Perhaps I got my love of travel and things foreign from my Grandmother. Whatever its origin, I definitely have it. One year for Christmas, she even gave me a globe! OK, I was a bit bratty about it because it wasn’t whatever stupid toy I thought I couldn’t live without, but it was one of my favorite “things.” I used to just sit on my bed holding it and looking at the Encyclopedia (yes, we had those in actual hard cover), planning my world tour.
On one of her trips my Grandmother (Grandmother was also her name as far we were concerned) went to Greece. She loved it and talked about it more than most of the other places she visited, except maybe Switzerland. Those conversations introduced me to all sorts of wonderful things, among them and for purposes of this post, baklava. So hold that thought.
It was also from my Grandmother that I heard the word “vegetarian.” I though the term referred to someone who liked vegetables. My mother informs me that my Grandmother’s cook shared that understanding. Family reading this will know immediately of whom I speak. Maybe I will post her caramel cake recipe!! Anyway, the exclusive properties of this new category had to be explained to me, but I was not impressed; nor did I participate in the ensuing kitchen debate over things like the inclusion eggs or seafood. I liked vegetables and still do (even though we no longer cook them with bacon or fat meat… at least not very often!), but my quite fertile imagination just couldn’t imagine limiting myself like that. For the record, many a good Southern meal, even the modern ones without the cooking fat, consist of vegetables only!
Well guess who was coming to dinner? Actually it was lunch, but I couldn’t resist the reference. I also had to call my mother to get the genealogically accurate answer to that question. My great, great, great aunt, her daughter, and her granddaughter, that’s who. They had acquired this dietary affliction through a German relative (as if that explains it). I can still hear my Grandmother as she declared, more than asked, “What in the world do vegetarians eat for lunch?” In late 1960s Mississippi, globalization had not yet to hit the Jitney Jungle, so many of the options which my Grandmother had probably enjoyed abroad were unavailable, even if heard of.
I had to call my mother to find out what Grandmother eventually served since I was not present at the “meal” preferring instead the world of kindergarten. My mother couldn’t remember exactly, but here’s what she did recall:
A “nasty” spinach salad (there was neither bacon nor egg)
Boiled corn (no butter, but at least there was salt)
Potatoes or rice (she didn’t remember which)
Some sort of green vegetable (because your Grandmother would not serve a meal without one)
I’m sure there was iced tea, so I didn’t ask. I’m also equally certain that the meal was flawlessly prepared and probably tasty as well, my dear mother’s comments notwithstanding. Less youth and experience have taught me that down South, any guests for any meal cause a kind of consternation that can only be described as masochistic.
The same thing applies to Southerners who live in places like, say… the Mid West. You definitely get more credit for “the thought” outside the South. Which brings up to the past Labor Day weekend’s events! And baklava.
While I was in Afghanistan, I became friends with several guys from Turkey. We quickly discovered that our differences, while significant, in no way prevented us from finding lots of common ground, especially where the combination of friends and food was concerned. I still correspond often with them and miss them terribly.
A few months ago I received a cryptic message from one of my friends in Turkey informing me that one of his friends would be coming here to study. He asked permission to give my contact information. No problem; however, no further information was forthcoming, not even in subsequent e mails. He is very security conscious.
When “the friend of my friend” arrived, he contacted me and said that he would like to come visit. Again, no problem. Well, it took several weeks of short and also cryptic e mails to get to the Sunday before Labor Day when I got a message that said they (not he) would be at my house tomorrow around noon. Good Heavens!
The answer to the question that some of you may have formed is, “Yes, they eat halal.” Travel with me back in time to my Grandmother’s kitchen… Now is a good time to get up and do whatever it is you are thinking about doing as you comment about how long this post is.
Aaaand we’re back- but in my kitchen reading labels and using the iPhone to google to make sure whatever we had was ok. Nix on the fried grits with crawfish cream sauce, although the fried grits would have been fine.
Fried grits smothered in crawfish cream sauce. Hungry?
Then I saw all the brie that remained from another party. YES! One of my all time favorite appetizers was about to become a sandwich! Known in my family simply as “brie treats,” they consist of slices of French bread, a paste made from nuts (I like pecans) and olive oil, slices of Granny Smith apple, and brie (sans mold). In that order. On a cookie sheet in a 400∘ oven for about 5 minutes to melt the cheese, and you’re done! Put them together ahead of time then just pop them in the oven as guests start to arrive or right before the meal depending on how you’re serving them. I don’t have any pictures, but these look really nice with lots of different food items.
The green salad we had was nothing spectacular, but of course, it was above average! We had the best tomatoes that one can expect in this part of the world at this time of year. They were average until I drizzled them with olive oil, sprinkled basil all over them, then slapped a thick slice of fresh mozzarella on top. The same conditions applied to the fruit salad except I used sugar, mint, and lemon juice instead of olive oil. And the tea? Lightly and perfectly sweetened. Our delighted and delightful guests thought it was so good it had to be Turkish tea!
I billed this lunch a typical of what Southerners would prepare for friends who dropped by for lunch. Sadly, that tradition has all but disappeared even down South. When this kind of lunch includes international guests as such occasions often do (or did), there must be some sort of culinary nod to the guests’ homeland. As it happened, there was one small container of baklava left in the refrigerator from the aforementioned party. With great trepidation I pulled it out, hoping that there wouldn’t be enough so I would not put myself through the angst of serving baklava to people whose people claim not only expertise in this pastry, but to have actually invented it! No such luck.
What do you have with baklava? You guessed it. Turkish coffee!
My Turkish coffee pot (cezve/ibrik) and one of the cups my friend sent to me via our now mutual friend.
Along with the baklava we had some slices of pears from our tree over which we drizzled some of the extra baklava syrup (There’s always extra. Always save it.). This thrilled and astounded our new friends especially since we had devoted a portion of the never- flagging dinner conversation to baklava. For those of you who are just now wandering into this blog, the recipe and pictures can be found in my post about parties and secrets. Just as I am apparently incapable of serving a simple meal (without at least trying to make it hard), I am also incapable of writing about one topic at a time. It’s just not that simple!
Penultimate note: I just wasn’t able to get any pictures of the actual meal. Apologies!
Final note: If you still want more evidence of my talent/tendency for guilding the lily, wait until you see what evolves around a white chocolate and ginger cheesecake that gets coated with a shell of white chocolate. Because I can.