Homemade Indonesian Pickles and the Importance of Personal Possessions

A couple of years before the words covid, coronavirus, and pandemic were ever a part of our regular vernacular,  there was a school of thought that was running wild around the internet regarding personal belongings. It was a trend, at that point, to say that possessions no longer mattered. That experiences enjoyed out and about in the world were all that was important for an engaging existence. Fill your life with experiences not things. Have stories to share, not stuff to show. Do you remember this? These statements could be seen emblazoned on t-shirts and mugs, travel bags and inspirational posters, wall decals and photographs that ran all over Etsy and Pinterest. Collect moments not things.

It was an interesting, carefree idea. One that adopted a bohemian-type spirit and encouraged a minimal, slightly nomadic lifestyle cut down to the barest essence of tangible materials. Experiences not things was (and still is!) a popular catchphrase that could be hashtagged on social media (#experiencesnotthings) alongside photos of exhilerating experiences like friends gathered at a crowded restaurant laughing their way through a meal…

Photo by Kraken Images.

and snapshots taken of exotic travel to places like Iceland to see the stars or to the Maldives to snorkel or to Bali to find some inner peace. It was a mantra that valued people and places, conversations and connections, over the seemingly trivial day-to-day objects that shared the space of life in our living spaces.

Pekhri, India. Photo by Rahul Dey.

At first, it sounded like a liberating idea. Unburden yourself from the unnecessary stuff that was weighing down your life. It went beyond Marie Kondo and her idea of tidying up, of keeping only the things that brought us joy. This experiences-only viewpoint of life was a bit more enthusiastic. Devotees of this philosophy liked the idea of owning one bowl, one spoon, one plate, one cup. That’s all that was needed in the kitchen cupboard. They liked the idea of one lamp, one book, one plant, one couch. That’s all that was needed in the living room.  Two pants, three shirts, two shoes, one suitcase. Life wasn’t meant to be lived at home after all, so how many things did we actually need anyway?

Photo by Annie Spratt

 It an ambitious viewpoint. It meant a bland environment at home, but an exuberant, colorful experience out in the world. It placed meaning on an ever-changing horizon and made joy dependent on other people and other places beyond one’s own control. If you valued experiences over things it meant that you weren’t materialistic or a hoarder. It meant that you were adventurous, a thrill-seeker, a bon vivant and on the go-getter. It was exciting. The point of this school of thought was meant to propel you out into the world to live an exuberant adventure-filled life, somewhere between Jack Kerouac’s On the Road and a dogged travel journalist hunting down the next best place to visit, thing to eat, event to participate in. It meant a life that was awe-inspiring, sensational, and worthy of a beautiful Instagram feed.

Then Covid happened followed by lockdowns and a second-guessing of the safety of the outside world. Suddenly experiences weren’t happening.  Home was happening. And suddenly the things in our homes mattered, more than ever. Possessions mattered.

Overnight, our interior spaces took on a sentimental glow and objects soothed and comforted our spirits. The wildly adventurous experiences out in the world from the “before days” dimmed and seemed like far-away fantasies tempting, taunting, reminding us of what we were missing out on. Memories of those past experiences enjoyed out in the exhuberant and colorful world were not propelling us forward during Covid with joy in our hearts, they were reminding us of what had been lost. During lockdown, I wondered about the devotees of the experiences not things philosophy. How were they coping in spaces that consisted of one spoon, one bowl, one plate? How was it going with one book, one, plant, one lamp?

Life in the pandemic kitchen!

 

During the last eighteen months of pandemic life, the things that have comforted me most, apart from my friends and my family and my pets, were the things that the experience philosophy easily dismissed. It was my pots and pans and my deceased dad’s apron. It was a seasoned tomato-red dutch oven and a pair of vintage green plates that look like lily pads. It was Edith Piaf singing on Alexa from far-away France.  It was a cutting board put to work every day, a 100-year-old mixing bowl speckled with age, and my grandmother’s gold and green teacups, survivors from the Great Depression. It was fridge magnets that my neice made in the early 2000s – ones that now hold little love notes and words of encouragement sent between my husband and I. It was recipes bound in books from other cooks of decades long ago.  It was this blog, and the hunting down of stories for it. It was heirloom items collected for the shop. It was finding connections to things from the past that signaled we weren’t alone in the present.

Fill your life with experiences not things. Have stories to share, not stuff to show. My one curiousity with this philosphy was in the riddle ran around my mind. Isn’t it the stories of our stuff that we want to share? Don’t our things lead to experiences and our experiences lead to things? My grandmother’s tea cups were part of her wedding china when she married in 1933. My tomato red dutch oven saw more action on the stovetop in 2020 then it had in its entire life.  My dad’s apron was over 35 years old and contained more memories woven into its fabric than a photo album could ever hold. Each time I opened a cookbook last year, it ignited a new culinary adventure. One that led me down paths to other people and other places. Wasn’t that an experience in and of itself?

Take the pickles for example.

This pickle recipe is not the traditional refrigerated pickle recipe full of vinegar and dill and salt and sugar that gets passed around each summer when cucumbers are growing out of the garden at gangbuster speeds. This vintage pickle recipe dating to the 1970s is a touch more exotic. First off it comes from Indonesia –  the next stop on the International Vintage Recipe Tour. Secondly, the pickles were not only a food to be eaten but also a travel ticket to explore a country, a cuisine and a culture that I knew little about. That exploration led to not only discovering a unique cultural Indonesian tradition but also shed light on a powerful understanding of the importance of posessions. How they add context, inspiration and value to our daily lives and our living spaces.

The Tour has been on hiatus for much of the spring and summer due to a special surprise that has been brewing for many months. Hopefully soon, I’ll be able to share more on that front, but in the meantime, when I passed the cucumber baskets at the farmers market each Saturday this summer, and saw them overflowing with pride, I knew it was time to dive back into the Tour with a recipe that featured a mighty grower from a country that understands the value and the power of preserving an abundant life.

Indonesia is home to many interesting things including the komodo dragon, the corpse lily, over 17,000 islands and the second-longest coastline in the world. But one of the most fascinating things about it has to do not so much with its beautiful natural landscape but with its artistic attributes.

In religious sculptures and icons, in the details of interior and exterior architecture, in giftware and decor items, in functional products and even in jewelry and fashion accessories, stylish craftsmanship abounds in Indonesia. Most eye-catchingly in the form of intricately carved art ranging in a variety of mediums from stone to bamboo.

Incredibly artistic in all formats, there is one special type of Indonesian wood carving that carries signifigant meaning in the form of a posession.  In the hills of South Sulawesi, artisans make carved icons in the unique likeness of their ancestors.

A tau-tau ancestral portrait figure from the design book Tropical Houses by Tim Street-Porter

 

These icons, known as ancestral portrait figures, are part of a deeply-rooted funeral tradition that has been occurring in certain areas of Indonesia since the 1800s. Believed to protect the living, they usually stand guard at the entrance to  gravesites or tombs signifying the spirit of a deceased person and the presence of a life that once was. Carved from jackfruit, sandalwood or bamboo, depending on the financial status of the person they represent, they are called tau-taus, each one completely unique.  Many tau-taus from the past century can be seen in crowd-like fashion tucked into the nooks of cliffs in the South Sulawesi area, near where their human counterparts are buried. Tourists to this area of Indonesia have remarked that seeing all these faces poking out from the cliffs is both a strangely sobering but also comforting scene. Serving as everpresent reminders that past ancestors are always part of present day life, the tau-taus with their companding physical presence and life-like faces watch over, protect and bestow good wishes on the living.

Photo courtesy of Tropical Houses by Tim Street-Porter

In the late 20th century, looting of gravesites resulted in many tau-tau statues being illegally removed and sold on the open market where they have since become collectors items, sought after around the world for both private collections and public museums. It is a haunting notion to think that some of these spirits are now roaming the globe instead of protecting their families back home in Indonesia, but much like a treasured heirloom or an old recipe that gets passed down through generations or traded between countries and cultures, these relics of history have become valued possesions and stories in other people’s lives now. They offer a unique view on an old way of life. One that we may never have known about had they not been jockeyed about in the world. Like present day cultural ambassadors, they humbly illustrate of a way of life that is unique and specific to a particular place and person in time. These are posessions that propel us. They help us understand where we’ve been and where we come from, so that we know where to go in the future.

If we abandoned all of our posessions, all of our stuff, all the things that we identify with in the space we call home in exchange for experiences out in the world, how would we understand ourselves each time we finished an adventure and came back home? In the quiet times, when thrilling experiences are not coming at us from every angle, how would we keep true to what we valued and keep inspired to live a life that holds our interest? That’s the power of a good posession. That is the sentiment we would miss if we didn’t surround ourselves with objects, with things, with stuff that holds meaning to us. Experiences are fantastic, stories are important to share, but its the posessions that we select and care for and hold onto that glue these those two nouns together. If we didn’t have  experiences we would not have things. If we didn’t have meaningful things in our life, we wouldn’t have meaningful stories to share. If we didn’t have meaningful stories to share we wouldn’t have meaningful experiences to seek. 

This seems like a long road to get to one pickle recipe, but history emits light in unusual ways around here sometimes! And sometimes an abundance of things (whether it be cucumbers, or philosophical conversations, or ancestral artifacts) are exactly what you need to navigate the world during these pandemic times. If you agree or disagree, please send us a comment below so that we can continue the conversation. In the meantime, pickling awaits!

This recipe known as Atjar is a traditional staple in Indonesian cooking, but it is actually a popular componant of Dutch cusine as well. Dutch colonists had control and influence over Indonesia for three and a half centuries, which finally ended in the mid 1940s when Indonesia declared its independence. Up until then, Dutch influence seeped into all aspects of Indonesian life, including cooking. If you ate Atjar in the Netherlands, it would be made with cool season vegetables like carrots, cabbage and cauliflower, but those crops didn’t grow well in Indonesia’s heat and humidity, so the Indonesian version of Atjar evolved to include warm weather ingredients like cucumbers and peppers. Either way, essentially it is a pickled dish of vegetables. The Indonesian version has a simpler, more relish-like consistency while the Dutch version is more salad or chutney-like due to the inclusion of chunkier vegetables and additional spices.

A breeze to make (less than 10 minutes prep time), this recipe is best enjoyed cold from the fridge and can be modified as far as spice level based on your personal preferences. I used a purple onion to add a little additional color, but really any type of onion will do wonderfully well here. 

Atjar – Indonesian Pickles

Serves 6

1 cucumber

1 small onion ( I used a purple onion for color)

1 clove garlic, finely minced

salt to taste

1/4 cup white vinegar

4 teaspoons granulated sugar

1 small hot red pepper ( I used a serrano pepper)

Peel the cucumber and split it in half. Scoop out the seeds with a spoon and cut the cucumber into thin matchlike sticks.

Peel the onion and slice it as thin as possible. Add it to the cucumber then add the garlic and remaining ingredients. Chill until ready to serve.

These pickles last in the fridge for a week or longer. If you use purple onions too, please note that they will eventually turn all the ingredients in this recipe a pretty shade of pink after a few days. The longer they marinate, the more dramatic the color change.

Just a little sweet, a little spicy and a little tangy, we loved these pickles best served on fish tacos and turkey sandwiches. Hope this recipe provides new inspiration as you celebrate the abundance of end-of-summer cucumber season!

Cheers to ancestors that protects us, posessions that inspire us, and pickles that add a little zest to life! Join us next time for Week 24 of the International Vintage Recipe Tour as we head to Israel for dinner and dessert – a special two recipe meal to make up for our long absence this summer. If you are new to the blog, catch up on our previous International Vintage Recipe Tour posts here, beginning with Week 1: Armenia.

The Threads of India: In Sari & Spice

Invisible threads are the strongest ties. That’s what the 20th-century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) believed. He wrote those words over 100 years ago, and since then, this statement of his has come to take on many different meanings to many different people. Depending on context, mood and circumstance, for some, it suggests spirituality or a sense of place. For others, it describes personal relationships or attachments, affinities to particular objects, or even an inner knowledge of one’s own self. But here in the Vintage Kitchen, this quote always reminds me of history and how we are tied to the past in subtle yet powerful ways.

Today we are embarking on Week 22 of the International Vintage Recipe Tour which takes us to India via the kitchen to discuss fabric, second chances, and a savory chicken dish that is slathered in spice.  Welcome to Week 22 of the Tour! Welcome to India…

It’s impossible to look at photographs of this amazing landscape and not notice all the color. From flower gardens like this cascade of hibiscus tumbling over a brick wall in Utter Pradash…

…to the spice markets of Mapusa where all the shades of the rainbow greet you around every corner…

…to the splendid architecture  of buildings like the Mysore Palace in Karnataka and the Taj Mahal in Agra, which seem to magically change color throughout the day depending on the direction of the sun… 

…pops of color bloom throughout India every minute in delightfully unexpected ways.

In a country that is over 250,000 years old, there is no shortage of source material when it comes to tying in a cultural companion, but ever since the Recipe Tour started I had a definite idea in mind about this particular post and the focal point of it.

Whether you are talking food, fashion, flora or fauna (or all four!) one of the dazzling componants to life in India that float around the landscape like jewels come alive are the traditional saris worn by women of all ages throughout the country. Seen in all shades and patterns, girls typically start wearing saris in their teenage years as a symbol of femininity, independence and equality among all women regardless of social status. 

Made of just one uncut length of fabric (usually 9 yards in total) with the ability to be styled in over 100 different ways depending on folds and drape, the sari has been a part of India’s history for over 5000 years.

Each region throughout the country has its own style and customs surrounding saris and the wearing of them, but Indian women as a whole, view saris as an important part of their national identity. They are even passed down through generations as a source of pride, nostalgia and honor.

Today, they also symbolize strength, resourcefulness, and female empowerment in a new, exciting and creative way that previous generations never knew. 

Last Thursday, I announced a giveaway here on the blog of a special prize tucked inside the white box above that would be awarded to one lucky winner. It’s a gift that was handmade in India and clues hinted at color, purpose, and longevity of use. Tonight, I’m excited to reveal the contents of the box.

Are you ready to see what it is?

Tah-dah! It’s a five-foot-long Happy Scarf (ie table runner) made of two recycled cotton saris.  Repaired, pieced together, and hand-quilted to form a completely new and functional item for the table, this type of Indian handicraft is changing the fate of women all over the country.  Reversible, with a different pattern and color arrangement on each side, this Happy Scarf holds up to its name in more ways than one.  Suitable for all four seasons of display and use, it features colors bright and sunny on both sides. One side contains shades of spring and summer in pink, yellow, peach, white and raspberry…

…while the other side features a warm wash of autumn and winter hues in butternut, marigold, black, white, beige, pink and yellow…

Made in Calcutta by a woman from an impoverished village who was given the opportunity to learn the textile trade, this Happy Scarf represents a new kind of freedom for women in India. By learning skills within the textile and handlooming industry, working with fabric offers women a chance to gain independence and improve the quality of their lives by earning fair wages, receiving health benefits, job training and education, and also by being a part of a community of artisans striving for a future bright with possibility, potential and a fulfilling career. 

Typically it takes a sewer about two days to make a table runner of this size. Like a homemade quilt, distinct signs of each sewer’s handiwork can be seen throughout. In this case, unique touches are found not only in the selection of sari fabrics that she chose to combine but also in her vertical hand stitching of the fabrics as they were joined together and her repair work , which we can see in three different places on the light pink side…

These patches cover over holes made in the fabric that occurred through normal use and wear when the sari was once part of a woman’s wardrobe. The ancient Indian art of textile repair is known as rafoogari and represents a powerful philosophy that sums up the beauty and integrity of the Indian culture. Instead of simply throwing a piece of good fabric away because it is slightly flawed with a hole or worn thin by a frayed area, each garment gets repaired, patched up, so that its life and purpose can be extended for years to come. Some garments in India carry examples of over 200 years of rafoogari repairs. This was not thriftiness at work for the sake of reusing fabric, although that was a beneficial attribute, but instead it was a gesture of respect and honor towards the fabric and the memories it held for all the people that it came in contact with. 

This type of fabric work utilizing recycled saris can be seen in all sorts of Indian handicrafts. Kantha is the type of stitch work featured in the Happy Scarf, which involves sewing together five layers of fabric and highlighting the running stitch that pieced them all together by using brightly colored thread. I first fell in love with this type of Indian textile art when my sister gave me this tote bag for my birthday a few years ago…

Like the Happy Scarf, my tote bag is made from five layers of two different saris, contains patchwork repairs and features lots of bright color. The front and the back both contain different imagery and the fabrics are super soft. 

It even features the name of the sewer inside (which I love!). 

Although the bag and the Happy Scarf are made by women employed by two different companies in India, they both contain similar stories and similiar missions – to help women get out of poverty. Like the curator of the Happy Scarf, the maker of this bag, Arati, experienced a tragic side of life. Involved in human trafficking within the commercial sex trade, Arati through the help of a female empowerment company, Sari Bari was able to escape her cruel circumstance and change her life completely. Through education and training in the textile industry, Arati was able to gain support and financial independence as well as create beautiful works of art that promote a sense of pride and fulfillment within herself and her community by carrying on a centuries-old art form.

Whenever I go on a trip via plane or car, my Indian art bag joins me.  By taking it on as many adventures as possible, I like to think that the spirit of Arati herself is out there traveling the world too via her talent and creativity. It’s always fun to imagine stories about her.  I like to think about the possibility of one day traveling to India and running into Arati on the street. If that happened we would only know each other solely by her recognition of the bag.  Wouldn’t it be fun to stop and chat with her for a bit!  To find out more about what her life was like when she made this bag and to see how it differs now. Wouldn’t it be fun to thank her in person for making a piece of art I absolutely adore and to share with her all the adventures we have had together so far?  

The visual beauty of each of these recycled sari creations, whether they are transformed into blankets or bags or table runners or napkins or, is that each one is one-of-a-kind. True works of art based on each sewer’s skill, fabric selection, and choice of color arrangement.  The emotional beauty of these creations is that they helped improve one particular person’s life, one piece at a time. 

In the Hindu religion, to which 95% of India’s population belongs, the color yellow symbolizes learning and knowledge. That makes the Happy scarf an ideal companion for a table full of diners ready to engage in interesting conversation. Sized at 5′ feet in length x 15.75″ inches in width, it fits practically every table shape from long to short and is ready for a wide variety of styling fun. Here, I paired it with antique serving platters and flatware, vintage hotelware plates and midcentury napkins. The change in color palette from side to side adds a nice change in mood and aesthetic too…

Tonight’s recipe is as equally colorful in sight and history as our table setting. The previous stop on the International Vintage Recipe Tour took us to Hungary, via the kitchen, where we explored the bright red world of paprika, but this time in India we are diving into the sunshine shades in all areas of the culinary experience. 

On the menu tonight it’s Chicken Bengal, a warm and saucy stewed chicken featuring five distinct spices – coriander,  cumin, cloves, ginger, and turmeric. But before any of those flavors are introduced, the chicken marinates in a yogurt and garlic bath in the fridge for a few hours. After that point, the whole marinade,  yogurt and all, slips into a sizzling pan of spices where it cooks for some additional hours over a low simmer until it reaches the point of falling-of-the-bone tenderness.

Easy to make, low maintenance, and wholly satisfying, the end result is a saucy blend of spice and chicken that can be adjusted to your liking for heat or enjoyed mild but nuanced in a pool of sweet, savory and salty flavor. Total cook time including prep work and marinating is 4 1/2 hours, so make this on a cozy day when you have some time to spend at home.  Pair it with our favorite historical BBC drama, Indian Summers, and you have a theme night all wrapped up in one fun package. 

Chicken Bengal

Serves 4-6

1 large chicken (4-6 lbs), cut in eight pieces

1 cup yogurt ( I used 2% milkfat Greek yogurt)

2 tablespoons finely minced garlic

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 cups finely minced onion

1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger

3 cloves

1 hot red pepper – optional ( I did not use)

2 teaspoons ground coriander

1 teaspoon powdered turmeric

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

Basmati rice for serving 

Toss the chicken in a large mixing bowl with the yogurt, salt, and pepper, and half the garlic. Toss until the chicken is well coated…

and then transfer to a Ziploc bag and refrigerate for two hours. 

Melt the butter in a heavy casserole and add the oil and onion. Cook until the onion starts to brown, add the remaining garlic and spices, and cook over low heat stirring frequently (about 2 minutes). 

Add the chicken and marinating liquid.

Cover and simmer until the chicken is fork-tender (approximately 2 hours). About thirty minutes before the chicken is done make the rice and set it aside, but keep it covered so that it stays warm. When the chicken is fork-tender and falling off the bone, remove it from the heat and let it rest for several minutes before serving it atop a bed of rice along with whatever juices are leftover in the pan. 

Not quite as creamy/saucy as the Hungarian Shrimp Paprika recipe, the basmati rice in this dish acts as more of an aromatic companion than a vehicle to soak up juices. The main stars of the show here in this recipe are the turmeric, which gives the whole dish that bright yellow color, and the coriander, which adds a foundation of flavor.

Coriander, according to the language of flowers, symbolizes hidden worth. The Bengali region of India from which our recipe is named is where the ancient art of Kantha originated. The predominant color yellow in the saris symbolizes learning.  The woman who sewed the Happy Scarf together, escaped an unhappy environment and discovered her own self-worth through learning an ancient art. When you think about all that goes into making a meal, from the food to the place settings to the company that sits around the table with you, it is mind-boggling how much connects us to other people in other parts of the world in other eras of history in a myriad of unsuspecting ways. This post started out as just a simple Indian dinner. But the more I dug into the history of India, the more transparent the relationships between fabric, food, color, country and symbolism all seemed to go hand in hand. Completely unexpected, all the elements of this post practically connected themselves. It formed a perfect symbiotic relationship.  It formed the words that Nietzsche wrote. Invisible threads truly are the strongest ties.

On Monday, the winner of the Happy Scarf will be announced on the blog. My fingers are crossed for everyone that entered. In the meantime, cheers to India. Cheers to all their beautifully artistic ways of carrying on the color of their culture with the memories of their past. Cheers to strong women and to bright futures.

 Join us next time for Week 23 of the International Vintage Recipe Tour as we head to Indonesia via the kitchen!

 

India photos courtesy of Lewis J. Goetz, Varnan Guba, Aditya Joshi, Claudette Bleijenberg, Bhim Chauhan, Vivek Dashi, Hari Nandakumar, Tiago Rosado, Joshuva Daniel, Akhil Chandran, Ashim D’Silva

Hungry for Hungary: The Red Carpet That Leads to A Recipe

Today in the Vintage Kitchen we are rolling out the red carpet. Award season starts in three days with the kick-off of the Golden Globes on Sunday (Feb 28th) and from then until the end of April, there is an awards show practically every week in the entertainment industry. The schedule looks like this…

the Critics Choice Awards (March 7th), the Grammy Awards (March 14th), the Screen Actors Guild Awards (April 4th), the BAFTA Awards (April 11th), the Independent Spirit Awards (April 22nd) and the Academy Awards (April 25th) not to mention a smattering more of lesser-known but equally important events that acknowledge artistic contributions made to the performing arts this past year.

Jennifer Lawrence at the 2013 Academy Awards. Credit…Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

Known throughout history as a universal sign of welcome and special treatment, red carpets today are mostly associated with fancy galas and luxury experiences. But here in the Vintage Kitchen, we have our own version of red carpet festivities.  Just like those eye-catching ceremonies full of famous people and fancy dresses, the red carpet in the Kitchen this week is a source of inspiration, creativity, style and visual pizzaz. But unlike star-studded versions made for the entertainment industry, our red carpet is not made with yards of thread and fabric. It doesn’t spotlight a zillion famous faces or fancy dresses. Nor is it something that can easily be rolled out, rolled up or walked onto.  Instead, our red carpet looks like this..

Grown under the hot summer sun, picked and then pulverized to a fine powder, the red carpet that is unfurling itself this week in the Kitchen is one made of spice. The star of today’s post is paprika and the exciting event we are celebrating in such a colorful way is the kick-off of Part Two of the International Vintage Recipe Tour 2021.

 

If you are new to the blog, catch up here on the previous 20 countries we visited last year, by way of the kitchen.  If you have been following along from the beginning of the Tour, then welcome to Week 21 and to 2021. Throughout this year, we will be covering recipes from the remaining 24 countries featured in the 1971 edition of the New York Times International Cook Book.  This recipe tour brought so much unexpected joy last year, I’m excited to dive right in!

We begin the second half of this around-the-world culinary adventure with a country that tempts your taste buds straight away just with the letters in its name…

The red carpets of Hungary may not be star-studded, glamourous, paparazzi-loving experiences like the events are in Hollywood but they are full of celebrity in their own right. The Capsicum annuum fields and the paprika they produce have long been iconic stars of the country, culture, and cuisine for centuries.

Photo by Mark Stebnicki

You might be surprised to learn that paprika isn’t made from one particular plant, yet instead is made from all types of red peppers. Ranging from sweet to spicy depending on the variety and the region in which it’s grown, different levels of heat can be produced by using different types of peppers. Bell peppers produce sweet paprika, cayenne peppers produce spicy paprika.

Members of the capsicum annum family include all types and sizes of red peppers, although thin-walled peppers make the most ideal candidates for paprika. Illustrations by Marilena Pistoia from The Complete Book of Fruits & Vegetables circa 1976

Originally cultivated in Mexico, pepper plants were first introduced to Spain in the 1500s and then brought to Hungary in 1569 during the reign of the Ottoman Empire. Due to difficulties in importing spicy black pepper, Hungary’s search for an alternative brought red pepper plants into the spotlight and popularized paprika, quickly deeming it an essential spice that was both affordable and easy to grow. To say that a country fell in love would be an understatement. By the 19th century, paprika became synonymous with Hungarian cuisine and agriculture. Today, they export over 5500 tons of the spice each year.

Grow your own with seeds grown from the gourmet source at hungarianpaprika.net

Thanks to the idyllic Hungarian climate with its hot, dry, summer weather, plants mature over the course of a season. The peppers are picked in September when they reach a robust shade of red, and then are dried in the open air before being ground into a fine powder that is then packaged and sent out to cooks and kitchens all over the world.

Air-dried red peppers in Hungary circa 1968. Photo via pinterest.

Throughout this process the peppers retain their orangy-red hues, making paprika an ideal color enhancer for various foods as well as a semi-permanent natural dye for fabrics. Like curry, paprika takes on different flavor notes according to where it is cultivated in the world.  Mexico is known for spicier paprika and Spain for smoked paprika but Hungarian paprika is the most sought after for its sweetness.

Most Hungarian foods that contain this colorful spice proudly announce it in their names… Chicken Paprikash, Paprika Pork,  Paprikas Szalonna, Stuffed Cabbage with Paprika, Meat Ball Paprikash, Punjena Paprika… but there are other famous beloved heritage dishes like Goulash, Lipatauer Cheese, Fisherman’s Soup and Hungarian Stuffed Crepes that use the spice by the tablespoonfuls too.

Today in the kitchen, we are sticking to the literal side of things and featuring Paprika Shrimp with Sour Cream.  I first made this dish last September with the intention of sharing its ideal attribute of being one of those fantastic in-between-seasons recipes that blends so nicely with warm days and cool nights.

Light, thanks to the shrimp, but creamy and comforting thanks to the pretty paprika-colored sauce, I’m reminded again how this recipe now, six months later, is still an ideal candidate for this new time between seasons as we start to transition from winter to spring.  Serving it over a bed of steaming rice makes it satisfying for days that may still contain traces of snow and sleet yet the vibrant color of the whole dish brings a burst of bright pastels to the table – a nice change from all the earthy-hued stews and soups we customarily consume over the winter months.

Many Hungarian dishes are prized Sunday dinner-type foods since they often require lengthy amounts of steeping and simmering, but this recipe is quick and easy to make. It requires just a handful of ingredients, pairs nicely with a glass or two of wine, and can be accompanied by a salad for simplicity or a green vegetable for another pop of color. Traditional serving companions in Hungary would include sides of bread and potatoes.

Like any Hungarian cook would tell you – the secret to this recipe is seeking out the best sweet paprika you can find. Then you’ll truly understand and appreciate the impact this unique spice can have on such a simple dish.

Paprika Shrimp with Sour Cream

Serves 4

2 tablespoons butter

24 medium raw shrimp, peeled and deveined

Freshly ground salt & pepper to taste

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 teaspoon paprika

3 tablespoons finely chopped shallots

1/3 cup heavy cream

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

1/3 cup sour cream

2-3 cups white rice, cooked

A few extra sprinkles of paprika and finely chopped chives, parsley or scallions for garnish

Prepare your rice, then set aside and keep warm. Next, heat the butter in a large skillet. When it is hot add the shrimp. Sprinkle with salt and pepper (to taste), cayenne pepper and paprika.

Stir and cook just until the shrimp turn pink, then flip each shrimp once to cook the other side. Be careful not to overcook the shrimp.

Sprinkle with the shallots and add the heavy cream. Stir the mustard into the sauce and remove the skillet from the heat.

Stir in sour cream and heat thoroughly without boiling.

Serve over a bed of warm rice. Garnish with an extra sprinkle of paprika and top with whole parsley leaves or finely chopped chives or scallions.

Warm, sweet, and satisfying this dish is full of subtle yet layered flavors.  Hungarian cuisine with all its enjoyment of cream and butter and starch will never be considered diet food, but this recipe spread over 4 servings will hardly cause concern for any health-conscious eater.  And that’s not the point of it anyway. The Canadian writer Joanne Sasvari wrote in her 2005 memoir, Paprika, that “Hungary is a country where the past always sits down at the dinner table with the present.”  I love that sentiment. When you prepare a dish like Paprika Shrimp, you are not only enjoying a flavorful meal but you are also enjoying the historic journey of a spice – one that was ground from a pepper that was grown on a plant that was part of a collection in a field that stretched for miles and years and centuries ultimately coming to define a country’s heritage and its cuisine.

“When a Hungarian cook puts a steaming bowl of food in front of you, they are not only offering nourishment but also comfort, affection, and a safe refuge from the harsh realities of life,” shares Joanne.  In other words, they are offering you the red carpet experience. Signs of welcome and special treatment. Signs of dreamy decadence and luxurious dining shared with friends and family.  And signs of love and sweetness too. That’s the glamour of a Hungarian kitchen, as it has been in the past and as it will, comfortingly, continue to be in the future.

Cheers to paprika for not only coloring the landscape but also our plates. And cheers to Hungary for giving all eaters the red carpet treatment with each and every meal. Join us next time as we embark on Week 22 of the Recipe Tour with a trip to India via the kitchen and a special giveaway contest that will bring a dose of extra joy to one lucky reader’s kitchen space.

 

The Historic Side of Haiti in Houses and Dessert

 

Warm and bloomy. That’s been the theme of our September days around here. The nighttimes though, they are a different story. Cool, breezy, decidedly leaning towards Fall, change is definitely amiss once the sun goes down and the stars come out. Literally caught between two seasons, where it is hot during the day but chilly at night, eating during this time of year, when the temperatures are flip-flopping back and forth can tend to be a bit tricky for everybody no matter what part of the country you live in.

Since the start of this global culinary adventure back in January, not all of the foods on the Recipe Tour have matched up ideally with the time of year in which they were prepared. But I am excited to say that this stop in Haiti for Week 20 of the International Vintage Recipe Tour, has lined up perfectly with the current season. This week, we are making a dessert that is quick, and easy, and a bit out of the ordinary. It involves a handful of simple ingredients, the oven, some bravery and a taste for two seasons.  It has a lighter than air consistency like the best of summer eating yet also happens to be blanketed in layers of cozy Fall flavors.  And there is a special way to present it. That brings its own sense of magic too. In the form of a little flourish of fire at the end of the production, it both has the ability to dazzle your senses and delight your spirit. Like that familiar friend named nostalgia- just returned from last year, this sweet treat immediately welcomes the idea of logs and kindling and wood smoke and sweaters. It’s a dessert for the in-between times when your world isn’t quite what it used to be but also isn’t quite yet what it’s going to be. Yes indeed, this is the best time of year for this type of dessert.

On the menu today we are making Bananas Au Rhum, a Caribbean flambe that has influences in French, American and Haitian culture. But before we dive into the recipe and the making of it, I just wanted to acknowledge that this post has been on hold for most of the month due to the West Coast wildfires.  It didn’t seem like an appropriate time to feature a recipe that involved a voluntary fire in one kitchen while part of the country was battling involuntary fires in many numbers of neighborhoods. Having said that, for any readers who are sensitive to open flames at the moment, you may want to skip this post and join us again next week when we travel to a new (non-fire related) international destination that specializes in hearty foods for hungry appetites.

If you are sticking with us today, then hello, hello! Welcome to Haiti! Sharing the island of Hispaniola with its neighbor, the Dominican Republic, Haiti is a world all onto itself.

To learn about the history of this island nation means to learn about a country that has been battling ill-intentioned governments, poverty, corruption, slavery, and natural disasters pretty much since it was first discovered by Christopher Columbus in the 15th century.

As one of the poorest nations in the world, much of the news that gets relayed and recorded about this country, both in the past and the present, has mostly focused on Haiti’s challenges.  This, of course, is ideal when change needs to be made or special aid is required for situations like hurricane cleanup and economic assistance, but those types of immediate crises can tend to easily overshadow the elements that make Haiti unique, vibrant, and culturally important.  In today’s post, we are setting tragedies aside and drawing inspiration from the sweet side of Haiti’s history in the form of food, drink, architecture, and design aesthetics, all of which were shaped by French, Spanish, African, and indigenous influences. Like this vintage travel poster declares, there is plenty of joie de vivre to be found in Haiti. Today, we are here to highlight it!

Nicknamed the Pearl of the Antilles, Haiti’s most celebrated attribute is its natural beauty. There the sea shines clear and turquoise, beaches are powdery white like sugar, and palm trees, tall and regal, ruffle out the landscape.

In the historic districts, Haiti is home to the Gingerbread house, a colorful style of architecture that has defined the island and defied almost every single weather event since inception. First introduced by three architects over a century ago, this specific style of colorful house with its exquisitely detailed trim work, tall windows, and airy interiors may look delicate among the more solid buildings of the Haitian landscape, but their strength and ability to withstand storm after storm has landed them on the preservation and conversation list of the World Monuments Fund where they are being renovated, rehabilitated, and appreciated for their craftsmanship and their historical significance.

Like the old cars and weathered residences of Havana, the gingerbread houses of Haiti create a cinematic aesthetic. With about 300,000 of them scattered throughout the island, they offer a peek inside the past to a time when Haiti’s wealthy built breezy beauties to defy island heat and humidity. Inspired by French architecture and New Orleans ornamentation, these houses were made primarily of wood, swathed in shutters, painted bright colors, and dotted with symbolism to reflect the mysteries and curiosities of a unique heritage not often discussed.

Outside, gingerbread houses feature gabled roofs, interesting angles, and strategically placed porches that offer picturesque views of the garden, the city or the sea. Inside, they are a menagerie of doorways and tile floors, louvres and alcoves,  with sky-high ceilings and arched doorframes all creatively arranged to encourage the heat to rise and the humidity to stay outside. Detailed interior trims and mouldings include ornamental designs of local patterns, emblems and shapes including voodoo symbols, all of which reflect the artistic creativity and spirituality of Haitian culture.

To capture this unique island aesthetic of the gingerbreads, which is at once, elegant, quirky, artistic and visually engaging, several unifying hallmarks help create a replicable effect…

  • Handmade Baskets: It is the ladies who do all do the selling at the market in Haiti. They tend to transport most of their offerings balanced on their head in large baskets, which have come to represent bounty and entrepreneurial spirit.
  • French Details: The French government ruled Haiti for 300 years, ending in 1803. Even though two hundred years have passed since then, French culture is still very much present around the country, particularly when it comes to design, language, food and antique style housewares.
  • Wood Shutters: A house in Haiti without air conditioning depends on wooden shutters to help cool interior spaces. Tall and elegant, these shutters take the place of drapes and bring a little bit of the outdoors in.
  • Folk Art: One of the most vibrant art forms on the island besides music, is folk art paintings which capture the passion, spirit and history of Haiti in vibrant colors. Some newly discovered favorite artists include Hector Hyppolite (1894-1948)  Andrew LaMar HopkinsJean Yvone Casenueve, and this one in the shop.
  • Unique Flooring: Many floors in the houses of Haiti’s historic districts are painted with patterns or contain geometric tiles that help keep the interior spaces cool and also looking beautiful.
  • Gingerbread Details: Gingerbread trim, victorian millwork and scroll saw designs are staples both indoors and out and can be seen all over Haiti, but most predominately in the historic districts. Unique architectural elements reflect the island vibe.
  • Tropical Plants: Haiti is home to over 25,00 different species of native flora and fauna. Nothing adds an instant dose of the exotic quite like growing a tropical plant indoors or out.
  • Voodoo Symbolism – With ties to the country’s African roots and the Roman Catholic religion, the practice of voodoo in Haiti offers a connection to the spirit world through many different manifestations including connections with patron saints and ancestral spirits . This symbol represents Papa Legba who acts as the mediator between the spirit world and the living world.
  • Vibrant Colors – The colors of the national flag of Haiti are blue, red and white but the country as a whole is awash in vibrant hues.  Inspiration can be found all over the country from the beautiful beaches to brightly painted buildings, textiles, handicrafts, art and even the famous tap tap buses. The gingerbread houses seem to reflect them all!

A gingerbread house in Port-au-Prince. Photo courtesy of Experience Haiti.

A few decades before the gingerbread bread houses started popping up around the island, a  man named Dupre came from France to Port-au-Prince in the 1860s. He started a rum distillery and gave it his family’s name – Barbancourt. One hundred and fifty years later, Barbancourt is recognized as one of the best rum brands in the world and is still operating as a family run business, now in its 5th generation.

The grounds of Barbencourt Distillery located in Port-Au Prince

By utilizing pure sugar cane juice instead of the more common molasses,  Barbancourt’s method of distilling rum has won awards around the world and is by far the best known and best-loved rum in Haiti. Ideally, we would have been using Barbancourt in our recipe today too, but after a lengthy discussion with a spirits expert at my local liquor store, it was decided that a 151 blend of rum would be the most appropriate in order to ensure that the bananas would catch fire and truly become a flambe. Several companies make a version of 151, which is essentially just rum with a really high alcohol content (75% by volume) but sadly, Barbancourt does not. Their highest alcohol content is 43%. So  I went with Goslings for this recipe. Goslings, like Barbancourt, has been around since the 1800s, and since it is made in Bermuda, it still lends an island vibe to this week’s cooking endeavor.

I should also note that the recipe never specified how high of an alcohol content was needed, but 151 is the standard go-to in the flambe world, so it’s a safe bet to rely upon, if this is your first time lighting foods on fire, like it was mine.

Grandpa Herbert’s 1960s Anchor Hocking casserole dish – protector of all fire-related cooking endeavors.

I’ll admit I was a little nervous about this step myself.  Before I bit the bullet and lit the match, I made sure to have our under-the-sink fire extinguisher out on the counter along with a dry towel for tamping, just in case the flames got a little too overzealous. I also used a special baking dish that has magical protective powers. My grandpa Herbert’s 1960s Anchor Hocking Fire King casserole dish. If you recall from previous posts, Herbert was a fireman in Chicago for forty years and I like to think that his baking dish holds special powers and would protect anyone who cooks with it from any unwanted fiery encounters.

Thanks to Grandpa, the dish, and the careful precautions, I’m happy to say that the kitchen is still intact, no one suffered singed eyebrows or burnt hair and the counter didn’t catch on fire. The flames, about 5 inches in height, lasted for about a minute before dying out. It was fun to watch them dance around the dish in that same mesmerizing way as lighting sparklers on the Fourth of July, or staring at a bonfire on the beach.  All in all, this was a recipe that was exciting to make and delicious to taste.

If you are new to the world of flambeed desserts, which have been around since the 1800s, than you are in for a treat. Lots of foods can be doused with alcohol and set aflame including crepes, oranges, pears, puddings, cakes, and cocktails but bananas are one of the most favorite.  In the oven, the bananas briefly swim in a sea of hot butter, sugar, and rum until the point where they all join together and start to turn brown and sticky. Once the caramelization begins to happen, then the dish gets doused in rum, the match gets lit and the rum catches fire creating a rich, warm flavor and an entertaining spectacle. Forget dinner and a show. With this recipe, we are going straight to dessert. And a show.

Bananas au Rhum

serves 4

4 firm ripe bananas

1/4 cup butter

1/4 cup brown sugar

lemon juice

1/2 cup rum

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Peel the bananas and cut them in half lengthwise.

Melt the butter in an ovenproof baking dish and add the banana halves.

Sprinkle with sugar…

and bake for about 10 minutes or until the bananas are thoroughly hot and the sugar is melted. (Note: At this stage, they will look a little bit like half-cooked sausages.) Sprinkle with lemon juice and baste briefly. Return to the oven for two minutes.

Warm the rum ( I put mine in a cup in the microwave for 15 seconds) and pour it over the bananas. Ignite the rum…

and when the flame dies, serve immediately.

Besides the fire component, what makes this dessert especially interesting is that the bananas retain their shape. It sort of turns into a little game with your brain, because you’d think upon initial appearance – post oven – that the first bite would be relatively firm like a brownie or a soft-boiled egg but in actuality, the bananas have the consistency of something more like mousse or a marshmallow or even whipped cream. The first bite is an unexpected yet delightfully delicious surprise. In actuality, these cooked bananas are not unlike the gingerbread houses of Haiti – their looks are a little deceiving when it comes to the integrity of their composition.

 

Serve this dessert outdoors with a cup of coffee and you have the makings of a magical early Autumn night that is just right for this time of year. Since Bananas au Rhum is not one of those desserts that likes to hang around, go ahead and enjoy the whole dish right to the very last bite. You won’t regret it in the least!

Cheers to deliciously dramatic bananas, to the happy side of Haiti and their beautiful historic gingerbreads, and cheers to our brand new season. I hope you fall in love with each and all:)

Join us next time for Week 21 as we head to Hungary for colorful comfort food and officially mark the halfway point in the International Vintage Recipe Tour. Until then, happy cooking!

Corfu For You: A Taste of Greece in Sights, Sounds and Grape Leaves

If you sat down and had a glass of wine with him during these last summer weeks of  August,  he’d tell you a story. It would be slim but impactful – a snippet of colorful life that was mostly true and partially painted with imagination. He’d tell you about his pet pelican, about his distaste for rules, about the lunchtime hospitality of his toothless neighbor. He’d tell you about a splendidly shabby house that overlooks the sea, and about the sounds of an orchard buzzing with bees. He’d tell you about a turtle and a magpie and his devoted dearheart Roger – the scrappy canine co-conspirator that was twin in both spirit and scouting.  He’d share stories about his sister Margo, vain and funny, about his brothers Larry and Leslie, who were the hunters of words and birds, and he’d tell you about his mother, Louisa, after his father died.  There would be mention of the houseguests that came to stay, the disapproving aunt that refused to leave, and the naturalist that taught him to care above all for every creature great and small. He’d tell you about the heat-haze, the green sea, the drunken olives, the magic garden, the flower-scented air. He’d tell you how he fell in love. How he came to know himself. If you sat down and had a  glass of wine with him he’d tell you his name was Gerald, and then he would tell you a captivating story. He’d tell you about Corfu.

Situated in the Ionian Sea, the small Greek island of Corfu shimmers like an emerald gem.

Welcome to the Vacation Edition of the International Vintage Recipe Tour 2020. Whose ready for an international adventure that involves a relaxing getaway, a Greek island, and all the stuffed grape leaves you can eat? Pull out your market bags dear kitcheners, this week we are taking a restorative trip to the Greek island of Corfu courtesy of Gerald Durrell and his entertaining, enigmatic English family.

Here we are in mid-August, just five weeks away from the first day of Autumn. This summer our passports aren’t stamped. Our road trips aren’t long. Our hotel rooms aren’t booked.  We may not be filling up our suitcases and hopping on airplanes this pandemic year but that doesn’t mean that we can’t explore the world in other ways that are equally engaging, and equally satisfying. Through a book, a television show and a cooking adventure, this post highlights a travel trip to an exotic destination that can be enjoyed without ever leaving home. Thanks to the captivating real-life story of Gerald Durrell who lived with his family on the Greek island of Corfu from 1935-1939, we are traveling to a beautiful location fit for summer fun. Like any good vacation, this story contains all the great hallmarks of an exciting new experience. There’s an exotic destination, a foreign language, a bevy of interesting people, a sense of escapism and authentic traditional food. It may not be an actual real-life trip to Greece but this experience offers the next best thing – a true mental break from the state of our current affairs.

Before Gerald became an influential 20th-century British conservationist, naturalist, author and zookeeper he was a small boy called Gerry, living on a remote island in the Ionian Sea with his mother, sister and two brothers. Having, on a whim, moved from England to escape a dreary, uninspired existence following the death of his father, Gerry and his family entered into a colorful world where the sea shines turquoise, the landscape is kissed by the sun and the air is clean, clear and curious. There his family discovers life, love and importance.

Gerald Durrell (1925-1995)

A Robinson Crusoe type experience, life on Corfu was rudimentary, wild, and sensational. Seducing the entire family, the spell of the island during those five years, comes to profoundly affect and mean something different to each member. To Gerald its the start of his wildlife career and it is through his eyes that we discover the magic of an island. In 1956, Gerald chose to publish his account of that pivotal time in a book titled My Family and Other Animals. In 2016, PBS released a televised version of the book called the Durrells in Corfu. The show aired for four seasons, finishing in May of 2019 and now all the episodes are available on Amazon Prime and PBS Masterpiece. Here’s a trailer from Season 1…

This show happened to not only be my introduction to the Durrell family but also to the island of Corfu. Located just off the west coast of Greece, Corfu sits close to the mainland in the Ionian Sea. It is nicknamed the Emerald Island because it has a large amount of green olive trees and lush vegetation. It is also home to the an array of interesting architecture. In the very first episode, I fell in love with the Durrells new (old) house…

which is perched on top of a ledge overlooking the sea.  I won’t share any details here about the storyline, so as not to spoil the characters and their adventures. But I will say the entire series is so beautifully produced and whimsically told that it is truly a vacation on its own. Pair it with the book and then an authentic Greek recipe and this becomes a break from the modern-day world that truly feels like a trip away.

The definition of the word vacation means a period of time spent in leisure and recreation, a temporary vacating of one’s mind and familiar surroundings. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to pack a bag, physically go somewhere else and stay away from your familiar comforts.  Each episode of the Durrells in Corfu is roughly 45 minutes long. With four seasons and 26 episodes in the entire series, that translates to roughly 20 hours of visual splendor set in Greece. If you were committed you could watch it all in a weekend. If you paired it with the book, which is 275 pages long, then you could stretch this Greek affair into an entire week. Add the recipe and you’d have a 10-day sojourn into Corfu life lived long ago and far away. Altogether this time spent with the Durrells is a trifecta  – a perfect cacophony – for a vacation state of mind.

The book follows a similar trajectory of the show, but there are descriptions that Gerry writes about that a camera could never convey with the same amount of vivacity…

“The goats poured out among the olives, uttering stammering cries to each other, the leader’s bell clonking rhythmically. The chaffinches tinkled excitedly. A robin puffed out his chest like a tangerine among the myrtles and gave a trickle of song. The island was drenched with dew, radiant with early morning sun, full of stirring life. Be happy. How could one be anything else in such a season.”

I can’t even begin to describe what it meant to read words like this during our unusual pandemic summer. In Corfu, it’s the 1930s, and there are no mentions of viruses or masks or political upset. There is no terrible, tragic news, no copious deaths, no bleak day to day uncertainty to digest. Instead, there is light, hope, optimism. There is a rambunctious family, a humble island, a wild world, all appreciated. Spending time with Gerald, in his childhood state, with his expressive descriptions and his curious words,  felt indeed like a true vacation. A flight of fancy flown far away from the state of struggles that currently enshrouds the world.

Food features quite a bit in the book and the show, with both Louisa showcasing her cooking skills and Gerry always searching to satisfy his belly. Seeing and reading about both the culture and the landscape of the area really offered up a unique appreciation when it came to the preparation of this week’s recipe.  On the menu we are making stuffed grape leaves also known as dolmadakias, a traditional lemon, onion and herb-infused rice wrapped inside a simmered grape leaf.

I struggled with scouting the main ingredient – the grape leaves – for close to a month.  I searched as far away as Sparta, Greece where the lovely Jehny of The Spartan Table, relayed the unfortunate improbability of getting fresh Greek grape leaves to the US in a timely fashion. I searched locally through two different friends that have vineyards in two different states, but the time of the year here (high summer) makes for a tougher, less tender leaf (FYI: spring is the ideal season for cooking leaves like this). I searched the grocery stores (four in my city) for a brined version that the recipe recommended. My only luck were tins, in the international aisles, of already made and stuffed grape leaves – the finished end result of this homecooked project. My last resort was to order them on Amazon where they were always available but never with an interesting story.  Luckily just before resigning to a mail-order shipment, I discovered a Greek market that was just a thirty minute drive away.  Here I found the prized treasure! Grape leaves, sitting pretty on shelves – all brined in a line in jars of mass consumption. Success at last!

Like both the book and the movie, shopping at the Greek grocer was a bit of an adventure. Most of the packaging was in other languages – Arabic, Greek, Turkish. There was an entire aisle devoted to rice, goat heads in the freezer, big blocks of feta cheese in the fridge, bulk quantities of spices, an array of dried citrus, and towards the back of the store, there were bags of homemade bread still warm and soft from the oven. I came home with bread, a box of chocolate cream-filled cookies (made in Croatia!), a jar of olives brined in olive oil,  and the prized grape leaves. Next time, I’ll shop for coffee, spices and rice.

In Corfu, the Durrells remark often about the languid air and the slower, more sleepy pace. This recipe felt very much the same. Nothing is rushed in preparation. The hands-on wrapping of the grape leaves can be done at whatever pace you choose. It also makes enough for a feast. But it’s one of those dishes that you don’t have to devour all in one sitting, as it can last for days in the fridge. I’m including the exact recipe here as it appeared in the New York Times International Cook Book, but I will forwarn you – this makes ALOT of grape leaves. I had half of the rice mixture leftover (which I wound up adding to a chicken soup later on) so you could still make two dozen grape leaves, as the recipe states, while cutting the rice mixture in half. Other than that, everything came together easily and with a sense of fun.

When the brine gets rinsed off the leaves once they are removed from the jar, they become cool and slippery to the touch yielding a fun tactile experience of folding, and rolling and wrapping. Over on Instagram, I demonstrate in a featured stories video how to wrap a grape leave, so if this is your first time too, visit this link (it will be the clip all the way at the end – Week 19!).

how to make homemade stuffed grape leaves dolmadakia

Dolmadakia (Stuffed Grape Leaves)

Makes about 2 dozen

1 cup olive oil

3 large onions, chopped

1 clove garlic, finely chopped

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 cup uncooked rice

2 tablespoons fresh snipped dill

1/4 cup finely chopped Italian parsley

2 tablespoons pignoli (pine nuts)

6 green onions, finely chopped

1 cup lemon juice

3 cups water

1 8oz jar grape leaves in brine

Parsley and lemon wedges for garnish

Heat 1/2 cup oil in  a skillet and saute the onions and garlic until tender but not browned. Add the salt, pepper, and rice and cook slowly for 10 minutes, stirring often.

Add the dill, parsley, nuts, green onions, 1/2 cup of the lemon juice, and 1/2 cup of the water.

Stir to mix, cover and simmer gently until all the liquid has been absorbed, about 15 minutes.

Rinse the grape leaves under running water, separate and place shiny side down (aka backside of the leaf up) on a board. If the leaves are small, put two together. (Note: It’s easier to roll and wrap the leaves if they are wet. They’ll dry out fairly quickly, so if you want to go about this project leisurely I recommend stacking the leaves one on top of each other to keep them moist.) 

Place one teaspoon of the rice filling near the stem end of the leaves and roll up jelly-roll fashion, toward the tip, tucking in the edges to make a neat roll.

Place the remaining oil, lemon juice and one cup of water in a large skillet. Arrange the rolls in the pan.

Place a heavy plate or weight (I used the lid of my dutch oven) on top and simmer for 25 minutes.

Add the remaining water and cook about 10 minutes longer or until the rice is tender.

Cool and serve at room temperature with lemon wedges.

Tender, lemony and bright these stuffed grape leaves are like little gifts from the Greek gods. Delicious and surprisingly filling, they are light yet full of flavor, hitting all the taste bud notes between sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and umami. It is a refreshing, well-balanced dish that is ideally paired for this time of year. Traditionally, dolmadakias would be served with a whole table full of other Greek dishes, but I think it makes a lovely choice for a late afternoon snack with a glass of chilled white wine.

In the show, there’s a great tradition that the Durrells start in the heat of the summer. They carry their dining room table out into the shallow water of the sea and set up their mealtimes – a la ocean – with their feet swirling around in the water. I love this idea! If you don’t have access to a waterway like them, then perhaps you’ll enjoy these stuffed grape leaves with Gerry’s book as a companion or the show as your meal mate. All three options are festive and support the ideal vacation state of mind. After being immersed in Corfu for a few weeks, I came away from the whole experience feeling rested, relaxed and inspired by the aesthetic of Corfu and the interesting experiences of this fascinating family. If you are struggling with your summer vacation plans (or lack thereof ) too then I hope this post and its recommended activities cast a little spell over you as well.

Cheers to the Durrells, to Corfu and to the Greek grocery for making this staycation feel like an actual vacation. Fingers crossed, that by next year, the pandemic will be behind us and we’ll be able to hop that plane to Corfu where we can experience first-hand the heat-haze of summer, the drunken olives, the sunbleached landscape and that magnificent beauty of a turquoise sea.

In the meantime, catch up next time for Week 20 of the International Vintage Recipe Tour when we head to Haiti, via the kitchen, to make an attention-grabbing dessert and to discuss kitchen designs in the tropics. See you then!

Fourth of July Baking: A German Dessert of American Symbolism and Celebrity

In 1986, there was a recipe. In 1956, there was a woman related to the recipe. In 1886, there was a statue related to the woman who was related to the recipe. In 1870, there was a model related to the statue who was related to the woman and the recipe. In 1865, there was a sculptor who was related to the model who was related to the statue who was related to the woman who was related to the recipe.  And so begins the story of Week 18 in the International Vintage Recipe Tour 2020.  Herzlich Willkommen! Welcome to Germany!

This week there is a little cooking surprise. In today’s post, we are diverting slightly from the original Tour plan and preparing a recipe, not from the New York Times International Cook Book, which we have been following since January, but from another vintage kitchen book altogether. This guest cookbook, Celebrity Desserts, was published in 1986 for a very particular reason and hails from the great state of New York just like our treasured International Tour cookbook. It also happens to fall right in line with this week’s featured destination of Germany and  the upcoming Fourth of July holiday.

All that being said we are off on quite a fun adventure today! It is a journey that involves not only German history, but also French and American history too. It involves family cooking, patriotic holidays, and international icons of hope, opportunity and hospitality -three things my family and I like to celebrate on the 4th of July. And then there’s the actual recipe itself. One that is luxurious without being fussy, a cool treat in hot weather, and so popular around the world that almost every country on the planet has their own particular version of it.

Originally, this trip to Germany via the kitchen was going to fill Week 18’s post with sights and stories of Sauerbraten,  an heirloom beef recipe that takes three days to prepare.  Excited to explore a very traditional method of making a famous German food, I hinted at things to come at the end of the Paris post. Unfortunately, I ran into some roadblocks.

In our unpredictable time of pandemic cooking, it seems that sourcing a grass-fed beef bottom roast that cost anything less than $50.00 and that was anything under 5lbs in size turned out to be a feat of great impossibilities.  Since the recipe only called for 3lbs of beef, both the size and the price suggested that maybe this lovely, long cooking project of authentic, homemade Sauerbraten might just be a bit too much to tackle at the moment. In an effort to remain flexible these days and simply go with the flow of what is available at the grocery and the market, the heirloom Sauerbraten will be rain checked for a later date. Hopefully we can revisit this recipe again at some point further on in the year. By that time (fingers crossed) beef may be more plentiful and a bit more economical.

In the meantime, Celebrity Desserts called from the cookbook shelf.  Saving the day and the country fare by offering a wonderfully, delicious creation of German heritage, the dessert we are making today, thanks to our guest cookbook, comes along with its own very unique history. One that embraces German, Italian, French and American ancestry as well as celebrates a special lady we all know and love.  I’m so pleased to present our featured German dessert this week, Bavarian Cheesecake.

Cheesecake is a dessert uniquely prepared in a variety of ways depending on what part of the globe you call home. It is one of the few cakes that can be served baked or unbaked. It can be frozen, refrigerated or served at room temperature. It can be made entirely of ricotta cheese or entirely of cream cheese. It can be slathered in sauce, dolloped with fruit, drizzled with chocolate or dotted with nuts. It can be stuffed with spices, herbs, vegetables or just about anything under the sun. And it runs the gamut as far as taste from sweet to savory to something in between. With such opportunity for culinary creativity,  there’s no shortage of recipes when it comes to cheesecake. In just under .6 seconds Google will deliver over 215,000,000 cheesecake related results. Narrow it down by specific ingredient and the field gets smaller but still contains hundreds of thousands of options. But the recipe we are making today stands out from all these others. This one has a very unique lineage that sets it apart from all the other cheesecakes and all the other variations.

As the cookbook title denotes, it involves a celebrity. But not one that you might suspect. This famous figure has never had her own cooking show, nor written a book, nor sang a song. She’s not the ruler of a country or a corporation (though her values would certainly be welcomed!). She didn’t invent a cure for a disease nor end world hunger nor paint a masterpiece. She wasn’t a dancer or a designer or a technology wizard. But she has been featured in her share of movies and she has been the subject of photographers for decades.  In order to get to the heart of this mystery woman’s famous roots, let’s begin at the ending, by tracing the recipe backwards.

It all starts with this face…

Do you recognize her? Most likely, probably not. She’s a pretty obscure reference in regards to her famous connection. But maybe this following info will help spark your curiosity or at least ignite the musings of your mind. Her name is Dorothy.  This photo of Dorothy was taken in the 1980’s, part of a follow-up story from the 1950’s when she had first become the topic of newspaper headlines. At the time this photo was taken, Dorothy lived in Boise, Idaho but the event that made her newsworthy in the 1950’s revolved around something that happened in New York City. Any guesses as to who she might be? If not, here’s another clue…

This is Charlotte. She is related to Dorothy. Can you see any resemblance?  Charlotte was born in 1801 in the Alsace region of northern France. She married into a French family with the last name of Bartholdi. Charlotte had a son named Frederic who became an artist. This is Frederic…

Frederic dreamed of designing an enormous statue. He wanted to build it in France, but display it America. The statue was going to require a lot of money to build, so he came to United States in the 1860’s ready to talk up his idea and gather some investors. As it turns out, Frederic’s concept sounded an awful lot like another American statue that was already in the works and slated for display in Plymouth, Massachusetts. That statue would eventually be called the National Monument to the Forefathers, and looked like this…

Undeterred by this similarity, Frederic went back home to France and carried on with his own statue anyway. He raised money in his own country with the help of his mother and the generosity of local French citizens including school children. Eventually Frederic’s dream was realized and his statue came to fruition. Off on a boat, it went to America. This is what he created…

Now back to Dorothy and Charlotte. Charlotte, Frederic’s mother, was the model for the face of the Statue of Liberty. Dorothy is Charlotte’s great-great granddaughter.

When Dorothy was photographed in New York Harbor in the 1950’s in front of the Statue of Liberty, everyone remarked on their  striking similarities…

Dorothy Franks photographed in 1956 with the Statue. The inset photo was taken in 1984. Images courtesy of the Daily News.

Dorothy was related to Charlotte both via direct lineage and also by marriage, as she married her second cousin who was also related to Charlotte by blood. Today’s recipe for Bavarian Cheesecake comes from Dorothy’s kitchen.

The recipe was submitted for inclusion in the Celebrity Desserts Cookbook in 1986 by Dorothy’s granddaughter Linda, who lived in Washington state (oddly enough, in the same small town where my mom grew up). The cookbook was compiled by the Albany NY Council of the Telephone Pioneers of America, a social service organization founded in 1911 that was inspired by Alexander Graham Bell’s invention of the telephone. The Pioneers produced this cookbook as a fundraiser campaign to raise money for much-needed repairs to the Statue of Liberty. The Council collected favorite recipes from a variety of kitchens all across the country including famous ones (a former First Lady, well known figures in the performing arts, iconic hospitality venues, etc) as well as regular home cooks, Pioneer members and telephone industry employees who had culinary crowd-pleasers to share.  Undoubtedly Linda’s recipe and the provenance from which it came must have been the icing on the cake (no pun intended!) when it came to the whole cookbook. With just five degrees of separation from Linda’s kitchen in Bothell, WA to the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor, this cheesecake recipe instantly added a whole new dynamic element to the American food scene and to celebratory Fourth of July fare.

The lineage of this recipe doesn’t stop with the ladies though, nor the French nationality. It’s called Bavarian Cheesecake because it hails from Bavaria, the state located inside Germany that is known for its fairy tale castles, picturesque scenery and a handful of typically traditional German foods including beer and sausages.

Charlotte’s family were German protestants in Alsace and Dorothy’s grandfather was born in Italy. So the Bartholdi’s themselves were a multicultural bunch, just like the immigrants who would come to meet Lady Liberty in New York.  Eventually, Dorothy’s grandfather left Italy and immigrated to America in the late 1890’s. When he floated in on the steel grey waves of water in New York Harbor, he passed under the coppery gaze of his grandmother Charlotte. What a surreal experience that must have been. In a Daily News interview published in the 1980’s, Charlotte said the family was very proud of their connection to Lady Liberty and that her dad, when she was a little girl would tell stories about Charlotte and Frederic’s connection to the statue.

Dedication day !o The Statue of Liberty as photographed on October 28, 1886. Image courtesy of nps.org

Alongside Dorothy’s Italian grandfather, came boatloads of German immigrants. Of the 12 million people that came through Ellis Island from the 1890’s – 1950’s, 1/12 of them were German. Because of that large influx from The Land of Poet’s and Thinker’s (that is Germany’s nickname!) one in every four Americans today is connected via German ancestry.

I always think it is fascinating to learn about other people’s immigration stories. It’s so interesting to hear about the situations that brought them to America, and to hear about what they encountered when they arrived, and where their dreams and aspirations took them. In Dorothy’s case, her Bartholdi ancestors immigrated to the U.S.  to work in the gold mines in Colorado and to set up shop as stone masons and funerary art designers. In a nut shell, that’s the story of how the Bartholdi family came to America. And how they made a new life for themselves, and made a family, and then made Dorothy and then Linda. And of course all that time they made the cheesecake.

If I could take poetic license with this recipe, I’d like to rename it  Bartholdi’s Bavarian Cheesecake, so that it never lost the lineage of the ladies and their connection to Liberty. Like the nervous anticipation of the first time immigrants to America this was my first time ever making cheesecake. I must admit I was a little nervous. I had always thought that cheesecake was a very difficult thing to make  – something that took a long time and a lot of effort. Maybe some cheesecake versions are that way, but I’m happy to say that this recipe couldn’t have been easier. It did take a little bit of time – between the chilling of the crust and the two different oven bakes plus the  cooling and the overnight rest in the fridge, but certainly it wasn’t a three day affair like the Sauerbraten would have been, and it wasn’t expensive to make.

Chalk it all up to the fact that it feeds a crowd, looks lovely on a plate and lasts in the fridge for days and days and days, I think this Bavarian Cheesecake might just be the new favorite of the International Vintage Recipe Tour so far.  And that is really saying something. Australia’s Queen Mother’s Cake from Week 2 of the Tour is still receiving accolades by blog readers and eaters all these months later. So I’m especially excited to hear what you think of this latest addition to our culinary book of adventures. When we get to the end of the year and the end of the Tour, it will be fun to vote on the most favorite food made along the way. But for now, we have Bavaria and baking to get to…

Bartholdi’s Bavarian Cheesecake

Makes one 8″ inch cake or 12 Servings

For the crust:

2 cups finely crushed vanilla wafer crumbs

2 tablespoons sugar

1 tsp cinnamon

1 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

1/3 cup butter

 

For the filling:

1 1/2 lbs cream cheese (or three 8oz. packages), softened

1 cup sugar

3 eggs

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 teaspoon grated lemon rind

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

 

For the top layer:

2 cups sour cream

3 tablespoons sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

For the crust: Combine first five ingredients (wafers, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, butter) in a bowl. With a pastry blender, cut butter until thoroughly blended until it resembles course crumbs.

Press mixture firmly and evenly against bottom and sides of a lightly greased 8 inch spring form pan. (Note: I used an 8 1/2 inch pan and that worked totally fine too.)

Refrigerate 30 minutes.

For the filling: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Cream cheese and sugar together in a large bowl until light and fluffy.

Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.

Thoroughly blend in the lemon juice, lemon rind and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla. Pour into chilled crumb crust.

Bake for 45 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool at room temperature for 30 minutes. (Note: The cake will brown a little on the edges, as seen in the photos below, and may even crack a little bit on top. All that is totally fine.)

For the top layer: Preheat the oven to 500 degrees. Blend together the sour cream, sugar and vanilla. Carefully spread sour cream mixture over cooled cheese filling.

Bake in oven for 10 minutes. Cool.

Then refrigerate overnight before serving.

Once you’ve refrigerated the cheesecake overnight, the top layer will become firm. This makes it a lovely platform for decorating in all sorts of ways. Since this is a patriotic dessert, you might consider adding blueberries, strawberries or raspberries to the top. Or perhaps some lemon rind twists or fresh herbs. I decorated mine very simply with a sprig of mint and a flower (a petal each for Dorothy, for Charlotte and for Lady Liberty!).  I wanted to see how it tasted unadorned, without any other ingredients changing the flavor composition.

As it turns out, it tasted like a dream! I wasn’t sure if this was going to be a really dense chessecake or if it was going to be more light and airy, but when I cut the first slice, the answer revealed itself…

The sour cream top layer had a taste and consistency exactly like the filling of cheese danish pastries. Sweet with a subtle creamy tang. The cream cheese layer had a consistency like very thick whip cream – pillowy but substantial without being hefty.

The crust held everything together so beautifully that each slice cut perfectly smooth and never fell apart when transferred to the individual serving plates.

What a joy this was dessert turned out to be. Subtle and smooth, with hints of vanilla and lemon, it is a really lovely and really delicious dessert for summer. Especially if served cold straight from the fridge. An elegant alternative if you are tired of traditional Fourth of July flag cake, berry pies or fruit parfaits this dessert can be doled out in large slices or small and travels well. It also doesn’t mind hanging out in the fridge for hours while you party the day away.

Unlike a couple previous recipes from the Tour, there is absolutely nothing I would do to alter this recipe. I wouldn’t add anything, decorate it any differently or change the flavor components in any way. It is a true classic in all the best ways and absolutely perfect as is. Just like Lady Liberty herself:)

Cheers to Linda and Dorothy and Charlotte for providing a recipe with a really long family pedigree. And to Frederic for dreaming up a Statue that welcomed the world.

“Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore, Send these the homeless, tempest-tost to me. I lift my lamp beside the golden door.” – A portion of the poem, The New Colossus, by Emma Lazarus published in 1903 on a plaque at the base of the Statue of Liberty.

The lovely lady Liberty. Image credit: Juan Mayobre

The Statue of Liberty has been a sign of hope, potential and opportunity ever since her dedication on October 28, 1886. Except for the bald eagle, and the American flag she’s the most iconic symbol of our country that stands for everything we aspired to achieve as a nation. She’s artistic (thanks to Frederic), poetic (thanks to Emma Lazarus), strong (thanks to her copper cladding) and welcoming (thanks to Ellis Island). This has been one of the toughest years in American history to date, but I hope at the end of the day we can remember and focus on the qualities that Lady Liberty stands for. That we can shelter and accept and care for, with equal regard, all that come ashore.

Join me next time as our culinary adventures take us to Greece via the kitchen for Week 19 of the International Vintage Recipe Tour 2020!

UPDATE FROM OUR READERS!

If you find yourself without a springform pan for the cheesecake, rest assured, there are a couple of other pieces of dishware you can use as well, as noted by two of our readers…

Marianne in Seattle used a deep dish pie pan, and served the cheesecake right from the pan. A beauty in all directions!

“It was really good. We all liked it!”  Marianne also substituted lemon wafer cookies from Trader Joe’s in place of the vanilla wafers. “The lemon cookies make a nice crust,” she said.

Marilyn in Arizona used a 9″ inch tart pan and it turned out beautifully. She shared the following… “Going to create a fun game (questions and answers) to play with the blog post. Better than sitting around discussing the virus… you saved the day Katherine!” How nice!

If you discover any helpful hints after making this recipe or would like to share a photo of your decorated dessert, please comment below. A big thank you to Marianne and Marilyn for their helpful tips!

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 in the orphanage 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  he worked at the Chicago Tribune in the circulation department. This was where he worked 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 housecleaning 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 had 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 happened 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. Genevieve 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 sauce aspect of 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, 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, lighthearted. 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)

That’s Election Cake on the left and Sally Lunn Cake on the right!

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!