Lunedi Lunacy

Well now are we all busily cooking ourselves into a frenzy with those traditional Christmas dishes that our families look forward to every year?  What would Christmas be without Grandma’s recipe for soggy stuffing and Aunt Yolande’s green bean-mushroom soup bake?  But you know perhaps it’s time for a change – something  new to tantalize their jaded little palates and tired little taste buds.  Something that will get the conversational ball rolling to something other than politics and hockey at the festive groaning board.

In the spirit of sharing at Yuletide I thought I give you a few suggestions for some new and interesting taste treats that may well become the future family favourites.

Though I haven’t been able to track down the recipe for this innovative Santa meat loaf I have a feeling that the secret is all in the decorating.  Just imagine your families surprise and speechlessness when you bear it to the table as the centre piece of a festive buffet table on Christmas Eve!

Many thanks to Elizabeth* for sharing this very interesting (?) Christmastide offering.

While I was desperately searching for the cooking instructions so I could recreate this  fascinating dish I came across a chef who is on the cutting edge of culinary creativity for Christmas.  (My lord but the alliteration is coming fast and furious today isn’t it?)  Charles Phoenix is a maître de cuisine who doesn’t know the meaning of the word fear! Nor taste either but that’s a minor point.

Here’s two culinary Christmas trees that are easy to make with things you have in the pantry and around the house.  Well okay the traffic cone you may have to go out and steal from a spot-check point.

The first is more a centre piece in the great tradition of Marie Antoine Carême than an eatable but is sure to solicit delighted ohhs and ahhs when it adorns the sideboard.

And the ever resourceful Charles is not beyond reaching into the recent past for inspiration. Just think how having all your hors d’oeuvres on this yummy Christmas tree (or Hanukkah Bush) means less serving plates to wash up on the morning of the 26th!  And it will compliment the silver foil Christmas tree with the gold satin balls in the corner perfectly.

And your family and guests will be waxing lyrical as they scoop their organic nacho chips into this cheesy delight.   An animated dish it will go perfectly with that glass of President’s Choice faux-egg nog as you and the family subject yourselves watch Frosty the Snowman and sing along with Burl Ives for the 47th consecutive year.  There should be enough cheese for everyone!

I hope these little items give you some ideas on how to spice up your Christmas festivities and if you use them please let me know how they turned out.

*Elizabeth assures me that this was not something produced in her kitchen nor in any kitchen she would be caught in! 

On this day in 1924: The last Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost is sold in London, England.

Comfort Me With Apples

Actually the lovesick bride in Song of Solomon requests that her bridegroom:

Stay me with flagons, comfort me with apples; for I am sick of love.

Song of Solomon 2:5
KVJ – 1611

It looks like God’s Secretaries weren’t quite as temperate as other translators of holy writings.  Several other versions of this passage from Song of Solomon insist that it’s raisins or raisin cakes that offer strength.  Myself I rather like the First Cambridge Company of translator’s idea that ferments and bottles the grape of the vine rather than just drying it then using it in cookery.  It’s more like the Anglican tradition I was brought up in.

That first apple harvest as imagined
by the wonderful Emanuele Luzzati.

When it comes to those apples it’s fascinating how many translations of this verse think of them as being a source of refreshment rather than comfort.  Given that the apple became known as the forbidden fruit from the Garden of Eden it’s a wonder that anything so representative of sin was asked for on a wedding night – or not!

The apple – which at one time was the name given to anything that was not a berry – has figured as a symbol in the mythology of most world religions from the Abrahimic to the Norse.  In many of these myths it seems to have been the cause of sin, strife, envy, discord and greed.  However its reputation is saved in both the Song of Solomon and in world culinary traditions where the apple does indeed become a thing of refreshment and comfort.  What could be more of a comfort food than apple pie – well okay apple pie with ice cream – or a baked apple?

So why this ramble about the Malus domestica which is appearing in abundance in the markets these days?  Well exactly that!   At the moment the market stalls have a remarkable variety of apples available and I’ve been madly searching for ways to include them in the recent spate of cooking I’ve been doing.  While looking for a recipe I had for slow cooker apple butter I came across an Apple and Almond cake that my friend Ben made for a Rosh Hashanah dinner he attended last year.  The tradition of that holiday is to eat apples dipped in honey to represent a sweet beginning to the New Year.  

The act is accompanied by a prayer:

Blessed are you Lord, our God, Ruler of the world,
Creator of the fruit of the tree.
(Baruch atah Ado-nai, Ehlo-haynu melech Ha-olam,
Borai p’ree ha’aitz.

An apple slice is dipped in the honey and eaten.

May it be Your will, Adonai, our God and the God of our forefathers,
that You renew for us a good and sweet year.
(Y’hee ratzon mee-l’fanekha, Adonai Elohaynu v’elohey avoteynu sh’tichadeish aleinu shanah tovah um’tuqah.

Though there is no honey in this recipe I can vouch that it has just the right amount of sweetness for the New Year.

Apple and Almond Cake – serves 12

3 apples, peeled, cored and chopped roughly – Braeburns or Granny Smith
1 tbsp lemon juice
2 tsp sugar
8 eggs
1 3/4 cup superfine sugar
3 1/4 cups ground almonds
1 tbsp lemon juice
1/2 cup flaked almost
1 tsp confectioners’ sugar

Put chopped apples, 1 tbsp lemon juice and 2 tsp sugar in a sauce pan and bring to boil over a medium heat.  Cover and cook over low heat for about 10 minutes or until you can mash the apple to a rough puree with a wooden spoon or fork.  Leave to cool.

Preheat oven to 350º F – 175c.  Oil a 10″ spring-form pan with almond oil or flavourless vegetable oil and line the bottom with parchment paper.

Put the cooled puree, eggs, ground almonds, sugar and tbsp of lemon juice into a processor and blitz to a puree.

Pour and scrape into the prepared pan, sprinkle the flaked almonds on top and bake for 45 minutes.  Check after 35 minutes as ovens vary and see if a knife comes out clean when inserted.  Adjust timings accordingly.

Put on a wire rack to cool then remove the sides of the pan.  It is best served warm though it’s still good cold. (Beyond good – warm or cold Laurent assures me.)

Before bringing it to the table push a tsp of confectioners’ sugar through a fine sieve to give it a light dusting.

Many thanks for the recipe Ben – it’s a winner.  And L’shanah tovah tikatevu.

September 26 – 1973:  Concorde makes its first non-stop crossing of the Atlantic in record-breaking time.

Spaghetti Frittata – From Our Christmas Pot Luck

The gang at work did a pot-luck lunch today so I thought I’d bring a touch of Italy to the festivities with a spaghetti frittata.  I first had this quintessential Neapolitan dish at Leon d’Oro, a quintessential Neapolitan trattoria in Piazza Dante.  My friend Wendy loving and accurately described this friendly family run restaurant, that she visited last month,  over at Flavor of Italy.

This is a great way to use up left-over spaghetti, vegetables or whatever catches your fancy.  Its a good buffet dish, a lunch/brunch dish with a salad or as a primi for a more elaborate dinner.

1/2 lb of spaghetti*
3 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
4 eggs plus 1 egg yolk
Fresh ground pepper
Other ingredients can be added – almost anything that you would normally use with spaghetti – bacon, cooked zucchini, roast peppers, basil, canned tomatoes or left-over tomato sauce. 

  1. Cook spaghetti until just slightly al dente – it will undergo further cooking later.
  2. Drain and toss while still hot with butter, Parmesan and parsley and allow to cool completely
  3. Lightly beat eggs in a small bowl with salt and pepper
  4. Add the beaten eggs to the spaghetti and mix thoroughly
  5. If you are using other ingredients they should be added and thoroughly mixed in at this point.
  6. Spray a 11-12 inch non-stick skillet with Pam or 2 tablespoons of butter and heat over a medium burner until foam subsides.
  7. Pour mixture into skillet and spread to an even thickness over the bottom of the pan.
  8. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes without touching the pan.  The tilt the pan slightly and bring the edge closer to the centre of the heat.  Cook for  minute or so and then rotate the pan about a 1/4 turn and cook for another minute.  Continue until a full circle has been completed.  This will make sure it is cooked evenly. Lift the edge with a spatula to see if a nice golden crust has formed on the underside.
  9. Place a platter slightly larger than the pan upside down over the pan and turn it over.  Let the frittata plop onto the plater.  Grease the pan again and side the frittata back into the pan.  
  10. Repeat the cooking process above until the second side has formed a good golden crust.
  11. Transfer to a cutting board and cut into wedges.  

It can be served hot, lukewarm or at room temperature but never just out of the refrigerator.

23 dicembre/decembre – San Giovanni da Kety

A Postal Quiz

This time of year most government departments are involved in charity campaigns.  What was once a simple canvasing of colleagues for donations has given way to some very elaborate ways of raising money for various local and national charities.  I was working briefly at Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) the past few weeks and their bake sale included one of the most delicious Niagara Grape pies I’ve ever tasted.  And the bon-bon skewers that the Candy Ladies sold later in the week were a visual and taste delight.

The good folk over at CIC International Region (the section Laurent is part of) came up with the idea of a cookbook with recipes contributed by Officers and their spouses who had served in Embassies around the world: Chefs without Borders/Chefs sans frontières.

You may recall that this past April I tried my hand at making Pasteria using my friend Marco’s mother’s recipe.  Marco had helped his mother make this Napoletane Easter dolce since he was a child so he gave me it to me not from a book but from memory.  Deciding exactly how much “a little but some is required” actually was became an adventure which I shared at that time – and thank god I did because Marco saw the photo of the ingredients and immediately sent me an SMS just before I added enough orange flower essence to make 20 pasterie!  Well after all he had said 3 bottles – he just didn’t say what size!  Fortunately the end product met with everyone’s – including Marco’s – approval so I must have done something right.

So I decided it would be a great recipe – even in its slightly unscripted state – to submit from our household.   Once it was published I felt it was only right that Marco get a copy of the book that included a recipe that I’m sure will be followed this coming Easter in many Foreign Service quarters.

So last Friday – October 21st – Laurent put it in a large envelope and consigned it to the tender combined mercies of Canada Post and PosteItalia.  The big question was “how long would it take to get there?”  Well today marks the 5th day since it was stamped and sent on its way.  Marco has been forewarned and is on the lookout for it.  In the meantime I thought I’d take a little poll of my faithful reader.  How many days do you think will fly by before it reaches his doorstep?

How many days will it take for the cookbook to reach Marco?

We were asked to share any culinary secrets we had learned in our posting abroad and I shared the lessons I had learned during our four years in Italy:

Four years in Italy taught me that simple is better and fresh is best; and the eye, the nose, the finger and the mouth are the best tools any cook can have in the kitchen.

25 ottobre/October – Santi Crispino e Crispiniano

Food Fail!

When I look over recent postings I realize that I really have become obsessed with food. But it is so difficult to live here and not be. And though many of the things I once regarded as exotic have now become everyday I am constantly discovering new tastes and ways of preparing things.

And once again I stress the seasonality of things – Kaki are now back in the market, those great orange, squishy balls of custardy goodness that I will gorge myself on until late October. And just last week watermelon or anguria season was here and I discovered a wonderful Sicilian desert while having tea with my friend Simonetta and our Ballet magazine publisher Alfio. We had stopped in at Dagnino, the place to go for Sicilian sweets and goodies. As we cast our gaze over the incredible array of cannoli, cassati, biscotti and torte my eye was caught by a pinkish coloured desert flecked with bits of chocolate. At the same time Simonetta let out a delighted, “Oh look they have Gelo ri Muluni!” “What the hell is Gelo ri Muluni?” was my immediate response. “Its Sicilian for Gelatina di Anguria,” she replied in a tone that suggested that anyone who could translate the latest reviews for Ballet2000 should really have known that.

Watermelon jelly? Hmm this didn’t look like any watermelon jelly I had seen in those canned fruit studded moulds so beloved of the ladies at Alderwood Presbyterian Church dinners. Or the wobbly, shinny cubes of sugary day-glo stuff they fed us at the school cafeteria. It was shiny but had a creamy look to it and definitely wasn’t going to glow under black lighting. So as Alfio and Luca indulged in Cassata we tucked into our Gelo ri Muluni.

And it was wonderful – so wonderful I bought several to take home for after dinner that evening. Then, even though it was going to possibly involve gelatin, that most difficult to work with ingredient, I went searching for a recipe in several Italian cookbooks but without success. A quick search on the Internet turned out one recipe and … no gelatin! Over at Sicilian Cooking there was a recipe that was pure simplicity itself.

The ingredients:

2 1/2 lbs watermelon (without skin)
1/2 lb sugar
1/2 cup chocolate shavings or chips
1/2 cup toasted pistachio nuts
1/3 cup corn starch
1 pinch of cinnamon

Not a gelatin leaf in sight, just some things everyone has laying around the kitchen. So I got everything together and thought I’d try my hand at making some with an eye to including it as a dolci at Thanksgiving (Canadian) dinner this weekend.

What’s that you say? There’s an ingredient missing! Oh you mean the watermelon! Well yes, you remember how I keeping going on about seasonality? Well guess what? Watermelon season is over and there’s not one to be had in any of the markets!

The Gods do like their little joke don’t they?

But here’s the recipe anyway just in case there is still watermelon in your part of the world: Gelo ri Muluni (Watermelon Jelly). And I shall arise bright and early tomorrow morning and head to the market just in case there is one – even one – left for ready money.

08 ottobre – Santa Reparata di Cesarea di Palestina

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