aromatic cooking

Tonight I carefully slice into a red bell pepper, then a green one, and finally a cheerful purple onion. I cut a quarter wedge from each of these and slice as thinly as my patience will allow. I am exhausted, and I am trying to prepare a new dish. So I move slowly; but I do move. I heat up two types of tortillas (microwave under a damp cloth napkin) and wrap them in heavy foil packets into the warmed oven. Having pickled a jalapeño (while the others roast in oil and salt), I dice it finely and add to the marinade hosting thick tempeh slices. I halve cherry tomatoes into a bowl and gently combine them with a little oil, salt, sugar: set aside. I fry up the seitan chick’n strips – having pre-baked them dry and chewy in the oven – and add the peppers and onions and more pickled jalapeño. The kitchen warms brilliantly with the fragrance of peppers and onions and the family cheers a little. Finally: I slice avocado, bring out the lime cashew cream, and the purple slaw, my husband prepared earlier. We don’t set the table as my work is spilled across it, but join one another convivially on the couch to watch a quaint baking show before we go our separate ways again for the evening.

beans

lemon-roasted garbanzo beans

This is one of my favorite snacks of all time! I have been known to make a midnight sandwich by simply stuffing these in a roll and devouring it! Doubltess some will like these hot, but I prefer them room temperature or cold. You are aiming for almost-overdone. These are also really great with a veggie tray, alongside a vegan ranch dip!

2 cans garbanzo beans
2 tablespoons olive oli
1 lemon, juiced
1 tablespoon tamari
1/2 teaspoon fresh cracked pepper, chili powder, salt, and garlic powder

Preheat oven to 450°F. Drain the cans of garbanzo beans and save the liquid (this liquid is aquafaba, and it is the most magic baking and cooking ingredient).

Next, rinse the beans so they’re easy to handle. Sit down with a friend or your kids and de-hull each bean, setting the hulls aside for compost or the garbage. It is easy to de-hull – simply gently squeeze the pointy end of the bean and the hull slides off. Every bean has a hull, even if it doesn’t look like it! De-hulling two cans takes a few minutes, and there are shortcuts to be found. But I’ve never found a shortcut I liked as much as doing each bean by hand.

The good news is, you’re almost done!

Drizzle the oil on the beans. Place in the oven, single layer in a cookie pan, and roast about thirty minutes. About halfway through roasting, combine the lemon juice, tamari, and spices; add to the pan, stirring well.

Continue roasting. You have to really check the beans out. One minute they’ll be underdone and then next, overdone! But even a little overdone is better than under, in my opinion.

Enjoy!

“just keep ’em appetizing!”

The last few days have been full of lots of home-cooking. A broccoli, swiss, and pepperjack quiche, an apple pie with oat, brown sugar, pecan and cranberry topping, baguettes, green beans, mashed potatoes (SERIOUSLY Ralph does a great job on these), pot roast and green beans, spaghetti and meatballs (in case you’re wondering, two days ago Phoenix emphatically lifted vegetarian requirements but suggests organic and/or ethical meat when we cook with it), butter broccoli, roasted garbanzo beans atop red and white basmati rice (again, Ralph nailed this one) with an attendant fresh-veggie tray, salad with butter lettuce and cherry tomatoes that burst in one’s mouth, sweet tea and our usual hot coffee, ice cold Red Hook beer.

I struggle with occasional experiences of guilt when it comes to my kids and their care – food is an aspect of that care and it’s hard to feel daily okay about my efforts (unless you’ve been a mom you may not fully understand – not that every mom necessarily does, either).  In a more balanced vein, the part of me that feels genuinely Me instead of feeling under pressure, one of my pleasures in life is to cook for those who enjoy the food provided; there is an additional pleasure I get in seeing my kids devour everything on their plates (which they don’t always do, but for instance they did tonight). I think it’s a pretty simple thing, really. Their bodies and minds are strong and beautiful and growing; their robust appetite reminds me of this and feels like an odd sense of security and love. I also genuinely enjoy it when I’m able to provide someone with the exact thing they want, and my family loves what I provide. My kids tell me fresh bread or lemon asparagus or frijoles refritos or hardboiled eggs and carrot sticks or bún thịt xào; I can make it happen as if by magic, and always with love.

Tonight I worked right up until I realized it was long time for me to rest. I wanted to be brave enough to not do the dishes (Ralph almost always does them but tonight he watched a movie with me instead). But, no dice, becuase once I get an idea in my head it’s hard to let it go. Just after 4 AM I washed dishes and wiped counters and made some new sweet tea for Ralph tomorrow but soon l I felt genuinely beat, and I still had more work to do. I followed the kids through their bath and picked up bath toys and re-sorted tidied the living room…

and got a cold beer and came to bed and turned on a ghost television show on Netflix …

And now? Close the laptop and take a few minutes with the kiddos before Slumbertown, Population: Us.

famiglia e paisano (the latter as in the screwtop wine)

I don’t see my grandpa too much these days. He’s eighty-five and he doesn’t get along like he used to – as well as he lives in Southern California (with much of my extended family) and we Hogafour don’t have the scratch to take vacations much. He and his eldest daughter, my aunt Patti, sojourn up here to visit our little wing of the family and check up on my aunt’s handful of houses she owns and rents.

Due to the relative infrequency of his visits (about once a year) I’m reminded each time I see my grandfather it may be the last. He seems in good enough health but he takes a tackle-box worth of medications daily (my two California aunts help look after him) and he’s no spring chicken. My father used to say Bill might live to be a hundred, and sure. My grandfather’s mind is amazing and sharp but he’s also a bit foggy (I swear it’s the drugs) and he now walks with a cane and naps about eighteen hours a day. I feel a great affection for him but also a breech I can’t cross as there are also patriarchal aspects of our family that drive me fucking crazy. I do what I can which is mostly, treat him kindly and cook for him. He genuinely seems to enjoy listening in to family as we sit and talk. And he loves, loves to eat. I cook a lot and talk a lot so it works out well.

Today I was feeling a bit below the weather and I spent most of my energies cleaning and preparing the “feast” for this evening (slow-cooked meatballs in marinara over angel hair pasta, a veggie tray with olives and dip, devilled eggs, and roasted cauliflower and broccoli). As special treats I added rhubarb pie from the GH Public Market and our family’s favored red table wine (at dinner my mom had a small bucket-worth and got her trademark red face). After dinner was standing by (I love slow-cooking in the big enameled pot in my oven) I managed to watch a bit of computer-movie and sew a bit and rest a bit and wrestle with my kids a bit and – a special treat – have lunch out with my husband where we talked about the next recording effort for his band (w00t!). You know what’s funny, I’m not sure how much alone-time other couples get who have small kids. Even though we homeschool and our kids sleep in a big-ass pile in our very large bed-Pangaea the moments I have with Ralph have been increasing over the years and are quite special for both of us.

My grandfather, aunt and mother arrived at seven and we served the food on my sewing table, which Ralph had moved into the living room (we don’t own a dining room table). The kids were wonderfully enthusiastic at dinner and then vanished while the grownups did some talking (a lot about chickens and gardening and the world of paid employment which only one adult out of four currently works in). In early moments I had braced for my mother to being “bragging” to my grandfather about us (she has done this in the past, mainly about my housework standards and my husband’s sainthood, ugh – remember that “patriarchal” stuff I was talking about?) but fortunately this did not happen. I ended up in a long conversation with my aunt (a nurse – actually a Wound Care Specialist who’s used maggots as treatment, ew!/awesome!, and yes we had this conversation at the table). I gave my grandfather a loaf of homemade zucchini bread wrapped in wax paper I’d baked earlier in the day. Before the relatives left my grandfather gave each of my kids a twenty dollar bill after I sternly forbade him not to for a few confusing minutes (I misunderstood and thought he was trying to give me the scratch). He was a Mobil Oil man and has money now. Gifting it is one way he shows his love.

The three of them left at about nine thirty and Ralph cleaned the kitchen while the kids bathed and I took a few minutes stitching on some corduroy pants for my son. I’m grateful Ralph has tomorrow off as I love having him around.

Sometimes I hardly know what to do with those I love other than be present with them and spend time – and cook and feed them (I remember clearly how much of a difference it made to me when my father was dying and he began to stop eating; I could no longer minister to him in this way). Fortunately most people seem to appreciate these things. Ralph paid me an amazing compliment yesterday when he told me the dinner I’d prepared (a Spanish tortilla on warmed-and-buttered French bread, marinated kale salad, and corn on the cob) made him immediately feel better and then “healed him” of his illness (which really in the final analysis seems to be true, either that or a striking coincidence). Now that I’ve caught the scratchy-throat and stuffed-up nose myself I’m wishing for the same kind of healing.

choosing to breed, Surprise # 437

I am learning to cook some modest amount of French cuisine (and loving it, I might add).  Today for breakfast, on a lark: oeuf en cocotte; eggs baked in ramekins – with cream and butter and a wee bit of fresh parmesan.  At 10:30 my son thundered down the stairs, “What smells so good?!” he shouted.  The kids set the table, scrambled up.  Their faith in and love of my cooking is truly an inspiration and quite heartening for me.

It took longer to get the food on the table than I’d expect; I need my egg whites at a medium finish.  Peeking in and out of the oven, edgy and bored, and the kids’ rowdiness in our small kitchen grated on my last nerve.  As I finally brought the hot morsels to the table some clumsy or abrupt movement of a child climbing around set me off.  “Stop it. STOP IT!” (they are literally unable to hear me when they are all revved-up.  “This isn’t playtime, this is fucking food!” I fumed as I whacked down a ramekin.

The kids were silent; Sophie slid her plate away from me.  I turned to the oven, brought the rest over.  Moved back to the table with the salt and pepper, contrite: “Would you like some orange juice?” I asked.   My children softened.  They are more or less used to my temper, or more specifically, they know that it doesn’t last.  I mixed up the juice in their pitcher, sat down, and deliberately apologized for my outburst.  We enjoyed a surprisingly delicious breakfast; I felt giddy at yet another delicious dish learned.

I think one of the pleasures of life is serving a meal to your loved ones and watching them tear into it, pausing only to repeatedly praise the repast.

Later, after groceries and errands, I fiddled about in the kitchen cooking beouf bourgingnon while the kids entertained themselves, including drafting up a garage sale, cracking a child’s schoolbook on study habits (purchased last Friday at a church rummage sale for ten cents), and drawing then cutting out ferocious kitten masks decorated brightly and ferociously like luchadores.  Both their spelling and worksmanship impressed me; my son’s writing is improving enough that I can’t always tell it from his older sister’s.

Although I am fiddling with the temptation to place my children in a private school next year (with a generous scholarship this is just financially feasable for us), it sometimes seems obvious that our current track of unschooling is what works best for our family.

I have a few problems with this.  First, I sometimes feel I am only just able to handle having my kids around me near 24/7.  I feel the fault is my own; I am simply not a groovy-enough Mama to accept without protest or miniature breakdown the infringements on my daily freedom.  To be fair, I know that if I worked all day and came home to the wee ones I’d have about the same amount of miniature breakdowns. I guess I am just a colossal ass.  I am not sure what to do with this aspect of my persona, something that has given me a lot of personal emotonal pain.

Secondly, the same part of me that longs for freedom knows on some level she would not allow much more of it to herself.  The prospect of school for my children gives me the illusion I’d have more time for myself, and that I’d actually spend that time – on myself.  Sometimes I fantasize about having more time to do yoga or work on the home-sewn lovelies I so love to create; yet God Knows what I tend to prioritize is cooking and housecleaning and doing things with the kids when I have a choice of where to put my efforts.  I know from Sophie’s first and only year in public school that I would likely find myself to and fro the schoolhouse anyway, volunteering my time and staying up making flyers or binding little project books.

I might think I long for more time for myself and my exploits, more space (what does that mean?), but my genuine joy and interest in my kids’ day-to-day life – and a personal ambition, as well as some sense of obligation I can’t quite put my finger on – keep me away from these such that at present I might be getting the most of this “me time” I’d allow myself in any case.  At the end of the day the laundry is done and the counter wiped clean and maybe I haven’t gotten quite as far on the silk shirt as I’d hoped; yet most days I’ve acheived at least an hour of sewing.

I call this a victory, for now.

cooking, a manifesto

I wanted to write a bit about my cooking but I wasn’t sure how to approach it without sounding arrogant or navelgazing, because the simple truth is:

I am a good cook.

I’ve been told occasionally I’m an “excellent cook”, but I do not claim this label for my own. No – I’m a good cook.

Yes, I realize “good” is subjective. Let me be clear about the type of cook I am not. I am not a home chef who has a bunch of erudite knowledge, or someone who puts together lavish spreads centering around a perfectly-prepared expensive and tender cut of meat. In fact, I can barely cook meat and I certainly don’t know my way around it (my husband’s preferences run to vegetarianism and that suits me just fine). I am terrible at providing cocktails (or even beverages); my guests drink out of bottles or mason jars. I don’t know wines – I mean at all. I am inept at the little fiddlesome details that create perfectly identical enchiladas. I can’t plate nor garnish a meal in a way that takes my guests’ breath away – and I really should learn competency in some of these things, and maybe someday will.

Yet despite my above-listed failings – and likely many more – I know I am a good cook. How do I know this?

Besides the compliments – and I get many – I know I’m a good cook from what I experience while preparing the meal. I enjoy cooking. I am always excited to learn a new dish and I usually succeed in the effort (if my guests’ reactions are to be taken at face value). I love every part of the process, from picturing how the meal will come together, to finding the ingredients in the shop or in my garden, to washing and cutting them, putting on some music, wiping down the table, beginning to bring last night’s soaked beans to a gentle boil, starting my bread by stirring yeast and sugar into warm water to watch and smell it as it proofs (breadmaking is one of the best olfactory experiences I know of). I literally enjoy cooking more than I enjoy eating.

I am a good cook because I can be quick, and I can be flexible. I appreciate both the skill that comes with practice and the on-the-fly abilities that create the lunchtime dish for my children. I can take shortcuts with the right storebought pizza sauce or spend days brewing a sourdough starter to serve a friend for their birthday.

And speaking of this, I am a good cook because I can bake bread, and I’m only getting better. Naan so fragrant and belly-filling that a friend who visited over a year ago still rhapsodies about it. Bagels that never deflate, waiting to be stuffed and devoured. A pita recipe that makes its rounds in my social circle, a legend of modest proportions. Tonight, eight loaves of Cuban bread delectably sour, spongey, dense and soft.

I am a good cook because I honestly care what my company, guests, and family enjoy and prefer. I am only too happy to cook for those with allergies or preferences or even someone who says, “Man, I’d love a strawberry rhubarb pie”. Done and done.

I am a good cook because my ego does not suffer if I turn out a failure. Nor do I feel the need to apologize much when this happens. In tonight’s fare (Cuban sandwiches, black bean refritos, aromatic Cuban white bean & butternut squash soup, homemade cheese, cucumber and tomato salad, chips and salsa, crema superior, oven-roasted tomatoes, chocolate fudge pudding with whipped cream, and yellow cake topped with fennel candy) I screwed up – of all things – on the pudding (made from a box no less). Minor embarassment; top with whipped cream, serve, and let’s move on.

I am further blessed in that I am not too likely to stress about preparing or entertaining. Cooking for many – in my small kitchen with my one frying pan! – yes, sometimes I find myself running about the kitchen feeling a bit frantic. When I feel this I can straighten up, pull my hair off my forehead, and say to myself, “Let it go.” I’ve done my best; I’ve prepared as well as I can. Shite, the sandwiches are going to come to the table five minutes later than the rest. Oops! And that’s all.

I am a good cook because I like using quality ingredients – and love the search and culmination of acquiring them – but I also understand I am not entitled to them. I am glad that at no point in my career as cook and hostess has someone labeled me a “foodie”. I abhor food elitism in all forms. I will not feel smug at my friend’s ill-salted green bean casserole or talk smack about the tuna wraps that represent another person’s best efforts. I feel only deep gratitude for food – all food, especially that given from the heart or grown by my neighbor. At home I like to cook well, if I can; in another’s house my eyes fill with tears that she has made this meal just for me – no matter what it tastes like.

I am a good cook because I always want to learn more, and to please my family and friends with my cooking.

I’m not an amazing cook, or a fussy cook, or someone who needs to be praised for my efforts. I will say “You’re welcome” when complimented, but I do not require ass-kissing, because I did it because I enjoy it. I am not a martyered cook, or an egocentric one:

I am a good cook.

theme: spooky

Today my mom told me that since knowing me as an adult, I have changed the way she cooks. This surprised me at first because, although I consider myself far more accomplished in the kitchen than I was ten years ago, I don’t think of my cuisine as being too inspiring. She told me she prepares far more vegetables and relies on them for the main part of the meal. I thought her comments over later and realized, what a great compliment!

At the time she and I were driving up to Olympia with my oldest child to buy fabric for the latter’s Halloween costume. We stopped for tea, visited the rest area (which Sophie loves for some reason), and enjoyed a nice day away from our households. We talked about parenting (a lot), about family stuff (a bit), and about sewing (of course). We talked about my dad, a little – but what is there to say? We miss him terribly, and we speak the same language about him when.

The city affords niceties our smaller urban environs do not. The friendly anonymity of strangers taking walks through Capitol Lake Park – a man who’d set up a tightrope between trees and, after giving us a demonstration, gave a tutorial to Sophie. Dogs; lots of dogs. Great food (we ate at a funny Japanese grill restaurant where they throw knives and cook at your table). Some detriments: traffic, parking headaches, and bad bathrooms.

At home the evening the weekend comes to a close amidst a gorgeous fall day. We go on a “spooky walk”; actually, a bike ride up through our cemetery, peaceful in the gloaming and yes a bit spooky, owing to the fact there are many old and creaky trees. Upon getting home Ralph and the kids carve a pumpkin while I prepare dinner. Inspired by friends I have discovered a new repetoire in my cooking: simplicity. Not every night needs to have a bona-fide dinner. Tonight I cook while listening to Ralph and the kids chatter, serving cinnamon toast, grilled figs with goat cheese, sprouted almonds, a quesadilla with sharp cheddar, chamomile tea.

Ralph runs the bath and Sophie and I finish some homework; move the couch into position to watch a “spooky” movie of Sophie’s choosing.

"the king of the table"

I’d like to think I’ve had a handful of accomplishments in my life and hold a few talents as well. But the thing I can do that gives me the most pleasure lately is my breadmaking. Today I find myself tempted to feel pride in my bagels – a history with not a single one collapsing during boiling, all of them turning out taste- if not picture-perfect. Then I quickly spin around three times and spit on the floor, not wanting to upset the capricious devil-gods of bagel cookery, so quick to jealously smite my next efforts in retaliation for baker’s hubris.

I view my breadmaking not as a talent – because really, I’m a beginner – but an accomplishment. First of all, it’s a frugal way* to add heart to a meal otherwise made from soaking dried beans and pulling tomato sauce out of the freezer and carefully frying a portion of squash. A platter of soft, fragrant pita completely, and I do mean completely, makes up for the fact I’m not serving red meat, chicken, or a rich lasagna (cost: five thousand dollars, with the cheeses needed). This is me: if I’m forced to be frugal on Ralph’s cash grocery allowance I will find a way it satisfies me.

I also like breadmaking because it’s the closest I get to meditating, praying, or relaxing. Most breads you have to knead (sometimes for many minutes), shape, and wait while the bread takes form. It’s something that checks me back into my kitchen and my home. It fits into a busy schedule at the same time – a bread that needs to rise can be slowed in the refrigerator or sped up (within reason) by a pan of steaming water. There’s plenty of time to run to get a kid at school or do the dishes and wipe the table and sit for a cup of fragrant tea in a sunny kitchen.

I like making bread because my children are learning not only how (something I missed out on as a child) but are also quite good at and help me with all parts of the process. They see their food created, not under plastic in the harsh lights of the supermarket. There is no better fragerance in a home than the yeasty warmth of fresh bread – unless it’s sauteed onions or garlic.

And finally, I take pleasure in the fact that so many people love homemade bread, or at least the breads I make. Last night’s dinner company, and my own family as wel, sung praises over the simple homemade pizza (with my own sauce and dough recipes) which was easy to make, economical, and nourishing. Last Thursday with basket on arm I parsed out slices of a chocolate rye coffee cake to those stuck in cubicles and offices and indoors. I’d like to make bread every day. Thomas Fuller said “Eaten bread is forgotten” but I think instead it builds a legacy of care, of frugality and lushness, of a joie de vivre.

* I buy my flour at 1/2 the price found at the supermarket and my yeast at 1/10th the price of the bulk jars at the same; this reduces my bread cost to a fraction of a storebought loaf.

rainy Easter exploits

My husband has been lying in bed sick, or under some general malaise, since early this afternoon; it was left to me to prepare Easter dinner (BLTs with homemade white bread, deviled eggs, carrot sticks, olives, fancy pretzels, hot tea), pick up tomato starts, entertain the children, do the preschool’s laundry, tidy the house, and make these:

Happy Onion Day!
Please excuse the crappy Photo Booth shot; these turned out as beautiful as the tutorial indicates.

Happy Easter, all!

at least cabin fever has not struck

My daughter’s croupy cough continues. The Hogabooms eat three healthy meals daily and get very good sleep at night; during this week as we wait for Ralph’s job duties to resume we take walks in the chill and administer meals to those without power (two other families, last night). Meanwhile our local paper makes sure to report the various dramas (we did have three examples of smash and grab / looting – in a county of 36,000) while neglecting to cover in any detail the tireless work of emergency personnel and the PUD / Bonneville workers to which we owe our relative comfort.

Otherwise, P.S., a storm is just boring. I have discovered I only like sitting around doing nothing when there is the option to do other things. Our blackout provided for a lot of reading, a lot of snuggling, a lot of cooking and cleaning, and a lot of singing and playing guitar. On the second day I finally picked up a book many friends have recommended to me and in the last day and a half have thrown myself into cooking dishes therein – the basic beans, banana bread, chicken coconut soup, caesar dressing, 24-hour chicken stock (which had the benefit of feeding my cats and the 93-year-old neighbor’s kitties with tender chicken goodness scraps), homemade cream cheese and whey, and sprouted almonds (for apricot bars). This morning I even started the day with a whey tonic (surprisingly refreshing), feeling silly and hippie-ish.

Tonight: sci-fi family movie night and yes, I’m looking forward to it.