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Saturday, February 11, 2012

Desperately Seeking My Thesis Statement...

One of the things I need to do to finish my degree is write the thesis paper for my capstone project, which was a comparative study between the military industrial food complex (fast food, GMOs, monoculture and gentrified work structure) and the rising tide of the Slow Food movement (organic farmers, home cooks, homesteading and independent living). I gave the presentation for this project before I moved to Seattle with the intent to write the paper and send it back within a year. But since I had no money to finish the degree or pay the college, my grades got locked up and submitting the paper wouldn't have done me any good anyway. So it didn't get written. All my research is stuffed in a box in a shower stall that we use as a closet in the laundry room.

In light of recent events, I've been thinking much more about my project than usual. For seven years, I have continued to think about it daily and feel incomplete for it's lack. After spending so much of my life unable to decide exactly what I want to do with my life (vicious circle!), the fact that I have continued to think about this project, to actively keep my information on it current, to write sections of it in my head as often as I do, is a huge sign to me that this is, in fact, the right path for me. But over the last couple of days as I have finally faced a reality in which I could finish the degree and move on to the next step, my mind has become consumed by it.

Over the last few years, I've mostly ignored the box I stuffed all my work in and pointedly avoided attempting to write anything about it because it just seemed so huge. I couldn't decide where to start writing or with what words. The story of humanity's relationship with food is absolutely enormous; in taking on this study, I took on all of human history, all of human culture, and much of what it means to be human. Where do I start that story - at the beginning, or at a place more familiar to a wider range of readers? I want a work that will get me graduated but still not give my professors a full-length book to read. However, I've also always wanted a piece that I will be able to expand upon. The intent has always been for a finished piece that actually is book-length, informative, interesting, accessible to any reader and, hopefully, publishable.

Of course, I know many people who would tell me not to worry about those things and just write something that will get me graduated - deal with the rest later. But this is one of very few things in my life that I've honestly just needed to be exactly right the first time. This paper represents years of work on my part and is a key component to the launching of my career. And, frankly, since I've been in stasis, I've had the time to think about it.

A couple of years ago, I hit a place where I lost the forest for the trees and no longer really knew what I was looking at. I'd over-thought the issue of where to begin by so much that I just didn't even know what I studied anymore. It all became a jumbled mess in my brain with no beginning and no end and no clear cohesion. That was around the time I started to give up on everything and tried to force myself to accept my fate and slip quietly into my mediocrity. When I couldn't see my work even in my mind anymore, I felt like I lost myself. It's been a disturbing, scary, sinking feeling of loss, what I've always imagined Purgatory would feel like as it drags on and on; I had found my calling (FINALLY) and then fucked it up and lost it, and the longer those fields lay fallow, the more it seemed they'd never be sown again.

Then as soon as I knew I'd be able to pick it up again and finish - despite a very long, uphill, unpaved road to get there - my research sprang back into my mind as if it had been trapped in a box too small to hold it any longer. Suddenly, I can see what I couldn't see even when I was actively working on it during my last year of college. I feel like a switch got flipped and flooded the room with light so I could see all the things I've been mentally tripping over as I wandered through dark and cobwebs. All that light screamed at me, "Jesus Christ, you idiot, you start at the bloody beginning!"

THE BEGINNING! Holy rusted metal, Batman! The fucking BEGINNING! We simply cannot begin the discussion of the human relationship with food anywhere other than evolution. It cannot be done and be complete. To make an apple pie from scratch, you must first create the universe; I have no doubt that Sagan understood the significance of this idea. It took millions of years and a lot of food and a lot of changes in our relationship to food to get us to the first apple pie recipes in the late medieval era (which, incidentally, contained no sweetener and you didn't eat the pastry part of it (which, incidentally, was called a "coffin")).

So we begin.... at the beginning. I realize now just how far I'd slipped to have been confounded by such a simple and obvious thing. But now that I know where the beginning is, I know how to break the rest of it down. And now that I can break the rest of it down, I can see exactly what I need to do to update my information and build EXACTLY the piece I want. So much has happened in this field over the past seven years that there is not only simply more information readily available on the subject, but conducting more research is easier as well. Eight years ago, I didn't have the means of conducting online polls and surveys as I do now, farmers are more accessible than they were a decade ago and the world at large has begun to actively see what I see as evidenced in recent court rulings and governmental policies (though still mostly overseas) in regards to Monsanto, GMO crops, the meat and dairy industry, the restaurant industry, school lunch programs, as well as the general cultural and political wars between conventional and organic, which could also often be posed as a war between materialism and anti-consumption.

However, what I still don't have is a thesis statement. <facepalm>

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Back to school for me... by executive order

I grew up in a house where, if there wasn't a clear and fairly easy path to an end goal, it simply wasn't done unless it absolutely had to be.  I also did not really have examples around me of the kind of success I wanted - or really, much of any kind of professional success. When I was 17, my mother and I had a fight because she insisted I'd never be able to make it in college without food stamps; she didn't understand that financial aid would not only pay for my actual education, it would also pay for me to keep a roof over my head and eat. And she wouldn't listen. She didn't see how I could do it, therefore, it couldn't be done. I was told my plans and dreams were useless because I could wind up paralyzed from a car crash or something before I ever got to my goal. I was told that if I didn't behave, she would make sure successes as an adult would be taken away from me. And despite my forging ahead and going to college and doing what I wanted to do anyway, I have still unwittingly been trapped by the idea that I don't deserve success, that I didn't have the ability to achieve it in the first place, deeply ingrained on my psyche.

And for most of my "college years", I was trying too hard to find myself to be able to give my studies the focus they really needed. I made bad decisions, always thinking I could fix it later, all of it reactionary, all of it short-term thinking. I moved to Seattle with two classes left to finish my degree because my husband had a job waiting for him and we couldn't afford to be in two places at once. Had I actually tried to find a way to stay and finish up (a means wasn't immediately foreseeable, so of course it couldn't happen), it's entirely possible that the rest of that relationship might never have happened. But, I didn't and I came to Seattle before I was ready and now, seven years later, I'm the chick that went from studying complex cultural theories and human relationships to marking your Symphony account "Do Not Call". It's been soul-crushing to force my mind to be so menial for so much of my time. It's been frustrating to face work every day that does nothing to fulfill me, nothing to actively better the world. 

I have trouble getting out of bed in the morning knowing that I'm only getting up when I am so that I can ride an hour and a half into a job I hate in a dark, beige hallway with bad air, no natural light and a bunch of people I mostly tolerate because I have to (though not all of them). It's depressing and stifling and I've long felt my mind turning to mush because of it. I have very little need to actually use my mind during the day, and by the time I get home, I'm so wiped out from wasting my life all damn day that I don't exercise my cranial muscle as I should in my free time. As a result, I find things slipping by me that never would have a few years ago and I find my attention span slipping. I feel I have no value at my job; if everyone in our office had a computer, 75% of my job wouldn't exist. Some days, I just can't even bring myself to get there. 

Today, I found out that I had missed out on a promotion I didn't want. I didn't want it because it would mean losing a lot of freedom, it would mean working nights and weekends, it would mean managing people I don't like and don't want to spend more time with in a place I don't want to spend more time, and more time doing more things I genuinely hate doing for the simple fact that they are... well, too fucking simple. However, I tried once again, as I have with just about every job I've had over the last several years, to convince myself that it would be a stepping stone, a means to an end, something to pad my resume with.  I've been hemming and hawing for months trying to figure out if I wanted this promotion at all, so being told today that I wasn't getting it came as a relief. My boss was right; she said if she thought I cared and wanted it, we'd work it out, but she knows I don't care and I don't want it. She was absolutely right and I am not sorry about that one bit.

But the conversation we had highlighted this existential crisis - the FUCKING RUT - that I've been in for too long. And the more I thought about it, the more pissed I got. Not because I was passed over for a promotion I didn't want - I REALLY DIDN'T WANT IT! - but because I fucked up so bad that got myself in this mess in the first place. I've spent the last seven years feeling like I'm stuck in a really deep swimming pool with no way out because I decided to marry a dude knowing that he wasn't what I wanted (but the adventure we'd have together would make up for that, right?), and move out of state with ONE TERM left to graduate. I was pissed for letting myself fall into the thinking that, since I had no easily visible path to what I want, I couldn't do it. And I'm still pissed to realize that I've applied the same thinking that kept me in the closet until I was 30 to keep myself in shit jobs despite all the knowledge I have stored in my head that I could be using to further both my own life and some of my more political goals.

For years, I have known that what I really needed was for someone to grab my hand and say "This is what needs to be done and this is how we're going to do it." I don't need that for my whole life, I just need someone to tell me where to put my goddamned foot. Where in the hell does the Yellow Brick Road start?! I've known I needed it, but I've also known it would never happen. That's just not something that happens. Nobody does that; we're all on our own and it's up to us to figure these things out by ourselves. What has mystified me is how people actually do that.

My boss, who has known me for sometime and, when she's not my being my boss, she's "my friend Gail" or "Momma", as she calls me her "daughter from another mother", noticed I was becoming increasingly agitated over the next couple of hours after our conversation about me not getting the promotion (though I am still being made full time, which is a good thing because now I'll have health insurance!). I fell apart. I told her all of it - how I fucked myself over with school, how I was stuck in a place I hated with no foreseeable way out, how I needed to pay several hundred dollars I don't have to the university just to get my grades unlocked so I can then take the last couple of classes I need (at least one of which is an upper division course and cannot be taken at a community college) and didn't think I was ever going to get out of this place, that she was right that I didn't want the promotion but was pissed at myself for fucking that up too because at the rate I'm going, it might well be the last opportunity to come my way for a very long time and I felt like I was shooting myself in the foot by making it so clear that I didn't want it.

I need to say that I've never accepted help that would actually further me. I've accepted lots of help over the years to help me just scrape by - help with the electric bill, help getting by while I was out of work, help with an overdrawn bank account.  But my education has been mine. I've paid every red cent that's gone to that (aside from what is automatically subsidized by the tax payers) and being that I'm $40K in debt for that education, I'll continue to pay for it for some time to come. It has never been an acceptable idea to me [for me] not to have a degree, and I was determined to do that on my own. I might need help with rent once in a while, but dammit, my education was MINE. But I failed. I fell off track and got myself stuck and haven't been able to get back on track because I haven't had the resources to do so. 

I've also never had much of a support network. I've always had people around who were willing to help with the simple things - the electric bill, the rent when I was out of work, an overdrawn account. I've had people - even my parents - who have said they were proud of me for pursuing my education.  I've had offers of help for school before, but my pride would not allow me to accept help that would actually better me, get me further. Those that have been willing were misguided in their attempts and offers. I've needed more than moral support to solve this particular problem. But nobody ever just grabs your hand and tells you what to do and then tells you they're going to make sure you can do it. That doesn't happen.

At the end of our conversation today, my boss grabbed my hand and said, "You don't know where to start, but I do." And I was told I don't have a choice. I was told today that, as of this summer, she's paying my debt to the school, and paying for the math class I need for the degree. I was also told to go out and find people in the field I want to be working in and tell them I have a few hours a week available that I want to work for them for free so I can start building contacts. She told me "We're going to get you on the right path so you don't have to do this anymore." 

And then when I was talking to another friend about this, he told me to get that stuff taken care of and he would then help me with the other class, which I might actually have to go back to Ashland for a term to take. 

Then I talked to another friend and she helped me figure out who I need to talk to about what to get the ball rolling.

Today, someone grabbed my hand and told me "This is what you need to do, and this is how we're going to do it." Not just one someone - three of them. Three people saw me at the end of my rope over the last aspect of my life - this job that's trapped me and tortured my mind and wasted my life for far too long - that I have not been able to change on my own, and not only told me how to get out, not just that they're going to help me do it, but that I don't have a choice.  It wasn't an offer, it was an order. I have no idea if I'm ready for this, and frankly, every time I go back to school it gets scarier and more stressful. But nobody ever tells you what to do, and they certainly don't offer to unlock the door so you can go out and do it. So, ready or not, it looks like I'm going back to school, and it looks like I'm going to get to do what I've wanted to do for years upon years.

For those who don't know, I studied cultural anthropology with a primary focus on American food culture; specifically, fast food vs. slow food, cultural connections between food and people and the human relationship with nature through our food, food sharing and cultural dynamics as affected by or utilized through food; the cultural difference between Mom cooking dinner every night and Dad running through the drive through on his way home from the office; the way changes in how we eat and what we eat have affected the rest of our culture. I could talk for hours about how the drive-thru burger joint has changed the way we interact with each other and conduct our daily business. But also, because of my background with the family farm and cooking (not to mention personal interest and a taste for politics), I have spent a lot of time on the military industrial food complex - GMOs, Monsanto, pesticides and the history and cultural impacts of "advancements" in agriculture.

So what in the hell would I do with all this, you might ask? It probably seems pretty obscure; for many, food is just food. We need it to survive, so we eat it. Some people are better at making it pretty than others, but whatever. Food is one of those things that all humans have in common. We just don't have a choice about that. But we do have a choice in what we eat and how we come by it and that is where I come in. The  point of all of that stuff up there that I've spent so much time on is to re-educate people about our relationship to food and through it, to the world and each other. To teach people about the sustainability (or lack there of) of eating, and how to eat in a way that is individually, culturally, economically and ecologically healthy. To teach people to cook and grow food within their own cultural context; the backyard vegetable garden, an education about food itself and the ecosystems involved with it. A study in permaculture and cultural agriculture (a one year certificate program) will most likely follow once I've finished the last few requirements for my BA, which will allow me to come at food from an angle, with a body of information, that most people won't get talking to their neighborhood foodie. It will allow me to get paid to help organize things like community gardens and local food programs with the cultural dynamics of the locale in mind. It will also give me clout in grassroots political work against companies like Monsanto.

It will allow me to make food and nature my whole life, finally.

Today, not one, but three people, grabbed me and said "This is what needs to be done, and this is how we're going to do it." I'm overwhelmed and exhausted and am having to kick my pride right in the ass (and right to the curb). Then I came home and told the love of my life about my day and she was so happy for me, she even said she'd help me with my math class (thank the gods she's a very patient woman!). I spent the first part of my day sobbing angry, frustrated tears, and the second part of my day crying just from being overwhelmed by the people in my life and the road ahead of me. I feel like they're giving me back my life and the power of it has literally taken the breath right out of me.

OH. MY. GOD. I have SO. MUCH. work to do. Wish me luck, for I will be needing it.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Savory Sundays #5: Bastardized insalata caprese and meatloaf patties

I generally dislike Rachel Ray.  She’s so damned chipper, like a rabid chipmunk.  However, I used to watch 30 Minute Meals when I was in college.  At that time, I was just starting to really get into the nitty gritty of cooking and had pretty much stopped using mixes.  I was reading cookbooks and food literature like it was all going to be burned tomorrow and Food Network was a primary source of inspiration even if not of accurate information.  Let’s face it, FoodTV can be about as informative as the History channel is these days.  And Rachel Ray’s ideas, recipes and information are definitely not often things I’d actually want to eat.  I watched her show, however, because I watched ALL of the shows and took methods, techniques, ideas, and recipes in bits and pieces from all of the Food Network chefs to develop the style of cooking that I’ve created over the years. 

I have no memory of the original recipe for these meatloaf patties, and it ends up slightly different every time too because I’ve never written it down.  This is an easy one to be creative with and I think of this as less of a recipe and more as a technique.  You can use almost anything you have lying around the kitchen and it’s almost guaranteed to end up yummy and satisfying.

When I stopped eating beef about a decade ago, one of the few things I actually missed was meatloaf.  Yes, I know it’s terribly uncool, but I have always loved a good meatloaf.  I eventually figured out that I could make it with ground turkey (I was still mostly cooking from boxes and mixes at this time, but definitely learning and experimenting), but it’s time consuming and it makes a lot.  Ray’s meatloaf patties were a perfect solution!  I could make the patties and do all kinds of things with them.  I’ve had them on buns as a sandwich, over pasta, over rice, by themselves – it doesn’t matter, they’re just good.  They can also be part of a very seasonal meal.  This time around, I made them a little bit summery with some pesto, but they’re also excellent with gravy made from the tidbits leftover in the skillet after cooking the patties. 

I served it, this time, with a side of bastardized insalata caprese.  I say it’s bastardized, because typically this dish is served using large slices of tomatoes and mozzarella.  However, the garden gave us a nice harvest of red cherry and yellow pear tomatoes today, so I halved them, and sprinkled some fresh basil over them (The proper cut for basil is called “chiffonade”.  To do this, pluck the leaves off the stems, pile them on top of each other, roll them up like a newspaper and cut into strips crosswise). I took a ball of fresh mozzarella, cut it up into small pieces and put that in the bowl with the tomatoes and basil.  Ideally, I would have used the small “pellets” that come in a container of water, but Safeway doesn’t seem to carry those, so I had to use a ball this time.  Whatever you have, doesn’t matter what shape it comes in.  Anyway, I like to put just a little salt and pepper over it all, and then drizzle with olive oil and vinegar.  I’ve used red balsamic, white balsamic, Italian herb infused and sherry vinegars and they’re all good, but my favorite is the sherry vinegar.   At any rate, I did this before I started anything else so that the flavors could mingle while I made the rest of dinner.  DO NOT REFRIGERATE!  Tomatoes lose flavor when refrigerated and cold things don’t meld as well as things at room temperature, so just let the insalata sit on the kitchen table while you work on the rest.

While the tomatoes are marinating, put some water on to boil for egg noodles.

And while the water is getting hot for the noodles, take one package ground turkey and add an egg, herbs and seasonings to taste, a diced onion, a couple of cloves of chopped garlic, a handful of parmesan cheese, and about 2/3 of a cup of bread crumbs (if you’re gluten free, Bob’s Redmill makes some excellent gluten free breadcrumbs that have a nice light nutty flavor to them). 

*Random rant: This shit needs to be mixed up.  Sure, you can dirty a spoon, but why?  Don’t be afraid to be hands-on with your food!  Dive right in there; squish it up with your hand!  Especially if you’re a very tactile person; my hands seem to be much better at telling me when something is properly mixed than my eyes are.  Cooking should be an experience for all of the senses and touch is definitely an important one.  Experience teaches your hands to tell you when something is wrong that your eyes may not catch (like a slimy texture where there shouldn’t be, for example).  Also, there’s just no need to dirty a spoon if you don’t have to, and since you’re going to be forming the patties anyway, you’re still going to be getting your hands in it.  No sense in holding back – your hands are two of the best mixing tools you have and, miraculously enough, they are washable!  End rant.

Squish the contents of your bowl together. 

Add about a tablespoon or two of olive oil to a skillet and get it nice and hot on medium-high heat.  Form the turkey mixture into large meatballs about an inch and a half in diameter, then flatten to form patties and put in the hot pan.  Cook about 12 minutes on each side until nicely browned and cooked all the way through.  I put a baking rack on a plate and put the finished ones on there while I cook the rest.  Don’t forget to throw your noodles in the water when it gets to boiling. You can use whatever kind of noodles you like – I like to use whole wheat egg noodles.

When the noodles are done, drain them and mix about a quarter to a half of a cup of pesto in with them (if using half a bag of noodles, a quarter, or up to a half cup for a full bag of noodles).  Put a pile of pesto’d noodles on a plate, then put a couple of your medallions on top.  From here, you can do several things.
You could throw some stir fried vegetables in with the pasta before you pesto, or pile them on top of the pasta with your patties. I sautéed mushrooms in butter and olive oil and piled them on my pasta with my patties.  I also put a little more pesto over the top of my patties, and sprinkled just a little more parmesan on the top of the whole mess. 

A seasonal variation:  These are excellent with gravy as well, especially in the winter.  Make as above, leaving out all pesto-related steps.  Instead, wait until the patties are cooked, add two tablespoons of butter to the pan.  Once melted, add two tablespoons of flour and mix to make a roux.  Allow to brown very slightly, then slowly add about 1 ½ cups stock and let it come to a slow boil while stirring constantly and making sure to scrape all the little turkey and seasoning bits from the pan into your sauce.  When sufficiently thickened (when it thickly coats the back of a spoon), take it off the heat and ladle it over your patties and noodles (or rice or quinoa or even mashed potatoes!).  Serve with roasted root vegetables on the side or incorporated into the main dish and enjoy!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Savory Sundays #4: Zucchini-Cheddar Bread

Like most families who plant zucchini in the summer garden, my family always had way too much of this particular vegetable. My mother did terrible things to it like freezing and boiling it that basically reduced this mild and versatile member of the squash family into a bowl of watery mush.  It was horrid, but for many years, I was unaware the zucchini did not have to be so… slimy.  I swore I’d never touch the stuff as an adult, but like most things kids say they’ll never do as adults, we’re now growing our own zucchini.  And yes, we have too much.

A couple of weeks ago, we went on vacation for five days and when we came back, we had a zucchini the size of a small boat lazily resting on the garden bed.  Of course, my first thought was “zucchini bread!” 
There are probably as many zucchini bread recipes out there are people who make zucchini bread.  Most seem to take the form of a quick batter bread, and many sweet and spiced.  Zucchini is a wonderful ingredient in bread because of the moisture and mild flavor it contributes and at about a cup of shredded zucchini per loaf, you can get a couple of loaves out of mid-sized zukes.  The behemoth we pulled out of our garden was big enough that I’ve made three loaves out of it, and have enough left for two or three more.  This baby was huge, and the bigger they are, the better they are for things like breads and pancakes (smaller, baby zukes are better for sautéing and salads because they have more flavor).

Anyway, my favorite zucchini bread recipe is savory, cheesy and almost biscuit-like.  The original recipe comes from The Joy of Cooking, but I’ve tinkered with it just a little.  Don’t have it?  You should.

Zucchini Cheddar Bread

Preheat oven to 375F and grease a 9x5-inch loaf pan.

Whisk together in a large bowl:
2 C all-purpose flour
½ C  Bob’s Red Mill 10 Grain Flour
½ C White whole wheat flour
4 Tsp Baking powder
½ Tsp Baking soda

Add and toss to separate and coat with flour:
1 C Zucchini, shredded
¾ C Sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
¼ C Leeks, chopped
1 ½ Tsp Thyme, dried

Whisk together in a smaller bowl:
2 Large eggs
1 C Buttermilk
4 Tbl Butter, melted

Add egg mixture to the flour mixture and mix with a few light strokes, just until the dry ingredients are moistened.  The batter should not be smooth.  Bake about 55-60 minutes.

This bread goes fabulously with a bowl of soup, as toast with a little butter on it for breakfast, or just plain by itself.  It’s flavorful, cheesy and moist and one of my absolute favorite summer breads.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Savory Sundays #3: Late Summer Turkey Soup

My favorite way of learning a technique or a type of dish is repetition.  My first winter in Seattle, I wanted soup constantly; the weather just screamed “Soup Day!” and who was I to say no?  I lived with five guys at the time and though many things in that house left much to be desired, I will say that they all played nice while I decided to perfect my soup making.  They got a little crabby after almost a month on a mostly liquid diet (for which I can’t really blame them), but I did get really good at making soup.  I love being able to whip up a soup out of just about anything I happen to have on hand and know that it’s going to come out tasty.  This soup was no exception.  In fact, this is one of the best soups I've ever made.

I started with a couple of small onions from the garden.  I diced them up small and put them in the pot with about four tablespoons of butter. 

Rummaging around in the fridge, I found some wonderful German fingerling potatoes from the farmers market, and some carrots that needed to be used up.  I chopped them up in about half-inch sized pieces. When the onions had turned translucent in the pot, I threw the potatoes and carrots in with them.

When the carrots got bright, I stirred in about a quarter of a cup of while whole wheat flour, mixing until the vegetables were evenly coated with butter and flour.

Letting that sautée for a minute, I prepared six cups of stock and added it to the vegetables slowing, making sure the flour mixed in thoroughly as I went to avoid lumps.

To this, I added two whole sprigs each of rosemary and thyme (sticks and all), and about three-quarter teaspoons each of celery seed, garlic powder and onion powder, as well as a sprinkle of garlic salt and some fresh ground five pepper blend, a couple of dried red chilies, a couple of cloves of garlic and a couple of bay leaves.  I also had some leftover turkey breast in the freezer from one that I roasted last month, so I tossed that into the pot too.  

The turkey was still frozen when I put it in the pot, but after about 25 minutes, it was thawed, so I pulled it out, shredded it and threw it back into the pot.  At this time, I also pulled out my now bare herb stems and bay leaves.  The soup was basically done, so I re-seasoned. 

Re-seasoning is, to my mind, one of the most important steps in building an excellent soup.  It creates a soup with layers of flavors and adds nice color to the soup (green floaties in amongst the orange and white).  So at this time, I added another sprig each of rosemary and thyme (without the sticks this time), another grind of pepper, and some fresh, whole leaf oregano.  And, for good measure and a little creaminess (and because I had some), at the very end, I added ½ cup of buttermilk.

This is an excellent, full-bodied, flavorful soup, excellent for those late summer/early fall days that call for a little home cooking.  Goes excellently with next week's Sunday savory, Zucchini Cheddar Bread.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Savory Sundays #2: Blackberry Cobbler

I don't know what possessed me to try to start blogging in earnest two weeks before moving house, right as summer was coming upon us, but I failed miserably. I really did try hard to come back at first, scheduling a major cooking marathon for myself one week before moving and a few times even doing the cooking, taking the pictures and just never getting to the point of sitting down and writing the associated blog. Unfortunately, and I knew this, the writing should be done the same day as the cooking, otherwise important things may be forgotten in the telling.

At any rate, the end of summer is upon us and with it, of course, comes blackberry season. We now have, since our move, twenty-six acres of woodland (designated as a city park) across the street from us, complete with brambling blackberries just begging for a trip to my kitchen. We picked about ten pounds of blackberries over a couple of days between the park and another spot we found a little further around the corner. Most of that went into a pot with some honey for jam and a few made it to the freezer, but no way, no how, can ten pounds of black berries be picked without a blackberry cobbler appearing.

I was eleven years old the first time I ate a blackberry. Blackberries don’t grow in New England like they do in the Pacific Northwest; until my family moved west, I had grown up eating wild blueberries and raspberries. However, we arrived in Oregon at the end of July, right as blackberry season was really picking up some speed. It didn’t take us long to learn to look forward to the summer blackberry harvest because of all the wonderful things that could be done with them.

When I was in high school, it became my job to pick the blackberries to fulfill orders at the family farm. I would have to get up early on school-less summer days, cover up from head to foot to protect myself against the thorns, and get over to the farm to get the berries picked before the mercury got too high. No easy feat in a place that can be as hot as 90 degrees at nine in the morning. As much as I loved eating these berries as a kid, I utterly loathed picking them.

But now I’m an adult and it’s all on my terms, which makes the whole process much more appealing. Up here in Seattle, blackberry season seems to come in mid-August and, if we’re lucky and it doesn’t start raining, goes well into September. We’ve noticed the berries picking up some speed, so Jami and I went picking and managed to get about five pounds of berries in about an hour. Of course, a cobbler was necessary.

This recipe, like so many of my recipes, originates in The Joy of Cooking; it is an adaptation of their recipe for blueberry cobbler.

Blackberry Cobbler

Preheat oven to 375F.

In an ungreased 2qt casserole, about two inches deep, mix:

3 pints Blackberries

¼ C White sugar

¼ C Brown sugar

2 Tbl Cornstarch or ¼ C flour

1 Tsp Lemon juice

In a separate bowl, whisk together:

1 C All-purpose flour

1/3 C White whole wheat flour

2 Tbl Sugar

¾ Tsp Baking powder

¼ Tsp Baking soda

½ C Dried unsweetened coconut, flaked

½ C Walnuts, chopped


5 Tbl Butter, cold.

Here is my favorite trick for making pastries: If you don’t have a pastry cutter, hate the trick with two knives or have arthritic hands that won’t let you break the butter down in the flour, get out your cheese grater. Grate the butter right into the bowl of flour. Stop about half way through to mix, then grate the rest in. So much easier!

Whisk together in a small bowl, then add to the flour mixture:

½ C Sour cream

¼ C Buttermilk or heavy cream

Spread dough over blackberries by dropping small spoonfuls over the top until the berries are mostly covered.

Bake 45-50 minutes, allow to cool for fifteen minutes before serving.

Of course, this would be fantastic with a little vanilla ice cream, or even just with a drizzle of cream over the top.

It tasted wonderful; the coconut and walnuts in the batter combined brilliantly with the sweet-tart of the blackberries for a delicious and unique flavor combination. This could be done with pretty much any seasonal fruit, with any nut or seed combination.

Tune in next week for our first actual savory, Savory Sunday.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

A tough move

I realize I'm being ridiculous. Logically, I know I'm being childish, but one of the lessons I've learned in the last few years that's brought me to this place is that knowledge and emotions often have nothing to do with each other. Knowing that I'm being childish isn't stopping me from feeling the way I do.

This is the first place I've ever lived where no one could get to me if I didn't want them to. It's the first place I've ever lived where I felt safe and knew that I could leave something that was hurting me on the other side of the door. It's the first place that I've really felt at home, settled and even slightly stable. It's the first place I've lived that I was able to add another person to the equation and not have it completely undo my life. It's the first place I've lived that I really enjoyed coming home to at the end of the day and didn't have to worry about what sort of disaster would take place once I got there.

Of course I realize these things can't be attributed to the space and structure, but are instead due to work I've done on myself in the last three years. I know this, but it doesn't matter. This has been my safe place; my happy place; my sanctuary from the world for the most important and best three years of my life. I became a new person in this place. And even while I know that I can't attribute the change to the space, I know that the space was integral to that change.

When I moved in, I blessed the apartment and dedicated the space to health, growth and creativity. Those things certainly happened here. Being in this space allowed me to hide, to sit and cry for hours and days, turn up my music and dance like an idiot, sit numbly contemplating every last fuck up I have made, laugh at stupid things all by myself in the middle of the night, scream and yell at thin air, sing at the top of my voice and otherwise completely fucking lose my mind in every way possible.

Which I desperately needed to do.

And it helped. Then I found Jami and she joined me here and, as indicated, it did not completely unravel my life. In fact, it in all ways made my life better. And now it's time for us to move on into a space that allows us to live more like we want to live; a space that's ours (in someone else's house).

But I'm scared. I've been good here. I've been happy here, and safe and healthy in a way that I don't think I've ever been. And there's some stupid part of me that doesn't care how much I know that this isn't about a fucking apartment and is totally afraid that leaving it is going to cause every good thing I've managed to accomplish for myself in the last three years to come completely unraveled. I feel scared and vulnerable and unsettled; for the past month, I've been having dreams that I get home from work and my mother is sitting in my new living room waiting for me. I don't need to be Freud to understand that I don't feel secure in the idea that I can properly protect myself once I leave here.

But it's too late to change my mind. More importantly, I can feel this apartment trying to spit me out. I've accomplished what I needed to here and have outgrown the space; it is time to move on whether I feel ready to or not. But this is hard. As soon as I put the first item in the first box, I won't really live here anymore. I've been putting it off all night, but now I'm going to hit POST and face my bookshelves, box in hand, and promise them better organization in the next place, just like I do every time I move.