Cockeyed Cake

4 Jun

Today is a miserable, rainy day. I’m drinking tea – TEA! – in June just to stay warm. It’s been raining for three days straight. I spent the entire weekend indoors. I was bored, so I made a cake. But I didn’t have any eggs or butter in the house, and I didn’t want to go out in the rain to get some. So I needed a recipe that called for ingredients that I already had in my pantry. I found just the recipe.

The Cockeyed Cake recipe is from the “I Hate To Cook Book” by Peg Bracken. When it was first published in 1960, Bracken’s book was revolutionary. With a pinch of irreverence and a dash of irony, it validated what many women felt but didn’t want to admit: that they did not like to cook. Bracken’s recipes are quick and uncomplicated. They often use commercially prepared items, like canned soup. My copy of the “I Hate To Cook Book” was given to me by my aunt, who did not like to cook either. To be honest, she wasn’t and still isn’t a very good cook. Her copy of Bracken’s book is filled with her notations in pencil, like “Good,” “Very Good” – no doubt to guide her in deciding what to make when she was having people over for dinner. The only good thing my aunt makes is a chicken curry recipe that also came from the “I Hate To Cook Book” (Sunday Chicken, if you’re interested). My aunt gave it a “Very Good,” and if it turned out right when she made it than you know Bracken’s recipes are easy. Bracken tells us the Cockeyed Cake recipe is old. I think the omission of eggs, milk, and butter – ingredients you would usually find in a cake – possibly dates it to the Second World War, when these items were scarce. In any event, it was a perfect cake to make on a rainy day as I had all of the ingredients in the house.

    Cockeyed Cake

    1.5 cups sifted flour
    3 Tbsp cocoa
    1 tsp baking soda
    1 cup sugar
    1/2 tsp salt
    5 Tbsp cooking oil
    1 Tbsp vinegar
    1 tsp vanilla
    1 cup cold water

    Put your sifted flour back in the sifter, add to it the cocoa, soda, sugar, and salt, and sift this right into a greased square cake pan, about 9 x 9 x 2 inches. Now you make three grooves, or holes, in this dry mixture. Into one, pour the oil; into the next, the vinegar; into the next, the vanilla. Now pour the cold water over it all. You’ll feel like you’re making mud pies now, but beat it with a spoon until it’s nearly smooth and you can’t see the flour. Bake it at 350 degrees for half an hour.

You could make frosting for it, but that would definitely have involved butter, and possibly milk. So I ate it without frosting. It was pretty good, but there’s something lacking about a chocolate cake that doesn’t use real chocolate, or eggs, or milk, or butter. It tasted better the second day, so maybe it needs time to “set.”

I might make it again, but I would definitely make frosting to go with it. The next recipe I’m planning to make from the “I Hate To Cook Book” is “Pedro’s Special,” a Mexican-style beef casserole that calls for corn chips. I do love Fritos.

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Eating My Way Through Cape Ann

1 Jun

Today was a beautiful sunny day in an otherwise rainy week. My sister and I both had the day off from work so we headed up to our favorite coastal town in Massachusetts for some Rockport Happiness. On the way to Rockport we stopped off in Gloucester to a knitting store called Coveted Yarns. They’re located in Rocky Neck, the “artsy” section of Gloucester. I bought the premiere issue of Noro Magazine, the new knitting magazine for the Japanese yarn brand Noro. I’ve been looking for it everywhere as it’s been flying off the shelves at some of my other usual yarn stores. Right next to Coveted Yarns is a barbecue joint called Smokin’ Jim’s. Every time I go to Coveted Yarns I think “Someday I’ll eat at Smokin’ Jims.” Today was the day. Or so I thought. Smokin Jim’s only accepts cash, no credit or debit cards. And there was no ATM in sight. Oh well. Another time, Smokin’ Jim.

Coveted Yarns, Gloucester

Smokin’ Jim’s

Our original lunch plans dashed, we arrived in Rockport and headed over to a little cafe we often eat at called The Red Skiff Grill.

Red Skiff Grill

I had the fish and chips. I always get the fish and chips at Red Skiff. And they have the best cole slaw. I love a good slaw.

After lunch I needed something sweet, so we headed to Tuck’s. They have the best fudge. There’s another candy store in Rockport called the Fudgery, but don’t buy their fudge. Tuck’s fudge is better. Tuck’s is just like an old-tyme candy store. All the candy is displayed behind glass cases and in large glass jars on the countertops.

Tucks.

I sat at the top of Bear Skin Neck and looked out at the water while I ate my fudge. Here’s the fudge and what I looked at while I ate it:

Then we went to Helmut’s Strudel. I didn’t have strudel, though. Just a cup of coffee.

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I did some shopping in Rockport and bought a few crafty things. I bought a ring from a company called Pink Armor by Amanda. She makes jewelry from vintage fabric and buttons. This cute ring made from vintage fabric only cost $5.

And I went to the town’s bead store, called The Beadles (geddit?). I bought a starfish charm and a small faux pearl to make a little necklace to remind me of the ocean. The store gets a lot of natural sunlight and beads are arranged by color.

After visiting the bead shop we stopped off at Dunkin’ Donuts for a soda for the ride home. I was surprised to find out that it was National Free Donut Day. By the time we got there all the good donuts were gone. So I settled for a chocolate stick.

On the way home, we stopped off in the town of Essex. Essex is famous for two things: fried clams and antiques. In 1916 Lawrence “Chubby” Woodman invented the fried clam, and people have been flocking to Woodman’s ever since.

Woodman’s, an Essex institution since 1914.

You can also buy lobsters at Woodman’s.

Even though we were still full from lunch, we managed to indulge in their onion rings. Woodman’s has the best onion rings.

Golden deliciousness

The Essex River

From there we headed up the Causeway to Howard’s Flying Dragon. They carry an eclectic mix of furnishings, housewares, art, and collectibles. They fit my budget better than the many expensive, high-end antique stores that populate Essex.

Howard’s Flying Dragon. They always have a different message in their window in giant letters every time I go there.

Antique buggy for sale at Howard’s.

At Howard’s Flying Dragon I bought an old Ball Jar, having been inspired by a recent post from Lillibeth’s Garden on spray-painting old mason jars to use as planters or lanterns. I love a new project.

All-in-all it was a fun-filled, food-filled day. I ate a lot, I shopped a little, and I managed not to get too sunburned. Good times.

Thrift Score

1 Jun

Some of my newest purchases of Corning Ware and Pyrex. Did you know Pyrex was a division of Corning Ware? I didn’t either. I got all of these pieces at my local thrift store last Friday.

I found four pieces of Corning Ware blue cornflower. The dish in the first photo (I had a hunkering for mac and cheese after blogging about it last week) cost $3.25. The largest square dish in the second photo was $4, the medium was $2.50, and the mini was $1.50. I scored all four pieces for $11.25. Not bad for my first purchase of vintage Corning Ware. I’m only collecting Blue Cornflower because that’s what I grew up with. My mom still uses her various baking dishes, and she got them as wedding presents 50 years ago.

I also snagged a Pyrex casserole dish in a groovy floral pattern for $3. The pattern’s proper name is Spring Blossom, but it’s unofficially known as Crazy Daisy. I grew up with various Pyrex patterns, and since they come in so many pretty colors and patterns, I’m not going to limit myself to one particular pattern.

I can honestly say that I’m addicted to collecting Corning Ware and Pyrex. I look forward to posting more pics as I add to my collection.

The Psychedelic Furs and I Are Getting Old

31 May

Salem’s Catholic Center, which sadly, has seen better days. Check out the “For Lease” sign.

Last Saturday my sister and I went to see the Psychedelic Furs in Salem. We had never seen them back in the day, so we were excited that they were coming to town. They were one of many bands whose music formed the soundtrack to my life during my formative years in high school and college in the Eighties. The concert was held at the Catholic Center – the former parochial school of one of the city’s now-closed Catholic churches that currently serves as a bingo hall every Wednesday night. Sadly, it’s seen better days (the guy standing in line behind us while we were waiting to get in remarked that it reminded him of “1970s CCD”). So we were a little apprehensive about what a concert there would be like. But it turned out to be a great place for a concert. It wasn’t too big that you couldn’t see the band, but it was big enough that you could bop around in place without being moshed by other concert-goers. I hadn’t been to a concert in eighteen years because these days I’m practically a shut-in as far as night life goes, so I didn’t know if I could mosh with the best of them anymore. I was glad to see that I didn’t have to.

Lead singer Richard Butler and his guitarist brother Tim are the only original members of the band left. They opened with “I Hear a Heartbeat.” “Pretty in Pink” was third. They also played “The Ghost in You” and “Love My Way,” two other songs I really wanted to hear besides “Pretty in Pink” I was disappointed that they didn’t play “All That Money Wants” or “Alice’s House.” But it was a great show. Richard Butler looked old – not like Richard-Butler-but-older, just old. I think his large glasses hid his face so he didn’t look like the Richard Butler I remember from the album covers and the music videos. But that voice was unmistakeable – that gravely, ironic, iconic voice. It was a great show.

The band played for about an hour and fifteen minutes, then left the stage, only to return for an encore. And one encore only. Which was a relief, because as happy as I was to be there, I was also ready to go home. I would have felt bad leaving early if they had played a few encores. Dang, I must be getting old, just like Richard Butler. It happens to the best of us.

Here are some photos I took that evening. I apologize for the poor quality. I have an iPhone 3, a dinosaur compared to the iPhone 4. It couldn’t handle the glare from the stage lights as well as other people’s phones.

Richard Butler

Tim Butler

The Butler Brothers

Here’s “Pretty in Pink” from their concert in Salem:

I’m Obsessed with this Room: Caroline’s Room

28 May

I came across this bedroom while looking for quilt ideas on Pinterest. I was planning on making my own quilt (I hadn’t yet found my yard sale treasure), and I needed some inspiration. When I found this room, I was immediately taken with it. This room conveys everything that I want in my own bedroom: color, pattern, texture, and most of all, a sense of peace and relaxation. It was designed by interior designer Lynne-Anne Bruns for her daughter Caroline. It has appeared on several design websites including Country Living and Apartment Therapy, as well as countless blogs.

Most of the photos of quilts that I found for inspiration show them displayed on a metal bed, usually white. There’s just something about a quilt on a metal bed frame that enhances its antique, homespun quality. But the bright blue walls of Caroline’s room give it a fresh, modern feel that prevents the quilt and bed from becoming too Little House on the Prairie-ish. For some reason, the walls of many of the bedrooms with quilts in the photos I’ve found are blue. Blue can be a very relaxing shade. White furniture looks especially clean and bright against it. For Caroline’s room, Lynne-Anne used Jamaican Aqua (#2408) by Benjamin Moore.

Caroline’s room has everything I want in my bedroom. Antique quilt? Check. White metal bed? Check. Blue walls? Check. Hardwood floors? Check. Window with a view? Check. Separate lounging area? Check. I love the old shutters inside her bedroom window. It’s the architectural details of an old house, blended with a young aesthetic, that make her bedroom the perfect place to get away to. What little girl wouldn’t want a room like this? I’m sure that when she is an adult Caroline will look back with fond memories of her childhood room, just like I do when I think about my bedroom in the house I grew up in.

You can check out more of Lynne-Anne’s beautiful house on her Flickriver site.

Au Gratin Potatoes, Mac and Cheese, and Corningware

27 May

If you were a child of the Seventies like I was, chances are your mom cooked with Corningware Blue Cornflower cookware. These glass and enamelware dishes and pots were ubiquitous in the Seventies. It was produced betwen 1958 and 1987, and practically every household had them.

My mom cooked Betty Crocker Au Gratin Potatoes in the casserole dish. She and my dad made their morning coffee in the Blue Cornflower percolator. That familiar percolating sound greeted me every morning as I came down for breakfast before going off to school. My mom actually used that percolator up until the early 2000s for Christmas breakfast, when she needed to make more coffee than her 8-cup Mr. Coffee machine would allow. It would probably still work if she plugged it in today. Because if the world were destroyed by a nuclear bomb, only cockroaches and Corningware would survive.

Ad for Betty Crocker Au Gratin Potatoes, 1965. My mother must have seen this ad, because she always served Betty’s Au Gratin potatoes with hot dogs.

One particularly “Seventies” piece of Corningware that my mom had was the Blue Cornflower electric frying pan. It looked like a large, shallow square casserole dish with handles. It set into a base that acted as a hot plate. When it was plugged in it would heat up the dish and you could cook in it, then take the dish off the base and set it on the dinner table. My mom always used it to make beef stroganoff and stuffed veal birds – two particularly Seventies dishes that you don’t see much of these days. We used to have them all the time when I was growing up, but even my mom hasn’t made them in thirty years.

My mom also used her blue cornflower casserole dish to make macaroni and cheese. And no one made mac and cheese better than my mom. When I try to make it myself, it just doesn’t taste as good as hers. She got the recipe off the side of a Ronzoni macaroni box. Here it is:

    1 lb. box of Ronzoni elbows #35
    4 cups sharp cheddar cheese – shredded
    3 tablespoons butter
    4 tablespoons flour
    1 teaspoon salt
    1/2 teaspoon pepper
    3-1/2 cups hot milk
    1/2 cup seasoned bread crumbs

    Cook macaroni as directed on side panel of box. Melt butter in saucepan, blend in flour, salt, and pepper. Add hot milk, simmer 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add 3-1/2 cups of cheese, stir until smooth. Combine drained macaroni with sauce in buttered baking dish. Top with 1/2 cup of cheese and 1/2 cup of bread crumbs. Bake uncovered in 375 degree oven for about 20 minutes.

I’ve tried lightening it up with skim milk and low-fat cheese, but it doesn’t work. Skim milk just isn’t as creamy as whole milk, and low-fat or fat-free cheese doesn’t melt properly. The oil in low-fat cheeses separates and the cheese sauce becomes a congealed mess. So I bite the bullet and make it the way my mom made it. She still makes it this way when I go to her house for dinner. That first bite always reminds me of my childhood.

What retro items from your childhood do you collect? And if anybody knows a good low-fat macaroni and cheese recipe, I’d love to know.

Corningware ad from the late 60s. The coffee percolator and the electric frying pan that my mom had can be seen in front of the lady.

Shorts for Summer

25 May

Even though it’s only May, we’re already having summer-like temperatures this week. Today was 77 degrees. Which got me thinking: maybe I should invest in a pair of shorts. I haven’t worn shorts in 20 years, due to the fact that I’m an extremely pale red-headed person who avoids the sun like the plague. My legs are pasty and white. I just don’t have the courage to inflict them on the general public. So my only summer option for pants are denim or canvas capris. But since they only reach above the ankle, it’s not all that different from wearing long pants. And denim can be so darned heavy in the summer. So if I were going to wear shorts, how short should I go? I cringe at the last shorts I wore: those tight, rolled-hem bleached denim shorts from the GAP that stopped just above the knee. They positively scream 1990s. If I’m going to wear shorts again, I want proper shorts. Short shorts (but not short-shorts. I’m not that bold). But am I ready for shorts? Any fears that I have that wearing shorts would make me look like a tacky tourist sans fanny pack are immediately dispelled when I think of Scarlet Johansson’s funky fashion sense in Ghost World.

Thora Birch as Little Enid and Scarlet Johansson as Rebecca in Ghost World.

One possibility for cute shorts this summer is the Chino Short in Black ($40.00) by Lands End Canvas. I always have good luck with Lands End Canvas, the hipper, less nautical sister of Lands End.

Another option is the High-Waist Double Serge Short ($98.00) from J. Crew. But do I really want to pay $98 for a pair of shorts?

Then there’s the super-cute Printed Short ($49.50) from Banana Republic.

These shorts from H&M ($24.95) feature tailored details such as a tie belt, front box pleats, and sewn cuffs at the hems.

As you can see, there is no shortage of shorts options (excuse the pun) this summer. I just have to decide which one to go with. Any one of them would look great with a three-quarter-length sleeved t-shirt and a pair of canvas skimmers. Or maybe I’ll wear my Doc Martens with them like Scarlet in Ghost World.

What is your go-to piece for warmer weather?