Categories
Kitchen Garden

Seasoning During A Pandemic

Snow Tracks

It is a four day process to season the new carbon steel cookware.

Heating the pans in the oven for an hour, then letting them cool completely down before applying another coating is what takes time. I’m doing three seasoning applications in four batches during the initial go-around.

We bought a new set to replace our current non-stick-coating pans. If we take care of them, the new ones should serve for a long time.

Yesterday I discovered Radio Garden. It is software that projects a globe with green dots on our screens. Each dot is an internet radio station. There are thousands of them.

By bringing distant voices close, radio connects people and places. From its very beginning, radio signals have crossed borders. Radio makers and listeners have imagined both connecting with distant cultures, as well as re-connecting with people from ‘home’ from thousands of miles away.

Radio Garden is based in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Our dedicated team is hard at work tending to the garden on a daily basis. Planting seeds for the future and keeping the weeds at bay.

Radio Garden started out in 2016 as an exhibition project commissioned by the Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision in the context of the research project Transnational Radio Encounters. It was created, designed and developed by Studio Puckey & Moniker.

Radio Garden, http://www.radio.garden/

I spent an inordinate amount of time listening to radio stations. Current favorites are Radio AkuAku in Hanga Roa on Easter Island and Radio FJV FM in Gdansk, Poland. A main interest is using the Android application to convert my mobile device into a music source I can carry around with me when working in the kitchen garden. There is a lot to explore.

Bit by bit, whatever life I had before the pandemic is peeling away. I embrace the future and try to remember some of the past. It’s another day during a pandemic.

Categories
Kitchen Garden

Toward a Kitchen Garden

Garden viewed from the roof, May 18, 2019.

Forgetting to turn off the grow light before retiring to bed is a new bad habit. Seedlings need a daily rest from light, at least for 4-5 hours. I end up turning the light off around 3:30 a.m. when I return to my writing space for the day.

Learning to garden is a never ending process if one is any good at it.

This year the garden is in for big changes. The Aug. 10, 2020 derecho blew over the Locust tree and tilted one of the three Bur Oaks enough it should be taken down. I plan to cut two of the Bur Oaks to provide space for the remaining one to grow normally.

The derecho damaged a lot of fencing I use to discourage deer from jumping into the plots. There will be new stakes and new chicken wire fencing. If we had the resources, I’d install an eight-foot fence all around the garden with a locking gate. There are other projects begging for the money, so that plan is deferred.

The garlic patch is in, but the other plots are an open book. I will rotate cruciferous vegetables and beans. I need a whole plot for tomatoes and a small one for leafy greens. I ran out of garden onions this month, so I want to grow more this year and that will require a bigger space. No final decisions to be made until I plant Belgian lettuce on March 2, two weeks from now, if the snow melts.

The goal of having a kitchen garden is to produce food aligned with our culinary habits that helps meet a basic human need. We have to eat, no matter where, no matter how. It may as well be enjoyable. We’ve all eaten our share of food that doesn’t please our palate. A kitchen garden should address that.

There are inputs to address, other than the garden part of a kitchen garden. Perhaps the most significant is intellectual. Most people don’t frame such a construct although they should.

A kitchen garden is a reaction to the culture of consumerism. An important distinction is reaction, not rejection. I will continue to buy black peppercorns, nutmeg, vanilla bean extract, refined sugar, and all-purpose flour milled elsewhere. How else will we get such necessary ingredients?

For the time being, I’m ovo-lacto-vegetarian (most of the time), which means consumption of dairy products and the good and bad that goes with them. I’m not of one mind on this. For example, I’ll buy a gallon of skim milk from the local dairy 6.2 miles from my house, yet I’ll also stock up at the wholesale club for half the price. I take local eggs from the farm when offered, yet I also buy them at the club. Maybe it’s best to become vegan and eschew dairy altogether. I’m not there yet.

While I am a local foods enthusiast, and my diet centers around being that, I am not doctrinaire. Other people have to consume the results of my kitchen work, although during the pandemic that’s only one other person who I’ve known for going on 40 years. Despite several issues with his behavior and written output — including bigotry, racism and patriarchy — I like the Joel Salatin idea of a food shed. That is, secure everything one can that is produced within a four hour drive of home. I am also not doctrinaire about “food miles.” I’ve written often on the topic and if we work at it, we can secure most of our food produced within less than an hour drive from home.

During the pandemic we haven’t eaten restaurant food even once. If we get out of this thing alive, I see a return to restaurants as a social endeavor. I like our cooking better than any restaurant fare I’ve had the past many years. I expect the habit of cooking and eating at home will persist. How would restaurant dining fit into a kitchen garden? It would be an infrequent adventure in expanding our menu and spending time with good friends.

Another part of a kitchen garden is providing proper nutrition. That means research to understand nutrition enough to combat common diseases — diabetes and cardiovascular disease particularly. Portion control is also part of nutrition, related to maintaining a healthy weight. My research into nutrition was mostly a reaction to medical clinic visits. I sought to change the results of my blood tests regarding cholesterol and glucose through dietary adjustment. The approach has been to discover techniques and processes, then adopt them by habit to weekly meal preparation. Every so often I will consider nutrition in my diet. Mostly, once a new pattern is set, I follow it.

The influence of television and so-called celebrity chefs is part of the intellectual development I bring to the kitchen garden. Before I left my home town for university I spent almost no time in the kitchen learning how to cook. The first meals I prepared for guests were tuna and noodle casseroles made with condensed cream of mushroom soup from a can, once for Mother before leaving for military service, and once for friends at my apartment in Mainz, Germany. My early cooking years — in the 1970s — were trial and error and a lot of marginal, home-prepared meals. I recall at least one loaf of “bread” I used as a doorstop. It was baked while I was an undergraduate, interested in macrobiotic cooking, and didn’t understand how yeast worked.

I learned cooking mostly from television. In 2014 I wrote this about my experience on a work assignment in Georgia during the 1990s:

TV Food Network, as it was known, occupied my non-working time, and I developed an insatiable curiosity about food and its preparation. Emeril Lagasse, Mario Batali, Susan Feniger, Mary Sue Milliken, Julia Child and others prepared food on screen, and I was captivated, watching episode after episode on Georgia weekends. Food is a common denominator for humanity, and I couldn’t get enough. My involvement in the local food movement today has its origins in the contrast between that uninviting place in South Georgia and my food escape.

There is a broader point to be made than one person’s transient addiction to a television network while away from home. It is that American food pursuits, and the economy around them, continue to be based partly upon curiosity.

Curiosity About Food, Blog Post, April 17, 2014.

Over time, Food Network became more formulaic and less interesting. It also moved to a form of cookery competition that diverged from recipe preparation. I don’t tune in today. It opened my mind to the possibilities of food preparation and for that I am grateful.

The last part of intellectual development affecting the kitchen garden has to do with studying recipes. In my ongoing document mining I expect to purge my collection of hundreds of cookbooks. Partly because there are too many for reasonable use, and partly because I have learned the lessons from many of them. Which cookbooks have mattered most?

Like it is for many people, The Joy of Cooking by Irma S. Rombauer and Marion Rombauer Becker is a go-to book when I’m learning to cook a specific dish or vegetable. I continue to use it a lot. I frequently use Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle and Simone Beck. I keep copies of other reference books, but those are my main two.

For variety, I have cookbooks by Mario Batali, Giada De Lautentiis, Rick Bayless, Jeff Smith, and Anthony Bourdain, all of whom appeared on television during the period I watched cooking shows. These recipes produce food we like. I also use a few baking cook books, Bo Friberg’s The Professional Pastry Chef, and The King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion. I’m currently working my way through some cook books used by local chef, the late Kurt Michael Friese.

I studied church and organizational cook books extensively. I adopted very few recipes from them so most are going to go. I’ll keep those that have some sentimental value, ones in which recipes by friends appear, and a set of a dozen or so from my old neighborhood in Northwest Davenport. The purpose of acquiring these cookbooks has been to understand the development of kitchen cookery beginning in the 1950s and ’60s. People used a lot of gelatin and lard back in the day, that’s for sure.

Whatever I learned from studying cookery reduces itself into repeatable main dishes made using understandable preparation techniques. A family only needs so many recipes. As I progress, the kitchen garden becomes more related to cuisine, one recognizable and uniquely our own. It is a cuisine tied to soil I made, the flavors that emerge from it, and the methods used to make it into dishes. The garden has already changed to better match what is going on in the nearby kitchen. That relationship will continue to evolve.

The journey home begins with an understanding of where we’ve been and ends, if we are lucky, with a pleasant reunion with family and friends. A kitchen garden works toward that end.

Categories
Kitchen Garden

Tofu Stir Fry

Tofu stir fry.

A version of tofu stir fry is basic to a vegetarian cuisine. I checked my archives and haven’t previously posted about this classic dish.

First, put on a pot of organic brown rice, or your favorite variety. I use home made, canned vegetable broth for this recipe. The ratio is two liquid to one rice. Always rinse the rice under cold water before cooking. Cook it low and slow.

I’ve taken to short-form videos and there is a teenager who posts about vegan cooking. I noticed how she cooks tofu. After cubing firm tofu, she coats it with corn starch, then seasons and bakes it. We avoid corn starch, so used arrowroot powder instead. It’s not the same, but it worked. When we made the dish in our early married life, we seasoned the tofu with Vegesal, which is no longer readily available. Today, I use onion powder, garlic powder and celery salt. The technique is to place the cubed tofu in a stainless steel bowl and gently toss it, first with the arrowroot powder and then with the seasonings. Do so until it is well coated. Spread it on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet and bake for 30 minutes in a 400 degree oven until the outside is browned.

We’ve been cutting the amount of added fat in our diet, and have taken to frying vegetables in some liquid, either water, broth, or tomato juice. Using extra virgin olive oil works too.

I’ve learned to limit the number of varieties of vegetables used in stir fry. Which ones is a new choice each time the dish is made. In the classic preparation I used the combination of onion, carrot and celery, along with bell peppers, snow peas, garlic, and a quarter cup of pine nuts. This is basic and what I was going for last night. For seasoning, I used salt and pepper to taste and a scant tablespoon of marjoram.

Almost any fresh or frozen vegetable would work in this preparation. I especially like broccoli and a leafy green vegetable. If fresh garden tomatoes are available, they are an excellent addition. If I were making it for myself, I’d begin with red pepper flakes in the cooking liquid. The main thing is to resist the temptation to put the whole ice box in the dish. Let the individual vegetables stand on their own. Let them be recognized. Do what makes sense. Be simple and elegant.

When the vegetables are done, toss in the baked tofu and mix gently. Serve on the brown rice and store the rest in the refrigerator for leftovers. We make extra brown rice to use in other dishes during the week.

Another variation would be to make some type of sauce to mix with the tofu and vegetables. The possibilities are endless, yet we usually keep it plain.

In Big Grove Township we have access to a local tofu maker and theirs is among the firmest I’ve found. For this dish one wants firm tofu. We tried the type sold by Trader Joe’s, which also works in this preparation.

So there you have it. A classic American vegetarian stir fry.

Categories
Kitchen Garden

Pandemic Baker

Dr. Oetker baking aids.

The coronavirus pandemic has us cooking meals each night and nothing goes better with a bowl of soup made with pantry ingredients than warm from the oven flatbread.

The two people in our household consumed more all purpose flour during the last year than we have in a long time. I made a pizza each week, and am using up some gifted specialty flours — rice, almond, coconut, garbanzo bean — by blending them with all purpose to make flatbread.

There is no dough recipe, just technique. To get started for a two-person loaf, a cup of warm water from the tap goes into a stainless steel bowl. Mix in a teaspoon of yeast, a scant teaspoon of sugar to feed the yeast, a dash of salt, and two tablespoons of flour. Let that rest for a few minutes, then apply cooking spray to a mixing bowl for the first rise in the oven. Turn the oven on to the lowest setting. I get out my two Dr. Oetker spatulas, bought in West Germany in the 1970s, and get to work, but they are more habit than need.

If I’m making a pizza dough, I start with a cup of all purpose flour. For flatbread I put a half cup of specialty flour in the bowl with the yeast mix and a half cup of all purpose flour. Using the spatulas, I mix and add flour until the stickiness of the dough subsides enough for it to come together. I flour the counter and knead, sprinkling more flour to relieve stickiness. I form a ball and put it in the rising bowl. Put a plate on the bowl and let it rise in the oven for an hour.

Take the dough out of the oven, set the rack in the middle, and preheat to 425 degrees. Punch the dough down and knead a second time on the counter. It will take more flour. Form the flatbread on a baking sheet and dock it. I use parchment paper to make clean up easier but an oiled pan will work, too. Cover the formed flatbread and let rise for 30-45 minutes until the change in shape is noticeable. Place it in the oven and bake for 12-15 minutes until the top begins to brown.

Serve plain or with butter, apple butter or another topping. To serve more people, adjust the water amounts by half a cup for each person. It is a quick, reliable accompaniment for any meal.

Categories
Kitchen Garden

Vegan Cream Sauce

Raw Cashews

We have been experimenting with vegan dishes during the coronavirus pandemic. A basic recipe is “Vegan Cheese Sauce.” It’s a horrible name since it mentions the dreaded dairy product even though there are none in the dish. It’s a work in progress.

Our household began to move away from animal products when it was established in 1982. We became ovo-lacto vegetarians at home. That means we ate dairy products, including those made from cow and goat milk, along with chicken eggs. We have an interest in reducing reliance on those as well.

I am not doctrinaire about diet and maintain a semi-omnivore status. I hardly choose to eat meat, though. The pandemic has us avoiding restaurant dining completely and that was the source of what little meat I ate. For the past year the amount of dietary meat has been zero. I like my omnivore status and remain flexible when socializing outside home when food is involved. Usually, but not always, buffets and snack trays have plenty of vegetarian options. I don’t understand the American idea of eating constantly though, even if it is socially acceptable to serve food at a two-hour reception.

I know how to prepare a chicken and have done so. It was part of my survival training in French Commando School. Other cooking with meat is not complicated. In the unlikely event inadequate plant-based nutrition is available, I can return to survival mode. For the time being, the squirrels, rabbits, deer and raccoons traveling through our yard needn’t worry.

Why do vegan chefs compare their dishes to what omnivores eat? For example, this recipe for vegan cream sauce is intended for a version of vegan “macaroni and cheese.” There is a proselytizing aspect to such nomenclature and the resulting dishes. The vegan chef is recruiting us to join the culture. This dish tastes nothing like macaroni and cheese made with sharp cheddar and that should be okay without the cultural context. There is a whole business of imitation or fake meats and cheeses. As we navigate these waters I’m not sure why chefs don’t just go for dishes that taste good on their own merit.

Raw cashews don’t immediately come to mind as the base for a sauce. They are abundantly available, and easy to work with in the kitchen. The prepared sauce serves in pasta dishes, and more experimentation is needed. Ideas to be considered are using it on a pizza crust instead of tomato sauce and dairy cheese, on tacos, and in dips. The cuisine developed in our household has little emphasis on sauces, so the most likely use is with macaroni noodles. It is a once every four to six weeks dish.

I made vegan cream sauce three times and settled on a recipe. I enjoy spicy food and others does not, so most spicy seasoning is added after serving rather than cooking it into the sauce. If we had them, the dish could be topped with diced raw vegetables like Serrano or Jalapeno peppers, onions, shallots or scallions. Here is what I came up with.

Vegan Cream Sauce

Soak three quarters of a cup of raw cashews overnight in water. The amount easily fits in a quart-sized canning jar. Rinse in the morning, refresh the water, and soak until ready to use.

To a blender bowl, add one cup plant milk, one quarter cup nutritional yeast, one clove garlic, one teaspoon onion powder, one teaspoon Dijon mustard, and salt to taste. (Optional spices to consider include turmeric, paprika, black pepper, red chili flakes, to taste). Blend the mixture until smooth, then add the drained cashews. Blend until it is a smooth consistency. Thin the sauce as needed using additional plant milk. It’s ready to go.

Perhaps the most important aspect of this recipe is to remember it is not cheese sauce. While it may be used the same way, the sooner we embrace the culture, the better we’ll adapt to new dishes in our cuisine.

Categories
Kitchen Garden

Vegetable Soup

Sunrise, Dec. 5, 2020.

Using a combination of vegetables from the freezer, ice box, pantry, and storage bins I made vegetable soup for dinner last night. There were three quarts leftover for the rest of the week.

I don’t know the food cost. Purchased ingredients included a half cup of lentils, a quarter cup of pearled barley, three bay leaves, salt, and a 15 ounce can of prepared USDA organic kidney beans. Everything else was either from my garden or the farm.

More important than the meal, I captured something about Saturday afternoons in the kitchen. That feeling of a break from weekday work and action. That feeling we can live in the moment. A feeling that our lives have potential, that we are creative. Even if the result was a dependable, pretty good meal, there is more than that to living.

It turns out constraints in the supply chain for the coronavirus vaccine will result in less people becoming vaccinated than expected by the end of the year — about ten percent of projections. A group of hospital workers said yesterday they wouldn’t feel comfortable in returning to “normal behavior” until 70 percent of the U.S. population was vaccinated. My own projection is our family will be restricted until at the end of 2021. There is a lot of uncertainty about social change resulting from this virus, making accurate projections difficult.

Once again, I was the only trail walker wearing a face mask yesterday. I’m not complaining, just saying. I must get out of the house at least once a day and the trail is a useful way to do so. It was unseasonably warm in what may be the warmest year for the globe since we began keeping records. I was reminded of my personal responsibility to address the climate crisis. One more thing to be worked into my 12-month plan.

Categories
Kitchen Garden

Butternut Squash and Pasta

Butternut squash.

It is easy to grow butternut squash. By the end of the gardening season, our kitchen counter accumulates half dozen or more. They keep for a long time at room temperature, so no need to be in a hurry to eat them all.

Mostly we halve them, remove the seeds, and roast them to use the flesh as a side dish. We’ve been exploring new recipes that reduce the amount of dairy products and oils in our meals. Roasted squash fits right into the menu.

We found a way to make a main dish out of butternut squash and tried a new recipe last night. It is called “butternut squash mac and cheese with broccoli.” It tastes nothing like macaroni and cheese and there is no cheese in it. The name is pretty lame. However, we normally stock the ingredients in our kitchen, and I commonly use the required cooking techniques already. I believe we will try this again. Below is how I would prepare it next time.

Butternut Squash with Pasta and Broccoli

  • medium butternut squash (~1 to 1-1/4 pounds)
  • 1 cup diced onion
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1 cup unsweetened almond milk
  • 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • sea salt to taste
  • black pepper to taste
  • 8 ounces dried penne pasta
  • 3 cups small broccoli florets

Peel, seed, cube and steam the butternut squash until the flesh yields easily with a knife.

Cook the onion, garlic and seasonings in a saucepan with a quarter cup of broth or water. Keep adding broth to prevent the vegetables from sticking to the pan.

Start eight ounces of pasta in a large pan with plenty of water. Set the timer for five minutes before reaching al dente stage. May have to SWAG this.

Put the almond milk, vinegar, onion-garlic mixture, nutritional yeast, in a blender and stir briefly to incorporate. Add the squash and run at the puree setting until the big pieces are smoothed out. Because there was so much liquid and squash, I did this in two batches. Place the mixture in a large wok or saucepan.

When the timer goes off, add the broccoli to the pasta and cook together for the remaining five minutes. Drain the pasta-broccoli mixture and add it to the sauce pan with the squash mixture. Stir everything together over medium heat until it comes to temperature.

Makes four generous servings.

Tips: I cut the almond milk in half from the original recipe. The amount will require some tweaking. Use pasta made with chick peas or lentils to increase the amount of protein in the dish. I used frozen broccoli which had been parboiled before freezing. I’d try fresh if we had it. I’d also try Brussels sprouts instead of broccoli but cook them completely before adding to the final dish.

Categories
Kitchen Garden

Thanksgiving Pancakes

Pumpkin pancake.

What to do with leftover roasted pumpkin?

A plastic tub of roasted pumpkin rested on the top shelf of the ice box. A few days ago I made pumpkin bread with the rest of it and did not want another loaf. I made pumpkin pancakes instead.

With only my personal cooking knowledge, I knew I would puree the flesh along with milk and go from there. I researched ingredients and came up with this list:

  • 1-1/2 cups milk
  • 1 cup pumpkin puree
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tablespoons oil
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 3 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon each ground allspice and cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Measure the leftover pumpkin and place it in a mixing bowl. Add an equal amount of milk. Using a stick blender smooth everything to a consistent texture.

Incorporate the remaining ingredients and judge if the batter is moist enough. If not, add milk until it is. Incorporate but don’t beat the batter to death.

Spoon the batter on a heated, buttered skillet on high heat. Flip when the first side is done and let the other side finish.

Serve with a pat of butter and a favorite topping. I topped mine with apple aronia berry butter.

Categories
Kitchen Garden

A Veggie Burger

Veggie burger entree with two sides.

A burger along with a couple of sides and a beverage makes a meal. We’re vegetarian, considering vegan options, yet we don’t want to give up this traditional American fare.

Until now, it’s been a steady road to disappointment. This post deconstructs a home made burger. After eight years of trying, yesterday’s experiment reflects progress.

When Morningstar Farms began making soybean-based burgers and crumbles we were on board. They satisfied a desire for something to replace meat in recipes our mothers and grandmothers used to make. Things like hamburger patties, chili, meatloaf, taco filling and more. To gain control over what went into our food I began experimenting with home made veggie burgers beginning in 2012.

One of the first experiments was a recipe called “Morgan’s Veggie Patties” developed by celebrity chef Guy Fieri. It was a tasty burger.

The recipe seemed challenged. There were too many ingredients: 21 of them. Next, ours is not a pantry where one can find artichokes. We’d have to make a special purchase to include them. Using an egg as a binder is common, but if we want a vegan recipe, we need something else. Finally, the mixing process resulted in a burger that fell apart on the skillet. The directions to saute all raw vegetables in olive oil missed what I consider to be a basic cooking process of seasoning as one proceeds. The recipe called for mixing dry seasonings with the egg, and then adding the mixture to the beans and vegetables mixture then stirring everything together. I tried different ingredients but gave up on this burger very quickly.

Yesterday I reviewed some new recipes and came up with a new burger that held up well on the frying pan and tasted good.

  • Make a crock pot of lentils. I cooked mine in tomato juice.
  • Make a batch of basmati rice.
  • Drain and wash a 15-ounce can of organic black beans.
  • Line up the remaining ingredients on the counter: cumin and paprika to taste, salt and pepper, one medium onion, one medium bell pepper, one stalk of celery, and two cloves of minced garlic. Vegetables should be uniformly small dice.

Separate 1-1/2 cups of the lentils from the cooking liquid, reserving the liquid. Use the liquid as a cooking medium for the vegetables in lieu of cooking oil, a half cup or so. Use enough so all of the liquid does not evaporate.

Season the vegetables with the cumin and paprika plus salt and pepper to taste. My goal on the seasonings was to keep it simple. Cook on high heat until they are translucent and set aside.

Place the black beans in a large bowl. Using a potato masher smash them all until they become a uniform paste. It’s okay to leave some of them whole yet I’d be concerned it would negatively impact the burger’s ability to hold together when cooking.

Add the cooked vegetables, 1-1/2 cup each of cooked rice and drained lentils, and mix thoroughly. You’ll notice there is no binder. Depending on future iterations of this recipe I might use bread crumbs if the burger doesn’t hold together. In this case, the sticky rice and vegetable mixture held things together adequately.

One could cover the bowl and put it in the ice box to firm things up. I didn’t this time.

With an ice cream scoop, spoon the burgers onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. It made nine burgers. Once the servings are scooped out, pat them down on top and finish forming them with a fork. The cookie sheet went into the freezer until the burgers were firm. After that I moved them into a zip top bag and stuck them back in the freezer.

To cook the burger, put a small pool of oil or a squirt of cooking spray on a frying pan and bring to medium high heat. Add the frozen burger. Do not touch the burger until the underside caramelizes. Gently flip it over with a spatula and cook until the second side is done. Serve immediately.

Taste and texture-wise, this simple recipe met expectations. If you have comments about how you make home made burgers, I’d love to hear about it in the comments. I’m not finished tweaking this preparation.

Categories
Writing

Cooking Memoir

Classic family breakfast

This image of a recent breakfast tells a story I’m the only one who hears.

Hashed brown potatoes, commercially prepared ketchup, two organic scrambled eggs, home made hot sauce, and a Gold Rush apple grown at a local orchard. Each part of this breakfast has its origins in the heart of my kitchen garden.

I watched my maternal grandmother make hashed browns many times and the way I do it is how she did. My earliest memories are from time in her small kitchen when she lived in a duplex where Mom, Dad and I occupied the other half. Cooking, growing, acquiring and preparing food ingredients would become a major part of my life, one that should be part of any memoir. Spending time with Grandmother during meal preparation has been influential and became part of who I am.

At the same time, Mother’s kitchen transitioned from meals cooked from many raw ingredients to ones that leveraged help from food processors. In the late 1950s and early 1960s we shopped at a corner grocery store. That gave way to a supermarket that sold many lines of products. Notable among these were bread baked at Wonder Bakery in town, and a Mexican food section where we could buy branded tortillas, sauces, spices and canned ingredients to make tacos and tostadas. Tomato ketchup was one kind of help.

Development of a recipe for tomato ketchup is attributed to Philadelphia scientist James Mease in 1812. The condiment became ubiquitous, including in our house. I have a few old cookbooks with recipes for tomato ketchup yet the idea of making our own wouldn’t stand the heat of August summer. Over the years, ingredients and process of commercial ketchup changed. Despite the use of high fructose corn syrup, we continue to use Heinz brand tomato ketchup on hashed browns. That’s what is in this photograph.

Scrambled eggs reflects many hours of watching cooking programs on television and YouTube. I sourced eggs from many places, although in recent years I buy organic eggs at the wholesale club or get them from local growers. Scrambling an egg is both easy and complicated. Very few times is the result inedible. Reaching culinary perfection has been beyond my reach with any consistency. Eggs are tolerant of erratic cooks. I continue to work to be better at it.

I recently wrote about hot sauce, something I learned to make from my platoon sergeant when we were stationed in West Germany. Over the years my recipe changed to include different kinds of hot peppers, tomatillos and occasional spices. What I used in this photo is similar to what I made in the 1970s when I discovered the condiment.

Finally, apple culture. Like many I came up on mostly Red Delicious apples. That’s one of the four varieties of trees in our current back yard. It was working at a u-pick orchard for seven years that taught me about apple culture. Even though I declined to return this year because of the coronavirus pandemic, I bought eight varieties for their different characteristics. That this breakfast was made in October is reflected by the presence of a Gold Rush apple which is among the last to ripen in Iowa.

How should I write about cooking in a memoir? Today that is an open question. Key cooking events will appear on any timeline I write as an outline for the book. It is unclear how information about cooking might be presented in the final product, whether in its own section or with stories dotting a beginning to end, chronological narrative.

It will be a part of my autobiography. Writing this post made me hungry.