I live to eat and love to cook. Welcome to my life!

March 13, 2010

Happy Birthday Mr. Sassy Pants

What has twinkling blue eyes, a wicked sense of humor and has spent 83 years on this earth?

My Grandpa on my mom's side, who is known to all as Bapa...the name I gave him as a child and the first of his 7 grandkids and 2 (almost 3!) great-grandkids.

Picture a grown man with a personality similar to a Leprechaun, appropriate given our Scots/Irish heritage. He is not above disguising Christmas presents to mess with your head....turning a fishing lure in a 2" box in to a gift the size of a big screen TV, weighted down appropriately, wrapped in multiple layers so that when you finally get to the lure you are all but ready to throw the whole box in the fire out of sheer frustration. He once woke up a house full of people in Mexico while on vacation at 4:30am by banging pot and pan lids in the courtyard and yelling military like commands to get their hungover selves the he-ll out of bed! He also gave his eldest daughter (my mom) a potato one Christmas as a child because she was apparently being a brat. You should have seen the look on her face, it was pathetic!

He is a terrific story teller (sometimes full of blarney too...but that is a whole other blog) and about 7 or so years ago was kind enough to sit down with a mini recorder and pretty much tell us his life story and family history from beginning to the present. It was filled with all kinds of interesting anecdotes, from living in a one room cabin in the middle of the Upper Peninsula Michigan (colder than a well diggers ass!) with his mother & dad, an American Indian bringing them moccasins so their feet would stay warm, to the night he was in the Navy and thankfully opted not to go carousing with a group of boys who ended up smashing their boat in the San Francisco Bay. He also told of the night he came home from the Navy and his Mother, my Great Grandma McKaye, offered to make him whatever he wanted to eat for his homecoming. Mind you this was just following a war and the depression and luxury anything was at a premium.

So what did he request you ask?

Whipped Cream. A whole bowl of it, accompanied only by a spoon.

And apparently he sat down with a spoon and ate every last bite. He didn't feel very good after downing it, but I am pretty sure he didn't care.

I love this story for the sheer simplicity of it and the fact that I can picture him coming home to his mom after being away, sitting down and going face down in a bowl of sweetened whipped cream. He has such a sweet tooth that when I don't make dessert for family gatherings he gets a pout on his face and has been known to grab fork and knife to pound on the table, demanding something to satiate his craving. And no, he is not senile or in any stage of dementia, he is actually sharp as a tack and really just gets a kick out of messing with us.

Unfortunately for Bapa, a number of years back he was diagnosed as a diabetic. Which obviously limits his ability to go face down in most sugary desserts as he would have in the past. At first our alternate sweeteners were the little pink and blue packets of sweetener with the horrible aftertaste and for a few years, we just made stuff with sugar and he would limit his intake as best as he could.

Then came Splenda...."tastes like sugar because its made from sugar!". How this works I don't really know, I only know that it is cool for Bapa to have the stuff in his tea, on his grapefruit and in any dessert that I can make with it. There are desserts that I don't recommend making with Splenda as the chemical reactions compromise the overall result, but for the most part I have had success with simple desserts.

Caramel anything is out, Creme Brule got a strange texture (curdled, ugh!) and cobbler topping needs the real stuff to get the crunchy sugary buttery texture I love.

This year for his 83rd birthday we are celebrating for 4 days, with waves of family coming in to stay and play with us, eating all his favorite foods each night and coming to a close on Sunday with my Pork Ragu & Gnocchi (See "All about the Pork", February blog for the recipe) and a dessert of Bapa's choice.

Me, my Aunt Peggy (Pay Pay) and cousin Kelly cutting and rolling gnocchi for dinner).

At first, he said to "make whatever I wanted for dessert", that he loves everything I make...but after pressing him for his preference he got the twinkle in his eye and a little bit of food lust in his voice when he asked me to make Nina's Schaum Torte. I blogged this recipe once before on a day that I went nutso and made 50 gazillion things, but that time I just made the cookies. What he asked for is how my Nana would make it in to a true dessert. Bake it as one giant meringue in a springform pan, let it cool and fill it with sliced up strawberries and...........you guessed it. Whipped Cream!

I freaking love my Bapa.

The recipe is ridiculously simple....4 ingredients and little prep time. It is also great if you are feeding someone with a gluten or wheat allergy as it has none of those things in it.

Nina's Schaum Torte
Circa 1930

6 Egg Whites
4 Cups Sugar (don't substitute Splenda here)
1 T Vinegar
1 tsp vanilla

Beat egg whites until stiff and add sugar a little bit at a time. Add vinegar & vanilla.

Heat oven to 250 degrees. If you have a non stick springform pan, great....if not, line your springform with parchment paper on the bottom and the sides. Pour batter in the pan, smooth out on top and bake for 1 hour or until the top is light brown & crispy. It will crack and fall, don't sweat this, it's normal.

Let cool for a while and then lift off the top and set aside.

Slice 2-3 pints strawberries and blend with a little Splenda or sugar.

Whip 2 Cups heavy cream and sweeten with Splenda. Lick the bowl if you are so lucky...

Spread sliced strawberries on top of torte and then top with whipped cream.

Piece together the crispy pieces on top and serve. You can slice in pieces (it serves about 8 people) or just go at it with a spoon, which is how Bapa prefers to have it served.

Now our only issue is how to get the dessert from him as he defends it with a passion akin to a knight defending his maiden....our recommendation is to give the dessert and serving utensil to a neutral party.

I also have to give a gigantic shout out to my local strawberry farm that I live 1 block from. She opens seasonally and sells from a small stand. what she sells there are all of the varieties that don't ship well. These are sweet and tart and too fragile to get sent to the market...so fragile indeed, that I have accidentally let them sit on the counter too long (NEVER refrigerate strawberries....they lose all their flavor) and all of a sudden I had a green basket of red and blue fuzz. So long $5!! She has varieties such as Gaviota, Camarosa, Seascape & Alyssa...too pretty to eat? I think not! If you are in my neck of the woods, you need to check out Terry Berries on the block of Telephone between Kimball and Ramelli. She generally opens in March, May and a few other times through the summer. If the flag is flying, the berries are for sale! You can also check their website as she does keep it updated http://www.terryberries.com/

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