Pecan Pie – A Taste of the South

April 5, 2016




Pecan Pie is a uniquely American dessert and apparently a holiday menu without it is a sin, especially in the Southern States where the pie is a staple. Some claim that French immigrants to New Orleans created the pecan pie after the Native Americans introduced them to pecans. Who knows? One thing is for certain, the pecan trees are native to the South and fresh pecans as well as pecan pies, pecan pralines and various other pecan delights are widely popular in the region. As you might guess, I made a solid effort to try all these sweet handmade southern treats as we were passing through Louisiana on our road trip from Toronto to New Orleans this March. However, the most memorable experience to me in terms of classic southern desserts would be the slice of that freshly-baked nutty pie perfection I ate on the front porch of Oak Alley Plantation Restaurant after exploring the historic site that lined the banks of the Mississippi River. It also turned out that of all plantations that dot the landscape along Louisiana's famous River Road, one that stands out for its relationships to pecans is non other, but Oak Alley. One of the slaves at the plantation, the gifted, first name-only gardener from New Orleans, Antoine, was the first person to successfully create the first pecan variety with thin shell that could be cracked bare handed. Antoine's improved pecan was named 'centennial' as a honor for winning the Best Pecan Award at the Philadelphia Exposition in 1876. 
We came back home with tins full of Louisiana's favorite nut and books full of wonderful collections of great southern recipes. And I thought that Easter weekend would be the perfect time to bake this simple and delicious pie, this symbol of the Southern heritage, the one that is really loaded with nuts, has a little hint of Praline pecan liqueur and creates such an earthy taste in your mouth which as the author wrote "makes you close your eyes and wish you might live forever in the witness of that rich moment."



Southern Pecan Pie 

Ingredients: 

For the Crust:
1 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into chunks
1/4 cup ice cold water

Filling:
6 tbsp. (about 90 ml) unsalted butter
1 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup dark corn syrup
3 large eggs
1/2 tsp. sea salt
2 cups chopped pecans (plus extras pecan halves to line the top)
1 tsp. apple cider vinegar
1 or 2 tbsp. Pralin Pecan Liqueur or bourbon (optional)
1 tsp. vanilla extract


Directions:


To make the pie dough, combine in a large bowl flour, sugar, and salt. Rub in the butter using your fingertips until it resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add enough cold water and stir with a spatula to mix to a firm dough. Use your hands to knead the dough together and pack it into a ball. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for at least one hour. 

On a floured surface flatten dough ball with rolling pin. Roll out into a circle that is one inch larger than the pie dish. Place pie shell into dish, fold overhang edge of pie crust and crimp decoratively. Prick the bottom with a fork and refrigerate until solid. 

Preheat oven to 400°F. Place the pie dish on a cooking sheet and line with a sheet of oiled foil. Fill with pie weights or beans. Baked in the preheated oven for 10 minutes. Carefully remove foil and beans and bake for an additional 5 minutes. Let cool a little before filling. 

Reduce oven temperature to 350°F.

To make pie filling, place butter, brown sugar, corn syrup and salt in a saucepan and stir gently until melted. Remove from the heat and and stir in pecans, cider vinegar, vanilla, liqueur. Set the mixture aside to cool a little , about 5 minutes and then whisk in one egg at a time until combined. Pour into the pie shell and bake for 35-40 minutes. If needed, during the last 10 minutes of baking, cover the pie with foil to prevent the top from getting too hard. The pie is done when the crust browns and the centre is slightly firm to touch but still has some jiggle to it. 
Let cool before slicing and serve. 

(Recipe adapted from "At My Grandmother's Table Heartwarming Stories and Cherished Recipe from the South", a book by Faye Porter.) 


Do you like pecan pie?


Sharing at Home Sweet Home

New Orleans and its Magic

March 30, 2016



Unassuming tiny funky room.. 
Old peeling walls, engraved with moments of yesterdays. Soft poetic light perforates the diamond cuts on the closed window shutters. Vintage fans move the stuffy air in spirals. Unmatching kitchen chairs, a Steinway upright piano and a set of drums are waiting patiently for the show to start. Instantly smitten by the atmosphere of noble decadence, I am standing in the middle of this dusty dark chamber full of humans, strolling my eyes along the painted portraits of musicians long gone. All we, jazz lovers I guess, are diving in anticipation after waiting an hour in line down St. Peter Street – few are aware of what will happen in a moment, the other few have only a slight idea of it.
And here they come! Welcomed by the roaring audience, six men of different ages wearing white shirts and black suits, holding instruments, waving and smiling, sit on the chairs in the most comfortable poses. The first words that come from the drummer Joe Lastie with the same raspy voice of Louis Armstrong let me know – they are HOME. I know I will be blown away. I know this is where I am supposed to be in this mythic city. It feels like a church and before I even take a breath, I hear myself singing along with my son, my man, the young boy beside me, the women in front of me, the elderly man standing up despite his lucky spot on the bench, all blending with the band  "Lord, Lord, Lord, You Sure Been Good To Me..."
I find myself in the scene of a movie, the one that I had watched as a child not really understanding what it is all about but remembering the images of a hazy bar with a small stage, cool jazz musicians singing and joking, people around the tables smiling, smoking, dancing, drinking... There are no tables here in Preservation Hall, no glasses with drinks, not even seats, except some rough wooden benches and cushions on the floor. There are people. And, there is MUSIC. Only Music. The most spirited traditional jazz music that slowly works its way under my skin and inhabits my soul for good. The most amazing sounds of the trumpet, clarinet, piano, contrabass, trombone and drums that create vibrations and harmony to make me feel the sound of my own heart. The most conversational, spontaneous piece of music that helps me explore every note and every feeling emerging within me. Music that tells stories and holds history. Music of grace and beauty, resilience and soul. Music that inspires. Music that express the rhythm of the human life.
I have never felt this close to New Orleans. Neither eating the delicious Cajun food, nor wandering all day long through the streets of French Quarter have brought me to the irrepressible spirit of the city as these amazing musicians have just done it. With my first footstep here, I sensed uniqueness, freedom, energy (and smell) bubbling up from everywhere like in only few other cities in the world. I felt the existence of something truly magical. And until this concert at Preservation Hall, I wasn't sure what it is. But the more I think of NOLA, the more I am convinced that everything starts with the MUSIC. It is the music. The honest, enduring melodies, overflowing with joy, pain, survival, hope and history. This integral cultural part of the place, big and deep like the mighty Mississippi River that connects people and celebrates life in a way you will see nowhere else. New Orleans, after all, gave the world that jazz, that distinctive musical style which has been as different, complex and intriguing as the city itself. And even the horrible Katrina couldn't wash away the music. Because music and the city exist as a single living organism that breaths with you everywhere you go, every corner you turn. It follows you not for the reason of entertaining you, but rather to give you a chance to experience it in a way that you almost can't describe but will never forget. Because live music here is not an event, it is a beating heart.
"Sacred, hallowed ground", these are the words Tom Waits chose to describe Preservation Hall with while recording here.
Sacred, hallowed ground, indeed!

(take a virtual tour here)





Recommendations:

Explore

  • Take a City Sightseeing Tour in a minibus or bicycle to become acquainted with all neighbourhoods of the Crescent City – from the historic French Quarter and the devastated by Hurricane Katrina Ninth Ward with its rebuilding project "Musician's Village", through City Park and Tremé to Garden District and Waterhouse District. The trip includes a visit to the Morning Call Coffee Stand for a coffee and, of course, beignets. Try their mini muffulettas. 
  • Explore the streets of the captivating French Quarter. Get a glimpse behind the wrought-iron gates and courtyard doors at the Galier House, Hermann-Grima House, Hotel Provincial,  St. Philip or Soniat House Hotels. Note the 1823 apothecary shop at Chartres, home of the New Orleans Pharmacy Museum.
  • Relax and enjoy the vibes and the historic architecture of Jackson Square. Overlooking the Mississippi river, it is the heart of the French Quarter. Musicians, painters, sketch artists, mimes, tarot-card readers and magicians perform day and night. Some of the best music can be heard right here. Enter the beautiful St. Louis Cathedral. 
  • Ride New Orleans's iconic St. Charles Streetcar LineIt is the oldest continuous operating streetcar line in the world, as it has been operation since 1835. Purchase a Jazzy pass and ride this historic olive green streetcar as much as you like. 
  • Walk the sidewalks of the elegant Garden District – a neighbourhood composed of some of the United-States's best preserved historic Southern mansions. 
  • Visit Lafayette Cemetery No.1, one of the city's unique cemeteries. Stroll through the ancient maze of above–ground tombs and learn the fascinating history of burial practices in New Orleans. 
  • Wonder into America's oldest continually operating public market, the historic French Market. It had its origin even before the city was established in 1718. Eat, drink, stroll and shop this riverside area for a lovely authentic experience. It is open 7 days a week, 365 days a year.  
  • Cross the Mississippi River with Algiers Ferry to catch a wonderful view of the New Orleans coastline and city. 

Music

  • Just outside the French Quarter lies a two-block street called Frenchmen Street home to some of city's most interesting music clubs. Go there and find talented musicians playing soul, R&B, funk and jazz. 
  • Attend a session of authentic New Orleans jazz at Preservation HallThese fine musicians only jam evenings from 8, 9 and 10. Line up early or buy a ticket through the website to reserve your seat. 
  • Stop at the New Orleans Musical Legends Park, where statues in the courtyard honor the city's great musicians. The park is free and the music is played all day and night.  
Eat 

  • Original Beignets and Café au lait served at Café du Monde since 1862, seven days a week, 24 hours a day.
  • Original Muffulette from Central Grocery Company.
  • Po' Boy and Jambalaya from Mother's.
  • Gumbo at the Gumbo Shop.
  • Boiled Crawfish by the Boat at the outside balcony of French Market Restaurant and Bar in The French Quarter since 1803, a great view of the Joan of Arc monument on Decatur Street.
  • Oysters at J's Seafood Dock and Felix's Oyster Bar.
  • Creole Pralines from Leah's Pralines.
  • Jazz Brunch Buffet at the Court of Two Sisters Restaurant – wonderful, high-class Creole dinning experience from seasonal seafood, pâtes, jambalaya, turtle soup and duck à l'orange to Mardi Gras King Cake, Bread Pudding with Whiskey Sauce and Vanilla Lemon Cake.
  • BBQ at The Joint, Bywatre – where the locals eat.
Shop


             I hope you enjoy my reflection on New Orleans. Share your favourite NOLA experience with me in the comment section. 



Sharing with Home Sweet Home

Wisdom of The Falling Water

March 3, 2016


Marching through the solid rock tunnels behind the Falls, I see the faces of princess Diana and Marilyn Monroe smiling at me from the photos exposed on the walls. The notion of sharing the same experience not only with my beloved family, but also with many of the world's influencers carries a strange sense of timelessness. At the end of the tunnel, I find myself unbelievably close to the very foot of Niagara, standing in awe (once again) from the vastness and the intensity of the winter scene.
I have seen Niagara Falls numerous times. Each time I am embraced by its majesty, I feel a deep connection with the raw essence of Nature's creative force. It is the same as meeting a dear old friend who I haven't seen for a while, but every time we both reunite, there is joy, happiness, healing conversations and flows of energies. This friend of mine is loyal, fearless and full of universal knowledge. 
Witnessing how one-fifth of the world's fresh water is crashing before my eyes into a white soft foam, I am reminded of the grand scheme of things in which I am a teeney tiny bubble in a planet-sized cup of milk. The voice of the falls, muted by cold, whispers into my ears beautiful Morrie Schwarts's story about the little wave being afraid of vanishing into nothing by crashing against the shore only until it learned the truth from another wave saying to him, "You're not a wave, you're part of the ocean." And I feel my soul expanding and myself rising high above the raging torrent into the oneness of all things. My difficulties, problems and limitations, that felt like boulders a minute ago, become tiny pretty pebbles, washed out by the cascade, no longer insurmountable. All the barriers I often build between me and the world are being gently destroyed with every next bundle of deep green water. Love is rushing up into the vastness of my own heart and I know in a way I never understood before that nothing in life is important enough that is worth closing over. My openness makes the whole world of discovery open up to me.
Surrounded by the chilling silky mist from the continuous movement of the water, I can't help but think that the power of the world really works in a circle. Those who argue that life doesn't move in a straight line – upwards and downwards, but rather in a cycle with no beginning or an end to it, seem to be quite right to me. Life is a great wheel, a sacred circle with no frame. From the sky, earth and stars, through the whirling wind and the transforming water, to the beauty of changing seasons, the development of the world happens in a spiral. My life is a circle, and so is the life of all living things – the infinite circle of unity, eternity, sun and moon, mind and body, breathing in and breathing out... And perhaps the whole purpose to this life cycle is to allow us to experience our growth, to expand our spirituality while travelling to ourselves and arriving to where we started. It is not an easy path, but obviously, this circular eternal journey of being "part of the ocean" is  the only one given to us all. None can summarize it better than the words of Joseph Campbell "The goal of life is to make your heartbeat match the beat of the universe, to match your nature with Nature."
They named this vantage point from where I am feasting my eyes, Journey Behind The Falls. And I get it. But I will call it, Journey Beyond the Falls. Because by marvelling at this colorless white breathtaking beauty, I am able to delve down beneath the surface of my own life in a search of something deeper, meaningful and inspiring. Tuning my senses to this cosmic connection, I am contemplating the thousands of years of wisdom that flows through the rushing water into my veins straight to my mind.

Stay open
Do never close your heart so that you never block the flow of the infinite energy within you. 

Be present
Always feel excited about the experience of the moment, no matter what it is. See things as for the first time. This is the only way of falling in love with the world and everything in it. This is the only way to feel alive. 

Go places that are bigger than you are

Contemplate the big picture and reconnect yourself in the harmony with the Universe. See yourself as an integral  part of nature. Learn from it. Grow. 

Find your passion by knowing what really matters to you
Know the things you do best and do it fearlessly with grace.

Stop taking each day for granted 
Pay attention – every moment is an unique opportunity to grow and improve yourself.

Go slow and stop pushing
"Do not just do something. Sit there." It is only through stillness that you can reflect clearly and deeply. 

Continue to strive toward beauty, authenticity and compassion.
You will eventually be able to overwhelm selfish concerns and reach a greater understanding of who you really are – what better and honest way is there to serve humanity. 

Spread love and gratitude around you with the same intensity as this natural force moves the water.




I am leaving my old friend with a heart wide open and a promise of coming back soon. As comfortable as we might seem to be living, we often have to be reminded of the need to broaden our horizons, to keep growing by looking for ways to create a nourishing life. We all need a new magnitude of our individual Journey Beyond the Falls.
Thank you to Niagara Parks for doing a great job in giving us an opportunity to see, taste, touch, hear and feel this magnificent gift from nature to mankind. To find information about Journey Behind the Falls you can visit the website here. 




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