A brief history told in food

Today the topic should have been prunes. I was going to wax poetic about inulin and be cranky about marketers subverting our minds by renaming food products with kinder gentler names (prunes became dried plums) to make us buy their products. There would have been an off color joke or two as well, I’m sure.

Instead, I found myself holding a very special book. I have made it no secret that I own way too many cookbooks, but time and time again, I go reaching for one book. This book. Battered and worn, it started life a blank waiting to be filled. Not a conventional cookbook. This book is magic. It holds a history of food we have made and loved. This book is about me as much as it is about recipes. The truth is, the book is three volumes. The volume we’ll talk about today was written between 1990 to 1995. Book two of the set was written in 1995 to 2004. The third book was never completed because of a little thing called a blog. (So in a way, Delectable Tidbits is volume four).

Some people have recipe cards. Some people keep clippings in a scrapbook. I hand wrote recipes into a composition book. It is now tattered and worn from years of use. Spattered from the days before I owned a cookbook stand with a protective shield. It’s hard to believe twenty years have gone by since I first set a pen to its pages.

In case you can’t read the label on the previous picture, here it is up close. My sense of humor hasn’t changed much, has it?

I wrote the recipes by hand. Making illustrations in the corner of each page. Notes were scribbled at the bottom of the pages as I became a more inventive cook and customized the recipes to my taste. The recipes were taken from magazines or cookbooks, borrowed from friends or the library. My only regret is not writing down the source of the recipes. Now I don’t know where they came from!

The book did not originally come with an index. I had an “index” in my brain that was a combination of remembering when in time I made the recipe and a drawing in the corner of each page that would remind me of what the recipe was as I flipped through the pages. My boyfriend, a more left brained creature than I am, could not understand my inefficient efficiency and insisted on creating an index on the computer for me. I still laugh whenever I see that “beans’ was the first section of my cookbook. I love him so much even though his brain works so differently than mine.

Let’s look at some highlights of the pictograms from the corners of the book:

Page 34 is Cranberry-Prune squares. The picture is a bunch of prunes and dried cranberries dancing. (Square dancing, get it??). I haven’t looked at this recipe in years and I was surprised to see that it fit exactly into the clean eating regimen that we are sticking to now. Just honey for sweetener and whole wheat flour. Stick with me until the end of this post – these are delicious and you’ll want to bake them!

Page 67 was Jolof Rice. I was trying to get back to eating less meat and found this recipe in Vegetarian Times. It was delicious but between the ginger, TWO jalapenos and TWO tsp of cayenne, it nearly burnt us from tongue to tail. I meant to make this again with less spices but never did. Maybe I will now. The pictogram is of an African basket (this was an African inspired dish) and the chilies and eggplant featured in the dish.

Page 77: Strawberry shortcakes, va-va-va-voom!

Page 9: Baked orange roughy with leeks and shitake. Remember when orange roughy was the “in” fish? Now it is endangered. I remember this recipe as being good, but I’ll use some other fish in the future. Do you like the fishy swimming towards the leeks and mushroom?

Page 98: Why a parakeet for Chicken, potato and green bean salad? I had a green and yellow parakeet named green bean. Why else?

Page 16: The recipe was for my boyfriend’s tamari and snow pea omelet tacos. We made these at a time when we could get snow peas every week at what was then a fledgling farmer’s market. We got them from an old lady who we affectionately dubbed “snow pea lady” because that was all she sold.

My boyfriend is going to kill me for including this one. He is way more handsome than that. This was a picture of him first thing in the morning. His hair was cut way too short at the time. It is a rendering of what he looked like first thing out of bed, hair messy, glasses instead of contacts, half asleep, clutching a breakfast taco. If I remember correctly, his reaction to being immortalized that way was “very funny!”.

Page 85: The recipe is Mimi’s enchiladas. Does this look familiar? I’m sporting a funny little sombrero, but I still look pretty much the same, don’t I?

That was fun! I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did. Now back to what we are all here for:  yummy food. These Prune and Cranberry bars are wholesome yet delicious. They have the texture of dense little cakes and are saturated with spices. One change I made to the original recipe is to use dried cranberries which are so much more available year round than fresh or frozen. I simmer them in dessert wine to plump them back up and give them flavor but apple juice would work as well. Enjoy!

Cranberry – Prune Squares

Adapted from a recipe I think I got from Sunset magazine years ago

1 cup dried cranberries

½ cup dessert wine or apple juice

2 large eggs

¾ cup honey

¼ cup salted butter, melted

1 cup whole wheat pastry flour

½ tsp ground allspice

½ tsp ground cinnamon

½ tsp ground cloves

½ tsp baking powder

1 cup roasted almonds, chopped

1 cup pitted prunes, chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees, F.

Butter an 8” square baking pan.

In a small sauce pan, simmer dried cranberries in dessert wine or apple juice for 5 to 10 minutes or until all of the liquid has been absorbed. Let cool.

Beat together eggs, honey and melted butter. Combine flour, spices and baking powder. Beat the flour mixture into the egg mixture until well combined. Stir in almonds, prunes and cranberries. Pour batter into the prepared pan.

Bake for 40 – 45 minutes. At about 35 minutes into baking, check to see if the bars are getting too brown. Honey tends to burn in baked goods. If the bars look like they will burn, cover the bars loosely with aluminum foil. Use a toothpick to test for doneness. Mine were done at 40 minutes today.

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16 Comments

  1. Jeanne said,

    July 28, 2010 at 7:45 am

    You’re such a talented artist, Mimi! :) Thanks for sharing your notes and drawings. My favorite sketch is the square dancing prunes and cranberries, though I do like the sombrero too. I love seeing how different people store their recipes. Mine are a combination of printouts, hand written recipes, and torn out pages from newspapers/magazines, all thrown into a shoebox in no order whatsoever!

  2. Madam Chow said,

    July 28, 2010 at 9:19 am

    This is just too weird. First, I love prunes, and refuse to call them dried plums. I am also completely immune to their famous laxative effects. Second, I keep my favorite recipes in a composition book, exactly like you do! Amazing!

    • Mimi said,

      July 28, 2010 at 9:26 am

      Great minds think alike.

  3. Anet said,

    July 28, 2010 at 12:04 pm

    Oh, this topic is delightful and makes me wish I had a cookbook like yours. Mine is a messy many compartment folder. Though lately I have made a recipe file/folder on the computer . . . but it is just not the same.
    I love prunes and have put this recipe in my paper folder! Thanks.

  4. ohiofarmgirl said,

    July 28, 2010 at 4:58 pm

    ok cutest EVER! but i thought we were gonna fry up a parakeet in a pan or something.. hee hee hee LOVE the “square dancing”!!! great work!

    i have a ratty old handwritten notebook too.. one of my fav things in the kitchen. :-)
    ps stay away from them pigs! ha! i’m headed out to shout abuse at them right now. pigs. grrr…..

    • Mimi said,

      July 28, 2010 at 5:39 pm

      You go get ‘em, but if they start licking their chops when they see you, run away! Run away!!

  5. Joanne said,

    July 29, 2010 at 6:12 am

    Aww this is so cute! I feel like I now have insight into the inner Mimi. What a great way to remember the food you cook and the stories behind it! Now. Onto these squares. I mean heaven. I mean squares. Only a quarter cup of butter. I’m impressed.

  6. Andreas said,

    July 29, 2010 at 11:17 am

    350 degrees? Man, you are super hot. ;)

    I like your approach to create a sort of mind map with those little sketches.
    Currently, I just mark recipes I’ve made with little post-it stickers on the top of the book page and keep all the recipes in one big text file.

    But it’s high time for me to come up with a reliable filing system.
    Some time ago I made lemon pasta from the River Cafe Cook Book.
    The further I proceeded, the more I felt familliar with the recipe, until I finally realized that I had made, liked and blogged a practically identical recipe by Nigel Slater about a month earlier.

    • Mimi said,

      July 29, 2010 at 11:24 am

      I think your lemon pasta problem is more of a problem of personal preference than unreliable filing system. Aren’t my prune bars really just my avocado cake? At least that’s what I felt like when I posted the picture of the slices of prune bar. The picture looked so similar because I have a preference currently for cakey things with nuts and fruit.

      • Andreas said,

        July 30, 2010 at 9:59 am

        You are probably right. Because I’ve done the same make-twice-remember-once thing with Mark Bittman’s sweet potato and quinoa salad.
        Phew, and I thought I was going soft in the head. ;)

  7. July 30, 2010 at 7:53 am

    Those books! Wow, I hope to own something like that in the future, right now, I’m scribbling on random pieces of papers and sticking them all into a folder that’s threatening to explode. Those books must hold a lot of history too, huh? Wow, it’s fun to imagine what some recipes might be tied to–like that cute image of you with the sombrero–with crazy hair too at that ;] I remember you posting something about your crazy hair… It’s kinda cool to think that you’ve begun your books the year that I was born. So in my lifetime, you have accumulated a gorgeous collection of foodstuffs…like these cranberry prune squares (I cannot imagine prunes that aren’t wrinkly, ahah). I can’t get over how awesome this is!

  8. drfugawe said,

    August 3, 2010 at 10:22 am

    Wow! A labor of love. Cute! Congrats are in order.

    My “cookbook” is a stack of printer paper, currently about 3 feet tall – who knows what’s in there – every once in awhile, something causes me to think about organizing it, but then I remember who I am and go about my business.

  9. Chelsea said,

    August 4, 2010 at 11:27 am

    Mimi, I am super jealous of your notebook! I have always wanted to do something like that but have never gotten around to it. I always feel like it’s too late to start since I have already missed putting so many things in it. But maybe you are inspiring me to make my own notebook! I don’t think I can make cute little drawings like you though….

    • Mimi said,

      August 4, 2010 at 12:08 pm

      Chelsea,
      Just do it. I don’t think I have to tell you to because you seem to be unafraid of a lot of things, but I keep finding out that I am losing out on everything and it’s these stupid little things that you take time to do just because it is silly and you love it that make your life have some sort of meaning. At least you can look back and say, “I was so happy doing that”.

  10. bergamot said,

    August 6, 2010 at 8:57 pm

    Nice blog… The prune squares look delicious and it is really nice to chance upon a recipe that you forgot and it seems really worth trying. I still rely on my notebook since all I need to do is open it up and I have the recipe before me in a second. Oh!! the bother of opening your laptop and then the file/ bookmarked page is seems cumbersome at time.

  11. Elizabeth said,

    August 12, 2010 at 12:37 pm

    Your book is so tidy!! I have something similar – what was supposed to be a binder for photos, the kind that has sticky pages with a clear plastic sheet that can be peeled back. There are hand written (I should say “scrawled”) recipes arranged on each of the pages. And because I keep collecting more, there is an envelope glued to the inside back cover that is absolutely jammed with more scrawled recipes.

    So WHAT is it about us having to have more and more perfectly printed cookbooks full of stunningly beautiful photos and then we continue to use the same scrawled recipes in the book?

    (The Cranberry Prune squares look delicious.)


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