Saturday, July 30, 2011

The latest baking obsession

Berry cheesecake bars... i found a recipe for "Blueberry Dessert" in a vintage cookbook full of blueberry recipes.  The steps and directions were a wee bit vague, and i had my own ideas, so i started tinkering, and this is where we ended up:
The original version had just a graham cracker crust (which proved to be far too sweet), a thin cheesecake layer, and a suggestion to top with blueberry sauce.  I didn't fancy topping it with a sauce, and the cheese wasn't going to amount to much, so i decided to chuck the berries into the filling.  I used blueberries the first couple times, but this time around, i opted for blackberries i'd picked on the mountain.

It's not too shabby.  You don't want to muck about with anything low-fat here: fat is pretty much the point of this recipe, so stick with the real thing on the cream cheese.  If you're feeling really guilty, you could maybe shave the amount of butter in the crust - i think i'll experiment with that in the next batch.

The thing i'm quite liking about this recipe (aside from eating the bars, of course) is that it's super-simple to put together, and quick once you've smashed up the graham crackers. (You could, i suppose, cheat and buy the crumbs that you can find in the store, but why pay somebody extra for a task that's a great stress reliever if you do it yourself?)

So, the recipe (which has wandered considerably from its point of departure):

Berry Cheesecake Bars

16 graham crackers
1/4 c. sugar
1/2 c. butter (one stick)
1 package cream cheese (8 oz.)
1/2 c. sugar
2 eggs
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1-1/2 c. of fresh berries

Crush the graham crackers into crumbs.  [For reference, this recipe counts the roughly square section as one cracker, so it's eight of the long, rectangular sort - worked out to one inner pack in the box i bought, but i also know from using other old recipes that the number of crackers in an inner pack has decreased over time, so i've developed a certain degree of paranoia about figuring out the amount a recipe really requires...]  Mix 1/4 c. sugar into the graham cracker crumbs in a small bowl.  Melt the butter, and pour it over the crumb mixture.  Stir, then press into an 8"x8" square pan.  Set aside someplace inaccessible to cats.  About now is a good time to preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Cream the cream cheese (you did remember to soften it, right?) with 1/2 cup sugar.  In a separate bowl, beat the eggs well, then add the eggs and vanilla to the cheese mixture.  Blend well, then pour over the graham cracker crust.  Sprinkle the berries - whatever sort you choose - into the cheese filling once it's in the pan.  Top with nutmeg.  (The nutmeg is important.  I forgot it on the second batch, and definitely missed it.... bonus points for fresh grated, of course.)  Bake until the berries start to burst, the edges are just browned, and the middle is set - something on the order of 45 minutes.  Cool and cut - i've been cutting a pan into 16 squares, because it's pretty rich stuff.  I've also been storing them in the fridge because of the cheese and the fruit - none of it has lasted long enough to get fuzzy, but why chance wasting any?

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Eliot Pie

I brought a couple of Pyrex pie plates back from Grandma's place, because who can't use an extra pie plate?  Apparently, this universal truth also extends to the kitties:
He's not, of course, supposed to be on the stove, or indeed curled up in a pie plate.  But it's really hard to yell at him when he's being so damn cute (or when i'm laughing that hard...).

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Going to pieces

The auction listing had the magic words: several sewing machines.

This is a good indicator of the potential for finding patterns.  Many, if not most, estate sales will have a sewing machine, i think because people just felt it was one of those things a woman ought to have in her household.  But a sewing machine may prove to be unloved and unused, gummed up and dusty.  Not necessarily a bad thing, if you're after the machine and can clean it up, but if you're after patterns, you won't find 'em there.

But someone with several sewing machines?  Ah, they're hard-core (or an optimistic hoarder of craft stuff, which can be just as good).  And whether or not you want the machines, you're likely to run across notions and sewing supplies in the box lots.

So after seeing this listing, i hied myself to Boonsboro that afternoon for the auction.  Bit of a hike to get out there, but it's a pretty drive.

There was not a single pattern, alas - this had been a quilter, not a sewer-of-garments.  But amongst the boxes of tacky plastic canvas, fabric i couldn't quite justify, and heaps and heaps of Tupperware i haven't room for, there were a few interesting things.  I missed out on the Gingher pinking shears and the cutting mats and the vintage cookbooks, but i got one batch of boxes, because it included this:

Okay, it's a swell old box, but i didn't buy it for the box, of course.  Inside, there were lots (72, to be exact) of these:
...along with a whole pile of plain muslin squares, presumably intended to be alternated with the pieced squares - it's enough to make a twin quilt top, by my quick-and-dirty estimates.  Many of the fabrics are plainly 1930s, and the quilt squares are all pieced by hand.  (This represents an insane quantity of work: the tiny checkerboard squares, when finished, are hardly bigger than a dime...)

I laid out a few squares, so you can get an idea what it might look like once assembled:

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Where, alack, shall Time's best jewel from Time's chest lie hid?

Jewel Estelle Jacobus 
December 7, 1921 - June 28, 2011

So, i've been invisible, and now you know why: my grandmother died at the end of June.  We were quite close; i'd spent all my summers with her as a child, and ever since then we always got on pretty well (at least as long as we stayed away from politics, where our views... diverged somewhat).  I know, the post title's maybe a bit over the top, but Grandma's given name really was Jewel - her father was a jeweler - most people called her "Julie," not realizing that it derived from "Jewel E."

I'll have lots of Grandma Stories to share, no doubt, but for now, just a sketch and some photos...

Grandma spent most of her life living by the water, and it's probably safe to say that about 75% of the pictures of her involve bathing suits or boats or both.  She was a strong swimmer, athletic, quite pretty - she used to mention, perhaps more often than was, strictly speaking, necessary - that she had been elected "Miss Millburn" in 1939, in the New Jersey town where she grew up.  (I'm still trying to hunt up something to give me more information about that last tidbit - so far, local newspapers and the historical society have come up dry...)

She was lively, bright, opinionated, stubborn, and interested in everyone around her.  She was a daddy's girl all her long life, so though her father died before i was born, i heard so many stories - with the more interesting ones surfacing only as i got older.  She learned painting from him, and was a fair hand at drawing, design, sewing, cooking when she had a mind to, and other creative skills.  She was quick with figures - she worked mostly in insurance - and if i had half her flair for managing money, i'd probably be quite a bit better off now than i am.  She taught me thrift, though, from reusing packaging to combing thrift stores to foraging for food.

And if you thought you had Grandma figured out, she'd surprise you, whether it was a political opinion at odds with her usual party line, or some wildly unexpected choice.  Last fall, after not having had a pet since my mother was a kid, she shocked the entire family by deciding to adopt a tiny kitten - and she doted on the little thing, a grey and white longhaired ball of fluff.  Grandma was always a pretty fussy housekeeper, but the kitten was permitted to have a favorite hiding place in the kitchen cabinet.  (The ball of fluff, no longer so tiny, is now living with me...)
Mainly, though, Grandma always managed to have fun.  That photo has "Hallowe'en 1944" written on the back, in Grandma's handwriting.  The story is that they had no money to spare for costumes - she and my grandfather had married just a few months before - so they went as each other, she in his Navy uniform, and he in one of her suits.  (Obviously, no one ever taught Grandpa how to sit in a skirt, but aren't his knees cute?)

She taught me to swim and to sail and to water ski, to wear the good jewelry (what else was it for?), and she let me do my own thing a lot, which was really instructive in a place like her shore house.  She started passing on jewelry her father had made, as soon as my sister and i were old enough that she figured we wouldn't lose it.  That's both of us with Grandma and Grandpa, after my sister's christening, so mid-1970s - in the first of the dreaded matched dresses my mother made us.
Funny how their smiles didn't change over all those years.  We should all be so lucky.