The Magic Bowl
It has finally hit, the overwhelming knowledge that my son, the boychick, is graduating from high school. He’ll soon be moving into an on-campus apartment which includes a mandatory meal plan. He’ll still need a few kitchen things for his first kitchen. His. First. Kitchen.
When I started this blog ten years ago, Jules, the aforementioned boychick, was 7. One of the first entries I wrote was about things in my kitchen that are precious to me. One was a knife my father gave me for my first kitchen in my on-campus apartment at the very same university. The amazing purple bowl, which the accompanying photo is a good example of, was purchased at a junk shop along with a rolling pin made in Yugoslavia to add to my kitchen items for my first married kitchen.
I no longer have that rolling pin, or that husband. I do have the purple bowl. Mine is now a little scratched but is still the go-to bowl for everything from making pancake batter, soaking apples in lemon infused water, to marinating chicken for the grill (whenever that happens). It’s a workhorse in our kitchen and everyone uses it. It’s bounced on the floor a couple of times and survived. It’s been knocked against the sink and stone counter tops and moved to exactly 7 other kitchens with us (yes, we’ve moved a lot in 14 years).
It’s almost time to let it go. It will get packed up with a new knife and some other basics to set up Julian’s kitchen. He won’t need it for everyday. He’ll have whatever college cafeterias serve these days to keep his belly full and his body healthy (I hope). But if he does decide to cook something, he’ll have The Magic Bowl that’s been part of preparing countless meals, loaves of bread and stacks of brownies. Like my dad’s knife, it will be a little part of home, a connection to our cooking together, and a start for all his kitchens to come – until it breaks or a replacement is needed. It is just a bowl after all. The important thing is the memory and the love of the person using it.
After making crazy big meringues last weekend I found myself with an unsightly number of egg yolks to use up. I hate to throw food away and would usually make some kind of eggy bread with the glut. But… we already had bread, bagels and a pan of cornbread. What’s a woman to do?
Trawl the internet for “recipes with ten egg yolks” and light upon lemon curd with exactly that many yolks and the need for the zest of three lemons and a cup of fresh lemon juice. I also had a bag of lemons that were going to shrivel on the counter.
Lemon curd duly made. A scone would be a beautiful conveyance for said curd, but that takes us back to the “we have all this bread” issue.
Lemon curd is very good on warm toast.
We’re staying in Nashville for now but the new place is smaller – though better laid out. It’s giving me the opportunity to think about what I should hold onto and what I should let go of. I went into this thinking I would be very emotional about it but I have not. I read something fairly recently – I apologize for not noting the source – that when one keeps everything nothing is precious. It stuck with me and has guided my decision making as I go through boxes in the attic and cupboards that the items have not left the shelf since we moved in almost two years ago.
Kitchen things – dishes, pots and pans, gadgets – have always been my sticking point but I have been ruthless. I’m not catering anymore and if I did go back into the food business it would be something entirely other. This made it easy to part with multiples of things and giant pots and pans that I wouldn’t even use to cook for a big party at my place. I also got rid of things that had not been used in at least a year. Pared down serving pieces, including a heavy punchbowl with two many cups. I have moved it four times and used it two, time to go. We sold it on eBay with the proceeds going to purchase a new couch for a smaller living room, as did a few other things that we thought might be worth the hassle of shipping. Most has just gotten packed carefully and piled dutifully into the car to go to Good Will. I know it sounds hokey but I do feel lighter.
I am hopeful that by releasing these things into the world with whatever emotional baggage they contain, I am opening up space in my life for new, positive things. I’m not down with The Secret or abundance theology, but I do believe you can’t accept a new thing – job, adventure, whatever – if you are clutching things to you that don’t fit who you want to be anymore. I don’t know that I’ll have my life down to a suitcase – for more than a week or three anyway – but I’d like to have it light enough that I can go wherever the wind takes us.
One sign you might be raising your boy right :
Julian's first pie crust
Heat be damned, I have cooked more in the last week than in the last two months. I’ve tried to carve out time for both shopping and cooking and I have to tell ya, it feels much better. I don’t mean to sound all Suzy Homemaker superior (the universe knows Saint Martha would be appalled by my baseboards) but it’s really that I get sick of restaurant food quickly. And with the heat, all I’ve really wanted to eat was fruit and more fruit. Sadly, the local batshit crazy weather has made even seasonal fruit crazy expensive but we stocked up anyway. I am convinced that it might be possible for me to become a fruititarian. Not to worry about my sanity though really; my family would desert me for the siren call of cow and pig flesh inside a week. In light of that we’ve had brats in beer, a yummy blackberry cobbler, salmon cakes, stir-fried bok choi, teeny marble-sized new potatoes, and ribs and a coffee and ancho rubbed shoulder roast. I won’t my dryer because of the heat but I did crank up my oven. Insanity thy name is hunger.
And for the usual non sequitur, the aforementioned weather and my own laziness prevented any real gardening aside from a leggy thyme plant on the kitchen sill. However, I have been watching Britains of the 1980s re-enacting gardening of the posh Victorian and starving WWII eras. The Victorian Kitchen Garden, The Victorian Kitchen, and the War Garden & Kitchen are fascinating and strangely addictive in that way that can never be fully explained by the anglophilic addict. If you find yourself somewhere loathsomely hot (with electricity and the intrawebs) and some time to kill, you could do worse than watching someone toil in the gray British summer and stifling smoky kitchens of yore. Bonus points added for an adorable ’80s professorial presenter with a spindly mustache in Peter Thoday (I can’t believe he doesn’t even rate a Wikipedia article; he really is fun to watch).
Best of luck to you on the weather crap shoot this summer and safe and happy 4th.
Due to March’s decision to take that whole “in like a lion” thing a little too literally, I found myself unexpectedly home today – a Saturday – having not driven to Chattanooga last night. Keifel’s work schedule and my sleepiness precluded a fancy pants breakfast so I decided a fancy pants lunch was in order. Have I mentioned that I consider crêpes a food group?
I spent part of the morning planning two upcoming cooking events (not catering = not getting paid) and came across this recipe in my perusing. I had almost everything on hand.
Buckwheat Galettes with
Gruyère Cheddar, Onion and Bacon Filling
Makes 12 – requires some type of pan suitable for making crêpes (and requires scales – sorry)
- 75g buckwheat flour
- 75g all-purpose (or plain) flour
- 2 medium, local eggs, lightly beaten
whole 2%, non-homogenized milk
- 1 Tbsp veg oil (safflower is my go to)
- 2 large onions, sliced
- 200g American-style smoked bacon, local, cut into thin strips (crosswise)
- few thyme sprigs or teaspoon dried
- 2 garlic gloves, minced
- 100g black wax, extra sharp Cheddar, grated
crème fraîche ricotta cheese
Mix the flours together, sprinkle in a little salt, mix 100ml water with the beaten egg and whisk mixture into the flour, add milk slowly until batter is smooth. Cover and chill 2 hours to let the flours hydrate. Not doing this will make you curse the pan, me, whoever first thought buckwheat was edible and probably your mother for you having been born. Recipe doesn’t call for it, but I think they would brown better with a teaspoon or two of sugar; mine were a little on the not-browned side.
An hour and a half later or so, make the filling, sauté the bacon until crispy. Remove the bacon from the pan and drain on paper towel. Remove all but a tablespoon or two of bacon fat from the pan and add the onions. Sauté until lightly golden brown, add the garlic and thyme and sauté a few more minutes. Add back the bacon and set on the back burner, on low, until you’re done making the galette part of the recipe.
When your batter has hydrated for two hours, heat a crêpe or similar pan on medium heat. Dip a paper towel into the veg oil from the crêpe part of the equation and rub the inside of the pan with a very thin even layer or oil. Place 1/4 cup of batter and twirl around the pan until evenly distributed, it’s fine if some goes up the sides a little, in fact it’s good and will help you tell when your super skinny pancake is done. When the lacy bit at the edge pulls away from the side of the pan flip your crêpe over with a large palette knife, wooden crêpe spatula or whatever is handy (I use my fingers a lot for this) and let it cook on the other side for about a minute. Place on plate in very low oven to keep warm until you’ve finished the others. Do not be discouraged if the first one is a disaster. It is traditionally referred to as the dog’s pancake and is not a moral failing on your part. Finish your crêpes, oiling the pan as needed. You’ll get between 12 and 10 depending on the severity of the dog pancake. Stir the grated Cheddar and ricotta into the onion mixture on the back burner and heat through. Fill crêpes by putting a large tablespoon of filling on one quadrant and folding over the crêpe in quarters. Two per person is pretty filling especially with a little astringently dressed spring mix on the side for the green stuff. Recipe in the mag recommends serving with hard cider as this is practically the national dish of Brittany. Drink it if you got it.
Pumpkins not included
In culinary school one of the things I loved best and hated most was mystery basket days. They weren’t attached to winning a million or your own restaurant or your face next to Guy Fieri (shudder) on the Food Network or even not looking like an idiot on the Food Network; they were attached to grades. For this type-A, it was a struggle between this has to be perfect and oooh fun. Stress can kick creativity in high gear and occasionally my team and I would get the blue ribbon for the day.
Fast forward five years.
I am not currently cooking professionally. I work a workaday week and have to get dinner on the table. Life is currently filled with obligations, desires and some tragedy. What’s a girl to do with a fridge full of farmer’s market whim, some staples and some things that just need to get used? What is said girl suppose to do if she is also slightly comatose from too many sleepless nights and extra braining at work?
Enter Whole Foods’ Recipe app for iPhone On Hand feature. If you ever played with Google Cooking you’ve got the basic idea. In the app you choose three ingredients you have in the pantry or fridge and touch search. The magical Internet elves sift their recipe cards and give you a list of what you could make with those three items. Obviously, the app is more limited than Google Cooking and you can’t add things like birds’ nests and unicorn horn to your larder list but it does offer some tastier options, many with healthy eating considerations.
My adventure tonight yielded white beans and sausage over polenta with kale. I didn’t have beans but I did have a red pepper. It also didn’t say add a splash of cream and the grated end of some cheese to the polenta, but, hey, I needed to use them up. Recipes are a map and I encourage detours. As always, your mileage may vary, but I like the app and the type-A in me is still challenged enough with the tweaking and tasting even if it is cheating.
Dinner for hungry teenagers
Thrown together pot pie filling: poached chicken, frozen veg mix, sautéed onion, pan gravy, and thyme. Oil-based pie crust from late 1940s edition of Good Housekeeping cookbook. Muffin tin. 375 oven. 60 minutes-ish. Ta da.
Nashville like many middle-sized cities in the wake of the Borders implosion was left without a proper new book store in town proper. Used book stores, yes. And mighty fine ones, too. But not a bookstore with a newsstand filled with foreign food porn magazines. Currently, said girl has to drive to Cool Springs or Hendersonville (burbs) to get to a Barnes & Noble. There is a Books-a-Million on the opposite side of town but their newsstand is super skinny on the foreign mag side.
The husband indulged me tonight by carting me to one of the dreaded burbs to acquire my fix. On the way home, we cruised by the future B&N home in the old Borders’ husk on West End. I’m going to keep my fingers crossed that it will contain a richly supplied newsstand. I’ve learned not to hold my breathe on an independent newsstand.
Yes, I do know you can subscribe to foreign mags but the overseas rates are more than you pay on the newsstand, even if they are a month off. I may have to succumb to the subscription yet.
For now, I’m going to flip through my fix while I have a piece of toast.
I have officially turned down a pretty big catering gig because I am too busy with the new(ish) job and life in general. It feels weird and slightly naughty. I am 8 months in to my first full-time, non-temp job since I moved to Nashville 8 years ago. Cooking is still a passion but divesting myself of the need to say yes to every opportunity to make even a pittance at it is more liberating than I can express. Will I ever go back to cooking full-time? Who knows? I’ve learned to never say never. There is a part of my brain still in love with the idea of teeny cafe, teahouse, market stall or food truck.
The one thing I’m really enjoying that involves cooking right now is making dinner at my house for Keifel and Jules and watching Jules become a handy cook in his own right. He is also quite the barkeep. His drinks for his consumption are strictly PG but I am glad he looks at alcohol with the mind of a cook and an extension of a meal rather than an ingredient for a bender. I’m touching wood and hoping it sticks.