Thursday, November 27, 2014

chapter 6 Thanksgiving

Hostessing Thanksgiving often seemed to fall to my mother, I am not sure why. She and Auntie Margaret and any adult females who came generally had the cooking under control, or if they needed another pair of hands, my dad would be allowed in the kitchen. So Diane and I were free to watch the Macy’s parade on TV during our early grade school years. Maybe we saw some football, too, but we thought it was boring. After all, our male relatives fell asleep watching it after dinner! Those who did not succumb to football or tryptophan often played a lively game of Tripoli after washing dishes- this was a card game that involved poker chips, but was quite different from poker as I recall.

Thanksgiving 1967

Diane and I were not entirely off the hook though; we got to help set the table and help with clean-up, and as we got older, we had more of a hand in the side dishes. The main part of the meal was the standard Midwestern turkey, bread stuffing, mashed potatoes & gravy, sometimes the green bean casserole would be there, but not always. One rather fussy side we may have helped with was pan-glazed sweet potatoes, round slices dipped in brown sugar and fried in butter. Other vegetables and sides varied year to year, and yes, sometimes there was a jello salad. Pumpkin pie was a given, other desserts might depend on the number of guests. Sometimes my mother made Lowell Inn crescent rolls, but the one bread that had to be on the table was Limpa, a Swedish rye bread. Perhaps it was a favorite of my grandfather or uncles on the Nelson side, but everyone loved it, so it’s hard to say. It has some unusual flavors, but the sweetness appealed to us as children. My mother’s recipe may be based on a Betty Crocker version, but had some important differences, like the anise seeds.

                         Limpa ( Swedish Rye)

2 loaves

Recipe By: Donna (Nelson) Simonian

-= Ingredients =-
4 1/2 teaspoon Yeast
1 1/2 cup Water ; warm
1/3 cup Brown sugar
1/3 cup Molasses
1 tablespoon Salt
1 tablespoon Orange peel
1 tablespoon Anise seeds
2 tablespoon Shortening
1 cup Rye flour
3 cups Bread flour

-= Instructions =-
Dissolve yeast in warm water.

Place rye and half of bread flour in mixer bowl with bread hook. ( this can be done with a spoon and hand kneading as well) Stir in dissolved yeast, brown sugar, molasses, salt, shortening, anise and orange peel. Stir in enough bread flour to make a kneadable dough.  Knead in bowl or on board, gradually adding more bread flour as needed, until smooth, elastic, and springy.

Place in greased bowl in a warm spot. Cover and let rise until double. Punch down and let rise until double again. Punch down and form into  2 round loaves. Bake at 375 degrees 30 -40 min. on greased pans.  Brush with butter after baking.

Stuffing was always my favorite part of the dinner, though. If I did not have much room for seconds, I would just have another helping of stuffing. It seems a good stuffing recipe has been in the family quite a while--from my mother’s memoir on the subject of my great-grandmother Magdalena’s cooking “When I was small I remember celebrating some holidays at my grandparents’ farm. These occasions were rather subdued, but my grandmother was a wonderful cook and baker so the meals were always wonderful.  Some of the things I remember were her wonderful bread stuffing and fried eggplant.” I don’t know how close this recipe is to Magdalena’s. It is fairly close to what my mother usually did, though she was known to experiment. So do I, so there may be further variation.


Recipe By:  Donna (Nelson) Simonian
Enough for a 12 lb bird

-= Ingredients =-
1 1/2 quart Bread cubes ; old, dry best
1/4 cup Butter
1/2 cup Onion ; chopped
1/2 cup Celery ; chopped
1/2 teaspoon Sage
1/2 teaspoon Marjoram
1/2 teaspoon Thyme
1/4 teaspoon Rosemary
1 pinch Paprika
1/2 pinch Nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon Salt ; optional and adjustable
1 tablespoon Parsley ; minced
3/4 cup Chicken broth
1 Egg ; beaten

-= Instructions =-
Sauté onion and celery in butter until translucent. Add seasonings and sauté 1 min. to blend flavors.

Add to bread cubes and toss. Moisten with broth and egg, may need to adjust broth amount. May also adjust salt to taste.  If preparing ahead, this can be chilled at this point, NOT inside the bird.

Stuff loosely inside bird before roasting or bake in a separate buttered dish, covered at 350 for 1 hour.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

chapter 5-more Christmas

It seemed we were at Auntie & Uncle Clay’s for Christmas more often than not. That may have made it easier for my dad to do the Santa trick. He would go out to the back yard to smoke a pipe, and somehow Santa always dropped the presents off at the front porch while he was out. We may have figured out the game before we admitted it, but we wanted to keep believing in Santa. Diane even convinced me she saw Rudolph in the sky one year. I should add here that Auntie Margaret, for all her rigidity, did spoil us a little too, in a more practical way. She worked part time in a department store and enjoyed choosing quality bed linens and dresses for us. It seems she also took time to read to me , despite having dropped out of high school to chase boys herself!
1 year old me on Auntie's lap, my mother in the background

It was one of these Christmases when I got my Easy Bake oven. It cooked things with a light bulb! We had a lot of fun stirring up the little mix packets, sliding them through the oven and eating the results, nearly instant gratification. However, it was not long before we graduated to the real oven. I think scrambled eggs was one of the first things I learned. Then we got the idea from our Brownie handbook that we should cook breakfast for our parents on Sat. morning since we were up first. The only problem with that was that we didn't know how to work the coffee pot, so my dad still had to make his own.

Soon, around ages 8 and 9, Diane and I were trying our hand at real cake recipes, and were foolishly pleased when we could make it turn out “as good as a mix!” We also ordered a Peanuts cookbook at one of the Scholastic book sales at school. The recipes were easy, but they were real cooking, I still make Lucy’s Applesauce pie today , though I have changed a few things, like I don’t peel the apples any more.

                            Applesauce Pie

Serving Size: 6
-= Ingredients =-
6 medium Apples; cored and sliced
1/4 cup Sugar
1/4 cup Maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon Cinnamon
1 pinch Nutmeg
1 dashes Salt
1 cup Whole wheat pastry flour
6 tablespoon Butter ; softened
1/2 cup Brown sugar
1 dashes Cinnamon

-= Instructions =-
Slice apples into medium saucepan. Add sugar, maple syrup, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. Cook over medium heat ( covered and stirring frequently) until extra liquid is gone. Stir and mash until large lumps are gone. Turn apples into a pie plate and cover with topping.

Topping: Blend flour, soft butter, brown sugar, and cinnamon with fingertips and sprinkle over applesauce. Bake at 375 until top is brown and crusty, about 20 min.

Variation: I sometimes add 1/2 cup of quick oats to the crumb topping.

chapter 4 -Auntie & Uncle Clay

Auntie Margaret was a bit slower to let us kids in the kitchen, preferring the more expert and less messy assistance of my mother. We got shooed outside to ride various toy vehicles-Uncle Clay had a pedal car, a couple tricycles and a contraption called an Irish Mail for us- or colour with crayons in the garage. He loved getting us a fresh box of 64 colours! The garage was huge and had a deluxe work bench where Uncle Clay built things and it was easy enough to colour and draw there, but the real reason we were out there is that Auntie Margaret was a neat freak. She kept a spotless house, and ironed sheets and underwear. She also paid us a quarter each visit to not touch the walls! Easy money for us, Diane and I were not on the habit of doing that anyway, but maybe some of our cousins were a bit rowdier.

Uncle Clay, however, was all about spoiling us. Not just with crayons and toys, but he would be out there playing with us. He even let us tie him up with jump ropes for “cowboys and Indians”. When we got a bit bigger, he also bought us Schwinn bicycles. He also sang funny songs to us at bedtime. One of them went something like “where was Googie when the lights went out? Down in the kitchen eating sauerkraut” However, the refrigerator was not stocked with that when we visited, but 3 Musketeers bars, ice cream and Bosco chocolate sauce. Uncle Clay liked his TV sports, especially baseball, but he had a big lounge chair with wide arms, so we could all 3 be in it eating ice cream sundaes.

That did not prevent us from enjoying Auntie Margaret’s baking though. There were many excellent pies, cakes and cookies to eat up. A holiday meal at her house might mean 3 different pies, all made by her! Sunday dinners were occasions, too. It was not anything trendy or exotic, mostly roasts with mashed potatoes and gravy , or ham and scalloped potatoes, but everything was cooked to perfection. Eventually, we did get to help with simpler things like shelling peas, or peeling and cutting up apples for applesauce. However, I’d say Auntie Margaret’s biggest influence on my cooking was setting a kind of standard of excellence, that it was something worth doing well and serving in style. Here is one of her most impressive pastries.


                          Almond Coffee Cake
Recipe By: Auntie Margaret (Margaret Lutz Kennedy)
Serving Size: 18

-= Ingredients =-
4 cups All purpose flour
2 tablespoon Sugar
1 teaspoon Salt
3/4 pound Butter
1 pkg Yeast
1/4 cup Warm water
1 cup Milk ; cold
1/2 cup Butter
1 cup Sugar
1/2 can Almond filling

-= Instructions =-
Sift flour, sugar and salt together. Cut in first amount of butter.

Dissolve yeast in warm water.  Stir yeast and cold milk into dry ingredients.

Chill at least 2 hours or overnight.

Cream second amount of butter & sugar. Beat in almond filling.

Divide chilled dough into 3 parts. Roll each into a 6" x 12" rectangle.

Spread 1/3 of filling mixture down center of each rectangle, and then fold sides over.

With scissors, cut through top layers of dough at 1" intervals.

Let rise in warm place until nearly double,  1 hour estimate but will depend on degree of chilling.

Glaze with egg white beaten until frothy before baking.

Bake at 350 for 30-35 min.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

chapter 3- Our Middle Eastern Heritage

Before and throughout grade school, many weekends were spent visiting family. We went back to Auntie & Uncle Clay’s house most often, but also visited my dad’s side of the family regularly; he had moved in with his uncle and aunt and their boys when he came to America. Their real names were Vahan and Vartar, but we knew them as Dada Zeke and Auntie Rose.

There were horse and soldier action figures to play with (all our cousins on this side were boys!) and perhaps a few other toys, but Auntie Rose’s kitchen was where the action was and where we liked to be. The aromas were quite different from Auntie Margaret’s, the onion, parsley and garlic used so much in Armenian food are some I recall. There was also a hint of rosewater from the pastries stored in the basement, mostly paklava (baklava) and boorma. As best as I can remember, there were far fewer processed foods here than in my mother’s kitchen, or even Auntie Margaret’s. Auntie Rose baked every kind of baked good they needed.

Diane and I were allowed to help by a certain age. Armenian food is often labor intensive and gets done more easily with many helping hands. I think it may be like that because it was also an opportunity to socialize--daughters, sisters, cousins, daughters-in-law and grand-daughters would all be around the kitchen table chopping and mixing and stuffing while chatting. The men and boys would be in the living room. There was further gender division when the meal began; only the men got to have a shot of hard liquor!

Auntie Rose did not have written recipes. As a teenager, my sister stayed over for several days so she could learn and write down some of them. However, thanks to a small spiral cookbook from the Detroit chapter of the Armenian General Benevolent Union, we had a starting point for traditional recipes. So my mother learned to cook some of these dishes, and Manti aka“Baby Shoes” is one we liked making and eating. The nickname comes from the size and appearance of the dumplings, I don’t know if any other families call them that.



Recipe By: possibly based on one from Treasured Armenian Recipes by the Detroit AGBU
Serving Size: 8

-= Ingredients =-
3 cups All purpose flour
3 Egg
1/2 cup Water ; scant
1 pinch Salt
1 pound Lamb ; ground
1 large Onion ; minced
1/3 cup Parsley ; chopped
1/2 teaspoon Salt
1/4 teaspoon Black pepper
1 1/2 quart Chicken broth
1 clove Garlic

-= Instructions =-
Stir first four ingredients together to make a stiff dough. Let sit one-two hours.

Combine lamb, onion, second amount of salt ,pepper and parsley.

Roll out dough to 1/16 inch. Cut into squares. Place a small ball of meat mixture on each and wrap up like a canoe.

Bake at 350 until golden brown, about 20 min. May freeze at this stage.

Boil in chicken broth with garlic until soft. May also add a tablespoon of tomato sauce for extra flavor.


Thursday, November 13, 2014

chapter 2 -Sisters

My sister, Diane Celeste Simonian, was born August 14, 1961, so I don’t remember any of my time as an only child. People would sometimes ask if we were twins! We did not really look that much alike, but both of us had dark brown eyes and hair, worn in the same style when we were little.

We had long since moved out of Auntie & Uncle Clay’s , and then moved to a house in Deerfield, IL to have enough room for Diane. I have a few fleeting memories of that home, one of my dad making pancakes. Though the division of labor in the household was mostly typical of 1960s America with my mom doing most of the cooking and cleaning, my dad did pitch in, and he seemed to enjoy cooking. Now here you might expect a pancake recipe, but they used Bisquick!

I remember a bit more of our next home on “Teacher’s Row” in Clarendon Hills, IL. My dad had been hired to teach French at Hinsdale Central High School which allowed new staff to rent one of several houses the district owned for a bargain price for up to 3 years. One memory I have is of biting into a brown crayon to see if it was chocolate! No, it was nasty, and I spit it out. I also have some faint memories of playing with the boys next door, tearing around with tricycles and wagons. And it may have been for my 3rd birthday that my mother made an awesome Christmas tree shaped cake. Maybe I saw photos of it later, but I think I might actually remember it because it was pretty special.

We moved again before the 3 years were up, and before I started kindergarten, just across town to the ranch-style house that is still my dad’s home. Diane and I soon found friends across the street, the Glovers had 2 daughters our age, Kathy & Julie, plus they had a younger brother and sister, and then later, twin baby brothers. Grab a couple other kids from the block and it was easy to have team games like “Red Rover” in our backyards. Or sometimes we pestered some unfortunate older boys whose mothers made them play “cops & robbers” with us. Sometimes we were inside doing quieter things like playing with dolls, having a pretend hospital or coloring. Yet I seem to remember a lot of time spent outside. In addition to the games and bike riding, we sometimes acted out fairy tales or made things out of the grasses and brush in the Glovers’ lower yard. It was on a hill and terraced, so the upper 2 levels were like normal suburban backyards, but the lower one was allowed to be wild.

All that activity gave us pretty good appetites, and I don’t remember anyone being truly fussy. We also walked to and from school, and in those days we came home for lunch. Soup and sandwich was a fairly common one for us. Maybe sometimes the soup was this one from my grandmother Gladys (Lutz) Nelson. However, I think we had it more often on Saturdays when my mom could get Diane and I to help make  the croutons.

                             Potato Soup

Recipe By: Grandma Gladys (Gladys Lutz Nelson)
Serving Size: 4

-= Ingredients =-
3 slices Bacon ; diced
1 small Onion ; chopped
2 large Potatoes ; diced
1 pinch White pepper
1 pinch Salt
Water ; as required
1 teaspoon Parsley ; chopped
2 cups Milk

-= Instructions =-
Fry bacon and onion together in large saucepan. Drain fat.

Add potatoes and seasonings and enough water to cover. Bring to a boil and cook until potatoes are tender.

Reduce heat. Add milk and heat through. Serve with croutons.

Grandma Gladys

Monday, November 10, 2014

Growing Up Foodie- Chapter 1 Merry Chrismabirthday to me!

My mother was inspired to write about her childhood by reading a biographical sketch of her great-grandfather. Thanks to her memoir I know a little something about family members who died before I was born, and how different growing up in her time and place was from my experience. I hope to do the same for my descendants, but with my own twist- it seems to me I should include some recipes.

I was born, Nicole Marie Simonian, on Dec. 18, 1959 in DeKalb, IL to Donna Jean (Nelson) Simonian and Pierre Bedros Simonian. I was told I was 10 days early; well, of course, I didn’t want to miss Christmas! Though I did not get to eat them that year, here is one of my favorite holiday cookies, made often by my mother and great-aunt, though this version is the one I developed as a teenager. They once won a blue ribbon at the Minnesota State Fair.
Servings: 4-5 dozen

-= Ingredients =-
2 cups Butter ; unsalted best
1 1/3 cups Sugar
6 Egg yolks
1/2 teaspoon Salt ; omit if butter is salted
1 1/2 teaspoon Almond extract
1/2 teaspoon Vanilla
5 cups All purpose flour ; or use 1/2 cake flour if competing!

-= Instructions =-
Cream butter and sugar. Add egg yolks and extracts.  Stir in flour gradually. May wish to chill dough slightly, this is more necessary in the summer.

Squirt dough through cookie press into desired shapes directly onto cookie sheet. Decorate with colored sugar and nonpareils.

Bake at 375 about 8 min for thicker shapes, 6 for thinner ones, until edges are just barely brown. Remove carefully from sheets to cool.

My dad was in the army in Korea at the time of my birth, so my mother was staying with Auntie Margaret & Uncle Clay (my great-aunt and great-uncle). My grandmother had already passed away, so they functioned as grandparents for me. Uncle Clay was wonderful with kids though they had none of their own. I’m told he would carry me through the kitchen, opening and closing cupboard doors to entertain me. Auntie did have an awesome kitchen, larger than some people’s living rooms though it was a small house otherwise. It had a breakfast nook next to the back door, many sky blue cupboards lining 2 walls and a large white gas stove-it may have been a 6 burner. Though many wonderful aromas came from Auntie’s kitchen, there was a baseline scent of fresh ground coffee.
Auntie's kitchen, no idea how that toy was allowed in there!

My dad came home when I was 8 months old and reportedly I was not afraid of him as babies often are of strangers at that age. You may be able to tell from their names that my parents had different backgrounds. My mother grew up in rural DeKalb county and had German and Swedish ancestry. My father immigrated from France as a teenager, but is ethnically 100% Armenian. Both went through hard times during the Depression and World War II, though the war had more impact on my dad’s family. They met at Northern Illinois University, which was a teacher’s college at the time.