My mother taught me to be adventurous in the kitchen. I grew up overseas, often in countries where supplies were limited and inconsistent. My mother is the queen of improvisation. She can find a substitute for anything. I took this viewpoint when I went to live overseas myself. I improvised and I invented. Cooking should be an adventure.
She raised three children in Burma, USA, Mexico, Colombia, Nigeria, and the Netherlands.
Brion Gysin became friends with Gertrude Stein and Alice Toklas in the 1930’s when he was living in Paris, painting and hanging around with Picasso, Man Ray, Max Ernst and others. He later moved to Morocco and opened a restaurant. That only lasted a few years. He returned to Paris and stayed at the Beat Hotel in 1958 with his friend William S. Burroughs. He developed a “cut up technique” where he would take a poem and cut it apart and then tape it back together. The permutation poem is made up of single phrases with the words rearranged in different order. He worked with words, music, sound and photography.
One of his great claims to fame, however, came out in Alice B. Toklas’ cookbook originally published in 1954:
(which anyone could whip up on a rainy day)
This is the food of Paradise – of Baudelaire’s Artificial paradises: it might provide an entertaining refreshment for a Ladies’ Bridge Club or a chapter meeting of the DAR. In Morocco it is thought to be good for warding off the common cold in damp winter weather and is, indeed, more effective if taken with large quantities of hot mint tea. Euphoria and brilliant storms of laughter; ecstatic reveries and extensions of one’s personality on several simultaneous planes are to be complacently expected. Almost anything St. Theresa did, you can do better if you can bear to be ravished by ‘un evanouissement reveille.’
Take 1 teaspoon black peppercorns, 1 whole nutmeg, 4 average sticks of cinnamon, 1 teaspoon coriander. These should all be pulverized in a mortar. About a handful each of stoned dates, dried figs, shelled almonds and peanuts: chop these and mix them together. A bunch of canibus sativa can be pulverized. This along with the spices should be dusted over the mixed fruit and nuts, kneaded together. About a cup of sugar dissolved in a big pat of butter. Rolled into a cake and cut into pieces or made into balls about the size of a walnut, it should be eaten with care. Two pieces are quite sufficient.
Obtaining the canibus may present certain difficulties, but the variety known as canibus sativa grows as a common weed often unrecognized, everywhere in Europe, Asia and parts of Africa; besides being cultivated as a crop for the manufacture of rope. In the Americas, while often discouraged, its cousin, called canibus indica, has been observed even in city window boxes. It should be picked and dried as soon as it has gone to seed, and while the plant is still green.
Alice B. Toklas was later linked with marijuana brownies and they were sometimes called Alice B. Toklas brownies. It is funny she became almost synonymous with marijuana brownies because most likely she never even made this recipe or tried any marijuana. It created quite a sensation when it first came out and the publisher was briefly worried that it might cause them some legal problems but there was nothing to worry about. The book has never been out of print.
The cookbook was written after Gertrude Stein’s death and was meant to be part autobiography. It is full of anecdotes about Alice’s life along with classic French recipes. In one review the book was referred to as the precursor of Julia Child’s The Art of French Cooking. It is interesting reading but I find her recipes to be a little vague.
Potatoes Smothered in Butter
from The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook
Peel 2 lbs. medium-sized potatoes, cut in eight pieces. In a saucepan over medium heat put 3/4 cup butter. When the butter has melted, put the potatoes into the saucepan and cover. Stir with wooden spoon from time to time. Reduce heat after 1/4 hour. If the butter is too reduced add more. (This will depend on the kind of potatoes used.) Increase heat to medium, then to high. The potatoes should be browned and crisp on the outside and soft on the inside. Salt (no pepper) and serve very hot.
I ran out of time this week and didn’t manage my usual wonders in the kitchen. But I did run across an interesting cookbook:
The Victory Binding of the American Woman’s Cook Book
Edited by Ruth Berolzheimer, 1944
There is a handwritten note in the inside that says:
War – 1942
Will He come back to marry me?
I love this photo: The Machine Beats Time As Well As Batter While You Supply The Brain That Makes The Cake.
½ cup shortening
½ cup sugar
1/8 tsp salt
4 egg yolks, beaten light
1 tsp vanilla
3 tbsp milk
1 cup sifted cake flour
1 tsp baking powder
4 egg whites
¾ cup sugar
½ cup sliced blanched almonds
1 tbsp sugar
½ tsp cinnamon
Cream shortening; beat in sugar and salt, then egg yolks, vanilla, milk and flour (sifted with baking powder). Spread mixture in 2 round greased cake pans. Beat egg whites until very light, add ¾ cup sugar gradually and spread on the un-baked mixture in both pans. Sprinkle with almonds, 1 tbsp sugar and cinnamon and bake in a moderate oven (350 degrees F) about 30 minutes. Let cool and put together with cream filling. Makes 1 (9-inch) 2 layer cake.
1/3 cup sugar
3 tbsp cornstarch
¼ tsp salt
2 egg yolks
2 tbsps butter
2 cups milk, scalded
1 tsp vanilla
Combine sugar, cornstarch, salt and egg yolks; beat thoroughly. Add butter and enough milk to make a smooth paste. Add paste to remaining hot milk and cook over boiling water, stirring constantly until mixture is thickened. Cool and add vanilla. If desired add ½ cup chopped nut meats.
Back in March I wrote about a cookbook my mother had worked on when we lived in Burma in the post, The Lady. The Rangoon International Cook Book is dated 1954.
Aung San Suu Kyi is much in the news now as being the “unofficial” leader of her country. She stood by her beliefs and suffered for many years under house arrest because she longed to see Burma free. She comes by it naturally. Her father was the founder of the Burmese army and negotiated independence from the British Empire. Burma was the first country to leave the Empire. He was assassinated the same year they gained independence. Her mother, Daw Khin Kyi, became Chairman of the Social Planning Commission for the Union of Burma under the newly formed Burmese government and later was sent to India and Nepal as the Burmese ambassador.
Daw Khin Kyi also found time to donate some of her recipes to my mother’s cookbook.
Chicken Curry (Burmese)
2 chickens 65 ticals (2.5 lbs each)
0.5 cup vegetable oil
3 cloves garlic
3 small onions
1 tsp salt
1 tsp curry powder
1 tablespoon Chinese soy sauce
5 cups water
pinch of saffron powder
3 bay leaves
1 stick cinnamon
Have chickens cleaned and drawn. Cut into suitable sizes. (I bought a cut up chicken.)
Mix saffron powder, curry powder, and Chinese sauce, and rub into the chicken.
Grind chillies, garlic and onions till a paste is formed. (Use red chilies if you can find them. )
Fry in cooked oil till brown. Add spiced meat and cook till it sizzles.
Add 5 cups water. Throw in 3 bay leaves and stick of cinnamon. Simmer till tender, when the water should be reduced to half.
While living in Moscow, I coordinated, edited, and produced a cookbook for the American Women’s Organization. I put in a section with Russian recipes and here is my entry for Beef Stroganoff:
The story goes that Count Pavel Stroganov came from one of the oldest noble families of Russia. He was a popular figure in French society at the turn of the century and, of course, he had a French chef. This chef came up with the idea of adding sour cream to his mustard sauce and named it after his employer. Not very romantic but quite tasty.
1 1/2 lbs. tenderloin of beef, cut into strips 2 inches long and 1/2 inch thick
2 Tbsps. butter
1 small onion, sliced paper thin
salt, black pepper
2 Tbsps. butter
2 Tbsps. four
1 Tbsp. mustard (the spicier the better)
1 cup beef bouillon
1/4 cup sour cream
Parsley for garnish
French fries or Egg noodles
Yield: 4 to 6 servings
In a heavy frying pan melt the 2 Tbsps. butter and sauté the onion until soft. Add the meat all at once and cook over high heat for just a few minutes, until it is cooked through. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside, but keep warm.
In a small saucepan melt the remaining 2 Tbsps. butter. Mix the flour and mustard and whisk into the butter.
Cook for a minute, then gradually add the bouillon, stirring constantly, until a fairly thick sauce has been formed.
Stir in the sour cream, mixing well. Pour the sauce over the meat, check for seasoning and heat through, but do not boil.
I obviously don’t follow directions very well. I did not use a small saucepan and I put the sour cream in last but it turned out okay anyway.
Spoon the meat and sauce onto a large platter (not a bowl) and garnish with parsley. Serve with french fries, or egg noodles.
Some recipes call for mushrooms or tomato sauce. Although they are tasty apparently they are not the original, authentic version.
I inherited a cookbook from my grandmother. The cover is gone so I don’t know what it looked like but the date is 1922. The Preface states:
“Organized into a working body, the Mother’s Congress of Mount Ayr, presents Mothers who are studying and working for the betterment of Child Welfare.
In its interests financially, this little book is published and sent out by them.”
“We may live without poetry, music and art.
We may live without conscience and live without heart;
We may live without friends, we may live without books;
But civilized man cannot live without cooks. —- Merideth.”
It starts out with 12 points on how to set a table. Numbers 11 and 12:
11. Place carving set in front of host, or put carving knife and gravy ladle at his right, and fork at his left.
12. Place coffee cups and coffee pot at right of hostess.
The recipes don’t mention oven temperature other than “moderate oven” or “quick oven” and many of them don’t mention how long anything should cook. Here are a few samples.
Norwegian Stew. – Brown in a large kettle 1 c. lard and butter mixed, 25-cent round steak cut in small pieces, flour thoroughly and stir into the browned lard, continue stirring until meat is brown. Then add 1 c. flour stirring constantly, set on back of stove and add 2 qts. Boiling water, salt and pepper and let simmer 2 hrs, ½ hr. before serving add enough potatoes of medium size for the meal, stir occasionally as it will stick to kettle. — J.A.W.
Molasses Cake. 1 cup molasses, ½ c. sugar, ½ c. butter or lard, ½ tsp each cloves, ginger, cinnamon; 1 tsp. soda in 1 c. boiling water, 2 eggs, well beaten; last, flour to stiffen. –Mrs. Holman.
And my grandmother’s contribution:
Green Tomato Relish. – 5 lbs. green tomatoes, 6 large onions, 3 c. brown sugar, 3 c. red peppers, 3 green peppers, 1 tbsp. each of powdered cloves, all spice, celery seed, dry mustard, ½ c. salt, 8 c. vinegar. Peel and slice tomatoes and onions very thin. Remove seeds from peppers and chop very fine. To these add the other ingredients and cook over a moderate fire ½ hr., stirring frequently. Cover with paraffin. – Mrs. Liggett.
Rub the feet every night and morning with bay rum and witch hazel, equal parts, for frost bits.
Turpentine and lard rubbed on throat and chest will often relieve pain from cold.
To carry a mattress without breaking your fingernails (also back) use a broom underneath as a saddle and see how much easier it is.
Use a tbsp. of kerosene to wash windows. It not only cuts the dirt but is distrastful to flies
I’m not sure what “distrastful” is. Maybe a typo. But you get the idea.
The book ends with a poem.
Receipt for a Happy Day
Take a little dash of cold water,
A little leaven of prayer,
A little bit of sunshine gold,
Dissolved in the morning air.
Add to your meal some merriment,
Add thought for kith and kin,
And the, as a prime ingredient
A plenty of work thrown in.
Flavor it all with essence of love,
And a dash of play.
Let the dear old book and a glance above,
Complete the well spent day.
Whatever your recipe is, I hope you have a happy day!!