Monday, March 31, 2014

Dress Like a Roman!

In response to Ashley's request, here is a link to a video put out by the Getty Museum in Los Angeles on how to wrap a toga:
 How to wear a toga.
 Halfway through, there are instructions on how to make a toga from a bed sheet:  There are also links to longer articles on Roman dress.

Citizen, matron, curule magistrate, Emperor, general, workman, slave

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Mixtura, Moretum, and the New York Times

Greetings, all!  Don't miss  "You Probably Don't Want to Look in the Crisper..."-- a New York Times Magazine article that features an exploration of the refrigerators of 11 New York chefs.  There are some strange items in those refrigerators...along with a surprising amount of expensive champagne.

Today we will revisit two dishes from earlier in the semester-- feta, sesame, and honey "pizza" and the herb and cheese dip Mixtura cum Caseo.  Here they are:

Mixtura cum Caseo
Mixtura contains feta, olive oil, and various greens-- leeks, lettuce, arugula, basil, mint, thyme, coriander...

The sesame-feta-honey  pizzas (Staititai) are made slightly differently from ours-- the dough is similar to our pizza dough, but instead of baking it, you shallow-fry the rolled out disks of dough in in olive oil before adding the toppings.

 To the right, the dough divided into 4 disks before rolling out on a lightly floured surface.  And below, the finished pizza, topped with a mix of chevre and feta cheeses, drizzled with honey, and sprinkled with sesame seeds. 

We will also try an amazing dip called Moretum.  As is the case with Mixtura, there are a number of variations one can make, substituting different kinds of cheeses and flavorings.  Unlike most ancient Roman recipes, this one includes garlic.  I used the recipe from Laura Kelley's The Silk Road Gourmet, which she in turn got from a restaurant I would love to visit:  Hostaria Antica Roma.  It is not the most attractive dish, especially as photographed here in a plastic tub, on its way to class, but it is fantastic.
Moretum, a minimalist version.
Here is the recipe:

4-6 medium cloves garlic (more or less as desired)
1/2 pound Romano cheese, grated (could use parmesan)
½ teaspoon salt (or as desired)
2-3 teaspooons of fennel seeds, ground
3-4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (more as needed for consistency)
Grind garlic along with the salt in a mortar and pestle or food processor, and then add the grated Romano cheese and blend thoroughly. Add the olive oil as needed for the consistency of a smooth paste.* Garlic Flavor will be less strong if it is allowed to sit for several hours or overnight. 

Optional ingredients for this amount of moretum can also include: a small to medium bunch of cilantro, chopped; ¼ cup chopped celery and two tablespoons of young rue or fennel leaves. If herbs are added, the consistency will have to be adjusted with the addition of more olive oil. Serve room temperature or slightly cool. 

*I decided to try a trick I learned  while researching hummus-- grinding or blending in some ice water, a little at a time, to lighten the consistency.  It worked very well. It may look like mashed potatoes in the photo, but it has a much lighter, smoother texture.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

For your projects

Check the UB Learns course documents section-- I have posted a number of documents and links to web-pages that may be of use to you as you work on your projects.  The following reference works may also get you started, and will provide you with further bibliography.

The oxford encyclopedia of ancient greece and rome, ed. Michael Gagarin.  Oxford University Press.
Women and Slaves in Greco-Roman Culture, ed. Sandra Joshel and Sheila Murnaghan, Routledge, 1998.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

A Recipe for ?

Food hits us hard when  it comes to our roots.  Aden's description of the Seder brings my grandfather right back to me.  I come from a very mixed family, with Catholics and Jews fighting it out with English and Native Americans in my DNA.  My grandfather was  Russian Jewish, from Moldova, and stowed away on a ship at age 14 with his little sister Sarah, to get away from the pogroms. They landed in Canada. Long, long story short, when he was 35 he married my grandmother, who was 19 and of mixed descent-- white missionary met Native American somewhere in the Dakotas.  She was 5'11" and he was 5'5."  They both had mighty brains.  A recipe for a troubled but lively marriage. 

My dad was raised rather schizophrenically by my grandfather, who was trained as a rabbi in the Soviet Union, moved to Canada, apprenticed to a tailor, went to McGill University, and became a psychiatrist, and my grandmother, who was part Blackfoot Indian and more parts missionary stock who grew up in the mountains of Idaho.   She was a card-carrying member of the Communist party, literally, while he was a refugee from Russia who despised Lenin and, later, Stalin. 

They compromised by practicing no religion at home, and celebrated Christmas in a secular way.  But my grandfather talked a lot about Passover and its rituals, more and more as he grew older, so I recognize all the things Aden describes here.  When I was in college and graduate school, I went to a number of Seders, and I can say that I love the charoset and the matzoh ball soup (and the wine!).  Also, we have a tradition very much like the afikomen-- we hide an ornament shaped like a pickle in our Christmas tree each year, and the person who finds the pickle on Christmas morning gets a special prize.

How to Carve a Chicken

A link, for those who don't know:

Jamie Oliver, how to carve a chicken
Chinese New Year Meals

One of my favorite holiday meals is during Chinese New Year.  Each year around January or February is Chinese New Year.  The date of Chinese New Year changes every year.  This year it was January 31st and it's the year of the horse.  On New Year's Eve my family gathers together at my grandma's house and we have a big celebration and feast.  Around this time my family always has these trays of little snacks such as peanuts, pistachios, and candled fruit melons.  The tray has eight compartments, the lucky number in Chinese culture.  The snacks are meant for guests to munch on throughout their stay.  Whenever I would see these trays as a kid I knew it was around the time of Chinese New Year.  The dishes we eat on New Year's Eve always consist of long noodles to symbolize a long life span.  There is always fish to symbolize wealth.  Since my family is from Taiwan we cook traditional Taiwanese cuisine as well.  There is always rice and usually soup for after the meal.  For dessert we eat niangao which is a cake like dessert made of glutinous rice.  Another tradition is the giving and receiving of red envelopes or hongbao in Mandarin with money inside for good luck.

Anthony Yeh

Comment from Martha:

Anthony's post is quite vivid.  I've been to a few Chinese New Year's celebrations (probably not too authentic, since a Jewish UB professor organized them, but he is a serious student of Chinese food and always hired a Chinese restaurant for the occasion, and let the chefs dictate the menu choices). I was always amazed by the variety and number of the dishes served.   No matter if I ate nothing all  day before  the dinner,  and no matter how small the portions I took, I was always too full to eat more before the midpoint of the meal.  And I LOVED the food.  The kind hosts of the restaurant would hastily explain each fabulous dish as they served it, so I know we had the lucky snacks, the long noodles, and the fish that Anthony mentions.  Not sure about the dessert, because I never had enough stamina to eat it. 

Thanksgiving at my Grandmothers

       From the first 16 years of my life we would spend thanksgiving at my Grandmas house. We would have turkey and a small ham steak for my sister who refused to eat the bird. But what is always in my mind about those annual meals is the one side dish that I have been unable to replicate and that was a baked broccoli cheddar rice casserole. It was my favorite dish and reminds me of happy times. Now we spend thanksgiving at my aunt’s house and everything is pretty much the same except for that casserole.

      Rituals for this dinner are really only saying grace before eating. The one dish that is essential to the entire process is of course the bird. What would Thanksgiving be without a turkey? The one dish I absolutely dread is the boiled turnip that my aunt makes for her and my mom, it stinks up the whole kitchen. My favorite tradition that we have done for as long as I can remember is that after dessert we play board games.  

Chinese New Years Meal

CHinese new years is often celebrated by the family. It's just my parents, siblings, and me who gather together to enjoy a small recipe. Although it's a stew it's commonly referred to as Chinese fondue. It's simply a a stew with a variety of vegetables and other meat that is heated in a very spicy broth. The thing that is different about this recipe is that instead of using a stove, we always would use a portable gas stove to cook our simple dish. as the spicy broth gradually heated up we would place the meat first into the pot, then would be the vegetables. As the stew cooked we would always discuss the new zodiac and the prospect of the new year

Comment from Martha:
When Don and I lived in Los Angeles back in the day, we used to go to a Mongolian restaurant that had the same kind of "fondue"-- each table had its own burner and bubbling pot of broth, and everyone took turns cooking their meat and vegetables on long forks or skewers in the spicy broth.  Unfortunately, we were too ignorant to discuss the zodiac!  I have a feeling the Romans would have loved this, and I wonder if some of the corner snack bars might have offered similar dishes.

Basynoi: Sort of like a Fig Newton Potsticker...

Michael Grant's Roman Cookery  has a recipe for basynoi, a little stuffed pastry offered by inhabitants of the Greek island of Delos to Iris, goddess of the rainbow and messenger to the gods. 

Here is the recipe (n.b. Grant uses weight  measurements for dry ingredients):

For the pastry: 
7 oz. all purpose flour
2 fl. oz.  olive oil
3 fl. oz. water
Combine in a large bowl and knead until you have a very smooth dough.  Place the dough in a plastic bag and let sit for an hour or so.

3 oz. walnuts  [I substituted raw UNSALTED pistachios, as I had no walnuts-- apologies to Iris]
1 oz. figs

Combine in a blender or food processor or large mortar and pestle until finely ground.  Roll the pastry out as thinly as possible on a floured surface.  Use a cookie cutter or a glass 2 and a half inches in diameter to cut out the pastries (I used a 2 " glass, then stretched the circles out a bit).
Two inch circles, measured with a Roman Ruler

Place about half to 1 tsp. of filling onto the dough circles. It is rather dry, so you have to squeeze the filling against the back of the spoon to get it to stick together.  Brush the edges of the dough with water.  Fold into a half-moon shape and pinch to seal.  Aren't they cute?
Pastry with filling

Folded and sealed

Heat 3 ounces olive oil in a large pan-- if you want to test the heat, keep a few scraps of dough from the leftover trimmings.  When the oil sizzles when you drop a piece in, the oil is ready to fry.  Fry the pastries in batches until they are crisp and golden on both sides; if they start to burn, turn down the heat a bit..  Drain on paper towels.
Frying up nicely in the olive oil.

Waiting for their quick turn in the hot honey, surrounded by  sesamides.

Just before serving, heat 3 fl. oz. honey in a pan and turn the pastries in it to coat.  Serve warm.

Saint Joseph's Day Table / San Giusepe

I really enjoy Saint Joseph's Day/San Giusepe for the unique food. I also really enjoy this holiday because of the involvement that it includes. Most holidays I spend at home or at a family member's house, but for this holiday I spend it at church...a Parish that's not even my own.

My mom comes from a large Sicilian family that is very close, even though everyone lives far apart. My relative drive and fly in for this holiday every year. Even my "Aunt" Kathy from California comes in for this holiday, just so that she can work at the church.

I did not really start to celebrate this holiday, until a few years ago when my Aunt Kathy invited me to help her. Now every year I go to the church early in the morning to begin baking, along with other older women from the Parish. We begin baking at 9am and stop around 3pm. All day long we make two different kids of bread. One kind has lemon shavings and the other kind has anise in it. Once the bread is mixed we shape the dough into long strips. After we connect the strips at the top and then bread the dough into shapes, such as a shepherd's cane. While the women make the bread, the men in the kitchen begin to make the sauce and pasta.

The next day the meal is served around 1pm. The meal is served in various courses, which each represent something else...By the end of the meal, your stomach is in SO much pain from eating.

- A plate of braided bread, raw vegetables, oranges, and boiled eggs is placed on the table first
- Lentil soup
- Pasta con sarde with mollica or pasta with red sauce and mollica (mollica is suppose to be like saw dust)
- Salad
- Broiled fish with lemon
- Frittatas: Omletes with vegetables and/or fish
- Dessert: Cannolis, sfinge (deep fried donut with sugar and cinnamon), pizzelli, pingolata/strufoli (honey balls), and assorted cookies, such as ricotta cookies.

Every year these same foods are severed. I can't imagine one of these courses not being present...even though I am not a fan of the pasta con sarda or the frittatas. I do not like sardines or frittatas. My favorite of the meal is probably the bread because it's very buttery and sweet.

This year it is celebrated on March 19, which is very soon!

Comment from Martha:
I love this description!  It reminds me of all the elaborately sculpted breads you can still see on different holidays in Italy, and in Little Italies in American cities (e.g., Hertel Ave in Buffalo and Boston's North End, which I used to visit when I was growing up in the Boston suburbs, and which always has a huge St. Joseph's Day parade).    Anthony talked about the symbolism of the food at Chinese New Year's, and you and Silvana both mention the "sawdust" that honors St Joseph the Carpenter.  Do the sardines and braided bread also symbolize something? The bread sounds a lot like challah, also sweet and braided. 

Although we are not Italian, we always think of St Joseph each year because my sisters, who are twins, were born on his day--March 19, 2 days after St. Patrick.  Viva la mollica!

Christmas Morning

The most entertaining meal of the year is my family’s Christmas brunch. The best part of the entire meal is the fact that my entire family is there. I come from a family of six, but both of my sisters no longer live in Western New York. So it is rare for all six of us to be together at once. On top of this my father’s siblings and their families are there as well. It ends coming close to 30 people. The food is amazing every year as well. My mom makes a omelet dish that could feed an army! There are also things like pancakes, sausage, bacon, hash browns, but best of all my grand ma’s cinnamon buns. This tradition has been going on ever since I have been around and shows no signs of stopping. It is amazing to see a family so close together and appreciate the little things on such a great holiday!

Comment from Martha:
Don and I each come from families of 6 (oddly, we each have 4 sisters and 1 brother) and are very familiar with the onslaught of the relatives.  But what I find surprising about your post is that they all show up for brunch!  We often had that many by dinner time, or for a dinner the night before on Christmas Eve,  but Christmas morning was always just for the nuclear family.  My mother would have had a nervous breakdown if the relatives showed up before noon.  

Christmas Eve

Christmas Eve is one of the few days a year when instead of taking a plate of food and going to our rooms, my relatives all gather in the living room to eat dinner together. In recent years I create a mock movie theatre in the living room with the help of Netflix. I sit with my siblings and nephews watching stand up comedy while my mother and older sisters prepare dinner. At this point holiday dinners are quite predictable in my household. The typical dinner consists of roasted chicken or turkey, Dominican potato salad (white potatoes, hard boiled eggs, mayonnaise, beats, and carrots), white rice, and platanos maduro (fried ripe plantains). Our ritual is a simple one but I figure its a lasting tradition because of the simplicity.


The meal during the Passover Seder is, without any doubt, my favorite holiday meal.  I love Passover and whenever I lead the Seder, it usually lasts hours.  The largest group we have had for the first night Seder was 11 people and we had to ask some friends to bring extra chairs.  The Seder started at 6:00 pm and wasn't really finished until 11:30 at night.

Preparation for the Seder and the meal begins a few days ahead.  It starts with my mother making fresh horseradish, which is a day when you don't want to be at our house due to the noxious fumes.  Then I will make charoset, which is a past of apples, nuts, dried fruit, spices and wine.  My father usually acquires a shank bone that we will then roast in a fire along with an egg.  All these things are part of the Seder plate and not the actual meal.  For the meal, which I usually make, I follow strict kosher for Passover guidelines, meaning there is no wheat, besides matzah and matzah meal, spelt, rye, barley, oats, corn, beans, and rice along with the usual kosher guidlines.  

The preparation for the actual meal begins early on the day of and continues until the last minutes before the Seder.  We always have matzah ball soup and a dish with quinoa, everything else usually changes.  There is also a lot of wine.  During the Seder it is commanded to drink four glass and this drinking continues into the meal.  At the end of the meal, it is custom for someone to find the afikomen, a piece of matzah that was set aside at the beginning of the Seder.  The person that finds it usually gets a prize of some sort.  Technically the afikomen is supposed to be dessert, but I don't think that nyone really likes matzah enough to eat it voluntarily for dessert.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Thanksgiving Dinner

Thanksgiving dinner has to be my favorite holiday meal or shall I say feast. It is the only day in my house that everyone gathers together and helps make dinner. I live with my immediate family, my cousins family, and my grandparents so that makes 11 of us. You can imagine it's hard to have the same dinner schedule when there are 11 different people living in your house. As I mentioned before Thanksgiving dinner in my house is more like a feast. We have the traditional turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, veggies, cranberry sauce, and salad. Don't worry it doesn't end there. My mom always makes sure to have at least one or two bengali items usually something like naan and beef kabobs, some sort of italian pasta, and spanish yellow rice and chicken. So it's more like a multicultural thanksgiving where we just feast on our favorite foods. My favorite part is always the turkey with some cranberry sauce and mashed potatoes since it's something that I don't have often. My mom and sister tend to do the major cooking whereas the rest of us (me, my younger brother, and even younger two cousins) are responsible for prep and clean up. Recently I have helped more, its not that I can't cook its just why do the work if there are others to do it? My aunt is a hazard around the kitchen so her job is to stay away until its time for dishes. My dad and uncle pretend to help which usually means they just sit around and talk politics until someone tells them to go to another room. We literally start cooking the moment we wake up and then have dinner around 6/7 pm nibbling on stuff that's being prepared the whole day. By the end of dinner no one can move and there's enough food left over to feed a village which makes for a great turkey leftover sandwich.

Christmas Dinner

Christmas is by far my favorite family holiday meal. It's the best because of the all the family that is around. Last year there were 12 people in attendance, with all sorts of chairs pulled up to our table that isn't quite big enough. This usually starts a dinner turf war with my brother, but we let it slide because it's Christmas.

As per the dishes that are generally served, it always starts with salad and some homemade bread that my aunt usually will make. From there we move onto the meat and potatoes of the dinner. (Sorry, pun intended.) Ham with pineapple and mashed potatoes. New to this past Christmas' menu was rutabaga and I was very pleasantly surprised. In my opinion, it's a yellow-orange mashed potato dish that tastes way better and is nearly impossible to spell on the first try. 

As per the dishes that are generally served, it is our family's china that we always break out for nice dinners. And then for the glasses of the evening, it's always my family's super-Irish side's Grandmother's Waterford Crystal glasses. I've always hated those glasses because whenever I place it down "too hard" I always get that 'Can you believe this kid?' look from my mom. All I'm saying is, if they're so important why do we even use them?

Lastly, dessert is an interesting democratic process. In the weeks preceding Christmas, we will throw in ideas for dessert and then we will unofficially survey everyone. I say unofficially because two years ago my father suggested 'Canolis', I voted no but we ended up getting them anyway. Disappointed that cinnamon rolls didn't win I asked around to see who voted for the canolis. One other person besides my father voted for the canolis, making that day notoriously known to everyone as 'The Christmas dad committed some serious voter fraud.'

The Pine, Prime Rib and Yuletide Log

Around each of the holidays, my family and I would travel down to Staten Island to go to my Aunt's house. It was at these times where I would get to see them, other than the occasional weekend trips.Christmas has to be one of the best holidays of the year, it usually brings about the largest turnout of the family and with them, comes their specialty dishes. The seating and table arrangement fluctuated from year to year, but a good time was had nonetheless by all.

Cooking usually began the day before and Christmas Eve. I remember my mother would always bake the Raspberry Thumbprint cookies and a Honey Glazed Ham. After these were finished, they would be wrapped and put in the refrigerator, until we made our trip down the next day. We arrived at my Aunt's house and the cooking of the main dishes would usually be done here, a few hours before dinner began.

This year, however, my family went down earlier than we usually do, so we could assist more with the meal. I took a central role in one of the appetizers, the lasagna. More specifically, I had to roll the mini meatballs for it, with some help of course. I am probably overestimating here, but I must have rolled about 700 meatballs. It was painstaking, to say the least. I have now secured my place as the roller, and I have something to look forward to next year.

The meal would always be served in the traditional format, Appetizer Dinner, Desert. The lasagna was a staple in the meal, and way always served. The focaccia, as good as it was, I wish I hadn't had the 3 or 4 pieces of it. I ate in the moment. not looking at the long term effects, but it is a holiday! The Prime Rib was rather delicious, however, I find that it is better broiled than slow roasted. It tends to be juicier and more tender, something I have to see if I can implement the next year. Desert always brought me to the Almond and Lemon Frosted cookies, one of the best desserts that we had.

Viva San Giuseppe!

Ever since I can remember, my extended family has always celebrated St. Joseph's day in March every year. When I was little, my family would rent out a dining hall area with an extremely large kitchen. In the more recent years since the passing of some of my older relatives, we now just get together with a group of roughly 50 people at my uncle Joe's house. 

During this Sicilian holiday, we remember St. Joseph, the carpenter with a lavish feast. We always started every St. Joseph's Day dinner with lighting candles and by toasting. During the toast a prayer was said and at the end of the prayer, the phrase "Viva San Giuseppe" meaning "Happy St. Joseph's Day!" in Italian. We always have the following foods:

  1. Pasta, thick spaghetti with 2 different types of sauces- regular tomato sauce and tomato sauce with sardines. (I wish the sardines weren't present)
  2. Hard Boiled eggs
  3. plenty of bread to share
  4. Bread crumbs to represent St. Joseph's saw dust of being a carpenter
  5. Cheese, lots and lots of cheese
  6. Breaded cauliflower
  7. pastrami, salami, and other various meats
  8. sauteed onions and peppers
  9. Fried fish
  10. Egg omelets
  11. Different grilled vegetables
For dessert (my favorite part)
  1. Cannolis
  2. Pizzelles
  3. Double chocolate ricotta cake
  4. sphinges
  5. sfogliatelle pastries
  6. eclaires
  7. and other desserts topped with honey
This huge feast takes hours to eat but it is definitely worth it. Theres also never a dull moment in my family during this dinner especially when the adults get a little tipsy on the Italian home made wine. All in all, I love this holiday because it brings people together by food and its always the time of the year when I get to see all of my extended family and just enjoy laughs with them. Honestly, there never goes a year when I don't look forward to this holiday!