Archive for the ‘Eggs’ Category

Salami and Eggs and Abe

Tuesday, February 12th, 2013
My Father

My Father

Today would have been my father’s 94th birthday. Abe died in 1998, and I think of him every year on his birthday … just as my mother thought of HER father every day on his. I miss him, but I enjoy remembering his wise, funny spirit.

I have learned a few things in the past year about my father. As most of you know, my book about my mother is coming out in June (look here for a preview!). The book deals mostly with her last year, but I couldn’t write about the end of her life without meandering a bit through the rest of that life. My research and writing about her inevitably led to my father.

Here are three of the things I have learned recently about Abe Weisblat.

1. Abe actually considered becoming a farmer.

My father’s family came to this country from Poland when he was a little under two years old. At some point in college, he became interested in agricultural economics—in large part, I think, because he saw that field as a way of helping poor agrarian people in the United States and abroad move into parity with their urban, often richer, neighbors.

He was never interested in actually GROWING things—or so I thought! In one of my mother’s scrapbooks, however, I came across an article about him in the November 1943 newsletter of the Hillel Foundation of the University of Wisconsin (where my father went to graduate school). It says:

At present Abe is a graduate student in [agricultural economics]. He hopes to own a 120 acre farm and teach at the University someday. Added to all this is an interest in sports, a lust for square dancing, and a hobby of collecting first editions.

I have a feeling that the desire to farm (along with the love of square dancing) disappeared sometime within the next year as my father did a little work on a farm near the university. Here he is with his friend Ervin Long in a radish patch. My understanding is that my father managed to grow exactly one radish and never tried growing anything ever again.

ABE with Erven Long 1944 web

Abe (left) and Ervin rest after their labors.

Still, it’s fun to know that he actually considered farming.

2. Another fact I have learned is that my father wrote letters home from a trip he took in the winter of 1946-1947 to Occupied Japan. (I had known about the trip but not about the letters.) He was then working for the Department of Agriculture in Washington. He and a few other social scientists were borrowed by the Army to conduct a survey of American forces in Japan to determine what new dress uniforms the troops would like to wear.

The topic was so bizarre that many of his friends thought he was actually spying, that the uniform survey was a cover. He always maintained that the survey was genuine, however. And he was emphatically NOT the spying type.

His analysis of the plight of the residents of the cities he visited–which included Tokyo, Osaka, and Nagoya–is heartbreaking. He went on this mission at the coldest time of the year, and his heart went out to people trying to stay warm in a country that was still pretty much bombed out. He was highly critical of the U.S. military personnel he met, who frequently took advantage of the Japanese.

I’m hoping to write an article about these letters soon; they are insightful and touching.

My father took this photo of bomb damage in Nogoya in February 1947.

My father took this photo of bomb damage in Nagoya in February 1947.

3. My last big revelation about my father isn’t a revelation at all, but a reminder. He was deeply thoughtful and very smart. Here is an excerpt from a letter he wrote to my mother in 1953 (they were briefly separated during a trip to Europe) after visiting the cathedral in Toledo, Spain.

The Cathedral dominates all—for there is none comparable to it in Europe. The wealth of South America and Spain is in that church. It’s hard to describe—iron grill works that have to be seen to be believed, treasures that defy description, a gold replica of the church, one of the loveliest Madonnas encrusted with jewels, the jewel of the El Greco collection. At least 24 of his greatest works—illuminated manuscripts—one magnificent altar after another. Its structure is elaborate Gothic and simply goes on and on.

But I must say that it left me with a completely different feeling from Chartres. At Chartres I felt I understood why people came to worship God. Here all I felt was the power of the Catholic church—its ability to command an edifice that combines all the wealth of many centuries. It’s proud of its church and rightly so—but to worship in it would leave me in awe and fear—it’s so grand—so bewildering—so mystical. Chartres was warm—it felt like you were where God would be kind and listen and be with you. At Toledo he would simply look down.

I love the way in which his prose moves from a description of architecture and decoration in a church to what the architecture and decoration say about hierarchy and theology.

This is the only photo I have of my father from that trip in 1953; here he is in Holland with my mother and my older brother.

This is the only photo I have of my father from that trip in 1953; here he is in Holland with my mother and my older brother.

I could go on and on, but I know I have to stick a recipe in here. So here is one of Abe’s standbys.

He was emphatically NOT a cook. As I wrote in my last post about him, when he was alone his favorite evening meal was a martini accompanied by pickled herring on matzo. He enjoyed this repast because he could get by with washing only a glass, a small plate, and a fork. And he believed that putting several olives in his martini gave the meal balance.

One of his other favorite meals was salami and eggs. This particular recipe does involve a small amount of chopping and a small amount of cooking. Nevertheless, it calls for only two ingredients. And the chopping and cooking take five minutes tops. My father could eat salami and eggs for breakfast, lunch, or supper.

Luckily, my dear friends Peter and Ken sent me a special treat for Christmas from Zabar’s. (They know that one of the things I miss most about the New York area is kosher food!) The New York Sandwich Kit included pastrami, corned beef, deli mustard, rye bread, and kosher salami—all in a cute little Zabar’s insulated tote.

My family and I polished off the other meats and the bread almost immediately, but we knew that the salami would last for a while in the refrigerator so I have only recently opened it. I’m enjoying hugely … as I am enjoying remembering my father.

cuttingweb

Salami and Eggs

Ingredients:

2 slices (between 1/8 and 1/4 inch thick) kosher salami
2 eggs
(You may add a little pepper if you like—but you don’t really need to. And there’s enough sodium in the salami to preserve your guts for weeks so don’t worry about salt!)

Instructions:

Cut the salami slices into 5 or 6 pieces, and cut some of those pieces in half.

Pop the salami pieces into a small, nonstick frying pan over medium heat. (In the olden days my father didn’t use a nonstick pan, but believe it or not kosher salami isn’t quite as fatty is it used to be, so the nonstick pan helps.) Toss them around until they brown.

Whisk the eggs together, pour them over the salami pieces, and quickly toss and cook.

Depending on hunger and time of day (and what if anything else is being served), this serves 1 to 2. I ate most of a recipe for lunch yesterday, with a little left over for my dog.

I leave you with one more dear quotation from Abe. This was on the back of a postcard he sent to my brother and me  when we were very little, after his first visit to the Parthenon.

There is a lovely story that God’s hand touches those who have seen the Taj Mahal and Parthenon. NOW I know why—and someday he will touch both of you.

eggsweb

Greek Eggplant Pudding

Tuesday, August 31st, 2010

 
We are not holding our traditional Pudding Hollow Pudding Contest this year. My schedule and my mother’s health make it uncertain that I’ll have the time it takes to put it together in October.
 
Nevertheless, as fall approaches I think fondly of this fun event. (You may see photos of last year’s festivities here.)
 
Contestants almost always enter more sweet puddings than savory, but I have a soft spot in my heart and palate for the savory ones.
 
The recipe below is for what may be my all-time favorite pudding entered in the contest, the Greek Eggplant Pudding from Nancy Argeris of Hawley, Massachusetts.
 
I ran across a small eggplant at a farm stand the other day and was inspired to throw together a miniature version of the recipe with my mother. We loved its slightly salty, eggplanty warmth. 

We used the tiny eggplant plus 2 eggs and about a third of everything else. We probably could have made the whole recipe since the pudding is delicious the next day. As it was, we finished it off handily with a little help from Truffle, who like me is a sucker for feta cheese.

Her pudding supper filled her up nicely and sent her right to sleep.

 

 
The pudding takes a bit of time to put together as it has three stages—soaking, baking, and baking again. None of the stages is difficult, however.
 
The Pudding
 
Ingredients:
 
2 medium to large eggplants
Kosher salt for sprinkling
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil (more or less), divided
1 large white onion, finely chopped (I used a sweet onion as that’s what I had in the house)
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
6 large eggs
1-1/2 cups crumbled feta cheese
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano or 1 teaspoon fresh (I tend to use a bit more)
 
Instructions:
 
Peel the eggplants and cut them into 1/2-inch rounds. (For my smaller version I made the rounds a bit narrower.)
 
Place the eggplant slices in a colander, sprinkling salt on each layer as they go in. Let them sit with the salt for 45 minutes. Half an hour into this process, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
 
When the eggplant slices are through sitting rinse and dry them thoroughly. Lightly oil a baking sheet and place the slices on it, turning so that both sides have been oiled. Bake until the pieces soften, about 30 minutes.
 
In a small sauté pan sauté the onion and garlic over medium heat until the onion becomes translucent. In a medium bowl whisk together the eggs. Stir in the crumbled feta, the oregano, and the onion mixture.
 
Oil a 3-quart baking dish and put a layer of eggplant at the bottom. Pour about 1/3 of the egg mixture on top. Repeat the layers, ending with the egg mixture.
 
Bake for about 30 minutes, until the mixture sets. (Avoid overcooking the pudding. It doesn’t have to be brown.) 

Serves 6 to 8.


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What Fannie Farmer Means to Me

Tuesday, January 12th, 2010
Fannie Farmer around 1900 (Courtesy of the Boston Public Library)

Fannie Farmer around 1900 (Courtesy of the Boston Public Library)

 
Like many American home cooks I own more cookbooks than I can use. Over the years hand-me-downs from family members, birthday gifts, and impulse purchases have brought more than 100 volumes to my kitchen shelves.
 
Whenever I decide to try preparing a dish I’ve heard about but never made, I rummage through those shelves energetically, comparing versions in various culinary tomes and searching for the recipe that appeals to me most.
 
Nine times out of ten at the end of this ritual quest I end up holding the same book in my hands: The Fannie Farmer Cookbook.
 
This basic cookbook, the use of which I inherited from my mother and her mother, celebrated its 114th birthday a few days ago.
 
The original 1896 edition was the product of the original Fannie Farmer, a zealous but engaging businesswoman.
 
Fannie Merritt Farmer was born in Boston in 1857, one of four daughters of a printer and his conscientious homemaker wife. The Farmers were not wealthy, but they did place a high value on education.
 
Redheaded Fannie, the brightest of the lot, was originally destined for college. Her education was derailed when as a high-school student she became ill with what scholars believe was probably polio. It took her years to learn to walk again.
 
She would not find her true calling until she reached 31, when her family and the woman for whom she had been working as a mother’s helper encouraged her to enroll in the Boston Cooking School.
 
The school, which specialized in training teachers and cooks, was part of a late-19th-century movement toward scientific cookery.
 
Farmer succeeded so well in her studies that at her graduation she was asked to serve as assistant to the school’s director, Carrie M. Dearborn. When Dearborn died a couple of years later Farmer was viewed as the obvious choice to take over the school.
 
She increased its enrollment by broadening its appeal, recruiting as students young women training to be homemakers rather than cooks. In 1901 she split off from the Boston Cooking School to start her own highly successful culinary academy, Miss Farmer’s School of Cookery.
 
Before that departure, however, in 1896, Farmer took charge of revising and expanding the school’s main textbook, The Boston Cooking School Cookbook. She approached the Boston publisher Little, Brown about putting out a trade edition, arguing that it would sell well to the general public.
 
(Courtesy of Michigan State University)

(Courtesy of Michigan State University)

 
With shortsightedness they must have rued long afterward, Little, Brown’s representatives refused to take on the project. They did allow themselves to be persuaded by the self-confident Fannie Farmer to serve as her printers and distributors for the book.
 
Farmer paid the costs of publication and consequently took home the lioness’s share of the profits when the book enjoyed the success she had anticipated. The 3000 copies of the original printing sold out quickly, and the book saw yearly reprintings and frequent revisions until Farmer’s death in 1915, when it was taken on by other authors and editors.
 
Now known simply as The Fannie Farmer Cookbook, the book is in its 13th edition.
 
Three major factors accounted for Farmer’s popularity as a teacher and as a writer. First, she had faith in herself and in her profession. “Progress in civilization,” she wrote in the first chapter of her cookbook, “has been accompanied by progress in cookery.”
 
Second, she enjoyed her work and expected her students and readers to enjoy preparing and eating food as well.
 
Laura Shapiro, who devoted a chapter of her book Perfection Salad: Women and Cooking at the Turn of the Century to Farmer’s accomplishments, explained, “While other cooks always insisted that their own preferences in food were simple and austere, Fannie Farmer liked to eat and didn’t mind saying so.”
 
Her enthusiasm for food—plain and fancy, sweet and savory—communicated itself to those around her.
 
Finally, in an era in which cooking was still to a great extent an inexact science, Farmer streamlined its practice. She was known as “The Mother of Level Measurements.”
 
Shapiro recounted what she acknowledged as the probably apocryphal tale of a Boston Cooking School student who was confronted with recipes calling for pinches of salt and pats of butter the size of an egg. The student supposedly asked Farmer how big those pinches and eggs were supposed to be.
 
Perhaps in response to this sort of query, Farmer applied herself to the task of defining and reinforcing exact measurements. “Correct measurements are absolutely necessary to insure the best results,” she asserted in a section of her book titled “How to Measure.”
 
“A cupful is measured level … A tablespoon is measured level. A teaspoon is measured level.”  
 
This 1899 advertisement illustrates Fannie Farmer's authority as a food expert.

This 1899 advertisement illustrates Fannie Farmer's authority as a food expert.

 
My maternal grandmother, Clara Engel Hallett, studied under Fannie Farmer. The adopted child of well to do Vermont farmers, my grandmother was sent by her foster parents to take a course at Miss Farmer’s School of Cookery around 1910 in order to prepare for the culinary obligations of marriage to my grandfather.
 
My grandmother is now dead, and I never had the sense to ask her while she lived exactly what she learned at Fannie Farmer’s school.
 
From my many years of observing her in the kitchen—and my perusal of Farmer’s first edition—I would guess that my grandmother learned to respect the basic food groups. Even when dining alone she never served dinner without a salad course and some kind of bread.
 
I also surmise that her sweet tooth was reinforced by her months at the school. She clearly agreed with Farmer’s dictum that “pastry cannot easily be excluded from the menu of the New Englander.”
 
She took pride in her food’s appearance as well as its taste and always wore a frilly apron when she dished up a meal. And she passed on her love of basic cookery to my mother, who passed it on to me.
 
As well as valuing its inherent usefulness, then, I cherish my Fannie Farmer Cookbook (actually cookbooks; I have four editions and hope to collect more) for the ways in which it connects me to other people. Something about this substantial volume of substantial foods brings my grandmother into the kitchen with me.
 
It also brings in my mother, who is a darn fine cook but who would be lost nevertheless without her 1965 edition of the cookbook.
 
It keeps me in conversation with my friend Pat Leuchtman, who favors the 1959 version. “I like it because it was my first cookbook—and because I never go away empty handed when I turn to it with a question,” she explains.
 
And of course it gives me the benefit of the wisdom of more than a century of experts on, and lovers of, cookery, from Fannie Farmer herself down to the current author, Marion Cunningham.
 
“Today, more than ever,” Cunningham wrote in the 1990 edition of The Fannie Farmer Cookbook, “I sense a hankering for home cooking, for a personal connection to our food.”
 
To me Fannie Farmer helps provide that connection.
 
ffnowweb
 
Fannie Farmer’s Safe Soufflé-like Substance
 
This egg dish isn’t in the current edition of The Fannie Farmer Cookbook, but it definitely appeared in the one with which I grew up. I think it was called American Cheese Fondue.
 
I have made it without the Creole seasoning (it wasn’t in the original recipe), but I like the little zing it adds to the recipe.
 
With or without extra zing the dish is what food writer and editor Judith Jones calls “nursery fare”: tasty comfort food that is easy to eat and digest. It uses ingredients that are almost always in the house, and it can be thrown together into a simple, satisfying supper very quickly.
 
It doesn’t puff up like a true soufflé–but it doesn’t deflate like one, either!
 
Ingredients:
 
1 cup scalded milk
1/4 cup soft bread crumbs (I usually just crumble up bread)
1 cup small pieces of store (Cheddar) cheese
1 tablespoon sweet butter
1 teaspoon Creole seasoning or 1/2 teaspoon salt
3 egg yolks, beaten until they are thick
3 egg whites, beaten until they are stiff
 
Directions:
 
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 1-1/2 quart casserole dish.
 
In a saucepan combine the milk, bread crumbs, cheese, butter, and seasoning. Cook, stirring, over low heat until the cheese and butter have melted and the mixture is relatively smooth. Remove from the heat.
 
Stir in the egg yolks; then gently fold in the egg whites. Don’t worry if some egg white remains visible.
 
Pour the mixture into the prepared casserole dish. Bake until much of the top turns a warm brown; this should take between 20 and 30 minutes. Serves 2 to 4, depending on appetite.
 
souffleweb

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