Sunday, February 27, 2011

To roux or not to roux-the beauty of cast iron skillets

I decided today was the day to cook for the whole week. This is not unusual for me because I don't like to cook after working 10-12 hours at my weekday job. Sunday is the perfect day to create meals. I enjoy planning meals which can withstand refrigeration for the week and offer succulent flavor through the last helping.

I wanted something old and something new so I chose to make Green Bean Soup, Seaford Gumbo, banana bread and pumpkin bars. The seafood gumbo recipe was a new venture for me as I found it yesterday in Marilu Henner's Party Hearty cookbook on page 107.

Seafood Gumbo falls under the Mardi Gras category. I know Fat Tuesday and Ash Wednesday are weeks away, however I always anticipate these days to be in February. My internal calendar was ready for Mardi Gras food even if Lent starts March 9 and Easter is in late spring on April 24.

So I dove into the new experience of cooking Seafood Gumbo. The recipe said, "Combine the remaining 1/4 cup margarine and the flour in a large iron skillet." I was surprised to see the iron skillet mentioned and I thought I misread it. After some consideration I realized I owned a large cast iron skillet passed down from my grandmother to my mother and then to me. I bent on my knees and searched the kitchen cabinet behind the casserole dishes, the 9 inch pie pans and the electric fryer. I found and dragged out the cast iron skillet.

The next sentence of instructions read "Make a roux by cooking it over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the roux is the color of chocolate." Roux? I never heard of the term. I asked my daughter Ashley to google it and she read the following:

Roux (pronounced /ˈruː/) is a cooked mixture of wheat flour and fat, traditionally clarified butter. It is the thickening agent of three of the mother sauces of classical French cooking: sauce béchamel, sauce velouté and sauce espagnole. Butter, vegetable oils, or lard are commonly used fats. It is used as a thickener for gravy, other sauces, soups and stews. It is typically made from equal parts of flour and fat by weight. Retrieved February 27, 2011 from

I started the roux and immediately recognized that this thickener was quite similar to the broth mixture for green bean soup. I recalled the stories of how my great-grandmother passed the green bean soup recipe to my grandmother and my grandmother passed the green bean recipe to my mother.
The paternal grandmother descended from the Herrmanns of Mariental who moved to Russia from modern day Luxembourg. Of course, the country of Luxembourg did not exist in the late 1700s when they immigrated. It was a province or territory ruled by Spain, France or Germanic prince depending on who won the latest war. Who created this cooking technique? Could this technique I considered German -Russian cooking stem from the French influence in Bitsche,Luxembourg, the ancestral home of the Herrmanns?

When I set the seafood gumbo to simmer, I started the green bean soup. Of course I used the cast iron skillet again. My mother loved this skillet. Mixing the roux and the green bean broth in it made me finally understand why. The cast iron built an even heat and its sturdy structure was a welcome break from modern frying pans which disintegrate too easily.

The broth for green bean soup is created as follows: "In a separate frying pan, place 2 tablespoons of of butter and 1/2 cup flour. Warm this mixture on low heat while stirring occasionally. Heat until the flour browns and butter dissolves." From Value Meals on the Volga, Sharing Our Heritage with New Generations.

Is it a coincidence that this soup thickener is used in French and German Russian cooking, or do all cultures have a similar recipe?

Whether Russian, German, Italian, French or Spanish, this cooking technique demonstrates we are a global community so matter how we look at it. To roux or not to roux, in whatever language, it's just good cooking.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Historical Markers of Williamson County, Tennessee

I have not seen all 162 historical markers in Williamson County, Tennessee, however I believe I have seen at least half of them.

When I moved to Franklin, Tennessee in 1993, I was focused on acclimating to a new town, raising my children and building my career. There was not a lot of time devoted to visit each marker. My regular commute from Franklin to Nashville meant driving often on Hillsboro Road, Mack Hatcher Parkway and Franklin Road. Between horse farms and beautiful brick houses, I saw many of the markers and savored the history first hand.

When my parents visited for a month, their first stop was the Franklin Welcome Center in the former surgeon's office downtown. There they received the brochure about the Historical Markers, and they were on a mission. Mom and Dad were the first ones in my family to visit the Carter House, Carnton Plantation, to track their days by the number of markers they could see. They shared the stories of the Battle of Franklin, Tad Carter, the cemeteries, and the communities. I remember how excited they were when they found the last one. It was a small plaque unlike the larger markers on poles. It was against a wall. I remember the day, and wish I could remember which marker it was.

So, I pulled a few books off the shelf, namely, Back Home in Williamson County by Lyn Sullivan, National Register Properties Williamson County, Tennessee published by the Hillsboro Press and A Photographic Recollection Franklin. Books to help me remember all the places I used to call home.

Friday, February 18, 2011

I enjoy every episode of “Who Do You Think You Are?” but usually not for the same reasons as most of the viewers.

Last Friday’s show was no exception. Tim McGraw, famous country singer and husband of Faith Hill, lives in Tennessee near the same area where I lived for ten years. History is a part of everyday life in Williamson County. Historical Markers dot roadsides to commemorate Hood’s Retreat. Homes like the Carter house and McGavock Cemetery at Carnton Plantation stand stalwart and resonate the echoes of battles long past. Yes, I love the landscape and history of Tennessee.

Tim’s family history did not begin in Tennessee. He grew up in Lousiana yet his ancestors made an impact in a number of states between the 1700 and 1800s. For the WDYTYA show, he retraced their steps and traveled to the Shenandoah Valley, Washington D.C. and New York City. places I have gone, too. My favorite part was when Tim saw the place of origin listed for one of his great, great grandfathers and asked,“What is a Palatin?”

I realized most of the audience probably asked the same question Tim did, yet my heart soared as I saw a connection to my own heritage. As a German from Russia, I knew the Palatine and I knew why so many people chose to leave such a beautiful section of the world in the 1700s. I was ecstatic to know that the story would be part of prime time as it would be explained to Tim.

"Palatines are people who emerged from the Palatinate which is described as
The Palatinate or German Pfalz was subject to invasion by the armies of Britain, France, and Germany. As well as the devastating effects of war, the Palatines were subjected to the winter of 1708 and 1709, the harshest in 100 years.

The scene was set for a mass migration. At the invitation of Queen Anne in the spring of 1709, about 7,000 harassed Palatines sailed down the Rhine to Rotterdam. From there, about 3000 were dispatched to America, either directly or via England, under the auspices of William Penn. The remaining 4,000 were sent via England to Ireland to strengthen the protestant interest.

In 1710,three large groups of Palatines sailed from London. The first went to Ireland, the second to Carolina and the third to New York with the new Governor, Robert Hunter. There were 3 000 Palatines on 10 ships that sailed for New York and approximately 470 died on the voyage or shortly after their arrival.
Retrieved February 12, 2011 from 2011 from

Tim’s Palatine ancestors sought refuge west while mine sought refuge east. His family headed to England where they were promised free land in the New World.
They sailed for New York a bit earlier than the Germans who accepted Catherine’s Manifesto invitations to Russia. Both of our ancestors left for many of the same reasons, but mine left after the Seven Years War. Invitations to migrate from the Palatinate offered hope of food and a new life through all of the 1700s.

Such a fabulous history lesson this show provides! I can hardly wait for the show to begin tonight.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Life Goes On...Random Stream of Consciousness for February 5, 2011

Someone mentioned the White Album on facebook, and ever since I have been singing "Oh Bla Di, Oh Bla Da," in my head. I hear you thinking, "Thank you for not singing aloud," and I offer a hearty "You are welcome,' in return. Its the "Lala how the life goes on" phrase which is particularly poignant to me as my mind races with these thoughts.

Stream of consciousness thought number one- I saw Paul McCartney perform that song live for the first time ever in the United States last March at the Glendale Arena in Arizona. Tickets were sold out early and when my sister Joan and I found a couple of good seats for sale, I said, "If you go, I go." We went and never regretted a moment.

Stream of consciousness thought number two- I was brought to tears last night when Vanessa Williams discovered she was not the first trailblazer in her family history. One of her great grandfathers was a Civil War enlistee for the Union side. He risked his life and his freedom in this cause. He also helped to spread the word of freedom to former slaves in the South. Another was a State Representative in Tennessee and a famous educator. Since her father was orphaned at a young age, he missed learning these family stories. Vanessa was able to share the history with her mother and children which touched my heart. It was also the first episode of "Who Do You Think You Are?" that I watched without my mother.

Stream of consciousness thought number three- It's Super Bowl weekend! I always love it and am still trying to decide on what food to serve. However, the best part is my all-time favorite team, the Green Bay Packers, are there! My connection to the Packers goes way back and while I know I am dating myself, one of my favorite memories is Green Bay training camp. My Dad and my sister Joan chased Packer players from the Lambeau field locker room to the practice field across the street. I got autographs from Bart Starr, Paul Hornung, Jim Taylor, Fuzzy Thurston, Jerry Kramer, Don Chandler, Zeke Bratkowski, Max McGee and many others. Joan also got Vince Lombardi's authograph. I saw him but missed the autograph. One of my friends at work gave me a copy of a letter this week from Curly Lambeau dated August 1, 1944. I will be so wound up tomorrow, does it matter what I eat? If you hear screaming from my house, just keep on going or join me if you can stand the noise. This will be the first Super Bowl in many years that I will watch without my mother.

Stream of consciousness thought number four- I am serving as a judge for the Desert Rose Romance Writer 2011 Golden Quill Contest. As such, I have four romance books to read and critique over the next couple of weeks. CONFESSION: Karen Wierach, formerly of my writer's critique group, wrote the last romance book I read. I have read very few Harlequin romances. This could become a secret, guilty indulgence. My mom would be proud.

Stream of consciousness thought number five- I have a new puppy, Harrison...CORRECTION: my daughter Ashley has a new puppy, Harrison. He is a chihuahua shorthair mix we saved from the pound. He is cute and wonderful despite the biting and the house training. His first vet appointment was today and he did quite well, despite the fecal test. He also received his first puppy pedicure! Life around the house will never be the same again.

Stream of consciousness thought number six- February is the month of remembrance. both of my paternal grandparents. Clementine was born on Feb. 2 and Johannes was born Feb. 3. 2011 marks the 117th and 123rd anniversary of their births.

Stream of consciousness thought number seven- This is also the anniversary weekend of my mother's first visit to the hospital in 2010. Of course, I remember every detail. We did get to see the second half of the game at home on the new large screen television which was our Christmas gift from her. And, I know if she were with us today, she would be cheering on Aaron Rodgers and the rest of the Packers with gusto.

So, I have only one question. Do they wear Cheeseheads in heaven?

Life goes on.