Archive for the ‘Historical Figures and Events’ Category

A Sinatra Centennial Cookie

Saturday, December 12th, 2015

frankcupweb

Today music lovers around the country (and probably around the world) celebrate the centennial of the 20th century’s most popular singer. Frank Sinatra crossed generations in his appeal, then and now. He was born on December 12, 1915.

I actually fêted Frank and his birthday a bit early to avoid the rush. In August, with the help of my neighbor Alice Parker, I performed my own Sinatra concert in Charlemont, Massachusetts.

sinatra poster smaller copy

The concert was a delight. I didn’t actually try to BE Sinatra, of course. I don’t look like him, and I don’t sound like him. Instead, I tried to be Sinatra-esque in my approach to the music, working on my phrasing and feeling the melody and lyrics as much as I could.

The audience loved the evening—and so did I.

The concert was a fundraiser for the minister’s discretionary fund at the local church. We asked community members to bring refreshments to serve after the music. One of the offerings was particularly appropriate for the concert’s Italian-American subject.

Camille Azzalina White is a lively, attractive widow who directs the local senior center. Camille baked her grandmother’s Italian cookies for the concert. Everyone who tasted one fell in love. Naturally, I asked the baker to give me the recipe—and a little information about her grandmother.

Camille’s “Nana,” Marie Incoronata Danata Colantonio, lived from 1897 to 1988. Although her parents were immigrants from Frosolone, Italy (she was one of ten children), Marie was born in this country.

Nevertheless, because of a 1907 law that was fortunately changed during her lifetime, she actually lost her U.S. citizenship in 1916 when she married Angelo Melchionda, an immigrant who had not yet been naturalized. She was forced to take a test to regain her status.

Marie & Angelo Melchionda 1916

This and other vintage photos come courtesy of Camille White.

Camille grew up in a multigenerational house in Medford, Massachusetts, along with her parents, grandparents, siblings, and aunt and uncle. Her grandmother was a benevolent, generous matriarch.

“Although Nana worked full time outside the home [she was a stitcher in a factory in the north end of Boston],” her granddaughter remembered, “she found time to cook many delicious meals for her family, who always came first. Sunday meals especially became a family gathering with relatives visiting for dinner or dessert after dinner.

“In later years at different times, she was a caregiver for her ill mother, her husband, a widowed sister, and then for young grandchildren. She embraced her family with boundless love and gave comfort to others freely and without question.”

Nana making cookie frosting.web

Nana Melchionda makes frosting for her cookies.

One of Camille’s earliest recollections is of making these cookies with her grandmother, although the recipe has changed over the years. (It originally featured five pounds of flour and 18 eggs!)

“Each time I make and bake these cookies,” she told me, “I recall many happy childhood memories of family, anticipation for the holidays, and mostly so many loving times spent with my dear Nana.

“With this recipe, I continue to make new memories with my children and grandchildren….”

I’ll definitely make these cookies for Christmas this year. (I have a cookie swap coming up!) My baking will honor the Sinatra centennial—and also Camille’s Nana Melchionda.

Meanwhile, I wish a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all….

Nana's cookiesweb

Nana Melchionda’s Italian Cookies

Ingredients:

1-1/4 cups sugar
3/4 cup (1-1/2 sticks) butter at room temperature
4 eggs
1 teaspoon anise oil
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
4 cups sifted flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
confectioner’s sugar, milk, and lemon flavoring to taste
sprinkles for topping

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper or a silicone mat. Cream together the sugar and the butter. Add the eggs, the anise oil, and the vanilla.

In a separate bowl blend together the sifted flour and the baking powder; then add them to the butter mixture.

The dough will be sticky. Refrigerate it for 1 to 2 hours, wrapped in plastic wrap or wax paper, to make it easier to handle.

When the dough has cooled form rounds about a teaspoon wide (a little larger is acceptable) by rolling them between your palms. Place the rounds on the prepared cookie sheets, and press down on the top of each lightly.

Bake the cookies until they are lightly browned on the bottom, about 20 minutes–MAYBE LESS. Start looking at 13 minutes. Watch the cookies carefully as they can burn easily.

While the cookies are in the oven prepare the frosting. In a bowl whisk together the confectioner’s sugar, the milk, and the lemon flavoring until the mixture pleases you. It should be thick but not too thick.

Dip the tops of the cookies into the frosting, place them on wax paper, and add sprinkles to make them extra festive. Makes 2 to 3 dozen cookies, depending on how big you make them.

M5 Marie Melchionda

Italian Fruit Tarts

Thursday, August 6th, 2015

fruit tartweb

“What makes this recipe Italian?” you may ask. Well … I wanted to honor Frank Sinatra. The 20th century’s most popular Italian-American singer would have turned 100 this year. And I am singing in a Sinatra tribute concert this coming Saturday.

To tell you the truth, a similar tart is made in many different places around the world. If I were performing a concert honoring Edith Piaf, I would call it a French fruit tart. If I were paying tribute to lyricist Johnny Mercer of Savannah, I would call it a Georgia peach tart. But … I’m paying tribute to Sinatra so by golly it’s Italian.

My concert will be called “To Be Perfectly Frank.” I am not actually going to try to BE Sinatra—that is, to imitate him. My voice is nothing like his. Even if it were, I would remain woefully aware that anyone who wants to hear Sinatra can listen to the real thing thanks to the enormous repertoire of recordings he left.

What I want to convey is his relationship to music—the way in which he made numbers his own, the emotion he conveyed while delivering a torch song, the fun he had with his colleagues and his audiences. Sinatra had a remarkable facility for putting across a song, a strong sense of self, and an aptitude for reinventing himself. I’d love to emulate him on all of those fronts!

With a little help from pianist Alice Parker and baritone Don Freeman, I’ll perform some of my favorites of his 1000-plus recorded songs on Saturday evening. I hope the audience will approve of our choices.

Donations at the door will go to the minister’s discretionary fund of the Federated Church in Charlemont, Massachusetts. The concert will include several sing-along numbers, and I promise it won’t last too long. Refreshments will be served when the singing ends.

If you can’t make it to Charlemont this Saturday, I hope you’ll listen to a Sinatra recording and make this yummy tart. I prepared it on Mass Appeal this week and later for company—and no one seemed to have any trouble finishing the tarts, even though they were a little large for individual consumption.

The tart-shell recipe comes from Wilton, from whom I purchased the tart pans. I love the fact that it requires no rolling; one just pats the crust into the pans. You may also use an 8- or 9-inch tart pan and have only one large tart. In that case you should reduce the tart shell and pastry cream ingredients by a third.

sinatra poster smaller copy

The Tarts

Ingredients:

for the tart shells:

1-1/2 sticks butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla

for the pastry cream (crème patissière):

1-1/2 cups milk
3/4 cup sugar
4-1/2 tablespoons flour
1 pinch salt
3 egg yolks, slightly beaten
1 tablespoon vanilla

for assembly:

fresh fruit in season as needed (I used local peaches from Clarkdale Fruit Farms—wet but luscious!)

Instructions:

Begin with the tart shells. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a mixing bowl cream together the butter and the sugar until they are just blended. Add the flour and the salt, and stir until the mixture seems crumbly. (It will be dry.)

In a small bowl whisk together the egg yolk and the vanilla; drizzle this mixture over the flour mixture. Combine until the flour mixture is evenly moist; it will still be crumbly.

Divide the mixture among 6 (approximately) 4-inch tart pans. Press the dough evenly over the bottom and up the sides of the tart pans.

Bake the crusts for 16 to 20 minutes or until they are golden brown. Cool them for 15 minutes in their pans; then carefully remove them. Cool them completely before filling them. You may make them up to a couple of days ahead and store them in an airtight container.

Next, make the pastry cream. In a heavy pan heat the milk until it is hot, but do not let it come to a boil. Combine the sugar, flour, and salt in a bowl, and stir in the milk. Beat the mixture. Return it to the pan, and stir constantly over low heat for 4 to 6 minutes until it becomes thick and smooth.

Add a bit of the warm mixture to the beaten egg yolks, and then add a bit more; then stir the egg yolk blend into the rest of the pastry cream. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes, until the mixture resembles a thick custard. Cool, stirring every 5 minutes or so, and then stir in the vanilla.

When the pastry cream has cooled (allow at least half an hour for this; you may also cook it the day before and refrigerate it overnight), assemble the tart.

Spread the cream on top of the crust; then arrange the fruit attractively. Serve immediately.

Serves 6 to 8.

And now the video:

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a78HsXUYMH4[/youtube]

Cooking and Thinking in Provence, 1970

Friday, December 6th, 2013

30book "Provence, 1970" by Luke Barr.

I review a lot of books for my local newspaper. I can’t remember the last one that spoke to me as Provence, 1970 has.

Subitled “M.F.K. Fisher, Julia Child, James Beard, and the Reinvention of American Taste,” the book was written by Luke Barr, an editor at Travel + Leisure and Fisher’s nephew.

(M.F.K. Fisher, in case you haven’t read her, is another great read, perhaps the first American to write culinary essays that were taken seriously by both food lovers and literary critics.)

The book hones in on a few weeks toward the end of 1970 when six food luminaries converged in the South of France. In addition to the three writers in the subtitle, Barr writes about Simone Beck, Julia Child’s friend and the co-author of Child’s pioneering volumes on Mastering the Art of French Cooking; Richard Olney, an American writer and artist who wrote meticulously researched books about traditional French country cooking; and Judith Jones, the influential editor who worked with most of the writers involved.

Jones is the only major character in the book who is still alive. At 89 she is still cooking and writing and is a former judge at my very own hometown’s charity pudding contest, which will return in 2014.

Working from letters, diaries, and memoirs, Barr examines individuals and cultures at a defining moment. Most of his American characters had made their reputations (and built much of their lives) paying tribute to traditional French cuisine. At this point in their lives Child and Fisher in particular were beginning to feel ever so slightly oppressed by the Old World and their old lives in France … and to look forward to a new beginning in the New World.

Barr argues that this moment in food history, the time his characters spent together in Provence late in that year, marked a turning point in the way Americans write about food and consequently in the way we cook. Instead of trying to duplicate classic French modes of food preparation, we began to explore our own culinary possibilities.

Much of the food culture we now take for granted followed—including our renewed interest in local, fresh food; the status of chefs and food writers (although not this food writer yet, alas) as icons of popular culture; our curiosity about new, varied flavors; and what Barr calls the “moral dimension” of cookery in contemporary America.

Barr is careful not to overstate his argument; he doesn’t claim that these encounters in Provence CAUSED the way we cook today. He does convincingly maintain that his characters and their interactions “provide a unique, up-close view of the push and pull of history and personality.”

Provence, 1970 takes the reader on a thought-provoking, delicious tour of a remarkable time, place, and group of people. My favorite moment in the book comes when Julia Child and James Beard are improvising a simple supper in the kitchen at la Pitchoune, the small house built by Child and her husband Paul in rural France.

Julia Child and James Beard in December 1970, taken by Paul Child. Used with permission/courtesy of the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University.

Julia Child and James Beard  at la Pitchoune in December 1970, taken by Paul Child. Used with permission from/courtesy of the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University

For them, as for most of us who love to cook, the preparation of a meal is a balancing act between the knowledge and tradition they have built up over the years in the kitchen and the demands of the unique foodstuffs in front of them. It is an opportunity for creativity and for camaraderie.

I treasure Provence, 1970 for scenes like the one in the Childs’ kitchen and also for its implicit message that change can come at any age. All the main characters are middle aged, ranging from Richard Olney at 43 to James Beard at 67. Yet all are preparing for new chapters in their lives and new chapters in books.

Above all, I love the book for Barr’s sensitivity to the enduring connections that food can forge between people who care for one another and for the preparation and consumption of meals.

His words about his mother near the end of the book speak to the impulse that made me call this blog In Our Grandmothers’ Kitchens.

It was my mother, who died a few years ago, who taught me to cook. And when I make something she made for me, or with me, I feel her presence—not in any literal or even ghostly way, but in the form of an atmospheric shift, an emotional warmth. It is striking how cooking binds us to the past, and to the people we love, even when they’re gone.

As Christmas approaches, I raise a glass and lift a fork to Luke Barr and to the historical figures he brings to life in his book. And of course to my own late mother—and to you and those you love, dear readers.

Taffy and Tinky in 2009

Taffy and Tinky in 2009

P.S. If you have already purchased Provence, 1970 for a food lover on your gift list and are looking for other book suggestions, a bookstore, Amazon, or I would be more than happy to sell you a copy of my own Pulling Taffy or Pudding Hollow Cookbook. (If you order from me, you may get your copies signed—and you will be supporting THIS middle-aged food writer!)

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The Feast of Love and Hope and Gratitude

Tuesday, November 19th, 2013

turkey-card-web

This month Americans are observing many anniversaries. Today is the 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. I long for its eloquence and brevity every time I write—and every time I listen to a political speech.

The 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s assassination in a few days is dominating our television screens now almost as much as it did at the time of that president’s death.

Mulling over it repeatedly, we explore our history, our feelings about our leaders, and the difficulty of ever knowing precisely what happened in the past. (The assassination is an event that has been seen by millions of people and studied by thousands—and yet no one can be 100-percent sure exactly what happened on that day in Dallas.)

The anniversary that interests me most, however, is another Lincoln-related one. In November 1863, a week after writing and reciting the Gettysburg Address, our 16th president led Americans in celebrating our first national day of Thanksgiving.

States and communities had celebrated their own days of Thanksgiving for a couple of centuries by then. It was Lincoln who nationalized the holiday and identified it as the last Thursday in November. (It eventually became the fourth Thursday rather than the last.)

Sarah Josepha Hale

Sarah Josepha Hale

Writer/editor Sarah Josepha Hale had campaigned unsuccessfully by letter for such a day with previous presidents beginning with Zachary Taylor. It took Lincoln’s genius to identify Thanksgiving as a quintessentially American holiday—one that was particularly appropriate to a nation at war.

It is when we are feeling the most stress that we have the greatest need to be grateful. Lincoln realized that a nation at war needed to stop, take stock of its blessings, and express gratitude—perhaps even more than a nation at peace. Indeed, his original proclamation reminded Americans to be particularly mindful of those whose families had been disrupted and/or destroyed by the war.

This spirit lives on in the efforts of a variety of organizations to serve Thanksgiving meals (and bring Thanksgiving cheer) to veterans and their families. It also continues whenever those of us hosting Thanksgiving dinner invite friends, relatives, or strangers to join us for this annual feast of love and hope and gratitude.

card1web

You may see Lincoln’s original Thanksgiving proclamation at the National Archives website. And the White House website offers what it calls the “definitive” history of the practice of pardoning a turkey for Thanksgiving. I love the weird American-ness of this tradition; we pardon one turkey a year so that we can feel less guilty about eating millions of its cousins!

I’m not actually posting a Thanksgiving recipe this year—although I refer you to several of them I have posted over the years. Try the hush-puppy pudding … or cranberry upside-down cake … or even simple roasted Brussels sprouts.

Instead I offer this simple seasonal quiche. It uses a vegetable I always overbuy at this time of year, the sweet potato. (I received several with my farm share last week so I was forced to get creative.)

Happy Thanksgiving to you all … and to your families. Don’t forget to open your homes and your hearts to strangers at this time of year.

SP Tartweb

Sweet Potato Tart

Ingredients:

1 large sweet potato, cut into small pieces and peeled if you want to peel it
extra-virgin olive oil as needed
salt to taste
3 large or 4 medium onions, peeled and thinly sliced
fresh, chopped parsley to taste
four eggs
1/2 cup cream
a dash of Creole seasoning
ounces (more or less) sharp cheddar cheese, grated
1 8-inch pie shell

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Pour a tablespoon of oil into a bowl. Stir in salt to taste (start with 1/2 teaspoon). Toss in the pieces of sweet potato.

Place the sweet-potato pieces on a cookie sheet or baking pan, and roast until they are lightly brown around the edges, stirring occasionally. This took me about 1-1/4 hours, but my oven runs cool so it may take you less time.

While the sweet potatoes are cooking, splash oil onto a non-stick frying pan. Place the pan over medium-low heat. Toss in the onion slices.

Cook them slowly, stirring every 5 minutes or so, until they are reduced and softly caramelized. This may take an hour or more. Add a pinch of salt after the first 1/2 hour—and add a little more oil if you need it as you cook. When the onions are finished, stir in the parsley.

Both the onions and the sweet potatoes may be cooked the day before you want to serve your quiche; refrigerate the cooked vegetables until they are needed.

When you are ready to assemble your quiche whisk together the eggs, cream, and Creole seasoning in a bowl.

Place the pie shell in a pie pan. Sprinkle half of the cheese over the pie crust. Top the cheese with the onions and then the sweet potatoes; then pour on the cream/egg custard, and finish with the remaining cheese.

Place the tart (or quiche or whatever you want to call it!) on a rimmed cookie sheet to prevent spillage, and bake it for about 40 minutes, until the custard is set and the top is golden—but the sweet potatoes peeking out are not burning!

Serves 6.

assembling tartweb

The tart halfway through assembly

Celebrating the March on Washington

Wednesday, August 28th, 2013

Today in honor of the March on Washington’s 50th anniversary I cooked a couple of appropriate recipes on the television program “Mass Appeal.” I post the videos below.

You may see the full recipes elsewhere on this very blog. I originally made the black-eyed peas to remember the television program “Amos and Andy.”

And the pound cake, which may be made with blueberries as well as peaches, appears here.

Happy viewing!