Category Archives: Personal Essays

Heirloom Cookbooks: A Peek Into the Past

“Grandmother’s spicy kitchen with its gay curtains, neat rows of pots and pans, and loaves fresh from the oven is a heritage granddaughter treasures. Around that kitchen centered the heart of the home. Through it strong characters and good communities were built.” These are the introductory words to a cookbook I was recently given by my grandma. Lest you think the grandmother referred to in the cookbook refers to my grandma’s generation, consider this: the cookbook was published in 1942. That means the granddaughter mentioned would have been my grandma and the grandmother would actually be my great, great grandma.


I don’t remember either of my grandmas cooking much, but even so, I treasure the vintage cookbooks passed down from both grandmas. Today I’d like to share a few snippets from the Granddaughter’s Inglenook Cookbook, which was published in Elgin, Illinois in 1942 by the Brethren church. This cookbook is a revised version of the first Inglenook Cookbook, which was published in 1901. As you can imagine, the forty-one years between 1901 and 1942 brought great changes to kitchens and grocery shopping, and thus a new cookbook was needed to serve a new generation.

When I opened the cookbook, the first thing I noticed was the Baking Table on the inside cover. If your oven didn’t have a thermometer, there was an easy way to determine the temperature: bake white flour. If the flour turned light straw color in 5 minutes, the temperature was 250-350°F. If it turned golden brown, the temperature was 350-400°F, and so on. The Baking Table also lists the temperatures and time to cook bread, pies, potatoes, meats and more.

Take a look at the recipes and you’ll realize how important the cooking times and temperatures are. For example, the recipe for Pocketbook Rolls simply directs the baker to “Bake in hot oven.” No temperature or cooking time is given, but the reader can always refer to the Baking Table inside the front cover.pocketbook rolls

I also find it fascinating how simple the recipes are written. Consider this recipe for Crackling Corn Bread:

Crackling Corn Bread
Cut cracklings
1 qt. cornmeal
1 c. sour milk
½ tsp. soda
1 tsp. salt
Warm water
Heat the cracklings. Combine rest of ingredients, using enough water to mix well. Add to the heated cracklings, stirring thoroughly. Bake in a moderate oven.

This recipe doesn’t indicate the quantity of cracklings or warm water or what size pan to use or how long to cook the corn bread. Reading a recipe like this makes me realize that much of what is detailed in today’s recipes was once common knowledge. I like to think I know a fair bit about cooking, but by my great-grandmother’s standards, maybe I don’t know so much after all.

Just as passing years bring changes in clothing trends, so they bring changes in food trends. A few of the recipes in the cookbook made me chuckle for that very reason. Take, for instance, Health Drink.

Health Drink
2 pkg. raspberry jello
2 c. orange juice
4 c. hot water
juice of 2 lemons
Add water to jello and let cool to room temperature. Add juices, ice and serve, or place in refrigerator in jar to cool after mixing with fruit juice.

health drinkYes, friends, a Jello-based health drink. It’s hard to imagine making this in 2012. Then again, Gatorade and Powerade are pretty much the same sugar bombs, aren’t they?

The US has been known as a melting pot for generations, so I was curious to see what recipes were in the International Cookery section. I discovered a few Hungarian sweets, several African recipes that used peanut butter and taro root and many Chinese dishes. There were also four pages of recipes from India, which immediately grabbed my attention because Sam is from neighboring Pakistan. Yes, there was Dhal Curry with the traditional onion tardka; the funnel cake-like jalebies; and pillau, a more obscure rice dish (and one of Sam’s favorites). Who would’ve thought that here in a cookbook from 1942 Sam’s and my heritages would meet? pillau

There are too many interesting snippets from my heirloom cookbook to share with you in just one blog post, so I plan to make this a regular type of post on my blog. I’ll still be doing my usual recipe posts, but you can expect more peaks into the past regarding everything from stain removal tips to canning and candy making.

heirloom cookbooks


espresso cupsThis week the only meal item more consistent than the lattes we’ve been drinking with breakfast are the homemade affogatos we’ve been making for dessert.  These grown-up ice cream floats are easy-peasy: scoop vanilla ice cream into a bowl, pull a shot of espresso and drown the ice cream in the hot espresso. Affogato means “drowned” in Italian, and once you pour the hot espresso over the ice cream, it’s easy to see how the dessert got its name. As the espresso crema melds with the sweetened cream of the ice cream, it creates a velvety and luxurious indulgence.

ice creamWe like to use Three Twins Madagascar Vanilla ice cream in our affogatos because it’s a creamy rather than icy ice cream. As for espresso, well, I’ll reveal the real reason we’ve been splurging on affogatos nearly every night: we bought a Nespresso machine last weekend. For those of you who aren’t familiar with this line of espresso machines, it uses a capsule system to brew espresso quickly and easily. I can hear the coffee purists (and romantics) groaning at the thought of a capsule system—and until last weekend, I did too. At first I felt guilty for using such an automated system. I use an electric toothbrush, read books on my iPad and now use an espresso machine that is as automated as it gets? Was this machine bringing me one step closer to the utterly unromantic food capsule system of The Jetsons?

affogato espresso poured over ice cream The more I thought about it, the more I began to feel a kinship with the characters in the Industrial Revolution-era mini series Lark Rise to Candleford and Cranford, who shudder at how the imminent railway will change their quiet, close-knit communities. Today we’re already well into the technological revolution of the digital age, but how do we balance the new with the old? What do we hold on to and what do we let go?

History is the great teacher that helps us make sense of our current times, and if I look back to reactions to the Industrial Revolution, I think of the art nouveau movement. In reaction to the monotony of the mass produced art created by machines, the art nouveau artists sought inspiration in nature and infused their work with sinuous curves they saw in nature. If I look around me today, I can see people making concerted efforts to unplug from technology and relearn the forgotten arts of previous generations: handmade goods are popular, canning classes are popping up and the DIY movement is as strong as ever. I know I don’t want to live in the past—Midnight in Paris showed me the folly of that mindset—but I also don’t want to forget where I came from, so to speak. Perhaps the answer lies not in rejecting this or embracing that but in observing how the changes affect us and living intentionally in light of that. One thing’s for sure: this isn’t something I can solve in one blog post and package neatly with a bow. In the meantime, I’m going to say I can live with the more frequent affogato ritual.

affogato finishedAs far as I’m concerned, there’s no wrong or right way to make an affogato. Experiment with different flavors of ice cream (Sam likes cardamom ice cream) or adding a spoonful of amaretto or hazelnut liqueur. If you don’t have espresso readily available, use a strong, dark coffee.


1 scoop of vanilla ice cream
1 shot of hot espresso

Make the Affogato

Scoop the ice cream into a bowl, pour the espresso over the top and eat immediately.

Hello Again!


A cake to celebrate Mother's Day and my niece's 2nd Birthday. (And no, I didn't make this! It came from a bakery.)

From the patio furniture and Coppertone sunscreen displays at Costco to the barbecue planning guides on Epicurious, the big box marketing gurus would have me believe that Memorial Day kicks off the warm-weather party season. Somehow, the party season kicked off a whole lot earlier for me this year, starting with Easter. And that’s right around the same time I stopped posting on my blog. This month and a half has been rich with celebration and provided me a much-needed break from blogging.

For the first few weeks it was a relief not to think about my blog. Don’t get me wrong: I love my blog, but creating posts takes a lot of work and sometimes it feels more like more work than fun. After a few weeks of allowing myself to abandon my blog, my mind turned back to things I’d like to share on my blog: picnic ideas, grill favorites and ice cream treats. So, hello again, blog world! Looking forward to celebrating summer with you.

P.S. I recently read the book 1000 Gifts and thought it would be appropriate to share some of the things I’ve been thankful for during my break from blogging.


  • birth of a niece! Though Sam and I have 8 nieces and nephews between the two of us, this was the first time I was able to see one of them within a week of birth—very special!
  • Easter and all the Holy Week services at church
  • Mother’s Day BBQ with my mom and family
  • my birthday, complete with a family BBQ at Crissy Fields
  • Another niece’s 2nd birthday (kid birthdays are the most fun!)
  • 75th Anniversary of the Golden Gate Bridge (yes, we did head out with all the crowds to celebrate one of my favorite San Francisco landmarks)
  • taking a trip to Santa Monica and hanging out with this gal
  • having another college friend visit on the days of our Torrey and college graduation anniversaries

Small pleasures:

  • riding my bike more
  • learning to use the manual mode on my camera
  • rediscovering  homemade crème fraîche
  • finishing my first semester of conversational French
  • eating treats from Tartine bakery (croissants, morning buns, coconut cream tarts)
  • eating lunch outside in the sunshine
  • taking advantage of SF’s free museum day (though it’s a little noisy with all the kidlets on school trips!)
  • watching all four seasons of the BBC Masterpiece Classics show “Lark Rise to Candleford”

And I think I’m forgetting a few things. At any rate, my life is full and I’m so glad to have Sam, my family and friends to share it with.

Family Dinner: Oktoberfest

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I know. October—the month that marks the beginning of pumpkin madness, stews, and comfort food—has been a bit sparse on Tomato Tango. While my blog has been lackluster this month, it has otherwise been a month full of creative inspiration for me: writing workshops, a grammar class, social engagements and weekly family dinners. I’ve met food bloggers, writers, musicians and people who love grammar as much as I do (seriously, how many people get excited to discuss subject-verb agreement for three hours?). Sam and I have had family dinners with my parents, sister and niece for the last five weekends in a row, and this weekend we’re all carving pumpkins together. And I’ve been motivated to write, write, write. October has been a month of people and ideas, a month of soaking up what I can. Now it’s time for me to focus on creating instead of just consuming.

oktoberfest 2
I don’t have a recipe for you, but I would like to share some photos from one of the highlights of my month, an Oktoberfest meal with Sam, my parents, sister, niece and aunt. To accompany our bratwurst and boiled potatoes, I made rotkohl, a slightly sweet, cooked red cabbage side dish that we used to eat when we lived in Germany. We opted for a domestic rather than a German beer, but I think the novelty of having our own little keg compensated for that deviation from the authentic. And what Oktoberfest would be complete without beer hall songs? The “Beer Barrel Polka” station on Pandora did the trick. And yes, my sister and I did do the chicken dance. We didn’t get any photos of the dance, but I think these give you a pretty good peek into our evening.

oktoberfest 1

oktoberfest 3

Estate Sale Find #2: Vintage Dominion Waffle Iron

dominion waffle iron, closed
Remember when I shared about the Vintage Cuisinart that Sam and I bought at an estate sale a few weeks ago? Well, the Cuisinart wasn’t the only toy we came home with. For $5, we became the lucky owners of this still-working vintage Dominion waffle iron. And let me tell you, this thing is a steal.

dominion diptych2

We were still exulting over finding a working Cuisinart with not three but seven blades when our eyes fell on a hefty waffle iron, once shiny but now covered with dust and smeared with fingerprints. Sam had been researching waffle irons online and discovered that all the reasonably-priced waffle irons were coated with Teflon. We try to steer clear of Teflon, so our waffle iron prospects weren’t promising.

Sam crouched to the floor to lift the lid of the waffle iron. Lo and behold— uncoated stainless steel plates. No Teflon here.

“Does it still work?” Sam asked, looking up at the proprietor of the sale.

“It worked the last time we used it, but that was years ago. You’re welcome to plug it in and see.”

 Sam hoisted the waffle iron—it weighs 10 pounds—to the kitchen counter and plugged it in. We continued browsing the estate sale, trying to imagine uses for the mismatched wine goblets arranged on the counter and wondering whether any of the books weren’t too outdated to be interesting.  Within minutes the smell of a heater that hasn’t been used for months permeated the apartment. We hurried into the kitchen, opened the waffle iron and held our hands above the plates. I tried to remember the old boy scout rule: how many seconds indicated what temperature? I couldn’t remember, but I knew it was hot enough.

“The plates come out too,” explained the man. “It makes for easy cleaning.”

We hadn’t been scared off by the sheer clunky-ness of the appliance or the burned dust smell coming from it, but the stainless steel waffle plates blackened with years of grease and the crumbs wedged into every crack were indeed something to reckon with.

“Removable plates, huh?” I asked. I looked at Sam and grinned. “Nothing a little Bar Keeper’s Friend can’t handle.”

With that, the old Dominion was ours.
dominion waffle iron, plate removed 2

She was ours, but like most things from the past, required a little decoding. Before we could even think about pulling the flour from the cupboard to make waffle batter, we had to clean those blackened plates. And to clean them, we had to remove them from the waffle iron base.

After fiddling with the knobs and latches on the waffle iron, we used a pair of pliers to pull back a knob, which released a latch holding the plate in place. I quickly pulled off the plate while Sam held the knob with the pliers.

“Whoa!” I whispered, simultaneously amused by the heating element exposed in the waffle iron base—safety hazard?!—and curious about the flat backside of the waffle iron plate. I hadn’t grown up taking apart appliances, but I was pretty sure this is what a seven-year-old feels when his dad gives him an old radio to take apart.

I examined flat side of the plate. The grooves and rim outlining the waffle mold perfectly matched the grooves and rim on the other side and there was a little spout pouring off one side. I couldn’t believe our luck.

“This is a griddle too!” I exclaimed. Waffle iron-griddle combos were apparently not a new invention after all. I set the metal plate on the table and turned my attention to the waffle iron base.

“It has to lay down flat for the griddle to work.”

Commandeering the iron from Sam, I began wiggling the hinge holding the two halves of the iron together. With a simple pull up and back, the top half of the iron laid down flat. Without talking, we began working to remove the plate from the top half.

dominion waffle iron, flat

Having decoded the inner-workings of the waffle iron and tackled the dirty steel plates with a can of Bar Keeper’s Friend and an old toothbrush, we put our waffle iron to the test. This workhorse that had been churning out waffles for years didn’t disappoint us. The waffles were as crisp and golden brown as any I’ve ever tasted, with little canyons ready to catch streams of maple syrup. Maple syrup, after all, is a crucial component of any waffle-eating venture. Our friend the estate sale proprietor put it well: “I love waffles. You know what I love more than waffles, though? Maple syrup. I love maple syrup.” Waffles. Maple syrup. I think I’m ready for another weekend.

dominion waffles

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