Wednesday, June 15, 2011

In Honor of Juneteenth

"The people must know before they can act, and there is no educator to compare with the press."
~Ida B. Wells

I learned about Ida B. Wells, journalist, suffragist, anti-lynching crusador, brave woman -- I learned about her in my first American history class in college and could forget all that she'd done. When it came to choosing a major, she inspired me to pursue journalism.

Here's the Juneteenth article I did for the San Angelo Standard-Times.

Also, as a person who loves food, I have long known this truth: good food can come from any kitchen. So in honor of all the nameless, talented Black women who cooked and fed generations after generations, who kneaded, breaded and whipped Southern cuisine into shape...I'd like to introduce to a fascinating blog: The Jemima Code.

Remember & reflect.

Friday, June 10, 2011

A Pie to Celebrate the Past & Present

The first American food I fell in love with is pecan pie.

I discovered pecan pie in my college cafeteria during my first semester. It was my first fall in America, an unusually (for Houston, TX) cold and gray day. I was missing my parents and home, my favorite foods, in Bangladesh, and sought comfort in something sweet.

Now, we don’t have pecans and pies back home. Bengal (the geographic areas of Bangladesh and Calcutta) enjoys a legendary reputation for sweets, but they are different: sweet orange yogurt (mish-ti doi), puffy white cheese balls in syrup (roshogolla), various pithas (winter sweets), the convoluted hot jilapi (deep fried batter that’s created into intricate circular shapes). The cafeteria didn’t offer any of that, so I had to make do with a selection of unfamiliar pies. Not wanting to hold up the line of hungry students, I grabbed the nearest one.

Since I was in the middle of a personal pity party, I started my meal with dessert. One bite and I fell in love. The whole world faded – the conversations, laughter and shuffling all around me grew muffled, the sharp bite of nostalgia that had gripped me eased and slipped away. I was only aware of the pie and its sweet taste dancing on my tongue.

So when my twitter buddies picked pie for June’s #Letslunch, the choice was obvious: Pecan Pie. But I wanted one that would recognize my roots and celebrate West Texas, a place my heart now calls home.

The first home I knew belonged to my paternal grandparents. Coming from a joint family tradition, we lived in the same house until my grandparents passed away. What I remember best about it is the luxurious garden my grandfather planted with fruit trees like mango, guava, jackfruit and coconut. I always loved the coconut. It’s broad, tall trunk swooping to the sky, only to end in a firework of leaves at the very top. So I wanted the aroma and flavor of coconut and found myself a coconut oil crust recipe.

For the filling, I went to my mother-in-law. I often tell the Cowboy that one of the reasons I married him is his mother’s Pecan Pie. He thinks I’m joking. :)

Anyhoo, I asked for the recipe and she said “Oh that’s not my pie, I got the recipe from my mother-in-law.” Then she passed it on to me.

Pie Crust: Adapted from a recipe I found on Coconut Oil Online website (I figured since they are in the business of selling coconut oil, they’d include recipes that work).

2 1/2 cups all-purpose unbleached flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 Tablespoon sugar
¾ cup chilled, unsalted butter (I ended up putting ½ cup since that’s what I had)
6 Tablespoons coconut oil
2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
¼ cup ice water


Use a food processor to combine the dry ingredients with the butter and coconut oil. Pulse until the largest bits of butter are pea-sized.
Dump this mixture into a bowl.

Add the cider vinegar to the water. Then add this mixture a couple of tablespoons at a time to your flour mixture, toss with a fork.

At this point, the pie crust mix should be forming balls. You can squeeze and pat the mix into one big ball, but DO NOT knead.

Divide the dough into 2 equal pieces. Wrap in plastic wrap and press down to make a thick disk. Refrigerate for at least an hour before using.

Neat trick I picked up from a friend: When rolling out, place each disk between two sheets of plastic wrap (or plastic wrap & wax paper), roll it out. Remove the top plastic, then using the bottom and a pie pan flip the dough over and into the pan. Now it’s ready to be filled!

Grandma Pauline Michalewicz’s Pecan Pie filling: I love this because it’s not as sweet as some other pecan pie fillings and it’s a family tradition.:)

¼ teaspoon salt
2 Tablespoons flour
1 cup brown sugar (I replaced that with ½ cup of Splenda brown sugar)
3 eggs
¾ cup milk
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup white syrup
2 cups chopped pecans


In a small bowl, mix together salt, flour and brown sugar. Set aside.

In a larger bowl, incorporate the liquid ingredients: eggs to syrup.

Mix in the dry mix. When it’s a caramel colored slurry, add in the chopped pecans.

Divide the filling between two unbaked pie shells.

Bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes or until lightly golden. Note: the coconut oil pie shells are paler than butter-only shells. But oh my, the house smells like a tropical vacation!

Here are other #Letslunch posts for you to enjoy:

FreeRangeCookie's Dirt Pie with Compost Cookie Crust

Chezus' Summer Chicken Pot Pie

Cheryl Tan's Japanese Curry Pot Pie

Hobnob's Spanakopita & Rhubarb Crisp

Showfood Chef's Nutella Hand Pies

Zestbakery's Lime Custard n Curd Pie

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Step-By-Step Crepe Making

My first foodie conference --the International Association of Culinary Professionals' 33rd annual conference in Austin last week--was intense.

From Wednesday to Saturday, I attended sessions, took notes like crazy, and met people from all over the world. Sessions started as early as 7 a.m. and ended as late as midnight. I saw so many personal kitchen heroes (Dorie Greenspan, Martin Yan, Nancie McDermott and more) and writing heroes (Robb Walsh, Kim Severson)that I SQUEED myself hoarse. So Sunday, instead of rushing home, I took some much needed downtime.

The family and I woke up early and explored downtown Austin. By 8 a.m. we were ready for breakfast, unfortunately Austin is a brunch town. Then we lucked in to Le Cafe Crepe at 200-A San Jacinto, which served a multitude of sweet and savory crepes. Better still, the cafe had a glassed in kitchen. A meal and a show. WooHoo!

The ladies behind the glass worked fast, fingers and crepes flying in a blur. As I watched, my hands itched to grab the camera. But I hesitated. Would whipping out a camera be considered a faux pas?

Then award-winning, globe-trotting photographer Penny De Los Santos spoke in my head. I remembered her sharing the story of a photo shoot in India, where she hunkered down in front of a group of men and waited "until they forgot about the crazy American woman and her camera."

I took a deep breath and decided to be the crazy Asian woman with the camera. Thanks IACP for a great conference!

The ladies working crepe magic at La Cafe Crepe.

Pour the Batter

And spread it out.

Let it cook until light golden

Flip it!

Swirl the chocolate into an artsy pattern.

Fold in half and spread the Nutella. Yum!
And fold again...

And here's the finished product:Chloe's Crepe w/Nutella, strawberries, chocolate syrup and whipped cream.

Here's the inside of what my crepe looked like ~ a feta, spinach, tomato, avocado concotion.

The Cowboy got the Norwegian: smoked salmon, boursin with herbs,tomatoes, capers.

As George, part-owner of the cafe, would say: "Bon Appetit, Y'all!"

The Cowboy & the kids loved their crepe, I had a blast, and --I'd like to think-- the gracious staff of Le Cafe Crepe (once they got used to me and the camera) had fun. Penny was right, celebrate your subjects and they will welcome you with smiles. What an honor to be able to capture the art of crepe making.