When the holiday season comes around, Americans and Canadians living abroad often find themselves with a dilemma: cranberry sauce, or even just the (whole, uncooked) cranberries you would need to make your own sauce from scratch, cannot be found in every country. And cranberry sauce is a cornerstone of Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners. So this is a truly serious (first-world) problem. 😉
Of course, there are sometimes ways to get imported cranberry sauce from local stores specializing in North American foods. But this option is always expensive, and you might not be able to get to the store if it’s remote or has limited opening hours, or if you don’t live in a major city.
Having lived in France for over 12 years now, I’ve missed having cranberry sauce over the holidays many a time. But this year, I decided to try an idea that popped into my head: why not make a sauce from dried cranberries, which are abundantly available here in Paris at organic and now even mainstream grocery stores? To extend the tart, fruity flavor, I added some lingonberry jam (from IKEA), which has a similar flavor as cranberry, but any red jam will do. Finally, I mixed in some red wine, spices, orange juice and zest and fresh grated ginger.
I gave it a shot yesterday and was very pleased by the results. Read on for the recipe!
Makes a little over 1 cup (236 ml) of sauce.
1 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup (118 ml) water
1/4 cup (60 ml) orange juice
1/4 cup (60 ml) inexpensive red wine
2 tablespoons red jam (raspberry, strawberry etc.)
1 teaspoon grated orange zest
1/2 teaspoon grated ginger root, or more to taste
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
small pinch salt
Grate your orange(s), squeeze to obtain the juice, and grate your ginger root (remove the skin with a spoon). Roughly chop the dried cranberries – or alternatively, process the sauce at the end to make it smoother – and add these to a medium-sized saucepan along with all the other ingredients.
Stir all the ingredients together while heating over medium heat. When the mixture is just starting to boil, reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the sauce has thickened (maybe 5 to 10 minutes). Taste and adjust the ingredients as necessary – you may wish to add sugar or mix in more jam if it’s too tart.
As the sauce cools it will thicken further (above, the sauce just after taking it off the heat). Allow to cool fully, then transfer to a serving dish or storage container for the fridge if you won’t be using it right away.
Serve chilled or room-temperature as a condiment for your favorite holiday dishes (lentil Wellington, Tofurkey roast, stuffing and green beans or mashed potatoes with gravy).
You might also like to try it in a dessert, in a mixed-fruit turnover or an apple crumble, topped with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.
Variations: Add additional spices (nutmeg, allspice, cloves) and other dried fruit such as apricot or fig. To make it into a savory chutney to serve with cheese and baguettes, add some sautéed shallot and a dash of tamari.
Here’s a fun and easy salad that you can use as a sandwich filling or serve atop a green salad or in lettuce cups. It’s a vegan dish inspired by a chicken and pinenut salad sandwich I used to have at Beans & Barley in Milwaukee back in my student days. The curry adds a delicious warming dimension, the chopped celery gives a nice crunch and the toasted pine nuts lend a gourmet air.
Begin by toasting your pinenuts. Place them in a dry frying pan and heat over low/medium for several minutes, shaking the pan to stir occasionally. Stay right there in the kitchen during this process, so you can keep an eye on them… once they begin toasting, things can go fast and they can end up burnt in no time. Pinenuts are expensive, so it would be sad to have to throw them out. You can also chop your celery during this time (not shown).
This is the vegan “chicken” I used. You can also try this same recipe with firm tofu, tempeh, chickpeas or seitan.
It comes in the form of large chunks, which I recommend chopping into smaller pieces. The package says to cook it, but it’s actually already cooked and since this is a cold sandwich, there’s no need.
I used this German vegan mayonnaise I found at Un Monde Vegan in Paris. These days, more and more vegan and non-vegan brands are coming out with vegan mayo.
Mix the curry powder into the mayonnaise. I used 3 teaspoons for 1/3 cup mayo, but you could add less or more curry powder as you like. Make sure your curry powder is fresh, because after it sits around for a while it loses its flavor, and you don’t want to miss the punch that full-flavor curry packs in this dish.
The curry gives the mayonnaise a beautiful vibrant yellow color.
Mix the curry mayonnaise into the “chicken”, then incorporate the chopped celery and pinenuts. If you won’t be serving the salad right away, wait until the last moment to incorporate the pinenuts so they stay more crunchy. You may want to reserve some pinenuts to add as a final garnish if you’re serving this salad in lettuce cups for example.
To make a sandwich, toast some bread (this is the foldable stovetop “camping” toaster I use because there isn’t room in my kitchen for a normal toaster). 😉
Top the toast with some of the “chicken” salad, then add onion and an herb garnish, if desired. You could also serve this with lettuce and tomato. This can be either an open-faced sandwich, as shown above, or a traditional sandwich with two pieces of bread, as shown below.
Variation: I recently learned of a British dish, coronation chicken, that’s quite similar to this and was invented for Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation banquet. It differs in that it has no pinenuts but does have chopped dried apricots and flaked almonds.
I don’t have a long and elaborate story to go with this recipe (for once!) so let’s just get to it, shall we?
This is your standard, basic, garden-variety vegan pancake recipe. As the title of this post suggests, you can make the pancakes any old size you feel like. Regular sized pancakes are always great on a weekend morning, but tiny ones that can be eaten as pancake cereal, or alternatively served to your cat and/or Barbie doll, are fun too.
Makes around 10 medium-sized pancakes, or many more tiny ones.
1 cup flour 3 tablespoons sugar 1/2 teaspoon salt 2 teaspoons baking powder 1 tablespoon vegetable oil 1 cup cold water
Equipment needed: large frying pan, griddle or electric crêpe/pancake maker.
Place all the dry ingredients in a medium-sized mixing bowl.
Add the oil and water and whisk until just combined (be careful not to overmix). At this point, if you have not done so already, you can begin heating your frying pan, griddle or electric crêpe/pancake maker.
With a ladle or large spoon, pour a bit of batter onto the heated surface, trying to make all the pancakes the same size. In the photo above, the ones on the right look larger but this is mainly an effect of iPhone photography.
When the batter has become bubbly and opaque, flip them over. I like to use this long wooden crêpe-turning device. Allow to bake for another minute or two until the bottom side is done, then transfer to a plate and cover until all the pancakes are done. If you like, you can keep them in your oven heated to a very low setting.
Serve with yogurt, fruit and maple syrup.
To make tiny pancakes, prepare the batter as directed above but drop tiny amounts onto the heated surface using a teaspoon.
Since they’re so little, they’ll bake faster than regular-sized pancakes, so you will probably need to begin flipping the first ones before you have covered the whole surface with mini-pancakes.
To serve as pancake cereal, place in a cereal bowl and cover with a milk of your choice.
To stick with the pancake theme, you may wish to top them with some maple syrup. Berries or chocolate chunks might also be nice.
Variations: add chocolate chips or chunks to the batter or place thin banana slices onto the batter after pouring onto the griddle. Mix some cocoa powder into the batter for chocolate pancakes.
My recent discovery of a French vegan blue cheese here in Paris brought back some fond memories from my student days. I was living in downtown Milwaukee, finishing up my bachelor’s degree and working at a popular restaurant on Cathedral Square Park. Some nights after finishing up our last tables, a few fellow servers and I would take our exhausted selves down the street to Elsa’s On the Park, a cocktail bar that was way cooler than the place we worked at. We loved its sophisticated ambiance, avant-garde art, high-end cocktails and the fact that its kitchen stayed open late enough that we could get something to eat after our restaurant closed.
Looking online, I was happy to see that Elsa’s (described on the Google map as “trendy eatery for burgers & martinis”) was still there, in the same beautiful Victorian building. It now had a website and on it I found their menu, which didn’t seem to have changed. I recognized the same burgers, grilled cheese sandwiches and, best of all, their Hell’s Fire Fries: thickly sliced rustic housemade chips topped with melting gorgonzola cheese and hot sauce. Tucking into this spicy dish was the perfect way to forget that awful table that had run you off your feet all night and then tipped you only 10%, I found. The dish was also the perfect accompaniment to a stiff drink, ordered for the same reasons.
This Proustian trip down memory lane of course inspired me to see if I could reproduce this yummy treat, now that blue cheese had re-entered my world. A friend from the olden days volunteered to stop by Elsa’s to order the dish and report on what she was served, and it turned out to be the same as I’d remembered – thick fried potato slices with the skin on, something midway between fries and chips.
I’m quite happy with the result, which I have named in homage to the original dish. The vegan blue cheese I used, the Jeanne from Jay & Joy, is made with the very same mold cultures that you find in animal-sourced blue cheese (just in a base of cashews and almond milk instead of animal milk), and its flavors go as well with the hot sauce as I remembered.
Elsa’s is part of the student-days nostalgia I share with my brother, who also lived in Milwaukee in that time, also worked as a server (at a different restaurant) and also loved visiting this favorite spot. If recipes could be dedicated to people like books are, I would dedicate this one to him.
Anyway, if you can get your hands on a cheese like this and want to try it for yourself, all the info is right here.
Heavenly hot homefries
Makes a smallish dish of homefries (serves 1 or 2)
12 oz (350 g) firm potatoes, skin on, or more for a bigger portion
1 cup vegetable oil (such as canola, rapeseed or colza) for frying
vegan blue cheese, as much as you like – I used about 0.5 oz (15 g)
The potatoes I used are a variety called Grenadine in French, but any firm potatoes, such as you would use to make regular fries or a potato gratin, will be fine. If you opt to leave the skin on, clean them thoroughly with a vegetable brush.
Using a mandoline, cut the potatoes into slices about 1/8th in. (3 mm) thick. Be REALLY careful and make sure to use the safety attachment when you get near the end of the potato. If you don’t have a mandoline, you can try slicing them with a knife, but cutting them evenly may prove challenging.
In a deep saucepan, heat the vegetable oil on high. Once it’s hot enough for frying (350°F or 180°C – check out these directions for determining the temperature without a thermometer), carefully immerse the potato slices in the oil. I used 1 cup of oil and fried my potatoes in two batches, but you could opt to use 2 cups and fry them all at once if you like. The goal is to not crowd the slices so they don’t stick together.
Once the slices have begun to turn golden brown (it took about 10 minutes for mine), carefully remove them from the oil using a metal slotted spoon and place them on paper towel, ideally in a single thickness. Sprinkle a bit of salt over the top. As soon as the paper towel becomes saturated with oil, get another sheet for the remainder of the slices or the whole batch is likely to be overly oily and might get mushy.
Now that they’ve been fried, in your home, the potato slices are homefries!
Before they cool too much, transfer the homefries to a plate or bowl. Crumble some gorgonzola or blue style cheese over them and then drizzle some hot sauce on top. I used a Mexican sauce I brought back from my last stay in the US, but just about any hot sauce will do – choose whatever level of heat you can tolerate. I recommend against Sriracha, since it has a sweet side that might not be so good in this dish.
If your homefries have gotten cold or you just want to warm up the cheese a bit, you can place the fully assembled dish under the broiler for a few minutes (in an oven-proof container, of course). Note that vegan cheese tends not to melt as much as animal-sourced cheese.
And there you have the perfect dish to help you unwind, along with a martini, mojito or merlot, at the end of a long and aggravating day. Be sure to keep the hot sauce handy so you can turn up the heat if needed.
Rumor has it this dish tastes even better when you’re wearing Tapatio socks!
Today we have yet another recipe I concocted while visiting my parents back in the US this summer. I’d purchased a bottle of Baileys Almande, which isn’t easy to find in France but is so very delicious, and wondered if I could create a cocktail of some kind with it.
Its creaminess seemed to make it ideal for an ice cream drink. That made me remember the pink squirrel, a fun retro cocktail involving crème de cacao and crème de noyaux (made from apricot, peach or cherry pits, which give it an almond flavor – perfect for squirrels!) and prepared witheither heavy cream or ice cream. Crème de noyaux usually also contains red food coloring, which is what gives the pink squirrel its pretty pastel hue.
Incidentally, in researching the pink squirrel, I learned it was actually invented at a cocktail lounge in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, one of the cities where I spent my formative years.
I thought it would be fun to make a similar drink with a vegan twist, using Baileys Almande and nice cream (blended frozen bananas) instead of ice cream made from animal milk, and this is the result, which I have named “white squirrel.”
Of course, the drink is a bit more beige (or banana-colored) than white, but “beige squirrel” doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, and even actual white squirrels are kinda beige, so it works, right? I think so.
The white squirrel would be a nice after-dinner indulgence for Valentine’s Day, which is nearly upon us. All you need are a few key ingredients and some advance planning, since the bananas have to be frozen for a few hours before you can start. Of course, if you have some vanilla dairy-free ice cream on hand, you could use that in place of the nice cream. If you can’t get your hands on Baileys Almande, you can substitute amaretto or another similar liqueur (scroll to the bottom of this post to see a Baileys-like product that’s available in France).
I found this fun vintage pink squirrel recipe, which appears to come from one of those great 1970s recipe card libraries like my mom has. As always with these old recipe photos, the creation is given a confusing mise en scène with unattractive colors and problematic lighting. What’s a cocktail doing on the kitchen table from Little House on thePrairie? And why is it being served with fruitcake? It’s an elegant drink that functions as a dessert in its own right, and as such should be served by itself.
So let’s make some white squirrels, shall we?
Makes 2 one-cup (236 ml) servings
3 frozen bananas (roughly 16 oz/450 g in total)
2 ounces (59 ml) white (clear) crème de cacao liqueur
2 ounces (59 ml) Baileys Almande (or similar – see end of post)
non-dairy whipped topping
cocoa powder or ground cinnamon/nutmeg, for garnish
Equipment needed: freezer, food processor or high-powered blender
Take your frozen bananas out of the freezer (after freezing for at least 4 hours) and weigh the amount you need, depending how many servings you want to make. In the photos in this post, you’ll see larger quantities because I was making more than two servings. Place the bananas in your food processor, but allow them to thaw for 10 or 15 minutes so they’re soft enough to blend without damaging your food processor.
Add the liqueurs to the food processor and begin blending the bananas. It’ll take a little while, but after a few minutes the bananas will take on a smooth soft-serve ice cream consistency. You may need to pause the blending to scrape down the inside from time to time, to help all the chunks to get blended.
When the nice cream looks like this and all of the banana has gotten blended, it’s ready!
Fill up your glasses with the nice cream mixture and top with the nondairy whipped topping. Sprinkle a bit of cocoa powder or grated cinnamon or nutmeg on top if you like. Serve with spoons!
Make a virgin white squirrel by substituting your favorite plant-based milk + 1/2 teaspoon almond extract per serving for the alcohol.
Turn this drink into a brown squirrel by adding some cocoa powder during the blending stage.
Where to find ingredients…
In North America: Baileys Almande can be found at most liquor stores these days, and most grocery stores carry a range of non-dairy whipped toppings, sometimes with a range of options (almond, rice, coconut). The products shown in the photos above were all purchased at mainstream grocery stores in the US.
In Europe: Baileys Almande is available in some countries (Germany and England, to my knowledge) but for some reason has still not become widely available in France. You can substitute amaretto or a similar liqueur – for example, Aujourd’hui Demain in Paris currently has this maca and almond milk liqueur (photo below), which I haven’t tried but which seems similar to Baileys Almande. Non-dairy whipped toppings (in a pressurized can or small carton) can be purchased at vegan grocery stores and also sometimes at kosher stores or in the kosher section of a general grocery store. See also my whipped coconut cream recipe.
As you may have noticed, I really love fusion cuisine and the improbable but delicious flavor pairings that come into being when traditions from different parts of the world are combined. Today’s recipe is one such dish: part Italian, part American and part… Nigerian? Allow me to explain.
This summer, I had plantains on the brain because I’d recently gotten my hands on a really cool plantain cookbook – by Tomi Makanjuola, who runs the blog The Vegan Nigerian – which has over 40 recipes showcasing the underappreciated fruit in almost every kind of dish you can imagine. As I always try to make at least five recipes from every cookbook I acquire, in line with the philosophy behind my cookbook challenge, I set about making some of the dishes right away (my favorites are the beans & plantain pottage and the smoky plantain, mushroom & avocado on toast).
As I began to appreciate the humble plantain more and more, I thought it would be fun to create a plantain recipe of my own for this blog. As I set about reflecting upon savory and sweet combinations not already covered in that cookbook, Hawaiian pizza popped into my mind. Many are the opponents of pineapple on pizza, especially one Italian friend of mine, but I happen to love it. So I thought plantain might work on a pizza too as long as there was also something spicy to balance out the sweetness. After brainstorming a list of likely ingredients, I rolled up my sleeves and got to work.
To be honest, even I was not totally sure if plantain on pizza would work out. But I looooooved it! My mom and dad did, too (I was at their house when I made it). It has smoky, savory notes from the smoked vegan deli meat, crunchy oniony-ness from the red onion, freshness from the cilantro and of course the crispy sweet plantain goodness of the star ingredient. I also love how colorful it is (red, white, yellow, purple, black, green).
So as I was saying, this pizza is a fusion dish – pizza has its origins in Naples but was developed into the dish we know today in early 20th century New York City (listen to this interesting How to Be American podcast episode for more on that) and this particular one has a key ingredient that’s grown in Nigeria, but also other parts of Africa as well as Asia and Latin America. Plantain is therefore not a specifically Nigerian thing, but since a Nigerian cookbook author inspired me to create this dish, I’ve associated it that way in my mind.
If all this has intrigued you and you want to try making it too, read on!
A note about the crust: when I made this pizza, I used an overly complicated homemade pizza dough recipe that I wouldn’t recommend, so I’ll leave it to you to find one you like. It just needs to be thick or firm enough to support the rather hefty plantain slices.
Makes an approximately 12-inch (30-cm) pizza
one thickish (but not deep-dish) pizza crust, purchased or homemade
5 to 6 tablespoons pizza sauce (or tomato sauce plus Italian herbs)
3/4 cup (75 g) mozzarella-style vegan cheese (optional)
2 to 3 vegan deli-style smoked “meat” slices
1 to 2 medium-ripe plantains
1/2 cup (60 g) red onion
1/4 cup (30 g) sliced black olives
1/3 cup sliced canned banana, peperoncino or other hot pepper
small bunch fresh cilantro (coriander)
2 tablespoons cornmeal, for pan (or use baking paper)
Preheat your oven to 475°F (250°C) and begin by preparing the plantains. Slice each one lengthwise and remove the peel. Slice into rounds of equal thickness, about 1/4th of an inch (5 mm) thick, and sauté on both sides over medium heat until golden brown. It’s important for the plantain to be fully precooked as undercooked plantain can lead to tummyache, and the time it spends in the oven might not be enough.
Sprinkle your baking sheet with the cornmeal to prevent sticking or, alternatively, line with baking paper. Place the dough upon it, rolling it flat if needed – mine was rectangular and measured 10.5 x 12.5 inches (27 x 32 cm) before baking. Spread the pizza sauce on it evenly, using more than the recommended amount if necessary or desired. Cover that with the vegan mozzarella, if using (I recommend Daiya in North America or Violife in Europe). But you can also opt not to use any cheese at all. If you don’t use cheese, a sprinkling of nutritional yeast before or after baking will add a somewhat cheesy flavor.
Cut the smoky vegan deli “meat” slices into squares. Use however much you like.
Slice your red onion (and black olives, if not presliced) and place on top of the pizza.
Finally, slice up the hot peppers and place on top of the pizza in the amount that you like, depending how partial you are. I started with two peppers but ended up adding some more after the pizza came out of the oven as I really loved the combination.
Place in the oven (preheated to 475°F/250°C) and bake for about 10 minutes. Keep an eye on things because baking times can vary quite a bit depending on the thickness of your particular crust. If after 10 minutes it doesn’t seem done, give it some more time.
Remove from the oven and garnish with fresh cilantro (coriander) leaves. Your one-of-a-kind plantain pizza is ready! Slice it up and serve it to your hungry guests (…or yourself!).
By the way, what do you think of the tablecloth? An uncle of mine brought it from Liberia as a gift for my parents some years ago, and I thought it would fit well with this recipe’s West African theme.
Soooo yummy, if I do say so myself! I want to make it again. 🙂
Where to find ingredients…
Plantains can be found at most supermarkets, but if you don’t find any, look for a Latin-American, African or Asian grocery.
Mozzarella-style vegan cheese is increasingly available at mainstream grocery stores in North America, but organic shops are even more likely to have it. In France, you’ll find it at some organic shops, but for best results check at a vegan food shop first (in Paris: Naturalia Vegan, Mon Epicerie Paris and Aujourd’hui Demain).
Vegan deli “meat” slices will also most likely be found at organic and vegan food shops. In Europe, I recommend the brand Wheaty.
During my visit back home in the Midwest this summer, I decided to try baking a molasses cake with a crumb topping that my mom used to make when I was little. It was one of my very favorites back in the day, but I hadn’t had it for ages and wondered if my result would be true to my memories. Turned out, it was every bit as yummy as I remembered and the traditional recipe was even accidentally vegan (although some versions use butter instead of oil). I thought it would be a fun recipe to share with you all, especially since it’s somewhat uncommon.
Its name comes from the large amount of thick, gooey molasses that goes into it… so sweet that it attracts sugar-loving insects which must then be “shooed” away.
In researching it, I discovered that it’s actually an Amish recipe. I’ve always been fascinated by this unique culture, which you’ve probably heard of even if you’re not from North America. This group, most famous for rejecting modern technology, is made up of several distinct but related traditionalist Christian church fellowships with German and Swiss Anabaptist origins. Several hundred thousand of them live in rural parts of the US and Canada, and their best known settlements are in Pennsylvania. There are some in my home state of Wisconsin, but I’ve never encountered them anywhere but on the Amtrak – since they don’t drive or fly, trains are their main form of transportation when going long distances. I find it quite remarkable that they’ve managed to preserve their way of life and language (Pennsylvania German) all this time.
This British reality TV show provides an interesting glimpse into an Amish community that hosted a group of decidedly non-Amish teenagers from the UK. Other more traditional documentaries can also be found on YouTube.
Molasses is the star of this scrumptious moist dessert, which in my view can compete with the most decadent chocolate cake any day in terms of richness of flavor. It’s made by refining sugarcane and tastes something like a stronger and darker maple syrup with notes of gingerbread and honey. Molasses isn’t used so often today, but it was a very common sweetener in the Americas before the 1900s.
Unlike white sugar, molasses contains nutrients. It’s an excellent source of vitamin B6 and key minerals including calcium, magnesium, iron and manganese (one tablespoon provides 20% the recommended daily amount of each).
Traditional versions of this cake call for a lot of sugar – one recipe I found actually calls for 3 cups of it (!) for 4 cups of flour. I read that the Amish view high-calorie food as a plus, since they do a lot of manual labor and need the energy. Fair enough, but being a sedentary city-dweller myself, I dialed the sugar back to just 1¼ cup, which was quite enough in combination with regular molasses. If you’re using the more bitter blackstrap molasses, you may want to add more sugar.
Finally, this recipe yields quite a lot of cake (enough for a large Amish family!) so feel free to cut the amounts in half and use a smaller baking dish. Alternatively, make the recipe as is but put half in the freezer for later.
Let’s make a cake!
Amish shoo-fly cake
Makes one 9 x 13 in. (22 x 33 cm) rectangular sheet cake
4 cups (150 g) all-purpose flour
1¼ cups, packed (300 g) brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup (236 ml) neutral-flavored oil such as canola (in France, try huile de colza désodorisée)
1 cup (236 ml) molasses
2 cups (473 ml) boiling water
2 teaspoons baking soda
Preheat your oven to 350°F (180°C). Start with the flour in a large mixing bowl. Add the brown sugar and salt and stir to combine.
Add the oil and stir to incorporate. You may need to knead it with your hands at some point to achieve a fully homogeneous result. The texture will be similar to moist sand.
Reserve 1 cup of the crumb mixture to top the cake with just before baking. Set the large mixing bowl of dry mixture aside.
Take another large bowl for the wet mixture. Add the molasses, scraping the measuring cup thoroughly to get all of it out. Add the boiling water and stir to combine, then add the baking soda (the mixture will foam up, which is why it’s good to use a larger bowl).
Now incorporate the wet mixture into the bowl with the dry mixture. Stir to combine, being careful not to stir too much as this can make the cake texture tough (it’s okay if a few lumps remain). Pour into a greased baking dish.
Sprinkle the reserved crumb topping over the the batter, taking care to ensure the coverage is even. Place in your pre-heated oven and bake for 45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
Remove from oven and let cool completely before attempting to cut into it, otherwise the squares may not keep their shape.
Cover the baking dish with plastic wrap or transfer leftover slices to a Tupperware container so the cake doesn’t dry out.
I hope you enjoy this one-of-a-kind cake! Who knows, it may just become one of your favorites, too.
Where to find ingredients…
In North America: Molasses and brown sugar can be found at most grocery stores with a wide range of products.
In France: Molasses (mélasse) and brown sugar (sucre semoule) can be found at organic food shops but not always at mainstream grocery stores. Note that sucre semoule is a very specific moist sugar that’s different from sucre roux and sucre complet (also known as rapadura), which are dry sugars. Then moistness comes from the presence of molasses, so if you’re in a bind, you can actually make brown sugar yourself. Still, it’s better/safer to get prepared brown sugar if you can. Baking soda (bicarbonate de soude alimentaire) is not as common a baking ingredient in France as in the US, but you should be able to find it at most grocery stores if you look around enough. This is something I stock up on whenever I make a trip back home. Be sure the label says alimentaire or that it’s otherwise safe to use in baking, as you might find it in a cleaning-product form with non-edible chemicals added.
When you last heard from me, I was explaining why it took me so long to make my first visit to New York City and showing you my nostalgia-fueled journey there on the Amtrak. But did I like it there? As the title of this post suggests, yes, yes and yes! Let’s take a look at the highlights.
First, I had the good fortune to be hosted on the Lower East Side of Manhattan by an old friend and former roommate from my undergrad days. Being roommates again was a high point of my stay, reminiscing about the good old days and learning about this new-to-me city from someone who’d already explored it a fair amount.
Right from the start, on my first day walking around, I discovered that one of the ideas I’d had about the city was wrong. In the US, New York City has a reputation for being unfriendly. People there, I’d always heard, were constantly in a hurry, invariably gruff and surly and probably planning to rob you. Even Sesame Street made sure we knew what a tough city it was.
So although I knew stereotypes don’t always reflect reality, thank heavens, on some level I’d mentally braced myself. “Do your worst,” I told the city. “I live in Paris!” Nothing could faze me after 10 years in the French capital.
But it turned out that while the reputation Paris has is (generally) well deserved, New York City’s isn’t. Throughout my entire stay, I consistently heard Excuse me, Sorry and Thank you, and on several occasions people spontaneously offered me help when I looked like I needed it. On my way into the city, loaded down with a heavy suitcase, I was looking at a flight of subway stairs in dismay when a passing woman volunteered that there was an escalator a bit further down the hall. Another time, I was sitting on a bench applying band-aids to my blistered heels when another passerby offered to supply me with more band-aids should I need them. And on the train to the airport on my last day, my fellow travelers (who could see from my luggage where I was going) helped me figure out what to do when the train service was temporarily halted, without my even having to ask.
So perhaps most New Yorkers are only “rude” in comparison with, for example, invasively friendly Midwesterners. In small-town Wisconsin, strangers actually get a bit too much into your business sometimes, so I can imagine rural folk who haven’t traveled much being disappointed by city-dwellers who don’t always have time to chat with you.
But on several occasions, locals actually did strike up a conversation. One afternoon, taking a break from a street art expedition in Brooklyn, I sat down in a café with a matcha latte and pulled Orlando out of my bag. The middle-aged gentleman working on a laptop at the table next to mine took his headphones off to remark on a coincidence: he was in the middle of writing an opera based on another of Virginia Woolf’s books! We spoke for a few minutes about the smallness of the world and the difficulties of adapting stream-of-consciousness literature to a musical form. When I asked when he expected to finish the piece, he chuckled and said sometime in the next decade. We each went back to our respective occupation and, making a mental note to pay more attention to operas, I wondered if he were somebody famous.
Little encounters such as these add a nice human touch to one’s existence, I find. This dimension of city life is something I’ve talked about on this blog before, and my stay in New York City only reinforced the fact that I truly miss it.
As for the city itself, one of the things I was most interested in was its background. I’d already learned about its Dutch roots at museums in Amsterdam and was curious to know more about other ethnic groups, like Jews and Italians, that don’t have so much of a presence in the region I’m from.
The Lower East Side, as it happens, is an ideal starting point to learn about the city’s history of immigration. Just a few blocks from my friend’s apartment, I discovered and fell in love with the Tenement Museum, a learning center that explores the uniquely American story of immigration and the rich, diverse landscape it continues to create. For me, an immigrant myself, this topic has special resonance. Founded in 1988, the museum is made up of two former Orchard Street tenement buildings, each featuring several apartments restored to the way they would have looked at different points in history. The museum offers different guided tours designed to focus on particular themes telling the stories of actual families who lived in the buildings. I opted for the Sweatshop Workers tour, which takes you through the cramped living spaces of two Jewish families, the Levines (c. 1892), who operated a small garment factory in their sitting room and kitchen, and the Rogarshevskys (c. 1908), who worked at apparel factories outside the home and therefore had different living circumstances.
On this tour, and also a separate Tenement Museum walking tour that I joined, I learned that Orchard Street and surrounding areas were once the beating heart of the nation’s garment industry, with most families doing piecework in their homes for long hours six or seven days of the week. Walking down the street, you could have looked up and seen someone bent over their sewing at just about each window and heard the whirring of sewing machines from all sides. It was also a street clogged with pushcarts since itinerant vendors were a convenient source of groceries in the day.
The district has been home to various ethnic groups that arrived and dominated, population-wise, in waves. In the 1840s, so many settlers from the German states had come that the area became known as Klein Deutschland. Next were Italians and Eastern European Jews, and by around 1920 the Lower East Side had the largest community of Jews in the entire world. After World War II, Puerto Ricans and African-Americans began to appear in greater numbers. Today there’s a prominent Chinese presence, but a mix of other ethnic groups live there too.
To learn more about New York City’s immigrant history, check out the Tenement Museum’s podcast, How To Be American.
To take a peek inside 97 Orchard Street, watch the video below. If you look around YouTube a bit, you may also find a funny Saturday Night Live tribute to the museum.
And for a deeper dive into the immigrant experience, I highly recommend Betty Smith’s semi-autobiographical novel A Tree Grows in Brooklyn focusing on an Irish-Austrian family living in the Williamsburg slums in the early 20th century. Titles of other fiction and non-fiction works about immigrants in NYC are listed in the museum’s shop.
A vestige of the Lower East Side’s Jewish days can be seen in the beautiful and painstakingly restored 1887 synagogue now known as The Museum at Eldridge Street. Below are a few glimpses into its interior.
The two other museums I saw on this trip were the Guggenheim – the building was the main attraction for me since Frank Lloyd Wright (a Wisconsin native!) is my favorite architect – and a museum devoted to Japanese-American sculptor Isamu Noguchi.
Other art can be seen on the city’s walls for free. There are quite a few impressive murals by Brazilian street artist Kobra, and Invader has quite a few pieces there too. I also saw some pieces by Stik and Frank Ape.
And what about the vegan food scene? It was, of course, amazing! Much like in London, you can find decent vegan items on the menu of just about any mainstream restaurant, and there are many fantastic all-vegan places. Within a three-block radius of my friend’s apartment, I counted three places to get vegan ice cream. Just down the street from the Tenement Museum is Orchard Grocer, a little food shop and delicatessen with a range of delicious made-to-order vegan sandwiches. I was very impressed by their Bowery breakfast sandwich and their Edith bagel with cashew cream cheese and carrot lox that could easily be mistaken for smoked salmon. Adjoining this shop is Moo Shoes, which has a nice selection of vegan footwear, bags and T-shirts.
Other places I loved included Riverdel inside Essex Market, which offers a wide range of gourmet vegan cheeses plus hot and cold sandwiches (their hot breakfast sandwich was divine!), Beyond Sushi, Dun-Well Doughnuts and Van Leeuwen ice cream. There were some spots I didn’t manage to get to, like Isa Chandra Moskowitz’s Modern Love in Brooklyn, so those will just have to wait for my next visit!
So there, in a rather long-winded nutshell, you have my first visit to New York City, a place I strangely felt at home in right away. Maybe because it combines the things I like about Paris (a major international city filled with people from all over the world and lots of art and culture) with the things I like about the US (friendliness, the ability to chat with strangers, greater acceptance of veganism and a wide availability of vegan food) and of course the fact that I blend in and don’t have to be an ambassador for my country.
10/10 would visit again! I have to, anyway, since I still have so many more things to see there.
Have you been to New York City, and how did you like it?
As a freelance translator with most of my clients based in France, I normally have very quiet Augusts due to the fact that every French person leaves on vacation for the entire month, reducing Paris to a ghost town of sorts populated largely by tourists and a skeleton crew of hoteliers and restaurateurs. But this year, just before leaving, a few of my clients decided to send me huge files to translate by the end of the month. That suited me as I’d already done a bit of traveling in July (to the Netherlands and England) and wanted to make some money.
When accepting these large files, I assumed that I wouldn’t be getting much of the usual work (smaller files with shorter deadlines), but it turned out that several of my regular clients had not completely closed up shop for August and still needed some things translated, and specifically by me. So I ended up having a very busy August indeed. At times such as these, my energy and patience for making elaborate recipes just isn’t there, and I find myself eating bowl after bowl of the same basic pasta with random vegetables thrown in.
One morning, fairly short on groceries and wondering what to have for breakfast, I noticed a box of rolled oats I’d bought to make muffins with and – too lazy to heat up water to make porridge – decided to put some of that in a bowl with some soy milk. Rooting around my kitchen a bit more, I found some walnuts and added them too. It turned out I also had a banana. After then, wanting to have an interesting photo for Instagram, I put some of the chocolate sprinkles I’d bought in Rotterdam on top.
I realized I’d basically made a muesli. Oats in this form are healthier than granola – if you’ve ever tried making your own granola at home, you know how much sugar and oil goes into getting the oats and things to stick together and be crunchy. And of course, plain rolled oats are much less expensive than granola of any kind, store-bought or homemade.
This particular muesli also reminded me of something. Walnuts, banana, chocolate… where had I seen that combination before? Of course, in Ben & Jerry’s Chunky Monkey ice cream! Which to my great delight had recently come to Paris in the new dairy-free version. It’s a great combination of flavors, and what could be better than eating Chunky Monkey (of sorts) for breakfast?
I also put some chia seeds into this muesli, not for their gelling property – although you could easily make this into overnight oats if you, unlike me, have the presence of mind to get started the night before – but for their amazing health benefits. Walnuts too are bursting with good things. Even the chocolate provides magnesium and protein, so this is a breakfast nobody can argue with.
Of all the recipes I’ve posted on this blog, this is by far the easiest. It’s not really even a recipe at all but a suggestion for things to put into a bowl and eat. I’ve provided approximate amounts below, but you can really just combine these things without measuring. Just use whatever amount of each thing that seems good to you.
Chunky Monkey muesli
Feeds one hungry translator (or other type of person).
3/4 cup (75 g) dry uncooked rolled oats (small oats if possible)
1 tablespoon dry chia seeds (optional)
1 cup (236 ml) soy milk (or other milk of choice)
handful (approx. 1/3 cup) walnuts
half of a banana
1-2 teaspoons dark chocolate sprinkles/mini-chips
Let’s get started!
Combine the oats and chia seeds in your cereal bowl.
Add the milk and give everything a good stir. You’ll see that the milk gets absorbed into the oats after a few minutes, so you may want to add a bit more milk later.
Break the walnut halves with your hands (or roughly chop them with a knife if you want to be fancy) and slice some banana over the top.
Finally, add your chocolate sprinkles. If you don’t have or can’t find sprinkles, mini-chocolate chips will do, or you can even roughly chop up some squares from a bar of dark chocolate.
You’re all set! After enjoying this hearty, healthful and delicious muesli, you’ll be ready to seize the day.
Variations: If you’re not as exhausted or busy as I was when I came up with this recipe, you may want to take the time to actually cook the oats and make this into a warm oatmeal. Alternatively, as suggested above, you can stir the oats, chia seeds (not optional in this case) and soy milk together and put them in the fridge overnight to make overnight oats. And you can always experiment with different nuts, different fruit, or different milks (vanilla-flavored rice milk for example, which is naturally sweet) for different results.
“What is a waldorf, anyway? A walnut that’s gone off?”
For many people, it’s impossible to think of Waldorf salad without remembering the Fawlty Towers episode of the same name, which sees neurotic English hotelier Basil Fawlty (John Cleese) confronted with an impatient and shouty American guest who demands a salad he has never heard of.
After Basil’s first attempt to dodge the request, claiming the kitchen is fresh out of waldorfs, the guest and his wife inform him of the recipe, shouting “celery, apple, walnuts, grapes—in a mayonnaise sauce!” in his direction several times when he is slow to produce the salad. When Basil fails to find all the ingredients and goes to unreasonable lengths to put the blame on his (absent) chef, the guest becomes more and more enraged and, as often happens when Basil is involved, the situation degenerates into a public shouting match. Try to find the episode if you haven’t seen it, and discover how it happens that Basil himself orders the elusive salad by the end.
As Basil’s wife informs him during the episode, the salad is named for a hotel—more specifically, the Waldorf-Astoria hotel in New York City, where maître d’hôtel Oscar Tschirky invented the dish in 1896 for a charity ball.
Now you can join in on the fun and make a Waldorf salad of your own! It’s a salad that everyone always likes and also the perfect dish to bring to a picnic or potluck Easter brunch, as I confirmed a few weeks ago. And the shouting match is optional.
Serves 4 to 6 people
3 red-skinned apples, cored and chopped
2 cups red seedless grapes, sliced in half
2 cups celery, thinly sliced
2 cups chopped, lightly toasted walnuts
Lettuce, for serving (optional)
3/4 cup vegan mayonnaise
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
Begin by cutting the apple, celery and grapes into bite-sized pieces. Combine together in a large salad bowl.
Next, toast your walnuts, allow to cool, and then roughly chop.
Now prepare the sauce by mixing the mayonnaise with the lemon juice and salt.
Add the walnuts to the salad bowl, spoon the sauce over the top and stir until evenly coated.
Serve individual portions on fresh lettuce leaves, if you like.
And there you have it! A Waldorf salad that will satisfy even the most demanding American that visits your hotel. 🙂
Variations: substitute raisins for the grapes (or use in addition), experiment with different types of nuts, use plain yogurt in place of the mayonnaise.