Turkey Tracks: Jeanne Marie Robinson

Turkey Tracks:  May 6, 2010

Jeanne Marie Robinson

Rest in Peace

A friend and I drove to a gallery in Topsham last week to pay homage to a selection of Jeanne Marie Robinson’s quilts.  Jeanne Marie, who died very recently of cancer, was an amazing quilter.  She created whole worlds out of cloth.  She loved applique, but she combined applique with traditional piecing and with art quilt techniques.  She had a unique vision that will be sorely missed by anyone who has ever seen one of her quilts.  

Here are two quilts that hung in this memorial show:

JMR 1

Jeanne Marie was also very generous with her work.  For the past three or four years she donated one of her pieces for the Coastal Quilters yearly auction fundraiser.  Of course, her donations always brought in the most money for any one single item.

In her youth, she was a nationally known ballet artist.  It was only in her later years that she turned her talents toward fiber art.  Boy are we who could see her ongoing work glad that she did!

Turkey Tracks: Book Club, Lane Cake

April 9, 2010

Book Club, Lane Cake

Yesterday our Book Club met to discuss A. S. Byatt’s THE CHILDREN’S BOOK–a dense, amazing, informative, complicated, wonderful novel.  In may ways, this novel is as much history as it is fiction.  Set in Britain, Germany, and France, but primarily in Britain, in the years before World War I erupts, the novel explores so many themes we got dizzy trying to identify all of them.  Certainly class conflict, art, artisans, theater, puppets, philosophical and political groups, gender issues, connections to nature and the loss thereof, the power of national groups when war looms, the power of geography to form culture, the production of fairy tales in this era by many authors, and on and on. 

Byatt sees this period as a Silver Age that degenerates into a Lead Age with the war and its aftermath.  The Golden Age preceding the Silver Age has already passed.  It’s clear that she sees that the fermentation of politics and culture change drastically with the war.  All the energy, especially the energy of young people across Europe, pours into nationalism.  The result is that cultural changes that could have taken place in lieu of war don’t.  It’s not so much that the slate is wiped clean, but that all the energy for change is dissipated for those who survive the war. 

In this way, the characters in the novel are not unlike the puppet theaters Byatt reproduces throughout the novel.  We perform inside scripts created by forces that drive us, and while mankind created those forces, we have lost touch with how they do drive us.   Plus, we have lost touch with nature, which is a primary ingredient of the Golden Age.  Thus, the descent into an Age of Lead begins.  And, I think, Byatt is saying that, by extension, that is how we have arrived where we are now, where more than ever before, the hidden scripts of economics drives us, where we are detached from nature, and where we are at a crossroads where life will change drastically in some direction. 

The Lane Cake

My grandmother used to bake two cakes around the winter holidays:  a Lane Cake and a Japanese Fruit Cake.  The Lane Cake was always my favorite.  It was a minimum of three layers, filled with a raisin, coconut, pecan, wine or whiskey filling, and iced with a cooked white icing. 

I’ve never been a good cake baker.   Maybe I avoided them since they are exacting, and I’m more of a handful of this and a pinch of that kind of cook.  And, since my 30’s, I’ve struggled with weight issues, so baking didn’t seem a good idea.   Anyway, baking some of Julia Child’s cakes this winter made me see they are full of eggs and butter and not a lot of sugar.  Making those cakes gave me a bit of courage.  So, I thought to try the Lane Cake recipe of my grandmother’s, especially since I have all the fresh eggs now from the chickens.  I figured I could bake it for the Book Club meeting since it is way too special to have for everyday use.

You must start it three days ahead, as it needs to season with the filling.  It called for “pastry” flour, which I had my doubts about.  I think that term might not have translated across time and space.  But, against my better judgment, I used it anyway.  The layers rose amazingly tall.  It may be ok, I thought.  The filling was tedious, but easy, and tasted divine.  I filled the cake and left it to sit for three days.  On the day of the book club, I iced it, and that went fine as well.

But, the cake layers were not light and wonderful, but heavy and coarse.  So, next time, I’ll use cake flour.  I’m sure it will be quite wonderful then. 

I researched the recipe, which is very old.  Here’s some history from a web site on food history:  http://www.foodtimeline.org/foodcakes.html#lane

            “The Lane cake, one of Alabama’s more famous culinary specialties, was created by Emma Rylander Lane of Clayton, Barbour County. It is a type of white sponge cake made with egg whites and consists of four layers that are filled with a mixture of the egg yolks, butter, sugar, raisins, and whiskey. The cake is frosted with a boiled, fluffy white confection of water, sugar, and whipped egg whites. The cake is typically served in the South at birthdays, wedding anniversaries, and other special occasions. The recipe was first printed in Lane’s cookbook Some Good Things to Eat, which she self-published in 1898. According to chef and culinary scholar Neil Ravenna, Lane first brought her cake recipe to public attention at a county fair in Columbus, Georgia, when she entered her cake in a baking competition there and took first prize. She originally named the cake the Prize cake, but an acquaintance convinced her to lend her own name to the dessert.”

Here is my cake:

And, here is a recipe I think will work:

Cake:

Preheat oven to 375

8 egg whites, stiffly beaten; 1 cup of butter (two sticks); 2 cups sugar; 1 cup sweet milk; 3 1/2 cups CAKE FLOUR; 2 teaspoons baking powder; pinch of salt for egg whites; 1 teaspoon vanilla.

Sift flour and baking powder 4 or 5 times.  The more the flour is sifted, the lighter the cake.  Cream butter and sugar together until foamy.  (Sift sugar for a lighter cake.)  Add flour and milk alternately to butter/sugar mixture.  Begin and end with adding flour.  Add vanilla.  Fold in stiffly beaten egg whites.  Bake in four 8-inch cake pans that have been greased with butter and floured.  Or, three larger cake pans.  Bake at 375 for 30 to 35 minutes.  Keep a sharp eye, as doneness depends upon the size of the pans.  Allow cake to sit in pans for a few minutes, then turn them out onto wire racks to THOROUGHLY COOL.

Filling:

8 egg yolks; 2 cups sugar; 1/2 cup butter (1 stick); 1 cup raisins chopped; 1 cup fresh coconut or good quality freeze dried; 1 cup chopped pecans (soak these first in salted water and dry in the oven or a dehydrator to remove the phytates); pinch salt, 1 cup brandy or 3/4 cup wine or 1/2 cup whiskey; 1 teaspoon vanilla.  (I added grated lemon peel and that was nice–1 or 2 tsps.)

Beat egg yolks until lemon colored.  Add sugar, salt, and continue beating until mixture is light.  Melt butter in top of a double boiler and add egg-sugar mixture; stir constantly until thickens (up to 20 minutes).  Add other ingredients.  Let cool, spread between cake layers.  Let cake sit for up to 3 days before icing.

White Icing:

4 egg whites, 1 1/2 cups sugar, 1/4 cup water, 1 tsp. cream of tartar, pinch of salt, 1 tsp. vanilla.

Put everything BUT the vanilla into a double boiler and cook for about 5 minutes, beating with a hand electric mixer.  Remove from heat when mixture forms good peaks and is shiny.  Add vanilla.  Continue beating until spreading consistency is good. 

Make it for a special event and ENJOY!!!!

 

Turkey Tracks: Duck Eggs

April 7, 2010

Duck Eggs

One of the seasonal pleasures in Maine is the appearance of duck eggs in our local markets in the spring.  My friend Rose has a spectacular black Muscovy male duck.    Rose and her husband Peter made a little retention pond for their ducks by diverting some of a local stream, gave them a dog-house sized house, and fenced in the area. 

Two years ago a sudden fall freeze froze the pond during the night.  The ducks were not locked into their house since they could escape predators by going into the pond.  A predator killed the female, and the male fought all night long.   When Rose and Peter found him the next morning, his wing was injured, and he was, understandably, very upset. 

He spent that winter in the chicken house, which was not at all to his liking.  Peter took pity on him from time to time and filled a basin with water so he could bathe.   But, in the spring, one of Rose’s many friends found a white female for him, and they raised a lot of babies that year.  I want to say 12 to 14.  I’ll have to ask Rose to jog my memory, but I was getting eggs from Rose one day just after the female duck first brought her babies out into the world. 

This spring, there are two females, and Rose has generously shared some of their eggs with John and me.  A duck egg is larger than a chicken egg, and it has a very tough shell to crack.   The insides are much thicker than a chicken egg, much more viscous.

Rose says duck eggs make the most heavenly pasta.  I used our eggs for cheese omelets, which are large and very fluffy.  These days I hardly ever go shopping for special recipes.  Rather, I take what I have and make something out of it.

Duck Egg Omelets

For each omelet, crack open one duck egg and scramble it with a fork.

Add some whole raw milk, real salt (celtic sea salt or local grey colored damp salt), pepper, and whatever herbs or leftover greens you might have on hand.  I was growing some onion sets in a Mason jar on my kitchen window sill (thanks to Colin Beaven’s web site–No Impact Man–http://noimpactman.typepad.com), so I snipped some of those into the egg mixture.  (It was too early to have herbs outside my kitchen door.)

Melt some good butter (made from raw cream if you can get it) into an omelet pan, and when it has stopped foaming, pour in the egg mixture.  Lower heat.  Lift the edges and let the raw egg run under the mixture.  When the omelet is mostly set, add a handful of grated, raw milk cheddar cheese and fold the omelet in half.  Let it sit in the pan on low heat until the cheese melts.

Enjoy!!

Turkey Tracks: Lost Chickens

Turkey Tracks:  April 3, 2010

Lost Chickens

John lost the chickens last night.

I went outside at dusk to batten down the hatches on their coop so no predator could get to them in the night and found John circling the garage.

“The chickens are missing,” he said.

I chuckled because I had done precisely the same thing two nights before.

“Look inside,” I said.  They’ve put themselves to bed.”

And, there they were, up in the attic of the coop and curled into the nesting boxes.  You have to look really hard to see the black hens on the roost in the dark.  The wheatens are easier to spot.  Or so you’d think.  I somehow managed to leave one outside the coop, but inside the cage one night last week.  She must have been under the coop.  I found her the next morning roosting on the inside ramp to the coop.  The wheatens don’t take on the bulky French babes, and one of the wheatens is always odd woman out.

I have to count feet on the French babes to take a roll call.  Nappy is easy to spot.  On cold nights, he and Sally sleep together.  As I peer at them through the lid over the nesting boxes, he purrs to me.

“Good night,” Nappy, I say, and rub his neck for a minute.

Then, together, John and I lock them in.

Turkey Tracks: Our First Flock

Turkey Tracks: April 2, 2010

Our First Flock

We got six chickens in March–a rooster and five hens.  We hadn’t planned on the rooster, but he wanted to come, and we’re so glad he did.  The roo, Napoleon, or Nappy, and three of the hens, are Copper Black Marans.  This breed is rare in America, but very common in Europe.  We lucked into getting them because they are not breeding quality.  This breed lays the most beautiful dark, chocolate brown eggs.  We could care less that Nappy has a white tail feather, or that not all the beautiful black hens have feathered feet.  The other two hens are Ameraucana Wheatens, and they are beautiful.  They are like quicksilver in the yard–quick, light, happy.  And, they lay blue eggs.

Here are our chicks getting used to their new home.

And, here is a picture of our chicken coop, which we purchased at the Maine Organic Farmers and Growers (MOFGA) fair last September from a young couple near Augusta, www.rootscoopsandmore.com.

One of the Ameraucanas, Sally, loves Nappy.

She follows him everywhere and sleeps next to him at night.  The coop roost only holds four birds, and the French babes and the other Ameraucana, Martha, apparantly have dibs on it.

Nappy leads the girls around the yard on walkabouts.  There is much discussion along the way.  They are delighted with the number of worms in my vegetable garden beds!