Monday, 27 February 2012

First Tweak

Why my blog readers are the best blog readers who ever read blogs: thoughtfully, intelligently and helpfully setting me on the right track toward the right dinner party. Thank you for your comments and suggestions! As per your collective advice, I have decided to adopt option two. If you recall, that was tweaking the original recipes for flavour but still upholding their historical importance. Or something like that.

The next victim of my wartime recipe debauchery was Carrot Fudge.

First following the recipe to a T was an utter disaster. The whole lot ended up in the trash not 20 minutes after they were made. The redeeming quality of being so stereotypically WWII and the fact that they have good flavour to work from urged me to take on the recipe tweak and make them something unique and hopefully edible.

When I took on the decision to alter historic recipes, I also decided to make as few changes as possible and, where it allowed, make substitutes and additions that would also have been feasible during WWII. Now, will my guests really appreciate the fact that I not only altered the recipes with their taste-buds but their accurate acquisition of historical information in mind? So help me, they'd better.

Sparing you the details of the next four attempts at improving Carrot Fudge (including the important decision to name it a less-misleading 'Carrot Bar'), I present a very pleasant alternative.

The completed list of alterations included in a much improved new recipe looks like this:

Carrot Bars

5 cups of packed, grated carrot
1 package of gelatine
1 cup of orange juice
1 cup of sugar, dissolved in the orange juice
1 tsp orange zest
seeds of half a vanilla pod (this is an extravagance that would have not been possible during wartime. I only used a half, so it's OK, right?)

Dissolve gelatine in orange juice and sugar mixture. Add vanilla seeds, orange zest and grated carrots. Stir until well combined. Pour into a shallow baking dish and let set, covered, in the refrigerator.

Musings on Authenticity

I know you are all nail-bitingly anxious to see the results of the first round of WWII recipe-testing results. In a nutshell: surprising and not surprising. Not surprisingly they were difficult to cook. Using ingredients in ways that we wouldn't in this age and using different techniques to achieve good results are challenging and there is plenty of room for error. Surprisingly tasty! A look at the names and list of ingredients in these recipes has you dreading the thought of putting the end product down your throat. They simply do not look good on paper. And as photos did not and do not accompany most wartime recipes, the most unappealing of ingredient lists is all you have to go with. Just go with it.

First up: Woolton Pie.

A simple, hearty dish. I am at a loss of what else to say about it as simple and hearty are about all this pie has going for it. Flavours are on the bland side of bland. The vegetables meld together in a sloppy, flavour-poor stew kind of way and the pastry leaves much to be desired - mainly a bottom crust.

As the very first dish I tested, I was faced with the question of authenticity. Leave the dishes as intended and serve food that has a 99% chance of being bland, tweak the recipes slightly in method or ingredients as to preserve some of the historical integrity yet still serve a dish that guests would want to eat, or simply base my own creation off of wartime recipes that people could get really excited about. 

What would you do if faced with this issue? What you rather be served as a guest of a themed dinner party?

I can see the merits of all three options and different rationales lead me to different conclusions. I am at a stand-still after this Woolton Pie. Curse you, Woolton Pie.

In The Works

Remembrance Day has come and gone - my few historical talks preceding it forced me to delve into the subject more than I ever had before and afforded me a greater understanding and appreciation for the events and sacrifices that we all know happened but don't often sit with and think about. Understandably it left me feeling all the things you normally associate with remembering war, but also with an unexpected (or maybe expected in my case!) urge to celebrate - perhaps as a counter-balance to the solemnity of the occasion.

I've been mulling this over for some time now: combining history and food into a World War II dinner party. The last thing I would want to convey is making light of this time by throwing a party in which the horror of that era is covered up by Carrot Fudge and Victory Cakes, but the real people of WWII are what I am aiming to highlight. While war was waged, life went on and people had parties! They made do and made the most of it. That is what I want to capture.  

And please, for a moment, let's think about all the make do recipes of WWII. Rations. Dried fruit. Carrots. Mystery replacers, fillers, beefer-upers, flavours. We can have some fun with this.

The tentative line-up is as follows:
- Woolton Pie
- Carrot Fudge
- Spring Beauty Cake
- Victory Sponge with Fake Whipped Cream
- B.Y.O.I.D.A. (Bring Your Own Illegally Distilled Alcohol, obviously)

I am (with good reason) very nervous about serving plates with names like "Spring Beauty Cake" to my friends, near and dear, so I will be testing and documenting these recipes in advance of feeding them to guests. The World War Two Dinner Party adventure begins!

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Art Deco Chic Opening

The Good: The Art Deco Chic opening was a success! The cat's meow, baby.
The Bad: The inevitable debockle before the opening night of a large-scale, multi-person, multi-piece, long-term exhibition at a world-class institution. For us, it went like this: three days before opening night, the exhibit's co-curator receives a flustered phone call from the donor of one of our star pieces. She says she's changed her mind about displaying her yellow and gold beaded flapper dress and I'm telling you, it's one of the most stunning things I've ever seen; it simply must be in the exhibit. Now, calls and concerns like these need to be handled with care. On the one hand, there's no legal way Mrs. Peabody can pull her (our, for the time being) dress. However, on the other hand, curators who wish to continue having exhibits and collections to curate, mustn't step on and demolish too many toes.

Attendees were encouraged to dress the part.

And so, Mrs. Peabody, after much, much cloying, sweet talk finally relented and the show was back on track.
The Ugly: Nowhere in sight.

But I suspect you want to know about the food.

An evening exhibit opening obviously calls for beverages and snooty finger-food. Exactly fitting that bill was the signature cocktail, French 75, a delightful elixir of gin, syrup, champagne and lemon that oozes 1920s extravagance and class.

After unspeakable amounts of hors d'oeuvres, again echoing the Roaring Twenties, came the grande pièce de résistance: le gâteau. I think the photo really does speak for itself. A masterpiece, indeed.

Perhaps it was preparing for the Art Deco opening, loosely translating the food into the 1920s, that inspired my own wish for a themed dinner gathering. I've yet to make any concrete menu decisions and ideas continue to bounce off of one another, but I have a great feeling about it!

Bustlin' Food

Kitchen adventures have been few and far between this week; please accept my apologies. Autumn always seems to be buzzing with projects from all sides and you accept every one of them, big and small, because external buzzing quickly turns into a desire for the internal kind. And then there you are, saddled with your increasingly consuming Art Deco exhibit at the Museum of Vancouver and schedule of seemingly innumerable lectures around the approaching Remembrance Day. I've scarcely had time to heat a packaged chicken pot pie for one. Granola bar weekend (weekend!) breakfasts and lukewarm pizza-by-the-slice eaten on the fly are sadly becoming less and less shameful. At least I know it's not just just me who's stretched to thin; there's something in the air. Or water. Probably both. That being said, the light at the end of my tunnel comes with the opening night of the exhibit in 26 fast-approaching days.

When my schedule leaves little time for preparing from-scratch meals, I remember why I made four servings too many of that chili a month ago. The practical, organized and Martha-idolizing side of me had enough foresight to hoard individual portions in the freezer for times of desperation. Now is that time. It is currently feeding me breakfast (almost), lunch and dinner. This Greek Red Lentil Soup with Lemon and Rosemary is delicious and provides a much-needed bright punch of vibrant citrus. Of course, the tried-and-true Black Bean and Quinoa Chili is never unwelcome, either. Soup, chili, stew: get into it.


With the prospect of real-deal free time in the not-too-distant future, I have been mulling over a few ideas on how to wind down but also reward myself a bit. The reason I mention it here is this: it will be a dinner party. I have a few themes kicking around and I have yet to decide on just one, but I thought it would prove interesting, if not useful, to collect, test and modify themed recipes for such an occasion as a fancy people dinner party.