Posted in cooking, food, Nature

Along the Way

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Photo by SplitShire on Pexels.com

I tried a bit of ice cream the other day, a popular brand, and didn’t like it. The taste of sugar was so overpowering, it was impossible for me to taste anything else.

When I bake, I under-sweeten. I want to taste nuts and fruit and chocolate, experience how they complement each other. Sugar should tone down acidity or bitterness, or simply enhance flavors, not dominate them.

Domination is too prevalent these days, too accepted. Maybe that’s why sugar came to mind.

When foods are cooked properly their natural sugars will develop. I often glaze pecans with a light blend of organic maple syrup and sea salt. Our family and guests love them. But yesterday I was lazy and toasted them without the glaze. They emerged sweet and dangerously addictive from the oven, and we gobbled them up. No one asked about the missing glaze. No one cared.

***

When I was seven my parents sent me to summer camp, far away from where we lived. It was my first time on an airplane. It was the first time I would be away from them for months.

I hated it.

But, strangely, what I remember most about that camp were the raspberries.

They grew wild and in abundance along the mountain path which led to a nearby lake, and our swimming lessons.

We didn’t pick any on the way up. Everyone’s parents had issued warnings about not swimming on a full stomach. Indeed, the trek to our lessons always occurred at least an hour after lunch. But on the way back to our cabins, we picked as many as we could stuff into our pockets and eat along the way, ignoring our counselors’ advice to leave them there.

You’ll get worms, you’ll get sick.

We heard it every day. But we never did.

And I’ve never tasted such large and perfectly ripe berries since, berries that squirted sweetness with every bite, and no trace of acidity.

I used to buy berries for salads and desserts, picking, as I do with all produce I purchase, the ones that look ripest, ready for consumption.

But they are always too tart for me, begging for the sugar they have not been allowed to make on their own.

So I don’t buy them anymore.

***

I learned to swim that summer. It’s the other memory that stands out, because I discovered, once I realized I wasn’t going to drown, I was good at it.

But sometimes I long for those raspberries—the anticipation of putting them in my mouth, delighting in their exquisitely balanced flavors…

…and the incomparable pleasure of finding something good, unspoiled, of knowing it was there.

©2018 All Rights Reserved

 

Posted in family, food, human nature, Politics

Pan Fried

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My parents had a cast iron skillet. It wasn’t very big, but many of the meals we had came out of it—eggs, burgers, chicken, steaks, fish, and grilled cheese sandwiches.

The color of pitch, every surface of that pan was so slickly well-seasoned that nothing stuck to it. I have no idea how long they had it, or how long it took to season it, but it was perfection.

A few years after my mother died, my father moved into assisted living. Since he wasn’t going to be cooking there, everything in the kitchen, along with the rest of the apartment, had to be cleaned out. It was difficult to make the choices—what to keep, what to give away, or toss. My brother and I pulled the pan out of a cabinet and stared at it, then looked at each other. It was as though the mere sight of it brought our childhoods back in floods.

We had a lot to go through that day, and left the pan on the stove to finish sorting. It seemed right at the time.

~ ~ ~

You can throw a lot into a pan when you’re cooking. Sometimes you plan, and other times it’s whatever you have in the house. The pan, of course, especially if it’s cast iron, has to be seasoned.

Having grown up with a perfect pan, one of the first things I wanted after getting married, was a set of cast iron frying pans. I found a pair the hue of matte pewter, and bought them. When I got them home, I oiled and heated and wiped them down. Then I oiled and heated them again, but nothing I cooked in them tasted right. I didn’t get it. How could my parents’ pan be so magical, and these pans be so completely not….

Then one morning, I decided to fry some bacon and split it between the two pans.

So much depends on what goes in.

~ ~ ~

When my brother was in his teens, he’d use our parents’ pan to cook breakfasts for himself. He’d start with eggs, whatever else sounded good—onions, peppers, ham, ketchup, cheese, and throw it all into the blender for a few good whirs before pouring it into the pan. He claimed the results were delicious. I wasn’t convinced.

~ ~ ~

My head feels like a blender these days. The spinning jumbles everything in a way that separates and connects without reason, or time to find reason. And, from the whirring, come stray thoughts—about personal space, how our definition of it has changed over the decades, how those changes shape our social interactions, and thoughts about personal and business interactions, those I’ve written off as jerkiness, or, as a former boss used to call it, “Terminal Assholery,” and those I’ve recognized as threats to my safety and well-being. In the mix are thoughts about unwarranted self-righteousness, greed, abuse of power, cruelty, hypocrisy, bigotry, warmongering, unfettered mania, and a dwindling awareness of what is real and what is not. Worst of all, emerging from the slop, is a fear that our collective sense of humor is waning, our ability to laugh, find reasons to laugh.

You can throw too much into a blender.

~ ~ ~

There was a day, not so long ago, when my brother and I had begun to gray, that he plied his alchemy with the bounty we bought at a local farmer’s market. This time, he chopped and sautéed, giving each ingredient a chance to express itself, complement others, develop and transform, and used his own favorite pan to create a meal of many flavors which had both of us swooning.

~ ~ ~

My own frying pans are the color of pitch now, just as my parents’ was, and their surfaces are perfectly sealed and seasoned.

But I can’t stop thinking about the pan forgotten on the stove—what went into it, what came out.

And I wish I’d taken it with me.

©2017 All Rights Reserved

Posted in food, Nature

Goats and Muffins

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A couple of weeks ago, I was in the cheese section of the grocery story. I didn’t notice the little animal pictures above each type of cheese, so I was picking up this wedge and that, scanning for information, on the hunt for a good, hard goat cheese.

After a few minutes, a woman with a store name-tag appeared at my side and pointed out the animals—silhouettes of cows, sheep, goats, then, as if reading my mind, picked up a wedge and said, “This one is good…not too goaty.”

Goaty?

I’ve been eating goat cheeses for years, but have never tasted goat meat, so I wouldn’t recognize any flavor as goaty…or not. On the other hand, I have eaten sheep’s milk cheeses that reeked of lamb chops, shanks, untreated wool, and that left me feeling as though I’d bathed in their essences.

But back to that particular cheese. I bought it, used it in an omelet, and found it acceptable. Not goaty at all…whatever that is.

I do like goats. A former neighbor brought one home from the zoo nursery where he worked, and I have fond memories of its budding horns and amber eyes, feeding it with a bottle, and watching its little tail wag like crazy when I scratched its head. It didn’t have any kind of distinctive odor. It was just delightful, relishing the nourishment, the human contact, and I was sorry to see it go back to the zoo.

Sometimes, when the grass is tall and bright, I fantasize about having a goat, letting it gnaw happily on my overgrown lawn, admiring its horns, scratching its head, and waiting for its tail to wag. I imagine myself planting daisies for it…that is, if goats like daisies, and peering into the neighbors’ windows to see if they’re looking out and saying, “There’s a goat in that garden, eating daisies….”

…which has nothing to do with muffins, of course. They’re in the title because I needed something sweet, starchy, and breakfast-y to go with the ungoaty goat cheese omelet, and since I had an assortment of lovely apples on hand, I used them. The muffins are gluten free, and the recipe is below.

Enjoy.

Gluten Free Apple Muffins

Ingredients:

Two medium apples, any variety, peeled and grated, or chopped in food processor (do not strain  and discard liquid).  Note: I suppose you could substitute apple sauce for this, but I haven’t the foggiest idea how much to recommend. If anyone tries it, I’d love to know what works.

Two extra large eggs

1/4 cup dark brown sugar

1/4 teaspoon vanilla

2 tablespoons oil (I used canola, but any bland oil will do.)

1/3 cup dark raisins

1 cup gluten free flour mix*

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

2 teaspoons baking powder

Preheat oven to 400º.  Grease 10 muffin cups or use 10 liners. Beat eggs in bowl, add grated apples (including liquid), brown sugar, oil, and raisins. Blend well. Mix dry ingredients, sift into into egg/apple mixture. Stir until thoroughly mixed. If batter is too dry, add a tablespoon or two of water (or apple juice, or milk, or coconut milk, whatever seems appealing). The batter should be moist, but substantial, not runny. Spoon into muffin cups until 2/3 full. Bake for 20 minutes.

Cool on rack.

Slather with butter, honey, or your favorite ungoaty, softened chèvre.  🙂

Gluten Free Flour Mix (Bette Hagman’s formula)

2 cups rice flour

2/3 cup potato starch

1/3 cup tapioca starch

(Suggested Reading: “Unicorn in the Garden” by James Thurber)