December 31, 2007
December 21, 2007
I'm missing Europe. There - I said it simply, after trying for quite a while to start this blog in some writerly way. Often, simple is best. It's something I've heard more than once from my European friends and relatives. "You Americans make everything so complicated!" Now, I'm not going to make any sweeping generalizations, I only can speak for my own experience and why I feel I fit in better with the European way of living, on a basic level. There are the more obvious reasons: The attention given to the importance of eating as a social activity, reverence for history and traditions and often efficient ways of dealing with infrastructural challenges. But the smaller things - the ones that catch me off guard or only come to light after I've returned home - these are the things I miss and which make it hard to leave, sometimes. Europeans excel at the art of people-watching and know how to spend time alone, without constant electronic distractions. Sure, they love their cell phones, but they are comfortable sitting at a table by themselves, with a coffee or glass of wine, alone with their thoughts. And they can take their time doing so. No waiter is going to pointedly hand them a check until it is asked for. Ritual is important to them, whether it is the after-dinner schnapps, throwing salt over the shoulder when boiling pasta water, calling home every Sunday - whatever. There are immutable things they cherish and won't reschedule or skip. Walking! They walk, they hike, they move and get outside. We can learn a lot about enjoying life on a more visceral level. Or perhaps, it is relearning that we need to do. Just random thoughts I've had the last days...I wish you the time to do what enriches your spirit, whatever it may be. Cheers!
December 16, 2007
I'm fighting bronchitis right now, but still in a cheery mood. The baking marathon with my Mom was quite successful. In the end, we made 5 kinds of cookies - Heidesand, Gingerbread, Cinnamon-Almond Crescents, Praline Cookies and some called Bakkelser, which are less like a cookie than like Aebelskivers. These are fried and served hot, with powdered sugar sprinkled on top. We also made fudge and two batches of divinity. Whew! There are still a couple things I'd like to make. Once I stop trying to cough up a major organ, I'll see what I can do.
December 4, 2007
November 23, 2007
The turkey is decimated, the frosty nights have set in and the urge to festoon the house with kitsch and sparkle is becoming overwhelming. Time for CHRISTMAS! The baking of goodies can commence, lights to illuminate the winter nights can be hung and the scent of evergreen will be in the house again.
My German heritage is never stronger in my life than at Christmas. I tend to stay close to the foods, pastries and traditions, but always allow for new ideas. My great-grandmother, my Oma Nestripke, made the journey from Germany to the U.S. with the ornaments she cherished for her Christmas tree. Tarnished and some broken, they nevertheless hung on her tree in America, each year, and they represented magic and possibility for me. Old, lead tinsel finished the Weihnachtsbaum of Oma's memory. Later in my life, the muted glint of that tree became a symbol in my mind of the hardship my German family experienced during both World Wars and in creating a life afterward of which they could be proud. Like the ornaments, their lives were tarnished in many ways and there are still questions for which I want answers. But the sparkle, shine and light came through and I'm glad for that history from which to learn.
Cooking and baking is one way I can connect to my heritage. I have only two relatives of the "old country" left. My Oma Käthe and my great aunt Gretel. Last year, my aunt compiled a cookbook of treasured family recipes, along with old photos of our family, Germany, and the homes and the farms from which we descend. Every year, the very first recipe I make is Heidesand. Translated, it means "heather sand" which is a reference to the sandy texture of these cookies. They are pictured in the photo at bottom right - white, round discs. They keep well and improve in flavor with age. I can, and have, eaten them till I'm sick. Oma says these are a family secret, but.....I believe that recipes are for sharing. So, here is the recipe. And, if anyone has questions about German recipes, I am happy to help.
(German Browned Butter Cookies)
***start these the day before baking***
1 ½ cups unsalted butter (don’t use salted!)
3 c. flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 cup sugar
1 T. vanilla sugar OR 2 T. sugar rubbed with a half teaspoon real vanilla extract
1 T. milk
In medium saucepan over low heat, melt butter until deep golden brown. Be careful not to burn it, but the browner the butter, the better the flavor. Set aside and cool until butter has re-solidified. If you’re in a hurry, you can refrigerate to quicken the process. In electric mixer, whip cooled butter until foamy and light. Add sugar, vanilla sugar and milk and beat until foamy-white. Add 2 cups of the flour and the baking powder, gradually, to butter mixture until a dough forms. Use the last cup of flour to add in portions until the dough becomes cohesive. It should stick together, but not be sticky, and should be able to be formed into a sausage shape. Roll the dough into rolls 1 ¼ inch in diameter. You should make at least 3 rolls, but I often make five or six, as the smaller amounts of dough are easier to work with. Wrap in waxed paper and refrigerate the rolls for at least 4 hours or overnight. When ready to bake, take rolls out of refrigerator and allow to warm slightly at room temperature. Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Slice rolls into cookie slices 3/8 inch thick. Place on ungreased cookie sheets. These don’t spread much, so place them close together. Bake for approx. 12-15 minutes until edges are barely browned. Remove from oven and leave on sheet. Dust heavily with confectioner’s sugar while hot. Let sit on sheet for a few minutes, then remove to waxed paper to cool. Continue with rest of batch. Store cookies with waxed paper in between layers in airtight container.
November 16, 2007
To be sensual, I think, is to respect and rejoice in the force of life, of
life itself, and to be present in all that one does, from the effort of
loving to the making of bread.
James A. Baldwin
Gastronomical and sensual delights have been associated with each other for all of human time, and for good reason. The intensity of feeling, tastes, textures, scents, the visual presentation and, often, even the sounds parallel and heighten overall physical and mental pleasure. It's why it matters that a dish is plated to appeal to the eye as well as to the palate. We do the same with our bodies. Those who eat only to sustain or who make love mechanically are missing the whole point of being alive! I actually know people like this, which never ceases to amaze me. No one should fear the depths of pleasure, be it from a creamy pudding, a succulent glass of wine, an enticingly velvet blanket, or the smell of fresh air on warm skin. All of them delicious!
November 11, 2007
Autumn and winter are the best seasons for the comfort of soup. Even with few ingredients available, it's nearly always possible to make a pot of something soothing. This is one of my favorites, from Barbara Kafka's book Soup - A Way of Life. Even people who dislike onions love this one! It's important to use fresh, high-quality curry powder and a rich chicken stock in this recipe.
CURRIED ONION SOUP
1 cube unsalted butter, cut into pieces
¼ c. curry powder, mild or medium heat
4 large yellow onions, cut into chunks
4 c. rich chicken stock
3. T. fresh lime juice
1 T. kosher or sea salt
1 c. heavy cream
In a large saucepan, melt the butter over medium-low heat. Stir in the curry powder and cook, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes. Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes. Don’t allow the onions to brown! Pour in the stock and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer for 10-15 minutes, until onions are very soft. Remove soup from heat and, using either a stick blender or regular blender (work in batches if using a regular blender), puree the soup until very smooth. The soup can be made ahead to this point and refrigerated. Heat the soup through again, then remove from heat and whisk in the lime juice, salt to taste, and the cream.
Makes 6 first-course servings
November 8, 2007
The website for the rice program's word game is:
Weird combination, isn't it? Here's the premise: you are given a word with 4 choices as to the word's meaning. Get the answer right, and ten grains of rice go into your bowl. The rice grains add up as you correctly answer. No rice is taken away if you answer incorrectly. The accumulated rice is donated through the United Nations World Food Program to people in need around the world. This "game" just began on October 7, 2007. At this writing, nearly one billion grains have been donated already, paid for by advertisers on the site.
So, give it a try - learn and give at the same time! And don't blame me if you get addicted to it.
November 5, 2007
I was in the mood for meat (when am I NOT in the mood for meat - of whatever kind?) So, ANYway...I wanted something a little bit special, but not difficult. Something rich to mitigate the nippy nights we've had lately. Frost has been on the pumpkins, all right. And the chickens have slammed shut - no eggs for a few weeks now. Measures may need to be taken to remedy this. No, not CHOP-CHOP measures! Giving them extra light and heat measures!!! Okay, reeling myself back in from the tangent......in my meat recipe quest, I decided on stuffed flank steak and went off on my own with the recipe. My tester tasters urged me to put it in writing, so here it is. This is just a generic photo of flank steak. I didn't think to photograph dinner yesterday-!
STUFFED FLANK STEAK A LA ASPENGLOW
A 1.5 to 2 lb. flank steak
1.5 c. cubed bread (use a European-style bread with good crust, or it will turn mushy)
1 stalk celery, with leaves, chopped into ¼ inch pieces
3 T. finely chopped yellow onion
1 half-ripe Bartlett or Bosc pear, cored & cubed
4 inch sprig fresh rosemary, leaves removed and minced
Sea salt and plenty of freshly ground pepper
¾ c. beef broth
¼ c. good quality red wine vinegar
Flour, for dredging
Olive oil, for braising
String, skewers or toothpicks for fastening meat
Heat oven to 500 degrees F. Bring flank steak to room temperature, then lay on cutting board and score lightly on both sides, diagonally, in cuts about ¾ inch apart. Combine all remaining ingredients in a medium bowl, mixing well. Turn meat so that short edge is toward you. Spread stuffing mixture onto meat so that it comes right to the edge of the long sides, but is one inch in from the edge of the short sides. Roll the meat up, forming a pinwheel. Some of the stuffing will squish out as you roll, but it’s ok. Secure the ends, either with skewers woven into and out of the meat, or with toothpicks, or with cotton string tied along the length of the roll. Don’t roll too snugly NOR secure too tightly, as the stuffing will expand! Now you should have a fairly cohesive meat roll. Dredge it in flour, coating fairly thickly. Heat an ovenproof stockpot or cast-iron casserole over medium-high heat and add 4 T. or so of olive oil. Place flank roll into hot oil and braise on all sides until well-browned. Once browned, pour in beef broth and red wine vinegar and scrape brown bits off the bottom of the pan. Turn off heat, cover, and place in preheated oven. Bake at 500 F. for 15 minutes, then turn heat to 325 F. and bake an additional hour. Remove from oven, uncover, and let meat rest five minutes before slicing. Serve with couscous, mashed potatoes or rice.
Serves 3-4 hungry people
October 26, 2007
October 24, 2007
In her book, Aphrodite, Isabel Allende tells about the taste of her first kiss and how she can remember it still...forty years later. What did your first kiss taste like? Mine tasted of salty soy and sweat, followed by faint sweet-spicy ginger beer. I was 17 and he was 23. He was Greek and I was greeeeen! And ever since, having a man cook for me feels immensely erotic. I can recall the taste of every "first" kiss that followed...all wonderful and complex.
Some memorable first tastes for me are ~~ Roasted figs - a deep, wet sweetness that wasn't cloying with a touch of the fire that released their juices - and figs are erotic already! Raw oysters - saline and fresh, like chewing on the living sea. Russian walnut chicken - my mother made this when I was young and it tasted earthy, sumptuous in it's nutty creaminess...I requested it often. Montrachet goat cheese - for me, the taste of an alpine meadow in dairy form. Fresh Pesto - a symphony in my mouth and in my nose...florally green, sharp, immediate...and addicting. Taleggio cheese - cow breath, cream, grass and Italy...all contained in a smelly rind that only the adventurous will go beyond. Heidesand cookies - an early taste memory...it seemed to me then, and now, the very best thing you could do with butter. Tobiko (flying fish eggs) - orange, salty-umame, and that delightful POP. Forget the sushi, just give me the tobiko! Tauben (squab) - first served to me by my German friend...dark, succulent, smoky meat - it brought out my primitive food feelings. Risotto - that first one...I knew that if I could have only ONE dish, this was IT. Bartlett pear - that first, perfectly ripe, juice running down my chin, perfumed pear...heaven!
So....TASTE....just one of the senses, but a big one for me. Tell me about the tastes that have stayed in your mind. I'd love to know...
EATING THE WORLD
I was born with my mouth open...
entering into this juicy world
of peaches and lemons and ripe sun
and the pink and secret flesh of women,
this world where dinner is in the breath
of the subtle desert,
in the spices of the distant sea
which late at night drift over sleep.
I was born somewhere between the brain and the pomegranate,
with a tongue tasting the delicious textures of
hair and hands and eyes;
I was born out of the heart stew,
out of the infinite bed, to walk upon
this infinite earth.
I want to feed you the flowers of ice
on this winter window,
the aroma of many soups,
the scent of sacred candles
that follows me around this cedar house,
I want to feed you the lavender
that lifts up out of certain poems,
and the cinnamon of apples baking,
and the simple joy we see in the sky
when we fall in love.
I want to feed you the pungent soil
where I harvested garlic,
I want to feed you the memories
rising out of the aspen logs
when I split them, and the pinyon smoke
that gathers around the house on a still night,
the mums left by the kitchen door.
-Excerpted from the poem by James Tipton, 1995
Aspenglow / Buttered Lips by Gayle Nabrotzky is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
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