books, tools and appliances

Choosing A New Toaster – Need Help!

long slot toaster

Behold our beloved old toaster.


“Beloved.” Not an adjective I’d have used until about a week ago, when I started trying to find another one like it.

As even the blurry photo shows, age has cracked the top and dulled the plastic, so although it’s still fully functional it isn’t exactly a thing of beauty. Never was. But it’s not exactly ugly, either. And more to the point, it’s very well designed.

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Building an Outdoor Bread Oven – Part Two

outdoor bread oven

In some ways this is really Part One, because although Bill’s set of instructions for  building your own wood burning oven is  thorough enough, the inspirational ovens of his childhood got only fleeting mention when he wrote it.

Now, thanks to the comments section, the story has its start. A simple query (from a fellow Lithuanian) has summoned those missing memories: of the outdoor brick ovens built by the southern Italians on Bill’s mother’s side, and of his apprenticeship with Willie Orban, his Lithuanian Godfather, who ran “the largest and the best bakery in town.”

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New Year, New Microwave

There’s probably somebody somewhere who refers to them as “microwave ovens,” but I don’t know this person. Instead, I know several persons, all of them very good cooks, many of them with quite spacious kitchens, who refuse to have a microwave in the house. And I’m not talking about the health nuts. I’m talking about people who insist that microwaves are at worst the end of culinary civilization, at best yet more kitchen clutter, good for nothing except reheating coffee and making popcorn.

Well Pooey on that, as stepdaughter Celia used to say. I wouldn’t be without one and I’m not particularly gadget prone. In fact most of my cooking equipment is either


vintage stove, with cook

Bill manning the Strand Universal kitchen stove.

Or primitive

wood fired clay bake oven with stockpot and covered roast

The outdoor clay oven. Beans in the pot, pork roast in the pan, coals banked at the back to boost heat for the first few hours of cooking. The wooden door is lined with flashing to keep it from getting burned.

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The Best Thing About Food Blogs

Or one of the best things, anyway. They’re not on paper.

Result: not so many dead wild trees; fewer monocrop tree plantations, reduced use of  horrendous paper-processing chemicals. To say nothing of less giant log truck exhaust.

birch tree in lawn

Ok, these are safe. The wood lot on the other side of the road, not so much.

In other words, I’ve been cleaning out a few bookcases, bookcases that haven’t been cleaned out for quite a while. In addition to books, photographs and assorted memorabilia, they contained folders that I’d been thinking were full of old manuscripts but were in fact full of self-published food newsletters.

Tons – well, many pounds – of food newsletters. Newsletters beyond counting, from gifted writers and the prose-challenged, from good cooks and from people who should not be allowed near kitchens except in restaurants.

Old copies of keepers like The Art of Eating, Simple Cooking and Food History News will go to the Cushing library (which may be the very last library on earth willing to accept such things). The rest – into the recycle bin, with gratitude that there is finally something reasonably benign to do with unwanted paper.

Chanterelle, Corn and Haddock Chowder with Crabmeat and Cream

Excellent for lunch when there is unexpected company.

For 4-6 servings:

Go down to the upright freezer, where “ready to eat,” items are stored. Extract:  the last qt. of Haddock, Corn and Crab Chowder with Chanterelles, 1 qt. Succotash (Black Mexican corn and Dr. Martin lima beans), 1 qt. of something labeled “Chicken and Corn stock, strong flavor, thin texture,” and 1 1/2 c. Chanterelle Cream Sauce.

Combine and heat. Decide more chanterelle is needed. Go back down to the mushroom section and get a little bag of Chanterelles in Butter. Add. Reheat. Serve topped with shredded lettuce and minced scallion.

In other words

Ladies and Gentlemen, Start your freezers!

Talk About Good! Chicken and Avocado Salad Lafayette Style, for the Super Bowl

That would be Lafayette, Louisiana, not Lafayette, Indiana. The style would be that of the city’s Junior League, circa1967, and Talk About Good! would be the title of  said Junior League’s classic fundraising cookbook, a spiral bound journey to the South that was popular long before the food of New Orleans achieved nationwide cult status.

At this point T.A.G is more of a cultural artifact than a source of great recipe ideas, but there are a few gems that still shine with undiminished luster. A “Congealed Avocado and Chicken salad,” for instance, contributed by Mrs. Jacque Puken, of Eunice, LA, doesn’t sound all that promising, but in fact it’s absolutely delicious and a perfect make-ahead for a crowd. It’s hearty enough to be a main dish, light enough to play well with all the chili, boudin and/or brats, easy to serve and easy to eat  – with or without a fork.

Molded and served like pate; no fork needed

Molded into a loaf and sliced; fork needed. Also chips. (Crunch must not be overlooked.)

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Getting Ready for Thanksgiving

Easy  make-ahead piecrust recipes coming your way shortly… Meanwhile, here’s the (probably unneeded) reminder that house cleaning comes first. Nobody minds hanging out while you cook.

It’s also a reminder – should Black Friday find you in appliance shopping mode –  that shiny black surfaces in the kitchen are a very bad idea. This is not a room where it’s wise to have water spots look like dirt.

Poor fellow can barely see himself; and I'd just washed it that morning!

Poor fellow can barely see himself; and I'd just washed it that morning!

Giving thanks for the bread (oven) – with plans for building a wood fired clay oven of your very own.

As we get ready to fire up for Thanksgiving, I’m reminded how lucky I am. Not many cooks have a huge wood-burning outdoor oven, but thanks to my loving ( and very handy) husband we have two, one in New York and one in Maine.

leslie land (bakaitis photo) leslie and bread ovenBill built the Maine oven so the process could be filmed, so in a way I can thank The Three Thousand Mile Garden for that one. But that one never would have happened if the New York one hadn’t came first, and although Bill did of course build it the ultimate thanks there should probably go to his childhood.

There were several outdoor bread ovens in the neighborhood where he grew up, including one at his grandmother’s place. He never forgot the bread –  or the fact that the ovens were home built – so when I started making wistful noises about how nice it would be to have one they fell on receptive ears.

Next thing to be thankful for: he’s a man of action. And that goes not just for building the ovens but also for providing instructions. You too can have one of these things, not without a bit of work and not instantly, needless to say, but very very inexpensively and it ain’t rocket science, either. Here’s his step by step how-to:

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Another Tool Tale – kitchen division


Daffodils are close to the peak, we’re now enjoying daily  bouquets. Small bouquets, it must be admitted, because I hate to cut any no matter how many there are, but still


it must be time to

Plant the second round of lettuce.

Find the bags of summer clothing. 

Wish Wordsworth had kept his mouth shut, and

issue another Neat Old Tool Alert.

Yard sale season is upon us, and although they’re not common any more, there’s still a chance you’ll run into one of these  pieces of

antique ironing equipment

antique ironing equipment

Though it probably won’t say right on it what it was made for – Read More…

When the Crocus Blooms, It's Time to


Start on the endless spring to-do list. Lawn and garden cleanup, shrub pruning, seed-starting, seed planting…

and (among yet other things)

* Consider the freezer

* Start on the bulb maps

* Figure out where the garlic is going to go

* Cut back and repot tired houseplants

* Scout for morel spots Read More…