Project “Family Food History” Thanksgiving – Dutch and French Cuisine

So once I caught the genealogy bug, I dove in with both feet and started digging up amazing, enlightening and interesting stories about my ancestors.  On my mom’s side, I’m German, English, Scottish, Welsh, Dutch and a tiny bit French.  On my dad’s, we’ve got English, Scottish, French and Welsh, with an ancestor I’ve been able to take back to William the Conqueror and even beyond!  You know what that means, all my Viking fan friends.  I am indeed a descendant of the historical Rollo!  Rollo – otherwise known as Robert (his Christian name, natch) Ragnvaldsson – was William’s great-great-great grandfather.  [Keep an eye on this blog next Spring for a special project to coincide with the return of “Vikings” on the History Channel.]

I have to say, though, that one of the most amazing stories I’ve come across in my family is from my Granny’s side (my mom’s mother).  Some of her ancestors – the Dutch VanMeteren’s – go back to the late 1600’s in the Hudson Valley region in New York.  In Kingston, in the former village called Wyltwick, the VanMeteren’s and some French Huguenots (some of whom I also count as ancestors) lived and worked.  At that time, the area was the frontier, with the Catskills behind them and angry native peoples, irritated at these white intruders, living in the forests and mountains surrounding the town.

The following account is a fascinating reminder of why I adore genealogy research so much.  The history of my ancestors is truly connected to the history of America, and stories like this make it almost tangible:

“In the fall of 1662 Jan Joosten Van Meteren settled in Wildwych (now Kingston, Ulster County, New Jersey [sic]) and dwelt many years in that vicinity, which included the towns of Hurley, Marbletown, and Esoppus. He is not noted in the activities of that community until the 7th of June, 1663, the date when the Minnisink Indians made an attack on the village and its vicinity raiding and burning the settlement of Hurley and Kingston and carrying away women and children in captivity. Among the latter were Jan’s wife and children, Jooste Jans being one of them as well as Catherine du Bois, the wife of Louis du Bois, and their daughter Sarah; whom Jooste Jans Van Meteren later married. These were taken to the fastnesses of the Catskill Mountains and remained in captivity for months, but were rescued on the eve of torture by du Bois, and Captain Martin Kreiger’s company of Manhattan soldiers; the trainband finally rounded up the Indians and defeated them on September 3, 1663. In connection with this tragic experience the following statement is quoted: “About ten weeks after the capture of the women and children, the Indians decided to celebrate their own escape from pursuit by burning some of their victims and the ones selected were Catherine du Bois, and her baby Sara. A cubical pile of logs was arranged and the mother and child placed thereon; when the Indians were about to apply the torch, Catherine began to sing the 137th Psalm as a death chant. The Indians withheld the fire and gave her respite while they listened; when she had finished they demanded more, and before she had finished the last one her husband and the Dutch soldiers from New Amsterdam arrived and surrounded the savages, killed and captured some, and otherwise inflicted terrible punishment upon them, and released the prisoners.

Captain Kreiger’s Journal which gives a general account of the expedition of rescue, unfortunately does not name him, but it is elsewhere stated that it was due to Jooste Jan’s three months’ association with the Indians, during his captivity, that gave him the knowledge of their habits, trails, plans and war feuds with other tribes, and so impressed him with a desire for their adventurous life.”

Knowing this amazing story, I have to pay tribute to my Dutch ancestors, and how better than with food?

The Western portion of Holland including Gelderland (where my ancestors lived before coming to New Netherland), has many specialties.  Dairy products play a prominent role, and indeed, this is the land of Gouda and Edam cheeses, as well as buttermilk rich in milkfat.  Seafood is abundant, thanks to the area’s proximity to the North Sea, and raw herring, mussels, eels, oysters and shrimp are all traditionally enjoyed in this region.  Buttery, sugary pastries are a Western Dutch delicacy, and of course there is plenty of local beer to wash it all down.  Advocaat, a liqueur of eggs, sugar and brandy, is something I’d love to try at Thanksgiving.  The trick is to find somewhere in Richmond that sells it!

As for the French portion of my family, which, I admit is tiny, there are obviously plenty of foods to choose from.  Our DuBois ancestors originally came from a town called Wicres, in the North of France not far from Calais.  In fact, the region’s name is Nord-Pas-de-Calais.  Foods from this region include turkeys, chickens and seafood, especially mussels.  Goat’s cheese and other cheeses, as well as chicory, are traditional to the region.  Andouillette sausages and smoked garlic are made there as well.

For the Thanksgiving table, perhaps I’ll make a few of the following recipes:

Apple Porridge

Blueberry Bread

Dikke Jennen soup

Arnhem Biscuits, or “Arnhem Girls”

Pear Cake

Little Mussel Cakes

Carbonnade (Beef Stew in beer)

Classic Moules-Frites (Mussels with French Fries)

So there you have it!  The last of the family food history from my mom’s side of the family, where we’ll be spending Thanksgiving.  Which dishes should make the menu?






Early Bird gets the biscuit

I’d heard a lot of buzz about Early Bird Biscuit Co. & Bakery, so I was excited to check them out as part of the Lakeside Avenue Holly Jolly Christmas festivities.  I am happy to say I was not disappointed!

The shop is teeny-tiny, in a small shopping center containing a tv repair shop and a magic shop.  Both my kids thought the neon “BUTTER” sign was awesome.  The shop also had a snow machine out front, which all the kids adored.

The interior is narrow and decorated with 1950’s charm.  A shelf near the ceiling features a row of antique radios and the display case shows off delicious desserts like snickerdoodle and gingerbread cookies and mini chocolate bundt cakes on vintage plates.  All the staff are upbeat and courteous – no small feat considering the store was slammed with customers who had just stepped off the Lakeside Avenue trolley.  The whole place smelled like melting butter, and racks of biscuits were stacked in a case behind the counter.

On the menu were the plain buttermilk biscuits with house made jam (that night’s was blackberry), and the crabby cheddar biscuit.  My kids got a mini chocolate bundt cake to split, and I grabbed a Blanchard’s coffee (Early Bird has their own Blanchard’s blend), and we headed outside to eat (and to let some of the waiting customers in!).

All I can say is that Early Bird does biscuits right.  They were big, fluffy, buttery and delicious, and the house made jam was amazing.  The crabby cheddar biscuit had just the right mix of flavors, and they were well balanced (i.e. the cheese didn’t overpower the crab).  Of course my kids loved the cake too.

I will definitely be back to Early Bird soon for more biscuits!

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Project “Family Food History Thanksgiving” – British Isles

Last time I blogged about my “Family Food History Thanksgiving” project, I covered my family’s German roots and the foods native to that country.  Today’s post focuses on the family history I’ve been able to uncover in the British Isles – Scotland, Wales and England.

Many members of my family have thought we were a little bit Irish, however all the “Mc” names I’ve found have turned out to be Scottish.  So no, we have nary a drop of Irish blood 😦   I guess that’s why I had to marry into my Irishness.

One caveat:  I will NOT be cooking a haggis.  Unfortunately (or fortunately, for some), I have never tried this most important Scottish delicacy, and I know there’s no way I could do it justice anyway, so I won’t try.  I also will not be making black pudding – I don’t think anyone in my family would try it!

What I will bring to the table from our Scottish ancestors are some sweets, like shortbread and scones, maybe with some currants, which are a traditional fruit used in Scottish cooking.  Brandy wafers would pair well with coffee or a post-feast dram.  The proximity to the sea and to the cold North means that smoked fish is nearly always on the Scottish menu, so I’ll plan to bring some smoked salmon to go on a cheese plate with some yummy English cheeses.  The Scots are well known for cattle raising (and cattle stealing), so there has to be some Aberdeen Angus or Highland beef on the menu.  Perhaps some roast beef with Yorkshire puddings or steak auld reekie.  With all that cattle raising, of course cheese and dairy products figure into the Scottish diet, so I’ll have to see if I can find some good Scottish cheese for the cheese board.

From Wales, I’ll have to try making Welsh cakes.  And of course you can’t discuss traditional Welsh food without bringing up Welsh rarebit.  When I was younger and used to see Welsh rarebit in the grocery store, I always thought it said rabbit, so I avoided it like the plague, not wanting to eat Thumper.  Only when I got older did I realize it was nothing more than cheese and bread!  Bara brith is a must – this “mottled bread” made with dried fruit, such as raisins or currants – is a Welsh specialty.

From the English side of things, there is plenty to choose from.  The Brits have always been rather fond of documenting their culinary history, so there are cookbooks dating back to the middle ages detailing the recipes of cooks and chefs in the larger manor houses and castles.  Yorkshire puddings, to me, are the biscuits of England, so they’ll definitely make the Thanksgiving menu.  Of course, every region of England has its own cakes, so perhaps I’ll bring some Essex spice cakes or Banbury cakes.  And since I’ve been watching “The Great British Bakeoff” religiously, a Bakewell or custard tart is in order.  Being an island, fish is always on the menu in Britain.  Swansea fish cakes with cockle sauce and minted peas are about as British as you can get.  A great Stilton, Devon blue cheese or cheddar would round out the cheese board.

As I add more items from the other regions where my ancestors lived, I’ll pare the options down to one or two per region.  Which dishes do you think should definitely make my Thanksgiving menu?


#RVA Nacho Taco Week 2014

Now THIS is a themed-food week I can get behind!  Because – duh – tacos.  Also, I’m assuming the choice of dates has something to do with the Dia de los Muertos so, you know, history.

From Nov. 3-9, a bunch of local restaurants have $5 nacho and taco menu specials.  When you buy at least three of them, you can complete a “passport” and drop it off or scan and email it to Style Weekly to be in the running for a $200 Visa gift card.  Win something, did you say?  Obviously, I made it my mission to complete this taco challenge!

I started my Mexican food adventure Monday at Cha Cha’s Cantina, the food partner/sponsor for the Week.  A bunch of my co-workers and I schlepped down the hill from our office to Cary Street and ordered a mix of the steak taco special (“grilled flank steak topped with fresh mango, roasted corn and avocado relish”) and the shrimp taco special (“seared shrimp, roasted corn and avocado relish and fresh mango”).  We all swapped tacos so everyone ended up with one of each, in addition to the side of rice.

All I have to say about Cha Cha’s tacos is WOW.  They were amazing!  I hate to say it, but I’d eaten there before and never been overly impressed.  They do standard Mexican food well, but I’d never had anything I’d consider a standout dish.  Well these tacos changed that.  Seriously, if you can only eat one of the taco specials for Nacho Taco Week, go here with someone else, order one of each, swap a taco and enjoy!

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Next on the list was lunch with my Mom on Wednesday.  She’s recently taken a new job downtown, so I’ve been enjoying meeting her for lunch and introducing her to some of my favorite spots.  Citizen is one of them.  At first glance, they look like a hole-in-the-wall sandwich shop, but a closer look at their menu reveals an eclectic mix of breakfast options, tortas (pressed sandwiches), salads and sides with a focus on fresh, seasonal, local ingredients.  I had the Creole Taco special (“house smoked chipotle Tasso ham and kale on soft corn tortillas topped with Mudbug pico de gallo, served with jalapeno, lime and Celeriac remoulade”).  I ordered a side of jerked collards and a side of celery root slaw for my mom and I to share.  My favorite thing about Citizen is their bold flavors, and the Creole tacos did not disappoint.  Between the ham, kale and remoulade, there was a great mix of spicy, sweet, sour, tangy, crispy and savory.  So good!

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Last on the list was a place I’ve been wanting to try for a while.  My husband and I took a trip to Los Cabos, Mexico a few years ago, and I fell in love with Baja Mexican cuisine – particularly fish tacos.  Pelon’s Baja Grill has a fish taco special on the Nacho Taco Week list, so I ordered a couple specials plus a kids’ meal for my boys and swung by after work to pick them up.  They were everything I expect Baja cuisine to be – fresh, light, flavorful, crispy and crunchy.  Served with a side of rice and beans, the tacos were topped with a spicy sauce that was the perfect match for the plentiful, crispy cabbage and chunks of fried white fish.  Of course, nothing in the States can match the deliciousness of an authentic, Baja fish taco, but these came close.

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So what are you waiting for?  Nacho Taco Week isn’t over until Nov. 9.

Fire, Flour & Fork ’14

I had been looking forward to Fire, Flour & Fork (“an event for the food curious”) for a ridiculously long time, and the event did not disappoint.  FFF ’14 was a four-day culinary gathering celebrating the vibrant food culture and history of Richmond through a speaker series, themed lunches and dinners created by local and national chefs, an “Urban State Fair” open to the public and an artisinal tasting tent featuring regional specialties, beers, wines and ciders.

I started my FFF ’14 experience on Friday, Oct. 31.  I picked up my pass at the Hilton Garden Inn and made my way to the session I was most looking forward to that day – “Pie for Breakfast” with Christina Tosi of Momofuku Milk Bar.  Christina got us started on the right foot by handing out slices of Milk Bar’s famed Crack Pie to each attendee.  During the session, she explained the history of Milk Bar and her creative process when creating desserts.  She said that she knows that her version of a chocolate chip cookie or an apple pie can’t hold a candle to her grandmother’s or her aunt’s or the best one she ever had, so instead of attempting classic desserts, she instead invents new riffs on classic recipes to create desserts that are unexpected, yet familiar (like her Apple Pie Layer Cake).  Her discussion on the development of the Crack Pie recipe and her demonstration of its preparation showed off her creativity and the serendipity that often happens in the kitchen.  Most of the recipe was planned with certain ingredients to achieve specific results, like the somewhat savory oat cookie that’s crumbled and used for the crust, and the powdered milk that adds both flavor and texture to the finished pie.  But when she was writing her cookbook, she couldn’t figure out why the Crack Pies she made at home didn’t taste the same as the ones in the restaurant until she remembered that, at Milk Bar, the staff often has to store the pies in the freezer.  Realizing that that process added to the final texture of the pie, she added that step to the recipe.

I also had a blast from the past when I ran into a friend of a friend from way back who now, with his wife, writes local food blog Plate N’Conquer.

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On Saturday, my friend (and food photographer) and I had a full day planned.  I dropped off my “Apple Pudding Pie” (from a Mary Randolph recipe) for judging in the apple pie contest at the Urban State Fair, and we headed to the Library of Virginia.  Our first session was “At the Counters” – a showing of documentaries on the lunch counter sit-in movement as a part of the larger Civil Rights Movement of the early 1960’s, and on local Richmond residents’ experiences taking part in a sit-in at Richmond’s Thalhimer’s department store’s lunch counter.  “If We So Choose,” a short film by Nicole Taylor, offers the history and historical context of the Athens, Georgia lunch counter sit-in movement.  “The Richmond 34,” by Bundy Films, LLC, tells the story of the 34 black Richmonders who were arrested at a sit-in at the Thalhimer’s lunch counter on Feb. 22, 1960.  During a panel discussion after viewing the two films, Nicole Taylor was joined by Elizabeth Johnson Rice, who was a member of the Richmond 34, Dr. Raymond Hylton of Virginia Union University and Elizabeth Thalhimer-Smartt, the granddaughter of William Thalhimer, the owner of Thalhimer’s Department Store at the time of the sit-in.

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Just before our second session, I got a voicemail saying that my pie had won the apple pie contest.  I was in shock, since I had decided that it looked awful and that my friend and I should just eat some at her house before we drove downtown, but she had convinced me to turn it in.  I won a $100 check and two Fire, Flour & Fork aprons 🙂

Fittingly, our next session was “Queen Molly,” a lecture by culinary historian Leni Sorensen on legendary Virginia cook Mary Randolph and the enslaved women who worked in her kitchen.  I’m a big fan of Mary Randolph and her cookbook, “The Virginia House-Wife,” so learning about her life and her cooking career in Richmond was fascinating.  I also appreciated the information on her kitchen, the women who would have worked there and what the city would have been like for an enslaved person at the time of Mary Randolph.  Enslaved cooks were such a large part of the culinary history of Virginia and America, and it’s important that food historians research these people’s histories and bring their stories to a larger audience.  Leni is in the midst of a project to cook her way through “The Virginia House-Wife.”  You can follow her progress at

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Our lunch, the Day of the Dead luncheon at Saison, was the highlight of the day.  A tribute to the cuisine of Oaxaca, Mexico, the 4-course menu by chef Adam Hall featured traditional Oaxacan specialties paired with beers and wines to tell the story of the Dia de los Muertos.  Our Welcome Beverage, an event exclusive, was a Hardywood Paloma Singel infused with grapefruit and lime peel, pink peppercorns, mosaic hops and tequila-soaked oak chips.  It was refreshing and crisp (especially after our long walk to the restaurant), and perfectly set off the sparkle and heat of the amuse-bouche, pink grapefruit with fresh and dried chiles and cilantro.  As we tasted our way through the courses, chef Hall explained each dish, relating them back to trips he’s taken to the Oaxaca region and the local markets and restaurants he discovered there.  The pumpkin tamal with toasted pumpkin seeds and queso fresco was paired with a white Burgundy, while the turkey mole negro with sesame seeds worked well against the Genio Monastrell Tinto Joven, a mourvedre blend.  The barbacoa de res taco with applewood smoked tomatillo salsa verde was paired with – what else? – Natty Bo and lime!  (Side note – I am totally going to try smoking my tomatillo salsa verde with some apple wood next summer when my tomatillos are ready to pick!).  The dessert course, pan de muerto, was prepared as a beignet with orange/annatto curd.  An Oaxacan hot chocolate finished the luncheon.  From start to finish, this meal was delicious, creative and one of a kind.  I can’t wait to head back to Saison for dinner sometime!

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We visited the Artisinal Tasting Tent and ended up missing our 2 o’clock session, but there was so much to explore there (I also needed to get my pie plate back and pick up my prizes!).  We tried Strangeways Beer, Blanchards Coffee, Early Mountain Vineyards wine, Blue Bee Cider, Keep It Simple Syrups and so much more.  Plus I got to put a face to a name when we met the lovely Matt, who writes the Forks Over Hipsters blog.

For my last session of the day, my friend and I decided to keep the buzz from lunch going by learning about the history of bourbon.  Back to the Library of Virginia we went, where Dane Huckelbridge, author of “Bourbon: A History of the American Spirit,” schooled us on the development of bourbon distilling in America, and we got to hear from Reservoir Distillery on the process and ingredients that go into making craft bourbons and whiskies in Richmond.

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Our day couldn’t have been better, and I’m looking forward to next year’s Fire, Flour & Fork event already!

And now, because I promised it to many, here’s my recipe for the winning “Apple Pudding” Pie.  All the credit goes to Queen Molly and Graves Mountain apples! :

6 medium to large apples

2 sticks (1/2 lb.) butter

4 cups sugar

2 tbsp. lemon juice

Rind of 1 grapefruit, grated

6 eggs

1 tsp. granulated sugar (for dusting)

1 tsp. mace (for dusting)

1 recipe of Mary Randolph’s butter-based pie crust

Preheat the oven to 325 F.  Wash and dry the apples.  Place them, stem side up, in a medium, square or rectangular casserole dish.  Cover the dish with aluminum foil and bake the apples for 45 minutes.

Let the baked apples cool enough to work with (they should still be a little warm).  Peel the skins off and cut out the cores.  Put the flesh into the food processor and puree until smooth.  In a mixing bowl, mix the pureed apples, butter, sugar, lemon juice and grapefruit rind.  Once the mixture has cooled, mix in the eggs.

Place a pastry crust in a pie pan and pour in the apple mixture.  Increase the heat of the oven to 350 F.  Bake 15 minutes, then turn the heat back down to 325 F.  Bake another 30-45 minutes, being careful not to let the top brown too much.  Pie should look and seem set in all but the very middle (about a three inch circle in the middle of the pie).  Remove the pie from the oven and let it cool.  Wrap and refrigerate the pie overnight.  When ready to serve, dust with granulated sugar and mace.