Blood-curdling Scream

I’ve made a few men cry out in my day, but this was different.

This was a blood-curdling scream.

I ran upstairs to the bathroom, almost tripping over the cat running the other direction. I burst through the door not knowing what to expect. Whatever it was, it didn’t sound like anything a kiss and a batman bandaid would fix.

“Stay away,” he yelled, holding his pants in one hand and brandishing the plunger in the other. When I followed his horrified gaze to the bathtub, I could see what triggered his panic.

“It’s just cheese,” I tried to explain, but he was hyperventilating and past logical explanations.

I had been making cheese that day. Instead of using cloth bags, I used pantyhose. I tied them in pairs and threw them over a rod I installed over the bathtub to let the whey drip out. The cat liked lapping up whey at the bottom of the tub.

They did sort of look like balls.

There were about a dozen pairs.

When I went to grab one of the sacks to show him, he bolted, still holding his pants. I heard the door slam and his car start. I got to the window just in time to see him peal out of the dirt driveway from my farmhouse to the county road, leaving behind a cloud of dust.

He took my plunger.

The cat packed his bags and went on a road trip.

Yesterday, a recipe I was looking at listed cream cheese as an ingredient. I didn’t have any. “Well, then”, I thought, “I’ll just make some.” Homemade cream cheese is rich and smooth, not like those gummy bricks of Philadelphia Cream Cheese you buy in stores.

Hanging up my balls reminded me of the blood-curdling screamer, poor thing.

30-day Challenge. Day 21: The Fragrant Kitchen.

Kitchen

Forget the boardroom.
This is where the power is.
This kitchen
filled with clutter and spice,
swirling and dodging,
collecting our lives.

It is here that we make
Big Decisions,
where Peace is restored
Hunger solved
Souls replenished.
Here, we make mistakes,
red-button catastrophes and, then,
apologize and hold one another
hoping to be forgiven, to forgive,
never really knowing.

This kitchen, bright and rambling,
a world in itself,
secures us, like a bouquet of rosemary
swinging lightly from the eves,
the fragrance of
our ragged dreams
our mingled prayers
sustain us as we move beyond
the porch steps.

– Anne Kundtz

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Dessert Buffet

New Year’s dinner. I forgot to take photos, so these were taken by a friend. Dinner was the traditional turkey affair. (Yes, I finally got my turkey.) The photos are of the dessert buffet, which included five kinds of cookies, cranberry shortbread pie, candied orange peels dipped in chocolate, date-nut bread soaked in cognac, fresh figs stuffed with mascarpone and rose water and served on a rose petal, and Seckel pears served with tiny slices of Gorgonzola cheese. I made everything in one day, including a huge loaf of Challah. I love love love my commercial oven. NOW we can start our diets.

Image may contain: table, food and indoor
Image may contain: table, food and indoor

The Thanksgiving That Almost Wasn’t

I ordered the turkey a week in advance, even called once to verify pick up-time on Monday. They made me wait almost 30 minutes before telling me that the bird wasn’t there. (Mexicans hate admitting a screw up.) They finally said that they had sold my bird to someone else.

They sold my bird? How the hell did that happen?

Later that afternoon, the manager called to say they could get me another one “mañana.” I told him I had lived in Mexico long enough to know what the word mañana meant.

So I wrote my guests that we were having leg of lamb.

Take it or leave it.

The good news was my commercial oven would be delivered in time to cook Thanksgiving dinner. The oven was coming from Mexico City. The delivery guy told me to be home all day Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. I told him Thursday was out of the question and that I was not going to wait three days at home for a delivery.

He said he would send me an email identifying the day it would be delivered.

I received nothing.

On Tuesday I got a call that the delivery truck was five minutes from my house. I ran all the way home from the university, at one point leaping over a little old lady who was sitting on the sidewalk begging. I got home just as the truck pulled up.

The oven weighed a ton. The delivery guys wrestled it inside the door and turned to leave.

“Wait!” I said. “It needs to go in the other room.”

“Not our job,” replied the one of the delivery men, and they left.

At the last minute on Wednesday, I managed to get my workers to come and move the oven and hook up the gas.

Thanksgiving morning, I decided to start the day swinging under a nice hot shower. I lit incense and candles, put on a Chopin Nocturne, took off my clothes, stepped under the water —- and shrieked .

No hot water. I was out of propane. It was 9 am. Dinner was at 3 pm.

I was at the mercy of the gas company, the only organization in Mexico more tyrannical than a cartel.

It took them two hours to get here. After they left, I showered and did my hair in record time. Screw Chopin.

Then I tried to light the oven. A huge fireball whooshed over me. I rushed to the bedroom to assess the damage. The hair on the top of my head was white. I almost sobbed. However, when I looked closer, I saw that it was the hair product that the flames had turned white. Only a small piece of one eyebrow and a tiny patch of hair on my head was burned.

Unfortunately, it was my cowlick.

Cursing like a marine, I raced back to the shower, and did the hair and makeup thing again. Then I stuffed my hair into a baseball cap, held my breath, and tried lighting the oven once more.

It lit.

My guests would not be required to gnaw on a bloody leg of lamp.

I pulled off dinner, but it was the Thanksgiving that almost wasn’t. Gary took a photo of me slumped in my seat at the table, with my head propped up by my hand and my eyes rolled back.

And that was the best photo. Clearly feeling sorry for me, Gary sent me a photo from last year.

We are going to pretend that the photo is me this year.

Got it?

THANKSGIVING MENU

ASSORTED APPETIZERS

Goat cheese, olives, various pates, cornichons, crackers

MAIN COURSE

Mangos, Raspberries, and Blue Cheese on Arrugula

Roast Leg of Lamp a la Provencale

Hand-rolled saffron noodles

Truffles, Morels, and Oyster Mushroom Gravy

DESSERTS

Homemade ice cream flavored with rosewater

Cranberry Shortbread Tart

Southern Sweet Potato Pie with Praline Topping

Bread, Art, and a Poem

Painting I did while living in Thailand.  The best incense is a fragrant kitchen.  The best music is someone singing in the kitchen.  The best dance floor is always the kitchen. 

bake bread

The Kitchen

Forget the boardroom.
This is where the power is.
This kitchen
filled with clutter and spice,
swirling and dodging,
collecting our lives.

It is here that we make
Big Decisions,
where Peace is restored
Hunger solved
Souls replenished.
Here, we make mistakes,
red-button catastrophes and, then,
apologize and hold one another
hoping to be forgiven, to forgive,
never really knowing.

This kitchen, bright and rambling,
a world in itself,
secures us, like a bouquet of rosemary
swinging lightly from the eves,
the fragrance of
our ragged dreams
our mingled prayers
sustain us as we move beyond
the porch steps.

– Anne Kundtz

Salon Cut and Color or Cleaver and Boning Knives?


No cliffhanger here; we know which one I chose.  My hair is going to be a DIY affair.  I trimmed my bangs with the scissors of my Swiss Army knife.  and my hair color is from a box I bought at the Arab market.  No idea what is in it.  Probably something carcinogenic.

But I have my knives.

Knives are the most primitive of all tools, right up there with the semi-automatic and a tube of red lipstick.  Cooks will argue for hours about knives.  Here is my two cents.

I am not a knife snob.  I don´t have a huge knife collection and the brands don´t have to match.  I own two paring knives, two 6″ and 10″ German-style chef´s knives, two cleavers and a breat knife. My favorite small knife was made by a knife maker in Bali.  I could use it to chop down a bamboo forest and still slice tomatoes.

Instead of splurging at the salon, I bought a Wüsthof boning knife for $90, a fair price.  The blade is long and slender – perfect for working with meat.  A lot of brands have blades that are too wide, which makes boning difficult.  With boning knives, it is especially important that the blade is strong and flexible so it doesn´t snap.

Here´s where I become a knife heretic. most cooks put cleavers way down on the list.  Most own only one if they own one at all and they spend too much money on it.

The cleaver used most often is for chopping through bone.  In reality, it is a small axe.  It should be heavy and not expensive because it is going to get banged up.  Periodically, it will have to be ground on a wheel.  Sharpening it on a stone won´t work. The blade is too thick.

The other kind of cleaver is from Asia.  I have one and use it a lot.  It is not for chopping through bone as much as it is the Asian version of a chef´s knive.  However, the cutting skills for an Asian cleaver are different and must be learned.  Its blade is thin and the knife doesn´t weigh much.  The flat side of the blade is used for smashing garlic, ginger, peppercorns and other spices and for scooping up choped vegetables to cook in the wok.  This type of cleaver can be sharpened on a stone.

The third kind of cleaver – the one I just bought –  is halfway between the baby axe and the thin Chinese cleaver.  It has heft but a thinner blade.  It can also be sharpened on a stone.  This kind of cleaver is used for very specialized tasks, like chopping meat when you don´t want to grind it, for example when preparing steak tartar.  The knife I just bought is from the French manufacturers Déglon.  I paid $95, also a fair price.

So much for my rant on knives.  Time to sign off and head to my last class at Le Cordon Bleu.

PS: Next question: new dress or a 5o mm lens?

Four Heads of Lettuce for the Price of One and a Marriage Proposal

Sunday, I went to the Marché Bastille, where a lot of chefs shop.  This tray of mushrooms stopped me in my tracks.  I bought two.  The woman selling them wrapped them carefully, swaddling the tubers as if they were newborn babies.  That night, I cooked them gently in a white wine parsley reduction, finishing with a cognac flambé, then sliced and served them on toast points.

At the Bastille market, I came across the best cheese I have ever eaten in my life.  It was a gargonzola fresh from the farm. There was a small knot of Parisians clustered around a wheel of it looking at it like it was the baby Jesus.  I edged closer for a look. The stall had cut the top off of the wheel so you could see inside.  It was so creamy, the only thing holding it together was the rind.  I bought a thick slice, which the owner of the stall put on a styrofoam tray so it wouldn´t run over everything.

Two stalls down, I bought a crusty baguette.

On the way home, I went to the Arab market.  At the end of the day, the Arab merchants, who don´t want to lug produce back to storage, if indeed they have storage, drop prices precipitously and you can get some great deals.

I bought some crunchy pink and gold Gala apples to accompany the gargonzola.  I decided to make a salad, so I went to the stall that was selling all types of lettuce.

The stall owner, who was about my age, wanted to give me four heads of lettuce for the price of one.

“No thanks”, I said.  “I`m single.  I couldn´t eat that much lettuce before it went bad if all I did was eat lettuce morning, noon and night.”

“You are single?” he asked as he put the four heads in a sack and handed it to me.

“Yes”, I replied, taking two heads out of the sack and putting them back on the stand.

“Here, free gift for you”, he said, handing me a sack with four gigantic bunches of radishes.

“I´m single, not a rabbit”, I said putting two bunches back on the stand.

“My wife died.”

“I am so sorry.” Poor thing, that´s why he looked like he was going to seed.

“I am looking for new wife. Maybe you looking for husband. I see you before.  Always come end of market when prices low low low.” He slipped a couple of big lucious tomatoes into a bag and handed it to me.

“That´s me.  Looking for low prices, but not a husband.”

“I good man.  Do not drink.  Work hard. You think.  Maybe you change mind.”

“I´ll think, and you keep your prices low.  Deal?”

“OK Dokey”, he said.

Not an especially romantic proposal, but the tomatoes were excellent.

It was a Toss-up Between Lingerie and Truffles

Paris is the mecca for cooking stores, drawing chefs from all over the world.  I thought I´d just have a look and then make up my mind between clothing and cooking.

Right.

I was able to pass up the gorgeous copper pans at Dehillerin on rue Coquillière and the white porcelain at Simon on rue Montmartre.  A sign caught my eye. Bovina, just a few doors down, was having a sale.

I asked a irascible clerk if they had a scale and precision thermometer on sale.  He looked at me over his half spectacles like I had fallen out of a tree and hit every branch on the way down.

With an flick of his hand, he dismissed me to the section of the store where they were. I could not find them so I came back to ask him to show me.

Clearly irritated at being disturbed again, he gave that French sigh that involves puffing out one´s cheeks, stomped over to where they were located and waved his arms.  It was difficult to determine if he was pointing, or just demonstrating the approximate size of a racoon.

I paid for my purchases, made an extremely unsuitable comment and left.

Next stop was MORA, on Montmartre, for some proofing baskets.

Pastry chefs come from all over the world to visit MORA. Shopping at this store is like dying and going to heaven.

Proofing baskets, also called brotforms and bannetons, can be found in just about every shape and size–round, oval, or long. You line them with linen for a smooth texture on your bead, or dust them with flour and leave them unlined so the pattern of the basket imprints on the dough (like the image above).  I prefer unlined.  I purchased two round proofing baskets and a specialty cake pan, then high-tailed it out of there while I still had some will power.

The last stop was G Detou on rue Tiquetonne.

 

Detou is a play on the words “du tout” meaning they have everything. It is one of the best shops in Paris for specialty foods, a place capable of bringing tears to a cook´s eyes. I bought two precious jars of truffles and a jar of Chef Fonds Brun de Veau Lié.  About the size of a small can of coffee, it is a syrupy reduction of 70 gallons of veal stock that is simply to die for.

The lingerie will have to wait.

I am already starting to plan Christmas dinner.

 

Talking About Aprons at the Cordon Bleu

 

Students who study at Le Cordon Bleu receive an apron. (The word apron comes from the French word ‘naperon’, meaning a small tablecloth.)  However, the woman cooking beside me refused hers.  She explained to the chef that aprons were sexist symbols she wanted nothing to do with them.  Later, I asked her how she protected her clothes.  “I don´t,” she replied.  “I would rather let them get dirty and stained than wear a symbol of female repression.”

I can´t imagine having so many clothes that it doesn´t matter if I stain them.  In many parts of the world, people only have two or three changes of clothing: one or two for everyday, one for special occasions.  Aprons are the clothing of the frugal, worn to protect their clothing and to keep them clean.  In Mexico, it is not uncommon for women to wear their aprons to the market.

Aprons have very little to do with gender. The first apron was a loincloth.  Its purpose was to protect one´s nether regions.  In 19th century Europe, aprons distinguished the trades. Barbers wore checkered aprons, butchers wore stripes. Stonemasons wore white, cobblers black, butlers green, and textile workers blue.  Tradespeople like welders, chefs, artists, butchers and waitstaff still wear aprons today.

Aprons became a fashion statement among the wealthy in the 16th century.  A new type of apron appeared alongside the sturdy, plainer varieties.  The new style was made of more delicate fabrics and embellished with lace and ribbons.  The lacy aprons were served tea by hard-working plain aprons.

There are three types of aprons: the bib, the half and the pinafore.  Mexican aprons are bib or pinafores. Half aprons can be long or short.  Waiters typically where a half apron that goes down to their ankles.  The aprons of 1950`s housewives were much shorter.

Aprons are usually the first garment made by someone learning to sew.  My first apron was a blue-and-white flowered gingham.  It hung crookedly and one tie was longer than the other.  (I was eight.  I thought it was beautiful.)

I grew up in an era when aprons were iconic.  The people of my parent´s generation experienced the deprivation of the Great Depression, when mothers cooked in aprons made out of grain sacks, trying to stretch too little food to feed too many, and all too often watching their kids go hungry. For those who survived the horrors of World War II, to come back home and be reunited with one´s family seemed like paradise.  The apron was a symbol of a powerful yearning for domesticity.

It is a yearning I understand.

Aprons remind me of the fragrant kitchens in the Mennonite community where I grew up.  I collect aprons, and have a special fondness for the sexy little pocket aprons of the 50’s. When I travel, I pack a plain chef´s apron and a roll of knives.

Wherever I am, when I put on my apron and start cooking, I am home.  I travel through my senses.  Sometimes I study at a school like Le Cordon Bleu, but just as often I study with a local woman in her kichen.  When I come back to the States, I trick out my VW bug with pots and pans and kitchen tools and drive my kitchen on wheels to cook for friends.

As Bob Dylan wrote, “You gotta serve somebody.”