Saturday, November 24, 2012

Holiday Dessert: Non-gluten and Yummy

I did the non-gluten bit for a time, finding I craved pizza when I otherwise didn't often eat pizza.  A family member (bless her) made me a non-gluten one from scratch.  (Now, gluten-imbibing again, pizza has taken a back-seat once again.)

When holiday time rolled around, it was swell (don't you love that old fashioned word!) to have a dessert with no flour in it.

The recipe came from a friend back in 1957 when we were both in college.  Her mother was European and had a wealth of scrumptious dessert recipes, many with whipped cream and chocolate.  In that day, the only problem with this recipe was that it required getting out a meat-grinder (the kind that clamped onto the edge of a table) and grinding up a big batch of walnuts.  Of course, today's food processors perform that task handily.  With thanks to my dear friend, Carol, then, here is her mother's recipe.

Carol's Mother's Linze Torte

Preheat oven to 325º and cut out parchment paper to fit onto the bottom of two cake tins.  Butter the sides of the pans.  (I use 8" pans.)

Grind 3 cups of walnuts.  (Obviously, don't pulverize them so much that you turn them into walnut butter.)  Set aside.
Stiffly beat 6 egg whites. 
As you beat, gradually add 1 + 1/4 c. sugar.  (Best to add near the end.)
Add 1/2 t. almond extract.
And 1/2 t. vanilla extract.
Gently fold the ground walnuts into the egg mixture.

Folding ground walnuts into the beaten egg whites

Divide the batter between the two pans.  Bake at 325º for 25 minutes, until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.  Cool the layers.

Spread currant jelly between the two layers then spread chocolate icing over the top and sides.


Melt 2 squares of unsweetened chocolate with 2 T. butter.
Add 1/4 c. hot water, 1 c. powdered sugar, and 1 t. vanilla.
Beat until smooth and spread onto the cake.

The original recipe suggests that it be served with a dollop of whipped cream ... making it double fabulous.

To summarize, here are the ingredients you'll need:

Granulated and powdered sugar
Vanilla and almond extracts
Currant jelly
Unsweetened chocolate
Whipping cream (optional)

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Touching History

I majored in English Lit but history has long fascinated me.  What was it really like to live in, say, 16th century India under the Mughals.  Or 18th century Virginia.  Or to be part of a gathering listening to the Buddha teach, sitting on the ground (I imagined) as sunlight filtered through the trees.  Like my earlier blog about putting my finger on a map of the world and wondering what lay at that very point, I've wondered about time as well.  But, in doing so, I've found myself excluding my own era as if by virtue of living in it, it's commonplace and not as fascinating.  (Which was Woody Allen's theme in Midnight in Paris.)  But.  When looking at my own life, set in the last two-thirds of a highly energetic century, I see that, in its way, it has touched history.  I needn't pooh-pooh that because 1) it's happened to me or 2) it's happened during my lifetime.  If we all sat down and made a list, each of us could come up with people, places, times where we and those who have been an important part of history have come together.  Looking at it like that, it's sort of exciting.

In making my list, in allowing myself to feel connected to history, I've come up with a few instances that do fit into our times.

There was the time, for instance, when I had the yellow legal-sized pages in my hand that Douglas MacArthur had just written (in pencil) about leaving the Philippines.  I was working in book publishing in New York and was typing them so that they could go off to the printer.  He was living in the Waldorf Towers and writing his memoir, Reminiscences.

Or the time my husband and I stood in a rather small Imperial Palace courtyard in Tokyo with the public audience who greeted Hirohito (with composed applause) when he and his family came out onto their balcony in a 1971 New Year's greeting.  (What made it so bizarre was that I so well remembered the war, or the latter part of it, anyway.)

Or when I found myself outside the White House in 1961 when a smiling JFK happened to drive by (in an open limo, I might add) with a visiting president of an African country in tow.  I remember wondering at the time how he could be so casual, so bullet-proof.  At any rate, I managed to snap a quick photo.

Meeting Edmund Hillary in Kathmandu was another time.  (That was out on the airport tarmac where I was saying goodbye to a friend on her way to Everest country and he was loading boxes onto the same plane.)  As was being introduced to a very personable Indira Gandhi, then known only as Nehru's daughter, when she came to the Santa Fe ranch resort where I worked.  Or having a college friend describe her incarceration in the Philippines as a child during the war ... or a former co-worker his long days in Tehran as one of the hostages--they, who never knew their fate from day to day.

I do not mention these in any attempt at name-dropping but rather in awe, really, at realizing that in my small way, I've participated in history by sharing space with--by "touching"--a few who affected history or were greatly affected by it. I'm still in awe, too, that I was alive when FDR was President, he with his wonderful smile and cigarette holder stuck between his teeth.

My point is to look at what's in front of us.  Yes, it would be highly interesting to have seen Washington riding his horse to Trenton after having just crossed the Delaware.  Or to have known what Cleopatra really looked like.  (Of course, there's a lot of history I'm glad to have missed.)  But I can figure I'm a 20th (and 21st) century lass who can visualize aspects of this time right here and now.

As you can, too, I'm sure.  Maybe you were at Woodstock, served in one of the first Peace Corps groups, or met someone who walked on the moon.  Or maybe you were at the Lincoln Memorial in 1963 and heard Martin Luther King give his "I Have a Dream" speech.

Here's that JFK snapshot I mentioned, though on getting it out just now, I muttered to myself, "Oh, rats ... you can't even see him."  Well, I'll include it anyway and blow it up to its max.  Kennedy is in the back seat sitting next to President Abboud of Sudan who's standing.  It's October 4, 1961.  Such an open-car-with-onlookers setting for the President does not exist today and here's the man whose death changed all that.  So history is right here, staring us in the face. 

Saturday, November 10, 2012

What We're Eating

After my August posting on GMO corn and the need to buy organic, a friend sent me a list, many pages long, of grocery items (including brand-names) that are contaminated with genetically engineered ingredients.  I found the scope to be quite startling including infant formula, granola bars, chocolate syrup, mayonnaise, salsa, cake mixes, frozen dinners, cereals, soups, soy products, boxes of rice, potato chips, soda and juice drinks, you name it.  Here is the link to that Comprehensive List.

It seems that some twenty years ago, the FDA decided that genetically engineered products did not need testing ... or labeling.  Fortunately, the Europeans have not been so corporate-friendly and have come up with their own tests that make it plain that GMO products are a definite health risk.  France is trying to ban GMOs from all EU countries.  Russian scientists condemn GMOs as well.  Here is a short (15-minute) film about the unparalleled threats ("nothing like them has ever existed") of GMO ingredients.  Film link

But there is some good news.  There is now a Non-GMO Project that puts its logo on GMO-free items.  If you go to their site here, you can do a search for specific items.

This is what the Non-GMO Project logo looks like, found here on a package of Lundberg™ Brown Rice Organic Rice Cakes

I feel fortunate to live in a town where we have an aware, au courant food co-op with a wide choice for those seeking organic, gluten-free, vegan, bulk, and (just getting started) non-GMO items.  Any bulk item labeled "organic" is GMO-free.  But even in our spiffy co-op, though meats now specify if they are hormone or antibiotic free, they make no claim to be GMO-free (though we do have a section for grass-fed beef).  So the animals could have been fed GMO grain and we wouldn't know it.  The same problem is surely true for those juicy rotisseried chickens in the deli.  They are labeled "natural" but that doesn't answer the question.  And then what about eggs and dairy products?  And cake mixes with powdered milk or cookies that contain eggs or soups with cream?  My understanding is that unless the item is specifically marked "organic" or "non-GMO," the chances are good that it has genetically engineered ingredients or the animals from which they came were fed GMO grain.

Here, at the top, is another GMO-free notice.

Obviously, the closer we can buy to the food source, the better since we can then query the grower directly.  Did you feed your chickens GMO corn?  Did you plant non-GMO seeds?  And the more we pester store managers with questions (and objections), the more awareness we will raise.

I've waited to post this until after the election to see if California's Proposition 37 passed--the Mandatory Labeling of Genetically Engineered Food Initiative--or if the corporations won again.  They did; it failed.  (Monsanto, largest developer of genetically engineered crops, spent some $46 million to block it.)  New state initiatives, however, are planned for Oregon and Washington.  And there's apparently a citizens' petition before the FDA.

Though our food co-op's prices can be higher than those found in regular supermarkets, I'm still going to shop there.  (Smaller helpings are always an option.)  Since I prefer to stick around as long as possible, then, yes, I'll buy organic and non-GMO and, yes, I'll pay more at the check-out.  But I figure I'll lessen the doctor bills later.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

The Storm ... from My Perspective

My emergency station

We here in Vermont were told to have five days of non-perishable food on hand in the event of power outages from mega-storm Sandy--or what blogger James Howard Kunstler called Apocalyptoween.  We were also told to be prepared for flood and wind damage.  (Having experienced Tropical Storm Irene just a year ago, everyone was playing it safe.)  At least it seemed we wouldn't be in the direct path this time, but since the storm covered such a wide territory, was moving so slowly, and had such a low barometric pressure, we knew we'd be impacted.

So I did the responsible thing and made preparations.  I filled my gas tank and even organized a small evacuation bag.  (Might a tree fall on the house?  Or something go awry at our local nuclear plant?)  I bought extra non-perishable food and started eating the perishable (including what was in my freezer).  I set up a little "emergency station" with candles, matches, large and small flashlights, a battery-operated radio, and my newly-charged cell phone.  Though I'm on town water, I set aside drinking water in case the tap supply became contaminated.  (Glad not to have an electric stove, I knew I could cook by lighting my gas burners with a match.  And I figured that since it was a tropical storm, the temperature would stay warm enough that my pipes wouldn't freeze in the event of no heat.  I have an oil furnace but it's triggered by an electric spark.)   

With trees, trees, trees up and down the East Coast, power outages were a sure thing.  Okay, what then?  What does one do during a prolonged power outage, especially after dark?  My eyes wouldn't thank me for reading by candlelight.  There would be no television, no computer, no catching up on emails or sending queries out to friends in harm's way.  With Mozart-like candlelight, I could conceivably sit at the piano and play something.  Call friends on my cell phone if my land line went out and the cell phone towers stayed put.   Wonder how long we'd have this archaic system of above-ground power lines.  Worry about coastal nuclear reactors.  Wonder about such possibly extensive damage that it would impact people's ability to vote.  Wonder, as well, about New Yorkers particularly--conceivably trapped in high rises with no egress if the elevators weren't working.  (One Manhattan friend's elderly mother died in the 1965 Great Northeast Blackout because she had to climb the stairs to reach her high-up apartment.) 

But ... as it turned out, I needn't have done any prep work at all.  Our area did get high winds and bursts of heavy rain plus a bit of tree damage and some power outages, but right here, all was well.  No downed trees, no live wires littering the road, no broken windows or roof damage.  Power still on, what I ended up doing was watching the devastation on television (though since the storm's landfall and nightfall pretty well coincided, much wasn't apparent until next day).

Even as I watched, I wondered about the storm's ripple effect--the changes it would make in an enormous number of lives.  There would be the initial misery as a result of the destruction, but there would also be a new appreciation of what was truly important.  There would be new people in one's life as a result of the storm ... plus new resolve to put aside weary old ways, weary old attitudes and begin to work in new directions whether in hydrology, cinema, politics, banking, energy, food supply.  Along with those hints of roads to now travel (and roads to give up), there could even be great epiphanies including some that might help lead this country's power-mongers out of their hubris, greed, manipulation, and obstructionism.  As a result of the storm, someone might decide to leave the East Coast and go solar in Colorado.  Or finish up that degree at UCLA.  Or figure how to finally bury East Coast power lines.  Or go down the block and help a new neighbor.  So, yes, I was thinking about all this as I watched ... and as I listened to the wind pummel my tall trees, making a great whooshing sound, and the rain spatter the windows as if someone were tossing gravel against the glass.