Eat Me. Drink Me.

Why We Eat. Why We Drink. Why We Write.

Month: July, 2009

A Brief Photo Essay (a post by Lyz)

by lyzpfister

Part 1
Part 2

A Family History (a post by Lyz)

by lyzpfister

The other day, as I was looking through my mom’s collection of cookbooks, searching for some recipes to deal with our cash crop of zucchinis, I stumbled upon a blue binder clasping thick, yellowed pages and stuffed with wrinkled clippings.  I quickly leafed through the clippings and turned to the first page.  “Fern Eunice (6/22/1905 – 7/25/1977) m. Joseph Welle” ran across the top in my grandmother’s all-caps handwriting and below that a list of names, Marguerite, Sharon, Barbara Jo, Kenneth, Scott, Douglass.  It seemed to be a family tree of sorts, though its logic was obtuse and the family members obscure.   As I flipped the page, I realized what I held; it was the Davis Family Cook Book, inscribed by my grandmother, “With family love and tradition to my daughter Lauri, Mother 1979.”

The Davis Family Cook Book says a lot about my family—and about 1979.  For instance, here’s the order of the table of contents.  Appetizers, Beverages, Candy, Desserts and Breads, Meats and Main Dishes, Salads, Relishes and Preserves, Soups, and Vegetables.  Clearly, there’s a sweet tooth running through my family tree.  Not to mention that there are thirty pages of desserts, yet only ten sorry pages devoted to main dishes.

I love the titles of these recipes, like the opening one for “Truly Different Cheese Ball.”  What, I wonder, makes one cheese ball different from another, and what makes this one truly different?  “Sure Thing Roll Out Cookies” is quaint, and you know “Everybody’s Favorite Cheese Spread” must be good.

The salad section makes me nostalgic for a church potluck in the Midwest, where my grandmother’s family comes from.  There are layered salads, a few recipes for coleslaw, some fruit salads, and of course, Jello salad.  In fact, there are eleven recipes for some sort of Jello salad, though my favorite horror is this recipe for “Pineapple Salad,” which calls for pineapple tidbits, miniature marshmallows, and Velveeta cheese.

Casseroles, also, were then at their peak of fashion, and recipes abound.  There are six for broccoli casserole alone in the, as I’ve mentioned before, relatively brief savory food section.  There’s even one for “Casserole Bread,” a mix of bread stuffed with cottage cheese, minced onions, and dill.

My Aunt Lynda’s contributions, however, are my favorite.  My aunt, in 1979, was twenty-five years old, and her recipes, like “Lynda’s Health Drink,” which calls for banana, strawberries, apple juice, and ice, or “Graham Cracker Crisp,” whose ingredients are a box of graham crackers, butter, brown sugar and chopped nuts, hardly warrant being written down.  There’s something endearing, however, about my twenty-five year old aunt and her “Whip Cream Delight Cake,” especially because she’s a central cook in the family now.

What I love about this cookbook is this frozen glimpse of my family thirty years ago.  I can hear my aunt reading aloud her instructions to “Lynda’s 7 Day Sweet Pickles”: “Slice cucumbers real thin.”  My mother’s contribution of “Heidelburg Cake” is clearly a result of her recent study abroad experience, and my grandmother’s recipes for icings hint at her soon-to-be profession as a cake maker.  The recipe for “Springerle (Anise Cookie),” which my mother still makes at Christmastime every year, was first written down here.

I haven’t made any of these recipes.  The Velveeta and Jello seem dated for our modern palates.  So I won’t leave you with one of those, though I know you were probably tempted by the “Truly Different Cheese Ball.”  So what I will leave you with is the recipe for Bagna Cauda, a dish I thought my family invented (and which I also thought was spelled “banyacotta”), until I saw it one day in The Joy of Cooking.  This recipe is a staple at family gatherings and also the reason why we plan family gatherings around not having to speak with other people any time soon (garlic, anchovies—need I say more?).  So here, in my Aunt Lynda’s words, is the recipe for Bagna Cauda:

Bagna Cauda

Get an electric skillet, put it on medium heat.  Not too hot or it will burn your garlic.

A LOT of garlic…you can cheat and buy the chopped (NOT MINCED) garlic but it doesn’t have the same flavor, not as good.  If you do buy fresh, you need to chop it not mince.

Melt butter, sautéing the garlic half way golden brown, then add more butter (I use only Land o Lakes – not salted).  Then add your anchovies, about six cans (I drain the liquid off of them first).  Add more butter, stir constantly.

Let the mixture cook down.  It will get like a crust around the edges of the skillet, just push it down and stir more.

6 – 7 cans of flat anchovies (drained)
3 – 4 boxes of Land o Lakes unsalted butter
Garlic, 10-12 bulbs chopped or garlic pre-chopped
Fresh Italian bread to catch drippings
Cabbage/
Chinese cabbage

(And a side note from me: you dip the cabbage and bread into the Bagna Cauda to eat it.)

New Zealand Memories (a post by Lyz)

by lyzpfister

Recently, for lunch, I made myself a meal that I hadn’t had since the winter of 2007, when I went WWOOFing through New Zealand.  WWOOF, which stands for Willing Workers on Organic Farms, is an ingenious program which allows volunteers to work on farms in exchange for food and lodging.  I had just finished my semester studying abroad in Melbourne, Australia and since New Zealand was so close, decided to drag two of my newfound friends, Emma and Dan, with me to see the country.  Since we were broke, we hit on WWOOFing as a brilliant travel method.

Our first farm was a fledgling vineyard outside of Nelson.  Alex and Gareth had started the vineyard only a few years before and were raising a young crop of grapes along with fruits and vegetables.  Their house, a simple, elegant building entirely made from wood, overlooked the sloping vineyard that ran into soft green hills, dark forests, and in the distance, snow-capped peaks.

Our work in the vineyard was relatively simple, but crucial, especially as the vineyard itself was only five years old, and many of the vines were in their formative growing years.  Each row of vines consisted of equidistant wooden poles strung with three horizontal wires on each side.  Approximately five stalks were planted between the poles and attached with string to the lowest of the wires.  This wire was fixed and provided support for the growing vines.  Hypothetically, as the vines grew, they would stay within the two additional wires, growing up of their own accord.

Realistically, vines are wayward things that like growing any direction except up, and preferably grow down.  Our job was to pick vines up from the ground and make sure each stalk was contained within the wires.  One of us would unhook the wire from its post, stretch it out, pull it towards the ground and sweep it up to catch all the straggling vines.  A second person tucked in any loose bits, and a third person did a final sweep.

On our first day, Alex had told us that they paid a woman to do the first twelve rows.  We calculated that if one person could do twelve rows in a day, three people could do at least forty.  Four hours later, we had only hit the twenty-third row and were exhausted—especially when we thought of the seventy-one remaining rows of vines we were to prune in the next four days.  By our last day of work, however, we had become pros, waking up early and finishing our average twenty-five rows before lunch.

Every morning, Alex would make us breakfast—two slices of dark, home made bread slathered with butter and topped with sliced tomato and fried egg.  Emma, Dan, and I along with Alex and her three children, Lily, Mia, and Yeshe, would sit on the expansive back porch watching the sun rise over the craggy mountains and eat enough to sustain us through the muggy morning heat.

Alex had learned that I loved to cook, and asked me to make dinner one night.  When I asked what she wanted, the only instructions she gave were, “Well, it doesn’t matter really.  We like to eat different things, but I don’t really want to go to the grocery store, so if you could make something with what we’ve got around the house, that would be wonderful.”

I looked through some cookbooks, found a recipe for Lebanese lemon chicken, and began the question game with Alex.

“Do you have chicken?”

“We have a neighbor who butchers them—it’s no problem for me to get some.”

“Do you have rosemary and fennel?”

“They’re growing down by the road.”

“Do you have carrot and kumura?”

“We can dig some up from the garden.”

“Do you have pickled lemon?”

“I pickled some last summer.”

“Well, great.  I think Lebanese lemon chicken is a go.”

So that’s how I found myself mashing herbs and spices with nine month old Yeshe swaddled to my back.  Five year old Lily pulled a chair up across from me and rested her elbows on the counter.

“Can I help?”

“Sure, Lily.  Can you go outside and pick me five pieces of rosemary this big?” I asked as I held up a stripped twig.

“Yes,” she said, and shook her head once.

“Can I help too?” Mia, three, came up to me and wrapped her arm around my leg.

“Sure, Mia.  Can you mix up this bowl of flour and these spices?”

“Can we help?” Dan and Emma asked as they walked in the door with a handful of fennel.

“Sure, guys.  Can you chop up those veggies?”

With the kitchen full of five industrious workers and one baby drooling into my neck, we promptly prepared a dish of chicken fried in flour, cumin, rosemary, fennel, chilies, salt, and pepper, baked on a bed of couscous, red onion, pickled lemon, carrot, and kumura.

After dinner and a desert of apple crumble, Alex’s friend Sarah and her son Harry, who had come for dinner, led us into the living room for a story.  We sat ourselves in a circle, Sarah’s soft voice working with the dusk outside and our postprandial somnolence.

“These are grandma’s glasses.  This is grandma’s hat.  This is the way we fold our hands and place them in our lap.”

The story she told was of a girl who had been sent to look for a house with no windows and no doors but with a star inside.  She searches far and wide, eventually coming upon an apple.  Here, Alex produced three apples from her lap and rolled them to Sarah, who cut them open through the middle to reveal the star-shaped pattern made by the seeds.

“One house for Mia, one house for Lily, and one house for Harry.”

While the story had inspired us to seek our own sleep-inducing houses, it had awakened in the girls a pressing desire to hear more stories and tell some of their own.  So Sarah related one more story, and Lily told a rambling epic, before Alex called attention to the sun’s absence and announced that it was time for bed.

Dan, Emma, and I, tired but happy, wandered to our sleepout behind the house, played a lazy game of cards, and curled ourselves up to sleep.

Excavating Green Gold (a post by Josh)

by lyzpfister

Here, as promised yesterday, is a listing of my top ten. Top ten loves in the oil category. Mainly: olive oil and truffle oil. There’s much to say and even more memories, but here is a smattering of oil loves.

Olive Oil

I have get down to the basics before I go and start telling you about the slight variances that I have fallen in love with. So, here it is to me: olive oil. This stuff (as one sign in Florence, Italy, once read) is Green Gold. Wait, green? Yup, most of the good olive oils in Italy, Spain, Greece, France, New Zealand, all have a slight green tint to the oil. This generally means you should get ready for a slight bite to the oil. It’s not just food lubrication as most Americans see olive oil, but it’s a flavor unto itself. Wait, let me back up. olive oil is one of my most favorit-est things because it is universal in the cooking world.

(Notice, I did not say baking. Almost never use olive oil in your baking dishes, it will give that desired sweet a strange savory flavor. Especially if the dish calls for a pinch of salt, which most baked goods do).

It is called green gold because one: it is green and two: because it flavors most dishes in the Mediterranean repertoire. It’s silky, heavy, robust and compliments garlic, salt, pepper and just about any other savory spice you throw at it. Too much, and your food is greasy, too little and the garlic is burning in a dry pan. Olive oil is something I thought I knew before traveling outside of the US, and something I fell in love with when I got outside of the US borders. Here are a few of my favorite oils I’ve met, taken out for dinner and back to my place for later.

Read the rest of this entry »

A Few of My Favorite Things (a post by Lyz)

by lyzpfister

Or, more precisely, ten of my favorite things. Making this list was harder than I thought it would be. For instance, how much of the list was I going to devote to spices or non-essential ingredients? Did these ingredients have to work together? Would this be an “if you were stranded on a deserted island…” list?  What if I ended up devoting the entire list to cheese?

What this list has ended up being, however, is a list of foods that recur in my food life, continually influence what I order in a restaurant, or are things I’d just really miss if they didn’t exist. There are a number of food items that come up again and again on this list, such as garlic and tomatoes, that didn’t make the actual top ten, and I’m wondering if that means they should be here too. But then i realize the beauty of a top ten foods list. It’s inclusive.

Olive Oil

Josh, having spent six months eating the real stuff in Italy, is certainly more of a connoisseur of olive oils than I am, but I do know a good thing when I’ve got it. Olive oil has the magical ability to transform anything. The bread they serve to you at restaurants? Boring. The bread they serve to you at restaurants plus a little bowl of oil and crushed herbs? Delicious. Broiled eggplant? Boring. Broiled eggplant brushed with olive oil? Delicious. Olive oil is also first on my list because it’s so integral to my cooking. It is a rare dish that wasn’t brushed with, soaked through, or sautéed in olive oil. It’s also first on my list, because it is often how many of my recipes start – a hot skillet drizzled with oil.

Goat Cheese

I love cheese. I love all cheese. In fact, I had a hard time not making everything on this list cheese (feta, blue cheese, and cream cheese were all serious contenders). But I love love love goat cheese. The first time I had goat cheese was in eighth grade French class, when our teacher brought a tiny log of chèvre to smear on chunks of baguette. I was instantly smitten. Goat cheese makes me think of ice cold water from country wells, rolling green hills, wildflowers, a crisp breeze cutting through a warm, Provinçal sun. It’s simple, cool, fresh, and breezy – the antidote to sautéed mushrooms or garlicky tomatoes and basil, the crown of a fresh baked loaf of bread.

Brie

When I’m not currently enamored with goat cheese, I’m doting on brie as if it’s an old millionaire uncle about to die. I like my brie soft, with insides the consistency of butter left to sit at room-temperature, and with a thin, mild shell that adds just the slightest pungency. One of my favorite meals consisted of freshly bought French bread slathered with brie and topped with cherry tomatoes, shared in the middle of the campus lawn one May evening during final exams. Where goat cheese is simple and fresh, brie is just a little bit complicated. It’s rich, sexy, versed in the trappings of high society, and pairs well with a dangerous glass of red wine.

Crusty Bread

What brie and goat cheese both share is an affinity for crusty bread, preferably the kind of crusty bread that’s been freshly baked and crisps when torn apart. Its insides are warm and yeasty and yield to pressure without becoming paper thin when pressed with a butter knife. Crusty bread is the ideal foil for any sort of tapenade, dip, or cheese, but also is delicious by itself, eaten on a long car ride until the whole loaf is gone.

Eggplant

If I’m having trouble deciding what to order on a menu, and I happen to see a dish with eggplant in it, that dish will invariably win. I love eggplant because it’s complicated, both in flavor, texture, and preparation. It’s easy to ruin – not cooked long enough, eggplant is an unfortunate foray into bitter chewiness, overcooked, it squeaks. Eggplant must be thoroughly oiled and cooked until opaque and should crush apart with the slightest pressure from a spoon. When properly prepared, eggplant is absolutely delicious. I love its versatility; from Moroccan tagines to roast-garlic infused tapenades to Mediterranean-style roasts of eggplant, feta, and tomato to eggplant parmesan, eggplant has the ability to work within a variety of cuisines and adapt their flavor while imparting its own silky texture, and rich earthiness to whatever dish it graces.

Smoked Salmon

I rarely eat smoked salmon. Every now and then, when my wallet is feeling generous, I indulge in a pack of pale pink salmon, glistening and lined with white streaks of fat. I have my bread, my cheese, a thin slice of salmon and feel utterly refined. I just returned from a trip to Washington DC, where I dined at the News Café on a savory crepe filled with smoked salmon, crème fraiche and caviar, and I assure you, I stuck my pinky out the entire time.

Bagels

I think bagels are a good follow up to smoked salmon, since most of the time, I eat my salmon on a bagel with cream cheese, capers, and maybe a thinly sliced sliver of red onion. A good bagel is slightly chewy, yet light with a touch of sweetness. It is the perfect base for cream cheese, ham and tomato, roast beef and cheddar, melted gruyere and gherkins. Not only are they deliciously versatile, but a toasted sesame bagel with plain cream cheese and a glass of ice water is the perfect hangover cure. So I hear.

Eggs

Looking through some of my posts, eggs tend to come up often. Egg-in-toast, sautéed greens with egg and feta, quiche, French toast, scrambled eggs… Nobody seems to remember the TV jingle from a few years ago that went, “I love eggs, na-na-na-na-na-na-na, from my head down to my legs. Scrambled or fried, sunny side – I love eggs,” but it pretty succinctly sums up my feelings about eggs. Another versatile food, eggs are also essential in many things, especially desserts and baked goods. You can’t even make Funfetti cake without eggs. My favorite eggs, though, are organic eggs from free-range hens cooked over easy, so that intense orange yolk runs out over whatever it’s on and you have to sop up the last bits of egg with bread or home fries or rice.

Basil

Hands down my favorite herb. I’ve tried to grow basil countless times (I even name my basil plants), but they always end up dying – probably because my musty college dorm rooms don’t get quite the amount of sunlight basil requires to survive. Basil is essential in Italian cookery, and because I love my pastas and pizzas, I always try to have fresh basil on hand. I first fell in love with basil on a family reunion in Italy, when the herb grew fresh outside our window, and every night we’d make a salad of ripe tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, and basil drizzled with olive oil, freshly ground pepper and coarse salt.

Salt

Of course salt is on my list. People died for this stuff. I don’t personally use much salt in my cooking, but I absolutely recognize its importance. I believe that salt, like makeup, should be an enhancer rather than a concealer. Too much salt overpowers whatever you cook, but too little, and you notice something’s missing. Salt livens the flavors of vegetables, sauces and dips and brings out the juices of roasted meats and broiled vegetables. However, the best dishes with salt in them taste nothing like salt. Like olive oil, salt shapes my kitchen and my palate.