patty pans and puppy bellies

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These days, my life is about submitting,
and surviving,
and pushing through barriers I keep around my heart.

I dislike that I am so very stubborn at times.
I also have a thing with male authoritarian figures.

Maybe that’s why I work better under women chefs than men.
But let me digress, as I do.

Because my heart is feeling a little wild and raw today.

I am all over the place in my head, trying to figure out what is good and real, and what’s fleeting and exhausting. Wouldn’t we all love to know what is good for us now and also 20 years from now? Yeah. Same. I’m working it out, apparently.

As I digest this life, it is often sour and turns in my belly.
Then there are moments like yesterday, where I felt like a kid, wandering through rows of vegetables and scratching the bellies of tiny puppies with a cup of sweet tea at hand.

There was the sweat dripping off my face and onto my glasses. The bugs buzzing in my ears and the new community forming around my heart. I was a little overwhelmed, as I get from time to time in these sacred places.

Rows of tomatoes, branches hanging deep with em’ and some that were showing off a little earlier than their green branch mates.

Squash blossoms and pattypans.
Sweet onions and crunchy okra.

My heart swelled.
My new friend Dale said, “The way Josh sounds when he talks about cooking, is the same way I talk about eating..which means he really loves to do it…”

I stick my head down, because when people say things like that, it puts me on the spot and I smile and shake my head approvingly.
But I will never apologize for being shy, or quiet. I like being a gentle presence.

Yes, fortune favors the bold, but also the meek will inherit the Earth.

so they say.

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I am flustered.

From work being busy, and me being in the awkward position of not knowing where things are, but working damn hard at trying to be good at what I do. And that my apartment is missing something, and I can’t figure out what it is. I think maybe people. Maybe some more color. A different smell.

I am going in a million different directions, sometimes.

But yesterday, I walked down the rows of vegetables, smelling heads of broccoli and bending deep down for the perfect blossom. Flies and bees and white moths circling the heat and stench of a proper garden. Goats, horses, chickens, and cute baby things.

I scratched the belly of the puppy that was playing with my shoestrings, as I found it trying to dig through my groceries that were just pulled up from the ground.

I was also overwhelmed with everyone’s kindness and generosity and humor.
I am still so thankful when I get to receive in abundance.
Even when it’s just a brown bag full of squash, it is a little bit of heaven on Earth.

You see?

Every day, I glide through people like them rows of vegetables, not knowing of the battles they carry in their own hearts.
Should we have kids?
What’s wrong with me?
I am so tired of feeling lost.

I battle my own.

Why is it so hard to accept love back?
I don’t even know how I deserve this…
I hope I’m doing a good job.

I let them flow through me,
and I breathe in deeply.

Yes, I deserve the love that I give.

And I will remember to keep my plow to the Earth.
Breaking through the surface, to plant and nurture and grow.

And harvest,

reaping what I have sown,

giving thanks to the Great Mother who still holds me close,

and the Great Mystery that dwells inside of my heart.

 

 

root vegetable gratin (this is my life, now.)

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I really want a big hug.

One with not very many words, and that is warm and nourishing.

To avoid the risk of sounding too desperate, I will just say that what I need sometimes, is comfort in the form of food.
Not in the “I eat my feelings” type of way, but something beautiful and warm and satisfying.

At work this week, I ran back and forth in my head, trying to figure out a special that would showcase what’s available in this current season, or week, even. I’m thinking root vegetables or brussels sprouts. I was getting tired of lentils and polenta. Though they are two of my favorite starches, I fear I was beating them into the ground.

Everybody’s doin’ brussels sprouts right now. Fair enough. They are delicious and green and lovely. But I wanted something with more browns and yellows because I needed something to carry these pork cheeks I got in from our purveyor. Yes, lovely little medallions of pork cheek. Tough little muscles, when cooked slow and low in wine and mirepoix and herbs, create this luscious thing.

I love the word ‘gratin’. It makes me want to cuddle up in a blanket and watch a movie that’ll give me the warm and fuzzies. I guess maybe I’m odd in that kind of way.

When it hit me, there was no turning back.

So I got to work and immediately started peeling vegetables. Making vegetable stock, braising the pork cheeks. I checked a few recipes for gratin and got a general idea of what I needed to do. I mean, it’s one of the oldest things in the book. You’re not creating anything new, just continuing its story.

It was lovely.

Warm. Cozy. Browns and golds.

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So my friends, the weekend is upon us. I will be cooking for the likes of you, but you will be cooking for yourself, your families and probably friends. Try it. It makes good use of things that are in season, and are a lot more affordable than you think.

You’ll need:
An 8×12 baking dish. Or something close. Preferably glass, but metal is fine. And go ahead and preheat your oven to about 350.

2lb sweet potatoes, peeled, sliced 1/8inch thick
2lb butternut squash, peeled, sliced 1/8inch thick (you’ll just be using the neck, but save the fatter part for another meal.)
2lb rutabaga, peeled, sliced 1/8inch thick
1/2-3/4 cup vegetable or chicken stock
1/2 cup heavy cream
2-3 sprigs thyme
a little wedge of parmesan reggiano (for grating)
salt and pepper
4TB good butter

Do this:

Take a TB of butter and rub it in the pan, all around. Up the sides. Get it all lookin’ real nice.
If you have a mandolin (read:death machine) use it, but I just used my sharp knife and worked a bit quicker. Basically, you want all the vegetables peeled and sliced before you get all of this going.

The bottom layer, lay down a nice spread of butternut squash, overlapping so there is no gap. (It’s seriously okay if there is. Just for presentation sake, overlap and make it look as legit as you can.)
Add a bit of salt and pepper. A light sprinkle of both, I guess I should say.

Add a layer of rutabaga, following the same process as the squash. Salt, pepper.
Add a layer of sweet potato, and well, you know how it goes.

Keep going until you run out.

After all your vegetables are snug and lookin’ good, go ahead and dump in your veg/chicken stock. If it looks like you need more, go ahead and add more. You want enough to coat the bottom of the pan. After that, throw down your thyme on top, somewhat spread out. Lay down the remaining tablespoons of butter over the top layer. Add more if you want, yo.

Wrap tightly with foil and toss it in the oven for an hour or so. Take it out, stick a knife in and if there is no resistance, you are good to go.
This is when you add your heavy cream. Eye this as well. If you think you need more, add it. But a little bit does go a long way. Also, freshly grate some of that parmesan cheese all over the top. Be generous.

Toss it back in the oven with the foil off for another 30 minutes, or until it’s all bubbly and brown and golden on top.

As you can see from my picture, it isn’t like Martha Stewart’s, but it’s rustic, which is okay, right?

Anyways, I really enjoyed it. It’s satisfying and rich and simple.

I guess, at the end of the day, I recognize that this is my life. Making food for others and myself.

I realize that in its simplicity, it is what keeps me going.

And for that, I am thankful.

When it Tastes Good…

Food, Health

There’s this saying, “Eat what’s good, when it’s good.”

I like this. Especially as we’re entering into the best growing seasons. Spring to Summer and to Fall again, some of us are gettin’ a little antsy. Granted, we buy salad greens in the winter, but we know… we know…

There’s the overwhelming sense of goodness when eating in tune to a season. You can bet that in late Spring into Summer, those bright colors you see in the local grocery stores and markets are at the peak of their lifespan. That is, before hitting your tongue and nourishing your belly.

Asparagus. Artichokes. Fava beans and collards. Strawberries and rhubarb. Lovely greens and reds are peaking up above the soil. Pretty cool when food comes out of the ground. Somehow that helps me to figure out why this life makes sense sometimes. Some things…just work.

Also, what grows together goes together. (A quote, I think, attributed to Tom Colicchio.)
Strawberry and rhubarb is a perfect example of this.  Also a summer gratin or ratatouille using those gorgeous little summer squash.

Not to beat a dead horse, but this stuff is important! The seasons teach us so much. Like how tomatoes need pretty hot temperatures to be lovely and red and green and orange. And how wine grapes do best during those hot summers. The grapes become sweeter and so much more complex. It’s important to see what the sun and heat do to make things taste good.

And that’s what this is all about. Eat it when it tastes good. Eat a lot of it. You’ll probably get sick of it…but then again, you probably won’t touch the vegetable again until it’s in season. (Or if you can, you’ve already found your way around this.)

Our kitchen has been getting warm the past couple of weeks. The sun has been out and into the 80s and I already feel it in my bones. When roasts tend to lose against the cooler counterpart. Then again, maybe we’re supposed to eat lighter in the Summer.

So in a last ditch of encouragement…when it tastes good, eat it!

Let the sweetness of these fruits fill us up;

and then let the warm sun heat our skin;

because when it’s good, it’s so, so good.