All in Recipes
Children do strange things. I am not talking about the things they do when they are little and it’s out of their control, I am talking about the weird things they choose to do. I am also not talking about my child but myself and (and I am sorry to bring her down with me) my sister. Our preferred media was not worms or dirt but food. We ate packets of Swiss Miss Hot Chocolate dry with a spoon being careful not to inhale at the same time and cause a coughing fit. Similarly, we demanded pots of Kool-Aid mix in our care packages at camp so we could not make Kool-Aid but instead dip our fingers in and lick it off until our index fingers were indelibly stained with the sugary mixture. Like most kids ( I assume), we made concoctions out of the condiments in the fridge from chocolate syrup to BBQ sauce, our earliest attempts at cooking you might say, which always, no matter the ingredients, smelled distinctly of vomit. And then we made each other try it. The worst offence, however, involved the fruit roll-up.
We would peel the sugary goodness from the cellophane and wrap it around our, yet again, index fingers. We would then suck it like a lolly pop until all that remained was a food colouring stained sticky finger. That is, unless we fell asleep first or something equally gross. I distinctly remember sitting in the bath with my pointer finger resolutely in the air, so as not to “mess up” my fruit roll-up. At one point, they introduced cut-outs which made the process a little trickier but we remained undeterred.
Fruit roll-ups are therefore both gross and packed with sugar but homemade fruit leather? A different story all together. The product of yet another attempt to preserve my seemingly unending glut of apples: apple and blackberry fruit leather. Very easy to make, just takes a little time and patience, most of which can happen while you are asleep (maybe not if you are freaky about the oven being on).
Many years ago in an airport, I bought Pascal a sandwich. We hadn’t been together long and our lives up until that point had been largely sandwich free. While my go-to had always been and still is ham and Swiss (a cheese that incidentally doesn’t exist in Switzerland, but in desperation Emmenthal will get you most of the way there), I had no idea what to get him. Unwilling to give up my chosen sandwich, I offered him the other with the disclaimer that he might not like it. He looked up and replied “I’m not going to look a free horse in the mouth!” This was the first of many Pascalism’s which are both endearing and a testament to his intelligence. But the sentiment is one that I truly believe, “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.” This is how I feel about my apple tree.
It seemed a bit premature to begin at the end of the August but already the apples have started falling from the tree and we are faced with yet again another glut of apples. I have a hard time throwing things away. I am not a hoarder per se but there is the odd sweater from high school I cannot seem to part with. So you can imagine that I am at odds with the amount of apples we have. Looking for a way to turn them into treasure I thought the sweet apples would make nice dried apple slices. Trimming away the bad bits (the bees like them too), I cored them and sliced them very thinly on the mandolin. I popped them in a very low oven on a silpat mat and promptly forgot about them. When I remembered them, they looked ok, I turned them over and forgot about them again. I am not sure how the time got away but apples were clearly, for that one moment, not on my mind. By the time I remembered them the chewy apple rings I had imagine were a distant memory and what remained were much much better. As crunchy as potato chips but sweet. Extremely addictive to adult and child alike. If you are looking to upgrade your snacks I recommend you make them.
Hoping to supplement my monthly parental stipend, read allowance, I enrolled in a course at the Columbia Bartending Agency during my freshmen year of college. The dream was to whip up fantastic cocktails while lining my pockets with twenties. The course took place over several evenings culminating with a written test and an oral examination at which point you would have to mix a drink while telling a joke. As we waited for the tests to be handed out, my neighbor quietly asked if I had prepared any jokes. I mentioned I had two I was considering. She then offered to hear them and let me know which she thought was the better joke. Needless to say, when her name was called before mine for the oral examination she duly stole my joke, but then botched her drink. As my husband would say, “God punishes immediately.”
One of the must-learn drinks was the Bloody Mary; complicated only by it's litany of ingredients. Ironically, it is not one often asked for by the clients of the Columbia Bartending Agency since Americans consider the Bloody Mary a morning drink and most events were not in the morning. Be aware that while it is perfectly normal to order a Bloody Mary for brunch at 11am in the US, those in other countries, Switzerland for example, might think you are crazy.
As children, my father would take my sister and me to London every year around this time for what we lovingly referred to as “The Season.” Traditionally it was the time when the landed gentry, residing predominantly in the countryside, would make their way to London to see and be seen. Today, events such as Wimbledon, Royal Ascot, Henley Royal Regatta, among others mark the period. It is no surprise that this time of year also hosts England’s best weather. As it turns out, “The Season” just happened to coincide with an annual board meeting. Either way, we were grateful for the opportunity and had a great time exploring London. Each trip culminated in a visit to friends in the countryside. There new adventures could be had: collecting the eggs; feeding the piglets; croquet; country walks; and more. A veritable outdoor wonderland for the (yet to be coined) tween set.
Indoors, other treasures awaited; winding passages; bathroom’s decorated with humorous drawings; an enormous snooker table and; the drinks cabinet. Tucked away in the sitting room was a cabinet containing, unsurprisingly, drinks for adults but, on the lower level, countless sodas, mini Cadbury’s chocolates, Salt & Vinegar chips and elderflower cordial. I had never before tasted anything like those chips, at first disgusting but soon addictive. The British have a word for it: moreish. It has nothing to do with the Moors, as I believed for many years, but, in fact, just means you want more. Then there was the elderflower cordial, added to sparkling water, served with ice in a highball glass. Drinking it I felt so grown up and, to this day, it always reminds me of that time and marks the beginning of summer.
It wasn’t too long ago that, while I enjoyed cooking, it was still a production: planning and recipes, the search for unfamiliar ingredients. I had signed up to an Abel & Cole vegetable box hoping that the new items included each week would inspire me and, slowly, it worked. At first, about half of the vegetables might go to waste, and I still find that there is just so much celeriac one can consume in a months time, but eventually instead of decreasing the frequency of deliveries I found myself ordering it weekly and even upgrading to a bigger box.
While I quite like dark chocolate, I have never been much of a candy person. My sister, Eliza, had an almost cult-like obsession with Skittles and I was fond of the occasional Mounds but the bulging bag of collected Halloween candy would barely have a dent in it by the time the next Halloween rolled around. The exception to all of this, as you may have guessed, is Easter. I love Easter candy.
I like a lot about Easter actually. A friend recently asked me if I knew why Easter occurred when it does. By the leading tone of his voice I could tell he knew the answer. Without skipping a beat, I replied, “it’s the first Sunday, after the first full moon following the Vernal Equinox.” I also really like fun facts.
A little while back, I attended my first proper Swiss wedding. They tend to be intimate but lively affairs. This one was mostly family and some friends, a grand total of perhaps 30 people and only one American, me. I pride myself on my intuition regarding languages. I can sit at a table listening to a conversation in a say Swiss-German and just tie together the couple of words I know to get the gist. Needless to say, this takes a lot of concentration.
My skills also tend to degenerate after a glass of wine and then miraculously improve after a couple. It turns out that the main course that night hit me squarely in the middle. As the gentleman to my left began to tell me all about the bärlauch risotto, I must have stopped paying attention for long enough to lose the plot entirely or perhaps my perceived talent as a universal linguist is vastly over blown. Either way, I stared at him blankly and replied “How delicious!” I learned later that he had been telling me about how one had to be careful in harvesting the wild garlic or ramps, as the foxes like to use them to clean their nether regions. Thankfully his English was just about as good as my Swiss.
It might be hailing at this exact moment but it has finally happened. The signs of spring are here. The daffodils are out and I have stopped wearing socks. Still donning a wooly hat with a giant fur pompom and moth-eaten gloves but no socks. Given the winter we’ve had any little bit of brightness is greatly appreciated. It’s no wonder that the appearance of Seville Oranges in January or February has made such an impression on the English. Until very recently, I filed orange marmalade under peculiar British culinary fetishes, in the same box as Marmite and kippers. But also because of the bitterness. Bitterness is not my thing. Radicchio and endive make me unhappy. I don’t get excited by the very fashionable Angostura bitters that everyone else can’t seem to get enough of. Why should bitter oranges be any different? As it turns out marmalade does the bitter orange some favours and, unlike other jams, is multidimensional. Bitter and sweet. A combo I can live with.
I recently dated the purchase of my most favoured pair of work pants (trousers, obviously!) to sometime in the fall of 2003. So needless to say, I am not the most up to date with the current trends, although said trouser manufacturer still makes that style of pant and so if you were being generous you could say my look is timeless. It was therefore a great pleasure to learn from my friend/ex-landlord, Lavinia that my rooftop activities were very of the moment. Yoga, you ask? It is certainly not warm enough here in London. It is, however, pretty much perfect for growing vegetables. Travel & Leisure or some other equally in the know magazine had just declared roof top gardening the thing to do. So I am pretty pleased with myself. I love all my little plants and although I am only harvesting lettuce and kale right now I am eagerly anticipating the rest of the bounty. Thus, my Abel & Cole box will still arrive with vegetables until summer is truly in full swing and I have no choice but to open a stall on Portobello Road to get rid of the surplus. So between the lettuce from upstairs and the beets from the box, my favourite salad this year was born.
I tend to be very sceptical of expiration dates. When it comes to meat, they are too long, butter and eggs, too short. Ibuprofen and film? Not sure what they mean but I usually ignore them. Pascal, on the other hand, is a purist. If it says March 1st on the package then you can only safely eat it up to February 28th and even that might be pushing it. This means that every now and again I need to come up with a recipe that gets rid of nearly expiring items (see Bread Pudding). Soufflé is the end all be all of kitchen sink dishes. You can put pretty much anything in it and it will still turn out great and be impressive to your fellow diners (mine was a total disaster and still got a wow). The word soufflé comes from the French souffler or to puff or to blow, which is basically what happens to this dish made mostly from egg whites and a custardy béchamel. Usually the reason for a soufflé in my house is a surplus of cheese in this instance it happened to be eggs; really nice farmers market eggs that I bought way too many of when the farmer wooed me with his stories of happy chickens; eggs that just so happen to be approaching their expiry date. No matter how many times I demonstrate the ‘how to tell an egg is not bad’ trick to Pascal, the date on the box always supersedes, thus cheese soufflé for dinner.