Flipping Latkes

My first introduction to latkes, those little patties of fried potato deliciousness, came soon after my mother and stepfather got married. I don’t remember if it was our very first December as a family, or if it was a couple of years later, but I know that Bubbie (my stepfather’s mother) spent all day making them – one of the rare times she ventured into our kitchen for anything more than hot water.

She peeled and shredded and fried for hours, and we got to eat the results.

Now, I’d thought I knew what potato pancakes were, because my grandfather, pancake guru that he was, used to make pancakes that were either part mashed potato, or part leftover baked potato (whatever was available) mixed with regular batter. I remember loving it when I bit into a chunk of potato.

But these were the real thing, the pure thing. Not just potato pancakes, but pancakes made entirely from potato (well, maybe a dash of milk, a bit of flour, seasonings, and an egg). The point is, I was expecting something more like the pancakes I’d grown up with, and less like a really tasty, far less oily (no, really) version of an Arby’s potato cake.

Bubbie never made latkes for us again – from scratch. All subsequent acknowledgements of Hanukkah involved help from the nice people at Manischewitz and their onion-flavored mix (it comes in gluten free, too). We still had applesauce and sour cream, but there was a lot less work.

Since then, I’ve made latkes from scratch exactly once, and let me assure you that once was absolutely enough. I cheated and used a food processor, but then, who wouldn’t? (I also had a minion who did a good portion of the peeling, showing off his skills with a paring knife in the process. Never, ever, try to make latkes for a couple of dozen people without the assistance of a minion. This is essential.

I’m not Jewish, but that doesn’t mean I can’t like Jewish foods (I’m not Thai, Lebanese, Greek, Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Indian, French or Cajun either, but I like all of those foods – I’m a polyglot when it comes to cuisine.), so last year I bought a couple of boxes of latke mix. I made some at home, and brought the rest with me when we went to visit my parents in Mexico. I don’t remember if it was Christmas night (because we’d had a huge brunch and weren’t hungry until pretty late at night), or one of the others, but we had a lovely late-night supper of latkes with applesauce, sour cream, and smoked salmon, while binge watching Call the Midwife on Netflix.

I haven’t bought any mix this year, but I might, because potato pancakes are a flavor I really love, and even though it’s unseasonably warm, it is December. Tonight, in fact, is the first night of Hanukkah, which is why I’m writing about flipping lattes. (It’s way easier to do than making crepes.). Maybe I’ll even serve them with smoked salmon again.

In the meantime, I’m nursing a cold, so I’m going to curl up in bed with tea and a good book.

 

Holidailies 2015

Chocolate

Sometimes the only cure for the blahs is chocolate, so yesterday, I baked a batch of my favorite chocolate chip cookie bars.

The base of the batter smells like butterscotch, but it’s really only sugar, egg, and vanilla. (Some people actually measure the vanilla when they bake. I find this adorable.)

I don’t bother adding chocolate chips and walnuts as a separate step. Instead I measure them into the dry ingredients, mix them together, and add the whole thing to the wet ingredients, one-third at a time.

My house is redolent of the same chocolate that flavors my husband’s kisses.

Fishing With Grandpop

Rod and Reel My friend Debra is hosting a project called Summer Love Notes (it started about ten days ago), and I’m one of the participants, which means I’ve been dwelling on memories of All Things Summer as I’ve tried to figure out what to write about.

One of my fondest childhood memories is fishing with my grandfather.

I’m not entirely certain when I became his fishing buddy, but I know I was no older than four the first time he took me to the pier. I remember the sweet scents of tar and wood, and the tang of salt in the air. I remember sitting on his tackle box, and wearing a fishing hat that would never be as weathered or as storied as his.

I remember stopping at the bait store on the way out to the fishing beach, and I remember stopping at Stewart’s for root beer ( in real glass mugs) and crinkle cut fries (in a paper boat) on the way home (served by carhops, delivered on a tray that clipped to the window).

I remember the squirmy, slippery fish flipping, flopping, and flailing on the dock once we reeled them out of the water, and I remember my grandfather knocking them out as quickly as possible.

Once we caught a dogfish (a small shark) and I remember seeing it’s teeth snapping at anything it thought it could reach. You couldn’t retrieve the hook from those and let it go, you had to dangle it from the line and snip the thread and let it fall, back into the ocean for a slow death, or into a handy trash bin for a faster one. Do fish feel pain? Do I really want to know?

Probably not.

I remember my grandfather cleaning the fish (Atlantic blue fish, most of the time) and my grandmother cooking it, serving it with fresh, steamed spinach and baked potatoes that had been wrapped in tin foil and cooked on the grill. “Watch for pins and needles,” she’d warn, referring to the bones in the fish.

What’s weird though, is that I don’t remember actually, you know, fishing. Only the activities around the actual baiting of hooks and casting of lines.

But I remember my grandfather’s hat, and his work shoes and his strong, brown hands, thick with callouses, and etched with history.

Fishing with my grandfather was one of my favorite parts of my childhood summers.

 

 

Photo Credit: juliasv / 123RF Stock Photo

Christmas Eve in La Paz: Home for Christmas

Christmas in La Paz

It’s 11:35 PM on Christmas Eve, and as I write this I’m sitting on the bed in the guest room in La Paz, BCS, where my parents live. We’re in the house they’re renting while they build a new house – probably the last house they’ll ever live in, directly across the street.

All month, as I’ve been preparing for this trip (we arrived yesterday), my mother has been telling me things like “Gari-Ellen wants to know if you’re coming to coffee with us,” or “Jesse is looking forward to having you come to his restaurant,” or, “Patricia said she’s very excited because her sister’s daughter is coming.” (Patricia, in this case, is my mother’s dear friend, and adopted sister. She’s got a heart as big as the universe and looks like Betty Boop.)

I’ve never really felt like I’ve had a hometown. I mean, there’s the town I consider home, Atlantic Highlands, N.J., because my earliest memories are there, and my family roots are there, and my mother’s first home with me was there, but I didn’t get the experience of growing up there.

I grew up in lots of places, really: New Jersey, Colorado, California. And then I’ve lived in South Dakota, California and Texas, during my marriage.

My parents moved here, to La Paz, Baja California Sur, Mexico in 2000, and at first visiting them never felt like home. When they moved into the house they built, I liked staying in the casita, but it felt like staying in a guest house.

I know my mother was depressed, but I never realized how much until we drove into the development where she lives now. There’s an ease about her, a lightness, that she hasn’t had in years, and that lightness has wrapped itself around her life, extending into the very walls of this house.

She calls it the “Barbie House,” because it’s tiny, but it’s not uncomfortably so – really. But rental or not, it’s the first place she’s lived in, here, that has felt like coming home.

And I realized, as I was packing, and then even more as we made the journey up the canyon, up the highway, from Cabo to La Paz, that I’ve been here, to this funky, quirky, lovely city on the Gulf of California, enough times that coming back here feels like coming home.

I didn’t grow up here, but this year, I’m not merely visiting my parents, I’ve come home for Christmas.

Ziti

Ziti

My grandmother used to sing to her African violets, pet their tender leaves, and encourage them to grow by calling them ‘pretty baby.’ She could pick up a pencil with her toes, and even after her fingers were gnarled with age and arthritis, she was a flawless knitter (though her taste in yarn was questionable).

By the time I was old enough to help in the kitchen, she did her best to avoid cooking, but I have fond memories of hamburgers cooked on the back yard grill, of sun-warmed tomatoes from my grandfather’s garden, of Jersey corn, and of being asked – as everyone was – what kind of potato they wanted (white or sweet). Whenever she ate those summer vegetables, she would pronounce them ‘luscious.’

Sometimes, she made baked ziti. Ziti is easier than lasagna because you don’t have to keep the pasta intact, but it uses similar ingredients. Sauce that simmered all day. Meatballs served with it. A blend of Parmesan, Romano, mozzarella, and provolone cheeses. Just the right combination of spices to make the flavors all pop in a complimentary fashion.

I never learned her recipe, but I remember the flavor, and over the years, my own version has come closer and closer. The cheese, I think, is what’s wrong, or maybe it’s that I usually just ‘doctor’ sauce from a jar. I remember her adding a dash of sugar to her sauce, but I think I also remember her squeezing lemon juice into it, and that memory confuses me because wouldn’t that just increase the acid?

I made Ziti tonight because the temperature was dropping and I wanted something that was comforting and would provide leftovers. As I served it, just for a moment, I thought I caught the scent of my grandmother’s perfume, just the way I sometimes wake in the night feeling certain that her cool hand was soothing my sweaty brow.

But it wasn’t really her perfume, of course.

It was just a sense memory triggered by making ziti.

Holidailies 2014

Frittata

frittata

We had leftover deli turkey, the kind with peppercorns and sundried tomatoes, and zucchini, mushrooms, and spinach that had to be used.

I found a recipe for frittata that used all those vegetables, and replaced the called-for bacon with the turkey.

It said to only use three cloves of garlic. I laughed.

I chopped, stirred, cracked, blended, and poured.

It’s in the oven now.

I’ve loved the concept of breakfast for dinner since I was a little girl. (To this day, I only go to IHOP at night, but only ever order breakfast foods.)

Comment if you want the recipe…

Thursday 13: Rainy Day Quotations

Closeup of Little Girl in Red Boots by Michael Simons

I haven’t done a Thursday 13 in a while, I started this last Thursday when it was rainy, but then I never finished it for whatever reason. It’s not rainy today, but rather, windy, so I’m going to just do weather-related quotations. Enjoy.

  1. “Rain is grace; rain is the sky descending to the earth; without rain, there would be no life.” ~John Updike
  2. “Let the rain kiss you. Let the rain beat upon your head with silver liquid drops. Let the rain sing you a lullaby.” ~Langston Hughes
  3. “Tears of joy are like the summer rain drops pierced by sunbeams.” ~Hosea Ballou
  4. “Thought is the wind, knowledge the sail, and mankind the vessel.” ~Augustus Hare
  5. “A rainy day is the perfect time for a walk in the woods.” ~Rachel Carson
  6. “There is a muscular energy in sunlight corresponding to the spiritual energy of wind.” ~Annie Dillard
  7. “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing.” ~Alfred Wainright
  8. “The wind shows us how close to the edge we are.” ~Joan Didion
  9. Spooky wild and gusty; swirling dervishes of rattling leaves race by, fleeing windflung deadwood that cracks and thumps behind.” ~Dave Beard
  10. “Snow and adolescence are the only problems that disappear if you ignore them long enough.” ~Earl Wilson
  11. “Clouds come floating into my life, no longer to carry rain or usher storm, but to add color to my sunset sky.” ~Rabindranath Tagore
  12. “What dreadful hot weather we have! It keeps me in a continual state of inelegance.” ~Jane Austen”
  13. “What my lips have kissed, and where, and why,
    I have forgotten, and what arms have lain
    Under my head till morning; but the rain
    Is full of ghosts to-night, that tap and sigh
    Upon the glass and listen for reply…”
    ~Edna St. Vincent Millay

Image Credit: Michael Simons via 123rf.com

You say Slumgullion, I say Schlumgallian

Schlumgallion

It’s one of those days. You know the kind: when you’ve been busy doing stuff all day, and you know you’ve been productive, but you’re not really sure exactly how. It’s been one of those puttery days, when you bask in creativity and execute tasks here and there, and start projects that you don’t care if you finish – those days are lovely.

But they end in those evenings, those nights really, when you realize that, oh, damn, we actually do have to eat dinner, and payday isn’t til tomorrow so pizza is NOT an option, and anyway, we can’t really justify ordering pizza when we have a house full of ingredients.

So you improvise.

For me, improvisation in the kitchen generally begins with sauteing onion and garlic in olive oil. I mean, really, what can’t you do with onion and garlic? So we started with that. And we added some 98% lean organic grass-fed ground beef that was mostly defrosted because I remembered to take it out earlier, but not really early enough.

Oh! There are mushrooms in the fridge. We should use those.

Oh! And tomato paste, because why not? And Worcestershire sauce, because it adds bite. Hmm. This is a little young. Squeeze in some lemon. Garlic and onion powders. Italian herb blend. Merlot-infused sea salt. Freshly ground black pepper. Stir til it bubbles, but it’s not quite complete.

Go to the fridge – nothing inspiring. Beets, but they SO don’t work with this. Maybe the freezer? Jackpot! A frozen veggie blend, kept around for “emergencies” just like this one.

So you add that and you stir, and then you turn the heat way down, and put a lid on it…what else? What else? Oh, awesome! Pasta.

I have this cannister on my counter. Whenever I make a pasta dish and don’t use all the macaroni or rotini or whatever, I put the extra (dry, uncooked) pasta in the cannister (note: dear autocorrect, canNister is an acceptable spelling for this word. Use one ‘n’ or two. Both are good). Nights like tonight, that pasta gets boiled in hot water, olive oil, a little salt, and when it’s done, it goes into the tomato and beef mixture.

Voila! a meal that isn’t horribly unhealthy, and doesn’t take forever to make, either.

But what do you call it.

Well, I grew up calling it, at least phonetically, “Schlumgallian,” with the assumption it was a family-originated made-up name for “throwing the kitchen sink in a pan,” but then I learned that there’s actually a dish called “Slumgullion,” which is an Irish word and refers to a “watery beef stew.”

Feral Kitchen‘s version of Slumgullion is not really that different from what I made. You can see their recipe here.

Mine is in the image at the top of the page, but the whole point of this dish is that you can make it with whatever’s at hand.

Mixing it Up

Baking Cookies

From the time I was fourteen or fifteen years old, I’ve had this fantasy of owning a bookstore/cafe, only it wouldn’t be like the cafes nestled inside Barnes and Noble. Instead, it would be an old house, and each room would have a different theme, and matching menu. Sort of like that restaurant chain that I can’t remember the name of, where there was an African room and an Undersea room. Only in my fantasy cafe, there would be a mystery room and a science fiction room, and…well…you get the idea.

Fantasies are lovely, but the reality is that retail sucks, and the restaurant business is pretty thankless, and I prefer to let this dream remain in dreamland, indulging it, instead, by reading novels where recipes are prominent.

George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire is an example of this, but for some reason, mysteries feature food a lot more than anything else (well, the Pern books had a lot of great dishes, and Melanie Rawn’s Ambrai series…but…) and one of my favorite series is Cleo Coyle’s Coffeehouse Mysteries.

I’ve been a fan of her work (and yes, I know “Cleo Coyle” isn’t really Cleo Coyle, but that’s not the point) since the first book, and have just finished the 13th, so you can imagine how tickled I was when she sent me an autographed copy of it after I contacted her about an interview for All Things Girl. I was even MORE tickled that she enclosed a bunch of recipe cards, one of which we’re making tonight.

Well, sort of.

The recipe card was for a candy cane frosting, but obviously if you’re making frosting, you must have something to, well, frost. Now, on her website, that frosting is paired with a standard brownie (from a mix) with a bit of ‘enhancement’ optional.

I don’t buy mixes.

And I have an excellent brownie mix, but it’s much more fun to go to the Source, Herself.

So I hopped on Facebook, and took a chance, asking if she had a scratch recipe that she’d recommend.

She did. And she sent me the link.

It’s a dark chocolate brownie with chocolate chips and espresso powder and…yeah.

I’ll post a follow up tomorrow afternoon when we put everything together (we’re making the brownies tonight, but will frost them tomorrow), and I’ll share the links at that time.

Meanwhile, y’all can go to bed imagining candy cane frosting on dark chocolate brownies.

Image credit: robynmac / 123RF Stock Photo

Dog Days of Podcasting: Listen

Dog Days of Podcasting

Tonight’s entry into the Dog Days of Podcasting project is another piece from the vaults (I plead continued migraine!), this time from the autumn of 2007.

Those folks who used to frequent CafeWriting may recognize the piece – it’s an unofficial prequel to the super-secret project I’m working on. Another cafe vignette.

Enjoy it at the SoundCloud website, or in the applet below.

[soundcloud url=”http://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/105642032″ params=”” width=” 100%” height=”166″ iframe=”true” /]