thoughts on food, culture, and community

Archive for the month “December, 2011”

Friday Photo: Christmas iCaroling

It’s two days after Christmas, the day that my extended Grove family gets together to exchange gifts wrapped in glittery paper and eat homemade ice cream cake off my grandmother’s Lenox china.  We’ve just finished our traditional supper of potato roll sandwiches, seven-layer salad, Kay & Ray’s potato chips, and homemade Chex mix served buffet-style, right to left, across Grandma’s kitchen counter, and I have just commented to somebody that I can mark my growing up like a timeline by recalling my annual reaction to this 25-year-old menu: the elementary school year I first put mayonnaise on my potato roll sandwich, the high school year during which I abstained from mayonnaise, the college years when I ate everything like normal again.

My mom, the piano teacher, has just sat down at Grandma’s upright piano to play Christmas carols.  One my one, my family puts down their dinner plates and surrounds her to sing, my father with his rich bass, my aunt’s contralto, my two brothers’ bass and tenor, my 90-year-old grandma’s warbling-yet-on-pitch soprano, and the alto and soprano parts that my mother, sister, and I seamlessly trade back and forth like playground candy.  Our voices blend like Brethren-in-Christ memories, smoothing over rough textures and varnished pews.  My immediate family used to sing together in front of the church on Sunday mornings, a fact which I’d almost forgotten, but by my mom’s elbow with my siblings pressed in around a hymnal that predates all of us, I somehow feel that if we were all to rise out of our seats and through the ceiling, our singing could shield us in a world of no sadness like a cord of three strands not easily broken.

I glance over my shoulder to find my boyfriend Jon standing slightly away from the group, his iPhone out, intently studying the screen.  “Who are you texting, hon?” I say, feeling hurt.

Jon glances up at me, surprised.  “I’m following the words,” he says, and then he joins in to the fourth verse of “O Come, All Ye Faithful,” an eager magnificent bass. I turn back around to face the open hymnal before me, a smile playing on my lips as we’re joined by my sister’s fiancé, and I flap my arms to get us all to laugh and sing the chorus a bit louder, lifting all of us into the night.

Friday Photo: Recipe for “Ultimate Granola,” Last Minute Gift Extraordinaire

I recently found out that my health-conscious Grandma Charles is spending Christmas Day with my family, and I need a gift idea — fast.  Here’s what I’ve whipped up because it’s the only recipe (probably other than peanut buddy bars and deviled eggs) that I’ve made more than 10 times in a row.  This “Ultimate Granola” recipe is copied from The Ultimate Cookbook by Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarborough, which I love because it’s crunchy, not too sweet, and has plenty of room for variety. The cookbook actually gives suggestions on how to customize this recipe with various sweeteners, nuts, and proteins, but below (for the sake of space and probably copyright laws) is how I prefer it.  Perfect served with Cabot’s low-fat vanilla bean Greek-style yogurt and dried Craisins.

Grandma Charles’s Ultimate Granola

ULTIMATE GRANOLA from The Ultimate Cookbook by Weinstein & Scarborough

Makes about 10 cups

1.  Start by positing the racks in the top and bottom thirds of the oven and preheating the oven to 350 degrees.

2.  Spread 6 cups rolled oats (not quick-cooking or steel-cut oats) on a very large baking sheet.  Toast in the top third of the oven for 10 minutes.  Transfer to a very large bowl.  Maintain the oven’s heat.

3.  Mix 2/3 cup honey and 1/3 cup canola oil in a small saucepan set over medium head.  When the mixture starts to steam or froth, take it off the heat and stir in 1 tablespoon vanilla extract.  Set aside to cool.

4.  As the mixture cools, stir 1/2 cup wheat germ, 1/4 cup packed light brown sugar, 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon, and 1 teaspoon salt into the toasted oats.

5.  Add 1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts and 1/2 cup powdered dry milk to the toasted oats and blend well.

6.  Finally, stir in the prepared honey and oil mixture.

7.  Spray two large baking sheets with nonstick spray.  Divide the oat mixture between the two baking sheets, spreading it to the corners.  Place the trays in the top and bottom thirds of the oven and bake for 10 minutes, stirring once.

8.  Reverse the trays top to bottom and back to front, and continue cooking until lightly browned and fragrant, about 10 more minutes, stirring once or twice.

9.  Place the baking sheets on wire racks.  Cool to room temperature on the trays without disturbing, about 1 1/2 hours.

10.  To store: Break up and seal in plastic bags or containers. The granola will keep in a dark, dry place at room temperature for up to 2 months.

This post is featured on Virtual Advent Calendar on December 23, 2011.

Friday Photo: Arctic Fire Tea, St. Thomas Roasters, Linglestown

Following up on my recommendations on holiday crab-stuffed potato appetizers and carrot cake dessert, this week I suggest a hot drink to finish off any holiday meal — or simply to bag as a unique gift.  The Arctic Fire tea, sold in bulk at St. Thomas Coffee Roasters in Linglestown, is not only pretty to look at, black tea flecked with blue cornflower — it’s delicious to drink. Know the sensation of a York peppermint patty or an Andes mint?  It’s the same here, minus the chocolate — a vibrant blend of warming black tea layered with cooling peppermint.  I drank a cup in house and found it to be reminiscent of tiny snowflakes falling down my throat.  This tea I’d love to serve with my grandmother’s homemade sticky buns on Christmas morning: an added tinge of holiday luxury.

Also check out the in-house roasted coffee beans.  Ordering in bulk is available online.

5951 Linglestown Road
Harrisburg, PA 17112
(717) 526-4171

Monday-Thursday: 7am-8pm
Friday-Saturday: 7am-10pm
Sunday: 9am-4pm

Sixteen loose-leaf teas are available at St. Thomas Roasters, Linglestown

Friday Photo: Eight-Pound Carrot Cake, P&R Baked Goods

P&R Baked Good’s Carrot Cake

In my opinion, cake is usually a form of dessert that is much better served if squashed flat, crammed with chocolate chips, and transformed into a cookie.  Most cakes usually seem to be made of too much air and not enough substance, a fact which makes me often twice as more likely to be disappointed after polishing off a cheap grocery-store cupcake with dyed-pink icing than a cheap cookie of any kind.

However, the carrot cake at P&R Baked Goods, Broad Street Market, Harrisburg, is a cake to make an exception for.  A single cake takes two days to build, says Nora Proctor, the bakery’s “pound cake diva,” for the cake is first mixed and molded then soaked in a buttermilk mixture overnight. Once baked, the cake is as dense as it is mighty: a wall of raisins, walnuts, and shredded coconut as dense and high as Jericho. Each bite is so brown-sugar moist that it’s almost like eating cake batter.  The cake’s dark buttery flavors are cut by the cream cheese icing, which is flavored with lemon juice and a little bit of lemon peel. The result is a sweet-but-not-too-sweet, massive cake — a whole cake is heavy enough to rival a lasagna, weighing in at 8 1/2 pounds.

The carrot cake is “one of the most unique cakes I make,” Nora Proctor told me in 2010, who claims that P&R Baked Good provides “stuff as good as your mama’s.”  For this reason — heck, for any occasion — I recommend this carrot cake as a dessert to bring home for the holidays, since a single cake is probably enough to feed an army.  Just don’t start taste testing it first.

P&R Baked Goods
Broad Street Market
Harrisburg, PA

Wednesday, 7am-2pm
Thursday-Friday, 7am-5pm
Saturday, 7am-4pm

(717) 350-5326
(717) 350-5327

$3/slice, $30/cake

Friday Photo: Crab-Stuffed Potatoes, T. Oliver’s Seafood and Soul Food

Looking for something to grace your holiday table this season that doesn’t involve turkey or a spiral ham? The crab-stuffed potatoes at T. Oliver’s Seafood & Soul Food at the Broad Street Market in Harrisburg are one of my favorite dishes.  They’re made of Asiago cheese, lump crab, and Hellman’s mayonnaise pocketed into baby red-skinned potatoes that are broiled until bubbly and charred — in other words, they’re bite-sized creaminess with a hint of sharpness, baked into a cozy potato shell.  I routinely crave these little guys for a Saturday lunch, steaming hot and sprinkled with just a bit of salt.  Recently, I took a dozen to my boyfriend’s family for Thanksgiving to share, and they were so popular that we actually forgot to broil them — we gobbled up a dozen potatoes raw, straight from the genius egg carton packaging.

Also check out T. Oliver’s stand for whole seafood and other holiday crowd-pleasers, such as shrimp salad, citrus “mojo,” codfish cakes, clams casino, oysters Rockefeller, and fresh calamari.  All prepared foods, according to stand manager Jim Woltman, are made to be as hassle-free as possible: either grab and go from the hot foods case, or buy it chilled, heat, and serve.

T. Oliver's Seafood and Soul Food, Broad Street Market, Harrisburg

Crab-Stuffed Potatoes, T. Oliver's Seafood and Soul Food

Crab-Stuffed Potatoes: $8.75/dozen, $4.75/dozen

T. Oliver’s Seafood and Soul Food
Brick Market Building
Broad Street Market
1233 North Third Street
Harrisburg, PA 17102

Wednesday, 7AM – 2PM (limited vendors)
Thursday-Friday, 7AM – 5PM
Saturday: 7AM – 4PM

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