The holidays of spring are nearly over, and I have been eyeing my bathroom scale with disbelief. My son and his family were in SoCal this past week because of a family situation that did not foster celebration. They’re back in the Bay Area with the plan to observe a family Seder last night. Carol invited us to her house for a feast on Sunday. And a feast it was! I spent several days making gravlax along with a Swedish dill-mustard sauce from a recipe of a dear, old-time friend. That, along with garlic crostini, deviled eggs (some stuffed with shrimp), and olives, made the appetizers for our Happy Hour on the patio while watching the sun go down over the ocean. Why wouldn’t you like Southern California?

But that was only a modest prelude to the meal that lay ahead. Here’s the menu:

  • roasted leg of lamb
  • stuffed mushrooms
  • rice pilaf with currents and hazelnuts
  • fresh green peas, snap peas, and watercress sprouts
  • Moroccan carrots

Susan made two contributions to the meal. First she made a batch of rolls from her mother’s recipe. Over the years we had had them at many meals on the farm when there weren’t biscuits. They were always popular – and delicious. She also made coconut cupcakes at the request of one of the young folks. Then they decorated them with frosting, shredded coconut and nerds (I lost points when that was the only candy I could find at the store, but they actually turned out to be a positive addition to the final version.)

Carol has a very large collection of cookbooks, and she is always looking for different versions of common foods along with unusual foods. Over the years she has gradually brought her whole family out of the doldrums of eating only meat and potatoes. She also always puts her own twist on the recipe.  I’m not sure of the source recipes of several of the dishes, but I know that the Moroccan carrots came from Amanda Hesser’s The Essential New York Times Cookbook (W.W. Norton and Co, New York, 2010) The dish is delicious, and Carol used a mix of various colors of carrot to create a stunning visual effect. The same thing was true with a dish of fresh green peas and snap peas. The recipe called for pea tendrils, but my son-in-law struck out looking for them in several stores, and the farmers’ market was closed for Easter. Carol, always innovative, substituted watercress sprouts. IMHO the substitution improved the dish.

Kevin had bought some special wine for the occasion, and I contributed a bottle of Klinker Brick old vine zinfandel from last year’s visit to Lodi.

Needless to say, it was a very special and memorable family evening.

Here’s the recipe for Mom Mom’s homemade rolls.


Mom Mom’s Homemade Rolls


  • ½ cup sugar
  • 6 tablespoons vegetable shortening
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 1/3 cups milk
  • 1 package dry yeast
  • ½ cup lukewarm water
  • 2 eggs
  • 6½ cups all-purpose flour


  1. Place sugar, shortening, and salt in a large bowl.
  2. Scald milk and pour over ingredients in bowl. Stir until mixed, and let cool.
  3. Dissolve yeast in water.
  4. Beat eggs lightly and add to yeast mixture. Then add these ingredients to the cooled milk mixture.
  5. Beat in the flour to form a smooth dough. Allow to rise until doubled (about 2 hours) or refrigerate for later use.
  6. Shape into rolls and place in greased muffin pans. Let rise again until doubled.
  7. Bake in a preheated 350°F oven for 15-20 minutes or until browned to your liking

Makes 36 medium rolls

Cook’s Note: The easiest shape is to cut out circles with a biscuit cutter and place them in the pans. You can make fancier shapes by rolling balls of dough between your palms; clover leaf rolls with three small balls dipped in melted butter and placed 3 to each cup; fan-tans with 5 or 6 layers of rolled-out dough separated with melted butter and cut into squares; Parker House with flattened balls of dough with an off-set crease cut across them, topped with melted butter, folded on the crease,  and baked on a greased cookie sheet.


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The local farmers’ market has just gotten going seriously for the season. A couple of weeks ago there were only a few stands with limited choices. Now there are several rows of canopies and lots of choices. There are spring vegetables: asparagus, green peas, leaf lettuce, and radishes. The big stars, though, continue to be citrus of all sorts. There are fruits that are seldom seen outside of Southern California. Pomelos as big as grapefruits! (That’s supposed to be a joke. Pomelos are often bigger than grapefruits, and on top of that they are thick-skinned close relatives.), blood oranges, many varieties of clementines, and my favorite – Meyer lemons.

The Meyer lemon was originally found in China and thought to be a cross between a lemon and a mandarin orange.  It was brought to California and popularized by a guy named – you guessed it –  Meyer. When Meyer lemons were found to be symptomless carriers of a virus that destroyed other citrus trees, the lemon trees were chopped down wholesale, not to be grown again until a virus-free strain was discovered. Now they are widely available.

Meyer lemons are beautiful. They are larger than other lemons with a dark yellow-orange skin and a beautiful fragrance. They are sweeter than the usual lemon, but they are still more sour than an orange. They are juicy and usually contain a number of seeds, so they really lend themselves to cooking with the juice and/or zest.

What could be a better use than in a Bavarian cream? Bavarian cream is a classic dessert. Julia Child devotes pages to its many variations. At the same time, Bavarian cream is really just another classic – crème Anglaise – doctored up with flavoring, meringue, and whipped cream all stabilized with gelatin. One more step is to put the Bavarian cream into something to hold it. Charlottes lined with lady fingers are common, but a pie shell works just as well and is a lot easier.

So, that’s what I wound up doing with the beautiful Meyer lemons I found at the farmers’ market.


Meyer Lemon Bavarian Cream Pie


  • 1 prepared 9 inch pie shell (purchased or use your favorite recipe) in a glass pie pan
  • 2 ripe Meyer lemons, juiced and zested
  • 2/3 cup sugar, divided
  • 5 large egg yolks
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 envelope (¼ ounce) unflavored gelatin
  • 3 egg whites
  • ¾ cup heavy whipping cream


  1. Bake the pie shell according to instructions and set aside.
  2. Juice and zest the Meyer lemons, straining and reserving ½ cup of the juice. Set aside the measured juice and zest.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk together 1/3 cup sugar and egg yolks until well combined.
  4. In a medium, heavy saucepan, heat the milk over low heat until it comes to a simmer. Gradually pour the heated milk into the egg mixture, stirring constantly. Return the egg mixture to the saucepan over low heat.
  5. Stirring frequently to avoid curdling of the bottom, heat the mixture gradually over low heat until it thickens enough to coat the spoon. Check frequently with a thermometer to avoid exceeding 170°F. The yolks will curdle at a higher temperature, and you will have to start over.
  6. Meanwhile, pour the reserved lemon juice into a medium bowl and sprinkle the gelatin on top. Let the gelatin bloom for at least 5 minutes. Pour the hot, thickened egg mixture over the gelatin and lemon juice. Stir for several minutes to make sure the gelatin is dissolved.
  7. Set the bowl in a larger bowl filled with ice and water. Stir constantly until the mixture is cool. Then strain through a fine-meshed sieve into another bowl. Stir in the reserved lemon zest.
  8. Beat the egg whites with a rotary mixer until they form stiff peaks. Stir in the remaining 1/3 cup sugar and continue to beat until the sugar is completely incorporated. Fold, by thirds, into the custard mixture. Folding gently, making sure the meringue is completely incorporated.
  9. Whip the cream into soft peaks. Fold in, making sure the mixture is completely combined.
  10. Pour the completed custard into the reserved pie shell. Cover lightly with plastic wrap or aluminum foil and chill overnight in the refrigerator.
  11. Serve plain – or better – with whipped cream.

Cook’s Notes

  • The unflavored gelatin is a key part of the recipe: not enough and the Bavarian will not set while too much and it will be rubbery; not properly bloomed and it will never completely dissolve; if it is not completely stirred in, the cream may separate. Gelatin comes in several forms. The most common is granular, packaged in small packets, but there are also liquid as well as sheets that are used by professional bakers. I don’t know what equivalents might be.
  • Be patient! Don’t try to rush the custard with high heat. You will end up with scrambled eggs.
  • It is very important to strain the thickened custard mixture. No matter how careful you are, there will be bits of curdled yolk that will take away from the smoothness of the finished custard.
  • Obviously, stir in the zest after you strain the custard.
  • You can add a little liqueur if you like. Limon cello is the obvious choice – 1 or 2 tablespoons.
  • You shouldn’t try to rush the chilling; otherwise the Bavarian might not set up properly. Overnight is best; four full hours might work in a pinch.
  • The need for bowls and saucepans is intensive. You should definitely set up mis en place for your ingredients and plot out a strategy for cookware. A scanning thermometer is very handy.



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Last year there was a wildflower “super bloom” in Death Valley because of ideal rain and temperature. We couldn’t go. This year, because we now live in California and because of the enormous rains, we thought we would visit. We were a bit disappointed because the flowers were sparse. Still, we had a good time. As we had in the past, we entered the park from the town of Lone Pine that sits beneath Mt. Whitney. The Sierras were still covered in snow, and the view was spectacular.

The road took us along the edge of Owens Lake. Sand blew across the road as if we were in the middle of the Sahara. The once-huge lake was nothing but a salt flat, reminding us of the movie, “Chinatown”, and the politics that brought water from the region to boost the growth of Los Angeles. From there, the road plunges down 4,000 feet to the valley floor. Along the way, there are hairpin turns and several view points. In particular, the view from Father Crowley Point lets you peer into the deep and colorful canyons below. It is easy to understand the many metaphors including Hell and Death that have been used to describe the place.

As we descended, we saw a few wildflowers, but there were few places to stop on our journey. There were no flowers when we reached the first bit of civilization at Panamint Springs, and so we drove on without stopping. Stove Pipe Wells was filled with people in campers looking for a place to spend the night and hikers returning from a visit to the impressive sand dunes. We checked in with the ranger just as he was closing the office and then headed another few miles to Furnace Creek. The Ranch is a large development of restaurants, gift shops, motels, and camp grounds. The Inn is another mile or so further and rises up out of the desert like a mirage.

The Inn is a sprawling complex set against a steep hillside and surrounded with green lawns and palms of many varieties, including dates. There are bougainvillea, oleander, and flowers throughout the grounds. Although the place is a natural oasis fed by springs and a constant stream, it has the surreal appearance of something from the Arabian Nights.

Furnace Creek Inn was built in 1927, the same year as the beautiful Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite. It was envisioned as a magnet for wealthy tourists traveling by train and later by automobile. Over the years, it has attracted many movie stars and politicians. Unfortunately, these days it is a little down at the heels, and the service is a little uneven. There are reported plans to refurbish the inn, and that will be great, Still the main reason one stays at the inn is to enjoy the beautiful scenery and the sunrises and sunsets.

Food is better than you might expect out in the middle of the desert. The bar drinks were delicious even though they didn’t have many call brands. The breakfasts were huge and  flavorful even though the waffle iron was broken and they were out of maple syrup anyway.

Highlights included smoked salmon crostini. The citrus duck was tender with crispy skin, the fat completely rendered, and the meat cooked to a barely pink. The salmon was well cooked and came with a radish coulis and a potato puree in the form of a pear and deep fried.

After our stay we traveled to the south end of the park. That turned out to be where the flowers were. Then we drove to the Mojave Reserve, a place we had never been before. Right in the middle of the reserve is a preserved train station that played a major role in the war effort in WWII. More wildflowers, and enormous pink-colored sand dunes.  Then back to fighting the traffic on the interstates until we made it home safely.


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Over the years, three of my posts have consistently drawn the most visitors. One provides a recipe for West Texas cowboy biscuits along with the description of a cowboy cookout. The second is about my son-in-law’s spin on leftover lamb shanks. By far, the most popular has been a recipe for the unofficial, unacknowledged state dish of North Dakota, kas knephla. (Please note that there are several variants of spelling, but they are commonly known as cheese buttons.)

While unpacking my books during our recent move, I came across a thin red volume entitled “Dorcas’ Treasured Recipes.” So far as I can tell, the book was published around 1955 by members of the Dorcas Society of the Kulm, North Dakota Congregational Church. Kulm is the closest town near my grandmother’s family farm at Wirch, sits in the southeastern part of North Dakota and has a population of around 350. The town was founded in 1892, reached its greatest population of around 700 at the 1930 census, and claims Angie Dickinson as its most noteworthy citizen. (She moved elsewhere at age 11.) Her father apparently worked as an editor of the town newspaper, The Kulm Messenger. Kulm is not too far from Strasburg, the hometown of Lawrence Welk, and likely was an early venue when Welk began his orchestra.

“Dorcas’ Treasured Recipes” is a tidy little book with pages that have become brittle and yellow with age. The  print, published in offset by the Kulm Messenger from a typewritten manuscript, has faded. What has not faded is the spirit of the women who pulled the book together. There are poems, prayers, and recipes that provide insight into the daily lives of these prairie women and testimony to their skills as good cooks.

Leafing through the pages I found several recipes for hamburger casseroles and one for corn dogs. The recipe that caught my eye was contributed by Mrs. Mathilda Brost, titled KAS KNEPHLA. Here is the recipe as published, followed by my recipe for quick and absolutely not authentic North Dakota Cheese Buttons.


3 c. flour                                                                      For filling

½ tsp. B.P.                                                                          1 pt. cottage cheese

2 tsp. salt                                                                              yolk of 2 eggs

2 egg whites                                                                         ½ tsp. salt

2/3 c. cold water                                                                 pepper and diced onion

Mix all together into a firm dough. Add more flour if necessary. Divide into 3 parts and roll each out like a pie crust. Cut into about 16 squares. Put about a heaping tsp. filling in each.  Press edges together to seal. Boil a few at a time for 5 min. in about 2 qts. boiling water. Drain and pour the following sauce over: – optional –

Brown a few bread crumbs in a half stick of butter. Or: — Make a sour cream gravy as follows: Melt 2 tbsp. butter, add 1 tbsp. flour. pour in ½ c. milk and 1 c. sour cream, and a little chopped onion.


Quick North Dakota Cheese Buttons


  • 1 pint, small curd cottage cheese
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ground black pepper to taste
  • 12 ounce package wonton wrappers (about 60 wrappers)
  • 12 ounces bacon, cut crosswise into ½ inch pieces
  • 1 cup dried ½ inch bread cubes
  • 8 tablespoons (one stick) unsalted butter


  1. In a fine-mesh cheesecloth or a fine-meshed large strainer, drain and squeeze as dry as you can the cottage cheese.
  2. Combine the drained cottage cheese, two eggs, salt and pepper.
  3. In batches, spread the wonton wrappers on a flat work surface. Place about 1½ teaspoons of the cottage cheese mixture in the center of each wonton wrapper. Fold into triangles and seal the edges by painting them with water and pressing them firmly between your fingers. Once you have formed the cheese buttons, you should cook them fairly quickly as the cottage cheese will soak through the wrappers. You should be able to make about 40 cheese buttons.
  4. Bring 3 quarts of salted water to the boil, and in batches, boil the cheese buttons for about 5 minutes. They should float to the surface when they are done. Remove with a slotted spoon, drain on paper towels, and keep warm in a 200°F oven until you have boiled all of the buttons.
  5. Meanwhile, fry the bacon over medium-low heat until it is lightly browned and crisp. Remove the bacon and stir in the bread cubes, frying them until they are lightly browned. Be careful not to burn them. Combine the bread cubes with the bacon.
  6. In the same pan, melt the butter and stir it until it is browned and fragrant. Stir in the bacon and bread cubes.
  7. Combine the cheese buttons with the bacon, bread and butter mixture. Serve immediately.


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We have been spending a lot of time lately with our Los Angeles grandchildren. In particular, Susan has been assisting in school-related transportation. All of that is different from when I was growing up. First, few if any kids walk to school, and at least in Southern California there are no orange school buses. Parents line up for blocks in their cars before the schools open in the morning, waiting to drop off their child in a congested delivery area and then creating a neighborhood traffic jam on their way out. The process is repeated – some of it in reverse – at the end of the school day. Second, hours are completely different school to school so that the bell may ring at 7:30 in the high school but not until 8:30 in the middle school.  This makes it easier for parents with kids in more than one school, but it also keeps one on the road for hours. Then, I guess just to keep you on your toes, Tuesday hours are likely to be different from Monday hours – but not every week. We now have a detailed schedule plastered on the kitchen wall, just the same as the one at my daughter’s house. With a schedule like that, you are bound to need a little refreshment in the afternoon, and my wife and grandson are kindred spirits.

They often make a stop at the local outlet of Handel’s Ice Cream. By now they have the routine completely worked out: walk up to the window, study the menu of at least 30 or 40 flavors of ice cream, place your order, and when it is dished up, sit at a garden table in front and eat up. There are more elaborate treats, including milk shakes and sundaes. The most treasured item is the banana split, and when there is need for a special celebration (or maybe not so special) it calls for a banana split.

Handel’s version of the banana split is fairly traditional except that it comes in a plastic disposable dish. One day I was reminiscing about my childhood and ice cream parlors with Naugahyde-covered stools and glass bowls designed especially to hold a banana split. My grandson found that an interesting story (an unusual reaction of one of my grandchildren to one of my stories) and wanted to find one of those glass dishes.

Thus, began my quest. None of the local stores had the bowls in stock, and the owner of the kitchen store allowed as how they probably weren’t made anymore. All I had to do was look on Amazon to find a carton of six bowls made by Libbey Glass priced at about $4 apiece. I ordered them, and they arrived moderately safely with only one broken. They looked like the ones that I remember from my childhood, long with curved-up ends and just big enough to hold a split banana and three scoops of ice cream.  Finding ice cream was easy, and I settled on the classics: vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry.

Sauces took more effort. I am still getting used to the local grocery store, and I couldn’t find sauces, so I decided to make my own. The pineapple was easy, although not as satisfying as the real thing. For the chocolate sauce, I made a cream-predominant ganache, and for the butterscotch, I used an internet recipe from The Perfect Cake (Susan G. Purdy) by way of the Washington Post and the famous blog, Smitten Kitchen.

Since it was my week for dessert at the Sunday family dinner, I made banana splits. They turned out to be a big, big hit with my grandson. Not surprisingly, they turned out to be a big hit with everyone else.


Chocolate Ganache Sauce


  • 8 ounces (by weight) heavy cream
  • 4 ounces (by weight) chocolate chips, chopped (best quality you can find)


  1. Bring the cream to a boil in a small saucepan and immediately remove from the heat.
  2. Sprinkle the chopped chocolate chips into the warm milk, shaking the pan gently to make sure the chocolate is in contact with the cream.
  3. Let stand, undisturbed, for 5 minutes to allow the chocolate to melt.
  4. Stir until the mixture is smooth and completely combined. Transfer to a container and cool.
  5. Since the sauce contains cream, you should refrigerate if you do not use it immediately. That will make the sauce too thick to pour. You can rewarm it very gently with a 5 to 10 second pulse in the microwave.

Butterscotch Sauce


  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • ½ cup dark brown sugar (packed)
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • ¾ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1½ teaspoons vanilla extract


  1. In a small saucepan, melt the butter over medium-low heat
  2. Add the sugar, cream, and salt, whisking to combine completely.
  3. Bring to a low boil for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  4. Remove from the heat, stir in the vanilla, and cool. Refrigerate if not using immediately.


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Buddha’s hand may be the strangest looking fruit or vegetable in the produce section at the grocery store. It is easy to see how it got its popular name: Buddha’s hand looks like a many-fingered hand or a misshapen lemon with long finger-like projections and dark ends that could be fingernails. In fact, it is a member of the citrus family and one of the fruits that are lumped together as citron. Unlike a lemon, Buddha’s hand has neither flesh nor juice, only skin and pith. It does have a wonderful fragrance, sort of a combination of lemons and flowers. With no flesh or juice, about the only options open to the cook are to use the zested skin for flavoring or the pith for more substance.

If you have ever baked or eaten the notorious Christmas fruitcake, you probably have encountered citron. It is the sugary chunks that glisten in the cake, often in alarming bright colors of yellow or green. And that seems to be the breadth of culinary options, candied. Baking a fruitcake that would sit in someone’s refrigerator uneaten for a year or more seemed like a poor use for this interesting fruit. It occurred to me that cutting a Buddha’s hand into “fingers”, candying them, and then dipping them in chocolate might be a better option and more fun.

As you can see, the end result was not as attractive as I had hoped. For one thing, the chocolate bloomed under my amateur hand.  Even at that, the candied fingers tasted good, and the almost exotic lemon/floral flavor added to the richness of chocolate.


Chocolate Buddha’s Fingers

  • 1 medium-sized Buddha’s hand
  • water
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 12 ounces mini chocolate chips


  1. Wash and dry the Buddha’s hand. With a sharp paring knife, cut between the individual segments of the fruit to form “fingers”.
  2. Place the fingers in a small saucepan, cover with water, and bring to the boil. Boil slowly until the white part of the fingers becomes translucent, about 20 – 30 minutes.
  3. Stir in the sugar and continue to boil until the liquid is reduced to a thick coating. Watch carefully so that the sugar does not burn. Transfer the sugar-coated fingers to a sheet of waxed paper to cool.
  4. Dry the candied fingers until the sugar coating is firm. This may take overnight.
  5. In a small saucepan over very low heat, melt the chocolate chips until they can be stirred to a smooth consistency. Stir in the candied fingers. When they are completely coated with chocolate, transfer them individually with tongs to a sheet of waxed paper. Cool until the chocolate is completely firm, at least 3 hours. Store in an airtight container.


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Carol invited us to dinner last night. She was having salmon. She likes it, but her husband does not. He had to work late, so it was the perfect opportunity for her to have a dinner of salmon. It turned out to be relatively easy and absolutely delicious.

The thing that made the dish especially good was that Carol smoked the salmon in her Camerons stove-top smoker. That is definitely a kitchen gadget to have, even if you don’t use it very often. The standard model is a stainless steel pan with collapsible handles and an air-tight lid designed to keep smoke inside the pan and not in the kitchen (It really works.) Inside are a flat tray and a rack. You put a pile of very small wood chips (purchased from Camerons, of course.) in the bottom of the pan, cover with the tray, and arrange the food to be smoked on the rack. Slide the cover nearly but not-quite closed and put the whole contraption over two burners on your range. The heat from the burners should be low to medium–low – enough to get the wood chips smoking but not so hot that the food burns. When the first wisps of smoke begin to come out, push the lid completely closed. There should be no leaks. Then smoke the food for the desired time. In the case of salmon, about 20 minutes should do. Remove from the heat for a few minutes and then remove the lid. You will smell the smoke, but it should not invade the kitchen. Check to make sure the food is cooked to your liking. If not, you can close the lid again and heat for another few minutes.


If you don’t have a smoker, you can accomplish the same thing by basting the salmon with a mixture of ½ teaspoon liquid smoke and 2 teaspoons soy sauce before broiling in the oven.


Smoked Salmon Niçoise


  • 1 pound salmon filet, bones removed
  • 4 cups lettuce cut or torn into bite-sized pieces
  • 4 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and sliced (see post on how to peel a hard-boiled egg)
  • 8 small new potatoes, boiled, chilled, and cut into 1½ inch chunks
  • 2 cups green beans, cut in 2 inch lengths, blanched, cooked, and chilled
  • 20 pitted black olives
  • 4 teaspoons drained capers
  • 10 cherry or grape tomatoes, halved lengthwise
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • homemade vinaigrette or your favorite bottled salad dressing


  1. Pat the salmon dry and place in the smoker. Smoke according to instructions with the smoker.
  2. In the meantime, arrange the lettuce in the middle of each of 4 plates.
  3. Arrange the sliced eggs, potatoes, beans, olives, capers, and tomatoes equally among the plates.
  4. Remove the salmon from the smoker, cut into 4 equal slices and arrange on the plates.
  5. Season as needed with salt and pepper
  6. Drizzle with vinaigrette and serve immediately.



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