I mentioned in a past post that no matter where I live I always desire to get in touch with the roots of that place, even if I have only the most tenuous of family roots there, or no such roots at all. So here I’ll share with you how I enjoyed getting tangled up in some Northern California roots culture just last week.
At a holiday cookie exchange.
Cookie exchange? Isn’t that what Midwestern church ladies do when they’re partying like it’s 1979? Well, yes, and it’s also what Sacramento foodie Catherine Enfield instigated, in this case, to get bloggers together and to promote a local business. That would be Le Rivage Hotel, which provided exceptional hospitality and a spot by the fireplace to boot.
As I whipped up my first-ever, and likely last-ever, batch of Spicy Brownie Brittle, I looked up the tweets and Instagrams of some of the bloggers who I thought might attend the exchange and I imagined what I’d ask them and how I’d introduce myself.
I reflected that in Sacramento, a common meaning of the get-to-know-you question “What do you do?” isn’t necessarily “What do you do for work?” or the southern belle variant “What does your daddy do?”
But rather, “Do you do triathlons or strictly running?”
Or for those who aren’t fitness inclined, another meaning can be “Do you do meat, no meat, paleo, vegan, slow food, organic food, local food, food trucks…?”
In other words, what kind of food are you into? It’s a thing.
So, anyway, my cookie. I cleared my throat and introduced it to the group saying something like, “This cookie honors my wonderful Grandma who loved her jalapeño-pickled okra and hot tamales and who also made the most delectable peanut brittle.” I even served my cookie on an heirloom plate (which actually had belonged to my husband’s Great Aunt Lucille).
The cookie wasn’t bad. In fact, the flavor was addictive. I adapted this recipe, substituting cayenne for the black pepper. Grandma would have approved.
Mostly I had a texture problem. Brownies, you know, are soft and gooey, or cakey. Brittle is creamy yet crunchy, and sticks in your teeth. My Spicy Brownie Brittle was soft in some spots and brittle in others and really rather odd overall.
The first batch stuck mercilessly to the pan. I re-checked the recipe. Ingredients correct, bake time correct…hmm, the recipe does call for an “ungreased” jellyroll pan. It also says to “prepare” the pan and to pour the batter into the “prepared” pan but the only indication of how to prepare the pan is to not grease it. Huh.
For the second batch I used parchment paper. This worked well when it came to detaching the finished product, but getting the batter in there wasn’t easy. You pour in the batter and tilt the pan this way and that until the batter distributes itself evenly.
You remember to hang onto the corners of the parchment paper as you’re doing this.
When the mixture starts to congeal as it cools (there’s a lot of butter in there after all), it’s time to finish the distribution with a rubber scraper. Messy.
In the oven. Eight minutes go by. I forgot the nuts. Pull the pan out of the oven, sprinkle the nuts on, use bare hands to press nuts into the molten mixture. No. Use the bottom of a smaller jellyroll pan instead, people, trust me.
The evening was a success. Of course I enjoyed the door prize giveaways—Coral Henning snagged the free night at Le Rivage!—and all the talk of foodie happenings, such as the upcoming Sac Food Film Festival, but I tuned my ears especially for family stories. And I was not disappointed.
Lisa Burge, sales director of Le Rivage, told me about her Spanish heritage. Her family, along with a whole community of other families from Spain, came to Rocklin, CA via Hawaii, where they were indentured laborers on the sugar plantations. There’s even a book about it, put together by Club Español in Rocklin, called Memories of Spain. If I can get hold of a copy, I’d love to spend some more time learning about this. Thanks for sharing that with me, Lisa.
And happy holidays to all!