home > article > Nancy’s Apron Installation

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Nancy’s Apron Installation

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If you are anywhere near Northern NJ this Saturday, January 18th, 2014, please come to the opening of my new exhibition, “Everyone I’ve Ever Fed” from 6 - 9pm. There’s food involved! The text in the invite, above, explains and gives address and details. Hope to see you.

see also: Opening Reception for Nancy’s New Paintings



home > article > Kickstart a Community with Me

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Kickstart a Community with Me

Please support this beautiful community-based project by my studio mate and the wonderful gallery where we show. Go Team POPS!

home > article > Opening Reception for Nancy’s New Paintings

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Opening Reception for Nancy’s New Paintings

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if you’re in Northern NJ tomorrow, June 2nd, Sunday, come see my new installation of paintings at 73 See Gallery 73 Pine Street in Montclair, 3 - 6pm. The show will run through June 24th, Monday. For details and more images, click here.

see also: Star Ledger Reviews Nancy’s Solo Exhibtion



home > article > BIG

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BIG

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Whatever you think of the sometimes over-inflated (pun intended) Jeff Koons, artist of the shiny and controversial, this Venus de Willendorf is undoubtedly hilarious and thought-provoking. Even more thought provoking is the excellent review by the excellent Roberta Smith of his current exhibition in the New York Times. Spend some quality time with some quality text next time you have five minutes instead of googling your exes.

see also: Star Ledger Reviews Nancy’s Solo Exhibtion



home > article > I’m in Love With This Guy

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I’m in Love With This Guy

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Gabriel Kreuther

Did you ever fall in love with a chef (or two!) you’ve never met by eating his food? Swoon, right? You want to run in the kitchen and beg them to marry you. In this case, both of them: At The Modern, Danny Meyer’s place three doors down from the front entrance of MOMA, Gabriel Kreuther, chef, and Marc Aumont, pastry chef, are making such delicious food it’s really unfair. My friend Mary, chef, entrepreneur, beautiful person and wonderful friend, of Mary’s Marvelous in East Hampton (which should also top your list if you find yourself out in the Hamptons in need of great coffee and simple delicious meals) treated me to dinner at The Modern. Yes, it’s pricey, but hey, that’s what that holiday savings account was all about right? Or maybe you have a marvelous friend like my marvelous Mary to treat you. If not, treat yourself. You deserve it. And if this economy remains an obstacle, you can google these guys, whose French-American recipes and pastries are all over the internet. Just eat at your own risk. If you fall in love, I can’t be responsible. I’m just saying. P.S. (If you get out to the Hamptons and fall in love with Mary by eating her amazing food, she’s taken. FYI.)

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Marc Aumont

home > article > Star Ledger Reviews Nancy’s Solo Exhibtion

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Star Ledger Reviews Nancy’s Solo Exhibtion

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Alchemy, Nancy Gail Ring, oil on canvas, 36” x 48”, 2011

Such a wonderful review of my work in the Star Ledger today. Thank you to all who have shown their interest in my art. Enjoy.

Art bits: Romantic fragments in West Orange
Published: Thursday, December 01, 2011, 7:13 AM
By Dan Bischoff/For The Star-Ledger

West Orange artist Nancy Gail Ring is showing a mix of her limpid portraiture at the Incubator Gallery through Dec. 18, and it’s really worth a visit. Titled “What You Get Is To Be Changed,” the show consists of romantic fragments, pictures that suggest without defining a fuller realism. Ring’s powers of observation are acute, but she never lets her technique become claustrophobic — there’s plenty of white space left for the imagination to roam.

Ring is a graduate of Syracuse University School of Visual and Performing Arts and earned her MFA in painting at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, where she was nominated for the Robert Motherwell Foundation Dedalus Award in Painting. Ring is the co-founder and artist for the blog jellypress.com: Old Recipes, Modern Life. The New Jersey Arts Incubator Gallery is at 495 Prospect Ave., West Orange. The Incubator Gallery is open Saturday and Sunday by appointment: call (973) 669-0602.

see also: Nancy’s Solo Art Exhibit



home > article > Nancy’s Solo Art Exhibit

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Nancy’s Solo Art Exhibit

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Thanks to everyone who helped make the opening of my solo exhibition, “What You Get Is To Be Changed” at the New Jersey Arts Incubator in West Orange a huge success.

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see also: Nancy’s Three-person Art Exhibit



home > article > Professional Development Workshops for Artists with Nancy

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Professional Development Workshops for Artists with Nancy

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Nancy Gail Ring, Self-Portrait (As Father Lay Dying) oil on canvas, 2010

Come to my workshops, yo!

NJAI (New Jersey Arts Incubator)
495 Prospect Avenue, West Orange, NJ 07052 (973) 669 - 0602
presents
“Saturdays with Nancy” (some workshops may be taught by alternate instructor to be announced)
Professional Development Workshops for Visual Artists taught by award-winning professional visual artist and writer Nancy Gail Ring

Today, Saturday, October 1 (Still time to drop-in!)
All levels, emerging to mid-career
How to Find and Apply for Artist-in-Residency Programs
From upstate New York to Barcelona and Beyond, artist-in-residency programs offer studios, and room and board to hundreds of artists each year. Learn how to file online applications, upload jpegs, and write convincing artist’s statements to try to win one of the coveted spots.
$15 non-members, $10 members
1pm - 2pm
laptop recommended but not required

Read on for more workshops and Art SLAM! for showcasing your work to an audience of peers and art lovers:

Saturday, October 8th
All levels, emerging to mid-career
How to write an artist’s resume, statement and bio for publication, applications and grants.
Stand out from the crowd with professional materials that support and promote your work.
1pm - 2pm
laptop recommended but not required

Saturday, October 15
All levels, emerging to mid-career
1-800-ASKNANCY
Wish you had a professional artist on call who is not an employee of the art store trying to sell you the most expensive thing - who could answer your questions when you are faced with a million choices of painting and drawing materials? Always wanted to stretch your own canvases to save money but never learned how? Would love to start using a new painting or drawing medium or support but not sure what to buy?
Come see a demonstration of proper canvas stretching technique with tips on how to buy canvas and stretcher bars, how to tell the different kinds of drawing implements and paints, paint brushes and paint mediums apart and choose the ones right for you, and ask a professional working artist for advice on painting and drawing studio practices.
1pm - 2pm
laptop recommended but not required

Saturday, October 29
for beginners who would love to draw but don’t know where to start
1-800-SKETCH: Drawing 101
Learn the basics of sketching from life. No experience necessary, just the desire to try. Is there an artist inside you just waiting to be nurtured? Take a chance! You never know, you might just be the next Picasso waiting to be discovered. Children with long attention spans and a proven interest in art welcome.
1 pm – 2 pm
Small sketchbook, ordinary lead pencil and eraser required. No wet media please.

NJAI Members may purchase three classes for $40
Non-Members may purchase a 3-class series (your choice) for $65
individual classes $15.00
Email cberman@njai.org to register

NEW  ART SLAM for Visual Artists  New

Feeling isolated in your art studio in the ‘burbs? Bring your artwork to

First Mondays ART SLAM for Visual Artists

 a juried forum for sharing artwork with the NJ arts and art-lovers community 
Held on the first Mondays evening of each month at 7:30pm. 
Artists will be chosen by peer review from an initial entry of 5 jpg’s by a rotating invited panel of professional NJ based visual artists. Each artist chosen will have the opportunity to present up to 20 images of their work in jpeg format to an audience of peers and art lovers.  Presenters will have 15 seconds per image to talk about their work for a total of five minutes - 9 presenters per 40 minute program.  All artwork must be the artists own work. 
Please do not bring actual artwork to the studio – submit JPGs ONLY
Send jpegs (72 dpi, no more than 1200 pixels in each dimension) to artslam@njai.org.  Please send jpegs, image list describing medium, size and year completed and a short bio of one or two sentences about the artist in an email with the subject heading “First Mondays ART SLAM” by the 15th of each month for inclusion in the following month’s program.
FREE for NJAI Members
$5 entry fee for 5 images - Non-Members
Questions:  cberman@njai.org
Nancy Gail Ring received her Master of Fine Arts degree in Painting from The University of the Arts and her BFA in Studio Art from Syracuse University’s School of Visual and Performing Arts. She is an award winning artist who has shown and sold her work nationally and is the recipient of numerous awards for her paintings and works on paper. Most recently, she was an artist-in-residence at the Vermont Studio Center where she received a 2011 Artists Fellowship Award in Painting.
Nancy’s solo exhibition of her paintings and drawings will be opening in November of 2011 at New Jersey Arts Incubator.  Watch the NJAI website for details – www.njai.org.


home > article > Nancy’s Three-person Art Exhibit

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Nancy’s Three-person Art Exhibit

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My recent exhibition, “Pale Language” a three-person show at The New Jersey Arts Incubator got a favorable review in the current publication of the online journal The Patch in the West Orange edition. Take a moment to read about it and see some images from the show, and if you are anywhere near West Orange, NJ, come see our exhibit. Questions? Use the contact form on my website for additional information and read on for details:

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see also: Dining Room Art



home > article > How to Make Pizza (and more importantly, why?)

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How to Make Pizza (and more importantly, why?)

Pizza Dough (adapted from Food & Wine Magazine)

1 envelope active dry yeast
2 cups warm water (90° to 105°)
1/2 teaspoon sugar
4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for kneading
2 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
Extra-virgin olive oil

MAKE THE DOUGH In a large bowl, mix the yeast with 1/2 cup of the warm water and the sugar and let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes. Add the remaining 1 1/2 cups of warm water, the 4 cups of flour and the kosher salt and stir until a soft dough forms. Turn the dough out onto a well-floured work surface and knead, adding flour as necessary until a silky, but soft dough forms, about five minutes. Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled bowl and brush all over with olive oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight or for up to 3 days.
Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface; punch down and divide into 4 pieces. Form each piece into a ball. Rub each ball with oil and transfer to a baking sheet. Cover the balls loosely with plastic wrap and let rise in a draft-free place for 1 hour.
PREPARE THE TOPPINGS Meanwhile, set a pizza stone in the oven and preheat the oven to 500°, allowing at least 45 minutes for the stone to heat. Prepare toppings of your choice. Remember to pre-cook vegies or meats that need longer than 10 minutes to cook. Sky’s the limit here. Use your cook’s intuition and imagination. Experiment!
BAKE THE PIZZA: On a lightly floured surface, stretch one ball of dough into a 13-inch round; transfer to a floured (you can also use cornmeal) pizza peel, adding flour where the dough sticks. Brush with olive oil and sprinkle with kosher salt to taste. Bake the untopped dough for 5 minutes to lightly brown it and firm it. Remove from oven, top, and bake 5 - 10 minutes more, being careful to check the bottom of the crust so that it doesn’t burn.



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Okay, back to food. This pizza costs approximately $3.50. It’s a potato, roasted garlic, olive, ricotta salata cheese, roasted tomato pizza. Sounds good, right? You can do it too, and you will be rewarded if you do, because it will save you money. But more than that, it will save you. Even if you are one of the fortunate ones who are wealthy right now, it will still save you, because we spend too much time in the virtual world, and in motion, running here and there, working, a blur of production and distracted incomplete thoughts. Come home. Get your hands in some dough. We humans need to touch. We need to be IN touch. And you can’t get a pizza like this on Facebook. Even if you find a good artisan pizza maker, you won’t get the memory imprinted in you of satiny dough under your palms, of the light coming through the olive oil as it streams from the bottle, of your body making the thing that you will eat. And that’s good for the soul. Too busy? Tips for fitting it into your crazy life here:

Make the dough in the morning or the night before and fridge it. Slow rise is actually good for bread dough. Tastier. Take it out from the fridge when you get home from wherever it is you go all day. Let it sit while you heat the oven to 400 degrees F for roasting vegies and other toppings of your choice. That said, it is very quick to make pizza dough upon arriving home from work if you’d rather. While the oven preheats is a good time to check email, greet family members, pet the dog, meditate, read, flop down on the couch for 15 to 20. Chop up some toppings, toss them in olive oil and kosher salt (eggplant, potatoes, tomatoes, etc.) Spread them on baking sheets, pop into preheated oven and set a timer for 20 minutes. Go do whatever else prevents you from cooking each day . . . come back and get the toppings out, or set the timer for a few minutes more if necessary. Punch down the dough. Shape it. Let the toppings cool for a bit while the dough rises a bit. Do some more chores or cross a few more things off your to-do list, or sit down and zone. Top the pizza (kids love this part) and bake it. There, it’s done, and you probably had fun too. Enjoy.

see also: Tomatoes at my Front Door



home > article > I Found A Teenager Who Hates Texting

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I Found A Teenager Who Hates Texting

If our ideas seem smaller nowadays, it’s not because we are dumber than our forebears but because we just don’t care as much about ideas as they did. In effect, we are living in an increasingly post-idea world — a world in which big, thought-provoking ideas that can’t instantly be monetized are of so little intrinsic value that fewer people are generating them and fewer outlets are disseminating them, the Internet notwithstanding. Bold ideas are almost passé.
Neil Gabler writing in “The Elusive Big Idea” for the New York Times, August 13, 2011



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Nancy Gail Ring, Loss of Innocence, oil on canvas, detail of destroyed canvas

I felt compelled to write this (non-food) post after Laura shared an article with her community about the author’s concerns that not enough thinking is happening these days. We are deluged with information, writes the author, but nobody is thinking about it. Coincidentally, that evening, I had the pleasure of traveling by train with a teenage friend of my son’s. That’s his portrait I did above. It’s significant for two reasons:

One, because this extraordinary child is by far the deepest thinker I have encountered among children these days, and a counterpoint to the prevailing dumbing-down of society. He paints, he hates texting because he says it is no substitute for interacting with the human presence, and he reads “tons of books of poetry.” I am heartened by this child. I hope he is a harbinger of the future.

Secondly, the portrait I did of him was one that I nearly finished and then in an act of utter risk-taking, destroyed by going back into it and failing. Even though this child was crestfallen not to be able to see or have his portrait since it is now gone, he immediately agreed with me that one learns more or as much from failure as one does from success. In art, this is thinking of the highest order, where ideas are honored even if there is failure along the way. The idea (and it’s ideas that the author of the above article is most concerned about losing in the rush of information) is that one puts in one’s best effort and lets go of the outcome. The idea survives, and is even strengthened along the way.

So stop texting or tweeting or watching TV for ten minutes to read the article and think. You never know. In that ten minutes, you might have the most amazing idea of your life.

see also: Harris Lieberman: A Painting Show or My Once in a While Not About Food Post



home > article > Harris Lieberman: A Painting Show or My Once in a While Not About Food Post

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Harris Lieberman: A Painting Show or My Once in a While Not About Food Post

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Susanna Coffey, Stream, 2003, oil, 12” x 15” in

Okay, here’s how it happens: I enter the Harris Lieberman Gallery in their temporary space on the ground floor of 508 West 26th Street to see “A Painting Show.” I hadn’t planned on it; my friend Martha and I were gallery hopping and most of them were closed for the Memorial Day weekend. We start perusing the works and I’m saying to Martha, “Wow. This work is great. It’s really incredible. This is some of the best work I’ve seen in a while. I can smell the turpentine. This is really about painting . .  who are these artists?” and then we decide to go find out who all these new wonderful painters are.

Well, it turns out they are some of the biggest names in contemporary painting right now - painters like Amy Sillman and Cecily Brown - and I am floored because I have this theory. My theory is that sometimes your view of work is colored by the fame of the name; for instance you see the wall text saying it’s a Lee Krasner and then right away you think, before you even really look at the work, that it’s going to be amazing. It’s a theory that has made me wonder if I can ever see work objectively when it has someone’s famous name on it. So here was proof positive that it’s the work that speaks, and not the name.

But there was more: as I’m reading the list of artists, I notice they are all women. Nowhere on the gallery walls nor on the poster advertising the show is it mentioned that this is a show of “women painters.” And contrary to what you might think, this makes me really happy. I believe it does not serve women well to be what has come in the art world to be known as “ghetto-ized” - to be put in a category by ourselves as if we are only of any significance compared to each other, or somehow representative of only women’s experience. I tell the art gallery director this and commend him on not calling attention to the fact that these are all women, and he replies, most tellingly, that they set out only to find the best paintings for the show and that it became clear pretty quickly that a lot of the best paintings right now were being done by women. So, yes, though it may seem to contradict some of what I just wrote, I do feel some pride in that, being a woman. Because I’m proud of my gender and our accomplishments considering the obstacles stacked against us throughout history but ultimately I want what is right for women. And what is right for all artists, including women and any other subgroup, is to be equal and free to express any experience of the world that is authentic for us as unique human beings.

As for the show, you can go read the “art-speaky” description of it on NY Art Beat, which in my opinion tells you nothing you need to know about why this show is so compelling, or you can just go, which is what you must do if you love paintings. The painting above, by the way, is not in the show. It’s just one of my favorites by Susanna Coffey, and it’s the best example I could find of why I feel so strongly about this show: Painting today is about the larger ideas embedded in it and not just in the accurate presentation of things of the world. This can be confusing to people not familiar with its language. It’s become exclusive. This is unfortunate, because visual language is a passionate, quiet, gorgeous language that once plumbed, yields immense pleasure and joy, and sometimes even insight. It is poetic and surprising. It is revelatory. And it expresses something about human experience that just cannot be expressed any other way.

So what I love about the Susanna Coffey is this: You see the image, which is painted in a way that obviously has a conversation with the way painting was done in the past. But Coffey gives you clues to let you know that this painting is about more than a portrait and a war-torn landscape. Immediately, the viewer starts to ask questions. How can the woman stand with her back to this terrible scene, with her eyes closed? Is this about disconnection in general, or is the woman centering, finding a place of calm despite the state of the world? Then something else happens for the viewer - unable to answer these questions because any meaning we bring to a painting is ultimately our own fiction, our own compulsion to find meaning (which is partly what art is about) the viewer then looks for the larger poetic metaphors that transcend the particulars of this one image. Disconnection. Danger. Inner states of being. Psychological and emotional as well as literal light and darkness.

The one thing I do not like about this painting is that everything is recognizable. Coffey does not leave us anywhere to ponder the indecipherable quality of being a human being on this planet. No blurry patches, no ambiguous shapes, no color out of place. And that is what is so great about “A Painting Show” because it contains paintings that do just that - they offer us nonsensical images, odd arrangements, conceptual puzzles, surfaces that glitter or drip or undulate or lie on the floor or question just about every tenet established in the art world.

I’ll leave you with a painting that is by an artist in the show - Amy Sillman - though this is not the exact painting she has in this particular exhibit. But don’t settle for the jpeg. If you’re anywhere near NYC go see it and quick, its closing in 6 days (closed Sunday). Don’t look at the images online only - that’s like watching fireworks on TV. And who wants to do that?

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Amy Sillman, oil,

see also: Dining Room Art



home > article > Greek Pastitsio: File Under Easter Lasagna 2012

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Greek Pastitsio: File Under Easter Lasagna 2012

Greek Lasagna (Pastitsio)

FOR THE MEAT SAUCE:
1⁄3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 green bell pepper and 1/2 red bell pepper, cored, seeded,
and minced
1 medium yellow onion, minced
1 lb. ground beef, veal, or pork
2 cups canned crushed tomatoes
1⁄3 cup red wine
2 fresh or dried bay leaves
powdered cinnamon, to taste
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper,
to taste
Freshly grated nutmeg, to taste

FOR THE BÉCHAMEL AND PASTA:
Note: Double the bechamel sauce if you like a lot. Erasmia does.
8 tbsp. unsalted butter
1 cup flour
4 cups milk
1 cup grated Greek “Kefalotiri” cheese.  In Greek markets like the ones in Astoria, Queens NY they sell it already grated. You can substitute Parmesan.
3 eggs, separated
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper,
to taste
Freshly grated nutmeg, to taste
1lb. No. 2 Greek macaroni, bucatini,
or elbow macaroni
2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

1. Make the meat sauce: Heat oil in a 12” skillet over medium-high heat. Add peppers and onions and cook, stirring often, until soft, 8–10 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer onion mixture to a plate and set aside. Add ground meat to skillet and cook, breaking meat up into tiny pieces, until browned, 6–8 minutes. Add reserved onion mixture, along with tomatoes, wine, bay leaves, and cinnamon and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring often, until sauce thickens, about 15 minutes. Remove sauce from heat, discard bay leaves, and season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg; let cool.

2. Make the béchamel: Heat butter in a 4-qt. saucepan over medium-high heat. Add flour and cook, whisking constantly, until smooth and slightly toasted, 1–2 minutes. Add milk; cook, whisking often, until sauce coats the back of a spoon, 8–10 minutes. Remove from heat, add 3⁄4 cup cheese and egg yolks; season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Stir until smooth; set aside.

3. Heat oven to 350°. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil; add pasta and cook halfway through, about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, whisk egg whites in a large bowl until frothy. Stir in remaining cheese; drain pasta in a colander and then toss with egg white–cheese mixture to coat evenly. Set aside.

4. Grease a deep 9” x 13” baking dish with olive oil. Place half the pasta mixture on bottom of dish and cover evenly with meat sauce. Top with remaining pasta mixture. Pour béchamel over pasta, spreading it evenly with a rubber spatula. Bake until the top is golden brown, about 1 hour. Transfer to wire rack; cool 20 minutes before serving.

SERVES 10 – 12



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Okay, I’m busy. Okay, okay, ridiculously busy. I admit it: I couldn’t get my friend Erasmia’s Easter Lasagna up here until almost Memorial Day. But why do we have to save this fabulous lamb and cheese lasagna for one day a year? If I didn’t know it was traditional for Greek Easter, I would make it anytime. It’s incredibly delicious and decadent. So, for all your calendar slaves out there, file this in your recipe files (you know you have one - alphabetical no doubt) and for the calendar rebels (you know you’re eating turkey and cranberry sauce at the diner all year long, don’t deny it) here’s one for you. Read on for some other great shots of Erasmia’s amazing cooking and her funny, bittersweet stories of cooking without the matriarchs, long gone, who made all these family traditions possible:

Funny, when I googled Greek recipes, the first thing I found was this blog devoted to sororities and fraternities. If you want cookie cutters in the shapes of Greek letters, this is the spot for you! Otherwise stick with Erasmia’s recipe here, adapted from from an updated one (chorizo and chile in your Greek dish, anyone?) Saveur magazine’s.

From Erasmia:

I was invited on Thursday by some other Greek moms to a house in Secaucus to do some baking together.  It was fun, but also a bit of a disaster.  The cookies (koulourakia) would have been a disaster, had I not in the end forced some creative changes (adding mastiha liqueur, orange rind, and lots more butter!!) But the tsoureki was a real disaster - the loaves did not rise at all, and the taste was horrible!  The bittersweet part of this was that it was obvious to me that we were all trying to be “our mothers” AND trying to preserve a Greek tradition that we have not been taught how to maintain.  I can’t tell you how many times that day someone would say “my mother used to do _______”.  And yet, it was clear that nobody had any real experience actually doing it, because we’re all American, working moms - never really groomed to be “housewives”!  I felt so nostalgic at the end of the day, but at the same time, moved by our “collective” and determined mission!

So now I really want to learn how to make tsoureki!  Maybe one day we can make it together.

Good luck with the pastitsio!

erasmia

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When there’s no table space . . . do as the pianists do . . .

see also: Easter Pie or Pizza Rustica



home > article > Orange Mystery

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Orange Mystery

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I have a warm spot in my heart for explosion or ray patterns found in nature. Oranges in particular have a beautiful radiating ray pattern as do sunflowers and octopi and fireworks. Imagine my surprise when cutting open this orange and finding this unusual packing pattern of sections inside. If you’ve ever seen this too, give a holler. Just a reminder of the random beauty and mystery of our world I suppose. Or an errant gene . . . file under “cool stuff.”

home > article > I’ve Got (Candied) Crabs

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I’ve Got (Candied) Crabs

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Right now the world is divided into who will and who won’t eat these. They’re Thai Candied Crab. They smell like the sea. Okay, let’s amend that. They smell like the garbage cans outside a seafood restaurant kitchen where the cats hang out. I don’t know what they taste like cuz I refused to eat them, as predicted by my friend Nancy. I love my friend Nancy for a. buying these to begin with, and b. popping one in her mouth. Nevermind that she had a moment just like Tom Hanks has at the buffet table in the movie “Big” if you know the scene, spitting the dang thing out as fast as it went in. She still rocks. My thirteen year old son, however, devoured one happily and said it “tasted like crap” but he’d eat it again if he had to. Nancy has since bet him twenty bucks that he can’t eat twenty of them, no water to wash them down. He took the bet. Would you?

home > article > Foodie Gift Par Excellence, Silver Palate’s Five Star Pecan Bar, and the Old Cookbook Blues

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Foodie Gift Par Excellence, Silver Palate’s Five Star Pecan Bar, and the Old Cookbook Blues

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Look at my Silver Palate Cookbook! Isn’t it amazing and hilarious? I love it. And I can’t part with it. Seriously. I go onto amazon.com thinking about finally buying a new one but I can’t bring myself to do it. I just love this old crazy pages falling out stained and loved to bits edition I bought around 1982.

I was a twenty-something painter then in my first post-college apartment in Manhattan with a kitchen the size of a broom closet. I fell into serious lust with the ginger cookies and carrot cake at the tiny, jewel-box-like Silver Palate shop in my neighborhood. They kept them in huge glass jars. As soon as this book came out I had to have it. It’s like the Velveteen Rabbit if you know the story. All its buttons loved off.

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I think I love it especially for the charming pen and ink drawings done by co-author Sheila Lukins to illustrate the recipes.

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I used it for yesterday’s round of desserts of course because in my family, what would Thanksgiving be without tons of homey American desserts like these pecan bars? And no other recipe for me comes close to the version in this book. I wooed one of the loves of my life with those bars. It’s where I found my favorite pound cake recipe (called Bishop’s cake here), chicken with blueberries, stuffed hens, that decadent carrot cake second to none, three bean salad. So much more.

I believe old cookbooks have souls. And I know the Silver Palate Cookbook is not often mentioned by celebrity chefs as being important to them. I don’t know why. But this book has a fine old soul in my opinion, written by two fine cooks, Sheila Lukins and Julee Rosso. I put it up there with all the classics.

If you’re curious how Lukins and Rosso created it for their Manhattan shop, you can find a brief history here.

see also: The Picayune Creole Cookbook



home > article > Whisk Tree

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Whisk Tree

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We call this the “whisk tree.” It’s real. Lombard Street, Philadelphia, Pa., July 17th, 3:30 p.m.

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see also: Kitchen Library — Jane Kenyon



home > article > Dining Room Art

Masher

Dining Room Art

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Nancy Gail Ring, oil on paper, copyright 2010

This is called “Holiness Passes By the Everyday World” and is another large study in the series I have been painting of my dining room. it’s about six feet high and four wide and the title comes from the text of Norman Bryson’s fascinating book Looking at the Overlooked: Four Essays on Still Life Painting. Enjoy the painting. Check out the book. Take the book to the beach with you like I did yesterday. Glorious day. Blackberries and chocolate in the cooler, and the boys rescuing big crabs by throwing them back into the waves . . .

see also: Dining Room Art Or What I Know So Far



home > article > Dining Room Art Or What I Know So Far

Artist's Notebook

Dining Room Art Or What I Know So Far

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Detail of study for “In the Dining Room,” oil on canvas, Nancy Gail Ring 2010

Here is a detail from a new painting I am making studies for that will be about small moments. I’m asking a lot of new questions now in my painting practice, looking to communicate something more and something truer than my habitual ways of working from the past. This is a little portrait of my son at the dining room table. Enjoy.

see also: Dining Room Art



home > article > Old recipe, Old Bananas

Not to be Forgotten

Old recipe, Old Bananas

Chess Pie.
Three eggs, two-thirds cup sugar, (half-cup milk may be added if not wanted so rich); beat butter to a cream, then add yolks and sugar beaten to a froth with the flavoring; stir all together rapidly, and bake in a nice crust. When done, spread with the beaten whites, and three table-spoons sugar and a little flavoring. Return to oven and brown slightly. This makes one pie, which should be served immediately. Miss J. Carson, Glendale.
From Buckeye Cookery, by Estelle Woods Wilcox [Buckeye Publishers:Minneapolis] (p. 187) 1877.



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Me in the kitchen of the house I rent with my mother’s circa 1970’s Cuisinart all set to pulverize some graham crumbs.

Chess pie was the featured recipe on the back page of one of my glossy food magazines this month. I had been flipping pages absently, and it held my attention. I love old recipes. But this one looked odd: a gooey caramel-like filling too soft and messy for its pastry shell. Still, the combination of rich and sweet ingredients promised something delicious if I could find or invent a good recipe.

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Old bananas, gouache and watercolor on paper, Nancy Gail Ring

I had all these old bananas ready to be used in something wonderful and I just couldn’t imagine making yet another banana bread. How about a Banana Chess Pie? Was that crazy or would it work?

As I took to the internet, I found the history of the pie is vague and spotty, but the old recipes are worth a read and yielded some fun surprises.

Nobody knows for sure where the name Chess Pie comes from and that leads to tons of speculation, some of it silly, some of it interesting but all of it unverified. Lots of it depends on the sound of the word, chess, to support the various theories, including connections to British cheesecakes and cheese desserts which were sometimes listed in the same cookbook recipe category as custard tarts like Chess Pie without cheese. In this vein, we could just as soon decide that Mrs. Chess of Chester named it for her husband Jess’s Cheshire Cat ‘jes for fun. So we won’t. If you’d like to consider any of it, click here for a taste.

What is more interesting is that Chess Pie is an American invention and a Southern specialty developed when electricity found its way into rural America early in the 20th century and more bakers could afford refrigerators and the dairy products that the pie requires. Sorghum and molasses were also more easily replaced by refined white sugar once it became widely available. Imagine having nowhere cool to store that opened carton of cream, or finding only molasses on the market shelf when planning to bake a tart. Recipes for Chess Pie contain all that memory and more once you start digging.

Laura found the Encyclopedia of Southern Cooking online which had a nice section on Chess Pie. You can read it here. It notes the first printed recipe in 1906 (although the one above is dated 1877) followed by a later one in 1928. In particular it points out that variations of Chess Pie such as chocolate, sweet tea and coconut, became abundant with the rise of celebrity chefs. I found white chocolate versions, citrus versions, and finally, a banana version in a 1980 North Carolina Dispatch newspaper online.

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Having worked as a pastry chef, when I read a recipe I can see its possible faults before I even make it. The immense amount of sugar (a full box!) and the lack of ingredients to enhance texture and flavor in the 1980 banana version concerned me. So I made up my own. It’s a true delight. Here’s how to do it:

Nancy’s Banana Chess Pie

For the filling:
3 small or 2 large very ripe bananas
1 stick softened butter
3/4 cup dark brown sugar
3 eggs, separated
1/2 t. salt
1 t. vanilla extract
1 t. dark rum (optional)
2 T. cornmeal
3 T. all-purpose unbleached flour

For the crust:
1 t. cinnamon
1/8 t. nutmeg
1 1/2 cups plain graham cracker crumbs
6 T. melted butter

For meringue:
The three egg whites reserved from the eggs for the batter plus three more whites, a total of 6 egg whites all together
1/2 cup sugar

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1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Butter a 10 inch glass pie plate and set aside. That banana in the photo is how dark you want your bananas to be for great banana flavor.
2. Mix crust ingredients together and press the mixture into the pie plate evenly. Set aside. This would be great with a chocolate and/or nut crust too if you have a favorite recipe.
3. Beat banana and sugar until well mixed. Add egg yolks one at a time, incorporating well after each addition. Add salt, vanilla and rum if using.
4. Combine cornmeal and flour and add. Mixture may be a tad curdled looking; that’s okay.
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5. Pour filling into prepared pie plate and bake until top is browned and mixture is set, about 25 - 30 minutes.
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Cool completely on a rack. (I bake my pies on a sheetpan to facilitate even heat.)
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6. Make safe meringue: Combine egg whites and sugar in the top of a double boiler, or use a stainless mixing bowl that will fit over a pot of barely simmering water. Whisk egg whites continuously over the heat, careful not to cook them by letting the water beneath them get too hot, until an instant read thermometer registers the whites at 160 degrees F. Tip the bowl of whites to get the thermometer into part of the whites that is a couple of inches deep. Do not let the thermometer touch the sides of the bowl.
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Whip the egg whites by hand (if you can!) or in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whisk until the meringue is stiff and shiny and holds a peak. Spread meringue over cooled pie and serve immediately. Will keep a day or two but the meringue will change in texture as days go by so it’s better to serve it right away.

I hope you enjoy seeing me in my kitchen in the photo above with my mom’s Cuisinart. It has a big crack in the base but is a workhorse that never quits. This context is what is missing for me in so many blog posts about food. You can probably find a lot of Chess Pie recipes and photos online, but not so many with a real sense of person and place, a little view into somebody else’s kitchen and life. Here’s the rest of my over-ripe banana paintings too.

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All paintings of bananas above are by Nancy Gail Ring, copyright 2010, gouache and watercolor on paper

see also: Not To Be Forgotten — Shepherd’s Pie



home > article > Spinach Torta from Genoa…. plus a hundred years

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Spinach Torta from Genoa…. plus a hundred years

Spinach Torta via Hoboken

4 pkgs frozen chopped spinach (10 oz each)
8 eggs (beaten)
1 cup grated Parmiggianno-Reggiano cheese
1 large 8 oz cream cheese at room temperature
salt and pepper to taste (parsley--or other fresh herbs such as marjoram are optional and always nice).

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2.  Brush about 2 tablespoons olive oil on the bottom and half way up the sides of a 9x11 pan or Pyrex-type dish. 

3.  Begin with three mixing bowls:  large, medium and small.  In the largest bowl, defrost and drain spinach very well.  Expedited with heat or the microwave if you wish Place the cream cheese or (other fresh cheese) in the medium bowl.  Beat the eggs in the small bowl. 

4. Cream the cream cheese, using a hand-held electric mixer.  Add the beaten eggs, then the Parmigiano, salt, pepper and parsley. Mix well and pour half the mixture into your spinach. Evenly spread the spinach mixture into the oiled pan.  Cover the spinach with the remaining half of the liquid egg mixture. 

Bake at 350 degrees.  Depending on your oven it will be done between 35 and 50 minutes—whenever top is golden. 



I am lucky to know Mario Bosquez from the Martha Stewart Radio Channel on Sirius.  Mario is a food and wine enthusiast (and like me an animal lover), a wonderful radio host of the show Living Today, and all-around great guy.

He’s started a “weekend cooking challenge” on his facebook page, inviting people to all make the same recipe on a given weekend, then share comments and feedback.  Like Nancy’s “bake with me” events, these internet gatherings are an interesting way to defy the idea that we are all living in our atomized internet lives.  I am delighted that Mario chose my “Spinach Torta via Hoboken” for a challenge this weekend.  And to help, I’ve posted photos of every step.  Once you’ve got your cream cheese softened and your spinach cooked, this recipe will take about a half hour to assemble, then about 45 minutes to bake.  You’ll have a nice big pan of spinach pie for a simple lunch or supper.  Or you can cut it small and have it as an appetizer or side dish at a party.  It is not a fancy dish, but simple and homey.  It’s comfort food in my family.  But you can certainly add additional flavors as you wish.  And if you like a more pungent torta, you can replace a little of the parmigiano with peccorino. 

The word torta means cake.  But around Genoa, it also refers to the extremely popular institution of the vegetable pie.  There are infinite variations of torte--and you can be creative.  This recipe of my family’s has been Americanized with “filadelfia” (cream cheese) and frozen spinach.  But the spirit and taste are quite similar to what I’ve had there.  If you’d like to learn more about my quest for old Genoese recipes such as torta, I refer you to my book ”The Lost Ravioli Recipes of Hoboken.”

If you want to just make this torta, just follow the jump and see my step by step photos and instructions.  Then compare notes--if you wish--on Mario’s page.

Lucky me.  Son Number 2 (age 9) just came home from karate when I was making it. Ever enthusiastic, he offered to help.  And he’s a wonderful hand model, don’t you think?

1.  Make sure your cream cheese is soft and your spinach cooked and cooled enough to handle.  Here’s how I do it.  After cooking it in the microwave or on the stove, I put it all in a mesh strainer over a colander.  I use my potato masher to press out the water.  And then at the very end I also press down on the spinach with a clean dry dish towel.  It must be very dry!
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This next photo shows just how dry I mean!
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Doesn’t my son do a nice job of brushing oil around the pan?
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Here are you main ingredients.
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Now you cream the cream cheese.  I’m using a stand-up mixer.  Unlike what you see here, you should change from the
whisk to the paddle attachment.  Then add the eggs (which my son beat nicely as you can see).
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Then comes the grated cheese.  Did I mention that seasoning and any optional herbs? 
I use maybe a half teaspoon of salt but this will really depend on your palate and the saltiness of the cheese you’ve used.. 
And yes I taste it even with the raw eggs to decide. 
Call me dangerous.

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Pour half of your egg mixture into the nice dry spinach.  Mix it up.  Then press it down into your pain. 
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Pour the remaining egg on top and smooth out.  It should look like more or less this when you put it in the oven!
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Take it out of the oven when it’s golden brown but not too dark otherwise it will be dry. 
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Cheers!

home > article > Kitchen Library — Jane Kenyon

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Kitchen Library — Jane Kenyon

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Sometimes only a poem can say adequately what needs to be said. Here is one of my favorite poems by one of my favorite poets. It’s about most of the things we blog about on jellypress: old recipes, modern life, threads connecting present and past, belief, daily ritual, the span of one woman’s life as map and measure of time, and walking on with one foot in the present doing what must be done today, the other in memory. Enjoy.

Church Fair
From Jane Kenyon: Collected Poems

Who knows what I might find
on tables under the maple trees —
perhaps a saucer in Aunt Lois’s china pattern
to replace the one I broke
the summer I was thirteen and visiting
for a week. Never in all these years
have I thought of it without
a warm surge of embarrassment.

I’ll go through my own closets and cupboards
to find things for the auction.
I’ll bake a peach pie for the food table,
and rolls for the supper.
Gramdma Kenyon’s recipe, which came down to me
along with her sturdy legs and brooding disposition.
“Mrs. Kenyon,” the doctor used to tell her,
“you are simply killing yourself with work.”
This she repeated often, with keen satisfaction.

She lived to a hundred and three,
surviving all her children.
including the one so sickly at birth
that she had to carry him everywhere on a pillow
for the first four months. Father
suffered from a weak chest — bronchitis,
pneumonias, and pluerisy — and early on
books and music became his joy.

Surely these clothes are from another life —
not my own. I’ll drop them off on the way
to town. I’m getting the peaches
today, so that they’ll be ripe by Sunday.

see also: Kitchen Library



home > article > Vintage Nutmeg Grater, Modern Microplane (and a recipe)

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Vintage Nutmeg Grater, Modern Microplane (and a recipe)

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It’s been a long time since the days of nutmeg graters like this one and leather-bound cookbooks.
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Recipes are now often glowing links in email inboxes, like the one I received today from Saveur Magazine for rum-spiked chicken with a hint of nutmeg.
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And though I love my old grater, I admit that I reached for my sleek modern microplane when it came time to grate the nutmeg for this recipe, which by the way is delicious, easy, and at our house, made a fast weekday dinner with bowtie pasta and roasted carrots. If you’d like to try it too, visit Bell’alimento.

see also: The Picayune Creole Cookbook



home > article > Dining Room Art

Artist's Notebook

Dining Room Art

The “How to Freeze Cookie Dough in Logs” post intended for yesterday, Saturday, March 13th, had to be postponed. What’s this about? Click here Join Nancy next week instead to learn to freeze Ginger Molasses Cookie dough in logs with some great cookie baking tips, March 30th. See you then!



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Oil on paper study for painting, “Dining Room”, Nancy Gail Ring, copyright 2010.

Here is another study of my dining room that I am doing in preparation for a series of large paintings I will begin soon. It’s the reason my baking posts have been less frequent lately.

There is always a balance that artists have to keep between what we need to do to survive, like working for money, cooking, cleaning and taking care of children, and what we need to do to make art, like making priorities that preclude a perfectly organized house and full social calendar such as long periods of solitude in the studio.

Conversely, there is also a richness of experience, necessary to art-making, that comes from simply living life — doing dishes, gardening, spending time with friends and family. The Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hahn, who also writes poetry, once said that there would be no poetry without gardening, meaning that if he did not experience life, there would be no inspiration to draw from when contemplating the form the art will take.

I have been living life, and lots of it, in this dining room for years and years. I hope the paintings will eventually be informed and deepened by that experience. If you know the paintings of Jan Vermeer, you will notice that I have given a small nod in this piece to his “Lady Writing a Letter with Her Maid.” Read on for a reproduction of Vermeer’s painting and to see if you can pick out the details that repeat in mine. 

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Jan Vermeer, 1670-72; Oil on panel, 72.2 x 59.7 cm; National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin

see also: Dining Room Art



home > article > Whiskey Burned My Throat

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Whiskey Burned My Throat

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I am not one for the fire water.  But, a couple of weeks ago, in Florida, my dad produced a bottle of 1945 Schenley’s Canadian Whiskey, bottled in 1957 and hidden away for decades.  Recently, some friends had convinced him to finally open it. 

It had belonged to grandmother’s number-two husband, the Italian contractor who gave her furs and jewels and many luxuries, but left her with little.  He was a self-made millionaire who came from Naples alone at age 14.  He was the deal my grandmother made.  And he was also the intruder on my mother’s life at age 15.  My mother left for a while and lived with friends.

Through events I can barely explain, we wound up living upstairs from them for five years of my childhood. I loved being near my grandmother.  But there was no question he was the boss. 

Going down to their apartment was like visiting another country--filled with ceramic cherubs, marble, and ornate Italian things. 

But most fascinating was the basement, where the boss had a party room and a most amazing mahogany bar.  That bottle of Schenley’s

sat perched on the glass shelf along with many other glimmering bottles.  I can still recall sitting on the swivel bar chair, my feet not touching the ground, staring at that it. 

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Now, forty years later, my father poured me a shot and advised me to drink it “in no more than two gulps.”

The interesting thing is that unlike wine, whiskey ages in barrels, but once it is bottled it is done.  Which means that this 1957 whiskey was unchanged, and frozen in time.  It had not matured a bit from its days by the mahogany bar.

As I belted it back, I understood for the first time that whiskey is not about the taste in your mouth.  It’s the trail of burning fire left down your throat.

I had finally learned to enjoy the warm sensation and even took a little more. 

home > article > The Picayune Creole Cookbook

Not to be Forgotten

The Picayune Creole Cookbook

Not often is there romance and a golden glamour about a cook book.
From the introduction to The Picayune Creole Cook Book, 1916,



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I found this great old cookbook during a house sale at my friend’s Dad’s house after he passed away at the age of 111. It was on the cluttered shelf of his butler’s pantry. The beautiful frayed leather cover and fragile yellowed pages opened to reveal a 1916 publication date. Turns out it’s quite a book.

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First of all, New Orleans Creole style cooking is fascinating: think Spanish spices, tropical fruits from Africa, native Choctaw Indian gumbos, all with a French influence.

Its namesake is a turn of the 20th century Crescent City newspaper, The Picayune, that embarked on a quest to

gather “these excellent and matchless recipes of our New Orleans cuisine … ere Creole cookery with all its delightful combinations and possibilities will have become a lost art.”

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The paper deemed the city’s own cooks and housekeepers the best sources for the recipes, making the book a bible for not only Louisiana cooks but gourmets world over. There are more than a thousand recipes: complete chapters on Creole coffee, the bouille, Creole gumbo, jambalayas, and Louisiana Rice.

There’s a fine introduction explaining the traditional way French food is prepared, and a list of full menus for celebration as well as the everyday.

By 1922 it was in its sixth edition.  It was first printed in 1900 or 1901 with at least 10 reprints by 1945. It hasn’t lost its charm for cooks in over a hundred years. When Laura saw the photos I took of it for this post, she commented that aside from its uses, it is such “an intriguing object of the past” with its patina of age. This was an especially poignant comment to me in the age of kindles and other electronic reading devices. Books really are wonderful objects. I hope the pleasure of turning pages is never lost to us.

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Incidentally the book I have lists its retail price in 1916. If purchased from the Times-Picayune Office, $1.25. If sent by registered mail, $ 1.50. Now it is new in reproduction only and costs a bit more than a buck and change but you can get one or an old edition here.

Here is a lovely Shrimp Gumbo recipe copied from the Creole Gumbo section:

Shrimp Gumbo File
(Gumbo File aux Chevrettes)

50 Fine Lake Shrimp
2 Quarts of Oyster Liqueur
1 Quart of Hot Water
1 Large White Onion
1 Bay Leaf
3 Sprigs of Parsley
1 Sprig of Thyme
1 Tablespoonful of Lard or Butter
1 Tablespoonful of Flour
Dash of Cayenne
Salt and Black Pepper to Taste.

Scald and shell the shrimp, seasoning highly with the boiling water.. Put the lard into a kettle, and when hot, add the flour, making a brown roux. When quite brown, without a semblance of burning, add the chopped onion and the parsley. Fry these, and when brown, add the chopped bay leaf; pour in the hot oyster liqueur, and the hot water, or use the carefully strained liqueur in which the shrimp have been boiled.  When it comes to a good boil, and about five minutes before serving, add the shrimp to the gumbo and take off the stove. Then add to the boiling hot liquid about two tablespoonfuls of the ”File” thickening according to taste. Serve immediately with boiled rice.

see also: Kitchen Library



home > article > Dining Room Art

Artist's Notebook

Dining Room Art

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Nancy Gail Ring, “Dining Room,” oil on paper, 2010

I’ve been painting studies on paper of my dining room in preparation for a new series I will start soon on canvas. Here are two done at night.

I’ve lived in this house for seven and a half years and there’s been a lot of life lived and a lot of meals served in this room. So many families have lived here; it’s an old house, built in 1926.

The room remains virtually the same while families pass through it, eat here, change and grow here, arrive and depart.

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There is a sense of place that is very much a part of me now.

see also: Dining Room Table On The Garden



home > article > Salt Cellar and Spoon

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Salt Cellar and Spoon

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Just a photo, that’s all.  Here is a salt cellar and mother of pearl spoon found in my mother’s cupboard in Florida. 

home > article > Soft Boiled Eggs

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Soft Boiled Eggs

I went to Florida last week visit my mom who has Parkinson’s Disease and recently fell and broke a leg.  She is getting better and will recover.  But it was difficult. 

My friend Lou tells me that mother is always our connection to life.  And it’s true… I remember fearing her death when I was a child....  Well, the good part is that my sister Drea (who came with me) is a natural born comedian, and we had a lot of laughs, which I know cheered my mom.

I find Northern Florida to be such an odd place, with its palms and scrubby pine forests, its long flat empty vistas.  My parents live in a forty-year-old town where everyone is a newcomer.  All the buildings and houses look eerily alike. Yet the natural landscape is undeniably beautiful, with its vivid big sky and sun, its bright tropical flowers and lemon trees. 

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While we were there, I cooked a bit for my parents, and while I was rummaging through the cabinets and found these three dishes—one for each girl--from at least forty years ago.  We loved soft boiled eggs.  When I look into these bowls, I see my mom moving quickly on strong fast legs, from refrigerator to sink to stove, to table, where we girls sat waiting. 

Nancy recently wrote me that “recipes just mark the places in the story, but the story is the important piece.” I agree, because I came to food writing for the stories.  But I would also add that women have so often been silenced by men, that they have learned to tell their stories ingeniously, through silences, through ellipses, through anonymity and secrecy.  Recipes give us this cover, this safety in the code. 

Here’s Drea, with beautiful blue eyes.

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home > article > How to Freeze Cookie Dough in Logs — One Badass Chocolate Chip Cookie

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How to Freeze Cookie Dough in Logs — One Badass Chocolate Chip Cookie

Ingredients we need today for freezing One Badass Chocolate Chip cookies in logs:
4 cups all-purpose unbleached flour
1 t. baking soda (you may use half this amount if you like a denser cookie)
1 t. salt
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) sweet unsalted butter, softened to room temperature or melted (either way works)
2 cups white sugar
1 cup packed brown sugar
2 T. vanilla extract
2 whole eggs
2 egg yolks
4 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips (or half white chocolate chips and half dark chocolate chips)



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Today we learn how to freeze cookie dough in logs. What’s this about? Click here.

We will be using my recipe for One Badass Chocolate Chip Cookie and if you click the highlighted words, One Badass Chocolate Chip Cookie in this sentence, you’ll see lots of photos of the finished, thick chewy cookies and how to bake them off.

What’s a Badass Cookie? Click here.

I’m going to give instructions for mixing by hand, but you can do this on an electric mixer fitted with a paddle too. The ingredients are listed in the box above.

First, take your chocolate chips, either all semi-sweet or half semi-sweet and half white chocolate mixed together, and place in a bowl. Set it aside.

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Whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt in a separate bowl. Whisking works like sifting; it prevents lumps and incorporates a little air for a lighter product. Set it aside too. Remember not to scoop, then shake the measuring cup when you measure dry ingredients. Lift the flour into the cup with your free hand, then level off the flour with a knife or your finger. If you scoop flour and shake the cup, you will measure more flour than you need and the cookies may be heavier than they should be.

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Add both sugars to the butter and mix thoroughly with a wooden spoon. Add the eggs, one at a time, only adding the next egg when the previous one is fully incorporated. Add the yolks one at a time, and incorporate each one fully before adding the next. Add the vanilla extract. Mix well.

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Pastry chefs often refer to wet ingredients as “the wets” and dry ingredients as “the dries” for short. Sugar, like here, when added to wet ingredients becomes wet and is often included therefore in the term “wets.”

So now you know the lingo: add the dries (your flour mixture) to the wets (butter mixture) all at once and mix gently until just incorporated. If you are using an electric mixer, add the dries on lowest speed and mix only until just incorporated. Do not over beat or the cookies will be tough. Best bet is to stop mixing in the dries when there is maybe a little flour still to be mixed in so that when you add the chocolate chips, you do not over-mix the dough.

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Add the chocolate chips and very gently fold them in with a spatula. Again, do not over mix. At this point, if you want to bake off a cookie or two (or three or four) just take ice cream scoop size balls and gently flatten them into disks on a parchment-paper lined, greased or nonstick cookie pan and bake at 350 degrees F. until golden, about 8 minutes or more. Cool on a rack. The rest we will freeze.

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If you have used melted butter instead of softened butter to make your dough, you may have to refrigerate the dough briefly to get it to a consistency for forming logs easily. This is done quickest by spreading the dough on a sheetpan first, then refrigerating it. Check it every fifteen minutes until it is pliable but not sticky and too soft.

Now we will make the logs. Pull out a long length of plastic wrap over your work surface. Alternatively you can use parchment paper if you don’t want to use plastic. Parchment will require some finesse however to get the logs smooth.

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Place a dollop of dough onto the plastic wrap, and then another and another.

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It will look like this. From this doubled recipe, I always end up with two logs like this so don’t worry if you still have lots of dough left in your bowl.

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Pull the near edge of the plastic wrap or parchment over the log until you can wrap up the log completely in the wrap.

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The wrapped dollops of dough will look like this.

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With both hands on the log, pull the log gently from the center out until it is even and smooth.

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That’s it! You can now freeze the log. Repeat the procedure to use up the dough in your bowl. Most likely you will end up with two logs. For the full recipe plus instructions on how to bake it off, click here.

Next Saturday we will make and freeze the dough for One Badass Ginger Molasses Cookies. If you’d like to join me, have these ingredients ready for next week:

3 cups unsalted, sweet butter (1 1/2 pounds, or 6 sticks)
4 cups white sugar
1 cup molasses (for cookies with a more bitter taste, use robust unsulphured blackstrap molasses, for cookies with a lighter taste, use unsulphured light, cooking, or fancy molasses)
4 eggs
8 cups all purpose unbleached white flour
2 T. plus 2 t. baking soda
1 t. salt
4 t. cinnamon
1 1/2 t. ground cloves (this may be increased up to double the amount if you are a clove lover)
4 t. ground ginger
1/4 cup crystallized ginger (available at most supermarkets that carry dried and candied fruit)
Turbinado sugar, or any large crystal sugar for baking

See you then!

see also: How to Freeze Cookie Dough in Logs



home > article > Monet’s Water Lilies

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Monet’s Water Lilies

One day left if you want to learn some great cookie baking tips and how to freeze cookie dough in logs with Nancy. What’s this about? Click here.



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Water Lilies by Claude Monet, 1914 - 1926, oil on canvas

Monet’s Water Lilies are on view now at the Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan through April 12th. If you’ve never seen these paintings and you live anywhere near NYC, I urge you to do so. Once in a while I like to share something here that is not food but that means a lot to me. This is another of those things.

Judging from the reproductions of the paintings I had seen in books, in person I expected to see ephemeral-looking objects in pastel hues.

I didn’t. What I saw instead were

canvases that call attention to their physicality with their sheer size and surfaces that are nuanced, painterly, varied, layered, and gloriously worked, surfaces that represent the passage of time, the artist’s hand and his immense ambition.

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The placement of a triptych on one curved wall so that it mimicked a feeling of surrounding the viewer was testament to the encompassing feeling Monet wanted to create with these oversize works. He is quoted often as saying that he wanted to communicate to the viewer his experience of nature, to say something about the space between himself and the thing seen.

I was struck by how many viewers stood before the paintings to have their portraits snapped with digital cameras, delighted by the smooth, crisp contours of skin and modern clothing silhouetted against the texture of the painted canvas.

There were also many viewers moving along the canvas’ length holding camera phones up between themselves and the work, the better to capture the surface plasticity up close. The atmosphere was lively with talk and movement, animated by the effect of these large works, and not the hushed, reverence in front of masterpieces that I had anticipated. Something about these objects was not only effective but also affective, animating the space.

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I did long to be alone with them, if only to experience them without distraction. Sitting on one of the viewing benches in the room, I spied a young man doing something different than the other visitors. He was crouched before one of the paintings, carefully observing its every detail up close. I suspected at once that he might be a painter too and felt drawn to him with a magnetic pull. I approached him to confirm what I thought I knew of his vocation. Of course I was right.

“I’ve been thinking about Monet’s paintings in terms of his legacy,” I ventured, hoping for some insight from this kindred spirit, if stranger, “I’ve been wondering if his experience of Nature is the point, more than the objects themselves.”

“Well, painting is one thing, and Nature is another,” he replied, “And Monet knew the difference.”

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We had a conversation, entirely facilitated by these beautiful objects, and this experience plus his remark made me revise my assumptions on the spot. Perhaps Monet’s legacy is not contained in the room with these individual paintings. Neither is it limited to the impressively large body of his work, writings and grand property, nor his position as a precursor to modern developments. Instead, Monet’s legacy is partly and importantly the confirmation of the relevance and importance of painting itself, as objects, meaning every uniquely identifying feature about them — their weight and size and materials, their wood and fabric and primer, their scumbled, buttery, brushy, dragged, scraped and built up surfaces, and most of all, their power to engage and create dialogue, even between strangers.

Talk about them all you want, but in the end you’ve got to see them — in person. 

home > article > Vintage Wire Egg Baskets

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Vintage Wire Egg Baskets

Four days left if you want to learn some great cookie baking tips and how to freeze cookie dough in logs with Nancy. What’s this about? Click here.



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I use a vintage wire egg basket for a centerpiece on my dining room table.

Egg baskets were invented to carry warm, freshly laid eggs safely from hen house to table. The open wire basket allows air to circulate so the eggs cool quickly, keeps them from rolling into each other and prevents cracking. I love the fanciful ones shaped like animals. They make great gifts, especially lined with

waxed paper and filled with cookies.

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I don’t have hens, so I don’t need my basket to collect eggs. As an artist, I love the shadows it throws when the sunlight hits it, and I love the contrast between the thin lines of the wire and the broad expanse of my table. I also appreciate, as I do with all vintage things, the passage of time inherent in its aged surface, its connection to other lives I can only imagine.

Here’s an old recipe I found for stuffed eggs. Farce is an old cooking term for the word, stuff.

To Farce Eggs
Take eight or ten eggs and boil them hard. Peel off the shells and cut every egg in the middle; then out the yolks. Make your farcing stuff as you do for flesh, saving only you must put butter into it instead of suet, and that a little. So done, fill your eggs where the yolks were, and then bring them and seethe them a little. And so serve them to the table.”
---The Good Housewife’s Jewel, Thomas Dawson, with an introduction by Maggie Black, London, 1596 (p. 86)

Shared interests create community; I was delighted when a fellow blogger spied my basket in the photographs from my last post, and wrote to me that she has the same one. You can find them online on sites like ebay. Here’s a link to a page with lots of different ones if you’d like one too.

see also: Vintage Canisters in the Modern Kitchen



home > article > How to Bake a Great Chocolate Layer Cake

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How to Bake a Great Chocolate Layer Cake

Five days left if you want to learn some great cookie baking tips and how to freeze cookie dough in logs with Nancy. What’s this about? Click here.



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Fudgey Chocolate Layer Cake. Soon you will need one for someone’s birthday. Or for a potluck party. Or maybe just because. I got the recipe for mine from a friend of a friend. What really makes it work though is

a few little tips and tricks.

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Make it by hand, gently. Overworking cake batter is the main reason why so many cakes are rubbery and heavy. Don’t let the butter get too soft. If it gets too soft and shiny, refrigerate it until it is pliable but not greasy.

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When the cakes are still in the pans and warm, not cooled completely nor piping hot, wrap them completely in plastic wrap to let them steam. You can also do this by placing a pot lid on top and wrapping the cake pan in a towel if you’d rather not use plastic. When the cakes are cool, unwrap and frost them.

Here’s my favorite recipe:

Fudgey Chocolate Layer Cake

For the cake:
1 stick sweet unsalted butter, softened, not greasy
2 cups dark brown sugar, packed
3 eggs
2 t. vanilla extract
3 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, melted and cooled slightly (or alternatively 3 ounces unsweetened chocolate and if using unsweetened chocolate, add 1/4 cup more brown sugar to butter)
2 1/4 cups all-purpose unbleached flour
2 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt
8 ounces sour cream
1 cup boiling water.

For the frosting
24 ounces (or two 12-ounce bags) of semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup heavy cream

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease two 9-inch cake pans. Line them with parchment paper and brush paper with butter again. Flour the pans and set aside.
2. In a large mixing bowl, beat butter and sugar with a wooden spoon until well blended. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition.
3. Add vanilla and then melted chocolate to the batter. Mix gently until combined.
4. Add baking soda and salt to flour and whisk together. Alternate dry ingredients with sour cream, beginning and ending with dries (adding 1/3 dries, then 1/2 sour cream, then 1/3 dries, then the rest of the sour cream, then the last third of the dries.) Combine gently until batter is smooth and all ingredients are incorporated. Lastly, add the boiling water slowly, 1/4 cup at a time, and mix gently between additions until it is all incorporated.
5. Divide batter between pans. Place pans on a sheetpan and place the sheetpan holding the pans on a rack positioned in the center of the oven. Bake for about 25 - 35 minutes, checking the layers half way through the baking time for doneness. When a toothpick inserted in the center of the cakes comes out almost clean, they are done. Do not over-bake. Cool on a wire rack for ten minutes or so until the pans are not burning hot anymore but still warm and wrap the pans in plastic wrap, or cover them each with a pot lid and wrap them in towels until they cool completely.
6. Make the frosting: Place the chocolate chips in a mixing bowl. Scald the cream, then add it to the chips. Whisk gently to combine, then beat to incorporate a little air and make a spreadable frosting. Place one cake layer on a serving platter and frost it. Place the second layer on top. Frost the outside and top of cake. Serve immediately. If you have leftover cake, refrigerate it or freeze it and always let it sit out at room temperature to soften it before serving.

home > article > How to Freeze Cookie Dough in Logs

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How to Freeze Cookie Dough in Logs

Our hearts go out to the earthquake victims in Chile. If you would like to help like I did by donating to Habitat for Humanity, click here.



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I’d like to share with you my method for freezing cookie dough in logs. It’s something I learned to do when I was a pastry chef and had to have a large cookie plate of assorted cookies available each evening. I continue this practice now in my home.

Having the dough in frozen logs ready to simply slice and bake is a huge time saver and means you can always have warm cookies from the oven in a pinch. I usually have several different doughs in the freezer. It’s pretty wonderful to open the freezer door and see all the logs of cookie dough in there, ready to be baked off on a moment’s notice.

Recently I ran out, and decided to post how to make and freeze the logs. I’ll feature one dough each week, on Saturdays starting next weekend, so that Jellypress readers can freeze them with me. This is not something hard to do. Just more fun to do it together, and I’ll throw in all my best cookie making tips with the bargain. So this is a freeze-with-me post (and maybe a bake-off-one-or-two-now with me post, since life is best enjoyed to its fullest each moment as the newspapers remind us daily) and a learn-great-cookie-baking-secrets post.

We’ll end up with at least five different doughs to choose from. If you’d like to join in, have the following ingredients ready for next Saturday, March 6:

These are my Badass Chocolate Chip Cookies, but the ingredients are doubled so there’s lots of dough to freeze:

4 cups all-purpose flour
1 t. baking soda (you may use half this amount if you like a denser cookie)
1 t. salt
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) sweet unsalted butter, melted
2 cup white sugar
1 cup packed brown sugar
2 T. vanilla extract
2 egg
2 egg yolk
4 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips (or half white chocolate chips and half dark chocolate chips)

See you next Saturday!

see also: One Badass Cookie - Chocolate Chip Cookies



home > article > To Knead or Not To Knead

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To Knead or Not To Knead

... that is the question. 
Whether it is nobler make a soft wet dough with big rustic holes
following the outrageous artisan craze of the day,
Or to work the arms against glutens and trouble of . . .

For those of you on the no-knead bread bandwagon with me, this is an excellent article by Harold McGee that answers many questions.  I recommend this article to all bread bakers.

home > article > English Spice: A Search for Hot Cross Buns Update

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English Spice: A Search for Hot Cross Buns Update

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English spice: too bad I couldn’t just walk into a spice shop and buy some. I love a good spice shop. But rising rents and big corporations have driven them out. Penny candy, tackle for fishing where my grandfather Max used to take me, pickles, handmade jewelry, spices — I remember them all fondly. Exotic treasures, narrow aisles, creaking wooden floors, tinkling bells on the swinging doors. Knowledgeable proprietors. This is what I thought of when I received a comment from food historian Rachel Laudan recommending that I find English spice in response to my last post about my search for a great Hot Cross Buns recipe.

In addition to English spice mix, similar to pumpkin spice in this country, Rachel suggested that I find

good bitter candied orange peel for the Hot Cross Buns. She even gave me her recipe for the candied peel, which I will make and post this coming Friday. Having no good spice shop nearby, I went online for English spice. My favorite online source for all things spicy and ethnic, Kalustyan’s, had nothing similar. Next I looked for recipes. No surprise: this search yielded as many variations as there are cooks. So I studied them and made up my own.

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I have two electric grinders; one for coffee and one I keep just for spices. Some people prefer a mortar and pestle though I wonder how difficult it might be to grind up some of the spices that really are hard and fibrous like the cinnamon stick. For the spice mix, whole cinnamon stick is preferred over ground, and ditto for whole berries or seeds of cloves, allspice and nutmeg if using. Coriander and cardamom were often listed as optional, but since I love them I included some. In most recipes, the ground versions of ginger or mace seem acceptable. Equal parts of every ingredient are included except for coriander and cardamom which are added to taste. The goal is an aromatic mixture of spices like what one finds in apple or pumpkin pie, but ground together rather than measured separately. The end result was quite beautiful in color and aroma.

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Here’s what I came up with if you would like to have some too.

Nancy’s English Spice
Note: you want to grind this up well: it would be very unpleasant to get a hard bit of spice in a bite of pastry.

1 T. whole cloves
1 T. whole coriander
1 one-inch piece of a cinnamon stick
1 T. whole allspice
1 T. ground mace
1 T. coriander seeds
1 T. cardamom pods, broken open and seeds removed, hulls discarded.

Grind all ingredients together until the mixture is powdered and has no solid bits left in it. Store in airtight container.

see also: A Search for Hot Cross Buns



home > article > A China Cap and How to Use It

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A China Cap and How to Use It

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This cooking tool is called a China Cap and it was my grandmother’s then my mother’s and now mine.  It is a wonderful tool, used to strain soups and such.  I frequently use it when I make chicken stock.  The pestle helps me press out every drop of liquid from the bones.  But really what this is great at is making a beautiful puree.

You can still buy these at restaurant supply shops.  It is not to be confused with a chinoise, which is more delicate and made of mesh. 

I have this tool for one reason.  That reason is The Red Soup.  And though so many people talk about their grandmother’s recipes, and it begins to get corny, I’m afraid I have to admit it:  yes, this came from my grandmother. 

She was a colorful character.

My grandmother was full of extremes She was rich.  She was poor.  She was abandoned by her mother.  She had an alcoholic father.  She had three husbands, all of whom died on her.  The first—my Irish grandfather—left her a 33 year old widow with nothing.  She got a factory job to support her two kids.  The second husband was an extremely wealthy Italian contractor with big political connections.  She wore mink coats and jewels, and traveled to places like pre-Casto Cuba. 

When he died, he left her with little.  She got a job as switchboard operator in Sears.  The third husband was a retired longshoreman, at first they got on well, living in his narrow row house.  But then he was not well and she spent some years taking care of him until he died.  Despite all, way into her seventies she was still pretty, dressed flamboyantly with high heels, baubles and perfume.  She had childlike naivete.  But she also had a capacity for joy and laughter.  The husbands disappointed her.  Her favorite place seemed to be at our house. She often came three times a week and cooked for us, as my mother worked.  She loved to cook.  Did I mention she adored me? 

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Well, here is the soup that goes with the china cap.  I am relieved to get it out of my notebook, where it is scrawled messily, into a place where I can share it.  We called it The Red Soup as this is the only name we have for it.  You could say that it was a poor person’s recipe because it’s just boiled vegetables, with a piece of chuck thrown in the pot.  But in my opinion the china cap offered refinement.  When it was all cooked, my grandmother removed the meat and passed the vegetables through the strainer—hard work--to make a smooth pureed consistency.  She served it with egg noodles.  Today, you’d probably use food processor or an immersion blender, rather than the china cap, and be perfectly happy with the results.

Some years ago, when I was in the eighth month of a pregnancy, my mother came over and taught me and my sister how to make the soup.  It is a bit of a long ordeal and quite messy.  When she left that day, my mother left the china cap behind to my care.  And now you know why I treasure it. 

The Red Soup

Like many family recipes, this one is imprecise, egocentric, and requires judgment.  I have written it as I witnessed it.  Someday I will codify and measure it.  But I kind of like it as it is.  Warning:  It’s a big mess.  But at least you get two dinners out of it.

2 bags soup greens (parsnips, fresh parsley, carrots, and maybe a leek) chopped into chunks, no bigger than two-inches
3 large onions, chopped
2 or 3 potatoes peeled and cut into chunks
2 large cans of crushed tomatoes
4 or 5 “nice” carrots, peeled and cut in half lengthwise to differentiate from others as these will go to the table
3 “nice” potatoes, peeled and quartered lengthwise, also differentiated from the others as these too will go to the table
4 lb piece of meat, that is a little fatty to withstand boiling, e.g. chuck or rump roast
1 1lb bag of egg noodles
salt and pepper to taste

Quantity:  Two dinners for a family of five. 

1.  Put your soup greens, onions, chunks of potatoe, and cans of tomatoes into a large stock pot.  Fill up the rest of the pot with water, but leave enough room to fit your meat and nice vegetables later.

2.  Bring to a boil, then turn down the heat to a low bubble and let cook for an hour. 

3.  Add your “nice” carrots and potatoes, and then the meat.

4.  Remove your “nice” vegetables when they are done. 

5.  Continue to cook the soup until the meat is done.  (Use a meat thermometer if you are not sure.) Remove meat from the soup. You may wish to trim away some of the fat.

6.  Put on another pot of water to boil your egg noodles. 

7.  Pour all the ingredients remaining in the stock pot through the china cap or other strainer of your choice.  Use the pestle (pressing and rotating) to press the softened vegetable out through the holes into a puree, and scrape down as necessary with a spatula.  Or, put the remaning vegetables into a food processor in batches, with some of the soup and puree to achieve an almost creamy consistency.

8.  Put the soup back in the pot and keep hot, while you boil your egg noodles in the other pot. 

9.  Serve soup in bowls with noodles.  Put meat on a platter in the middle of the table, surrounded by any extra noodles, and the nice potatoes and carrots.  Slice and serve with the option of mustard for the meat. 

home > article > Pastry Brush Update

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Pastry Brush Update

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Laura and I often talk about how our interest in old recipes is about our passion for history and preservation and not about a false sentimentality or nostalgia for the past. With that in mind, we often find that some kitchen tools with modern improvements made to their designs just do a better job than old ones, however charming. I love my new

silicone pastry brush, for instance, that never loses a stay brush hair in my pastry crust, and washes squeaky clean after each use. You might have noticed it in the photographs I took in my posts demonstrating how to make chocolate croissant without devoting an entire day.

Laura and I also have a mutual preference for pairing sleek modern design with old things for a cool, eclectic look in our homes. If you’d like to try a brush like this, you can purchase one like it here.

With its rich hue and sleek lines, this new brush has great style, and complements my vintage red-handled food mill, a find from a friend’s yard sale. Her 111-year-old Dad, who passed away last year, once owned it — can’t help but make you wonder what futuristic tool will complement them both 100 years from now.

see also: How To Make Chocolate Croissants Without Taking An Entire Day



home > article > Vintage Canisters in the Modern Kitchen

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Vintage Canisters in the Modern Kitchen

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Vintage canisters: Laura and I share a love of them. We don’t want the shiny new, reproduction ones however; we want the dinged-up, scratched and used ones with their gorgeous patina of age that really once sat in somebody’s 1930’s or 1940’s kitchen. One day when I was rhapsodizing about their cool retro colors and shapes, Laura asked me an interesting question. She said,

“What is it you really want when you want those old things?” It took me a while. Then I thought. The time my Grandma Selma mixed up her canister of scouring powder with the one containing baking soda and served us all mandlebrot cookies that tasted like soap. The way the canisters seemed to float on the counter in the afternoon sun, casting saucer-like shadows as my grandmothers baked, a delicate apron bow tied at their waists. I painted them once, and now that painting is our logo for Antique Recipe Roadshow.

I don’t want to be back in the 1940’s. I know that life wasn’t better, or simpler, or more meaningful then.

What I really want when I want those old things, I realized, is my grandmothers back, alive again. I can’t have that of course. But I can run my fingers over the dents in my vintage ones where maybe someone’s fingers from back then also lingered. These days, my Rubbermaid containers do a better job of keeping my flour air-tight and fresh, but I organize my kitchen counters with an old canister that Laura bought me for my birthday one year, pictured above, by keeping unsightly junk drawer cords and coins in it.

If you’d like a cool old canister to keep your cell phone charger in too, here’s a link to an ebay page where they have some really great ones.

see also: To paint a canister



home > article > Kitchen Library

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Kitchen Library

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From time to time I like to share something wonderful that is non-food related on Jellypress, and A Book of Luminous Things is in that category. Nobel Prize winner and Professor Emeritus Czeslaw Milosz gathered poems from all over the world into this one volume, translated into English from various languages. One of my favorite poems in the book just happens to be about food and

when I mentioned it to Laura, she said, “Can you believe I have that book too?” One day I found it by serendipity on a shelf at a local bookstore, and was lost in its pages within minutes. If you love poetry, it’s a great gift, and an engaging tea or coffee break companion. So far, every poetry lover I have shown it to has been touched by it and moved to order one of their own. Here are a few lines for you from “The New Wife” by a Chinese poet of the ancient world, Wang Chien (768 - 830)

On the third day she went down to the kitchen,
Washed her hands, prepared the broth.
Still unaware of her new mother’s likings,
She asks his sister to taste.

Translated from the Chinese by J.P. Seaton

“One of the great writers of the twentieth century and one of its great witnesses thought, in the ninth decade of his life, that he ought somehow to make a philosophical reckoning with the world and an aesthetic summing up — a book perhaps, of sober prose at the end of this violent century; instead he decided to gather together poems, to give the world a book of luminous things.”
Robert Hass quoted on the back cover of A Book of Luminous Things: An International Anthology of Poetry by Czeslaw Milosz

home > article > Jerusalem Artichokes

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Jerusalem Artichokes

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Yesterday on one of my favorite blogs Ciao Chow Linda I read of her trip to Italy and a wonderful dish she ate with Jerusalem artichokes in it. These are small tubers that are actually not related to the big, fat green artichokes we see in supermarkets everywhere. I was lucky enough to taste Jerusalem artichokes when I was a pastry chef. The chefs I worked for loved them. They really are delicious and worth seeking out.

Linda mentioned in her story that she was curious where to get them in New Jersey and

that piqued my curiosity, so I went spelunking on the internet as I usually do when on the hunt for a certain food or its uses. I found them easily at Whole Foods, so maybe you can too.

I also found to my delight that our gardening zone in the Northeast supports the plants which gardeners report are easy to grow and have enormous yields. I have a teeny garden in my back yard, and Laura has one in her front yard, as some of our readers know from her previous posts. I’m looking forward to ordering some plants here when they ship this spring.

Incidentally the name Jerusalem artichokes may have nothing to do with the city of Jerusalem and more to do with the corruption of the word “girasole” which means “turning to the sun” in Italian. Apparently the small tubers, part of the Sunflower family of plants are also called sunchokes or sun roots in some cultures and have a history reaching back to the sixteenth or seventeenth century, possibly having been cultivated first by Native Americans.

If you’re lucky enough to find them near you, here’s a simple recipe.

see also: Tomatoes at my Front Door



home > article > A Search for Hot Cross Buns

Not to be Forgotten

A Search for Hot Cross Buns

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From The Project Gutenberg EBook of The Real Mother Goose
Illustrated by Blanche Fisher Wright, 2004

I am intrigued by Hot Cross Buns. They look delicious. I cannot find a good recipe, however, for making them from scratch. Apparently, few people make them. A lot of childhood memories of them involve cardboard boxes from bakeries or supermarkets. I have a feeling, though, with my baker’s intuition, that the homemade kind would be worth the effort.

Granted I don’t participate in Good Friday traditions, and I only tasted the commercial version once, finding them

pleasant but lacking in depth. They still exert some inexplicable pull on me as an avid bread baker with a penchant for all things fresh from the oven, yeasty, risen, and flavored with spice. A plump raisin is a draw too, as most versions seem to have them. I am also curious how a recipe rich with milk and butter, even in the older recipes I’ve seen, becomes something associated with Lent.

I do have childhood memories of Easter, since my Jewish mother had an inexplicable fondness for the holiday. It was her guilty pleasure as a member of a synagogue and mother of two boys about to become bar mitzvah celebrants to give us Easter baskets that she snuck into our rooms while we slept the night before the holiday. We four kids left carrots and milk out for the (Yiddishe) Easter bunny.

So, coming from the ilk of baker who is likely to make a chocolate croissant from scratch, I am searching for a fabulous Hot Cross Bun recipe. I will be testing them in the weeks to come and posting the results here in future Not To Be Forgotten Posts.

Can you help find the best Hot Cross Buns recipe with a link, a family recipe or a cookbook recommendation? If so, use the comments link under the title of this post, above, or email me at nancy@nancygailring.com. In the meantime, check back soon when Laura will pick up this thread to post a history of Hot Cross Buns.

see also: How To Make Chocolate Croissants Without Taking An Entire Day



home > article > Broken Dishwasher

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Broken Dishwasher

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“Should I have bought the more expensive brand?” I asked the repair man. 

It was the seventh visit in four months.

“Nah,” he replied.  “They’re all the same.  I fix them all; they all break. Everything is made of junk.  That’s why we’re in the trouble we’re in.”

Thank you.  I agree.  But what about my dishwasher?

I bought a Whirlpool last spring, and it breaks all the time.  Since October, I have been washing dishes by hand, most of the time. The machine is still under warranty, so rather than replace it, Whirlpool spends twice as much sending in repair men to fix it.  Constantly.  And each time, it breaks again.  Then we wait again another month for a part to come in. 

The machine is clearly a lemon and will never work.

Note: this post is about the second part of our subtitle at Jellypress:  “modern life.” My modern life as a freelance writer and mom means I work more hours than I care to admit in a day.  Dishes are adding more.  Plus a dishrack always on the counter taking space.  Plus a never-ending stack to be washed and another to put away.  I see my son head to the fridge.  “Do you really want that orange juice?” I know it’s another glass in the sink.  Frankly, I am starting to wonder if the Slow Food movement would ever have been born if there weren’t dishwashers.

So, while I’ve got my hands in the water, I have flashbacks to the the 1970s.  I can see the moment the first dishwasher arrived in our house. It was a huge deal.  And I fully understood because I’d been my mother’s dishwashing helper.

“It’s washing the dishes for us!” I declared like it was a miracle. 

“And not only that, I’m sitting here having a cup of coffee,” my mom said, pointing to her cup

Boy that would be nice, wouldn’t it?  Well, of course that’s not what she did with her extra hour each day.

Shortly after that dishwasher came, my mom got a job in town. That job led to another where she worked her way up from a secretary to a high-level manager, and got her bachelor’s degree on the side.  Then she became a vice president, and then consultant. Screw the cup of coffee. While the dishwasher hummed, mom was earning money and education.

One of the reasons why I write about old recipes is that there are good things in the past that should be remembered, used, celebrated.  But washing dishes definitely isn’t one of them.  Hooray for technology. 

Excuse me now, as I’ve got to go call Whirlpool again. 

home > article > Why I Love Cereal For Dinner Sometimes

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Why I Love Cereal For Dinner Sometimes

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One summer when I was a mere youth of 29, I had the good fortune to live in Spain for a month, on the island of Formentera. Goats in the streets. The buzz of motor scooters rounding the dirt roads. No Starbucks. No Banana Republic. Just a big hot sun that set at ten at night, inky espresso and freshly baked fig cakes. It was there that I learned the very healthful European habit of

eating the biggest meal of the day at lunch and having something light for dinner. Ever since, I often eat cereal at night. It’s light. It’s crunchy. It’s got the icy-cold thirst-quenching splashy slurp of milk. And best of all, it’s fast and makes practically no mess. My son loves it too sometimes. Two bowls. Two spoons. One night off from shopping, shlepping, cooking and cleaning up for Mom. Good for body and soul. Cereal for dinner. I love it.

see also: Why I Love Olives and Oranges



home > article > How To Make Chocolate Croissants Without Taking An Entire Day - Day 4

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How To Make Chocolate Croissants Without Taking An Entire Day - Day 4

What we are adding to our chocolate croissant recipe today:

1 egg whisked with 1 teaspoon of water, for egg wash (you can substitute water or milk.)

Our recipe for chocolate croissant appears in full at the end of this post, with a variation for plain, crescent-shaped croissant.



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Today’s the day we bake the chocolate croissant. What’s this about? Click here.

If you’d like to join us, begin with Day 1, then Day 2, and Day 3. Today, Valentine’s Day, Day 4, we are going to finish our recipe.

First, preheat your oven to 375 degrees F. Position a rack in the center of the oven.

Take the croissants out of the refrigerator where they have been having their last rise before baking. Let them sit out, covered loosely with plastic wrap, for about 45 minutes to one hour, depending on the temperature in your kitchen, until they warm a bit and rise a little more, as pictured above.

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Take off the plastic wrap and brush on the egg wash. I like to double my sheetpans so that the bottoms of the pastries are sure not to burn. Be sure that the croissants are about 2 inches apart.

Bake them until they are golden, 15 minutes. Transfer them to a serving platter with a metal spatula.

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You did it!

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So what did my son say about his Valentine’s gift of croissant? “Mom these are the most incredible things I’ve ever tasted.” How’s that for kudos?

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I hope you had as much fun baking with me as I did posting these day-by-day lessons for you. Please comment using the link above under the title of this post to give me your feedback. What else would you like to learn to make? Think about it while you enjoy your homemade Petit Pains Au Chocolat. Happy Valentine’s Day.

Note: This copyrighted recipe must be printed as it appears. For my tips and detailed instructions, refer back to my three previous posts, links above, and today, Day 4.

Chocolate Croissant
copyright Nick Malgieri, 1985, All Rights Reserved, Revised 3/89, as it appears in my binder from the former Peter Kump’s New York Cooking School (now I.C.E.)

3 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons of salt
4 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 cups milk
1 ounce yeast or 1 1/2 envelopes dry yeast
3 sticks of butter
3 tablespoons of flour

1. Sift dry ingredients together in a mixing bowl.
2. Heat milk until just warm and beat the crumbled yeast to dissolve yeast completely.
3. Add milk-yeast to flour mixture and mix with wooden spoon until just blended. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
4. Knead butter until soft, not oily. Knead in flour and set aside.
5. Roll dough into a rectangle about 1/4-inch thick. Spread butter on bottom 2/3 of dough. Fold top (unbuttered) portion of dough down, and bottom (buttered) portion of dough up. Turn dough until bottom is at right side.
6. Roll dough into a rectangle and fold both ends in toward center. Fold again at center to make 4 layers. Turn dough 90 degrees so the fold is at left and roll again. Fold both ends in toward center and fold again at center. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate at least 4 hours.

Petit Pains au Chocolat

1. Cut rolled croissant dough into rectangles of approximately 4 x 5”.
2. Brush with egg wash and place a few slivers of semisweet chocolate down the center of each rectangle. Fold dough to cover chocolate and seal seam.
3. Invert les petits pains on an ungreased baking sheet to rise until double.
4. Brush with egg wash and bake at 375 - 400 degrees for about 15 minutes.

For Plain Croissant

1. Roll dough 1/8-inch thick and cut into triangular shapes. Roll up beginning at base of triangle shapes and place on ungreased baking sheet to rise until double in bulk: 1 - 4 hours depending on temperature.
2. Brush with egg wash and bake at 375 - 400 degrees for about 15 minutes.

see also: How To Make Chocolate Croissants Without Taking An Entire Day - Day 3



home > article > How To Make Chocolate Croissants Without Taking An Entire Day - Day 3

Masher

How To Make Chocolate Croissants Without Taking An Entire Day - Day 3

Today we will add the following ingredients to our chocolate croissant.

8 - 12 ounces semi-sweet chocolate
1 egg, for brushing dough
enough flour for rolling out dough

For a complete list of ingredients, click here.



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Welcome to day three of “How to Make Chocolate Croissant Without Taking An Entire Day.” Wondering what this is all about? Click the link in the box above this post, then click on Day 1 and Day 2 to get up to speed and join us if you like.

Take the croissant dough you refrigerated yesterday out of the fridge. It should look like the picture above, puffed up from its overnight rise. Unwrap it.

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Place it on a floured surface and sprinkle a little flour onto it so it does not stick while rolling.

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Roll it into a rectangle 15” x 20”. Use a ruler if you have one. You want to be able to cut out the croissant easily and evenly. Check to be sure as you roll that the dough is not sticking to the surface by lifting the edges and adding a little flour underneath it if needed.

The dough may resist rolling or spring back smaller as you roll since it is now risen from the yeast and quite elastic. Just gently roll it out again and again until it stretches to the desired size.

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Cut five four-inch wide strips across the length of the dough that measures 20”.

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Cut three five-inch wide strips across the width of the dough measuring 15”. You should have 15 rectangles.

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Mix the egg with 1 teaspoon of water to make an egg wash. Brush the rectangles all over.

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Cut up your semi-sweet chocolate into long flat bars. If you have thick chocolate, chop it into smaller pieces to add to the croissant. You can use chips too if you have them.

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Place the desired amount of chocolate in the center of each rectangle. Here you see about 10 ounces of chocolate all together divided among the croissant.

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Fold the top of the rectangle down about 2/3 of its length, as pictured.

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Fold the bottom of the rectangle up to form the croissant. Pinch all edges to seal the dough, using more egg wash for a good seal as needed. Do this well; you do not want your croissant to leak while baking.

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Place the croissant on a parchment-paper covered, greased, or nonstick pad-covered sheetpan, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate it again.

Now here’s the exception: If you have time to bake your croissant today, at this point in the recipe you can. Simply leave the croissant out of the fridge on sheetpans with about 2 inches space between them and let them rise until double in size, approximately 45 minutes to 1 1/2 hours depending on the temperature of your kitchen. Then you can egg wash them again before putting them in the oven and bake them at 375 degrees F. for 15 minutes until golden. Cool them on a rack and serve warm.

Note: Croissant are best eaten the same day, but you can store them in an airtight container. Day-old, they will not have the same texture.

You can also freeze some of the croissant to bake off whenever you wish by placing them, unbaked, on a pan in a single layer in the freezer. When they are frozen through, wrap them in aluminum foil and place them in zip-loc bags. Take them out about an hour or two before you want to bake them off to let them thaw and puff a bit. Then bake as directed above.

I have a small family, so I froze half a dozen of my fifteen, baked off two immediately (my son couldn’t wait!) and refrigerated the other seven. You can divide your unbaked croissant this way too if it suits your lifestyle to do so.

If you are going to wait to bake all your croissant on Valentine’s morning with me, however, then refrigerate them as directed above to let them have their last rise in the refrigerator overnight. See you tomorrow!

see also: How To Make Chocolate Croissants Without Taking An Entire Day - Day 2



home > article > How To Make Chocolate Croissants Without Taking An Entire Day - Day 2

Masher

How To Make Chocolate Croissants Without Taking An Entire Day - Day 2

What we are adding to our recipe today:
3 sticks sweet unsalted butter, softened at room temperature to pliable consistency but still cool, not greasy (about 1/2 - 1 hour sitting out of refrigerator.)
3 T. all-purpose unbleached flour
more flour as needed for rolling dough

For a complete list of ingredients, click here.

Another reminder: For tomorrow, Saturday, February 13th, please also have one egg available for egg wash to seal the croissant. Alternatively, you can use water or milk.



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If you are just coming upon this post and want to join in making chocolate croissant with Nancy for Valentines Day, click here and then here to get up to speed, then return to follow today’s directions.

For the rest of you who have already been following these posts, welcome to day 2.

Above you see the three sticks of sweet unsalted butter that we are going to add to our recipe. I hope you remembered

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to take your butter out about a half hour to an hour ago so that it is still cold but pliable, and not oily or greasy. It is very important that the butter still be cool to the touch, otherwise this next part of the recipe will be extremely difficult and present problems. The butter should be the consistency of cool clay or play-dough - able to be handled but not squishy or warm at all.

When it’s the right temperature, knead it or mix it with a dough hook or paddle attachment on low speed in the bowl of an electric mixer, or by hand with a wooden spoon, until it is still cool and soft but free of lumps.

Now take 3 T. flour and spread it on a wooden pastry board or the surface where you like to roll dough.

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Transfer the lump-free, smooth, cool butter from the bowl to the floured surface. Coat the butter with the flour and gently knead it in. If at any point the butter becomes too soft to handle, refrigerate it and come back to work again. If you work quickly however, and your butter was not too warm to begin with, you should not have a problem. Set the butter aside, in the fridge if you think it might start getting too soft during the next step.

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Now spread more flour on your work surface if needed. Remove the dough we made yesterday from the refrigerator, unwrap it and place it on the floured surface. Roll it into a rectangle 1/4 inch thick. It’s not so important what the dimensions of your rectangle are; it’s more important that it be rectangle shaped and 1/4 inch thick. Try to make it look somewhat like mine, above. Let the dough sit while you do the next step.

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Place the lump-free, cool butter you prepared between two sheets of plastic wrap and roll it to approximately the size of 2/3 of your dough rectangle.

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Take off the top sheet of plastic from the butter and flip the butter onto the dough so that it covers the bottom 2/3 of the dough. Then remove the other sheet of plastic wrap.

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It should look like this now.

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Fold the top of the dough down, as shown above, so that it comes to the center of the dough.

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Fold the bottom of the dough up to meet the top, like this.

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Now fold the dough again at center to make four layers. If at any point the dough gets too hot or soft to work with properly, refrigerate it until it is cooler.

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Turn the dough so that the fold is at the left, like a book with the binding on the left.

Now repeat, rolling out this folded dough into a rectangle 1/4 inch thick, then folding the top down to the center, the bottom up to the center, and then folding in the center to make the four layers. Turn the dough once more so that the fold is on the left.

Repeat all the steps a third time, from rolling out 1/4 inch thick to turning the dough so that the fold is on the left. These are called, for obvious reasons, “turns” in pastry lingo, and it is these turns that make the yummy buttery layers in croissant dough.

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When you have made all three turns of the dough, wrap it in plastic and refrigerate it again overnight. Have questions or problems? Use the comments link under the title of this article to write to me.

See you tomorrow!

see also: How To Make Chocolate Croissants Without Taking An Entire Day - Day 1



home > article > How To Make Chocolate Croissants Without Taking An Entire Day - Day 1

Masher

How To Make Chocolate Croissants Without Taking An Entire Day - Day 1

The part of the recipe for chocolate croissant we’re using today:
3 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
4 T. sugar
1 1/2 one-quarter-ounce-packages dry yeast (or 3 teaspoons plus f1/4 teaspoon, plus 1/8 teaspoon yeast
1 1/2 cups whole milk

For a complete list of ingredients, click here.

One correction: For the third day of baking, Saturday, February 13th, please also have one egg available for egg wash to seal the croissant. Alternatively, you can substitute water or milk.



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We are ready to make chocolate croissant! What’s this about? Click here.

My sister, who is baking with us today, told me that she saw the film “It’s Complicated,” and that Meryl Streep makes chocolate croissant for Steve Martin in the movie. Her comment? “Yum!”

So let’s do it. If you really want to streamline this because you’re super-short on time, you can measure out your ingredients early in the morning (like before you go to work if you have a job) and then throw the dough together when you come home in the evening. Otherwise you can do both at the same time.

Put three cups of flour in a large mixing bowl, as pictured above. Here’s a tip

on measuring flour: lift the flour with your free hand into the cup gently rather than scoop it. Do not shake the cup or you will fill it with too much flour. Level it off with a knife. Try it! You’ll see that you’ll have lighter baked goods if you’ve been a “measuring cup shaker” in the past.

Add 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt and 4 T. of sugar. Whisk it in the same bowl or sift it into another bowl. We pastry chefs are fond of whisking our dry ingredients rather than sifting. Call us creative sifters. Anyway, let’s proceed.

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In a separate little cup or bowl, place 1 1/2 one-quarter-ounce-packages dry yeast, (or 3 teaspoons plus 1/4 teaspoon plus 1/8 teaspoon yeast.)

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In a liquid measuring cup like this one, pour 1 1/2 cups whole milk.

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Pour the milk into a small soup pot and heat over medium-low heat until it is 105 degrees F, or about the temperature of milk for a baby’s bottle if you don’t have a thermometer.

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Sprinkle the yeast evenly over the warm milk, off the heat. Let it sit about five minutes, and whisk gently until the yeast is completely dissolved.

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Pour the yeast/milk mixture into the flour all at once and stir with a wooden spoon until you have a ragged looking dough. Mix until just incorporated; do not overmix.

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Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate it overnight. Have questions or problems? Write to me using the comments link under the title of this post, above.

One last thing: Tomorrow you will need the next ingredient, three sticks of unsalted sweet butter, to be softened at room temperature until it’s pliable and still cool but not oily or greasy for the next part of the recipe. Make sure to take it out of the refrigerator about 1/2 hour to 1 hour before you want to start the next post. See you tomorrow!!

see also: How To Make Chocolate Croissants Without Taking An Entire Day



home > article > In Praise of Nick Malgieri (Or How I Got My Favorite Chocolate Croissant Recipe)

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In Praise of Nick Malgieri (Or How I Got My Favorite Chocolate Croissant Recipe)

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I am about to bake chocolate croissant with you here on Jellypress. (What’s this about? Click here.)

My recipe for chocolate croissant comes from my Peter Kump’s New York Cooking School binder. The school, founded in 1975 by Peter Kump, has a new name now, I.C.E. and a new space in Manhattan. All the recipes in my original binder are pastry chef Nick Malgieri’s, the former director of Kump’s, and all are fail-proof and delicious. I still treasure this binder and use it constantly, and I love Nick’s books. Above is a picture of his new Modern Baker. His Perfect Pastry is one of my bibles. If you’d like more information on Nick Malgieri and his great books, check out his website.

I met Nick when I was a lowly, lowly pastry acolyte at Kump’s and he was the director, then on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.

Nick was generous with his recipes and his support of us students, which continued after we were done with classes. He was always there to write a note of recommendation if needed, provide advice, and offer us employment if he could teaching classes at Kump’s. I taught several classes at the school. I think I learned as much as the students did.

I ultimately left professional baking to pursue my art career first and foremost, but I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything.

See you tomorrow for baking chocolate croissant, with a nod to Nick for his incredible recipe and inspiration.

see also: How To Make Chocolate Croissants Without Taking An Entire Day



home > article > We Begin Baking Chocolate Croissant Tomorrow, Thursday, February 11

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We Begin Baking Chocolate Croissant Tomorrow, Thursday, February 11

What’s this about? Click here.

I hope you have your ingredients by now, but if you don’t and want to join me to learn to bake chocolate croissant for Valentines Day, click the link above and get ready for tomorrow.



One correction: Please have one egg available as well as the ingredients I listed for our recipe. You will not need the egg until the third day, Saturday so you have time to get it. It’s for egg wash to seal the croissant before baking. If you do not have an egg and can’t get one before Saturday, no worries. You can use milk or even water instead, just something to moisten the dough so it sticks together. Bakers like the richness and sticking power of egg but any liquid will do.

See you tomorrow!

home > article > No Knead Bread Craze

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No Knead Bread Craze

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A few weeks ago, my friend a Lou told me to come over to his house with a bowl.  I showed up with the bowl and my nine-year-old son.  He said to my son, “Can you say your name?” And of course Simon said yes.  “Then you can bake this bread,” Lou said.  He’d been trying to get me to bake bread for years, and I just never got to it.  “Laura, listen to me.  This is nothing.  Soon the bakeries are gonna go out of business.”

Of course I’d heard of the “no knead bread phenomenon,” and the article in the New York Times that spawned endless email. 

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He hardly needs any more publicity from me.  I’m only jumping on the bandwagon here out of my own sheer exuberance for this recipe.  It is a thrilling discovery.  Here’s how it works: 

You simply mix flour, yeast, salt, and water in an ordinary bowl, and cover it with plastic.  12 to 18 hours later you take it out and shape it.  Then two hours later you bake it in a heavy duty crock with a lid, which captures steam and emulates a brick oven.  Using this method, you can make bread every single day with little effort or cost.  Try it.  You’ll love it.

Here’s the link to the original New York Times article.

And here’s a link to a website that interprets the recipe step by step with photos and some helpful pointers (try to ignore the hideous ads about losing belly fat).

Here’s a link to Lahey’s book.

home > article > Sweets (But Only For Days that Start With The Letter S)

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Sweets (But Only For Days that Start With The Letter S)

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I am a former pastry chef.  So I love to make these beautiful homemade sweets. But I feel compelled to write this post because I also keep my body healthful and thin (emphasis on the word healthful as I am sensitive to the unhealthful obsession that most women have to be slender.)

People always say to me “How can you be such an avid baker and not be fat?” It’s no mystery: because

I exercise daily and don’t eat heavy sweets daily. I do eat my share of dark chocolate daily, but only a small amount and with the awareness that some dark chocolate is believed to be good for you (a development that when it was announced marked one of the happiest days of my life.)

I am also aware that Americans are generally overweight now and have many health problems from over-eating and from sweets in particular. So I would feel uncomfortable with having them too often since I really advocate them on special occasions, or as Michael Pollen, author of, Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual says, “No snacks, no seconds, no sweets, except on days that begin with the letter S.”

Pollen is quoted in a very informative article about these issues by Jane Brody for the New York Times. Read the full text here.

Do I indulge when I’m not supposed to, when I have a bad day, when I’m just in the mood for something over-the-top and it’s not the weekend? Yes, I do. Maybe you do too. Nobody’s a saint. Besides, being rigid is boring. But the goal is moderation. So all that said, I hope you do join me in making chocolate croissant for Sunday, Valentine’s Day. I plan on eating a whole one myself. 

see also: Thing of the Day - Last Dance with HoneyBell (Oranges, that is)



home > article > Thing of the Day - Luc Tuymans

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Thing of the Day - Luc Tuymans

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The Perfect Table Setting, Luc Tuymans, 2005

Luc Tuymans is from Belgium, now an Antwerp-based painter who is considered one of the most important of his generation (See the current issue of Art in America for an interview confirming this by Steel Stillman, so fresh from the press that it’s not online yet. I’ll provide a link when and if I can.) I feel compelled to share his painting, The Perfect Table Setting, above, as it slowly reveals,

with repeated observation and contemplation, much about the artist’s intentions, much about contemporary representational painting, and for jellypress readers, much about how domestic imagery such as a table setting is more than meets the eye.

Looking for images on the Web from the era of WWII and the Depression and the period following it for a new series of paintings in the early part of this decade, Tuymans’ came across a book for housewives from 1954 where he found a photograph supposedly illustrating the perfect table setting. For Tuymans, the image was linked to political, cultural and social issues at the time of being proper, and it echoed other proper forms of the past like ballroom dancing, another image in the series.

The table setting, composed and determined in the face of the darker side of life and in particular, the atrocities of war, is painted in muted tones and loose washes, suggesting with its departure from photographic realism, a more poetic and ambiguous reading than the photographic image would allow. Tuymans’ detractors think his use of hot-button current events is opportunistic. Steel asserts that Tuymans work “seduces visually as it intrigues intellectually” (page 76.) What do you think?

Other artists, such as Hanna von Goeler, have used the perfect table setting as imagery, in von Goeler’s case to contrast with the excesses of the OSS during wartime which she did in an installation of fine crystal and china interspersed with toy trains, photographs and other mementos lit to cast eerie shadows on the walls at Sloan Fine Art in January, 2009.

We’ve all stood over a table and tried to make it perfect at one time or another, yes? What were we hoping to communicate? A sense of calm in the midst of an imperfect world? An oasis of beauty to separate and elevate a special event from the humdrum of ordinary life?

Next time you’re laying out the good china, think about it.

see also: Thing of the Day - Cezanne



home > article > The Rise and Fall of the Restaurant Review

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The Rise and Fall of the Restaurant Review

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Should restaurant reviews be fluff pieces or food porn? 

Should they read like interesting adventure stories with sensual descriptions? 

Should they be a factual service to the ordinary consumer? 

Should you take their word for it on Chowhound, or is the job best left to elite professionals?

Here is a wonderful article that addresses all this and more, including a terrific history of the restaurant review genre at The New York Times, from Craig Claiborne to Gail Greene, Ruth Reichl and the unanonymous Sam Sifton of present.  Loved this piece in the Columbia Journalism Review.

home > article > How To Make Chocolate Croissants Without Taking An Entire Day

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How To Make Chocolate Croissants Without Taking An Entire Day

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I’ll say it like it is — so crappy — that’s what I think of my 12-year old son’s favorite chain grocery chocolate croissants, pictured above. Really look at them. Knowing that I am a former pastry chef, can you feel my pain? This for a child who dreams of visiting Paris one day, and for me, who opens the little box holding the engagement ring I stashed there since my divorce and thinks of hocking it for the trip . . . then puts it back thinking of more practical things like saving for college.

People are surprised when they ask what my favorite pastries are and I answer with ubiquitous things like croissant or eclairs. They don’t know how extraordinary these things are fresh and homemade. If they did, they would agree. So I am going to make chocolate croissants for my son for Valentines Day, and I’m going to show you how too.

Bakers and cooks are always telling people, “Oh, you can do this recipe ahead, or in small steps over the course of a few days,” but they never really explain this. Few people know what this means. It’s overwhelming. So this is a bake-with-me post. It’s no mystery and it’s not that hard. All you need is a guide and a little gumption.

Here’s the plan:

Get your ingredients before next Wednesday, February 10th.

We’ll make the dough next Thursday, February 11th and refrigerate it.

We’ll add the butter and learn to fold it in on Friday, February 12th.

Then Saturday, February 13th, we’ll roll out and shape the croissant.

If all goes well, we have them for brunch on Sunday morning, February 14th, Valentine’s Day.

I’m giving you this heads-up to get your ingredients.
Are you game? Good. Here’s your ingredient list:

2 cups flour
4 T. sugar
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1 1/2 envelopes of dry yeast
3 sticks sweet unsalted butter
extra flour for rolling
1 egg, for egg wash
your favorite semi-sweet chocolate - the amount depends on how stuffed with chocolate you like your croissant. For me, I buy at least 8 - 12 ounces.
You also may want to have a quick-read thermometer handy unless you are good at guessing the temperature of warm milk by description (in this case it will need to be warm like a baby’s bottle - 105 degrees F.)

See you next week!

To access all four posts showing How To Make Chocolate Croissant Without Taking An Entire Day, click the links here: Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4

home > article > Thing of the Day - Last Dance with HoneyBell (Oranges, that is)

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Thing of the Day - Last Dance with HoneyBell (Oranges, that is)

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Most of you know how much I love these oranges. Look at the dripping juice. Clean, thirst-quenching flavor. And that color! It rivals the vermilion oil paint, so dear and rare, that I portion out in tiny dabs because it’s so strong and hard to harness in a composition. I mentioned in a previous post that my sweet family sends me these oranges every year as a gift. No, that last statement is not true entirely: honeybells are not oranges at all. They’re a hybrid of a tangerine and a grapefruit, grown by grafting to sour orange root stock. The mystery of their origin is debated here and there. Some say their history reaches back in part over 3000 years ago to Southeast Asia. Others report they were the grafting project of a creative Florida farmer in the 1940’s. They’re here on jellypress again because if you’d like to try them, there’s still time to order them but not much. Today the company that sells them, Cushman’s, sent me this link

to order them before they sing their “swan song.” Then they won’t be available until next year for a few short weeks as always. Fresh. Bright. Full of vitamin C. We could use that in the middle of a north-eastern winter, no?

home > article > How Much Do You Spend a Month on Food?

Masher

How Much Do You Spend a Month on Food?

I recently was talking to someone who raised an eyebrow at our grocery bill.  I’ll confess it right here:  about $1,000 a month, at least.  Should I feel embarrassed of this?  We cook and eat at home quite a lot (really a lot), not to mention that I’ve got three guys in the house and we live in the greater NYC area.  To be honest, I’m not even sure if my $1,000 number is a completely accurate assessment--might it be more, like 1100?  If it is I don’t want to know it.  Let’s just say $1,000 a month.

I started looking into the cost of food just to see if this was so outrageous and if we were all a bunch of slothful greedy overeaters.  I was surprised to discover

how little data seems to be available about what Americans actually spend on what they eat. Yet this is one area where the variance is enormous.

Instead of actual numbers, I found a prescriptive chart from the U.S.D.A. chart which offers guidelines for food costs ranging from “thrifty” and “low cost” to “moderate” and “liberal.” (Turns out my family is moderate, uh, mostly.)

Of course, the food evangelists’ big complaint about Americans is that they should spend more for better food, investing in fresh fruit and vegetables.  I don’t think they’d be happy with the menu items for the U.S.D.A.’s fictional $575-a-month “thrifty” family, which is the government’s baseline for minimally adequate nutrition.  For the same size family, a “liberal” food budget is $1140.  But consider why people chose (or must) save on food.  Food is the one area where people have some control.  Mortgage, car payments, etc. are fixed.  But food has a huge range in cost depending on where you shop, what you buy, and how much or how little you decide to invest in it. The thrifty family spends $565 less per month than the liberal one, and that adds up to a $33,000 difference over five years.  Wow. 

If you want to see where your food budget falls in the scheme of things.  Take a look here at the USDA food plans for November 2009.  Meanwhile, I’d like to find out what was in that $575 menu.

home > article > Not To Be Forgotten — Shepherd’s Pie

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Not To Be Forgotten — Shepherd’s Pie

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Here it is, One Badass Shepherd’s Pie.  It all started, as jellypress readers know, when I announced my search for the kind of shepherd’s pie that a beloved nanny cooked for my family when I was a child. When I finally figured it out and brought it to a friend’s potluck 50th birthday party, party-goers were drawn to it like moths to porchlight and the entire pot’s contents was consumed in fifteen minutes flat, despite the availability of four other main dishes.

It wasn’t too hard, to be truthful as most shepherd’s pies are made basically the same way: meat, either lamb or beef, is seared, then vegetables and herbs are added followed by a spoonful of flour and deglazing with wine, broth, or worcestershire sauce (and sometimes all three) while potatoes are mashed with butter and milk which are then used to top the stew. The whole pot gets baked until the bottom is bubbly and the top is browned. All I had to do was cull the recipes until I grokked the basic pattern, then used the flavors I love in stews to concoct the one that I remembered from childhood. You can read the old recipes we dug up along the way. 

I did make one unorthodox addition. Want to know what it is? Here’s the recipe:

One Badass Shepherd’s Pie
Note: The optional addition of celery root, though not traditional, adds a bright flavor to the mashed potatoes and the stew. Try it!

1 T. olive oil
2 pounds of boneless lamb stew meat, cut into one-inch pieces
1 large onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
3 stalks celery, chopped
5 carrots, peeled and sliced on the diagonal
1 pint mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
1 large shallot
salt and pepper to taste
1//2 t. dried thyme or 1 t. fresh thyme, chopped
1 T. all-purpose flour
1/2 cup red wine
1 cup beef broth, and more if necessary
1 T. tomato paste
1 T. worcestershire sauce
1 large celery root, peeled and cut into matchsticks (cut the root into slices, then stack them and slice into sticks) optional but recommended
6 medium yukon gold, or yellow baking potatoes (or your favorite potato for mashing)
4 T. sweet unsalted butter
1/2 cup or more milk (lowfat is fine, even skim, depending on how much fat you like in your mashed potatoes)
1/2 cup or more chicken stock
1 T. or more olive oil, enough to flavor potatoes
frozen or fresh peas, optional

1. Heat the olive oil in a large soup pot (preferably an ovenproof one) over medium-high heat. Add the meat and let it brown on all sides, stirring, about 5 - 6 minutes. Add the onion, garlic, celery, carrots, mushrooms, shallot and salt and pepper to taste, and thyme. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables begin to soften, about 10 minutes.
2. Add the flour and stir to combine. Let the mixture cook until it thickens and reduces, and the flour and meat juices begin to brown on the bottom of the pot. Don’t let it burn, but do let the flour and juices brown, stirring and scraping the bottom as needed. This is where the dark color and flavor of the gravy will begin to develop. When the juices reduce until the bottom of the pot has brown bits of flour and reduced sauce clinging to it, deglaze the pot with the wine, broth, tomato paste and worcestershire sauce. Scrape the bottom of the pot once the liquids are in there to incorporate all the brown bits on the bottom of the pot. Cover the pot, turn the heat to low, and let the stew cook about 15 minutes more, adding more broth as necessary to keep the mixture moistened. It should be the consistency of stew - liquid but not thin and soupy. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.
3. Meanwhile, steam the potatoes and the celery root in a covered double boiler or covered in the microwave oven until they are tender when pierced with a fork. Set aside about 1 cup of the celery root to add to the stew. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whisk or in a bowl with a masher, mash the potatoes and remaining celery root together, adding the butter, milk, chicken stock and olive oil until the potatoes are the consistency of buttercream frosting - able to hold their shape but not too thick and dry. The proportion of broth, oil, milk and butter in the potatoes is really up to you. For more healthful mash, add more broth and olive oil and use skim milk. Season with salt and pepper if desired. Press through a food mill if you have one and desire smooth mashed potatoes. Otherwise they will be chunky.
4. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Transfer the stew to an ovenproof container, add the reserved celery root, and the peas if using, and top it with the mashed potatoes, spreading the potatoes evenly with a spatula. Bake for 20 minutes until the stew is bubbly and the potatoes are browned. Serve immediately.

home > article > Thing of the Day - Cezanne

Artist's Notebook

Thing of the Day - Cezanne

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Paul Cezanne, Still Life with Apples and Peaches, 1905

As a woman and mother of a young child but part of the generation that has been given nearly every freedom to leave the house, why do I still feel a longing for the domestic space of the household and more than that, depictions of it like this Cezanne? What pull does it still exert upon me? Why such intense longing for the stability and beauty of traditional domestic space along with an equally intense desire to escape it? It is usually in paintings or poems that I find clues to ambiguity like this, and in particular, in this painting.

I had the pleasure of standing before this painting recently when it was included in a show at a local museum. Here is the glowing light emanating like sunlit honey from the dabbed and layered surfaces of the fruit.

There are the planes of color, sometimes as many as four or five hues in every square inch, that speak of Cezanne’s revolutionary approach to defining form with color and his powerfully contemplative working method of taking over a hundred sittings to complete a painting. There is the poetic line, now ivory black, now deepest ultramarine, on its quest for unchartered territory, embedded in memory, mined from the subconscious. One line in particular held me captive: it is the one that strives to delineate the form of a peach but hovers slightly above it. In its empty arc I can feel Cezanne’s rebellion, his inclusion of the truth in all its contradictions — its ennobling beauty and leveling ugliness. Most of all I admire Cezanne’s refusal to color in this wayward line and take away even a fraction of the wide open space it fronts like a gateway constructed of the intimate body of small peachy flesh opening to its vast soul. A space that is most convincing of course, in its ability to allow for the truth of domestic space — it’s mess and drudgery as well as its beauty.
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see also: Thing of the Day — Chardin



home > article > More on Shepherd’s Pie

Not to be Forgotten

More on Shepherd’s Pie

A Casserole of Mutton
Butter a deep dish or mould, and line it with potatoes mashed with milk or butter, and seasoned with pepper and salt. Fill it with slices of the lean cold mutton, or lamb, seasoned also. Cover the whole with more mashed potatoes. Put it into an oven, and bake it till the meat is thoroughly warmed, and the potatoes brown. The carefully turn it out on a large dish; or you may, if more convenient, send it to table in the dish it was baked in.”
---Directions for Cookery in Its Various Branches, Miss Leslie, Philadelphia, 1849



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Vincent Van Gogh, Peasant Man and Woman Planting Potatoes, 1885

Shepherd’s pie is one of those old dishes that endure.  The recipe you see above is 150 years old and still so appealing, especially on a cold winter night. 

Nancy loved Shepherd’s Pie in her childhood and wants to retrieve it.  This weekend she’s going to test the first one, and soon she’ll share the results.

The origins of this rib-sticking dish go back to the great pie baking traditions of medieval England where meat was cooked with dried fruit spices
and fruit inside a “coffin” of pastry dough.  Pie was originally a form of food preservation before refrigeration. 

Enter the potato, brought back from the New World.  The possibilities were enormous for thickening stews and soups and adding heft.  In the following recipe, the great 18th century writer Hannah Glasse inches us toward Shepherd’s Pie by giving a recipe for a traditional spiced meat pie with pastry--plus potatoes. See it here:

“To Make a very fine Sweet lamb or Veal Pye.
Season your Lamb with Salt, Pepper, Cloves, Mace and Nutmeg, all beat fine, to your Palate. Cut your Lamb, or Veal, into little Pieces, make a good Puff-paste Crust, lay it into your Dish, then lay in your Meat, strew on it some stoned Raisins and Currans clean washed, and some Sugar; then lay on it some Forced-meat Balls made sweet, and in the Summer some Artichoke-bottoms boiled, and scalded Grapes in the Winter. Boil Spanish Potatoes cut in Pieces, candied Citron, candied Orange, and Lemon-peel, and three or four large Blades of Mace; put Butter on the Top, close up your Pye, and bake it. Have ready against it comes out of the Oven a Caudle [thick drink] made thus: Take a Pint of White Wine, and mix in the Yolks of three Eggs, stir it well together over the Fire, one way, all the time till it is thick; then take it off, stir in Sugar enough to sweeten it, and squeeze in the Juice of a Lemon; pour it hot into your Pye, and close it up again.Send it hot to table.” 
---The Art of Cookery Made Plain & Easy, Hannah Glasse [London:1747]Chapter VIII, “Of Pies.”

Not long after we begin to see recipes that do away with the pastry crust entirely in favor of potatoes.  What a smart idea. Less work and a much simpler (and lighter . . . maybe) repast. 

Click here for Nancy’s final version of modern Shepherd’s Pie you can make with success

see also: Calling All Recipe Detectives — Shepherd’s Pie



home > article > Calling All Recipe Detectives — Shepherd’s Pie

Not to be Forgotten

Calling All Recipe Detectives — Shepherd’s Pie

“Shepherd’s pie
1 pound of cold mutton
1 pint of cold boiled potatoes
1 tablespoon of butter
1/2 cup of stock or water
Salt and pepper to taste
The crust
4 good-sized potatoes
1/4 cup cream
Salt and pepper to taste
Cut the mutton and boiled potatoes into pieces about one inch square; put them in a deep pie or baking dish, add the stock or water, salt, pepper, and half the butter cut into small bits. The make the crust as follows: Pare and boil the potatoes, then mash them, add the cream, the remainder of the butter, salt and pepper, beat until light. Now add flour enough to make a soft dough--about one cupful. Roll it out into a sheet, make a hole in the centre of the crust, to allow the escape of steam. Bake in a moderate oven one hour, serve in the same dish.”
---Mrs. Rorer’s Philadelphia Cook Book, Mrs. Sarah Tyson Rorer Philadephia: 1886 (p. 117)



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Aelbert Cuyp, Seated Shepherd with Cows and Sheep in a Meadow, 1644
It’s the deep, dark of winter, and I crave a shepherd’s pie. Not any potato-topped casserole of stew, but the very one that steamed up the kitchen of my childhood, made by the Scottish nanny I wrote about in my last recipe detectives post. Her’s as I’ve mentioned, was a deep brown mix of meat and vegetables covered with a blanket of mashed potatoes three inches thick. 

Some of the shepherd’s pie recipes I’ve seen have potatoes on the bottom as well as the top, like a sweet pie with a filling, but the one I loved only had the potatoes on top. Cutting through the mashed potatoes was like slicing through perfect meringue. That was the trick of it; the mashed were light and rich but held their shape. The meat mixture beneath was somewhere between the reddish brown of burnt sienna and the cool darkness of burnt umber with dabs of orange carrots and green peas and celery mixed throughout. If you’ve got a lead, please use the comments link above to send it to me. In the meantime, you can find me trying to warm up by painting pictures lit with what I can capture of the elusive sun or wrapped up in a quilt looking up the history of this wonderful dish.

Want to see my favorite final recipe for Shepherd’s Pie right now? Click here.

home > article > One Badass Cookie — Scottish Shortbread

Masher

One Badass Cookie — Scottish Shortbread

Scotch Shortbread
One pound flour, one-half pound butter, six ounces sugar. Work all together on a board. When thoroughly mixed, press with the hand into cakes one half-inch thick; cut into shapes and bake in a slow oven.

The Neighborhood Cookbook
By The Council Of Jewish Women
Portland, Or. [Press Of Bushong & Co.] 1914.



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Rarely does the first recipe I try for a certain type of cookie get the honor of being dubbed One Badass Cookie. (What’s a Badass Cookie? Click here.) Especially a cookie like this one that I remember from childhood and that has a taste memory tangled up with emotions and history, and in particular the emotion of love; in this case, for a beloved Scottish nanny who made quite the impression on me growing up. In any case, the recipe above was the first one I received. The scent of it baking made me think it was possibly the one. Warm from the oven, I pretty much knew it was,

but when it cooled into a rich bar with an intense, head-filling flavor and a substantial crunch but no toughness, I knew for sure. I ate three of them immediately, and then packed the rest up to share with friends not because I’m so generous, but because if they remained in the house, I would have had to eat them all right then and there. Absolutely irresistible. Siren-song irresistible. That’s a warning. In any case, taste testers the next morning confirmed what I already knew — this is The One.

I would be delinquent in my duty as a baker however if I did not tell you that the historic recipe above is full of holes, the kind that only a baker with a combined memory of generations of bakers can fill in. To reach into that legacy, bequeathed to me by a legion of cookie mavens, and get the secrets that make it work along with an updated version (or should I say translation of old-recipe-ese), read on.

What you have basically is a recipe that requires the baker to fill in the details, particularly about types of ingredients, their temperatures, and their handling. An unspoken rule for the freshest, high quality ingredients always applies, as does working by hand when possible since most old baking recipes were made that way. I have a kitchen-aid mixer but I would not use it for this because I saw my Scottish nanny make it by hand and I know that the signature crunch of shortbread is partly a result of a judicious amount of hand-kneading to touch, just enough to give it the right structure, but not so much as to make the dough tough. And more importantly, if you mix by machine you will miss the singular pleasure of having this dough in your hands. The aroma is beautiful and the feel of it is quite lovely — a fragrant, floury, buttery mix that awakens an internal sense of earth and sky and sun and all that’s good that comes from it. Once you make it a few times you will know the texture the dough must have: pliable and firm but with no glue-y feel. If the dough becomes glue-like you have worked it too much. If it is mostly falling apart and dry, you have not worked it enough. Have a go at it and enjoy.

One Badass Scottish Shortbread
adapted from The Neighborhood Cookbook, 1914.
Note: The original recipe instructions and ingredients appear at left in italics, and the update is in parenthesis at right. Also this recipe is weighed, not measured, for accuracy. Invest in a good kitchen scale if you don’t already have one. They are kitchen workhorses that more than pay for themselves over time.)

Old recipe:
1 pound flour (update: 1 pound all-purpose unbleached flour)
one-half pound butter: (update: 2 sticks (1/2 pound) unsalted sweet butter, softened slightly to room temperature but not warm and greasy. This is very important. If the butter is too cold or too hot the recipe will not work. Be diligent about checking the butter until it is malleable but still cool and not shiny.)
six ounces sugar (update: 6 ounces of granulated white sugar.)

Method:
1. Work all together on a board. (update: This means combining all the ingredients at once in a large bowl or on a wooden pastry board. I find a bowl easier because it prevents spillage. Squeeze the dough through your fingers, taking fistfuls at a time. Press the dough into the bottom of the bowl trying to get all of it to stick together. Keep doing this until the dough holds together and picks up the remainder of any dry crumbs in the bottom of the bowl. It will not all come completely together but it will mostly adhere.)
2. When thoroughly mixed, press with the hand into cakes one half-inch thick; cut into shapes. (update: This means pressing the dough into disks, the kind you would roll out flat for cutting with cookie cutters. Alternatively, you can press the mixture into a 9” x 13” pan, flatten it by placing a piece of plastic wrap on top and smoothing over it until it is flat and even, then score it with a sharp knife into bars. This is what I did.)
3. Bake in a slow oven. (update: Bake at 300 degrees F. until the dough is light golden and cooked through, about 30 - 45 minutes. Turn the dough half-way through the baking time to prevent uneven browning. While the cookies are still hot from the oven, use a sharp paring knife to cut through the scored lines. Remove the cookies from the pan with a spatula and cool on a wire rack. Store in an airtight container.)

home > article > Pizza in NJ

Masher

Pizza in NJ

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Photo by Jason Perlow

I was never one of those pizza-crazed people.  First of all, I’m a female always worried about keeping the calorie count down.  Secondly, there’s just so much bad pizza around.  And thirdly, pizza is a survival tactic for me as a working mom,--you could say I’ve abused it too much to love it.

But when NJ Monthly magazine asked me if I wanted to write a story on the “soul of New Jersey pizza,”

I said yes because well, there are a lot harder ways to earn a buck, but also this was one assignment where I could take the kids along. 

Among my first stops:  The writing of Ed Levine:  (Pizza:  A Slice of Heaven) and his “Slice/Serious Eats” website (Serious Eats).

In addition to learning (with fascination) all about the depth of pizza--ingredients, history, techniques, and endless discussions about ovens and heat--I was amazed to hear again and again how emotional--almost whacky--people get about the subject, particularly about the pizza places of their youth.  I concluded that pizza in NJ is very much about memory.  There are so many joints here where the pizza is really just okay, but people tell you it’s awesome.  Why?  Well the reason is that it brings back memories. And the pizzamakers--particularly at old beloved taverns--take great pride in never changing a thing to cater to this nostalgia and sense of the past.  I listened with respect and duly noted all this, as an anthropologist might because, well, I wasn’t like that myself.  And I continued to drive around doing my research discovering wonderful out-of-the-way places like Santillo’s (take-out only) in Elizabeth and Grimaldi’s in the back-end of Hoboken.

A big source for my story was one of my Dad’s best friends, Mike D’Amico, who is a lifelong New Jersey Italian American and ardent pizzalogist.  He sent me in the right direction.  And he reminded me of Pizzatown USA in Elmwood Park--still decorated in its original 1958 decor, covered from top to bottom with American flags and red white and blue.  It has become a rather grim stretch of highway since 1958, but Uncle Sam is still up on the roof offering you a pie, ever reassuring the 1950s postwar population that Mussolini is really dead, and Italians can be trusted.  How to describe the inside?  Bizarre.  Totally cool. A bit of a dump....  All of the above.  I hadn’t been there in years.

When I took my family one November night, the pizza was ready in six minutes.  It came out of the oven, bubbling and oozing on the platter—a beautiful thing.  Thin crust, crunchy, light on the cheese and full of tomato sauce. 

The only place to sit was at a communal bench with another family. We settled down, and I stole a sip of my son’s birch beer.  Then a strange thing happened.  Some archeological layers shifted in my brain....  Suddenly, I could see my Dad in the 1970s, slamming the door of his pick up truck, walking up the cement path to our house, past green lawn and maple tree.  Pizzatown box in hand, a white bag of zepoles balanced on top.  The sight of pizza in that childhood life, back then in the era when mothers cooked every night, offered a small burst of joy.  Proust knew what he was talking about with those madeleine’s.  And if you were here with me I’d say that for you with a serious NJ accent. 

Here’s the story in full: NJ Monthly.  http://njmonthly.com/articles/restaurants/searching-for-the-soul-of-jersey-pizza.html

home > article > Calling All Recipe Detectives — The Search for One Badass Scottish Shortbread Part 2

Masher

Calling All Recipe Detectives — The Search for One Badass Scottish Shortbread Part 2

Food has long been baked in coals or under heated rocks, steamed inside animal stomachs and leaves, boiled in rockpots by heated stones, and so forth. An oven could be as simple as a hole in the ground, or a covering of heated stones. However, improved textures and flavours may not have been the reason fire was first controlled.
---A History of Cooks and Cooking, Michael Symons



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This old range is for sale.

Being short on time, I’m going to be conducting my search for One Badass Shortbread by degrees (okay, pun intended, as you’ll soon realize.) Laura found a recipe for me to start with.  My first obstacle though was finding out what was meant by a “slow” oven. Quickly hopping onto Food Timeline and doing a search for oven temperatures, I found so much information that I realized I will ultimately have to, gulp, guess (if you know anything about the scientific, accurately-measuring baker’s mind, you will intuit why this is so difficult for me.

And if you’re a baker too, you’re probably having a little sympathetic anxiety right about now.) In one old recipe, a slow oven is defined in parenthesis as being 325 degrees F. In another, however, a “moderately slow” oven is defined as 325 degrees F too. Scanning other recipes, I found even more disparity. Quick moderate? 325 degrees. Moderately slow in a different recipe than the first I mentioned? 350. Notes in the text specify slow ovens for drying out pastry and moderately hot for baking the center of the mixture by degrees (pun unacknowledged, BTW.) If you can help, send info to me by using the comments link under the title above. In the meantime, watch here for my, um, interpretations of open-ended suggestions for oven temperatures. You can quote me on that.

Want to see my final favorite recipe for Scottish Shortbread right now? Click here.

What is a Badass Cookie? Click here.

see also: Calling All Recipe Detectives — The Search for One Badass Scottish Shortbread



home > article > Thing of the Day - Food or Art?

Masher

Thing of the Day - Food or Art?

There are presently more than 850 million people who do not have enough food to eat and 2.7 billion people living on less than $2 a day. Over the past 50 years, food aid has been one of the principal resources deployed in the effort to end hunger, and a number of donor countries, the United States prominent among them, have channeled billions of dollars’ worth of food to developing countries.
From the food aid website Bread for the World



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The Wedding Feast, Sandro Botticelli, about 1567
Yesterday I was watching Food Network’s Food Challenge on TV while I ran on the treadmill. In this episode, titled “Rock & Roll,” according to info on Food Network’s website, “five pastry chefs compete for $10,000 in their mission to create the ultimate sugar showpiece that not only demonstrates a musical theme but is also capable of movement (rocking and rolling). 

The competition lasts seven hours and the contestants will face three judges.” I finished running before the show ended so I didn’t see the winner, but I couldn’t help thinking of the kind of food sculptures that have been made by chefs for centuries either for holidays - like the Mexican Day of the Dead sugar sculptures that originated in the fifteenth century, or for rituals such as wedding feasts. This quote from the Metropolitan Museum’s website information about weddings in the Italian Renaissance is especially amusing:

“The humanist Filippo Beroaldo reported that the 1487 wedding of Lucrezia d’Este and Giovanni Bentivoglio in Bologna featured giant sugar sculptures of castles, ships, people, and animals, and a flaming wheel of fireworks that accidentally ignited some of the wedding guests.”

While the Food Network chefs weren’t setting anyone on fire, I couldn’t help noticing
that the sculptures they were making, though of electric guitars and not castles or ships, were still elaborate representations in edible form of things from real life, however imaginatively arranged. It doesn’t seem that the art of making edible art has come very far in a few centuries and I wonder what is the hold on our imaginations of a craft that imitates life in food. Perhaps it is just a human attraction to magic and tricks and things that fool the eye in everything from trompe-lieol painting to t-shirts that are painted to look like they have three dimensional objects on top of them.

As an artist, I have a real problem with art that is made of food not intended for eating when so many on this earth are starving, but if the product is truly edible, then I can accept it as a reasonable thing to do. The most points in the Food Challenge competition is given for artistry, even over other attributes like difficulty. Our culture obviously values imagination, but much of the commercial food sculpture of today is only imaginative in its arrangement of objects while the objects themselves are photographically reproduced, rehashing basically the same strategy over and over. A counterpoint to this are fine artists who use food as a vehicle for communicating ideas about life and art. Janine Antoni comes to mind with her 1993 performative chocolate and soap sculpture “Lick and Lather” that deals with the love/hate relationship we have with our own image. And what does a shiny sugar electric guitar that garners ten thou in prize money say about us? I’m not sure I know for certain. But it’s interesting to ponder.
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Janine Antoni, Lick and Lather, chocolate and soap, 1993

see also: Thing of the Day — Tino Sehgal



home > article > How to Find an Old Recipe

Masher

How to Find an Old Recipe

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You meet some people who are lucky.  They are born to stable families that remain intact. Their parents live long healthy lives.  Mom and grandma were wonderful cooks. There was always enough to eat, as well as lots of love and attention.  They get handed down great family recipes, and for the rest of their lives food brings beautiful memories and associations. 

This is very nice.  And you know, sometimes it even really happens. 

But most people are not so lucky.  And the past is rarely so good.

Grandparents die young.  Lots of mothers don’t care at all about cooking.  And in the U.S.--because we are such a mobile fast moving culture--it is easy to loose all the threads of your personal history with one or two generations.  Lots of people learn to cook as adults. 

And so when people come to me and ask how they can find family recipes that are lost forever because someone died or they had no close relatives who were cooks, I say there is no reason to give up.  Everyone has some kind of culinary heritage--even if it is one of hunger or great simplicity.  You may not get the exact thing your grandmother made. But so what. You can come close. 

I have lots of tips--from calling extraneous relatives, to going to the place your family came from.  But one of them is to go to old cookbooks of the era that interests you.  This is increasingly possible with online cookbook collections. 

Certainly one of the best online sources for early American cookbooks food history is the Feeding America Project that was started at the Michigan State University’s Library and Museum, led by the wonderful Jan Longone.  On Feeding America, you’ll find 75 important American cookbooks available page by page online.  This particular collection is better than most because you can search by recipe.  So for example, if you’re looking for sweet potato pie, you’ll find 8 recipes that appeared from 1869 to the beginning of the twentieth century.  These cookbooks range from poor to wealthy authors.  Go try it.  Click “Search the Collection.” Have fun. 

home > article > Of Honeybells and Blank Canvases

Artist's Notebook

Of Honeybells and Blank Canvases

(CNN)—A campaign using text messages to raise money for the Red Cross has tallied more than $21 million for relief efforts in Haiti.
The electronic fundraiser, boosted in its early days by widespread posting on social-networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, has outstripped the organization’s expectations and is showing no signs of letting up, an official said Monday.
“It’s blown me away and it continues to,” said Wendy Harman, the director of social media for the Red Cross.



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At the same time as my family sent me a big box of honeybell oranges I just happen to be in the middle of stretching canvases for a new series of paintings I will start this week. If you don’t know honeybells, they are unique among oranges. You shouldn’t really peel them as they are too juicy for that. Better to slice them with a sharp serrated knife and suck the juice and flesh right off the peel. The company that sells them coyly sends plastic bibs with them like the kind that people use when they eat lobster. Ice cold from the fridge they’re particularly refreshing.
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Somehow they are linked with my blank canvases for me this year and all the new beginnings inherent in them. Also I’ve been thinking about color a lot, and how I would like to work with color in a different way than I used to - more for an emotional response than a literal one. I’ve also been thinking about light, and those oranges just seem to radiate that southern, warm light where they hie from. They’re so juicy and fresh, and so are the blank canvases, ripe with possibility. I look at the oranges and think of orange cake, of the deep orange of Indian silk pungent with incense, of Joni Mitchell singing “There was milk and toast and honey and a bowl of oranges, too, and the sun poured in like butterscotch and stuck to all my senses . . .” The blank canvases are intriguing to me because they remind me that the surface of a picture is flat, something that artists have been making art about for decades. No matter what we put on the surface - an illusion of depth or one that asserts the flatness - the canvas remains an object to be reckoned with. How mysterious it is that for centuries artists have been fascinated by this simple problem of arranging color, form and line on a plane that hangs on the wall.
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My brushes, though well used, are all newly scrubbed and ready to go. All I have to do now is drop down, like a diver, below the surface of everyday life, to plumb the depths of the ideas that have been rolling around in my head for a month. Ideas about poetic, glowing color, about images that elude definition but rather hint at places or things, leaving room for the viewer to enter. I hope I can express it.
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In the exuberance of an orange, clues reside . . . intense hue, light, inspiration.

home > article > Thing of the Day — Tino Sehgal

Masher

Thing of the Day — Tino Sehgal

Inside this temple of objects, I refocus attention to human relations.

Tino Sehgal in response to an interviewer asking him where his intention lies as an artist who shows objectless, undocumented live pieces in museums and galleries.
As quoted in the New York Times Magazine
Sunday, January 17, 2010
“Art That Leaves Behind No Trace” by Arthur Lubow



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Laura and I talked once about how we can spend days making meals - her homemade ravioli, my pies - and then it is consumed in minutes. It’s not that cooks and bakers resent the eaters who adore us and our food, it’s just something that points to the ephemeral nature of domestic arts. We cook, and the food is eaten. We clean and the house gets dirty again. Much of domestic work - what is traditionally known as “women’s work” - is unseen and unpaid, in essence, invisible except for brief moments. It was with this in mind that I read this article about the work of artist Tino Sehgal in yesterday’s Sunday New York Times Magazine. Sehgal’s work is meant to leave no trace. It is made from human beings who inhabit a space, interacting with viewers. I saw Sehgal’s “This Situation” when it was at the Marian Goodman Gallery in NYC. I remember thinking that it was brilliant how Sehgal brought up questions about the traditional manner of making art in the form of objects, among other issues. His work is not even documented because he does not believe in filling the world with more objects when there are already so many. Which is not to say that the work is not sold. This is where the controversy comes in. How are fine artists to survive if they are not allowed to make money without their motives being suspect? Is he a P.T. Barnum with a gimmick, as one of my artist friends thinks? Or is he a visionary who sees beyond materiality to the essence of experience and has the courage to provoke a necessary dialogue?

This objectless art composed of living beings seems to say, “Here I am. Soon I will be gone. Be present here in this moment with me - don’t take pictures, don’t videotape it, just be here - or you’ll miss it.” Isn’t this so much what life is about? This also brought up my own feelings about my chosen form of making art - painting. I do believe in paintings since the conversation that artists are having in paint seems hardly finished, and because paintings communicate something about human experience that I find simply cannot be expressed for me any other way. I have a deep longing and love for paintings that is intrinsic to my being. On the other hand, Sehgal has a point, and he has begun a fascinating dialogue. I’m not about to kick all the object-makers out of the room and stop painting myself, but I like having him at the party too. I hope he - and his pieces - keep talking. Sehgal’s work will be on view at the Guggenheim Museum January 29th - March 10th.

see also: Thing of the Day — Chardin



home > article > Out My Kitchen Window

Masher

Out My Kitchen Window

Tuesday afternoon, Dr. Louise Ivers, an infectious disease specialist at Harvard Medical School, was at a meeting of the World Food Program in a United Nations building in Port-au-Prince when the earthquake hit. She escaped to the building’s driveway unharmed. Within minutes of her arrival 350 injured Haitians gathered in her driveway, looking for medical help.

Ivers was the only doctor.

“The only doc”
Posted: 10:21 AM ET
January 17, 2010
By Elizabeth Cohen
CNN Medical Senior Correspondent



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Dr. Ivers with a Haitian patient, Staff photo Rose Lincoln/Harvard News Office
The tragic circumstances of the earthquake in Haiti has been on our minds lately and this powerful story of 48 hours in the life of one doctor who is trying to make a difference there touched me deeply. I want to share it with you. You can read the full article here. As I was reading it, I couldn’t help thinking that while I am researching the history of cookies for jellypress, these things are going on around me. Laura asked an important question in her previous post. What is our responsibility to the world as writers and artists? In the day to day business of raising a child, working for survival, keeping house, and making art, it’s natural for me to narrow my focus, keep my eyes down, usually focused on a kitchen counter where I am chopping herbs on a cutting board or mixing my palette in my studio for a painting. The beauty and security of these simple things can’t be ignored because they bring joy, and as Laura pointed out, speak to that which endures in the face of hardships. I can’t help asking myself however if I take enough time to look out my kitchen window at the broader horizon.

Sometimes it just seems that there is this huge gap between the private and public spheres. In this painting, below, by Berthe Morisot, the division is marked by a balustrade. The world has changed a lot since she painted it. Women have since left home and made their way in the world. I wonder if we need to jump that balustrade more often. Posting more links here to current events suddenly seems urgent. Not instead of recipes, art and food history, but along with them. Sometimes I don’t know what is the best course of action to directly impact the problems around us. Perhaps awareness is the first step.
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Berthe Morisot, On the Balcony, 1872
If you’d like to make a difference tomorrow, January 18th, and live near Montclair, NJ, you can attend a benefit concert for the Haiti Earthquake Relief Effort from 7 - 10pm at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation, 67 Church Street, Montclair, New Jersey, where the concert of Jazz House Kids will be free but with voluntary donations taken at the door. 100% of proceeds will go to Doctors Without Borders and The American Red Cross.

home > article > More on Scottish Shortbread

Masher

More on Scottish Shortbread

To Make Short Bread
Take a peck of Flour, put three lb of Butter in amoung a little water, and let it melt, pout it in amoung your Flour, put in a Mutchkin of good Barm; when it is wrought divide it in three parts, roll out you cakes longer then broad, and gather from the sides with your Finger, cut down the Middle and job it on Top, then send it to the oven.

Mrs. McLintock’s Receipts for Cookery and Pastry-Work, 1736, available in reproduction.



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The Milk Maid, Johannes Vermeer, 1858-60
In The Art and Mystery of Food, there is a comprehensive treatment on Scottish shortbread. Read it here. Laura found it while digging for authentic Scottish shortbread recipes and lore. The recipe included, above, intrigued me since I am hellbent on finding a recipe to post in my next One Badass Cookie column for the kind of shortbread I mentioned in the previous post. I was most surprised to see “barm” included - a kind of yeasty leavener made from ale. Yeast? In cookies? Ah, but shortbread, it seems, were not originally the cookies we call shortbread today.

A closer look at Laura’s sources point to the fact that like most old recipes, the origins of shortbread are deeply embedded in a way of life: the milk maids of fourteenth to seventeenth century Europe. Where there were dairy cows, there was cheese and butter. And in 1736, the year of the first documented Scottish cookbook Laura found, the word, short, in combination with the word, bread, or cake, was used as a verb rather than a noun. To “short” bread or cake, was in fact, to make it friable or full of what the English came to call “shortening,” in other words, to give it a tender crumb unlike the chewy, sturdy breads made before fat became a popular addition. And the word bread meant just that - bread, yeast risen, soft and sometimes full of citrus peel, spice and nuts - and not plain cookies.

The history of cookies as we know them is really the history of ovens. “Think about a wood burning oven and imagine baking cookies,” Laura told me, “It just doesn’t work opening the door every 12 minutes, right? It was done, but it really was not a practical part of every day life.” Unpredictable open hearths were used until the Civil War by all but the wealthy, and the development of trustworthy ovens was slow. 1910’s gas ovens gradually replaced coal, wood, and petroleum versions, followed by 1930’s electric ranges, both precipitating cookie recipe explosions. World War II’s rationing derailed bakers temporarily, but afterward, armed with abundant butter and sugar, bakers enjoyed a sky’s-the-limit enthusiasm for cookie invention that has yet to abate. 

Old recipes for short cakes and breads were made with ground oatmeal or rice flour. Notches in the dough symbolized the sun’s rays, and most of the early recipes yield cakes or breads that are round, and cut into triangles to serve. While the round shape is sometimes still specified in modern recipes, by the mid-nineteenth century the yeast and add-ins like nuts were gone, and our present-day shortbread cookies were conceived.

see also: Calling All Recipe Detectives — The Search for One Badass Scottish Shortbread



home > article > Calling All Recipe Detectives — The Search for One Badass Scottish Shortbread

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Calling All Recipe Detectives — The Search for One Badass Scottish Shortbread

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I emailed Laura telling her that I wanted to find a shortbread recipe like the one I had as a child but that I had regretfully never learned to make. We’re all flawed. I was only eight years old, and didn’t fully appreciate the Scottish born nanny (and her handed-down recipes) who came to take care of us when my mother accompanied my father on business trips once or twice a year. She stayed briefly, a week or two at most. Her name was Mrs. Wanser. She was one of those story-book type of characters, bigger than life, who lives on in memory.  The bow-legs in their lace-up old lady shoes. The no-nonsense apron worn always and everywhere. The perfect accent. White bun. A gap-toothed smile and pink, flaring nostrils that conjured visions of miles of open, airy farmland and hard work. Her habit of calling us “brother” and “sister” instead of by our names, titles she insisted were as necessary as mother and father to convey respect. Certainly she treated us with more of it than we afforded her. We’d hide from her on the basement stairs, giggling uncontrollably as she called and called us. I have no idea now why it was so funny. We’d already driven off the other nannies. There were four of us, plus pets. You can imagine. She irked us with her old-fashioned rules of early bedtimes and mealtimes, cleaning to the point of obsession and bed sheets tucked in hospital corners so tight we had to struggle to get our feet under the blankets at night, but she was the one who stayed, gently and persistently teaching us grace and forgiveness with her shortbread and shepherd’s pie. I didn’t know this then of course. My mother impressed upon me her worth. Eventually I understood. When Mrs. Wanser gave me a pair of onyx earrings for my sixteenth birthday and I lost one when I wore them to the prom, I was heartbroken. It was all I had of her. When she died, I grieved.

Her shortbread I long for most. It was buttery but not greasy, with a velvet-smooth touch to the surface, and broke off in brick-like chunks from a honey-golden slab that was scored with lines for portioning. It had the kind of thought-erasing flavor notes that flooded your head from back to front. She made it from scratch of course, mixing it with her knobby, arthritic hands in a ceramic bowl on her lap. It worked up into a pliable dough that she patted into a rectangle, scored and baked slowly. Her shepherd’s pie had a blanket of mashed potatoes on it three inches thick over a deep brown mix of meat and vegetables. But I’ll get to that in another post. For now, I only want to find a shortbread that can conjure the taste memory I have of the one I loved then. If you can help, send a recipe to me. And check back soon for more on Scottish shortbread. Laura has been digging in old cookbooks online for the kind of recipes that Mrs. Wanser might have used herself as a young woman, and the things she found are fascinating and surprising, from the meaning of the word to its origins and ingredients. In the meantime I’m going to start with this recipe from The Historic American Cookbook Project. I’ll post the results soon.

Want to see my final favorite recipe for Scottish Shortbread right now? Click here.

see also: Calling All Gingerbread Detectives



home > article > More Thoughts on Catastrophe

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More Thoughts on Catastrophe

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Irene Nemirovsky
I have often asked myself how I can write about pasta and and matters of food while there are so many desperate and pressing issues in the world and people are suffering.  I ask myself, as a writer what is my responsibility?  I think about this all the time and struggle for resolution.  Today the news of Haiti’s earthquake raises the issue again along with the guilt of being safe while other people suffer so horribly.  My heart goes out to the people of Haiti who have suffered so terribly for so long.

Last year I read the beautiful unfinished novel by Irene Nemirovsky “Suite Francaise,” published 65 years after her death.  A Russian Jewish novelist living in France when the Germans were marching in during World War II.  As the campaign against Jews became clear, she understood she would soon die.  Before she was taken away she did two things: 1) arrange for her two daughters to be hidden and saved (they were) and 2) furiously write as fast as she could her ultimate novel.  It was to be a thousand pages long in several parts, yet she only finished a fraction of it before being taken to Auschwitz.  The events of the novel--documenting what she was witnessing as the Germans arrived--are incredibly sad and raise all the questions of human weakness and tragedy.  And yet her act of art, her act of writing on the brink of death was enormously optimistic.  She was a beautiful writer.

During this time, she kept notes where she mulled on her plans for this opus novel of hers.  She didn’t want to create a work that would be solely about the tragedies of World War II because she knew that ten years after the war, people wouldn’t want to think of the horrors any more.  What would endure and still matter in 2052, she asked, while writing in her notebook in the woods, waiting for her death.  And she answered herself:

“What lives on:

1.  Our human day-to-day lives
2.  Art
3.  God.”

I am so taken that someone amidst catastrophe and on the brink of death would understand that “our ordinary day-to-day lives” matter.  I suppose that when women write or paint about domestic life, they are addressing this enduring part of what it means to be human, and in this fact something deeply true.  And this helps me justify what I do.  Sometimes this in itself is art, and sometimes even a step toward what I imagine to be god. Still my questions remain not entirely resolved.

In the meantime what else is there to do but try to help those who suffer? 

If you’d like to help the victims of the quake, text “HAITI” to 90999 to donate $10 to Red Cross relief efforts in Haiti.

Unicef has also appealed urgently for emergency assistance. Visit this link to help.

You can also help immediately by donating to the Red Cross to assist the relief effort. Contribute online here, or

Or, you can donate $10 to be charged to your cell phone bill by texting “HAITI” to “90999.”

home > article > Dining Room Table On The Garden

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Dining Room Table On The Garden

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Pierre Bonnard, Dining Room Table On the Garden, 1934-35
Pierre Bonnard, painter, lover of poetry, did most of the work emblematic of his mature style in his late fifties. It was during this time period that he moved with his wife, Marthe, whom you can barely see on the margins of the painting above if you look closely, to their house in the countryside of France. Out of the city, away from the noise and blur, he could contemplate the quiet domestic scenes flooded with color and light that fascinated him. I’ve been thinking a lot about color and light in my own paintings, coming to the conclusion lately that it is light and an unusual use of color - one that invites a poetic reading rather than a literal one - that most interests me. I’ve been looking at color everywhere, not only in painting, but in life all around me.
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This tart I find particularly glorious. Look at the deep blue and gold and rose of those baked berries. There’s nothing else quite like that.
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This is what I was thinking about when I painted this picture of the purple beans I grew in my backyard one summer. As I continue painting I would like to paint my emotional response to my subject; the essence of the thing and not the thing itself. It’s a process that I’ve only begun. Bonnard is quoted as saying that he wanted to portray the moment of walking into a room for the first time. If you turn from your computer and look behind you into your life, what do you see? A dining room table, a freshly baked tart, a handful of beans? Or is it the quality of the light and the colors it illuminates that will remain in memory long after everything else is gone?

home > article > Gnocchi alla Romana

Not to be Forgotten

Gnocchi alla Romana

Fried Cream Wheat from the Ancient Romans

Accipies similam, coques in aqua calida ita ut durrissimam pultem facias, deinde in patellam expandis.  Cum refrizerit, concidis quasi culdia et frigis in oleo optimo.  Levas, perfundis mel, piper aspergis et inferes.  Melius feceris, si lac pro aqua miseris. 

Take flour [semolina], cook in hot water so that it becomes a very firm polenta, then spread it on a plate.  When it has cooled, cut it as for sweet cakes and fry in oil of the finest qualty.  Remove, pour honey over, sprinkle with pepper, and serve.  You will do even better if you use milk instead of water. 

The De re coquinaria of Apicius

as found in A Taste of Ancient Rome, by Ilaria Gozzini Giacosa, Translated by Anna Herkolotz



You probably haven’t read Latin in a while, so I included the English translation.

What you have here is “polenta” made with semolina and fried.  How intriguing that it’s covered with a combination of honey and pepper. Today we think of polenta as cornmeal mush.  But before corn reached Europe from the Americas, polenta was a sort of porridge that could be made with various grains or even chestnut.  This comes from the De re Coquinaria, attributed to a gourmand named Apicius who lived in ancient Rome during the first century A.D. (though he alone did not solely write it).  When you read through the recipes for cabbage and vinegar sauces, porridges and roasted pigeons, so much seems to be missing that would seem to be “Italian” food: No tomatoes, potatoes, hot peppers, corn, and even pasta as we know it.  This is because what we know today as “Mediterranean cuisine” is very much rooted in the Middle Ages, not the Romans.

Which gets you thinking about the endlessly deep story of Italy and its food and language--ever changing and so deep.  All these ruminations because I had such a wonderful time last night with a large group of Italians and Italian Americans in Princeton.  I was there to do a talk about Genoese food and my ravioli memoir at a culture center called Dorothea’s House.  This is a very special place with a huge following.  Check it out if you live anywhere close. 

It’s very strange how writing is such a solitary experience and requires years of loneliness, yet because of the world we live in, the book is published, and a writer must become a public person.  Sometimes it is very difficult (and at times terribly embarrassing).  Other times you can’t believe how lucky you are to meet such wonderful people.  Last night was one of those wonderful times and I’m sure it was the warmth of the people, who share long bonds to Italian history and culture.

There was a reception and pot luck following, where I even tasted some pesto that made me feel as though i was in Genoa.  But the dish that left a huge impression was Gnocchi alla Romana..  I’d never had it before.  It was little cookie sized circles of polenta baked to crisp brown in layers on a dish.

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Now, this is a simple dish mind you.  A warm starchy comfort food.  Yet it was a revelation.  I cannot explain how wonderful it tasted to me and how I immediately wanted to make it my own.  Of course emotions always color our taste buds.  So perhaps it was the night.  But I don’t think so.  I’m pretty sure it was the dish, which did not at all seem like “gnocchi.” But that’s Italy for you.  The same word can mean one thing in one region and something completely different in another.  You’ll never figure it all out. 

I consulted with my hero Marcella Hazan who gives a recipe for basically the same thing, which she calls “Baked Semolina Gnocchi” in her Classic Italian Cookbook, explaining that the dish can be traced back to Ancient Rome, where it was fried and covered with honey.  Which is why I turned all geeky this morning, hunting through Apicius , as though I don’t have articles due and a family to care for and many other deadlines. Semolina is a universe.  But we wont go there now. 

Luckily I met a woman named Linda at the event last night who is a dear friend of the cook responsible for slaying me and the whole recipe is already posted on her fabulous blog Ciaochowlinda.com, which all Italian food enthusiasts would want to know. And so I send you into her good hands. Notice the cool layering technique and how it all bakes together.  Let me know if you make this dish and if you agree that it is a brilliant piece of simplicity. 

home > article > Sunday Morning

Masher

Sunday Morning

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It’s a sunny Sunday morning, cold and bright. The furnace turned itself off in the middle of the night so I padded downstairs bundled up in a sweatshirt on top of p.j.’s and thick socks. Max was still sleeping. Bits of flour and dough were still on the table from the night before.
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We made cinnamon buns from a recipe called “Overnight Sticky Buns” on Cooks Illustrated. I quietly got them out and put them near the radiator to warm once I got the furnace started again. Made a pot of coffee. Read email. Perused lists of grants for artists online. Trolled for a recipe for split pea soup for tonight’s dinner. Put the buns on the pizza stone to bake. Marked the pea soup recipe I chose finally with the green satin ribbon attached to my cookbook.
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All I had to say was “Warm cinnamon buns,” and Max was down the stairs and at the kitchen counter in a moment. Good mornng.

home > article > Thing of the Day — Fennel Pollen

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Thing of the Day — Fennel Pollen

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This is what happened: I got Sara Jenkins’ cookbook, Olives and Oranges, which you can read all about by clicking the link at the end of this post. In it, I found a recipe for a loved one who has a childhood fondness for oyster stuffing. But what was this ingredient I spied in the recipe? Fennel pollen. At first I thought I had read it wrong, and that it must have read fennel powder. But no. It said pollen, and that I might find it at Il Buco in Manhattan. “Wild fennel pollen can turn a simple dish into something truly spectacular,” writes Jenkins. So I tracked it down like a sorceress in pursuit of a new potion and was delighted with the corked glass vial and its rustic paper tag tied on with coarse string and handwritten in Italian. The seedy, powdery stuff inside, gathered by hand from the flowers, is a delicate soft sage green color that speaks of leaf and blossom.The real delight, however, was revealed when I lifted the cork. A perfumed aroma wafted out with such strength I was taken off guard for a moment. The scent is kind of like holding a very pungent anise and fennel scented flower right under your nose. Imagine this, then imagine you are in the garden surrounded by hundreds of these flowers. This stuff is strong and beautiful, and when spread on vegetables or poultry and roasted, it intensifies and delivers an intoxicating flavor. Read more about it here. Try it. It’s a splurge but worth it. And if you can’t get to Manhattan, you can buy it online here.

see also: Why I Love Olives and Oranges



home > article > Vasilopita

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Vasilopita

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How could I, an avid baker, artist, and lover of all things with a global connection and a long thread into the past, have gone my whole life without hearing about a Greek New Year’s holiday that is celebrated with a buttery cake, and not only that, but with a prize for good luck hidden inside? Here is a photo of my friend, colleague, fellow mom and musician Erasmia with her Vasilopita (which I am told can be a cake, bread or even pie) half-eaten by a crew of celebrants. It’s delicious and surprisingly light, and more than that, carries with it tales and traditions that reach back into ancient memory and history. The tradition of the vasilopita celebrates St. Basil, who made good on his promise to the impoverished of Caesarea that he would make their greedy emperor repent and give back all the coins, heirlooms and jewelry he had demanded from them to pay excessive taxes. Since the task was daunting to return everything to the rightful owners, the story goes that all the treasures were baked into a cake that was then sliced up and shared among the people. The miracle is that supposedly each family received a slice of cake that contained exactly the treasures they had contributed. In commemoration today, a foil-wrapped coin is baked into the cake and the person who receives it has good luck for the year to come. St. Basil is also credited with generosity in the community, having set up an orphanage and hospital during his lifetime.
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Mastiha
I was intrigued also by old recipes for the cake, which contain Old World ingredients, mahlepi (crushed, powdered sour cherry pits with a fruity taste) and mastiha (a jewel-like aromatic resin) I had never heard of, but which Erasmia says are still available at cool specialty shops. She wrote to me, “I didn’t know that mastihashop opened in Soho last year!” You can also get this ingredient as a liqueur. About the taste she writes, ”This is the mastiha that I remember as a child – I see now that it is mastic with sugar and corn syrup.  It’s easy to find, any Greek shop will have it (such as The Greek Store in Kenilworth, New Jersey.) As kids, we did not like the gum so much.” Erasmia also told me about how difficult it can be, as with most old recipes from other cultures, to get exact measurements. She writes, ”This blog shows pictures of the almonds decorating the top, and the recipe includes brandy, which was an important ingredient in my mom’s version. (I have to ask her to give it to me sometime – it’s in a very very old Greek cookbook (my grandmother’s) and the language is a little dated, so I don’t understand measurements, etc.” Erasmia’s version comes from a 1957 cookbook, which she shared with Jellypress.

Vasilopeta – Cretan New Year Cake
adapted from a cookbook called “Popular Greek Recipes”, which was first published in 1957 by The Ladies of Philoptochos Society at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in Charleston, South Carolina. (Buy it here.)

1 cup butter
½ cup vegetable oil
2 ½ cups sugar
7 eggs, separated
1 teaspoon almond extract, optional
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
¼ cup sugar
3 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup yogurt
1 cup crushed almonds, slightly toasted, optional

*(Erasmia’s additions: orange zest from one orange; ½ cup orange juice)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.  Toast almonds in oven in pan with 1 teaspoon melted butter for 5 minutes, or until slightly amber in color – stir often.

Cream butter and oil with sugar for 10 minutes. Add egg yolks and flavorings, beating until fluffy - *here, Erasmia also added orange zest and orange juice.  Sift dry ingredients and add to batter alternately with yogurt.  Fold in the crushed almonds.  Beat the egg whites with salt until foamy.  Gradually add ¼ cup sugar and continue beating until a stiff meringue forms.  Carefully add to cake batter, blending lightly.  Pour into greased and floured baking pan, about 16” by 11” or a round 14” pan. Drop a sterilized coin into the batter, and decorate the top with slivers of almonds. Bake in oven at 325 for 35 – 40 minutes.

*(I put it into a 9 by 13 glass pan, but it was a little deeper, and needed to bake longer.  Probably the recipe demands a bigger but shallower pan.)

home > article > Why I Love Olives and Oranges

Masher

Why I Love Olives and Oranges


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I don’t want to complain endlessly about how the food world exasperates me sometimes because it is mostly overrun with poser celebrity chefs hamming it up like culinary clowns on their gimmicky TV shows featuring soulless recipes, more entertainment than substance. I’d rather turn my readers on to something real that makes me happy and this is one of those things. Every once in a while there comes along a great cook, and even better when that cook is possessed of a genuine and generous spirit and reaches out to share her gift. Such is Sara Jenkins, daughter of the food authority Nancy Harmon Jenkins. I met Sara at a party thrown by Saveur magazine where I was tagging along with Laura who had recently written for them. Lucky me. Not only was the party food exceptional and the company welcoming, but I was fortunate enough to be waiting on the buffet line next to Sara. We struck up a conversation during which she told me about her new cookbook with co-author Mindy Fox, Olives & Oranges: Recipes & Flavor Secrets from Italy, Spain, Cyprus & Beyond (Houghton Mifflin 2008). pictured above, and her restaurant, Porchetta, in downtown Manhattan. I was so impressed with Sara’s down-to-earth, modest demeanor and intriguing descriptions of her food and restaurant that I bought her cookbook online, sight unseen and hiked into the city to Porchetta as soon as I was able. Why do I love both so much? Sara has the kind of sensibility that knows what the word flavor means. The Mediterranean-styled recipes, of substantial soups, salads, entrees and sweets, yield dishes with flavors that are intensely nuanced and complex without being in the least difficult. She’s almost like a painter in the way she assembles a palette of flavors that meld beautifully. Her roast chicken, stuffed under the skin with sage, garlic and lemon peel, which was chosen for Saveur’s top 100 issue last year, is one of my favorites. Her tiny restaurant, practically a hole in the wall but with a clean, modern allure, is a treat if you love all things homey and rustic. You can read an interview with Sara here. And if you’re anywhere near NYC and you’re dreaming of a hot bowl of good soup, a crusty slice of fresh bread, melt-in-your-mouth pork, soulful beans, greens, and an exemplary biscotti, visit Porchetta.
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home > article > Thing of the Day — Klee

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Thing of the Day — Klee

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Around the Fish, 1926
Paul Klee

Today I was reading a book about Paul Klee, another of my favorite artists. His work related so beautifully to my last post, below, that I decided to share this painting and quote of his:
“It is not my task to reproduce appearances . . . for that there is the photographic plate. I want to reach the heart. In this way, we learn to look beyond the surface and get to the roots of things.”

see also: Thing of the Day — Chardin



home > article > Thing of the Day — Chardin

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Thing of the Day — Chardin

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Jean Baptiste Simeon Chardin
“Still Life with Fish and a Copper Pot”

This is one of my favorite artists, the eighteenth century master of all things humble and home. The color especially resonates right now in the midst of the bleak beauty of another north-east winter. On the kitchen counter: the makings of a good dish, and more than that, the light of inspiration. Laura and I subtitled Jellypress “Old recipes, modern life.” Mostly people assume that this means we are bringing the old recipes with us into modern life, such as when I baked challah with my son who I wish to teach a connection to his ancestry and their old foodways. Laura and I talk about wanting to shed some of this goody-two-shoes image of being the dutiful daughters of the kitchen. So sometimes “old recipes, modern life” means breaking tradition, leaving the old recipes behind if that’s what’s necessary to move forward. This is what I’m thinking about a lot now in my painting, and especially when I look at the Chardin, which I cherish for its light and economy, but know that I can’t paint like that now. To bring that old recipe entire into the present would be to deny the present time, to look backward instead of forward. It also would be to deny the viewer the opportunity to enter the painting imaginatively, and it would deny the forward movement of painting from the moment it came into its own after the invention of photography.
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This is what I was thinking about when I painted myself recently, a self-portrait from this photograph my son took of my back. I knew I couldn’t just copy it in the manner of Chardin, or any other old master, even though I am trained as a realist painter, fluent in the art of illusion. I wanted something more. Something like what Virginia Woolf wrote in her memoir A Sketch of the Past: “If I were a painter . . . I should make a picture . . . of things that were semi-transparent; I should make curved shapes showing the light through but not giving a clear outline. Everything would be large and dim . . .”
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Instead I painted it like this. I hope you understand. It has, hopefully, the light of inspiration.

see also: Old recipe: Modern Child



home > article > A Good Night’s Dinner

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A Good Night’s Dinner

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My son: if you read our posts often, you know he’s 12 and that I am a working single mom, a painter with a full-time gig. So some nights, anxious to get back into my studio, all I can manage is to coach him to get his homework done and microwave a bowl of canned soup for us. Tonight was different. My copy of the Gourmet Today cookbook arrived in the mail and leafing through it I got inspired. Here’s the homey plate of pork with balsamic glaze I made from it. I threw in carrots and substituted onions for the shallots (sorry, Ruth) To the book’s credit, it was easy and worked perfectly. Then I made my tried and true healthful mashed potatoes with lowfat milk and chicken stock and finished it with a little butter and salt. Admonished the delighted child, “Take human bites.” And plenty to be packed into lunch boxes tomorrow. 

home > article > Thing of the Day — My French Press

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Thing of the Day — My French Press

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I love my new French Press coffee maker. Here’s a photo of it pre-plunge. A lot of people have the glass ones, but I read recently about how the stainless ones keep the coffee hot longer. Yes they do. Ten minutes after plunging (and I know this since I am always rushing around in the morning and never quite getting to pour the coffee) it’s still piping hot. I went looking for old coffee recipes to post with this photo and came across cool ones for coffee cake on The Old Foodie. Back then, they baked in a hearth which was an overwhelming amount of work, and even though it’s wonderful to fire up my stove in a second rather than chop wood and work for hours with a tinder box to get a fire going, I still fantasize about how nice it would be to have a toasty hearth in my kitchen on a frosty ‘morn like this. It’s 32 degrees here in the east today and what they call “feels like 17.” Brrrr. Feeling pretty grateful for that hot cup of Joe just about now.

home > article > (Fabulous) Thing of the Day — Sea Salt Chocolate

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(Fabulous) Thing of the Day — Sea Salt Chocolate

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I’m having a love affair with specialty chocolates made with sea salt. This craving for sweet plus salty has been on chefs’ minds a lot recently, and one of the results are some incredible chocolates. If you are trying to cut back on all that’s sweet this January, as I hear some people are, you might find it satisfying to have a chunk of dark chocolate after a meal instead of cookies or cake. Works for me. Here’s two of my current obsessions: Hawaiian sea salt and burnt caramel chocolate from Chocopologie and Butter Toffee Infused with Welsh Sea Salt in chocolate from Chocolat Moderne. My son bought me these for my birthday. Aw! Ain’t that sweet?

see also: Thing of the Day — Black Walnut Shortbread



home > article > Thing of the Day — Black Walnut Shortbread

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Thing of the Day — Black Walnut Shortbread

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Laura says she’s over all the holiday sweets. Not me. I never can tire of baking and sweet things, but that’s because I’ve got a baker’s soul, generations deep, and an athlete’s psyche, out on the street taking a run or riding my bike every day to compensate. So, with all due respect for the January buzz urging moderation in eating, here’s a photo of the black walnut shortbread I just baked. Black walnuts in particular are an obsession of mine. I wrote about them in my book Walking On Walnuts which is much more about old recipes and modern life, just like jellypress, than it is about walnuts. My favorite black walnut recipe comes from Sarah Belk, who wrote the fabulous cookbook Around the Southern Table. These cookies are like pecan sandies in texture, but in flavor, worlds beyond the ordinary. If you’ve never tasted a black walnut, do. They’re more intense, more darkly rich and more flavorful than other nuts, and though they need tempering with other ingredients to render them palatable to most people, they are sublime in that way that food lovers crave: singular, unrivaled, challenging to the adventurous. Their toughness to crack has made them legendary (there are stories of trucks being backed over them in order to open them, but I can’t confirm that . . .) Read about and buy them here. So I know it’s officially Get-in-Shape-and-Eat-Light January, but if you still want something sweet once in a while, try this recipe:

Black Walnut Squares
Adapted from Around the Southern Table by Sarah Belk, Simon and Schuster, 1991
Note: Sarah’s original recipe uses buckwheat flour but I used all white all-purpose flour. If you try the buckwheat, let me know. I can’t wait to get some and try it again.

Makes 16 squares

1/2 cup California walnuts
1/2 cup black walnuts
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup buckwheat flour (or all-purpose flour)
1/4 t. salt
6 T. cold, unsalted butter cut into small pieces
1 T. grated lemon zest
1 T. brandy (I used dark rum)
confectioner’s sugar to shake on after baking, if desired.

1. Preheat oven 300 degrees F.
2. In a blender or food processor, process nuts and sugar until finely ground. Add flour(s) and salt and process until just mixed. Add butter and process until crumbly. Add lemon zest and brandy (or rum) and pulse until mixture just holds together. Pat the dough into a flat cake, wrap and chill at least 2 hours (or alternatively chill in freezer for 30 minutes but be careful not to freeze too long.)
3. Fit the dough evenly into a nonstick or lightly buttered 8 inch by 8 inch baking pan. Using a sharp knife, score the dough into 16 bars. Bake for about 45 minutes, checking the pan and rotating it halfway through baking time to ensure even browning. When golden, remove from oven and while still warm, score over the lines you made earlier to separate the bars. Remove them from pan with a narrow, flexible spatula. Cool on a rack. Sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar before serving.

see also: Thing Of The Day — Fresh Dough



home > article > One Badass Gingerbread Cake — Happy New Year

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One Badass Gingerbread Cake — Happy New Year

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Ladies and Gentlemen, we have a winner. The search for the perfect gingerbread is over, and here is the winning recipe - a combination of an Edna Lewis recipe my sister sent to me, and “Grandmom Lindner’s Gingerbread” I found in a book. I am proud this New Year’s Eve to bring to you, yes indeed, One Badass Gingerbread. Here’s to a great 2010 for us all. And if you want, you can do what I have been doing for years. Make your list of the things you wish, dream and hope for in the coming year. Print it on a bright colored 3 x 5 card and hang it in sight somewhere in your home. Watch your dreams come true. And in the meantime, if you love to bake and love gingerbread, here’s the most badass of the badass gingerbreads:

One Badass Gingerbread

Makes one 9-inch square pan, or one 8-inch square pan.Thickness of cake will vary accordingly.

Adapted from “The Gift of Southern Cooking,” by Edna Lewis and Scott Peacock (Random House, 2003)
Time: About 1 hour

Note: regular and robust molasses, specified below, are the types of the brand “Grandma’s” molasses, found in most supermarkets. Any dark molasses can be substituted, however keep in mind that blackstrap molasses, if you choose it, is much darker and much more bitter than the molasses that was used in the tests for this recipe.

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, more for pan
2 cups all-purpose flour, more for pan
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 t. ground allspice
1/4 t. ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
3/4 cup Grandma’s “regular” molasses (1 1/2 cups altogether of one type of molasses may be substituted instead of 3/4 cup of two different kinds.)
3/4 cup Grandma’s “robust” molasses
Freshly whipped cream, for serving.

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour an 8-by-8-by-2-inch or a 9-by-9-by-2-inch baking pan (watch baking times if you use a larger pan as the gingerbread will bake more quickly and come out a bit more thin). Combine flour, baking soda and baking powder into a large mixing bowl. Blend in spices and salt and whisk with a wire whisk.
2. In a small pan, bring 1 cup water to a boil. Melt 1/2 cup butter in it, then whisk water into flour mixture. Beat eggs and add to mixture, along with molasses. Whisk until well blended. Pour into pan.
3. Bake for 35 to 45 minutes or until a skewer plunged into center comes out with no trace of raw batter. Interior will be moist. When pan is cooler, but still very warm, wrap entire pan with plastic wrap, then cool it further while wrapped. Unwrap, then serve warm or room temperature with freshly whipped cream.
Yield: 6 to 8 servings.
Note: This cake is also delicious the day after it is baked. The spices meld and the texture gets even more like a steamed pudding.

Laura’s note:  I have made this cake serveral times now and have this to offer:  You can substitute half the butter for canola oil if you wish.  And if you don’t like the strong taste of molasses, you can also replace half the molasses with brown sugar.  It is excellent.

see also: One Badass Cookie - Ginger Molasses Cookie



home > article > Thing Of The Day — Fresh Dough

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Thing Of The Day — Fresh Dough

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When I’ve had it with the holiday pressure and rush, this is one of the places I like to go: into my kitchen, up to my elbows in dough.

they dreamed of following in out of the light
to hear step after step

the heart of bread
to be sustained by its dark breath
and emerge

to find themselves alone
before a wheat field
raising its radiance to the moon.
Excerpted from “Bread” by W. S. Merwin, 1993.

see also: Thing of the Day



home > article > Calling All Gingerbread Detectives — Post-Christmas Update

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Calling All Gingerbread Detectives — Post-Christmas Update

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I just sent my boyfriend off to work with two giant foil-wrapped pieces of fresh gingerbread cake. How lucky is he to be the significant other of the obsessed baker-blogger? It’s day three of the search for perfect gingerbread and even though there’s still work to do to find the one true recipe, it sure was nice to have a plate of fresh gingerbread with warm lemon sauce for Christmas dinner dessert, whatever its shortcomings. You’d think I’d get tired of baking and tasting the stuff but I still can’t get enough. Good thing I’m on the stationary bike every day. Update: We have tried four recipes so far and procured the chefs’ molasses of choice, Steen’s Pure Cane Syrup, plus several jars of different types of molasses found at most supermarkets, among them “Grandma’s Original” and “Plantation Blackstrap.” We’ve also been out there on the ‘net looking around, and were not surprised to find that this holdiay gingerbread obsession is shared by a lot of us food bloggers. And we are happy to announce that we have a contender! The promising recipe, found by my sister, Janet, as I mentioned in my previous post, is pictured on the left: Edna Lewis’ Dark Molasses Gingerbread, adapted from The Gift of Southern Cooking, by Edna Lewis and Scott Peacock (Random House, 2003.) On the right is a very good, well-spiced but lighter version from Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen by the late Laurie Colwin (Harper Perennial, 2000.). So what do we do now? 

We take Edna’s recipe, which has the moist, dark, intensity of the Mennonite recipe we love but lacks its generous spices, and add more spice in the proportions found in one of the first recipes we found, “Grandmom Lindner’s Favorite Gingerbread Cake” (which can be found in our first post calling for all gingerbread detectives.) We’ll also try a different molasses in Edna’s recipe since she specifies only that the molasses be “dark” and does not clarify whether that means “regular,” “robust,” or “blackstrap.” The proportion we used of 1 cup Steen’s (which is a delicious sweet syrup by the way somewhere between dark corn syrup and regular molasses) and 1/2 cup blackstrap gave us the desired color and texture but left a more bitter aftertaste than desired. We’re hoping that 1 cup of “Grandma’s regular” and 1/2 cup Steen’s might do the trick. Stay tuned! When we find it, the ultimate gingerbread recipe will be posted in a new One Badass Cookie column soon. And if you’re reading this and you’ve got a tip or recipe for us to help us on our way, use the comments link above to let us know.

home > article > Calling All Gingerbread Detectives — Christmas Update

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Calling All Gingerbread Detectives — Christmas Update

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Merry Christmas Jellypress! Thank you to all our readers who roamed Sherlock-Holmes-style to help us find the dark gingerbread of our dreams. Here’s a picture of one find, Steen’s Pure Cane Syrup, which is from what we understand, the chef’s choice ingredient for any recipe yielding something dark and rich and made with molasses. I shlepped through the slushy sidewalks of Manhattan to get this can at Dean & Deluca but you can also order it online. We are about to test two or three variations of recipes sent to us, some with blackstrap molasses, some with Steen’s. One recipe comes from the late beloved food writer and chef Laurie Colwin and the other is this New York Times recipe sent to me by my beloved sister, Janet. May the baking commence! More pix and updates soon. Thank you again to all who replied and Happy Holiday. We’ve got snow here in the northeast and it’s very pretty and peaceful this morning. Hope it’s a wonderful day for all.

see also: Calling All Gingerbread Detectives



home > article > Calling All Gingerbread Detectives

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Calling All Gingerbread Detectives

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Just look at it. It’s the Holy Grail of gingerbread. The benchmark. The bar, raised really, really high. Moist. Dark. Intensely flavored. It’s the gingerbread I bought from the Mennonites’ bakery stand at the Reading Terminal Market when I lived in Philly this summer. The bonneted one wouldn’t give me the recipe. So I’m sending out an S.O.S. to all our jellypress readers. I must find a recipe for this wonderful stuff.  I found two that seemed promising. I made both. Here’s a picture of them:
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On the left: “Grandma Lindner’s Favorite Gingerbread Cake” from Gingerbread (Andrews McMeel, 2009) which required 13 ingredients and exacting, time-consuming steps. On the right: “Molasses Cake” from The Amish Cook’s Baking Book(Chronicle, 2009) which was ready to bake in a minute, all seven ingredients mixed at once in one bowl. Nope. Neither one is the one. Not dark enough. Not fragrant enough. Not intense enough. Not . . . well, it. Can you help? If you can, use the comments link above to send me a recipe or a lead to a recipe and I will pursue it and make it. Send in your best, and watch for future posts to see how the search unfolds. To be continued . . .and in the meantime, if you like a plain molasses cake, perfect for children especially, or a lighter version of spice-y gingerbread that is delicious in its own right, here’s the recipes for the ones I made:

Grandmom Lindner’s Favorite Gingerbread Cake
adapted from Gingerbread by Jennifer Lindner McGlinn (Chronicle, 2009)
makes 1 8-cup bundt
2 1/2 cups cake flour
1 t. baking soda
1 1/2 t. ground ginger
1 t. ground cinnamon
1/4 t. allspice
1/4 t. cloves
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, room temperature
1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 cup molasses (I used original but you could try robust or blackstrap)
1 t. vanilla extract
1 egg
1 cup hot water
1. Preheat oven 350 degrees. Butter the cake pan and set aside.
2. Whisk together dry ingredients. Cream butter with brown sugar until fluffy. Beat egg and add a little at a time. (If the mixture curdles, set the bowl over a pot of simmering water and melt some of the butter. Then whisk in the egg until it’s smooth and shiny.) Add vanilla.
3. Combine hot water and molasses. Add molasses and flour to mixture by alternating wet and dry ingredients (begin with 1/3 of flour mixture, then half of molasses/water, then 1/3 more of flour, then 1/2 of water/molasses, then the rest of the flour.) Do not overmix. The batter will be very wet and thin.
4. Pour into prepared pan and bake until a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean, about 30 - 45 mins.

Molasses Cake
adapted from The Amish Cook’s Baking Book by Lorina Eicher with Kevin Williams (Andrews McMeel, 2009.)
Makes one 9 x 13 inch cake
2 cups all purpose unbleached flour
3/4 cups molasses
1/4 cup sugar
2 t. baking soda
1 egg
1/2 cup buttermilk or sour milk
1/2 cup hot water
1. Preheat oven 350 degrees. Butter the cake pan and set aside.
2. In a large bowl, combine all ingredients. Do not overmix. Bake until a skewer inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean, about 40 minutes.

Want to see my final favorite gingerbread right now? Click here.

home > article > Old recipe: Modern Child

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Old recipe: Modern Child

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I made him. It’s Chanukkah after all. Of course he said “no” first. He’s twelve going on seventeen and none of this is cool anymore. Guitars are cool. So are purple high-top sneakers. And video games that block me out. But baking with Mom? “Okay if I have to . . . “ He adored all the fuss as a small child but now that he’s wearing a man’s size ten shoe, he’s forgotten. He’s forgotten a lot of things. How to effuse. How to hold Mom’s hand in public.  How to answer questions about his day in more than one syllable. “What did your music teacher say about your concert last night?” “Good.” “That’s all after months of preparing? Just ‘good’?” “Yeah. No. What?” Each night, I worry over the backpack spilled on the floor, the messy school folder. When I look closer, though, I see everything is fine. He has even taken out the garbage and emptied the dishwasher as I requested. Reading by his side while he shoots imaginary aliens with a digital shooter, I’m suddenly amazed at his profile. The toddler’s softness replaced by handsome angles, the unruly copper curls, once so embarrassing they had to be hidden under hats, now worn loose and free. At the counter, leaning over the flour, he was patient, mixing, whisking, measuring. Doing it for me. A kindness. I reminded him how to form the braid. Hand over hand, too big yet for the still-catching-up wrists, he gently lifted each rope of shining dough and placed it just so. And when it was done, he smiled. Such radiance. Over this magical, simple thing, this sweet and homey bread. Happy Hanukkah.

home > article > Food and Eating in Genoa:  Once Again

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Food and Eating in Genoa:  Once Again

I just returned from Genoa for an ever-so brief week there.  My soul and belly were filled by pesto and my heart verklempt at the sight of “Little Village” aka Camogli with its trompe l’oeil painted facades, black stone beach, and looming Portofino Mountain.  The last time I’d been there was with my boys (oh so grown now) when I was researching my memoir The Lost Ravioli Recipes of Hoboken, questing about for a lost family recipe and trying to get my story straight. 

This visit, was for a different mission.  (More on that later.) But in the meantime, here’s a glimpse:

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Camogli first.  Local fishermen (of the Camogli Fishing Cooperative) still go out with little boats and use traditional netting methods. 

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Salted anchovies are popular in Liguria.  You see the fresh silvery ones in bins at the market and on the plate, as here at a place called La Rotunda (also in Camogli). 

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At La Rotunda, I also sampled a tiny little local fish called rossetti,, smaller than your fingernail, and this excellent octopus salad with potato.  (Oh why oh why do I have to drive half an hour to find good octopus?)

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Next stop:  Da o Vittorio, a very old trattoria in Recco--my great grandparents’ town.  Here is the famous Recco style focaccia.  It comes out on the huge round platter.  I caught this photo just as the last two slices were cut and plated.  Recco style focaccia is basically two thin slices of dough baked with hot melting crescenza or strachino cheese between.

See any red sauce yet? 

If Genoese food were to have a single color, it would green, green from all the vegetables and herbs.  Here are fritters that were perfect--made from an herb-specked leavened dough, deep fried, not greasy in the least, and salted.
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So much Genoese cuisine:  gathered greens, mushrooms and chestnuts....  comes from the hills and mountains.  Here is the view from Enrichetta’s house an hour north of Genoa.  (You loyal readers may remember her from Lost Ravioli.  She is the mother of my friend Sergio Rossi..  Enrichetta is eighty years old and a former professional cook.

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Gnocchi fly off her magic hands in a whir.  She made a large batch in twenty minutes.

After a lunch, Enrichetta brought out some rose petal liqueur that she’d made last summer.  I almost fainted.  Does anyone in the USA makes rose petal liqueur?  If so I want to know about it. 
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Vegetable pies called torte (torta for one) are very popular in Liguria.  These--photographed in the seaside town Chiavari--look a lot like the kind my family has always made.  “Bietole” means chard.
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One of my favorite meals ever:  a bowl of Genoese style minestrone at Trattoria Arvigo in a town about 40 minutes north of Genoa in a town called Cremeno.

And of course the thing the Genoese are most famous for:  pesto.  I wore earrings to match.
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home > article > Purple Inspiration

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Purple Inspiration

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1.  Wash and slice your little eggplant in half.  Salt it now if you like. 

2.  Heat lots of olive oil in the pan until it is very hot but not smoking.  When is it hot enough?  When you put a wooden spoon in and the oil sizzles

3.  Fry the eggplant on one side until it is golden.  Salt it now if you didn’t before.

4.  Turn with a spatula and fry the other side.  Salt again. 



If your garden is in full sun as mine is, it keeps going into November--even here in the Northeast of NJ.  The herbs are fading but still quite serviceable.  And our broccoli keeps pushing hard.  Every day I still eat at least one cherry tomato.  But the end is near.

Two small eggplant plants gave us an unremitting amount of fruit.  There’s still some out there, and frost will come any night now.  Time to collect and cook.  This is a lovely way. 

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home > article > One Badass Cookie — Taiglach for the Jewish High Holidays

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One Badass Cookie — Taiglach for the Jewish High Holidays

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Now there’s a sight for sore eyes. Isn’t it gorgeous? This is my Great-Grandma Esther Hanna’s taiglach — kind of like caramel ginger walnut bar cookies — that I made for Rosh Hashannah, the Jewish New Year. I live for this stuff and so does most of my family. Just the smell of it cooking brings back . . . okay, I’m getting sentimental here but bear with me . . . my mother’s kitchen in all its glory. Pot lids rattlin’, my Mom in her flowered apron walking on a bag of walnuts instead of chopping them with a knife, as readers of my book will know “so the pieces are small, but not too small . . .”, the dramatic moment when she dipped her hands in ice water to handle the piping hot caramel, all of it. If you don’t know taiglach, I truly believe you are missing out on one of the most Badass of the Badass cookies. I will warn you that it is only for experienced bakers. Lots of directions that say “to taste” or “by feel” and so on, but it’s worth the effort. Once you do it, however the reward is huge. You’ll have entered the collective memory of generations of bakers, and you’ll carry them with you each time you go to bake. That’s a powerful lot of bakin’ hoodoo. So if you’re game, and want to serve something really wonderful after the fast on Yom Kippur next week, read on for the recipe, a link to a cool variation with hazelnuts and almonds, the Badass Cookie tip of the week, and a chance to win Nancy’s book . . . “Shana Tovah!” (Happy New Year.)

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Great Grandma Esther Hanna’s Taiglach
from Walking On Walnuts by Nancy Ring, Bantam 1996.
Makes approximately 2 dozen 2-inch square bars.

4 extra large eggs, separated
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 level teaspoon ground ginger (for dough)
approximately 1 1/2 to 2 cups all purpose flour
12 ounces honey (need not be expensive grade)
1 teaspoon ground ginger (for syrup) plus extra for sprinkling
1/2 cup sugar
6 ounce bag of shelled walnuts
6 or 7 vanilla wafer cookies

Prepare the dough balls:
1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
2. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
2. Beat together yolks, oil and 1 teaspoon of the ginger.
3. Beat egg whites until they form stiff peaks.
4. Fold egg whites into yolk mixture.
5. Add flour to egg mixture, 1/2 cup at a time, folding until a sticky dough forms that can be handled with floured hands.
6. Flour a board, and sprinkle the dough with extra flour. Pull off medium size pieces of dough one at a time, and elongate each piece by rolling with palms and fingers to the size of a thick jumbo pencil, at least 5/8 inch wide. Flour a knife and cut dough logs into marble size pieces about 3/4 inches long. Gently place each piece of dough on the baking sheet. Space the dough 1/2 inch apart.
7. Bake 8 to 10 minutes, until dough is golden, puffed up, and dry inside. Cool.
Prepare the syrup:
1. After dough cools, pour honey, remaining teaspoon of ginger, and sugar into a medium-size soup pot, stir, and bring to a boil.
Cook the taiglach:
1. Wrap walnut bag in a towel and walk on it briefly to get small pieces. Add baked dough and walnuts to hot honey syrup and stir to coat. Cook walnut/taiglach mixture over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally from the bottom of the mixture up, 15 minutes or more. Mixture will bubble. Taiglach is done when it is dark golden brown.
Form the taiglach:
1. Have a clean, unpolished natural wood board ready, and the extra ginger. Put ice water in a bowl and set nearby. Rub cold water on wooden board in a light film.
2. When taiglach is ready, scrape taiglach from pot onto wet surface. Taiglach is extremely hot and must be handled quickly before it sets. Put hands into ice water until they are wet and cold. Push taiglach down while returning hands to ice as necessary, until a rectangle is formed, approximately 1 inch thick. Any size rectangle is fine. Square off the corners. Sprinkle with more ground ginger while hot, to taste. 3. Cover with wax paper lightly and let cool until solid, in a cool, shady place, no sun.
Finish the taiglach:
1. Crush vanilla wafers between sheets of wax paper with a rolling pin.
2. Cut cooled taiglach into bars. Dip bottoms of bars into cookie crumbs and store in a cool, dry place in an airtight container. Do not refrigerate. Yields approximately two dozen two-inch squares.

Badass Cookie Tip of the Week: When working with caramel, use your nose as much as your eyes to determine when it is done. If it smells like sweet caramel, it is caramel. If it starts to smell burnt, it’s getting too dark.

Like the idea of taiglach but not so crazy about walnuts. Epicurious has a great variation with hazelnuts and almonds.

Do you have a Badass Cookie recipe for Laura and Nancy? If so, send it to us. If it’s Badass enough we’ll post it as a reader’s recipe and you’ll win a copy of Nancy’s Book, Walking On Walnuts.

see also: One Badass Cookie - Ginger Molasses Cookie



home > article > Happy Labor Day

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Happy Labor Day

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Look what I baked this morning. I’m spending Labor Day with my beloved cousin Jeff and decided to bring this for dessert. It’s a recipe I cut from Mark Bittman’s “Minimalist” column in the New York Times a few years back and it’s been a favorite ever since. It’s the perfect way to celebrate Labor Day and say goodbye to summer fruit, which is still in abundance for a few more weeks, especially the coveted last peaches of September. You can also make this with pears and apples when the north winds really start to blow. For the recipe and a link to Mark Bittman’s wonderful blog, read on. Happy Labor Day. Enjoy.

Free-Form Fruit Tart
Adapted from Mark Bittman Bitten: Mark Bittman on Food
Makes one tart, approximately 8 servings.
1 1/8 cups (about 5 ounces) all-purpose flour, plus some to dust work surface
1/2 t. salt
2 T. sugar, plus extra for sugaring fruit if desired.
10 T. cold unsalted butter, cut into pats and frozen (keep 2T. separate for melting and brushing on tart before baking)
1 egg yolk
2 T. ice water
1 egg white, for brushing dough before baking.
turbinado sugar or other large crystal sugar, optional, for sprinkling on dough before baking
2 cups pitted peeled and sliced ripe stone fruit and/or berries, like peaches, plums or nectarines (or use apples or pears in Fall)
confectioner’s sugar, whipped cream or ice cream, optional.

1. Combine flour, salt and sugar in a food processor; pulse once or twice. Add 8 T. of the butter and turn on machine; process until butter and flour are blended and mixture looks like cornmeal, about 10 seconds. Add egg yolk and 2 T. ice water and pulse machine on and off a couple of times. Dough may look dry; do not add extra water until you remove and gather mixture into a ball. It should come together nicely when you press it together in your hands. If the dough is still too dry to stick together, then add more ice water, a little at a time. Wrap in plasic, flatten into a disk, and freeze dough for 15 minutes ) or refrigerate for 30 minutes or more) to ease rolling. (You can also refrigerate for a day or two, or freeze for a week or so.)
2. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Roll crust out on a board sprinkled with flour or sprinkle it lightly with flour and roll between two sheets of waxed paper (a good method for beginners.) Roll dough to 1/4 inch thickness; it need not be perfectly round. Put it directly on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper or with a nonstick baking pad, or greased. Melt remaining 2 T. of butter.
3. Toss fruit with sugar to taste if desired. You may bake the fruit without sugar if you wish. Cover round of dough with fruit, leaving about a 1 1/2 inch border all around. Fold up edges of crust around fruit, pinching together. Cover just outer rim of fruit. Brush exposed dough with egg white and sprinkle with large-crystal sugar such as turbinado, if using. Brush melted butter onto fruit. Bake until crust is golden brown and fruit bubbly, about 20 - 30 minutes. Turn tray half way through baking to ensure even browning.
4. Remove from oven and cool on a rack; serve warm or at room temperature, dusted with confectioner’s sugar (if you did not add sugar to fruit) or topped with ice cream or whipped cream.

home > article > Perfection Salad

Antique Recipe Road Show

Perfection Salad

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Q.

I’m looking for a jello recipe that my then 90 year old aunt once served with our main course.  The molded dish was not sweet and would be sliced and a chunk was placed on your plate instead of spooning out portions.  It was made with lime jello and included shredded cabbage and possibly shredded carrots and vinegar.  I think it also contained sour cream. I am unable to find anything like it from current jello recipe books and on-line.  No other relatives have a copy of the recipe but remember it from childhood.  Sound familiar? I would appreciate any help in finding this recipe.  Thank You.
--CJ

A.

Hi, CJ.  Yes I know what this is.  It’s Perfection Salad, of course and

a beloved American classic from the Gelatine Hall of Fame. 

A bit of history.  Gelatine dishes (also called jellies and aspics) were long ago made through a slow process of boiling a calf’s foot.  Because of the labor involved, it was a serious dish.  However, In the late 1800s, along came the Knox Gelatine company started making gelatine in an easy-to-use powdered form that made a once labor-intensive dish very easy and accessible to ordinary women.  Recipe writers and home cooks developed a huge array of molded gelatines--both sweet and savory and started calling them “salads.” I’d be remiss if I didn’t tell you that the wonderful Laura Shapiro wrote a great book called “The Perfection Salad:  Women and Cooking at the Turn of the Century,” in which she describes the era’s passion for technology and tidy, dainty food for the white middle class.  In her view, these salads were “decorative” food.  Hence: items like cabbage and vegetables suspended in gel that could be sliced.  It was considered a very modern and dainty dish.  But really, it was just the beginning of gelatine history. 

(I’ve always taken a special interest in gelatine, as my grandmother worked in the Knox rival JELL-O company’s Hoboken factory--but that’s another Hoboken tale.)

As to your own family recipe, well, the original perfection salad was probably invented in 1904, made with plain gelatine that was flavored with some lemon juice. It was quite popular.  Later versions feature lime gelatine like the one you recall, but of course there are many many variations out there.  This one I’m sharing comes from my little “Knox Gelatine:  Dainty Dishes for Dainty People,” a 1931 edition.  It has a complicated ending note for serving the gelatine cut up in pepper “molds.” Totally unnecessary.  Just use a mold like the photo, or whatever shape you wish. 

Perfection Salad
(12 Servings--For 6 Servings use half of recipe)_

2 level tablespoonfuls Knox-Sparkling Gleatine

1/2 cup cold water
2 cups boiling water
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup mild vinegar
2 tblespoonfuls lemon juice
1 teaspoonful salt
1 cup cabbage, finely shredded
2 cups celery, cut in small pieces
2 pimentos, cut in small pieces or
1/4 cup sweet red or green peppers

Soak gelatine in col water about five minutes.  Add boiling water, sugar, vinegar, lemon juice and salt.  When mixture begins to stiffen, add remaining ingredients.  Turn into wet mold, and chill.  Remove to bed of lettuce or endive.  Garnish with mayonnaise dressing, or cut salad in cubes, and serve in cases made of red or green peppers or turn into molds lined with canned pimentos.  A delicious salad to serve with cold sliced chicken, veal, or other meat. 

home > article > Julie & Julia & Me

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Julie & Julia & Me

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I didn’t think I’d like it.  I really didn’t.

I mean, there was enough hype to near convince me that I wouldn’t.  I don’t like hype.  Come on:  a huge puff piece in the NYT 10 days before the movie was even released?

I’d always admired Julie Powell’s chutzpah and clever idea to blog her way a year of cooking over 500 recipes in Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.” It resulted in a big New York Times story by Amanda H.  And then, naturally a book deal.  And though I wished Julie well, I had no interest. 

But I saw the food movie tonight.  And I didn’t like it.  I loved it. 

Loved it. And though I know my inner skeptic will kick in later, I’m going to write this blog post and indulge my exuberance right now

Meryl Streep infuses Julia with so much joy and inner beauty that I found myself crying during the cooking scenes.  The scenes of Julia’s pure sensual joy over food and cooking it, her undaunted devotion--helped me remember why I spent more than 10 years of my life so fascinated with food. 

But I am certain it was also the beauty of Julia, shining through Meryl Streep’s performance that got me: the great six-foot two Julia, gamer, adventurer, bon vivant, comic and artist of her own life who didn’t go to cooking school until she was 37 and didn’t publish her first book until she as 49.  There’s been so much fake glamour around food the last twenty years.  This movie was, most amazingly, actually about cooking.  Cooking!  Imagine that.  Cooking in your tiny kitchen.  Cooking because you want to actually learn the hard skills of the craft.  Cooking through failure, like when the chicken slides out on the floor and all the stuffing falls out so that you fall down and cry.  Cooking to make something so beautiful that people gather around, transformed by the beauty of it for an ephemeral moment. 

And then there’s the love and passion of a good man to help make a woman even greater.... Let me say no more.  There--now I’ve contributed to the hype and I’m okay with that.  And so, like every review of this movie, I’ll close mine by invoking Julia:  Bon appetit!

home > article > Front Yard Vegetable Garden Redux

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Front Yard Vegetable Garden Redux

String Beans From the Garden

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1.  Send your son out with a colander and ask him to collect all the string beans.  Send him back when he doesn’t come in with enough.

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2.  Wash string beans and snip off the tip of the tiny bit of the end with the stem.

3.  Steam in an inch of water that is well salted.  Let them cook until they get soft but not mushy.  Drain and shock in a bowl of ice water.

4.  Dress in good olive oil and vinegar.  Add more salt if you like.  That’s all. 



Okay, so I know that every time you hear the hoopla about the vegetable garden on the White House Lawn, you think to yourself “Oh Michelle.  That’s so last year.  I saw it on Jellypress in 2008”

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Well, it is… And we’re back with our front yard garden.  And once again it’s beautiful, attracting honeybees by the dozens.  We are growing broccoli, lots of tomatoes, cucumbers, herbs and chives, peppers, too, and more.  Here are the Japanese eggplant.  I was astonished by how beautiful the plant is.  Such an ornament for the yard with its purple flowers and stems and glossy fruit.
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This year’s new addition: David is growing potatoes in this special potato bin. 
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Quite the ridiculous yuppie invention, eh?  You plant the spuds in the the container only partially filled with soil.  When the greens sprout, you cover them with more soil.  A week later, when they force themselves through again, you bury them again.  Add more soil.  This happens successively.  Each time the green leaves surface you bury them in soil, and the theory is that it forces more tubers to grow.  We’ll see.  Of course, people do this in garbage cans and spare tires.  But this is so much more attractive.  I’m sure Michelle will want one too. 

home > article > Grill-master and Artist H. John Thompson Serves Evocative Feast

Artist's Notebook

Grill-master and Artist H. John Thompson Serves Evocative Feast

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Artist H. John Thompson
JELLYPRESS WAS ON THE SCENE Wednesday July 8th at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia for the opening of “Dave and Jim” an installation and performance piece by my good friend and fellow painter, H. John Thompson. Inside his evocative construction of embellished chain link fencing surrounding two living yards of grass, University graduate students and faculty gathered around to share potluck summer fare as John manned the grill. For more photos, John’s fascinating concept for his piece and a taste of what it’s like to eat charcoal-roasted corn and hot dogs inside a work of art, read on.
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If you are an art world watcher, you may be aware of some artists who are creating installation pieces that incorporate performance such as the making of food in an environment. Rirkrit Tiravanija, the Thai artist who brings life to galleries (literally) by cooking for and alongside gallery-goers is one of these. For John, sharing food inside his installation piece was an interesting way to bring the university community together.
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The piece itself draws from quintessential suburban fenced yards for inspiration. John’s idea was to lift this suburban aesthetic from its usual environment and insert it into the prominent urban landscape of busy Broad Street. “It’s a one-time suburban utopia in an urban landscape,” says Carol Moore, an artist and U Arts professor.
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John rocked the grill. By the way, his love of good food was nurtured by his grandfather, Art Sketchley, of Sketchley’s Bakery, 316 Bustleton Pike, Feasterville, PA, (215-357-8765) where John’s art studio resides a floor below the bustling pastry shop.
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Here’s the scene pre-party where you can see John’s carefully made construction. John, from a long line of master carpenters, is a painter who visualizes his constructions as paintings.
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Here’s the yard where a table was placed for participants.
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In full swing . . .image

The view from the piece looking down Broad Street where you can really see the wonderful contrast between the suburban-styled installation and the urban scene beyond
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Badass Ginger Cookies homemade by yours truly alongside a well-known American dessert icon, another study in contrasts.
If you’re in Philly this summer, look for John’s installation at Hamilton Hall, corner of Pine Street and South Broad Street. File under: Just Too Cool.Got an inquiry or comment for John? He’d love to hear from you. Email him at hjohnthompsonworks@google.com
All artwork pictured in the photographs are protected by copyright law. “Dave and Jim” copyright 2009, H. John Thompson.
To check out another great artist who uses food in her art, check out fifth generation cook Nicole Peyrafitte at her fabulous blog: http://nicolepeyrafitte.com/blog/

home > article > Kitchen Art — Red Pepper Orange

Masher

Kitchen Art — Red Pepper Orange

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Can you find the red pepper and the orange in this new oil sketch of mine? Hint: the bird shape is lifted from a very famous Manet painting . . . 

home > article > Kitchen Art — Artichoke

Artist's Notebook

Kitchen Art — Artichoke

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“Artichoke" Oil on panel, 16” x 20” 2009
Here is my new painting, another in a series that are all part of a conversation I’m having with 17th century Dutch and Flemish still life painting. The initial inspiration for this one came when I found this gorgeous artichoke at market with its astonishing color. I knew immediately that I had to paint it. 

see also: Kitchen Art — Nancy’s New Work









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Yes, all the artwork on Jellypress was done by Nancy. Go to the Jellypress Art page

The Lost Ravioli Recipes of Hoboken: A Search for Food and FamilyTo find out about Laura's search for a long lost family recipe, click [ What's a Jellypress?

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