Monday, February 26, 2007

1st meme thingy

So, like, I was just chillin', and like, this dude like comes up, and like, tags me, and I was like all, chishhhhh.........yeahhhhh! And he was all like, like, cheawww!

And so I sat down and thought about a response to being tagged for a list of 5 things you don't know about me. As usual, I thought about it WAY too much.

1. I love to carry everything I need on my back out into the backcountry to go fishing, alone occasionally where I can have the entire fish, and pizza, to myself.....oh yeah, I did a post about that one.

2. Ummmm, I like to take my monkey's stuffed animals and pose them amongst food on occasion. Oh yeah, been over that before.

3. Okay how about, to some people I look like Jesus! Damn! Said something about that too.

4. I'm a serial murderer. Apparently someone out there wrote a story about it and they're on to me.....sshhhhh!

5. I could live off of sourdough bread products and water. There, I've never said that before. (BFD though, as if you couldn't guess that one from reading anything on this blog.)

Uhhhhh, 6. Over-analyzing things is certainly a problem for me......but wait, I've even said that before somewhere.

*wind and rain for two days*

Ahhh, there, I've had a few days to mull it over. 5 things, this is a new-ish blog, I had to do a little unabashed self promotion and point you toward a few things you could know, if only my blog were cooler and more interesting and perhaps you had checked it out before. Since it is really only in the last month or two that I have had any traffic, and this tag really is about knowing something, I think maybe I should start at the beginning. You know touch on a thing or two from childhood, then maybe talk about a non-food interest, slink on back into the kitchen for a fun food anecdote, and then wrap it up with a phobia. How's that sound?

Here goes:

One: I was baptized in my Grandma's kitchen sink. Seriously. My parents were hippies, my grandparents staunch catholics. On a rare opportunity that my Grandma had me over without my parents, she and my eldest aunt conspired to baptize the "heathen" whilst they were away. Really. This aunt was very involved in the church when she was young and wanted to be a nun. She reminded my Grandma of some bible passage that talks about the intention of the act being one of the key components, and so my head was wetted. And although this aunt is my father's sister, she is the godparent to both myself and my mother. That's really a whole 'nother story though.

Two: I love elephants. I didn't have a teddy bear as a child. I had an elephant. In a way, I still do. I don't have them absolutely everywhere in the house, but I will admit that I can now decorate half of a medium sized christmas tree with elephant decorations. I'm not really proud of this, but I am pround of the love it represents from folks who see this icon of bulk, loving care, big ears and bad skin, and think of me. If I could spell out the sound of an elephant blowing out its trunk right now, I would.

Three: I'm a sadistic hiker. I once hiked from the valley floor of Yosemite all the way to the top of Cloud's Rest and back in a single day. For those who have not been there, this hike starts at an elevation of 4000 feet and in a short 11 miles, climbs to nearly 10,000 feet. On that particular day, when I finally reached the top, a very kind person asked me where I was coming from. I was very sweaty and gasping for air, as nearly 6000 feet of elevation change is huge, especially when you live at sea level.
"Did you camp on Sunrise creek somewhere (translation: ~8 to 9000 feet elevation) and come the rest of the way (approximately 2-3 miles) this morning?"
No (drip, drip, gasp, pant, pant)
"Oh, so did you spend the night in little Yose (~7000 feet elevation) and hike up (6-ish miles) this morning?"
No (drip, drip, pant)
"Where did you come from then?"
The valley floor.
"You know. there is an EASIER WAY to do this hike, RIGHT?"
Yeah, I know.
For clarities sake, she explained how besides the two previous options, I could have hiked from another direction and started at a much higher elevation, not hiked as many miles, and not had nearly as much elevation change.
Mmm, hmm, I know.
She shook her head like I was crazy, which was true, so I just smiled, said nice talkin' to ya' and tried to find a place to rest and grab a bite.

Four: I cried the first time I killed a crab for making cioppino. You see, my grandmother and my father made cioppino the old-fashioned way; killing the crabs with your bare hands (maybe a knife too) by tearing their shell open, then pulling all of the legs off and tossing most everything into a boiling cauldron of fishy, clamified, wine laced, tomato sauce base. This next description is a bit graphic, and the animal rights-ists might get alarmed (of which I dabble in a bit by eating humanely raised stuff when possible, thank you), so look away for the next minute and twenty three seconds: When you rip open the shell, you see the innards beating away, and this takes a few seconds to stop. While tearing the legs off, if the crab is really fresh and feisty, they will flex in a contracting manner, giving the effect of a severed limb fighting back. And to keep it a little more fair (whatever that means), I don't rubberband the pincers anymore before dispatching them. They have a fighting chance in my kitchen, and oh boy! them stinkers can give you a good nip or scratch, let me tell ya'. I write this not for grossing you out, but for a taste of what goes on in that empty space upstairs while making cioppino in my home. And it is a process that has evolved over time. I still think of the initial battle with the first one, how it was the hardest one emotionally and physically, how confronting being the executioner was a struggle from the moment I bought the beautiful magister. Only now, when it's time for action and we're thirty minutes from eating, I start my routine by imagining that scene from Star Wars (Empire was it?) where Vader walks out amongst the battalions of storm troopers while the big symphony sound booms: BUM, BUM, BUM, BUM, BA-BUM, BUM, BA-BUM, BUM..........and I place one belly down on the counter, put my thumbs in that convenient gap in the back, and show this ancient species what my monkey strength can do to one of their kind. It is now an exercise in communicating and fixing my place in the animal kingdom, keeping it real somewhat, and enjoying crab at it's freshest. Boo, hoo, hooooooo........*sniffle*

5. I have a fear of worked butter. This one is gonna take a bit of explaining, so bear with. Lets see......what comes to mind when I make this statement are things like butter carvings resembling turkeys, in full plumage mind you. If this were chocolate, or just about any other food item I'd be okay with it, but somehow, the amount of handling is what really creeps me out and makes me fearful for the rest of the meal. I can't explain why, it just does. Yes, I struggle with understanding it too. I don't really mind molded butter, as in general it seems like it is freshly churned or beaten and then immediately put into a form of sorts. That's all good with me. But when you take a block of it and carve an animal or something else stupid out of it, all the way down to even just taking a melon-baller and scooping out little individual servings, I just want to hurl. And it realy sucks, cause I love butter, but just not when you do cutesie things with it. Barf!

That's it! So what do you think? Do you feel you know more about the wrangler? Let me know. It's called "leaving a comment" and it's a new way of communicating back to what you are reading. Go ahead, give it a try, it don't hurt, trust me......

So I guess I've got to reach out and tag five more, and politely request that they share in the madness and selfishness and let us know more. I've got my tickle-torture finger reaching out and I'm gonna tag:
you, because you're new and I really like pizza.

you, because your stuff looks amazing. Tasting and looking.........has anyone seen this stuff yet? Damn!

you, because you come from one of my favorite places, currently live in the home of my favorite sweet potato variety, and your food sounds incredible. Please, do tell.

you, because you are most unique. Where else can you find such fantastic writing, beautiful artwork, food to die for, and honest humor. Besides, you expressed interest in knowing more about these meme things., cuz' you're a dude. I'm not sure you check your comments much, and surfers, how do I say this lightly, tend to "forget" things for one reason or another, but I'd like to know some more, because your stuff is super creative and inspired. And I thought that I'd rib callipygia a bit by tagging you, as I found out about you through her.

freya/paul, this way too long a rant of mine is all your fault, so as a trade for giving up the source of my name, I'm gonna tag you guys back, because in my eyes you cheated a bit. If Paul is a full-fledged, badge wearin' kind, then we (the monkey and I, and she can only type her name, so you can't do this back) want five more. I know he responded for both of you, kind of, but if you're going that route we want ten overall. No hard feelings, really, me being punky to you guys is a sign of affection, cause, I love your blog. Thanks!

Catch y'all later......

ps: WATKT, oh yeah, the name. So, the little one was about one, and I was going for a bike ride with a buddy and some of his friends. When folks were being introduced, his biking friend asks what I do for work, and my pal blurts out: "D-man? Oh, he's a monkey wrangler like you." Neil is one hilarious guy, and I love him dearly, so thanks for that title. As for the sourdough part, I was researching what to name my blog and thought about the sourdough that was consuming my life and threatening to die on me if I didn't start paying closer attention to it. I searched around for blog names with sourdough and there wasn't much really. I thought about how my folks were both born in San Francisco and how I have literally grown up on sourdough. Add the usage of sourdough as a name for a prospector/miner (I'm a geologist remember) and the name was born. I was looking for something unique for a domain name and I guess my logic worked. There.

nyah, nyah, na, nyah nyah, you're it........ again.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

what you didn't miss while I was gone

Despite the paucity of posting, this past week has been filled with activity. I had good intentions on a few of the days of putting something up, but whatever it was turned sour in some way, shape, or form. Let's have a re-cap, shall we?

Our weekend of fun in the snow was really more graceful than this pose indicates, however, it is this one that comes to mind when I look through the lens of hindsight at my past week. Something was askew in nearly every situation involving either food or the monkey, from Sunday afternoon, straight through to Friday morning. Well, maybe more like starting on Saturday afternoon, where my steering abilities while sledding were completely lacking, leaving me at the bootom of a small hill with my body doing the work for the sled.

Take Monday's dinner for example. It is the partial remains of a honey whole wheat crust pizza with an Ajvar sauce (thanks callipygia), cheddar, parmesan, horseradish jack and mozzarella cheeses, with black olives and artichoke hearts. The crust was a bit off, being as though the dough was really made with the intention of sandwich bread, of which three quarters of it became so. But we had alot of cheese in the house and I was jonesin' for a hot pizza pie. I just had to. It was spicey and nice, but really, it wasn't very photogenic and you really didn't miss anything. I will make a note for the future: try Zergut as sauce again, like this upcoming week.

And this picture.....ugh! Tuesday afternoon, eating stuffed squash leftovers did not go well. The lighting sucked, and the angles were all wrong, and re-heated stuffed squash, on second thought, is NOT all that appetizing sounding. The bread positioning was a failed attempt at best, and with the monkey going into hyper-drive, I really didn't have much time for the shot. No surprise there. I tried a shot the night before, but the squash came apart while trying to serve and looked horrific. I reserved myself to a shot when it was cool, the following day. Good thing I waited huh? (and yes, that would be a hint of sarcasm there)

Even though this picture ain't all that, it does document (poorly) how silently and precisely plants can an afternoon! Our beans in our bedroom are in want of something to climb. The drawcord for the blinds spent no more than 5 hours in close proximity to the green grapler. This is apparently enough time for the tip of the vine to go at least once completely around the string. When I saw this, I got the impression that if the plant could talk, it would have been muttering lowly "nothing to see here, do-de-doodle-doo.......what, y o u ' r e not using this anymore are you?

Funny, that most of the time they were silently growing and twisting inside, I was outside noisily building a coldframe for them to twist and grow into.

Keep movin'. Nothin' to see here. Nothing exciting that is. Just some plain whole wheat oatmeal sandwich loaves and a few english muffins. These have been standards around here for a while. What was cool was that it was my first time making either successfully while using all whole wheat. I've been working on my gluten addition proportions and I think I'm making some progress.

Uhhh....yeah. What this photo is lacking in composition or focus, it made up for in flavor and aroma. This was my first adventure into making cheesecake using quark as the cream cheese component. It was fluffy and light, more akin to a sweet souffle than a dense cheesecake. If only the chef had bothered to pre-bake the crusts before filling, they might have been easy to pop out of the muffin pan and keep the crust intact. I'm really gonna have to have a few words with that chump.

Instead, we had the equivalent of pineapple upside-down cake, only it wasn't pineapple flavored, or upside-down for that matter. When removing the individual servings, it was a challenge since the crust was a crumbly gooey mess and the cheesecake portion didn't have much strength. In general, they split apart and managed to really be two tasty pieces atop a sugary gravel mess. After this pic, I gave up, and ate the rest upside-down with the crusty bits sprinkled on top.

So after making it to the aquarium on Thursday morning, with kid in tow and at least an hour late, the clownfish set us straight. They did their comical dance among the anemones and managed to pull me out of my funk for a bit. Thanks Nemo. It's a good thing you're small, and behind a few inches of acrylic, because despite their portion size, the little bastages looked mighty tasty and given the chance, I would be attempting some sort of tropical cioppino soon.

Friday, everyone's attitude was much improved, the day was clear and beautiful, and I felt once again that I had the confidence to post something. But while drafting this one, I realized I got tagged and have since been contemplating what to reveal to my small group of pals. That's right folks! The next post is all about mememememe.........catch you soon!

Friday, February 16, 2007

californio dreamin'

This post plays with a new concept of sorts, so if you are just looking for a recipe, then skip on down a ways and scratch your head while wondering why..........or pretend like you are transported back in time...........(like in the movies, you know, where you exercise "willing suspension of disbelief" all the time)

Feb. 16th, 1863.
Dear Uncle Garner,

It is late Friday here in Monterey. I would love to be home again, enjoying whatever fills your hearth air, and it is this memory that I bring to mind as I write. California remains somewhat exotic for me, and I am still not used to the local fare (even after 13 years!). I will freely admit that unlike home, here in the spring (mis-named winter locally) we have fresh items: onions, garlic and cabbage that look splendid; cheese of many kinds; crabs are still easy to pull from the depths; and ample supply of salt beef and pork are to be had. We are not want for sustenance by any means. Despite these bounties here, I am now and then forced to be somewhat wreckless with my dining preparations. Occasionally, out of need yes, more so out of ignorance truthfully.

I offer as anecdote, an experience involving a bizarre new item: an "alligator pear" or "aguacate," as I have heard, that found it's way into my home a few days ago, after sailing from a port near the City of Angels. Angelic or not, I am not at all acquainted with this leathery looking green pear, and quite to my suprise, in using it as prescribed by it's giftor, created an uproar in our home at supper by placing it atop soup! Afterward, the men stood about frantically smoking their pipes and swilled copious amounts of some local "brandy" while arguing whether this newly presented item was fruit or vegetable, and what therefore would be the proper course for this "pear" to be a part of. If only they knew what was in the soup, their conversations might be of a different matter entirely!

(this is still in the works, so let's stop there for today and fast forward:)

I've been wanting to explore the theme of cooking within a particular time and place in history (and ideally the associated available food), where I pretend I have landed there and am forced to make do. (Miraculously, my current state of experience remains intact. I love fantasies.) This is another horizon to the theme contained here, and it might be important to keep this in mind while you read on. Call it justification for the ingredients about to be used. Call it writing a story around some recipe made up on the spot. Call it using what's in the house, in this season and time, while wanting to participate in some Soup's On! fun. Call it birthing a new idea and trying it out. In public (ouch!). Call it pulling out the stops, and rolling it all into one. Thank you Alanna!

I wanted to play along in the soupy fun and was daydreaming in the realm of possibilities for this post when I tripped over the idea. Literally. We have pumpkins on our doorstep that date to Halloween, a gift grown by grandpa that have lived sporadically in the house since that time. About a month ago they were moved outside. They have collected sediment beneath them with the tiny bit of rain we have had, but are free of rot and look like they were just picked. Several times, while not paying attention going out our door, I have stubbed my toe on one or another, and immediately berated myself about not doing something with them. After the last trip, I thought: Ha! One of you is becoming soup!

I've always wanted to try cooking a soup inside of a pumpkin, so from the start I was intending on making this happen. Due to the antiquity of the pumpkin, I started thinking about other old items we have around that might be used. We have some old stock in the freezer, that's good. We have potatoes and cheese. That's good too. Hey, all these things are old! Yeah, I'll do an OLD SOUP post!

Wait! What am I thinking? Focus D. Okay, put the stock in the pumpkin, add some ingredients, maybe use that salted beef......wait a second. Is it possible that all of the items I am contemplating would have been around for some long-ago relative to use.......Wait, what about this avocado that I wanted to incorporate, and needs to be eaten? I've seen folks put these as garnish on soups. Dowf! How long ago did these become a foodstuff here in sunny California? Hmmm, you don't say, really.......

With the fantasy in mind, the monkey and I forged ahead and brought our victim into the house to be gutted. We removed the top, scooped out the seeds and persimmon, and started to prep our other ingredients. (Kidding about that persimmon! See this post for more background on this overly used item.) With pumpkin prepped, we filled it with our frozen crab stock (using the logic, lots of crabs back then, probably had some stock of sorts or easily could have) and put it in the oven. Where to go from here.....

My sis had bought some "beef bacon" for us to try. Considering it was a heavily salted meat item that was likely rather popular before refrigeration, I assumed that this would have been common back then, and besides, I needed some fat to fry the onions in. I grated a little cheese (olive oil and brine rubbed, I thought this might be reminiscent of earlier days), got out a few potatoes and onions, and sat my Hass down for a little rest. For those sticklers out there, yes, the Hass wasn't "developed" until the 1930's, and to be authentic, this should probably be something more like a Fuerte, but come on, keep playing along please.)

The pumpkin was baking, filled with crab stock, fried salted beef and onions, grated cheese and diced potatoes. It needed more body, and we had leftover cabbage. I don't know about early cabbage usage in CA, but I do know that it would grow easily, and at the very least different species were likely being farmed in family plots by members of the local Asian community at the time. I thinly sliced about a third of a head of cabbage and stirred it into the soup.

Baking together in the oven, it was starting to smell intriguing at least. After a good hour at least, the pumpkin was browning nicely and the contents looked great! I ladled some out into a cup, and it was good. I wanted to stop right there, and write something else for this post, but struggling with honesty, forced myself to go on. Besides, the pumpkin was balanced within a ceramic dish (but unsupported on its bottom) and beginning to cave in with each moment. I removed it from the oven, pureed the contents, scraped the flesh from the gourd, blended that too, and prepared the avocado for the top. I had some garlic quark in the fridge and thought: shucks, I have no fresh crema for authenticities sake, but this will defiantely taste good. (Remember, first time trying this theme out, so my allowances are a bit loose here.)

It was like orange velvet. Only with meat bits, and a crabby disposition. The cream component tied it all together though, and I just couldn't help but frying up some sourdough bread crumbs to serve on top. It was definately different. Inspired though? Uh, sure. Tasty? Yeah, but you might have to like the ingredients to start with. Should I do it again? I'll leave that to the bloggers out there who stumble upon this one. Who I pray, will get to this point in this long and complicated post not asking: "What was this guy thinking?" only to read on and find themselves staring at a recipe in disbelief.

californio pumpkin soup:

1 big, old pumpkin
1 quart crab stock
3 russet potatoes
3 large spring onions
2 thick slabs "beef bacon"
3 ounces finely grated Old World Portuguese cheese
1/3 savoy cabbage

1 avocado
seasoned sourdough bread crumbs
creme fraiche (sounds better huh?), but you can use sour cream or quark for the same result
oregano sprig

Cut off top of pumpkin and scoop out the seeds and loose innards. Place stock into pumpkin and put into the oven. (I took the lid off until the liquid was hot, as it seemed that initially it kept the inside from effectively heating by acting as the top to a cooler on a blistering hot day.) Do this in some sort of secondary containment if attempting for the first time, as I did and still managed to make a huge mess. While the pot is browning and the stock is heating, fry your bacon. If using beef, you will need some oil too. I used a local olive oil and when the bacon was beginning to brown, I threw in the chopped onions including most of the greens. When the bacon is done, chop it into smaller pieces, adding it and the onions to the steaming broth in the gourd. Dice the potatoes and some finely sliced cabbage. Add some finely grated cheese. Carefully stir all of the ingredients while trying not to poke a hole in the side of the now possibly slumping/deforming pot. Place the lid back on and attempt to cook for an hour or so more. When it has been over an hour, or impending scalding hot liquid doom is imminent, transfer the contents of the pumpkin to either a blender or a large pot and puree by some means. Scrape the now very tender flesh from the steaming pumpkin and add to the puree. With all of the cooked items incorporated, serve garnished with slices of avocado, some creamy dollop of sorts, and something else fun, like herbed breadcrumbs from the last bread you overbaked. Think: It is not 1863, and try to enjoy. And serve with a nice high-alcohol beer. Preferably prepared in an authentic fashion of course.

Thanks for listening!

For those stopping by for the first time:
Thanks for coming on the ride. Please check for all of your personal belongings before disembarking the vehicle and have a lovely day. And please, stop by the monkey ranch in the future. It's really not this weird all the time. (Who am I kidding?)

On second thought, maybe I should have started playing with this new theme in a time and place where sourdough, used with whole wheat and rye were popular breads. Yeah....maybe that would have been a bit easier considering this picture represents what else had been happening in my house as I have attempted to write up this post. See, I'll be playing in the snow with monkeys this weekend, and I hear bread keeps you warm. When dipped in hot soup that is. So today, in preparation for the cold I baked some bagels, pretzels, and a baguette while starting the new habit of documenting sourdough adventures in my new "book of loaves."

A monkey wranglers work in the kitchen, is never completely done........

Monday, February 12, 2007

breaking rules, breaking eggs

I've always had a healthy disrespect for rules. My parents were of the hippie-variety, so as you can guess, there were a few things growing up that I learned to disregard as truths. You're probably thinking about breaking the rules regarding musical preference, drug usage, sex and stuff like that right about now, but I'm thinking about food primarily. For the folks who split the world into the pathetically narrow realm of "us vs. them," (don't worry George Dubya, I won't mention any names here) my sis and I would have been called terrorists as children, considering how much bulgar wheat and goat milk we consumed at dinner time. While most good 'merican kids were stuffing their faces with fluffy white sandwhich bread smeared with Goober, and being told that it was nutritious, I was eating seedy jam with gravelly textured peanut butter on slices of bread with the weathering capabilites found in a composite roof-tile. In other words, at lunchtime in school, I attempted alot of food trading. Mmmmm, unsweetened carob-date-oat groat cookies anyone? Going once, going twice.......

It has been dawning on me lately that my foundational sense of "food," is being re-awakened with my current emphasis on buying more local, organic, and home-made items. It all reminds me of growing up in rural Sonoma County (not on a commune, but some friends of the family were worm ranchers) where we had some great gardens that I spent mucho tiempo in as a kid, chowing on raw corn or carrots between picking up wheel barrows full of apples off the lawn, or the side yard rocks and bark, or out of the ivy.....

Between the sunburned days in the yard, my folks' cooking, and witnessing my grandmother use ALL the parts of every animal product that set hoof, beak, skin or guts in her kitchen, I'd say that early on I had a firm idea of what constitutes real food. But I forgot some of that. It took years of being subjected to bad advertising and misleading food claims, coupled with leaving the house, in order to dismiss portions in my sense of acceptable foodstuffs. It's too bad that we have to rebel against our parents on so many levels, because they more or less knew what they were talking about when it came to food.

As the older folks in the buying organic and local scene might recall (or not recall, giving rise to the saying "if you remember the 60's, you weren't there") the so-called revolution in the food world that we are currently experiencing was going full force at least 40 years ago. It was just alot smaller and wasn't all corporate and faceless. It was most certainly not USDA approved. It was typically hairy, smelly, grubby and populated by folks who were often trying to live off the land, AND in accordance with it. Wow, what a concept huh?

Okay, back to this post though: lately I've been purchasing eggs that came out of a chicken's butt only one or two days before I eat 'em. (I'm sure there are folks out there with their own chickens who gather them still warm, but did I mention I now live in Oakland?) Just like grandma had on the counter; they are unrefrigerated, have nice tight yolks, strong shells, and are muy, muy sabroso. I was wondering about making a different dish and didn't want any ol' fluffy egg thing. I wanted THE fluffy egg thing. Considering the freshness and flavor, I thought what better way to showcase an egg than by making a souffle. I was thinking about having something seriously good, so I consulted "the man," knowing I'd be pointed toward a fantastic recipe. I figured the eggs were of a high enough quality to fly me more than halfway across the abyss of failure. Could I glide the rest without feathers or wings?

The recipe I went with was a basic cheese souffle one, as I was hoping to keep it simple. I used only one cheese (Old World Portuguese), ground my spices by hand, and incorporated non-fat and half-n-half for creating a cup of milk. I made my "sauce," let it cool, whipped up the egg whites, and set about folding them in with the greatest of ease. I gently poured it into a buttered, bound and parched dish and placed it in the oven. With the timer set for "first peak at it" time, I cleaned up some of the mess in anticipation of enjoying it scorching hot.

Forty minutes later, the oven gave birth to a fluffy yellow cloud, trying it's best to escape confinement.

I carefully set it on the kitchen table and took off the parchment paper. The escaping steam was hissing "eat me," and the monkey was frantically blowing on it while clutching her fork in anticipation, so we commenced sitting and dished up. This level of fluffiness had never been reached in my house before, and the spice was perfect. We ate the entire thing in about four and a half minutes. The dish was still burning hot as we attempted to clear the table.

Damn dude, it was really good. Like, seriously.

Oh wow man........I'm thinking that with the rain we've been starting to get.........the next one I attempt should have a few 'shrooms in it. And no man, not the kind you were thinking of when you caught a glimpse of the Dead shirt. Although I can't guarantee it won't contain a shake or two of sugaree....

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

winter root and fruit

I could be talking about us, pictured here in front of the Ecology Center Booth at the Sat-BFM, or the produce in the bags seen at the lower right, or what I'm thinking about when the shot was taken. (Thanks Rosalie!) You see, I get a seed stuck in my head, and the cycle begins. It germinates and begins to infiltrate the soil in my mind, branching into unknown territory while passing by the familiar. It takes shape, and at a critical point in this early life, I glimpse what it may become. The idea has roots now, and as a carefully attentive gardener, I must decide if I need to nurture this one, or concentrate my energy on another. To weed or not to weed........that is the question. When this pic was taken, I had one of those "hare brained" ideas in my mind...

The idea started as seed while writing a comment on a beautiful post by callipygia about "Finding Heat". I was thinking of the orange items in our produce and I inadvertantly germinated the seed in my head. With a little prompting, I was bent on seeing this root through to fruition.

These crazy thoughts often revolve around an ingredient. Sometimes, I picture myself in the past, with a glut of some particular crop. I have to feed my family, and by the looks of it we will be eating this item for at least a month. (Okay, in leaner times in our history I would be eating said item for EVERY MEAL, not just experimenting with it several times.) First we have it in the fashion we are familiar, expand on the theme maybe and then end up at the inevitable; grossed out and feigning fullness. I know I'm not the only person out there who has looked at an ingredient, closed there eyes trying to invoke some knowledge from an etherial realm, and asked out loud: "Please, may I find a new way to prepare this, for I am sick and tired of (insert bland or boring recipe here) and I will absolutely hurl if I have to have (ingredient identified above, for example: persimmon) prepared this way again. For the love of god, please."

We go hit the Farmer's Market for inspiration, and drop by for some yummy ketchup from Happy Girl Kitchen (for some fries at a later date), drop by River Dog Farm to pick up some golden beets and super sweet carrots, and manage to kill another hour listening to fine music and hitting some of our other favorites. In fact, I'm positive that as the photo up top was taken, the monkey was busy working on a "meat stick" from, who else.

We got back on the bike, and peddled our way home. I often do my best thinking while exercising, and the ride did me good. I needed to work on some spices, but the idea was growing, and the first glimmer of the end was in sight. I wanted to incorporate the cilantro we purchased and it made me think of it's seed form. A curry spicing! It was an idea just crazy enough that it might work. I wanted to see what produce might find it's way into our hands the next day before making my next move.

With a bag of oranges on our table (their glowing spheres plucked that morning in Reedley at H's folks place) it made me think of Pearl. My friend J there made a chilled beet soup that had a touch of orange in it and I loved it. Knowing this was comforting. It seemed my thoughts had some basis in reality, so I watered them, with some nutritive beer during SB41, and slept on it.

Even though I was making two other items, I thawed and blended my goo-yu. The multi-tasking led to another of our recent episodes where the monkey nabs the camera and begins clicking away, but the result captured this messy shot. I looked at the slop and immediately wished I had pulled this idea as a weed.

My director of photgraphy remained enthusiastic about me combining the roots and goop and wanted me to simply pour it all in a bowl. She needed redirecting. Knowing her past work with a mortar and pestle, I set her to measuring out some spices while I prepped the roots for roasting. When finished, I blended the cooked roots, goo/slop, veggie stock, and some orange juice. It needed the spices. I set it on the stove, lit the burner and started mixing. With our powder incorporated, it was a sweet carrot and beet soup, with a bright citrus nose and curry-likeness. The persimmon was there, but really only if you knew about it. While this type of ingredient showcasing might not sell any cookbooks, and really maybe should not be shared at all (like that nightmare from the other night where I'm on the Iron Chef and the secret ingredient is Fuyu), it will get me to finish the aforementioned (see, I'm even sick of typing the word) glut of fruit without barfing. Many a recipe in this world was invented because someone wanted to hide an ingredient without their family/kids (think: green usually) or perhaps even king (think: poison) taking notice. I'd call this a smashing success with those criteria......

a decent reason to put persimmons into a soup, rather than tossing them:

6 big carrots
3 medium golden beets
3 runny fuyu
2 sweet oranges
1 cup veggie stock

spice mix: (this time, I'm gonna expand on this one later)
1 t coriander seed
1/2 t cumin seed
1/2 t brown mustard seed
1/2 t ground ginger
1/2 t ground turmeric

Peel and chop the carrots and beets into half inch cubes, toss into a shallow pan, drizzle with olive oil and a pinch of salt and bake at 400 for an hour, stirring once or twice. While roots are cooking, grind spices into a powder and give a dry roast in a hot pan until the smell punches you. Set aside. Make a slice in the side of the persimmons over the food processor and squeeze into it, removing any seeds if you find them and discarding the skin. Blend. When roots are tender and getting brown edges, remove from oven, toss into an empty blender with veggie stock and hit the switch. Add the goop and juice from them oranges and give another go until smooth. Pour into pot and begin simmering. (Carefully, remember beets, persimmons, carrots=orange dots of very effective dye.) Adjust the quantity of spice to suit your palatte and cook for about an hour. Garnish with a bit of cilantro to show people that you know it and coriander are really the same thing. Serve with high alcohol beer so that people forget about the persimmon.

DISCLAIMER/WARNING: I take no responsibility for such wreckless usage of persimmons that might occur in your home as a result of this post. In fact, such carefree actions performed in front of the children may cause a sort of confusion within the normal rules, resulting in them also taking a creative stance with the combination of their lunch items. In this pic, the fruit, in taking after her roots, decided to combine raw almond milk onto leftover penne with freshly grated parm. Didn't really strike me as too yummy, but with her having witnessed and taken part in my soup the night before, I didn't really feel that I stood on to firm of authoritative ground when it came to explaining why we don't normally do such things in our home. Yet another example for this parent that it is of the utmost importance to choose your battles wisely....

Monday, February 05, 2007

pizza di alice

Although yesterday was the Superbowl; a highly American ritual of excess and hyper-media (or is that Extreme-media) and millions of people were spending the day watching the game, pumped up and likely intoxicated (ok more men I should clarify); I filled the majority of my day with different ritual behavior. Don't get me wrong, I had a beer, some good pizza, managed to watch the last quarter, and was impressed that the Colts coach is only the third guy to have been victorious as both player and coach in a superbowl; congrats Tony! But really, I was very satisfied that my day contained three important rituals. Or four, if you want to call watching the superbowl one.....

My niece was blessed this morning. Men gathered around and wished for the wonders of life to be bestowed upon her. Her full name was spoken for family and church before god. It was a standard performance, but one that carries deep meaning. I am not LDS, and as usual felt like I wasn't quite dressed right in church; one of those "long-hair" with beard that I am. It was the first time though that I didn't feel awkward actually being there. The congregation were welcoming, and as usual I had the slight sense that a few were getting giddy believing they had a few new recruits on their hands, but this time felt as though I was perfectly entitled to share the same ritual space, bearing witness to another cousin of the monkey in the blessing gown that H's mom so lovingly embroiders with her grandchildren's names.

We came home and the kitchen smelled of sourdough. Go figure. The monkey and I went outside and picked some herbs. The photo up above was taken a few days ago during our first real harvest of chard and parsley for the year. The herbs went into my latest veggie stock and Aunty had the chard, but it shows an example of the oregano and rosemary that were harvested for our impending dough of herby bliss.

During ritual number two (going for a run, a more sporadic ritual, but one I'm currently working on the frequency of) my mind was awash in family tradition. It made me think back to our own little blessing of sorts where we captured an image of our portly 5 month old monkey displaying her newfound talent of sitting up. We had planted an olive tree as part of our ritual. After digging the hole, we placed some compost in the bottom, including her placenta as encouragement for growth and health. We figured hey, hella vitamins and minerals in that thing, must be good for a young tree, considering some folks actually ingest the thing themselves in the form of........well, if I haven't totally grossed you out already, I'm gonna make a self-arresting move right here to not lose any more readers (and should you want to know more about it, or our own use of placenta, then just ask).

I came home all sweaty, checked the score, and eyed the big cold beer in the fridge, but I hadn't anything to eat for a good four hours at this point. I was dehydrated from the run, and the booze tops out at 9.9% alcohol, so I abstained a bit longer and chugged some water. My dough looked nice, so I pounded out some rounds and prepped the toppings.

I had some local produce (peppers, mushrooms, onions), a newfound meaty topping (Sugo di Carne, thank you Biggles), and a nice tryptic of cheese (jack, mozzarella, parmesan). Ritual number three was shaping up to be good. Maybe even seriously g__d (I'll leave that to the judge). With everything ready for assembly, we called the monkey into the kitchen for one of our newest rituals: family pizza construction. The monkey wasn't as interested in this as in the past, but H and I brought our parental obligations to the table so we followed through. We had one biggie of the thin crust variety, and four little "fluffies" more along the lines of a deep dish style. With the oven hot and the pies waiting, the ritual continued on.

While the pizza was cooking, I said hello to Aunty. We had one of "those" conversations about how lame our father is (in retrospect, this should probably count as a ritual too, though more of the purgative type). I came back in the kitchen and two of the five were being ingested. The meaty centerpiece was intact however, and maybe the beer was playing with my head, but it seemed to creep back toward the wall as I came at it with the pizza cutter. Sourdough may be tasty, but remember, it starts out most certainly alive.

The pizza was a hit. The crust was fluffy and herbal, laying a foundation in the grassy world of wheat and herbs. The carmelized onions were divine (are they ever not?) and went very nice with the woody/earthy cremini and tangy green bells. The Sugo did a glorious job as the carne, and I instantly put it into the "can't go wrong" category for pizza toppings. The cheeses glued it all together and provided the cream to bind all the flavors together. With our bellies thoroughly stuffed and the table cleared, I brought the rest of the beer and another piece of pizza upstairs to commune with SB41.

Although the kitchen still smelled of carmelized onions, confronted with the inevitable cold pizza and empties, I was a bit sad this morning. It was back to the ritual of a typical monday: deciding what we're gonna eat tonight. We have some yummy fish on board, and I have a line on some garlic quark that will be part of another ritual around here: quiche. If I only had some more brown shugga and pizza toppings, I just might be able to replicate the experience. Or should you want to experiment on yourself and/or family then read on.

Herbed Pizza Dough

1 cup sourdough starter
3 cups bread flour
1 cup whole wheat
1 cup warm water
2 T olive oil
1 t salt
I T finely minced fresh oregano
1t finely minced fresh rosemary

Mix ingredients and knead until smooth. Let rise in a warm place for several hours until it has doubled in size (how's that for an original line in a recipe huh?. I've just got to plagiarizing someone there....) Form into whatever pizza style floats your boat. Let rest for a bit while you prep the toppings.

Alice's toppings (she doesn't even have teeth and is purely on a milk diet at this point, but I'm sure she will like this one in the future. Also, I just couldn't relate this one to the game or it might have been called Peyton's pizza or some other cheesey title (snicker, snicker).

3 carmelized onions
1 julienned green bell pepper
8 thinly sliced medium cremini mushrooms
1 jar/can tomato paste (6-8 ounces)
1/2 lb grated monterey jack
1/2 lb sliced fresh mozzarella
2 ounces microplaned parmesan
1/3 jar (4-6 ounces?) Sugo di carne (I'm working on getting savvy at linking stuff to my blog, go to the fatted calf site to read more)

With the dough ready, prick it numerous times with a fork, if putting onto a non-perforated baking sheet, and spread tomato paste thinly, until all but the outer crust is covered. Put down a base layer of cheese (most of the jack, and all of the mozzarella) Pile on some onion, mushroom and bell pepper. Distribute the meat. Add the rest of the jack and generously sprinkle with parm. Place into a 450 degree oven for about 15 minutes. Serve with high alcohol beer, brewed with brown sugar and you can't go wrong......unless your serving this to your toddler, and then come on, who would share such a good beer with their kid, I mean hey, they're not suppossed to have the stuff, so drink it all yourself, and quickly for child safety sake.