My Pie-Sister Kate McDermott’s Lemon Meringue Pie


I love following “Art of the Pie”, the beautiful, useful blog my friend Kate McDermott bakes up from Pie Cottage out in the great Northwest. Kate not only knows everything about pie-making, not only creates gorgeous, varied pies and pastries: she shares her infinite knowledge, wisdom, and experience with the whole wide world, on her blog, in feature stories, on television, and in hands-on classes all around the country. (And maybe the world — she’d be the best Pie Ambassador anyone could want.) 


Her recent post, “The Queen of Lemon Meringue Pie”, caught my attention in the middle of a particularly busy week, when I had not a speck of time for anything not on my To-Do List. I loved the photo, I loved what she said about the recipe (a family heirloom, made with love and sweet memories of her grandmother), and I loved the vivid, heartwarming reminder she gave me of family reunions in my North Carolina childhood, and my own grandmothers, two fantastic enthusiastic cooks now gone on to the Kitchen in the Sky). 

I had everything I needed in the house, and next thing I knew I had printed out Kate’s recipe for The Queen of Lemon Meringue Pie, and made it before the day even got hot. This was when our air conditioning was broken, so it was hot, just not THAT HOT, and it was so worth it. I used only the three egg whites I had left from making the lemon filling, rather than adding two extra egg whites as called for in the recipe, so my meringue is not as lofty as it would have been had I done so; but it was fantastic, beautiful, and a delight for our family and some friends. 

Here is the recipe.

The Queen Of Lemon Meringue 

by Kate McDermott

on “Art of the Pie”

I hope you enjoy it, and I think you will love signing up to follow Kate’s blog, Art of the Pie. If you can ever make to one of her classes, you will be glad you did so. Oh: and about my connection to Kate? The McDermott name we share? We are not related, not directly — but we are absolutely positively Sisters in Pie! 







July 20, 2014 at 12:49 pm Leave a comment

Black History Month Cookbook Round-Up: A Feast for Cooks and Readers

Horizontal BHCOoks

Throughout February, I’ve been celebrating Black History Month on my Facebook page, with daily postings of cookbooks written by African American authors.  I got the idea from my friend Nicole Taylor, who is always cooking up something fine: Check her out at Food Culturist , My Black Journey, @foodculturist, Facebook page, and her Heritage Radio Network show “Hot Grease”. Twenty-eight cookbooks in all, pictured about on the stairs leading up to my office. My friend Carroll Leggett asked if I might share a list once I was finished, and I said “Yes!”.

Here it is: Each book cover, and a little commentary about each one, what I put up on Facebook each day, some long, some short.  I had so many to choose from that I gave myself some guidelines. I decided to stick with modern/current  books, since the subject of historical cookbooks by African Americans is being handsomely covered by my friend, journalist, author and culinary historian Toni Tipton-Martin, of The Jemima Code. Her book, The Jemima Code: 150 Timeless African American Cookbooks and Their Extraordinary Legacy”  will be published by the University of Texas Press next year. Check out her blog HEREher Jemima Code Facebook page HERE

While some of the authors have written  multiple books, I kept it to one per author, in order to showcase as many people as possible. I didn’t post any books that I saw other people posting on their own #bhcookbooks lists, again to broaden the field. Despite my chosen guidelines, I still I ran out of days, and not out of books! I still have more here, and this list is limited to the ones I happened to have already in my own cookbook library; this is by no means an exhaustive, complete, or ranked collection. It’s just a wonderful start. I love every book on this list and I hope you will enjoy them, too. Happy reading, happy cooking, happy learning, happy history-celebrating. All year long, not just February. No reason to stop celebrating, learning, and thinking just because we turned a calendar page.

BHCkBk Amer I AmMy friend Nicole Taylor is posting photos of black-authored cookbooks daily during Black History Month, and inviting us to follow along and/or do likewise. Here we go: “America I Am Pass It Down Cookbook: Over 130 Soul-Filled Recipes” by Chef Jeff Henderson with Ramin Ganeshram. This collection of recipes from both home cooks, professional chefs, includes history, portraits of contributors, historical photos and pictures of some of the dishes, and an inviting collection of recipes worthy of picnics, brunches, family reunions and celebration feasts. Published in 2011 by Smiley Books, it includes space for us to write in some of our own family recipes to this collection; to keep on passing it down.

J Harris High HogBlack History Month is five days along and I have some catching up to do. #bhcookbooks Today’s cookbook is “High On The Hog: A Culinary Journey from Africa to America” by the brilliant, prolific, trailblazing and incomparable Dr. Jessica B Harris. (Bloomsbury 2011). We could go nearly two weeks through this month of books featuring Dr. Harris’s works alone! As prolific as she is articulate and creative, Dr. Harris knows the worlds and ways of which she writes so eloquently in this history book, story book, academic work, and adventure chronicle, foodways essay and recipe book. We needed this book, and what a gift that Dr. Harris has written it. Start the journey with her in the Marche’ Kermel in Dakar, Senegal, and finish it at her American kitchen table, sharing sauce gombo from Benin, calas from New Orleans, snow eggs from Monticello, and her signature Sunday dinner dish, garlic-, rosemary-, and lavender-scented leg of lamb with spicy mint sauce.

Creole FeastToday’s cookbook by an African American author: “Creole Feast: 15 Master Chefs of New Orleans Reveal Their Secrets” by Chef Nathaniel Burton and Dr. Rudy Lombard. Published by Random House in 1978, it features interviews with and biographical information about fifteen accomplished chefs, handsome photos and incredible array of recipes, arranged by type of dish with credit to each chef. Treasure. #bhcookbooks Thanks, Nicole Taylor
Black History Month.

Sallie A Rob Gullah omeCatching up on my Daily Posts of excellent cookbooks by African American authors. Today’s book, “Gullah Home Cooking the Daufuskie Way; Smokin’ Joe Butter Beans, Ol’ Fuskie Fried Crab Rice, Sticky-Bush Blackberry Dumpling, & Other Sea Island Favorites”, opens a lovely, moving window onto the world of Sallie Ann Robinson, who takes us all over to her beloved Daufuskie Island, which is just a ferry ride away from Savannah, Georgia. One of the Sea Islands of the Low Country, it is where Ms. Robinson was born and raised, and she brings her childhood to life, while introducing us to the living traditions, culinary and otherwise, of Gullah people. And the food, the recipes: Fantastic! From UNC University of North Carolina Press, published in 2003, still in print, paperback and hardcover. #bhcookbooks Check out Food Culturist, who launched this wonderful idea. I want every book she’s posted….

N Shange I CanIn celebration of Black History Month, here is today’s post of a cookbook by an African American author: “If I Can Cook/You Know God Can” by is by Ntozake Shange, renowned playwright, artist, essayist, and novelist. Recipes are here, folded into an incredible, unique, moving work published in 1998 by Beacon Press. Newer edition in Beacon’s Bluestreak series has a different cover, same delicious contents. Fabulous introduction by Living National Treasure Ms. Vertamae Grosvenor. Thankful for Food Culturist Nicole Taylor who inspired me to do this. #bhcookbooks

Ms. Leah ChaseToday’s cookbook in honor of Black History Month, “And Still I Cook”, published in 2003 by Pelican Publishing Company, comes from another Living National Treasure: Chef Leah Chase, who has been firing up the stoves of legendary Dooky Chase Restaurant in New Orleans for decades. After the levees failed and let Katrina’s waters flow into her kitchen and dining rooms, she did not waver in her determination to reopen, and that is just what she did. She is still cooking, still working, still speaking up, at the age of 91. Thanks to Nicole Taylor of Food Culturist for this idea #bhcooks

K StarrToday’s cookbook by an African American author is “The Soul of Southern Cooking”, by Kathy Starr. She truly is a star, for bringing the world her family’s stories and recipes in this superb book, published by University of Mississippi Press in 1989. You will meet her grandmother, restauranteur, businesswoman and chef known to all as Miz Bob, and envision Ms. Starr’s Mississippi Delta childhood through stories and recipes. Here’s an interivew with Kathy Starr in the Oral History section of Southern Foodways Alliance‘s website: #bhcooks

Treme cookbookToday’s cookbook by an African American author is “Treme: Stories and Recipes from the Heart of New Orleans” by esteemed journalist, author, and screenwriter 
Lolis Eric Elie who created a story-seasoned cookbook which presents New Orleans cuisine, culture and recipes in a way which works even if you don’t follow the fine television series Treme on HBO. If you are a fan, so cool how the characters are telling the big story through their stories. If you don’t, no worries: it stands alone with NOLA people telling NOLA stories. There are fancy restaurant dishes and home-cooking dishes and street food dishes and essays on such subjects as gumbo and yaka mein. Deep, practical, diverting, fun. #bhcooks

Spoon Bread SP PieToday I need to catch up on African American Cookbooks for Black History Month #bhcooks. Start with this lovely work, “Spoonbread and Strawberry Wine: Recipes and Reminiscences of a Family” by two sisters from a North Carolina family who penned a classic back in 1994. Norma Jean Darden and Carole Darden season their book with handsome black and white photographs of family members and special occasions, and they pioneered oral history in food research in a beautiful way. I LOVE this comment on the Amazon site: says so much:
”…I’ve just ordered my third copy of this book, having worn out two little paperbacks. I bought my first copy many years ago and was captivated. This cookbook is a perfect blend of memories and recipies–one doesn’t overpower the other. I’ve cooked most of the recipes in the book, and their cornbread recipe has become my standard for home and ‘pot luck’. I’ve bought many copies of this book for gifts. Mine have been worn out from loaning to friends. A great achievement on the part of the writers. A book to keep…” (reader’s review on Amazon).

Af Am Heritage Kids CokbookTime for today’s Black History Month cookbook by an African American authors, inspired by my friend Food CulturistNicole Taylor #bhcooks. “The African-American Child’s Heritage Cookbook” is wonderful for getting into the kitchen with youngsters and up, or for letting older kids get busy on their own. First published in 1993 by Sandcastle Publishing, this collection of over 200 recipes is a workbook and handbook, formatted to make it easy to copy recipes and get in the kitchen with young people who want to cook. Author Vanessa Roberts Parham received her degree in Home economics from historic Tuskegee University.

C W Bailey SapeloToday’s cookbook by an African American author, in honor of Black History Month, is a particular favorite of mine. “The Foods of Georgia’s Barrier Islands: A Gourmet Food Guide of Native American, Geechee and European Influences on the Golden Isles” by Yvonne J. Grovner, Cornelia Walker Bailey and Doc. Bill. #bhcooks (Thanks to Food Culturist who inspired me to post these books.) Lots of history, commentary, black and white photos of life, food and cooking, and color photo section. Mrs. Cornelia Walker Bailey is a living national treasure herself, the muse, historian, advocate and hero of Sapelo Island, where she and Ms. Grovner live. Read about her here: and check out The Sapelo Project here on Facebook. To buy the book via mail order, go here: .

Underground RRToday’s cookbook celebrating Black History Month is “An African American Cookbook: Traditional and Other Favorite Recipes”, by Phoebe Bailey. Published in 2002, it has more than 400 recipes, many seasoned with stories, oral history, and family connections. The book celebrates the particular history of Bethel AME Church in Lancaster, PA, a congregation with direct connections to the Underground Railroad.

Gullah Cuisine Char JenkToday’s Black History Month celebration cookbook by an African American author is “Gullah Cuisine: By Land and by Sea”, by Chef Charlotte Jenkins. Her restaurant, Gullah Cuisine, has been serving people in Mt. Pleasant, SC, nearby Charleston, and far beyond, since she opened it in 1997. Her first book serves up her recipes with family stories, Gullah culture and history, photos, and splendid works of art by Chef Jenkins’s friend and world-renowned artist, Jonathan Green. Here is Chef Jenkins’s website: Wonderful Preface by my friend Marion B. Sullivan, of The Culinary Institute of Charleston . Thanks to Food Culturist Nicole Taylor for this idea of book sharing: #bhcooks

Mama Dip Fam CBToday’s cookbook by an African American author is very precious to me: “Mama Dip’s Family Cook Book”, her second book for University of North Carolina Press, published in 2005 and a huge best-seller just like her first. Mrs. Mildred Council is a Living National Treasure and for us here in Piedmont NC, a local and a state Treasure as well. She opened her restaurant, Mama Dip’s Kitchen when she was over 40 years old, and she is still going strong in her 80’s. Ate there last week, had the smothered pork chops, brought one home for my sweetie, cause I do love him so. And cause I had pecan pie, so I was well served. Look for her daughter, Spring Council next time you’re feasting at Mama Dip’s. Love her books, her presence in our community, her example of business smarts, diversifying your work world, dedication to family and community, strength and spirit.

Sweety PiesToday’s Black History Month celebration-via-cookbooks continues, thanks to inspiration from my friend Nicole Taylor, the Food Culturist who started #bhcooks. “Sweety Pies: An Uncommon Collection of Womanish Observations, with Pie”, is the second book by Patty Pinner. Published in 2007 by Taunton Press, it is gorgeously produced and beautifully written. The photo of Vertamae Grosvenor’s coconut custard meringue pie that ends the book is mesmerizing, and it is but one of an entire CHAPTER of meringue pies, each one splendid. Ms. Pinner writes beautifully and her stories like the photos enrich and enhance the book. Ms. Pinner’s first book, “Soul Food Desserts and Memories”, shines brightly as well. Why can I not find my copy? That’s all right, I know it’s here…

AfAm entertainingToday’s cookbook celebrating an African American author is “Ideas for Entertaining from an African-American Kitchen”, by Angela Shelf Medaris. Published in 1998 by Plume/Penguin, this book brings a year of holidays and gatherings home with 150 recipes taking us from Emancipation Day on January 1st and Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday January 15th through a Caribbean-style Juneteenth Dinner, and Kwanzaa, along with dinner on the grounds, family reunions, and Thanksgiving and Christmas menus and ideas. This is one of three cookbooks by Ms. Medaris who is also author of more than 50 children’s books, and loves to cook and share the stories. Thankful for her and for my friend Nicole Taylor the Food Culturist, whose idea it was to celebrate Black History Month in this delicious way. #bhcooks

Brown SugarCelebrating Black History Month, here’s today’s cookbook by an African American author: “Brown Sugar: Soul Food Desserts from Family and Friends” by Joyce White. A distinguished journalist and food editor, Ms. White draws on her Alabama roots and her lifetime of traveling and living in NYC, gathering in stories along with recipes for black walnut pound cake, biscuit bread pudding, candied pecans, and three-sisters coconut custard pie. Published in 2003 by Harper Collins. #bhcooks Thanks to Food Culturist Nicole Taylor for the idea to celebrate in this delicious way.

Soul Food S. FergusonCelebrating Black History Month #bhcooks here’s today’s cookbook by an African American Author: “Soul Food: Classic Cuisine from the Deep South”, by Sheila Ferguson. Published in 1989 by Weidenfeld and Nicholson, and reissued in 1994, this book is seasoned with family photos, both antique and current, and luscious food photo spreads, including an image on page 170 of a woman in the kitchen that moves me every time I see. Recipes, essays — it’s a treasure. A little extra pleasure for me, though the book completely stands on its own without this aspect, is that the author, Sheila Ferguson, was lead singer of The Three Degrees, whose song “When Will I See You Again” remains a favorite for me and my buddies, from back in the day when we were dashing off hither and yon, before reading glasses and such. Uncle Boykin’s Gumbo, Daddy’s Pinto Beans with Rice, Vertamae’s Fried Crab ‘n’ Grits, Black Walnut Cake, and a strong clear voice throughout. Grateful to my friend Food Culturist Nicole Taylor for inspiration to celebrate BHM this way.

GullahBlack History Month continues, and today’s cookbook by African American authors is “The Ultimate Gullah Cookbook”, by Jesse Edwards Gannt, Jr. and Veroncia Davis Gerald of Conway SC. History, family stories, and abundance of recipes such as mustards & corn meal dumplings, stewed shrimp n’ gravy, perlow rice and more. Check out their Facebook page here Ultimate Gullah and website here,
where you can order this book directly, or find their store should you be traveling in South Carolina. #bhcooks Thanks to Food Culturist for this idea.

Marvin WoodsStill celebrating Black History Month with a daily cookbook celebration. Today it’s The New Low-Country Cooking: 125 Recipes for Coastal Southern Cooking with Innovative Style” by Chef Marvin Woods. Published in 2000 by Harper Collins, this book opens with an introduction by esteemed culinary historian Karen Hess, and serves up a low-country buffet of recipes from pickled shrimp and five-greens rice to Southern summer ratatouille, quail with cornbread stuffing, and sweet potato creme brulee. Thanks to Food Culturist for the inspiration to celebrate via #bhcook

Sylvia's Family Soul Food CookbookBlack History Month is still cooking! Today’s cookbook post is “Sylvia’s Family Soul Food Cookbook: From Hemingway, South Carolina, to Harlem”, by Chef Sylvia Woods and Family. This handsome book was published in 1999 by William Morrow and Company. It features wonderful family photos and stories, beginning with these words: “If you might have been wonderinghow a young girl could go from picking beans in the fields in a small town in the South to opening one of Harlem’s oldest and most respected soul food restaurants with a branch in Atlanta, I can tell you that it was no easy road.” This was her second book; the first, “Sylvia’s Soul Food: Recipes from Harlem’s World Famous Restaurant” came out in 1992, also from William Morrow. Chef, restaurant and catering business owner, prepared foods entrepreneur as well as cookbook author, Mrs. Woods passed away at the age of 86 in 2012, just as the Mayor was hosting a celebration of Sylvia’s Restaurant’s 50th anniversary. Her family continues to run the restaurant, where I had the great pleasure of dining in 2012. Here is their FB page: Sylvia’s Restaurant, the Queen of Soulfood This New York Daily News obituary remembering Mrs. Woods. features a wonderful buffet of photographs from her amazing life. Thanks to Food Culturist for the idea to celebrate Black History Month with a parade of cookbooks by African American authors! #bhcooks

IMG_3810Today’s Black History Month cookbook is “Southern Homecoming Traditions: Recipes and Traditions”, by Carolyn Quick Tillery, published in 2006 by Citadel Press. A prolific author dedicated to preserving and sharing history, Ms. Tillery’s cookbooks include “The African-American Heritage Cookbook”, “A Taste of Freedom”, and “Celebrating Our Equality”. In this latest work, she celebrates the people and traditions of Atlanta’s great HBCU’s: Clark-Atlanta University; the Interdenominational Theological Center; Morehouse College; Morris Brown College; and Spelman College, with essays, stories, photos, and abundant recipes. Thanks to my friend Food Culturist , for the inspiration to celebrate African American cookbooks throughout Black History Month #bhcooks

natha adkins parkerStill celebrating Black History Month with daily posts of cookbooks by African American authors. Today, it’s “The Lost Art of Scratch Cooking: Recipes from the Kitchen of Natha Adkins Parker”, published in 1997 by Curtis Parker. This small book is a personal collection of recipes self-published by Mrs. Parker’s son in honor of his mother’s lifetime of cooking for her family. The 75 recipes include buttermilk tea cakes, chicken and dumplings, and old-fashioned lemonade. This books celebrates the life of a mother of ten children, with Mrs. Parker’s favorite Bible verses seasoning each page.

Food Soul Harlem ChurchBlack History Month rolls on, and as my friend Nicole Taylor of Food Culturist tells us, #bhcooks! Today’s book is “Food for the Soul: Recipes and Stories from the Congregation of Harlem’s Abyssinian Baptist Church”. This handsome collection of recipes and stories celebrates food and cooking in the life and work of The Abyssinian Baptist Church in the City of New York, Inc., the second-oldest African American church in America, with its 206th anniversary coming up this year. Historic photos join portraits of today’s congregation, many of the dishes, and a feast of stories. A thoughtful foreward by a Ms. Carole Darden-Lloyd, a church member and one of the two sisters whose fine book “Spoonbread and Strawberry Wine” has been featured in this month’s feast of cookbooks.

IMG_3797Today’s cookbook in celebration of Black History Month is “Smothered Southern Foods” by Wilbert Jones, published in 2006 by Citadel Press. A prolific writer and culinary entrepreneur, Chef Jones’s other books include “Tea Cakes: 101 Soul Food Desserts”. Hoping I might meet him when I travel to Chicago for IACP: The International Association of Culinary Professionals conference next month. Family photos and stories season more than 100 recipes, defining and conveying the classic Southern technique of smothering in both sweet and savory dishes. Thanks to my friend Nicole Taylor of Food Culturist for the idea to celebrate the African American kitchen in this way. #bhcooks.

Sweet PotatoesHome stretch for celebrating Black History Month with cookbooks. Today’s #bhcooks book is “Well, Shut My Mouth!: The Sweet Potatoes Restaurant Cookbook”, by Chef Stephanie L. Tyson, published by John F. Blair in 2011. This fine, cinnamon-colored book sizzles with a mix of restaurant-style recipes and traditional family recipes, reflecting the author’s childhood and Southern roots as well as her professional culinary education and years cooking at Sweet Potatoes – a restaurant in Winston-Salame, NC. The introduction tells how Chef Tyson and her partner Vivian V. Joiner made their dream of opening a restaurant come true, and the recipes include Pan-Roasted Oyster-Stuffed Quail with Red-Eye Gravy, V.V.’s Mama’s Meatloaf with Wild Mushroom Gravy, Icebox Soup, and Pineapple Coconut Pie. Lucky me, to count Stephanie and Vivian as friends, and to live within an hour of their wonderful restaurant. I love this video of the author telling about and cooking Miss Ora’s Best Fried Chicken in the Entire World (8 min 32 seconds).   Click HERE:   Thankful to Food Culturist Nicole Taylor for the inspiration to celebrate Black History Month with cookbooks by African American authors.

Sweet Auburn SonyaBlack History Month Day #27: Part 2. A bonus book, ’cause somehow I missed a day. Celebrating African American cookbooks with the delightful volume: “Sweet Auburn Desserts: Atlanta’s ‘Little Bakery That Could'” by Chef Sonya Jones. Published in 2011 by Pelican Publishing Co., this book is a gorgeous valentine to sweetness and treat-ness, with an abundance of gorgeous photographs of apple roly-poly with cranberry sauce, buttermilk lemon chess pie, dried apple stack cake with divine caramel sauce, and buttermilk cathead biscuits. Chef Jones’s intro shares the story of her pathway from home cook to fashion merchandising to culinary school, assisting Miss Edna Lewis when she taught cooking classes in Atlanta, and opening her bakery in the historic Sweet Auburn community in 1997. A whole chapter of Stack Cakes & Jelly Rolls? Recipes inspired by “What Mrs. Fisher Knows About Old Southern Cooking”? Yes! Grateful to @Food Culturist for the inspiration to share cookbooks #bhcooks. I missed a day in there, so this is my catch-up, two in one day. See you tomorrow….

Soul FoodDay #28 of Black History Month, and here is still another wonderful cookbook: “Soul Food: The Surprising Story of an American Cuisine, One Plate at a Time”, by Adrian Miller , published just last fall by University of North Carolina Press. This is the newest book amongst our posts, and I get to call it a cookbook because it has 22 recipes, but like one of our earlier posts this month, “High on the Hog: A Culinary Journey from Africa to America by Dr. Jessica B Harris, it is a history book in which a fine small selection of recipes helps to express the ideas and stories. (Just in case one or two of you thought ‘history book? nah…boring, dry, not my thing’, know that Like Dr. Harris’s book, this is history as story and lit and compelling read). If you follow Mr. Miller via Twitter @soulfoodscholar or on his excellent blog linked below, you will recognize some of the photos from his extensive over-time travels to research and document for this book, albeit in black & white not color. He includes maps and sidebars (Cornbread and Pot Likker as National Discourse; Possum ‘n’ Taters: The Most Famous Dish Probably Unknown to You; Chicken and Waffles) and those recipes, from Minnie Utsey’s never-fail cornbread and purple hull peas to Nyesha Arrington’s mac and cheese and banana pudding. A self-described ‘recovering lawyter turned culinary historian’, Mr. Miller first came to my attention as a dedicated board member of the Southern Foodways Alliance, (which I suggest you consider joining at once and reading the SFA blog and listening to fabulous oral histories online and attending events for which, but I digress: let’s see, Mr. Miller: I met Mr. Miller through SFA and have followed his work on this book with delight. It is excellent, and an ideal place to conclude this month of posts celebrating Black History Month, inspired by Food Culturist. Check out Adrian Miller’s blog here.

Book Group UPrightAnd that’s it for this particular 2014 Black History Month cookbook parade, but in terms of cookbooks to post, we’ve really only just gotten started. Many more cookbooks await us. Let me know your favorites in the comments, and while you’re cooking, continue this journey by listening to Dr. Jessica B. Harris’s radio program “My Welcome Table” on Heritage Radio Network.

Click HERE:



March 1, 2014 at 5:42 pm 7 comments

Valentine’s Day Wisdom and Chocolate Treats


My Southern Chocolate Pound Cake with Chocolate Pecan Icing, beautifully made and handsomely photographed by my friend, Linda Rogers Weiss, author of “Seasoned in the Kitchen”. Recipe below.

Flowers, candy, cards, candlelit dinners, chocolate: That’s my word-association when Valentine’s Day comes up. We tend to focus first on romance, special someone’s, expressing sweetheart-love. My friend Denise Vivaldo wrote the most wonderful, brief, brilliant commentary on this, and because I subscribe to her e-mail newsletter, it came right to my screen. (Always follow Denise, any time she invites you to do so. She is the hilarious, insightful, brilliant and talented best.) What Denise notes about Valentine’s Day is  short and sweet. You can read it in about 54 seconds and I promise you will be glad you did. Want to read it? Please click HERE. Denise ends with a little gift: Two recipes, one for adorable petit fours, and one for a pretty champagne cocktail involving raspberries.

IMG_3689Then there’s the wonderfulness of saluting and celebrating that romance, that love and affection, that finding someone special and signing on for the journey, and along came my friend Jamie Schler , who writes a wonderful blog called “Life’s A Feast”.  I always love her posts, but this latest one? It’s about love, romance, marriage, and French-style pudding au chocolat with salted caramel sauce. It, too, moved me, delighted me, and opened my eyes and heart. You can read it if you simply click HERE.

jamie cakes

Jamie includes the recipe for that chocolate confection, and gorgeous photographs of same. I made the little puddings, covered  and chilled them, and on the Big Snow Day (yesterday 2/13/14),  I made Jamie’s salted caramel sauce, and had it ready for my husband to enjoy for breakfast on the surprise snow day, instead of waiting for Valentine’s Day proper.


Jamie’s Salted Caramel Sauce in progress, butter going in, soon to be followed by cream…

You want that caramel sauce recipe?Yes, you do. For that, just  click HERE. Jamie’s French Pudding au chocolat recipe is at the end of her post, HERE. 

It has actually been a rather chocolate-y week around here. I have been and remain very, very busy on a big project, and bless my heart, when I get really going and need relief, I tend to bake. Going out for a run, a game of racquetball? Were those my escapes, instead of baking, that wouldn’t have worked, given the big snow and all.

I know some people clean and organize their homes and offices. That is so nice, and I may change as I age, but so far, it’s baking. Flipping through my Miscellaneous Recipe folder (one of the 243+ MR folders around the house in various places around the house) I came across “15 Minute Chocolate Cake”.


It had no notations at all as to where I had found it. Must have been a cut-and-paste, I thought. Can it really be a 15 minutes-into-the-oven chocolate cake, I wondered? I had everything. I went in the kitchen, started a timer, heated the oven to 350, set out the ingredients, and stirred it up. Oh NO!!! I forgot to do the pan first. Don’t like to do that so I put it off. Checked clock. Five minutes left!!! I got pan, greased it, lined it, and presto, into oven before the bell. The cake lifted up beautifully and came out just fine. Then I felt frustrated, because I couldn’t share it without credit and where in the world did I get it from? How would I ever find it?

unfrosted cakeBut why not at least just go Google 15 minute chocolate cake, so I did,  and voila, there it was, on my friend Andrea Nguyen‘s wonderful blog/website, Vietworld Kitchen. “Well, help my time!” is what my maternal grandmother used to say at such a time, which is Southern American NC English for “Who knew?” And so with full credit and delight, I present to you the recipe and story and pictures regarding the 15 Minute Chocolate Cake from Andrea on Vietworld Kitchen. All you do is click HERE.


15 Minute Chocolate Cake from Andrea Nguyen’s “Vietworld Kitchen”, covered with ganach from

“That went well!” I said to myself. Then I thought about icing/frosting, and knew I needed the fastest simplest icing as I was WAY off the topic of the Big Project, and I thought not of a certain cake book we keep lying around here with lots of smudges and scribbles and crumbs on its pages. I thought of ganache! Chocolate and cream, right? How hard could that be? Not hard at all, as it turned out. I chose this recipe from google-ville, from Martha Stewart’s website, and it worked just fine. For that recipe, click HERE.

I had pecans handy, and a wholesale bakery where I once worked briefly used to put ground almonds on the sides of their Vienna fudge cake, so I did that too, but with pecans. They stuck a candied violet in the middle. One ingredient of which I happened to be out. Kidding — I never have candied violets. (I did buy some once, back in another era of my cooking life, and almost broke a tooth on one. I think those were more decorative, not for actual eating, though they were edible.)

This cake is chocolate-y and we loved it, but I think it does need whipped cream or ice cream, as a companion and foil.  By the way, in addition to chocolate cake, Andrea Nguyen has SO much to share on food, cooking, Vietnamese and Asian food, and life, so visit her site often, right HERE. I have all three of her books, and can’t wait for her next one:


This book will be out in July, but you can go to your favorite bookseller and order a copy in advance. Then you will not have to wait when it comes out, and the publisher can decide to print even more than they’d planned because of the mammoth buzz. But back to chocolate and Valentine’s Day and baking and treats.


My chocolate pound cake. What a good friend Linda Rogers Weiss is, to cook from my books, and take gorgeous photos, and send them to me, and let me share them. I love her book, “Seasoned in the Kitchen”, which you can order if you click HERE.

ChocPndCakeThis is my very favorite chocolate cake, and while it is too wonderful to save for Valentine’s Day only, it makes for an especially good choice if you want to bake something to share with lots of people on Valentine’s Day Weekend. Pound cake works equally well for  “It Snowed!” Or “You did it!” Or, “Thank you for being so _______!” and “I appreciate how you ________!” We don’t need to wait till next February 14th to express love, appreciation, gratitude, or kindness, do we, now?

On this love-centered day and moving forward, let’s broadcast love. Let’s plant it and cultivate it. Let’s share cake or candy, cards or notes, hearts or flowers, smiles or jokes, simple kind greetings, looks and words.  My friend Denise Vivaldo said it well in her Valentine’s post linked above:

“…I think what we are supposed to celebrate is love and the JOY it brings us.Maybe you celebrate with a spouse, or a lover, or your best friend. Maybe the true romance of Valentine’s Day is the kindness we can show another.”

Nancie’s Chocolate Pound Cake with Chocolate Pecan Icing

This handsome cake has a deep, rich, chocolate flavor with just the right touch of sweetness. You can bake it in a tube pan, a bundt cake pan, or two loaf pans, and make lots of people happy with one baking session.Chocolate Pound Cake

3 cups sifted flour

1/2 cup cocoa

3/4 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 1/4 cups evaporated milk

1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened

1/2 cup shortening

1 1/2 cups sugar

1 1/2 cups light or dark brown sugar

5 eggs

To make the cake, heat the oven to 325 F. Generously grease and flour a 10-inch tube pan or two 9-by-5-inch loaf pans.

Sift together the flour, cocoa, baking powder, and salt over a medium bowl. Stir the vanilla into the evaporated milk.

In a large bowl, combine the butter and the shortening and beat well with a mixer until they form a smooth, fluffy mixture. Add the sugars gradually, beating well to achieve a creamy, smooth consistency.

Add the eggs one by one, beating well each time. Add about one third of the flour mixture, and then half the milk, beating each time at low speed only until the flour or milk disappears into the batter. Mix in another third of the flour, the rest of the milk, and then the last of the flour in the same way.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake at 325 for about 1 hour and 30 minutes, or 55 to 60 minutes for loaf pans, until the top of the cake is firm and dry, the sides are pulling away from the pan, and a wooden skewer inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.

Cool the cake in the pan on a wire rack or a folded kitchen towel for 15 minutes. Loosen the cake from the pan with a table knife, and turn it out onto a wire rack or a plate to cool completely, topside up.

Makes 1 large cake or 2 loaves

Nancie’s Chocolate-Pecan Frosting

This makes enough to glaze a pound cake or bundt cake. To frost a two layer cake or lots of cupcakes, simply double or triple the recipe.

1/4 cup butter (1/2 stick)

One 1-ounce square unsweetened chocolate, or 3 tablespoons cocoa

1 1 /4 cups confectionersí sugar

3 tablespoons milk

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 1/4 cups chopped pecans

To make the frosting, in a small saucepan, combine the butter and the chocolate or cocoa. Cook over medium heat, stirring often, until melted and smooth. Remove from the heat, add the confectionersí sugar, milk, and vanilla, and stir well until the glaze is smooth.

Spread the glaze over the cake while it is still warm, or cool to room temperature and use it to ice the top of the cake. Quickly sprinkle the chopped pecans over the frosting on the top of the cake.

 This recipes comes from Southern Cakes: Sweet and Irresistible Recipes for Everyday Celebrations, by Nancie McDermott. Chronicle Books: Copyright 2007: All rights reserved

February 14, 2014 at 3:21 am 6 comments

Lunar New Year Farewell: Mom’s Special Dish and Good-Luck Lettuce

Meet my friend Shirley Lin. She lives in San Francisco and just like me, she adores food, cooking, culture, and travel. With these common interests, I could have met her anywhere in the world, but the place I was lucky enough to meet her was Beijing.  I traveled there last fall with my husband, who had a scientific conference to attend in November. This landed us in a big, handsome convention center hotel located next to the Olympic Village.


An elaborate and multifaceted buffet breakfast was part of the room rate, and we didn’t miss a one. The restaurant served up an enormous array of Foods of the World, from yogurt shakes, fruit, and omelets to order, to sushi, miso soup, bacon and eggs, and toast.  Tourists like me lined up with convention-goers and business-people like my husband at the coffee maker and toast bar, everybody  fueling up for a day of sightseeing, networking, dealmaking, or shopping. My husband piled his plate with ham, sausage, omelet and hash browns, while I headed for the Chinese section to check out the local fare.

Hotel breakfast dining room1

I met Shirley because I was holding up the line in the porridge section, taken by the variety of grain soups in the traditional Chinese food section of the vast buffet. First came rice porridge, also known as congee, jook and moi. Beloved throughout Asia, it’s a warm, satisfying bowl of thick rice soup. Though it’s sometimes cooked with meat or preserved egg, unseasoned is most common. Diners add condiments, from sesame oil, peanuts and and cilantro to salty egg, crisp-fried bread, and shredded ginger. Throughout Asia, rice porridge bookends the day, equally popular as a filling breakfast food and as a late night snack.

2porridges on buffetI didn’t recognize two other saucepans next to the jook, filled with other types of porridge, yellow in color and equally plain. Noticing my curiosity, Shirley offered to explain the menu, introducing me to millet porridge and corn porridge, as well as puffed bean curd and various add-ons, many of them chili-fueled. I thanked her for being a resource on a busy morning, made notes, and continued exploring.

porridge add ins

3Steamers set up time

Around the corner on the far end, this chef was refreshing the steamed-items section. I expected to see buns and little filled dumplings, but not the array of yams, taro, beets, and other root vegetables.

4filled steamers

While the nearby bacon-and-egg staionshad plenty of takers, so did this steamer station. Five minutes after set-up, here’s the steamer-scene. The purple ones held the beets.

5steamers after

Curious about Beijing cooking and Northern Chinese food, I looked for Shirley’s table and interrupted her breakfast with more culinary questions. She kindly invited me to sit down right then and there, and enlightened me more while her food cooled. She agreed to meet with me that afternoon and continued my culinary education, complete with photos from meals she had been enjoying in Beijing.

Convention center

That afternoon learned that Shirley was not merely “in town for a conference”; she was leading one, a big one: the Mobile Entertainment Games Summit. Turns out my new friend-in-food is a genius programmer, entrepreneur, and founder/director of 800 Birds, She is also a foodie extraordinaire. I cannot believe she took so much time with me, a complete stranger, to share her knowledge of and love for food, culture and stories. I cannot wait to cook with her one of these days, because we are clearly on the same path in regard to eating, cooking, travel, and food.

I asked Shirley if she would write something for me, a memory of Chinese New Year, centered on food. Again, she said yes, and here is what she wrote:


“My mom left a legacy among people around her as the best home cooking woman in her time.  Our Chinese New Year Eve dinner was always a feast and a tribute to the grandparents we had never seen.  Besides homemade sausages, Chinese bacon, etc. one of her most difficult dish is the 10-Delicacy Vegetarian Delight.  It’s a New Year special. It would take her a day to buy the ingredients, another day to wash/clean/prepare and cook and season each one separately, then combine them together to its perfection.  It consists of: shitake mushrooms, pickled mustard green, dried tofu squares, yellow soy bean sprouts, carrots, Chinese celery, thin rice vermicelli, wood-ear (a kind of wood fungus plant that is used a lot in spicy sour soup), dried Day Lilly, fresh bamboo shoot.  I miss her dearly with the vivid scenes how I was around her to work thru each step of the process.”


Shirley’s story moves me, even though I have never attended such a Chinese New Year Eve dinner, nor have I ever eaten 10-Delicacy Vegetarian Delight. This elaborate dish requires unusual ingredients and special skill and knowledge to prepare. To me, the most precious ingredient in this story is the love and dedication of Shirley’s mother. She provided her family with such a gift: Memories of preparing and sharing these celebration meals. She set an example of showing love through her cooking, bringing the family to the holiday table, and keeping traditions. Past, present, and future, invited back to the table, year after year.


The Lunar New Year festival came to an end last night, the 15th day of the first month of the new lunar year. The new moon on New Year Eve grew into the full moon we welcomed last night. All over Asia and wherever Asian people live in the world,  New Year celebrations wound up with the Lantern Festival, with lots of small and large lanterns backing up the full moon in shining brightly, amid a farewell round of parades, lion dances, and firecrackers to close things out with a bang. Valentine’s Day happened to be on the same day this year, which meant abundance of pretty red decorations and maybe an increase in the number of reasons to celebrate and smile.

In honor of Shirley Lin’s mother’s vegetarian celebration dish, I wanted to close with a recipe for something both vegetarian and loaded with good luck. As always,  Grace Young had the answer to my Chinese cooking questions:

Grace Young’s Stir-Fried Iceberg Lettuce

Cooked lettuce 4

Grace notes that stir-fried lettuce is a cherished New Year dish, because of wordplay: The word for lettuce in Cantonese, saang choy, sounds like “growing fortune”. Buying it, bringing it home, cooking it up, and eating it? This sequence of events is a recipe for luck, prosperity, all good things. This dish is simple to prepare and a wonderful companion to a hearty meal, especially one centered on rice; All you need are grocery store ingredients and a wok or a big skillet for a speedy stir-fry.

For the recipe, click HERE . For a recent conversation noted food writer Irene Sax had with with Grace about Lunar New Year traditions, just click right HERE.

Stir fry lettuce prep 1Here are iceberg lettuce, green onions, oil, garlic, and the seasonings: Asian sesame oil, soy sauce, sugar and chilies.

green onions 2Toss the green onions and garlic in hot oil; add the ice berg lettuce.

lettuce in wok3Here it is before being tossed in the hot oil. Below is the finished dish, with abundance of thin but flavorful sauce for spooning over rice. Remember: the lucky vibe is yours all year round, not just during Lunar New Year. This is lovely (and still lucky) with romaine lettuce.

Cooked lettuce 4

For more on this dish, and abundant tales of Chinese New Year celebrations, foods, and traditions, get yourself a copy of Grace Young’s fine book, “The Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen”. Check out Grace’s website and blog by clicking HERE, for her wisdom on Chinese cooking, culture, and traditions. You’ll find Grace’s cool short videos on Chinese New Year ways and recipes, by clicking HERE.


February 11, 2014 at 6:59 pm Leave a comment

Back in the USSR with #LetsLunch: Kotleti, Kasha, and Remembrance of Things Past

Plate of goodness! a-1

When I read that this month’s #LetsLunch theme would be the 2014 Winter Olympics in the Russian city of Sochi, I rejoiced.


Rather than facing a time of pondering and wondering how I would focus my post, I had the perfect answer right on the bedside reading table.


Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking: A Memoir of Food and Longing had caught my eye last fall, as I browsed at my fine local indie, Flyleaf Books. As a longtime fan and reader of any and all words written down by its author, Anya Von Bremzen, I rejoiced, partly because she writes beautifully and shares my interest in travel, history, the people and places behind the food. The food, too, of course! But not only — never only just A Tasty Dish, but who makes it and where and why and on what occasion and since when. The deeper ingredients.


I also delighted in this particular topic, because I had read her feature story in Saveur several years ago, about a dinner party at her mother’s apartment in Queens, New York, in which they prepared a Russian feast. Von Bremzen and her mother, Larisa Frumkin, had emigrated from the USSR in 1978.


I am sure I have that very magazine here somewhere, but finding it? Impossible, given my years of Keeping Good Things for Later without an accompanying system of organization. What surprises me is that I am thus far unable to find it online. (Please leave word in the comments section if you have an online link, or even the date of the issue, as I long to read it again and see the photographs.)

But I digress. The feature story grew and grew and is now enfolded into an extraordinary book, one whose treasures I am only beginning to enjoy. I am happy about that, because I love looking forward to a magnificent feast, to a great, compelling, and satisfying read. Meanwhile, #LetsLunch is today, so I flipped to the back of the book where Ms. Von Bremzen includes a petite treasury of recipes, one from each decade of Soviet life, as the book is arranged. I chose Kotleti: Mom’s Russian Hamburgers, from the 1930’s.

Kotleti ingredients 1

I used her option of ground beef and pork rather than the all-beef option, and seasoned it with fresh dill, garlic, salt, pepper, and grated onions, which made me weep. I’m new to grating onions — there may be a technique I need to learn. I settled on the large holes of my box grater; and the tears, they did flow. But for a worthy cause: Deliciousness! Mayonnaise and softened breadcrumbs brought it all together, and then I let the mixture rest for 30 minutes in the fridge. mixed up meat2 While my kotleti took a break before their event, I looked up the Winter Olympics of 2014 in Sochi, right here:

Sochi Winter Olympics 2014 Official Website

Lots of detail and links to links right there. But then I came across this: A wonderful video from back in January, of the Olympic Torch being transported across Russia. That’s a journey, people. I just loved this. It lasts 2 minutes 28 seconds:

Video of the journey of the Olympic Torch across Russia

I also adore this. I love it a lot. This is Google’s “doodle”, featured on their homepage, with a quotation worthy of reading and remembering:


“The practice of sport is a human right.Every individual must have the possibility of practicing sport, without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play.”

Olympic Charter

The opening ceremony takes place today, Friday, February 7th ( at 11 a.m. Eastern Standard Time here in the USA) ; television broadcast will be this evening at 8:00 pm. I love the Parade of Nations, and will be looking forward to that portion especially. Just to make it to the Olympics — what a grand, astounding, marvelous achievement! I imagine that ending up on your own riser at a medal ceremony would be quite grand as well. But imagine what it takes just to make it there and to take part. That already impresses me deeply. But let’s see, has it been 30 minutes? YES!

batch 1 no crumbs3 So then I wet my hands and formed the meaty mixture into oval-shaped patties about 3 1/2 inches long, and started them sizzling in butter and oil per the recipe, and felt very proud of myself. And my picture. Until I noticed this: crumbs 4 Yes, that’s a plate of freshly made bread crumbs, hand-crafted from a loaf of sourdough bread, toasted to simulate staleness, and buzzed up in the blender to become, well, crumby. What were those doing on my kitchen counter, near the stove but not quite near enough to remind me? They were for coating each kotleti prior to its placement in the hot cast iron skillet of butter and oil! So: I carefullly removed the three inaugural kotleti to cool down on the side which had gotten ahead of itself. due to the fact that Mistakes Were Made. crumby 5 I coated the waiting kotleti and started a new batch frying away. I wish you could hear the sizzle and take in the hearty inviting aroma. It took a little while to cook them through, to keepthem handsomely browned without burning them. I ended up starting a second skillet, as once they have browned, they need to be covered for another little bit on lower heat to cook through. It was dinnertime, and we wanted to taste them. So two skillets moved things along nicely. And how lucky am I that I have not one but two Lodge Cast Iron Skillets? I actually have more than two. Life is do 6 Here is the initial round of kotleti, which I served with kasha, which Ms. Von Bremzen mentions as a typical accompaniment. I don’t know much about kasha in general, nor in Russian cuisine, so I cooked it as directed on the package of kasha I found at Whole Foods, and seasoned it with butter, salt, and a little chopped green onion which I had handy. Also on the plate: a chunky potato salad with mayonnaise, fresh dill, salt and pepper, and canned peas, which she mentions in the book ,though I cannot not find the reference now. It reminded me of how food can have meaning for me apart from its current status in the world. I love Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom Soup with saltine crackers. Diluted with milk and heated up on the stove: that was my favorite lunch. Revile it if you will, and I know you and I can make a splendid mushroom soup with lots less sodium and more complexity and gravitas. But that would not be my lunch on a snow day with my sisters. Sometimes it’s just the food, and sometimes, it’s the food with a side of memories. Also I added pickles which my friend Vada made; not sour, but these were the pickles we had and it was a wonderful, delicious, satisfying meal.

I ended up with eleven patties. The recipe says that this serves four, but you could make five or even six people happy depending on what else accompanies these tasty patties. I would make them smaller, as I like things in threes. I’m guessing I could get about 15 smaller ones out of the 1 1/2 pounds of ground beef/pork. I would serve 4 to 5 people as I did here, or I might call them Soviet Sliders, and put them on little buns with some spicy cabbage slaw with fresh dill, green onions, and chili sauce. Here’ s the recipe, which is featured was  during Ms. Von Bremzen’s visit to Leonard Lopate on WNYC Radio. Click HERE

stack of kotleti7

Anya Von Bremzen’s Kotleti: Mom’s Russian Hamburgers

1 1/2 pounds freshly ground beef chuck (or a mixture of beef and pork)

2 slices stale white bread, crusts removed, soaked for 5 minutes in water and squeezed

1 small onion, grated

2 medium garlic cloves, crushed in a press

2 tablespoons finely chopped dill or parsley

2 1/2 tablespoons full-fat mayonnaise

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or more to taste

2 to 3 cups fine dried bread crumbs for coating

Canola oil and unsalted butter, for frying

1. In a mixing bowl, combine the first eight ingredients and blend well into a homogenous mixture. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

2. With wet hands, shape the mixture into oval patties approximately 3½ inches long. Spread bread crumbs on a large plate or a sheet of wax paper. Coat patties in crumbs, flattening them out slightly and pressing down for the crumbs to adhere.

3. In a large skillet heat 2 tablespoons of the oil with a pat of butter until sizzling. Working in batches, fry the kotleti over medium-high heat until golden-brown, about 4 minutes per side. Cover the pan, reduce the heat to low, and fry for another 2 to 3 minutes to cook through. Transfer to a plate lined with paper towels. Repeat with the rest of the patties. Serve at once.

Serves 4

Reprinted from the book MASTERING THE ART OF SOVIET COOKING: A MEMOIR OF FOOD AND LONGING by Anya von Bremzen.  Copyright © 2013 by Anya von Bremzen. Published in the United States by Crown Publishers, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House LLC, a Penguin Random House Company, New York.


#LetsLunch is a circle of food bloggers who ‘meet-up’ monthly to post on one certain subject, each in our own way. I love checking out my friends’ posts, and I think you might enjoy ‘dining around’, too. For February, we are celebrating THE OLYMPICS. Join me in exploring an array of ways to feast on the topic, via my friends’ LetsLunch Links.  Click on these links below to enjoy their take on this month’s Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. Check back later, as more posts will be coming in and I will add links here throughout the day.

875632 Finally, I have had the best time reading and listening to an array of features about Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking: A Memoir of Food and Longing. Such a lovely, moving and apt title. Let me leave you with the image above of Ms. Von Bremzen’s first book, Please to the Table: The Russian Cookbook: 100 Glorious Recipes from the Baltics to Uzbekistan, published by Workman in 1990, still in print, still excellent and worthy of the James Beard Award it earned back then. Be sure to check out the link to The Splendid Table below (two of them in fact) so you can see the photograph of kulebiaka, the featured dish of Chapter One in Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking: A Memoir of Food and Longing, which is The 1910’s: Farewell to the Czars. I could not muster the time to make this for you in time for today’s #LetsLunch lunch, but I will be making that sometime later this year, and I will post it here.

end 8

February 7, 2014 at 1:38 am 22 comments

Lunar New Year: Remembering the Flavors of a Family Reunion

This character, "fu", expresses happiness and good fortune. In lucky red and gold, it's a frequently displayed celebration symbol during the Lunar New Year Festival

This character, “fu”, expresses happiness and good fortune. In lucky red and gold, it’s a frequently displayed celebration symbol during the Lunar New Year Festival

Happy New Year! Thursday evening was the beginning of Lunar New Year, a grand 15-day celebration particularly for people in China, Singapore, Vietnam, Taiwan, Korea, and Hong Kong, as well as in Asian communities all over the world. While eating together and eating special lucky foods remains a theme throughout the holiday season, that first dinner on the New Year’s Eve traditionally brings families together to share a meal, look ahead, connect, and set the scene internally and externally for a year full of good health, wealth, and success.

While eating out in restaurants with family and friends tends to be the preferred way to gather in Asia, Lunar New Year is a time when many families gather and eat at home. One reason is that the celebration centers on family and home; another reason is that the people who cook and serve and handle the cash and wash the dishes in restaurants all year long have the same longing to go back home and join their families. That traditionally meant that restaurants, food stalls and cafes in Asia which stay open seven days a week, take time off, so that everybody can travel as needed and spend time celebrating with family and friends.

All good things to you during the Year of the Horse!

All good things to you during the Year of the Horse!

My friend Audra Ang wrote an excellent, fascinating memoir, To the People, Food Is Heaven: Stories of Food and Life in a Changing China. In it, she recounts and reflects upon the  years she spent in China as a journalist (2002-2009), reporting for the Associated Press. I read it in the autumn of 2012 when it was published, and found it fascinating, insightful and compelling.


To my delight, Audra and I became friends, and we have enjoyed visiting over plates of food since that time. I asked her to write something I could share here about food and Chinese New Year in her life and am so honored that she took time to do so. Here is what she wrote:

Audra Ang’s Chinese New Year Reflections: 

“Lunar New Year, like the best holidays that center on family and food, stirs up nostalgia in my heart. I think of reunion dinners from my childhood, when my relatives gathered on New Year’s Eve to celebrate the coming year with an over-the-top feast. I was always grateful my parents split our time with both sides of the family. Two reunion dinners; more food for me.

On my father’s side, there was usually a Peranakan spread cooked by my grandmother who grew up in Malaysia. She passed away in the 1980s but I still think of her crab and pork balls in broth, fried shrimp rolls and stuffed crab shells. She didn’t speak much English and I saw her only a handful of times a year. I felt that eating her food drew me somehow closer to her. With my maternal grandparents, who helped raise me, we had a host of dishes that reflected their southern Chinese provenance—I loved their sautéed shell-on giant prawns with dark soy and ginger and their lotus root soup.

I knew instinctively, however, that while those meals were delicious, they were even more precious because they were the rare occasions that long-standing resentment and unresolved misunderstandings were put aside, even if for a few hours. I was young enough to be sheltered from most of the ugliness but old enough to pick up on simmering tensions. After I left for college in the U.S., my family became even more fractured, with my parents barely speaking to their parents and siblings. Because I was continents and time zones away, I was removed from the complexities and the fallout—but it made my annual visits home awkward.

My grandparents are all gone today, more than 20 years later. I don’t know what shifted in the foundation of the relationships in my family but something loosened. Maybe we united in grief. Maybe it was finally the right time to let go. Maybe I made more of an effort to do what I wanted, which was to connect with the relatives I had lost touch with instead of following the path of my parents. In 2011, I travelled to Singapore right before the Lunar New Year. Because I was home for the holiday, my parents agreed to attend their first reunion dinner in years. We gathered at my aunt’s apartment for steamboat, hungry and grateful when we saw the platters of raw meat, vegetables and dumplings. We cooked, chopsticks dunking the food rhythmically into a pot of bubbling broth in the center of the table. We ate, warming to the feeling of being together again.

I spoke to my mother this past weekend. She said they were going to my aunt’s home again this year for a steamboat reunion dinner.

“I’m sad I can’t be there,” I said.

“We’ll all be thinking of you while we eat,” my mother said.

 My family still isn’t close—they may never be as they were—but it’s progress.”

Audra’s essay moves my heart, as family relationships complete with joys, estrangements, challenges, and connections come to mind whenever I think about celebrations, holidays, and the place of food in my life. Her words brought to mind a sweet Chinese dish, associated with family reunions and harmony in relationships. It’s a small, delicious snack, usually served warm, and while it originated in China, it is beloved throughout Asia:  tang yuan

These small, plump, chewy rice dumplings served in sweet soup or syrup are enjoyed all year round but especially during Chinese New Year, when they are associated with the 15th and final day of the celebration, which is the Lantern Festival. Their auspiciousness and Lunar New Year connection comes from their round  shape, which reminds eaters of wholeness and completeness. Their sticky quality brings to mind family connection, being together and sharing sweet times along with sweet foods.

On a delightful and fascinating food blog I follow, “Feast to the World”, by Jason Ng,  the author shares his photographs and recipe for tang yuan, noting that his family enjoys them as the ‘pudding’ to their Lunar New Year’s Even dinner.

Check out his post HERE for beautiful photos and his recipe for this treat.

Thailand has a version of this dessert, known as bua loy, or floating lotus seeds. The dumplings are made the same way, from sticky rice flour (also known as glutinous rice flour and sweet rice flour, all the same thing and easily found at Asian markets). Instead of sweet syrup sparkling with fresh ginger, the Thai soup is coconut milk sweetened with palm sugar.


For background on Audra Ang’s book, To the People, Food is Heaven: Stories of Food and Life in a Changing China, click here to visit her publisher, Lyons Press’s, web page with information on this remarkable work. After my trip to Beijing this past November, I decided to read Audra’s book again, and am nearly through with my second reading.

It’s even better the second time, especially after my travels in November,  now that I have some context for the people, places, and things she describes and examines. I’ll leave you with some food-centric photos from that journey. I can’t wait to go back, and I hope that someday I can travel there with my friend Audra, and her book.


China 2Scallion pancakes above at a breakfast time stall near our hotel at Olympic Village area, and roast ducks for sale below.

china 3

china 4

These chefs were preparing to demonstrate cooking and then serve Northern style street food snacks to members of big tour groups, stopping for lunch after visiting the Ming Tombs and before visiting the Great Wall. My group passed through this room on the way to another hall filled with banquet tables, where we enjoyed a meal of 12 tasty dishes. I wanted to eat twice, but it was time to go…

china 5Near a good sized marketplace. This vendor with a rollling metal cart, had gone to the market to purchase great big scallions and cabbages, and brought them into the lane to sell to discerning cooks. We were headed to that market, before my cooking class which was 10 am to 2 pm.

china 6

The gate leading into Tiananmen Square, 8 pm. People were gathering outside the gate, enjoying snacks, and taking photographs of each other with this auspicious background.

china 7

People lined up waiting for something clearly well worth waiting for. It was 10:30 pm, and we were staggering back to the subway after feasting on dumplings and other Northern Chinese goodnesses. Stopping to see what this was about seemed like too much, just too much. Now I think: hey! What were we thinking? You see why I have to go back.

china 8

The kitchen where I took a wonderful cooking class on my last morning in Beijing.

Keep it sweet! Focus on joy in large and small ways…and check back for more on Lunar New Year in the coming days.

Lantern stamp

February 1, 2014 at 9:45 pm Leave a comment

Lunar New Year: Welcoming Spring and the Year of the Horse

tangerine stamp

Lunar New Year celebrations begin officially this coming Friday evening, when the new moon shows up in the wintry night sky. Unlikely as it may seem to those of us grew up associating the arrival of springtime with daffodils, tulips and the packing away of gloves, scarves and snow boots, this huge Asian cultural celebration welcomes spring. It’s a 15-day season of putting aside daily routines, cleaning up, clearing out, rebooting old ways, and setting the scene for a new year filled with health, wealth, success, harmonious relationships, and all of life’s good things. The year about to begin is the Year of the Horse. Preparations for this most meaningful and widely celebrated Chinese festival began weeks ago, and include settling debts, cleaning the house, planning celebration feasts and menus, decorating homes and businesses with auspicious items and colors, buying new clothes, and more. Rather than being a one-day holiday, this is a two-week observance filled with family gatherings, outings, and feasts, and ending with the Lantern Festival 15 days from New Year’s Eve.

I asked my friend, reknowned cookbook author and cooking teacher Grace Young for a little reminiscence about this annual celebration and what it meant to her, growing up in San Francisco.  I love Grace’s books, feature stories in food magazines like Saveur, and the series of short, delightful and enlightening videos she has been posting to her website. She just shared several new ones about Chinese New Year, some with recipes and some with details on traditions such as the Kitchen God, auspicious food, and what gifts to bring when paying a holiday visit to family and friends. Click HERE to enjoy Grace’s Lunar New Year videos.

I’m so pleased that Grace sent me this handsome photo of Lunar New Year preparations in New York’s Chinatown…

Grace Young chinatown photo

… and this remembrance:

“For the last weeks, New York City’s Chinatown has suddenly been the recipient of a few pop-up shops that sell all manner of special lunar New Year decorations and lucky money, known as lai see in Cantonese. These shops bring back fond memories of when I was a child, and accompanied my parents to San Francisco’s Chinatown, to find decorative images of the Money God, which Baba took great delight in hanging in the kitchen and his bedroom.  At the produce market, I loved to watch my mother carefully handpick oranges, pomelos, and tangerines, making sure every tangerine had leaves, which represent new life.  Back home, Mama would arrange a gorgeous centerpiece with the fruit and finish it with an envelope of lucky money tucked between the fruit.  I can still hear Mama telling me that the citrus represents the wish for good fortune in the New Year.”

Visiting Asian grocery stores and supermarkets is a year-round pleasure for me, whether I’m seeking out ingredients for our supper, or for researching a recipe or an ingredient, or whether I’m cooking up a dinner party. This week, with Lunar New Year celebrations about to begin, it’s especially delightful.

Lucky merch red gold shelves

Lucky colors of red and gold are all around, inviting wealth, health, prosperity and success to come in and make themselves at home for this coming year.

lai see enveolopes baskets

At the check out counter at Li Ming Supermarket in Durham, NC, red envelopes (lai see) and, greeting cards are displayed by the check out counter, and the God of Wealth was watching over everyone as we waited to pay for our purchases. If you want to invite him home, he’s ready to roll. Auspicious decorations can be found in abundance for shoppers to purchase along with sweets, citrus fruit and other Lunar New Year items.

Tangerines w leaves

Good fortune on display at my local Whole Foods: The green leaves and stems attached make these fruits an unintentionally auspicious expression of Lunar New Year prosperity. 
lai see envelopes closeup

Lai see at the checkout counter, and lots of them. Elders fill them with cash and present them to the younger generation throughout the Lunar New Year festival.

More from my Asian store adventures later this week. For now, consider a trip to an Asian market in your area, and let me know what you find there, in the comments to this post. Also, I highly recommend you visit Grace’s website HERE, for her recent blog post about Lunar New Year traditions. Click HERE for details on her books..  If you, like me, are hungry for more, get yourself a copy of her books from a bookstore, online source or library, so you can get cooking and learn about particular ways and dishes. For Chinese cultural traditions in general and the celebrations of the Lunar New Year in Chinese communities, Grace’s books provide eloquent and detailed information in a most delicious way. This one, her first, is particularly rich in history and traditions. Click the title for a link to the book on Indie Bound:

Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen: Classic Family Recipes for Celebration and Healing

Wisdom GYoung


Multiple tangeerines stamp sheet

January 30, 2014 at 12:26 am 9 comments

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