Archive for November, 2012

Reality Mincemeat

Friday, November 30th, 2012


Not for the vegetarian, the squeamish, or the non-traditional.

After un-jarring my mother’s homemade mincemeat, which I knew for certain to be the “mock” kind, meaning no meat, I decided to try reality mincemeat.

That curator of authenticity, my aunt, always made the real thing.  She hadn’t done it in years, but cooed to me over the phone, “Oh!  I love real mincemeat!”

Challenge met, aunt Marilyn.

Still, I flinched at the Market Basket meat shelves.

“Tongue?!” I cried out to her on my cell phone. “Marilyn, tongue?! – If I’m making this, you better be here for Christmas!”

Those of you still reading, those of you not afraid of tongue, those of you who love a purist-palooza cooking event, might be pleased to know that Market Basket has everything you need to make good, old fashioned mincemeat:  tongue, brisket, and kidney suet.

Only kidney suet has tallow, a necessary evil in mincemeat making.  (Not that tongue isn’t evil; a battle with tongue requires scraping the courage bowl for every drop.)  Tallow, unlike straight suet, doesn’t decompose and can be stored for extended lengths of time.  Tallow was a main ingredient in pemmican, the American Indians’ version of a protein bar.  Mincemeat, the real kind, is not unlike pemmican; both are great sources of protein and fat that expire never.

(Mentioned in a previous blog, here’s the short history of mincemeat: it originated in 11th century Europe as a means of preserving meat.  It was mostly meat and spices the Crusaders had just scored in The Holy Land.  Apparently, cinnamon, clove, and nutmeg, symbols of the wisemen’s gifts, were required mincemeat ingredients starting then.

Lest you think hating mincemeat is a modern concept, Oliver Cromwell banned it – and all things Christmas – as tokens of paganism in 1657.  New England Puritans weren’t to be caught eating desecrated pies, and fined anyone for eating mincemeat between 1659 – 1681.

In 1861 a man named James Swan documented serving a bunch of traders on the Makeh Indian reservation in the Washington Territory a mincemeat made with whale meat.

Would the traditional mince pie, he worried, be welcomed if the diners learned it was made from whale? Yankee mincemeat was made from domestic animals or venison. His fears were soon dispelled. The small portions he had cautiously served were quickly downed and second helpings demanded by all.)


Tongue is so literal a piece of meat, there is no relief when handling it from the reality of what it is.  There is no way not to imagine the full beast, its life start to finish.  Tongue could drive a person at the speed of light to veganism – unless that person had an aunt like mine, whose belief in old ways and traditions is as solidly comforting as a seasoned cast iron skillet.   I saw generations of mincemeat makers in that tongue; I saw wives, mothers, and sisters of Crusaders sniffing at the nutmeg, getting excited about something besides turnips for dinner.

I grimaced and persevered, chopping and not looking.  If I looked I tried to limit my vision to small areas, one square inch at a time, blurring everything at the edges; it’s the entire two pounds of organ and that outer skin of taste buds that revolt.

Besides the gruesome tongue exercise, there’s poetry in the remaining mincemeat process.  As a teenager I worked at Green Briar Jam Kitchen in E. Sandwich, MA.  The woman I worked for made some of the most beautiful preserves in the world.  The Mellon family ordered all their jams from Miss Blake.  Throughout the year, whenever she made a batch of anything from piccalilli to rum-plum jelly, and the last amount didn’t fill a jar, Miss Blake set that not-full jar on a set of floor-to-ceiling shelves with all the other un-filled jars.  Miss Blake always began her mincemeat recipe by emptying all those jars – from the green tomato relish to the sun-cooked peaches – into huge bowls and stirring it together.

I took my cue from Miss Blake and emptied ends of preserves into the bowl, in place of some of the recipe’s 2 cups of jam.  Housecleaning is a mincemeat theme; I adapted James Beard’s recipe, and his first direction is to gather together all the last half-cups and quarter-cups of Apricot Brandy and Cognac, or whatever winey dregs are left in your liquor cabinet, and dump them in.

My mincemeat is “ripening.”  I confess there is something soulful about this process, something about being brave with the tongue, about finding a glittering, pastry-encased ending for the homemade jams and jellies collected over the year (I sprinkled in some of the candied ginger Sarah Kelly had made from Alprilla Farm’s fresh ginger).  Even that last pour of good Port that I remembered serving at a dinner party two years ago found a happy ending, all to be baked in a pie on Christmas Eve.  Making sure nothing goes to waste, the juxtaposition of jeweled candied fruits and homely meats, the winey scent of preservation at work, there are lessons to be learned in mincemeat, if not poetry.


Mincemeat, adapted from James Beard


makes approximately 9 pounds of mincemeat, or enough for 6 pies


2 pounds beef brisket

2 pounds beef tongue

1/2 pound beef suet

1 pound seedless raisins

1 pound golden raisins

1 pound currants

1/2 pound candied citron peel, diced and

1/2 pound candied cherries finely chopped

zest of three oranges

zest of three lemons

2 cups sugar

1 cup strawberry preserves, or 1 cup preserves remains from your cupboard

1 cup raspberry preserves

1/2 tablespoon salt

1/2 tablespoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon nutmeg

1 teaspoon mace

1 teaspoon allspice

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

sherry wine or cognac, or any alcohol you wish to sprinkle in



“Begin by assembling a goodly supply of Cognac, apple brandy, sherry, and if you can find it, boiled cider. If not, settle for more apple brandy or applejack and more Cognac. You can also use up any odd liqueur or that bottle you were given last Christmas and have kept hidden on a shelf. All these things will help to make your mincemeat better.”

Boil the brisket and tongue separately in salted water until tender. Let the rump cool until it can be handled, remove the excess fat, and chop coarsely or put through the coarse blade of a meat grinder, or chop loosely in a food processor, being careful not to let it get too fine.

Let the tongue cool, remove the skin, and chop or grind coarsely.

Chop the beef suet very finely and combine it in a crock with the meats.

Add raisins, sultanas, currants, citron, peels and mix well.

Add sugar and jams and salt. Mix spices together and mix into the mixture in the crock.

Mix ingredients well with the hands and then cover the mixture with Sherry, Cognac, etc. — enough to a make a rather loose mixture.

Cover tightly and let rest for 2 weeks.

Uncover and taste and add more spirits if necessary. Let rest for another 2 weeks before using.

At this point, if you wish to store the mincemeat in smaller containers, transfer it to sterilized jars or crocks, add more liquor, and seal or cover them tightly.

The mincemeat will keep more or less indefinitely in a cool place or in the refrigerator.

When using for pies, Add 1 to 1 1/2 cups chopped fresh tart apple to each 2 1/2 to 3 cups mincemeat. Bake at 450°F for 10 minutes; reduce heat to 350°F and continue baking until crust is well browned.



a delicious dinner for the penitent: kale, butternut squash and black olive stew

Monday, November 26th, 2012

This stew answers everything about this week:  half the ingredients are probably still in your pantry – kale, butternut squash, and beans – but garlic, kalamata olives, and a healthy grating of fresh Romano cheese rescue these root cellar staples from being leftover leftovers, sailing it all to the Mediterranean.



Asian flavors usually cure me of the holiday line-up of cream and sugar-festooned cuisine, but I’m not ready to travel that far yet.  After New Years’s I’ll want Thai Soups and Vietnamese Noodles, lemon grass, sesame oil, and ginger.  But it’s still just November, and I haven’t had enough mince pie or sugar cookies.  I still want to nibble on those after a dinner with candles sparkling in the silver, making lacy shadows of a white pine centerpiece.

But in this rare week-after-Thanksgiving-not-yet December I want the cliched “clean, healthy food” that doesn’t need much attention.  This stew tastes fresh, and is packed with nutrition without straying culturally too far away.  The combination of fresh sage and black olives is a “who knew?!” surprise.  For the beans, I used the wonderful, locally grown and dried Baer’s “Marfax” Beans.  If you can find any Baer’s Beans, use them.  If you EVER wondered if dried beans could vary in quality, here’s your answer; Baer Beans are so delicious they are almost a special-occasion food.  Still, this stew is very good with a canned cannelini or even a canned navy bean.

If over-doing on everything last week has you truly penitent, I’ll underline the fact that this stew is also vegetarian, even vegan if you substitute Nutritional Yeast for the cheese.


Kale, Butternut Squash and Black Olive Stew


serves 6




1/4 cup olive oil

3 onions, chopped

6 garlic cloves, minced

1 medium butternut squash, peeled and chopped into 1/2 inch pieces

3 red bell peppers, seeded and cut into 1/2 inch pieces

1 1/2 cups vegetable broth.

1 1/2 large bunch of kale, about 6 cups washed, trimmed of the center stem, and cut into 2 inch strips

1 tablespoon dried sage or 1/4 cup chopped fresh sage

3 cups cooked beans (rinse well if using canned.)

1 cup Kalamata olives, pitted and halved

freshly grated Romano cheese



Heat oil in a heavy Dutch oven over medium high heat.  Add onions and cook until they begin to soften.  Add garlic, and cook until that softens, also, about 7 minutes.  Add the chopped squash, and cook for five minutes.  Add the red pepper, and toss it in the vegetables mixture.  Add broth.  Cover and cook until the squash is tender.

Add the kale and sage to the stew, and cook until kale is tender, about 10 minutes.  Add the beans, and olives, and heat through.  Season with salt and pepper.  Serve hot with freshly grated cheese on top.

the history of mincemeat and a poem

Wednesday, November 21st, 2012


The Day Before Thanksgiving is the real holiday, the day you’ve been smart enough to get off from work.  Hopefully you did all the shopping yesterday, so you get to go for a really long run, and not shower until you feel like it, and then spend the day in the kitchen, your shirt covered in flour, listening to great radio.  Relatives call to check in on what everyone’s bringing; the ones who can’t make it call to compare menus, and say how much they wish they could be there.  The pressure isn’t on yet.  There’s still all day to get it done.  Dinner tonight is salad and bread.


That’s where I am right now, about to finish the lobster and corn chowder with which we’ll begin Thanksgiving dinner.   I’m throwing a little Folly Cove seawater in there, too.

I have this glorious crate of Appleton Farm vegetables, a “yahoo!” gift from my Nicie Panetta, which I will address with knives and peelers this afternoon, some of which is too beautiful not to end up as centerpiece.


Then, with some teenage help, we’ll begin to make pies with the mincemeat my mother had made last December.   We’re not only a fruitcake family; we’re a mincemeat family.  (And for my friend, Irena, we’re a wassail family, too!)

Here’s the short history of mincemeat from the blog What’s cooking in America :  mincemeat originated in 11th century Europe as a means of preserving meat, and was in fact mostly meat and the newly discovered spices the Crusaders had just scored in The Holy Land.  Apparently, cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg, symbols of the wisemen’s gifts, were required mincemeat ingredients.

Lest you think hating mincemeat is modern, Oliver Cromwell banned it – and all things Christmas – as tokens of paganism in 1657.  New England Puritans weren’t to be caught eating desecrated pies, and fined anyone for eating mincemeat from 1659 – 1681.

In 1861 a man named James Swan documented serving a bunch of traders on the Makeh Indian reservation in the Washington Territory a mincemeat made with whale meat.

Would the traditional mince pie, he worried, be welcomed if the diners learned it was made from whale? Yankee mincemeat was made from domestic animals or venison. His fears were soon dispelled. The small portions he had cautiously served were quickly downed and second helpings demanded by all.

Another surprise mincemeat success.  I promise to share my mother’s mincemeat recipe when I find it, but right now I have too much to do.  Not only that, you probably don’t have the time to make it for Thanksgiving Day anyway, but I’ll have it up in time for that Christmas pie; I promise, no whale meat.

Here is a poem to read, not exactly a Thanksgiving poem, but it speaks of hunger and love, both of which we’re all about to celebrate.


At a Window
By Carl Sandburg

Give me hunger,
O you gods that sit and give
The world its orders.
Give me hunger, pain and want,
Shut me out with shame and failure
From your doors of gold and fame,
Give me your shabbiest, weariest hunger!

But leave me a little love,
A voice to speak to me in the day end,
A hand to touch me in the dark room
Breaking the long loneliness.
In the dusk of day-shapes
Blurring the sunset,
One little wandering, western star
Thrust out from the changing shores of shadow.
Let me go to the window,
Watch there the day-shapes of dusk
And wait and know the coming
Of a little love.




Cornmeal Crusted Buttermilk Pie

Sunday, November 18th, 2012



In a week anticipating squash, apple and pecan, this pie is still the only thing I want.  I’ve made it twice.  From the very beautiful blog Local Milk, this buttermilk pie leaves others behind, mostly because of this super-crusty cornmeal-nubbed crust, ready to dosey-do with the lemony and nutmeg custard filling.


I’ve tasted buttermilk pie before, but it’s usually a thin, mushy cardboard crust that has no relationship whatsoever with the filling, which is usually bland.  This crust to filling dynamic is like Tracy and Hepburn: rustic, homey, authentic dancing with sublime, elegant.  Forget the dosey-do, this combination is ready to tango.



Light as lemon and buttermilk, this pie is a beautiful antidote to all that molasses, maple, and cinnamon on Thanksgiving day; the cornmeal and nutmeg keep it relevant.

Buttermilk Pie with Cornmeal Crust



2 eggs separated, room temp

6 Tbsp unsalted butter, room temp

1 cup  sugar

3 Tbsp flour

1 Tbsp lemon juice

1/4 tsp nutmeg

1/4 tsp salt

1 cup buttermilk, room temp

powdered sugar (optional, for dusting)

*would also be good with fresh whipped cream


Roll out your crust and put it in your pie pan. Cover in plastic and chill in the fridge while you make your filling.

Heat oven to 350° F.

Beat egg whites until soft peaks form and set aside. With whip attachment cream butter and sugar in a stand mixer. Add yolks to butter-sugar mixture and combine well. Add the flour, lemon juice, nutmeg, and salt to the mixture. Slowly steam in buttermilk and mix for 1 minutes. Fold the whites into the buttermilk mixture.

Remove crust from fridge and pour in mixture. Smooth with spatula and bake for 45-50 minutes or until golden and set in the middle. Cool thoroughly on a rack before serving. Dust with powdered sugar if you like or top with fresh whipped cream.

cornmeal lard crust


from Sarah Malphrus, pastry chef of Husk Restaurant in Charleston, SC

yields one single crust pie


1 cup all-purpose flour

1/3 cup cornmeal

1/2 tsp salt

1/4 cup cold pork fat, cut into 1/2″ pieces (I use leaf lard)

1/4 (half a stick) butter, cut into 1/2″ pieces

1/4 cup ice cold water


Mix flour, cornmeal, and salt. Cut in fat and butter until no pieces larger than a pea remain. Slowly add the water, working it into the dough with your hands until it comes together. On plastic wrap form the dough into a disc 4″-5″ across  wrap, and chill for at least an hour. When ready to use roll out on a floured surface to fit a 9″ pie pan, flouring as needed to keep from sticking.


Seawater Chicken and Potatoes

Wednesday, November 14th, 2012


I recently learned with delight that many recipes for the 18th century Joe Frogger cookie called for seawater.



With an ingredient as charming as seawater, and a full cove of it at the bottom of my hill, I wasn’t going to stop at cookies.

I poached a chicken in seawater.  And then I took the treasured seawater chicken broth, cut it with some tap water, and cooked potatoes in it, into which I afterward stirred butter and whole milk for the most deliciously authentic Mashed Potatoes any New Englander has ever eaten.



The poached chicken bested any brined anything; it was all the tags a chicken should be, and the most of each:  moistest, plumpest, tenderest.  It had just the faintest hint of salt, and yes  – I swear – a low, moody, background flavor of minerals, like the smell of wind in the pine trees on a cold November day on the Gloucester coast.



Some people cook lobsters and clams in seawater, but that is so comfortable –  as in the lobster never leaves home  – it doesn’t feel exciting to me, not like poaching a roaster in the Atlantic.  “Mermaid Chicken,” my daughter called it.

Of course, looking for both reasons NOT to cook things in seawater and reasons TO cook things in seawater, I Googled it.  I found only short, obscure chats from people on boats asking other people on boats, “can I DO this?”

No one had a reason not to, besides the obvious salty one.  I wanted  research that claimed cooking with seawater provides a spa’s worth of important  minerals not available any other way.

If only for the romance of it, poaching a chicken – or try your own recipes – salmon?  pasta?  – is worth a try.  But, my chicken honestly tasted so delicious, I’m convinced there will someday be research – probably out of the restaurant Noma in Copenhagen – declaring seawater-poached foods restorative and curative, the next spa cuisine.

Our Thanksgiving Day mashed potatoes will be boiled in Folly Cove seawater.




Seawater Chicken

serves 4-6



enough seawater to fill a large stockpot

1 5-6 pound chicken

3 small to medium onions, halved

5 bay leaves



Choose seawater from a relatively deep, quick-moving body of water, not shallow water at low-tide.

Pour collected seawater through cheesecloth for an extra cleanse.

Rinse off the chicken and remove the inner giblets, et al.  Place the chicken in a stockpot.  Place onions and bay leaves around chicken.  Pour seawater over to cover.

Bring to a simmer, and cook covered for approximately 45 minutes, depending on the size of your chicken.  If the thigh is loose when wiggled, the chicken is probably done.

Remove from heat, and take chicken out of the seawater onto a board or into a large bowl to cool until ready to serve.

The chicken can be carved into pieces as it is, and served with cranberry sauce, or Italian parsley sauce, or it can be cut into four large chunks:  down the breast bone and across the breast bone, leaving the skin on.  The pieces can then be placed under a broiler so the skin gets brown and crispy.  The seawater makes the skin delicious with broiling.

Save the broth.  It is particularly salty, but when cut 50:50, broth to tap-water it is a delicious way to cook vegetables.


Seawater Potatoes

serves 6



1 cup of the broth reserved from the chicken above

1 cup tap water

6 medium potatoes

1 bay leaf

2 tablespoons butter in pieces

1/2 – 1 cup whole milk


Peel the potatoes and cut them into quarters.  Put in a medium saucepan and cover with the broth and water.  Add the bay leaf, and simmer until the potatoes flake apart. Drain, and place the potatoes back into the pot.  Stir in the butter, whisking well to break up potatoes.  Keep stirring, and begin to add milk, a little at a time.  Use a whisk, and finish adding the milk until the potatoes are your preference for flavor and texture.



Cabbage with Mustard and Walnuts

Monday, November 12th, 2012



I’ve spent the last couple of week’s trying to clean up cabbage’s malodorous profile.  Cabbage is abundantly local and abundantly nutritious – a good source of thiamin, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus and potassium, and a very good source of dietary fiber, vitamin C, vitamin K, vitamin B6, folate and manganese.  Even organic versions of cabbage are relatively inexpensive.

According to Harold McGee in On Food and Cooking; the science and lore of the kitchen, the “cooked cabbage smell” is attributed to the plants’ two kinds of defensive chemicals:  flavor precursors, or glucosinolates, which contain both sulfur and nitrogen, and enzymes that act on the precursors to liberate reactive flavors.  When a cabbage, cauliflower, or Brussels sprout cell is damaged, the two stockpiles are mixed, and the enzymes start a chain of reactions that generate strong smelling, bitter, pungent, compounds, the kitchen smells of James Joyce interiors.  These precursor and enzyme amounts differ for members of the cabbage family, even at different seasons of the year.  Young, active leaves of Brussels sprouts are packed with glucosinolates; indeed, at 35, brussels sprouts have the highest level of relative sulfur pungency precursors in the cabbage family.  Green cabbage has 26.  Broccoli has 17.  Red cabbage has 10.  Cauliflower has 2.

In the case of Brussels sprouts, the precursors collect in the center of each sprout; by halving Brussels sprouts, and cooking them in salted water, the offending enzymes are released, making them milder, but probably not enough for small children to stop holding their noses; the greatest glucosinolate and enzyme battle lives in a Brussels sprout.

In the case of cabbage, aggressive and prolonged cell damage – as in boiling – gets those glucosinolates and enzymes busy.  A fresh pot of bubble and squeak, the classic English boiled cabbage and potato casserole, may remind people that the notorious World War I mustard gas was inspired by the cabbage family’s unique defenses.

Lucky for us, fall and winter cabbages are milder.  I was out to find a cabbage recipe in which the strands cooked gently, became sweet and silky, and welcomed other seasonings.  


At my CSA pickup recently, I learned about a recipe that was half pasta/half cabbage.  I went home and played with it successfully enough for the pasta-monger in my family to demand seconds:  I tossed long strips of lasagna noodles torn length-wise, with equal amounts of shredded savoy cabbage which had been cooked until silky with red onion, thyme and red pepper flakes.  Pine nuts on top for a little extra crunch made it all extra delicious.

My aunt, aware of my cabbage research, offered this recipe, which is the cabbage family winner right now:  shredded cabbage and carrots are cooked very quickly in the sharp, meaty taste of beef bouillion, and then dressed in mustard, butter and walnuts, a hefty shake of good paprika on top.  This is colorful and flavorful, a wonderful side dish for salmon, chicken, and – I’ll say it – an excellent local alternative to the Thanksgiving Day vegetable line-up.



Cabbage with Mustard and Walnuts

serves 6


1 beef bouillon cube

1/4 cup hot water

5 cups shredded cabbage

1 cup shredded carrots

1/2 cup chopped green onions

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

1/4 cup butter melted

3 tablespoons prepared mustard

1 cup chopped walnuts

1 tablespoon (or more to taste) good quality paprika


Dissolve bouillon cube in water.  Combine bouillon, cabbage, carrots, green onion, and salt and pepper in a heavy saucepan.  Toss lightly.  Cover and cook over low heat for five minutes stirring occasionally.

Melt butter in a small saucepan.  Stir in mustard and walnuts, and cook until nuts begin to get brown and toasted.

Pour over vegetables. Mix well. Sprinkle w paprika.  May be served hot or at room temperature.


Fish Shack Gingerbread made with seawater and rum

Thursday, November 8th, 2012



Thumbing the vintage Lanescove cookbooks my neighbor loaned me, I saw a recipe for Joe Froggers, which included the story about the 18th century African American guy named Joe who had lived beside The Frog Pond in Marblehead, and made cookies – “Joe Froggers.”  These molasses, rum and spice cookies – so large they were shaped like a bullfrog –  were supposedly so beloved by 18th century Marblehead, that, when Joe died, someone – maybe his daughter? – snatched up the recipe and kept baking.

I didn’t really care too much about that story, but I loved the name “Joe Frogger,” and so I pulled out the rum and preheated the oven.  Not knowing exactly what a Joe Frogger should be, after a few tries, I decided they’re not that easy to make; molasses and baking soda combined look like an elementary school science experiment, all foamy and explosive.  In a dough beneath a rolling pin, that combo begs the dreaded warning, “Dough will be sticky,” which means go straight to cussing.

I made all kinds of Joe Froggers:  high, cakey ones.  Flat, chewy ones.  wide, crisp ones.  I Googled and baked.  Then, I began to come upon recipes that called for a secret Joe Frogger ingredient:  “seawater, if you can get it.”



This was my cookie now.

I partnered my Joe Frogger research with Mary Lou Nye’s excellent baking skills.  Nye lives down the street from me in the village of Lanesville.  We decided to merge a classic gingerbread with Joe Froggers, aiming at an authentic Lanescove Recipe – “Cove-ers -”  including rum and the secret ingredient, Lanescove seawater, boiled.

We love the recipe we came up with; it’s heavier on spice and molasses than the usual gingerbread cookie, but a better dough for rolling and cutting into shapes than the Joe Froggers I kept trying.  And, of course, we love the secret ingredients.

Since the Fish Shack is being saved by a group of Lanesville volunteers (see the a previous post) what better shape for the Official Lanescove Gingerbread than a Fish Shack?



Mary Lou will be taking orders for Fish Shack cookies if you just can’t get enough of our classic building.  I promise, the cookies are as delicious as they are adorable.  Nye makes a gluten-free version, too.


She can probably adapt the recipe to various oceans and coves, too, should you prefer your seawater Plum or Brace’s Cove.  Mary Lou is also working on a shape for our cookie that would be more like a cracker.  We decided the spice in the bare cookie, without the royal icing, makes them a wonderful vehicle for a sharp cheddar cheese – an appetizer with real Lanesville terroir.

Still, should you have access to seawater, you can make your own Cove-er Gingerbread;  I live in Folly Cove; the seawater here works just fine.



Cove-er Gingerbread

makes about 25 cookies



1 stick butter

1 cup brown sugar

1 egg

1/2 cup molasses

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 cup rum

1/4 cup seawater, boiled

1 two inch knob fresh ginger

10 cardamon pods

30 coriander pods

2 cinnamon sticks

3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

3 teaspoons ginger

1 teaspoon nutmeg

2 teaspoons ground cloves

1 teaspoon ground black pepper

3 teaspoons cinnamon

a recipe Royal Icing


In a small saucepan put seawater, fresh ginger, cinnamon sticks, cardamon pods, and coriander pods.  Simmer gently for five minutes, and let steep.

In a large mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream together butter and sugar.  Beat in egg.

In a measuring cup, mix together molasses and baking soda.  Strain the seawater.  In a separate measuring cup, stir together seawater and rum.  In a large bowl, stir together the flour and spices.

Alternately add molasses, rum, and flour mixture to the creamed butter, adding half of each at a time, and beating well after each addition.

Chill dough for at least an hour.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Roll out dough approximately 1/3 of an inch and cut into shapes.  Place on parchment paper lined pans, and bake until firm.  Decorate with Royal Icing.


About Mary Lou Nye

Nye worked at Banbury Breads in Marblehead in the early 1980’s.  I asked her if that was where she learned about Joe Froggers, and she said, “oh, no!  I knew about Joe Froggers long before that.”  She’s a Frogger expert.

Nye cooked for the photographer Imogen Cunningham, who taught her how to make soup stock; Mary Lou still makes the pumpkin bread recipe that got her the job.

Nye’s interest in gardens and nature complements her interest in food.  She knows just where to pick the sumac berries and wild mustard (high in anti-oxidants) that bloom along Lanes Cove.

To place orders for cookies you can write Nye at or call her at 978-282-4745.

A favorite kitchen and a favorite bag

Saturday, November 3rd, 2012


“Somewhere between forty and fifty, I realized this is who I am:  I make things. I build furniture. I built my house.  Instead of buying it, I make it.  I even made my own eyeglasses once – I make things out of old things; that’s who I am.”

I visited Robert Hanlon of Walker Creek Furniture recently to interview him for a magazine piece.  Beginning with his beautiful handmade furniture, moving on to his lyrical, sometimes Chagall-like paintings on old boards, to his lush-rough leather bags, to his magical kitchen, I kept walking deeper and deeper into the rabbit warren of beauty that is Robert Hanlon’s imagination and ability.

In Robert’s painting studio, tucked up into the second floor of an 18th century shed just beside the store, and a few steps down a plank walk from his bedroom, a copse of easels held works in progress, parted by passels of paints and brushes.

Working almost solely on old boards, Robert arrived at painting just eight years ago – at fifty-two – after falling in love for years with the old paint on doors he was collecting for his handmade furniture business.

“I would look at a tabletop and see landscapes. – I was an ‘unpainter’,” he said, an irony that clearly amuses him.  “I scraped paint – I was a scraper of paint…It was a magic moment of putting paint on a surface for the first time.”



In his homemade house just behind the shop, a staircase to the second floor begins with a tree whose arching branch extends across the kitchen ceiling, an actual bee hive, looking appropriately sculptural, hangs from the branch.  The stairs to the second and third floors rise on the strength of bundled saplings. The treads are covered in leather, making a lovely, soft “whoosh” as you step.  The whole house is a tableau of restraint and abandon.  Whoopi Goldberg liked it so much Hanlon built a staircase for her.


As I readied to leave I wanted a painting.  I wanted a kitchen.  I couldn’t resist the bag.  Each Hanlon purse is unique; Robert follows the folds of the hide, allowing the skin to create the form.

I also left with a treasured Milk Paint lesson:  Milk Paint literally lasts forever.  It’s made with milk, wood ash (from people’s fireplaces and stoves) and most often lichen.

milk + wood ash = calcium + lime.

Calcium + lime is the same components as cement, thus milk paint is basically like painting with cement.

That beautiful pale green associated with milk paint is from lichen, which is an impermeable natural dye.  Early Americans also made red paint with rusty nails.



Robert and his wife Patty, an artist who works in mixed media, are having their first joint exhibit this month, entitled “Two Studios and A Marriage,” with an opening reception at Walker Creek Furniture November 24th from 3-7.