Archives for October, 2010

The Pumpkin

Sunday, October 31st, 2010

The Pumpkin

 OK, this is going to sound a bit catty, and I’m kind of ashamed to write this at the expense of my dear friend. But I think it’s an amusing story and for a struggling writer like me, when it comes to ‘the story’; everything is fair game. 

In a previous post I wrote about my garden. The garden to the left of me is rented by my long time friend, Suni.  She’s an expat from Thailand and has been living in the Netherlands for the last 30 years.  She’s an excellent cook and avid (and competitive) gardener.  Even though we’ve been long-time friends, our relationship has been strained as of late.  Probably due to a thousand small things that neither one of us could pinpoint, but together add up to a smoldering rift. 

To start with, my oldest daughter, Rebecca, has a birthday exactly on Halloween.  Halloween, to this day, remains one of my favorite holidays.  I find it so unfortunate that it is just not celebrated here in Holland.  Last year, when my mom was here for her birthday, we carved pumpkins and, like always, I saved the seeds.  We had so much fun that we wanted to plant our own pumpkins this year from the seeds I saved.  Since I bought the already grown pumpkins last year, I have no idea what kind they were.  All I know is some were big and some were small.  I just threw all the seeds in a jar. 

This past March, I started my pumpkin plants indoors along with some butternut and acorn squash plants.  With a few weeks of TLC, I had 18 beautiful plants.  Anyone who ever grew pumpkins knows that even one plant will take over your garden, so what was I to do with 18!?  Share them, of course. So one sunny Sunday afternoon in May, I proudly brought my perfect pumpkin plants to the garden to share with my fellow gardening fanatics.  During transplanting, most of the plant markers got lost or mixed up so I wasn’t sure which plant was which anymore. So, I gave my neighbors first pick with the caveat that ‘you get what you get’ and to leave me 5 plants.  Happily, my neighbors bounced back to their own gardens, arms full with their newly adopted plants.  Suni, taking her share of plants agreed with the caveat and made a comment of letting nature take its course. 

Weeks past and toward the middle of august, my entire garden was a tangle of vines.  Their large leaves reaching sunwards.   Getting curious as to what nature brought me, I start peeking under leaves to discover a beauty of a jack-o-lantern, already the perfect size for carving.  Excitedly, I call my kids over to check it out.  Rebecca takes one look and excitement takes over her whole little body.  She immediately claims it for her own and both kids begin to dance and sing celebrating our success.  Curious to what the commotion is all about, Suni trots her small booted feet over to my garden.  “Look at MY pumpkin”, Rebecca squeals.  Suni pushes back the massive leaf; the curiosity slowly drains to confusion and then rage.  “You!!” , she howls, slowly straightening upright, her tiny gloved hand pointing a dirty finger at me, “You gave me CRAP plants!  It’s YOUR fault I don’t have a jack-o-lantern!”.  Her eyes shooting yellow venom as she spits the words at me.  In shock, I calmly tell her that I’ll share my own crop with her. “I want my OWN jack-o-lantern!”.  In a complete rage, she stomps back to her garden, screaming and kicking her own plants. “See? See?  All CRAP!!” She yells ignoring a good sized jack-o-lantern of her own that’s still growing.  At this point my kids stand frightened behind me. Their joy completely dissipated.  “Psycho Kitty”, I say out of the corner of my mouth, just loud enough for them to hear.  After she calms down, I walk over to her side of the garden as she shoots one last poisoned look in my direction. “Next year,” , I say like Queen Latifa. My finger making cobra circles in the air, “grow your own @#!*$! plants”. 

Dear Readers, you will be happy to know that she finally did grow a decent sized jack-o-lantern this year…almost as big as mine ;-).

Poor dear, she must be losing her mind to get her panties in such a bunch over a pumpkin.  To honor my dear friend, today’s recipe will be her signature dish, the National Dish of Thailand:  Pad Thai. 

Pad Thai

1 large wok

1/3 cup vegetable oil

6 cloves of garlic, chopped

1 Cup of firm tofu, cut in  ½ inch cubes

½ pound peeled raw medium shrimp (optional)

4 eggs

1 package of thick Cantaboon rice noodles (soaked in water for 3 hours)

½ Cup tamarind sauce (recipe below)

¼ cup of chives or Chinese (garlic) chives.

1 Cup of bean sprouts. 

A dash of fish sauce (optional)

Garnish:   bean sprouts, peanuts  (chopped fine),  lime wedges, Chinese chives, sugar, ground red pepper, soy sauce, fish sauce


In a large wok over high heat, heat oil.  Add garlic and stir-fry 30 seconds.  Add tofu and shrimp and stir-fry another minute.  Break eggs and wait until set, about 1 minute.  Fold to break up.  Take noodles out of the water (using your hands works perfectly for this) and put them in the wok.  Stir fry until ingredients are mixed.  Add tamarind sauce and mix.  Add chives or garlic chives and bean sprouts and mix again.  Taste.  It should have a nice balance of sweet and salty.  It should not be too dry. 

To Serve:  The idea is that the noodles provides a base that guests can customize to their own tastes.  Serve with garnishes and let the guests help themselves.

Tamarind sauce:    In a small saucepan, add 1 cup of water, ¼ cup tamarind sauce,  ½ cup brown sugar, and a teaspoon of salt.  Simmer over med heat, stirring frequently until a thin paste. About 45 mins.  Taste.  It should be a nice balance of sour, salt and sweet.  Adjust if needed.

The Cabbage

Sunday, October 24th, 2010

 The Cabbage

 The weekend is here.  That means I have my projects lined up.  It’s been a successful year in my garden and for last month or so I spent my weekends ‘putting up’. That means canning.  This weekend’s projects are canning more zucchini pickles, making jam, and to do something with a massive cabbage that was given to me last weekend.  As an active member of our local Slow Food chapter,  I helped man our stand at a food fair in Rotterdam.  The stand was decorated with fresh fruits and vegetables in order to drive home our Fresh-and-Local message. All day long I was admiring this cabbage for its sheer size.  It was massive and I was totally intrigued. At the end of the day I was asked if there was anything I wanted in return for giving up my weekend for the Slow Food cause.   With a wry smile and a sideways glance, I was heading to my car with it like a proud parent, arms barely reaching around it.  Now, after a week of rolling it around on my kitchen table I have to find something to do with it.   Either cabbage rolls or coleslaw for my entire town or a barrel of sauerkraut.  Make my own sauerkraut.  Four to six weeks of fermenting stinking cabbage. Sounds attractive.

  To tell you the truth, I’m not the biggest kraut fan but as I sit staring at this enormous green globe, I just can’t help thinking of our trip to the Alsace region of France this summer.  Choucroute l’Alsacienne or as I call it, the Alsacian Mountain of Meat.   This is a massive platter of 6 or 7 types of meats (mostly smoked pork) served on a bed of super-fine sauerkraut cooked in Riesling.   I’m drooling as I think of it.   Hmmm, Alsace, that’s story I have to write up later.  Yes.  Sauerkraut it is then.

So what does one need to make sauerkraut?  Immediately, I go to my canning bible: an ancient copy of the Ball Blue Book of Canning; it says 25 lbs of cabbage and salt.  That’s it? I asked surprised, “No vinegar?” Apparently through the fermentation phase it makes its own.  Ok, sounds easy enough.  Next problem, what to put it in?  I could buy one of these wicked expensive special sauerkraut barrels with plungers, double walling, and valves to let the fermenting gas escape.  This is interesting, but for this one shot deal, I’m not willing to make the investment and besides it just doesn’t match the décor of my kitchen. (That’s right, I should tell you this, sauerkraut needs to ferment at room temperature, and so putting it in the shed is no option).  I need something I can reuse in case this is a total flop.  I also need something to keep the stink inside, but not airtight. I googled this subject only to find horror stories of exploding sauerkraut vats caused by too much built up gas. If that would happen to me, my ever patient goddess of a house keeper, Betty, would quit for sure.  

 Aimlessly, I wonder around my town going from store to store looking for inspiration.  It has to be plastic, double walled, not transparent (I don’t really want to see this being made), and has to be the perfect shade of blue.  I walk into our local housewares shop, a sort of 5 and dime selling bits of this and that. Storage containers?  No too transparent.   Jars?  Too explosive. Then suddenly…I see it…a COOLER!  OF COURSE!! 

 To your surprise, I will admit that I don’t have a cooler at home.  I know every American has at least 1 cooler in their garage but we don’t here.  This is because we can’t buy ICE anywhere here!  You have a better shot of panning for gold in the middle of the Amstel River than finding a place that sells ice. Sure, I could make it but I don’t have the space in my freezer.  Dutch refrigerators/freezers are less than ½ the size of the ones we take for granted in the US.  But anyway, the Dutch kitchen…that’s for another story.  Back to my sauerkraut.

 I get it home, wash it out, and try to hack my way through this monstrous cabbage.  Inside, this beast is thick and rough. “I was afraid of that”, I think to myself.  But the thinner outer leaves are useable.  I’ll save the rough stuff for something else, coleslaw maybe.  Taking the thinnest leaves, I slice by hand because it’s just too big to fit in my Cuisenart. Besides, our pioneering ancestors didn’t use a machine, did they? They didn’t have a perfect blue cooler either, but hey.  It takes about an hour of hacking and then I have a coolerful of salted silver slivers ready for their 6 week transformation.  Putting the lid on, I tuck them in to peek at in about a week…I’ll keep you informed.

 Yes, I made coleslaw with the rest.  Lots and Lots of coleslaw.  Here’s my recipe, scaled down to normal size.

 American Cole Slaw

 ½ normal sized head of white cabbage, shredded

1 carrot, peeled and shredded

Handful of shredded red cabbage (optional)

1 Cup mayonnaise

1/4 cup sugar (or to taste, you try with less and scale up)

2 teaspoons salt

½ teaspoon celery salt

A dash or 2 of tabasco

 In a small bowl mix mayo, salt, sugar, celery salt and tabasco in a bowl.  Mix well and taste.  The sweet and salt taste should be really pronounced.  If it tastes ‘normal’ it will get watered down with the water in the cabbage. Adjust seasonings if needed.  In a large bowl, mix cabbages and carrot.  Add mayo mixture and mix well.  Cover and refrigerate.  It gets better the next day and is good for about a week.

The Oath

Tuesday, October 19th, 2010

The Oath

Ok, everyone.  Repeat after me.  Let’s take our solemn Cooking God/Goddess oath. 

I ,(your name here),  do solemnly swear that I will never ever use inferior ingredients in my recipes  no matter how much I am tempted to save a few pennies or use up that expired product so help me (insert your higher being here).

Yep. I did it again.  I ruined a perfectly good recipe all for the sake of saving a few cents!  This year, I was blessed with a decent crop of tomatoes.  Just as my mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother before me, when life gives us tomatoes…we stuff them.  This recipe is really nothing fancy.  It’s basically just breadcrumbs and fresh herbs, salt, pepper and parmesan cheese, a good heavy hand of olive oil and baked for about an hour or so.  Summer, defined. 

Besides the garden fresh tomatoes, the main ingredient is breadcrumbs.  As I rifle through the cabinets, I make the discovery that I’m flat out.  Donned with my ‘shopping’ backpack, I head out the door and off to the store.  Determined, I make a bee-line to the aisle.  There it is…my ‘usual’ brand for 59 cents and there right next to it…the generic brand in its much larger bright red box. For 19 cents!  Nineteen cents I tell you!  What a bargain!  Still, I stand there inspecting each box.  In one ear, I hear all my ancestors whispering to me, “Get the good stuff, Lisa. Quality in = Quality out”. In the other ear I hear my husband, “It’s a tight month, Lisa, so please be thrifty”.  After 5 minutes worth of this mental angel/devil debate, home economics beats out tradition.  The generic brand wins. 

I hurry home full of nostalgia about my mother’s stuffed tomatoes.  Crispy on the top, tender inside, and wonderfully jammy on the bottom. All held together by a thin tomato skin.  I nearly floated home.

As I mixed the squeezed tomato juice with my new purchase.  I noticed it immediately.  Instead of a nice crumbly mass, it was gooey and leaden.  Hmm, maybe if I add more oil it will help.  Ignoring the internal warnings to just throw it all away, I slid them in the oven.  Maybe some alchemy and a miracle will occur in the next hour.  After an hour, I held my breath and closed my eyes as I opened the oven door.  Feeling like a Bugs Bunny cartoon, I carefully opened one eye and then the other focusing to see what occurred in my oven.  Quickly snapping my eyes back shut with a pursed –lipped ‘eeuuuooowww’.  It was the culinary equivalent of a charred-faced Daffy Duck. Instead of crispy, tender and jammy, they look like browned cement balls.  The tomatoes under them flat, black and greasy.  What a waste of my perfect, self-nurtured tomatoes, I think to myself. Yep, and the good olive oil, and fresh basil, and garlic and my time…  All to save 40 cents!  Still dealing with the devil, I wait for a bit until they’re cooled. They taste best at room temperature, you know.   After some time, I stick my fork in my first victim. It barely goes in.  Mental flash to all my relatives doing the ‘I told you so’ dance.   Not worth the calories, I concede, as I shovel the contents of the baking dish in the trash.   Lesson learned. 

For this recipe to be truly authentic, you’re going to have to conjure up the spirit of my thankfully very much alive mother.  She never uses a recipe for this. Neither do I.  It’s all by using your taste.

Rosie’s Stuffed Tomatoes

8 ripe round tomatoes (not roma)

About 1 cup or so of GOOD unflavored breadcrumbs

1 fat clove of  garlic – pressed

Handful of basil, chopped

2 teaspoons  of dried oregano (or to taste)

3 tablespoons of parmesan cheese ( or to taste)

Salt and pepper to taste

Olive oil (vegetable oil works here too)

Preheat oven to 350 F or 160C. Cut 6 tomatoes in half from the core, cutting the core in half.  Remove the core from both sides (You can core them before cutting. Just try to keep the hole as smalll as possible)  Remove the core from both sides.  Squeeze the pulp and juice into a bowl.  Use a spoon if it doesn’t come out easily.  Try not to crush the skins.  It’s going to hold everything together in the oven later.   Cut the other two tomatoes in half and squeeze out the juice into the bowl.  Reserve these two tomatoes for another use.  Chop any large bits of pulp small. Add garlic, herbs, salt, pepper and cheese. Add enough breadcrumbs to form a soft, loose mass.  It should squish easily between your fingers. If it doesn’t, add some water.  Taste it.  The taste should have a nice balance of herbs and salt. If it tastes bland, add more salt or cheese.  Pack into tomatoes.  Place in a baking dish.  Very generously add olive (or vegetable) oil over the tomatoes, patting with your hands to flatten a bit.  Bake uncovered.  After about 30 mins, flatten gently with a spatula.  Bake another 30 minutes  or until the tomatoes are flattened and crispy looking.  Cool to room temperature or serve cold.

Live To Eat

Friday, October 15th, 2010

Live to Eat.

As a kid, I was chubby, uhh…portly…aaagghh…who am I kidding??  I was FAT!   F-A-T.  FAT!    Even as a toddler, I LOVED food.  I easily mastered adult servings of mother’s eggplant parmesan, my grandmother’s southern fried chicken and little potatoes, my aunt’s fried calamari.  You get the idea.  “You live to EAT”, my mother would scold me, “You need to eat to LIVE!”  Live to eat?  Mom, you make it sound like a bad thing!   She was right though.  Tipping the scales at 252 pounds (115 kg) at the age of 14 and doubly blessed with an unfortunate last name, I was teased and ridiculed.  Consequently, I went through my youth with a love/ hate relationship with food.

How could I not?  For me, growing up in an Italian immigrant family, food meant good times.  Food meant tradition and most of all, Food meant family. For ours and most Italian families, our culture revolved around the kitchen.  One of my very first memories was of me at the age of 3 making sausage with my grandfather.  The whole family got involved, grinding meat, mixing in the herbs, taste testing.  It was my job to poke little holes in the fresh raw coils with a safety pin. This keeps it from exploding in the pan while cooking.  It was very important work for a little one like me.  Food and Family.  No better combination. 

As a teen, I learned that doing insane amounts of sport would balance my love of good food. To release the frustration of the constant barrage of teasing, I became an avid runner and rollerblader.  At first running only late at night so others wouldn’t see me.  At the prodding of a friend, I also took up tae kwon do.  The weight flew off and I walked into my senior year of high school 100 pounds lighter.   100 pounds in 9 months!   What I wouldn’t give to have that metabolism today!  The best part of it was, for the very first time in my young life, I felt I was in control.  

How is that?  How can food be so controlling?  How can it can give you control and just as easily make you lose it. Think about it. How many times do I wake up in the morning psyched to start another day of deprivation?  The day’s menu mentally planned out; coffee and that healthy cereal for breakfast, a fruit for snack, Small salad with light dressing for lunch and steamed fish and vegetables for dinner.   Yes, Sir!  I’m going to do it this time!  I make it through breakfast all proud and confident.  With my carefully packed lunch in one hand and my laptop in the other, I head for the office.  Tick, tick, tick, tick, 10:00:  Fruit break.  Right on schedule.  Meanwhile, a colleague arrives with a chocolate tart with whipped cream and chocolate shavings.  It’s her birthday.  Immediately panic sets in. DANGER IMMINENT, DANGER, DANGER. Tightly clutching my bag of emergency carrots, I politely decline the festivities.  Yeah, I’m in control of this.  Tick, tick, tick, 11:30. Too early for lunch. Ok, maybe just a nibble.  11:45 lunch devoured.  Take a walk at lunch? Nah, got too much work to do.  Tick, tick, tick. 2:00.  Fruit gone.  Lunch gone. Emergency carrots gone.

I’m left without a net.  It doesn’t notice me, but I know it’s there.   That tart!  A good sized piece is left over, lounging there promiscuously. White clouds of sweet cream sensuously sliding  to the plate beneath. That TART!  Must resist. Can’t resist. Must….alright.  I’ve been really good today.  Just one small piece.  Carefully, I plot the course of the knife to get the maximum amount of cream and chocolate in the smallest amount of space. Bits of cream and chocolate cling  to the knife as I slice with the precision of a surgeon.  My head swirls with heady anticipation.  “This is going to be gooood.”  I say to myself.  As I replace the knife, the first forkful is on its way to my mouth. “Sweet Heaven “ as my eyes roll  back. By the time I get to my cubicle,  it’s gone.  I scrape away the last bits of chocolate and crust and toss the plate in the trash bin.  I plop down on my seat.  A content ‘yeeaaahhh’ rolls through my head.  Still savoring the lingering sweetness,  I remember the plan for the day. 

Euphoria leaches out to shock and then guilt.  Failure!  Again!  I feel  as if  that very knife that I used to cut the tart with is being rammed through my heart.  “How can I be so weak?”, I plead with myself.  Fifteen minutes of mental self flagellation gives way acceptance.  Well, the damage is already done.  Tomorrow’s another day.  Might as well have another piece. 

 The below recipe is a great way to blow your diet.  My sister and I thought of it when we were in high school.

Chocolate Cream Pie with Chocolate Chip cookie crust.

For Crust:

1 roll of pre-made chocolate chip cookie dough. –or- ½ batch home made.

½ cup flour

For chocolate cream

1/2 cup sugar

2 tablespoons cornstarch

4 ounces fine-quality bittersweet chocolate (not unsweetened)

1 1/3 cups whole milk

1 large egg yolk

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1/4 teaspoon vanilla

 Cream Topping

2 Cups chilled whipped cream

½ Cup sugar

Top with:  Chocolate shavings or toasted almond slivers


For Crust:

Heat oven to 350 F.  Knead prepared chocolate chip cookie dough with the flour on a lightly floured surface.  The dough should be no longer sticky.  Roll it in a ball and then flatten out to ¼ inch thick or as thin as you can considering the chocolate chips. (as if you were making pie crust.).  Slide the crust into a pie pan and crimp ends.  Check the crust at about 5 minutes baking time.  If the crust slid down the pan, remove from the oven and carefully slide it back into place.  If it puffs, carefully tamp it down.  Bake for 13-15 minutes until golden brown.  Cool completely.

For chocolate cream:

In a heavy saucepan whisk together sugar, cornstarch, and a pinch salt. Chop chocolate and add to sugar mixture. In a bowl whisk together milk and egg yolk and gradually whisk into chocolate mixture. Bring mixture just to a boil over moderate heat, whisking constantly, and boil 1 minute, whisking. Remove pan from heat and whisk in butter and vanilla.

Pour into the pie crust.  Cool completely in refrigerator.

Just before serving:  Whip the cream with sugar until stiff peaks form.  Pile decoratively on top of chilled pie.  Top with chocolate shavings or toasted almond slivers.    Accept rave reviews.

The Dutch Birthday Party

Monday, October 11th, 2010

The Dutch Birthday Party

This past weekend we celebrated my mother-in-law’s 60th birthday.  So in honor of her birthday, I would like to tell you about this very special annual phenomenon that one must endure to be a part of this culture. 

Before I stun and amaze you yet again with another snippet of life here in the Netherlands, let me do a quick comparison from what I remember when living in the US.    I don’t know about you, but when I was in the states our parties usually went something like this:   First of all, you start with a BBQ grill.  Yes, even in winter.  Then add enough food to feed the population of Guam, several kegs of beer, a kiddy pool filled with grain alcohol punch and all your friends and relatives. It starts out rather calmly with the big pig out and then continuing to lawn games.  From there things digress and inevitably lead to at least one person diving in the kiddy pool  and  usually then ends up being broken up at 3:00am by 3 police cars and at least one disturbing the peace charge.  Sound familiar to any of you?  Hmmm, maybe it’s just my parties then.

Now, let’s compare to here. No matter how old you are, you have to suffer through the Dutch Birthday party. When you have a birthday, you invite all your relatives into your tiny house (remember Dutch houses are tiny).  First of all your guests will always arrive on time so there is always a line at the door. When a guest arrives, he/she will hand you a bouquet of flowers and/or a gift. The gift you immediately rip open (even before coffee is served – even before they get their coats off). Then you run into the kitchen to put the flowers in water and set them along with the other 10 bouquets that you’ve just received.  

The guests will then feel free to re-arrange your furniture. They will not sit in the chairs as they are placed. They MUST be in a circle. No matter how small the house or how many guests, the chairs are arranged in a circle. We had 50 people for Marko’s party. I had people sitting on the floor just so they can be in that circle! The next step is the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen.  Every person will make their way around the circle and greet each guest. This is either a hand shake or a 3 time kiss on each cheek and then they congratulate each other on the guest-of-honor’s birthday.  It goes something like this: “Congratulations on your mother-in-law’s birthday!”  Huh?  Why are you congratulating ME?  It’s not MY birthday!  When I asked why this is done, no one could tell me.  

Then the guests get into the coffee ritual that I described a few posts back but instead of cookies, you get one piece of tart. For the remainder of the party the birthday-boy/girl will then run themselves ragged trying to keep everyone’s cup filled with coffee and tea.  No one will actually ask for a re-fill. No one will get up and get it themselves, even if the coffee pot is 2 inches from them.  They will give you a longing look, and then to the inside of their empty cup and then a hopeful glance back up at you. “Would you like another cup of coffee, Uncle Jan?”, “Why yes, please.”  If you want to see Uncle Jan have a heart attack, then tell him to help himself.  For amusement, they will then sit and have very polite conversation usually revolving around current events or politics and accompanied by long pauses of uncomfortable silence until the next topic is thrown out.  This goes on until the designated end of the party or when dinner is served at precisely 6:00pm.  No one finds it funny that half the people leave to cook their own dinner at home.  Those who stay, usually gobble down dinner and make a hasty exit.  By that time the kids are bored stupid anyway, the old people are complaining about the service and the birthday girl/boy is exhausted.  Gezellig! 

Today’s recipe is another thing that I can’t buy here, english muffins.   While the taste is spot on, you will not get the ‘nooks and crannies’ that you may be used to in store-bought ones.  But these are thicker, softer and great for making egg sandwiches. 

Homemade English Muffins (makes about 18)

1 cup milk

2 tablespoons white sugar

1 (.25 ounce) package active dry yeast

1 cup warm water (110 degrees F/45 degrees C)

1/4 cup melted shortening

5 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon salt


  1. Warm the milk in a small saucepan until it bubbles, then remove from heat. Mix in the sugar, stirring until dissolved. Let cool until lukewarm. In a small bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water. Let stand until creamy, about 10 minutes.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the milk, yeast mixture, shortening and 3 cups flour. Beat until smooth. Add salt and rest of flour, or enough to make a soft dough. Knead until smooth, about 5 minutes. Place in greased bowl, cover, and let rise.
  3. Punch down. Roll out to about 1/2 inch thick. Cut rounds with biscuit cutter or empty 2 ½ to 3 inch can. Sprinkle a cookie sheet with cornmeal and set the rounds on this to rise. Also dust tops of muffins with cornmeal. Cover and let rise 1/2 hour.
  4. Heat greased griddle on low-med heat. Cook muffins on griddle about 10 minutes on each side.  Cook until the tops and bottoms are light brown and the sides are still soft.  If they are cooking too fast, lower the heat.  Try one or two out as practice. Allow to cool and place in plastic bags for storage. To use, split and toast.   They freeze really well.  Makes about 18.

Dig For Peace

Thursday, October 7th, 2010

Dig For Peace

Living in a country where every inch of land is at a premium,  I feel truly thankful for my vegetable garden.  A ‘moestuin’ or ‘volkstuin’ as it’s called in Dutch.  (tuin meaning garden). If I were in the UK, it would be called an ‘allotment’.  My vegetable garden is not in my postage-stamp of a backyard. It’s a mile and a half away. It’s a swath of property that I rent yearly from a lovely older couple named Co and Sjannie.   While my backyard measures about 30 feet long and 18 feet wide, my vegetable garden is about 300 feet by 30 feet.  A virtual field by Dutch standards.  In my garden are a big wooden tool hut and a shabbily built but good-sized greenhouse made with scraps of wood and old single-paned windows, most broken at this point.  (Note to self:  Fix the greenhouse this fall).   My garden is part of a group of gardens, 30 or so, all rented out and in various states of use.  On the property are a few farm animals that the Co owns; a fat horse,  5 or 6 lively goats and a dozen or so sheep.  My kids love to help him feed the sheep and brush the horse.  In exchange for all the rhubarb in my garden, he gives me a steady supply of fresh eggs from the beautiful brown hens he has running free in his backyard.  They are simply the most delicious eggs I’ve ever tasted; large with rich bright orange yolks. 

In our gardens, we all participate in this Urban Barter System.  Someone with a good crop of leek will exchange with someone punished with lettuce.  Cabbage plants are traded for strawberry plants.  When someone’s crop of string beans fails, we all chip in to share our own crop.   In this little social eco-system everyone gets what they need and nothing goes to waste.  

What’s wonderful about this unique situation is the pride you get from knowing that what is set on your  table comes from your own hand.  Earth that you tilled. Seeds that you planted.  In recent years the term “Locavores” has been coined.  This meaning eating what is fresh, local and in season. What’s more local than your own back yard?     Sure, it’s a lot of work digging in the dirt in the fresh air rather than sitting in a stuffy office and then running to some big corporation

Rebecca's Harvest

supermarket . (To buy vegetables  shipped from who-knows-where and sprayed with who-knows-what?)  But it is so rewarding.  When I see my kids eating tomatoes fresh off the vine or arguing with my youngest over when to pick the corn, I know it’s  worth the effort.      Besides, what ‘s better than the smell of a carrot just pulled from the ground, or the taste of a fresh picked raspberry, or the sweet-tart crispness of an apple right off your own tree?  Not too much, that’s what!  

During and after World War II,  many countries, in order to alleviate farm worker shortages in the agricultural industry, made efforts to support their citizens to grow their own fruits and vegetables.  Thus the term ‘Victory Garden’ was coined.  While many farm workers went off to fight the war and the much of the remaining crops used for food for the troops, thousands of families on the home-front turned over plots of grass in their own back yards and started growing.  The plan was simple,  use existing land  and labour of the homeowners.  To support the war effort, home gardens started appearing everywhere. Tilled rectangles of neatly rowed vegetables sprung up in suburbia.  In the middle of cities; rooftops, windowsills, and vacant lots turned into green goodness.  Not only did it support the war effort, for families it meant so much more. Besides the obvious nutritional value of fresh grown fruits and vegetables, it was a way to work together for a common goal. It was a learning experience for children and it saved families money in a time where every penny mattered. 

Nowadays, with more and more of this earth’s agricultural land being used to support  bio-energy and a growing population, is it possible that we can one day revisit the concept of the Victory Garden and subsequently, a barter system?

Tonight we’ll be having the below recipe, using a nice butternut that came from my garden.

 Pumpkin Risotto

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 pound fresh pumpkin or butternut squash, peeled and cut into 3/4-inch dice (1 1/3 cups)

2 medium white onions, finely diced

3/4 cup dry white wine

1 1/2 teaspoons freshly grated nutmeg

About 1 teaspoon freshly ground  pepper

1 teaspoon salt

7 cups vegetable or  low-sodium chicken broth

5 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 1/2 cups arborio rice (about 11 ounces)

3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley (optional)

1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving


  1. Heat the oil in a non-aluminum medium saucepan or wok. Add the pumpkin and half of the onions and cook over moderately high heat, stirring frequently, until the pumpkin is just tender, about 7 minutes. Stir in the wine, nutmeg, white pepper and salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until most of the liquid has evaporated, about 12 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool slightly.
  2.  In a food processor, puree the pumpkin mixture until smooth. Transfer to a small bowl. 
  3. In a medium saucepan, bring the vegetable or chicken stock to a boil over moderate heat. Reduce the heat to low and keep the stock hot. 
  4. In the same non-aluminum saucepan or wok, heat 2 1/2 tablespoons of the butter until it begins to sizzle. Add the rice and the remaining onions and cook over moderately high heat, stirring with a wooden spoon, until the onions are translucent, about 7 minutes. Immediately stir in 1 cup of the hot stock and cook, stirring constantly, until all of the liquid has been absorbed, about 2 minutes. 
  5. Reduce the heat to moderate and gradually add 3 more cups of the hot stock, 1 cup at a time, stirring and cooking until each cup is almost absorbed before adding the next, about 15 minutes. Stir in the pumpkin puree. Continue adding the remaining 3 cups stock, 1 cup at a time, stirring and cooking as above, until the rice is tender, about 10 minutes longer. The risotto will be quite loose. Stir in the parsley and the remaining 2 1/2 tablespoons butter. 
  6. Spoon the risotto into 6 warmed soup plates and sprinkle the Parmesan on top. Serve immediately.

Lekker Gezellig

Tuesday, October 5th, 2010

 Lekker Gezellig

 Ok, class.  The first word in this ‘Dutch for the non-Dutch’ class is the word:  Lekker.  Lekker in the broad term means delicious or tasty.  “Lekker koffie” means that the coffee is delicious. When describing food, the word is mostly accompanied by a hand gesture of a back and forth wave next to one ear.  This is done as if you were swatting flies.  Mmmmm, lekker (wave).   While it’s mostly used to describe food, it’s also abused in many other ways.  If you were to say that a person is attractive, you would say that he or she is a “Lekker Ding”  or Delicious Thing.  If you were content to take it easy on a Sunday afternoon, you would say “Lekker Chillen” meaning Delicious Relaxing.  Ok, so there’s something lost in the translation, but you get my point.  So as you see, lekker is a good word to know in Dutch.  

 Another interesting and often abused word in Dutch is: Gezellig.  The first thing you need to know is how to pronounce it.  Some say that Dutch is not a language but a throat disease.  This is because the most remarkeable sound is the ‘G’.  No, no.  It’s not like the sound in ‘girl’ but a throat clearing sound that comes from waaay down deep.  Hhhaaaggghhhhh. Now add extra phlem and you got it. Yeah, like gargling with a mouthful of hot potatoes.  Go on  try it:    Hhhhaaaagghhhaaaazzzellihhhgggggaaahhhh.  That’s how you pronounce it.  The Dutch will claim that it does not translate to English as if in some kind of secret code or something. Loosly translated, it means ‘cozy’.  It is usually used to describe intimate gatherings in close quarters.  Since the typical Dutch living room is tiny, you can easily sum up that every gathering is …gezellig.

Another interesting thing to know when learning Dutch is that some words are very similar to English.   To make things plural, sometimes (and I say ‘sometimes’ here) you can get away with saying the English word and add an  “–en” suffix and there’s a good chance that you’ll be understood.  Examples are, if you want to have some books, you will ask for the “boeken”  (pronounced “booken”) , pens;  “pennen” ,  and so forth. However, sometimes it just doesn’t work at all.  As in an incident in a restaurant when a newly expat American ex-colleague asked for the ‘billen’ (Asked for the bill. Sounds logical, right?). This led to a suprised waiter and a round of laughter from her Dutch colleagues.  You see, ‘billen’ does not translate to “the check” or “the bill”…but it means someone’s rear end.  You can imagine her embarrassment when she found out that she asked for the waiters butt. 

 Today’s recipe is for doughnuts.  To the credit of Holland, there are very few places that actually sell these ‘Fat Pills’.  Personally,  I made this recipe out of curiosity and prodding from my oldest daughter.  I have to admit, the results were quite good and she was over the moon.

The original recipe makes 18 very large doughnuts.  Unless you are making enough for a party, I don’t know any self-respecting mother that will allow 18 doughnuts floating around their kitchen…so here is a halved recipe that makes about 9. 

 Yeast Raised Glazed Doughnuts

 1 envelope actie dry yeast

1/8 Cup warm water

¾ Cup lukewarm milk

¼ Cup sugar

½ teaspoon salt

1 egg

2 tablespoons shortening

2 ½ Cups flour

Oil for frying

For Glaze:

½ Cups butter

2 cups confectioners sugar

1 ½ teaaspoons vanilla

4 tablespoons vanilla


 Put 1/8 Cup water in a large bowl. Sprinkle yeast over water. Let stand 5 mins.

 To the yeast mixture, add milk, sugar, salt, egg, shortening, and 1 cup flour.Mix at low speed with mixer or by hand for 2 mins.  Beat in remaining flour ½ cup at a time until dough no longer sticks to the sides of the bowl.  Knead for about 5 mins until the dough is smooth and elastic.  Place dough in a greased bowl. Cover with a dishtowel and place in a warm place to rise until double volume. 

 Turn dough onto a floured surface and roll out to ½ inch thickness.  Cut with floured doughnut cutter. Let doughnuts rise, covered, on a cookie sheet until double volume.

 Melt butter and confectioners sugar in a small saucepan. Add vanilla and mix until smooth.  Remove from heat. Add water a tablespoon a time until thin. 

 Heat oil in deep fryer or large skillet to 350F (175C)  Slide doughnuts into hot oil.  Turn over when golden brown (about 1 minute). Remove from oil and drain on a rack. Cook up the holes too J.   Dip in glaze on both sides while still hot. Decorate with your favorite sprinkles.

The Italian Pickle Press

Sunday, October 3rd, 2010

The Italian Pickle Press   

 I’m going to take a small vacation from telling you about my take on Dutch culture to offer something a bit different.  The zucchini (courgette)  gods were very generous this year.  The 2 plants in my garden punnished me with 5-6 per week, sometimes as many as 5-6 a day.  For a while there,  I tried to hide zucchini in everything…chopped in chili, fried, soup, mock crab cakes, and in chocolate cake.  I even made an  ‘apple’ pie from a marrow ( a zucchini that grew so big that it formed a hard shell) .  I peeled and seeded a marrow and used it instead of apples in an apple pie recipe.  No one new the difference or at least didn’t admit they knew.  I sit now staring at  9 zucchinis in front of me.  Its October for goodness sake!  When is this punnishment going to end?!  I decide to make another batch of zucchini pickles.  My family loves zucchini pickes, the bread-and-butter kind. I love the way they squeak under my teeth when I bite them.  I google for another recipe.  The recipe for Zuni Café’s zucchini pickles springs up.  Hmm, it seems to have all the same ingredients.  But there is one fascinating difference.  These pickles are made in this thing called a Japanese Pickle Press.  Another, hmmm.  I don’t have one of those, I think to myself greedily.  Now folks,  I LOOOOOVE kitchen gadgets.  My house is busting with gadgets that I just had-to-have.  After the small fantasy of gloating to my friends that I ‘own’ an actual Japanese Pickle Press diminishes,  my curiousity as to what it is takes over.  The letters get carefully typed in the search engine.  Up comes images of my future acquisition.  I look over this contraption. To me, it looks like a small rectangular plastic, covered fishtank. Afixed inside is a spring-loaded plunger.  To keep the contents under the brine, I guessed.  Price 30 dollars.   $30 for a plastic fishtank with a plunger?  NO WAY!!!  My bubble burst.  When my grandmother was alive she made pickled eggplant. She had what I called, the Italian Pickle Press.  This contraption consisted of:  A stainless steel soup pan. A dinner plate big enough to fit inside the pan, and a 5 pound bag of sugar to weight it down with.  Cost: $1.29.  and you get to use the sugar.   I’ll be using this today, substituting a large jar of peanut butter because I ran out of sugar.    

The components

Assembled, it looks like this

   I slice:     

 5 thin zuchinis in circles about 1/8 to 1/4 inch think.   

 1 large onion quartered and thinly sliced    

That goes into said soup pan.  I add:     

 about 5 tablespoons of salt.    

   Mix well. Put the plate in the pan on top of the zucchini and the weight (sugar, jar etc…) on top of the plate.  Let this sit at room temp for about 1 hour.  That’s enough time for me to run to the store to buy sugar.   

   When I get home….I put in another sauce pan,   

   3 cups of distilled white or cider vinegar, (I use white because cider vinegar is really expensive here 

A Pack of Perfect Pickles

  1 ½ cups of sugar   

 1 teaspoon celery salt or celery seeds.   

  2 teaspoons ground tumeric   

 A few cloves (do not use powdered or you’ll get brown brine)   


 2 tablespoons of mustard seeds.   

 Bring to boil.      The salt will have caused water to be released from the zucchini.  Drain this off, and (optionally) lightly rinse.  Drain thougoughly.  Add the zucchini to the boiling liquid.  Bring to boil for 2 minutes.  Pour into extra clean jars or a large bowl with a lid.  Let cool and place in the refrigerator.  It will keep for about 3 months.  If you want to store them on the shelf, pour in sterilized jars and process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.  E-mail me if you want to learn more about canning.