A Grand Adventure

I haven’t been blogging as regularly as usual, but I do have an excuse! I’ve been working on arranging all the details of my husband’s and my next grand adventure: a 12-day trip across France, Germany and the Netherlands with a stopover in my favorite place, Iceland, on the way home. We’ll be visiting Paris, the Champagne region, Alsace, southern Germany and Amsterdam on our trip, and I’ll be blogging about all the food and drinks we discover as we travel.

Follow me on Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest and Tumblr for updates and photos from our trip. If you have suggestions for sights to see, please leave them in the comments below.

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Quick 7-Layer Greek Dip

If you’re looking for a quick, healthy and delicious snack to try at home or take to a party, give this 7-Layer Greek Dip a try!

Start by spreading a large container of your favorite plain hummus evenly on the bottom of a glass baking dish. Dice red peppers, red onions and cucumbers and sprinkle them over the hummus.

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Top with diced olives and crumbled feta cheese, then drizzle extra virgin olive oil over the top. Sprinkle some oregano over, and add some salt and pepper if you like.

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Then dig in! Try it with my favorite snack, Stacy’s Pita Chips, or some fresh pita bread.

Pennsylvania Dutch Food Culture in Lancaster, PA

Ever since I was little, my parents have taken me and my brother and sister to the Pennsylvania Dutch Country of Lancaster, Pennsylvania regularly.  As a kid, our summer vacation was often spent staying at a campground or a cabin for a week and visiting all the antique shops, farmer’s markets and Amish and Mennonite farms and stands.  Last Spring, my mom, my sister and I took my two boys back to Lancaster for a weekend trip, and my dad and brother felt left out, so the weekend after Thanksgiving this year, we took the whole family!  The weekend was perfect.  We stayed in a cabin with a woodstove and there was snow on the ground.  We got to see the downtown Lancaster Christmas tree lighting and watch Santa arrive on a fire truck.  We went to Dutch Wonderland, the tiny amusement park on the “main drag” of Route 30 that I adored when I was a kid.  And we ate… lots…

For anyone who’s never been to Lancaster, the main thing you need to remember is that the “Pennsylvania Dutch” aren’t really Dutch.  The German immigrants who sought religious freedom in America would tell people they were “deutsch” – the German word for a German person.  The miscommunication stuck, and the Amish were labeled the Pennsylvania Dutch, although most of them came from Germany, bringing their food culture with them.

One of the highlights of our trip was a visit to Lancaster’s Central Market.  This historic building just off the town square was originally opened in 1730, and features market stalls from local meat and cheese vendors, bakeries, produce stands and coffee shops.

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Oasis at Bird-in-Hand‘s meat and dairy products

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Checking out the chocolate

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Historic Lancaster Central Market

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Desserts from Shady Maple

We visited one of my favorite farmer’s markets in Bird-in-Hand on Saturday.  I had to re-stock my German spicy mustard from S. Clyde Weaver and I bought some amazing homemade fudge from Sweet Legacy Gourmet.  I love that the Bird-in-Hand farmer’s market vendors offer lots of samples, especially of the specialty meats and cheeses.  There were whoopie pies and shoofly pies in abundance!

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Bulk products like different types of flours and meals

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Mmm… desserts

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Shoofly pies!

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Sweet Legacy Gourmet

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Pickled everything!

After our farmer’s market visit, we drove just down the road to the Bird-in-Hand Family Restaurant and Smorgasbord.  Smorgasbord is a German word for what is essentially a buffet, with more dishes and desserts than you can shake a stick at.

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Buffet items

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Desserts (more shoofly pie!)

If you ever get the chance to visit Lancaster, you will fall in love with it.  There is a thriving downtown restaurant scene and plenty of opportunities to try Pennsylvania Dutch cooking.  The Amish and Mennonite style of cooking is steeped in German, Austrian and Swiss food traditions with a focus on simplicity and excellent-quality, fresh, local ingredients.  Once you’ve tried a shoofly pie, pickled vegetables or a pretzel in Pennsylvania Dutch country, nothing else will ever measure up.

 

Project “Family Food History” Thanksgiving

So of course by now, Thanksgiving has come and gone, and with it my Family Food History project.  Since my aunt always makes a full, traditional Thanksgiving meal with turkey and mashed potatoes and stuffing and gravy, I didn’t want to make a ton more food since I knew everybody would already be stuffed.  I settled on bringing:

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Gluhwein – German spiced mulled red wine

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Spekulatius – German spice cookies (the Dutch call them speculoos and they are amazingly delicious!)

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Bratwurst and Knackwurst with sauerkraut

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Yorkshire puddings

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Cheese plate with Scottish smoked salmon and cheeses from Holland, England, Scotland and Germany, served with French champagne dill mustard

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My aunt and the rest of my family made a delicious Thanksgiving feast.

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I made a pumpkin pie from scratch with hot water crust and used a pumpkin from my garden.  My cousin bought an apple pie with caramel sauce from the school marching band.

When we got home, me, my husband and our two boys listened to “Alice’s Restaurant” like we do every Thanksgiving.  Then I cooked second Thanksgiving just for us.

From my family to yours, I hope everyone reading had a wonderful Thanksgiving!

 

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?

 

 

 

 

 

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?

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Project “Family Food History Thanksgiving”

Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a ~wee~ bit obsessed with genealogy and researching my family history.  With some of the discoveries I’ve made over the past few years, I’ve become more and more interested in learning about the food cultures of the places my ancestors came from.  To that end, I’ve decided to focus my research and cooking efforts on my family’s Thanksgiving gathering to highlight some of these foods.  

From what I’ve been able to uncover, my mom’s family (the side we see in a big gathering on Thanksgiving Day every year), is mostly English (both Saxon and Norman – yes, I’ve been able to go back that far), German and Scottish, with some Welsh, Dutch and French.  So my focus will be on English, German and Scottish food history for Thanksgiving.

Our German ancestors come from Berlin, Rheinland and Hessen, Germany, so I’ve delved into some of the dishes from those regions:

From Berlin – Kartoffelsuppe (potato soup), Hoppelpoppel (a mix of leftover meat, scrambled eggs, onions and potatoes), Eisbein (pork knuckle), Kasseler Rippchen (smoked, brined pork chops), Konigsberger Klopse (dumplings of beef and capers), Schnitzel Hostein (schnitzel topped with fried egg, onions and capers – meat can be veal, pork, turkey or chicken), Kartoffelpuffer (potato pancakes), Berliner Pfannkuchen (jam or cream donut), Armer Ritter (German version of French toast), Rote Grutze (fresh red fruits with grits and fruit juice), Leberwurst (liverwurst), Bulette (flat pork meatball) and Berliner Weisse (beer). 

From Rheinland – Rheinischer Sauerbraten (sausage), Reibekuchen (potato pancakes), Himmel und Erde (potatoes, applesauce and bacon, accompanies blutwurst/blood sausage), Sauerkraut, Grunkohl (kale), Spekulatius (spice cookie), Zweibelkuchen (savory sheet cake topped with onions, cream or sour cream, eggs and bacon), Kreppel (donuts similar to the Berliner above), Schwarzbrot (dark bread), Ahr, Mittelrhein and Mosel wines and Rheinland beer.

From Hessen – Kassler Rippchen, Zweibelkuchen, Grune Sose (cold herb sauce served with boiled or baked potatoes and hard-boiled eggs), Reibelkuchen with applesauce, Potatoes, Asparagus, Sauerkraut, Frankfurter Kranz (cake filled with buttercream and marmalade, frosted with buttercream and decorated with pralines or almonds and candied cherries), Zwetschgenkuchen (crumb cake with plums and apples), Kreppel, Bethmannchen (small round cookies made of marzipan and egg whites and decorated with almond halves), Wasserweck (bread roll made of wheat flour), Blutwurst (blood sausage), Frankfurter Wurstchen (long, thin, lightly-smoked pork sausage), Handkase (sour curd cheese), Handkase mit Musik (marinated Handkase), Kochkase (sour curd cheese), Apple wine, Riesling wine

For my purposes of serving a crowd at a Thanksgiving day feast, I’m going to focus on recipes that won’t be too challenging to make and items that won’t gross out my family (I’m looking at you, Blutwurst!).  From my German ancestors’ foods, I’ll be making Berliner Pfannkuchen, Grunkohl with German sausage, Grune Sose with boiled potatoes, Spekulatius cookies and Wasserweck rolls, and I’ll be bringing along some Berliner Weisse (if I can find it) and Riesling wine.

Stay tuned for more on the foods I’ll be researching for my family’s English, Scottish, Welsh, Dutch and French lines.