Oysters, Bad Book Titles, and What's Not to Love About Kansas!
Saturday News Digest V 1/E 20
Table of Contents
Oyster Fact of the Week
Least Favorite Cookbook Title of the Month
Wildlife of Brooklyn Update
New Sign of Sanity in the Union
And, Finally,……Singular Pleasures
Oyster Fact of the Week Who knew?!
After spending a morning with Amanda tending to her oyster cages strung together across two watery acres of Whale Creek in Strathmere, N.J., she steers her flat bottom boat back to the wharf. We head for a small shed where she keeps the oysters that, after a year, have reached market size. She pulls out two bags—one whose spats came from Maryland, and the other from New Jersey. Like many families of the same lineage, the oysters share the same gene pool (Crassostrea Virginia) as all other oysters up and down the Eastern seacoast but they don’t look anything alike. In this family, their one similarity is supposed to be smooth shells but Amanda’s are not. The Marylanders are smaller, their shells fanning out in purple striped ruffles. The New Jerseyans are longer, white with bronze ridges and rough edges. Amanda takes several out of their bags and deftly opens four. The plumb Marylanders sit perky in their shells; the long New Jerseyans lounge down almost to the bottom of their shells. Their tastes differ slightly: intensely salty, they fill your mouth like a gulp of sea water but the Marylanders are elegantly creamy while the New Jerseyans, perhaps because they are so large, linger in a rich aftertaste. They’re impossible to gulp fast and four of either would be enough to satiate your desire.
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Least Favorite Cookbook Title of the Month "A Thousand Ways to Please a Husband: With Bettina's Best Recipes"
With a title like that, you’d think you were in for some spicey information that will rev up your love life. But, no, it’s a regular old cookbook, published in 1917, that follows the first year of marriage—without any mention of honeymoon randiest— between a slightly bossy but competent Bettina and the oblivious but devoted Bob. Not much troubles the water of their first year together, except for an unannounced visit from Bob’s Uncle Eric, a finicky old bachelor with particular distain for breakfast cereal that sends Bettina into a tizzy. Then again, and in only a few lines woven through some of her days, Bettina faces the economical strife and depravation brought on by World War I shortages. She occasionally worries about friends’ husbands off in Europe but she always has cost-cutting casseroles and creative desserts to smooth over the world’s difficulties. Every now and then, Bob helps her clean the silverware and displays his knack for whipping up popcorn balls, peanut fudge, and popovers for unexpected guests.
Bettina appears to be the alter-ego of Louise Bennett Weaver and Helen Cowles LeCron who also produced Bettina’s Best Salads and What to Do With Them and Bettina’s Best Recipes. The women have so thoroughly subsumed themselves into Bettina that nothing really pops up about who they were, nor how and why they gave birth to Bettina.
A Thousand Ways is their best known book. The recipes are a compendium of what American cooking was like in the early days of the 20th century—canned and often overlaid with heavy white sauces, for the most part devoid of herbs and spices, although paprika, and a strange fondness for pimento, show up every now and then. According to her friends Alice and Ruth, and especially Bob, they are quite delicious.
A lot of readers consider Bettina and Bob a charming picture of uncomplicated domesticity. So it is, as well as an interesting depiction of what a middle-class kitchen was like when spatulas appeared as a marvelous invention.
Romance is really in everything that we do lovingly, and intelligently. I find it in planning and cooking the best and most economical meals that I can, and in getting the mending done on time, and in keeping the house clean and beautiful. And—in having you appreciate things. ~Bettina to Bob on their first anniversary.
But if you are prone to leaving books lying all over the house, be ready to defend A Thousand Ways. Guests to one household not as well-run as Bettina’s, have had a field day deriding her account of marital bliss. Serve them her Chocolate Nougat Cake and they’ll shut up.
Bettina’s Chocolate Nougat Cake (slightly re-configured from the original for clarity)
2 tablespoons water 2/3 cup cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar 2 squares of chocolate 4 tablespoons butter 1 egg 1/2 cup milk 1 1/3 cup flour 2 teaspoon baking powder 1/2 teaspoon baking soda 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
Line two square layer-cake pans with waxed paper. Preset over to 350 degrees.
Cook the two tablespoons of water, 2 tablespoons of sugar and chocolate together for one minute in a small saucepan, stirring constantly. Cream the butter, then add the rest of the sugar, the egg and milk. Blend well. Sift together the flour, baking powder and baking soda and gradually add to the creamed butter mixture. Make sure the dry ingredients are incorporated fully into the butter. Add the vanilla and beat for two minutes. Pour into the prepared cake pans and bake for 22 minutes. [Chocolate cakes burn easily and they should be carefully watched while baking.] Once done, take the cake pans out of the oven and let them sit until completely cool. In the meantime, make white mountain cream icing.
White Mountain Cream Icing
2 cups sugar 1/2 cup water 2 egg whites 1/2 teaspoon lemon extract Boil the sugar and water in a small saucepan without stirring until it threads when dropped from the spoon. Beat egg whites until frothy. Continue to beat the eggs while gradually adding the sugar syrup until the whites are stiff and hold a shape. Add the flavoring.
To Ice the Cake
Carefully unmold the cake layers and peel off the wax paper. Place one layer on a serving plate. Spoon a mound of icing on top, spreading it to the edges all around. Place the second layer on top and gently spread the rest of the icing on the sides and top of the cake. You might want to make swirls with the back of the spoon. Refrigerate cake for at least an hour before serving.
Wildlife of Brooklyn Update Agnes vs. Farrow
Players: Agnes, a five pound wily possum Farrow, an 80 pound Pharaoh hound/pit bull with a reputation for being a submissively nonaggressive scaredy-cat Wife Husband Scene: Overgrown garden, Monday, 10:22 p.m. The Husband enters the house after the night walk, sort of breathless: "Farrow got a possum." Wife: "Not Agnes!" Husband: "I think so." They run out to the steps leading down to the garden. Agnes lies curled on the ground at Farrow's feet. Wife: "Farrow!" Farrow, using facial telepathy, looks up at her, totally confused: "What?" Wife: "No!" Farrow: "It wasn't me!!! I didn't do nothin'!" Husband: "Get in here!" Farrow slips around Agnes, up the steps, pass the wife and husband, and immediately plops down on the floor beside them, his head contritely lowered onto his paws. Wife: "You think she's dead?" Husband, too tired to deal with the implications of a dead possum in the garden at 10:25 p.m. on a hot Monday night: "He's a dog!! She's a possum!! You know that, right?!" He exits for bed. The wife walks away for a glass of cold water. When she returns, Agnes's possum superpower has kicked into action. She's disappeared! Farrow continues to look miserable and contrite but the wife isn't having it. "You are soooooo lucky," she says and proceeds to go to bed without her accustomed invitation for him to join her. Farrow doesn't feel lucky. He treads mournfully behind her. Later that night.... The wife, a known insomniac, wanders out to the back porch where it's always cool. There is Agnes in her usual high-rise tree house: She's chewing through what looks to be a tomato. Because the wife is slightly deranged and is grateful for any female solidarity in a male dominant house (she's outnumbered by sons), the wife waves ecstatically at stoic Agnes: two females surviving the night. When the wife finally returns to bed, both Farrow and husband are snoring soundly. "Sheesh," she mutters and turns on her side.
New Sign of Sanity in the Union God Bless Kansas!
Past and present reasons to love Kansas:
Birthplace of Clementine Paddleford: Without Clementine, American food would not have survived the European food craze that took hold after Mastering the Art of French Cooking was published (slight exaggeration to some but not to this writer).
Bradley’s Corner Cafe: The food is pretty good but, really, the reason you go is to eat pie. Lots and LOTS of pies.
Kansas State Fair: It’s in September, a month later than all the other mid-western state fairs, when it’s not so hot and all the fancy chickens, pigs, and cows prance about a little more gayly.
Kansas voters: Took the breath out of Republicans’ fire to deny women their own agency.
What a state!!
And, Finally,……A Singular Pleasure
When the person you eat dinner with most nights isn’t home and so you make dinner just for yourself….a perfect poached egg atop a slice of a perfect summer tomato on buttered toast with shredded basil tossed about, joined by a glass of cheap Sauvignon Blanc poured over ice cubes because it really is very hot.
An earlier version of today’s post included the erroneously dumbbell claim that Kansas gave us Calvin Trillin and Arthur Bryant’s Barbecue. Trillin and Bryant are from Kansas City, Missouri! I’m so grateful to our reader, Stephanie, for her kind correction. Still, in all, Kansas is a helluva state!
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Where's the picture of you in the oyster boat?
Agnes and Farrow story made me bellylaugh, and that was an incredibly beautiful looking poached egg on toast! ❤
My sister was the camerawoman and hasn't sent photos. And, yes, I was very proud of that egg!