Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Moon Landing & Moon Pies

The Story: Mooning Over the Crescent City
That’s One Small Step for Man and One Giant Leap for Man Kind.

The Internet has learned a lot about my family (and me) thanks to this blog.  Some of it can be viewed as either embarrassing or awesome, depending on your point of view. (For example, our compulsive Independence Day watching and my quirk for canine cuisine.)

But this next piece of information, in my opinion, can only be seen as awesome. 

We are a family of space nerds.  Yes, astronauts are worshipped like rock stars.  My parents are both geologists, so naturally the science bug translates into astronaut worship.  My dad actually has an astronomy specialty.  My brother-in-law is getting a Ph.D. in aerospace engineering. And, my mechanical engineer boyfriend was a SpaceX intern.

Rockets, quite simply, are the best.

Which is why I would like to dedicate this week’s blog to the 43rd anniversary of the moon landing (July 21, 1969).   

My boyfriend Robert and I actually had the luck of being in DC last week, where we saw a Saturn V engine and the Space Shuttle Discovery — at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum and Udvar-Hazy Hanger, respectively. 

Another way to commemorate the Moon Landing is to make Moon Pies. At least, that’s how I celebrated. And, fun fact, Moon Pies are also a New Orleans tradition.

Though the famous cellophane wrapped, marshmallow puffed, retro cakes are not manufactured in the Crescent City, they have become a Mardi Gras staple. 

Moon Pies are a popular and sought after parade throw. (Throw [throh] – object thrown from a Mardi Gras float.)  Everyone gets beads, but catching a Moon Pie is something special.  New Orleans kids grow up loving Moon Pies just because of the sport that goes into catching them. For many, it is a once a year treat.

Eww Banana.
I, honestly, don’t care for the taste, it seems akin to cardboard in my opinion.  But I do end up eating the ones I catch because of the fun. Vanilla is the best, but be ware of the similarly wrapped and hued banana flavor.

A side of pie: … in the sky
Funny how freshness really changes food?

As a kid, I usually saved the Moon Pies I caught at the parade for my Dad, because they are his favorite.  In fact, he enjoys them so much that one year I made this Moon Pie recipe for him from scratch. He said they were good. But, there was something different.  They were fresh.

 These homemade gooey centered cookies were not sealed in an airtight wrapper that would keep them edible even in a post apocalyptic environment.  But, that’s half the charm. 

My dad knew his birthday pastry was what his dear, preserved cookie was modeled after.  But, the original tasted nothing like the imitation he loves so much. 

If you love gas station or Mardi Gras moon pies, this recipe is not for you. If you’re like me, you’ll be over the moon.

Homemade Moon Pies. Photo by Robert Giglio

2 cups flour
6 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
2 ½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1/3 shortening (I substitute with butter because Crisco is yuck)
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1 cup sour milk (I use regular milk in a pinch)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

¾ Shortening (Once again, butter is better)
1 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup store-bought marshmallow topping

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease baking sheets.
Combine flour, cocoa powder and salt.
Cream butter and sugar. Beat in egg, milk and vanilla. Gradually blend in dry ingredients.
Plop tablespoonfuls 3” apart on cookie sheet.
Bake 7-10 minutes. 
Now let’s do the filling … Combine all ingredients.
That was easy.
Cut your cookies horizontally and sandwich in the filling.

Note: This recipe is not an original! For the first time on my blog this is a cookie recipe I pulled from elsewhere because it is just too good to not share. This recipe is from “501 Cookies: The Ultimate A-to-Z Guide to Bars, Drops, Crescents, Snaps, Squares and Everything that Crumbles,” by Gregg R. Gillepsie. This book is my baking bible and it packs a mean Snickerdoodle recipe too! Definitely a kitchen must have.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Dog Days of Summer & Hot Dogs

This week’s post is brought to you by my amazing, beautiful, talented, sweet, big sister Julie — I may admire her just a little bit.  She so graciously offered to step in for me this week because A) I have been traveling and B) She had the opportunity to visit my mother’s childhood home in Illinois.  So, thanks to Julie the Old Country is venturing to a whole new land: the Midwest! And if you like what you read please take a minute to mosey on over to Julie’s blog about socially conscious wedding planning, Engaged With a Cause. Julie had her big day last October, but her site is a wealth of information for the creative, charitable bride.

With my beautiful sister Julie at her rehearsal dinner last October. 

The Dish and the Dish: The “Dog” Days of Summer & Hot Dogs
My sister brings the Old Country to my mother’s Midwestern childhood home

Last week, I sat in the overly air-conditioned backseat of a newer model Ford Taurus, driving through an endless ocean of cornfields, with the occasional soy crop thrown in for good measure. I listened to my parents bickering over which highway to take and whether we should stop for lunch in Davenport or Rock Island. When I closed my eyes, the familiar banter brought me back to long car trips to St. Louis to see our aunt and cousins. Yet, when I glanced over, it was my husband, not my little sister Caroline sitting next to me on this voyage west.

The miles of cornfields must have gotten my mom feeling nostalgic too. Only her nostalgia wasn’t just for summer road trips, but rather for her old home. See, while you might have learned via Caroline’s blog that we have a rich New Orleans heritage that’s sprinkled with old world flavors from the Rhineland and the Mediterranean, my mother spent much of her childhood in a small suburb of Chicago — Wheeling, Illinois.

This post's for you Mom.  Here's a junior high school photo of her in Wheeling.

Growing up we heard many a tale about the Americana of her Midwestern childhood. Lacking any real knowledge of Illinois, or the 1960s for that matter, Caroline and I recreated my mom’s childhood with the fireworks scene in the Sandlot or the bike riding sequence in Now and Then. Yet, having never been to the place, as we had been to my dad’s childhood haunts many times, it was hard to see her there.

The Midwestern childhood we always imagined and envied.  PS Caroline is totally a Sam and I'm a Roberta. Photo found online

Well, during the trek to Iowa for my friend’s wedding, I realized this was the perfect opportunity to go to Wheeling — the mythological place my mother, and perhaps even I had idealized. My mom left Wheeling in 1970 and had never been back. Talk about a clear demarcation between childhood and high school.

As we drove into the tiny, middle-class suburb, a lot had changed. Situated on the northwest/west side of Chicago, the town’s demographics had clearly shifted with America’s. Korean and Mexican restaurants dotted the main drag, along with numerous hot dog places — there were at least ten.

“My daddy used to take us to Dog and Suds. We would get sodas and hotdogs there. It was just like Sonic, but before Sonic — the girls wore roller skates and coin purses. I’m sure it’s gone now,” Mom said, as her eyes nervously searched for some sign that this was the place she has left 40+ years before.

As we neared her childhood home on Redwood Trail, many of the places she missed began to pop up along the way — her elementary school where she won her first science fair and the swing set she sat on during her last morning in Illinois before moving to Louisiana.

Mom's old elementary school
After we stopped and saw her home and school we began our journey out of town. There was one more place she wanted to see — Dog and Suds.

Sure enough, the Dog and Suds was no longer open, it had been replaced by a Gyros and Brat restaurant, but the building looked straight out of Happy Days. There was even a meeting of old car collectors parked there when we went by, giving the whole thing an over the top Back to the Future vibe.

Dogs and Suds circa now.

Even though the years have gone by, some things stay the same. Folks in the Midwest know their Brats & Dogs. I can honestly say that I’ve never seen so many hot dog stands!

Inspired by my recent trip to our “mother’s land,” and the timing of Caroline’s own summer road trip, we decided that we should take inspiration from Dog and Suds with a '60s Americana themed BBQ — complete with aprons.

Here are our dogs. The dog days aren’t over just yet ;)

How do you take your hotdog? We had German brats, Kosher, Turkey and Cajun boudin.  

The works. 

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Biergarten & Radler

The Story: Caroline, Radler. Radler, this is Caroline.
A big gulp German beer

I was lucky enough to venture to my family’s Old Country (Germany) once in 2009. On this trip I was introduced to a lovely summer beverage called a radler — it’s half beer, half lemonade.

This is a popular beverage for ladies who haven’t acquired a taste for bier. And, depending on the size of the serving and the establishment, this can also be a children’s drink.

My mother remembers going to a family biergarten with her Oma in Bavaria in the ‘60s and drinking a radler from a kiddie sized cup (it was lemonade with a splash of beer), while her grandmother daintily sipped the same beverage. 

Well, my encounter with the drink was far from darling …

It all started with a bike tour through Munich that weaved its way into the heart of Englischer Garten, the Chinesischer Turm (Chinese Tower) with biergarten.  Everyone was going up to a kiosk and grabbing giant HoffBrau beers. I thought, I’ll play it safe, I’ll get the one that’s half lemonade.

There my Dad and I are with our Radlers in the Englischer Garten.
Well, I drank half of it.  Now, the glass was the size of my head, so half was no simple feat.   Truly, I wasn’t drunk, but that ride back on the bike was a little more difficult than the way there.  Somehow we all made it back in one piece – some of the other tourists had two of steins of beer!

Giant German beers take two.  Here we are at a biergarten in Augsburg.

As I reminisce about my German adventures, I get just a little nostalgic.  Luckily, I can quench this at home with a little taste of Bavaria …

Getrank: Radler
Reach for a cold one … but you’ll need two hands to lift it. 

Get a stein and fill it with a German beer, not a dunkel.* Now, fill it the rest of the way with lemonade.

Just have a regular glass? Fill it a little more than halfway with beer and top it off with lemonade.


*When Robert and I made the beverage last week, we used Warsteiner beer.  

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Independence Day and S'more Cakeballs

Some Lore: Independence Day
My International blog takes a week to celebrate the New Country

Here at the Old Country, I usually focus on the past.  But today, in honor of America, I will share my family’s very modern Fourth of July tradition.

My family, like most, usually hosts a big barbecue. In Louisiana, expect no fewer than 10 cousins and some straggling neighbors.  We have sausage, burgers, corn and, of course, beer.  We may walk to get sno-balls.  It’s all very mundane and quite pleasant.  Except for one thing.

We watch the 1996 cinematic classic Independence Day, starring Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum. Considering the date, this may not seem so strange.  But we don’t watch it once. It's on loop.

A picture of Hiller, found online.

And, this tradition reaches farther than the related July day. It spread to Christmas, Thanksgiving and all other family gatherings since the film came out on VHS in 1997.

After watching the same film together for, I don’t know - 15 years, certain viewing habits develop. 

One of the uncles always asks to start the feature, usually by saying, “Where’s Independence Day?” Like our honored guest hasn’t arrived yet.  Everyone says their favorite lines with the character, most notably “Welcome to Earth,” as Will Smith punches an alien.  We jeer at the stripper who goes on the roof, even though Jasmine totally warned her against it.  We applaud the dog as it leaps out of the explosion like a total badass.  And my male cousins get rhythmically louder during the “Today we celebrate our Independence Day” speech.  

Other films have come and gone (Armageddon, Idiocracy, The Hangover), but for some reason we just can’t shake Captain Steven Hiller and David Levinson. 

S'More: S'more, Cake Balls that is
But I haven't had any yet ...

S'more Cake Balls ... aww yeah. Photo by Robert Giglio

I made this dish for my family's barbecue tomorrow. I thought it was an appropriate dessert to top off a cook out or a good July dish, reminiscent of summer camp outs. They are a crowd pleaser, and super easy ... 

- chocolate box cake mix
- chocolate icing
- bakers chocolate
- mini marshmallows 
- graham crackers

Bake the box cake as directed. Let it cool. Now, destroy it. Really, mash it up and blend it with half a can of that chocolate icing. Now it is a maleable dough. Flatten small pieces of this dough into your palm. Place two or three mini marshmallows in a thumbprint in the center and roll the dough around it and into a ball shape. Melt the bakers chocolate and pour it over the tops of the balls.  Sprinkle graham cracker crumbs on the top. Enjoy! 

For my other odd cake ball recipes click here: King Cake Balls and Ice Cream Stuffed Cake Balls

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