I thought that committing myself to twice a month (I know, I know, good bloggers blog every chance they get) wouldn’t be too ambitious. Turns out: I was wrong. But I have a good excuse. I write for a living. This past month, along with setting up 8 new volumes for the To Asia With Love guidebook series, I (finally!) finished my novel, wrote a feature article on Little Saigon, and worked diligently on Communion. At the end of the days, I was out of words. I was also distracted, because I was immersed in a project for my mom’s 60th birthday—what started out as making a simple memory book became hours spent poring over old photographs, reading old letters, and sorting through memorabilia. It also resulted in countless nostalgic reveries, so many having to do with food. Not the pancakes and pies that my family is famous for, but those quintessentially ‘70s dishes that my mom taught my sis and me to make in our kitchens in Wenatchee, Spokane, Moses Lake, and Vancouver.
Just 20 years old when she had me, my mom was still young when she and I started cooking together. She was an avid horsewoman raised by a sailor, my gramps who adored the efficient concept of TV dinners. We made Chef Boyardee pizza out of box kits on Friday nights, and ate metallic Kraft macaroni and cheese as a treat. Needless to say, gourmet cooking came to my family later in life. But when it did, it had a strong foundation, not necessarily in actual ingredients and dishes, but in the love of being in the kitchen. In those early days, we may have cooked casseroles topped with corn flakes sautéed in butter, but we cooked, with the emphasis on we. We—my mom and me, and often my mom, dad, sister, and me—had a lot of fun in the kitchen, and the following two recipes remind me of those times.
This was the first thing my mom let me make on my own, when I was in the third grade. But when it came time to form the cookies, my batter was unusually runny. After examining the recipe, she said, “Sweetheart, it’s one tablespoon of water, not one cup.” And then, smiling, without missing a beat, she added, “Oh well, we’ll make it a cake instead.” In that single instant taught me that mistakes are not fatal, and that flexibility is the hallmark of any good cook. As for these cookies, they are awesome.
- 1 package yellow cake mix (extra moist)
- 1 cup peanut butter (Skippy is best—honestly, don’t use a good, fresh variety)
- ½ cup vegetable oil
- 1 Tbsp water
- 2 eggs
Combine ingredients. Drop round tablespoon sized balls of dough on an ungreased cookie sheet, about 2 inches apart. Press cookies flat, making a criss-cross pattern with a fork. Bake at 350 degrees for 12 minutes.
I made this for aforementioned 60th birthday, and when my mom tasted it, she asked if I used a quarter cup of light rum. I told her that the recipe my sister gave me didn’t call for real rum, but artificial rum flavoring. She laughed and said that must have been the recipe she gave Julie before Julie was 21. Apparently, when we were kids, Julie took a serious liking to this pie, and so my mom modified the recipe to keep from turning her daughter into an alcoholic. While the version with artificial flavoring is good, she insists the one with real rum is best. Either way, this is a great dessert, especially during these relentlessly hot summer months.
- 1 ½ cup crushed chocolate wafers (about 25); I couldn’t find these, so used chocolate graham cracker sticks
- ¼ cup butter, melted
- 1 tsp. rum flavoring OR ¼ cup light rum
- 1/3 tsp. ginger, ground
- 2 tsp. instant coffee
- 1 quart vanilla ice cream, slightly softened
Heat oven to 350 degrees.
Mix crumbs and butter. Reserve 2 Tbl. crumb mixture for topping. Press remaining mixture firmly on bottom and sides of 9” pie plate. Bake 8-10 minutes, until set. Cool.
Stir rum, ginger and instant coffee into softened ice cream. Pour into pie shell. Sprinkle with remaining crumb mixture. Freeze uncovered until firm, about 4 hours. Wrap and keep frozen until 15 minutes before serving.