Happy 4th!

Red, white and blue shortcakes!
Red, white and blue shortcakes!

Here in the US it is Independence Day…time for cookouts, fireworks and of course family and friends to share it all with. We will be grilling burgers and pairing them with a traditional potato salad and a pitcher of sangria. I’d love to hear what your favorite cookout fare is…

Here’s to a safe and happy day with a few fireworks thrown in for good measure!!

Thanksgiving in July!


Why am I writing about Thanksgiving in the month of July? It is almost 6 months from now. I write because – if it was possible – my entire year would revolve around Thanksgiving. It is hands down my favorite holiday of the year. It is a time to give thanks rather than gifts. A time to celebrate our relationships with family and friends. And of course there is food involved. This is the one time of year when I go a tad [ahem] overboard on the cooking front. That is, if you consider 14 pies, turkey 3 ways (roasted, smoked and fried), a ton of sides, and an entire menu of vegan options thrown in for good measure to be overboard. It’s all Love to me!

Cherries. This is what brings me to Continue reading

Pie Day – our own family holiday!


As the Thanksgiving holiday quickly approaches my thoughts turn to pie. Pie has been a huge tradition in my husband’s family for Thanksgiving…and by huge I mean LOTS of pie. I was amazed at the quantity the first time I ate with his family for the Turkey Day festivities: TWELVE pies. Yes, twelve; 12; Ten plus two; Six plus six…you get the picture. His mom prepared a feast for not only their immediate family, but for aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. There were a lot of eaters – and a lot of pie. Once my husband and I married we spent practically every Thanksgiving with his family. And when our boys were born they eagerly looked forward to the pie tradition every year. So you can imagine the angst incurred when we finally realized we had to give up traveling for the Thanksgiving holidays. The first time the subject was brought up my husband asked, “But what about the pies? The boys will really miss all that pie” Translated: “But what about the pies? I will really miss all that pie”.  So I agreed to make several pies. I knew 12 pies were absolutely out of the question, but I agreed to make 6…

Fast forward many years…Each year I have made more and more pies. I finally broke my record last year, making not only 11 pies, but the equivalent of 2 other pies in the form of mini-pies. Yes, some were duplicates. There were 2 Bourbon Pecan, 2 Cherry, 2 Apple (one had brandied raisins) and 2 pumpkin. Then I made 1 Chocolate, 1 Banana Cream, and 1 Coconut Cream. The final two ‘pies’ were Lemon Meringue and Cranberry Meringue, made into bite-sized portions to ensure meringue on each serving (don’t you hate when you have a slice of lemon meringue and get no meringue?!?).

I can hear all of you trying to wrap your brain around this concept of (essentially) 13 pies…”But why?” you ask, and “Do you EAT all that pie yourself?” and, the most common question, “ARE YOU CRAZY???” (to that one I of course say ‘yes’). I make all those pies because I love to bake, and I love a cooking challenge. And I especially love to continue a long-standing family tradition, one that my boys will remember and hopefully pass along to their kids someday (my apologies to their future wives). As to whether or not we eat all of that pie, well, we do solicit a bit of help. See, we do not have the good fortune to have our family near during the holidays. Usually it is only the 4 of us and my nephew (and my parents one year)…a lot of pie for five people. So we have ‘Pie Day’. This is usually the day after Thanksgiving – and on this wonderful day we invite our friends to join us in the eating of the pies. Often, they bring over their own leftover desserts from their Big Day…There are a lot of desserts! Everyone comes hungry and leaves full!!

So now here I am, fully in the process of readying for Pie Day. I have pie crust in the freezer and am looking for one or two new flavors/recipes to add to the mix this year. Many of my ingredients have been purchased and stored…the fresh ones will be bought a day or so ahead. And on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving I will spend the entire day in my kitchen, happily paring, dicing, slicing, rolling out crust, assembling and baking all those glorious pies…That night I will fall into bed tired (read: exhausted) but happy, and will drift off to sleep dreaming of eating lots and lots of pie!

The end is near for Oktoberfest 2010, but Elvis LIVES!!!

Today was the final day of Munich’s Oktoberfest, bringing the 200th anniversary festivities to a close after weeks of celebration. While they are bidding a fond farewell in Germany, in the US there are a few ongoing celebrations here and there, and to honor those I plan to explore German food a bit more in depth for the month of October.

I had intended to make homemade sourdough pretzels last week – one of the traditional food offerings at Oktoberfest each year. However, my sourdough starter (which should have been ready by the middle of last week) has been giving me a bit of trouble. At one point I truly thought it had died, but after a few extra feedings it began to revive. It seems to be quite bubbly now…thus my starter has been dubbed “Elvis”…no, Elvis has NOT left the building!!! 

This brings us to tomorrow: ‘Pretzel Day’…I have ‘Elvis’, some barley malt syrup and the few other remaining ingredients needed to venture forth. The recipe I am using is a two-day process, so I really won’t know until Wednesday how it all comes together. It involves mixing, resting, shaping, another loooonnnng rest (12-24 hours), dipping and finally, baking. (And then hopefully: eating!) 

So let’s raise one of those remaining steins of Marzen to pretzels…Keep those fingers crossed they turn out well, and I will keep all of you posted on the outcome – good or bad. “Thankya, thankya very much!!” for your patience and support! 

**Note for those interested: the sourdough starter recipe I am using comes from Nancy Silverton’s “Breads from the La Brea Bakery”, and the pretzel recipe is from that same cookbook. I have made this starter with no problem several times in the past…I’m not sure what was different this time, but it does appear as if it has made a recovery. I will know for sure tomorrow…

Marzen: the official beer of Oktoberfest

DSC_4275Question: When in Germany can you experience March in October? Answer: When you are in Munich drinking a Marzen beer during Oktoberfest!!

Every year at precisely noon on the first day of Oktoberfest the lord mayor of Munich steps forth for the ‘Official Tapping of the Keg’, a traditional ceremony to kick off the festival. It is one that is eagerly anticipated by beer drinkers far and wide. And the beer most associated with Oktoberfest? That would be the Marzen-style brews. The term Marzen (also spelled Maerzen; pronounced ‘Maer-tsen’, NOT ‘Mars-en’) is German for March which is when that particular style of lager is brewed. Back when Oktoberfest first began lack of refrigeration made brewing beer in the summer unheard of due to heat and bacteria issues. Brewers instead prepared their beer in March, and it usually had higher alcohol content – typically 5.0-6.2% – to aid in the preservation process. Once bottled it was put in ‘lagerns’ – German for storage – in this case caves and/or cellars. Often these lagers were located near a water source such as a pond, allowing them to harvest blocks of ice in the winter when the ponds froze over. They used the ice to keep the beer cold until it was ready to be consumed. Actually, some of these cellars are still in use to this day.

Bavarians are very serious about their beer, and VERY PARTICULAR!! Way back in 1516 a ‘purity order’ was established in Bavaria – called “Reinheitsgebot” – making it illegal for its beer to be made from anything but hops, barley-malt (originally just barley) and water. Yeast was eventually permitted as the fourth acceptable ingredient. All of Germany accepted this enactment in 1906; however, as with most rules there are exceptions…loopholes if you will. Some circumstances do allow other ingredients to be incorporated, such as sugar, wheat and even coloring.

Marzen itself is a medium to full-bodied darker lager, having a slightly sweet taste. Bitterness is usually on the low side but varies among brewers. The color may range anywhere from amber to deep copper, with tradition leaning toward the darker brews. It is the historic offering at Oktoberfest. Due to cooler weather October was the time brewers could begin making beer again. They needed to empty out the kegs to make space to store the new batches, so they let their ‘Marzen biers’ loose at Oktoberfest .

So make sure to fill your steins with a proper Marzen on this 200 year anniversary of Oktoberfest…To all of you I raise my stein and cheer ”Prost!”


**the reason barley was the only grain allowed has pretty much everything to do with the fact that they wanted to make sure the wheat and rye were reserved for bread-baking. In other words, it was protection for the bread industry.
**Ales are made with top-fermented yeast. This enables the finished product to be ready quickly, often in only a few days
**Lagers are made with bottom fermented yeast. They need cooler temperatures and take longer to reach full maturity, often 1 – 3 months. Marzen falls into this category.