October 04, 2014

A Foodie Look at Halloween...

I like to think I look at things from a different perspective than most, at least when it comes to food. It is, I hope, one of the reasons you read me. I'm a why guy and with that question, usually comes good information. Usually. I have found that when I know the why of something, or someone, I understand that person or thing a bit better. Sometimes for good...sometimes for bad. But hey, life's a crap shoot right? You don't gain if you don't risk. What does this have to do with Halloween? Actually, not much, but thanks for listening.

Except maybe to say that I'm going to take a completely different look at Halloween. Culturally, through food. What a surprise. See when I was an Italian kid, in North Jersey, we would go trick or treating in the neighborhoods we grew up in. Neighborhoods with the same neighbors, usually aunts, or cousins or cousin of a cousin. In the same houses, for years upon end. People we trusted and in some cases loved. At Halloween, that meant we used to get home baked pies, fresh from the oven cookies, and treats made by the people from scratch. Real food items from neighbors, friends and family. I always thought that was cool. Even then I was a foodie in training.

Don't get me wrong, I loved all the candy as well, eating it until I was tooth-achingly nauseous. But, the home-made 'treats' we received usually meant sitting down at the table with a glass of milk and questions about your mom and dad and family. You then wiped your face on the back of your hand, kissed Aunt Josephine and raced off to the Aunt Rosina's for the next visit and course. By the time you got home, you were stuffed! I loved stopping by 10 relatives houses, 'making the rounds,' seeing my aunts, uncles, cousins, family and friends on our little three hour tour. It got me thinking about all those treats and I decided to take look at some of the food traditions of Halloween.

Admittedly there are many beliefs, misconceptions and traditions which surround this holiday. I say holiday with an asterisk, like they use in the Baseball Hall of Fame, in Cooperstown, when there is a disputed record. Halloween is that kind of day. It's Pagen, it's Christian, It's evil,  it's innocent. It's harmless, it's Mischief Night...it's...well whatever! Trick or Treat! BOO!

Halloween 
Halloween or Hallowe'en as we refer to it now, is also known as All Hallows' Eve, observed around the world on October 31 on the eve of the Western Christian feast of All Hallows. Most scholars believe that All Hallows' Eve was originally influenced by western European harvest festivals and festivals of the dead, with pagan roots, particularly the Celtic Samhain. Many ancient and unconnected cultures (the Egyptians and pre-Spanish Mexicans, for example) celebrated this as a festival of the dead. Others maintain that it originated independently of Samhain. I was actually amazed when I started to do the research, that what I thought was a very American holiday, is in fact an ancient ritual dating back centuries. Now we have definitely made it a national pastime here in America, but I was more interested in a look at the traditions around the world.

The majority of our modern traditions can be traced to the British Isles. People took steps to allay or ward-off these harmful spirits/fairies, which is thought to have influenced today's Halloween customs. In parts of Ireland, Mann, the Scottish Highlands and Islands, and Wales, wearing costumes at Samhain was done before the 20th century originating as a means of disguising oneself from these harmful spirits/fairies. In Ireland, people went about before nightfall collecting for Samhain feasts and sometimes wore costumes while doing so.

In the 19th century on Ireland's southern coast, a man dressed as a white mare would lead youths door-to-door collecting food; by giving them food, the household could expect good fortune from the 'Muck Olla'. In Moray, during the 18th century, boys called at each house in their village asking for fuel for the Samhain bonfire. So it's easy to see where Trick-or-treating may have come from. But wait, it also may come from the Christian custom of souling; Groups of poor people, often children, would go door-to-door on All Saints/All Souls collecting soul cakes, originally as a means of praying for souls in purgatory. Making jack-o'-lanterns at Halloween came from Samhain and Celtic beliefs as well. Turnip lanterns, sometimes with faces carved into them are recorded in Ireland and the Scottish Highlands. One custom that persists in modern-day Ireland is the baking of a barmbrack (Irish: báirín breac), which is a light fruitcake, into which a plain ring, a coin and other charms are placed before baking. It is said that those who get a ring will find their true love in the ensuing year. Though the origin of the word Halloween is Christian, the holiday is commonly thought to have pagan roots.

North American almanacs of the late 18th and early 19th century give no indication that Halloween was recognized as a holiday there. The traditions and importance of the Halloween celebration vary significantly among countries that observe it. In Scotland and Ireland, traditional Halloween customs include children dressing up in costume going "guising", holding parties, while other practices in Ireland include lighting bonfires, and having firework displays. The influence of the American iconic and commercial components of the holiday now extended to places such as South America, Australia, New Zealand, (most) continental Europe, Japan, and other parts of East Asia.

Halloween Food around the World

Barmbrack (Ireland)
Barmbrack is the center of an Irish Halloween custom. The Halloween Brack traditionally contained various objects baked into the bread and was used as a sort of fortune-telling game. In the barmbrack were: a pea, a stick, a piece of cloth, a small coin (originally a silver sixpence) and a ring. Each item, when received in the slice, was supposed to carry a meaning to the person concerned: the pea, the person would not marry that year; the stick, would have an unhappy marriage or continually be in disputes; the cloth or rag, would have bad luck or be poor; the coin, would enjoy good fortune or be rich; and the ring, would be wed within the year. Other articles added to the brack include a medallion, usually of the Virgin Mary to symbolise going into the priesthood or to the Nuns, although this tradition is not widely continued in the present day

Bonfire toffee (Great Britain)
Bonfire toffee (also known as treacle toffee, cinder toffee, Plot toffee, or Tom Trot) is a hard, brittle toffee associated with Halloween and Guy Fawkes Night (also known as "Bonfire Night") in the United Kingdom. The toffee tastes very strongly of molasses (black treacle), and cheap versions can be quite bitter. In Scotland, the treat is known as claggum, with less sweet versions known as clack. In Wales, it is known as loshin du. The flavor is similar to that of butterscotch, although it is a toffee and never a viscous liquid.

Candy apples/toffee apples (Great Britain & Ireland)

Candy apples, also known as toffee apples outside of North America, are whole apples covered in a hard toffee or sugar candy coating, with a stick inserted as a handle. These are a common treat at autumn festivals in Western culture in the Northern Hemisphere, such as Halloween and Guy Fawkes Night because these festivals fall in the wake of the annual apple harvest. Although candy apples and caramel apples may seem similar, they are made using distinctly different processes.
 
William W. Kolb invented the red candy apple. Kolb, a veteran Newark candy-maker, produced his first batch of candied apples in 1908. While experimenting in his candy shop with red cinnamon candy for the Christmas trade, he dipped some apples into the mixture and put them in the windows for display. He sold the whole first batch for 5 cents each and later sold thousands yearly. Soon candied apples were being sold along the Jersey Shore, at the circus and in candy shops across the country, according to the Newark News in 1948.

Caramel Apples

Caramel apples or taffy apples (not to be confused with candy apples) are created by dipping or rolling apples-on-a-stick in hot caramel, sometimes then rolling them in nuts or other small savories or confections, and allowing them to cool. Generally, they are called caramel apples when only caramel is applied and taffy apples for when there are further ingredients such as peanuts applied.

Caramel Corn
An American confection made of popcorn coated with a sugar or molasses based caramel candy shell. Typically a sugar solution or syrup is made and heated until it browns and becomes thick, producing a caramelized candy syrup. This hot candy is then mixed with popped popcorn, and allowed to cool. Sometimes a candy thermometer is used, as making caramel is time-consuming and requires skill to make well without burning the sugar. The process creates a sweet flavored, crunchy snack food or treat. Some varieties, after coating with the candy syrup, are baked in an oven to crisp the mixture. Mixes of caramel corn sometimes contain nuts, such as peanuts, pecans, almonds, or cashews. The combination of caramel and corn dates back at least as far as the 1890s with the strong molasses flavor of Cracker Jack, an early version of which was introduced at the Chicago World's Fair in 1893. The lighter, sweet but un-caramelized kettle corn, may be a North American Colonial predecessor to caramel corn.

Candy Corn, (North America)
Candy corn is a confection in the United States and Canada, popular primarily in autumn around Halloween (though available year-round in most places). Candy corn was created in the 1880s by George Renninger of the Wunderlee Candy Company; the three colors of the candy mimic the appearance of kernels of corn. Each piece is approximately three times the size of a whole kernel from a ripe or dried ear. Candy corn is made primarily from sugar, corn syrup, wax, artificial coloring and binders. A serving of Brach's Candy Corn is nineteen pieces, is 140 calories and has zero grams of fat. Candy corn pieces are traditionally cast in three colors: a broad yellow end, a tapered orange center, and a pointed white tip.

Colcannon (Ireland)
Colcannon is traditionally made from mashed potatoes and kale (or cabbage), with scallions, butter, salt and pepper added. It can contain other ingredients such as milk, cream, leeks, onions and chives. There are many regional variations of this dish. It is often eaten with boiled ham or Irish bacon. At one time it was a cheap, year-round staple food, though nowadays it is usually eaten in autumn/winter, when kale comes into season. An old Irish Halloween tradition is to serve colcannon with a ring and a thimble hidden in the fluffy green-flecked dish. Prizes of small coins such as threepenny or sixpenny bits were also concealed in it.

Soul Cakes
A soul cake is a small round cake which is traditionally made for All Saints Day or All Souls' Day to celebrate the dead. The cakes, often simply referred to as souls, were given out to soulers (mainly consisting of children and the poor) who would go from door to door on Halloween singing and saying prayers for the dead. Each cake eaten would represent a soul being freed from Purgatory. The practice of giving and eating soul cakes is often seen as the origin of modern trick-or-treating. In Lancashire and in the North-east of England they were also known as Harcakes.

The tradition of giving soul cakes was celebrated in Britain or Ireland during the Middle Ages, although similar practices for the souls of the dead were found as far south as Italy. The cakes were usually filled with allspice, nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger or other sweet spices, raisins or currants, and before baking were topped with the mark of a cross to signify that these were alms. They were traditionally set out with glasses of wine on All Hallows Eve as an offering for the dead, and on All Saints Day and All Soul's Day children would go "souling," or ritually begging for cakes door to door.

Soul Cakes
T. Susan Chang for NPR
Makes 12 to 15 2-inch soul cakes

Ingredients
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, ground fresh if possible
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, ground fresh if possible
1/2 teaspoon salt
generous pinch of saffron
1/2 cup milk
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
2 egg yolks
1/2 cup currants

For the Glaze:
1 egg yolk, beaten

Method
Preheat oven to 400 degree. Combine the flour, the nutmeg, cinnamon and salt in a small bowl. Mix well with a fork. Crumble the saffron threads into a small saucepan and heat over low heat just until they become aromatic, taking care not to burn them. Add the milk and heat just until hot to the touch. The milk will have turned a bright yellow. Remove from heat. Cream the butter and sugar together in a medium bowl with a wooden spoon (or use an electric mixer with the paddle attachment). Add the egg yolks and blend in thoroughly with the back of the spoon. Add the spiced flour and combine as thoroughly as possible; the mixture will be dry and crumbly.

One tablespoon at a time, begin adding in the warm saffron milk, blending vigorously with the spoon. When you have a soft dough, stop adding milk; you probably won't need the entire half-cup.
Turn the dough out onto a floured counter and knead gently, with floured hands, until the dough is uniform. Roll out gently to a thickness of 1/2 inch. Using a floured 2-inch round cookie or biscuit cutter, cut out as many rounds as you can and set on an ungreased baking sheet. You can gather and re-roll the scraps, gently. Decorate the soul cakes with currants and then brush liberally with the beaten egg yolk. Bake for 15 minutes, until just golden and shiny.

Bon Appetit,

Lou 
Sources: foodnetwork.com, http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/

October 01, 2014

From Weird Science to Kelly's Kitchen: Reinventing Kelly Le Brock


Life is a journey. High points, low points all melding into the path we call our lives. Those strong of heart and mind, realize at some point that to get to the high points, we must start at the low points and climb. Sometimes those hills are outside, sometimes, they are inside. For actress, model, mom, rancher and foodie Kelly Le Brock, it seems the hills are almost something she looks forward to now. A self testing if you will. Overcoming obstacles.

I recently sat down with this iconic lady to discuss her new passions, her incredible life and as she put it, "her new found voice." She opened up about finding peace in her life and reinventing herself, well outside the lime-light and glitz of Hollywood. I remarked on her recent reemergence.
"Well, I have a rather passionate, and sometimes painful past. It's time to tell my story. I have a book coming out soon and I think that with it, I'm going to empower people who say, 'I'm too hurt to get out of bed in the morning.'" She explained, "they'll get out of bed in the morning after they've read my story and say '...if she can do it, so can I.'"

Her recently launched Kelly's Kitchen, while about food, is more about a lifestyle, with its center, the kitchen and the table, as the 'core of the family' as she put it. "Getting people back to the table," she stated, "is really the bones of any relationship in any family. I think that good healthcare actually starts at the table and I encourage and am actually disappointed in the mothers of America for not taking their kids to the table."

An accomplished horse-woman, most days will find her riding one of her horses, either, Ruby, Kiwi, Tess and Chubby. "He is," she laughed. She rides on her 700 acre farm where she grows her own produce, raises and butchers her own beef and is now, as she put it, "going into the pig business." Far flung from the pages of Vogue, and the 'glitz' of Hollywood this is the Kelly LeBrock who took her horse and spent a week with the grizzlies of Yellowstone Park...with a homeless person.

"I really wanted to be a veterinarian," she stated, "how I got into Hollywood I'll never know. I was raised in England and I spent a lot of time in the field by myself. I'm really a very simple girl. When I had my first child, when she turned 3, I was outta there (Hollywood), I headed for the hills. I wanted to raise my children in an atmosphere where I did not lose control of being a parent. I am happy that I grew my kids up in an atmosphere that was not all, Facebook, tv and online."

I asked her to elaborate on her love of the outdoors and about raising her own beef, produce and now, pigs on her 700 acre ranch. "I have a large spread, one might say," she quipped. Her British accent becoming a bit more pronounced. "I've been living in the wilderness for the last 20 years. We have cattle, and I've just gone into the pig business. Raising pork. We have a freezer full of beef and a freezer full of pork. I will not eat meat out. We treat our meat correctly. No corn and we finish off with barley. We actually make our own little things to finish off, using apples, or carrots, or beets. When you eat our meat you feel happy. I love collecting eggs, butchering meat, growing the produce. I even learned how to make my own cheese!" she claimed proudly, her inner foodie coming out. "I make yogurt too!"

Her love of all things natural started when her children were young when she took to making her own baby food. "It just came from wanting the best ingredients for my children. Seeing how contaminated our food system is, the want and need to be more proactive in my health. 'Let thy food be thy medicine and thy medicine be thy food.' I really live by that."she stated. That led me to questions about one of her new passions,  "Kelly's Kitchen" and her love of cooking and being in the kitchen.

She explained, "You know, for a time in England, I did Health Kitchen for a number of years, and I was lucky enough to be in the kitchen with 3 Starred Michelin Chef, Marco Pierre White and that was the most exciting two weeks of my life. I learned how to burn myself," she laughed, "I was known as the screamer because I kept burning myself, but I was on the line and we got out service for 76 people every night. I did it. From 7 in the morning til 1 am. I got to do all the stations, but my favorite thing was Prep. You work all day getting these ingredients ready and then the dish is cooked and served eaten in 25 minutes. But, the prep is the kitchen to me" she added. "It's a quiet time, to think about the people you are making the meal for. You look at the colors, how beautiful and all the work you put in, and that it's going to be given to the people you love."

With Kelly's Kitchen, Kelly is all about healthy eating and good healthcare, starting in the kitchen, at the table. "It came about within the last four years," she offered. "I am just horrified at the way people are eating and I really want to get out there and show people how to make a delicious meal out of a bag of beans or a bag of brown rice. It doesn't have to be expensive to eat well. Yes it is expensive in time, but that is something that people have come to confuse with eating healthy being expensive in dollars. Seems that people don't have time anymore," she lamented, "but you can make a decent meal in 30 minutes. Families should have to drop their phones in a little basket when they come through the door and sit down every night at the dinner table and look at each other. Really talk to each other."

She has lent her voice and become an ambassador for a cause she believes in, foodtweeks™ and has re-emerged from a self imposed cocoon with a new-found, vibrant voice. "It's time to give back,"she declared. "We don't need to leave our country to help people, they are right here in our face. I know what it's like to struggle for food or not have enough to eat. There are people in this country a paycheck away from hunger. I am the ambassador for this great new app that is affiliated with 50 food banks across the country. The beauty of it is that there are people who are always trying to get healthy cutting calories, they take those calories and put them into foodtweeks™ and those calories go into the food bank and translate to available food."

Here's how the program works;
For every calorie users "tweek" from their food, foodtweeks™ makes a donation to a local food bank so they can distribute the same number of nutritious calories to feed a hungry child and their family. There’s no cost of any kind to the foodtweeks™ user and it's easy for food banks to participate. You remove calories. They give them away!

To get involved, simply enter the promo code KELLYLEBROCK and foodtweeks™ will double all of your donations! Here's how:
  • Download the foodtweeks™ mobile app for your Android or iPhone. It's free!
  • Create an account in the foodtweeks™ app. Also free!
  • When creating your free account, in the promo code area, enter: KELLYLEBROCK
That's it. Every time you remove calories from your food using the foodtweeks™ app, foodtweeks™ will double all of your donations. And it doesn't cost you anything! Get started today helping yourself, food banks across the country, and the people they nourish in their communities.

"Finally there is an app out there that's doing good for everybody." she explained, getting excited, "People are losing weight and getting into better shape and what they are losing, people are gaining in real food. I had been working with a friend and she was doing some work with Jay Walker, founder of Priceline and she thought I'd be a good ambassador and she put us together. It's two fold, people eating healthy and feeding the hungry.

As to what the future holds, for herself and for her new project, Kelly's Kitchen, she stated, "It's all about the journey. If I can come out with some simple things that can help people then that's what I want to do. Kelly's Kitchen can go anywhere. It's about healthy eating. About bringing people back to the table wherever that table may be. Right now, she expanded, "I've rented a little room in Maui. I have one burner and don't need much else to make a healthy meal. It's an ongoing process. My biggest concern is to get moms and dads back to the table again cooking for their family again. Teach the children how to cook for their moms and dads. There are little people out there that can maybe help with the parents."

Agreed. In speaking with Kelly, I reflected on how fortunate I am to be surrounded lately, by those who are about tradition of back to basics as it were, and who come from a mindset that it all starts with the food, the product, but more importantly, our connection to the land and each other. It's about that connection we get from "the table" and that human interaction that we seem to have lost with today's technology. Face to face interaction. 

With a new book coming out, a new cooking and food platform and her advocacy in feeding the hungry, with foodtweeks, it certainly seems that Kelly has indeed found that new strong inner voice, and that focus of directions and passions that blend to create the journey we call life. Her day-to-day life with her children, grandchildren, tending to the ranch, the back to nature lifestyle, all seem to have healed old wounds and given her a clear perspective on life and what's truly important. Talking with her I sensed a peace and contentment. With life and her family, but more importantly...herself. 

I look forward to more chats with Kelly as she follows her new path. I recall some talk about coming out to the ranch. Now, I'm a city boy.....can you see me on a horse? Yea, me either.....
I hope you enjoyed this informal chat with Kelly Le Brock. You can find out  more about Kelly's Kitchen on facebook: Kelly's Kitchen twitter: @AtKellysKitchen.

Till next time, 
Lou