Category Archives: food memoir

Women Are Gatherers

I think about Delta Sweeney a lot, especially when I’m baking. She and her husband, Douglas, lived around the corner from us, in the old Mansfield house. Miss Delta was short and pudgy; Mr. Douglas was short and round. I remember him going to, and coming home, from work. And eating all of his weekday meals inside a slanted, enclosed sun porch, on a worn, leather recliner that had been placed in front of a folding food tray, and an old television set. In stark contrast to the rest of the spotless house, Mr. Douglas’s sun porch was littered with timeworn newspapers and fishing magazines, and smelled like a years-worth of cigar smoke.

Miss Delta was an expert multi-tasker. She would wash the dishes, iron the clothes, sweep the floor, dust the living room, and hold Mama a detailed, womanly conversation, all at the same time. Everything in her life seemed to center on Mr. Douglas’s comings and goings. She would say things like, “Better start supper, Sweeney’ll be home soon.” Or, “I better plate Sweeney something. He likes to nibble on something sweet while he’s waitin’ on his dinner.”

I don’t remember Miss Delta for her home baking; especially, for her home-baked sweets. When I think of her culinary skills, what comes to my mind, are her delicious soups and stews, her well-seasoned meats, her delectable stove-top corn breads, and her beautifully laid out shelves—they were always full of store bought cookies, candy boxes, and packages of store-bought pie crusts. I also think about her wonderful ability to take a store-bought dessert and rearrange it so that it looked, and tasted, homemade. For instance, she would add chopped nuts and fruits to store-bought cookie dough and you would never know that she hadn’t made the cookies from scratch. She would buy plain cupcakes and top them with her own glaze, to give them a warm and delicious, and homemade look and taste. And she would run the backside of a large spoon around the edges of her store-bought frozen pie crusts, to give them that homemade look and taste. Sometimes, she just trimmed off the machine-made crimps on frozen pies, altogether, and fashioned her own. I remember Miss Delta saying that most of her sweet things came from farmer’s markets and Mom and Pop bakeries. Now that I’m older, and a home cook myself, I realize that those are the places that carry the best smelling, and looking, hand-made goods.

One day. while my mother and Miss Delta sat in the living room, having one of their wifely conversations—Miss Delta was older than Mama, and gave some enlightening, womanish, insights—I remember sitting at Miss Delta’s kitchen table, munching on a helping of the delectable store bought treat that she had set in front of me—if I’m not mistaken, she had placed a dollop of softened, vanilla ice cream between two soft, store-bought oatmeal cookies, and called them ice cream sandwiches—and thinking that one day, I would buy all of my desserts from the store and refashion them, the way that Miss Delta did, so that they would taste and look delightful. And homemade.

Mama knew pies, and she knew that Miss Delta had made hers with store-bought fillings and store-bought crusts, but she would tell me that once Miss Delta put her special touches on hers, she made the best homemade pies in town.

Once, my mother said to me, “For one reason or the other, not all women cook. If a woman doesn’t cook, that’s okay; as long as she knows where to go to get good-looking food, and how to arrange it in her cupboard, so that it looks good to eat.” For me, the statement clarified so much of what I loved about Miss Delta’s deliciously-arranged, store-bought cabinets, and it enlightened me further, about the influence that good scratch food, made on a person’s mind. It was suddenly clear to me—that men were natural hunters…and that women, by nature’s design, were food gatherers. Good cooks, are the women who know how to stock their shelves in an alluring way…they know how to plate their food so that it looks and smells enticing. And if they don’t cook, they know what to gather, and where to shop to get it. Women are gatherers.

This after-work pie is perfect for working women who want a quick and easy dessert to accompany a week night meal, and stay-at-home women who are raising small children, and need a Zen moment away from it all. Men love this pie. But we all know that we shouldn’t tell one all of our little secrets…in other words, he may love the pie, but he doesn’t have to know how easy it was for you to make.

Delta Sweeney’s Homemade Store-Bought Apple Pie

For The Apple Pie
2 store-bought 9-inch pie crusts (the boxed kind)
1 large egg white
2 (21 ounces) cans of store-bought apple pie filling
½ cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ cup (½ stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces

For The Apple Pie Glaze
1 large egg yolk
1 tablespoon milk or heavy cream
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon, optional

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl, combine the apple pie filling and brown sugar. Gently, blend the brown sugar into the pie filling. Sprinkle the mixture with the ground cinnamon and ground nutmeg. Gently stir in the vanilla extract. Line a glass pie plate with the bottom pie crust. Brush it with the egg white to keep it from getting soggy. Let the egg white dry. Spoon the seasoned filling into the pie crust. Dot the pieces of butter, evenly, over the entire pie. Unfold the second pie crust over the apple pie filling. Trim the overhang to about ½ to 1-inch. Fold the top and bottom crust edges together, folding them downward, to create a seal around the edges of the pie. Using your fingers, or the tines of a fork, crimp the edges. Brush the top of the pie with the glaze.

To make the apple pie glaze, in a small bowl, whisk together the large egg yolk and milk, or heavy cream if you desire. Whisk well. In a separate small bowl, whisk together the granulated sugar and the ground cinnamon (the ground cinnamon is optional), until the mixture is well-combined. Lightly brush the egg yolk mixture over the top of the pie. Evenly sprinkle the cinnamon sugar mixture over the top. Using a small paring knife, cut 3 to 4 slits in the top of the pie to allow the steam to escape. Place the pie on a baking tin to catch any spilling. Then, put it in the preheated 350-degree oven. Bake the pie at 350 degrees, for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the pie is nicely browned and the filling is bubbling through the slits. Take the pie out of the oven and let it cool completely on a wire rack before serving.

NOTE: You can fit the pie with a pie shield, or a ring of tin foil to prevent the edges from over browning. Also note: I glaze the tops of all of my double-crust pies, to get the pretty shine and rich color that sets a good pie apart. Sometimes, when I take my double-crust pie out of the oven, I thin ¼ cup of light corn syrup with a small amount of hot water, and brush the tops with the mixture, then sprinkle it evenly, with about 1 teaspoon of granulated sugar. I put the pie back in the oven for a couple of minutes, just to let the mixture set.

Makes One double-crust apple pie.

Banana Pecan Bread


Banana Pecan Bread

In addition to its delectable taste, I love the aroma that wafts through my house when banana bread is in the oven—the smell is so homey and comforting. Sometimes I swap the nuts with a 6 ounce bag of chocolate chips; sometimes, I keep the nuts and add a hand full of chocolate chips…or peanut butter chips or butterscotch chips.

¾ cups (1-½ sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1-¼ cups fine granulated sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature, slightly beaten
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/3 cup sour cream, at room temperature
1 cup very ripe bananas, peeled and mashed (about 3 medium-sized bananas)
1-½ cups sifted, all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
¾ cup coarsely-chopped, toasted pecans (you can use walnuts, if that’s what you prefer)
Confectioners’ sugar, optional

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease and flour a 9-inch-by-5-inch loaf tin. Discard any excess flour. Set the pan aside.

In a large bowl, beat together the melted butter and granulated sugar. Beat the mixture until it is creamy and well incorporated. Beat in the large eggs, one at a time, vanilla extract, sour cream, and mashed bananas. Beat the mixture just until it is smooth. In a separate bowl, whisk together, the all-purpose flour, baking powder, baking powder, and salt. Mix well. Fold in the toasted pecans. Pour the batter into the prepared loaf tin. Smooth the top of the batter with a small butter knife. Place the tin in the preheated 350-degree oven. Bake the banana bread at 350 degrees for 1 hour, or until it is cooked through and golden brown. Do not overcook. Take the banana bread out of the oven. Let it rest in the loaf tin for about 5 minutes, before turning it out onto a wire rack to cool completely. Serve each slice of bread with a sprinkling of confectioners’ sugar.

Makes one 9-inch-by-5-inch loaf of banana bread.

NOTE: Banana bread goes well with hot coffee, tea, or a glass of ice-cold milk. My aunt, Marjell, says banana bread tastes the best when the slices are cut slightly thick. She serves hers when we gather and have our womanly talks. She’s famous for saying, “All women need to talk, and be heard.”

How To Feed A Man

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Years ago, a boyfriend told me about a homely girl that he’d dated in the past. He said the girl was extremely unattractive, but everything that she cooked, was the best thing that he’d ever eaten. According to my then boyfriend, who, like most men, loved good food, even the ugly girl’s homemade chicken noodle soup was bowl-licking delicious. Some girls come from a long line of good cooks—it’s in their blood—and others learn how to cook when they grow up and find that it’s necessary. Even today, some women use their cooking skills to communicate what their looks can’t—they use the flavors and smells of their home cooked food to gently burrow its way to the heart of the man they desire.

If the way to a man’s heart is truly through his stomach, I would imagine that one way to stay there, is through your delicious cooking. I am a firm believer that women cook differently for their husbands or boyfriends, than they do for their children, and even themselves. Every woman who cooks regularly for a man, wants her meals to shine. Every woman wants her man to push away from her home cooked meals, smiling, satisfied, and pleasantly full.

This post isn’t meant to be a how-to-cook tutorial, I am not a professional cooking teacher. But I know for sure, that good cooking comes from a passion to cook, and feed, a love for ingredients, practice, and culinary creativity. When a woman is a good cook, she employs all of her senses to the meal—her sense of smell, of touch, her sight, her sense of hearing, and taste. Good cooks aren’t afraid to adjust their recipes; add or subtract an ingredient if the recipe they follow, calls for more, or less. Exceptional cooks are almost always the women you see in the grocery stores, who are sniffing, bouncing, feeling, and observing their ingredients before they buy them. It’s like they have this other sense that allows them to envision their meals before they cook and set them on the table. You can almost taste the delicious outcome of their meals by the way they touch and sniff and probe the ingredients first.

Cooking for a man, involves so much more than just cooking. Man-pleasing cooks are just as concerned with the visual and audible effects that surround a meal, as they are with its taste and aromatic appeal. Womanish cooks employ the right back-ground music, lay out appropriate linen, drinking glasses, and flatware, and always set a tray of his favorite condiments next to the plate. They use comfort, appropriate lighting, pretty plating, and lovely serving dishes as tools to help them uplift their servings. I have vivid memories of going to the department stores with my grandmother, to buy pretty things to display her meals—especially her cakes and pies. She used to say, “Cooking is a woman’s glory”.

I grew up around lots of seasonings and spices. My mother stocked her shelves and refrigerator with them; she said they added flavor and aroma to her meals. In fact, even today, I can open what used to be Mama’s spice cabinet, and smell a trace of the seeds, pods, and barks, that were once hers. My mother had peeves about women who only cooked with salt and pepper. She would tell me that spices and herb rubs were her greatest cooking secret. Without them, she would tell me, she couldn’t cook. “If you want your meals to shine,” she would say, “Add a pinch of this…” Or, “It’s light (or it’s dark) just like the (whatever it was) and no one will ever know that you’ve put it in. They’ll wonder what that taste is, but they’ll never be able to put their finger on it.” She used to call me into the kitchen when she was seasoning and spicing her dishes, and almost whisper her techniques to me. Mama was a bona fide cooking geisha; a bona fide seasoning guru. She would use her knowledge of soft music, texture, color, comfort, and kitchen décor, and combine it with her cooking spices and seasonings to give her meals simplicity and polish. Mama used to say, “Sometimes a woman needs to search her kitchen, before she searches her boudoir. Most men have sat with every size, in every color, but they’d be hard-pressed to say they’ve sat in front of a delicious homemade meal.”

Home cooked food tastes better than store-bought; there’s no getting around that. Most men love to eat good food. They are intrigued with a woman who knows her way around a hot stove. Plus, being applauded for your cooking shows people that you have another side; it shows a man that you possess another talent. When you know how to season your food, and stage your house so that it feels warm and inviting, most men are intuitively drawn to it; they won’t want to leave. Their instinct will tell them that this is home.

You Should…

1) Give your kitchen a man-drawing test. Discard wobbly chairs and tables and torn curtains and linens. And anything     girlishly pink.
2) Display your culinary trinkets on kitchen ceiling beams, on kitchen tables, and on counters. The idea of a woman spending time in the kitchen excites some men.
3) Hang interesting and unique food-related photos and posters on your kitchen walls. Give him something to look at while he’s eating.
4) Stock your kitchen with the things that he likes to snack on.
5) Put your most interesting cookbooks on display, between unique bookends.
6) Clean out your refrigerator. A man hates a smelly and moldy refrigerator.
7) Hide all pesticides.
8) Forget about learning to cook “gourmet”. Most men prefer simple dishes. Besides, you can give anything a fancy name and call it gourmet.
9) Learn how to cook his favorite dishes…especially the ones that take him back to childhood.
10) Distinguish your cooking with a variety of seasoning extracts, powders, herbs, and spices. Know that most men desire a woman who can cook.

A Place To Rest

Sometimes, late at night, I think I hear my mother’s footsteps in the kitchen. It’s never a menacing sound, just the soft saunter of her cooking feet, moving between the stove and the refrigerator—the sound of her spice and seasoning cabinets opening and closing, and the oven door rolling over its hinges. Actually, the sounds are warm and familiar to me; they are the cutting and whisking and sizzling sounds that constantly drifted from my mother’s kitchen whenever she was in it…if she was still here, they are the sounds that would fill her kitchen today. My mother loved her kitchen; she loved to cook and bake and make candles and incense sticks in it. Late at night, when I dream about her, she is always going in, or coming out of it. She is always wearing a pretty apron. My mother loved pretty aprons. She used to tell me that a cooking woman’s work space should be in tune with her food interests, and reflect a womanish style—in those days, the kitchens in my family were dark and mysterious and voluptuous; they belonged to the women. I distinctly remember my mother embellishing many of her cooking tools with rhinestones, adding a dollop of scented oil to her mop water, and recapping her spray bottles with feminine colors, like pink and lavender, to make her chores more enjoyable, and womanly. Mama used to tell me that the source of a woman’s house scent—her incense sticks in particular—should be covert, the smell should be soft and discreet, and whenever possible, emanate from another room.

I live in my childhood house. My mother’s spirit permeates everything in this space. I feel it in the walls, the curtains, the floors, the tables, the sofa and chairs, the books she left behind, and in my cooking. I especially “feel” her presence in the kitchen. The sounds that echo from the kitchen are reminiscent of the days when I was a little girl, watching her prepare meals. Like it was for my mother, my kitchen is my sanctuary. I’ve made myself a cozy, little nook in the place where Mama used to craft her candles and incense. When I can’t sleep late at night, I go there to read, write, or plan for the upcoming week. Mama used to say, “A woman needs a nice place to rest and think.”

I always take a serving of desert to mine. Seems like a wedge of something sweet puts me in a nice and cozy mood, and illuminates my reasoning. Like most women, I do a lot of reasoning.

Chocolate Brownie Pie

For The Chocolate Wafer Crust

1-½ cups finely ground chocolate wafer crumbs
1/3 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt

For The Chocolate Brownie Pie Filling

½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature, melted and cooled
½ cup granulated sugar
½ cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
1/3 cup good quality cocoa powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons good quality instant coffee granules
2 large eggs
½ cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¾ cup pecans, coarsely chopped
Chocolate syrup, optional
Whipped cream, optional

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 9-inch glass pie plate. Set the plate aside.

To make the chocolate wafer crust, in a medium-sized bowl, combine the chocolate crumbs and melted, unsalted butter. Add the granulated sugar and salt. Mix well. When the crumbs are moist and stick together when they are pressed, using the pads of your fingers, firmly and evenly press them over the bottom and up the sides of the pie plate. Place the chocolate pie crust in the 350-degree oven, and bake it for 12 to 15 minutes, or until it is golden brown, and it feels firm when you gently touch it. Take the crust out of the oven. Move it to a wire rack to cool completely. Meanwhile, prepare the brownie pie filling.

To make the chocolate brownie pie filling, in a large bowl, whisk together the melted, unsalted butter, granulated sugar, firmly packed light brown sugar, cocoa powder, salt, and instant coffee granules. Add the large eggs, one at a time, mixing until each egg is thoroughly incorporated. Stir in the all-purpose flour, stirring just until the ingredients are well mixed. Stir in the vanilla extract. Fold in the coarsely chopped pecans. Place the cooled, chocolate pie crust on a baking tin. Evenly spoon the batter into the crust. Bake the pie in the preheated, 350-degree, oven at 350 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the edges of the pie are slightly puffed, and the center is set. A wooden toothpick inserted in the center of the pie should come out with a few moist crumbs attached to it. Move the pie to a wire rack to cool completely before you serve it. If you desire, drizzle a ribbon of chocolate or spoon a dollop of whipped cream on the saucer of each serving.

Chocolate Brownie Pie

Chocolate Brownie Pie

Makes one 9-inch Chocolate Brownie pie