Friday, June 1, 2012

The Best Food in Fairhope

In That Was Tomorrow, my novel set in Fairhope, Alabama, in 1921, Idella Cross, who ran one of the inns, was one of the town's best cooks. The young teacher Amelia, is treated to a groaning board at every meal. Idella is a fictional character, but her food inspired this writing:

Mrs. Cross was pouring tea and the colored girl was clearing the table. She had brought in a deep-dish peach cobbler, which Amelia could sense was still warm because of the fragrance it spread throughout the room. Amelia wasn’t accustomed to the big meals Mrs. Cross served, and she watched her dispense the large wedges of cobbler with some apprehension.
            “I think I’ll just have coffee, Mrs. Cross,” she said.
            “Oh? You’ll love the cobbler— but then maybe you’d like it for breakfast.”
            “That would be wonderful, I’m sure.”
            Mr. Taylor accepted both pie and coffee, yet there was still enough left over to think about having a small slice with coffee in the morning.

If you'd like to create an irresistible peach cobbler in the old-fashioned way that Mrs. Cross did, this is a recipe you might try.

You'll have to make a pastry crust. Really. You. Not a packaged crust or a tube of pre-made biscuits. Pie crust is the easiest thing you'll ever do, and you can even use a food processor for it even though Idella didn't have one. Here is the basic technique: 

1 1/2 Cups All-Purpose Flour (If you're in the South, use Martha White or White Lily. One substitute is to use half cake flour and half all-purpose. No one will complain if you use basic all-purpose flour, but the most melting, tender crusts are made with special flour.

4 Tablespoons Shortening (Mrs. Cross would have used lard, but you may use butter or even Crisco.)

1/2 teaspoon salt

3 Tablespoons ice water 

Whisk or sift the flour with salt. Chop in shortening with a pastry blender, a fork, or pulse in the food processor until the mixture looks like small peas. Sprinkle with ice water and blend again until mixture easily forms a ball. You may have to use more water, but don't drown the dough. You want a nice firm disc. Chill this for at least an hour.

Peel and slice about ten peaches (three cups sliced). Put 1 Cup of sugar into a saucepan with 1/4 Cup of water, bring to a boil, lower the hear and simmer for a few minutes before adding the peaches. Cook the peaches in the syrup for about ten minutes. Add 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon, if desired.

Roll the dough and line a deep pie pan or a casserole with it. Add half the peaches and layer strips of dough over it. Add the rest of the peaches and top with a lattice of crust. Dot the top with butter and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar. Bake at 375 degrees for 45 minutes or until bubbly and golden on top. 

Your family and guests will never forget it.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Nourishing My Brain

From time to time on this blog, in between the many posts of recipes for calorie-laden treats, I write of the latest diet I'm on. The older I get the less effective any of them is, but I continue to think I can restore my youth if I can just change the way I eat for a couple of months.

The latest one I fell for was Dr. Amen's diet for brain health. I saw it on PBS, in fact I've seen him many times on PBS since there are three PBS options in this area, all of them using his lectures to raise funds. He seems so lithe, so reasonable, and everything he says makes sense, so he must indeed have a healthy brain himself. What he proposes is a version of the CRON diet, which I've read about and written about, but is so strict that I just don't seem to be able to do it. I certainly cannot claim that I've adhered to it strictly enough that I've lost any weight. I console myself with the notion that I just may be replacing fat cells with muscle, but I have no real evidence of that.

Last month I saw Dr. Amen talking about his sister-in-law who was on an extremely unhealthy diet and was feeling so listless and depressed that she went to her doctor. He prescribed that she change the way she ate--have NO sugar, NO bread, NO pasta, NO alcohol, and NO coffee. She responded, "Well, those are the only things I do eat!" but she followed instructions. Of course, within a month she had lost something like ten pounds and felt better than she ever had in her life. She has stayed with it and continues to lose weight and be happy. Dr. Amen stresses that this is not a weight-loss regimen, but a way to improve the function of the brain.

I decided that for the month of May I'd try it. And if it worked even a little, if I felt my brain was working better, and/or I was losing a little flab here and there, I'd continue for at least another month.

It hasn't been easy. I am not able to be very strict with myself, but I limit coffee to two cups a week at this point, spacing them from Wednesday to Saturday. Bread was probably the hardest thing to forgo, particularly living in a town full of Italian bakeries. I decided an occasional half of a whole wheat pita would be okay. I haven't been able to go completely sugar-free either, but I cut out the health-food-store cookies which I was eating daily. For other things I switched to agave nectar, which is as high in calories as sugar, but slower to metabolize.

I've been white-knuckling it to some degree. I keep seeing the end of the month in sight. I don't see any difference on the scale, but I'm sticking with this as best I can. And I feel a little smarter, more alert, more focused and very proud of myself. I'll let you know if I make it through June as well.