Bring on the kitcshy American party-foods!

In America, lots of suburban women go to backyard barbecues or church potlucks and bring dishes like “Macaroni and Cheese”, “Tuna Noodle Casserole”, or rainbow Jello molds.

I have to admit, I think this is kind of awesome.

However, the ultimate American kitschy party favorite, or maybe penultimate, after “Taffy Apple Salad” (so amazingly delicious), is the Spinach Dip Bread Bowl.  I was really quite surprised this savory snack hadn’t yet become a hit here in New Zealand as well.  It’s the kind of recipe that normally involves buying a loaf of “Hawaiian Bread”, basically a giant squishy brioche, cutting a hole in the middle, and filling it with a mixture of frozen spinach, mayonnaise, cream cheese, and an onion soup packet.

Of course, as we know, our motto here on Holloway Road is “If it ain’t from scratch, it don’t go down the hatch”.

So, commence spinach dip bread bowl creation.  Step 1.  Bake a loaf of whole-wheat bread.

I use the no-knead “Artisanal Bread in 5 minutes a day” recipe, which creates a really nice, yummy “boule” shaped loaf.  (Boule is French for ball).  You can follow their recipe, I won’t bother repeating it here.  But I will post a picture of my beautiful final product, before inserting spinach dip.

Step 2 – Make spinach dip.

My recipe for spinach dip, although imprecise, created something better, and healthier, than my previous attempts/failures, like the soupy shit I brought to the Montreal Children’s Library Christmas Party in 2009.  Don’t worry, I also brought cupcakes and a quiche.  The secret ingredient to my new-and-improved spinach dip of success?  ONION POWDER!  (Available at Moore Willie’s, for you NZ folks who can’t find it at the New World).  Like an onion soup packet, but no MSG, partially hydrogenated milk solids, etc.

  • Wash some fresh spinach from the Victoria Street market.  I think I used an entire $2 bunch.
  • Chop it up.  Boil it in your homemade veggie stock, if you’re awesome like me, and make veggie stock every week with your left over peelings and whatnot.  If you don’t have veggie stock… I guess you could just use water.  Or maybe put some other kind of stock powder in the pot.  The vegetarian chicken kinds are alright.
  • Once the spinach is soggy, drain it, and make sure to squeeze out as much excess liquid as possible.

Put it in a bowl.  Add to it:

  • 2 tbs cream cheese (I prefer the low-fat kind)
  • 2 tbs sour cream (see above)
  • 2 tbs mayonnaise (see above)
  • 1 cup natural yogurt (see above), or more, as needed.
  • 2 tbs onion powder
  • 2 cloves of smashed & diced garlic
  • salt & pepper to taste

Step 3 – Mix it all up real good.  Cut a hole in your boule, scoop out the bready innards, slice them up into little dipping chunks, spoon in your dip, and place an awesome map-on-a-toothpick decorative flourish on top.  Wait for the dip and bread bowl to disappear before your eyes.

The Canadian Baker

I like to think of myself as an honorary Canadian.  Often people ask me “What part of Canada are you from?” and I have to say “I’m actually from America”, though I might be able to get away with saying “Chicago”, and New Zealanders wouldn’t even know?  Anyway, considering the amount of time I lived in Canada, and the fact that I am practically married to a sweet boy from Ontario, I don’t think I had ever actually eaten Nanaimo bars until this week.  I surely remember them being made by my housemates in Montreal, though I don’t recall every having gotten a taste.  I just knew for sure – it’s a Canadian dessert that doesn’t exist in America.  Apparently something quite similar does exist in New Zealand; “Nainoma Bars”.  Somewhere along the way the Kiwis misspelled the name of Nanaimo, a town on Vancouver Island in British Columbia.

I basically copied the recipe straight from the Nanaimo City Council website, with one important addition; I made my own graham crackers from scratch.

Here in New Zealand, they don’t sell graham crackers in the supermarket.  There are similar types of cookies, such as malted biscuits or “digestives”, but I decided to go for it and make my own.  I followed the recipe from 101 Cookbooks, (which says to use 2 tablespoons vanilla… a typo?) which was pretty straight forward.  The recipe itself is easy enough, but the crackers are time & labour intensive – all the rolling out the dough, cutting it, pricking it with little holes, and baking them took a loooong time.  However, I’d like to say that the end product is worth it.

Graham Cracker Recipe

2 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons unbleached pastry flour or unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup dark brown sugar, lightly packed
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
7 tablespoons (3 1/2 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch cubes and frozen
1/3 cup mild-flavored honey, such as clover
5 tablespoons whole milk
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

For the topping:

3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

In the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade or in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the flour, brown sugar, baking soda, and salt. Pulse or mix on low to incorporate. Add the butter and pulse on and off on and off, or mix on low, until the mixture is the consistency of a coarse meal.

In a small bowl, whisk together the honey, milk, and vanilla extract. Add to the flour mixture and pulse on and off a few times or mix on low until the dough barely comes together. It will be very soft and sticky.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and pat the dough into a rectangle about 1 inch thick. Wrap in plastic and chill until firm, about 2 hours or overnight.

To prepare the topping: In a small bowl, combine the sugar and cinnamon, and set aside.

Divide the dough in half and return one half to the refrigerator. Sift an even layer of flour onto the work surface and roll the dough into a long rectangle about 1/8 inch thick. The dough will be sticky, so flour as necessary. Trim the edges of the rectangle to 4 inches wide. Working with the shorter side of the rectangle parallel to the work surface, cut the strip every 4 1/2 inches to make 4 crackers. Gather the scraps together and set aside. Place the crackers on one or two parchment-lined baking sheets and sprinkle with the topping. Chill until firm, about 30 to 45 minutes. Repeat with the second batch of dough.

Adjust the oven rack to the upper and lower positions and preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Gather the scraps together into a ball, chill until firm, and reroll. Dust the surface with more flour and roll out the dough to get about two or three more crackers.

Mark a vertical line down the middle of each cracker, being careful not to cut through the dough. Using a toothpick or skewer, prick the dough to form two dotted rows about 1/2 inch for each side of the dividing line.

Bake for 25 minutes, until browned and slightly firm to the tough, rotating the sheets halfway through to ensure even baking.

Yield: 10 large crackers

From Nancy Silverton’s Pastries from the La Brea Bakery (Villard, 2000)

This recipe made more like 20 crackers for me, about 4inches x 2 inches, all of which went into the crust for either Nanaimo Bars, or Key Lime Pie (recipe to follow!)

The Nanaimo Bar Recipe, in all its glorious sugary sweetness, follows:

Nanaimo Bar Recipe

Bottom Layer
½ cup unsalted butter (European style cultured)
¼ cup sugar
5 tbsp. cocoa
1 egg beaten
1 ¼ cups graham wafer crumbs
½ c. finely chopped almonds
1 cup coconut

Melt first 3 ingredients in top of double boiler. Add egg and stir to cook and thicken. Remove from heat. Stir in crumbs, coconut, and nuts. Press firmly into an ungreased 8″ x 8″ pan.

Second Layer
½ cup unsalted butter
2 Tbsp. and 2 Tsp. cream
2 Tbsp. vanilla custard powder
2 cups icing sugar

Cream butter, cream, custard powder, and icing sugar together well. Beat until light. Spread over bottom layer.

Third Layer
4 squares semi-sweet chocolate (1 oz. each)
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter

Melt chocolate and butter overlow heat. Cool. Once cool, but still liquid, pour over second layer and chill in refrigerator.

layer one
layer two
layer three

I ran into a few problems with the recipe.  First of all, the 2nd layer was way too thick and difficult to spread.  I probably had to add another 2 – 3 tbs of milk to make it possible to spread evenly.  Also, I didn’t have any semi-sweet chocolate. Instead I mixed about 4 tbs of butter, 2 tbs of milk, 1/4 cup of sugar, and 1/4 cup of cocoa in a double boiler until the sugar was dissolved.  make sure you let this cool a little – but not too much or it will be too hard to spread!  If it’s too hot, it will melt the icing layer underneath.

Anyway, good luck and enjoy the sugary goodness.

Cookie Time

Just because I have been dilatory in my blogging responsibilities does not mean I have not been baking!  On the contrary, I have been ingesting so many homemade sweets and treats lately I think I have developed a new cavity in one of my molars.

Anyway, in honour of American Independence Day (4th July), I baked some of my favourite American cookie treats.

Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

The Joy of Cooking’s Oatmeal Raisin cookies recipe produces the best oatmeal raisin cookies I have ever had.  Between the last edition, and the new one, the name changed from “Classic Oatmeal Cookies” to “Oatmeal Raisin Cookies”, which threw me off for a while, but I realized it is indeed the same recipe.  Ths is probably my most-often-baked recipe from the Joy of Cooking.  I can easily put away a half-dozen of these cookies in the blink of an eye.  There are 2 important elements to this recipe –

1.) Don’t over-cook.  Even if they don’t look done, take them out of the oven after the alotted time has elapsed!

2.) Use whole rolled oats. Don’t use that nasty instant oatmeal shit.  You want the kind that you have to cook for 45 minutes to make porridge.

Preheat the over to 350 F.

Whisk together

  • 1 3/4 cups flour
  • 3/4 tsp baking soda
  • 3/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg

Beat in a large bowl:

  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups packed brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tsps vanilla

Mix into the flour mixture, then add:

  • 1 cup raisins
  • 3 1/2 cups rolled oats

You can also add chopped walnuts, or, for a New Zealand twist, shredded coconut, like Anzac Biscuits!

Put 2 tbs dollops of batter evenly spaced on a greased baking sheet, and bake for 12 – 14 minutes.


getting out of the house is good

Even if I do everything alone.  Anyway, last weekend I took advantage of the miraculous sunny day and took a walk from the end of Holloway Road to the wind turbine, which is up on a hill in a nature reserve area.

It was a really steep and muddy climb to the top, my thighs were definitely aching.  Coming down was even worse, since it was steep and muddy, I nearly slipped a number of times.  Anyway, it was worth it for the spectacular views, even if it was really windy at the top.  Yet, interestingly enough, despite the strong winds up there, the wind-turbine itself was barely moving!

I also took advantage of the good weather to ride my bike down to Island Bay.  Not such spectacular vistas, but the lovely smell of sea and salt upon the air, despite the cold wind blowing.  At least it wasn’t raining.

Ethnicity vs. Race, or, The Loneliness of a Nomadic American

Every time I fill out a form here, it asks me for my ethnicity.  My options are usually:

  • NZ European/Pakeha
  • Maori/Pacific Islander
  • Other : ____________

How to answer?  First of all, let us examine the word “Pakeha”.

“Pākehā is a Māori term for New Zealanders who are not of Māori blood lines.  The word Pākehā is also sometimes used to refer to any person of predominantly European ancestry, including those that are not New Zealanders. It is also used in a wider scope to refer to any non-Māori. Opinions of the term vary amongst those it describes. Some find it highly offensive, others are indifferent, some find it inaccurate and archaic, while some happily use the term and find the main alternative, New Zealand European, inappropriate.”

According to my flatmate, Pakeha is not a derogatory term.  However I can’t help but reminded of terms like “Yovo” in Benin, or “Falang” in Laos, which, although not derogatory, I found irritating and generalizing.  Why would I be a “Yovo” in Benin, which literally means “white”, but my American friend, who happened to be black, wasn’t?  And Falang… even worse!  It translates to “French”, but they use it to refer to any white foreigner.  So, without being able to speak Maori, and never having had the opportunity to actually discuss it with a Maori person, I don’t feel comfortable refering to myself as “Pakeha”.  In Laos, and Africa, and other countries I have been, luckily I wasn’t often asked my “ethnicity”, and if asked, I would generally just say “I’m American” (and then hang my head in shame).

But is “American” an ethnicity?

What the hell is an ethnicity?  How is it different from race?

race 2 |reɪs| |reɪs|
each of the major divisions of humankind, having distinct physical characteristics.

What are these “major divisions”, as defined in 21st century politically correct times?  In the 1950’s they decided it was:

Caucasoid race
Congoid race
Capoid race
Mongoloid race
Australoid race

I can’t seem to find a newer list.  Wikipedia says:

There is no scientific consensus of a list of the human races, and few anthropologists endorse the notion of human “race”.[103] For example, a color terminology for race includes the following in a classification of human races: Black (e.g. Sub-Saharan Africa), Red (e.g. Native Americans), Yellow (e.g. East Asians) and White (e.g. Europeans).

Yet, organizations such as the US Census still employ the term. even though the recognize that it’s an obsolete or undefinable term.  They ask us to tick a box next to a race, and say:

The racial categories represent a social-political construct for the race or races that respondents consider themselves to be and “generally reflect a social definition of race recognized in this country.”

So…. it’s not even physical anymore.  It’s about social-political constructs and people’s feelings, and reflects a “social definition”.  How much more ambiguous could these terms be?  Just look at the Wikipedia page about Race & Ethnicity in the US Census to get an idea of how confusing this all is, especially with regards to the Latino/Hispanic category… which of course is, genetically speaking, those who are descendant from the Spanish and Native American, so, technically, “Caucasian”, right?  But no, the US government must know how many brown people are living in our country!

I guess, according to the little bit of research I’ve done, no one can even agree on what a race is, or if we should even be using the term anymore.  As far as ethnicity…. there’s another ambiguous category.  The dictionary says:

ethnicity |eθˈnisitē|
noun ( pl. -ties)
the fact or state of belonging to a social group that has a common national or cultural tradition .

So… in that case, what am I?  Am I American?  It’s lovely to think of America as a color-less, class-less, giant melting pot of a social group… but we all know that’s not true.

What group do I belong to?  Who do I share my cultural traditions with?  Is it my European ancestors?  Is it my fellow middle-class, white Americans?

Uhhh.. none of the above?

For the time being, I will continue to check the “Other box”, and write in “Cacausian”, however obsolete and inaccurate a term it may be.  I’ve convinced myself it’s politically neutral, and actually identifies me as being American, without even having to write American, to people familiar with the wacky ways we try to classify people.

All this in the hopes of making it easier to stereo-type and generalize, put people in nice little categories, and assume we know something about each other, without really having a clue at all.