Monday, December 20, 2010

Gourmand World Cookbook Awards

Exciting news! Communion: A Culinary Journey Through Vietnam has won Best Asian Cuisine Book (USA Division) in the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards 2010. This puts it in the running for Best Asian Cuisine Book in the World. 

Along with this honor, Communion has received numerous reviews since its publication in May, and I am grateful for the many words of praise. This is such a special book to me, and I hope to see it flourish in 2011 thanks to the support of family, friends and reviewers around the world.

Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Betty Crocker's Thumbprint Cookies (AKA Dad's Bird Nest Cookies)

When my grammy passed away a few years ago, Christmas changed. For decades my dad, mom, sister and I spent Christmas Eve at her house --- and then a rented hall when we ran out of space in her living room --- with aunts, uncles and nearly a hundred cousins (not counting husbands & wives, step-kids, etc.), but after Gram was gone, each family drifted toward its own traditions. Then my sister married a man from London, and now they spend Christmas there. So last Christmas I was with my dad and mom for a quiet holiday at their house in Tucson.

Thumbprint cookies at the very back

My dad has always been sentimental about his mom’s cooking, and he decided he was going to make not just one of his favorite cookies from childhood, but all of them! He had found a pristine 1956 edition of the Betty Crocker cookbook his mom used, and with the thoroughness and precision of the engineer that he is, he gathered the ingredients and got to work.

Most challenging were the ginger creams that required numerous emails to my cousin Lisa. As you will see in the photo, the trick is to make them as thin as possible. At first it didn’t seem that it was going to happen (the dough was too elastic; then it was too crumbly), but my dad is persistent, and after trial and error and trial and error and trial and error, those crispy, paper thin cookies came into existence. Also on the cookie menu: Russian teacakes and a chocolate log roll. And finally, thumbprint cookies, or as my dad wrote to me, “I call these bird nest cookies, but you cannot argue with Betty.”

I love that this recipe is listed under,
"Sprightly teacakes for family and friends."

I’d love to post the recipe for the ginger creams, but I think those need a few more test runs before we can explain exactly how my dad got them right, so we’ll start with thumbprint cookies, directly from my dad and Betty Crocker (word for word, with the exception of a few tweaks for formatting, which I could not figure out how to do on this page).

THUMBPRINT COOKIES: Nut-rich…the thumb dents filled with sparkling jelly.

We are as delighted with this quaint addition to our cooky collection, from Ken MacKenzie, as is the collector of old glass when a friend presents her with some early thumbprint goblets.

Mix thoroughly………………….
- ½ cup soft shortening (half butter)
- ¼ cup brown sugar (packed)
- 1 egg yolk
- ½ tsp vanilla

Sift together and stir in………….

- 1 cup sifted GOLD MEDAL flour
- ¼ tsp. salt


Roll in 1” balls. Dip in slightly beaten egg whites. Roll in finely chopped nuts (3/4 cup).

Place about 1” apart on an un-greased baking sheet and press thumb into center of each.

Bake at 375 for 10 to 12 minutes until set. Cool.

Place in thumbprints a bit of chopped candied fruit, sparkling jelly, or tinted confectioners’ sugar icing.

Makes about 2 dozen cookies.

Creating new traditions from old

Friday, December 03, 2010

Skylight Books Reading & Slide Show

What a terrific way to wind up the year for Communion—more than 50 people came to our reading and slide show at Skylight Books two Sundays ago. Family, friends, book lovers, Vietnam lovers, and a local food group, Foodie Connection, filled the house, as I read from the book (one of my favorite passages about the Julia Child of Vietnam), and Jules showed slides and discussed photographing the people and food of the country.

Jules & me in front of one of the many
displays for Communion around the store

Afterward, we served Julie’s banana flower salad, my Vietnamese mom’s spring rolls (recipe to come), and wine—both dishes were a huge hit (the wine, too!). As well, the Mandoline Grill food truck parked outside, and most guests ordered at least one dish, perching wherever they found a space in the store to eat Vietnamese "tacos" and banh mi sandwiches. I took home eight leftover sandwiches and ate six during the next two days—so good!

Jules talks about photographing Vietnam

We can’t thank everyone enough for buying Communion and supporting us and Skylight (a great independent bookstore). We also want to thank Skylight for being such an incredible host. The event coordinator, Mary, went out of her way to accommodate my endless email chain of requests; our coordinator for the night, Liz, was a gem, helping us with our many needs; and the staff was terrific about everyone eating, drinking, and lingering throughout the store.

A few members of the Food Connection group

Jules and I were floating on air afterward, from the festive mood of the night and pleasure of being able to share our book and its food with so many people.

Thank you, thank you, thank you, to everyone who has supported Communion since its publication in May!!