Monday, September 17, 2012

Hey Jude

Mum, Lago di Como, May 1999

Ten years.  A whole decade.  A full quarter of my life so far (may I have many more years, as Nana would have said, "The good Lord willing.")  Hard to believe it has been that long since my mother lost the struggle with breast cancer.  Last week was the anniversary.  

Four generations - Mum, Nana, Me, Great-Grandma Frindt

And yet, so much has happened since that time, it almost seems possible it has been longer.  In the past decade I've met and married Adam, moved three times, sold my condo.  We bought a house, pets have joined us and departed.  I've gone back to school, switched careers and jobs, and switched again.  I'm a yoga instructor now, but no longer a vegetarian, realized I shouldn't eat the the bread and pasta I practically subsisted on in my youth, and doctors got to the bottom of the mysterious auto-immune issues.  So much more, I can't even begin to list everything. 

Mum and sleeping baby Sidney

At the time of the cancer, Sidney was the only grandchild.  Adored and doted upon, Mum relished becoming a Nana (which made her mother, my Nana, Great Nana).  Even when very sick, a visit from Sid would brighten everything.  Not only for Mum, for all of us.  Something positive and fun, an adorable distraction.  Joy is the nature of children.  Oblivious to sickness, no idea the situation is anything but normal.  Something legitimite to do, aside from chores, a change of pace from sitting, waiting.  I mean no disrespect at all, and there is no where else I would have been.  All I mean to say is a toddler makes death more bearable.  This could be part of the reason Sid is more or less frozen in my mind as that toddler, although she is now in junior high.  It was such an emotional time, and we all spent so much time together.           

Mum and sleeping toddler Sidney

My sisters now have a total of four children.  Four beautiful grandchildren, all would have been equally adored.  Nicole was pregnant with Anna at the time of our mother's death.  Anna Judith is named in honor of her grandmother, Judith Ann.

Dad, baby Anna, Sidney

It is not surprising Mum was such a devoted Nana, she was a wonderful mother.  The kind of mother who baked homemade treats to share with classmates on your birthday (when such a thing was still allowed in schools), went on the school field trips, sat on the floor to play Barbies, was the "customer" for play beauty shop, took us on beach outings and got ice cream sandwiches during the swim break, made sure all the words were memorized for the spelling test, cooked family dinner and would make breakfast for dinner when Dad was away, traveled to Italy with you, sent articles she thought you would find interesting.  

Mum and Bunkie (me) (Bunkie = a derivative of "pumpkin") - my first birthday

Friends were always welcome at the house, she was known as "Mrs. Sid."  Kind and friendly, she easily chatted with everyone, anywhere she went.  Equally strong, she was not to be crossed.  A stern look and raised eyebrown would set you in place.  My high school boyfriend called this look "The implied dammit."  Without raised voice or swearing (not that she didn't do these things, she was half Italian after all), she would command attention.   

Dad, Nicole, Me, Mum, Kim - Cole's 4th birthday - the house in Crystal Lake 

Me, Dad, Mum, Kim, Nicole - Cole and Eric's wedding - the house in Crystal Lake

As I mentioned earlier, I didn't meet Adam until a few months after her passing, so he never met her.  I've never met his mother either, but that's a long complicated story, and his to tell.  I think that feeling of motherlessness was one more thing we had in common.  He has asked if she would have liked him.  She would have - he is loving, kind, funny, respectful, responsible.  I know she wanted to see me settled and "taken care of." I resented this remark when she made it, I am a modern woman!  I can take care of myself!  Now that I am married, I see all the ways that Adam and I do take care of each other.  I altered her dress for our wedding.  A tangible piece of her with us on the day.  

Uncle Danny, Nana, Great Grandma Frindt, Mum, Papa (dress made by Aunt Bea!)

Me in the altered wedding dress
(if you look closely you can kind of see the lovely embroidery)

There are clues to be found, small glimmers of who she was, remaining in the living.  In the kind, caring women my sisters have become.  They are amazing mothers.  Dad is now the sender of cards, the buyer of gifts, even remembering the children of nieces and nephews, and the organizer of outings.  Nicole has always looked so much like her, and I think I too am looking more like her the older I get.  I certainly have her big crooked teeth, subdued by braces, but too willful to remain perfectly straight.  Growing up her family couldn't afford braces.  She didn't like her teeth, and would smile with closed lips for pictures.  Such a shame, as her authentic beautiful smile isn't captured much on film.  I think of this when posing for photos, and smile a big full smile, even if my  buck teeth are revealed.  And there's her brother, Uncle Danny, who is practically a male, bald, bearded twin.  It's the eyes, so eerily alike.

Mum and Uncle Danny - Dominick and Candace's wedding

Mum and Uncle Danny - Christmas 2001

Ten years.  Long enough to soften the emotions.  It's true, it does get easier with time.  The pain is rounded, mellowed.  A soft melancholy, no sharp edges.  The all encompassing sadness bubble was navigated and exited.  Ten years is also long enough to unravel the memory.  My father used to casually call her Jude, like in "Jude, are we out of paper towels?"  Did anyone else call her Jude?  Her brother?  Her mother?  Any friends, or was she always Judy to them?  What did her voice sound like?  Her laugh?   

I am grateful for the years we had with her.  I was 30 when he died, a grown woman.  More than some get, either in quantity or quality.  Don't be sad, she wouldn't have wanted that.  Even in her illness I feel our family was fortunate.  She had the best medical care, and was surrounded by family and friends.  We had each other.  I know she is with us in spirit, smiling, and still taking care of us.    

In closing, on a happy note, I'll leave you with her recipe for Double Chocolate Zucchini cake.  My mother loved sweets, especially chocolate. From an early age we were in the kitchen with my mother, baking along side her.  We made this every summer year with the over abundance of zucchini from the backyard garden in Crystal Lake.  Same thing happens now in our yard here in Chicago.   Sorry no photo, I haven't had a chance to make it yet this year.  When I do, I'll come back and add a picture.  Bake, and be happy! 


Now with photos!  Added September 30, 2012

Double Chocolate Zucchini Cake

Makes 16 servings


3 medium (1 pound) zucchini, about three cups 
3 cups unsifted all-purpose flour
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1-1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon cloves
1-1/4 teaspoons salt
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2-1/3 cups (1 pound) light brown sugar
4 eggs
1 cups chopped pecans (optional)

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Grate enough zucchini to equal three cups.  Grease and flour a 10-inch tube pan (e.g. Bundt pan), set aside.
  • In  a large bowl combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves and salt; set aside.  
  • In a large mixer bowl, beat oil and sugar at medium speed.  Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition, scraping sides of bowl occasionally.  Gradually beat in melted chocolate.  Add dry ingredients, beat until smooth.  Fold in zucchini, chocolate pieces, and pecans.  Pour into prepared pan.
  • Bake 1 hour and 20 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.  Cool on wire rack 20 minutes.  Remove cake from pan, cool completely on wire rack. 
Notes from Tara:
  • This makes a pretty big cake.  Feel free to freeze half.  It does very well, just thaw in the fridge.  
  • Zucchini itself freezes pretty well, and is good for use in moist applications, like soup or bread.  For bread, I let it thaw and drain before adding to a batter.  Grate, and put in portion size bags (the amount for this recipe fills a quart-size freezer bag). 
  • I've also made it in two loaf pans to make the freezing-half process easier.  It works well, just watch the baking time.  
  • This batch was made gluten free.  I substituted the 3 cups of all-purpose flour for 420 grams gluten-free all-purpose flour mix and 1-1/2 teaspoons of xanthan gum.
  • I was out of unsweetened chocolate, so substituted 6 tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa powder and 2 tablespoons of melted cocoa butter (regular butter is typical, I just happened to have cocoa butter on hand for the body butter I make).
For reference, this is the zucchini I used.  It yielded about three cups.
Instead of straight flour, blend 1 tablespoon of flour and
1 tablespoon cocoa powder for dusting the pan.
Ready for the oven.
Cooling, soooo hard to wait!
Ready to eat!  Optional - dust with powdered sugar before serving.


Monday, September 10, 2012

Sunday Morning Crepes

Sunday morning was cool with a hint of fall in the air.  I usually have a smoothie (primarily green) for breakfast, but with the chill I felt like something warm and cooked.  When Adam and I do make weekend breakfast, it is generally eggs.  Adam was out fishing, so it was just me. Oatmeal seemed so blah.  Time to cook up something a little sweet!

Following a basic crepe recipe from The Joy of Cooking (by far my most-used cook book), I made a few ingredients alterations for dietary and availability reasons.  I mostly try to eat gluten-free, so I used an all-purpose gluten-free mix I keep on hand (substituted same amount).  It is based on the mix from The Gluten-Free Girl.  I couldn't tell you exactly what is in my current blend.  

We were out of milk, so I used coconut milk (also same amount).  I also try to not have too much dairy, saving it for cheese consumption and some kefir / yogurt.  We do usually have milk in the fridge for Adam, and culinary purposes. 

Making crepes always takes me back to Restaurant Desserts with Chef Rob.  I loved Restaurant Desserts (although I do still bear some caramel scars from that class).  One reason is probably evident, it was all desserts!  But also the class was in the afternoon, a welcome respite after all the early morning classes (Baking and Pastry, I loved you too, but the crack of dawn, really?).  The class was small, another welcome change.  I would stay with most of that group the rest of culinary school.  Chef Rob was laid back, one last difference after so much strictness and yelling.  

Photo from final class of culinary school, American Regional Cuisine.
I'm on the right, middle row, second woman in.

Anyway, during Restaurant Desserts, one day was designated as Crepe Day.  All we did was make crepes.  Sweet crepes, savory crepes, three different shades of crepe golden-ness.  At the old Kendall Evanston campus the pastry kitchen was on the ground floor, near the cafeteria, with a long window open to the hallway.  Eventually everyone would walk by.  And word got out around the small school - Crepe Day.  Banana Nutella crepe?  Yes, please!  

Three levels of crepe color

Crepes seem fancy and hard, but if you can make pancakes you can make crepes.  Know 
that your first one will not turn out, just munch on that while making the others. 

The topping is simple.  Dice a nectarine (I left the skin on).  Warm a little oil or butter in a saute pan.  Cook nectarine for a bit, then add in some maple syrup.  I think I used a little less than a tablespoon for the one nectarine.  Any fruit will work. 

Just roll up the crepes, and top with the fruit.  Et voila!  If you don't want a fruit topping, there are so many other choices - syrup only, powdered sugar, Nutella, peanut butter, whipped cream, etc. etc. etc.  

Enjoy!  Wishing you lovely weekend mornings.


P.S. Visit the companion Facebook page and share your everyday joy!  

Basic Sweet Crepes 
The Joy of Cooking (1997 edition) by Irma Rombauer, Marion Rombauer Becker, and Ethan Becker

Makes about 12 7-1/2" crepes


1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup lukewarm water
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1-1/2 tablespoons sugar
Pinch of salt


Combine all ingredients in a blender or food processor until smooth

Pour the batter into a pitcher or other container with a pouring lip.  Cover with plastic wrap and let stand for 30 minutes or refrigerate for up to 2 days.  (This allows the flour to thoroughly absorb the liquid and gives the gluten in the flour a chance to relax.)  

Place a nonstick or seasoned crepe pan over medium heat.  Coat the pan with a little unsalted butter.  

Stir the batter and pour about 2 tablespoons into the pan, lifting the pan off the heat and tilting and rotating it so that the batter forms an even, very thin layer.  Cook until the top is set and the underside is golden.  Turn the crepe over, using a spatula or your fingers (fingers work best here) and cook until the second side is lightly browned.  Remove the crepe to a piece of wax paper.  Continue cooking the rest of the crepes, buttering the pan and stirring the batter before starting each one.  Stack the finished crepes between sheets of wax paper.  Use immediately or let cool, wrap airtight, and freeze for up to 1 month.  

For savory crepe, omit sugar.

Note from Tara - It is very easy to whisk by hand if you don't want to bother with blender or food processor.  


Piefest XIII

Until this past weekend I wouldn't have thought it possible to have too much pie.  I love pie!  I would have scoffed had anyone suggested such a thing.  Inconceivable!  Piefest XIII proved me wrong.  There comes a point when you just have to step away from the fork.  Don't get me wrong, I wanted to eat more pie.  But short of going all Roman, I simply couldn't eat another bite.  

Piefest is the creation of Adam's co-worker, Evan.  Although this is Piefest XIII, it was our Piefest premier.  

Here is how Piefest works:

1. Bring a (homemade) pie

2. Eat as much pie as you can
3. Vote on which pies you like best

The categories for voting are:


BBQ is Adam's thing.  He struck on the idea of making a BBQ pie for the savory category.  Thursday evening he got a brisket, and started smoking.    

And pastry is my thing, so I offered to make the crust.  Initially, I had an empanada-like crust in mind, but that would only work for mini-pies.  I didn't think it would be strong enough for a full-size pie, and we weren't sure mini-pies would comply with Piefest regulations.  It was the good idea of another of Adam's co-workers, Andy, to have a biscuit crust.

Cut butter into the dry ingredients.

Wet ingredients added, ready to roll out.

Rolled out thinner than for biscuits.

In the pie plate.


Since the dough was so soft, I didn't think I'd be able
to get it on top in one sheet.  The solution was to
cut and apply as biscuits.

Brisket was fully cooked prior to going in the shell.
BBQ sauce added to make it more like a pie filling.

Biscuits applied and brushed with butter, ready for the oven.

Pie in the oven, a little garden-fresh snack for the chef.
When I got Chagall, I taught her to sit on this
little stool so she wouldn't be underfoot in the kitchen.


Ahhhhh, yesssssss.....

Your pastry chef!

With love!

Meat pie baked and ready (I couldn't help but think of Sweeney Todd during this whole procedure.  Rest assured, only beef was used in the making of this pie), we headed out to Piefest.

Wow, what a selection!  So many pies.  We arrived early in the fest, and initially I was able to keep up with pies as they arrived.  There came a point when they were arriving too quickly, and, as I mentioned, I just became overly full.  Sadly, I did not sample all of the delicious pies.  Baked goods aside, a pie theme is a really great idea for a party.  Being an introvert, it's draining for me to make small talk in a large group of people I mostly don't know.  With all the pies, there was natural conversation.  Everyone was up and mingling, eating and talking about pies.

Our BBQ Brisket Pie

Quiche'n Tov, this one had a potato pancake crust.

Pad Pie - Pad Thai filling in a scallion pancake crust

Politician "Cherry" Pie with Lie-cing.  It was actually beets.  Very
tasty.  I forget what all was in the crust, it
it included hazelnuts.

That's how I felt after so much pie.
Elmo Pie

The Piemaster, Evan, and his awesome pie shirt.

The Least I Could Do Pie

Chicago Deep Dish Apple Pie

Pie-cake-in (like a Turducken) - a pie inside a cake

Banana Buttermilk

Yes, I will have some more pie!

Occupy Pie Street
Cream puff protesters

Piedog and Piemistress, Shama.

Most of the Piefest photos by Adam, who agrees the new camera is great to use.  Not only did we not try all the pies, we did not get photos of all the pies.

So, who won?

PRESENTATION: Occupy Pie Street

AMBITIOUS: Pie-cake-in and Occupy Pie Street
CRUST: Chicago Deep Dish
ORIGINAL: Politician "Cherry" Pie
MISCELANEOUS: Politician "Cherry" Pie
CREAM: The Rich Toff
FRUIT: Rock Da House Rhubarb
BEST IN SHOW: 3-way tie between Thanksgiving, Quiche'n Tov, Occupy Pie Street

That's right, we won for savory!  Hooray!  Below is the biscuit recipe, it is my favorite.  As Chef Art says in the recipe intro, they have a slightly crunchy crust with a soft interior.  You'll have to ask Adam for details on the brisket.  As far as I know, you rub it with spices, then cook it for a really long time at a low temperature with charcoal and wood chunks.  Pitmasters everywhere are shaking their heads in disappointment.  

If you'd like to hear an audio description of Piefest and an interview with the organizers, listen to a podcast at The Stupid Nerd blog.  It's episode #63, scroll down. 

Happy eating!  Enjoy some pie.  


P.S. Please find the companion Facebook page here.  Share your everyday joys!

Boarding House Biscuits
from Back to the Table by Art Smith

Makes about 14 biscuits


1 c. all-purpose flour
1 c. cake flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
4 tbsp. (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2" cubes
3/4 c. buttermilk, as needed


Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 400 degrees F.  

Whisk all-purpose flour, cake flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl.  Using a pastry blender, cut in the butter until the mixture is crumbly with a few pea-size pieces of butter.  Stir in enough buttermilk to make a soft, sticky dough.

Turn out onto a lightly floured work surface.  Quickly knead the dough just enough until it comes together; do not overknead.  Pat or roll out the dough until it is 1/2" thick.  Using 2-1/2" biscuit cutter, cut out the biscuits and place 1" apart on an ungreased baking sheet.  Gather up the scraps, knead briefly, and repeat until all the dough has been used.  

Bake until golden brown, about 18 minutes.