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Archive for November, 2011

Celebrating Cecil

Cecil Clark - Family Man (July 1949) - Stoneham, MA

    

    

My dad, Cecil D. Clark, was born on this day in 1920. His November birthday was linked permanently with our family’s Thanksgiving celebration. In some years these events coincided date-wise, however whether they did or not, dad’s birthday was always celebrated on Thanksgiving Day. It’s been more than sixteen years since dad’s been gone. And yet, whenever Thanksgiving comes around, he’s in my thoughts.

This year when I reflected on the years we spent together, I couldn’t help feeling sad that I did not have more time with him. I knew him for only 50 years, beginning in 1946, the year I was born. Most of that time, I was too focused on myself to have learned much about him. That’s why I’m grateful he wrote “The Life History of Cecil Clark”, even if he only completed the first chapter.

Cecil Clark High School Graduation June 1938

Cecil Clark High School Graduation June 1938

In these 43 pages, he recalled his life from his earliest memory of attending Kindergarten in Watertown, South Dakota and concluding with my birth in July 1946. Between those two events, he graduated high school, joined the army, fell in love and married, fought in WW II, returned home to his wife and first baby and began civilian life in Boston, Massachusetts. Without his written account, I don’t know how I would have discovered these details.

When we gathered for Thanksgiving last week, my sister Jean, shared photos and other memorabilia about our dad. This material provided additional insight about his boyhood and early adult years. I discovered  my father’s persistent passion for cooking, baking and food preparation. I always knew he was comfortable in the kitchen, but what I learned is his passion for food emerged at a young age and continued throughout his life.

  • My dad worked evenings in his parent’s restaurant in Richardton, North Dakota in 1936.
Clark’s Lunch Counter – June 17, 1936
  • In 1941, my dad joined the United States Army and trained as a cook. He wrote, “I continued to cook all summer 1941, and thoroughly enjoyed it.”
  • He became the mess sergeant of the battalion and “was to order or purchase the foods, prepare the menus and supervise the preparation of the meals, along with seeing to the cleanliness of the kitchen and the mess hall.”
  • He met my mother in Springfield, Massachusetts and wrote, “…we usually went out for something to eat … and sometimes to the Waldorf Cafeteria for English muffins and coffee.”

    Sergeant Cecil Clark, United States Army 1943

    Sergeant Cecil Clark, United States Army 1943

  • Returning from WW II in Europe, my dad enrolled at Northeastern University as a college student. To support his family, he worked as a pastry chef from 6 p.m. to midnight. He “found a job …with a restaurant chain …working in their bakery .. rolled out pie crusts, filled the pie shells, baked them. Mixed the cake batter, made the puddings.”
  • When I was a girl, dad cooked up his signature dish (and one of my favorites) “Onion Gush Gush” – basically scrambled eggs with chopped onion cooked in lots of butter.
  • On weekends, mom and dad made English muffins and deep-fried donuts.
  • Fresh fruit and vegetables thrived in our backyard garden.
  • Dad was an adventurous eater. On a three hour layover in Chicago in the late 50’s when we (dad, mom and their five daughters) traveled by train from Tacoma to Boston, Dad hailed a Checker Cab. We went to a downtown restaurant for a quick lunch. Dad ordered turtle soup.

Now that I think about it, Thanksgiving is the perfect time to celebrate Cecil. And although, I don’t think he ever cooked with lavender, I know he’d be proud that I’ve carried on his passion for food, flavor and cooking.

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When someone invites us to join them for Thanksgiving dinner, I like to bring something special. This year I’ve made tasty packages of  Candied Walnuts with Lavender and Figs. I’m excited to share my special treats.

The recipe is a variation on one from 101 Cookbooks. I love this recipe because it is easy, flavorful and nutritious. Yes, it does have a whole cup of brown sugar, however the nutrients provided by the walnuts more than make up for the sugar.

Walnuts

Walnuts : They're all they're cracked up to be and more!

Whenever I read a recipe calling for rosemary or mint, I  think about using lavender instead. Most times, it works beautifully and adds an exotic taste.  So when I read Heidi’s “Brown Sugar Rosemary Walnuts Recipe,” I wanted to try it with lavender. I also thought about substituting dried plums or apricots for dried figs, however I love figs so that is what I used.

 

For packaging, I dropped by Seattle’s PS-Store to pick up plastic containers, ribbon, labels and stickers. I love the square labels with the colored borders. In the past, when I’ve made gift packets, I’ve struggled with labels. Frequently, labels can be difficult to line up on my printer, and I get frustrated. These worked like a dream. I went to this link to get a template compatible with MS Word. I typed in the text and hit the print button. It all worked the first time. I used a 2” x 2” label. The container was 3” x 3” x 3”. I used a clear round sticker to seal the container, I tied a ribbon around it, tying a bow on top. PS-Stores sell an artificial lavender sprig that looks nice. The lavender sprig looks great on the package.

See the Lavender Sprigs: Perfect for Gifts!

Walnuts - All Sugared and Spiced

Sugared and Spiced: Walnuts are Ready for Someone NIce!

I cooked up one batch of this recipe yesterday afternoon in about 5 minutes. They baked in the oven for another 25 minutes, and I turned the oven off and just let the nuts dry out a bit more. When they were cool, I created my gifts. I created 5 gift packages.

 

Candied Walnuts with Lavender and Figs

1 cup brown sugar

2 teaspoons fine grain sea salt
1 teaspoon ground culinary lavender buds*
1/4 cup sesame seeds
2 large egg whites
1 lb cups shelled walnut halves
1/3 cup chopped dried figs, stems trimmed

Sugar and Spice - All Things Nice

*What variety works best? I like Royal Velvet; however any English Lavender will be fine.

*How to grind? Use spice grinder, mortar and pestle or a clean coffee bean grinder will work too!

Preheat oven with racks in the center to 300F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.  Combine brown sugar, salt, lavender and sesame seeds in a small bowl.

In a large bowl whisk the egg whites a bit, just to loosen them up. Add walnuts and figs to whites and toss until they are evenly coated – it’ll take a minute or so. Sprinkle the sugar-spice mixture over the nuts and toss (really well) again.

Split the nuts between the two prepared baking sheets in a single layer, separating the wa;nuts from one another.

Bake for ~25 minutes or until the walnuts turn golden brown  and the coating is no longer wet. Turn off your oven and let them dry for 10 minutes.  Cool for a few minutes, and then slide the parchment/nuts off the hot baking sheets onto a cool surface to cool completely. These will keep for a week or so in an airtight container.

Makes 1 pound of nuts

Prep time: 5 min – Cook time: 25 min

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