I have a list of favorite German words. Some, like “Sauerstoff,” “Pfifferling”, “Aschenbecher,” “Schmetterling,” and “Schornsteinfeger”…well, I just like the sound of them. (They mean oxygen, a type of chanterelle, ashtray, butterfly and chimney sweep.) “Punschkrapferl” is a winner too. (Try saying that several times without giggling, especially after an extended night at a Heurige, an Austrian wine tavern.) Aside from the outstanding name, Punschkrapferl just happen to be the most divine, rum-doused Viennese pastry cloaked in pink fondant icing.
Other words make the list because they have the perfect meaning. Handschuh? Shoes for the hands. Aka gloves. Stachelschwein? A pig with spikes, e.g., a porcupine. Be careful if you go swimming in Africa, you might encounter a massive River Horse or Fluss (river) Pferd (horse) – hippopotamus. The German language excels in lopping together a bunch of existing words to form new ones.
I particularly love “selbstverständlich.” A rough interpretation is something like “it goes without saying.” But if you parse the word, it translates more literally “understood to the self.” Let’s say your close friend, who just had foot surgery, asks you to help out by bringing over groceries. Assuming you’re a kind and charitable person, you’d reply “Selbstverständlich!” Do we prefer warm, sunny days for a picnic? Selbstverständlich! Would I like a piping hot almond milk cappuccino? A rousing and enthusiastic “Selbstverständlich!!” Especially if said cappuccino was accompanied by a plate of endearing pink Punschkrapferl.
“Fernweh”, another “meaning”-full expression, is something I suffer from constantly. “Fern”, which means “distance”, combined with “weh”- or pain/longing- creates a term that refers to the desire to be somewhere else.
E.g., my incessant longing to be in Switzerland. Or Vienna. Or pretty much anywhere that involves a large stash of jet fuel and my passport.
Endlich – or “finally!” – is also on my German word list because it perfectly expresses that sense of relief when you’ve been longing for something and it arrives at last. Which is how I feel every year on March 1 – when the “downer” months of January and February are gone. Endlich!
It’s not that there hasn’t been any fun since the ball dropped in Times Square.
In fact, there were many good times: a superb whale watching expedition in the Santa Barbara Channel (Humpbacks! Grey whales! Dolphins! Sea lions!), morning hikes through yellow-coreopsis-carpeted bluffs in Point Dume/Malibu, a Jason Mraz concert to benefit Borderline Bar & Grill tragedy-impacted families, travel planning for 2019 and beyond (!), and a TON of cooking. I mean there were many days where I Cooked. ALL. Day.
I’d like to believe all the lifting of cast iron skillets and stirring of batter rivaled the caloric burn of a trip to the gym. That’s questionable – at least the physical benefits – but I swear by the emotional ones. It took me half a lifetime to understand why, whenever I’m in need of a mental fix, I head into the kitchen. Baking and cooking are my salve, my meditation, a surefire way of centering myself. What better option is there to slog through these winter months and literally and figuratively, keep myself and my loved ones warm and satisfied?
This winter, instead of just randomly cooking, I added a twist. For many years, I had considered electronically organizing and then cooking deeply from all of my cookbooks. The idea was to feature one cookbook each week, delve into it, and become more intimately acquainted with the contents. In this way, I’d expand my repertoire, branching out beyond the handful of my “best friends” – Yotam Ottolenghi, Josh McFadden, Ruth Reichl, David Tanis, Sherry Yard, and others. And I do consider these my friends, not simply inanimate objects taking up space on the shelf. And the coffee table. And the wicker basket. And the nightstand. And. And. And.
Another twist – to bridge the 5300 miles which exist between me and my favorite fellow recipe junkie and kitchen co-conspirator – my daughter, Gabi – we agreed to embark on this journey together.
She would try mostly different recipes from me, ones that could work in her tiny British kitchen space which she shares with 5 international students. Even with her limited tools and pantry, we’d be able to maximize the output per cookbook each week.
The first step was to document all the cookbooks. This exercise was akin to stepping on the scale after knowing full well that you’ve done a bit too much extra nibbling recently. At Excel spreadsheet line 240, I was still entering cookbook titles, er I mean the names of my “friends.” Cue the flashing lights and neon signs; Alysa is a Cookbook-aholic.
We then solicited human friends and family for random number picks. This determined which cookbook would be highlighted each week. Week 1 was Against All Grain, Paleo-friendly recipes. A bit challenging for Gabi given her limited kitchen, lack of necessary tools such as a food processor and no access to ingredients like coconut aminos, but we prevailed. I especially liked the Celeriac and Sausage Hash. I don’t recall the last time (or if ever) I had cooked with celery root before, so that was rather fun. (Yep…I know…my idea of fun may leave something to be desired)
Week 2 – OH DEAR – the Marshmallow Fluff cookbook was randomly selected. (before you judge me and my culinary standards, please note this item was a gift to Gabi. And not by me. Truly.) We didn’t want to diverge from our plan, so I bravely set about making 2 recipes from this book; rice krispie treats and chocolate peanut butter fluffernutter bars, which used Cheerios. Quite tasty. I became a little addicted to the crunchy, peanutty, marshmallowy chocolaty goodness. Never would’ve made those had I not been on this project. Removing Fluff’s foil lid and dipping a spoon into the creamy soft sweetness brought me straight back to my childhood and the (very) occasional fluffernutter sandwiches I ate at Ames Street Playground summer day camp. But since Gabi and I agreed that a week of eating Fluff might engender undesirable effects (to say nothing of the fact that she would’ve had to pay the equivalent of $10 for a jar or Fluff on amazon.uk), we requested a second number pick that week.
Mercifully (or so we thought), Viennese Cooking was chosen. This boded well.
However, despite the fact that this well-worn, 65 year old tome (complete with pen scrawls) belonged to my beloved Viennese Great-Tante Loni, we had a hard time coming up with recipes that appealed to us. Oatmeal Patties with Bologna Filling? Carp in Gelee? Steamed Pigeon with Green Peas? White Turtle Ragout?
By the time I finished reading all the Veal options, I was seriously contemplating becoming a vegetarian. (Who knew the Head to Tail movement was already thriving in 1955?)
There were veal brains, calf’s head, leg, liver, loin, lung, rib, shin, shoulder, sweetbreads (not the ones you’re thinking of/wishing for) and tongue. Veal tongue a la mode, pg 132, features 2-3 veal tongues which are cooked in salted water, skinned, sliced, fried in hot fat and served in a casserole dish with rice and Madeira sauce. Umm..no.
The Raisin cake I eventually made was dense and greasy. At that point, Marie Kondo of Tidying fame appeared (in my mind), “Does this cookbook strike joy?”, she asked. To which I had to honestly say “no” – so it, as well as last week’s pick – the unappealing “Fast Cooking for the Slow Cooker” – will need to be shelved somewhere far away. Or donated.
Bored with the Slow Cooker tome and in advance of an Indian dinner party I was hosting, I nabbed two newly-released Indian cookbooks from my library. The first, Made in India, by Meera Sodha, left me
with a lip-smacking ginger cordial recipe which can be enjoyed without – or with – the vodka I decided to add. Also, a pistachio nut brittle with Ginger and Jaggery (another great word, it’s cane sugar in a huge light brown lump, featured prominently in Indian desserts)
Season, by Nik Sharma, is lovely to look at and to cook from. First up, a tender and moist Roast Chicken with Spicy Green Sauce, part of which goes under the skin to tenderize and add flavor, and also gets served on the side as extra embellishment.
Then a Ginger-Lentil Millet Bowl with peanuts, lime, and mint.
Cooking from these books brought me back to India, awash with color; spices, saris, scarves, and everything from trucks to elephants decorated in vivid hues.
Matter of fact, I’m now eagerly anticipating the week when someone chooses the number correlating with the 815 page India cookbook I ordered, sight unseen, from the one and only Powell’s bookstore in Portland. I confess, I couldn’t resist owning a book authored by someone with the name of…wait for it… Pushpesh Pant.
And therein lies another great benefit of this project and making things in the kitchen. Cooking can transport you to faraway places and summon taste and olfactory sensations from your past…no jet lag required.
Last week we hit the jackpot when a friend selected one of my all-time favorites, German Classic Baking, by Luisa Weiss. A gift from my native Berlin father, and inscribed “to my daughter, who makes my life sweet” (in German of course),
I would be delighted to make every single recipe in this book. And I’ve already done quite a few, including the best-ever Glazed Hazelnut Torte, aka Nusstorte von Hammerstein. This is no ordinary nut cake. It’s sandwiched with raspberry jam which perfectly offsets the rich nuttiness of the cake. The Basler Brunsli, a gluten-free Swiss chocolate almond spice cookie, didn’t last nearly as long as the purported one month shelf life.
So, it was no chore to also try the lemon and sour cherry cake (Kirschkuchen), the poppy seed marble cake (Marmorierter Mohnkuchen) and the Austrian Fruit bread, studded with (rum-soaked) dates, figs, raisins, prunes. Hopefully there will also be time to make the Candied Orange Sandwich Cookies which I can still hear calling my name.
Gabi (and her very lucky flatmates) were quite happy with the Spekulatius, a very distant relative of those snappy and spicy little Biskoff cookies you get on a Delta airlines flight.
So as we wind down a week of tasty German baked goods, we are now excitedly combing the upcoming pick (selected by our friend Ben’s 18 month old daughter). Enter Dining in – New Orleans. We are headed for some Creole Corn Muffins, Chicken and Andouille Gumbo, whiskey-sauced Bread Pudding, and Antoine’s Café Brulot Diabolique – a tangle of hot coffee with cinnamon, cloves, lemon peel, sugar and brandy!
In the meantime, though, Zaitoun, a new Palestinian cookbook, arrived. To welcome it, (and not make it feel any less loved than my other 250 friends), I decided to immediately cook 8 different dishes from the colorful pages. The winner was a rice pudding with apricot compote, dressed up with rose petals and crushed pistachios. Creamy, sweet, tart, fruity, crunchy, floral…it was perfect. So good that we BOTH made this one. Gabi maintains it was equally good with some leftover cherry port sauce she happened to have on hand. That’s my girl – the one who happens to have leftover cherry port sauce on her shelf. 🙂
I’ll keep you apprised of the Mother Daughter Cooking Project in coming posts, but in the meantime, you can play along by proposing numbers between 1-250. We will determine which numbers correlate with which books, inform you, and cook from the selections. Just put them in the comments section of this blog. In addition, if you have cookbooks that you can’t live without, we would love to know about those as well. After all, Mother’s Day is coming and Gabi’s birthday is in May.
Here’s hoping that you too may feel inspired to do a bit of cooking. It can send you around the world. It can summon memories. It can serve as a distance-buster, bringing you closer to loved ones. And it may even help you with “Tidying.” What could be more perfect as we approach Spring?
Speaking of which, enjoy the harbingers of the new season – tulips and forsythia and tree blossoms, the newfound lightness of early evenings, fava beans and strawberries. Spring is almost upon us. Endlich!
But what about the recipe? Fear not, dear Reader. Today I’m sharing not one, but two recipes! First, the lemon ginger drink to which I attribute my success in having stayed healthy all throughout cold and flu season. Easy to whip up, this zingy brew will keep for 2 weeks in your fridge. You can drink it hot or cold, you can mix it with alcohol or not. Add some seltzer to make it fizzy. I’m sipping some right now. Here’s the link – https://www.bonappetit.com/recipe/lemon-ginger-brew
Next up, the bread pudding with whiskey sauce from this week’s Dining In- New Orleans, courtesy of the Bon Ton Cafe. The Bon Ton has been in operation since 1953 (which predates Tante Loni’s Viennese Cooking book) in the Big Easy. Speaking of easy, this bread pudding takes hardly any time at all to assemble and bake and uses ingredients you have on hand. (Disclaimer: this assumes you have bourbon on hand. But of course you do.) You can even substitute gluten-free bread for those in your life who avoid gluten. Note that the Whiskey Sauce is quite boozy. I used 1/2 cup Bourbon Whiskey and it was, shall we say, quite obviously there. Not that this was a bad thing. Just saying.
Bread Pudding with Whiskey Sauce from The Bon Ton Cafe
For the Pudding
6 ounces stale French bread with crust (I used a mix of ciabatta and challah)
2 cups milk
1 cup sugar
7 tablespoons butter or margarine, at room temp
4 tablespoons vanilla extract
1/4 cup raisins
For the Whiskey Sauce
3/4 cup sugar
1 stick butter, melted
1/2-3/4 cup Bourbon whiskey (1/2 cup was plenty, IMHO)
Instructions – Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
To make the pudding, crumble the bread into pieces into a large bowl. Add milk to the bread pieces and let the milk get absorbed by the bread, about 10 min. Now add eggs, sugar, butter, vanilla and raisins. Mix well.
Butter a baking pan (I used a 7.5 x 10 inch casserole dish with nearly 4 inches depth.) Put bread mixture into this pan and bake for 45 minutes until the pudding is firm and light golden brown. Remove from oven and cool.
To make the whiskey sauce, beat the sugar and egg together until well blended. Add the melted butter, stir until sugar is dissolved. Add whiskey.
At this point, you can decide to serve in individual portions or as an entire pudding. Pour sauce over the pudding (I used less than the full amount of sauce) and heat for just 2-3 minutes under the broiler until sauce is hot and bubbly.