Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Rice Pudding

"Happiness weighs more."
                - Anne Lamott

A week or so ago, Mom and I were grocery shopping. Her prime focus is on deals and a clearance cart makes her move a little faster down the aisle, probably raises her blood pressure a few points. Well, alright, I feel about the same (but don't tell her). Dumpster diving is in our blood.

What, then, might we do with a bag of rice that was certainly in the multi-pound range? It wasn't "minute rice" (our favorite) but it was still too good of a deal to pass. So we didn't.

"What am I going to do with all of this rice?" Mom asked as she divided the large bag into storage containers. For starers, she cooked rice today and we had white rice with vegetarian gravy. I suppose we made a dent in the rice but it wasn't really very noticeable.

"How about I make rice pudding?" I asked. I used to love a rice pudding at the Carillon Cafeteria in Dayton (long ago closed). I was just a kid then and didn't really consider what they might have done special. I seem to remember it being baked in individual ramekins (or maybe it was merely served that way) and dusted with cinnamon. It was creamy and spicy and I'd scrape the tiny bowl clean.

Rice Pudding - still warm and fragrant with cinnamon

Could we duplicate that simple dessert?

If the recipes posted on the Internet are any indication, no. Each recipe seemed unusually complicated for something that seemed so exquisitely simple. We finally turned to a Better Homes & Garden recipe which is in one of the books we keep in the kitchen. While it is undated, I expect it is from the 1960's.

Here's the recipe with my own notes:

Rice Pudding

3 beaten eggs
2 cups milk
1-1/2 cups cooked white rice
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup raisins
1 teaspoon vanilla
  ground cinnamon (for topping)

In a bowl, combine all of the ingredients (except for the cinnamon). Mix well.
Bake in a 10 x 6 x 2" glass baking dish at 325° for 25 minutes
Stir. Sprinkle top with cinnamon to taste
Bake another 20-25 minutes or until a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean

Can be served warm or chilled.

I removed the baking dish from the oven at the half-way point to stir and add the cinnamon. Mom thought it would have been better to just move it to the open oven door and work there, not allowing the pudding any chance to cool.

Half-way done - Rice Pudding coming right up!

Since I was worried it might overflow the pan (neither of us have made this recipe before), I placed a pie drip pan beneath it. Bad idea. That increased the baking time considerably. And though I used a 8 x 8" glass baking dish, that's substantially the same number of square inches as the recipe calls for. Because of the drip pan, I think, my baking time was much longer than they note (about 45 minutes). Don't do it!

Bottom line: how does it taste? Well, it's not the Carillon Cafeteria's type of rice pudding. I would call this more of a "Rice Custard". It has the very nice aroma of warm cinnamon and I'm enjoying a  slice (yes, it can be sliced into squares) with a cup of hot, black coffee.

So, as the last of the season's snowflakes fall, I'm enjoying a warm dessert right out of the oven. What could be better?

Finished and ready to cut

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Cherry Winks

Will Rogers famously said, "I never met a man I didn't like." That's about how I feel about cookies. But like men, some cookies are better than others. I rate Cherry Winks tops.

Mom has always kept a recipe that she cut out of a magazine (or so it seems). The reverse of the recipe (which I'll post below) was clearly written for the holidays in 1954. One line says, "May 1955 bring us closer to peace on earth".

Clearly this recipe is a Pillsbury "Bake Off" winner. A winner, indeed!

 "That's about the year I began baking," Mom said. I was just five years old - not yet in first grade - and these cookies were certainly a great treat. Mom early on modified the recipe to use raisins instead of dates. When I made this batch today, I used margarine (Blue Bonnet) instead of Crisco and I only had half a cup of pecans on hand.
 Otherwise, I used the ingredients and quantities as noted. I almost never follow directions, though. I melted the margarine, added the sugar and eggs and stirred it well. I then added all the other ingredients at the top of the list, lastly the flour. I added the nuts and raisins near the end. And I added the maraschino cherries last so that they wouldn't bleed and color the dough red.

 The final cookie count was 28. That's far below the 60 the recipe calls for. I like larger cookies. I baked these about 17 minutes and they were perfectly done.

 Here is the original clipping from 1954:

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Grandma's Ice-Box Cookies

 I remember the Ice-Box Cookies my grandmother made in the 1950s and which my mother followed up with while Bob and I were kids. Last evening Mom suggested I make a batch (I have never made them myself before).

 And here's the original recipe that my grandmother used:

 A few notes: First, Mom thinks a little cooler oven (375°) is in order. That's the temperature I baked these at (about 13 minutes). Secondly. we had no pecans so we used walnuts (I think pecans are preferable). And third, I forgot to add vanilla as Mom has noted in the right margin. Of course vanilla wasn't in the original recipe so these cookies taste more like the originals. Also, I made half a recipe (20 cookies).
 To get the dough thick enough to place onto wax paper and roll out with my hands, I added a little extra flour (about 1/4 cup). The dough should be stiff enough to work, even at room temperature.

 The resultant dough was just plopped onto waxed paper and worked with my fingers. I dusted the top as I worked so it wouldn't stick, drawing it out into a "log". This is then wrapped in the wax paper and placed in the refrigerator (i.e. "Ice Box") overnight.

 The next day the dough will be stiff and easily cut with a serrated knife. We cut the "log" into 20 sections, each being about 1/2" thick. Remember, I made half a recipe. I'd expect the full recipe to make 40 cookies.

 We baked the cookies using parchment paper placed on a cookies sheet (no clean-up required).
 These are certainly a memorable sweet treat from my childhood. Mom says the vanilla is necessary for the best taste (I can't argue with her) and pecans add the flavor I most remember (now absent). I'd make those changes when I bake them again.

 I'll give my grandmother, Helen Schmidt, full credit for this recipe (which is in her handwriting). There's nothing like cookies fresh from the oven to make a kid happy. Older ones, too.

Helen Schmidt

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Coming & Going

 I've often thought of what marks we make on this world, what record we leave behind. For most of us, those marks are pretty slight.
 Even as a kid, I'd pick up a rock and throw it and wonder when that same rocks was last handled (if ever) and whether it might ever again be moved by human hands. How many rocks did I throw as a kid which remain right where they fell? Most, I'll bet.
 Our footsteps are about the same: they fall on grass or dry soil and leave no mark at all. Sometimes they're made in mud and seem almost cast in stone until the next rain. Unlike the dinosaurs whose heavy footfalls occasionally fell on volcanic ash, soon to harden for the ages, our own weak footsteps seldom last a week.
 I think there's little beyond the written word that outlasts us. Yes, there's the random pyramid (a testament to pride), the Taj Mahal (a testament to love) or a majestic cathedral (a testament to God) that outlast the architects, but even these are few and rare. In time, the eons will get even these, crumbling steadily if imperceptably, a little at a time.
 Then I am even less concerned about footsteps left in snow. Even so, I have to admire them for the day.

 I am out as the sun rises. It's just 19° and there's a gentle breeze from the north. I place my bare hand against my cheek as long as I can and then I have to place it in my pocket to warm. I see yesterday's footsteps - my own - going back the lane and coming back out. There are no tire tracks to mar the way. I am the only one who has been this way since Sunday.

 I suppose it is  my own pride that causes me to marvel at these shoe prints. Though no one else has walked or driven here in days, the animals have been out and about through the night. A cleft-footed deer has passed this way in the nighttime cold, a thin moon setting in the west early in the night. Rabbits crisscross the drive at random. Birds peck here and there, leave odd-angled trails that seem without direction, often ellipses with a dragging tail.
 In another few hours, when the sun has shone here with its increasing angle, all of these tracks will be gone.
 My advice: leave behind a journal, some written record that you passed this way. Hope that it says something worthwhile. Nothing else of yourself will last beyond your days. The future suns conspire to melt your feeble marks away. They melt like the snow.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Dad as Artist

 I've always thought Dad faced the possibility of three careers: funeral director (because that's what his father was), grocery store manager (that's how he ended up) or artist.
 He gave up on the mortuary business because he was allergic to so many substances and his sensitive body and formaldehyde wouldn't have gotten along. Plus, he probably didn't have the personality for the funeral business. He wore his heart of his sleeve (a good thing in my opinion) and he'd certainly have spent many a funeral crying right along with the bereaved.
 After high school he worked for a toolmaker in Dayton, driving there each morning during WWII. He wasn't drafted because of pneumonia as a young child and missing ribs and scars. When the war ended - he had already married in 1943 - he was out of a job. Enter Andy's Ninth Street Market in Miamisburg. It wasn't the sort of job where you had any chance of advancement, but it was certainly one with dependable employment. It was stable. It was near home. It was convenient.
 His artistic talent came in handy in the grocery business. All of the window signs - and many inside the store, too - were produced by him. He could draw a beautiful hand-lettered sign in minutes.
 As a kid, I'd always ask him to sketch me cartoon characters and he could draw them freehand. It seemed as though the black wax crayons he used (from the grocery store) could not be producing anything recognizable as he drew and yet, in the end, Micky Mouse or Popeye jumped from the page. I was thrilled to have my own cartoon artist living under the same roof. It must have been like having Walt Disney for a Dad.
 I'm sure when he was a kid he'd draw airplanes (a favorite hobby of his was making balsa wood planes). Surely he was a doodler.
We've always had two of his artworks on display in our house. Both are probably from 1942 when he was a junior in high school.
 "We'd walk across the street [Sixth Street] to that old building [now the Wantz building] for art class," Mom said. Mom remembers the art teacher's name as Ann Shepherd. Mom has nothing from those years. Dad, however, saved two.

Winter Scene - 1942
©William H Schmidt

Windmills - 1942
©William H Schmidt

We have the Winter Scene in a second floor bedroom, against blue wallpaper. It's the perfect spot for it. I walk by it many times each day and marvel at Dad's skill with pastel chalk. It is framed and behind glass. I have no idea where the scene is located - maybe it was taken from a commercial print? - but I've always imagined it to be a home in Bear Lake, Michigan.
 Windmills is kept propped atop Dad's dresser in his bedroom. It is watercolor on art board and is not framed. I've always loved the vivid sunset colors. I only wish some of Dad and Mom's artistic abilities had come to me.

Miamisburg High School - 1942 - Juniors (Part 1)

 This is scanned from the MHS 1942 Mirus. It represents only half the junior class. I didn't want to crop Dad's picture away from some of his high school friends. Dad is in the second row from the top, second in from the left (click the picture to enlarge). He has sort of a Norman Rockwell look in this shot, don't you think?
 He might have made something as an artist, I like to think. But in the war years, I suppose that would have been thought of as a frivolous occupation. At least locally, he'd have had a hard time supporting the war effort with his art.
 Then, too, he married two years after graduating from high school and four years later he had an expanding family to support (namely me). Rather than merely grocer, he was foremost husband and father and I'd rather remember him with either of those titles anyway.
 He excelled at both.

Added: I thought it only fair that I post the second page of the junior class. This page is actually shown first in the 1942 Mirus (because the names are alphabetized). My mother, Mary Paulsen, is in the bottom row, third in from the right edge.

Miamisburg High School - Juniors - 1942 (Part 2)

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Two Left Feet

 It was one of those nights. The room was a little too cold and I wasn't in the mood to get up and throw another blanket on the bed. I'd sleep for a while and then wake, roll about, think about things that concern me, then fall fitfully back to sleep.

 My sinuses have been a mess, too, and I'd wake with cotton mouth, unable to unstick my tongue from the roof of my dry mouth. A glass of water might have helped but it was nearly as far away as another blanket. So I'd sleep, wake, sleep all the night long.

 And dream.

 I remember first dreaming of Ginger (our beloved schnauzer), already gone 16 years. I was in the dining room and she came running around the corner, smiling as usual, heading into the living room. I cornered her by the doorway into the living room, stood her on her two back feet and hugged her to me. Her warm, fluffy fur felt good against my neck.

 She might actually have been here, it was so real.

 It's been going this way all week. The night before I was awakened by an owl in the catalpa tree out front. He began hooting about 5:30 am and kept at it for at least 15 minutes. I got up that time, looked out the window, hoping I might be able to see him silhouetted against the sky (as Dad told me he once did). But, no. Soon the hooting ended and I fell back to sleep.

 And then there were my two left feet.

 I remember dreaming that Dad, Mom and I were eating at Miss Molly's in Farmersville and as we were driving home, I saw a tornado dropping out of the sky to our southwest. It was a thin, gray thing and, as I have not seen a tornado in person before, I wanted nothing more than to get into the house and get my camera.

 When we got home, I pulled off my shoes, ran up the stairs, pulled the camera out of my desk and hurried back to the kitchen. I looked out the back door and saw that the tornado was still hanging in the sky. Time, though, was of the essence if I were to get a good photo.

 I sat on the kitchen floor and pulled on my shoes. I stood and saw that I had them on backwards. Or so I thought. I quickly pulled them off and traded them around. Still not right! I realized I was wearing two different shoes, both left.

 I wanted to get outside quickly but I knew I wouldn't be able to run around with two left shoes. I sat down again and begin changing them again.

 My dream ended as I finally got back outside, camera in hand and found the tornado gone.

 My luck.

 I'm thinking maybe "dreamless sleep" isn't so bad.