PTPI Blog


Discussion Question for Like Water for Chocolate – Smith Island Cake

October 21st, 2014

Question answered by Matthew Hughes, Program Coordinator at PTPI.

In a world with incredible diversity, food stands out—along with music, art, and other cultural artifacts—as part of a universal language. Everyone needs to eat, and the ceremony surrounding food preparation and enjoyment is a notably human trait. Homemade food is a joy to discover, no matter its cultural roots. 

One of my favorite parts of Like Water for Chocolate is the way a different recipe frames each chapter. The author begins each chapter with the name of the dish and a list of ingredients and adds a few instructions at a time throughout the narrative until the entire recipe is shared by the end of the chapter. The recipes Laura Esquivel includes are presumably ones that have meant something to her in her own life. They provide a sensory context for the intimacy and abandonment, the wounds and healing of the rest of the book. 

The author’s exercise in using recipes to evoke memories (“…it was very pleasant to savor its aroma, for smells have the power to evoke the past, bringing back sounds and even other smells that have no match in the present”) reminded me of an experience in my recent life that I’d like to share with you: 

Smith Island Cake

Smith Island Cake

I grew up in Maryland, on the Mid-Atlantic East Coast of the United States, and life on the water was important to my family. The Chesapeake Bay—confluence for a substantial watershed and home to countless species of the land, air, and sea—bisects the state and is a source of food, employment, and recreation for many of the state’s residents. My family regularly spent time on Kent Island, the largest island in the Bay, where my parents still live today.

As I grew up and learned more about the Chesapeake, I discovered that there was an island, Smith Island, that had been inhabited for centuries without being connected by bridge to the mainland. Residents of Smith Island exemplify life on the water, making a living from the Bay’s bounty and creating a cozy community apart from the more populous mainland. Visiting Smith Island quickly became a dream of mine.

During the 2013 holiday season, on a visit to Maryland, my mother and I decided to offer the many relatives who would visit in the coming days a treat. We set out to bake the Maryland state dessert, an eight- to ten-layer cake named after its home, Smith Island. We found the recipe for Smith Island cake, struggled as we baked, frosted, and stacked the thin individual layers, and proudly displayed and served our finished product, pictured with this post, for our family to enjoy. It was delicious and a way to celebrate both the holidays and life on the Chesapeake Bay.

In August of this year, my family and I had the opportunity to travel several hours by boat to Smith Island. It was a picturesque day that lives only in postcards, with the Bay calmer than normal. We were welcomed warmly by the residents of Smith Island, who showed us their workspaces and flowering gardens and served us some wonderful Smith Island cake. We were even able to take a whole one home with us to share with friends.

For years to come I know that Smith Island and its namesake cake will offer happy memories, best served with a glass of milk.

You can learn more about Smith Island here and make your own Smith Island cake using this age-old recipe. I’d invite you, as well, to investigate PTPI’s Cultural Cooking blog series, surface your own recipe-memories, and submit a dish or two from your family or culture to share with the world.

People to People International’s Global Book Club is a way to connect with your global community. Global Book Club members communicate about valuable, international topics and gain unique insight and understanding of various cultural views in relation to those topics. For more information on People to People International, visit www.ptpi.org or PTPI’s Facebook Page. #globalbookclub

The opinions expressed by PTPI staff and other book club members are entirely their own and are not necessarily the views of  PTPI or its Officers, Board of Directors and Board of Trustees.


Discussion Question for Like Water for Chocolate – Cooking with Love

October 16th, 2014

Question answered by Matthew Hughes, Program Coordinator at PTPI.

What traditions does your family have that involve food? Is there a secret ingredient or preparation method that your family claims as only yours?

Photo - Blog Post 2

Food is a central element of Like Water for Chocolate. Tita’s family regularly gathers round the table to share a meal, and it’s no exaggeration to say that Tita puts herself into every dish she cooks. Nacha mentors her in the culinary arts; by the end of the novel, Tita is mentoring others.

Cooks often go beyond a written recipe, experimenting with new flavor combinations, altering ingredient lists based on what they have in their pantry, and updating antiquated parsley-covered presentations. As a cover artist who makes a classic track sound new again, Tita has a transcendent effect on at least three of the meals in the novel. The intense longing she feels at her sister’s wedding is internalized in the cake she prepares and translates into an interesting reaction from the guests. Quail in place of pheasants, coupled with rose petals marked by Tita, leads to an unexpected effect for Tita’s family members in March. In November, Tita’s anger almost ruins her bean dish until she finds a way to coax the beans into deliciousness. Ultimately it is Tita, and not just the ingredients or method of preparation, that influences her food and its impact on those she feeds.

As I was growing up, my mother and grandmother had a custom of saying that they were making my food with love. I don’t expect that this line was unique to my family—I’ve seen it used as marketing language in the grocery store—but it meant so much nonetheless. Somehow, the love with which my mother and grandmother prepared meals transferred into the taste, into the food’s ability to sate a hunger, into the togetherness that my family felt, gathered at table.

Last year, when my mother mailed me cookies on a whim, she included a note that meant more than the cookies themselves (delicious though they were!). Love was my mother’s not-so-secret ingredient in the cookies and something that I’ll always treasure.

People to People International’s Global Book Club is a way to connect with your global community. Global Book Club members communicate about valuable, international topics and gain unique insight and understanding of various cultural views in relation to those topics. For more information on People to People International, visit www.ptpi.org or PTPI’s Facebook Page. #globalbookclub

The opinions expressed by PTPI staff and other book club members are entirely their own and are not necessarily the views of  PTPI or its Officers, Board of Directors and Board of Trustees.

 


Cultural Cooking: Instant Coffee Cake from Romania

October 14th, 2014

Recipe Title: Instant Coffee Cake

Submitted by: Adriana Bruma

PTPI Affiliation: Roman, Romania Community Chapter

Instant Coffee Cake

Instant Coffee Cake

Recipe Description: This cake is a family recipe. I make it at Christmas and it is part of our family tradition. I have the recipe from my cousin. I like making it and my friends enjoy eating it.

Preparation and Cook Time: 35-30 minutes

Ingredients:

Note: Remember to pay attention to the unit of measurement used. Check conversions online or click here for a quick guide to U.S. and metric conversions. 

For the Cake:

6 eggs

12 tablespoons of powdered sugar

140 grams ground nuts

2 tablespoons of flour

1 packet of baking powder

 

For the Cream:

250 g soft butter

150 g powdered sugar

2 yolks of eggs (other than the ones for the layer)

2 teaspoons of instant coffee

1-2 packets of vanilla powder

 

Instant Coffee Cake before Toppings are Applied

Instant Coffee Cake before Toppings are Applied

Recipe Steps:

The Cake:

1. In a large bowl, put the yolks of the 6 eggs and the sugar. Blend them until the sugar melts and the whole mixture becomes light yellow. I use a wooden spoon for this step.

2. Then, add the nuts, flour and baking powder and continue to stir.

3. Separately, whisk the whites of the eggs until they hold their shape and add them into the previous mixture. Add one spoon at a time.

4. Prepare the baking tin. Line the bases with baking parchment. Put the mixture into the tin and gently level the surface with the back of a metal spoon or a spatula.

5. Put it in the oven and bake it for 25 – 30 minutes or until the cake is firm to touch and a skewer inserted into it comes out clean. Pay attention to its color (so not to burn the cake). Leave to cool in the tin; then put it on a square serving plate. I cannot tell you the exact temperature, because we do not have an electrical oven. But I think it is the normal temperature you use when making cake. (Note: The average baking temperature for cookies is 165 degrees C and 325 degrees F.)

 

Instant Coffee Cake with Toppings

Instant Coffee Cake with Toppings

Cake Toppings:

1. Put the butter in a large bowl and beat it (with an electric whisk) in order to take the water out of it. Then, add the sugar and the vanilla powder and continue to mix them with an electric whisk.

2. Add the two yolks of eggs and, finally, add the 2 teaspoons of instant coffee. Continue mixing until the whole mixture becomes light brown.

3. In the meantime, put some nuts into a tin and bake them in the oven. Let them cool and try to remove the crust.

4. Spread the cream on the top of the layer. Level the surface with the back of a metal spoon or a spatula.

5. Spread pieces of fried nuts on it and some melted chocolate. You can grate some chocolate over the top or use something else for decoration. Now, the Instant coffee cake is ready to be cut in pieces and served. Enjoy it!

If you would like to contribute to our series, Cultural Cooking, please complete the recipe submission form and email photographs to intern1@ptpi.org.

To learn more about People to People International, visit www.ptpi.org or check out our Facebook Page.