Eggnog from another era

26 December 2014

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Berlin, 1945. Somewhere on the streets of Dahlem, a dashing US officer accosts a long-legged 19-year-old, demurely asking for directions to a place he has traveled a dozens times before. They are swept off their feet. One out of an ill-fated, fading marriage, the other from the rubble of war and desolation. They moved to Maryland. So goes our family mythology.

My grandmother always told us the same handful of war stories. Stories for small children, about young children in the war. She told of the day the war broke out while she was at summer camp, how she spent all her pocket money to buy her favorite hazelnut-studded chocolate (it is something little German girls knew in 1939 — that in times of war, chocolate becomes scarce), only to discover, too late, that the nuts were full of worms. She told how her parents had once asked her to watch over the cooking of a duck, a unique feast bartered by my great-grand father against school lessons. How else to know when it was done, other than to try it, just a little piece? Starving, she ate the entire thing. She told of her encounter with the Russian soldier reeking of alcohol who tried to steal her bicycle — unexpectedly pelted by a spew of Russian swear words from the long-legged German girl, he lost countenance just long enough for my grandmother to speed away, back the way she had come. She told us how she met our grandfather on a street corner in Dahlem.

When she married my grandfather, my grandmother became fiercely American; though they soon moved back to Europe she fully embraced an American expat life. But she also remained proudly German, and nurtured German traditions, especially around Christmas. We laid out milk and cookies for St Nikolaus on December 6th, we baked, we opened presents on Christmas eve, we lit our tree with candles.

So today, amid the wreaths and advent calendars, among the candles and the singing, the oysters and the cookies, there are two traditions that I hold dearest. They connect me to my grandmother, and in one grand sweep I like to think they link me not only to our family story but to Europe’s history too. The two recipes that my grandmother sent me, once upon a time, handwritten, slipped inside the letters she wrote regularly: Stollen and eggnog.

Sweet Stollen, a long, patient, and tedious process, which ultimately brings the reward of nibbled bites that taste of the promise of sheltered German childhoods. Boozy eggnogg, the stuff of joyful parties, the mirth-filled evenings of a war-less era.

My grandmother was an elegant, modern, impeccable hostess. Though she was a very good cook, she much preferred to delegate kitchen duties and sit on the sidelines with a glass of champagne and a cigarette. She loved company, and she loved parties. Every 26th of December, my grandparents hosted an eggnog party, to celebrate their anniversary. This is their recipe. In loving memory.

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Leonine eggnog recipe, verbatim, probably from the 1950s
(See further below for a slightly adapted recipe. I use a third of the bourbon and it is plenty. But feel free to add much more!)

12 eggs, from Mrs. Cluck

12 level Tbsps granulated sugar

3 pints bouquet bourbon or rye

1 quart milk

1 pint heavy cream

Nutmeg

Crack eggs, separating yolks from whites. Setting latter aside for the nonce, go at yolks with an eggbeater, plying in furiously. Gradually add the sugar, beating it until entirely dissolved. Now enters the whiskey, poured slowly and stirred, its action on yolks being equivalent to a gentle cooking. Then milk, followed by cream (whipped cream if you prefer extra richness), likewise stirred in. Clean off eggbeater and tackle the whites till they stand without flinching. Fold them into the general mixture. Stir in one grated nutmeg. Will serve 12 people (or more). If it’s the whipped cream version, they’ll need spoons.

Merry Xmas!

Eggnog recipe adapted for 2014
Serves 12

12 eggs

12 Tbsps sugar

1 pint (500 ml) good bourbon or rye whiskey

1 quart (1 l) whole milk

2 cups (500 ml) heavy cream

Nutmeg

Separate the egg yolks from the whites, which are set aside for later. In a medium bowl, beat the yolks thoroughly, gradually adding the sugar while continuing to beat firmly. Then slowly pour in the whiskey, still stirring more gently but constantly. Now add the milk, then the cream.

In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites until very firm (until the peaks hold without moving). Gently fold the whipped whites into the rest of the egg/whiskey/cream mixture.

Garnish generously with freshly grated nutmeg.

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Merry Christmas Stollen

24 December 2014

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It’s Christmas Eve and finally time to cut the Stollen!

Read my story on Food&_ about this favorite German Christmas tradition and the proper way of savoring it (then bookmark the recipe for next year!).

A very merry Christmas and happy holidays everyone!

Brilliant spiced cauliflower

11 December 2014

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A recipe to arouse the taste buds amid the cloying seasonal onslaught of cookies and chocolate, Glühwein and Christmas punch. Cauliflower is a demure vegetable, and this method teases it from fading bystander to zesty leading lady.

I first tasted this elegantly spiced cauliflower at Newman Street Tavern a few weeks ago. It was so good, so unexpectedly addictive, that we asked for the recipe. More precisely, my friend asked, I didn’t exactly dare. What’s more, it wasn’t the first time that evening — the server had just brought from the kitchen the handwritten instructions for an incredible fennel and watercress soup. Asking for another recipe from that delicious meal was pushing it a bit far, surely? Or perhaps not. It was of course, evidence of our appreciation.

Brilliant spiced cauliflower, adapted from Newman Street Tavern, with thanks
I had to extrapolate a little, especially for the spice mix, as there were no measurements. I’ve tested the recipe a couple of times and I believe this version comes close.

1 tsp cumin

1 tsp coriander seeds

1 tsp fennel seeds

1 star anise

2 tsps sweet paprika

1 1/2 tsp turmeric

1 pinch saffron threads

3 cloves garlic

3-inch piece of fresh ginger

Sea salt

Olive oil

1 medium onion

3 small tender celery stalks

1 cauliflower

Freshly ground black pepper

Sherry vinegar

Freshly squeezed lemon juice

Fresh dill and/or cilantro leaves

In a small skillet, gently toast the cumin, anise, coriander, fennel. Just enough to coax out the aroma (be careful not to burn the spices!). In a small blender, grind to a fine powder together with the turmeric, paprika, and saffron.

Crush the garlic and grate the ginger and mix into a paste with one teaspoon salt.

Peel and finely dice the onion. Cut the celery stalks into paper thin slices.

Wash and cut the cauliflower into small florets.

In a skillet large enough to fit all the cauliflower florets in one layer, heat enough olive oil to generously coat the pan. Throw in the spice mix and stir for a few seconds, then very quickly add the garlic/ginger paste. Cook for barely a minute then add the onion and celery. Add a little oil if necessary. **Again, be very careful not to burn the spices!**

Fry the onion and celery until translucent then add the cauliflower florets with a splash of water.

Cook for just a few minutes, until al dente.

To finish the dish, season with salt and pepper, a splash of sherry vinegar and squeeze of lemon juice. Garnish with plenty of dill and/or cilantro leaves.

Travel with children | Four days in Amsterdam

4 December 2014

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Ideally, a break should combine some level of discovery, good food that needn’t be a quest, a hotel pleasant for both adults and children, a park, and somewhere to stop for a drink around four o’clock. Not all trips work, especially with mini people. Amsterdam met the magic mark.

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On the way we spent one night in Delft, which lends itself well to treading the cobblestones at dusk, along quaint canals lined with glittering merchant houses, in search of dinner.

Then a day in The Hague with a stop at the Peace Palace and lunch in a surfer café on the beach. It was a blustery Sunday and Scheveningen was alive with weekend strollers and kite-surfers.

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In Amsterdam, we sped along canals in the morning mist.

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We clambered up constricted staircases to an old clandestine church — an intimate museum that conjures one of Amsterdam’s less tolerant chapters.

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At the Rijksmuseum we lost track of time amid the lush collections of model boats, intricate arms, gleaming porcelains, and waggish magic lanterns before rushing up to an obligatory feast of Rembrandt, Ruisdael, Vermeer. The museum is gorgeously restored.

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And offers a very decent lunch.

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We visited the Van Gogh museum, as one must. It doesn’t reveal the artist the way the best museums might (I am thinking in particular of the Museu Picasso in Barcelona). The experience was rather like trudging through a mall during shopping season.

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Whizzing around on bikes is the way to see Amsterdam. It is probably safer than risking it on foot — entitled riders are pretty reckless so it’s best to secure similar swerving capabilities. And cycling around with children makes dashing along the canals, from one museum to the next, very fun. No moans, no hint of a complaint.

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We rode West to Café Restaurant Amsterdam, the best place to have a drink, read the paper, have a delicious dinner of simple plates (tiny grey shrimp, Dutch herring, mackerel fillets, rillettes, lentil salad with parma ham) with a glass of Sancerre, all in a nineteenth-century Pumping Station. Great food, a casual atmosphere, no pretense. Perfect.

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Later we met friends and found the parakeets in Vondelpark.

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We spent a morning at the stunning Scheepvartmuseum.

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And even managed to steal a visit to Droog. There is a cool sweet shop just across the street to occupy less patient gremlins.

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We stopped on a pretty gracht for that four o-clock drink.

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And we cycled along the harbor at night.

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We had booked the room with the swing.

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 Magic!

European Thanksgiving with a cranberry lime sauce

2 December 2014

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Perhaps I am feeling sentimental. Certainly I am feeling sentimental — it happens once a year, on Thanksgiving.

Moved by bonds tightened over many years, touched by new ties strengthened over the course of a meal. Each one is a little different, and a little bit the same. The food varies only slightly; we are with old friends, and new friends. Some guests come from halfway across Europe, some cannot come at all. Some are cooking turkey with apple chestnut stuffing on the other side of the Atlantic. Thanksgiving is messy, and loud, and funny, and, basically, happy.

Thanksgiving is the time when we feel most strongly all the invisible strings.

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Barely different cranberry lime sauce
This version uses lime rather than lemon (or orange). I think it’s the best.

680 g fresh cranberries

300 g (1 1/2 cups) sugar

2 cups water

1  lime

Wash the cranberries, check through them, and chuck any discolored or soft ones.

In a saucepan, bring the sugar and water to a lively simmer.

Add the cranberries and cook for about 15 minutes, until they’ve all popped. Stir in the zest and juice of one lime and cook for another minute or so.

Remove from the heat and transfer to a jar or bowl.


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