Recipes For and From the Journey: Recipes from Miriam's Well: A Modern Day Exodus
Contributor

Okay, a confession: I wander through my days with great anticipation for the next meal. Even if it’s just a hot cup of strong tea and bowl of brown rice cereal, envisioning what I get to eat next is a great motivator for getting out of bed in the morning and getting off the computer in the evening. I just love food and always have, and eating is  surely one of the most fun things a person can do sitting down. No surprise that food looms large in all my memoirs and novels, whether it’s the hunt for the best fried chicken in Kansas (in the memoir, Poem on the Range), or a vivid description of the magical rotating dessert case in a New Jersey diner (in The Divorce Girl). For my new novel, Miriam's Well, I took this love even further by including a whole bunch of real recipes central to what my main character character -- Miriam herself -- cooks and bakes over 50 years the novel covers of her obviously fictional life.

Meg Heriford and the Ladybird Diner always offer a dose of sunshine (and pie)
Meg Heriford and the Ladybird Diner

I hadn't intended to include a mini cookbook in my novel, but before the manuscript was to mosey on over to my publisher, I couldn’t sleep at night because the idea of including recipes kept waking me up. I also had a sneaking suspicion that a novel with recipes might be easier to promote to more readers. Luckily, Steve Semken, owner of Ice Cube Press, said yes, and then so did some marvelous food geniuses in our community: Nancy O’Connor, educator director of our long-standing food co-op, The Merc, and author of The Rolling Prairie Cookbook; Jayni and Frank Carey, who have gathered and created many quintessential Midwestern recipes, particularly in The New Kansas Cookbook; plus the owner of the Ladybird Diner, Meg Heriford, who happens to make some of the greatest pie in the cosmos, and a great many friends and family members.

The book, due out March 30, is catching a lot of advance attention, and I found that by including these recipes, I have new ways to promote readings. At several synagogues around the Midwest, a Minneapolis coffee gallery, a small-town library, and in other venues, I've set up readings accompanied by receptions -- and in some cases, all-out dinners -- featuring recipes from the journey (more on these events here). I obviously connect with at least some people who love food as much as me, because when I suggest we prepare some of the dishes from the novel, then send them the recipes, they get downright giddy.

Close to 40 pages of recipes later, the cooking and baking in Miriam’s 40-plus-year journey through America becomes recipes for some of our journeys too. Here’s a sneak preview of two recipes, each named for a character in the book: Batty is Miriam’s mother, originally named Matilda, nicknamed Matty, and then called Batty for reasons you’ll see in the novel.  The Acadian Dream Inn is a resort on — where else? — Mount Desert Island of Maine where Miriam and her sister-in-law Cindy commandeered the kitchen to the delight of guests

My grandmother beholding
the turkey one Thanksgiving

Batty’s Stuffed Cabbage

Batty learned this recipe from her parental grandmother, who died before Miriam was born. It was a dish the whole family, especially Miriam, loved, so Batty made it often. The smell of this baking filled the kitchen with such warmth and comfort that Batty was drawn to keep making on a regular basis long after she moved to the Southwest, and she even brought it to various potlucks, where others fell in love with the dish.

1 large green cabbage

1 lb ground beef

1 cup uncooked rice

1 large onion chopped into large slices

2 large cans stewed whole tomatoes

1 cup water

1/8 cup lemon juice

1/8 cup honey 

1/2 cup golden raisins (optional but highly recommended!)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Boil or steam cabbage until soft enough to roll. While the cabbage is boiling, combine the rice and beef, and season with salt and pepper as desired. Lay out cabbage leaves, and roll in the meat/rice mixture, placing the meat at one end, rolling, then tucking in the sides. Place seam side down in casserole dish. For the sauce, brown chopped onions in pot until softened, add in stewed tomatoes and water, and mix well. Coat the bottom of a casserole pan with sauce mixture, place the cabbage rolls in, seam side down, and add in the rest of the sauce and water. Cover tightly with lid or foil. Bake for approximately three-four hours until done to your desire  Add in lemon juice and honey and  raisins in last half hour of cooking. Note: this dish can also be prepared in a crockpot.

Makes 6 servings.

Recipe by Lauren Pacheco, based on a recipe from Caryn and Lauren’s grandmother, Molly Prusak.

 

The Acadian Dream Inn’s Chocolate Zucchini Cake

Miriam and Cindy together created this recipe one year at the inn when they had too much zucchini. It turns out that the zucchini made for an especially rich, even sinful-tasting, cake that everyone loved so much that they kept it on the menu until the inn went under. Both Miriam and Cindy continue to make this on a regular basis just because.

1/2 cup butter, softened

1/2 cup vegetable oil

1 3/4 cups sugar

2 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 1/2 cups unsifted, all-purpose flour

1/4 cup dark cocoa powder

1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 cups zucchini, finely shredded

1 (10-ounce) bag dark chocolate chips, divided

Pre-heat oven to 325 degrees.

Place the butter, oil, and sugar in a large mixing bowl, and beat with an electric mixer until well blended. Beat in the eggs, vanilla extract, and buttermilk. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, dark cocoa, pumpkin pie spice, baking powder, and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the batter, and blend until well combined. Stir the shredded zucchini, and half of the dark chocolate chips (5 ounces) into the batter. Spoon the batter into a greased and floured 13” x 9” baking dish. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean. Transfer the cake from the oven to a wire baking rack and, while still hot, sprinkle the remaining chocolate chips over the top. Let them melt and spread evenly over the cake. Variation: dark chocolate frosting can be substituted for the chocolate chip topping.

12 to 16 servings

Recipe by Linda Wilson, from Jayni and Frank Carey’s The New Kansas Cookbook

More recipes and the whole enchilada of the novel, Miriam’s Well, available here.

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