Tuesday, May 25, 2010

What's Cooking at Heritage Square...

We recently visited Heritage Square for "Museum of the Arroyo Day" and had a blast.  Who knew we would have so many great food related experiences while visiting a collection of transplanted Victorian houses?  Our first stop was the art station and while my daughters colored pictures of Victorian ladies, my husband went to check out the Civil War re-enactor tent.  Turns out, it was manned by someone he knew...  Colonel Douglas Rober Mroczek of the Seventh United States Cavalry Memorial Regiment.  When the girls had finished coloring, Tim took us to visit the Colonel and he regaled us with stories from his regiment and showed us his period mess kit.
When we turned around, we spied an octagonal house... and had to check it out.  Although the exterior was lovingly restored, the inside was a wreck and showed all the wear and tear of a transplanted 100-plus year old house desperately awaiting renovation.

The girls had a fun time running around the circular porch while I snuck inside for a closer look.  The sitting room was full of historical photos and glass cases containing the remnants of broken dishware and other household objects found at the building's original location.  It was mildly interesting, but the kitchen was the place that the curators had fun.  There were several period appliances and a number of Victorian era kitchen tools.  I loved looking at these objects and wondering what it would have been like to use them on a daily basis.  I must admit that I'm grateful I will never really have to do cook this way.

By the time we left the octagonal house, everyone was starting to melt down, but I didn't want to cook, so I headed for the food trucks while Tim fed the girls their lunch in the shade of a giant oak tree.  We'd originally intended to enjoy a relaxing Sunday dinner picnic together, but that was clearly not going to happen.  In the end, we decided to take our food home with us and eat it after we put the girls down for a nap.  The food suffered a bit in transit, but it was still pretty yummy!

Friday, May 14, 2010

Mother's Day Sunday Dinner

For Mother's Day this year I got the best surprise ever... Breakfast food for Sunday dinner!  Tim remembered that I'd once written fondly about my family's "breakfast-for-Sunday-dinner" tradition when I growing up and he produced a great homage to that meal.

The culinary adventure began when he presented me with a mimosa while I watched the girls playing in their room.  Violet said, "mom-- you need some food!"  And she proceeded to bring me a wide selection of her favorite pretend food.  Tim suggested that I remain in my comfy spot on the bean bag chair while he and Violet made dinner.  Sounded like a good plan to me.

Turns out, he had really thought this idea through and somehow managed a trip to the grocery store without my knowledge.  Tim made a great meal, complete with pancakes, bacon, and fresh loquats from our tree.   When the smell of bacon wafted into the girls' room, I could no longer resist taking a peek into the kitchen to see what was going on.  Tim and Violet hovered over the stove, happily making pancakes using the world's weirdest food product-- "The Organic Batter Blaster", which is an aerosol can of pancake batter.
They made pancakes in the shapes our our initials, as I had as a kid, and Violet sang songs as they worked.  Tim carefully and tediously peeled enough loquats for us all to have a nice healthy portion.  (This is no small feat considering how many loquats my youngest daughter Annabel can eat!)

It was a wonderful meal and a great memory.  And this time I didn't ruin the experience by taking too many photographs.  Happy Mother's Day to all the moms out there!!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Amazing Anne Willan

On Saturday morning I was lucky enough to attend Anne Willan's lecture to the Culinary Historians of Southern California at the Los Angeles Public Library and it was amazing.  Anne Willan is a star of the culinary world, so expected her to be smart and knowledgeable, but she was also very funny, which was a nice surprise.   She lectured about her methods for choosing recipes for her upcoming book about early cookbooks and since I'm a huge fan of old recipes, I had a blast.  She's also a renowned collector of cookbooks and brought along a 1747 edition of Hannah Glasse's classic text "The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy by A Lady", which was fun to see, even from a distance.  When she held it up to the crowd she announced, "I had to bring a REAL cookbook to show you!"  Gotta love her.

Ms. Willan gave a great summary of some of the earliest cookbooks and offered up some juicy bits of historical trivia, like the fact that there was a time when there was no distinction between "food" recipes and "medical" recipes.  She made the case that Nostradamus wrote the first cookbook, if you define "cookbook" as a text that lists ingredients, usually with at least some amounts, as well as instructions for preparing the dish.  Apparently, Nostradamus produced a cookbook in 1555 that included a good recipe for quince jelly.  I'm intrigued...

I was also interested in the idea that many early cookbooks included amounts for some ingredients, but not others because it was assumed that whoever was reading the book had a certain level of expertise at producing the food being discussed.  A bread recipe, for instance, might include amounts of flour and butter, but not water, because the author would assume the reader would know what it meant if the instructions said "add enough water to form a dough".  According to Ms. Willan, the audience for cookbooks changed in the 17th century and more measurements and how-to instructions were included for novice cooks.  At this point, a distinction developed between books produced for experts (professionals) and those produced for the cook of a household, whether that be the lady of the house or a domestic servant.  (I need to think about the implications of that one some more.)

Ms. Willan had strict criteria for choosing recipes for her book and her list made me want to line up now to buy it.

1.  The recipe had to have "direct appeal to us today".

2.  It had to sum up the time period in which it was written.  (Earlier in her lecture she said it had to "give a sense of the time and place in which it was produced".  Such a nice idea.)

3.  It had to be something we still do.  For instance, she included a 16th century recipe for a baked orange because we still like to "wrap things up in packages".

4.  The recipe couldn't be too hard to produce.

5.  It had to say "Come on and eat me!"

She took great pains to say that she wanted to reproduce recipes that were as authentic as possible using modern ingredients, not to make modern adaptations of old recipes.  She ended this discussion with a call to action, "Go back to the past for ideas!"  And I will.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Kitchen Gardens

I'm having a bit of a struggle with my garden so when I saw this great article about kitchen gardens on Design Sponge I couldn't resist posting the link.  Seeing so many beautiful and functional kitchen gardens has inspired me to think about my tiny garden plot in a new way.  (So what if the slugs ate all the lettuce just as it was coming up?  Don't be lazy.  Plant again!)  I know what I'll be doing this weekend...

Monday, May 3, 2010

Choose Two of These Three Things

When making Sunday dinner, you can successfully accomplish two of these three things.
  1. Prepare a delicious meal.
  2. Have a nice, relaxing time.
  3. Photograph your dinner.
I've learned the hard way that you can not do all three.  Or at least I can't.  Yet.  I hope one day I'll be able to produce a quick photographic record of our Sunday dinner meals without destroying the festive spirit of the day.  But I'm not there yet.  The time we set aside for Sunday dinner started out great.  We picked our first radish from the small self-watering planter we usually ignore because we put it by the side door we rarely use.  It was an exciting moment since the radishes were the first crop we planted from seed this season and Violet remembered putting the tiny seeds in the ground.
We all played around in the back yard for a while and Tim found two beautiful grapefruits in the small tree wedged in the corner of our yard.  (Who knew that sad little tree could even bear fruit!?!)  The girls collected a wagon-load of loquats, as they usually do.  We didn't even have too much trouble convincing Annabel that she shouldn't shove whole loquats into her mouth as she collected them.
I thought I'd planned well for this meal by cooking a turkey meatloaf earlier in the week and freezing half for today's meal.  I'd roasted onion and peppers to spruce up the leftovers and we made a really nice potato and green bean salad.  The girls and I had carefully selected new potatoes, string beans, and a bag of lemons at the farmer's market the day before and I made a simple lemon and olive oil vinaigrette while Tim and Violet snapped the green beans.  It was the first time Violet had ever taken on this important task and it still makes me smile to remember how proud she was of the "work" she was doing.  Meal preparation was going well and it seemed natural that this good-feeling would build on itself.  Boy was I wrong.   I decided to take a couple of quick photos of our meal and that's when the trouble began.

In her excitement about seeing the freshly pulled radish, Violet tried to snatch it off the table just as I was taking the photograph and I snapped at her to "leave it alone!".  This started a flood of tears and I felt terrible about squashing her excitement about our home-grown produce.  Tim insisted that I continue to take photos and as sweet a thought as that was, it didn't turn out to be a popular idea.  Annabel joined in the crying game and by the time we sat down to dinner everyone was grumpy.  Lesson learned.