Breaking Bread

5 Jan

I’ve been a communion-taker all my life. My first experiences consisted of my grandmother’s circa 1940ish double-oven contraption, rolling out heaps of thick-crusted loaves which would eventually become the next day’s communion bread. Her bread was the envy of altar boys and parishoners, alike. So much so, that the congregation was routinely warned (and reprimanded) for sneaking a few extras on the way back to their pews. Wine-soaked bread bits preceding the bread steals were placed in the mouths of young and old–no carding required. The only requirement? One must have met with the priest earlier that morning and “confess” one’s sins–even if one had to improvise. A small soul-payment for a little buzz and great bread.

Years later, I married a Presbyterian. Grape juice replaced wine; crackers for homemade bread. No required fess-up, though. Plus, the tiny juice cups were quite adorable.

Alas, even the juice cups couldn’t keep me there. I knew in my gut something big was missing.

After several more years of “church hopping,” we eventually came to rest at our current church home. Three years in and no looking outward. The communion feels meaningful. No required confessions. No judgements. Only one thing: Follow Christ

And a new offering for this New Year: In addition to the regular bread, which has recently become a bit undesirable, in that it tends to be rather dough-y, they’re now offering a crisp gluten-free choice. Imagine that! Evangelical-Progressives.

‘You Can’t Cut the Mustard!’

2 Jan

I was standing in front of the Asian/Thai product shelf, looking over some things to stock the pantry: coconut milk, sesame oil…things like that, when a slight, old Asian fellow (his wife just over his shoulder) approached the shelf and interjected his short arm upward toward it. He latched onto a small jar of Chinese Hot Mustard, discussed briefly with his wife about its merits (so it sounded, but wasn’t sure, since I don’t understand any other foreign languages aside from Arabic) and went on his way.

He was so assured, so intentional about his choice. So much so that I seriously considered obtaining a jar of my own. Except, I didn’t need it–at least I didn’t think so. Funny thing is, whenever I watch a foreigner latch on to a food product, I believe they are using the best product possible for their culture’s cusine preparation.

But, is that right to presume? I mean, did that Asian couple really know how to cook well? Could it be that their food product standards aren’t matched up to others of their own culture? In my own extended family, I have eaten–firsthand–many dishes made by various aunts and grandmothers, only to realize how varied they all were in both taste and ingredient choice. (Of course, Kaukab’s surpassed all of them.) Same culture, different cookery skills. So, I guess it shouldn’t be any different for the Asian couple, either.

In the end, I gathered up my *sesame oil and soy sauce and bid the Chinese mustard “farewell”.

*sesame oil is a great way to add a nutty flavor to sauces and dressings. I use it to make a citrusy salad dressing with lime, ginger paste, hot sauce, maple syrup, poppy seeds, dijon mustard, salt,and canola oil. Or, a marinade/cooking sauce for drumsticks, along with some soy, lime, brown sugar, garlic salt or paste, ginger paste and hot sauce.

Image

New Year, Old Burdens

1 Jan

New Year, Old Burdens

Leftovers 2013

Time Travels

9 Apr

Last time I wrote here, it was a different season. Cold and snowy.

I was cooking for the winter–soups and stews. Comfort food.

Now, a new season has begun to take hold. Garden time.

Time for asparagus and spring peas. Quince and quinoa.

No time looking back.

Spring has sprung.

30 Jan

What has happened to us? How did we get here? All this fuss about food. For what?

To guilt? To prod? To convince? To deny? To incite? To master? To prove? Disprove?

Or all the above?

Why is it that these food wars persist? Only in American culture do we feel the full brunt of food as an issue. Something to be discussed rather than enjoyed. Food for thought rather than for pleasure. Food to be managed, piece-mealed rather than eaten freely, without hesitation or concern.

Vegan, vegetarian, semi-vegetarian, raw, meat–take your pick.  Just shut up and eat.

Kaukab doesn’t want to hear it and neither do I.

In With the Old; Out With the New

2 Jan

 Time to bring back simple, uncomplicated cookery.

There is no good cause for balsamic reductions to adorn half the menu.

Palates need not be confused, overwhelmed, nor satiated with a confetti of flavor combinations just to make the menu appear sophisticated. No, contrived is not appealing. On this (and little else) Kaukab would concur.

Kaukab’s daughter appeals to restaurateurs, everywhere: Out with balsamic reductions; in with classic saucery. Out with dried fruits and candied nuts in half your salad choices; in with radishes and herbs. Out with bottled, faux sauces; in with simple, fresh ones made with minimal, real ingredients.

To conclude: keep it simple. Otherwise, this first-generation cook will have to stay home.

Leftovers: Feeding Friends

28 Dec

Day 3 post Christmas (Day 4, if you count Eve), and the leftovers are still doing their job.

Home from making lattes and teas, violin girl dropped by, along with a couple of hometown friends (one, back from college). Hungry and happy, they sat at the kitchen table, while Kaukab’s daughter pulled out various bowls from the fridge, along with some fresh mushrooms to saute.

While the leftovers heated themselves in the micro, mushrooms were sauteed in butter (of course) and hit with cracked black pepper and some sea salt, and finished off with a splash (or two) of sherry and some fresh thyme.

The leftover menu: pot roast with a couple of roasted potatoes, 1/4C mashed potatoes, 1C cranberry/apple compote, 8oz. sauteed mushrooms, several slices of ham. Split among the three, it was the perfect impromptu meal devised in some time.

Leftovers. Never underestimate ’em.

Christmas Past

26 Dec

Christmas was unseasonably mild this year. No snow. No wild wrapper paper flung about the room. Just three teens, lazily stepping downward from their rooms, in stepped-down order.

Perhaps, it was because they had been told–repeatedly–not to expect any presents under the tree this year. Asked if any stockings would be filled, the response was unclear, though intentionally.

This year marked a new Christmas tradition; which, unplanned, served to remind our family that no kid in America would truly die if they didn’t have gobfuls of presents to greet them on Christ’s birthday.

They were working teens, now (the last of the three had learned of his new job on Christmas morning) and they were happy to earn their own gifts. Of course, we couldn’t shirk on our parental obligations to surprise them with a little somethingin their stockings, and what kid ever refuses cold, hard cash?

Especially when a third of it makes its way from Cleveland–thanks, Kaukab!

This Christmas was the most relaxed and least costly one, yet. Kaukab’s daughter had been slowly stepping away from the idea of gift exchanges and “out-doing” games; instead, concentrating on nourishing relationships throughout the year. Sure, gift cards and cash are still given to those who have worked hard to instruct the kids, namely music teachers (since we homeschool, by default), but no more do I choose to buy into the notion that Christmas means impressing others with presents and festive, Pier1-decorated parties–cute as they are (I’m a sucker for tableware).

Yep, Christmas (and Christmas Eve) consisted of simplified menus and restorative gatherings. Rather than steaks and filet of last year, Christmas Eve dinner greeted us home from church with the smells of pot roast/vegetables, cooked perfectly with red wine and thyme sprigs to bring that holiday flavor to the dish.

Christmas morning gave us a lovely chocolate chip brioche (one I was going to use to make bread pudding–are you listening, Agnes?). After a quiet few hours, some went to the coffeehouse at which they work, for free drinks, while Kaukab’s daughter prepped for dinner. (Les Miserables was the Christmas movie of choice, afterwards, but there was food to be cooked, and a stomach upset, so no movie for her.)

Once again, perfect cookery timing. The potatoes just buttered and mashed, in came everyone, along with friends, one of whom (violin girl’s bandmate) stayed to eat with us. Simple food: spiral ham (courtesy of hubby’s work), roasted broccoli w/lemon, cranberry and apple chutney, and canned cresent rolls.

We have canned rolls twice, maybe, three times a year–holidays, generally. And, yet, they always seem to please. The bandmate couldn’t believe they were canned. And, she’s an appreciator of good eats. (Don’t bother to correct; it’s just my lame–some might say, “lazy”–attempt at being clever.)

Christmas night was topped off by our holiday tradition of popping in the modern classic, “A Christmas Story.” And even though there was no figgy pudding, Dickens would have been satisfied.

‘Tis the Season for Peace and Goodwill

And, if you’d like to take a listen to the classic-turned-bluegrass rendition of “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas,” you can turn to Youtube and watch December Alleys (violin girl and her bandmate) perform. Or, just go to the my sidebar blogroll and click on “December Alleys” link. (Make sure to click on “Videos,” once there.) Enjoy!

What’s All the Fuss?

19 Nov

Each year, we come to the time when all matters of true importance get placed on the back burner and only one topic is to consume us for an entire week.

The overriding question of questions is this: How to cook a turkey? Not just cook, but cook purrrfectly. Because, only in America, land of the obssessive-compulsive need to be the best, do we spend countless hours watching, talking, and listening to professional cooks lending their expertise with regards to roasting, turning, basting, stuffing, and bird carving, which is rarely thought of once November (and sometimes December) passes.

Surely, the original pilgrims didn’t partake in such mind-numbing quibble. They had more urgent matters to consider, like survival. Once the first year passed, those who remained understood the true meaning of Thanksgiving. Decisions to stuff or not to stuff; cover or uncover; low and slow or high then low just weren’t of issue.

This daughter of a more recent pilgrim had watched Kaukab get up quite early each Thanksgiving Day to prep the turkey and get it in the oven so that her little turkeys could have their Thanksgiving meal mid-day. This was so the family could finish up and digest in time to make the two-block drive to the cousins’ house, where other aunts and uncles, cousins and siblings could get together and brag, pick on, and generally compete for the most annoying relative  award, most frequently split between a certain aunt and uncle (brother-sister duo), the two clueless to their winnings.

But I digress.

As for turkeys, the morning news shows and various foodie networks would have us think that the most important matter of the week leading to the big day would be the cooking of the turkey. No other country (other than, perhaps, Canada) celebrates a turkey as much as we do. And for what good reason? To blow the minds of women.

No matter how much the world will tell us we can achieve, every Thanksgiving is a reminder of how little all that matters. The most important measure of a woman’s honor is how good her turkey is. Not only must it be moist and delicious, it must also be pretty. Tables must be made up to look extra special, even if no one special is coming to feast at it.

So, this Thanksgiving will be no different. Out will come the beautiful brown turkey with all the trimmings, and all will be impressed. You will have done your jobs, and done them well. You can rest on your turkey laurels for another full year.

Until the next one comes.

For now, try not to worry. It’s just a turkey. What could possibly go wrong?

Now go eat some pie and just be thankful.

A Bunch of Turkeys

12 Nov

Before I get started, would someone, please, provide me with the correct word to describe a group of turkeys, as I seem to recall that turkeys are not quite like bananas? Excuse me if I don’t wait, as I’ve got a much belated post to throw down.

As most of you know, we have come out of a rough year of electoral gobbling and the decision has been made. For roughly one-half, the decision was glorious; the other half, well, not so much.

Despite how you voted, one thing is clear. Well, maybe two.

The turkeys in Washington still haven’t gotten much done, and the price per pound for the turkeys at the market is only rising. It doesn’t seem that long ago when Kaukab’s daughter could find them for $.49 a pound. Now, the lowest found has hovered around the dollar and change mark. So, what to do? Buy a smaller turkey? Given that the number of family members remains the same, most likely not a good option.

Kaukab wasn’t much help. A phone call from her last week confirmed as much. Always out for a bargain, and never one to shy away from a critical analysis of  price points, the same question was posed. Her response? “No, Whada madda wit you? They no have turkey that cheap enty more! (Additional arabic slang tossed in.)  We moved on to politics. Oh, how Kaukab’s daughter preferred arabic slang.

Suffice to say that Kaukab won’t be showing up on any Sunday news programs, anytime soon. Not that it wouldn’t be entertaining. Just, cerebrally exhausting. Happily, she can’t vote, given her alien status. (Biting tongue right about now.)

So, what’s to be learned from this election cycle?

You may have to pay a bit more for your turkeys this year, but the price won’t be as high as what you’ll pay for the turkeys in Washington.

Happy Thanksgiving

%d bloggers like this: