Richelle In A Handbasket

There is a place on the alley in Lafayette’s Market Square where an attitude of gratitude is pervasive. When you walk in the door you are greeted with warm hospitality, smiles, and even hugs. Oh, and then there’s the chocolate…and the “Addiction”…and so many other candies and snacks and gift merchandise. And it’s all from Indiana. Well, at least ninety-nine percent of it is, and 100 percent from small businesses. It’s a shop called Richelle In A Handbasket, and the idea is to help people up their game in showing gratitude. On the latest episode of the Indiana Home Cooks Podcast, I visit Richelle In A Handbasket. You can hear it right here:

Richelle Peterson moved from a corporate career to entrepreneur, because of a call to help people do a better job of showing gratitude. A gift card or a box of summer sausage, cheese, and crackers don’t cut it for Richelle. And in the area of corporate gift giving–to clients and employees at holiday time–she saw a huge opportunity. I’ve always said, “Never look a gift horse in the mouth,” but I, and probably most of us, have been on the receiving end of a gift that wasn’t particularly thoughtful. Enter, Richelle Peterson, to the rescue!

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And she does give the impression of riding in to save the day. (Check the podcast–above–to hear why Wonder Woman is so important to her!) We’ve all heard the old phrase “going to hell in a hand basket,” describing a situation going badly. Richelle has faced difficult circumstances, and turned the idea of “going to hell in a hand basket” on its head. The baskets that leave her shop are filled with love and care, hugs and smiles. Her goal is that the recipient feels all those things when they receive one of her baskets. And when they taste the truffles, the toffee, the Addiction snack mix, they taste the quality and care that go into every bite.

The story of Richelle and her shop is the story of Indiana Home Cooks. It’s about understanding the importance of putting your heart and soul into what you do. For me it’s about cooking a meal as an act of love. For Richelle it’s about the thought, care, concern, and love that go into the foods and into the baskets that leave her store to bring smiles and blessings to the recipients. It’s not about what we are eating, it’s about the shared experience, the tradition, the goodness, the love and care that come with the eating.

Richelle is not a fan of the Heath Bar candy bar, as you can hear in the podcast. Her English toffee puts a Heath Bar to shame. Still, I have a recipe for Heath Bar Cake that I’ve made all my life. Maybe I’ll bake one and bring her a slice. And I’ll share the recipe here, another day!

Learn more at richelleinahandbasket.com, and on Facebook.

Desperation

If you cook, you know what it is. From “What’s for dinner?”  to “I didn’t realize I was out of eggs…”  to “I need to come up with a dessert for the party tonight!”  It takes many forms, desperation, and it sometimes calls for desperate measures. I uncovered a recipe recently that answers that call–“Crazy Chocolate Cake.”

(I prepare this recipe on the May 4 edition of Earth Eats, a program of WFIU, Public Radio from Indiana University. You can find Earth Eats at this link.)

When I say “uncovered,” I truly mean it.  I was looking for some quick thing to bake to go along with the fresh strawberries I had bought one day. Flipping through the “C’s” in my recipe file, my eye landed on this one, which I had written out longhand with no attribution, date, or anything to indicate I had ever baked it. No smudges, drips, stains, notations, or corrections. That day I couldn’t be bothered even to stir up batter for shortcake to go with my strawberries, so I decided this untested, but very simple, crazy cake would be just the thing.

It’s the simple formula and procedure that make this Crazy Chocolate Cake appealing. I did an online search to find other versions, and most of them mirrored my own recipe. I was drawn to the origins of Crazy Chocolate Cake and learned this type of cake, lacking milk, eggs, or butter, comes from the “desperation” category of recipes. During desperate times such as the Great Depression or the World Wars, some ingredients were in short supply or expensive to purchase. (My economist husband would remind me those two circumstances go hand in hand.) Home cooks had to improvise or use alternative ingredients for things lacking in the larder. This cake was often called War Cake, Depression Cake, or Wacky Cake, to fit the times.

Pie recipes were often altered to fit the ingredients on hand. Our own “official state pie,” the beloved Sugar Cream Pie, certainly falls into that category. You could say we’ve moved from desperation to convenience when it comes to the Sugar Cream Pie, as Wick’s Pies offers the definitive version, ready-made, in the freezer section at your local grocery! (We’ll talk more about that in a future Indiana Home Cooks Podcast episode.)

But a desperate situation can also come about because the home cook is simply out of one of the ingredients called for, or lacking time to create an elaborate dish or dessert. That’s where I was as I sought a quick and easy recipe for a baked accompaniment  to fresh strawberries. The Crazy Chocolate Cake contains no milk, eggs, or butter, requires no electric mixing, and no mixing bowl! All ingredients are stirred together in the baking pan. When the cake is cooled, it may be frosted, but I prefer a simpler approach–a light dusting of powdered sugar. That’s all this rich, moist cake needs.

Occasionally in the coming months, you can hear recipes from Indiana Home Cooks on Earth Eats, a program on WFIU, Public Radio from Indiana University. It airs on WFIU-2 (101.9 FM) Fridays at 7:30 p.m., and on WFIU-1 (103.7 FM), Saturdays at 7:30 a.m. Earth Eats is also a podcast, where you can listen on demand, whenever you want.

Susan’s Crazy Chocolate Cake

Pre-heat oven to 375º

Measure directly into a 13” x 9” cake pan, un-greased and un-floured:

  • 3 cups all purpose flour
  • 6 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking soda

Mix these dry ingredients thoroughly in the pan, using a fork or wire whisk. Make three wells in the dry ingredients (two small and one large well). Assemble the following ingredients:

  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 2 tsp vinegar
  • Scant 2/3 cup canola or other light oil
  • 2 cups cold water

Into one of the small wells put vanilla, and into the other small well put vinegar. Finally, pour the oil into the larger well. Carefully pour the 2 cups water over all. With a fork or whisk, stir thoroughly, making sure to incorporate all dry ingredients and the oil. Take it slowly at first, so as not to slosh anything out of the pan. The batter will have small lumps. That’s unavoidable mixing by hand, and it’s fine.

Bake at 375º for 30 minutes. A toothpick inserted in center should come out clean when done. Cool completely on a rack. 

To serve, dust individual cake pieces with powdered sugar. Delicious with fresh strawberries, whipped cream, or crème fraiche. 

Indiana Artisans

Indiana Artisan is a non-profit organization whose mission is to identify and showcase the state’s highest quality art and food. The Indiana Artisan Marketplace was held recently at the State Fairgrounds in Indianapolis, and I spoke with several of the artisans for the Indiana Home Cooks Podcast. Listen here:

The Indiana Artisan program was established through a resolution the state General Assembly passed in 2010. Since then the organization has approved, through a juried process, about 200 artists and food makers across the state to carry the “Indiana Artisan” brand. Two retail shops in the state are now devoted to selling Indiana Artisan products–one at the French Lick Resort, and a new location in downtown Carmel. The full story of the Indiana Artisan program is at it’s website.

While the bulk of the participants in the Indiana Artisan program are artists, there are many food makers among the group. These are folks who have taken a family recipe and turned it into a commercial success, or others who are highly skilled and have a passion for candy making, bread baking, wine making, etc. As one of the entrepreneurs told me, Indiana Artisan is not an organization you can pay ten dollars to join. Artisans submit an application and samples of their work, and are adjudicated by expert panels as to their worthiness in meeting the standards of the program. This rigorous application and jury process takes place only once each year, and only about twenty percent of applicants make the grade.

Of those who have succeeded, I spoke with five at the Indiana Artisan Marketplace, held in early April at the State Fairgrounds in Indianapolis. That’s the subject of the latest Indiana Home Cooks podcast (press the orange play button above to hear it). Here is a rundown of who you will hear on the podcast, and links to their own websites:

David VanWye, Amazing Hazel’s Gourmet Chili Sauce.

Jay Noel, owner of Abbott’s Candies, based in Hagerstown.

Nick Murdick, creator and owner of Presto Kombucha fermented teas.

Connie Molenaar, of Connie’s Creations Long Leaf Pine Needle Baskets.

Dan Adams, owner and winemaker, Winzerwald Winery in Perry County.

All the above vendors are on Facebook and/or other social media. Look them up and let them know you heard about them on the Indiana Home Cooks podcast!

Goods For Cooks

It’s a comfort knowing that some things will always be there when we need them. Be it family, a friend, a house, a vacation spot, your hometown, a favorite food lovingly prepared for you. Life can take us in many directions and many miles from where we started, but when we come home we feel comfort in the familiar.

Those who cook and eat in Bloomington, Indiana, have a place like that–Goods For Cooks, the shop on the square that has supplied cooking and kitchen wares for over four decades. A handful of owners have minded the store, each giving it their own personal touch during their tenure. The newest owner, Sam Eibling, took over last fall and is busy putting her own stamp on Goods.

On the latest episode of the Indiana Home Cooks podcast (LISTEN at the link above, or on Apple Podcasts, iTunes, or Stitcher), I visited Goods For Cooks and talked with Sam about this new venture that she and her brother as co-owner have embarked upon. While Sam is excited to update and add new products to the assortment at Goods For Cooks, she is also committed to maintaining the familiar selection and the reliable service Goods has always been known for. She considers her ownership of the store as stewardship–maintaining and strengthening a Bloomington institution to thrive for decades to come.

Learn more about Goods For Cooks at goodsforcooks.com. They’re also on Facebook and Instagram. The store is located on the square in downtown Bloomington, 115 North College Avenue.

Maple Syrup Time

We can sense winter giving way to spring, as the days grow longer, the sunshine feels warmer, and we enter a period of almost daily freezing and thawing of the air and the soil. People involved in producing maple syrup might consider this the fifth season of the year–maple sugaring season. It’s celebrated throughout Indiana at festivals and demonstrations, including the recent Parke County Maple Syrup Festival, the subject of the new episode of the Indiana Home Cooks here:

(Subscribe or follow on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, or SoundCloud.)

The freezing and thawing this time of year, with temperatures below 32° at night, and above 40 during the day, cause the sugar maple tree to draw moisture up through its roots and to its entire height. For centuries we’ve understood that tapping into that sugar water does nothing to harm the tree and provides us with the raw product that becomes maple syrup.

The sugar water, or sap, once collected, is delivered to the sugar house where it’s boiled for hours until it becomes the golden sweet maple syrup most of us are familiar with. Don’t confuse real maple syrup with the commercial brands of “pancake syrup” that line the grocery store shelves. Those are basically corn syrup with maple flavoring added. And there is nothing wrong with pancake syrup. It is significantly cheaper than pure maple syrup. Find one you like and go for it. But now and then, it’s nice to splurge a little on the real thing.

That got me thinking, though. When I was grocery shopping for a family of four, and perusing the pancake syrups in their various iterations–“original,” “lite,” “sugar free,” store brands, national name brands–I remember thinking how expensive this one item seemed be. My typical purchase was a 24-ounce bottle of Mrs. Butterworth’s Lite, which everyone in the house seemed to like. I don’t remember exactly what I paid for Mrs. B’s years ago, but a recent search of the item at my local Pay-Less (Kroger) Store found it for $3.89. A quick calculation converts that to 16 cents per ounce. And that was not the most expensive syrup on the shelf. Aunt Jemima’s Original Lite Syrup, 24 oz., rings up at $4.89 (20 cents/oz.). Standing in the aisle, you think to yourself, “Almost $5 for a bottle of syrup?!?!?”

When I at last signed up for a membership at Sam’s Club, I quit buying pancake syrup at the grocery store and bought it only at Sam’s. That was the best deal going–a 2-pack of 64-ounce jugs of Mrs. Butterworth’s Original (not “lite”) for $6.82. That’s only 5 cents per ounce. (Now, since the two kids have been in college, and out of the house, I still have one of those 64-oz. jugs, un-opened in the pantry, for going on two years…..)

As a shopper, the cost of pancake syrup is one of those rather maddening things, because of the wide variation in price across brands and stores. So out of curiosity I checked several brands and sizes across several stores to get an idea of the cost difference between pure maple syrup and “pancake syrup.”  Here is what I found–Syrup Comparison

Of course, maple syrup is more expensive, making it a once-in-awhile treat. And locally made maple syrup is really up there in price. Sam’s Club Member’s Mark Maple Syrup costs 31 cents per ounce. The local stuff I bought in Parke County was three times that price.

But I was paying for more than syrup. It’s also the experience, right?  It was a lot of fun, and I look forward to going again next year. Observing fresh maple syrup being made and seeing right where it comes from are worth something. And I certainly want the producers to keep tapping, boiling, and bottling!

Top: the big cooker, boiling the maple sugar water into syrup at Williams & Teague Sugar Camp. Left: David Worth settling down the foam that builds up as the syrup boils. A drop of vegetable oil is all it takes. Middle: The Sweetwater Sugar Camp. Right: Getting closer to becoming maple syrup.

The Indiana Maple Syrup Association has more information about syrup producers and events in the state. The American Maple Museum, in Croghan, NY, has a fun slide show about the history of maple syrup in America here.

700 going on 1,000

Since launching the Indiana Home Cooks Podcast five months ago, I’ve had over 700 “listens,” and I thank each and every one of you for taking some time to check out my little show. Seeing it surpass the 700 mark, I’ve been wondering, how soon till we reach 1,000? So I’m putting together a push to reach 1,000 “listens” for the podcast.

If you’ve not tuned in yet, it’s very simple. Click here for Apple Podcasts, or here for Stitcher, whichever podcast player you prefer. There you will see the complete list of shows and you can listen to them all, or just the ones that interest you. If you subscribe to the podcast, you’ll get the latest episodes as they are posted. Right now that’s about every 10 days, give or take. There is no cost to subscribe.

If you like what you hear, share it with your friends, on your Facebook page, or on other social media. This blog has sharing buttons at the bottom of each post. Feel free to share it  with someone who might like Indiana Home Cooks.

Finally, if you have suggestions or ideas for future shows, let me know. You can reply on my Facebook page, Twitter, or send me an email: susanmintert@gmail.com.

Thank you again for your support of Indiana Home Cooks. I hope to hear from you with your feedback, and I’ll keep looking for new stories of food and drink in the Hoosier State to share with you.

Food Finders

For low income individuals and families, here in my part of Indiana and in every community, it’s a struggle to put good nutritious food on the table every day. From time to time on the Indiana Home Cooks podcast, we like to feature individuals and organizations doing the real work of helping those in need. On the “Food Finders” episode of Indiana Home Cooks, available here…and here, we highlight the work of Food Finders Food Bank, in Lafayette, Indiana.

I had heard of Food Finders for many years since moving to West Lafayette. But I never really understood what the organization did, other than collect donations of food and then distribute it to those in need in the community. Yes, that’s at the heart of what Food Finders does but it’s service to low income individuals and families goes way beyond that, and across a sixteen county region!

On the show we hear from Katy Bender, president and CEO of Food Finders, explain how the organization has expanded it’s services beyond the distribution of food to helping low income individuals and families make their food dollars go further, and much more. We hear from a nutrition education specialist with Purdue Extension, Barb Bunnell, on some of the ways she teaches low income clients to get maximum nutrition by using their “SNAP” vouchers (formerly called food stamps) and the food handouts at local food pantries.

To learn more about Food Finders, visit their website, food-finders.org.

To hear more ways the people of the Lafayette community are helping those most in need, specifically the homeless, check out the Feeding the Hungry episode of the Indiana Home Cooks podcast.