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Monday, March 16, 2015

Breadstory: A Tale of Two Flours and Mary Pat Kiernan's Irish Soda Bread

         Love Finding This Flour of Forgotten Flours from the UK and Bakery Bits! 

The past few quiet and snowy months I've been working on revisions to my novel, The Way of Psomi.

There were two flours to contend with. Two ways of making bread.

I donned my red cloak and left home to search for who was right. Who was wrong. How bread could inspire such complexities. Bread by nature was simplicity.

Meet the first flour.

(Back before there were gluten allergies. In the time when grains were truly ancient, because well, everything was.) 

And in all good and compelling stories there was a problem. 

Meet the second flower. Was this the big problem?

Alas, no. Well, maybe. But, I don't think so.  

So, I readied for the Floral Games; nervously as I was sure to meet the problem. And to meet the challenge; joining the flour and the flower.   

And here especially for St. Patrick's Day I offer this delicious Cherry'd Millet and Cardamom Raisin Bread.  Practically problem free.

The Two Flours: Dark and Light

Bird Seed: Cherry Juice

Millet: Floating in the Red Sea

Millet: Its Goose Cooked With Raisins (actually, it is vegetarian)

Tamarind: Strained Free of Pits

The Loaf of Two Flours

The Split Loaf From Above with the Recipe Below

Mary Pat's Famous Irish Soda Bread with Cherry'd Millet, Cardamom and a little Tamarind Sesame Ginger Butter

This recipe originated from my very good and irish-as-the-day-is-long friend, Mary Pat Kiernan. Her wonderful bread had seen me through many trials and tribulations in the “just graduated from CIA” days. We worked together as private chefs in the Colorado Mountains near Gunnison and later, when our services were no longer needed, she would make her family's bread every time I came to visit her in Denver from Colorado Springs. We explored the Larimer Square scene fortified with coffee and her bread.

I’ve revised this recipe a bit, and changed up the flour as per my research for Psomi, but I think she’d still like it! The cross cut on top before baking is designed to let the devil out, but it also helps the loaf expand without cracking.

makes 1 loaf
2 cups sifted cake flour
1 cup einkorn flour
2 cups Lammas Fayre maslin flour
1 cup organic oats
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder                              
1/4 cup butter                     
1/4 cup honey

pinch of salt
1 t caraway seeds
1 /2 tsp cardamom seeds
1 cup millet
1 cup raisins
1 cup cherry juice
2 cups water

1 egg
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/3 cup buttermilk

tamarind ginger and sesame butter
1 cup sweet butter, plugra if possible
1/3 cup raw sugar
pinch of coarse sea salt
1 teaspoon chopped fresh ginger
1 teaspoon tamarind paste
2 teaspoons sesame seeds

to prepare millet:
in a medium saucepan, bring the 2 cups water and 1 cup cherry juice to a boil, add a pinch of salt, the caraway and cardamom, raisins and the 1 cup of millet. bring to a second boil, lower the heat and simmer for 20 -25 minutes.  pour the cooked millet into a large mixing bowl to cool slightly. (this should make about 2 1/2 cups cooked millet.) add the 1/2 cup honey and stir well

make the soda bread
mix together the first six ingredients. cut in the butter with a pastry blender or with your hands until mixture resembles coarse meal.

when cool add in the cooked millet and raisins. stir the baking soda, egg, and buttermilk together in a separate bowl, mixing well. combine this with the bowl ingredients stirring until all ingredients are thoroughly moistened. turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead about five minutes. shape dough into a round loaf; place on a greased baking sheet. using a sharp knife, cut a cross 1/4 inch deep on top of loaf; lightly
sprinkle cross with flour.

bake at 350 degrees for 60-70 minutes or until bread sounds hollow
when tapped, and a small knife inserted in the center comes out clean.  remove from baking sheet and cool completely on wire rack.

make the butter
place the butter in a crockery bowl and then over a shelf on the stove to soften from the oven’s heat. when soft, blend in sugar, paste, spices, and seeds. transfer the mixture to a small crock and place in a cool spot till it firms up a bit.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Levain is Like Story: A Boule of Einkorn, Barley, Spelt, and Garbanzo

Over the years I have kept and fed bowls of levain from all manner of millet and figs. grapes and fresh cherries..and I am guilty of feeding my levain almond flour and chestnut flour.. until it practically gurgled in protest; Arret!

There have been manuscripts of parallel stories, and just to be really sure that those didn't work, I wrote from both first and third person POV's and a test run over hundreds of pages about looking for an obscure and allegorical place to find this novel, The Way of Psomi.  

You might say, if you are inclined to analyze your life and levain :) that it was a very dante-esque experience.

"In the mid–path of my life, I woke to find myself in a dark wood," writes Dante in The Divine Comedy.

"woke up anxious to feed the levain before setting out
this morning. 
but journeys of any kind ~ 
paths in the mountains, 
through vineyards, 
past unknown villages, 
call to mind similar walks, 
and dartings - 
if dartings can be a noun for a few minutes 
- along the edge of the forest."   

The Levain is like the Story..The Levain is like the Story..
Keep it pure and simple. 

Here is the latest test bread for the Way of Psomi..

Boule of Einkorn, Barley, Spelt, and Garbanzo 

~ please forgive the ounce and standardized measurements. this was baked on a stone in a gas oven.

3 oz liquid levain
2 cups warm water
1 teaspoon yeast
1 cup einkorn flour
1, 1/2 cup spelt flour
1 cup cooked barley
2 teaspoons salt 

knead in:
1 cup garbanzo flour
1 and then 1/2 cup bread flour, if needed

begin this baby a full 24 hours ahead of when you want it. of course this is assuming you already have a levain.

feed and then ladle out your levain in a nice size crockery bowl. add the first list of ingredients in the order given. stir until smooth - with a wooden spoon - and let sit for 4-6 hours. 

later in the afternoon, knead in the cup of garbanzo and bread flour..depending on the weather you might or might not need the remaining 1/2 cup of bread flour. the dough should be still somewhat sticky. let it rest at room temp with a towel over the bowl. then, lay it to rest for the night in the refrigerator

the next morning get it out and have a cup of coffee while you wait for the dough to wake up. after a couple of hours knead it around in the bowl and let it rest again for a good six hours while you make a pit fire outside and burn your tax info from 2007, as well as the entire pile of printed out manuscripts from last year.  the woods welcome the sun going down and the children run in the cul de sac behind where we live. their voices echo back to the days when it was our two sons and the boys of the barkers and the mchales at play. 

that done, turn the oven with the stone already in, on to 400 Fahrenheit. divide the dough in two.  shape into two round boules and let rest for 30 minutes. when the oven has heated for an hour scoop up your boules and carefully place them on the hot stone. 

bake for 40 minutes..i think..or until the crust is golden brown with darker edges, grigne. 

much love, dorette

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Merging Bread and Story; Snow Day "Oc" Snails, Cargarula

This dough began with a full ladle of levain. Pinch of yeast. Salt. Teff and Semolina flour. And enough Lindley Mill bread flour kneaded in to bring it all together. 

The sky darkened. 

Cargarula, which by the way - means snail in the ancient language of Oc, rose on the wood table for 4 hours before being tucked in the fridge to wait for the snow/ice storm to continue/begin. The next morning Cargarula came out, got punched down and rose about six hours more. 

As an experiment a few sentences of the story got rolled and tucked inside the snail, Cargarula. Now you know. Then spiraled, set on the back of a cornmeal lined sheet pan and slid onto a hot stone in a 400 degree Viking. 

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

French Travel Adventures: Marie-Claude Gracia Rey's Leek Tart, Part Deux

As you may remember from last time (read part one here) we were just about to go into her kitchen at La Belle Gasconne to make Marie-Claude's amazing Tourte de Blanc de Poireaux. 

Join us this summer in 2015, for another Gascony Luxury Tour

Marie-Claude's tart uses a brisée dough for the crust. You may also see this called pate sale brisée. It is a French classic. Are you familiar with it? Marie-Claude says makes this statement in her book, La Cuisine de Passion, to convey the meaning of brisée

 poireaux, leeks from Michel's Farm. 

La Belle Gasconne Kitchen, calm, and ready for action!

"Je ne veux pas marcher sur tes brises." 

What could this mean, I ask my friend Aileen Randall, a Carrboro and Chapel Hill French teacher who has been co-leader of numerous Teen-Chefs in Provence, Paris and Tuscany trips with me. Aileen advised this can mean, “I don’t want to poach on your preserves. Or, it could possibly mean "I will not walk in your breezes."

Of course misunderstandings in French, in France, in the French kitchen and in life, are always possible. I accepted the approximation as I accept and admire Marie-Claude. In fact, I didn't need to hear a word for word explanation. I imagined it had to do with the respect of the countryside and so of course it meant that no one should go poach (hunt) on your hunting preserves. It didn't mean I couldn't poach a lovely shad from the Gelise River there or a even a chicken, in a rich pot full of carrottes and oignon and laurier you just harvested, if need be, just so long as the hunter was invited. 

Marie-Claude in this case..was the grand chausser of the leek tart! the keeper of the tradition! And as a guest "Je ne veux pas marcher sur tes brises." 

I didn't allow that I could be wrong. Horribly wrong. I might simply mean it was unacceptable to poach (steal) your apricot preserves. Or fig preserves. Cherry was another matter and they were up for poaching, grabs as we say here ~ which isn't that equally strange?  

And so I will always remember the day when Marie-Claude came into the kitchen to see how we were coming along with the tart. I had invited her and her husband, Christian, to lunch -- which of course I was nervous about! On one hand it seemed rather brazen to invite Marie-Claude to lunch on one of her prized recettes - but then it also could have seemed brazen not to invite her when we were working in her kitchen trying to replicate her dish. Who better to tell us how it came out? GULP.

In Cuisine de Passion she says, "Me, I always prepare little tartlettes for my clients, but certainly in the family its better to prepare one big pretty tart. If you have company you can prepare many bite size tarts. As a “cocktail-snack” or an appetizer with an aperitif."

We were going with the big pretty tart. We even found one of her tart pans to use. 

The dough must be soft. I smooth it out with the boxwood rolling pin of my great grandmother Aurelie which I take with me everywhere I travel, as my good luck charm. 

 pate sale brisée

Ok, here we need to go back. On our first shopping trip to the Mezin Sunday Marche, we had a marvelous time. We dillied. We dallied. We met Michel, he being our guide, and the farmer of leeks, potatoes, potiron (pumpkin) and wood-turning. Come back for another post about our further adventures with Michel. He took our little group around the market. We took photos. 

Mezin Marche with Brenda, Michel, Moi, and Cori

It was already going on 11 am. Alors! We ran around like poulet sans tetes and were lucky to get a piece of any pork at the charcuterie shop for our sausage and lentil lunch dish the next day. Yes, did you notice that sausage was mentioned? The pork we got was not, and would never be, the sausage that we needed, but since the shop was closing and would be closed till Tuesday morning, it would have to do. But for heavens sake, we forgot the beurre! So we had to reschedule making the Leek Tart for Tuesday.  

When the dough is smooth and as thin as possible, using the rolling pin I pass my hands under it and then I lightly lift till I can see my hands through it. I stretch it so thin so that I can see my hands through it. And  then I put it in the bottom of the tart pan. And then I prick it with my fork. When the garniture (the filling) is in place I cover it with a dough that I try to stretch even more finely than the one underneath. The secret of my tourte is that as for the garnish, (the filling) it changes often, depending on the evening and the inspiration. 

Oh boy. I already knew that we had not rolled the crust thin enough. And with that, were we in big trouble or what?! Marie-Claude took one look at our bowl of leeks, sitting in a bowl of water, and gently asked if we knew not to do that? Cooking the leeks - she took down the heaviest pan on the shelf with one arm and plopped it in place on the burner. She whooshed on the fire, and nestled the leeks in a towel and patted them dry. With nary a concern for her hands she moved the damp leeks to the hot pan where they sizzled, but no, actually they didn't - you just think they will. The leeks sat there and were quite patient to have a little time with the heat. As much time as Marie-Claude determined was necessary. She watched the poireaux with a fierce kind of love, fluffed them with her fingers. They began to steam..they turned a bright green, and then she removed them from the pan. Quickly and spread them out to cool. Then, she left us to finish the dish. "Je ne veux pas marcher sur tes brises." 

So, did Marie-Claude ever taste our Leek Tart? Tune in next time. And join us in Gascony!  to make another ...

Marie-Claude Gracia Rey on the back cover of La Cuisine de Passion 

Tourte de Blanc de Poireaux
prep time, 1 hour. baking time 40 minutes.

for the pâte brisée salée – standard french short pastry dough

short pastry dough or pate brisee is unleavened and great for savory or sweet tarts, quiches or any other pie sort of knosh. the standard accepted ratio is ½ the amount of fat to flour.

300 grams of butter (1 cup 5 tablespoons)
10 grams of salt (1 teaspoon)
500 grams of all purpose flour (4 cups 2 tablespoons)
1 egg, beaten
125 grams of water (1/2 cup)

for the garniture - the filling
500 gms very white leeks
250 gms little pink mushrooms from the meadow or de champignons de paris
20 cl crème fraiche thick
1 egg
Salt and white pepper

for the pastry.
on a hard work surface  - marble, granite or formica - place your flour and salt. mix with your fingers. cut the butter into tablespoon size pieces, and put with the dry ingredients. gently, use both hands and rub without squeezing the butter into the dry ingredients. you are aiming for a sandy texture with all the butter mixed into the dry ingredients, gently and surely. when the butter is well mixed in, with one hand, gently mix the butter/flour with the egg. with the other hand, pour some of the water over the mix and continue bringing the ingredients together. once all the ingredients are mixed together (you may or may not have used all the water), stop mixing and put aside the dough in the refrigerator to rest for about 30 minutes or longer if necessary and more convenient.

first prepare the dough.
when it has rested sufficiently divide it into 2 unequal parts; 2/3 and 1/3 smooth out the biggest to the diameter of the tourtier, butter and flour the mold, the moule. garnish the bottom of the moule with the very thin dough.

prepare the garnish.
peel the leeks only keep a drop of the green and then cut in fine julienne. If possible get yourself poireaux de vigne which adds to the impertinence, or possible the strength of the flavor. put them in a heavy pan skillet over average heat, with no water or anything in a way that will be at least 2 cm of poireaux.  turn it with a wooden spoon or your fingers so that the humidity of the leeks on the bottom impregnante well those that are on the top. stop at about 6 minutes approximately, when they are still “craquants” and emerald green.

besides, choose the little pink mushrooms of the meadow, the smallest ones, and the most “croquant” crunchy..the most closed..or by default those old mushrooms of paris. remove the peel and the stems. keep the mushroom caps that you minced them finely. especially don’t wash them. put a layer of the leeks and half a layer of the mushrooms on top of the raw dough. add crème fraiche very evenly over the leeks and the mushrooms, then salt and pepper. the filling must be light soft and delicate and rise to ¾ of the tarte pan. stretching the rest of the dough to cover the tart. now, with a whole egg, brush over the tart, turn it golden with a whole egg.

we’re going to put it in the oven, if your oven is not very aggressive let it cook for 35 minutes and if not then at 40 minutes. serve as is. Either as an entrée or after the foie gras with a dry white wine, a vin de Poudenas. (Colombard ou Ugni Blanc) or a light red wine, (from Duras or un Buzet.)

and don’t tell the men that there are leeks inside because the majority of them detest them. and if they don’t know there are poireaux in there they will feast in all innocence. 

Thursday, January 15, 2015

French Travel Adventures: Marie-Claude Gracia Rey

all species on earth, 

dwellers in the sea and flocks, 

all dash madly into the flame.

(The Complete Essays By Michel de Montaigne - where M. addresses "some lines of virgil")

As the saying goes, in the dictionary under the word tranquility there is a photo of La Belle Gasconne, the 14th century mill-house in the tiny village of Poudenas, France. 

La Belle Gasconne was, and is, famous. First as an Auberge Restaurant that was run by Chef Marie-Claude Gracia Rey, who lives her passion, and her mesmerizing culinary legacy. And now as a stunning retreat to rent for your very own, for a week or longer.

Water is a primary soothing element here as the millhouse is on an island and to sleep, and dream of the past, by the Gelise River is always soft and magical.
Marie-Claude’s story itself is one that inspires more than a bit of magic.

One of many articles about Maria-Claude Gracia Rey

I have been going to Poudenas for 20 years and feel very fortunate to have been there and seen Marie-Claude at the helm of the kitchen running the well known Auberge. That was then, in 1996. I was as nervous as one of her wobbly Flan a la Verveine de la Mer. (Her mother’s exquisite flan made with lemon verbena)

But this is now. 

Over the years I have been fortunate enough to bring other groups and one time we took a master cooking class with her. She prepared with us, and then for us, all the while entertaining us with her supreme espirit of amusement, as most of watched her in stunned admiration! This was not easy ~ it's one thing to prepare when it is your kitchen, and you are the chef running the restaurant, but I am sure we drove her crazy. This was not a simple meal by any stretch of any imagination – but a traditional Gasconne menu which came directly from her heart, and also her beautiful and famous cookbook, La Cuisine de Passion.

What a privilege to continue to spend time in the kitchen with Marie-Claude Gracia Rey.

She is so humble and modest and never speaks about herself, or her accomplishments. We have enjoyed so many at the table experiences with her and Christian, her husband. Along with the generosity of her sons, who we've gotten to know, and are well-known in their own right, as painters and artists and chefs and sommeliers. I hope to get to know her daughter in the coming time. 

Layers of life in Poudenas have been peeled back or laid down, maybe both. I am humbled to share, to learn, and for a small time to give you a small glimpse into the kitchen of Marie-Claude.

During our tour this year, one rainy morning we were ensconced in the kitchen with our little group making her Leek Tart.

Now before I get too far, and dance right into her recette, let me back up a bit to say there is no way that you can enter, walk, be, or cook in the millhouse kitchen without knowing and feeling that this is still her kitchen. This is not because of anything Marie-Claude says or does, non, non. She will go out of her way to declare this is your home, make you feel at home. She will give out kisses if something breaks, which my friend Cori, can tell you, does happen. But in short, because of her incredible presence, her ambiance, you could never forget that this is her domain. And La Belle Gasconne was, and always will be, nothing short of encroyable. 

Marie-Claude embraces the quiet life now. But at one time this was very far from the norm. Just how far from the norm, I learned this past October. 

To be standing in her kitchen is one thing but cooking there is quite something else. I say this because as much as I thought I knew, I really knew only the tip of her story. She shared her large book of newspaper and magazine profiles and interviews with me and though I had to leave it behind, I say with the utmost respect, admiration and honor that if she is willing, I would love to tell you about her; friend, woman, mother, daughter, and chef, Marie-Claude Gracia Rey and her incredible story.   

To be continued.....Tourte de Blanc de Poireaux!

Marie-Claude Gracia Rey

Sunday, January 4, 2015

The Writing Life: Pero Tafur and a quite possibly damn good sea-travel-worthy-focaccia.

Bonjour Mes Amis of the Kitchen and the Pen ~~~

Of course there will be a fire involved. Just in case you were worried that this will be a flat story about a, flat bread, a focaccia.

Now that the holidays have passed..I have set my sights on pulling together various threads of the Psomi manuscript.

This morning as I was reading about carrier pigeons, who should stumble in but Pero Tafur, who claims to be a Spanish traveler born in 1410, about then, and in Cordoba, or about there, somewhere. His stories exbound on sea-going adventures in the Mediterranean, taken vessels, miserable conditions, and the occassional French squire falling off a mountain.

At the time he wrote his travelogue narratives there was no such thing as printing. If you want to go along for the rather extraordinary ride, put on your rain slicker and read the digitized version here but only if carrier pigeons also are your sort of thing. You can also download the pdf version from Colombia University here.

If you'd rather hold the book in your meaty little hands, then cough up the hundred or so dollars of change and order away from Amazon, (which seems like a crime) or directly from Gorgias Press.

Back to the fire. All this talk with Pero made me, of course, hungry. From what I can piece together he had something similar to this Focaccia on board a ship off the coast of Sardinia.

The Best Focaccia...

Chestnut focaccia with poire, lavender and thyme

You may be surprised at how well the pear blends with thyme and lavender atop this chewy earthy bread.

The starter:
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 package or 2 t. Dry yeast
2 ½ cups lukewarm water

Start the starter:
One full day, that is 24 hours before you’d like to eat/serve your focaccia make the starter.
Put the flour in a large glass or crockery bowl. And make a well in the center. Add the yeast and water to the well ad gradually stir them to mix them. Gradually incorporate the flour until well combined. Beat until smooth, using a fork is fine. Cover with a towel in a warm draft free place for 24 hours. In order to get a starter going you must feed it. Every 7 days discard 1 cup or 8 ounces of your starter, and replace it with this. 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons mixed flour and 1/2 cup water. If a clear liquid forms on top, just stir it in, but if it turns pink, the starter has spoiled. Throw it away.

Once your starter is established, plan to use it once a week or discard 1 cup and feed it 2 cups of flour and 1 cup water to keep it fresh and active.

For the final focaccia:
1 cup of starter
2 1/4 cups more water
2-4 cups chestnut flour
2-4 cups regular flour

For topping:
Olive oil
1 tablespoon sea salt or kosher salt
1 teaspoon fresh thyme, combined with 1/8 tsp lavender
3 chopped pears, skin on

Begin by adding 1 cup of flour and 1 cup of water to the starter in the bowl and stir until well-combined. Add the salt and enough flour and water (1 cup at a time) to make a thick mass of dough which is difficult to stir. Turn dough out on a floured surface and knead in the remaining flour if needed, until the dough is firm and smooth. Let this dough rise for about an hour, 
The Wood Oven in a Quiet Moment

taking 2 if you can. Shape the dough into a ball, lightly oil a large bowl and set the dough to rest in the bowl. The dough will not act like a normal yeast bread, it will not rise to a really puffy state.

Prepare the pan for baking: use a large baking sheet with sides, pour on olive oil and using a paper towel or your clean hands spread the oil around so the pan is adequately covered. Punch down the dough and transfer it to the oiled pan. Spread the dough, using your hands, stretching it out into the rectangle of the baking sheet. Let rise another 30 minutes if possible. While waiting preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Top with olive oil, lavender and thyme. Spread the pears you’re your hands over the focaccia and distribute evenly. Sprinkle the coarse sea salt over the top – you may need more than you think, as the pears are sweet. Fun! Bake until firm and a rich caramel color. 20-25 minutes. Cool completely on a wired rack. Cut in squares. 

Cori, mon assistant! Another Foccacia..Another Thyme. 

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Cooking Life: Why I Must (Never) Leave Chinese Food. And Old Shanghai.

New Years Day 2015, and lo and behold.... I've got food on my mind. Before the holidays ~ and their soft silky glow ~ leave us, may I ask you a personal question: have you fallen head over heels for a food? Group of foods? Is it "your heritage" food? What calls you? Do you celebrate with different foods than your birth family? 

Wait though, group of foods, that’s so not the phrase I’m looking for. Nope, that's not the ambiance at all. But don't let the lack of that detail prevent you from heading in to this exploration, we'll figure it out together, I promise.

Whenever I was missing my two sons, who had grown up and were happily going about doing their thing, I would go out for Chinese food. You guessed it. I admit it. And it got bad.

After umpteen fat and crispy eggrolls dipped in duck sauce and hot mustard, platters of Vietnamese cha gio cushioned by green leaf lettuce and bean sprouts, slippery bowls of hot and sour soup that sting your winter weary throat, egg  foo young – sitting quiet and simple on the plate waiting for your chopsticks, spicy peanut noodles, and deep cavernous bowls of pho topped with a sea of cilantro and basil and mint life-rafts, I came to the screaming decision that whatever it was about this plethora of plumpness (not mine...hey!) I had to control my addiction by doing the only sane thing. Abandon ship and go cold turkey (not with szechuan spices..or sticky rice, please, oh god, can't we have just a little!) without Chinese food. I beg your temporal and temporary collusion on calling all of this Chinese’s not, I know. I was literally beside myself with conviction. I would be steadfast. Wasn't it ok to want to recreate the tables of the past? That sounded suspiciously like backsliding and rationalizing, and so I did what any other person would do. I sternly took myself by the hand.  

I held fast. I broke a few dozen chopsticks over my knee. I threw away the "to go" packets of chinese mustard. I stomped and sobbed and lobbed bamboo steamer baskets into the woods. I would not succumb. I emptied jars of plum sauce into the compost pile, annointing them with salty tears. Rice noodles got sent up, and down the creek without a rice paddle. I burned all my fortunes. Well, now.. no. I couldn't bring myself to that, I am reasonable after all.

After I calmed down, I took a cold hard look at the enemy, Eggrolls Past, and how this came to me. To be me.

I rolled the camera back. Chinese food was as foreign a food as a food could be when I was growing up in Reading, Pa. There I was surrounded by Liver Pudding, Schnitz and Ep, Bot Boi, AP Cakes, and ...lots of Germanish dishes. Was Chinese around when you were growing up? It was a lot like A Christmas  Story - (click the link and travel to the Christmas Story Museum in Cleveland, Ohio -- who knew?) where Ralphie wants a Red Ryder BB Gun, and on Christmas Day they are forced to go out for Chinese as the hounds next door ran-sacked the turkey. We never had to do that with Nana standing duty by our turkey on Christmas.

But my adopted mom, Aileen, married a Jewish man the second time around, and while I am not sure of the exact pathway, it seems we developed a love for Chinese food after that. Chop Suey and Chicken Chow Mein. I can still see the neon sign for the restaurant in Mohnton, Pa. The Far East Peking House or something like that? I can't decipher the name but I can taste the crunchy noodles, and that's more important... wahhhhhh!  

Inevitably, then, the movie advances. Let me take you to a scene where my husband, Rich, is walking ahead of me, carrying our first born son, Erick, in a backpack. We are fighting the blustery wind, well, he is breaking the wind for me, (no, not like that) as we walk down a street in Chinatown, NYC. It was right before Christmas in 1987. We had flown across the country from Colorado, and a little snow was not about to stop us. Among all the splendors of NYC at Christmas, such as splendid horse and carriage rides around Central Park and the equally splendiferous shooting off of Nerf guns in FAO Schwarcz, at the tippy top of the list we wanted Erick (and later Jaryd) to taste the real authentic deal. We opened the door, and the lacquered ducks in the window swung in unison to the tune of ...

Erick was seated in a high chair, though at five months he was not ready for that. So my husband held him in his lap. Our dinner arrived, and the steam swirled around and under and gently embraced us with a perfume of exotic oneness. Erick’s face brightened as he tasted a small spoonful. His mouth fell open. "Wow this is wild. This is delicious. What is this?" 

It was the ever devilish, fried rice.  

Another scene crystallized through the mists of ...egg drop soup.

Back in the day in Colorado Springs we often visited Mekong restaurant on the south side of town, owned by Dang Truong and his family. They made us feel like we were home. They made us feel like family as Dang always welcomed us and during the Dinner of Seven Beef Dishes carried Erick around the restaurant and into the kitchen, his first restaurant kitchen calling him Super Boy. We were lucky enough to visit some old time friends in Colorado Springs and see Dang again in his new place Lemongrass Bistro. 

Owner, Dang Truong, with us at his new place, Lemongrass Bistro

Both my sons grew up amidst a backdrop of Chinese and myriad of Asian food ~ along with French and Italian and Mexican and Southern with a little Shoofly Pie and Sticky Buns thrown in for good measure. But am I sorry to say that Pennsylvania Dutch food didn't maintain it's place in my heart as it did when I was little? Sure. I wanted to have what I thought others always had, a family food. So why was I so fast to discard what was given so freely to me? Did it feel like it didn't really belong to me? I hope I was grateful. I felt grateful, especially to Nana. But maybe I never said a word. Maybe she understood as we sat at the table joined by eating our bowls of chicken corn soup? And what would she say about all this Chinese food?

If I had been enamored of say, always making pork and sauerkraut on New Year's Day as Pa Dutch tradition demands, wouldn't I be denying the food and the people where I was living? I had changed.

After I left Pa. I celebrated and searched and shared a multitude of yummy ways of looking at the world. I didn't worry about what I had left. I quite possibly was consumed with I for I was young.

For me and for us, Chinese food came to mean family, and celebrations, and spending time together with our sons. We had moved away, and embraced a new life. The nights we got take out Chinese were a delicious "wok" of WE. And by we I mean all of us, everywhere. I believe eggrolls and dumplings helped us celebrate being as different and perhaps pilgramatic, as say Chinese food on Christmas. 

My sons grew up to celebrate, gulp, the same things -- the reasons they flew the coop were not the same as when we had, right? To test out their wings and find! In fact they return to the coop. And we to theirs. Gosh, were they living what we had, in fact, done? And taught them? How did this happen?

Colorado is where my oldest son, Erick, returned, and is the executive sushi chef at Sato in Edwards. Kayla, his girlfriend works there too, and has the most amazing and descriptive palate and aspires to new adventures of her own. Their world is chock a block and blazes full of snow storms, fish and rice  (not usually fried) and kombu.

My youngest son, Jaryd, is entrenched in the LA world at Dreamworks where he works on dragons and cavemen during the day. Ana, his girlfriend is studying urban planning and public health at UCLA and together they love sharing Nicaraguan, Brazilian, Ethiopian, and Houses where Dumplings number in the hundreds for choosing at will.

As I may have said, have I OVEREMPHASIZED THIS POINT? both of my sons are grown up now and off in the world doing their delightful thing, as I did. They may be gone, but I realized they are not far away. How I wish I could thank Nana, talk to her. Let her know that even as I moved away, I held her close and cherished all the times in her kitchen, what she showed me. What she told me about life through the stove, and the stirring.

And what would I be showing my sons if I stopped eating Chinese food? The very epitome of what we shared and cherished. What made me lift the ban on Bahn Mie or Pork Steamed Buns, was the same thing that led me to abolish it, celebration. Suddenly bowls of Pho that once seemed so full, and yet so empty, swirled and were swilled. This holiday season we had a wonderful wonderful time with both Jaryd and his girlfriend Ana and with Erick and his girlfriend Kayla as we made cha gio (and other things too) in the kitchen. Was it sharing this ritual with their special someone's that made things OK? Perhaps it was. It definitely was! Is there change afoot? In buckets!! Am I a Drama Mama? I am perhaps, but count me ready.

So, full circle back to the beginning. What makes you fall so foolishly for a group of foods?

Aha, Group, is definitely not the right word; but maybe, just maybe, Family, is.

Erick, Jaryd, and Kayla at La Belle Gasconne

Erick manning Sato's Sushi Bar, circa 2009. 

Fish As Far as the Eye Can Sea...

Shrimp Tales

Ana and Jaryd crafting summer rolls on Christmas Eve

Jaryd extolling the virtues of ...cha gio.

Christmas Eve with Ana and Jaryd

                                                      Christmas Eve with Ana and Jaryd

cha gio, vietnamese spring rolls

our family loves these spring rolls so much that when we moved from colorado springs, where we became addicted to them, we began to prepare them for our christmas eve repasts.

the fish sauce:
2 small garlic cloves, crushed
1 small fresh red chili pepper, seeded and minced
2 tablespoons honey or gosh and gasp, raw sugar
2 tablespoons fresh lemon or lime juice (lime preferred)
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1/4 cup nuoc mam (vietnamese fish sauce)

the accompaniments:
1 shredded cucumber and 1 shredded carrot
1-2 cups bean sprouts
fresh mint, basil, and cilantro

the filling:
2 trimmed scallions
2 carrots, peeled and trimmed
4 garlic cloves
1 pound ground pork
1/2 pound raw shrimp, peeled
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon nuoc mam (fish sauce)
1 egg

assembling and frying:
1/2 cup sugar
30 rounds of rice paper, 6 1/2 inches in diameter

prepare the filling:
using the work bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel knife, process the lemon grass, carrots, garlic, and scallions until finely chopped.  add the raw shrimp, ground pork, black pepper, fish sauce, and the egg and process until well blended.

assemble the rolls:
fill a mixing bowl with warm water in which you’ve dissolved the 1/2 cup sugar. handle the rice paper with care as they can be brittle. sweetening the water helps the rolls turn a golden brown when fried.
one at a time immerse the sheet in the warm water and remove it to a clean countertop. continue in this fashion, dipping and laying out the moistened rice paper till you have about a dozen. place about a tablespoon of filling in the bottom third of the rice paper. fold up from the bottom, the rice paper can be quite sticky and stretchy, resilient even. fold over and cover up the filling, and shape into a log. then fold in the two sides and roll up burrito fashion being sure to completely enclose the filling. it is very important to roll them tight so they won’t break open during the frying. if one should tear, double roll it, by moistening another rice paper and enclosing the torn eggroll in that. continue until all the filling is used.

for the fish sauce:
in a medium bowl, combine the chile, sugar, vinegar, fish sauce, lime juice and garlic. stir to blend. set the sauce aside.

for the accompaniments:
wash the lettuce and leave the herbs whole, placing on the same platter as the lettuces. refrigerate till ready to eat.

fry the rolls
if possible fry in 2 woks or deep pots. pour 3 to 4 inches of oil into each skillet and heat to 400 degrees. working in batches, add some of the rolls to each skillet, but do not crowd or let them touch, or they will stick together. fry for 5-6 minutes, turning often, until golden and crisp. remove the rolls with a bamboo skimmer and drain on paper towels. keep warm in a low oven while frying the remaining rolls.

serve with the fish sauce and suggested accompaniments.

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