Select Page
Winter Is Not All Bad

Winter Is Not All Bad

Winter is not all bad. That was my mantra a couple days ago when a surprise storm dumped 9 inches of snow on our town in a few hours. It was very pretty coming down (good news) and half of it had melted by evening (even better news). If all snowstorms were like that, I’d be a big fan.

Winter is my least favorite season. My reasons begin with cold and dark and snow. They end with 25 years teaching elementary school, during which I spent 4-5 months of every year supervising kids who at least 6 times a day were either putting on or taking off hats, scarves, mittens, snow pants, coats, and boots.

However, winter is not all bad. Kind of like fictional characters, who need to be a mixture of good and bad, like real people. For instance, the protagonist of See Jane Run! has good characteristics such as caring for kids and seeking justice by catching the bad guy. And the bad guy, who shall remain nameless, is bad. But not all bad. He reinvented himself after a bad break. And he’s a good listener.

But what, you may be wondering, is good about winter? The answer is soup. By my way of thinking, soup season begins with the first snow, so this year’s soup season will be longer than usual. To celebrate this goodness, here are links to my favorite soup and stew recipes. Except for Mom’s Chili, they entered my recipe bank after we moved to Iowa.

  1. Mom’s Chili
  2. French Stew
  3. Minestrone
  4. Crock Pot Bean Soup
  5. Slow Cooker Chicken Thai Soup
  6. Turkey Tortilla Soup

Do you have a favorite soup or stew recipe? Please share it in the comments below and leave a link to the recipe if you can.

Sign up to receive website updates and See Jane Run! book news on Gravel Road’s home page right under the picture of–you guessed it–the gravel road.

Caramel Rolls: An All-Time Favorite

Caramel Rolls: An All-Time Favorite

Caramel rolls have been an all time favorite at our house for decades. Ever since my mother-in-law gave me this cookbook when we lived in South Dakota.

During our years in Harding County, South Dakota, I added 2 cook books to what was a meager collection. The first was the Camp Crook Centennial Cook Book. which I purchased after it came out in 1982. The second, the Better Homes and Gardens All-Time Favorites that was published in 1979, was a gift from my mother-in-law Elsie Philo. Anyone who knew Elsie for more than ten minutes knows that she didn’t like to cook. At all. However she knew I loved to cook, so I received her gift with heartfelt gratitude.

Many of the recipes were on the fancy side, requiring either ingredients small grocery stores didn’t carry or preparation time beyond my limited supply as a country school teacher and mother to a toddler with significant medical needs. But I have used the basic sweet dough recipe found on page 380 for almost 40 years, and it’s the reason for the cook book’s worn cover. This past weekend, I made caramel rolls using the basic sweet roll recipe as I have always done on one fall Saturday or another as the weather turns cool.

Caramel rolls have been an all time favorite at our house for decades. Ever since my mother-in-law gave me this cookbook when we lived in South Dakota.

I made 2 double batches of the recipe below and baked them in pans of 12 rolls each. Our freezer now holds 7 foil-wrapped packages and our collective stomachs (Hiram, our daughter, our-son-in-law, the toddler, and mine. Our grandson has his own gluten-free version.) hold the contents of 1 dozen. Here’s the recipe updated to be dairy-free and for kneading by a mixer with a dough hook, something not available in what my grandchildren refer to as “the olden days.”

Basic Sweet Roll Dough

3 1/2 to 4 cups unbleached flour (I used 2/3s whole wheat bread flour)
1 package active dry yeast
1 cup water for dairy free
1/8 cup sugar
1/4 cup lard
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs

In large mixer bowl, combine 2 cups of flour and the yeast. In saucepan, heat water, sugar, lard, and salt until mixture is warm (just begins steaming) and lard is melted. Add to flour in the mixing bowl. Add the eggs.

Beat on low speed of electric mixer for 30 seconds, scraping sides of bowl constantly. Beat 3 minutes at high speed. Using dough hook on mixer, stir in as much remaining flour as possible. Continue mixing until dough is smooth and elastic and comes away from the bowl’s side to form a ball on the dough hook (6 to 8 minutes). Remove from the bowl and shape into a ball.

Place ball of dough in lightly greased bowl, turning once to grease surface. Cover. Let rise in a warm place until double (45–60 minutes). Punch dough down. Turn out onto lightly floured surface. Continue as directed below.

Caramel Rolls

Basic Sweet Roll Dough
3 tablespoons Earth Balance buttery vegan sticks, melted
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup butter (Earth Balance or coconut oil for dairy free)
2 tablespoons light corn syrup

Combine 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1/4 cup Earth Balance and corn syrup in a saucepan. Cook, stirring constantly until shortening is melted and mixture is blended. Distribute mixture evenly in two 9×1 1/2 round or two 8×8 square pans or one 9 x 13 cake pan.

Roll sweet dough into a 24×16 inch rectangle. Brush with melted Earth Balance. Combine 2 tablespoons brown sugar and cinnamon and sprinkle mixture over dough. Starting from long side, roll up dough jelly-roll style. Seal seam. Slice into 24 rolls.

Place rolls, cut side down, in prepared baking pans. Cover and let rise in a warm place until double (about 30 minutes). Bake at 375° for 18–20 minutes. Cool about 30 seconds. Invert onto racks covered with foil and remove pans. Makes 24 rolls.

Sign up to receive website updates and See Jane Run! book news on Gravel Road’s home page right under the picture of–you guessed it–the gravel road.

When in a Pinch Write about Pie

When in a Pinch Write about Pie

When in a pinch write about pie. That’s my best authorly advice for wannabe writers when unusual life events blast their routines to smithereens.

A plethora of unusual life events also explains why this post features pie instead of an update about See Jane Run! Here’s what made the short list

  1. The Iowa derecho. It did a number on our yard. Everything but the giant cottonwood in the east pasture has been cleaned up. The tree’s our late-summer-into-fall project that we’ll keep chipping away at.
  2. Grieving friends. A text came from friends during the weekend just passed about the unexpected and devastating loss of a family member. To preserve their privacy, I won’t go into details other than to say it wasn’t COVID-related. They’ve been texting updates, and each one leads to fresh tears.
  3. House construction. A crew arrived this past Monday before 7 AM. By noon they had constructed the forms for the foundation walls . At 5:30 they had emptied the contents of 4 cement trucks into the forms. Tuesday morning they were back at 6:30 AM to disassemble the forms. It was great entertainment for the whole family, but not conducive to writing. This modern process for building foundations is also not conducive for the hiding of dead bodies. I’ve rebranded the time lost to writing as research because it makes me feel better.

Okay, that’s enough of that. Let’s move on to pie. My recent Instagram post about taking a pie to neighbors who helped us out during the derecho was pretty popular on Instagram and Facebook. It came to mind when I didn’t have time or energy to blog about what I’d hoped to tell you about See Jane Run! this week.

A little voice in my head said when you’re in a pinch blog about pie because people love pie. So here’s what I have to tell you about pie.

  1. The crumb top apple pies I made, one for our neighbor and one for our family, were delicious.
  2. You can pulverize rolled oats into flour in the blender and use it instead of regular flour in the crumb topping to make gluten free apple crisp that’s almost as good as pie.
  3. To make the pie dairy free and soy free, replace butter with half Earth Balance vegan buttery sticks and half lard.
  4. Homemade pie crust made from Grandma Conrad’s Never Fail Pie Crust recipe is the absolute best. If you want to go vegan, you can use Crisco, but it’s not the same. Sorry about that.

Finally, here’s the connection between a post about pie to a cozy mystery blog. In one of the final chapters of See Jane Run!, Jane makes an apple pie and uses Grandma Conrad’s recipe for the crust. Because as Jane and I both know, it’s worth writing about when we’re in a pinch and when we’re not.

Sign up to receive website updates and See Jane Run! book news on Gravel Road’s home page right under the picture of–you guessed it–the gravel road.

Where Can Jane Find a Good Cup of Coffee?

Where Can Jane Find a Good Cup of Coffee?

Where can Jane find a good cup of coffee? Java is important to fiction readers if the response to my recent Instagram post about our home espresso machine is any indication. As a result, I’ve been thinking about where Jane would find a good cup of coffee if she wants one in a future scene. So far, I haven’t come up with a decent answer, and here’s why.

For starters, the first Tipperary County mystery, See Jane Run! is set in 1977. That was at least a decade before coffee roasting and quality coffee became a thing in the United States. I’m not sure it was possible to make a good cup of coffee in the days when the big cans of ground Maxwell House, Folgers, and Hills Brothers were the only choice. Quality food requires quality ingredients and all that.

Furthermore, much of See Jane Run! and subsequent books in the series are based on the years when our young family lived in northwest South Dakota. I was not a fan of Maxwell House, Folgers, and Hill Brothers coffee and only drank tea back then. I have no idea how coffee served in homes and cafes tasted.

On the other hand, I grew up hearing my parents, as well as aunts and uncles, rave about the egg coffee my maternal grandmother made for large family gatherings. Mom’s family was from southern Minnesota, and while Grandma wasn’t Scandinavian, she learned how to make it from neighbors who were. Since the population of northwestern South Dakota was heavily Scandinavian, I assumed the Camp Crook Centennial cookbook would have a recipe for egg coffee. It did not.

The only people who can help with this conundrum are the good citizens Harding County. If you ever lived or now live in Camp Crook, Buffalo, or on a ranch in Harding County, I’d love to hear from you. First, where could Jane have found a good cup of coffee? Second, did you or your parents or grandparents make egg coffee? Third, if they did what was their recipe?

Thanks in advance for your comments. Unlike me, Jane prefers coffee over tea. She’s going to be very cranky until she gets her hands on a good cup of brew, and her bad mood will make writing about her a challenge!

Sign up to receive website updates and See Jane Run! book news on Gravel Road’s home page right under the picture of–you guessed it–the gravel road.

Stir Up in a Bucket: What Is It?

Stir Up in a Bucket: What Is It?

A post from a couple weeks back featured the 1982 Camp Crook Centennial Cook Book. Friends and former students (who are, to be clear, no longer my students but are my friends) left comments about how they still use the cook book. I do too, but there are a few recipes I have never tried. My hunch is that no one else has either.

While I don’t plan to whip them up in my kitchen, they provide taste of life in Little Missouri where See Jane Run! and other books in the Tipperary County series are set. That’s why I’ll be serving them up from time to time on this blog.

Today’s offering, Stir Up in a Bucket, was briefly mentioned in the Centennial Cook Book post. It was submitted by Walter Stuart (pictured above), a thrice widowed rancher who had a tiny farm in the middle of town, right behind the school where I taught. The character Merle Laird in See Jane Run! is modeled after but not identical to Walter. More on their similarities and differences in future posts.

For now, let’s focus on the recipe for Stir Up in a Bucket. If you, dear reader, have the intestinal fortitude necessary to prepare and eat this delicacy, please leave a comment about whether it’s edible, what it is, and what it tastes like. I’m dying to know, but not enough to try it myself because dying is not at the top of my bucket list.

Readers who don’t have the intestinal fortitude to try Stir Up in a Bucket are welcome to leave a comment after reading the list of ingredients and the spare cooking instructions. It’s a head scratcher for sure, and a tiny glimpse at the ingredients available to early settlers in Tipperary County. Boy, am I glad we didn’t live there then!

Stir Up in a Bucket

1 quart flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

Add enough bacon grease to keep it from sticking to pan. Add water until you get a heavy batter. Pour into a frying pan. Cook until brown on the bottom and turn. Cut like a cake.

Sign up to receive website updates and See Jane Run! book news on Gravel Road’s home page right under the picture of–you guessed it–the gravel road.

The Camp Crook Centennial Cook Book

The Camp Crook Centennial Cook Book

The Camp Crook Centennial Cook Book holds a special place in my heart. This little town on the prairie, population 92, celebrated its centennial while we and our baby boy lived there. Cooks from all over Harding County submitted recipes, and I don’t think any were turned away. It was the first publication to accept and feature my work.

All in the form of recipes.
All for foods my mom taught me to cook.
Almost all of them being desserts.

Which just goes to show I’ve had my priorities straight since a young age.

I found this little cook book to be valuable primary source material while I wrote and rewrote at least 10 times–yes, that’s right, 10 times–See Jane Run! Paging through it and seeing familiar names beneath recipes brings back memories of life in a place where the “old timers” had lived in soddies and shacks built by their homesteader parents.

My favorite section is the one for candies and old time recipes. It contains recipes for homemade soap, grandma’s sweet pickles, hand lotion, corn cob syrup, homemade mustard, and something called “stir up in a bucket.”

I have no idea what “stir up in a bucket” is. The first sentence in the instructions which reads as follows–”Add enough bacon grease to keep it from sticking to pan”–doesn’t have me rushing to try it for supper any time soon.

Though I might give it a try to because it has the potential to be a great scene in the sequel to See Jane Run!, which is called Hear Jane Sing! 

Before I mix up a batch of “stir up in a bucket,” I’ll post the recipe here in a month or so. Then all of you can give it a whirl with me, and we can talk about how to incorporate it into the story.

Until then, I suggest you try this recipe for fresh peach pie. It’s in the Camp Crook Centennial Cook Book, and I can vouch for its deliciousness. I’ll be making it as soon as the Colorado and Missouri peaches appear in the grocery store just like in 1983 when the little town where I once lived turned 100 years old.