Writing, Writing Prompts

#A to Z Challenge 04-08-21 Meet Hercules

No, I am not speaking of the Hercules we all know from classical mythology. I want to introduce you to one of the earliest American chefs, in fact, George Washington’s executive chef! Meet Hercules, a slave from 1770 to 1797.

This photo is Public Domain, shared by Atlas Obscura
An artist’s rendering of the infamous Hercules-possibly the work of Gilbert Stuart

It might have been a long day in the executive kitchen, but when it was over, chef Hercules hit the streets of Philly in his finest looking for the place the fashionable people were known to congregate, on Market Street. His attire was different than any other slave, but this revered chef had a flair for fashion and knew what he wanted, which is how he became one of the most famous chefs in the early American republic.

He stepped out in his blue velvet-collared coat, shined buckles on polished shoes, while atop his head, the enslaved cook wore a tricorn hat, and a long watch-chain dangled from the side of his black silk pants. A gold-headed cane firmly in hand, he drew considerable attention as strangers gawked and those known to him bowed. They admitted he was the dandiest, most polished gentleman of the time.

Historians are as enchanted with him today, which is a testament to his charisma and culinary skills. The author of Bound to the Fire: How Virginia’s Enslaved Cooks Helped Invent American Cuisine, Kelley Fanto Deetz, says Hercules might have been the first celebrity chef in America. His culinary skills and status were recognized nation-wide, and he was a very confidant, proud man. “He demanded perfection from his staff in the presidential kitchen and he commanded attention and respect from the public as well– something unheard of for enslaved laborers of his period.” she writes.

Although the history is sketchy about when exactly Washington moved him from his house slave to the kitchen, Washington’s 1786 diary entry mentioned him as a cook and within three years, he promoted him to head chef.

Hercules was very precise and disciplined, mastering cooking techniques and skills such as hearth cooking, according to Adrian Miller, author and James Beard award winner who wrote The President’s Kitchen Cabinet.

Cooking in a fireplace was his biggest skill according to Miller, who added that he would have had to learn how to tend a cooking fire, what utensils to use, how to change the elevation of cooking vessels hanging in the fire to get the desired cooking effect, and how to cook in warm ashes. He also ran an orderly, sanitary kitchen and his underlings knew they were in trouble if they didn’t meet his exacting standards.

He was known to be mild-mannered outside the workplace, but possessed surprisingly iron discipline, shining the most at dinners Washington hosted for members of Congress says Washington’s adopted son, George Washington Parke Custis, who wrote a memoir many decades after his father’s death.

In it he also stated that these dinners Washington hosted would be hectic and crowded affairs, but under Hercules, it was orderly as his underlings flew in every direction trying to execute his orders, while Hercules seemed to possess the power of ubiquity, and to be everywhere at the same moment.

Whatever specialties Hercules perfected were unfortunately lost to history, but Deetz speculates they were probably “typical colonial fare, kicked up a notch.” Foods like oyster stew, braised fish, custards, puddings and fresh breads. All he knows is they made Hercules famous and even his leftovers were a hot commodity.

He reportedly made decent money as well, which he put to good use on his fashionable clothes, enabling him to enter prominent social circles and garner a great amount of respect. He behaved like a freeman, and enjoyed popularity and fame, eventually paving the way for his escape. That’s a story for another day.

Writing, Writing Prompts

#A to Z Challenge 04-07-21 Gazoz

The Israel Breakfast–Photo Credit Atlas Obscura

In Israel, mixologists are bringing back a nostalgic summer sipper called Gazoz.

Back in the early 20th century, a glass of gazoz was a simple drink made up of soda water mixed with sweet fruit syrup. Recently, however, Tel Aviv’s Benny Briga helped revive and update the almost forgotten beverage, keeping the soda and injecting the drink with fresh flavors from seasonal ingredients.

Gazoz is a flavored fizzy water geared toward quenching summer thirsts. Depending on what’s seasonally available, contemporary gazoz might feature a mix of fruit, herbs, spices, and homemade tinctures. By marrying partially fermented berries, citrus fruits, apples or other fruits with vinegar, you first make the shrub (not the bush). This and other flavorings like ginger, cardamom, chili pepper, or juniper form the base of the drink, displaying an array of organic pigments through the added soda water.

Today’s gazoz are made more attractive by the fresh herbs placed atop the mixture, blossoming from the glass like a bouquet. It barely resembles the old version anymore, yet to the nostalgic, it still provides a satisfying sip of the past.

To try it in the states (since going to Tel Aviv is out of the question for most of us), it’s available at the Studio at Freehand New York. 23 Lexington Ave., New York, New York 10010.

Writing, Writing Prompts

#A to Z Challenge 04-06-21 Food Museums

Photo credit: Gastro Obscura

F=Food Museums Around the World

Thanks to Atlas Obscura, you can take a virtual or live tour of the world’s food museums right here in this post. Just click on the highlighted link to go from Japan to Tennessee and discover all there is to see, drink, eat, and experience.

Take a deep dive into the world’s foods from pizza to potatoes, because there’s nothing like a hyper-specific food museum. Beginning in 2016, Atlas Obscura featured a list of 38 food museums but culinary curiosity led to the community adding 43 new museums in later years, prompting the mag to publish an updated list- a revamped guide, if you will, so interested parties can make a pilgrimage on behalf of their favorite condiment, drink, or dish.

Eighty-one spots that feature butter museums to a shrine to the rice cracker, they leave nothing out. So follow your nose to the spot that intrigues you most as you peruse this list of culinary delights. Bona petit!

I have to include the editor’s note here: “Visit each place’s website or social media to get the latest info on openings, closures, and how to support them.”

Writing, Writing Prompts

#A to Z Challenge 04-05-21 Eggy Treats

#A to Z Challenge Badge

E=Eggs Around the World

According to Thai legend, mothers concerned with how their sons-in-law were treating their daughters led to the creation of kai look keuy-or, son-in-law eggs. The fried hard-boiled eggs were served as a warning to get it together, or your “pair” will be fried up next! Yikes! Thai moms mean business!

Son-in-law Melb/photo credit: Atlas Obscura
Son-in-law eggs-better treat her right!

That legend aside, in reality, Thai moms actually serve this crispy confection as a snack for their kids. They are so delicious, they can hardly be seen as a punishment. The kid-friendly version is made by frying the hard-boiled eggs in a batter then topping them with a caramel-y sauce of palm sugar, oil, shallots, tamarind, coriander, and fish sauce, making them tangy, sweet, salty, and savory all at the same time.

A more adult version would be to finish up the plating with a smattering of hot, crispy-fried chilies, then pepper in a latent castration threat. 😉

If visiting New York, try this tasty treat at Uncle Boon’s (7 Spring St. New York, New York, 10012)

Scandinavian Egg Coffee

Want a cleaner, less bitter cuppa joe? Use eggs as a clarifying agent like the Scandinavians do. Start with cracking an egg into some coffee grounds with a bit of water, making a slimy mush. Bring a pot of water to a rolling boil, add the mixture and let it steep. The result: cup after cup of clean, sienna-tinted brew. The egg absorbs the tannins and impurities that make coffee bitter and purifies low quality coffee.

Mamastehome/Photo credit: Atlas Obscura
The makings for egg coffee

During the mid 1800’s, immigrants from Scandinavia brought the method to the Midwest improving the suboptimal coffee that was available. It was dubbed “church basement coffee” because it was perfect for boiling massive quantities of java, thereby making it a staple of social gatherings.

Want step-by-step instructions? Check out this page here! It only takes 20 minutes to brew 10 servings of this clean coffee.

Ovos Moles

In Portugal, Ovos Moles are wafer confections filled with sweet, colorful yolk, making them a symbol of the canal-lined, coastal city.

Hungary_Daweat/photo credit: Atlas Obscura
Ovos Moles-a tasty treat!

It is said that in the 1800s, Portuguese nuns used egg whites to iron their habits, leaving them with an excess of yolks, which they then turned into Ovos Moles as a convent confection. Housed inside delicate wafers shaped like shells, fish, and starfish, they created a sugary, rich, sweet with the yolks thereby extending the life of the surplus of perishable eggs.

In 1834, the order to start preparations to close the monastery began following the extinguishing of religious orders. After being tasked with the final operations of their convents, the last nun of the Monastery of Jesus de Aveiro passed away in 1874 and after that, bakeries took over production of ovos moles. They remain a beloved treat in Portugal, and today you will find them in shops all over the busy city.

Writing, Writing Prompts

#A to Z Challenge 04-04-21 Milks of a Different Color

Photo Credit: Byrne Dairy


Today I will highlight a few different trends in dairy from around the world and here at home in the states.

First, in March in Central New York, you may find a seasonal treat on store shelves that at first glance, may be cause for alarm but fear not, the milk has not gone off. It’s mint milk, colored green and flavored with mint to celebrate the Saint Patrick’s Day holiday.

Byrne Dairy which is based in Syracuse, has been producing the milk since 1976. They stock their own line of convenience stores and a few independent stores with the minty milk starting in late February and ending after the March 17 holiday.

Local folk look forward to enjoying the green, minty milk, and it’s now part of their tradition. It’s a beverage that — unlike other green beverages enjoyed on St Patties Day — can be loved by all ages.

Winnie Lee/ Atlas Obscura

Now we move on to Barcelona, Spain and those who frequent the bars there, where the popular drink is Panther Milk or leche de pantera. This dangerous cocktail was created in the ’20s by the Spanish Foreign Legion and featured condensed milk, gin, and water or ice. Rumor has it that General Jose’ Millan-Asray asked a famous local bartender to create a cheap, simple cocktail that could be made and served by his soldiers anywhere they might be stationed, but others say it started with injured soldiers who were confined to infirmaries (with medical-grade alcohol) as a painkiller and then upgraded once they returned to their unit with whatever alcohol they had on hand.

Decades passed and panther milk largely disappeared only to e resurrected in the ’70’s by college kids. In the mid-seventies, a former Spanish Legionarre opened a bar and called it La Barretina where he mixed up vats of the old favorite and students flocked to the not-so-new cocktail which was cheap and came premade.

Later, a bar across the street called Tasca El Corral, jumped on the bandwagon and developed a less potent, more palatable pink version. And although that particular bar has since closed, the spot remains popular decades later. Nowadays, the drink may be made up of gin, brandy, fresh milk, and condensed milk, the top dusted with cinnamon. It might be pink or white, but rest assured, if you order the pink version, don’t expect to learn the secret behind it.

Lane Turner, Boston Globe/Getty Images

Finally, we must discuss the much loved by those in New Orleans and elsewhere: The Grasshopper.

Originally, the recipe was a trio of ingredients — Creme de menthe, creme de cacao, and heavy cream, shaken and strained, and it came out around the same time as other favorites, The Hurricane, and Sazerac during the 20th century.

Some bars added ice cream to the mix to take it from cocktail to dessert. After the Prohibition period, the drink gained popularity all across the south and by the 1950’s it even inspired a namesake pie made from minty, fluffy chiffon in a cocoa cookie crust.

Upscale bars in America offered new versions of the popular drink updating it with brandy, bitters, absinthe, and Fernet-Branca.

Historians can’t well document the early recipes because of the alcohol ban in the ’20’s, but suspect that it was still served in speakeasies through that period, and that waiters in the French Quarter slipped the spirits into The Grasshoppers from their aprons.

Today, the ingredients may differ, depending on what bar you get it in, but if its minty, creamy, and green, people will still know it as a Grasshopper.

#A to Z Challenge