Tuesday, February 28, 2012

My love affair with coffee.

We met later in life, coffee and me, at a bakery shop, and what attracted me to him was a hint of cinnamon in his mix. Some would say that cinnamon masks the flavor of a bold, straight-up cup of coffee and that our first date didn't count as a proper introduction. Coffee knew me, though. From the very beginning. Knew that my tastes were a little more refined. That the only way I might be tempted to sit with him a while was if he dressed himself in the sharp smell of a comfort spice.

Come on over, he seemed to say. Take a sip.

As we got to know each other, we mixed it up a bit: hazelnut, colombian, a bold, french roast. Once or twice, a cafe mocha. He spoiled me. And, soon enough, I let him move in. I bought my own coffee maker, then a french press. I couldn't wake up in the morning, unless I knew he would be there. I needed him.

Like any relationship, we had our ups and downs. Taking a break here and there. It was usually me trying to call things off, citing health reasons. He always balked at that, and I always went back. Always had my sights on the what we had in the beginning: cinnamon sweet.

The illusions of a first date can never be repeated, though. Besides, I had changed. Some days I needed more than he could give. Other days, he gave too much. I was distracted, irritable, on edge. Finally, the unpredictability of it all took a toll. My body ached, my moods sunk low enough that I knew. It was time. And, like all bad break-ups, it happened quick. Overnight. No explanations. Just a tossing of remaining grinds into the trash can, and a knife-to-the-heart visit to a tea store.

"Loose tea." he said. "You'll be back. You'll see."

That was over a month ago.

I think about him sometimes, sure. Once I passed by him in the grocery store, and I saw him out of the corner of my eye, watching, pushing his cinnamon blend to the front of the shelf. Cinnamon in loose tea just isn't the same. He knows it.

What he doesn't know is that loose tea can grow on a person. Add a little honey, mix in a dash of cream, steep it for five minutes. That five minutes of quiet is all we need sometimes, just to settle into each other. And the best part is, there's no drama. No caffeine, no drama.

It's over, Coffee. I've got a new man...Earl. He's rich and smooth and, when we're together, he makes me feel like a real lady.

Coffee. Could you quit?



Monday, February 20, 2012

Pass the baklava, it's time for tea

by Rose Deniz

A Muted Palate

I left behind the comforting, familiar Midwestern foodstuffs - slowly simmering pot roasts, Friday Night Fish Fry’s, hearty casseroles, pre-baked pie crusts - for the tangy and rich cuisine of the Turkish sofra in late spring of 2005. The Turkish table may be thought of as stuffed grape leaves, fragrant rice pilavs, and baklava, but to me, the flavors are as varied as the regions of my adopted country. Stepping into Turkish culture and cuisine transformed my taste buds, as well as my creativity as a writer.  

Turkish food, if you are from the Black Sea region like my husband’s family, relies heavily on olive oil dishes, hamsi - or anchovies, and fresh baked bread. As much as I loved the soupy bean dishes, the pan-cooked spinach and rice, and the crunchy rolled dough baked to a crisp, the first few years I lived in Turkey, I craved steak, hamburgers, peanut sauce, curries, and things much less simple in flavor. In my first apartment as a newlywed in the city of Izmit, on the Gulf of Izmit that leads to the Aegean Sea, I experimented as best as I could. I started a notebook of renegade recipes for perfect pancakes, fudgy brownies, and egg drop soup. Whenever a much-longed-for ingredient showed up on some supermarket shelf, I noted the discovery with glee, but my taste buds were left wanting. 

My Orient Express

As any Madisonian knows first hand, the spicy Taiwanese noodles, soft squash curry, and veggie smoothies of the food carts in Library Mall can catapult your taste buds to parts of the world you may have never seen. It was there, in Madison as an undergrad, that I discovered I had a taste for Indian food. It was also there, after a 10-credit Hindi intensive, that I bemoaned the fact that I was terrible at learning languages. At that time, I could have never imagined that not only would I be living in Turkey and raising two bilingual kids, I would be writing my first book, a futuristic young adult novel.

Fast forward to today and the amassed binders full of short stories, the two tentative attempts at a memoir, a painting and design practice, and a vocabulary of Turkish words in my stash. Now, working full time on my book, I often turn to my kitchen to unwind, use my hands, and think through story problems. Somehow, as the food becomes alive, so does the part of my brain that wrangles with words.

At the end of seven years of living in Turkey, turning the corner on my eighth, I am not a Turkish national like my duo-citizen children are, nor am I a Turkish food connoisseur, but I can talk börek and döner like the best. Hours of sitting in my mother-in-law’s kitchen before I could say more than a few sentences in Turkish taught me what kind of olive oil to use for salads, which vegetables are best bought from the local bazaar in which season, and how to serve impromptu guests that knock on your door at all hours. Her delight at hosting taught me that true comfort comes from good company, and endless cups of tea. 

Turco-American Fusion

Born to a Jewish-American mother and a German father, and raised in a mostly Norwegian corner of Wisconsin, my culinary tastes were not inspired by my upbringing. My father, for years after my mother died when I was a child, did the best he could with hunger-filling roasts, split pea soup, and the occasional La Choy Chow Mein. It wasn’t until I was in high school that I discovered Mediterranean food and Middle Eastern food, and later in college, sushi. The only Turkish food I knew I adored with certainty before I moved here was chewy, bitter Turkish coffee.

When Turkish people ask if I can cook Turkish food, I say yes without hesitation. If they are to press further and ask me what I make, they are often surprised to hear that I like Turkish food more than my husband. I’ve grown to love the tomato-based bulgur dishes, the simple salads of cucumber and tomato, the uncomplicated Aegean and Black Sea flavors that highlight one or two ingredients rather than many. Of course, there is adventure to be found in the spicy Adana region, and I see a growing awareness of international food that was missing a mere seven years ago, but my insatiable craving for foods I missed has passed now that I feel more confident as a cook.

I hope to impart the sense of pleasure and delight in good food to my children. In our hybrid household, on most Saturdays, you can find us whipping up good old fashioned chocolate chip cookies, testing out pizza dough, or eating cake batter out of the pan. I tie on the apron my third-generation Belarusian mother made, with a nod to her domesticity and that pinch of history that shows up even in my kitchen in Turkey. I entertain the idea of opening a gourmet pizza place, of offering a lunch only daily special at a corner cafe, or inviting friends over for impromptu Thai food. I pour myself a glass of Turkish tea into a little fluted cup, and hands coated in flour, watch as my children sprinkle the kitchen with that something special that makes food, wherever you are in the world, taste so good. 

Perfect Pancakes, For Real

After trying nearly every pancake recipe under the sun, I swear by this recipe. The yogurt I use is full fat, Greek-style, preferably homemade. Nonfat would probably work, but the fat in the yogurt makes it possible to go light on the oil or butter.

1 banana, mashed
2 tablespoons plain, full fat yogurt
1 tsp baking soda
¼ cup wheat flakes
2 tbsp flour (I like whole wheat)
1 tsp cinnamon
2 lg eggs
2 tbsp milk
1 tsp oil or butter
1 tbsp real carob molasses, or pine honey

In bowl, mash banana, add eggs, milk and yogurt. Mix or blend by hand. Add dry ingredients and oil or butter. I like to puree this so it is not lumpy, but mixing works just fine. In a non-stick, ungreased pan at medium heat, ladle pancake batter, and flip when it bubbles up nice and right. Drizzle with molasses, pine honey, or real maple syrup. If you’re feeling adventurous, add a drop of tahini to the molasses for a real Turko-American treat.

Serves four hungry people, two big, two small, for Sunday morning brunch. 


Rose Deniz is a Wisconsin-born writer nesting abroad in Izmit, Turkey, where she is finishing up the first draft of her futuristic young adult novel. Happy to say she grew up on a farm in the middle of nowhere, she always seems to venture back to Wisconsin when there is a blizzard. Rose has a BA in Art from The University of Wisconsin, and an MFA in Painting from Cranbrook Academy of Art. You can find her on her website, on Twitter, and on Facebook

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The St. Valentine's Day Kitchen Massacre

It starts with extra flour in a mixing bowl, a wooden spoon and the inimitable imagination of a child. Adding a splash of water, she becomes the mommy. Her sister shakes in colored sprinkles and takes the form of another little girl trying on a different voice, slightly higher and more excited. Here's to an exploratory afternoon in the family kitchen.

My husband likes cinnamon rolls. Weeks ago my daughters and I worked up a plan to make heart-shaped cinnamon rolls for Daddy's Valentine's Day breakfast. I've never made them before, so that set out a challenge and I rarely, if ever, back down from myself.

What happened first was a mistake in calculation. I chose an overnight recipe from the Food Network's website that says, clearly and explicitly, “In the bowl of a stand mixer.” I do not have a stand mixer, but I have mad juju with my hands and I stand when I mix. Anyway, bad idea. The doubling in size after two and a half hours was more like a sigh. I tossed it without even rolling the dough.

Then knowing I'd be up before the dawn mixing and scraping, I found these recipes, and, for sake of time, opted for the yeast-less variety.


I even managed to shape them like pretty little hearts that turned into pretty little squarish hearts in the oven. I have to say, the recipe makes WAY too much frosting. I don't even know what to do with all this cream cheese frosting. Something inside me is saying, “Bake a cake.” But that's just nonsense; where would I put a cake?

Maybe I should just give my kids another mixing bowl filled with flour and water, some dry rice and salt and pepper. They know just how to cook up a proper St. Valentine's Day massacre.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Putting a Fresh Face on Leftovers

by Lisa

Leftovers. We love them when we’re pressed for time and energy. We quickly grow tired of them. We often don’t know what to do with them. Like death and taxes, leftovers are one of few things in life of which we can be certain.

Now that I am cooking for only two, we seem to have a lot of leftovers, and I'm not complaining one bit. Last night we enjoyed leftover vegetarian chili that I supplemented with okra. Tonight we ate leftover ravioli on a bed of freshly sauteed chard.

The secret to making leftovers your friend instead of your enemy is to dress them up in something new—chopped herbs, dried or fresh fruit, or whatever vegetables are in season. Here are some creative ways to use up yesterday's meals. How do you put a fresh face on leftovers?

Note: Ingredient amounts are approximate. Don’t worry about making a mistake! If something seems too thick, too thin, not enough or too much, simply adjust the amounts as needed. Creativity, experience and flexibility are the keys to using leftovers successfully.

• Italian Bread Salad. Do you have a slice or two of bread or pita that is threatening to turn moldy at any moment? Tear the bread into bite-size pieces (if you want to get fancy, you can grill the bread first until it is a bit toasty). Rub a salad bowl with a cut clove of garlic, then combine in the bowl the bread pieces, some fresh tomatoes, red onion slices or scallions, any other leftover raw or roasted veggies you have on hand. You can add fresh herbs and Romaine lettuce, if you’d like. Toss gently with oil and vinegar dressing.

• Garbanzo Confetti Salad. This salad is a fast, easy, and pretty way to use leftover crudités and garbanzo beans. Dice a good handful or two of leftover crudités (raw slices of celery, carrots, green onions, zucchini, bell pepper, etc.) into small, uniform pieces. Combine with 1 can (14-15 ounces) garbanzo beans (chickpeas), rinsed and drained, or 1 1/2 cups cooked garbanzo beans. Toss with oil and vinegar dressing. You can also sprinkle in some chopped fresh herbs or grated cheese. Serve chilled or at room temperature.

• Vegetable Quesadillas. This is another good way to use crudités or cooked veggies, as well as extra flour tortillas. Quesadillas can be served for breakfast (see below), lunch or dinner. Simply heat a non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add a large flour tortilla. Top half the tortilla with chopped raw or cooked veggies, some salsa (optional) and shredded cheese or soy cheese. Fold tortilla in half to cover the filling, and cook until underside is browned. Flip and brown the other side. Covering the pan hastens the melting of the cheese. Cut into wedges and serve with guacamole or sour cream.

• Breakfast Quesadillas. Prepare Vegetable Quesadillas, but add a scrambled egg or mashed, leftover tofu, and perhaps some soy sausage.

• Gourmet Hash Browns. My son could eat this dish morning, noon and night. Grate or finely dice some leftover boiled potatoes. Add minced shallots or scallions, and some chopped parsley. Heat a thin coating of olive oil in a non-stick pan, and sauté potato mixture until golden brown. If desired, stir in a little sour cream, soy sour cream, soy-based mayonnaise or grated cheese before serving.

• Lone Shepherd’s Pie. Keep this recipe in mind when you have leftover mashed potatoes, and cooked veggies or chili. Fill a small, oiled casserole dish with cooked or roasted vegetables (or leftover chili). You can add some canned or frozen corn, or some canned beans if necessary. Fluff up mashed potatoes with a fork, and add them as a top layer. You can add some grated cheese or parmesan cheese to the potatoes, if you’d like. Sprinkle top potato layer with paprika. Bake until potatoes are browned and bottom mixture is bubbly, about 30 minutes.

• This and That Asian Soup. When you have leftover rice- or noodle-based Asian dishes (for example, Pad Thai or stir fry), you can easily make a single-serving soup to enjoy for breakfast or lunch the next day. Just heat a big spoonful or two of the leftovers in about a cup of vegetable broth or miso broth. Add some fresh chopped scallions or grated carrot for freshness. Serve hot.

• Béchamel Sauce. This recipe doesn’t use leftovers (except milk), but it is a fast and tasty way to dress up leftover vegetables, pasta, potatoes, or almost any other foods that are not already heavily seasoned. Heat 2 tablespoons butter in a small saucepan over low-medium heat. When the butter is melted, sprinkle in 2 tablespoons flour. Whisk constantly for about 2 minutes, until flour loses its raw quality. Slowly pour in 1 1/2 cups warm milk or unsweetened soy milk, whisking constantly. Simmer on low until sauce is thick. Add salt, pepper and nutmeg (optional) to taste. You can also add some chopped fresh herbs.

• Vegan Béchamel Sauce. In a blender, combine 1 1/4 cups unsweetened soy milk with 1/3 cup silken tofu and 1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil. Blend until very smooth. Heat in a small saucepan over low heat. Add salt, pepper and nutmeg (optional) to taste. You can also add some chopped fresh herbs.

• Rice Pudding. This is my favorite way to use leftover rice (white or brown) and, if I have it, a bit of leftover boxed silken tofu. Simply combine in a saucepan cooked rice with enough soy milk—regular or vanilla—just to cover (if you have a little silken tofu, first blend it with some of the milk until smooth for some extra creaminess). Add some cinnamon, raisins, and honey or maple syrup. Simmer, stirring frequently, for about 10 minutes, until thick and creamy. A yummy breakfast treat!