Did the Easter bunny visit you? Did you see what he left on my breakfast cookie? He left a few Cadbury mini-eggs mixed in with the grape “eggs.” What a sneaky bunny!
The highlight of my day was most definitely the amazing dinner I had with some good friends, and I’m going to speed things along so I can get down to the really cool stuff. Hold on! Here goes…
Lunch: Chicken sausage, leftover soybean succotash and feta on top of some gorgeous lettuces from the farmer’s market. No dressing was needed thanks to the flavorful toppings! That was followed by a piece of bran bread topped with banana and Dark Chocolate Dreams PB… and my remaining Cadbury Creme Egg.
I had a few other treats today, including a Lindor Straciatella Truffle, a Reese’s Peanut Butter egg and a small handful of jelly beans. Sorry, C! I picked out all of the pink ones. I think I covered all of the important Easter treat bases. I’m also happy to say that I limited myself to one of each of the big treats, which I think made me enjoy them so much more. I even muted the food channel so that I could savor my Cadbury egg in silence! That may sound silly, but I can look back at the end of the day and think about each of these sweets instead of looking back and seeing a blur of chocolate. I see that as some sort of progress!
I had one other small snack before I went to my friends’ for dinner: a tiny bowl of Kashi honey sunshine cereal with the rest of a banana and a splash of almond milk.
Whew. Was that quick? I tried! Now, we’re up to the best part of the day: Dinner! Tonight’s dinner was one of the best meals I’ve had in quite some time! I have a very good friend, C, that I met when we were both summer interns. After law school, we both came back to work full time and started work on the exact same day. She was sweet enough to invite me over to share Easter dinner with her mother, who is in town for a visit, and her boyfriend, N. C’s mother’s birthday is on Tuesday so I want to wish her a “Happy Birthday!!!” C’s boyfriend, N, is from Morocco, and he was kind of running the show in the kitchen this evening. I should also mention the beautiful, Penny. She was unaware that she had an Easter egg sticker on the top of her head, and sported it all evening. I couldn’t resist taking a picture. What a pretty girl!
While Penny was chilling with the sticker on her head, things got going in the kitchen. C and N were busy chopping and stirring, and it was nice just to hang out while other people did all of the hard work. It also gave me the chance to watch and learn. This evening’s dish involved a lamb shank and potatoes as well as (and I’m sure I’ll forget a few things, but here’s my best shot…) turmeric, saffron, cumin, garlic, onions, parsley, olive oil, salt and a spice blend called Ras al Hanout. Let the learning begin! I was told that Ras al Hanout means “head of the shop,” and that the blend of spices would likely differ from shop to shop. My friends got theirs from a shop in Marrakesh, and it was so much fun to play the smelling game. Cardamom was the most prominent thing I smelled, but it was obvious that there were all sorts of amazing things in the mix.
A pressure cooker was used to cook the lamb before the potatoes were added. The lamb was so tender and moist, and the place smelled AMAZING!
After the potatoes had cooked, this was all poured out onto a deep platter, and placed on the table.
A fresh and light salad made of cucumber, tomato, onion and parsley (and probably some other things that I’m forgetting…) and topped with olive oil and salt was served on the side along with a big loaf of lovely bread. N said that the salad was a good thing to eat on the beach because it wouldn’t weigh you down when you were swimming. I’d love to be on a Moroccan beach nibbling on this salad… sigh…
The bread is important because it is the main utensil. No plates or silverware are required for this meal. Talk about easy clean-up! Using bits of bread, each person dips and scoops the lamb dish out of the big platter a bite at a time. I’ve never outgrown the love of eating with my fingers, and I couldn’t have enjoyed myself more. I can also understand how eating a meal from a shared platter really provides a sense of family and community. I think it’s a very nice way to eat a meal with friends. I’d say we all enjoyed it given that we turned the nicely organized table you see above into something a bit different as we did our best to nearly lick the platter clean. If that isn’t a happy sight, I don’t know what is!
When my friend invited me over, I asked if I could bring dessert. What we ended up with was a Moroccan-Arkansan fusion experience. I’m not sure, but that might be some sort of culinary first! I’ve celebrated a number of holidays on the east coast now, and, while I may not be with them on the holiday, I always think of my family and our holidays growing up. Being a bit sentimental (just a bit?), and loving traditional southern food as I do, I often show up to celebrate with friends bearing desserts that are traditional in my family. Today’s dessert was inspired by this bowl:
You can tell by the stained finish that this bowl has seen a lot of action. The marking on the bottom says Bakerite, and, best I can tell, it’s from the 40s. It made its way to my grandmother from another family member and has now come home to roost in my cabinet. If I wanted to describe it to my mom or my aunt, all I would have to say is “you know, the banana pudding bowl.” Enough said!
I’ve had a lot of great food out here on the east coast, but I can’t say that I’ve seen even a drop of the type of banana pudding we always made in Arkansas. I’ve seen some strange creations involving neon yellow banana flavored goo with some vanilla wafers on top, but that doesn’t even come close to qualifying in my book. I suspected that my friends might not have had the sort of southern banana pudding I grew up on, and I thought it might be a good contribution to dinner. Plus, sentimental that I am, I wanted to use my bowl. I considered a number of “fancy shmancy” tweaks, and I did add some fresh vanilla bean, but, otherwise, this is a basic and traditional version of one of my favorites. Here’s my recipe:
Memaw’s Bowl Banana Pudding
1/3 cup sugar
2 Tbsp. corn starch
1/8 tsp. salt
2 cups nonfat milk (it doesn’t have to be nonfat, but that’s what I keep in my fridge)
2 egg yolks, slightly beaten
2 Tbsp. butter
2 tsp. vanilla extract
freshly scraped vanilla bean (if you happen to have some… this is optional but a really nice addition!)
vanilla wafers (reduced fat ones work just fine!)
3 or 4 bananas
2 egg whites
1/4 tsp. cream of tartar
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 tsp. vanilla extract
Blend the sugar, cornstarch and salt together in a two quart sauce pan. Beat the egg yolks into the milk and then add the milk mixture to the sugar mixture. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens and boils. Resist the urge to crank up the heat in order to speed things along or you might end up with a scorched mess. After it reaches a boil, let it boil for one minute while continuing to stir constantly. Remove from heat, and stir in the butter and vanilla.
Place a layer of vanilla wafers in the bottom of an oven safe 1.5 quart bowl and top the wafers with a layer of sliced bananas. Pour half of the warm pudding mixture over the bananas, and spread it evenly. Place a second layer of wafers on top of the pudding, top the wafers with another layer of sliced banana and then pour the remaining pudding over the top. Unless you are planning to serve it fairly soon, cover it with a layer of saran wrap, pressing the wrap onto the surface of the pudding, and place it in the refrigerator to chill. You can skip this step if you wish, and top it with meringue right away. I prefer my banana pudding to be cold, but I have certain family members who think that a warm banana pudding is the way to go. I made my pudding this morning, and then topped it with meringue right before I went to dinner. It’s up to you.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Beat the egg whites and cream of tartar until foamy. I’d suggest using an electric mixer, as I have made meringue by hand and, while certainly possible, it was quite a workout. Beat in the sugar, 1 Tablespoon at a time, and continue beating until the mixture is quite stiff and very glossy.
Heap the meringue on top of the pudding, and be as gentle as possible so as to avoid deflating it. Pop it in the oven for about 10 minutes, or until the top is golden brown.
This serves 6-8 or, in our case… four with a little left for tomorrow.
I enjoyed my taste of home and the happy thoughts of my family, and I loved that I could share one of my traditional foods with my friends.
After we attacked the pudding, we enjoyed some Moroccan mint tea. I’ve had the pleasure of enjoying this tea at several Moroccan restaurants, and I think it might be the perfect thing for a Moroccan-Arkansan fusion experience. To me, it is an example of something that the two cultures have in common.
One of my very favorite things is a nice glass of sweet tea AKA “the house wine of the south.” I learned quickly that it isn’t as readily available here as it is back home, and I stopped ordering “sweet tea” in restaurants long ago. Now, I just order “iced tea.” There is always a hopeful little pause where I wait to see if the waitperson will respond with “sweet or unsweet?,” but I’m rarely given the choice. I’ll admit that I don’t have it often, since embarking on my weight loss extravaganza, but I still love a nice glass now and then. Oh, and I should add that the “sweet tea” category does not include cold tea to which you have added sugar. Nope. The sugar needs to go in while the tea is hot. That’s the only way to do it right, in my opinion! Moroccan mint tea is made this way by steeping a bunch of fresh mint in hot water along with a generous amount of sugar. Perfect! The resulting tea has that delightfully syrupy flavor that southern sweet tea fanatics adore, and, I’ve had mint in my tea back home as well, so the similarity doesn’t end with the hot sugar. One major difference is that the mint tea is served hot, and our sweet tea is always served cold.
This tea was SO good, and was such a nice and refreshing finish to the meal.
N did a fabulous job of serving it too!
I can only imagine the mess I’d make if I tried this at home! It wouldn’t be a pretty sight. N seems to have it mastered! Sorry it’s blurry.
I love a meal with great company and delicious food, but I love it even more when I have the opportunity to learn new things– especially, new things about food!! Thanks to C and N for letting me ask questions and take photos! I would have been sad to have enjoyed such a great meal and been unable to share it on my blog. I had such a great time!! Thanks also, C, for the thoughtful Easter basket! I’m looking forward to enjoying all of my treats, and I’ll be thinking of you when I do. Happy Easter, everyone!
Now I’m full and happy, which sounds like the recipe for a good night’s sleep! I hope you had a lovely day, and that the upcoming week will be a good one. Ciao for now!