Gifts for food lovers: From travels near and far (Recipe: Suspiro de Limena)
Part Three of an eight-part series.
When I was growing up, my parents loved to take me to the theater.
Not the movie theater.
Broadway shows, and off-Broadway, and incredibly-far-off-Broadway, in unfamiliar neighborhoods and alternative spaces like the room behind the room behind a restaurant, or an empty warehouse with some folding chairs, or an elementary school auditorium or church basement. Going to the theater was an adventure.
In the years before there were half-price ticket booths, there were twofers. Two, for the price of one.
Scoring those twofer tickets required cunning and good luck, and when my parents found a twofer, we looked on it as a gift from the theater gods.
For the food lover in your life, a gift from your travels -- near or far or armchair -- can be a twofer, too.
There's the gift, of course, and then there's the story behind the gift. Two gifts, two adventures, for the price of one.
The two spoons in the photo came with the gift of this story, from Ted's recent trip to Peru:
The market in Pisac manages to retain the Andean village feel, even with bustling tourist activity. Sunday is the big market day, with local people coming in from miles around to sell and barter their produce. There are lots of stalls with every imaginable souvenir, too -- I bought a shirt of the local Cusco soccer club -- but in the vibrant and colorful food market, I saw many varieties of local produce, and more kinds of potatoes and corn and beans than I knew existed.
I was looking for presents for Lydia when I saw a wooden spoon seller. Perfect! The spoons were all plain and practical and hand-carved, so I picked a large spoon with a deep bowl that I thought would work well for the refrigerator-dump soups that Lydia makes on Sundays.
The price was 8 soles (about $2.40) and I handed the seller a 20-sole note. She had a 10, but no coins, and started asking the neighboring stalls for small change. I told her not to bother and wandered off to see more of the market. A while later, I passed the spoon lady again and she rushed over to give me a tiny spoon -- for the change I had turned down. How wonderful!
I admit I was very excited to add the spoons to my collection (advice to gift givers: every cook loves wooden spoons, so check out Jonathan's Spoons or Basil's or Bambu), but I was equally excited when Ted brought home these two spotted bowls from a Boston flea market. You don't have to travel far from home to find great gifts for food lovers! Ted knew exactly what these bowls were, because I'd been buying melamine bowls like this on eBay for a few years before Rachael Ray dubbed them "garbage bowls" and made them popular on her cooking show.
For the gift of armchair travel, choose a beautiful cookbook, from the series with the same name (China, Italy, France, Mexico -- just some of the beautiful cuisines you can "visit"), and build a basket of foods around it. With so many great online sources for international ingredients, you can give the gift of almost any food culture, to any food lover, anywhere.
Oh, and those edible seeds? Far and away one of the coolest gifts I've ever received. The strip is three feet long, and hangs in my kitchen. There's a story that goes with it, too.
Remember to give the food lover in your life a twofer -- the gift, and the story.
Another recipe with a lovely name, this one comes from Peruvian Cooking: Basic Recipes, by Annik Franco Barreau, which my friend Bev brought me from her trip to Peru a few years ago. If you love dulce de leche, you'll love this dessert. Serves 6.
1 can sweetened condensed milk
1 can evaporated milk
6 egg yolks
4 egg whites
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 small glass of port
1/4 cup sugar
Empty contents of both milk cans into a heavy nonstick sauce pan, and stir constantly with a wooden spoon over medium/low heat, watching carefully to avoid sticking or burning. After 20-30 minutes, when milk thickens and coats the spoon and bottom of the pan can be seen while stirring, remove from the heat and let cool for 10 minutes.
Add vanilla and beaten egg yolks, stirring briskly, until smooth. Pour in individual dessert glasses or ramekins. In a separate small sauce pan, make a light syrup by melting sugar and port, swirling pan until sugar is completely dissolved. Beat egg whites and gently pour syrup in a thread until meringue holds stiff peaks.
Top individual servings of "suspiro" with meringue, sprinkle with a dash of cinnamon, and serve at room temperature.