Monday, August 27, 2012

Labor Day Past and Present

We all celebrate the day – always on the first Monday in September -  in some form or another, but do we really know its origins? Its history?

Working conditions in the mid to late 1800s were deplorable – and dangerous. Multitudes worked 12-hour days, 7 days a week. Children as young as 5 or 6 worked in mills and factories in very unsafe working conditions. People just did whatever they had to do to make even a minimal living for their families, and many died doing so.

On September 5, 1882 there was a huge march in New York City in which thousands of workers took unpaid time off to march for labor reforms. This was technically the first Labor Day parade. The idea of a “workingmen’s holiday” took hold and grew to other areas of the country, and over several years many states passed legislation to recognize the day.

Congress legalized Labor Day 12 years later on May 11, 1894, after a brief period of strikes and labor unrest in the railroad industry. The identity of the actual founder of Labor Day is unclear.

Across the United States, Labor Day is celebrated with parades, speeches, fireworks, barbecues and celebrations in groups both large and small. To many, the day also symbolizes the end of summer and the beginning of fall.

As we all plan our activities for Labor Day, we should give thanks for all those laborers before us who paved the way for fair working conditions.

Our family will be having a picnic here, and I’m just beginning to think about what food to prepare. That’s always a bit difficult since there are people who like different foods and others who have certain dietary requirements. Pleasing everyone all the time would mean cooking a huge amount of food!

I do plan to make potato salad, though – the kind my mother always made. The kind my kids and husband love. There isn’t a specific written recipe but I’ll try to write it as concisely as possible. I usually make enough to fill a 5-quart ice cream tub!


Boil some peeled, cubed potatoes until fork-tender (Mom always boiled them with the skins on, then peeled them after they cooled). Drain and cool. Place in a large bowl.

Boil 3 or 4 eggs, then cool and peel. Separate the whites and yolks. Chop the whites and place in the bowl with the potatoes. Place the yolks in a small bowl and mash with a fork.

Chop onion, celery, green bell peppers and dill pickles. Shred carrots. Place in the bowl with potatoes.

For dressing, in the bowl with egg yolks, stir mayonnaise, yellow mustard and a little dill pickle juice. Add salt and pepper to taste. I usually stir in a little chopped parsley and celery seed. Pour over the potatoes and vegetables and mix well.

I know this isn't so much a recipe as a method, but it's pretty easy to follow. And the creamy, "mustardy" flavor, along with the crunch of the vegetables, is hard to beat!

I hope you all have a wonderful holiday and a great week to follow! As always, your comments and suggestions are welcome. Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Amish Friendship Bread

This recent bit of cooler weather, as well as the fact that school is in session again, has brought on thoughts of fall baking, and especially quick breads for some reason. While looking through my many bread recipes, I came across this old familiar recipe. I know we all love it, but it brings its share of frustrations as well!
Amish Friendship Bread starts with a fermented blend of yeast, flour, sugar and milk, then is made into delicious loaves of bread in various flavors. The part that drives many of us crazy is sharing baggies of the starter with friends, family, coworkers - until no one will take them. I've even heard of bags of starter being left on neighbors' front porches! I guess it was a case of ringing the doorbell and running away!
I'm not sure of the origins of this recipe, but it's been around for quite some time. After doing some research, it may or may not have any links to the Amish; however, there is a German recipe for Herman Cake, which begins with a similar starter and could possibly be related. Also, the Amish do make sourdough bread.
This recipe does have milk in it, and some might feel squeamish about keeping milk at room temperature for so long. I've never had negative results, but have read that water can be substituted. I have no idea how that would work, but think it might not have the “body” that milk would give the finished bread.
1 packet active dry yeast
¼ cup warm water (110º)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1 cup milk
Dissolve yeast in warm water. Stir in remaining ingredients. The easiest way to do this is to use a 1-gallon zip-close freezer bag. DO NOT use any type of metal spoon or mixing bowl. DO NOT refrigerate. If air gets in the bag during the fermentation time, let it out and reclose. It is normal for the batter to rise, bubble and ferment. It would be a good idea to write the date on the bag.
If you won't have time to bake the bread when you reach Day 10, the starter can be refrigerated or even frozen - it will keep for quite a long time.
However, if it should turn pink it has spoiled and should be thrown away.
This is Day 1.
Day 2: Squeeze the bag
Day 3: Squeeze the bag
Day 4: Squeeze the bag
Day 5: Squeeze the bag
Day 6: Add to the bag 1 cup of flour, 1 cup of sugar and 1 cup of milk. Squeeze the bag.
Day 7: Squeeze the bag
Day 8: Squeeze the bag
Day 9: Squeeze the bag
Day 10: Follow instructions below for delicious bread!
1. Pour the entire contents of bag into a non-metal bowl.
2. Add 1 ½ cups flour, 1 ½ cups sugar and 1 1/3 cups milk and stir with non-metal spoon.
3. Measure out four separate batches of starter, placing 1 cup each into 4 1-gallon freezer bags. Mark with the date. Keep one starter for yourself. Give the others away with a copy of the recipe (and maybe some of the finished bread!).
4. Heat the oven to 325º.
5. To the remaining batter in the bowl, add:
3 eggs
1 cup oil (or 1/2 cup oil and 1/2 cup applesauce)
1/2 cup milk
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 large box vanilla instant pudding mix (be sure to use instant)
6. In small bowl combine 1/2 cup sugar and 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon. Grease 2 large (or 6 small) loaf pans and sprinkle with half the mixture.
7. Pour the batter into the pans, level and sprinkle with remaining mixture.
8. Bake approximately 1 hour. Cool in pans until bread loosens, approximately 10 minutes. Serve warm or cold.
There are many flavor variations online, starting with the flavor of pudding you use. Try chocolate, butterscotch, lemon, even pistachio. And you can stir in whatever you like – chopped nuts, chocolate chips, dried fruit, mashed bananas. Or replace the cinnamon with another spice. Bring out your creativity!
I hope you'll give this a try. I haven't done it in several years, but just might have to do it myself!
Enjoy these lovely, cooler days! As always, your suggestions and comments are welcome. Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Surviving Emergencies

We all should be prepared for any emergency/disaster, but actually planning and gathering supplies often gets put on the back burner behind all the other things in our daily lives. However, it shouldn’t be such a daunting proposition with a little planning and organization. Make a list of what you and your family would need if you were to be without utilities at home or have to evacuate your home, then start putting your kits together. Maybe purchasing some items each week would help to spread costs a bit.

Make an emergency kit for home and for your car – you never know when or where you’d need one! And be sure to check expiration dates periodically and replace any items that have expired.

Here are some things you might need, but be sure to personalize it to your specific needs:

First, think of organization and storage systems. Plastic totes would hold most things, with smaller containers inside for special items. Plastic milk crates would hold gallons of water.

1 gallon water per person per day – plan on at least a 3-day supply

3-day supply of non-perishable food, hand-crank can opener

paper goods (plates, cups, plasticware, paper towels, toilet tissue, moist towelettes, trash bags, etc.)

heavy-duty flashlight, extra batteries

NOAA weather radio and a hand-crank or battery-operated portable radio, with extra batteries for each

first aid kit

whistle to signal for help

cash, change, money card

matches in waterproof container

medications (prescription/over-the-counter)

blankets, sleeping bags, warm clothing

things to help pass the time – books, games, cards, paper, pencils, etc.

fully-charged cell phone with charger (some hand-crank radios have USB ports for charging)

infant formula, diapers, etc.

pet food, extra water, leashes, medication, etc.

feminine hygiene products

personal hygiene products

Very Important: personal and family documents (IDs, passports, deed to home, birth certificates, bank account information, insurance information and policies, medical information & doctors' phone numbers, list of medications & pharmacy numbers, emergency contact numbers, and anything you might need for insurance or proof of identity). Put this in a waterproof, easily-transportable container.

We should all plan ahead and prepare for any disaster that might strike. Have a good week, and take care. As always, your comments and suggestions are welcome. Thanks for reading.