Friday, July 5, 2013

Cannoli, Canola, Cannellini...

Summer heat intensifies the aggravating nature of finding an address. Even if it is your hometown, you have GPS and you're driving your mother's Toyota Camry with it's fancy individual, custom temperature air-conditioning knobs. When we finally made it to the Italian grocery store, it was closed. After looking at each other in defeat, Eric pointed at the closed sign and shook his head in disbelief and a youngish guy behind the glass let us in. He was only slightly hostile when we mentioned that the hours on Yelp said they were open until 5:30 pm rather 5 pm. He even agreed to pipe the custard cream into the cannoli pastry shells, and to dip the ends in chocolate sprinkles. 

While we were visiting Utah, my mom had told us to spend her gift certificate for Granato's which why we went to this place in search of cannoli in the first place. She got the gift certificate as part of a gift basket at their church's auction. 

"Can you go spend this? Pick out something you'd like for dessert?" Mom inquired, then with a hush "I've heard they fill their cannoli's with custard right in front of you ." I overheard my parents bickering later, "Are Mindy and Eric going to go get the cannellini's?" "No the the canolas-- I mean the cannoli."

We ate the cannoli on my parent's deck after the sun sank below the Wasatch mountains. Jan and Stan, friends of my Mom and Dad were over for dinner. The six of us had no trouble polishing off all six chocolate-sprinkled cannoli in the styrofoam togo container. 

Cannoli is a Sicilian speciality. On my solo hosteling trip around that part of the toe of the boot of Italy, I remember eating quite a few deep plates full of tiramisu and probably a bucket of gelato, but never any cannoli. When I go back to southern Italy, that is something that must  change.

I'd love to have a whole argument using only cannoli and it's cousins.

Like, maybe:
"Canola? Cannellini."
"Cannellini, Canola. CANNOLI!"

PS - Lately, I've made a weekly ritual of reading the New York Times "Dining & Wine" section. So this week I'm excited about slumps, crisps, crumbles, sonkers and pie!

See you again soon, with pie, I suspect.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Better to Wait

I am a strong, action-taking  Women who Run with the Wolves sort of woman, but when I'm around a louder person sometimes I revert to my Snow White self, apple firmly stuck in my throat pressing on my vocal chords. I can't speak a word.

I like that certain kitchen processes that require waiting. It's often better to wait. Even if that person made me boiling mad with their thoughtless comment, it'll probably be better if I don't send an enraged e-mail at 12:15 am. Instead, I'll grind some coffee, throw the grounds in the pickle brine jar with some water. Tomorrow I'll strain it and have coffee concentrate.

In the morning, I'll thwack the bag of ice from the freezer (we went camping last weekend) on the floor really hard to dislodge some ice. Which will give me even more of an anger outlet. I'll see how I feel then, around 10 am about Ms. Thoughtless Comment and decide if I still need to send an e-mail. I'll clink some ice into a tall, frosty glass and mix the concentrate with a little water. Maybe as I pour a little milk over the top, and as I stir it down into the cold, chocolate-brown coffee -- it'll turn golden. I will cool off as I take the first sip. I will soften into my seat as I bring the glass to my lips for a second... 

Cold-Brewed Iced Coffee 
From Dining & Wine in The New York Times
5 minutes then 12 hours' resting time

1/3 cup ground coffee (medium-coarse grind is best; I just use my regular grinder and grind till it's still slightly grainy)
Milk or Dairy substitute (optional)

In a jar, stir together coffee and 1 1/2 cups water. Cover and let rest at room temperature overnight or 12 hours.

Strain twice through a coffee filter, a fine-mesh sieve or a sieve lined with cheesecloth. Now you have coffee concentrate.

Put ice in a drinking vessel of your choice. This drink is especially nice in a clear, tall glass, but whatever you have will work even a campy mug.

To the glass add equal parts coffee concentrate and water, or to taste. Add milk or diary substitute if desired.

Serves 2.

Monday, May 13, 2013

To My Mom

 Dear Mom,

Happy Mother's Day!

I am very grateful to be your daughter for many reasons including inheriting your courageous spunk and musical aptitude. Thanks for feeding me encouragement, your sense of practicality and food.

The way I remember  growing up is by thinking of what we ate. 

I want tuna casserole and french bread pizza. I want nachos, but I want them specifically at 11 pm on Christmas Eve.

I want your spaghetti. That spaghetti tasted like the Pacific Northwest to me. That's why I moved there, because it's where you lived. I wanted to know how you became you.

I want spritz cookies. Sugar cookie dough stuffed in a tube and pressed down through different shapes onto the cookie sheet. You were so excited to find a cookie press! You made spritz cookies with your mom in Seattle, (right?) and we made them again when I am a teenager in Salt Lake City, Utah.

I want a mimosa, but only on Christmas morning and only with you, Dad and Chris at our dining room table, sitting on the chairs with the sweethearts carved into the backs.

I want milk toast. Is it just bread soaked in milk? I remember you bringing it to me when I was sick and me turning up my nose at it. I'm sorry. That was so sweet of you.

I want an egg fried by you. I've almost got the "Marilyn method" down: crack an egg in a skillet over medium heat, watch until it's almost done with just a bit of runny yolk left on top and then splash a little water on top of it. Just about a tablespoon. Then cover it and let it steam and sizzle for 30 seconds to 1 minute. In my grown-up life I love fried eggs on almost anything. In my growing up life, I don't think I ate many eggs at all.

I want salmon baked with lemon. I remember your dad, my Grandpa Al making this is Seattle, the moist, citrus-flavored fish pairing with the damp Pacific air and mysterious gray sky. I remember you and Dad making it on the barbeque on our redwood stained deck in our backyard. We ate in the cooled off evening air of the hot high-desert summer as we look up at the Wasatch mountains which rise a jagged 12,000 feet into the atmosphere. Those majesties look like a giant theatre backdrop. Almost flat from where I sat on our deck. I wanted to run my hand along the front of them, feeling all the crags and hollows between the peaks.

I want to make cookies and let them cool on paper bags cut open and laid out across the Formica countertop. Paper bags are fine cooling racks. In my adult life, a wire rack would be nice, but until it's a reality I have many brown paper bags waiting for their turn to be the cookie settee. I am so glad I learned this trick from you. You can drain bacon this way too.

Thinking of this repertoire makes me ache for a home. At least though when I make this food or cut open a paper bag for cookies, I make home wherever I am. Except that I will be missing you. But, then, you are present because you made it all first. It's because of you that I remember any of it at all.
Remembering what we ate helps me remember you.

Thank you for nourishing my brother and I as we grew in your belly and even after we became screaming children.



Monday, April 29, 2013

Pretty Magical

No recipe today, just a quick note to say:
Last weekend, Laura introduced me to canning. She arrived balancing her giant canner, ten pints of strawberries, and many tiers of shiny jamming jars in her arms. We got to work hulling berries and sterilizing jars in boiling water.

We made strawberry jam. I felt fierce. It's pretty darn magical to take some red berries and add sugar and heat and turn them into sweet ruby jam, with bits of whole fruit intact. Pretty magical and pretty delicious smoothed with butter on crusty rye bread. After I've made it again, I'll post the recipe here.

Magic is built into making jam, just like it's built into making bread, yogurt or sauerkraut. You take a raw material and teach it to sing a bright and sustained note. You take a raw material and make it easier to share and save. My remaining three jars of strawberry jam are good until next year. (Though we've already eaten up two of the five jars in my house, so I doubt they'll last that long. I'll make more soon.)

When Laura took the jars out of the canner, we hovered over them, chicken mamas watching for their chicks to pop out. We waited with anticipation. Then we heard the first suction pop!  That's the lid sealing to the top of the jar. We exchanged gleeful looks and mischievous nods with each small pop! that followed. "That was a good one" she said. It was so helpful to have an experienced canner guide me through the process. I am not daunted by this any longer. Thanks to Laura I know what a good pop and a weak pop sound like. My only other experience with canning was assisting my mom when I was around three years old. We canned apricots from the giant tree in our backyard in the Sugarhouse neighborhood of Salt Lake City, Utah. I stood on a stepladder so I could reach the counter. Now I can start canning all kinds of things myself, adding new chapters to the story. I'd like to make some apricot jam.
Maybe soon I'll try something like this. Grown-up jam. I also can't wait to try peppers, tomatoes and pickling!

Until then, there are still three more jars...

Sunday, April 21, 2013

This Week in Forking

Some things have changed around here. Look at rule number 2. I have rewritten it.

This week I took great delight in slashing a large loaf of rising bread before it went in the oven. That loaf turned out wonderfully! We ate half of it before 9 am the next morning. I'll have to post that recipe later. We pulled it out of 450° oven right before we dashed across the quad to a prom dance in Eric's seminary's dining hall. True story. I wore a little black dress, Eric's fedora and black stockings with  seams up the back of the legs. I never would have worn anything like that at age seventeen.

Later on in the week I made cornbread out of the dregs of my dry goods supply. I did this to avoid working on writing songs or writing anything (like this blog). It was too salty, but no one would have known it unless I'd told them. Which I did. This week I was again frustrated as I usually ended up with some completed baking project at about 10:30 or 11 pm, which means bad light. If anyone has good tips for taking photos of food in low light, let me know.

Then at dinner here I thought about taking pictures of the food I eat with an inconspicuous fork in the picture for obvious reasons. I don't know if this is a practice I'll continue for obvious reasons. The sweet potato fries there are forking amazing.

This week I marveled in got annoyed at this phenomenon: It's great to have a friend in the kitchen, but it skews the process a bit. My partner and I have a dance, a routine that we could probably do sleepwalking as long as were alone. But add another body in the kitchen and suddenly the garlic is almost burning, the kale is too wet and there is like a whole bush of it there on the cutting board, and the eggs...well, I don't even want to talk about them. Bryna, it's not your fault! I loved having you over for dinner. Please come again, and we'll work on overcoming this phenomenon and making better eggs. Eggs can create tension and controversy. We should have just let everyone fry their own.

This week Eric and I hiked up and down the steps that are supposedly equivalent to climbing a 30-story building to the Pt. Reyes lighthouse on the Pacific ocean. The wind activated my cowlick ferociously. But it was warm in the sun and it feels good to hug in the wind. After that we drove through the rolling green-gold hills singing Kate Wolf's "Here in California" over and over working out a harmony part while we ate sunflower seeds and fig bars. We stopped in Pt. Reyes Station at the Cowgirl Creamery and tasted an aged gouda that was a lot like salted caramel. We enjoyed a sesame crusted levain from Brickmaiden Bakery very much as well. Eric kept handing me hunks of bread to gnaw as we drove back to Berkeley through the calming green canopy of Samuel P. Taylor state park.

Here in California
Fruit hangs heavy on the vine
And there's no gold, I thought I'd warn ya
And the hills turn brown in the summertime

This week I reflected on the kitchen as a place to challenge by deepest doubts, to overcome my fears and to process my emotions. Slashing bread is a safe way to demolish my insecurities symbolically.
The kitchen is a laboratory where I
can control my anxiety. In the end even if Bryna is over, they are just eggs. Next time they can be better. The kitchen makes me feel safe. It's an extension of my workspace and that's why my desk is within sight of it and why I place some of my most precious items on the ledge above the kitchen sink. I found that little tiger on the street in the Sellwood neighborhood in Portland.

This week I've felt like this tree I saw at the Pt. Reyes Seashore. Windblown and wild, but attached. I'm glad I'm still attached, I think.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Best Part

    The Best Part:  My friend Bryna has the 1/2 tsp. and I am poised with the bottle of Madagascar bourbon vanilla. I start to pour into the 1/2 tsp. and then we realize where the destination bowl is, across the kitchen on the stovetop. That vanilla may end up on the floor or spattered in the dirty sink if we continue in this manner. Without a word we sidle, dance-like and very quickly across the dark blue and white tile floor to the bowl of chocolate brownie batter, pouring one 1/2 tsp. of vanilla down into the deep, dark cocoa terrain.  "We're adults, we know how this works."She says, glimmer of mischief peaking out. Our eyes meet and I say, "Hmm. Maybe a little more?" And I pour about another 1/2 tsp. of Madagascar bourbon vanilla into her 1/2 tsp. still hovering over the waiting brownie batter. It flows from the edge of Bryna's spoon down into the bowl. The mixture integrates the extra vanilla thirstily. I reckon the brownies are the better for it. 

    Best Cocoa Brownies
    Adapted slightly from this recipe of Alice Medrich

    These have a crackled, candy-coating like top and a deep cocoa-dark, chewy interior. Error on the side of taking them out of the oven earlier than you think they are done. They will cook a little more from the heat of the pan. Also, you may just want to go ahead and double the recipe. Freeze half the batch. In my house they quickly became disappearing brownies.

    10 Tbsp. (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter
    1 1/4 cups evaporated cane juice
    3/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder (natural or Dutch process)
    1/4 tsp. salt
    1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
    2 cold large eggs
    1/2 cup all-purpose four

    Preheat the oven to 325°F.  Butter an 8-inch square baking dish.

    Combine the butter, sugar, cocoa and salt in a medium heatproof bowl. Set the bowl in a saucepan of just simmering water. Stir until butter is melted and the mixture is smooth and hot enough that you don't want to leave your finger in it, when you dip it in to test it.

    Remove the bowl from the saucepan and set aside until the mixture is only warm. Stir in the vanilla with a wooden spoon. Add the eggs, one at a time, stirring vigorously after each one. When the batter looks thick and shiny, add the flour and stir until it is totally vanished.

    Beat the whole mixture forcefully for about forty more strokes to ensure a smooth final brownie. Spread the batter evenly in the buttered pan. Bake until a toothpick stuck in the center comes out slightly moist with batter, 20 - 25 minutes. Let brownies cool completely on the stovetop before slicing into squares and serving.

    PS: We didn't try it this time, but placing buttered parchment paper in the buttered pan would probably yield a prettier final product. Plus the brownies would be easier to get out of the pan, and the coveted edge pieces may be more intact. (Hmm...see this.) I will use parchment paper next time I make these, which will be soon.

    Monday, April 1, 2013

    It Is Risen

    I love to watch the first yeast bubbles surface on the bowl of warm water, yeast and honey that is waiting on my ugly kitchen counter-top. When I started trying to do this six or seven years ago, I would timidly wait wondering meekly if the water was too hot? Was there enough sugar? Was the yeast dead? Ah! I don't know what I'm doing. I can't make bread. Is this going to work?? 

    But years later in my bright and airy Berkeley kitchen, that fear has been vanquished and replaced by showers of flour dust and shrieks of pleasure. I confidently throw water, honey and yeast into my favorite green and blue bowl, stir it up and then dance away but quickly return. My eyes train on green interior of the bowl, the one with the non-stick surface, the one I was given for secretary appreciation day when I worked long ago at this office in Portland. I gaze at the ingredients and wait for those first few bubbles to rise up, to break almost violently, to explode on the surface of the murky white water. They do! And then... I go a little wild. Yesterday I yipped around the kitchen, shouting for Eric to come and see. I love that part. 

    The reason why I love baking bread is because it places me into the thick of what transformation is all about. My hands are all over it, kneading the raw materials, assisting their alchemical transition into nourishment! I love to get up to my elbows in gooey dough. I am surprised at how as I add more flour the dough comes together, although it usually stays pretty sticky and webs my fingers with salted, honeyed dough that I am then forced to lick off...
    Rises to this!
    Many thanks to Kate, my long ago neighbor in NE Portland, OR, One day Kate invited me down into her apartment kitchen and showed me how to knead. I am grateful to her, because before that I think all that goop had something on me but not anymore. Now, I FEAR NO GOOP. In fact I relish it. We are good friends.

    Unlike acting, directing a musical, or writing a song (not enough songs at all lately) this creative process is one I have more control over. I'm the maker! Thank God for this! It's a practice that brings me A LOT of joy and solace in contrast other arts I do which often leave me hanging, waiting, wondering what will happen next. (Though singing, writing, playing instruments and directing give me lots of joy, too, in their time.) At this point in my amateur bread-making career, I always know that the dough will rise again, even if I screw it up one time.

    Performing this ancient and wild transformation of flour into bread shows me how I do have power to transform my non bread-making life too. It's more complex than yeast bubbling in my favorite bowl, yes, but in the end its all about the raw materials I select and the care and confidence with which I handle them. It's like rising up from the doldrums. It's like being punched down from the heights and rising again. And it's about waiting for all that to bake into who knows what.

    becomes that...

    Here is the bread I made on Saturday. I strayed a little from the original recipe, adding pecans and oats and honey instead of brown sugar. You could probably add whatever grains, nuts, seed you have lying around around in similar quantities and it would be very nice. This is a pretty forgiving recipe, but you might have to make it a couple times before you get the hang of doing it how you like it. Don't give up though, having homemade bread really beats all.

    Basic Whole-Grain Bread
    Adapted from Laurel's Kitchen
    By Laurel Robertson, Carol Flinders, and Bronwen Godfrey 

    3 cups warm water
    1 heaping Tbsp. honey
    1 Tbsp. active dry yeast
    1 Tbsp. salt
    6 - 7 cups of whole wheat flour
    ½ - 1 cup of quick cooking oats
    ½  cup chopped pecans

    Pour 3 cups of warm (between 100 and 110°) water into a large bowl. Add heaping Tbsp. of honey and Tbsp. active dry yeast. Stir to combine. Then step away, but not too far away so you can be present for the magic. In about 3 - 5 minutes the yeast should start to break on the surface of the water in bubbles. This is the best part.

    Once the little yeast volcanoes begin to explode on the surface of the water in the bowl, you know it's ready. Add 3 cups of flour and the salt and stir to combine thoroughly. You want the mixture to be smooth, not grainy. It might take longer than you think.

    Once that flour is integrated, add 3 more cups of flour and the oats and pecans, stirring the dough with a wooden spoon. Continually scrape down the sides and push floury bits into the ball of wet dough.

    When the dough starts to come together, tip it out onto a floured cutting board. Keep extra flour on hand in a cup measure or bowl to smooth on your hands so you can continue to work the dough. This dough has always been a pretty wet one. That's what helps it keep its moistness. So, go with with. Keep your hands moving up and down. Press the heel of your hand pressing down the mass of dough. After 5 or 10 minutes, the dough should be starting to be less sticky and holding its ball shape. Try not to use more than 7 cups of flour total for this recipe. It stays stickier, but the texture will be better in the end.

    Place the ball of dough back in the bowl and cover with a dish towel. Set in a warm spot and allow to rise until doubled in bulk. This should take between 50 minutes and 1 and ½ hours. 

    During this second rise, preheat the oven to 375° and oil two 9 x 5 inch loaf pans (or around those dimensions). Once dough has risen, punch it down and separate it into two equal balls of  rounded dough. Place each ball in an the oiled loaf pans and allow to rise again until doubled in bulk, or until the dough has risen to just above the rim of each pan.

    Bake in 375° oven for 35 to 40 minutes until deep golden brown. Remove from the oven. Take loaves out of loaf pans by running a butter knife around the edges of the bread in the pan and/or tapping on the bottom of the pan ferociously with a fork. Allow the loaves to cool on cutting board or wire rack. 

    Slice and serve with butter and honey or jam, if you wish.

    Makes two loaves.

    And then...this. Homemade bread slathered with butter procured at Cheeseboard Pizza.  This is definitely what I recommend you try. Honey is optional, but very, very good.