Kitchen Archeology – No, This Is NOT About Cleaning My Fridge!

11 08 2010

While hunting for lost recipes my mother sort of remembers writing down twenty years ago, I made a discovery – a tattered old cookbook that was printed in 1882. It has no cover and is really in poor shape. It was way in the back of a drawer in my kitchen and probably hadn’t seen daylight in a dozen years or so. Even reading it is interesting. It really shows what kind of effect 118 years has on a language. It is for that reason that I’ve chosen to share one of its more interesting recipes with you. It is taken, exactly as written, from Successful Housekeeper: A Manuel of Universal Application.

Cottage Beer

Take a peck of good wheat bran and put it into ten gallons of water with three handfuls of good hops, and boil the whole together until the bran and hops sink to the bottom. Then strain it through a hair sieve or a thin cloth into a cooler, and when it is about lukewarm add two quarts of molasses. As soon as the molasses is melted, pour the whole into a ten-gallon cask, with two tablespoonfuls of yeast. When the fermentation has subsided, bung up the cask, and in four days it will be fit to use.

Now, I’m not going to start a micro-brewery in my garage or anything, but I’ll admit the thought did cross my mind briefly. If anyone does try this, let me know how it is.





Family History On a Plate

8 08 2010

Last November my cousin got married and I made her wedding cake, which was actually a collection of gluten-free red velvet cupcakes with cream cheese icing. This recipe like so many others is on a small card stuffed in a cookbook in my mother’s kitchen. The chances of it getting lost are high and there are plenty of other recipes that my mother and I love and use often that are old, raggedy looking, and in similar random locations just waiting to be misplaced or used as scrap paper by my father who wouldn’t recognize a recipe if it jumped up and did a tap dance on the counter. There are some fragile ones that are decades old and written in my grandmother’s handwriting. She passed away a few years ago and I would be very upset if these old, brittle bits of yesteryear finally crumbled while in my possession. Others are locked securely in recesses of my mother’s mind. I once searched my house for over an hour trying to find her apple pie recipe only to have her tell me that it had never been written down to begin with. We have some beautiful cookbooks that I’d rather not see spattered with oil and stuff because they got in the way when I was making something delicious and messy. In short, this situation has to change.

With this in mind, and because my unemployment gives me nothing but time, I’m copying down all of the favorites old and new and making two archives of them – one for me and one for my mother. It will make sharing them easier and I’m sure my aunts will have a few to add to our collection. This will also give me a chance to make some of my favorite foods for no reason which is always good. I’m always pulling new recipes off the internet and now they won’t end up in some corner of a drawer never to be seen again.

Essentially, I’m writing my own cookbook.





Taralli – My Culinary “Mission Impossible”

24 07 2010

What’s a taralli? Well, aside from delicious, this is the definition Wikipedia gives is this.

Taralli are an Italian snack food, common all over the southern half of the Italian Peninsula. A cracker similar in texture to a bread stick or a pretzel, taralli can be sweet or savory. Sweet taralli are sometimes glazed with sugar. Savory taralli may be flavored with onion, garlic, sesame seeds, poppy seeds, fennel, pepper or just salt. Sweet and plain taralli are often dunked in wine.

I had seen some of the sweet ones a while back and finally weakened enough to go out and buy some – something I usually don’t do because they’re expensive and, given my major weakness for baked goods, they don’t last long. I had, however, gotten the image of me enjoying a of couple glazed taralli and my morning coffee so ingrained in my mind that the obvious downsides didn’t faze me. Off I went to the closest grocery store – a small independently owned place where I always, Always, ALWAYS see sweet taralli… except for when I show up looking for them. I went to the next nearest grocery store – a Stop & Shop – and still no sweet taralli. If I’d have wanted the peppercorn ones, I’d have been set, which just made the situation more annoying.

Before I go on, allow me to explain why not finding a single lone tarallo (singular form of taralli) is such a shock. I live in New Haven county Connecticut – well within the metro-area where Italian-American everything is commonplace. The town I live in does not have its own high school – it’s part of a district – but it does have not one, but two places to get good pizza. If I’m honest, I could’ve driven to an Italian bakery and bought the taralli. There are a couple good bakeries around, but they aren’t as close as those grocery stores were and I was getting sick of driving around with nothing to show for it, so I went back home to go on an online recipe hunt. I had decided to try my hand at making them.

Traditional Italian baking is usually pretty easy – it can be time-consuming sometimes, but it’s not a difficult process as a rule. There are often few ingredients and the variety comes from the addition of different flavorings and such as opposed to an entirely different process for each recipe. A perfect example is when you walk into a coffee shop and you see seven different kinds of biscotti. The difference is not in how they’re made – they are all biscotti – but in the flavoring. One’s almond, one’s lemon, one’s dipped in chocolate, ect, ect… The difficulty comes in finding traditional Italian recipes. No one writes cookbooks full of these kinds of recipes. You find books with really elaborate versions of some of these things or, more irritatingly, how to fake Italian food with things like ketchup and canned soups. That, in my opinion, is an abomination. I’m cool with all sorts of things in life, but do NOT try convincing me that Campbell’s tomato soup even remotely resembles my homemade marinara sauce. I will think less of you as a person if you do.

My recipe hunt yielded a few good results most notably an italian food blog turosdolci.wordpress.com which is full of some delicious-looking recipes as well as beautiful shots of Italy. My urge to book a flight was almost as strong as my urge to bust out the baking utensils. Baking won only on economic grounds. Anyway I found this post about taralli and this post that was my inspiration – a sweet taralli made with red wine. I gathered my ingredients and about 35 minutes later my home smelled like heaven and I had taralli that are far better than anything I could’ve bought. Me being who I am I had to fiddle with the recipe a little. I used a Ruby Port instead of a red wine and the results are fabulous. Whatever brilliant soul decided, ages ago, that wine belonged in a baked snack deserves to be canonized. I also showed my mother the site and now she’s got baking plans that stretch to Christmas after seeing a few recipes for biscotti and other treats. I have plans to attempt some gluten-free versions of these things. My cousin is allergic to gluten – a cruel fate in a family like mine – and I’ve had a fair bit of success with substituting in gluten-free flours with little to no difference in taste. It’s health food everyone wants to eat. I’ll keep everyone appraised of the results of my gluten-free experimenting.

I will close this post with a warning regarding these snacks – they are addictive. To say I’ve eaten more than my fair share is an understatement to say the least. It isn’t just me, or the rest of the humans in the house for that matter, Tosca, my shiba inu, is now a fiend for them. She will climb, jump, and do everything else in her power to get a hold of some. This is unusual because she isn’t generally one to do this… unless you leave grilled beef unattended, and then it’s over. Tosca is an accomplished taralli thief.

I will try to post more good recipes (or links to good recipes) in the future.





Another Great Idea That Won’t Get Me Money

10 07 2010

I received a really insensitive email from a company I was applying to work for. I had contacted because I was having some trouble finishing the application process on their website. I’m not in the mood to go into details, but suffice to say it made me furious. I will be emailing them to express this since I can’t finish my application, but I have yet to be able to draft a message that doesn’t start off with “Dear Butt-Head…” or something equally insulting (and usually more profane). I refuse to look foolish even in an email and even though their opinion of me does not weigh on my mind one bit. I am just simply better than that. I was looking for something to do that would occupy me and help me cool down because it’ll take forever otherwise. I thought about baking, but a second or two in front of a full-length mirror cured me of the desire for cake, cookies, and most other treats, so I decided to dig out some yarn and crochet a scarf. Yep, crochet a scarf in the near 100 degree weather we’ve been having. I was on Etsy looking for a scarf pattern that doesn’t look like something you’d see at an old folks’ home, when I found this.

Crochet suddenly looked a lot cooler. I bought the pattern and when out and got what I’d need… almost. I forgot the stuffing for my little stuffed ninja dude.
This morning I woke up with a mission – buy stuffing for my new little toy. It was too early to go out though, so I settled in watching BBC America’s morning news and thinking. What in the name of all that’s good and right with the world is a twenty-five-year-old going to do with a 2.5″ stuffed ninja? What had I been thinking? Why did I waste very limited resources on something so stupid? Granted, it wasn’t a lot of money – I’d probably spend more on one trip to Starbucks – but it was the principle of the thing that got to me. There was also the issue of what to do with all the extra yarn. I couldn’t justify the creation of one ninja let alone a whole army of them. Then I got an idea – donate some of my crocheted creations around the holidays. I am now a humanitarian… sort of.

I like making things, particularly scarves, but I always wind up with more than I can use and I really have no use for toys, except for the fact that making them will keep me for dwelling on how pathetic my prospects for work are, so I try to keep my crocheting to a minimum. This way I can make as many things as I want, keep only what I need and then use the remaining yarn to make more stuff that will fill a need someone has. I like feeling like I have a purpose and have long ago realized that the things I like to do will never make me any money, so, while I have no real work, I can indulge in something I like to do and simultaneously elevating myself from the category of Waste of Grey Matter. Sweet!

I will probably try to sell a few items at some point and my mother has already requested a pair of ballet-style slippers with ribbons and first pick of everything else in exchange for supplying me with yarn and other necessities, but otherwise this is about me trying to do something good and make use of my vast tracts of free time.





Life Is a Series of Decisions (Bla, Bla, Bla-Di-Bla…)

17 05 2010

Ok, first a recap.


-I turned twenty-five on the fifth – in other words, youth, as it pertains to yours truly, is the stuff of history and perhaps a legend or two. I hope to hit myth status by thirty.


-I’ve been drafted as a mosaic artist to work alongside my grumpy, republican father. To be fair he’s a lot less grumpy when we aren’t discussing politics. I’d say it would make great sitcom fodder but it’s already been done… a lot.


-I’m still looking for work and it still sucks. Happily, my father’s irritation at having a grown, unemployed lump of humanity inhabiting an entire floor of his home whose only achievement of late is not killing off the tomatoes and strawberries she and her mother planted has cooled a little though things can gets heated when the FOX News folks start talking about unemployment as it relates to the economy. I think he’d like to see the able-bodied unemployed put into giant hamster wheel and made to run, powering a generator able to generate half the nation’s electricity until we learn the art of “making things happen.” Well, that or strip us of our citizenship and send us on a one-way trip to Europe. Actually, I’ve always dreamed of living in Italy. Warm Mediterranean sunshine, good food, soccer – no – football, one of the most melodious languages in the world, and let’s not forget the men.


Daria – the best TV show ever – has been released on DVD. It’s only been off the air for eight years. Glad they were so prompt about it. Let’s hear it for the show that helped get people like me feeling OK with being themselves… to the chagrin of the rest of the world. In addition to the “Glass Ceiling” Project and some impromptu tiling, I have a new quest – obtain the DVD set and revel in the snark. (UPDATE – I bought this boxset. It’s great!)


-The World Cup starts June 11th and, unless there’s a change in my employment status, I will be a complete soccer nut for the entire month-long event. ITALIA!

Now to the substantive issue of the day – how badly do I want to see my Congresswoman re-elected? Badly enough to actively participate in the political process? I’m actually not sure. I like Rosa DeLauro. I’ve met her several times – some before I was able to vote – and she didn’t dismiss me because I wasn’t either a baby or a possible supporter. She heard out my child self and, as much as I hate to admit that I fell for the oldest trick in the political book, I have to say, it stuck with me. From a practical standpoint, I share her point of view on many issues. I think hers is a good voice to have in Congress. Also, I’m seeing more – and by “more” I mean more than one – of those Teaparty flags around the neighborhood and, while I don’t see Connecticut’s third district as a hotbed of hardcore conservatism, it might be time for me to enter the fray as a sort of counterbalance.
I also just happen to enjoy politics. Sometimes it’s interesting, sometimes it’s amusement coupled with a healthy dose of schadenfreude, and sometimes, rarely, something really meaningful that betters people’s lives is accomplished. Sounds like a done deals right? Not If you’re me. As much as the political process fascinates me, there is also an element I find unpalatable. I sometimes wonder if we as a nation have outgrown integrity and ethics in general. Usually I laugh at it as I did here but I don’t know how close I want to get to the system itself even though I like the product. I like sopressata, but I wouldn’t want to make it, especially without compensation. Then again, it’s only posters and phone calls, right. It’s not like I’m trying to be the next Hillary Clinton.

I’ll add pics and such later, but I’m finally tired. I’ve been having a lot of trouble sleeping lately and I’m now like a zombie. I have no idea whether this post makes sense or not at this point. I’ll fix whatever’s most certainly wrong with it when I regain consciousness in several hours. (Obviously, I got around to updating.)

UPDATE – I sent in my info to volunteer. Yes, I do care enough to try to get involved. I find myself caring more and more. Now it’s time to wait and see. It would be a new personal low to be rejected as a volunteer.