Monday, August 14, 2017
And then I had another idea, today. I always look to food to cure what ails the world. We all need food. We all love it. It unites and unifies us all. So, why not use food to combat this hatred? Here is my proposal: Every town and city in the United States that ends up the victim of one of these rallies, should host a potluck in response. Everybody from near and far who can get there, should go. Bring foods from your unique cultures and regions, and help make the "melting pot" narrative real. So, bring your Scottish shortbread, your bbq skills, your pho, your vegan tacos, your spaghetti, your potstickers, your Halal curry, your matzo ball soup, and anything and everything else you can think of, and share it with your friends, your family, your neighbors, and complete strangers. Break bread with one another, and make the haters drool.
And while we're at it, let's fill the food banks of these communities with food for those who need it. Food heals, food is love, food is life. Let us combat hate and anger with the very basics of life. Making us all stronger will allow us to keep fighting harder and longer. I don't know about you, but being angry on a full tummy seems nearly impossible to me.
Sunday, August 6, 2017
So, what do you do when a coworker gives you all her leftover tortilla chips and all you have is pizza-type ingredients at home? Well, you combine them, of course! I didn't measure anything, I just threw it all together. Here's the before:
The next time you're in the mood for nachos, but want something a little different, I highly recommend this!
The next time you're in the mood for nachos, but want something a little different, I highly recommend this!
Tuesday, August 1, 2017
The Cooking Gene-by Michael Twitty, was released today and I am eagerly awaiting my copy, which is probably sitting at my parents' house, as I write this. I feel like I have been waiting for this book my entire life, but in reality, it's only been less than a year. I discovered Michael Twitty by accident, I can't even remember how anymore, but I have enjoyed his blog posts and his tweets ever since. I feel as though we are destined to meet in real life sometime, though when, where, or how, I know not.
I have always been interested in both food and history and have spent a lot of time combining them. When I was young, I loved The Frugal Gourmet on PBS and how Jeff Smith entwined the history of a country into the dishes he was preparing. I went to cooking school right out of high school and spent time in the restaurant industry before realizing I wanted to focus on writing. I left and went back to school. When I was in college, I focused on World War II as a history major, and spent most of my time writing about the home front and food rationing in both Britain and the United States. They were issues that fascinated me, yet hadn't been covered as much as the battles had. I have collected books on food history, which aren't that plentiful, and even contemplated writing one of my own, though I've never figured out what to focus on.
Writing and food are very much my life still, but I have added to it. Another element is my love of genealogy. I have always been fascinated by my family's long-past history, probably because of my family's more-recent history. My maternal grandparents both died very young, when my mother was still a child. She and her siblings were always incredibly close because of this, but because they were so young, none of them knew much about their parents or their past. I've always felt a hole inside of me that my grandparents left behind, and I think genealogy has helped me fill it, somewhat.
Technology has advanced over the years, allowing me to find out things I never would have imagined about my past. Most of my family lines come from Canada, but one line is American. My mother's father's line. It seemed to have originated in the South, a place I've always thought of as "far away" and "over there," but never connected to me or my history. I'd never been able to trace the line back very far for some reason and it always frustrated me. An internet search on my maternal family's surname brought a shocking discovery, in that it was the name of an enslaved man from Virginia. The first of his line. But I didn't have proof beyond the name. Is that why I couldn't trace it? Because they'd been enslaved and therefore, unlikely to have documentation? I didn't know what to make of it. How could a white person have had black ancestors? How is that even possible? I lived with this information and uncertainty for a few years, not sure what to make of it. Then DNA tests began to be available at affordable prices, and I had my parents and father's parents take the tests. And there it was, on my mother's test, a tiny bit of African, which I am happy to have inherited when I took my own test and saw the results. The proof I needed, well, more proof, at least.
As I lived with this information, things began to hit me differently. History that you always thought of as terrible, but not yours, felt more personal. A place that was far off and over there, now felt closer to me. People that I never thought I was connected to, are now connected to me, through a shared past. Knowing you have ancestors who were enslaved takes getting used to. Things make me angry now that I used to not even think about, before. My white privilege glares in my face and I see how ridiculous it is that it is granted to me, but not to everybody.
How do you come to grips with this? Do I have the right to embrace this? Should I ignore it all because it's not my place? Or do I have the privilege to ignore it because it doesn't show in my skin? Ignoring it doesn't change how your family's past played out, it just disrespects it. Embracing the past, acknowledging it, feeling the pain, sorrow, and the unfairness of it all, is how we honor the past, and our ancestors.
I was in the middle of all of this when I first came across Michael Twitty and heard about the book he was working on. It was perfect timing, possibly kismet. Here was a man who was talking and writing about a past and a place and a people that I had just found out I was a part of, even if only in small part. Would I find anymore clues to my family's past in these writings? Would I find my place in the past, and therefore, in the present? Will this help fill the void that I have spent my life trying to fill with family history? I don't know, but I hope I will at least find something that I can see myself in.
I will post again after I've read the book, and even during, if I feel the need to. I will try some of the recipes and share my experiences here. If you want to read along with me, click the link above and order your own copy today! I'd love to hear what you all think of the book too!
Monday, December 26, 2016
The Holiday: Nochebuena(Spain, Latin America, the Philippines)
Nochebuena, or "Good Night," is the celebration of Christmas Eve in Spain and other countries who have been colonized by Spain. It usually consists of a gigantic family meal, after Mass, depending on the country. The country I focused on for this holiday, was the Philippines. The traditional food for this meal is roast suckling pig, but that was a bit much for one person in an apartment to deal with, so I picked some other traditional Filipino foods that I have always wanted to try, but never had a chance to. Researching through the internet and speaking with one of my coworkers led me to feel confident that I had picked out appropriate foods for this meal.
The Food: Lumpia, Pancit, and Suman Malagkit
All of my recipes come from the internet, so I am going to post links to them and share pictures and explanations, rather than type out the recipes here.
First up, is Lumpia.
Lumpia is the Filipino version of eggrolls, and it shows the influence China has had on the Philippines. I have heard about the amazingness that is lumpia for years, but have never had a chance to try it, so I was really excited to make these. I had planned on doing the Philippines when I was doing my Countries of the World project I scrapped, so I had purchased a package of lumpia wrappers several months ago when I was at one of the local Asian markets and they've been in my freezer ever since.
Next up is, Pancit.
Pancit is akin to chow mein, but generally it uses rice noodles instead of wheat noodles. According to my coworker, this dish is pronounced "Pahn-sit," and I'm glad I asked because I was saying it differently. So, now you know too!
Those two dishes made a filling and delicious meal and I was running late that night, so I held off on the dessert until the next day. My choice for dessert was Suman Malagkit. This looks really complicated, but it's actually quite simple. The most complicated step is finding the ingredients. The banana leaves can be found in the freezer section of most Asian markets and I had some leftover from my cities in America project, so I didn't have to buy more. The cool thing is, because they're a byproduct, they're super cheap. They are also gigantic, so be prepared when you work with them that you will be dealing with a leaf that is nearly as tall as you are.
The strip has been used to tie the package together and keep it from opening up in the steamer.
I have never had Filipino food before, and this just makes me want to keep exploring it. I love learning about new cultures through the food they eat. It's a very intimate way to get to know people. Maybe next year I'll have to make some of this for my family's Christmas Eve dinner...! We can call it Nochebuena too!
Sunday, December 11, 2016
So, it's early to be celebrating Hanukkah, but this year, it falls on the same day as Christmas, and those both fall on a weekend, making it difficult to do anything for this blog project on that weekend. Instead of skipping it this year, I am doing it early. So, Happy Hanukkah, everybody!
For those of you who are not familiar with this holiday, it is a Jewish holiday celebrating a rebellion in 200 BCE of the Jewish people against their oppressors. In this case, it was Antiochus III, of Greek-Syrian origin. It turns out that Antiochus was a jerkass, and made life unlivable for the Jewish people there. They rose up in protest, and what ensued was a seven year series of battles between them and Antiochus III. The famous story about the temple with the oil lasting eight days is a wonderful story, but it is also possibly within the realm of myth/legend. It's a fun story, and probably has some basis in a true historical event that has since been embellished upon.
The Food: Rugelach and Buñuelos/Bimuelos
Because of the traditional story about the temple with the miraculous oil, it is customary to eat fried foods at Hanukkah, and who am I to question tradition?!
Rugelach is a cookie that looks like a crescent roll, but with stuff inside it. It's amazing, if you've never had them before, you should try them out! I don't have a source for this recipe.
3 cups flour
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 cup butter, softened
1(8oz.) pkg. cream cheese, softened(I used the 1/3 reduced-fat kind)
1 cup sugar, divided
2 egg yolks, room temp.
2 tsp. vanilla
1 cup finely chopped walnuts
2 Tbsp. cinnamon
1/2 cup seedless raspberry or apricot jam
1 cup raisins, divided
1.) Whisk flour and salt in bowl.
2.) Beat butter and cream cheese in mixer bowl until smooth. Beat in 1/2 cup sugar, yolks, and vanilla until combined.
3.) Line a sheet pan with foil. Remove dough disks from refrigerator; let stand 10 minutes.
These are amazing!! I used leftover cranberry sauce that I made at Thanksgiving that still needed to be used up. The ones I will make for my family in a couple weeks will have strawberry jam, because that's the kind I have on hand. I have never made dough with cream cheese in it before and I think it's really tasty! The cookies are crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside. I hope the dough I froze will work ok when I thaw it out. Because I've never made it before, it's a risk, but it's been my experience that when a dough recipe has the refrigerate step, it can be frozen at that point and thawed out at another time. Time will tell, I suppose! I have a few of these to take to work for my coworkers to try, and I also gave some to my parents and grandparents too.
This was a fun cookie, but there's no frying involved. I have done latkes before and even made apple fritters once for Hanukkah, and needed something new and exciting. You may not know this about me, but I have a fascination with Jewish cuisine. As a history major with a focus on food, it's a match made in Heaven for me! I have never run across a people whose history is so steeped in everything they eat, more than Jewish people. Every dish seems to tell the story of who they are, and their past. So, because of this, I actually have several Jewish cuisine cookbooks, in spite of not being Jewish, myself. I looked through all of them, and found just the right thing in a book called, "A Drizzle of Honey: The Lives and Recipes of Spain's Secret Jews," by David M. Gitlitz and Linda Kay Davidson.
Did you know there is a group of Jewish people who settled in Spain? They are called Sephardic, and have a long history in the Iberian Peninsula. Once upon a time, the Muslims settled in the Iberian Peninsula, and ended up ruling there for over 800 years. During this time, they brought with them a lot of ingredients and cooking techniques that the region is still known for to this day. Also during this time, Muslims, Jews, and Christians lived together in a sort of peace. When the Christians eventually took over the region, they were less kind and expelled the Jews from the region. To work around this, many of them converted publicly to Christianity, but kept their own beliefs and traditions in their homes. Unfortunately, the Inquisition was at this same time period, and friends and family members were encouraged to turn each other in if they suspected them of heresy. Jewish traditions were considered a heresy. A lot of the recipes from this book come from people who were turned in and tortured by the Church. Many of them were burned at the stake.
This is why food is important. It tells a story after people are long gone and can no longer tell it for themselves. It keeps their history alive. Enjoy it, love it, have fun making, eating, and sharing it, but always be respectful of it. This is not my history, and the people who had to hide it from the world didn't have the luxury of being able to share it with others. So, enjoy the food, remember their history, and share both for them.
Buñuelos/Bimuelos(Found on page270-272 in the paperback copy of the book)
These are also popular in Mexican cuisine. The reason? Because the cultures blended over the years, a lot of what the Jewish people ate ended up being what the larger Christian population ate as well.
1 pkg. dry yeast
1 1/3 cups warm water
3 cups unsifted white flour
2 eggs, well beaten
1/2 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. olive oil
3 cups honey
1/4 cup water
Olive oil(enough to cover a deep pan to a depth of 1")
Mix the dough:
1. Dissolve the yeast in 1/3 cup warm water. Let sit for 10 minutes.
2. Place the flour into a medium bowl. Stir the yeasted water, the beaten eggs, salt, and olive oil into the flour all at once. Gradually add the remaining 1 cup water to make a slightly tacky dough.
Make the syrup:
4. Mix the honey and water in a medium saucepan and bring to a hard boil. Reduce the heat to low. Simmer for 5 minutes and then turn down the heat to its minimum setting so that the syrup remains hot but does not boil again. (I used less honey than it called for. I actually didn't measure it or the water.)
Fry the fritters:
5. In a large deep skillet or saucepan, heat the olive oil to approximately 375 degrees or hot enough for a drop of water to sputter.
6. Dip a tablespoon into the oil to coat it. Dip out a scant teaspoon of the dough and drop it in the boiling oil.
Serve the fritters:
8. Place the fritters on a plate. Drizzle the hot honey syrup over them and sprinkle them with cinnamon and powdered sugar.
Variation: Sephardic cooks would have used olive oil to fry the fritters. We suggest a mixture of 1 3/4 cups vegetable oil and 1/4 cup olive oil.(I used a blend of all the oil I had in the house. Olive oil is a really heavy oil and I didn't want to use too much of it for a dessert.)
In keeping with the story of the temple and the oil lasting for eight days when there was only enough for one day, I had my own Hanukkah miracle! I used up most of my oil to make these, and ended up having just enough to fry the entire amount of dough without having to make an emergency trip to the store to buy more!
So, these were like little pillows from Heaven. They taste like waffles! My apartment smells like a fish fry now! But it was worth it to taste these little nuggets of joy. I drizzled them in all the toppings and then stirred them around. You might need to use a spoon or a fork to do this because that honey is molten, but if you're more seasoned, you can use your fingers like I did. In the restaurant business, the term is "asbestos fingers" to describe when you can touch hot things and not burn yourself. It comes with time and practice and is not for the faint of heart!
Also, be careful with the honey, it's currently on everything, including my water bottle. It's sticky as heck! I have some of these to take to work tomorrow too. Hopefully they'll reheat decently for people to try them out.
Well, hopefully my family will get to try the rugelach in a couple weeks when I see them for Christmas! This was a fun set of recipes. I recommend them both very highly. For those of you who celebrate, I hope you have a most wonderful and joyous Hanukkah this year!
Sunday, December 4, 2016
The Holiday: St. Nicholas Day(Countries all over the world)St. Nicholas Day is celebrated on December 6th in western European countries and on December 19th in eastern European countries, but it is celebrated all over the world as well.
Santa Claus, the man, the myth, the legend, was actually, apparently, an ordinary man who did exist at one point in time. He was a Greek man, born in what is today known as Turkey. He lived in the 3rd century CE. He was orphaned at a young age, and raised in the Church by his uncle who was a bishop. He was said to have lived his life helping the poor and downtrodden. Over the years and centuries, several miracles were attributed to him. According to this, he was canonized well before the current practices for canonization were introduced. No actual date for his canonization is known, it seems as though, he just always has been a saint.
I know there is currently some "controversy" about a particular mall in America that has hired an African American man to portray Santa this year, and some people are even calling for a boycott. When I learn more about St. Nicholas, the more I am convinced that he probably wasn't white. A man of Greek heritage, raised in Turkey? He probably looked Middle Eastern more than anything. Although, I'd like to imagine he looked like this guy:
I think my point is, does it really matter what Santa Claus looks like, when we're supposed to follow his example to be kind to one another and to help each other out? Maybe Santa will bestow us all with open hearts and minds this year for Christmas, I think that's the gift the world truly needs right now!
The Food: Cookies
I looked for meals to make, but nothing stood out to me. What I came across over and over again, however, is cookies! In many countries, St. Nicholas Day is the day children leave out cookies for Santa Claus, and the night he delivers presents. I'm not sure if they do this again on Christmas Eve, or not, but whatever you generally do for Christmas Eve, is fine to do for St. Nicholas Day! I picked out two recipes to try. One of them I loved, one of them, not so much. I will post the link to the recipe I didn't care for, so you can try it out for yourself if it interests you.
This is the recipe I didn't care for. There was nothing wrong with it, I just found it too sweet for my tastes. It sounds odd to describe something sweet as "bland," but this is how I found it. It was just sort of one-note. I don't know if I had cut down on the sugar if that would have helped, but it just didn't work for me.
And now, for the one that did work! You know them, you love them! They're called Snowballs or Mexican Wedding Cookies or Russian Teacakes, or in this case, Hungarian Holiday Butter-Nut Cookies. It seems as if every nation claims ownership of these cookies, but they can't all have invented them. I did some research on these cookies, and the consensus is this: Nobody knows where these cookies originated, or when. So, call them what you will, just make sure you make them and eat them!
Hungarian Holiday Butter-Nut Cookies(source unknown)
1 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1/4 tsp. salt
1 egg yolk
2 1/4 cups flour
1 cup ground pecans(Actually ground, not chopped. I used a food processor to get it as finely ground as I could without it turning into nut butter.)
1.) In a large bowl with electric mixer, cream butter, sugar, vanilla, salt, and egg yolk until smooth.
3.) Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Shape dough into 1" balls. Place cookies 1 1/2" apart on ungreased cookies sheets.
Makes about 4 dozen
I had leftover ground pecans and rather than use it for something else or forget I had it until it went bad and then composted it instead, I mixed it in with the powdered sugar that I rolled the cookies in. It gave it a darker color than the usual pure white, but it did make it taste extra pecan-y. I really liked it that way and so did my sister.
I don't know about you, but I think cookies is one of the best parts of Christmas. I usually do a few types, a blend of tried and true, and brand new. Sometimes they work out and sometimes they don't! But it's fun to try them out, regardless! Make sure to make some this year for Santa! He'll enjoy them for sure!
Until next week!