cakes, prose, woes -- the photos, food & thoughts of a french-speaking seattle-native in brazil

In the end, you're just happy you were there—with your eyes open—and lived to see it. -AB
In the end, you're just happy you were there—with your eyes open—and lived to see it.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Opa! Speak the Greeks

Sparta or Spokane?--ok I won't go that farSpokane is a crispy bleached cracker of a cultural wasteland. That's exactly what has been told, believed, and lived by this part-time resident. There are two types to be found in Spokane: poor in-landers, a few rich in-landers, and then a bunch of conservative outsider rich white kids. For the most part, yeah it's all true. But only for the most part mind you. In that small crack left out of the "most" in the "part" there is oftentimes found something quite charming, and characteristically unexpected. Even in Spokane we have sparks, and on a luke-warm September evening one of those unexpected niches was found across the street of god-knows no-where in the form of souvlaki, calamatas, and feta. Oh yes the Greeks are in Spokane, maybe only twelve, or fifteen, but they are here, and they can cook. On y va.

The first Greek Orthodox community in America was founded by Greek merchants in New Orleans in 1864. During the colonial period the Greeks were among the first to arrive on the American shores accompanying the Spanish into many parts of Florida and along the Gulf of Mexico. The great majority of Greeks arrived in the United States in the early 20th century as a result of the Balkan Wars (that would be Balkan league vs. Ottomans x2) and then of course the Great War. Today there are over three million people of Greek heritage or decent living in the United States, though mostly concentrated along the eastern seaboard. An attribute of the title "Greek town" would most likely befall Chicago, Detroit, Boston, and New York, though there are thousands of Greek communities pocking the nation, communities that for the most part are set and revolve around the Greek Orthodox Church.

Greek Orthodoxy is a branch of Eastern Orthodox Christianity with surprise! A primary membership makeup of Greek ethnicity. The Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in Spokane, WA is one of these. The members of the church are comprised of people with origin from Armenia, Belarus, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Eritrea, Greece, Lebanon, Romania, Russia, Serbia, and Ukraine--now this is Spokane, so it will be safe to say that out of that list Ukrainian will be the majority. Service is given and sung in English, Greek and Slavonic languages with an aim at keeping the base traditional. Marvelous. Annually to raise money for the church, the community holds a Greek dinner festival in which traditional food and products are sold. This year marked the church's 73rd year, a marker that signifies the resilience and strength of the concept of cultural tradition. If something like this can survive in Spokane, no matter how small, it can undoubtedly survive in your neighborhood.

So what's for dinner. Sizzling in row upon row of carnivorous goodness were to be found souvlakia, greek shish-kabobs of chicken or pork (hmmm hey where's the lamb? hmm) that are marinated in lemon and herbs. Each kabob is then slapped down on a grilled pita and covered with a tzatziki. So gluten free-ers, we're going 50% here, just toss the pita.

Along with the meat was offered an assortment of Greek salads including orzo pastas with feta, bean salads, olives, and dolmas--my particular favorite. Dolmas are grape leaves stuffed with rice, herbs, nuts--they come in myriad variety and are found throughout Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and the Balkans. Salty Linguistic lesson: Dolmak is the Turkish verb to stuff, therefore a dolma is a stuffed thing. Now you know.

Loukoumades, the Greek version of the elephant ear or beignette, were available for purchase from a verbose mustached man half-hanging from his cart. The deep fried dough puffs drizzled in honey and sprinkled with cinnamon are quite the popular festival fair no matter what the ethnicity. Baklava, wedding and moon cakes, cheeses, tinned fish--all proudly up for sale. It's not perfect, there's missing vast building blocks that make up traditional Greek cuisine, but it's a start. It's a taste. It get's one thinking.

Tiny. Homegrown. A small, backyard event this was. But perhaps it is far better that way. A certain spark accompanies something that tries to survive, something that exists somewhere unexpected. It's like the candle above the fireplace mantle, though the heat is taken from the roaring mammoth below, we light him none the less. We like to see it's shape though small; its own little teardrop of light. This is American cuisine, finding what people have brought to us. Sitting in the "beer tent" with my fellow festival going amigos--we laugh aloud, "hey, this is what Hercules ate" and then, with our olives, we walk home.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

A Land of Milk and Honey

Braided Honey Bread with a little ImmigrationMilk and Honey. A phrase of goodness, sweetness, abundance, hope--is there anything you wouldn't lick with milk and honey on it? Don't answer that. A land of milk and honey is a land of opportunity. Thinking of the ingredients one is pulled to the thought of immigration, well at least I was, though inversely. Throughout Americas golden age of immigration (17th century through the 1930's) the term has held repertoire for lady liberty's shores, and has enticed millions, like bees to a daisy, to emigrate with dreams of soaking their bread crumbs in the flowing sticky-sweet Venetian streets. Consequently, rarely was there ever much honey, hell milk would make for quite nice eh. What is a history of the United States if not a study of immigration? Such an invitation as well may be extended to all of the Americas for that matter. Our lands are made of milk and honey, figuratively speaking, but what a nice pair of ingredients, wouldn't you agree. On y va.

Can you tell that i'm back in school yet? Perhaps taking a history class on immigration? Just wait I'm in a Mexico history class too, we'll have some aroz com leite coming up. Hehe. Don't worry though, I will not be making Texas Toast in honor of my course on US westward expansion. I draw the line of dorkiness only just past the dignity level. Any and all information and historical facts mentioned will not be cited, for they will derive from lectures attended and from what I somehow manage to keep in my head. So citation of information here will go to Dr. Irish, Dr. Montezuma, and Dr. West.

When we look at the history of immigration to the United States the primary thought is ah the British! But collectively very few Brits ever made it to the shores of New World. American immigration must be analyzed in sections distinct from one another: first the colonizing wave which includes Europeans and Africans through the slave trade. The second is immigration following independence up until the early twentieth century. And then finally the mid to later twentieth century.

Ok ok, yes the first US colony was founded by the British, Jamestown 1607, but they were not the first ones here. I know I need not mention the cod to you, but don't forget that the Spanish and the French were already past the Appalachian mountains by this point. Almost a century prior the Spanish were in Florida, crawling along the coast of California, and settling the American South West. The French were already masters of the Great Lakes, sailing down the Mississippi River to New Orleans, and making their way into the interior via route of the Indian fur trade. Spaniards and French: Americas first immigrants. Now who doesn't like Cajun gumbo and Spanish Florida? oh yes we owe much to our first immigrants.

Focusing on the European colonists stuck between the mountains and the sea during the colonial era, we see a makeup of stationary farming Germans settling in Pennsylvania, over 100,000 Scotch-Irish (Scottish, not Irish at all) taking on that bandit "frontiersman" role of hills people, Scottish Highlanders settling in South Carolina and Jersey, the Irish coming in as indentured servants (slave laborers), the Dutch in New Amsterdam, what we call New York, French Huguenots, Spanish Sephardic and Dutch Jews from Brazil (yeah are you confused?) and then of course a few of those Englishmen cowering in the corner of a minority complex. These are the first people (the first people after the murdered native population) that peopled this country, that created this country. A nation of immigrants drawn to the milk and honey who tried to make bread of it.

There is a bread recipe coming, I promise. (the above photo is my entry for this months Click The Photo Contest themed Crust)

Following the revolution, the vast majority of immigrants were, well the Irish. The years 1820 through 1920 have been coined the century of immigration in which America received 4.5 million immigrants comprised mainly of, again the Irish, but also Germans, Scandinavians, and later the Italians. Though the great famine held significant weight during this century, political and religious sanctions against Catholics also helped lead to the great depopulation of Ireland. By the late 19th century the Irish made up at least 15% of the population in each of the fifty largest cities. So truly why are we to say British North America when in fact it should be Irish North America? And why am I not making an Irish soda bread then? Consequently the Irish are not known for cuisine, though while in Galway I did chance upon a remarkable cabbage soup.

The major wave of immigration ends in the 1930's. Why? Well if you were in history class with me you would hear IMMIGRATION ACT of 1924 that's why, which the yell of is a startling deja vu from a few years past. The other great waves of immigration consist of immigrants from Asia and Latin America. But we'll talk about them at another time. Though they came as well for milk and honey, so, if we owe our land, our people, our who we are to milk and honey, we should use it more often. If there is an American cuisine, it should be milk and honey. Not the Italian, Greek, Chinese, Mexican, pizza, hotdog what-have-you that makes up what we eat in this country as "american," but milk and honey, a food stuff that by definition must have preceded the immigrant.

Honey & Milk Almond Challah style bread:
(Yes I did make a yeast bread--and braided it too. A Salty Cod first) This bread started from a recipe for Challah, a Jewish sweet braided bread, but like everything I do i feel i am so much better and must change things, and bake it Hawaiian style in a skillet.

Ingredients: 4.5 cups four ~ 2 eggs ~ 4 tbsps olive oil ~ .5 tbsp yeast ~ 1 tsp salt ~ 5 tbsp sugar ~ tsp cinnamon ~ 1 cup warm milk ~ 2 tbsps honey ~ almond extract

method: 1) in a bowl (with your arm) whisk one cup of the flour, sugar, yeast, salt, cinnamon 2) add milk, 2 eggs, olive oil, and 2 honey. 3) mix, and then slowly add all of the rest of the flour, then obviously it will be too thick to stir and you will need to kneed with your hands. 4) kneed dough 4 minutes, roll in olive oil then place in bowl, cover, and wait 2 hours. 5) cut dough into three equal pieces and roll each out like a robe. 6) cross them at the middle, and then braid them like hair, keep them stretched. 7) wrap it around the inside of a heavy black skillet pan and pinch tight together the ends, then cover and let rise 1/2 hour. 8) squish the whole thing down very hard with a pan or something, then beat an egg mixed with honey and olive oil and completely wash the whole thing 9) bake in a preheated 350 oven for 30 minutes, 15 minutes in wash with a mixture of hot honey and almond extract. 10) remove from oven, and sprinkle with almond slices, well i would have if i had some.

Honey butter spread: whip butter, some honey, and a little powdered sugar. But shhh! don't tell anyone that honey butter is just butter and honey, you will lose the goddess aura.

This clearly has nothing to do with the fact that I am currently taking a history course on Immigration to America at my University. Nahhh. I wanted an excuse to make some bread, we shall attribute it for what it is; hey whatever inspires right? America the melting pot has been debunked. Instead we see America as a salad, but not a tossed salad. That phrase has been ruined for me (thanks editor). But a salad in which there are eggs, tomatoes, pears, green beans, and even tuna all making each other taste better. Somewhere in that salad is a vinaigrette, hopefully with a little milk and honey.

Bake a braided bread to remember that we're all a bunch of braided strands. There are so many differences here in these American countries, but that's what makes us the same. That we are different.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

In a Perfect World

there are eggsHow eggstraordinary, eggcelent, eggceptional--are there not but one thousand corny though cliche options to form a cheeky yet oh so clever jeux des mots with the incredible edible egg? That eggsasperating debate of who preceded who, the chicken or the egg? And did the chicken really only cross the road to get to the other side? The idioms endure endlessly toward eggsaustion. But what can be said of the egg in praise, in gratitude?--an egg arrives as a friendly feast: smooth- no hard edges, gentle and kind. Oval and wobbly- a personification of a laugh. Small- portable for those in and for those out. Versatile- a thousand and one possibilities for preparation. Vital- if lacking the world of baking would forever stand at a still. Constant- no matter where in the world, the egg may be prepared differently, but it is always the same recognizable egg. Happy- a bright spotted sunshine in a pillow of whispering white clouds. The egg is perfect. Consumed universally world wide in myriad shapes, sizes, and colors continually through the centuries. A gem in the world of gastronomy. So we give our friend a nod. On y va.

There is no point on the human timeline to place the dawn of egg-consumption. In our modern time the most commonly consumed egg is the chicken egg, though other fowl and reptile eggs are common edibles in variant regions around the world. Why the chicken? Food historians attribute the preference to the birds domestication in China around 1500bc. Domesticated fowl for the purpose of egg cultivation took place in ancient civilizations all over the globe; in Egypt and throughout the middle east evidence of ostrich and pigeon egg consumption has been discovered as well as evidence of eggs used as binders in baking. The Romans ate peafowl eggs, and were later introduced to the chicken by the English, Gauls, and Germanic tribes. And the American chicken? Whence did he cometh?

Obviously the chicken and the egg arrived on American shores with Christophe in the north and the Portuguese and Spanish colonizers in the south around the 1500's. Or did they? Over the past few years the chicken story of the Americas has been under heated debate as archaeologists and historians ponder the notion of a pacific migration of the bird--or rather introduced to the people of Peru by the Polynesians two hundred years prior to Spanish conquest. A continued historic debate? Yes. Either way, the chicken made it, so why did the chicken cross the (both) ocean? Why to get to the Americas of course where combined North and South America today produce more chickens and eggs than anywhere else in the world. cluck cluck.

The egg has a world history of consumption, hence what follows is a world history of its preparation. In America the preferred egg of choice is the scramble or omelet, though over easy, sunny side up, eggs Benedict, and hard boiled all take close seconds. In France the egg is enjoyed unanimously either semi-soft boiled in an egg cup (oeuf a la coque), or as egg en cocotte, a mixture of egg and cream baked in a ramekin. Marbled eggs are popular in China, a cracking of the shell half way through the boiling process followed by saturation in a combination of tea, soy sauce, and spices creates a visual veining affect, complete with dipping sauce. Americans are all too familiar with Mexican huevos rancheros, and egg custards are found throughout Europe and Asia, as is the white-only whipped confection of meringue. Oeuf, æg, ovo, ei, huevo, we all love eggs for better or for worse.

The iconic and cultural image of the egg is one of, obviously, nourishment, fertility, and life. A magical power? A charm of fertility, of luck? Jack found his lucky goose who laid for him the golden eggs. Around the world for Easter and celebrations of springtime and rebirth we paint eggs in colors of every hue, and at the same time form their likeness from chocolates and candies of every kind. What is more fun than the egg toss competition at a festival? Does the egg indeed have mystical healing powers for a hangover? Perhaps we merely covet their simplicity yet grand ability to provide so much for so little. In the United States eggs are a relatively inexpensive grocery, but the amount of protein and nutrients proffered are extraordinary.

The dark horse on the back of the egg however is that nagging little word; cholesterol. Eggs are high in cholesterol, but that doesn't necessarily mean it is bad for you. Blood cholesterol does not increase by consuming cholesterol, but rather by high consumption of processed flour, sugar and fat. How about that. Gluten frees of the world, we win, in the end. So the egg is healthy, the egg is satisfying, and the egg is healing. Whether chocolate or not.

How do we at the Salty Cod prefer our eggs? Many ways over, though above all others soft boiled, in a egg cup. The white becomes hard, and the yellow remains viscous though cooked. Sprinkled with salt, with paprika, with whatever is always a smooth creamy texture that though short, is worth it. As Clotilde Dussolier says in her books, ouefs a la coque will cheer you up as you hack off their heads. Louis XVI is said to have been very gifted at the egg hat removal technique, Louis being the one who popularized the now house hold necessity that is the egg cup; the singularly most important piece of personal dishware one will ever own in a lifetime. You do not have an egg cup? There is still time, though you must hurry.

Eggs in my household?--well there are now a lot of eggs to be eaten by my darling friends and house mates. that is for certain. Happy, healthy, and healing. Eggs could feed the world, but sadly they don't. I guess our world is not perfect after all. But there's still time damn it. Inside every egg is a little sunshine waiting to get out. Help it. Boil an egg for a friend.

So why did the chicken cross the road? To get to the other side. Smart poulet. We'll follow suit. Just make sure to look both ways. cluck cluck.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Gonzaga University

back to school one last timeI am a fraud. I am not a real traveling food and cultural editorialist. But i have hope for someday. Alas I am just a college student. Today runs commencement of the end, la rentree of my final year of undergraduate study-- surprise! I will be graduating on time despite the year of study in France (yes I was there to study, shocking) Welcome back to to school, to studying, to essays, and senior thesis; Salty and I will finish our history and French double major together. Allow us to introduce you to our school, we are the Bulldogs, so welcome to Gonzaga University, on y va.

Above is a sample of part of the recruitment DVD sent to the homes of prospective students to solicit attendance. Ha! Above is a video by now former Gonzaga students Luke Barats and Joe Bereta who have now moved on as comedy script writers for NBC and independent film productions. In the short film Gonzaga Love, we are shown that Gonzaga knows how to party--Jesuit style. Oh yeah.

Named after the Italian patron saint of youth Aloysius Gonzaga, Gonzaga University was founded in 1887 by the Society of Jesus (Jesuits). Before the state of Washington even joined the Union, Jesuit Father Joseph Cataldo of Sicily and the St. Michaels Mission ventured into the region inhabited by the Spokane Indian tribe to begin the tragic yet inevitable tribal conversion to Christianity. In the world of Catholicism, the Jesuits connote the image of education, in the United States there are 28 Jesuit colleges and Universities, Georgetown in Washington DC being the oldest.

The location for Gonzaga was established as a central point between the Spokane falls, an edge on the competition with the local Protestant missionaries in the Jesuit attempt to instill a more prominent pressence. The land was purchased for the school in 1881, and began the first academic year in 1887 for white only students to be educated in the jesuit tradition. Evidently the school grew, expanding curriculum and enrollment from the one building college to what is now a full university with a college of arts and sciences, a college of education, business studies, engineering, professional studies, and graduate law. Though there are 92 undergraduate fields of studey, all who study at Gonzaga recieve a Jesuit education--a fifty fifty of area of study combined with requirements in philosophy, theology, and rhetoric.

Gonzaga, like most private colleges in the United States, is small. Each class has a capping of no more than thirty students with an overall undergraduate enrollment of around four thousand. The result is a small campus community, one of which for the first two years class rooms are but a few minutes walk from your bedroom door. The "community" and "family" aspect of the whole thing gives one the impression oftentimes of being at girl scout camp. While Gonzaga has many assets, great professors, many wonderful students, and a sense of community, it has its downfalls. It is overpriced, very conservative, and slightly, if i may say, a little too full of itself.

But this is my school, and it will always be. Like Paris and Seattle, Gonzaga will always be a home, Spokane will always be a home. The school year begins with a picnic on the lawn, complete with oyster bar in a boat, whole roasted pigs, and candied apples. This is where our big bucks are going eh. Well, Gonzaga knows how to party. French literature first thing in the morn, and the afternoon rounds with modern history of Mexico and the history of immigration to America. I'm lobbying for the new course of comprehensive food history--i will let you know when we win. The bell is ringing--see you after class.