Cheers to 2023!


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Happy New Year, everyone! There is water, water, everywhere, and we will take it while we can. I hope people have been able to keep snug and safe in the extreme weather—here in California, or in the places that have gotten so much snow.

It’s been a while since I wrote I post, I know. I have been working on a bigger writing project and I’m happy to report that it is at a good stage now. Review!

My review of the latter half of 2022, as far as kitchen adventures are concerned, can be summed up as 1) expanding the number of zucchini dishes in my repertoire, by necessity because I had a nice crop this summer that kept me and several neighbors well supplied, and 2) my quest to replicate desserts that I love the most from New York, where I grew up:  cannoli and rice pudding.

I took a very quick trip to New York in October for my 40th High School reunion. It was a wonderful time. That community of people is just a great group. I am very lucky to have had about as positive a high school experience as one can have—yes, of course there were the episodes of mortification, heartbreak, and my share of acne and hormonal hoo-haa, but I came through without bitterness. A good number of the California contingent made the trip to Westchester too, and that was a great plus. Our graduating class is not large, about 150 people, so everyone knows everyone, and at least 60 classmates attended. I hadn’t been to a reunion since my 10th, but I believe that it’s universal that the clique-ishness ends at some point, certainly by year thirty, and there is warm and welcoming visiting amongst everyone. It was also nice to travel across country after so much time being properly cautious. Many of us remarked on how it was a stretch to be social in such a concentrated way, after the pandemic habits had conditioned us toward greater isolation, but it felt wonderful to connect and enjoy time with old friends.

New York was showing off its best self, with lovely autumn weather too. I knew I would not be able to fit in an excursion to track down cannoli or a dish of rice pudding during my visit. That was okay. I instead got this bee in my bonnet that when I returned home I would roll up my sleeves and figure out how to make both local favorites myself. Surely it wasn’t rocket science. (And a side note, though I’ve tried, I’ve never had a good cannoli or a good dish of rice pudding in California. Rice pudding isn’t all that common except in cups in the grocery store.) My grandmother was known for her excellent rice pudding. I did not come to love it at her table, though. Rice pudding seemed like a total cop-out dessert when I was a kid, and I wouldn’t touch it. It was only at college, where one of the pizza places had a great rice pudding, that I came to love it as a treat now and then–especially during finals. Comfort in a a big styrofoam cup.

Rice pudding is not that hard to make but it does require hanging about the pot and stirring it for a long time. Even the recipe that I wound up using from America’s Test Kitchen said I’d be stirring it or standing by for at least 30 minutes. It was more like an hour before it started to thicken as it was supposed to. I like the idea of using up whole milk and the leftover rice I sometimes have, but I would have to plan to make it when I have enough other things happening in the kitchen so that I wouldn’t just feel tethered to the pot. I looked at my handful of classic cookbooks like Betty Crocker and Joy of Cooking and even the ladies of Fairmont Synagogue cookbook, which contained four variations, but many of those involved egg whites and meringues and baking in the oven for an hour or two, and I knew this wasn’t the type I was looking for. Stovetop was going to be my method. The ATK recipe proved successful. With a big dusting of cinnamon and cinnamon sugar over the top, I was able to satisfy that wistful craving.

On to cannoli. This is still a work in progress. I have made the filling about four times now. The filling is yummy, and fairly easy to put together. I experimented to get the taste the way I remember it, as the first recipe I tried was sweet and creamy but had no Italian edge to it. This was again the America’s Test Kitchen version, and their recipe called for store bought cannoli shells, which I have never seen. The main ingredients for the filling are ricotta cheese and mascarpone, both available at the grocery store, and confectioners’ sugar. What I added to get it closer to the New York ones I remembered was a tablespoon of lemon and a pinch of nutmeg. I also made the ratio two parts ricotta to one part mascarpone as opposed to the first recipe that said to use equal parts ricotta and mascarpone. My neighbors and I tasted the results of each trial, using broken pieces of store-bought waffle cones to scoop up the filling. It is a fine way to go.

Last week, confident in my filling, I went ahead and cleared the counters for making the shells. This was my Everest. I would love to report that they were fantastic but, alas, I need a different recipe because the end result tasted like matzoh. Absolute rubbish. I also need to go back to exercising to increase my upper body strength because I found it physically impossible to roll the dough as thin as the recipe called for – 1/8 to 1/16 of an inch. The frying part was fun though, and less daunting than I thought it would be. I did use up about a quart and a half of vegetable oil, but I didn’t have to break out the deep fryer, which would probably have required that I pour in a gallon. My daughter and I spent a nice long visit to a Barnes and Noble this week and I looked at several Italian cookbooks, none of which had a recipe for cannoli. It’s surprising to me. My cookbooks at home don’t either. I had gotten the recipe I used from the internet, and the woman claimed it was the family recipe but it was not a keeper. Avanti! I shall have to make some new Sicilian friends or keep experimenting on my own. I will get back to you when I can say “Est! Est! Est!” about the shells. Tonight it will be our traditional hot fudge sundaes to ring in the new year. Any traditions around the New Year you care to share? I would love to hear.

It is still pouring outside, but lots of rain is a big blessing around these parts, and I am quite content to stay in. May the things that slow us down also make us happy. Wishing everyone all bright things and a very happy and healthy New Year. I hope to see more friends and family in 2023. Cheers! – Janice