My brave Vermont quest to bring together food-love and mom-life.


Gingerbread Trainwreck 5

Posted on December 20, 2009 by crankycheryl

I had spent the day feeling like a loser of a mom.  I yell too much and spend too much time muttering and sputtering.  Mornings are a nightmare and I have no idea how we get somewhere dressed and in somewhat presentable condition seven days a week.  I’m exhausted and they’re baffled.

Still, ’tis the season so we spent the afternoon making holiday crafts (more on that tomorrow) and then made gingerbread in the train-shaped pan I picked up at Williams-Sonoma a few years ago.  I went on and on about how I really would need their help doing our Very Important Job of decorating the train at the cohousing holiday party.

This is the train pan, which I’ve used many times (birthday train, Easter train, Christmas train, etc.) with great success.  So I was fully expecting to have little mini-cakes looking something like this:

But the cakes were wedged right into all the pan’s nooks and crannies, in spite of its space-age non-stick coating and the lavish greasing-up I had given it.  So what we ended up with was this:

Cringing, I said, “Boys, we have a trainwreck on our hands.”   I was expecting howls, but somehow they didn’t look too bothered.  I asked them to come decorate it, and they came scurrying into our community kitchen.  We started with sifting confectioner’s sugar over the top (snow – the cause of the crash), and then they started globbing leftover sparkly yellow and green icing everywhere.  Another friend wandered by and got involved.  We had those little sour fruits left over from E.’s birthday party, so we decided it was a fruit train that crashed, and they started placing the little pieces carefully around the pile.  We snipped up a piece of fruit leather into train tracks, and I had an ancient rock candy lollipop that was maybe a puff of blue smoke coming from the wreck.

I watched their total focus on the job, amazed at how captivated they were.  It was an imperfect product, but they didn’t mind.  And I wasn’t inclined to try to drive them to neatly outline the wheels with the icing, or put the pieces of fruit just so in one of the little freight cars.  It became theirs.  They proudly explained the project to anyone who wandered in, and then I heard my neighbors giggling and explaining the story to each other.  I started to think I maybe wasn’t so bad at this parenting thing after all.

And here’s the finished product, with my neighbor’s beautiful gingerbread houses in the background.  Beautiful, both.

Next: An Epiphany 0

Posted on January 02, 2009 by crankycheryl

orangesSo my next turn cooking for our cohousing community is coming up on Tuesday, January 6.  And because I’ve seldom encountered a theme I don’t like, I’ve been researching traditional foods for the Epiphany.  (This is the “12th Day of Christmas,” the day that the three wise men are said to have arrived in Bethlehem after Jesus was born.)  I have found many cakes, often a type of fruit cake, but dinner menus have been much more difficult to come by.

At last, I stumbled onto a Tuscan Epiphany dinner menu here.   Keeping in mind that we’ll be cooking for a big gang of people, that we’re only supposed to spend $3.50 on food per adult, and that we’ve got plenty of vegetarians, I’m truncating this multi-course meal to:

  • Sweet Potato Gnocchi (a pasta course is naturally traditional for an Italian meal, but in American fashion it’ll just be part of the main course, plus the orange color represents gold and the sun)
  • Vegetarian Sausages (sausages represent abundance)
  • Broccoli Saute (broccoli’s bitterness has some apparent significance)
  • Oranges & Figs
  • For dessert, I was tempted by both a sweet foccacia called La Fugassa de la Befana, and Ciambella de Rei Magi – Three Wise Men Torte.    I like the sound of La Befana – a witchy character who leaves presents/charcoal in stockings on the Epiphany.  (She’s survived from older, pagan times – maybe an agriculture goddess, according to some sources.)  After searching through many, many funny translated Italian websites for a recipe, I at last found myself back at good old Recipezaar for this Befana Cake.

(And for more interesting things about the holiday and its pagan origins, visit  here and here.)

I’ll report back with pictures and results.  And hopefully also with sore muscles from a vigorous workout to atone for more feasting.

Stealthmom is Foiled 1

Posted on December 23, 2008 by crankycheryl


So the other night, we were going to the cohousing potluck, and I was dithering about what to make.  I decided to just give right in.  Since all my kids really want to eat at potlucks or parties tends to be dessert, why not just give in and make a dessert with some redeeming value that I could delude myself into accepting as a complete meal?  And why not make it really, really appealing?

“Boys!  Let’s make a gingerbread castle!”   I dug out the castle-shaped bundt pan, and then asked “what about a train too?”   They came scurrying on their little feet, crowding onto stools, cutely clutching their little whisks and spatulas and fighting over who would stir what.

I adapted the 1997 Joy of Cooking‘s Old Fashioned Gingerbread recipe, which I had done once before to make Maple Pumpkin Gingerbread donuts with great success:

Preheat oven to 375.  Grease and flour your pan, whatever shape it is.  Make sure your butter is at room temperature.

Sift together:

1 c. all purpose (not bleached) flour
3/4 c. white whole wheat flour (or whole wheat pastry flour)
1 T. ground ginger
2 t. ground cinnamon (I left it out – it gives me a headache and I hate the way it takes over anything you put it in … but then I regretted it when I tasted the finished product so maybe I’ll put in a pinch next time.)
1/4 t. ground cloves
1/4 t. salt

Beat until creamy in large bowl:
6 T. unsalted butter

Gradually add and beat on high speed for 2 – 3 minutes, until lightened in color and texture:
1 large egg
1/2 C. packed light brown sugar
1/2 C. pumpkin puree (not pie filling)

Gradually beat in:
1/2 c. molasses
1/2 c. maple syrup

Add the flour mixture and stir just until combined.  Stir in:
1/2 c. boiling water
3 T. finely chopped crystallized ginger (optional – I sure didn’t put it in since it was the one thing I was hoping the monkeys would eat)

Scrape batter into the pan.  Bake until a toothpick comes out clean, about 35 minutes.  Let cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then carefully run a knife around the outside and turn onto a rack until completely cool.

Amazingly, I was able to get all 9 train cars and all 4 castle turrets out of the pan without breaking.  When it all cooled, I drizzled a sugar glaze over it ( 1 cup powdered sugar, sifted if lumpy, plus 2 – 3 tablespoons of milk, whisked until smooth) and stuck some candy canes in the castle towers and put the train cars all around it.

The little guys were nipping at my heels by then, so I gave them the bits I had trimmed off the bottoms of the little trains so they’d lay flat.

“Mommy,” said the 6-year old, “this cake is vomitrocious.”

It was bread and butter for dinner at the potluck.

Oh, and if you want to bravely go ahead and make this recipe anyway (and you should!  ignore the crazy child!) , you can also turn it into donuts with a cute little baked donut pan, go ahead and follow the recipe above, reducing the baking time to 20 minutes or so.  When they cool, brush them with (ssssh!) unsalted melted butter, and then dunk into a maple glaze (1 c. powdered sugar with 1 t. milk and 1 T. maple syrup).  Let ’em set and then enjoy.

Makin' It 0

Posted on December 23, 2008 by crankycheryl


Like everyone, I’m looking to be extra-thrifty this year.  And like almost everyone, this means homemade love for those on the gift-exchange list.

I’m always wanting things to make that are relatively simple, have broad appeal, easy to make in big batches, and are somewhat showoff-ish and delicious.  I also like to give things that don’t have to be consumed immediately since nearly everyone is overwhelmed by all the sugary treats that appear in their lives.

So this year (spoiler alert if you’re a gift recipient of mine), I’m giving Chocolate-Raspberry Jam and Mocha Walnut Scone Mix.

Here’s the recipe for the scones, adapted from Recipezaar:

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour (for God’s sake don’t use bleached, 0kay?)
  • 1 cup white whole wheat flour
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 t. instant coffee
  • 1 t. cocoa powder
  • 1/3 c. chopped walnuts (I substituted pine nuts – actually a seed, not a nut – for the nut-allergic people on The List)

You can get the bags that you grind your coffee into free in some places, which is what I got for packing it all up.  You, I’m sure, would have commandeered your delightful,obedient children to decorate the bags with festive holly sprigs and clever snowflakes.  Since mine were busy arguing over whether or not to watch Polar Express (they did), I took a black Sharpie and wrote what was inside the bag.  Then I found some free winter-ish stickers in the mailroom, and cunningly added those.  Tomorrow I’ll print out the instructions for how to turn the mix into baked goods on full-sheet stickers and put ’em on the back:

To make these Mocha Walnut Scones, you’ll need:

  • 1/3 c. butter
  • 2 T. lemon juice
  • 3/4 C. milk, plus 1 T. (optional)
  • 1 T. sugar (optional)
  1. Preheat oven to 425F.
  2. Empty jar into bowl
  3. Use pastry blender or fork to mix in butter until mixture looks like fine crumbs.
  4. Mix lemon juice and milk together and stir into batter.
  5. Place dough on lightly floured surface, and turn to coat.
  6. Knead lightly 10 times.
  7. Pat or roll into 9 inch circle on ungreased baking sheet.
  8. Brush with milk and sprinkle with sugar; if desired.
  9. Cut in 8 wedges, but do not separate.
  10. Bake 12-15 minutes till golden brown.
  11. Immediately remove from sheet; carefully separate wedges.

All right:  I haven’t given ’em a test run.  But I’ll have them done before December 25, unlike the scarf I’m excruciatingly
knitting for my father.

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    Cheryl Herrick's brave Vermont quest to bring together food-love and mom-life. All original content (written, graphical, recipes or other), unless otherwise noted, is © and/or TM Cheryl Herrick. All rights reserved by the author. Want to reprint a recipe? Just get in touch and ask.

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