thoughts on food, culture, and community

Archive for the month “February, 2012”

Friday Photo: Bruges and the Belgian Friterie

Belgium, February 2008

I was fifteen when I first tasted it: French fries “drowned in” mayonnaise, as explained by Vincent Vega in the 1994 movie Pulp Fiction.  It was a Sunday afternoon in Holland in July 2000; my brother Chris and I were visiting my three cousins, and my uncle allowed us to watch TV while munching on our lunch of oven-baked fries and slim finger-length sausages.  My cousins eagerly dipped their food into mayonnaise that they’d squeezed from a tube, and I tried it, too — the greasy, salty fries pleasantly warming the sweet mayo into an altogether-new taste sensation.

Little did I know that years later, I’d be back in Europe in 2008, sharing the double-fried fries with my boyfriend from a paper cone on the street of Bruges, Belgium, as mentioned Friday, February 24 in the New York Times.  This time, however, I was more adventurous, choosing the curry sauce, the mayo and relish, and pickles on the side.  I love the picture above not just because the shopkeeper of this Belgian friterie is … er … clearly gearing up to make our order; I love the photo for its imagery.  The colorful array of French fry condiments are in large glass jars in the case next to raw meat patties, pre-rolled for frying; on the left side of the case is the line-up of cold drinks including Jupiler beer.  The offerings of sandwiches and fried fricadelles are written in Dutch on the back wall.

While Dutch and Belgian food can be elegant, this photo shows another side of Europe — the one that is not built up by our imagination into something too pretentious to handle.

Cafe Bruges
16 North Pitt Street
Carlisle, PA 17013

(717) 960-0223

Sun–Thu 11:30am–9:30pm
Fri–Sat 11:30am–10:30pm

Fasnaughts and King Cake: Pre-Lenton Traditions in Central PA

Taking the Cake: Talange, France, January 2008

For us in south-central Pennsylvania, the day before Lent is known as Fasnaught Day, a tradition which we celebrate along with parts of Germany, Switzerland, and the Alsace region of France.  In times past, these traditional doughnuts were made to clear the kitchen of sugar and lard prior to the fasting season of Lent.

However, the Harrisburg area is getting a new pre-Lenton tradition, as reported in The Patriot-News on Wednesday, February 15: the king cake.  According to the article “King cake gets the Mardi Gras started,” this cake stems from a tradition imported straight from Louisiana.  It is oval; is often served in purple, green, and yellow frosting; and is embedded with a bean or plastic figurine to represent the baby Jesus sought after by the three kings, or magi, after his birth.  Traditionally, the person who was cut the slice with the figurine was crowned the king or queen for the day.

The Louisiana tradition is imported from an older one rooted in France, Belgium, and Spain.  I knew this cake in France as a galette des rois, sold pre-bagged with paper crowns from the Intermarche across the street and through a thin overgrown alleyway from the Lycee Gustave Eiffel in Talange where I lived.  When eating this cake, I felt that the term “cake” in the American sense was a misnomer; it’s more of a sweet brioche whose appeal lay in the possibility of becoming royalty for one moment.

I shared this cake with my friend Tobias on a cold hilarious night which involves us somehow acquiring two king cakes (note the two crowns) and wearing them both. Because of this, I’m skeptical of the central Pennsylvania version which is smeared with enough frosting to rival a coloring book — I remember this as a cake from simple times.  If the day before Lent is the season for indulgence, I’d rather use the king cake as an occasion for remembrance.

Friday Photo: Cherry, Chocolate, and Chili Biscotti

I made these cherry, chocolate, and ancho-chili biscotti as Christmas gifts, but they work equally well for Valentine’s Day.  These elegant biscotti feature rich chunks of Scharfenberger dark chocolate, tart dried cherries, and walnuts; ancho chili powder sparks these flavors with subtle heat.

Cherry, Chocolate, and Chili Biscotti

Recipe (adapted from Art Smith’s Back to the Table: The Reunion of Food and Family by Art Smith):

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter at room temperature
1 cup sugar
grated zest of 1 large orange
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups plus 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons pure ground ancho chile powder (available at Wegman’s)
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 1/2 ounces coarsely chopped semisweet or bittersweet chocolate (I like Scharfenberger)
1/2 cup (2 ounces) coarsely chopped walnuts
1/2 cup (3 ounces) dried cherries

Position the racks in the top third and center of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F.

Using a hand-held electric mixer set at high speed, beat the butter, sugar, and orange zest in a large bowl until well combined, about 3 minutes.  Beat in the eggs, one at a time, then the vanilla.

In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, chile powder, and salt to combine.  Using a wooden spoon, gradually beat in the butter mixture.  Work in the chocolate, walnuts, and cherries.

Divide the dough in half.  Using lightly floured hands on a floured work surface, form the dough into two 10 x 2-inch logs.  Place the logs on an ungreased large baking sheet, at least 2 inches apart.  Bake on the center rack until set and golden brown, about 30 minutes.  Remove from the oven and let cool on the baking sheet for 20 minutes.

Using a serrated knife and a sawing motion, carefully cut the logs into diagonal slices about 1/2 inch wide.  Place the slices on ungreased baking sheets.  Bake until the undersides of the biscotti are beginning to brown at the edges, about 8 minutes.  Turn the biscotti over.  Switch the positions of the baking sheets from top to bottom and front to back.  Continue baking until lightly browned on the other side, about 8 minutes.  Cool completely onbaking sheets.  The biscotti can be preapred up to 1 week ahead, cooled, and tightly covered in an airtight container stored at room temperature.

Makes about 28 biscotti.

Friday Photo: Roses & Work Clothes, Shippensburg

The basement of my parents’ house is an area that my mother does not allow guests to see.  The walls are covered with crumbling horsehair plaster; the floor is cement; the lights are bare-bulb dim.  Here, however, is where my father’s farm clothes hang beside a bouquet of dried roses like a symbol of my parents: worn and warm, smooth and safe, together.

Winter 2009

Winter 2009


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