Cooking with Maine Women Writers, part 5

December 21st, 2012 by Laura Taylor

The last in our current series on Maine women food writers, today I’ll be focusing on food blogs written (at least partially) by Maine women. As I’ve already mentioned, we here at the Maine Women Writers Collection collect a multitude of types of materials – books, manuscripts, letters, and other physical objects. But did you know we also collect blog links too? (They’re in the side bar of our main page.)

In this day and age, many a cookbook author has started out as a blogger. Sometimes it happens in reverse, as well, as in Shonna Milliken Humphrey’s case. Known first as a writer (you may remember Show Me Good Land, published last year) she briefly did a series on her blog where she cooked a number of recipes out of Marjorie Standish’s Cooking Down East. She began in August 2011 and stopped sometime in 2012, but they don’t seem to be collected under any one heading on her blog. So, maybe start here, with some chocolate pudding, and peruse her archives if you’re interested in seeing more about her take on Marjorie Standish.

Next up, The Blueberry Files, where you will find holiday cocktails, restaurant reviews, cookie recipes and more. If you’re looking for a festive holiday dessert (who doesn’t need more pumpkin in their life?) perhaps try this pumpkin cheesecake.

Half of From Away is a Maine woman writer, Jillian Bedell. (The other half is her husband Malcolm.) This blog is a delightful combination of recipes, reviews and even an incredibly detailed post on how to be a food blogger. The pair has collected their holiday posts into one easy-to-access section, so dig in and find a good one! (These peanut butter thumbprint cookies with Nutella and jam don’t seem to be listed among their holiday recipes, but holidays mean cookies to me, so I’m going to be trying them soon!)

Like cheese? Jump in and join Edible Obsessions12 Days of Cheesemas posts, where she’s reviewing a different cheese every day. If cheese isn’t your thing, maybe some pecan pie bars are?

Vrai-lean-uh writes about “cooking, eating, making sweeping pronouncements” in a conversational style where tidbits about pregnancy cozy up to posts about gift-giving and lots of food-related stories. Some of the stories have recipes too and since it’s the season for pumpkin everything, why not try some cookies?

There’s also A Good Eater – “A blog about food, community, the environment, and living in place.” If you’re interested in environmental issues surrounding food then head on over to read about local, humanely raised meat and the move to rebuild Maine’s grain-growing economy. And of course, there’s a section of recipes. In the spirit of the holiday season, give these gingersnaps a try!

Lastly, and a little bit different than the previous blogs, we have Immigrant Kitchens. Food writer Lindsay Sterling brings together recipes and stories from people from all over the world, like this one from last December about a classic Nicaraguan Christmas and New Year’s dish – lomo relleno, or stuffed pork loin.

That concludes our week of cooking with Maine women writers. Looks for more blog posts highlighting cookbooks, food stories and blogs in the coming year!

Cooking with Maine Women Writers, part 4

December 20th, 2012 by Laura Taylor

Next in our series on Maine women food writers, we have Notes from a Maine Kitchen: Seasonally Inspired Recipes by Kathy Gunst.

Published in 2011, this book has a gorgeous cover and contains an abundance of recipes using local ingredients for each month of the year. December’s chapter finds her writing about holiday parties and includes this recipe for Mini Sweet Potato and Shallot Pancakes with Toppings.

This is a twist on traditional latkes, or potato pancakes, using sweet potatoes, which are so much less starchy, colorful, and healthier than plain old white ones. I like serving them on a platter with various toppings: a dollop of sour cream on one pancake, another with Roasted Apfelmus (Applesauce) [recipe in her cookbook], mango chutney, and apple chutney. Pick one or use them all.

Makes 16 two-inch pancakes; serves 4

  • 4 medium sweet potatoes, about 1 ½ pounds
  • 2 medium shallots, peeled
  • 2 eggs, whisked
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • ¼ cup flour, plus 1 tablespoon
  • 3 cups vegetable oil
  • toppings: sour cream, applesauce, mango chutney, and apple chutney

Using the largest opening on a cheese grater, grate the potatoes into a large bowl. Grate the shallots on the same large opening and mix with the potatoes. Add the eggs, salt, pepper, nutmeg, and flour and stir well to fully incorporate all the ingredients.

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

In a large heavy skillet, heat the oil over high heat. The oil should be at least 1-inch think. Let the oil get really hot. To test, add a small piece of grated potato – the oil should sizzle right up. Make a pancake from about 2 heaping tablespoons of batter, forming it into a pancake about 2 inches wide. Add the pancakes to the hot oil, being careful not to overcrowd the skillet. Cook for 2 minutes. Reduce the heat slightly and, using a slotted spoon, gently flip the pancake over. Cook for another 2 minutes. Drain on paper towels. Repeat with the remaining batter. You can keep the drained, cooked pancakes warm on a cookie sheet in the preheated oven for 5 to 10 minutes.

Serve hot with any or all of the toppings listed above.


  • Use carrots instead of sweet potatoes and add a pinch of ground ginger instead of nutmeg. Serve with thick Greek-style yogurt.
  • Add ¼ cup minced chives or cilantro to the pancake batter and add very thinly sliced scallions instead of shallots.

Cooking with Maine Women Writers, part 3

December 19th, 2012 by Laura Taylor

Continuing our series on Maine women food writers, today we’ll look at a cookbook by writers who cook. (Or…don’t, as some of these recipes illustrate.) Eating Between the Lines: A Maine Writers’ Cookbook, edited by Paul Doiron, was published in 1998 and includes a number of Maine women writers.

The recipes vary widely in complexity and it is clear that some of these writers really love to cook and probably do it quite well, while others only cook as a last resort. Sis Deans, for example, falls into the latter category.

I think God blesses all of us with special talents, but cooking isn’t one of mine. Just ask my kids, or my husband, or my mother. In fact, the first thing my mother said when my husband and I told her we were getting married twenty years ago was, “You know she can’t cook, John.” And as the old saying goes, “Some things just don’t change.” Thus it was exceptionally easy for me to decide on a recipe to submit for this book. I choose one that my siblings, mother, nieces, nephews, and all the in-laws (brother, sister, mother) ask for every time we have a family gathering.

The “Just tell Sis to bring her Mexican dip” dip
foolproof and good tastin’
so easy, even Sis can make it

  • 1 package Old El Paso Taco Seasoning Mix
  • 1 big glob (about 4 or 5 tablespoons) of Ortega Thick & Chunky Salsa
  • 1 pint of sour cream

Stir by hand, and serve with a big, fresh bag of Doritos.

If you’d like to have another festive dip to bring to a holiday party, how about this red and green one from another Maine woman writer? Monica Wood’s avocado salsa:

My friends and family had a good laugh when I informed them I’d been asked to contribute a recipe to a cookbook. I’m well known among my intimates as a terrible and reluctant cook. […] I’ve always believed that holiday food – with all its ritual and excess – summons our deepest feelings of both joy and loss.

Avocado Salsa

Mash together a ripe avocado and about a cup of extra-spicy salsa. Cut up a baguette for dipping, and presto! I recommend the house brand salsa at Shaw’s, by the way; it’s the old-fashioned watery kind, not the “thick and chunky” impostor that seems to be taking over the world. Make sure your salsa looks more red than green. If it’s too green it will still taste great but people won’t try it, especially kids. People will be so bowled over by this appetizer that they’ll hardly notice what you’re serving for dinner – Stouffer’s frozen lasagna. Plus they’ll be so busy begging you for the salsa recipe that they’ll forget to ask why you haven’t published anything in a while.

Debra Spark, who visited us just last week to speak about her new book The Pretty Girl, contributed her recipe for broiled chicken.

I used to think I was a fairly decent cook till I got married. My husband is such a creative, health-conscious, talented chef that I’ve given up cooking entirely for dishwashing. That is the deal: he cooks and I clean. Occasionally, though, he does leave town, and I’m reminded of my single girl life. Which means: bowls of popcorn for dinner. (“It’s a good, hot meal,” my twin sister likes to say.) When I’m more ambitious, I make soup and salad and sometimes this chicken, which is easy.

Broiled Chicken

Marinate chicken breasts (overnight or for several hours) in a mixture of lemon juice, olive oil, thyme, garlic and pepper. That’s it. Broil till done. It’s particularly good cold (the next day) in salads.



Cooking with Maine Women Writers, part 2

December 18th, 2012 by Laura Taylor

To continue our journey into Maine cookbooks, we’ll take a look at a couple of older volumes today.

One interesting book in our collection, while not strictly speaking a “cookbook,” is Anna Barrows’ Principles of Cookery, published in 1914. It is, as you might imagine, about the scientific principles of cooking, rather than about individual recipes. Despite being nearly 100 years old, this book still has relevant information since the science of cooking remains largely unchanged. It is written in textbook form and includes test questions at the end of every chapter. For instance, after part 3, “bread and other doughs,” there are the following questions, among others:

  • What are the advantages in the use of baking powder? When should baking soda and cream of tartar be used separately?
  • How does the bread obtainable outside your home compare with what you can produce there as to cost, including time and fuel, substance, and palatability?
  • How does bread flour differ from pastry flour? How does this affect its use in doughs?
  • Why does shortening make doughs flaky?

While the science of cooking may not have changed appreciably, methods of presenting food at the table certainly have. There are these lovely instances of mashed vegetables dressing up as other substances…

On your own for the holidays? Not cooking for a large family gathering? Perhaps try some meal plans from The Working Girl’s Own Cook Book by Hazel Young (1948).

The book focuses on meals for 1 or 2, with a section at the back for entertaining a crowd. Full of odd sounding recipes that are unfamiliar to a modern audience, this book surely must have at least a few keepers in it. Hamburg shortcake, anyone? Or just think of all the things you can do with frankfurters…

Cooking with Maine Women Writers, part 1

December 17th, 2012 by Laura Taylor

We here at the Maine Women Writers Collection collect a wide variety of materials, from books to letters to artwork and more. We probably have more than you imagine. Even within our book collection there is a multitude of topics. We have both fiction and non-fiction, everything from classic literature to children’s books to…cookbooks!

To me, there are two types of food writers – writers who cook and foodies who write. It seems that most cookbooks are written by the latter, as perhaps it should be, words not necessarily being well-suited for dinner fare. For most cookbooks and food blogs the writing is, though certainly important, secondary. It must be clear and well-done, to be sure, but it can get away with being quite simple in nature and more instructive than narrative. After all, a roast chicken doesn’t necessarily need an accompanying story to taste delicious. (But it can’t hurt!)

I’ve taken a peek through some of the cookbook material here and am going to share some of it with you over the next few days. After all, what better time to do some recipe sharing than at the holidays?

First up, a classic cookbook by a Maine woman writer – Cooking Down East by Marjorie Standish. I grew up with a tattered copy of this on the shelf in my parents’ kitchen. (It’s still my go-to source for a recipe for anadama bread!) First published in 1969, this cookbook holds an array of simple recipes using foods that most people would have already had in the pantry. The writing is simple and she includes bits of descriptive prose and even the occasional verse:

I baked a cake and my, it was good!
It rose and browned, as all cakes should.
I made some tea, fragrant and strong.
But that day no one came along!
I made a cake and it was punk!
It rose and then it went kerplunk.
I made some tea, both weak and thin
And that day all our friends dropped in!

Though not all of the recipes stand up to the test of time (there’s a certain reliance on gelatin and canned soups that modern cooks may not be comfortable with) there are still quite a few that could be included in a 2012 holiday menu, like this simple custard pie.

She [Marjorie’s mother in law] was just as widely known for custard pie and it is not unusual to have people say “Just made George’s mother’s pie today, it’s the best!” She gave the recipe in proportions for a 9-inch pie and a 10-inch pie.


4 eggs, slightly beaten
½ cup sugar
½ teaspoon salt
3 cups milk
½ teaspoon vanilla

Line a 9-inch pie plate with pastry. Flute edge of pie crust. Combine eggs, sugar and salt. Add milk and vanilla. Pour into unbaked pie shell. Sprinkle nutmeg over filling. Bake at 450 degrees 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 350, continue baking 30 minutes longer.

Are you unsure about when a custard pie is done? If custard is risen, it is an indication that the pie should come out of the oven. The custard still continues to cook as the pie cools on a wire rack. Test custard with a silver knife, if you prefer. Put blade into center of custard. If blade comes out clean, pie is done.

For the larger pie plate, use;

6 eggs
5/8 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 quart milk

Incidentally, right after this recipe for “custard pie” is a recipe for…”beautiful custard pie.” Regardless of which custard pie you might choose, I hope they all turn out beautifully!