Time to Change Gears

Alright, I took time to think about my last post, and I have decided to start a new blog, rather then trying to go upstream by changing GG's Kitchen.  I am leaving all old material up, since it's a nice resource. 

If you want to check out my new project, the (hopefully) tongue-in-cheek title is Culinary Hubris.  It might be a little bare for the first little bit, but please check back often!
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Back On The Trail and PCOS

All previous excuses aside, it has been darn hard to get back in the swing of my blog since our move back to CA.  I am very sorry!

While I've talked about how it was a crazy two-part move, my working again, etc.  There's been one more thing that has put a big old wrench in how I run this blog, and led to me needing to pause and think about what I want to do: last winter I was diagnosed with PCOS, or Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome.  Now, one might think that with the word "ovary" in the name, the big issue is with reproduction...and for some women, this is true.   Many women have very serious infertility issues with this condition.  Since my partner and I are planning on no more children(or, possibly, no more biological children), this is not a big problem for me.  However, it is an endocrine disorder, meaning that it messes with hormones, and from there can cause all sorts of weird (and often seemingly unrelated issues).

In my case, I am insulin resistant, and seem to have some major issues with carbs(especially white sugar and flour...the latter to the point that I suspect an allergy might be at play as well), as well as some physical issues that can cause me some embarrassment(among other things, male-pattern hair thinning and hair growth other places that women don't usually have issues, as well as bouts of pubescent-level acne).  I have also spent the last nine years, pretty much from the point where I could no longer afford to follow a rather radical raw-foods vegan diet as a college student, overweight, often seriously so.  Nothing seemed to work, including eating very healthy, and exercise often left me sick and in pain rather then energized the way it should. Left to my own devices, I slept all the time. 10 or more hours of sleep and I'd wake up tired--I was that worn out! As you can probably imagine, this was hard to cope with, especially because a common response from others was the assumption that I wasn't trying hard enough, or saying I was sick for the attention.  There were many times when the number of small things (not fitting clothing I did three weeks previously, issues with my hair being particularly limp and lifeless, being tired and even having muscle pain all the time) left me with not enough spoons.  This blog was a godssend.  It helped me stay sane, and kept me moving on days where I didn't want to get out of bed.

Now, here we are...diagnosis, research, major diet changes, medication, and a little over one hundred pounds lighter then I was when I found out I was pregnant with my son three years ago!  I still have bad days...ones where I don't want to talk to anyone, or leave the house.  Those, thankfully, are reducing.  And when I get them, I usually have more resources and reserves to cope.

With this blog, though, I have a quandary.  The Victorian stuff and retro American cuisine stuff I tend to focus on is PACKED with the very things I can't eat, especially white flour and sugar.  It's everywhere!  In the bread and baked goods, in the jam and marmalade and curd.  What should I do?  I literally can not eat those anymore, and let me tell you, that is tough in American culture.  Will it still be GG's Kitchen if I don't do those, or if I focus on healthier alternatives that I, personally, can consume?  While I'm still happy to provide links elsewhere, this would mean a major overhaul of the sort of content I provide.  I would love thoughts and input.

If I were to get rid of those, then the sorts of baked goods I would feature would be primarily wheat-free(often gluten free).  They would rely on other cultures, not Central Europe, U.K., and American history.  I would also look for things that used honey as a sweetener(especially raw or unprocessed), agave nectar, and yes, even sweet-leaf and other more natural artificial sweeteners (nothing creepy like SweetNLow). I'm finding that now that my sweetness threshold has lowered, many mincemeats and raisin fillings require no additional sweetener at all.  I would love to hear input about this.  Please leave your thoughts, if so inclined.

In the spirit of these changes in my life, I would like to share our new go-to trail mix at home.  I've been finding that a lot of mixes use sweetened dried fruit, very cheap chocolate or other candy, and nuts that smell past their prime.  Savory mixes often have little crackers and hydrogenated oils. It blew me away discover just how fast and easy it was to make my own, with exactly what I want in it.  I find that it averages 12 snack backs if you use a half-cup measure, and ranges at around 20-35 grams of carbs, about the same as most slices of bread, but could be higher if you use more fruit, or cheaper quality chocolate.

GG Kitchen "Back One The Trail" Mix

1 lb. Nut mix.  Get something you like, but I've found a mix better then one nut.  If you want them fresh, get raw nuts and either put them in as-is, or roast them in your oven at around 350F for 10-15 min (watch them closely).  Stir often, and pull as soon as you're smelling toasty nuts.  Cool before mixing with the other ingredients, so that you don't melt the chocolate.  You can dry roast them, or toss them in a little butter and salt first(add cinnamon or ginger for a real treat), or even with soy sauce and sesame oil for a savory version.

1/2 lb fruit mix.  I prefer unsweetened fruit, as that's a lot of white sugar getting added.  Raisins, dried pit fruit and apples cut in small chunks, stuff you have dried yourself.  If you can find them, you can even add unsweetened dried cranberries if you have other very sweet fruit and it can be a nice tart tang.  If you want to do a veggie blend, something like Just Tomatoes (including their other veggies) is awesome!

One good quality 2-4 oz. bar dark chocolate, if going sweet(maybe even if you're going savory...chocolate and chilis make a winning combo).  What do I mean by good?  High chocolate content:  Something like Hershey's is mostly sugar and other ingredients...that's why it tastes so waxy.  You want chocolate that would be bitter eaten alone, but the fruit and other ingredients sweeten.  It is worth spending the money, trust me.  And since it's worked into the mix, a little goes a long way.  Something like this , although if you can, looking for terms like organic, sustainable, and fair trade are good for all the same reasons they are for a cup of coffee. 

Other things that could be added sweet or savory:

  • Unsweetened dried coconut.
  • Sun-dried tomatoes
  • Cut-up beef jerkey
  • Some sort of seed cluster similar to this over at Mark's Daily Apple.
  • Nori seaweed flakes.

GGKitchen will be back next week!

Ok, folks, it's been crazy around here.

We finally have a new apartment, and will be moving in on Sunday...no more cooking on a hotel mini-range!

New posts coming soon, including a summer tea, book review for The American Girls Handybook, and pictures from Maker Faire!

How to Choose Your Fishmonger

Image via freedigitalphotos.net
Disclaimer:  I grew up inland.  Utah and the surrounding area aren't exactly fish country, unless you have the funding to buy a pole and license and do it yourself.  My grandfather despised fish for that exact reason.  Every now and then I remember my grandmother buying vague cuts of whitefish at the counter at Albertson's (do all Albertson's smell vaguely like old fish?).  It got breaded, fried, and then served with mashed potatoes and gravy, so that my grandfather could pretend it was not fish. 

Up until recently, the time I did spend in coastal areas was with the Big Store mentality, i.e. go to Costco and buy a giant bag of flash-frozen pre-cut identical fillets that were farmed in Southeast Asia.  Nothing wrong with buying frozen fish.  Especially if you happen to be inland or don't cook often enough to go through a fish.  However, there are some scary issues cropping up with farmed fish, especially the stuff from Asia, so choose wisely.

The past couple of years, though, I've been learning about how fish used to be done, when fish meant going to your local fishmonger.  I can thank my husband for this:  he spent two years in Japan, and got used to some insanely good fish.  That meant that the first time we walked into the little Asian market in Japantown, San Francisco, I stood there and stared at the fish counter.  No fish smell.  None. Zero.  It smelled like ocean water in there.  Fish doesn't have to smell like fish?!

The rules:

1)  Fish should not smell like fish! 

If your fish smells like fish, it's old. Nothing you do will improve it.  Whole fish should have bright eyes (not sunken or dull), shiny scales without patchy or discolored places, bright red gills, and smell like the ocean. Fillets should also smell fresh, with no cloudy liquid.  Also, smaller and/or lower on the food chain contains less mercury:  skipjack tuna versus Albacore, for example.

2) It's almost always easier to buy sustainable seafood locally.  Organic doesn't mean much in terms of seafood (since wild-caught is healthier and more sustainable), but Marine Stewardship Council certified does.  You can also check out the great Seafood Watch program from the Monterey Bay Aquarium. 

3) Find a fishmonger or local seafood market.  A real one, not a guy at the meat counter at the grocery store.  Obviously, this is harder to do these days, and it can take some hunting.  Go in (smell the air!), strike up a conversation.  Ask what's fresh that morning, how it was caught, what's in season.  Like most small farmers, bakers, beekeepers and anyone who loves their craft enough to stay small, a good fishmonger will be chatty and enthusiastic if you come in with a friendly and curious attitude. 

Looking for fresh fish in the Bay Area?  Here are some options I'm going to be trying soon (if I'm missing a good one, leave me a comment!).

San Francisco Fish Company

Right off the docks at pillar point in Half Moon Bay. I hear that the Harbormaster suggests calling at around 9am the day you're going to be there to see what's available.  Fishfone 650-726-8724.

Mission Market Fish and Poultry

Cook's Seafood in Menlo Park

Race Street Fish and Poultry Market, San Jose

Many Bay Area farmer's markets also have fish stands...all rules apply!  Good fishing!

Felicia Day Goes to Clockwork Couture

This morning on The Flog, Felicia Day did a Steampunk photo shoot.  Between her and Clockwork Couture's beautiful things (so much fabric envy right now), it was a must share.  

Who is Felicia Day, you ask?

Codex on The Guild.

Previously, the love interest Penny on Joss Whedon's creation, Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog.

Obviously, geeky goodness...you will regret it if you don't take a look!

St. Walburga's Day

From the blog Logismoi. Full article there discusses Walpurgisnacht and Dracula mythos.

Happy May Day!  I've found something new this year...I've often heard the term Walpurgisnacht used to describe the night before May Day...it's traditionally a time in Northern and Central Europe (most often it would seem in Germany, Norway, Estonia and Latvia) when big bonfires are held, and parties thrown.  Most of these traditions date back to the Europe's witch hunt era, and the feel is often similar to Halloween--a date six months later.  In Bavaria it's know as Freinacht, and pranks are played as well. 

Saint Walburga traveled from England to Germany to proselyte sometime around the year 748 A.D, and became a very powerful and influential Abbess.  She was known for healing, and even after her death was said to have a healing "oil" rise from her grave(the reason for the flask she is often shown carrying). 
Oldest known image of Walpurga, from the Hitda Codex.

In addition to the flask, she is sometimes shown with a book to represent her writings, as well as heads of grain.  The story often goes that she fed a starving child using only three heads of grain, however this tale seems to be a later addition.  There is some fascinating evidence that the Saint became a stand-in for an older Germanic grain goddess, taking on the role of "protectress of crops"

This is the point where it gets complicated, though, since the older goddess is often only referred to as Walpurga.  She is often linked to the Wild Hunt in this form;

"Nine nights before the first of May is Walburga in flight, unceasingly chased by wild ghosts and seeking a hiding place from village to village. People leave their windows open so she can be safe behind the cross-shaped windowpane struts from her roaring enemies. For this, she lays a little gold piece on the windowsill, and flees further. A farmer who saw her on her flight through the woods described her as a white lady with long flowing hair, a crown upon her head; her shoes were fiery gold, and in her hands she carried a three-cornered mirror that showed all the future, and a spindle, as does Berchta. A troop of white riders exerted themselves to capture her. So also another farmer saw her, whom she begged to hide her in a shock of grain. No sooner was she hidden than the riders rushed by overhead. The next morning the farmer found grains of gold instead of rye in his grain stook. Therefore, the saint is portrayed with a bundle of grain." (Rochholz,Drei Gaugtinen (Three Local Goddesses), 1870, p. 26-27)

For more such quotes, linked to a pagan perspective, this article on Frigga's Web is excellent.     Many Asatru and similar groups now honor Walpurga because of this mixed history.  For more about May Day celebrations, and traditions such as maypoles, the may queen, and the U.K. tradition of Morris Dancers, go here.   

Who is Nellie Bly?

 Alright, not a food related person today, but one of my personal heroes of the Gilded Age.  This is an amazingly capable, strong woman, who deserves to be known, especially by those who have a thirst for adventure.

Born Elizabeth Cochrane on May 5th, 1867, Bly's father died when she was six years old, leaving her mother to care for a total of 15 children.  She moved to Pittsburgh at the age of 16 to find work, and dreamed of becoming a writer in an era when women who worked outside the home or the very narrow fields of nursing or teaching were often ridiculed.  Opportunity came by chance when at 18 she wrote a passionate anonymous response to the columnist Erasmus Wilson, who wrote for the Pittsburgh Dispatch as "Quiet Observer".  The paper was impressed, and placed an ad, requesting that she come forward, and giving her a nom de plume based on a popular Steven Foster song.

Such a domestic sentiment to try and temper her outspoken nature followed the early portion of Bly's career.  As she attempted to draw on her own experience, writing articles about conditions in tenements, and the difficulties faced by factory worker and maids, she pioneered many features of modern investigative journalism, going undercover and taking jobs herself, rather then simply relying on speaking to others.  Despite this groundbreaking approach, her work was often left in the middle of the society and garden section, the only place a select few women journalists had a voice.

In September of 1887, she managed to join the staff of  Joseph Pulitzer's The New York World, the beginning of her most amazing adventures.  She raced around the world in 72 days, beating all similar records set by men, exposed shady lobbyists, and covered the plight of unwed mothers.  She contrived her own arrest on larceny charges and reported her experiences being strip searched and spending the night in a coed jail, and interviewed controversial figures such as Susan B. Anthony and famous anarchist Emma Goldman

One such stunt which is particularly important in my mind, is the work Bly did to raise awareness of the plight of those who were considered insane.  In going undercover on Blackwell's Island, she entered the world of The Yellow Wallpaper, long before an understanding of issues such as anxiety disorders or  Post-Partum Depression.  While today psychological issues are still often poorly understood, and can still carry stigma, contempt, and fear, she courageously documented women who were wrongly imprisoned due to language difficulties or disabilities, or even due to something like disagreements with male family members.  While anxious but nonviolent to be admitted, and perfectly sane once inside, she was dismissed by doctors, threatened by nurses, and documented pest-filled food, cold, disease.  Here articles can be read in book form here under the title Ten Days in a Mad-House, and I would strongly recommend doing so. 

Authors like Nellie Bly remind us where we have been.  That only three generations ago, four at most, women could be imprisoned as mad simply on the word of their male relations.  We could not vote or run for office, and even if widows like my great-grandmother were prevented by social stigma from getting a better-paying job then the brutal life of a laundress.  In a divorce, the male spouse would keep whatever the woman had brought into the marriage, as well as the children, and have complete say over his wife's assets while married.  Women like Bly, Susan B. Anthony, and yes, even controversial spitfires like Emma Goldman are WHY we now have the rights we do.  Many women in the world still do not, and it's important to remember that, and not go backwards.  We stand on the shoulders of our great-grandmothers. I only hope I can live up to standing on the shoulders of the likes of Nellie Bly.

Direct from the Engine Room; Cooking With Power Tools

Via. Captain Hops

 It's been a while since I did a really Steampunk post, and I've been thinking a lot about all the different ways that someone can "Steam up" a menu, something we've talked about before.  Normally, I take a soft eclectic approach, and tend to think in terms of, say, and airship galley, going from port to port across the globe.  Someone like Aaron over at Steampunk Cookery takes a much more classical approach:  modern updates on popular Victorian and Gilded Age food.  Another potential way is by influencing aesthetics, such as reducing plastics or investing in interesting gadgets

Today, I want to go somewhere a little different with the concept; using normal tools most people already have, but in food preparation.  I see this as the engine room approach, like a bunch of guys together in the belly of whatever monstrous contraption they're payed to run.  If done right, this could also be a great show for dinner guests, though, especially where fire is involved. 

Before I get into ideas, though, I'm going to stress two things:

1)  Be Careful! Even in experienced hands, many power tools can lead to accidents.  Wear appropriate gear, and if you're young, or haven't dealt with tools much, conscript the help of someone who has more experience.

2)  Clean Your Kit!  Using dirty tools to make something you're going to eat is a bad plan!  New tools, or ones that have been scrupulously cleaned, please!

Now, on to ideas!
Rosemary Stuffed Lamb Bone from Ideas in Food

There is a lot of stuff out there for drills....wow.  The most obvious one is stuffing things, whether they be apples or zucchini. Easy enough...how about mixing bread dough?

More insane blowtorchery at Essential Ingredient
Another very popular tool to utilize is the Blowtorch.   This is one that looks particularly fun to my little pyro heart.  Amy Scattergood of The Daily Dish raves about using one for everything caramelizing sugar on pie or brulee (like one of the little ones designed for chefs), to roasting red peppers or making impressive fruit desserts on warm summer nights. She says:

You can also provide some last-minute color to a roast or gratin, quickly heat the bottom of a metal bowl to keep a frosting or meringue from breaking, or warm a chilled springform pan for quick release. (I got this trick from Spago pastry chef Sherry Yard, who does this for cheesecakes.) 

 What about using the heat of an engine to cook?  In one episode of Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmerman, the concept is referred to as "muffler meat":

As Zimmerman notes, these gentlemen are using a specially built box to safely cook their food.  Other sources have instructions, though, for basic cooking(as always, be careful), and under the slightly more dignified title of Engine Cooking, this concept even has it's own Wiki page, with even more useful links. 

Some approaches I found, on the other hand, were purely decorative, or seemed to be more for the sake of doing it then actually being more useful or convenient.  Spindle-turned root vegetables or using a mini orbital sander to grate nutmeg fit in this category for me.  At that point, the earthy quality that makes this sort of thing appealing to me is gone.

On that note, I leave you Carrot Cake--with power tools!

Updates and Facebook!

Hey all,

Things are going really well with the Blog.  GG's Kitchen isn't super-popular, but it's slowly but surely making onto the map...I was very surprised to see over a thousand hits last month!  I know, small potatoes for many blogs, but certainly the most attention a project of mine has ever received.  I am touched that people care about the odd blend of Victorian foodies in my little corner of the internet.

If you haven't noticed, we are now on Facebook as well!  I'm putting up a lot of pictures, odds and ends, and things I find fun, but don't want to do a full blog post on, so check it out, tell your friends, etc....

In other news, I am still in a bit of a housing limbo, which is why there are still tea menus, Saint's Days, reviews and the like, but no new pictures of my own cooking projects.  Otherwise, our family move to the California Bay Area has gone wonderfully...my spouse has had some great interviews so far, and I am now working as a server for a very well-run restaurant.  The support and help of our friends and family has been immeasurable, and I look forward to cooking, preserving, and baking again shortly!

Cherry Blossom Tea Menu

"In these spring days,
when tranquil light encompasses
the four directions,
why do the blossoms scatter
with such uneasy hearts?
Ki no Tomonori (c. 850 – c. 904)

The next two weekends are the 45th annual Cherry Blossom Festival in San Francisco.  It is the second-largest cherry blossom festival in America (Washington D.C. is celebrating it's 100th year of celebrations this year, the original trees being a 1912 gift from Viscountess Chinda, wife of the Japanese Ambassador, and later a breathtaking 3000 trees from Mayor Yukio Ozaki of Tokyo), and the only one to take place in one of the three remaining Japantowns in America. 

In Japan, the practice of going out and having picnics to view the blooming cherry trees is called Hanami, based on an older practice from China involving plum, rather then cherry trees. Old in this case, is slightly arbitrary, though, since Hanami has been going on since the Heian period (794-1185)!

There are often many traditional treats involved, using the pale pink of the blossoms, or even the flowers themselves for flavoring;  Sakura No Siozuke (the salted blossoms),

If you don't live in an area with a good Japanese grocery, here's a menu that would be great for a simple picnic in the lovely spring weather. It uses ingredients that should be easy to find, and is a great introduction to Japanese food.

Hanami Dango (a sweet treat made with glutinous rice)

American Hanami Menu:

Sekihan Rice (rice with adzuki beans and black sesame seeds)

Simple Temakizushi(hand-rolled sushi--the way it's usually eaten at home or picnics, rather then when purchased pre-made); take sushi rice, fillings such as fish, avocado, and crab(or even the salted cherry blossoms above), and cut nori seaweed into squares. Each person  makes their own, using the nori as a base, and then wrapping it around the rice and fillings.  For more information and ideas, try here, here and here! As simple or complicated as you want to make it.

Yakitori (Grilled chicken--very good cold!)

This pretty Hanami Salad would be a great addition as well.

Tea Suggestions:

Matcha, good quality whole-leaf green tea, or cherry blossom tea like Sencha Sakura or  Harney & Sons.

Dessert? Great Sakura Mochi recipe here.

Is the Premiere Issue of Vintage Style Worth It?

Just before moving, I noticed this one on the magazine stand and got a copy.  While normally $9.95 would be out of my price range for a magazine, I liked the curtains made out of old cloth napkins (aren't they cute?!), and wanted some reading material for the road.

Published by the same people who do Country Almanac(Country Living, Country Home, Romantic Homes, etc.), it is professionally done, with beautiful glowing photographs and a nice range of styles within the unifying theme of vintage decor.  I particularly enjoyed the spread on different ways to use old Mason jars (a switch I've been trying to make myself), and the gorgeous distressed furniture in some of the homes.  There is also a useful article on how to go about shopping at flea markets, particularly for large furniture pieces. 

However...on the whole, I personally think they have missed the mark on their potential demographic.  Sure, home decor magazines are normally geared towards older housewives, who can afford to dabble in redecorating and design. This particular breed of Retro, ranging from Victorian to mid-Century and mixing in modern and even industrial or re-purposed pieces is huge right now with twenty and thirty-somethings.  Foodies(although I appreciate the lack of food in a design magazine).  Neo-Victorian, Steam- or Dieselpunk, and yes, even Hipsters.  Some of the advertising hits the mark, like creative vinyl transfer wall art.  Others, not so much(a tacky John Deere Cuckoo Clock for $200? Not when you can find the same sort of junk to put on your hipster wall ironically from a thrift store somewhere). 

I'll be looking for the next issue, if nothing else to see if they manage to realize the potential for a younger demographic.  I'm not sure, though, if I'm willing to pay full price for it, so we'll see.

For more examples from inside the magazine, check out this post over at Dutch Door Cottage, and this one from High Prairie Farm Girl.

Chocolate Done Right

From Co-Operative Food UK
Where does your chocolate come from?

For my grandmother, buying chocolate was Ritual.  While she no longer wore a best hat or wore gloves, it was easy to imagine her slipping them on as she prepared for an outing to buy chocolate.

Les Marais Chocolates, Santa Monica, CA
It was part of hospitality, and I felt so very grown up when I was lucky enough to be at her house when she was going out to perform this feat.  We drove in the car to the original Mrs. Cavanaugh's, since my grandmother had known her personally back in the day.  Inside, I would smell the chilled air and laugh about the picture on the wall of a chocolate moose while we waited.  Then the choosing began...who was coming?  What were their dislikes?  Allergies?  My grandmother hovered over the glass case like a nervous bird, picking each chocolate individually.  Woe befall me then if I tried to interject!  These were for the adults, to be arranged carefully on a plate or in a dish, even if no one touched them.

Such attitudes have mostly fallen by the wayside, which makes sense when most chocolates are mass-produced, and sold in preselected mixes at the grocery store.  This is not the way is should be, though, and American chocolate in particular has suffered for it.  Hershey's is waxy.   Most candy-bars more candy coating then cocoa.  Chocolate risks become a condiment, with no more thought given then to a bottle of Heinz Ketchup.

In the meantime, our disconnection with where our chocolate comes from risks endangering chocolate all together.  Problems like climate change and deforestation mean that the cost of plants like cacao, peanuts, and coffee grown in Africa are expected to soar in the near future, due to a combination of environmental factors and human rights issues
Chocolate-covered marshmallow from Theonista

We, as the consumers, rarely can predict the rout that our chocolate (or other exotics like cane sugar or vanilla) took to reach us, but we can do our best on our end to support those who bring chocolate to our tables this Easter season.

Buy from local shops, like  my grandmother did, keeping your money with small local businesses. If you don't know one in your area, try search functions like Yelp to find one.  My favorite while living in Idaho was Florence's, a small mom and pop place.  Don't be afraid to ask questions, either.  The modern American business climate is often hard on small stores, who have trouble competing with large monopolies like WalMart and Costco even on specialty items.  The small local business where you live might not know where it's cocoa comes from either...unless you ask questions.  Chocolate often passes through many hands before it reaches you.

Schurra's Fine Confections
If you can't find a local shop, here is a list of how the large brands stack up in terms of ethical practices, particularly child labor(as well as a list here of smaller, more ethical brands).  While looking for products that claim to be Fair Trade(meaning that the farmers and workers who harvest the crops are given a livable wage), can help, some large brands have recently fallen under criticism for using it without following the requirements.

Today, my family will be checking out a South Bay staple for the first time: Schurra's Fine Confections.  While I'm not putting on a hat and gloves, I will be looking for a small local business that knows it's chocolate--from beginning to end--to buy my candy this Easter.

Update:  I ended up making a holiday out of it and checking out three chocolate shops in South Bay today.  Schurra's, which I listed above, was first.  Classy shop.  Not the most creamy chocolate, but the egg we tried was hand-made and much better then a similar peanut butter-filled item from the grocery store. 

Next, we went down to Los Gatos and checked out the Powell's Sweet Shop(local chain).  This is very much a candy store...every candy you can think of, with a little chocolate counter to round things out.  Not what I was looking for today, but my kids loved it! At the very least, between here and the imports at a store like World Market, we should have Christmas amply covered.  Also got myself a pack of the classic Choward's Violet Mints from the 30's. 

Last was Chocolate Dream Box.  Very, very good.  I would go to Schurra's unless I was in the area, but theirs tasted like the best quality, highest chocolate content, and the individual chocolates in the case were dazzling. 

Great Grandmother's Easter

More beautiful vintage cards can be seen at the Greencastle Museum website. 

Art by Thalia Took
Easter time is a unique blend of  Catholic and Pre-Christian traditions all over Europe.  The name of the holiday itself comes from a Germanic goddess, and variations on the name range from Eostre to Ostara. Linguists theorize a Proto-Indo-European word awes, meaning "to shine", which would explain similarities to Greek and Roman dawn goddesses(Eos and Aurora) as well as the minor Indian goddess Ushas.  Whatever the case, at least in Northern Europe, common themes are flowers, hares (the predecessor of the Easter Bunny), and eggs. This linguistic link does not carry over into cultures that speak Latin-based languages, however, where Easter is called La Pasquette, Paques, or Pascua. 

The date of Easter changes each year(unlike stationary holidays, like Christmas) because it falls on the Sunday after the first full moon following the Spring Equinox.  Why this reliance on the lunar calendar?  Because the Council of Nicaea reasoned that Passover, which falls on that new moon, would have come directly before the death of Christ

 So what did our great grandmothers do for Easter?  It depends...while many traditions translate easily to similar American customs, others are very unique. 

There are eggs a-plenty:

Spectacular Swiss Eggs from You Craft Me Up
Romanian Eggs
From Poland

As well as bread and cakes:
Greek Easter Bread, recipe here
Swiss Easter Cake
Hot Cross Buns, a favorite at our house.

In Sweden, little children also dress up as Easter Witches, complete with painted red cheeks and freckles, and go door-to-door for treats, based on a tradition that all the local witches fly over the water to a mountain in Northern Germany the Thursday before Easter for a meeting with the devil (another one of those "huh" moments...some suggest the tradition dates to a rather ugly witch hunt in the 1600's). 

A lovely Victorian Easter Witch
Interested in other strange Easter traditions?  Here's a collection! 

Whether Christian, Pagan, or purely secular, this time of spring is a wonderful time to celebrate new life, and the return of light over darkness.  Happy Easter!

Book Review: 1001 Ways to Please a Husband

I stumbled on this one in a local thrift shop in Idaho, bearing the stamp of the "Cuyahoga County Public Library", and the copyright date 1958.

Apparently, it was a common practice in the first half of the 20th Century to write cookbooks geared specifically towards new brides. Because of this, the book contains basic, useful advice about making good use of the freezer, cooking with cheaper cuts of meat, budgeting and finance advice, and menu planning. Much of this would still be useful today, and I found the freezer section helpful in my ongoing efforts to reduce plastic in my kitchen.

It turns out that Myra Waldo, the author, was well-known at the time for her international cookbooks(even ones on South American and African cuisine), in addition to a successful career as the food consultant for Pan American Airlines.  While I can't find a birth-date for her, the date on the cookbook means that she was definitely at the height of her career, explaining the mix of recipes ranging from new and upcoming(fondue) to classic French, to Victorian foods beginning to disappear(potted meat), in addition to expected 50's fare of biscuit crusts, canned soup casseroles, and various meat-based loaves. All-in-all still healthier then the food served in many modern American homes.

What is even more interesting to me, though, is what her commentary tells the reader about 50's perceptions of a good housewife.  Little fictional diary entries through the book tell the story of the first year of marriage for Peter and Jane, and follow Jane's first efforts at such challenges as cooking on a particularly tight budget and acting as a hostess for girl's luncheons, cocktail parties, and dinners.

This is easily the most fascinating aspect of the book to me. Jane is shallow And officious, convinced of her own irrationality. She gloats when her husband is inept in the kitchen, and seems determined to prove herself better at homemaking then her friends, even occasionally at their expense. Particularly cringe-inducing is her insistence on feeding "exotic" friends dishes from their native lands, as a vehicle to introduce such exotic ideas as pizza and fillet of sole, bonne femme. Thus, the introduction to a Sukiyaki recipe is all about Peach Blossom, the Japanese War Bride who (gasp) speaks perfect English and rushes to obey her spouse's every whim.

A moment of culture shock, indeed. It's easy to forget just how much more acceptance there is now in terms of different ethnicities, interracial marriage, and even something as basic to the "plot" as a woman's ability to run her own life. An excellent reminder that, while the past is fun, I'm fairly sure I wouldn't want to live there...especially when there is still so much room for racism in modern American culture.

Jane, commenting on the meal "her Japanese War Bride" helps prepare;
It was simply delicious, and I don't know where I ever got the idea that Japanese people eat nothing but seaweed soup and raw fish...I had made a chocolate roll for dessert, not knowing whether or not anyone would be able to eat the sukiyaki. But they ate the sukiyaki down to the last spoonful and then proceeded to devour the chocolate roll. P.B. thought the chocolate roll was terrific, and asked me for the recipe. The United Nations? I suppose P.B. and I did our little bit to further international relations in our own quiet way.

A simple but international menu:
Chocolate Roll

My Japanese War Bride Sukiyaki from 1001 Ways to Please a Husband by Myra Waldo, 1958
(for six to eight)

3 onions
1 cup celery
1 cup canned bamboo shoots
1/2 pound mushrooms, or 2 cans, sliced
4 scallions (green onions)
2 pounds sirloin steak
4 tablespoons salad oil
1/2 cup stock or 1/2 boullion cube dissolved in 1/2 cup boiling water
3/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon sherry
1 pound vermicelli or thin noodles, boiled and drained

Sukiyaki is fun to prepare--you can cook it almost as the Japanese do-- at the table in a chafing dish or electric skillet, or on the range in a skillet. Prepare the vegetables early in the day or whenever you have time and wrap them individually in aluminum foil, waxed paper, or Saran wrap. When you're ready to cook it, the entire operation will just take a few minutes.

Slice the onions very thin. Cut the celery in 1-inch lengths. Slice the bamboo shoots, mushrooms, and scallions.

Cut the steak into strips 2 inches long by 1/2 inch wide. Mix the stock, soy sauce, sugar, and sherry in a bowl.

Don't begin to cook the dish more then 15 minutes before you are ready to serve it.

Heat the oil in the utensil of your choice. Place the steak in it, and brown on all sides. Push the meat to one side of the pan and pour half the soy sauce mixture over it. Place the onions and celery in the pan and cook over medium heat for three minutes. Push to one side. Add the bamboo shoots, mushrooms, and remaining soy sauce mixture to the pan and cook 3 minutes, add the scallions and cook 1 minute.

Serve directly from the skillet, or heap the vermicelli on one side of a heated platter, and arrange the sukiyaki in the other.

Chocolate Roll

2 squares(ounces) unsweetened chocolate
2 tablespoons brewed coffee
4 egg yolks
3/4 cups sugar
6 tablespoons sifted cake flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
4 egg whites

Turn on the oven and set at 400 (hot).

Grease a jelly-roll pan (11 x 16 inches) and line with waxed paper. (GGK note: it would be much wiser to do this with parchment paper, as waxed paper is not designed to get hot.)

Combine chocolate and coffee in a cup; place over hot water and let melt.

Beat the egg yolks until light; add the sugar to the yolks, beating well. Sift the combined flour, baking powder, and salt over it, mixing until blended. Stir in the vanilla and chocolate.

Beat the egg whites until stiff but not dry. Fold into the previous mixture thoroughly. Spread evenly in the pan.

Bake 13 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean. Loosen the bottom by running a spatula under the cake.

Sprinkle a towel with cocoa and turn the cake out onto it. Carefully peel the paper from the cake. Roll up gently in the towel and let cool for one hour. Don't worry if the cake cracks. Unroll and fill with whipped cream, ice cream, or soft custard. Re-roll and serve.

Shampoo, or Lack Thereof

From the Hair Archives
Normally, I stay roughly on Kitchen topics at GGK, however, my friend Thalassa over at Musings of a Kitchen Witch has been talking lately about other ways then shampoo to keep hair clean(you can find her posts here and here).  Since I no longer use traditional shampoo either, she asked me to talk about what I do as well.

Now, shampoo as we know it, didn't exist until the 30's.  While some shampoos began to hit the market in the early 1900's, they caused alkaline reactions, leaving a gray film on hair.  Dr. John Breck invented the first PH-balanced shampoo, and the companies ad campaign, featuring Breck Girls, lasted well  into the late 70's. 
Olga Armstrong, the first Breck Girl
This led to a cultural expectation of frequent hair washing., and the idea (at least in America), that oil in hair means that it's dirty.  I grew up in a family in which everyone washed their hair every morning, and my grandmother told horror stories about her years as a school teacher, and trying to get shampoo for one of her students who was teased for her stringy hair, only to have the child's mother say it "looked too fly-away" and put grease on it!  Even so, my grandmother would get her hair done at the hairdressers once a week, and usually only washed it mid-way if she had to, as it spoiled her look.

Cleo De Merode
So what did our ancestors do before the shampoo revolution?  According to this Victorian care guide, the solution was similar to many today who find that, unless their hair gets some foreign dirt in it, it needs no soap at all.  The guide stresses the importance of using a boar's bristle brush, and keeping it immaculately clean (even going so far as to suggest cleaning it with a diluted ammonia solution periodically).  It also suggests using a Castile soap (which has olive oil as a base, rather then the very harsh lye soaps which were the period alternative--no wonder people didn't use them on their heads!). The basic outline of their routine is to wash hair once per week.  Use Castile soap if one's hair is oily, but if it's dry, an egg yolk is a good alternative. and is a common cleaner for modern no-shampoo folks.  Hair was supposed to be brushed every night, the old "100 strokes" idea, which with a boar's brush and gently done, pulls oil down the length of the hair, keeping it from getting oily up at the roots, and drying at the base.  It's worth noticing, too, that it's suggested to rub the hair with flannel after, I'm assuming to soak up any additional oil the hair doesn't need.

If you want a great example of someone trying this method out, The Gibson Girl's Guide to Glamor has a very interesting post on the matter. 

So what do I do?  As an adult, I found that my hair did much better only being washed every second or third day (often depending on factors like how dry the weather is, where I am in my muenstral cycle, and stress).  While hair experts often disagree about how often is too often, many say that we wash our hair too often now, stripping it of it's natural oils at a rate that encourages the body to overproduce oil to catch up.

Via. Rapunzel's Delight 
A few years ago, I tried using no shampoo at all, and found it doesn't work well for me, personally.  My hair is baby fine, thin, and prone to being oily(especially at that time of month), and so all it did was slick to my head.  Someone with dry hair would have completely different results, though, and my friends who have tried this sort of experiment with "frizzy" hair find they often suddenly have curls.

More recently, I became interested in Castile soap and switched to Dr. Bronner's Magic Soap, available at health food stores, and now at Target.  The label is truly amusing...it contains everything from recipe ideas to scripture references, and reads like a 19th Century cure-all peddler's schtick.  However, I have to say, the stuff works.  I have switched to diluted forms of it for hand soap and cleaning, too.  Direct from the bottle it is very strong, and will leave your hair stripped and tangled...I strongly discourage using it that way!

My Shampoo Recipe

3T-4T Dr. Bronner's Soap (whatever scent you prefer...eucalyptus can help with dandruff, though)
A few drops of Essential Oils
1T Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Add to bottom of a large empty shampoo bottle.  Fill almost to top with filtered water.  Shake every time before use...this will leave a lot of foam on top that will make it easy to lather.

I use a rinse after that is Rosemary tea, and about a quarter cup of apple cider vinegar. Since the Castile soap is gentle, but not PH balanced, it makes up for that.  The Rosemary is because I have dark hair, and am prone to a bit of an itchy scalp in winter.  For other suggestions, go to my second link from Musings of a Kitchen Witch above.

Even though my hair is currently very short, I also brush it regularly.  I find that it's more important to stimulate my scalp then anything else...and my hair is much healthier with more body.  Like the Victorians, get a good brush and clean it often!  Also, if you try this, expect to need less product...a lot of our modern hair products are designed to make up for removing our body's natural oils.

The Amazing Seven Sutherland Sisters!
Did you notice how much olive oil I put in?  That has reduced how oily my hair is, ironically enough...it also helps to calm my scalp down with dry winter weather.  My husband's hair is not as oily as mine, though, and responds better with just a few drops of olive oil (his hair has become much more manageable, as well).  Another interesting side effect is that I no longer have little eczema patches on my back and arms, something I've battled for years!

What about those days when I don't have time to wash, or I'm almost to a shampoo and my hair is looking nasty?

Corn Starch Dry Shampoo

1 cup Corn Starch
Essential oils to scent the hair, or dry herbs (will scent it much more slowly...I like mint)

Mix together and store in a small container in the bathroom.  To use, take about a tablespoon of the cornstarch, and rub it all over your scalp.  Don't worry about ends so much...just where it looks greasy.  Then brush, brush, brush.  It takes about 5 min to not look like a ghost.  You will be surprised at how full your hair feels (this is also a great thing to do before trying some of those old hairstyles).

So there you go!  This is what works for me, personally.  If you have something you do and love, please share it in the comments!

Very Gothic Valentine Tea

Etsy seller 1313MockingbirdLane
Death, The Sandman by Neil Gaiman

One would expect that, as big as I am on Victorian things normally, that I'd be really big on Valentine's Day, right?

Um...no.  Not so much.  It's ok, in it's way, but it often ends up being a bit over the top for me, personally.  There is so much about modern Valentine's practices that make it feel like obligation to me; my spouse still loves me whether he purchases me overpriced roses and chocolates on a certain day or not (and gets even more points when he does something unexpected, or buys me a potted herb or fern).  So this month, I bring you the anti-valentine tea menu...hopefully an antidote to your otherwise saccharine month. 

(Taking advantage of the spring flavors already trickling in from California)

Mini Asparagus Tarts with Lemon and Creme Fraiche

Radish-Butter Sandwiches (recipe below)

Open Faced Sandwiches with Cream Cheese and a Jam Heart (use dark jam like blackberry or fig)

Slices of Good Chocolate Pound Cake, with fresh strawberries.

Suggested Teas: Earl Gray, St. Dalfour Organic Black Cherry Tea, A good Spiced Chai.

Necklace by Etsy seller TheLysineContingency
I would strongly suggest penning invitations to this sort of engagement by hand, on antiqued paper. Background music could be classical, however for a more "lively" feeling Depeche Mode, Bauhaus, etc. would certainly be appropriate, as would scents by Dark Candles
Project from the blog Ever Kelly

Open Faced Radish Sandwiches

Good Sourdough Bread
Unsalted Butter (A great time to try the very nice Irish stuff kept with the fancy cheese at some supermarkets...whatever the case, as fresh as you can get)
Finely ground Sea Salt
Fresh Ground Pepper

Leave butter at room temperature for around 15 minutes--just enough to soften, but still spread thickly.  Slice bread, and cut into shapes or anything fancy you'd like to do.  Cut tops and ends off radishes, then slice thinly.  You can even use a vegetable peeler.  Spread bread with butter, then layer radishes, sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Very simple, but good, meaning that the quality of the ingredients you use is everything.  

By Etsy maker AustinModern

This Week's Stock

I've been getting a lot of summer vegetables in my Bountiful Basket this week, which rather odd to me. All I can guess is that it means that the cheapest produce available is from Mexico at this time of year.  We are just starting to get the first cucumbers, radishes, asparagus, and strawberries from California, though...so spring is certainly on the way!

Odds and Ends, and slightly Spicy

Lamb and Pork bones
Chicken bones leftover from hot wings
The Usual:  ends and peels from carrots, celery, onions, and garlic.

Red and green pepper tops
Eggplant tops
Hot pepper and pickled pepperocini tops
Lots and lots of onions, in red, yellow, and white
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Blue and White China, Orientalism in the Kitchen

Two birds flying high,
A Chinese vessel, sailing by.
A bridge with three men, sometimes four,
A willow tree, hanging o'er.
A Chinese temple, there it stands,
Built upon the river sands.
An apple tree, with apples on,
A crooked fence to end my song.

It's no secret that I have a love affair with Steampunk and a Victorian aesthetic.  My husband, on the other hand, is very fond of the simple elegance of Asian (particularly Japanese-inspired) furnishings.  Where do two such opposite tastes combine?  Victorian Orientalism, of course.
William McGregor Paxton, The New Necklace

Starting in the 18th Century, Orientalism was a term used to describe the study of the East, most usually referring pretty much to any part of the globe that wasn't Europe or the Americas, particularly China, Japan, and other parts of East Asia, but also extending to India, the Middle East, and Northern Africa. Different areas had their own, unique highpoint with European culture, leading to all sorts of cultural offerings based on a romanticized idea of that particular land.  Orientalism moved waves, starting with fascination with the Middle East and India, and by the end of the 19th Century exemplified by the story of the Gilbert and Sullivan Operetta, The Mikado.

As an aside, the 1999 movie Topsy-Turvy deals with just that subject, focusing on the eccentricity of the author and composer, as well as the difficulty of the original cast in grasping an attempt (shocking for the era) to make the operetta in question actually Japanese in flavor, rather then classic theater tropes of the day, including ethnic stereotypes, dressed up in a new wrapper(and yes, Miss Sixpence-please did, in fact exist, although unfortunately little to nothing is known about her).

 Back to China.  The famous Blue Willow Pattern shown at the top, along with its famous little poem, is actually not a Chinese pattern, but was invented in Shropshire in 1780.  Minor changes have been made by various makers, leading to a story sprouting up about a pair of star-crossed young lovers, who are eventually turned into the birds at the top of the plate. 

Blue Willow China had a falling out of popularity in the later half of the last Century, but has now come back, stronger then ever.  A lucky thing for those like myself, who enjoy the ease with which it can mix and match with virtually anything, being dressed up or down as needed.

Here are some great ideas for using blue and white china, as well as mixing Orientalist ideas into the kitchen:

Blue Willow in the Butler's Pantry via Country Living...great way to mix up themes and colors.  

 A great example of a more eclectic and quirky collection, compared to above.  From House to Home.

Broken China Earrings...not kitchen, but I had to share. 

 Teapot from the Atlanta Antique Gallery

  Tea Tray made with broken china at the blot Pennello Lane. This one just got added to my personal to-do list. 

India Blue tablecloth at Blithe.

 Tablecloth by Indian Garden Company, available at Not On The High Street

Who says Steampunk has to be brown?