*8 FOODS TO GIVE YOURSELF OR YOUR NEW ENGLAND LOVER

You might have noticed a few ads or point of purchase marketing reminding you Valentine’s Day is near. Skimming over early history of St. Valentine, how Valentine’s Day is celebrated has changed. Let’s face it February 14 is filled with so much anxiety, you need need Tums to get through it, regardless if you’re in a relationship or not.

Valentine’s Day does not need to be like that. One friend asked me to write a post “for the rest of us.” Traditionally February 14 celebrates romantic love; let’s modernize it and take time to celebrate our friendships and self love.

I have two groups of friends and family: Those that live in Los Angeles and Those that don’t. While I have friends that come from such places as Oklahoma or Michigan, most of my Los Angeles friends are from the Northeast. We’re like magnets and simply attract one another.

This past Christmas, one New England transplant friend gave me a gift bag of all foods New England. While I’d like to stare at the New Englandness of it, I know eating and sharing the thoughtfully selected food will bring back great memories, both for me and others.

Since we live in a world of countdown lists, here are some of my top New England food picks for celebrating love on February 14.

8. Dunkin’ Donuts

Up until the recent opening of Dunkin’ Donuts in Santa Monica, coffee-loving-donut-craving transplants living in Los Angeles had methods to bring back their DnD contraband.  We insisted the DnD coffee sold in local L.A stores didn’t taste the same as what was sold in New England shops, so we encouraged loving family members to ship coffee. But now, we can go to DnD on Wilshire Blvd, to get our fix.  (It may be necessary to gather loved-ones and make a trip next weekend to get a Boston Kreme Donut.)
dunkin-donuts

7Bell’s Seasoning

It’s available year-round in New England, but during the holidays it’s as common as Salvation Army Santas. I celebrated my first Los Angeles Thanksgiving with other displaced New Englanders. During menu planning we quickly learned Los Angeles doesn’t believe in Bell’s Seasoning. One friend called home, had his mother ship a box and provide the family stuffing recipe. (This happened to be the same family recipe as my family and others’ seated at the table. It seemed everyone’s grandma went to Boston Cooking School and riped-off  the stuffing recipe.)

Bells Seasoning
6. Mrs. Fanning’s Pickles

For many, mayonnaise is a natural complement to the sandwich, but for me it’s the pickle. And, when we’re talking pickles, I prefer Mrs. Fanning’s bread ‘n’ butter pickles. They are made from the larger pickling cucumber and have a thickness that holds up to the heartiest of sandwiches. Sandwich and pickles is a great summer weekend lunch, but if we’re going to go a step further in being purely New England, I like enjoying them while taking in a little Red Sox baseball. (Spring training is around the corner, and if I can’t wait I can always rewind my VHS of the 2004 MLB playoffs and World Series.)

mrs-fannings-bread-n-34941

5. Friendly’s Hot Fudge

To give you some context, Friendly’s is a restaurant. It is really an ice cream parlor meets diner. Ice cream creations are the focus. The meals themselves are good, but you really remember the different ways of presenting and consuming sundaes. The best part about the sundae is the hot fudge. Even though Friendly’s themselves are dying across New England, it seems you can still find hot fudge in many local grocery stores… Thick and gooey. Just the right amount of sweet and bitter to contrast the sweet of ice cream. The hot fudge has a consistency more akin to fudge than to the syrup you can squeeze out of a Hershey’s bottle. (Nothing against Hershey’s, it’s just not the same.)

friendlys-sign-240em100511

4. Drake’s Cakes

The rhyme scheme of the company name is just one thing that makes me happy about this company.  They have an impressive roster of cakes with various fillings and frostings. Among New Englanders, there is debate about which is the best confection. Since this is MY countdown list, rounding out My top favorites are The Yoddle with a ganache type exterior and creme filling, the traditional chocolate Drake Cake with the whipped center. When I get these, they are a “open in case of emergency” item that I keep on the top shelf in my kitchen. Emergency can qualify as- I need dessert, I’m too tired to make dinner, I need to stay up late and write a blog post…

Drakes Cakes

3. Fluff

Let’s get this straight. Liquid marshmallow is not the same as Marshmallow Fluff. When I visit Connecticut I buy a vat to bring back to Los Angeles. I am parsimonious with my Fluff, so the vat usually is enough for my baking and hot cocoa needs until I can go back to CT (or my family ships more).

Like Duct Tape, Fluff is good for everything and can fix almost anything, including a broken heart. It’s also great when you’re happy. I share my Fluff with New England friends (since they’re the only ones that truly understand) and if I deem a new person worthy enough, they may get a spoonful too.

Fluff

There are a number of recipes that you can make with Fluff: classic Rice Krispy treat, variations of fudge or a new favorite, from Shaken Together Life, a Fluffernutter with peanut butter cookies. Thanks Keri!

http://www.shakentogetherlife.com/2011/07/taste-this-tuesday-fluffernutter.html

fluffernutter sandwich cookie

2. Prince Pasta

If you grew up in New England, you grew up watching commercials of Anthony scampering through the North End after his mom yelled for him to come home for dinner. (It was Wednesday, and Wednesday is Prince Spaghetti night.)

Apropos of no occasion the same sweet friend that gave me New England food for Christmas dug into her ration and gave me a box of Prince Pasta that her family brought during a visit. (Not only is this purely New England, you and I both know that pasta does not travel well so the generosity felt extra special.)

And the best New England food/brand for Valentine’s Day–

1. Necco Candies

NECCO stands for New England Confectionary Company. It’s the oldest candy company in the U.S and it is responsible for the Sweet Hearts embossed with those cutesy sayings for Valentine’s Day. Some say the candies are filling breakers, but I actually like them, as long as you’re not making me eat the purple.

Sweethearts

These sweets are also gluten-free AND Kosher. No IBS for your Celiac or wheat-sensitive loved one. Mazel tov!

*I am not getting a kickback from this, but I want to point out if you’re living away from the brands you grew up cherishing or want to lavish someone with home foods, FAMOUS FOODS is a great resource to purchase regional brands.

*CHURCH CAMP CHOCOLATE CAKE

My first boyfriend was two years younger than me. He was a Preacher’s Kid (PK) and we met at work the summer between high school and college— He was my camp boyfriend.

 

I had just turned Red down for prom, graduated high school, and ran away to work at a sleep-away church camp for the summer. The year I met PK, I was on second-year staff, working as one of two bakers. He was first-year staff, also known as Camp Family. Family is generalized help that lives “down the hill,” away from the main camp campus. This means that whenever Family helped other divisions of staff, we were their supervisors.

This particular summer, my co-baker spent the better part of the camp season sick, so most of the time, I was baking alone… At the age of 19, doing the work of two to ensure all 300+ campers and staff would have their freshly baked cookies, cakes, and treats.3-7-14 Chocolate Chip Cookies

Working on Family is like being in an apprentice program; you to learn a new skill so you can graduate to work on Up The Hill staff the following year.  Working on Family also means, you’re a bit like a super hero and go wherever help is needed.

3-7-14 Super heroes

One afternoon, early in the camp season, my co-baker got sick; PK was assigned to help me. Before I could trust him to measure 20 pounds of flour for dessert, he had to face a test. While he scrubbed my pots, I got to know him, (in the clothes-on mundane-type question “where are you from” sense). I got to know him better in the dry goods closet (in the clothes-on kissing sense).

The whole thing was surprising. I had to climb a stepladder to get supplies from the top shelf and I brought him in so he could take the supplies from me.  He took a kiss instead. He tasted sweet like the fruit punch he had been drinking. Catching my balance, I took a step down.  We were eye-to-eye, “kissable height.”

(One friend defined this as, “the optimum height difference between two people to have a comfortable kiss… No one has to stoop over too much or strain their neck to give/receive a kiss.”)

Being short, I was never “kissable height,” and therefore doomed to feel inadequate. In this brief moment of being “kissable height” I felt attractive. Generosity outweighing shyness, I returned PK’s  kiss.  Despite being two years younger than me, it was clear he had more experience. When I saw him at dinner that night it was awkward. I felt like I had done something wrong; I was his supervisor after all. Besides, having your first real kiss outside the confines of Truth or Dare in the dry goods closet at church camp is a real mind-fuck.

3-7-14 Dry Goods Closet

Later that week, when the evening was winding down, (and Family was almost done with their responsibilities) I went to visit him in the Dining Hall. I had that giddy feeling in the pit of my stomach with nervous anticipation/hope/fear that he might kiss me again. I knew I could expect a hug. This was church camp and staff liked hugging in the name of spreading Christ’s love. He was a foot taller than me, so I lead him to the hearth and stepped up so we could see eye-to-eye for a hug. We were spreading Christ’s love (hugging), when the minister for the week (his mom) walked in. PK stepped away so quickly he nearly tripped over his feet. Her only reaction was laughter and she kept walking through, but PK had already run away. When he resurfaced, I walked him to the top of the hill so he could start his 1/2 mile walk to the Family Cabin. In the shadows, he kissed me again. (Yay!)

I liked this kissing thing. The Bakery was not near the Dining Hall, and I often asked him to help me to retrieve the evening snack from the Bakery and carry it back after dinner. Family dubbed it “nookie and cookie.” There was no nookie, just kissing.  Any suggestion beyond that scared the focaccia right out of me. After all, I was supremely in-experienced and still had fears of any form of romantic intimacy.

We were a couple for the summer; when camp closed in August, it was over. But, before the break up, there was his July birthday. In addition to baking cookies, breads and treats, I made individualized birthday cakes for people celebrating their summer birthday at camp. This meant, using a box mix and decorating the cake to fit to the individual, but PK was my camp boyfriend. I needed to pull out the stops. I called my mom for the family chocolate cake recipe (which is really Fanny Farmer’s Buttermilk Chocolate Cake recipe, from her beloved cookbook).

RECIPE

3-7-14 Ingredients

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 2/3 cups flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ½ cup unsweetened cocoa
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 2 tsp vanilla

FAMILY DIFFERENCES:

1. My family leaves out the salt and vanilla.

2. If you don’t have buttermilk, use sour milk or add 1 teaspoon vinegar to regular milk to make it sour.

STEP-BY STEP DIRECTIONS
Set oven rack to the bottom rack.

PREHEAT oven to 350° F.

MIXING
In a large bowl, sift together: Flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, and salt

3-7-14 Sifting

When it’s well-blended add: Vegetable oil, milk, and vanilla

3-7-14 Sifting Stage 2

(NOTE: I like adding vegetable oil first and then using the same measuring cup for the milk to ensure I can get as much oil in the cake, plus it makes for an easier clean-up.)

Beat mixture until smooth.

3-7-14 Mix Well

THE REST
Butter and flour a 9-inch round cake pan, ensuring that all sides are well-covered.

Alternatively, you can cut a piece of parchment paper to the size of your pan. Place on the bottom and grease the sides.

Spread batter in pan and bake in oven for 35-45 minutes, or until toothpick comes out clean.

Put on cooling rack away from oven and let cool 5 minutes before removing from pan.

3-7-14 Parchement Paper Help

REMOVING FROM PAN
Tap cake pan on edges of counter, going around in a circle/square. Put serving dish on top of pan. Hold pan to dish firmly and flip cake onto dish. Set on counter and lift pan straight up off of dish.

In Laurie Colwin’s book, More Home Cooking: AWriter Returns to the Kitchen, she writes of Fanny Farmer’s Chocolate Buttermilk Cake, “It is hard to encapsulate the virtues of this cake. It is fast, easy, and scrumptious. It has a velvety, powdery feel – the result of all that cocoa. It is not so horribly bad for you, because you use buttermilk, which is relatively low in fat, and cocoa powder is defatted anyway. Furthermore, it keeps like a dream and tastes even better after a few days.”

FROSTING
Wait until the cake is completely cool before frosting, otherwise you’ll have a giant mess. Frost with your favorite flavor. I prefer a classic homemade buttercream frosting & find that it complements the cake nicely. 

BUTTERCREAM FROSTING

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 cup butter or margarine (softened)
  • 3 cups confectioner’s sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons milk.

In a large bowl, cream together the butter, shortening, and vanilla. Blend in the sugar, one cup at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the milk, and continue mixing until light and fluffy. Keep icing covered until ready to decorate the cake.

In all likelihood, you will have extra frosting, but I’ve always found it’s better to have ample frosting rather than stretching frosting too much. You can also dye the extra to create additional decorations.

3-7-14 Decorate

FOOD FOR THOUGHT
PK shook up my isolated world. If he hadn’t been bold enough to kiss me, it could have been years before my first real unforced lip-lock.  I wasn’t nearly as terrified about kissing as I was when I was 14, but kissing and dating were still not in my wheelhouse. I stumbled through a lot of common dating practices (like you don’t need to sit next to each other at every meal and spend all of your free time together). Most people don’t get it right the first time and it was clear I had a lot to learn.