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Location: Ontario, Canada

Paying Fancy Prices to Pretend that I Have A Fancy Life


Dessert in the Forest

Yesterday, my friends brought me to their cottage in the woods. Everything was wonderful except the annoying buggs. That's another reason why I am not in love with nature. Luckily we went boating before it started raining and that we had to head back to town.

Boat at the Cottage

Chip(the dog)and Garner Lake

The most beautiful encounter of this trip into the forest was Baklava, a middle-eastern dessert. Before I moved my fork, friends warned me of its sweetness, which I usually couldn't stand. Because of friends' repeated warnings, I was envisioning the taste of Baklava as I was wondering where to start. As a matter of fact, I found it not as sweet as what I expected. It was made with Phyllo dough, walnuts, butter, and sugar. After baking to perfection, a sweet syrup is immediately poured over the pieces allowing the syrup to be absorbed into the layers. The bitter walnut pieces added a special flavor among sugar, syrup, and honey. The Phyllo gave baklava a delicious crispy taste. I think the Baklava I was having was made from brown sugar and maple syrup so that it wasn't sweet to the extent that my scalp departed my head. The sweetness is 'perfectly adequat'. It must be a way to tell the quality of a dessert, I guess.

A debate between friends started on where Baklava originally came from. One insisted that it was Greek food while another said it was universal in the Middle East. After reading, I think they were both right. Baklava is of Assyrian origin around 8th Century B.C. Then it spread to the Mediterranean. With the advent of the Grecian Empire, it spread westward to Greece. There, Greek artisan bakers made a significant contribution - they mastered a method of rolling the pastry dough into paper thin sheets called fillo ("fillo" or "phyllo" actually means "leaf" in the Greek language). The recipe of Baklava was not perfected until Ottoman Empire. The cooks and chefs from diverse ethnic groups that composed the empire was recruited at Ottoman Palace. The interaction of different chefs refined the art of cooking and pastry-making of the Empire. Similar to ancient Chinese empires, the Palace always remained the top culinary "academy" of the Empire where different cookings communicated and learnt from one another.

In Turkish culture, walnut is valued as a symbol of weathy and the prosperity of families because they believe walnuts held aphrodisiac powers. This can also be reflected from the treature of walnut in Ugrian culture in Xingjiang province of China, where the people have their origin in Turkey. Because of the ingredient of walnuts, Baklava was baked only on special occasions only by the rich in Turkey. To date one can hear a common expression often used by the poor, or even by the middle class, saying: "I am not rich enough to eat baklava and boerek every day".

I felt lucky to have such a "luxury" in the middle of nowhere. This special treat accidentally match the way I remember the spelling of the word 'dessert'. I used to mix 'dessert' and 'desert'. Looking at the double 's' in 'dessert', I told myself 'dessert' was 'Something Sweet (SS)' in the 'desert', the middle of nowhere.


Blogger Sven said...

Photo with the dog is great, and it also looks very much like where I come from :)

Thanks for something sweet, I never thought of it that way :)

6/16/2005 6:18 p.m.  
Blogger Pat Sajak said...

Like Sven, I also like the device you have developed to distinguish 'dessert' and 'desert.'

Incidentally, baklava is one of my favourite desserts too. You may also encounter chocolate baklava, but I don't think this one is traditional.

Thanks for the historical tidbits!

6/17/2005 12:18 p.m.  
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