Screwy

Pam’s Pictorama Post: This little object came across my path on eBay and I snatched it up. Corkscrews have become a popular collectible and I was afraid I might face some stiff competition. I was lucky that it didn’t appeal to the collectors and I acquired him unchallenged.

There’s something perfectly appealing about this kitty and his corkscrew tail, sticking up in the air. This little fellow (or gal) sports a big bow, an arched back and a slightly wide-eyed expression. He (or she – despite the big bow I’m feeling he I think though), has nice heft and stands well on his own. He is easier to hold and better designed (and to pull on) than you might think, although I find this kind of minimal opener requires a sort of brute strength I don’t have and ultimately leads to bits of cork floating in my wine. Therefore, despite being quite sturdy, this fellow is officially retired from the work of cork removal as far as I am concerned. I am eyeing a cabinet which I think he will be quite at home in.

As someone who both waitressed and cooked professionally I became committed early on to a very specific device to removing corks from wine bottles. One of the most useful life skills (aside from extraordinary patience) that waitressing provided me with was the most fail safe methods of opening wine and champagne.

One summer during college I worked in a high end French restaurant (which despite being called Harry’s Lobster House, had quite a reputation for its French seafood cuisine), and this was where I believe I was introduced to this style opener. (I was also given instruction in the careful opening of champagne table side – slowly and wrapped in a towel – so that it would of course pop! but with no spillage.)

Pretty close to what Harry’s looked like back in the day when I waitressed there, but this appears to have been taken a bit later than that. They added outdoor dining in an ajoining area after my days of waitressing there.

For the most part I was a pretty lousy waitress. Friendliness was the best skill I brought to it (in addition to the aforementioned patience), which bought me a fair amount of forgiveness with the customers. Frankly though this made me better suited for working behind a counter, making sandwiches and serving coffee as I had the summer before,

I can still remember how befuddled I was by the specific names of the liquors when people ordered drinks – this was a high-end restaurant and Sea Bright in summer was a drinking beach town. I wasn’t familiar with top shelf alcohol brands and was decidedly unsophisticated in this regard. (Mom and Dad certainly had liquor in the house, but they were fairly mundane in their imbibing.) I did my best to write the order exactly, phonetically when needed, on my pad and report them faithfully to the bartender who, although nice enough really, in retrospect must have thought I was an idiot. Mom tells stories of working her way through college waitressing and it doesn’t seem to be a gene I inherited. (Incidentally Mom was also a record breaking long jumper in high school and a runner – these days while learning to run I often reflect on not having those genes either.)

To be clear, a superior corkscrew to me is a bit like the better mousetrap – you can try to make one, but the bar is high. It is a perfection of a certain kind of ingenuity and design. One should not tamper lightly with success.

These generally have a small knife, at top, to help peel off the cover on the cork and can also be used effectively for opening beer bottles, using the hook on the end.

Anyway, I have been using the same corkscrew since cooking school, mine came with an assigned kit of knives and implements. It has a red nail polish dot that I assigned to all my stuff so I could easily identify them quickly in a crowded kitchen. If you’ve never used one, you quite simply screw it in and then use the other, short, protrusion for leverage at the lip of the bottle and pull the handle – and voila! Bottle opened. Neat and tidy.

Growing up, the largely preferred bottle opener was the one below. I have a fairly good success rate with these as well, although clearly you can’t carry them around and use them as a waitress or cook. (The other folds nicely and lived in my pocket daily, handy for when needed.) This model has a bit less control than my preferred model (I’ve had more corks fall apart with these than the others), but I think one of these still also rattles around in my kitchen drawer. (Because of my former life as a cook, long ago though now that it is, there are some amazing things in that drawer that are rarely if ever used – things to make melon balls, pie crimpers to name a few. My zester recently came back into favor and my olive/cherry pitter lives there and is a much beloved item.)

Given all of this knowledge, opinion and lore, you would think that I would have successfully imparted this bottle opener knowledge successfully to my family at large. However, for some reason, my father became enamored of every possible variation of bottle opener to be found. He bought them in stores, at garage sales and they represented every conceivable variation on this theme. Some were quite absurd. Many were heavy and complex. Despite my protestations he would deliver them cheerfully to me as well. The fact is they almost never worked as well as my simple device – although in general I will grant you that they were more colorful and interesting, at least in theory.

Dad broke another rule of bottle opening and one evening opened a bottle of champagne which exploded in his hand, top breaking off, and cutting him badly enough that he had to trek to the emergency room for stitches. He did adopt my wrapped bottle technique after that.

Cafe d’Alsace earlier this week for a belated birthday dinner with a friend – they kept us pretty cozy despite the early March outdoor temps.

For all of this, you would think we are popping a whole lot of corks over here at Deitch Studio, but mostly we do not. Kim doesn’t drink and I am currently on a diet. Until earlier this week at a belated birthday dinner (which as my IG followers know was eaten outside under a heater and was actually quite lovely, pulling at the memory strings of what eating out used to be) when I broke down and had a glass of wine; I had not had a drink since December, maybe November. (The alcohol calories don’t make sense for me when I am counting them carefully. I always like to say that being on a diet is not so much fun that I want it to go on any longer than necessary so I try to be extremely focused and swift!)

I do cook with wine (or vermouth – although that’s a screw top) and there’s usually a bottle of something around for that. Pre-diet I enjoyed an occasional glass of wine or Prosecco with dinner – I like an occasional ice cold vodka tonic with lots of lime in summer. However, I am not and will never be knowledgeable about wine beyond what I like and what I don’t. Red wine triggers migraines which eliminates me largely from the erudite pursuit of wine. Nevertheless, when needed I know exactly how I am going to open that bottle.

Clam Chowder, Cooking from the Pantry

I don’t know why, but the idea of a spicy version of Manhattan clam chowder started to nag at my brain recently. I enjoy the occasional cup of the stuff when out – either the red Manhattan style or even (although less frequently) the creamier New England version. I can’t say I go out of my way to get it, more like it is an acceptable option when navigating a menu at a diner with a desire to add a bit on, or alternatively maybe not indulge too much.

In general though, I find it lacking and I have never made it myself, nor thought much about it. But for some reason I recently began to think about how you could make a more substantial and spicier one, a zootier version if you will. I think it started because I had several cans of clams which I had purchased for the occasional fish pasta I make (usually with some shrimp, leftover fish bits and maybe some of the canned clams), but I am currently on a diet so pasta isn’t happening right now.

Ah yes, speaking of that diet, readers know I have opined a bit in previous posts about the comfort of cooking. I explored re-creating some family recipes during what I tend to think of as Pandemic Part 1: the First Six Months (those recipes can be found here and here), and some new comfort food (a lovely cheesy bread can be found here) which also made the first months of quarantine – The Weight Gaining Months.

Cheesy Olive Bread – I could live on it.

After a long period of thinking that dieting during a pandemic didn’t make sense, I have reversed course and I am now in Phase 2: the Dieting Months. However, I do not intend to abandon the comfort I take in cooking so I am now applying my skill to devising soups and stews. During these cold winter months they are wonderful and it is satisfying. I derive as much joy out of constructing them that I would from baking, and happily fill the apartment with the aroma of the newest concoction. I generally get several meals for the two of us out of each attempt which lightens the weekday burden of meal planning a bit.

The kitchen, mid-renovation

Meanwhile, pandemic life has made me consider (and establish) what I euphemistically call my pantry. For the record, my pantry is one tall, narrow kitchen cabinet and a banker’s box in the entryway closet recently pressed into service. Until I remodeled our kitchen it was entirely non-existent and a few cans and whatnot were tucked in among the dishes, pots and pans, overflowing onto the limited countertop. It expanded (to the closet annex) during the initial phase of NYC lockdown when grocery shopping was most difficult. It now contains some extra pasta, beans, vegetable broth and the like. (The tale of the kitchen renovation can largely be found here and here – not a chapter I am personally willing to revisit at the moment.)

Growing up in suburban New Jersey we had an amazing pantry that was a large, sort of five foot cabinet of shelves which folded up on itself, once and then again. (Amazing!) I was fairly entertained by the engineering of it as a child (the long piano hinges to bear the weight of each heavy section of shelf), and I am now in awe of the amount it held. Still, were I to move to the suburbs I would likely opt for a walk-in space, a small room of shelves, where I could see everything and bulk buy to my heart’s content. (I come from a long line of if not quite hoarders, folks who like to buy in large quantity and to be well stocked on essentials. My mother has been buying paper towels and toilet paper in bulk for decades and never thought twice about purchasing industrial sized tin cans of olive oil which I remember having trouble hefting.) I also aspire to having a kitchen sink large enough to bathe a small child or good size dog.

It is not to be my fate and instead our tiny apartment (equipped with its bar sink, sigh), requires a certain vigilance around rotating through and using up food, buying just enough to feel well stocked, but not crowding us and the cats out of the house. (I confess that the aforementioned diet and my increased consumption of fruit and vegetables is skewing all this and you can barely open our refrigerator after a Fresh Direct delivery on Sunday morning and oranges constantly roll out when you open it as they are tucked into nooks.)

No idea why this was actually created (clammy cocktail?), but it is my go-to cheat for a fish stock base/

Anyway, all this to say my so-called pantry had this couple of cans of clams awaiting bouillabaisse (I made that for the holidays and the recipe and story can be found here, at the bottom of my Boxing Day post), but that was more ambitious than I was feeling. The fish pasta was too carb heavy for the zippy new diet so I went to work on this. This spicy chowder has the charm of being largely made from what can be kept in the house, an advantage in these days of not wanting to run to the store.

I read a few recipes online and constructed mine from there. It goes without saying that this is a very flexible recipe which encourages its own specifics around the general idea and framework. Most of the ones I read called for bacon, but we are a pescatarian/no meat household so I went in a different direction. However, I would think you would chop it and add it to cook in the beginning with the garlic, onion and carrots. As I say above – use it to use up whatever leftovers are languishing in the fridge, bits of veg and fish.

In the before time I was a bit of a snob about using frozen or canned vegetables, but these days, especially for soup they are handy and work just fine. Of course if you are making this in the summer you’d use fresh corn and maybe even throw the cob in for good measure and to thicken the soup, perhaps even instead of the potato, but no complaints about this pantry version.

The sort of mainstay ingredients are as follows:

  • Large can of clams, drained
  • Bottle of clam juice
  • Large bottle of Clamato juice (my favorite cheat for fish stock!)
  • Large can of diced tomatoes
  • One large or two small bell peppers; I used red
  • Small onion
  • Garlic (lots! I think I used three or four large cloves)
  • Carrots
  • Celery
  • New or creamer potatoes – help to thicken although I kept them to a minimum – four of the minature creamer ones, another recent discovery and I keep a bag of them in the house for various uses.
  • Jalapeño peppers (Pandemic pantry discovery for me – I keep a jar of them in the fridge – try them on grilled cheese sometime!) I used about 1/4 cup.
  • Green beans
  • Corn
  • Herbs – I had a bunch of flat leaf parsley and some fresh basil so I used that chopped. I also added two bay leaves and a bit of thyme. I used Maras red pepper (a whole post could be devoted to the discovery of this gentle, but strong red pepper as a seasoning!), but you could use red pepper flakes (I’d chop them a bit), chili pepper or whatever you prefer to make things spicy. I always like a bit of ground coriander. Salt to taste. I adjusted the seasoning throughout cooking in a more rigorous way than usual and I used a fine salt rather than the rough ground salt I prefer on many other things – no idea if that made a difference.
  • Tomato and anchovy paste (optional but I like to add it for depth)
  • Wine or vermouth, about a half a cup

So I was feeling a bit lazy and I used the Cuisinart to chop the onion, the garlic and the herbs. Not sure it was a good idea, but I decided to Cuisinart the red pepper as well. Of course this meant that it was very fine and it also brought out all the liquid which I had not anticipated and really I ended up deglazing the pan when I added it. It’s soup so in the end it doesn’t really matter, but the result was a finer, less chunky soup. I think fine either way although my usual go to is to hand chop.

Anyway, I softened the garlic, onions, celery and carrots first, along with the tomato and anchovy paste (first go of salt and the Maras pepper at this point, but I added more later), then added the potatoes (sliced pretty small), then bell peppers and then you can deglaze the pot with the wine or vermouth; I keep vermouth for cooking as a wine alternative. This assumes you are using frozen or canned corn and green beans – if fresh you would want to add them before deglazing.

Add the Clamato, the diced tomato, clams, clam juice, Jalapeño peppers (rough chopped), corn, beans, etc. and the herbs. Bring to a hard boil for a bit. Adjust seasoning. Simmer for no less than an hour, but the longer the better. Keep checking the seasoning throughout – I wanted it very spicy but didn’t want to kill us so it was a fine line. This is another recipe that is definitely better after a day in the fridge. I am going to make a variation on it today with shrimp and leftover flounder, with perhaps a few cheese tortellini to keep things interesting.

If I wasn’t on a diet I would serve this with corn bread or muffins – or even some crusty buttered baguette. Nevertheless, it was so great I can’t wait to make it again.

Turkey Talk

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: Toys today again with this terrific turkey. This item made a rare route to Pictorama a few weeks ago by way of Kim posting an image of it on Facebook which was so glorious I went in search of the toy. A quick search turned one up in good condition on Etsy and he landed here a few weeks ago. Unfortunately, a tiny bolt on one side of his tail went missing, either in transit or the seller neglected to mention it. Kim has done a short term repair with a tiny bit of wire from a twist tie off a loaf of whole wheat bread. Click below for our best effort on filming him – we got his tail to stay together sufficiently to get him moving on film, but I don’t think he has a ton of runs in him. Watch the video through, the full rise and spread action of his tail is what makes it great!

He is the earlier model of at least two that I found online (see further below),with greater definition and better action than the later one. There is something wonderfully Art Deco about the colors and design of his tail feathers that I especially like as well and what attracted me in the first place; his color is pretty glorious. Mr. Turkey is marked Made in the US Zone Germany on his tummy, which puts his manufacture in the mid-40’s to early 50’s. A Google search turns up an auction listing which mentions it was produced by Blomer and Schüler (or Bloomer and Schüler), a company founded for making parts in 1919, but which started making its own toys in 1930. It had an early hit with a Jumbo Elephant wind-up toy which is described as running. I have a weakness for elephant toys so I may need to investigate this more closely. Toys do lead to toys and a good wind-up toy is just the jolliest thing I can think of. (There is also a very hotsy totsy peacock too, but I must say, his mechanism looks even more fragile than Mr. Turkey’s.)

I didn’t see many of these on the internet, but would love to see him move!

The turkey’s action really does recall a come hither Tom Turkey trotting, showing off his glorious tail feathers to attract a girlfriend which makes me think he was designed by someone who knew turkeys. When living in England many years ago, I was surprised to discover that not only is turkey not indigenous to Britain, nor indeed Europe, but that they don’t have much of a taste for it and do not import it widely. (My Thanksgiving dinner that year was a Chinese recipe for orange chicken as a result. In retrospect, and knowing more about cooking now than I did then, just as well. I had the tiniest oven imaginable which would have taken three days to cook the smallest turkey.)

I will add that my surprise grew when I discovered that pumpkin isn’t eaten there, and they aren’t big on corn on the cob either. (Corn is grown there but is fed to farm animals. As a result, I don’t think they produce corn flour either.) Although admittedly my first hand information on the subject is now decades out of date. All this to say, I believe it was the American influence which designed this turkey as I do not believe at the time Germans were widely familiar with the mating habits of turkeys or eating them either, although the internet says they have caught up with a taste for turkey in recent decades.

From the collection of Deb Mostert via Pinterest – the image that started it all!

Although I do not eat fowl these days, nor have I for many decades, I was in charge of the family turkey on Thanksgiving for many years after my brief stint of professional cooking – my mother happily ceding this responsibility to me, my father never much of a turkey carving dad either. However, I cannot think about cooking a turkey without remembering a French chef I knew going on in honest bewilderment on the subject – not only at the American fondness for them, but the cultural necessity for serving it whole and carving it at the table. He pointed out, the thickness of a turkey’s legs demand significantly more cooking time than the thinner breast and wing meat and to think that there is a way of getting the legs done without drying out the breast was, in his opinion, a fool’s errand. He would have had you cook the bird whole, let it rest, carve the legs and put them back in the oven to finish cooking. I venture that cooking the bird stuffed, while slowing the whole venture considerably, helps ameliorate this issue, but his point was well taken and an easy solve if you aren’t married to carving a full bird at the Thanksgiving table. (The attenuated cooking time needed for the bird cooked stuffed also set him going – in all fairness, he was not only French but a restaurant chef which is another bird altogether. Clearly he wasn’t familiar with Norman Rockwell paintings on the subject!)

Later version by same company.

Given my early defection away from eating (and therefore cooking) red meat and fowl, I have never attempted to cook a turkey in a Manhattan apartment. Our ovens run small though, as do our kitchens, and I can tell you that New York is evidently littered with beautiful turkey roasting pans purchased each year without measuring the apartment oven in question. From the stories I hear from first time turkey chefs, they often find themselves with pans and even birds that do not fit our abbreviated oven sizes. I encourage first time city cooks to use a doubled up disposable pan on that first go, but to go easy on the turkey size too. We are so used to our ovens that we’ve forgotten how comparatively enormous a regular one is. I glory in how many things I can fit in my mom’s oven by comparison.

As we finally slam the door on 2020 with my turkey post, we at Pictorama and Deitch Studio are wishing all the best in the coming New Year. I look forward to seeing you all on the other side, at the dawn of ’21!

Sour Cherries, Quince and Tomato Water

Pam’s Pictorama Post: The day before Thanksgiving a bag showed up with my doorman and tucked inside were two delightful little jars of jam and a mason jar of tomato water. These were sent by Liz, a colleague, friend and chef who lives in my neighborhood and has so kindly sent along such care packages periodically during the long, shutdown time. Her bag of goodies not only improved our breakfast repast, but set loose a wonderful torrent of memories shared with my mother, mostly of the yard I knew as my grandmother’s, where my mother spent most of her childhood. Today’s post is devoted to those memories.

The jar of tomato water which I am rapidly consuming.

To start, for those of you who have not experienced it, tomato water is the water you drain out of tomatoes. This is sometimes done before canning or cooking tomatoes down in recipes. The result, assuming you like tomatoes, is drink that is like a wonderful burst of summer in your mouth. Liz introduced me to this delight, made me a fan and always includes a mason jar of it. This one is yellow – and tastes of those different tomatoes. Still very yummy and a real treasured reminder of summer as we head into a darker, gloomier season.

Quince tree at The Cloisters

One jam is quince. It is my introduction to it and I like it very much. The only quince trees I ever made the acquaintance of were up at The Cloister’s garden in Fort Tryon Park. There are lovely ancient looking gnarled examples in that garden and a quick read shows that some types can live, with care, longer than a human life span, and that getting them to produce an agreeable fruit isn’t easy. Back in 2012, the New York Times was inspired to devote an article to quince trees, In Praise of the Misunderstood Quince, specifically launching the discussion around those venerable examples of the trees at The Cloisters.

The other jar was plum and sour cherry jam. This one opened a Pandora’s box of taste memory because I have not had sour cherry jam or preserves since childhood. My grandmother used to make it each year – children and their spouses and the grandchildren were all tasked with a morning of picking the sour cherries off of an enormous tree in her yard. As I was a small child I assume my memory of it as being an enormous tree may be a bit exaggerated, but I do believe it was a mature and large specimen.

The yellow ones are similar to the cherries I remember gathering.

The cherries were yellow with a sort of red blush – more yellow than the ones I found to show here but that is the idea. We collected them in plastic buckets – strangely I remember an aqua colored one in use specifically. My grandmother had an enormous, ancient double sink and she would be in the kitchen cleaning them as we brought them in. I don’t think I was privy to the process of cooking them down, but the end result were jars of cherries that would last us the better part of a year. This ideally to be spread on her own homemade bread which we consumed in enormous slabs.

A subsequent conversation with my mom reveals that growing up, when several generations lived in the house I knew as my grandmother’s, the property next door also belonged to them. (I have written about my grandmother’s house and yard twice before. Those posts can be found here and here.)

My grandmother’s house as it looked in 2017.

Mom tells me that her grandmother taught her that it was planted very intentionally, almost entirely with food producing plants to feed the family. (My mother points to this as being particular to the Italian immigrant side of the family which was her mother’s.) Great grandma did not approve of the decorative plants my mother liked – wasted effort and space. To my mother’s memory, in addition to the cherry tree, there was: an apricot, a walnut, a chestnut, something called a freestone peach (which evidently failed to produce much), and two pear trees. My mom remembers her father always keeping walnuts from the tree in his pocket to share with the occasional inquisitive squirrel who would come and take it from his hands.

An undated photograph of a wedding feast in what I knew as my grandmother’s yard. The grape arbor, in keeping with the food theme, was gone by the time of my childhood.

I remember the chestnuts on the ground there. (Of course I was very small and closer to the ground than the fruit bearing part of a tree after all.) The furry, prickly outside of the chestnuts always fascinated me, as did the surprise of the velvety smooth chestnut inside. I never developed a taste for chestnuts, my father was fond of them though and I believe we did toast them in our fireplace experimentally one winter. My dad would buy them on the street here in Manhattan where you can smell them roasting in winter even now. (Well, at least in the now before now – are there chestnuts roasting without tourists in midtown?) The chestnut tree was an odd survivor of a nationwide blight (not unlike that which destroyed so many American Elms), and mom says people from Rutgers came to study it and photograph it as a survivor.

Chestnuts in their furry wrappers.

I love walnuts so I am surprised I have no memory of those on the ground or of that tree specifically. The parcel of land to one side of the house was sold when I was still very small, although mom says the walnut tree was near the garage so not sold off as was one of the pear trees which sadly was cut down to build the house there.

Mom says she adored the pear trees and that she can remember eating pears right off of them. One tree was on the property that was sold and was cut down for the house to be built. The other of those two trees was destroyed by a lightening strike which split it down the middle, leaving only charred halves. Mom said it was like losing an old friend.

She shared other memories of climbing up into the apricot tree, which had a long, low lying branch, to read her library books in the summer. She and her friend Jackie had competitions to see how many books they could read in a summer – I did the same with my friends as a kid, must have been her idea. It was the beginning of my life-long voracious reading habit.

Despite being housebound these days my mother still enjoys the garden, in her recently acquired home on a small plot of land. Under her instruction, the yard has been planted by a patient and lovely man known only to me as Mike, with many flowering plants – however specifically and thoughtfully designed to feed the birds, bees, butterflies and wildlife she likes to attract and to watch from the windows. A garden that provides, but in a very different way.

Boo!

Pam’s Pictorama Post: A happy Halloween to all! I am wrapping up my series of seasonal posts with a final nod to Halloween today. These tiny jack-o-lantern style candy cups are paper mache and may have sported handles and paper inserts – one still contains an insert. I assume they would have been filled with candy corn and the like, although frankly I am a bit unsure precisely what small candies would have been offered when these might have been new.

Pam’s Pictorama.com collection

These candy containers are miniatures of the larger ones kids carried to collect candy in. Like my cat version below, they would have paper inserts for eyes. (A post about that acquisition can be found here.) Until recently I thought these were meant solely for decoration, but recently I have seen period photos of kids carrying them for candy filling purposes.

Pam’s Pictorama.com collection

I have long desired possession of some of these Halloween wonders for my own and I have not yet gotten my hands on a large pumpkin to complete my collection. I would happily accept another cat if it had the right expression – twist my arm, you know?

My introduction to these paper mache decorations was a shop in Cold Spring, New York. A couple of hours from Manhattan on a Metro-North train will deliver you to the heart of this lovely little town on the Hudson. I used to make the pilgrimage each fall to look at the changing leaves along the river on the train north and then spend the day wandering around antique shops. One store had an amazing collection of these early Halloween decorations, all being sold for much more money than I could hope to amass at the time. It whetted my desire for them however and it is only getting sated now – this opportunity provided by my new provider in the middle of the country and due to a certain amount of internet trolling I did not previously indulge in.

Meanwhile, when I consider candy from this period I am going to guess that a fair amount of it was probably still homemade when these pumpkins were new, perhaps in the 1920’s. I just finished reading a book from 1915, Miss Pat and Her Sisters, where the author Pemberton Ginther indulges in a lengthy description of homemade candy preparation. Although I understand that somehow it was brightly colored and lots of sugar was involved I really know no more than I did when I started and don’t see it in my mind’s eye at all. Did it look like homemade Necco Wafers?

While I have certain bone fides in the kitchen and can hold my own in the world of soups, pastas, stews and even baking to some degree, candy has long failed me. (Some of my cooking related posts, cheesy olive bread and a one-bowl chocolate cake can be found here and here.) My childhood reading of early juvenile novels (which Pictorama readers know continues today) inspired me with fantasies about homemade candy making, at least pulling taffy or making fudge. However, it was a miserable failure each and every time we attempted it.

Cheesy Olive Loaf is a favorite here at Deitch Studio.

My sister Loren was usually a part of these culinary explorations which is notable because after a certain age we didn’t indulge in a lot of mutual activities. Loren ultimately became a good cook in her own right – leaning towards success with breads, another area I have not achieved too highly in – but she could get a bit experimental and was known to throw random ingredients in if you didn’t keep an eye on her – but it wasn’t her fault we failed. Our fudge, regardless of recipe, never hardened and our taffy was a sticky monstrous disaster. (May I add, candy thermometers have always seemed extremely exotic – coated in sticky, hot sugar on the stove. Why doesn’t the heat make them explode? I have always wanted to own one but I suspect it would be disappointing.)

In retrospect, I assume there are some tricks to pulling taffy we just didn’t have in our repertoire, but I will never understand where we consistently went wrong with fudge. It is my understanding that fudge should be easy – children should be able to make fudge. After multiple attempts over a long period of time we gave up on it. To this day I cannot eat fudge without duly noting our failure, tugging at a corner of my mind though.

Like many American children of the mid-twentieth century, my imagination was kindled by the concept of Turkish Delight in the C.S. Lewis book, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Perhaps this candy was well-known by the British children of a previous generation, but I have to admit this kid from New Jersey was well into adulthood before coming across Turkish Delight in person. It turns out that I like it, although admittedly it was never good enough that I imagined being inspired by it to sell my siblings into witch-dominated servitude. (However, it goes without saying that sometimes just living with siblings would have you ship them off without so much as a Mary Jane in exchange.)

I believe I was actually in London the first time I had Turkish Delight, although I think that was just by chance as I have subsequently had it here on many occasions. A plate of it came with bitter black coffee at the end of an excellent meal in a Greek restaurant. I also remember that my friend Don turned my cup over when I was done, sludgy grounds sliding onto the saucer, and then proceeded to read my future from the designs made by the grounds on the inside the cup. That was a first too – maybe the only time I have had my coffee grounds read. Anyway, Turkish Delight was the rare candy event that successfully survived the leap from the literary world to the real one.

Meanwhile, a quick search reminds me that licorice was popular at the beginning of the 20th century. (Mom and Loren were fans, I never was and would eat the red version only, if pressed. If Dad and Edward had a preference I cannot recall it. Ed?) In the day when these pumpkin containers would have been stuffed, candy corn was indeed already around, as were Tootsie Rolls and Hershey’s chocolate.

On the more homemade side there were sugarplums (also called cream filberts and later, yikes, were known as mothballs – um, talk about a fall from grace), potato candy (a homemade Depression era treat made with potatoes and peanut butter – really?), and my favorite, toffee. (I opine a bit on the delights of toffee when celebrating the purchase of this Felix toffee container below. Read that post here.)

Pams-Pictorama.com collection

Strangely it turns out that candy cigarettes have been around since the late 1800’s. I was fascinated by them as a kid and only ever saw them if they turned up in my Halloween haul. As I remember them, in addition to chocolate ones, there were ones made with white sugar and those came in lovely red and blue plastic “cases” – the candy cigs had little bright pink ends like you were smoking with lipstick on – who can make things like that up?

A Whale of a Good Time

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: The fun and jauntiness of this snapshot caught my attention, probably from the teens judging from her dress. The large fish sign she is holding proclaims, Size of the One I Lost at Michigan City. One imagines that it was a photo op you were offered as part of a fishing trip package. I never thought about it, but fishing is a long-standing, major tourist attraction for Michigan, and a quick internet search turns up a thriving charter fishing industry. It makes sense that where there are enormous bodies of water there would be fishing.

Pictorama readers know that I grew up in a fishing family and photographs of family members with particularly enormous fish dot our family albums. I myself have not spent much time fishing – I am a bit too soft-hearted, although I eat fish and I have done my time cleaning them. I take no pleasure in the act of catching them. As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, my grandfather repaired outboard motors and he also kept a medium-sized, wooden fishing boat which was call The Imp. In retrospect it was a surprising name for him to have christened his boat with. I must remember to ask my mother where it came from, assuming she knows. Perhaps the way it bobbed around in the water – a bit impishly?

It spent the off-season in a spot next to his workshop garage, up on a wooden frame or trailer, keepin it off the ground and make it easier to work on. (Unlike our sailboat which wintered at a nearby marina.) I remember it seemed huge and high to me as a small child. The Imp was painted gray and I have memories of the seemingly constant scraping of the bottom (barnacles were a concept that fascinated me at a young age) and re-painting, as anyone who has ever owned a wooden boat well knows. Even in the 1960’s wooden fishing boats like her were becoming a bit old fashioned.  I remember she made delightful creaking sounds when you were out on the water with her and there was a smell of the sun-warmed, painted wood which I cannot really describe.

Despite being the daughter of a fisherman, my mother is cursed with a poor inner ear and she can only be on a boat on the calmest days without being seasick. (My mother used to say it could make her seasick to watch our sailboat bob in the backyard during stormy weather and windy days.) Therefore I did not go out fishing with dad and Poppy too often, as I don’t think my mom was entirely comfortable entrusting the small children to them without her own watchful eye. When we did go we wore the bulkiest of life jackets which impeded much actual movement although we certainly would have bobbed like a cork in the water.

Dad was a city boy born and bred, but he was fascinated with fishing and sailing and would go out with my grandfather and others as often as he could. He started a documentary film on it, but for some reason it never got off the ground. (Shooting film in those days was a real expense and editing was a bulky affair.)

As I alluded to yesterday, my grandfather died suddenly and young of a heart attack. The Imp was sold shortly after, with some discussion. I think a boat is a bit like an instrument which is meant to be played – we wouldn’t have gotten her out much, even our sailboat was idle much of the time. Dad continued fishing with other folks, neighbors, on boats or surf casting on the beach. (There was a nearby draw bridge that folks fished from, but I don’t remember my father doing that. I think fishing was more tied up with being on the water or at the beach for him.) Fishing poles were piled around the garage and house, the line getting tangled and caught in everything. Even when he wasn’t fishing his buddies, or my grandfather’s, would bring fresh fish by for us.

Although blue fish does not enjoy much of a good reputation, when grilled with lemon and pepper, fresh off the boat it is a very different affair than that which has been sitting in a fish market where it tends to quickly grow oily and strong. I grew up eating it all summer, along side of Jersey corn – maybe also grilled – and tomatoes from our garden. Blues are big, toothy fish and wrestling them while cleaning them was messy work. Generally in the cleaning was done outside, fish scales sticky and flying everywhere and sticking to me. Our cats in their glory, their noses in a fury of sniffing, as smelly fish guts piled up.

There were other fish too – crabs my sister and I caught in the backyard off our dock which were boiled and tediously cleaned. Scallops in butter and lobster of course, although I think the majority of those were fished a bit north of us. The river inlet I grew up on was known as Oyster Bay because it had at one time been thick with them. Pollution eliminated them, although they re-seeded the bed to some success in later years. Because of pollution my mother steered us away from the practice of eating raw clams, and even steamers, and I didn’t eat mussels until I was an adult.

I cook fish often. As a result of growing up with it I am comfortable working with fish and never really think twice about the nuisance of cleaning a pound of shrimp, and am always surprised by folks who are stymied by it. If we were entertaining guests over this (Covid so we are not) summer my grandmother’s faux bouillabaisse might be in the offing. Well known for being better for sitting overnight, it is a favorite for guests as it then only requires heating. My French food training showed me the difference – hers is more of a thicker Mediterranean-Italian fish stew which I cheerfully favor. I will write about it and lay out the recipe one of these days.

For those of you with access to a grill this summer I urge you to throw some fresh fish and corn on and enjoy it for me. It is one of the pleasure decidedly denied to us city dwellers.

Egged On

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Today is a bit of an unusual post – this egg carton presented itself in my inbox early Saturday morning and captured my imagination. The folks at Ruby Lane make sure I get a daily email with a cat purchase option. These range from cat theme pins even your grandmother would be embarrassed to wear to things I want, but are already sold (um, what is that about?) and yesterday, this egg carton. Now, devoted though I am, even I couldn’t really see spending $25 on it, but it stayed with me and perhaps one of you Pictorama readers will feel differently and purchase it.

First, I was just tickled that an egg company actually had the inclination to plop Felix on their carton, contributing to the idea that Felix could and did sell anything and everything. Then I realized that, hard to read, down in the right corner below one dozen it reads Felix T. Wright, Silverton, Oregon 97381. So he played with his name and added this jolly off-model (free-hand we might say?) Felix. A nice way to get around any copyright issues should they have arisen.

I have to say though that it was the term cackle fresh under the eggs which made me chuckle and made this a little irresistible. The lines emanating from the eggs lend a pleasantly cartoon-y feeling to this happy little Faux Felix who is presenting them for our consideration. (Kim suggested that perhaps instead small black cats would come dancing out of the hatched eggs – an image I love.)

Additionally, even as a saver and a keeper, the idea that somehow this egg carton survives entertains and surprises me greatly. Of course there is no way of telling how old (or not) it is, but an internet search does not turn up a surviving company by this name. And, really, who keeps an egg carton? Even a really fun one?

As someone who stopped eating meat decades ago, the question of eggs is always in play. While I currently eat eggs there were times in my life when I did not and I remember having a discussion on an airplane where my vegetarian breakfast was eggs and I pointed out that eggs are not a vegetable. (There are so many things about this memory that seem unimaginable as I sit here – eating breakfast on an airplane meaning they served food – and when will I be on a plane eating breakfast again?)

This leads up to the oddity of dairy – animal product, yet eggs somehow pushing a line in a way let’s say cheese does not. Kim, a generally utterly intrepid and un-fussy eater, does not eat eggs and therefore I rarely have them in the house.

This self-imposed egg moratorium has lead to some creative alternatives for my recent baking experiments (posts about my poor man’s cake, a one-bowl chocolate cake and most recent rather splendid cheesy olive bread can be found herehere and here, complete with recipes) which have largely grown out of quarantine cooking ennui. All of these have egg alternatives and at least two could be made vegan. I have, for the first time in my life, realized the value of buttermilk and yogurt as binders. (Thank you Google!) I will consider a vegan version of matzoh ball soup in the fall with miso broth. Fascinating.

Iicing

One-bowl chocolate mayonnaise cake.

 

Meanwhile, I was taught a thing or two about cooking eggs. As a culinary school graduate I can remember omelet lessons where the class went through a truly extraordinary number of eggs as we were trained on proper execution. It was a French restaurant school and they took their omelet technique very seriously and assured us that even master chefs were tested for their omelet making skills when interviewing for positions. You can imagine at first how many misses there were in omelet flipping. Yikes!

After graduation I narrowing missed taking a position in a hotel on Fifth Avenue as an omelet line chef, standing around making omelets to order for guests. I occasionally wonder how taking that position might have changed the course of my life Instead I ended up at another hotel, the now extinct Drake Swiss Hotel, as the garde manger for a young Jean-George Vongerichten and his first restaurant there, The Lafeyette. For all of that, I am sure whatever omelet skill I had (I was middle of the pack at best) has long deteriorated and I also prefer mine more thoroughly cooked than the French seem to preach.

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Overgrown dumplings, made with pancake mix, in a yummy root veggie stew early in my quarantine cooking adventures.

 

I am thinking more about my nascent cooking career these days as I dust off some of my skills and tools in the interest of entertaining myself and Kim a bit with pantry provender and a new house cuisine à la Pam. I made a (very) nice angel hair pasta the other day with a lemon juice sauce. In the process I scrounged up a zester I purchased during my cooking school days and hadn’t used in decades. Cooking again, with zest no less, a turn of quarantine events I had not anticipated.

Glorious Food

Pam’s Pictorama Post: I have generally always had a good relationship with food. Despite a few allergies in early childhood, eventually resolved on their own – horrifyingly chocolate was briefly among them, followed by a reaction to animal fat triggered by a vaccine as a toddler. However, I was never an especially picky eater (it should be noted that I did have an odd and specific loathing of meatloaf, to my family a well-known aversion), although the late 1960’s and early 1970’s in suburban New Jersey did not exactly encourage fearless experimentation. During my college years, I eventually wandered toward eating only fish and dairy on the animal side of things.

I did grow up around good cooking (some of my posts about my ancestors, their restaurants and cooking here and here), and despite coming of age in an era of tv dinners and frozen vegetables, the local bounty of the Garden State plied us, at least seasonally, with fresh vegetables (nothing like a sun warmed Jersey tomato or corn right off the vine), and locally fished seafood right off the boat.

Even the sandy soil of our backyard, not immune to fall and winter’s hurricane flooding of salt water, still managed to provide us with a not insignificant annual bounty of tomatoes and herbs at a minimum. Strawberry vines grew wild and these were generally tiny, but sweet – however, you had to beat the bunnies and birds to them and in later years we surrendered them to that cause. Sunflowers grew even taller than my father and there was often a strange annual surplus of squash. Corn and cucumbers would not grew there, despite my periodic attempts. We Butlers were casual farmers at best however – our interest waning as the summer grew longer and hotter, however by that point everything pretty much ticked along as long as you were attentive about watering during the long hot days.

My mother reduced her efforts largely to containers in later years and even then the luxury of fresh herbs from the garden, only picking what you needed, spoiled me when I was visiting and cooking there. By that time I had already had a (albeit brief) career cooking professionally. However, despite having been around it plenty as a kid, I really learned to cook by doing it with friends who knew more about it than me – eventually fueled by a very real interest in cookbooks which at one point in my life I read on my long daily subway commute during an internship while living in London.

If I have a talent for cooking (and I would volunteer mine is modest at best really) it is that having grasped the fundamentals of a recipe I can then riff on it and make it my own with variations on a theme. (For me this is less true in baking which I approach as alchemy and a science not to be messed with – although there are people who are amazing at this, I have long recognized that I am not one of those magicians.)

My interest in cooking has long been submerged and drastically subdued over the years by long hours and travel for my job in fundraising. Without really being aware, our food needs were increasingly being met by a variety of easily made or semi-assembled meals. Kim is not a fan of eating out (and back in normal days I ate out a lot for work), and we generally limit even our take-out eating to Friday night. Until recently that was Mexican food. Taco Today, owned by a Korean family and less than a block away, was our Friday night destination after a long week. I would sometimes meet Kim there after working out at the gym, although gym after work not happening in the past year or so as my hours at work grew ever longer.

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View of First Avenue from inside Taco Today, waiting for our Friday night order last year.

 

Those were of course the sylvan pre-pandemic days. Taco Today closed for renovation in early March and therefore avoided the dilemma of deciding whether they could stay in business. We have stuck to our Friday night take-out and supported our local pizza place (love you Arturo’s!) and first one and now another Mexican establishment somewhat further afield. There was briefly a sandwich shop on First, just opened pre-Covid, owned by an Indian man who would occasionally slip some native Indian fare into the offerings. He closed sometime in late March, but I just noticed yesterday they seem to have re-opened.

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Arturo’s Pizza is the best and we are very grateful for their effort to remain open during the Pandemic. This fellow greets us each time at this tiny hole-in-the-wall Yorkville establishment.

 

Working from home has involved even longer hours, but well, at home. I have already written some about the beehive of activity here in this one small room we call Deitch Studio and home. (I outlined some of the details in my recent post, We Work Each Day: Clivette Cont. which can be found here.) Thankfully our kitchen renovation (which still gives me horrors, the details can be found in a few posts that start here) was completed last fall. It has been put to excellent use.

It should be noted that I have always indulged in eating copious fruit and working from home during a pandemic I have allowed an unfettered consumption of oranges, apples and berries. Meanwhile, slowly the cooking memory muscle has begun to grind back to life. First a renewed interest in how to use leftovers, then wandering over to pastas. Fish fillets now enjoy blankets of sauce and dinner rarely has fewer than two vegetables. I replaced my broken food processor. Kim’s birthday saw the production of an actual, if simple, chocolate cake (recently documented here) and suddenly the itch to bake and cook is beckoning. (And yes, for those of you who are paying attention, I really only have one size of loaf Pyrex so everything is uniformly coming out the same size and shape!) I think I feel gazpacho coming on next.

The ever present worry about health living in quarantine during a pandemic has presumably fueled this interest beyond the additional time spent at home. What greater defense has there ever been against falling ill than eating right? Concerns about dieting seem absurd when considered in the context of pandemic, people falling ill and dying all around. While I have controlled a nagging desire to let loose with a barrage of baking (visions of chocolate chip cookies lurk in the corners of my mind), I made a decision early on that if I was going to be in quarantine I was doing it with dark chocolate and good ice cream. (Other folks thought this way and for a time ice cream was hard to find here.)

Frankly, if you are going to be marooned somewhere for several months, having continued access to excellent bagels (shout out to Bagel Bob’s on York Avenue) and pizza (another huzzah for Arturo’s, also on York) goes a long way to making up for the lack of access to outdoor space and well, space in general. Yay Manhattan!

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Messy crowded counter which I did not have time to clear off when the urge to make this cheesy olive loaf yesterday. 

 

Meanwhile, this week the desire manifested itself in another recipe from The New York Times, this time for an olive cheese bread. Bread in general presents a problem for me as I have arthritis in my hands and kneading has been out of the question for decades already. I more experienced baker might be able to substitute some aspect of the Cuisinart for this activity. (If you are one of those folks and want to enlighten me, please do.) I have not figured it out. This sort of faux bread skips that step and requires only a firm hand with a spatula mixing.

I have long thought that if I had stayed in the professional cooking business I might have moved into baking and not fancy pastry, but more down to earth things like bread, muffins and loaf cakes. I have never had a significant sweet tooth really and it is those savory items I might have spent my time concocting in another life. These are more forgiving than the French pastry of my training as well and allow even my somewhat ham-handed invention and variation.

Back to the cheesy olive bread. It is very simple and it is really delightful. Somehow it reminds me of my grandmother’s somewhat cake-y loaves. Kim is not a fan of eggs so I replaced them by doubling the buttermilk (I could have done the same by using yogurt and doubling it, but I couldn’t find yogurt I liked at the market) and it worked just fine, better than expected. (Now I have half of a container of buttermilk to use – any ideas out there?) I went the route of rosemary for herbs and included the suggested fresh ground pepper.

The smell while cooking was heavenly and a bonus is that you experience it all over again if you heat your slice before consuming which I also recommend – although oddly it doesn’t seem to actually toast. Might be my lack of eggs in the recipe but not sure. Meanwhile, mmmm! I am looking forward to slicing up some tomatoes, perhaps with some fresh basil, to put atop of slabs of this.

The recipe can be found on the NYT site here or as below. Thank you Melissa Clark!

Savory Olive and Cheese Loaf by Melissa Clark

2½ cups/320 grams all-purpose flour (or a combination of all-purpose and some whole-wheat or rye flour) 1 teaspoon kosher salt 1½ teaspoons baking powder ½ teaspoon baking soda ¼ cup/60 ml olive oil 1 cup/240 ml fermented dairy product (buttermilk or plain yogurt) 2 eggs ¾ cup/110 gr sliced pitted olives 1 cup/8 ounces grated cheese cup/8 ounces grated cheese (Gruyère, Cheddar or other hard grating cheese), divided (7 ounces & 1 ounce) 1 tablespoon fresh thyme, oregano, marjoram or rosemary OR 1 teaspoon dried herbes de Provence ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper.

DIRECTIONS: Heat the oven to 350°F. Grease a 9-inch loaf pan (or line it with parchment). In a large bowl, whisk together dey ingredients. In a large measuring cup, whisk together olive oil and buttermilk/yogurt. (If using thick Greek yogurt, thin it down with a little water, milk, or whey from yogurt-making.) Whisk in the eggs. Whisk the wet ingredients into the dry to form a heavy, thick batter. Use a rubber spatula to fold in the pitted olives and ¾ cup/7 ounces grated cheese. Finally, add the herbs and seasonings. Spread the batter in the pan and scatter the remaining ¼ cup/1 ounce grated cheese on top. Bake until the cheese is browned and the top of the loaf springs back when lightly pressed, 45 to 55 minutes. Serve warm as soon as you can unmold it (about 30 minutes after baking).

Letting Us Eat Cake

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Baking makes an unusual post, but that is today’s and I know there are those of you who will not find this of interest. I promise toys and photos will return soon enough.

Making even a simple cake exercised a rare cooking muscle for me yesterday. I saw a recipe for a one bowl chocolate cake in the paper a few weeks ago and it stuck with me. (The recipe, from the New York Times can be found here, or below.) It looked delightfully simple, but in these strange pandemic days it took a little while to accrue what I needed. I gave myself the deadline of Kim’s birthday, several weeks ahead, to pull it together. Luckily I had flour which has been difficult to find. (There was an article recently about the “obscene amount of flour” being consumed in Britain. I say get a grip and let these poor people bake!)

Recently I was looking for Bisquick (a self-rising flour that can be used for pancakes, biscuits, dumplings and the like) and it has utterly disappeared from all available sources here. This leaves me wondering, as I do about many things, is it not being restocked or is it being bought that quickly? If it isn’t being restocked is it because it isn’t being made, or it isn’t being delivered? We do not know. Hopefully, like some other things, it will reappear over time. Meanwhile, I scored a box of pancake mix, realizing that all pancake flour was likely to be self-rising which turns out to be true and it made delightful dumplings.

Cooking cocoa proved the biggest barrier. Although cooking chips were available, cocoa powder was not to be had and it would work better. After reading an article about acquiring food in bulk I was reminded of a site called Nuts.com which has, in addition to nuts, beans, pasta and cooking cocoa. I bought a bag of perciatelli, hibiscus flowers (to make cold tea which is lovely), dried mushrooms and my cooking cocoa. (I feel compelled to warn you that most everything is sold in enormous quantities, although the cocoa was a reasonably sized bag – we have a lot of pasta however, and the hibiscus flowers will make enough tea through the summer.)

One of the joys of cooking during the internet age is the ability to figure out and calculate substitutions so easily. I didn’t have baking soda, only baking powder, and in seconds I had the conversion. You can find cooking substitutes for just about anything. The whole basis of this cake is substituting mayonnaise for eggs and as I said, I could have used just about any chocolate in a pinch.

Over a year ago I posted about another one-bowl, eggless, butter-free cake that I remembered from childhood, one we called a Poor Man’s Cake. I recreated the recipe from a combination of the internet and memory. (That post can be found here.) That was before we renovated the kitchen (that episode was depicted here and in several other posts) and I was seriously challenged by both my own lack of organization and a lack of space in the kitchen. As a result this time was much easier and more pleasant. (The only item that has utterly disappeared are my measuring spoons – they are blue and I have owned them for decades and they have utterly gone missing.)

I decided on a medium-sized, rectangular Pyrex dish which I think was a good choice. In a loaf pan it might be hard not to have the edges dry out a bit. It was the first time baking in this oven and I should have turned it at the mid-point in cooking as the oven is a bit uneven. It cooked faster than anticipated (about 20 minutes) so I didn’t get the chance.

cake

 

You will note that the use of chocolate chips (I went the full 2 ounces), coffee (instead of water) and brandy are optional and I used all, substituting Jack Daniels for brandy. (I had no vanilla.) In retrospect I think the cake benefitted from all of the above if you have them. I choose the simple confectionary sugar topping although a true vanilla or cream cheese frosting would upgrade this to a real dessert as opposed to a snacking cake.

It whisks together quickly and has a satisfying poof! after adding the baking soda/powder in. This reminded me that what I always enjoyed about baking – or much of cooking in general is the alchemy. You start with such disparate materials and end up with something so remarkably different. It is truly like magic.

Bowl

My first time reading a recipe off of an iPad while cooking. That Fresca in the background was also hard won. For some reason it too has disappeared in recent months and just came back on the shelves of the market. 

 

For me baking is a rarely indulged in pleasure. Our diets run to the pescatarian, with an emphasis on veggies – and pastries are a truly rare occurrence, let alone homemade ones, despite my deeply buried background in professional cooking and baking. During the months of quarantine it has taken some discipline not to embrace becoming a cookie and bread baking, cake making and eating machine! Hence the scarcity of certain items as we all think alike. There is comfort in what you can make yourself with your own hands and the thrill of smell wafting through the apartment as it bakes.

From the New York Times, One-Bowl Chocolate Mayonnaise Cake

INGREDIENTS

  • ¾ cup/180 milliliters boiling water, or use hot coffee, Earl Grey tea or mint tea
  • ¼ cup/25 grams unsweetened cocoa powder (Dutch-processed or natural)
  • 1 to 2 ounces chopped bittersweet chocolate (optional)
  •  cup/160 milliliters mayonnaise
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
  • ¾ cup/150 grams granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, or a dash of bourbon or whiskey (optional)
  • 1 ½ cups/190 grams all-purpose or cake flour
  •  Confectioners’ sugar, for finishing

PREPARATION

  1. To a large mixing bowl, add cocoa powder and chopped bittersweet chocolate (if using). Pour in boiling liquid, and let it sit for a few minutes, then whisk until smooth. The chocolate will have melted, if you used it, and the cocoa dissolved.
  2. Whisk in mayonnaise, salt, baking soda, 3/4 cup granulated sugar until smooth. Then whisk in a teaspoon of vanilla extract, if you have it (or a dash of Bourbon or brandy or just leave it out entirely). Finally, whisk in 1 1/2 cups flour (either all-purpose or cake flour), mixing vigorously to eliminate any lumps.
  3. Grease an 8- or 9-inch pan (square, round, star-shaped, anything is good). Pour the batter into the pan, and bake at 350 degrees for 22 to 40 minutes, until the top springs back when the center is lightly pressed. The deeper the pan, the longer it will take to bake through.
  4. Let cool, and sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar to finish.

 

Luchs Messbecher Beer

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Returning to the world of fascinating objects today, I offer this item which has graced the top of my refrigerator more or less as long as I can remember. It was purchased at a street fair for a few dollars in the early years of the 1990’s and has been charged first with holding loose change and in more recent years, the card we now use for laundry. It has long held a special perch on the top of the refrigerator where its cheerful striped pattern and black cat face greet us daily.

In retrospect it is not surprising that a street fair in Yorkville would produce such an item. To some degree it has mystified me – a tin beaker with beer advertising on the outside and what appears to be dry and wet measure indications on the inside. At a casual glance you might think these were cocktail recipes, but closer inspection makes that seem unlikely since indicators are for things like butter, sugar and cocoa.

Research reveals that this was a ubiquitous implement in German and German American kitchens. Evidently traditional German cooking measure is done by weight and therefore this cup expedited simple measuring, a shortcut for daily baking needs which otherwise would require taking out a scale. Strangely, for something so popular and therefore still widely available, some relatively simple questions are not easily answered. Why and how did a beer company end up producing this household device staple and what years was it produced? I have found no answers to these questions, nor have I found out much about the beer company which made it.

When I purchased it I thought it was pre-War German and while there is some speculation dating it there among online sellers, I am less convinced of that now. Dates by some sites are given as late as the 1950’s. My feeling is the 1940’s seems likely. There are shinier examples online, as below, and even a sort of zippy red version.

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Emptied from its depths I disgorged: various loose change (38 cents in US pennies, a 5 Kuna coin from Croatia, and 60 cents in Canadian change); 3 NYC subway tokens of the last variety before they did away with them (the ones with house-shaped holes in the middle); the aforementioned laundry card and doppelganger laundry cards that might or might not work any longer, and may or may not have money on them; an elderly purple vial of Rhus Toxicodendron (homeopathic remedy made from the poison ivy plant); a device that is to be used to unscrew/tightening the screws of the futon frame we sleep on (I’d frankly forgotten this entirely and gone out and purchased another several years ago); and lastly a box of straight edge razors. I went through a phase of using these razors for all sorts of things which, in retrospect, seems cavalier or even a bit dangerous now. I was using them for drawings and I got used to having them around I guess.

The new refrigerator is higher and more narrow than those of years past and some large pans have already been assigned to that venue. However, I think I can find just enough space to fit the Messbecher beaker back in its place of honor.