Thursday's Child: The Churches of Krakow

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Christmas greetings, featuring the churches of Krakow, Poland, and passages from Handel's Messiah:


Church of St. Peter and St. Paul

"For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called, Wonderful, Counsellor, the mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace."
- Isaiah 9:6
St Andrew's church

"And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of heavenly host praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill to man."
- Luke 2: 13-14
Dominican church of the Holy Trinity

"The kingdom of this world is become the kingdom of our Lord, and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever."
- Revelation 11:15b
Church of St. Peter and St. Paul
Wishing all my readers a wonderful Christmas, and a New Year resplendent with hope, peace, joy and love.

Beth
xo


Kris Krinkle cookies

Sunday, December 14, 2014
In our house, we're divided on the flavour of peppermint. I could take it or leave it, but the others love it so much, I try to work it into my repertoire once in a while.

When I saw this recipe on Joanne's blog, I had to try it. Even this mint chocolate agnostic thought it looked terrific. But because it's December, and because peppermint makes me think of candy canes, and because they're Crinkle Cookies, I found myself calling them Kris Krinkles. I have a fondness for celebrity cookie names (see also Ethel Mermans), and so it stuck.

I hope the real Kris Kringle likes mint chocolate too, because we'll be making this recipe again on Christmas Eve to put on our Santa cookie plate. And three four happy Pollocks will be eating whatever he doesn't finish!

Kris Krinkles (a.k.a. Peppermint Crinkle Cookies)
(from Eats Well With Others)

Ingredients

7 ounces semisweet chocolate
2 Tbsp unsalted butter
3 Tbsp Nutella
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
2 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
2 large eggs
1 egg white
3/4 cup sugar
1 tsp peppermint extract
1 cup confectioners' sugar (icing sugar)

Directions

Place the chocolate, butter and Nutella in a double boiler and stir until ingredients are melted. Set aside and let cool slightly.

Place flour and cocoa powder in a small bowl and whisk to combine. Set aside.

Place eggs, egg white and sugar in a bowl and beat for two minutes. Add peppermint extract and beat to combine.

Gently fold the cooled chocolate mixture into the egg mixture until combined.

Gently fold the flour mixture in until fully combined. Chill dough in the freezer for 20 - 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Place confectioners' sugar in a large bowl. Remove the dough from the freezer. Form the dough into small balls, and drop them into the bowl with the confectioners' sugar one or two at a time. Roll them around until they are coated in sugar, and repeat until all the cookies are made. (Make the cookies fairly small, as they'll expand as they flatten out in the oven.) Place dough balls on a parchment-lined baking sheet an inch apart, and bake for 10 to 12 minutes. After removing from the oven, let them cool for 5 minutes before moving to a wire rack to cool completely.

A Simple Recipe

Sunday, December 7, 2014
Andrew and I a few months ago, meeting a local celebrity at a charity fundraiser.
Andrew is the one on the right.
Apparently, we're celebrating Andrew's birthday through a series of culinary mishaps.

First, I made some kind of miscalculation when I was baking the cake. Maybe I didn't bake it long enough, maybe I overmeasured the buttermilk or overbeat the batter. Either way, when I pulled the cake out of the oven, it had a thin rim around the edge and a sunken, volcanic middle that wasn't going to hold together long enough to be served.

Then, when my older daughter was baking a replacement cake, we reminisced about the story I related a couple of weeks ago, about how proud she was the first time I let her crack an egg by herself. It seems we were sufficiently awestruck by the story, that this time she cracked the egg over the floor instead of the bowl.

Finally, when we tried to pour Andrew's orange juice for his breakfast, we managed to spill it. Twice.

So will you forgive me if I want to keep the recipe simple today?

In fact, I'm posting one of the simplest I've made, and the tastiest. I loved this cauliflower when I made it, and can't wait to make it again. I know I post a lot of roasted vegetable recipes, and it's because I rarely come across a vegetable that I don't prefer roasted. This recipe is a perfect example. Cauliflower is fine when boiled, but roasted and served with an orange dressing, it is sublime.

In the meantime, we have one more meal to prepare before Andrew's birthday is over. Pray for us.



Quick-Roasted Cauliflower with Zesty Orange-Olive Dressing
(from Fast, Fresh and Green by Susie Middleton)

Roasted Cauliflower:
1 small head of cauliflower, trimmed into halved florets
3 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
3/4 tsp kosher salt

Orange-Olive Dressing
1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 large clove of garlic, peeled and halved
2 pinches of red pepper flakes (or to taste)
1 tsp finely grated orange zest
1 tsp red-wine vinegar
2 Tbsp fresh parsley
salt, sugar and pepper to taste

Toss the cauliflower florets with olive oil and salt, and arrange cut side down on a baking sheet, lined with parchment paper. Roast in a 475 degree oven until the sides begin to brown, about twenty minutes.

To make the orange-olive dressing, warm the garlic in the olive oil in a small saucepan until very fragrant, about five minutes. Your goal is to flavour the oil, not to brown the garlic. Remove the garlic and stir in the red pepper, zest and olives. Remove the pan from heat, and stir in the remaining dressing ingredients.

Pour the dressing over the slightly cooled cauliflower in a bowl, and stir gently.

Thursday's Child: Stories of the Nicaraguan Revolution and Contra War

Thursday, December 4, 2014
City square in Granada
I've said it before, but it bears repeating: one of the privileges of travelling is meeting the people who live in the places we visit. and hearing about their lives. It helps me understand a country in a way I never could if I was staying in an all-inclusive, or an anonymous chain hotel that I rarely left.

One of the highlights of our trip to Nicaragua was hearing our guide, Julio, talk about the Revolution and Contra War. He was in kindergarten when it began. His teacher signed up to fight with the Sandinistas. The following year Julio remembered attending his funeral.

One of his uncles fought with the Sandinistas. Sometimes the soldiers ran short on rations and relied on help from civilians for survival. On one occasion, Julio and his father drove to the highlands in the north of the country to deliver supplies.
Nicaragua's beautiful Apoyo Lagoon
During the war, trade with the US was banned, so Nicaraguan imports came only from Russia and Cuba. This meant there was a dearth of products, and grocery store shelves were often empty. Julio remembered there being only one brand of toothpaste, in a stark white tube with no brand name or expiration date displayed.

Scenes from a boat trip along Granada's beautiful archipelago
Because he was a young child, he didn't particularly notice the lack of products or change in political climate. That was just life for him. He did mention that there weren't a lot of toys available for sale. He remembered making a baseball from a rock (which he wrapped in strips of cloth and inserted in a sock) and playing ball with his friends all day. All this practice served him well, since Julio later played at the semi-pro level. Perhaps he was inspired by his countryman, Dennis Martinez, the first Nicaraguan who played in Major League Baseball.

Nicaraguan businessman, taking chickens to town by horse and wagon
Nicaraguan poet Ruben Dario lived many years before the Revolution and Contra War, but his words might also describe what it was like to live in Nicaragua during those years:

"You that have heard the heartbeat of the night,
you that have heard, in the long, sleepless hours,
a closing door, the rumble of distant wheels,
a vague echo, a wandering sound from somewhere:

you, in the moments of mysterious silence,
when the forgotten ones issue from their prison --
in the hour of the dead, In the hour of repose --
will know how to read the bitterness in my verses.
I fill them, as one would fill a glass, with all
my grief for remote memories and black misfortunes,
the nostalgia of my flower-intoxicated soul
and the pain of a heart grown sorrowful with fetes;

with the burden of not being what I might have been,
the loss of the kingdom that was awaiting me,
the thought of the instant when I might not have been born
and the dream my life has been ever since I was!

All this has come in the midst of that boundless silence
in which the night develops earthly illusions,
and I feel as if an echo of the world's heart
had penetrated and disturbed my own."

- "Nocturne", by Ruben Dario

The girls with our amazing guide, Julio


Cousins, the next generation

Sunday, November 30, 2014
It's the time of year for family reunions. I've written before about getting together with my dad's side of the family, but we celebrate with the relatives on my mom's side, too. We met last weekend to have brunch and to catch up on each others' busy lives.

Many of my cousins now have children of their own. And this year for the first time, one of my cousins has a grandchild. Heather's daughter Laura had a baby (Alice) a month ago. The family tree has gained another branch.

We were lucky to have most of my daughters' generation celebrating with us. With the exception of Laura and her brother Ben, all the children of my first cousins were there. They range in age from two to twenty, and although they don't see each other often, they were enthusiastic in getting reacquainted.

We've been meeting at Christmas as a family for longer than I can remember. There are baby pictures of me taken under the Christmas tree at my Grandma and Grandpa Bustin's house. One of the photos I posted last month was taken at my grandparents' house at Christmas 1968. Now we meet at a restaurant that's at a midpoint for most of us. Much has changed but the important things haven't: family members getting together, breaking bread, and sharing stories.

*

"The world begins at a kitchen table. No matter what, we must eat to live.

The gifts of earth are brought and prepared, set on the table. So it has been since creation, and it will go on.

We chase chickens or dogs away from it. Babies teethe at the corners. They scrape their knees under it.

It is here that children are given instructions on what it means to be human. We make men at it, we make women....

At this table we sing with joy, with sorrow, We pray of suffering and remorse. We give thanks. Perhaps the world will end at the kitchen table, while we are laughing and crying, eating of the last sweet bite."

- from "Perhaps the World Ends Here", by Joy Harjo

Pasta Frittata with Leeks, Arugula, Goat Cheese and Mint
(from The Fresh & Green Table, by Susie Middleton)

3/4 cup small to medium shaped pasta (I used calabresi but fusilli would also be nice)
kosher salt
freshly ground pepper
2 Tbsp butter (first amount)
1 Tbsp olive oil (first amount)
2 cups thinly sliced leeks (white and light green parts only) from about 3 large leeks, well washed
1 tsp minced garlic
4 ounces baby arugula leaves (about 4 cups packed)
7 large eggs
1/3 cup whole milk
1/3 cup heavy cream
1/3 cup coarsely grated parmigiano-reggiano
4 ounces fresh goat cheese, well crumbled while still chilled
1 Tbsp chopped or thinly sliced fresh mint
1/2 Tbsp butter (second amount)
1 tsp olive oil (second amount)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Cook pasta in well-salted boiling water. Drain and transfer to a medium bowl.

In a 10 inch heavy nonstick ovenproof skillet, heat 2 Tbsp butter and 1 Tbsp olive oil over medium-low heat. When the butter has melted, add the leeks and 1/4 tsp salt, cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the leeks are softened and translucent, about 5 minutes. Uncover, raise the heat to medium, and continue to cook, stirring frequently, until the leeks have shrunk and browned, another 8 to 10 minutes. Add garlic and stir until softened and fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add arugula to the pan and toss with the leeks until the arugula has completely wilted, about 2 minutes. Transfer the leeks and arugula to the bowl of pasta and toss well. Let cool for 10 minutes.

In a large bowl, whisk the eggs, milk, cream, 1/2 tsp salt, and several grinds of pepper. Stir in the parmigiano, goat, cheese, and mint. Add the pasta mixture and stir well to incorporate all the ingredients.

Return the skillet to medium-high heat and add the remaining 1/2 Tbsp butter and 1 tsp olive oil. When the butter has melted and begun to sizzle, pour and scrape all the pasta-custard mixture into the skillet. Gently stir once or twice to move the contents of the pan so everything is evenly distributed. Let the pan sit on the heat until the custard is just beginning to set all the way around the edge of the pan, 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer the pan to the preheated oven and bake until the frittata is set, about 25 minutes.

Let the frittata cool at least 15 to 20 minutes before serving. The flavour gets better as it sits, so it can be served at room temperature, or even the following day.




Thursday's Child: A day in the Atacama Desert

Thursday, November 27, 2014
It was our third day in Chile's Atacama Desert, and it was going to be a full day. My youngest daughter and I were going horseback riding in the desert in the morning, while the other two went hiking. After an energetic start to the day, we'd meet back at the lodge for an early lunch, and go on to enjoy the nearby hot springs.

Things didn't go quite as we'd expected.

Everything started great. We met our guides at the lodge and became acquainted with our horses. After a little practice, we were on our way.

The Atacama desert is as stark and as beautiful from the back of a horse as it was from our hike in the Valley of the Moon, and from the window of a minivan as we drove to the El Tatio geysers. We spent a couple of blissful hours riding and enjoying the wonderful scenery.


But suddenly I realized it was close to lunchtime, and we were still in the middle of the desert. Important fact: at noon in the desert, it is hot. We were hungry, and we'd finished almost all the water we'd brought. I asked one of the guides if we should be thinking of leaving. He looked nervously at the other guide and said, "Actually, we're lost."

We spent the next half hour meandering around, looking in vain for familiar landmarks. (Once you've been in the desert for a few hours, everything looks familiar.) Eventually, the guides found a special shortcut that would lead us home, one which involved us riding along a ridge and galloping down a cliff to reach the bottom. Suffice to say that by the time we made it back to the lodge, it was well past lunchtime, and we were weak in the knees from heat and indignation.

A restorative lunch helped. And so did a trip to the local hot springs, where the first thing I saw was this:
For those of you who deal in Fahrenheit, the equivalent of 33.5 Celsius is about 92 degrees.

It was the perfect antidote for a stressful morning. We swam, we relaxed, we counted our blessings to have found our way back. Although we hadn't spent forty years wandering in the desert, it did, in fact, feel like we'd reached our promised land.




What's past is prologue

Sunday, November 23, 2014

My oldest daughter was home from university for a mini two-day break earlier this week. She was busy studying and working on essays, but we carved out a little time to bake together.

I've been baking with the girls since they were young enough that they both needed chairs to work at the counter. Our favourite recipe was chocolate chip cookies - in those days, "equal division of labour" meant one girl poured the chocolate chips into the batter and the other stirred them in. My daughter remembers being proud the day I decided she was old enough to crack the egg by herself.

Now, of course, she's taller than I am and stands by my side when we bake together. I've been wanting to try these biscuits for a while, and it was a perfect time to try the recipe. I thought they were wonderful as an accompaniment to soup. And my daughter loved them so much that when she went back to school, she asked me for the recipe, and baked them for a potluck on Thursday night.

Bacon Cheddar Green Onion Biscuits
(adapted from Brown Sugar Kitchen by Tanya Holland)

3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp baking powder
2 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 1/4 cups unsalted butter, cut into cubes and chilled
1 1/2 cups buttermilk (or less)
1 cup grated sharp Cheddar cheese
2 slices cooked bacon, chopped
3 green onions, white parts only, chopped
heavy cream for brushing

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Combine flour, baking powder, salt and baking soda in a large bowl and stir to combine. Add chilled butter and cut in until the butter is pea sized or smaller. Drizzle in enough buttermilk to moisten the dough (I used about 1 1/4 cups) and mix until it just forms a ball. Divide the dough into thirds.

In a small bowl, combine the cheese, bacon, and green onions.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out one piece of dough to an 11” x 8 1/2” rectangle and sprinkle with half the cheese mixture. Roll out another piece of dough and layer on top of the first piece. Sprinkle with remaining cheese mixture. Roll out the remaining piece of dough and layer it on top. Gently roll out the dough layers to make a 12” x 10” rectangle. (Note: all sizes are approximate. My shapes were imperfect, to say the least.)

Using a 2” cookie cutter, cut out biscuits and set them on the prepared baking sheets. Brush the tops with cream. Bake until they just start to turn golden but before the bottoms start to brown, about 15 minutes. Let cool slightly and serve warm.

To make ahead, store in an airtight container at room temperature for a day and reheat in toaster oven.