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Victoria Sponge Cake Recipe inspired by Mary Poppins

British Victoria Sponge Cake

Imagine a cake good enough to eat upside down. This Victoria Sponge Cake is 100% inspired by Mary Poppins – that lovable British nanny at the heart of  countless quirky adventures – and, yes, it’s that good. The recipe is mentioned in Mary Poppins: 80th Anniversary Collection, which I gave my daughter for Valentine’s Day. A note on these books: P.L. Travers’s collection goes well beyond the parameters of the Disney movie – the floating tea party scene at the heart of the film can be found on page 42, barely cracking the spine of this 1024 page classic. Every night at bedtime we settle into a new chapter, following the 5 Banks children on another adventure. They paint the sky, eat gingerbread stars, hang out with the constellations at a circus in space, and travel the world with a compass – and all that within the first few hundred pages. Mary Poppins not only never explains their adventures once they’re over, she insists she has no idea what the children are talking about. More than buttoned up, Mary Poppins is flat out strict, yet the children always have fun when she’s …

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Honeymoon Smoothie | عصير المتزوجين

How do you know it’s springtime in Yemen? So much of Yemen is dusty: sand overwhelms the northern stretches in an area called “Rub’ al Khali” or the “Empty Quarter”; even ancient skyscrapers are made of sun-baked mud, as can be found in the town of Shibam. But… like a mirage, there’s another, glimmering view of Yemen. Between the dusty cliffs of the Hadramout desert lies a valley of prickly trees and honey bees, where one of the world’s great aphrodisiacs accumulates in golden pools. This is Sidr Honey, a.k.a. jujube honey. Every year, semi-nomadic beekeepers flock to the Do’an Valley, where the sweet fragrance of the jujube tree sets the bees into motion. The resulting honey is said to be a tremendous aphrodisiac. And what do you do with an aphrodisiac? You drink it, of course. Honeymoon Smoothie عصير المتزوجين is a love potion of sorts – a honey-laced smoothie meant to sweeten marriage and to help single folks find true love. I call it a “honeymoon smoothie,” though I read that the literal translation is “married couples juice.” Inside you’ll find everything …

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Samoan Tropical Salad

Summer can’t come soon enough – the heat of sun on my shoulders, the way my skin smells with sunscreen on, hot evenings under the stars. So today we’re going to Samoa. There’ll be drippy sweetness: papaya and cantaloupe. There’ll be richness, too – buttery avocado and moody – almost bitter – spinach. And to finish it all off? A puckering of lime juice – as bright as a Samoan seascape.   Typically known for rich, coconut milk-laden recipes, this Samoan salad is a healthier twist on island fare. The version I based mine on even won a Samoan recipe challenge! I chose this salad for sentimental reasons – something to set the scene a bit for the release of my new book Life from Scratch: A Memoir of Food, Family, and Forgiveness. I went to Samoa 2 months before I was born (as a real life stowaway, I suppose). Scientists believe our taste preferences can be affected by what our mother’s ate while we were gestating. I like to think I carry a bit of Samoa with me today. It was an …

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Almond Stuffed Date Balls

When I made the amazing Pistachio Date Balls for Iraq, I thought I’d seen the easiest recipe in the world.  It only uses two ingredients (third if you feel like getting extra fancy), and there’s no cooking. Well, today’s date balls are even easier: they don’t require a food processor. Boom! Even as simple as they are, the flavor is amazing – as though from a much more complex recipe. There’s a sweetness from the dates that transports me straight to Yemen… I mean, forget it. Let’s just lay under some Yemeni trees for a while, before we get around to making this recipe. Okay? Now, maybe this sunny afternoon in Yemen has you wondering: why include almonds and sesame seeds? Why not just eat straight dates? Well, you know how good peanut butter is with jelly? The balance of the nuttiness with the fruity date in this dessert is similarly satisfying. And addicting. Before I knew, I ate three of these. And to think. When I started this adventure, I (thought) I hated dates. …

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Venezuelan Fruit Punch | Tizana

Crack open just about any Venezuelan fridge and you just might find a pitcher of tizana. Tizana is as much a drink as it is a fruit salad. The fruity concoction keeps for nearly a week, which makes it perfect for impromptu scooping. Though perhaps not traditional, I’m guilty of digging into the pitcher at breakfast time, dessert time, and, of course, at midnight. I can see how having tizana in the fridge would be a great way to get my daily allotment of fruit, especially when in a hurry.   So how is it made? For starters, you’ll need about… an entire orchard. Chopped. The kinds of fruit varies, but most recipes seemed to include one or more kinds of melon, pineapple, grapes, bananas, and apples. More exotic fruit like papaya, passion fruit, persimmons, guava, and mango appear once in a while, too. The whole mixture is thinned with good ol’ fashioned OJ and a splash of grenadine. Some people like to add club soda or regular soda to the mix, too.   Seriously. If this doesn’t …

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Honey & Pistachio Stuffed Quince

Say “Quince” to an Uzbek lady, and you just might see her flush with delight. Though they aren’t eaten raw, baked quince are soft and tender, like a pear.  The taste is mild, something like an apple, but with traces of pear, too. Uzbekistan is the third greatest producer of quince, after Turkey and China. They include the fruit in plov, stir it into preserves, and they bake it up with honey, and sometimes even stuff it nuts… as we’re doing today. How to choose a quince: – look for white fuzzies on the stem end, which indicate freshness – a ripe quince is yellow, although slightly green fruit can be used for this recipe – it can be bumpy and odd-shaped, but there should be no scarring or other markings. Serves 4-6 Ingredients: 2-3 quince (or 3 large apples) 1/2 cup pistachios 1/2 cup walnuts, chopped (or substitute more pistachios) 1/2 tsp cinnamon honey, to taste (1-2 Tbsp per person) For the baking dish: 1 cup water 2-3 slices lemon Method: Let’s go to …

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Martin Fierro

Recipes usually evolve over a long period of time, but today we explore a recipe that one man changed forever. In the late 19th century, José Hernández wrote stories about gauchos, freedom, and love from his home, in Argentina. Gauchos are like the equivalent of the American cowboy: men who’s spirits are forever roaming. His most famous character was Martin Fierro (so famous, in fact, that when the author, Hernández, died, the people announced that Martin Fierro had died, too). Though his stories spoke to the people, he spent much of his life as an exile in Uruguay. As much a creature of habit as any other man, the author became known for ordering the same dessert – one that reminded him of home, but that also celebrated the local ingredients in Uruguay: He always ordered a certain dessert modeled on the popular Argentinian sweet known as Vigilante, which consisted of slices of cheese and sweet-potato paste. The dessert’s curious name derived from the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century policemen who ate cheese with sweet- potato paste because …

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All-American Apple Pie

Mom made apple pie all the time when I was little. It was my brother Damien’s choice for “birthday cake” several years in a row. He was born in October: it just made sense. Mom taught us how to cut the butter into the flour, to make a flaky pie crust, and she taught us how to add cinnamon and nutmeg to flavor it. (In her honor, I’ve labeled my cinnamon jar “sin,” just as she did then) Then I moved to Oklahoma, as far from New England’s familiar orchards as I could get. Every year about this time I start missing home – I start hungering for the bright, fall taste of apple pie. Of home. Use any firm baking apples you’d like.  This time I used pink lady, though many different varieties will do, as long as they are firm. Check with your grocer and see what crop they think would suit you well. While many insist on adding at least half granny smith, I prefer my pie granny-free. In the end, I …

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Emirati Date Crêpes | Muhalla

I’ve had a lot of breakfast treats over the years, but I’ve never tasted anything quite like these whole wheat date “crêpes” beloved in the United Arab Emirates. Made with whole wheat flour and a hearty helping of dates, they are a mildly sweet  and wholesome way to start the morning. I call them “crêpes” because of how they look, but, in truth, they’re called “Muhalla,” and quite different than a French crêpe. For starters, these are leavened with yeast, whose bubbles give the muhalla a more lacy texture. While you could make these with white flour, the whole wheat flour gives them a rich, nutty flavor – a nice contrast to the sweet note provided by the dates. The dates are the real star of Muhalla. In the United Arab Emirates, dates are one of the few ingredients which can grow, so they wind up in many of the local recipes such as this one. They are delicious, hot, warm or at room temperature. Be sure to serve them with some yogurt, fruit, or even a …

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Coconut Banana Fritters

I don’t usually pick my Friday afternoon snacks based on Prince William’s and the Duchess’ eating habits, but this week I couldn’t help myself. The royal couple were fed these amazing fritters during their stay in Tuvalu. What an endorsement. If they’re good enough for royalty, they are good enough for me. Trust me on this: each bite will transport you to magical Tuvalu, way out in the Pacific, where the sun shines brightly, the water sparkles like a smile, and every day feels like a vacation. They are indulgent in the most unapologetic way possible. The fritters contain many local ingredients, most notably coconut and bananas. Not just any bananas, my friends. These are nice, ripe, bananas. After a quick dip in bubbling oil, the fritters emerge soft in the middle and crisp and nut-brown on the outside. A heavy dusting of powdered sugar later and they become the perfect tropical doughnut. Makes 8 large, 12 small Ingredients: Vegetable oil, for frying 2 ripe bananas, rough chopped For the batter: 1/2 cup all-purpose flour 1/2 …

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Watermelon Jam

Imagine living in a place that has a National Holiday called “Melon Day.”  You could be surrounded by more than 400 kinds of melon, including some 50 varieties of watermelon.* The cool, sweet flesh would fill your belly and spirit. Eating it would definitely make you smile. And spreading it on bread? Even better. If any of this appeals to you, you might want to consider moving to Turkmenistan. These lovely people have celebrated Melon Day since 1994, and they don’t plan to stop eating the sweetness anytime soon. When I read in The World Cookbook for Students that Watermelon Jam is a thing in Turkmenistan (particularly when served on toast with tea), I knew we had to try it. I made a nice batch of jam from half a regular watermelon. Tastes like jarred sunshine. What a great gift to share with friends and family! Perhaps with a spot of tea… NOTE: I used Pamona’s Universal Pectin because it allows me to add less sugar to the mix (just 2 cups). I found Pamona’s at Whole Foods, though …

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Taiwanese Shaved Ice Treat | Bào Bīng

I don’t use curtains in my bedroom; I don’t need them – someone would have to climb over our 8 foot fences and face our “attack cat,” Malky  in order to see inside my bedroom… and we all know that would pretty much ruin any possibility for us to be friends.  Instead, I use half shutters, which allow me to see the moon at night and the birds during the day. It’s my favorite space in my house. So peaceful. Anyway, the other morning I cracked open my eyes to discover the entire room was glowing orange; it felt like a giant hug. An absurdly bright hug. Rather like this mango. “It’s 8 am,” I thought, noticing the height of the sun in the sky, pleased that I had slept that long. I glanced over to the clock out of habit. That’s when I read the shocking truth: it was only 6:30 a.m. Friends, the dazzling array of sunlight is eager these days. I’ll be honest. I temporarily reconsidered my position on curtains. But then a …

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