IT AIN’T ALL ABOUT THE BIRD – STUFFING CAN MAKE OR BREAK THE T-DAY MEAL (BUT IT ALL STARTS WITH THE BIRD… and the bread!)

tksday 11-12_068

On the other hand, there are so many considerations about that bird and the stuffing to go with it, before we even get to the roasting/eating part:

  • How big a bird? (Definitely want leftovers. Ours was a 17+ pounder.)
  • What else about the bird? (Bought a “natural, fresh” turkey this year. Generally winds up juicier.)
  • To brine or not to brine? (Never tried it, wasn’t about to this time.)
  • If not brining, how to ensure it’s nice and moist? (I loosened the skin and injected homemade turkey broth.)
  • What about flavoring for the skin? (Basting with melted butter can’t be beat; sprinkled with pepper and a few herbs such as dried parsley, marjoram, thyme and/or rosemary.)
  • What to do with all the “stuff” that’s inside? (Take the “stuff” – gizzards, heart, etc, out of the bird, put in saucepan, add water to cover, sprinkle with salt and pepper, bring to boil, then simmer until liquid is reduced by ⅓ to ½. Discard “stuff” and put aside liquid for later gravy-making.)
  • How about the inside of the turkey? (Always rub with salt. Further, I considered two options: either cut a lemon in half and pull some frozen “fresh” rosemary out of the freezer, then stash it in the bird’s cavity; OR fill it with stuffing. I went with option #2.)
  • How long do I cook it and at what temp? (I always look to see if it gives hourly rates on the fowl’s packaging. If not, I check one of my many cookbooks or go online. I never seem to retain this kind of info in my brain, or maybe I just worry too much about screwing it up! I do recall that 325 degrees Fahrenheit is the best temp. Still, I try to buy a bird with one of those pop-up gadgets that tells you it’s done, and then I’ll use a meat thermometer to check doneness anyway!)
  • How to get it properly done without burning the skin? (I cover with aluminum foil until about the last hour in the oven. Then I remove the foil and baste a few times during next hour to ensure nice browning.)

Those are my Basics About the Bird. Not a recipe, just a guideline. Because this post is really about the stuffing. No, it’s about the prelude to the stuffing: the croutons that make up its bulk.

Prep for the stuffing began the day before Thanksgiving, with concocting homemade croutons (not all of these would go into the stuffing either—some were ground into bread crumbs for sprinkling atop potato casserole). I was determined that, this year, I would not buy a single bag of those pre-made croutons found in the supermarket. Their listing of ingredients includes whatever additives the manufacturer deems necessary to make sure the little dried-out bread bits stay dry, don’t mold, manage to last from factory to store to your house – which probably means that, even if not bk food rulesdeemed toxic by the government, there are still ingredients in that bag that your (or my) grandmother would not recognize as food. (Rule #2 in Michael Pollen’s Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual [Penguin Press, 2009, 2011]: “Don’t Eat Anything Your Great Grandmother Wouldn’t Recognize as Food.” I happen to be old enough that I can eliminate the “Great” since my Grandmothers were born in the late 1800s! Also note that Pollen’s Rule #3 is, “Avoid Food Products That No Ordinary Human Would Keep in the Pantry,” which means all of those ingredients on labels that I can’t pronounce, let alone remember…).

I started with a good loaf of Italian bread from Bella Napoli Bakery and I used excellent dried spices, many of which I purchase at the Schenectady Green Market. There’s a great vendor there, March through mid-December (they head south for the winter) called Wellington’s Herbs & Spices, out of Schoharie County. In fact, I’m super-glad I made it to the Green Market today – needed more dried parsley (I use a ton of it) – because I learned that next week is their last SGM Sunday until March. This means I will do my best to get back there next weekend, after assessing my stock of dried herbs, to be sure I have an adequate supply for several months!

tksday 11-12_031

tksday 11-12_030

But I digress… back to the croutons. And a little kitchen magic.

ckbk kitwitch companionIf you’ve been checking out KitchenCauldron for a while, you know I sometimes like to throw in a bit about the “magical associations” of food, which often can be connected to what science has discovered about the healing (and sometimes detrimental) properties of food. I like that one of the tenets of Patricia Telesco’s “Kitchen Witch’s Credo,” as set forth in her book The Kitchen Witch Companion: Simple and Sublime Culinary Magic (Citadel Press, Kensington Publishing Corp., 2005) reads, “There is nothing on this earth that cannot be used for magic.” She also states, “Life is a ritual and act of worship,” and “Kitchen witchery always reflects your own principles.” I believe our “principles” are developing and re-developing over our entire lifetime. A couple of decades ago I might have thought creating croutons in my own kitchen was cool but Pollen’s Rules #2 or #3 wouldn’t have come into the picture. I am older, somewhat wiser and much more worried about the fate of this planet and its inhabitants than decades ago.

As one of those earth-bound occupants, I find it soothing to know that bread is associated with kinship and sustenance (think “communion”); that parsley and garlic are endowed with protective energies (and parsley might also enhance one’s luck); that coriander denotes love, well-being and intelligence; that marjoram’s magical properties are said to include peace and love. It’s interesting to me that the sage sprinkled over my croutons speaks of wisdom and ckbook witch in kitchredemption, and that its thyme could aid in banishing nightmares. Cait Johnson, in Witch in the Kitchen: Magical Cooking for All Seasons (Destiny Books, 2001), writes, “Our culture considers cooking a chore; we are encouraged to get it over with as quickly as possible. But it may help us to remember that cooking was once a magical act. Cooks were priestesses who wielded the power of fire, transforming raw ingredients into nourishment for themselves and their families. The act of cooking linked women with the Goddess, the Great Nurturer.” In a fundamental way, women (and men too) are empowered through their ability to cook/bake. This is true alchemy.

So think of this as a simple bit of alchemy, transforming bread into gourmet-like croutons – which can make stuffing scrumptious, enhance favorite soups and be further transmuted into tasty bread crumbs to top all sorts of dishes.

tksday 11-12_035

EASY-TO-MAKE, (Maybe) MAGICAL CROUTONS
Yields two large cookie sheets full of croutons (maybe 5-6 cups?)

Ingredients

  • One large loaf Italian bread, sliced into cubes about ½’ to ¾” square
  • 5-6 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon dried thyme
  • 1 tablespoon dried marjoram
  • 1 teaspoon coriander seed
  • 2 tablespoons dried parsley
  • 1 tablespoon garlic granules
  • ½ teaspoon dried basil
  • 2 tablespoons dried sage

Process

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Grease two large cookie sheets with one tablespoon of olive oil each.
  3. Spread the bread cubes out over both sheets, trying not to overlap any.
  4. Combine thyme, marjoram, coriander, parsley, garlic granules, basil and sage in a bowl and mix together welltksday 11-12_032
  5. Sprinkle the dried herb mixture over all the croutons.
  6. Sprinkle the remaining olive oil over the herb-sprinkled bread cubes.
  7. Bake in oven until turning golden-crunchy, using a spatula to turn cubes over after about 10 minutes (don’t panic if you can’t get all of them turned – it will work out just fine!). Toasting should take from 20 to 25 minutes, but start checking earlier and keep an eye on their progress. Ovens vary, temperature-wise.
  8. Remove from oven and allow to cool completely.
  9. Store in a plastic bag until using the next day in stuffing or other recipe. Or store for up to a week. (To make bread crumbs, just toss into food processor and process for a minute or two until they reach desired consistency.)

tksday crouton 11-12_036

Next blog entry: the stuffing!

Advertisements

RICOTTA FROM SCRATCH – OR, LITTLE MISS MUFFET HAD NOTHIN’ ON ME (WHO KNEW MAKING RICOTTA MEANS SEPARATING CURDS & WHEY!?)

In yesterday’s post, I talked a bit about the From Scratch Club (http://fromscratchclub.com/) that I discovered while Bill and I wandered about Honest Weight Co-Op’s fall festival (http://www.hwfc.com/). Almost as soon as we got home from the harvest fest, I joined GoodReads (http://www.goodreads.com/), clicked “Groups” heading at the top of the page, found FSC Book Club, and clicked. Bingo! Just in time to participate in their second book challenge, The Homemade Pantry: 101 Foods You Can Stop Buying & Start Making by Alana Chernila (Clarkson Potter Publishers, imprint of Crown Publishing, division of Random House, 2012). Today’s blogpost is about my meeting the first challenge. In fact, blogging about it goes along with part of the assignment!

Participants in the FSC Book Club are challenged every other Monday to read a portion of The Book and then to complete at least one or two tasks. Always, they’re asked to make at least one of the recipes from the chapters, and then something else – such as inviting someone over to share your cooking/baking, or posting a picture of your product. On September 24th, we were directed (gently – there’s no pressure to do any of this) to read the first two chapters of Homemade Pantry (“Dairy” and “Cereals & Snacks”) and to make at least one recipe from either (or both) of them. In addition, we’re to take a photo of the finished product “in action.” We’re to upload pictures to the Group’s page and perhaps also to Facebook (Guess I’ll create a separate album for FSC food pics) and Twitter (not sure if I’ll bother with this one—I don’t Tweet very often). As I said yesterday, my choice was Ricotta from Chapter 1 (Dairy).

I putzed around for a few days with one excuse or another not to get to it. Good excuses: (1) not enough time in a solid block to concentrate on doing something so new (heaven forbid I should screw it up!); (2) had to get better equipment (after all, none of my bowls were deep enough to easily use my chinois [a/k/a huge, upside-down, cone-shaped, very fine sieve]); (3) thought I had all the ingredients but didn’t (oops! when I shopped, didn’t buy lemons – and then realized those two citrus fruits in the green bag in the frig were oranges).

When things settled down time-wise, and I’d bought a deep, wide-mouthed, glass canister, and a trip to the grocery included purchase of several lemons – well, it became clear that Excuse #4 was the one that truly held sway: despite the apparent ease of ricotta creation per the author’s recipe, I was nervous about attempting it. (I’m not Italian so how could I even think I can make this? Hell, growing up we never had ricotta in the house, I mean NEVER. My mother was in her 40s before she even tasted lasagna. And watching that temperature and timing it- OMG, I’ve owned one of those “attach-to-the-pot” thermometers for a few years and it had never been taken out of the package. Then too, why would I want to make it when I could buy decent ricotta?) So the only thing to do, finally, was to Just Do It.

It turned out heavenly. Once refrigerated, the texture (curds) was firmer, less creamy than the store-bought stuff but it tasted so much better. Just a hint of the lemon sneaks through when it hits the tongue (which made me wonder, once I went to the author’s blog to ferret out a link for folks to find Chernila’s recipe, about versions that use vinegar instead of fresh lemon juice). I saved the whey (liquid that dripped through the chinois) and used it in the pasta water for the Ricotta with Nutmeg and Peas that I made the same night and yesterday in the Lemon Ricotta Pancakes (topped with confectioners sugar and fresh, raw-sugared berries) we had for dessert. There’s still a little of the liquid left, which will go into a creamy soup tonight or tomorrow.

All in all, a terrific experience. Before posting the pictures (which will make up the remainder of this blog entry), here are links to author Alana Chernila’s two ricotta recipes: http://www.eatingfromthegroundup.com/2009/05/curds-and-whey/ and http://www.eatingfromthegroundup.com/2009/12/ricotta-again/. Her Homemade Pantry version indicates you could simply use a half-gallon of whole milk and fresh lemon juice, with the option of adding heavy cream and/or salt as well (I took both options). On her site, the “Ricotta, again” post comes closest to the book’s recipe (it lists both the cream and the salt, but not as options).

My batch made about 1½ cups of the stuff, as the author promised.

As the expression goes:  Try it – you’ll like it!

FALL HARVEST FESTIVALS BEGIN – AND I DISCOVER A GREAT FOODIE CLUB AT ONE OF THEM!

FALL HARVEST FESTIVALS BEGIN – AND I DISCOVER A GREAT FOODIE CLUB AT ONE OF THEM!

I know, I know – I was only taking the summer off from the computer (except for necessary e-mails, and I wasn’t very good about getting to them either), but it’s somehow already gotten to October. Well, I’m back but thought I’d readjust to the blogging thing with pictures from the Honest Weight Food Co-Op’s fall harvest festival (and this could be my only blog for at least for several days), which was held Sunday, September 23rd, and a couple snapshots from an event on Madison Avenue (also in Albany). It was at Honest Weight’s fest that I found a terrific resource, both local and online!

[NOTE that this blogpost was originally written about a week ago, drafted in MS Word, but when I attempted – several times – to complete it with pictures in the WP draft, big problems arose. Possibly with Gravatar, through which my photos get processed onto the blog, but perhaps ultimately with the fact that I have an old XP computer that WordPress doesn’t like any more because I can no longer download newer versions of my browser. Also, I can’t create links attached to words or phrases in the post, so I followed the phrases with the link, which is what I was doing before I knew how to streamline the process back when I first started the blog almost a year ago on 10/7/12. Looks like there’s a problem adding tags too. New computer needed but can’t afford it for a while. So I’ll “make do” with what I have, using the more time-consuming, roundabout way daughter Kristen figured out for me to add pics. She’ll be back to see if that can be improved upon!]

So, back to the festival…  Apparently this was the “fourth annual” harvest event by Honest Weight. Who knew? I just happened upon an item in the Albany Times Union ten days beforehand and told Bill I wanted to try to get to Washington Park ( http://www.albany.com/hotspot_washington-park.cfm) on that day, where everything happens around the Lakehouse. Sunday surfaced nice and sunny, a perfect day for an outdoor festival. Especially one that promised “more than 45 local growers, chefs, artisans and other vendors, plus family fun, prizes, and samples from the Chefs Consortium.” It was free too. Of course, one needed $$ in order to purchase some of the great stuff available.

One of the fun things for me: nostalgia. Washington Park is situated just blocks from where I grew up, in the heart of the city of Albany, NY. It’s where I played when I was kid, with parents escorting my brothers and me when younger and then on our own as we grew older.

Zembo cousins (some of us), probably late 60s, very early 60s. Marilyn (me) in front; back are, l. to r., Mary, Jim, Lynn.

When we urbanites wanted some green background for pictures (once color photographs became more popular, or maybe just more affordable), it’s where we went with our Kodak cameras to pose for snapshots commemorating such things as First Holy Communion days and Confirmations.

First Communions all happened close to Tulip Festival Time, so I posed (looking quite holy) in front of one of the beds of tulips in the park.

The Lakehouse, opened in 1876 (for some Park history, (http://www.washingtonparkconservancy.org/Park_History.htm), still goes strong- with numerous events, spring through fall ,and then there’s winter ice skating and the Holiday Lights in the Park, a month-long drive-thru activity beginning at Thanksgiving time. The best of them (or at least the most well-advertised and attended): the annual Albany Tulip Festival in May, which has grown into a huge event since my kid-days, and musicals and plays presented free to the public all summer long.

We don’t get into Albany all that often, although there’s plenty to attract our attention, but each time we do find ourselves in the city, the where-did-the-time-go feelings start up. I love the architecture (check out the virtual tour at http://www.albany.com/tours/washington-park/index.html?KeepThis=true&TB_iframe=true&height=500&width=1000, where you can see some of the buildings surrounding the park!) and the knowledge that I’m “home” (yes, you can go home again; it’s just that lots of it’s in your mind while you wander around what’s left of where you lived – so many changes, not all of them good). Yet Bill, who also grew up in this Dutch-settled area, and I never fail to remark to each other that it wouldn’t be bad living in this city again—except it’s noisier than the suburbs and, inevitably, the issue of parking emerges.

So, mostly in pictures, here’s the fall food festival – with few comments provided. You’ll have to read further to find out what that newly-discovered foodie club’s all about. You might even want to join online!

*****

Once we found a parking spot along Madison Avenue, we walked around the edge of the lake to the starting point of the festival, where a hay and pumpkin set-up blocked the road off, marking Honest Weight’s temporary territory. (Yup, that’s me hold my bags – which are filled since the pic was actually snapped just before leaving.)

Two aisles to choose from, so we headed in the direction of the Lakehouse area first…

Which is where I found the FROM SCRATCH CLUB (FSC, at http://fromscratchclub.com/) table, in the tent outside the Lakehouse (enroute, stopping so Bill could get a cup of chili for lunch)….

On their table, FSC had information about classes the group holds (dubbed “FSC Academy”), both in Ballston Spa and at the Arts Center of the Capital Region in Troy. They also hold “food swaps” of homemade items in various parts of the Capital District/Saratoga area.

I noticed a book I love atop some papers, An Everlasting Meal by Tamar Adler (I wrote about its influence on me in a 5/25/12 blogpost titled “How to Get Rave Reviews: Start with Homemade Chicken [or Other] Stock” at https://kitchencauldron.wordpress.com/2012/05/26/how-to-get-rave-reviews-start-with-homemade-chicken-or-other-stock/). I commented to one of the women behind the table on how much I enjoyed that book, and she told me about FSC’s book club online at GoodReads (http://www.goodreads.com -you can join too- just look for book clubs). I took some flyers about the group. Adler’s book was their first read and they were about to start on The Homemade Pantry: 101 Foods You Can Stop Buying & Start Making by Alana Chernila (Crown Publishing Group, Random House, 2012). I already owned this one too and had read it this past spring. I decided I was going to check this out!

Hubby and I then wandered back the way we’d come, perusing fresh vegetables and homemade items on the opposite side of the aisle. At one booth, we bought two scones (which we devoured a couple days later) and two cinnamon-apple buns (Bill ate one right away; our son Adrian happily consumed the other the next day). Up the other lane of tents, angled around the hill in front of the Lakehouse, I found a stand of yummy-looking baked goods, from which I selected four huge cookies, two cranberry-chocolate chip plus two choc-chips with potato chips and pretzels. I managed to munch on one while walking around and the rest came home with us.

One of my favorite vendors from the Schenectady Green Market, The Pasta Factory, had taken the day off from that Electric City gig to participate in Honest Weight’s extravaganza. I bought ¾ pound of a multi-colored orzo that contains a note indicating there’s a bit of jalapeno in it (Bill & Ade will love that!), as well as ¾ pound of a mixture of various shapes and colors whose ingredients list included things like sweet potato and lime. The latter mix became an Italian-style casserole Tuesday might, created with good cheeses, sauce from scratch, and ground Italian sweet sausage – which went over BIG with the guys. (No, that recipe isn’t going to appear on this blog because I didn’t take any pictures!) That “sauce from scratch,” incidentally, included a dozen very orange, heirloom, plum tomatoes that called to me from another festival table, popping up from perches in a recycled egg carton!

We wandered around for at least an hour-and-a-half, loving the sights, sounds, aromas and weather.

 

No visit to Washington Park, at least not in the Lakehouse area, is complete for me without a visit to Moses (http://alloveralbany.com/archive/2011/04/18/the-moses-fountain-in-washington-park) . The monument, that is. Moses has been around the park since his unveiling in 1893. We played around Moses (and on Moses, when we could get away with it – a different definition, when I think of it, for “on the rocks”)  as kids, occasionally coming away with scrapes and cuts. The garden area encircling him is awesome. I especially love the blooms during our short tulip season in May – absolutely gorgeous. During this visit I even spoke with a woman who said she had also climbed the monument when she was a kid, although I think she said she lived on the other side of the park from where we resided. She’d recently returned from out-of-state to once again live in the area.

After a few minutes of rest on a park bench, we headed back toward the car, past the festive tents.

You’d think we’d had enough but we decided to stop by the Madison Avenue event, which was more like a block party than a harvest fest. I bought a great chocolate Halloween witch, etched in tinted chocolate atop a totally chocolate casket, which opened to reveal mini-chocolate pumpkins, skulls (white choc), and a black (dark choc) cat. All innards melted in my mouth within a day or so, and – with a little help from Adrian- you might say we terminated the casket. I also came away with a preserve from a woman who said she’s used it as a rub on pork, to the raves of dinner guests.

Best part of this stop, however, was that we ran into several friends, including Therese and hubby Frank, and another poet/writer friend (another Frank), and Anne Marie and Ed . Anne Marie’s White Pine Studio (http://www.etsy.com/shop/whitepinestudioamf) tent was pitched and selling. I brought home a pair of her handmade earrings and some of her notecards (had to get them—she’d painted the Snake Goddess picture years ago, at a time when we were on personal retreats at the same time at Still Point!).

Bill chatted with Ed for a while. Ed and I shared an office years ago, back when we both worked for NYS Division of Parole – on the very same block of Madison Avenue where this fest was happening! I think he even mentioned something about being back in his old neighborhood again as well… ah, nostalgia again (and his mom was with them too!).

I think Ed & Anne Marie might be posing right in front of the building (since remodeled) where Ed & I shared an office back in the mid-’90s. If it not, then it’s the place next-door.

We arrived home having loved the day and expecting to further enjoy it via our purchases. No fresh fruits and very few veggies were toted back to the homestead this time (the cupboard was far from bare in this department!), but we’re still lovin’ our purchased goodies. Plus, I joined GoodReads almost immediately, signed up for the FSC Book Club and have partially completed my first assignment from The Homemade Pantry. I made the Ricotta Cheese in Chapter 1 (Who’da thought I’d ever do that?!). Took pictures and will be posting them, blogging about it too. Maybe I’ll even go for Chapter 2’s Homemade Toaster Pastries. even though we were only “assigned” (no pressure to actually do it) to create one homemade goodie from either of the first two chapters.  Back in the day, I was always one of those nerds who’d go for the “extra-credit” assignment – although only for English or art class!

Slow-Cooker Squash and Sweet Potato Soup (Sneakin’ in Those Sweet Tubers!)

 
If you were at the Women Writers and Artists Matrix Weekend in Saratoga Springs, NY earlier this month – specifically, at Amejo’s house on Saturday night for the “Women, Wine & Cheese Reception” – then you might’ve been waiting for this post, for this recipe. It was a big hit that night, devoured even before a few latecomers arrived at Amejo’s home! Of course, I forgot to take any pictures, being busy being social and all. I decided, however, to whip a batch again last week, but not just for the camera. Bill hadn’t gotten a taste (I took every last drop off to the event with me!), and it’s such a good way for me to sneak a bit of sweet potato into his diet. Yay! for that beta-carotene and all the other nutrition it provides. And the “magic” too, which I’ll get to later. (Incidentally, if you’re new to this blog and don’t know about The Terrible Three, or the only three vegetables my hubby loathes, you might want to check out the 12/11/11 post covering our delicious experiences at internationally-famous Moosewood restaurant in Ithaca, NY.)

Marilyn at WWAM Weekend, with an International Women’s Writing Guild (IWWG) SisterWriter.

The chicken stock mentioned in my previous post turned out to be the best I’ve ever conjured up. Which might not seem like much to say, since I think I’ve only made it from scratch once, perhaps a year or two ago for a batch of chicken soup – except that this version made a huge difference in not only this soup but also in the couple applications I managed to dream up for it since. So I’m sold on going homemade as much as possible, especially for soup. In fact, there’s a pot of stock simmering on the cooktop upstairs now, its intoxicating aroma wafting its way downstairs as I type. I expect to split this batch between the freezer and cooking up a pot of White Bean Soup (with Chicken) for the WomanWords workshop this weekend with Alice Orr at Still Point.

Our recent hot weather is supposed to break, and the mid-60s temp expected for Saturday is just fine for soup. Stock done today; soup-making sometime tomorrow, in between packing to leave early for Still Point on Friday (picking up Alice at Saratoga train station before settling in at SP!). Oh yeah, I’m also going to Leslie’s this afternoon to do art and then on to grocery-shop for the weekend. Yikes! What a schedule… but I do intend to finish and post this blog before all this is accomplished.
+++++

Before providing the recipe, how about a little of the food’s magic? This blog is dubbed, after all, Kitchen Cauldron. and I do like to bring it (the magic) into some posts, exploring ancient beliefs about a food along with some nutritional facts. If a witch is one who practices alchemy, who transforms one simple item into another of greater value (think: lead into gold as the metaphor goes, or more to the point for KC, basic food items into nutritious and delicious delights), then that must be me. Further, if a witch is one who takes experiences and thoughts and transforms them into words, why then I also qualify as one!

Squash, this soup’s main ingredient, has been around a long time so there’s plenty of lore. According to my handy Cunningham’s Encyclopedia of Wicca in the Kitchen (Llewellyn Publications, 2003), it’s been in the Americas since at least 4,000 B.C.E. It was so sacred to the Hopi that they even created one of their spiritual (Kachina) dolls topped with a head of squash and wearing squash blossom necklaces. This vegetable, in any form (butternut, zucchini, etc.), inspires spirituality. If someone maintains s/he doesn’t like squash, then serve that person zucchini bread! Cunningham says squash can “increase awareness of the non-physical reality around us,” and he also lists it among foods that are “generally used for promoting courage, protection, aggression, sex and health.” In The Kitchen Witch Companion: Simple and Sublime Culinary Magic by Patricia Telesco (Citadel Press, 2005), the author writes in the intro to a recipe titled Multi-Tasking Squash, “Squash comes in a huge variety of colors and sizes, and some of these can grow to exceed 240 pounds and produce hundreds of seeds. These characteristics provide this vegetable with the symbolic value of slow, steady development that leads to substantial rewards.” Hmmm. Got a big project you’re working on? Maybe this is just the soup to enhance your ability to ace it!

I think I’ve gotten into pumpkin and sweet potato symbolism before, but quickly:

  • For sweet potatoes, those orange-hued tubers, think love and sex, the ability to excite desire (it goes both ways though – giving love, receiving love). In fact, Patricia Telesco’s A Kitchen Witch’s Cookbook, (Llewellyn Publications, 1994), lists as the sweet potato’s “Magical Association” the following: “Well founded, gentle love.”
  • For pumpkin (more orange!), think healing and money symbols – the fruitfulness of the earth inspires this; and pumpkins have been known to symbolize Mother Goddess. (To enhance its ability to attract money, it’s said that one should serve it with cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg – no wonder pumpkin pie is so popular!)

Then there are the potatoes in the soup. Earth element, since they come from it, they’re known for protective qualities and for promoting compassion (now, don’t they sound like Mother Earth sorts of attributes?). The Spaniards brought the first potatoes to Europe in 1534, where they claimed the veggie could cure impotency. This led to the value of spuds jumping outrageously high – in some cases, sales amounted to the equivalent of $1,000 in today’s U.S. dollars! Of course, this did lead to a problem when potatoes were declared “unholy” in some parts of the world (I believe Scotland was the first) and their consumption was banned. Cunningham suggests that one might make the potato’s effects stronger by adding onions, chives, dill weed, rosemary and/or parsley, but I’d add one bit of advice: Don’t throw out your Viagra either.

Garlic cloves also possess protection and health qualities. In fact, in ancient times, garlic was touted as a cure for insanity. And Roman soldiers consumed it believing that it afforded them courage on the battlefield. There’s one stipulation here, however, with garlic: don’t bother with anything like bottled, canned or dried. Allegedly, it’s only the fresh stuff that works.

It seems all the ingredients in the chicken broth are aimed at good health and well-being (Jewish mothers knew what they were talking about!), especially the chicken that played a major part in producing it. As for the spices added to this Squash and Sweet Potato Soup, they offer magical benefits too: black pepper promotes cleansing, purification, protection and banishing; salt also symbolizes cleansing and purification, with grounding thrown in; bay leaf enhances psychic powers, strength and health; sage adds possibilities for purification and wisdom; and parsley brings good for luck and protection from accidents. (In addition to other sources previously mentioned, I consulted Cait Johnson’s Witch in the Kitchen: Magical Cooking for All Seasons [Destiny Books, 2001] on the spices.)

I can’t forget to mention a few utensils you might be utilizing as you produce your soup, for the tools of the trade are not to be overlooked as part of the magic. Telesco provides a “Magical Association” for several of these. For instance, she lists a blender as being associated with “Mingling with others, stirring up energy.” Not a bad association, and plenty valid if you’re going to share your soup with others. I also assume this  works for a food processor and an immersion blender as well (and even a hand masher). She lists “Knife” as magically connected with “Cutting away, sharpness of mind, separation.” A fork might symbolize “Piercing, penetrating, perception.” I found nothing about slow-cookers, by the way, but I tend to think they’re about patience and the wisdom of taking care of oneself (as the cook, I think of an occasional slow-cooker meal as a rest period for me, at least once everything’s prepped and in the pot, then left to cook for hours during which I might write, read and otherwise own my own time!).

Cunningham says cups and bowls are related to the element of water and are therefore “entirely receptive.” They possess loving energies. He tells us that earlier cultures connected rounded pots and bowls with the Great Mother – a concept that was pretty much universal. Goddess energy. Rounded pots and bowls, like the earth. The association of witches with an iron pot, the cauldron used throughout Europe for cooking, derives from Shakespeare’s “three witches” scene in Macbeth. The old Bard’s witches weren’t doing anything at all unusual in using a cauldron for “brewing” – what was weird was what the women were cooking up (including their ingredients)! Today’s Wiccans, Cunningham states, honor the cauldron as a symbol of the Mother Goddess.

That’s more than enough magic for one post, except that I must state my best take on all of this. Yes, it’s a bit of kitchen alchemy – as I defined it earlier. And there’s lots of magic in food, in the ways it can nourish us, give us strength, make us happy, bring people together and much more. There’s magic in food like there’s magic in everything, and intention is its best enhancer. Having just read the newly revised (to add artwork) Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual by Michael Pollan, illustrated by Maira Kalman (Penguin Press, 2011), it feels right to believe that setting some of the simple intentions that Pollan suggests also sets the stage for Magic to happen (like, “#2, Don’t Eat Anything Your Grandmother Wouldn’t Recognize as Food, or #19, Eat Only Foods That Have Been Cooked by Humans, or #64, Try to Spend as Much Time Enjoying the Meal as It Took to Prepare It, or #74,Don’t Get Your Fuel from the Same Place Your Car Does. Following through on even a few of them might make you a Witch – whether you think so or not!

And now for my latest Witch’s Brew~~

SLOW-COOKER SQUASH AND SWEET POTATO SOUP
Yields enough for a small crowd (10 to 20, if they keep it to cups instead of bowls!)

Ingredients

  • 1 large onion, peeled & chopped
  • 1 large garlic clove (or 2 small), peeled & diced
  • 2 medium-sized sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed (about ¾” cubes)
  • 2 tablespoons olive or canola oil
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 medium-sized butternut squash, peeled, seeded & cubed
  • 1 14-to-16-ounce can of pumpkin puree (however it’s packaged, but NOT pumpkin pie mix); if you’re into using fresh pumpkin, go for it (I haven’t gone there yet…)
  • 2 medium potatoes (or equivalent in leftover mashed potatoes)
  • 2 large bay leaves (or 3 small)
  • 2 teaspoons dried thyme
  • 1 tablespoon dried parsley
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons sage
  • 4 cups chicken stock (homemade preferred, but if not available then use a low or no sodium brand)
  • salt & pepper to your personal taste (but at least a teaspoon of salt and ½ teaspoon of pepper!)
  • options for serving: light cream (to stir in); Greek yogurt, sour cream, parsley and/or croutons (for toppings)

Process

  1. In a large frying pan, sauté the onion and sweet potato for about two to three minutes.
  2. Add the garlic and continue to sauté for another minute or two. Watch carefully, stir as necessary, being sure that the garlic doesn’t burn (if it burns, you’ll have to start over… no “fix” for burned garlic taste!).
  3. Remove frying pan from heat and set aside.
  4. Add the butternut squash and potatoes to the bottom of the slow-cooker.
  5. Spread pumpkin puree over squash and potatoes.
  6. Top contents of slow-cooker with the sautéed contents of the frying pan.
  7. Sprinkle the bay leaf and dried herbs (thyme, parsley & sage) over everything, as well as salt and pepper (you can season further with s&p, if needed, although it’s best to wait until after the soup has cooked fully).
  8. Pour the four cups of chicken broth over the contents of the slow-cooker.
  9. Cover and cook on low for 4 hours. Test at 3½ hours for doneness (potatoes and butternut squash must be well done, enough for a fork to easily pierce). Stir and replace top to cook for added time, if necessary.
  10. When contents are done, removed bay leaves.
  11. Using an immersions blender (or food processor, stand blender or by hand with a masher), puree the mixture to the texture you enjoy most (I like it thick and chunky!).
  12. If it’s thicker than you prefer, feel free to add either more chicken stock or water, a little at a time, stirring in between. (If you plan to add light cream before serving, allow for that extra liquid – although you probably won’t stir in more than ¼ to ½ cup of the dairy if you truly want to savor the vegetables!)
  13. Freeze or serve with options listed above (light cream, to stir in; Greek yogurt, sour cream, parsley and/or croutons, for toppings).

 

Art & Recipes: Awesome, Original Cookbook Discovery!

Once in a while, I find a book I MUST own. (OK, almost every time I’m in a bookstore that happens – with tons of books – but I can usually hone down the urge to buying just one book at a time.) In this case, a few days ago I walked out of Barnes & Noble with a couple purchases but was especially thrilled with the most unique cookbook I’d ever come across, They Draw & Cook: 107 Recipes Illustrated by Artists from Around the World by Nate Padavick & Salli Swindell (weldonowen, 2011). We’re not talking just a few sketches here, with a recipe uniformly printed as the main event. Think: presenting the recipe as a work of art, sometimes cute or goofy, sometimes incredibly beautiful – but always someone’s visualization of how to cook or bake something. For me, this book is a keeper. And an inspiration.

The book comes from the brother&sister artist/writer team’s website, which began simply enough (quoted from the site):

Nate and Salli came up with this idea while on a family vacation. Nate was trying to recreate a favorite dish – fettucine with figs in a balsamic butter sauce – while Salli sat at the counter with her watercolors painting the crate of figs. This led them to realize how fun it was to illustrate food. They then started talking about creating a little recipe book for friends, family, and clients. They asked some of their artist pals to help, but never got enough recipes to justify printing a book, so Nate built a quick blog and Salli started to spread the word – it spread fast! They Draw & Cook now contains the biggest and best collection of illustrated recipes anywhere.  

Each two-page-spread drew me in with its creative approach to visually representing the artist’s targeted dish (or baked good). Some recipes are detailed in their instructions for creating the dish. Others are more open to personal culinary creativity. As I traveled through the book (& “travel” is the right word here since they hail from all over the world), I found myself cooking up a potential illustration or two in my own mind, along with pondering which They Draw and Cook ones I might try my hand at. I decided the Madeleines look tempting (illustrated by Australian artist Jessica Barnes), and Potatoes Multilevel (from Silvia Sponza of Milano, Italy) would make for a fine, savory supper for some future eve. But first: tomorrow, when I’m going to a friend’s house to “do art,” you can just guess what I’m hoping to create!

If you love both art and cooking, you’ll enjoy this book. If you’re into sketching or painting or just plain doodling, you might want to follow the example of these writers and all the illustrator-cooks they’ve included in their cookbook and create a visual recipe yourself. They’re already contemplating publication of a second volume of recipe art (see the website) – your artwork could find its way into it!

“MEN LOVE THIS,” LAURA SAID: ROASTED ITALIAN SAUSAGES & VEGETABLES; plus, what to do with the leftovers…

For this blogpost, I’m heading right for the food-witchy stuff – but not like you’d think. I’m not getting into the symbolism, at least not right away. I wanted to honor a special woman, a dear friend and former co-worker who’s always with me even though she passed away years ago. She was a “foodie” before the term was fashionable in this country. And what has this to do with witchy-ness? Well, as I was contemplating how to introduce the recipe, I remembered that I’d written the following short essay a couple years ago, although I couldn’t have told you the specifics of its content before re-visiting it today…  and, wow, this was before KitchenCauldron was even a flash in my brain:

**********

Laura

     “My kids say I must be a witch.” My dark-haired coworker grinned at me as we enjoyed a rare lunch away from the office. I already knew this would take some time because Laura Kurner was the slowest diner with whom I’d ever noshed. She savored every bite, often listing aloud ingredients detected in a particularly delicious dish. Now it sounded like some intriguing talk could delay us further.

     “Why is that?” I asked, expecting to hear about rebellious reactions to parental discipline.

     “Well, I seem to know things, they think, before other people do. Probably just women’s intuition.”

     It’s been over forty years since that conversation and well over two decades since cancer took my friend from this earth, yet I still ponder its content. I’ve come to believe that, at least for me, Laura’s witchy aura translates into a metaphor of a cauldron: cauldron equals cookware, and everything connected with kitchen activities.

     Laura and I sat across from each other at one of my first permanent state jobs – she, the widowed mother of three older children; me, the college dropout not sure where life would take me. Close to my mother’s age, she couldn’t be more different than Mom. This short-haired, big-hipped woman (“better for child-bearing” she boasted) possessed the most infectious laugh I’d ever heard, and I heard it often. But this wasn’t the only difference.

     Mom’s cooking was good basic stuff (she got raves over her creamy mashed potatoes and everyone loved Dolly’s rendition of her Polish mother-in-law’s stuffed cabbage). But Laura’s culinary craft felt magical to me. My mother’s repertoire of spices pretty much encompassed things like salt, pepper, chili powder, garlic salt, factory-mixed poultry seasoning and sometimes cinnamon and nutmeg. Laura, on the other hand, uttered exotic terms like tarragon, rosemary and cilantro. Since she was Italian, basil, oregano and olive oil also rated high on her list of essentials. “You have to try out the spices,” she’d tell me. “Taste them, let your tongue get acquainted.” Then, I was assured, I’d begin to know them, understand which ones enhanced which foods.

     One late fall afternoon Laura, another coworker and I were enjoying an after-work drink at a local piano bar half-a-block from my new apartment. Glancing out the window, I noticed two guys crossing Washington Avenue, headed toward The Lamp Post. “That’s Dave,” I said, pointing to the straight-haired one on the left, no-hipped with a slight swagger. Both Laura and Nancy knew I still had a crush on Dave, who’d dated me once or twice. “And the other guy, the curly-haired one with freckles, is Sam, real name Bill.” Sam and Dave were best friends.

     Staring out the window as the two approached, Laura squinted her eyes at these two young men she’d never met but had heard snippets about for months. Before they came through the front door, she turned to me and said, “Forget that Dave. He’s a little arrogant. Marry the other one. Sam.” She proceeded to tell me to invite him to dinner that night and dictated the entire menu: Italian sausage, peppers, onions, potatoes. “Men love this meal,” she instructed. “Wine is good,” she said, “but you probably don’t want to sleep with him this time. Let him wonder…”

     A couple years later, upon returning from our honeymoon, one of our first visits as a married couple to someone’s home was to Laura’s in Coxsackie, NY. While we chatted away about what we’d seen and done on Cape Cod and how the new apartment was shaping up, Laura created a scrumptious feast. Our spur-of-the-moment arrival didn’t phase her a bit. She pulled a small roast from the freezer and introduced us to the pressure cooker (this was before microwaves graced 95% of American kitchens). In what seemed like no time, we were chowing down and offering up compliment after compliment.

     I treasure the few recipes I have from Laura, although I’ve never had courage enough to try a pressure cooker. More important than actual recipes, however, was another gift. Her kitchen was a place of joy, of adventure. I will never be a gourmet chef or master baker but, thanks to Good Witch Laura, I know things. My newly renovated kitchen boasts a whole cabinet of spices, and I know how to use them. And if there’s one I’m not sure about adding, I consult my shelves of cookbooks… or I can taste them, get to know them intimately, add them to my cauldron of kitchen spells.
**********

Just last year, while reading a novel titled Feeding Christine by Barbara Chepaitis (Bantam Books, 2000), I learned about an Italian “Witch of the Epiphany” named La Befana – and of course I had to research her further. At the time, I was creating what I called “Goddess Journal Entries” and sharing them with several friends via e-mail. I knew Befana would show up as an entry because I was intrigued. The internet offered much info, including a site eminating from Abruzzo, Italy – where Befana is quite “real” to the children who might receive her gifts on the eve of the Epiphany in early January.

Through my searches, I discovered that artist/writer Tomie dePaola wrote a children’s book called The Legend of Old Befana (Voyager Books, Harcourt Inc., 1980), and I ordered it from Amazon.com (then I ordered a couple more, for the grandnieces for Christmas). In it, as La Befana finally gets ready to seek out the Christ child (having earlier turned down an invitation to travel with the Three Wise Men because she was too busy sweeping – according to other sources I found, she sweeps in the new year). She decides to bake cookies to take along as a gift for the new babe.

Of course there’s more to the story, but perhaps you’ll buy dePaola’s book or take it out of the library (under the pretense of wanting to read it to a child, of course). My point here is that the legend of Befana joins both Pagan and Christian traditions. In fact, in some places in Italy both Santa Claus and La Befana appear at the same festivals. And always there are cookies. But when he’s not “on the road” delivering gifts on December 24th, maybe Befana roasts him some sausages with vegetables, á la Laura Kurner, insisting that he partake of “What Men Love” before he turns to “What Everybody Loves,” which would be the sweets.

ROASTED ITALIAN SAUSAGE AND VEGETABLES, LAURA’S WAY
Serves 4 to 6 or, in our case, serves 2, with great leftovers for a couple days, a couple ways

Ingredients

  • 5 to 8 good Italian sausages, depending upon how many you think you’ll consume (I prefer sweet sausages, but the hot stuff might be your preference)
  • dried spices:
    1 tablespoon parsley
    1 tablespoon basil
    1 teaspoon oregano
    dash of salt (optional)
  • 3 to 4 medium potatoes, skins on, cut into chunks about 1½ to 2 inches in size, soaked in water for about 15-20 minutes (while you’re getting the other veggies prepped!)
  • 1 basket of baby bella mushrooms, about 20 to 25 small ’shrooms (you can use white button mushroom variety, but bellas have so much more flavor!)
  • 3 to 4 bell peppers, various colors (red, yellow, orange, green), seeded, cut into large chunks (each of my 3 peppers were cut into 3 section)
  • 3 to 4 medium carrots, peeled and cut into long pieces approximately the same in size
  • 2 large onions, skins removed, cut in half vertically, then each half cut into 3 large chunks
  • 1 zucchini, halved horizontally, then halved the other “horizontal” way as well; then cut each segment into lengths about 3 inches or so long.
  • olive oil: 1- 2 tablespoons to coat the pan; about 2 or 3 tablespoons to drizzle over vegetables before going into oven (I drizzle straight from the bottle)
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped (optional, but a plus)
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped (optional, but a plus)

Process

  1. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Brush a small amount of olive oil over the entire inside-bottom of a large roasting pan.
  3. Place the sausage in the pan, spread apart to allow for vegetables to surround them.
  4. Add the dry spices and salt, if using it, to a large zip-lock plastic bag and shake them to mix.
  5. Drain water from potatoes and put them into the zip-lock bag, zipping it shut. Shake the potatoes until spices appear to have “stuck” to all chunks, at least to some degree.
  6. Distribute potatoes around the sausages in the roasting pan.
  7. Distribute peppers, carrots and onions throughout the roasting pan.
  8. At this point, you can choose to add the zucchini as well, although you have the option of waiting for about half-an-hour before doing so since they might soften beyond your taste preference if put in at the start of roasting time. (I add them at the beginning because I’m always afraid I’ll forget to put them in later!)
  9. Drizzle olive oil lightly over everything in the pan.
  10. If there’s any spice left in that zip-lock bag, top veggies with it. Then sprinkle the freshly chopped parsley and basil atop of it all.
  11. Roast until sausage is cooked thoroughly and fork pokes easily into potatoes. (This usually takes about an hour-and-a-quarter to an hour-and-a-half.)  A couple times during the process, open oven and stir sausage and vegetables around, to promote even cooking.
  12. Great served with applesauce on the side. And maybe Italian bread.

NEXT DAY:   Heat it up in the microwave, slicing sausage so it warms up thoroughly at about the same rate as the veggies.

DAY AFTER THAT (if there’s still some left):  We had no sausages left, but plenty of vegetables; so I decided to make a frittata with them (then figured I’d add some diced-up Polish ham too). Diced veggies up a bit smaller in some cases (like the potatoes), warmed them for about 10 minutes over medium heat in a large pan while prepping egg mixture. Beat up 6 eggs, adding dried parsley and a little pepper, as well as about a tablespoon of half-n-half. Poured it over warmed vegetables and let it cook for no more than a minute. Then put entire ovenproof pan into a PRE-HEATED (to 350 degrees) oven for about 15 minutes. Opened up oven, topped frittata with cheddar cheese slices, and closed oven for another minute or two – until cheese melted. Removed from oven and allowed to sit – while I took pictures! Served with sliced cantaloupe melon and blueberries, with a touch of raw sugar. And whatever “bread” on hand to toast (for us, I had one plain bagel and some rye). Incidentally, it tasted great with a little sour cream on top.

Split Pea and Ham Soup – So Delish Even I Liked It!

This one’s especially for Pat Gilmore, who now lives in California but resided in Windsor, Ontario (Canada) when I first met her at an IWWG (International Women’s Writing Guild) “Remember the Magic” summer conference in 1995. We were “suite mates” in the dorm and took the same playwriting class every day of that magical week at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs. Upon reading a mention of my making this soup – either in an e-mail or on this blog – Pat wrote that she was looking forward to the post about split pea soup because it’s one of her favorites. She’s not particularly into cooking but loves reading my blog “stories.” Perhaps, however, this recipe might tempt her into her kitchen, a bag of split peas in hand.

If you’re wondering why I’d be crazy enough to include the words, “…Even I Liked It” in the title of a foodblog post, I’d be willing to admit it doesn’t exactly sound like an invitation to try this recipe. Not until you realize – as I am now telling you – that I never liked pea soup. So for me to say Even I Liked It is a big deal.

"Memory's Garden (Losing Ground)" Artist Trading Card by MariLyn; original photo of Mom by Kristen Day

Granted, I did not have a lot of exposure to pea soup, with or without ham, growing up. Mom didn’t make it, nor did she buy it in cans (if it was even available canned in the 50s and 60s at all?). In fact, thinking back I don’t believe any “from scratch” soups were made in our house other than the beef-vegetable soup Dad made on occasion (which was also his clam chowder, minus the clams, plus the beef). I don’t think our chicken soup was ever created from real foods; it always seemed to come in care of the Campbell Soup Company, mushy noodles and all.

My first taste of pea soup (and I believe it included ham) was delivered to our house in the late 80s, after I’d had surgery and was on leave from work for six weeks. A co-worker (she was a parole officer who worked down the hall, not in Counsel’s Office with me), who happened to live only a few blocks away from us, was kind enough to make a batch of the stuff and drive it over to our home. This was when I learned that my husband l-o-v-e-s split pea soup. Slurping my first taste, I decided it was okay but nothing I’d indulge in often. I ate a small bowl and left the rest for Bill to finish off over the next couple of days. I much preferred the raisin bran muffins Jean (the P.O.) had gifted us with a few days beforehand, indicating that the fiber was much needed “to get the system going again” after the surgery, a tactful suggestion!

Late last year (sometime in December?), I sighted a small bag of split peas in a local supermarket and – for some unfathomable reason – decided it might be nice to try making split pea soup as a nice surprise for Bill. Perhaps it was one of Bob’s Red Mill products, a favorite source of flours and grains for me. I don’t remember. Whatever the product name, I noticed an easy-sounding recipe on the back of the package so I threw the bag into my shopping cart, carried it home with the rest of the groceries and stored it in a cabinet on the shelf partially designated for soups and broths – where it sat for at least a couple of months. That’s the nice thing about dried grains: they can do that, wait for the cook to get re-inspired… or to simply realize they have to DO something with that bag of beans because otherwise it will keep making her feel guilty that she spent that money and it’s still freakin’ sitting there, staring at her every time she opens the cabinet!

I’m afraid the latter explanation was my kick-in-the-butt to do something with those split peas. That, plus the fact that I’d finally baked the small ham up I’d bought a few weeks earlier, serving it with sauerkraut (with caraway seeds and brown sugar), buttered carrots and baked potato – and the leftover ham was now calling to me too (geez, food ganging up on me – a losing battle?). What to do with it, other than slipping bits of ham into an omelet? That bag of green split peas stared out at me as I opened the cabinet, and that was that.

I glanced at the recipe on the back of the bag, noted what I liked about it, and then headed straight to my best soup reference (already mentioned a few times on this blog), A Celebration of Soups by Robert Ackart. Sure enough, with several adjustments (including deleting a ham bone from the list of ingredients), I created the soup pictured in this post, recipe below. Topped with a bit of sour cream and a few large croutons, I discovered that I could, in fact, love split pea soup with ham. So much so that I enjoyed leftovers the next day even more.

Before gifting readers with the recipe, how about some witchy/goddessy info about its main ingredient? Flecked, perhaps, with a bit of nutrition. And even a bit of food history. (You can skip this part if it bores you, or if you really want the basics of making the soup, like now!)

Cunningham’s Encyclopedia of Wicca in the Kitchen (2003 edition, Llewellyn Publications) lists the “Energies” of the pea as Love. Cunningham states that peas have always been sacred to the Mother Goddess and that, during the Inquisition, peas were thought to be standard food of “Witches.” (Let’s get this straight: those who were hung, drowned or burned at the stake as witches during The Burning Times, i.e., especially Middle Ages, were generally women who followed the old ways of healing and may have owned their own property, both of which were frowned upon by the increasingly powerful and patriarchal Church; and they were often accused out of fear, ignorance, greed or just plain envy.) Under “Magical Uses,” Cunningham suggests cooking peas with basil, coriander, dill or marjoram – and visualizing the dish as “a powerful love attractant” while doing so. Then, of course, you must eat them.

Something was missing from the above, I thought, as I researched the “magical” aspects of peas. They’re green, so surely there must be some association with money, abundance. After all, the roots of magic are partly in visualizing what you wish for, and color plays a huge part in that. I started Googling and found “Peas” listed in an “Herb Grimoire” at a site called The Magickal Cat and, yup, under the “Magickal Uses” column it reads, “Money and Love.” I imagine one might even burn a green candle while supping on pea soup, just to strengthen the desire and plea for money or abundance (in all areas, perhaps, such as creativity, friendships, etc.). Keep in mind, however, that one never asks for something from the Universe at the expense of someone else’s safety or happiness. “Whatsoever you send out into the Universe returns to you threefold.” (Just as Jesus said, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”) Send out evil, expect it to return to you in a really unhealthy dose. (I know this is hard to believe when you see the bad guys screwing up the world, or your little section of it, but I continue to hope it’s true.)

My next stop on the pea-research tour was another book on my shelf: 100 Best Health Foods: The Ultimate Superfoods for Healthy Living Including 100 Nutritious Recipes (Love Food, an imprint of Paragon Books Ltd, 2009). I’m not so naïve as to be unaware that the “Top 100” (or “Top 50” or “Top AnyNumber”) of healthiest foods changes as more scientific research uncovers evidence of different nutrients and what they do for the body when ingested. In fact, it’s being found that whether or not you cook them, and what you eat along with them, also affects its impact on your health. But this book specifically lists nutrients and their potential effects upon this poor l’il ol’ bod of mine – so I like it. Here’s a little of what it has to offer re Peas, which incidentally is listed as #34 amongst the 100:

  • Very high in both lutein and zeaxanthin content, which translates to helping protect eyes against macular degeneration
  • Rich source of Vitamin C, fiber, and protein, also helpful for the eyes
  • Rich in carotenes (benefits the eyes as well)
  • B Vitamins helpful toward protection against osteoporosis and possibly against strokes
  • For vegetarians, helpful as a source of protein (which, for meat-eaters, would be easily acquired through meat and poultry consumption)
  • Fiber also helps to lower “bad” cholesterol and might help prevent heart disease
  • Frozen peas often contain more Vitamin C and other nutrients than fresh peas (even those still in their pods) because they’re usually frozen within hours of harvesting, whereas the “fresh” ones could be several days old.

The page containing the above info, I noticed, is opposite one headed “Chilled Pea Soup.” I’m wondering what the chances are that, since I’ve acquired a taste for the hot dish, ingredients listed on that page might find its way into my “cauldron” on some over-warm summer day.

One last shot before the recipe:

When I trekked upstairs to the kitchen to grab a book to check out health benefits of peas, I pulled down The Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook by Dinah Bucholz (Adams Media, 2010). Witchy-wizardy enough to merit a glance, I figured. No mention of “Peas” in the index but then there was “Pease Pudding,” supposedly inspired by a passage out of J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Could it be… Yes! Made with either yellow or green split peas!

Bill happened to be coming through the door from the garage as I walked downstairs with the book and I couldn’t resist asking him, “Do you remember the nursery rhyme that went, Pease porridge hot, pease porridge cold, pease porridge in the pot nine days old?” Of course, he did. “Well,” I continued, “ it says in here [pointing to the cover of the book] that the rhyme “was inspired by pease pudding (which used to be called pease pottage in the Middle Ages) or pease porridge.” It’s an old dish that’s still consumed today, alongside bacon or sausages (possibly roast beef or chicken too). Bill said he wouldn’t mind trying it someday, although I have a feeling that the promise of the addition of bacon or sausages to the meal made the menu item sound infinitely more appealing to him!

SPLIT PEA AND HAM SOUP, MARILYN’S VERSION
Yield: 12-14 cups

Ingredients

  • 2 cups split green peas
  • 1 medium-size carrot, peeled and chopped
  • 1 large rib celery, chopped
  • 1-2 tablespoons butter
  • 3 tablespoon dried parsley
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 teaspoon dried rosemary
  • ½ teaspoon dried thyme
  • 8 cups vegetable or chicken broth, or water (broth is my preference)
  • a “dash” of Worcestershire sauce (no more than 1 teaspoon)
  • leftover ham, chopped – 1 cup, more or less (some to be added before pureeing, bulk added afterward)
  • sea salt or kosher salt
  • fresh-ground pepper
  • milk or light cream (latter is my preference), to taste (usually not more than a few tablespoonsful)
  • sour cream or Greek yogurt for topping (optional)
  • croutons for topping (optional)

Process

  1. In the bottom of a soup kettle, sauté: carrot, celery and onion – for about 2 minutes, salting lightly. Add a dash of pepper too, if you like.
  2. Add split peas, parsley, bay leaves, rosemary, thyme, broth (or water, if using that – or a combo of broth and water), and the “dash” of Worcestershire sauce.
  3. Bring liquid to a boil, reduce heat and simmer mixture (covered) until the peas are tender.
  4. About 30 minutes before the peas are expected to become tender, heat up the ham a bit, to avoid adding cold meat to the soup mix. (I stir-fried mine in a minimal amount of oil, to give it a bit of added flavor.)
  5. When the peas are tender, remove the bay leaves from the soup kettle.
  6. Add a small portion of the ham, reserving the largest portion to add to the kettle after the mixture has been puréed.
  7. With an immersion blender (or food processor or blender), purée the soup mixture to your desired texture (I like mine a little lumpy).
  8. Stir in the reserved portion of chopped ham.
  9. Add light cream (or milk, if you prefer – or leave it without dairy, if you like it that way) and heat for a couple minutes more.
  10. Adjust seasonings (more salt? pepper?).
  11. Serve with a dab of sour cream or Greek yogurt, topped with your favorite croutons (both of which are optional).

And here is where I offer my apology: given its “witchy” energies, shouldn’t I have posted this a couple of days ago, on Valentine’s Day? Well, I’m sending this out with Love anyway – may all of you always receive it in abundance!

"Magic Happens," Artist Trading Card by MariLyn

Liquid Comfort (alcohol-free!): Homemade Chai Latte

If you’ve been reading this blog for any amount of time, you probably know that I love chai latté. If you’re one of my Facebook Friends, then you definitely know (to the point of being sick of how often I mention I’m sipping one, consumed one somewhere, or got handed a surprise “to-go” cup that Bill picked up while out running errands). I sometimes mention sipping my latté along with some evening snack, or indulging in one instead of some munchies. When I head to a coffee house (like Starbucks) or a bookstore that houses a café (like Barnes & Noble), I will – 98 % of the time – order up this warm, comforting drink. When in B&N, I can spend an hour sipping chai while perusing books and/or magazines, deciding just which ones I might purchase.

Of course, it’s probably all about the cinnamon and nutmeg and similar flavor enhancing spices that I love – but then you’d know that too, if you know me at all.

After all the cookie recipes, I thought this was a good time to introduce readers to my homemade version of this drink since, while it might not be as sweet as what I buy at Starbuck’s or B&N, it’s also lower in sugar (which makes it a bit healthier). But then that’s the point, at least for me. I know many cafés (and B&N is one of them) use Tazo’s pre-mixed chai latte: 240 calories, 42g of sugar in a 16 oz. Grande order with 2% milk, which is great for the lower fat but what about that sugar? I could add a whole tablespoon of honey to my individual cup at home and only wind up with 16g of the stuff! Plus I wouldn’t be supporting a sugar addiction (to which I easily succumb and then struggle to once more put down!). Besides, I like the less-sugary brew – which doesn’t mean others couldn’t add more sweetner, mixing to their own taste.

I remember distinctly where I tasted my first chai latte. The when is what’s fuzzy, but I readily recall the who, where and how. I was meeting my friend Jan at Uncommon Grounds, a bagel/coffee place in Guilderland (with another location a bit further north, in Saratoga Springs), a suburb of Albany, NY. We were probably going to write together, or perhaps we were just “touching base” after not seeing each other for a while. Most likely it was at least five/six years ago. After selecting a table and getting ready to line up to order, I asked Jan what she planned to drink. “Chai latté,” she replied. I had to ask her exactly what a latté was! Everywhere you went by then, people were ordering lattés of one sort or another. All I knew was that they were more expensive than regular coffee or tea drinks, but were they worth it? I ordered; I tasted; I was conquered.

A couple years ago I decided I wanted to try making them at home, given the cost elsewhere – beyond $$$-wise (after all, what’s a few bucks if it’s only maybe a once-a-week treat?), there was also the fact that I rarely walk into a B&N without breaking any book-budget I might have fantasized about sticking to! So I looked up recipes on the internet, then decided that this is where the gadgetry is really an essential ingredient in producing a satisfactory result. I just wasn’t up for trying to entice foam from a dairy product with a hand whisk or an electric mixer. So I bought an Aerolatte milk frother. It looks like something a bar tender might use for some of those frothy drinks, and it works just fine – but can still be time-consuming for frothing. And you have to heat the milk separately.

Last year, while browsing in Bed, Bath & Beyond, I stumbled across the perfect tool for spinning milky foam into existence: a Capresso frothPRO. It’s electric and can produce froth from either cold or hot liquid. Not only that, it heats the stuff for you first. Just a matter of which button you push! I couldn’t afford to buy it right away but by fall it was in my hands. Since I can be a bit lazy about getting around to brewing any drink that gets too time-consuming (especially when I could be reading or writing), this was a major step in ensuring I might consume fewer of the sugar-filled cups at B&N (plus save extra cash getting spent on books… well, not so successful on this part…). It’s one of the best gadgets I’ve ever purchased (unlike the electric rice cooker, purchased at least a half-dozen years ago, that’s been used maybe twice).

One thing I learned, by the way, re frothing dairy: both the instructions that came with the Aerolatte device and the Capresso emphasize that milk products with less fat in them will foam better. I found an e-zine article that also touted this fact but, since I’m in the middle of reading a thoroughly absorbing book titled, Molecular Gastronomy: Exploring the Science of Flavor by Hervé This (Columbia University Press, 2002), I found myself wondering today if this scientist explored the theory that the lighter and airier texture of non-fat and lower-fat milks contributes to its whipping up better than, say, whole milk or light cream. In his Essay #41, “Foams,” This does conclude, “The stability of foams depends on the arrangement of the proteins at the interface between the water and air.” But it turned out that he wasn’t addressing the “froth” of lattés at all, only the fancier foams popular today in today’s nouveau cuisine. Still, that “water and air” caught my eye and I will eventually do more hunting on the topic via the internet. I’m no scientist but curiosity sometimes takes over…

Now, the recipe. So simple. So delicious.

MARILYN’S CHAI LATTÉ COMFORT
Yields at least 2 drinks (if you re-use the teabag[s]a second time)

Tools

  • A milk-frothing gadget of some sort (see info in above narrative re frothers)
  • Tall “mugs” for the tea.

Ingredients

  • Steeped chai tea, hot (if I don’t have any Stash brand Double Chai tea in the house, I’ll use other teas, such as Stash Chai, Stash Green Tea Chai, or Tazo Organic Chai – but if not Double Chai, then I use two teabags per tall cup) – steep to the degree of chai flavor you desire (minimum of four minutes, in my opinion)
  • Milk or cream (best for frothing: low-in-fat or fat-free), up to 8 oz. depending on how many drinks you’re making
  • honey, minimum of 1 teaspoon (but sweeter if preferred)
  • cinnamon (to sprinkle; as usual, my preference is Roasted Saigon Cinnamon)
  • nutmeg (to sprinkle, even less than the cinnamon; fresh-ground is best but ready-ground is fine)

Process

  1. Note: Your steeped tea should take up only ⅔ to ¾ of your cup (to allow space for foam).
  2. Add honey to the chai tea and stir. (I usually add the honey while it’s still steeping, then stir after removing teabags, squeezing out last drops of liquid.)
  3. While tea is steeping, follow instructions that come with your frothing gadgetry to produce froth. For example, Capresso instructs that the user should never fill the frother with more than 8 oz. of milk. (If you’re using the Capresso, it will automatically shut off when the milk is heated and frothed, another convenience. Otherwise, you’re on your own just watching the level of froth.)
  4. Slowly pour/spoon the foamy stuff on top of your chai tea. There may still be some liquid under the froth, and it’s okay to let some of that seep into the cup; but remember you can also go back and froth it up some more for that second cup!
  5. Sprinkle the foam with a dash of cinnamon and an even smaller (pinch) of nutmeg.

Enjoy. (I even run my finger along the empty cup’s sides to get the last of that foam into my mouth!)

Christmas Cookies 2011, Recipe #5 – Wurstcakes (á la Diana Abu-Jaber’s Gram)

I met author Diana Abu-Jaber several years ago when she had a book-signing at a local independent book store, Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza. My friend Jan Tramontano had interviewed her for the Albany Times Union and asked if I would like to join her and another friend, Kathe Kokolias, at the signing. I didn’t buy that particular book – it was a mystery/suspense novel, something I don’t usually read much of – but I’ve read three of Abu-Jaber’s other books: two novels and a memoir, all spiced nicely with food and recipes. I especially loved the memoir, The Language of Baklava (Pantheon, 2005).

We had such a great time at the reading/booksigning! Since she’s originally from Syracuse, NY, her parents drove down to Albany for the event, so we got to meet two of the “highlights” of both Baklava and one of her novels, Arabian Jazz (W.W. Norton & Company, 2003), which was fiction based on her American/Jordanian childhood. Her father was particularly entertaining, evoking lots of laughter. So, when I discovered Abu-Jaber on Facebook, I Friended her right away. It was there that I saw her posting for these cookies over a year ago – in a link to a short piece of hers published in Good Housekeeping magazine in late 2010.

Diana’s GH story, “Wurstcakes: A Sweet Holiday Tradition,” includes a sub-title that glides the reader into the narrative: When I was 8, my grandmother was the source of all sweet things. I think those words would intrigue anyone who holds onto special memories of a grandparent. I know it caught me (my particular memory covers making apple pies with Gramma Boyd)! Right then, I decided I was going to make these cookies – but didn’t get around to it during the 2010 holidays. A year later… they were on my Must-Do agenda.

If you follow the link above (click on the GH story’s title), you can read both Diana’s article and her grandmother’s recipe, which I cut in half for Christmas 2011 because I was making so many other treats (I’ve included my halved version on this blog). I laughed when I read how her father even slipped into this bit of memoir (more than once). She wrote that her grandmother’s “…Wurstcakes were slim as communion wafers, and even Dad – who was addicted to their crunch – referred to them as her ‘Catholic cookies.’” I loved reading about personal memories surrounding these simple baked treats. Unfortunately, my own first attempt at Wurstcakes did not render “slim as communion wafer” results (probably takes practice), although quite delicious anyway.

Incidentally, my family got a few laughs out of the name itself. As I pointed out the cookies on the Christmas Eve after-dinner platter, to enable easier selections for people, I noted the Wurstcakes and explained, “…these are the Wurst cookies.” I watched confusion immediately plaster across a few faces. “Worst cookies?” “No, no. They’re called Wurstcakes. German or Bavarian or something… not w-O-r-s-t.” They finally got it when I further explained that you roll the dough into sausage-like shapes, like bratwurst, and refrigerate it for a while before slicing. That’s fair warning, dear readers: if you make these wafer-thin lovelies, beware how you introduce them!

This is where I usually write about how I changed a recipe that I used as my guide. Well, the only change to this one was when I halved it. (In the article, Diana says its yield is “Enough for the whole family… and then some!” I decided I required less than that, at least this time around.) Also, she suggests options of either decorating with an almond slice (before baking) or, after baking and cooling, using a simple icing of confectionary sugar and water. I happen to like buttercream frosting, which tasted wonderful on them (although I did the almond thing on about half the batch – and these were heavenly when dunked in either my morning hazelnut decaf coffee or an evening chai latte!).

Here’s an interesting aside: I printed my copy of the recipe in November 2010. In it, measurements for flour and brown sugar appear in poundage terms, which I imagine is the way her grandmother baked—as they did (and still do) in her former homeland. When I returned to the story online today and clicked further to the recipe, I realized that flour and brown sugar measurements have been converted to cups (which is not quite as accurate as weighing ingredients, I understand, but it’s how Americans are used to working with recipes). Also, the instructions for making the confectionary sugar/water icing are included this time around. (OK, confession-time: I didn’t choose to do that icing because I would’ve had to “look it up,” not having used it before; whipping up a batch of buttercream is like second-nature to me and that’s really why I went that way…) So if you want the “in your cups” version, make sure you follow that link… and you’ll also get directions for the icing.

By the way, Diana’s latest novel, Birds of Paradise (W.W. Norton, 2011) includes a pastry-chef mother, so food once again plays into the writing; and the main character in another well-enjoyed (by me) book, Crescent (W.W. Norton, 2004), is a half-Arab woman chef in a Lebanese restaurant. Check out Diana Abu-Jaber’s website for synopses of all these great reads!

 

BAVARIAN WURSTCAKES (with thanks to Diana Abu-Jaber & her memories of her grandmother, Grace Belford))
Yield: about 3½ to 4 dozen

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb. all-purpose flour
  • ¼ lb. brown sugar
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda, dissolved in ½ tablespoon water
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon (I use Roasted Saigon cinnamon)
  • ½ teaspoon allspice
  • ¼ teaspoon ground clove
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 stick (8 tablespoons) butter

Process:

  1. Mix together dry ingredients (flour, brown sugar, spices).
  2. Stir soda/water mixture into dry ingredients.
  3. Add eggs and butter, mixing all ingredients together.
  4. Knead well by hand.
  5. Divide dough into two fat “sausages,” each about 1½” wide (circumference).
  6. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap or wax paper and refrigerate overnight (or up to one week).
  7. When you expect to bake the cookies, pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.
  8. Take out wurst rolls one at a time, as you slice cookies for baking (keep the other refrigerated until using – they cut better when cold). With a sharp knife, cut dough into 1/8-inch slices and place on lightly greased cookie sheets, about 1 inch apart.
  9. If adding an almond as a decoration, push into center of cookie at this point.
  10. Bake 10 to 12 minutes or until lightly browned (but check at 8 or 9 minutes, just in case!).
  11. Transfer to wire rack to cool completely.
  12. Remove other wurst roll from fridge and repeat with remaining dough.
  13. When cooled, frost or ice at your own pleasure (or not).

My New Year’s Gift to BlogReaders: A Book Suggestion

If you’re reading this blog because you enjoy cooking/baking, then you might be able to imagine yourself in Molly Birnbaum’s place when, several years ago, her life took a drastic and debilitating turn. She was young, recently graduated from college and had finally found her passion. She wanted to become a chef. She’d spent the summer acquiring experience in a fine restaurant in Boston and was scheduled to begin classes at the Culinary Institute of America in the near future. Before taking off for work during her last week or so of employment, she suited up and tied her sneakers snuggly, anticipating an invigorating run before her hectic day. Minutes into the jog, she was slammed by a speeding car driven by a young man who’d run the red light. Her multiple broken bones were severe injuries but not irreparable, with surgery and extensive physical therapy. The loss of the ability to smell, however, was not necessarily recoverable.

I bought Season to Taste: How I Lost My Sense of Smell and Found My Way by Molly Birnbaum early last week with a $25 gift card received for Christmas. It’s so new it’s still in hardcover. I picked it up a couple days later to read and hated putting it down to do minor things like eating and sleeping. I finished it in two days. I’m recommending it to everyone I know.

Not only is this the story of Birnbaum’s healing journey (and I’m not telling you exactly what happened with her sense of smell…), it’s also full of information on this ephemeral, indefinable ability that not only defines just how well we taste but also warns us of impending dangers. I was fascinated by some of the history of this sense, as well as recent research. It seems the writer left few stones unturned as she sought answers about the likelihood of her ever smelling again and as she met with important scientists, researchers, perfume artists, chefs and medical folks to broaden her knowledge. I’d even heard of a few of them before (anyone out there NOT heard of Oliver Sacks, played by Robin Williams in the film Awakenings?)!

Molly Birnbaum is an excellent writer too. Not just factual. There’s a bit of the poetic to be found as one continues to read through the book. She travels to the University of Pennsylvania at one point to meet with Dr. Richard Doty in the Taste and Smell Center, where people who have lost their sense of smell (or it’s greatly diminished) are interviewed and assessed. She describes Doty as having become “the gatekeeper of the lost and found, director of a world based on an absence.” Later in the book she meets with a famous chef who “also knew the  power of absence” through his treatments for cancer of the tongue. Always, she is honest and searching – and we want to follow her story all the way to the end.

But then is there really an end? You’ll have to read the memoir to find out. And you might even stop by her food blog, My Madeleine.