Search Results for "fortuna"

My Culinary Mishaps: Fortuna’s Fault or Mine?

One of my more recent culinary mishaps: Popovers that turned out to be Plopovers.

Mishap: an unfortunate accident, bad luck

So says the Mirriam-Webster dictionary. But when it comes to my culinary mishaps the Merriam-Webster definition may not be telling the whole story. Granted, a culinary mishap such the one Ann is blogging about today (her failed German Apfel Marzipan Kuchen) can easily be attributed to bad luck, so it should be simple for her to “dust herself off and start all over again.” But I’m not Ann. And I seem to have a lock on culinary mishaps in our family. And there’s only so much getting up and dusting off that one can do.

Can Fortuna be responsible for my culinary mishaps?

But what does the “Fortuna” in my title have to do with culinary mishaps? You may recall that I wrote about Fortuna in an earlier Andy’s Corner in regards to my “misfortune” with the military draft. This Roman goddess spins her Rota Fortunae (wheel of fortune) to determine the “fortune and capriciousness” in human affairs. While Fortuna’s spin of the wheel seemed as good of an explanation as any for why I ended up getting drafted, I’m not so sure if evoking Fortuna’s wheel can bail me out of being held personally accountable for the culinary side of my life.

Leave it to a sociologist to offer another way to understand my mishaps. In her fascinating book Misery and Company, Sympathy in Everyday Life, Candice Clark suggests that each of us is allotted a finite amount of “sympathy credit” from others. Once our “credit” is used up, though, misfortune or bad luck no longer cuts the mustard to be sympathy worthy. It’s like an unspoken tipping point at which we become personally responsible for our screw ups, risking unpleasant labels such as careless, irresponsible, incompetent, thoughtless, klutzy, or (shutter) loser – just to name a few.

This gets me back to the central and burning question of this blog – are my culinary mishaps better described as instances of Fortuna interventions in my life or are my culinary mishaps signs of my own personal shortcomings (eg., carelessness, irresponsibility, incompetence, fill in the blank). Here are just a few examples of my mishaps to illustrate why I’m concerned about all of this.

My culinary mishaps began early in life. I’m not in this photo, but all guys in uniform look the same. (photo credit: The State Archives of Florida)

Example #1: Exploding Canned Corn
My culinary mishaps began quite early in my life. One notable mishap occurred on a campout with my Boy Scout troop at the Los Angeles County Fair. We were there to demonstrate campfire cooking to fairgoers. My job was to heat up the canned creamed corn. It never occurred to me that one should open the can before placing it on the fire. To this day I thank my lucky stars (or maybe Fortuna?) that no one was maimed by the searing corn when the can literally exploded.

We still have the pot that we brewed our almost lethal batch of Swedish Glögg. The pot was Ann’s Swedish grandmother Annie’s (after whom Ann was named)

Example #2: Holiday Glögg (aka Napalm?).
While in grad school in Colorado Ann and I threw an a old-fashioned Swedish glögg party for the the other grad students in the small basement of our house (glögg it similar to a hot mulled wine – here is how it’s made). While preparing a very large pot of glögg for the party I thought it would be fun (and dramatic) to save the last step of the preparations for all to see, which involves pouring rum into the drink through a strainer filled with sugar and igniting the rum as it flows through. I even turned off the lights for an enhanced effect. It was a spectacular display until I realized that the stainer was beginning to melt with the burning rum/sugar goop threatening to fall into the pot and splash burning rum all over the basement. Through some quick maneuvering this worst case scenario didn’t happen (thank Fortuna!). I was never sure how many of the guests were aware of their near demise.

Example #3: Lookalikes That Aren’t Alike
Probably more times than I can recall I’ve used the wrong product or ingredient when cooking. Take for instance the time I made Emeril Lagasse’s Belgian Waffles for special houseguests and used 1/4 cup of salt instead of the called-for sugar. Of course, this could have been an honest mistake. After all, salt looks a heck of a lot like sugar and the canisters were next to each other. [Note: following that mishap I planted a “SALT!” sign in the salt canister).

Then there were the leaden Ginger Scones when I used a tablespoon of baking soda instead of baking powder. It seems that the fact that they both begin with “baking” should absolve me from some of the blame.

And I should include the time I “accidentally” used waxed paper instead of parchment paper when baking what would have been a delicious batch of Acorn Lace Cookies. I discovered that Acorn Lace Cookies embedded with melted wax paper are not only unattractive but inedible.

Example #4: It’s All in the Wrist (or Not!)
Even my signature breakfast dish, Swedish Pancakes, is plagued with mishaps. In an early Andy’s Corner (Making Swedish Pancakes is Not for Sissies) I claim that flipping the pancakes is a special skill that I have honed over the years. I even published an Instagram demonstrating my technique. But, as the below exclusive self-revealing video reveals, what you see on Instagram isn’t always the whole story.

My Swedish Pancake Technique Revealed

With my confessions on the table, so to speak, the verdict is in your hands. Will I be considered a victim of repeated ill-fated spins of the Rota Fortunae? Or will I be held personally responsible for my mishaps and be sentenced to a lifetime of being perceived as a culinary loser, my worst nightmare. I’m hoping for a hung jury. Then I can dust myself off and start all over again with a clear conscience – and undoubtedly continue cooking up more mishaps.

WHAT IF Fortuna is More Than Just a Clever Name for a Cat?

As I’ve written before, the naming of our dogs and cats is a very important family ritual (and will be the focus of an upcoming blog).  One of my personal favorite names that we have not yet used for a cat is “Fortuna” – do I need to point out that most cats are “for tuna”?  Even though my topic today has nothing to do with naming pets, it has a lot to do with Fortuna.

Fortuna wheel1
The Roman goddess Fortuna and her wheel

It turns out that Fortuna, supposedly the daughter of Jupiter, was a Roman goddess who controlled fortune and capriciousness in human affairs.  If she were posting pictures of herself on Instagram she would be near a Rota Fortunae (wheel of fortune), signifying that our fate in life is determined as much by the spin of the wheel as by our own doings.  I must admit that Fortuna’s mythical wheel of fortune often seems to make a lot of sense to me.

Fortuna1
A Fortuna selfie for Instagram?

I was sharing my thoughts on this with our son Travis and he pointed out that Ignatius Reilly, that wonderfully quirky character from A Confederacy of Dunces, referred to Fortuna throughout the novel, something I had forgotten.  Curious, I did a search of the novel on my Kindle –  her name appears 31 times.  Even if you are not a Fortuna fan, I would highly recommend Confederacy – it is a one-of-a-kind classic.

Ignatius2
Ignatius mentioned Fortuna 31 times

I am prattling on about some obscure goddess named Fortuna because that’s what immediately popped into my head when Ann suggested a What If theme for today’s blog. The interventions of this mischievous goddess into our day-to-day lives leaves no option but to contemplate “what if.”   To illustrate, I want to to share one particularly significant what if moment for Ann and me.  It has to do with an army captain, whom I never met, the the military draft, and maybe a flu bug. 

1A notification
The sword of Damocles?

Here’s some context.  It was near the end of 1966 and I was a fledgling school teacher at Chino High.   Ann and I had just got engaged.  Shortly after our engagement I learned that I had been reclassified by the Selective Service System as 1A and was no longer guaranteed a deferment for teaching.  A 1A classification at that time was a sure ticket to being drafted with the near certainty of ending up in Vietnam.  I could see only one alternative to the mandatory draft –  join a reserve unit. 

So, I looked into the air national guard, the naval reserve, and even the coast guard reserve.  Nothing panned out until I learned of some openings in an army intelligence reserve unit based in Los Angeles.  I drove to LA to speak with the unit’s head sergeant. 

army intelligence
Some consider this to be an oxymoron; I considered it to be a way around the draft.

During the interview he asked if I knew any foreign languages.  Suppressing the urge to tell him that I was pretty good at Pig Latin,  I told him I had couple of semesters of junior college Spanish under my belt.  He said that’s great and asked me to put on some headphones and translate into English as much of a recording as I could.  I didn’t understand a thing I heard, jotting down some random notes about what I guessed was being said.  He glanced at my results and said that was close enough for government work (it wasn’t very comforting to learn that’s all it took to get into army intelligence).

fort Ord on the beach
Fort Ord was considered one of the most attractive locations of any U.S. Army post because of its proximity to the beach and California weather. I was already packing my suntan lotion and trunks.

The most exciting part was that as soon as I was sworn in I would be sent for training at the army’s Military Language Center located at Fort Ord on the Monterey peninsula.   All I needed to do was fill out some forms, pass a physical, and appear at the reserve unit’s monthly meeting in three days to be sworn in.  I completed the forms and passed the physical that day.  Then I rushed back to tell Ann the good news, not realizing that Fortuna’s fateful wheel would soon intercede.

The day prior to the reserve unit meeting the sergeant called to inform me that the commanding officer had come down with the flu and wouldn’t be able to swear me at the upcoming monthly meeting.  I would have to wait until the next meeting.

One week later I became one of the more than 300,000 American men that year to open an envelope with this statement inside: “Greeting: You are hereby ordered for induction in the Armed Forces of the United States.”  This meant that I was immediately ineligible for any other kind of military service.  My completed forms and passed physical were for naught.  I was had. 

I can’t tell you how many times I have wondered “what if” about this.  What if that captain had not caught the flu that weekend and swore me into the reserves prior to getting my draft notice?  Would I have been able to continue teaching at Chino High?  Would I have still gone to grad school?  Would I have avoided Vietnam?  Would Ann and I have had children earlier?  Would we ever have met folks like the Davis family (see Ann’s blog)?  Would I have learned a language more useful than Pig Latin?

Anns Fortuna
It was no coincidence that a few years ago Ann chose this Fortuna image for her email profile picture.

Of course that is just one of many what if moments that have influenced the direction and substance of our lives. Even though we had dreaded the thought of my being drafted, the army’s disruption of the first couple of years of our married life strengthened our relationship and opened opportunities we hadn’t imagined. Perhaps the best way to think about Fortuna is to realize that when the Rota Fortunae deals us a not-so-desirable outcome it provides a potential opportunity to confront the hardship and become stronger for the effort.  

Here’s to good fortuna for all in 2019!

The Best Laid Schemes o’ Mice an’ Men Gang Aft Agley

Robert Burns could/should have added “women” to his line from the 1785 poem To a Mouse…”the best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men an’ women gang aft agley” And surely anyone who cooks – or just lives – would agree with his remark. Our schemes and plans and work often go awry. Andy wrote about things that go awry on an earlier blog – and he’s back on the topic again today in Andy’s Corner. But this time he’s blaming Fortuna.

You could follow Burns’ message up with another oldie but goodie: “Pick yourself up; dust yourself off, and start all over again.”

Why am I thinking about all of this? Well here are two teeny hints: consider this number: 15. Then consider this photo:

Ha!

My baking plans definitely went awry the other day. Case in point: the German Apfel Marzipan Kuchen I made for a New Year’s Day dinner party at a friend’s home. I was hesitant to use that particular recipe since I’d never made it before, but after hours of studying recipes and picking what seemed a fool-proof one (thanks to my confidence in the recipes from David Lebovitz and Luisa Weiss’s Classic German Baking), I made it. The result was gorgeous in appearance. Yes, I pondered a bit when the center seemed slightly soft when it was ready to remove from the oven, but it had pulled away from the sides, the edges were golden brown (in fact, one edge was approaching burned), and I even got out our new, pricey Thermapen to check the internal temperature – and the temperature seemed a tad on the low side, but I attributed that to the fact that it had been out of the oven for a few minutes before I tested it.

My German Apfel Marzipan Kuchen with an apricot glaze

Normally, after it had cooled, I would have cut into the cake to be sure it was fully baked, but it was so lovely I decided to have faith and bring it to the dinner party whole and beautiful and perfect-looking.

What followed is a food blogger’s possibly-worst nightmare. After we’d consumed our delicious German-themed dinner of pork and sauerkraut and a vegetable mixed salad and yeast rolls, I was asked to serve the Apfel Kuchen – my contribution. And – you guessed it – the center was a doughy mess.

My failed cake

I put on my best fake smile, cheerfully cut pieces from the outside of the cake, and served it up, pretending I hadn’t totally screwed up. Did the dinner guests guess? Who knows.

Ginger Rogers has the perfect song for such an occasion; be sure to watch the whole thing. Did she convince Fred Astaire that he could dance after his failure?

“No one could teach you to dance in a million years.”

It’s kind of amazing how many poems and songs deal with this subject. We all know “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” Did you know if came from a Teacher’s Manual, published in 1840?

Will I be trying that recipe again, determined to make a perfect Apfel Kuchen? Nope. But I’ll keep on baking apple cakes; I’m returning to my old stand-by recipe, originally published in the NY Times in 1973 – Teddie’s Apple Cake. It may not be as lovely to look at, but I’ve never had it fail.

And what is the lesson about failure to be learned here? Take it from Kevin McCarthy’s approach (whether you dislike him or admire him):

 ‘Taint no use to sit an’ whine,

  When the fish ain’t on yer line;

  Bait yer hook an’ keep a-tryin’—

  Keep a-goin’!

(even if it’s 1 a.m. in the morning)

Teddie’s Apple Cake recipe first appeared in 1973 – in the NY Times
Teddie’s Apple Cake

Teddie's Apple Cake

Adapted from the recipe published in 1973 in the NYTimes. Sadly, no one seems to know who Teddie was.

  • 3 c flour, plus more for dusting pan
  • 1 1/2 c vegetable oil
  • 2 c sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 1/2 tsp Diamond kosher salt
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 3 c peeled, cored and thickly sliced tart apples, like Honeycrisp or Granny Smith (the original recipe calls for Golden Delicious, but we definitely don’t recommend them); about 1/4″ thick slices work.
  • 1 c chopped walnuts
  • 1 c raisins (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Butter and flour a 9-inch tube pan (a bundt pan will work too but may require slightly longer baking). Beat the oil and sugar together in a mixer until they’re very well blended, which may take several minutes. Add the eggs and beat until the mixture is creamy.

Whisk together 3 cups of flour, the salt, cinnamon and baking soda. Stir into the batter. Add the vanilla, apples, walnuts and raisins (if you’re using them) and stir until combined (note: this is a VERY thick batter and will take muscle to stir it – or a stand mixer).

Transfer the mixture to the prepared pan. Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean (or an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center of the cake registers about 210 degrees F). Cool in the pan before turning out. Serve at room temperature with vanilla ice cream, if desired.

Recipe brought to you by BigLittleMeals.com and Andy and Ann.

      

The Nylon Riots and a Christmas Tradition

[Editor’s Note: For an unprecedented second time in a row, Andy is carrying the burden for today’s main blog while Ann is the guest MC for Andy’s Corner (which, by the way is full of ideas for special culinary holiday gifts).  Also, for reasons that will become obvious, if you have young children you may want to direct their attention elsewhere while you read this]. 


Nylon stockings’ debut at the 1939 World’s Fair in New York (source: GlamourDaze.com)

Each year around Christmas time I can’t help but think about nylon hose. I’m not referring to the garden hose variety, I’m talking about women’s nylon stockings.  Remember those?  It wasn’t that long ago when they were considered a fashion must.  Indeed, it wasn’t that long ago that they came into existence. It turns out that the history of nylon stockings, as short as it may be, is fascinating.  Before filling you in on why nylon stockings come to mind at Christmas time, let me tell you something about their colorful (and somewhat violent) history.

This is from a 2015 Smithsonian Magazine article entitled How Nylon Stockings Changed the World:

“Nylon stockings made their grand debut in a splashy display at the 1939 World’s Fair in New York. By the time the stockings were released for sale to the public on May 15, 1940 demand was so high that women flocked to stores by the thousands. Four million pairs sold out in four days.

But the nylon stocking boom was short circuited by World War II when the sole manufacturer of nylon, Dupont, had to devote its production of nylon to the war effort. Nylon, which was dubbed “the fiber that won the war,” was used for parachutes, glider tow ropes, and numerous other military necessities.

Leg painting became a business when nylon stockings were not available during WWII (Photo credit: Library of Congress)

Suddenly, the only stockings available were those sold before the war or bought on the black market. Women took to wearing “leg make-up” and painting seams down the backs of their legs to give the appearance of wearing proper stockings.

Women would have to wait until the end of the war for nylons to return to the market. And it wasn’t long after the war that Dupont resumed production of nylon stockings and promised to meet the demand.

American Airline flight attendants try on nylons that were flown in by American Airlines for Holeproof Hosiery Co. and distributed to flight attendants, Dec. 10, 1945
Chicago Tribune

In August 1945, eight days after Japan’s surrender, DuPont announced that it would resume producing stockings and newspaper headlines cheered “Peace, It’s Here! Nylons on Sale!” DuPont’s announcement indicated that nylons would be available in September and the motto “Nylons by Christmas” was sung everywhere. (Wikipedia)

The first nylon sale in San Francisco following the war drew a massive 10,000 into Market Street. They had to close the sale early when one of the display windows caved in from the force of the crowds (source: GlamourDaze.com)

Unfortunately, Dupont was unable to produce the 360 million pairs per year that it promised, creating mad rushes when the stock hit the store racks. These incidences, which occurred in big cities across the country in 1945 and 1946, were called the “nylon riots.” There were at times mile-long lines of women “hoping to snag a single pair.”

In her book Nylon: The Story of a Fashion Revolution, Susannah Handley writes about one of these “riots” when more than 40,000 Pittsburgh women lined up outside a hosiery store, determined to buy some of the store’s 13,000 pairs of nylon stockings. According to newspaper accounts, “a good old fashioned hair-pulling, face scratching fight broke out in the line.”

 The “riots” abated once Dupont got up to production levels to satisfy the booming market. In 1959 pantyhose came onto the fashion scene and quickly dominated the nylon hosiery market. But it didn’t take long before pantyhose also became passé. As the Smithsonion article puts it, “by the 1980s the glam (for pantyhose) was wearing off. By the 90s, women looking for comfort and freedom began to go au-natural, leaving their legs bare as often as not. In 2006, the New York Times referred to the hosiery industry as An Industry that Lost its Footing.”

Now let’s get to why Christmas conjures in me images of nylon stockings. As we all know, hanging stockings is one of our culture’s cherished traditions practiced at Christmas and immortalized (at least for a large chunk of us) in Clement Clarke Moore’s “A Visit From Saint Nicholas:”

The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there.

...He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings; then turned with a jerk,
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose;


Hanging Christmas stockings, 1954. Photo from the Smithsonian Magazine “The Legend of the Christmas Stocking” published December 14, 2012.

The above photo from the Smithsonian Magazine was taken in 1954 when I would have been 11 years old (and probably still clinging to the fading hope that there really might be a Santa Claus). However, two things about that picture do not apply to my childhood experience with this tradition. First, we had no fireplace and hence could not hang stockings by the proverbial chimney. Second, and more to my point in this blog, the stockings in that photo look nothing like what we hung.

While I was growing up our family “tradition” was to put up nylon stockings on Christmas eve, along with the obligatory cookies and milk for Santa. Much to the bemusement of Ann, I convinced her to continue that tradition when our own children were young (although by then we had to resort to cutting off nylon pantyhose legs because nylon stockings were no longer easily available). Unfortunately, I can find no photographs of our filled stockings.

My parents (or was it Santa?) always stuffed the nylon stockings with an orange, assorted nuts (in the shell), Christmas candies, and small wrapped gifts. Ann and I pretty much followed that pattern with our kids. You would be amazed at how much stuff can fit into a nylon stocking. As a kid I always felt a bit sorry for my friends who only had traditional (and, in my opinion, absurdly small) stockings to hang and at the same time I felt a little guilty for having such Christmas morning abundance.

To my knowledge, our family nylon tradition is unique. I tried to find pictures of filled Christmas nylons on the Internet and came up with none (other than those filled with women’s legs). I’m not sure if I should feel some sense of satisfaction that we created a truly creative tradition or a bit of regret that we were spoiling our children.

After our kids grew up Ann made these stockings for our “adult” Christmas stocking tradition. They’re prettier, but not nearly as much fun as nylons.

So, those of you with young kids and who happen to have an old pair of nylons (or pantyhose) in a drawer somewhere you might think about starting your own family nylon holiday tradition. The stockings may look a little sad and un-Christmasy on Christmas Eve when “hung by the chimney with care” but when your kids see them in the morning brimming with goodies and gifts, nothing can be more Christmassy (at least in my mind).

Happy Holidays, whether or not you celebrate Christmas and the stocking tradition.

Give the Gift of…

[Editor’s note: Ann is the guest author of today’s Andy’s Corner]

If you Google “Give the gift of…”, the most interesting answers appear. You could choose from the following online sites which complete the sentence for you:

Give the gift of…

The one thing that didn’t come up is one I want to recommend: give the gift of….FOOD. Being a food blogger, I’d love if you’d make a batch of ….whatever…to gift this holiday season – or anytime someone needs a “lifter upper.” But, if you’re short on time (and long on cash), you have Goldbelly.com to help you out. Consider these possibilities (all with free shipping)


Key Lime Pie
From Cootie Brown’s in Johnson City, Tennessee
$59.95

OR...

ONE loaf of Stollen Bread from Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Bakery in Napa
$84.95

OR

Wild Shrimp & Cognac w/Creole Cream Cheese Grits from Commander’s Palace, New Orleans
$89.95

In looking over the Goldbelly offerings I can’t help but think that many of their food gifts would be relatively easy to make. Maybe they wouldn’t be quite as gorgeous, but I’ll bet they would be just as delicious, if not more so. You could make and gift a recipe from BigLittleMeals…

SPOILER ALERT IF YOU’RE A NEIGHBOR!

This year I’m gifting these easy-to-make biscotti. The recipe comes by way of Hattiesburg, Mississippi, and friends there with Italian heritage. For years we were fortunate enough to receive a box of them each holiday season, and this year – after some emailing back and forth – we got the recipe to share with you. The gift that keeps on giving.

Orange-Almond Biscotti

Orange-Almond Biscotti

  • Servings: around 3 dozen small biscotti
  • Print

Thanks to Theresa and Joe in Hattiesburg, MS for helping me get this recipe, which Theresa’s family made and sold at farmers’ markets for years.

  • 2 c flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp Diamond kosher salt
  • 4 T (1/4 c) butter, softened
  • 1 c sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 1/4 tsp almond extract
  • 1 c whole almonds, roasted and chopped coarse (or substitute roasted hazelnuts)
  • 2 T zest from an orange or 2 tsp lemon zest
  • 1 1/2 tsp anise seed (optional)

Preheat to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or simply grease the pan with butter.

Whisk flour, baking powder, and salt together in medium bowl.

Cream butter and sugar together until smooth, about 2 mins with mixer at medium speed or in a food processor. Beat in eggs one at a time, then vanilla and almond. Stir in toasted and chopped almonds and zest (and anise seeds if you’re using them). Add flour mixture and stir until just incorporated.

Turn dough out onto a very lightly floured surface and form into a ball (flouring your hands helps prevent sticking). Halve dough and turn each portion onto the cookie sheet. Using floured hands, shape each portion of dough into a 13″ long x 2″ wide log, placing the two logs about 3 inches apart on the cookie sheet.

Bake until loaves are golden and just beginning to crack on top, about 30-35 mins.

Cool the loaves for 10 mins; lower oven to 325°. Cut each loaf diagonally into about 1/2″ inch slices with a serrated knife. Lay the slices flat, about 2/3 inch apart, on the cookie sheet and return them to oven. Bake until crisp and golden brown – about 15 -20 mins. Transfer biscotti to wire rack and cool completely.

Recipe brought to you by BigLittleMeals.com and Andy and Ann.

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