East of Paris Bookstore

Monday, February 28, 2011

Bigos -- Hunter Stew

Last week Mr. Wonderful cut out an article from The Wall Street Journal about Bigos - A Royal Ragout and handed it to me.  Bigos is a hearty stew made from root vegetables, mushrooms, shredded preserved cabbage, and a variety of meats [depending on what you snag during the hunt].  It is famous in Poland.  In fact, the last time we ate it was in Kraków, the medieval and early renaissance capital of Poland.

Kraków is a gem and mercifully escaped destruction in the wars of the 20th century. From the Royal Castle on Wawel Hill to the Cloth Hall in the central market place, there is much to see and explore -- all within easy walking distance. There is also much to eat!  We have stayed at the small, historic, luxurious Copernicus Hotel and have enjoyed its delectible restaurant. But for Bigos, we are ready to return to Pod Aniołami. The restaurant's name means "under the angels" and comes from a decorative cherub faience set in the wall above the entry door.  In other words, you enter by going "under the angels" and then proceed downstairs to an early renaissance courtyard followed by a series of dining rooms.  Even though Bigos is a winter dish, we ate it in the heat of summer in the shade of the courtyard.
One of the tricks to a good Bigos is to serve it the second or third or later day, when the flavors of the ingredients have merged. I did not have the time to gather the ingredients [forget about hunting] and to make a proper Bigos before the start to Great Lent.  It is also a dish best made in quantity, so for the two of us, we'd have Bigos for days if I were to make it. Thankfully, Polana provided the perfect solution by shipping frozen Bigos from Chicago.

When Mr. Wonderful handed me that recipe clipping, I took it to mean that he wanted me to make Bigos. Perhaps he just wanted to fly to Poland and make a reservation at Pod Aniołami. But, it is February, and Mr. Wonderful will just have to make due eating Bigos in a southern California winter instead of the snows of Kraków.


He did not complain and had seconds of bigos.  Afterwards, we ate Poppyseed sweet bread, also sent from Polana, and drank hot coffee.

Polish Cooking, RevisedP.S., while the recipe in The Wall Street Journal is very good, my favorite is in Marianna Olszewska Heberle's book Polish Cooking. In fact, all the recipe's I've tried from this book turn out very well.

P.P.S.  a brief word about preserved cabbage.  Many eastern European recipes call for sauerkraut.  In eastern Europe, this is cabbage that has been stored in a brine solution and naturally fermented.  [Similar to the base cabbage in kimchi.].  It is not cabbage that has been soaked in a water-vinegar solution.  The latter is more crunchy and sour than the naturally fermented version.



Saturday, February 26, 2011

Blogging

I have not been blogging as frequently as before or as much as I would like.  There are a number of reasons for my slower pace including the desire to resuscitate my other blog, which deals with financial issues for women [i.e., money honey].  I am still struggling to come up with a better name for that blog, now called Real Liberation.  Mr. Wonderful says that no one talks about "women's liberation" any more, so the name sounds dated.  [I don't mind his observation, but it would have been nicer if accompanied by a suggested new name.]  The other thing that has set me back time-wise is trying to learn WordPress.


Many of the blogs I read covering a wide spectrum of topics use and tout WordPress.  As I have discovered these last few months, WordPress is much harder than Google's Blogger tool.  Each of these blogging platforms has pluses and minuses and its own idiosyncrasies, so I was not going to give up just because the WordPress templates that I bought were not as simple to activate, tweak and use as the Blogger templates.  To help me I did what I usually do in these situations, I bought a book and searched the Internet.


WordPress For Dummies, 3rd EditionWordPress For Dummies, 3rd Edition, seemed like the place to start.  It gave a good explanation of the pros and cons of WordPress.com versus WordPress.org.  It provided a lot of other information but none of it really "stuck" in my head.  Next, I found the Christina Hills Website Creation blog.  This website provides a lot of useful information and positive encouragement. Christina Hills also teaches workshops on WordPress, but so far her schedule and mine have not meshed.  


To move things along, I decided to outsource and found a local website design and development service.  Local includes people in India, which adds a 12-1/2 hour time zone delay to everything. And, it seems that the templates I bought are not as flexible or malleable as I'd thought, so we are having a few customization challenges.  I'm almost done with the outsourcing help.  But, I could not resist another foray to the bookstore.  


Building a WordPress Blog People Want to Read (2nd Edition)This time, I think a found the perfect book for my needs.  No, it's not "WordPress for Idiots" [which does not exist but best expresses my level of understanding; actually, I should have been looking for The Complete Idiot's Guide to WordPress, which I only discovered today].  The book that has come to my rescue is Building a WordPress Blog People Want to Read (2nd Edition) by Scott McNulty.  This book is clear and to the point with many illustrations and bits of humor thrown in.  I have read it with a yellow highlighter in my hand and feel that it will be a handy reference until I get used to WordPress.  I think I'll also sign up for a Christina Hills workshop because they look like fun.


P.S.  If you have any ideas for a catchy name for a blog about women, money and finance, please send them along.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Café à la Turque with Music

After writing my post on coffee, I finally decided to take the time to make some ... and blog about it. A key to Turkish coffee is time. Even though the demitasse cups are small, the coffee must be sipped slowly: partly to enjoy life and partly to let the grounds settle and not get in your teeth.


In order to get into the coffee making mood, I recommend some background music. Apropos are Dave Brubeck's Blue Rondo A La Turk
and of course, Mozart's Rondo Alla Turca, played by Alicia de Larrocha
Then there is the coffee ... it must be very finely ground, almost powdery.

illy Caffe Scuro Fine Grind Coffee (Dark Roast, Black Band), 8.8-Ounce Tins (Pack of 2)

I have an almost antique can of Sultan coffee that I keep in the freezer.  I also keep some illy espresso coffee for more frequent use.  Both work well.

Next, which cezve (i.e., coffee pot) to use?  It depends on how much coffee I will be serving ... I have four pots holding from 4 to 10 cups, meaning demitasse cups.  When the coffee is ready, it must be served immediately ... no standing around for later or reheating.

A copper hand coffee grinder and various "cezve"
Once I've got the music playing and have selected the coffee, the pot and the demitasse, here is how I make the brew ... of course there are variations.

Method I

Water:  Fill the coffee pot by measuring cold water into the demitasse cup. Say, for 3 cups of coffee fill the pot with 3 demitasse cups of cold water. The pot should not be more than 2/3 full.

Sugar:  Add sugar to the water in the pot. How much?  It depends. I don't use it at all; but others like some sweetness. An easy approach is to use 1 sugar cube per cup, then next time adjust up or down per your preference. Even though I have seen it done, I do not like to add sugar afterward into the cup because it stirs up the grounds.

Coffee: One teaspoon per cup. Depending on the strength preferred, it can be a flat, rounded or heaping teaspoon.

Waiting for the pot to boil
Brewing:  Bring the water and sugar in the pot to a boil. Remove from the heat, add the coffee and stir. Put the pot back on the heat. As the mixture comes back to a boil, the coffee will rise to the top. Just as the coffee reaches the top of the pot, remove the pot from the heat, at which point the mixture will sink back down. Then, bring it up to a boil a second time and remove from the heat.  Bring it up to a boil and remove once more for a total of three times.  At this point the coffee is done and there is a foam covering the surface of the liquid.  Sprinkle a few drops of very cold water on the foam ... this helps the grounds to settle.  Pour carefully into the demitasse cups making sure there is a bit of foam in each one.

A quick photo before the coffee boils over
Method II


All the proportions of water, sugar and coffee are the same as in Method I.  But, this time, put the coffee and sugar into the pot first and heat them together.  Once the coffee warms it gives off a lovely aroma at which point you pour in all the water and bring the mixture to a boil and remove from the heat three times before serving.

Ah, nothing is as good as a cup of coffee, except another one with friends.





Monday, February 14, 2011

Nutty Pasta

I rarely cook with lemons. My mother has three lovely lemon trees, each a different variety, so why buy them?  But, when visiting my mother, I tend to forget to ask for lemons.  That was not the case this weekend.  I spent a few days with my mother and on a brilliant and warm Southern California Saturday went into the garden to pick a dozen ripe aromatic lemons.  If I really wanted to make a fuss, I could even call them "estate grown, hand picked, organic" lemons.  


On Saturday morning, Mom and I happened to watch an episode of French Food at Home with Laura Calder and saw her resicpe for Nutty Pasta. The recipe struck a chord: Nutty Pasta called for orange -- well, the lemons outside would substitute nicely.  Nutty Pasta also called for a variety of nuts -- I always have walnuts, almonds and other varieties in my freezer. As for the mint, I would skip that -- one can only push Mr Wonderful so far.


Once I got home, I floated the suggestion of a different kind of pasta to Mr. Wonderful. He was mildly interested. I made my version of Nutty Pasta on Sunday night. Success! We both liked it. Thank you Laura Calder for the inspiration.
And to make things even better, we drank a bottle [yes, a bottle, after all it was the night before St. Valentine's Day] of Laetitia Brut Cuvee sparking wine. A perfect match ... just like Mr. Wonderful and me.
Non-Vintage Laetitia Brut Cuvee On Sale!
While the official proportions for Nutty Pasta are here, my variation on a theme is as follows:


  • 2 ounces almonds, shelled
  • 2 ounces pine nuts (toasted)
  • 2 ounces walnuts, shelled
  • 1 bunch fresh flat leaf (a/k/a Italian) parsley leaves
  • 12 ounces spaghetti
  • Kosher salt
  • Splash olive oil
  • Parmesan cheese, for grating
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • Juice of half the lemon
  • Celery Salt and Pepper to taste

Put the nuts and herbs in the food processor and whiz up. The mixture will be fine, but should still have texture, not be completely pulverized.

Cook the spaghetti in boiling, salted water until al dente. Drain. Toss in a bowl with the nuts (reserving some for garnish), olive oil, cheese, lemon juice and zest, celery salt and pepper to taste, if using. Serve immediately

Note:  this dish absorbs olive oil as rapidly as eggplants are able to do.  I recommend that  the splash of olive oil be heavy handed.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Workspaces of Creative People

Ann Althouse is a law professor at my alma mater and a blogger extraordinaire.  


Today she had a link to Workspaces of some highly creative people. I noticed it because I have blogged about where I write after a nudge from the Writing with Style blog.


I think seeing people's workspaces is fascinating. It gives me ideas for how to arrange things and provides relief about living in [or is it "with"] a mess. 



Thursday, February 3, 2011

Souvenirs

Have you ever bought a souvenir while on a trip and then forgotten about it or wondered why you ever bought it?  Me too.  


While looking for something in a drawer, I found a felt wall hanging that I bought in Kyrgyzstan at the children's center where we saw a felt making demonstration.  I blogged about it here.

The little wall hanging is naive art at its purest ... made by young Central Asian artists, it features deer in abstract forms.  It at once reminds me of the cave paintings in Font de Gaume, France and of Indian sand paintings in the American Southwest. 


I could not bear to put it away and walked around the house looking for a place to hang it.


Once I found the right spot, it was obvious.  The felt deer from Kyrgyzstan have joined a bronze one from Bali.  The herd is complete.



BFF goes Rogue

In response to the emails, comments, and calls I've received asking about Draga the doggie, I am pleased to report that her recvery from surgery is amazing.  Her appetite is back and making up for lost meals.  Her energy level is higher than ever.

While her plastic "Elizabethan Collar" has to stay on until Monday, she now uses it like a weapon.  Gone are the days when the collar would touch a wall or piece of furniture and stop her in her tracks,  Now she powers through using the Collar like a hook to move chairs or tackle the other dog in the house.
The other dog stands in the entrance hall and is a heavy wood sculpture by Galen Hansen.  We have a number of Hansen's paintings but only one of his rare sculpures, to which Draga took exception.  Somehow she hooked him with her Collar, dragged him a few feet, knocked him over, and broke his front paws.   We'll get it fixed, but if I ever take him to the Antiques Roadshow, he won't even be worth "two in the bush."
Originally I put the Chien Lunatique sign on the sculpure; now it ought to go on Draga!

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