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Posts Tagged ‘writing about food’

My first and probably last food fight was a snowy Thanksgiving in Missoula, Montana. I was in my 20’s, and since my family lived half way across the country, due East, I formed community with other Montana transplants.

There was Bev from Ohio, K.D. from Los Angeles, Mary from Pennsylvania, Gail from Minnesota, Leslie from Iowa, Lynne from Idaho, to name only a few. Many of us came to Montana via college, the University of Montana, and loved it so much we decided to stay. Others followed friends out West. I had always dreamed of living in the West. One day I just did it; I picked up and moved.

The food fight was after a Thanksgiving feast:  big old Butterball turkey, smashed potatoes with skins, homemade gravy and biscuits, cranberries, cornbread stuffing, and pumpkin pies. Back then we all drank, so there was lots of alcohol around. I don’t drink much anymore, a glass of wine on occasion. But then it was different. I would return years later for a reunion of these same friends, and many had gone into recovery. It was good to visit with them sober and clean.

There were a few native Montanans in our group, friends who knew the lay of the land. Some grew up in eastern Montana, Billings, some in the western areas of Great Falls, Missoula, Bozeman, and Helena. I would end up visiting these places over the course of the time I lived there, skiing the valleys, hiking the mountains. I lived in a two-story yellow house on Orange Street near the tracks, when there were no strip malls on Reserve Street, just a series of grassy fields.

The food fight was a culmination of hours of planning, cooking, talking, eating, and playing live music. At the time, we had a drum set, McCartney-style bass, keyboard, and a whole array of random percussion instruments in a basket in the corner. We usually played music together on the Holidays, anything from Joni Mitchell to Neil Young to lots of bluegrass — it was Montana in the 70’s.

That Thanksgiving I ended up with mashed potatoes in my hair. Bev threw a biscuit that landed in a ladle of gravy and splashed up on to our shirts. There were cranberry stains on the table cloth that never came out. I remember those days in Montana as good times, even though we all had our problems. We acted, well, we acted like we had not lived as much life as we have lived now.

Food is a metaphor for substance, nutrition, community, family, and friendship. Food is used to show love and nurturing. Food is mother’s milk. Food is not to be wasted. But it’s not good to take oneself too seriously. A good food fight once in a while never hurt anyone. Still, in some places, food can be scarce.

I have often thought of working in community service over the Holidays, something like a soup kitchen or a food bank. I’ve never done it. But I’m keenly aware this time of year that there are people in this country who don’t have enough to eat. They can’t afford it. You don’t have to go to other parts of the world to see how people without enough money to afford food struggle to make ends meet. How people sometimes have to make choices between healthcare and food.

I know a woman, a single parent, who has five children, temps for work in a corporate office, and has no health insurance. It’s available to her through her temp agency, but by the time she purchases it for herself and her five kids, she doesn’t have a paycheck left. She told me she’s one of those people who falls between the cracks. She works hard but makes too much money to apply for additional support for health insurance.

When faced with hard choices, she chooses nutrition for her family. I guess that’s a different kind of fight — the fight for everyone in this country to have healthcare and plenty of food.


-posted on red Ravine, Saturday, December 20th, 2008

-related to Topic post:  WRITING TOPIC – COOKING FIASCOS

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…would have to be yesterday. Trader Joe’s frozen biscuits. I’m always looking for new ideas on what to make in the mornings, fast, that Dee especially can eat for breakfast. She usually has no more than ten minutes (at least for Em, I can scramble an egg and make toast).

I found these biscuits, six frozen cubes in a box. They look like raw clay or some sort of construction spackle. Directions say, Heat oven to 400°F, place the squares in the middle of a lightly buttered baking sheet, place sheet in the center of the oven for ten minutes, and wa-la, fresh hot biscuits.

I was in a hurry, didn’t let the oven heat fully. The biscuits after ten minutes had started to melt from the bottom up, but after 15 minutes they resembled molten cubes, the tops still half-preserved, like small buildings partially collapsed. They tasted OK but looked not at all like something a 13-year-old girl would find appetizing. I fed her slices of a Bartlett pear instead.

I don’t have many major cooking fiasco stories. My cooking errors add up in small immeasurable bits. They hardly make a sizable hill. I don’t like to cook generally, it’s more a chore than a pleasure, and when I get into a rhythm I’m not prone to making big mistakes.

I once heard someone say that if you never miss a plane, you’re spending too much time waiting in airports. I suppose if you never have a cooking fiasco, you’re spending too much time dabbling in the kitchen and not enough time creating feasts. I dabble, except for the occasional new recipe.

Recently I tried a garlic lemony coriander chicken recipe, from India, and it was lovely, a burst of flavor. Garlic breath for days. It wasn’t terribly hard, took about an hour, maybe two. I thought, I ought to do this more often, try new recipes, but when it’s 5:30 pm and Em is asking, What’s for dinner?, I don’t have the wherewithal (not to mention fresh cilantro) to make something different.

Jim’s been cooking since I got back from Vietnam. Tonight he made a roasted chicken. Seven nights without my even thinking about what’s for dinner, and I think, I ought to go away more often. He makes it seem easy, pulls something out of the freezer and wa-la, it’s 6ish and I hear his voice, Dinner’s ready.

But I know he’ll get tired. We all do. The rotation through a pretty dull repertoire—turkey cutlets, tacos (haven’t made those in a while), roasted chicken, buffalo burgers, spaghetti, pasta puttanesca, ribs. I mean, it’s not like they’re aren’t a good number of meals to choose from, but after 365 days even 20 choices seem small.

Nowadays the challenge is to try new things and plan ahead. Today on the exercise bike at the gym I saw a recipe for shells, those jumbo type, with Italian sausage and spinach and cheese filling. I thought, I should make those. Mom always made stuffed shells, she had her repertoire too, some of which I’ve adopted, but I forgot about shells.

Kids’ll love ’em, the article said, and I did love them as a kid. Not a lot that can bomb with giant shell pasta, ricotta cheese, and sauce.

 

-related to Topic post: WRITING TOPIC – COOKING FIASCOS

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Mix-Up!, Minneapolis, Minnesota, December  2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Mix-Up!, Minneapolis, Minnesota, December  2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Mix-Up!, Minneapolis, Minnesota, December  2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



Have you ever had a cooking or baking fiasco? These Holiday Rocks may look perfectly normal, but peer a bit closer — they are blonder than the delicious Rocks that Mom makes. And the taste buds don’t lie! They were bitter and a LOT drier. We made the mistake of using year-old nuts from the freezer, whole wheat flour from last year’s Holiday baking, and (the icing on the cake) we grabbed the baking powder when we should have added baking soda.

What’s the difference between baking soda and baking powder? Baking soda is bicarbonate of soda (NaHCO3) which when combined with an acidic ingredient, such as vinegar or the lactic acid in buttermilk (the sour milk in traditional Rocks), releases carbon dioxide which forms into bubbles in the food. Baking powder contains baking soda along with cream of tartar and a starch. The mixture of baking soda and an acid in powdered form, combine in liquid to create the same reaction.

According to Kitchen Savvy, baking soda, combined with an equal measure of cornstarch and twice as much cream of tartar, can be used to replace baking powder. However, baking powder generally should not be substituted for baking soda since this will leave excess acidic compounds in the food which may affect flavor, texture and color. Whoops!


Did I mention our Rocks were also bitter? Part of the bitterness was from the baking powder. The other part was because the pecans had been in the freezer for a year and had gone a bit rancid. We threw the first batch of Rocks out (the squirrels loved them!) and took a trip to the store for new ingredients.

It wasn’t until the second batch that we discovered we had used the baking powder instead of the baking soda. Round two tasted alright (and we did eat them all) but they were dry and crumbly and the dates were chewy.

On top of all that, we tried to make Frito Pie over Thanksgiving and, guess what, the pinto beans never got soft. We soaked them overnight, then simmered them over 7 hours. When Liz mentioned it to her mom, she told us if beans are too old, they never get soft, no matter how much you cook them. Back to the store for fresh pintos!


Tis the season to spread a little Holiday food cheer and most people are cooking up a storm. We touched on cooking fiascos in the comments on one of our Thanksgiving posts. Care to share the times when your cooking or baking flopped, fell, melted, stiffened, or took a dive?

If you don’t have any culinary nightmares, when’s the last time you had a good food fight? (One of my favorites is from the movie Fried Green Tomatoes.)


Grab a line for a Writing Practice, then, 10 minutes, Go!


My first cooking fiasco…..

My first food fight….

The last time I bombed in the kitchen…


-posted on red Ravine, Wednesday, December 10th, 2008

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Sweet Cherry Blondies, Minneapolis, Minnesota, August 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Sweet (Flathead) Cherry Blondies, Minneapolis, Minnesota, August 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



Flathead cherries are in season! When I lived in Montana in my twenties, I spent one summer at the top of a ladder near Flathead Lake, handpicking cherries. It was hard, tedious work; I wasn’t that good at it. But the beauty of the Flathead Valley and spending time cherry picking with my friends made it all worthwhile.

Flathead Lake is the largest freshwater lake in the U.S. west of the Mississippi; it’s also the largest lake in the state of Montana and one of the cleanest and most pristine in the world. The lake is a product of the activity of ice-age glaciers, and is fed by the Swan and Flathead Rivers. The watershed contains a diverse community of plants and animals, including over 300 species of aquatic insects, 22 species of fish, the grizzly bear, bald eagle, bull trout, lynx, peregrine falcon, and grey wolf. The snowy Northwest mountain winters are perfect for the hibernation and growth of Flathead Cherries.

To our good fortune, Liz’s sister in Wyoming picked a batch of Flathead Cherries a few weeks ago and sent them along with her Mom to Minnesota. (Rumor has it she toted them on board in her carry-on.) We ate some of them one by one off the stem. But Liz was in the mood to bake. So she searched for a good recipe and landed on these Sweet Cherry Blondies from Northwest Cherries. We substituted the Flathead Cherries. The Blondies were to die for.



         Single Cherry On Cherry Pie, Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Cherry Pie, Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Single Cherry On Cherry Pie, Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Cherry Pie, Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



We ate the Blondies hot out of the oven while watching the Beijing Summer Olympics. They reminded me of a cross between a thick chocolate brownie and Mom’s Rocks. Hmmmm, good. Liz took them to work on Friday and, let’s just say, we’ve decided to make them a new family recipe.

Right now, Liz is baking Grama Hodne’s (Ex) Ginger Snaps. And we’re heading over to our friends for a fire under the August Full Moon. What better way to spend a perfect summer evening.

There are volumes of other recipes at the Northwest Cherries site, as well as tips on freezing, canning, and drying cherries, and information on growing seasons. And the same can be found at Flathead Lake Cherry Growers. Or if you are really adventurous, check out the 25th Annual Bear Hug Mountain Festival, September 12th – 14th on Flathead Lake near Rollins, Montana. In the meantime, enjoy the Blondies!



Sweet (Flathead) Cherry Blondies


1-1/3 cups flour
1-1/3 cups packed light brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup pitted and halved Northwest fresh sweet cherries (we used Flathead cherries)
1/2 cup chopped pecans

Yield: 16 servings.

Combine flour, brown sugar, baking powder, salt, oil, eggs and vanilla; mix on low speed of electric mixer until blended. Mix 1 minute on medium speed. Batter will be thick.

Spread half of batter in oiled and floured 9-inch baking pan. Toss cherries in small amount of flour. Scatter cherries over batter; spread remaining batter over cherries.

Sprinkle pecans over top. Bake at 325ºF 30 to 35 minutes or until wooden pick inserted near center comes out clean. Cool on rack and cut into 16 pieces.

Chocolate Chip Variation:
Sprinkle 1/2 cup chocolate chips over batter with pecans.



 Sweet Cherry Blondies Thief, Minneapolis, Minnesota, August 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Sweet Cherry Blondies Thief, Minneapolis, Minnesota, August 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Sweet Cherry Blondies Thief, Minneapolis, Minnesota, August 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



-posted on red Ravine, Saturday, August 16th, 2008

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Olives, I prefer the ones with pits. Not California, but the real ones, the ones that haven’t been sanitized for an American audience.

Olives, of the twisted-gnarly-tree variety, and I love olive trees, too, they can live to well over a thousand years. I saw the olive tree in the Garden of Gethsemane in Jerusalem, and who knows whose hands have touched that trunk. Trunk upon trunk, so thick, so multilayered, it recalls patterns. Rows of headstones, rings of water from a drop. A cumulus cloud tucked inside another inside another.

Mom is picky, Dad eats anything. Where did they get their sensibilities when it comes to food, and did I get mine from them?

Texture is my main care. Don’t like most shellfish, don’t like the thought of calamari. I like the taste, and I’ve had good calamari, good shrimp, but the thought of what I’m eating, tentacles, and that string of shrimp vein you have to take out before you cook it. That thought lodges in the back of my left lobe, and it’s as if it’s in my throat, that thought.

I used to hate steak, and even now I can’t look at my meat as I cut it. I can’t stare down a chicken wing, veins and corpuscles bother me.

My girls love chile, and I have to think that if you don’t make a big deal out of certain foods, kids won’t either. “Your girls eat chile?!” people tell me, and I don’t mean a spoonful, they love burritos smothered in red.

Olives. I love the color, olive green. I love the texture of an olive, how it’s like a meat, but the kind of meat I wish real meat could be.

Have you ever seen people who mix all their foods on their plates? I once saw a woman who wouldn’t let her mashed potatoes touch her salad greens. She was not into gravy.

Last night I ate a salad to die for, mixed greens tossed in a lemon-anchovy dressing, grated Parmesan and grilled asparagus on top.

Good food, food prepared well, is a blessing, a rainbow, a mist, sunlight after dark clouds, a primrose at evening. Good food, food prepared with a present mind, loving intention, none of it tastes bad, and I can put aside my food eccentricities for a well-cooked meal.

My favorite foods are strong, not bland. Thai anything, spicy tuna rolls, good red chile, pickled-with-vinegar. I wonder what my cravings say about my yin and yang. Surely one of them is out of whack.

 

-from Topic post, WRITING TOPIC – OLIVES

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I’m not a big fan of olives. The historical and biblical references to the olive are more engaging to me than the food itself. I don’t like stinky cheese either. And what about pickle juice? I don’t drink it. But it’s the secret ingredient in my potato salad. I make it the Southern way: lots of mayo (in my case Miracle Whip), celery, eggs, pickles, salt, pepper, oregano, sage, and whatever other spices I grab from the rack. And then, that ½ cup (give or take a little) of sweet pickle juice.

I’ve noticed that sweet is a basic theme in Southern cooking. At least the Southern cooking I grew up on. I had barbecue ribs from Missouri last weekend at a writing retreat. They were delicious. But the one thing I noticed is that they weren’t as sweet as the tangy-sweet sauce I find on the ribs when I go Down South. And in the South, pork is the other white meat. Pork barbecue is a staple.

I wonder what it is about sweet and the South? Why are the foods and drinks laced with sugar? I’m a sugar fan, even though it’s not supposed to be that good for you. When I am eating healthier, I don’t consume as much sugar. But I always allow for it in my diet, lest I feel deprived. The sugar in sweet pickle juice is what makes potato salad sing.

I don’t like the raw onions in German potato salad. Or the way the taste is dull and lifeless to the palate. I like a little zing. One writer last weekend said she used to eat raw onions, just like eating an apple. I can’t stand them. They give me indigestion. I do like them cooked in spaghetti sauce, or any kind of red sauce. I don’t like mushrooms. Too rubbery. Maybe it’s texture that drives food likes and dislikes.

Back to olives. I have strayed. I only remember them edging our plates at Holiday meals like Thanksgiving and Christmas. They were not staples of our diet growing up. At the Holidays there was always a relish tray filled with celery, sweet pickles, deviled eggs (which I love and have on occasion added a bit of pickle juice to the filling), sliced carrots, pickled beets, and radishes. The variety added color and spice to the family feast.

I wish I could say I ate a lot of vegetables but they seem seasonal to me. I crave vegetables in the Spring and Summer. Fall I like baked squash. Winters, I go for hot and heavy stews.

We had a discussion last weekend about peanut butter. It came later in the night (when the silence was lifted), after we had done a 10 minute morning write on Everything I Know About Peanut Butter. I think I was the one that threw the Writing Topic into the bowl. We all scribbled down Topics on ripped strips of paper, folded them, and dropped them into the bowl. At the end of the retreat, we were reminiscing about all the Topics we didn’t get to write about.

Peanut butter, I like the Skippy Super Crunch, Lowfat, with lots of chunks of nuts. Others preferred health food peanut butter or only smooth. I was amazed at the different tastes people had when it came to peanut butter varieties. We used to have peanut butter and banana and mayo sandwiches as kids. I liked them. But my younger brothers liked them more. It seems like a strange combination. But try it sometime. The vinegar in the mayo mixes just right with the sweetness of banana. And then the peanut butter glues the whole thing together.

I don’t like any of the foods on the strange list in this Topic. No fake banana. No prune juice. No black licorice. No SPAM. People are shocked when I say I don’t like guacamole. It seems like everyone likes guacamole. What’s so special about the meat of a dense, lime green, tasteless tropical fruit like the pear-shaped avocado, mashed up into a dip with raw onions? The texture and taste do not appeal to my sensibilities. I’m never going to get it.



-posted on red Ravine, Friday, May 23rd, 2008

-from Topic post, WRITING TOPIC – OLIVES

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Last night for dinner I made Pasta Puttanesca.  This is a basic Italian dish with not-so-basic ingredients: garlic, capers, gaetta olives, and anchovies. Yum.

What? Not yum? You don’t like anchovies? No capers? Olives? Not even OLIVES!?!

OK, some people don’t like olives. Or, if they like olives, they only like California pitted olives, the kind you can stick on each finger and eat off, one by one.

Olives are one of my favorite foods, after watermelon and white rice and Greek strained yogurt. Oh, and coffee. But if you don’t like olives, I understand. I don’t like shrimp. The texture is like rubber.





According to this blog, the “top five food items people almost unanimously hate” are:

  1. Black Licorice
  2. Anchovies
  3. Prune Juice
  4. Spam
  5. Anything Banana Flavored Except Bananas

Olives didn’t make the list, although anchovies did. If you’re among the “almost unanimous” food haters, you can make Pasta Puttanesca without the hairy little fish. But don’t leave out the olives.

Apparently, a lot of people like olives. Just ask the marketing folks at Swank Martini. Some people even use olive brine to make martinis. Which is a little like the adult version of what my kids do, which is drink pickle juice.





What about you? Do you like olives? Green or black?

Do you sometimes wonder what to do with pit after you eat an olive? Have you ever dropped one in a potted plant while at a cocktail party? (If you answered “yes” to that question, chances are you’ve stuck a piece of ABC gum under a chair at least once in your life.)

Write about olives. What memories do the bitter little fruits evoke? At family gatherings, was there always a stick of salami, olives, pickled cauliflower, stinky blue cheese, and Saltine crackers? (If so, are you my cousin?)

Pungent foods, and especially those that are also basic and symbolic, often create pungent memories. So if you don’t have much to say about olives, write about some other sharp, zesty food that you’ve eaten through the years. Write about jalapeños. Or write about your least favorite food.

In any case, you know the rules. Fifteen minutes, keep the pen moving, don’t cross out, don’t stop to think. Everything I know about olives…. Everything.




Olive, doodles and scribblings ©
2008 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.

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