The History Dish: Chinese New Year Cookies

IMG_7168Chinese New Year Cookies…there was nothing I could do to them to make them look less like poops.

The Chinese New Year starts tomorrow, so in celebration I thought it would be fun to make a vintage recipe for Chinese New Year Cookies. It’s too bad these cookies look like poop.

The History

This recipe come from the same vintage collection as my Moose Milk recipe, and caught my eye because I had never seen a Chinese New Year-themed confection in an otherwise anglo recipe collection. What makes these cookied Chinese-ish is the inclusion of Chinese noodles: crispy fried rice noodles, like the kind you get with a take-out order of wonton soup. I can’t even begin to answer the question of whether or not these noodles are authentic in any way, fully Americanized, or some combination thereof. It seems that they’re such a niche aspect of Chinese take-out that no one has ever bothered to wonder before. Anyone out there have a clue?

The Recipe

IMG_6969

Chinese New Years Cookies
Written by B. Allen. From a recipes collection dating between the 1960s-1990s.

1 pkg (6oz) Semi sweet chocolate chips
1 pkg (6oz)  Caramels
1 can (3oz) Chinese noodles
1 can or jar (7-8 oz) Peanuts

  1. Melt chocolate and caramel.
  2. Mix in noodles and nuts.
  3. Scoop by teaspoon onto waxed paper. Chill.

Makes 2-4 dozen.

The Results

IMG_7146A hot mess from start to finish.

This entire recipe was a hot mess from start to finish. Something was off about the texture–when the chocolate and caramel melted together, it was so thick. My friend Pat and I got into a long debate about whether or not it was the qaulity of the caramels, or if I had used too many in proportion to the chocolate, but the point is moot because nothing will stop these cookies from looking like tiny piles of poo.

They also taste like tootsie rolls with Chinese noodles jammed up inside them.

Enjoy the New Year, instead, with some of those strawberry candies. Those are great.

Etsy: Perfume Cake

Perfume Cake 3

I’ve got another post up on Etsy, this time with my friend Jessica Reed, a historic cake connoisseur. We tried a particularly unique cake:

“Perfume Cake was a sort of sport…invented by our daring big sister and eaten with a certain delightsome awe by all who knew its secret, which was after all a simple one, merely that of substituting a few drops of Mother’s best perfume for the usual vanilla or almond extract.”

Find out the results here!

Moose Milk: A Boozey Punch for a Blizzard

moosemilk1Moose Milk: A drink for a blizzard.

If you live anywhere in the Northeast (or those other places that always get snow and don’t freak out) you probably have a lot of snow outside right now. So here’s what you can do with it: make a magical boozey punch that you chill in a snow drift.

The History.

moosemilk9A recipe collection dating from 1966-1998.

Every now and again, a reader will send me something. A little book, or recipe, or what-have-you they’ve stumbled upon. Reader Bonnie Belza sent me a binder of vintage recipes picked up at an estate sale in Arizona, stuffed with handwritten notebook papers and newspaper clippings dating between 1966-1998. The collections’ compiler, Anne, asked friends and family for recipes, and they would sign and date their contribtions: Bette Hartnett’s Southern Pecan Pie, 1970; Mrs. Steven’s Ginger Snaps; Aunt Grace’s Date Nut Loaf. Sometimes, the recipes would come attached to letters and notes, which also went into the recipe binder. The book is not just a collection of desserts, but sampling of Anne’s community.

moosemilk8Gale’s fool-proof dessert is Creme Celeste: vanilla, cream and gelatin molded in a “pint sized parkay tub” and served with fruit.

More recent newspaper clippings confirm that Anne lived with her husband Manolo in Arizona, but I suspect they may have retired there from the Midwest. Ethnic treats like kolaches, and dishes of Swedish descent, are also tucked in the book’s pages indicating they may have come from colder climates. And then there’s the recipe for Moosemilk: on a type-written page, in a fancy font (in the era of electric typewrites, you could change the font!), dated only “friday,” a young woman named Lynne writes to Anne and Manolo about her new baby boy, Mark Oliver Mabry: “John loved the Oliver part but everyone thought it was such an odd name that he hated to name him that so we just used it for a middle name.” On the back, she included two recipes for punch, one of them a rum and ice cream concoction called Moose Milk that she instructs to “Cover and refrigerate and leave covered in a snow bank for several hours or overnight.”

Moose Milk is an old term in Canada for hooch: unfiltered moonshine that came out cloudy. The term dates back to the early 1900s (source). But this moosemilk is a sweet, mixed punch and seems similar to the sort of punches that evolved in the 1950s. I can’t find much dependable history as to its origins, but it seems to have some sort of association with the Canadian Airforce.

The Recipe.

moosemilk11I included some of my parent’s homemade, dark maple syrup.

Variations of the recipe contain Kahlua (which sounds delicious but I didn’t have any on hand) and maple syrup. I did have a jar of my mother’s homemade dark maple syrup, so I decided to substitute it for the 2-3 tablespoons of confectioners sugar recommended in my recipe.

moosemilk10The original recipe for Moosemilk.

Moosemilk
Adapted from a typewritten letter, c. 1975

2 eggs, room temperature
2-3 tablespoons confectioners syrup or dark (grade b) maple syrup
1 pint (2 cups) vanilla ice cream, softened (get the good stuff)
1 quart (4 cups) whole milk
1 pint (2 cups) dark rum (I used Black Seal, but Meyer’s would do you just fine.)

  1. In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine eggs and maple syrup. Gradually increasing speed, beat eggs until frothy, about three minutes.
  2. Add ice cream. Beat on low until the it looks like ice cream soup; then beat on high until light and airy, about 4 minutes total.
  3. With mixer on low, add rum and milk. Mix until it looks like watery egg nog.
  4. Pour into tupperware, mason jars or a bowl, and seal. Bury in a snowdrift for at least three hours, or up to overnight.

Alternately, you could make this recipe in the morning and reveal it in the evening for a party. I made mine in the evening as a massive snowstorm rolled through New York, and nestled it into the snow of my apartment building’s back yard. When the bowl of ice cream and booze was all tucked in, I waved good bye, went inside, and waited for the magic to happen.

moosemilk7Putting the punch to bed. See the blue circle of the punch bowl on the ground?

 

moosemilk6The next morning: Covered in a snow drift!!!

The Results!

In the end, New York City didn’t get as much snow as expected: about a foot in my part of Queens. But somehow, I managed to put the bowl of Moose Milk in the middle of a three foot snow drift. My husband and I dug it out around noon, after it had been in the snow about 18 hours.

moosemilk4Excavating the punch.

When I brought it in, and scissored through the tin foil covering, I was shocked to find ¾ of the contents missing. My first thought, naturally, was “What kind of sorcery is this!” Upon closer inspection, I found a fairly large, but barely imperceptible crack in the bottom of the bowl. Luckily, there was still enough punch left for several glasses.

moosemilk2The final punch!

Overnight, the punch had separated: a delightful, creamy froth had risen to the top, ready to be spooned on top of Moose Milks helpings. Most importantly, the drink had mellowed. When I tasted it right after mixing, all I could tasted was the rum. After many hours in the snow, it was still strong, but the bite of the alcohol had relaxed just enough. I garnished each glass with powdered vanilla, which was just the bump this drink needed. (although I got mine from a collegue, here’s something similar). Creamy, vanilla, goodness.

Moosemilk! If you’ve got some snow outside, harness the weather to make you a drink, instead of taking up precious refrigerator space. Invite a few neighbors to share it with, or perhaps it’s just for you and your partner, while you binge watch The Wire.

Masters of Social Gastronomy: Romance and Revenge, January 28

Masters of Social Gastronomy:  The History of Aphrodisiacs and Poisons

Wednesday, January 28th.
FREE FREE FREE, 21+ RSVP
Doors at 7:30pm, talks start at 8pm
Littlefield, 622 Degraw Street in Gowanus

The  Masters of Social Gastronomy take on curious food topics and break down the history, science, and stories behind them. This month, we’re getting reading for Valentine’s Day!

Every culture has a long history of aphrodisiacs – love-inducing and libido-promoting foods, ranging from the commonplace to the esoteric. Is chocolate the rightful king of Valentines Day, or could we do better with a tiger’s unmentionables? Let’s trace the history of these foxy foods and see what science has to say about their amorous assertions.

First comes loves, then comes marriage, then comes a little bit of rat poison in their coffee cup. When love goes wrong, out comes the Victorian obsession with female poisoners: delicate and seductive, these ladies made headlines in the age of yellow journalism for offing their lovers with poisoned food. Come hear their stories and…hey, does this taste like almonds to you? RSVP HERE.

Video: Cooking on Live TV and Not Embarrassing Myself!

I recently appeared on the new network Arise, on the New York based show Arise and Shine with Rain Pryor and Priya Sridhar. We chatted about my blog, my methodology, and my upcoming book; then I demonstrated Reuben’s Apple Pancake! Apples are covered in pancake batter, the fried in butter in sugar to give it a crispy and gooey caramelized crust. I impressively flipped it, and made a little mess but not a big one, and it turned out beautiful and delicious.

And you can watch it all above, and get the recipe here.

Lapham’s Quarterly: My Secret Life in 1848

hale_farmThe author, c. 2001, working at a living history museum. Photo by Rev. Brett R. Schutzman.

For five years as a historic reenactor, I could never escape the year 1848. I’ve got a piece up on the Lapham’s Quarterly blog about my past in a living history museum and the strange experience of living life in two timelines.

Our year was 1848. Several historic houses had been moved from northeast Ohio and arranged around a village green: this was our fake town. Visitors were free to roam the site, spending as little or as much time as they choose interacting with its townspeople. A family was cast in each house, and I “lived” with an older brother and sister, an Irish maid, and my mother—in this case played by my actual mother, one of the museum’s middle managers, who had decided when I turned seventeen that I was too old to sit on my ass over summer vacation. From June through August I spent more waking hours of my life in the nineteenth century than I did in the modern day.

Read more here.

Podcast: Chinese Take-Out!

Somethin’ to put on while you deck the halls, or before you go out for Chinese food.

Sarah covers the history of Chinese take out, whisking you away on a tour of Chinatown a century ago, where chop suey houses served entrees considered exotic by droves of hungry New Yorkers. Soma reveals the stories behind our modern American Chinese food experience, from the man behind General Tso’s to who put the magic in your fortune cookie.

Etsy Kitchen Histories: The Gingerbread House

gingerbread3Building my gingerbread house.

I’ve got a post up on Etsy on the bizarre and surprising history of the Christmas tradition of the gingerbread house. Go read it here, and then come back, because I’ve got some unanswered questions I need help with.

Ok, have you read it? You’re back? Here’s what I want to know:

1. Why was Hansel and Gretel associated with Christmas? The story has had a strong Christmas association since the 19th century that continues to this very day–the opera is currently playing in New York City. My guess is because it’s a story that warns against holiday over indulgence, but still has a happy ending, so it’s not too much of a bummer.

2. Why did gingerbread house making get so popular in America in the mid-20th century? Seriously, mentions of gingerbread houses explode in newspaper and magazines, and that’s when all the ephemera and gingerbread kits date from. Four Pounds Flour superfan Tammy suggested that perhaps it’s because of color photography: all those women’s magazine could now publish inspiring color photo spreads of gingerbread houses. From researching similar trends, I’. leaning towards a single celebrity, event, or important article that sparked the craze, but I haven’t tracked down this significant occasion. My mom built her gingerbread house in the early 1970s, and only rememebers doing it because every else was.

So what do you think? I’d love your thoughts.

Oh! And if anyone out there reads Fraktur, old-school German script, I also came across Das Lebkuchenhaus, a German history of gingerbread houses, written in 1872 just after German unification. I don’t read German, so I’d love more information about this book, but from friends who read modern German, they’ve gleaned it’s very nationalistic and fantastical. You can read it here, if you’re able and interested.

And if you enjoyed this post, you can check out the rest of my Kitchen History posts, on all kinds of interesting objects, here!

Podcast: Thanksgiving!

Something to put on while you’re doing the cookin’.

Sarah tells you the real history of Thanksgiving, with historic recipes and the stories behind your favorite side dishes! Soma’s gonna help you cook your turkey right! Plus: why you should serve eels this year, and what’s spatchcock?

Drink Like A Pilgrim: Spruce Beer

spruce4Two bottles of beer brewed with real spruce limbs.

Liquor.com asked me to find out what it was like to Drink like a Pilgrim; and as it turns out, The Puritans were pretty heavy drinkers. Suprised? Although drinking was acceptable in 17th century New England, drunkenness was not. Massachusetts had extensive anti-drunkenness laws.

The rules:

  • At one time, beer brewed in the home could only be drunk by family members—not by friends.
  • If you went out for a drink, you could only stay at the tavern for half an hour.
  • As higher-proof spirits like rum became available, laws made them prohibitively expensive to buy.
  • You could never, ever drink on Sunday. (Massachusetts still has famously restrictive “blue laws.”)

This Thanksgiving I made a homebrew to accompany my meal. I based my recipe on an early American drink called Spruce Beer, brewed with real spruce branches, hops, dark maple syrup and no grain. Effervescent and yeasty, it’s dramatically different from modern beer. The Puritans would have downed an impressive two to three quarts of this concoction a day.

If you want to know how my beer turned out–and how I felt after drinking three quarts of it–you can read the full article here!