Traditions, Chickens and Fancy Pants

In honor of chocolate bunnies, colored eggs, matzo brei, fancy pants, Oma, Mom and the joy of it all, some seasonal musings I first posted few years ago. 🙂

I’ve mentioned before that I don’t follow any specific religious dogma, unless you count no white before memorial day.  Rather, my dogma tends to be an amalgam of all of them, paying particular attention to the ones with food-related traditions. So at this time of Passover, Easter and the Vernal Equinox (lest we forget the Druids), I’m quite happy. I get to sample all sorts of wonderful fare, from matzo brei and gefilte fish (the former being a perfect vehicle for butter, the latter for horseradish), to wonderful Easter breads, eggs in every form, and fresh ingredients sprouting from the newly thawed ground. It’s a veritable new life and renewed hope buffet.

Food aside (for the moment), I do appreciate all the traditions celebrated this time of year. As a little girl up we did Easter, but the Sunday School litany held less interest for me than ceremonies involving jelly beans, chocolate bunnies, and playing hide and seek for eggs colored with PAAS dye. And my favorite holiday tradition involved getting a new dress from my grandmother and matching accessories (bag, gloves, hat and especially fancy shoes) from mom. No frills were spared, and it was not unusual to have ruffles on my dress, gloves, socks, and, of course, fancy pants.  What exactly are ‘fancy pants’? Dressy bloomers for little girls. Think underwear with rhumba-sleeve-sized ruffles. Fancy pants were worn under your dress but over your underwear, and, in my opinion, definitely meant to be admired by all. I loved my fancy pants, I mean really loved them, and found countless ways to show them off. Cartwheels worked pretty well, a subtle but effective option, but it wasn’t beyond me to hike up my pretty dress and say in a loud voice “look at my fancy pants”. Fashion is fashion after all.

My fancy pant obsession aside, of all the traditions of day the most beloved by my family was the knitted chicken. For us, it just wouldn’t be Easter without a flock of them. Let me explain. As part of our Easter baskets, my grandmother would give us plastic eggs filled with jelly beans, chocolate eggs and the like. However, decorum being what it was, these eggs could never be presented naked. They required dressing, and their vestments took the form of a knitted chicken sitting on top. Usually white or yellow with a red comb, googly eyes and a jaunty pink ribbon around wooly neck, knitted chickens lined up down the middle of the table, smugly guarding their plastic eggs filled with sugary bounty. As we grew older and into obnoxious adolescence, we’d make fun of these poultry egg-cozies, but they had better be on that Easter table.

The flock has scattered in the subsequent years, but I’m betting if you visited my brother or mother on Sunday, pieces of the knitted chicken nativity would be on display, regardless of whether the grown kids were around. After all, that chocolate bunny needs guarding. 😉

Eggs play a part in all of the holidays this time of year, which seems logical since life, hope and rebirth are central themes. Since they are one of my favorite foods, eggs feature in my recipe too.  When I was a kid one of the best treats my mom made for dessert was my grandmother’s baked custard. Similar to flan or crème brulee but far less fussy, there are few desserts more comforting.  I’ve decided to take Oma’s basic recipe and liven it up a bit with a little orange in the form of zest and a splash of Cointreau. My Baked Orange Custard would make a great dessert (or breakfast) on any holiday table this season. Baked Orange Custard

Makes eight 1/2-cup servings

  • 3 cups milk (whole is best, 2% works too)
  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ¾ tsp salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2 tsps Cointreau or Grand Marnier
  • ½ tsp orange zest

Preheat oven to 500°F. Put eight ½ cup ramekins or glass custard cups into a roasting pan or large lasagna pan. Fill the pan up with warm water to about ½ way up the cups, creating a water bath. Whisk together eggs, sugar, salt, liqueur and zest and set aside. Heat the milk in a saucepan to scalding (just before it boils and there are little bubbles around the sides of the pan.) Take the milk off heat. While whisking egg mixture, add in about 1/3 cup of the hot milk and whisk well. You are bringing the temperature of the eggs up or tempering the eggs (so that you have a smooth mixture and not sweet scrambled eggs.) Now add the rest of the milk and whisk thoroughly. Skim off about a tablespoon of the foam and put into each cup, then carefully fill the cups with ½ cup of the custard mixture. Bake the custards in the oven for 10 minutes or until just set and the tops have browned a little. If they are browning too quickly, just loosely cover pan with foil. If they are not set by 10 minutes, turn oven off and leave the custard in a few minutes more until they set. Carefully remove the custards from the water and let cool a little. These are wonderful warm, but are also swell at room temperature. If you are not serving right away, let cool to room temp then cover with cling film and store in the fridge. Let them come to room temperature before serving. Calories: approximately 220 per ½ cup serving.

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Cawfee Tawk



“One coffee, dark” I said. ‘Um, we only have one brew’ she said, looking puzzled. “OK”, looking puzzled myself, “that’s fine, and I’d like it dark.” The look changed from puzzled to a little apprehensive, and the cadence of her speech slowed to ‘english is not your mother tongue’ speed. “I’m sorry, but we only have one brew, and it’s medium, not dark.” I was about to embark on another round of this early morn banter when the thought hit me…Karin, this lovely young woman speaks coffee, NOT cawfee.

A couple of years ago I wrote about the ritual of ordering coffee in Italy: pay first, then go to counter with receipt, or face the mockage of barista and local. I suppose a visitor from a foreign land could be forgiven her ignorance. Countries have their language and cultural norms to respect, and once I learned how, I could practically pass for local. But it wasn’t until the exchange with my local barista that I realized that coffee here (or back in my old there) speaks its own dialect too.

If you grew up in or around NYC, by the time you came of coffee age you knew the language. Step up to any deli or bodega or coffee cart counter, plop down your buck, place your order. Your choices? Regular, light, dark, black. The cardboard cup placed in your hand with its snappy “We are happy to serve you” and random blue and white Grecian theme contains the fully formed caffeinated quaff. Pull back the plastic tab on the cap, try to secure it to the thingy sticking up in the middle, fail, just rip a hole in it, wrap multiple napkins around blazing hot cup, and drink. If you ordered a “regular”, that cup contained your morning joe with milk and one sugar. Light and sweet was, well, light and sweet (lots of milk, 2 sugars.) Dark, my coffee of choice, was a touch of milk. And black, sans cow.

My guess is this ‘cawfee’ shorthand was created sometime shortly after the earth’s crust cooled and the first naugahyde diner banquette was installed, in an effort to help speed things along. Coffee in NY up until the time of the revolution sparked by Starbucks, was purely utilitarian. That first cup a necessary early morning stimulant to get you from point A to B without ripping someone’s head off, or cluelessly stepping off curb and getting hit by a bus. Civilization could function seamlessly as long as that cardboard “We are happy to serve you” was in your hand. Out here in the PNW, coffee is religion. A java church on every corner, the sacrament dosed in ounces from beans lovingly roasted in-house and lavishly described with terms like “after notes” and “floral”. It’s good, great in some cases, but it takes a Gotham gal a little time to get used to. So the next time I order from my favorite drive-thru, I’ll try to remember to translate my cawfee dark before I get to the window.:-)

DSC07832A coffee-themed recipe is clearly called for, and in the spirit of caffeine-fueled indulgence I’ve got one that’s quick, easy, and under 200 calories to boot. Fast Espresso Pudding is just a variation on a chocolate pudding recipe I found a few years ago. I was having one of those days, when the incoming crap storm from work was making me cranky, and something soothing and chocolate was necessary to calm jangled nerves. Already in my jammies (ok, so what if it was 5:30pm), the thought of leaving my cozy nest to go to the market for box pudding just wasn’t going to fly. So I figured, why not make it on my own? Happily, the experiment worked, with just a few ingredients I already had and could pronounce without consulting a chemistry text. To be fair, this isn’t as good as my more elaborate chocolate pudding recipe, but for a quick fix, it’s perfect!

Fast Espresso Pudding Makes 4 approximately 1/2 cup servings

  • 3 TBSP instant espresso powder
  • 2 TBSP unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 TBSP corn starch
  • 5 TBSP sugar (or more, according to taste – I like things a little less sweet)
  • 2 cups whole milk (I’ve done it with 2% but anything lower and the pudding tends to be a little grainy)
  • A pinch salt

Whisk together everything but the milk in a saucepan. Add the milk and whisk until combined. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring continuously, until the mixture comes to a boil and thickens. IMG_0418Pour into cups and let cool for 30 minutes on the counter. Refrigerate for another hour until set. If you want to avoid a skin on top, cover with plastic before cooling on counter, making sure to press the wrap onto the top of the pudding. I like to froth some milk and add a dollop on top and a little cinnamon before serving. Calories: approximately 170 per serving.

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It’s been a quiet week in Lake Woeisme


It’s been a quiet week in Lake Woe-is-me, where the woman is strong (usually) and the shoes are plentiful. I don’t know about you, but once the holidays are over and the new year is here, I get kind of blue. Maybe it’s the knowledge that retribution for the culinary bacchanal I’ve been living since Thanksgiving has now come due (if I ever want to fit into anything other than my fabulous heels.) Maybe it’s the letdown after the build up of the holidays. Or it could be that spring and its warmth and green are at least 3 long cold months away. Whatever the cause, the blue meanies can take hold and hang on with a vengeance. So naturally I was anticipating the onset of the woe-is-me’s as January unfurled before me. Imagine my surprise when it didn’t happen. Or rather hasn’t happened, yet. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to feel like crap. In fact, I spend a good deal of my time thinking of ways NOT to feel like crap. So my relatively bright mood lately has me completely flummoxed. What exactly did I do to deserve this? Who the hell do I think I am, feeling all cheerful-like? Something must be wrong. I’m supposed to be sad. I’m supposed to be anxious. I have no job yet, money is running out, and George Clooney STILL hasn’t called. Come ON! These are not the circumstances that foster a blithe spirit. I suppose I could attribute it to a distant brightening of my prospects, but the whole thing makes me very unsettled. Winter is for moping, I know that! Oh well, I guess I’ll just have to suffer through it and be cheerful. For now… 😉

When I’m blue, I seek out comfort food, preferably something soft, something creamy. It’s comforting, and quiet (no pesky crunching) and it makes me feel better when things around me have gone to pot. So in this uncomfortable burst of mysterious jollity, I decided to combine the comfort of pudding with the sunshiny-ness of citrus. This recipe for Orange Budino is just the stuff to keep the shine on your mood.

Budino is the Italian word for pudding. My recipe was adapted from one in Bon Appetit using Meyer lemons. Meyer lemons are in season in the winter, but tend to be a bit pricey and not available everywhere. I decided to use orange instead, and I think I like it even better.  I’ve also reduced the eggs in the original recipe, removing one of the yolks, and added just a touch of almond. The result is a light soufflé-type pudding with a meringue-like top and rich pudding bottom. I make this in 4 small ½ cup ramekins but you could easily double the recipe and make this in 6 larger ¾ cup ramekins for a more cheer-filled portion.

Orange Budino

Makes 4 ½-cup servings

  • 1 whole egg and 1 egg white
  • 1/4 cup + 1 TBSP granulated sugar
  • 2 TBSP flour
  • 2 TBSP orange juice (from 1/2 a large orange)
  • 1 TBSP lemon juice
  • 1/4 tsp almond extract
  • 1 TBSP orange zest (from 1 large orange)
  • ¼ cup + 3 TBSP milk (I use 2% because that’s what I had- use whatever you prefer)
  • A pinch salt

Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly butter or spray four ½ -cup custard cups or ramekins. Combine 1/4 cup sugar, egg yolk, flour, orange and lemon juices, and orange peel in large bowl; whisk until well blended. Whisk in milk.

Using electric mixer, beat egg whites and salt in medium bowl until frothy. Gradually add remaining 1 tablespoons sugar and beat until soft peaks form. Fold beaten egg whites into orange mixture in 2 additions. Divide mixture evenly among ramekins. Place cups in roasting pan and carefully pour enough hot water into pan to come halfway up the sides of the cups. Bake puddings until tops are golden and spring back when lightly touched, about 30 minutes. Remove cups from water. Serve warm or cold with whipped cream, if desired. Calories = approx 130 per serving.

Article first published as It’s Been a Quiet Week in Lake Woeisme on Technorati.