June 26, 2008

Thai for Molly and Me

Speaking of family. What do you do when your babygirl gets nauseous from your French cooking? Switch to Thai, of course. When she loves Thai and so do you. See, fats just do not agree with her, and she doesn't like eggs. I know, there is plenty of French cooking based on fresh foods. But she loves the flavors of the Thai, the sweet-salty of from the play of palm sugar and fish sauce, the tang of the wild lime. These flavors are unique to the far east, and a far cry in another direction from even the most perfectly roasted vegetable.

So off I went tonight to take cookbook author Naam Pruitt's Thai class at Kitchen Conservatory. It was my first class there. It was pretty fun. The food definitely rocked.

This is Naam Pruitt with her lovely cook book, in the also lovely Kitchen Conservatory kitchen.

She looks sweet, but you should see her swing a clever!

We began with a Green "Papaya" (som-tom) salad.

Since somehow the shopping before Naam arrived went astray, and several "wrong" ingredients were brought back, what would have been green papaya in the salad became cucumber, the long beans were left out (ickily aged), and there were no dried shrimp (when you go to get your own, be sure to get the little tiny unshelled ones, not large ones in the shell, which Naam sampled and pronounced to taste "like fossil"). Nonetheless, the little salad, now with cucumber and cherry tomato as the main veggies, and the flavors of palm sugar, fish sauce, garlic, fresh lime juice, and peanuts was in spite of all the grocery glitches, fantastic.

Northeastern (Essan) Beef Salad (nua-naam-tak)

This delicious collage of fesh mint, cilantro, shallots, green onions, garlic, fish sauce, lime juice, sugar, dried chilis, and grilled steak was quite yummy. Naam put the beef in a bowl to cool after taking it off the grill, then used the juices that bled out in the dressing. Anything that has so many fresh herbs in it is called by Thais a "salad." For us it would probably be a main course. In Thailand, though, meals tend to be lots of little dishes set out, eaten with the fingers together with sticky rice. I like it!

Grilled Chicken (Gai-yang)

This simple dish was fantastic. Whole chicken was marinated in a scant coating of sugar, light soy sauce, white pepper, and garlic, then flattened on a rack and broiled on both sides. Naam let it cool, then attacked it with the clever (see above). She served it with sticky rice. I was, really, juicy and perfect.

Sticky Rice and Mangos (kao-neow-mah-muang)

Coincidentally, I tried making this wonderful rice pudding at home over the weekend. I don't know for sure what my guests thought of it, but I feel hard in love. (I seem to have a thing for coconut, if you haven't noticed.) I used the black glutenous rice the other recipes I'd seen called for. Poor Naam was surprised by a Japanese sushi-style rice in the kitchen, but I have to say she managed to get it just right, just the same. It wasn't as dramatic looking as the black rice (which is purple and makes a purple broth), but it was every bit as flavorful. I mean, really, this is just about the most comforting thing I've ever eaten outside of my mother or grandmothers' kitchens.

No, I take that back. The most comforting outside of. I learned a trick or two of course watching Naam prepare it. The method is simple: cook four cups of sticky rice; boil a can of coconut milk and a half cup of sugar; set aside a little bit of the milk to pour over; add the rice to the rest of the coconut milk and let it cook until it thickens a bit. Now serve this in bowls, with chunks of mango and, if you want, some freshly toasted sesame seeds. In Thailand this is a summer dish (March and April; April and May? which did she say?). That's it. I have some in my fridge now. I'm going to have it for breakfast!

I want to get Naam's book. So should you. She's a sweetie, and I watched her overcome several obstacles, including a little bit of spaciness (just like mine!) to produce some fabulous, authentic Thai food. The bonus? She learned these recipes from her mother. Let your imagination take you to how many generations back those "recipes" might go. They weren't recipes until Naam wrote them down, of course. They were teachings. And now I will teach them to my daughter. And help her tummy. And her taste. And her understanding of how much I love her.

June 19, 2008

Special Guest Column from Melissa Dommert: Mama’s Strawberry Jelly, In Loving Memory of Patsy Marie Paul

Many times the heart of a recipe is one of the most important ingredients included. The memories and the love are just as important as the sugar, flour and butter, etc. This is how I feel about Mama's Strawberry Jelly.

Mama passed away in 1995, leaving behind a husband, 6 children and their families to cherish her memory. She also had her first great-grandchild on the way. That little one is now 12 years old. Her name is Hannah Marie (the Marie is after my Mother) and I am her godmother. My goal has been to make my Mother as real to Hannah and the other grandchildren as possible by sharing recipes and memories.

Aunt Missy (Melissa) & Hannah
Mama’s Strawberry Jelly
In Loving Memory of Patsy Marie Paul
by Melissa Dommert
Baytown, Texas
Please accept this special gift of Mama’s strawberry jelly recipe as a token of our love. For you see, it’s the result of group effort. First, God grew the ripe, fragrant berries and Mama loved them so much that she wanted to have enough to last through the winter months. So, she sent Daddy to the store to buy an ample supply. Next, we washed and sliced them and put them in the freezer. Mama enjoyed them until she was called away to Heaven. After she was gone, the berries waited patiently to be used, but I left them alone. I made the excuse that I was to busy to do anything with them. But, now I realize that I just wanted to keep something that Mama had touched and enjoyed. Preparing those berries was one of the last projects we did together.
Several years earlier, when I was a young bride, Mama had bought me my first canning equipment. She was always interested in what kind of jam, jelly or pickle I was trying out at the time. What could be more fitting than to make jelly out of Mama’s strawberries? While I made the jelly, my heart was happy and sad all at the same time. My heart ached because I missed her so much (it still does). My heart also sang because nothing would make Mama more happy than to share another gift with the ones she loved. She would be grateful to touch our everyday life in a way that we could see, smell and taste.
I shared the jelly with my family and I hoped that as they enjoyed it they would remember the light in Mama’s eyes and see her beautiful smile. I hoped they would feel the warmth of her hand close to their heart. Those little jars of jelly were packed with Mama’s love! She wanted to be remembered. She loved everyone so much and she would never want to be forgotten. She would want her memory to live on even as she is alive in her new life in Heaven. I couldn’t bring myself to open my jar of jelly. It was too precious. What could I do with it? It had to be something special. I decided to enter it in the fair we used to have here in town very fourth of July. For years I had entered lots of cakes, pies, jellies and preserves and Mama always insisted that I call as soon as I had found out where I had placed in each category. To my surprise, mine and Mama’s jelly won a third place ribbon! I know she was proud of us.
The strawberries are gone and the jelly is gone but Mama’s love is still shining brightly in my heart. The best way that I can honor her is by doing my best every day and by trying to uphold the values her and my Dad taught me. As long as I’m alive, her memory will live on and I’ll never look at a jar of strawberry jelly the same way again!


3 quarts strawberries
3½ cups prepared juice
4½ cups sugar
1 box powdered pectin

Wash and remove caps from berries. Crush berries and simmer for 10 minutes or so, covered, stirring occasionally. Strain juice through several layers of cheesecloth. Measure sugar; set aside. Stir pectin into prepared juice in a medium size pan. Bring to a full boil over high heat. Add sugar, return to a full, rolling boil. Boil hard 1 minute., stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Carefully ladle into hot, sterilized jars and seal (process if desired). Store in a cool, dry place.
Yield: 6 to 8 small jars.

June 17, 2008

Poppies Among the Beets

Beet greens are the dark purple in the top left, and in the way top right of the photo. You can also see some tucked there near the pansies. To the right of the photo, out of the frame, is a huge field of them (at least three by three feet!). -- Photo by Molly

My little garden is so lush, it's amazing the birds can find the bugs in it. Babygirl and I took some more beet tops, cooked them with a little Thai fish sauce, garlic, and rice vinegar. Then served them over some, again, Thai Black Sticky Rice. Yum! Now that is some fabulous rice. It needs soaking before cooking, but it's worth it. (I want to get one of the steamers shown in that link a couple of sentences back.) Apparently, though, while the rice is eaten throughout Indonesia in many recipes, in Thailand it's made into a pudding, with coconut milk. Yes, I plan to make that! It would probably be very soothing to Babygirl's tummy. Wish I had a photo of the rice and beet greens... reds, but, well, the camera was temporarily borrowed by someone. And so, please, content yourselves with this gorgeous poppy, taken by, again, Babygirl, as it was growing in my garden just yesterday afternoon, there among the beet greens and fading pansies.



June 6, 2008

Mamaw's Strawberry Filled Angel Food Cake

The cake, as drawn by William "Shane" Smith, my uncle.

I remember my Mamaw's lemon-filled layer cake as my very, very favorite little girl aspiring-to-be-a-princess dessert, and I think it was frosted in whipped cream. Can anyone tell me for sure what exactly she did to summon that cake from Cakeland Nirvana? Was it lemon curd between all those layers? Was it really whipped cream? And what kind of cake was it? No way you could get prepared lemon curd in Salem in the '60s and '70s, so it had to be a fairly focus-centric recipe. You couldn't even get salsa in Salem until the '80s, for god's sake.

I do know that once I got cognisant I sensed that my requests for the cake, while not unwelcome or necessarily blown-off, were not met with an, "Oh, sure, that would be a snap!" response. So there must have been some work involved.

Does anyone out there have my grandma's lemon-filled cake recipe? I had always thought it was angel food, but I think I remember now being told that she didn't fill the angel food with lemon, that was some other kind of white or yellow cake. Whatever it was, it was sublime, and I'm pretty sure I got to eat it into my 30s.

Now comes her Strawberry Filled Angel Food Cake. This is extant in my Mamaw's own type-written hand in her booklet MY COOKIES, AND MORE, from 1993, which she put together to save us from the fate of losing her recipes when we lost her. Good grandma-ness. And as a side note, once I get the time I intend to scan the pages of that book, for two purposes: to have them in PDF electronic copy for archiving; and to get the really cool little hand drawn illustrations [see example above] into a form I can convert to jpeg and then use here to accompany the recipes as I post them. My mom says that Uncle Bill Smith did the drawings! There are very sweet.

A couple of note: This calls for frozen strawberries. There must be a reason for this. Because it's not like we weren't swimming in fresh strawberries from Grandpa Trout's garden! So it must be that Mamaw thought the frozen ones superior for this cake! This theory is further supported here by the absence of other short cuts -- real whipped cream, for instance. And unflavored gelatin. So I'd suggest hanging with the recipe at least the first time around. Brainstorm: she may very well have been using her own frozen strawberries that did in fact come from Grandpa Trout's garden. Also, I have made only one small edit to the recipe, in brackets below. The formatting is original.

Here is the recipe. It's perfect for spring. Enjoy.

from Wanda Lucile Smith

Split large angel food cake into 3 layers with sharp, long knife. Thaw 10 oz. package frozen strawberries. Drain juice, add enough water to make 1/4 cup and heat. Soak 2 packages plain (Knox) gelatin and dissolve in hot juice. Mix in strawberries which have been mashed with a fork. Do not cook berries. Cool. Whip 2 cups whipping cream. Add 1/4 cup sugar and mashed berries. Spread between layers and on top and sides of cake.

Chill whipped cream-strawberry mixture a while [or it will be] too soft to put on cake. Keep cake chilled.

Then the Beet Tops with Coconut Milk

I saved the beautiful beet tops (see the red leafy matter in the post before this one), chopped them up, and cooked them thusly:

I heated some olive in a large sauce pan, added coarsely chopped onions, put on the lid and sweated them. Then I added the "reds" (beet greens), a cup of red quinoa, a cup of red lentils, a nice chunk of peeled fresh ginger, two cups of water, a can of coconut milk, and salt and pepper, let that all come to a boil, then lowered the heat and simmered it, covered, for just under half an hour.

Once the quinoa had opened and become pretty tender, I added the zest of a lime, and the juice of two.

This is really, really yummy! It is full of wonderful textures, creamy lentils and the unmatchable comforting interest of the bursting quinoa, like vegetable caviar. The "reds" might be added later in the process though, as I think they could have been more prominent in the dish. I added some Thai hot sauce and a little more fresh lime juice at serving. And of course the dish is magnificently good for you. It's low in calories and very filling. I've taken it to lunch two days in a row, and it's kept my very low-tending blood sugar stable until well into the evening.

June 2, 2008

Mixed Blessings, Beautiful Tiny Harvest

The green side of the bouquet of Bull's Blood Beets and Dragon Blood Carrots.

Recipe: Quick and Crunchy Pickled Baby Beets and Carrots
(& Accidental Ruby Dressing for Salad Greens)
Slice your vegetables into nice even bits on put them in a heat-proof bowl. Boil some vinegar and turbino sugar, then pour it over the vegetables while it's still boiling, then cover the bowl with a plate and let the vegetables steam for at least an hour (I left mine overnight). I put them on my salad, and used the juice as dressing after adding a little almond oil!
Today I pulled the first of my precious Bull's Blood beets and Dragon's Blood carrots from the loose and most perfect soil of my little community garden plot. Tiny, so tiny, and now bathing in an Icelandic bath of vinegar and turbino sugar, overnight, to be added to the salad I'll take to work tomorrow, the salad of the dewicious wettuces I picked from thence as well. And a little savory. And the orange California poppies look hearty and lush and I hope they bloom, for they will remind me of my Mamaw, and the long driveway down the hill, and the poppies that grew there for so many years, along the southern side, on the slope, like something from Dorothy, seeding themselves almost into eternity, but not quite, and I couldn't understand Mamaw's calm when I asked her where the poppies were and she said, simply, "They're done."

I thought they were magic(al). In my mind they share a dreamscape with my other grandmother's (Nonie's) Giant Globe Alium, both tall, one orange, one purple, one related directly to the culinary (alium/onion), the other to vice and ecstasy and decline (poppy/opium). And both of them forbidden by either grandmother for picking.

Of course all this pointing to the last walk through the last house, the only house that ever was always there in our gypsy family. The walk I took yesterday through the empty and clean 1157 North Franklin after the estate sale was over, and one day before the closing of the sale of the house, walked through that center of the universe that was my mother's parents' house, now gone the way of the poppies, following them, another moment of "they're done," my grandparents' deaths a few years apart, the rapidity of the sale as my mother, who lived there with my grandfather at the end, reached to digest the death of her father whom she'd cared for every day for three years asking no thanks and getting little understanding of what she was so deeply taking responsibility for, even in her own feebleness. The burning off of karma. The giving. And it's alright. Because death is a release from the cycle that the garden justifies, and the karma needed burning off. And we all have more that is precious than we can ever count, of what they left us, what we are, what we pulled from the ground, the deeper bloodiness of the reaching toward character, just us, pulling out all that chickweed and Bermuda grass that would strangle that memory of goodness and trying to wrench from the natural goodness of our souls that which are grandfather wanted us to be -- which was what he was. And it was good.

Good bye old house. Good bye old grandparents. Hello bloody carrots and beets. I say good bye to you because you are my blood. And I plant you because someone named you: blood. May your rich and obscene dyes redden my mouth and drip down my chin and mark me forever as one who eats, well, from the earth, and knows it's good.

Bouquet of Bull's Blood Beets and Dragon Blood Carrots.