They say that the sense of smell is the one most closely linked to memory, and I know it’s true whenever I catch a whiff of yeast blooming, raising or baking. I’m instantly whisked away to Saturday mornings at my Grandma Lois’ house 30 years ago, sitting in her comforting oven-warmed kitchen and devouring my favorite treat, freshly baked kolaches.
Kolaches are a Czech pastry, but Grandma Lois wasn’t Czech; she was half-Swedish and half-Irish. But having grown up cooking for the farm crew on her family’s farm, she could cook or bake anything with ease. She was the perfect person to preserve and pass along my Great Grandma Vala’s secret kolache recipe from “the old country.” Continue reading →
My connection to Swedish pancakes is a little confusing, since it’s my paternal grandma (Grandma Lois) who was Swedish. I remember her making Swedish pancakes for me when I was young, telling me about how lingonberries were grown under the “midnight sun” and offering me black coffee (how can something that smells so good taste so bad to a little girl?).
But, it’s actually my maternal grandpa (Grandpa Chuck) whose specialty has always been making pancakes. My family still has a wonderful little tradition of going to his house for either classic buttermilk or Swedish pancakes. When I swoop into town I usually call him to put in my request, telling him how many of us (parents, sisters, brother-in-law, husband?) are coming. He has the batter mixed and the table set when we arrive. Continue reading →
Oh, congee. How I love congee. Congee (or jook, a Chinese rice porridge) is one of those dishes that I never knew existed until I moved to St. Louis for college and became a regular at a “real” Chinese food restaurant. Then in New York, Geoff and I had our favorite place to order congee in Chinatown (Big Wong King) where I discovered that it’s traditional to dip sweet (ngau lei sou) and savory (youtiao) fried dough (Chinese doughnuts!) into steaming bowls of congee. Heaven. So, so, so good.
Geoff, of course, has a whole different relationship with congee. He grew up eating excellent congee, both homemade and at amazing Toronto Chinese food restaurants (Congee Queen is one of his family’s long-time favorites). And it’s the dish that his mother would make whenever he was feeling under-the-weather — a warm, comforting, gentle-on-the-tummy porridge, Chinese comfort food at it’s best.
Traditionally, Geoff is the congee cooker in our family. He has several shortcut methods: 1) A pressure cooker version that makes a mess, and 2) A frozen rice version that takes some planning ahead. But when Geoff wasn’t feeling well last weekend, it was up to me to make him a batch of congee. Continue reading →
Me: Which cookbook is the recipe in?
Grandpa: [hesitates. . . then very clearly] Yes, you may have the recipe.
Me: [confused] But what cookbook is it in?
Grandpa: [shakes his head and smiles] This always happens!
Of all the cookbooks in Grandma Hazel’s old collection, this unfortunately titled one, “Yes, you may have the recipe,” is the most marked-up and well-use. This cute little cookbook was self-published by Chicago author Maria Baker in 1981, and Grandma had the third printing which came out in 1983. At that time my Grandma and Grandpa were living in the Chicago area, so Grandma must have bumped into it somewhere locally and started cooking from it regularly.
Lemon bars are a classic American sweet which became popular in the 1970’s. With a crumbly shortbread cookie crust and a tangy, rich lemon topping, they’re especially popular for Easter and Mother’s Day celebrations (although they’re so delicious and easy, you can bake them year-round). Some variations have you make a lemon topping that’s a custard or a curd, but I think Grandma Hazel’s version is the most pure and simple style of lemon bar – it doesn’t use cream or butter, just egg, sugar, flour, baking powder and lemon juice.
I’m so happy to finally post something dumpling-ish on this blog, and this is the perfect recipe. In Nebraska we have a fast food chain called RUNZA – the term “runza” is actually trademarked by the company, which is ridiculous because they didn’t invent the runza. A runza is a Russian meat pie made with yeasted dough, and it can be made in a variety of different shapes with different savory meat fillings. From Russia, the runza’s popularity spread to Germany, and they were brought to the Midwestern region of the United States by German immigrants.
Most Nebraskans know runzas as delicious fast food, but thanks to my Grandma Hazel, my family knows what a non-fast-food, from-scratch runza is supposed to taste like. I was so happy when my Aunt passed this recipe for grandma’s runzas along to me. My family might not be German or Russian, but we are 100% Nebraskan, and to me, this is Nebraska comfort food at its best.