Thursday, July 22, 2010

Big Blueberry Bake Sale Bars

Blueberries are special to me.  More than any other food, they evoke a Proustian quality of memory.  My childhood was far from perfect, and my recollections of those years are often tinged with sadness and loss.  But where blueberries are concerned, there are, in my mind, only happy associations.  Of course there are the ones you would expect - summer, picnics, ice cream, and pie, but there are more, too - nurturing, hope, freedom, possibility, and even love.

I took my girls picking today.  What blueberry memories will they have?  For me it might be the remembered flavor of a handful of berries the color of comfortable denim, snatched in passing, eaten with one hand while wandering the rows, a tattered paperback in my other hand, the morning mist around the blueberry bushes just beginning to dissipate.  Or the sheen of a berry might remind me of the exact color of my Dad's blue Buick in October, covered with the first frost of the year.  What unbidden images will flavor my daughters' blueberry dreams?

I spent my high school summers working at a U-pick blueberry farm in northeastern Pennsylvania, which meant that I spent most of my time sunbathing, or when it got too hot, sitting in a comfortable rocker in an open-sided shed reading piles of books, eating blueberries, and petting the calico cat.  Occasionally I would weigh buckets, direct visitors to the best rows, and make change.  If I felt ambitious, I picked buckets of blueberries to take home.  We froze them in empty Chock Full O Nuts coffee cans, and then reached into them for berries to adorn winter pancakes, or muffins, or blueberry bars.

For one weekend every summer, the farm became very busy.  During the annual Blueberry Festival, which was a fundraiser to benefit the Susquehanna County Library and Historical Society, people came to pick berries for the bake sale.  My family always baked something like these blueberry bars.  The crust is not too rich - more like a scone than a cookie or pastry.  We cut them into big slabs (to evoke that "little hands" feeling), put them on a napkin, and charged a dollar.  People went crazy for them.  I've altered and improved on the recipe since then.

Big Blueberry Bake-Sale Bars

4 C flour, divided
1/2 C + 3 T sugar
5 t baking powder
1/4 t salt
zest and juice of one lemon
1/2 C cold butter, cut into pieces
1 C cream or half-and-half or milk
2 beaten eggs
4 C blueberries
4 t cornstarch
1 C confectioner's sugar
1/2 t cinnamon
1/2 C melted butter

1.  Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.  Butter an 11 X 15" sheet pan.

2.  In a medium bowl, combine 3 C of the flour, the 3 T of sugar, the baking powder, the salt, and the lemon zest.  Using a pastry cutter, two knives, or your fingers, cut in the 1/2 C cold butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.  Make a well in the center; set aside.

3.  Combine the cream and the eggs with a whisk.  Add all at once to the flour mixture.  Using a fork, stir until just moistened.  Spread the dough onto the 11 X 15" pan.  Hands are best for this.  Work the dough into all four corners of the pan.

4.  Mix the blueberries, 1/2 C sugar, cornstarch, and lemon juice.  Spread this mixture over the crust.

5.  For the streusel topping -   Combine the melted butter, 1 C flour, confectioner's sugar, and cinnamon in a medium bowl and mix with your fingers until moist and crumbly.  Crumble over the top of the blueberries and press in gently.

6.  Bake at 375 degrees F for 45 minutes, until the top is slightly golden brown.  Let cool completely, cut into hand-sized squares.  Enjoy!

Enhanced by Zemanta

Monday, July 19, 2010

Hand-rolled and hand-cut pasta

I was inspired to try making homemade pasta by this post at SouleMama.  I've made pasta before, always by machine, and I just hate washing all that gadgety stuff at the end.  It makes it seem so not worth it.  So when I read that Amanda hand rolls and hand cuts her pasta, and that she actually likes doing it, I thought I'd have to try.  I got The Art of Simple Food: Notes, Lessons, and Recipes from a Delicious Revolution from the library, and followed Alice Waters' recipe.  I used the KitchenAid mixer to mix the dough.  When I took it out to hand knead it, it seemed kind of dry.  The eggs we use are from a local farm and run small, so I crumbled the dough back into the KitchenAid and added another small egg.  That seemed to do the trick.  I hand kneaded it a little and then let it rest.  That resting business always seems kind of unimportant to me, and used to sometimes skip instructions like that, until experience taught me that gluten strands, whether in bread or pasta, sometimes need time to relax and de-stress, just like us.  I can tell you that after an hour resting on the counter the dough was very easy to work with.

Here it is, folded in thirds for cutting.  I purposely cut fairly thick strips because I thought they would look cool and rustic.

I was really paranoid about the noodles sticking together when I cooked them, so I spread them out in layers on clean tea towels.  Then I dropped then quickly into the water one at a time while my husband stirred gently.  They were a little thick, so they took 5 minutes to cook.  Next time I will be patient and roll them out a bit thinner, but I was hungry and impatient - a common problem for me!

They were delicious!  Here's my hubby's dish of pasta, served with caramelized fennel, grated parmesan, arugula with roasted walnuts, and a little steamed artichoke.  I am not a huge fennel fan, but we got some from our CSA, and this is a fennel recipe I actually enjoy.  It is the Pasta with Golden Fennel from Deborah Madison's Local Flavors: Cooking and Eating from America's Farmers' Markets.  The arugula and artichokes came in our CSA box this week, too.    

Felted Sweater Mice

I am back, maybe to stay for a while?  Or maybe not.  It seems that the demands of summertime mothering are not so conducive to blogging, but I really miss having that reflective time, and some space in which to celebrate the small successes of my days.  So we'll see how it goes, I guess.

For now, I want to show you my little felted mice.

They're made from felted sweaters from the thrift store.  These are the first three, though I have plans to make six - one for each of my children, and one for each of their four cousins.  The two on the left have eyes made of beads, and the one on the right has stitched eyes because that cousin is a chewer.

 They have felt hearts stitched on their tummies!

The pink tail is a strip cut from a sweater that I maybe overfelted a little.  It worked great.  I really wanted yellow for the other tails, and I didn't have any yellow felted sweaters, so I knitted a couple of I-cords.  I learned how from a tutorial on YouTube.  That was fun and satisfying!  I-cords is short for "idiot cords" because they are so simple once you see how to do it.  I will be looking for excuses to knit I-cords now.

Here's one of mine with the card she made for her cuz.

The pattern for these is Betz White's, and can be found here.