It is hard to believe that we have lived in Portland for 12 years. Before moving out here we lived in Boston, and the last place we lived was in a small town on the outskirts of Boston called Lexington. Compared to anything in Portland, it is old. It was a town involved in the Revolutionary War, and where the Battle of Lexington was fought. That, however, is just a bit of history. We rented the first story of a large house, and 5 women rented the upstairs of the house. Next door, was a farm called Wilson Farms. Next to our house was one of their fields and on the other end of the field was their farm store.
We spent quite a bit of $$$ — as it was so easy, convenient, and of course tasty. In the fall and winter they would have piping hot apple cider donuts and some prepackaged to take home. I think that was probably Chris’ favorite part of living right next door. I loved them too – but what I miss most was the tulips that were the size of my hand. When I recently found this recipe for Apple Cider Mini Muffins I knew we had to try. A bit of Wilson Farms nostalgia. And…they were so good!
Baked Apple Cider Mini Muffins
2 cups flour
1½ teaspoons baking powder
1½ teaspoons baking soda
1½ teaspoons cinnamon
½ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons butter, melted
⅔ cup brown sugar
½ cup buttermilk
2 tablespoons applesauce
1 teaspoon vanilla
½ cup apple cider
5 tablespoons butter, melted
1 tablespoon cinnamon
½ cup sugar
In a large bowl stir together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt.
In another bowl whisk together the egg, melted butter, and brown sugar. Then add the buttermilk, applesauce, vanilla, and apple cider.
Add the wet ingredients to the bowl of dry ingredients and whisk together just until combined.
Pour the batter into lightly sprayed mini muffin tins. Fill each muffin ¾ full. Bake for 8 minutes at 350 degrees.
While the muffins are baking melt the butter in a microwave safe bowl. In another bowl combine the sugar and cinnamon together.
When the muffins come out of the oven dip the top of each into the melted butter, then dip into the cinnamon/sugar mixture.
During brunch on Sunday, the bathroom had a smell that brought me back to the bathroom in my church growing up. Strange as that might be. It reminded me of the decor, the darkness of that dank basement where we had Sunday School and other such memories. It was not an uplifting place so the memory of the bathroom did not bring me to have a smile on my face. More a reminder of memories from childhood.
It amazes me how easily a smell can bring you back to a moment in time. You can run the play-by-play of events through your thoughts, reviewing what happened when that smell is brought to your senses. I have had it when smelling a specific food, an item of clothing in my closet, linens on a bed. At times the smell brings back wonderful memories, and other times it is a reminder of a past that might better be forgotten. Sometimes a smell of certain foods is nostalgia of childhood, and then when we are able to recreate those recipes, the taste is nothing like the smell to us. We have grown up, changed, and honed our taste buds.
At times a lotion or hair product might make me think of my grandma, a type of make-up my mom, and an aftershave my dad. Even if I have not seen them for 15-25 years the smells are ingrained in my thoughts and memories and nothing can take that away. Smells trigger memories, and we are quickly jettisoned back to a moment in time as we try to recollect why the smell reminds us of something. When we do remember, it is as though we were 10 or 12 or 20 again. A smile might cross our face, or a tear fall towards the ground.
Are there smells that trigger specific memories for you?
My mom was not always the most amazing cook or baker, but somehow I have childhood nostalgia for a few recipes we made as kids. My mom’s recipes had a bit of an early burial. After college my sister purchased a used laptop. This was back in the day when a laptop was as thick as a brick, and cell phones were used in cars for emergencies and also looked like bricks. Not long after she purchased the laptop she decided to transfer all of my mom’s recipes over to the laptop and get rid of the paper versions. Made sense at the time right? Not until the laptop died and she lost everything on the hard drive. This was before we had a zillion ways to back up a computer.
It was a sad day. Over the years I have thought about that laptop and all the recipes we lost. I still have some of my mom’s cookbooks, but the recipes on index cards, worn and used are long gone. A few of the recipes I remember and have not tried to recreate, but there was one particular recipe that I have tried countless times to recreate with no success. I have tried to remember the ingredients and put together what I think were the amounts, and I have tried to find a recipe on the Internet with similar ingredients, with no luck. I have had runny finished products, nasty tasting ones, and ones that were just boring. Chris has given up on me finding it. I am relentless. I will try until I find it.
Recently I found this version on Design Sponge. Still not my absolute favorite but it gets closer to the real deal. We were lazy and purchased a pie crust rather than making it from scratch. For the full recipe click the link below (pie crust included). We also just used ice cream rather than their whip cream. To me a good Chocolate Chess Pie should be served warm with cold ice cream to make the pie congeal. A bit like a warm brownie and ice cream. If you have your own version, let me know – I will try it!
In a medium bowl, stir together both sugars, the cornmeal, nutmeg and cocoa powder, mixing until completely combined. Stir in the vanilla, butter, eggs and evaporated milk and mix until fully incorporated. When ready to bake, position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Pour the filling into the unbaked pie shell. Place on the prepared baking sheet and bake for 40 to 50 minutes. Remove the pie and cool for at least one hour. Serve with ice cream.
Holiday traditions. I am a bit of a Scrooge. My sister and dad were always so much more into the holidays, and somehow that gene did not find its way into my veins. Call me crazy, or extremely practical, but oftentimes the holidays are just another day in the grand scheme of things. I appreciate them as a day to relax, recharge, and be slow.
So, having said all that what’s your favorite holiday tradition? We both love to sleep in (who does not whenever possible). Maybe it is because we do not have kids yet, but we do not really have many/any holiday traditions. The one thing we often do is make my mom’s coffee cake. I like it, Chris likes it, and it is easy to make. It is nothing fancy, just a Betty Crocker (Picture Cookbook circa 1950) recipe that I doctor and adapt to my own liking, but something about it reminds me of my childhood. Somehow my family (and often my grandma) split a 9 x 9 pan of coffee cake (how did we ever do that!)? We would get up on Thanksgiving or Christmas morning and have it right away (before presents or anything). I have my mother’s Betty Crocker cookbook copy. The hole punched page has ripped out and the page itself is worn and splotched.
Stir together thoroughly:
3/4 cup Sugar
1/4 cup unsalted Butter (or shortening):
Note: I only use butter and it should be soft
1/2 cup Milk
Sift together and stir in (I never sift though):
1 1/2 cup Flour
2 teaspoons Baking Powder
1/2 teaspoon Salt
Streusel Mixture: 3/4 cup Brown Sugar
2 teaspoons Cinnamon 2 tablespoons melted unsalted Butter
Set oven to 375 degrees
Spread batter in greased and floured 9″ pan. Sprinkle with desired topping. Bake until wooden pick thrust into center of cake comes out clean. Serve warm, fresh from oven.
Baker note: I go on instinct for the amount of brown sugar, butter, and cinnamon I put together. I sprinkle it on top of the batter and then cut tiny sized chunks of unsalted butter and place them randomly all over the top of the streusel. It makes for more of a crunchy, yummy topping. It is my adaptation. Also, I use the above topping, there are other options for toppings in the cookbook.
Recipe note: Be sure that your “wooden pick thrust into center of cake comes clean” (who uses the word thrust)?
I am a sucker for a feel good novel. You know the kind that makes you dream about living on a farm or opening up a bakery, regardless of all the work it actually takes to pull such ventures off. Over the weekend as I was finishing up such novel, one of the very last paragraphs on the last page of the book reminded me of my mom and grandma:
“My grandmother’s handwriting filled the yellowed index cards, her letters tall and elegant, directing the creation of breads and cakes, pies and pastries, cookies, and of course, muffins. Even in the faded peacock-blue ink, her words live on.” page 341
The book? The Irresistible Blueberry Bakeshop & Cafe by Mary Simses. A novel about a woman whose grandma had asked her to deliver a letter for her and then dies, and the journey the woman has to make to unravel a past she did not know about her grandma. A fluffy, fun book? Yes. Still, it was good. She talks about food throughout, and juxtaposes it with the woman (a Manhattan attorney) who is always careful about what she eats only to find comfort in the food she eats on her journey.
I still have a few of the index recipe cards in both my mom and grandma’s handwriting. You can tell how often a dish was made by the grease and spill marks, the worn look of the paper, and sometimes the bleed of a pen. I only have a few remnants of these recipes. At one point many years ago, when laptops became a hot item (although they still looked like bricks) my sister and I transferred the recipes we inherited to her new laptop so we could both have copies, and then not too long later the laptop died and was not able to be resurrected. In some ways it is fine as we have found, explored, and made our own favorite recipes, but there are still a few that linger out there that I have not been able to replicate.
Sometimes Chris asks me if the memory of the time, or the memory and nostalgia of that favorite recipe is strong but if I actually was able to replicate the dish would it still have the same effect on me? I love my mom’s coffee cake, and yet that was not lost (thanks to Betty Crocker). I have even changed it up and added my own twist. There are many that I probably never even know that I am missing. The one that I have tried over and over to recreate with horrible luck was her chocolate chess pie. I remember making it often as a kid and loving it, but each time I try now it is a runny mess. I think Chris has given up on it. So if any of you have a chocolate chess pie recipe that you want to share, I am all ears!