Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Jung and Brussel Sprouts, Synchronicity

For the past several months, I've been attending Quaker meeting for worship.  Quakers have a unique approach to worship.  Worship involves sitting in silence, with an attitude of expectant waiting.  We sit in silence for an hour and listen for/to God.  It is amazing.

I've found that even if at first the silence may be uncomfortable, and I'm distracted, and the chatter in my mind won't turn off, by the end of the hour, I'm renewed.  Meetings for worship have taught me to be mindful, to be receptive to God, to NOTICE.

Since I've been more mindfully present in my life and in the mundane daily moments, I'm noticing patterns and coincidences that normally would pass me by.  This week, I've had an odd series of coincidences revolving around Carl Jung.

As I reread my journals last week in a personal celebration of my 30th birthday, I thought of my life as a giant spiral. Each year is a loop, like growth rings of a tree, but each ring radiates out from my core personality.  Sometimes there are spokes of themes that I revisit again and again, year after year.  When I mentioned this to my poet friend, Laurel, who wrote a series of poems on the spiral, she said, "I first came upon that idea when I was reading Jung."

Then the next night Kent and I were watching an old episode of Northern Exposure, and Chris, the radio deejay, was reading excerpts of Jung on the air.

Finally, I went to tutor a high school student this afternoon, and on his mom's coffee table was a copy of The Portable Jung.

I'm not sure that this sure what this all means, except that now I know I've got to read some Jung.  So I have reserved copies of The Portable Jung and Memories, Dreams, Reflections from the library.   Maybe this is just an odd coincidence.  Maybe the Divine is trying to tell me something. Or maybe, and I think Jung might argue, I'm experiencing synchronicity.  That is even though these events are causally unrelated, I've put them together to create personal meaning.

Which of course leads me to brussel sprouts.  Keep up with me here: causally unrelated things that I'm putting together to create my own personal meaning.  We had tempeh reubens for dinner last night.  The reubens made me crave brussel sprouts with tahini sauce.  It seemed like an odd, and quite unlikely combination.  I for one, was baffled at first as to why I would want to mix my brassicas--cabbage sauerkraut and brussel sprouts--with rye bread and sesame seed paste.  But, then it hit me, the first time I went through a Tempeh Reuben phase was in Omaha at McFoster's Natural Kind Cafe.  Not only did McFoster's make a might fine tempeh rueben, they also made a delcious tahini dressing with--you guessed it--roasted brussel sprouts.  So, perhaps my tempeh reuben/brussel sprout connection was not really synchronicity, but it's fun to pretend.  And, the pairing of tahini smothered brussel sprouts and reubens?  Quite in sync.

Tahini Sauce

This is really Kent's recipe--which is a riff on McFoster's tahini dressing.  He worked there as a server for a brief stint when we first met.  This is a fine accompaniment not only for brussel sprouts, but all manner of vegetables and salads.  It is paricularly delicious as a substitute for tziki sauce inside of felafal pitas.  Be sure to use roasted tahini as straight tahini is very bitter.

For the brussel sprouts:
To prepare the brussel sprouts, halve them, and fry cut side down in a generous mixture of butter and olive oil over medium heat until they begin to caramelize and turn golden brown.  Watch carefully as they can burn quickly. As soon as they are golden brown, add about a 1/4 to 1/2 cup of water and cover.  Continue to cook until the sprouts are just tender, and the water is absorbed, about 5 minutes or so.  Toss or drizzle with dressing before serving.
For the sauce:
 1 large clove of garlic, smashed
1/4 cup roasted tahini
1/4 cup water, or more until desired consistency is reached
juice of 1/2 a lemon
dash of salt
fresh ground pepper to taste
1 T. fresh parsley

With a mortar and pestle, smash the garlic to a paste.  Whisk garlic paste with tahini, water, and lemon juice.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Stir in parsley.  Serve.

This will keep in the fridge nicely for a couple of days, although you might have to thin it with more water.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Kissing Frogs and Cleaning Fridges

I turn 30 this week, and it's thrilling.  I've been using this long weekend to wax nostalgic (Happy MLK day!) I have been sporadically re-reading my past 12 years of journals.  Rather than feel embarrassment at my naivety or my self-absorption in my early twenties, I'm marveling at how much I've learned about myself, about living, about the person that I want to be, and the world I want to create for myself.  This past decade was about learning to kiss my frogs.

Let me explain.  In Judy Reeves's book, A Writer's Book of Days, she discusses the importance of kissing your frogs, of admitting that everything you produce is not going to be brilliant.  In fact, most of it is not.  As I've been approaching thirty, I've slowing been shedding the perfectionism, the fear, the pressure of my twenties--now I don't have to live up to anyone but myself--and I've learned to be pretty forgiving of myself the older I get.  And, more than anything, these journals represent all the frogs that I've kissed along the way.  All the unpleasantness, pain, mistakes, and junk that I've experienced or created was necessary, was something I needed to go through get where I'm at now.

Even though there's a lot of swampy, murky, crap contained in these pages, there are still some glimmer's of truth and beauty.  After all, frogs have been known to turn into princes if a princess is brave enough to kiss it.  At times, I'm awed at the mindfulness, the awareness, the thoughtfulness that I managed to pour onto the page.  I'm excited to keep observing and thinking and writing about what I see, what I feel, and what I do.  I'm looking forward to another decade of earning insight and wisdom and experience.

For a great blog post about how to start the practice of a visual journal/scrapbook, check out this link.

Reading old journals makes me think of the Sarah I was at 19 or 22 or 27.  I'm still that same person, but layers of experience, of living life, have obscured exactly who I was back then, like how the color and shape of an object can be obscured by dust or packaging.  Today though, I was transported back to my first year of marriage when I dutifully shopped at the Kroger once a week.  This was before I had a garden, before the chickens, before I learned to can, and most notably, before I could go a month without grocery shopping and barely notice it.  When Kent and I lived on North 33rd Street in Omaha, on grocery day, more often than not, there would be nothing in the fridge that was remotely delicious or edible, so I'd eat lunch out before traipsing to the store.

Today felt exactly like "back in the day."  I've been having a rough go lately at cooking things that are colorful or delicious enough to make me want to eat the leftovers.  There have been a lot of frogs in the kitchen lately, so I went out for a sandwich at the local vegetarian restaurant, Squeaker's, before shopping.  Then, I remembered when I returned home, when I was a newlywed, I would always meticuolously clean out the fridge before I'd put anything new away.  This helped me strategically avoid culturing various molds and other science experiments.  I haven't been doing that lately.

Today, the chickens got a late lunch of 1/2 lb of silken tofu that had developed a yellow scum, 1/2 bunch of kale that had developed fuzzy spots, the remains of a homemade batch of ranch dressing, a charturese bunch of Italian parsley, and the rest of the froggiest dish I made last week: cannelini bean and cremini mushroom in a red wine sauce.

Now, I have a fridge full of fresh groceries, a week of meals planned, and a gorgeously cleaned and organized fridge.

Germ-Killer Spray 

This spray is simple to make, and it has the benefits of containing no carcinogenic or otherwise harmful chemicals like lysol and chlorine bleach do.  It has antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral properties, and it smells really good too!

2 cups water
1/4 teaspoon tea tree oil
1/4 teaspoon lavender oil

Mix ingredient in a spray bottle and shake well before using. Spray on inside of fridge or anywhere else you want to de-germify.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

I've come down with the Januaries...

I have a bad case of the Januaries.  If December is a rich, buttery, sugar cookie, smothered in buttercream frosting and glittery sprinkles, then January is a bowl of drab lentil soup.  Not any lentil soup, but the lentil soup I made tonight for dinner.  This soup was an unappetizing greyish yellow color, and even though it was studded with sweet, earthy carrot slices, the shock of those bright, orangey rounds couldn't buoy the soup's spirits. 
 Even though it was fairly tasty and satisfying, it was drab, January soup.

Perhaps I'm overly sensitive because even though my resolution to use up pantry items and freezer inventory is going well, there has been quite a depressing run of dull, drab, ugly, and bland food around here.  I do not think it's the food's fault either.  I seem to be lacking inspiration.  I'm choosing recipes based on healthiness and the ingredients I already have on hand, rather than jazzy, showy, and impressive dishes that have, oh say taste, because they're full of fat and sugar.

This week's meal plan was lacking in color, lacking in flavor, having textural problems, or just plain lackluster.  This recipes were the ho hum, worn out,  put on sweatpants and crawl under a blanket and don't come out until spring sort of dishes.  Here's the list of blah January food I've made lately that seems to mimic the gray, cold, days of January.

1. Seitan and Polenta Casserole

This recipe came from Alicia Silverstone's The Kind Diet.  It's a goregous book and makes excellent points about the benefits of a vegan diet, but so far the recipes--many of which lean toward a microbiotic slant--have been lackluster.  In this casserole, you layer a mixture of polenta and mashed cauliflower over a bed of sliced seitan, frozen peas and frozen corn.  These are all ingredients that I like --the only thing that wasn't from the panty/freezer was the fresh cauliflower--but together all of these ingredients were incredible blah.  I dutifully chipped away at the leftovers, making them palatable only by large doses of ketchup and barbecue sauce.

2. Bean & Farro Stew
This recipe again seemed like a good idea, it seemed like the sort of dish that a Tuscan grandmother would make on a cold day.  The cabbage and potatoes and beans and farro were indeed hearty, nearly gut-busting hardy, which was surprising for a recipe that was vegan and low-fat.  This recipe came from 101 Cookbooks, and I felt betrayed by an old friend because I consistently find such great recipes there. However, just like the polenta casserole, even though I liked each ingredient on its own, the whole was not even close to the sum of its parts.  Even worse, with a full pound of beans and nearly a pound of farro, this would have fed a small (disappointed) army. It wasn't awful by any means, just blah.  I did foist a lot of the leftovers on my unsuspecting friends and neighbors, with the warning that as long as they added a good dose of sriacha or hot sauce to each bowl, it would be fine.

3. Multigrain Bread
I love baking bread, and over at Ruhlman.com, it is bread-making month.  Bread-baking, for me, is the quintessential winter homebody activity.  It's an excuse to turn on the oven and bask in the heat, it's an excuse not to leave the house, what with attending to the bread as it needs periodic attention every couple of hours, it makes the house smell great, and it's an activity that is best performed during a pajama day.  So on a whim, I made this multigrain loaf, reveling in how it called for 3 different kinds of flours, one of which was buckwheat, and I had all the ingredients in the pantry.  I even used all of my flax seed stash!  However, the recipe said this was not a typical heavy multigrain loaf, but boy oh boy, it was positively leaden.  The crust was delicious, and we've been dutifully eating toasted slices of the bread with butter and honey, but it just compounded the already dismal cooking that's been coming out of my kitchen lately.

4. Arabian Lentil Soup

This soup comes from Isa Chandra Moskowitz's new book Appetite for Reduction.  It's very similar to Melissa Clark's Red Lentil Soup, which is in heavy rotation around here, but by wrongly thinking change is good and even exciting, I tried this variation.  In this application, ground coriander is toasted along with the cumin, and the tomato paste is omitted.  Losing the tomato paste was a fatal error in this case.  Rather than a orangey, rosy glow, this soup looked like a bowl of congealed oatmeal.  Not only that but it suffered from the sweet yet tangy flavor the tomato paste gives.  Kent took one bite and grimaced.  "What's the matter?" I asked.  "Ugh.  I think it's the color getting to me," he said as he choked down the rest of his portion.  "But, it used up a bunch of things from the pantry," I claimed.  He looked at me with an expression of pity, openly showing his disdain for my recent kitchen ineptitude.  "You're going to be saying that a lot aren't you?"

So, here's to hoping that I can find better ways, more tasty and colorful ways to use up the pantry goods, otherwise it's going to be a very long winter indeed.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Generosity: Ham and Bean Soup

My theme for 2011 is simplicity.  I have the tendency to get overwhelmed by the things in my life, even the things that I love and enjoy like cooking and gardening.  I find myself grabbing and wanting and feeling like I never have enough.  This is why my pantry bulges with bag after bag of lentils, beans, rice, asafoetida  powder, nigella seeds, sumac, silver ear white fungus, fermented black bean paste, salt-packed anchovies, truffle oil (2 kinds), flake sea salt, pink salt, Kosher sea salt, non-iodized sea salt, coarse Kosher salt.  I have shelves of home-canned tomatoes, salsas, pickles, relishes, jams.  I am a food hoarder of the worst kind.  The gourmand/DIY food preserver hybrid. 

I suffer from muchness.

So, among my New Year's Resolutions this year, I have vowed to eat through my pantry and freezer before the new canning season arrives in about six months.

I hope that this makes me hunker down and enjoy--relish even--the things that are abundant in my life.  Conversely, it will make me cherish those things that I can't have all the time, year round, all the more.

My friends know that in addition to being a gourmand/DIY foodie hoarder, they also know that I can pretty resourceful--and that I save any food item that could be used by freezing it or turning it into something delicious, rather than giving up and sending it straight to the chickens or the compost.  Once, at my mother's house, I wouldn't let her throw away fresh broccoli stems because they could be used in egg foo young style vegetable pancakes if they were peeled and julienned.  She sort of just shock her head at me.  "Really?  You want to save that?"  But by the end, I won her over by the crispy, savory little vegetable pancakes.

Since my friend S. knows that I've a food-saver, she offered me the ham bone from our Easter celebration.  I jumped on the chance.  So this was one of the first things that I decided need my attention.  This ham bone was huge.  I trimmed enough ham off it to make a big batch of Hoppin' John for New Year's, and then, I used the bone to make a huge pot of Ham and Bean soup. (I've written about Ham and Bean soup before, and you'll find the recipe here.)

Ham and Bean soup is a close cousin to Turkey and Rice Soup in that it's a homey, dish made after a big celebration, which leaves lots of leftovers in danger of going to the compost pile.  My mother would make both when I was growing up, after Easter and Thanksgiving respectively, so that I've begun to associate these dishes with celebration and delight rather than miserly penny-pinching.

Ham and Bean soup is one of the heartiest, belly-warming soups I know.  The beans ground the soup and make it taste earthy, the ham--especially the marrow from the bone-- lends richness and smokiness.  In many Ham and Bean soups, the beans are left whole, but in my version, I puree the beans for a smooth, creamy texture without any dairy.  Although, this dish takes time, it's worth it, especially if you don't have to go to the grocery store to make it.

In the end, I was delighted by the soup, by the resourcefulness of it, and by S's. generosity that made it possible.  I was experiencing abundance, and I had to share it.  So, I delivered a big container of Ham and Bean soup to S., who in the midst of meeting a big deadline for her dissertation, needed something comforting that didn't require any cooking. I hope it helped.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Ringing in the New Year with a little Tongue

New Year's Eve has always been a problematic holiday for me.  Honestly, by the time I've made it through Thanksgiving, several rounds of Christmas parties, Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day celebrations, my digestive track is uttering a sigh of relief that the season of gluttony is almost over with New Year's. 

Don't get me wrong, I do love New Year's because I love the ideas of a new start, wiping the slate clean, and starting a new year with the right foot and the best intentions. Since I've been on an academic schedule my whole life, I've come to really appreciate the week between Christmas and New Year's as sort of a magical week to reflect upon the whole year.  I've made it a yearly ritual to read through all my journal entries of the year, the blog entries, and to write and reflect on what I've accomplished this year and what I hope for the next.  I also fess up to last year's resolutions triumphs and failures.

But, all this reflection still does not solve the problem of what to do on New Year's Eve, when frankly drinking too much (or eating too much) sounded awful.  This is not to say that we weren't a little bit tempted to ring in the new year at Revolver, devouring a multi-course dinner of exquisitely prepared local food paired with all the best wines.  However, last year when we were in Omaha, we had an extravagant tasting menu dinner with wine pairings at The Boiler Room, and I was so disgustingly full and tipsy after that, I went to bed at 10 pm.  Kent woke me up to get his kiss at the stroke of midnight.

As I read through everything I wrote in 2010, the theme of simplicity kept coming up again and again.  Last year, I made the resolution to not be such a perfectionist, and as a result, I was more productive in everything I did from cooking to writing.  At times, I was so productive I stretched myself thin and had too many pots on the metaphorical stove. So for 2011, I want to work on simplifying my entire life.  Simplicity in the kitchen is hard for me as much as I love cooking complicated 25 ingredient recipes.  But, at the same time, I 've realized that the effort isn't necessarily worth the output.  I overwhelm myself with too many complicated cooking projects and have a pantry stocked with 9 different kinds of rice and 5 different kinds of salt.  Another foodie resolution I have, is to eat through my freezer and pantry before the 2011 canning season begins. (So be prepared for some recipes using ingredients dredged up from storage in the coming weeks.)

From all this reflection, I figured out the perfect dish to make for New Year's Eve.  Pickled Cow's Tongue.  I've had a cow's tongue moldering away in my freezer for the past year.  (It was a Christmas present in fact.  When you're a foodie, with foodie friends, you tend to get some interesting presents, like offal and duck fat.) Ever since I tasted Chef Michael Bulkowski's Pickled Cow's Tongue at Revolver this fall (I've had it three times since), I've fallen hard for it.  In fact, I ate Pickled Cow's Tongue on the night of my 5 year wedding anniversary, and again the night we celebrated my new job at BGSU in the General Studies Writing department.  So, it seemed fitting to end the year with this landmark dish AND to honor my my resolution of cleaning out the freezer.
For the squeamish, the skin, and therefore the taste buds, are removed before eating.

Tongue is rich, but if prepared improperly can be tough, stringy, and grisly (such as some langua tacos I choked down in a sub-par Mexican restaurant).  Not so with Bulkowski's cow's tongue.  It was sliced thin, across the grain (not to mention well-trimmed), and literally was melt-in-your-mouth quality.  Served with a soft boiled egg, a bit of lemon juice-dressed arugula, and some roasted beets, this was a dish of delicately composed balance.  Hmm.  Sort of like the balance of simplicity I'm trying to strike in my life. No?  I was so enthralled by the dish, that when we ended up shutting the restaurant down that night, I introduced myself to the chefs (who by this time were sitting around the bar drinking beer), and they gave me a verbalized crash course in tongue cooking.

Here's what I came up with:

Pickled Cow's Tongue
Serves 8 as an appetizer or 4 as an entree

Feel free to change the accompaniments here. For instance, you could 86 the soft-boiled egg without major repercussions if you wanted a less rich dish, and even the beet for that matter if you really wanted to simplify. However, the arugula and lemon are key. The tongue is unctuous and rather fatty in such a way that the peppery arugula and lemon juice cut through it and balance the flavors nicely.  I also imagine that the pickled tongue would be amazing in a sandwich with a bit of arugula and mustard.  One final note, while this seems complicated because there are so many parts to it, each individual item is prepared simply and roasting the beets can be done ahead of time.
For the Pickling Brine:

1 beef tongue

3 cups water + water for cooking
1 cup cider vinegar
1 Tablespoon coarse Kosher salt (if using regular tablesalt increase the amount of salt slightly)
2 bay leaves
1/4 teaspoon black peppercorns, slightly crushed
1/4 teaspoon whole mustard seed, slightly crushed

For the Accompaniments:
1/2 to 3 tablespoons butter, divided
1 baguette, sliced
3 eggs
2 small beets, peeled
2 handfuls of arugula
juice of 1/2 a lemon

To prepare the tongue:
Place tongue in large stockpot and cover with water.  Simmer for 4 hours.  Watch that the tongue does not go to a hard boil, as it could be tough if boiled too hard.  Add more water as needed.  When the tongue is cooked, remove to cutting board and let cool until cook enough to handle.

Meanwhile, combine 3 cups water, vinegar, salt, bay leaves, peppercorns and mustard seeds in a pot and heat to a simmer.  Remove from heat.

Peel skin off of tongue.  Slice tongue crosswise into thin (1/4 inch thick) pieces. Trim any grisly parts around the edges.  Place tongue slices in a non-reactive container, pour brine over, cover, and refrigerate at least overnight or for up to one day.

To prepare the accompaniments:

 Wrap beets individually in aluminum foil and roast for about 30-45 minutes at 350 degrees.

Meanwhile, brush baguette slices with melted butter or olive oil and bake in oven with beets for about 10 to 15 minutes or until slightly crisp, turning once.

Prepare soft boiled eggs.  In a pot, cover eggs with water by at least one inch.  On medium heat, heat eggs until water just begins to simmer.  Meanwhile, prepare a bowl of ice water for eggs.  Once eggs come to a simmer, remove from heat and cover for EXACTLY 2 minutes.  Then, drain, and transfer eggs to ice water.  Wait a few minutes for them to cool, and then peel as normal.

Finally, remove tongue slices from brine.  Heat butter in skillet over medium heat.  Fry tongue slices in butter until brown, about 2 minutes each side.

Plate with accompaniments and squeeze arugula with lemon just before serving.