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  • giovannaz Sep 10 11:22 AM - Comment
    Preserving summer
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    Vintage Cakes
  • giovannaz Jul 1 9:27 AM - Comment
    commented on Beans and ricely yours.

    Beans are just about my favorite food. And there is something wonderful about the challenge of putting together a dinner from the cupboard--avoiding another trip to the store and saving money. A challenge that ends with a perfect dinner. What could be better?

    We had a dinner like that last week--I’d cooked some white beans the day before, and when it was time to get dinner I slowly stewed some onions in olive oil, and added the beans and their syrupy broth along with some thyme sprigs and parsley. While they heated I thinly sliced some chorizo--not much, just enough to flavor it all--and stirred it in at the end. It was delicious.

  • giovannaz Apr 1 11:44 AM - Comment
    commented on Baked treats for Japanese relief.

    In Portland there will be two locations for the bake sale: Ristretto Roasters (3808 N. Williams) and Barista in the Pearl (539 NW 13th). From 10 to 2, rain or shine!

  • giovannaz Mar 29 8:23 PM - Comment
  • giovannaz Feb 17 9:30 AM - Comment
    commented on Magic powder.

    Hi there--my understanding is that a sourdough starter is generally used together with additional yeast in bread.

    From Wikipedia: ‘The other manner of using sourdough starter is common for making quick breads or foods like pancakes. It involves using baking soda (and sometimes baking powder) to neutralize some or all of the acid in the starter, with the acid-base reaction generating carbon dioxide to provide lift to the dough or batter in a manner very similar to Irish soda bread. This technique is particularly common in kitchens where the starter is intentionally kept off-balance, with a substantially high acid level, and is particularly associated with areas such as Alaska.’

  • giovannaz Dec 20 11:42 AM - Comment
    commented on Eggnog how-to.

    Nancy, I’ve found eggnog isn’t always a good cross-cultural drink as well. But I refuse to give up--I like it too much! The original recipe called for equal parts cream and milk, so I’ve always just used half and half.

  • giovannaz Dec 17 8:32 AM - Comment
    Eggnog how-to
  • giovannaz Nov 14 5:17 PM - Comment
    added to favorites
    Swiss Chard Pancakes
  • giovannaz Nov 3 10:58 AM - Comment
    Tuesday with Dorie
  • giovannaz Sep 3 6:17 PM - Comment
    commented on Slaughterhouse three.

    Thanks for giving us this really interesting piece about the other side of raising chickens.

  • giovannaz Aug 17 11:08 AM - Comment
    commented on World's best apple.

    It does take a mind shift to start eating apples in August, when there’s still berries and peaches to be had--but with Gravensteins it’s well worth it.

    My mother and grandmother always used Gravensteins in their applesauce, which they put up in quart jars every summer. I only do it once every few years, more often freezing slices to use in pie or applesauce throughout the winter.

    Thanks for reminding me to watch for them!

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Bake Sale for Japan

From Giovanna’s Trifles at Culinate by
March 29, 2011

Like many, I found it difficult to imagine how I could help after the earthquake in Japan. And it felt close. My husband travels frequently to Japan on business (he was supposed to fly through Tokyo the day after the quake. He has colleagues there, we have friends there.

Then I read Ruth Reichl’s post, ‘Why Food Matters’, written in response to a twitter upset (it was all resolved very civilly, on both sides).

She writes: “But in the face of ongoing disaster, it is also our moral responsibility to appreciate what we have. That is why cooking good food for the people that I love is so important to me; in a world filled with no, it is a big yes.” And I agree with her.

Here’s a great chance to do just that. Last year, Samin Nosrat had a bake sale in the Bay Area to benefit Haiti earthquake relief, and raised $23,000. This year she’s helping people across the country join in the baking (and donating and eating!). As of today, there are bake sales planned in 18 cities and counting.

One of them is here in Portland. We are excited to join Samin’s nationwide effort by bringing both home bakers and professional bakers together to raise some big money for Peace Winds Japan, a partner of Mercy Corps. On Saturday, April 2, stop by between 10 AM and 2 PM at either Ristretto Roasters, 3808 N Williams, or Barista in the Pearl, 539 NW 13th Ave.

There will be baked goods from home bakers, as well as many Portland professionals and bakeries, including Kim Boyce (‘Good to the Grain’), Alma Chocolate, Fleur de Lis, Little T’s, and many many more. What’s not to love?

For more information about how to help out here in Portland, email Elsewhere, check the national Bakesale for Japan website!

Thanksgiving Rehash

From Giovanna’s Trifles at Culinate by
November 30, 2009

By now everyone’s turkey is probably gone. You’ve eaten your turkey potpie or turkey hash. We had ours, of a sort, last night--a big pancake of mashed potatoes mixed with browned onions, gravy, and turkey, browned ‘til bored. The cook that is. Well, until the cook is bored, not browned. Anyway. Hopefully your turkey carcass is already simmering on the stovetop. But before we get pushed into the next holiday, I wanted to linger a little bit longer over Thanksgiving.

With both my daughters in Europe this year, ours was a small affair, just the four of us (myself, husband, son, and niece). I guess I’m a traditionalist at Thanksgiving. For me it’s not so much because I can’t imagine Thanksgiving without exactly this stuffing and that pie. It’s just that I really like the meal, and it’s the only time I have it. I like its simplicity but generosity (what other meal can you think of with all that starch!). I like the fact that it takes lots of time to prepare, but much can be done ahead. I like the way the cranberry relishes and pickled beets sparkle like jewels on the table, and, inevitably, add their mark to the tablecloth. And I like the way that, in the end, even if the turkey is a little dry, or the brussel sprouts are a little overdone, it’s still Thanksgiving. Nothing ever changes that.

One of the great rites of passage for exchange students seems to be pulling together a Thanksgiving dinner overseas. Kids whose cooking experience was pretty much relegated to baking chocolate chip cookies suddenly decide they really need to prepare a feast, complete with five side dishes and desserts made out of generally unavailable, or at least hard to find, items (sweet potatoes, cranberries, brussels sprouts, pumpkin...). Never mind that chances are their host families will fail to appreciate the value of a pumpkin pie, or candied sweet potatoes. Thanksgiving is de rigeur.

They do it partly out of homesickness. But mainly, I think, it’s because Thanksgiving, while originally a harvest celebration, has become (at least for my city-dwelling kids) a celebration of home. And they want to share that in their new home, with their new families. It’s their innate generosity.

So this year, Francesca, barely 17, put on her first Thanksgiving dinner, for an Italian family. It meant that the week before my email was full of questions about making pie dough and gravy, and how many potatoes to cook (I was the wrong person to ask--I mistakenly prepared 10 pounds for 4 people this year). Meanwhile, Grace (in the Netherlands) was putting on her fourth Thanksgiving dinner overseas, and she was sending me a few messages as well. I had to laugh. Fact is, I almost always call my own mother with some of the same questions.

Both girls pulled off wonderful dinners. Francesca wrote to say that her family dressed up for her dinner, and they ate in the dining room, reserved for Christmas and other very special days. Her host father even put on a tie. Grace blogged about her dinner (good reading!), and I’m pleased to report that she’s learned to find home wherever she travels. A valuable skill.

And me? I missed my girls, but was happy to be with the rest of my family. After dinner, we went to dear friends, who really are family, for dessert. And then we settled into four days of leftovers, pie for breakfast, and general thankfulness for pretty perfect lives. And a simmering turkey carcass.

I’ll Never Stop Going Back to Gourmet for Seconds

From Giovanna’s Trifles at Culinate by
October 5, 2009

Hearing about the end of Gourmet Magazine is not a good way to start the week. It feels a little bit like being kicked in the stomach; I was surprised to feel the tears welling (though, I have to admit, it shouldn’t be a surprise…I’m a big crier).

There’s the obvious: Gourmet magazine has been, in my life, a constant. I used to sit in front of the shelves of old copies my mother owned (I think they went back to before she was married), in the back room of our house. They were housed in those cardboard magazine holders, each one holding a year of issues—or more (from those days with fewer advertisements—ironic, no?).

The old ones connected me to another time and place—it was in Gourmet I first read any Joseph Wechsberg stories, with their romantic visions of Central Europe—who knows how much that had to do with my marrying Pavel, my Czech-born husband?

It seems to me that Gourmet followed a perfect arc, and did things right. They started out showing Americans a world of elegance and possibility. As it—and we—aged, it moved on to introduce us to maybe less glamorous, but still exotic places. And it asked us to grow up, and to take some serious looks at things—in their 2004 story about trans fats, for example.

I suppose I feel like a favorite great-aunt died. You know the type--she had been a WAC during WWII, and lived in New York City after, working for magazines. Her letters arrived monthly, and every few years she’d show up for a visit, full of stories from her life full of travels and people completely separate from my life. But she also knew all the stories about my family. And she kept up until the end--curious about where the world was going, and never wanting to stop taking part, always wanting to stay in the conversation.

Today I’m looking at my October issue with a new eye. I am curious about people’s complaints that the magazine had recipes that were too complicated; with too many hard-to-find ingredients. Take the recipe for Turkish doughnuts with Rose Hip Syrup in ‘Sweet Life’. Sure, it calls for cardamom pods, dried rose hips, and rose water—possibly items not as easily available in some parts of the country as in mine. But how can you not want to try them—and if you can’t manage to actually make them, aren’t they the kind of doughnut you’d enjoy having in your dreams?

But in the same issue, you’ll also find recipes for Brown Butter Pound Cake (made with ingredients you likely have on-hand), which sounds simple enough but also inspired. Or the quick (15 minutes active, 30 start to finish) Peppery Pasta Carbonara with Poached Egg.

And then there are the selfish reasons I’m brokenhearted. I will always remember the day I innocently opened an email with the subject line: Cookies. I’d long since forgotten I’d sent a story in, and there it was. An email from John Willoughby, saying they wanted to buy the story, and (if that wasn’t already enough), that both he and Ruth had loved the story. I’m sure you can imagine what sort of a dream come true that was for a writer. I was lucky enough to publish two stories in their magazine, and corny though it may be, I have to say I feel truly honored to have made it into their pages.

I’ll never stop going back for seconds to Gourmet.

Can She Bake a Cherry Pie?

From Giovanna’s Trifles at Culinate by
July 7, 2009

That is the question. I brought some sour cherries home from the market and announced my intention to bake a pie. My daughter, who’s home from college for a month, asked if she could help. “I need to learn how to make pies.”

Funny. Because just a few months ago my mother was visiting. And when she came, I told her I wanted to make pies with her--so I could learn, for once and for all, how to make a decent pie. Fact is, it makes a lot more sense for me to have faith in my mother’s pie-baking acumen than it does for my daughter to hope to learn at my knee!

For starters, my mother wrote the book. Well, one of them, Chez Panisse Desserts--and it’s the one I use. How could you not, when you have the author on auto dial for advice?

If you’re going to make a pie, it makes no sense not to make the crust. That’s really the main point. Otherwise, make a cobbler or a crisp. Or eat a bowl of iced cherries (though probably not sour ones). I basically follow my mother’s recipe, though these days I use lard and butter instead of shortening and butter. Her ratio, from Chez Panisse Desserts (makes enough for one double crust pie):

· 2 cups flour
· 3/8 teaspoon salt
· 1/8 teaspoon sugar
· 5 tablespoons cold salted butter
· 6-1/2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter
· 3 tablespoons lard
· 3 tablespoons plus (if needed) 1 teaspoon ice water

If I don’t have salted butter, I add a bit more salt; if I’m short on butter I use more lard. Nice thing about lard--like shortening, it ensures a flakier crust. Unlike shortening, it tastes good, so you’re not sacrificing flavor for flakiness.

I tend to be shy about pressing together the dough, fearing a tough crust. That means my dough often falls apart. I’ve long since come to terms with the fact that any perfectionist pastry chef genes that run in my family skipped me. Just because I can’t make a pretty pie to save my soul is no reason to go through life pieless. So I persevere. Because while I can’t make a perfect looking pie, if you’re going to err with pie dough, err on the side of flaky, falling apart crust rather than perfect looking-tough eating crust.

For my filling I combined one-quart pitted sour cherries and 5 large apricots, sliced. To that I added 3 tablespoons flour, and 2/3-cup sugar. And a capful of kirsch.

I piled the fruit into the chilled pie crust,topped it with a chilled pie crust lid, and waited for it to soften enough to crimp the edges together.

Here’s where I put my non-perfectionist genes to work, crimping the edges together as best as I can, knowing that however it comes together, in the end, I’ll have a cherry pie. The top gets brushed with an egg yolk/milk wash.

I don’t think Grace will learn much from me about baking pies. If pressed, I’d co-op a local motto into pie-baking advice: Just do it! Don’t wait for a special occasion. Make that crust. Don’t worry if it’s not pretty.

I’d rather advise her in an area closer to my heart: eating pie. If there’s a pie in your midst, with a flaky crust, and plenty of fruit, drop everything. Except for a fork.

Buttermilk Soup

From Giovanna’s Trifles at Culinate by
May 1, 2009

‘Buttermilk soup’ may not stir up a mouthwatering image for many. How about Kærnemælk Koldskaal? Still nothing? Oh well. In our house, it’s one of the dishes that we eat every year, but not year-round. Buttermilk Soup is something my family always looks forward to welcoming back in the spring.

The soup is made with nothing but buttermilk, eggs, sugar, vanilla, and lemon (rind and juice). Whipped to a froth, it’s chilled until suppertime, when you top it with butter-and-sugar-enriched oats.

The oat topping is made by melting butter (a lot), adding sugar (a fair amount) and then toasting oats in it. Kind of like granola. But you’d be pushing it to consider it a breakfast (though your kids might try to convince you).

There’s a small window of time when Meyer lemons are still available in stores (or on the trees of visiting Californians) and the days are heating up, that is perfect for buttermilk soup. Today is that window. I wouldn’t exactly call it hot--with a little luck we’ll get to 70 today--but I won’t have Meyer lemons much longer, and buttermilk soup is especially good with them.

I first ate Buttermilk Soup 30 years ago, as an exchange student on a Danish dairy farm. My family had pretty fawn-colored Jersey cows, whose milk had an exceptionally high fat content. I’d been a nonfat milk drinker, but quickly adjusted to drinking large quantities of the creamy milk--I never looked back. In the summer, my host mother made Kærnemælk Koldskaal. This refreshing dish was usually served as an after-school snack; sometimes it was a light dessert. I believe many Danes eat it (ate it?) as a light supper.

Now I usually make it for a dessert on a hot day. But I’ve been known to serve it for supper.

Buttermilk Soup

serves 4 for supper, 6 for dessert
adapted from ‘The Art of Scandinavian Cooking’ by Nika Hazelton

3 eggs
juice and rind of 1 lemon (a Meyer lemon is especially nice!)
5 tbsp sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 quart buttermilk

· Beat the eggs well
· Add the lemon juice and rind, sugar, and vanilla to eggs, and beat until pale and fluffy
· Whip the buttermilk until frothy (I often just shake the carton vigorously
· Slowly beat buttermilk into egg mixture
· Chill until serving

Traditionally the soup is served with oatcakes, but sometimes also with whipped cream. Newer recipes suggest such things as crumbled biscotti or amaretti cookies. I imagine crumbled gingersnaps might be nice. But I especially like the oat topping.

Oat Topping

1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup sugar
2 cups oats

· Melt butter
· Stir in sugar
· Stir in oatmeal
· Fry over medium heat until oatmeal is golden brown

If you want to be fancy, you can pack the mixture into moistened custard cups, and chill. I prefer to not be fancy. We just put the pan of oat topping on the table, and let people load up their bowls.

Our Daily Bread

From Giovanna’s Trifles at Culinate by
April 21, 2009

I don’t really need to be reminded how important bread is. For me, it’s a mainstay—probably the last food I’d give up. I also realize how precious it is; lately I’ve even taken to wiping the crumbs off the bread board and putting them in a bag in the freezer, saving them for a future rhubarb betty and to sprinkle on pasta.

I’m particularly lucky, since I live in Portland, home to a few fine bakeries. My favorite is Ken’s Artisan Bakery, where a few times a week I go for my 1.5 kg country brown loaf. This morning I walked up to find they were closed. They’d had a fire last night—luckily, a passerby (at 2 AM!) alerted the firefighters, and more serious damage was averted—apparently it was close to getting into the rafters, which would have been disastrous. Ken’s hopes to be selling bread again by the end of the week, maybe pastries as soon as this afternoon.

When you hear about something awful happening to a family, you give your kids an extra hug. This fire does a similar thing to me. As I said, I didn’t need this wake-up call—but I got one. What if the fire had destroyed the bakery? I’ll give my kids an extra hug (they’re going to miss their breakfast toast the next couple mornings!), but I’ll also give local bakeries some extra business. They can all use it these days, fire or not.

And when Ken’s is up and running, I’ll just have to drop in a couple extra times over the next few weeks…for some canneles, or one of their upside-down cakes.

You say Arugula, I say Rocket

From Giovanna’s Trifles at Culinate by
March 10, 2009

Somewhere along the way, arugula got a nasty reputation. If you search for arugula on wikipedia, you get directed to the entry for Eruca Sativa. There you’ll see that it’s a member of the Brassicaceae family, along with other humble vegetables like cauliflower, broccoli, and turnips.

Why did eating arugula become the kind of thing that could get you branded as an elitist? When did it become necessary for political candidates to think twice before ordering arugula off a menu? It’s hard to imagine such a to-do over a leafy green. I mean, how can a plant so easy to grow (even a non-green-thumb like myself has trouble keeping up with its production) be elite? Surely no one would consider gathering dandelion greens from the front yard (or an abandoned lot) to be privileged—so what’s wrong with arugula?

When I first ate arugula (I’m taking a chance here, but since I have no interest in running for political office, here goes…) back in the late 1970’s, we called it roquette. That’s right, a (gasp) French word. If you think Italian is bad, think about the heat all things French have taken lately—or even just the things that alluded to France, a la French Fries. If we could turn those into Freedom Fries, just imagine what roquette might have become: Red, White, and Blue Greens; Victory Cress, or maybe Patriot’s Salad. I kind of like the last name. It recalls Thomas Jefferson, who, after all, planted arugula in his kitchen garden at Monticello, and wrote of it as one of the essential kitchen garden plants.

Thirty years ago or so, when my mother first put arugula into our salad, in my memory no one in the family cared for it. In fact, we thought it was awful—the unfamiliar bitter taste was shocking. Actually, my mother insisted she liked it. I have no reason to doubt her, but I have to admit that as a child I suspected her of that typical, age-old mother trick: saying anything to get a kid to eat something that was good for them.

At some point, tastes changed. You might think it was just growing up, and the mature me learned to like it. But I don’t think it’s that simple—I’m pretty sure my father wasn’t crazy about it that first time, and, likewise, my kids have eaten it mixed in salads for a long time. Today, one of my family’s favorite pasta recipes, from ‘Chez Panisse Vegetables’ is made with roasted potatoes, arugula, rosemary, and onions. Just the other night I made a sort of shepherds pie, layering mashed potatoes with leftover ham and plenty of arugula. It was a hit with the whole family. This is one case where familiarity doesn’t breed contempt.

I’ve been writing about arugula here, but that’s not what I call it. I call it rocket. According to ‘The Gourmet Cookbook’ it’s called that in Britain and on the West Coast. But I have to admit, here on the West Coast, most people and menus I run into call it arugula. And everything I read suggests that Jefferson also called it arugula.

The fact is I call it rocket because I know how to say rocket. Despite being named Giovanna and having a reasonable grasp on the basics of Italian pronunciation, I can never remember if arugula is pronounced uh-roo-*guh*-luh or uh-roo-*gyuh*-luh. I’m pretty sure it’s the first, but I’ve heard the other and it confuses me.

Perhaps if I’d seen the musical ‘Fanny at Chez Panisse’ and heard the song ‘Arugula, Arugula, Arugula’ I’d remember the right way to say it. But I didn’t. So I’ll just call it rocket.

Food #9--Fruitcake.

From Giovanna’s Trifles at Culinate by
February 26, 2009

I love fruitcake. Well, good fruitcake. I absolutely don’t understand how it inspires such hatred. Dried fruit, nuts, bourbon. Aren’t those the 3 basic food groups?

When I was an exchange student living in Denmark, lonely at Christmas, my aunt sent me one. Not the really good kind--this was a very blond one, not alcohol soaked, and little to no cake surrounding the nuts. But I was homesick! I opened the box with my host family. My host sister (who’d lived in the US the year before) immediately started talking about how disgusting, dreadful, and repulsive fruitcake is. The family agreed it sounded awful.

I took the cake upstairs (they ran a neat house, everything in its place--apparently fruitcake’s place was not their kitchen). And in the next 2 days, I ate the whole thing.

On the second night, after dinner, my host sister asked me when they could sample the cake. I had to admit I’d eaten the whole thing.

I hope I’m not responsible for giving them the idea that Americans overeat and have no willpower.

Baking mishaps--Food #8

From Giovanna’s Trifles at Culinate by
February 20, 2009

My earliest baking memory is of making peanut butter cookies with my friend, Cathy. The recipe called for a dash of salt. We were a little unsure how much a dash was. Turns out a dash is less than either of us imagined.

My earliest baking experience was a bit of a failure. I like clearly written recipes now, and tend to follow them carefully.

Yogurt--Food #8

From Giovanna’s Trifles at Culinate by
February 17, 2009

Caroline's post about making yogurt reminded me of this revelation: When I was 15 I spent a summer in Europe with my best friend. I know. Lucky. Besides learning to like beer, I fell in love with French yogurt.

It was creamy and somehow less tangy than most of the plain yogurt available back in the states in 1978. That is, when you could even get plain yogurt--more often it was flavored with gloppy fruit at the bottom. My parents had told me a story before about a friend who smuggled sausages back into the states under his hat, and I was inspired. The night before I was to fly home, I carefully washed out a Noxema jar, and filled it with yogurt to use as a starter when I got back home.

Sadly, I don’t even remember if I ever made the yogurt. But I am inspired again to try--this time I’ll probably just use Straus or Trader Joe’s brand (sadly no trip to France on the horizon).

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