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Friday, May 31, 2013

The Cult of Story: In Kneading (and in Writing) There is No Geometry

I could say something very corny -- such as I'm on a roll. Or some such euphemism. And it is true. Everyday I am working and revising the words on the page, I find more synergy between the writer's journey and the steps of bread-making. 

And the best days of writing are like this. Just like this.  


Mixing


Kneading 





Resting



Shaping




Baking



Sharing



Reflect and Begin Again


“In kneading there is no geometry, no edges, no breaks.  It is a seamless dream.
It’s work that can be done with the eyes closed. It is thus an intimate daydream.
It also has a rhythm, a hard rhythm that takes over the whole body.  It is thus vital.
What is more, this reverie bred by working the dough harmonizes with the desire for a special power, with the male exultation of penetrating the substance, stroking the inside of substances, knowing the grain from within, mastering the earth as intimately as water masters it, reclaiming an elemental force, taking part in the struggle of the elements, of participating in an irresistible power of dissolution.”


Gaston Bachelard, Water and Dreams

Friday, May 24, 2013

French Travel: Full of Bull.

if you leave now....you can still make it. 




in time for saturday's fete in the little village of st marie de la mer. take a plane to paris and then the train from charles de galle to arles. from there its best to rent a car (or a horse?) and go south along the petit rhone river. st marie de la mer sits on the southern coast of france, south of arles, in what is called the camargue.

the camargue is not anything like the riviera which lies further east and is sprinkled with luxury, high prices and well, a bit of good healthy french sun-bathing tradition. the camargue much better. it is wild and resplendent with long stretches of sand, alive with flamingoes and the home of - who would have guessed - sea salt. 

on may 25 the little village , whose thriving business has become tourism, swells to a few thousand visitors and welcomes them to the gypsy pelegrinage, or pilgrimage. 

this fantastic celebration explores the legend of sara and the tales (not tails) of the white horses of the region.  in french , cheval blanc.

greek mythology plays a role too. apparently neptune is the dude who lent some of his white horses to calm the black bulls, so much a part of the area's rich folklore. 

"Remember, he comes from the sea and was led from a god, anytime he wants to run back to the sea, leave him." 

yes, folks bull is many things in this region - a game and an entree - the camargue bull is raised on farms for that purpose. it is different in spain, where the bull fights lead to a slaughtered bull. in arles and the camargue, bull games are played in the arena. 


so this saturday, after the fete in St. Marie de la Mer, try a little bull. you'll find it on the menus as taureau - and below is a recipe we make with erick vedel in the cooking school in arles, association et cuisine provencale with the teen-chefs in provence trips.

taureau sauvage a la gardiane (bull or beef braised with olives, tomatoes and orange) from the kitchen of erick vedel in arles, provence finally. if someone asks you if this is a bunch of bull, you can say, yes.
of course here in America we have to use beef unless you’re in the west where you can find a lot of bull. this dish is made in a similar fashion as a classic beef bourguignon, but with very different flavors.

1 chuck roast, about 3 pounds
sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper

2 tablespoons flour 
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 1/2 ounces salt pork or salt belly of pork

30 or so black crinkly nicoise olives, pitted
1 cup roughly diced carrots
2-3 garlic cloves, smashed salted and chopped
2-3 shallots, chopped fine
1 cup roughly diced onions
1 sprig fresh thyme
1 stem fresh sage leaves
1 bunch fresh chopped parsley

½ bottle languedoc wine, your favorite
1 quart beef or veal stock, maybe more

juice and zest of 2 oranges
1-2 t. tomato paste
2 small bay leaves

first get your mise en place together. 

that means first season the roast with sea salt and freshly cracked pepper, then set this aside on a large baking sheet, chop your veggies adding them to the sheet too. gather all remaining ingredients. approach the stove, and heat a large, wide pan (2 qt.) that you can later cover, over medium heat. add the olive oil and salt pork when the pan is hot. when the salt pork has rendered out its fat, add the roast, and sear each side very well. this is key to giving great deep rich color and flavor to the finished dish. if i see you haven’t seared the meat well, you’ll have to stand in the corner with no wine for 15 minutes.

all right, maybe just ten.

remove the seared roast to the large baking sheet and add in the vegetables. sauté till slightly brown, but not burnt terribly. add the flour to make a roux with the sautéed veggies, stirring well and frequently over low heat until an even light brown color is obtained. the roux (and the vegetables, bien sur!) should have an even light brown color and give off the scent of roasted nuts. deglaze the pan with the wine. stirring up any browned bits. add the stock, continuing to stir well as the sauce thickens. add the orange stuff, the tomato, and the bay leaves. add the roast and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and allow it to gently simmer for about two hours.

serve with a wonderful rustic bread. and invite your dearest and hungriest acquaintances. 







Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Cooking Life: Is our Goose "Cooked," Michael Pollan?

Of course I can jump on Michael Pollan's "Cooked" bandwagon. I love this seat. I love the view. The hills rolling by, the breads, the delicious controversy and necessary banter. On his FB page was a blog post about Paying People to Cook at Home. Really?

And then last week there was a blog by Mark Bittman in the NY Times about the health benefits of teaching children to cook.

Please, pass a portion of health and control over our choices, YOUR choices -it's all very good, great-good reasons to get back to the kitchen. The argument over payment for housework? I mean, I think we are all getting a little distracted. I could launch into a large political discussion of the food chains, the huge conglomerates, the bureaucracy,  the Monsanto iceberg, and all. I read about the extraordinary science of orchestrating tastes to hook us - to sugar, salt and fat. Do you think these people care? Are they going to cook for you? They ARE. Don't let them near your mouth. It's sacred territory.

And here's what makes me angry. These points; important all - but still they are sidesteps.

To me - as much as cooking is about techniques and factories and farms and daily menus and health and having something delicious and organic and wholesome and local and green and fresh to eat, it's about the experience, the joy - the heat, the frenzy, the mess, the dishes, and the companionship around the table, and making memories.

After many years of writing and cooking and teaching I think this is what it boils down to.


Story.

What stories are you going to be able to tell if you're not in the kitchen having your journey?

Does the story of Stouffer's lasagna withdrawn from the microwave and set on the table have quite the resonance that you and your friends need? And when you push back from the table, will you sigh to remember this night? This night when the moon was full and the door of May was open - it was a long hard week of studying and working, and now after dinner, nothing has changed, but somehow it just feels better.

Make a memory bank rich with experiences, kitchen time, invest in it, to draw on later.

And even more vital -- build a memory bank your family/children will pass on. A legacy.


It's true. For me cooking is a blessing - cooking saved me. Taught me so many things. And I teach cooking to children and to teens and to adults. And have been for years. I see people who are afraid to touch a chicken, afraid to make a pie crust. What can happen I ask them. Let's do this. Lots of times these fears are born out of a lack of experience. Often the anxiety is over the unknown, and expectations of perfection. Whatever that is. We can't make a cake as good as the one on the cover of that Cake Bible Book. It took untold hours of orchestrating that photo. In short, that idea, that image - ideal, whatever you want to call it  - its not real! It's to sell THAT dream. In that regard I don't think Food TV and all the other channels and Media are doing us any favors. Just saying. There's a lot of talk, but not a lot of heat or chopping being heard at home.

I am lucky to know a handful of  generous folks who we regularly invite and who in turn invite us to their house. We cook. They cook. These people are not in the "business." Most of the time they are just hooked by the simple and old-fashioned notion to share around the table. They came from a background where this was important. Not because someone else told them it was, not because it was fashionable or the latest, status driven bucket list accomplishment. It was a refuge, a passion, and deliciously human to need other people. And to cook something simple, divine in itself. And share the potatoes of life. A little butter. What is really going on with you? I want to help you to make the simplest soup, unceremonious, but true. Flavor that sings.

Great stuff.

A story.

Your story.

Send it to me! I would love to hear it.

Friday, May 10, 2013

The Writing Life: Imagination's Child at Play and a Tart

Can your mind transport you to a place you are thinking about? Close your eyes and your childhood friend/yard/playground/bedroom/kitchen appears. Of course, what a silly question, that's child's play for your imagination.  

But can just the opposite be true? Can the power of the mind transform the place outside you to resemble the place within

If you know what I mean, then you understand. Or you might think I am being totally ridiculous - but perhaps there is something to this. 

My recent readings include Guy de Maupassant's story, La Horla, in which he slowly comes to the belief that he is being occupied by a spirit that drifted by him earlier in the week on a ship. The story doesn't have an altogether happy ending, but it IS fascinating. And also the spectacular work of Henry James "The Turn of the Screw," in which a small boy also is occupied by a spirit while none around him can lend a hand. Or understand. A happy ending? Not so much. 

These experiences coupled with an outing at a local cafe got me wondering if this has ever happened to you? Is it possible for your mind to transform Carrboro into just for an instant, Nice, the Nice in France? 




Has this ever happened to you? 

As a writer I often wander out to a cafe to be among people, and be a silent observer as it clarifies the world within. 

Among these ponderings at a café on a warmish day in Carrboro, I looked up as someone from the place within, the place I was writing about, rushed by.

He wore a pink shirt, straw hat, Peter Maile-style, stout and tan, walking quickly towards a woman, waiting. His white shoes met her golden sandals. He spoke in French. 

It was so dream-like - so out of place that I blinked. There is a French restaurant right down the street, Provence. Perhaps they were headed there soon. And so I continued writing, and at the same time, smiled and remembered another time. 

A time when I was crossing the Promenade des Anglais on a bright day in Nice as this jovial couple walked by.

Steps led down to the beach and a restaurant. Our first evening in Nice, France, would be so very Nice. Pretty and magical to dine on the beach. I shooed away the thoughts of a commonly held notion. Good view, lousy food. Could this be true in France? 

I gently pulled my husband's arm down as he was getting ready to rudely signal to someone that we were ready to be waited on, and now. 

"Don't be so... American..."

But no sooner than these words were out, did the French waiters buzz by, and our hair whoosh'ed in the Mediterranean night. They were in a hurry, and they did not stop to look or consider that we  were ready for a table. Not one  glance!




That night, our first night in Nice - it took time, over an hour to get a table, l’eau and menus. The boys were so tired, hungry.

Night was falling and all around us the candles were being lit, at other tables.

Another thirty minutes passed till finally ours was lit too, and gave us light to read the menus.

The boys laid their heads down for a moment, it was just a moment. But when they woke our dinner appeared.




"Bonjour, ca va?" I heard the voice as if nearby. 

I looked up. My friend, Aileen, stood at my table, she also had been part of the whole French experience. 

"How long have you been standing there?"




"Only a minute. Or two," she smiled.  

With nary any jet lag, I was back to the not-Nice world. 

And now to our just desserts.



almond and honey tart with pomegranate sauce


makes 1 (9) inch tart, or 1-8 servings (!)

almonds
1 cup almonds, coarsely chopped

semolina shortbread crust
1 tsp. vanilla bean paste
¼ cup sugar
½ cup all-purpose flour
½ cup semolina flour
1 pinch salt
4 oz. (1 stick) cold, unsalted butter, cut into small cubes

honey filling
¾ cup honey
4 oz. (1 stick) unsalted butter
¼ cup sugar
1 tsp. salt
½ cup heavy cream
1 large egg plus 1 large egg yolk

pomegranate sauce
2/3 cup pomegranate sauce
½ c sugar
¼ cup water
grated orange zest
2 tbs. orange juice
1 ½ tablespoons arrowroot

first chop almonds in food processor, set aside.

make shortbread crust:
combine vanilla paste, sugar, flours, and salt in food processor. add butter; pulse until mixture becomes a dough and comes together in large chunks. shape into round disk, wrap in plastic wrap, and chill 2 hours, or overnight.
(place crust in fridge and use already prepared crust)

preheat oven to 350°f. roll crust into 10-inch circle on lightly floured work surface. press into 9-inch tart pan with removable bottom, trimming any excess. set tart pan on baking sheet, and bake 30 minutes or until golden brown and fragrant. cool.
  
make filling:
bring honey, butter, sugar, and salt to a boil in saucepan, whisking to dissolve sugar. remove from heat, and cool slightly. whisk together cream, egg, and egg yolk in bowl. whisk warm honey mixture into egg mixture.

spread almonds over crust in single layer so no crust is visible. carefully pour filling over almonds, making sure almonds stay in place and filling doesn’t overflow. bake 45 minutes, or until tart is golden brown and filling is set but slightly jiggles when tapped. cool.

make sauce.
mix sauce ingredients in a small saucepan, bring to a boil and cook till desired consistency is reached.

serve tart with sauce.

Monday, May 6, 2013

The Cooking Life: The Garden and Stories at C’est si Bon!



           Is gardening like writing and revising? You prepare the soil, throw out some seeds, pray for rain..or sun as the case is now. Muse the muse. 

I like to weed. Like? Actually I must confess. Its a love. So early in the morning when the quiet is fierce and loud, you might find me kneeling in the basil, pulling up weeds and tossing them into the valley between the rows. Weeding helps me relax, and often I wonder if pulling out weeds, helps weed my thoughts ... 

When it was still quite cold we took down a white oak tree to let in more sun. Drilled logs and inserted plugs of shitake spores, brushed wax over the holes. 

As a change to past years, we actually didn't plant a lot of seeds in the garden this spring. Instead, I planted seeds for stories and books. 

I took a marvelous writing prompt class with Carol Henderson in Chapel Hill. 

Then I did the unthinkable and went to Hood River, Oregon for a BONI - Break Out Novel Intensive with Donald Maass (who it turns out had a crazy Aunt Sarah who got married in Reading, Pennsylvania) and a host of other cool professionals. 

Roman White, director

Jason Sitzes, editor

Brenda Windberg, editor

Lorin Oberweger, editor

I learned from all their critiques (I suspect a conspiracy) that what I thought I had in the story, wasn't there, and that what I have been doing, I should stop. Its part of the process, and there's a LOT of talk that novels should be presented as if a movie, but there is more resonance to have your MC react to what is it that they want, and that they are not getting, and never will. Well, haha. Not if I have any say in the matter. It goes against my grain to have things not work out, the cake fall, the bread get burned, etc.. make a dish unservable. But all that tension is needed when a novel is involved. Good lord with all the tension in my life in the last year you'd think that would be easy. Readers don't read because things are working out, they read to keep hope alive and to see, well, now what is she going to do?  How is it all possibly going to work?  

But when I walked through the garden gate, it turns out the garden has been busy too. I think when you're always busy taking care of things, its both a relief and a disappointment to see life go on without you. But I am getting used to it. And thankful!!!   

The rhubarb has a huge beautiful flower about to burst, and so I have no idea what to do with the possible rhubarb seeds. Anyone?  

 Black mission and brown turkey fig trees are coming back, our Arkansas black apple tree has gulp, apples, and the thornless blackberries have little green fruits.  

The green and plain and bronze fennel are all bulbing up after what, six years?
Marjoram, oregano, onion chives, purple sage, tarragon, horseradish wintered over and looking very strong!

Even the arugula planted from Italian seeds from seven years ago has a new plant.

We lost the French Sorrel. 

I've put in the blue and corrola gold potatoes that I brought back from Oregon. 

And both the garden and the stories are way due for more sun!







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