Mandy Ross’ Sweet and Salty Chex Mix

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I’m very excited to be joined by Mandy Ross, the woman behind the very popular Instagram account, Paper of the Past, where she shares her collection of vintage scrapbooks dating from the 1850s to the 1940s. Each post beautifully displays a few pages from the collection, alongside the name of the owner, and often some details about them and even some of their own words. When I asked how she got interested in collecting scrapbooks, Mandy told me, “To me, old scrapbooks are time capsules in book form. They combine stories and mystery with a bit of an underdog vibe. For one reason or another, they have been discarded or lost, and need a good home. Each book tells a story, but I have to dig around to piece that story together.” I have my friend Sarah to thank for introducing me to Mandy’s Instagram, but many more discovered her before I did. She started her account in the summer of 2016 and now has over 16,000 followers, who enjoy her glimpses into personal pasts. Mandy adds, “Not only do I enjoy the investigative process of unraveling the story, but also putting those memories back out in the world via Instagram.”

Obviously, whenever I have a guest on the blog, I ask them to share a family recipe. When I first reached out to Mandy, she wasn’t sure which recipe she would provide, but she knew immediately it would be something that her grandmother made. I told her that the emphasis of my blog is always the significance of the recipe, meaning it’s often something so ingrained in a family’s life that it’s hardly noticed. After some thought, Mandy told me the story of her grandmother’s Chex Mix recipe. “I visit my grandparents in Phoenix before Christmas each year. We make Chex Mix, listen to oldies, and play cards for three or four hours a day. Actually, we play cards while we wait for the Chex Mix to bake. I keep my phone in another room (most of the time) and they don’t have internet. In winter, it’s sunny but cold in Phoenix. We watch birds and rabbits running around in their backyard. There’s a grapefruit tree, cacti, and hummingbirds. It’s very peaceful. Their house is full of antiques and old family photos. Throughout the years, it’s been the same relaxing visit. No matter how much my own life changes, the Chex Mix process and card-playing stays the same.”

“It’s very simple, but the process holds a lot of great memories for me,” Mandy says. She and her grandmother still make the mix every year. “We make a few batches for me to pack in my suitcase and share with the rest of my family in San Diego. So, even though it’s a recipe that my grandma and I share, my family enjoys the tradition as well.”

Sweet and Salty Chex Mix

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Mandy Ross’ Sweet and Salty Chex Mix

Ingredients:
3 cups Corn Chex cereal
3 cups Rice Chex cereal
3 cups Honey Nut Chex cereal
1 cup mixed nuts
1 cup pretzels
1 cup Cheez-It crackers
6 tbsp butter
2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 1/2 tsp seasoned salt
3/4 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp onion powder

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 250 degrees.

In an un-greased large roasting pan, melt butter in the oven.

Stir in Worcestershire sauce, seasoned salt, garlic powder, and onion powder.

Stir in cereals, mixed nuts, pretzels, and Cheez-Its until coated.

Bake for 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes.

Spread on paper towels or wax paper until cooled.

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Mandy’s grandmother “grew up in a big happy family in Southern California.” She owned and managed a beauty salon, and still does her friends’ hair. She also exercised her creativity through her hobbies of making porcelain dolls, sewing, and painting ceramics. Mandy says, “If she were in her twenties now, I think she would have a successful Etsy shop. My house is full of blankets, coasters, dishes, hanging towels, and bags that she made for me.”

Mandy says that her grandmother is partially responsible for her path. “She taught me the importance of having a lifelong hobby. Both her and my grandpa have creative hobbies that bring a lot of joy into their life. She also taught me it’s OK to have an entire room, or area, of your house dedicated to your passion. I live in a one-bedroom townhouse, with minimal space, but have converted my dining area into a scrapbook library. My grandma has a sewing room and a guestroom full of fabric.”

As interest in her work grows, Mandy is seeing more opportunities arise. “In the future, I expect to do more collaborations and tell the stories in more detail. I’d love to create a YouTube channel and share flip-through videos or un-boxing videos. My goal for the second year is to use Instagram to branch out into non-Instagram projects. I’d love to visit more library collections and also organize a small exhibit in San Francisco.” One particular scrapbook has already blossomed into its own research project—Mandy will visit Luxembourg soon to research the owner of the scrapbook, which contains love letters from a Luxembourger woman named Suzie to an American man. (You can even follow along with Mandy on her journey by searching #findingsuziekonz on Instagram.)

Mandy, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me today and share you and your grandmother’s recipe! I can’t wait to see what’s in store for you next!

Simple No-Churn Vanilla Ice Cream

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It’s finally feeling like summer here in Chicago. There have been several days of 80-plus degree weather. My favorite part is finally being able to go out without my shoulders covered, without getting cold (which I always am), even at night.

This type of weather also makes me start craving ice cream in a big way. I would not consider myself an ice cream person in general. But when that summer air hits in Chicago, it’s all I want and we start going through carton after carton of ice cream in our house. But maybe it’s in my genes?

Today would have been my grandma Edna’s 94th birthday. I have written about grandma Edna (known as Grandma Dini), and bragged about her general awesomeness, on here before when I made her cream puffs. Though her cream puffs were my favorite, they were not Grandma Dini’s favorite dessert. She was particularly partial to ice cream. Nothing fancy. Just plain vanilla ice cream. One bowl, right before bed.

There are three food memories that I have in relation to Grandma Dini. One, her cereal options…left a lot to be desired. She usually had only bland cereals, like corn flakes. But to make up for it, she had a giant sugar tin, with a circus scene on it and a lid that looked like the big top of a circus tent. I was allowed to go a little nuts sprinkling my cereal with sugar, attempting to make a little sugar-milk paste at the bottom of my bowl, like a sicko. Two, she made a kick-ass lemon meringue pie during the holidays. And, three, her non-holiday treat was ice cream. I don’t ever really remember her having any flavor other than vanilla. And when I asked for something chocolatey to put on it, instead of chocolate syrup, she’d sprinkle it with Nesquick. I’d stir everything together making a thick chocolate-milk-like mixture, happy as a clam.

So now that it’s hot out, and we’re celebrating Grandma Dini’s birthday, we’re going to make some ice cream. And I think it’s high time I learn to make my own, right here at home. It doesn’t hurt that it’s super easy and I don’t have to turn on my oven. Let’s go!

No-Churn Ice Cream

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Simple No-Churn Vanilla Ice Cream

Ingredients:
14 oz can of sweetened condensed milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/8 tsp salt
2 cups heavy whipping cream

Instructions:

In a large mixing bowl, add the condensed milk, vanilla, and salt. Stir to combine completely.

In a separate mixing bowl, add heavy whipping cream. Using a hand mixer, or a whisk, beat until peaks form. (With a hand mixer, it took me about 2 1/2 minutes at medium-high speed.)

Fold the whipped cream into the condensed milk mixture until completely combined.

Pour the mixture into a pan that is at least 6 cups in volume and cover with a piece of parchment paper.

If you are adding in any extras, like cookies, nuts, or chopped fruit, freeze for two hours, mix in the add-ins, stir, then continue to freeze for 3 more hours.

Freeze for at least five hours, then scoop and serve!

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This recipe is awesome for the obvious benefit of not needing to purchase an ice cream machine. I saw a couple of recipes that involved taking the ice cream out and stirring it frequently as it froze, but this is even easier than that. This recipe couldn’t be simpler, tastier, and, four ingredients? Sign me up! The end result is that we now have a butt-load of vanilla ice cream. I guess the root beer float situation in this house is about to get real.

Note: I actually made this recipe twice. The first way used the condensed milk recipe you see above. The second used a combination of evaporated milk and sugar. (Condensed milk is basically sweetened evaporated milk.) I’m not a huge fan of the saccharine flavor of  condensed milk, which is basically just evaporated milk, plus sugar, so I thought I could trick the system. It didn’t work well for me. The taste was just OK. However, even I thought it needed more sugar, which is not usually the case. Also, not as important, it was much tougher to scoop. It seemed to break apart when I scooped it, almost like shaved ice, rather than ice cream. No complaints, though, as the condensed milk version’s sweetness was quite mellow once frozen. Also, if plain vanilla isn’t your style, you could always add your own fixins–cookie crumbles, fruit, chocolate. Just be sure to freeze the mixture a bit before you add them, so they don’t settle to the bottom.

Will I never buy store-bought ice cream again? Yes, I will. However, it’s neat to know this nifty little recipe. If grandma were still alive, I’d run right over to her house and show her how I made this. To which I’m sure she’d respond, “Yeah, I know how to make my own ice cream, I’m 94 years-old.” Happy birthday, Grandma Dini! And happy ice creaming to all!

Homemade Strawberry Hand Tarts

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Picture this: It’s the first week of summer vacation. I am a scrawny kid, probably 80 lbs., soaking wet, likely wearing uneven, homemade jean cut-off shorts and an oversized Marlboro shirt that my dad got when he bought a carton of cigarettes (don’t smoke!). More than likely barefoot and even more likely, eating Pop-Tarts. That was me, every summer, from approximately 1993 to 1998.

Alex and I stopped by my hometown on our way to and from a wedding in Cleveland on Memorial Day weekend, which was bringing up all kinds of warm feelings. On Memorial Day weekend, if I were 11 again, I would have been running around in my friends’ back yards, with all of the other neighbor kids, until the very last second before the sun went down. Then my dad would yell my name or, more likely, my nickname out the backdoor and it would be time to come in for the night. It was making me all nostalgic for childhood and, of course, Pop-Tarts.

For the most part, I try to lead a healthy life. I work out, I eat lots of vegetables, and yes, I make a lot of desserts for this blog, but for the most part, but I usually end up giving a lot of what I make away (after I taste it of course–quality control, you know). On top of that, I really try to avoid eating too many overly-processed foods now, which is a real struggle for me. Being a 90’s kid from small town Indiana means that I am, as my friend Kristina puts it, “90% Ecto Cooler and other preservatives.” For example, nowadays, I never buy Pop-Tarts, even though I love them so much.

Incidentally, the Pop-Tarts that we know and love may never have been. In early 1963, Kellogg’s competitor, the cereal company Post, had announced a plan to release a new breakfast item called Country Squares. However, Post was still months away from releasing their item, which allowed Kellogg to swoop in and develop their own version. In their attempt to best their competitor, Kellogg reached out to Keebler, the famous cookie makers, to create a quick breakfast that could be heated in the toaster.

Perhaps we owe our greatest debt to Bill Post, a plant manager at Keebler during this time who was tasked with creating a toastable treat. (Bill Post appears to have no relation to the Post corporation, but I’m looking into whether there’s a cereal gene in the Post family.) He tested out versions, originally called “fruit scones,” on his children and they were a hit. Pop-Tarts were first tested in markets in Cleveland at the end of 1963. People loved them and they were released to the general public in 1964. They were unfrosted at the time, and only came in four flavors: blueberry, apple-currant, brown sugar cinnamon, and (my personal favorite) strawberry. A few years later, after Bill Post convinced executives that there was a way to create a toaster-safe frosting, frosted versions were made available.

Though I might not buy Pop-Tarts anymore, my cravings for warm, frosted, strawberry goo-filled treats have not diminished. Especially in the summer. I don’t know what it is. So, I made my own version at home.

Strawberry Hand Pies

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Homemade Strawberry Hand Tarts
Makes about 10 2 1/2 x 4-inch tarts.

Ingredients:

For the crust (using this recipe):
1 1/2 cups flour
1 tbsp sugar
3/4 tsp salt
9 tbsp (1 stick, plus 1 tbsp) unsalted butter, cubed and very cold
1/4 cup-1/3 cup very cold water
3/4 tsp apple cider vinegar
Egg wash, optional:
1 egg
1 tsp water

For the filling:
1 cup fresh strawberries, hulled and quartered
1-2 tbsp water
1/2 tsp cornstarch
2 tbsp sugar
1/8 tsp lemon zest
1/2 tsp lemon juice
pinch of salt
1/4 tsp vanilla

For the glaze:
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1/4 tsp vanilla
pinch of salt
1-2 tsp milk

Colored sugar or sprinkles, optional

Instructions:

In a food processor, combine the flour, sugar, and salt. Briefly pulse to mix. Add cold, cubed butter and process again until small clumps form, about 5-7 seconds. Add in 1/4 cup of water and apple cider vinegar. Pulse for an additional 5 seconds to combine. If the dough is still dry, add cold water one tablespoon at a time, not exceeding 1/2 cup.

On a well-floured surface, pour out the contents of the food processor. Gather the mixture, separate into two piles and form a disc out of each pile. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least an hour, preferable overnight.

In a saucepan, combine strawberries, water, cornstarch, sugar, lemon zest, lemon juice, and salt. Heat on medium, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is boiling. Boil for about 15 minutes. Lower the heat and continue to cook for an additional 15 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla. Set aside to cool completely.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

On a well-floured surface, roll out the pie dough. The pie crust should be quite thin, only about 1/8-inch thick, but you shouldn’t be able to see through the crust. You should be able to get about 10 rectangles from each disc, if you cut them 2 1/2 x 4-inches.

Place each rectangle on two large parchment paper-covered baking sheets. Spoon about one tablespoon of the cooled strawberry mixture into the middle of 10 of the rectangles. Place an empty rectangle over the top, carefully pressing down the edges. Then, seal the edges with the tines of a fork. Continue until all 10 tarts are filled. If using an egg wash, beat together one egg, with one teaspoon of water. Using the same fork, poke several holes into the top of each tart. Brush egg wash lightly on each tart.

Bake for 30 minutes, turning the baking sheet 180 degrees halfway through baking.

Remove from baking sheet to a cooling rack and allow to cool completely.

Mix together the powdered sugar, vanilla, salt, and milk in a small bowl. Spoon one teaspoon of glaze over each cooled tart. Sprinkle with colored sugar or sprinkles, if desired.

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No, they’re not healthy per se. They are basically made from butter and sugar, but I guess you’re replacing the high-fructose corn syrup? Pick your poison, I suppose. I also don’t feel bad about not buying Pop-Tarts because their sales have increased every year since they were introduced. There are plenty of latchkey kids out there, like I was, looking for an easy snack. Then those kids become adults and say, “No, I’m too good for Pop-Tarts, I’ll make my own.” But they’ll secretly have a moment of yearning, every time they walk by them at the grocery store. Or, so I’ve heard…

Chocolate Peanut Butter Buckeyes

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My apologies to every sports fan who stumbles upon this blog, only to find that there is absolutely no information about (any) college sports team. The Buckeyes I refer to in the title are not the Ohio State Buckeyes, but the tiny chocolate-covered peanut butter balls that were inspired by Ohio’s state tree. Alex and I were visiting Ohio (his first time to Ohio!) this Memorial Day weekend to celebrate the wedding of our lovely friends, Michael and Deborah, in Cleveland Heights. The ceremony was beautiful and rather dramatic because of a sudden thunderstorm. Plus, it was a Jewish ceremony, which meant Alex and I had to learn a Jewish wedding song and see some new (to us) traditions. On top of that, the bride is originally from Brazil, so there was also samba music and lots of dancing. We couldn’t have had more fun, or celebrated a better couple.

I grew up just across the border from Ohio, in Indiana, but I had seen very little of the state before. As we always try to do, we turned this short trip into a slightly longer road trip. After leaving Cleveland early on Monday, we drove down to Columbus, only briefly stopping to get coffee and to walk around the Short North and German Village neighborhoods. It was really the only urban area that we visited. Most of our road trip was spent driving by rolling fields and through one-stoplight towns, smelling Memorial Day barbecues. Today, we will leave my mom’s house in search of antique stores to buy knicknacks we don’t need.

In honor of our trip, I thought I would make a very traditional Ohio treat (and by traditional, I mean a mid-century invention of Midwest housewives). I’m using my mom’s ancient recipe for peanut butter balls. When mom made them, they were called peanut butter balls, and they were completely covered in chocolate. The only difference is that when you make buckeyes, you leave a tiny cap of peanut butter showing. Ohioans call them buckeyes, because they resemble the nut of Ohio’s state tree, the buckeye. My mom would usually make the treat for family get-togethers. In Ohio, they are often also served during Ohio State games.

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Chocolate Peanut Butter Buckeyes
Makes about 30, 1-inch Buckeyes.

Ingredients:
1 cup peanut butter
2 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 stick unsalted butter
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
12 oz. semi-sweet chocolate chips (or chocolate bar, chopped)

Instructions:

In a large bowl, combine peanut butter, powdered sugar, butter, salt, and vanilla extract with a hand mixture. The mixture will look thick, almost like a cookie batter. Cover with a dish towel and allow to chill in the refrigerator for about half an hour.

Cover a large cookie sheet with parchment paper. Using a small spoon (the large scoop on my melon baller worked well), scoop portions of the peanut butter mixture, roll into a ball and set on parchment paper. Continue until all of the peanut butter mixture has been used. Refrigerate for another half an hour.

Fill a small saucepan with about an inch of water and bring to just a boil. Make a double-boiler by filling a small bowl with the chocolate and setting this on the saucepan, above the water. Be sure that the bottom of the bowl does not touch the water in the saucepan.

Stirring the chocolate often, allow the chocolate to melt above the heat. Once the chocolate has just melted, remove from heat and stir until the mixture is smooth.

Using a toothpick, skewer the refrigerated peanut butter ball and dip into the chocolate mixture. Keeping the toothpick in the top of the ball, slowly rotate the ball in the chocolate until all is covered, except for a small portion at the top. Return to parchment paper and remove the toothpick. If you like, you can lightly pat the the spot where the toothpick was to get rid of the hole.

Continue until you have coated all of the peanut butter balls with chocolate. Allow to refrigerate for at least another half hour before serving.

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Bear in mind, these little candies are very rich. Delicious, but rich. Even as a child, while other family members were gobbling them up a few at a time, I could only eat about half. The recipe above is a slight adaptation to my mom’s original, using slightly less sugar. I first tried to use much less, but didn’t have much success keeping the peanut butter in ball-form for dipping. So they’re still rich, but a little more balanced. They remind me a lot of the Reese’s holiday versions of peanut butter cups. You know the ones: egg-shaped for Easter, hearts for Valentine’s Day, always with a shockingly large ratio of peanut butter to chocolate, just the way I like it. My next plan is to make a batch, freeze them, take them to our next summer barbecue, and win the hearts of everyone.

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Sweet Cherry Pie

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“Do I watch too much TV?” part of myself often wonders. “No, TV is amazing,” says all the other parts of myself. And then I “Play next episode” until I, I don’t know… die? I know it’s not great for me, but there is just so much good TV to watch. For example, on Sunday, the new Twin Peaks premieres on Showtime and I couldn’t be more stoked. Last month, while Alex and I were visiting the Pacific Northwest, we visited several Twin Peaks sites, like a couple of tourists. We even got cherry pie at Twede’s Cafe, a.k.a. the Double R Diner. If you’ve ever seen the show, you know how much Agent Dale Cooper loves his snacks in general, but cherry pie in particular. Cherry pie and a “damn fine cup of coffee” served “black as midnight on a moonless night.” 

There are actually two other reasons I’m making cherry pie now. The first is, I’ve never made one and I really wanted to. I count it among my favorites, if not as my favorite pie. (Cherry anything for me, really.) Secondly, I recently found out that it was my grandpa’s favorite dessert. A few days ago, my grandpa would have turned 90 years old, but he passed away just over four years ago. Gruff, quite honestly, is the very best word to describe him. He and my grandma were the parents of three rowdy and mischievous boys, whose rowdiness and mischievousness never really subsided. He probably wasn’t the easiest man to have as a father, but he was a super grandpa. And he gave the best bear hugs. I actually don’t know if he ever realized he was bear-hugging. He was a burly man, so I assume that his default hugging mode was “bear.” Anyway, I like the idea of him having a favorite dessert. As much as I think about food and my grandparents, I unfortunately don’t often think of the things that gave them joy. I think of them along with terms like “stoic” and “hard-working”, but I wish I more often thought of them more in terms of “musician” and “cherry pie-lover.”

Anyway, for me, those were enough good reasons to make cherry pie (even though it’s not quite in season). So, then, it’s cherry pie.

Sweet Cherry Pie

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Sweet Cherry Pie
(Makes one 9-inch pie)

Ingredients for the crust:
Slight variation of this recipe.

2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling out dough
2 sticks (16 tbsp) unsalted butter, cubed and very cold
1 3/4 teaspoons salt
8-12 tablespoons ice water
1 1/2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar

For egg wash:
1 egg
1 tbsp milk
1 tbsp sugar

Ingredients for the filling:
5 1/2 cups of sweet cherries (frozen or fresh; pitted)
3 tbsp lemon juice
1/4 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp apple cider vinegar
2/3 cup sugar
5 tbsp corn starch
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp unsalted butter, cubed and very cold

Instructions for the crust:

In a food processor, or large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, and salt.

Add the cold, cubed butter and process for about 5 seconds. If not using a food processor, incorporate the butter into the dry mixture until the butter is pea sized.

Add in 8 tbsp. of ice water and apple cider vinegar. Pulse for 5 more seconds. If the mixture is still quite dry, add 1 tbsp. of water at a time until the mixture holds shape when you pinch it together. Do not exceed 12 tbsp. of water.

Pour out onto a floured surface. Separate the dough into two equal parts. Gather one of the parts and form a disk shape. Wrap in plastic wrap. Repeat with the second portion.

Refrigerate for at least an hour, or up to two days.

When the dough is ready, roll out on a well-floured surface until it’s large enough to fit into a 9-inch pie pan. Lay the dough across the pan, with the edges hanging off. Cover with a dishtowel and refrigerate while you prepare the top crust.

On a well-floured surface, roll out the second disk of dough, making sure you roll your dough out to a diameter of 12 inches.

Using a pizza cutter or a knife, 5 zig-zag cutouts across the diameter of the dough, about 1-inch thick.

Place each line on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet, cover with a dishtowel, and refrigerate until you’re ready to cover your pie.

Instructions for the filling:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

If using frozen cherries: Place into a colander over a large mixing bowl to thaw in the refrigerator overnight. Discard the juice that is released from the thawed cherries.

In a large bowl, add the cherries, lemon juice, vinegar, and vanilla and stir to combine.

Add the cornstarch and combine well. There should be no streaks of cornstarch. Add the sugar and stir to combine.

Allow the mixture to sit for about 20-30 minutes.

If using frozen cherries, use a slotted spoon to add the cherries to the bottom half of the pie crust. Discard any leftover liquid. If using fresh cherries, pour entire mixture into the pie shell. Arrange the cubed butter over the cherries.

Arrange the zig-zag cutouts over the top of the cherries. Trim away all but about a 1/2-inch of the edge of the dough. Form a decorative edge.

Cover with a dishtowel and refrigerate for 20-30 minutes.

Beat together the egg and milk. Using a pastry brush, paint egg wash on all exposed pie shell. Sprinkle the crust with 1 tbsp of sugar.

Bake for 25 minutes at 400 degrees. Then lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees and continue baking for approximately 45 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown. If the pie edges are browning too quickly, cover with a foil tent for the remaining baking time.

Remove from oven and allow to cool for 2-3 hours before cutting and serving.

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As I said, we’re not fully into cherry season yet. I used frozen sweet cherries, because that’s what I had access to, but I came to the (expected) conclusion that I prefer a tart cherry pie. If you’re starting with tart cherries, you will certainly need to cut down the lemon juice and increase the sugar a bit. Sometime this summer, when I can fully take advantage of Chicago’s farmer’s markets, I will work on perfecting my tart cherry pie recipe. In the meantime, I think this sweet cherry would satisfy the quirkiest of agents, and the gruffest of grandpas.

Sister Lindsay’s Southern Banana Pudding

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My favorite posts on this blog are when I get to invite my friends to share a family recipe and talk about what it means to them. For today’s post, I’m extremely happy to be joined by my friend, Kaye Winks.

Kaye is an actress who has been acting professionally for 13 years and writing professionally for seven. But naturally she’s been an actor and a writer her whole life.  Kaye isn’t an only child, but her siblings are several years older than her, which meant she grew up as the only child in her house. She spent her childhood creating picture books, putting on sock puppet shows for her first grade classroom, and memorizing her favorite movies and performing full-length re-enactments in her bedroom, complete with full makeshift sets and costumes. By the time she was 11, she realized that, if she wrote down the stories she created while she was playing pretend, what she was really doing was writing a script. And, from all the movies she watched, she knew that acting was something she could do for a living. She decided then to make that her goal.

In 2012, Kaye started working on a script that would eventually become her one-woman comedy show, Token. Kaye describes Token as a “comic and ironic look at what it’s like being the token black person,” and often the lone black person, in a world of white. But the goal of the show is not to pick on white people. Kaye points out that the show also “explores the funny and sometimes sobering experiences of being a suburban black girl with inner city black folk.”

In the show, Kaye performs many characters, but the most memorable and touching character she portrays is Sister Lindsay, who appears throughout the show to both scold bad behavior, and to offer advice on how to navigate the world. Kaye included Sister Lindsay in her show to “soften the blow of my character’s satirical voice and act as a voice of reason and morality that the audience would like.”

But Sister Lindsay was not the creation of Kaye’s imagination. She was Kaye’s grandmother. Born in Mississippi in 1935, Sister Lindsay fled the harsh Jim Crow laws in the South to Chicago in 1957. Sister Lindsay had never seen her birth certificate, so she always celebrated her birthday on October 28th. Many years later, Kaye’s aunt did some research in Sister Lindsay’s home town and found that, actually, she had been born on December 28th and was very pleased to find out that she was actually 2 months younger than she had always thought!

Sister Lindsay passed away one year ago yesterday and Kaye told me that her “homegoing” was like a celebrity’s. “We don’t call them ‘funerals’ in my family. The term ‘funeral’ is reserved for people who are ‘unsaved’ making it a sorrowful event of mourning for the lost soul. In my family, we call them ‘homegoing celebrations’ because our loved one’s souls are going home to heaven to be with their Creator and it is a chaste and wonderful party. The enormous old church was standing room only with at least 500 people in attendance and they joyfully danced and sang her spirit to heaven. My husband, not remotely accustomed to this custom, was pleasantly surprised at how fun it was, albeit bittersweet. It was also the first time he’d ever been the only white person in a room FULL of all black folks!”

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Sister Lindsay, at her birthday party, a few years ago.

What Kaye remembers very sharply are some of her grandma’s features. Her soft cheeks–“She had the absolute softest skin of any human I have ever encountered. I loved kissing Grandma on her cheeks because they were like little chocolate silk pillows that always smelled like baby powder.” Her laugh–“She had a ragged cackle, instead of a laugh, that was reminiscent of James Brown, being merely a ‘HA!’ or literal ‘Huh-HAAA!’ If you got the ‘Huh-HAAA!’ you knew you had said something really funny.” Her faith–“She was an extremely devout Christian woman, whose entire social life revolved around worshiping Jesus and helping her church family. Jesus was everything to her. She would also often get the police called on her for disturbing the peace because she’d sing ‘Oh Jesus’ or fervently pray at the top of her lungs at all hours of the night.” And, finally, her banana pudding. Kaye told me that it was a treat that she would rarely make, even though everyone loved it. “She’d just make it randomly and nonchalantly be like, ‘Oh yeah, there’s banana pudding in there,’ and everyone would scurry to the kitchen like a winning lottery ticket was in there. Like, why didn’t you tell us earlier, lady?!”

Kaye said that people in her family have tried to make the pudding, following the same recipe, but it just doesn’t taste the same as when her grandma made it. I made this recipe and, I kid you not, it’s one of the best desserts I’ve ever made.  I had it for breakfast and for dessert after dinner no less than three nights in a row. Maybe you can have a little more restraint than I did. If this pudding had that kind of effect on me and it was only me making it, what Sister Lindsay made must have been magical.

Banana Pudding

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Sister Lindsay’s Southern Banana Pudding

Ingredients:
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup sugar
2 tbsp cornstarch
2 1/4 cups Carnation evaporated milk
4 large eggs, separated
2 tbsp unsalted butter
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 1/3 cups vanilla wafers
4 very ripe bananas

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Whisk together salt, sugar, and cornstarch in a heavy saucepan. Then whisk in the  evaporated milk. Add the egg yolks and mix thoroughly.

Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly for about 7-8 minutes or until thick. Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla and butter.

Slice the bananas, not too thin.

Layer half of the vanilla wafers in a medium-sized round glass baking dish. Top with half of the banana slices and half the pudding. Repeat the same with the wafers, bananas, and pudding that’s left. Finally, cover most of the top layer of pudding with vanilla wafers.

Bake at 375 degrees for 7-10 minutes.

Serve warm or chilled. Kaye suggests chilling for at least an hour, as that’s the way her grandma would serve it.

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Kaye first performed her show to a sold-out audience at Collaboraction Theater in Wicker Park in March 2017. Luckily for you, if you’re interested in seeing it (and Sister Lindsay), Kaye will be performing again, beginning this week. Token runs Fridays at 7:30pm, May 19 through June 9 in Judy’s Beat Lounge at The Second City Training Center. Tickets are available at: www.secondcity.com/shows/chicago/token/. (As of yesterday, the May 19th show was already sold out, so get your tickets early!)

I went to see the show’s debut in March and it was so good. There were definitely some gasps from the audience throughout, but there was mostly laughter, a lot of laughter. And while Kaye admits that there is “plenty of rather un-PC humor in it,” she says that it is also “really fun, honest, and relatable because it picks on everyone equally. I wrote it to share the perspective from the middle of two polarized spheres, the gray area between black and white, and hopefully inspire new thoughts and conversations about race and class by bringing people together to laugh at the absurdity of it all.”

And, if you’re interested in following Kaye in the future, her show will premier in New York City on Saturday, September 16th, at 9pm, at The Studio Theatre on 42nd Street (Theatre Row) as part of United Solo Theatre Festival. Tickets available here: http://unitedsolo.org/us/token-2017/. And if that’s not enough for you, she also has a book, The Civilized Citizen’s Guide to Dining Out, a snide guide on restaurant etiquette, that’s being released in fall 2017.

Kaye, thank you so much for taking the time to talk about your show and share this amazing recipe from your grandmother!

Bourbon Chocolate Pecan Pie for Derby Day

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This is not a Cinco de Mayo recipe. I hope anyone reading can make it through this post since I know you all just want margs and tacos. Trust me, I get it. Especially the taco part. And I will be celebrating, but for a different reason. It’s actually a fairly special day for my fella and I. Back when we met in college, I suggested that my Biology project group (Alex included) go out for Cinco de Mayo. I had just recently turned 21 and was very interested in purchasing my first margarita (dumb college student stuff). However, the rest of group was not yet 21 (Alex included) and so they all declined. I guess the idea of quietly watching me drink a margarita as big as my head was not appealing to them. But later, I got a call from Alex asking if I still wanted to go out. I wasn’t sure where to go, so Alex picked a tiny place that he liked–that definitely did not have margaritas and only had a few taco choices, all served only with onion, cilantro, and a little slice of lime. It was the first time, outside of Biology class, that we had talked alone. And we had a great time! He told me about what it was like to grow up in Chicago. I told him about what it was like to grow up in what seemed to be the smallest town on the planet. And we became real friends. Not just Biology group friends. I also learned to love the simple deliciousness of tacos, served only with onion, cilantro, and a little slice of lime (and there you go, there’s my taco recipe). I forget until Cinco de Mayo rolls around every year and then I remember and my heart grows three sizes.

So there will be no fancy Cinco de Mayo recipes from me today. Instead, we’re cruising straight into the weekend, with a recipe for a celebration of a different kind: The Kentucky Derby. I present to you you the only dessert you should be eating tomorrow: Bourbon Chocolate Pecan Pie.

At first I wasn’t sure if I should post this recipe, which counts as my second chocolate pie post in a month. The first was Chocolate Perfection Pie for Queen Elizabeth II’s birthday. But then I thought, people really like chocolate and pie, so it’s probably fine.

It’s common practice for this pie to be served to mark the running of the Derby.  It’s also apparently common practice to prepare food a day before the race, so that you’re not cooking on Derby Day. Makes sense. I imagine forming pie crust edges is slightly more difficult with a few mint juleps under your belt. Those Kentuckians are just planning ahead.

Have you heard of this pie? Luckily, I didn’t make the mistake of calling it Derby Pie. And, technically, it’s not. The pie officially known as “Derby Pie” is made with walnuts, and the name is trademarked by the Kern family in Kentucky. It’s a somewhat fascinating story of how one family claims to be salvaging its own history by trademarking the name, while others claim that Derby Pie is a generic name for a chocolate-nut pie that has been around for years and does not belong to one particular recipe. That has not stopped the Kern family from suing websites and bakers who sell or provide recipes for “Derby Pie.” It has been called the “most litigious confection in America.” If you want to read more about the pie’s legal troubles, NPR did a story here.

Anyway, this is not Derby Pie, but it is full of semi-sweet chocolate, pecans, and just a little bourbon, for good measure. Alex described it at “Cookie Dough Pie.” That’s not far off, but that doesn’t begin to do it justice. After baking, the pecans become toasty, the chocolate chips melt to form a rich base, and the egg and cornstarch mixture develop a cookie crust on top.

Chocolate Pecan Pie

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Bourbon Chocolate Pecan Pie for Derby Day
Makes one 9-inch pie.

Ingredients:

For pie crust:
I used my favorite pie shell recipe, which can be found here.

1 1/2 cups flour
1 tbsp sugar
1 tsp salt
1 stick, plus 1 tbsp (9 tbsp) unsalted butter, cubed and very cold
3/4 tsp apple cider vinegar
1/4-1/2 cup ice water

For pie filling:
I used Alice Colombo’s recipe, found in Pie: 300 Tried-and-True Recipes for Delicious Homemade Pie.

2 large eggs
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup cornstarch
1 stick (8 tbsp) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 tbsp bourbon
1 cup chopped pecans
1 cup semi-sweet or dark chocolate chips

For topping, optional:
1 cup heavy whipping cream
2 tbsp bourbon
1 tsp vanilla extract

Instructions:

For crust: In a food processor, add the flour, sugar, and salt. Pulse for about 5 seconds to mix.

Add the cold butter cubes to the food processor and process for about 5 more seconds. You should still be able to see large pieces of butter.

Add the vinegar and 1/4 cup of cold water, then pulse for 5 more seconds. If the mixture is still quite dry, add 1 tbsp of cold water at a time, quickly pulsing between each addition. Don’t add more than a total of 1/2 cup of cold water.

Pour the mixture out onto a lightly floured surface, gather the mixture together into a ball, form into a disc, and wrap in plastic wrap.

Refrigerate for at least an hour.

For the pie: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Once the dough is ready, roll it out to fit a 9-inch pie pan. Trim edges, fold under and form a decorative edge with your fingers or a fork.

In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs until they’re light and frothy. In a separate bowl, thoroughly mix the sugar and cornstarch together. Add the cornstarch sugar mixture to the egg mixture in three batches, mixing thoroughly in between each addition.

Add the bourbon and melted butter to the mixture and whisk to combine thoroughly.

Add in the chopped pecans and chocolate chips. Stir to combine.

Pour the entire mixture into the prepared pie shell.

Bake for 40-45 minutes, turning the pie 180 degrees in the oven halfway through baking.

Remove pie and allow to cool for an hour before serving.

In a small bowl, using a hand mixer, beat together the heavy cream, bourbon, and vanilla until peaks form. Top the pie pieces, as desired.

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This recipe was created by a former Assistant Food Editor for the Louisville Courier, named Alice Colombo. After some light snooping, I found that Ms. Colombo also wrote her own cookbook a few years ago, which includes recipes from her time at the Courier. If you like this recipe, it might be worth checking out others.

Now grab your big hat and make some pie!

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