Thursday, March 29, 2012

North Carolina - #12, November 21, 1789

For the moment (for about another month), the state of North Carolina is home to one of my sisters. She moved to Wilmington several years ago, but is about to relocate to the Garden State. As a result of her presence and some really good beaches, I have been to North Carolina several times. If one needed another good reason to visit the Tarheel State, the company that produces this delicious treat was founded and is headquartered in North Carolina.

What eventually became North Carolina was also the home of the first English settlement in the New World - Roanoke. Founded in 1585, more than twenty years before Jamestown and thirty five years before the Pilgrims put their buckled shoes on Plymouth Rock. Of course, the colonists at Roanoke disappeared without a trace and their fate is still undetermined, among them Virginia Dare, the first English child born in the Americas.

The Outer Banks are a very popular destination for Americans for those who like golf, lighthouses, and great beaches. Kitty Hawk is also located in the Outer Banks and it was the beach conditions that drew two bicycle shop owners from Ohio there to try and get their newfangled contraption into the air.

The state of North Carolina has produced two Presidents, the first was elected (as Vice President) from the state of Tennessee, Andrew Johnson. The other Andrew President (Jackson) was born near the border of North and South Carolina.The second was James K. Polk. North Carolina also brought us our fourth First Lady, Dolley Madison.

Until her term ends later this year (she has decided not to run for reelection), the current Governor of North Carolina is Bev Purdue, a Democrat. In this state that has been turning "purple" of late (President Obama carried the state in 2008 and is hoping to do so again this year), North Carolina's Senators are divided by the ideological aisle. Richard Burr is a Republican, Kay Hagan is a Democrat. The House delegation is currently split 7-6, in favor of the Democrats.
Prominent North Carolinians (here's a few lists to peruse, one, two, and three - it appears the state produced it's fair share of journalists and boxers)

Monday, March 26, 2012

Winning Recipe Number 2 - Butterscotch Shortbread Bars

Going into the second week of the competition, Mrs. BA was torn. She has a killer Pecan Bar recipe - but everyone at her work knows she makes them and the anonymity of the contest would be compromised - so we went back to the drawing board to find a new winner. She was going to go with Lemon Bars, but we found this one instead - and it was another winner!

The recipe appeared in a 2002 Christmas Cookie magazine we had on our cookbook shelf, I have transcribed it here - hopefully there are no errors (I couldn't find it online).

Butterscotch Shortbread Bars
If you're looking for something deliciously sweet and old-fashioned, you can hardly do better than this grandmotherly concoction of butterscotch and nuts atop a shortbread cookie.
Prep: 25 mins
Bake: 37 mins

  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup light corn syrup
  • 1 tbsp water
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup coarsely chopped cashews (!)
  • 1/4 whipping cream
  • 1 tsp vanilla
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9x9x2 inch baking pan with foil; extend foil over pan edges. Butter foil; set aside.

2. For crust, in a medium mixing bowl combine flour, the 3 tbsp brown sugar, and the baking powder. Using a pastry blender, cut in the 1/2 cup butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Press crust mixture into the prepared pan. Bake in preheated oven for 25 minutes or until golden brown.

3. Meanwhile, for butterscotch sauce, in a heavy medium saucepan melt the 1/4 cup butter. Stir in granulated sugar, the water, and salt; stir in the chopped cashews. Bring to boiling over medium-high heat, stirring constantly (Mrs. BA would really like to avoid recipes that say this - but they are so much better when stirring has taken place constantly). Boil, uncovered, for 5 minutes, stirring often. Remove saucepan from heat. Stir in whipping cream and vanilla.

4. Spread butterscotch sauce evenly over the baked crust. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes more or until most of the surface is bubbly. Cool in pan on a wire rack. Using the foil, lift the shortbread out of the pan. Carefully peel the foil from the sides of the shortbread. Cut the shortbread into bars. Makes 24.

To store: Cover and store at room temperature for up to 3 days or freeze for up to 3 months.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

New York - #11, July 26, 1788

Starting on a personal note, it is somewhat appropriate that we arrive at New York on this date. Today would have been my mother's 82nd birthday. She's been gone for six years now and I miss her each and every day. Although she was born in New Jersey, raised in Rhode Island, she spent her adult life in New York, raising me and my siblings. It is truly the state where she made her mark. Rest well Mom.

I am a New Yorker. I was born there, spent all of my childhood there and moved from the Empire State when I was 35. It is the state with which I most identify. Having lived in three different areas of the state (Long Island, the Capital District, and the Hudson Valley), people used to tell me I didn't have a New York accent, the New York accent one hears from those who live in Gotham and its environs.

I have traveled extensively throughout the state - crossing into Canada at both the Northern border (shout out to Plattsburgh!) and the Western border (hey Buffalo!). I have been through Fulton (city with a future) on my way to Oswego. I've been through the center of the State, visiting Cooperstown.

I debated about what other information to provide here (the histories are all covered well below) and no one needs an extensive travelogue of my time in the Empire State. So by all means, let's do trivia!
  1. The First American chess tournament was held in New York in 1857.
  2. The 641 mile transportation network known as the Governor Thomas E. Dewey Thruway is the longest toll road in the United States.
  3. A brewer named Matthew Vassar founded Vassar College in Poughkeepsie in 1861.
  4. In 1807 The Clermont made its maiden voyage from New York City to Albany making the vessel the first successful steamboat.
  5. New York City has 722 miles of subway track.
  6. The New York Post, established in 1803 by Alexander Hamilton, is the oldest running newspaper in the United States.
  7. The Genesee River is one of the few rivers in the world that flows south to north.
  8. Adirondack Park is larger than Yellowstone, Yosemite, Grand Canyon, Glacier, and Olympic Parks combined.
  9. The oldest working cattle ranch in America is in Montauk, Long Island. Deep Hollow Ranch has been around since the 1800s.
New York has done very well in the presidential arena as well, producing six chief executives:
In addition there have been five men who have been "a heartbeat away from the presidency," including Gerald Ford's Vice President and two-time presidential candidate himself, Nelson A. Rockefeller. The others are: Aaron Burr, George Clinton, Schuyler Colfax, and William Wheeler.

The Governor of the Empire State is a Democrat and the son of a former Governor. Andrew Cuomo was elected in 2010, while his father, Mario, served as Governor of the state from 1983 to 1994. Both of the Senators for the state are Democrats, Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand. The House delegation is currently 21-8, in favor of Democrats.
Prominent New Yorkers (or Nuh Yawkers) (do I get to be on this list? Here's some other more lengthy ones from which I cribbed the list below - here and here, I included below those who screamed NEW YORK to me)

Monday, March 19, 2012

Winning Recipe Number 1 - Pecan Lace Cookies

Those of you close to Mrs. BA and me may have heard that she was involved in a "March Madness" bake-off at work. There were four rounds - the first week was cookies, second was bars, the third week is cakes, and the final round is "Bring Your Best."

Mrs. BA was unsure about the first round as she doesn't have a great number of cookies in her baking wheelhouse. But she buried the competition with this recipe. Next week, her winning bar recipe. This week she will bring her cake prowess to the competition - and just so you know, she rocks!

Pecan Lace Sandwich Cookies with Orange Buttercream
Bon Appétit | December 2004

Yield: Makes about 18

  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
  • 1/3 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 cup coarsely ground pecans (about 4 ounces)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon orange juice
  • 3/4 teaspoon grated orange peel
For cookies:
Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350°F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Stir butter, sugar, and corn syrup in heavy medium saucepan over low heat until melted and smooth. Bring to boil over medium-high heat, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Stir in flour. Add nuts and vanilla; stir to combine.

Drop dough by teaspoonfuls onto prepared baking sheets, spacing 2 inches apart. Bake cookies, 1 sheet at a time, until bubbling and lightly browned, about 11 minutes. Cool on sheets 10 minutes. Transfer to rack; cool completely.

For filling:
Whisk all ingredients in medium bowl until smooth. Spread 1 teaspoon filling onto bottom of 1 cookie. Top with second cookie, bottom side down, pressing lightly to adhere. Repeat with remaining cookies. (Can be made 2 days ahead. Store between sheets of waxed paper in airtight container at room temperature.)

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Virginia - #10, June 25, 1788

The second Commonwealth in our series (after Massachusetts), Virginia also has the longest continuous history of any of the American States, with the founding of Jamestown in 1607. During the Civil War, Richmond, the current state capital, served as the capital of the Confederacy. Of course, some still refer to Richmond as "the Occupied City." It was during the Civil War that the state of West Virginia (#35) was created, which we will visit in about four months. The Virginia General Assembly is the oldest legislature in the Western Hemisphere.

Virginia owns the Presidency. It has produced the most so far. The Mother of the Presidency lays claim to eight presidents (in order of appearance):
  1. George Washington
  2. Thomas Jefferson
  3. James Madison
  4. James Monroe
  5. William Henry Harrison
  6. John Tyler
  7. Zachary Taylor
  8. Woodrow Wilson
Partially due to its proximity to my home state of Maryland, I have been to Virginia a fair number of times. We have friends who live in Charlottesville (where we have spent several nice weekends - taking drives up along Skyline Drive). I have been to several professional meetings in Virginia and will return to Richmond for a meeting in the fall. I have done the Civil War tour through the state (Manassas, Richmond, Petersburg, and others). I have been to Hungry Mother State Park in southwestern Virginia.

Mrs. BA and I have several friends that live in Northern Virginia and we travel "across the river" to see them on occasion. Sometimes its hard, though because all the roads seem to be named Glebe. But we soldier on.

There is a fair amount of history to recount about the Commonwealth, but you can read that from any one of the number of links below. Here's what Brave Astronaut has been reporting in this series so far.

Virginia's Governor is a Republican (and mentioned on most shortlists for the vice presidency in the upcoming election), Bob McDonnell. Virginia's governors are elected for three year terms and may not run for reelection (but can be elected again - as long as it is not consecutive). It's Virginia. The two Senators of the Commonwealth of Virginia are Democrats, former governor Mark Warner, and Jim Webb, who will retire at the end of the current term. There are 11 House districts in Virginia and the delegation currently has 8 Republicans and 3 Democrats.
* - close readers of this blog may have noted that I have been inserting quotes in the names of the signers - for those who have been wondering - the quotes are from 1776, which opened last night at Ford's Theatre. Get your tickets now, the show runs through May 9.

Prominent Virginians (more here and here. Discuss)

Monday, March 12, 2012

Brown Butter Irish Soda Bread

This Saturday is St. Patrick's Day. The day when everyone is Irish. While this Brave Astronaut is not one to partake of the whole Corned Beef and Cabbage thing, bread is another story. Here's a recipe for a particularly good looking soda bread (from Epicurious).

Brown Butter Soda Bread
Bon Appétit | February 2006

Rosemary and black pepper make this bread anything but typical. Wedges are delicious with plenty of butter and your favorite preserves.

Yield: Makes 2 loaves

  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
  • 3 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup old-fashioned oats
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground black pepper plus additional for topping
  • 1 3/4 cups buttermilk
  • 1 egg white, beaten to blend
Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 375°F. Stir butter in heavy small saucepan over medium heat until melted and golden brown, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat.

Stir flour, oats, sugar, rosemary, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and 3/4 teaspoon pepper in large bowl to blend. Pour buttermilk and melted browned butter over flour mixture; stir with fork until flour mixture is moistened.

Turn dough out onto floured work surface. Knead gently until dough comes together, about 7 turns. Divide in half. Shape each half into ball; flatten each into 6-inch round. Place rounds on ungreased baking sheet, spacing 5 inches apart. Brush tops with beaten egg white. Sprinkle lightly with ground black pepper. Using small sharp knife, cut 1/2-inch-deep X in top of each dough round.

Bake breads until deep golden brown and tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Cool breads on rack at least 30 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Baker's Wisdom:
You'll get the most tender soda bread by kneading the dough gently and briefly, just until it comes together, so the gluten is minimally developed.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

New Hampshire - #9, June 21, 1788

Our ninth state (and the third New England state) in our series is the Granite State, New Hampshire. I fully expect that Anna will have something to say here (I probably should have asked her to write this post), as she is a native of the state. Before Mrs. BA and I were married, we traveled to New Hampshire for Anna's wedding, traveling throughout New England and New York. Some day, I might tell you about Mrs. BA being kidnapped by nuns when we checked into the hotel for the wedding.

Most summers, the Brave Astronaut's family would travel to my grandmother's summer home in Maine. One highlight (?) of the trip was upon reaching New Hampshire was to count the bridges (overpasses, underpasses, etc.) on the New Hampshire Turnpike. The fine folks at the NH DOT were kind enough to number them. My mother always threatened to write the Governor, because for a few years the numbers were out of sync. There are also no rest areas on the short Turnpike. But there's something even better. State-run liquor stores.

New Hampshire holds the records for several "firsts":

New Hampshire holds a significant place in American politics. In case you hadn't noticed, the Granite State holds the nation's first presidential primary every four years. The state also has produced one President of the United States, Franklin Pierce, although Jed Bartlet is from New Hampshire, too. Democrat John Lynch is the current governor of New Hampshire. The two Senators for the Granite State are split ideologically, but both of them are women - Kelly Ayotte (R) and Jeanne Shaheen (D). The popular Shaheen is the only women in US History to be elected both as a Governor and a Senator. There are two House Members for New Hampshire and both are Republican.
  • - the Official Website of the State of New Hampshire
  • Open Up New Hampshire - Entertainment and Travel in the Granite State
  • The New Hampshire Tourism site -
  • The Encyclopedia Britannic entry for New Hampshire
  • Wikpedia
  • entry for New Hampshire
  • InfoPlease entry for New Hampshire
  • The New Hampshire Almanac
  • New Hampshire state guide from the Library of Congress
  • IMDb list of films and TV shows shot in New Hampshire
Prominent New Hampshirites (here's one list and another)

Monday, March 5, 2012

Easy Mac and Cheese

Growing up, a popular dish with my mother was Mac and Cheese with hot dogs. It was delish. This recipe (from the Amateur Gourmet) is very close to hers. Make a white sauce, add cheese, macaroni, and top with bread crumbs. Don't forget to bake it. Of course if you're me, you'll spend some time in the kitchen picking out macaroni before it goes into the oven (and trying to make sure it doesn't look like you've been eating it).

[Last week's Washington Post Food Section had several pages devoted to the American staple - including ways to "dress it up" - if you so desired.]

Easy Mac and Cheese
Summary: An easy, creamy mac and cheese from David Waltuck’s “Staffmeals.”

  • Course (kosher) salt
  • 1 package (16 ounces) ridged elbow macaroni
  • 3 cups heavy (or whipping) cream
  • 2 1/2 cups grated sharp yellow Cheddar cheese (about 10 ounces)
  • 1 small onion, minced
  • 1 small clove garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • Dash of Worcestershire sauce
  • Dash of Tabasco sauce
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan (I used more! And added Pecorino for good measure)
  • 1/3 cup fine dry bread crumbs (homemade or store-bought)
  1. Preheat the oven to 400 F.
  2. Bring a large stockpot of water and 1/4 cup of the salt to a boil over high heat.
  3. When the water is boiling, add the macaroni and cook, stirring occasionally, until flexible but very al dente, 5 to 6 minutes. Drain, then let the macaroni stand in the colander under cold running water until chilled. Drain again, then transfer to a medium-size baking dish or shallow casserole and set aside.
  4. Bring the cream to a boil in a small, heavy saucepan over medium-high heat (watch it, though: you don’t want it to bubble up!). Reduce the heat to low and stir in the grated Cheddar, onion, garlic, mustard, Worcestershire, Tabasco, pepper, and salt to taste. Stir over low heat just until the cheese is completely melted, then remove the pan from the heat and taste and adjust the seasoning; the flavor should be strong.
  5. Pour the cheese sauce over the macaroni in the baking dish and stir thoroughly to coat. Sprinkle first the grated Parmesan, then the bread crumbs, over the mixture and bake until the sauce bubbles and the top is golden brown and crusty, 30 to 40 minutes. Let stand a minute or two before serving.
Quick notes
If you want to cook this ahead for a dinner party, make the sauce and boil the mac, stirring them together in the baking dish and then cover with plastic before refrigerating. An hour before you want to cook it, take it out of the fridge to come to room temperature and top with the Parmesan and breadcrumbs just before it goes into the oven.

Preparation time: 20 minute(s)
Cooking time: 40 minute(s)
Number of servings (yield): 6

Thursday, March 1, 2012

South Carolina - #8, May 23, 1788

Welcome to the Great State of South Carolina, home to Myrtle Beach, Hilton Head, and other golf paradises. (evidently the land of "Smiling Faces, Beautiful Places"). I have been to South Carolina at least once on vacation with OSG, Mrs. OSG, and Mrs. BA and was lucky enough to play golf at the famous Harbour Town Golf Links in Hilton Head.

Named for King Charles I (Carolus is Latin for Charles), South Carolina was the first state to secede from the Union at the start of the Civil War. South Carolina has played an important role in American History. During the American Revolution, the Battle of Cowpens pitted South Carolina Loyalist forces against the American Revolutionary Army and the Loyalist defeat was the beginning of the end for the British in the Revolution. The Nullification Crisis was a showdown between President Andrew Jackson and the state of South Carolina, which exercised it's states rights to not enforce the protective tariffs of the United States. Anti-abolitionism ran strong in South Carolina, leading indirectly to the caning of Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner by South Carolina Representative Preston Brooks. After South Carolina seceded in December 1860, Confederate forces began shelling Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor, ultimately taking the fort from the Union.

The current governor of South Carolina is a Republican, Nikki Haley. And you can say you heard it here first - if Mitt Romney is the Republican nominee - she should be at the top of the short list for vice president. Both of the Senators for the state are also Republicans, Jim DeMint and Lindsay Graham. The House Members for the Palmetto State are heavily Republican, with only one Democrat in the 6 person delegation.
Prominent South Carolinians (one list here, and another)