The Mother-Daughter Cooking Project

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.

Punschkrapferl sighting! (the two rows of bite-sized pink goodness on the left.)

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.

I think about this every day. Near Pontresina, Switzerland

“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.

A really good place to be

 

 

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.

Its the tail of a whale!

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.

New Years morning starts off right with a puffy German Apple Pancake in a cast iron pan

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?

Homemade Granola, the perfect Valentines Day present
They may look like books, but they are actually friends..

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.

Papaya Salad

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.

The tiny kitchen Gabi shares with 5 others in Leeds

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.

Quite the juxtaposition of cookbooks this week. Viennese Cooking published in 1955 and…Fluff!

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

Pistachio nut brittle

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.

Gabis Millet Bowl

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.

The colors and faces of India, near Rishikesh, birthplace of yoga

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 love this book.

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.

Spicy Spekulatius cookies, by Gabi.

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.

Spring!

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

Bread Pudding with Whiskey Sauce

For the Pudding

6 ounces stale French bread with crust (I used a mix of ciabatta and challah)

2 cups milk

2 eggs

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 egg

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.

Enjoy!

Making Peace with Texas: A Long Weekend in Austin

I know, I know. You assumed that the next time you heard from the Red Clogger, she would regale you with interesting tidbits about the month and a half she spent in Europe recently: 6 weeks, 7 countries, a veritable tapestry of sublime experiences and succulent tastes. You’re absolutely right to assume such a thing.  

And we will get to that. But I’m just back from Texas and it’s high time to settle a score from 32 years ago.

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Have You Eaten? (with recipe)

Let’s say you want to plan a trip. (this is a constant state of being for me.)

You decide on your criteria. You want to go somewhere with waterfalls and boat rides, caves, a wild animal refuge, shopping into the wee hours of the night, homemade whisky, skilled artisans, excellent coffee and croissants, opportunities to meditate in spiritual surroundings, great prices, and friendly locals. Where might you go?

How many of you said Laos?

Exactly.

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Homage to the Orange (and an Orange Almond Cake recipe)

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Yes, I know. It’s been awhile since the red clogs have clacked their way into a new post. You may have been wondering -what’s the Red Clog Blogger UP TO? Does she have Blogstipation?

Being at a loss for words isn’t exactly my issue. In more than fifty years, there were precisely 2 times when I was on mute. The first was a random day at age 3 or 4 when I wore a fetching yellow dress and simply decided not to talk. At all. For an entire day. My parents were worried to pieces about this 180 degree shift in my behavior. One moment they had a loquacious little girl and the next, there were no sounds. I can’t explain what came over me then, but by the following day, I was back to my rapid-fire, incessant speech.

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Töltött Káposzta, anyone?

You’d miss it at first glance. But if you were to look very closely at my sneakers, you’d see it there – the stubborn streak of rich brown mud which I acquired on a rainy Saturday afternoon in Transylvania. We had spent the morning in the spa town of Sovata, which is also known for its narrow gauge steamtrain, and had now stumbled on the annual cabbage festival in the nearby town of Praid. The unexpectedness, the “real”-ness, the spirit, and the artistic and culinary devotion of this village celebration was one of the highlights of ten recent days in Romania.

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A Journey High Into The Alps – Switzerland, Act 2

Today, we are going on a train ride together. Not just any train ride. I believe it’s the most magical ride you can take — without a flying carpet.

In my prior post celebrating the Swiss Bundestag holiday, I introduced you to my Happy Place, the Engadine Valley in the spacious southeast canton of Graubunden.  I’m fortunate to have been visiting this special and still fairly undiscovered part of the Alps since I was a child. Arrivals are usually by train through two main approaches — southeast from Zurich, crossing the Albula pass or northeast from Italy, changing at the border town of Tirano and mounting the breathtaking Bernina pass.

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My Happy Place: Switzerland, Act 1

With all respects duly afforded to the Disney empire for coining the term “the happiest place on earth”, I’m not in Anaheim or even Orlando. I am sitting in a dense alpine forest, studded with pine and larch trees, listening to a live (free) classical music concert performed by talented musicians in formal attire. The only distraction is the occasional passing of the little red train, which you hear before you see, as it glides through the woods like a cross country skier on freshly fallen snow.

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Leaving. On a Jet Plane.

And then another plane. An express coach. Three trains (including the cute red one you’re seeing right here). Several cars. And that’s just the beginning. For my next journey, which unfolds this week, there will also be a large ship, aerial trams and funiculars, taxis, chair lifts, Tube rides, a horse-drawn carriage, a colorful mountain bus, and a rental car that I’ll be driving on the “wrong” side of the road. These red clogs are on the move again.

Why do I do it? Why the strong pull to move, to abandon my current (very fine) station, to suffer all the Sturm und Drang of modern travel just to arrive elsewhere. Especially if you don’t have to?

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Kipferl for Mom

 

The Red Clog Blog may have debuted just last week, but the concept and ideas had been nascent for quite some time. And so it was fitting that the launch coincided with my mom’s birthday.  This was the first year that mom was no longer with us on her special day and I won’t sugarcoat things – it was a tough one.

For years, my mom implored me, “Leesee, you really should do something with Food” (aside from eating it – which was never my issue) and now, on the occasion of what would have been her 81st birthday, I honor and remember her with this post. Good news, there will be something decadent in it for all of us, because Mom was born in Vienna, capital of Austria and ATSAD. All Things Sweet And Delicious. (Images of Vienna have been added to Gallery)

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