Lucy & Herbert Go to Paris: A 1970’s Travel Adventure and a Recipe

Bonjour and bon appetit dear kitcheners! This week the International Vintage Recipe Tour 2020 takes us to France via the kitchen.

This is one of the countries I know best in the Recipe Tour since I spent so much time there as a little girl. Originally, for this post, I was going to write about a child’s perspective of Paris and fill it full of all the things my sister and I loved most about the city when we were small explorers.  But since a little bit of that was already touched on in the Parisian hot chocolate post last December, this time I thought it would be fun to introduce some new tour guides to the blog. I’m so pleased to present my grandparents and your travel escorts for the day, Lucy and Herbert…

Unlike me, who first visited Paris when I was six months old, Lucy and Herbert were in their 60’s when they first set sights on the City of Light. They were both born in the first decade of the 20th century and both had a hard start to life. Had you asked either one of them when they were young if they would ever be walking around the streets of Paris one day they wouldn’t have guessed it.

Lucy grew up in Buffalo, New York, the daughter of German immigrants who worked in the garment industry.  Her childhood was defined by a family tragedy. When she was 7, her mom burned to death in a house fire while cooking dinner in the kitchen. Lucy’s dad in a complete state of grief and guilt put Lucy and her seven brothers and sisters in a local city orphanage.

Immaculate Heart of Mary. Photo courtesy of poloniatrail.com

It was meant to be just a temporary course of action. The orphanage was run by Catholic nuns and her dad told everyone, nuns and kids included, that he would be right back for his family. That he just needed a little bit of time to figure things out. That was the Spring of 1918. The kids didn’t know exactly what temporary meant. A few days passed, a few weeks passed and then a  few months. They waited for their dad to return. Five months in, the Spanish Influenza blanketed the city in fear and death and anxiety. A pandemic ensued but her dad did not come to collect his kids. Thanksgiving and Christmas came. There was no big family meal and no Christmas gifts. There was no sign of dad. A year passed. A second year passed. Lucy remained in the care of the nuns.  The third, the fourth, the fifth, the sixth year passed. By that point, Lucy was 13. The orphanage only educated girls up until the 8th grade, so school was over for her. No dreams of high school. No college.  During year seven of life in the orphanage, her dad got remarried, yet he still didn’t come to collect his kids.

There are fuzzy family stories that the children were retrieved one by one in order of age, (the oldest ones first) and placed with various members of the family. The boys were taken out first because they could earn a living and contribute financially to whatever household they ended up in. Lucy was 5th in line, a girl, with limited education and an inability to earn an income in the same way as her brothers. Lucy remained in the orphanage until she was 16 years old. That’s when her aunt Martha in Chicago sent for her so that Lucy could help take care of Martha’s two kids. At last, after nine years, Lucy left the orphanage, taking her two younger sisters and brother with her to Illinois.

Herbert’s dad, Joseph, working in his teamster days delivery hay and coal. This photo was taken around 1905.

Herbert grew up in a working class family in the city of Chicago. His parents were both natives of the city  and his grandparents  were both immigrants from Germany. His dad was a teamster for hay and coal in the city when Herbert was born. Money was always tight and there were days when food was scarce or even non-existent. The family never had enough to eat. There were nights when Herbert went to bed with a rumbly belly and no idea when it would be filled again. When Herbert was 10, his  dad landed a job as a fireman for the City of Chicago. It was a much more dangerous line of work than being a teamster, but it offered a steady paycheck and a future pension upon retirement – both very attractive incentives for someone who struggled to feed their family.

Herbert’s parents, Joseph (in his fireman uniform!) and Mary Katharine.

Herbert had a younger brother, Charles, who died when he was a baby, a sad event in his family that that no one ever talked about. Herbert didn’t believe in rehashing stuff, especially the difficult, hardscrabble years of his growing up. Herbert liked to say that the important part of life began when he met Lucy.

Sparks flew for the two of them when they met at a party in Chicago, just a few years after Lucy had moved to the city. They were both in their late teens/early 20’s at that point. Herbert took one look at Lucy and was dazzled by her pretty smile. Lucy fell in love with Herbert’s kind eyes, a distinguishing feature that everyone responded to.

Before Herbert became a fireman for city of Chicago he worked at the Chicago Tribune in the circulation department at the time he met Lucy.

On a summer Saturday in 1933, just before my grandfather’s 25th birthday, Lucy and Herbert were married in a Catholic church in Chicago.

Herbert left his newspaper job and became a fireman like his father.  This was during the Great Depression, and like his father experienced, the firehouse offered  a steady paycheck, and a pension for retirement.  Haunted by his hunger years as a child, all Herbert wanted was to provide a safe, satiated and comfortable life for his new bride, full to the brim with happiness and adoration that she deserved.

Because she grew up in the orphanage without any guidance or training in the domestic arts, Lucy was not a typical, traditional wife of the 1930’s. As an adult, she loved clothes and fashion and following the latest trends. She loved to socialize and play cards and spend time with her sisters.  No one taught her how to cook, care for a home or drive a car. But all this was okay with Herbert because he loved to cook, was fine with house cleaning and loved to drive.  All he wanted to do was to protect his family, make sure there was always enough food on the table  and enough money left over at the end of the day to afford a few small niceties. For eight years, Herbert and Lucy tried to have a baby. After several miscarriages, my dad was finally born alive and healthy just after they celebrated their 9th wedding anniversary. Finally their family felt complete.

When my dad was a few years into his airline executive career, he arranged a four week European tour for his parents that would take them to England, France, Italy  and Germany. This was the Autumn of 1970, and it was an extravagant trip to say the least. My grandparents ahd never traveled outside of the United States before and Europe at that time was a cosmopolitan wonderland of glamour and sophistication.

My dad used all of his perks and called in all sorts of favors so that it would feel like a trip of lifetime for Herbert and Lucy. He wanted to give them all the bells and whistles he could manage – a taste of luxury and decadence that they had never known before. It was his way of spoiling them – a thank you  of sorts for all the wonderful love and affection they spoiled him with as a child.

The plan was to spend a week in each country with home base stays in London, Paris, Rome and Munich. In London, Herb and Lucy stayed at the Lancaster Hotel, had dinner with the royal tailor to Prince Phillip and went sightseeing all around town.

Meet family friend and royal tailor to Prince Phillip, Edward “Teddy” Watson, who charmed the socks off my grandmother:)

The French portion of their trip involved side excursions to Nice and Monte Carlo, but the bulk of their time was spent in Paris where Herbert fell in love with the food and the history and Lucy fell in love with the shopping and the culture. They both really enjoyed walking around the city too and did almost all sightseeing on foot,  even though my dad had arranged a car and driver for them each day.

Thanks to their collection of travel photographs we can head back in time and take a little sightseeing trip right along with them as we all discover what Paris looked like in 1970.

The view from the top of the Eiffel Tower.

The tour starts with a bird’s eye view of the city as seen from the top of the most iconic structure in all of France – the Eiffel Tower.  I’m not sure who the photographer was on this trip, Herb or Lucy, but some shots had a little Vivian Maier-esque quality to them. That’s the Tower’s shadow reaching towards the bridge there in the photo. Vivian style photography makes a return at the flower market one morning too…

In addition to first time sky views of the city, another great vantage point and an interesting perspective of Paris are the views from the River Seine. From there, Lucy and Herbert marveled at a whole host of  buildings steeped in history.

The Belle Jardiniere is the oldest clothing store in Paris, dating to 1824. They were the first to offer ready made clothes off the rack, ushering in a whole new way to conveniently build up your wardrobe.

Another historic gem on the river is the Palais Bourbon, designed in 1722 for the daughter of King Louis the XIV, who was the longest reigning monarch (72 years!) in all of French history. It was designed in country house fashion with gardens modeled from particular sections at Versailles. The site for the house was found by the lover of the King’s daughter who built his own palace next door (how convenient!). Like most of the old buildings of Paris, as it passed through time, many inhabitants and influencers including Napolean,  added their own enhancements or improvements to the building. In the late 1700’s, the exterior facade of Palais Bourbon was changed to reflect ancient Greek architecture. By the time the French Revolution occurred the residence left private hands and served as a government building, which it still remains to this day as you can see from this 2019 photo…

50 years later, and it still looks exactly the same!

Even though he lived centuries ago, there are nods to King Louis XIV all over town. At Versailles, he’s depicted in an equestrian statue which was completed in 1838, which also happens to be seventy years before Herbert was born.

Herbert especially loved admiring all the statues around Paris. The city boasts over 1000,  so he didn’t have to look far for something exciting to see. They turned out to be his gateway into learning more about French history, which in turn led to learning more about other country’s histories too.

The Luxor Obelisk statue (located in the Place de la Concorde) for example spurned a whole new curiosity for him in ancient Egypt, which is where this statue came from. It was an exchange of gifts between France and Egypt in the 1800’s. France gave Egypt a clock and Egypt gave France the Obelisk. In 1936, just three years after Lucy and Herbert were married, the Obelisk was given historic monument status in France. Herbert loved little fun facts like that.

Lucy liked the statues too and learning all about their history from Herbert, but when it came to street sights, what really turned her head were things more at eye – level (a.k.a. the shops). While in London, she purchased a classic trench coat, which looked very chic on the streets of Paris. In France, she purchased a batch of silk scarves. She wore the scarves and the trench continuously for the rest of her life back in the States, reminders of her fun glamour days spent in Europe.

Other iconic sights and sounds topped their best memories list too. There was the famed Paris Opera House which first opened in 1875…

The gardens at Versailles…

It was such an elegant place, Herbert wore a suit!

The domed roof of Sacre-Coeur (also known as the Basilica of the Sacred Heart), is the second most visited site in Paris. It was a must-see for Herbert and Lucy too, who were devoted to the Catholic faith their whole lives. It stands in the Montmarte section of Paris where all the famous artists and writers lived in the 19th and 20th century.

Likewise, the Cathedral of Notre Dame (or what I thought it was) held equal charm.

But upon closer inspection via window shapes and entry doors I think this is another church in Paris altogether. Can anyone identify it? Whether you are religious or not, everyone can appreciate a Parisian church for all their architectural details and built-in statues. Herbert and Lucy visited a new Catholic church every Sunday while they were in Europe, which was a true testament to their faith since most masses were said in Latin and lasted hours.

The beautiful angles and proportions of the Pantheon hover over part of the city and tell quite a story of architectural design. The dome, which fascinated Lucy in particular is actually three domes in one and made entirely of stone. Originally it was going to be topped with a statue of Saint Genevieve but a cross was selected instead. Gevevieve was the patron saint of Paris,  and also happened to be Lucy’s middle name. Genevieve is also known as one of the patron saints of generosity, a characteristic Lucy herself contained, and is often depicted carrying a loaf of bread. Followers of Genevieve’s work created an institution in her name in the 1600’s  to care for the infirm and to educate young women. I wonder now if Lucy felt a special kinship to Genevieve because of all she went through at the orphanage.

When Herbert and Lucy passed by and under the Arc de Triomph they were viewing it in all it’s glory, as it had just been thoroughly cleaned and bleached five years before from a century’s worth of soot and grime. Herbert gave it a thumbs up in the cleaning department!

 

In between all those photos of grand buildings and popular sites I was hoping to find a cafe shot of Herbert and Lucy dining street-side with a glass of wine or a coffee. The only one I found among the mix though was this one very blurry photo of my dad (who met up with his parents at various points in the trip while on break from business meetings) and Lucy.

Even though it’s blurry, I still like the charm of this scene, with the cafe’s egg yolk yellow awning and shutters and the tomato red chairs.  I suspect this was taken in a little country town near Nice on their drive from Paris to Monte Carlo for Part Two of the French adventure.   I like to imagine that they ate something simple yet delicious that day at that cafe. Something not unlike the French recipe we are making to accompany this post today.

Like the cafe, this is a sunny, simple dish that is easy to make and requires little time to prepare. It is called Eggs in Sauce Gribiche.  Like some of the buildings in this post and even our tour guides themselves, this recipe dates all the way back to the early 1900’s when famous French chef Auguste Escoffier deemed it an important and versatile companion to hard-boiled eggs.  Age-old yet timeless too, it is a new favorite in my kitchen and I hope it will be one in yours too.

The French section of the New York Times International Cook Book which we are following for this Recipe Tour, was one of the largest chapters in the book containing over 113 pages of traditional dishes from France. I chose this one because it is so representative of Herbert and Lucy. It’s simple and accessible, peppered with fresh goodness and easily enjoyable in a bevy of dining situations. At their core, Lucy and Herbert were ideal characters. Ones who despite early hardships and traumatic events, chose to nourish relationships and radiate nothing but love and affection. At the same time, they also knew how to add a little splash to life to make it colorful and interesting. In the case of this recipe, they are both the comforting, reliable hard-boiled eggs and also the attractive and inventive sauce that is drizzled over.

So many French recipes combine rich, buttery flavors that simmer or saute for lengthy amounts of time. This one is lighter and brighter on the palate and works for several kinds of meals from brunch to lunch to appetizers, or even serves purpose as an afternoon snack or a light dinner.  When making it, I recommend sourcing the freshest ingredients possible, which might mean avoiding the grocery store altogether if you can help it. Home grown garden herbs, farmers market tomatoes, and local eggs will by far surpass anything you could find at the regular grocery store when it comes to bringing out the beautiful flavors of this dish.

Eggs with Sauce Gribiche

Serves 6

1 teaspoon finely chopped parsley

1 teaspoon finely chopped onion

1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh thyme

1 clove garlic

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

1 egg yolk

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

2 tablespoons wine vinegar

1 1/2 cups olive oil

3/4 cup seeded, peeled, diced tomatoes

6 hard boiled eggs, peeled and halved

2 tablespoons finely chopped chives or scallion greens

Chop the parsley, onion, thyme and garlic. Add the chopped mixture to a small mixing bowl along the mustard, vinegar , egg yolk, salt and pepper.

Begin beating all ingrediants together with a whisk and gradually start adding the oil. Add it a little at a time, beating rapidly until the sauce begins to thicken. When mixture is thickened and smooth it is ready.

Crack and peel the hard-boiled eggs and cut them length-wise in half.

When you are ready to serve, stir the tomatoes into the sauce and then spoon the sauce over the egg halves. Sprinkle with chives or finely sliced scallions.

Served at room temperature, this a great dish for a hot summer day or an impromptu picnic, as it can be whipped up in a matter of minutes. It is also a lovely alternative to deviled eggs, lemon vinaigrette dressing or its close cousin – Hollandaise Sauce.

My most favorite photo of my grandparents first time-time trip to France is this one taken on two park chairs with the Eiffel Tower in back. My grandmother reminds me of Julia Child here…  smiling, carefree, light-hearted. And I love my grandfather’s hand on her knee. They were married for 37 years when this photo was taken. It’s really nice to see that things hadn’t changed that much since the day they met. Lucy was still flashing that pretty smile and Herbert was still protecting her with kindness and affection.

Ten years and two months later, Lucy died unexpectedly in a hospital in Florida. Her cause of death was an enlarged heart. That seems pretty fitting.  Her and Herbert shared a big love.  For a life that started out with so much neglect and abandonment I’m glad that Lucy got to finish it with so much joy and comfort. And I’m glad she got to experience Paris and all the magic the city holds.

Cheers to love that lasts through thick and thin. And cheers to France for playing such a big, wonderful, important role in the life and love of my family. And cheers to Grandma Lucy and Grandpa Herbert. It’s been a tough week in the world these past few days. I hope we can carry forth, in the true spirit of Herbert and Lucy, with nothing but kindness and generosity for all.

Join me next time for week 18 of the International Vintage Recipe Tour 2020 as we head to Germany to make the biggest meal of the Tour so far! It’s three days of preparation for this cooking adventure, so rest up! See you soon.

 

Embrace Your Inner Bula: You’re On Fiji Time This Week!

For all the travelers out there who are feeling a little bit housebound these days and are missing your exotic ports of call, this post is for you. For anyone who finds themselves in a food rut, tired and bored by all the usual dinnertime choices, this post is for you too. And for anyone feeling especially grumpy, frustrated or lackluster when it comes to navigating this strange roller coaster of a turbulent world, this post is also for you.

That may sound like a lot of importance to place upon on the shoulders of one food related blog post but the salve for all these wayward troubles can pretty much be soothed in one word thanks to our featured destination of the week.

Tonight’s post takes us to the beautiful islands of Fiji, via the kitchen, to make a very quick, very easy  fish dish that tastes of coconuts and day dreams and relaxed coastal living. Welcome to Week 16 of the International Vintage Recipe Tour. Welcome to Fiji, dear kitcheners!

There is no doubt that Fiji is one of the most picturesque places in the world. But there is more to it than just sand and sun and beautiful beaches. Beyond all of the stunning panoromas, swaying palms and exotic flowers, there lives something even more beautiful. So beautiful in fact it can’t be translated via photograph.

It’s not a tangible item that you can hold in your hand or buy with your credit card or gift to a friend. It’s not a specific place you can visit, or a hotel you can check into, or a body of water you can bob around on. It’s not a rainbow, or a waterfall, or a sunset, or a mountaintop view or a brightly colored flower. It’s not a hike, nor a sunbathe, nor a visit to the spa.

Fiji’s exotic flowers.

It’s a feeling.

An inward attitude. A manifesto. An intrinsic, deeply rooted way of being. Something completely unique to the 22 islands that make up the country of Fiji.  It’s called bula.

Technically referred to as a greeting similar to saying hello, bula carries much more significance than a simple salutation. It resonates as a way of life for anyone lucky enough to visit or live on one of the islands. It also happens to be one of the most commonly talked about things that people miss most about Fiji once they leave the country.

First bula starts out as a pleasantry. A sincere wish for happiness, good health and a zesty energy for life. Then it subtly transforms from a word you are saying into a feeling you are emoting. It becomes an infectious enthusiasm of spirit. A radiation of joy. An exuberance of attitude. Regardless of current circumstances or situations, in spite of challenges and setbacks, embracing the bula spirit means expressing happiness, appreciation and friendliness. In other words… smiles and good nature for all. Whether they are strangers or loved ones, coworkers or customers, kids or adults, neighbors or newcomers, this extension of outward positivity has labeled Fijians the friendliest people in the world.

Practically a national language in and of itself, bula is a trademark of the island’s hospitality. It encourages warmth and welcome. Good cheer. Grateful attitudes. And a delight in the moment right in front of you. Besides their unique heritage and their idyllic landscape, it is the characteristic that Fijians are most proud of and what sets them apart as a community from everyone else in the world.

This type of jubilant reminder couldn’t have come at a better time. Especially for this week in regards to the Recipe Tour. As I’ve mentioned in a few posts over the last couple of months,  it’s been a bit of a challenge to keep the Tour on track since the tornado in March and then the pandemic right after. As you all know, it’s easy to get caught up in the global events unfolding each day and then to let that news cloud your mind, dampen your spirit, and affect your disposition. Sometimes writing about food while all this chaos is going on in the world seems trivial and I struggle with the desire and importance of wanting to share a good recipe while so much catastrophic stuff is going on.  But learning about Fiji’s bula spirit this week and then making one of their traditional island recipes really let in a breath of much-needed fresh air and perspective, both literally and figuratively.

If you saw the sneak peek video for this week’s recipe on Instagram, you may have noticed that it looked a little bit different than all the other videos from all the other weeks. That was due to a rainstorm that thundered its way through the preparation parts of this  week’s film shoot.

It was one of those storms that comes on quickly, toting dark grey clouds the size of whales and sucks up so much natural light, you have to turn on every single lamp in the room just so you can see what you are doing right in front of you. Rolling in just a few minutes into the cooking process, right as I began sauteing onions in a pan for the cream sauce, this storm turned the kitchen so dark and moody, the photo/video shoot had to immediately go on location (aka the balcony) so that I could grab as much natural light as possible. Otherwise the whole cooking process would have resulted in murky colors and grainy details. Fortunately for this purpose, there’s a small nook on the balcony between two potted herbs and some blooming flowers that is impervious to damp weather. It’s the one little dry spot that can accommodate an impromptu photoshoot without ruin to camera or food subjects.

In the video, you may have noticed what sounded like crashing waves roaring above the Fijian music playing in the background. That was actually the sound of the wind and the rain from the storm.   The heavy rain and the 60 mile an hour winds that eventually would come later that evening, kindly held off long enough so that the entire series of food photos were done from start to finish before I had to scurry around the balcony and bring everything inside.

It can be a little bit stressful cooking under the pressure of weather and good light, especially when preparing a dish that doesn’t offer any leeway for prolonged preparations. Generally, it takes anywhere from 3-6 hours to prep, photograph and video each week’s recipe for the Tour, depending on the level of difficulty and the cooking steps involved. Over the course of the last sixteen weeks, I’ve developed a nice little routine when it comes to making and photographing the recipes. But this week, the storm threw a wrench in the rhythm. This dish couldn’t sit around waiting on the weather to pass nor could it be made halfway and finished up the next day.

Instead of getting all flustered with the change in routine and getting caught up in some silly forced notion of perfectionism when it came to the photos, I thought about Fiji and how they might have handled this situation. I bet the first thing they would have done would be to smile and then say bula. Which is exactly what I did. Instead of fighting the weather, I appreciated the new way of thinking that the storm presented.  I didn’t fret over the lack of light and the frenzied pace of cooking. Even though there were mad dashes outside to photo and then mad dashes back inside to cook some more. I went with the flow  and managed a new rhythm. I poured sauce over fish while clouds poured rain over me. And I smiled about it. I embraced the bula spirit.

And you know what happened, dear kitcheners? Everything turned out just fine. Delicious in fact. Do you know what else happened? This was the first time in 16 weeks that a Tour recipe was prepped, prepared, photoed, cooked and on the table for presentation in under an hour. That’s a new first in the Kitchen! All because the rain storm scurried me along. Funny enough, this is the way of typical rain storms in Fiji as well – quick to arise, heavy in outpour, brief in stay. I love that Lady Nature decided to add her own little bit of Fijian authenticity to the cooking day.

Storm clouds over Pacific Harbour, Fiji

Like the islands themselves, this Baked Cod recipe is colorful, comforting and a breeze to make (rain or shine!). It’s really three recipes in one, each broken down into segments  – cream sauce, coconut milk, and cod, but since we’ve already made fresh coconut milk in Week 8’s trip to Ceylon, I substituted canned coconut milk for fresh, which shaves 45 minutes off the prep time. The cheddar cheese in the cream sauce can be yellow or white, depending on your own preference as it doesn’t affect the pearly color of the sauce either way. I also chopped up an extra  1/4 cup of the onions and green pepper for garnish at the end. That step added a nice fresh crunch to the finished dish. Had we not had the rain storm to contend with, this dish would have taken about 20 minutes to prepare. True to its island culture and the bula spirit,  it’s a joy to make.

We’ll start with the cream sauce, since you’ll want to make that first and just keep it warm on the stove while you assemble the cod in the baking dish. Again, please excuse the photos in this post, they don’t really capture beauty of the dish nor the process as I would have liked but you’ll get the idea. I loved this recipe so much I’ll happily make it again (on a sunny day!) so that I can take some new photos and enjoy a taste of the islands once again.

Fiji Cream Cream Sauce

1 tablespoon butter

3 tablespoons finely chopped red onion (plus 2 more tablespoons more for garnish)

3 tablespoons finely chopped green pepper (plus two more tablespoons for garnish)

1 1/2 cups coconut milk

salt to taste

1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Melt the butter in a saucepan. Cook the onion and green pepper, stirring, until the onion is wilted (about 4-5 minutes). Add 1 1/4 cups of the coconut milk and bring to a boil.

Blend the remaining 1/4 cup coconut milk with the cornstarch  and stir it into the simmering sauce . Simmer for three minutes, stirring constantly.

Baked Cod in Cream Sauce

Serves 4

2 cups boneless cod filet, cut into 1″ inch cubes

1 1/2 cups Fiji Cream Sauce

1/2 cup freshly grated cheddar cheese

Arrange the cod pieces in one layer in a baking dish and pour the sauce overall.

Sprinkle the cheddar cheese over the top…

and bake 30-40 minutes or until the cheese is melted and lightly browned. Once ready, remove from the oven and let sit for 5 minutes before serving.

Because of Fiji’s geographic location, its local cuisine has been influenced by India, the Polynesian Islands, Asia and most importantly by what grows naturally well on the islands. Coconut, sweet potatoes, root vegetables and seafood are common staples. Since there were no serving suggestions when it came to this recipe, I paired this creamy fish  with black rice for both its dynamic color and its fragrant, slightly nutty taste. This turned out to be an ideal companion as the flavors blended together really well and the rice soaked up some of the sauce. A little sprinkle of freshly chopped purple onion and green pepper on top of the fish added a splash of color for garnish.

Even though the preparation for this dish was a little haphazard, by the time we were ready to try it, the bula spirit had fully presented itself.  Once the first bite was taken, it really did feel and taste like a rejuvenating dinner that had the power to soothe a number of situations. Placing a colorful flower on the plate lent an exotic island aesthetic, ideal for the wanderlust travelers feeling stuck at home. The creamy coconut milk, an alternative to a more common, basic white sauce or cheese sauce, added an out of the ordinary flavor component, offering fun inspiration for all the bored cooks out there.  And the green, purple and black hues of this dish added a delightful dose of color therapy (read more about the power of this in Week 10: Columbia) which couldn’t help but brighten up even the most lackluster soul. I found the comfort level of this meal to be a 10 (out of 10!) so for all you eaters feeling grumpy or out of sorts, this dish will hopefully raise your spirits in an equally comforting way as well. That’s the magic of food in Fiji for you! That’s the magic of the bula spirit inside you!

Cheers to Fiji for showing us how to embrace our inner bula by embracing and radiating warm affection and positivity, despite the challenges that face us. Next week, we’ll be heading off to the gourmand capital of the world, via the kitchen, as we celebrate Week 17 of the International Vintage Recipe Tour in France. See you soon!

Fiji Photo Credits: Timothy Ah Koy, Vijeshwar Datt, Ishan, Roberto Nickson, Prem Kurumpanai

A Very English Dessert: Trifally Speaking

Hello Hello! Happy Mother’s Day weekend to all the moms out there. Welcome to week 15 of the International Vintage Recipe Tour 2020. This week finds us in England via the kitchen, making a dessert that dates all the way back to the 1750’s.

It was a time when women dressed like this…

An embroidered muslin dress dating from 1730-1769 from the Victoria and Albert Museum collection

and men dressed like this…

Men’s fashionable suit made in England circa 1765. Courtesy of the Victoria & Albert museum collection.

and housing looked like this…

An engraving of Marble Hill, circa 1749 courtesy of english-heritage.org

and dessert looked like this…

In the kitchens of castles and cottages and country houses across the rolling hills and bucolic landscapes of England, big bowls filled with fruit and cream and custard and cake decorated tables and delighted diners.

The fun of this week’s vintage recipe starts with the adjectives that most often describe it… tipsy, whimsical, drunken, inconsequential, foolish, scrapy, flurried. It was first made in the 1500’s, but really became part of the popular dessert vernacular in the 1700’s, and was one of the few sweet treats of its day that appealed to practically every type of eater, from the thrifty homemaker to the flamboyant palace chef. Legend states that its origin may have originally sprouted in Spain or Italy, but once the British embraced it, it became a wholly English dessert. And it came complete with cute nicknames – The Tipsy Parson, The Tipsy Hedgehog, The Tipsy Squire. All an homage to the alcohol cleverly disguised inside the cake and custard that held the whole assemblage together.

Today in the Kitchen, I’m pleased to announce that we are making English Trifle, a piled up assortment of boozy cake, jam, fruit, custard and cream. Like any 500 year old recipe, lots of variations have emerged since it was first created, but the fundamental hallmarks of the recipe (cream, cake, alcohol, fruit, custard, jelly) haven’t changed in five centuries. That makes it one of the most authentic desserts in the history of baking.

The first cookbook to print a recipe for trifle with jelly was Hannah Glasse’s The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy, which was published in 1751.

Eight years ago, my friend Diana gave me a trifle dish. I loved it immediately for its big shape, but up until now never actually made the food that it’s named for. Instead, over the past almost-decade, I’ve used my trifle dish for all sorts of non-related kitchen jobs – a flower vase, a holder for various miscellanies (wine corks, napkins, kitchen tools, flatware), a container to corral foodstuffs (bread, cookies, nuts), a fruit bowl, an ice bucket, a table centerpiece for candles and crafts, an organizer for pantry odds and ends, and most recently a punch bowl. It’s overall handiness is ironic considering that this dish was made for one very specific type of dessert.

The trifle dish turned punch bowl was featured in Week 4 of the International Vintage Recipe Tour 2020 when we visited Barbados via the kitchen. Read more about that here.

Anyway, its exciting to think that this much loved glass container is not only making it’s trifle debut here on the Recipe Tour but also serving up the oldest historical food we have made on the blog yet. That means it is older than  Election Cake (1700’s) and older than Sally Lunn Cake (1600’s)

The recipe we are following for this English Trifle is from the 1970’s New York Times International Cookbook, but it is pretty faithful to the 16th-18th century versions. The only adjustment I had to make with this specific recipe was exchanging the current jelly for raspberry preserves, since I couldn’t find current jelly at the grocery store.  Some vintage recipes for trifle feature other fruits like cherries, apricots, strawberries or peaches so really you could use any type of jam that you prefer best and still keep the historical integrity of true English Trifle completely intact.

A two part process, this was no quick whip up in the kitchen, but it’s not complicated to make.  Since it contains two recipes in one, I wound up breaking up the steps into two parts over two days – one day for the homemade sponge cake and the other day for the homemade custard and assembly. Over the years, especially in the mid-to late 20th century, many short-cut variations have been substituted for these two steps – including store bought pound cake, prepackaged ladyfingers, instant pudding mixes, prepackaged cake mixes and ready made whip cream. But I recommend making the whole dessert from scratch even though it takes a good chunk of time to prepare.

The process of making this over the course of two days worked well, because the longer the sponge cake rests in the fridge, the easier it is to slice for presentation in the trifle dish. It is also ideal to refrigerate the entire finished (and decorated) trifle overnight to allow the cake time to soak up the Madeira,  and to allow the rum to blend into the custard.

There’s a fun step in the sponge cake making process which involves a clean kitchen towel and the act of rolling the cake up inside it. If you are familiar with jelly roll cakes, this won’t be a new or unusual task for you, but if you’ve never rolled up a hot cake just out of the oven in a kitchen cloth before, it will feel a little strange and unnatural. Almost like something you’ve been trained not to do as a kid – like writing in a book or coloring on a wall. But persevere anyway. It all works out wonderfully in the end.

Sponge Jelly Roll

3 tablespoons butter, melted

4 eggs

1/4 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar

3/4 cup sifted all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 tablespoons confectioner’s sugar

3/4 cup tart current jelly ( I used 50% less sugar organic raspberry preserves)

2 tablespoons Madeira

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Brush an 8×12 jelly roll pan (or a standard cake pan) with half the melted butter. Line the pan with a large sheet of parchment paper, letting a little of the paper hang over the sides. Then brush the parchment paper with the remaining butter.

Break the eggs into a medium size bowl. Add the salt and three quarters cup sugar.

Beat with an electric mixer until stiff or until the batter forms a thick ribbon and fall back onto itself when the beaters are lifted from the bowl. Carefully fold in the flour and vanilla. Pour this mixture into the prepared pan. Spread smooth with a ribber spatula. Bake in the oven for 15 minutes.

While the cake is baking, lay your clean kitchen towel flat on the counter. In a small bowl, sift together the remaining two tablespoons sugar with the confectioners’ sugar. Sprinkle the sugar mixture on the clean towel. Watch this step over on Instagram in the Week 15 video here.

After you pull the cake from the oven, grab all four corners of the parchment paper and immediately remove the cake from the pan. Carefully flip the cake onto the sugared towel and peel away the parchment paper.  Adjust the cake so that it lines up with the edge of the towel and then quickly roll it up. Watch a video of this step here.

Let the cake rest for 15 minutes wrapped in the towel. Then unroll the towel and spread the cake with a thin, even layer of jelly.

Then roll the cake up once more, except this time don’t roll it up into the cloth.

Transfer the roll carefully to a sheet of waxed paper or parchment paper,  and wrap it and place it in the fridge to chill. (Note: You can leave it in the fridge up to 24 hours. The longer it sits in the fridge the easier it will be to cut and arrange in the dish).

After the cake has chilled, remove it from the fridge and place it on a cutting board. Cut the entire jelly roll into 1/2″ inch thick slices.

Next line the bottom of the trifle dish with as many slices as will fit to cover the bottom and then line the sides of the dish. You should have a few slices left over after you’ve lined the dish. Set those remaining slices aside for use after the custard is ready.

Sprinkle the cake slices with the two tablespoons of Madeira and then cover and refrigerate the dish while you make Part Two of the recipe.

English Trifle

Serves 10-12

Sponge Jelly Roll slices

4 eggs, seperated

1/4 cup granulated sugar

1/2 tablespoon unflavored gelatin

1 1/4 cups light cream

2 cups heavy cream

2 tablespoons light rum

1 tablespoon confectioners’ sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

Place the egg yolks in a medium bowl and add the sugar.

Beat thoroughly with an electric mixer and add the gelatin. Set aside.

Bring the light cream to a boil in a small saucepan, stirring constantly so that the cream does not scorch. Slowly add it to the egg mixture, stirring constantly with a whisk as you incorporate the milk.

Transfer the egg/milk mixture to a large saucepan. Cook and stir the mixture over low heat until it coats the back of a wooden spoon (about 10 minutes).

Immediately remove the saucepan from the heat and set the pan in a bowl filled with ice cubes to cool. Stir until cooled. {Note: I cooked my custard for about 15 minutes on the stove, which I think turned out to be about 5 minutes too long! Once the custard sits in the ice cubes it thickens even more, so ultimately when you remove the custard from the heat it should be about the consistency of somewhat runny cheese sauce and not quite as thick as loose pudding, which was more like my consistency.}

In a separate mixing bowl add the egg whites and beat until they form soft peaks.

Fold the whites into the cooled custard. {Note as you can see from the photo below my custard became pretty thick once it cooled. If this happens to you, don’t worry, once you fold in the egg whites and the cream you can use a rubber spatula to smooth the custard out. The rum also helps the custard break down a little bit.}

Beat half the heavy cream until stiff…

And then fold the heavy cream into the custard/egg white mixture…

Then fold in the rum…

Spoon all the custard into the trifle dish, covering the bottom slices and spreading the custard evenly with a spatula.

Cover the top of the custard with the reserved slices of jelly roll.

Beat the remaining cream and sweeten it with confectioners’ sugar and vanilla extract. Using a pastry tube or spoon, garnish the top of the trifle with cream. Now comes the fun part… decorating the top! The recipe’s directions stopped after the whipped cream, so we are now, at this stage,  left up to our own interpretations and creativity from this point forward. Some bakers like to decorate the tops of their trifles with crushed nuts, slivered almonds, shaved chocolate or fruit. I decided to top mine with strawberries, blackberries, raspberries and mint.

And because this recipe hails from England, the land of beautiful gardens, I put a few fresh flowers on top too.

We are enjoying strawberry season this month in the South, so the berries seemed like an ideal companion, and my sweet mint in the garden is growing by leaps and bounds, making me want to add mint to everything in order to keep it under control. But you might have your own fun spin on a trifle topper so I encourage you to get creative.

To serve the trifle, you just need to dive right into it with a big spoon and scoop out a slice of cake from the side and place it on a dessert plate. Then add an extra dollop of custard and whip cream from the interior and add some additional bits of topping for an extra bit of flair.

A truly delicious baking endeavor that tastes of summer and satisfaction, this whole dessert is substantial but not heavy. The custard is pillowy, the whip cream delicate, the berries tangy.  It is no wonder that this recipe has been floating around the dessert world for five hundred years. It’s a timeless classic for sure. No matter how we have evolved as humans from century to century, I don’t think we’ll ever tire of any combination involving fruit and cream, flour and custard, butter and jam. It’s in our history, after all.

P.S. The trifle will keep in the fridge for a few days but not the freezer, as this recipe is meant for sharing not storing. If you are still quarantining like we are in my neck of the woods, and your amount of eaters is small, don’t let the size and scale of this recipe sway you. Perhaps you could surprise your friends or neighbors with a little gift of British baking.

Cheers to England for propelling this dessert through centuries. And cheers to all the moms out there who have made this recipe in the past and will continue to make this recipe in the future!

Join us next week as we island hop over to Fiji for a tropical dinner and a special weather episode that adds audible ambiance to our cooking adventure. See you next time for Week 16 of the Recipe Tour!

Dancing Around History in Dahomey: The Cakewalk, Cannibalism and a New Kind of Pizza

Do you guys remember the events of Easter weekend? The postponement that turned out to be a flip around? The mustard that was supposed to be an entree? The switch in the travel schedule that sent us 3,200 miles in the opposite direction? If you answered yes, then you’ll know exactly where we are landing this week. If you are new to the blog or uncertain as to our past travel trajectories, you’ll find us here today…

…in Dahomey, our next stop on the International Vintage Recipe Tour 2020. Not sure where Dahomey is? Don’t worry, at the start of this project, I didn’t know either. Let’s zoom out a bit and get a grasp on which section of the world we are talking about…

Dahomey is located in the crook of the African continent on the western side in between Nigeria and Ghana. If it still doesn’t sound familiar to you, there is good reason. Dahomey hasn’t existed on a map since 1975. These images above are from a 1948 school atlas, but if you looked on a modern map today, you’ll find the Republic of Benin in Dahomey’s place. Like Ceylon becoming Sri Lanka, Dahomey went through it’s own name change and declaration of independence in the 1970’s.

But before all that happened, Dahomey, had a bit of a tormented past. Originally colonized by the French, it was populated primarily by local tribes who were often at war with themselves.  Fighting was such a part of the culture, Dahomey even boasted a large tribe of professionally trained female warriors known as the Amazons. Numbering in the thousands, these ladies were ready to defend their land and customs at a moment’s notice and were the most feared women on the African continent.

The Amazons of Dahomey. Image courtesy of hadithiti.africa. Read more about them here.

Folklore states that centuries ago Dahomey was named after Chief King Dan who favored the local customs of cannibalism and human sacrifice. The name Dahomey literally translates as “the belly of Dan” and was a direct reference to greedy behavior and overstepping one’s boundaries.

Thankfully our recipe for this week does not involve any cannibalistic tendencies, but there was an element of gruesome prep work that I suppose Chief King Dan would have totally approved of. Before we get to the recipe though, there is one remarkable connection I wanted to share with you that forever ties the word Dahomey into popular culture. This achievement is not based in cooking, cannibalism, or human sacrifice, but instead based in song and dance.

In 1903, the first African American musical comedy to be written and performed by an all black cast was staged on Broadway. The play was called In Dahomey and was about a pair of con men, a lost treasure and a plan to colonize Western Africa.

Combining elements of vaudeville theater, minstrel shows and comedic storytelling, In Dahomey became such a popular show in both the United States and England, it enjoyed an unprecedented four year run and an international touring schedule.

Starring the talented trio of George Walker, Bert Williams and Aida (aka Ada) Overton Walker, it was also the first African American play to have its sheet music published…

In Dahomey sheet music. Photo courtesy of Songbook

The play was a major accomplishment in the progression of musical theater and also a major source of inspiration for the African American community. One of the elements that turned In Dahomey into such a crowd-pleaser was the inclusion of a popular style of late 19th century dance called the Cakewalk.

Started among plantation slaves in the American South, this precision style of boxy line dancing was similar to ballroom dancing. Cakewalk began as a bit of theatrical mockery directed towards the stiff and stuffy formality of dances enjoyed by the plantation owners. But it quickly turned into a tightly choreographed routine that was lauded by both the white and black communities for its elegant moves and high-stepping style.

As popularity of the dance spread between plantations, the cakewalk turned into a competition style performance of pride, dignity and talent.  Competitions were deemed special events, participation was encouraged, and winners usually received a freshly baked cake as a prize for best dancer.

Aida Overton Walker (1880-1914)

Aida Overton Walker was considered the queen of the cakewalk. Her performances alongside her husband, George Walker and their creative partner Bert Williams made them a famous trio in the theater world in the early 1900’s. A true believer in bridging  cultural differences through dance, music and the performing arts, Aida died tragically at the age of 34, but not without leaving a great impression.  This is a five minute theatrical interpretation of her extraordinary life and the contributions she made to the performing arts…

The overture for In Dahomey is sweeping, melodic and eight minutes in length. If you wanted to listen to it while you prepped your ingredients for this week’s recipe, it’s the perfect length for the amount of chopping that needs to be done. Here’s a link for listening…

 

The reason the Recipe Tour got so turned around last week was because of these little swimmers…

The fish store is closed in the neighborhood until at least mid-May, so sourcing fresh regional shrimp was a new challenge. Luckily, the farmers market saved the day with their new drive-thru Saturday market and a vendor that offered fresh (albeit frozen) Gulf Coast shrimp. As you can see in the image above these guys came scampi style with their heads intact. If we were in France or Italy this week, this might have been an interesting attribute to a regional recipe, but in Dahomey, the technique called for diced shrimp, so off the heads had to come. Chief King Dan approved:)

This was the first time, I ever removed the heads from any creature and I must admit, it was not my most favorite activity. Powering through this aspect of food prep, I couldn’t bring myself to photograph this tumultuous process for the post. Instead, I gathered all my bravery, followed this how-to video and avoided looking the little guys in the eye. Eventually my cleaned up shrimp looked like this…

On the menu this week, we are making Shrimp Dahomienne, an easy shrimp and pork saute that I thought was going to turn out one way but actually turned out another. The serving suggestion for this recipe was a ring of pureed black-eyed peas, so originally I thought Shrimp Dahomienne was going to be a soupy stew-like dish similar to Beef Bourguignon or Mushroom Marsala. Instead, it turned out to be a rich, dense sauce with a thick consistency closer to tomato puree than soupy stew. A breeze to make, it requires minimal prep work, just one saute pan, and an unusual combination of ingredients. The only thing I changed as far as the recipe goes was switching out ham for pancetta (just a personal preference), but other than that made the recipe as is. Until it came to the serving suggestion part. More on that after we go through the recipe.

Shrimp Dahomienne

(serves 4-6)

1 cup finely chopped onion

1/2 cup peanut oil

1 cup raw shrimp (about 1 dozen medium to large size shrimp), cut into 1/2″ inch cubes

1 clove garlic, finely minced

3/4 cup ham, cut into 1/2″ inch cubes (I used diced pancetta)

1 bay leaf

1 cup canned tomato sauce

1 hot red pepper, seeded and chopped

Cook the onion in the peanut oil until it just starts to brown. Add the shrimp and cook , stirring constantly, about 5 minutes.

Add the garlic and ham and cook for another five minutes longer, stirring.

Add the remaining ingredients…

and cook about 15 minutes longer, stirring frequently.

Remove from pan and serve.

As you can see from the above photos, the last 15 minutes of cooking greatly reduces the sauce. By the time it is ready to pull off of the stove, it resembles more of a chunky chutney with just trace amounts of peanut oil lingering behind. That’s what reminded me of pizza sauce. Dark red and dense like a can of tomato paste, this mixture is so full of wonderful, deep, rich flavors. The pancetta adds salt. The shrimp adds a mellow hint of the sea. The red pepper adds zesty spice. The onions and tomatoes add a sweet acidity. I think the pureed black-eyed peas would have been too mushy a consistency with this mixture. Their grayish color not as appealing.  So instead, I spread this shrimpy  mixture on pizza dough and topped it with slices of fresh mozzarella, and basil from the garden…

and then popped it into a 500 degree oven for 10 minutes.

Just before serving I squeezed a little fresh lemon juice over the whole pizza and added a couple more leaves of fresh basil. I love when your instincts turn out to be right on target. This Shrimp Dahomienne pizza turned out to be delicious! The pizza dough added satisfying crunch along with a complimentary foundation for all the flavors, and soaked up the oily pools of sauce. I’ve never really been a fan sea swimmers on pizza before, but this recipe definitely has me rethinking shrimp on a pie.  The shrimp taste was subtle and when combined with a squeeze of lemon and a sprig of fresh basil, it tasted more bright than briny.

An easy, casual meal, pair it with a cold, crisp glass of pinot grigio and you have a new type of springtime/summertime pizza that is lightly seasoned with scents from the sea.

One of the things I love so much about exploring these vintage recipes are the little surprises that show up each week. Just this one recipe alone opened up a wealth of newly discovered history that combined musical theater, dancing, women’s history and African culture. I learned a new kitchen skill (how to behead a shrimp) and in turn that made me made me appreciate these 12 swimmers much more for the life they gave to this recipe.

There’s a lot of talk these days about everyone getting restless at home because of the quarantine. I understand. It’s hard not to feel caged in. Especially when you are missing your friends and family, your restaurants and parties and get-togethers and happy hours. If this is you and your boat, let’s pass the time by sharing some culinary adventures. Coronavirus or not, cooking knows no boundaries. Surprises ensue. Stories begin. I’d love to hear what you guys are making these days. If you have any fun recipes or anecdotes you’d like to share about food-related things you’ve discovered during quarantine, please comment below. I’d love to feature them, here on the blog, in a special upcoming Quarantine in the Kitchen edition. Hope you’ll be a part of it!

Next week we are heading off to England via the kitchen to make a sweet treat of a dessert that celebrates the start of strawberry season. See you then!

The Natural Disaster and the Postponement

Hello there dear and treasured kitcheners. As you know, Wednesday nights are usually the time when you can catch up on the latest installment of the International Vintage Recipe Tour. I regret to inform you that this week the post is delayed until Friday, due to an ongoing power outage. My lovely and beautiful and cherished city neighborhood was one of the places that was most hard- hit by the tornado that blew through Nashville just after midnight on Tuesday morning. The photo accompanying this post is of one of my favorite restaurants just two blocks away. Sadly, this is by far not the worst site in the neighborhood. It’s been difficult and devastating these past few days,  but luckily the Vintage Kitchen, the Tour, and the spirit behind both, keep the joy and the passion ignited and moving towards sunnier days ahead.

This week our featured country is China, another area of the world dealing with a troubling crisis. Thankfully, our focus this week is anything but bleak. The recipe stemming from this colorful Asian country is delicious and features a unique cooking technique and stylized presentation. I can’t wait to discuss it all with you. Coming up in Friday’s post, there is also special focus placed on a Chinese cultural tradition that is soothing, inspiring and illuminating. I didn’t realize at the time I was pulling all the threads together for this week’s Recipe Tour that it would feature a symbolic lifeline in the Chinese community that would also become a lifeline for me too. But the world is wonderful that way – making us feel unique and universal all at once.  Please come back and visit again on Friday where good recipes await and joy prevails. See you soon.

Eating with Elephants & Elizabeth Taylor: It’s Dinner and a Movie Night, Ceylon Style!!

Hope you are hungry this week fellow kitcheners! Tonight’s post is all about a feast for the eyes, the imagination and the belly. Welcome to Week 8 of the International Vintage Recipe Tour 2020. Welcome to Ceylon…

Last week we were in Canada making a Walnut Tart and learning all about maple trees. This week we are traveling 8,400 miles east to the lost land of Ceylon, the first stop in our Recipe Tour that involves a country that no longer exists. Well, that’s not entirely accurate. The landscape itself still exists but the country has been renamed from Ceylon to Sri Lanka. This automatically adds a sentimental bit of nostalgia to our cooking endeavors this week. So what exactly led to such a big change in our world history?

An old trading map of Taprobane. Photo courtesy of lankapura.com

In a nutshell, this is what happened. Ceylon was a British ruled country beginning in 1815. Before that, the country was known by a variety of different names including Taprobane, Ceilao and my personal favorite, Serendip, which is where we get the word serendipity from.  In 1948, Ceylon established independence from Britain but it wasn’t until 1972 that they changed the name of their country to something that was more reflective of their unique heritage. They chose the name Sri Lanka which means Island of Resplendence, a positive, empowering moniker that let the world know they were ready to shine proudly, brilliantly, and independently all on their own accord. Tonight’s recipe dates to 1971, the year just before Ceylon changed names and took on a new identity.

Camellia sinensis – the base of all tea plants

Most tea drinkers today know about historic Ceylon because of the famous tea that came from there- a black variant steeped in antioxidants that boasts all sorts of health benefits. As a favorite known around the world, Sri Lanka’s current tea industry contributes over a billion dollars a year to their economy. Other local treasures hail from this island nation too. Important food exports include coconuts and spices. On the International Vintage Recipe Tour this week we are featuring all three of these noteworthy commodities – two in recipe version (coconuts and spices) and one in movie version (tea).

1930’s Map of Ceylon

On the menu this week we are making Ceylon Curry – a spice infused chicken recipe that involves a marinade, a slow simmer, and a freshly made batch of homemade coconut milk. For entertainment, tonight’s dinner is paired with a sweeping 1954 melodrama of a movie called Elephant Walk, which stars Elizabeth Taylor and takes place on a tea plantation in Ceylon.

Liz plays Ruth, an English bride who moves to Ceylon with her new husband. There he runs a tea-plantation first started by his father years ago, called Elephant Walk. Filled with excitement and anticipation at this exotic new life ahead, Ruth, upon arrival, quickly discovers a world very different than what she had anticipated, and a husband very much changed from his wooing days back in England.

Natural beauty and a luxurious environment make up her new home, but Ruth learns almost immediately it is not a peaceful paradise.  As it turns out the plantation was built, decades ago by her father-in-law, right in the middle of the migratory walking path to water made by the local elephants during drought season. This off-handed act of careless  disregard for the natural instincts of the elephants has created a hostile environment between man and animal, leaving everyone’s defenses constantly on guard.  To make matters more uneasy, Ruth’s husband (played by Peter Finch) is still controlled by his dead father’s arcane rules when it comes to running not only his business but also his personal life.

Busy with the management of the tea business by day and carousing with his friends at night, he has little empathy for Ruth, a stranger in a new land, and little desire to restructure his life in order to accommodate his new wife. Curious and questioning, Ruth is the only non-native woman on the plantation.  An intelligent, independent, feminine creature, she is set adrift among a sea of old-school men who possess a boy’s club- type mentality. Nothing seems to make sense to her once she arrives in her new home. She doesn’t have any direction, doesn’t understand her purpose and doesn’t understand her husband, yet she is determined to figure things out.  Trying to navigate this complex world leads to a growing kinship that develops with her husband’s business manager (played by Dana Andrews), who also happens to be the only person on the plantation that will talk to her about anything important, including the ostentatious ways of her father-in-law and the mysterious and powerful hold he still has on everyone at Elephant Walk.

While the plantation environment is glamorous and decadent, Ruth must continuously adjust her attitudes and behaviors in order to keep her marriage together. When she can’t stand the peculiarities of life in this strange world one more minute and decides to flee back to England, a cholera outbreak occurs keeping her quarantined within the boundaries of the plantation. I won’t tell anymore about the story so as not to spoil the ending but you’ll see from this trailer that lots of drama happens throughout the movie…

Filmed on location in Ceylon, it’s is a wonderful glimpse into the exotic culture and landscape of vintage Sri Lanka. Some of the scenes were filmed in and around an actual tea company, so we get to see a little bit about how tea is made (or used to be made anyway!)…

Tea leaf gatherers.
Tea equipment on the right, brooding husband on the left:)

and there are lots of scenes that feature the lush and verdant country landscape…

Vintage clothes lovers will appreciate beautiful Liz and her Parisian wardrobe…

Originally, Vivian Leigh was scheduled to play the lead role, but she suffered from a nervous breakdown at the start of filming. Elizabeth Taylor was called in to replace her.

as well as the safari clothes and tuxedos worn by the guys…

That’s Peter Finch on the left and in top right corner. Dana Andrews is in the bottom right.

There’s a party scene that involves traditional dances and a kitchen scene so immense in size and scope it would boggle the mind of any home cook.  There was even a dinner scene complete with curry and rice!

If you aren’t familiar, curry comes in lots of colors. In this scene in the movie it was green. In our recipe this week it is red. But also in my pantry, I have orange curry, yellow curry and brown curry. That’s because there is no such thing as a universal curry.  Curry is a conglomeration of different spices all blended together. There is curry on the sweet side, curry on the spicy side, curry that is mild, curry that is intense and curry that has been infused with different seeds and aromatics.  Each version is unique in taste and scent.

The curry I used for this recipe is a red Thai Curry that was made of finely ground paprika, lemongrass, salt, shallots, galangal, cumin, coriander, chiles, pepper, cilantro, garlic, lime leaves, basil and spearmint. But you can use any kind of curry powder you like for this dish.  If you have a spice shop in your neighborhood, I highly recommend getting your curry powder there since it will be most fresh and flavorful, yielding an optimal culinary experience.

While Elephant Walk immerses us visually in the sights of Ceylon, this week’s meal immerses us in the scents of Ceylon. Tonight’s dinner is two recipes in one. The first is for homemade coconut milk and the second is for chicken curry. Both are easy to make but the coconut milk is labor intensive. If you are short on time, just buy a can of coconut milk and add it to the curry.

I have never made, or even thought about making homemade coconut milk before, so I was excited to try it. Basically it involves cracking open two coconuts, scooping out the meat and then blending it with water in the blender. It sounds simple. It sounds easy. It sounds like a 10 minute project.  I warn  you now this step takes some time (about 45 minutes per coconut) and it takes a little bit of muscle to crack the coconuts open and to scoop out the flesh. It’s a messy endeavor even if you are a meticulously tidy cook and it involves tools.  You’ll need a hammer, a heavy chef’s knife or cleaver, a strong butter knife, a vegetable peeler, cheese cloth and a medium to large funnel.

I made everybody a bit nervous when I posted a sneak peek video on Instagram on Sunday about the tricky aspect of chopping open a coconut. (If you missed it, click here and scroll through the sneak peek videos until you get to week 8.) It took about a minute and a half to crack open each coconut.  I used the backside of the cleaver so there really was no threat that I would chop a finger or a hand off, but I’m truly grateful that everyone was so worried for my limbs!  I’m happy to say everything is still intact, fingers and hands, and I’m more knowledgeable for having experienced the procedure. The whole task just takes a little bit of bravery, some good firm wacks with the knife and a steady determination to see the project complete. Eventually victory comes.  I’m sure this is one of those skills that improves the more often you do it. Maybe by the year’s end, we will all be experts at cracking those coconuts.

In the meantime, I must say, cracking coconuts was a pretty fun experience all the way around. There was lots of laughing during this process, bits of coconut shell went flying all around the kitchen and there was even a little impromptu competition between my husband and I about who could crack a coconut faster. He won. By a significant amount of time. So I’d encourage you to make your own homemade coconut milk at least once, just for the experience of doing it. Even though it may sound daunting and isn’t 100% necessary to the total overall taste of the recipe (a canned version would suffice just the same) you might discover a new sense of joie de vivre and camaraderie in the kitchen.

Coconut Milk Made in a Blender

(Makes about 4 cups)

2 coconuts

4 cups hot water

Once the coconuts are cracked open. Discard the water inside. Get out your hammer. Turn each coconut half skin-side down on top of a few sheets of paper towels and bang away at it until the shell either 1) falls away from the coconut meat or two separates enough that you can slide your butter knife between the outside shell and pry the meat out. This is the messy part, as coconut chucks may go flying around around your kitchen from both the hammering and the prying.

Once you remove the hard shell there will be a softer brown shell attached to the meat which you’ll peel off with the vegetable peeler. The recipe calls for two coconuts, however, you don’t need that much milk for the recipe, so if you don’t 3 cups of leftover coconut milk hanging around in your fridge, then just use one coconut.

how-to-make-homemade-coconut-milk-in-a-blender

Once the coconut meat from one coconut is peeled, cut it into chunks, toss it in the blender and pour two cups of very hot water over the meat. Blend it on high for about 3-4 minutes until thoroughly blended.

Line a funnel with cheese cloth and set the funnel inside a large mason jar. Pour the mixture into the cheese cloth in batches. When it has finished dripping into the jar squeeze the remaining coconut pulp that hasn’t drained through the cheese cloth directly into the mason jar to extract as much liquid as possible. (Note: at this stage the leftover coconut pulp looks and feels a lot like flaked candle wax.) Then discard the pulp and repeat until you have emptied your blender and there is no more coconut meat to process. Two coconuts should yield about four cups of coconut milk. Refrigerate coconut milk until ready for use.

Ceylon Chicken Curry

(serves 6)

2 lbs. boneless skinless chicken cutlets

2 1/2 teaspoons salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1 tablespoon vinegar

1 one inch cinnamon stick

3 tablespoons curry powder

2 cloves garlic, crushed

1 teaspoon chopped fresh ginger

3 bay leaves

2 cardamom seeds (or 2 pinches of ground cardamom)

Cayenne pepper to taste (this is optional – I didn’t use it since my curry powder already ha some spiciness to it)

3 tablespoons butter

2 onions, chopped

1 green pepper, seeded and sliced

1 cup coconut milk

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Cut the chicken into small chunks and place in a bowl. Add the salt, pepper, vinegar, cinnamon, curry powder, garlic, ginger, two bay leaves (crushed), one cardamom seed or one pinch of dried cardamom, and cayenne (if using).  Mix well. Cover and refrigerate for at least two hours or up to 24 hours. (I marinated mine for about 12 hours).

Heat the butter in a dutch oven or a large saucepan and add the onion, the remaining bay leaf and cardamom seed (or pinch of ground cardamom) and the green pepper. Cook briefly (about 5 minutes) over medium heat, stirring occasionally.

Then add the seasoned chicken and cook stirring occasionally, until the liquid is partly absorbed (about 5 minutes).

Then cover and cook 45 minutes over low heat.

When the chicken is tender, add the coconut milk and simmer, covered for 10-15 minutes. Add the lemon juice just before taking the pan off the heat, but keep stirring until it has been incorporated. Then you are ready to serve it.

I suggest serving this curry over a bed of jasmine rice accompanied alongside a glass (or two!) of cold white wine – preferably a varietal that sits on the sweeter side.

As I’ve  mentioned occasionally on the blog before, I’ve been a big fan of curry for a long time and have tried handfuls of different recipes. This is by far, my most favorite to date.    The curry itself is so full of flavor, I can’t wait to try it with other types of curry powder to see how the tastes change. The coconut milk adds a brothy consistency that is lovely for sopping up with bread or extra rice and offers a creamy contrast between the spiciness of the curry.

Marinating the chicken ahead of time (a new concept for me!) makes each piece so tender. Just like a slow-cooked chili or stew recipe, it only tastes better the longer it sits in its juices. All in all, this was just a joy of a recipe. Even the tricky coconut chopping wound up adding a new theatrical element to the kitchen that was fun and unexpected.

While you are enjoying your dinner… the other thing I suggest is turning on the movie (you’ll find it on Amazon), and turning off your phone or any other ringing, blinging and beeping devices.  Just for the next two hours immerse yourself in all the sights, sounds and tastes of vintage Ceylon. By meal’s end, you’ll have experienced a brief encounter with a lost country through vibrant cinematic and culinary storytelling.

Cheers to vintage Ceylon and to magical movies and recipes that transport us! Join us next week as we head to China where we make an unusual dish that involves specialty papers and curious methods.

To Be or Not to Be: It’s Fondue in Belgium

Oh for the love of cheese already! How many weeks does it take to get yourself all discombobulated in the kitchen? As it turns out that number is five. Welcome to Week Five of the International Vintage Recipe Tour 2020. Last week we were in Barbados dancing around the kitchen with rum punch in hand. Tonight we are headed 4300 miles north to beautiful Belgium – the country that gave us diamonds, Audrey Hepburn, fancy chocolates, waffles, Brussels sprouts, and pretty sites like these…

But the way I went about this week’s cooking task I might as well have taken us all to a foggy headed mountain in Switzerland.

The most important rule of cooking, the number one rule, the golden rule of all rules is to read your recipe first. All the way through. This way you have a good understanding of what’s involved ingredient-wise and what’s coming up at the start of each step. It’s a no-brainer activity. Something that just occurs so naturally you don’t even have to think about it. Of course you always read the recipe first, silly. Except that one time you actually didn’t.

I’ve been anticipating this week’s dish since the very beginning of the project because  1) it features a food I’ve never made before but have always wanted to try, 2) it is cozy sweater weather fare ideal for this time of year and 3) it offers a fun dinner idea for upcoming Valentine’s Day. On the menu this week we are making Fondue Bruxelloise, a dairy laden comfort food that conjures up images of shared dining, pots on pedestals, and unabashed consumption of all the bread and cheese you ever wished to eat. How fun and delicious!

The first order of business this week, the fun order of business, before market shopping even ensued, was to purchase a fondue pot. In this case, of course it would need to be vintage, so out I went all around town looking for such a find. Three days later, nothing. There was not a vintage fondue pot to be had anywhere in my fair city. In a frenzied, last-minute search online, I found one in a neighboring state that could be here in time for the cooking project deadline.

Tah-dah… a sleek 1970’s stainless steel set complete with floral design work on the legs, teak accents on the handle and on the lid, and a set of forks to match. Perfect! While that gadget was flying through the air, I was busy collecting vintage advertisements from the 1960’s and 1970’s – the two decades in culinary history when fondue parties were at the peak of popularity. The retro ads circulating around the magazine world at that time captured a real sense of colorful joy and excitement when it came to showcasing the novelty of a fondue party.

With an exciting feast on the horizon and a new (old) fondue pot now in possession, it was time to buckle down and get to cooking. Like all the other dishes we  have made in the International Vintage Recipe Tour so far, the ingredients for Fondue Bruxelloise are not complicated ones. Basically the recipe consists of four main components… butter, milk, eggs, and cheese.

The night before I was going to make it, my husband inquired. Is this the type of fondue where you dip vegetables or just bread? Confidently, I said just bread, but then immediately went back to the kitchen to check the recipe just to make sure. And that, my fellow kitcheners, is where Week Five officially went south.

The preparation of Fondue Bruxelloise involves six steps which include a glass dish, overnight refrigeration, a vat of frying oil and cheese cutouts. It does not, at any stage, involve a fondue pot, fondue forks, or a steaming pool of cheese. Oh dear. My stainless steel beauty.

Somehow, in all this excitement of knowing that we were going to be making fondue and searching for a retro pot in which to prepare it, I forgot to read the recipe first. As it turns out, fondue, in the traditional sense that I was thinking of, is actually Swiss not Belgian in origin. The word fondue comes from the French and simply means melted, so technically lots of dishes could be considered fondue and lots of countries can claim their own variations. That’s why there are chocolate fondues (American), saucey and brothy fondues (Asian), oil fondues (Italian) and cheese fondues (French, Swiss and American). But Switzerland’s version of melted cheese remains at the top of the most popular hot pot recipes and it’s the first image most people think of upon hearing the word fondue.

This is what I had in mind originally!

So where does this leave Belgium, you ask? The answer lies in an Italian American named Nika Standen Hazelton.

Nika Standen Hazelton (1908-1992)

Nika was a trusted authority of regional cooking from cuisines all around the world. She started her writing career as a reporter in the 1930’s, and never lost that level of curiosity or scrutiny for the topic at hand. She approached each cookbook and each country with an investigative eye and a thorough understanding of the food scene, the culture and the eating habits of the places she explored. She was also a tremendous home cook and hostess herself, managing to turn both her own passion for food making and her insatiable interest of other countries into a life-long career. By the time of her death in 1992, she had published 30 cookbooks in total, taking readers on tour with her around the globe highlighting all sorts of interesting food ways with a candor that made her writing legendary.

In the 1960’s, Nika got to work collecting recipes for her Belgian Cookbook.  Exploring the country quite intimately, she was determined with her latest project to create a book of traditional everyday Belgian foods as prepared by the home cook. She wasn’t interested in featuring fancy dishes that you’d find in Belgian restaurants, nor she was interested in featuring foods that were so traditional and so foreign sounding that they would dismay the American reader who was just trying to gain an introductory sense of food in Belgium.  “All one wants are some feasible and pleasant dishes…” she wrote in the introduction to The Belgium Cookbook, published in 1970.  It is from that cookbook that Craig Claiborne collected this recipe for Fondue Bruxelloise, which literally translates as Melted from Brussels, for his New York Times International Cookbook, which was the springboard for our year-long cooking project here.

Still regarded as one of the most tastiest Belgian recipes out there, Nika’s Fondue Bruxelloise is similar in preparation to a croquette, looks like a mozzarella stick and contains an inner filling that tastes a bit like a lemony Hollandaise sauce, even though there is no lemon in it.

Once I actually read the recipe the whole way through, I was slightly intimidated. I’ve never fried anything in a big pot of oil before, something almost unheard of since I’ve lived in the South for over a decade now. Needless to say, I had to do a little bit of extra research on how to go about that, since the recipe assumes you already know what type of oil to use and what temperature to heat the oil to and so on. I’ve included those notes along with the original recipe below in case you are a frying novice like me too. Overall though it’s not a difficult recipe to manage, but it is a bit unusual in its preparation. Refrigerating the cheese batter overnight yields a rectangular creation that has the consistency of somewhat rubbery, somewhat softened butter. The bread crumbs are made fresh, chopped up in a food processor from a day old loaf. And the cheese squares require frying in small batches giving this cooking project an awkward stop and start rhythm as you wait for things to come together, at first in the fridge, and then in the frying pot. This is what this year is all about though. Learning new techniques and new foods from old recipes. Intimidation aside, there’s nothing to do but jump right in. So here we go…

Fondue Bruxelloise

(Makes 8-12 servings which equates approximately to 18 pieces that are roughly 2 1/2″ inch x 2 1/2″ inch squares)

1/4 butter

All-purpose flour (I used about 2/3 cup)

2 cups milk

1/4 lb. Gruyere cheese, grated

1 cup Parmesan cheese, grated

1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

5 egg yolks

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

3 eggs lightly beaten

2 teaspoons cold water

1 tablespoon peanut oil

3 cups fresh bread crumbs (I made these using a day old baguette)

Oil for deep frying ( I used 24 oz of peanut oil)

Parsley

Melt the butter in a large saucepan and stir in six tablespoons of flour, using a wire whisk. Add the milk, stirring rapidly until the mixture is thickened and smooth. Simmer 5 minutes.

Remove the sauce from the heat and add the cheeses, cayenne pepper, nutmeg, egg yolks, and salt and pepper to taste. (Note: I used about 1/2 teaspoon salt and a 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper). Return the sauce to the heat and stir rapidly with the whisk. Cook, stirring until it thickens further, but do not allow it to boil. (Note: I cooked this until the mixture just started to form a couple of big bubbles).

Generously butter a 13×9 inch or a 9×9 inch square pan and pour the sauce into it. (Note: The longest dish I have is 8×11 so I used that. See more notes about this specific choice of dish further down).

Spread the mixture smooth with a rubber spatula. Cover with buttered waxed paper (parchment paper) and refrigerate overnight or longer. (Note: I kept mine in the fridge for 24 hours).

Now firm, cut the mixture into squares, rectangles, rounds or diamond shapes. (Note: I chose squares because they were most simple and because while the top side of this mixture was firm, the underside was slightly gooey, so any well defined shape, like a diamond would have gotten all gummed up).

The bottom consistency might not have been as solidified as the top because I was using a smaller dish than was recommended, adding a thicker dimension to the overall mixture. Surprisingly though, even with this consistency the squares were fairly easy to remove from the dish and retained their square shape for the most part.

Top side!
Underside!

Beat the eggs until frothy, then beat in the water, oil, and salt and pepper to taste. Coat the cutouts on all sides with flour, then dip them into the egg mixture.

Finally, coat them in the bread crumbs tapping lightly with the flat side of a knife so the crumbs will adhere.

Heat the oil in a deep fat fryer to 360 degrees and cook the cutouts until golden. Drain on paper towels. Serve hot garnished with parsley.

(Note: As I mentioned earlier, this step was a little vague, especially for first time fryers. If you are a new experimenter with home frying, there are a couple of things I wanted share about the process. I don’t have a deep fat fryer myself so I used a heavy stainless steel medium-sized saucepan which worked perfectly well. I set the pot of oil over medium heat and let it warm gradually. It takes about 20 minutes for the oil to heat to 350 degrees, but use a thermometer to test the temperature to make sure it is hot enough before you add the cheese squares. The trick to frying is to do it in small batches. I could only fit three squares in at a time based on the size of my pot. This number still allowed ample room for them to bob around in the oil. I cooked each batch for 3 minutes. Also, it is important to let the oil warm back up to 350 degrees between batches. That step generally takes about 5 minutes).

After the squares have drained on a paper towel for about a minute it is best to serve them right away or keep them hot in the oven while you finish frying all the rest. That way when you cut into them, the melted cheese will ooze out into a little pool on your plate.

 

The longer they sit at room temperature, the more solidified the cheese gets inside. In the photo below, you’ll see that the plate on the right has been resting at room temperature for about 15 minutes. The cheese is still soft on the inside but is more like the consistency of fresh mozzarella rather than a melting pool…

Delicious in a very rich and decadent way, these cheese squares are like a little mini meal. Nika recommended serving Fondue Bruxelloise with fried parsley, but because they are so creamy, I’d recommend forgoing the extra frying and replacing it with anything acidic to balance out the flavors. Fresh parsley adds a bit of bright tang, as does freshly squeezed lemon juice. Other possible companions include a dollop of mustard or hot sauce, a side salad tossed in a citrus vinaigrette, a few slices of home grown tomatoes or simply a cold glass of dry white wine.

The cafe crowd in Brussels…

In Belgium, especially in the 20th century, locals used to enjoy a habit of a small snack everyday at 4 pm. A little delight like Fondue Bruxelloise would be perfect for such a time of day. Because of their velvety richness, you’d only want to eat one or two per setting, based on the size suggested in the recipe. Crunchy on the outside and soft and billowy on the inside, this serving size is a petite portion that is filling and satisfying but won’t risk spoiling your appetite for dinner a few hours later. As a national favorite, several Belgian cookbooks include Fondue Bruxelloise in their appetizer or hors d’oeuvres sections with suggestions to serve them at parties large and small. I like the idea of the 4:00pm Belgium tradition though and would next serve this at that time of day along with a glass of wine or a Belgian beer as part of a special happy hour treat. After all, it is fondue. It only seems fitting to involve some friends.

While this recipe was certainly not what I had anticipated at the start of the week, it turned out to be a curious adventure in cooking techniques and frying lessons. I may have not have gotten to use my new fondue pot, but perhaps when we visit Switzerland on the Recipe Tour towards the end of the year, I’ll be able to test out its capabilities with a classic Swiss fondue.  Then we can circle back around to this recipe and compare the two. In the meantime, I encourage everyone to read your recipes first:)

Cheers to cheese for offering up a few surprises and to Nika for taking us on an unexpected cooking adventure.  Also, a big cheers this week goes to blog reader Angela, who baked our featured Australian recipe, Queen Mother’s Cake for her neighborhood and received rave reviews! If anyone else has their own stories to share please send a message or comment below, we’d all love to more about your cooking experiences too!

Next Wednesday, just in time for Valentine’s Day weekend, we are headed to the passionate country of Brazil, where romance and recipes bloom in the kitchen. Stay tuned!