30 November 2009


When we first visited Vienna, we were wandering around one day around lunchtime, our heads full of Franz-Joseph and the Hollernzollern, and we ducked into a sort of pub for lunch. Inside was warm wood paneling and a limited but interesting menu. The thing that attracted me most was Goulash. I ordered it, and when it came I was transported. Imagine the best beef stew you’ve ever tasted: beef cooked till it’s falling apart, sauce rich and with just enough heat to warm you through without killing off tastebuds. No vegetables to interfere with the marriage of beef and sauce. Oh, man, was it delicious. After that I had to try all the sorts of goulash available in Vienna. There are a lot--there’s even a goulash museum! In the end, my favorite was the one I tried first, Fiacre Goulash. In Austria it’s served with a Viennese sausage and a fried egg on top. I skip that part and serve it over steamed new potatoes.

Fiacre Goulash

Recipe adapted from Austrian Specialties*

Roughly 1 Kilo / 2 pounds beef for roasting

4 medium onions

2 T olive or canola oil

2 T hot paprika

1 T vinegar

750 ml / 3 cups (approximately) beef stock

3 cloves garlic, crushed

1/2 tsp thyme

1/2 tsp cumin

1 more cloves garlic, crushed

2 T tomato paste

salt, pepper

  • Cut beef into large chunks. Peel the onions and chop them -- not too large.
  • Heat oil in a large pot and saute onions slowly till they’re golden. Sprinkle with paprika, add vinegar and several tablespoons of beef stock.
  • Add cubed meat and seasonings. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for about 1 1/2 hours, adding stock as necessary to keep it moist and covered with stock.
  • When the meat is tender, add the remaining stock, tomato paste and the last garlic clove. Simmer 10 more minutes and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Serves 4 if they like it and 10 if they don't.


  • If you’re going to be busy, you can add all the stock at once, but you still have to stir it and the problem is that when the beef is perfectly done you may have too much liquid in there so you have to continue to cook it...
  • This is one of those dishes that improves with time. Be sure to make enough to have leftovers!

* This is a small recipe book published for tourists. It has no date of publication on it, but I bought it in 2002.

26 November 2009


What? Orange cardamom upside down cake? What gives?

OK, I know that today is the day for turkeys and cranberries and mincemeat pie, but at our house Thanksgiving is this coming Saturday. That’s because here in Belgium nothing is closed today, and everybody has to work. So we’re celebrating on Saturday, when I’ll cook the only whole turkey in Belgium this week, if you don’t count those that are still walking around. More about that later...

I saw this cake at The Pastry Studio, and knew I had to try it. Anything that uses cardamom and oranges is OK with me. And if you can add some pink peppercorns, that’s even better. No peppercorns in this one, though, but it’s still pretty amazing.

I had a little kitchen detour on the way to making this cake. As I was trying to describe upside down cake to my friend Fran├žoise, she said, “oh, a Tarte Tatin”. Hmmmmmm, I wondered, could I make an orange and cardamom Tarte Tatin? Was that even possible? Gentle reader, I tried it: I caramelized the sugar with orange juice and some cardamom, I artfully arranged the orange slices, I lovingly placed the crust on top and I baked it until it was golden brown on the top/bottom. I inverted it on a plate, and I am here to tell you that orange Tarte Tatin is just a bad idea. It tasted wonderful, but there is one very big problem: oranges are all about juice. Tarte Tatin is not a really juicy dish. That’s all I’m going to say about it.

It was so ugly that Dan and I laughed as we ate it, but I LOVED flavors. So I decided to go back to my original idea (actually, The Pastry Studio’s original idea) and try the cake. Of course, I had to change it a little bit. But not too much, actually. It was pretty intriguing as it was.

To make this you’ll need a heavy pan about 25 cm / 10 inches in diameter. It needs to be one that you can use on the stovetop and then put in the oven. A cast iron skillet will work very well. I used an enameled cast iron pan made for (what else?) Tarte Tatin.

One more thing--don’t bake this if you don’t want your neighbors to stop by. Our apartrment smelled heavenly for a couple of days after I made this. Don’t say I didn’t warn you...

Orange Cardamom Upside Down Cake
adapted from The Pastry Studio

For the topping:
50 g / 3 Tablespoons butter
150 g / 3/4 C brown sugar
4 medium-sized navel oranges
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom

For the cake batter:
200 g / 1 1/2 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
85 g / 6 Tablespoons butter at room temperature
125 g / 2/3 cup sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup whole milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
zest of 1 orange

  • Preheat oven to 175 C / 350 F
  • Peel the oranges by slicing the peel and the white pith off with a sharp knife. Slice them into thin slices.
  • Melt the butter in a heavy oven-proof pan and stir in the brown sugar and 1/2 teaspoon of cardamom. Remove from the heat and press the mixture evenly into the pan. Allow to cool.
  • Arrange the orange slices over the topping in the cake pan. You’ll probably have enough to make two layers. Good.
  • Mix the flour, salt, baking powder, and the rest of the cardamom in a bowl. In a separate bowl, combine the milk, vanilla and orange zest.
  • Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time.
  • Stir in half of the dry ingredients until nearly combined, then add the milk and mix. Add the remaining dry ingredients and stir just until combined -- don’t overmix. Try not to breathe as you do this, or you’ll just sit down on the floor and eat the batter. It smells THAT good. Really.
  • Spread the batter carefully over the oranges and bake for 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Cool the cake at least 15-20 minutes, then place a serving platter over the cake pan, hold your breath, and turn them both over. With any luck, you’ll hear a very satisfying ‘plop’. Remove the cake pan and VOILA!

  • I don’t have vanilla extract, so I used vanilla sugar and I mixed it with the other sugar.
  • I had to bake mine 43 minutes. It could have used a minute or two more.
  • I served this with some vanilla gelato. It was heaven.
  • Pastry Studio suggested that this might be good with blood oranges. I think that’s a wonderful idea.

20 November 2009

Classics: Roasted Chicken

What’s better for a comforting dinner than roasted chicken? I love them, and with just the two of us we can usually get 4 meals out of one bird. For a classic like this, I always turn to
Nigel Slater for guidance. His treatment of food is just right--good ingredients, not too much fussing.

I always start with a free-range chicken, for a lot of reasons, but one added benefit is that the drumsticks are really big. My husband is a drumstick guy, and he loves the longer legs on free-range birds. The bones are a lot stronger as well, and I think the stock they make has more flavor.

This guy weighed 1.25 kilos, or about 2.5 pounds. I plunked him in an oval dish and rubbed him all over with olive oil. I cut up a lemon and squeezed the juice over him, and put the squeezed lemon half inside him, along with several cloves of garlic. I put 4 or 5 garlic cloves and a couple of shallots around him in the pan. I cut up some potatoes and put them around him as well. Then I sprinkled the whole lot with a little salt, some pepper and some dried rosemary. If I’d had some nice thyme I’d have used that too. I poured about a half a cup of water around him (you could use white wine) and put him in a hot oven (200 C / 400 F) for an hour and 20 minutes. Nigel’s rule of thumb is 20 minutes for each 500 g / pound plus an extra 30 minutes. This always works out just right for me.

During that time, I checked to make sure that the pan wasn’t dry, and basted him a little bit. That’s all. Et VOILA! The potatoes were roasted and crunchy, the chicken was perfectly done and juicy, and there was a gorgeous sauce in the bottom of the dish. Just let him rest for a few minutes before you carve him. I know, it’s hard, but trust me--it makes a difference!

This is exactly the same way I roast my turkey for thanksgiving, or game hens for a fancier dinner. 20 minutes per pound/500 g plus an extra 30 minutes.

This goes veryvery well with
Fancy Pants Potatoes and a little salad.

  • I sometimes use butter instead of olive oil at the beginning, and shove a little bit under the skin of the breast. This makes him brown a little more, and makes for a richer sauce.
  • Carrots, parsnips and onions are good roasted in the pan along with the potatoes. Or instead of them.
  • If you don’t do potatoes in the pan, this is splendid with truffle mashed potatoes: just boil some potatoes, mash them with some butter and a little milk or cream. Add some grated pecorino cheese with truffles. YUM!

17 November 2009


Brothers are the people we practice on, the people who teach us about fairness and cooperation and kindness and caring--quite often the hard way. - Pamela Dugdale

John Michael McNally
January 1950 - November 2009

Rest in peace, Mike. I love you.

This is not the post I wanted to make today. It's not a post that I ever wanted to make. While we were in Nice I received a phone call that my oldest brother had died unexpectedly. I was glad that I was with friends when I heard, but veryvery sad not to be with my family on that day.

Please keep him in your prayers today. My mom too. She never expected to have to do this.

Thank you.

Photo copyright Life Magazine Archives.

14 November 2009

Eye Candy: Japan 2

We'll be home in a couple of days. Meanwhile, some more photos to keep you entertained:

In the Emperor's garden in Tokyo, there was one cherry tree blooming:

A Zen garden in Kyoto:

I loved these smoked fish in an outdoor market. They looked like they were swimming.
The happy festival go-ers:
Not eye candy, the other kind:

11 November 2009


Eleven. In 1918, the eleventh day of the eleventh month, at 11 am, was the end of what my grandfather called "the war to end all wars". In Belgium and France and England today, in cities and villages and hamlets, the citizens will gather at their local war memorials to remember. They'll go and lay their wreaths and they'll remember uncles, brothers, cousins, neighbors, strangers.

Nowhere are these ceremonies more poignant than here in Belgium. In this tiny country, the size of the US state of Maryland, are found the sites of three of the bloodiest battles in the last couple of centuries. Waterloo. Ypres.

Waterloo, where Wellington ended the reign of Napoleon.

Ypres, where nearly half a million died in Flanders fields.

Bastogne. The name rolls like thunder down the decades. More than 100,000 died there in the Ardennes winter.

They're all here, within an hour or so of my house. But we don't have to go that far to be reminded. In our village, as in every village, there is a memorial to those who died in what's called here quatorze-dix-huit (14-18). Not "the war to end all wars". Here they know better--the next one is called quarante-quarante-cinq (40-45).

Some of our neighbors are of an age to remember that one, but that's a story for another time. Today, it's quatorze-dix-huit that we remember. The war of 14-18 ended officially with the treaty of Versailles in June of 1919, but the fighting ended with a cease-fire which came into effect on the 11th of November at 11 am--the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. at 10:59 there was war. At 11:00 there was none. I often think of the soldiers who died after the cease-fire was signed but before 11 am on 11 November. That would be my luck.

09 November 2009

Eye Candy: Japan

While I’m gone, I thought I’d leave you with some random photos from Japan. I chose these because they’re not necessarily tied to any one spot, but I loved the feel of them.


Kawagoe Festival:

Tokyo Tower by day
...and by night


In the Garden:

...more to come.

06 November 2009


I used to smoke. Back then, everyone did. I smoked a pack of cigarettes a day for many years. I quit, I re-started, I tried to cut back, I was hooked. Cigarettes were my best friend: they were always there, any time of the day or night when I needed the comfort they could bring. Cigarettes were my worst enemy: they stole my breath, they make me stink, they damaged my health. I had to quit.

I had my last cigarette on November 5, 1982, at half past noon. It was a Friday, and I decided to see how long I could go without smoking. I spent that Friday evening at the movies, because you can’t smoke there. Eventually the cinema closed, and I had to leave. I couldn’t go home, I knew I’d smoke. So I went to the all-night supermarket and walked up and down the aisles, because I’d never smoked while walking (in the Atlanta of my youth, only women ‘of ill repute’ smoked while walking). The manager of the supermarket eventually asked if I needed help. I explained that I was trying not to smoke, and he completely understood. He gave me a cart full of groceries that had to be re-shelved to give me something to do and to keep from frightening the customers. I loved that guy.

I spent that first weekend doing things I couldn’t smoke while doing. Swimming. Showering. Walking. I saw a lot of movies. I went to the theatre. I went to the symphony. Somehow I made it through that weekend, and by Monday it had been three days since I’d smoked.

I had to change the way I drove to work, because there was this red light where I’d always light up. I couldn’t sit in my favorite chair because I always smoked there. I couldn’t stand to talk on the phone because I smoked then too.

For the longest time I wouldn’t say the word “quit”, I’d only say that I was not smoking right then. I couldn’t even say ‘today’, because I couldn’t imagine a whole day without a cigarette. An hour. A half an hour. Five minutes. Sometimes just this moment NOW. There were no patches back then, no gum. It was just me and my addiction.

I needed to have some kind of reward for myself. Slowly I began to see the good things about not smoking. I went to the dentist and had my teeth cleaned. It was amazing to wake up in the mornings and not feel as if Sherman’s army had camped in my mouth. I began to smell things again. I began to TASTE things again. I enjoyed the freedom of being able to leave the house without having to make sure that I had cigarettes and matches with me.

The best thing I did for myself during that period was to take money I wasn’t spending on cigarettes and and use it to buy flowers. I was spending abut $10 a week on cigarettes, and I knew I wouldn’t notice $ 10 extra a week in my budget. I found a wholesale florist who would sell to me and I went there every Saturday. I bought as many flowers as I could for $10, and I put them all over my house. Every day I looked at them I remembered why they were there. It helped. It helped a lot.

That first May they had roses on sale: 25 roses for $5. To celebrate six months without a cigarette I splurged and bought four bundles. I had 100 roses in my house, in every conceivable kind of container: vases, glasses, ginger jars, bowls. They spilled over my mantlepiece, they trailed across my table, they filled my nightstand. They sat on the side of my bathtub. They made it easier.

After a year I could go for a couple of hours without thinking about smoking. After three years I sometimes went for a whole day. Every day I had flowers to remind me, and to keep me on track. I think they saved my life.

Now, twenty-seven years later, I rarely think about smoking. I can use the word ‘quit’. I can talk on the phone without patting my pockets for matches. But here in Belgium I still have flowers in my house. Almost every week when I go to the market I come home with a bouquet of flowers. Over the years I’ve collected some beautiful vases, and I love to arrange flowers in them. This close to Holland with its miles and miles of fields and greenhouses, we have fresh flowers all year round. They’re cheap. They’re gorgeous. And they still remind me that I don’t smoke.

I get very angry when I hear tobacco companies say that smoking isn’t addictive because people can quit. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. In my whole life. Bar none.

In my dreams I still smoke.

05 November 2009

Once More...

Once more onto the beach, dear friends, once more!

Yes, we’re off again, this time to Nice for my birthday. We spend a week or so down there every year, meeting with friends, exploring the region and stocking up on the world’s best tapenade.

We’ll be back in 10 days, and this is our last trip until Spring. When I get back I want to finish writing up my Japanese journal and going through all the photos. I’m about halfway through with that now.

Meanwhile, as always, I have a couple of things in the can for you. See you in 10 days!

01 November 2009


Cestini means ‘baskets’ in Italian, and when I saw photos of these in the September issue of La Cucina Italiana, I knew I had to try them. Of course I had to change them--their recipe had the cestini filled with shrimp and porcini mushroom, and I wanted to try to fill them with salmon.

I should warn you that when you slice the zucchini / courgettes, it’s easier with a mandoline. As long as you use the little safety device, of course. Don’t do what I did and slice the tip of your finger off. It’s harder to weave the strips of zucchini with a big bandage on your finger. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

These were very good. The salmon was perfectly cooked, juicy and full of flavor. I used my favorite combination of spices for salmon --pink peppercorns and cardamom--both on the fish itself and in the sauce. I wasn’t really satisfied with the photos, but there you are.

Cestini di Salmone


2 zucchini / courgettes

4 salmon filets, about 2.5 x 5 inches / 6 x 12 cm

2 Tablespoon pink peppercorns

4 cardamom pods

1/2 cup plain yogurt

black pepper

olive oil to brush cestini

Bread crumbs

Fresh dill or fennel leaves (optional)

  • Preheat oven to 200 C / 400 F
  • Slice the zucchini lengthwise into long strips. This is where the mandoline comes in handy. You’ll need 16 good slices, but you should make more than that because some of them till tear when you grill them.
  • Trim the salmon into pieces approximately 2-2.5 inches / 5-6 cm square. Count on two pieces per serving. You can piece them together if you have to, but it will be harder to wrap them up.

  • Crush the pink peppercorns and the seeds from the cardamom pods in a mortar and pestle.

  • In a hot non-stick pan, grill the zucchini strips quickly. You’re only trying to soften them a little bit and maybe give them a little bit of color. I didn’t use any oil for this step, but it would probably help to keep them from sticking.

  • Lay two strips of zucchini out on a work surface. Take two more and weave them into the center of the first two, as shown in the photo.

  • Put a piece of salmon on the woven part (it should be about the same size as the interwoven section of the zucchini). Sprinkle the top with the cardamom mixture (you won’t use it all for this--the rest is for the sauce), and give it a turn of the pepper mill.

  • Bring the sides up and around and weave them over the top. Turn them over to show the pretty weaving.

  • Brush the cestini with olive oil, sprinkle with breadcrumbs, and bake for 15 minutes. While they’re baking, make the sauce: Mix the yogurt with the remaining pink peppercorn /cardamom mixture. Add some dill or fennel if you have it.

I served these with a green salad for lunch. Perfect.


You could fill these with a nice fish mousse or use what the original recipe used: a mixture of chopped shrimp and chopped porcini with some sauteed potatoes.


I think that next time I probably won’t use the breadcrumbs. I’m not sure what they added, except to keep the zucchini from burning. The problem is that they hid the really pretty woven pattern of the zucchini. Ok, maybe I’ll use them, but not so much of them.

‘Nother Note:

If you have the English language version of La Cucina Italiana, you won’t find this recipe--it was in the Italian version. For some reason, they don’t have the same recipes. Sorry.