Friday, December 17, 2010
I had every intention of making Ůly this year, and I may still. But by the time I do it, and post the recipe, Christmas will probably be past. So I’m going to go ahead and give you the rough directions, and, when I make the cookies, I’ll write it up properly.
The cookie has three components. The first part is the beehive. For this you’ll need a special mold, and it’s not easy to find. I’ve found them in the past at Slovak-Czech Varieties, but they seem to be out now. You might try contacting them in case they have a few spare ones hiding.
- 340 g (12 ounces) walnuts
- 320 g (1-1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons) granulated sugar
- 2 egg whites
- lemon zest
My mold is wooden, and I found that I needed to dust its insides liberally with cocoa, in between each cookie shaping. Take a small ball of the paste (it will depend on your mold how much you need) and push it into the mold,using your thumb to make it an even thickness all around, and to be sure the paste takes on the shape of the mold. You want the thickness of the sides to be somewhere between 1/8 and 1/4 inch.
Then, by hook or by crook, get the paste out of the mold. You’re on your own here—mine seemed to come out with a little coaxing and tapping. I have no idea how much easier or more difficult the plastic molds are. Some actually have hinges and swing open. Presumably they’re easier to use.
Allow some time for this. I think it took me a couple of hours (but I’m kind of slow at such tasks). Let the Ůly air dry on a cookie sheet for about a day.
The second part is a butter cookie base. For this you might use Lillian Langseth-Christensen’s recipe for Souvaroffs, originally published in Gourmet in December 1984, and reprinted in the new The Gourmet Cookie Book (a very pretty and tempting book). The Ůly are generally cut into circles; a daisy or crinkled round cutter might also be nice. I’m planning on using this recipe this year, with the added rum (natch).
The third component is the filling. My mother-in-law fills hers with a chocolate filling, but I remember her mother-in-law using a rum filling. Perhaps that was just wishful thinking? For this, I used the pastry cream (it’s beaten slowly into butter and sugar) recipe included in my Gourmet story about cookies in Czechoslovakia. The Pink Cuts recipe (cake and pastry cream) is available on Epicurious. I added rum to taste.
But you could use any buttercream filling.
Once you have all three components, you assemble the cookies. Fill each Ůly with the pastry cream, and dab a little extra onto the bottom edge of the nutty exterior. This will serve as cement. Carefully affix to a cookie base (they break easily!). And enjoy.
I’ll try to let you know how my Ůly turn out. Good luck with yours!
Thursday, December 16, 2010
It also means five adults (or five adultish people, and I count myself as only adultish on many days) living on top of one another in one modest sized house. With one bathroom. I mention the bathroom purely for literary effect—it actually is rarely a problem for us, but I’ve noticed the idea of one bathroom does seem to strike terror in the hearts of many.
So blogging is on a bit of a hiatus. Consider this a quick catch-up.
CakesFirst, about those cakes. I’m ashamed to say I’ve only baked six of them so far, the Caramel Cake, Punschtorte, Zigomar, Rum Baba, Heirloom Banana Layer Cake with Prune Plum Filling and Seafoam Icing, and Persian Love Cake. I will be baking Pavla’s cake after Christmas, to celebrate Pavla’s birthday (she was my husband’s grandmother). Still, that’s only a 70%, which is barely a C.
I think I’ve earned some extra credit though. I’ve made a bunch of birthday cakes (David Lebovitz’s banana cake with mocha frosting from his newest book, Ready for Dessert; a Blum’s Coffee Crunch, Flo Braker’s Eggnog Pound Cake, to name a few). And I’ve made some other cakes just because.
I’ve also eaten a few cakes this year. Or at least some pieces of cake. So all in all, I’m going to give myself an 88% for the year in cakes, high enough to feel like I did a decent job, but clear that there’s room for improvement in 2011.
Cakes in 2010 also led to a new friendship. Joanna has a cookie blog called Carpe Cookie, but we talk cake more often. The first time we met we chatted in a café, finishing each other’s cake sentences. Neither of us care for cream cheese frosting, and we both think brown sugar and butter is just about the finest combination that exists (she browns the butter as well, and I like to tuck in a little bourbon to that mix).
ReadingOne other 2010 resolution that I think I’ll pull off: reading a book a week. It seems like a lot to many people, and just a normal year’s reading to others. I’ve just finished book number 47, so I have five to go. At this point I’m reading novellas and other short books, which is only slightly cheating.
Number 47 was M.F.K. Fisher’s Consider the Oyster. I was gratified to see that she loved the Ramos Gin Fizz at the Roosevelt Hotel in New Orleans—I did too! In fact, I had them at the Roosevelt twice. I was also amused to read that she had two abominable Ramos Gin Fizzes away from the Roosevelt. I did as well (one tasted suspiciously like an Orange Julius, but not in a good way).
Now that it’s December 15th, my thoughts have long since turned to eggnog. I started Thanksgiving morning at Coffeehouse Northwest. They open up Thanksgiving morning and give away drinks—the tips all go to charity. I enjoyed a fortifying ‘rum nog’—hot eggnog with a shot of rum. Steamed to an accompanying chant of ‘rum nog rum nog rum nog’ by the baristas. The nog, and especially the conviviality of Coffeehouse Northwest, made for a warmer day.
I’ve also already snuck out twice for my glass of crème anglaise, er, eggnog at Pearl Bakery. Once by myself, once with a friend. Neither time with my flask. As the kids would say, ‘fail’! I should have an eggnog link for you sometime in the next week.
Uly CookiesLast year I finally made Ůly cookies, the Czech beehive cookies filled with rum buttercream that I wrote about in my first big break in Gourmet Magazine (‘Think Pink’, November 2006). I’d planned on getting a recipe up here this year, but haven’t made them yet. So I’ll put up a vague recipe instead…in the next couple of days. I had tracked down a mold for the beehive at the online shop Slovak-Czech Varieties, but they seem to be out now. I think they get them each year, so check back with them.
AdventureFinally, the blog will be only off and on for the next month. After New Years I’m heading to Key West for the Key West Literary Symposium, The Hungry Muse: an Exploration of Food in Literature. It’s hard to write this without getting a little dizzy from the excitement. Here are just a few of the speakers: Calvin Trillin, Ruth Reichl, Diana Abu-Jaber, Judith Jones, Molly O’Neill, Jonathan Gold, Mark Kurlansky, Madhur Jaffrey, Roy Blount Jr. Well, you get the picture.
And did I mention Key West? In January? I think it will be a fine ten days.
Friday, November 12, 2010
Since I live in Oregon, I had already cast my ballot (it’s all done by mail here). I had a nice bike ride up to Random Order with my daughter, where we shared two pieces of pie. The banana cream, which is ethereal and always makes me feel better (and is second only to their coconut cream), and the apple-blackberry with streusel on top. Crust, fruit, and crumbly sweet streusel? Died and gone to heaven.
Back at home I decided to skip the yellow layer cake I'd planned on baking. Much as I like an honest piece of chocolate iced yellow cake with a tall glass of milk, Election Cake seemed more appropriate.
I followed Kim O’Donnell’s recipe for Hartford Election Cake from a 2006 Washington Post article. Almost exactly. It did seem like a good idea to fiddle a bit with the confectioners’ sugar glaze. Instead of milk and vanilla I used bourbon and vanilla. I had a feeling the election wasn’t going to be pretty.
But the cake was. It’s a yeast risen cake, full of raisins and pecans, spiced with cinnamon, mace (a favorite of mine), nutmeg, and cloves. It’s not really sweet (except for that bourbon laced icing), and if you squint you can almost pretend you're eating a piece of bread. You can eat it all day long without feeling too guilty.
Which is exactly what I did.
Tuesday, November 9, 2010
I love a coincidence, don’t you? Just last week Hank Shaw put a piece up on his excellent blog, Hunter Angler Gardener Cook. ‘Making Mirto, A Sardinian Liqueur' intrigued me. I’m always interested to hear about Sardinian food (especially since we had a Sardinian exchange student live with us for a year), and of course, drink.
But First, A DigressionShaw points out that the myrtle used to make Mirto is Myrtus Communis (true myrtle), not Lagerstroemia (Crape Myrtle). It’s also not Umbellularia californica, the plant Oregonians call Oregon Myrtle. Maybe you, too, have driven down the Oregon Coast a few times, and noted the myrtlewood gift shops, with piles of burls in their parking lots? Once you cross the border into California, Oregon Myrtle is known as California Bay Laurel.
So let’s get this straight. Oregon Myrtle, AKA California Bay Laurel, is neither a true myrtle nor a true Bay Laurel (Laurus nobilis). In other words, don’t try to use its fruit to make Mirto. Before I stop side tracking, let me just add that this evergreen tree is in the same family as the avocado. Which also wouldn’t make a true Mirto.
The CoincidenceOkay, I’m back. The coincidence? Just a week after reading Shaw’s post, I went to dinner at our friends’ house. They had just returned from Slow Food’s Salone del Gusto and Terra Madre in Torino. My consolation prize for not going (one day, one day) was a rosy block of Torrone al Mirto (myrtle torrone) from Torrone Pili Tonara in Sardinia.
Torrone, a nougat candy, is made from honey, sometimes sugar, nuts, and egg whites. My myrtle torrone is sweetened purely with honey (no sugar). The block of candy is generously filled with almonds; two lines of whole almonds march across the top. Myrtle colors the candy pink and adds a subtle herbal note without detracting from the flavor of the honey and almonds. Which is, after all, why I love torrone.
A quick googling told me they also make chestnut torrone, which I already love, without ever tasting. And, intriguingly, Torrone al Corbezzolo. If you translate the page, it will tell you it’s strawberry nougat. But if you do your own research, you’ll learn corbezzolo is actually Arbutus Unedo, AKA the Strawberry Tree. There certainly seems to be a lot of confusion about plants and their names.
Some torrones are brittle. Delicious, but scary to eat. With each bite I wonder if it could be the last for some of my teeth. Others (and my myrtle torrone is one) are soft. With these I bite down without fear. It’s the chewing that scares me—I worry that fillings could be pulled out. But I’m willing to take the risk.
Tuesday, November 2, 2010
Nowhere does this seem more prevalent than in the culture wars. And who started this, anyway. Pie vs. Cake indeed. Did these people only have one kid? How can you love one more than the other? So I ask you: Can’t we all get along?
In the spirit of reconciliation, I’m not going to suggest pie or cake is elitist. The fact that we say ‘it’s a piece of cake’ and ‘easy as pie’ suggests to me that neither is elitist. And far be it from me to suggest either is ignorant.
I’ve always thought one of the great things about being an American, besides getting to vote today, is not having to make these kinds of decisions. We can have our cake, and our pie, and eat them too.
I’m afraid I’ve been a little guilty, in the past year, of seeming to favor cake. But it’s not true. I’ve been even-handed when faced with the choice. I eat blackberry pie, I eat Devil’s Food Cake. I could never give up either.
I hope I haven’t bad-mouthed pie. Personally, I plan on eating plenty of pie later this month, and cake as well. I have my 10 cakes in 2010 to finish baking, as well as a daughter’s birthday. Next year her birthday will fall on Thanksgiving once again—we’ll celebrate by having both pie and cake that day.
How about you? What can you do to help make the world more pleasant? I’ve already voted (it’s all by mail here in Oregon), so I think I’ll go out for a piece of pie later this morning. And have a piece of cake tonight. I think Election Day calls for a simple yellow cake with chocolate frosting. You can never go wrong with that.
I know it’s a bit of a sacrifice, eating pie and cake on the same day. But let’s all give it a try. Just to show we can all get along, if we try. One slice at a time.
I’m listing some of the places I’ve been eating pie in Portland. I know the Oregonian recently did a pie roundup, and I have to say I think they did Random Order—and pies—a disservice. I like apples to break down a bit in my pie, and Random Order’s is perfect in my book. But then, in a later piece, they also suggested you have pie at Shari’s. The attraction there, apparently, is that it’s open 24 hours a day. If I were you, I’d go ahead and get a little extra sleep, and head over to one of these places the next morning instead:
Random Order, 1800 NE Alberta, (503) 331-1420
My favorites are the sour cherry (not at all gloppy), coconut cream, and any of the apple pies. They have a huge selection.
Fleur de Lis, 3930 NE Hancock, (503) 459-4887
So far I’ve only had their apple, but I’ve heard pumpkin shows up as well. They only seem to make one or two a day, so you might want to call before heading over.
Woodlawn Bakery, 808 NE Dekum, (503) 954-2412
They’ve recently opened, so I’ve had their apple pie only a couple of times. Sometimes it’s a bit sweeter than I like, but I appreciate that they are make them with different types of apples at different times. Kind of makes you feel as if you ought to visit again, just to check.
As for cake, well, I’ll take a chance here and say I think there’s a real shortage of layer cakes available by the slice here in town. I wish someone would look into that. In the meantime, I usually eat cake at home. I’ll be doing that tonight.
Here’s some additional reading on the pie vs. cake wars. It does seem as if the pie camp is a bit more outspoken:
Huffington Post Pie vs. Cake 10-30-07
Utne Reader: Pie vs. Cake: The Debate Rages On 12-23-08
Salon: Pie (in the name of love) 12-20-08
March Madness: The Cake vs. Pie Tournament Ok, that is kind of fun, but people, please. ‘Boston Cream Pie’ is a cake. ‘Birthday’ and ‘Wedding’ are not actual types of cake. And ‘Funfetti’ is just an abomination.
Hyperbole and a Half: Cake Versus Pie: A Scientific Approach An amusing piece, complete with graphs and pie charts.
Monday, November 1, 2010
If a young parent were to come to me for advice about raising their children, this is what I’d offer.
- Enjoy your children, they really do grow up shockingly fast.
- Let them have a private life.
- Sit down to dinner with them every night—that means skipping extracurricular activities that meet at dinnertime.
- And for God’s sake, be careful about doing anything that they might decide is a tradition that must never be skipped.
When my kids were little, I thought it would be fun to make doughnuts on Halloween. Ok, I thought I’d like a doughnut on Halloween—I’d noticed that one of the drawbacks to being a grown-up is the lack of candy.
Over the years, I dutifully fried doughnuts every Halloween. And now, even though my three kids are basically grown (or maybe because—they’re missing the candy too!), they insist I make doughnuts.
It’s really not that much work. I follow a basic recipe from Marion Cunningham’s excellent The Breakfast Book. They make raised doughnuts that are yeasty, but not at all ballooned. The dough gets made in the afternoon, punched down and rolled out after an early supper (this year it was the Red Kuri Soup from Dorie Greenspan’s Around My French Table, a book I’m really enjoying cooking through).
While the doughnuts rise, we sit around, watching the baseball game (now that the season goes into November) and handing out candy to Trick-or-Treaters (who seem bigger and less costumed every year).
Finally it’s time to heat the oil. I always struggle with this one. It takes so much oil, which isn't cheap. This year I used safflower. Peanut’s a good choice too. While the oil heats, I also heat a pot of apple cider. The kids throw in some cinnamon sticks, a few cloves, and maybe a star anise.
Once the oil is in the 365° to 375° range, it’s time to start frying the doughnuts. It goes pretty quickly. After their bottoms become golden, I turn them, and let the other side cook. Then they get blotted on some paper towels, and tossed in cinnamon sugar. That’s all. I try to hurry with the frying so the kids don’t eat all of them before I finish. I like to eat at least one doughnut, and 3 or 4 holes.
Maybe you’re familiar with this saying: ‘The Gods do not deduct from man's allotted span those hours spent in sailing.” I like to think there’s a companion saying: “The Gods do not add to man’s allotted waist span those calories eaten in doughnut holes.” Seems fair, since, when you think about it, a hole is nothing.
I’ve always wanted to try the method Laura Ingalls Wilder describes Almanzo’s mother using in Farmer Boy. She didn’t have time to waste turning doughnuts (which the new-fangled round ones, with a hole in the middle, required), so she made twists. They, apparently, turn themselves, “…their pale golden backs going into the fat and their plump brown bellies rising out of it.”
I'm afraid that might deviate too much from tradition. Next time, maybe.
Oh. And that cider? Don’t forget to add some bourbon to your cup.
Thursday, October 21, 2010
Sadly, my chocolate club has disbanded. There are days that it would be awfully nice to go around the corner, knock on my friend’s door, and call the chocolate club to order.
Usually, at those times, I just open my chocolate drawer. Don’t tell me you don’t have one! If not, you should seriously consider establishing one. A false-fronted drawer might be particularly nice. I just tuck chocolate bars in amongst the papers.
But some days call for a more intensely chocolate-centric activity, even if it is without a friend. On those days, I’m lucky to live in Portland.
Alma ChocolateBecause those days I can go to Alma Chocolate. This snug shop feels a bit like a clubhouse--a clubhouse where I’m sure anyone would feel welcome. The women who work there dispense information and great comeback lines (something I always appreciate) with equal grace and speed. They are smart and cheerful. But why shouldn’t they be? They’re surrounded by chocolate!
Alma sells a small selection of other people’s chocolates, such as Taza, the Mexican drinking chocolate whose first ingredient is actually chocolate (Ibarra's is sugar). Taza's drinking chocolate tablets come in various flavors, such as a cinnamon (more subtle than Ibarra’s ‘cinnamon flavor’), guajillo chili, salted almond, salt and pepper; and even yerba mate. It makes delicious hot chocolate. It also fits nicely into my chocolate drawer, scenting my papers lightly, and dusting them lightly with sugar.
Taza’s new factory (located in Somerville, MA) was hard hit by floods this past summer. They’ve cleaned up, but it does seem the least we can do is lend a helping mouth.
An added bonus Cathy and I would have appreciated: each wrapped tablet actually contains two tablets! Do you know how hard it was to break those thick Ibarra tablets in half?
But you’d be remiss if you went to Alma and only picked up chocolate for your drawer back home. If it’s summer when you go, if you’re lucky they’ll have choco-pops—a frozen drinking chocolate that might remind you of your childhood fudgesickles. If you have a very optimistic taste memory!
Personally, I like ice cream anytime of the year. Alma started a CSI (no, they’re not solving crime, that stands for Community Supported Ice Cream) earlier this year. Sadly, I didn’t sign up in time. But they often have pints available for those of us who weren't quick enough. Some of my favorites so far: Coconut sorbet with Marcona almonds, vanilla ice cream with cocoa nibs and Alma’s delicious candied orange peel, and their exquisite rum raisin.
And then there are her bonbons. My favorites these days are the cardamom with burnt sugar sesame brittle and the Sabrina (marzipan and fig). I’m waiting to be there when the star-anise infused 'Collette', studded with candied orange peel is in stock (Alma rotates the bonbons seasonally). I’m pretty sure it will be a favorite.
And her toffees. The toffees’ sweetness is balanced in different ways: spicy (the ginger almond) or salty (pistachio).
And her caramel sauces (I’m holding my breath for the smoky lapsang souchong to return).
And her beautiful gilded chocolates. They are made with single origin chocolate that is poured into molds (everything from little birds to Buddhas; the molds are made here in town) and then gilded with 23K gold leaf.
Now that the days are shorter, I find an afternoon stop for one of Alma’s hot drinks is the perfect fortification for the long evening ahead. You can choose from shots of elixir-like drinking chocolates, or such things as a Chocolate Cloud (essentially a chocolate cappuccino) or the Caramelita (chocolate, steamed milk, and their Habanero caramel sauce).
And they’re the only place I’ve come across outside Torino selling Bicerin, an espresso (from the well-loved local Spella, which has its own little clubhouse of an espresso bar downtown) layered with drinking chocolate and a heavy cream swirl.
Last time I was there I opted for the Mayan Milagro: ground almonds, chocolate, cinnamon, chiles, steamed milk, and a heavy cream swirl. Actually, I had it as a Mayan shot, so the milk and cream were left out. Served in a demitasse, it was rich and complex. The ground almonds added texture, qualifying as food in my book. Sitting at their little counter, lingering over each spoonful, I couldn’t help think that my chocolate club was alive and well.
Though I probably should consider boosting membership.
140 NE 28th Ave.
Portland, Oregon 97232
Friday, October 15, 2010
I probably should take some time and consider carefully what I want to say in response to today’s Oregonian piece ‘Non-Foodies Food Guide’, by Lee Williams. On the other hand, I’m so disgusted I could spit. And what the heck—who doesn’t like occasionally reading a temper tantrum? I hate linking to it, but I will (it has three sections): You Might Be a Foodie If…; The Non-Foodies Food Guide; and Four Foodie Fallacies Busted.
First off, a disclaimer. I’ve never liked the term ‘foodie’, and never called or thought of myself as one. It just sounds goofy and superficial. But I’ll go ahead and be a foodie for one day, in solidarity.
And now the rant. Williams starts off with these lines:
“I am not a foodie. To me, food is what you eat, not what you pray to. Call them gourmands, connoisseurs, picky eaters, or just plain old snobs. They leave little room on their plates or in their hearts for fast food, family dining, and the untrendy. And they can be pretty mean to some places we love.”Little room on their plate for family dining? Foodies (think Jamie Oliver) have made it their mission to encourage family dining. I suspect if you polled the nation, you might just find that there’s a higher percentage of foodies sitting down to family meals than non-foodies.
And I resent having ‘fast food’ used to denote cheap, corporate food. I eat fast food all the time. A piece of toast with butter. Pasta boiled while I quickly make tomato sauce. An apple from the fruit bowl.
Then Williams goes on to highlight (they’re not calling it a review—the Oregonian is sinking to have highlighters instead of reviewers) a few local chains and restaurants: Shari’s, Dutch Bros. Coffee, Taco Time, Sayler’s Old Country Kitchen, and the Old Spaghetti Factory. The highlights sound a bit like press releases to me.
Amusingly, the Oregonian also notes the website for The Dussin Group, which owns Old Spaghetti Factory. They neglect to mention that the Dussin Group also owns Fenouil and Lucier, restaurants some might consider, well, foodie spots. Maybe even snobby. Certainly expensive.
(whoops...they actually do mention this...and go on to note that while they've gotten 'foodie chatter' foodies have ignored the Old Spaghetti Factory. I wonder why that would be?)
Chris Dussin is quoted in Four Foodie Fallacies Busted as being sick of foodie buzzwords such as ‘local’, ‘sustainable’, and ‘fresh’. Meanwhile, though Fenouil’s menu avoids the actual buzzwords, I suspect the non-foodie (who’s supposedly being addressed in the article) might find these items from the restaurant’s tea list snobby: ‘Caffeine free peppermint leaves from Oregon with notes of chocolate’ or ‘Spring harvested full leaf China green tea with perfect alignment’. Or how about the dinner menu: ‘Cattail Creek Lamb Tartare vadouvan, cauliflower, brioche croutons’ (I had to look up ‘vadouvan’—it’s an Indian spice mix).
Back to my rant. Each of the five restaurant highlights follows a set format. They start with three or four paragraphs about the restaurant. These paragraphs celebrate such things as availability (Shari’s is open 24 hours), and serving size (Sayler’s is home of the 72-ounce steak challenge). The fact that Taco Time and The Spaghetti Factory make their sauces onsite is mentioned.
What’s missing? Not a single highlight says anything about what the food tastes or looks like. Something I kind of like to hear about if I’m choosing a place for lunch. I guess that makes me snobby.
After the short highlight, Williams offers one more tidbit: ‘For the foodies’. For example, about Shari’s, we’re given “Remember pie? It might be the ultimate comfort food.” Yeah, I remember pie. The Oregonian just published an article about pies in Portland. The seven spots they covered included two carts, one local ‘artisan' bakery, two cafe-bakeries, and one local old-school bakery. No mention of Shari’s, even if they do sell pie-on-demand.
The odd thing is that while the piece is called the ‘non-foodie guide to food’, Williams just can’t keep away from foodies. The Taco Time highlight, for example, starts with “Did you hear about the latest foodie craze? Gourmet taco trucks.” Do the non-foodies the article is ostensibly directed towards really care?
Another thing that bothers me (but tell us how you really feel, Giovanna) is the idea that these places warrant newspaper coverage. I don’t care if people eat at them. I happily had coffee this summer at a Dutch Brothers in Grants Pass, where I watched the end of the Netherlands-Brazil World Cup semi-final. But it's not a place that needs to be profiled.
I also don’t need a guide to the elevators in town with the best muzak (because all that classical music is so elite, and jazz is just snobby). This is probably the place where the non-foodie would say something about food not being art. Of course, people said that about rock and roll as well as about jazz once upon a time. And food certainly is culture. If I’m going to spend money and time reading a newspaper piece, I’d kind of like to have it informative and thoughtful. Not flip and mean.
Then there’s the whole idea of allowing people (foodies or non-foodies) to decide that good food and the people that make good food are somehow elitist. People! Do not fall for this!
So if the piece was meant as light-hearted and entertaining coverage of places many people—non-foodies—like to eat, why not stick to that? If it was meant to be informative, why not include some non-foodie spots like the Original Pancake House.
The Portland location of this non-snobby local chain is the Original Original Pancake House. It’s the kind of place that is full of regulars: 90-year-old guys out for their morning walk, groups of businessmen combining breakfast and meetings, 20-somethings nursing hangovers, and soccer moms treating their kids. And oh. They also serve pancakes and waffles that live up to the hype—fluffy Dutch Babies, pecan waffles studded with nuts, and even the ever elusive buckwheat pancake. And if you go in the summer, if you can stand being a snob, you might also enjoy their local peaches and blackberries, served in a huge dish with a bowl of whipped cream and another bowl of confectioners sugar.
But what bothers me the most, I think, is the idea that the way to write a fun piece is by tearing down something or somebody else. The attempt to put a wedge between people, to make people draw lines (which I’m guilty of today, as I call myself a ‘foodie’). Sadly, this seems to be the way this country operates these days. If you’re not with us, you’re against us. Who does this remind you of? Consider this bit from You Might Be a Foodie If: ‘You hate American cheese. And, honestly, America.’
I read this as ‘you hate American cheeses.’ And I thought to myself, what are they talking about? Us foodies love American cheese. But I was thinking of places like Cowgirl Creamery. My son explained to me they meant American Cheese. As in processed cheese, cheese food, or, my favorite, cheese analog.
Less amusing is the bottom line here. Us foodies apparently hate America.
The foodie community in Portland is full of people who care deeply about what they do. People who are concerned about natural resources, education, immigration, animals, and getting food to the hungry. People who are generous and have a sense of humor. People who eat good food, but also enjoy the occasional candy bar from a gas station. But they aren’t dogmatic about it. They are also concerned with beauty and deliciousness. What’s wrong with that?
Tuesday, October 12, 2010
Back for Seconds
I've never been much of a joiner. Even when I was a kid, I only managed to be a part-time girl scout, joining just around cookie sale time, and quitting soon after. It's not so much that I'm like Groucho Marx, suspicious of any club that will have me as a member. I'm afraid it has more to do with my attention span. Or lack thereof.
But there was a club, years ago, that I was not only a member of, but a founding member. And I stayed in it until we disbanded, unofficially. The club's membership never rose above two. But it didn't really need more than two members. Because the dues we paid (I think a quarter a piece) were enough for our purpose.
View Chocolate Club in a larger map
The club existed solely to enable me and my friend, Cathy, about 7 years old at the time, to walk a couple of blocks from our homes to De Alba Tacqueria.
I don't remember actually making, not once, Mexican hot chocolate. The Ibarra chocolate came in a bright yellow hexagonal box, but I’m sure I never bought a whole box. The tablets, six to a box, were loosely wrapped in paper (unlike today’s boxes, with their hermetically sealed tablets). It’s interesting De Alba was willing to sell separate tablets. Did so few people buy Mexican chocolate then?
I do remember taking our chocolate tablet back to the church on the corner. We had a few secret hideout spots there.
My favorite spot was on the side of the church, behind an iron gate. There was a staircase on the side, which no one ever seemed to use.
Sitting on the stoop, we broke our chocolate into wedges, and nibbled away, talking about what I don't remember. I'm also not entirely sure how often we met. Did we have a set day? A call to chocolate? Or did it all come down to when we had the dues available?
Cathy, if you’re reading this I'd love to hear what you remember. And I wonder if it might not be time for a Chocolate Club meeting. I think I have the dues saved up.
Friday, October 8, 2010
Z is the LifeIt’s bad enough that I’m behind in my blogging. Here’s what really hurts: I’m behind in my cake making! When I wrote my post about 10 cakes to bake in 2010 I thought it would be a cinch. Of course, I made that list in January, in winter mode. Most of the cakes didn’t tempt me at all for the past 5 months. Others required candied citron, so I’m patiently waiting until Buddha Hand citrons turn up in the market.
So here I am. Three months to go (two of which have other baking duties), and 6 cakes (7, since I actually listed 11) left. Guess I’ll be busy this month!
I’d planned on finally baking the Zigomar cake last week, when my in-laws were visiting. I don’t know about your life, but mine seems to get away from me. It’s a shame, really. They would have appreciated the ‘Z’, and my father-in-law would have particularly appreciated the chocolate. If he could look past all the rum (he doesn’t like alcohol—I know, right?).
I’m not completely sure why, of all the cakes in the Pellaprat book, the Zigomar attracted me as a child. The romantic in me (the one who’s married to a Czech man with a last name starting with ‘Z’) likes the fact that in 5th grade I wrote a report on Czechoslovakia, complete with many National Geographic photos. She also likes the fact that my parents, for my 21st birthday (before I’d set eyes on my future husband), gave me a garnet ring made in Prague, when it was still part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Finally—and I admit, it’s a huge stretch—she wonders if maybe it was the swirly ‘Z’ atop the cake that called to me.
Because I can’t imagine I would have actually liked the cake for my 8th birthday. The flavors are deep and complex. The cake, a dense torte, is flavored with ground almonds, unsweetened chocolate, cinnamon, lemon (rind and juice), and a whopping 1/2 cup of apricot brandy. Though I substituted Slivovitz—partly as a nod to the Czechs, but mainly because I had it on hand in (one of ) my liquor cabinet(s).
The butter cream is also boozy. Believe it or not, there was a time when that was not a selling point to me. You make rum butter cream, and then flavor 2/3 of it with chocolate. Half of the chocolate rum butter cream has espresso added to make mocha rum butter cream. The layers are separated by the various flavors. It’s a cake to eat on a rainy afternoon, when you can mull it over. And hope that rain comes a day or two after you bake it, because these flavors mellow and mingle, and the cake just gets better.
The cake calls for fine cracker crumbs. But what kind? I was pretty sure Mr. Pellaprat didn’t mean Cheez-Its (Amelia Bedelia could have a field day baking this cake!). I asked my mother-in-law, and she suggested fine bread crumbs or crushed lady fingers. I also considered zwieback, but guess what--Nabisco has stopped making them. (For anyone missing them, King Arthur has a recipe for zwieback on their site). Finally I remembered I had an opened package of Dutch rusks in my pantry. They worked perfectly.
Sadly, my cake decoration skills are, well, non-existent. So I will only show you the cake by the slice. When my son, looking at the cut cake, asked “is this a noodle on top?” (referring to part of the ‘Z’) I made a note to self: take a cake decorating class.
And what about that name? I found two Zigomars, and they’re a bit at odds with one another. The first showed up on a website about ‘the European Wold Newton Universe”. (I must admit I knew nothing about that—if you didn’t either, check out the Wikipedia article on the Wold Newton Family—and by the way, how can you not love how far a cake can take you?).
This Zigomar, apparently, was a fictional (adventure comic strip) ‘cruel Romany crime lord’, who terrorized Paris. I kind of like his organization’s password: “Z is the life! Z is the death!” This Zigomar character made it into the movies early on, appearing in the 1911 ‘Zigomar the Eelskin’ and the 1912 ‘Zigomar contre Nick Carter’.
The second Zigomar was a character in a 1930s Serbian adventure comic strip. The Serbian Zigomar, according to Internationalhero.co.uk “fought crime wherever he encountered it, ably assisted by his Chinese companion, Chi Yang.” Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be a Zigomar vs. Zigomar comic.
(If your Hungarian is good, you may enjoy this site, which has an issue of the Zigomar adventure comic online).
So which one is the cake named for? I could imagine it either way. Named for the Serbian Zigomar, because why would you name a complex and delicious cake after a cruel dude? But maybe the cake is an homage to the Romany Zigomar: “Z is the life!”
If you want to tackle this cake, here’s my adapted Zigomar Cake Recipe.
Adapted from 'Modern French Culinary Art by Henri-Paul Pellaprat
Pellaprat calls for apricot or peach brandy in his recipe. I didn’t have either, and Slivovitz worked well. I imagine Kirsch would also be delicious. His cake is coated in a chocolate fondant icing. This certainly would make a spectacular cake. It also would make the cake take approximately 5 times as long to make as to eat. I think the three flavors of butter cream (you flavor the rum butter cream along the way) make enough of a party. You will need to reserve some butter cream, with lots of chocolate added, to make a proper ‘Z’ on top.
Lastly, this cake, like so many, is so much better the second day. Please consider making it a day (or two!) ahead. Or at least squirrel away a slice to eat by yourself once everyone’s gone.
5-1/2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, separated
10 large eggs, separated
2 cups sugar
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon grated lemon rind
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 cups ground almonds (I used almonds with skins)
1/2 cup Slivovitz
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup crushed Dutch rusks or zwieback crumbs, sifted
2 cups Rum butter-cream (recipe follows)
1/4 cup chopped pistachio nuts
1 teaspoon instant coffee
- Preheat oven to 350°, butter a 9-inch springform pan.
- Grate 4 ounces of the unsweetened chocolate; set aside.
- Beat egg yolks until they are well-mixed. Gradually beat in the sugar, beating until thick and lemon-colored.
- Add the 4 ounces grated chocolate, cinnamon, lemon rind, lemon juice, ground almonds, and Slivovitz to egg yolk mixture, and mix well.
- In a clean bowl, add the salt to the egg whites, and beat until they stand in soft stiff peaks.
- Fold egg whites into cake batter in three parts, alternating with the crushed rusks.
- Pour batter into baking pan, and bake in oven for 50 to 60 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.
- Cool cake in pan for 10 minutes, then remove to a rack to cool completely.
- Once it is cooled, split the cake into 3 layers.
- Melt 1 ounce of remaining unsweetened chocolate and set aside to cool slightly.
- Set 2/3 cup of rum butter cream aside. Add the melted chocolate to the remaining rum butter cream.
- Spread 2/3 cup chocolate rum butter cream over the first layer of the cake. Cover with second layer
- Spread the reserved white rum butter cream over second layer and sprinkle with the chopped pistachios. Cover with third layer.
- Add instant coffee to the reserved chocolate rum butter cream and spread it over the top and sides of the cake. Set aside a small amount to use to decorate the top of the cake.
- Chill the cake 1 hour for frosting to set.
- Melt remaining 1/2 ounce unsweetened chocolate, beat into the butter cream you set aside for decorating. Pipe an ornate ‘Z’ in the center of the cake. If you can.
Rum Butter Cream
Adapted from Susan Purdy’s A Piece of Cake
1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks; 1/2 pound or 230 grams) softened but not melted, cut up
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar (3-1/2 ounces or 100 grams)
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/4 cup water
4 large egg yolks
3 tablespoons rum
- Put the butter in a mixing bowl and beat it with a wooden spoon until it’s soft and creamy. Set aside.
- Combine sugar, cream of tartar, and water in a small saucepan. Stir, then cook over medium heat until the sugar is dissolved and the syrup is clear.
- Raise the heat and start cooking down the syrup. While it’s cooking, wipe down the insides of the pan (with a pastry brush dipped into cold water) several times.
- Bring syrup to a gentle boil, and then boil without stirring for 6 or 7 minutes, or until it reaches 238°.
- While the syrup is boiling, put egg yolks in a heatproof bowl and beat with electric mixer for several minutes. The yolks should form a flat ribbon when they fall from the beater.
- As soon as the syrup reaches 238°, turn the mixer to medium-low speed and pour the hot syrup into the yolks an a steady stream. You need to direct the stream between the bowl and the beater, or threads of the sugar syrup will harden.
- Do not scrape the last bit from the syrup pan—it will be hardened.
- Continue beating the mixture until the bowl feels cool to the touch. This will take about 8 to 10 minutes.
- Stick your finger into the butter cream to test the temperature—it should be cool to touch, or it will melt the butter.
- With mixer running, add the butter 2 teaspoons at a time. It’s a bit like making mayonnaise. Keep adding the butter, beating after each addition. Once the last butter is added, beat 3 minutes more or until it’s smooth and fluffy. Beat in the rum.
Note: It’s not the end of the world if you end up with hardened threads of sugar syrup on the sides of your pan, as long as most of the syrup went into the egg yolks. You will end up with a winter wonderland effect, with icicles on the beater and side of the mixing bowl. Try not to cut your tongue on them.
Tuesday, October 5, 2010
It’s one of those iconic photos—the kind that made an entire generation of Americans assume that all Frenchmen rode around on their bikes, carrying baguettes (without crunching off the heels! How did they do that? Clearly French people have more self-discipline than I do.).
They also always wear berets—which leads me to another question. Is there a word like ‘shod’ for hat-wearing?
Dorie Greenspan wrote a post about Provence 55 last year on her blog. She also included the link to a slideshow of Erwitt’s work.
This next photo is of a common Saturday morning view on Portland streets. In case you were wondering, it is not an Elliott Erwitt photo. It's a Grace Zivny photo, taken out the car window on my iphone. I did direct the shot.
What do you think. Lacinato kale and collard greens? Or Swiss chard?
Just so you know, all Portlanders do not wear shorts and tennis shoes. But many do. And don't worry--the photo is cropped. We obeyed all rules and etiquette of the road.
Monday, September 27, 2010
Crotchety Monday MusingOkay, technically not a fiber fail—there’s plenty of fiber here. Rather, I should call it a fiber vehicle fail.
Used to be, cereal makers pitched sugary cereals to kids. Maybe they still do—I haven’t watched the morning cartoons in years. But I do still get a daily newspaper delivered. This weekend it arrived on my porch with a sample box of cereal and a cereal bar. Or what General Mills calls a ‘chewy bar’.
General Mills ‘Fiber One’ products seem to be marketed to adults who are interested in being healthy. The packaging includes phrases like ‘51% daily value of fiber’ and ‘Excellent source of antioxidant vitamins A and E’.
But look at the ingredient list. The cereal has 22 items listed (if you don’t count the sub-items it takes to make ‘crisp oats’, ‘toasted oats’--who knew it takes 6 ingredients to make toasted oats?--and ‘wheat bits’). It also contains many sweeteners: sugar, brown sugar, high fructose corn syrup, honey, and molasses. The chewy bar has 23 items, including many sugars, and various processed oils.
I don’t know why anyone would buy this cereal; there are plenty of better choices with fiber available. As for the chewy bars, I suppose people like the grab and go aspect of the chewy bar.
You want grab and go? Put some almonds in your pocket. Wrap a couple of prunes up in a piece of waxed paper. It doesn’t get much easier/cheaper/healthier, not to mention more satisfying, than that.
(5 prunes + 1 handful almonds = about 7 grams fiber)