Thursday, January 15, 2009

Winter Pastimes

Beautiful Lake Como, Italy

Now that it is so bitterly cold here in Kansas City, everyone is staying inside when possible. Luckily, the new season on television is finally underway. Jack is Back! It looks like another nail-biting season for "24"! My other favorites are starting this week. I am looking forward to "The Closer", I have enjoyed the last 2 seasons, so I expect to enjoy this one as well. Once again, Brenda will be eating lots of chocolate when things get stressful! You gotta love her!

The flag of Scotland

Another pastime that seems to occupy my time during the winter months is Genealogy. I was born in Columbia, Missouri, and lived there until I was 10. Family has always been very important to me. I grew up surrounded by Grandparents, Aunts and Uncles, Cousins by the dozens. I suppose that has given me my fascination with genealogy. I must admit, I've had a few shocks along the way! It is amazing what can turn up. My biggest surprise was finding out I am NOT 100% Scot/American. I thought it was amazing that all 4 of my grandparents were of Scottish descent, actually from the same area in Northeast Scotland called Aberdeenshire. As a chef, I never felt very Scottish....their food has a history of being very boring! One day I was listening to a cassette tape recorded of an interview my Grandfather gave to the local newspaper in Columbia.

Columbia is a very southern city in attitude, traditions, food and drink. That particular day Granddad was enjoying a very Southern drink, a Mint Julep. For those of you unfamilar with the traditional drink of the Kentucky Derby, it is pretty much Kentucky Bourbon with a little mint, sugar and crushed ice. A couple of those and your outlook on life begins to look brighter! Anyway, it was obvious that Granddad was having one, as the interview went on he developed a very southern accent! It wasn't as bad as Paula Deen's, but close!

When the interviewer asked about his family history, he told how his father's family came from Scotland, settled in Kentucky, and finally on to Boone County, Missouri. Then a moment I will never Grandad said "My Mother's folks came from Lake Como in Northern Italy."

Finally I knew who I was! I was Italian! My Grandfather was 50% Italian, my Dad was 25% Italian, making me 12.5% Italian! That's enough to cover my heart and brain, right? But then it dawned on me I needed to include my Mom's genes (she was an "Ogg", one of the oldest known names in Scotland, like from the Stone Age!) and that brought it down to around 5 or 6%Italian....but that's enough for my heart! I was thrilled.

I had been introduced to genealogy by my Aunt Lou, Mom's sister. When she died, I inherited all of her files, books, photos, etc. It is such a treasure! Where she had to travel to find information, I simply have to sit in front of the computer. I joined, bought Family Tree software, and got a library card from the Mid-Continent Public Library's Genealogy branch and I can search the world from home! I have data taking me back to Scotland, 1330, when Adam Johnston was born. He only lived 16 years, but fortunately for me, he had a son, Stephen, before he died.

As for the Italian side of the family, the surname is Este. I've been to Lake Como, an absolutely beautiful place, but did not discover any long lost relatives. Apparently my Este ancestor left Italy in the early 1800s and moved guessed it....Scotland! I've come to a dead end, and am not sure I am going to continue the search....I'm happy being the little 5% Italian chef! To celebrate my Italian heritage I am sending this recipe for Lemoncello, a drink I don't imagine my Granddad ever tasted, but I bet if he had, he would have developed an Italian accent!


The flag of Italy

the zest of 6 lemons

750 ml bottle of inexpensive vodka

3 cups water

1 1/2 cups sugar

Place the lemon zest in a jar large enough to hold the 750 ml of vodka. Add the vodka, tighten lid well, and shake vigorously.

Set aside for 10 days, shaking periodically.

On the 10th day, make a simple syrup by bringing 3 cups of water and 1 1/2 cups sugar to a boil.

Strain zest from vodka and pour syrup over the zest.

After 30 minutes, strain the zest from the simple syrup, discard the zest.

Mix the syrup with the vodka and pour into jars with lids.

Keep in the freezer, don't worry about it freezing, it just turns into slush!

Lemoncello must be served ICY COLD!


And now, for a non-alcohol recipe.....Missouri has a history of being covered with Black Walnut trees. Growing up we had Black Walnut Fudge and Divinity with Black Walnuts every Christmas. My Grandmother Johnston made wonderful candies every year. But I love her Black Walnut Cake most of all!

Missouri Black Walnut Cake
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
7 large eggs
1/4 tablespoon cream of tartar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/2 cup light molasses
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Black walnuts, halved
1 egg white
1 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup chopped black walnuts

1. Separate eggs and save one egg white for the frosting.
2. CAKE: Sift flour with salt, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice (substitute mace for allspice if preferred).
3. Beat 6 egg whites with cream of tartar at high speed until light and fluffy. Gradually add corn syrup; continue beating until stiff peaks form. DO NOT under beat.
4. Beat 7 egg yolks with molasses and vanilla at high speed until thick. Blend in dry ingredients. Fold this mixture into egg whites, using a rubber spatula to fold in gently but completely.
5. Pour into ungreased 10-inch tube pan.
6. Bake in preheated 350-degree oven for 40-50 minutes or until cake springs back when lightly touched. Invert pan immediately and cool completely before removing from the pan. Frost with cream frosting and decorate with walnut halves.
7. CREAM FROSTING: Beat 1 egg white until stiff. Beat 1 cup heavy cream until thick. Add 3/4 cup sifted powdered sugar, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, and 1/4 teaspoon salt to the cream. Fold gently into the egg white along with 3/4 cup coarsely chopped walnuts.
8. Frost cake as is or cut into 3 layers (using string or dental floss) if preferred and frost each layer as you stack.

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