Saturday, September 24, 2011

Sfoof and Goodbye

I have greatly enjoyed writing this blog and some of the reactions I have had to it. However, after a year of blogging, I seem to have run out of stories, if not recipes, and have decided to stop here. Also, I am working on a few other projects that take too much of my time and attention, especially the Alix Aymé exhibition that is scheduled to open next spring at The Evergreen Museum and Library of The Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.  I thank all of you who have read my blog and especially those of you who have let me know that you enjoyed it. Perhaps I will begin it again someday.

While looking for recipes that use the allegedly beneficial turmeric, I came across Sfoof, a Lebanese cake that appeared enticing. A beautiful color and sweet, but not too sweet.

 Sfoof also sounds like the noise an object might make while disappearing, and therefore is auditorily appropriate for my final blog.

I have made it several times, varying the ingredients each time. This is my latest and, I think, tastiest version. I served it yesterday afternoon to our friend Cory Maclauchlin who dropped by with his recently completed manuscript: Butterfly in the Typewriter: The Tragic Life of John Kennedy Toole and the Story of A Confederacy of Dunces, which is soon to be published by Da Capo Press. I have just finished reading the beautifully written first chapter and I believe that this will be the serious and masterful biography of Toole for which admirers of his have long been waiting. Kudos to Cory! You can learn more about the book at


  • 1 ½  cups semolina flour
  • ½  cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1 ½  teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 1/8  cups white sugar
  • 1 cup of milk
  • ½  cup vegetable oil
  • 1 plus tablespoon of pine nuts and/or pistachio nuts
  • 1 tablespoon of Herbsaint, Ricard or Pernod


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F

Grease a 9 inch round baking pan.

In a small bowl, mix semolina, flour, turmeric and baking powder. Set aside.

In a large bowl, stir milk and sugar until sugar is dissolved. Add flour mixture, oil, Herbsaint or some other licorice-flavored liqueur. Beat with an electric beater at medium speed for a full 5 minutes.

Pour the mixture into a prepared 9 inch round pan. Sprinkle top with nuts. Bake, in a convection oven if possible, at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes, or until wooden toothpick inserted in center comes out dry.

Makes 8 genrous slices.

                                                    Sfoof ready to be put in the oven

Sfoof ready to disappear

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Fusilli with Sausage and Turmeric

After a brutal summer with high temperatures, violent storms, and even an earthquake, mild autumn weather seems to have arrived in Fredericksburg.  Yesterday was our first day in many months that could be considered “a sweater day” (a light sweater, of course).

 With the coming of cooler temperatures, I’d like to write about a good cool weather dish that even looks autumnal, mostly because it makes use of turmeric, the vivid yellow spice found in curries and other Indian dishes.

 Turmeric has been recommended to us by my cousin Stephen Duplantier, a brilliant cook and documentary filmmaker who was honored at the Cannes International Film Festival in 1989 for his films made in Louisiana French, including Vivre Pour Manger, about Cajun cooking. He now lives in Costa Rica and is the editor of Neotropica, an online magazine for American expatriates in Latin America ( ). Stephen is a strong believer in food that is healthy as well as good-tasting, and he is convinced that turmeric has many benefits.

Turmeric, I’ve learned, is a proven anti-inflammatory and research is currently underway exploring its effectiveness in treating cancer, arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease, and various other disorders.  And if that’s not enough, it also repels ants.

Following Stephen’s advice, I have taken to adding turmeric to soup, chicken salad, rice and pasta, and I like the mildly pungent taste and bright color it gives these dishes.  Recently  I got a little too enthusiastic while sprinkling it in a pot of chicken broth and it turned the broth a threatening yellow of a hue that Van Gogh might have employed in a painting near the end of his troubled life. Worried, I emailed Stephen: “Can one perish from an excess of Turmeric?”    “No,” he replied, “the worst that can happen is you may start to speak English with a Hindi accent and experience an overwhelming desire to read the Bhagavad-Gita.”

Since then I have been more judicious in my use of it. The following is one of my favorite turmeric flavored dishes. Even John, generally not a big fan of pasta, has made approving noises about this one.

One of the main ingredients is Hartmann’s Weisswurst or Bratwurst, found at our local Wegmans supermarket. It is delicious, has no nitrates or nitrites, and is flavored only with spices and lemon juice. I also find at Wegmans the Better Than Bouillon soup base, which provides lots of flavor in a little jar. These are the only two specific items in this recipe that may be hard to find, but adequate substitutes should be fairly easy to locate. I believe the De Cecco pasta is available almost everywhere.


About 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil

4 cups of De Ceccho fusilli pasta (half plain and half spinach)

1 medium red onion, peeled and chopped

1 stalk of celery, chopped

3 or four cloves of garlic minced

1 small jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced

1 teaspoon of turmeric powder

1 pound package of Hartmann’s Weisswurst or Bratwurst cooked sausages, sliced thin

About two tablespoons of minced seasoning ham

8 ounces of sour cream

1 teaspoon of “Better than Bouillion” (the vegetable variety)

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

A cup of freshly grated Parmigiano

½ cup chopped parsley

Set a large pot of salted water over high heat. When it comes to a rolling boil, dump in the pasta, stirring occasionally to make sure it does not clump. If you are using the De Cecco fusilli, the cooking time is 12 minutes. I always keep a cup of ice water ready to throw into the pasta water when the timer goes off to stop the cooking immediately.

 While the pasta is cooking, sauté the onion, celery, garlic, and pepper in the olive oil in a large saucepan until they are all softened.

 Stir in the turmeric.

 Then add the sliced sausages and the minced ham. Add the Better than Bouillon and continue to sauté and stir for a few minutes, then add the sour cream, while still stirring.

By the time the pasta is ready to drain, the sauce should be ready.

Drain the pasta in a colander and dump it into the pot with the sauce. Mix thoroughly in the pot and then divide between two bowls, Sprinkle half the Parmigiano and parsley on each one. A few turns of a black pepper mill and the pasta is ready to serve.

Makes two generous servings.

De Cecco is my preferred brand of pasta

Hartmann's Bratwurst and Weisswurst have no chemical additives

One teaspoonful of Better Than Bouillon adds a lot of flavor

The sauce in the pot

Ready to eat...

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Viola Woodward and "A Mess of Greens"

When we bought our house in Fredericksburg more than a dozen years ago, we inherited a housekeeper who had worked for its previous owners. In a very short time, Viola Woodward did much more than keep our house clean and in good order. She became a great friend, a member of the family, a constant source of amusement and joy. On the days she came to work, the noise of the vacuum cleaner was often drowned out by the sound of laughter. Her generous spirit, her astute and witty observations on life in Fredericksburg, her abiding good sense, made her work days more entertaining than any sitcom on TV.

To celebrate John’s 50th birthday, we decided that we were going to throw a large party. We told Viola, who also worked on the side as a bartender at private parties, that we wanted her to come as guest. But she would not hear of it. She enjoyed her star turn as an entertainer behind the bar too much to be merely among the invitees. So we set up a bar for her on the back deck, under a tent erected for the occasion. And there she became the heart and soul of the party, dispensing drinks and good humor in equal measure.

When Viola and her husband moved to North Carolina a few years ago, we were devastated. We do stay in touch by phone and see her on her occasional visits to her family in Fredericksburg.

When I had a double knee replacement in 2007, Viola came up to help John look after me during my recovery. Her company was extremely therapeutic, and she cooked some wonderful meals for me while she was here. Her specialty was “a mess of greens.”  Here is my version, inspired by her recipe:

1 lb of kale, chopped and washed

1 tablespoon of cooking oil

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

Four cloves of garlic, sliced

2 tablespoons (more or less) of country ham bits

1 teaspoon of salt and about ¼ teaspoon of freshly ground pepper

Grated ginger (optional)

1 cup of chicken broth

In a pot large enough to hold the pound of chopped kale, pour a tablespoon of cooking oil, and over medium heat, sauté the ham and sliced garlic until the garlic is lightly browned. Add one cup of chicken broth and the kale, salt and pepper. Reduce the heat and simmer until kale is tender (20-25 minutes. Drain, saving the “pot liquor” for a soup.  Stir in the olive oil and optional ginger. Serve.

                            Viola presiding at the bar, dispensing drinks and good humor