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As Jeremy turned the car off the main highway from Waterford and onto the narrow gravel road that wound through the leafy wood encircling the Bergstrom estate, Anna instinctively clutched her seat cushion with one hand and braced herself against the dashboard with the other. "Maybe when we're finished remodeling the kitchen," she said, voice shaking with each bump and jolt, "we can convince Sylvia to do something about this road."
Jeremy kept his eyes on the winding way that led into the forest; if a car approached from the opposite direction, he would have to react quickly and pull halfway off the road to avoid a collision. Both sides of his car were already marked with fine scratches from past diversions into the underbrush. "I doubt it," he replied, his wire-rimmed glasses sliding down his nose a millimeter or two with every pothole. "Sylvia's a traditionalist. The longer you know her, the more you'll realize that she's reluctant to alter the old family estate too much."
"She's letting me make big changes to the kitchen," Anna reminded him.
Jeremy shrugged and offered her his familiar cheerful, crooked grin. "Only because she didn't think you'd take the job otherwise."
As much as Anna was thrilled with her new position as Elm Creek Manor's chef, she had to admit that Sylvia had guessed correctly. She would never forget her first glimpse of the kitchen when she had come to the manor for her job interview. It was larger than she expected to find in a building constructed in 1858, but there was not a single appliance post-1945 except for a tiny microwave on the counter, possibly the first ever invented by the look of it. The pantry was spacious and well stocked, but poorly lit and so badly organized that it would have taken Anna longer to find ingredients for one of her signature dishes than to mix them together. And as for the cooking utensils left to soak in the sink...The whisk looked to be at least fifty years old, which wouldn't have bothered her had it not been bent out of shape, and the hand mixer had rust, actual rust, on the handle. How the Elm Creek Quilters had managed to feed fifty-plus people three meals a day with that four-burner gas stove was a mystery, but Anna knew that she couldn't work in such conditions, not after being spoiled by the sparkling clean, modern facilities at Waterford College. Fortunately Sylvia had agreed that the kitchen was long overdue for an upgrade, and she had accepted Anna's condition for taking the job.
Now that Elm Creek Quilt Camp had ended for the season, Sylvia and Anna would launch the remodeling process in earnest. With weeks of planning and hours of consultation behind them, in two days they would usher in a team of workmen to tear out old cupboards and haul away dilapidated appliances, to demolish the wall between the kitchen and the west sitting room, to install new wiring, lighting, shelving, appliances, and everything else Anna desired and Sylvia's budget would allow. If all went well, Anna would have a fully operational, professional kitchen in time for the holiday feasts she intended to prepare for her new colleagues.
She hoped, in time, that they would become her friends.
Late-morning sunlight broke through the leafy wood, gold and rust and scarlet with autumn, as the road forked, wound through the trees, and emerged beside a sunlit apple orchard. They passed a red barn, climbed a low hill, and crossed the bridge over Elm Creek. All at once the manor came into view three stories of gray stone and dark wood surrounded by autumnal beauty.
Anna knew the Elm Creek Quilters considered the grand manor a second home. She was an Elm Creek Quilter now, too, she reminded herself. Perhaps in time Elm Creek Manor would become as important to her as it was to her new coworkers.
On the other side of the creek, the road broadened into a parking lot that circled two towering elms. "Call me when you want me to pick you up," Jeremy offered as he parked near the foot of the back stairs.
"I can take the bus," Anna said. She couldn't help feeling as if she were imposing on his generosity. It was one thing for him to drive her to work when his girlfriend, Summer, had lived at the manor, but now that Summer was attending graduate school in Chicago, Jeremy had no reason to come so far out of his way. Anna and Jeremy were friends and neighbors, with apartments on opposite sides of the hall in a building not far from the Waterford College campus, but these almost daily drives were a lot to ask even of a friend. But every time Anna mentioned the bus, Jeremy shook his head and drove her anyway. Anna suspected that Summer had asked him to bring her since she was new, to help her feel less like an outsider. Or maybe the Elm Creek Quilters were afraid that she would grow tired of the long walk from the bus stop, and they had enlisted Jeremy's help to make sure she didn't wear out her shoes. Or maybe Jeremy was just a nice guy and she was taking advantage of him.
Whatever the reason, and despite the occasional pang of guilt, secretly Anna was glad that their carpooling had not ended with Summer's departure. The bus's circuitous route would have added two hours to her daily commute, and she would have missed Jeremy's company.
"I'll have my cell on," Jeremy said, as if she had not mentioned the bus this time, either. Surely Summer had asked him to babysit her. That had to be it.
Anna returned Jeremy's grin, waved good-bye, and climbed the four stone steps to the back door of Elm Creek Manor. The kitchen was through the first doorway on the left, and from within came the sound of someone clattering pots and pans and what sounded like cookie sheets.
Anna hung her jacket in the hall closet and entered the kitchen, which already seemed strangely bare with the long wooden table and the benches that usually flanked it missing. Clad in a burgundy cardigan and black slacks, her silver-gray hair held back in a tortoise-shell comb, Sylvia Bergstrom Compson, Master Quilter and founder of Elm Creek Quilts, sat cross-legged on the floor, transferring skillets and saucepans into a carton. She glanced up and smiled, feathery lines etched around her eyes and mouth deepening, but the fondness in her expression did not lessen her air of command, as if she were a woman who was accustomed to voicing her opinions and having others carefully listen.
"Matt and Andrew moved the table and benches into the dining room, out of the way," Sylvia said, answering Anna's unspoken question. Brushing dust from her hands, she rose, far more slender than Anna and nearly as tall, with only the slightest stoop to her shoulders. A pair of glasses hung around her neck on a silver chain. "I haven't decided what to do with them yet. They'll seem out of place in our new kitchen, and yet they've been in the family so long I can't bear to get rid of them."
"I'm sure we can find a place for them somewhere," said Anna. "We don't have to get rid of everything, not if it's useful or has sentimental value." "
You're thinking just like my Bergstrom ancestors," said Sylvia dryly. "Remind me to show you the attic someday. No, we can't keep everything. That's the whole point of our work today, isn't it, to clear out the old and make way for the new?"
Anna hesitated. "I thought we were just going to pack up the dishes and cookware and move everything out of the way before the contractor demolishes the cabinets. I assumed we'd put everything back afterward."
"And spoil your lovely new kitchen with rusty old pots and pans?" Sylvia shook her head. "Out of the question."
"Sometimes old pots cook better than new," said Anna, thinking of the cast-iron cookware she had long admired. She was itching to cook up a ratatouille in the Dutch oven that had belonged to Sylvia's great-aunt. "Let's not discard things arbitrarily just because they clash with the paint and granite."
Sylvia smiled, amused by Anna's reference to their many contentious debates with their contractor's designer, who held strong opinions about the merits of particular color combinations. "Agreed. If I want to toss something out but you want to keep it, I'll let you have the last word. This kitchen will be your workspace, after all."
"But it's more than that," Anna said. "A kitchen is the heart of a home. Think of how much time the Elm Creek Quilters spend in this room, discussing quilt patterns and lesson plans over coffee and cake. Your guests, too. In the few weeks I've been here, I've noticed that time and time again, quilt campers find their way to the kitchen."
"They follow their noses," Sylvia said. "More so than ever since you came on board."
"It's also the first room campers pass when they come through the back door," Anna added, "and except for registration morning, that's the door they use most frequently."
Sylvia nodded, thoughtful. "It never occurred to me, but perhaps the kitchen is just as important as the front foyer is for offering our guests a warm welcome to the manor."
In Anna's opinion, the kitchen played that role in every home. "We could always move the registration tables in here," she joked as she knelt beside a lower cabinet. Inside she found cake pans of all shapes and sizes, definitely worth keeping. She pulled over an empty carton and carefully stacked the pans within it.
"Even after we knock out the wall and expand into the sitting room, we won't have enough space for that," said Sylvia. "Our campers will have to wait until the Welcome Banquet to get an official greeting from your kitchen."
The Welcome Banquet: the eagerly anticipated commencement of each new week of camp. The banquet hall, transformed by white linen tablecloths, crystal, and candlelight, set the proper festive tone for the days ahead, a week devoted to learning, sharing, and enjoying a respite from the cares of ordinary life. Anna had prepared the delicious feast for the last few weeks of the camp season, and she had been delighted by the campers' rave reviews not to mention those of the Elm Creek Quilters. She was pleased to know that she played such an important role in creating a celebratory mood and a sense of anticipation for the week ahead.
But many quilt campers found their way to the kitchen before they sat down to supper in the banquet hall.
"The kitchen has to be a welcoming place for our campers," Anna mused, sitting back on her heels and forgetting the bakeware for a moment.
"It will be," Sylvia promised. "The new seating will give campers a place to relax with a cup of coffee or a snack, or if they just want a cozy place to chat with friends. You might find yourself entertaining an audience while you prepare meals. I hope you won't mind."
"Not at all. It would be fun, like having my own cooking show." Anna drew her long, dark brown French braid over her shoulder, tucked a few loose strands back into the plait, and tightened the band on the end. "But that makes it even more important to create an inviting atmosphere, don't you think? Cozy seats, coffee, and snacks aren't enough. We need to find a way to make this kitchen serve up the spirit of Elm Creek Quilts just as it serves delicious meals. Somehow and I don't know how yet we have to give our guests a sense of the history of the manor as well as its exciting present. I want to honor the traditions of the Bergstrom family as well as all the people, Elm Creek Quilters and campers alike, who make Elm Creek Quilt Camp such a unique place. I want to bring all those flavors together, right here in this room."
Sylvia regarded Anna over the rims of her glasses for a moment. When a smile quirked in the corners of Sylvia's mouth, Anna knew her new employer was pleased with her ideas, but also amused that she hoped for so much from a simple kitchen. "That's a tall order," said Sylvia, brushing crumbs from a dented muffin tin.
"I've trained in some of the finest kitchens in Pennsylvania, under some of the most demanding chefs you'd ever meet," Anna replied. "I know how to fill a tall order."
Sylvia smiled. "Spoken like a true Elm Creek Quilter."
Anna fervently hoped so. She didn't feel like one, not quite yet, and she wanted to, more than anything.
Mushroom Soup with Fresh Rosemary
Yield: about 16 cups
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 Spanish onion, halved and coarsely chopped or sliced
2½ to 3 pounds button mushrooms, wiped clean and coarsely chopped, stems included
2 teaspoons dried rosemary
2 Idaho potatoes, unpeeled, diced (about 2 cups)
12 cups low-sodium chicken broth
2 tablespoons dry sherry
1 cup light cream Kosher salt and black pepper Fresh rosemary leaves, for garnish
Place a large heavy-bottomed soup pot over medium heat and when it is hot, add the butter. When the butter has melted, add the onion, and cook until tender, about 10 minutes.
Add the mushrooms and rosemary and cook until the mushrooms release their juices, about 15 minutes. Then add the potatoes, chicken broth, and sherry, raise the heat to high and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and cook until the potatoes are tender, about 20 minutes.
Remove the solids and place in a blender or food processor fitted with a steel blade. Process, in batches, until completely smooth, gradually adding the remaining broth and cream. Season with salt and black pepper. Serve garnished with fresh rosemary.
Organic Baby Greens Salad and Dressing
Yield: dressing for 8 to 12 cups organic baby greens
For the dressing:
1 garlic clove, chopped
½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
1â „8 teaspoon black pepper
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
For the salad:
8-12 cups organic baby greens
1 bunch radishes, trimmed and thinly sliced
To make the dressing: Place the garlic, mustard, vinegar, salt, and pepper in a blender and process until thoroughly combined. While the machine is running, gradually add the olive oil. Transfer to a glass container, cover and refrigerate up to 1 month. If the oil separates from the vinegar, shake it vigorously. If it solidifies, leave it out at room temperature for a few minutes and then shake well.
To make the salad: put the baby greens and radish slices in a large salad bowl, add the dressing, and gently mix. Serve immediately.
Yield: 12 large rolls
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
12 tablespoons (1½ sticks) unsalted butter, chilled or frozen, cut into thin slices
1 cup sour cream, or full-fat or low-fat yogurt
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Place the flour, baking powder, salt, baking soda, and rosemary in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade and mix to combine. While the processor is going, add the butter a few slices at a time, and process until the mixture resembles cornmeal. Transfer it to a large mixing bowl; add the sour cream and, using a wooden spoon, mix until combined. Divide the mixture into 12 pieces and place them on the prepared baking sheet. Transfer to the oven and bake until golden brown, 12 to 15 minutes.
Roast Chicken with Cilantro and Orange
Serves 6 to 8
1 bunch cilantro, leaves chopped, stems discarded
3 garlic cloves
2 shallots, halved
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
Zest and juice of 1 orange
1â „3 cup olive oil Two 3-pound chickens, necks and giblets removed
1 orange, quartered
Place the cilantro, garlic, shallots, salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper flakes, if using, in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade and pulse until everything is chopped. Add the orange zest and juice and pulse again. While the processor is running, slowly add the olive oil.
Rinse the chickens in cold water until the water runs clear. Place each chicken in a large resealable plastic bag and add half the marinade. Be sure the cilantro-orange mixture gets into all the cavities. Refrigerate at least 2 hours and up to overnight. Turn the bag occasionally.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Place the chickens on a roasting pan and put 2 orange quarters in the cavity of each chicken.
Transfer to the oven and roast until the juices run clear, about 1 hour 15 minutes. Let rest 10 minutes and serve.
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
1½ to 2 pounds salmon fillets (tiny bones removed with a tweezer), cut in half
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
Preheat the broiler.
Place the mustard and brown sugar in a small bowl and mix to combine.
Place the salmon fillets in a large flameproof baking dish and smother with the mustard mixture. Sprinkle with the salt and pepper and place under the broiler. Cook until browned on top and just undercooked inside, 5 to 6 minutes.
Cut each half into 3 pieces and serve immediately.
Serves 6 to 8
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 Spanish or red onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 medium eggplant, peeled and diced
4 small or 2 large zucchini, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
2 cups diced tomatoes, canned (with liquid) or fresh 1 lemon, quartered Shaved or grated Parmesan cheese Fresh basil leaves
Place a medium-size stockpot over medium-low heat and when it is hot, add the oil. Add the onion and garlic and cook 10 minutes. Add the eggplant and zucchini, cover and cook 10 minutes. Add the red bell pepper and cook, covered, for 10 minutes. Add the tomatoes and cook, uncovered, for 10 minutes if they are canned, and for 20 minutes if fresh.
Cover and refrigerate overnight in a storage container, or serve immediately, garnished with the lemon quarters, Parmesan cheese, and basil.
Yield: about 6 cups
2â „3 cup wild rice
1â „3 cup brown jasmine rice
2 2â „3 cups water
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 Spanish onion, chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
2 teaspoons dried thyme
1 cup dried cranberries or currants
1 cup lightly toasted, coarsely chopped pecans, walnuts, or hazelnuts
¼ cup fresh parsley leaves, finely chopped
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
Place the rices and water in a large pot and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook until tender, about 45 minutes. Drain, if necessary.
Place a large skillet over medium heat and when it is hot, add the butter. Add the onion, carrot, celery, and thyme and cook until translucent, about 8 to 10 minutes. Set aside until the rice is finished. Add the rice, dried cranberries, nuts, parsley, salt, and pepper and gently stir until heated through, about 3 minutes. Serve immediately.
Chocolate Fudge Cake
1 pound semisweet chocolate, chopped
1½ cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, chopped
8 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon confectioners' sugar
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease the sides and bottom of a 9-inch springform pan and wrap with heavy-duty aluminum foil.
Place the chocolate and butter in a large bowl set over a pot of gently simmering water. Stir to combine.
Place the eggs, sugar, and vanilla extract in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk and process until just combined, about 30 seconds. Add the melted chocolate and mix until just combined. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan. Set in a larger roasting pan and fill the roasting pan with hot water halfway up the sides of the springform pan.
Transfer to the oven and bake until the cake is set, about 1 hour. Cool 10 minutes in the pan, then run a knife along the sides and gently unmold. Set aside to cool completely. Sprinkle with confectioners' sugar just before serving.
White Chocolate Mousse
Serves 8 to 10
12 ounces white chocolate, chopped
2½ cups heavy cream
1 tablespoon Chambord or other fruit-flavored liqueur
Place the chocolate and 1 cup cream in a metal bowl set over a pot of gently simmering water. Stir occasionally until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth. Set aside until slightly thickened and cool to the touch, 20 to 30 minutes.
Place the remaining 1½ cups cream and the liqueur in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk and mix on high speed until the cream forms stiff peaks, about 30 seconds. Add half the whipped cream to the chocolate mixture and fold together gently; add remaining cream mixture and fold together until no streaks remain. Transfer it to a serving bowl and refrigerate until set, about 1 hour.
Serves 6 to 8
For the crust:
¾ cup plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons sugar
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, frozen and cut into pieces
1 to 2 tablespoons cold water
For the filling:
4 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
½ cup low-fat Greek yogurt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ cup superfine sugar
1 tablespoon honey
4 to 5 cups fresh raspberries (or other berries)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
To make the crust: Place the flour, sugar, and salt in a food processor fitted with a steel blade and pulse to mix. While the processor is going, add the butter, 1 piece at a time; and pulse until the mixture resembles cornmeal. Add the water and pulse until the mixture is still coarse but just comes together into a ball. Press down into an 11-inch round tart pan (with a removable bottom). Transfer the pan to the oven and bake until just starting to color, about 25 minutes. Do not overcook or the crust will be too hard. Set aside to cool completely.
To make the filling: Place the cream cheese and yogurt in a small bowl and mash until the mixture is smooth. Mix in the remaining ingredients and set aside.
Spread the filling in the cooled tart shell and then top with the berries. Serve immediately or cover and refrigerate up to 4 hours.
You can make the shell and filling 1 day ahead and assemble it just prior to serving.
8 sugar cubes Angostura bitters One 750 ml bottle Champagne, chilled
8 strips lemon peel (1 lemon)
Place a sugar cube in each of 8 champagne glasses. Sprinkle with a few drops of Angostura and then fill the glass with Champagne. Twist the peels and drop into the Champagne. Serve immediately. Copyright © 2008 by Jennifer Chiaverini