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Posts from December 2013

Sauerkraut and coconut cake

Balto-xmasAn interview in the NYTimes with movie director and Baltimore native John Waters inspires some thoughts on two Christmas foodstuffs / Dec. 2013

We always had sauerkraut with our turkey at our Baltimore Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners. It's taken me a long time to appreciate the pairing, but now turkey seems bland without the pungent sauerkraut. A turkey-day discussion about favorite foods inspired me to find a recipe for a sauerkraut chocolate cake. You rinse the kraut in cold water and then chop it before adding it to the batter. It adds a nice texture to the cake, and if you didn't know there was sauerkraut in it, you'd never guess. My grandmother's family sold produce (including cabbage) from an outside stall at the Hollins Market in Baltimore. Her father Jake, and his father (who came here from Germany as a boy and "farmed and tilled" in the Mount Winans area of Baltimore) sold produce in the city's Lexington, Hollins, and Hanover Markets. When I wore my fingerless gloves on a recent cold day, my dad remembered the relatives working at the market wearing gloves without fingertips when it was cold so they could feel the money and make accurate change for customers.

Like John Waters, my grandmother always had a coconut cake for Christmas. It had two layers and a sweet, thick frosting. It was so sweet that I couldn't eat a whole piece in one sitting. I make it every year using her hot milk cake recipe that includes this precise atmospheric direction: Bake on a nice day only. To reduce the sweetness, I make a lighter frosting using whipped egged whites and toast the coconut that goes on top.

Swaddling clothes

Winter_sunWinter's early morning sun / New Jersey / Dec. 2013

It snowed and the flakes clung to everything they fell on. It turned suddenly cold. Brisk, but not biting. I pull on my leg warmers and Mitza laughs and says they would make GGMom (the Jelisava) happy. As an infant, when left to her care, she swaddled me in whatever she had around to keep me safe and warm. Like socks on my hands. Now I swaddle myself in colorful neckerchief bandannas knit with soft wool and silk, wrist warmers on the pulse points, and leg warmers around the ankles to keep out the cold and warm the feet. As Pappy would say, I get it honest.