Archive for Travels

Fun in CT

May 1980

When my farmer and I were in Connecticut we visited Mystic Seaport. It is a restoration of the famous whaling and ship building community as it was at the height of its prominence during the great clipper ship day of the 1850’s. Located on the Mystic River, whaling ships were built in the harbor, and businesses supplying the ships flourished in the town.

Going aboard the old fishing schooners and whaling ships revealed great wooden pens in the holds storing the catch. The sailor’s quarters were extremely primitive and absolutely no one had any privacy.

The galley (kitchen to us landlubbers) was small and had no counter space. To cook in it would be frustrating. There was a continual scarcity of fresh water. Flour, sugar, salt pork, molasses, beans, rice and vinegar were the only supplies. The guide didn’t mention if the sailors ate fish and I forgot to ask. Probably, they were too sick of the smell to eat them.

When the whaling ships left port the barrels for holding the oil from the captured whales were not assembled in order to save space. Each stove’s position in the barrel was indicated by a Roman numeral carved in the wood. They were then put together at sea, secured by iron rings and bottoms put in. After being filled with whale oil the top circular lid was adjusted and the oil safely stored for the rest of the voyage.

Sometimes the ships left port with old oil barrels filled with water, but the sailors didn’t like the taste the remains of the whale oil gave the water.

In the chandler’s shop, a general store for all shipping supplies, navigation instruments, ship’s lanterns, sextants, chronometers, compasses, and seagoing charts were on display. Here I met Charlie Zuccardy, an age compacted man dressed in sagging tan pants, blue plaid shirt, and a scruffy beige colored sweater. He was working as a guide and told us his story.

“I was born on April 23, 1885 in Italy. That is the birthday of William Shakespeare and Shirley Temple, too. I came to America at the age of seven and my father died soon after wards. We were so poor my brother and I had to help Mom keep our bodies and souls together. We kids scrounged firewood and coal from along the railroad tracks to keep our house warm.”

“We lived in New London, Connecticut,” Charlie said. “Eugene O’Neil, the playwright and I were playmates. When I was about fourteen I met and talked with Mark Twain. I married at the age of eighteen and went to work in the Palmer & Son Shipyard in Noak, Connecticut to support my family. I became a ship’s joiner and did a lot of cabinet work until I retired at the age of 71 in 1956.”

“Not working was hard on me and after seven years of retirement I came here to work seventeen years ago.” Charlie looked with pride at the ship and continued, “Then my wife died. We’d been married 62 years and I almost went out of my mind grieving. All purpose in my life was gone. I walked the streets. I couldn’t stay home. All was dark and life held nothing for me. Finally, after two years of deep despair, I sorted out my thoughts. What I found helped me back to life.

Now I want to tell as any people as I can so they can rescue themselves if they, too, are discouraged.”

As Charlie talked he had looked shriveled and an aged 94 years. Now he straightened his shoulders and with eyes glowing he came straight to the core of his truth.
“Everyone has troubles. You can’t expect to go through life without trouble. To me the troubles of life are like being out on a river rowing a boat against the tide. If you give up and quit rowing you drift out to sea. But if you gather all your strength and keep on rowing the tide will finally change and you will make it ashore. So don’t ever give up. Don’t be discouraged.”

And my farmer and I took his advice with us back to the plains of Kansas.

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Spice it up this Weekend

After a brief break I’m back. Here is a great article about some family friends along with some great recipes for some Indian dishes.

April 1984

In a white, two- story house high on a hill in a small Connecticut town Kaberi Chakraborty from Calcutta cooks Indian style food in her American style kitchen.

Since her home is the second floor of my kids’ New England house, the savory smells from her kitchen often floated down the indoor stairway while I was visiting there in January. Quite often, to my joy, Kaberi also floated down with a plate of choice morsels to be sampled – sometimes there was enough for a whole family of hungry food samplers.

While we visited it was easy for Kaberi and me to bridge the cultural gap with our mutual interests in both food and children – her two and my grandson whom she cares for during weekdays. Her good command of the English language also helped. Most of Kaberi’s past life spent in Calcutta was far removed from my Midwestern life experiences, but we shared together common concerns about home and family.

She and her husband, Phanindra, and daughter Sangeeta, now sixteen, came to the United States 6 years ago. They are of the higher class Brahmins (though officially abolished in India the caste system still exists) and are Hindus. Kaberi’s mother is an actress. He worked in a bank in India, but is an office manager now.

Phanindra and Kaberi’s marriage was arranged by there families. They never saw each other until their wedding day. According to Sangeeta her parents love and respect each other and the marriage is very successful. After coming to America the Chakrabortys were elated to have a son, Somudra, now five years old. He’s one of the fastest and brightest kids I’ve ever seen.

Phanindra loves to play chess with his men friends and he is in the professional class of bridge players. Like most of his American compatriots he helps with the homework. Kaberi is very influential in the daily affairs of the household, presiding over it graciously in her Indian style clothing. The rest of the family wears American clothes and Sangeeta looks identical to any other American teenager.

Here are the recipes Kaberi is sharing with us:

Samosas (Curried Pastries)

Pastry:

2 cups all-purpose flour

¼ cup ghee (clarified butter)

½ teaspoon salt

1 cup milk soured with a little lemon juice

Vegetable oil for deep-frying

Filling:

6 large potatoes

1 cup green peas

½ cup raisins

½ cup peanuts

2 teaspoons turmeric powder

4 teaspoons cumin powder

2 ½ teaspoons salt

3 teaspoons sugar

½ teaspoons ground red pepper

4 tablespoons oil

Peel potatoes and cut in small pieces. Heat oil in heavy pot, add the potatoes, peas, spices, salt and sugar. Cook for 20 to 30 minutes on low flame with the cover on. Add a little water if necessary. Add the peanuts and raisins. Stir well.

Method: Stir the flour in a bowl, rub in the ghee and add the salt. Stir in the soured milk gradually to form a hard dough which is velvety to the touch. Chill.

Break the dough in pieces. Roll out into very thin circles. Cut in half. Spoon a little filling in the center of each semi-circle. Fold in half to make a triangular cone shape, enclosing the filling. Moisten the edges of the dough with sour milk and press together to seal.

Deep-fry in hot oil for about one minute until the pastry is golden brown. Drain. Serve hot..

**Ghee is butter after it has been slowly cooked until light brown. The clear oil poured off from the milky residue and stored to be used when ghee is needed.

Makes about 25.

Puri or Luchi

½ cup whole wheat flour

½ cup white flour

½ cup oil

¼ cup water, approximately

Mix all but water. Add enough water to make a soft pliable dough. Knead until smooth.

Divide into 10 small balls. Roll on floured board into a 4-inch circle. Fry in hot oil. Keep warm in oven while frying others. They will puff up and float to the top while being fried.

Red Lentil Dal

1 cup red lentils

½ teaspoon turmeric

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon cumin powder

3 cups water

1 tablespoon oil

1 medium onion, chopped

1 clove garlic, minced

1 hot yellow or green pepper

Cook first five ingredients until mushy, (approximately 45 minutes). Mix with beater. Fry onion, garlic and pepper in oil. Add to the dal and cook 5 minutes. Serve with rice.

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Ice Cream and the Vineyard

My grandmother loved ice cream and wrote of it often in her columns. Below she describes an interesting ice cream shop that I plan on visiting again next week at the Vineyard.

 

June 1980

 

A feature story in Time last month covered in detail Americans’ passion for ice cream which reaches its peak in the New England states. They lead the nation in per capita consumption of the sweet confection. Having just spent two weeks in Connecticut and Massachusetts my farmer and I know that New Englanders do, indeed, have this addiction.

Ice cream stores are everywhere to tempt one with their delightful delicacies. One day I polished off 4 double dip cones, each with 2 different flavors of ice cream because I couldn’t choose which one of the beguiling flavors I wanted to lick for my own personal gustatory pleasure. To be perfectly objective I tried all of my top eight favorites and left the rest to be sampled on other days.

It was during the week spent on Martha’s Vineyard, an island 23 miles long and 7 miles wide, located in the Atlantic Ocean about an hours boat ride from Woods Hole, Massachusetts, that I came face to face with the Cadillac of the ice cream business – Mad Martha’s Ice Cream Store.

The owner was driven to writing poetry on his walls to express himself lyrically on the epicurean delight he offered in his store. His listed 35 flavors ranged from plain vanilla to an exotic mixture called heavenly hash. He also specialized in some distinctly peculiar flavors.

I sampled Large Mouth Bass ice cream made, as he bragged, with only the freshest vineyard fish. After tasting this, I personally, would just as soon eat pickled pigs feet ice cream. Wiser from this revolting experience I steered clear of quahog chowder ice cream, chicken noodle ice cream, (boasting the finest white meat of Perdue chicken) and bubble gum ice cream with a wad in every cone.

The store’s prize listing was advertised as a pig’s dinner which you ordered by oinking. It was billed as 1 dozen scoops of ice cream, 2 bananas, hosed down with whipped cream, many cherries, and a nose full of nuts – all this for $9.95.

This type of humor was working. It looked as if every one of the numerous visitors who land on the island daily came in for ice cream.

Getting away from the temptations of the coastal town we decided the island didn’t have much potential for farmland. The sandy soil was covered with scrubby oak trees, beach plums and salt grass. Also, it is a little expensive to farm – the going price is $20,000 an acre. Jackie Onassis had bought 300 acres more or less and built a palatial home on it last year.

In the early days the people on the island made their money from shipping and later the towns and harbors became centers for the whaling industry. The land itself was devoted to grazing sheep and raising grapes for wine.

The greatest attraction now is the ocean and the fragile beauty of the countryside. The bays and inlets are alive with sailing craft and the beaches are full of people when the sun shines.

For me I found the ocean fun, but so cold it took most of the afternoon to muster enough courage to go in. Then when I was in, the rolling waves had a bad habit of knocking me down. On the last day I learned to ride a giant size inner tube through the waves and was beginning to feel like an old salt when it was time to say farewell to the beach and ocean and return to gloriously green Kansas, where the milo had grown a foot taller in our absence.

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Love Affair

This love affair continues.

May 1979

The modern Southern restaurant cook is having an illicit love affair with the deep fat fryer. This is the conclusion I am forced to arrive at after spending a week sampling the food in Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi. This poignant liaison is not limited to dingy diners or third-rate joints. It flourishes just as exotically in classy cafeterias and delightfully elite dining rooms of haughty hotels.

While the affair amour may be illicit, it is not hidden away out of sight but blooms impartially in all its greasy glory on brown plastic counters or white linen clad tables.

As I, accompanied by my farmer, was eating my way down the streets and byways of Natchy, Mobile,Vicksburg and New Orleans the crusty golden brown offerings to the French fry goddess began to taste surprisingly good after I once became reconciled to the sudden demise of the baked potato below the Mason Dixon Line.

The peak of this gustatory experience was achieved one night at a charming restaurant in Natchy under the hill. After a torturous drive down the bluffs bordering one side of the river, the bus came to the very edge of the mighty Mississippi with its myriad lights and fascinating cargoes. Close by was this popular new eating place built to look as if it were 100 years old and featuring primitiveness, lanterns, checked tablecloths, tinned plates and battered cups.

After a suitably long interval designed to show tourists that no one ever, ever moves quickly in the southern part of the United States the waiters brought in platters filled with fried cat-fish fillets, French fried potatoes and piles of fried hush puppies. Cole slaw (it had somehow escaped the hot oil) and Jalapeno cornbread served in a cast iron skillet rounded out the meal.

Then as dinner was progressing the tour guide ordered, as a singular treat for all, the new specialty of the house. French fried batter dipped dill pickle slices! And for $5.00 a plate! Quite a mark up for a pickle. To report truthfully, the dill slices had no unique flavor, just crispy crust with a fried taste.

After digesting all this fried food even my gall bladder was convinced of the truth of the rumors about the love affair; but just as I accepted the inevitable, the southern chef in a fickle mood wearied of his first love and turned for a brief dalliance with his second mistress. Gravy. And this is not just a simple flour and milk gravy sitting quietly waiting to be discreetly dipped over mashed potatoes. Oh, no, this gravy is such a favorite of the head man in the kitchen it is poured unstintingly over all the food on the dinner plate of the helpless patron whether he wants the gluey gook or not.

When the cook wasn’t carrying on with the deep fat fryer or gravy he produced feathery biscuits, a continuous flow of grits, and delectable egg custards that were served in individual cups and made an agreeable dessert after a heavy dinner.

For a Touch of the South – In a cook book put out by the Junior League of La Fayette, Louisiana I found these recipes.
2 c. milk 1 teaspoon vanilla
¼ teaspoon soda 1 tablespoon butter
2 sticks cinnamon 3 egg whites
2 tablespoons flour 1 c. finely ground soda crackers
4 tablespoons corn starch 1 c. sugar
6 egg yolks ½ teaspoon salt
Scald 3 cups milk, soda and cinnamon. Combine 1 cup cold milk with flour and cornstarch. Beat until smooth.To this mixture add 1 cup of the hot milk, 1 cup sugar and the 6 egg yolks. Beat well. Combine with rest of milk and cook in heavy sauce pan or double boiler until thick.Remove from stove. Add salt, vanilla and butter. Beat. Pour in greased 8 inch square pan about ¼ inch thick. Chill overnight.

Cut in squares. Beat egg whites. Dip custard squares in to whites, then into cracker crumbs.

Fry in hot fat, 1 inch deep, until brown. Drain on paper. Serve hot. 8 servings.

Nanny’s Custard
4 eggs 3 cups milk
½ cup sugar 1 teaspoon vanilla
Separate egg yolks and white. Beat yolks. Add sugar. Scald milk. Beat whites until stiff. Pour hot milk slowly in yolk sugar mixture. Fold in beaten egg whites.Pour in a casserole and place in pan of hot water and bake in a 375° oven for 30 minutes.

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