Friday, October 25, 2013

Slice of Heaven Bakery

While passing by I saw this bakery in Valley Park, MO, and thought, "Why pass it by?" So I went in and it was the old-fashioned kind of bakery that doesn't serve $8 paninis. Decades had passed since I was last in a normal pastry bakery like this one. They had St. Louis Cardinals cookies (I guess we're in the World Series), kolaches, danishes, cakes, brownies, cupcakes, turnovers, doughnuts, and chocolate-covered Oreos, to name a few. I could have only one slice of heaven so selected a cannoli, a dessert I can't make in my own kitchen. They gave it to me in a small white box with a cellophane insert, just like a piece of jewelry in a presentation box. I am so glad I did not simply pass by.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

The Recipe Box Collection

 Housekeeper Debbie and I spent two days cleaning and winterizing the Divine Cabin, now 85 years old with cracks in the foundation big enough to stick my hand in, and to fix them I emptied my cobwebbiest closet of boxes packed during my move here 12 years ago, unsealed the boxes to see what to throw out, and found, carefully wrapped in Taste of Home Magazine pages from 2001, my cherished recipe-box collection, mostly of tin and manufactured between 1950 and the 1970s, many of them by Ohio Art Company of Bryan, Ohio, maker also of tin toys.

If bought at yard sales or on eBay a box might yet be crammed with some homemaker's recipe cards, newspaper clippings and notes, telling an intimate story of her household and her kitchen, heart of the home. And the heart of the kitchen is--it must be--the recipe box! I have made some of their recipes, such as Orange Chiffon Pie. Many recipes, reflecting their era, require canned soups. My mother owned the same box as the red one pictured, and I laid out for you a sample of the unknown former owner's recipes: a clipping on how to make Arthur Treacher-style fish and chips; a handwritten recipe for 24-Hr. Salad, on its reverse a handwritten recipe for "Chicken Cha Cha," a dish credited to Della Reese, the singer; and a note saying "Calgon & water - mix to remove wallpaper." Just visible inside the box: "Potato Chip Cookies."

My brain's pleasure center lights up seeing their colors and imagining their stories, and I welcome the recipe boxes (the only items I have ever actively collected) back wholeheartedly into my daily life.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Pumpkins for Cheap

Pumpkins in the grocery stores are usually high-priced at around $5 for a cuddly little (and in my kitchen, doomed) pie pumpkin and around $20 for a tubby ol' future jack-o'-lantern, and I'm sure the markup is all transportation costs for these big dense heavy vegetables, so I try to buy them from open-air markets or farm stands like this one. Cost of transportation from field to retail shelf is low, without middlemen or overhead; the farmer simply goes to his field, loads them on a wooden trailer, and pulls the trailer about 200 feet to the stand where he prices and and arranges. The farmer preferred that I not identify him personally, but I wanted to show him at work with the plump and glowing fruits of his labor. "By their fruits you shall know them."

Monday, October 14, 2013


My mushroom classes and forays with the mushroom society have taught me to recognize several common mushrooms, but one is always seeking the edible ones, and here I found one in a ground-level hole in a tree, a few "petals" of Chicken of the Woods or Sulfur Shelf (Laetiporus sulphureus), so called because of its bright-yellow underside. This isn't Hen of the Woods (Grifola frondosa), which looks like an actual hen with gray feathers and no head; years ago I found a glorious 24-ounce Hen in my woods, which I kept for a while out of sheer delight with it, and now I know that one was edible too. The Sulfur Shelf should perhaps be called "Chicken Breast of the Woods," because it has lovely dense white meat, divinely scented like canned mushroom soup.
The pieces you can break off from the shelf-like whole are fresh enough to eat, and I broke off about three ounces, leaving the remainder. Having checked it with my mushroom-identification manuals, and having seen slides and real-life samples in a course and actually obtained some recipes for Chicken of the Woods (always cook wild mushrooms), I was sure this was the choice edible, but was too chicken to take even a sliver, saute it and bite. I left it for wildlife to enjoy.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

A Rattler at My Door

At dusk I fetched my mail, and when opening the screen door to get back into the house nearly stepped on a young snake right on the concrete threshold. (Between door and threshhold is a gap of half an inch). "Oh!" I cried. "Excuse me!" It stayed put and I saw this was not offspring of my house blacksnake, or a garter or milk snake. It stayed in striking position, head raised, the entire time, so I used the zoom feature to get closer, but then the photos turned grainy. I kept shooting while its tail -- very thin at the tip -- vibrated like a needle of a gauge that has reached its upper limit, and knew it was a rattler. So when it finally struck out I backed away and shut the screen door carefully so as not to pinch it and annoy it further, and hoped it would then travel away from the house rather than come in. I don't fear snakes--I respect them--but this was my first photo session in the house with a venomous snake, a Pygmy Rattler (Sistrurus miliarius streckeri Gloyd --try to say THAT after three beers). No one is known to have died from a Pygmy Rattler bite, says the fine manual The Amphibians and Reptiles of Missouri. That manual says it's a southern Missouri snake and it is not recorded to have appeared in Jefferson County, but I'm tellin' ya, it was here. This was a baby 5 or 6 inches long. I hope it doesn't go summon its 20-inch mom and bring her back to scold me.

Sunday, October 6, 2013


One bright autumn morning back in the old days when kids walked to school, at the corner of Marquette Street and Washington Avenue a tree I had never noticed before stood chrome-yellow and sunlit and beneath it on the leaf-covered sidewalk were glowing dark warm chocolate-brown nuts or pods, glossy like Hershey bars and finely oiled. Marveling, I lost track of time. It was my first experience of wonder. At last I pocketed one, crossed Washington Avenue, and half a block from school the bell rang and I ran so as not to be late to my first-grade class, because nobody then was late for school. All day I felt and gazed at this marvel I now know as a horse chestnut or a "buckeye," not edible but beautiful. The glossiness faded, but the wonder of that discovery is still with me and is part of why I live here today.

Well, today after too much work and no fun I came home and noticed that last night's little rainstorm had knocked some nuts and branches out of the shagbark hickory next to the house. I'd picked some nuts back in August, but now their outer shells had darkened and dried enough to fall to earth, split open and show, or fling to the winds, the ivory-shelled seed shaped like an acorn with pleats and no cap, containing the prized wild hickory nut.

So I began to gather them, and, getting my basket, poked around beneath the other shagbark hickories in my yard, gleaning dozens and then a couple of hundred hickory nuts, some still in their tailored casings. This was the most fun I had all day, and early tomorrow I'm off to the Divine woods with my basket to see if I can't gather a couple more pounds of wild hickory nuts to dry and then crack and eat, or stir into chocolate fudge, and to give away at Christmas, as the trees have given them to any creature who will stop and notice the bountiful earth beneath their feet.