Monday, December 24, 2012

Feast!


Feast! is an annual fundraiser for a local soup kitchen sponsored by Brooklyn Reading Works, a monthly reading series organized by Louise Crawford at The Old Stone House in Park Slope, Bklyn.

We had a feast at Feast! Wine and cider, salami and cheese,
home-baked cookies, oranges and pistachios


Over the years I've gotten to read at Feast! which is always writing about food and this year I curated the event gathering a wonderful line-up of women sharing poems, essays, and songs.
Molly O'Neill, author, teacher and leader of the on-line food community Cook-n-scribble  cooknscribble.com  read from her book Mostly True: A Memoir of Family, Food and Baseball. 
Sara Kate Gillingham-Ryan, founding editor of the wildly popular blog The Kitchn thekitchn.com read among other things an amazingly evocative section from Little House on the Prairie about making fresh churned butter.
Chef Rossi of The Raging Skillet theragingskillet.com read a riotous segment from an as yet unpublished (but should be!) memoir called The Devil and Mrs. Goldstein about the Passover seders her family shared as they traveled around the country in an RV (easier to kosher than a house kitchen!)
* Pioneering restauranteur, author and teacher Zarela Martinez zarela.com shared segments from an unpublished memoir, and thrilled us with a Spanish>English translation of a popular Mexican children's poem depicting a Mexican Candyland
* Lyricist Sarah Safford serenaded on her fluke (a baritone ukulele) sharing original songs- many written for communaltable events www.communaltable.blogspot.com  During her last song she was accompanied by fiddler Rebecca Aidlen of the Angel Jam Band and singer Mara Goodman, who sang an old Yiddish folk-song about oranges and pistachios.
Me. My work tries to capture how food gets woven into everyday life. Here's one of the poems I read:

Where is my mother
in all that clutter
inside her brain?
Is she fretting about the child
she sees reflected
in her mirror on the wall
who is standing on a ledge
on the building across the street?
Has she bumped into
a conversation from1940
she sees fit to convey
but cannot grab hold of
before another thought
bumps her to another thought
and then another?
Last week she would not
look me in the eye,
so busy was she
drifting.
Her caretaker humors, hums, shrugs, 
her husband reads the paper.
Days are long when there is no landing
or maybe they are short.
“Mama,” I whisper,
“I’ve brought lunch
and homemade pickles“
and I wave the garlicky gherkin
as if it were a wand undoing a spell.
It’s scent calls my mother home.

It is a puzzle what to cook;
the distance from plate to mouth
grows each visit.
What is forkable,
nestles well in a spoon,
is graspable with uncontrollable tremors?
I cook what she can lift,
then pierce the pieces on her plate
and hand her the fork,
and now sometimes
she lets me skip that step
and guide the fork directly.
It reminds me of feeding my babies.
How with manic efficiency
I shoveled towering forkfuls
into tender mouths,
or earlier, tapped impatiently
through languorous tibbling.
An earlier memory still;
I am in my father’s lap,
his knee-tapping turns horseback riding game,
his voice hums Bonanza. 

Sitting in morning meditation
my mind in constant motion
flits about seeking stillness,
dances and prances
bumping into unexpected thoughts.
All I need do is open my eyes
and I am here. Here now
I reach across the table
and wipe my mother’s mouth.
Who is this woman
who lets me feed her
but will not look me in the eye
or find words to greet me
and say my name?
I fork a radish to her mouth,
pink, and tender from grilling,
peppery and sweet,
and she opens her eyes and looks at me.
Delicious’” she says
as if picking-up a thread,
“my mother used to make these.”

So here we are:
lost and found,
pushing against             
hallucinations,
narcotics,
palsy.
I want to run
from this despair,
from this stranger woman
and then as if to curb my thoughts
and remind me she’s still my mother,
my mother orients herself 
and finds a beacon
and sometimes it is me
who has brought the light
on a plate of lunch.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

on the aftermath and comfort food



where the boardwalk was and is no longer

where the boardwalk is and should not be










a week of losses (Sandy). and wins (Obama). a million feelings surging like the sea. my sister's pictures washed away*. just things. the memories remain. efforts at relief alleviate but the rancor of poverty and racism insidious as mold taints our battered city.
100's of sandwiches 


the sanctuary fosters a new kind of prayer
made by 100's of hands
in the Ballroom at Temple Beth Elohim 
meanwhile we cast our votes 
then gathered with covered dishes to wait out the storm.
by chance, all the food, 
so comforting, 
was colorless.

mushroom risotto,  lentils, cauliflower and noodle casserole,
potato and turnip gratin. there were pies too- all the same golden
hue- pumpkin, quiche lorraine, almond and apricot tart 

election day cake
http://www.sallypasleyvargas.com/2012/11/election-day-cake-dont-forget-to-vote.html
* my sister's house in the rockaways was inundated with 4+' of sea water. papers, photos, books and more were lost. at present the house is uninhabitable because of mold and damaged windows and doors, etc. my niece who has been living there is "homeless" though she is safely ensconced with friends and work on house repair has begun. to date, three weeks later, there still is no power on the peninsula. i've continued working at the "emergency kitchen" at the temple... we're putting out 600+ sandwiches and 250 hot meals each day. Obama is still the president! phew.






Monday, October 29, 2012

Jammin'

A CommunalTable Sunday afternoon of
 Jam making...

Jam maker and author Elizabeth Field helped guests
make jam using a recipe
from her  recent book Marmalade.*
                                                                 





 Orange and Pomegranate Marmalade boiling                                     
                     



                  
Jammy treats...
On the menu: thumbprint cookies, pb&j, guava paste and cream cheese,
tomato jam with goat cheese and crackers,
Nueske's** applewood ham on biscuits with green pepper jelly.
cheddar and chutney, and Blue Sky Bakery*** mini-muffins with apple butter

hosts Don C. and Catherine A. getting cocktails ready:
Tequila Jams on the Rocks made with blackberry shrub,
 lime and spiced simple syrup... served in jelly jars


Jammin'
members of the Angle Band Jam along with jammers Samuel Levine and Lucio Westmorland.
Artist Emma Tapley used band members as live models for some afternoon figure drawing,

while folks inside the house sketched still lives including
 oranges and pomegranates from the jam!

** Nueske's http://www.nueskes.com/ Nueske's NE regional rep. Terri Sweetbaum kindly donated ham to CommunalTable and we were excited to share this Wisconsin company's delicious goods!
*** Blue Sky Bakery http://cheapassfood.com/eats/show/311-blue-sky-bakery  Baker's Eric and Jorge brought some muffins with them to add to all the other treats! 
**** and special thanks to Annabel Willis for snapping these pictures! 


Sunday, October 7, 2012

the medium's the message


  October pst wherein I report on the meal I made for the poetrysciencetalk: 
poet Gerd Stern with Huey P. Newton
Beat-poet multi-media artist Gerd Stern showed three videos shot in 1973. Gerd has a crateful of tapes made using the early Portapack; a portable video recorder that opened the floodgate to mobile documentation and on the spot video art (legend has it that Gerd went shopping with Nam Jun Paik on Canal St. on the very first day the portapacks went on sale!) At this months’ pst he was celebrating having a few of these tapes digitized (a costly and painstaking process of actually ‘baking’ the sticky oxide layers of old tape so that they can be unraveled and reprocessed. This is being undertaken at ZKM, the Center for Art and Media at Karlsruhe, Germany, in their Laboratory for the Restoration of Antique Video. They’re doing this work in exchange for copies of these historical tapes for their archives.) 

Gerd showed three tapes of conversations with now deceased friends: media theorist Marshal McLuhan, activist and Black Panther co-founder Huey P. Newton, and anthropologist Edward T. Hall.   Wow! McLuhan was visionary in describing what we now experience living in the World Wide Web, and Newton was vibrantly eloquent, as vital today as then. It's a given our life experience is mediated, what is still a struggle though is by whom and how these experiences are distributed and controlled, and this is what Newton was talking about in the tape Gerd made.

Over the years I’ve had a share of fantasies about making food videos, imagining real time visuals with alluring background banter, but despite increasing demand for food writers to diversify from print (hence blogging, you-tubes, radio) I’ve resisted adding to the plethora of skewed cookie-cutter food-network knock-offs.  Alas, put a camera in my hands and I freeze. This is not because of a Luddite soul, or because watching, as opposed to engaging in real-time live-action can be painfully tedious. It is because videography, like any other creative venture takes skill and practice and the expectation that you can pick up a camera and be good to go seems pure arrogance.

video


Still, in celebration of Gerd’s presentation I decided a bit of videoed real-time cooking uploaded to you-tube and shared on my iphone would be a welcome ingredient in the evening’s menu. 

buffet offering: iphone you-tube on a plate

Using recipes inspired from Moosewood and channeling memories of meals at Food 
                     I served a vegetarian mushroom barley soup. 
A foraging friend found this amazing chicken mushroom in Prospect Park,
which I carefully washed, picking off dry leaves and blades of grass
the fungi had grown around.  Sauteed in high heat with butter
and a fair dousing of booze, it was added to the soup.


Also whole grain breads with runny cheese (I served Ribiola Bosina, a mixed milk cheese in place of Brie, which was just becoming popular at the time Gerd's videos were made) and a salad of shredded Romaine, kale (probably should've used red cabbage... did anyone eat kale back in the 70's?) and sprouts with tahini dressing, followed by apple crisp with whole grain crumble and vanilla ice cream.


No one really looked at my video…  it was enough the iphone was there... the medium became the message.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Summer Squash with Whipped Brown Butter


In August I headed to Tybee Island, Georgia with my son Sam and his girlfriend Annabel's family. We stayed in a house on the salt-marsh that faced the sunset. Egrets and pelicans flew by. I shared a room with Sam, who tip-toed in from Annabel's room at dawn- a charade in honor of A'bel's father (ha! James are you reading this?) I was a bit on edge as if I were meeting the in-laws (except we're talking high-school sweethearts.)     

The day we flew down I chipped a tooth on a frozen salted caramel and first thing I had to do was find a local dentist and then we planned was to rent bikes and ashamed as I am to admit, I don't know how to ride a bike and so I was stressing, feeling like a high maintenance ninny.

         Wa la! I rented a trike!

Tybee is beautiful with radical tide shifts. At low tide you could walk a mile into the sea. It was shell-less, and there were sink holes and tidal pools, some deep enough to swim. Tiny sea worms burrowed leaving patterns in the sand. I lucked out and found one perfect sand dollar-- a reward for braving the eerie emptiness.  


One day we wandered around Savannah, which is around a half hour from the island and had lunch at Mrs. Wilkes’ Boarding House  http://mrswilkes.com/history.html  Mrs. Wilkes passed away at 95 in 2002, but she ran the place for 55 years. Famous for her fried chicken and biscuits with cane syrup, what I fell in love with was a slow cooked mashed summer squash. Many of her recipes are on-line, but not the squash. I think the key is butter. 

squash is in the foreground- there was also creamed corn, mac-n-cheese,
mashed potatoes, rice, stewed turnips, braised greens, and butter beans, to name a few!

Slow-cooked Summer Squash with Whipped Brown Butter
Trim stem and root ends from half a dozen yellow summer squash then roughly chop and put in a saucepan with a tablespoon of water and a pinch of salt. Cover and cook over a low flame, stirring now and again to prevent scorching, until the squash is mashable tender. Take off the lid and continue cooking to evaporate the squash water and to intensify the flavor. Stir in a spoon or two of whipped brown butter and salt and pepper, mashing as you stir.  

Whipped Brown Butter
Simmer 2 sticks of unsalted butter in a small saucepan over low heat until butter turns the color of weak coffee. It’ll take a long time- 30-40 minutes. Keep an eye on it because it can burn.  What’s happening is the milk solids are caramelizing and imparting a nutty sweetness to the butter. Spoon off any white foam from the surface. Pour into a container and chill till it reaches room temperature.
With a mixer, whip one stick of plain butter, then add the chilled brown butter. Whip until aerated and fluffy.  This can stay covered in the refrigerator for several weeks. Use by the spoonful to flavor vegetables. 

Monday, September 17, 2012


    
     After all the sorting it turned out both sons would be away for the better part of summer and I'd get a trial-run of empty nest. On a spur I perused artist colonies (not only would I like to be a participant but I've harbored a dream that when my children were grown I'd find employment being an artist's retreat chef, nomadically following warm weather!) Alas- I was way past the various application deadlines. Instead, on a lark, I signed-up for a 10 day silent retreat at the Vipassana Meditation Center in Shelburne, Mass. http://www.dhamma.org/
    Several people I know had done this, including my sister who told a story of smuggling napkins from the dining room and finding a pencil stub on the bottom of her purse to write illicit poems with the shades drawn in her room. (There is no reading, writing, music, talking, exercise allowed; only eight hours a day of meditation broken up with meager meals and pre-recorded dharma talks.) 
    Let me tell you: it was really hard, and fascinating and uncomfortable and tremendously empowering. The silence was easy, silencing the "monkey mind*" was not. First off sitting that long is difficult (this is why the ancients invented yoga- to prepare the body to be able to sit.) By the second day I pleaded for chair dispensation and despite pillows propping every bodily curve by the third day my hemorrhoids were trumpeting "get off your arse, get off your arse!"
    And it was shocking where and with what speed the mind travels despite the most concentrated efforts to still it. Unexpectedly I remembered so many people and moments I was filled with a magnificent and rooting sense of history. I had many creative thoughts and just as many undermining ones. Sitting so long, feeling every breath, moving my focus back and forth from the top of my head to the tip of my toes I  became able to discern patterns of thought and to welcome both good and troubling thoughts and to take neither seriously. For short moments I was able to appreciate rather than judge. For even a few spare fleeting moments I was able to not think at all and only feel. 
     Small stones along the short paths through the property's woods became my illicit poetry. I pocketed dozens squirreling them to my room, then built and collapsed and rebuilt towers marking each day of meditation, and each day of not drinking wine achieved (this being a part of my agenda for going- to clean house so to speak.) 
     Meals were simple, bland, starchy vegetarian fare. Oatmeal and toast for breakfast, then for the other meal: brown rice or quinoa with steamed vegetables (or horrible canned tomatoey mushes with too much cumin in them.) Towards evening there was tea and fruit. So longing was I for the kitchen (my real life) that I'd string out the tea break peeling my orange with one long spiraled cut, and then supreming perfectly pithless segments into a bowl. 
     I thought I might never eat another bowl of brown rice ever again, but just the other day I got a hankering. What makes the dish is miso enhanced tahini and spicy mixed Indian pickle liberally spooned atop. I know this is a mash-up of Middle-Eastern and Asian flavors, but I think it works. 

Tahini Sauce:
Mix 1/2 c. tahini (ground sesame paste) with 1/2 c. water. 
Stir till smooth and blended. (Add a bit more water if its too thick- or a spoon of yogurt or buttermilk)
Add: 1 T freshly squeezed lemon juice 
a dash or two of soy sauce
1 - 2 T miso (fermented soy paste)

Spoon a few spoonfuls of sauce over cooked brown rice, (or other foods: salad, cooked vegetables...) then top with Indian pickle (which I buy from Patel Brothers in Jackson Hts.) At the Vipassana center I also dusted the bowl with toasted ground flax seeds.

Leftover sauce keeps well in the fridge.    

* Monkey-mind is a term used in Buddhist and Daoist writings to refer to the wandering mind. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mind_monkey   

Monday, September 10, 2012

       Somehow always before
    getting down to work
         a bout of housecleaning comes first. 
          A sweep-out of ash from round the hearth. 
           If I catch-up might I keep up?

        



I started this blog stoked, inspired after an online food writers blog writing class with Molly O'Neill from www.cooknscribble.com  (totally recommend these classes, also joining this online community!) Meant to add monthly posts with religious fervor, then half dozen poetrysciencetalks came and went unremarked, and another half dozen other things. Next pst is next week, the 12th season opener with the theme of "no-thing." A chance I suppose to just be, so hmmm, what food represents that?
Water?

Since last posting:

Got to teach Food is Art at Parsons School of Design, a survey class for art students encouraging them to view food as expressive culture. Took me a year to write the syllabus and another year to peddle it.  An email query sent off with a prayer to an acquaintance who passed it on to someone else, like casting a line to the sea. Finally there was a nibble, then a churlish wait to see if I could pull in enough students. It was my dream job come true. I was terrified. Waiting for class to start that first day I calmed myself sipping steaming Miso then hauled a shopping cart of pot-n-pans and hot plates and vegetables across Union Sq. and into the classroom. Boom, there I stood, blathering introductions. The students learned and mostly I learned and we had good fun. Highlights included a DIY extravaganza (relating the artisanal "foodie" movement to various avant garde movements past.) We flipped pizza dough, made ginger syrup, gnocchi, sauerkraut, and pictorial sushi rolls. We had a 'food belief systems' PechaKucha (and contextualized these beliefs with their historical and cultural counterparts.) There was a series of guest lectures including Tatfoo Tan, Fabio Parasecoli, Victoria Yee Howe from Kreemart, and Mihir Desai from foodTEXT(at)foodTEXT.org, and each class culminated in a themed student cooked feast.
Myopically visioned as I am my iphone snaps were of the food rather then student's artwork, but there were among their projects some wry videos (one went viral  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RCBa2H9J4r0 ) and an engaging series of photos of shockingly repulsive looking monochromatic platters of food.  

During the semester break I took a trip to Michoacan, Mexico to see the winter home of the Monarch butterflies  (a tour run by Jackie Detloff from Conocer in Milwaukee, WI  www.conocer3.com/schedule.shtml)

Quite fantastic hiking a steep path through Oyamel fir. When sunshine bursts through the clouds millions of golden butterflies blot the sky creating a symphony of wind with their flapping wings. An awesome spectacle, but what really caught my eye were the markets, colors and smells in the small towns we visited. 

                     

 A particular highlight was visiting La Pacanda, a small island in Lake Patzcuaro. For centuries the indigenous  Purepecha were fishermen but the lake has become polluted and overrun with algae and they are struggling to adapt. One thing they've done to bring money to their island was to convert an abandoned Spanish garrison into a really comfortable ecolodge with a small restaurant and I had the opportunity to wake up at sunrise and "help" make the days tortillas.

The nixtamalized corn had already been ground at the town mill but we ground the masa finer with a heavy metate (mortar and pestle) then hand shaped the tortillas and cooked them on a wood fueled comal. Mine were thick and misshapen, the sticky dough near impossible to clap into shape. The cooks suffered my zealous enthusiasm with great equanimity!  



Another pleasure: in the town of Zinapecuaro we were hosted by an extended family and I had the honor to be invited into the matriarch, Terre Caballero's cocina for a salsa making lesson.   

Terre's Tomatillo Salsa* (yield: 2+ c.)
1# tomatillos
1/2 medium white onion
1 - 2 seeded jalepenos (how much heat do you want?)
hefty handful cilanto- stems and all
1 t. salt
juice from 1 - 2 limes

husk and core tomatillos. throw everything in a cuisenart or blender. done.  
* this is a raw salsa- resulting in a stunning sharp green pungent delight. It doesn't last more than a few days in a jar in the fridge. You can use any leftovers to cook with. Sautéed chicken or fish are great with it, or use it up by stirring into some guacamole.