Cornbread & Sunday Sunshine

As I record my cornbread recipe, it has become increasingly overcast and a light drizzle moistens the air. Not so earlier this morning. When I looked out an upstairs window, the day was delightfully bright, crisp, and shiny.

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April 7, 07h57

With my first cup of coffee, I processed yesterday’s cooking pictures. Going downstairs to fetch another cup, I took my camera with me for a delightful stroll among our newly sprouting green stuff. That gave me the opportunity to mingle pictures of sauteed onions with those of delicate vine leaves to make my¬†recipe a little more adventurous.

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Saturday’s kitchen session revolved around Southwest flavors which we miss over here in France quite a bit. That is until we discovered a French online business called “My American Market” where we now order things like creamed corn and Rotel chile&tomatoes, not to mention pancake mix and, yes, Cheetos.

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The 13 ingredients for my cornbread, 14 if you count the eggs individually ūü§ď

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Firstly, combine the dry ingredients:

  1. 1 package Jiffy corn muffin mix
  2. 1 rounded cup cornmeal
  3. 2 tsp baking soda
  4. 1/2 tsp salt
  5. 1 rounded Tbl crushed, toasted cumin seeds
  6. 1 tsp powdered cumin seeds
  7. 1/2 tsp¬†piment d’Espelette

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Then add the moist ingredients:

  1. 10 oz of the creamed corn
  2. 4 Tbl Rotel tomato-and-chile bits without the liquid
  3. 2 eggs, lightly beaten with 1 Tbl of Rotel liquid & some freshly ground nutmeg
  4. 2 Tbl honey
  5. 2 Tbl olive oil
  6. 1/4 cup finely shredded cheese [Comté in my case]

Blend well and pour into the baking dish of your choice. I decorated the top with the remaining creamed corn and coarsely chopped cheddar cheese.

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Using a convection oven, I baked the cornbread at 180¬ļC/350¬ļF for 10 min, lowered the temperature to 150¬ļC/300¬ļF and continued to back for another 30 min. The bread wasn’t quite done, so I added a few more minutes at 180¬ļC to finish the center and get a nicely browned top.

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While the bread was in the oven, the skirt steak¬†for our fajitas needs to be marinated. Some good quality olive oil, fajita seasoning, cumin seeds, coriander seeds, dried herbs, piment d’Espelette – or whatever comes to mind or happens to be laying around your pantry.

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We brought that olive oil back from San Sebasti√°n in January, it’s delicious.

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Looks like we might have some figs this year!

Meanwhile, it was time to slice and dice the vegetables, green and red bell peppers, yellow and red onions, and a little garlic for the fun of it.

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As usual, I sautéed my onions first by themselves at a low temperature to let them gently caramelize, before I added the peppers, garlic, and flavoring.

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When all the veggies were pretty much ready, I turned up the heat and added the juice of the zested lemon for a fruity finish. Truth be told, this kitchen version of fajitas, both the meat and the vegetables, is pretty much a lame second choice. Real fajitas should be charcoal grilled, nicely charred, and dripping with Tex-Mex flavor!!

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Our Clematis growing steadily over the pergola support.

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With a little avocado and a drizzle of Balsamico, it was pretty tasty, nevertheless.

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Marcus Meyer and the Winged‚Äč Lions

My sister Bianka did something pretty sneaky recently. She pushed my curiosity button, and I was hooked immediately.

As you know from my last post, my doctor condemned me to a somewhat semi-invalid situation with nothing but restful inactivity which is not half as much fun as you might imagine. Even in the household of two retired fuddy-duddies with neither pets nor children, there are constantly small things that one “does”. Not doing them drives me bonkers¬†but I must be sensible and continue to recline, if not gracefully, at least grateful that I do have the leisure to do so thanks to my husband who not only picks up the slack but cooks tastily.

However, physical inactivity leads to excessive browsing through social media, where I stumbled across my sister’s post of photos she took while walking through a Hamburg, Germany, neighborhood on a November weekend. The Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg is a vibrant city with a long and proud past as an independently governed city-state.

Hamburg’s upwardly mobile history began in 808 CE, when Charlemagne, Holy Roman Emperor, and original¬†Pater Europae¬†ordered a “burg” or fortification to be built somewhere near the confluence of the rivers Elbe and Alster to better defend his Frankish realm against the raids of peoples not yet integrated into his domain, like Slavic and Saxon tribes. The castle became known as Hammaburg, eventually written as Hamburg. The meaning of the hamma part is hitherto unknown. Although such a riverside location close to the sea has enormous growth potential, it may invite calamity as well. The citizens of Hamburg have certainly experienced both.

Some aspects of the city’s past onto which my sister’s post touched became the starting point for a meshuggeneh internet search about Sephardim¬†and Holsteiners. Such an odd combination, don’t you think?¬†The photos Bianka posted contained place names like Krayenkamp, Markusplatz, j√ľdischer Friedhof [Jewish cemetery], and Gro√üneumarkt which eventually lead me to the work of a Dr. Otto Adalbert Beneke (1812 – 1891) director emeritus of the State Archives in Hamburg and also a published author of historical non-fiction. Through Wikisource, I found his lovely and entertaining book called “HAMBURGISCHE GESCHICHTEN UND SAGEN, erz√§hlt von Dr. Otto Beneke”, meaning “Stories and Legends from Hamburg, as told by Dr. Otto Beneke”. On page 280 we can read the story of a¬†Marcus Meyer which I am retelling in English, below.

Dr. Beneke’s book is written in a manner of German used in the 19th century, printed in an antique blackletter typeface to match. It is a delight to read and I wish you could enjoy it with me. For German speakers: “… um in liegenden Gr√ľnden seine Verewigung hypothecarisch sicher zu stellen …”.¬†This passage alone is as lovely as any Shakespearian¬†sentence, expressive, precise, yet poetic. Sadly, it’s beyond my capabilities to write in an equivalent style in English, therefore I didn’t properly translate the narrative, choosing instead to retell it in my own words but following the storyline as closely as possible. In the “Marcus Meyer” Wikisource link above, the German text was transcribed into a modern font for easier comprehension. I do prefer to read the old script, though! I took a screenshot of a partial page to give you a glimpse of the original.

Auszug aus Otto Beneke HH Geschichten und Sagen

Excerpt, Otto Beneke “Hamburger Geschichten und Sagen”

         My modern English version:

[Venice and Hamburg once shared a similarity, a place called St. Marcus Square. Both squares had winged lions. In Hamburg, the square no longer exists, but the lion image can still be seen in the Hamburg Museum.]

In the olden days, a neighborhood of Hamburg called Neustadt or New Town lay outside the gates and ramparts of the town proper or Old Town. Gradually, farmers from the surrounding countryside became inscribed in the St. Nicolai parish of Neustadt, populating the ever-growing area with their vegetable gardens which were called Kohlhöfe, cabbage farms. During the time of the 1563 black plague, the St. Nicolai church made two plots of land available to be used as burial grounds for the pestilence victims.

One of these was called the Krayenkamp because, according to legend, the corpses buried there lured large murders of crows [Kray¬†possibly low German for Kr√§he = crow; Kamp = field]. Then again, ‚ÄúKraye‚ÄĚ may simply have been, ever so boringly, the name of a former tenant of that piece of land.

The other graveyard between the cabbage farms laid fallow till St. Nicolai leased it to a Harm Husmann in the year 1623. Farmer Husmann hoped to gain a nice profit from crops grown in the rich soil fertilized by all those ancestral bones. From 1627 to 1653, his plot neighbored yet another burial ground, that of the Portuguese Jews who had settled in Hamburg since about 1612.

There lived in Neustadt a man by the name of Marx Meyer, who lived a blameless life¬†respected by his peers. His one weakness, though, was vanity. Oh, how he longed to be a proper dignitary in Old Town, a senator perhaps or an alderman, but such ranks were beyond the reach of a suburbanite. When permission was granted for the formation of a militia unit to safeguard Neustadt against roaming marauders, Marx Meyer soon advanced to the position¬†of captain. Many a humble Christian would have been content with such a rank and the resulting elevated standing in the community. Not so our captain who¬†realized that a militia rank would hardly inscribe his name in the history books, specifically his precious new name, since he now signed his name¬†as ‚ÄúMarcus‚ÄĚ Meyer. Captain Meyer’s determination to preserve this beautiful name for posterity was so strong that he came up with the¬†ingenious¬†idea of buying himself an¬†alleyway or a square¬†to be named after him. Why not mortgage his immortality to the chartered ground of Neustadt,¬†he reasoned. He donated 100 L√ľbische Mark to the coffers of St. Nicolai for which the church treasurers awarded him with a name for the remaining¬†acreage of the¬†black plague boneyard next to farmer Husmann’s cabbage patch. In a document dated September 7, 1625, the churchmen pledged ‚Äúthat in his honor, the aforementioned square shall henceforth be known by his name as Sanct-Marcus-Kirchhof‚ÄĚ. As a little bonus, they also allowed him to erect a monument to himself, at his own expense, naturally. Thus, in one fell swoop, a lowly Lutheran militia captain was not only inscribed in the temporal archives of Neustadt’s history but he became miraculously canonized for eternal immortality in the Papal¬†register! Indubitably, Marcus Meyer died¬†a happy man.

But already during his lifetime, Marcus Meyer’s so desperately craved name recognition slipped through the cracks of common remembrance in the local population. When a Paul Langermann built a¬†house at said¬†Sanct-Marcus-Kirchhof or St. Marcus Square¬†in 1641, he attributed its name to the Evangelist¬†St. Mark in whose honor he forthwith commissioned a bas-relief stone plaque picturing the saint’s emblem, a winged lion, to be incorporated in the front wall of his house.

Roughly one hundred years after these events, the Krayenkamp plot became the building site of the Hanseatic baroque Hauptkirche Sankt Michaelis, one of the five Lutheran main churches in Hamburg. The church is affectionately called “Michel” by seamen and citizens alike. Its copper-clad spire isn’t just a well-recognized landmark, it also functioned as landfall mark for ships sailing up the River Elbe.

The sentence in Dr. Beneke’s story in which I became most interested reads like this: “… Von 1627 bis 1653 haben dann dicht daneben die seit 1612 aufgenommenen Portugiesischen Juden ihre Todten bestattet.” Which translates to “between 1627 and 1653 the Portuguese Jews who had been accepted since 1612 interred their dead next door.”

Who were those “Portuguese Jews”, traders in the most part, who had indeed been tolerated and even appreciated in the Lutheran Hanse Town of Hamburg despite some intermittent ruckus with the clergy? I’ve come across references to Portuguese Jews before, including in historical fiction, but this time, I was determined to dig a little deeper. And, there arises quite naturally another question. Why were there such precise and limited dates given for their burial practices? Let’s begin with a little background research.

For the last couple of thousand years or so, circumstances drove many Israelites further and further away from Eretz Yisrael and their Semitic roots. The Babylonian and Egyptian exiles are known well enough, I assume, but according to a medieval Spanish text, there may also have been a Jewish presence in the Iberian peninsula as early as the time of the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem which culminated in the destruction of the sacred Temple of Solomon in 587 BCE. Israelite captives were brought to Hispania by ship, the text states, and one such sea captain is even referenced by named as Phiros the Greek, who was commissioned by the Babylonian conquerors to transport the Jews. However, this has not been historically substantiated.

Significant waves of migrations were triggered by the Roman occupation of Judea leading to the destruction of Jerusalem and the Second Temple in 70 CE. During the Roman domination over the Levant and the Middle East, Jewish migrations as far as India and China are documented. Other groups began to spread through Central Europe and from there into the Slavic East, while a large number of Jews followed Phoenician trade routes and dispersed circum Mediterraneum, through northern Africa into the Iberian peninsula. Still, others wandered counterclockwise around the Mediterranean Sea through Greece and Illyria into Venice and Northern Italia – all the while settling along the way, forming new Jewish communities in the diaspora.

Historically, through these migrations, three distinct Jewish ethnicities developed out of the Biblical Israelite people. The Central European group became known as Ashkenazim [“Ashkenaz” meant Germanic in Medieval Hebrew], while the Mediterranean Jews of the Maghreb, Portugal, and Spain were grouped into the Sephardim [“Sefarad” meaning Hispania in Hebrew]. Lastly, in contrast¬†to the developing European Jewry, the Mizrahim [“Mizrach” meaning East in Hebrew] are descendants of Jews who lived across the Middle East, in Babylon, Syria, Iraq, and far beyond, including the Caucasus regions and Yemen.

Taking a closer look at Jewish life in ancient Hispania, we see that it had its ups and downs, believe me! After the Roman empire pretty much fell apart with the influx of the Goth from the Baltic region across most of Europe, their western branch, the Visigoth, eventually settled in the Iberian peninsula during the 5th and 6th centuries CE. This worked out well for the Jewish communities therein until the formerly tolerant Goth converted to Catholicism toward the end of the 6th century, resulting in severe taxation and pogroms. Thus, when Tariq Ibn Ziyad rode into town in 711 CE, the establishment of a¬†Caliphate was welcomed by Jewish leaders hoping for relief from oppression. The centuries of Islamic rule over the Iberian peninsula weren’t necessarily one long holiday¬†on the sunny beaches of Andaluc√≠a for the Jews, but all in all, al-√Āndalus constituted a period of relative peace for the roughly half a million Jews living in Spain at the time, making Medieval Sephardim the largest and most prosperous group of Jews in a diaspora.

Sephardic religious worship and its intertwined secular culture were shaped by the exchanges and discussions between Greek, Persian, Arabic, and Hebraic thinkers, philosophers, poets, mathematicians, and physicians during this invigorating period between late antiquity and the emerging Mediterranean medieval world. When Hebrew scholars began to incorporate Aristotelian worldviews into liturgical tradition, it marked the chasm between the Iberian Sephardic Rite and the worship practices of Ashkenazim which remained aligned with Rabbinic and Halakhic writings. Thus the Central and Eastern European Ashkenazim developed their distinct identity through introspection and stringent adherence to Hebraic traditions in a generally hostile Christian environment. Although they too benefited from periods of acceptance and respect, the Ashkenazim never experienced the same degree of an almost joyous mingling of cultures as the Sephardim enjoyed in the Iberian peninsula.

During long phases of relative freedom in Muslim Iberia, the Sephardim were not as severely segregated from their Christian and Islamic neighbors as happened later under Catholic rule, so they developed a language based on medieval Spanish mixed with Hebraic loanwords which is called Ladino. Just for the fun of it, I listened to a recording of a Ladino speaker and to my surprise, despite my poor Spanish, I got the gist of it [she spoke about the preparation of a plato t√≠pico, a regional dish which made it easier to comprehend ūüėé].

As we have seen, the expansion of the Roman Empire into Judaea and the destruction of the Second Temple triggered migrations not only to Iberia but also into Central Europe. Many of the descendants of Jewish slaves taken to Rome gradually drifted north across the Alpes, almost like a counter-migration to the Goth invasion of southern and western Europe. A Jewish presence in K√∂ln [Cologne] goes as far back as 321 CE, and the granting of “Imperial Privileges” for the Synagogue of Cologne in the year 341 indicates a sizable community. These early settlers were soon joined by more and more displaced Jews, gradually making their way across Central Europe into areas we now call Lithuania, Ukraine, Belarus, B√∂hmen, Poland, Russia, and so forth.

Along the way, roughly between the 9th and 13th century, a new, uniquely Ashkenazi language developed called Yiddish. Its base is medieval High German, enriched with many Hebrew expressions. There are two main dialects, one more strongly grounded in German, while the other has its roots in Slavic and Romanic languages, and both are spiced with regional flavors. As a personal aside, I want to mention the first meeting between my German mother and my American mother-in-law. Neither spoke the other one’s language, but Yiddish made an initial conversation possible between these two lovely ladies. Subsequently, during my early married life in the US, every time my dear father-in-law used a Yiddish term, he would turn to me, ready to explain and I would have to laugh because it’s just German with a funky pronunciation! Like so many others, the following colloquial German expressions were derived from Yiddish: Bammel haben – anxiously anticipating something, like an exam; Ganove – crook; Mischpoke – originally extended family, later on, something more like rabble; Tacheles reden – clarifying something forcefully; Schmiere stehen – lookout [during the commission of a crime]; dufte – great, cool; Zoff – strife, troubles; geschlaucht sein – to be exhausted; Ramsch – cheap stuff; Blau machen – skip work or school without permission; ausgekocht – cunning; einseifen – to trick someone; Maloche – exhaustingly hard work; abzocken¬†– to take advantage of or rip off someone [This is not a term a woman would use in polite company ūüė≥]. From the 16th through the 20th centuries across Germany and Eastern Europe, Yiddish was much more than a language, it was more than a cultural assertion, it was the beating heart of a people, united in the midst of the diaspora. Despite the deep cleft between Ashkenazim and Sephardim, there is one thing at least their diasporic languages have in common. Traditionally both are written in a form of cursive Hebrew.

After our short linguistic digression, let us consider the fate of the Sephardim during the Reconquista, the “re-conquering” of the Iberian peninsula by Catholic rulers. The textbooks tell us that the Reconquista pitched Moorish invaders against the rightful rulers of the Iberian peninsula, Catholic Spaniards, who gloriously freed their realm from oppression. Especially during the years of Fascism in Spain, the Reconquista was termed as righteous Crusade versus Jihad. One might, however, view certain aspects of this nearly 800-year struggle a little differently.

Until the merge of the Kingdom of Castile with the Crown of Aragon, and the annexation of a part of Navarre, there was no “Spain” as we understand it in modern times. Conveniently skipping pre-history, we move straight into Iberian proto-history when the peninsula was populated by an assortment of indigenous tribes with the addition of a few Celtic immigrants. Beginning in the 10th century BCE, adventurous Phoenician traders, ever so courageously sailing along the Mediterranean seashore, settled in Hispania, establishing, among others a harbor now called C√°diz. Greek merchants followed suit, and ultimately the Carthaginians from North Africa populated large swatches of Hispania. With the final destruction of Carthage, Rome took over and gradually subdued all others until the peninsula became a Roman province during the rule of Emperor Augustus and beyond. It was Roman tyranny which brought large groups of Israelites to the Iberian peninsula in the first centuries of the Common Era.

And then came the Visigoth, see above.

When Maghrebine Berbers and their Umayyad overlords crossed the Strait of Gibraltar in the early 8th century, they intended to expand their sphere of influence into the Visigoth domain. A move, one would have to consider to be no different from previous ethnicities having crossed established borders in search of new territory.

It was, in fact, a very fortuitous moment for the fledgling Islamic caliphate to stretch its wings beyond the newly subdued North African region. The Visigoth kingdom in Hispania was mired in disarray through dynastic infighting. Thus, when Tariq Ibn Ziyad, possibly the son of a freed Libyan Berber in the service of Musa bin Nusayr, Governor of Ifriqiyah, the Maghreb as we call it now, fought the initial battle against the Visigoth king Roderic, it was no big surprise that he prevailed, at least in hindsight. Over the next few years, this initial victory snowballed into Umayyad rule across the entirety of the Visigoth’ Iberian holdings, with the notable exception of Asturia. Well, possibly. Historical records are a smidgen fuzzy about the details.

You see, there was this Gallaecian-Visigoth guy called Pelayu or Pelagius, son of Fafila Dux of Gallaecia. Dad having been killed by Wittiza, another one of a multitude of Visigoth kings drifting in and out of Iberian history during these times of upheaval, young Pelayu, our orphaned squire, became a latter-day hero of the Reconquista. Sometime between 718 to 740 CE, Pelayu allegedly rebelled against Umayyad rule. A small army under the leadership of a Muslim named Alkama and a Christian-Visigoth bishop named Oppa, who may have been a half-brother of murderous king Wittiza, was dispatched against Pelayu and his band of “30 wild donkeys”, as reported in Muslim chronicles. The donkeys won the day and victorious Pelayu returned to his ancestral region where the local leadership proclaimed him Principes of Asturia creating him the founding father of the Kingdom of Asturia, which for some time was pretty much the only Christian political entity in Islamic Iberia. Subsequently, many a Visigoth noble and disposed kinglet gathered in the Asturian exile planning revenge against the al-√Āndalus subjugators. Skirmish by skirmish, Asturia grew into the Kingdom of L√©on, out of which the Counties of Castile and Portugal arose. Eventually, and with a strong helping hand of other European ruling Houses, who worried greatly about the Islamic presence in Iberia, the Christian position in the peninsula strengthened¬†and developed into several emerging powers, like L√©on, Castile, Aragon/Naples, Pamplona/Navarre, Portugal, Barcelona/Catalonia, and so forth, gradually shrinking the Islamic power base to one last caliphate. Fast forwarding to 1491, the deciding victory of their Most Catholic Majesties of Castile and Aragon over the last Iberian Emir in Andalucian Granada, brought all non-Catholic culture in the Iberian peninsula to a crashing halt. The now dominant kingdoms of Castile and Aragon, incorporating also the southern portion of Navarre, would ultimately emerge as the unified Kingdom of Spain¬†during the 16th century. Voil√°, Catholic Spain was finally born, almost a hundred years after the rule of al-√Āndalus in the Iberian peninsula had ended.

A few months after the victory in Granada, the infamous Alhambra Decree forced practicing Jews to leave the kingdoms of Castille and Aragon by midnight of July 31, 1492, or 8 Av 5252 in Jewish reckoning, the day before the Fast Day of Tisha B’Av, which is the annual commemoration of disasters that befell the Israelites through history during the month of Av. For instance, both Temple destructions happened in Av. During the summer of 1492, many Jewish families¬†gathered their belongings and walked toward Lisbon and Porto in Portugal where they hoped for more tolerance when, only six years later, royal Portuguese ambitions threw another spanner in their hopes for a peaceful co-existence. The Portuguese king was eager to marry a Castilian Infanta but his chances were pretty much nil unless he could please her Most Catholic royal parents of his Christian zeal which lead to a forced mass conversion and related hardships. By 1497 most Jews had left the Iberian Peninsula in search of more hospitable shores, some of which were to be found eventually in northern Europe, mostly in Hamburg, Amsterdam, and London. Thus our “Portuguese Jews” of boneyard fame in Neustadt were the descendants of Sephardim escaping the Inquisition and the¬†Edict of Expulsion of ¬†1492 in Spain and subsequently the Portuguese Edict of Expulsion.

I wonder if anyone is aware that the modern Kingdom of Spain has acknowledged the ill deeds of the Houses of Castile and Aragon in the name of the Reconquista. Since the early 20th century, Spain has granted automatic citizenship to Sephardim returning to Spain. In 2012 Spanish citizenship was extended to the global Sephardic community without the requirement of residency. A truly unique gesture of reconciliation, as no other European nation has granted this privilege to atone for their past expulsion policies, of which there were many.

Now that we have returned in one piece from the hardships of Medieval Iberia, thus solving the “Sephardim” portion of the originally posed question of Sephardim and Holsteiners, we still have to tackle those Holsteiners, won’t we? The name goes back to the Holcetae, as the Romans called them, a Saxon tribe living along the northern bank of the River Elbe near Hammaburg. According to Medieval chronicler Adam of Bremen, their name translates to “those who dwell in the woods”.

Of course, Holstein can also refer to black and white milk cows, but as far as placenames go, our Holstein is the region to the North of Hamburg, traditionally occupying an area between the rivers Elbe and Eider. Throughout its history, Holstein was pulled hither and thither through frequent subdivisions, merges, and changes in ownership. At times belonging to the Holy Roman Empire, it was for far longer periods of time either a Danish possession or under the administration of the kings of Denmark. During the time of the Viking Age, when they sailed their sleek warships further and further South looting and burning, the Catholic Church moved inviolably North, converting Odin’s warriors to Christianity along the way. The Prince-Archbishopric of Bremen and Hamburg, jointly owned by the Holy Roman Emperor and the Catholic Church, had been given jurisdiction over The Faith in Scandinavia and the Baltic-North by the Pope. A certain Magister Adam, a member of the Church of Bremen, whose wisdom we’ve encountered just a few sentences ago, traveled with great enjoyment through Scandinavia. In 1070 he was a personal guest of King Sweyn II Estridssen of Denmark who told him long and detailed stories of Viking history over many a keg of mead, I imagine. Back home, Adam of Bremen spent three years writing his Ňívre √©pique of the Archdiocese and her Bishops. His Gesta Hammaburgensis¬†Ecclesiae Pontificum [Heroic Tales of the Bishopric of Hamburg] wasn’t limited to church history, though, it included a Norse history with unique geographical details of Northern Europe based on his Scandinavian travels. And, remarkably, the Geste incorporated the story of the Viking’s transatlantic journeys to legendary Vinland in modern-day Canada, as the Danish King had told him. Magister Adam’s chronicles of Viking travel to North America were the first such reports outside of Norse Sagas.

As tantalizing as these Viking exploits¬†are, we do have to focus on Holstein and, ultimately the town of Altona, because, as you well remember, we want to decode the reason why Jews buried their dead next door to the Hamburg St. Marcus square only for a few years which begs the answer to the simple question, where else did the Sephardim inter their dead? In order to approach an answer to this question, we have to take a look at something called the Thirty Years’ War. Extremely simply put, it was a Catholic versus Protestants [Lutheran Reformists] religious war that began in 1618. It turned into a major power play between twelve “Reformist” forces led by Sweden against six “Catholic” forces led by the Holy Roman Empire. When it was all over in 1648, thousands of castles and untold numbers of towns and villages were reduced to rubble, leaving large stretches of countryside scorched, mostly in the central combat region of what is now Germany. This war that began as a religious conflict, turned into a political war with profound results for the¬†European balance of power and with a long-lasting effect¬†on society at large. It claimed an estimated 20% of the European population, a geometric mean estimate of eight million people, of which less than half a million were combat casualties, while all others fell victim to famine and diseases like typhoid, dysentery, and the black plaque. Although this represents one of the highest war casualties ever recorded, I can’t help but think that nothing has changed through the intervening centuries. Civilians are still suffering the consequences of religious warfare and power games in contemporary conflicts.

Backpeddling ever so slightly, we return to Hamburg in the 16th century. Right next door to Neustadt, a fishing village grow along the banks of the River Elbe. It became known as Altona. And Altona became the first home of the German Jews when in 1611 Ernst Count of Schaumburg and Holstein-Pinneberg granted them the privilege of permanent residency. Soon thereafter Altona came under the jurisdiction of the king of Denmark who was also favorably inclined towards the Ashkenazim. Hamburg, on the other hand, wasn’t too keen on German Jews. They already had to deal with the Portuguese Jews, you see, and there’s a limit for tolerating those pesky Jewish migrants.

So there we have two communities in close proximity and a bunch of migrants clamoring for residency. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? As ever, back in the 16th and 17th centuries attitudes were, although black and white as in Christian versus Jew, nevertheless colored by practicality, politics, and Mammon. Sephardim in Hamburg were considered to be more valuable business partners owing to their Portuguese and Spanish connections which opened the spice, sugar, tobacco, cotton, and coffee markets to Hamburg traders. In general, the “Portuguese Jews” were wholesalers while the “German Jews” were retailers and as such small fry. The Jewish dilemma went back and forth between Altona and Hamburg for a while, during which time the Sephardim proudly presented many highly regarded members of their community, who were bankers, diplomats for foreign powers like Queen Christina of Sweden and the kings of Poland and of Portugal, there were also highly respected physicians, astronomers, philosophers, and thinkers, while the Ashkenazim were, officially, from 1567 onward only allowed residency in Hamburg as domestic employees in Sephardic households. Such irony, when you consider the many contributions to global knowledge by Ashkenazim. Beginning around 1627, the Hamburg Sephardim began a Talmud Torah, essentially a communal school to study Jewish Law. They met in the home of Elijah Aboab Cardoso for their lessons. In an amusing little aside, the aggrieved Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand II lodged indignant objections with the Hamburg Senate concerning this “synagogue” because Catholics weren’t allowed to have a church in this Lutheran town, but nobody paid any attention to the emperor’s whining. The Hamburg Sephardim organized themselves into a proper congregation under the guidance of a Chief Rabbi in 1652. The Ashkenazim had to take a more roundabout approach through the Danish and Prussian holdings surrounding Hamburg. They established a congregation around 1671 in Altona. Against expectations, the Altona Ashkenazim proved to be an invaluable asset for the fledgling community at large. King Christian IV bestowed the privilege of ship-building to the Jews of Altona which was instrumental for the vast expansion of the whale fishing industry there, bringing prosperity to the whole town.

In addition to the separately weaning and waxing fortunes of the Ashkenazi and Sephardic communities in Hamburg, there were traditionally separate burying grounds for German and Portuguese Jews. The Hanse town of Hamburg did not grant burial permission to Jews, so Danish Altona hosted the first of the Jewish cemeteries that gradually appeared in communities outside to Hamburg. However, during the Thirty-Years’-War civilian life in the countryside became increasingly dangerous, hence the standing militia in Neustadt that appointed Captain Meyer, as we’ve seen above. The dangers in outlying areas through cruel and ruthless bands of mercenaries became so imminent that the St. Nicolai parish gave permission for Jews to be buried in a specially designated plot in Neustadt, for a hefty fine, of course. Five years after the Westphalian peace accord in 1648, the Altona congregations disinterred their dead and brought them back home. The Jewish cemetery of Altona is unique as it contains both Ashkenazi and Sephardic graves. In the Ashkenazi section, the gravestones are upright and have Hebrew inscriptions, while the Sephardic markers lay flat and show richly adorned Portuguese¬†dedications.

It appears we have finally reached a conclusion to our search about Hamburg’s Portuguese Jews and the reasons for their temporary cemetery in Neustadt – not without uncovering a new puzzle, though: the curious fact that the Sephardic community in 1652 actively participated in the reburial of their ancestor’s remains, a practice which is not approved in Judaism. But do not fear, we will not go into it today!

Further Materials:

“The Thirty Years’ War: the first modern war?” a thought-provoking blog post by Dr. Pascal Daupin, Senior Policy Advisor at the ICRC, Policy and Humanitarian Diplomacy Division.

Mother Courage and her Children, the remarkable 1939 play by Bertolt Brecht. He uses the 30–Years-War to condemn the ideology of Totalitarianism and the actions of fascists.

http://jewishencyclopedia.com, this is the online version of an encyclopedia about all things Jewish published between 1901 – 1906 in 12 volumes. It has not been edited and therefore only contains references up to the 20th century.

A Roasted [temporary] Swansong

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As the glowing colors of Fall inevitably turn into the more muted tableaux of Winter, our longing for rich, savory, and warming food increases. Instead of imbibing refreshing cocktails on a sun-flooded terrace, we tend to focus on root vegetables and steaming broth slurped in a cozy inglenook, until once again, the earth’ axis is tilted more favorably for al fresco fun.

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In our kitchen, carrot, fennel, onion, and their brethren are usually slated to find themselves swimming in a bubbling bouillon. This time, though, I thought let’s switch it up a little. All scrubbed and trimmed, they looked so nice and orderly, why not roast them, for a change?

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So, I invented the following oven-roasted vegetable medley & steamed cod dinner:

Dos de Cabillaud Citron en Papillote avec ses l√©gume r√ītis et sa sauce yaourt

The inspiration for this dish proved to be a fairly shriveled and sadly abandoned little lemon in the fridge. I skinned the poor thing and soaked the pieces of desiccated rind in olive oil, heating it now and then in the oven when an opportunity arose, for example during the pre-heating phase.

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Later on, I used this lemon infused oil to marinate the cod filets, as well as adding the rind to the papillotes for additional flavoring.

The huge and wonderful head of garlic below wasn’t part of the recipe. I simply used the activation of the oven to turn it into an absolutely marvelously creamy delight.

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The preparations for our meal broke down into three stages. Firstly, the vegetables had to be roasted during which time the fish packages were to be prepared. While those baked in the oven, there was ample time to beat the yogurt sauce into submission.

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On the vegetable tray, we had sweet potatoes and pommes de terre grenaille [immature baby potatoes], baby carrots, leeks, fennel, red bell pepper, cherry tomatoes, red & yellow onions, and, a little belatedly, some parsley.

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Meanwhile, creating the papillotes proved to be a pain in the neck. Assembling the flavorings wasn’t the issue and they looked quite pretty, however …

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Preparing a bed for our fish with finely diced fennel, fennel greens, lemon zest, marinated lemon rind, lemon slices, and capers, plus coriander & cucurma powder.

 

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Cod, marinated in warm lemon oil, then flavored with mustard, salt, and cucurma powder.

 

… closing the darn parchment packages turned into a farce. My plan to staple the paper together fell apart rather quickly when our one and only stapler¬†failed to staple. Utterly and completely. Not a single staple made it through the paper, let alone fasten it. Neither did the¬†dimensions of the parchment sheets allow for tying it with Ficelle de Cuisine, kitchen yarn. Ultimately, all I could do¬†was crimp the parchment as firmly as possible, shove the loose bundles in the oven and hope for the best.

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The yogurt dip, one the other hand, was quickly blended and provided a fresh and creamy complement for the roasted vegetables and the fish.

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Dinner’s served, with a nicely chilled glass of Clairet de Bordeaux!

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Regarding the roasted vegetables:

The washed and dried vegetables were rubbed with olive oil. I pre-roasted the huge sweet potato while the oven came to temperature to be able to cut it into 3 pieces. During this time, I also roasted the head of garlic. Once the oven had reached 240¬ļC/220¬ļC convection, I placed the baking sheet with 2 sweet potato ends, the grenailles, and the leek & onion pieces in the oven to roast for 10 min. After that, the other veggies joint in the fun, all of which I dusted with freshly ground pepper, coarse salt, a little dry marjoram, and ground coriander. The total roasting time was about 30 min, it could’ve been less for the carrots and fennel pieces.

The ingredients for each fish package consisted of:

  • ~ 200 g skinless Cod filet, marinated for 15 min at room temperature in the preserved warm [not hot!] lemony olive oil
  • 1 tsp lemon juice drizzled on the fish
  • 1 tsp of stone-ground or sweet mustard shmeared over the fish
  • 1/2 tsp lemon zest
  • finely diced fennel & greens
  • some of the lemon rind pieces from the small lemon, previously incubated in warm olive oil
  • a few slices of the now rindless small lemon
  • a dusting of ground coriander
  • a dusting of ground cucurma
  • coarse salt to taste
  • finely diced parsley
  • fresh dill
  • a splash of olive oil
  • Capers to taste
  • Cherry tomatoes for color

Tightly close the parchment paper packages and bake at 200¬ļC/180¬ļC convection for 20 min. Let the fish rest in the unopened package till serving.

The ingredients for the yogurt dip were:

  • 125 g un-flavored yogurt [I used Greek-style]
  • 1 heaped Tbl honey
  • 1 heaped Tbl mustard of choice
  • 1 heaped tsp fresh lemon zest
  • juice of 1 lemon, amount to taste
  • white pepper to taste
  • salt to taste
  • 1 heaped tsp ground cucurma
  • 3 Tbl olive oil

Beat with a hand mixer until well blended and creamy. Adjust amounts of ingredients and seasoning to your taste.

Allow me to add a personal remark to conclude this post. As it happens, dodgy spinal columns and their associated troubles are a sad trademark in my family. After having done reasonably well for some time, including weathering our extensive travels last year and our move to Cognac earlier this year, I’m currently going through an “episode”. My exceedingly charming doctor has issued stern orders, condemning me to a period of utterly boring inactivity. No driving, no marketing, no housework [Yes!], but also no cooking [ūüėĪ] until further notice. Consequently, there won’t be any cooking posts for a while in this blog! However, I couldn’t bear for you to feel abandoned and rejected. Therefore I’d like to suggest you check out some of my Travel Posts at Photolera Claudinha’s other blog.

Under the search function “Home cooking” there are quite a number of cooking posts thrown in with my travel posts, not to mention stories about our former Costa Rican and Central Texas places. You might even enjoy some of my food-free Travel-through-Home-Exchanges posts from across the world, well, some small areas of our globe, anyway. ¬†I hope, this will keep you entertained for a while ūüėĀ

A bient√īt, mes amis !

 

 

 

 

 

 

A lot of Color & a few Beans

Fall Colors

In just a few hours, clocks will go back to standard time here in Europe. A good time, I thought, to celebrate another seasonal change, leaf color. We don’t have majestic maples nor delicate aspen around us, just vines. Vines and assorted evergreens.

Fall Colors

So let’s immerse ourselves in some crazy vines, shall we?

Fall Colors

Fall Colors

 

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Fall Colors

Fall Colors

Fall Colors

All that color made me hungry. Let’s whip up a quick and nutritious meal. Quick, that is to say, if you remembered to soak the haricots Tarbais for a few hours in the morning. Should you have forgotten, that’s alright, too. Bring the beans to a boil and cook for about 15 minutes. Drain and start again with fresh cold water. To flavor the cooking water, I like to use a small “pot” of vegetable bouillon.

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In the background, a portion of frozen chunky tomato sauce with yellow onions that I made a while ago for future use.

 

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We still had some dried Espelette chiles laying around, two of which I boiled with the beans to soften them. I could then scrape out the meat to be mixed with salt and olive oil for a spicy condiment to enliven all sorts of tame and boring foods.

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After about an hour and a half, the beans were done. I separated them into one bucket for some other time and a nice, smallish portion for our dinner. Those I pan-fried in duck fat with a few bacon bits and a lot of Curcuma and white pepper. the Curcuma [an immune system boosting root in the ginger family, also called Turmeric] turned the beans quite yellow. Such a lovely fit with our colorful post!

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Beans, sauce, and fettuccine are ready to go, let’s eat!

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Happy Autumn, my friends!

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Sook, by any other name, still Sook

 

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Today we commemorate my father-in-law’s fifth Yahrzeit. He was the kindest and gentlest father-in-law any woman could ever wish for and I loved him dearly.

 

MomDad.CR.2010

Irv “Sook” Leon, 15 August 1920 – 23 October 2013

 

In the summer of 2010, my in-laws stayed with us in Atenas, Costa Rica for several weeks, during which time we celebrated Sook’s 90th birthday.

MomDad.CR.2010

Owing to some health issues, he was instructed by his doctor to exercise regularly for strength and improved circulation. Since our house sat on a very steep hill, it was impossible for Sook to exercise by walking Рnot only for him, truth be told! Рso we developed a regiment including water exercises in the lap pool, followed by a tropical fruit smoothy and a nap in a comfy lounge chair on the shaded terrace. He quite liked this spa vacation routine!

MomDad.CR.2010

What he liked best about his water sport, I illustrated with the first picture in this post. The outside edge of the lap pool sat above¬†an almost vertical slope toward the tract below us. That’s the strip of grassy green curving along the bottom edge of the picture. Below that lot was another as yet unimproved homesite which the construction crew of a building site across the street used to play soccer during breaks. The builder brought the crew to the building site every morning around sunrise. He careened down the switchback road in a panel truck, the loading area filled to capacity with men tossed hither and fro during the sharp turns. Toward evening, the same truck with its human cargo could¬†be heard echoing across the canyons as its too-weak engine strained to conquer the impossible¬†gradient, the driver downshifting again and again in desperation. The crew foreman lived on the building site for the duration, thus functioning also as a night guard against theft. His wife cooked the meals for everyone and, as we observed from above, she also did some laundry for the guys. After meals, the older workers would prefer to play cards, while the younger ones released their energy with a vigorous game of soccer.

Sook would delight in watching these games from the pool because the hard-working men had such fun. The whoops and hollers of sheer joy easily rose to our level on the hill and we would cheer each goal with them. Every now and then, one of the players would kick much too forcefully, dropping the ball into the jungle of the canyon below. The men would then send their youngest and presumably most agile crew member to climb down and retrieve the precious object. Those were tense moments for us watching helplessly until we saw the kid climb back up without having been bitten by one of the vipers that live down there!

Sook was an avid reader and also enjoyed quiet times on the patio of the casita.

MomDad.CR.2010

Dinner out on the other hand wasn’t his most favorite thing, although he never complained. But he wasn’t an adventurous eater and the Costa Rican cuisine left him, shall we say, unimpressed. Here we are at La Trilla, which back then, was a little dark and murky, I have to admit.

MomDad.CR.2010

Both mom and dad are gone now and we cherish their memory.

MomDad02-LR-1020115-2

Coal Fish without Capers

When we moved into our new home in April, our green space, a courtyard garden between the house and the street had been maintained only in minimal fashion for some time. The previous owners had long moved to Spain and stayed in Cognac only sporadically. It fell to a neighbor and avid gardener to do the most urgent tasks whenever he could. Since he knew the garden so well, we had arranged with him to become our gardener of record. But soon after we moved in, he fell ill and outside of two brief sessions, he was never again able to continue the necessary work.

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Throughout the summer, always hoping he might be able to return, we watched the already unruly plants get completely out of hand. the vines grew over the barn shutters and invaded gutters and soffits, threatening the integrity of the tiled roofs of the barns. The poor cypresses drooped every which way with heavy loads of cones, and the mushrooming rosemary population proliferated beyond reason. It was high time to take action!

On the dot of eight on a greyish morning, a three-man crew of the “Thomas Espaces Verts” garden maintenance company arrived with their heavy equipment.

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Some of the work was quite precarious, especially at the laurel hedge along the wall to our neighbors. It had grown through the mesh cover of the pergola by several feet.

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Trying to scrape the vine tentacles off the white façade Рwith partial success only.

By 16 hrs, the job was nearly done and the agile monitor lizard went back on its trailer pad.

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That left only the clean-up of bits and pieces which the guys accomplished with the same professionalism they had shown all day, aided by leaf blowers and rakes, before driving off into the sunset.

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They were actually driving in an easterly direction, but that just doesn’t sound right, does it?

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Merci beaucoup, Monsieur Thomas et son équipe !

Meanwhile, in the house, some cooking was going on. Since we both like hearty soups and I am a smidgen lazy, I usually steam fish with fennel and capers as the last step of preparing a stew. For some unknown reason, this time, I decided to bread the fish and pan fry it. I don’t like breaded food, mostly owing to the unnecessary calories, but I have to admit that it can be delicious. When I was much more slender and so young that I naturally believed I would remain slender forever, I used to get a bagful of those deep-fried breading tidbits that the Long John Silver chain used to sell. Oh, those frivolous days of yonder!

The recipe I was planning to use for the breading called for the egg dip between the flour and the crumbs to incorporated cr√®me fra√ģche. Talk about calories!! What most intrigued¬†me, though, was the idea to mix the breadcrumbs with fresh dill. A great starting point for a flavorful¬†breading, I thought.

So, what are we cooking, then? Pollock or saithe or coalfish, that’s what we’re cooking. Pollachius virens, Gadidae, called lieu noir here in France. We’re also going to have skinny green beans with red onion & garlic & ginger confit, plus some peppers & dried tomatoes for color. ¬†And, an accidental side dish, satiny mashed potatoes.

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Here we have the potatoes which, after being started in cold water with a vegetable bouillon cube & salt, will be boiled for 20 min with a Tbl of the diced garlic.

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Dill & lemon zest will become part of the breading

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clockwise from top: nutmeg [for the potatoes], lemon zest [for the breading], marinated dried tomatoes [for the green beans]

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Breadcrumbs with salt, white pepper, powdered coriander, dried sage mixed with 2 Tbl of fresh, chopped dill and the zest of a smallish lemon.

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Before stirring 2 heaped Tbl (!) of cr√®me fra√ģche in the egg, I added a little anchovy paste to enhance the overall flavor

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The breaded lieu noir should rest in the fridge for 15 min [or longer] to let the breading adhere to the fish for frying. Meanwhile, one can look after the beans and their aromatic confit.

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Our other side dish, the mashed potatoes truly were an accident. My original intent was to mash the boiled potatoes with the “stick” attachment of a hand-held mixer, a weak immersion blender, as I believe they’re called. Only, the darn thing wouldn’t work. Well, the mixer worked perfectly fine, but I couldn’t open the sliding shutter covering the stick attachment site. The stubborn plastic thingy plain refused to slide further than halfway. Neither could I find the mixer manual in the drawer specifically designated to hold the manuals of all our large and small appliances. All of them, except the Bosch hand mixer, apparently. Lengthy search-and-rescue missions for operating instructions while hot potatoes wait for action, any action, and another dish¬†awaits stirring, isn’t such a hot idea. So I tossed the mixer back in the cupboard in disgust and poured the potato pieces with a little cooking liquid including the garlic bits, the nutmeg, a dollop of cream & butter, and some cr√®me fra√ģche in the blender, where it turned into this incredibly smooth and silky potato cream. Sort of like soft serve ice cream, only hot and potatoey.

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At least, nobody can say it’s monochromatic ūüėá

 

Potimarrons & Pfifferlinge

Potimarron.02-1330335

Our mission today is four-fold. Using everything shown above, plus a few additional ingredients like powdered coriander seeds & curcuma, cream, yogurt, duck fat, and, of course, Pfifferlinge, we are tasked to prepare a pot of cabbage stew, a cornbread, a baked potimarron, and, of course, those Pfifferlinge.

Recently we received an order of sorely missed American products from the “My American Market”, a mail-order company in France for American staples, including but not limited to instant jell-O, sweet relish, and crunchy Cheetos. This little package provided the wherewithal to bake my very first cornbread since we left Texas in 2014! And aren’t we all giddy in anticipation?

But first, we have to slice and dice a lot of the fresh ingredients needed for the Wirsing stew, the savoy cabbage you have met in the previous post, and the Pifferlinge in Sahnesoße or chanterelles in cream sauce which around here are known as chanterelles à la crème.

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Diced shallots, parsley, and those marvelous, purple carrots

I bought the funky carrots just for the fun of it. They taste just like regular carrots but render much more dramatic images ūüėé

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Whenever I pull out my large sauteuse for a one-pot meal, the cooking always starts with dry-toasting some spices. Today, we begin by roasting cumin seeds to a deep brown shade, after which some elbow grease is needed to crush the critters into submission.

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The crushed cumin is then divided between the cabbage stew and the cornbread.

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Two yellow onions slowly softening in duck fat and seasoned with crushed, toasted cumin.

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Onion in duck fat on the left –¬†shallots in sweet butter on the right

As I keep lecturing you ever so tediously, take your time with your aromatics! Aromatics Р as in the in the Genus Allium, not the hydrocarbon aromatics of organic chemistry Рneed to sweat in low heat to develop their sweet aroma.

When the onions are ready, we rasp some nutmeg over the vegetables and add salt & pepper. We also add 3 cloves and 2 bay leaves in the rubber turkey leg, as well as an additional laurel leaf [it was too large to fit in the turkey leg container], the diced carrots, and 3 cored Espelette chiles, shortly to be followed by a handful of diced red sweet peppers.

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…¬†while the shallots one burner over still sweat on their own for a little while longer till the time is right to toss our¬†Pfifferlinge into the pan.

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Now we have to focus on the small frying pan because one can’t safely leave one’s chanterelles unsupervised for too long. Soon, very soon, they’ll cry out for some cream.

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I also incorporated a teaspoon of Knorr “Jus de R√īti”, essentially roast beef essence, with the fungi and cream, before offering the creamy chanterelles with a slice of cornbread¬†as an appetizer to my Longhorn versus Oklahoma watching husband.

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Oh yeah, the cornbread! It baked quietly while we were enriching Pfifferlinge mit Sahne ūüėé

Potimarron.06-1330348Potimarron.19-1330383

As far as the cabbage stew is concerned, it practically cooks itself. After the bell peppers have made friends with the other ingredients, add the shredded cabbage to the sauteuse, wet it down with some water, season it, and finish it off with cream. All done!

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And what about the potimarron, you ask?

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It and the two heads of garlic plus a couple of Espelette chiles roasted in the oven for a good little while. I’ll use them as a base for soup¬†early next week.

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Autumn’s acoming, so there’ll be a lot more rich and belly-warming soups on the agenda! Stay tuned!!

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A rough table of contents for

A. Cornbread

  • 180 g yellow cornmeal
  • 90 g all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp¬†baking soda

[If you like your cornbread fluffy, add 1 tsp of baking powder]

  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp powdered coriander seeds
  • 1/2 tsp powdered curcuma
  • 5 turns of a peppermill with white peppercorns
  • 2 Tbl of light brown cane sugar

Combine the above, then add

  • 100 g natural, unflavored yogurt or Kefir [I used Greek-style yogurt]
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 Tbl honey
  • 350 g or most of a can of “Creamed Corn”
  • 75 ml olive oil

Mix well, but briefly. Pour the dough into a ~9″/24cm baking dish.¬†Spread remaining creamed corn in a circle around the top and sprinkle remaining crushed, toasted cumin over the creamed corn. Bake at 200¬ļC/180¬ļC convection/350¬ļF for 35 min. plus leave for 5 min in the turned-off oven.

B. Cabbage Stew

  • 2 Tbl duck fat
  • 1 tsp crushed, toasted cumin seeds
  • 1 Savoy cabbage
  • 2 yellow onions
  • 3 carrots
  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 3 Espelette chiles, seeds removed

[the chiles just add a bit of heat, I used them because they were around ūüėé]

  • 3 cloves & 3 laurel leaves
  • freshly ground nutmeg [~1/4 teaspoon]
  • zest of one small lemon
  • 250 ml water, more if needed
  • cream

C. Chanterelles in Cream

Not much to it. Soften the shallots in butter and gently heat the fungi. Season to taste and finish with heavy cream. Yummy!

D. Potimarron

Ditto. Clean out seeds and stringy stuff, cut up and bake/broil/cook at will!