Kitchen Stories

A Happy Trio of Recipes From the Lost & Found

By Bonny Wolf
Special to The Washington Post
Wednesday, May 23, 2007

I feel your pain. You pull out the cookbook stuffed with recipes torn from the newspaper and the backs of boxes, go to the spot where you know you tucked your favorite lavender lemon cake recipe, written on a scrap of brown paper bag. And it's gone.

You got it from a friend in Tucson you haven't seen or talked to in 25 years. Who knows where she is now.

In the days before Google was a verb, you would have been sunk. But now, type "lavender lemon cake" into the search engine and you'll get more than 200 options. You might not come up with the exact recipe, but you'll get close.

Food magazines and newspapers sometimes print lost recipes. You can track down chefs who may -- or may not -- help. Companies that print recipes on their products may -- or may not -- have the recipes in their archives. It's something of a crapshoot.

But I've had a lucky week.

Irene Howie of Annapolis has never been able to re-create a favorite restaurant dish, and she asked Kitchen Stories to help.

"It was a sad day when the wonderful Asian restaurant Germaine's closed its doors," she wrote. "My husband and I, friends, family and colleagues met for dinners, celebratory and not, at that lovely Georgetown spot over a span of at least 15 years. We found ourselves repeatedly ordering two terrific dishes: Basil Chicken and Singapore Noodles. We never since have been able to find restaurant equals anywhere in the country or to re-create them at home."

I found Germaine Swanson. Now 71, she has a catering business in Gaithersburg and was delighted to share her recipes with an old customer.

Her eponymous restaurant on Wisconsin Avenue in Georgetown was a Washington institution for two decades, the sophisticated hangout of Foreign Service officers, high-profile politicians and celebrity journalists.

When I moved to Washington in 1985, Germaine's was where we took out-of-town guests to show we were in the know.

Swanson introduced diners to the tastes of her native Vietnam, as well as Thailand, Korea, Hawaii, Japan and Indonesia. Germaine's was pan-Asian -- the first restaurant in the country to use the term, Swanson says. She prepared the foods of Southeast Asia skillfully and imaginatively for American tastes without compromising the original cuisine.

And her story was compelling. She moved to Washington in the early 1970s with her husband, Dick Swanson, a journalist she had met in Saigon after fleeing there from Hanoi with her family. She had been an army nurse and a journalist, and she was an excellent cook.

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