Escape

 Monday Morning Musings

I’ve been immersed in my World of the American Revolution. The wonderful members of the editorial staff at ABC-CLIO have selected over one hundred images for the book. It’s been my job to go through them, and if I approve them, then to write captions for the images. This has taken longer than I expected it would because I’ve had to research most of the images selected, as well as go back to the entries to determine if the images work or not.

And then. . . well, there’s the copyedited manuscript itself, which is sitting in files on my computer desktop making me feel guilty because I need to finish going through it. Ahem. Yes, getting to it. Now. Soon.

So I apologize for not reading or responding to many other blogs for the past week or so. I’ve tried to respond to comments, but I’m behind on that, too.

Meanwhile, I’ve been thinking about the word “escape.” The word is derived from the Latin and then French meaning to literally get out of or from one’s cape or mantel. Of course, the word came to have a broader meaning, one escapes from slavery, from an unhappy home, or even from day-to-day drudgery.

On Passover, we tell the story of how the Jews escaped slavery in Egypt. Even today, people are enslaved and try to escape.

Before the abolition of slavery in the United States, which occurred only after a Civil War and then the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment, enslaved men and women desperately sought their freedom. Aided by other African-Americans, both free and slave, as well as white citizens who were opposed to slavery, they struggled to find a means of escape. Slaves escaped in a variety of ways. One of the most creative methods was that used by Henry Box Brown (c.1815-1889), who escaped, you guessed it, in a box. Brown was a skilled worker who worked in a tobacco factory in Richmond, VA. He managed to save enough money to rent a house for his wife and family. Nonetheless, he and his family were still slaves, and in 1848, his wife’s master decided to sell her and their children. With no reason to remain in Richmond, Brown decided to escape with the help of a free black dentist and a white shoemaker and other abolitionists. The men sealed him in a box and shipped the box to Philadelphia, where after twenty-six hours, he arrived at the Philadelphia Antislavery Society. Although some abolitionists felt Brown should keep his story a secret, he did not. Brown lectured and reenacted his escape in a box before audiences. When the new Fugitive Slave Act made it too dangerous for him to remain in the United States, he fled to England where he performed as a “mesmerist” with his new wife Jane. He returned to the US in 1875 with Jane and their daughter Annie, with a magic shows, as well as his original box performances.

Fortunately, my loved ones and I have never had to escape the horrors of captivity in any form. My escapes have been mundane, merely brief respites from work and day-to-day life. We all want to take breaks when—and if—we can.

This past weekend, I took a brief work break, and my husband and I escaped for a few hours to a local winery. It was a glorious, spring day. The air was warm, the sun was shining, and the grass was green with that unique young green of springtime. And so we sat with the sun gently bathing us in a warm glow, and we drank wine, ate cheese, and talked. Sometimes, fortunately, escape is that simple.

“ Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.”

Anne Lamott

Wine and sunshine!

Wine and sunshine!

Several weeks ago, as the snow fell once again, and it seemed spring would never come, I made a delicious fruit crisp with rhubarb, strawberries, and blackberries. It was my attempt to escape winter by conjuring sunshine and warmth through the ripe fruits of spring and summer. I love the tartness of the rhubarb combined with the berries. You could use any fruit though, or mix different berries. When I make it with apples, I add a little bit of cider to the apples, so that the crisp doesn’t get too dry. You can reduce the butter some, although honestly, when I’ve tried it that way, it’s simply not as good. I do like the mix of whole wheat and white flour though, which gives it a sort of nutty taste. Of course, you could add nuts, as well. The goal is to end up with a dessert that is full of sweet bubbly fruit and crunchy “crisp,” but it is not the type of baking that has to be precise. I forgot to take a photo of the crisp until after I had started eating it. (Reason #52, Why I don’t actually write a food blog.)

Pretending It’s Spring Strawberry-Rhubarb-Blackberry Crisp

Approximately 4 cups of Fruit, sliced or chopped

Sugar, to taste

I added about ½ tsp. of nutmeg, along with some orange zest and juice.

Allow the fruit to sit, sugared for about ½ hour or so until juice is released.

Crisp:

Combine 1 cup oats, ¾ cup brown sugar, ¾ cup flour (I used half whole wheat and half white), 7-8 tablespoons of butter, 1 tsp. cinnamon. Melt butter and combine it with the other ingredients until crumbly.

Sprinkle half the crumbs in a greased 8-inch pan. Pour fruit on top. Top with the rest of the crumbs. Bake for about 35 minutes at 350° until bubbly and brown, depending on the type of fruit, it may take a bit longer. Serve as is, or top with ice cream. (Butter pecan is good, just sayin’.) Bite into it and enjoy the taste of spring and summer.

IMG_2232

Strawberry-Rhubarb-Blackberry Crisp

Strawberry-Rhubarb-Blackberry Crisp

Just Deserts?

The phrase “just deserts,” is used to describe when someone gets what he or she deserves. It is pronounced just desserts. That is, deserts is spelled like a dry, arid region, but pronounced like the tasty treat. Some people would be happy to eat only desserts, so to them, the phrase should probably be “just desserts,” the way it is commonly misspelled. After family meals—and stressful situations—many in my family believe we deserve a dessert, along with a bottle, glass of wine. So perhaps again, the phrase should be “just desserts.” Also, the first word my younger daughter learned to spell, when she was about three years old was dessert. She would ask if she could have a “d-e-s-s-e-r-t” with a big smile on her adorable, often food-streaked face. True story.

Here’s a link if want more information on the phrase “just deserts.” Meanwhile, I’m going to continue with the main point of this post, which is desserts, specifically the desserts we had at my house after our huge Passover meal. Apparently, I thought we were having fifty people at our table, instead of eleven (plus our older daughter and her fiancée SKYPED in for our traditional, hilarious Passover play.)

 

Passover Chicken Soup

Do you think I made enough chicken soup? And, I made vegetarian broth, too.

On Passover, when we pass over all flour products, it is often difficult to find great desserts. Well, it used to be difficult. When I was a child we only had awful sponge cakes and canned macaroons. This year especially I saw many suitable for Passover desserts–that sounded delicious–but for our big family dinner, we stuck with the two desserts that have been winners for the past couple of years. Because seriously, why wouldn’t we? We also had the traditional stewed dried fruit that my mom made. It is delicious. There is no recipe because the recipe is pretty much, get some dried fruit, or in the case of my almost 92-year-old mother, have someone buy the fruit and bring it to you–then cook it with some water, sugar, and lemon until it’s done. I’ve made it with honey or brown sugar. Actually, I don’t know what she used this time. So never mind. Can you see where my cooking technique comes from?

So I made a flourless chocolate cake and my younger daughter of d-e-s-s-e-r-t fame made a cheesecake with a macaroon crust. Neither dessert is an original recipe, but I’ve adapted them slightly.

 Image

Flourless Chocolate Cake

I have to tell you that my niece said this was the best chocolate cake she has ever had, and she’s had a few. . .because we like chocolate cake. Also, this cake is really great with red wine. Really great. Like I want some now great.

Here’s the original recipe below.

****I added some vanilla extract—about a teaspoon, and poured in some brewed coffee because the pot was sitting there while I was whisking. Yes, that’s the way I cook. Um. . .probably a tablespoon or two. I baked the cake at 325 for an hour, and it was done. So you might want to try that. You really do NOT want to overbake this. I haven’t refrigerated it, and it’s still great, but if your house is warm, you will probably want to put it in the refrigerator.****

Chocolate Idiot Cake via DavidLebovitz.com adapted from Ready for Dessert (Ten Speed Press)

Makes one 9-inch cake

  • 10 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 7 ounces butter, salted or unsalted, cut into pieces
  • 5 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar

1. Preheat the oven to 350F (175C). Butter a 9-inch springform pan and dust it with cocoa powder, tapping out any excess. If you suspect your springform pan isn’t 100 percent water-tight, wrap the outside with aluminum foil, making sure it goes all the way up to the outer rim.

2. Melt the chocolate and butter in a double boiler (or microwave), stirring occasionally, until smooth. Remove from heat.

3. In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs and sugar, then whisk in the melted chocolate mixture until smooth.

4. Pour the batter into the prepared springform pan and cover the top of the pan snugly with a sheet of foil. Put the springform pan into a larger baking pan, such as a roasting pan, and add enough hot water to the baking pan to come about halfway up to the outside of the cake pan.

5. Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes. You’ll know the cake is done when it feels just set, like quivering chocolate pudding. If you gently touch the center, your finger should come away clean.

5. Lift the cake pan from the water bath and remove the foil. Let cake cool completely on a cooling rack.

Serve thin wedges of this very rich cake at room temperature, with creme anglaise, ice cream, or whipped cream.

Storage: This Chocolate Idiot Cake can be wrapped and chilled in the refrigerator for 3-5 days.

Cheesecake

This is my mother-in-law’s recipe, adapted for Passover. It is a basic cheesecake, but it is my husband’s favorite, and sometimes you just shouldn’t tamper with perfection.

***However. . .I lowered the temperature to 325 and baked the cheesecake in a water bath. After the topping cooks for about 5 minutes, I turned off the heat and let the cheesecake sit in the oven for another 30 minutes. Then I let it cool in the water bath. Slide a knife around the edge, cover, and refrigerate. We also added some fresh lemon juice to the topping.***

Sandy’s Cheesecake

Crust: 1 ¾ graham cracker crumbs

         4 Tbsp. melted butter

Place on bottom of greased spring form pan. (I wrap the bottom of mine in foil.)

Passover Crust: Replace graham cracker crumbs with macaroon crumbs. We used a combination of coconut and almond, and only two tablespoons of butter. (I think.) We used the canned Passover macaroons. If you want to make your own, go for it. We made this after making three batches of knaidlach.

2 8 oz. packages of cream cheese and ½ of another (so 20 ounces total)

4 Eggs

¾ cup Sugar

2 tsp. vanilla

1 tsp. lemon juice

Pour over crust and bake in oven at 350 (or 325, if you’re following my changes) for 35 minutes. Remove from oven and pour on topping :

1 Pint Sour Cream

½ cup sugar

2 Tsp. vanilla

1-2 tsp. lemon juice, optional

Bake at 450 for 5-7 minutes. (Or leave at 325, if following my changes.)

Baking at the reduced temperature and in a water bath seems to eliminate the cracking. However, it is delicious when made either way!

Hope you enjoy these. Thanks for reading.

–Merril