Thursday, September 29, 2011

Fridays I Spent With Abuela Rosa, Flan

Homemade FlanHomemade Flan (Photo credit: Wikipedia)Fridays were my favorite. I spent Fridays with my next-door neighbors, the Diegos. Abuela Rosa was originally from Puerto Rico. She was round, soft, and cheerful; she loved to laugh and sing and rumba. Friday night was always a fiesta. Family came to eat from Abuela’s abundant table, and then they’d push the furniture aside for music, and dancing. My Spanish became fluid, if not fluent, under their instruction.

While Abuela Rosa’s son, Javier, taught me to play the guitar and sing, her daughter taught me to dance the very sensual dances of Latin America. I felt naughty when I first learned to dance that way, with swaying hips and coquettish eyes, tempting the boys with my body. I soon loved it though. It made me feel womanly and powerful, to watch the boys watch my body tracing out the strains of the melody, my feet keeping pace with the beat.


This recipe is easy once you have the hang of it. If you mess up while you’re getting the hang of it, portion it into individual bowls and call it custard.

Preheat over to 350
The first stage in making caramel is to start ...The first stage in making caramel is to start with a simple syrup by dissolving 2 parts sugar in 1 part water over medium heat. This image is from A larger version can be obtained from (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Take a non-stick fry pan and coat the bottom with real sugar (about 1 cup). I like to use sugar only. It seems to work best for me -- it's the way I learned it from Abuela Rosa.  Her sister Tia Karina insists that it comes out better when you put in 1 cup of  sugar and 1/2 cup of water. You may want to experiment and see what works best for you. Put it on a medium heat and just let it sit. This will turn into caramel in about 15 minutes or so. The timing depends largely on the weather and humidity.

While you are waiting (without stirring!) for your sugar to melt, put 3 eggs in a mixing bowl and whip them until they are a soft pale yellow color.

By now your sugar is ready. You need a pie dish. Pour the liquid caramel quickly into a glass pie dish. If you are new to this: try warming your pie dish first in the oven. This will give you more time. Pour into the center and immediately - and I mean fast! - swirl your pie dish to coat the bottom. It will harden. Set this aside.
Now into the bowl with your 3 whipped eggs add:

A can of carnation milk (12 oz)
A can of sweet condensed milk (14 oz)
2 tsp vanilla

Stir this together to blend and pour it into your caramel covered pie dish.Bake this in a BAÑO DE MARIA. That means place a large pan in the oven (like a broiler pan), place the pie plate with egg mixture in the center, add water to the large pan so that it comes about half way up the pie plate. This allows the custard to cook gently and evenly.

Bake for 1 hour until the middle is set. Let the flan cool on a rack, then put into the fridge to thoroughly chill.
To serve: run a knife around the edges then put your serving plate on top. Holding it firmly, invert in one quick motion. Your caramel will be liquid again.

This is a beautiful desert. Abuela also used it to tempt sick tummies to eat a little something, or for breakfast…okay we liked it so much we looked for excuses to make it and eat it! Good thing I jog.

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Thursdays I spent with Nona Sophia, Panzanella

Italian salad: Panzanella (bread, salad, tomat...Italian salad: Panzanella (bread, salad, tomatoes) with extra fried haloumi. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)Abbondanza!

On Thursday, I would go to Nona Sophia’s apartment. Nona Sophia was beautiful. Even as she aged, she looked like she should be a model for an oil painting. Her eyes were maternal. I felt her affection when she looked at me and gave me her soft Mona Lisa smile. To Nona Sophia, the best way to show love was to cook delicious foods to tempt the appetites of her large family.

While the pots were bubbling and steaming, Nona would take out her art books, and we would sit at the kitchen table to talk about the paintings and the artists. Nona cherished art from all over the world, and all different time periods. But, the art of her beloved Tuscany brought tears to her eyes.

Nona Sophia could speak adequate English, but she preferred to talk to me in Italian. With hands that gesticulated broadly, and a round hip that kept me ever moving in the right direction, I soon learned passable kitchen Italian from Nona Sophia - and from her sons, I learned how to cuss an Italian blue streak, with appropriate hand gestures. Now, wouldn’t that make Snow Bird proud?

Nona Sophia’s table always had three elements no matter what we were eating for dinner: a bottle of red wine, a bottle of emerald green olive oil sent from Nona's cousin’s olive grove near Sienna, and a basket of freshly baked bread. If the basket had leftovers (rare) then Panzanella was on the menu the next day if it was summer and Papa al Pomodora, tomato and bread soup, if it was winter.


Cherry tomato on vine.Cherry tomato on vine. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
2 large ripe tomatoes, cut into bite-size pieces (or 4 roma)
1 small cucumber, peeled and diced (I cut my cucumber length ways and use a spoon to
   scoop out the seeds. It takes a second and makes a much prettier and less gloppy salad.
1 bunch scallions, thinly sliced
1 clove garlic, finely minced
1 cup fresh basil leaves, roll these up together then cut into thin ribbons
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 cup drained roasted red pepper (optional)
¼ c pitted kalamata olives
8 slices thick stale country style Italian bread, torn into bite-size pieces

Prepare the vegetables then drizzle with the olive oil and vinegar, season with salt and pepper and toss well. Taste! That's my favorite part.
Place half of the bread in a wide, salad bowl. Spoon half of the vegetables over the bread. Layer the remaining bread on top and then the remaining vegetables. Make sure to pour off all of the luscious juices. (If your bread was really stale you can sprinkle it with water and let it set then squeeze it out and use it as described above) Cover and refrigerate. This needs time to chill and let the flavors develop, so at least an hour. Before serving, toss and taste. It might need more salt or pepper. If the bread still seems a little dry add a little olive oil and vinegar.

To make this into a one bowl quick meal, add a protein at the last minute. Feta, mozzarrella, diced deli meats all work well.
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Wednesday I Spent with Nana Kate, Beer Bread

Simple pink knitting on single-ended needles.Simple pink knitting on single-ended needles. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)Wednesday, I was with Nana Kate. Unlike Biji’s bejeweled home. Nana Kate’s apartment did not look like a party. It looked like boot camp. It was very utilitarian. The only thing that was a constant spot of bright happy color was her knitting bag. Nana Kate made beautiful sweaters, in fanciful patterns, for her real grandchildren, who lived in southern California. And even though she knew that her grandkids would probably never get a chance to wear the hot wool, that didn’t stop Nana Kate’s needles from clickety-clacking whenever she had a spare minute. Nana Kate took the adage, “idle hands are a sinner’s tool,” to heart. Her fingers were always busy.

Nana Kate was from Nebraska by way of Minnesota. She was a good, steady, no nonsense kind of woman with a steel-colored bun on the top of her head and a solid Lutheran upbringing. She taught me how to make the all-American foods that find their way, nightly, onto middle class tables. She made meatloaf, fried chicken, buttermilk biscuits, mashed potatoes with gravy, and pie. She taught me to can fruits and vegetables, make jams and jellies and how to frost beautiful Wilton birthday cakes. On most days, Nana Kate fed her family from the four food groups - good old fashioned, tried and true, patriotic menus. But every once in a while, Nana Kate got a touch of the devil in her and she’d pull out her Julia Child “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” cookbook. Then we would revel in cassoulet and chocolate mousse, baguette, and tart tatin.

One of the staples in my quick kitchen arsenal is Nana Kate’s beer bread. It’s kind of weird that Nana Kate even knew how to make beer bread. She doesn’t drink alcohol, even beer, and doesn’t like it in her house. She thought that it would end up being one of Satan’s insidious tools pulling her from her perch of righteous living. On days we made beer bread, Nana Kate would call next door to Abuela Rosa’s and have someone bring over a Corona.

Beer Bread

3 cups Self-Rising flour (best if you sift this)
3 T sugar (Yes, you have to use real sugar. It’s a chemistry thing)
1 can beer.

*Mix flour and sugar. Make darned sure you have Self-Rising flour or you’ll just be making bricks. Yes. I know that from experience. But if you don’t have Self-Rising add 3 tsp. of baking powder and a tsp. of salt.
*Mix in beer
*Pour into a greased bread pan
* Stick it in an oven preheated to 375, for one hour.
* When the top is hard and craggy take it out of the oven. Let it sit for ten minutes, then remove pan.

I think this is best when its cooled to warm, not eaten too hot or you don’t get the rich grainy flavors from the beer. This tastes particularly nice on a chilly fall day with some apple cider and beef stew (and lots of melty butter!)

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Tuesdays I Spent with Biji, Mango Lassi

Original description: Photo taken by myself of...Original description: Photo taken by myself of Alphonso Mangoes in a box surrounded by straw to provide insulation. This is a free image and has no rights attached to it and may be used freely. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)Tuesdays, I spent time with Biji. Biji came to the United States to bring her son a proper Indian wife, after he had found a job and settled in America. They are a Sikh family, from northern Punjab, India. Since Biji was widowed, she followed tradition and moved in with her son when she brought her daughter-in-law here to Washington.

I thought Biji’s home was beautiful. It appealed to the magpie in me. The colors were bright and happy- magentas and mustards, peacock blues and greens. There were silk fabrics, and fancy sequins, throughout. Biji’s house always looked like it was dressed for a party.

On Tuesdays, Biji’s family celebrates the monkey god, Hanuman. Before the fire burned down our apartment building, Biji placed flowers in the shrine that took up a full wall in their living room. It was here that Biji spent her time in meditation and prayed to Hanuman for strength and prosperity. It is customary to eat only vegetarian meals on Hanuman’s day to assure good luck. Biji thought that there were some things that I must learn to cook properly, like Tandoori chicken, so we sometimes broke the rules. On those days, we lay extra flowers and prayed a little harder.

One of my favorite things I made at Biji’s house was mango lassi. Sweet and refreshing, simple to make, we used the homemade yoghurt that was always in the big Tupperware bowl, tightly sealed with a red lid.


One of the most popular drink of PunjabOne of the most popular drink of Punjab (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
2 mangos - peeled, seeded and diced
2 cups plain yogurt
1/2 cup white sugar
1 cup ice (it helps if you get this from the fridge door already crushed)

Put it all in the blender and blend to smooth. If it isn’t mango season, or the grocery only has green mangos, you can use canned mangos or mango pulp (about 16 oz). It makes a smoother drink, but to me it’s missing the bright nutritious taste of using fresh. Biji likes to drink her lassi with a dusting of cardamom. I like mine with a sprig of mint freshly picked from Jadda’s garden.
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Monday's I Spent With Jadda - Tabouli

Tabbouleh (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Mondays belonged to my Turkish grandmother, Jadda. She was married to a Moroccan man, and they ate foods richly scented with cinnamon and spice. Jadda loved to garden. She was lucky to have a ground floor apartment. She took over a plot of land in the common area, outside of her sliding-glass backdoor. She filled it with the colors and aromas that attracted birds, buzzing bees, and butterflies. The landlord hadn’t been pleased that Jadda commandeered the area, but when he confronted her, Jadda stared down her long, thin nose at him, with her piercing black eyes, and he never mentioned it again.
Lexi Soabado- WEAKEST LYNX


2 bunches finely chopped flat leaf parsley
1 bunch chopped fresh mint
2-3 tablespoons fine bulgur
2 chopped firm roma tomatoes
2 scallions chopped
1/2 cup extra Virgin olive oil
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)

1. Prepare bulgar (though Jadda just saves some from dinner and then whips this up for
tomorrow while we clean the kitchen)
2. Chop herbs, tomatoes, and scallions (I like more scallions than Jadda so I use 3)
3. Mix all ingredients in a bowl - serve well chilled.

Jadda particularly likes to make this in the summer when she can get the fresh vegetables and herbs right from her garden.

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I'll Bite. What's a Kitchen Grandmother

FormabrödFormabröd (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
In WEAKEST LYNX Lexi Sobado is introduced. Lexi was an un-schooler. Now that she's an adult, her world view is different from those around her. She doesn't stand out as weird or awkward; she just stands out.

This week I thought you might like to get to know one aspect of Lexi's un-schooling experience, her Kitchen Grandmothers.

Without any further ado, I will let Lexi introduce you to her Kitchen Grandmothers in her own words.

"So much of my education happened around the stove, under the watchful eyes of my Kitchen Grandmothers, so much warmth and goodness. It was Snow Bird Wang who had decided that I needed the Kitchen Grandmothers. She was worried that I would lack women’s skills, making it hard for me to find an honorable husband. She knew that my mother’s illness, that had left her bedridden since I was twelve, would keep her from teaching me wifely skills. Snow Bird had oriental wife skills that she felt were not well suited to the American man. Snow Bird chose, amongst her friends at our apartment building, five grandmothers, who were willing to take me under their wings.

"Each grandmother chose a day of the week, and that was her day to teach me to clean, to market, to cook, tend children, anything and everything. It was a cornucopia of culture and language, spice and ability. My mother was thrilled. “This will give your life such wonderful flavor.” She was right. I adore my Kitchen Grandmothers. I love that they enfolded me into their family life, sharing their skills and knowledge."
Lexi Sobado - Weakest Lynx.

Each day of the week Lexi would study with a different Grandmother. Monday is Jadda's day. Jadda is Turkish for grandmother. I hope you'll join me tomorrow to learn more about Jadda and one of her recipes.
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