With the family in town over the weekend, food became an adventure in more ways than one. My sister, D., is heading off to live in Athens for a year (yes, that’s Athens, Greece), a topic of discussion which is fascinating to L. We got him a big floor puzzle map of the world for his birthday, thinking it might help him understand the concept of Aunt D. going to live in a new place for a while — little did we know that geography would become his latest obsession.
Thanks to the puzzle and the Backyardigans, L. is now aware that Greece is in Europe, that it has lots of ruins (amending his first opinion that Aunt D. was going there to “ruin things”), and that people in Greece sometimes eat something called baklava (or, in his first attempt, “vaklaba”). His interest in the subject appearing to increase, rather than wane, with time, D. found a young children’s activity book about the ancient world, which he and I will go through together while she is overseas. But the first activity L. wanted to do, which isn’t even in the book, was to make baklava.
“What’s vaklaba?” he asked me, studying the Backyardigans as they danced, laurel-wreathed and sandal-shod, in front of something purporting to be Mount Olympus.
“Baklava? It’s…sort of like a pie.” (L. LOVES pie.) “With nuts and honey.”
“Ohhhhhh. Baklava is like a pie with nuts and honey on it? Yum-MMY.”
This continued daily — L. announcing the ingredients of baklava upon entering a room, asking me to help him draw baklava on his chalkboard, demanding baklava for dinner — until finally he realized that his aunt was coming to visit. An idea formed inside his young, but formidable, brain. Then, a few days prior to her arrival, he got on the phone with her: “Aunt D….will you please make baklava with me please when you come to my house?”
D. can’t resist L. any more than I can — even long-distance, he’s capable of being cute to the degree that the cuteness becomes a sort of kryptonite before which adults are entirely powerless. So she and I agreed that baklava-making would be a good activity for the weekend, and she assigned me to procure the ingredients. I dutifully began writing the grocery list, which she dictated to me. “Mm-hmm…mm-hmmm…got it already…think I’ve got it…WHAT?”
The “What” was prompted by a single ingredient which I had never realized is actually in baklava: Rosewater. Of course, D. told me, it can be made without the rosewater, but to be entirely traditional….
A quick racking of my brain turned up some vague thoughts about rosewater possibly appearing in Indian and Middle Eastern cuisines. One of the good things about living where we do, in a sort of urban-fringe neighborhood near Providence, is that Rhode Island is a secret foodie mecca with a serious amount of cultural diversity, when you consider the size of the place. So I actually knew where there were both Indian and Middle Eastern grocers, within 10 miles of my house. J. was dispatched to the Middle Eastern place and came back bearing the anointed ingredient.
In a 12-ounce bottle.
For those who have not made baklava, let me explain: there are precisely 2 tablespoons of rosewater in the recipe D. and I used, which came from one of her authentic Greek cookbooks. I’m sure the amount varies from region to region and recipe to recipe, but the point remains that in no pan of baklava will you ever find 12 ounces of rosewater. Ever.
“I got the smallest one,” J. defended, seeing my face. “Can you use it in something else?”
Oh, sure. (?) (!)
Undaunted, I brushed my misgivings aside and focused on the original task at hand: the making of the much-anticipated baklava. I should note here that this is actually a fun project to do with a small child, if you’ve got one who is as astute a kitchen helper as L. He used a meat mallet to smash nuts, mixed cinnamon and sugar, measured honey, and sprinkled filling into the phyllo dough. He was in heaven. And although I was skeptical of his reaction to tasting the result, it was love at first bite. He’s been a little baklava-eating machine ever since, even to the extent of licking his plate after every serving.
But the success of the activity aside, I return to my titled thesis: And Now I’ve Got Rosewater.
Lots of it. So the next few weeks will, I’m sure, be filled with rosewater experiments, because not only do I have the stuff, but it needs to be refrigerated, so I can’t just shove it to the back of the pantry and count on an infinite shelf life. The first experiment, which I completed Sunday night, was a scone sweetened with raspberry-rosewater syrup and flavored with ground cardamom. They turned out well, though not exactly as I had expected — they taste more of cardamom than anything else. But P. has eaten two so far, and L. tried a few bites for the first time last night and asked to have one in his lunchbox for today. It may be partly because my boys are accustomed to the taste of cardamom; every year at Christmastime, I bake a Swedish yeast bread flavored with cardamom seeds, which reminds me how much I personally like the flavor of the spice. Which prompts me, in turn, to put cardamom into everything (try it in French Toast!) until at least February.
Tomorrow, I promise, I will return to the mini-series and post some old standards and new favorites, but for today, my thoughts are consumed by this devilish beastly rosewater. I post the scone recipe sort of in vain, knowing that most of you are not struggling with an excess of this particular ingredient in your refrigerators (and knowing that even if you are, the tablespoon required for the recipe won’t make much of a dent). Enjoy if you can, mock me if you must. And return tomorrow for, hopefully, something just a bit more realistic.