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A cookbook for lovers of a certain age
Why another cookbook? Why not another cookbook especially one that is infused with so much tenderness, thoughtfulness and a deeply maturing love.
We are writing a cookbook for lovers, young and old, but particularly for those of a certain age, a mature age. These recipes will appeal to lovers of good food, good stories and good love poems.
New recipes will be accompanied by our favourite love poems from around the world. We will try to associate the recipes’ country of origin to poems by poets from that country.
Our recipes aren’t necessarily original but we have modified our favourites based on trial and error. We have borrowed from our mothers’ recipe boxes, our friends’ suggestions and of course from our own memories of those wonderful smells and tastes that emanated from our home kitchens.
These culinary concoctions have come together through love. We hope you will enjoy both the feasting and the poetry. We will add to the collection as we find new favourities.
Ron Verzuh and Leola Olive Jewett
Ron grew up in the West Kootenay region of British Columbia where a group of Russian émigrés settled in the early 20th century. These Doukhobors, as they are called, had been persecuted for their religious beliefs back in czarist Russia.
Famed novelist Leo Tolstoy, author of War and Peace, came to their aid and with his help and a lot of determination, the group formed colonies in Saskatchewan and B.C.
They even attempted to establish a colony near Eugene, Oregon, but the local Ku Klux Klan mounted a campaign to oust them back in 1924.
Our guess is that the KKK felt the Doukhobors, or spirit wrestlers, didn’t make it past the colour barrier in spite of being Caucasian. It didn’t help that the 1917 Russian Revolution had made them all communist undesirables.
Doukhobors were pacifists and Christians, but they were also communalists and vegetarians. We don’t suppose that stood them in good favour with the Klan either. The Doukhobor slogan was “Toil and Peaceful Life.”
Not likely to impress the racist Klan members or the local farmers who were threatened by the newcomers. And well they might have been given that the Doukhobors turned out to be excellent farmers, co-operative workers and superb carpenters.
Early news reports tended to portray the group as a radical sect that regularly held nude protest parades, burnt down house and bombed power lines. But the fact is, they sought to live their own lives without being totally assimilated into North America mainstream culture.
One of the delicious artefacts of Doukhoborism is their special style of borscht. Not the usual Russian or Polish beet-based soup, this one used cabbage and tomatoes instead.
Dieters will not be happy about the amount of butter and cream that get mixed in with the vegetables, but the flavours are hard to resist once the concoction comes together. Hearty eaters will want at least two helpings as we found out recently.
A case in point: two granddaughters in their early teens awoke one morning before we did and searched high and low for the borscht we had made the night before. Knowing teenage appetites we had taken the precaution of hiding the borscht pot in the garage. When we stumbled into the kitchen to put on the coffee, they were already licking their empty bowls and reaching for the ladle.
At our New Year’s Levee in 2011, we served our borscht to about fifteen friends most of whom demanded the recipe on the spot. We complied, of course, and now we are sharing it here.
Note: We are not claiming that this is the only way to make Doukhobor borscht or even necessarily the authentic way. We have modified parts of the recipe we inherited from Ron’s mother who in turn inherited it from Doukhobor neighbours. We respectfully offer our version.
Mom’s Homemade Egg Noodles
For me cooking is a part of my earliest memories — when I would climb up on a chrome-back kitchen chair and stand on its yellow vinyl padded seat. My mother would push the chair tight to the countertop, where with my limited reach I would pat at the flour she kneaded into dough, pinch the string ends from green beans, or try to work a stubborn peeler around a potato skin.
These early well-intentioned efforts at cooking may not have been as productive as my imagination supposed them to be, but I always knew they were appreciated. And I felt a warm sense of accomplishment as the aroma of baking bread filled the kitchen, or when the vegetables I’d put my hands to simmered on the stovetop.
Home made egg noodles in turkey vegetable soup always followed Thanksgiving, making good use of the turkey scraps left over from the Holiday feast. I recall struggling with a wooden rolling pin and the very stiff dough until my mother mercifully took over, and put the necessary strength behind rolling it into a thin sheet that nearly covered the countertop. She’d sprinkle it lightly with flour, then tuck in the edge along one side with her fingers, and roll it into a tight cylinder, which she’d slice into narrow spirals.
My favorite part of the process, though it seemed a delicate business for my small hands, was the unfurling of the tightly wound spirals. I took special care that each one unwound with out breaking and laid them on a lightly floured cookie sheet to dry.
Maybe because of these formative years in the kitchen with my mother, cooking has continued to be a joy to me, and no matter the cuisine, I still feel the sense of accomplishment of a well put-together meal.
How better to experiment with favorite recipes, or explore new ones, than with a lover and poetic partner who enjoys the creative process and savors the results as much as I do. Ron is a master at presentation, and our meals — from starters to main dish — always look as beautifully delicious as they taste.
Our egg noodle recipe, borrowed from those days with my mother, is now a favorite for us. We make the traditional turkey noodle soup, and discovered recently that the best macaroni and cheese imaginable can be made with these noodles.
We sometimes skip the rolling up and unfurling steps now, and use a pizza cutter to slice the sheet into long thin strips, and then cut the strips to the noodle lengths we want. Sometimes we roll the dough less thin and cut triangles, which make plump dumplings for other soups as well.
We’ve also found that by making a larger batch than necessary for a single meal, we can dry the extra noodles and keep them on hand for spur-of-the-moment, impromptu meals.
When we made our first batch of moussaka, the Greek, dish the consensus of Leola’s daughter Tana and granddaughters Athena and Sabina was that “this is the best food we’ve ever eaten.” That might have been a slight exaggeration on their part but we must admit that our version of the eggplant and lamb dish is pretty tasty.
We happened to have some frozen ground beef in the freezer so used it instead of the lamb and when mixed with the onion and garlic it worked out just fine. Leola loves to sprinkle nutmeg and cinnamon into almost everything, including her excellent multi-bean chili, and the recipe called for both spices to set off this special concoction of tastes.
I was keen to make moussaka because it reminded me of a journey I made to the Greek island of Samos just off the shores of Turkey. That was decades ago, but I still recall eating the dish back then fresh out of the oven at one of the little taverna that I frequented.
Both of us had long ago seen the delightful movie Shirley Valentine, so that was another reason to revisit Greece through a delicious moussaka meal. We’ve included some love song lyrics from two favourite Greek singer-songwriters. And what would a recipe for moussaka be without some ancient Greek love poetry.
It took us two lifetimes to get to Spain but when we finally arrived together in April 2011 it delivered all that it promised.
Barcelona, Madrid, the seaside resort town of Sitges (pronounced Sitjes) and the Spanish Civil War town of Brunete. These were our stops. This was where we would see the home of sexy flamenco, the literary classic Don Quixote and the profoundly mystical architectural genius of Antoni Gaudi.
Of course, Spain is also home to the soothing guitar of Segovia, tasty wines like Malvasia of Sitges and, sadly, the bitter combat of the civil war, 1936-39, that saw the Republican government challenged and beaten militarily by the fascist forces of Generalissimo Francisco Franco.
Spain is all of these things, but it is also the birthplace of paella. We found this fabulous country as colourful as the paella we offer you below and as contrasting as the cuisines from different regions of the country. For example, the paella that we ate in Madrid in the Castile region was different from what we ate in Sitges and Barcelona in Catalunya. In fact, we were told that the real paella is found in Valencia and that is the recipe from which we borrowed our own special paella.
We think our paella is special. We use white rice that brings out the rich yellow of the saffron. And we slice in ample quantities of chorizo, something that none of the four paellas we ate in Spain offered.
Though the original recipe doesn’t call for it, we add various bell peppers, again to accentuate the colours of Spain. To see those yellows, oranges, greens and reds in Ron’s large brown paellera is to see the flamenco dancers we enjoyed at Villa Rosa in the Plaza de Santa Maria in Madrid.
To see the rich flesh of shrimp, clams, mussels, scallops and cod or haddock is to see the beiges, yellows, brick reds and blue-greys that hug strollers in the streets of tiny Sitjes or the grand boulevards of Barcelona.
To see our paella as the roof is lifted from the pan and the steam clears is to see Spain’s flower boxes overflowing from balconies that look over one of 10,000 cafes set in hidden nooks and crannies and the endless ile signs that serve as street guides, historical markers and art.
Anyone who’s been to the fish monger lately will know that hese ingredients are pricey. You won’t always find them in Spanish paella that ou find as tourists. One of our hotel hosts frowned at us when we mentioned anting to sample the paella. “This is not the food that Spaniards eat,” he colded. “This is tourist food put out to attract you but not to nourish you.”
We offered thanks for the advice but went ahead anyway and, hough we didn’t ever eat what you will taste when you cook what is below, we id enjoy the hunt.
Mrs. V’s bean soup
When summer is drawing to an almost instant close on the solstice and you are scurrying to harvest what remains of the garden vegetables and fruit, what comes to mind? Why, a steaming hot, tasty, vitamin-loaded soup, of course!
The gigantic apple tree in our back yard had again been prolific this autumn, dropping its production of scabby apples for the resident possum and a bluebird or two to feed on. The plum tree, too, had provided a regular feast, this time for the racoons.
The several varieties of tomatoes had given us enough for a big pot of sauce and their remained only a few tiny cheery tomatoes which we had eaten like candy drops all summer. The blueberries had long since stopped breeding but we had picked enough to fill a full corner of the freezer.
So, with most of the garden work done in preparation for the wet Oregon winter, we mused about what kind of soup would be nice as a toast to the cooler fall season. We decided on Mrs. V’s bean soup.
Mrs. V. is, of course, Ron’s dear old mother, a woman of German descent who always seemed to have a pot of soup on the go at home. This was one of her favourites and became a celebrated treat for the family.
Making it brings back memories of childhood home and reminds us that the simple recipes, made with whatever is easiest and least expensive to procure, and with much caring and love, are often the best.
This is a simple soup to make, the kind that all working families can afford. It takes little effort beyond cutting the green and yellow beans, chopping an onion and a few potatoes and boiling a few inexpensive ham hocks for stock.
We hope it will send you back to the days of your mother’s love, as it does us, and that it will warm you and your family on a cold late fall or winter day.