Monday, November 26, 2012

Patience with Beginners

Yesterday I realized that I had pounded up a small dried Indian coconut with sugar for no reason. I also had three egg whites left over after making nog. So I decided to see what would happen if I put the coconut with whipped egg whites and rice flour for some macaroons. They're nice. For some strange reason I tried whisking with my left hand. Know what? It's impossible. That arm has absolutely no muscle memory of having ever done this. And then I took out a knife and tried to cut a carrot into batons. Know what? My left hand is a complete beginner. And I'm starting to really empathise when someone, like my younger son, who tells me, he actually CANT make his own pancakes. Things I take for granted like swirling the pan with butter, pouring batter, flipping pancakes, are simply not things he can do yet, physically. And I assume there are probably many people much like him.

It also occured to me that this is exactly like writing. Some of my students can organize ingredients, put them in good order, and even flip them with a solid thesis. Some have never been asked to write a research paper yet in their lives. They are absolute beginners. And I understand why now. No one assigned a real paper. No one threw them in the kitchen and said, cook. Doesn't matter what happens. Start. Then do it again. And again. Eventually you will know how to write. Or cook. Same thing. Or anything. It's not something you can teach except for encouraging people to do it. I'm beginning to feel better about cookbooks with no directions, and my sophmore history seminar where I have basically just let the students loose and am making them write a full length 6,000 word paper. Like anything, simply doing it makes it possible.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

A Temperamental Starter

Starters are much like people. For no apparent reason they are ornery, they don't do what you ask, and sometimes you frankly want to kill them. The starters, that is. And I have killed them. All the more suprising when people write to tell me they have offspring from Durga, the first wild sourdough I ever made and shared. Seriously, her offspring are thriving as far away as Maine. I have gone through many starters in the past few years. And the latest young one was just being completely uncoorperative. One dough liquefied and was poured in the trash. Another was not cooked in the middle when I brought it to a party. Epic fail, as my kids say. The last one didn't rise well, but I baked it anyway and ate it this week. Dense, but bread. And then suddenly she is right as rain. Huge, poufy and magnificently risen. Maybe it was the rain. Maybe it was the new location on the shelf by the window rather than near the sink. I don't know why but suddenly she made a bread of such astounding beauty that I am truly flabbergasted. Just came out of the oven and still hot. The bread looks like most that I usually make, so instead I decided to show you this. The smallest pizza on earth. It is a real pizza. A bit of dough stuck in the bowl, good sauce, homemade mozzarella, salami (really) and some herbs. It was made exactly as a pizza should be. Delicious too. Benji and I split it.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Power of Suggestion

Why am I so susceptible to the power of suggestion? Last night I was talking to Kristine about romano beans stewed slowly in olive oil and fresh grated tomatoes. Now I am making it. I ran into Jim at the grocery and he was buying pancetta. So look what I had to make just now. I literally only heard the phrase chicken soup as a woman was about to pick up a can. I want that. So some freshly made stock is simmering away on the stove. It's terrible, I can't hear a single food item even mentioned without wanting it. Christian tells me he's making spaetzle. I want that too. To go in the stock of course. This is what happens when you really love every food on earth. A blessing or a curse?

Friday, November 9, 2012

Maple Pecans and Rye

Could anyone have guessed that I am writing a book about nuts right now? I guess no one knew but the publisher. Not even me, until I was reminded! But it's almost done and will go into Reaktion's Edible Series (with my pancake book). I've begun to test and photograph recipes. This one is so good I have to share it, as a little foretaste. Take pecans and heat them in a nonstick pan until fragrant. Sprinkle on some powdered cinnamon, ginger, cayenne pepper and a dash of salt. Now while stirring constantly sprinkle on maple sugar. It will melt very quickly and stick to the nuts. Keep stirring until they are nicely coated. Remove from the pan and let cool thoroughly. They are so crunchy, so intriguingly sweet and spicy and salty. Consume with some good strong Redemption Rye, straight. Languish.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Sweet Tarts vs. Smarties vs. Sassy Sours

If like me you still find yourself rifling through the bottom of the Halloween leftover bowl, I have a piece of crucial information to help guide you through this treacherous terrain. First, gum seems to have disappeared. Alas. Most chocolate now comes in tiniest of fun sized micro-bites that are hardly worth the effort of opening. Unless perhaps they could be snorted. A stale Baby Ruth up the nose might not be bad. Snickers not even on a bet. I am not wild about mass produced chocolate, though there were a few Heath Bars in there. My kids didn't realize the candy bar preceded the heath bar crunch ice cream flavor. The 100,000 dollar bar is gone. Twix has lost its luster for me. And in all honesty, I have always found the sour sugary garbage much more appealing from a purely gastronomic perspective. I don't know why, but pixie stix were grand. Can you recall zotz with a little lump of caustic acid in the middle that fizzed on the tongue? But who knew that the perverse little sweet and sour tablets wrapped in clear plastic with twists on the end are not all the same!?

I thought the classic were Smarties. Though a half eaten package on my desk somehow tastes flat, chalky and dissolves too quickly on the tongue. Then I opened the so-called Sassy Sours which are clearly a cheap knock-off. They are disgusting, can be easily crumbled with your fingers. And the pale pastel colors are vomitous - and they all taste the same too. The Smarties are a little bolder in color, a little more sour and hold together with more convinction. BUT, Sweet Tarts are divine. Hard as a rock, bracingly sour, with assertive colors like blue, green, purple and orange. Made by Wonka, though I don't think that was the case years ago. So if you find yourself being offered anything else, refuse adamantly. Oh these are good, even the flavors taste distinct. I think I'll have another.