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.

 

Hungry Ghosts, Floating Lights, Chinese Fishes: Symbolism and Life in a Tornado

There’s an old Chinese proverb that says don’t curse the darkness – light a candle. I had no idea how appropriate that quote would come to be when I began pulling the threads together for the 9th week of the International Vintage Recipe Tour. If life had gone according to plan, this post should have gone out on Wednesday, March 4th. Our 10th country in the Recipe Tour would have been published four days ago, and I would’ve, as of today, been cooking and photographing the recipe for Week 11’s culinary destination.  Unfortunately, Lady Nature had other plans.

If you are just catching up on events of the past couple of weeks, shortly after midnight on Tuesday morning, March 3rd, a tornado blew through town and in three short minutes spun my city neighborhood around. These are some photos I took just after sunrise on the morning of the storm…

One of my favorite things about my neighborhood is its mix of modern apartment buildings, historic cottages and pocket-sized parks. All of my loves are within walking distance… the farmers market, the grocery store, the fish market, the library, the garden center, the waterfront, the history museum, not to mention fun shops and a unique collection of wonderful restaurants.

Fantastically walkable, it is entirely possible to live car-free here and still have all your daily needs met. It’s quiet during the week, lively on the weekends and just a 15 minute walk to Music City night-life and all sorts of cultural activities. There’s a fox that lives near the yoga studio, plenty of squirrels to keep the pup entertained on her daily walks and so many blooming trees that it snows with flower petals every Spring.

A great mix of young blending with old as far as architecture, demographics and ideas, it’s a hot spot for food enthusiasts and bar hoppers and a proving ground for new concepts and good ideas. It is one of those neighborhoods that used to be industrial, but now is referred to as trendy, up and coming, and re-energized. To me and my husband, it is home, it is work and it is wonderful.

The day before the tornado, I was at the art store buying specialty papers for a craft project for Week 9 of the Cooking Tour.  It had taken almost the entire week prior to figure out an appropriate cultural tie-in to that week’s featured destination – China.

I wanted to write about something that focused on the beauty of the country and the culture, a topic that easily gets overlooked these days now that the coronavirus has captured everyone’s attention.  After days of searching and muddling all this over, inspiration finally came in the form of a folded paper project.

In the month of September in China, there is a celebration called the Hungry Ghost Festival. Similar to the Day of the Dead in Mexico, it is a celebration of family members who have passed away. Places are set at the table, complete with food offerings and empty seats, to acknowledge the presence of these past lives and the impact they had upon the family.  One of the components of the festival includes making and releasing floating paper lanterns on the water. These floating papers, each carrying a small candle, act as a directional signal for lost souls. The lighted paper lanterns help guide their way. When the candle burns out after the lanterns have been set afloat, it signifies that the lost spirit is no longer in need of direction. It has found its way home.

As soon as the tornado touched down, our power went out. Most of the neighborhood was sleeping at the time the storm occurred but woke up to one of three experiences – 1) their roof was blown off 2) all the glass in all their windows were shattered and blown, not out, but into their living space or 3) terrific gusts of wind could be heard rattling around outside. My experience was the third one – lots of wind, no broken glass, roof still intact. That night, the temperature had been warm enough to sleep with the windows open. It was also the night, Liz Lemon and Grace the Grapefruit spent their first time since last summer overnight outdoors on the balcony.

When I heard the high winds, I woke up to my pup sitting in the bathtub and discovered that the power had gone out. I didn’t know about a tornado. I didn’t know that a block away, buildings were falling down and people were scrambling to safety in their pajamas. I just heard the wind, much like in a hurricane, and thought simply that it might too strong for my plants outside. That’s how weird a tornado can be.  By some stroke of sheer luck, the tornado hit one block away. It left my street relatively unharmed except for scattered debris and power and internet outages. Two, three and four blocks away from my building was an entirely different story.

Shaken, saddened and shocked, my husband and I spent the morning in touch with family and friends, trying to make sense of everything. Immediately we were thrown back into feelings of life post 9/11 in New York City – a time when tragedy and sorrow hung around us like a heavy blanket for almost a year.  Just like 9/11, destruction was all around us. It was our environment. It was our view. It was where we lived. And now here we were again, experiencing a similar devastation.

The weather was beautiful the entire week following the storm – sunny, in the mid-60’s, and blooming. Spring had sprung in the neighborhood and the birds were excited to sing about it. Living without power and internet access for a week, in a disaster zone, while nature carried on in such a pretty way, was surreal and jarring to the senses.  On one hand there was so much destruction and on the other there were daffodils that danced in the breeze.

One of the things that helped distract from the scariness of the scene in front of me was the building of the paper lantern and all that it symbolized. The lantern, which gets folded and shaped into a lotus flower, only took less then 30 minutes to make but everything that it stood for carried me the whole entire week. For four nights we walked around by candlelight and flashlight until the power finally came back on on day five. Each day, I imagined that each flame and each beam of light was like a Chinese lantern floating on the water, guiding us in the dark towards something bright. It was a comforting reminder that it was okay to feel a little bit lost. That eventually we would find our way home again.

It’s been almost two weeks since the storm, and already our neighborhood is on the mend. Some of the buildings have been condemned and will be torn down, some of the restaurants are closed with hopes of reopening soon, and a good batch of broken windows have been boarded up. It’s not the same neighborhood as it was a month ago, but spirits are resilient around this place and I can only hope it will be a even better place to live and work sometime soon.

There are so many things to be thankful for in these past two weeks. We are alive. Our friends and neighbors are alive. Miraculously and inexplicably, no one died in our four block radius despite the chaotic scenes. People have been so kind and helpful and willing to lend support in any way they can. More volunteers showed up to help clean up then were actually needed. And donations of all kinds poured into town to the point where city managers eventually said thank you, we have enough now.

I’ll forever be grateful to the Recipe Tour and to China and to the Hungry Ghost Festival for helping me through this difficult, unexpected life event. The tornado was a scary thing. The coronavirus is a scary thing. But the Chinese lanterns taught me that in darkness there is also light. If you are struggling during these days of uncertainty and quarantine, I hope making your own paper lantern will help guide you through these dark and disturbing times. I hope this paper project, will offer you just as much comfort as it did for me during these past ten days.

It was my original intention to photo each step of the lantern making process, but somehow, in my addled storm state, I didn’t quite capture enough photos of the steps to make sense of the process.  You can find a step by step tutorial from the Chinese American Family blog here, which is the one I followed to make the lantern for this post. The only thing that I did differently was that I used two different colors of handmade paper – red to represent China and beige to represent calmness. Also, just an fyi, this project makes one floating lantern that is 8″ inches in diameter.

Whether it is September or not, whether you live near a body of water or not, whether you are going through a tough situation or not, a floating paper lantern has a place at your table always. I love the idea of floating one or two in a shallow dish of water as a centerpiece in place of a floral bouquet or a collection of candles. I love the idea that it symbolizes someone you hold dear. So much of cooking and eating and gathering together involves long-term memories, fleeting moments, passed down stories, and centuries worth of techniques and innovations all created by people who came before us. The paper lanterns are such a lovely way to honor those individuals, especially as they relate to the kitchen and to cooking and to the enjoyment of food.

Pretty, hopeful, and easily accessible, it is a fun craft project that takes little time and few materials. China has been known for their folded paper crafts, called zhezhi, for centuries and shares similar styles with Japan’s paper folding craft, origami. China’s paper making grew out of frugality and remembrance and is often burned during celebrations and festivals, like the Hungry Ghost. If you are concerned about open flames inside your floating flowers, you can always use a flame-less tea light for a similar effect. If you plan to make a fun night at home with your family, friends or roommates while you are self-quarantining, this paper project not only offers a fun activity but also offers an easily made decoration for your Chinese dinner party incorporating this week’s menu items.

Like exquisite Chinese paper crafts, traditional Chinese food also has its own creatively packaged presentation. The accompanying recipe for China’s post is one that features artfully cut foods that are cooked in an interesting and unusual manner. Like the paper lantern, this fish dish is a literal present, individually wrapped up in paper, fried in oil and then served to each diner like a gift.  In Belgium, we learned how to fry cheese into fondue but in China we are wrapping food in paper and then quickly submerging it in oil, where it steams instead of fries.  A wonderful recipe for anyone who likes to decorate their food with flair and flourish, this recipe is delicious, interesting and pretty to look at. On the menu, I’m pleased to present Fried Fish Wrapped in Paper served alongside a bed of Ginger and Pork Fried Rice.

Since this is two recipes in one, I’ll start with the easiest one first since it can sit in a warming state for a little bit while you make the second recipe. Ginger and Pork Fried Rice, is another one of those foundation recipes where you can add your own spin once you get the general hang of preparing it. If you wanted to make this vegetarian, you could swap the pork for mushrooms or add in additional vegetables like snow peas, carrots or broccoli. Because the fish in the accompanying recipe is very lean, the pork fried rice adds a satisfying bit of fat that is complimentary to the overall flavor. So if you are a meat-eater, I’d recommend making these two recipes as-is.

Ginger and Pork Fried Rice

(serves 4)

6 tablespoons peanut oil

2 eggs, lightly beaten

1/3 lb (about 1 cup) ground pork (I used grass-fed, pasture-raised pork)

2 cups cooked rice (I used jasmine rice)

1/4 cup chopped green onion

Drizzle of sesame oil

12 lettuce leaves or 1 head of butter lettuce

Heat two tablespoons of oil, add the eggs and scramble to the soft stage, then set aside.

In a wok or large skillet, heat two additional tablespoons of oil and add the pork. Cook, stirring until the meat is thoroughly browned and cooked through. Add the ginger and stir, Add the rice, salt and pepper and cook, stirring rapidly to blend all the ingredients. When the rice is piping hot, mix-in the remaining oil, the green onion and the egg, broken up roughly. Drizzle a little sesame oil over the rice and toss quickly.

Keep the rice warm while you make and cook the fried fish recipe. Once you are ready to serve both the fish and the rice there are several suggestions on ways to present the rice. The first, simply scoop it into a bowl and serve as is. The second, scoop small portions onto individual lettuce leaves and roll them up. Or the third way, scoop out the center of a head of butter lettuce and fill it with rice so that it makes, essentially, a lettuce bowl that can be shared among your fellow eaters. I opted for number three, since our farmer’s market lettuce has been so beautiful lately.

The fried fish recipe is really easy to make. The most complicated part of it is wrapping the fish in the parchment paper. But if you think of treating it like how you would wrap a homemade empanada then you’ll be a pro in no-time. The trick to wrapping the fish in paper is to fold the edges over on themselves so that no steam can escape and so that no oil can seep inside. Although this recipe is called Fried Fish, the fish never comes in contact with the oil. The hot temperature of the oil simply steams the fish inside the wrapped package in just 3 minutes. You can actually hear the steam bubbling up against the paper as it bobs around in the oil. It is a nice auditory detail:)  And have no fear, if your packages don’t seal all the way, it is not the end of the world. The oil will fry the fish instead of steam it, but it will be delicious regardless.

Fried Fish Wrapped in Paper

(4-6 servings)

2 teaspoons sesame oil

1/2 lb boneless fresh fish fillet such as striped bass, flounder or sea bass (I used cod)

1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon sake or dry sherry (I used sake)

12 thin slices fresh ginger

12 small snow peas

12 small strips of green onion

12 slices fresh mushrooms

Cut twelve 6″ inch squares out of parchment paper. Set aside. Cut the fish filet into 12 pieces of equal size. (Note: I cut the fish into rectangles which were about 1″x 1.5″inches  in length). Slice all the vegetable ingredients and place each in individual bowls so that they can be quickly accessed when you are ready to assemble the packages.

Brush one side of each square of the parchment paper with sesame oil. Next place a piece of fish on the oiled parchment (step 1), followed by a sprinkle of sake, salt & pepper (step 2). Place a snow pea (step 3) on top of the fish, then a piece of ginger on top of the snow pea (step 4). Place a sliced mushroom on top of the ginger (step 5) and then finish with a slice of green onion on top of the mushroom (step 6).

Next, scoot the layered fish tower down to the bottom third of the parchment paper square.

Bring the top  edge of the parchment paper down to meet up with the bottom edge, like you were folding an envelope, and then crease the middle section of the paper. Beginning on the left hand side start to fold over the edges of the paper like an empanada. Work your way around the package so that you end up on the right side with a small flap that you can then tuck inside the crease of your final fold. This makes much more sense once you actually do it. Here’s a little step by step to help illustrate it…

Repeat each step until you have all 12 packages assembled and wrapped…

In a medium sized pot, heat the oil to 180 degrees. Working in batches so as not to crowd the pot, drop the packages in the oil for 3 minutes or until the parchment paper is lightly browned. At this step, you’ll here a wonderful bubbling noise as the fish and vegetables steam inside the paper.

Remove each batch to drain on paper towels for a few seconds before serving.

The recipe recommends serving the fish in the package, which is fun for the novelty of opening up the paper…

but it looks much prettier if you unwrap them and serve them on a plate or on a bed of rice.

This is such stylish and bite-sized food, it would be a fun appetizer for a sake party or as an accompaniment alongside other traditional dishes for a mix and match Chinese feast. Served just as-is, with a scoop of rice and two or three pieces of fish, you’ll be surprised how filling and satisfying this meal can be, even with its petite portions. The fish and vegetables cook to perfection inside the paper pouch. The ginger adds a nice hint of spice. And both dishes retain all their flavors even if they sit at room temperature for a little bit.

I went on the search for Chinese sake for this post, but I couldn’t find any locally, so I paired these two dishes with a glass of room temperature Tozai, which is a Japanese sake from the Kyoto region. I’m not much of a rice wine connoisseur so I picked this one for its beautiful label featuring painted koi fish, and it’s suggestion of light flavor notes that included lemon, grapes and banana.

Again, like the paper lantern project, this was a fortuitous choice for this post, our most dramatic week of the Recipe Tour so far. Known as living jewels because of their shimmering scales and vibrant colors, koi fish represent luck and good fortune. A day after making these two Chinese recipes and toasting them with a glass of sake, the tornado arrived and somehow miraculously, thankfully, luckily left the Vintage Kitchen intact. Unrecognized by be at the time, I went into that difficult weak with symbols of luck, good fortune and bright light on my side. If I have learned anything from this culinary time spent in the kitchen with China, it is that symbols swirl around us all the time. Sometimes they even save the day.

My heart goes out to everyone impacted by the coronavirus. I wish you all the koi fish in all the world and all the bright light for in which to see them. Join me this Wednesday, for Week 10 of the International Vintage Recipe Tour, as I attempt to catch up to our regular culinary travel schedule again. This week, culinary escapades take us to Columbia where I’ll be discussing nothing but sunshine and happiness and comfort food. Until then, be well and safe.

A Beach Drink in Barbados: Cheers To Week Four!

Right now, as I write this post its 43 degrees outside and raining. There has been a thick grey cloud cover that has been hanging over the city for what feels like weeks. The forecast for the next seven days is rain, rain and more rain. Not quite cold enough to snow (which would be magic) and not quite warm enough to picnic (also magic), winter has definitely settled. But not indoors. Inside it is paradise.

In the Kitchen today, it’s a balmy 72 degrees (thanks to the heat setting!), there’s calypso music playing on the speakers and a special tropical cocktail circulating. The mood is downright beachy as Harry Belafonte encourages us to jump in the line and Lord Invader sings about the flying fishes.  Welcome my friends to Week Four of the International Vintage Recipe Tour. Welcome to Barbados!

Under the swaying palm trees on the sandy beach of Barbados. Photo credit: David Cain

This week, we are embracing the relaxed ambiance of the tropics as we make Rum Punch for a crowd and dance around the Kitchen to traditional island music. It’s celebration time in more ways then one. On a personal note,  we’ve hit a mini milestone.  If you joined us from the beginning, we are now officially one month into the Recipe Tour and I hope you are still as excited about the whole project as I am. On a party note, this recipe serves 12 or more, so if you ever wanted to invite your friends over to try a vintage recipe, now’s a good time:)

Last week’s post took us on a romp around snow-capped  Austria with a local native, and featured a hearty vintage chicken recipe perfect for winter weather. This week, we are traveling 4,800 miles from Austria to a tropical island in the Atlantic Ocean that lies in close proximity to South America. There’s no snow in sight here.  There is, however, plenty of snow white sand.

Rockley Beach, Barbados

Travel these days doesn’t always guarantee what you’ve  imagined, but Barbados  delivers when it comes to beautiful beaches, a fun atmosphere and endless amounts of rum. They’ve been making this sugar cane based spirit since 1703, so its easy to see why this is the alcohol of choice when it comes to island drinks.

Mount Gay Rum is the oldest distillery in Barbados, dating all the way back to the 1700’s, but for this vintage 1970’s era rum punch recipe, which simply called for any type of dark rum, I chose Kraken (a more modern Caribbean rum company)  for it’s fun, splashy label which was modeled after Victorian era typography, its nod towards oceanic intrigue, and its new yet old bottle design (a style that was easy to hang from hooks to avoid breakage).

Taking only 20 minutes to make, Rum Punch was quick to prepare but there were a few surprises when it came to this recipe. First and foremost, the darkness of the rum. I’m not a big rum connoisseur but perusing this section of the liqueur store yielded quite a range in rum colors from light to dark, as well as flavors  (everything from natural to banana to coconut) which in turn alters the end result of your cocktail. The recipe calls for three other fruit juices as companions – oranges, limes and pineapples plus a final flourish of sprinkled nutmeg, so that is something to keep in mind when selecting your personal preference in the rum department.

The second surprise was a difference in taste between room temperature punch and chilled punch. Vastly different! Room temperature punch tastes like all the sharp angles of everything… alcoholic, acidic, bitter and sweet.  But chilled punch (3 hours or more) is much more soft, subtle and well rounded. The chilling process gives this punch time to mellow and blend so that nothing jumps out significantly enough to say “oh this is full of lime”or “this is full of orange” or “this is full of rum” etc.  Instead you just notice that is full of flavor. Ideally, this is what you want in a mixed drink – a sharing of the spotlight when it comes to taste. And that’s exactly what this rum punch – Barbados style – delivers. It’s smooth, sweet and light without being syrupy, heavy and headachey.

I also loved the 1970’s color palette this drink produced… walnut, orange, lime green… it is definitely decade appropriate as far as aesthetic:)

RUM PUNCH

(12 or more servings)

Juice of 6-8 limes

1 cup granulated sugar

2 cups water (or 1 cup orange juice and 1 cup pineapple juice)

1 fifth bottle dark rum (that’s  750ml of rum)

5 dashes of Angostura bitters

Grated nutmeg

Combine the lime juice, sugar, water (or orange/pineapple juices), rum and bitters in a lrge bowl.

A trio of juices! Clockwise from top left: lime. pineapple, orange.

Pour the mixture into a large pitcher and chill thoroughly. (Note: I strained the cocktail mixture before putting it in a pitcher since there was lots of lime pulp floating around the top from the freshly squeezed limes. I recommend chilling the mixture for 3+ hours in the fridge.)

Serve in small tumblers, adding a touch of nutmeg to each drink. {Note: If you don’t have a large enough pitcher, which was my case, you can serve punch in a number of different vessels. This was a trifle dish, which works well because of the roomy basin and pedestal base. But you can also other kitchen items like a large bowl, a big vase or a trio of flip top glass water bottles.}

Garnish for both the bowl and the individual tumblers was made by thinly slicing limes and oranges.

The third interesting thing I learned while adventuring in the kitchen this week has nothing to do with the rum punch recipe itself but more to do with the country. Specifically with the music of Barbados. Tropical drinks, beach scenes and local music are a natural fit when it comes discussing island ambiance. Since each one compliments the other, i was excited to tie-in some local music with our local cocktail.  Originally, I thought Barbados would be flush with sounds of steel drums and tinkly piano music. But in actuality, the country’s music scene is rooted much more in tribal sounds from Africa, flute songs from England and narrative story telling.

lord-invader-1950’s album cover

Under British rule until the 1960’s, Barbados’ music scene grew out of tuk bands in the 1600’s – a combination of melodies and sounds which reflected African drums, English religious ballads, and Spanish arrangements. A distinct sound that was representative of all the cultures that inhabited “Little England” as Barbados was first called. By the 1920’s and 1930’s, a popular jazz and calypso culture distinguished Barbados from other Caribbean island music – sounds which still influence musicians and bands today.

Clockwise from top: Lord Invader; Harry Belafonte; the Andrew Sisters, Rhianna; Lord Kitchener

One of the most popular artists ever to come from Barbados is Rhianna. But many decades before her, in the early years of the 20th century, there were highly lauded and famously recognized artists like Atilla the Hun (1892-1962), Lord Kitchener (1922-2000) and Lord Invader (1914-1961). They were responsible for popularizing the unique Caribbean beats that spread throughout the islands, including Barbados, and filling the airwaves with clap-your-hands drum beats and sing-songy storytelling. To highlight this interesting sound, I made a playlist on Spotify that features popular music of Barbados from the 1930’s – 2000’s to accompany this post.

Rum Punch Playlist on Spotify

The playlist opens with Lord Invader and his wistful song titled Barbados, which was produced in early in the 1950’s.  Traveling back and forth through the 19th century to include songs by Lord Invader’s comrades, popular favorites by Harry Belafonte and the Andrew Sisters, the list finishes out with a song from Krosfyah – a contemporary, modern day calypso band, so that you can see how the sounds of Barbados have evolved (yet still remained similar) over the course of a century.

Vintage Calypso album covers

There are 23 songs included in the playlist, some of which you’ve heard before and others which may be new to you.  Each of them are ideal companions to a cold glass of rum punch, day dreams of palm tree paradises, and impromptu dance lessons around your kitchen. One of the fun things about traveling internationally via the kitchen, is the ability to transport yourself to another place via food, and a festive atmosphere. The music of Barbados is bright and energetic and the rum punch jubilant. If the winter weather in your neck of the woods has you feeling cold and dreary, hope this post brightens your day!

Cheers to middle of the week celebrations, rum drinks that you make dance and music that makes you sing out loud:) Join us next week as we head out into week five of the International Vintage Recipe Tour. Our next stop takes us back to Europe where we explore a recipe that revolves around cheese and communal dining, something that was all the rage in the 1960’s. See you next Wednesday in…

All Around Austria via Food and Festivity: An Interview and a Recipe

From the land of Johann Strauss, Mozart, Gustav Klimt, and my lovely friend, Viktoria, comes the latest escapade in our around-the-world culinary adventure. Welcome to Week Three of the International Vintage Recipe Tour 2020!

Last week, we were in Australia dissecting the history of a favorite Aussie cake that turned out to be inspired by a famous woman from England. This week, we are heading here…

… to picturesque Austria… a country known for its gorgeous snow-capped mountains, stunning cityscapes and panoramic vistas. On the menu is Viennese Chicken – a saucy vegetable-laden vintage recipe that is perfect fare for cold winter weather.

Viennese Chicken

In this post, we will not only be cooking something warm and hearty, but we will also be getting to know the warm-spirited Viktoria, an Austrian native who has been living and working in the U.S. for the past year and a half. She’s about to head back home to Europe, but before she bids Nashville goodbye, I caught up with her to discuss the food culture in her native country, how it compares and contrasts with ours here in America, and to see what she knows about the mysterious Austrian recipe that’s the focus of our international menu this week. She also recommends a list of the most interesting things to see (and eat!) in Austria, reflects on which aspects of her U.S. adventure she will miss most and shares how one particular type of American restaurant stole her heart.

Photo courtesy of Drew Beamer.

Our recipe this week is an easy one to make, so before we get to cooking, grab a glass of Riesling or an Austrian beer and get to know a beautiful part of the globe through the eyes of a local. I’m so pleased to introduce to you to Viktoria, art director by day, intrepid explorer by night (and on the weekends!)…

In The Vintage Kitchen: Tell us a little about the city in Austria in which you are from…

Viktoria: Well, first and foremost I cannot call it a city ha – I grew up in a very small town, called Stans, with only around 2000 people. It’s one of those charming little places with one tiny grocery store, one butcher, one bakery, one bank and so on… but hey, that’s everything you basically need, right? 

Stans im Karwendel

Stans is a town within the state of the Tyrol – one of 9 states within Austria. It’s in the western part of Austria, surrounded by the Alps, yet only 1h away from the German border in the north and the Italian border in the south. (Yes, dimension in Europe are a little bit different.)

What are some things you missed most about Austria while living in the United States?

The 4 F’s: Family, Food, Fall Fest and Fasching!

1) Family: The thing I missed the most is definitely my family. Just to be clear, I was never homesick, from the second I stepped out of the airplane at BNA airport I immediately knew I found my second home away from home, but my family and I are very close so it was definitely a big change for me to not see or spend time with them every other day.

2) Food: I am not a picky person at all, I have no allergies or intolerances and I definitely have what Americans would call a “goat stomach.” Having said that, it is not hard for me to adjust to a country’s culinary culture. Besides that Austria and America have lots of similarities in food, so from the very beginning I was sure I would not starve overseas. Yet, nothing is as good as granny’s Schweinebraten or my sister’s chocolate mousse cake. People who know me, know that I am not a big fan of sweets, but man, let me tell you what, I just can’t resist it!

The fancy cows of Fall Fest!

3) Fall Fest: I’m sure people are familiar with the Octoberfest in Munich. Our fall fest is similar to that, beside the fact that we also have a cattle drive. Farmers drive their cows down from the mountain meadows into the valley where they spend the winter months. People from Italy, Germany and France come to see this spectacle, which happens every year during the last two weeks of September. The cows wear bells and flower arrangements; it’s almost like a fashion show for cows if you want to put it that way ha. There is a farmers market, souvenir booths, food courts, live music, and, most importantly, the men and women dress in snazzy Lederhosen and beautiful Dirndls.

The colorful and creative world known as Fasching. Photo courtesy of austria-forum.org

4) Fasching: It’s the Austrian word for carnival. Fasching season starts on the 6th of January and ends on the day of Ash Wednesday, which is February 26th this year. Within this period we have days like Fasching Tuesday or Silly Thursday. People dress up in conspicuous costumes and we have parades with floats and wild colorful parties. This time of the year even has its very own pastry, specifically dedicated to Fasching– The “Faschings-Krapfen”.

Faschings Krapfen! Photo via pinterest.

How is daily life different in the U.S. vs Austria?

There’s actually not a big difference. You go to work, run your errands, and meet up with friends – the basics. I think the biggest difference for me personally is that back in Austria I had to get up at 6AM at the latest to drive to the railway station, catch my train to Innsbruck (the capital and biggest city of the Tyrol) where I had to catch a bus in order to get to work.

The beautiful cityscape of Innsbruck, Austria

We Austrians love out public transportation system ha! Here in Nashville I only have to hop into my car and I’m at work 10 minutes later. So yes, I’m definitely super spoiled when it comes to sleeping late in the morning now! But besides that I think Americans and Austrians have a pretty similar everyday life.

Since 2018, Viktoria’s U.S. home base has been the city of Nashville. Photo courtesy of Tanner Boriack.

What are some things you’ll miss most about America once you return home?

Just circle back to question 3 and you will have your answer ha! No, to be serious, I had a great time here in the U.S.: I worked a job that I loved, I was part of a culture that I enjoyed inhaling and most importantly, I was surrounded by so many loving and caring people. It’s almost unbelievable what great personalities I met and the close friends I made on this journey.

Oh, and brisket! I love brisket; unfortunately that’s not a thing in Austria.

What is your most favorite Austrian food? And what is your most favorite American food?

I wish I could give you a definite answer for this questions but I cannot. And I love that fact! There is way too much good food out there and it would be a waste to focus myself on only one most favorite thing. That’s why I’ll give you my top 3:
Viktoria’s favorite Austrian foods -Clockwise from top: Kaiserschmarn, Schweinebraten and Cheese and Spinach Dumplings
For Austria it is definitely Schweinebraten. The one they have at the Bavarian Beerhouse here is not bad at all but in no way comparable to the Austrian original. Schweinebraten is followed by cheese and spinach dumplings. Unlike what Americans call dumplings, these are more like balls of batter that contains a lot of different ingredients and gets boiled and served with lots of melted butter. We even have a festival to celebrate our love for dumplings in the Tyrol. And last but not least the – the“Kaiserschmarn.” I looked up the translation and the dictionary suggested “sweet cut-up pancake with raisins.” We serve it with powdered sugar and apple mousse. It’s a main dish as well as a desert – a dish that deserves to be among my top 3.

When it comes to American cuisine it’s the brisket that would probably make it on the winner’s rostrum. I am a meat lover and since I didn’t know what brisket was before I moved to the States I immediately fell in love with this dark smoked delicacy. Another thing that I am hardly able to resist is a Nashville specialty: Hot Chicken! Wings, thighs, breasts, battered and fried or grilled – I don’t care, I love them all, as long as they come with a hot and spicy Buffalo sauce.

Are you familiar with Viennese Chicken? If so, do you have any stories that relate to it in some way? Maybe you’ve made a version yourself or this was something you mom made?

Unfortunately I’m not familiar with this specific recipe. It reminds me a little bit of “Jäger Schnitzel” (“hunters-schnitzel”). It’s either a pork or chicken schnitzel, served with spaetzle and creamy mushroom sauce.

Jager Schnitzel

Also, cheese speatzle is a very famous Austrian dish. Speatzle are little pasta dough twirlings, mixed with melted cheese, garnished with cheese and topped with fried onions, usually served in a traditional cast iron pan. Super filling but super yummy!

If someone was traveling to Austria for the first time, which top five places would you recommend they visit first?

First and foremost is definitely Vienna. Yes, there are thousands of tourists but there is a good reason for that. Vienna offers so many things to see and do: outstanding architecture, fascinating history, open minded and hospitable locals, a wide culinary palette, from traditional Austrian dishes to food inspired by different countries from all over the world, to the newest food trends; you will find it all in Vienna.

When you come to Austria you should also pay Carinthia, our most southern state, a visit. Carinthia’s biggest lake, the Worthersee lake is one of Austria’s most famous summer destinations. It appeals not only to those who want to canoe across the lake, but also spelunkers who will want to check out several caves, including Griffen Stalactite Cave, which is considered Austria’s most colorful cave. Those who are vintage car enthusiasts may enjoy a visit to Gmund, birthplace of the Porsche, or to the large Villach Automotive Museum with its collection of cars, motorcycles and more.

I studied and worked in Innsbruck for 4 years. It’s this great historical jewel surrounded by stunning scenery. Rumor has it that Innsbruck replaced Vienna as the most expensive city to live in. Innsbruck, with a name that translates as “bridge over the inn,” (Inn is the name of the river that runs through Innsbruck) is an all-season tourist destination.

It is internationally known for its winter sports, having hosted the Winter Olympics in 1964 and 1976. But this Tyrolean city offers more than just great skiing. It offers a good mix of cathedrals, such as Hofkirche, which houses the tomb of Emperor Maximilian I; the Schloss Ambras, which has a collection of paintings and armor; and the Bell Museum, a nod to 400 years of bell-making.

The gorgeous town of Halstatt

More beautiful scenery can be found in the Salzkammergut. It is a beautiful resort area that starts with Salzburg and heads east into a land of lakes. Sparkling clean lakes, green hills, wonderful mountains, romantic towns like St.Wolfgang and Hallstatt make up this region. Travelers who have seen the movie The Sound Of Music will know what this lake region looks like, because that movie was filmed in and around the city of Salzburg and the neighboring Salzkammergut region. For those who enjoy classical music, a visit of the city Salzburg, the home of the Mozartkugel and birth house of Mozart is worthwhile.

Mozart’s Birthplace in Salzburg, Austria

And last but not least St Anton am Arlberg. It is a must visit for all winter sport enthusiasts. This town is widely regarded as the leading ski resort destination in Austria. Located in the Tyrol, this village offers serious, legendary ski terrain that caters to a mixed level of abilities. Often attracting adventurous youths, St Anton is notorious for living up to the saying “work hard, play hard”. The vast landscape welcomes its loyal winter crowd, as well as its summer mountaineers, who come to trek the landscape each year.

Here’s a very accurate video about the best places in Austria that I can highly recommend watching. It even taught me things I didn’t know about:

Have you been to Vienna before? If so what is your impression of it?

Yes, in fact I studied and lived there for over a year when I was working for McCann Erickson. Vienna is the capital of Austria and such a multifaceted city. Vienna is not only famous for its architecture and history but also for its worldly and cosmopolitan vibe. I loved grabbing my laptop and just hanging out in one of many cozy coffee houses and watch people strolling by. Vienna is a very lively city and there is always something going on for everyone.

Every aspect of Vienna looks like a perfect picture postcard!

Also, since everything here is kind of food related, I want to use this opportunity to resolve one of the most misconstrued stories of the culinary world – the story of the croissant!
The earliest known occurrence of the croissant dates all the way back to 1683 Vienna, Austria. The legend takes place during the Ottoman Turk siege of the city; a baker apparently heard the Turks tunneling under the walls of the city as he lit his ovens to bake the morning bread. He quickly sounded an alarm, and the military collapsed the tunnel, saving the city. To celebrate, the baker baked a crescent-shaped bread, in the shape of the crescent moon of the Turkish flag.

And for whom this is not enough, the Vienna Kipferl pastry actually dates back to the 13th century. Ergo, Austria invented the ‘croissant’. It is a sore topic for this Austrian, so thanks for letting me vent publicly – ha!

Who taught you how to cook?

It was definitely my school education, maybe combined with me having always been a connoisseur of delicious food and being curious about new recipes. Many people don’t know that I went to Tourism College for 5 years between the age of 14 and 19. Besides majoring in tourism management and marketing I also had to complete a 4 year apprenticeship where I was thought how to cook as well as learn to fold at least 40 different shapes of napkins. But let’s be serious for a second – the Tirol is one of the top tourism regions in Austria and skilled professionals within this sector are highly in demand. My interest in tourism wasn’t the main reason why I went to Tourism College though – it was because of the language studies they offered. I studied German, English, Italian, French and Russian. Languages always fascinated me. Long story short, this is how I learned cooking. If you are trained on how to cook a 5-course meal for 10 people all by yourself, you can also cook a box of pasta just for you.

What are some of your favorite things to cook?

Speaking of pasta! I love love love pasta in all variations with all sauces possible. Pasta creations are my favorite! Pasta might sound boring to some people but you can create so many creative delicious variations with all kinds of ingredients. I am definitely always looking for new adventurous and interesting recipes out there; I like trying new things.

Viktoria with her mom, sister and niece

When it comes to traditional food though, I would never even try to compete with my sister. You would think making the perfect Schweinebraten takes decades of experience and at least 2 cut off fingers, but at the young age of only 32 she has already perfected the recipe for a sublime Schweinebraten with Sauerkraut, potatoes and breaded dumplings.

When you return home to Austria, what is the first thing you will eat?

I will most like have a Kaiser Roll with smoked bacon and a bottle of ice-cold Zipfer beer (it is a local beer and my most favorite).

You might want to ask why I am so sure about this. The answer is simply: because whenever I go back home my family picks me up from the airport and brings exactly these two things with them! What a lovely tradition it has become.

Do you have a favorite restaurant back in Austria? If so, what about it did you like? 

There definitely is. Let me mention one thing first: If you are looking for a place to eat in the Tirol region and you find places which names include “Gasthaus” or “Gasthof” you can’t go wrong. These are local restaurants with local food and local specialties.
And when it comes to Tyrolean delicious dishes I definitely have a favorite restaurant.

It is called “Gasthof Herrnhaus” (see “Gasthof, you can’t go wrong). I not only really like this place because I once did an internship in their kitchen but moreover because they serve great local food for a moderate price. Don’t get me wrong, I know that good food and especially good quality has its price but at Gasthof Herrnhaus you really get something for your money, and that is one thing that Tyrolean hospitality is about.

Interior of Gasthof Herrnhaus

How is food and/or the culture surrounding food different in the US than in Austria?

I have two approaches to this question.

One word: barfood.

Unlike America, in Austria we either have a bar where you can get something to drink, or a restaurant where you can get something to eat. If I think about trying to find a place in Austria where I can just hangout, watch my favorite sports team, eat my delicious chicken wings and drink a beer, I will probably not be able to come up with a single place. I am very simple as you can see ha.

Downton Nashville Bar Scene. Photo courtesy of Drew Hays

There are great restaurants in both, America and Austria, of course, but when it comes to the barfood culture as I call it, there is definitely a big difference and something I would love to have in Austria as well.

Before food is served on our plates it has to be bought. And I think this is a big difference between America and Austria. My first grocery-shopping-trip to Kroger took me a striking two hours! Can you believe this ha. By now I have become a total pro as to knowing in what aisle the items are that I need, but when I first moved here I was totally lost. The overwhelming amount of goods and different products completely over stimulated me. And please don’t get me started on my first experience with a self check-out counter ha.

One event that I consider myself lucky of having been able to be a part of is Thanksgiving. In Austria we have something that’s called “Ernte Dank” which means being thankful for this falls crops, but it is neither a very special nor a family get together kind of event. I was invited twice to my landlady’s nephew’s house for Thanksgiving and I always had a great time there. People getting together for good (and way too much) food, quality time, maybe some football and pumpkin shooting is a wonderful occasion. I am very happy and thankful for having been invited to this annually family event.

When you are not busy designing beautiful things for work, what do you like to do with your free time? Do you have any hobbies?

Funny enough, I would say my hobby is looking for new hobbies. I mean I like to work out, cook, paint, go for a walk, and be in nature but I always try to find new interesting activities. Recently I have been into axe throwing and it turns out I am actually quite good at it. It is a lot of fun and will definitely help you forget some of the everyday stress. When it comes to watching sports, I definitely count soccer and ice hockey to my most favorite kinds of sport. When I have to think about an activity that satisfies me the most though, I have to say it is definitely meeting up with friends, having a beer and simply spending a good time together with the people I love.

 

What are three places in Austria that most inspire you and why? 

1) Wolfsklamm Gorge, Tirol:

The Wolfsklamm Gorge impresses nature lovers with thundering waterfalls and emerald green pools. The location of this trail is very convenient for me because I can start the hike right from my doorstep. I used to go there a lot with my dad when I was a kid.

Walking through the Wolfsklamm Canyon in the Karwendel Alps, Stans in Tyrol, Alps, Tyrol, Austria, Europe

The beautiful waterfalls, timber bridges and the galleries carved into the rock have always fascinated me- it seems so magical. Its 354 steps, to be precise, that lead upwards to the pilgrimage monastery of St. Georgenberg, where we always used to rest and stop for a bite to eat because they have a great restaurant up there. It’s a picturesque and magical hike that makes you feel like you are in a different world.

Kloster St. Georgenberg in Tirol

2) Millstätter Lake, Carinthia:

My stepdad is from this region of Austria where my grandparents still run a farm up on a mountain. Whenever I go there to visit them I can’t get enough of the spectacular view on the lake…

especially on a summer day when the setting sun is reflecting in the waters surface and makes the entire like sparkle. It’s a beautiful place where the time seems to stop whenever you soak up this stunning view. I love to go there to recharge my batteries.

3) My grandma’s attic:

A place you will not find in a tourist guide – my grandma’s attic. My grandma is Italian (that might explain my love for Italian food) and she used to run a souvenir shop. After the shop closed she kept a lot of the stuff, my grandma likes keeping stuff in general, she wouldn’t even throw away an old and broken picture frame. I loved to play in my grandma’s attic when I was a kid because I always found new ancient items and made up stories for them. It’s for sure a so repository for inspiration!

Who or what inspires your cooking? 

I think I am a typical millennial when it comes to answering this question. Most of the time it simply happens that a recipe, of one of the social media food channels that I follow, pops up in my feed. I save it for later and whenever I feel like trying something new I recall it and it tells me what ingredients I need and how to cook it – super convenient.

One time it happened though, that I found an old cookbook that my grandma used to use. You know, one of those with a handwritten font and no photos ha. What an adventure it was to cook a recipe from this book, completely without any pictures to show how the outcome would look. Now that I remember how much fun this was, I think I should do it more often. Maybe not for family gatherings, at least not without doing a test run first. I love to cook for my family. The feedback has always been good so far, at least they keep asking me to cook for them ha.

If you could invite any five famous people (living or dead) to dinner who would you choose and why?  

That is a tough question but considering my current mood and time here are the 5 people I would invite right now and right away:

Four of five ideal guests at Viktoria’s dinner party. Clockwise from top left: Hermione Granger, Anthony Bourdain, Kurt Cobain, Nick Offerman

Hermione Granger: I hope movie characters count as well. I always wanted to meet her. Hermione was literally my role model when I was kid: she is brave, smart, modest and a very loyal friend. Maybe she would teach me a thing or two about magic. I love magic; I think everyone should have some magic in their lives. Wingardium Leviosa ha!

Kurt Cobain: I read his biography when I was 12 (yep, I was a weird kid) but there has always been something that fascinated me about this guy. He always conveyed the image of this very anguished and beyond his time creative person. I would have a lot of questions for that dude. Also, I am curious to see how he would act at a dinner party in 2020.

Nick Offerman: He is super interesting, entertaining and also kind of a genius. He definitely has an appreciation for some of the finer things in life and I think 5 minutes with him would leave an impression, so a dinner party can only be fantastic. Also he can probably treat a steak better than I, so he’s on grill duty.

My uncle Michael: He was my mom’s younger brother and my godfather. I was born in November 1993; he passed away from cancer shortly after my baptism in 94 at the age of 30. I never had the change to meet him. According to my mom I apparently inherited his assertiveness and my love for motorcycles. On his tombstone they engraved the swallow tattoo that he had. I got the same tattoo on my lower leg.

Anthony Bourdain: His love of great adventures, new friends, fine food and drink and the remarkable stories of the not only culinary world made him a unique storyteller that I would love to meet. Also, I need someone to watch the food and the kitchen while I hang and practice my magic tricks with Hermione. 😉

I think we would be a fun round: Good food, great music, fun entertainment, some magic and family, sounds like a good combination to me.

What is one goal that you hope to accomplish in 2020?

2020 is going to be a very interesting year for me I would say. There are lots of uncertainties. People who know me will tell you that I am a person who always has a plan A, B and at least C. My plan A for 2020 is to go back home to Austria, since my visa expires, and apply for a new one in March. I have made the decision for myself that I will not have a precise plan B or C this time. Simply because it will take me some time to process a possible failure of plan A. So even if I do not know what is going to happen, I am still very excited about seeing what this year has in store for me.

Karwendel wandern Stanser Joch

There is one very specific goal that I have for 2020 though: I want to scale the “Stanser Joch”. My dad keeps telling me: “You are not a genuine local (Stanser) if you haven’t been at the summit cross and written down your name in the book of Stanser Joch.” Sounds like ancient mythology, but it’s not, simply something my dad will keep rubbing under my nose until the end of days if I won’t eventually hike up there with him ha.

Do you think you’ll ever come back to live and work in the U.S. again? (Secretly, I hope so!) 

Thank you for saying that haha. I do hope so too. When I moved to the US in 2018, if you had told me where I would be today, I would not have believed it! I have enjoyed my time and have loved living in Nashville. I definitely widened my horizons, professionally as well as personally. Every place you go and every person you meet is a part of your storybook. My time here was one of the most enriching experiences of my -still very young I should say- life. So yes, I really hope there will be another U.S. chapter in my storybook. 🙂

Now that we are all experts on the festive foods and vibrant landscape of Austria, thanks to Viktoria, we can get to work on making Viennese Chicken. So far, the easiest recipe of the Tour to make, it is also the most obscure when it comes to its origin story. It even managed to stump our interviewee, who likened it to something along the lines of a somewhat more familiar Austrian favorite – schnitzel.

Viennese Chicken made from a 1971 recipe

Close but not exactly, the difference between Viennese Chicken and Vienna Schnitzel lies in bread crumbs. The latter has them, the former does not. Similar also to Italian and French recipes for Chicken Cacciatore or Hungarian Parikahendl, it seems that Viennese Chicken (at least in the way that we are making it here) has fallen into obscurity. Fantastic!

This is exactly the kind of recipe we were hoping to uncover this year during the Tour – something that is delicious but barely known about. At least when it comes to recipe searches online. The only recipe that I could find that was almost exact (but again not totally) was a reference to a Boston Cooking School recipe that was posted on a cooking website back in 1996. The Boston Cooking School operated from the 1870’s to the 1950’s, which means this recipe could have first emerged during that early time period, then resurfaced in the 1970’s (when this recipe was published) and then fell out of favor sometime after the 1990’s.

The only spices in Viennese Chicken are simple ones – paprika, salt and pepper

Whatever the case may be, I’m glad to be drawing attention to it again. A healthier alternative to pounded, pan fried and breaded schnitzel, Viennese Chicken is much more similar to a hearty beef pot roast or a winter stew. Ready in under an hour, including prep time and cooking, it requires only one big pan and one big spice – paprika. The chicken gently cooks in its own juices with the help of a homemade chicken stock and a few stew-happy vegetables, so it’s a breeze to make and only gets more flavorful the next day and the day after that.

I followed the recipe exactly, except that I wound up using smoked paprika (a personal preference) instead of regular paprika and I wound up adding another 1/2 teaspoon of salt and about 1 tablespoon of freshly squeezed lemon juice to the sauce at the very end. I’ll include those extras in the ingredient list as well, but before adding those two last minute additions though, you might want to test the sauce yourself to see what you think.

Also, making homemade chicken stock, as recommended in the recipe, is an easy and fulfilling task that really brings out a round bouquet of flavors in this dish. That recipe is included here too. The stock simmers on the stove for an hour and a half, but if you are running short on time, you could substitute pre-packaged stock from the grocery. {One side note: I like to use chicken legs in my stock recipe in place of wings and backbones. Once the chicken has thoroughly cooked in the broth I cut the meat from the bones for use in Indie’s dog food. It’s a time saver step for me but not a necessary one for you.}

Homemade Chicken Stock

(makes 1 3/4 quarts)

3 pounds chicken necks, wings, and backs (or legs!)

10 cups water

1 onion, peeled

2 ribs celery

2 sprigs parsley

salt to taste (I used about 1 teaspoon Kosher sea salt)

10 peppercorns

Place all the ingredients in a large kettle and bring to a boil. Simmer, uncovered, for an hour and a half, skimming the surface as necessary. Strain through cheesecloth and boil rapidly, uncovered to reduce the stock to about 7 cups. Skim off all the fat and chill.

Viennese Chicken

Serves 4

2 tablespoons butter

1 onion, finely chopped

1 chicken (2 to 3 pounds), cut into serving pieces

1 green pepper, chopped

2 carrots, chopped

6 mushrooms, sliced

1 tomato, skinned and diced

1 cup chicken stock

1 teaspoon paprika ( I used smoked paprika)

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

1/4 cup sour cream

Additional – 1/2 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

Melt the butter in a large heavy saucepan. Add the onion and saute until tender but not browned. Add the chicken pieces and brown on all sides.

Add the green pepper, carrots, mushrooms, tomato, stock, paprika, 1/2 teaspoon salt and pepper.

Bring to a boil. Cover and simmer twenty five to thirty five minutes, until the chicken is tender.

{A little tip:  My big heavy duty saucepan never came with a lid, so when a recipe calls for a cover I just use tin foil and seal it really tight around the edges. This works perfectly in place of a conventional lid, but this does remind me for this year-long cooking project, I should really invest in some new pots and pans!}

Remove the lid…

In a separate bowl, blend the sour cream and flour together and then stir it into the pan. {Note: It’s a little awkward to smoothly stir the sour cream mixture into the saucepan because of the chicken, so I suggest removing about a cup of liquid from the pan and stirring that into the sour cream bowl, blending it thoroughly, and then incorporate that mixture back into the pan.}

Toss everything to coat…

At this stage, taste the sauce and determine whether you want to add an additional 1/2 teaspoon salt and the lemon juice. Once seasoned to your preference, transfer the chicken to a warm platter, and spoon the sauce over the top. Garnish the dish with lemon slices and fresh parsley and serve.

Good companion foods with Viennese Chicken would be anything in the potato family (mashed, baked, boiled, sauteed), any kind of rustic bread or baguette, any vegetable that is bulky yet light like peas or cauliflower or just a simple dish of rice or pasta.

Originally, before I began actually cooking this recipe I thought it was going to be very light and creamy in color and texture. But as the onions caramelized while the chicken was browning on each side, they built a foundation of flavor that turned the broth a dark brown like the color of soy sauce. When the sour cream and flour were added at the end, it brightened the whole dish up a bit but left all that slow roasted, caramel-like flavor. If you aren’t a red meat eater, but long for hearty, comforting foods like pot roast or beef stew, especially on these cold winter days,  than this just might become your new favorite. I hope you guys love this recipe so much that you help it become a trend again. It is definitely worthy of  some new time in the spotlight!

Cheers to Viktoria for sharing her Austria with us, and cheers to new (old) recipes coming out of the dark recesses of history once again! If you try this recipe, please let us know your thoughts in the comments section below. If you ever get a chance to visit Austria – stop by Stans and say hi to Viktoria. She’ll be the one in the beautiful dirndl that’s ready to greet you in five languages.

Join us next Wednesday, Week Four of the International Vintage Recipe Tour 2020, as we island hop our way over to Barbados, where will be livening up the night with a little party atmosphere. Stay tuned!

A Celebration for Australia: Queen Mother’s Cake & The Royal Lady Who Inspired It

Hello and welcome to Week Two of the International Vintage Recipe Tour 2020! This week’s cooking adventure takes us 7,200 miles away from the lamb-stuffed food of Armenia to the beautiful land of Australia, the only stop on our Recipe Tour this year, that is both a country and a continent.

As you all know, Australia has been in the news quite a bit these days due to the devastating wildfires burning throughout the country. In an effort to help the recovery process and because this is our featured destination of the week, 50% of all Vintage Kitchen shop sales made between January 15th-January 22nd will be donated to the Kangaroo Island Wildlife Park. There people are working tirelessly to save the koalas, kangaroos and other wildlife harmed by the fires that burnt a large portion of their natural habitat. This donation will help feed, shelter and supply the island’s animals with much-needed medical care and attention. I selected Kangaroo Island Wildlife Park because they specifically addressed through social media, the need for food supplies for the animals, all of whom are national icons and unique treasures of the country.  If you wish to donate to Kangaroo Island Wildlife Park directly, please visit their donation page here.

A koala undergoing care at Kangaroo Island Wildlife Park

Because we are visiting countries alphabetically via the kitchen on this Recipe Tour, (a decision made last summer when the whole international idea first came about), it just so happened that we landed on Australia during an environmental crisis.  At times like this, when an area of the world is going through a major upset, it seems trivial and unnecessarily indulgent to draw attention to something like dessert.

But one thing I learned after experiencing 9/11 while living in New York City, is the significance of small pleasures. Familiar experiences like watching a favorite tv show or listening to music or eating a favorite food during a time of disaster can bring a much-needed sense of comfort and temporary joy. Even if it’s just a mild distraction in a day full of struggle. Our featured recipe this week is a homemade cake. Usually cake is most defined as a celebratory food – one that draws people together, raises spirits and commemorates life, new beginnings or accomplishments. It is one of the most optimistic and joyful foods we eat. One of the few that can automatically bring people together and instantly raise spirits. So it is with that in mind, that I focus this post. For the days and weeks and months ahead for Australia, I wish endless amounts of cake and all the symbolism that such a sweet treat stands for… love, support, community, optimism and comfort.

In this week’s post, we’ll be making an Australian favorite – Queen Mother’s Cake, a flourless chocolate cake that reflects a cosmopolitan cross-cultural heritage. We’ll also learn more about the vivacious English woman behind the recipe’s name, including her special connection to the Land Down Under.

Do you recognize her? Long before Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle captured headlines, this famous royal woman dazzled the world with her vivacious spirit and warm personality. If you guessed that she was a lady, a duchess or a queen you’d be right on all three fronts. She is Lady Elizabeth Bowes Lyon, also known as the Duchess of York, Queen Elizabeth and the Queen Mother. If you were intimately involved with the royals during her lifetime, you’d know her by one more moniker too – her family nickname “Cake” which was earned because of her sheer delight and interest in anything resembling a cake-like dessert. This was Elizabeth on her wedding day, the start of her journey towards eventually becoming Queen Mother…

Elizabeth on wedding day in April 1923.

and this was her elaborate wedding cake…

Photo courtesy of royal.uk

On the Netflix show, The Crown, you’ll see Elizabeth portrayed by Victoria Hamilton on screen, a supporting character to Claire Foy’s Queen Elizabeth II …

Victoria Hamilton as Queen Elizabeth L in the Netflix show, The Crown

but in real life, for much of her life, Elizabeth the Queen Mother, was the star of her own spectacular show. A glittering jewel in the Royal Family, she was beloved for her warm demeanor, her cheerful personality and her ability to relate to people, most especially working-class women.

A world traveler throughout her life, she loved trying new things and surprising people with her authenticity, integrity, capability and willingness to be involved. If she went camping, she would set up her own tent. If she went fishing, she would catch her own dinner. If she wanted a new dress, she’d work out the initial designs herself. Witty, stylish, observational and fun to be around, Elizabeth was one of the most popular members of the Royal family from the time she stepped into the limelight as the bride of King George VI to the time of her death at the age of 101.

She visited Australia several times throughout her life, but her first impression of it in the 1920’s sealed her fondness for it for the rest of her life. In a letter home to her mother, in 1927 she wrote…

“It is most lovely country… The climate is marvellous – very hot sun and cool breezes, and we have both enjoyed ourselves up here in Queensland. The people are so nice & friendly, & the distances are so vast that it keeps them simple.”

Queen Elizabeth _ Canberra, Queensland Australia 1927. Photo courtesy of the National Archives of Australia

As the previous constitutional monarch of Australia (up until 1952), it’s easy to understand how Queen Mother’s Cake could be linked to Aussie history. But the origin story of this confectionary creation doesn’t start or stop there. Legend states that the cake was introduced to the Queen via a Polish pianist named Jan Smeterlin (1892-1967)…

who had first tasted the cake in Austria. Jan, in addition to being a talented piano player, was also a talented cook. It is unclear whether he brought the Austrian recipe home with him or if he created it from memory in his own kitchen, but either way , the story goes that he made the cake for the Queen one day while she was visiting him in the early 1950’s.  So in love with it did she fall that Queen Elizabeth requested a copy of the recipe from Jan and started baking it herself at the palace. Taking on new significance and a new name – Queen Mother’s Cake – it became the favorite cake that Elizabeth liked to offer to guests and it was the only cake that she insisted on making herself each time an occasion called for it.

With its glossy chocolate frosting, simple ingredients and fluffy, moist consistency, it is easy to see why this cake became a favorite, not only with the Queen and Jan Smeterlin, but also with all of England and Australia too.

So delicious, so easy to make and so fast to assemble, Queen Mother’s Cake tastes like a fudge frosted brownie but without the heft and density normally associated with a traditional flour-filled brownie. A dash of powdered instant coffee in the frosting gives a slight tangy contrast to the sweet cake and a dollop of freshly whipped cream perfectly unites all the flavors.

I’m always a fan of a cake that allows you a little creativity in the decorating department. Apparently many Australian bakers from earlier generations learned their pastry and confectionery skills from English artisans during the Victorian era which focused heavily on beautifully presented cakes and exquisite designs.  This stylized influence and interest in gorgeously crafted cakes has remained within the country over the past century, making Australians some of the most highly skilled cake decorators in the world.

The Queen Mother’s Cake is sort of a blank canvas of creativity though when it comes to the presentation department. Like the woman it was named after it is very amenable and open to all sorts of different design interpretations and embellishments.  This recipe just calls for a simple, smoothly frosted cake with no particular adornment though. In wanting to stay authentic to the recipe, I left my cake unadorned as well, but I couldn’t help adding some whip cream and a sprinkle of sliced almonds on each slice. There is something to be said about a good simple cake that requires minimal effort, but next time, it might be fun to experiment with a little extra design on top too.

Queen Mother’s Cake

(serves 12)

For the cake:

Fine bread crumbs

6 oz. fine quality sweet chocolate ( I used German baking chocolate that contained 48% cocoa)

3/4 cup sweet butter

3/4 cup granulated sugar

6 eggs, seperated

6 oz. finely grated almonds

Pinch of salt

Icing

For the icing:

1/2 cup heavy cream

1 rounded teaspoon decaffeinated instant coffee (I used Starbucks Via)

8 oz. fine-quality sweet chocolate, broken into pieces ( I used German baking chocolate that contained 48% cocoa)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Butter a 9″ inch spring-form pan. Line the butter with waxed paper (parchment paper) and butter the paper. Dust the sides and bottom with fine bread crumbs. Set aside.

Melt the chocolate in the top of a double-boiler. Remove the heat and cool.

Cream the butter and sugar very well. Add the egg yolks one at a time, and beat until smooth. Stir in the cooled chocolate and almonds.

Beat the egg whites with the salt until stiff but not dry. Adding one-third of the egg-whites at a time, fold carefully into the chocolate mixture.

Pour into the prepared pan…

and bake twenty minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees and bake 45 minutes longer . Remove from the oven, place on a wet towel, and cool.

When cool, remove the cake from the pan. If the top is uneven, level it with a thin sharp knife. Place the cake on waxed paper (or parchment)…

Next make the icing. Heat the cream in a heavy saucepan until it just barely begins to boil. Add the instant coffee and stir to dissolve…

then add the chocolate. After a minute or two, remove the saucepan from the heat and stir constantly until the chocolate is completely melted.

Let cool a few minutes until just barely tepid. Poor icing over the top of cake.  Using a spatula, completely cover the top and sides.

Let stand at room temperature until the icing sets, then transfer to a cake platter. Gather up all your friends and your family, your co-workers, your neighbors, your party-goers, your joy-seekers. Then, get to celebrating. Raise a fork to Australia and to all that they have managed to achieve in the face of adversity. Raise a fork to optimism and to courage, to comfort and support. To cake. And to carrying on towards a brighter day.

Join us next Wednesday, Week Three of the International Vintage Recipe Tour 2020, as we head out on our next epicurean adventure… Austria, where we will be making a saucy recipe and discussing all things food and travel with a modern-day local. Stay tuned!

The International Vintage Recipe Tour: {Week 1} Armenian Stuffed Meat Balls

Welcome to Week 1 of the International Vintage Recipe Tour 2020! If you missed the previous blog post a few days ago, this is week #1 of a year-long culinary adventure as we cook our way through 45 countries in 12 months, courtesy of recipes from the 1971 edition of The New York Times International Cook Book. If you are all caught up and ready to explore, then cheers to our travels. Let’s get started…

COUNTRY #1: Armenia

In today’s post, we are headed to Armenia via the kitchen, to prepare a traditional heritage food packed with protein and whole grains, and to learn more about this exotic country’s history thanks to the publication of a modern day memoir.

I must confess right off the bat, before I began this cooking project I knew absolutely nothing about Armenia, other than the fact that it is where the paternal side of the Kardashian clan hails from. Pronounced R-Me-Knee-A (not R-Min-E-A!), and  nestled between Turkey, Georgia and Iran, Armenia is a small country that could easily be missed, depending on the age of the map you are consulting…

Located in Western Asia, a section of the world which also includes Middle Eastern countries,  Armenians consider themselves neither Middle Eastern nor Asian but distinctly European. Armenia is the birthplace of the apricot and home to the oldest winery in the world (which dates back 6000 years). The capital city of Yerevan predates Rome, and is considered one of the oldest inhabited capital cities in the world. On the food front, their traditional cuisine has been influenced and enhanced by the closeness of their surrounding neighbors, giving Armenian dishes a unique blend of Russian, Turkish, Georgian and Mediterranean flavors.

This week in the kitchen, we are making a regional favorite, Armenian Stuffed Meat Balls. Essentially, this recipe is a meatball made with lamb, which is then stuffed inside another meatball, also made of lamb, and then cooked in beef broth. Each batch of meatballs is made with a different blend of ingredients – one vegetable laden, the other grain laden. Once tucked inside each other, they are quickly cooked in a boiling homemade broth and served immediately from the pot, plump and steamy.  Although stuffing meatballs sounds a little bit complicated, it’s actually a very easy and fun recipe to make.

Over the course of the last few decades I have made countless numbers of meatballs, but I never considered, before this recipe, that they could be 1) be stuffed or 2) be cooked in other ways besides pan frying or baking in the oven. Always a fan of innovative cooking methods and creative food compositions, I thought these stuffed and boiled meatballs would be a really interesting and exciting challenge. And boy was this the case!  A combination of  artistry, hand massage and play dough, these magical meatballs rolled their way into formation in the kitchen with nothing but joy and fun.

The only tricky situation I encountered with this recipe was sourcing bulgur, a cracked wheat that is a staple in the Armenian diet. Usually I can find this easily in the organic section of my local grocery store, but the day I went to shop for all the recipe ingredients, the store had sold out of what I needed. Two additional stops at other grocery stores also yielded an empty cart. Because the International Vintage Recipe Tour happens at a quick clip with shopping, cooking, photographing and writing all occurring within a week’s time frame, I had to come up with a substitution for this now elusive ingredient.  My first challenge of the project!

As it turns out, thanks to some quick research online, it was a simple remedy. Two similar alternatives for bulgur are couscous and quinoa, both standard finds in most grocery stores, both traditional heritage foods of Armenia and surrounding countries, and both substituted with the same 1-1 ratio. Perfect!

While the meatballs are easy to make, and they cook within ten minutes,  they do require about 6 hours of preparation time. Most of the time is eaten up by broth making (3 hours), chilling time in the fridge (2 hours), and hand kneading (20 minutes) but simultaneously, while each of these tasks are occurring, other components of the recipe can be readied, making it feel like the hours and the tasks just fly by. Both the interior meatball filling and the beef broth can be made a day or two ahead of time, but I recommend doing it all at once just for the sheer delight of completely immersing yourself in the making of this unique food.  The recipe itself feeds a crowd, making on average between 22-24 meatballs in total, so this would be a fun weekend cooking project when you don’t have the pressure of the busy work week to battle and you can relax with a glass of wine or an Armenian cognac as you cook the day away.

THE RECIPES: Homemade Beef Stock and Armenian Stuffed Meat Balls 

(Note: All  recipes prepared throughout the International Vintage Recipe Tour are executed exactly 100% as written in the New York Times International Cook Book, unless noted).

Homemade Beef Stock

4-5 lbs. beef short ribs or beef soup bones

2 leeks, trimmed split and washed well

2 carrots, trimmed and scraped

2 ribs celery, cut in half

1 onion stuck with two cloves

2 sprigs fresh thyme or 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

Salt to taste

1 teaspoon peppercorns

Place the beef in a kettle and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil and blanch about 5 minutes, then drain and run under cold water. Return the bones to the kettle and add the remaining ingredients. Add more cold water to cover and simmer, uncovered, about three hours. Skim the surface as the stock cooks to remove fat and scum. Strain.

Armenian Stuffed Meat Balls

For the stuffing:

1 lb. lamb, ground

4 medium onions, sliced

1/4 cup finely chopped green pepper

2 tablespoons chopped parsley

1/4 teaspoon chopped mint

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

For the Meatballs:

1 lb. very lean ground lamb

1 cup very fine burghul (cracked wheat) or 1 cup quinoa or 1 cup couscous

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1 small onion, finely chopped

1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley

water

4 cups boiling beef stock

To make the stuffing, saute the lamb over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Add the onions and cook over low heat  for thirty minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the green pepper, parsley and mint and cook 10 minutes. Add salt and pepper and simmer for five minutes.

When cool, chill stuffing for at least 2 hours. After it is filled shape into the size of marbles (about one teaspoonful for each)

To make the meat balls, combine the meat burghal, salt, pepper, onion and parsley and knead the mixture as you would dough , adding a few drops of water as you go along. Knead the mixture for twenty minutes until the mixture is like a medium soft dough.

Dip your hands in a bowl of cold water and make balls the size of walnuts. Make a dent in the middle of each ball with your thumb and press all around the inside wall to amke a round opening for the filling. The wall should be fairly thin. (Watch a video on how to do this on my Instastory here).

Place the marble-sized filling in each shell and bring the edges together to close. Smooth the surface with wet fingers  and flatten slightly by gently pressing between the palms.

Drop the meat balls into the boiling stock and cook for ten minutes  or until the meat balls come to the surface. Remove with a slotted spoon without puncturing. Serve immediately.

THE RESULT…

Delicious! Like a hearty little bundle of meatloaf, these meatballs contain all the components of a balanced dish with subtle, nuanced flavors. Filling, comforting and satisfying, the only thing I would have wished, was that they were a bit more aromatic in the spice department. They weren’t bland in the least, but I think I might have been spoiled years ago by my lovely Bulgarian friend’s specialty of Turkish meatballs, which are laden with cumin. That aside, these Armenian meat balls were delicious and delicate in their own unique way. I bet also, had I prepared this dish in the Springtime when the onions and the mint are at their peak of freshness, the sweetness of the mint and the tangy-ness of the onion would have been stronger, sharper and more distinct.

Next time, I’ll experiment with this recipe again in March or April, and add a triple dose of mint to the stuffing to see how that adds to the overall taste. If you try this recipe now, during the winter months, I would suggest serving them with a dollop of mint jelly or a spicy habanero jelly to add another dynamic layer of flavor. Traditionally, this food would be served alongside a heaping pile of rice pilaf or in a shallow basin of broth, like a soup, but because we are featuring just one recipe from each country on this Tour (although this week had two because of the broth) I served these meatballs with a simple side salad and some fresh grapes in lieu of the suggested Armenian Rice Pilaf recipe that followed in the cookbook.

HISTORICAL COMPANION: The Hundred Year Walk

Just like you would pair a fine wine with a fine meal to bring out the food’s flavor,  I thought it would be fun to connect each recipe we make with a unique cultural story from history to add interest to the dish and spark additional conversation. Throughout the tour, this historical nod will come in various forms – interviews, book recommendations, movie suggestions, music playlists, art discussions and artifact discoveries. This week’s cultural tie-in comes in the form of a book, The Hundred Year Walk, which details the history of Armenia and its people in a highly relatable way.

Written  by Dawn Anahid MacKeen, a thirty-something California native who is half American and half Armenian, The Hundred Year Walk,  published in 2016, tells the true story of her Armenian grandfather who survived Turkish military capture in the early part of the 20th century. It’s almost impossible to research anything about Armenia without reference to the tragic Armenian genocide of 1915 – an event that killed over 1 million people – about half of the country’s population. While this is a heavy topic for our recipe tour, this event is as important to the country’s history as their staple foods, and has come to define the Armenian culture throughout the past 100 years.

Dawn’s grandfather Stepan, a survivor of the Armenian genocide of 1915, recorded details of this life-altering experience and his escape to freedom in journals which he kept throughout his life.  Those journals were passed down to Dawn’s mother who tucked them away, out of sight for decades. But in the early 2000’s, on a trip home to California to visit her parents, Dawn finds the handwritten books and suddenly becomes consumed by stories surrounding her grandfather’s unusual and heroic escape.  Filled with a desire to understand her own family history and the struggles Stepan faced, Dawn begins piecing together  his cataclysmic journey as he walked through cities, over mountains and eventually across the desert in order to escape death. Retelling Stepan’s story as events unfolded in 1915, Dawn also parallels this ancient history with her own modern day journey of exploration in the early 2000’s, as she follows in his own footsteps retracing his route through modern day Turkey and Syria – a young woman traveling alone amid post 9/11 tension and unease.

What I loved most about Dawn’s book was her ability to paint a thoroughly engrossing portrait of the Armenian way of life known by her grandfather’s generation, and then balance that against her own unique perspective and experiences as a modern day American woman. Her book is a crash course in all things Armenia, while also offering a compassionate viewpoint of the effects of war and displacement upon multiple generations.

On a side note, one of the random things I learned in preparation for this post is that the library will buy books for you.  I wanted to read The Hundred Year Walk over the Christmas holiday but none of the books available online would be delivered in the timeframe that I needed, and my local bookstore didn’t carry this title. Dawn’s book was also not included in my local library system, which meant that they didn’t have any copies in any of their branches. On their website, I noticed a feature called “suggest a book ” where you can suggest a book for the library to buy which will then become part of  their permanent circulating collection. Not sure, how all this worked nor how quickly, I submitted a request for the library to purchase a copy of The Hundred Year Walk. The very next day I received an email that the book request had been approved, and that they were ordering several copies for several branches. Four days later, I received another email. The book was at the library ready for pickup. How marvelous! I’m not sure if all libraries offer this service, but it’s worth an inquiry if you find yourself in a particular predicament.

A 1940’s map of West Asia

History can feel very far removed and intimidating when you have no reference point or fundamental understanding of a country or a culture that is thousands of miles away and vastly different from your own.  But cooking this batch of Stuffed Meat Balls and reading The Hundred Year Walk was such a captivating experience.   Riveting from page one, I won’t spoil the book and its trajectory of events, only to say that it starts with a scene in the kitchen – a conversation between Dawn and her mother while they wash dishes. It’s a mundane task, so commonplace and ordinary, yet ultimately becomes life-changing for both women as there in the swirl of the dish water, Stepan’s story begins to form.

I hope Week One of the International Vintage Recipe Tour sets up in your kitchen in just the same way.  That conversations spark between between friends and family as meatballs get made and interest about Armenia grows.  I look forward to exploring and sharing more recipes from this fascinating country with you in future posts.  In the meantime, if you have any related food stories or experiences to share about Armenia or the Stuffed Meat Ball recipe,  please share them in the comments section below. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

To learn more about Dawn Anahid Mackeen , visit her website here.

Join us next week, as we embark on Week Two of our epicurean adventure… Australia, where we’ll feature a good news recipe for a country that needs all the good news it can get right now.

Announcing the International Vintage Recipe Tour 2020!

Happy New Year! Hope your holidays were festive and that your new year is off to a great start. Here in the Vintage Kitchen, there are lots of fun things in the works for 2020 – ones that incorporate both cooking and collecting. After the emotional events of last year, I’m ready to pour a giant amount of joy into this new decade starting right now, with January, and the announcement of a big year-long project…

international-vintage-recipe-tour

Pack your market bags dear readers, we are going on an adventure. Welcome to the International Vintage Recipe Tour of 2020! Each week throughout the year, I’ll be cooking an authentic heritage recipe from a different country that was featured in the 1971 edition of the New York Times International Cook Book. Sharing both the experience (and the recipe!) here on the blog every Wednesday, I hope you’ll join me in exploring together the cuisine of 45 countries over the course of 12 months. It’s going to be an epic year of discovery, one in which I hope will shine a spotlight on some old, wonderful, possibly forgotten dishes that may have gotten covered up over time.

the-new-york-times-international-cook-book

Throughout this project, we’ll cover all the food groups and prepare unique dishes for all meals of the day including breakfast, lunch, dinner, cocktail hour and dessert. Organized alphabetically by country, we’ll circumnavigate the globe, exploring an eclectic range of landscapes and cuisines together. One week, we’ll be making island fare fit for a summer beach party and the next we’ll be deep in another hemisphere’s mountain range cooking up cuisine much more suited for skiing and snow. Some recipes will be quick to make like mixing up a tropical cocktail or making homemade mustard, while others will involve more time and detailed technique like making a layer cake or pickling vegetables. We’ll visit all the continents (except Antarctica) and we’ll touch upon interesting aspects of each country’s history through interviews, books, movies, music, art and artifacts.

james-spanfeller-illustration

A year-long cooking project is quite a commitment. It’s the biggest endeavor I’ve ever attempted here on the blog and I’m not quite sure how smoothly it’s all going to run.  But exploring foreign foods has been a favorite source of joy and curiosity for me since my college days, when my sister and I used to throw International Dinner Night parties in our Brooklyn apartment. By traveling around the globe via the kitchen this year, I hope this project will spark some unexpected fun in your cook space too.

Since I haven’t previously tested or tried any of these recipes listed in the cookbook before, there’s a good chance we’ll encounter some mishaps along the way and uncover some unusual cooking situations. There are foods from many countries included in this adventure that I have never even tried before, and there are some countries listed in the cookbook that don’t even exist anymore thanks to changes in world history. But through this project I hope to start some conversations with you about the validity of vintage recipes, the ways in which we prepare foreign food and the effect these recipes have upon our modern palettes.

There are lots of books that could have been referenced once this idea of a vintage recipe tour started swirling around, but The New York Times International Cook Book is an ideal fit for this type of world-wide exploration for two main reasons. First, Craig Claiborne…

The recipes in the International Cook Book were collected and tested by Craig Claiborne (1920-2000), a long-time editor at the New York Times and a treasured favorite cook here in the Vintage Kitchen. Throughout his career, Craig came in contact with all sorts of foodies from all sorts of places around the world – famous chefs, restaurateurs, caterers, food critics, industry professionals, home cooks and “those who wanted to communicate their culture via their kitchen.” He was also a talented wonder in the kitchen himself and the author of over twenty cookbooks. There is not a recipe that I’ve tried of his that I haven’t absolutely loved. Needless to say, he knew a good recipe when he saw one and he knew the good sources from which to get them. When he was preparing The New York Times International Cook Book he consulted hundreds of people and traveled thousands of miles to collect the most highly prized recipes he could find. Although he hasn’t been as widely recognized or remembered as some other famous culinary icons of the past, I’m excited to re-introduce him here on the blog. With his name attached to this cookbook, I have a feeling we are in good gourmand hands.

Ingredients for spaghetti and anchovy and clam sauce from the Italy chapter of the The New York Times International Cook Book

The second reason why the International Cook Book is an ideal vintage recipe springboard is because of the decade in which it was produced…the 1970’s. The first edition came out in 1971,  a decade of heightened curiosity and savvy in both the international travel department and the cooking department. While the 1960’s made air travel to foreign countries appear glamorous and exotic, by the beginning of the 1970’s international escapades were more widely accessible to Americans. This interest in other cultures reflected in the food scene of the 1970’s too – by exposing American palates to more diverse cuisine and broadening their culinary horizons.

1970’s travel poster for Qantas Airlines

The disco era ushered in a decade of cosmopolitan dining and entertaining that was backed by newly found confidence, curiosity and skill in the kitchen. Swiss fondue parties were all the rage, Spanish paella became a fashionable dinner food, and homemade Italian tomato sauce consisted of garden-raised ingredients instead of the 1960’s version that often combined conveniences like ketchup and canned tomato soup. Cooking in the 1970’s revolved around excitement, a desire for authenticity and an interest in cultural awareness that is similar to the way we approach food today. Over the course of the year, it will be interesting to see how these vintage recipes compare to our modern palates and standards of both cooking and eating. It is often said that history repeats itself, I’m curious to see if that cliche applies to food as well.

I hope you join me each week in this around the world journey and discover some new favorite recipes yourself. We kick off the big adventure next Wednesday, January 8th, with our first country…

What’s on the menu for Armenia? You’ll just have to wait and see:) Until next week… cheers to the new year!

Thankfully Yours, This Happy Thanksgiving!

Hello lovely vintage kitcheners! I just wanted to pop in to wish you a happy Thanksgiving from the wee small hours post-celebration. Hope your day was filled to the brim with all the delicious components that make up this wonderful holiday. Not only the food, but the friends and the family and the intimate moments that make the day extra special.

This year my turkey was decorated with a lemon. This wasn’t just any old lemon that was picked up at the grocery or plucked from a stall at the market. This lemon was made by Liz –  the indoor orchard tree that has been growing in the Kitchen for over three years now. As the one, the only lemon that Liz produced in the past 365 days, it was a celebratory event when it finally turned the color of the sun and ripened soft and plump just in time for turkey day.  As I clipped it from its limb, I realized what a symbol this lemon was for all the gratefulness I felt this year.

It takes a long time to grow a lemon from a fragrant flower to a final edible fruit (six months in this case!), just like it takes a long time to write a blog post (days!) and to build a community (years!). In both situations, there is fret and worry and planning and cultivating. There is trimming and feeding and caring and tending to. There is a chance that the lemon won’t grow. And there is a chance that that blog won’t resonate.

But then some little wonderfuls happen. The lemon gets bigger. It blushes from green to yellow. A kind comment comes in from a blog reader. A note of joyful glee is expressed by a shop customer. These are the marvelously sweet, rewarding moments of the Vintage Kitchen.  The signifiers that things are happening. The tree is growing, the blog is blooming, the shop is finding its way.

This year I’m most grateful for gifts that take time. I’m so thankful for each and every one of you who champion and participate in the world of the Vintage Kitchen. Your encouragement is a reward that fuels more work, more joy, more long-term commitment and contentment. Thank you for being prized lemons in my orchard of life.

Cheers to you and to time. Cheers to the delicious holiday and a delicious way of life. I can’t wait to grow into a whole new year with you!

Authentically Artisan: A Fun New Food Collaboration

One of the highlights of the summer so far has been the start of a new collaboration with a fellow history-centric company. I’m so pleased to introduce you all to Artisan’s List, a nationwide directory geared towards the historic home improvement enthusiast or anyone interested in defining their space with handmade touches and artistic refinements.

Just a few of the talented vendors I discovered at Artisan’s List! Clockwise from top left: Natural orchard and landscape design by Janice Parker ; handmade copper cookware by House Copper & Cookware; beautiful backyard chicken coup designs by The Chicken Coop Company

As a go-to resource for niche projects, Artisans List is a dream come true for people who just want to get stuff done. If you have a vintage sofa to reupholster (me!), a backyard fruit orchard to plan, an addition to add onto your house or are trying to hunt down a blacksmith for hand-forged drawer pulls, you’ll find just the right expert to work with at Artisans List.

There, in the dynamic world of creative pursuits, you’ll discover makers of handmade pots and pans, landscape architects, historic home renovation consultants, furniture makers, blacksmiths, stone masons, roofers… basically all the people that can help turn your home project ideas into realities – from the roof line all the way down to the basement floor and everything in between.

Skilled tradesmen include examples like these (clockwise from top left) Historically accurate reproductions of architectural millwork by Architectural Components Inc.; antique and vintage stove restoration by The Antique Stove Hospital ; hand-forged decorative metal work made by traditional blacksmiths

As a resource guide made up of traditional craftsmen and skilled tradesmen AL is a beehive of interesting information, ideas and inspiration that continues to grow more dynamic each day. The whole concept of the directory was born out of the lack of an online community that catered specifically to the local home restoration marketplace state by state. So the founders of Artisans List are very intent on making the site an informative, educational, and useful tool for people all over the country. Each of the AL vendors are vetted to make sure that their business and/or skill is authentically produced and professionally handled. Most of the companies have been around for decades, and even generations which means vast portfolios, passionate voices, and trusted relationships. Exactly the kind of care and expertise you need when it comes to planning and executing a project for your treasured space.

Amidst this talented pool of professionals, you’ll also encounter an active and interesting community of do-it-yourselfers who are looking for ways to build a more thoughtful and storied lifestyle. That’s where the Vintage Kitchen comes in. Every other month, I’ll be writing a piece for the magazine portion of the Artisan List  site that features a vintage recipe and the history behind it.

The first piece came out at the end of  June and is all about picnicking. If you missed the mention of it on social media a couple of weeks ago, no worries, I’ll be re-posting the entire article here on the blog in the next few days. But before that happens, I just wanted to share the news with you and to say surprise! the Vintage Kitchen is popping up in a new place.

I think this collaboration is especially fun since we have so many old house lovers and owners (and readers!) that participate in the world of the Vintage Kitchen. It’s with you in particular that I share this information, in case you are looking for some expert help with your own home projects this year. I hope this recommendation helps! If you wind up connecting with one of the Artisan List vendors or find a particular piece of home restoration information useful, please share your story in the comments section, so we can all learn together. In the meantime, stay tuned for a bevy of Artisan food articles coming out soon!

Cheers to new friends, expert helpers, and a wonderful weekend ahead!

 

Luther Burbank, The Reliable Russet and Everyone’s Favorite Way to Eat A French Fry {1970’s Style}

They come with names that sound like 1970’s rock bands… Bodega Red, Arran Victory, British Queen, Golden Wonder, Bellarosa.  Or like types of prize-winning chickens… German Butterball, Champion, Adirondack Red, Tyson.  Some even sound like certain breeds of dairy cows… Shetland Black, Royal Jersey, Blue Bell, Annabelle, Cream of the Crop.

But today we are not talking about chickens or cows or headliner music. Instead,  today we are talking about potatoes. All those names previously discussed are specific types of one of the most consumed foods on the planet- the noble and nourishing potato.  With more than 5,000 varieties in the world, you might think that it would be hard for one lone potato type to stand out in his vast tuber family of brown, round, knobby eyed dirt dwellers.  But there is actually one big-time celebrity in the batch – a spotlight stealer known around the world –  a superstar of the food and restaurant scene that represents the most frequently consumed potato on the planet.

It is my pleasure to present the story of the wondersously addictive potato variety known as the Burbank Russet. Haven’t heard of it, you say? Ah, but just you wait…you’ll know it. Maybe not by backstory but definitely by bite.

On Friday, it was National French Fry Day and we celebrated with a homemade batch of Russet potato french fries in honor of the guy who created them. Meet Luther Burbank, 19th-century American botanist extraordinaire…

Luther grew up in Massachusetts in the 1850’s playing with seed balls in his mother’s garden instead of playing with sports balls in his farm neighborhood. His interest in botany from the time he was a youngster fueled his curiosity for plant cultivation, a field of study that would eventually turn into a lifelong career. Throughout his childhood and into early adulthood, Luther tinkered around with seed starting and plant breeding.  Although it was a laboriously slow process, most often times ending up in disappointment, Luther came by this area of study naturally. His mother also shared his interest in gardening and the two of them would happily spend hours working in the garden, talking about the life stages of various plants.

The plant world was a playground to Luther, something that represented creativity and freedom from set rules and rigid disciplines. He had aspirations to one day have his own farm in California where he would grow vegetables and flowers for the retail market and try his hand at growing new breeds of plant life. In his early 20’s, he started experimenting with potatoes.  But developing a new variety wasn’t as easy as you might think.  Potatoes are peculiar things. They can be regenerated in two ways – through seeds or eyes. Either method produces similar results or slightly different results in the form of mutations or sports each time off-spring are generated.  It is difficult to determine at the onslaught of a growing project how the potatoes will turn out at the end of the project. More often than not the experimentation stage for Luther in trying to cultivate a new variety was long and finicky.

If you have never seen how a potato grows, this is a good illustration. Plant above the ground and lots of potatoes nestled together below ground. Image from the 1893 L.L.May & Company Seed Catalog featuring Northern Potatoes.

But in 1873 gratification came, finally, to Luther’s ruddy, soil-covered hands. One day in his 24th year, Luther went out into the field to dig his latest sample crop, half expecting to uncover the same old story of growing the exact same plant he started out trying not to grow. But this time, something was different.  Instead of digging up an ordinary round potato, Luther pulled a tuber out of the ground that was twice as big and twice as long. It was reddish-brown in color and hefty in weight. A totally different specimen than the parent potatoes he had started this most recent batch with.  Success at last! His first genuinely original new potato had emerged.

He christened this new masterpiece the Burbank Russet and immediately sold it for $125. Was that enough money for Luther to retire early to his California dream farmhouse and garden? Not quite yet, but that’s not important to this story.  Money never mattered to Luther, only the science that stood behind it. He made a new potato and that was pretty motivating stuff to keep his heart in the game and his hands in the soil.

Luther’s Burbank Russet was an exciting and innovative new addition to the agricultural market for its time because of its size. Almost twice as large as typical potatoes of that era, it also boasted an adaptable consistency (good for baking, mashing and frying) and was more disease resistant to common blights that affected many potato crops around the world. But after it was introduced in the late 1800’s, it took some time for the Burbank Russet to catch on. The US government initially started farming it in Oregon and from there it slowly spread to neighboring states and then the region and then the rest of the country.   Eventually, it became the best-loved potato cultivator in the US.

Russet potato farmers in 1940’s Idaho.

Farmers loved it because it was easy to grow and held up well in both shipping and storage. Once it became a successful and abundant crop, the food industry got on board. Its size, consistency and cooking adaptability made it an ideal food product for both general household consumers as well as commercial food companies and restaurants.

Although the actual cooking process of making French fries – cutting strips of potatoes and frying them in fat – had been around in France and Belgium since the 1700’s, it wasn’t until a valuable American discovery was made in the 1930’s that fries started to take hold as an American food staple. This important discovery was that french fries froze well and could be reheated easily while still maintaining the same shape, taste and texture.  In the early days of refrigeration, this was exciting!  This mere fact opened up opportunities for the retail, transportation and restaurant industries as french fries could now be shipped around the country in both frozen and fresh forms.

A midcentury newspaper ad for McDonald’s french fries.

By the time hamburger stands started popping up in the 1950’s and 1960’s, french fries became a main attraction at the drive-in burger stand as well as the family dinner table.

A vintage frozen french fry ad from the 1960’s. Photo courtesy of itsjustoldpaper on Etsy.

The novelty of enjoying french fries both at home and at restaurants offered plenty of potential in the form of culinary creativity.   In mid-century America, the common condiments for them were simple… ketchup (or catsup, however you prefer!) and salt.

A 1955 advertisement for French Fries featuring Hunt’s catsup.

But by the 1970’s, these little potato favorites were garnering more international gourmet attention. Common toppings and condiment companions of the disco-era included the following…

…paprika, cracked black pepper, parmesan cheese, malt vinegar, crushed herbs, ketchup, mayonnaise, mustard,  salt and a special mayonnaise/mustard mixed combo variation. In addition to frying, it also became much more commonplace, especially in the latter decades of the 20th century, to oven bake freshly cut fries. This method of cooking was believed to be a “healthier” version since it involved less oil and a  tamer cooking experience (no vats of hot fat to contend with!) as opposed to traditional deep-fry methods.

Because a lot of people tend to think it is easier to go to a fast food restaurant and buy a serving or two of fries or grab a box of frozen ones from the grocery store, we made the oven-baked variation for this post to prove how simple, quick and easy it is to take a fresh potato and turn it into a delicious hot french fry  in less than 30 minutes. This recipe comes from the Joy of Cooking (1975 edition) cookbook and was a breeze to make. Literally, it took 5 minutes to prepare and 20 minutes to bake,  which makes it a fast side dish for your summer burgers.

Oven “French-Fried” Potatoes (serves 1-2)

1 large russet potato (scrubbed)

1/8 cup olive oil

A generous sprinkling of sea salt

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Slice potatoes lengthwise into long  1/4″ sticks (you can do this by hand or by using the julienne setting on your vegetable slicer. Either way try to keep each stick as uniform as possible to ensure even baking. Lay the freshly cut sticks between a couple layers of paper towels and pat dry to remove extra moisture, then spread sticks out on an ungreased baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil.

Using your hands, toss the potatoes and oil together so that all sticks are coated and spread them back out in the pan as flat as possible.

Bake in the oven for 10 minutes. Then remove from the oven and flip the fries over and  return back to the oven for an additional 8-10 minutes.  They should look something like this when they are ready…

Remove fries from the baking pan onto a paper towel-lined plate. Sprinkle with salt and pepper (or any of your favorite spices) and serve immediately.

Inspired by the 1970’s list of approved condiments, I kept thinking while writing this post how fun it would be to have a french fry bar party where guests could pick and choose their own toppings from a wide assortment. So many flavors pair well with potatoes, so the possibilities would be endless as far as dips and dredges, sprinkles and submersibles. The one element of homemade french fries that should always remain constant though is the potato – always use russet potatoes. They are the variety of choice in almost every fast food french fry you’ll ever eat – including McDonald’s whose fries are legendary. And besides, you’ll make Luther happy,  using his version over any other!

Luther never lived to see the ultimate french fry-loving success of his humble potato breed, although he did live a fulfilling gardening life up until the time of his death in the mid-1920’s. He did acquire that dream farm in California that he always wanted…

Luther Burbank’s house as it looked in the 1920’s
Now in 2018, his house is a city park and garden that is open to the public.
Luther Burbank House and Garden, 200 Santa Rosa Ave., Santa Rosa, CA

And he built a garden where invented new varieties of fruits and flowers and vegetables. We have Luther to thank for cultivating these beauties…

Clockwise from top left: The Plumcot – a mix between plums and apricots, the Fire Poppy, the July Elberta Peach, the Spineless Cactus and the Shasta Daisy

So while he never did see his potatoes bubbling up in oil at the golden arches,  he did see his lifelong passion laid out in the golden hour light of each day into night. Satisfaction was never going to be found in fame or fortune when it came to Luther Burbank. He didn’t care about either of those two things. His happiness lived deep within the dirt – a vast canvas of potential fueled by creativity and curiosity that never ceased to inspire him.

Cheers to Luther for inventing one of the most delicious potatoes in the world. And cheers to all the farmers who keep growing the russets. May they continue to add a bit of indulgence to our diets and serve as a basis for inspiration in our culinary endeavors.

Find out more about Luther and his Santa Rosa, CA garden park here.  Find the vintage Joy of Cooking cookbook in the shop here. 

If you guys have any favorite toppings or condiments that you prefer on your french fries please post them in the comments section below. We’d love to hear from you!