Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Sunday, April 12, 2015

150 Years after his Assassination Remembering Lincoln with a Delicious Nineteenth-Century Cake

This April 2015 marks the sesquicentennial of the end of the American Civil War. Wednesday, April 15th is the 150th anniversary of the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln by actor John Wilkes Booth. As we mark, and perhaps still mourn his death, we have the opportunity to consider his remarkable life.

Nearly every summer evening beginning in 1862, Abraham Lincoln left the White House and rode, either on horseback or in a carriage, up hill out of the city’s miasmal air to the presidential summer cottage. Secretary of War Stanton also occupied a cottage there, on the grounds of the Soldier’s Home, about three miles northeast of the center of Washington. The Lincoln family stayed at the peaceful retreat into the fall before moving furniture and household goods back into the White House for the winter.

On his daily round trip, Lincoln passed poet Walt Whitman’s house, and the two men frequently nodded at in greeting. Whitman described Lincoln in his journal and letters. “June 30, 1863. I noticed him last evening about half-past 6 . . . . He looks more careworn than usual, his face with deep cut lines, seams, and his complexion gray through very dark skin – a curious looking man, very sad.”

The Lincolns were in residence at the White House on April 10, 1865, as the news spread throughout the city of General Lee’s April 8 surrender to General Grant bringing with it the end of the war. A great crowd walked through rain and mud from the Navy Yard to the White House lawn, picking up more and more people and even the Quartermaster’s band along the way. Nearly three thousand in number, they called for the president to come out. He spoke briefly and called upon the band to “play ‘Dixie.’ One of the best tunes I’ve ever heard.” He concluded his appearance calling for three cheers for “General Grant and all under his command” and another three cheers for the Navy.

The following evening Abraham Lincoln made his last public address. Speaking again from the upper windows of the White House, he called for reconciliation with the southern states. “Let us all join in doing the acts necessary to restoring the proper practical relations between these states and the Union.”

Three days later President and Mrs. Lincoln went to a performance of “Our American Cousin” at Ford’s Theater. In the middle of the play John Wilkes Booth entered the presidential box and shot Abraham Lincoln. He was carried across the street into the home of Mr. William Petersen and laid in a small bedroom on the first floor. At seven thirty-three on the morning of April 15, 1865 Abraham Lincoln’s great heart stopped beating.

Walt Whitman wrote:
When lilacs last in the door-yard bloom’d,
And the great star droop’d in the western sky in the night,
I mourn’d – and yet shall mourn with ever-returning spring.

People all over the nation mourned Lincoln’s death. Some even hung their homes with black crepe as though a member of their family had died. There were mourning ribbons and badges, portraits, articles and books. Nineteenth century cookbooks brought forth a bakery case full of cakes paying homage to the martyred president. These cakes joined those named for Presidents Washington and Madison, and other political figures on both sides of the Civil War. Many of the published recipes for Lincoln cakes pass along the simple recipe that first appeared in Godey’s Ladies Magazine in 1865: “2 eggs, 2 cups sugar 1/2 cup butter, one of sweet milk, three of flour, 1 teaspoon cream of tartar, half teaspoon soda and one of lemon essence.” Others are more like light fruitcakes. This recipe from 1876 is particularly tasty.

Lincoln Cake
3 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
8 ounces raisins
4 ounces currants
2 ounces candied citrus peel
4 ounces almonds
1/2 cup flour additional for dredging the fruits
1 cup butter
1 1/2 cups brown sugar, firmly packed
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup milk
1/4 cup brandy
Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Grease and flour a large tube pan. Mix the 3 1/2 cups flour, baking soda and spices and set aside. Mix the dried fruits, peel and nuts with 1/2 cup flour and set aside. Cream the butter and brown sugar. Add the eggs and mix well. Add 1/3 of the flour and spice mixture, then the milk, the second third of the flour, the brandy and finally the last third of the flour mixture, stirring well after each addition. Stir in the fruit and nut mixture. Pour batter into pan, filling it about three-quarters full, and bake until a skewer or thin knife stuck in the center comes out clean, approximately one hour and fifteen minutes.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Deviled Eggs with Healthy, Heavenly Flavor

Eggs and Easter have been linked for centuries. 

I remember carefully balancing the hard boiled egg on the thin wire hoop and dipping it into the tea cup filled with dye. Do I leave it in for a dark color, or do I want a dainty and pale egg? Can I balance the egg and only dip in half so I can make a two-toned design?  Those Easter Saturday evenings around the white porcelain kitchen table were lots of fun.  I never quite figured out -- as a four, five or six year old -- how it was that the Easter Bunny's eggs looked remarkable like the ones we had dyed. 

In the sixteenth century the English court forbade the eating of eggs during Lent. This led to the custom of giving  eggs on Easter Sunday. It is said that pyramids of eggs--gilded or painted with beautiful designs--were carried into the King's cabinet and the prince gave them out as gifts to his courtiers. Or so Alexis Soyer wrote in 1853. 

The problem has always been what to do with the decorated eggs and Deviled Eggs are often the easiest solution. People do love them. Take them to a potluck and it's magic! They practically disappear before your eyes. 

This  version updates the classic recipe with a bit of hidden, heart-healthy, finely grated carrot. The result: sunny yellow filling with half the cholesterol of a traditional version. All the flavor and a bit of added texture for interest. Best make extra for the family, because I guarantee you won't have any leftover to tote home.

Super Deviled Eggs

Quantity for 4 eggs ( 8 halves) Can easily be doubled or tripled. 
4 hard-cooked eggs, peeled and sliced in half
1 large carrot
2 tablespoons mayonnaise (more or less to taste)
1 teaspoon mustard (more or less to taste)
1/8 teaspoon dill weed
a couple grinds fresh black pepper

Peel and grate the carrot on the finest side of a box grater. The strands should look like thread. Put the carrot into a double layer of paper toweling. Wring out to remove excess moisture. You will have about 1/3 cup of dry carrot strands. Remove the yolks from the egg whites and DISCARD half of them. Put the remaining yolks in a shallow bowl and mash with a fork. Add the mayonnaise, mustard, and seasonings. Stir in the carrot strands and spoon into the egg whites. Cover lightly and keep refrigerated until serving. 

Monday, March 16, 2015

From a Clear Lake Kitchen


Uncle Henry Wallace, the founding editor of the agricultural publication that has carried his name since 1895—Wallaces Farmer—wrote a number of letters to young people. In one of the charming pieces directed to “farm boys” he described how much he hated working in the home garden “with more weeds and harder clods than you ever saw in the corn field.” His primary problem was with his tools. He only had a hoe for weeding and the back of the rake for mashing clods. Like many boys he would have much rather been behind a horse “killing weeds in the field by the wholesale with the harrow and mashing clods with the big roller.” 

Well, there are great tools just to the left of Woodford Lumber and Home’s front door with just the right selection of long-handled garden tools—spades, shovels of several kinds, garden rakes, and even hoes. Just the thing to get your garden growing successfully whether you are 8 or 80. And to celebrate spring during May many of these perfect Union and MintCraft tools are on special savings. You can go to the flyer with this link http://bit.ly/1ImnWWm

Soon we’ll be out in our gardens appreciating the out of doors the way Uncle Henry did: to feel the “the full joy of living, just merely living—to fill your lungs with fresh air, to stretch your muscles, to feel the thrill of the first rays of the sun shining through the haze at dawn.”  

That’s something. And that’s Clear Lake, Iowa.

The weather the past couple of weeks has been great for the dock installing crews!

I found this recipe while I was doing research in Wallaces Farmer for my book Hearts and Homes. It appeared in the magazine on November 6, 1908.  These are among the best sugar cookies I’ve ever made. Once you get the feel for the dough and the well-floured rolling surface, they are super easy to make. They are not too sweet, perfect to eat by the hand’s full.

Mother’s Sugar Cookies       Mrs. Henry Wallace 

1/2 cup butter
3/4 cup sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 3/4 cups flour
1/2 cup milk

PLENTY of flour for rolling and extra sugar for top.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Cream the butter and sugar and mix in egg. Add baking powder and half the flour. Then the milk, followed by the remaining flour, mixing well after each addition.  You may need to knead the dough a bit until it is smooth and forms into a soft, non-sticky dough.

Dust your work surface and rolling pin with a generous amount of flour. Divide the dough into quarters. Take one quarter and form into a slightly flattened ball. Press into the floured surface. It will pick up some flour. Spread the flour over the surface again and put the dough down, floured side up. Roll it out about half way then lift and put more flour under the dough. Continue rolling until the dough is paper thin, watching to make sure you put more flour on the surface if the dough begins to stick.  Dust the surface of the dough with granulated sugar and press it in with your rolling pin.  Cut cookies into pieces about two-inches square. Use a thin spatula to place them on lightly greased cookie sheets. Bake until they just begin to brown. They bake very fast, less than ten minutes.  Don’t leave the kitchen when they are in the oven. 

Recipe makes a lot of cookies.  As many as 200! And it is a good thing as these are mighty tasty.

You can roll this dough so thin that you can read through it! 


We just picked up another bundle of yard and leaf bags from the helpful stack at the front counter of Woodford Lumber and Home.  Had to pick up a new rake as well. The handle on the old one... from "some other store in Minnesota where we used to live" couldn't stand up to clearing heavy, damp oak leaves. 

Anyhow, I've lost count of how many leaf bags we've filled and taken to the very handy Clear Lake yard waste site.  Lots.... and lots.. But the yard is looking better. Daffodils are blooming. Tulips are up.  AND, after days of unseasonably warm days, the temperature is dropping back down to normal. 

 Lake before the rain.

Around the lake we've all been hungry for the change of seasons. From our deck we can hear the sounds of wooden dock posts being pounded into place along with the quacking of ducks, honking of geese, and occasionally the very welcome sound of the mourning dove. 

There is work still to be done. So to make concentrating on getting those outdoor chores and inside spring cleaning accomplished I've got the crock pot going with this really great squash stew. It tastes great if the weather is warm or cold.  

Nice to have it going as I go out to chase down more leaves last night's inch of rain and wind brought our way...again!

Sensational Squash Stew

1 large butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes, about 4 cups
2 cups unsalted vegetable or chicken broth
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 large sweet onion, diced
1 tablespoon minced garlic, more or less to taste
2 green peppers, cut in 1-inch pieces
2 ribs celery, cut in 1-inch slices
1 8-ounce can tomato sauce
2 cans chopped tomatoes 
2 cans white beans, drained and rinsed
2 bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper, more to taste
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon ground allspice

Combine the squash and broth in a large saucepan and simmer over low heat until the squash is slightly cooked, about 10 to 15 minutes, OR put directly into the slow cooker set on high.  Put the olive oil and butter in a large frying pan. Add the onion and saute until it is just beginning to turn transparent. Add the garlic and green pepper and saute a few minutes longer.  OR combine the olive oil, butter, onion, pepper and garlic in a microwaveable dish with a cover and microwave about 5 minutes until tender. Either way put the onions and peppers into the slow cooker. Then add the remaining ingredients. Cooking times for slow cookers vary, I have mine at high for about two hours and then turn down to low for another two. Stick a knife into the squash to see how tender it is getting. Serve with brown rice or crusty bread and a salad. 

March 23, 2015            THE "ICE OUT" SHOUT -- TIME FOR ICE CREAM

Clear Lake’s earliest ice out according to the official records kept by the Clear Lake Water Department was on March 5 in 1932.  The latest was April 28 set in 1952.  So this year we’re in the early side of normal.

The near summer-weather days the second week of March turned the surface of Clear Lake ice to slush. A few days earlier the DNR angler posts were reporting 14 inches of ice. But before St. Patrick’s Day the ice was honeycombed and too dangerous for fishing, or anything else. We watched it from the kitchen windows as it turned from white to gray and then black from shore to shore and then began to break up into iceberg bits as winter gave way to spring. On Friday March 20 we went to bed with the lake still at least a third covered in ice. Saturday morning, it was gone. The wind had pushed the last broken floes down to State Park bay.

View from the south shore Saturday, March 21, 2015  Second day of Spring! 

As seesaw as the weather has been this year, chances are we’ll have some more cold and maybe even snow before the docks and boats take the lake back. But it’s never too early to plan and stock up on those dock and deck supplies. Woodford Lumber and Home stands ready if you just need a couple of basic deck plank and posts or if you want to redesign your deck to include the newest in Trex Decking including lighting systems that softly illuminate the stairs.

And whatever the weather, this rich ice cream topping combines the best of the seasons – summer ice cream and a tasty topping made from winter-favorite dried fruits. Don’t tell what’s in it and you’ll fool people into thinking it is chocolate, only better.

Top Secret Ice Cream Topping

The basis for this easy-to-make sauce is simple syrup. The sugar and water combination will keep in the refrigerator for weeks. The topping would keep about as long, until you discover how delicious it tastes poured over vanilla or chocolate ice cream, frozen yogurt, pound cake, or even waffles.

1 cup simple syrup (made from 1 cup water and 1 cup granulated sugar)
1/2 cup chopped dates
1/2 cup chopped raisins
1/2 cup chopped citron, found with fruitcake ingredients at holiday season
1/2 cup chopped prunes

To make simple syrup, put one cup water in a medium-sized saucepan. Gradually add the sugar and cook over low heat until the sugar is completely dissolved. Measure out one cup and set the remainder aside for another use. Combine the one cup syrup with the dried fruits. Simmer over low heat until the fruits have combined into a smooth sauce. Makes about 2 cups of sauce. Store unused sauce in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.


St. Patrick's Day is upon us and that, coupled with the almost arrival of spring here in north Iowa, brings us to thoughts of green. There's the "wearing of the green," "the eating of the green," and from the great selection of wonderful Benjamin Moore products at Woodford Lumber and Home--the "painting of the green."

I picked up a few tempting and refreshing color samples to use as background for Soda Bread--a traditional Irish delight. The paint chip colors are just a small selection of the many shades of green on display from soft and barely there to intense and Leprechaun "notice-me" hues.

But back to the Soda Bread. The Society for the Preservation of Irish Soda Bread (http://www.sodabread.info/) has all kinds of information about this wonderful and easy-to-make bread. One important point from this and other traditional recipes is that real Irish Soda Bread does not have any dried fruit in it. Flour, buttermilk, soda. That's it. 

I found a recipe in an 1884 American cookbook that uses cream of tartar as an extra leavening ingredient. It is a bit more forgiving to make than versions using just baking soda. I've also used home-soured milk instead of buttermilk as it is easy to make if you don't have buttermilk on hand and would rather get the bread in the oven than make a trip to the store. 

The bread makes a great addition to corned beef and cabbage as do the Minted Green Beans, recipe below.

Rae's Irish Soda Bread

1 tablespoon vinegar
1 cup milk
2 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt (optional)
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Put the vinegar in a glass measuring cup and add milk to make one cup. Set aside for a couple of minutes to sour. In a medium mixing bowl combine the flour, baking soda, salt, and cream of tartar. Pour in about 3/4 cup of the soured milk and mix quickly with a fork. Then begin to knead gently to form a rough, slightly damp dough.  You may need to add a bit more milk, a tablespoon at a time. DO NOT OVER KNEAD. You don't want a smooth and elastic dough as you have for yeast bread. This is a roughly textured dough. If you over knead the bread will be tough. Form the dough into a circle about 6-inches in diameter. Flatten to about an inch and a half thick. Place on a lightly greased baking sheet. With a serrated knife make an "x" cut almost halfway through the dough. Bake until the bread is browned and sounds hollow when you tap it.  Cool before slicing. 

Adapted from Every-Day Cookery, Table Talk, and Hints for the Laundry by Juliet Corson

Minted Green Beans

1 pound cooked fresh green beans or frozen and thawed
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon -- Yes, teaspoon! mint jelly

In a medium frying pan with a lid, melt the butter over low heat. Add the sugar and stir until they are combined. Add the green beans and cook for about five minutes with the cover on, lifting the lid to stir from time to time. When the beans are all coated with the butter and sugar glaze add the mint jelly. A little is all you need. Stir until the jelly melts and glazes the beans. 

This dish is also perfect with lamb or ham.

Copyright 2015 Rae Katherine Eighmey. All rights reserved