Maggie's Books & Recipes

in Memory of Margaret H.L. Lim

Valentine's Day

With the Christmas Tree ornaments all boxed up and my Nutcrackers safely stored away, I thought I had run out of Martyrs, Saints and Gift-bringers when the Holiday Season came to an end. Wrong! For up popped St. Valentine, purported patron saint of sweet-hearts.

However, a brief research brought up no such saint, only a couple of martyrs of that name who had nothing to do with romance. A legend does exist though, of a priest who defied the edict of the Roman Emperor Claudius II (213-270) that forbade his soldiers to marry, as married soldiers made poor soldiers. This legend remains unattested. (Valentine’s Day on Wikipedia)

One source suggests that Valentine’s Day has its roots in the ancient Greek month of Gamelion (in our modern calendar, mid-January to mid-February). The Gamelion is the “marriage month” of the Athenians of ancient Greece. The marriage of the father of gods, Zeus, to the goddess Hera, was celebrated traditionally at the close of the Gamelion, which would be mid-February, conveniently giving us 14th February, Lovers’ Day.

Whatever gave rise to this day, which is observed throughout English-speaking countries, it has become a resounding commercial success, with the appearance of the first Valentine’s Day Card in 19th Century Britain.

The prudish Victorian era brought forth a spate of greeting cards dripping with sentimentalism. These cards were decorated with ribbons, posies of roses, cupids, hearts, turtle doves and bits of poetry – “How deeply do I love thee . . . let me count the ways” or words to that effect. ( E.B. Browning to R. Browning? You may conclude that I am not very keen about Victorian Poetry).

Germany does not observe this day which marks a foreign and “outlandish” custom. Commerce, however, is not sentimental about cultural purity. The supermarkets and flower-shops are already giving broad hints to sweethearts. There are heart-shaped praline boxes decorated with red roses in the shelves while posies of red roses with a collar of red paper or a red bow are already on display at the florists’, and of course Valentine Day greeting cards.

Chinese New Year

By a happy coincidence, Chinese New Year usually falls around St. Valentine’s Day. I have just the perfect cookie to mark this occasion: Love Letters!

Malaysians may prefer to call it Kueh Sipit , a very thin crisp waffle, rolled or folded, made of eggs and coconut milk –  a specialty served only during Chinese New Year or Hari Raya.

My version, however, is the traditional Ostfriesische Neujahrskuchen or Eastfriesland New Year’s Cake, spiced with cumin seeds. Why it is called cake when it is a crispy waffle-like cookie is beyond my imagination! But rolled or folded it bears a strong resemblance to Kueh Sipit.

1. The batter should be made a day ahead before baking. I leave mine overnight at room-temperature. Do not leave in the fridge as the butter will congeal.
2. The waffle-iron should be something like that used for making taco shells, not the kind used for baking Belgian Waffle.
3. This cookie contains no milk and is ideal for those with lactose intolerance.

Love Letters

1/2 cup granulated brown sugar
1/3 cup water
4 oz. butter (1/2 stick)
1 egg
1/2 cup flour, sift after measuring
1/2 tsp ground mace
1/4 tsp cumin seeds, crushed
1 tsp vanillin sugar

Bring the water to boil in a pan. Stir in the brown sugar until dissolved. Set aside to cool.
Melt butter. Set aside to cool. Then beat in one egg. Add sugar solution, sifted flour, mace, cumin and vanillin sugar and stir till smooth. The batter may appear to be too runny. Let mixture stand overnight at room temperature and it will achieve the right consistency.

Makes about 14. This recipe can be doubled or trebled. The original is thrice this amount.
The electric waffle iron/pan for making very thin crisp waffle rolls.
Brown sugar dissolved in hot water, cumin seeds, ground mace.
Mortar and pestle for crushing cumin seeds.
After standing overnight, the batter has achieved just the right consistency - not too thick, and still thin enough to flow from a spoon.
Let most of the steam escape first before checking to see if the cookie is baked to a golden brown. It doesn't hurt it even if you have to check a couple of times (I relied on the automatic thermostat, and the first cookie turned out burnt to cinders).
Remove immediately and roll or fold while still hot. The moment it starts to cool, it stiffens. Fold the ones that are not so pretty. Cool the rolled or folded but still warm cookies thoroughly on a rack.