Epicurean Update

I woke this Saturday morning to find that Epicurious.com had left a delicious morsel in my news feed:  a short article by Sam Worley,

Stretchy Turkish Ice Cream Now Available in U.S. Grocery Stores

What?  Is this possible?  You know I have a thing for stretchy Turkish ice cream– if you were paying attention, I sang its praises last fall in a blog post called “How We Eat . . .”.  You can imagine Mr. Sam Worley’s article quickened my pulse more than a little. It has arrived on my shores!  Turkish Dondurma!  I squealed, I celebrated!

But then I wondered.   Can I eat Turkish dondurma from the local grocery aisle, or would it be wrong, and certainly disappointing, to pull it from my upright freezer in my air conditioned Floridian home and eat it with a spoon and dish in my breakfast nook?  Would it betray every memory I have of sassy dondurma sellers in Istanbul or on the Turkish Mediterranean, paddling out the stretchy treat, only to whip it out of your grasp at the last moment. . . only to finally relent and offer up the treat,  which I would greedily gobble before it (or I) melted into the hot walkway of a Turkish summer day.

Would my favorite sweet Turkish treat suffer if it wasn’t fresh, and if everything about its presentation and circumstances was decidedly un-Turkish?  Decidedly mundane.  Bought at the local grocer.

Yes.  I think the answer has to be “yes.”

Still, you know I’ll look for it in the stores.  Maybe I’ll purchase some.  I hope it will be delicious.   It’ll certainly be a treat and a novelty . . . but scooped from a store carton  it will be an anemic facsimile.

I’d rather enjoy it by the Sea of Marmara or the Mediterranean– who wouldn’t?

I’ll leave you with the blurb from Epicurious (which includes a fantastic video of an impish Turkish ice cream man at work), as well as my original post on Turkish ice cream.

Happy Monday and bon appetit– or, as they say in Turkey, “Afiyet Olsun!”

http://www.epicurious.com/expert-advice/turkish-ice-cream-comes-to-the-us-elastic-stretchy-article

Stretchy Turkish Ice Cream Now Available in U.S. Grocery Stores

Behold the pictures, all over the internet, of street vendors stretching Turkish ice cream just like it’s boardwalk taffy. That’s maraş dondurma, a confection made not just with milk and sugar but with mastic, a tree resin, and salep, the roots of wild mountain orchids, which imparts elasticity. The best and frankly only way to describe this is as stretchy, chewy ice cream. Word on the street is that people have been photographed jumping rope with it; others have cut it with knives and chainsaws. On the street, too—or in the markets, rather, where you get this ice cream in Istanbul—its unique stretchiness enables vendors to play all manner of practical jokes with would-be ice cream eaters, as in the video below.

The metal rod you see there is part of the traditional production process: the ice cream is beaten—kneaded, more or less—so that it sticks to itself. What results is a frozen confectionyou can do some tricks with; it’s also quite a bit slower to melt than non-elastic ice cream, a boon in the Turkish summers.

Something like dondurma is now available in the U.S., but in grocery aisles rather than bazaars. Lezzetli Mediterranean Ice Cream, which has been selling in the New York area for a while, announced today that it’s expanding its distribution throughout the northeastern United States, with four flagship flavors: Chios vanilla, made with a Greek tree sap; chocolate–orange blossom; spiced date, and tart cherry. Lezzetli bills its ice creams as inspired by similar desserts of Turkey and the Levant—versions of dondurma also exist in places like Syria and Greece—and they aren’t thickened with orchids, which are endangered, but with other natural gums. (In Turkey, for this same reason, salep has given way to other thickeners, like guar gum.) Not in your local place yet? Request it! Your grocer might be pliable.

****

How We Eat: Banana Pudding, Banoffee Pie, Songs, and Stretchy Ice Cream

PicMonkey banana pud shoofly

The title is a mouthful:  a delicious, caloric mouthful.  Inspired by a delicious and caloric, if somewhat stressful, week of cakes and puddings at our house.  An actual storm is sitting out in the Gulf, on our doorstep, and making vague threats, while the figurative storm of finding your bearings in a new environment is battering us around quite handily.  Under the circumstances, why not fatten our bodies and spirits for the fight, right?  Cakes and Ale is a fine battle strategy, I say.  Anyhoo, on with the post. . .

When I was young, my mother used to sing a song that would make us giggle and make us hungry at the same time: “Shoofly Pie and Apple Pan Dowdy, make your eyes light up and your tummy say ‘howdy.’”  Silly.  I’ve never had Apple Pan Dowdy, but I can imagine the cobbler-like creation with no problem.  Shoofly Pie is harder to conjure.  Obviously sweet and sticky– a fly magnet (yuck!)– but the closest thing I can picture is a chess pie, and I don’t think that’s exactly right.  Which brings me to stretchy ice cream.  What, you’ll ask, is that?  A Floridian taffy-ice cream hybrid?  An over-cooked custard that makes a chewy ice cream?  No and no.  I’m thinking of Turkish Dondurma– an ice cream made with wild orchid extracts and salep ( a milky Turkish drink containing orchids).

Dondurma doesn’t taste of orchids, it comes in many flavors.  My favorite was banana.

Image from website: http://www.lakshmisharath.com/
Image from wikicommons and website: http://www.lakshmisharath.com/

   I only discovered dondurma toward the end of our life in Turkey, which is a shame because it is silky and delicious . . . and stretchy.  That doesn’t really affect the taste, but it makes for a great parlor trick.  Dondurma is often served in a dramatic way, dished out with a paddle and wrapped around your cone, only to be pulled back at the last moment.  The Turks love a laugh and good food, so why not marry the two?

I’ve been thinking about Dondurma lately.  August in Florida will bring out all of your ice cream fantasies, believe me.  But this week, I’m remembering Banana Dondurma while making a traditional Banana Pudding for my children.  A REAL Banana Pudding– no instant pudding and cool whip.  Ugh.  A silky homemade custard is the only way to go, people.

My mother made this Banana Pudding for us growing up, and I’m pretty sure that her mother made it too.  I’m printing the recipe at the end of this post.  It’s simple and satisfying, and I like it best when it’s still a tad warm (but I know people who only like it cold, so this is clearly a matter of personal taste).

Photo from myrecipes.com--sadly we ate into our pudding too quickly to get a good photo!
Photo from myrecipes.com–sadly we ate into our pudding too quickly to get a good photo!

Like all recipes for BP, this one layers Vanilla Wafers, banana slices, and pudding.  Like all the best recipes for BP, this one features a homemade pudding of milk/cream, eggs, and sugar– with a splash of vanilla tossed in after the pudding thickens.  Believe me, you’ll be licking the mixing spoon after making this one.  (And, as I’m writing this, I’m wondering if I could use this pudding, with banana and wafer bits thrown in to churn up a really delicious–though certainly un-stretchy– ice cream.  I’m going to try this soon and get back to you.)

Banana Pudding is a staple of the American South, a time-tested comfort food, welcome around any pot luck or picnic table.  Why is it Southern?  I have no idea.  It goes well with bourbon?  (There are worse theories.)   If you want a primer on the treat and its history, I’d suggest you read the article posted on the SeriousEats website– an interesting and remarkably in-depth read.  If you’re here for the yummy, not the history, feel free to skip the article, fast forward to my recipe, and judge for yourself.

But not before you consider Banoffee Pie.  It deserves a mention in a travel and culture blog, because what Banana Pudding is to the American South, Banoffee Pie seems to be to Brits.  A perfect comfort food, a sweet banana dessert that pops up everywhere.

photo from commons.wikimedia.org
photo from commons.wikimedia.org

“Banoffee” you say?  Yes– bananas, cream, and toffee.  BAN. OFFEE.

Although it’s a British staple, it’s not one of those long-standing English recipes that dates back to the middle ages (think mincemeat pie).  No– bananas weren’t easy to come by before modern times.  Still, you find it in so many homes, on so many menus, and in endless incarnations these days. Nigella Lawson has a great looking Banoffee Cheesecake recipe, as well a Chocolate Banoffee recipe.  There are Banoffee sundaes and cupcakes and pastries.  If you can think up a twist to banoffee pie, it’s out there.

I have nibbled at Banoffee creations, but haven’t perfected my own version, so I’ll encourage you to find your own recipe.  If you already have the perfect recipe, feel free to share it with me!

* * *

moveable feastI’ll leave you with my pudding recipe and a final thought on comfort food.  On how we eat.  I love sugar, and I love rich puddings, and I love sharing these things with family.  But it’s not just the yumminess, and it’s not just the hospitality, it is the comfort that gets me this week– the ritual of sharing this favorite family recipe. Hemingway spoke of Paris as a moveable feast–a joy and light and influence, a wealth of experiences–that stays with you wherever you go.   Whether or not we have Paris, we all have a storehouse of moveable feasts.

This week, Banana Pudding is my moveable feast.  The world is spinning a bit fast for me, the Gulf is churning a bit violently, but I have my pudding (a tad warm yet) and I have my children with their spoons at the ready . . . and I find that I have a feast of friends around this table — I have my grandmother’s cooking, my mother’s singing, my Turkish ice cream man, and my British bakery, and I sit in the company of these fine things and dig in to my bowl, and I know, with a quiet conviction, that the world will be right soon enough.

*Ba’s BANANA PUDDING

  • For the custard: 1/2 cup sugar, 3 Tablespoons flour, dash of salt, 1 whole egg, 3 egg yolks (save the whites), 2 cups of milk.
  • Cook this in a medium saucepan over a low heat until it thickens.  Then take it off the stove and stir in 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract
  • Layer vanilla wafers and banana slices; pour some custard over the top; then repeat these layers.
  • For meringue topping: beat the 3 egg whites, gradually adding up to 1/4 cup of sugar (and 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar, if you wish).  Bake this until browned (at 400 degrees, or using the broiler).
  • Enjoy!

 

The Return of Light: Candlemas

Ripon Cathedral, Ripon, N. Yorkshire

Photo courtesy of @Riponcathedral twitter
Photo courtesy of @Riponcathedral twitter

The winter-blooming snowdrops may be pushing up from the cold ground in England about now, and we are at the halfway point between the shortest day of the year and the March equinox.  Light is returning to the world, and slowly but surely we turn toward spring.

And the religious calendar turns also.  There are few places in the world where Candlemas is still celebrated on February 2nd– Americans are far likelier to think of today as Groundhog Day (same principle, though)– but the Ripon Cathedral is one of those glorious places where the holiday is remembered.  The cathedral is lit with thousands of candles, and candles only,  and a  processional service takes place in the evening.

Our first visit to a Candlemas service took place in 2005 or 2006.  Our children were very young, and we took them in their pajamas (it was a cold mid-winter’s night, they were young, we saw no need to stand on ceremony).  Our friend, a canon at the cathedral, had called us at the last minute and said, “You really ought to see this, it’s beautiful and will be a new experience for you.”  We’d imagined that we’d just pop our heads in, satisfy a curiosity, and leave quickly to get the children into bed.

But, like Homer’s lotus eaters, we stepped into the space and it was such a fantastic and pleasurable experience that we forgot to leave!  We stayed for the procession, we moved dreamily through the ancient, light-filled space and, although I’d like to tell you just how it felt and how it lifted our spirits, my words fall short.  To be in that ancient space, with the thousands of candles at once warming, lighting, and dancing along the walls  (seeming, in their dancing flames, to sing and process along with the parishioners), to move through that space with a sea of people (young and old, high and low, well-dressed and pajama-ed)– this was so moving and uplifting.

This morning, I’m starting my day off in sunny Florida.  It is no bleak mid-winter day outside.  The light never really left us this winter–certainly not by northern or European measures.  But the need for a turning and a renewal is as strong as ever.

Tonight, I will put on my cozy pajamas, I will light some candles at home, and I will drift off to Ripon Cathedral, lotus-eater like.  I will process through the nave and side aisle, pause by niches, hold my young children tight, marvel at the warmth and the glow and the sea of my fellow revelers.  I’ll be there.  Not even the great expanse of the Atlantic Ocean could keep me away.

 

 

Twelfth Night

Tonight marks Twelfth Night– the eve of Epiphany, the end of the 12 days of Christmas.  It’s considered very bad form, and bad luck, to keep Christmas decorations up any longer than this.

This, I think, is a plot hatched by type A neatniks to push type B malingerers into a tidy-up already.  Not a bad ploy;  I get it.  However,  this time last year, I decided to keep my tree up another week or two, until my corner of Germany got some snow.  When the snow finally made its appearance, I snuggled under a blanket with a book and some hot chocolate while the tree lights twinkled.  No bad luck in that.

This year, I’m baffled by what to do.  Family and friends to my north are expecting freezing weather and snow storms in two days. IMG_20160714_063514  I feel like I should leave my tree up as a sign of solidarity– I can read by its twinkling lights, turn on a fan, and pretend that I’m looking out my window at a foot of snow.  But I’ll be looking at this:

Good stuff, but not a winter wonderland.

Or I could be industrious and take it all down and give up on winter ever coming to Florida.  (I’d be tidy and efficient, but kind of a quitter too.  It’s a quandry.)

In the States, we don’t pay much attention to the “12 days” of Christmas.  (Christmas day until Epiphany, January 6th.)  It’s more of an Old World concept.  But it lends more structure, and a  greater sense of traditional festival, to the holiday than our modern sprawl (which is more like the 12 weeks of Christmas, starting before–or at, if we are very lucky– Halloween).

Twelfth Night offers a chance to wallow in Christmas traditions for one more night– to eat heartily (and include a King’s Cake on the table) and drink wassail.  It’s also the night when you finally allow the yule log to die out– that log that you started burning on Christmas Day and kept going until now.  The yule log is said to bring luck for the coming year, and, if you’ve kept a fire burning around the clock for the last 12 days and  buche001 your house is still standing, then I’d say you’re pretty lucky!  We didn’t do that at my house.  We did, however, bake a yule log (a buche de Noel) and gobble up every crumb.  Hopefully that imparts luck and not just extra pounds.

From our experiences in Germany, it’s obvious that Twelfth Night doesn’t just mark an ending of a season– it is also the beginning of the carnival season that leads up to Mardi Gras.   We’ve seen this in Bavaria and the Black Forest, where Christmas season seems to be dipped at both ends with a dollop of menace.  On the front end of Christmas, Krampus came for bad children around December 6th (Nikolaustag), and now at the holiday’s closing bell,  masked demons parade in the streets as the carnival season gets underway.

Down the hill we went into snowy Triberg.
Down the hill we went into snowy Triberg.

Two years ago, in  January, we took a trip to the Black Forest.  We spent the night in Triberg, and the snow was falling fast and starting to accumulate.  We tucked the kids and dogs into the hotel in the early evening and told them we’d go find a restaurant in town and  bring dinner back to them.

When we got down the hill and into town, we turned toward a restaurant we’d seen earlier in the day, and ran headlong into a merry band of demons parading the streets.  But, you know, these things happen in the Black Forest.  We laughed, but didn’t think much of it until the next day when we were talking to Oliver Zinapold in his Triberg woodworking and clock shop.  We talked cuckoo clocks at great length, and even bought a lovely clock from him, and before we left we spotted a devil’s mask up on the wall.  I asked about it.

“Oh, it’s a good thing you came today,” he said.  “Tomorrow, I close up shop and go to Switzerland for a few days to be in the Carnival.”  He showed us his hand carved mask, and pulled out a sketch book of other masks (and clock faces) he’d made.  And suddenly the merry band of devils we’d seen in Triberg made perfect sense.

So, don’t mourn the passing of Christmas time at Twelfth Night .  . . just realize that thirteenth night marks the beginning of another lively season.  And more than a little mischief.

 

I’ll leave you with a short video of Oliver Zinapold’s workshop– Oli’s Schnitzstube.   The video is in German, but if you are drinking your Twelfth Night wassail, I expect you’ll understand every word of it.  And even if you don’t, it’s worth seeing the lovely clocks and (an added treat) one of his devil masks can be seen hanging on the wall at about 22 seconds into the video.

 

The Ghost of Christmas Past*

(*Originally posted on December 18, 2015)

I have no idea where this story starts– only Emily could tell you that, and she has been silent for years now.  I can’t fill in all the details, but I can tell you when her shadow crossed over our doorstep.

It was a fine and cozy doorstep in Ripon, North Yorkshire, England, HPIM1355 and it was our home for four fantastic years.  We dove headlong into the spirit of British life and tried to pretend that we were Brits ourselves.

We fooled no one, but we had a good time.  The kids attended British schools, my husband and I drove on the left side of the road (more often than not), and I learned how to make a mean steak and ale pie and sticky toffee pudding.

When we returned to the States in the summer of 2009, there was a posh lilt to my children’s speech, a cupboard full of treacle and hedgerow jam in my kitchen, and a ghost in our walnut chest of drawers.

These things happen when you live close to the Yorkshire Moors.

The old Queen Anne walnut chest -- did we buy more than we bargained for?
The old Queen Anne walnut chest — did we buy more than we bargained for?

The chest that housed our shadowy friend came from an auction house twenty minutes north of our home.  She is a beautiful old walnut piece–Queen Anne era, so roughly 300 years old– originally a chest on stand with longer, probably delicate, legs.  But three centuries of life had, literally, brought her to her knees.  Now she stands on stumps– ball feet that are likely over a hundred years old at this point.

I think the chest is beautiful. . . the hard knocks of a long life have made her quirky, but she still sings to me.

So I was overjoyed when we brought her home from the auction house and carried her into our dining room.  We dusted her off, gently cleaned the insides of the drawers, and whooped and hollered when we found a secret compartment.

It was cobwebby, and James shuddered as he stuck his hand in there.  We both hoped there would be old coins or letters, some relics of the lives lived in times beyond our reach.  But there were only cobwebs.

Or so we thought.

While we moved furniture to settle the new piece into its spot in the dining room, my daughter (who was about 7 years old) was upstairs digging into her dress up box.  She came down the stairs in a colonial era dress, saying that we must call her Emily.  It was cute, and she kept up the charade, never breaking character, until it was finally time to march upstairs and take a bath.

Meanwhile, after dusting our chest and admiring her beauty in a tidy corner of the dining room, we continued on with our life.  Dinner had to be made; children had to be bathed; bedtime stories were read, and, eventually, we all tucked in for the night.  Unsuspecting.

In the wee hours, someone woke me up.  My young children were standing at the edge of the bed.  Without even fully opening my eyes–as this was an all too common pattern with my son, and it was a ritual I could very nearly perform while still asleep– I got up and cupped my arms around my two children to lead them back to bed.  My left arm scooped my son, but my right arm came up empty.  I opened my eyes and turned to find Kate, but she wasn’t there.

“William, where’s your sister?” I asked.  “She isn’t here,” he said.  I shrugged it off, just happy to have only one child to put back to bed.

But I woke up the next morning and sat bolt upright:  two children, I thought, I saw two children.  A boy and a girl.  There were two, and then there was one.  I asked my son again that morning where his sister had gone, but he told me that she was never there.

I don’t spook easily.  I’m not particularly superstitious.  All in all, I was fairly pragmatic about this.  I told my husband about the incident and put it out of my mind.

For a few days.

Until I woke up in the middle of the night to find my husband standing up and running his hands all around the bed, looking for something.  “What are you doing?” was my question, naturally.  “One of the kids is in the bed,” he said.  “No,” I said, “there’s no one in the bed but me.”  But he wasn’t convinced.  Something was in the bed; someone had come into the room.

Someone.

There was really only one explanation.  Only one new member of the family in the past week.  And apparently she was more ambulatory than those ball feet let on.  Could a piece of furniture harbor a ghost?  We decided to call this maybe-ghost Emily.  I suppose she had tried to announce herself the minute she came into the house.

We spent the next few days sipping a strange cocktail of emotions–a shot of intrigue, a splash of fear, a dash of dread, and a big old chaser of humor.  Honestly, who buys a ghost with their furniture?  And a ghost that tries to climb in bed with you at that?  There is a whole lot of creepy to that–but, as  much as I squeezed my eyes tight the next few nights and swore to open them for nothing until the morning came, my motherly instincts kept askingwhy?   I mean, assuming there was a ghost and we weren’t just nuts whose imaginations had run away with them (not a sure bet, I know), why would a child keep just showing up in our room?  Loneliness, I suppose.

I wanted to know the story–this ghost was going to kill me with curiosity, if nothing else.  So my husband and I drove back to the auction house and asked the owner, Rodney, if he could shed any light on the piece of furniture we’d bought.  He disappeared in the back office and quickly reappeared with the only paperwork he had on that piece of furniture–paperwork indicating that the chest had been removed from The Old School House in Thoresway, Lincolnshire.

This told us absolutely nothing about the circumstances of the chest, but it also did nothing to quell our interest.  A School House?  A building with a long history of children, children, and more children?  Our heads were spinning.

But what can you do?  We didn’t have an answer at hand, we didn’t even have a problem on our hands, we just had a curiosity.  A couple of incidents in a couple of weeks’ time.  And plenty of friends to add in their two cents:  antiques have bad feng shui, and did we know that young children used to sleep in dresser drawers (pulled out) before there were cribs?  My favorite reaction came from the wife of the local cathedral’s canon, who was overjoyed by everything about the mystery:  Oh how wonderful!  I’ve always wanted to see a ghost!   (I might have gladly given her mine, if only I’d known how.)DSC_0197

Within the next week or two, I purchased an old painting from an antique market: a portrait of a child with her dog.  We named her Emily and hung her on the wall by the chest.  If you can’t beat them, join them, right?

**

I’m not sure how to tell you the next part of the story–this is where a few glasses of wine really aid the storytelling.

I’m a softy, and I’m sometimes a kook, and when something lies heavy on my heart and I drink wine . . . you know.   Emily didn’t show up much in the next year, but this is no surprise because she and I had a heart to heart late one night, and I think this put her at ease.

James and I had been out to a friend’s party–homebodies that we are–and we’d had a very good time.  I had an especially good time, and came home feeling very generous and earnest and just a bit wobbly.  When we got home, I pulled a chair up to the chest and proceeded to tell Emily, at great length, that we just wanted her to be happy, and that we were terribly sorry if we acted terrified of her, but we’d be honored to have her in our home.

Because that’s how everyone talks to their ghost-furniture, right?

Well, you know, I meant it.  And it worked.  Peaceful nights from then on.

**

And then we moved Emily over the ocean on a slow boat and resettled her in Georgia.  We laughed a slightly nervous laugh and joked that she’d be really angry about that–brace for chaos.  But no chaos came.

We moved into a new house, re-floored, painted, and set Emily up in the formal living room.  The house looked good; the chest looked good; the feng   shui felt right.

And then my husband threw a curve ball.  He saw a wierd, shadowy something in the corner of the front hall–right by the living room.  He didn’t know . . .he was just saying . . .it was strange and his first thought was Emily.

But I didn’t believe a word of it.  James likes to play pranks, and as much as he insisted, I laughed and said right, like I would believe that.  End of conversation.

Until a few weeks later, when I was scrolling through messages and pictures on my new flip phone (it was 2009).  My daughter, then a 4th grader, had been having fun with the camera phone–catching her grandmother in her pj’s, photographing her brother with a cabbage on his head, taking a photo she entitled Haunted Hallway. . . . This stopped me cold. She had photographed the same spot in the house James had described and she gave it that caption.

I very nonchalantly asked her about the photo.  She said, “Oh, it just looked wierd, so I took it.”  No more reason, no more thought.  It was haunted seeming, so she took the picture, gave it the title, and never looked back.  The photo didn’t look that strange to me, but then how photogenic are ghosts?

And what a strange, strange coincidence.

**

You can be a skeptic, and I won’t blame you.  But me, I’m a big fan of Emily.  At least for now.

When we moved to Germany, we left her in a storage facility until we return next year.  That could make for one mad ghost.  Check back with me in a year, and see how she took it.  Or, better yet, come over and drink wine with me next year–we’ll have a heart to heart with Emily and smooth things over.

***You’ll notice, no doubt, that a year has passed, that I have returned to the States from Germany, and, yes, Emily has come home to roost.  But that is a tale that I’ll pick up another day.  Until then, I’ll give her your best regards.  

 

“I have endeavoured in this Ghostly little book, to raise  the Ghost of an Idea,
which shall not put my readers out of humour with themselves, with each other,
with the season, or with me.”   Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol  

 

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