Here it is: a jar of borscht from the dark recesses of my cupboard. (I didn’t want to hold work-buddy Annie to her promise of cooking me a batch … she’s even busier than me, with two kids under five and a seemingly unending series of small and large disasters.) It wasn’t the nightmare I thought was waiting for me all these weeks. But that doesn’t mean I liked it. Way sweeter than expected — and I have yet to meet a sweet soup I can stomach.
I realize it might be a tad lame to rack up back-to-back candy tries. But I promise tomorrow I’ll submit to a borscht tasting just to make up for it. Besides, this retro bite has a cool ’50s commercial to add to the excitement. (Although I’m not sure giving kids “lots of pep and energy quick” is a good selling point for their parents.) Old Time Candy tells me that Woolworth clerks would break up sheets of this hard nougat with ball-peen hammers and sell the long-lasting shards to “economy-minded” customers. Later it was marketed in these bars that you smash up yourself by whacking it on the counter or sidewalk — no hammer necessary. I had to put mine in the freezer first, since it got a little soft riding around in my purse for a day or so, but it cracked up as advertised. I didn’t like it at first … not a huge fan of vanilla. But since it stuck around so long — putting even a nibble in your mouth is quite a commitment — it eventually grew on me.
Ran into a display of retro candies in a grocery store — and it was packed with things I’ve never tried. Like this overly long member of the candy bar family. It’s chewy, super sweet nougat covered in chocolate. I’m not getting the appeal. Did people only like it because it was all they had back in the day? I’m going to file this under “Another Reason to Feel Sorry for Our Grandparents.”
After the girls at work told me daylilies were edible, I almost ate a border lily by accident. Not sure if those are toxic, but luckily I didn’t have to find out — mine were past bloom. (I inherited a sprawling garden from my mother, and I have almost no idea what goes on in there.) So I had someone in the know lead me to the right specimen — always a good idea. The petals are like a sweeter and more beautiful lettuce.
This is the potato-stuffed food I’m not adept at cooking part deux. I started to get worried when I mangled the first two blintzes—which are really just thicker, more pliable crepes. But then I got the hang of it and managed to pump out some irregularly shaped blintz-like creations. When they were cooking they looked rather egg-ish, almost like a very, very flat omelette. And that worried me some more, since I have a longstanding feud with eggs. They didn’t taste eggy, though. Didn’t taste much like anything, really—but they did have a strange texture. The potato filling was good, I suppose. But I could have eaten mashed potatoes without going through all this trouble.
My swing at fried polenta was what I would call an epic fail if my 12-year-old would let me use that kind of language. (She claims it’s not epic when I say it.) And I was really looking forward to trying it. But let’s just agree that I would have liked it and move on. To something else I epically destroyed: aloo paratha. It’s potato-stuffed fried flatbread. Sounds good, right? I thought so too. Problem is I don’t know for sure, since I didn’t roll the flatbread dough flat enough and it didn’t cook through. But I tasted the spicy potato mixture before I stuffed it in and it was good. And we know I like bread and fried stuff. So, again, let’s just agree that I liked it and move on.
Mark Bittman calls this a “New England classic,” but I had never heard of it. Wish I could have remained in ignorance. It’s a heavy, dark bread with cornmeal and molasses thrown in. (I used Bittman’s recipe, but here’s another if you want to try — might be better, since it goes easier on the molasses.) When I tried it I knew for sure that molasses is dead to me. It’s now firmly etched on the list of Niki no-nos, along with olives and eggs.