Blum’s Coffee Toffee Pie

Blum’s coffee toffee pie

The following is the colorful story of the arrival of Blum’s coffee toffee pie in my family’s history; more over, it marks the beginning of the hand of Providence saving me for my work as a food historian.

Without any doubt, our lives have purpose, for we are created to fulfill specific works that only we are equipped to do.  My calling, as a writer of food history, has taken shape over my entire life.  Many times death has tried to steal this precious gift from me; my mother’s prayers, however, have covered me with the required protection, for without prayer God’s hands are tied.

My first monumental memory of our Father’s intervention was in 1967, when I incurred a near fatal concussion from a car accident.  Mom’s simple faith brought me back from what spelled destruction: I was neither dead nor a vegetable, as doctors were declaring.  Though I didn’t yet know Jesus personally in 1967, Mom’s steadfast heart acted as my shield and miracles occurred.

The preservation of my life was the first wonder, but another ensued.  Due to the concussion, the part of my brain that controlled my oblique eye muscle was severely damaged, resulting in intense double vision.  At that time, there were only three doctors in the U.S. that could perform the needed operation, then with only a 50% chance of any correction.  Thus in the spring of 1968, we were off to San Francisco, where Dr. Paul at University Hospital perfected my sight completely!  As always, Mom’s prayer life brought rich dividends.

This surgeon took my eye out of my head to shorten the errant muscle, so I saw this lively city with only half my vision, as a patch covered the deep blood-red of that where his skillful hands had been.

As we walked these lively streets, we witnessed our nation’s struggle to discover love through the hippie movement.  Every day we nurtured our hungry souls at the beloved Blum’s; this confectionery, bakery, and restaurant began charming San Francisco in the 1950’s; it closed in the 70’s.  There we devotedly indulged in its famous coffee toffee pie; my strong mother bravely asked for the recipe, which they gave her.  (They must have given it to many others as well, for numerous variations are now available on-line.)

Through its development, by my family over the decades, this recipe has emerged in ways that are outstanding, making its preparation simply foolproof.  Among many improvements, we freeze this pie for long-term use, preferring it only partially thawed, which gives it an ice cream-like texture.  Numerous other tips make my summer dessert a pure joy, to be made with ease.

Celebrate, with me, God’s good and entire provision in our lives; receive this outstanding historical receipt!

Blum’s coffee toffee pie

Blum’s Coffee Toffee Pie  Yields: 1 pie.  Total prep time: 1 1/4 hr, plus 2 1/4 hr for cooling/  active prep time: 1 hr/  baking time: 15 min.

Note: this is best kept in the freezer for long-term use, cutting off pieces as needed; serve partially thawed for a favored ice cream-like texture.

1 cup flour  (May choose to grind 1/3 cup organic, hard red spring wheat berries and 1/3 cup organic, soft winter white wheat berries to make a total of 1 cup of fresh ground flour.)

1/2 tsp salt  (Real Salt is important for optimum health; available in health section at local supermarket.)

3/4 cup butter, softened

1/4 cup brown sugar, packed down  (Organic is best; available sometimes at Costco and always at Trader Joe’s.)

3/4 cup walnuts, chopped

2 ounces Baker’s unsweetened chocolate, plus extra for garnish

1 tbsp water

1 tsp vanilla extract

3/4 cup cane sugar  (Organic is ideal, best buy is at Costco, also available in a smaller quantity at Trader’s.)

2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature  (If sensitive to coddled eggs, may use pasteurized eggs for extra safety, which are available at some grocery stores.)

8 tsp instant coffee

2 cups heavy whipping cream

1/2 cup powdered sugar  (High quality organic is available at Trader’s.)

  1. grating of chocolate

    If grinding fresh flour, do so now.

  2. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  3. Combine flour and salt; blend in a scant 1/4 cup butter well with a fork until mealy in texture.
  4. Mix in brown sugar, walnuts, and 1 ounce chocolate, grated with a sharp knife (see photo); add water and vanilla; blend well.
  5. Butter a pie plate generously; press pie dough in well-greased pan firmly with fingers. Bake for 15 minutes, or until light brown; begin cooling on a rack, for about 10 minutes, finish cooling in freezer.
  6. While crust is cooling, melt 1 ounce of chocolate over medium/low heat, watching carefully as not to burn. Set aside and cool.
  7. When chocolate is room temperature, beat 1/2 cup butter in a large bowl with an electric mixer until creamy.  Gradually add 3/4 cup cane sugar, beating well with each addition.
  8. Add 1 egg; mix on medium speed for 5 minutes.  (The following makes this preparation foolproof.  It is so important to have ingredients at room temperature; if your kitchen is either really hot or cold, this mixture may curdle.  You can easily correct this: if it curdles or breaks because it is too hot, make the addition of the second egg a cold one, directly out of the refrigerator, to bring the filling back to its full volume.  If the butter/sugar/egg combination is too cold and curdles, warm the chocolate a little and mix this in before adding the second egg; then, follow the directions for beating.  Ideally this should be like fluffy whipped butter or soft whipped cream, providing ingredients are room temperature, in a moderate kitchen.  In this way, you will never fail with this recipe!)
  9. assembling of pie

    Blend in cooled chocolate and 2 tsp of coffee.

  10. Add second egg and beat for 5 minutes more.
  11. Place filling in cold pie crust; freeze for 2 hours.  Meantime place a large bowl and beaters in freezer as well (the whipping of cream is greatly facilitated when these are ice-cold).
  12. When pie is frozen, beat cream until it starts to thicken; add powdered sugar and 2 tbsp coffee; continue beating until stiff.  Cover pie with whipped cream and garnish with chocolate curls.
  13. Return to freezer.  When frozen, cover well with plastic wrap.  Cut pieces as needed; serve partially thawed for optimum pleasure.

Creative Caesar Salads

creative Caesar salad topped with serungdeng kacang

When I was growing up, we lived in the small resort town of East Glacier Park, Montana, which is the east entrance to Glacier National Park; there were only 250 residents at the foot of these glorious Rocky Mountains.  Because of our town’s minuscule size, it was necessary to travel to larger cities to take care of our major shopping needs, such as school clothes every late summer.  Usually we traveled within our State, 150 miles east to Great Falls; on special occasions, we ventured as far away as Spokane, Washington.  I can still feel the thrill as we prepared, in the early morning dark, to leave on these revered journeys.

During the extra special trips to Spokane, the Ridpath Hotel captivated me; we ate many dinners in its plush dining room, always partaking in their Caesar salad, which came with the pomp and flair of table-side service.  My young heart was even then preparing for my career in food history, for I was fascinated by the coddling of the egg, with the torch used for that purpose; in like manner, I rhapsodized over the delight of the powerful garlic on my tender tongue.

To this day I love Caesar salad; I share a recipe here that lives up to this enduring mental monument.  Be prepared to enjoy.

There are several accounts of how this famous dish began.  After much research, I chose to attribute its origin to the Italian chef Caesar Cardini (1896-1956), who created this American classic at his well-known restaurant in Tijuana, Mexico, when in 1924 he was serving an unusual number of Californian visitors, escaping there for the Fourth of July weekend during prohibition.  This original production was served table side, without anchovies, and included whole lettuce leaves, which were eaten by the stems, using one’s fingers.

Caesar salad enhanced with beans

There are numerous opposing views on the safety of coddled eggs.  Some profess that they are not a threat: it is adequate to place the eggs in rapidly boiling water, remove the pan from the heat, and then allow the eggs to cook for 60 seconds; indeed, this technique provides the best taste.  Others propound that holding eggs at 140 degrees F (60 degrees C) for five minutes kills potential contaminants, such as salmonella; this can also be achieved instantly by heating them to 160 degrees F (71 degrees C).  Still others declare that uncooked and under-cooked eggs are not safe at all; they rigidly promote the use of either hard-boiled or pasteurized eggs; the latter are available in some grocery stores.  Note: it is important to use caution in highly susceptible populations, such as small children, pregnant women, the elderly, and those with health problems.

Here I cover this dilemma with two good solutions: my favorite version of this dressing is made with coddled eggs, which have been cooked for 60 seconds; nonetheless, for times when extra special care is needed, I provide a method of heating the prepared dressing to 160 degrees; this last procedure, however, thickens our treasured concoction quite a lot.  With both of these two options, the powerful recollected taste from my youth is maintained, which is heightened even further with strong combinations of foods in my creative Caesar salads.


finished Caesar dressing

Caesar Salad Dressing  Yields: about 1 1/2 cups.  Total prep time: 30 min.  If cooking the dressing, total prep time is 45 min.

3 fresh, free-range eggs, at room temperature  (Place in warm water for 10-15 minutes.)

2 tbsp fresh garlic

1 tbsp cider vinegar  (Raw is best; available inexpensively at Trader Joe’s.)

1 scant tbsp Dijon mustard  (Aioli Garlic Mustard from Trader’s is also excellent.)

2 small lemons, juiced

3 dashes of Tabasco

3 dashes of Worcestershire

1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1 anchovy, optional

3/4 tsp salt, or to taste  (Real Salt is important for health; available in natural foods section at local supermarket.)

1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper, or to taste

3/4 cup olive oil  (Personally I prefer a light olive oil for flavor; Bel’Olio from Costco is great.)

  1. Use room temperature eggs, by placing them in warm water for 10-15 minutes.  For health reasons, it is important that they are washed, free-range, and fresh.  (I feel comfortable with coddled eggs; these make the best dressing, but if you are sensitive to them, or storing this dressing for more than 4-5 days, take the extra precaution of cooking it as described in step 6-better yet use pasteurized eggs, which are available in some grocery stores.)
  2. coddling eggs

    For coddled eggs, bring a small pan of water to a boil over high heat; prepare an ice bath, using a bowl of cold water with ice cubes.  Place eggs in rapidly boiling water; quickly remove from heat; let them sit for 60 seconds; then, immediately transfer to the ice bath, to the stop cooking process.  Crack them on side of bowl, scooping coddled egg out of shell with a spoon, set aside (see photo).

  3. Meanwhile mince 2 tablespoons of garlic: easily do so by filling a coffee measure, which is 2 tablespoons, with peeled garlic cloves, cut in small pieces, until it is full; then, chop this in a food processor by repeatedly pressing pulse button; set aside.  (TO MAKE DRESSING BY HAND: chop the garlic with a sharp knife; mix all ingredients, except the oil, in a medium/small bowl; then, beat in the oil SLOWLY, to emulsify the dressing.  May also make this in a VitaMix or blender.)
  4. Juice the lemons, set aside.
  5. Add all ingredients, except the oil, to the garlic in the processor.  Turn on machine and blend; place oil in the feeder, which is located on the top (see this feeder in above photo of finished product); thus, oil will drip in slowly for an emulsified dressing.  Adjust seasonings.  This will keep in the refrigerator for 4-5 days; for longer storage, go to the next step.  Serve on the creative salads given lastly.
  6. For cooked dressing, prepare an ice bath, using a large bowl with a smaller one inserted in center (see photo).  Prepare Caesar dressing as described in steps 2-

    cooked dressing cooling in ice bath

    5; transfer this mixture to a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan; cook dressing over low heat, stirring constantly, until this egg mixture reaches 160 degrees F (71 degrees C); immediately place in the ice bath to cool, adding more ice as needed.  Note: the dressing will thicken as it cooks. Serve on salads described below.

  7. I like to be creative with my Caesar salads; here are two suggestions for using foods that highly complement this excellent dressing.  First: mix greens, sweet onion, avocado, Parmesan cheese, and homemade croutons (2016/08/15); then, top this with serungdeng kacang, which is crispy coconut chips and peanuts sautéed with a garlic/onion puree (2017/01/09).  Second: mix greens, Parmesan cheese, homemade croutons, and beans; legumes really accentuate the flavor of this dressing!  Enjoy.

Ensalada Iberica

ensalada Iberica

Ensalada Iberica is the perfect accompaniment to last week’s Portuguese pork, because of its sweet base of oranges and dates, along with an abundance of piquant onions and lemon-vinaigrette.  This quick salad pleases our palettes.  Its strong combination of complimentary foods is additionally enhanced with the spice coriander, which is also a “seasoning match made in heaven” for pork, as noted by Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page in Culinary Artistry; thus, these dishes balance each other, resulting in excellent flavors and joy unspeakable.1

During the 1980’s, my extensive cooking classes in Montana included a group of 12 professionals, all of whom were friends.  For years they came monthly for each new theme I presented.  We grew to love each other, as I taught them easy steps in making glorious food.  A grieving took place at our parting, brought on by my decision to move to Portland in February of 1986.

My strongest fan among them Larry organized a going-away party for me.  He chose an upscale Chinese restaurant, since a travel agent in the group had hoped to take me to China, to teach native foods on one of her tours.  At our celebration, they graciously presented me with a restaurant-caliber, 15 ½ x 10 ½ inch cake pan and stock pot, as seen in my photos; how these have blessed my work.

At one of our classes, someone encouraged me to consider the then new concept of computers for my work.  I responded that I will never do that, for it was beyond me.  Technology, however, has enabled the expansion of my endeavors beyond my imagination.

Back then I wrote everything out by hand, as I constantly discovered new themes from various cultures and ages.  All my research came from hard copies of books and publications; I searched for the sources of my inspiration at the local library, in an array of cook books, and in such publications as Montana newspapers, the New York Times, and numerous fashionable magazines.  My existence was marked by creativity, as I developed my faculty for research.  This skill was further honed in my graduate work at Portland State University, 1988-91.

Discovering truths in food history is what I do; it is essential that I know their validity.  As a result, to this day, I prefer to obtain my information from actual books, which possess a soundness that I trust over that of internet.

Both this and its subsequent post, on Portuguese foods, are from that early application of my studies in Montana.  These entries provide exceptional taste treats, enjoy.

  1. Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page, Culinary Artistry (Hoboken, N.J.: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1996), pp. 159, 160, 268.

chopping orange segments

Ensalada Iberica  Yields: 5-6 servings.  Total prep time: 25 min.

Note: best to make and chill several hours before serving.

2 large oranges  (Organic is best for flavor and quality, as orange skins readily absorb pesticides; these are often available at a good price at Trader Joe’s.)

1 small/medium red onion, thinly sliced  (May use 2 small, organic cipollini onions; they are expensive, but so good!)

1 small can sliced ripe olives, net dr. wt. 2.25 ounces

1/2 cup pitted dates, packed down, cut in halves lengthwise  (About 1/3 pound is needed.)

1/4 cup olive oil

1/4 cup lemon juice  ( 2-3 small lemons are needed.)

3/4 tsp salt, or to taste

1/4 tsp fresh ground pepper, or to taste

1/4 tsp ground coriander

Bed of spinach leaves or lettuce

  1. easy juicing of lemons

    Peel oranges, divide them in half, cut each half cross-wise in half again, so it is easy to separate segments (see photo above).

  2. Peel and slice onions thinly.
  3. In medium bowl, combine oranges, onions, olives, and dates halves.
  4. Juice lemons with a hand-held juicer, watch market for this marvelous tool (see photo).
  5. Combine olive oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper, and coriander in a small sealed jar; shake vigorously; adjust seasonings.
  6. Pour over fruit, mix well, and refrigerate until serving time-preferably for several hours-so flavors can meld.
  7. Serve on a bed of spinach leaves or lettuce.
  8. This is a favorite of mine, which I have made since the early 1980’s.

1960’s Portuguese Pork

Portuguese pork roast

My gift of hospitality was birthed during my youth in the mid-twentieth century, for then I watched my mother host elaborate dinner parties.  As an excellent cook, she prepared glorious feasts, often with international themes; this 1960’s recipe for Portuguese pork blessed guests repeatedly.  While in college, I meticulously copied her treasured receipts and began my own journey, fostering nourishment of body and soul.

In 1982 God converted this inherent gift into my lifetime work; then, I began catering meals and teaching a profusion of cooking classes, utilizing researched historical recipes.  One of these classes was on my mother’s Portuguese foods, on which I expanded, incorporating the salad Ensalada Iberica and dessert Figos Recheados, my next weeks’ posts.

Slowing down, smelling the roses, feeding ourselves and others are important traits. In doing such, let us choose pleasure in even the simplest of foods, especially when someone else prepares them; thus, their charity reaches our hearts regardless of what is served.  Macaroni and cheese can thrill us, when made with love by a friend.

There is an element of courage, which results in unexpected joy, when we graciously receive ailments we aren’t sure of.  While living in Billings, Montana, a friend invited me to celebrate Easter with her.  Upon arrival I discovered we were partaking of rabbit; I was challenged in eating this, especially on this holiday!  Expressing gratitude, I bravely proceeded and found it palatable, as long as I didn’t concentrate on it being Easter.  Though I have never again experienced this meat, fond memories flood my mind whenever it is mentioned.

Let us be strong in both giving and receiving benevolent fellowship; use my series of proven receipts to host this cultural affair for your loved ones, or better yet invite someone newly acquainted.

In Culinary Artistry, Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page note strong compliments to pork; among the most vibrant are vinegar, garlic, black pepper, oranges and onions-all of which are present in this detailed dinner.1   Enjoy my creative repast!

  1. Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page, Culinary Artistry (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1996), p. 159.

chopping jalapeno peppers

Portuguese Pork  Yields: 8-10 servings.  Total prep time: 1 day plus 4 hours/  inactive prep time-for marinating: 1 day/  active prep time: 30 min/  cooking time: 3 1/2 hr.

4 lb pork loin roast

1 1/3 cups water

1 cup cider vinegar  (Trader Joe’s carries an inexpensive raw version, which has great health benefits.)

5 medium/large cloves of garlic, minced

3 tepino peppers  (If desired use jalapeno peppers, which are milder.)

Salt and pepper  (Real Salt is important for optimum health; available in the health section of local supermarket.)

1 cup sliced green olives  (May serve additional in a bowl at table.)

Baked yams  (Yams and sweet potatoes are different varieties of the same vegetable, they are interchangeable.)

  1. Place water and vinegar in a 7 1/2 x 9 1/2 x 3 pan (3 quart baking dish).
  2. Mince garlic, add to vinegar mixture.
  3. Cut peppers in half lengthwise, scoop out seeds with a spoon, chop fine, and add to vinegar mixture (see photo).  Note: be sure to wash hands thoroughly, as burning will result from touching eyes if you don’t.
  4. Place pork in marinade and marinate in refrigerator for at least 24 hours, turning roast halfway through, at about 12 hours.
  5. Preheat oven to 300 degrees.  Before placing in oven, turn roast again, salting and peppering the top well.  Bake for 1 3/4 hours; then, turn roast for the last time; once more, salt and pepper the top well.  Bake for another 1 3/4 hours.  Proceed immediately to next step.
  6. Wash yams and pierce several times with a fork.  Cover with foil; place top of foil on potato, where sealed, face-up in the oven while baking; this keeps juices from leaking.  Start baking these at the same time you begin roasting the meat; bake for about 3 hours, as the oven is only set at 300 degrees.
  7. When cooking is complete, remove roast from oven, cool for 15 minutes.  Toward the end of this time, take yams out of oven and place on plates; next, cut pork in thick slices and arrange on dishes; top with sliced olives.  (It is good to serve additional olives in a small bowl at table.)
  8. This pork is superb with the Portuguese salad Ensalada Iberica and dessert Figos Recheados, my next weeks’ posts.

Serungdeng Kacang

serungdeng kacang

serungdeng kacang

The condiment serungdeng kacang first completed my food in the early 1980’s, when I was catering historical events in Billings, Montana.  In those days, I sought recipes that allowed me to offer thematic meals from diverse cultures and times. To my joy, I discovered a host of receipts from Indonesia; thus, I presented an Indonesian rijsttafel to my eager audiences.

I loved to act in my youth and knew the Billings’ theatrical community well.  As an aside, actors often make a living in the restaurant business; they are adept at waiting tables.  Then my creative dinners needed both excellent service and improvisation.  An incredible fit was made with my Billings’ thespian friends; thus, I frequently employed them in my catered dramas.

My favorite memory, using this partnership, was a fundraiser for the Billings’ Children’s Theatre: I presented an authentic Moroccan dinner, for a staged “Night at Rick’s Place”.  The five winning tickets from those auctioned off-each with their three guests-were transported back to World War II in the theatre’s upstairs; this large room had been converted into Rick’s Place, from the movie Casablanca.  It was furnished with a bar off to one side of the restaurant, which consisted of five tables of four, clothed with white linen.  The city’s leading actors peopled the bar scene.  More of these, dressed in tuxedos, served the unsuspecting partakers in this suspense.

Broadway arts resulted!  Numerous brawls took place in the bar; the Gestapo arrived; guests were pick-pocketed, and on and on…Talk about fun.

My part was the researched Moroccan meal.  That afternoon, after weeks of cooking, I showed up for the final preparations in the theatre’s limited kitchen. Behold, the limits escalated upon my arrival-the stove wasn’t working!  The true test of my creativity came.  However, God’s grace broke through: makeshift occurred as a call went out and citizens brought in hot plates.  The meal came off triumphantly: I, in a Moroccan dress, told the innocent company the colorful history as each dish was served.

I repeated this dinner numerous times in my career, but this show never again reached the thrill of its original occurrence.  That night in Casablanca best exemplified what I did with my work then.  Now my food history presentations entertain larger audiences.  Still guests participate in dinner-theatre-type-events. They engage by eating authentic foods; I, dressed in period costume, narrate their careful story.

Today my grand affairs mostly involve Northwest history, for which I was trained in graduate school.  However back in the 80’s and 90’s, I presented other cultures and times in my gala occasions.  Among these many thematic experiences was an Indonesian rijsttafel, which is a banquet of delicacies from this southeast Asian republic, formerly known at the Dutch East Indies.

Serungdeng kacang is a condiment for rice dishes in these ethnic feasts. My particular recipe comes from Java, one of the many islands in Indonesia. These coconut crumbs, spiced with onion and garlic, are spread liberally over the rice portions, in addition to a variety of other garnishes.

Serungdeng kacang has multiple, inventive benefits: it is also compatible with Indian curries; acts as a delicious hors d’oeuvre; and, my favorite, it provides the crowning touch to salads!  Keep this enhancement to tossed greens on hand. Make a double batch and keep it in a sealed storage bag.  The beauty of this topping lasts indefinitely.

simple mincing of onion

simple mincing of onion

Serungdeng Kacang  Yields: 3 cups.  Total prep time: 1 hr/ active prep time: 30 min/ cooking time: 30 min.

6 tbsp yellow onion, minced  (You will need a medium/large onion; follow directions below for simple mincing-see photo.)

6 medium/large garlic cloves, chopped fine

2 tbsp sugar  (Organic cane sugar is best; available at Trader Joe’s and Costco.)

1 tsp salt  (Real Salt is important; available in the health section of local supermarkets.)

1 tbsp oil  (Coconut oil is the best for flavor and quality.)

2 cups unsweetened coconut chips  (Available in bulk at our local Winco, or in a 12-ounce Bob’s Red Mill package at local supermarkets.)

1 cup roasted, unsalted peanuts

  1. An easy way to mince onion is to peel it, leaving the root on; next, score it by cutting slices close together across the top one way, going 3/4 of way down into the onion; then, turn it and cut slices the other direction (see photo).  When onion is prepared thus, shave the minced pieces off the end of it with a sharp knife.
  2. Start by measuring 6 tbsp of minced onion; save rest of onion for other cooking.  With a mortar and pestle mash onions, garlic, sugar, and salt.  When this is a thick puree, set aside.  (See mortar and pestle in photo.)
  3. Heat oil in a cast iron skillet over medium/low heat.  Place a piece of the coconut in oil; when it turns brown, oil is ready for cooking.
  4. Meantime mix together coconut and onion mixture in a large bowl.  Make sure coconut is completely coated.
  5. When oil is hot, add coconut mixture; stir well to coat coconut with oil; cook 20 minutes, or until golden brown in color and slightly wet.  Stir every 5 minutes, so as not to burn.  (Let it cook for full 5-minute increments, however; this allows for the coconut to brown.)
  6. When coconut is light golden brown, add the peanuts and cook for another 5 minutes; stir twice now.  Note: it will get a darker brown and drier, as it cooks more with the peanuts and then cools in the pan.
  7. Remove from heat and be sure to cool in skillet; this completes the drying process.  (See top photo for finished product.)
  8. Keep in a sealed storage bag, lasts for months.

Curried Chicken/Cheese Ball

curry/chicken/cheese ball

curried chicken/cheese ball

My mother’s best friend, in our small Rocky Mountain village, became my treasured ally. She and her husband moved to East Glacier Park, when he retired as a screenplay writer.  Talbot Jennings was so famous that a prominent New York City television station featured his movies, such as The King and I, for a whole week, before he died.

This illustrious couple traveled the world during the production of these films; thus, Betsy schooled me in her prodigious cosmopolitan ways.  I thoroughly enjoyed sitting under her tutelage, as she prepared me for the lions at Trafalgar Square and exceeding more, prior to my moving to London.  I believe she was even more excited than I, about my valiant relocation to Tokyo half a decade later.

The voluminous New York Times brought the vast outside world to Betsy every weekend.  She was forever clipping articles to prepare me for my numerous sojourns.

With this same spirit, starting in 1982, she helped me to grow as a historical caterer.  My creative mentor was always sending me gifts, which she ordered from the New York Times.  Ingenious gadgets were among a wide array of superlative food items.  Many of these imaginative tools still grace my kitchen today.

While I was doing my early work in Billings, Montana, I journeyed to my hometown each year, where I catered multiple theme dinners per visit. The eight-hour drive across the wide expanse of the Big Sky Country thrilled my tender soul. How I delighted in approaching the backdrop of my beloved mountains, as I gazed across those colossal open prairies.

Once there, I spent many hours drinking in wisdom at Betsy’s feet.  During one of these relished trips, she offered this  delectable cheese ball to me.  I was enamored with it then and still am today.  Then it was a frequent hors d’oeuvre at my gala catered events;  today it is still my constant contribution to every holiday meal, at which I am a guest.

May you make this blessed appetizer a family tradition as well!

Curried Chicken/Cheese Ball  Yields: 2 ½ cups.  Total prep time: 1 hr/ active prep time: 30 minutes/ inactive prep time: 30 min.  Note: you may make this a day ahead.

8 oz cream cheese, softened

1 cup raw whole almonds, chopped in a food processor  (May use slivered almonds and chop with a sharp knife.)

½ cup unsweetened coconut, finely grated  (Available in bulk, at Winco and other stores.)

2 tbsp mayonnaise  (Best Foods excels all other mayonnaise.)

2-3 tbsp Major Grey’s Mango Chutney  (Choose 3 tbsp if you want a full-bodied sweetness.)

1 tbsp curry powder, or to taste

½ tsp salt  (Real Salt is important; available in health section of local supermarket.)

1 chicken breast or 4 frozen tenderloins  (Natural chicken is best; Trader Joe’s works well for quality and cost.)

1-9 oz box Original Wheat Thins

  1. If you are using frozen tenderloins, thaw in cool water.  Cook chicken in salted boiling water. When center is just faintly pink, after inserting a knife, remove chicken from water and cool in refrigerator.
  2. Chop almonds in a food processor, by repeatedly pressing the pulse button. Pulse until nuts are in small chunks.  Some finely ground almond “dust” will be present; you will use this as well.  There will also be some big chunks; cut them, by hand, with a sharp knife.  Set aside.
  3. Mix all the above ingredients except the chicken.  Note: it works best to insert a regular teaspoon in the narrow jar of Major Grey’s Mango Chutney, when measuring it.  Be sure to use well-rounded teaspoons, as each approximates a tablespoon, for which the recipe calls.
  4. Leave this cream cheese mixture out at room temperature, while waiting for the chicken to cool.  When meat is cool, cut it into small pieces. Mix chicken into cream cheese gently, as not to shred it.
  5. Criss-cross two large pieces of plastic wrap.  Place chicken ball in the center of wrap.  Surround ball with this plastic covering.  Refrigerate on a small plate.
  6. Soften ball at room temperature for two hours before serving, to facilitate the spreading.
  7. Surround with crackers on a decorative serving plate.
  8. This is a winner!

1950’s Pear Pie

Fresh pear pie

Fresh pear pie

My mother gave her children the choice of birthday cakes.  I was hard put to choose between banana cake (recipe in 2016/08/08 post) and fresh pear pie.  My soul still thrills with the beautiful taste of baked pears, rich crumb topping, and the best of pie crusts.

I am so health conscious; thus I have experimented with using sugar alternatives here.  Coconut sugar or sucanat (evaporated cane juice) can not compete with cane sugar in this receipt. Only sugar insures the right texture and flavor in pear pie.

Sugar has been around for the longest time.  China grew cane sugar for many years prior to its first written reference in 325 B.C.; Alexander the Great’s admiral Nearchus wrote of reeds in India that produce “honey” without any bees.

The word sugar began to appear in Indian literature around 300 B.C.:  The Sanskrit word sarkara, meaning gravel or pebble, became the Arabic sukhar, which finally came to be sugar.

The use of Indian sugarcane spread.  It was planted at this time in the moist terrains of the Middle East.  The Arabs then introduced this food to Egypt in 710 A.D.;  Knights of the First Crusade next planted sugar in the Holy Land nearly four centuries later. Knights from the Second Crusade brought this unknown delectable back home to Europe in 1148 A.D., where it became prized over honey.  The use of sugar grew after this.  Thus it became a main stable throughout much of the world.

This popular provision indeed played an important part in the forming of our country.  The British Parliament enforced the Sugar Act of 1764, with the high tax on this sweet in all its colonies.  The New World produced a great amount of sugar; thus this law was a factor in the American Revolution, a little over a decade later.

I am indebted to James Trager  for this exciting history.  I derived it from his book The Food Chronology, 1995, Henry Holt Reference Books.

Wisdom and moderation are needed with this substance.  Today our nation consumes sugar in unhealthy amounts.  Personally I hold fast to the adage of Mary Poppin’s:  “A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.”  My standard is to substitute more beneficial sweeteners wherever possible.  However, there are times when only cane sugar will do.   My precious pear pie is one of them!

Enjoy this carefree, mess-free recipe.

Pear pie, whipped cream, and freshly ground nutmeg

Pear pie, whipped cream, and freshly ground nutmeg

Pear Pie with Hot Water Pastry Crust

1 ¼ cup unbleached white flour (Bob’s Red Mill is best)

1 1/3  cup whole wheat pastry flour (save 1/3 cup for crumb topping) May grind 2/3 cup soft, white, winter wheat berries for 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour.

1 teaspoon salt (Real Salt is best, available in health section of local supermarket)

2/3 cup oil (grapeseed oil is best, available inexpensively at Trader Joe’s)

1/3 cup boiling water.

1 cup sugar (I prefer organic cane sugar; available in 2 lb packages at Trader’s, but more economical  in 10 lb bags at Costco)

1/3 cup butter, softened

5 large Bartlett pears, ripened (may use Anjou pears as well; but Bartlett is best, must be ripened)

1 cup heavy whipping cream

Freshly ground nutmeg

  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
  2. Blend unbleached white flour, 1 cup of whole wheat pastry flour, and salt in a large bowl.
  3. Add oil and water. Mix lightly with a fork.
  4. Divide into two balls, one much larger than the other. (You will need to use 3/5’s of dough for this single crust for a 10 inch pie plate. May bake leftover 2/5’s of dough in strips with butter and cinnamon sugar.)  Cover balls with plastic wrap and place on hot stove to keep warm.
  5. Roll out the large ball of dough between two, 14-inch pieces of wax paper. Form a very large, “oblong” circle which reaches to the sides of the paper.
  6. Gently peel off the top piece of wax paper. Turn over, wax paper side up, and place rolled dough over a 10 inch pie plate. Very carefully peel off the second piece of wax paper.
  7. Patch any holes in crust by pressing dough together with fingers. Form rim of crust on edge of pie plate by pressing dough together gently.
  8. Mix remaining 1/3 cup of flour and sugar in same bowl in which you made the pie crust. Blend in butter with a fork, until mealy in texture.
  9. Sprinkle 1/3 of this mixture in bottom of unbaked pie shell.
  10. Fill crust with peeled pear halves. Fill in spaces with smaller pieces.
  11. Evenly spread remaining flour mixture on top of pears.
  12. Bake at 450 degrees for 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake for 30 more minutes, or until crust is golden brown.
  13. Cool. Serve with whipped cream and freshly grated nutmeg. Mouthwatering!