Food, food culture, food as culture and the cultures that grow our food

Birthday picnic au plein air for proximi et intimi

December 25, 2006

Deb transporting a porcupine of cream puffs
Transporting the cream puffs using a porcupine

Several years ago I sort of got stoned and envisioned myself making a grand birthday party entrance with a giant croque en bouche tower perched on my head. Croque en bouche is traditionally a wedding or baptism cake for French people, constructed out of cream puffs and glued together with caramel. Having heard from ‘everybody’ that making cream puffs was the baking equivalent of falling off a horse, I set to work the night before my big party, thinking I was very smart indeed to get such an early leg up. By 3 am, an utter lack of experience and a faulty oven had turned several hundred dollops of batter into a pile of crunchy dog biscuits.

Panicking, I abandoned the vision of the elegant croque en bouche and decided to resort to Plan B, an apple crumble, the humble pie of all earthly pastries. (That’s apple humble to you!) Although I’ll be the first to say that I make an insane delicious apple crumble, (cinnamon splinters, blood oranges and their zest are the secret ingredients) there is nothing inherently superlative about this dessert that warrants serving it to guests at a birthday party. And adding insult to injury, apple crumble makes one heq of a shitty hat.

Only later did I learn that a hot and reliable oven is a key factor to the success of making cream puffs, but in the mean time I had already distanced myself from the notion of wearing food on my head. Must be the onset of maturity.

deb transporting a porcupine of cream puffs

This year I was finally able to realise my croque en bouche dream albeit sans chapeau, thanks to my fabulous cousin, Chef Rebecca. In the wee hours before the big day, and in the time it took me to peel four tangerines and shoot the shit, Auntie Sheba somehow whipped out a massive strudel and Cousin Rebecca cheerfully produced several hundred cream puffs.

Cream puffification
Cream puff action shot

We celebrated this year’s birthday amongst a small group of intimi et proximi right down the street at the Duvenek Ranch. Because I’m not a practical woman by nature, we ended up transporting the croque en bouche sans bouche in the form of a porcupine on the belly of the birthday gal herself. And because I am a bonafide socialist and not a champagne socialist, I served the croque en bouche porcupine with cremant, aka ‘the bubbles of the poor’ and the pickles of the Bubby.

And because Nathan deeply understands me, we sipped tangerine juice and nibbled a salad of local fruits from a set of glassware used on the former Concorde! Can life get any better?

C is for Culiblog
Mom and cousin Bec get the giggles when they pull out a pickle and figure out that C’ is for culiblog

The birthday cream puffs were filled with seven different cream fillings, invisible without x-ray vision: smoked whitefish, smoked salmon, avocado lime zest, tarragon, rosewater, orange flower water + tangerine and maple syrup + date. The puffs were slathered with caramel and sprinkled with fleur de sel and flying fish roe. All of the flavours of cream puff went well together, although my father somehow was able to hog all the avocado cream puffs leaving Nathan with a load of whitefish. C’est la vie.

debra at 3:17 | Comments (0) | post to

Smoke yer marijuanakkah, it’s time to celebrate Chanukkah

December 22, 2006

Latkes vintage '69 made by Mother of Culiblog
Latkes prepared in 1969 and preserved for lifetime use

The continental posse is curious about my visit back to the Heimatt and has requested some reflection on my own personal hotbed of culinary inspiration.

When it comes to holiday cooking, Mom (not her real name) says, ‘You only need to make latkes once in your life.’ Latkes are potato pancakes, ashkenazic rösti invented in the 19th century - but you’d think some First Nation Abraham had designed them himself, considering all the sentimental fuss about a greasy wad of carbohydrate.

My family’s recipe involves frying up one big-ass batch of latkes before the birth of the first child and freezing it ration-style in aluminium foil pouches. For each successive year for the rest of your life, defrost as needed and reheat the latkes in the microwave, not unlike our ancestors did back in the day in Lodz, Barcelona and merry Kiev. Served with non-fat yoghurt and wholly un-sweetened, raw cranberry relish, you’ve got yersself a traditional Chanukkah snack that will roll the eyeballs into the upper reaches of your head. Charmless, musty and sour, it’s all about the effort, the actual result is of far lesser importance.

Family banding
Meanwhile, inefficient, first-generation, à la minute courgette latkes fuel the fambly banding practice

In a music room bunker deep under the earth’s crust, the Solomon family practices its three-song holiday repetoire featuring one work each by the Red Hot Chili Peppers, the Violent Femmes and Lynyrd Skynyrd. No need to remove our reading glasses, it’s all about the volume and the atmosphere is wholesome. Continental Auntie does tend to make liberal use of the ‘f’ word in front of the chilluns but I argue that the word ‘friggin’ just makes you think ‘fuqn’ anyway and is equally an ‘f’ word. The older generation insists that cussing in Yiddish is in no way déclassée. Whatevs.

Noe valley matzah factory
Il n’y a pas de trop, Santa is a big, fat, gay Jew.

The above image shows one of Santa’s ritual unleavened bread factories in Noë Valley. Festive landscaping lures stay-at-home moms to line up outside and donate the blood of their young children. The blood is stored in vats until springtime and used in an 18 minute start-to-finish baking process for the production of Passover matzah.

California, show yer teeth. Tonight is the last night of Chanukkah. (Please read more… )

debra at 20:53 | Comments (3) | post to

Terroir of the ‘burbs

December 19, 2006

Miner's lettuce
Encountering a stand of claytonia perfoliata during the morning constitutional

So it’s not like my folks ever said, ‘Find yer own dang food!’ it’s just that I’ve always really enjoyed foraging. In fact it’s their own dang fault since identifying plants, particularly the native and poisonous was a prominent feature of every single walk outside. The first father-daughter walk of my visit was filled with amazing fragrances; oak leaves and oak leaf mould, datura, tangerine, pepper tree, smoke and luculia. Parfum of Northern California. When we came upon a stand of miner’s lettuce (purslane) and I instinctively commenced harvesting, my dad rolled up some big ‘oy vey is mir’ eyes and watched on nervously lest any posh neighbours drive by and spy me stealing the weeds, the preferred hors d’oeuvre of horses.

Dad checking out the leaves, looking like Larry David.

Dear Dad,

Thank you for teaching me about miner’s lettuce and many other edible herbs and weeds that thrive in spite of suburban sprawl.

Also, thank you for teaching me how to make turkey and chicken soup. Although we will probably never agree on how many poultry skeletons should ideally occupy one single bowl of soup served to the table, whether that bowl of soup should be cloudy or clear and how many generations we would need to go back in time to find an era in which bone-sucking was actually acceptable, it always gives me great satifsaction on many levels to make this delicious broth and to not stir the thing which must never be stirred.

debra at 7:22 | Comments (2) | post to

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