Sunday, July 24, 2011

Smelling the Past

I woke up this morning feeling grateful and content.  It was so refreshing.
It was 7:30 in the morning.  Ahh…what to do with this day ahead…

Jelly.  Yes.  Jelly.
Pile of pears!
I packed up my belongings (including my newly organized recipe binder!), fed the cat, and headed home from where I have been housesitting this weekend.  What kind of jelly?  I have all the titles of jelly recipes in my head from just organizing my binder.  So many to think of, so many to choose from...
All the ingredients ready to start the boil
Blueberry.  Obviously.  I still have tons of blueberries from an amazing sale at Whole Foods a couple weeks ago.  So, blueberry-rhubarb.  That’s the standard, the reason I learned to make jelly in the first place.  But what else?  I got a bunch of pears from the farmer’s market yesterday, so how about ginger-pear?  Why yes.  I would need to make a quick stop at Whole Foods, then onward to the kitchen!
Jelly is a process.  That’s one of the things I like about it.  It is a complete and total process.  Everything is careful, everything is in intentional.  The timing, the temperature, the type of boil has to be precise.  The way the ingredients go in.  The measurement of putting it in the jars a quarter inch from the top.  The inversion time.  I love it all.
Jars ready for jelly!

Making jelly also makes me think of my grandma.  She made jelly in every flavor and type.  I do not think I had jelly out of a jar until I was an adult.  And even then, it was very rare, usually at someone’s house.  I grew up on one corner of the block, with my grandma on the other corner.  Her house was on my way to school, and almost every morning, I would stop for breakfast, or a card game, coupled with a hug.
Once I started cooking, my grandma sent me a bunch of recipes, including several for jelly.  She lives 1000 miles away, and I don’t get to see her as much as I would like.  She feels closer when I can make something she has made.  We have yet to cook together, as I have not seen her in the year I have been doing this.  I do imagine her voice, though.  I imagine her telling me that I’m doing something right, that there is a better way to do this, and she will be happy to show me. 
A day that started good and has continued good.  The feelings that come from the kitchen are true and real.  The smells are surely a good memory, if not of the past, then on a day to come. 
All done! Grandma would be proud.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Meditative State

Someone asked me the other day what kind of music I listen to when I’m cooking. 
Not really an unusual question.  I love music.  I like the rhythm that it can provide.  I like that it can just be there, without much thought or interaction necessary on my part.  Music can put me into a zone, a meditative state.
I also love background noise.  Often, I have the television on for most of the day, whether I’m watching it or not.  Truth be told, it is on the game show network a lot.  I am obsessed with game shows.  I have been watching them since I was very young.  I like walking in a room, hearing a question and answering, and walking back out with no further committment involved.
Back to the question…What kind of music do I listen to when I’m cooking?  The answer is none.  I do not have the television on, either. 
Cooking, in my world right now, is done in silence.  I prefer the sound of knife to cutting board, the roll of boiling water, the subtle swish of a wooden sppon while stirring.  I get lost in the rhythm of movement, my arm slicing, the stick blender blending all the ingredients together.  I enjoy the process of solids turning into a sauce, of watching the meat turn from red to brown, pink to off-white.
And during the cooking process?  The 30, sometimes 45 minutes or more it takes?  I enjoy the cleaning.  I enjoy doing the cleaning.  Rinsing the dishes that can go in the dishwasher, washing the ones that cannot.  I enjoy putting them all away and wiping off the counter.  There is a soothing ritual about the process. 
By the time it is all done, and the food is ready, life is complete.

The meditation cooking supplies helps enhance the rest of my life.  The ability to be quiet and concentrate fully on the task at hand, to pay attention to detail, to walk away with lessons gives me the time to be myself more.  And this makes me a better person outside the kitchen.  When I can be quiet and listen, pay full attention, and know there are lessons, the world as a whole is a little more manageable.  I must learn this on my own in order to practice it with others.
Today, I ventured two recipes.  I made a coconut cake to take to a friend’s tonight.  It is made with whole wheat flour, and is a healthier choice for dessert. 
I also made lavender shortbread cookies.  I have been obsessing about these since I saw the recipe.  I love lavender.  The smell of it makes me smile.  I used locally harvested lavender fresh.

The directions say to let it chill in the fridge for two hours before cooking.  I did that!  It’s true, I learned something!


Sunday, July 10, 2011

Cooking Lessons

The house smelled delicious yesterday!  But it didn’t smell like bacon.  It smelled like blueberries and cherries.  It was like walking outside into the uninterrupted space of god.
As you know, I made a Blueberry-Cherry Bread Pudding yesterday.  That isn’t really where that story ends.  You see, I learn something new every day, a new lesson that can take me through my life, if I choose to see it.  And cooking is no exception.  Part of me, the part I didn’t disclose, started this blog to remember these lessons.  I have found that the small mistakes and victories in the kitchen often give way to thought about the world outside.
And yesterday was no different.  Yesterday, the bread pudding was coming along great!  I made homemade preserves rather than buying them at the store in a jar as the recipe suggested.  I cut an entire loaf of French Bread into small cubes.  I was ready to go! 
So I sat down, took a break.  That was at 3 yesterday afternoon.  I turned on my computer and wrote a blog.  I tooled around on Facebook.  I read the news.  I watched some of the Harry Potter marathon on ABC Family.  At 5 or so, I got up, returned the kitchen to put it together, to put it in the oven.  I got the milk mixture together, poured it over the cubes of French Bread I so carefully cut and placed in perfect rows two hours previous.  That’s when I saw it.  Right there in the directions.

Where I had to stop...
  Cover and chill for eight hours.
EIGHT hours?
It will be 1 a.m. in eight hours!
What do I do now? 
Toss it all down the drain? 
Throw it in the trash? 
Lie in the fetal position and gave a good cry?
No.  Put it together.  Cover and put it in the refrigerator and have a good night, in spite of myself.  And that’s exactly what I did.  I reconciled to cook it this morning when I got home from yoga.  That will be over eight hours.  It will be more like 20 hours!  Will it be okay?  I guess there is only one way to know for sure.
As I was putting it together, still considering dumping the whole thing in the sink, I realized the lesson.  Read.  Read the entire recipe though.  I have this habit of reading the ingredients carefully, making my shopping list of items needed.  I then skim the directions.  How long does it have to be in the oven?  Do I have the right kind of pan?  Okay, done.
...and this morning.
Taking shortcuts doesn’t always give a desired end result.  Directions in recipes are not very long, there is no reason I can’t read them in their entirety, the first time.  Even if they were long, there is no reason to not know exactly what I’m in for once I get started in this cooking adventure.  I am so obsessive about every detail in my life, why not here as well?
Had I done that before starting yesterday, I would have been able to finish the bread pudding.  Granted, it would have been late, however, it would have been done.
It turns out, 20 hours is not too long to cover and chill.  I finished it this morning.  And it was delicious.  It kind of tastes like blueberry french toast. 
I made bread pudding!
Lesson learned.  Take the time.  Look at life from all angles.  Don't take shortcuts. 

Now, having nearly two full weeks without the amazing smell of bacon in my house, I had to rectify.  I made a bacon wrapped meatloaf with mashed potatoes tonight for dinner.  I used a friend’s recipe, and combined it with a recipe I found online.  It was amazing. 
Alas, the house still smells like bacon.  And life is good.
Dinner tonight.

Blueberry Bread Pudding (July 9 and 10, 2011. Delicious!)

1 (16-ounce) French bread loaf, cubed
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, cut into pieces
3 cups fresh blueberries, divided
6 large eggs
4 cups milk
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup butter or margarine, melted
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 (10-ounce) jar blueberry preserves  (see below)

Arrange half of bread cubes in a lightly greased 13- x 9-inch pan. Sprinkle evenly with cream cheese and 1 cup blueberries; top with remaining bread cubes.
Whisk together eggs, 4 cups milk, sugar, butter, and maple syrup; pour over bread mixture, pressing bread cubes to absorb egg mixture.
Cover and chill 8 hours.
Bake, covered, at 350° for 30 minutes. Uncover and bake 30 more minutes or until lightly browned and set. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.
Stir together remaining 2 cups blueberries and blueberry preserves in a saucepan over low heat until warm.
Serve blueberry mixture over bread pudding. Garnish, if desired.

(Southern Living)

Blueberry Preserves

(July 9, 2011.  What I made for the Bread Pudding.  I couldn't bring myself to use a jar from the store.)

5 cups fresh blueberries, stemmed and washed
2 teaspoons cider vinegar
2 1/4 cups sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
Combine all ingredients in a large stainless pot.
Cook to the jell point or until desired thickness is reached.
Stir frequently.
Ladle into clean hot jars leaving 1/4 inch head space.
Process for 15 minutes in a boiling water bath


Saturday, July 9, 2011

Reading about Cooking

Sigh.  I haven’t been cooking.  Sigh.  I housesat last week and didn’t have my essentials with me. 
But that can’t really stop my food/cooking addiction.  I bought a new cookbook.  The Best Recipe from Cook’s Illustrated.  It is huge…over 1000 pages.  It is written like a novel, so I am reading it like a novel.
I actually have used this cookbook before.  I made peppermint chocolate brownies from scratch.  Think Starbucks around Christmas.  My friend wanted some, and when we went to Starbucks (after Christmas) they were gone.  Gone to never return…until next year at Christmas…
Oh the heartbreak.
So the day her divorce was being finalized, I went to her house and made these brownies from scratch from her copy of this cookbook.  I remember the feeling of being overwhelmed at the book sitting there, waiting to be opened.  The pure size of this book is daunting.  But more, I remember the feeling of pure joy once I opened it, noting that every direction I would need was right there on the page.  The brownies were ready to eat when she got home.  They were my first experience baking anything from scratch, without a box.  Including the frosting.
I bought a copy of the cookbook for myself last week and dived in!  I missed a party on July 4th because I could not put it down! 
Now that I’m home, it’s back to cooking.  Today I am making Blueberry-Cherry Bread Pudding and Chicken stuffed peppers.  The recipe calls for a jar of blueberry preserves.  I couldn’t bring myself to do that, so I made a pot of my own this morning.  It is quite an odd shift, everything from scratch, but I do like it better.  And it really isn’t much work, now that I have some knowledge under my belt.
I am enjoying this new life, this new joy I have found.  It is simple, but it is the simple things, isn’t it? 
The preserves should be about chilled, it’s time to get to it!
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