Wednesday, April 27, 2016

The Vegetarian Epicure

Here I am with Anna Thomas, sharing stories about the 1972 first edition of her book The Vegetarian Epicure. I brought my copy to Book Passage the Saturday she visited to sign copies of her new book Vegan, Vegetarian Omnivore.

I bought her first book shortly after arriving in Berkeley. Unfortunately, I have no memory of where or why I bought it. I was not a vegetarian but the recipes and whimsical pen and ink drawings appealed to me on some level. The cover is now faded from years of  sunlight, but the pages aren't worn and food-stained enough to suit Anna. It's true, I have only made three or four recipes from the book and most are from her delectable dessert section; in fact, I often noticed that vegetarian cookbooks of that era were heavy on desserts, perhaps to compensate for the lack of meat and poultry. Because she was born in Germany of Polish parents,  her sweets are wonderful old-world specialties, and because she loves Christmas, there is a lovely holiday section. Somehow, perhaps because my mother was Swedish, I gravitated toward that section.

When I proudly showed her my 1972 first edition, we chatted about how she started to write the book. She was a poor student at UCLA in the early '70s and loved to entertain. Her friends were so taken with her creative vegetarian meals that they encouraged her to write a book. But she was busy in film school and had little time for another project. Then, in 1971, fate intervened and the US invaded Cambodia. The student protests were so violent and disruptive that the regents closed the university and disbanded classes. I too remember those explosive times in Madison and Berkeley.

Here is a short item from Wikipedia about that era at UCLA:

"In 1971student unrest at UCLA was further exacerbated when President Richard Nixon ordered the invasion of Cambodia and the National Guard fired upon student protesters at Kent State. Hundreds of student protesters marched through the UCLA campus and vandalized several buildings, including an ROTC building, and part of Murphy Hall. Chancellor Young declared a State of Emergency and summoned the LAPD on campus; 74 arrests were made and 12 people reported injuries. This demonstration and many others at UC campuses throughout the state caused then-Governor Ronald Reagan to shut down the state's colleges and universities for the first time in California's history."

With no classes to attend, Anna wrote her book, found an agent through a friend of a friend, and got the book published by a division of Random House without a hitch. The publisher paired her up with Julie Maas, who did the charming drawings to illustrate Anna's recipes, and a classic was born.  Apparently publishers were scouting for vegetarian cookbooks at the time and The Vegetarian Epicure came along at just the right moment. The book is still in print.

While she was signing copies of her new book for customers and friends, and while we snacked on the delicious dip she brought and served on french bread with goat cheese, she inscribed my "vintage" copy of The Vegetarian Epicure for me.

                                                        MOJO VERDE

Here is the spicy, green, herbaceous dip Anna made from her new book Vegan Vegetarian Omnivore. "It's a knockout Spanish appetizer divine with crisp roasted potatoes" or on crackers with goat cheese.
She encourages people to continue to entertain despite all the difficulties with guest's dietary restrictions. She feels that eating together with friends and family makes life worth while.
6 cloves garlic (or fewer), minced
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup chopped cilantro
1/2 cup parsley
1/2 cup mint
1/2 green serrano chili, minced
1/2 green pepper, chopped
                                Pulse in food processor, then add
3 small slices of a baguette
5 T. olive oil
3 T wine vinegar
                                Pulse all ingredients together until pureed

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Cheryl, Ryan and Louisa hosting Marnie

                             Three of my Book Passage friends hosting an event for Marnie the dog

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Happy New Year with Cardamom-Walnut Crescents

A happy New Year's toast to all and a recipe for my favorite holiday cookies----cardamom-walnut crescents. They are a snap to make and the result is a tender, exotically spiced delicacy. The special ingredients are ground cardamom and vanilla sugar for the topping. I used Patricia Rain's prepared vanilla sugar that we carried at Scharffen Berger Chocolate when I worked there. Make sure the ground cardamom is fresh since it loses it's potent aroma after a year or so, and the cardamom is the whole point!

Vanilla Sugar and Cardamom for cookies

This year I baked the crescents on my new silicone baking sheet by Chef'n, a present from my niece's husband BJ, who works for the company. He revealed that it takes at least two years to develop and introduce a new product. The sheet worked especially well since I could bake on it and use it for cooling as the recipe requires.

Freshly baked cookies cooling on the silicone baking sheet

Cardamom-Walnut Crescents
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • ¾ cup walnuts halves
  • ¼ pound unsalted butter, chilled and cut in to 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ½ teaspoon ground cardamom
  • ½ teaspoon grated orange zest
  •  teaspoon salt

  1. Heat oven to 325 degrees. Combine all dough ingredients in a food processor. Pulse until the dough resembles coarse meal. Then process continuously until it begins to gather together.
  2. Roll 2 teaspoons dough at a time into half moon shapes. Arrange on an ungreased baking sheet, 1 inch apart. Bake until firm to touch, about 18 to 20 minutes.
  3. When cookies are done, let them cool in the pan for 5 minutes before transferring to a rack. Sift the vanilla sugar over them immediately. Continue cooling for 15 minutes. The cookies may be stored in an airtight container up to 5 days.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Memories of a Recent trip to Calabria-Part II

Fresco in the Monastery in Amantea

                         We saw more peppers drying in the charming resort town of Diamante

The next day we headed for Amantea. an ancient town built on rocky precipices. We trekked up to the restored 16th century monastery, which once housed an order of Nuns called Le Clarisse and has now been converted into a first class restaurant and Inn.

                  We had a memorable midday meal at the restaurant, which began with fresh anchovies.                                    

Potato cakes covered with fresh anchovies- a stunning first course at Le Clarisse

After lunch and another bus ride, we checked into our final resort, Porto Pirgos. Our room had a terrace with another stunning view of the Medeterranian. Again we could walk down to a private beach or swim in the beautiful pool.

In the evening we tore ourselves away from our water sports and headed for the picturesque town of Tropea for sightseeing, shopping and dinner.

A breathtaking view in Tropea

Tropea was beautiful at nightfall

On our final day we headed for the fishing village of Pizzo, known for its gorgeous beaches and its gelaterie which line the town square.

A view of the beach in Pizzo from above


                                    Enjoying the spouts of cool water at the fountain on another hot day

I loved this old fountain

The seafood we had for lunch at Ristorante San Domenico was freshly caught by local fishermen and was  unsurpassed in flavor and ingenuity of preparation.

The octopus served over a puree of chickpeas was one of my favorite dishes of the trip

Then on to the main piazza with its plethora of competing gelaterie, all  serving the town's specialty- Tartufo di Pizzo. This is a molded ice cream dessert resembling a giant black truffle, with a cocoa coating concealing two layers of ice cream: a chocolate layer on the outside and hazelnut within. But the surprise is in the center -- a molten fudge sauce that oozes like lava when you cut into it.

Tartufo di Pizzo

Serious gelato consumption in Pizzo

Our journey begins and ends with red peppers drying in the hot sun. We saw these when we visited Agriturismo Manitta, high in the hills above Tropea. We arrived Saturday evening for a tour of the gardens and a final cooking class. Then as the sun set and  the locals arrived to have a romantic dinner al fresco, we too sat down at a long table set for our group and began to eat the feast the staff prepared just for us.

Peppers hung to dry at Agriturismo Manitta 

Here we are mid-meal on our last night at Agriturismo Manitta, high in the hills above Tropea  

Now that our trip is over and well documented in these last two blog posts, I must thank our tour guide and indefatigable leader Rosetta Costentino (and her husband Lino) for creating such an unforgettable experience. We ate and drank exceptionally well, we stayed in lovely lodgings, we saw places of unimaginable beauty and we experienced Calabria, the "toe" of the Italian peninsula, through her eyes. Seeing the countryside in this manner was a rare opportunity and I'm fortunate to have enjoyed it with my sister Lucia, another Italophile and a good sport. We can't wait to return!

Rosetta teaching a class with the chef at San Michele before lunch

                                         Rosetta Costentino's book about her native Calabria

"At the southern tip of the Italian peninsula lies an Italy that few people know: a land of fragrant citron and bergamot orchards, ancient olive groves and terraced vineyards; a place of tradition and ritual, where the annual swordfish catch and hot pepper harvest are celebrated with elaborate festivals, and where women still roll pasta dough around knitting needles."

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Memories of a Recent Trip to Calabria-Part I

                          Hot and sweet peppers hanging to dry- a common sight in Calabria in September

Posing in front of the church in the medieval town of Altomonte on our first full day in Calabria

piles of recently gathered licorice root

Licorice root grows wild throughout Calabria. Here at the famous Amarelli factory they produce and sell the finished product.

Ruggged mountains form a backdrop to the town of Civita

Here is an example of the antipasto sampler which began almost all of  our meals. The ricotta and mozzarella were fresh and often made from the milk of cows living at our agritourism lodgings, and the salumi came from their pigs. We learned to eat conservatively and save room for the following courses.

Goats at Il Mulino- they also had rabbits and cows for milk to make  ricotta and other fresh cheeses

In Civita we ate wild boar with beans, one of many courses in the Arbaresh restaurant La Kamastra

One day after lunch we toured and tasted liqueurs (including licorice) at a quaint shop

Outside we spotted figs drying and a compost bin. Fresh figs were in season and they were magnificent

         In Rossano the guy on the far right asked me to take a photo, so here he is with his three friends

        Here our group ate one of many fabulous multi-course lunches on the lawn of the charming estate Casa Solara. Then we roamed around and saw the chapel and the grounds and the citrus groves, trying to boost our appetite for another multi course, three hour dinner.

After a short bus ride through the country side, we checked into our second agriturismo called San Michele which also grew all its own products and had an elevator built in the rocks down to its own private beach. The main sitting room was filled with paintings and antiques, and light streamed in through large windows rimmed with bouganvilla that opened out onto the Mediterranean Sea.

Lucia wading in Tyrannean Sea

On our first eveing at San Michele we took the long elevator ride down through the rocks and went wading in the warm and tranquil Tyrannean Sea. The next day the elevator was broken so we bussed down to the beach and helped prepare ultra-fresh anchovies for a delicious pasta course for lunch.

Fresh Anchovy and Tomato Pasta

After lunch we all went for a dip in the ocean. The weather continued to be hot and sunny throughout our stay.

One beautiful, hot morning we toured the extensive vegetable gardens and vinyards.

Grapes ready for the harvest. We drank great local wines throughout our stay

And on our way to the gardens we passed their vintage Fiat 500 in mint condition. As if we didn't know we were in Italy!

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

A Shiny Refrigerator

 What do a shiny refrigerator and a batch of summer pesto have in common?

                                     Olive Oil

Strangely enough, olive oil is the magic ingredient in more than just Italian specialties. My brushed stainless steel fridge was dirty and stained with fingerprints and nothing I tried removed the ugly smudges. Sometimes water helped when I dabbed the stains, but drying made things worse.  I splashed and patted with both plain and soapy water but when I rubbed the surface the metal got more streaked and smeared. After years of this hit or miss approach I consulted the experts on the Internet. The very first site I checked was Coulter Clean Up. They recommended using olive oil to clean a stainless steel refrigerator. This blew my mind! How could rubbing oil on oily stains remove them? Olive oil was the last cleaning product I expected.  They rubbed it on with soft cloths made from old T-shirts or  household rags. They followed this up with a vinegar rinse. The result looked shiny and clean on their video.  Just to be thorough, I went on to check other sites which recommended water, white vinegar, rubbing alcohol and baby oil in various combinations applied with spray bottles and micro fiber cloths. The vinegar and water solution appealed to me but all I had were balsamic and sherry vinegars and I didn't have an empty spray bottle to apply them with.

After watching all these women wiping down refrigerators on YouTube videos, I was primed to clean immediately.  So, because I had olive oil and a household rag on hand, I followed the directions  of the Coulter site. I took the plunge, doused my cloth with olive oil and started rubbing it onto the metal surface. I did pick up some tips from "Clean my Space" and "SF Gate" which mentioned that you need to do the whole surface at once and that if you have brushed stainless like I do, you need to rub WITH THE GRAIN. I realized then that my former attempts at cleaning and polishing had failed because I had been  rubbing against the grain. Another life lesson!

I rubbed the entire front surface with plenty of oil, then rubbed and buffed vigorously with a clean cloth, making sure I worked with the grain and, just as promised, the surface was restored to its full, gleaming shine. I was thrilled with the result! Five days later my fridge is as bright and clean as ever, since the oil helps prevent new fingerprints from showing.

It's August, so besides cleaning metal appliances with my olive oil I've been making  PESTO . I love pasta al pesto but unfortunately pasta is sky high in carbohydrates, which I'm trying to avoid. So, I decided to experiment with zucchini noodles. I stocked up on medium size green and yellow squash, got out my Japanese julienne slicer and started to shred my zucchini. I pulled the blade down the length of the vegetables and spaghetti-like squiggles fell from the peeler. I was delighted with the colorful result until I energetically raked the blade down the last zucchini, right into my waiting thumb. The cut was fairly deep and bled profusely. Somehow I had ignored the primary rule of knife safety: keep your fingers out of the way of the blade. Life lesson #2 for the day.

Green and yellow zucchini noodles with pesto

After bandaging my thumb, and sipping some red wine, I cooked the noodles in boiling water for about three minutes. They were perfectly al dente and really quite appealing. I dressed them with pesto and grated Parmesan and I had a low carb winner. During dinner we toasted our shiny fridge and our nifty new vegetable noodles. For a great book on the subject, I recommend Peggy Knickerbocker's  Olive Oil: From Tree to Table.