Sunday, July 08, 2012

I never expected to be a book author but now I am one! Here's how it happened:

Last fall I took a class to learn InDesign, a page layout program. This is the kind of program that graphic designers use to lay out pages for printing or for use on the web. I already knew QuarkXPress. It used to be the gold standard for page layout and design but Adobe made so many improvement to InDesign that it's now the program to know and use. I also know Pagemaker, but it is no longer supported and print shops don't want to see Pagemaker files. It was fun learning the new program, but a lot of work, and it was only the first of a number of classes to learn different aspects of the program. I'm hoping to take the second section starting next month...that's the one where we produce a book.

I guess I'm sometimes impatient because I couldn't wait until August to create a book. When I visited my Mom a year ago May, I noticed that the family cookbook that I had put together many years ago was in tatters. I offered to make her another one. The old version was simply a series of recipes typewritten and 'illustrated' with cutouts of black and white drawings from our childhood times. Now I have the skills to create a cookbook that is professional in layout and illustrated with full color photos. All that time learning how to photograph food for this blog paid off. If you look at the first letter of the last name of the author and spell it out you'll understand my blogging name, too.

For Mothers Day my Mom received the prototype copy of Classic Comfort Food - Family Food from the 50s. It has almost all the recipes from the original cookbook, plus others that were requested by my sisters and brothers, nearly 100 recipes in all. Since then I've created a slightly better version which includes Tales from the Table; my memories of learning to make pie crust, of burning cookies and other stories. It has been a learning experience and a lot of fun, but has also taken a lot of time. This blog has had fewer posts as a result, but I hope to change that soon.

My siblings will be getting copies as early Christmas gifts, but I found out when I showed off the cookbook at the gym that friends, acquaintances, and even total strangers are willing to buy this collection of mid-century recipes. If you would like a copy for yourself, here is the link to Blurb, the company that publishes the book. They make it easy to buy one copy or as many as you want, and they ship it right to you.

Since it was originally planned to just be a family book, having it for sale has me a bit bemused. I'm not going to get rich selling this cookbook, but it does feel good to be able to share good memories and classic recipes that have stood the test of time. Will the food of my childhood appeal to you? I do hope so! There are lots of basic recipes for things like Fried Chicken (cooked on the stove top and finished in the oven for crispy skin), Mac and Cheese, Chocolate Cake and many more comfort food classics. There are also Southern recipes like Hush Puppies, Ambrosia, Hoppin' John, Lane Cake and Carolina Cole Slaw. There is even a wonderful recipe for my Aunt May's Soda Bread (Irish) and for Cabbage Rolls in Tomato Sauce and Beef Stroganoff (Northern European), plus that all-time favorite Tuna Noodle Casserole. In truth most of these recipes don't reflect the way I cook now, but it is fun to make them now and then and savor the comfortable feelings and memories they bring.

To give you an idea of the kind of recipes that are in the book, let me give you one. Most of the recipe give specific amounts and serving but a few, like this one, are open-ended. This is one of my favorites and a big favorite of my Dad's. If you have had creamed corn out of the can, you are in for a big surprise. This dish is nothing like that kind of corn.

This creamed corn comes directly from fresh corn on the cob. If the ears are not field fresh, it's OK. Mom says that she and Dad used to go to a farm stand at the end of the day when the farmer was willing to sell lots of ears for little money since they had sat out all day in the summer heat. They still made excellent creamed corn.
The juices that you scrape from the cob thicken during cooking (the sugar turns to starch) so there isn't really any cream or dairy involved. When I made it I was in a bit of a hurry so I cheated and sliced the kernels from the cob, then used the back of a knife to scrape the juices onto the cutting board. It helps to use a cutting board that has want to save all that lovely juicy slurry from the inner kernels. To do it properly you slit each row of kernels and then scrape out the inner part of the kernel. It give a much more luxurious texture but it is slower. I don't know if this dish keeps well once cooked because we have never had any leftovers.

Do take the time to try this recipe if you are living where corn is in season now. If you use a small amount of bacon grease to keep it from sticking in the pan it is even tastier...but then almost anything tastes better with bacon. If that doesn't appeal to you, use a non-stick pan. A little corn oil or cooking spray will keep the mass moving as it thickens.

I would love to hear back from you about your take on this recipe, or on any of the recipes in the book.

Dad's Creamed Corn

Husk fresh corn (Silver Queen, a sweet white variety, became a favorite in later years). Slit kernels with a sharp knife, top to bottom. Scrape the pulp and juice from the kernels (Dad got a gadget in recent years that does the scraping; before that he used the back of the knife. Both work to scrape out as much pulp and juice as possible).

In a heavy frying pan (best: a cast iron one, greased with bacon drippings) cook the corn, seasoned with salt and pepper, until it begins to bubble and thicken. Stir constantly and add milk if the mixture gets too thick. (A wooden spoon or silicon spatula works well for stirring.) Serve hot.

Allow about 1 large ear of corn per person, with an extra ear if you are serving more than four people.


  1. Yay! SO glad that you've put it out there for publication!

    Looking forward to meeting up with you again next time we're in town.

  2. You are awesome!
    It's really hard to stop at some point and print.

  3. Well, yay for you for actually making this available! YUMMY looking corn chowdah. I really think the type of corn your Da used is THE BEST, but I usually eat it out of hand! It never lasts long enough for chowder. I'm going to try, though!

  4. David, Thanks! I hope we meet sooner than every 5 years!

    Tanna, Thanks! It was more time consuming than I had thought, but satisfying in the end.

    Tanita, Thanks! It's actually not a chowder, just a corn side dish, but yummy. I have the same problem as you do, I just want to eat it right off the cob!

  5. Marian5:27 AM

    One reason Dad used to try to get lots of corn at the end of the day was because this recipe freezes very well. And there is no better way to remember summer when it is actually January outside than to have some creamed corn you have kept in the freezer for just such a moment. It's even better if you end the meal with peach pie made from a filling you froze in August from those perfectly ripe peaches.

  6. Next Sister Down9:57 AM

    I have to say, both as Elle's sister and as someone who has worked in book publishing for 30+ years, the book is beautiful. The design and layout are fantastic, the colors are vibrant, and the pictures are a well-chosen mix of food pictures, the like of which we've all seen on the blog, and family photos that, of course, mean more to family members but do give the book a nifty personal flavor.

    And that's my professional opinion! :-)

  7. Next Sister Down10:35 AM

    One more thing: You can freeze creamed corn. I think Dad and Mom used to put some in containers in the freezer to pull out in the middle of winter when fresh corn was months in the past and months in the future.

  8. Marian and NSD, Never thought to freeze this, but that is the perfect thing to do if I get enough corn at a reasonable price.

    Next Sister Down, High praise indeed! Thank you. Your professional assessment is very meaningful, both because you are such a great editor and because of your years of experience and design sense. I will treasure these words.