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When I was just married I went with my new husband to a famous Jewish restaurant in London. I scanned the menu anxiously searching for something green.
“Excuse me,” I asked, “Do you have any vegetables, please?”
“Yes,” the waiter answered seriously, “we have dill pickles and latkes.”
That exchange demonstrates so much of what is wrong with traditional Ashkenazi fare. Certainly the food is delicious, rib-sticking and very tasty. Look at menus solid with dishes like matzo ball soup and kreplach, the delicious triangles of pasta filled with chopped meat floating generously in rich broth. There are slices of corned beef with a liberal side of deep fried potato latkes and over-large slices of lockshen pudding — noodles mixed with dried fruit and masses of fat and sugar. Of course all these dishes are wonderful and immersed with flavor and Jewish tradition. Lighter versions of some of the recipes form part of my book, “Jewish Traditional Cooking.” But maybe it would be sensible to serve one of these recipes as a treat or delicacy accompanied by a liberal quantity of vegetables and fruit, not all of them together at a single meal.
A diet for survival
The traditional Ashkenazi diet evolved from a fragile East-European existence and the shtetl — impoverished, flimsy villages.
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If people were fortunate enough to have a chicken, probably only for a festival, it was an old boiler, and in true Ashkenazi tradition it would have been placed in a large cooking pot with root vegetables and masses of water to make a soup. This soup would be extended with matzo balls or any kind of dough and rough bread, along with chopped gizzards and heart, and meat from the chicken’s neck. The neck skin would be separately stuffed with chopped fat and peppery flour and stitched, then roasted with the bird to create another meal called helzel. Those bubbas, grandmothers and mothers, knew that they could keep hunger at bay by adding calorie-laden extras. The chicken would likely be served at the festival meal with kasha, rice, potatoes or barley.
We are now in the 21st century and Ashkenazi tradition still follows that regimen. Jewish people manifest significant problems connected with obesity, including the so-called Jewish Disease, diabetes. Heart disease and cancers are known to be exacerbated by a high fat, high protein diet.
Adapting the Ashkenazi diet for the 21st century
So maybe it’s time to acknowledge this and accept change, as I did after marrying a lovely Sephardi man. After the Diaspora, the Sephardic Jews looked about their surroundings and adopted the cooking methods of their new neighbors using masses of cheap vegetables and fruits, cooking with olive oil rather than the artery-clogging schmaltz of their Jewish cousins. Instead of relying on frying or interminable stewing to add flavor, they began seasoning their food with fresh herbs, creating fragrant dishes redolent with glorious spices and mouthwatering taste.
When I wrote “Jewish Traditional Cooking” I wanted to include the inherited foods but lighten them where possible. Many of the appetizers are vegetable-based: baba ganoush, a fragrant Asian dish based on oven-roasted vegetables, and soup mit nisht – the ultimate low-calorie cauliflower soup that tastes of heaven but relies on the freshness of a good cauliflower, onions and a light stock and herbs. Lockshen pudding has exchanged its ancient stodgy image for a healthier alternative by adding masses of freshly grated apple, vanilla, mixed spices and fresh lemon zest.
Passover is no longer a stomach-clutching kilo-raising event in our home. We adore the lightness of a carrot and almond bake which rises soufflé-like for any chef, and the spinach and leek roulade with its lighter cheese filling still satisfies. For a modern Jewish woman understanding tradition and the demands of religion and custom, I looked to Morocco where I learned to cook fish in a tiny Fez kitchen with a mixture of fresh vegetables and a fabulous stuffing so that it can be eaten hot or cold. Turkish tradition showed me how to stuff a whole vegetable and experiment with butternut squash as the base for a stuffing of toasted pine nuts, lentils, brown rice, currants and masses of chopped mint, parsley and cilantro.
I believe that Ashkenazi Jews have to look to their Sephardi cousins to learn how to eat in the 21st century. They may not survive their traditional diet.
Top photo: Ruth Joseph. Credit: Western Mail, Thompson House, Cardiff
The holidays were nearing when I eagerly skipped down the yellow-brick road into Dr. Mehmet Oz’s world of “What To Eat Now: The Anti-Food-Snob Diet.” His opener — that “some of the tastiest and healthiest food around is also the least expensive and most ordinary” — was indisputably welcoming.
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Finally, I sighed with relief, our nation’s favorite star doctor will set the record straight. Eating healthy food doesn’t have to be rocket science. And it doesn’t have to be expensive. OK, yes, all the Google-smart news-speak mavens can choose to buy their fresh foods at the most expensive markets and thereby confirm their conspira-stories that healthy, local food is elitist.
But now, finally, we would get the straight dope on how we can eat well without breaking the bank.
I happily entered Dr. Oz’s world of bright and colorful frozen green peas and carrots. I read that we can enjoy some of our favorite foods — tacos, peanut butter, salsa and guacamole — and we can also “eat frozen and never feel that you are shortchanging yourself.” Hallelujah!
An egg is an egg?
But when Dr. Oz said “organic is great, it’s just not very democratic,” I stopped skipping. What he means by organic is revealed in his next sentence: “truffle oil, European cheeses and heirloom tomatoes.” No mention of everyday organic foods like apples, peas, carrots, beans. A bit later he confesses that he’s doing a “public-health service” to folks who are “alienated and dejected” because “the marketing of healthy foods too often blurs into elitism.” His public health service includes telling us there is no difference between organic and conventional foods. “An egg is an egg,” he says. What’s more, there’s “not much difference between, say, grass-fed beef and the feedlot variety.”
Let me get this straight: Organic is not democratic because … not everyone can afford truffle oil or European cheeses? The only organic food is the kind he shops for? Following that logic, if the only British car I bought was a Rolls-Royce, I could soundly conclude that British cars are not democratic because not everyone can afford a Rolls. That is, of course, ridiculous.
Affordable organic food is available
A real public health service from Oz would be giving devotees the low-down on organic: telling them that eating organic doesn’t mean buying truffle oil. Eating organic can mean consuming affordable, common foods. And eating organic can mean eating more nutritious food. This is where I get to thank Wal-Mart, which, like Dr. Oz, positions itself as serving the common person. Last November, Wal-Mart’s Economic Customer Insights Report announced that its “natural and organic food sales are growing almost twice as much as traditional food products.” This is not truffle oil. This is everyday organic and affordable food.
A real public health service was this recent study, “Is Local Food Affordable to Local Folks?,” which overturned many assumptions about the affordability of local and organic. Comparing prices between supermarkets and 24 farmers markets in 19 communities across six states in Appalachia and the Southeast, the study found that in 74% of the communities, local farmers markets produce was actually less expensive on average by 22%. In 88% of the communities, even organic produce was less expensive, on average by 16%. Overall, although local meats and eggs tended to be more expensive on average, when the costs of similar items were compared, the local food found at farmers markets was either the same or less expensive than in supermarkets in 74% of all cases, with an average of 12% lower cost. What’s more, the great news is that farmers markets are proliferating, meaning more affordable local and organic foods are available to low-income folks. Since 1994, according to a USDA report, farmers markets in the U.S. have more than quadrupled to 7,864 to date, with no end in sight.
Let’s not forget the nutrition argument. An important study showed grass-fed beef is nothing like conventional beef: it’s hugely healthier! Less fat overall, more healthy fats, more minerals, 300% more vitamin E, 400% more vitamin A and 500% more conjugated linoleic acid, which combats cancer, body fat, heart disease and diabetes. Yet another recent study by Penn State revealed striking differences between organic and conventional chicken eggs, with organic boasting twice the healthy fats, 38% more vitamin A and twice the vitamin E.
In my world, a real public health service would spread information not rumors. It would showcase the multiple benefits, including higher nutrition, of organic food. And it would show that, thanks to providers ranging from local farmers markets to Wal-Mart, more and more low-income people now can find — and afford – more healthy, nutritious, organic foods.
I applaud Dr. Oz for addressing the topic of affordable healthy food. Making healthy food more accessible to all is the right goal. But we don’t ridicule those who buy the latest smartphone as snobs and tell the rest to be happy with a rotary dial. Low-income folks don’t want rotary dial phones any more than they want sub-par food. So, Dr. Oz, please come back to the real world where everyone deserves to know the real dope on food: healthier, nutritious food can indeed mean organic foods — and if we look they’re becoming more available and affordable to us all.
Photo: Tanya Denckla Cobb. Credit: Dan Addison
I was trying to make a tart aux pommes (apple tart.) I followed the instructions in my cookbook and the final product tasted and looked delicious. But when I placed my finished dish beside the picture in the cookbook, it didn’t quite match up, which made me think: Was my dish made the way the chef intended? If the chef was here, would he or she have guided me differently?
A seed was planted. I wanted to transform the way people follow recipes. I came up with an idea that marries technology with the passion and skill that collaborate in the creation of master recipes.
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Here’s the crazy part: I was a guy from the music business without a single contact in the food industry, and zero cooking experience aside from my own kitchen. There’s something to be said for determination.
When Top Chef Masters winner Rick Bayless, founder of Chicago’s Frontera Grill and award-winning Topolobampo, agreed to cook for us, I devoted my heart and soul to getting it right. I tried every recipe we were going to shoot in my own kitchen before we got to the set. To my family’s initial enjoyment — and ultimate dismay — I cooked Mexican food for three weeks.
Learning from chefs is the key to recipe video app
And I ruined more than half the recipes. Enchiladas are messy, I misread several steps, and making a mole is just plain hard. No matter that I was determined, I couldn’t seem to get the results I wanted. But after we shot our segment with Rick, I remade some of those recipes by following the video, and they were perfect. Being able to watch exactly how Bayless executed his recipes changed and refined the way I cook.
I remember the set being silent. It was nearing the end of a 14-hour shooting day and Rick was preparing his last recipe, potato-chorizo tacos. He began blending tomatillos. I watched them change color and texture, and then he stopped the blender, opened it and paused. His eyes closed and he inhaled deeply, smiling as he took in the aroma.
Chefs like Rick are present. They use all of their senses: listening for when something is done; smelling when it’s time for the next step. They recognize nanomoments that call for the next decision, fleeting interludes that novices like me are likely to miss. These chefs have an innate respect and appreciation for ingredients and what they can become.
It’s inspiring to watch chefs like Rick, Nancy, Jonathan and Anita in their element. They’re like musicians. A guitar is replaced with a knife, sheet music with raw ingredients, and harmony with a final dish — an outcome of labor, love and inspiration. Reading their recipes can give a home cook incentive, but watching professional chefs in action gives a novice another dimension of inspiration. More practically, it provides the tools necessary to make an enchilada that looks, and tastes, like a Master’s enchilada.
Top photo: David Ellner. Credit: Danny Sanchez
St. Patrick’s Day used to mean corned beef and cabbage, but with Ireland’s culinary renaissance, cooks are exploring other traditional Irish foods. I’m thinking not only of Irish lamb stew and crubeens, golden-crusted pigs’ feet turned meltingly tender inside a crisp breaded crust. I’m also thinking of the Irish blaas. On a recent visit to Ireland I discovered a bakery that honors this delicious relic of the past.
Barron’s Bakery, in the small town of Cappoquin, County Waterford, is one of Ireland’s last traditional bakeries, with brick ovens dating to 1887. Because these ovens have never been modernized, they still operate without thermostats. Each firing yields a slightly different batch of bread, a variability prized by the townsfolk who flock to Barron’s.
The bakery is most famous for their “blaas” — light, plump yeast rolls with a subtle malty taste and a heavy dusting of flour. The rolls’ origins lie with the thrifty French Huguenots who immigrated to Waterford in the 17th century — blaa is likely a corruption of the French blanc (white) or blé (wheat) — and who are said to have introduced rolls made from leftover pieces of dough.
In 1802, blaas entered the Irish mainstream thanks to Brother Edmund Ignatius Rice, the founder of the Christian Brothers, who began baking them at Mount Sion Monastery in Waterford City. Made only of flour, water, yeast and salt, these rolls were inexpensive to prepare and thus affordable to the city’s poor.
Ireland recently submitted an application to the European Union to grant the rolls Protected Geographical Indication, PGI, status as a distinctive regional food. This move is significant, as Ireland has generally been slow to request special status for its food products. Only four are currently registered: Connemara Hill lamb; Timoleague Brown Pudding; Clare Island Salmon; and Imokilly Regato, a cow’s milk cheese from County Cork that has Protected Designation of Origin, PDO, status.
The application detailing blaas’ place of origin makes County Waterford sound like a magical realm: “The river Blackwater runs through the area and includes the town-lands of Dangan, Narabawn, Moolum, Newtown, Skeard, Greenville and Ullid.” The actual production of blaas looks a bit more prosaic. The 3-inch rolls are shaped by hand into rounds or squares, with the dough hand-floured at least three times in the process. This heavy dusting of flour both protects the dough from the oven’s intense heat and gives the blaas a distinctive top. Like American pan rolls, the pieces of unbaked dough are set side by side to merge as they rise. When the rolls are ready to eat, they are pulled apart, yielding a crusty top and soft interior and sides.
Irish blaas through the generations
Today, blaas are eaten either for breakfast (the local radio station’s morning program is called “The Big Blaa Breakfast Show”) or for lunch, when they’re often filled with fried potatoes or dilisk, a local seaweed. I was lucky enough to arrive in Cappoquin just as a tray of blaas was emerging from the oven, and the bakery owners, Esther Barron and Joe Prendergast, insisted that I have a taste. A first crisp bite immediately gave way to a tender and aromatic crumb. I was hooked.
Established in 1887, Barron’s remains at the heart of Cappoquin — so much so that last year a book commemorating its 125th anniversary was published with tributes from the bakery’s customers and staff. Esther is the fourth-generation Barron to run the bakery. She’s a remarkable woman, the youngest of five daughters who took over the business on her father’s death in 1980. Even though baking was very much a man’s profession, she made a success of it.
Through her work she tries to honor the memory of her grandfather John, who spent time in New York in the 1880s and dreamed of emigrating to the United States. But his wife and new baby called him back to Cappoquin, where he eventually took over his father’s bakery and sired 11 more kids!
Adding new traditions
Esther and Joe are reviving other traditional Irish baked goods like spotted dog, which is a white soda bread with fruit, and Chester cake, a spice cake originally devised to use up stale bread. And they’re experimenting with the use of locally grown organic wheat to improve their bread and support local farmers. Barron’s is so devoted to the Cappoquin community that they fire their ovens on Christmas Day so that the villagers can roast their turkeys communally.
For St. Patrick’s Day, Barron’s bakes a special cake in the shape of a shamrock, though it’s far from the kind of plain sheet cake you might expect. Theirs is an extravagant madeira cake with lemon curd and buttercream, covered in white fondant and decorated with piped green roses and the Gaelic greeting “La Fheile Padraig.”
For the past three years Barron’s has also organized a big St. Patrick’s Day parade, another aspect of their community involvement. In April, Waterford will be host to its sixth annual Festival of Food, and Barron’s is one of the sponsors. Esther Barron stands ready to welcome guests from near and afar with a taste of her special blaas.
Darra Goldstein. Credit: Courtesy of Darra Goldstein
Why did I smell roasted soybeans in my glass of vintage Bordeaux? Ten years ago, as the tasting editor at Wine & Spirits Magazine, sniffing a glass of vintage red wine took me back to my earliest childhood memories of foods in Korea. While some in the tasting panel described the smells of mushroom and barnyard flavors, my descriptors recalled the pungent smells of fermented foods such as aged kimchi and soybean paste that were always condiments on the table in our home.
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By Lauryn Chun
It was a clarifying moment. I understood the tie that binds some of the most flavorful fermented foods. Kimchi (a brined pickle) also undergoes the process of fermentation that brings out complex, secondary flavors and umami (the taste of a savory protein compound in certain natural foods).
The fermentation connection
The complementary relationship between wine and the Korean food I grew up eating turned auspicious a few years ago when I started my business: Mother-in-Law’s Kimchi, a line of packaged napa cabbage, daikon and vegan kimchis. Kimchi goes through active fermentation when its vegetables (typically napa cabbage or radish) are mixed with a heady sauce of chili pepper flakes, garlic and ginger, and is aged for as little as three days and as long as a few years. The result is a crunchy, tangy, spicy and complex pickle that’s rich in digestion-enhancing probiotics. The flavors continue to change with time. I once opened a daikon radish kimchi aged over two years that had notes of aged salami and cheese.
As I wrote “The Kimchi Cookbook” and began testing a vast array of kimchi recipes using a panoply of seasonal vegetables, I explored the parallels of natural fermentation in winemaking and kimchi making. The process allowed me to help demystify and share the versatility of kimchi as a condiment and cooking ingredient that complements and enhances the pleasure of a meal much like an everyday wine.
Enjoying kimchi alongside wine results in a sensory experience in which taste and texture come alive. Both can be judged by their fruit flavors, length of acidity and overall balance.
Pairing wine + kimchi
Through a number of tastings, I have come across some stellar kimchi-wine pairings that can serve as a guide. For example, an off-dry white sparkling Grüner Veltliner or a German Kabinette Riesling is a perfect companion for the robust spice and texture of daikon kimchi. The wine’s bubbles and hint of sweetness help offset the heat and tangy notes of the kimchi and counterbalance the multitude levels of flavors. A simple Beaujolais Nouveau (yes, a red wine!) is wonderful with napa cabbage kimchi; the Beaujois’ lack of tannins brings out the fruity notes of the chili in the kimchi seasoning rather than spice that one would normally expect.
Being a wine lover shaped my understanding of kimchi — the characteristics in fermentation frame a balance of flavors and textures in my sensory experience that makes fermented foods so uniquely appealing to us all.
Top photo composite:
Lauryn Chun. Credit: Renato D’Agostin
Kimchi jars. Credit: Sara Remington
Lately I’ve been frustrating my customers, which is never a wise thing to do. We get asked all the time for analytical stats on the wines we offer and details about our winemaking practices. My catalogues tend to pass over such things, because I’ve reached a place in my drinking career where I find them otiose. This might seem snooty. So let me explain.
First, a wise quote from Peter Jost (of the estate Toni Jost), who said: “Judging a wine by its analysis is like judging a beautiful woman by her X-ray films.” Second, and further support for my theory, a remark I received from esteemed German winemaker Helmut Dönnhoff many years ago, when I asked him for the figures of a wine in my glass. “You don’t need these anymore, Terry,” he said. “Analyses are for beginners.”
But there are beginners, I must remember, and they’re curious, and it’s peevish for me to deny them the understanding they seek. If a drinker is interested in knowing how a wine was made, or in knowing what its acidity or residual-sugar or extract might be, this is entirely valid if she is trying to collate her palate’s impressions with the facts of the matter. That is a useful way of thinking — until it isn’t anymore.
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The ecstasy of defeat
I well remember traveling with an earnest young colleague who sought to guess how a wine was made strictly from its taste. He was especially eager to identify cask versus stainless steel aging. I loved the guy, but I knew the perplexing denouement that quivered a few days down the road. For indeed, at one winery where all the wines were done in cask, my pal was sure they used steel, and yielded to his dismay; however hard he tried, he just wasn’t getting it. When I told him he’d crossed the Rubicon into a place of far greater wisdom, he thought I had a screw loose. I tried to reassure him that being right was reassuring, but being wrong invited epiphany; you ascended to greater understanding through your mistakes.
I remember, though, the urge to understand, to find explanations, to learn the causes and effects of flavor. We mustn’t frustrate that urge – it’s human to be curious and I think we should respect curiosity. But we also have to help drinkers understand the limits of this vein of knowledge. It is a closed system that gives the simulacrum of expertise while actually leaving us in an airless chamber of our minds. We feel terribly knowledgeable discussing the details of a wine, but there’s a big-picture glaring at us that this approach won’t let us see.
If you’re hungry for knowledge of how a grower trains his vines, prunes his vines, binds his vines; if you seek to know the density of plantings per hectare and the space between the rows; if you’re curious about which clones were used, how the canopies were worked, if and when the winemaker did a green harvest, if the grapes were picked by hand, with what-size teams and with one big bucket or several smaller ones, then these are things you ought to know. Shame on me for finding them ancillary and ultimately trivial.
More than the sum of its yeasts
If you want to know the wines’ total acids, the amount of its sweetness, the must-weights of the grapes at picking, whether it fermented with ambient or with cultured yeasts, how it was clarified, what vessel it fermented in and at what temperature (and if the temperature was technologically controlled), whether it sat on its gross or fine lees and for how long, and whether it was developed in steel or in wood — I don’t mind telling you. But it worries me some. Because I fear that for each one of you who sincerely wants to compare what his palate receives with what’s actually inside the wine, there are many of you who want to enact value-judgments prior to tasting, because you’ve decided what’s permissible and what’s despicable. (This nonsensical approach is rampant in Germany.)
I am decidedly not in favor of excluding tasters from any wine because they disapprove of the effing yeast that was deployed, or because they won’t go near a wine with more than X-grams of sweetness. Who wants to enable something so repugnant?
Nor am I willing to abet the sad phenomenon of people talking about wine with what seems like authority, because of the “information” they’ve accumulated, whereas they’re actually blocked from attaining true authority by the rigid limits of their approach. If you’re stuck in the “how,” you’ll have a rough time finding your way to the “what.” And that is where true wisdom lies. The wonky isn’t a bad place to be, for a while, but it’s a dangerous place to stop, because like all objects of beauty, wine is more than the sum of its parts. If you’re busily probing into technical minutiae, will you remember to consider not only the application of technique but the expression of a vintner’s spirit? Will you remember to pause for just a second and consider how a wine makes you feel?
Photo: Terry Theise. Credit: Anna Stöcher
Cultures all around the world have rejuvenating herbal tonics, taken to strengthen and support the body. Think of the spring tonics our grandparents knew and swore by. A number of these elixirs are also aphrodisiacs, employed to arouse our emotions and feelings of love. With Valentine’s Day coming up, what better time to give them a try?
Botanical aphrodisiacs are often highly-prized and costly (ginseng, for example), but the romantic cocktails, cupcakes and sorbet (we got inventive!) below call for five main ingredients that are inexpensive and readily available in the U.S.
Aphrodisiac list to remember
Each has a cultural tradition of promoting health and well being while also supporting libido: Ashwagandha, native to India; damiana, found in Central and South America; horny goat weed from China; maca from Peru; and schisandra from China. All can be obtained as organic dried herbs or powders from Starwest Botanicals. Many are also available from Frontier Coop. Organic fairly-traded Ayurvedic herbs can be found at Banyan Botanicals, and if you’d like to try growing any of these plants yourself, Horizon Herbs can supply seeds.
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You may be inspired to try these treats for Valentine’s day but remember they can be enjoyed any time, alone or with a partner. Here’s to health and pleasure!
Evening Energizing Cocoa
Ashwagandha, Withania somnifera, a relative of the tomato, is one of the most important tonic and restorative herbs in Ayurveda, India’s ancient science of life and medicine. In India, ashwagandha root is traditionally boiled in milk as a drink. It has a slightly bitter taste, so we like to combine it with cocoa to make a relaxing and restorative evening drink, adding the aphrodisiac effects of chocolate to that of the ashwagandha.
½ to 1 teaspoons ashwagandha powder
2 teaspoons cocoa powder (or to taste)
¼ teaspoon cardamom powder
1 cup milk or almond milk per person
10 drops vanilla essence
honey or maple syrup to taste
1. Mix dry ingredients in a saucepan.
2. Add milk and bring just to the boil, then remove from heat.
3. Add in the vanilla and sweetener to taste.
* * *
Damiana Iced Tea
Damiana, Turnera diffusa, is a tonic herb found in Texas, Central America and tropical parts of South America. Damiana is a tonic for both sexes, balancing hormones and supporting the nervous system as well as increasing libido.
2 heaped teaspoons damiana
1 heaped teaspoon mint
some rose petals
1. Put ingredients into a jug.
2. Pour boiling water on them, brew for 5 minutes.
3. Strain and chill.
4. Serve over ice.
* * *
Horny Goat Weed Liqueur
Horny goat weed, or Epimedium, is an herb worth trying for the name alone. It is grown as ground-cover plant in dry shade, and the species used as aphrodisiacs are Epimedium grandiflorum, E. sagittatum and E. brevicornum. The leaves, which can be used fresh or dried, have a pleasant mild taste and a mild stimulant effect.
Makes about two weeks’ supply for one person.
A handful of dried horny goat weed leaves
A slice or two of orange
3 or 4 cardamom pods
1 tablespoon brown sugar
About a cup of whisky
1. Loosely fill a jam jar (roughly ½ pint size) with the dry ingredients
2. Pour in enough whisky to fill the jar and submerge the contents.
3. Put the jar in a warm dark place for two weeks then strain and bottle.
4. Enjoy a small liqueur glassful, sipped slowly, as and when you wish.
* * *
Maca Cupcakes With Vanilla Fudge Icing
Maca, Lepidium meyenii, looks a bit like a turnip and is a staple in the high Andes. Its strengthening and hormone balancing benefits are cumulative over long periods, though some people find it immediately stimulating. The powder smells like butterscotch, but blander and with a slightly bitter taste. Maca can be added to porridge, breads and cakes. Our favorite maca recipe is for these cupcakes. Matthew loves the combination of hard, sweet icing, a soft, light cake and sensuous strawberry melting in the mouth.
Makes 10 to 12 cupcakes
Ingredients for cupcakes
½ tablespoon vinegar
1 tablespoon corn syrup or honey
4 tablespoons butter
½ cup light brown sugar
½ cup milk or oat milk
1 cup white flour
2 tablespoons maca powder
1 tablespoon boiling water
½ teaspoon baking soda
1. Warm vinegar, corn syrup, butter and sugar together in a pan.
2. When softened, beat until mixture becomes a creamy batter.
3. In another container, mix milk, flour and maca powder.
4. When well blended into a runny batter, pour over the cake batter.
5. Mix the two batters together to form a semi-liquid mixture.
6. Pour into 10 or 12 muffin cases.
7. Bake at 180 C (350 F) for 15 to 20 minutes, until golden on top and cooked through.
8. Cool, and add icing, as below.
Vanilla Fudge Icing
For 10 or 12 cupcakes
1 teaspoon butter
1½ cups sugar
½ cup milk
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
10 small, very ripe strawberries
1. Melt butter and sugar in a saucepan.
2. Add milk and stir continually until it reaches boiling point.
3. Continue cooking until the mixture arrives at the soft ball stage (115 C, 240 F).
4. Cool a little, add vanilla extract and beat until smooth.
5. Spread on the cup cakes.
6. If the icing gets too stiff, warm it over hot water.
7. Decorate the top of each cupcake with a small, very ripe strawberry while the icing is still soft.
* * *
Schisandra Syrup and Sorbet
Schisandra, Schisandra chinensis, berries are the fruit of a Chinese vine in the magnolia family and are known as “five flavor berries” for their complex taste. Besides their aphrodisiac effect, they promote overall health and vitality, improve memory and concentration and help protect the liver, support the endocrine system and act as a powerful antioxidant.
Ingredients for syrup
1 cup schisandra berries
3 cups water
1 cup sugar
1. Put schisandra berries into a pan.
2. Add the water and simmer gently with the lid on for 30–40 minutes.
3. This stage is complete when the berries have given their brown-black color to the water.
4. Allow to cool for a few minutes.
5. When almost cool, put in blender and blend for a few moments.
6. Strain through a sieve.
7. Add sugar, and bring to a boil, cooking for a couple of minutes longer.
8. Allow to cool, giving a rich syrup
Ingredients for sorbet
1 cup schisandra syrup (as above)
Juice of 2 or 3 oranges, freshly squeezed
1 ripe banana
1. Mix the syrup and orange juice.
2. Peel and slice the banana and freeze it.
3. When frozen or nearly frozen, add the banana to the syrup mix.
4. Beat with a hand blender until creamy, then freeze again.
5. Serve in a chilled dish.
Top photo: Ashwaganda. Credit: Julie Bruton-Seal
I grew up in a small town in Northern California called Paradise, where my father opened the first Chinese restaurant. My maternal grandmother, whom we called Popo, the Chinese word for grandmother, came to live with us a few years later.
“You should be proud you are Hakka,” Popo told my brother and me.
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As the only children of color in our school, we had little interest in learning about being more Chinese, we just wanted to fit in. But Popo persisted. After school, she tried to teach us how to speak Hakka and write Chinese characters in her kitchen. Then she’d often cook dinner for us — stir-fried vegetables from her garden, homemade chicken soup, steamed eggs, or sometimes our favorite dish, an aromatic stew of braised Chinese bacon and potatoes.
More than five decades later, I had forgotten most of the Chinese, but her words echoed in my mind. I had recently left Sunset magazine where I wrote food stories for more than 34 years. Now I had time to research what she meant when she said, “You should be proud you are Hakka.” I would do it through what I knew best, food. Popo had passed away decades ago, and so had my parents. It was too late to ask them questions. I wish I could have asked Popo how she came to America. How she cooked the bacon and potato stew that my brother and I still remember today. But I would have to figure it out myself.
Retracing your culinary heritage
I turned to a Hakka friend who lived nearby. We spent many sessions in the kitchen. She cooked and I took notes and photos. Smells and flavors from my childhood came back as I tasted some of her dishes. I decided to expand my scope and follow the footsteps of the Hakka diaspora.
I visited some areas where there were Hakka settlements such as Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Toronto and Lima, Peru. There I watched grandmothers, grandfathers and aunts demonstrate their Hakka specialties. In my cooking sessions, a younger relative often came along to translate. Over and over, the younger generation said they didn’t know how to prepare these dishes. The Hakka cuisine was getting lost through intermarriage and assimilation. I realized I was recording recipes to pass on to the next generation.
You don’t need to be a professional writer to record your own family history and recipes. Just spend some time with the person who cooks your favorite dishes. The standard bearers of your family’s culinary heritage won’t be around forever. Don’t wait too long, as I did. Do it now.
The easiest way to learn a recipe is to watch while the dish is being cooked. Simply observe, take notes, ask questions, taste and take photos. Or better yet, record a video. If needed, ask your mentor to slow down, use measuring cups, or a timer. Record the names and amounts of the ingredients. Translate your notes into legible directions and try cooking your recipe, optimally with your mentor at your side. Fine-tune the recipe and write in all the corrections. Final test, follow your written recipe to see whether the words can produce a dish that meets with the approval of your mentor. Repeat the exercise, and you’ll soon have enough recipes for your own family cookbook.
The recipes will be a legacy to pass on. You will honor your mentor with this shared experience.
Top photo: Linda Lau Anusasananan.