Posted in Food, Stories Around the World

Of Simplicity, Elegance and Canapés

Entering into the football and cricket season, weekends involve having the family and friends for the collective cheer and match-viewing. While for the first few days, quick snacks like crisps, fried pakoras, fritters, tater-tots provided immediate sustenance during the game hours; alternatives were required for the semi-finals and final game nights. Consequently it was tiny sandwiches and canapes for the remaining days.

One of the types of hors d’œuvre, a canapé is a small, prepared and often decorative food consisting of a small piece of bread (sometimes toasted), puff pastry or a cracker topped with some savoury food, held in the fingers and often eaten in one bite. The technical composition includes a base (bread, pancake, fresh vegetables or even crackers), the spread (compound butter, flavoured cream cheese, thick cream); the main item (meat, cheese, fish, relish, purees, caviar, foie gras) and topped with garnish of choice. The latter can be varied, from finely chopped vegetables, scallions, herbs or even truffle oil).

Quiet interesting is the fact that canapes weren’t an overnight invention. Savory protein on bread or pastry combinations (croutons, crustades) were a gradual adaption and evolution of the cuisine through Middle Ages. Though the “Canapes” of today, had originated in France. They were initially offered to the guests of the French fêtes (18th century) and this practice was adopted by the other cuisines around the world especially the English. Although the concept of making canapes have evolved, today they are also known as finger foods (not vice versa) or savouries. Though the larger canapes often border close to being labelled as open sandwich.

The beauty of making canapés is that subtle variations can affect a distinct difference in taste and style. For instance, the base can be changes to crackers, toasted bread pieces or even flat vegetables seasoned, deep fried or sauted cut into interesting shapes and sizes. For the kids, canapés can be decorated with sugar sprinkles, gems or even different coloured icing for an added touch of colour.

“Anchovy canapes.
Cut some slices of crumb of bread, 1/4 inch thick; cut these in pieces 2 1/2 inches long, 1 1/2 inch wide; and fry them in clarified butter, till a nice golden colour; When cold, spread the pieces with Anchovy Butter; Steep some anchovies in cold water; drain, open, and trim them; Place 4 fillets of anchovies, lengthwise, on each piece of bread, leaving three small spaces between the fillets; fill the first space with chopped hard-boiled white of egg; fill the middle space with chopped parsley, and the third with chopped hard-boiled yolk of egg; Dress the canapes in a flat china boat, or small dish, generally used for all these cold Hors d’oeuvre.”
—The Royal Cookery Book, Jules Gouffe, translated and adapted for English use by Alphonse Gouffe [Sampson Low, Son & Marston:London] 1869 (p. 409)
[NOTE: This source also contains recipes for shrimp canapes, caviar canapes, crayfish tails canapes, lobster canapes, and smoked salmon canapes.]

Posted in Food, Stories Around the World

Platter of Warmth and Pasta

Informing my other half, that office hours would extend on till late evening resulted in the first reassurance whether everything was ready for dinner or not. Unfortunately the planned ahead wasn’t in order. Consequently it was a day of either ordering in for the entire family or an immediate quick meals ensemble or emergency cooking. With the sudden downpour, it was the latter that won the toss. Instead of the ever filling mac and cheese, it was pasta and cheese for dinner. While it mayn’t be as close to di Lelio’s “fettuccine alfredo”, it was a dish made of family love, that made the evening one of happiness, warmth and peace.

Tracing the roots of the famed fettuccine alfredo, would an interesting read. Serving fettuccine (flat thick pasta made of egg and flour) with butter and cheese can be found in the 15th century recipes for macaroni romaneschi (Martino da Como, Rome). Here the noodles are cooked in broth or water, butter is then added along with good cheese and varied sweet spices. Variation of the above ingredients with the fresh fettuccine being tossed with butter and Parmesan cheese, the latter forming a smooth rich sauce coating the pasta as it melts leads to the present day “Fettuccine Alfredo”.

As per family accounts, Di Lelio made it for his wife Ines, in order to entice her to eat after giving birth to their first child. Named as fettuccine al triplo burro initially, for the extra butter added while mixing up the fettuccine together. The initial recipes included the use of three ingredients: fettuccine, young Parmesan cheese and butter. As legends go, the original recipes have believed it’s secret lie in the oil added to the pasta dough or the noodles being cooked in milk. Whichever it may be, this dish had caught with the generation then and has been carried over since.

Interestingly as important as the taste, was the tossing of the fettuccine with the cheese and butter; such that the entire procedure was an art in itself. No matter how busy or dull the day may have been, Combining the essence of warm plate of homeliness, love, comfort food as well as warmth makes this dish; be it the homemade version or the dining out in-style brings out the best feelings within.

“This act of mixing the butter and cheese through the noodles becomes quite a ceremony when performed by Alfredo in his tiny restaurant in Rome. As busy as Alfredo is with other duties, he manages to be at each table when the waiter arrives with the platter of fettuccine to be mixed by him. As a violinist plays inspiring music, Alfredo performs the sacred ceremony with a fork and spoon of solid gold. Alfredo does not cook noodles. He does not make noodles. He achieves them.” — George Rector (1933)

Posted in Personal Musings, poetry, Random Thoughts

Quiet to Ease

On one of the early evenings, with all the chores done and kids put to bed early, there was plenty of time on the adult hands. With glee, the shows on Netflix were opted for and the movie run was on. Unfortunately midway, there was a power out which saw a no-show even after an hour. As the humming of the inverter increased, all additional power outlets had to be switched off, lest the power doesn’t return all night. With that in mind, it was just the quiet of the evening hours, a bit of quiet talk and plenty of starlight that gave us company during dinner. In those few hours minus any entertainment, modern gadgets or social media to keep us busy, the “quiet evening” experienced was a wonderful de-stressor for the mind and soul.

“Most of the things we need to be most fully alive never come in busyness. They grow in rest.” Mark Buchanan

For many of us, be it during wok hours or just domestic life, staying busy has been the norm. At times, we are busy because we have to. From the daily “bread and butter” to the running of the household, the day has been organized in it’s set pace. While for a couple of weeks to months, the order is well appreciated. Eventually the known becomes mundane and tedious. The secret longing for a break comes on. Then on, the itch for a trip out of town or a change from the usual begins. On sitting down to reality, a long break seems impossible. In those moments, just being in quietness helps a lot. Deviating from the information highway and settling down to good old days of just the night or evening skies, the sounds of cricket as well as the fireplace provides solace for the soul.

“There is virtue in work and there is virtue in rest. Use both and overlook neither.” Alan Cohen

As the days ends, unwinding oneself for a couple of minutes is a must, at least once in a while. While for some of us, it may mean a trip out of the town; for the others their own backyard is enough. Either way, knowing when it is time to call it a day and welcome the peace of night is both necessary and important. The beauty of rest is something when fully experienced, will be well appreciated over the years.

In the Evening

In the evening, love returns,
Like a wand’rer ’cross the sea;
In the evening, love returns
With a violet for me;
In the evening, life’s a song,
And the fields are full of green;
All the stars are golden crowns,
And the eye of God is keen.

In the evening, sorrow dies
With the setting of the sun;
In the evening, joy begins,
When the course of mirth is done;
In the evening, kisses sweet
Droop upon the passion vine;
In the evening comes your voice:
“I am yours, and you are mine.”

Fenton Johnson (1888-1958)

Posted in Daily, Food, Stories Around the World

Third Wave and On…

“Coffee is a hug in a mug.” Anonymous

On a long postponed visit to the extended family line, we had to put in a three hour journey to-and-back. While waiting in the traffic and not being in the principal driver’s seat was an added incentive for window shopping. Naturally the sign of “discount” had your truly squinting to make out the deals. But it was the special offer of “The Flying Squirrel” (exclusively bought online) and Seven Beans that had snared my attention. After seconds of hedging, my husband had the car in park while I made a quick dash for it. With our luck in alignment, the buy didn’t take much time and we were on back homeward bound.

“It’s amazing how the world begins to change through the eyes of a cup of coffee.” Donna A. Favors

Interestingly “The Flying Squirrel” or “Seven Beans” is but two of the many brands caught in the “wave of coffee”. Entering into the artisanal food category, the third wave coffee movement is a retrospective entry of coffee wherein both coffee lovers and manufacturers share the joy and appreciation of high quality coffee. Like fine varieties of wine and cheese, the third wave of coffee explores the connoisseur-ship, stimulation of the senses and exploration of taste in a simple but buoyant cup of coffee. The unique characteristics of that simple coffee bean are highlighted, ranging from the diverse methods of growing, cultivation, processing, roasting as well as the practices and salient variables among the coffee bean cultivars and beverage preparation.

“The first wave of American coffee culture was probably the 19th-century surge that put Folgers on every table, and the second was the proliferation, starting in the 1960s at Peet’s and moving smartly through the Starbucks grande decaf latte, of espresso drinks and regionally labeled coffee. We are now in the third wave of coffee connoisseurship, where beans are sourced from farms instead of countries, roasting is about bringing out rather than incinerating the unique characteristics of each bean, and the flavor is clean and hard and pure.” Jonathan Gold, LA Weekly. (March 2008, Pulitzer Prize winning food critic on the third wave of coffee)

Technically the terminology of “third wave coffee” was most widely attributed to Trish Rothgeb, a coffee professional in an article for the Roasters Guild newsletter titled “Norway and Coffee,” (2003) with the first mainstream media mention in an National Public Radio piece about barista competitions. Although there is a lesser known reference in an obscure trade publication called “Tea & Coffee Trade Journal Asia” (1999) by specialty coffee pioneer Timothy Castle obliquely referring to the same. While the first and second waves dealt in the ready availability and highlight the countries of origin with (or not) of their signature dark roast profile (respectively), the third wave coffee is often associated with the concept of ‘specialty coffee’ with reference to the specialty grades of green (raw and unroasted) coffee beans (distinct from commercial grade coffee) or specialty coffee beverages of high quality and craft. Though coined earlier (1974), “specialty coffee” was meant to refer to high-quality beans scoring 80 points or more on a 100-point scale.

“It doesn’t matter where you’re from – or how you feel… There’s always peace in a strong cup of coffee.” Gabriel Bá

There is something in a cup of coffee that is dearly enjoyed across all age groups, from different countries, professions and cultures. To add to one’s own special highlight to that cup of coffee, along with the coffee wave, the addition of a tinge of vanilla, whisky, chocolate, cinnamon, cardamom or hot chocolate, can do wonders. Not to forget the ice-cream for the kids. Little wonder then, one would chose to miss an opportunity to ride “that coffee wave”.

Posted in Family and Society, Life, Random Thoughts, Reflections

In Front of Us

Long weekends are meant for a break from the usual routine. While the family homestead is the usual go-to place for a change from the town or suburban life, with kids the eagerness to go somewhere special for the holidays arises. When the purse strings are tight, inventiveness goes a long way. Unlike the Englishman Mr. Hopp, sometimes the best thing would be a planned event in the company of friends and family, at times even in own backyard. Putting it more explicitly, this long weekend saw a camp-out with family at the beach, a two day event sufficient to keep everyone occupied. Spending some wholesome time with kith and kin put many little things in a new perspective.

“Sometimes what you’re looking for is right under your nose and you don’t even know it.” John Hall

Opportunities and memories don’t lie in the outreaches alone. Sometimes the best things of life are right under our nose, which may be missed when we are constantly seeking for the unusual or the exotic. Learning to appreciate the present as well to gradually build on the available options at hand, helps the right balance to be struck in life. Glitter and glamour may be present beyond the immediate circle, but one may tend to forget how temporary those aspects are. The innumerable bequests of the present once when neglected or in gradual ruin, their absence or loss when remembered draws out many regrets from within.

“A smile is happiness you’ll find right under your nose.” Tom Wilson

Every now and then, there are many special moments when we take an effort to uncover them and view them from a different aspect. While the natural instinct is to provide for the day and chase after the hidden dreams or the glamour of the other side; this pursuit is to checked especially to ensure that the blessings of the present aren’t taken for granted. The future is a definite aspects that looms about, putting a definite amount of insecurity and uncertainties arise deep within while considering it. Yet knowing when to strike a balance to those thoughts, help one to discover the beauty of the present around. For though the future look through the telescope of plans, optimism and dreams is important; neglecting the present hours of gifts, blessings and opportunities would result in a hazy, murky vision ahead ridden with guilt and plenty of what-ifs.

Englishman Mr. Hopp
Looks through a long telescope.
Sees mountains and forests,
Clouds and skies.
But he does not see anything,
That under his nose.

Daniil Kharms, 1936 (1905-1942)

Posted in Daily, Food, Photography Art

Art in the Jar

“The wonder of imagination is this: It has the power to light its own fire.” John Landis Mason

Rummaging through the church sale, there were numerous purchases, not just the clothes and books sections, but also collectibles ranging from the funny shaped lanterns to glass bottles and finally the mason jars. Speaking of the latter, these were a staple of the kitchens during the prime years of my grandmother and the generations before her. Without the existence of modern day refrigerators, the winter supply was primarily contributed by canning and preservation techniques.

Though the technique of preservation of food were in many rudimentary forms, it was the French chef Nicolas Appert who had brought about the method of preserving food by enclosing it in sealed containers. Among the earliest glass jars used for home canning were wax sealers (named so as attributed to the sealing wax poured into a channel around the lip to secure the tin lid). Although this process was complicated and error-prone, the wax sealing process was largely in popular use. As this method got slowly modified with screw on cap, till John Landis Mason took over with his innovative twist.

For every canning enthusiast, antique collector or simply any collector, the Mason Jar is a must on the list. A Mason jar, named after John Landis Mason, is a molded glass jar used in home canning to preserve food. From the first patented form of 1857, to the present, Mason jars have had hundreds of variations in shape and cap design. Although the collector’s treasure is the “Patent Nov 30th 1858,” signifying the date of Mason’s patent, as embossed on thousands of jars, which were made in many shapes, sizes, and colors well into the 1900s.

Today mason jar aren’t confined to the “canning section” alone, but form a big part of many aspects. From the aesthetic turn to food art, serving jars as well as “healthy shakes”, party essentials to leaflet holder, coin jars or quote jars, gift ideas and many more, owning the original one is a collector’s dream. Over the years though technology as well as modern science has progressed in leaps and bounds; there are certain “antique” things in life which still remain in the personal favourite or choice list.

Posted in Daily, Food, Uncategorized

Of Parfait, Choice and Style

For any meal, the finale is marked by that delightful bit of sweetness. With the rising awareness of eating healthy and right, the right balance has to be struck at times between the temptation of the sugar craving to close the meal and to stay on the low healthy calorie counter too. Which is why “parfait” has evolved since it’s inception to the present day.

The oldest known recipe can be traced to 1894, of French origin where it had started off as a frozen dessert. While the French prefer to make the base from cream, egg, sugar and syrup creating a perfect custard-like puree, known as “the parfait”; whereas the American counterpart includes an artful layering of varied ingredients like granola, nuts, yogurt, liqueurs with a topping of fruits or whipped cream layered and served in a tall glass.

Of recent, with new trends and various experimentation, parfaits have been introduced without the cream and liqueurs. Instead they are made by simply layering the fresh fruits ranging from berries, cut peaches, strawberries with yogurt , granola or nuts; served as a healthy snack, breakfast option or a light meal, as a change from the regular. Which ever way it may be, the popularity of the parfait lies not only in it’s ease of preparation and the delectable indulgence but also in the appealing art it holds in itself.