Archives For food memories

The lesson of the leeks

victoria —  December 3, 2014 — Leave a comment

When life has been difficult in the past, I’ve always gone back to the kitchen. Chopping vegetables, stirring pots, kneading bread are my standing, moving meditation. There is accomplishment and completion in the way perfectly diced potatoes or onions fall from my knife or the way a bread dough rises under a floured tea towel to fill the bowl it’s resting in. When life is swirling in chaos, the kitchen always makes sense to me.

When my father died. I spent the afternoon making sesame seed cookies that had to be rolled and cut into tiny stars. One of my father’s sisters took me aside and asked me if I was okay and if I knew it was okay for me to be upset and to cry. I knew it but I couldn’t do it with a house full of people. I can talk about crying and emotions in public, or as public as writing is, but I have a hard time actually crying in public. I’m more of a solitary, darkened theater, or one-on-one cryer.

In the last two months my cooking has been sporadic. I’ve been traveling, then flat on my back with a pulled muscle and then sad. The Sunday after my mother died, my back was well enough that I could cook and I made chili and cornbread. Julian looked at me at dinner and asked if I’d done it on purpose, my father’s chili recipe, my mother’s cornbread recipe, tweaked by me over the years to suit my cooking style. I hadn’t done it on purpose or at least not consciously.

I didn’t get much time to process my trip before I was wrestling with my mother’s death and now it’s all bound together in a knot I can’t seem to untangle. I’d forgotten about my best personal place of calm, though the yoga and meditating and British mysteries had been helping. We tried to get back to normal last night by doing our weekly menu. Tonight a pureed potato leek soup with porcini oil and crispy leeks. Keifel found the recipe in my notebook of recipes clipped from magazines over the years. In coming across it, he said it reminded him of the soup we had at Most our last night in Ljubljana. It’s a million miles away from the potato soup my mom used to make. Fancy to rustic. Both equally good. Both in my repertoire.

To prepare leeks you remove the tough green leaves and the root end and slice the remaining white cylinder in half so you can easily wash the sand from between the layers, fanning them like a book under running water. Leeks are much milder than onions and very rarely make anyone cry. Watching the half moons of leek fall from my knife, I cried. Remembering the one thing my father asked me to make him when the chemotherapy had robbed everything he ate of flavor.

When he had a print shop in Detroit there’d been a Greek deli nearby that served avgolemono, a lemon and rice soup. I’d never heard of it or eaten it but the internet of 2001 was already filled with recipes and I easily found one. It wasn’t the same exactly but the look on his face, a mixture of nostalgia and gratitude, made me feel like that soup was the best gift I ever gave my father.

Avgolemono doesn’t even have leeks in it. And there in lies my lesson. It doesn’t matter that I don’t cook like exactly like either of my parents or that my travels and culinary education have given me tastes for things they never encountered. Before my mother’s health took its last debilitating turns she would send me recipes clipped from the Chattanooga Free Press or call me and ask for a recipe she had made hundreds of times so she could share it with a neighbor or staff person at assisted living, even though the residents only had microwaves and I was pretty sure they weren’t making oatmeal bread in them. Food is a language we all have in common and the things we make tell part of the story of who we are, where we came from, even when those stories are of burned dinners or of empty plates and stomachs. Even though both of my parents are dead and I can’t tell those stories with them, can’t wash while they dry the dinner dishes, they are both in everything I make, even my posh potato and leek soup that neither of them ever tasted.

And then there was coffee

victoria —  October 8, 2014 — Leave a comment

Twenty two years ago when I was 19, I packed a backpack and took off for a year in Slovenia. Croatia to the immediate south and the rest of former Yugoslavia were still at war. I do think everyone, especially my parents, thought I was crazy. I was a little. I mean, I was 19. I’d fallen in love with Slovenian poetry and this tiny little jewel box of a country I had visited the year before. I wanted to dive in. I had great plans to master Slovenian and become a translator and a poet and teach and travel the world. This year in Slovenia was meant to push the boat out into those particular seas.

So much happened that year. Hence the reason I decided to write a book about it, even if it never sees the light of day. I fell in love with Slovenia, hard, but initially it didn’t seem to care much for me. I constantly felt out of place. I felt so American, so foreign and the language was so difficult, I thought perhaps I had made a big, and expensive, mistake. But then, near the time I was to leave, I suddenly seemed to have enough Slovenian to get by. I knew my way around on my bike. I had a job. And, most surprising to me, I fell in love with a Slovene. 

And then I left because I had to go home. I had to finish school. I thought I had to do the expected thing, try to be the good girl. And my heart broke. No one told me that coming home would be its own culture shock. I dreamed in Slovenian. And I missed Ljubljana and the friends I had made and Saša (as he is called in the book). And school was miserable. I had fallen from grace for things too complicated to explain here. And I did stupid and slightly destructive things to self-medicate my heartbreak.

In the midst of all of that, I became a mom. Grad school happened, but not as planned. Returning to Slovenia as a translator definitely didn’t happen. I was too broke to travel. I stopped writing after grad school because, again with the self-flagellation, I thought I had screwed that up so badly I didn’t deserve it and I needed to find something that paid the bills. I met Keifel. I became a chef. Julian grew up. And we moved again and here was this stack of letters and notebooks and a postcard from Saša and now there is a book and this trip.

And last night there was kava s smetana. Coffee with solidly whipped unsweetened cream. I was sitting at a cafe yards from the bar I’d spent most of my evenings drinking back then. I was surrounded by the sounds of people speaking Slovenian and the soft chink of wine and beer glasses and the smell of cigarette smoke. And there was a flood inside me as if the Ljubljanica had jumped its banks to run down Stari trg through 41 year old me and 19 year old me sitting at a table feeling completely exposed and completely invisible, stunned that so much time could pass.

One sign you might be raising your boy right :

Julian's first pie crust


Still summer. Still hotter than h-e-double hockey sticks. And I now have even greater reason to avoid turning on the oven; the element burnt out in a spectacular pyrotechnic display while making biscuits by request of the newly-returned from Trinidad boychick. In case you were curious, you can finish half baked biscuits on broil with fair results.

All that aside. We’re here for the sloppy joes. I honestly can’t tell you the last time I had them but I think it might have involved pigtails and Mom pouring the sauce out of a can of Manwich. They were definitely something I associated with late night dinners of my youth.

Jules, said boychick, and I were a the farmers’ market on Saturday and he was carrying around a bag of hamburger type buns we purchased from the Provence stand. The woman we bought our peaches from asked if we’d slap a burger or sloppy joe on one of those for her. The idea was planted.

On returning home later than expected this evening, I had planned to make dal and rice. A very hungry Jules suggested sloppy joes instead. Not having made the messy sandwiches in question in eons, if ever, I consulted that tome of American recipes: The Joy of Cooking. Not having several things the recipe called for, I winged it.

Sunday Night Sloppy Joes (mostly local)

Chop one onion and 4 to 5 cloves of garlic finely. Heat about a tablespoon of safflower or similar high-heat oil in a saute pan. Stir that around a bit while cutting up 3 or four small sweet peppers nearly lost to the back of fridge demon or one regular-sized red or yellow sweet bell pepper. Add the pepper to the pot. Add two teaspoons celery seed unless, unlike me, you have celery, then chop up one stalk finely and add that to the pan. Saute until everything is softened but not browned. Add one pound (local!) ground beef, a tablespoon of pomegranate molasses (or 2 tablespoons brown sugar and the juice of half a lime), a tablespoon or two of Worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper to taste, half a teaspoon red pepper flake and a tablespoon paprika. While that is browning, stir it some to break up the meat and rummage through the fridge for some pickled peppers you made a week or so ago, if you find them, chop them up and toss them in the pan with some of the vinegar in the jar (Tablespoon or so). If you don’t find them, add a tablespoon or two of pickle relish or chopped-up pickles of some persuasion with a little of the vinegar in the jar. When the meat has browned and is pretty much done, pour in a quarter to half a large can of Muir Glen crushed, fire-roasted tomatoes, depending on how sloppy you like your sloppy joes. Serve immediately on sturdy hamburger buns.

BONUS recipe!

Oil Biscuits (damn near instant bread for dinner which can be half baked and finished on broil if necessary)

2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour (can sub up to 1 cup with whole wheat for still pretty fluffy biscuits)

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup safflower oil (or similar light tasting, high heat oil)

3/4 cup butter milk


Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture. In a 1 cup measure, pour in 1/4 cup oil, top with 3/4 cup buttermilk. Don’t stir. Pour into well in dry ingredients. Using a fork faff (technical term…) the flour mixture and liquid together just until it clumps up and most of the flour is moistened. Dump on clean counter or similar, gently knead and turn three times, then stop. No, really. Stop. Gently form into roughly 8″ square about an inch high. Using a  knife or bench scraper, cut into nine equal-ish squares. Transfer to a baking sheet and bake until tops are lightly browned (about 12 minutes). Serve immediately.

(For variety, grate 2 ounces sharp cheddar and toss in flour mixture or add chopped fresh herbs to the flour mixture. For impromptu short cakes you can add 1/4 cup sugar to the dry mixture and 1 egg to the wet.)


The industrialization of Great Britain and the United States ended the extensive celebration of the Christmas holiday which began at All Saints’ Day or Halloween with the largest, most extravagant feast held on January 5th or January 6th, the Twelfth Day of Christmas, depending on if you counted from Christmas Day or from St. Stephen’s or Boxing Day. This time was ruled over by the Lord of Misrule or in some countries, the Boy Bishop. The general order of things was turned on its head–peasants were lords, play was the work of the day, and special foods untasted for most of the year were the basis of feasts. The fields were fallow and little agricultural work had to be done. Masked balls; pantomime plays; caroling with the expectation of food, drink or coin in return; honoring the animals and fields with bonfires and wassailing; giving tokens of appreciation to loved ones and food and clothing to the poor or one’s tenants were all part of this extended time of revelry. Many of the traditions of Twelfth Night were held dearly enough to be shifted to other holidays that still burned brightly as single days of celebration. Begging door to door evolved into contemporary trick-or-treating (which seems to be currently on the wane). The elaborate Twelfth Night cakes and tarts migrated to Christmas with the gold coin baked inside. Masked balls migrated to Halloween and continued into the Carnival season, as well. Pantomime survives in England and Epiphany, Twelfth Night’s more religious moniker, survives as an important holiday especially in Spanish-speaking, largely Catholic countries where cakes are baked and children receive small gifts to celebration the adoration of the Magi at the birth of Jesus. Epiphany also marks the beginning of Carnival.

In the rush of our modern lives when some of us work right through Christmas and New Year’s Day, the thought of a twelve-day holiday seems like a ridiculous endeavor. And, it is true, modern life does not bend well to celebrating from October first to January sixth and then right on to Mardi Gras. Unlike our agriculturally minded forebears, we don’t have a whole season of downtime. But, I do think there is much to be learned from these now bygone observations. These celebrations revolved around spending time with family and friends and engaging with one’s whole community. They centered on a spiritual life that celebrated a rebirth of the sun or the birth of a savior. We may not believe as these same ancient or more recent forebears did, but we can choose to celebrate each other without the trappings of our material-centered modern holiday where the Christmas season begins in July only because that’s when the Christmas decorations show up in stores. We can choose to adopt this time as our own time of rebirth, re-centering, recuperating, reconnecting…reveling.

Cafe sitting

victoria —  November 17, 2008 — 2 Comments

Okay, I know. I am suppose to be grading papers. But, but… it’s fall. It’s still fall, at least here anyway. The leaves are still clinging to the trees in their Crayola shades and the air is crisp but not bone-achingly cold, yet (not that we get much of that here). The sky is a little gray today but moving in such a way that it might be clear later. All of this and a hot latte make it hard to grade papers. I want to be doing something else. I should be writing…does this count?

I do love that the cold weather cooking has begun in earnest. There are batches of chili and turkeyherd pie made and consumed or frozen. Two loves of pumpkin bread with pepitas and dried cranberries have been dispatched. I find myself wanting tea in the afternoons instead of my usual all day coffee binge.

Julian and Keifel have been supportive of the newly returned to vegetarianism. I really thought there would be more of an adjustment, but I made the decision to be more flexitarian to make it easier on them and on me. It is more work than a Tuesday night will bear to cook two separate entrees, as the boys are not on the veg bandwagon. I have been making things that can be easily partitioned. It seems to be working. Last night’s turkeyherd pie was actually 1/3 Woolton pie homage, though no turnips were harmed in the making. I mixed the usual sauteed veg with some Puy lentils and used veg stock as the gravy liquid in both sections. The boys got some lentils in their turkeyherd and I got some turkey juice in my Woolton-esque, but it’s all good. My return to vegetarianism was not meant to be religiously scripted. I don’t think that would serve the ongoing dinner peace well.

Now, I really must get to those papers.


victoria —  May 14, 2008 — 3 Comments

Though I try to stick to food and the food related on this journal, this isn’t going to be a strictly food-related post. I have been too busy for my taste and am currently on the hunt for something resembling a 9 to 5, work-a-day world job that doesn’t involve mentally juggling three contract jobs and some freelance on the side. That however is not why I find myself posting at 10 PM on a Wednesday.

I came to mourn a friend. I debated naming names, but am concerned that some may not know of his passing yet and would prefer they not find out online, at a food journal. Suffice it to say that he was too young, too sad and not taking care of himself and all of those ended in collapse on a hot day. At this time, I am unsure of the official cause of death, but I personally suspect a broken heart and pervasive sense of having made too many mistakes to make it better.

In his passing, I have seen others’ perspectives of him and find that he was more complicated than I had imagined. I think the person I knew was different than the person others knew. I’m not sure how many personas floated around him, but the one with which I was most familiar was a nice guy who had some problems but seemed to enjoy his friends and was always quick to invite us to a movie sneak peek or to an impromptu gathering. For awhile we had a regularly scheduled game night. Usually we would play a card game until Julian, our son, had to go to bed. He and Keifel and I would sit around after Julian went to bed, just talking. But first, we would all have dinner together, sometimes rather fancy ones, and sometimes they were rather slap dash, especially when money with us was really tight. He was appreciative either way and always thanked me and always seemed genuinely surprised that someone would go out of their way even a little bit to do something nice for him. That always made me a little sad and I don’t know where that sense of being undeserving came from. As much as we talked about the now and the future, he didn’t much like to talk about his past and I didn’t ask. I’m okay with people having secrets, I just wish I had known how truly depressed he was.

He left Nashville last year. We had an impromptu going away party, because I love to throw parties and I wanted him to know we really were going to miss him. He ended up having to come late to his own party because of moving logistics, but we did see him. That was in fact the last time I saw him. We talked on the phone after, about his love life, the new job and that he wanted to be able to have enough money to get his own place. I knew the break up he had been through hit him hard, but I guess you can hide a lot on the phone and I didn’t probe.

I guess I do feel guilty some and pissed off some. Another mutual friend and I were discussing this passing and he said he had learned that you can’t make someone take care of themselves. I agree. You cannot shake or berate someone out of depression and into eating a vegetable instead of a chilli dog. Unfortunately, part of grieving seems to be getting a little pissed off at the dead for the inconsiderate act of dying. It’s an uncomfortable emotion to sit with and too scary or embarrassing to share. I think most people stew on it because you do feel guilty for thinking ill of the dead. But it is a stage in grieving and I think one you have to deal with to move on. I feel like I confronted it pretty early this time and I can feel it receding. I don’t fell better, just calmer.

I keep thinking about the time I found out it was his birthday and someone had mentioned how bummed he was that he had to work, he didn’t have a girlfriend (at the time) and that he was kind of dreading it. I made some chocolate chip cookies and took them to him at work. He was a little speechless at first, but thanked me. I had to run, but apparently he shared them with a few of his co-workers and got some enjoyment out of his birthday. I wish that, or something, anything, had been enough to make him care about himself as much as others did. I do want to believe in something after this life, I hope whatever it is comes with some clarity and that he can see now what he didn’t see before.

January Goings On

victoria —  January 20, 2008 — 3 Comments

January has already been a busy month. My cooking classes started in Murfreesboro. We are doing a culinary tour of Europe and it has been a blast to prepare menus and hang out with the new crop of home cooks looking for some entertainment and new ideas. We started in Sweden, land of my foremothers, with a perfect cold weather menu. We were in Denmark last week with a revised vision of my International Class final project menu. I am doing all the cooking in about 2 and a half hours, so I couldn’t be quite as ambitious.

I also helped host a couples baby shower for CSG and the Carpenter. Their bouncing baby boy is due on Valentine’s day and Ms. Te, CSG’s sister, another friend of CSG’s and his wife and I wanted to do something for them before CSG got too close to her due date. We had planned an English tea for a Sunday afternoon. The party was in Columbia (45 minutes to an hour out of Nashville) at the friend and wife’s lovely 110-year-old home that they have completely renovated and decorated. Ms. Te and CSG’s sister helped get all the food set up. Ms. Te frosted and decorated the cake and CSG’s sis put the fruit tray together and made duck punch (rubber duckies afloat on Sprite and blue raspberry punch). I have to admit that I am more than dubious of blue food, but it did look cute and aside from that vaguely chemical taste of fake raspberry flavor, it would be a slightly sweet fun punch for kids’ parties too. I think it might be nicer with the blue Jones Soda or something not so sickly sweet as the Blue Hawaiian-style fruit punch.

Baby Shower spread
Who really needs an excuse for currant scones and clotted cream?

My classes at the community college have started as well. That’s been a challenge. Both my classes are online, distance learning courses. One of them I taught as a ground class last semester and the other is a new course for me. The material is fairly straight forward but there have been issues with content management and deployment. That is perhaps the most optimistic way to phrase it. Things seem to being ironing themselves out for the most part and I seem to be fielding fewer phone calls and emails from students who are having trouble actually getting to the content itself. That is a happy thing.

Last Thursday I also had the opportunity to see Peter Reinhart speak and make bread at the Viking Store in Franklin. It was very inspiring in many ways. I am determined now to try to make vollkornbrot, 100% whole grain rye bread. I love those dark, dense middle and eastern European breads. We had the opportunity to head home with a whole wheat and a rye starter but I think the cold in the house has kept them from doing what they are supposed to do. I’m going to give them a stir today and try to feed them tomorrow. Reinhart was mostly as I imagined. I bought his Sacramental Magic in a Small Town Cafe book back in college and was greatly inspired by the work Reinhart and his wife Susan were doing. Along with Edward Espe Brown’s Tomato Blessings and Radish Teachings, I was inspired to cook for others. I’ve always liked cooking, the space it offers for meditation. It really is difficult to be distracted with minutiae when you have a knife in your hand dicing peppers for hours at a time or even the seemingly tedious act of babysitting something that needs to be stirred continually until finished. I, not so secretly, love those things and do my best deep thinking doing prep work and handwashing dishes. Both books are infinitely worth the price of admission if you are at all interested in the deeper meaning of work in the culinary industry. They are both, in essence, about really feeding people in a way that soothes physical as well as spiritual hunger. As one is Eastern Orthodox and one is Buddhist, I don’t think you need to subscribe to a particular theology (or theology at all necessarily) to gain from their philosophies.

In that vein, I am cooking dinner for 6 people who bought a North African feast dinner I donated to the silent auction at our UU church. I haven’t met any of them yet, so it should be an interesting evening and, I am hopeful, an opportunity to make some new friends. My mom will also be here this week so I may get thrown out of my own kitchen (happily) a little bit. I am hoping to entice her to make chicken and dumplings before she goes. I have tried and tried to make them like she does and they just aren’t as good. But, I suppose that is the order of things.

If you are interested in having your very own Swedish night at home, here is our menu and recipes from class. The Danish class was very similar to the one I posted during culinary school. Just do a search in the handy box above for Denmark.

A Swedish Menu

Pickled Cucumbers
Janson’s Temptation
Äppel Fläsk

Cardamom Coffee Cake

Pickled Cucumbers

½ cup white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons water
¼ teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon white pepper
3 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons minced dill or parsley
2 medium cucumbers (or one English cucumber)

Combine all the ingredients, except the cucumbers. Wash and dry the cucumbers but do not peel them (it’s therefore important to try to buy unwaxed cucumbers, if possible. The English ones in plastic wrap are nice for this). Slice the cucumbers as thinly as possible – they should almost be transparent. A mandolin or other type of slicer can be helpful for this step. Place the very skinny cuke slices in a non-reactive dish, glass is best, and pour the dressing over and refrigerate for at least three hours before serving. It is traditional to serve the pickles in the dressing but they are a little more refined drained. Also, a safety note: these are not preserved and will only keep a few days in the fridge, but as a new batch is easily made and there are rarely leftovers, that shouldn’t be a problem.

Janson’s Temptation
Serves 4-6

This is not an everyday dish, but something for the smörgåsbord or a holiday meal.

6 medium baking potatoes
10 anchovies in brine
2 medium onions, thinly sliced
2-4 tablespoons butter
generous 1 cup of heavy cream

Preheat the oven to 325°F and lightly butter a 8 x 8” baking dish, preferably something attractive enough to go to the table. Peel the potatoes and cut into thin strips, similar as to how you would cut them up for fries. Soak the potato strips in cold water for about 30 minutes to help remove some of the starch. This will make the potatoes crispier. Meanwhile, cut the anchovies in half and reserve the brine. Fry the onions gently in half the butter until golden brown.

Drain the potatoes and dry with paper towels or a clean dish towel. Layer the potatoes with the anchovies and onions, beginning and ending with the potatoes. Pour over half the cream over and dot with the remaining butter. Drizzle over about 4 tablespoons of the anchovy brine. Bake for 25 minutes. Pour over the remaining cream and the remaining anchovy brine up to a tablespoon, then bake for another 20 minutes. This is traditionally served with ice cold beer to cut some of the richness.

Äppel Fläsk
Smoked bacon with onions and apple rings
Serves 4

2 to 4 tablespoons butter
1 pound Canadian bacon
2 large red, tart cooking apples, unpeeled, cored and cut into ½” rings
2 large onions, thinly sliced
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

In a heavy, preferably cast-iron, 10 or 12” skillet, melt a tablespoon of butter and fry the bacon until lightly browned. Remove from the skillet and set aside on paper towels to drain. Sauté the onions in the butter remaining in the pan until soft and translucent. Add the apple rings to the pan and cover. Simmer over a low heat for 5 to 10 minutes, shaking the pan at intervals to prevent the apples from sticking.

When the apple rings are sufficiently cooked (they should offer little to no resistance when pierced with the tip of a sharp knife), return the drained bacon to the skillet. Cover the pan and simmer an additional three to five minutes to warm the bacon through. Grind pepper liberally over the contents of the pan and serve immediately. Traditionally this dish is served right from the pan, so a cast iron pan is especially nice. This is a great lunch dish or an easy weeknight supper with a crisp green salad.

Swedish Meatballs
Serves 4-6

There are as many recipes for meatballs as there are cooks so feel free to improvise as you feel. Make them small for a starter or buffet and larger if for an entrée.

2 tablespoons butter
¼ cup onion, finely chopped
½ to 2/3 cup fine dry breadcrumbs
1/3 cup light cream or half and half
¾ pound ground beef (round steak is a good choice)
¼ pound veal
¼ pound ground lean pork
2 teaspoons salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
1/8 teaspoon cloves
1/3 cup butter
¼ cup boiling water

Heat the 2 tablespoons of butter in a pan large enough to later cook the meatballs in (it’s nicer not to half to wash all the pans). When the butter has melted and the foam has subsided, add the onion and sauté until soft and golden. Meanwhile, soak the breadcrumbs in the cream. Combine the onion, breadcrumbs and cream, meats, salt, pepper and cloves and blend thoroughly but with a light hand. Overworking the meat mixture will result in tough meatballs with an unpleasant chew to them. Shape the mixture into small, evenly-sized meatballs, wetting your hands as necessary to prevent the meat mixture from sticking (ladies and gents, I also recommend taking off your rings for this as well). Heat the remaining butter and again wait for the foam to subside. Add the meatballs and sauté until browned on all sides, shaking the pan to turn the meatballs and keep them from sticking. When they are well browned, add the boiling water and simmer over the lowest possible heat for five minutes. This helps to insure that the meatballs cook all the way through. If serving as an entrée, make a cream gravy in which to serve the meatballs, otherwise set them out with toothpicks for a buffet.

Swedish Cardamom Coffee Cake

1 ¼ cups milk
1 package (scant tablespoon) dry yeast
¼ cup lukewarm water
¾ cup sugar
6 ¼ cups sifted flour
½ cup room temperature butter
¼ teaspoon salt
3 egg yolks
2 to 3 teaspoons ground cardamom

For the topping:
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 tablespoons sugar
¼ cup chopped nuts

Put the milk in a small saucepan and heat it just until small bubbles appear around the edge of the pan (this is called scalding the milk). Remove from the heat and allow to cool to lukewarm. Dissolve the yeast in ¼ cup of lukewarm water and allow to proof for five minutes or until bubbly. Add the cooled milk with 1 tablespoon of the sugar. Beat in 3 cups of the flour. Cover and let rise in a warm, draft-free place until double in bulk or about 1 to 1 ½ hours. After the rise, add the butter, remaining sugar, salt, egg yolks, cardamom and 3 cups of flour. Reserve the ¼ cup of flour for kneading the dough.

Turn the dough onto a floured surface and knead with floured hands until smooth and elastic. Place in a buttered bowl and turn to butter all sides of the dough. Cover and allow to rise until doubled in bulk, again about an hour to an hour and a half. Divide the dough in half to make two cakes. Divide each half into 3 equal portions and roll each of those portions into 16” long snakes. Pinch the three strips together and braid then pinch the braided end together. Place cakes on an ungreased baking sheet. Let the cakes rise until doubled in bulk or about 45 minutes. Set the oven to 375°F about 20 minutes before the braids finish their rise and make the topping. Combine the cinnamon, sugar and chopped nuts and set aside. Brush the braids with milk, gently, and sprinkle over the topping. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes. Allow to cool completely and serve with milky coffee.

I haven’t actually eaten a sandwich today, but I have been pondering this concept for two or three days now. Why is it that if I slap together a sandwich it tastes pretty good (I can make a killer sandwich), but if someone else throws down some white bread with PB&J it is undeniably better. I don’t want to tweely suggest that it is made better with love or something like that. Plus I’d like to think I put some love and attention into my own sandwiches. I would like to know if this is true for everyone. I do wonder if it is more true for people who cook professionally or who usually do all of the cooking where they live. It then might taste better simply because you didn’t have to make it to eat it. That makes sense to me.

Not that these are terribly deep thoughts, but I am feeling more philosophical with Keifel out of the country. It always makes me nervous even though he does have his green card now and it shouldn’t be a problem. I worry anyway. And when I worry actively on one thing it tends to leak all over everything else. And it gives me migraines. Dammit.

I have often bemoaned the fact that I sometimes feel like my brain isn’t being used for the greater good (I have bemoaned this here in previous posts which you may have skipped for the high pitched whine they emitted). Not that feeding people isn’t sometimes complicated and it is almost always noble on some level. It’s just that well… should I have used my intellect for rocket science or cancer research or a cure for spinal cord injuries? I spent all this time being a humanities major and writing about my own “pain” as a poet. Talk about some cringe-worthy reading. You’ll have to trust me on this one. Then I worried about being what I thought I was supposed to be, because I’d received this great free education and blah, blah, blah. Maybe I just can’t be satisfied with whatever it is I am currently doing. Maybe that is a good thing and avoids stagnating at a phase. I am not equating doing this thing, here, now with futility, just suggesting that maybe constantly having true contentment just out of reach is a good thing. Of course, being content in my relationship and in myself aside from work-type issues may be the reason I have the luxury to be philosophical about the work-type issues in the first place. Okay, I’m done staring at my own belly button. Want to see the cake I made for a friend of Keifel’s at work for a Thanksgiving birthday?

Look it's a fat unicorn on a Ferrari logo : )
Hey, look! It’s a… fat unicorn on a Ferrari logo.

Victoria’s Big Week in Food

victoria —  November 17, 2007 — 1 Comment

Having previously worked in the chaos that is television, I know that I don’t like to be the center of that particular spotlight. However, that does not mean that I don’t like a pat on the back now and then. I had the great fortune of asking a question at the right time and a great thing came of it. I saw that a certain food writer and culinary celebrity was going to be in our berg for an event and emailed to ask if he would come speak with our culinary arts students at the community college. He said yes and came on Thursday this week. He spoke for about 45 minutes about his training and writing and what is important to all chefs, cooks and people who eat. He then answered student questions for about 45 minutes. They asked great questions and he took all their questions seriously and gave thought provoking answers that I think made a positive impression and reinforced what we are trying to do as instructors. He stayed a little while after that for pictures and book signing. (Yes, I did get my picture made with him). It just goes to show it never hurts to ask.

Also, this week, due to Keifel’s pimping of my culinary talents, I am baking some festive goodies for peeps from his office and the Apple store. I decided to do my shopping at the new Whole Foods because part of the selling point of the desserts was that they were all natural and mostly organic. The butter, flour and sugar were all cheaper than the stuff I had been buying at our regular grocery store (which I still like a lot but, you know, it’s hard to compete with a place with a coffee bar and whole fish on ice). So after my cavalcade of shopping (yes, it was just me, but it seemed a sufficiently grand word for the occasion) I am making pie crusts and ginger cookies tomorrow and all the stuff that won’t keep as well Monday night for Tuesday delivery. My house will smell, to borrow a phrase from Nigella, of nutmeg-y goodness far into next week.