Archives For food memories

Please Stand By

victoria —  March 30, 2007 — Leave a comment

Foodieporn HQ is moving this weekend. It’s as crazy as one might imagine and I think this whole house thing is giving me an ulcer. I may be on a diet of oatmeal and polenta for the next month to recover, but I’ll try not to inflict a month’s worth of gruel recipes on the world.

Take care and send good moving karma to the Raschke-Agostinis.

Another amazingly full buffet table, I might add. We had a few less people than we had really expected but we did run through some of the big dishes. The orphan food was rather minimal (and trust me, Keifel and I really wanted there to be leftover paté). Everything turned out exactly as I had imagined and wanted. That always makes me feel wonderful, and we all know that that’s why people (okay, me) become chefs. It’s all about the mmmm factor and the validation.

We followed the menu as planned for the most part. Though I jimmied and tweaked based on time constraints and budgetary considerations, also on having forgotten a couple things in the transit from point A (my teeny kitchen) to point B (J&J’s lovely abode). The champagne flowed though we did manage to get through fewer bottles this year. We held a ballot competition to get everyone involved with fabulous non-cash prizes for the guest with the most right guesses and the guest with the least right guesses. The most winner received a choice of two wines from the cellars of J&J and the least winner received a DVD our choice (the name of the movie will be reserved to protect the not so innocent parties that chewed up the scenery).

A cheese tray with a snaking line of fig salami

Chicken liver and proscuitto paté with pistachios (yum)

My favorite picture of the night: bagna cauda with veg

A little smoky fish with accompaniment

A big smoky fish with accompaniment

Whitefish caviar on blini

Salad cups on J’s lovely basket weave platter

The big buffet in situ

The desserts. The thing you can’t see here is the people in room cheering the brownies and trying to steal them on the way to the table.

All in all I was pleased. Imagine me, Ms. Super Self-critical, saying I’m pleased, could be a breakthrough.

This week in food

victoria —  February 17, 2007 — Leave a comment

The coming week is a great one for cooks and eaters alike. Tomorrow (Feb. 18) is Chinese New Year and the first day of the year of the Golden Pig. Tuesday is, of course, Mardi Gras, Shrove Tuesday, Carnival Tuesday, or Pancake Day. A day for revelry and feasting, originally to use up all the meat, fats and sugar before 40 days of Lenten fasting. Our somewhat planned menus are a weekend of pork dinners (Trini-style stewed pork tonight and Coffee-ancho rubbed pork tomorrow), King Cake, and big, fluffy American-style pancakes on Tuesday. We aren’t Chinese or practising Catholics but these days are a part of our American melting-pot culture. And, you know me, any excuse for a themed menu.

I wish my ability to whip up Trini food was a little more developed as I know my honey is missing all the fun in Port of Spain over the next few days. In that small way I might be able to alleviate a little of the longing for things from home. Holidays have a way of making us nostalgic. It is in fact their purpose, to commemorate, to honor, to remember those people and events important to who we are as culture today. They serve as mile posts for our personal development as well. They aren’t always happy. For every person with a warm memory of a handmade Valentine from a grade school crush and a harmonious family meal, there is a person with a painful memory of a drunken parent on Christmas day or an envious Easter morning with everyone else in new clothes. Most of my holiday memories are happy ones. I’ve been fortunate. I am also married to a man who respects my love of ritual and my need to make those rituals our own and therefore meaningful.

I hope my son looks back at his childhood holidays (those widely celebrate and those, perhaps oddly, honored by our small family) with fondness. I know there have been times when we didn’t have the money to do things in a big way but we have always tried to make it special. I think those things may mean more to an adult looking back than to a child immediately wishing for that big birthday or Christmas gift that wasn’t there.

Right now in our little corner of the world, snow is falling very softly outside and our house smells of cinnamon and nutmeg from the King Cake in the oven. Keifel is on his way home from work and we will make dinner together in our tiny kitchen, as he is the better “stewer.” We’ll sit at our small table, a family hand-me-down, and eat together. Not to be too cheesy, though I expect it is too late for that, but I think that is a celebration in itself. We have each other, this place, this food, this moment to be together.

I have this hobby, one might call it an addiction to vintage cookbooks and culinary ephemera from the early 20th century. I had started a small collection on my own and then Our Lady J sent me a lovely shot of new and exciting pieces including a lovely booklet entitled “How to Enjoy a Package of Dromedary Dates” by the Kitchen Lady. I mentioned this largess to my mother who (no surprise given the bottomlessness of her cabinets/attic/basement) practically inundated me with a very large Rubbermaid container’s worth of these gems. And there are definitely some gems.

Most of them are booklets to help housewives get the most out of their newfangled appliances with a few very odd recipes thrown in. Some though, one from the Nordic Ware company in particular, have some great recipes that I have made (and admittedly tweaked for, um, modern tastes). I made a carrot and pineapple Bundt cake from the booklet “Unusual and Old World Recipes” that has rocked many a potluck. Bundts are great for looking fancy and impressive when you don’t have the time to be either.

There are also a number of scary, scary things that involve cooking with alum and carcinogenic food colorings and more oleo than a contemporary person would consume in a lifetime. Given my complete distrust of gelatine-based desserts (I can’t eat something that won’t stop moving), the Jell-O and Knox Gelatine booklets are some of my favorites.

The purely anthropological value of a recipe for lime Jell-O with ham, celery, blanched cauliflower and pimento-stuffed olives makes these booklets worth their weight in saffron.

I think that because of the explosion in food magazines and television programming, we have this idea that we are boldly going where no cooks have gone in terms of international dishes and ingredients. From the modest collection I’ve amassed that seems not to be the case. Granted there aren’t recipes that involve things like extremely hot peppers and nitrogen frozen ice cream, but there are lots of curries, Latin flavors and desserts that would make any European pastry chef gleam with pride. Things like avocados, rock lobster tails and such weren’t just discovered in the 1980s.

I especially like the maid’s outfit and the fact that there is indeed a maid serving sandwiches. This one has not one, but two recipes with avocado.

In the mix were some wartime booklets disseminated to help housewives deal with rationing and with the fear, I can only assume here, of being able to protect and feed their families in the event of catastrophe. They are very patriotic and mention vegetables from Victory Gardens and such. The thing that strikes me now is that they all discuss belt-tightening and pulling your own weight for the war effort in a way that our current government and society, I think, seems reluctant to even discuss let alone implement.

That is not to say that, like now, companies weren’t willing to prey upon the miasma of fears that swirl during wartime.

Detail from the above manual detailing the devastation in London as a result of the Blitz

Though the wartime recipes do rely on oleo (shudder) for some of the fat in baking especially, as all fats began to be rationed, they move toward what we would consider low-fat or healthy-fat type recipes today. There are pie crust and biscuit recipes that use oil instead of butter, lard or oleo. There are also several cakes that use applesauce and other puréed fruits to replace the fat altogether, something the “healthy baking” recipes of recent years have thoroughly embraced (with mixed results). Again, I don’t think we are reinventing the wheel as often as we think.

Some of the booklets I have kept just because of the artwork or the overwhelming kitsch factor. Booklets with “modern” or “time-saving” tend to be heavy on the latter. I obviously can’t know how these images were received in context. I want to believe that there was a time more innocent and less jaded when covers like the one below wouldn’t make your average shopper laugh out loud in the checkout line.

I also really love it when kitsch and Christmas overlap. I have a pretty extensive Christmas and winter holidays cookbook section in the (now-groaning) library. I have three editions of Have a Natural Christmas, ’77, ’78 and ’79, that are bursting at their yellowed seams with pine cone reindeer and low-sew cloth hobo gift bags. They also have many recipes in which peanut butter and seeds feature boldly. And yes, one in which there are seeds, nut butter and pine cones… but that one is for attracting birds to your burlap and popcorn-decorated yard, as if the popcorn didn’t have them chirping “Hallelujah” already. I do poke fun but having been a wee lass in the 1970s, those popcorn garlands and Coke-can angels make me a little misty-eyed. So naturally (no pun intended) this Reynold’s Wrap Christmas booklet made me giggle like a school girl.

Don’t think I am above including this cotton-haired beauty in my cookie packages this year.

I find the more I read about molecular cuisine and the laboratory approach to cooking with infusers and foams and nitrogen freezing, the more I enjoy these forays into the past. There is an article in May’s Wired (“My Compliments to the Lab” by Mark McClusky) that I read with fascination and dismay. McClusky talks about an outing to Chef Grant Achatz’s restaurant Alinea in Chicago that involves things frozen to -30°F and applewood ice cream suspended on a long wire sort of contraption that you bob-off like an apple on a string. Yes, I see the elements of the novel and of play. Yes, the food can taste remarkable. I’m not entirely sure that I believe it feeds us so much as entertains. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but in the end I want to feed people. I really do believe that food made with care and love can sate hunger both physical and spiritual. And before the fat police descend and scream that I am colluding in that sin of confusing food with love, I’d like to get my two cents in.

I don’t mean to confuse “love with lasagna” or whatever that fat-blocking drug commercial says. What I do mean is that food, eating, like sex preserves our species and that unlike all other animals we have made an art and a vice of both. A parent feeding his or her child delicious, wholesome food is an act of love as much as a perpetuation of our kind. A future of food reduced to a pill or gelled strips of flavor doesn’t interest me any more than turkey-baster copulation for baby-making only would. I am going to try to avoid the soapbox but I do feel its splintery edge creeping up on me. Sitting down with people you love, be they friends, family, lovers, whatever, binds us. And for me personally, the people are the entertainment and the food should be fabulous and sustaining. I guess this makes me terribly old-fashioned, but I have to say I’m okay with that. I will happily delve into my culinary artifacts and sit down to conversation and damn fine lasagna with mine.

For further enjoyment

Culinary Ephemera via the U of Michigan

and the U of Iowa

A Chef and His Library

a place to purchase these lovelies if your mom/gran doesn’t come through for you

notes on collecting culinary ephemera and other kit(s)chen-y type things

the granddaddy of food kitsch on the web, James Lileks

A note or two

The tea towels in the photos are courtesy the Doris Raschke (aka Mom) collection.

Apologies for the overexposure on the pics, a photographer I am not.

Take Out

victoria —  September 26, 2005 — Leave a comment

I cook at school, I cook at work, I read about cooking, think about it all the time and more often than not we have Chinese take out or pizza at home because when I am home I am too exhausted to even think about cooking.

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X: a dinner party

victoria —  September 9, 2005 — 1 Comment

Julian, our boychick, turned 10 this week and for his birthday requested a seven course dinner party for him and a few of his closest friends.

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Crepes for Wizardress

victoria —  April 19, 2005 — Leave a comment

use the recipe out of my workhorse edition of The Joy of Cooking. It’s the one for basic sweet crepes, though I make a few adjustments occasionally.

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Nursery Food

victoria —  April 18, 2005 — Leave a comment

It seems like anytime the day gets the best of me and meal time rolls around, I crave porridge–oatmeal, grits, polenta. Or I want something that Dad made when we were kids, like crepes with sugar and cinnamon. Really anything that makes me feel about ten and protected, even if I have to cook it myself.

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Trini Food in D.C.

victoria —  March 31, 2005 — Leave a comment

The very first thing we did was head to the Islander on U Street for roti. They apparently don’t have roti on Sunday night. The boychick and I had stew chicken and Keifel and E.B. had oxtail and goat respectively. The pelau was quite good, but I have to confess that I think Keifel’s stew chicken is better.

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in the Caribbean there is tradition of Black Fruit Cake at Christmas time, making this cake is an artform, my grandmother; Winnifred; was one of its masters. I’m reproducing her recipe here as it was passed on to my mother and now to me. reading my mother’s handwriting to transcribe here, i’m realising that this is not a single cake recipe and by my calculations it may be too late to get started on cakes for this year.

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