortal challenge in her bone marrow. Still too exhausted from the year, I wasn't able to make that happen. So I made her cake instead. Talked to her over the phone just as I was spreading the batter into the pans. Because of her diabetes, she can't have any sweets anymore, but she sounded pleased that I was building her heaven anyway.
We hosted a dinner at the farm for six. Before devouring my mother's cake (alongside a warm apple pie in a pâte brisée to die for), we indulged in a dinner of crab bisque, grilled lamb chops, roasted rabbit in Dijon cream (a repeat from Thanksgiving too good to wait another year for), wild black and mahogany rice, and steamed haricot vert tossed in sesame oil and orange zest.
Hope your Christmas celebrations included friends, family, peace, and lots of love.
Burnt Sugar Caramel Cake
For the burnt sugar syrup:
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup hot tap water
Dump the sugar in a skillet over medium-low heat. Shake the pan to spread the sugar and then let it melt, shaking again to keep the syrup browning evenly. Once it becomes the deep bronze color of an old copper penny and begins to smoke, gradually add the hot water. The sugar will get all bubbly and smoke even more. If you stir the syrup, use a metal spoon and stir just enough to mix the water so all the sugar dissolves, which takes about 8 minutes. Remove from heat, set aside, and let cool. They syrup will thicken as it cools.
For the cake:
3 cups unbleached cake flour, sifted
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
2 1/2 teaspoons double acting baking powder
3/4 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs, separated
2/3 cup burnt sugar syrup
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 cup sour raw milk or buttermilk, room temperature
Preheat oven to 350. Sift together flour, salt, soda, and baking powder. Set aside.
In a separate bowl, cream butter, adding sugar gradually until light and fluffy. Add one egg yolk at the time, beating thoroughly after each addition. Add the vanilla. Stir in cooled burnt sugar syrup.
Alternately mix the flour and the dairy into the batter, beating gently until smooth.
Beat egg whites on high until stiff but not dry. Fold into batter.
Spread batter evenly in two 8-inch greased and floured cake pans. (I add a circle of wax paper to the bottom of each pan to ensure a moist texture.) Bake for 20 - 25 minutes until the centers rise and a toothpick comes out virtually clean. Remove from oven and cool on wire rack for 5 minutes. Invert pans on rack to remove cake. Let cool completely.
For the caramel frosting:
3/4 cup butter
2 cups light brown sugar, firmly packed
Dash of salt
3/4 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
Mix butter, brown sugar and salt in a saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil. Let bubble for 15 minutes, stirring constantly. Mix in cream and cook for another 10 minutes, stirring.
Remove from heat, stir in vanilla. Transfer to a stainless steel bowl. Beating at high speed, gradually add confectioner's sugar until it comes to a spreading consistency. Sparingly add more cream if necessary.
Garnish frosted cake with pecans.
Cross-posted to Fumbling Toward Divinity
Over Labor Day weekend, while selling raffle tickets in front of Audette’s, a fellow Rotarian told me not to bother dropping off any fresh organic produce at the Winthrop Food Pantry for the next three weeks because it would be closed. My heart sank. In these difficult times, how can we allow our community food pantry to go dark for even a single week?
On Labor Day morning, my 13-and-a-half-year-old dog J.B. dragged himself into Con Leche the Goat’s stall and lay down on the pine shavings and hay. He looked like he was going to die. He hadn’t eaten in days, refused all food, even his treats, his skeleton pressed through his sagging skin like a warning. We were so sure he was going to be dead by nightfall that we dug his grave out back under the giant weeping willow tree. I could hardly breathe.
The next morning, J.B. almost ate my hand. Not rabid, but ravenous. Didn't feel right to call the vet, so the night before I took him BBQ ribs and brown rice. He devoured them. Early morning, the same. Late morning, I took him a hamburger on a bun and while Con Leche the Goat looked on, he ate it so fast, he almost ate my hand.
Like he meant it.
Any creature that wants to eat wants to live.
Food is life.
We cannot allow a single person among us to go hungry for a single day.
My fellow Rotarian told me that the people who currently run the pantry, who generously give of their time so people can live, are ready to move on but have stayed around because no one else in the community has stepped up.
Well, I’ll step up. And I’m sure I can recruit a team of volunteers to step up with me. We can run the Winthrop Food Pantry with the same diligence as the current volunteers because we must not allow a single person among us to go hungry.
In the meanwhile, if you rely on the kindness of others for sustenance in these difficult times, then please consider Annabessacook Farm at 192 Annabessacook Road your adjunct food pantry. If you want to call ahead, call 377-FARM. If not, just stop by at your convenience, any day of the week, and take whatever food you need. If we’re not home and there’s nothing on the farmer’s porch to your liking, feel free to walk out to the field behind the big red barn and pick whatever you like.
People who want to live need to eat. And there’s no reason whatsoever that we can’t come together as a community and feed them.