Carola loves to cook
A (non) friend once said about me, “Well, it’s obvious she enjoys her own cooking.” I didn’t think about it at the time, but later, I realized it was both an insult and a compliment. Like my character Carola, I love to cook and I’ve collected recipes all my adult life.
The first one in the collection was for the banana bread that was served at my wedding shower when I married my practice husband. (Fifteen years of practice—not a lot of fun, but I learned a lot and got some nice children out of the experience.)
During those fifteen years, I entered banana bread made from this recipe in the Tompkins County Fair in New York and won first place in the quick bread category. Well, my loaf was the only one entered, but still, a blue ribbon is a blue ribbon. I still have it.
So how could I not make food and recipes an important part of the lives of my characters: Anne, Jack, Carola, Ernesto, Hal, and Victor?
Carola, Anne’s housekeeper, has been an excellent cook from childhood, and she’s collected recipes from friends and family over the years. She taught Anne to cook when Anne was a bride. They’ve been cooking together for the almost forty years since. Here are some of their favorite recipes.
FLOUR: In the “old days,” we sifted flour before measuring. Now days, it’s enough to just stir it to fluff it up before measuring. Some recipe books say to “sprinkle” the flour into the measuring cup. “Sprinkle” isn’t really the right word, but what they mean is don’t tamp it down.
BAKING SODA has a shelf life of about six months. Before assembling your ingredients, test yours to make sure it’s still active. Add two tsp. of vinegar to 1/4 tsp. baking soda. It should produce bubbles. If it doesn’t, set the box aside to use as an abrasive to clean your stovetop and sink, and buy a new box. Discard the test material.
BAKING POWDER can also lose its power to leaven over time. It’s best to test it, too, before assembling all your other ingredients. Test baking powder by adding 1 tsp. to 1/3 cup of hot tap water. If you don’t see active bubbling, discard the baking powder and get a new supply.
YEAST: It’s also always a good idea to proof your yeast before you make bread. Combine 1/4 cup lukewarm water (test on your wrist) and ½ tsp. sugar for each 2 1/2 tsp. of room temperature yeast called for in the recipe. (2 1/2 tsps. is the amount of yeast in an individual packet.) Set it aside in a warm place for 10 minutes. It should bubble vigorously. If it doesn’t, you need new yeast.
A very good cook once told me that bread was the best thing to start with when you’re teaching a child to cook. Almost the only way to ruin a loaf of bread is to kill or inactivate the yeast. Let your yeast come to room temperature before using. Never put yeast in water hotter that lukewarm. Let your bread dough rise in a warm location.
SPICES: It’s a good idea to replace your spices at least once a year. Carola always replaces them before Dia de Muertos in early November so she’s ready for her holiday cooking.