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I have bad luck with wind. Over the years I’ve lost hats, papers, shingles you name it, all blown away by errant gusts. Episode 1. Ekosj Gets a Piercing:As a youngster, I recall fly fishing for bass on a river in Pennsylvania on a very blustery day. Out in midstream, the water got shallow as […]

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Eating Hats for the Holidays

 

Almost every Jewish festival has some kind of food or prepared dish associated with it: Chanukah has latkes, Sukkot has the citron and apples and honey are served at Rosh Hashanah. There are many other examples, and the foods usually have symbolism, too.

This week we celebrate Purim, a festival that honors Queen Esther’s saving the Jewish people from certain death. The wicked man in the story is Haman, who hated the Jews; his heritage was the Amalekites, a people who had been defeated by the Jews in the past, and the hatred from that experience never died. You can learn more about Purim here.

Member Post

 

Everyone knows it’s windy . . . in March. Ricochet members, founding or first time subscribers, AND especially the reticent or keyboard shy, are heartily encouraged to join in our group writing project this month. Each month, Ricochet members like you share a few thoughts, a bit of knowledge or creativity, playing off a theme. […]

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Member Post

 

My mother was not a good cook when she first got married. She said that her mother pretty much served meat and canned vegetables. Her father was Norwegian and didn’t seem to care much. Any cuisine that features ludefisk can’t be one for taste. But my father’s family was awash with great cooks, as one […]

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Chef Surprise…Oops, She Did It Again!

 

I’ve been cooking since I was nine years old. I’d bake cookies back then for our family of eight (at that point; it ultimately numbered 10) so the recipe on the back of the chocolate chip package needed to be tripled. That is how I learned to add fractions, actually. Fractions were one of the rare sections of math that I succeeded in during my first go-round with school. (My math “a-ha” occurred during my second venture into college–another story.)

Well, in baking those cookies one had to do a “test” batch–just two cookies in a metal pie pan to check if you’d put in the correct amount of flour. Here’s where my first adventure in Cooking Fails started. I checked the “try cookies” as they were known, and it was obvious that more flour was needed. But, instead of measuring out another third or fourth cup, my brain was doing something else, so my hands picked up the sifter and turned the handle until all the flour had been emptied into the rotating bowl of cookie dough while the MixMaster was doing its best to incorporate it.

Nom Kom: A Simple Cake

 

Nom Kom is a very old, very traditional Khmer cake wrapped in banana leaves in a pyramid shape. It is a simple cake, made with glutinous rice flour and has coconut, palm sugar, and black sesame seed filling. All the ingredients you can easily find in your local supermarket. While banana leaves are available at the frozen aisle of Asian markets, fresh leaves can sometimes be found at Latin markets as well. Nom Kom is one of several traditional cakes my grandmother likes to serve at our family’s various religious ceremonies throughout the years.

It is a simple cake, as stated above, but nom kom also bears a religious connotation as well. It represents the yoni (vulva, womb), a personification of the divine feminine creative power, the mark of Mother Shakti. In Hinduism, the yoni is the counterpart to the linga, the symbol of Lord Shiva. So of course, num kom has its counterpart, num ansom. At engagement and wedding ceremonies, num kom and num ansom are always presented together to symbolize the union of the linga and the yoni, the representation of the eternal process of creation and regeneration, the union of male and female principles. In Khmer, that union is called mea ba (mother, father).

Chef’s Surprise: Taste & See

 

I’m going to cheat a little bit here and not write about food at all. Instead, I’m going to talk about one of my favorite verses in all of Scripture. In fact, I love it so much that it’s in my email signature.

“Taste and see that the Lord is good. How happy is the person who takes refuge in him!”
Psalms 34:8 CSB

A Chef’s Surprise Proved Revolutionary, or Taming the Delicate Palate of a Kid

 

San Francisco, a Valentine’s Day in the 1980s: It was a chilly day in the North Beach neighborhood of San Francisco. The storefronts, coffee shops, and restaurants were decked out in their bright crimson St. Valentine’s Day best. I was still in my thirties, living out the cheerful but hectic routine of being a wife and a mother.

My spouse Jim and I were meeting up with our computer geek-y friend, Paul. Our eight-year-old son, Gabe, had created a Valentine’s Day card for Paul, decked out with illustrations detailing Jim and me sitting on the living room couch, with our tiger cat standing on our laps. Gabe was especially proud of the little mouse family that he had depicted as living in between our shoes.

Chef’s Surprise: Food on the Go

 

The janitor for my VFW post hustled to finish the morning cleaning before dashing off to his second gig, a pizza and wings shop. He proudly announced that a local network affiliate had featured his pizza joint as a “hidden gem” among restaurants located inside gas stations. This prompted memories of food along the road map of memory. I remember hot dogs at Howard Johnson, fresh crusty rolls with cheese and meat in small Bavarian towns, and the Triple T truck stop restaurant in Tucson, Arizona.

Early in life, when my parents took me and then my first sister, on the road, Howard Johnson was known as a safe stop with clean restrooms. My memory is of a special toasted hot dog bun holding a thin hot dog in a paper tray. A quick search online confirms that HoJo had its own bun design, almost like a slice of bread formed into right angles.

Operation Floral Chef: Pizza, Banana Bread, & a Side of Pollen

 

I had heard that Saturday was going to be the worst day for deliveries, and the weather certainly lived up to that. Blowing snow and biting cold is a pain to drive in, and harsh on flowers. We need to warm up the van and make sure all the flowers were well wrapped, or we would not live up to our reputation for quality. Everyone knows you can get poor quality flowers at Walmart for cheap – we can only compete via quality. You could say the invisible hand is holding the bouquet…

Previous installment here and here.

Member Post

 

Flower shops are one of the businesses that directly profit from death. Alongside weddings, funerals are major sources of income. When important people die, that’s usually the source of huge orders for flowers. As death is one of the constants of the world, there are no exceptions for holidays. Thus, as I stumbled down the […]

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Member Post

 

Each month Ricochet has two group writing projects, intended to encourage the widest possible member participation. I have been the chief cat herder for the theme writing project for the past couple years. By way of exhorting and occasionally extorting participation, I have been known to threaten to fill white space with posts featuring bears, […]

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Member Post

 

Some of you may recall that I previously narrated the saga of my work in a northwestern Illinois flower shop – Operation Bloom. That was in the lead-up to Mother’s Day, one of the busiest times for a flower shop. This is about a colder holiday, where we deliver flowers to sweethearts through snow – […]

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New Foods… Chef’s Surprise

 

When I was in my late teens, I found an old purse that had belonged to my grandmother and in it was a shopping list. Among other items, she had written “spigety” and I showed it to my mother and had a little chuckle over how it was spelled. My mom was also amused, but then she smiled at me and said, “And you know–she did not mean “spaghetti”–she would have been buying macaroni noodles for mac and cheese. My mom would have never made spaghetti.”

Well, that was a surprise to me, because we had Italian spaghetti at our dinner table regularly. But, when my mother was a child, she grew up in a home where her parents were first-generation Americans. Her father’s parents had emigrated from Switzerland, and her mother’s dad was Swedish and the mom was born and raised in Scotland. There was no spaghetti served in those homes. Both families were dairy farmers, so cheese was a major food group.

Member Post

 

“Prince” has been on my mind lately. A prince among actors just left us. We’ve had discussion of Machiavelli’s The Prince. Superbowl this weekend has reminded me of another Prince who gave an iconic Superbowl half-time performance not so long ago in drenching rain. In keeping with this month’s writing theme “Chef’s Surprise”, ready to […]

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My Live-in Chef

 

When I first married my husband, his idea of a meal was having half a Pepperidge Farm cake after a graveyard shift or going out for Mexican food. He knew better than to ask me if I wanted the other half of the cake (which he ate in his younger days), although I did enjoy having a piece at a time. But I digress.

I assumed as so many wives did of my, um, maturity, that cooking was my job. At least dinner. From the beginning, Jerry and I each fixed our own preferred breakfast and lunch, and I would plan the dinner menus. At first, I did all the prep for our simple “meat and potato” style dinners. To him, mushrooms were gross; broccoli was ruled disgusting (and it still is, to him). But gradually I learned the foods he liked or was willing to try, and I experimented with more complicated meals, as I enviously watched our gourmet friends cook the yummiest and most exotic meals.

Over time I asked my hubby to help me prep for meals. We eat lots of vegetables and he loves to chop. I couldn’t bear to watch him—his engineering nature would kick in and I would watch him precisely slice carrots and celery. Slowly. But he got the job done and it was one less task for me to do. We also discovered it was fun to chat while we worked, as long as I wasn’t in the middle of converting recipes to smaller amounts. Yes, I would often ask him to calculate, and he would insist on telling me how he came up with the amounts while I impatiently waited for the final sum so I could continue my work. I wasn’t really interested in how he arrived at the result!

Chef’s Surprise: What doesn’t kill you might teach you something

 

Years ago, I was a consultant doing industrial data collection and control systems and one of my clients was IBM (Pro Tip – If you are a consultant, make sure your client is within at least two orders of magnitude of your size). This was back when there was a tax break for the production of pharmaceuticals in Puerto Rico and as a result, many pharmaceutical companies had a research facility in the States (usually either Pennsylvania or New Jersey) and a production facility in Puerto Rico.

As a consequence, I traveled multiple times to Puerto Rico with different IBM teams. We would spend nights on the coast where the hotels were and then travel to the plants which were inland. The plants got your attention – we were told to park with the front of the car towards the exit – “In case something bad happens at the plant”. The wrought iron fences around the plant had been eaten away at the bottom by some sort of acidic atmosphere.

Chef’s Surprise: The Movies

 

chef's surprise graphicTo kick off a month of posts by members on the theme “Chef’s Surprise,” let’s go to the movies. There have been a number of movies of varying quality made about or featuring chefs, cooks, cooking, restaurants, or eating. What follows is a summary of movies I have seen and enjoyed, to one degree or another. There are a number of critically acclaimed, and surely quite sumptuous, movies on the theme that I have not yet gotten around to viewing. This list is mostly middle to lower brow, but none will spoil your bowl of popcorn.

The finest film, and I mean that sincerely, on cooking, is Babette’s Feast (1987). Babbette is a Parisian woman, a great cook, who seeks refuge in a town on the Danish coast. There she serves and cooks very simple fare for many years in a very austere community and environment. Then news arrives that she has come into a small fortune, by a stroke of luck. A friend in her old life has renewed her subscription to a lottery each year and she has won.

She proceeds to throw a feast for the elderly community that has sheltered her. The preparations involve the arrival of all manner of supplies and Babette shows her full culinary mastery, enchanting the community. [Spoiler alert, read below the line at the bottom at your risk, if you have not seen the movie.*] This movie is also one of two G-rated movies on my list.