Tag Archives: Grammy Caldwell

Grammy’s Advice

Mist on Mountain Street

Grammy Caldwell believed in advice – both giving and receiving. She loved quoting from the witticisms and proverbs in Benjamin Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Almanac, and she was known to make up quite a few of her own words of wisdom which she happily passed along. I’ve ben thinking about one in particular lately,

“Have overnight guests once a month and dinner guests once a week. That way you’ll have a clean house once a month and enjoy eating a good meal every week.”

When the kids were still home I gave up on the clean house part. Okay, let’s be honest. Whether or not I had kids I never worried too much about the clean house part because cleaning has never been a major priority for me. Ironically I am actually quite good at removing dirt, grime, and tarnish; and spent one summer during college cleaning houses for other people. It’s not that I live in squalor (and trust me I don’t-it’s just a bit dusty and there may be a few bits of dog hair to be found), but a good book or an interesting knitting project or a yummy batch of biscotti all seem like much better choices of how to spend one’s time as opposed to wielding a vacuum cleaner to banish dust bunnies from under the couch or picking up a bottle of windex and rags to vanquish fingerprints (or in my case paw prints) from windows and doors. Having disclosed that I’m not the world’s foremost cleaner, I will admit to becoming a whirling dervish prior to anyone’s announced visits (especially when it’s my Mom). If folks show up unannounced I try to distract them with a cookie or three. It’s amazing what people will overlook when you feed them.

Sunrise on North Farms Road

The dinner part was never an issue when there were children to feed, but it turns out that Grammy was right about the once a week dinner part when you remove offspring from the equation. With no kids to make meals for Shawn and I have become quite casual when it comes to our evening feed. I won’t say I haven’t cooked for the entire time since Russell and Isabelle departed to their separate institutes of higher learning, but the suppers I’ve produced since the drop off dates can be counted on less than ten fingers. Since I’m no longer responsible for feeding growing bodies I can feed myself hors d’oeuvre for dinner. Or a bowl of cereal. Perhaps even some eggs on toast. Any funny thing that catches my fancy when I open a cupboard or happens to be sitting on a shelf in the fridge. It’s rather astonishing how infrequently I find myself in front of the stove. I haven’t lost my appetite (or any weight for that mater) but I have lost a significant portion of my culinary audience. Plus my husband seems quite content to putter in the kitchen and whip something up for the two of us, or just himself if I happen to be so engrossed in a good book that I don’t feel like eating.

Add to this adjustment of empty nesthood the fact that when I make enough food for eight it actually lasts two people for four meals! With the kiddos home I’d make enough for what I thought was a small army and it would be gone in less than 24 hours. I began to lovingly refer to them as, “my teenage human locusts”. Our grocery bills are a fifth of what they were. Which is, I suppose, in part to compensate for the thousands of dollars we are now spending on their college meal plans.

Honestly I can’t say I’m feeling compelled to become a house cleaning maniac, but it would be nice to actually get back into the habit of cooking dinner – at least once a week.

Beginnings of fall

I took these photos on my way into church yesterday. Fall was one of Grammy’s favorite times of year and I think she would have loved the misty morning vistas I happened upon as I wove my way through the hilltowns to worship. ♥


Filed under In between

Teeny Tiny Spoons – Favorite Tool #12

Spoons are an important kitchen tool. Stirring, scooping, ladling, serving – a spoon is often the first thing I reach for. On my kitchen counters, and in many drawers I’ve got wooden spoons, metal spoons, one funky yellow plastic spoon, as well as my blue and white enameled cup full of teeny tiny spoons which sits right next to the stove. Spoons are one of the habits I picked up from my Grammy Caldwell.  Taste as you cook, but only use a spoon once to taste with. Grammy was soooo ahead of the curve. She was against double dipping before the phrase double dipping existed! I am sure they drilled all the Home Economics students at Syracuse University about cleanliness and proper sanitation in the kitchen. Grammy did her best to pass some of those ideas along.
teeny tiny spoons

What I loved about the Gram’s tasting spoons was you could always tell how close the pot of food on the stove was to being done when you looked into her white enameled sink. The more tasting spoons there were scattered across the sink, the more likely the food would soon be heading to the table. Below is how many spoons it took to adjust the seasonings in the quinoa tabouli I made the other night.

small tasting spoons in sink

The cup of teeny tiny spoons in my kitchen is also a strange little three dimensional map of our lives. Baby food spoons from Isabelle and Russell’s first forays into solid food, porcelain spoons from a visit to China town in NYC, small espresso spoons from when my friend Eva introduced me to espresso with a twist of lemon peel and two cubes of sugar, bright plastic spoons from a photo shoot. It’s a cup full of history even though I’m probably the only one who remembers most of it.

boys with small spoonsThe other thing teeny tiny spoons are good for is eating little bowls of yummy. Like the last vestiges of peach cobbler which our friend’s sons Mateo and Lucas are doing above. Little spoons make little bits of food last just a little bit longer.

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No Bashing Required

Food prep often includes mashing, whipping, kneading, blending, and chopping, as seen in this wonderful British TV commercial for Lurpak by director Dougal Wilson*. Much of the chaos is just plain fun! Break something around the house and you get yelled at. Break an egg and you can make something from it – an omelette, cake, meatloaf.

When I teach people to cook there are certain recipes I know will lure them into the kitchen. Really young children adore anything they can squish or squeeze through their fingers and taste along the way. Elementary school age kids are usually willing to try any recipe involving egg breaking, sugar or knives. The last being something to teach slightly older kids and always with supervision, but knife skills are important. All ages respond to the kneading bread dough – especially the part where you get to punch down the dough. The messy, tactile, physical, and sometimes slightly violent parts of food prep can be seductive. I admit I’ll use almost any opportunity or concept to introduce folks young or old to the joys of making food.

"Dad getting ready to punch down the dough"

Step one–making the face.

Grammy Caldwell wasn’t quite as sneaky about getting folks into the kitchen and cook as I am. She loved cooking, made great food, was happy to show anyone who was interested (like me) how she did it. The rest of the folks she simply fed. Despite her straightforward approach to cooking I want to tell you a secret –  she was a raisin bran basher.

"Cereal bran muffins"

Her Raisin Bran Muffins are one of those wacky doodle recipes where you transform one breakfast food into another. In this recipe you add eggs, flour, buttermilk, oil and a few other things to a box of cereal the it transforms into muffins. It wasn’t written down on her recipe card, but I remember Gram pulverizing the bran flakes with her rolling pin when she made these. No polite, gentle taps but repeated bashes till all she had was a bag of crumbs and flattened raisins. I’m guessing she figured the annihilated cereal would incorporate into the batter faster. One of the steps of this recipe which is written down is you let the batter sit overnight to allow the flavors to meld. A few years ago I was making a batch and I forgot the bashing part. I was worried it would make a difference. Thankfully I couldn’t tell the un-bashed batch from any previous bashed batches. I’m guessing it is because as the batter sits overnight the bran flakes in the cereal more or less melt (well actually they expand) into the batter. So since it doesn’t seem to make a difference I’ve stopped bashing. Of course if you feel the need to hit something with a rolling pin a bag of Raisin Bran is a good thing to whack.

"raisin bran muffins cooling"

This recipe makes enough batter so you can have 1-2 dozen mini muffins every day for a (school) week. I like to mix it up on Sunday night so all I have to do each morning is get up, preheat the oven while I make the kid’s lunches, then pop in one or two mini muffin pans. The mini version bakes so quickly you can have hot muffins ready before it’s time to leave for the bus. If your family is smaller than mine or they don’t like to eat the same thing day after day, you can freeze either the batter or bake all the muffins and freeze them. They also make a nice gifts for the neighbors.

"raisin bran muffins"

Use your biggest bowl-this one is just big enough

One Week Raisin Bran Muffins

Grammy used Post Raisin Bran, I use Kellogg’s. She used more sugar than I do, but that is a personal preference, so you may want to give the batter a taste at 1 1/2 cups to see what you think. Don’t try to keep the batter longer than 5-6 days.

1 cup oil

4 eggs

1 quart buttermilk

1  1/2 – 2  cups sugar

5 cups flour (I mix all-purpose flour with whole wheat and a little wheat germ if I have it)

5 teaspoons baking soda

15-17  ounces raisin bran cereal, bashed or unbashed

 In the biggest bowl you have mix together oil, eggs, buttermilk and sugar. Fold in the flour/s and baking soda, the batter can be lumpy. Next dump in the raisin bran and mix it in until it’s coated. Transfer it all to a large covered bowl. You need the giant bowl to mix in because the bran flakes want to go everywhere when you’re trying to stir them in. Perhaps that was another reason Gram bashed them – to reduce their volume. Refrigerate batter overnight.
Preheat oven to 400ºF. Grease mini muffin pans and fill with batter to just below the top with batter. Bake 14-16 minutes. Serve while hot, though I must admit they make a nice little snack throughout the morning along with a cup of tea.

*I did not food style this commercial, but I dearly wish I had. It is brilliant and every time I watch it I get excited about how fun my chosen career can be. Kudos to the director, food stylist, prop stylist (did you notice all those purple cooking pots?!!) and all!


Filed under 50 Recipes

Christmas Cookie Recipes

I felt a huge sigh of relief a few years ago when a friend at church pointed out that Christmas lasts for twelve days. Count them – twelve. With stores hanging lights in October, advertisers bombarding everyone with “holiday specials” pre-Halloween, black Friday shopping starting before I had fully digested my turkey dinner and three pieces of pie I feel that by the time Christmas actually rolls around it’s already over. But it isn’t, it is just beginning. I can breathe. If everything is not done by midnight on December 24th the world does not shudder and come to a stand still (or worse still blow up). With that extra 11 day buffer it doesn’t matter if I only have four batches of cookies done or all seven – Christmas will happen either way. There is much comfort in knowing this. I offer it to you, this gift of knowledge, Christmas lasts for twelve days. Do not feel the burden of trying to cram everything into one day because you have time.

"christmas tree with duct tape wrapped presents"

Pre-December 25th I managed to bake a bunch of cookies from my classic Christmas cookie list. Most of them I made using the cookie log trick. Here are two of the recipes I haven’t previously shared.

Shawn’s Pecan Butterscotch Cookies

"shawn's pecan butterscotch cookies"

My copy of Jasper White’s Cooking from New England falls open to the recipe for Mark’s Butterscotch Icebox Cookies. After years of making and tweaking them I’ve renamed my version after my husband who loves them. I’ve amplified the recipe by quadrupling the amount of pecans and doubling the vanilla. Interestingly this recipe calls for them to be made into cookie logs and refrigerated before slicing and baking.

Shawn’s Pecan Butterscotch Cookies

1 cup pecans

3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened (1  1/2 sticks)

1 cup packed brown sugar

1 egg

2 teaspoons vanilla

2 cups sifted flour (sift then measure)

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

Either in the oven or on the stove top in a cast iron pan toast the almonds until lightly brown and fragrant. Cool, then chop into small pieces. Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla creaming to incorporate. Sift in the flour, soda and salt and throw in the nuts. Stir until well combined. Make the dough into cookie logs, for directions on how to do that click here. Pop logs into fridge for a few hours or a few days.

When ready to bake preheat the oven to 350º F. Slice cookie logs roughly 1/4″ and place on parchment lined cookie sheets. Bake 9-11 minutes turning the sheet 180º  half way through baking. Cool and store in air-tight tins.


"Gertrude's cookies"

This recipe comes from my Grammy Caldwell’s friend Gertrude and has been a classic Christmas cookie in our family for more than half a century. Lovely butter-y shortbread dough rolled into balls which a small spoonful of jam cooked into the spot where you press your thumb. I have yet to meet someone who can eat just one of these.


3/4 pound unsalted butter, softened (three sticks)

1 cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

pinch salt

3  1/2 – 3  3/4 cups flour

Seedless raspberry jam

Preheat the oven to 325º F. Cream the butter and sugar together in a mixing bowl until well blended. Stir in the vanilla and salt then add half the flour. You will most likely need to stir in the other half of the flour by hand, rather than with the mixer. If you need to work on your biceps cream the whole thing by hand.

When I went to write up this recipe I realized I have four different versions – all calling for various amounts of flour. Looking at the four different recipe cards spread across my counter was a moment where I wished I could wave a magic wand and be back in Grammy Caldwell’s kitchen. I could stand at her side one more time and take notes while she was cooking, and I would weigh the flour before she added it to the butter and sugar so I would know precisely how much she used. After all a cup of flour can vary hugely depending on if it has been sifted or not. Of course if I could wind back the clock I would also be able to giver her one more hug and tell her how much I love her and learned from her. I think she knew, but it would be pretty great to be able to tell her one more time.

Shortbread is simple, just a few ingredients, so each one needs to be in proper relationship with the others. Use the best butter you can afford. If you like your cookies a bit “shorter” use the lesser amount of flour. If you like them more cookie-like use the larger amount. Both variations are yummy.

Once you’ve mixed the dough roll it into small balls the size of shooter marbles. Place them on baking sheets lined with parchment paper and poke a depression in each cookie with a finger. Fill the the finger holes with a tiny spoonful (we’re talking the tip of a baby spoon) of seedless raspberry jam. The important part is no seeds. Bake for 16-20 minutes or until the bottoms are lightly browned, and the jam is nice and bubbly. I give the baking sheet a 180º turn half way through. You do not want to brown the upper part of the cookie.

Full disclosure: I have over-browned these cookies on more than one occasion, including twice in the past week as I was trying to write this post. Family and friends have selflessly come to my rescue and eaten all the overcooked ones. Not a crumb of evidence is left.

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A+ Snickerdoodles

Snickerdoodles were Grammy Caldwell’s signature cookie, the same way oatmeal bread was her signature bread. I remember making snickerdoodles with her in her kitchen on Strathmore Drive – rolling the dough between my hands into balls the size of small walnuts, coating them in cinnamon sugar, and then squashing them flat with the bottom of a tin measuring cup before popping them in the oven to cook. They were divine and we would devour them by the dozens.

"Grammy Caldwell"

Grammy Caldwell

It wasn’t until many years later that I learned why Gram’s snickerdoodles were so good. My sister and I were talking about Grammy and all the amazing things she used to make when Heather turned to me and asked, “You do know why her snickerdoodles were so incredible, don’t you?” Aside from all the butter, sugar, and cinnamon I couldn’t really say. Surprised at my ignorance she told me, “Grammy got an A+ for her snickerdoodles on her baking competency exam at Syracuse!” Grammy C. had been a 1925 home economics major at Syracuse University. A plus indeed.

"snickerdoodles waiting for ice cream"

When my sister got married this past weekend I couldn’t think of a better way to have Grammy with us in spirit than by having her snickerdoodles as part of desserts which I had offered to make as a wedding present. Heather and Paul had a fabulous wedding in Boston with their immediate family. Saturday saw everyone piling onto a Duck Boat tour followed by pizza and candlepin bowling.

"Heather & Paul driving the duck boat"

Heather & Paul driving the duck boat

Heather wanted a traditional cake. Paul was up for something a little different. I made a lemon chiffon cake with lemon curd and lemon Italian buttercream for Heather. For Paul’s “groom’s cake” I made two different kinds of ice cream sandwiches. An informal ice cream sandwich taste testing with my friends and neighbors had proclaimed the top winner to be Grammy’s Snickerdoodles sandwiched around strawberry ice cream. We included a chocolate brownie with chocolate  ice cream for the chocloholics (and a brownie with Ben & Jerry’s Phish Food for my nephew Bennett).

"snickerdoodles with strawberry ice cream"

Snickerdoodles with strawberry ice cream

Since my crew was running late (another Grammy Caldwell tradition*) I didn’t have time to make the ice cream sandwiches ahead. Instead I dropped off the cake and the cookies at Flatbread Pizza & Bowling and we dashed to the Duck Boat tour. We picked up ice cream on the way back  and I crossed my fingers that the eleven kids (nephews, nieces, sons and daughters) would want to help me put everything together. They did and we all had a blast eating pizza, smooshing together ice cream sandwiches and bowling. Grammy would have been thrilled. I know Heather and Paul were.

Grammy Caldwell’s Snickerdoodles

1/2 cup butter mixed with shortening, I use 2:1 butter:shortening ratio

3/4 cup sugar

1 egg

1  1/3 cup flour

1 teaspoon cream of tartar

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/8 teaspoon salt

1/3 cup sugar mixed with 2-3 teaspoons cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 400º F. Cream together the butter, shortening and sugar (make sure your butter is softened to room temperature first). Beat in the egg, then add the flour, cream of tartar, baking soda and salt over, mixing as you go. Grammy would always sift her flour first which completely changes the amount of flour you use. I’ve done it both ways and your cookie dough will be a little less sticky if you spoon and level your flour rather than sifting first. If you decide to sift first you may need to pop the dough in the fridge for 15-10 minutes to make it stiff enough to roll. Roll dough into balls the size of small walnuts, then roll them into the cinnamon sugar mix. Place on parchment covered cookie sheet and smoosh flat with the bottom of a glass, which you occasionally dip into the cinnamon sugar to prevent sticking. The cookies spread so make sure they are spaced well apart from one another. Bake 8-10 minutes, reversing the baking pan once during baking. Cool cookies and store in an air tight container.

For ice cream sandwiches double the snickerdoodle recipe and when you are ready to serve sandwich a scoop of slightly softened premium strawberry ice cream (Hägen-Dazs is good) between two snickerdoodles. Make sure there is a generous amount of ice cream so the cookie to ice cream ratio is good.

* Grammy Caldwell was often referred to while she was alive as “The late Mrs. Caldwell”. Seems the late trait is genetic.


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