Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Autumn Means Soup

I went to several workshop discussions at Winter Wheat. The most amazing, though, was a poetry-based writing workshop which explored visual imagery as a prompt for writing. During part of the workshop, the facilitators handed out abstract black and white images. I loved how my subconscious was drawn to create meaning from meaningless black and white swirls. The image I fixated on was a circle. It reminded me of our dented, beat-up tea pot or a deep pot of soup. During the writing, here's roughly what I wrote based on an abstract image:

I tell him, "It's soup season."

He says, "There's a soup season?" a bit startled like he was unaware that we were supposed to celebrate a national holiday.

I put the garden to bed in November, poke little thumb-shaped nubbins of garlic into the deep, brown earth. It smells like moldy leaves, and the sun glows with a peculiar slant. I wonder, where do the earthworms go in
December when the earth is hard like stone?

I take the teapot out of the cupboard. Like so many of our kitchen things, it has outlived it's original owner, but the stainless steel reflects us. In January, as the trees get brittle and grayer than the sky, my life feels narrow. I make Chamomile tea every night. I stare into the tea pot's chrome, the shiny glare, and try to imagine a world outside this bleakness. Beyond us. Beyond this kitchen with the stained, green striped dish towel. The kitchen is sunny, but cold. Crystals of ice like trapped, lost snowflakes coat the windowpanes. The tea kettle is an orb, a globe. It contains warm, rotund comfort.

As winter approaches, I find myself drawn to soup and tea. Liquid warmth that my very pores can soak up. Soon I'll tell you about all the fabulous soups I've been subsisting off of these past few weeks. But you tell me, what foods do you crave when it gets cold?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Pawpaw Adventure Part Three: Pawpaw Faux Pas

In theory, community cookbooks are a brilliant concept. Community groups, like the Ladies’ Auxiliary, the St. Francis Catholic Church, the Helping Hands 4-H club are all respectable groups that sometimes need to raise money. To raise funds, they just might compile a spiral bound cookbook for resale.

At its best, a community cookbooks is a contest of one-up-manship. Betty’s brownies are better than Mavis’s. But, man can Mavis bake a mean muffin. For years, my go-to cookbook for any baked good was the local 4-H club’s cookbook. Its cover was yellowed, and the green comb-tooth binding had a bit of a jack-o-lantern look from missing teeth, and the pages were splattered with batter stains, grease, and residual powdered sugar. That, my friend, is the sign of a good cookbook. A rare find indeed. Dozens of cookbooks later, I have Grandma B to thank for this wisdom.

Grandma B had a cookbook buying habit. This habit was fed solely by Morrispress Cookbooks. Morrispress is the country’s largest publisher of community cookbooks. Their corporate headquarters are in Kearney, Nebraska, a 45 minute drive from where my grandmother lived. Anytime any sort of significant shopping needed to be done, my grandparents drove to Kearney. It also just so happens that Morrispress has a discount show room that sells remainder copies of community cookbooks. Coincidently, this cookbook show room also happens to be next door to Cabela’s Outdoor Outfitters. So, grandpa would drop grandma and me off at the cookbook store, while he shopped for hunting gear. This was dangerous.

Sure, the {insert ridiculous club name here} cookbook was only $2.00! But, the thing is, without any connection to the community or the people who wrote the cookbook, you were usually left with a book of sub-par, plebian recipes. It was hit or miss. Cooking through amateur cookbooks like these was a veritable landmine of fallen cakes and dry cookies.

Still, I have a soft spot for these cookbooks, perhaps because the first cookbook I ever owned was a three-ring bound United Methodist’s Women’s Club cookbook, straight from Morrispress, compliments of my grandmother.

So, when I Dave Reese of Kaleidoscope Farms, handed me a spiral bound copy of the Pawpaw Grower’s Association Cookbook, it had all the appeal of a Morrispress cookbook. But, instead of being judiciously cautious, I dove headlong, quickly agonizing over which of the pawpaw bread recipes I should make. There were 4 of them, named simply Pawpaw Bread One, Pawpaw Bread Two, and so on. The Pawpaw Buckwheat Bread recipe called to me. Pawpaws united with a bag of local, stone ground buckwheat flour, and eggs from Franny and Zooey, would be a true testament to the grand heights of localvorism I sought.

Instead, I baked three brown loaves that smelled like burnt fruit loops and tasted even worse. When I tried to feed the loaves to the Franny and Zooey (and Kent’s chicken Scrambly) they only looked at me out of the corner of their eyes with distrust, as if I were trying to poison them. I knew when my chickens, those garbage disposals covered in feathers, who eat out rotten produce out of the compost heap wouldn’t touch it that I had failed.

I was bitterly disappointed.

In my excitement, I forgot discretion and a critical eye. I should have know that a bread made with 100% buckwheat would not rise well or be light enough for the flavor of pawpaws to shine through. I was more angry at myself than the Pawpaw Grower’s Association Cookbook. I knew the risks involved when cooking from community cookbooks, but I was reckless anyway. And after two or three days stewing over my failure I realized one of my favorite things about cooking is that, as Judith Jones wrote, “Food has the tact to disappear, leaving room and opportunity for masterpieces to come. The mistakes don't hang on the walls or stand on shelves to reproach you forever.”

So somewhere in my compost pile are three loaves of pawpaw buckwheat bread quietly becoming worm food.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Winter Wheat Festival

Yesterday, I was part of a panel presentation discussing food writing with Amanda and Karen. It was exciting to meet other writers who were interested in writing about food, and it was also enjoyable to create a brief moment of community over shared food.

Part of our presentation included a writing prompt based on food we shared. The menu included:

Homemade Ricotta Cheese with Fresh Thyme
served on Garlic Crostini or Baguette

Zucchini Bread

Marscarpone served on Crackers
with Tomato Preserves or Love Apple Jelly

Roasted Red Squire Kale Chips

Local, Organic Apples, Assorted Varieties

So, I'm really curious. If you attended our panel, what inspired you? Did you discover anything by writing about these foods?

Please share your writing exercise by commenting on this post. I can't wait to read it!