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, 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.

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.


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 –

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.


Comments (28)

  • I always love your blogs. So well weitten. As a fellow foodie I always appreciate your approach to food and cooking. You are lucky to have someone close to share this passion with…even if she is temporarily a long ways away. Food and cooking will always keep you close and connected. Living on a boat I’ve squeezed as many cookbooks as possible in a not too large a space. Fortunately the internet is there to add daily inspiration. Keep writing, traveling and cooking. You set a wonderful example for the rest of us.

  • As a lucky recipient of your culinary efforts, I am grateful and bow down to your skills and even more, your energy required to expertley execute so many of these recipes. I have to say that I ate all of the Hammatachen that you gave me before leaving for Japan. When the last one remained, I went to Victor Benes at Gelsons and bought one of the poppy seed Hammatachen to do a side by side taste test. Yours clearly beat out Victor Benes! Yours was more flavorful and with a tender bite. Addicted to all things poppyseed! So, I have to always have floss in my pocket or provoke laughter and smirks amongst those I encounter.

  • As a lucky recipient of your culinary efforts, I am grateful and bow down to your skills and even more, your energy required to expertley execute so many of these recipes. I have to say that I ate all of the Hammatachen that you gave me before leaving for Japan. When the last one remained, I went to Victor Benes at Gelsons and bought one of the poppy seed Hammatachen to do a side by side taste test. Yours clearly beat out Victor Benes! Yours was more flavorful and with a tender bite. Addicted to all things poppyseed! So, I have to always have floss in my pocket or provoke laughter and smirks amongst those I encounter.

  • So fun to see you living your dream and inspiring and educating so many of us on culture, food and traditions we could not experience as vividly as you describe! And yes, with your wonderful humor and take on life!! I am so thrilled that you and your daughter share the food and travel bug too! What s gift you are giving her!

  • You’re going to have to send me that recipe for rhubarb ginger custard bars!!! Absolutely one I will try to make here 😀

  • Love warm bread pudding and any food out NOLA!! You’re lucky we don’t live downwind of you or you would be answering your front door each time you baked!??

    • Dear Conference Husband, there is still some bread pudding with whiskey sauce here. It has your name on it.
      Signed, Conference Wife

  • Alysa, you are wonderful and hilarious – I giggled all the way through, BUT you have not convinced ME to start cooking especially with so much competition. However, I could be the best sampler out there, so any time you can send me a taste to try and if I am not sure of my taste buds, I could then send to you for “seconds”. So happy you and Gabi are having so much fun. All the very best, Niki

    • Thanks, Niki. I will definitely keep that in mind. You were a great companion to our eating experiences in Vienna and Budapest, so I know firsthand how much I can trust you in this exercise… 🙂

  • I pick 43. Can’t wait to hear what it is! I have sort of given up my cookbooks for searching the net for recipes, but I just may have to take a peek at them again! : ) And how fun to do this with Gabi! Enjoy, enjoy!

    • Hooray! Maida Heatter’s Cookies! Thanks for this pick. We will have no trouble whatsoever choosing recipes from THIS one. Matter of fact, the issue will be which ones NOT to choose. What’s your favorite type of cookie? We’ll make sure to include and let you know how it turns out/share the recipe.

    • Thanks for writing and choosing #137. can you believe it? You picked The Gourmet Jewish Cookbook!!
      Can’t wait. We will let you know what tasty tidbits we come up with from there…

  • Wow, Alysa, you are amazing! What a treat to read your blog. I am always transported by your vivid entries. What a terrific idea sharing cooking with Gabi, too — love it! How about #59?

    • our note. I loved your choice #59 – it was The New York Times Cookbook – a classic, just like you!
      Gifted and inscribed to me on my 24th birthday by my parents, I can’t wait to delve into that one. We will keep you posted about what we choose from that book – it’ll probably be late April or early May at this point. Thanks for playing and for your comment! 🙂

  • As always, wonderful writing. Love the mother-daughter cooking project! The photos & recipes look fabulous. I pick #39.

    • Thanks! And HOORAY, I am so happy with #39. It’s a cookbook called Chicken and Egg- perfect. Written by Janice Cole, a woman who raises chickens, every recipe contains either chicken (not her own!) or eggs. I’m already marking the Strawberry Souffle Omelet with Maple Caramelized Almonds..and the Chicken, Basil, and Corn cakes…and the Rhubarb Ginger Custard Bars..and….

  • Great!
    Do you know the best places to live 2019?
    1. Vienna, Austria not without Wiener Schnitzel, Germknödel, Apfelstrudel, Palatschinken, Kaiserschmarrn, Tafelspitz mit Kren (Meerrettich), Zwiebelrostbraten, Käsekrainer, Sachertorte
    2. Zurich, Switzerland not without Kalbsgschnetzeltes mit Rösti
    3. Auckland, New Zealand
    4. Munich, Germany
    5. Vancouver, Canada
    6. Dusseldorf, Germany
    7. Frankfurt, Germany
    8. Geneva, Switzerland
    9. Copenhagen, Denmark
    10. Basel, Switzerland; Sydney, Australia

    • Be still my beating heart. I love every one of those Viennese dishes you mention, yes, even the Tafelspitz. It was my paternal grandfather’s very favorite. I’d add Linzer Augen, Sturm, gebrannte Mandeln, Maroni (your Kastanien), Wiener Eiskaffee, and Topfen or Marillenknödel . Interesting that 7 out of 10 of the best places to live in 2019 are in Germany, Austria, or Switzerland. But we knew that, already, didn’t we? 🙂

  • No hamantaschen in the queue? Maybe we can facetime and you can help me make some (co-cooking 2700 miles apart?) Or can you just ship me some please?

    I pick lucky cookbook number 14 for you & Gabi. What book is that?

    • Hi Kim…I have a great hamantaschen recipe I can share with you if you are up for making all those three-cornered shapes…and the filling. (or multiple fillings in the case of my family – poppy, date, chocolate, apricot). Let me know if you want it. So, number 14 is A Harvest of Pumpkins and Squash. my initial reaction was that we would have to wait until fall, but actually it has a fair number of summer squash recipes in there as well, so i think we’ll be good. I’m already eyeing the yellow and green squash, mushroom, and tomato pizza with fresh basil…we will keep you posted! thanks for playing!

  • Margaretta Adamomargarettaadamo

    Dearest Girl, This is why you were so powerfully on my mind in the last two days. Loved the German Lesson. Going to forward this to my youngest. He loves the study of German. Cooking, not so much

  • Your calling is to be an international-cuisine chef in Vienna with your own restaurant and menu offerings based on one tremendous lifetime of travels!

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