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Butter Makes it Better

December 24, 2009

This one’s for you Griz.

Butter. What’s not to love?

When I was a newlywed, I was determined to become the quintessential homemaker, following in the footsteps of my own picture-perfect mother. (At least that’s how I remembered her.) The house was ALWAYS immaculate, we weren’t allowed to watch TV during the day, and she always sat at the table with us to eat our after-school snack.

(I never got a hot breakfast though – on Sundays Dad made pancakes – but Mom was not a morning person, so breakfast was usually cold cereal. I was cool with that – eggs are gross.)

When I married, I thought it was my duty to become proficient at cooking, baking and getting dinner on the table, hot, every night. I anticipated each holiday with extensive plans for Easter spreads and Thanksgiving abundance.

Then the troubles began. I could manage your basic recipes just fine. But the more complex items (and the ones my mother excelled at) just about sent me over the edge. Piecrust was nearly my Waterloo. I remember one year sending Gabe away for the afternoon because I had two pies to bake, and I knew it was going to get ugly. It did – I think I threw out at least one batch of crust, if not two, that year. There were a lot of salty tears mixed in with my ruined pie dough that year.

Gravy, too, was horrific. My mother in law, after one especially dreadful Thanksgiving disaster, gave me a bottle of Gravy Master (WRAPPED!!! Like a GIFT!) the following Christmas. She thought it was a hysterical joke. I did not find it so.

I am not a patient person, but I do think some things in this life should NOT be replaced with a store-bought (read, inferior) version. IMHO, chocolate chip cookies, piecrust and gravy are three of these, and are worth the effort to practice and perfect.

I’m happy to say that, 12 years later I make a swell piecrust that turns out beautiful every time, and my gravy this year was spectacular (if I do say so myself). My chocolate chip cookies are also earning a name for themselves, but I don’t mean to brag (ok, yes I do. I’m not good cook, not even close, but I make GREAT cookies. Just let me have my moment, people.).

I think my biggest problem was trying to do it her way – my mom’s that is. I just never got her method down. Time and trial have taught me that you just have to find your own way in the kitchen, as in life.

Interestingly (I only realized as I was writing this) in all three instances butter is the key ingredient to my success. Unlike mom’s, my piecrust is ½ butter, ½ shortening. My secret to perfect gravy is beginning with a roux; while time consuming, it ensures the perfect texture every time. And the cookies…melt the butter first and they don’t turn into cookie pancakes in the pan. (But that’s not the secret part. That, I’ll never tell.)

Go figure.
I wonder what other culinary dilemmas can be solved with butter…
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