Monday, February 28, 2011

Kitchen Alchemy.

Broth simmers on the stove, warm
rumbling releases of evaporating hope
persistently rising, as a gale

gentle in its beginnings
like an early spring rain, a harbinger of summer
storms, an annual foretelling

of change. Wisdom knowing each season
passes, melting into familiar air
with aged and tried reason

warming cold decay inside
insulated layers. The peaty cover, striped
naked; but now not needing to hide.

~ Spring Strength. ~

Olive oil, green onions, garlic, dill seeds, sea salt,
cracked pepper, parsley, celery, parsnips,
button mushrooms, potatoes, and spinach --
topped with dill sprigs.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Why do coyotes dance?

Why do they raise their paws in the air, to the sky, to the moon, to their god?

Why do coyotes dance? Why do they...why are they dancing?

Skipping through February, and meeting March with a grin...this is good. Maybe their dance is a courtship, only just beginning.

And maybe...yes, maybe...their dance is trust -- led with care and stepped with grace. For, they know the dance will be even more beautiful come next spring...

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Beautiful beets.

I adore them.

And, contrary to most food-loves of mine, I think this one is because I was raised without them. There are no childhood memories of slimy canned beets to stain their reputation, and no experiences scarred by being served blood-red borscht by a great aunt with a neck fetish who just also happened to be suspiciously nocturnal.

Diurnally unhampered by fantasy-creature suspect relatives, I became curious: could I make beet muffins? There are carrot and zucchini muffins. Why not beet? They must have their day in a muffin too, and as I've written about before, I am always one for the underdog. Yep...I'm the weird one on the sidelines over there, rooting for The Beet.

Here now, I'll tell you why there aren't beets in muffins. It's because beets are the ugly duckling of the root world. They are hard and messy and distinct. Beets aren't like potatoes or rice -- you can't just throw them in with anything. They don't absorb the flavors of others. A beet holds its own. It's tough...

...its taste is unique, and you have to know what to do with it.

I understand beets...I know what to do with the unique...

And the ugly duckling is, after all, the one who turns into a swan.

~ Beet Muffins ~

I scrounged around, picked at many recipes for carrot bread and glutenous beet bread, substituted like a mad-woman, and came up with this:

2 tsp. nutmeg
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup brown sugar

3/4 cup yogurt
3 eggs
1 tsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. lemon zest

3 cups grated beets

Combine dry ingredients and wet ingredients in separate bowls. Mix these two together and then fold in the beets. Bake at 350°F for 30-40 minutes.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Oracle of Delphi.

I've been intrigued since our introduction in a Western Civilization class in college -- when Doric columns reached out their bony sunbleached hands and grabbed me, pulling me through the slide-projector screen. The dark classroom cloistered morning light, and funneled thoughts into siphoned history.

I always loved these "Western Civ." classes. I looked forward to them; focused, like a horse with blinders on. Everything in that class was fascinating, and had I emerged from the College Educated Egg, having incubated only information from those two classes my freshman year, I would have considered the time and money well worth it. I would have felt Properly Hatched. Ok, I know, you think this seems a horrible exaggeration. But, anyone who has taken a Dr. Hohmann class knows exactly what I mean. He animated the ancients with the gravity of mortality; while at the same time, sculpting their stories with the beauty of humanity.

More than anything or anyone else I learned about in those classes, The Oracle of Delphi captured my imagination: the trance induced by a man's decomposition, the answers of poetry, the wisdom of a woman...the mystery...

There are times in life when I have wanted, very badly, to consult with an oracle. To have rights reassured, or wrongs weighted. At certain points in life it was not just any oracle I wanted, mind you, but one fed and informed by decomposing manflesh (for historical accuracy, of course). Doesn't that sound exciting? A bit femme fatale, yes...but oh, so very exciting. After all, The Oracle of Delphi is about the power of a woman...

But I now realize that I've always had one -- an oracle, that is. Mine isn't in Delphi, and as far as I know there is no decompositional incense rising from under the foundations of her house. She may not write poetry (at least not anymore), but oh, she is wise... maternal grandmother.

Long before I admitted to what spring the Winter of Discontent was leading, my grandmother confided to my mother that it might be "for the best" if paths parted...for me to walk on. Alone. I was told of these words, and was oddly reassured of right. Comforted, even.

Last year at another juncture of paths, my grandma vividly appeared to me in a dream. I hadn't been sleeping well, if at all, for weeks. But that one night I fell into a deep sleep -- "Everything will be alright, Little One," she said. I awoke at peace. Lowly hung clouds still blocked a view of the end -- but, the fog was comforting. I didn't need to know. I didn't need to see. Not just yet. I just needed to live on my welcome the fog.

Months ago she wrote, lettering her hopes for a "Special Christmas," even though I wouldn't be going home to family. And indeed it was. It was special.

Recently she spoke again, words wafting from salmon -- "A coincidence!" she marked. I could hear her voice's sustaining ring of awe at always seeing a hand at work.

My grandmother is a writer too, you see. She writes weekly to her grandchildren and her children, scattered about the world as thistle seeds to the wind. She went on, "I mentioned in your note that I would like you to write about salmon. And there it was! Even before you got my note."

A coincidence...

...since, I have wanted to eat salmon again. And this time, I would cook for the chef who my grandmother was now so curious about.

When my grandmother talks and when she writes, I listen. And --- I wonder...what is going to happen next...

~ Seer's Supper ~
Sockeye salmon fillets, sauced with horseradish, sour cream, green onions, lemon juice, and butter, baked on a bed of spinach. Served with roasted fingerling potatoes.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Doña Paula Los Cardos Malbec.

"Do ya have a wine recommendation?" I asked, clutching my stand-by six-pack of Woodchuck Ciders with my one-downy-gloved hand. The other hand warmed phantom keys in my pocket. A split second of panic...

...then I remembered, they were working on defrost duty. My car had started...barely started. Maybe just a lucky firing, and I wasn't going to test that hypothesis. Sitting at a bus stop parking lot all day in a cold canyon, she seemed a bit pissed. Women...

...we all have those crampy cold days. She needed to run. I understood. And as she conditionally complained to me, I had the fleeting thought that she would not have turned over for a man. I love being a woman.

Speaking of turning over, the canyon-liquor-store man was rolling about my question in his head, mumbling to the slatted wood shelves we were both staring at coldly. Was he asking them, the shelves, their opinion? Maybe it was a bit frozen too, his mind. Frozen, but at the same time warmly welcoming. I sniffed at the air as his thoughts thawed. "Roast in the crock in back -- forgot to put it in on to supper time and there it was, sittin' there cold! Damn though, it's gonna be good tonight. Second try's the winner...smells like it, don't it? It's always the second..." he said, mouth watering into a smile as he handed me a bottle.

Second tries and second chances.

An artist friend has been writing, doing daily posts of something she is grateful for. Yesterday, she was "grateful for firsts." This got me to thinking.

I am grateful for seconds.

Second tries, second helpings, and second chances to remember to turn on the heat (I am notorious for wondering why my water isn't boiling...being confused about why the kettle isn't whistling yet, after 20 minutes? Ah yes, indeed, turning on the heat does help.) Herein lies the rub though: the socket, the receiving end, has to have something to return. Something to fuel. The connection has to work...there has to be a spark...

.....a current.

A continuous swim in a bottomless river you're in over your head for.

The evening began with Smoking Look Pino Noir, and ended with this canyon recommended Argentinian Malbec. It was meaty and grained. Your tongue could feel its edges. It had "a good grip...that never let it become too polished or formal."

Informal, tarnished, burnished by life's second chances. And, second bottles...

...yes, I am grateful for second bottles.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Love is...


...covering a cutting board with tin foil. Romance? Buying a new frying pan. Complete trust? Eating.

Taking the first bite...

I had to turn away. I didn't want him to see me, at least not yet. My eyes betrayed me, unveiled me, and I stood stockingfooted in his kitchen, as bare as the floor. Shadowy souled windows would have told him everything, welling with tears -- the spring of which had been purposely plugged and covered with dirt. Desire dusted off...bruised, buried, and busied for safe keeping. My self, like a monk's manuscript, illuminated by closing the cover...spine creased...

...but not broken in binding.

The thread holds.

This covering makes me hungry...and for the first time, I am not scared to eat of it.

Friday, February 11, 2011

True to Form.

"You're going to put the tops back on?!...yes...of course you're going to put the tops back on!"

~ Stuffed Peppers ~

Green onions, ground beef, paprika, parsley, salt & pepper, and rice. Cooked, mixed, and stuffed inside bell peppers which have been blanched for 2-3 minutes. Summit with sharp cheddar cheese and bake for about 30-40 minutes.

~ Mushrooms in Wine ~

Mushrooms, marinated overnight in red wine, then roasted for about an hour -- finished with a drizzle of red wine reduction sauce (simply the marinade boiled and simmered down).

And, don't forget to put the tops back on...

Thursday, February 10, 2011


Last summer, a Dusky Flycatcher went broody on my back deck-light. I watched, as eggs were laid, incubated, and hatched into successful fledglings. Being privy to the secretive world of The Nest, I stole glimpses of this nestled habitation, always mindful to never let my eyes over-stay their uninvited peek...lit though it might have been.

Three eggs incubated and were then introduced to the world on my doorstep. Each evening after work, I would convert one of my deck's adriondacks into a stepping stool, and check on progress in the "nursery." (This "nursery" is the only kind I have any interest in ever monitoring.) Cloistered out of predators' reach, my deck was a safe place, a sanctuary for birth, and growth, and stretching of fledgling wings.

Around this time, I was told by The Healer, that I should eat cooked things. I needed the pre-digestion, the stove-top acting as a mother bird's mouth, returning to me nutrients on a warmed
platter. To my raw-foodist-recovering brain, this idea was hard to swallow. Even, if easier to digest. I felt a strange kinship with these chicks and I imagined myself as an honorary sibling. I was entitled. They must accept me as a strange sister. Theywere on my porch, after all. And I felt better, less dis-eased, and less dis-placed from my own kind if I imagined myself as a baby bird. Night after night I sat on that deck alone, quietly gurgitating mushy morsels as my nest-mates gulped their own soft sustenance, brought by their mother who was skeptical of the strange sistersitting...watching -- but, she let me be, realizing that we were all feeding...sensing that I was hungry too.

I've been good. Note: "I've."

I've become accustomed to, even grown to like, my stove-mother's regurgitations. For months now, I have not eaten one single salad -- even restraining myself from sneaking raw end bits of carrots when chopping and throwing them into soups and stews, or into the oven to roast. I did this, I who lived (ok, barely lived...butstill...) on raw food.

I ate raw fish before raw vegetables again.

I boiled my cabbage down, steamed my kale, and sautéed my fennel and chard. It felt so wrong...

I was good until this past week. I could stand it no longer. I was sick and tired of cold cooked food eaten at my desk. Oh yes, there's a microwave (two, in fact) in the break room at work, but a crummier place you've never seen...I never, ever go in. It's dangerous. I see "CAUTION: DO NOT ENTER" tape yellowing the doors.

This past week, I lost it -- I stopped being "good," I perhaps uttered an expletive or two, and I made salad...

...defiantly, tossing things up a bit.

~ Butternut Squash, baby romaine lettuce, broccoli sprouts, apple cider vinegar & olive oil ~

You know? I bet my siblings have moved on to solids by now too...

Monday, February 7, 2011

Forgive my fixation...

...on oats at present. I know I am obsessing over this meal.

There now, that was my first step: admittance.

Writing about a specific food several times in a row hearkens up the same suspicions as mentioning a specific name, I suppose -- the same suspicions arise as if I were to, hypothetically of course, write about someone of the opposite sex, and unabashed interest could be read through my inflected words and punctuated spacing. These tells, provoke questioning teases of, "is there something you should tell me?"

After my last post about oats, a friend emailed one of her many observations regarding my current fixations: "you're really enjoying having oatmeal back, aren't you?" Why yes, yes I am. I am in love...

...with oatmeal.

I have missed oats. In the past there has been some scuttle over whether or not they are gluten free. In their solitary and pure form, they are. However contamination has always been the issue. Wheat and oats make good field-fellows, apparently. But oats, single and unattached, are now being grown and processed free from. I am all for the ending of that relationship, by the way.

Having been brought up with horses, I've always liked oats. I'd scoop up handfuls of them raw out of feed bins and munch along with my stable-mates (who knows what else I got in those handfuls). You'd have thought my mother didn't feed me or something. On snowy mornings, feeding beasts before belly, just a few oats satiated -- rolled into a whole grain chew.

Strangely, being around horses wasn't enough for me; or, for my sister. We wanted to be one of them. Sticking our noses up at spoons and tables (appraised as unnecessary adulthood accouterments), we'd get on all-fours floorside, muzzles buried deep into our own bowls of meal. I remember actually neighing at my mom...pawing anticipation onto the parquet...pleading that breakfast be if bare hooves could charm the cookstove.

And I remember the sound of my sister's whinny as she pawed her own plea, throwing her pony-tailed head about wildly -- her equinous behavior learned from a plucky pony; mine, more thoroughly bred. Dixie Rose and Katie...

As different as my sister and I, and equally matched. The four of us? We were quite the gang of girls roaming the hills of Mills County. Especially in autumn, when fallow fields begged us come hither, winking in their suggestively open state, we would pack saddlebag lunches (mostly apples and carrots, to be shared all around) and would disappear, called off to adventuring. Sidling Farmer Hopp's fields, riding ridges of terraces, racing down the Wabash Trace, and scraping up enough spare change to grab a Coke and Three Musketeer's bar as we marauded Main Street Malvern back towards home.

My mom let us grow, wild in the surrounding corn and soybean fields --- and yet, she cultivated --- furrowing principles beneath a topsoil of trust...believing they would direct us home again...and again. We ran and rode freely, adventuring our afternoons away. She planted our heads High, and watered thoughts that most would have weeded out. She encouraged us to dream and imagine and see the world through an animal's eyes. Any other mother would probably have worried about the mental state of her children...would have become suspicious that psyches needed a shrink, when we put bits in our mouths and neighed back answers to her questions.

"Will you please go change laundry loads?" ----- "neigh...!"

And she understood...

...she understands, and I am sure sometimes my answers still sound like unintelligible "neighs."

There now, as I said, I have taken the first step: I have admitted. And yet, I have serious doubts about any power being able to restore me to sanity.

I think I'll just keep eating my oats...

~ Oats, blueberries & maple syrup ~

And just for old time's sake, I'll keep licking my bowl clean too...

Saturday, February 5, 2011

At this time of year...

...I miss San Francisco.

Now, I know what you're thinking -- "Of course you miss living in California, it was -20 at your house this week." Yes, indeed it was; but, the weather has nothing to do with my longing. In fact, San Francisco's weather made me yearn for a change in climate. I felt off-kilter, living in seasonal stability. I need the reminder that there are fresh starts, second chances, and boxes of wool sweaters to unpack. It isn't going to be 55°F least not now. Now? I'll have some -20 days. Thank God.

In San Francisco, there was no packing away of "summer clothes" and no unpacking of "winter clothes" --- instead, there were raincoats. And, umbrellas.

And, soppy bus stops....

But amid the fog's perpetual wintering on the peninsula, there were satsumas, dragons, and luck. Returning west from holidays back home, I went philosophically east and always looked forward to this second new year. The Sunset District glowed orange with predictions and promises. It was refreshingly resolutionless. For...who can argue with the gods' dispensation of fate?

"You cannot prevent the birds of sadness from passing over your head, but you can prevent their making a nest in your hair."
~ Chinese Proverb

And thus I will argue. I will fight fate...

I will fight by making a nest before the birds can do it for me. My own little domestic war, weaving twigs of expectations and roles and titles into something so strange it is familiar, and fits perfectly...even, if a bit on the hairy side.

Acorn squash have always reminded me of bird's nests, and with this thought I don't fight. Tonight, I let it go broody...

~ Acorn squash, stuffed with polenta & sautéed spinach, broiled with cracked pepper chèvre ~

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Emiliana Organic Vineyards, Natura: Cabernet Sauvignon

There is time to breathe...plenty of time...

Don't rush this.

Uncorked, wine poured, glass half full (or empty, depending on your disposition)...words water in your mouth. Satiated before the first sip, you savor the smells -- you even taste them, like the feelings you can see in your dreams.

The wine waits...breathing...with glassed enjoyment's transparency, knowing it will be shared -- believing that it will be.

Persistently it pursues the hours, as flavors evolve and grow into a perfect pairing...

...with lamb curry.

It wasn't supposed to be this way, to be drunk this way -- this dark, this red. "Go with a Sauvignon Blanc, or a Riesling," said a green aproned Liquor Mart employee; pointing --> "over in aisle 19. The tall skinny bottles." I walked to said aisle and stood there for God knows how long, debating against the white wine. The acidity of reds fight with the spice of the curry. Don't try it, he said.

I heeded, and bought a cheap bottle of Sauvignon Blanc; headstrong, I also bought a cheap bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon. Ill-advised, the latter was chosen as evening accompaniment. And yet, it sounded perfectly...committed, concentrated, a collection of colors, timbred with the simplicity of complex grace.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Twenty below and falling...

...into warmth; unexpected, on my doorstep.

This is the best kind. The best kind of warmth, the best kind of love, the best kind of food? When plans don't go "according to"? When you and your doorstep aren't expecting, but yet receive? Oh, how serendipity satisfies with her hourglass figure, seducing time and losing minutes around her changing curves and bending road.

The weathered thermometer read twenty below zero. For clarification, this was not the windchill -- this was the temperature, clearly pointed to in red. The fresh layer of snow was trackless. Nightly neighbors knew to stay tucked in burrows and hollows of trees. "What are they doing?" I could feel yellow eyes questioning the feet and paws stepping out from the housed den to an evening walk. Yes, this was a little crazy...but my mind was feeling a little crazy right then. Warmth is all in the mind...

...and though my leash-holding hand eventually began to lose feeling, the short walk long I felt warm...I was warm.

Returning aged, breath frozen white on my scarf and on the soft hair around my mouth which, I have been teased, even without the help of ice-frosting gives me a bit of a mustache (I adamantly refuse to pluck this...priding on not preening). I had grayed years in the course of that circled walk. But, back through the cabin door, decades melted away as dinner was decided.

There is something about curry which cooks contentment...something about it which heartens, something about it which reassures -- yes, someone is there.

Long before I had ever actually eaten a curry (somewhat off the palate of my Southwest Iowa childhood, those spices) the word was in my vocabulary, albeit with a very different meaning. A comb...a "curry" brushed over a horse, its rubber teeth working out dirt, shedding hair, and massaging muscles. This currying would put horses into a contented state of hip-resting zen -- eyes closed, lower lip drooped (sometimes drooling in dreams), ears eased.

In my mind, it is no coincidence that curry eaten elicits the same response as the comb --- contentment.

~ Ghee, fennel seeds, curry powder, cardamom, cumin, turmeric, potatoes, tomatoes, lentils, chard. Served over brown basmati rice. ~