Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Grandma and Mattie and (this time) Pie: Part II

Monday's post about Mattie and Grandma was my rambling way of getting to mincemeat.  Because it's that time of year.  Of course, you would have had to read all the way to the bottom to know that.

My rambling wasn't completely unreasonable.  Mincemeat, after all, is a mishmash of all sorts of things; it stands to reason that thinking about mincemeat would send my mind off in many directions.

We have mincemeat pie every Thanksgiving at our house.  Sometimes it's stretched a bit, or even a lot, with sliced apples, or sliced or diced quince.  I do like the idea--and taste--of quince.  Its perfume always seems medieval to me, so is the perfect match for as old a recipe as mincemeat.  And besides, isn't it fun to say 'quince mince'?  It's always served warm, with a healthy spoonful of hard sauce (also quite nice on pumpkin pie).

But I've never used store-bought mincemeat, even doctored.  And that's because the recipe I have, given to me by my sister, makes so much that I have only made it three or four times in 23 years.  It requires a bit of foresight, as you need to make some candied peel, and scare up some suet.  But once done, it sits happily in the basement, waiting the next holiday.

1 lb. finely chopped suet
1 lb. currants
1 lb. chopped raisins
1 lb. chopped apples
2 cups sugar
1/2 lb. sultanas (or muscat raisins)
4 oz. chopped, mixed candied peel (last time I only used candied orange peel)
juice and rind of 1 lemon
juice and rind of 1 orange
1/2 cup brandy
1/4 cup rum
1 teaspoon each cinnamon, nutmeg, and mace
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

Combine in a tightly closed jar and store at least a week or two--it will keep in a cool place several years. 
Yield: 4-5 pounds

Like the mincemeat, candied peel will keep for a long time.  It's well worth making a batch for the mincemeat.  Then you'll have plenty through the holidays.  You can dip them in chocolate, or just serve a couple alongside an espresso.  Having a container of candied orange peel in the refrigerator makes you feel rich. 

Candied Orange (or Lemon) Peel
from Lindsey Shere's Chez Panisse Desserts
4 oranges, or 6 lemons or tangerines
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar (or 2 Tablespoons corn syrup)
About a cup of sugar for sprinkling the peel

Remove peel from the fruit in quarter sections. (I do this this by cutting just through the peel.  If you're lucky, you can then pull off the peel in 4 neat sections).  Put in a saucepan, and cover with cold water.  Bring to a boil and simmer until the pith starts to look translucent.  Let stand in the hot water for about 15 minutes, and drain.

 Make a syrup of the sugar, water, and cream of tartar (or corn syrup).
Sprinkle a layer of sugar onto a plate or cookie sheet, and set aside.
With a spoon, scrape off and discard the white pith as completely as possible.  Cut the peel into thin strips, and add to the syrup.  Cook slowly until the peel is translucent.  Then turn up the heat and cook quickly until the syrup reaches 230º on a candy thermometer.

Drain the peel in a strainer and quickly put drained peel onto the plate of sugar.  Sprinkle more sugar to cover, then toss the peel with a fork.

Store the peel in sugar in a container in the refrigerator.

Mincemeat Pie
Roll out your pie crust (the recipe I use is in this post) and fit into a pie pan, and chill.  I also cut a bunch of strips of pie dough to use for a lattice top (seems right with mince) or some shapes to set on top (if the Thanksgiving day rush is getting to you).  If you're making straight mince pie, you will want somewhere around 2 cups of filling (it's very rich).  I prefer to cut it with apples, quince, or a mix of the two.  Some years I make essentially an apple pie with a little bit of mincemeat in it; more often, I use about 1-1/2 cups mincemeat, and some sliced or diced apples and quince--enough to slightly heap in the pie plate.

Bake at 400º for about 25 minutes, then turn down the heat to 375º, and bake about 10 minutes longer.  The apples should be tender by then, and the crust golden.  Serve warm, with:

Hard Sauce
from Lindsey Shere's Chez Panisse Desserts 

4 Tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1-1/2 teaspoons cognac, brandy or bourbon

Beat softened butter until it is fluffy, and then gradually beat in powdered sugar.  Add the liquor, and beat until very fluffy.  Chill until firm.  (You can make this ahead and keep in the freezer--just be sure your husband doesn't know it's there, or he might eat it as if it's ice cream).

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Monday, October 26, 2009

Grandma and Mattie and Pie (or not): Back for Seconds

On the porch swing, between Mattie (in red) and great-aunt Fay (Flora Mae)

Grandma was no cook; come to think of it, she wasn't much of an eater, either.  Instead of cooking she did many other things: entertained the troops (but which ones?) as a child in China, drank bathtub gin in Berkeley in the 1920s, lived in depression-era Carmel trying to make it as an artist, moved back to the land in the 1940s (when everyone else was moving away from the land), taught primary school, raised 4 sons, went back to college in her 50's; visited every continent but Antarctica; and studied Chinese after retirement.

Grandma and her brother, entertaining some troops, China, 191?

Oddly, I often think of the food I ate with Grandma, though no one has fond memories of her cooking.  It's because of the trip to Oklahoma...

Grandma took my older brother and sister to Welch, Oklahoma for Thanksgiving when I was about 7.  After their return, they tortured me with their stories of the pies my great-grandmother, Mattie (Grandma's mother-in-law), made, and the sheer quantities of food turned out of her kitchen.  I wondered when I'd get my chance to sit in Mattie's kitchen.

Finally, one sunny October morning when I was 9, Grandma picked me up in her blue Mustang, and we drove to Oklahoma.  It was the first time I was away from my family.  Grandma was not the kind of grandmother who enveloped you in hugs, or gave you chocolate bars to cheer you up.  So I looked out my car window, trying to hide my homesickness, while Grandma looked straight ahead, Pall-Mall cigarette dangling from her mouth, rarely talking.

View Grandma and Mattie and Pie (or not) in a larger map
 Our trip to Oklahoma, Grandma's birthplace (pink marker), trips (yellow markers, red line), Mattie's trek in green

But I missed home, especially that first night, in Needles, California.  We ate at a Denny's, and I naively picked the Chicken Blanquette.  It seems unlikely, now, that Denny's had something with a French name, but that's how I remember it.  The photo on the menu (a shiny, laminated affair) showed a piece of chicken with gravy.  What was brought to me was a chicken shaped lump encased in pale viscous matter.I picked at it, moving it back and forth, hoping it would disappear.

The reward came with the dinnertime conversation. Grandma told me about her last trip through Needles, when she’d traveled with her sister. “It was at least 110 degrees when we came through. After we checked into our motel I stripped off all my clothes and lay down on the bed under the fan. Barbara was pretty mad.  She sat there in her clothes, fuming. I didn’t care – I was comfortable.” She chuckled a bit, remembering her proper, but sweating, sister.  Apparently Grandma was not as uptight as I'd imagined.

Grandma (uncharacteritically) eating shish kebabs on the Steppes of USSR with her more proper sister, Barbara

That disappointing first dinner on the road turned out to be but one in a string of cruel food twists.  Every meal was similarily bad--from the hamburger patties at the diner in Shamrock, Texas to, sadly, dinner with Mattie.

Mattie's husband had died since my siblings' visit, and her widowed daughter-in-law now lived with her.  Her kitchen no longer turned out daily pies and massive amounts of farm food.  Instead, Mattie popped biscuits out of a can to bake, and we ate dinner on TV trays in the darkened living room.

But between meals, I often sat on a porch swing next to my great-grandmother, listening to her stories about riding in a covered wagon from Indiana to Oklahoma when she was a little girl.  To a 9-year-old Laura Ingalls Wilder worshipper from Berkeley, California, this was more exotic than even Denny's chicken blanquette.  It was the most wonderful thing I'd ever done.

The bad meals on that trip are bookmarks now, as if the sheer disappointment of the food made me focus that much more on the stories I heard in Oklahoma. As if the blanquette on the chicken was completely wrapped up with the blankets Grandma had kicked aside in that hot motel room.  As if the biscuits that fell from a can onto the baking sheet were reminders of covered wagons like the one that carried Mattie into Oklahoma.

Soon after our return, we probably had Thanksgiving dinner at Grandma's; we often did in those years.  We surely had roast turkey and mashed potatoes; I mainly remember the smell of over-cooked vegetables, green beans,  I think.  My father sometimes joked about the way she cooked vegetables: Put them in a pot, fill pot (to the brim) with water, cook until burned.

But there is one happy food memory: Grandma always made mincemeat pie, and I loved it.  Maybe after the rest of the dinner, the mincemeat, with its liquored dried fruits and hard sauce was a shot of good flavor.  Or maybe the mincemeat (which was surely out of a 'nonesuch' jar) had been doctored with enough liquor to mask any bad flavors. Either way--it was my favorite. And is to this day.

I still wonder why we had Thanksgiving at Grandma's house as often as we did.  Since she didn't even like to cook, why didn't she come to our house?  Was it because we split the holidays between the two sides of the families?  Or did my parents, food-conscious though they were, realize that family trumps all?  Or did they just have a sense of humor, and realize that the best stories need a little vinegar--or a touch of Grandma's bad cooking.

Grandma with my father or his brother (1935 or 1940)

Thursday, October 22, 2009

What I've Been Reading

This photo has nothing to do with this post; I took it yesterday and like looking at it.
On my blog's sidebar you'll find a couple of widgets guiding you to articles that have interested me lately.  One lists recent shared items from my Google reader; the other lists the most recent articles bookmarked on Delicious.

But I thought it might be fun for you (or, more likely, a good exercise for me) if I occasionally posted something about the blogs, books, and newspaper articles I've been following recently.

I just finished reading Novella Carpenter's Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer.  I'd started it during the summer, and then, for what seemed like a good reason at the time,  put it aside.  What a wonderful book--you should run out and get it.  I bought mine--I would have gone to the library, but here in Portland there are 228 holds on 8 copies. I couldn't wait.

I wish people who call all of us interested in food 'elitists' would read it. Carpenter is anything but that--unless you consider curiosity, compassion, hard work (seriously hard work), and humor elitist.

Anyway, thoughts of Farm City fresh in my mind informed everything else I read recently.  The main thought is one that's been simmering for a long while now, and was brought back to a full boil with Gourmet's closure, and talk of it having becom 'irrelevant', or, worst of all, 'for the elite.'

Marion Nestle's blog, Food Politics,  got hold of the letters between Cal Poly's president, Dr. Warren Baker, and David Wood of Harris Ranch Beef, about the uproar over Michael Pollan's appearance at Cal Poly.  Wood throws around the 'E' word quite a bit, making Elitists sound a bit like terrorists.  Worth reading.

One way to deal with the 'elitist' label is to join it.  I like what Ed Bruske has to say on his post, 'I'm an Elitist' at his blog, The Slow Cook:
" markets are certainly “elite” in the same sense that the Green Berets are considered an “elite” fighting force, the very best our military (or U.S. Army, at any rate) has to offer. And that would make me an elitist, too, since that is precisely the kind of food I prefer for myself and my family. But rather than shrink from the elitist label, I embrace it. I have no problem at all admitting that when I put food on the table, I want it to be the best."
Then there was the New York Times Magazine (Oct. 8) Questions page about Lisa Lillien of Hungry Girl (have to admit I'd never heard of her). 
The question: "Do you see your career as a backlash against food snobbery?" 
Her response:  "I am not a food snob. When I was younger I would read cookbooks, and when I got to an unfamiliar ingredient, like parsnips, I would turn the page."
 What are we supposed to make of that?  That it's snobbish to be curious, and open to new tastes (ideas, thoughts)?

But there's been fun reading as well.  The Telegraph did a two part story, having two writers trade  (eating) places. Lucy Cavendish ate Bryony Gordon's prepared foods for a week, and then Bryony followed Lucy's more work-intensive menu.

My father wrote about the Futurist Banquet at SFMOMA on his blog, The Eastside View, including links to Tablehopper's account and their photos/videos (complete with warnings for the faint of heart and vegans).  Since I couldn't be there, I read about the bicycle transported roasted steer (through the streets of San Francisco) and its subsequent carving, beeting (yes, beet-ing) hearts, desserts dropping from the sky.

I will get to attend Portland's Livestock (November 4th, cow; November 11th, pig) evening of readings and butchery demonstrations at the International Culinary School at the Art Institute of Portland (503-827-6564), a promising local meat happening.  That is, if I hurry up and buy my tickets!

Finally, this New York Times article makes me ready to run out and buy Italian food historian Oretta Zanini De Vita's new book, The Encyclopedia of Pasta, a social history of pasta. Looks fascinating!  And can I have her name (that's saying a lot; mines not bad!)?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Malteds and Nickel Candy Bars: Part II

Going back for seconds of malteds is pretty easy.  Usually, when I have a craving for something malty, I make a glass of malted milk--there's always a jar of malted milk powder somewhere deep in my cupboards. It's solidified over the years, so I chisel out a couple of spoonfuls, and stir in some icy milk. 

The jar I have is Carnation brand--Horlicks, which we usually had when I was a kid, isn't easily available at my local stores.  Carnation's ingredient list is fairly short: Wheat flour and malted barley extracts (that's one thing?), milk, soy lecithin, salt, sodium bicarbonate.

View Malteds and Nickel Candy Bars in a larger map

Click on the map to find out what malted milk powder has to do with Antarctica.

William Horlick, a British émigré in Racine, Wisconsin patented malted milk powder in 1883. Originally, it was marketed as a nutritional supplement for infants and invalids.  They cleverly trademarked the name 'malted milk' after initially calling it 'diastoid'.  Catchy, no?  Can't you imagine climbing up on a stool at a soda fountain and saying "I'll have a chocolate diastoid, extra diastoidy"? 

In 1922, also in Racine, another émigré (Polish this time), Stephen Poplawski, patented the electric blender.  With it, more malt shops opened, and the familiar soda fountains in corner drugstores entered their heyday.

Enough background.  What if I want a real malted milkshake now?  It's been known to happen.  A couple of years ago, Blue Plate opened in Portland's handsome Dekum Building (1892).  Yesterday at 11 AM was the only time I could fit a malt in before writing this.  I wasn't at all in the mood (ice cream before noon seems as wrong as alcohol before noon), but duty called.

Blue Plate isn't a corner drugstore.  There are no comics carousels here (though there was an old two-volume set of the Gourmet cookbooks; everyone's got Gourmet on their mind).  But Abba Zaba bars (fun size) mingle with Big Hunks in a jar on the counter--the same kind that Tom used for oatmeal cookies.  Green stools line the counter, and there's a long list of milkshakes. And malteds.

But I rarely look at the menu.  I don't want to get sidetracked by things like the R.P. McMurphy, a butterscotch milkshake chock-full of toffee covered nuts.  I usually order a vanilla malted now. They just seem maltier than chocolate malteds.  Yesterday, I ordered it a little dutifully.  While I waited, I wondered if the bright orange and blue liquids in the cut glass decanters on the shelves behind the counter were some elixir, or simply decoration: colored water.

My malted--the one I hadn't craved--arrived, I removed the maraschino cherry (never did learn to like them) and took a sip.  One sip of the cold, achingly sweet malted, with the crunch of icy bits and crystalline malted powder, and I realized there was nothing I wanted more right then than that vanilla malted.

While I drank my malted, I thought about the vague ways Blue Plate is reminiscent of an era and place that I nearly missed.  The setting, in a part of downtown Portland that still looks much as it would have in the 1940s reminds me of Oakland in that era. Which is funny, since I wasn't even alive then. But Oakland (just south of where I grew up in Berkeley) changed slowly, and that 40's mood lingered in my early childhood, and always attracted me.

I was just finishing my vanilla malted when I overheard the man at the next table talking to the woman he was with (appropriately apologetic about the beginning of his question): "Are you old enough that there were still any old fashioned soda fountains when you were a kid?"

The question pleased me, and the answer was too good:

"I grew up in Hayward, and we used to go into Oakland to a soda fountain..."

Hayward, just south of Oakland.  Home of Annabelle Candy Company, the queen of the nickel candy bars.

I love it that a vanilla malted I didn't even think I wanted pulled me all the way back to the Bay Area of the 1940s. Even if I'd never been there in the first place.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Malteds and Nickel Candy Bars: Back for Seconds

Tom's Drugstore sat on the corner of Virginia St. and Shattuck Ave. in north Berkeley, a little more than two blocks from my house.  Looking back, I realize that Tom's was one of the places that drew me out into the greater world.  Well, I guess it was the candy and malteds that Tom sold that called to me.

Tom's Drugstore was was always tempting, because it had the comics carousel (I remember reading 'Sad Sack' and 'Richie Rich') and the candy counter.  That's not to say Tom was a friendly guy right out of a Norman Rockwell painting.  The blue cardigan he always wore didn't give him a Mr. Rogers demeanor.  He glared at us kids when we came in, towering over us from behind the long counter, keeping an eye on us as we scanned the comics. 

View Malteds and Nickel Candy Bars in a larger map

If I was very lucky, I could get a 10 cent candy bar, but I usually only had a nickel. I assumed the dime bars were the fancy ones, and the nickel ones were somehow lesser.  The dime bars were the classics: the Hershey's, the Snickers and the Three Musketeers (which were favorites, even though my dad liked telling us he bit into one once and found it full of maggots).

The nickel bars I liked were Annabelle's Rocky Road bars (marshmallow with cashew--who knew?), Big Hunks (nougat with peanuts), Chuckles (where I first tasted and loved licorice) and Abba Zabas bars (peanut butter-filled taffy) bars.  The Big Hunks came with directions to whack them on something before opening--nowadays Big Hunk bars aren't hard at all--you have to twist pieces off. People are getting soft.

Reading about these candy bars today, I realize that maybe it wasn't that the dime bars were fancier; they were all made by the big candy companies.  The nickel bars came from smaller regional companies--many local.  Annabelle's Rocky Road bars were made a few towns to the south, in Hayward; Big Hunks came from Golden Nugget Candy Company, across the bay in San Francisco (Annabelle Lee would buy them in 1972). Abba Zabas were made by the Cardinet Candy Company of Alameda (Annabelle Lee acquired them in 1978).

A nickel was pretty easy to come by then, so I enjoyed those candy bars fairly often.  But whenever I could rub two quarters together (or--more likely--find a friend with a spare quarter to rub with mine), I perched myself on one of the green stools at the counter.  At one end of the counter was the big cash register, and, next to it, a large glass cookie jar filled with oatmeal cookies (the same kind, I'm sure, that were used in It's its--worthy of its own blog post).  But in the center of the counter was the soda fountain.

It took only 50 cents to get a malted or a milkshake.  I remember always having chocolate malteds, but is it really possible that whoever was sharing always wanted the same thing?  Because I nearly always shared, partly because of the cost.

But also because when Tom (and every other ice cream place I remember) made a milkshake, he loaded the metal jar with scoops of hard ice cream, syrup, milk, and Horlicks powder (or was it Carnation?) and stuck it up under the green milkshake blender.  A few minutes later, he unhitched the metal container, took down a footed milkshake glass, poured in the milkshake, stuck in a straw, and set the glass on the counter in front of us. Along with the metal jar, with another full glass of malted remaining.  Tom might have seemed scary, but I don't remember there ever being a problem getting a second glass for my friend.

Looking back, Tom's Corner Drugstore is where I learned how to elbow my way past adults reading magazines (which ones exactly?) to get to the comics.  Tom's was the first place I ordered and tipped. It was where I learned to keep a low profile, avoiding--while listening in on--the adults.  I also gained the valuable skill of hanging out for 20 minutes on only one nickel (adjusted to 2009 dollars, it's more like 20 minutes for $1). But most of all, Tom's Corner Drugstore is where I learned to love malteds forever.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Back for Seconds: Herring and Aquavit Part II

herring at home
When I first came back from Denmark, I sought out all things Danish.  I made trips to Nordic House, a Scandinavian food store on Telegraph Avenue in Oakland, where I could get nearly everything I missed: all sorts of lakrids (licorice), Lurpak smør (Danish butter), and, of course, sild (herring).  Once or twice I made a huge smørrebrød dinner, complete with sild and a bottle of Aalborg Akvavit frozen in ice.

But then Denmark faded into the background of my life.  I married, moved to Portland, raised three kids, and except for the yearly Christmas Scanfair at PSU, I didn't think very often about Denmark.

herring board at Broder
But it's been back in my mind lately.  One reason is Broder Restaurant, in SE Portland.  It's really a Swedish restaurant, but they do sell æbleskiver (those wonderful Danish pancake puffs), and a delicious pickled herring board.  Broder piles herring on slices of rye bread, and tops it with pickled red onions and cucumbers. If that's not enough crunch for you, they also give you a little dish of pickled beets (pink and golden) and cucumbers, all tasting of marjoram. Off to the side of the board sits a little dish of horseradish cream.  I usually dip my fork in, since I love horseradish and cream, but I'm never quite sure how to eat it with the herring.  Apparently some of the old exchange student fears linger; I don't want to eat my herring incorrectly!

Broder does serve aquavit as well--in fact, they make an excellent Bloody Mary with local House Spirits Krogstad Aquavit.  But sadly I never partake--somehow, even Portlanders don't seem to have enough chutzpah to yell skål (bet you never expected ‘chutzpah’ and ‘skål ‘ in the same sentence!) as they drink aquavit on weekday afternoons.

And about that aquavit.  While Oregon's population (3.4 million) ranked 28th in the US in 2000, we have the most small distilleries of any state!  I'm not even talking per capita here--that's in absolute numbers.  One of my favorites is House Spirits (the people who bring you Aviation gin).  You could buy their bottles at the liquor store, but if possible, stop by the distillery.  Located in SE Portland, they open their surprisingly small space up on Saturdays for interesting tours, and are the nicest people.  Though why shouldn't they be, surrounded by all those delicious bottles?  They make Krogstad, a traditional Scandinavian aquavit, flavored with caraway and star anise that has the crisp finish I remember from Aalborg Aquavit, but a more delicate flavor.

House Spirits has also started a second line of small-batch spirits called 'Apothecary Line'.  These are their experiments--when I visited I picked up a  bottle of 'Gammal Krogstad', their Krogstad aged in a French oak barrel that previously hosted pinot noir.  Same caraway and star anise, but the flavors have deepened, and ask to be sipped.  Perhaps for after the guests have gone home?

Krogstad in ice
So when I want to eat sild properly, that is, with a small glass of snaps at hand, I stick to weekend lunches at home.  I've discovered that Pastaworks on SE Hawthorne sells very good housemade pickled herring.  I always use one of the boards my father-in-law made for us, instead of a plate.  It's how it was done in Denmark, and rightly so--much easier to butter the bread on a flat surface.  And butter the bread you must!  The herring goes on next, and some chopped red onions on top.  It's awfully good.  A glass of snaps makes it perfect.


Broder Restaurant
2508 SE Clinton, Portland, OR 503-736-3333
House Spirits Distillery
2025 SE 7th Ave., Portland, OR 503-235-3174
3735 SE Hawthorne, Portland, OR 503-232-1010

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Monday, October 12, 2009

Back for Seconds: Herring and Aquavit Part I

When I was 16 I went on a yearlong student exchange. For a while I thought I'd go to Finland. But then someone told me that Finnish noun declension consists of 15 grammatical cases--after two years of Latin and struggling with its 7 cases, that was enough to make me reconsider my choice.

In the end I chose Denmark. It seemed incredibly exotic; no one in my family had been there (as a youngest child I wanted to do my own thing), and most students lived on farms.  A few months before leaving I found out where I'd live: on a dairy farm outside Sønder Harritslev, in the northernmost province of Vendsyssel on the peninsula called Jylland (Jutland). I remember finding the town (or its vague location) on our black globe and tracing my way back along the same latitude to North America. I would be as far north as the middle of Hudson Bay.

View Herring and Aquavit in a larger map
When I arrived there, I was determined to try and like every food.  I was more accustomed to exotic foods than many of the students.  Some kids had never eaten bread that wasn't white--so they were pretty horrified by the leverpostej (liver spread).

You can imagine how they felt about the sild (herring).  Most exchange students hated it, thinking it was too close to raw fish (this was, obviously, before sushi became a craze in the US).  But it wasn't raw--the herring was brine cured.  For me, the sild was a treat.   

I quickly learned the order of sandwiches at lunch (I hope I'm getting this right): sild, vegetables (often cucumber and tomato), meats, cheeses (these were NEVER combined), and, finally, butter and jam.  The first sandwiches were all made with rugbrød, a store-bought hearty rye bread.  The cheese sandwich offered a choice: stay with the rugbrød, or change over to the familiar looking white bread, franskbrød. I liked to eat my cumin flecked cheese on the heavy rye bread. But my Danish mother usually changed to her home-baked franskbrød with blue cheese.  Or sometimes she'd even use the course to bridge the shift to jam, putting  a little spoonful on top of her cheese.

But sild was a special treat, and when it appeared, it was the main attraction.  You put a half a piece of rye bread on your smørrebrød board, and carefully covered it with butter.  This is important: the butter makes an impermeable buffer between the bread and any brine juices, so your bread maintains its integrity.  The pieces of sild lay neatly across the sandwich, a few pickled onion slices hula hooping their way around them.  Never pick up your sandwich in your hands, always use your  knife and fork.

 I didn't need to pretend to like the sild (I saved my acting abilities for things like overcooked spaghetti served with ketchup and sliced up fuschia colored hot dogs).  In fact, I took an instant liking to everything about it: the meaty texture, the briny taste (part sea, part cure), and the cruncy pickled onions.

To accompany, we drank beer (families were faithful to either Carlsberg or Tuborg; we were a Tuborg family) and snaps (aquavit).  The first time I was offered a glass, I was a little surprised.  I was used to the occasional glass of wine with a meal, and in Denmark, beer.  But snaps was different: it was, well, hard.  But you couldn't avoid it. And pretty soon I didn't want to avoid it, its clean caraway taste the perfect foil for the briny fish.

At any family celebration or weekend lunch with sild, out came the Aalborg Aquavit and the tiny v-shaped glasses.  The first time I was confused--I was trying to maneuver the sild on to my knife and fork, carefully lifting it to my mouth hoping not to drop anything, when all of the sudden everyone had raised their glasses and yelled skål!  This happened many times, seemingly without warning, throughout the sild course.  But I caught on quickly, learning that when it was time to skål, everything stopped. Knife and fork went back on the plate, glass got raised, meaningful eye contact made with everyone at the table, and then skål!


Friday, October 9, 2009

Pearl Prune Danish Update

I was just looking back at some stories on the Gourmet website, and checking for new comments on some of mine, and found an exciting one my prune danish story:
we are happy to report that prune (aka. italian plum) danish is back for the fall/winter season. thank you for your delightful article. -pearl bakery
Posted 10/1/2009.
So of course I ran over to Pearl Bakery this morning.  Fact was, we were out of bread (EDF strikes again!), and I decided we could limp along until tomorrow.  And look--there they were, side by side, my two favorites: gibassier and prune danishes.  They called them 'Italian Plum Danishes'.  But I knew what they meant.

Pearl Bakery
102 NW 9th Ave
Portland, OR

Thursday, October 8, 2009

EDF Update

I just realized I haven't updated at all about our Eating Down the Fridge challenge. We've been plugging away at it, and mainly I'm realizing that what I really need to do is dedicate two or three dinners a week to cupboard cooking--there's too much stored to make much of a dent in one week.  

What we don't have much of in our freezer and fridge is meat--I've never quite learned the best ways to thaw and cook frozen meats.  But we do have loads of beans, pasta, and anchovies on hand.

I have a guest post up on Kim O'Donnel's True/Slant site if you want to check it out.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Back for Seconds: Chihuahuas Take 2

Sometimes you just can't be literal when you're going back for seconds.  Those chihuahuas served from a cart opposite the checkout line at the University Ave. Co-op store in Berkeley always hit the spot, but I'm not going to find them here in Portland.  They were the only ones I've ever seen, let alone tasted.  I could make them at home, but I have a feeling the sausage, while good, was not what I was wanting seconds of.

In Portland you'd have to wear blinders not to notice all the great foods available.  Food carts here are pretty well known; there's a website devoted to them (Food Carts Portland), and they've been recently written about in the national press (Bon Appetit, Gourmet, NY Times). But one of the oldest stands I know of goes back to the early days of the Portland Farmers Market, when it took place in a parking lot under the west side of the Broadway Bridge.  That's the Salumeria di Carlo stand.

View Chihuahuas in a larger map

These days you'll find him at the Wednesday and Saturday Farmers markets.  I prefer Wednesday: the crowds are lighter, and something about mid-week makes me think I deserve a sausage for lunch after completing the shopping.

At Carlo's you have two choices: the Spicy Italian (with fennel and chili peppers) or the Northern Italian (more delicately flavored, with coriander).  I nearly always get the spicy, maybe just because I'm remembering that red chorizo grease dribbling down my arm?  Your roll gets spread with spicy sweet mustard or yellow mustard (I usually opt out).  The sausage is nestled into the french roll, and smothered with grilled peppers (green and red) and onions.  

Actually, going back for seconds to Carlo's is like going back for thirds for me.  When we first moved to Portland 22 years ago, my husband and I--through nothing but exceedingly dumb luck--ended up buying a house a few blocks from Pastaworks.  They had just expanded into two storefronts on Hawthorne, and the meat counter, full of tempting sausages, was run by Fred Carlo. 

Now that I'm a grown-up, most of the grease lands on the paper
When he left to travel and learn more about sausages, our family was sorry to see him go.  The first time I came across his stand at the farmers market I was pretty pleased.  Now--more than ten years later--my kids are grown; my youngest just left for a year outside Naples.  The day she flew off she insisted on a morning stop at the farmers market, for one of Carlo's sausages.

So now when I go to the Wednesday market, every once in a while, I'll treat myself  at the end of my shopping.  One thing has changed.  Since I'm not growing anymore (well, I'm not supposed to be), it's hard to consider one of these sausages a snack--I have it for lunch on a day I know dinner will be light.

The sausage always hits the spot.  Back when I was a kid, a chihuahua cost 49 cents--usually a combination of my spare change and what might have been left from the shopping. Now it's $5. But I'm not complaining--that's half the price of a movie ticket.  Last week I ate one alone, sitting on a park bench by the statue of Abraham Lincoln, watching my own little movie in my mind.  I would have rather been eating one alongside my brother, or my daughter.  But I'll settle for the memories.

Monday, October 5, 2009

I’ll Never Stop Going Back for Seconds to Gourmet

Hearing about the end of Gourmet Magazine is not a good way to start the week. It feels a little bit like being kicked in the stomach; I was surprised to feel the tears welling (though, I have to admit, it shouldn't be a surprise…I'm a big crier).

There's the obvious: Gourmet magazine has been, in my life, a constant. I used to sit in front of the shelves of old copies my mother owned (I think they went back to before she was married), in the back room of our house. They were housed in those cardboard magazine holders, each one holding a year of issues—or more (from those days with fewer advertisements—ironic, no?).

The old ones connected me to another time and place—it was in Gourmet I first read any Joseph Wechsberg stories, with their romantic visions of Central Europe—who knows how much that had to do with my marrying Pavel, my Czech-born husband?

It seems to me that Gourmet followed a perfect arc, and did things right. They started out showing Americans a world of elegance and possibility. As it—and we—aged, it moved on to introduce us to maybe less glamorous, but still exotic places. And it asked us to grow up, and to take some serious looks at things—in their 2004 story about trans fats, for example.

I suppose I feel like a favorite great-aunt died. You know the type--she had been a WAC during WWII, and lived in New York City after, working for magazines. Her letters arrived monthly, and every few years she'd show up for a visit, full of stories from her life full of travels and people completely separate from my life. But she also knew all the stories about my family. And she kept up until the end--curious about where the world was going, and never wanting to stop taking part, always wanting to stay in the conversation.

Today I'm looking at my October issue with a new eye. I am curious about people's complaints that the magazine had recipes that were too complicated; with too many hard-to-find ingredients. Take the recipe for Turkish doughnuts with Rose Hip Syrup in 'Sweet Life'. Sure, it calls for cardamom pods, dried rose hips, and rose water—possibly items not as easily available in some parts of the country as in mine. But how can you not want to try them—and if you can't manage to actually make them, aren't they the kind of doughnut you'd enjoy having in your dreams?

But in the same issue, you'll also find recipes for Brown Butter Pound Cake (made with ingredients you likely have on-hand), which sounds simple enough but also inspired. Or the quick (15 minutes active, 30 start to finish) Peppery Pasta Carbonara with Poached Egg.

And then there are the selfish reasons I'm brokenhearted. I will always remember the day I innocently opened an email with the subject line: Cookies. I'd long since forgotten I'd sent a story in, and there it was. An email from John Willoughby, saying they wanted to buy the story, and (if that wasn't already enough), that both he and Ruth had loved the story. I'm sure you can imagine what sort of a dream come true that was for a writer. I was lucky enough to publish two stories in their magazine, and corny though it may be, I have to say I feel truly honored to have made it into their pages.

I'll never stop going back for seconds to Gourmet.

Back for Seconds: Chihuahuas Take 1

When I was a kid, it seemed like my mom sent us to the grocery store every day after school to get something for dinner.  Now that I'm grown-up, I have a sneaking suspicion that it was more like once every 2 or 3 weeks.  Perhaps I'm not a reliable narrator: I thought the walk was exceedingly long. Checking it on google maps today, I see that it was less than half a mile, and should have taken only 8 minutes.  What a complainer!  In my defense, there was a couple of blocks along abandoned train tracks, and it did take a while to tightrope walk your way down the tracks.

View Chihuahuas in a larger map

Our local grocery store was the Berkeley Co-op.  Everyone of a certain age who grew up in Berkeley has memories of being checked into the Kiddie Corral at the Shattuck store while their mothers shopped when they were little, or, when they were a bit older, browsing in the connected bookstore.  It was at the co-op that I saw my first Xerox machine, and forfeited a whole dime to make a copy of my hand (in case I lost the original?).

Since the Co-op was member owned, we all had membership numbers.  At their natural foods store, you dropped your receipt into a slot in a big wood box--I suppose there was a slot for every hundred or thousand members? From those receipts someone (I imagine a Dickensian scribe toiling away) must have entered all our expenditures, and used that to figure my parents' profit share check at the end of the year. But I wasn't concerned about any of this--I liked slipping the receipt into its slot, or reciting our number and showing how grown-up I was to our favorite checker, Kay.

There's a facebook group where people share their Berkeley memories.  People my age boast about their low Co-op number, some with just 4 digits.  I think they were using their grandparents: ours was 23109.  I'm sure my great-grandfather's was very short.

Anyway. The chihuahuas. My brother and I often went together to do the afternoon shopping (again, I'm probably talking once every month or so).  My mother would give us a list (always short, we were just picking up something for that night's dinner), and we would make the long hike up University Avenue to the grocery store.  After we'd paid, as often as not we would pool our change together, and, I'm ashamed to say, probably pilfer a few nickels from my mother's change. Because opposite the checkout lines was a cart selling 'chihuahuas', 49 cents each.

A chihuahua was something like a pig-in-a-blanket.  After you ordered, the man at the stand put a chorizo sausage on the grill and quickly warmed a flour tortilla.  Once grilled, he quickly rolled up the sausage in the tortilla, wrapped it in a sheet of foil, and handed it on to you.  We almost always managed to find enough change to buy two (another hint that this was not a daily trip!), and would then make our way home, the long hike.

It was a bit of a trick, carrying the grocery bag in one hand, and, with the other, folding back the foil wrapper, and biting into the chihuahua.  These were juicy sausages, and full of hot red fat, which as often as not dripped down our arms.   The beauty of the chihuahua was partly due to its simplicity. In those days (we're talking early to mid-1970s), most Mexican restaurants in Berkeley still served American-style Mexican food.  Dinner came on an oval platter, overflowing with cheesy enchiladas, cheesy beans, and slightly sweet Spanish rice. It wasn't my favorite.  The chihuahua was a pure flavor--the toasted tortilla and spiced meat. Nothing more.

I can't separate the memory of those greasy chihuahuas from the memory of the trip to and from the store.  Thoughts of wandering down the train tracks with my brother, looking in the liquor store windows on University Avenue (an early Berkeley law required liquor stores to be one mile from the UC Berkeley campus, and that mile ended just at the grocery store), and scraping together change, are smudged with the taste of spicy chorizo and splotches of red grease.

Maybe my mother warned us not to ruin our appetites (though, in fairness, I don't remember her ever saying that except in restaurants, and then only in regards to the bread basket).  But I'm pretty sure those chihuahuas only whetted my appetite: for stories and family and sausages.

Friday, October 2, 2009

You Are What You Eat at Ampersand

Getting ready for the EDF challenge, I'm a little preoccupied with refrigerators right now.  So I was pretty excited to go to Ampersand to see their current show: You Are What You Eat. 

The show is a collection of photos by Mark Menjivar of refrigerator interiors.  Short bios of the owners are included, and they are often as evocative as the photo. For example:

Owner of defunct amusement park
Alpine, Texas
1-person household
former WWII prisoner of war

The contents of the fridges are fascinating.  One is crammed full of take-out boxes, and most are nearly empty of fruit or vegetables.  The produce drawer is as likely to hold beer or boxers as lettuce.  Freezer sections show the expected ice creams, as well as a surprise road kill...

They belong to botanists, yoga teachers, competitive eaters, short-order cooks... 

So, in fairness, here are a couple of shots of mine:

I'll skip the bio. It would probably be a good exercise, but I'll pass just the same.

And yes, that is a large bottle of corn syrup--I use it when I make candy (which is sadly not very often).

You Are What You Eat
September 23-October 25

Ampersand                                                       Tuesday -Saturday 12-6
2916 NE Alberta                                                Sunday 12-5
Portland, OR

Eating Down the Fridge

I've signed on to take part in the True/Slant Eating Down the Fridge (EDF) challenge next week.  The idea is to skip grocery shopping for a week, and use up what's hiding in the fridge/pantry/freezer/garden.  There's been a few EDF weeks already, but each time I've been away.  Somehow it didn't seem cricket to take part when I was eating out in Vancouver restaurants!

I'm afraid it's not that much of a challenge.  My pantry is well-stocked with beans, pasta, and rice; my freezer has butter, stock and all sorts of frozen fruit.  As you can see.  The challenge might be to identify what all that stuff is.

And then there's the fact that my CSA delivery arrives on Monday, and the milkman comes on Thursday.  I will do a little grocery shopping tomorrow, just to grab a few staples. Things like toilet paper.

So it might not be much of a challenge, but it certainly will be a good idea!  Perhaps I should start with practicing my spreadsheet skills and inventory what all lives in all those places...

Or maybe not.

Anyway--I'll be let you know next week how it's going.
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