Thanksgiving a la Boricua

I’m in the process of finalizing the Thanksgiving menu which I am trying to keep short. In an effort to sate the taste buds and traditions of two very different cultural backgrounds, I decided to keep it strictly American with the addition of one Puerto Rican dish: arroz con gandules (rice with pigeon peas).

Usually also on the menu would be some sort of salad rather than a green bean anything. A ham is always in order, but usually a beauteously large canned one, dressed up with pineapple and cherries instead of a more Californian, Honey Baked Ham. And then to guild the lilly, there would also be the addition of a picadillo style stuffing.

Rather than go for a monster sized feast, we chose to tread lightly and simply add our quintessential celebratory rice dish. Peasant food that knows no economical bounds as both the rich and poor love it just as well.

This site has a great recipe

Try it and buen provecho!


A Full-Circle Food Jaunt with Elisabeth

Elisabeth proudly showing off her Yorkshire Pudding success

Since my arrival in New York City I’ve had the pleasure of meeting up with Elisabeth several times and it’s truly been a pleasure to get to know her more.

Although she hails from a small town south of Boston, Massachusets, NYC has had her heart since the 1980s. From the Oyster Bar in Grand Central Terminal to Pete’s Tavern in Gramercy, Elisabeth knows and loves the vestiges of old New York.

This Prosecco loving, high-heeled wearing, small town girl, knows this city like the back of her hand. Elisabeth moves forward with the times while remaining true to who she is and keeping tradition close to her heart. I’ll never forget when she told me how when she goes back home she’s sure to stop at a Friendly’s in order to purchase a tub or two of their peppermint ice cream as it defines the Holiday season. I do the same thing when I visit home and bring back my beloved coffee. Those are the little moments that define our personal food history and those are the stories I love to share and read.

***This post marks the last of this blog series. Thank you to those who played a part in it, I will always cherish these stories. I’ll soon be creating a page where I’ll link all of them so future readers can have a more definitive understanding of what this blog is about.***

By Elisabeth

In many ways, mine was the classic 1970s suburban American childhood. “Like in movies!” say my children, they of the strictly urban New York City upbringing.  They love to picture me in the vast halls of my high school, taking my books from a long row of metal lockers, or cruising around town in my parents’ huge station wagon-both concepts totally foreign to them.

Like many Americans of my generation, I grew up without much connection to any particular culinary heritage.  It was “a little of this a little of that,” and despite the fact that my family background includes relations who hailed from Ireland and Germany, I was not exposed to much in the way of “family recipes” in my childhood.

My brothers and sister and I ate lots of standard-issue chicken, mac-n-cheese, and the like.  We ate hamburgers and hot dogs.  We ate fish sticks on Fridays.  We loved Minute Rice and Jell-O pudding.  My sister and I baked chocolate chip cookies from the Toll House recipe on the bag of chips, and made birthday cakes from boxed mixes.   Occasionally my mother, a bit of a free spirit, would venture into more creative territory.  She made a killer lasagna, taught to her by a Italian neighbor in her early married life.  She was renowned amongst our neighbors for her Quiche Lorraine, which contained “Bac-O’s”, a staple of our suburban supermarkets  and restaurant salad bars.  From time to time she would engage in fits of “Little House on the Prairie” style DIY, making bread, peanut butter, and once – memorably! – cheese – in our small-town kitchen.

When I grew up, I married, moved to New York City and set about becoming a bona fide foodie.  As I young bride, I was ambitious, cooking my way through the Silver Palate Cookbook, with its lengthy, byzantine recipes.  I scoured the city’s Greenmarkets and gourmet food shops, developing  finicky standards.  In Autumn, I roasted root vegetables before making my own stock.  Come Spring, I cooked ramps.  A dish I adapted from a recipe in the New York Times for Chicken with a Mustard Cream Sauce became known to my friends as “Lizzy’s Delicious Chicken”.

By the time my children arrived in the early ’90s I was a full-blown Food Snob and I saw to it that my babies quickly followed suit.  When I made my mother’s Quiche for Preschool Parent dinners, I always cooked my own bacon and made sure to use fine gruyère cheese.   My son eschewed the boxed fluorescent mac-n-cheese of my youth in favor of the Barefoot Contessa’s Panko-Crumb-Topped masterpiece.  My daughter, then about eight, voiced her appreciation at a friend’s house upon taking a bite of grilled chicken: “Mmm! Ras-al-Hanout!” We were all thoroughly spoiled by the infinite epicurean possibilities at our fingertips.

At some point I began to hunger for something more.  On a visit home, I raided my mother’s recipe collection and came away with a number of handwritten recipe cards.   These were the forgotten treats of my childhood!  My grandmother’s Butterscotch Sauce.  Our friend Mona’s Zucchini Bread.  My Great-Aunt Mary’s Molasses Crinkles.  This last one especially called to me.  Mary was my paternal Grandmother’s sister; a frequent and beloved visitor to our home, and by unanimous consent, The Best Cook in The Family.”  I wanted my own children to taste those cookies.  I perused the list of ingredients, and was a bit put off to see that it included Crisco vegetable shortening.  Please! This was not something I kept in my streamlined city kitchen!  So I made up a batch of the cookies using butter, with predictable results: rock-hard, inedible blobs.  Humbled, I made a second attempt, using Great-Aunt Mary’s prescribed Crisco, and voilà!  Perfect, sugary gems!   We started making them all the time, using different colored sugars for various holidays and occasions.   For several years, my daughter made them almost weekly for my son’s running teammates and their families.  In fact, we gave the recipe to his school for a cookbook, renaming them “Dylan’s Dad’s Favorites” after their biggest fan.

Sometime later, I posted this recipe on an internet food forum, and was thrilled beyond measure when the far-flung members started baking and enjoying them.   As time went by, I had a visit in NYC from one forum member, the lovely Kate, AKA Norm.   When she posted photos of her visit to me on the same forum, she included a shot of my Great-Aunt’s handwritten recipe card, which was hanging in my kitchen during her stay   Another friend posted back, “When I saw the card, I felt like crying!”  Such are the bonds created by this kind of sharing.  I invite you to try this simple, delicious recipe.  But please, call it by its proper name, “Great-Aunt Mary’s Molasses Crinkles.”

Great-Aunt Mary’s Molasses Crinkles
2 ½ Cups flour
1 Cup brown sugar
1 egg
4 Tblsp molasses (or golden syrup)
3/4 Cup vegetable shortening
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp cinnamon
Raw sugar for decorating
Mix all the ingredients together, shape into balls (walnut sized)
Dip top into raw (or any) sugar
Bake in a 375ºF oven for 12 to 15 minutes

Sailing Through Memories with Megan

***Series Summary – In an effort to clarify my personal definition of food culture, I’ve invited a few food forum friends to share stories and recipes on my blog, with the hope of it giving us insight into the culture developed within their own home kitchens.***

Megan is Californian to the core. An incredibly hard worker, who loves to spend as much time on the water as she does with her family. I love seeing her Facebook updates on what she’s cooking for dinner as it’s always mouth watering and makes me want to join the clan.

A mother of one and married to her husband of 26 years, Megan is deeply devoted to those she loves. She is a core member of one of the two forums I’m part of and I couldn’t imagine it with out her. Here’s a little bit on her own personal food culture, how it was developed and a recipe that’s as much an American staple as apple pie.

I’m an American, a born and bred Californian, and when I think of American food hamburgers, meatloaf, potato salad and baked beans come to mind. But for me, American food is a cuisine of many old traditions, plus the influx of new cultures. I have been heavily influenced by 4 major cookbooks – The Original Betty Crocker Cookbook from the 1950’s, The Frugal Gourmet Cooks American by Jeff Smith, How to Grill and, finally, Miami Spice both by Steven Raichlen.

For me, cooking is about love and comfort. It is my way of relaxing at the end of a busy day, a creative outlet, a way of bringing friends together, and a way of satisfying my family without breaking our budget. My mother was a good cook, but she didn’t have a passion for it. However, she did like to make certain dishes that were easy and rewarding, and she taught them to me. 

One of my earliest memories is one of learning how to make Sour Cream Cake. I stood on a kitchen chair, following the directions as my mother spoke them, struggling to hold the mixer and scrape down the batter at the same time. I remember my mother laughing as we topped the batter with chocolate chips, saying “oh, one for the cook” as we nibbled a few.

I lost my mother last year, and my father passed away a few months ago. A few weeks later, a friend asked for recipes for cakes that traveled well, and I posted it on our forum with a short description of its history with my family. Another forum friend, Mary, adopted the recipe for her Book and Coffee shop in Western Virginia. It was a great success, and she asked if she could name it for my mother. My mother’s friends and family always called her “Dolly”, and so “Dolly Cakes” were born. It’s such a graceful tribute to my mother!

Sour Cream Coffee Cake
Here is the recipe, a simple, 60s retro cake that is delicious, easy to make, and travels well. Mary added some cocoa to the batter, and macadamia nuts to the topping.
6 Tlbs (1/3 cup) soft butter or margarine
1 Cup plus 1 Tlbs sugar
2 eggs
1 1/3 Cups all-purpose flour
1 ½ tps baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1 Cup sour cream
1 package (6 oz) semi sweet chocolate chips
1) Mix butter with one cup of sugar until blended, then beat in eggs one at a time.
2) Stir flour with baking powder, soda and cinnamon. Blend withcreamed butter and sugar mixture. Mix in sour cream.
3) Pour batter into a greased and flour dusted 9 x 13 inch pan. Scatter chocolate chips. over the top of the batter, then sprinkle with remaining 1 tablespoon of sugar.
4) Bake at 350ºF degrees for about 35 minutes.

Sunset Magazine, 1969

Megan does not have a blog, but for more posts by Mary join her at Southern Plenty

Norm’s Life in Food

***Series Summary – In an effort to clarify my personal definition of food culture, I’ve invited a few food forum friends to share stories and recipes on my blog, with the hope of it giving us insight into the culture developed within their own home kitchens.***

Kate or Norm as most call her, is endlessly entertaining. Her stories regarding her past, her present and her future world travels are like little vignettes on the story of a woman truly grabbing everything out of life. Her appreciation for foreign ingredients is also entertaining as what she finds odd is usually very normal to so many of us. Even transcending this fascination to grocery stores across the globe which she unabashedly photographs. In fact, I’ll never forget her tale of having gotten in trouble for taking pictures of the famously camera shy, Dean and Deluca.

Kate’s everyday, girl next-door look, gives no evidence to how truly interesting she is. It’s been a pleasure to read her stories and click through her pictures, which make me feel like I’m right there next to her and I hope you’ll feel the same after reading this guest post. 

Kate, always filled with humor

By Kate

Whatever else I might have been like as a child, I imagine my parents had quite an easy time with me when it came to food.  I have always eaten pretty much anything put in front of me, and unlike many children it seems, was always willing to try new foods.

As an adult I have maintained my try-anything-once attitude towards food; an attitude that I believe has served me well over the years.  I am fortunate enough to have had the experience of living on 3 different continents over the last 6 years as my husband is in the military.  Naturally home-loving, I don’t think that either he or I would have chosen to move house every 2 years but as the Army throws these opportunities at us we do our best to roll with it and make the most of whatever new situation we find ourselves in.  This of course also means that we are able to whole-heartedly embrace the food cultures in which we find ourselves.

From 2006-2008 we were posted to Ontario, Canada.  You might not think that the cuisine of North America is all that different to that of the UK, but we certainly found ourselves adjusting our diets.  In the past we had eschewed the burger, deriding it as ‘junk food’, but what a revelation a good burger was to us!  Home-made all-beef patties, sliced gherkins, relish.  We even developed an only-slightly-ironic taste for square slices of processed cheese (or ‘cheese possessed’ as we now lovingly refer to it!).  Barbecuing is practically a religion during a Canadian Summer and we bought a fabulous smoker barbecue that bears more than a passing resemblance to Stephenson’s Rocket.  What an excitement to be able to hot-smoke salmon and chicken over woodchips!  Despite being hundreds of miles from the sea, we ate far more seafood than we ever had before; it was so cheap compared to UK prices, as was steak.  I still fondly recall the first and only time I have ever made Beef Wellington, using a great slab of fillet steak that had cost perhaps $20, but would have been 4 times that price in England.  Burgers, steak, ribs, lobster, we ate everything with gleeful abandon.  We even sampled poutine, the heart-attack-inducing Quebecois dish comprising of chips (sorry, fries), gravy and cheese curds.  Thank heavens we also gorged on fabulous locally grown produce – Niagara peaches, blueberries,  sweetcorn, squash – and did plenty of exercise, spending our Summers walking, cycling and swimming and our Winters skiing and snowshoeing.

A scone with a healthy dollop of clotted cream

It was an emotional wrench to leave Canada in many ways, but on setting foot back on UK soil we immediately felt that we were home.  Straight away we began remembering all the foods that we had missed while we were away: many of these I can no longer recall, but being back really made me realise how fortunate we are in the UK to have such a range of supermarkets with such a vast choice of stock.  Never again will I complain about Tescos, we don’t know how good we have it.  Added to this the incredible range of ‘artisan foods’ available both in markets and supermarkets.  What sticks in my mind most of all however was our excitement at being able once again to make a clotted cream tea.  It seemed to be the epitome of ‘Englishness’ to spend a day out walking in beautiful countryside, then come home to freshly baked scones, home-made jam and a tub of Devon clotted cream.

Now, from 2010 to 2012 we are in Brunei, on the island of Borneo, in South-East Asia.  Inevitably, and excitingly, our diets have changed once again and we have embraced this change.  I saw it in Canada too, but it’s so noticeable here that many expats simply try to recreate food from their home countries.  You can almost do that, but not easily or well – and it will certainly cost you a lot if you only eat foods imported from your home country.  Inevitably we have the occasional evening when we crave a taste of home, any European dish will do, but most of the time we eat Asian – plenty of rice, noodles, soups, stir-fries.  This has its health benefits too; both of us lost half a stone in weight during our first 3 months in Brunei, and after nearly a year here the weight has stayed off.  Less dairy (no clotted cream!), less red meat, more fruit and veg, much of it local.  Our Asian holidays over the last year have had a real food focus as we have gone out of our way to discover the dishes that make each country what it is; and what amazing things we have discovered…  Rice paper rolls and Beef Pho in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam; sweet coconutty sticky rice with sesame seeds for breakfast in Myanmar, and pickled tea-leaf salad for supper; spicy Chiang-Mai sausage in Thailand, plus taking a fantastic Thai cookery course.  At the heart of any country is its cuisine, and what an adventure to explore it.

I feel that this piece should really include a recipe…  but where to start?  Peach pancakes and maple syrup in honour of Canada?  Spicy Mee Goreng from Brunei?  I welcome all these recipes into my life, but England is where my heart and home is so I will go with the traditional plain scone (recipe).  Serve with home-made jam and real clotted cream.

Tea and scones served in Emma Bridgewater designed dishes (Kate’s favorite)

For more posts by Kate, join her at It’s The Norm