Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Our Daily Bread: The Big Pancake

Saint Joseph must have been so wonderfully tender! His strong hands led the donkey carrying Blessed Mother to Bethlehem. Those same loving hands held the baby Jesus in the humble stable and placed him in the manger. Those patient hands held onto Jesus as he learned to take his first steps. Those wise hands taught Our Lord the noble craft of carpentry. And those holy hands most likely held Our Lord’s as he passed from this life to the eternal while in the beautiful gaze of Our Lady. No wonder he is the patron saint of happy deaths!

My first night in the hospital after our sweet daughter was born was magical. The second night, however, was long. No matter what I tried I could not get our little darling to stay sleeping. As soon as I placed her in her bassinet she would be awake again. And so I would hold her, nurse her, and hope she would fall back asleep. The nurses wouldn’t take her, it was too busy of a night. And I kept falling asleep while I was holding her- I was terrified I would drop her!

And then the Holy Spirit put the sweetest prayer in my heart. He whispered to me “Ann, go to Joseph.” And as I laid my baby down into her bassinet I begged St. Joseph to hold her in his loving hands…and she slept. Soundly. Finally. And I thought of all the times St. Joseph must have taken the “night shift” with the infant Jesus so that Our Lady could rest.

My husband has been heroic with the night shifts. He is the first to jump from bed when our daughter wakes at night. He consoles her, changes her and then brings her to me to feed. Even in the morning- he gets up to make the coffee…and at times even makes the breakfast! Like this morning…he made a Vitz family favorite: the big pancake.

How lucky am I to have St. Joseph and a husband like Pete!

The Big Pancake
½ cup flour
½ cup milk
2 eggs
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
splash of vanilla to taste
4 tablespoons butter
juice of ½ a lemon
confectioners sugar

1. Preheat oven to 425. Mix flour, milk, eggs, nutmeg, and vanilla in a bowl until just combined (it should still be a little lumpy).
2. Melt butter into a 12 inch cast iron skillet. When the butter is very hot (but not brown) add the batter.
3. Bake 10-15 minutes until puffy and golden brown.
4. Sprinkle with lemon juice and confectioners sugar.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Homemade Ice Cream Cake?!

Another favorite birthday cake in our family was always ice cream cake. Easy to prepare (just stop by your local Carvel or B & R), easy to enjoy...especially tasty in the summer: ice cream cake is delightful. Yesterday, when preparing to celebrate our youngest daughter's birthday, my children unanimously proclaimed that they wanted ice cream cake. Strangely enough (!?), we had none in the house. We did, however, have a couple of gallons of ice cream--and some vanilla ice cream I'd made last week. So I decided I'd try homemade ice cream cake.

Now, you might wonder, why MAKE ice cream cake when it's so easy to buy in the supermarket at this time of year? Those who wonder this underestimate a) my eccentric frugality in certain regards and b) I'D HAVE TO GO WITH ALL FOUR OF MY CHILDREN TO THE SUPERMARKET. Did I mention that the helium balloon stand lies between the entrance and the cake zone?

I imagine my reasons are now clear. This story has a very happy ending, though: this is an experiment I think I'll repeat. Ice cream cake is not hard, you can vary the ice cream to suit your tastes (we used a double flavor chocolate mint and mint chip). It was delicious--and cheap! And, as an added bonus, you look like you made more effort than you did....

I took the recipe from Allrecipes.com. I modified it slightly per some other reviewers' suggestions--and my own experience.

Ice Cream Cake
-1 (18.25 ounce) package chocolate cake mix (or any normal flavor; I used yellow)
- 1/2 gallon chocolate ice cream, softened
-Quart Vanilla ice cream/ Rediwhip/Whipped cream for frosting (You can really use anything, but I like something that that will freeze nicely and blend flavor-wise with the rest of the cake; I used a combo of vanilla ice cream and whipped cream to which I added a few drops of green food coloring in keeping with our mint theme)

1. Prepare cake according to package directions; bake in a 9x13 inch baking dish and cool completely. (I used parchment paper to line it since I didn't want to risk breakage)
2. Use ice cream that comes in a rectangular carton. Remove the carton and, using a piece of string or dental floss, cut the ice cream in thirds lengthwise (long side to long side) and place the layers side by side on a piece of waxed paper. [You could also make this cake in another shape, though cutting the ice cream might be more challenging; the original recipe called for cutting the ice cream in half; I found thirds fit the 9 x 13 better. But you can just test your pan against the size of your ice cream container]
3. Place the cooled cake over the ice cream. Trim the cake and ice cream so that the edges match.
4. Place a board or serving platter over the cake, hold onto the waxed paper and board, and flip the ice cream cake over. Remove the waxed paper and smooth out the seam between the ice cream slabs.
5. Cover with waxed paper and freeze until very firm. Decorate as desired.

I recommend freezing again after you've added the frosting. Delightful!

(I'll put some pictures up once I download them....)

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Our Daily Bread: Zucchini Bread

Our family recently welcomed to the world our third little baby and we have been thoroughly enjoying her! The familiar saying that a new baby always brings a loaf of bread under its arms has been all too true in our case! We have been the recipients of an outpouring of generosity from family and friends in the form of meals…and more often than not, these meals have included a loaf of bread!

As I am now easing my way back into the real world of cooking and baking after so many weeks of generosity, I have decided that my return to bread making should be in the form of a quick bread! I have tried many different recipes for zucchini bread, and I think this is my favorite. It is a great way to use the summer vegetable, and the sugar always sweetens the deal for the children! I hope you all enjoy it as much as our family did this morning for breakfast!

Zucchini Bread

3 eggs

1 cup vegetable oil

1 cup sugar

2 cups grated zucchini

2 teaspoons vanilla

3 cups flour

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking soda

3 teaspoons cinnamon

¼ teaspoon baking powder

1 cup raisins

1 cup chopped walnuts

Beat eggs until foamy. Add next 4 ingredients and mix well. Add the dry ingredients and mix until just combined.

Pour into 2 greased loaf pans.Bake at 325° for 1 hour, or until toothpick inserted at the center comes out clean.

Cool for 15 minutes before removing from the pans.

My husband commented just last night as I was preparing the breads “Wow, you haven’t used yeast in a long time...” I think it is time to roll up my sleeves and tie my apron! Stay tuned for more bread recipes! After all, baking for my family is loving my family…what a wonderful life I live!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Ordinary Time's Blessings and Bounty: The (Cherry?) Plum Torte

While I am a huge lover of variety, I really love it when there are specific cakes or meals associated with a given person's birthday. In my own family of origin, (aka The Vitz Family!), we are now in "high birthday season" as four of the six children were born betweeen June 9 and July 5, and my father and one brother were born in August. My sister Anna celebrated her birthday recently with one of her favorite family cakes: the plum torte. It's an extremely versatile cake that is always tasty, and which seems to have origins in a recipe printed in the NY Times years ago. Ever the lover of tradition and experimentation, I am fortunate enough to have a fruiting (tart) cherry tree in my backyard. It's wonderful and excitin to see just how much fruit one tree produces--but only for a short period (as I learned the hard way one year when I didn't pick the fruit in time and came back to a tree without a SINGLE cherry left!)

This year, after making the requisite cherry jam and cherry pie, I tried mixing up the plum torte with cherries, which were excellent; I only regret that we ate it too fast for pictures (the picture here is the original plum version). Any fruit that has some tartness and some backbone can work in this, but put a lot in--the cake will sort of "envelop" whatever goes on top!

The Original Plum Torte Adapted from the NY Times
TOTAL TIME 1 hour 15 minutes
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 cup unbleached flour, sifted
1 teaspoon baking powder
Pinch salt, optional
2 eggs
8 large plums, halved, or the equivalent of some otherfruit
Sugar and lemon juice, for topping
1 teaspoon cinnamon, or to taste
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Cream the sugar and butter in a bowl. Add the flour, baking powder, salt and eggs and beat well.
3. Spoon the batter into an 8-, 9- or 10-inch spring form. (I prefer 9 or 10 inch; I find it cooks more evenly for me)
4. Split and pit the plums and place the halves, skin side up, on top of the batter.
5. Sprinkle lightly with sugar and lemon juice, depending on the sweetness of the fruit. Sprinkle with about a teaspoon of cinnamon, to taste.
6. Bake about an hour. Remove and cool; refrigerate or freeze if desired. Or cool to lukewarm, then serve plain or with whipped cream.
YIELD 8 servings NOTE: To freeze, double wrap torte in aluminum foil, place in plastic bag and seal. To serve a torte that has been frozen, defrost and reheat briefly at 300 degrees.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Grandmothers!--prayers, goodies and surprises, mending...

The image here is a painting by Leonardo da Vinci showing Jesus with his grandmother--St. Ann--and Mary. (Amazing to think that God had a grandmother, isn't it!)

Recently I have been thinking a lot about grandmothers and their roles and importance in the family. This is partly because I have received some cute, funny emails with lots of quotes about grandparents. Let me share a few of the thoughts with you:

Grandmas are moms with lots of frosting. ~Author Unknown

What a bargain grandchildren are! I give them my loose change, and they give me a million dollars' worth of pleasure. ~Gene Perret

Grandchildren don't stay young forever, which is good because Grandfathers have only so many horsy rides in them. ~Gene Perret

An hour with your grandchildren can make you feel young again. Anything longer than that, and you start to age quickly. ~Gene Perret

Here are perhaps my favorites:

Grandma always made you feel she had been waiting to see just you all day and now the day was complete. ~ Marcy DeMaree


Grandchildren are God's way of compensating us for growing old. ~Mary H. Waldrip

(There are lots more of these little aphorisms out there...)

Thinking seriously about what we grandmothers can do for our grandchildren--and their parents, our children:

* We can pray for them daily! And when we are with them, we can pray with them.

* When we are with them, we can make sure to take the time to focus particular attention on each child--to shine the full beam of our love on each one, individually. Maybe take each child for a little walk, or some other sort of outing? We want to have a special, personal bond with each of them.

* We can provide special surprises and treats--yummy cookies? brownies? special candies?(There are many other kinds of surprises we can provide as well!) That is part of the great fun of being a grandparent! The point is not to spoil our grandchildren or to undercut their parents' discipline, but just to bring in something special. I know my children remember with loving gratitude the goodies my mother and mother-in-law (two wonderful women!) always had waiting when we arrived for a visit.

* Speaking of my mother-in-law: whenever she came for a visit she would say "Bring out your mending"--and she would do it all for me! It was great because of course when the children were young I didn't have time to keep up with the mending, and children's clothes so often get torn or develop holes! I now try to do that whenever I visit my married children.

If you have other thoughts or suggestions, please feel free to add them in the comments.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Corpus Christi--and the banquet in heaven

June 6: The feast of Corpus Christi, or the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ.

This major feast dates from the 13th century. St. Thomas Aquinas--great theologian, great philosopher, great poet--wrote the entire Office.

There is such beautiful music for this feast! You can hear Aquinas's "Ave Verum," as composed by William Byrd at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vvXMVAITwWg, and in Mozart's wonderful setting at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2UXLKmhd920 . Many other beautiful recordings and settings are available as well. Would you like to mention ones you particularly love, in a comment?

The centuries-old tradition of Corpus Christi processions, as shown in the picture here, is a beautiful expression of our belief that Christ is truly present in the Blessed Sacrament.

I have come to particularly love this prayer after communion, written by Aquinas:

Lord, Father all-powerful and ever-living God, I thank Thee, for even though I am a sinner, Thine unprofitable servant, not because of any merit of my own, but in the kindness of Thy mercy, Thou hast fed me with the precious Body and Blood of They Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.

I pray that this Holy Communion may not bring me condemnation and punishment but forgiveness and salvation.

May it be an armor of faith and a shield of good will. May it purify me from my vices and put an end to my evil passions.

May it bring me charity and patience, humility and obedience, and growth in every virtue.

May it be a firm defense against the wiles of all my enemies, visible and invisible, and the perfect quieting of all my evil impulses, bodily and spiritual. May it unite me more closely to Thee, the one true God, and lead me safely through death to everlasting happiness with Thee.

And I pray that Thou will lead me, a sinner to that ineffable banquet where Thou, with Thy Son and Holy Spirit, art to Thy Saints true light, total fulfillment, everlasting joy, and perfect happiness.

Grant this through Christ our Lord. Amen.